This Old Dragon: Issue #45

The Other Side -

Wow. Has it really been more than a year since I did one of these?  Well, let''s grab a REALLY old one.  Not the oldest to be sure, but one of the oldest ones I have (I do have issue #43 waiting in the wings).  Plus we are all stuck at home, so let's sit back and see what Issue #45 of This Old Dragon!

This first issue of 1981 gives us what could be a thief and his mark on a bridge. OR someone trying to get a toll from a beggar. 

There some are cool ads for Ral Partha's Witch's Caldron and ICE. This predates my purchasing of Dragon so likely not an ad that influenced me.

There is an editorial from Jake Jaquet.  Here he welcomes two new employees, Debbie Chiusano and Marilyn Mays.  He also welcomes to more familiar names to full-time positions, Roger Moore and Ed Greenwood.  He also mentions changes to Dragon such as updated typeface and more pages.

Kim Mohan follows with Cover to Cover to let us know what is happening in this issue.

Ad for Fantasy Modeling magazine featuring a Vallejo scantily clad woman with two lizard/dragon monsters.

Out on A Limb gives us some letters.  One guy complains about all the new D&D groups springing up but no one plays it like "the old days" (which in his mind was 2.5 years ago).    Another one wants Dragon to stop writing so much about D&D and focus instead on AD&D.  There is no making people happy is there?

Our first article, Gas ‘em Up and Smoke ‘em Out is by Robert Plamondon.  It is actually really useful.  The article covers how smoke, gases and magical clouds move and fill up space.  Granted, modern systems simplify this, but someone out there would it very useful.  This followed up by Dungeon ventilation clears the air by the same author.   How can you breathe in the dungeon depths?   Again, really useful.   Robert Plamondon is kinda an interesting guy. Author, farmer and has some game design credits.  He can be found at http://www.plamondon.com/

Roger E. Moore is up for his fir "full time" paid articles and they are big ones.  NPCs For Hire: One who predicts... ...And One Who Seeks the Perfect Mix. This gives us two NPC classes, the Astrologer and the Alchemist.   The Astrologer is a pure NPC class, no XP or level advancement. It is a type of sage that can be used to predict the future.  The Alchemist, written with Georgia Moore, is a bit more detailed.

Philip Meyers has an article on distributing magic-items to NPC groups in Magic Items for Everyman. Obviously great for OSR/Old-school games, it might also scale right to new games, though new games tend to have less magic items.

Up On A Soapbox gives us two articles about Role-Playing.  Be a creative game-player by Kristan Wheaton discusses ways players should think more about their games and game playing style. This includes creative uses of levitate and fly.   Ways to handle high-level headaches by Lewis Pulsipher is on the other side of the table with how DMs can deal with high-level characters.

Bazaar of the Bizzare is up. This had always been one of my favorite old Dragon features.  This one gives us some subtle reminders that the 70s were not that far behind.  Among the items are Pet Rocks from Roger Moore.  There two kinds, normal and cursed.  They look like rocks and seem very close to a Stone of Commanding Earth Elementals.  On a command word they will attack an opponent.  Damage is like throwing a rock, that is, if the rock was +3 to hit and did 2d6 points of damage.
There is one though that is pretty interesting. A Ring of Oak, which will allow a dryad to move away from her tree.  Ruby Slippers do exactly what you think they do. I wish I had thought of these.  Bell of Pavlov makes you drool.

Ah. Now here is a good one.  Robert Plamondon is back with The Right Write Way to Get Published.  It is a very solid read with timeless advice.  English at this time was not my favorite subject and if you had told me in 1981 that I would be spending not just 90% of professional life writing, but most of my "free" time doing the same, I would have laughed.  So naturally, I ignored articles like this back then.  My mistake.  In fact, this article has such solid advice I am tempted to keep it.  Well...I'll print it out from my Dragon CD-ROM, the copy I have here is so mildewy it is taking me a lot longer to get through it.   Anyway, this article really is timeless advice especially when it comes to the second draft.  Some of the advice is no longer needed. For example how to space in for margins on a typewriter or the merits of a hand-written vs. typed manuscript. Also, and sadly, the magazines he suggests submitting to are all gone.

Merle M. Rasmussen is next with his The Rasmussen Files.  He has a set of Top Secret reactions and rule additions.  The growing interest in computers is visible here with the new Technical Bureau.  These days it is hard to imagine any sort of clandestine espionage without the back of data, technology and computers. Not to mention drones and satellites.  But this is 1981 and all that stuff, while not really new, was getting more and more public notice.

The article is split by an ad that makes me both happy and a little sad.

At least 10 of those addresses are within reasonable driving distances from me now.  One is within walking distance, and none of them are open today. Don't get me wrong, I am really spoiled with the game stores I have by me now including Games Plus, which would not get on to this list till 1982.
Shameless Plug:  If there is something you need and you don't have a local game store Games Plus is taking orders and shipping all over the world.

Len Lakofka's Leomund's Tiny Hut covers Missle Fire and the Archer sub-class.  I have always liked archers and outside of the ranger I never found a good one.  This article has some good adjustments to missile fire and the size of the target; something that has been incorporated into D&D since 3rd edition.  Again, Len treats us to a full class here that can be used as an NPC class or a PC one.   Looking it over I am thoughtful of the new Pathfinder 2nd version of the Fighter and Ranger that both have an Archer option.  Not identical obviously, but likely drawn from the same sources of inspiration.  I will say it is enough to have me reading the PF2 rules a lot this past week.

Next, we get to the big feature of this issue, The Dragon Dungeon Design Kit.
Much to my chagrin, the cardboard pages that were in this issue are gone.  Checking them out on my CD-ROM pdfs I see they are essential Dungeon Tiles.  They even look like 5' squares in most cases.
Kinda wish I had these. I could use them in a game now and my kids would get all excited about using some "real old school material."   Maybe I'll print them out.

We get an installment of the Minarian Legends from Glenn Rahman for the Divine Right game.  This time covering The History of Dwarves.  Divine Right pre-dates my involvement in the hobby, though I do know about it.  I had a chance to pick up a copy cheap, but never did it.  If I find one I might grab it just to see what it was all about.  This history could be used in any game to be honest, but it feels tied to the world it is from to be of use to me.  Still, maybe I'll come back to this if I need to add on to my dwarfs a bit.

Some ads. A Squad Leader scenario. More ads.
Con Calendar.

Electronic Eye from Mark Herro has some dice rolling programs for programable calculators and the new "mini" computers, the Sinclair ZX-80 and the Radio Shack’s “Pocket” TRS-80.  If you are reading this post on your phone, then congratulations, you are in a future that Mark Herro dreamed about.

Daniel Maxfield has more tips for Bunnies & Burrows in Hop, Hop, Hooray!

In what I think is a rarity for ANY era of Dragon, Roger Moore (busy guy this edition) has an article on the advantages of playing evil in How to have a good time being evil.

Reviews for Bloodtree Rebellion, Space Marines, and Grail Quest follow.

Letters from Out on a Limb continue with someone complaining that the last adventure was too "childish."  I guess something do never change.

Ah..now here is some fun stuff.  Dragon's Bestiary covers some new monsters. The Skyzorr’n, a race of humanoid insect beings. Sand Lizard, a desert lizard (I can use these now!). The Dust Devil, a combined earth and air elemental (also could use this) and all three have art by the great Bill Willingham.

Some comics in Dragon's Mirth.   There is an installment of Finneous Fingers. Plus The Story of Jasmine from Darlene, better known as the artist that gave us the World of Greyhawk map.  I know nothing of this series and have no idea if it kept going or not, but it was very different than the fare at the time. I just checked my Issue #43 and there is an entry there as well.  A bit more research has turned up quite bit more. It ran for 12 issues starting in #37. Now I am curious, maybe I'll do a special This Old Dragon Feature on it!

A fun trip down memory lane again.  I some respects quite literal, since in the process of working on this I drove by some of the places advertised as having been game stores and are now gone.

Hopefully, I can do some more of these.

BlackStar: The Ambassador Class Heavy Cruiser

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It's "shelter in place" time here in Illinois.  So I am spending my time playing D&D and CoC with my kids and doing research for my BlackStar game.

To that end, I am pouring over my Trek books, both sourcebooks, and RPGs, to find a nice mix.

Plus I am doing research on my favorite class of starship, The Ambassador Class.


Up first a few "history of" and "technical specifications of" the Ambassador Class ship

This is a "walk through" but I think they got the size of the bridge wrong.

Star Trek Online takes the same "space" as Starfleet Battles for me.  Similar, but a separate timeline where there is more war.   Here is a player taking his Ambassador class "Support Ship" through some paces.

Enjoy the videos.

Monstrous Monday: Sand Ghoul

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We are on vacation this week.  Were supposed to drive down to see my wife's sister, but instead we are holed up here.  So I am starting my mini-campaign of "The Deserts of Desolation & Death" today.

Going through my books last night I figured I needed something new.  Everyone has seen all the old monsters.  Plus I wanted to up the feeling of necromantic dread.  So this guy popped into my head.

Besides. I like undead beasties.

So here it is for 5e D&D (what I am playing today).

Sand Ghoul
The Ghoul by Les EdwardsSand Ghouls are formed when naturally occurring mummies in the desert are possessed with demonic or necromantic power.  They are stronger and faster than normal ghouls.  The drying process also robs them of their stench.
Elves are immune to the Paralyzing touch of the Sand Ghoul.  Desert Orcs living in a combined Desert Elven / Desert Orc community are also immune.

Medium undead (Desert), chaotic evil
Armor Class 16 (natural armor)
Hit Points 31 (7d8)
Speed 30 ft., burrow 40 ft., climb 20 ft.

STR 14 (+2)
DEX 16 (+3)
CON 10 (+0)
INT 10 (+0)
WIS 9 (-1)
CHA 5 (-3)

Saving Throws Str +4, Dex +5
Skills Acrobatics +5, Perception +1, Survival +3
Damage Vulnerabilities fire, radiant
Damage Immunities poison
Condition Immunities poisoned
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 11
Languages Common
Challenge 3 (700 XP)

Undead Fortitude. If damage reduces the sand ghoul to 0 hit points, it must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of 5 + the damage taken, unless the damage is radiant or from a critical hit. On a success, the sand ghoul drops to 1 hit point instead.

Keen Sight and Smell. The sand ghoul has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight or smell.

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +2 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 9 (2d6 + 2) piercing damage.
Claws. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (2d4 + 2) slashing damage. If the target is a creature other than an elf or undead, it must succeed on a DC 10 Constitution saving throw or be paralyzed for 1 minute. The target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.

Stat block Generator: https://tetra-cube.com/dnd/dnd-statblock.html

Television: Witch on Witch Action

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It has been a great time for genre TV for the last few years.  Now we are getting a bunch of new witch shows on TV and you know I am happy.  So let's have a look.

Charmed (2018)
Last years Charmed reboot got a second season and turned the premise of the show upside down.   The Charmed Ones are still, well Charmed, but they lost their powers. They can still cast and there are still demons to be fought and witches to be saved. The show is subtly different and in many ways better.  It's taking a while to get to the main plot but from what I have seen so far, I am a few episodes behind, looks fun.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
We just got Season 3 and it was great.  Satanic witches, Lilith, Hecate, and Pagan witches. Again, it's like someone has been reading my Christmas list.  Very fun.

Luna Nera
This is an Italian series on Netflix. Taking place in 17th Century Italy it features more witches vs. witches. This time it is witches vs. Benandanti; it sounds like one of my games!

Motherland: Fort Salem
This is the big premiere from the previous week.  An alternate reality where the U.S. Government made a deal with the witches at Salem to create an elite unit of witches in the U.S. Army.
The first episode was fun. Again we have two groups of witches fighting each other as our main plot.  Or at least one of them so far. Looking forward to seeing where this one goes too.

This show gets crazier all the time. Though now we are in our last season. Going to miss them all.

Not a "Witch show" per se, but plenty of magic and witches here.

Not witches but Vampire the Masquerade: The High School Years.  I only watched two episodes of this French import on Netflix, so not as sure about this one yet.

Which Witch is Which? Basic Era Edition

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A while back I did a post, Which Witch is Which? Swords & Wizardry Edition in which I broke down all the various S&W witch books I had done.  What each contained and what they covered.

I have since done a few more books and that question is being asked again.  Since my goal here is to get you to buy the one book you really want instead of three or four you might like.

Let's break them all down.

Let's start with my first Witch book.

The Witch: A sourcebook for Basic Edition fantasy games
This book is designed with the "Basic" rules in mind.  So Holmes, Moldvay, or Mentzer or them modern clones like Basic Fantasy or Labyrinth Lord.  Largely compatible with my Swords & Wizardry line.  In includes:
  • The Witch Class, levels 1 to 36
  • Six Traditions (Aquarian, Classical, Faerie, Family, Maleficia and Eclectic)
  • Cantrips for witches
  • 381 New Spells, 20 New Witch Rituals
  • 29 Monsters
  • Magic items
  • 120 pages
This book is the most basic of the Basic witches.  If you don't know which book to get, get this one.

Then I opted to do other books.

Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games
This book is designed for the Labyrinth Lord game.
The witches of this book are from the Mara Tradition, witches dedicated to the Dark Mother.
  • Levels 1 to 20
  • Spell bonuses for high Charisma
  • Level limits for Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Half-elf, Half-orc and Halfling witches
  • The Daughters of Darkness coven
  • 175 Spells and Rituals for witch characters
  • 39 Monsters to challenge or be allies including the Lilim demon race.
  • 3 Non-player characters. 
    • “Bloody” Mary Worth
    • Darlessa, The Queen of Vampires 
    • Lilith, Queen and Mother of all Lilim
  • 80 pages. 
If you like your witches evil, have powers to seduce people, summon demons or raise undead then this is your book.

Cult of Diana: The Amazon Witch for Basic Era Games
This book is designed for the Blueholme Prentice Rules game.
The witches of this book are a revised version of the Amazon Tradition, witches associated witht he Amazons and Diana.
  • Levels 1 to 20
  • The witch class and two new witch covens
  • 40 Spells and 8 Rituals for witch characters
  • 26 Pages.
If you want to play an Amazon witch, then this is your book.  This book is also FREE, so grab it anyway.

The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games
This book is designed for the Blueholme Journeymanne Rules game.
The witches of this book are a revised version of the Classical Tradition, some of the first witches the world has known.  Witches from the ancient time of myths and legends.
  • Levels 1 to 20
  • The witch class and four new combination classes, using Blueholme rules
    • Witch-Cleric, Witch-Fighter, Witch-Theif, Witch-Magic User
  • Guidelines for playing any species of witch
  • Six witch covens of the Classical Tradition
  • 120 Spells and Rituals for witch characters
  • 25 Monsters to challenge or be allies
  • 29 magic items and six artifacts
  • Three Non-player character witches from pages of mythology
    • Circe
    • Medea
    • Medusa
  • 84 pages.
If you want to play witches from a Greek, Roman or Egyptian background then this is your book.

The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition
This book is designed for the Labyrinth Lord game.
The witches of this book are from the Pumpkin Spice Tradition. A somewhat silly origin that led to one of my favorite traditions.
  • Levels 1 to 20
  • Spell bonuses for high Charisma
  • Level limits for Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Half-elf, Half-orc and Halfling witches
  • The Sisterhood coven
  • 122 Spells and Rituals for witch characters
  • New magic items including magic cauldrons, masks, and tea. Plus the magic item black market
  • 24 Monsters
  • 3 Non-player characters
    • Becky
    • Karen
    • Carol
  • 64 Pages.
If you want to play a "Hollywood" style witch or a witch with some unique spells then this is your book.
The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch TraditionThis book is designed for the Old-School Essentials game.  The witches of this book are members of the Craft of the Wise, the Pagan tradition of northern Europe.
  • Levels 1 to 14
  • The Bándrui and Followers of Aradia covens
  • Cowans, the champions of the witch
  • 100 Spells and Rituals for witch and non-witch characters
  • 28 Monsters to challenge or be allies
  • 4 Non-player characters
    • Bodhmal
    • Liath Luchara
    • Alice Kyteler
    • Morgane le Fey
  • 66 Pages.
If you want to play a pagan witch or a follower of "the Old Ways", then this is the book for you.

All the books are pretty much inter-compatible.  The witches all use the same XP, to hit and saving throw tables.  Sometimes there are differences between what level the witch goes to or what species can become witches, but that is also something that can be worked out in your games.

If you want to mix and match Basic-Era and Swords & Wizardry that is also fine and will work well.

So let's say you want a Basic-era Tiefling Winter Witch.  Or you want to play a Pagan Witch to level 20? You just get the books with those and mix as you like.

Now if you are curious about what is in each book, well the preview on DriveThru covers the first few pages including the table of contents.  But sometimes you want more details.

So here is a break down of all 1,060 spells I have used and 229 monsters.

Witch Books - Google Sheets

I hope this helps you make a good choice!

I have a couple more I want to do.  One is a book on High Witchcraft (Ceremonial) and then either a Demonic witch or a Blood magic witch.

New Release: Craft of the Wise - The Pagan Witch Tradition for OSE

The Other Side -

Happy St. Patrick's Day (today), Ostra and Spring Equinox (Thursday)!
We just had a Friday the 13th and a full moon so the timing is perfect for witches and pagans.

After many delays, and one detour for the Pumpkin Spice Witch, here is my newest witch book designed for the Old-School Essentials RPG.

The Craft of the Wise - The Pagan Witch Tradition

This is the fifth book in my "Basic Era Games" series of books for the witch class.

Introducing the Pagan Tradition, witches dedicated to the ”Old Ways.”
- The Bándrui and Followers of Aradia covens
- 100 Spells and Rituals for witch and non-witch characters
- 28 Monsters to challenge or be allies
- 4 Non-player characters to challenge the mightiest characters

Fully compatible with Old-School Essentials and other Basic-Era games.
Fully compatible with other witch books from The Other Side.

Both the PDF and Print-on-Demand versions are ready now!

And as a special bonus, I commissioned James V. West to design a witch-specific character sheet for both your Basic-era and Swords & Wizard witch characters. You can get those for FREE.
Want more? There is also a special PWYW Witch Character Folio which has both sheets and tables for your witch character's advancement.

All the books in the Basic Era Games series are 100% compatible with each other. 

Each features a different witch tradition, different rules for the game they are designed for, new covens, new NPCs and new witch spells and rituals.  Each includes some monsters associated with witches to use in your games.

Monstrous Monday: Bodhmal and Liath Luchara for OSE and the Pagan Witch

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Not monsters really, but NPCs from my upcoming The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition.  Bodhmal is a Bándrui witch, Liath is her Cowan, or witch's companion or champion. A cowan is a non-witch class that has the ability to learn some witch magics. I detail the benefits of a cowan in the new book.

Female Witch 7th level, Pagan Tradition (Bándrui)
Armor Class 8 [11]
Hit Dice/Level 7+ 7 (25 hp)
Attacks 1 × weapon
THAC0 18 [+2]
Movement Rate 90’ (30’)
Saves D8 W9 P9 B12 S11 (Witch 7, Bracers +2)
Morale 10
Alignment Lawful
XP for Defeating 1,250
Number Appearing Unique
Treasure Type P (J)

Str 10 Int 14 Wis 14 Dex 10 Con 14 Cha 18

Bodhmal has the following witch spells and Occult Powers.
She casts as a 7th level witch.

Occult Powers
Familiar: Wolf
7th level: Shape Change

Spells by Level
1st (3): Cure Light Wounds, Empathic Senses, Ceremony
2nd (2): Animal Messenger, Pins and Needles
3rd (2): Call Lightning, Scry
4th (1): Polymorph

Magic Items
Bracers of Protection +2

Bodhmal’s father was a druid but she chose the path of the Bándrui.  She is the foster mother to Fionn MacCumhail and also his aunt. Fionn is her sister’s son.  She has been bonded to Liath, the Grey warrior, as Cowan for many years.
'Sí mo laoch mo ghile mear'Sí mo Scáthach, gile mearSuan gan séan ní bhfuair mé féinÓ chuaigh I gcéin mo ghile mear

Liath LucharaFemale Ranger 8th level (Cowan)Armor Class 5 [14] +2Hit Dice/Level 8 + 16 (52 hp)Attacks 1 × weapon (1d8) THAC0 18 [+2]Movement Rate 90’ (30’)Saves D8 W9 P10 B10 S12 (Ranger 8)Morale 12Alignment LawfulXP for Defeating 1,750Number Appearing UniqueTreasure Type None
Str 13 Int 12 Wis 14 Dex 16 Con 16 Cha 12
Ranger AbilitiesTracking: 90%
Spells by levelDruid, 1st (1): Animal friendshipWitch, 0 (3): Ensure a Successful Hunt, Merry Greetings, Summon a Witch
ItemsLong Sword, Witchlight +2Leather ArmorSpear, Gáe Assail
Liath Luchara, the Grey Warrior, has been defending her clan since she was old enough to hold a spear.  She has joined with Bodhmal as Cowan to help protect the babe Fionn MacCumhail, who she has started calling “Deimne” because of his fair hair.
Special shout out to Brian O'Sullivan who has also written a lot about Liath and Bodhmal. These stats are based more on the versions I have used over the years, but his characters are great too.  Pick up his books if you want to read more.
The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition out tomorrow!

Zatannurday: Harleen

The Other Side -

Had the chance to pick up the new DC Black Label publication of Stjepan Šejić's Harleen.

It is absolutely fantastic.
Not only can he produce some fantastic art that just grabs you, he also is a great story teller.

If you don't know Stjepan Šejić's work then make sure you change that now! 
You can see some of Harleen here from Issue #1.  This hardcover combines issues 1 to 3.

I hear he wants to do one for Poison Ivy now too in the same universe.  I am all for that!
Though I am still waiting for that WonderCroft comic!

You can find Stjepan on the web:

Happy Friday the 13th! Slashers & Survivors - Slashcan Edition

The Other Side -

It's Friday the 13th! You know that is like a holiday around here.

What better way to celebrate than a new game from my friend Justin Issac?

Slashers & Survivors - Slashcan Edition

From DriveThruRPG:

Slashers & Survivors: Slashcan Edition is an ashcan version of the our new slasher rpg. Based on The Blackest of Deaths by Bloat Games, the game allows you to create a nerd, jock, or other slasher staple and see if you can outwit and survive a homicidal maniac or deadly cult. This is not the final version of the game and the pdf will be updated periodically with feedback recieved. There will be a deluxe version of the game coming to Kickstarter later this year with more content.I grabbed it and it is fun.

It is PayWhatYouWant, but do throw money at it. 

“The Man Who Became an Insect”: Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’ as Comic Book

We Are the Mutants -

 Exhibit / March 12, 2020

Object Name: Vidas Ilustres: “El Hombre Que Se Convirtirio En Un Insecto”
Maker and Year: Editorial Novaro, 1973
Object Type: Comic book
Description: (Richard McKenna)

Coming out every month between 1956 and 1974, Vidas Ilustres (“Illustrious Lives”)—was a monthly Mexican comic published by Editorial Novaro, each issue of which looked at the exceptional achievements of a man—it was always a man, with the two exceptions of Madame Curie and Florence Nightingale—in the arts or sciences. Over its 332 editions, Vidas Ilustres covered a vastly eclectic range of subjects, ranging from Anatole France, Orson Welles, HP Lovecraft, Mishima, Jung, Hokusai, Charles Fort, Gandhi, Simón Bolívar, Confucius, and Martin Luther King, even finding space for an astonishing eight comics on Balzac.

Founded by brothers Luis and Octavio Novaro in the early ’50s, Editorial Novaro had started by publishing reprints of foreign comics like Batman and Tintin, but in 1954 the company began putting out its own stirringly-titled Vidas Ejemplares (“Exemplary Lives”), comic book biographies of notable figures in the Catholic Church. The series was a hit, and like-minded titles like Patronos y Santuarios (“Patron Saints and Sanctuaries”) soon followed.

Luckily, the  company’s other publications also included less pious fare, like Mujeres Célebres, a comic devoted to famous women that was published from 1961 to 1974 and included issues on Eleanor Roosevelt, Josephine Baker, Jean Harlow, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, and Greek poet Sappho. Its publications from the time used a slightly stiff font for lettering imposed by a regulatory body called the Qualifying Commission for Illustrated Magazines and Publications (made up of members of the Mexican Ministry of Public Education and created mainly to assuage the reactionary Catholic Legion of Decency) with the aim of protecting young readers from eye damage.

Most editions of Vidas Ilustres dealt purely with the biographical details of the person in question, but in the Obras Inmortales (“Immortal Works”) series the comic would dramatize not only their lives but also a famous work of their oeuvre—perhaps following the popular American line Classics Illustrated. This was the case with “El Hombre Que Se Convirtirio En Un Insecto”—“The Man Who Became an Insect.” Though not enormously faithful to Kafka’s original, “El Hombre Que Se Convirtirio En Un Insecto” does, in its lurid way, somehow retain the mood and intent of The Metamorphosis, its cover evoking perfectly the juvenile horror-story thrill that first drew me—and perhaps many others—to Kafka’s work.

Bundle of Holding: Blue Rose

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I am sure a lot of you, if not all, are familiar with the Bundle of Holding.
You pay a reduced price to get some great RPG books. Pay a little more and get a lot more. Often some of the money goes to charity.  Well, this month is one of my favorite games.

Bundle of Holding: Blue Rose

For just under $8 you can get $48 worth of material.  Not a bad deal at all.
If you were at all interested in this game this is the place to get it from and now is the time.

You can read my reviews of the game here:
It really is a great game.

BlackStar: Klingon Time Travel, The Ghost Station of Inverness Five Part 2

The Other Side -

I have been thinking about Time Crystals and Klingon Time Travel.
That almost sounds contradictory, but hear me out.

A couple of things about Klingon culture stand out to me.

First, there is Boreth, the Klingon Monastery.   When the First Emporer Kahless was leaving his people he pointed to a star and said: "Look for me there, on that point of light."  That point of light was the star that Boreth orbited.  It has been given as one of the reasons that Klingons expanded into space; to keep their promise with Kahless.

Boreth has only one building, a monastery dedicated to Kahless. Here devotees can have visions. One thing not spoken about in Federation circles is that these visions always come true.  Why?  Boreth is also home to naturally occurring Time Crystals.  These warps time around them much like dilithium warps matter and space.   No, the science doesn't make any real sense, but this is Star Trek, not Astrophysics.   So we have a culture that has a planet full of time altering crystals.  We saw the Klingon High Priest Tenavik grow to an adult in a few months here (ST:DISCO) and later Worf sees visions of his future (ST:TNG).

Klingons have also had access to time travel devices in Voyager. In particular, in 2404 (five years from the current Picard series) a Klingon named Korath "sells" Janeway a time travel device.  The implication is this was something only a Klingon could get and he wasn't supposed to be sharing it with any non-Klingon.

Then there is the Klingon homeworld of Qo'noS. Or as we say it, Kronos. Another nod to time.

So why don't Klingons travel in time?  Simple.  Kahless told them not too.

Before Kahless went to Sto'Vo'Kor he passed on some more wisdom to his fellow Klingons.
"nuq 'oH legh ghaH 'Iv legh qa' jIH."

or "He who looks to the past misses the future."

Klingons, while they honor their past, took this as an injunction against meddling with it.
Kahless is not just their Emporer, he is a messianic figure. Remember, according to Lt. Commander Worf, "Our gods are dead. Ancient Klingon warriors slew them a millennia ago. They were more trouble than they were worth."  Kahless is all they have left.


How does this fit into BlackStar?

This is the background I am using to set up "The Ghost Station of Inverness Five."
It would make for a great con game.  I could even run it straight as a pure Star Trek game, to be honest.  Though this makes The Ghost Station the most "Trek" of all the BlackStar adventures.

I am going to have to see if I can find an old copy of the FASA Trek Regula-1 Deck Plans.
After I posted my first post on The Ghost Station I realized I put a Space Station into what should at that time be protected space.  So the Time Crystals simply pulled the science station into the current time.

The station is from the Federation-Klingon war, so lots of old-school Trek fun with it.  I just have to be careful and not steal to many ideas that I was going to use in the "Ghost Ship" adventure.

The Bomb That Will Bring Us Together: Rick Veitch’s ‘The One’

We Are the Mutants -

Jonathan Lukens / March 10, 2020

In 1985, the first issue of an unusual new title hit the shelves of North American comic book stores. Part of Marvel Comics’ short-lived creator-owned imprint Epic, Rick Veitch’s The One stood out because its cover was an obvious visual reference to the red, orange, and yellow concentric circles of Tide laundry detergent’s branding. Throughout the pages of the first issue and those that followed, it became clear that those garish circles were meant to evoke the presence of an otherworldly energy emanating from The One—a savior figure and super heroic manifestation of humanity’s collective potential that is unleashed by the massive psychic shock of an imminent nuclear exchange.

The first issue opens with a reproduction of a newspaper clipping from March 14, 1984 that details the opinions of one Dr. Derrick de Kerckhove, then acting director of the Marshal McLuhan program in culture and technology at the University of Toronto. Dr. Kerckhove explains the benefits of nuclear weaponry, referring to the bomb as “something to bring us together.” Thirty-six years later, with a 2018 hardcover reprint of all five issues in front of me, I found myself questioning the veracity of the clipping: was it some conceit Veitch was using to establish the emergent consciousness of his oblique protagonist? A web search confirmed the existence of Dr. Kerckhove, and led me to a 1984 New York Times article that summarized his thesis: nuclear weapons, and the attendant possibility of the annihilation of our species, “binds people together in a way they have not been linked since the Middle Ages, albeit on the brink of collective suicide.”

Like a tripping Herman Kahn, or some Fellowship of Holy Fallout choir via Rand report, the origin of The One (both the character and the title) is drawn from this proto-accelerationist rhetoric. Presented throughout the series as a creation of cooperative and convivial aspects of human nature and manifesting itself (ourselves?) as both a black spandex-suited male figure and an aged man in a purple shirt and green and black windowpane-checked blazer, The One first appears in the moments just prior to the impact of nuclear missiles in a potentially world ending exchange between the Soviet Union and United States. Flying through the sky radiating an aura of weird magnetism, referencing the so-obvious-maybe-no-one-ever-noticed visual similarities between psychedelic art and detergent branding, The One drains the destructive energy of the incoming Soviet missiles. Mutually assured destruction is derailed by the awakening collective consciousness of this super-powered gestalt entity reminiscent of the Eternal Uni-Mind.

Subsequent super heroic action is punctuated by a series of recurring panels in which individual characters face the camera and explain events after the fact. Here, it is revealed that The One isn’t just a first wave example of the postmodern graphic novel that brought us Watchmen (1986-1987) and The Dark Knight Returns (1986). And it isn’t just a book about superheroes with moral ambiguities set in a universe with greater verisimilitude. Rather, The One is a work of eschatology that combines gonzo satire with superhero tropes to detail a dualistic cosmology, an immemorial struggle between The One and The Other, the latter a manifestation of selfishness and avarice. The Other functions as a stand-in for the allegedly basal desires exploited by consumerism. This critique is also evident in subsequent covers that continue in the vein of the first: a U.S. one dollar bill, a pocket calculator screen, a Coca Cola can, J.M. Flagg’s “I Want You” Army recruitment poster, and a McDonald’s Big Mac. (The subversion of corporate logos, products, and slogans by independent and underground artists became an ongoing “ironic commentary” in the decade that followed.)

The Other speaks through the character of Jay-hole, a shirtless and mulleted junky who explains: “Tribes! Armies! Governments! My master bore them all! […] His name is the other and he’s come back to collect the rent. […] He’s in competition with The One for total mastery over the human race.”

During its first manifestation, The One’s constituent members are rendered unconscious. Evoking the Christian rapture, and referencing the 1939 Raymond Chandler novel, they fall into what the characters refer to as “the big sleep.” At first, they are thought dead by those who remain “awake,” but as the series progresses the distinction between The One and the many is blurred. Jay-hole shares an apartment with his lover, Egypt, a pink and white-haired artist with skull earrings; her young son Larry; Jay-hole’s father, Doc Benway; and Benway’s girlfriend Guda. Much of the story involves Egypt’s potential corruption through Jay-hole and redemption via an association between Larry and The One.

This abortive Third World War as origin story was initiated by a character called Itchy Itch. A chain-smoking, bath-robed Bond villain, Itch is a defense contractor who has sold backdoor enabled computer systems to the United States and Soviet Navies. Itch uses this malicious firmware to manipulate the leaders of both countries: a cigar-chomping analog of Ronald Reagan (president McKenzie) and a Soviet premier (Kubalov) resembling Leonid Brezhnev, who speaks through a non-indwelling voice prosthesis. Drawing them into what he believes will be a survivable military confrontation, Itch plans on benefiting from the ensuing chaos. His investments, Itch explains, “have been strategically placed to capitalize upon the reckless errors others will make under pressure.”

However, while Itch’s Lex Luthor-like plans are successful, the emergence of The One is unanticipated. A new arms race begins, as the United States and Soviet Union call upon top secret super soldier programs. It is important to note that all of these “super heroes” are grotesques: on the Soviet side, the vamp and femme fatale Dr. Vera Pavlova borrows the forgotten Nazi endocrinological methods that produced Übermaus—a kaiju like giant rat—to create the caped superhuman Comrade Bog. Bog deploys his heightened strength, stamina, and gluttonous appetite against the Yankees while pontificating about the benefits of socialized medicine and the inadequacies of state-capitalist economies.

On the United States’ side, the super powered Charlie and Amelia have been brainwashed, somewhat like Marvelman’s Michael Moran, to believe they are earnest Midwestern siblings—an attempt to keep them from reproducing. Clad in the uniform of the 1984 US Olympic gymnastics team, and later revealed to be scientifically enhanced super-clones of Randian heros Charles Lindberg and Amelia Earhart, they struggle with desires for each other that they believe to be incestuous. Charles attacks Moscow, though he is seduced by Dr. Pavlova in a cringe-worthy scene in which unclear consent seems to be played for laughs. Meanwhile, Bog and Amelia proceed to battle in New York City, while The One and The Other compete for the souls of humanity.

This new superhuman arms race, and the “superior war,” allow Veitch to satire the “fallacy of the last move” explained in H. Bruce Franklin’s War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination (1988) as

the addictive, ever-unfulfilled expectation that each new exotic weapon created for our ‘defense’ would confer upon the United States permanent military superiority and invulnerable ‘security.’ Underlying this is another fallacy, also nourished in some science fiction, that science and technology are products of lone wizards such as Thomas Edison, or brilliant research teams, or national genius. This fallacy binds policymakers to the fact that since the United States and Soviet Union are at roughly equivalent stages of science and technology, and new weapons produced by one can soon be matched by the other, thus bringing about not supremacy for either but increased danger for both.

The series ends with The Other constructing a human pyramid—though an ambulatory one that responds to its commands—out of those who remain chained to their fears and desires, while “the ones” who comprise The One are revealed to occupy a sort of idyllic virtual space encapsulated within the material form of The One. Reminiscent of the soul world pocket dimension folded into the gem in Adam Warlock’s head, the One’s members frolic naked in a pastoral landscape complete with a reunited Beagles (yes, that’s spelled correctly) playing “mellow submarine.” The One, as a single material body, leaves earth to enter the “vastness of interstellar space,” with “a billion hearts and souls fueling his magnetic field.”

Perhaps put more succinctly by Doc Benway in one of the last issue’s final panels: “The nightmare of a nuclear confrontation had started a catharsis, and the superior war had finished it. Thus mankind unconsciously short-circuited evolution itself–and somehow lived to tell the tale… Some of us did anyway. And not only were we flying about in space as The One but we were still alive, somewhere, just like we used to be. Only happier. Much happier!”

This is a misunderstanding of the theory of evolution—as if the process is a historical movement toward some sort of pre-determined state of optimality instead of the ad-hoc accretion of adaptations that were proven advantageous after the fact of their instantiation. However, this misunderstanding underlines the modernist assumptions in what we may consider to be one of the first of the so-called postmodern comics: that time involves “progress” toward something specific, that history has a point. Perhaps it is easier to imagine a Beatles-referencing magnetic-field rapture in the ashes of civilizations destroyed by superheroes than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.

The One presents a benevolent mass mind triumphing through a sort of collectivized actualization. I’m reminded of the techno-positivist utopian rhetoric surrounding the early internet, as if all of those humans who had “short-circuited evolution itself” were traversing interstellar space in a giant humanoid craft, all plugged in to a VR Beatles concert to pass the time. The problem is that that collectivized actualization, that end of history, just seems boring and anticlimactic. Would I have enjoyed more catharsis if all of humanity had perished?

Rick Veitch would go on to work with Alan Moore on Swamp Thing, eventually taking over writing duties as well. After DC refused to publish a finished story of his in which Swamp Thing met Jesus Christ, Veitch turned to independent and self-published work. There, he continued to work with some of the concepts first sketched in The One. Titles like Maximortal and Brat Pack extended his deconstruction of the superhero, while his dream log, Rare Bit Fiends, addressed the anima mundi we see in The One’s gestalt form. In his afterward to the 2018 edition, Veitch writes, “It is not difficult to imagine that as capitalism takes its victory lap, the true ‘end of history’ is imminent. If there is any slim hope I cling to it is the same one that inspired this book back in 1985: that the current existential stresses placed on us by the situation we’ve put ourselves in will fundamentally transform the human race.”

Though the idea of a bucolic nudist countryside of mass-mind at the end of history leaves me even colder now than it did when The One was first published, we can’t fault Veitch for offering us something expected. In fact, my motivation to seek out a copy of something I vaguely remembered buying back in 1985 wasn’t because of the story or characters. It was because The One was jarring enough to my eleven-year-old self that it stuck with me. Though at times it seemed to As You Know and jump-cut, The One stood out because of its ambition and the weirdness it offered: in the era of Top Gun and Rambo, of American Anthem and Rush’n Attack, things like a giant Nazi rat eating Washington, and human faces peeling off to reveal orange and yellow pop-art radiation, offered something that freaked me out in a different way than the mechanical appendages and mutagenic ooze that were my usual fare. Dr. Strangelove met Dr. Strange. The One offered up a satirical end of both history and the superhero, and tried to offer some transcendent hope in a world that seemed to be on the precipice of annihilation.

Jonathan Lukens is a cultural worker from Atlanta. His work has been shown at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, played through omnifarious speakers, and published in The AtlanticDesign Issues, and The International Journal of Design in Society.

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Miskatonic Monday #36: Lost Symmetry

Reviews from R'lyeh -

Between October 2003 and October 2013, Chaosium, Inc. published a series of books for Call of Cthulhu under the Miskatonic University Library Association brand. Whether a sourcebook, scenario, anthology, or campaign, each was a showcase for their authors—amateur rather than professional, but fans of Call of Cthulhu nonetheless—to put forward their ideas and share with others. The programme was notable for having launched the writing careers of several authors, but for every Cthulhu InvictusThe PastoresPrimal StateRipples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was a Five Go Mad in EgyptReturn of the RipperRise of the DeadRise of the Dead II: The Raid, and more...

The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Repository, based on the same format as the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons. It is thus, “...a new way for creators to publish and distribute their own original Call of Cthulhu content including scenarios, settings, spells and more…” To support the endeavours of their creators, Chaosium has provided templates and art packs, both free to use, so that the resulting releases can look and feel as professional as possible. To support the efforts of these contributors, Miskatonic Monday is an occasional series of reviews which will in turn examine an item drawn from the depths of the Miskatonic Repository.

Name: Lost Symmetry

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Benjamin Schäfer

Setting: Lovecraft Country in the Jazz Age of the 1920s

Product: Scenario
What You Get: 1.65 MB twelve-page, full colour PDF
Elevator Pitch: Sometimes the numbers add up to more than they should. 
Plot Hook: A missing brilliant mathematics student would never miss an exam, would he?
Plot Development: A missing friend, grumpy faculty staff,something for the bookhound in your life, sir?, and the Mythos comes home.
Plot Support: A new Mythos tome, two handouts, and a set of floorplans.

# Simple set-up
# Easily adapted to other times and periods
# One-shot or one-session scenario
# Potential addition to a Lovecraft Country campaign
# Nicely curmudgeonly NPCs
# Easy to run with little preparation
# Potential investigator introduction to the Mythos
# Could be played one-on-one
# Cinematic feel to a fun climax
# Possible sequel to Spark of Life

Cons# Needs editing
# Underdeveloped in places
# Why do the police turn up?
# No Sanity rewards

# Needs editing
# Simple, straightforward scenario with a cinematic climax 
# Decent one-shot or introduction to Lovecrafian investigative roleplaying

Monstrous Mondays: Acolytes to Initiates

The Other Side -

I think if I was hard-pressed into it I could recall all of the monsters from the Moldavy Basic D&D book.  I read that section over and over.  In my pre-adolescent mind, I felt I had to memorize the monsters so I could properly run a D&D game.

"Acolyte, Ape (white), Bandit, Bat, ..."  I didn't try to memorize the order, but it came with the territory.  I would pour over the Monster Manual with the same enthusiasm and likewise the Cook/Marsh Expert book.   But they did not "attach" themselves to my psyche the same way that the Basic book did.  The Monster Manual did so in different ways and the Expert monsters provided me with some of my all-time favorites.

Largely due to something called "The Serial Position Effect" in psychology it was easiest to remember the endpoints; Acolytes and Zombies.  So my earliest games had a lot of these.  Sometimes, oftentimes, in the same encounters. 

I grew rather fond of acolytes to be honest.  Not only did they have more flexibility than veterans (the "monster" type for fighters) but they could be used in a variety of ways.  Devotees on pilgrimages, wandering friars or monks, cultists, and yes, these guys.

With the Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition on the way, why not do the same with witches?

Image by Enrique Meseguer from PixabayInitiates
Initiates are 1st level witches on personal quests.  They usually travel in small groups, but larger groups can have higher level witches.  Groups of 4 or more are led by a higher level witch (1d10: 1–4: 2nd level, 5–7: 3rd level, 8–9: 4th level, 10: 5th level).

These witches will typically all be from the same coven and tradition.  For example, a coven of Bandrui witches can be Pagan Witch and/or Green Witch Traditions.

(Labyrinth Lord)
No. Enc.: 1d6+1  (2d6+1)
Alignment: Any
Movement: 60' (20')
Armor Class: 9 [10]
Hit Dice: 1* (3 hp)
Attacks: 1 (dagger)
Damage: 1d6
Special: Witch spells
Save: Witch 1
Morale: 8
Hoard Class: IV
XP: 10

(Blueholme Journeymanne Rules)
AC: 9 [10]
HD: 1d4
Move: 60
Attacks: 1 (dagger, 1d6), Witch spell
Alignment: Any
Treasure: 0 (3)
XP: 10

(Old-School Essentials)
1st level witches on personal quests.

Armor Class 9 [10]
Hit Dice 1 (5 hp)
Attacks 1 × dagger (1d6) or spell
THAC0 19 [0]
Movement Rate 60’ (20’)
Saves D11 W12 P14 B16 S15 (W1)
Morale 8
Alignment Any
XP for Defeating 10
Number Appearing 1d6+1 (2d6+1)
Treasure Type U
  • Demi-Human witches. Elven NPC witches are known as “Kuruni,” and Dwarven NPC witches are called “Xothia.”
  • Leader. Groups of 4+ are led by a higher level witch (1d10: 1–4: 2nd level, 5–7: 3rd level, 8–9: 4th level, 10: 5th level). Choose or roll the leader’s spells.
  • Person. Considered a “person” for magical effects.
(Iron Falcon)
Armor Class 9
Hit Dice 1
No. Attacks 1
Damage 1d6, by weapon
Move 6"
Alignment Any
No. Appearing 2d6+1
% in Lair None
Treasure C

Coming Soon!

The Craft of the Wise - The Pagan Witch Tradition for Old-School Essentials

Miskatonic Monday #35: Church of Chiropteran Wisdom

Reviews from R'lyeh -

Between October 2003 and October 2013, Chaosium, Inc. published a series of books for Call of Cthulhu under the Miskatonic University Library Association brand. Whether a sourcebook, scenario, anthology, or campaign, each was a showcase for their authors—amateur rather than professional, but fans of Call of Cthulhu nonetheless—to put forward their ideas and share with others. The programme was notable for having launched the writing careers of several authors, but for every Cthulhu InvictusThe PastoresPrimal StateRipples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was a Five Go Mad in EgyptReturn of the RipperRise of the DeadRise of the Dead II: The Raid, and more...

The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Repository, based on the same format as the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons. It is thus, “...a new way for creators to publish and distribute their own original Call of Cthulhu content including scenarios, settings, spells and more…” To support the endeavours of their creators, Chaosium has provided templates and art packs, both free to use, so that the resulting releases can look and feel as professional as possible. To support the efforts of these contributors, Miskatonic Monday is an occasional series of reviews which will in turn examine an item drawn from the depths of the Miskatonic Repository.

Name: Church of Chiropteran Wisdom

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Sal North

Setting: England Jazz Age of the 1920s

Product: Scenario
What You Get: 733.72 Kb seven-page, full colour PDF
Elevator Pitch: Shopping for sacrifices? 
Plot Hook: A missing person case points to a jewel on the English coast.
Plot Development: Several missing persons and a batty old shop.
Plot Support: Two NPCs, a new monster, and a Mask of the Crawling Chaos.

# Simple, location based scenario
# Easily adapted to other times and periods 
# One-shot or side-quest scenario
# Potential addition to Masks of Nyarlathotep

Cons# Unedited
# Underdeveloped plot
# Paucity of clues
# Underwhelming hook
# Tamworth, ‘Surrey’?

# Underdeveloped 
# Needs editing
# A Keeper project to improve?

2000: Three Days to Kill

Reviews from R'lyeh -

1974 is an important year for the gaming hobby. It is the year that Dungeons & Dragons was introduced, the original RPG from which all other RPGs would ultimately be derived and the original RPG from which so many computer games would draw for their inspiration. It is fitting that the current owner of the game, Wizards of the Coast, released the new version, Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, in the year of the game’s fortieth anniversary. To celebrate this, Reviews from R’lyeh will be running a series of reviews from the hobby’s anniversary years, thus there will be reviews from 1974, from 1984, from 1994, and from 2004—the thirtieth, twentieth, and tenth anniversaries of the titles—and so on, as the anniversaries come up. These will be retrospectives, in each case an opportunity to re-appraise interesting titles and true classics decades on from the year of their original release.

The year 2000 is significant in the gaming hobby because it marked the beginning of the ‘d20 Era’, a period of unparalleled creativity by publishers large and small—and tiny, as they used the d20 System to power game after game, scenario after scenario, supplement after supplement, genre after genre. Some new, some old, some simple reskins. And there are publishers twenty or so years later who are still writing using the d20 System. As much as publishers explored different worlds and settings using the d20 System and its System Reference Document, at its heart was one roleplaying game, launched in the year 2000—Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition. Just as Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition is the top roleplaying game today, Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition was the top roleplaying game of its day, and the advent of the d20 System let other publishers play in the Dungeons & Dragons sandpit, just as many had back in the early days of the hobby. The aim of this series of reviews is not to review Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition itself, for that would not necessarily make for an interesting review. Rather it is to look at some of the interesting titles which came out of the d20 System boom that started twenty years ago.

From the off, the d20 System allowed publishers to ride the wave of popularity that was Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition, and that started at Gen Con 2000 with adventures from publishers such as Atlas Games. Better known for roleplaying games such as Over the Edge and Feng Shui: Action Movie Roleplaying, Atlas Games would launch its Penumbra line of d20 System supplements with one of the very first adventures for Dungeons & Dragons, Third EditionThree Days to Kill. What is notable about Three Days to Kill—beyond the fact that it was the first scenario published for Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition, it that it was written by John Tynes, then better known as co-designer of Unknown Armies and the Delta Green setting for Call of Cthulhu. So what you had was a horror writer designing a fantasy adventure and that is evident in certain ‘Grim Dark’ tone to Three Days to Kill. The other notable fact about Three Days to Kill is that it sees me as a reviewer returning to where I started, having reviewed the scenario in 2001 at RPG.net. Of course this will be a more likely occurrence as we proceed into the next decade, but this does not mean that such titles are not worth reviewing or revisiting.

Designed for a party of player characters of First Level to Third Level, Three Days to Kill takes place in what is intended to be an isolated area in the Dungeon Master’s campaign. This is in and around the valley known as the Deeps, at the heart of which is Deeptown, a major stop along a long east-west trade route through a range of  mountains. The town’s primary interest is trade and supporting the constant movement of caravans which travel east and west along the trade road. The town council—as well as the Trade Circle, made up of Deeptown’s most important businessmen and which has a strong, if subtle grip on the town—are particularly concerned about maintaining the flow of goods and money through Deeptown. This includes accepting the presence of religions and faiths which would not be accepted elsewhere, such as the Sect of Sixty, which seeks to deceive and seduce through pleasure and hedonism. As long as no one temple or faith upsets the balance of trade through the town, they are allowed to continue ministering to their flocks. Upset or threaten that balance and the Town Council will see to it that the priests are driven from the town, the faith’s temple burned to the ground, and the faith banned in Deep Town. That is until the faith can renegotiate terms more favourable to the Town Council for the return of their priests to Deep Town.

Whilst there is an obvious balance being maintained in Deeptown, there is a more subtle counterpart beyond the earthen ramparts of the town. This is not maintained by the town council or the Trade Circle, but by a half dozen bandit ‘lords’ who prey upon the merchant caravans travelling in and out of Deeptown and the Deeps. They have learned to carry out well-executed assaults on the richer caravans, perhaps killing a few guards, but leaving travellers and merchants alive, in the case of the latter, perhaps to target them again on the way out of the valley or on a return journey. What they avoid is committing massacres. That only attracts the attention of the authorities in Deeptown and increases the likelihood of their retaliating.

As Three Days to Kill opens, neither of the top two bandit lords are happy with this balance of power. One has learned that his rival is seeking an alliance with outsiders to crush his forces and so take control of bandit operations in the valley. In order to counter this, he plans to hire a team of outside thugs, equip them, and have them assault the location where the rival is meeting his potential new allies. Not necessarily to kill, but to disrupt the meeting and in the process, undermine the alliance before it gets off the ground. Enter the player characters…

The player characters arrive in Deeptown almost like everyone else—accompanying or guarding a merchant caravan. They arrive just in time for the Festival of Plenty, an annual event put on by the Sect of Sixty. This is a pageant of wine, song, and ribald debauchery culminating in a performance of Passion of Arimbo, a popular folk tale about a farmer who follows a jolly devil into the rings of Hell. The player characters are free to participate in the festival or even work it as guards, and the scenario caters for either option. There is opportunity here for plenty of roleplaying for both the Dungeon Master and her players, enough for a session before the main plot comes into play. Alternatively, if the Dungeon Master wanted to run a shorter session, she could ignore the Festival of Plenty entirely and cut to the main plot. That though would be to miss a certain plot payoff if any of the player characters do get involved in the event’s debauchery, especially given who and what the Sect of Sixty actually worship.

The main plot to Three Days to Kill sees the player characters armed and equipped by one bandit lord to strike at another. The arming and equipping includes magical items as well as mundane ones, but the magical ones are very specific and for a specific purpose, all to be used during the assault. They consist of a Wand of Fireballs—with a single charge; an Orb of Sight—which provides low light, telescopic, and even X-ray vision; twenty Flare Pebbles; and a Sleep Arrow. A Wand of Fireballs with one charge rather than a Fireball Scroll because it models a rocket launcher; the Orb of Sight because it models low-light or IR Goggles; the Flare Pebbles because they model flashbang grenades; and the Sleep Arrow because it models a stun grenade or knockout dart. What this all models and what the climax of Three Days to Kill models—as it clearly states—is a Tom Clancy-style special ops mission in a fantasy setting. So the player characters will need to reconnoitre the villa where the meeting is taking place and plan how to carry out the assault. To that end the author includes advice on the strategies the player characters can use and their players can make skill rolls for their preparations as necessary.

Only on the journey to the villa will the player characters begin to learn that there is something amiss. There are others, priests of the Temple of the Holy Order from Deeptown, who were aware of the meeting between the bandit lord and his prospective allies—and they paid for it with their lives. However, this should not stop the party from continuing with its mission. And ideally, this mission should go as clockwork up until the point where it does not and all hell breaks loose—literally. For the truth of the matter is that the bandit lord is seeking an alliance with diabalists and when the player characters attack, they bring allies of their own. Ones that the player characters will not be expecting and are probably ill-equipped to deal with. And then there is the issue of just who killed the priests of the Temple of the Holy Order from Deeptown…

As written, Three Days to Kill consists of a simple background and a straightforward plot—at least as far as the player characters are concerned. In fact, the plot is quite complex and this will come out in play as it complications will disrupt the plans of the player characters, the bandit lord, and the Sect of Sixty. The background is detailed, covering the Deeptown and some of the surrounding Deeps valley, but is not specific, which has a couple of ramifications. One ramification is that Three Days to Kill is easily adapted to the setting of the Dungeon Master’s choice, or indeed the fantasy roleplaying game of the Game Master’s choice. This is because the author leaves plenty of scope for the Dungeon Master to supply that flavour, whether that is renaming the Sect of Sixty and the Temple of the Holy Order or relocating Deeptown to fit her own campaign world. The other ramification is that beyond a certain grim tone to the situation and plot, Three Days to Kill is lacking in flavour.

For the players, Three Days to Kill presents an interesting challenge, especially with low Level player characters. The instinct for players and thus their characters is to kill, after all, it goes to the heart of dungeoneering and thus Dungeons & Dragons. Now should the player characters decide not to obey their instructions and rush in, events are likely to backfire on them. Once they attack and events escalate, should they stay and fight, then again events are likely to backfire on them. Three Days to Kill is very much a get in, perform the strike, and get out again mission, just like the special forces missions it is modelling.

Physically, Three Days to Kill is well written and nicely illustrated. The artwork of  Toren Atkinson, Scott Reeves, and David White gives the book a gritty, grainy feel which hints at the dirty nature of the situation in and around Deeptown. Yet the layout does feel cramped and the maps—obviously done using Pro Fantasy Software’s Campaign Cartographer 2—do not match that style. Some of them do feel too clean and unfussy in comparison to the artwork and sometimes feel too big for what they are depicting. The rest of the maps are more detailed and convey more information.

At the time of its release, Three Days to Kill, looked rather sparse in comparison to other adventures. After all, there is not a lot of plot and what there is takes up barely a third of the scenario. Nor is there much in the way of flavour beyond the grim, dark tone. And yet there is both adaptability and utility in Three Days to Kill, it is easier to use because of it, and not only is both plot and assault on the summit well-handled, they are supported with further plot hooks and consequences which make the setting of Deeptown and the Deeps  easier to add to a campaign. Although Three Days to Kill might be more memorable for being the first scenario published for use with Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition, than for its adventure, it does mean that adventure is not handily serviceable.

Far Future Dungeon Delving

Reviews from R'lyeh -

Far out beyond the Humanity Sphere lie the Glogotha. Located deep in the Dust Spheres, the remnants of alien civilisations ground up in the vast and ancient Everwar between the mysterious Erix Absolution and the powerful Concordant of Shelz, their names conjure up  images of wonder and great danger—the Paradox Spire, the Grove, the Resurrection Hive, the Delphia, the Glass Labyrinth… They are tombs of fallen cultures—mortuaries, amouries, data centres, research bases, and more. They can be surface facilities, or underground or under deep oceans of liquids other than water, orbital bases, ringworlds, or even dyson spheres. Many hold great secrets and ancient technologies which the Overseers, the caretakers of the Human Sphere, mysteriously covet. Recovering such technologies—fragments, baubles, and mechanisms—is the province of Scavengers.

Getting to the Golgotha requires permission from the Overseers as well as a Star Map. This is because they control access to the esoteric subspace fractures which enable Portal Ships to travel between worlds at faster than light speed—a science that along with true A.I. that mankind was unable to discover or develop before the Overseers made contact. Armed with a contract and a Star Map, the Overseers will plot a Scavenger team a course down the Fractureways out from inner machine planets, past the verdant pleasure worlds, sanctioned war worlds, and separatist fringe worlds to the dead empires of long ago where both the Erix Absolution and the Concordant of Shelz have forbidden humanity to go. Once they reach their target they have limited amount of time before either the Erix Absolution or the Concordant of Shelz becomes aware of their presence. Neither may notice every time a Scavenger team lurks on the fringes of their war, but when they do, the only thing the team can do is run. The technology of the Erix Absolution and the Concordant of Shelz is highly advanced and there is little that Humanity can do in the face of it. This is a danger that the Scavengers are likely to encounter as they are fleeing the Golgotha. There are other dangers they may face before then—the dangerous environments of each and every Golgotha, internal countermeasures and guardians of the facility where the desired mechanism is believed to be located, rival Scavenger teams, pirates, and other aliens with an interest in the Golgotha. And then there is the question of why a Scavenger team would go to such lengths and face such dangers to recover ancient technology for an incredibly advanced race? In the post-scarcity Human Sphere, simply enhancements to the personal genome—modifications, adjustments, and boosts—beyond human technology. The question is why? What does each Scavenger want from these enhancements? Who does he need to be better than?

This is the set-up for Golgotha: A Science Fiction Game of Exploration and Discovery at the Edge of Known Space published by Fire Ruby Designs following a successful Kickstarter campaign. It is a standalone Science Fiction humanocentric roleplaying game which uses The Black Hack for its mechanics. So it is an Old School Renaissance roleplaying game which uses simple, player-facing rules—that is, the players roll, but the Game Master never does—for faster play. Humans are the only player character species and the players have four Classes to choose from. These are Blade or warriors; Ghosts, adjusted by the Overseers to be capable of manipulating Glimmers, the remnants of Golgotha control architecture (this leaves them weak though); Pathfinders are scouts, navigators, pilots, and reconnaissance specialist able to spot ambushes and deal with Golgotha countermeasures; and Operators, who handle negotiations and similar situations, but also know how to make their escape. To create a character, a player decides on a concept, name, and past, and rolls three six-sided dice in order for the traditional six attributes—Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma—with any roll of fourteen or more meaning that the next attribute value is set at seven. A character also starts play with a Talent from his selected Class, a unique piece of gear, and a Drive. The latter is his motivation for becoming a Scavenger and once per session grants his player a reroll if he can persuade the Game Master that the Drive is relevant.

Name: Earond Jackson
Class: Ghost Level: 1
Drive: To discover the secrets of the Golgotha
Hit Points: 5

Strength 13, Dexterity 13, Constitution 13, Intelligence 16, Wisdom 7, Charisma 16

Ability: Use Glints (Advantage)
Talents: Decipher (+1)
Weapon Proficiencies: Small Weapons (d3)
Equipment: Condensed Needle Pistol, a couple of interesting hats

To the player-facing rules of The Black Hack, the rules in Golgotha add rules for Portal Ships—ships are treated the same way as player characters—and the dangers of both space and of Golgotha, such as Countermeasures, the traps left behind by the original builders or occupiers of the now sepulchral planets. When exploring Golgotha, the Ghost Class has some advantage in that he has been given the ability by the Overseers to access remnants of Golgotha technology known as Glimmers. These being able to observe other parts of a Golgotha, hide the presence of a Scavenger party, illuminate an area, and so on. In mechanical terms these are simple attribute tests as per The Black Hack, often at varying degrees of difficulty for different effects. So the Access Glimmer is a Wisdom check which lets a Ghost open any door he touches, but at a +3 penalty to remotely open any door he has passed through in a Golgotha, and at a +5 penalty to open any door he knows about in a Golgotha. 

Additional threats come in the form of fellow scavengers like the Octos, who always operate in the armoured environment suits which contain the liquid atmosphere they need to survive and who strip and break down Golgotha to rebuild shell-like installations; Sharks, another aquatic species which needs breather masks to survive and goggles to protect their delicate eyes, which take any species it can as slaves; and the Goblin-like pirates with their multifaceted eyes and weird gait. Although the Scavengers are unlikely to encounter either the Erix or the Shelz, they may well encounter their client species. The Erix client species have an insectoid look to them and are typically led by the diamond-hard Erix machines, whilst the Shelz client species have a demonic cast to them. Whilst the client species are easy enough to use, the independent races are more difficult to bring into play, primarily because their motivations are not really developed. For example, the Goblins are described as pirates, but pirates for whom, why are they pirates, and what do they do with the captives and plunder they take?

The point of visiting the Golgotha is of course to find ancient, alien technology. Here Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law which states that ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ comes into play, the Game Master being advised to handle the various fragments, baubles, and mechanisms hopefully waiting to be found in the Golgotha as flavour  and as mystery rather than something quantifiable. This might not work in other Science Fiction roleplaying games, but in Golgotha the point is that such technology is not intended to be used by the player characters as in those other roleplaying games, but handed over to their Overseer patrons in return for upgrades. 

A typical Scavenger mission follows a three act structure. Taking up the contract and getting to the Golgotha, exploring the Golgotha itself, and then escaping before either the Erix or the Shelz become aware of the Scavenger’s presence. The design of Golgotha, much like the Scavengers’ exploration to find particular artefacts—or magical items—shows all of the hallmarks of the dungeoneering style of play and design of the ruleset the roleplaying game uses and inherited from the very first roleplaying game. Yet it differs in that obtaining the artefacts is for their use as currency with which to purchase upgrades—as opposed to straight Experience Points—and in that the design of Golgotha is done more by node than by room after connected room. This does not mean that travel between locations is necessarily ignored, but rather that it can be used for purposes of drama or flavour, and further, that Golgotha can be designed without needing to draw maps. Golgotha does include a few tables to help the Game Master design her own in terms of architecture and location, but these are more spurs for the imagination. Once a delve into a Golgotha is complete, it is time for the Scavengers to make their escape to the nearest fracture in space in the last act, and this is made all the more dramatic by the possibility that the Erix or the Shelz might appear. This is handled with a timing die, rolled as  a Usage die—beginning with a twenty-sided die and reduced to the next smaller die type on a roll of a one or two down to a four-sided die—which the Game Master has been rolling since the start of the mission whenever seems appropriate. Once one or two is rolled on the last die one or both of the combatants in the Everwar comes to investigate the intrusion in what it regards is its territory. 

If the Scavengers are successful, the Overseers will reward them with upgrades and genetic augmentations. In game terms, this is essentially a player character going up a Level, but thematically it is a nice explanation. However, it is not without its problems, and Scavengers may be left with genetic quirks as well as upgrades.

Rounding out Golgotha is a selection of example Golgotha, including the Hall of Whispers, a series of blisters on the wall of a chasm of the third moon of the gas giant Pellos, where physically dense memory core may be found, and the Inseminator, an industrial complex buried under acidic, toxic sludge in the crust of a greenhouse planet in the Suul system where an A.I. which controlled a massive breeding programme is believed to be found. Each of the twelve Golgotha, all written by Kickstarter backers, includes a summary, a description of its structure, function, quirks, guardians and other dangers, example encounters, and what might be found there. All are ready to run with some preparation upon the part of the Game Master, but all together, the dozen can serve as the basis for a campaign.

At its heart, Golgotha is an excuse to do dungeon bashes or delves in space. After all, it is a Class and Level system and the Golgotha are abandoned tombs or crypts—but with an advanced technological look and feel. Golgotha does not go out of its way to hide this, but instead presents a compelling set-up and thus the reasons why for its playing style. Apart from the Golgotha, the setting is only given cursory detail, leaving the Game Master to develop that herself. In fact, she has carte blanche and scope to develop the universe of Golgotha as she wants. Yet if there is anything really missing from Golgotha it is inspiration for player character motivation. There is mechanical motivation provided—that is, get artefacts, get augmented, go up a Level, but not personal motivation in the context of the setting. Instead it leaves it up to the player and the Game Master to decide what such motivations might be, and whilst that is obviously possible, it does feel as if both are coming to the decision cold. Thus some examples, some context, could have made the process easier. Similarly, some of the motivations of the various independent races could have been better developed and given context. 

Physically, Golgotha is a well presented book. It is well written and comes with a lot good full colour artwork that captures the feel of exploring and plundering the abandoned worlds of ancient civilisations. Overall, Golgotha: A Science Fiction Game of Exploration and Discovery at the Edge of Known Space combines the simple mechanics of The Black Hack with a compelling set-up which brings classic dungeon delving style of play—with its mysteries and dangers—to a high Science Fiction setting.

All Aboard for Autophagia

Reviews from R'lyeh -

In Call of Cthulhu, sea voyages are never the restful trips that a sea cruise would suggest. Ever since ‘The Mauretania’ from Asylum & Other Tales, passenger liners have been hotbeds of Mythos activity, whether a passenger is inadvertently transporting an artefact of great importance and cultists want it back, the passengers are being prepared as a sacrifice to the Elder God of a madman’s choice, or the ship comes across some strange island or ship which just should be there. Simply put, in Call of Cthulhu, sea travel is never safe. Especially not sea cruises. But what if the investigators had to get aboard a vessel which had already suffered such a disaster? What if it was already in port and under quarantine and they just had to get aboard? This is the situation at the start of Autophagia: Fear & Infection in from the High Seas.

Published by Stygian Fox, Autophagia is essentially a mash-up between The Poseidon Adventure and The Thing From Another World. It is set in the roleplaying game’s classic era of the Jazz Age and does deal with mature themes—often in interesting historical context—which will require players to take an equally mature attitude when playing through the scenario. Its story and events are all confined to the middle of the New York harbour. Here the Essexia, sister ship to the Mauretania and Lusitania, has been placed under quarantine and ordered to anchor offshore, following reports of an outbreak aboard ship of a disease which has already caused the deaths of several passengers. It is designed to be run as a single session of claustrophobic horror aboard an oddly deserted vessel. The first problem for the investigators is getting aboard, but the scenario more or less handwaves this. Similarly, it all but handwaves anything that the investigators do before anyone aboard—crew or passengers—spots them, reports their presence, and they find themselves being interviewed by the ship’s captain in his cabin. The question is why bother spending so much time discussing either, even in such a cursory manner before dismissing both, if the point of the set-up is to get the investigators to the actual start of the scenario in the captain’s cabin? 

Alternatively, why not include some hooks and thus sufficient reasons for the investigators to want to commit an act which would break international law—that is, break a quarantine almost on the high seas? Then, why not follow it up with some challenges for getting aboard ship and once aboard, for getting around unnoticed—for a time—trying to achieve something related to their reason for being aboard? Not necessarily for the investigators to fail, but rather to add drama and tension to what is a dramatic and tense situation. In fact, what is actually a clever and interesting, even novel set-up, but one that is completely, utterly, disappointingly ignored by the scenario.

Once aboard though, the captain—who is more than a little reminiscent of the captain of the Golgafrinchan Ark Fleet Ship B from The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, though he has a cat rather than a rubber duck—will more or less gives his permission for the investigators to help the ship’s doctor, who has been overwhelmed by outbreak of the strange disease and subsequent events. What they discover is a ship almost in lockdown, the ‘almost’ being determined, naturally, by social class, and then by whether or not the passenger is suffering from the strange illness which has beset the ship. Thus the ill of First and Second Class, along with everyone of Third Class have been confined to Third Class cabins. This gives the Essexia a strange, even unnerving deserted feel when normally its halls and desks would throng and bustle with passengers. 

The unaffected of First and Second have greater freedom of movement, including spending time and eating in the dining hall. This presents the opportunity to investigate and interact with a number of the passengers and so learn more of what has been happening aboard. It also gives the Keeper a few nicely done and each very different NPCs to portray and roleplay. Of course, as the investigators proceed apace with their enquiries, there is a countdown ticking away in the background, the likelihood of even more passengers coming down with the strange sickness aboard the Essexia, which exhibits as a strange desire to gnaw and pick at your own flesh. And of course, the possibility that the investigators might come down with it themselves...

Autophagia is decently presented, a slim full colour book illustrated with a mix of period photographs and the occasional piece of artwork. Period deck plans are also included, alongside floor plans of various cabin classes. A menu adds an element of verisimilitude, since the investigators are likely to be spending time in the First Class Dining Hall. Unfortunately, the editing feels rushed and underwhelming.

Autophagia is not a scenario for the inexperienced Keeper, for whilst there are only three acts, once the investigators have been let loose by the ship’s captain, it is fairly freeform in nature. As a one-night mystery, the Keeper may need to rush things towards the scenario’s climax, but run over more sessions than just the one and she will have to improvise a little more. Despite the disappointing failure to initially capitalise on the novelty and challenging nature of its set-up, Autophagia: Fear & Infection in from the High Seas is a decent scenario, delivering a vile dose of masticating horror.

Iron Falcon Handbook of Monsters

The Other Side -

I have talked a lot about Basic Fantasy in the past.  It is one of my favorites of the Retro-Clone movement and it in many ways reflects how I played back in the early 80s with a mix of Basic D&D and Advanced D&D.   Something I think that a lot of people did and something that creator Chris Gonnerman was keenly aware of.

A while back I discovered he had done ANOTHER game called Iron Falcon.
Iron Falcon, like Basic Fantasy, is a Basic-era Retro Clone, though more on the side of OD&D than AD&D.  Gonnerman is more explicit about this being a game not of the rules "as they were written" but more "as we played them."

That appeals to me.

You can get Iron Falcon in lots of places.  In particular the dedicated website, Lulu, Amazon and of course DriveThruRPG.   I hope to play around with it some more to see what it is all about, but so far it feels like a nice mix of OD&D feel and Basic D&D play.

But today I want to talk about the Iron Falcon Handbook of Monsters.  Or rather, let's let Chris Gonnerman talk about it and his plans for it.

The Cafepress shop can be found here, https://www.cafepress.com/ironfalcon.

There is a lot of cool merchandise here and like Chris mentions, the difference here between this and a Kickstarter is you get something right away.   I think it is a great idea. I am going to have to grab a t-shirt or two.

So check it out and come back every month to see what is new and different.

I'll try to get some Iron Falcon reviews up soon.


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