Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Raiders Preview: Fringe Groups and Pseudo-Archeology!

How can a campaign be great without great adversaries to contend against? We didn't have to go far to find real historical factions, fanatics, sinister forces, deluded fringe groups, and pseudo-archeologists to fit the bill! The early 20th century was filled with all kinds of shady characters and shadowy coteries and cabals to contend against and thwart the player's characters at every opportunity.

This section of the game provides the game master with a wide variety of intensely dedicated and fanatic organizations that are determined to acquire The Mesopotamian Tablets of Destiny before you do! Except they want to use its extraordinary power to further their own ends or even take over the world, and you want to put it in a museum where serious scholars and people can study it to increase their understanding of history.

I've already covered Nazi Archeology in a previous post, but these are some other, but no less adverse, groups to contend against:

Schools of Pseudo-Archeology
Not all relic hunters are mere tomb raiders; many are scientists who have particular theories - albeit non-mainstream theories - as to the true nature of the ancient past and how the existence of super-powered artifacts may fit into the scope of history. Attempts to prove the existence of these theories can drive archeological investigations! (Referees may also think of this as a sort of alignment system for archeologists...) Here are some examples of such schools of thought:

Ancient Astronauts School
This school would not gain widespread attention until the 1960s works of Swiss author Erich von Daniken (Chariots of the Gods, et al) but there may be proponents of it in the 1930s. The idea is that legends of ancient gods and their powerful artifacts are not magical or divine, but rather represent the super-technological relics left behind by nonhuman extraterrestrials who visited Earth and were mistakenly worshipped as deities by early civilizations. Thus, artifacts with “magical” powers are actually technologies so advanced that are indistinguishable from magic (e.g., psionic focusing machines), while monsters, immortal humans, demi-gods, and hybrid creatures are the result of biological experiments or interbreeding between humans and these alien beings.

Lost Super Civilization School
These artifact raiders also explain away ancient objects of power as not magic but technology, but do not subscribe to the idea of ancient astronauts. Instead they believe that a past technological civilization existed, perhaps 10,000 or 20,000 years ago. They may call it Atlantis, Lemuria, Mu, or Thule; regardless, it was a great civilization of men, perhaps a human master race with more-than-human mental abilities; however, they feel there is no need to invoke gods, angels, and the supernatural. Even when confronted with divine power, they explain it with scientific terminology: it’s a radio for talking to god!” This theory is obviously most palatable to gadgeteer characters (and mad scientists).

Comparative Mythologists
These archeologists believe that a core of truth exists behind ancient myths but like to attempt to explain them as fairly historical events. The more mundane amongst them conflate multiple myths together, e.g., suggesting that the figures in the various “Ark” stories (Noah, Ziusudra, Utnapishtim, etc.) were all versions of the same original, tale. Their basic theory is that tales of miracles or ancient gods are explainable as exaggerated stories of real events. The Flood was a period of really bad weather. The Trojan War was just a political-economic struggle between Mycenae and Asia Minor; gods like Odin or Horus or Apollo or Isis were dim folk-memories of powerful ancient chieftains and priestesses at the dawn of history fictionalized by their descendents into divine myths. Where they differ from mainstream archeology is that they think it is quite possible a diligent archeologist really will stumble upon the “Tomb of Zeus” or discover astronomical records that prove the Star of Bethlehem was a super nova or some such. But they will usually be shocked if confronted with “real” supernatural powers!

Other Nationalist Archeologists
Archeologists working for the  intensely-nationalistic fascist Italy and Empire of Japan will, like Nazi Germany, be interested in anything that promotes their leader’s power. Italian archeologists seek to dig up Roman relics. Japanese archeologists are often interested in ancient Shinto relics in Japan, and in Buddhist relics (found anywhere across Asia and India). In the USSR archeologists working for state-controlled agencies such as Moscow University are interested in early Slavic civilizations, or simply in finding anything valuable that will increase Soviet power. (However, Russians who promote the wrong theories risk being purged by Stalin and so must carefully interpret artifacts in light of atheist communist theory which denies the existence of gods, believes that history progresses forward, and is skeptical of magic but not necessarily psychic powers. There are likely secret NKVD spies hidden amongst any group of Soviet archeologists who will not hesitate to denounce anyone who deviates from the present party line. Of course, anything with military significance will be valued regardless of its explanation.

Religious-Inspired Archeologists
The best-funded of these are Christian archeologists who are interested in proving the historical truth of the Bible’s miracles by recovering Biblical artifacts of power like the Sword of King David or the Rod of Moses, or of finding physical evidence of events or places from the Bible like the Flood, the Tower of Babel, Garden of Eden, or the Parting of the Red Sea. They often receive their funding from the Vatican (see the description of the Pontifical Commission on Sacred Archeology) or from American protestant churches. Some of the latter are interested in theories that prove the infallibility of the Bible over mainstream science, e.g., “young earth creationism” (that the earth is no more than a few thousand years old). There are other groups such as Mormon archeologists who attempt to find evidence supporting the Book of Mormon such as the idea that Israelites traveled to America.

One-Issue Fringe-Theorists
These are usually trying to use archeology to prove one particular fringe theory  such as the reality of a Tibetan Super-Civilization, the existence of Atlantis or Lemuria, or Vikings in the New World, or proof of a great witch-cult that stretched across Europe, or that monsters such as the Minotaur are real. One popular example is the Lovecraftian School, a hybrid of religious-inspired and ancient astronauts, these believe in the existence of elder non-human gods who ruled earth before man (and may still sleep in obscure places). They seek out ruins whose strange geometries and bizarre structures are suggestive of non-human construction, and often fund expeditions to locations where no cities are supposed to exist, such as lost plateaus of Antarctica. Occasionally they are backed by obscure cults that secretly worship the beings they are studying, and hope to recover relics that could summon or awaken them. They have a high mortality rate.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Get Your Own Woodgrain 1st Printing of Dungeons & Dragons!

For the low low price of $5800 (as of the time of this post) you could get your very own copy of the original Dungeons and Dragons, the rarely seen woodgrain edition. It looks to be in very good shape, and the seller has been verified though this is his first eBay auction. So it's legitimate. Hurry and bid now, only 3 days left.

Check out Original Dungeons and Dragons Set - Woodgrain Box - First Printing #TSR

Update: several other blogs have picked this up, some of them before I did. I spotted it when reading the Acaeum forum. Here is the thread discussing it:

Monday, December 5, 2016

Beastie: Miniature Neo-Otyugh

Neo-Otyugh, Miniature
HD 4
AC 18
Atk ML 1d6x2 (tentacles), 1d4 (bite)
Save 12
Move 6
CL/XP 6/400
Special disease

Miniature neo-otyugh are related to the common otyough, but can be far more dangerous because of how difficult they are to detect, 1 in 6 chance of spotting during a search. These tiny creatures, about the size of a chihuahua pup, are scavengers that live in dark, damp environments, often lurking in piles of garbage and excrement.

These strange creatures have stubby elephant like legs, a mass of wrinkled flesh, two eyes on flexible stalks, two razor sharp tentacles, and a mouth full of craggy teeth.

Anyone bitten by an otyugh’s mouth has a 5 in 6 chance of contracting a fatal disease, save or die in 3d6 days unless cured.  Unlike their larger counterparts they are wickedly smart and will work together to bring down large foes. Miniature otyughs use an emotional empathy to communicate with each other which they can send simple messages like danger, attack, and flee.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Beastie: Ridgeback Manticore

Manticore, Ridgeback
HD 7
AC 16
Atk ML 1d4x2 (claws), 1d6 (bite), RNG 1d4 (tail spikes)
Save 12
Move 12/18 (fly)
CL/XP 9/850
Special: paralyzing poisonous spikes

A ridgeback manticore is a horrifying feral beast with bat wings, the face of a grinning mad man, a mouth full of sharp teeth, the body of a lion, and a spine ridged with poisonous spikes down to its tail.

The ridgeback manticore can hurl up to 3 of the spikes from its tail per round, at a maximum range of 180ft. On a successful hit the victim must Save or be paralyzed unable to perform any actions for 1-6 rounds. It only has 7-12 (1d6+6) spikes which will take 2d6 days to grow back.

A ridgeback manticore haunts rocky highlands and prefers to keep to itself. They create eccentric lairs where they collect the remains of those unfortunate enough to fall prey to it. They are also extremely intelligent and will speak the common tongue of the region they live in. Their thoughts, however, are dark and disturbing. To have a conversation with a ridgeback is to converse with madness.

Dungeon Grappling + Guardians

Just 3 days left in the Dungeon Grappling Kickstarter. One of the add on items is a copy of Guardians. Douglas H. Cole, creator of Dungeon Grappling, wrote up a nice informative review of Guardians you might want to check it out.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Savage Sword of Conan!

Dark Horse comics has been publishing reprints of the entire run of The Savage Sword of Conan. It is now complete with the publication of #22 (just that book is over 600 pages!). I sporadically collected the original magazines in my youth, and loved them, so it is a special treasure to be able to have the entire collection on my bookshelf!
They almost all fit!
I minor gripe, the reprints are smaller than the original, and they are printed on cheap newsprint. It would have been preferable to see it reprinted on higher quality whiter paper so the artwork could stand out better. I would gladly pay a few bucks extra for that.

I was thinking of doing a retrospective, as this type of fantasy greatly influenced D&D, and I'm sure many of you collected and were inspired by these barbaric tales.

There were so many great, truly amazing, artists whose work filled the pages of Conan. Where else could you see such impeccable draughtsmanship and fine detailed inking on a monthly basis? Not since the hey day of the golden age of illustration, before color printing became the norm, has there been such a bounty of ink drawings of this caliber being produced and printed without color. Just the raw black & white inks!

In this story Iron Shadows in the Moon master penciler John Buscema is having his drawings being graced with the stunningly skilled Alfredo Alcala, arguably the top, or at least in the top 3 inkers of that era. The result is jaw dropping.

The story itself is ok. It runs in 3 parts. In the first part Conan is the lone survivor of a massacre and he unintentionally saves a slave girl. He actually shows himself to be a bit of a gentlemen - to contrast with the barbarism of the "civilized" slavers. Part 2 delves into some ancient ruins, and there is an encounter with a wizard. The last part they run into pirates and Conan does what he does so well. I won't spoil the ending.

This could very easily be converted into a fun little three part D&D adventure.

I highly recommend this series.

Raiders! Another McGuffin: Crocea Mors

Crocea Mors

Another legendary sword is Crocea Mors (“Yellow Death”). It is a gladius - a Roman shortsword. It was wielded by Julius Caesar at the time of his conquest of the Celts. The sword itself was one of the finest blades in the Roman arsenal, and in the hands of a skilled fighter like Caesar was said to slay anyone it struck.

According to British legend as recorded by the scholar Geoffrey of Monmouth, during Caesar’s invasion of Britain, one of his hardest battles was against the ancient British prince Nennius. The prince’s chariot broke through the roman lines, and Caesar found himself fighting hand to hand. He stabbed right through his enemy’s shield and dealt the prince a fatal wound, but in so doing Crocea Mors became stuck in Nennius’ shield. Amazingly, despite his wound, Prince Nennius managed to stagger away from the battle and escape on his chariot. He continued to fight on for another 15 days - using Caesar’s own sword - before finally succumbing to his wounds. He was buried with the sword at his side in a tomb whose location is now lost.

Crocea Mors is a potent blade (+2 to hit) but its association with Julius Caesar , the original great dictator and emperor, that makes it of immense value. In the 1930s the person who would most like to find it would be the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who fancies himself a modern incarnation of Julius Caesar and the leader of a renewed Roman emperor. Mussolini would stop at nothing to acquire this symbol of Caesar’s military prowess for himself, even sponsoring covert archeological missions on England’s soil.