Welcome Back to the Labyrinth

"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."

"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."

"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"

"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Skolithros, the Mad Lich of Wenlock

The legend of Skolithros, which grows with each telling, has become the subject of much speculation around the hearth fires of the Flaming Faggot.  Jaded guardsmen and hard-eyed mercenaries alike shift their chairs a little closer to the fire and clutch their ale mugs a little tighter as rangers recount recent sightings of a gaunt figure in tattered robes wandering the ruins of Gorias and the surrounding Wenlock Forest, its emaciated skull bathed in the sickly green glow emanating from cadaverous eye sockets.

The stories tell that Skolithros, a powerful mage and Master of the Inner Circle, traveled from the Isle of Wizardry to Gorias to search among the ruins of the city of the gods for forbidden artifacts from the age of legends.  He found what he was looking for when, after great hardship and peril, he came to possess the fabled Golden Skull of Hel.

The legend of Skolithros has become a cautionary tale among the treasure seekers of Gorias, for the Golden Skull, which bestows the powers of life and death upon its master, exacted a terrible price upon Skolithros in exchange for ultimate power: it consumed his soul, sucking it from every fibre of his body, but left him alive albeit completely insane.

Some witnesses claim to have encountered Skolithros, and say that he bears the Skull still, clutching it tight in his bony grip, conversing with it in tones first loving then hateful.  The survivors of such encounters recount that the twisted creature is utterly capricious, granting boons to some and destroying others, without rhyme or reason, even turning the power of the Golden Skull on insects that crossed his path.

Such fanciful tales may be the lurid imaginings of travelers overwrought by the foreboding atmosphere of Wenlock, or simply fabrications calculated to wheedle free drinks from credulous listeners.  Nonetheless, while the legend is not accepted whole cloth by the many world-wise adventurers that frequent the Faggot, neither are they entirely discounted, and canny travelers would do well to steer clear of solitary strangers muttering to themselves in the Forest.

Reaper Miniature 02614

Armour Class: 0                    Special: see below
Hit Dice: 17                           Move: 12
Attacks: Touch                      HDE/XP: 20/4,400 xp

Skolithros casts spells as a 17th level magic user.  Additionally, his touch can cause paralysis with no saving throw, and mere sight of him can cause paralysis in any being of 4 HD or less.

Skolithros possesses a Staff of Wizardry and the Golden Skull of Hel

Golden Skull of Hel
This artifact is imbued with power of the Norse God of Death, and bestows upon its wielder the ability to take or give life.  Once per day the skull may be used to instantly kill any creature that fails a save versus Death.  For each sentient creature so destroyed, the skull gains one charge.  The skull may also be used to bestow life, allowing the wielder to cast Resurrection once per day.  It is much harder to bestow life than take it, however, and Resurrection drains ten charges from the skull; the God of Death will have his due.

So long as Skolithros's soul resides within the Golden Skull he can never be permanently slain.  Even if his body is utterly destroyed, such is the force of his malignant will that his corporeal form will slowly reintegrate itself over time.  Only by destroying the Golden Skull can Skolithros be truly killed.  If separated from the skull, Skolithros can sense its direction and distance, and will never cease his hunt to regain it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Productive Weekend

The funny thing about long weekends is that there is never enough time to do all the nothing you want to do.  But as I struggle to stave off imminent heart-failure caused by gorging to excess on honey-glazed ham and my wife's sublime cheese and onion gallete, I must admit that while I didn't get around to the relaxing inactivity that I long for, I did get quite a few things done that have been hanging over my head lately.

  • I got my taxes done - and with days to spare!
  • I submitted my latest short story for inevitable rejection and, most importantly,
  • I finished the draft files for Megadungeon! a new board game by Hopeful Monster
Megadungeon! is the first of a series of old school micro games that Shane and I hope to produce, and is a game of dungeon exploration for the whole family inspired by my five year old daughter's love of the old TSR boardgame, Dungeon!  You can follow the link to the Hopeful Monster site for more details.

Friday, April 15, 2011

One Year Ago, Today...

I started a new campaign and decided to create a blog to post session notes and house rules for my players, as well as essays on my gaming philosophy so they'd have some idea where I was coming from and why I do things the way I do.

When I first set up the blog, I didn't intend it for public viewing, but I went ahead and allowed unrestricted access because, although I didn't think anyone but a player in my campaign would be remotely interested in my blathering, if anyone wanted to read my posts they were welcome.

Somehow or other I've managed to attracted 81 followers over the past year and, ironically, only one of these actually plays with me.  So, I've missed my target audience, but inadvertently found another.  Even more surprising is that after one year and more than 140 posts, I'm still here and blathering.

That campaign I started last April is still in progress, although we've put it on temporary hold to take a break from dungeon delving and, instead, spend our Sunday evenings engaging in spirited table-top miniatures battles.  The consequence of this is that I no longer have a steady source of inspiration for blog posts.  So, hopefully, we will soon be back in the dungeon and I can continue my scheduled broadcast.

Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read, and most especially to post comments.  Getting to know you all has been the most rewarding part of blogging.  Here's to another year.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Print-friendly Blog Posts

If you haven't already seen this, Matthew, over at Rended Press has found a site with instructions on how to add a widget to any blog or website that will allow you to print a PDF version of the post.  I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to print a copy of an awesome OSR post, so I really appreciate being able to add this feature.

Thanks, Matthew, great find!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Epic Thursday!

Epic December 1981, cover by Tim Conrad
This issue is a bittersweet one, in some ways, as it brings the final chapter of Jim Starlin's long running series Metamorphosis Odyssey, which has been a  mainstay for the magazine since its first issue.  While it is sad to see a beloved story draw to a close, it is simultaneously exciting to see how it wraps up.

At the end of last issue we left Aknaton and Vanth holding off the Zygotean horde to buy time for Juliet, Whis'par, and Za to blow the Infinity Horn and destroy the galaxy.

They are unyielding in their defence, but can't hold out much longer, especially when Aknaton gets his arm blown off and can no longer defend himself.  Then, just when it seems that the Zygoteans will push through... the horn sounds!

In the last instant, Aknaton encapsulates himself and Vanth in a mystical bubble in which they hurtle through the cosmos in suspended animation for a million years before reaching the planet Chalfalon, 500,000 light years from the edge of the Dark Sector, formerly known as the Milky Way.

Aknaton tells Vanth that Juliet, Whis'par, and Za were transformed into a new species of pure thought and energy, and are now gods.  Vanth is still reeling, trying to assimilate all that has happened, when Aknaton tells him that his work is not yet finished and that he, Aknaton, has more need of Vanth's unique talent for killing.  Vanth snaps, disgusted by Aknaton's blood lust, and denies him forcibly.

Dying, Aknaton reveals that he goaded Vanth into killing him because he could not live with the burden of being the architect of the destruction of a galaxy.  But before he dies he lays the responsibility for this galaxy on Vanth's shoulders, along with the duty to employ the Infinity Horn once again should it stray down the wrong path.

And thus, Vanth is left to live with the sins of his past, damned to always walk alone.

Vanth's tale is not done, however, and his further exploits were chronicled in the comic series, Dreadstar, published first by Epic Comics, then by First Comics with a combined run of 64 issues.

In a post story interview with Epic, Jim Starlin revealed an interesting experimental technique he employed in Metamorphosis Odyssey's art.  Back in the early chapters, while the story was rendered in black and white, Starlin started drawing on dark grey matt boards used for picture framing, using black ink for the darkest tones and white ink for the highlights.  He carried on with this technique even after the series went to colour, switching to coloured matt boards to provide the mid-tone.  If you embiggen the last panel and enlarge it you should be able to make out the coarse texture of the matt board.

Starlin also revealed that Metamorphosis Odyssey was his attempt to work through his Vietnam experience and that the characters in the story are composites of personalities that he encountered in the war; Za, who blindly follows Aknaton without question; cynical Whis'par, who questions everything; Juliet, who is swept along by events out of her control; Vanth, the ultimate warrior, who doesn't stop to think about what is going on until it's too late to stop; and, finally, Aknaton, the planner and mad architect of destruction.  Starlin, himself, was court-martialed for producing an anti-war comic, but was acquitted and honourably discharged.

As one series ends, another begins.  This issue sees the start of a fantasy series, Weirdworld - Dragonmaster of Klarn, written by Doug Moench and illustrated by one of my favourites, John Buscema of Savage Sword fame.  You just know that any series that has a map is going to be cool, especially when it has a skull-shaped island called Land of the Dead!

This is actually Doug Moench's fourth Weirdworld story, the first, An Ugly Mirror on Weirdworld, was published back in 1976.  It introduced our protagonist, Tyndall, an elf amnesiac trying to make a home for himself.  In the course of saving a village that offered him grudging sanctuary, Tyndall met a woman of his species, Velanna with whom he goes on to share his life and further adventures.

As Dragonmaster of Klarn opens, an evil sorcerer, Dark Majister plots to obtain The Shield of Klarn, a sleep crystal that keeps a dragon safely in slumber.

To ensure that Tyndall and Velanna do not thwart his plans and to avenge the destruction of the sorcerer Darklens, at their hands, he plans to corrupt Velanna and use her to kill Tyndall.  He produces a hollow crystal statuette of Velanna which slowly begins to fill with blackness.

Meanwhile, in the dwarven village where Tyndall and Velanna live as unwelcome guests, Velanna begins to undergo some personality changes as the taint begins to infect her.

In Klarn, Black Majister's henchman, Murkandor, uses power given him by his master to shatter the Shield of Klarn, and collects the shards for Majister; immediately the dragon begins to stir and the Elves of Klarn, the guardians of the dragon, are powerless to stop it because there are no more dragonmasters left alive.

Tyndall and Velanna's dwarf friend, Mud-butt, returns with news of dire happenings around the world, and the wizard of Skyhook Mountain is the only one that can stop them, so he proposes that the three of them travel to Skyhook to obtain his aid.  Tyndall does not wish to leave the community where he is trying to gain acceptance, but Velanna, consumed with growing anger and bitterness insists on leaving with Mud-butt and, reluctantly, Tyndall agrees.

As this issue ends, we see the statuette of Velanna half-filled with darkness.
To be continued...

And, finally, in the third of a series of Dungeons & Dragons Adventure advertisements we see the intrepid heroes have finally reached the Treasure Vaults of Roakire and each has gotten a share of magical booty, when they are set upon, suddenly, by a Purple Worm!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Reaper High Density Paint

I recently received a shipment of paints from Reaper, including a couple of bottles of their new line of high density paints.  Now that I've had the chance to try them out, I thought I'd share my impressions.

High density paints provide superior coverage due to high pigment density, and are ideal for basecoating miniatures, especially over black primer.  Games Workshop released a line of high density Foundation paints several years ago, which I have been using for quite some time.  So how do Reaper HD paints stack up against GW's Foundation line?

There are eighteen colours in the GW Foundation line, which comes in 0.4 oz. pots for $4.45 USD ($11.13 per oz).

Reaper HD has thirty-eight colours in its line, which come in 0.5 oz. dropper bottles for $3.29 USD ($6.58 per oz).

Foundation paints are extremely viscous and goopy.  Even thinned down I've always found them to be difficult to work with and unsuitable for blending, layering, or fine detail work.  Furthermore they tend to dry out even faster than normal Citadel paints so their life expectancy is low.

The Reaper HD's on the other hand, were absolutely a joy to paint with.  They have flow improver added to them and are therefore far more fluid and easier to work with than Foundation paints.  For basecoating over black, you can apply thin, even coats right out of the bottle, and if thinned down even further, they are great for layering and fine detail work.

After having worked with Foundation paints for so long, I was expecting something similar from Reaper.  Indeed I was anticipating a thick paint and was afraid that they would be too viscous for a dropper bottle.  On the contrary, the HD paints are of similar consistency to the regular Master Series paints, and rely upon their pigment density, not viscosity, for opaque coverage.

Suffice to say I am extremely impressed with Reaper HD and I don't see any reason to buy Foundation paint ever again.