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?"

Monday, October 31, 2011

THIS is Halloween!

One of my daughter's favourite movies is Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas, and she always sings along to the opening song.  I wonder how she'd react to this very creepy Marilyn Manson cover?

 Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Scratch-Built Hill

I've been devoting a lot of energy, lately, to painting my Warhammer Dwarf army, and I've also been building some terrain to match it.  My first ever attempt at terrain building was my dwarf fortification, and I've just finished a hill.

The top of the hill is large enough to hold a large unit of Thunderers or Quarrelers, or a couple of artillery pieces.

This was a pretty simple piece; I just cut out a kidney-shaped piece of styrofoam insulation, sanded it and glued it to a piece of MDF board for durability, then took some smaller pieces of styrofoam, shaped them with sandpaper and glued them around the edges.  Painted, added grass and snow, and done.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Brundage and Domination

For this week's set of Weird Tales covers, I thought I'd contrast last week's overtures of lesbian sadism with a sampling of women being menaced, usually while bound, and often with whips, by sinister men.  By now a common theme in Weird Tales covers should be clearly evident due to the fact that, as Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright noted, the issues with kinky covers sold out quickly.  Notice how many of the villains are dressed in masked, hooded robes.

January, 1933

April, 1934
September, 1934
March, 1936
January, 1937

And, in a rare example of equal-opportunity kink, a cover depicting a busty woman whipping some naked men...

October, 1937

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Painting the Mythos: Byakhee

Since my last Mythos-painting post was in mid-July, I'm long overdue for another.  I didn't get much painting done over the summer due to the oppressive heat, and for most of autumn my painting time has been spent on my Warhammer Dwarf army and a batch of new Reaper minis for my City States of Lemuria campaign.  So my vow to finally paint all of my long-neglected Call of Cthulhu miniatures has been occupying the back seat for the last few months, but I did recently manage to get my Byakhee miniature painted.

This was really a pretty quick and easy paint job.  Because there is a lot of surface texture on the miniature, I started out with a base coat of dark blue, then drybrushed several layers of successively lighter blue.  Likewise, the wing membranes were basecoated in dark red then drybrushed up to a final light layer of orange.  The claws and teeth were picked out with a light blue/grey mix, and for the eyes I used the same technique of blending red up through orange to yellow that I used on the Deep Ones eyes.  I finished the eyes off with a dot of pure white to give them a demonic burning look.

The base was sculpted with an epoxy modelling compound then drybrushed with several successively lighter layers of grey.

"... there flapped rhythmically a horde of tame, trained, hybrid winged things. ...They were not altogether crows, nor moles, nor buzzards, nor ants, nor decomposed human beings, but something I cannot and must not recall." - from The Festival by H.P. Lovecraft.

Byakhee are an interstellar race often found in the service of Hastur the Unspeakable.  They are capable of flying through interstellar space and of carrying a rider, if that rider is suitably protected from the cold and airless vacuum of space.  They have no earthly bases, but can be summoned by sorcerers to serve as mounts.

Armour Class: 6            Special: Blood drain           Morale: 12
Hit Dice: 3                     Move: 9 (24 when flying)    Alignment: Chaos
Attacks: Claws or bite   HDE/XP: 3/60

Byhakhees may attack with both claws or a bite.  If they successfully bite a foe they attach and drain its blood, automatically dealing 1d6 points of damage on each successive round unless the creature can be dislodged or killed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Session 3: Let Sleeping Gods Lie

Continuing from last session, the group finished exploring the second level of the dungeon, then descended into a series of subterranean caverns filled with a couple of deep pools.  They decided to plumb the depths of the pools by having the sorcerer cast Light of Aten on some stones, then threw them into the pools and watched as they sank into the murky depths.  Nothing bad ever came from throwing stones into ancient forgotten ponds, right?

They similarly cast Light of Aten on an arrow and shot it across the second pool, around which no path existed, and they caught a shadowy glimpse of a large stone idol in an alcove on the opposite shore.  The monk decided to strip down and swim across the pool and investigate the idol.  By himself.  Nothing bad ever came from splitting the party in a dungeon, right?

On the far side of the pool he saw a hideous effigy - a humanoid proboscidean that combined the worst qualities of man, elephant, and octopus - and which bore a striking resemblance to a sketch of Chaugnar Faugn they had seen in a scroll fragment.  The monk checked the idol carefully for secret compartments, and pulled on its trunk and each of its tentacles in hope of finding a concealed lever.  Disappointed, he decided to swim back to the rest of the group, and made it about half way across before Bad Things happened.

Feeling something slimy brush against him, the monk began to swim faster, and then tentacles as thick as a man's thigh began to thrash about, hunting for him.  One of them wrapped about his leg and attempted to pull him under, but he was carrying the light-enchanted arrow retrieved from near the idol, and he drove it hard into the tentacle, which then let go, allowing him to escape safely to shore.

As the party stood on the shore debating whether the time had come to vacate the dungeon, they saw the surface of the pool begin to froth and boil as something large began to rise from the depths.  This observance decided the issue of whether to stay or go, and as they fled they saw a huge tusked creature emerge from the pool.  Its bellow of rage was like the trumpeting of a hundred elephants, and it shook the very foundations of the cavern.  The party fled the dungeon, half-carrying the monk, whose leg was injured by a falling rock as a cliff face began to collapse.

Limping back to camp, they found a party of concerned on-lookers drawn by the roars of bestial rage issuing from yonder collapsing cliff.  Explaining what had happened, they consulted the scholar, Cruro, about how to end the threat.  Cruro's only suggestion was that he had read that Chaugnar Faugn was associated with dreams and portents, and that perhaps sleeping dreamers in camp were empowering the creature.  As it happened, the camp had recently grown as camel trains of merchants arrived to cater to the adventuring parties exploring the ruins, and among the merchandise was a healthy supply of Akla, a recreational hallucinogenic drug derived from the venom of the Dream Weaver spider.  Everyone quickly ran through the camp waking anyone in a drug-induced stupor in hopes of putting the creature back to sleep before it burst free of the caverns and destroyed the entire camp.  Finally, the entire cliff face collapsed and as the dust settled all was quiet.  Perhaps the thing had returned to the depths of its pool.  For now.

The party spent the next week or so resting in the camp and recovering their wounds and they heard rumours of people disappearing from the camp in the middle of the night, and the sighting of pale, ghoulish creatures that some claimed were vampires, while others insisted were the spirits of the dead citizens of Thrace, come to punish the intruders.  Meanwhile, the less wounded party members spent the time scouting out new areas of the ruined city to explore and the warrior, Ebin, met a swordswoman named Sathera who was about to lead her team into some newly discovered caverns and she suggested that Ebin and his group meet up with them when they were up to it.

It was still several days before all of the party members were healed up enough to tempt fate again, by which time Sathera and her team had still not returned.  Concerned, Ebin suggested that they go in search of the overdue adventurers.  Entering the new dungeon, they saw evidence of Sathera's passing: mud tracks on the floor, dead creatures slain by sword and axe, and so on.  While investigating a room the party set off some shriekers, which attracted the attention of the dungeon's denizen's - a party of degenerate black robed albinos who wielded crude stone weapons.  The fanatics fell upon the party with crazed zeal, and did not flee, even in the face of horrific casualites.  The zealots were little match for the party, but a pair of the crazed attackers managed to fall upon Thorsten the sorcerer and beat him to death with stone axes.

Thus ended the session, with the demise of the party's sole practitioner of the dark arts, leaving only one original party member left alive.  The dungeons of Thrace continue to live up to their deadly reputation.

This was an amusing session, particularly since the entire encounter with the thing in the pools was completely ad-libbed and based entirely on the paranoid musings of the players who were sure that some tentacled horror lurked in the watery depths.  It hadn't occurred to me, but hey, a good idea is a good idea.  Players will always conjure up greater terrors than I'd be able to come up with on my own, so why not let them dictate the course of events?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Margaret Monday

In last week's introductory post on the magazine cover art of Margaret Brundage, I mentioned that many of her covers, including her first Weird Tales cover, featured an S&M theme with lesbian undertones, which were probably painted at the request of editor Farnsworth Wright, who understood the tastes of his readers better than they seemed to themselves.

Here are a few more Weird Tales covers sharing this theme:

November, 1934

December, 1934 

January, 1936

July, 1936

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Feast Days

It is Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada and, although Thanksgiving Day is actually on Monday, we, like many families, celebrate on Sunday; my wife likes to have the next day off to make turkey soup from the carcass.  In between making stuffing and bottling an outstanding batch of Chenin Blanc, which has been aging in the carboy for nearly three years, I've spent the day surrounded by dungeon maps, keying rooms in preparation for next session and thinking about aspects of Lemurian civilization.

So now, as I sit groaning, with my pants undone and struggling to breath, my thoughts turn to Lemurian Feast Days and festivals.  Since Lemuria is a huge continent holidays vary considerably between City States and geographical regions, but there is one universal feast day celebrated throughout the land: The Feast of Emancipation.

The days of Atlantean rule were grim for mankind, who were among the lowest of servitor races.  The Atlanteans bred many specialized hybrid races for important tasks, such as the Suidean warrior caste, and humans performed the only the most menial of duties although they did play an important role in many Atlantean holy days - typically having their still-beating hearts cut out by knife-wielding priests.

Although free of Atlantean dominance for centuries, the dark days under their reign remains a part of mankind's collective consciousness and the Feast of Emancipation celebrates the decline of Atlantean rule in Lemuria.  The feast is held on the first day of the new year as a symbol of new beginnings, and on this day throughout the land, aurochs are slaughtered upon the altar of Mithras and roasted on spits in the public square, and all partake in a day-long bacchanal of eating and drinking.  By tradition, even slaves are given a free day and allowed to partake in celebration.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Bestiary of Lemuria: Borer Beetles

The giant Lemurian Borer Beetle is a common inhabitant of subterranean limestone caverns.  It is seldom seen above ground, but evidence of its passing can be found in burrow-riddled outcrops.

burrow network

The Borer Beetle burrows by secreting a highly concentrated acetic acid, which quickly dissolves carbonate rock.  The animal absorbs essential minerals and nutrients by drinking the neutralized slurry, which it then uses to secrete a protective exoskeleton of chitino-phosphatic plates.  The beetle can go through several instars before reaching sexual maturity, each time shedding its old carapace before undergoing a growth stage and then secreting a new, larger exoskeleton.  During the growth stage it is completely vulnerable, and unable to move or protect itself; it therefore ensconces itself in a deep burrow before undergoing ecdysis.  Unlike other insects, Borer Beetles continue to molt and grow in their adult stage, and their upper size limit is unknown.

Borer Beetles are predaceous carnivores who ambush cavern-dwelling prey by undermining passage ways with a network of burrows.  When the prey passes over the burrow network, the passage collapses and the beetles fall upon the stunned creature, spraying it with acid then dismembering it with powerful pincers.

Borer Beetles are superficially similar to the Fire Beetle, but can be distinguished by bright green mottling on the carapace and an accessory secretory organ on the dorsal surface.

Beetle, Giant Borer (No. Encountered: 1-3)
Armour Class: 4    Special: Acid spray
Hit Dice: 2             Move: 12 (1 when burrowing)
Attack: Bite           HDE/XP: 3/60

The Borer Beetle can shoot acid from its accessory organ in a pressurized stream up to fifteen feet away, but  can only do so once before needing to recharge its reservoir.  This assumes a beetle that has just achieved sexual maturity.  Older, larger beetles have much larger acid reservoirs and may be able to fire an acid stream several times.  The acid deals 2d6 damage and continues to burn for 1 point of damage each round thereafter for 1d6 rounds.  Armour does not protect against the spray; only shields and dexterity bonus can help prevent the target from being sprayed.  While the acid will etch metal armour given time, if it is wiped off quickly it will not cause immediate damage.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Session 2: The Ruins of Thrace

Acting upon rumours of treasures recently discovered in the ruins of the Atlantean city of Thrace, the party traveled north, by caravan, through Hellspire Pass and into the the Jungle of Zahar wherein lie the remnants of a once-great city, whose crumbling, vine-covered walls and broken towers extend as far as the eye can see.

Making their way through a make-shift squatter's camp of scholars and adventurers who have come to explore the ruins, the party made the acquaintance of the scholar, Cruro, whose colleague, Thesus, descended into the catacombs beneath a recently uncovered temple a day earlier and has not yet returned.  Cruro suggested that the party might wish to begin their exploration here, and hopefully discover Thesus's whereabouts.  He also offered to purchase any Atlantean artifacts that might be found within.

The party entered the subterranean complex beneath the temple, and began to explore the stinking, guano-covered rooms.  They came upon a nave containing an altar, behind which was a horrific demonic visage in bronze, mounted beneath a brass brazier.  A careful search of the altar uncovered a sacrificial dagger.

After exploring further, the party descended a short flight of stairs to a large web-filled hall and were set upon by an enormous spider that was intent on making meals of the lot.  After slaying the monster, a search of the web-filled room revealed a golden medallion depicting the same demonic face seen above the altar, with two small rubies for eyes.

Proceeding into the next room the party found the withered remains of a priest slumped in a bronze chair, clutching a black, leather-bound book in it's shriveled hands.  As soon as the party approached the priest, the medallion grew warm to touch and the emerald eyes glowed with unearthly light.  A similar eerie glow emanated from the eye-sockets of the corpse as it began to stir, hoarsely proclaiming, "I live...again!"

The party attacked the creature, but found that their weapons made no impact on the unliving horror; only the spells of the sorcerer, Thorston, seemed to have any impact at all.  Naturally, this threat drew the attention of the thing, which promptly trapped the sorcerer in a corner and attempted to grasp him with its taloned hands.  The thief, known only as Grit, threw himself at the creature in an attempt to tackle it and knock it away from Thorston but, instead, upon contact his very life essence was drained away by the creature, and Grit slumped to the ground, dead.

Now utterly drained and unable to call further upon the demons of darkness for arcane aid, Thorston desperately slashed at the creature with the ceremonial dagger he had taken from the altar, and finally killed it.  The book, deciphered by the monk, Thomas, was entitled The Litany of Hate, a treatise on the demon lord, Namtur, and containing rites of worship, sacrifice, and summoning.

The party, now weakened by their battles, elected to return to the surface though they were unable to make any report to Cruro as to the fate of Thesus.  So badly battered were they by their trials that they elected to travel two days south to Hellspire Keep, where they were able to recuperate in comfort in the Flaming Faggot.

After a week of rest and recovery, they returned north to the ruins, and recruited a sorcerer who was looking for partners to explore the ruins.  Returning to the dungeon below the temple, the party continued their investigation.  The rest of the upper level consisted of mouldering, guano-filled rooms.  Finally, they descended a spiral stair-case to the second level, and discovered the exsanguinated corpse of Thesus on the stairs.  Continuing down to the chamber below, which was thick with the overpowering stench of fresh guano, the party soon discovered it's origin; a flock of stirges that were drawn to the lantern light and swarmed about the adventurers, several of whom nearly succumbed to blood loss before they were able to kill all of the stirges.

From there the party passed through a short hallway into a room containing a large silver-inlaid chest, covered in stirge-droppings and permanently affixed to the floor.  Now lacking a thief to open the locked chest, the group resorted to the common man's lock-pick; a crowbar.  The moment the lid was forced open,  iron bars slammed down in the passage trapping everyone except Thorston and the newly recruited sorcerer within.  Unfortunately the new party member was standing directly under the bars and was impaled through the torso, killing him instantly.  As soon as the bars dropped into place, the north and south walls of the room began to close slowly in on one another.  The trapped party members tried to drive iron spikes to halt the walls that were sure to soon crush them, but only succeeded in slowing their advance temporarily.  Just as space was starting to get tight, the warrior, Ebin, searched the ceiling and discovered a concealed trap door.  He was boosted up to open the hatch and climb into a vertical passage above.  Just in the nick of time he tied a rope to the iron rungs and lowered it to the two others still trapped below, who climbed up just as the walls met in the middle.  They were able to climb up to the first level and make their way back down the spiral staircase to rejoin Thorston in the second level entry chamber.

After further exploration and an encounter with a pair of acid-spraying borer beetles, the group decided to call it a night and return to camp.  On the way out however, they came upon a pair of giant rats, and Brother Vigmar, Scion of Thoth, was slain in the ensuing battle, just before they were able to exit the dungeon.

This turned out to be a rather lethal session, with three characters dying during the night, two of which belonged to the same player, and Thorsten the Sorcerer and Thomas the monk are now the sole surviving original party members.  For how much longer remains to be seen.  The dungeons of Lemuria are not for the faint of heart.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Margaret Brundage: Queen of the Pulps

In celebration of the recent launch of my sword & sorcery campaign, The City States of Lemuria, I want to dedicate several posts this month to the works of Weird Tales cover artist, Margaret Brundage (Dec 9, 1900 - April 9, 1976), whose paintings dominated the covers of the magazine for most of the 1930's, setting the tone for heroic fantasy iconography, perhaps for all time.

When Brundage took her portfolio to Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright he immediately put her to work as a cover artist and her first published cover was for the Summer 1932 issue of Oriental Stories.

Oriental Stories, Summer 1932

She painted her first Weird Tales cover for the September 1932 issue, and went on to illustrate sixty-six covers for the magazine, including all nine of the Conan covers.

Weird Tales, September, 1932

Original painting used for September '32 cover

Many of her covers featured sadistic scenes of nude women in bondage, often with lesbian overtures, that are provocative even by today's permissive standards, but must have been truly scandalous in the 1930's.  The covers were, indeed, controversial, and many Weird Tales readers criticized them as trashy, misogynistic and lurid.  But Farnsworth Wright noted that the covers featuring a Brundage nude made money, while issues with more modest covers lost money.  So there is little doubt that despite the puritanical protests, the covers were a big draw.  Indeed, one of her most provocative covers,  featuring a nude blonde in bondage being whipped by a scantily-clad brunette, illustrating the Conan Story, "The Slithering Shadow," in September, 1933, was largely responsible for selling the issue out.  Not only did sex sell then, as it does now, but sex has been inextricably linked to the heroic fantasy and horror genres at least as far back as the 19th century.

Weird Tales, September, 1933
Brundage was the reigning cover artist for Weird Tales until Farnsworth Wright resigned as editor, and the magazine was sold.  She was paid $90 per cover and, as is the tale with many creative minds, her work was never truly appreciate during her lifetime, but now commands a high price and in 2008 her first Weird Tales cover sold for $50,000.