Dungeon Alphabet Re-Released by Goodman Games

Pole and Rope’s Michael Curtis recently announced that a new edition of his popular ‘Dungeon Alphabet’ book is being released (soon) by Goodman Games (product description and pre-order info on Goodman site is here). The new edition increases the page count to 64 from the original 48 pages and I did a couple of new interior pieces as well. 

If you are not familiar with the original, “Dungeon Alphabet” started out as a series of blog posts by Michael Curtis at “The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope.” For every letter of the alphabet, he came up with a post dealing with that letter and then generated tables of cool, creepy, interesting stuff — good not only for fantasy role playing game fans, but also just a fun read.  Someone observed, “This ought to be a book!” and Goodman eventually published it, which is really cool since it is like a book that just grew organically out of blog posts that Curtis made just for the hell of it.  If I remember right, I illustrated “C is for Caves” and “X is for Xenophobia” as well as “M is for Maps.”  The new edition has a few more entries and some new artwork (I haven’t seen the whole thing, just the pages I worked on).

Other well known artists/illustrators whom you may know from their work in Goodman products illustrated the book; the list includes Russ Nicholson, Jeff Easley, Jim Holloway, Peter Mullen, Doug Kovacs, Michael Wilson, and Brad McDevitt.

I think you can get it with either the original Otus cover or a new gold foil cover by me (that features an ‘A’ on the front and a ‘Z’ on the back).  The gold foil cover will look something like this, but more shiny:

A to Z: Z is for Zontar: The Thing From Venus

Finally this A to Z thing is over.

Z is for Zontar. I’ve never watched the John Agar movie, “Zontar: The Thing from Venus.” I’ve seen clips and stills and read a brief plot summary, but, by all accounts “Zontar” is boring, which, for me, is one of the few ‘dealbreakers.’ Monster movies can be silly and hokey and stupid for all kind sof reasons and I will still watch them ,but a movie is boring I find that unforgivable. “Zontar” was originally made as a ‘straight to television’ film in 1966 by Larry Buchannan. In those pre-cable days there was a market for cheaply made monster, crime and science fiction films for television. Zontar was actually a remake of Roger Corman’s “It conquered the World!” (1956). Plot synopsis: Zontar convinces an Earth scientist that he (Zontar) can help solve the Earth’s problems. Zontar hitches a ride back to earth on an unmanned rocket and hides in a cave. Zontar can grow little flying bat-bugs on his skin… they fly off, attach to people’s necks and implant little antennas that control people’s minds. He starts controlling the minds of important people and taking over the world, using his power to stall cars and cut power to throw earth into confusion. Zontar is immune to bullets but the scientist who originally helped bring Zontar to earth redeems himself by using a crystal from the device he used to communicate with Zontar in the beginning to destroy the invader from Venus (but getting killed in the process). The Earth is saved. A longer and more amusing plot synopsis (with pictures) can be found here. Just because a movie is really crappy (and may even be too crappy for me to watch — which is really BAD), doesn’t mean that it can’t end up becoming fodder for some gaming fun. At some point I suspect Zontar shall invade Aldeboran. Look forward to it!

A to Z: Y is for Yuan-Ti

Today is brought to you by the letter Y and the evil half-snake Yuan-Ti.

I first heard of “The Yuan Ti” back in 1981 or so via the TSR adventure, “Dwellers of the Forbidden City.” The Yuan-Ti are an evil race of snake-people that are divided into the castes of ‘abominations,’ ‘purebloods’ and ‘halfbreeds.’ What made the Yuan-Ti unique as a monster is that they could appear in all sorts of different configurations — some might be snakes with human heads, others might be snakes with human torsos and arms or creatures with snake heads for hands, etc. We thought this was pretty cool at the time (and I still think it’s great).

The ‘forbidden city’ that they lived in was also pretty cool. It was in a valley that was accessed through a series of dungeon-like tunnels with various guards and traps. The city itself was mostly ruined and overrun with “mongrelmen” (sort of half breeds that combined the worst features of almost every humanoid), “Tasloi” (little guys that, as I recall, climbed trees and threw javelins… I thought of them as monkey-men) and “bullywugs” (frog people). Plus there was some very cool art on the cover of The Forbidden City by Erol Otus.

A few years ago I placed the “Forbidden City” in Blackmoor/Aldeboran (I was using the Blackmoor map for a while for my adventures and might go back to it… but everything can be moved from one place to another as far as I am concerned). I placed “The Forbidden City” on an island and jammed “The Tomb of Abysthor” from Necromancer Games in there. I decided that the ‘Forbidden City’ had once been a holy city of an order of Paladins who were subsequently destroyed and their city became a nest of evil. The Yuan-Ti in my campaign were actually interfertile with medusas… the medusas and the Yuan-Ti could breed and some of the children would be Yuan-Ti while others would be medusas.

The players had to travel to the city in order to return the remains of a paladin they had found to The Tomb of Abysthor (as well as rescue some slaves). This ended up wiping out half the party, but, in the end, they were successful. Good times.

A to Z: X is for Xenomorph!

On Aldeboran there will be ‘xenomorphs,’ but exactly what form they will take and how they got there currently remains unresolved.

I’m tempted to use a creature like ‘The Meenlock’ (also see this excellent Russ Nicholson drawing; the meenlock is the one in the upper RH corner) from the 1980 Fiend Folio. Instead of bursting out of the chest of the victim like Geiger’s “alien,” the meenlock converts the vistim into a fellow meenlock… which is really fucking creepy (see the bog, ‘Dreams in the Lich House,’ linked above, for some observations on the Meenlock in horror).

Although I thought it was a crappy movie (I saw about 1/2 of it), I think “Alien Vs Predator” might get mined for inspiration in order to bring the Xenomorph to Aldeboran. The temple from that movie is particularly interesting to me… especially the way in which the walls move and re-arrange themselves. How to make a map of that, however, is a challenge I have not yet undertaken.

Stay tuned!

A to Z: W is for Wind, Water and Waves

Today is brought to you by the letter W. W is the first letter in words like “Wind, Water and Waves which overwhelmed the Islands of the White Emperor.”

To the east of Arding, across the Great Easter Sea, lie the shattered remains of a group of islands commonly referred to as, “The White Empire” or “Lenara” or “The Lenaran Empire.” Almost 500 years ago, these islands were much larger and represented the single most powerful empire within known Aldeboran history. The decadent”Dragonlords of Lenara” (for they have mastered the art of riding dragons) once ruled the rest of Aldeboran much like the Melnibonéans once ruled Moorcock’s barbarian lands. As a teenager I ripped the whole thing off from Moorcock.

A little background: About 500 years ago, while the ‘young kingdoms’ of the continent were in rebellion against the Lenarans, the Lenaran Islands themselves were 90% destroyed by a great cataclysm. Fire fell from the sky, the ground shook, waves inundated the lands… the whole bit. Nearly everything was destroyed. The remaining islands are called Thambar, Elmmar, Summar, Xenar and Tessar (which are also, by strange coincidence, the names of late 19th/early 20th century photographic lens formulas created by the engineers of Leitz GMBH and Zeiss-Ikon). Priests of the gods of the young kingdoms and wizards of the rebellion took credit for the cataclysm, but evidence that the rebels or their gods actually caused the near total destruction of Lenara is somewhat thin.

The ruler of Lenara is known as “The White Emperor” because the palace he occupies is made of white stone (and ‘Green Emperor’ was already taken by Bob Bledsaw’s Wilderlands). Like the Roman emperors of earth, the White Emperor is considered a god by the Lenarans… and, strangely enough, the Emperors themselves have lifespans that are much longer than the average Lenarans… while the Lenarans have lifespans much longer than the average ‘barbarian’ or ‘Hinterlander,’ so there might be something to this claim.

Although still powerful, the Lenarans are in no way as strong as they used to be and currently devote most of their energies to the constant assassinations and rivalries that plague their royal families as well as various decadent entertainments. Few non-Lenarans willingly visit Lenara. Some end up there as slaves and are seldom seen again. Some people on the continent still claim descent from Lenarans which is a badge of honor that many others may look somewhat askance at — sort of like a modern day Virginian on Earth bragging about how many slaves his great-great-great grandpappy owned.

A to Z: V is for Virgil Finlay

Today is brought to you by the letter V… as in ‘Virgil Finlay.’ For those who complain that Virgil Finlay should be filed under F, I will point out that whhen I was a kid, my family had a dog named ‘Finley’ (or ‘Finni’) which was apparently named after a Nun who had terrorized my father when he was in grade school. “Finley” is close enough to “Finlay” that I would get confused… so V is for Virgil.

If I were rich and could hire someone from beyond the grave to illustrate my fantasies instead of having to illustrate them myself (what toil!), I woul put ‘Virgil Finlay’ on the list of artists to approach. Virgil Finlay, however, is no longer with us (another point in common with Finley the dog) and I am not rich so I will have to keep toiling on my own. But his work stands as a great inspiration … both thematically and in terms of those millions of teensy dots!
One of the stories I heard about Finlay (which may or may not be true) is that he was in constant poverty because he worked so slowly. All mthe little dots, hatches and stipples of his trademark technique took much more time than illustrations by any other artist and the pulp magazines all paid a set fee for illustrations (as many publishers still do) with X paid for a half page, Y paid for a full page, etc. Finlay was such a perfectionist that he would do one drawing in the time that another artist could do several, and thus was always one step away from the poor house. A sad story; I hope it was not true.

A to Z: U is for Ummamrod

U is for Ummamrod!

Ummamrod is one of the less common deities in Aldeboran, worshipped by the occassional alchemist, lovers and people who deal in relationship advice. Her/his temples are considered a good source of love potions, aphrodisiacs and contraceptive spells.

Ummamrod and Her/his opposite, Dormammu, are both hermaphrodite deities who look nearly identical, but Dormammu is male on the left side and female on the right whereas Ummamrod is female of the left side and male on the right. Thus, Ummamrod is usually called ‘Her/him’ or ‘She/he’ whereas Dormammu will be called ‘Him/her’ or ‘He/she.’ The clerics of both deities are hermaphrodites (or at least bisexuals or transexuals; it is all so confusing) although bothe deities will accept worshippers of either sex. Their clerics usually wear garments divided down the middle, with male garments on one side and female on the other, and often have beards on only one half of their face. Of course, clerics of Ummamrod are female on the left and male on the right and clerics of Dormammu are male on the left and female on the right, but the similarity causes much confusion among the uninitiated. Technically speaking, the image at right is probably a better representation of Dormammu, but you get the idea.

Dormammu is a deity who deals in jealousy, sexual agression and other aspects of love gone wrong… jealous former lovers often appeal to him/her for vengence. Dormammu is as evil and Ummamrod is good, so watch out!

Ummamrod used to be much more popular among the people than she is today because of the recent rise in fashion of a ‘revisionist’ version of history that advocates a return to some invented ‘traditional’ values of a fictional past. Many of Her/his temples have been closed by local authorities out of a desire to protect public morality and because the open worship of a hyper-sexualized hermaphrodite deity makes some people (especially worshippers of The Allfather) pretty fucking uncomfortable. Dormammu’s worshippers have gone ‘underground’ because of all the shit they stir up.

Both Dormammu and Ummamrod appeal to alchemists since alchemists are people who deal in transforming the nature of substances.

The good thing about A to Z posts

I keep reading comments here and there where people are slagging on the whole ‘A to Z’ thing. I finsished the last of my A to Z posts the other day (they are all just sitting in the queue waiting to be autoposted when the right day comes around). While I’m not proud of all of my A to Z posts, I can honestly say that there are a few that I wrote that I think could be pretty interesting to the community at large and were fun to write and think about — and I would have probably never written them if I hadn’t had to find a topic that started with a certain letter.

This morning’s entry (T is for Tana Tak) is a case in point. I had a pile of notes and drawings in my binder, so all that stuff was ‘already written,’ but it wouldn’t have occure to me to look it over, scan it in, write it up, etc., unless I had to come up with something for the letter T. And once I started looking at it, I became more excited about it. And now that I have posted it, the wheels have started turning and I am eager to do some more work on it.

I took the A to Z challenge as a chance to repost a lot of campaign notes from Aldeboran which I have added to, very sporadically, over the years. It’s given me a chance to take a closer look at the stuff I’ve accumulated as a whole. And that’s a good thing.

A to Z: T is for Tana Tak

T is for Tana Tak: (click on any pic to enlarge)

“…An enormous ruined dome in an ancient ruined city of unfamiliar design houses an ancient consciousness 100s of years old that enslaves creatures by replacing their will with it’s own…” “…in a pool hidden in cellars deep beneath the ruined dome, a gigantic brain, the source of this mysterious consciousness, rests… guarded by enslaved creatures and mechanical traps and safeguards…”

The original drawing (above) of the brain… from one of my notebooks.

In a painting of the same scene, I added tentacles to the brain. I think if I were to redo this, I might skip the tentacles… but then what would the adventurers be doing around the pool?

The ruins of Tana Tak are strewn with ancient statues of an unfamiliar humanoid race with oddly shaped eyes. No one (other than perhaps ‘the mind’) knows if these are supposed to portray the original inhabitants. The above picture shows a trail through the ruins to the dome.

A map/view of the ground floor and upper level of the dome. The upper level is equipped with bookshelves that have been mostly looted but might still contain a few of the ancient texts of Tana Tak (see below).

An isometric view of the cellar level of the dome. In the center is a round chamber with pillars equipped with a well that contains the brain. The cells around the well house some of the brain’s guards and lieutenants. North of that is a room with a large pool, some staircases and a room of mysterious powered coffins that may contain the remains of some ancients. South of the temple of the mind is a laboratory maintained by the mind’s servants. The various electronic devices are powered via a tank of electrical eels that are fed via an ingenious ever-renewing supply of troll meat. The captive trolls are quite insane from constantly having bits hacked off to feed the eels, then being allowed to have those bits hacked off again, etc.

A “mind zombie.” Note the vacant stare and ancient armor and weapons. I haven’t decided if someone who has been converted to a servant of the mind can be converted back. I’m imagining not since I envision the process similar to some sort of lobotomy.

The ruins themselves are overrun by ghouls that emerge from the rubble and crypts beneath the city at night. The denizens of the temple like the fact that the ghouls discourage most visitors and the ghouls do not seem to bother the temple.

The ruins were once famous for the books found there; unfortunately, due to their value, many of the books have been plundered (and are sometimes found for sale or in hoards hundreds of miles from Tana Tak). The pages of these books are usually sheets of thin hammered copper, gold or silver engraved with mysterious symbols. The ‘pages’ are usually bound together with rings. Sadly, many of the books have been plundered for the value of the metal from which they were made and were subsequently melted down for bullion. If means can be found to translate the symbols (some spells will work), some of the books apparently record unusual magical formulas.

This map of “The Northlands” has some of the names for regions/kingdoms I was considering at one time. Yes, we have kingdoms named “Amnesia,” “Catatonia,” “Moronika” and “Dementia.” Did I mention that Alluria is occupied by Amazons? It’s true!

A to Z: S is for Swamp (or Stone Heads)

S is for swamp.

I’ve been drawing and redrawing the maps for Aldeboran for years… moving things around and changing them… but the lower left hand side of my map always seems to be occupied by a large swamp variously named ‘Soutron Swamp’ or “Southron Swamp’ or something similar.

These swamps are notable for the difficulty they present to the traveler… and thus have become a haven for hermits, bandits, cultists and others who would just prefer to be left alone. Inhabitants include swamp snakes, giant rats, gators, gar, poisonous insects, voodoo priests, swamp-dwelling lizard men and other creatures. Hazards include poisonous gasses, quicksand and mires, ghosts, diesease and other dissapointments.

The swamps are dotted with gigantic stone statues or stone formations that resemble men’s heads, hands and other body parts. These statues are always sunken into the muck and mud and covered in vines and moss, so their true extent and size is difficult to determine. Some insist that these ‘statues’ were not carved from stone, but are the petrified remains of a race of giants.

One particularly amusing (and probably apocryphal) tale from the swamp concerns an expedition by the famous adventurers, Karrl and Bluddo. These two worthies had set out from Eord with a band of mercenaries into the swamps on some errand or another. While there, they approached one of the stone heads and began to poke around in the massive cave that served as the carvings’ mouth. Here they found a large quantity of a possibly valuable substance that resembled gigantic slabs of ivory embedded in the walls which they eagerly began to remove. Since the mosquitos and biting flies were quite unpleseant, the mercenaries built a fire in the mouth of the cave to drive away the bugs.

At this point the tale grows less clear and the many different versions diverge. Some of the more rational tales claim that the mercenaries were too greedy and removed too much of the ivory-like substance embedded in the walls, provoking a collapse in which everyone in the cave were killed. Karl, Bluddo, one or two other mercenaries and the crew of the boat they had hired rowed back to civilization where the of ivory that had been removed from the cave was sold. Others claim that an earthquake crushed the mercenaries inside the cave.

One particularly lurid tall tale claims that the giant, provoked by the fire in his mouth and the pain of having several of his ivory teeth removed, awoke and began to stir, freeing his massive stone body from where it had been buried in the swamp. The majority of mercenaries were ground to death by the giants’ remaining teeth or spit out to fall to their death to the swamp that was suddenly hundreds of feet below when the giant abruptly stood up. A few unlucky mercenaries who had been exploring the twin caverns of the giant’s nostrils were shot hundreds of miles to the east when the giant sneezed.

Karrl And Bluddo, who had been seeking to explore the shaft that was actually the giant’s throat via a rope tied to the giant’s uvula, were nearly killed when Karrl, in desperation, invoked a nausea-inspiring spell that caused the giant to fall to his hands and knees and vomit them into the swamp.

An individual of dubious reputation who claims to have witnessed these events along with the crew of a swamp boat and a mule named Daisy (Djamm Flenders, recently of Eord and suddenly enriched by unknown transactions), claims that the stone giant, estimated to be at least two hundred feet tall, was last seen staggering off into the swamp in a southeastern direction.

In any case, the single large slab of ivory that was retained later found it’s way to the King’s palace where it has been rumored to have been used to manufacture a royal toilet seat and other various items of domestic royal comfort.