Thursday, November 30, 2017

Deconstructing the Serpent's Skull 4: Vaults of Madness Part I

After letting this project "rest" for a couple of weeks, it's time to get back in the saddle.  I admit, I'm less excited about the second half of this adventure path, most of which takes place in an underground city below that of the city we just explored in City of the Seven Spears.  That's not my kind of thing, so I suspect that the adventure path will veer into territory that I enjoy less.  But, as I review the modules—which I've had for quite some time, but never more than skimmed previously—we shall see.

Let's start, as always, with the adventure summary, as presented by Paizo.
After curing the half-elf Pathfinder Juliver (rescued in “The City of Seven Spears”) from her feeblemindedness, the PCs learn that she is a companion of a Pathfinder who is in dire jeopardy in a secret subterranean city below Saventh-Yhi—a lost city of the serpentfolk called Ilmurea. Retracing Juliver’s route, the PCs locate and enter an ancient vault between the two cities, only to discover the magical portal that Juliver used to reach Saventh-Yhi from the city below has been disabled and must be repaired to be of use. The PCs learn that the components for repairing the portal—six delicate focusing crystals—have been hidden in six other secret vaults beneath the city. 
As the PCs begin exploring the other vaults, they become infected by insanity-inducing spores that infest all of the vaults. Meanwhile, events are unfolding in Saventh-Yhi as well. Reinforcements have arrived for one of the PCs’ rival factions, but the leader of that faction is under the domination of an intellect devourer named M’deggog from the city below. This new faction leader escalates the conflict among the factions exploring the city, culminating in an attack on the PCs’ camp. The PCs must plan their own attack on their rivals’ camp and rescue their comrades who were taken prisoner. When they finally confront the faction’s new leader, the PCs get their first clue that something sinister may be behind the conflict. 
As the PCs continue their explorations, they learn that the Gorilla King Ruthazek has come down from Usaro to see this newly discovered city and is encamped outside the entrance to the final vault. The Gorilla King invites the PCs to a grand feast, where they are subjected to a series of challenges to test their fitness to rule Saventh-Yhi. Only when the PCs have passed these trials can they enter the last vault to find the final crystal they need to activate the portal to Ilmurea. In so doing, they encounter a group of bloodthirsty bandits under the control of the strange intellect devourer M’deggog, the true mastermind behind much of the havoc in the city. Once the aberration is defeated, the PCs can finally restore the portal and gain access to the subterranean serpentfolk city of Ilmurea.
Sigh.  Ah, yes.  The multipart McGuffin quest.  An old favorite, to be sure, of module designers everywhere (if not necessary so of players.)  Due to some DMus ex machina, it's presumed that the PCs have not discovered the fact that each of the seven districts of the city has a "vault" or dungeon complex below it, loaded up with traps and monsters and spores.  But now, we're to start exploring them!  Again; I'm not really a very big fan of dungeon-crawling, underground adventures, or navigating mazes full of traps.  A very small amount of that goes a very long way.  It was nice in Raiders of the Lost Ark because it took maybe ten minutes (if I'm being generous) out of whole movie; which was otherwise about running around in exotic locations and killing Nazis and Moslem savages.  That being said; all that really explains is my relative hesitancy to dive into this second half of the adventure path, because as I've said many times before, I'm just doing a quick summary documentation of the content, so I can strip-mine it and reorganize whatever elements of it I think are useful in a format more attuned to my own tastes.  But it's harder to be motivated for a strip-mining expedition in an area where you don't expect it to be particularly abundant.

Luckily, the "vaults" are all mainly very small dungeons; no more than a few rooms and encounters each.

PART ONE: INTRIGUE IN SAVENTH-YHI Well, they can't quite get to the underground city without finding all of the pieces of the magical crystal crap that they need in order to open the vault.  There are some constraints about the order in which they need to do things due to the "plot structure."  This part of the adventure also details the effects of the black spores; a kind of extradimensional fungus picked up on the Lady of Death's plane many millennia ago, and now grown somewhat out of control.  This seems, honestly, especially punitive—it's not a poison or disease (so immunity to such, or spells that cure such, won't help) and getting rid of the crippling paranoia that they cause is not easy.  This is all well and good for an effect that is geographically limited, but in this case, it is not.  The expected solution is that the PCs will buy scrolls to heal it from their faction.  Sigh.  Look, if you want to bleed resources off of the PCs, wouldn't it have just been better not to have given them so much to begin with?

This part of the adventure also details a timeline of events that will happen on the surface.  These include the following:
  • EVENT 1: THE PATHFINDER HOME COMPANION (no word on whether or not it comes with creepy groping and sexual harassment.)  Juliver, the crazy person the PCs found at the end of the last adventure, is now cured and ready to talk to the PCs.  This is her story.  In her illustration, she looks kinda cute, but she's clearly got a crush on Eando Kline, her boss.  She also spills the beans on the serpentmen underground.
  • EVENT 2: A NEW BOSS IN TOWN The PC's rival faction has a new boss who arrived with new troops and took over, putting to death anyone who resisted.  Two refugees stumble out of the jungle begging for aid, to be followed by 6 legionnaires, who you are meant to fight.  They've also decamped from their former location and founded a new secret camp somewhere else.
  • EVENT 3: AN ACT OF WAR The new rival commander is aggressive; at some point while the PCs are not in camp, he's supposed to have raided it, killed many of the camp followers (well... what I really mean is the useful members of the camp) and taken some of the PCs favorite NPCs prisoner.  The dead bodies have also attracted the attention of two Dire Tigers, although they are also called smilodons.
  • EVENT 4: IVO HAIGAN'S CAMP Presumably, the PCs will follow the trail back to the attackers' camp.  We're told (not the PCs, the GM) that this new leader of the camp is actually under thrall of an intellect devourer; a very D&D-specific monster that looks like giant brain on four stubby little legs.  Although the d20 intellect devourer didn't do mind control exactly, apparently they do in Pathfinder, since Ivo Haigan is under the mental control of this one.  The camp has been heavily fortified.  The camp is presented as if it's a given that the PCs will raid it.  Haigan has Barsoomian white apes as guards, for some odd reason.
  • EVENT 5: SCOUTS OF THE GORILLA KING  For reasons that... probably have to do with being drunk and The Wizard of Oz coming on TV late at night, we've got winged, flying gorillas as scouts of the Gorilla King.  This, along with additional ape activity are signs that something is up.  You can fight them, I suppose.
  • EVENT 6: THE GORILLA KING COMETH The Gorilla King himself comes to town to see the legendary Lost City of Saventh-Yhi with a whole troop of his ape soldiers.  He invites the PCs to meet with him for dinner, and they are strenuously encouraged to attend.  There's a lot of weird color (like the dinner from Temple of Doom amped up, complete with Fortitude saves to see if they get sick) and stuff that's kinda creepy, and not necessarily in a good way (naked human slaves that bow down to form benches for the PCs to sit on, for instance.)  He then challenges the PCs to a series of contests, and rulership of the city is the prize.  The Gorilla King himself is an interesting fella; a human trapped in the body of a Dire Ape thanks to the touch of a demon-artifact.  He's actually been there for centuries, although it's often been the mind of someone else in the body.  He rules over a city of awakened apes and gorillons, as well as the chaura-ka—semi-humanoid apes that are more like the chimps from the new Planet of the Apes movies, although smaller and more lithe.  Not that the PCs likely care, but presuming that they win the contests, the Gorilla King only retreats temporarily anyway.
As an aside, Angazhan, the demon-lord who's vaguely gorilla like, and has actual talking, clothes-wearing, weapon-wielding apes in the jungle as his worshippers, is a cool idea.  I had thought it was mostly taken from Demogorgon and repurposed to Golarion, but either James Jacobs or Erik Mona—can't remember which—told me in a forum reply that it actually started with the idea of "what if King Kong was a demon lord?"  The Gorilla King isn't nearly so massive as King Kong; he's more of a Mighty Joe Young, if even that, but still—he's a pretty formidable creature even so.

PART TWO: THE FIRST VAULT I may have mentioned the keches an adventure summary or two ago; they're kind of ape-like, with chlorophyll or something like that.  Anyway, the first vault is partially collapsed, and is characterized by a war or sorts happening as we speak between kech hunters and bat people.  In all, spread over a few encounters, there are fourteen keches, ten bat people, an old lab for the midnight spores research with the journal of an old Azlanti priest who brought the spores back to earth in the first place.  There's also a gigantic slug, a stone golem, a map of the other vault entrances, a fire-trap, and the magical portal to the city below—which they can't open until they get all of the crystal McGuffins assembled, of course.

PART THREE: THE FLOODED VAULT  As the name implies, this is under the swamp lake, and is completely underwater.  The spores still float around here, though.  Collapsed ceilings make some of the rooms navigable (of sorts) by normal swimming, but finding the crystals (and other associated random D&D-ish treasures laying around) on the bottom might be more difficult.  There are swarms of megapiranhas here, as well as a few unusual piranha-men.  Seriously; the illustration gives them piranha heads (although they're not specifically described that way in the text.)

PART FOUR: THE IMPENETRABLE REDOUBT OF KHALID-SHAH Located underneath an island in the government district.  There's a giant Venus fly-trap (large enough to trap humans, naturally) near the entrance.  Traveling through a confined muddy tunnel, and facing paranoia effects from the midnight spores, the PCs face several "advanced ooze mephits" and a mud elemental and a muck shaitan; a type of Pathfinder genie.  This is also where the healing fountain is located, as well as the skeleton of the guy who built all of these vaults, killed by one of his own traps millennia ago

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Random adventures

I like the concept of random tables and seeing what comes of them.  Elfmaids and Octopi (linked over there on the side) puts out a large number of large tables—I thought it would be fun to roll on several of them and see what I get, and what I can make out of it if I do.  I just picked a few of the more recent ones, more or less at random, and I have nine tables to roll on:
  1. Mysterious Enemy Hooks
  2. Mysterious Patron Hooks
  3. Secrets of the Murder Hobos
  4. Wilderness Landmarks
  5. Evil High Priest Cults
  6. Loners in the Wasteland
  7. Village Notices
  8. City Mysteries for Meddling Kids
  9. Villagers Mistake Adventurers For...
This may be somewhat mutually exclusive; two village ones, two wilderness ones, and a city one?  I dunno.  Let's see if I can come up with enough elements to suggest adventure...

TAKE 1: The mysterious enemy sends a message...
  • Stuck by dagger to the bedpost
  • To get revenge for the thwarting of some past scheme
  • The enemy is a corrupt government official.
  • He has secretly cloned the party and set the clones out to assassinate the originals and take their place.
On the other hand, a more friendly entity sends another message...
  • Via an urchin who knows nothing.
  • To recover lost knowledge and artifacts for scholarly interest.
  • Unknown to the PCs, this patron is a shapeshifter of some kind in disguise.
  • The message consists of a box with a chicken brooding a monster egg.
A shell-shocked, addled bum is a former adventurer who accosts the PCs in the street.  He...
  • wants enough money to buy a beer.
  • knows terrible lore that man was not meant to know.
  • and has a map to the hidden tomb of a barbarian chieftain known for his vast horde of gold and armies of chariots
Some crumbling old landmark en route from one place to another in the wilderness is...
  • currently occupied by bandit hunting militia, who have made a temporary camp here.
  • the location of a great tragedy in the past.
  • a burial site
  • complete with gibbets with rotting corpses hanging from nearby trees as a warning to criminals
An evil high priest might be working with the mysterious enemy mentioned above.  He...
  • was the head of a large city temple, employing many underlings
  • is allied with yet another foul cult, maybe secretly.
  • hides out in a ruined old church with a graveyard.
  • where he schemes to find and operate a forbidden machine of a dark past age
  • is the leader of an evil wizard sect
  • is aware of a ritual to open a hellmouth.  While the final keys are hidden, minions of the priest are looking for them (this somewhat seems to contradict a result rolled just above.)
A lone hermit they encounter is...
  • a priest practicing magic in secret (any relation to the guy above?)
  • has with him a number of girls who fled their wicked step-father and now he protects them
On passing through a village, the PCs see the following notice posted in the village square:
  • There's a sale on rusty old weapons and armor taken from monsters
Said villagers mistake the PCs for...
  • the lover of a pregnant village girl.  The PCs need to elude an attempted "shotgun wedding."
  • A soothsayer or fortune teller predicted that the mysterious father would arrive at about this time.
In the city, the PCs encounter the following mystery...
  • Following the burning of a witch, locals have been attacked by a mysterious black cat that appears without warning and scratches their faces.  One man swears he heard it speak.
So... do I have anything usable out of all of that?  Some of it is more local color than "a campaign arc", which is not only perfectly fine, but actually quite desirable.  The village business strikes me as this kind of thing.  Heck; maybe the soothsayer is the real father, who hypnotizes young girls and takes advantage of them: it got away from him when the girl got pregnant and he had to pin the blame on someone else and get out of town quick.

The lone hermit and his adopted "daughters" is another one-off encounter, as is the bandit-hunters.  Both actually add little more than color, and suggest, at best, only minor adventures, unless I can find a way to link them to something greater.

I kind of have to work to make use of the enemy and the patron.  My first diagnosis, after doing this once—this isn't going to be "campaign sustaining" material.  This is what you do on the side; local color, some small, self-containted stuff, etc.  The meat and potatoes of the hex-crawl type adventure, which no doubt it is meant to support.  

I like a lot of that, but I think it would be difficult (at least with these results) to make it into something coherent that follows the type of GMing strategy that I prefer, which is probably best explained by the Chris Perkins DM Experience column (not that I got it from him; I was already doing that before he started writing.  But he described the process better than anyone else, and added an awful lot of great ideas to it.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

S&P races

Looking at this list, let's see what is non-fantastic and more gee-whiz planetary romance-like, shall we?

From the first Core Races set, I think Human is the only one to qualify.  Everything else is either magical or mythological or a derivative thereof.  To the (limited) extent that the psionic stuff can be considered core, I'd say all of the EPH races are also applicable, although I think the Goliath is a better choice than the half-giant, and conceptually they are quite similar.  I also think it's conceivable that the elan and maenad are better represented as culturally exotic humans rather than as another "race" that just happens to look like humans with another set of game stats.  And if I'm disallowing dwarves, then using duergar seems odd; they're just a variety of dwarf, after all.  I guess that means that I modified the EPH races to dromite, xeph, and goliaths in place of half-giants.  The Githyanki and Githzerai aren't open content, and aren't in the SRD (but are listed as playable, albeit LA +2 races in the EPH) and could conceivably be used as well.  As a houserule of D&D elements, they're perfectly fine, but as non-open content, their use is somewhat problematic in any other setting; I'll probably want to come up with a new name for similar concepts.  The same is similar for the thri-kreen.

Of the 3.5 Monster Manual "Monsters as Characters" list, the ones that strike me as workable include only a few: the lizardmen, the kobold maybe as a reptilian counterpart to the halfling, gnolls, and maybe the three goblinoids—goblins, hobgoblins and bugbears.  I'm a little hesitant with them, because they do have a folkloric background, but maybe something like hobgoblins with a derived cultural description aren't really very different from the githyanki anyway.  Gnolls are open content, but they've also been utilized in stuff like New World Computing's Heroes of Might and Magic III, so even if WotC wanted to try and assert I/P rights as the heir to stuff TSR created, they've probably already let that one slide.  In fact, as basically little more than an anthropomorphic hyena, it's worth pointing out that a few other anthropomorphic animals could fit, although I'm not really a big fan of them.  Ratmen, catmen, etc.—they'd not really be out of place, just... I'd probably rather not personally.

The Races series from 3.5 then gives us catmen, maybe feral garguns, sea kin, and underkin and a bunch of other stuff that isn't usable (I briefly considered killoren, but changed my mind).  The Eberron setting gives us kalashtar (better represented as exotic humans) and warforged.  Shifters and changelings are probably too "magical" to work, although—changelings could maybe fit (Star Wars had them too, for what it's worth.)

The 3.5 environment books also give us two or three races each (mostly), but I don't know how useful they'd be.  From Frostburn we get the Neanderthal (which I could use) and the uldra, which is a fey and therefore probably not applicable.  The Sandstorm races are garbage, and I'd never consider them for anything.  Stormwrack gives us another aquatic sea human (different from sea kin, but conceptually the same) as well as gliding apes and orca-men, both of which are absurd.  I don't remember that Cityscape and Dungeonscape either one had any races; they were a bit smaller than the other three environments.

I also don't believe that any of the other editions gave us anything that's worth pillaging; dragonborn and tieflings are heavily based on fantasy elements, after all.  Some of the more esoteric settings like Dark Sun or Dragonlance had some esoteric races (minotaurs, pterosaur people) and of course Savage Species made almost any monster playable, as well as offering brief statlines for every kind of anthropmorphic animal you can think of from bats to baleen whales.  But let's round up what I've just reviewed and see what looks likely to make the cut.
  • Human (naturally) and probably in more exotic ethnic diversity than normal, since we're talking about alien planets with red people, blue people, green people, etc. in the immediate source material.
  • Goliath
  • Xeph (can be seen as a replacement for the halfling, in a way, without the fantasy baggage)
  • Dromite
  • Ersatz gith and thri-kreen (does the presence of gith naturally infer the presence of mindflayers, or something similar?  Thrints?)
  • Lizardmen (and kobolds as a small version)
  • Gnolls
  • Catmen (provisionally.  I'm still on the fence if I think this is a good idea or catnip (no pun intended) for creeps.  If we do have them, they have to be more like the Kzin than anything else.  Predatory wookies.)
  • Neanderthals (maybe interpreted as sasquatches or gnoph-kehs?)
  • Sea kin or some other kind of aquatic Atlantean people: Namor and Aquaman style, I mean.
  • Underkin (aren't these really just morlocks anyway? Why not call them that?)
  • Warforged (probably could also stand to be renamed.)
If I can be allowed to venture just a bit into the m20 sphere for a moment, I probably have stats that are interpretable as these races already kicking around.  They also all exist for D&D 3.5, of course.  I don't know what kind of coverage you'd get for 4e or 5e, and a few of them do not predate 3.5.  Despite all that I'm sure that no matter what edition of the game you play, you could find some suitable stats that can be reskinned.  Planetary romance has a very exotic feel to it with regards to races, and they've got an almost (but not quite) science fiction feel to them, assuming that science fiction equals the more constrained modern definition, which is synonymous with "hard science fiction."  Planetary romance has a more soft science fiction feel, but not so soft that they feel like fantasy.  The races listed above, I think, can qualify, although they may require a little bit of work with regards to fluff.  For example, the goliaths are not half-giant former slaves (well, they might be former slaves, I suppose) because they're not related to giants; they are just a big race in their own right in a planetary romance setting.  The warforged are artificial people, but they're not magically animated—they could be more like a kind of clockwork feel to them, although without the steampunk gears and copper plating, etc.  They may in fact that Lovecraftian brain canisters as the source of their intelligence, for all I know—assuming that we use them as a "standard" as opposed to exotic race.

Do the dromite and the thri-kreen kind of impugn on each other's "insect people" vibe?  Probably not—I'm more inclined to reinterpret the thre-kreen to be more like the Green Men of Barsoom, honestly.  (Lin Carter's Callisto series had his Green Men analogs be more overtly insect-like.  I can't remember what he called them, though.  Yathoon?)  Realistically, this is more races than I need to get started.  It'd be better if I thrifted it down to no more than 8-10 playable races.  I've got 14, but many of those are better seen as monstrous humanoids rather than playable races.  Nobody (well, one guy I know, anyway—has to be the exception) ever thought it made sense to play in a Middle-earth roleplaying game and having ent as a playable option, or orc.  Some of these options maybe are more suited to be antagonists than protagonists by nature.  That gives us the slightly truncated list, then, as follows below.  The bigger list above can be used as an "expansion" list if needed.
  • Human
  • Gith
  • Goliath
  • Xeph
  • Dromite
  • Lizardmen
  • Kobolds
  • Morlocks
  • Sea kin

Monday, November 27, 2017


Glancing at my stats, I see that an old post of mine about using D&D to play sword & planet has had a strange spike in views.  Let's revisit this concept somewhat, and maybe even create a D&D S&P tag to explore it as an alternate setting.   Here's a few of my past posts to review, before we start (I just read them.  You can, although of course if you don't, that's fine too.)
Maybe that last one is a bit superfluous.  The real stuff is especially in the first one; what if you wanted to use D&D elements, but adapt them to sword and planet (or planetary romance) instead of sword & sorcery?  That post talks a bit about what to change, but I'm going to be just a bit more conservative, and attempt to create planetary romance out of existing D&D elements rather than rewriting them more radically.  This means trawling through D&D races, removing the ones that are fairytale and fantasy races, and seeing if I can specifically focus on ones that are planetary romance-like.  Classes is maybe a bit more difficult, because class variety between editions of D&D is more marked than race differences.  But I'll see what I can do.

"But Mr. Desdichado!" you may be saying.  "Aren't you just going to do what you always do anyway and whip up an m20 game for this, so that the specific classes don't really matter that much?"  Well... probably.  But I'll discuss some classes and their suitability to the game.  For ease of use, this will probably focus on either 3.5 or Pathfinder classes, because I'm more familiar with the former, and the latter are open content and readily available for anyone to read.  Plus, I like the notion of using archetypes to better align them the genre and/or setting.  The same can be said, to some degree, of D&D races; what are the D&D races?  There aren't a ton of choices in 1e or B/X that will really work, but in 3e (and 3.5), and 4e, and 5e and Pathfinder, we get a lot of choices.  And then, of course, there are monster races that are usable as PC races... sorta.  

So, what will I need to specifically post as I develop this series over the next... however long it ends up being?
  1. RACES: I'm going to try and focus on the more familiar rather than the more esoteric.  I won't be able to be completely successful at this, I don't think, because I'll have to dig a little bit to get ones that really work.  Either that or I can use the races as is, but rename them.  This would certainly be applicable to m20 races, but given the more detailed mechanical description of D&D races in most editions of D&D, probably not.  The Psionic Handbook races might feature heavily.
  2. CLASSES: We'll need a wide variety of swashbuckling action classes, plus some kind of psychic powers or psionic mind-wizard type characters.  Honestly, this may more closely resemble the classes from a d20 Star Wars game than D&D as its normally constituted.
  3. MONSTERS: Just a brief discussion on adapting existing monsters and what to look for.  
  4. WEAPONS & EQUIPMENT: For the most part, S&P is all about both swords and rayguns, and they both have to coexist comfortably.
  5. AN m20 RULESET: Yeah, I'll probably do one.  It'll end up being a hybrid of FANTASY HACK and AD ASTRA, I imagine, so it won't really need a permanent tab.
  6. SETTING: If I do all of this and I'm still interested, I may whip up a setting lite.  
All in all, the end result shouldn't be, I don't think, more extensive in nature than the IRON LORDS OF JUPITER campaign from Dungeon 101 Polyhedron 160.  In fact, a collection of posts with about that same level and degree of content is about exactly what I expect as a side-effect in the end.

Given what I've done with ODD D&D and DEMONS IN THE MIST and some other games I've done in the past which also replaced most of the races with less overtly high fantasy D&D races and also replaced magic with psionics (mostly) you may be forgiven for wondering how this will differ from those except in details of setting.  That's... actually a legitimate question, and probably correctly noted; they won't actually differ too much.  Except, of course, that this will be revised into m20 before I'm done, which I did not do with either of those settings.  Those other games were all specifically 3.5 houserules.

Finally: if you're not already familiar with this genre, what should you research?  First off, if you've never read the first three Barsoom books, you absolutely should.  They're free, because they're old enough to be public domain.  A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars and Warlord of Mars all by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Then, if you've got access to it through like your public library or something, watch the first season of the old Filmation Flash Gordon show.  Or maybe the old Buster Crabbe Republic serial.  Get a hold of that issue of Dungeon and read IRON LORDS OF JUPITER or find any DARK SUN material that you can, which is more D&Dish than I'd otherwise recommend; but still with a strong sword & planet "vibe" to it.  Listen to Les Préludes by Franz Liszt.  In a pinch, watch the 80s Flash Gordon with the Queen soundtrack, I guess, or the John Carter movie from a few years ago, although know that neither is really all that good.


The saber-tooth, or Smilodon has always been one of my absolute favorite extinct animals—and one that we likely just missed in North America by a small window.  The image above is Smilodon fatalis, the species from North America and the northern part of South America.  The larger species, Smilodon populator seems to be only found in the trans-Andean part of South America (which is admittedly, most of the continent.)

Their are a lot of potential explanations for their extinction, but probably one of the most significant contributors was the climate change as the interglacial that we currently are living in started.  Much of the available land, which was admittedly more square mileage, also became more arid.  Pluvial lakes dried up.  Forests turned to savanna and savanna turned into open prairie.  This significant ecological shift may have been supplemented by other problems; competition from human hunters being one that's frequently mentioned.  Ultimately, this is all somewhat speculative, however, and may require further revision.  For example, the extinction of prey is often given as a reason for the extinction of predators that in the past had been able to exploit plenty of different environments, but is this really true?  In spite of the dramatic image above of Smilodon preying on a young mammoth, bone isotopes suggest that in the La Brea region, the most common prey was bison and Camelops.  Sure; American camels went extinct (with the exception of the llama group in South America) but bison didn't.  If Smilodon could hunt Bison antiquus, why not Bison bison?  They weren't that different, and up to the historical period, woodland bison (as opposed to the plains bison that are more familiar) are known from as far east as the Eastern Seaboard.  Although habitants did change, and the Great Plains would have been a more savanna like environment rather than open grasslands, with an open forest feel, and relatively more trees and brush than today, such environments certainly exist in plenty of large areas of both North and South America; it's not true to suggest that everything became drier and more open, obviously. The whole of two continents hardly turned into wide-open prairie and pampas.

I'm also personally skeptical that the Quaternary extinction event was as sudden and dramatic as is often presented; in which absence of evidence is given as if it were evidence of absence.  There are a lot of fragmentary fossils here and there of supposedly extinct megafauna that post-dates the main period of extinction, and I'm less inclined to be dismissive of old injun lore that "grandpa hunted a mammoth" or " we had our own native breeds of horses all along" and whatnot than most.  While I agree that the preponderance of such stories isn't strictly speaking a fait accompli in the world of logic and scientific conclusions, it does get to be a little hard to ignore and yet still be taken seriously.  Not that they don't anyway, but as I read more and more of these anecdotes and more and more samples of animals that aren't supposed to have been there start to turn up, I wonder why that's not really being addressed.

Anyway, yeah—Smilodon; the saber-toothed tiger.  I always laugh when people feel inclined to point out that it's not an actual tiger, or even a pantherine cat at all, but part of the machairodont line; a subfamily with Felidae that split early on.  So what?  There's a lot of what appears to be spergy autism in pop science books and pop science discussion (this is especially prevalent in cladistics discussions and taxonomy); as near as I can tell, literally nobody ever actually thought that saber-toothed tigers were actual Panthera tigris tigers with big teeth; they were always recognized as just big cats.  Most people probably believe that they looked more like lions with big teeth anyway, given that that's the coloring Charles Knight gave them.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Character "Backstory"

I should know better than to wander over to ENWorld, but occasionally I do (often Google or Bing searches take me there, actually.  And then I sometimes I look around at other stuff, and sometimes I even get caught up in discussions.  Like I did here.  And then the few old real friends I have that I'm actually interested in corresponding with, such as Ovinomancer in the thread linked there, will show up and we get to chat again for a bit.  Anyway...)

Anyway, this is an interesting discussion, although a bit long, and it's interesting for two reasons.  One, of course, is the topic itself.  I've got fairly strong feelings about "backstory," both because I'm opinionated and have strong alignment with some specific tastes, but also because of a lot of experience I've had about what does and doesn't work well.  I feel strongly that "let me tell you about my character" fan fiction isn't very useful to either the GM or the player, although if a player really wants to do that, I won't tell him not to.  (I may well tell him I'm not interested in reading it myself, of course.)  Keep in mind that many of the most intriguing and interesting characters in fiction come to us without much in the way of backstory.  James Bond.  Who is he?  I dunno.  He's a spy and an inveterate alpha male and a cold warrior.  But what's the story of his childhood? How did he become who he is? Don't know, don't care.  Wolverine?  Marvel specifically avoided giving him a backstory for years and when they finally published Origin, the miniseries that spelled out his backstory, there was a lot of concern in the office that they were going to ruin the character by explaining where he came from.

Rather; I think tools that suggest adventure possibilities and tie the group of characters in the party together are much more useful than backstory.  For this reason, both FANTASY HACK and AD ASTRA have hard-coded into the rules the character ties process, which resembles quite closely the Phase Trio from FATE.  I also really like Chris Perkins' Point of Origin process, although it requires a bit more work on the GM's side (scroll down through the file to about the 5th or 6th article.  It's called "Point of Origin.")  It's especially useful in settings that the players don't know well; I've always found that many (if not in fact most) players struggle to create meaningful roots to the setting when they don't know anything about the setting, and some suggestions are highly welcome—even if they end up coming up with their own after all.

Of course, it's also interesting because since I used to be an ENWorld regular, I've become more familiar with a lot of things, including Vox Day's socio-sexual taxonomy.  Pemerton, from the thread linked above (and probably Tony Vargas too) are very stereotypical gammas according to that taxonomy, and because of that, their behavior and responses are actually quite predictable.  My friend Ovinomancer is giving them the benefit of the doubt by continuing to argue with them.  This is destined to be fruitless; they've already been logically destroyed, and yet they refuse to stop moving the goalposts and redefining things in such a way that they're not wrong, precisely when they've been proven without a doubt to be wrong.  They probably have only not run off in a fit of nerd-rage because the rules of the "community" specifically prohibit them from doing so, and they value their membership at ENWorld more than they value the right to flounce out on Ovinomancer.  I'm also a little surprised that they haven't plonked him yet, but it probably has to do with the fact that they've managed to convince themselves that they haven't been proven wrong, that they don't look like chumps and fools because of their mental gymnastics to try and maintain their Secret King status as the Guy Who's Always Right, etc.  Gammas can be surprisingly socially functional in a limited sense if they can convince themselves that they've maintained their dignity—it's only when that's taken away from them that they really flip out.

In any case, these gammas and SJWs have been indulged and enabled at ENWorld—which is exactly why I don't often like "hanging out" there anymore.  Although five years ago or so, at the peak of my disillusionment with the place, I didn't have the vocabulary to describe what was going on, because the vocabulary only exists in the RedPillLand on the internet, and in books like SJWs Always Double Down and stuff.  Although I naturally gravitated to incipient red-pill beliefs, naturally, I didn't have enough of a scholarly foundation in the intellectual tradition of describing it to understand it the way I do now.  Now, I can tell you exactly why I dislike ENWorld so much, whereas before, I just thought that it enabled a lot of passive-aggressive morons.

Anyway, for the rest of the world, happy Thanksgiving!  This is gonna be a spotty week for blog posts; I haven't really done anything of note yet, and it's unlikely that I will, quite honestly, even post anything else until next week.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Extinct Animal of the Week: Fruitadens and Yinlong

A double entry!  Yinlong is one of the most interesting dinosaurs of recent years to be discovered—a tiny basal ceratopsian; even more basal and older than Psittacosaurus, although somewhat similar on the ouside.  Yinlong also has some unusual synapomorphies with pachycephalosaurs that other more derived ceratopsians do not, although that's not surprising.  It also recovers surprisingly close to the heterodontosaurs, which was more surprising.  In fact, it's sufficiently similar and comes out in cladograms such that it makes significant changes to the cladograms of ornithischians overall.  Heterodontosaurs are now shown to be very closely related to marginoceratopsians, and together they form a sister-clade to ornithopods called heterodontosauriformes.  Curiously, all of our feathery ornithischians are in this group.  Previously, I have suggested that because of where heterodontosaurs were located, it was the best proof that feathers (or filamentous protofeathers of some kind, at least) were ancestral to dinosaurs because they were in the second most basal position in ornithischia as well as in therapoda.  That's not quite as true now, but still—with several ceratopsians and heterodontosaurs showing evidence of filaments along with therapods, we're covered pretty well.  About the only thing that would do to improve the picture (although I don't know that it's precisely necessary) would be to have evidence for feathers show up in a prosauropod and small ornithopod or something like that.  Maybe even a fabrosaur. (Maybe Kulindadromeus will pan out here.)

Anyhoo—the other interesting thing about Yinlong is that it comes from the same Chinese formation that has Mamenchisaurus, Yangchuanosaurus and Guanlong—a kind of analog to the Morrison, if you will, but a little bit earlier.  We already suspected that ceratopsians originated in Asia because of Psittacosaurus and Protoceratops, but this is much earlier than we thought.  Curiously, the greatest diversity of the clade is, of course, in North America, and at the end of the Cretaceous, they seem to have been extinct in Asia.  In fact, the big, rhino and elephant sized classic horned dinosaurs all seem to come from North America (with the probable exception of Turanoceratops.)

And if Yinlong is a surprisingly early ceratopsian that proves—surprisingly—that they were relatively closely related to the heterodontosaurs, well Fruitadens is a surprisingly late heterodontosaur; from the Morrison quarries near Fruita Colorado.  Probably the smallest ornithischian found, and one of the very latest of the heterodontosaurs, these two animals show, among other things, that there very very long ghost lineages (quite possibly in both directions; younger and older) have to exist, meaning that there is a lot we still don't know about dinosaur ecosystems.

As an aside; with these models and those faces, it's not at all hard to see the relationship, is it?

Friday, November 17, 2017

Friday Art Attack

It seems like I just did one of these (because I kind of did) but how about let's do one on time this week?  Next week is going to be iffy with the Thanksgiving holiday and, needless to say, a complete disruption of my normal routine.

I've said it before and I'll say it again; the integration of some relatively hard(ish) near future science fiction tropes, like rockets going to the Moon, is still something that needs to have a place in the otherwise Flash Gordon-esque capes and lasers and swords in space setting that is AD ASTRA.  Some of the planets are airless rocks, still.

This isn't anything remarkable, so it could easily fit in DARK•HERITAGE or TIMISCHBURG either one.  It's a nice picture, though...

Isn't it a shame that we never got cars like this?  I mean, the closest thing around is the Polaris Slingshot, which is pretty cool, but not really the same thing.

A lot of people believe that "Lovecraftian" means really wimpy old men who faint and die all of the time.  There's actually a lot more action in many of Lovecraft's stories than people give him credit for, and many of the other authors who wrote in the "Lovecraftian" oeuvre did so even more blatantly.  (Especially Robert E. Howard.)

On the other hand, stuffy old pseudo-Edwardian scholars and linguists sitting around talking about a Cthulhu idol did in fact happen.  Of course, the backstory to this was a hair-raising raid on a swamp in which a number of police men and cultists were killed and injured.

I love rat ogres so much that I had to include them somehow.  Ratmen aren't unique to Warhammer, of course, although they often differ significantly from the skaven.  But my rat brutes are a deliberate homage to the rat ogre, which I have this very strange attraction to.

Probably comes from my Blood Bowl skaven team.  My rat ogre mini is my favorite of all my minis.

This is actually a sketch for a Lord of the Rings Easterling, drawn before (and without any reference to) the movies.  I tend to prefer a more historically resonant look than the weird semi-samurai elves and whatnot; having the Easterlings look like Parthian or Sassanid cataphracts hits exactly the right notes for me.

Rawr!  For both subjects of this illustration!  I don't really need to explain how this could fit in, do I?

A bikini babe, a black panther, a little monkey and a crocodile all in a fight... how can you beat that?  I've always said that we often discount the very real danger of big predator animals at our peril.  Not everything has to be a strange, supernatural monster, undead, demon or dragon to be fantastic.  In fact, those get significantly over-used, in my opinion.

A lot of the Doug MacQuarrie Star Wars concept art ended up being used exactly as is, pretty much, which is why it's sometimes fun to see this idea for the Millennium Falcon which looks very different.  The cockpit is familiar, though.

Exotic urban locations is one of the necessities of any good space opera.  

Sometimes even a very classic monster, like the chimera, can stand to be remodeled a bit and turned into something considerably more RAWRish than the way the descriptions come down to us from Hesiod and the odd Grecian urn.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

On importing horror

I've often called my flagship setting DARK•HERITAGE (and for that matter, many other settings I've worked on over the years) "dark fantasy", which I call a fusion of sword & sorcery with horror themes and tone.  Sword & sorcery is usually (and rightly) seen as a fantastical evolution of the old swashbuckling stories, not unlike what Robert E. Howard wrote for Oriental Stories and other similar publications.  These were clearly heavily influenced by not only the swashbuckling stories by the likes of Alexandre Dumas and Rafael Sabatini (both of which you should read if you haven't; and then find some movies based on their best works and watch them too.  I recommend the Richard Lester Three and Four Musketeers as well as the Stewart Grainger Scaramouche and the Errol Flynn Captain Blood.)  Layering in some overt horror influences and a more horror tone gives us dark fantasy.  I've often kind of see-sawed back and forth between emphasizing the horror and emphasizing the swashbuckling action.  A few movies and books (and even one whole setting, for a different fantasy game) get the vibe pretty well: 1999's The Mummy, later, Van Helsing (although it's admittedly not a very good movie, even though it's exactly the right vibe), the Solomon Kane movie, and pretty much the entirety of the Warhammer setting—especially WHRPG compared to WHFB.

Anyway, this is pretty intriguing to me in the wake of the CULT OF UNDEATH project, which of course heavily utilizes horror themes and a horror tone—but which is still very much a D&D game, and not a horror game.  Well; the material on which it's based is, at least; I'd probably run it much more like a horror game than the Paizo playing community would.  And then, of course, I stumbled across this post just today.  It specifically references the failed Dark World Universe, but the implications are intriguing for someone who likes exploring the limits between action and horror in his gaming, like I do.  Here's a small quote from the post:
To my mind, the chief problem was the idea of taking a classic horror movie icon like the Mummy and putting it in a non-horror movie. 
2017's The Mummy was a high-budget action movie, with planes, and explosions, and Tom Cruise, and action, and chases, and spectacular special effects, and all the things that were suspiciously missing from almost all of the other Mummy movies that came before it. Even the excellent 1999 Mummy with Brendan Fraser, which was sort of a mix of action and horror, played up the horror more than the action most of the time. But the sequel inverted that formula, and suffered greatly as a result. 
My proposal is to make a shared Universal horror universe (I'll call it DU2) that is focused not on big-budget action flicks, but which is focused on medium-budget horror movies. Stop swinging for the fences, and concentrate on hitting singles and doubles, and you'll have a franchise that will be going for decades. 
I'm not completely sure I agree, but I'm not completely sure that I disagree either.  The problem with the newer Mummy, which wasn't really that bad of a movie wasn't that it was more of an action movie than a horror movie.  The problem with it was that it had boring characters that you didn't care about and who had no chemistry with each other.  It tried to be clever and cute like the Brendan Frasier one did, but it was forced and painfully unfunny when it tried.  In other words, it was probably poorly cast, the screenplay needed some polish, and the director needed to coax some chemistry out of the characters.  Had those things happened, I seriously doubt that we'd be comparing it unfavorably to the earlier mummy movies.

Although that does gel quite well with the notion of "don't try to create a major blockbuster; just create a good movie, and that means attention to details and craftsmanship."  The same is true for a game.  Honestly, I don't know that it matters too much if it's more action or more horror or if it swings back and forth between them from session to session, so much so that it matters that the game is well run and well played.  I've come to the inevitable conclusion after many years of being a gamer that the biggest, fatal flaw; the hubris of the designers of 3e (and beyond) was trying to make a game that would be resistant to bad-GMing.  There's no such thing.  The only really good games are those run by good GMs and played in by good players, who are more or less on the same page about what makes the game enjoyable, so they're not tearing it apart by trying to go too many different directions at once.

Now; you can have adequate games without that.  But you'll never have really great ones.  That requires some skill as GM and player, and it requires some chemistry between you and your friends that you're playing with.

Anyway, some of the other advice for building a monster movie franchise given at the link above is also good advice for running a longer term campaign that focuses on horror themes, so I recommend reading the whole thing.  Good stuff.

The Haggening

I really need to get going on the next part of ISLES OF TERROR, but first I'll indulge one more random post about something that has amused me to no end the last 24 hours or so.  Have you heard of the new app called MakeApp that removes makeup from pictures (and videos?)  It's caused a wave of photos to be posted under the hashtags #MakeApp and #TheHaggening which are freaking hilarious.  Why so funny?  Because schadenfreude is funnier than any other kind of humor, that's why.

Women—especially feminists, but to a lesser degree most normal, reasonably mentally and emotionally healthy women too (with the caveat that we still have those in Western civilization, although they're admittedly much harder to find than they used to be)—are rarely built from a psychological standpoint to seize power and influence and build things on their own.  In general, there are two ways that they can take power from men 1) using the ersatz daddy-figure of big government bureaucracy, and 2) using their sex appeal.  1) is sadly still going very strong in our society, making us a gynocracy in which men are essentially oppressed, and that's not likely to change until our society collapses under its own bloated weight, but women jealously guard 2).  Which is why this app is so. freakin'. triggering.  Loud'n'proud feminists who 48 hours ago were posting hashtags like #MasculinitySoFragile and #MaleTears are now bitterly screaming, screeching and crying to SHUT IT ALL DOWN BEFORE SOMEONE SEES ME WITHOUT MY MAKE-UP!  Also; OMG, the RUSSIANS have hacked my face!!!

That is the real reveal; take off the make-up of feminine privilege and what do you get?  Mostly, a bunch of spoiled, entitled thots scampering like cockroaches for the safety of the darkness.  One very astute post on the subject of MakeApp really sums it all up, doesn't it?

With any luck, it will also wake up at least a few of the betas and white-knights, who may find that not only is their endless and pathetic virtue-signaling not really getting them any closer to leaving the friendzone, but it's also misplaced on an ugly hag who doesn't deserve the attention anyway.  Because that's the thing; the curious thing about the app is that it doesn't really make actually attractive women much less attractive.  Sure, it'll magnify anything that looks like a blemish into something, it'll take away exaggerated eyelashes and shadows around your eyes (even if you naturally have them) but honestly pretty girls are still pretty.  It also doesn't really make much difference on men, unless they're soy-boy fruits.

Anyway; check out the tags.  They're hilarious.  Of course, it didn't take long before we started getting into Fake MakeApps, and many of those were pretty funny too.  Here's a few of my favorites...

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Sauropods—the biggest

Contrary to what is the usual SOP, Wedel and Hallett, in their recent sauropod book (published August 2016—I'd guess the manuscript can't be more recent than late 2015 at the earliest.  But that's still newer than most books) make casual reference several times to Amphicoelias fragillimus and treat it as a valid (albeit missing) specimen as reported.

This is interesting, because in doing so, they basically acknowledge that it's probably the biggest dinosaur specimen that we know of.  There are a number of contenders for that title, of course, and most are based on very fragmentary remains, so a lot of speculation and assumptions have to be inferred.  Also; what does "biggest" mean?  Longest?  Tallest?  Most massive?

Anyway, here's an illustration which shows, of course, how little of the animal that we actually know; the rest is inferred from related species.  As an aside, this also shows what the proper neck posture most likely really was—the age of flat-necked sauropods is over (although there's still tons of illustrations out there that adhere to it.)

Anyway; what are some other contenders for "biggest" besides A. fragillimus anyway?

I've got a post I did a month or two ago talking about some of the contenders.  As far as I know, it's still both accurate and up to date.

Anyway, that list wasn't meant to be exhaustive, but if you read the text and see the dinos mentioned, I think the only ones that are really missing that should be mentioned are Alamosaurus and maybe Antarctosaurus and Futalognkosaurus dukei.  For longest, you've got a few other contenders that otherwise aren't on the list: Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum, Supersaurus vivianae,  and maybe Turiasaurus too, although it's probably not as large as the others.

For good measure, you have to also consider the largest specimens from the very latest Morrison of Camarasaurus supremus, which is unusual, given that Camarasaurus lentus, the most common Morrison sauropod, is a rather modest creature.  C. supremus is a good contender for most massive dinosaur, however—assuming that it scales up.

It's funny; for years and years, I thought of sauropods as rather boring dinosaurs; the equivalent of really big cows or something.  In recent years—and not just because of the tremendous size of some of the newer discoveries (newer than my old Brachiosaurus is the biggest, Diplodocus is the longest kids' book days from the 80s or earlier anyway); they just had a lot going on, there is some surprising variety to them, and they aren't just an artifact of the old Jurassic anymore like I used to think.  In fact, many of the most interesting ones are considerably later than that, and the Cretaceous looks to have been a heyday of sorts for sauropods, which is in contrast to what I used to believe, when I thought that there weren't any sauropods from the Cretaceous.  (Give me a break; those kids books I read when I was a kid were massively dumbed down.)  While this is especially true for the old Gondwana continents, Asia and North America have their share of really awesome Cretaceous (even very late Cretaceous) sauropods.

There's still the inexplicable-seeming gap of about 40 million years in North America, though.  Between Sauroposeidon and Alamosaurus, we don't know of a single sauropod that lived on the continent.  Somehow that seems unlikely, but... you never know, I suppose.

XP and Leveling

Both FANTASY HACK and AD ASTRA use, essentially, the same rules for character advancement and experience points (XP)—i.e., there aren't any, and advancement happens when the GM says that it happens.  Just for the sake of "posterity", let me reiterate the rules from each:

Fantasy Hack:
Level Advancement.  Characters normally start at 1st level, but they may not at the GM's discretion, and in any case, one hopes that characters who survive their adventures get better at having them after a time. One of the fun things about playing an ongoing game is improving your character, which because of legacy and tradition is done through levels. Gaining a level, or leveling up happens at the GM's discretion, based on the pace that he wants the game to have. Personally, I prefer a pace that starts out relatively fast but slows down; i.e. moving from 1st to 2nd level takes 4-5 sessions, but advancing to the next level takes 6-7 sessions, and to third level may take 9-10 sessions, etc. 
Each level adds the following to a character:
  • The maximum hit points of the character increases by 2.   
  • +1 to all To Hit rolls.  
  • +1 to all Skill modifiers. In addition, if the level divides by three (i.e. level 3, 6, 9) add 1 point to STR, DEX or MND. 
  • Don’t forget, if you play a Fighter, you gain +1 to their attack and damage rolls at levels 4 and 8. 
  • Experts gain new Affinities at 3rd, 6th and 9th level.
  • For every even level that you gain, you gain a point of AC.
Although there's no reason why you can't go on from a mechanical perspective, this game is not meant to support levels above level 10. On average, at my pace, that would be at least a good 100 play sessions or more—about as long as I could possibly stand to run a single campaign and deal with the same characters anyway. 
Although it's normally presumed that all characters in an adventuring party are the same level, there are times when this will not be true, such as in the event of character death and replacement, or when a new player joins the group, etc.  Although some GMs prefer to start new characters at the same level as existing characters in the group, others do not.  If you have characters at different level, be sure and note their level in your notes (you probably want to know certain details about the characters anyway) and you may wish to track their advancement separately, to have the lower level characters advance more quickly and gradually catch up to the rest of the group.
And in Ad Astra, the rules are basically the same yet expressed slightly more briefly:
Level Advancement.  In general, characters advance when the GM says that they do, rather than against some formula of antagonists defeated. I expect in normal play to treat advancement as happening once every 4-5 sessions or so, but that can be sped up or slowed down to taste and depending on the desired length and scope of the campaign overall. I do not anticipate ever having a campaign go higher than 10th level, so it becomes an effective level cap on the game and on characters. 
Every time a character levels, he gains the following advantages.
  • +2 hit points
  • +1 to all attack rolls
  • +1 to all skills
  • On levels divisible by three (3, 6, and 9) add one point to STR, DEX or MND (except for robot characters.)  If adding a point to STR, this will also cascade to your hit point total.
  • On each even numbered level, remember that your AC increases by +1 as well.
  • Remember that characters with the Combat Bonus or Psionic Weapons class abilities gain an additional +1 to attack and damage at level 4 and 8.
So, you can say that I don't really have a horse in the race about XP progression and systems for it. My system is: there is no system.  I don't even have XP at all; advancement doesn't require the expenditure of XP, and there is no "earning" of XP.  XP simply doesn't exist as a currency of game mechanics anymore in either my fantasy or my space opera m20 game.  For those who want more of a classroom lecture-style discussion on why not get rid of XP entirely, you can read this post here.  Which I just found myself, but it already said everything I could want three (or more) years ago.  Granted; he uses a Pathfinder Adventure Path paradigm as his example—because that's what he plays—but the discussion isn't limited to that playstyle, as he also argues at length.  And although I disagree with it, there's a relatively thoughtful rebuttal to that article here, as well.

And yet, I can appreciate a good mechanic, or fun little whatever when I see one.  Here's an alternative, for those so inclined, to the standard XP, or to just throwing away XP entirely.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Truth About Star Wars

Yep.  Sigh.

This is why we read Galaxy's Edge.

(Belated) Friday Art Attack

I was actually on vacation, and therefore busy, on Friday.  But here's the belated post I would have made had I been at my computer.

I don't think this is meant to be a literal illustration, but it's a great example of what a stylized space opera should look like.  Imagine the author and title blocks at the top and bottom.  

Sigh.  Whatever happened to this kind of thing, anyway?

I'm actually kinda with Lovecraft.  The deep sea is creepy, and anything that would live there probably is too.

I kind of prefer Warhammer lizardmen to the politically correct D&D lizard"folk".  (When did that politically correct change happen, anyway?  3rd edition, or does it go all the way back to the pussy 2e?)  Not that I expect a lot of either in my settings, although I do allow for them and do have creature entries for them.  The ISLES OF TERROR campaign uses them a fair bit.

I don't necessarily have a lot of weird "dark lord" type archetypes, but then again, I prefer that "dark lords" be more singular rather than a category.  The closest thing I have that really fits a literary antecedent is the Ten Who Were Taken from the Black company.  I have no idea what to make of the shield, but it's kinda cool.  (Speaking of the Black Company; while reading about the Greek vampire, with its variant spelling of vorvolaka, I was suddenly struck by its resemblance to the strange undead were-jaguar thingamajiggy called the forvalaka from The Black Company.  I have no doubt that's where Cook got the word.)

I've long tried to make sure that my woses come across less like a PC race (even though they can be one) and more like a monster.  Cannibalistic wose women who run around naked through the woods killing and eating trespassers seems to do the trick.

AD ASTRA has lots of nice places.  I'm not sure that I personally see a downtown space Manhattan as a nice place, but they've gone out of their way in this piece of art from the Star Wars: Old Republic game to make it look like a nice place.

Veterupristosaurus, one of the earliest carcharodontosaurs, and the analog for Allosaurus that was in the Tendaguru formation.  Some workers still believe that Allosaurus himself was in the Tendaguru, but it's based on only a single fragmentary tibia.  It's much more likely that that material should be referred to this species instead.  It's interesting, because along with the prevalence of considerably more maconarians vs. diplodocids in Tendaguru vs. the Morrision, it's clear that the Tendaguru was actually a more "advanced" ecosystem.

Wilbur Whately.  I'm much more likely to use the concept rather than the specific description of this half-fiend spawn of Yog-Sothoth, though. 

A fell-ghast, from the FANTASY HACK monster list.

This is a really cool looking monster.  I'd use byakhee stats for it.  The specific illustration comes from Wrath of the Titans as concept art.

What do you do when an army of undead approaches your village?  I love this picture.  I see it as more TIMISCHBURG-like rather than DARK•HERITAGE, but I could find a place for it in either.

I just can't seem to stop posting pictures of Yutyrannus for some reason.  It's one of my favorite dinosaurs.

I can't decide if I think a good rendering of Abomination or of Killer Croc is better at representing the Oerk race.