Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Demon apes

A few weeks or so ago, I reinstalled Temple Run 2 on my phone.  I had this three years ago, but had not had it in all the time since.  Sadly, whatever progress I had amassed at the time is gone, but happily, it's not hard to make new progress.

One of the most important things to have happened to Temple Run 2 in that time is that they've added several new maps besides the "Sky Summit" floating temple, specifically a snowy wilderness (Frozen Shadows), a pseudo-Egyptian "Blazing Sands" and a "Lost Jungle" that is sorta Central American, and sorta southeast Asian.  I don't know that it really substantially changes the gameplay much—in fact, I'm quite sure that none of them do—but they do offer a very different "vibe" about the game.

Of course, I could do some fake Temple Runs to get a different vibe too—there's loads of them.  Spirit Run, Temple Adventure Run, Temple Jungle Run, Temple Dash Jungle Run, etc.  But Temple Run 2 seems to (still) be the gold standard on pseudo Raiders of the Lost Ark endless run games.

The "villains" of the Temple Run games are, of course, the demon monkeys—ape-like creatures) in Temple Run 2, they are as big as a very big grizzly at least, and built like massive gorillas) with elongated skull-like faces and glowing green eyes.  The Lost Jungle even adds as crocodile version of it; with an even more elongated crocodile-like skull face, that will occasionally lunge at you when you're jumping over a river.  But mostly, it's the big gorilla-like, skull-faced apes.

Each of the new maps has introduced a different take on the ape, too.  In Frozen Shadows, they are furrier and whiter in coloration; not super different, but in Blazing Sands, they are covered with pangolin-like scales on the back, and in Lost Jungle, they have a witch-doctor mask on, and are wrapped up in vines if they aren't even plant creatures of some kind themselves.

What to do with this?  Well, I think the demon monkeys are a cool idea that I should have in FANTASY HACK, of course!  Note that because the alternate versions have additional special abilities, they are notably more difficult foes in combat than the basic version.  I didn't do a lantern festival one with scaled armor, but then again, I also didn't do one with a Christmas sweater and antlers.

Although I think the antlers are a nice touch, as they give the thing a kind of monstrous mien.
DEMON APE: AC 15, HD 6d8 (30 hp) AT: 2 claws +6 (2d6) bite +7 (1d8+3) STR: +8, DEX: +4, MND: -2, S: only takes half damage from any non-silver weapon. 
A black-furred, massive skull-faced ape that pursues its targets relentlessly until slain. 
DEMON APE (SNOW): AC 15, HD 6d8 (30 hp) AT: 2 claws +6 (2d6) bite +7 (1d8+3) STR: +8, DEX: +4, MND: -2, S: only takes half damage from any non-silver weapon, its cold aura causes a constant effect similar to both The Withering From the Haunter spell and Leaden Limbs of the Gnophkeh spell.  This only affects a given character once per encounter, although it is permanent until the characters either escape from the demon ape, or slay it. 
A gray-and white-furred, massive skull-faced ape that pursues its targets relentlessly until slain. 
DEMON APE (ARMORED): AC 21, HD 6d8 (30 hp) AT: 2 claws +6 (2d6) bite +7 (1d8+3) STR: +8, DEX: +4, MND: -2, S: only takes half damage from any non-silver weapon, in the first attack of an encounter, it can do an additional 2d6 points of damage due to simply rolling over the targeted character, unless he succeeds on a DEX + Athletics check of 18. 
Similar to regular demon apes, but covered with pangolin-like scales.  Can roll up in a "ball" and roll over targets. 
DEMON APE (VINE): AC 15, HD 6d8 (30 hp) AT: 2 claws +6 (2d6) bite +7 (1d8+3) STR: +8, DEX: +4, MND: -2, S: only takes half damage from any non-silver weapon, takes no damage from piercing weapons, but double damage from fire attacks.  Can entrap characters in vines that grow from its body, similar to an Arachnidan Detritus spell. 
Made of wood and pulp green vines.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Quick update

What a day!  I hit one of our monster potholes this morning and blew out my tire.  Because it was raining, and because I didn't want to do it myself and because I got roadside assistance on our insurance plan long ago to help my wife out if it ever happened to her while driving around with little kids and I wasn't available, I called them rather than worry about it myself.  By the time I had them show up, put on the donut, go to the tire shop, find out that there's a huge line because the same problem is happening to everyone, fend off their attempts to sell me more tires and shocks and struts that I don't need (seriously; they just wanted me to spend $1,000 because of mileage without even looking at them.  I changed the shocks and struts about 18,000 miles ago.) my morning was gone.  I'm not quite sure what else I would have done with regards to this blog if I hadn't been stuck in a tire shop, but it's a convenient excuse for why I'm probably not going to end up doing anything after all.  I'll probably even defer my Friday Art Attack to Monday.

I did, however, end up deleting my hard trance megamix while I was there.  I discovered a feature in Audacity, and got taught how to use it, which does a pretty good job of removing tape and vinyl hiss on audio files, and two of the songs on my mix had pretty bad hiss (as well as pops and whatnot from the needle on vinyl playback.)  Now, my clean-up job isn't perfect, but I did about three or four songs while I was waiting, and they are quite a bit better than they were.  I decided to go back to the drawing board with the megamix that I have rather than try to recreate it.  I've added a lot of songs to my list of potentials since I did it, and what the heck; I either want to manually pick songs, or re-sort them, or something rather than just redo it.  So... that's out, for now, and I'm not really sad about it.  Although I was quite happy with the quality of the mixing, I wasn't necessarily thrilled with the audio quality of all of the source files I used.  And I still haven't actually played around with Mixxx yet either; I did all of this in Audacity.

I also think I want to create a big monster playlist of the potential tracks under consideration and listen to it a lot before I get carried away and start picking stuff while I can barely remember what some of the tracks sound like except that I liked them enough when I heard them in someone else's megamix that I went and got them and listened to them once or twice before throwing them on my phone and on a spreadsheet, and then kind of having them fall through the cracks.

So my haste to make megamixes, which granted, is pretty fun in its own right, made me act too rashly.  Let's slow it down and make the best megamixes I can.  What I do need to stop doing, though, is continuing to chase after tracks I don't have.  At some point, I need to decide that I've got a lot, and I've got enough.  That doesn't mean that I'm done and won't ever get any new ones, but hopefully it means that I'm not gluttonously consuming new ones faster than I can even process them.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Kan Cold, Hennes & Cold and Derb: Kai Winter Works

Another music post.  I'm spending so much of my time on music, I might as well post about it too.  Kai Winter was a prolific guy back in the heyday of hardtrance.  During the 90s, he released a ton of tracks, actually, with his musical partner Boris Hafner, before the two of them finally settled on the Derb name; the one under which they were most prolific (although the combined output of the two of them under other names is at least as big, if mostly forgotten now.)

For the reasonable price of $6.99 you can get the Derb Works compilation right here, which is 31 tracks (although many of them are remixes and alternate versions of stuff like "In Afrika" or "Derb" itself.)

For another $6.99, you can get the Hennes & Cold Works compilation, which is his work with a different partner.  There's not as many tracks here; only 23, but it's still a steal at that price.

There's a final Works compilation; by Kan Cold which is one of his solo aliases.  This one is only 14 tracks and $5.99.  A few of the tracks are older, and there is a bit more variety in style here.  Both the Derb and the Hennes & Cold (and much of the Kan Cold, to be fair) stuff is very hard with big, heavy kicks, and very dark (there's a few exceptions here and there, like Derb's "Love Trip" though).  You know; the way God meant for Germans to make electronic music anyway.  But the Kan Cold Works does show a few more lighter tracks here and there.

The interesting thing, though, is that even if you added up all of the songs produced by those aliases and all of the others; well over a hundred, no doubt, you still are only scratching the surface of their output.  There are a hundred remix and production credits to Derb alone; and nearly as many for Hennes & Cold, and Kan Cold by himself has forty.  The way remixing works these days is that it's almost as much work as creating an original track; all you don't have to do is come up with the main melody line, and you can probably use a few of the sounds from the original (although part of the point is that you replace a lot of them with your own samples.  It isn't like in the 80s where a remix just meant extending and rearranging the elements of the existing track a little bit.)  And; they did almost all of their work over a period spanning the late 90s to the mid-00s; less then ten years.  Although they did string it out a bit on either side of that bracketed set of years.

It's kind of amazing to me that these guys were so prolific.  We hear in the writing world about "pulp speed" but Kai Winter (and some of his compatriots, like Kai Franz and Frank Zenker, at least) did the musical equivalent of it. Some of the hardstyle guys (like Technoboy, for instance) were just as prolific.  Now, some may say that electronic music is different; it doesn't even have "real" melodies, or lyrics, or real instruments, or whatever, so it can be programmed rapidly.  This is absolute nonsense.  I understand if you don't have any interest in or appreciation for trance music (or any other kind of EDM music, for that matter) but rarely can you just punt with it; there's a lot going on musically—complicated synth riffs that need to be written and performed, and then massaged, and then added to with loads of sounds and counter-riffs and everything else.  There's also a lot going on with regards to percussion, which is usually quite complicated and involved.    If you're imagining that you are sitting in front of your old Casio and you just hit the "hard trance" button and you're good to go, you have no idea how this works.  This music is, whether you like and appreciate it or not, fairly complex musically, and the fact that they were able to have that kind of throughput is pretty remarkable.

Anyways, clearly I'm finding much to like on these compilations, even though there were some songs I already had and knew. The song "Derb" had already been on my radar for quite a while, as it is kind of a hard dance classic of sorts.  I hadn't ever heard the "Kan Cold Mix" of it before.  I don't see it on any of the versions of the "Derb" single released, so I don't know where it came from other than this compilation itself.  It's probably my new favorite version of the song, though.

Curiously, I think I'm not going to end up putting the Merlin (or Merlyn) remix back on my phone.  I had it (with the second spelling) on before, but when I got the whole Works collection and decided to reevaluate what I had on my phone, I decided that that remix just wasn't up to snuff.  Curiously, I had earlier already removed the Arome remix.  On Works this is renamed the DJ Scot Project Remix, which makes sense since Arome and DJ Scot Project are two aliases of the same guy, and in the intervening years since its first release, the second alias has become much more well-known (especially for remixes.)  I decided to add this mix back on, although I didn't do so without first cutting and slicing about thirty seconds or so of this very awkward pre-drop noise.  It's interesting that when I first had this song, that part irritated me so much that the whole track was just unacceptable, but now that I've kind of pruned it just a bit, I think it's actually quite a good remix after all.

Anyway, my selections for today are two from the Derb Works and one from the Hennes & Cold Works: "Derb [Kan Cold Mix]", "Attack [Remix]" and "Get Down" respectively.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tracid Traxxx EP Vol. 1

I wonder sometimes if my acquisitiveness of new music isn't a type of psychological addiction.  I get so excited about getting new tracks (new to me; let me clarify) that I often barely enjoy the tracks that I just got.  But I keep doing it.  I can't seem to stop.

I've had a lot of fun exploring the whole hardtrance movement, especially the Continental hardtrance movement (which mostly, but not entirely, means the German hardtrance movement.)

Anyway, even before I discovered hardstyle, and before I'd really dived into hardtrance, and was mostly just familiar with trance as a generic label, and was more a fan of some acid, I'd been familiar with the Tracid Traxxx label because they carried some guys like A*S*Y*S, Kai Tracid, Derb, Warmduscher and Hennes & Cold.  I had a ton of tracks of the first, a several tracks of the second, a few tracks of the third, and remixes by the last two.  Since diving into hardtrance, I've added a few A*S*Y*S and Kai Tracid tracks to my collection, and a few Warmduscher tracks, and loads of Hennes & Cold tracks—in fact, their entire Works compilation.

However, the Works compilation doesn't have their remixes and some of their collaborations, and Kai Winter (the Cold of Hennes & Cold; he also produced under the nom de plume of Kan Cold) did a fair bit of stuff solo (he's also one of two member of Derb, as it happens.  And there are Works compilations for Kan Cold's catalog as well as Derb's.  But all three of them are missing the compilations listed below.)

So, I only recently discovered the title EP; a four track little thing.  Well, technically it's four tracks, but the 2 minute label intro doesn't really count, so it's really got three songs on it, none of which has a title.  They are known, it appears, by the artist name attached to the track, and all three of them are collaborations between Tracid Traxxx artists, all of which were on the list given above.  These tracks are pretty much amazing, so I thought I'd give you YouTube links to all three of them: A*S*Y*S vs. Hennes & Cold, Warmduscher vs. Derb, and Kai Tracid vs. Kan Cold.  All of them are hardtrance and/or acid trance, which means that relative to hardstyle, the kicks aren't so prominent and crazy, reverse bass might happen here and there but isn't a requirement, there's no pitch-shifting to create crazy kicks on the post-break riff, and they are much more likely to have soaring synthline melodies and squelchy 303 acid lines, if you want to call them that.  And they tend to be extremely long...

But wonderful.

The interesting thing about them is, however, how much they all overlap anyway.  A*S*Y*S is Frank Ellrich and Kai Franz, or at least it was in 2004 when this came out (Franz later left the group and Ellrich continued with the name on his own. But most of their well-known output was already out by then.)  Hennes & Cold was Michael Hennes and Kai Winter.  Kai Tracid is Kai Franz.  Kan Cold is Kai Winter.  And Derb is Kai Winter and Boris Hafner.  Warmduscher is just Warmduscher (real name Thilo Markwort.)  So, Kai Winter was involved in all three of these tracks, although under three different names, and Kai Franz was involved with two them (also under different names) as well as being the owner of the record label.

Between these guys on the Tracid Traxxx label and Frank Zenker (and his various stage names, most famously Scot Project), it's no wonder that the Germans kind of became known as the leaders of the hardtrance movement, even though there were some significant artists working out of the UK, the Netherlands and northern Italy as well (the Saifam group were mostly doing hardtrance before they started doing hardstyle.)

There are other artists and labels (and regions) that are getting somewhat slighted in this analysis, but that isn't meant to be a bad thing; yeah, yeah—I'm certainly aware of the British later hard trance, and even the earlier stuff; Jay Walker is even often considered a British Scot Project.  And I don't mean to slight DJ Wag, or Cosmic Gate, or Max Savietto, or any of the other many artists out there, but the ones I mentioned seem to have risen to a level of prominence based on prolific output and some real famous tracks that makes them just a bit more visible.  And they're good enough to not choke when in the spotlight.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Isles of Terror

I admit that I'm struggling to feel motivated to do more with my new recalibration of the Serpent's Skull adventure path.  Without the need to have something runable right now, doing more than talking at very high level (which I've already done) about how I'd reassemble this material is difficult.  Given that my preferred method of running is to define very little beyond my immediate needs, and then play off of what the players bring to the table, it makes it hard to go beyond my immediate needs.

And given that my immediate needs would be hypothetical since I'm not actually running the game right now, I'm struggling to sit down and figure out what exactly I'd do with this stuff anyway.  I thought about coming up with a summary not unlike Chris Perkin's "Point of Origin" article from The DM Experience column, but honestly, I'm not feeling it.  I had thought when I started this that once I was done summarizing and evaluating all of the modules that doing something with them would be fun after it was over, but now I find that summarizing the modules, finding stuff in them (monsters, often) to convert to FANTASY HACK, and just discussing them "philosophically" is kind of fun in its own right.  Assembling them into something that I could use "off the shelf" for gaming right now is less fun than I expected, and sounds suspiciously like... work

Will it be enough for me to do these summaries, and then only do a single, rather short post that amounts to less than an 8x11 page worth of text talking very high level about how I might adopt the elements into actual play; meanwhile, pulling stuff (like snake-men, and having the setting development that came about because I tossed around where and why snake-men would be a good idea in the first place) out of the modules that ends up being useful for the development of the TIMISCHBURG setting?  Do I want to do this if that's all I'm doing with it?

Yeah, I think so.  For one thing, although The Serpent's Skull and The Carrion Crown were published adventure paths in their own right, naturally if I'm assembling my own material for my own use, I don't want to limit my palette to what's in those adventure paths only.  An element from somewhere else might fight perfectly alongside an element from an adventure path and then an element from another adventure path, and then something I made up whole-cloth.  This may sound like I'm punting a bit and trying to assemble a much bigger buffet before I get up to go eat, and... well, yeah, that is kind of what I'm doing.

This doesn't mean that I'm necessarily done with the ISLES OF TERROR tag.  I might yet think of more things to do, or be motivated to do things that I can think of now, even, in which I'll use the tag.  But it does mean that I'm not going to try and guilt myself into doing something hobby-related that I'm not feeling much at the moment.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Friday Art Attack

Two separate images by two separate artists of Thuvia and her banths.  Man, she's hot.  She's a great character too.

An interesting approach; what if Star Wars had been less dirty and gritty, would the Millennium Falcon and Docking Bay 94 have looked more like this?

Anyway, Star Wars was gritty and dirty, but presumably ships and docking bays that look more like this exist plenty in the galaxy anyway.

This art is fan art originally done for Traveller, if I remember correctly.

I don't post enough barbarian sword & sorcery art.  In fact, other than Frank Frazetta, I didn't necessarily have a lot in my collection until kind of recently (relatively speaking.) 

Speaking of barbarians, here's some historical artwork, depicting the Celts as the Romans would have found them.

This is sometimes why I don't have enough old style sword & sorcery artwork other than Frazetta; technically, this is NOWHERE near Frazetta's level, and who wants to invite comparisons that aren't flattering?  That said, I really like the notion of these rat people sacrificing a woman to their fat rat idol.  There's a story in that, no doubt.

I dunno what's going on here, but it's interesting.  The lizard demon sits on the throne, and is that Elric waving his black sword at him?

This, on the other hand, is quite straightforward.  I like it.

Some more images of Conan as he's often traditionally viewed.

Lovecraftian archaeological expedition to Egypt doesn't go well.  Nice.

More Lovecraftian archaeologists.

And one more...

And then, just to remind you that I like space opera just as much as I do sword & sorcery and cosmic horror, well, here's this.

Black Panther

Rotten Tomatoes clearly telegraphed that you won't be able to trust the audience score because they're going to massage bad ratings out to maintain the fictitious narrative that SJW-beloved movies are actually popular, and if they have low scores, it's just "alt.Right trolls." Even so the audience score is not nearly as high as the critics score and we're still on the first day of release: it sits at 98% vs 77%.  I don't know how much that audience score is overstated due to the issue mentioned just above, but I'd guess as much as 15-20%.  It could even be more.

My 16 year old son has had a habit for many years now of going out with one of his old friends and seeing every Marvel movie on opening weekend; he caught a midnight showing last night.  His friend fell asleep.  Young Desdichado #3 never falls asleep in movies, so he stuck it out, but he says it was interminably boring, the main characters were all boring, very little happened, and only the villains were interesting.  Kinda.

Following the debacle of The Last Jedi, Disney and the Hollywood media are trying to concoct a Fake News narrative that it's actually a great movie and very popular, but it's just been the target of alt.Right trolls.  That's an even easier sell with The Black Panther because it's all blackity-black, so they can tie the ghost of the nebulous and never-actually-appearing "white soopremaceeeeee!" to the story, and effectively quash any discussion about whether or not the movie is any good or not.  Now, I don't know if The Black Panther engages in white flagellation, or if it's merely boring.  If it's the former, the movie will not just be bad and boring, it'll be terrible and piss people off (just like movies like The Lone Ranger did, and that was before the alt.Right really even was a thing and most people weren't even starting their red pill journey yet).  I suspect it's more the latter, though, and if there's an element of the former, it's suitably subtle and understated, at least.

I only got to talk to my son about it for a few seconds this morning before heading out the door, so I don't have a good guide to what's really going on with it.  Plus, he resists the red pill more than my other boys in my family, and he's rather susceptible to white flagellation.  Left to his own devices, he'd probably embrace the wigger lifestyle, to be honest with you.  So I don't know how well he'd see anti-white messaging, or how well he'd admit to seeing it if he did.  Sigh.  He's the most difficult of the Young Desdichados in many ways, and that lack of confidence in himself, in his heritage, and in his traditions is part of it.

Eventually my wife and I will see it, no doubt.  But given his rather tepid response, it seems very unlikely that we'll be in a big rush, that we'll pay anything close to full price, etc.

Anyway, I'll leave you with this trailer for The Black Panther.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Best of Hard Trance

I've now got just under 290 hard trance songs on my "best of" list—although, again; the categorization of a few of them is iffy.  Some are often considered early hardstyle, or acid, or something else that's similar but not exactly hard trance. And I've got multiple versions of some tracks.  And for the heck of it, I've even got "Age of Love" which is sometimes (albeit erroneously) considered the first trance song, which would predate hard trance by a few years.  But it's mostly hard trance, and everything that isn't hard trance would fit in relatively well in a mix with hard trance.

And I've got about 10 more songs to add to the list, when I get around to it.  And then I might go out and try and find some more, even.

I'm finding that in general, I like the later, more British hard trance scene less than I like the earlier Continental (especially German, Dutch and north Italian) scene.

In any case, 300 tracks is clearly too many to be "the best of"—so I probably need to only take the best 10% of that and call that my true best of.  Doing two big megamixes of 15 tracks each (or so); around an hour and a half each: that's something that I'd like.  Let's take a stab at what I might include on such a three hour set-list:
  • Ampire "Speedlimit"
  • Arome "Hands Up" (Original Mix, or the DJ Scot Project Remix?  I'm on the fence here)
  • Arome "Here We Go [Midnight Mix]"
  • A*S*Y*S "Acid Nightmare [140 Squadron Mix]" (the most trance-ish
  • A*S*Y*S "Acid Space" (probably the most trance-like of their tracks.  Probably.)
  • Avatar "Red Planet" (Don't know which mix yet.  Maybe Jay Walker.)
  • Bas & Ram "Chimps & Pimps"
  • Blank & Jones "DJs, Fans & Freaks" (maybe the Cosmic Gate remix instead of the original)
  • Blutonium Boy vs DJ Neo "Hardstyle Nation [DJ Neo Progressive Mix]" (in spite of the name, this is a hard trance anthem, not a hardstyle one.
  • Cosmic Gate "Human Beings" (probably the original extended, but the G&M Project one is tempting too)
  • Cosmic Gate "Mental Atmosphere" (If I had to do one of the official mixes, it'd be the Midnight Mix easy.  But I can use the first half of the Extended mix and transition to the Midnight Mix after the break and spoken part.)
  • Derb "Derb (Derbus)" (A true classic)
  • Di Combo "Rock it to the Beat [Gary D Hardline Mix]"
  • DJ Darkzone "The Human Form [Vocal Club Mix]"
  • DJ Mirko Milano "Stopp & Go [DJ Arne L II Remix]"
  • DJ Wag "Life on Mars [YOMC Remix]" (I might actually have to use the YOMC Global mix, just because it's nearly impossible to find a high quality version of the YOMC remix.  Real shame; it's a better cut.)
  • Droid "Focus [Uptempo Mix]
  • Hennes & Cold "Evaculation"
  • Hennes & Cold "Get Down"
  • Juvenile "Hardcore Suckas [Trance Generators Remix]"
  • Kai Tracid "Peyote Song"
  • Kai Tracid "Tiefenrausch [A*S*Y*S Remix]"
  • Luca Antolini "Heat [Original Hardtrance Mix]"
  • Ohne Ende Geil "Endless Horny"
  • Out of Grace "140 BPM [G&M Project Remix]"
  • Pacific Link "Espace [Hardstyle Mix 1]"
  • Pacific Link "Planetary Collapse [Luca Antolini Remix]"
  • Pulsedriver "Recycle [Club Mix]"
  • R.B.A. "No Alternative [Brooklyn Bounce Remix]"
  • Sa.Vee.Oh "Loop Hole"
  • Tankis & Savietto "Octopus [Lost in Case Remix]"
  • Thomas Trouble "Insane Asylum [SMP Club Mix]"
  • Titchy Bitch & The Fallen Angel "Retribution [Hennes & Cold Remix]"
  • Tommy Pulse "The Answer" (Lots of choices for remixes)
  • Tommy Pulse "Walhalla"
  • Warp Brothers "We Will Survive [Club Mix]"
That ended up being a little too many, right?

Serpent's Skull Full Summary

OK, so I've gone through every adventure of the Serpent's Skull and read them—mostly—cover to cover (I admit to having skimmed or even skipped the multi-part short story and some of the setting stuff, as well as just skimming the bestiaries.  But I did read the actual adventures.  Well... I did skim some of the location descriptions there too, if they were just more rooms with traps and crap like that.)

Since my avowed goal is to now reassemble all of the elements of the Adventure Path into a campaign arc that's more to my liking and much less like a kitschy D&D railroad, now that I've done that, I should go through my summaries of each adventure and in turn turn that into a single summary of the entire AP.

Rather that look at specific elements (i.e., encounters and stat-lines) let's look at concepts and see what looks usable to me.
  • being shipwrecked on what is basically Skull Island
  • a city of high civilizational colonists in the savage tropics
  • caravans and/or river trips through the jungle to more far-flung, and more native-style cities in the interior
  • if cannibals and headhunters aren't sufficiently intimidating, the module makes them become 1) undead, 2) lizard-men, 3) snake-men, 4) frog-men, and 5) intelligent apes and monkeys.
  • There are both reptilian (specifically serpent) and ape related demonic cults.  Not all of the cultists need to be lizard-men, snake-men or apes themselves.
  • two separate partitioned cities which are at war internally via local tribal politics.  One is underground, but that can be changed if desired.
  • a race to discover a lost city against several factions
  • a contest to take control of the city against those same factions
Although the idea of a city broken up into multiple factions is a little weird; it's more likely that that's so unstable that one will have wiped out the other ages ago, or at least chased them into another territory, I admit that this part of the adventure path is quite intriguing.  I'll want to find a way to implement this somehow; although I admit that I think its all a little too exotic too.  Why do we need to have apes and snakes and frogs and daemon-people, and plant-people and morlocks, etc. all jockeying for position.  Are there any just plain people-people?  (The answer is technically yes, but they're surprisingly insignificant.)  Although I tend to not complain about the "Star Wars cantina scene" vibe in D&D, I do think that in this case it's been overdone to the point of caricature.

At a higher level, once we get to the location where the rest of the adventure path takes place (the ruined city and the other ruined city beneath it), I think we can really explore the concepts of the adventure path; who are the villains and what do they want?

Honestly, that's how I prefer to build campaigns; take two or three villains with goals, and just describe them, and let them collide with the PCs.  Eventually, each PC might develop their own villain/nemesis or whatever too unrelated to the campaign ones that belong to the group as a whole, but that's mostly to give variety over what is, in effect, a television show's season worth of material.  Although only so much can be done about that until I have PCs, so...  

In that sense, who are the players and how might the PCs either ally or oppose them?
  • advanced people establishing colonies and/or bringing civilization to the boonies.  The PCs might well be sympathetic to these guys, but there are more than one faction looking to be the first to claim the resources here, so not necessarily.  Just as in the real Scramble for Africa, it's not like France, Germany and Great Britain all saw themselves as interchangeable; they wanted to beat their rivals.
  • natives of various types.  They are often secretive and hostile, and they resent anyone else intruding on their turf—or they seek to exploit the colonists against their native rivals before stabbing their erstwhile allies in the back.  I'm not a fan of the native sympathetic colonial bad narrative that seems to have taken over every single story of this type ever told, so I'd almost certainly eschew it if for no other reason than because it's tired and cliche by now.  While some individual natives might be friendly, their societies are strange, alien, and generally not sympathetic.
  • King Kong esque gorilla demon cult, and the king of the apes (that actually wants to replace King Kong, not serve him.)  Includes a marching army of apes and baboons.
  • Lizard god (Bokrug?) that his scaly servants (snake-men and lizard-men) want to bring bodily into the world to conquer the mammal races.
  • Other daemon cultists, or even daemonic humanoids (the urdefahn, in the AP) who are attempting to establish a beachhead here.
I don't like the idea of these cities being "ruins" that are yet inhabited by non-human savages; why can't they just be actual cities that are off the beaten path, maybe lost (or maybe not) and the various powers are trying to establish key trade routes, rather than find it and claim it per se?

I find that the snake-men and ape agendas are a little too local to work for me unless they're allied with someone.  As in the French & Indian War, I think my French and Indians need to be allies; i.e., one of the factions from the first bullet point above is allied with each of the factions below it (except for the second bullet point, which is just hostile noise, for the most part.

I don't like the idea either of the PCs shipwrecked and finding ancient maps; rather, I like the idea that they're already agents (or will be from very early on) for one of the factions.  The shipwreck and the jungle cruise can be combined into a single jungle overland jaunt, with some politics and whatnot when they arrive at their destination.  Although instead of being in a single city, I think the various factions need to be more separated.  The PCs wandering inadvertently into a war, with some one-off bad guys here and there (vampire predators, Lovecraftian monsters, etc.) maybe more maybe not borrowed from the module, works better.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Deconstructing the Serpent's Skull 6: Sanctum of the Serpent God, part II

Well, here we go.  The end of the arc.  After this comes the work of figuring out what to do with all of it.  I'll probably first do a summary that shortens these adventure summaries into even more concise elements that I can easily play around with.  Anyway;

This part starts off by dictating that there is only one strategy that is likely to succeed, because if the PCs don't follow it, you're to swarm them with all kinds of high level monsters and NPCs that can easily TPK the party.  They are to use the army as a distraction to keep defenders busy, while they sneak into the inner sanctum to interrupt the Ydersius-raising ritual.  This is, of course, a dungeon with traps and wards and loaded with monsters.


There's also some odd hazards like collapsed tunnels of magically treated stone that cause spells to go awry and even cause spellcasters to take a bunch of non-lethal damage.  You start off fighting starving morlock slaves, a snakey hydra (more snakey even than normal), snakemen temple clerics and snake-shaped stone golems.

There's actually a system in place to determine how successful the PCs were in creating a distraction army, and depending on how well they did, you can have more or less individuals here to fight; if you didn't do well with your army, your foray into this ruined temple will be harder.

Then you start hitting actual characters.  Nazith-Yol is a restored ancient snake-man who likes to build weird snake-clockwork golems and stuff.  He's a tough fight.  Then, we have Khorak, an Ydersious worshipping troglodyte fighter, with temple guard companions or sidekicks.  Nylla-Jas is the "wife" of Nazith-Yol, and you might end up encountering them together, especially if the latter flees to the former after being beaten by the PCs earlier.

As you get further into the sanctum, you fight an avatar of Ydersius called the Emperor of Scales—a gigantic snake-head with a bunch of snake body/tails coming out of it like dreadlocks, or something.  And iron golems.  There are more magical traps, and a marilith, which actually makes some sense, given the snake-like aspect of mariliths.

There is a Chamber of Gates, but the Gates are broken.  I'm not sure what the purpose of this is except maybe to give the PCs something to do when they finish the adventure; repair them and go off exploring the exorealms beyond?  There's a chamber with animated shed snake-skins, and another snake-man champion, Khestath, who's a fighter/ranger.  As always, snake-men priests are with him.

And finally, you reach the innermost sanctum of sanctums, fight the BBEG Vyr-Azul and his giant albino snake Qestl.  It turns out that they haven't interrupted the ritual, however.  It's already happened.  Ydersius has started to regenerate, but the PCs arrived earlier enough that they only need to fight a weakened avatar of him, not the god himself.  (Itself?)  It crawls up out of a chasm in the floor that goes deep into the Underdark (sorry; Darklands) after the high priest is defeated.

There's a few more rooms detailed after this, but it's the end.

To really have "won" the PCs need to sever the avatar's head again, otherwise, it'll grow back in a few days, or some point in time, at least.  Killing Ydersius for real sends "psychic shockwaves" to all of the snake-men in the world, though, making the battleground between your army and the snakes a handwavey deus ex machine win.

It's suggested that Savinth-Yhi will soon face a wave of settlers and colonists, becoming another major metropolis rising from the ruins.  The snake-men will plot their revenge in one way or another.  But what if the PCs don't actually defeat Ydersius' avatar?  In this case, his restoration will eventually be complete, but he'll be right here among his people, who will face a totally different kind of "psychic shockwave" and the serpentmen will soon become a major threat to the surface world.

There are a number of possible adventure seeds spelled out that are obvious follow-ups to the adventure as it proceeded:
  • FACTION REVENGE: The PCs had a rival faction, which they almost certainly had to fight, and probably eliminate their expedition.  The parent faction, however, lurks still seeking revenge for the PCs having foiled their plans. It's entirely possible, of course, that more than one such faction is unhappy with the PCs following the expedition to Saventh-Yhi.
  • THE FATE OF SAVENTH-YHI: as spelled out above, how with the PCs respond to the arrival of "claim jumpers" and others; or will they attempt to keep the city's location a secret?
  • SAVITH'S CRYPT: A big dungeon next to the city.  Sigh.
  • FINISHING SAVITH'S JOB: Can the skull be destroyed?  Dunno, but the PCs can maybe find out, which would put Ydersius into the "dead gods" category permanently.  The skull itself is a powerful, insidious and dangerous artifact.
  • RISE OF THE GORILLA GOD: The Gorilla King from earlier on might become a "nascent demon lord"—on his way to becoming a true demon lord.  He's actually statted as a CR 23 unique demon, and would be a potential rival to the cult of Angazhan, which would cause all kinds of weird demon-monkey political games, if the PCs were interested in political infighting between demon-monkeys.
  • THE SERPENTWAR: Even Ydersius' defeat probably "awakens" the slumbering, or at least peaceful and quiet snake-men populations underground, causing all kinds of trouble.  Armies of snake-men troops and their enslaved Darklands auxiliaries invade all over Golarion.  Thanks a lot, PCs!  There's even a CR 20 snake-man general statted up, Sargogen, Lord of Coils, and a few stats for a mass combat minigame (buy another Paizo product to get it!  Sigh.)
Following this, there's a section describing Ydersius and his cult among the serpentmen, part 6 of 6 of a short-story that's run throughout the adventure path, and, of course, the little Bestiary.  Which contains:
  • Wandering monster tables specific for this adventure
  • BAREGARA—a bigger, meaner demonic ape than the bar-lgura.  Which, curiously enough, Pathfinder doesn't have.  I guess they were never open content.
  • EMPEROR OF SCALES—as described above.  Uh-gly.
  • GROOTSLANG—an elephant-snake, and supposedly a cryptid of South Africa (hence its Dutch name.)
  • HOLLOW SERPENT—in greater and lesser varieties; the animated shed skins of giant snakes.
  • KONGAMATO—some pterodactyilish creature from Zambian folklore or somesuch.  Paizo can't resist showing off that they did their research in African native folklore.


I guess this week, I'm just in a really artsy-fartsy mood.  On Monday, I posted a belated Friday Art Attack, on Tuesday, I posted an Orcus Art Attack, and now today on Wednesday, I'll be posting, for the heck of it, I suppose, a Demogorgon Art Attack.

Then I really should get busy finishing my read of Out of the Abyss since I'm spending all of this capital (or time, anyway) on the demon lords.

Unlike Orcus, who gets a pass because Tome of Horrors made him open content, Demogorgon is merely a name mythologically, and the two-headed, mandril and reptile hybrid with tentacles for arms incarnation of Demogorgon, who's semi-aquatic and semi-jungle, and who creates retrievers and death knights, etc. is a very specific D&D thing that can only be used in the way that a character owned by someone else can be used.  So, he's good for your games.  You can probably write fan fiction about him (although... please think twice before you do.)  But if you want to write or publish something, you can't use him as is, really—unless it's at best a very oblique reference.

That said, I like Demogorgon a lot; maybe even more than Orcus, although it's a toss-up between the two of them, honestly.  So, if I just did yesterday's post on Orcus, I probably need to do the same for Demogorgon.

This time, let's start off with the 1e incarnation of the big guy, up there in the corner.  Twin mandrill heads, scaly tentacles for arms, and a lizardlike sinuous (albeit furry) body make up the gist of it.  The art, as always for back then, was pretty poor, yet strangely evocative.  (Note: an even more primitive illustration of him came out in Eldritch Wizardry, but since most players are more familiar with him from the Monster Manual, I'll start there.  Besides; that art is really bad.)  A better version of him came out in the Official AD&D Coloring Book.

Due to the strange way in which I was exposed to D&D, this is actually where I found him first.  Those demons playing dice are supposed to be grog-demons, whatever they are, although I don't know what the little guy is.  And it's funny that they're just sitting around gambling for some gold coins.  The description here, written by Gygax himself is as follows: "Above all towers the twin madrill (sic) heads of Demogorgon, Prince of Demons.  His blazing red eyes seem to transfix the horrified dwarf.  Demogorgon's bristling green pelt and pink-suckered tentacles fill the viewer with such revulsion that he cries out and faints."

Like all of the demon lords, he skipped 2e entirely, and when he first made his 3e appearance in The Book of Vile Darkness, he'd somehow been given hyena heads, was green and even more serpentlike (although I've got that art kicking around somewhere, I'm not going to post it.)  Although that's more funny than anything else, the fact remains that that book was kind of a trainwreck anyway.  3e in general wasted no time in getting the Prince of Demons, the Sibilant Beast, etc. back in the game.  I've got a lot of artwork from that era.  Steve Prescott did one of the first, and it's very classic.

It's curious that the really classic notion of what Demogorgon looked like was shaken by the hyena heads, I think.  Although it didn't happen right away, we got a lot of differing interpretations of him, especially by the time 5e rolled around.  

In any case, here's some more 3rd era art, most of which came out at the end of the era.

This was, I believe, actually a screenshot of some animation commissioned for some 4e preview stuff.  Although when Demogorgon was actually finally statted in 4e (in Monster Manual 2) he looked a bit different.

His illustration from the Fiendish Codex. There's also some weird black and white sketches of him fighting Orcus, but he looks about like this.  It's Orcus that looks weird.

This piece really reestablished his snakey, reptilian nature; but I don't think this look ever "stuck."

Near the very end of the 3e run, Demogorgon appeared (illustrated by the always illustrious WAR) on the cover of Dungeon and as a "final" boss in the Savage Tide adventure path.

At about that same time, he appeared on the cover of Dragon as part of the Demonomicon of Iggwilv series of articles.

These two pieces, on the other hand, give us the classic 4e look of Demogorgon, a bright orange monkey fellow who's somehow both very classic and yet newly imagined at the same time.

I've also got some other art that I don't know where it originally appeared.  It may not even be official at all  But here it is anyway.

Not meant to be an illustration of Demogorgon himself, but an interesting stylized piece nonetheless.

Another extraordinarily snakey-looking demogorgon, although those scales look more like overlapping armor plates than anything reptilian.

Finally, for 5e, he got a new look again.  The mandrill heads might still be baboonish, but they look flensed of flesh if they are, and in some illustrations they just don't look baboon-like at all anyway.  Lava-like light glows in his eyes, mouth, and even in cracks on his body.  It's a very weird and demonic look, although it does by necessity, differ from what came before in some ways.  He's also way bigger, and in at least one illustration, really bulky and squat rather than lithe and sinuous.

Finally, here's some stuff I've found recently, which kind of splits the difference between the 5e look and the more classic look as illustrated in 3e and 4e eras.  It also comes in multiple color schemes, for whatever that's worth.  The black-faced reddish one is probably my favorite.  Although I admit by that point that I'm favoring a look that's more 5e than earlier.  One of the greenish ones probably best matches Gygax's written description.  I already wrote his coloring book text, but here's the description from the 1e Monster Manual: "It is contended by some that this demon prince is supreme, and in any event he is awesome in his power. This gigantic demon is 18' tall and reptilian. Demogorgon has two heads which bear the visages of evil baboons or perhaps mandrills with the hideous coloration of the latter named beasts. [ed note: It's worth pointing that a mandrill is a type of baboon, not a separate creature from baboons.] His blue-green skin is plated with snake-like scales, his body and legs are those of a giant lizard, his twin necks resemble snakes, and his thick tail is forked. Rather than having arms, he has great tentacles. His appearance testifies to his command of cold-blooded things such as serpents, reptiles, and octopi."  His earlier description in Eldritch Wizardry is very similar; it's clear Gygax actually copied most of his earlier text.

The best write-up of Demogorgon occurs in Dragon 357 (with the cover art several illustrations above, as noted) and the best write-up of his abyssal layer is in Fiendish Codex I.  He's statted there as a CR 33 threat.  In the 5e book, Out of the Abyss, he's CR 26, although clearly the CRs aren't meant to correlate exactly.  In the Fiendish Codex I, he's only CR 23.

Of course, I have no idea what he'd be in 1e, since they don't do CRs, but he's a bad mama-jamma, no doubt, in that game.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


After posting that Orcus art yesterday, which I quite like, I thought I'd post some more today.  I'm a huge fan of Orcus and Demogorgon.  Although D&D didn't literally make them up, D&D deserves credit for creating them as they're recognized today, and they are among the greatest contributions to the fantasy oeuvre that D&D has given us, I think.  It goes a long way towards mitigating some of the other things that D&D has given us, as it happens...

Here's the piece from yesterday again.

I don't know where the sloughed flesh look for Orcus started; in 5th edition, I'd guess, but it's actually a good look for him.  He looks like he's using his famous wand to add some spice to an elder brain stew, though, which is kinda funny.

Here's some more 5th edition style Orcus, from Out of the Abyss.  And below, here's a piece from 4th edition, where he had a more comic bookish, muscular vibe.

The above is another 5e version of the old guy, although from the computer game Neverwinter Nights, not from D&D per se.

These two red-skinned 3e versions of Orcus were commissioned by Paizo for the last adventure path they did in Dungeon Magazine.  This was a newish take on Orcus, but not as different as WotC's own approach.  In fact, I suspect that Paizo were deliberately trying to return him more to his original vibe after seeing what Wizards had done to him.

Like this:

And this...

Not that that was necessarily a bad look, but when his "classic" look is more like the image below, you can see why Paizo—who are mostly Greyhawk and old D&D grognards and ultra-traditionalists—were trying to "fix" the new direction, if they could.

Some more Wayne Reynolds 4e Orcus

I'm actually not 100% sure that this is meant to be Orcus, but it sure looks like him from the Paizo or 4e version, especially.  That big pick-axe he's holding is what makes it perhaps less likely, but being surrounded by undead makes it moreso.

Finally, some 4e Orcus with his big rival, Demogorgon.

OK, I'm just kidding.  I have more Orcus in my collection.  Might as well pull up a few more.

I can't remember what book this one was in, but I never liked it much.  It's a 4e book of some sort.

These two, on the other hand, are unofficial, but at least as good as any official artwork (especially the last one there) but they show the development of Orcus into a red-skinned, bestial-faced creature.

Just for reference, here's his 1e look, as amateurish and garage-band publishing as ever.  I admit that sometimes I'm not quite sure what to do with characters like Orcus or Demogorgon.  They're interesting, but they're already quite well developed and belong, honestly, to someone else.  I suspect that the best way to do so is actually to use the Yog-Sothothery model.  By this I mean the following:  Clark Ashton Smith did a good job describing what Tsathoggua was in "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros" and he was referred to a bit more obliquely in "The Seven Geases". "The Door to Saturn" and "Ubbo-Sathla."  Lovecraft, on the other hand, made even more mentions of Smith's Tsathoggua; referring to him a bit in "The Whisperer in Darkness," "The Mound," "The Horror in the Museum" and even At the Mountains of Madness.  But, here he's really only referred to obliquely; the "star" monsters of those stories are not Tsathoggua.  He's only mentioned to give the sense of being part of a bigger, secret world of monsters and aliens.

Lovecraft actually did pretty much the same thing with Cthulhu himself, actually.  There is one story that prominently features Cthulhu, and that's "The Call of Cthulhu."  Otherwise, he's just mentioned.  He's referred to obliquely.  He appears—kinda—in the background, if at all.  And I think that's the best way to utilize Orcus or Demogorgon, really.  The names are public domain, the D&D specific details are D&D specific and are not open content.

Of course, in your personal gaming, it doesn't matter.  But even there, I think referring to the "famous" characters in the background, rather than making them have guest star appearances, is often a better idea.

That said, there are aspects of both Demogorgon and Orcus that I'd really be keen to use.  One of them is their abyssal layers.  I actually think both make for fascinating (and obviously very dangerous and exotic) adventure locales that I could see doing something with.  

Since I'm talking more about Orcus than Demogorgon, of course, here's a guide to Thanatos that makes for some pretty good summary reading.

EDIT: Minor correction.  Orcus is Open Content; he appeared with special dispensation from Wizards of the Coast in Necromancer Games' original Tome of Horrors in the form as he was described in the old Eldritch Wizardry and 1e Monster Manual.  Other "classic" D&D demons who so appear are Baphomet, Dagon (in a more mythic looking appearance rather than Lovecraftian), Fraz-Urb'Luu, Jubilex (not Juiblex, although he's identical), Kostchtchie, Pazuzu, and Tsathogga.  Not that Tsathogga (yes, they spelled it that way) was a classic D&D demon lord per se, but as I've pointed out multiple times, the Lovecraftian "Great Old Ones" tend to be exactly equivalent to them.

Many of those entries are based on mythological sources, and frankly, many of them don't have a lot of D&D specific development that is unique from the mythological source (like Baphomet, Kostchtchie and Pazuzu, etc.)  Others like Fraz-Urb'Luu and Jubilex (sic, or is it?) are inventions of D&D specifically.

It's a shame that they didn't get to add Demogorgon and Graz'zt, and then the demon lord pantheon would be more or less "complete" in open content; those are the only two that really have a lot of D&D specific development that can't be used outside of a D&D context, I suppose.