Tuesday, February 22, 2011

gi_robot.jpg (332×500)

To me, nothing says "fun" like a giant gorilla, a pteranodon, and a WWII robot soldier locked in mortal combat.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

That Old Black Magic...

Yet another exerpt from my developing background for The Mighty Sons of Risus! campaign. I was attempting to provide some information on Greek magic, without coming up with some cumbersome rules (Risus doesn't really do cumbersome rules).  I'm not really sure how useful these guidelines would be, so I would welcome some commets and suggestions.


            While magic in The Mighty Sons of RISUS! is basically just a matter of rolling dice, the following information is intended to flesh out the differences between different styles of magic, for the benefit of the player. 

RITUAL MAGIC: Sorcery and Elementalism
The two types of ritual or ceremonial magic in MSoR! are Sorcery and Elementalism. Both require the same general components: a ceremony of some length, ritual items appropriate to the ceremony, a verbal component (possibly including song), and appropriate gestures and motions. As the magician becomes more experienced and powerful, some or all of these components may be abbreviated or done away with.

This is the kind of magic practiced by magicians like Circe and Medea all the way down to rural hedge witches.  Though it is sometimes used for the benefit of others, many sorceresses are feared and persecuted until their powers are needed. For this reason, many of them conceal their abilities or live alone in the wilderness (even Circe dwelt alone on her private island). Because sorceresses deal with powerful underworld beings, they worship deities like Hermes and Hecate as patrons.

Sorcery is a catch-all term for a number of different magics, some of which overlap, and mostly practiced by women.  They often specialize in one or another category, so they might be known as a necromancer, conjurer, witch, enchantress, charmer, etc.  Here is a brief but non-exclusive list of the most common types of sorcery:
·        Necromancy: this is the most loathed and shunned use of sorcery.  It is often used to communicate with the dead to learn secret knowledge, to exorcise the dead from a haunted place or victim of possession, etc.
·        Binding and Compulsion: Compelling the living to obey your will. Often used to keep people from acting against you (such as testifying against you), as a curse, to make the victim believe something which isn’t true, or even as a kind of love magic (a particularly common request). Often, the victim doesn’t even realize that he or she has been ensorcelled. The most extreme form of this type of magic is the Evil Eye, by which the sorceress can inflict pain, madness, or even death.
·        Pharmakia: Knowledge of the magical properties of herbs and other substances, used to create potions, antidotes, cures, poisons, hallucinogens, etc..  That which can be used to heal may often be used to harm, so pharmakoi were as often feared as they were sought after.
·        Conjuration: This is more like summoning a djinn than summoning a physical being. There were numerous spirits and demons available from the Underworld.
·        Metamorphosis: The ability to change from one form into another. Witches are famous for using this ability to change into the form of a bird; Circe, who changed Odysseus’ men into swine, is another. Those shapeshifters who can naturally assume more than one form are not considered sorcerers.
·        Counter-magic: This is magic employed to protect against the effects of harmful magic, or to dispel the effects of such magic once they have taken effect.

            Tools and Techniques: Sorcery is usually not an instantaneous form of magic; it takes preparation to be effective, which usually takes time.  The following are some tools and techniques which may be employed at the discretion of the sorcerer; not every spell cast needs to have all of the following elements.
·        Magical preparations, including herbs, ointments, oils, etc., often introduced into the food of the victim, rubbed onto the skin, etc.
·        Magical devices, such as wax dolls, which must be impregnated with something associated with the victim (hair or nail clippings, sweat, blood, urine, feces, etc.).
·        Props such as the iunx (a disk of wood, ivory, or some similar substance, twirled on a loop of cord, making an eerie noise), instruments such as flutes, leaden tablets inscribed with curses, the thighbone of a dead man carved into a wand.
·        Preparation during special times, such as holidays, the hours of twilight, dawn, dusk, noon, midnight, etc.
·        Placing the item in a special place that the victim must come close to (under the doorstep of the victim's house, under the victim’s mattress or floorboards) or put where the powers of the Underworld will find it (buried in a new grave, dropped into a deep hole or well, left in a cave, etc.), where it cannot be found or disturbed by others.
·        Spoken or written words, including the names of foreign gods and famous sorcerers, and instructions (“May Testicles of Thrace be plagued by boils and wind so that he may not be attractive to my love, Cleone, daughter of Aristos”)
·        Words and images engraved upon a gem or metal tablet (more permanent), or sometimes just written on papyrus (less permanent)
·        Amulets or talismans prepared like many of the above, primarily for defensive purposes
·        Driving a nail through a wax doll, curse tablet, etc., often emphasizes the destructive nature of the magic.
·        When speed is of the essence, some sorceresses will make a promise to some underworld power (dead person, Hecate, Persephone, etc.), which they had better fulfill.  Typical promises might involve sacrifices (sometimes human), blood, or a malicious act in the name of the power invoked.

            Professions particularly associated with sorcery:
·        Midwives: helping to conceive and carry children to term, to deliver safely, and to avoid unwanted pregnancies
·        Prostitutes: to avoid unwanted pregnancies and to attract customers
·        Immortal demigoddesses living in solitude on an island in the middle of the sea.
·        Country women: being out in the country, there’s no telling what superstitious mischief they get up to
·        Foreigners: being from other lands with strange ways, that makes them even more likely to be sorcerors than country women

Hermes and Hecate are regarded as patrons of Sorcery. Persephone, as Queen of the Underworld, is often invoked for spells involving death and the Underworld. Hades is only invoked under particularly dire circumstances, often to the regret of the invoker.

A Philosophy-based branch of magic based upon the manipulation of the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) and their properties (hot, cold, wet, and dry) by means of their  corresponcences (see the table below). Elementalism is similar in many ways to traditional alchemy.
The popular notion of a magician who can cast fireballs from his palm, draw rain from a cloudless sky, form the earth itself into a wall, or scatter an army with a hurricane are somewhat (but not entirely) exaggerated. 



Hot and Dry, Light and Active
Cold and Moist, Heavy and Passive
Hot and moist, light and active
Cold and dry, heavy and passive
Brass, gold, iron, steel
Copper, silver
Aluminum, mercury, tin
Lead, mercury
Yellow bile
Black bile
Gall bladder
Easily angered, bad tempered
Calm, unemotional
Courageous, hopeful, amorous
Despondent, sleepless, irritable
Type of Magic
Sex, healing
Fertility, purification, healing, divination, dream
Finding lost or stolen objects, magic of the four winds, visualizations, divination
Fertility, tree magic, herbal lore, prosperity,
Zodiacal Signs
Ares, Leo, Sagittarius
Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces
Gemini, Libra, Aquarius
Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn
Hour of Day
Symbolic Creatures
Lion, fire-breathing dragon, horses
Scorpion, serpent, snake, dolphin, dragon (serpent), all water creatures
Eagle, hawk, butterfly
Bull, sphinx, stag
Fire, sun, stars, volcanoes, candle flame, hearthfire
Waterfalls, all bodies of water, rain, fog, lakes
Sky, wind, clouds, incense
Mountains, caves, gems, fields, rocks
Symbolic Plants
Nettle, red poppies, garlic, onion
All water plants, ferns, lotus, moss
Aspen, mistletoe
Red poppies, thrift plant, ivy, grains

Mystic songs and poetry affecting the emotions of those who listen to the music. Orphics study the songs and poems of those who have gone before them, and gradually learn to compose their own songs.  The greatest orphics can affect beasts, trees, even rocks and rivers! They do not have control over these things, but can sway them to act in friendship, sorrow, or anger. Many Orphics also study the Numerist philosophy due to the mathematical basis of music. Musical instruments and songs are the tools of their trade.a

"Home of the Fighting Phenomenologists"

One of my ongoing , never-run RPG projects is The Mighty Sons of Risus, a campaign set in the world of the Italian sword-and-sandals movies. These feature an anachronistic jumble of Greek myth, Roman gladiators, historical anachronisms, and outright fantasy such as clones and aliens.  I wanted to include a section on Greek philosophers, since they are a prominent feature of the ancient Greek milieu.  Making them interesting, however, is quite a challenge...


Bedivere: "...And that, my liege, is how we know the Earth to be banana-shaped."
Arthur: "This new learning amazes me, Sir Bedivere. Explain to me again how sheep's bladders may be employed to prevent earthquakes."
--Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Cliff: "Due to the shape of the North American elk's esophagus, even if it could speak, it could not pronounce the word 'lasagna'."

          Often shunned for their tedious rambling, eccentric behavior, intellectual smugness, ability to detect free food and drink with extraordinary precision, and a scandalous disdain for religion, Philosophers were a nigh-ubiquitous feature of urban Greece, and deserve some representation in a Sandalpunk campaign. But philosophy itself seems like an unlikely addition to role-playing games, in part because most gamers who studied Philosophy in college had notebooks with more doodles of dragons in the margins than actual notes themselves. How, I pondered glumly, can we use Philosophers, in a game without dragging down the level of fun?

          Here's my best shot at solving the dilemma of how to tell all the wooly-bearded, wooly-headed guys apart.  I hope there is enough information, scant though it is, to help you play a philosopher as a PC or an NPC.  The numerous different schools of philosophy, each with its own particular brand of "the truth", eccentric notions, and cutthroat rivalries, can be a good source of entertainment and (mis)information.  Having party guests from two opposing schools at the same dinner party might be sophisticated fun, scandal, a brainy brawl, or the beginnings of a full-scale war of the wise guys.
Schools of Philosophy
Socratics, Platonists, and Aristotelians
          Even other philosophers sometimes have trouble telling these groups apart. Both are known for studying ethics, logic, rhetoric, and other esoteric subjects, and for crowds of disaffected youth and malcontent intellectuals gathering at their "symposia" (drinking bouts). They sniff at the thought that philosophy might have any practical applications (take THAT, Archimedeans!), but are good at spreading the notion that philosophy makes one a better human being.
          Socratics are notorious for corrupting youth with questions like "What is Justice?", "What is the best way to live a good life?", and "What happened to all the olives?". They believe that the wisest man in the world is the one who is aware of how ignorant he is, and many wise people agree that the Socratics certainly qualify for that.
          Platonists believe that the world as we see it is a corrupt version of the ideal form, which cannot ever be reached by material beings; gamers with visions of making off with the "Ideal Form" of a mountain of gold should just keep that to themselves. Oh, and the Platonist version of the perfect ruler is the Philosopher King, which lets you know what they're really plotting late at night over a bottle of ouzo.
          Aristotelians scoff at Platonists' notion of "ideal forms", but spend an inordinate time looking for "First Causes" and "the Unmoved Mover". They believe that to be fully developed as a human being, they must master a variety of disciplines. Thus, they have developed a variety of trivia games which they play against each other, fielding random questions about Geography, Entertainment, History, Arts & Literature, Science & Nature, and Sports & Leisure.

Suave and mysterious in the way that only math geeks can be, Pythagoreans crunch numbers the way Epicureans munch olives. Reclusive and mystical, these "mathemagicians" are always finding obscure relationships between numbers in odd places, be it in poetry, architecture, geometry, music, astronomy or (theoretically, of course) women's undergarments. Strangely, Pythagoreans also believe in reincarnation, and that foods like rabbit and beans are evil.

          Stoics personify the expression "stiff upper lip". They believe in ignoring pleasure and pain, thinking that these distract them from Logic and Reason, the only thing in life worth having. They can be the featured attraction at a gladiatorial bout, witnessing the slaughter of helpless screaming widows and orphans, or consummating their marriage with their childhood sweethearts, and they won't bat an eye.
          Mr. Spock from Star Trek is probably the bestknown  example of a Stoic (minus the green blood, pointy ears, and the Vulcan Neck Pinch). American Indians (not so native to Mythic Greece), Spartans and die-hard traditional Romans are also unofficially Stoics.

These scruffy philosophers believe in "living a life of Virtue in agreement with Nature."  Therefore, Cynics give up all worldly possessions, including money, houses, and personal hygiene products, to live a simple, frugal, shameless, and often naked life on the street.  They eat what they find, sleep wherever they can, and say whatever they want.  They scoff at the false values of those who indulge in materialistic lifestyles, care about things like honor and glory, and wear clothes free from embarrassing stains. 

Epicureans and Hedonists
          The only important goal in life, according to the founder of Epicureanism, is the pursuit of food, drink, and company, which means they turn up at parties a lot.  They can often be found expounding on the benefits of seeking "modest" pleasures (while pilfering hors d'oevres and pouring libations of the host's best wine) to attain a life of tranquility and freedom, free from bodily pain and distress. "Everything in Moderation", they caution, making sure to sample at least one of every tasty tidbit at the table.
          A rival colloquium of sensual sages, the Hedonists, disagree: "Everything in Excess!" is their creed. Too much of a good thing is never enough for a true Hedonist. They wax eloquent about the virtues of stuffing every orifice full of whatever gives it the most pleasure, and praise the tranquility and freedom that only massive overindulgence can bring (at least until inevitable blackouts, hangovers, and crossbow weddings).

       All the other philosophers claim that Sophists are giving their profession a bad name. They are reviled for two things: their greed for money and power, and their ability to bend logic and reason like a pretzel, Known for twisting the truth until it cries for mercy, they function much like con-men, used chariot salesman, shyster lawyers, and career politicians.  They specialize in splitting hairs, putting words into their opponents' mouths, padding expense vouchers, and buttering up wealthy patrons
          Debating a sophist is like standing in front of a monkey cage wearing your best white tunic: you're just begging to be pelted with dung.

          Derided by as "mere tinkerers" or "menial craftsmen" by the other philosophers, Archimedeans are the inventors, engineers, and gadgeteers. Their workshops are full of sputtering aeolipiles whistling like a teakettle, half-finished prototypes of siege engines, scale models of leaky aqueducts, and the like.  They consider themselves the inheritors of the legacy of Daedalus, the legendary craftsman. Archimedeans were inspired by childhood tales of the mechanical servants of Hephaestos and the bronze giant Talos; they are driven by a desire to take things apart to see how they work, and yearning to improve on the design.  They dream of creating burning mirrors capable of setting fire to ships, one-man vehicles that fly or swim or roll across the ground, and meddling in the gods' domain.
          Contrary to modern sensibilities, the possibilities of mechanized warfare have not yet caught on with the rulers of the Bronze Age.  This may have to do with the novelty of the technology, the expense of research, or the hazards of actually using these half-tested deathtraps.   

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What Kind of D&D Character Would I Be?

Yes, I know; this was a pointless waste of time. I answered 129 (!!!) questions to find out what my statistics would be if i was transformed into a D&D character overnight. Either the test is broken, or I did it wrong, or my self-image is waaaaaay off. Go to What Kind of D&D Character Would I Be?  and judge for yourself.

I Am A: True Neutral Human Bard (5th Level)

Ability Scores:

True Neutral A true neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. He doesn't feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. Most true neutral characters exhibit a lack of conviction or bias rather than a commitment to neutrality. Such a character thinks of good as better than evil after all, he would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, he's not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way. Some true neutral characters, on the other hand, commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run. True neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you act naturally, without prejudice or compulsion. However, true neutral can be a dangerous alignment because it represents apathy, indifference, and a lack of conviction.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Bards often serve as negotiators, messengers, scouts, and spies. They love to accompany heroes (and villains) to witness heroic (or villainous) deeds firsthand, since a bard who can tell a story from personal experience earns renown among his fellows. A bard casts arcane spells without any advance preparation, much like a sorcerer. Bards also share some specialized skills with rogues, and their knowledge of item lore is nearly unmatched. A high Charisma score allows a bard to cast high-level spells.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

Detailed Results:

Chaotic Good ---- XXXXXXXXXXXXXX (14)
Chaotic Neutral - XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (17)
Lawful Evil ----- XXXXXXXXXXX (11)
Neutral Evil ---- XXXXXXXXXXX (11)
Chaotic Evil ---- XXXX (4)

Law & Chaos:
Law ----- XXXXXXXXXX (10)
Neutral - XXXXXXXXXX (10)
Chaos --- XXX (3)

Good & Evil:
Good ---- XXXXXXXXXXX (11)
Evil ---- X (1)

Human ---- XXXXXXXXXXXXX (13)
Dwarf ---- XXXXXXXX (8)
Elf ------ XXXXXXXXXXXX (12)
Gnome ---- XXXXXXXX (8)
Halfling - XXXXXXXXXX (10)
Half-Elf - XXXXXXXXXXX (11)
Half-Orc - (0)

Barbarian - (-4)
Bard ------ XXXXXXXX (8)
Cleric ---- (-2)
Druid ----- (-2)
Fighter --- (0)
Monk ------ (-25)
Paladin --- (-21)
Ranger ---- (-4)
Rogue ----- XX (2)
Sorcerer -- XX (2)
Wizard ---- XXXX (4)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Encounter Critical: Notes from Vanth

Encounter Critical is a wonderful retro-RPG harking back to the heady days when ANYBODY could slap together a set of rules and create a game to their liking. It actually reminds me more of the "Arduin Grimoire" style of game than "Dungeons & Dragons", because of the gonzo, anything-can-be-shoved-in-here-somewhere philosophy. As a result, EC is a remarkable grab-bag of fantasy and science-fiction tropes  (like Lord of the Rings meets Battlestar Galactica).
The game (which is available for free from http://www222.pair.com/sjohn/encounter-critical.htm ), provides an intriguing little map of a planet, the Realm of Vanth, with some wonderfully evocative names (God City, Lair of the Sulduku Hierophants, The Slaver Kingdoms) that got the world-builder in me salivating.  There's also about a page of background which provides a rough description of this world. Other than this, there's really no description of any of the other places on the map.... which means, I can do whatever I want to with it!!!  
So that's what I'm doing, gradually: fleshing out Vanth, with an eye towards running some games in it.  Others have done this, as well; there's a wiki called the Lexicon of Vanth dedicated to this purpose, and it has some truly crazy-brilliant stuff on it. So check it out. You might also check out my Encounter Risical wiki at Obsidian Portal, which is where I'm getting this material. (The Risical refers to Risus: The ANYTHING RPG, the set of rules I'll probably be using.)
Meanwhile, I've been working on some player's notes, trying to give the players a hint of what might await them in each of the named locations on the map. It's a work-in-progress, so please let me know what you think.

Science vs. Sorcery in the Realm of Vanth with Risus: The Anything RPG!
Welcome to the land of Vanth! This document which you hold in your hands (or some other appendage) is the result of rigorous True Scientific Realism, in the tradition of the game Encounter Critical by messrs. Hank Riley and Jim Ireland. This author has not attempted to adapt this classic and seminal RolePlaying Game (RPG) into Risus game terms, which is both beyond the scope of this endeavor, and an exercise in futility. For those who decry such an effort, the decrier is referred to the original. Instead, he has utilized what remains of the original scientific source material, supplemented with anecdotal evidence and expert reconstructions, to produce an unbiased and objective work that presents this post-apocalyptic setting of Science and Sorcery in a pure Risus environment.
If this is your first experience with the world of the Riley/Ireland opus, count yourself “lucky” to have this opportunity to see it with new eyes!
Chariots of the Gods?
The history of interstellar contact with Vanth is discussed on p. 27 of Encounter Critical (Second Corrected Edition). Vanth is a planet in the Medieval Rim of the galaxy, where peculiar physical laws exist that allow the aboriginals to practic what is called, un-scientifically, “magic”. Under the guise of “angels” and “gods”, the Vulkin Star Empire operated a starport, called “God City” by the planetary inhabitants, in the harsh and forbidding North Mountains. Trade ensued for years until the crash of the interstellar navigation grid, cutting the starport off from all contact with the Empire. With the flow of imperial trade goods disrupted, the millions of stranded galactic citizens and traders were forced to venture out from their secure enclaves and make first-hand contact with the local cultures, pre-industrial but using so-called “magic”. Predictably, the impact of alien visitors on the natives (and vice versa) has been unpredictable.
Almost a dozen years later, who is the “typical” Vanthian, if such a being exists? Does he come from the distant stars or the soils of Vanth? Was he born on another planet, or is God City the only home he has ever known? Is she the forbidden love child of barbarian nobility and a chivalrous captain from beyond the stars? For every question of this sort, the answer is “Yes!”

God City
The former Vulkin trading port for Vanth. When the navigation grid for the local sector crashed eleven years ago, “millions” of interstellar travelers were stranded here. Eventually, when supplies began to run out, the survivos were forced to leave its confines to seek their fortunes.
The Icy Lake of Hori
These bone-chilling waters form a barrier to those who would approach God City from the southeast. Here dwell the Floemen, blue men who charge exorbitant fees to ferry travelers and their wares across the lake in craft carved from huge chunks of ice. Those who wish to avoid the highwaymen of the Great West Road must deal with the Floemen, or brave the dangers of the mountains to the north. But someone claims that the Floemen’s doom is nigh, thanks to secrets found in the bottomless depths of the lake itself. Are these the ravings of a madman, or does hidden power lurk beneath the realm of the Ice Boats of Hori?
North Mountains
The impenetrable mountains to the north of the realm of Vanth. From west to east are located God City, the Fissures of Death, Castle Crane, Castle Noth, the Iron Dwarf King’s realm, Angel Barrows, Hoarfrost Citadel, and the Pass of Death.
Castle Noth
When God City was a thriving spaceport and King Vafthergrint the Open-handed sat fast upon the throne, Castle Noth was a wealthy bastion thriving on the trade between the Vulkin trading post and the City of Blackhawk. Now that his young and peevish heir, Pippershot II, has taken his father’s place, evil times have befallen the lands where ale and gold flowed freely. S
Castle Crane
Known for the huge mechanical devices that dropped boulders upon besieging armies in ages past, agents of Castle Crane’s aging, heirless ruler, Prince Parchmort, slink forth on some mysterious quest. Is he bent on resurrecting past glories, or creating new ones?
Fissures of Death
Old Vanthian lore claim that these cracks into hell were closed up by heroes ages ago, but that Vulkin blundering reopened them. The Vulkins claim that the cracks were opened by groundquakes decades before they established God City. They deny the claims that awful monsters have been coming forth in greater numbers since the sector navigation grid went down, but why are sending more and more troops into these mountainous regions lately?
Hoarfrost Citadel
A centuries-old kingdom, with the hoard of a thousand conquests, is frozen beneath this blue-white glacier, a curse from the gods for its past atrocities. Now, however, the slow flow of the ice-river is uncovering thing that many would rather remain entombed. Has the power of the gods failed, unleashing the frozen dead of Hoarfrost, or has something else dared meddle in the domain of the damned?
The Iron Dwarf King’s Realm 
The Pass of Death
This ancient roadway is, to many, synonymous with “a foolish, agonizing death”. Said to be built by gods, giants, or dragons in eons past, the kingdoms of the North Mountains are ever vigilant for threats from the East (such as Darth Viraxis, the Zombie Princess, and the Klengon Colonies). Some say that it should be destroyed to block the path of invasion; others say that it could just as well be used to invade the realms of evil. What to the strange, abominable carvings along the walls of the pass mean? Are they a warning from the long-extinct creators, or a potent weapon waiting to be unleashed?
Angel Barrows
When the Vulkins still claimed to be “angels” and “messengers of the gods”, they dared venture onto the sacred grounds of a backward, warlike tribe. The trading expedition was slaughtered to the last individual, their caravan’s goods lost and cursed. Other Vulkins sealed off the entire region with a phasic barrier to preserve the secret of their true identities, leaving the tribe to perish on its sacred ground. After so many centuries, the force field still stands. What remains of the lost Vulkin treasures? Has the tribal holy ground retained its sanctity, or has the blood of natives and aliens tainted it beyond redemption?
City of Thunders 
The Isle of Blacksteel 
The Slaver Kingdoms 
Sea of Great Peril 
Empire of Darth Viraxis
Darth Viraxis FAQ
Klengon Colonies 
The Bleak Mountains 
Goblin Hill
Wonderlands (Funfair Nomads)
The Unknown Highway
The Forbidden Wastes 
Amazon and Wooky Freeholds 
The Steel Warlords
This region was sparsely populated coastal region before the sector navigation grid went silent. However, in just over a decade, the land has become a hotbed of industrial activity. Though living creatures have quickly disappeared from this area, streams of cyaborgs and robodroids march forth from the assembly lines to take their place. Automated fortresses ring the perimeter, while cyaborg tank units patrol for any living thing that dares intrude upon the realm of the Steel Warlords. The Amazon and Wookie Freeholds and the Ape Sultans are casting wary eyes upon their neighbor, dreading the advance of phasic might upon their jungle strongholds.
The Hidden Caves
Tales are told of a lost underground civilization, crypts stuffed with jewels and gold, diamonds the size of oxcarts (including the ox), and other treasures enough to drive a dwarf mad with greed. How anybody ever saw them in the first place is a mystery, for everyone freely admits that nobody has ever found the location of the Hidden Caves. Many have tried, much to their regret; even stoic Vulkin treasure-seekers have wept openly with frustration over this paradox. Major Mace Mattock, foul-mouthed Space Hero extraordinaire, says he has a foolproof scheme to solve this enigma at last - and he’s recruiting fools at top dollar to prove it!
The Shunned Towns
Among the many popular travel destinations of Vanth, the Shunned Towns are not among them. No outsider has visited them since before the Vulkins came to this world (and every wag claims a different reason for the enshunmant). Who would dare to break the age-old decree? Who would risk unknown censures, anonymous maledictions, and long-forgotten whammies to learn the potentially wallet-breaking truth of these towns’ dark secret—at no guarantee of life, limb, or dramatic purpose?
1001 Reasons to Shun the Shunned Towns
Dino Island
For the ultimate in big-game hunting, there’s no place like Dino Island. This is every hunter’s caveman fantasy on steroids—powerful, kill-you-dead illegal steroids. In fact, there are so many specimens of prehistoric megafauna and their phasically-charged kin that had the decency to go extinct on more civilizaed worlds, that the biggest mystery of all is the nature of the food source that keeps them all alive. (When questioned about this, a noted and notorious big-game hunter quipped, “They take turns eating each other.”) There are many other mysteries there, however, such as the ancient, bejeweled ruins buried beneath the enormous roots and creepers of the deadly jungle that grips the island in its fetid green tendrils; who could have carved out a civilization in such a lethal environment? And what treasures did such a hardy folk leave behind?
The Seven Mile Pillars of Paragorn 
The City of Blackhawk
The Zircon of the Mercenary Coast, Blackhawk’s history is writtenin its frenzy of architecture. Dozens of madmen, monarchs, and revolutionaries have tried to overwrite the legacies of their predecessors, burying whole layers of the city beneath newer, loftier structures. A large portion of the city’s economy derives from exploitation of the endless layers of the buried city by the convoluted, chaotic bureaucracy of guilds, temples, and brotherhoods that dominate city politics. Complicating matters is that the endless catacombs are still inhabited by creatures eager to protect their subterranean domain. Fortune favors the bold in Blackhawk… but even the beggars are bold in this city of dungeons!
The Limb Traders 
The Great Spineywood 
The Silent Glade 
The Deadly South Mountain 
The Horse Tamers
A race of intellectual horses, who train, herd, and sell a race of bestial humans. Many question, however, whether the humans are naturally bestial, or have somehow been robbed of their intelligence by artificial or supernatural means. Rumors persist that the herds of these equine fleshpeddlers contain many specimens with a pronounced resemblance to some missing politician or celebrity with too many enemies. Coincidence, or some bizarre form of revenge? Assassins are a silver piece a dozen in some parts of Vanth, but there are fates worse than death….
Salty Bay 
The Waepeta Sorcerer Palisade
The grim fortification that broods above the landscape is the least of this eldritch fortress’ defenses, for within this dark domain dwells the enigmatic Sorcerer. For decades, the only visitors to his vast, ruined pile have been at his whim and under his power. Some say that it was he who engineered the destruction of this sector’s navigation grid to seal off Vanth for his own purposes. Is he the the calculating master of every Vanthian’s fate, as some claim? Or is he a pitiful little man, hiding behind a crumbling facade of phantasm?
Eavestrough Faerie Haven
It’s been called the last refuge of the Faerie Folk, but something is not right in the land of the Wee Folk. Those who venture within bring back tales of flesh-hungry brambles, sadistic will-o-the-wisps, and doom-laden haunts; many such venturers do not return at all! King Pinkbottom Bellywiggle has withdrawn all diplomatic contact from neighboring realms, and rumors of a massive buildup of boggarts, hobgoblins, trows, redcaps, and other unseely types has been observed (often by travelers who have since had their eyes poked out by elf-darts). Has the Faerie Kingdom fallen prey to evil forces, or is the presence of aliens and their technology to blame for the Twilight of the Faeries?
Realm of the Hobling Emperor
The Curse of the Hobling Emperors
Great West Road 
The Phasic Swamp
Long used as a dumping ground for malfunctioning alien technology and phasic toxins, the Phasic Swamp has an even more ancient history as a sacrificial site of the darkest type. Rumored to be a portal to some blasphemous underworld, scores of criminals, princelings, priests, and anonymous wayfarers have met their fate in the tangled, fetid depths of this blighted bog. Since the Vulkins started using the swamp as a phasic waste dump, things have gotten even more interesting; documented rumors of phasic demons, magic-using radioactors, and cannibalistic wardoxy cults of the Mad Computer God. In addition, practically everything that dwells within the swamplands suffers dire mutations — which may actually be an improvement in the lives of the degenerate Swamp Folk who have made this squalid wilderness their home since time immemorial.
Plains of Parathax 
The Mercenary Coast
True to its name, the Mercenary Coast is indeed the single best place to recruit warriors-for-hire in all of Vanth. Many an adventurer has begun his (or her!) (or its!!) career flocking to the banner of a company of sellswords. Every type of combat is represented here, from arbalest and blunderbuss, to bonespears and eon blades, and everything in between. Surprisingly, there is little violence between the companies of doughty death-merchants, unless they are hired to do so; they follow the Code of the Mercenary, which discourages combat for non-mercantile reasons except for formal duels, tournaments, recreation, and sport.