First: Anybody going to Fablescon this weekend?  Let me know. I’ll be there.

Second: For non-jungle reasons, I’ve been lately browsing the first five Arduin Grimoires by David Hargrave, but it turns out there is some jungle in Arduin too.  To quote the author, Arduin’s multiverse contains “dead worlds, jungle worlds, worlds of monsters and worlds of light and reason–all impinging on the nexus.”

What beasts are stalking these Arduin jungle worlds?

Arduin jungle encounters
1. Gronds
2. Skorpoons
3. Ooze/slime
4. Earth elemental
5. Hydra
6. Red death cloud
7. Lash lizards
8. Octorillas
9. Tigers
10. Triceratops
11. Shiva
12. Tri-dragon
13. Ibathene
14. Teng swarm
15. Stingwings
16. Spiga
17. Phraints
18. Nite hounds
19. Furcoats
20. Floaters

I haven’t seen where Hargrave describes Floaters…hopefully they aren’t like Soakies, but he does describe some of those jungle monsters:

Red Death: boiling cloud of flesh-eating fog

Spiga: cruel and intelligent giant metallic spiders.

Ibathene:

ibathene

Teng: winged beetles that fling themselves at any warm or moving creature like living crossbow bolts, destroying themselves upon impact.

Skorpoons:  genetically engineered green-furred baboons with red claws and eyes and a venomous scorpion tail.

Phraint: 9′ tall metallic mantis/ant warriors. Incredible jumpers.  “They are cold, emotionless,and logical, a veritable bug Mr. Spock.”

Octorilla:

octorilla

Other Arduin monsters not on that encounter table but would be right at home in the jungle:

Quarl: Ebon cat beasts with six legs, one red eye, and black tusks.

The Helltide: swarm of large bright-green army ants.

Thermites:  red hot warrior termites.

Razor Vine: normal looking vine with razor core and lashing attack.

Arc-bat: Giant electric bat. Everything is better with electricity.

Emerald Death: Viper with venom of unsurpassed deadliness.

Sunderlegs: Giant ten-legged reptile/insect mutational crossbreed that live solitary lives well away from civilization in the dank and jungly areas of the world.

Thunderbunnies, Kill Kittens, Screaming Scarlet Itchies, etc. Ok, these aren’t exactly jungle critters, but they COULD be.

…and many more. Hargrave was a DM savant and puts my monster-making efforts to shame.

Fortunately for players, all is not terror and death for PCs in the Arduin jungles.  There’s a character class of interest and at least a couple magic items to seek out:

The Frogling:  This character class has a jumping ability that could make them an effective choice in wet jungle terrain.

Emerald Silk: A translucent green silk of legendary durability, derived from a nasty variety of wolf spider found in the trackless southern jungles of the Green Hell.

Amulet of the Amazon Mother:  A silver phallus and scrotum impaled on a golden arrow.  Whoa…after reading that description, does anybody even care what it does?

Posting has been and will be light this month. I’ve been working on a sequel to the Fire in the Jungle Supplement:

In the meantime, here’s an image dump…

I posted a b&w version of this Chichen Itza image last year, but found this one and thought it looked cool…

This is what elephants look like in my jungle setting…

Dragon ♥ Tiger…

Full Metal Jacket…

Old British war comic: The Green Hell…

Humping the jungle…

 

…that I’ve seen by one man:  Jason Scheier.  Check out his other work at his blog and also his gallery.

Remember the Conan vs. Tarzan Fantasy Superfight (click)?

Animal Planet put together some fun videos showcasing theoretical matchups between various beasts of the wilds, including CGI battles.  The long running debate of lion vs. tiger continues.  I would agree with this site that gives tigers a quantifiable advantage (click).  See which one Animal Planet chooses…

Check out the x-ray vision in the Anaconda vs. Jaguar matchup…

The Elephant vs. Rhino matchup has a pointed conclusion…

My favorite is the Gorilla vs. Leopard matchup.  The blow landed at 4:10 is true jungle justice…

Fire and Ice (1983), directed by Ralph Bakshi.  Frank Frazetta is given production credits, but hard to say exactly how much input he had.  Some of the scenes had a Frazetta feel to them, but nothing approaching the richness of his paintings.  He is also given “Characters created by” and “Costumes designed by” credits, but the characters are one-dimensional and the costumes are little more than loincloths and transparent women’s underwear.  The story is rather thin too.

Nonetheless, Fire and Ice ranks up there as one of the better fantasy/barbarian flicks of the 1980s, thanks to the monsters, scenery, and overall “sword and sorcery” vibe.

Approximately half of the movie takes place in a jungle setting, with lushly illustrated backgrounds filling the screen.  Here’s a sequence showing the hero jumping off a cliff to escape enemy brutes, crashing into the jungle below…

There’s nice ruins in the jungle too…

Great depiction of “dark jungle”, with fungus and rotting tree trunks instead of thick leafy foliage…

Yeah, so Frazetta’s input into the movie is debatable, but one thing is certain:  That is a Frazetta-girl butt…

Compare…

Not convinced yet?

Jungle in The Source

September 7, 2011

Ever had that dream where you are in a store containing a bunch of good stuff but can’t find anything worth buying?  I live it most anytime I go to a game store.  I already own enough games to last a lifetime and whenever I learn of something that I must have, it is either old, rare, or otherwise unlikely to be found in a nearby store, so I just order it online.  More than once I’ve returned from a game store and said to my wife with triumphant disappointment “I didn’t buy anything.”

This past weekend I went to The Source, the big game store in the Minneapolis area.  Browsing the shelves, a couple jungle roleplaying books caught my attention:   Heart of the Jungle, a Pathfinder setting supplement by Paizo, and Wrath of the Vohven, a Hackmaster Basic jungle campaign by Kenzer & Co.

Wrath of the Vohven was just released in July.  It’s a 112-page adventure path that seems to be inspired by Heart of Darkness and, by extension, Apocalypse Now.  Honestly, I feel that theme is a little overdone in jungle roleplaying supplements, but it’s powerful and enduring so worth revisiting from time to time.  Of course, I dip into the theme occasionally on this blog and in the Fire in the Jungle Supplement.

Paizo released a similarly themed adventure module a few years back, called River Into Darkness.  Despite the always high production values of Paizo products, it didn’t excite me very much when I looked through its 32 pages on a previous visit to the store.  Seemed heavily railroaded (or in this case “riverboated”) and not even very exciting at that.

At 112 pages, Wrath of the Vohven definitely has more meat on its bones in terms of adventure content.  It seemed a little less plot heavy than River Into Darkness, but I wouldn’t call it a sandbox either.  I’d have to give a more thorough reading to really decide if I could use all or some of it.  Unfortunately, it is severely lacking in visual design and has poor print quality, reminiscent of black and white photocopies.  For those reasons and because I don’t play Hackmaster, I didn’t buy it.  It looks like the PDF of Wrath of the Vohven is crisper and in color, so if I ever do purchase the module it will be the PDF version, which would also make it easier for me to print out individual sections for adaptation into my own jungle campaign.

Heart of the Jungle was released last year and I had seen it before but haven’t been compelled to purchase it since I don’t play Pathfinder.  I gave it a good look through at the store and I believe it’s one of the best jungle supplements I’ve seen for RPGs.  Much info about jungle hazards such as dangerous plants, disease, weather, quicksand, swarms, etc.  Decent write-ups of the jungle’s human and demi-human inhabitants.  It also has nice drawn maps of and info about nine cities.  I would have liked to have seen more info about ruins in the jungle, but it seems to be more of a “living jungle”.  Maybe I could treat some of the city sites as ruins.  At 64 pages, Heart of the Jungle is a nice size, with a good balance between too much and not enough info.  I expect I’ll buy it some day, but something else caught my attention this day…

Imaro by Charles Saunders.  I had been on the lookout for it at used book stores, but I jumped at this chance to get the updated 2006 edition.  Basically, Saunders wrote Imaro to create a character that could kick Conan’s and Tarzan’s white asses.  Sign me up.  Onto my “to read” shelf it goes, towards the front.

Saunders maintains an excellent website and blog about his writing and fantasy fiction in general.  So much good stuff there.  I’m still working my way through all his blog posts.  Check out this one about Three African Superheroes.  Or this one about the Leopard-man cult of West Africa.  Or this one about a theoretical Conan vs. Tarzan Superfight.

To summarize this post:  Hey, there’s some jungle stuff that I don’t own or haven’t read yet, but I’m trying to fix that!  Are you?

I’m getting a haircut tomorrow to reshape my mullet.  Since my last one a few months ago, the party in back has gotten pretty wild and the business in front has gone out of business. In honor of this, here are three mainstream jungle movies from the 80s.

The Mosquito Coast (1986).  Directed by Peter Weir.  Nice Belize jungle footage.  I distinctly remember when my family rented this movie about 20 years ago and we all declared it perhaps the worst movie we had ever seen.  I think I would like it better now.  The ice quest is a cool idea.  Bonus points for sweaty Helen Mirren.

Lord of the Flies (1990, filmed in 1988).  Directed by Harry Hook.  Great Hawaiian jungle footage.  I remember feeling like such a rebel when watching this with cousins at my grandparents’ house, maybe 20 years ago.  I was recently thinking about watching the 1963 b&w version directed by Peter Brook, but the trailer creeped me out.

Predator (1987).  Directed by John McTiernan and filmed in lush Mexican rainforest.   A classic that endures the test of time and stands out when compared to other macho/action/gun movies from this era.  I envisioned the crater spawn monster as a cross between The Predator and The Cookie Monster.  Check out this video about the gatling gun “Old Painless” used in the movie.

A great moment in "fire in the jungle" history.

Not really. Read on…

I’ve read in various places how the AD&D module I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City was inspired by and/or evokes the feel of REH’s Red Nails, considered by many to be the greatest Conan tale.  In fact, David “Zeb” Cook, the writer of Dwellers, confirms the influence in multiple places on the internet:

At Grognardia, responding to a question about Dwellers, pulp fantasy, and his favorite authors and stories:
“Well, I’m not surprised by the “Red Nails” reference since that was what I was clearly going for. It’s my favorite Conan story and the city was based off of it. It was originally something I did for my own campaign and then used it as my resume when I applied to TSR.”

Later in the same thread:
“Dwellers has a little bit more interesting history than most the modules I’ve done. It started as part of a campaign I ran before I worked for TSR. It wasn’t a city then, just the final ruins set in a jungle. I was trying for that pulpy Conan feel — fabulous treasure, decadent ruin, eldritch horror. Pretty much ripping off Red Nails. The main hall was my resume submission to TSR when I first applied (you had to provide a writing sample).”

This had me curious.  Let’s see what connections are found between Dwellers and Red Nails by examining some key elements:

(Spoiler Alert!)

Jungle. Both adventures begin in a jungle.  I don’t see any specific connections between the jungles in the two, but I guess a jungle is a jungle in this case.  The Forbidden City is directly surrounded by this jungle, but Xuchotil, the city of Red Nails, is on a barren plain outside the jungle.

Dragon. Red Nails contains a jungle dragon (described by REH to resemble a stegosaurus) that is central to the beginning of the tale and mentioned later as being a god to the city’s inhabitants.  Dwellers contains a Pan Lung (oriental dragon) that lives in a lake and is treated as a god of the Bullywugs (frog-men), but isn’t really given an important role in the module.  On the other hand, the module’s sandbox nature doesn’t really emphasize any individual elements, leaving it up to the DM and players to determine what things become important during play.

City. Xuchotil is neither ruined nor exactly a city in the usual physical sense.  With no streets or discernible separation of buildings, it could more accurately be described as a giant castle, perhaps in the vein of Lord Dunsany’s Fortress Unvanquishable or Peake’s Gormenghast.  I1′s Forbidden City is ruined with separate buildings, streets, avenues, parks, etc.

Dungeons. Subterranean Xuchotil is mentioned as a burial ground for the dead and holder of dark secrets and powerful magics.  Little if any of the story’s action occurs there, but it’s great and iconic D&D inspiration.  Most of the “dungeon” adventure in Dwellers is part of the several entrances into the city and has little in common with Xuchotil’s underworld.

Factions. Both Red Nails and Dwellers have factions that vie for control of the city.  There isn’t really any similarities between the factions of the two, either in makeup, history, or motivation beyond simply controlling the city.  In the Conan yarn the factions are all humans.  In the module the factions are humanoids or monsters.

Major Characters. Perhaps the female elf taking refuge in the mongrelmen camp in Dwellers was inspired by Valeria in Red Nails?  There is a scheming magic-user found in the Forbidden City with a female companion, but any similarity to the major characters in Red Nails seems incidental to me.

Monsters. Aside from the previously mentioned dragon, Red Nails only contains one other monster that I can find: The Crawler.  It is only vaguely described, but in a way that suggests a snake-like or tentacled creature.  Perhaps the Forbidden City’s Yuan Ti or Abeloth were partially inspired by The Crawler?  Dwellers has many other monsters, none of which resemble anything in Red Nails in my opinion.

Magic. The Forbidden City contains many magic items, most of which are standard AD&D trinkets.  Red Nails has several unique items, such as a Fiery Mask, Flute of Madness, Black Lotus, and more.  I’m not seeing any explicit similarities here.

Cultural Influence. The paper paneled walls of Horan’s lair and the Pan Lung dragon suggest an Asian influence for Dwellers, whereas the names of people and places in Red Nails are clearly inspired by Meso-American cultures.

Overall, I feel that the greatest similarity between Red Nails and Dwellers of the Forbidden City is that they both contain factions trying to take control of the city.  But those factions don’t bear much resemblance, nor do the cities.  The physical structure of the Forbidden City is more reminiscent of the lost city in another REH Conan story: The Servants of Bit-Yakin (a.k.a. Jewels of Gwahlur).  The city in that story is ruined and sits in a valley or crater surrounded by high cliffs, similar to I1′s Forbidden City.

The Wikipedia entry for Dwellers of the Forbidden City mentions its resemblance to the lost jungle cities of Edgar Rice Burroughs.  The city of Opar from ERB’s Tarzan series is a possible influence.  But there is another:  Ashair, the Forbidden City!

Tarzan fights a water dragon in the Forbidden City! In the story, though, ERB describes it as a great shark.

(Looking for more Tarzan artwork?  Great collections here, here, and here.)

From Tarzan and the Forbidden City:
In the distance, visible above low hills, rose the summit of what appeared to be a huge extinct volcano.
“Look, Lal Taask!” exclaimed Thome. “It is Tuen-Baka. Inside its crater lies Ashair, The Forbidden City.”

It seems very likely that Tarzan and the Forbidden City is another influence upon Mr. Cook’s module.  Alas, I’ve yet to read the novel in its entirety.  Perhaps somebody who has read it can comment on how it may or may not have inspired Dwellers of the Forbidden City.

Explicit similarities to Red Nails are hard to find, but Dwellers definitely has a strong Howardian Conan feel to it and invites adventure.  Perhaps this is primarily what Mr. Cook was referring to in his quotes above.  But what about this:”Pretty much ripping off Red Nails. The main hall was my resume submission to TSR when I first applied.”

Is that hall actually in the module Dwellers of the Forbidden City?  Maybe some things on the city map could be called a main hall, but I don’t know of anything in the text that describes something like the main hall in Red Nails. What and where is this main hall?  Was it ever published?  Does it still exist?  Is it…lost?

In some ways, the basic D&D module B4 The Lost City more invokes the feel of Red Nails than does I1 Dwellers, especially the human factions in B4.  Mr. Cook is credited as a playtester in B4, but I wonder if he had greater input in the creation of that module?

Lyric in the Song of Time Never Ending:
“A jungle city, bright in the mist
Will crumble, pity, not even a wish!”

The above is the only reference to a “lost city” in the FitJ supplement.  I like the idea of a lost city being nonexistent or very difficult to find if it is being actively searched for.  In fact, during playtesting, the lost city could only be found if the PCs were, in fact…lost.  What would I have done if the PCs did find it?  Perhaps Dwellers of the Forbidden City would have made an appearance if the situation called for a ruined lost city.  But not all lost cities are ruined.  Some are lost civilizations…

In issue #24 of THE DRAGON (April 1979), J. Eric Holmes (editor of the first Basic edition of D&D) presented “Lost Civilizations”, a fantasy supplement for the Source of the Nile jungle exploration simulation/boardgame.  Basically, it’s a series of random tables to determine what kind of civilization is found, how it reacts to PCs, and what kind of adventure might unfold as the PCs interact with the civilization.  Almost like a pulp jungle adventure generator.  Absolutely wonderful and sets my jungle-heart all aflutter.

Download “Lost Civilizations” at Boardgame Geek.

Source of the Nile itself is a pseudo-RPG of African exploration designed by David Wesely, a key figure in the early history of D&D.  Issue #20 of THE DRAGON (November 1978) saw Gary Gygax write a small review of the game and offer several house rules.  Gygax says, “The rules are not well organized, nor are they very complete. In fact, in many ways they remind me of those originally written for D&D.”  He also provides a useful little “random tribe name generator”.  The following issue (#21) contained Wesely’s response to Gygax’s ideas.  These articles are also available at Boardgame Geek.

Download “See Africa and Die” by Gary Gygax.

Download “Search for the Nile, Revisited” by David Wesely.

Lastly, check out this informative post entitled “Surviving in Source of the Nile”.  A useful companion piece to my post from last week: “Jungle Travel Tips from Sir Kaukonen”.

Gringo in the Jungle

March 6, 2011

Was on vacation in the Yucatan last week.  First stop: Ek Balam.  Chichen Itza gets all the attention, but these “Black Jaguar” ruins are a must see.  The tallest temple here is four feet taller than the tallest at Chichen Itza, and you can climb on it until you die.  Let’s go.

Half way up are these wonderfully preserved carvings that were supposedly found after a thick wall was removed.

The view from the top:

Watch out for these guys.

Next stop was a cenote, which are large natural wells.  Some, like this one, are developed to allow easy access for swimming.

They say the water here is 80 meters deep.

The ballgame court at Chichen Itza:

Got this nice pic of the main temple at Chichen Itza, but…

…then got photobombed by this asshole gringo wearing a ridiculous hawaiian shirt.

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