Remember this pic I took in the Philippines this summer

I did some transformations in the GIMP to create a foreground transparency.  Here it is with a bright background to show detail…

Combined with a picture I took in Mexico

Or combined with Katibawasan Falls

Fire in the jungle…

Moscow in the jungle…

Now you can put anything in the jungle!  Got any pics that you’d like to put “in the jungle”?  Works best if they have a bright background.

One of my goals when I started this blog was to create several jungle settings loosely connected in their geography and history, but each with its own style and adventure possibilities and usable together or independently.  It started with just “The Jungle”.  Next came “The Dark Jungle”.  Now “The Blasted Jungle” is born.  Let’s explore…

To the north of the map in the Fire in the Jungle Supplement is a region called the Blasted Jungle.  (The southern edge of which is visible on the FitJ map, depicted as a string of Scarred Jungle hexes.)  The Blasted Jungle is similar to Scarred Jungle, but on a larger scale.  Whereas the latter consists of scattered areas of magic diseased jungle to the south, the Blasted Jungle was the epicenter of the greatest destructive magic unleashed during the Wizard Wars…The Blast.  This place is not a scar.  It’s an open wound.  Some areas were wiped clean of vegetation and are still bare, shattered rock.  Other areas look like Scarred Jungle…a tangle of misshapen and hostile vegetation in shades of yellow, gamboge, and puce.  How could there possibly be civilization there?

Maybe “civilization” isn’t the proper word to describe what is found in the Blasted Jungle.  There are two major factions of humans:

The Resistance
This faction consists of descendants of soldiers (those that weren’t cursed to become Stragglers) and natives who survived The Blast.   The Resistance has a small assortment of unreliable firearms, but are more commonly equipped with blades and bows.  They typically wears white scarves to hide their deformed faces, caused by magical radiation remnant from The Blast.  The Resistance holds non-deformed humans in high regard and the few that remain in their society are treated as royalty:  all but held hostage in secure bunkers, away from exposure to radiation and sunlight.

Long ago the Resistance held radio contact with their faraway motherland, but then the empire went silent.  For centuries, they heard nothing from the outside world until one day a voice came through the speakers.  They called the voice “Rad Joe” and began worshiping it as a god.  The Resistance often talks of “The Help” that Rad Joe and/or their motherland will send to support them in their weakening fight against their enemies.

Phantom Soldiers
The Resistance has always defended itself against scattered Stragglers and other mutant beasts ever since The Blast, but recently some have rebelled and joined forces with Stragglers to form an army called the Phantom Soldiers.  They reject the worship of Rad Joe and aim to take control of all “Beam Boxes” to learn how they function and who Rad Joe really is.  They see Rad Joe followers as mindless drones to a false god…slaves to The Beam.

Phantom Soldiers usually dress entirely in black and wear Blast Masks.  These masks have allowed the Phantom Soldiers to explore contaminated areas and discover more weapon caches than the Resistance.  Now they aim to leverage that advantage to eliminate the Resistance and dominate the Blasted Jungle.  They wield an array of light and heavy machine guns in various states of disrepair.  AOKs (Alpha Omega Kans) are another deadly tech in their possession.  To conserve gun ammo, squads will herd groups of the Resistance into confined areas where the grenades can be efficiently employed.  Skulls are then placed in the area as their calling card.


Leadership

The leader of the Phantom Soldiers is General Li, a gregarious man with shoulder pads, mirror lenses on his Blast Mask, and a machete attached to his left arm (instead of a hand).
The leader of the Resistance is unknown.  The One is thought to exist but nobody has seen him…or her.

How can the PCs fit into this conflict?
However they want.  Unless the DM has special reason to align PCs with either faction, I recommend starting a campaign in the Blasted Jungle with the usual D&D agenda of “The PCs are here to explore eldritch ruins and discover magnificent treasures.”  In this case, the ruins are sometimes abandoned military installations and the treasures will sometimes consist of tech left over from the Wizard Wars.  Of course, Phantom Soldiers and the Resistance greatly value these things too.  PCs can choose sides if they wish, or play the factions against each other for their personal gain.

Some options for kicking off a campaign in the Blasted Jungle:

  • The PCs courageously chose to cross into the Blasted Jungle from the region of “normal” jungle in the south.  Somehow they survived the journey through contaminated terrain and find themselves in this alien landscape.
  • The PCs start as members of either the Resistance or the Phantom Soldiers and decide if they want to continue supporting its cause, rising in rank towards leadership (if not already).  There is much jockeying for power within both factions.  Or they could decide to rebel, either switching allegiances or forming a new faction.
  • The PCs arrived in the Blasted Jungle by accident.   For example:
  • Landed their viking ship on the coast expecting it to be Greenland.
  • Crashed their starship smack dab in the middle.
  • Accidental inter-dimensional journey from 1980s Fargo, North Dakota.

Related topics and posts
Like a trashy Italian action movie, The Blasted Jungle is a mashup of awesome things that, when combined, multiply the awesomeness exponentially.  That’s the theory at least.

Killing Machines in the Jungle

September 22, 2011

Here’s two legendary pieces of garbage that have a few things in common.  For starters, they were both filmed in the Philippines, of course.

Phantom Soldiers (1987).  Directed by Teddy Page.  Insane Namsploitation with excellent jungle.  A couple elements similar to Predator, but this is a unique and special trasher.  Best of genre?

Robowar (1989).  Directed by Bruno Mattei (aka Vincent Dawn), previously mentioned here as director of the notorious Strike Commando.  A hilarious mashup of Predator and Robocop, with decent jungle.

Highlight reel:

We have a title! And infravision.

This villager tried to sneak up on a Phantom Soldier, but...

...it didn't end well for that villager...

...or his village.

Predator rip-off scene. Just not the same without a massive gatling gun.

Mike Monty. I salute you.

This poor communist just realized...

...his fate.

Ironically, despite the loads of blood and gore in Phantom Soldiers, the turning point in the plot is when the chef nicked his finger while cutting sausage.

Now, on to Robowar:

RoboVision

The RoboHunter

Is this too subtle?

Fire in the jungle. Game over.

Tech in the Blasted Jungle

September 20, 2011

To prevent a future post from growing too long, these item descriptions are getting their own post:

AOKs (Alpha Omega Kans)
Hand-sized canister grenade that explodes with an effect similar to but less powerful than a Cloudkill spell.  Creates a cloud of purplish fog with a diameter of 30′.  The fog kills any living creature with 2 or fewer HD who fails a saving throw versus poison.  A new save must be made each round.  Otherwise, they suffer 1 hp of damage per round while in the cloud.  Creatures with 3 or more HD suffer 1 hp of damage per round while in the cloud.  The best protection is to wear a Blast Mask and not let the fog touch skin.  The cloud dissipates after 30 minutes.  Vegetation in cloud will shrivel, deform, and likely change color.

Blast Masks
Biochemical masks with blast resistant eye protection and helmet.  Protects wearer from most severe effects of exposure in areas contaminated with magical radiation and from the vapors produced by AOKs.  Also provides infravision to the wearer.

Beam Boxes
Long ago called “radios”, but now called Beam Boxes in reference to the mind control beams they are believed to send and receive.  Technical knowledge of their design and usage is lost and replaced by ritual manipulation by worshipers of the “Rad Joe” deity.  A typical Beam Box Shrine contains several of the devices stacked atop each other, alight in an electric glow and squealing with signal fluctuation, static, and crosstalk.

Gorilla Detector
I’ll let Dr. Bunsen Honeydew explain this one…

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?

Damn!

For those people clamoring for more Namsploitation movies filmed in the Philippines, here’s five more…

Eye of the Eagle 2: Inside the Enemy, directed by Carl Franklin (1989).  Cirio Santiago is credited as a producer of this movie, and he directed Eye of the Eagle 1 and 3, so I’ll include this in his Vietnam catalog too.  Solid jungle action at times, but not enough…very short movie and much of it set in the city.

Beyond the Call of Duty, directed by Cirio Santiago (1992).  Unique among Santiago’s Vietnam flicks in that it is about a Mekong patrol boat trying to escape the interior after the fall of South Vietnam.  But don’t tell these guys to “Never get out of the boat.”  Frequent stops are made to thwart ambushes, rescue children and a nun, demolish bridges, touch up the boat’s paint job, etc.  Oh, there is gold treasure too.

I think I’ve now watched every Vietnam and Post-Apocalypse movie by Cirio Santiago.  Good times.  Now I move on to the Nam movies directed by Italian trash master Antonio Margheriti, a.k.a. Anthony Dawson

The Last Hunter (1980).  A.k.a L’ultimo Cacciatore and Hunter of the Apocalypse.  David Warbeck stars in this mashup of Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter. Think about that for a moment.

Tiger Joe (1982).  A.k.a. Fuga dall’arcipelago maledetto (literally:  Escape from the Cursed Archipelago) Many of the same actors as in The Last Hunter, but Tiger Joe is nowhere near as good.  This and Tornado also borrow some generic footage from The Last Hunter.  About a gun runner shot down in Cambodia, I think.  Nothing really makes sense, but worth watching just to see Tony King’s performance as “Midnight”.  His bright yellow jump suit in the jungle is brilliant.  I think traveling the world creating and acting in low budget movies would be one of the greatest jobs imaginable.

Tornado (1983).  A.k.a The Last Blood.  Standard “platoon operations in the Vietnam bush” stuff in first half, but then became a First Blood-inspired romp through the jungle in the second half.  Mike Monty makes an appearance and it’s his best performance I’ve seen.  I think he was drunk during filming.  Jungle is nothing special here…appears to have been filmed in a coconut and palm plantation.  Movies like this are what created the popular notion (in America at least) that jungles always look like what is seen in the intros of video games like Ikari Warriors and Operation Wolf:

Dark Jungle Sandbox Map

September 13, 2011

Here is an example of Using Mahjong Tiles to Generate a Dark Jungle Sandbox:

It’s just a first draft sketch.  Eventually I’d like to turn it into a fancy “finished” map in the style of Greengoat.  Specifically, inked onto a blank Judges Guild map with a wash of various greens added to indicate that the entire map is jungle-covered.  Not sure when I’ll get around to that.  In the meantime, I wanted to show the Mahjong Tile system in action before it falls into the “no longer on the front page of the blog” oblivion.

The system mentions how the density of the sandbox can be varied by drawing a tile for only some of the hexes, instead of all.  For this particular map, I choose a density of 33%, i.e. for each hex there was a 33% chance that I’d draw a tile to determine its contents.  Some tiles don’t create monsters, so the actual monster density is about 25%.  Wandering monsters should appear at times too.  The numbers on the map indicate hexes containing the pre-determined encounters.

Then I drew the Spindle Rivers in blue.  The guidelines for drawing these rivers are simple but the results are wonderfully complex.  The rivers have a labyrinthine quality to them, creating pinch points and hidden areas.  Not unlike labyrinthine mountain ranges.  The winding rivers are somewhat smushed together in this draft map, but the final version will have larger hexes to better fit in all the bends of the rivers.

Finally, I drew the Fire Ravines in red.  For some of them I randomly determined their directions, for others I choose the direction in order to fill in gaps on the maps or to create interesting barriers and pinch points.  Whereas the rivers can wiggle and wind in crazy directions, the Fire Ravines are more under your control.  This is why I add them last…to fill in gaps and tie the map together.

Notice that the NPC/River/Ravine system worked as intended:  rivers are clustered on the left side of the map (the side I began at) and fire ravines are more prevalent on the right side.  I like how this can give the sense of a changing, increasingly malevolent landscape as the PCs travel through what would otherwise be endless jungle.

Other symbols:

  • Arrows show when a change in wind direction occurs.  When the PCs stumble upon one of these, the wind changes to the specified direction, then move the arrow to another randomly determined hex.
  • Dragons are indicated by a square around the number.
  • Special locations are indicated by a triangle around the number.
  • Special NPCs are indicated by a circle around the number.

Examining the encounter key, there are some interesting clusters that the DM can get creative in explaining:

Why are Sees-Through-Leaves (#19) and Panther-Claw Glin Topp (#20) located near each other in the SW portion of the map?  Perhaps there is a disagreement about each other’s hunting territory?

The Cave of Melting Moss (#41) and a Red Dragon (#42) are neighboring.  Hmm…interesting.  They are also located in a strategic pass through two river systems.

El Grande Loco (#91) and Eberhard Dunwitty (#95) are in close proximity of each other and two dragons: a green (#94) and a white (#96).  Are they in league?  Who is hunting who?

The Sacrifice Pit (#97) is fittingly located at a confluence of Fire Ravines on the eastern edge of the map.  What fiery god is the lucky recipient of these sacrifices?

I chuckled when the Valley of Flowers (#101) was randomly placed in the extreme NE corner of the map.  Is finding the Valley the ultimate goal of those who trek into the Dark Jungle?

The hex map in the Fire in the Jungle Supplement

I created the Dark Jungle map with the intention of placing it somewhere east of the hex map in the Fire in the Jungle Supplement, as the band of Dark Jungle on that original map suggests.  The randomly determined Spindle Rivers fit nicely with that conception.  The rivers exiting the north and west edges of the Dark Jungle map theoretically link up with the rivers on the eastern edge of the FitJ map.

A note about encounter density.  There has been some discussion of this in The RPG Site forums recently.  Also, I started a thread on the topic last year on Dragonsfoot.  Nothing beats a good random encounter system, but pre-determined hex encounters can be useful for giving sections of a map their own flavor and suggest interlocking adventure possibilities, as demonstrated above.

The map in the Fire in the Jungle Supplement is relatively sparse, with only a 10% encounter density.  I see the Jungle Event and Travel System of random encounters as the “core” of the supplement, with the pre-determined hex contents primarily for specifying major adventure sites (such as tombs and ruins) and example lairs of jungle creatures found in the random encounter system.

The Dark Jungle map has 25% encounter density.  Just because PCs enter a hex doesn’t mean they automatically encounter that monster…the hunt is on…hopefully the wind is in your favor.  The increased density allows the DM to examine the encounter key to determine which areas are certain to contain particular monsters.  So when the players ask an NPC…

“Just where is it I could find dragon, panther, and other critters worth cash money when skinned?”

…the DM can give an answer like…

Ride due west as the sun sets. Turn right at the Emerald Mountains.  Swing across the fire ravine.   Slosh through the Swamp of Illusions.  Don’t get lost looking for a gap between the rivers.  Watch out for Zoltar’s Hell.  Yer there.”

A simple but useful table at Trollsmyth for describing defensive terrain whenever the PCs camp in the jungle.

When camping in the jungle, it’s fun to tell stories around the fire:

Whenever I think of camping in the jungle, I think of this Magic card:

A rather silly card and the art doesn’t look like jungle at all.  (Other Magic cards have great jungle art.)  But now, whenever I think of that card, I think of this:

What!?

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?

Last Monday I was writing about some trashy movies from the Philippines when I read the news about an actual avalanche of trash there.  Then a couple days later I posted an old picture of a huge crocodile.  And now today I read the news of a massive crocodile captured alive in Agusan, Mindanao, Philippines.  Bizarre.

The croc in the old picture looks bigger than this one, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s due to an illusion of perspective.  The two people in the old picture are probably standing several yards back to make the croc look larger.  It’s a well known trick among fishermen:  hold the fish as far out in front of you as possible when the picture is taken.  That new croc may be just as big or bigger.

Coincidentally, the municipality where this was caught is adjacent to where I visited the Tinuy-an Falls in July.