Sunday, June 25, 2017

Port o' Call

Art by Liz Danforth

Over a period of fifteen years (1982 - 1997), Flying Buffalo published seven installments of its CityBook line of system-neutral game supplements (or “a GM aid for ALL role-playing systems” as the books themselves state).  All of the books provide details about various urban establishments, including descriptions, maps, non-player characters, and scenario suggestions.  Each book after the first was presented as a themed collection.  For instance, CityBook II – published in 1984 – carries the subtitle Port o' Call and “focuses on places an adventurer is likely to find in the worlds' crossroads: port cities.”  The editors for this second volume were Liz Danforth and Michael Stackpole (or “Liz Dansforth and Micheal Stackpole” as they are credited for “Typoes”).

As demonstrated in a cover graphic (shown below), one of the selling points of the second CityBook is a conrtibution by Dave Arneson.  This is interesting in that the entry – “The Longtooth Lounge” – does not especially conform to the seaside theme the book proclaims.  However, the introduction to the 'Lodging and Entertainment' section jokingly states that “a number of horizon-expanding experiences are available” at the Lounge.

The Lounge offers “liquid refreshment as well as female companionship for its gentlemen clientele.”  Of course, port cities have such establishments, but there is nothing to indicate that the Longtooth Lounge isn't in a landlocked locale.  As the depiction above shows, there is “a large pair of sunken double doors” next to “a three-story tall tower.”  This is more subtle than a train entering a tunnel, but not by much.

As one might expect, the Longtooth Lounge is no ordinary brothel.  There are various aspects that make the Lounge an interesting adventure location – or a sit-com premise.  Foremost among these is Jeanie, “the most popular girl” in the establishment.  She “commands the highest prices and leaves even the most obnoxious customer satisfied.”  We learn, “This is because Jeanie gives the customer exactly what he wants, magically...”  You see, Jeanie is a genie.  Jeanie entered the world's oldest profession when the madame that owns the Longtooth Lounge made an off-hand comment while holding the locket that contains the genie.  Not realizing that the locket was associated with a genie, the madame said, “I wish that the Lounge had someone to help the girls with the guests...”  Nothing about the wish suggests that Jeanie assume the role herself, but assume it she did.  So, the brothel has a working girl who is a genie, but no one realizes she's a genie.  (The Lounge's bouncer may know the truth, but this is not made clear in the description.)  Jeanie, “like all genies, [is] likely to take any requests literally, [and] her power is often wielded rashly...”

Jeanie is also “Somewhat hard of hearing...” and “is surprised 5% of the time.”  Sometimes, Jeanie is 'surprised' by a customer and there is “a 75% probability that the assailant will be turned into something harmless and immobile – generally a plant.”  However, “the plants retain many of their human mental faculties.”  According to page 19, “The trouble with this automatic defense is that it seems to be permanent, and there is no way to restore any of the plants to their complete human form using normal magic.”  Jeanie places these plants in the Lounge's garden where they exist “with a nearly human awareness.”  Among the 'normal' plants in the garden, “there are domesticated triffids and Martian sand traps.”

Although there is nothing to suggest that the Lounge is in a port city, there are a few easy ways such a connection could have been established.  For instance, the tower could have been a former lighthouse or one of the working girls could have been a mermaid.  Due to the disappearance of Jeanie's 'victims', “The local authorities...seem to believe the [Lounge] is some kind of front for a slaving operation.”  The book's Introduction defines some nautical terms, including crimp:  “...someone who drugs and kidnaps lubbers to sell them to a captain who will attempt to turn them into sailors.”  The Longtooth Lounge could easily have had an actual 'crimping' sideline.

Among the other establishments listed in CityBook II, the good ship Golden Princess is described.  It is a contribution from Stephan Peregrine.  Within the seven pages devoted to the ship is the following gem:
     KyztprrThing.  Ht: variable.  Wt: 20 lbs.  Age: adult.  Fighting prowess: fair with what he uses in place of teeth.
     Unknown to virtually everyone aboard the Princess is Kyztprr.  During a violent storm off the accursed Isle of F'Tudd, Kyztprr was wave-tossed onto the ship and washed through a hatchway torn open by the typhoon.  Kyztprr made his way to the bilge where he hid safely, somewhat resembling a ballast stone.  For the most part, he is content to stay there, eating bilge worms and rats.  The diet is affecting his mind, driving him mad.  On nights when the evil stars rise, he has crawled forth in search of something besides rats to sate his hunger . . . .
Also included in the second CityBook is a 'notes' page, reproduced below for your non-commercial edification.  With the artwork and the large CITYBOOK™ NOTES title, not much space is reserved for actual notes. C'est la vie.  Your guess is as good as mine with regard to what that sign is supposed to show.

Art by Liz Danforth

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Taxidermy, Tarot, and Tattoos

Among the various categories detailed in Citybook I:  Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker, the vague grouping of 'Personal Services' offers some of the more interesting establishments.  As examples, consider the following three businesses.

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The entry for Professor Fyber's Taxidermy and Museum is credited to Steven S. Crompton, to whom we were introduced in the last post.  (The 'museum' section is displayed above.)
The Museum houses a collection of oddities that the Professor has stuffed over the years.  This includes a two-headed unicorn [Wouldn't that mean it has two horns?], a bison with wings [i.e., a 'flying buffalo'], a wolf with eight legs, and other freaks of nature.  One section also contains several heads which once belonged to famous bandits that were executed in the city (the only exceptions to Fyber's no-humans rule)...
Your humble host suspects Fyber's name was inspired by (the abominable) Dr. Phibes of motion picture infamy.  Yet, if so, Liz Danforth did not use Vincent Price as the model for Fyber's illustration.

Art by Liz Danforth
     Professor FyberHuman.  Ht: 6'3".  Wt: 210 lbs.  Age: 58.  Fighting prowess: very good rapier or saber; otherwise average.
     Professor Fyber is a dark, aristocratic man with a thin moustache.  His dress and voice bespeak a highly cultured man with a sense for the finer things in life.  He is a gourmet cook, a lover of good brandy, and very well-read.
     ...Fyber is a charming fellow and fairly formidable.  He is also a taxidermical genius and very popular with the City nobility to whom he provides trophies.  He zealously guards his secret formulas for preserving tissue, and is not above slaying an intruder who tries to steal them.  His major goal in his work is to preserve the semblance of life in as natural a manner as possible...
Of course, Fyber must obtain his specimens somehow.  The player characters may be retained to search out these strange creatures.  “The hunting expeditions can make a simple scenario for players,” Citybook informs us, “and good mileage can be gotten out of any of the Museum exhibits.”  One suggested scenario involves a vast treasure, the secret to which is contained within one of the bandit heads on display.  The player characters “must steal the head and find a way to revivify it in order to get the clue.”

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Thelesha Moonscry is a fortune-teller – or “seeress” – whose presence in Citybook is attributed to Larry DiTillio.  Given Liz Danforth's penchant for basing the appearance of Citybook personalities upon real-world celebrities, I am inclined to believe that Moonscry's depiction is inspired by Jane Seymour in her role as the fortune-telling Solitaire from Live and Let Die.

Art by Liz Danforth
     Thelesha MoonscryHalf-elf.  Ht: 5'9".  Wt: 130 lbs.  Age: 29.  Fighting ability: poor.  Magic ability: average; C5
     Thelesha has very pale skin, and long black hair with silver streaks in it.  Her left eye is sea-blue and her right eye is silvery-gray.  She is very beautiful and somewhat haunted.  Her typical attire is a sky blue robe adorned with a sigil showing silver moons and green oaks.
     Thelesha is not particularly cheerful.  She knows that she is fated to live without love, and uses her gift in memory of her teachers, an all but extinct sect called the MoonRiders.  She sometimes sees her talent as more of a curse than a gift, and may break off a reading if the omens she is scrying become too painful.  She rarely leaves her house and garden, and the MoonRider spirits watch over her there.
“C5” is Citybook code for communication magic.  I would have thought that divination would be part of clairvoyant magic (i.e, “C3”).  Regardless, Moonscry practices the following divinatory arts:  astrology, oneiromancy, pyromancy, hydroscopy, palmistry, cerescopy [sic], and cartomancy.  With regard to cartomancy, the Game Master is encouraged to “use a Tarot deck if you have one, improvising the meaning of the cards to fit the 'prediction' for the character.”  Otherwise, “You may use a regular card deck in this fashion:  Hearts indicate an emotional situation, Diamonds mean money, Spades mean competition, Clubs indicate magic [and] Face cards represent people.”

We are told that “Thelesha is about 90% accurate in all readings.”  As such, Game Masters are advised not to let Thelesha “be misused or over-used by the players.”  As a deterrent, “High prices should sufficiently limit the use of her powers!”  Also, readings need not be precise – “the more esoteric the symbolic answer, the more intriguing it will be to players.”

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Jock and Wilbur Sleaz are twin orcs who were raised by a kindly wizard who taught them how to make tattoos.  “(GM: if your system has no Orcs, or an Orc would not reasonably fit in your city, make Jock and Wilbur very ugly humans.)”  While Wilbur “quite frequently exhibits more of the standard Orcish traits,” we learn that “Jock is a very gentle soul” who gives money “to a local orphanage in order to give a few orphans the benefit of a better upbringing than he received.”  It seems to me that being raised by a kindly wizard who teaches them a trade is not so bad as an upbringing.

Anyway, the brothers employ their skills at a tattoo parlor of which they are the proprietors.  In addition to 'regular' tattoos, Jock (but not Wilbur) learned to create 'magical' tattoos (called “mattoos”).  By concentrating, the wearer of a mattoo can bring the mattoo into existence.
Once a mattoo comes to life, it will follow any command of the wearer (if it's a creature), or be employed in any manner the user wishes.  For each hour it exists, the wearer must pump strength into it, on an ever expanding scale.  The first hour costs 1 point; the second, 2; the third, 4; the fourth, 8; etc. (doubling each time).  Willing a mattoo to life for less than an hour costs 1.  The strength used returns at 1 point per full game turn.  (GM:  adjust to your game system.)
The price of a mattoo “starts at around 1000 gold pieces, rising with the complexity of the mattoo desired.”  Mattoos which are destroyed are no long usable, leave a scar, and cannot be replaced.

Jock himself has the maximum of five mattoos, created by the kindly wizard.  These mattoos are “two small dragons, a full-size flaming sword down his right leg, a waterfall on his chest (which can be used somewhat like a firehose), and a full-size rose on his left arm.”

A special mattoo is described:
Very simply, it is a “duckie”, a cute little representation of a duck.  Jock always recommends it because he likes duckies.  The duckie is like a normal mattoo – except that it always appears as a full-sized duck with full powers of speech, better than human intelligence, and a poisonous bite!  In addition, duckies have the power to deflect spells (set the level according to your game system); if a duckie is within a 5' radius of its wearer, it will partly protect its wearer by absorbing the spell.  Neither Jock nor Wilbur are aware of these powers – Jock just likes duckies!