Sunday, November 4, 2018

Volturnus Apocrypha (spoilers)

Art by Larry Elmore

Almost half of the last page of Starspawn of Volturnus consists of “Theta Section: Suggested Additional Adventures.”  We are informed that, “There are many additional adventures which player characters could have on Volturnus at a later time in the referee's campaign.”

The first suggestion regards Sathar remaining on Volturnus after the retreat of their forces.  Of course, they cannot be allowed at remain at large.  “Who knows what evil plots they may be hatching?”  Player characters might have a difficult time against Sathar guerillas, especially since the Sathar have a familiarity with – and perhaps some degree of control over – various Volturnian fauna (such as quickdeaths, slithers, and cyboslugs).

The Star Devil is still at large and his organization is not yet extinct on Volturnus. (“There are undoubtedly a few of the pirates left...”)  I am not assuming the Star Devil's gender; the computer in Slave City One contains “a list of several planets on which he has operations.”

Another suggestion is...
Solving the mystery of Lizard Head rock.  This strange rock formation is shaped like a giant lizard's head.  The Eorna have always wondered about it, what it is, where it came from, who made it, etc.  They have heard that there are large numbers of Yernoids in that area, but have never investigated these reports.
Yernoids were introduced in Starspawn, inhabiting the same mound area as the Mechanons.  They “are man-sized bipedal dinosaurs which have developed a rudimentary intelligence, similar to an ape's.”  Their description in the Alien Creature Update File indicates they are “30% likely to be armed with clubs.”  The illustration shows a Yernoid brandishing a spear.  One might think that a tool using species would be an excellent prospect for the Eorna's evolution program.  Evidently, the Eorna do not think so.

The actual location of Lizard Head rock is not disclosed; however, a hex marked with an 'L' appears near the eastern edge of the Volturnus map (shown below).

Nestled in the Crystal Mountains just north of the Gas Mist Mountains, 'L' is within commuting distance to an “unusual rock formation.”  The line of mottled green hexes represents cliffs.  The reddish hexes are lava beds and the purple hexes are a techtonic (sic) area.

Last and probably least, we learn...
The Ul-Mor left the sea to live on the shore; they have legends of other peoples like themselves who did not.  There may be an entire race of sea-dwelling Ul-Mor who are as intelligent as their land living cousins.  They would be of enormous assistance in any deep sea mining operations...
Aside from the three Volturnus modules, TSR published one other book featuring that planet – Villains of Volturnus.  In 1982, TSR established its education department.  This department developed the Endless Quest™ series of gamebooks with branching-path plotlines.  Lake Geneva resident Jean Blashfield was education editor of this department and she wrote Villains of Volturnus, the eighth of the Endless Quest™ books and the first not written by Rose Estes.  The final pages of the book are advertisements for other Endless Quest™ books, the basic D&D set, and, naturally enough, Star Frontiers.

The second-person protagonist of Villains of Volturnus is Kyiki, child of the chief of the Universal Minerals company.  So as to accommodate reader identification, no gender is specified for Kyiki.  In Villains of Volturnus, travel to Volturnus from Kyiki's home world takes a matter of hours.  At the beginning of the book, Kyiki is aboard a Universal Minerals research vessel.  Also on board is Kyiki's tutor, a Vrusk named Jac (or perhaps someone impersonating Jac).  Unlike the with the modules, some information is known about Volturnus.  For instance, Kyiki has studied the Eorna:  “A few Eorna still live on Volturnus, but most were killed by the Sathar, enemy of all civilized planets.”  (No Eorna actually appear in the book.)

There are four groups of villains that can be encountered in the plot:  (1) pirates, (2) kidnappers, (3) surveyors, and (4) two Yazirians and a “large, fierce-looking human” in a skimmer.  The skimmer crew only appear to reunite Kyiki with Jac and, theoretically, they could be associated with any of the other three groups.  However, given that they leave Kyiki unguarded, it seems unlikely that they are with the kidnappers.

The research ship is evacuated not due to pirates but because it falls into the atmosphere of Volturnus.  Kyiki – with or without Jac – uses a Personal Safety Pod to reach the surface.  A hovercycle is stored in the pod.  If Jac and Kyiki ride the hovercycle, it is discovered that Jac is, in reality, a Dralasite using a holobelt to appear as Jac.  'Holobelt' is Blashfield's version of the Star Frontiers holo screen, even though the rules do not describe the holo screen control unit as a belt.  If Jac and Kyiki don't ride the hovercycle, then Jac is evidently not an imposter.

The so-called pirates live in a shanty town and their piracy consists of robbing a Universal Minerals cargo ship (once the ship lands and unloads the cargo).

The kidnappers reside in the remains of an underground Eorna city.  The kidnappers work for the Sathar, but the kidnapping endeavor is apparently something aside from their normal duties, whatever they may be.  The leader of the “kidnappers” is the aptly named Boss and only the Boss interacts directly with the Sathar.  One of his underlings claims, “Sometimes I swear he's a hologram and all we're seeing is lots of images of him!”  This suspicion is borne out when Kyiki discovers a holo disc of the Boss (or “holodisc” as Blashfield would have it).  Although the book does not suggest it, these facts are consistent with the Boss actually being a Sathar (or any number of Sathar).

The surveyors were employees of Universal Minerals who have decided to work for the Sathar.  The surveyors plan on advising the Sathar “to bring enough explosives to bring the desert down into these caves, so all they'll have to do is process the rubble.”

In one branch of the story, there is a time machine of unknown provenance.  (The Elmore illustration above depicts this time machine.)  Via the time machine, it is possible to enter into a narrative time loop.  Once in the time loop, it is possible to make a choice resulting in one of seven endpoints and there are two decision points that lead out of the loop.

Blashfield dutifully incorporates various Star Frontiers details in her book.  In terms of equipment, Kyiki has a vibroknife and a stunstick.  In terms of animals, Blashfield mentions lopers and rasties (and a quickdeath makes an appearance).  The alien fungus from Starspawn is also present in Villains of Volturnus.  Its hydrogen emitting properties are not addressed, but its quicksand consistency and nitrous oxide generation brings about one of the story's endings.  Blashfield even has a scene where the peculiar humor of Dralasites is addressed.

Through various choices, Kyiki can encounter the Ul-Mor, Edestekai, and Kurabanda.  While Blashfield presents the Ul-Mor and Edestekai much how they are described in the modules, the Kurabanda do not appear in their natural environment.  Instead, they are flunkies of the kidnappers and surveyors.  According to Planet of Mystery, Kurabanda resemble Tarsier monkeys.  The illustrations in Villains of Volturnus do a better job of conveying this than the illustrations in the modules.

Blashfield also provides some original details about Volturnus.  We learn that the Ul-Mor herd duck-like (but flightless) birds called kwidges.  Edestekai cultivate “morda and arbon” for food.  Other details approach the whimsical.  At one point, Kyiki has the option of riding “a giant leaf, perhaps three meters in diameter” as it is carried by the wind.  In a wooded area, Kyiki and Jac observe the following:
Before you is a patch a low-growing plants with large, dangling, blue crystals instead of flowers.  A small blue creature shaped like a box with legs trundles over to one of the plants and begins to nibble the crystal with a faint crunching sound.
Kyiki can also gain a pet named Pongo – “a green furry animal with skin-covered wings and a big mouth like a frog's.”

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