Saturday 15 May 2021

Terror of the Stratosfiend #1

Terror of the Stratosfiend #1 : 1-555-Tentacle was written by Sean Richer. Art is by James Everett Jackson (including cover), 2 headed giant, Skullthug, and Graz. The publisher is Orbital Intelligence.

The very fabric of the world bent and broke, as portals from stars beyond the stars started to open at random in an event known as “The Drop”. Cruel psionic tentacled giants, and a menagerie of entities both cthonic and cosmic erupted forth. Mankind was doomed as they knew it, until humans began pouring out of the portals. Humans that spoke the same language, and breathed the same air, but were from distant stars beyond the stars.

Something was different though, both Stratosfiend and Humans from both sides began to defect. The Half-Stratosfiend were born (honestly, don’t ask) and offered their services to the highest bidder. It was no longer Chaos vs Law.

Confession time: I absolutely love this zine, but I could really use a primer on the setting. There is a lot of implied background, and regardless of what flavor of DCC you play, a lot of useful material. But there is a massive tome on the setting, full of wicked illustrations, just waiting to be written. The setting isn't just confined to a single world, either, as we shall see once we get to later issues. I feel as though I am being given the merest glimpse of something worth fully exploring.

The new species and classes are open to any level 0 character, once they gain enough experience to reach the first level. In some cases this means that character may change species when they hit level 1. Not only is this allowed, but it’s encouraged. The Drop is a strange event, and it only makes sense that rampant mutation and infiltration would occur.

This issue has four new classes. 

The Human Sat-Casters "call down hell from the skies above. They’ve learned to tame the wild intelligences that inhabit rogue space stations, and weapons satellites. They serve as the eyes and ears of what they call Orbital Intelligences (patrons), and will stop at nothing to spread their word." If this sounds like something that belongs in your Mutant Crawl Classics game, you are not alone! Because of their link to the Orbital Intelligences, sat-casters take a penalty to their spell checks when they don't have direct access to the sky. On the other hand, they can use satellites to track targets, and can attempt an uplink to boost their spells. Attempting an uplink is, of course, hazardous, and may result in patron taint. I rather like this, as patron taint is more interesting than corruption, arising as it does from a direct connection the PC has made.

I see no reason that Patron AIs from Mutant Crawl Classics could not act as Orbital Intelligences, and vice versa. Likewise, this class could fit very easily into an Umerica game.

The Half-Stratosfiend Street Whisperer is, as the name implies, half-human and half-Stratosfiend. They are constantly evolving, and may sacrifice hit points permanently to evolve immediately. Evolution gives them additional powers, in general, but rolling an activated power turns it off until it is rolled again. They also have tentacles that they can use to attack. They are also sneaky. They are also all dedicated to slaying one Orbital Intelligence or another, gaining bonuses when opposing their chosen target and its agents. 

When a 0-level PC reaches 1st level, remember, any class may be chosen. In other words, the cheesemaker just sprouted tentacles and is babbling about killing the Earth-Mother....

Don't worry. Things get stranger. Meet the Stratosfiend Delver. "The Stratosfiend are a terrifying race from beyond the stars. They are bipedal humanoids with tentacles that protrude from their spines. They tower over humans and bear many of their features, which begs the consideration that they share an ancestor. Delvers are relentlessly curious and will regularly halt their plans to inspect every detail that seems out of place. Their spells derive from inside of their massive brains, and they rarely if ever will bond with a patron."

That's right. While the cheesemaker is sprouting tentacles, the butcher just turned into a giant psychic tentacle monster. 

Don't worry. Things get stranger still. The Stratosfiend Magistrate Gladiatrix are still waiting in the wings. "All races have natural born leaders and in the case of the Stratosfiend, the magistrates are hatched from the will of the hive-mind. While Stratosfiends tower over humans, the magistrate sub-race towers over its brethren. Most have devoted themselves to infiltrating large population centers and crushing resistance leaders to their own will. The rest seem just fine battling anything to the death. The Gladiatrix in particular are brutal killing machines. They delight in ripping their prey to pieces with axes and their tentacles. They even charm their prey to draw them closer."

Again, the cheesemaker sprouted tentacles, the butcher is now a 10' tall psychic monster....and the orphan? She's just turned into a 20' tall killing machine.

Now imagine how an adventure could cater to the human sat-caster, the 10'-tall psionic tentacle wizard, and the 20' tall killing machine. The half-Stratosfiend street whisperer and the sat-caster can both fit into dungeons and normal-sized buildings, but the sat-caster is hampered by being cut off from the sky. And, let's face it, there is a good chance that the street whisperer lured the sat-caster there just to kill him as part of her quest to oppose the sat-caster's patron!

The whole thing is a glorious muddle. One can assume that normal classes are also allowed, so that if in your world the Drop took place after the Apocalypse, there are mutants and/or robots thrown into the mix (depending upon your choice of post-Apocalyptic game). Perhaps you would rather have warriors, thieves, and elves try to deal with this strange new world? A dwarf could easily keep his 0-level dwarf abilities and become a street whisperer or a gladiatrix, right? 

You would think that this alone would be enough for any zine, but we are only a little less than a third of the way through!

Weapons: Stats are given for 12 weapons, from a fighting stick to an assault carbine. Crawl #8 might be of particular use to judges wishing to expand on what is provided here. 

Upgrades: This section provides 20 upgrades to weapons, some of which may be of use in any campaign milieu, and all of which demand to be used. Your bow may fire homing arrows. Your bullets may burrow into their target. Your shotgun may be sentient, and your sword may be incubating a dreaming horror. 

Armor: Some strange types of armor are available after the Drop: Psionic War Focus, Blade Harness, Twitching Carapace, Explorer Exo-Suit, Siege Preparation Matrix, and even Beach Gear (which makes you easier to hit, but you are faster, and you look good!).

Equipment: "Here we have a strange collection of parasites, hormonal cocktails, and scanning equipment. I for one wouldn’t want to be caught dead without a Micro-Evolution Syringe… then again, maybe death would be better than tempting evolutionary fate.. There are no prices listed... but i’m sure we could work something out."

Spells and Patrons: In this section, we are treated to a single 1st-level spell that can be cast by Stratosfiends. Polyphemean rage causes a plasma beam to shoot from the user’s single giant eye and seer the target in plasma. We are also treated to two patrons, which are given full write-ups, including invoke patron results, spellburn, patron taint, and patron spells. 

Sky-Lasher the Everlasting, Trident of the Sun: "The manifestations of Sky-Lasher are many, ranging from a bat-winged flaming demon, to a sentient defense satellite. The only thing that’s for certain, is that solar panels are soldered into its skin. Its desire is to bring the cleansing fire that only the sun can offer, as well as render illumination and introspection that turns a soul to ash. Offer it something it has not yet judged, and it may do you a solid. Offer yourself as a burnt offering, and it very well will start listening to you. When you see beams of fire pouring from the heavens, Sky-Lasher is smiling. It should also be noted that it has its own personal fleet of bombers, fighter craft, drones, and zealots."

Terror-Eater, The Earth-Mother: "What’s more beautiful than a visceral, hungry, destructive, and all powerful monstrosity? Nothing. Nothing at all. She values her cosmic hunger above all else; if you can feed her, you keep her happy. She’s more than willing to make you more like her, if being a tentacled monstrosity is what you want. She lives beneath the Earth, but rumour has it that she IS the Earth."

Finally, this issue rounds out with a Bestiary. The creatures introduced are divided into two groups: Children of Space (Seeker of the Scourge, Skulker of the Harbinger, Goliath of the Horror, and Goliath Birth-Engine) and Children of Earth (Cloud-Thirst Null, Ogress of the Earthen Chimes, and Earth Howler). 

Beasts, horrors, and humans from stars beyond stars, pour through portals and reduce the land to ash. What more could you want? A talking shotgun? We've got that. A staff that hatches into a living breathing creature? We've got that too.

Ever wanted to take command of a 15 foot tentacled horror? Maybe you would rather find out what it's like to unleash unbridled psionic energy? Perhaps you'd rather sneak through the streets and sell your skills to the highest bidder? Or maybe you just wanted to call down the aid of a maniacal weapons satellite?

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