Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wednesday Comics: My Favorites of the 00s

Ben of Mazirian's Garden asked on Gplus the other day about good superhero comics of the mid-90s through the 2000s. They got me thinking about what my favorite comics were in the first decade of the 2000s, leaving out series/runs that began or ended in another decade. In no particular order, here's what I came up with:

ALL-STAR SUPERMAN by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitley
In a decade where Grant Morrison was a dominate creator, All-Star Superman may well be his best: a clever and at times touching love letter to the Silver Age Superman. A multi-award winner.

Darwyn Cooke imagines the history of superheroes from the end of World War II, through dark days in the 1950s, to a new age dawning in the early 1960s. Winner of just about every award comics has got to give and well-deservedly so.

THE ULTIMATES 1 & 2 by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch
Millar and Hitch re-imagine the Avengers for the celebrity-obsessed 21st Century and provide a blueprint and visual inspiration for the Avengers film. There run was followed by Jeph Loeb--and the less said about that, the better. Millar returns for a another run well worth checking out with Ultimate Avengers.

With several different artists, Morrison delivers almost everything one could want in a Batman run, while mixing in elements from a lot of older stories--including his son with Talia and the return of the Batmen of All Nations. He continues it in 2009 in Batman and Robin and then into the twenty teens with Batman, Incoporated. The collections are confusing but this one begins it and this one takes it up to Final Crisis.

ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR: GOD WAR by Mike Carey and Pasqual Ferry
Ultimate Fantastic Four was always kind of the alsoran of the Ultimate line. It had a string of good creators, but none of them really seemed to click with it and left after competent, but uninspired runs. Mike Carey game in and gave us a superhero sci-fish take on the Eternals and Thanos that played out their obvious similarity to the New Gods. Carey's whole run is pretty good, but this is the high mark.

JLA/AVENGERS by Kurt Busiek and George Perez
The most "conventional superhero" title on this list, but a damn competent and entertaining one. This crossover is a thing of fanboyish fantasy and the sort of yarn that made us all fall in love with comics as kids.

SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY (1 and 2) by Grant Morrison and various artists
Morrison's most ambitious project to date, about a team of lesser known or new DC heroes who save the world, but never meet each other. The story unfolds over seven limited series and book ends. It's all collected in two volumes.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Shifting Setting

Changing elements of continuity or setting through retcon or revision are common in comic books. When we include alternate universes like the Ultimate Universe or DC's multi-Earths, the number of variant characters, organizations, and situations gets even greater.

Reading Viriconium by John M. Harrison was the first time I had seen this sort of thing in a fantasy world. Characters often retain the same name and vaguely similar characteristics, but their histories are different, and so is the history of the city they inhabit. Viriconium always seems to have the same streets, the same neighborhoods, even the same shops, but it doesn't always seem to be same place.

I imagine Harrison feels like he does this for different reasons than comic book writers, but ultimately I think what they have in common is a desire not to straitjacketed by the past in the stories they want to tell.

It got me thinking about how rpg settings don't have to be set in stone. Maybe instead of growing into Tekumel with a lot of detail, each campaign can be sort of variations of the same basic setting sketch. It seems like this could have a few advantages: the style of the setting could change--new elements (new rules, new races) could be easily introduced that might have been uneasy fit before. At the same time, a familiarity with basic things like locations and cultures could be maintained.

This would also be away to participative setting development to players that might be a be hesitant. They get a "first pass" where the GM does most of the work, then a "redo" where they reconfigure things as they go.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Strange Stars Outtakes

There were some things that I wanted to include in the Strange Stars setting book, but had to cut because of the structure we ultimately went with or just plan space considerations. Here are a few of them:

While the zhmun get mentioned in the section on the Zuran Expanse, I had initially intended for one of them to be the character in that section, but decided to co with the cantina picture. While I think showing more of Expanse's inhabitants was the way to go, the loss of the zhmun did make all the featured characters strictly humanoid.

Similar to the zhmun, the Sisterhood gets mentioned in the Zuran Expanse section, but originally this was one of the characters on my list of those to include, I even already had a description/reference page made for the artist. Ultimately, an Amazon got ditched for the zhmun and then the zhmun got ditched.

I had originally wanted a Minga male dressed in an outfit like 70s Cosmic Boy above for this section, but ultimately I went with the Phantasist as the character for the Coreward Reach. The Minga slaves and their subtle manipulations had a bit too complicated a backstory for inclusion in the planet sections, so the poor Minga wind up not getting mentioned at all!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Random Adventures in the Strange Stars

Mike "Wrathofzombie" Evans had suggest a few months ago that I do some sort of adventure inspiration creator for Strange Stars for the setting book. It didn't make it into that book, but I'm going to refine something of that sort for one of the game system books. Here's what I've got so far:

 The Heist
 The Gauntlet
 The Unexpected

The Heist: [A] wants the PCs to steal [B] from [C]
A: 1 A neshekk insurance exec  2 Vokun lord  3 A zhmu collector  4 An eccentric Smaragdine celebrity  5 An Orichalcosan optimate  6 The Pharesmid Syndicate
B1 A proprietary genetic code  2 An Old Earth artifact  3 A work of art  4 a high-grade mind emulation  5 A weapon from the Archaic Oikumene  6 A mysterious box of alien origin
C1 a high security vault station  2 the interior of a Wanderer  3 the isolated asteroid estate of a rival  4 a stateroom safe on a luxury starliner  5 A Zao Pirate stronghold  6 an armored spacehauler

The Guantlet: The PCs must get [A] [B] despite [C]
A1 A Deodand hacker  2 An ibglibdishpan defector  3 A diplomate from the League of Habitats  4 A jook band  5 A group of Minga  6 A Wanderer avatar
B1 across an Interzone favela  2 off a prison asteroid  3 out of Vokun space  4 to an Alliance cruiser  5 home  6 off Deshret
C: 1 irate smugglers  2 a traitor in their midst  3 pursuing bounty hunters  4 a squad of kuath  5 moravec supremacists  6 a deadly outbreak

The Unexpected: When [A], the PCs unexpectedly stumble onto [B]
A1 responding to a distress call  2 exploring a derelict ship  3 on a routine intersystem flight  4 making planetfall for repairs  5 visiting an isolated station for supplies  6 on vacation
B1 a dangerous xenospecies  2 a cache of outlawed bioweapons  3 a hidden ssraad raiding vessel  4 a relic of the Archaic Oikumene  5 a new hyperspace node  6 a cabal of psi cultists

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Strange Stars Unleashed!

We interrupt our usual Wednesday Comics to report the release of Strange Stars in pdf via drivethrurpg/rpgnow. We regular readers have been hearing about this for sometime (and hopefully, anxious awaiting it).  If you're new (welcome!) you can "preview before you buy" with the index to all the posts I wrote on the setting.

The full-color, premium paper soft cover is coming soon--hopefully in the next couple of weeks. The system books for Fate and old school style gaming (Stars Without Number compatible) will be out later this year.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Baleful Brothers

Art by Medhi
In the latest session of my 5e Land of Azurth game, the PCs were asked by their patron, Mayor Yrrol Gladhand, to look into the disappearance of the vagrant-ambassador of Lardafa the Beggar City and his pet monkey. Gladhand believes the ambassador is being held captive in the red-light district known as the Floating World, by an a new pair of crime lords: the baleful Burly Brothers.

Gladhand directs them to the queen of the Floating World, the mysterious Calico Bonny in her cabaret ship, Queen Azura. No one meets with Calico Bonny, apparently, but the group converses with Fleur, her poised-almost-to-the-point-of-apathy assistant. She confirms the Brothers' power has been increasing, but she doesn't know where they can be found. She suggests they check with one Saltus Tapper, owner of the flatboat gambling den, The Hazard. He's apparently just entered their employ, but owes Calico Bonny a favor.

Making their way across the Floating Worlds' rickety walkways, the PCs visit Tapper's establishment. He admits to entering the Burly Brothers' employ (not wholly voluntarily) and agrees to tell them more, but he's paranoid he's being watched and asks them to come back at closing. The group agrees.

When they return, Tapper tells them the Brothers have taken over a half-submerged prison hulk. He's about to tell them more when three seemingly drunken thugs in the service of the Brothers show up to get their portion of Saltus's take. Waylon the Frox attempts to buddy up to them and convince them that he and his companions are looking for work. Their leader agrees to let the PCs come along.

Walking out along a narrow plank path along the sandbar into the darkness toward the hulk, Erekose is not surprised when one of the thugs tries to sap him from behind. I fight breaks out, with the PCs ultimately leaving the thugs face down in the muck. They steal the money the thugs were carrying to the Brothers. Having taken damage and used some spells, they decide to rest for the evening and return in the morning.

Waylon stays behind to watch. In the night, he sees to large shapes leave the hulk and step numbly for their size down the planks to the floating world, chortling and snickering as they go. They enter The Hazard and soom their is a scream. Waylon realizes they are the Baleful Burly Brothers and they have killed Saltus Trapper.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Floating World

In today's 5e Land of Azurth session, the PCs will likely venture into the ramshackle flotilla red-light district of Rivertown, known as "The Floating World." Without giving too much away, here's a few of the points they may crawl to:

Queen Azura: Probably the only true ship of the Floating World, it is a multiple level cabaret and the palace of the Floating World's mysterious queen, Calico Bonny. She seldoms gives audiences and most of her interactions with the outside world are mediated by a series of lissome, young representatives, all named "Fleur."

The Hazard: A open-decked flatboat (covered with tarps) that serves as a gambling den, offering mostly dice games and roulette. It's owner is a dwarf named Saltus Tapper, widely known as a cheat.

Rat's Alley: A ramshackle houseboat that serves as a dive bar, tucked close on the port side of the Queen Azura. It often goes unnoticed by visitors, which is probably to their benefit. It's proprietor and bartender is a large and misshapen man named Handsome Sclaug (treat as a half-ogre thief), who hides his face behind an ill-fitting, sack mask.

The Green Fairy: An absinthe den, appointed well enough that it's origins as three lashed together lifeboats topped with a wooden platform is hidden. The center-piece of its barroom is a large, gilded bird cage, wherein is kept an angry and abusive green fairy to whom the hollow-eyed and dissipated staff seem strangely deferential.

Bibliophilia: Often called "The Lamia's Library", this is a serpentine, enclosed structure of dark wood built across series of small watercraft, tightly linked. It is home to a lamia (a female vampire) and her book collection, which is said to contain every volume that exists, save one, and a number which do not exist. The trick of the library is finding a particular volume, as the lamia's shelving system is idiosyncratic in the way that only a mercurial, inhuman immortals could be. Then there is the usage fee. The Lamia long ago foreswore blood (too messy), but now subsists on the truest dreams and secret hopes of her patrons.

Hurly-Burly: An old hulk, half submerged in the river muck and only connected by one oft-flooded plank walkway to the rest of the Floating World. it serves as a prison of sorts, holding folk who transgress against Calico Bonny or the council of proprietors. it has been seldom used in recent years.