Friday, July 19, 2019

Omniverse: Incumbents are from Earth, Sivanas are from Venus


In September of 1936, all across America aircraft beginning dropping flyers proclaiming a new candidate for the highest office in the land. At the urging of her father, Beautia Sivana was running for President. Thaddeus Bodog Sivana planned to stage a coup once his daughter was in office. Hers was the most massive, multi-media, write-in campaign this country has ever seen. Her beautiful visage graced the covers of magazines and full page newspaper ads. Her captivating voice could be heard on radio addresses. Women were cool to her candidacy, but men were enthralled. Most men. Boy reporter, Billy Batson, wasn’t fooled one bit. His alter ego, Captain Marvel foiled the Sivanas’ plot and returned mad scientist and would-be president to Venus*, where Beautia would have to content herself with being Empress.

Ultimately, Beautia didn’t share her father’s devotion to evil and in fact pursued a career in social work upon her return to Earth, according to some accounts.

*Or what Sivana said was Venus. It is difficult to square the real planet with its depiction in this record.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Spelljammer: Dead Stars & Outer Monstrosites

Art from the Oldstyle Tales Press edition
As we understand the word," said the old Doctor. "Though, mind you, there may be a third factor. But, in my heart, I believe that it is a matter of chemistry; Conditions and a suitable medium; but given the Conditions, the Brute is so almighty that it will seize upon anything through which to manifest itself. It is a Force generated by Conditions; but nevertheless this does not bring us one iota nearer to its explanation, any more than to the explanation of Electricity or Fire. They are, all three, of the Outer Forces—Monsters of the Void.... 
- William Hope Hodgson, "The Derelict"

I've been thinking about a Spelljammer recently that keeps the basic concept but utterly jettisons the feel or flavor. Spelljammer has never felt me to be about exploration, rather the vessels flying through spaces seem a means to an end. There's nothing wrong with that, but plenty of science fiction literature paints space as a place for confronting the unknown. This is really a perfect fit for Spelljammer where its pre-modern, "magical" spacecraft put the stars within reach but not the science to understand any of it. Not that there is necessarily science as we know it to understand, in any case.

I think I would look to the horror/adventure stories of William Hope Hodgson, specifically his nautical yarns like The Boats of the Glen Carrig, "The Voice in the Night," "A Tropical Horror," and "Demons of the Sea." A little pseudo-science borrowed from his Carnacki stories could only help.

The characters are competent space-hands, perhaps mildly colorful rogues like Howard's Wild Bill Clanton or just working stiffs like the crew of the Nostromo in Alien, not bold explorers or science fantasy swashbucklers. Their jobs involving them going through places that are not (usually) inhabited by hostile species of space orcs or the like, but are instead fundamentally almost wild, always strange. Weird danger can rear it's head at any time, and your vessel is just another ship that disappeared in the Void.

Weird phenomena should be encountered as frequently as monsters, I think. Monsters, when they do show up should be unfamilar, and probably not seen enough to become mundane.

Beyond the stories of Hodgson and Alien, other potential sources of inspiration could be the comic series Outer Darkness, the science fiction stories of Clark Ashton Smith, Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and of course, Moby Dick

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Wednesday Comics: Dreadstar Omnibus


I backed the 3 volume Dreadstar Omnibus Kickstarter from Ominous Press, and the digital versions dropped yesterday. They look great and include some material that I haven't seen before.

Though the Kickstarter is over, you can still pre-order the books.

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Mysterious Levers of Castle Machina

The part climbed the stairway to level two in the scuttling Castle Machina as our 5e campaign continued last night. The strange droning sound unsettled their nerves, but they persevered. They discovered another room full of vast machinery, mate to the room below it, that kept the castle moving. Then, they found a room full of cast of spare gears, mounds of them, and a bank of levers in the floor.  A search of the room awakened metallic, insectoid guardians.


The party backed away, intuiting that the constructs protected the levers.

Next, they discovered a sauna-like room where three salamanders were playing games of change. Once one of them produced a translation device, they were able to converse with the party. They told them they had been hired from the Realm of Fire to help in the construction of parts of the castle, and they had been on their union mandated break for some time. They had never heard of a "Princess" but they knew a mad clockwork being was interfaced with the castle like it was her nervous system. Kully wanted to gamble with them, but they never could arrive at items them salamanders considered valuable.

They tried climbing the stairs to the next level, but the droning sound was more overwhelming. Waylon and Dagmar were struck with paralyzing fear, and Shade flew into a violent rage and had to be subdued. Deciding that braving the maddening noise was too risky, they returned to the room with the levers, intent on possibly bringing the castle to a halt.

They experimented with mage hand, but moving the lever had no effect. They decided to destroy the guardians to experiment more fully. The energy weapons they had stolen from the priests of the Toad Temple were instrumental in accomplishing that, as regular weapons had little effect. In their deaths, the constructs exploded with damaging fireballs.


Battered but now with full access to lever, the party started to experiment in earnest and found...well, not much. Most of the levers seemed to have no visible effect. They long debated pulling the "Portal Reversal" lever, but some feared it would release the imprisoned fire creature that heated the boiler. In the end, they decided it was too risky.

A plan was hatched to use Silence to explore the next level.

TO BE CONTINUED

Friday, July 12, 2019

Superheroes and Color Theory

A series of articles back on Comics Alliance in 2016 discussed color theory as it relates to the costumes of superheroes: stuff like heroes tend to be in primary colors, and the potential meaning of villains in green and purple. It doesn't match up hundred percent, but it is interesting. Anyway, you might want to head over and read the articles.

You could use that to make random tables for the generation of NPCs, not so much powers, but costume and personality at the same time.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

Dragons of Post-Apocalyptic Twilight

I guess this is the third in a loose series of re-imaginings of old TSR settings. My knowledge of classic Dragonlance is admittedly a bit limited, but what I don't know about it, I figure I'll just fill in with other post-apocalyptic, science fantasy, or sword and sorcery stuff.

So, Kyrnn is a world locked in a protracted semi-Cold War. One side or the other (perhaps both), looking to end the stalemate once and for all uses their advanced science or scientific sorcery to pierce a veil that should have remained unpierced and contact another universe where an unlimited source of power was waiting. That power had an intelligence. They called it Tiamat.

Tiamat agreed to help their cause and taught them how to make living weapons they called dragons from a portion of "her" own substance. Their early victories were great, and several enemy cities fell before the dragons, but then somehow, the opposing side got dragons of their own.

When the two blocs were utterly dependent on dragons, the beasts turned on their masters. Civilization was nearly destroyed in the onslaught.

The only good Draconian...
Centuries later and Krynn is a world dominated by the dragons, and their lackeys the Draconians. The former dominate species of now either fear and avoid or serve the planet's rulers (not unlike the humans in Vance's Planet of Adventure, or maybe even the Planet of the Apes TV show).

Anyway, the idea is to make it more random Sword & Sorcery 70s paperback than Lord of the Ring.

Goldmoon?

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Wednesday Comics: Stuff I Read Recently

Here are some recent comics I've read in the past few weeks.

Hey Kids! Comics! (Image)
This is a limited series by Howard Chaykin (perhaps the first of multiple volumes) about the history of comics from the 40s to the 2000s as seen through the eyes of three (fictional, though clearly with elements of real people) creators who got their start in the Golden Age. They interact with a number of other characters who are, at times, fairly thinly disguised stand-ins for real personalities in the industry. The throughline seems to the reputed Jack Kirby adage: "comics will break your heart, kid," or at least leave you embittered and angry, as editors and publishers profit from your work and fandom misunderstands the real history. While there are more sympathetic and less sympathetic characters, all of them are all too human, and no one involved is particularly flattered by Chaykin's portrayal.

Spider-Man: Life Story (Marvel)
The conceit here is that Spider-Man ages in real time, from his teen years in the 60s on through the decades. Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley weave a tale that resembles Byrne's Generations limiteds in some ways, but is more interested in clever re-imaginings of various classic storylines from each era. The result is entertaining, but this dual concern means that the idea of a Marvel universe where time passes is not as deeply explored as it might be since story time has to include secret wars, alien suits, and (multiple) clone sagas. Still, it's the sort of thing I wouldn't have thought Marvel would put out, so the novelty alone makes it worth a look. Five issues are out now with the sixth and the trade to come.

Superman: Year One #1 (DC)
Many of the reviews I have seen of this tend to be reviews of the reviewer's lack of faith in Frank Miller (not unjustified, admittedly, given his work and public statements of the past decade or so) or at least their certainty he doesn't understand Superman. (Aside: Almost any time someone says "that isn't what Superman/Batman whoever would do" they are making a statement more of personal preference than history. Of course, there are certainly portrayals that are more the center of the bell curve and some that are outliers.)

For the most part, if this take by Miller and Romita has a flaw, it's that it is all too conventional, and the minor (minor!) ways it deviates from the Standard Consensus Origin are a bit more off-putting than interesting. It is suggested that baby Kal-El modifies his behavior to manipulate the Kents into accepting him (plausible, perhaps even likely, but not what most Superman readers want to read, apparently). Clark is also always aware of the fragility of regular humans (again, plausibly, but not people are looking for). The Kents are on paper what they are suppose to be but they feel a little off. Lana Lang is more active than it most takes, but it still doesn't amount to much and she must be rescued.

So, if you just need another Superman origin, well, this is another one, but if you are looking for the Superman origin that will give you the small thrill of the truncated origin in All-Star Superman, this isn't it. It's more like a darker Man of Steel (the Byrne limited) as written by Frank Miller.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Zauberina [ICONS]

Art by Chris Malgrain
ZAUBERINA

Abilities:
Prowess: 4
Coordination: 4
Strength: 3
Intellect: 5
Awareness: 5
Willpower: 5

Stamina: 7

Specialties: Magic Expert

Qualities:
Raised in Vulthoor
Mistress of the Mystical Arts
In Love with Ultranaut

Powers:
Magic (Blast, Force Field, Illusions): 8

Background:
Alter Ego: Zabrina Zauberer
Occupation: Adventurer
Marital Status: Single
Known Relatives: John Zauberer (father, deceased), Rose Zauberer (mother, deceased)
Group Affiliation: Former general of Vulthoor; ally of the Super-Sentinels
Base of Operations:
First Appearance: SUPER-SENTINELS #37
Height: 5'7"  Weight: 130 lbs.
Eyes: Green  Hair: Red

History:
Zauberina was the daughter of the magician and adventure John Zauberer, known as Zauber the Great, and the "ghost-breaker" Rose Buchanan. Zauberina was kidnapped when she was an infant by her father's greatest enemy, Jada the Green Sorceress, ruler of the subterranean city of Vulthoor. The Green Sorceress told Zauberina she was her mother and that her father had abandoned them.

Zauberina possessed her father's aptitude for the magical arts, and she was tutored along these lines by the Green Sorceress. She soon rose in the ranks of her foster mother's magical forces, until she commanded them. She lead in Vulthoor's attempted invasion of the surface world.

Zauber and the Super-Sentinels repelled the invasion. They were aided by Zauberina, who learned that the Green Sorceress had lied about her father, and switched sides.

Zauberina became an ally of the Super-Sentinels and aided them in several of their adventures.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Wednesday Comics: The Superheroes of the Atlas Pre-Silver Age

In 1953, Martin Goodman the publisher of Interstate Publishing Group (sometimes known as Marvel, and generally referred to as Atlas these days, after the distributor whose mark appears on the cover) noted the success of the Adventures of Superman TV show and figured there might again be a market for superheroes.

Goodman publishing's Timely Comics' flagship heroes--Captain America, Sub-Mariner, and Human Torch--had been popular in the War years, but were all gone by 1950.  In Young Men #24 (1953), they can roaring back.

"The Return of the Human Torch" with art by Russ Heath picks up following the events of his last adventure in 1949. The Human Torch, after a 4 year absence, busts up on the hideout of the crime boss that sprayed him with a Soviet chemical that dosed his fire, and buried him in the desert. Luck for the the Torch, this desert part of the desert would be the site of a atomic test. Resurrected by the bomb, he was more powerful than ever.

He goes looking for Toro who disappeared in Korea. Flying right over, he finds Toro has been brainwashed and is fighting for the commies! Torch defeats him and brings him home to turn him over to doctors to fix him:


The team is back together!


In "Back from the Dead" with art by John Romita, we find the Red Skull has given up his allegiance to Hitler's regime, and is now the head of an international crime syndicate with ties to (you guessed it) "the Reds." Meanwhile, at the Lee School, Professor Steve Rogers tells his student the history of Captain America, but most of the kids think he's just a myth. Bucky (who seems weirdly to have not aged, assuming its the same kid) gets in a fight with the Cap-deniers. Bucky wants Cap back, but Rogers isn't convinced. Then, they hear on the radio that the Red Skull has returned and taken the UN hostage!

Captain America and Bucky are reborn! And the Red Skull is soon defeated...for now.

Bill Everett brings us "Sub-Mariner." Cargo ships keep sinking myteriously near the same small island. An investigation determines the wrecks have been stripped to the bulkhead. Police woman Betty Dean realizes she knows Sub-Mariner and calls up Admiral Saybrook to see if he can get in touch with Namor at the South Pole.

Four days later, Namor shows up at Betty's apartment in a suit. He agrees to look into the strange piracy. He discovers the ships are being sank and looted by robots. Robots he later learns are from Venus. The though Earthmen were weak, but they didn't reckon on Sub-Mariner. He roughs them and saves the day.

And just like that, the greatest Timely heroes are back in action!