Friday, April 12, 2024

Where'd the Grot Go?

Watching Delicious in Dungeon and Frieren: Beyond Journey's End (which are both great, so watch them), I've noted that both display very D&Dish world, but ones completely without even token gestures toward the gritty and grime of Medievalism. They are grot free, nothing like this to be seen:

This could be put off to the style of anime or cultural differences between U.S. and Japan, but I noted this same thing back in my review of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. Compared the production design and costuming of that film to something like Excalibur (which is pretty gritty despite all that gleaming plate) or even Jackson's Lord of the Rings

I think it's even in the art of a number of 5e products, too, and in The Legend of Vox Machina animated series (at least the parts of it I've seen).

I'm sure there are counter examples, but these are fairly high profile works in the D&D world, some of them official, so I think we're in a moment where D&Dish fantasy worlds partake of more of a fairytale feel, perhaps, in regard to depict of their environments. Nothing wrong with that, really, just an observation.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Wednesday Comics: DC, July 1983 (week 1)

My ongoing mission: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! Today, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands on the week of April 7, 1983. 

Camelot 3000 #6: Barr and Bolland are back after a couple of months with the wedding of King Arthur and Guinevere. Morgan le Fay and her allies (both alien and on Earth) are working behind the scenes to bring about Arthur's downfall. Morgan tries to turn Tristan with the promise to turn him back into a man. Tristan resists, but then Morgan throws the cover ball of putting the reincarnated Isolde at the wedding. That's after the former fiancé of the woman Tristan was before re-awakening kills Guinevere while trying to assassinate Arthur. Luckily, Guinevere is revived by Lancelot's love or something, which I'm sure has no implications for her marriage to the King. Bolland's art remains the star of the show.

Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld #2: Mishkin/Cohn and Colon spend a lot of time this issue dealing with Amy's lengthy disappearance from our world, giving her parents more to do. We find out how Amy got adopted in the first place and that there was already so unusual stuff about her. Then, in the end of the story her father straight up catches her jumping through a portal to another world. While all this is going on, Citrina is pretty gullibly falling into a trap set by Dark Opal, and Granch is revealed as an exiled son of Dark Opal, and he sets out to save other captive sons.

DC Comics Presents #59: Giffen is still working hard to make Ambush Bug catch on. This story works better than the last one and also features other characters Giffen will return to (to humorous effect) later in the decade: the Legion of Substitute Heroes. Ambush Bug escapes from prison and attacks Superman at exactly the wrong moment only to end up in the 30th Century. With no one else to turn to and other time travel work to do, Superman drops him with the Subs. Ambush Bug plays Daffy to their Porky Pig for the rest of the issue. Reading this in 2024 and knowing where these characters are going, this is sort of fun, but I wonder what I would have made of it in'83?

Arak Son of Thunder #23: Arak, Malagigi, and Johannes go to hell and confront the demon, Baphomet. Johannes answers the demon's riddle correctly and Baphomet grants his wish to release Gog and lets him go. Arak and Malagigi, Baphomet plans to eat. Malagigi makes a play to answer another riddle and release Magog to counter Gog. Baphomet kicks the wizard out of his domain.

Back in White Cathay, Angelica follows Johannes into Hell. Meanwhile, Arak answers the riddle. The demon keeps his bargain by releasing the Magog and not killing them, but he won't let Arak go. He leaves with Arak stranded in hell with Angelica.

Blackhawk #260: Spiegle gets a break, only drawing the framing story this issue, while Evanier teams with other artists for three "Detached Service Diary" solo character shorts. Chaykin draws an Andre story, Rockwell a Hendrickson one, and Toth ends the issue with a Blackhawk tale. All of them are okay, but none are really a standout, though Toth's art looks great with the material, and I wish he had done more.

Fury of Firestorm #14: Stein and Ronnie are attacked while separated by the Enforcer who captures Stein.  His ex plays a part in his capture, but it's still unclear who she's working for. Stein manages to escape well enough from the Enforcer to form Firestorm, but that was exactly what their enemies wanted. They're captured again and the mastermind behind this all is revealed as Multiplex. A better issue that the previous Hyena saga, I think, from Conway and Broderick/Rodriquez.

Wonder Woman #305: Mishkin and Colan/McLaughlin have Wonder Woman attacked in D.C. by transformed animal men, which really sort of gives it away that Circe is behind it all. The artwork in this issue looks particular nice, I think, though I can't really say why. Colan just draws a good animal man, I guess.

In the Cavalieri and Bair/Bryant Huntress backup, the Huntress has been captured and whisked off the Arkham which is apparently under the control of the criminal doctors Tarr and Fether. They are using the criminal insane to further their ends. They plan to lockup Huntress for good, but then there's a breakout on their "violent cases" ward.

Justice League #216: Conway and Heck wrap up the Microcosmos saga, and Conway says goodbye to the title. The Sisterhood with its allies and the League rout Kass'andre and her guards, but then the groups have a falling out over the fate of the Atom. Stealing into the city separately, they see there moment to strike when Kass'andre turns against her father and assassinates him. Krystal Kaa and Kass'andre battle and the villainess is killed, while Mother Moon uses her healing power to free the Atom of both Goltha's mind-control and his own madness. The new ruler of L'arra Sha sends the Leaguers home, where Ray and Jean Palmer are happily reunited.

The issue ends with "A Personal Note" from Conway saying he's enjoyed his "five-years and sixty-six issues" on this title, but it's time for him to move on. His run isn't necessarily a lauded one, but I think it's more good than bad, if seldom spectacular. It is also unfortunately under collected. You'd have to buy multiple collections and still not get everything after issue 181. 

Monday, April 8, 2024

The Elements of Generic D&D

Over the years since its creation, the standard mode of D&D has become a subgenre of fantasy unto itself, codified now in the other rpgs that followed on its coattails and the other media they've inspired. GURPS terms it "Dungeon Fantasy," though I don't think it required dungeons--though obviously they play a big part.

The essential element as I see it are:
  • The primary characters are a loose group of companions.
  • Well-defined character roles/types and capabilities, very often recognized within the fictional world.
  • Characters engaged in quests or missions in dangerous locales, mostly commonly underground. 
Other elements that are common are:
  • A setting with pre-modern technology.
  • Adventurers as a recognized role in society.
  • A large variety of monsters, categorized and taxonomized. 
  • Hierarchies of capability within character types.
  • The development of character abilities and capabilities over time through dangerous trials. Sometimes there are in-setting codified tiers or levels.
There are, of course, others but these are things I feel like are less common in fantasy works that aren't in the subgenre than those that are. There may even be some work that if you play loose enough with definitions that would fit all of the above that we wouldn't consider "D&D fantasy," but genre boundaries have never been impermeable and precise things.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Xeno-File: Ythnat

Art by Jason Sholtis

The ythnat evolved from omnivorous, beaked homeotherms. They are smaller than most known sophonts being around 1 meter tall on average. They are not above using their size and appearance to ingratiate themselves or at least appear non-threatening to others. It would be a mistake to underestimate them, however. They are "first among equals" in the Interstellar Compact by their own admission. In actuality, the o'omkaro and the hna-hunkpa are essentially client civilizations.

It has been opined that the ythnat have no laws, only obligations. Compared to human cultures, they certainly rely on complicated webs of patronage, referent power, and custom, more so than codified law. The contract, however, is always sarcosanct. The planetary political structure of the ythnat is prone to change to a dizzying degree, but the powerful merchant princes and syndicates effectively control the planetary economy and that of the entire Compact. 

Thursday, April 4, 2024

The Retro-Reviews Continue!

This is your periodic reminder that Jason Sholtis and I are still watching old TV shows free on streaming and blogging about them on the Flashback Universe blog. This week was the Western  Have Gun – Will Travel (1957). The week before was the trucker drama Movin' On (1974).

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Wednesday Comics: Fourth World Omnibus vol 2

Recently DC released The Fourth World Omnibus vol 2. This 1336 page, backbreaking tome is the companion to the equally voluminous volume 1. That volume covered most of Kirby's work on the Fourth World mythos. This volume picks up with the continuation of the characters in concepts by other hands: Gerber's Mister Miracle, Conway's New Gods revival, the Great Darkness Saga in Legion of Super-Heroes, and Kirby's return with Super Powers, and a lot of other stuff. A lot of it is, well, not that great but some things (like the Great Darkness Saga and the Justice League two-parter on Apokolips) are, and others are at least interesting.

Here's the full contents:  Mister Miracle #19-25; The New Gods #12-19; Adventure Comics #459-460; The Brave and the Bold #112, #128, and #138; DC Comics Presents #12; First Issue Special #13; Justice League of America #183-185; Legion of Super-Heroes #290-294; Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #3; Secret Society of Super-Villains #1-5; Super Powers #1-5; Super Powers (vol. 2) #1-6; Super Powers (vol. 3) #1-4; Super Powers Collection #13-23; Super-Team Family #15; and stories from DC Special Series #10 and Legion of Super-Heroes #287.

I'm not a thick omnibus reader myself, but I do like to see these handsome volumes sitting on my shelf while I read digital.

Friday, March 29, 2024

The Shreev Comes to Thono Inn

Our Gnydrion game in Grok?! continued last Sunday. The party:

  • Antor Hogus (Paul) - Vagabond. Reckless.
  • Jerfus Grek (Jason) - A vagabond as well, but more measured.
  • Nortin Tauss (Aaron) - Dabbler in the arcane. This time, he dabbles!
  • Yzma Vekna (Andrea) - Scruffy teamster with a blunderbuss and a willingness to use it.

With the alleged Wol Zunderbast defeated, the party has to come up with a way to keep him restrained until the Shreev arrives. They come up with a plan of "harsh swaddling" with bedsheets, but the assassin almost breaks free, and they have to subdue him again. Just when they think they have it figured out, the concierge arrives, concerned with the noise.

The concierge summons the owner, Gris Samber, who takes position of the restrained assassin and has his men lock him in a closet. The group isn't happy about this, but they don't have a way out (though Antor certainly contemplates stunning his way out). They do insist that Yzma be allowed to stand guard, and Samber agrees.

While they wait, Jerfus contrives to get a look at Zunderbast's room. His attempts to drive off the guard set there by Samber with odious habits backfires and instead wins him a friend--unfortunately not friendly enough to allow him in the room unobserved.

At last, Shreev Molok and Var Nee arrive. They group follows them to the closet--which when opened appears empty! It's only a trick, and Zunderbast drops from the ceiling and makes a break for the door. Yzma shoots him in the leg, halting his escape.

For their efforts, the Shreev allows them to keep Zunderbast's full purse and to stay another night at the resort on the Compulsor's account.