Friday, June 9, 2023

Swords Against Sorcery: Claw the Unconquered in Action

 After the first playtest session of Swords Against Sorcery, the Bronze Age of comics Sword & Sorcery rpg I have been working on, I went through 1975's Claw the Unconquered #2, by Michelinie and Chan, and broke it down in game terms just to see if I thought the rules as I'm currently envisioning them could handle it.  Here's one fight scene from that issue.

The story up to this point: Claw and a former would-be assassin turned ally Gofflok climbed a rope to escape dog creatures and find themselves in a floating city. A beautiful maiden, Myrallya, appears and welcomes them to K’Dasha-Dheen. She invites the two to her palace to partake in food and rest. As the two visitors are eating, Myrallya reveals that her city hangs suspended between two separate planes of reality. It also grants its inhabitants immortality but this enchantment has to be renewed through the sacrifice of a god. Since no gods are available, the two men are informed that they will have to suffice...

With so many blades pointed at him, the guards are clearly out to intimidate. Claw's player makes his reaction roll of his dice in his Might Attribute and Swords Domain, counting a 5-6 as a success. Claw succeeds! Now it's on, He's going to enter combat, despite the odds.

The GM says since the guards still have the drop on him, they attack first, meaning Claw will react to their attack. Claw's player plans an acrobatic evasion that will morph into an attack, and wants to use Daring+Deeds for the Reaction. The GM agrees, but adds he'll have a penalty of -1 die for being seated. The guards attack as Tough foes, meaning 2 successes are need to avoid their attack. 

Against the odds, he succeeds! Now, it's his Action, and he uses Might+Swords to make his attack roll, looking again for 2 successes as they have a Tough Defense too. It works and the guards sustain Blows.

It's Grofflok's turn and he gets his Action first thanks to the Surprise Claw gave the guards. His coming up behind his target assassin-style, rolling Cunning+Swords for his attack with one die bonus.

The two continue to fight side by side, getting in some different maneuvers:

Claw uses Daring+Swords to improvise a ranged attack. Then, he uses Might+Swords to heave a piece of furniture in their way, spending a couple of Momentum he's generated from extra success in this scene to get catch multiple guards in its delaying condition.

Anyway, that's one way all that could have gone.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, September 1982 (week 2)

I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! Today, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands on the week of June 10, 1982. 

Batman #351: Conway/Levitz and Colan/DeZuniga have vampire Batman stop Dick from turning Vicki, too. He manages to subdue his ward and bring him back to the Batcave. It seems, according to Father Green, that they can only be cured by a serum made from the Monk's blood. Batman and Father Green go to the vampire's lair, but they only find Dala, who tells them about the Monk's hiding place in an abandoned church. Batman and Father Green go to the place and after a brief confrontation, Batman defeats the Monk and Dala, allowing Father Green to start the transfusion process. Meanwhile, Bard and Gordon get closer to discovering Rupert Thorne, Thorne hires Deadshot to take out Bruce Wayne (who he now believes is Batman), and Christopher Chance seems poised to discover Batman's secret.

In the Jones/Gonzales Catwoman backup, she teams up with an FBI agent who has been investigating the case of Candy Carole, a woman wanted by several loan sharks in Cleveland--the woman Selina has been mistaken for. Impersonating Candy once again, Catwoman lures the criminals out of hiding and they capture the whole criminal gang. That only leaves Roscoe, Candy's former lover, who forced her into a life of crime. When Catwoman finds Roscoe with all his criminal loot, he tries to escape, but dies in the attempt.

Flash #313: Barr takes a deep cut and brings back William Dawson, the guy whose body Grodd stole in wayback in Flash #115 (1960) as the psi-powered Psykon. Psykon is out for revenge on Grodd but Flash won't let him kill him--while largely sympathizing with Psykon's beef. When Grodd tries to betray his ally, the Flash makes a plan with Psykon that keeps hm his body back and leaves Grodd's mind in the body of a homeless alcoholic. Which hardly seems fair to the homeless alcoholic, but I guess that's Central City justice for you.

In the backup, Dr. Fate is able to defeat the combined forces of a Lord of Order and a Lord of Chaos by adding Inza to the mix of Nabu and Kent--shades of one of the conceits of the Dr. Fate 1987 limited series by DeMatteis and Giffen. It's surprising to see how far back that idea goes.

G.I. Combat #245: In the first Haunted Tank story, a German tank crew so horribly burned they look like undead returns to menace Jeb and friends a second time (after a brief stint in a circus sideshow). Jeb tries to save the commanders life, but he chooses to die after his defeat. In "The Easy Way" Kanigher and Talaoc have the path of apparent least resistance mean death for a group of GIs. In the O.S.S. story, Kana is put on trial for refusing to go through with his mission to assassinate the Emperor of Japan. Rather than go to prison, he prepares to commit seppuku, but he's saved with MacArthur orders the Emperor is not to be killed. In the second Haunted Tank yarn, Craig meets up with an old friend from WWI who is now a Colonel and moves Craig to a desk job due to his age. In the end, though, Craig is meant to be a tanker, and proves it. Also, Craig seems rather easily to have taken over the role of doubting Jeb's sanity from Slim. Kanigher wants to keep the same story formula, I guess.

Jonah Hex #64: We pick up with Hex in San Francisco, losing at cards, then rescuing a damsel in distress from some thugs. The woman is Sharon Hilliard – daughter of wealthy copper baron, Maxwell Hilliard. She claims her now deceased sailor boyfriend found a pearl of great value, and she knows where to get it but she needs protection. Jonah has to fend off her advances while dealing with the disapproval of her father (who doesn't believe any of this pearl nonsense) and unscrupulous treasure-seekers who do. Jonah and Sharon are kidnapped and threatened with death if they don't reveal the secret. Jonah manages to win their freedom, but after all that trouble, Sharon admits the story was a lie.

Saga of the Swamp Thing #5: Pasko and Yeates left Swamp thing in the hands of Sunderland goons and now he arrives at a private clinic for treating Sunderland employees. Dr. Barclay, who appears to have psychic healing powers, seems like a nice guy and heals Swampy, but something still isn't right. He finds out just what when he discovers that a lower level of the clinic is full of unconscious human clones. The clone are empaths and the wounds from the employees (and Swamp Thing) are being psychically transferred to them. Barclay and Elizabeth Tremayne are as horrified as him, and work to free the clones, but not before Dr. Kay (revived by the transfer of his burns to a clone) arrives to try to stop them. The revenge seeking clones overwhelm the staff, but not before Kay escapes in a helicopter, and our heroes flee.

New Teen Titans #23: Wolfman and Perez shift back to Vega System stuff. As the DA chews out the Titans for complicating his attempts to bring down Brother Blood and his cult, Starfire is hit by a Gordanian mental probe and goes wild. Then, She's captured by the Gordanian slavers under the command of her renegade sister, Princess Kornand'r. The other Teen Titans, with the help of Aqualad, salvage two Gordanian ships and infiltrate the Gordanian mother ship, but they're overcome by its defenses and hurled into space, where Raven's soul-self protects them until they can be rescued by Superman with the tractor beam from the Justice League satellite. Superman is unable to aid the Titans' rescue mission, since his powers were halved (as seen in Action Comics this month). The Gordanians escape with Starfire.

Superman #375: Bates and Swan/Adkins bring the Vartox/Lana wedding thing to an end. Syreena's treachery causes Lana to be turned to stone while Vartox jealously attacks Superman. When Vartox snaps out of his rage, the heroes managed to capture Syreena. She pleads her love for Vartox and eventually agrees to cure Lana. She does, but only by turning herself to stone. Another side effect is that the field that would have allowed Lana to live on Vartox's world is gone. The lover's part, with Vartox carrying the petrified body of his ex home with him.

The Fabulous World of Krypton backup here by Rozakis and Kane is better than average. A Kryptonian reporter spies on the Fel-Kar, head of the Kryptonian Science Council, and the agent Fel-Kar sent to spy on Jor-El. They learn of the scientist's plans to illegally launch a rocket bearing his son to Earth. But, when the Councilman fails to report the findings, the reporter realizes Fel-Kar plans to steal the rocket and escape in it himself. He fights with the Councilman and they are both killed in the collapse of the building, but not before Jor-El's ship rocket's the safety and the reporter records his account for posterity. Later, a group of aliens listen puzzled to the account, but cannot understand the Kryptonian language and decide to sell the device as junk.

Monday, June 5, 2023

The Plane of Whatever It is, I'm Against It

No one is quite certain how the Concordant Opposition came to be. It is quite possible that some soldiers of Law and some warriors of Chaos tired of the endless battle of natures and paradigms and came together in that consensus to make another alternative. Others believe (or hope) that it is the place where the last fragment of the Godhead exists. a strange loop of dreaming God unconsciousness, a bulwark against a schizoid multiverse. People in the City of the Sigil, in particular, like this idea.

However it came to be, it stays because he serves a purpose. It's the phase boundary between not only Law and Chaos but the other syxygies which emerged from their conflict come together. It is the place of concordant. Of course, it actively resists being incorporated into any camp (though they all try). It is a place of opposition.

Across it's expanse none the Powers hold sway, yet no where are their philosophies more discussed and debated. There are groups of evangelists and missionaries from other Planes working to convert travelers, though these all die out eventually, either in conflict or by loss of faith. The plane does not mock, but it is actively indifferent.

At the edge of these Outlands are the Border Towns. Their appearance vary from town to town, but they control the flow of traffic from whatever plane is on the other side. All are fortified, no matter how benign the appearance of the Plane on the other side. Indeed, from the perspective of the Opposition, the most benign are often the most dangerous.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Swords Against Sorcery: Kharron the Slayer! Anatomy of a Pregen

Kharron was one of the pregens I put together for the first playtest of my in-progress comic book Swords & Sorcery ruleset, Swords Against Sorcery. I don't know any more about Kharron and his background than these stats suggest. I gave the player a picture of DC's Stalker as drawn by Steve Ditko for an illustration, but I also had in mind Kharon: Scourge of Atlantis, a character created by my friend Jim Shelley and artist Pierre Villeneuve for the Zuda competition. Jason Sholtis drew this rendition with that in mind:

Anyway, every SAS character has two Archetype descriptors. These determine what abilities they have. For Kharron these are Cursed Warrior.  

His Distinction is "Neither Living Nor Dead," which can come into play as a special bonus once per session, but can also be used as a penalty at other times.

These are the primary abilities of the game. Every roll is a Attribute plus a Domain with situational modifiers. I talked about these before. Attributes range from 1-5 (with 2 being the minimum for heroes) and Domains 0-4 (with 1 being the minimum for heroes).

Expertises and Talents further flesh out a character. Expertises are skills they are exceptionally good at, while Talents are sort of special abilities that allow a character to "break" the usual rules n certain circumstances.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, September 1982 (week 1)

I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! Today, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands on the week of June 3, 1982. 

Adventure Comics #491: Adventure returns as a digest of mostly reprints, but there's a new Captain Marvel story by Bridwell and Newton. Satan assembles Ibac, Sabbac, Master Man and Darkling to get rid of the Marvel Family and Kid Eternity. The heroes are on a hike when it gets uncommonly dark. Realizing Darkling is responsible, the Marvels try to transform, but the darkness is so intense even magic lightning can't get through. Having been given the power to see in magical darkness, Master Man puts his hand over Kit Freeman's mouth before he can use his power. Billy Batson tricks Sabbac into conjuring a flaming light and Kit uses it to burn the gag from his mouth and says his magic word. He summons Zeus, who brings along three Shazam lightning bolts for the Marvels. Ibac, Sabbac and Darkling are defeated, but Master Man summons four gods of evil.

Arak Son of Thunder #13: Thomas and Colon/Acala continue Arak's adventures in Greece. A chance encounter with some dead monks and soul-taking Keres demons, leads to Satyricus and Arak impersonating the monks at a monastery and agreeing to investigate a story of demonic influence in some neighboring caves. Inside the cave, the satyr mysteriously falls asleep, and a swooping Keres causes Arak to become lost. He finds a thread which leads him to a tapestry which depicts his native land and He-No the god of thunder.

In the Valda backup by the Thomases and Colon, the gifts of treacherous Hun ambassadors are ensorcelled and meant to harm the Charlemagne. Valda prevents the king's own sons from killing their father who they perceive as a stag thanks to the magic. She destroys the cursed helmet, and the king plans to punish the huns for their treachery. It's interesting how different Colon's art looks here when he inks it himself compared to the main story with Alcala inks. This is more cartoony and gleaned lined, and the other grittier.

DC Comics Presents #49: Thomas/Kupperberg and Buckler bring Black Adam and Captain Marvel over from Earth-S for a team-up with an unusual angle. After a terrorist bomb shakes an ancient Egyptian temple, the Billy Batson of Earth-One has a dream about becoming Captain Marvel. Black Adam turns up on Earth-One intent on conquest, and Superman needs Captain Marvel's help, but he'll need Billy Batson and the secrets of the temple to get him here. 

Fury of Firestorm #4: Conway and Broderick/Rodriquez have Firestorm at the mercy of Killer Frost, lest the people of New York suffer. Her first demand: bring her actor Curt Holland (a Burt Reynolds stand-in) to be her consort. Firestorm heads off to do that, but first has a pointless but Marvel-style fight with his teammates in the JLA who want to help, but won't let Firestorm do it, his way. Eventually, they talk it out and collaborate with Ronnie on a plan involving a device built by Stein and Red Tornado impersonating Holland. It works, and Frost is defeated. 

Justice League #206: Conway is joined by Infantino for this one with Tanghal's inks reining in some of the excesses we see in his work on Flash. In the 25th Century, Thomas Parker recounts to his son one of the Justice League's adventures, while the two visit an exhibit in the JLA's honor in the Space Museum. Unknown to the League, the demons Abnegazar, Rath, and Ghast had caused the mystic Jar, Bell and Wheel used to imprison them to be left behind in the Souvenir Room of the original Secret Sanctuary when the Justice League moved to their satellite headquarters. The artifacts were eventually discovered and used to free the demons from their crypts. The demonic trio attacked the satellite and then battled the heroes a second time at Stonehenge. They trick Zatanna into using her magic to destroy the 3 objects that can imprison them, but they are defeated when she uses her magic to recreate the Jar, Bell, and Wheel and imprison them again. 

I've said before Conway's run here is generally good, but uneven, and this is one of the less good issues. It feels like a Silver Age throwback, and not just for Infantino's art.

Sgt. Rock Annual #2: Kanigher and Spiegle have Rock sent on a special mission to rescue a man with sensitive information who has fallen into German hands--and if he doesn't think he can rescue him, Rock is to kill him. A hard enough assignment any time, but harder still because the man in question is Rock's younger brother. With the help of the Haunted Tank crew and Mademoiselle Marie, a handpicked group of Easy rescue Larry Rock, though a rogue's gallery of villains get in their way: the Iron Major, Helga Voss, and a over-sized robot called the Goliath of the Western Front. Larry's been tortured and has a head trauma causing him pain. He wants desperately not to fall into German hands again. He attempts to get Rock to kill him, and when he won't, Larry jumps from the top of a cable car in the mountains. Rock tries to save him, but can't keep a grip. Mission completed, Rock and his men return to Easy. This was a good one, justifying the extra-page count, I thought.

Weird War Tales #114: Kanigher and Carillo bring back G.I. Robot (JAKE-2) with a cameo by the Creature Commandos. I suppose the story is a silly if you think about it, but I also feel like it's probably the most poignant of the week, even moreso that Kanigher's other effort Sgt. Rock. There is pathos in Sgt. Coker's devotion to his robot "buddy," in a way perhaps more now than in its era. JAKE always seems to have some humanity, but his mute, inexpressiveness never allows you to know whether it's an expression of his soul or just his programming, when he sacrifices himself for others or even puts his arm around a frightened princess.

Wonder Woman #295: Thomas/Mishkin and Colan/McLaughlin are keeping it topical with this storyline about a nefarious video game. Wonder Woman stops a riot in a department store caused by a rush of people trying compulsively to pick-up the Commander Video. The villain here, the Sandman foe last seen in 1974, General Electric, is in prison, but he has taken over the mind of the warden and many others by means of his game. Electric contacts General Darnell, another of his mind controlled lackeys, and has him transfer bombers and nuclear missiles to the prison just as Wonder Woman bursts in after destroying Steve's Commander Video game. She attacks Darnell, but the controlled general brands her a traitor, and she's on the run to try and stop the weapons transfer. Her jet takes a hit from a missile at the transfer site, and she falls unconscious and into the hands of the military.

In the Huntress backup, Alfred has been poisoned by a unknown, time-release toxin by a mobster out for revenge. When threatening the life of the thugs responsible doesn't yield any useful information, she rushes him to the hospital. Not knowing what the toxin is, the doctors don't know what to do. A desperate Huntress decides to science this herself. After all, she watched her dad do this sort of thing and she's had "two courses in organic chemistry." This being a comic, she's successful and Alfred lives.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Swords Against Sorcery: Wizard's Challenge!

 Last night, I did the first playtest of the Bronze Age comic book Swords & Sorcery system I have been working on. I made a few pregens and this was the line up:

  • Oriax the Red, Gladiator Champion (Aaron)
  • Thunda, Barbarian Acolyte (Andrea)
  • Korag, Primitive Warrior (Jason)
  • Kharron, Cursed Warrior (Paul)

The adventure began with the heroes all at a seedy tavern in the city of Djadishar. They are surprised by the sudden appearance of a robed sorcerer with a brass dome over his head like Mysterio. He said he was Narznn Gath and he was here to cause the death of the heroes as his divinations had showed they would thwart his plans in the future. The other tavern patrons rise up, seemingly under the sorcerer's control to take.

Bronze Age Sword & Sorcery comics tend to get to the action very quickly, typically with foes the heroes can deal with relatively easily. Here it also serve the purpose of giving everybody a try with the basic mechanics.

The heroes fairly easily dispatch the unfortunate tavern lowlifes. They figure they had better take the fight to Narznn Gath or he'll keep coming after them. Thunda and Kharron, with their combined occult knowledge, know that he is reputed to dwell in the Tower of Eyes deep within the hellish Desert of Urrd. The heroes aren't eager to cross the desert with a wizard waiting for them. They want to try for the element of surprise. Maybe swifter mounts of some sort or magical transport?

Kharron knows a sorceress who lives in a villa on the outskirts of Djadishar who might be able to help. The decide to seek out Yasheeng of the Gossamer Veil. 

Kharron actually failed his roll here, but with a "fail forward" sort of mentality, this just means a complication down the road.

Yasheeng agrees to see them and even his an idea that might help, but there's a catch. She has a magical mirror which can allow them access to the idyll plane where Zaarzog the Demon dwells. There grows a tree whose fruit can secure the cooperation of the winged creatures than nest in the caves of the Vestari Mountains nearby. However, in return for her aid she wants the large opal at the bottom of the pool near the tree--and she wants a few drops of Kharron's magical blood to ensure they don't double cross her. The party agrees, and jump threw the mirror.

They are greeted to the scene of glade with a small hill and a huge, gnarled tree with strangely fleshy leaves. At the center of the glade is a limpid pool with a giant statue of a seated demon on the far side. While Korag climbs the tree to gather fruit, Kharron dives into the pool after the mikly-colored, potato-sized, gem. Thunda investigates the statue and notes one of its eye sockets is empty, but the other has a white gem in it.

When Korag picks the large, pear-shaped fruit, thick juice drips from the sap. When it hits the ground, wriggling creatures began to grow, ultimately to two-foot tall goblin-things. When Oriax cuts down a few, more grow from the spilt blood.

Meanwhile, Kharron as emerged from the water with the jewel which feels strangely warm in his hand, but then, the statue comes to life with a grinding of it's stone joints. Thunda calls upon her gods and the demon is transfixed for a moment, buying them a little extra time.

Oriax runs to their aid, while Korag jumps from the tree and kicks his way past goblins to the portal. Kharron taunts the demon with the stone--perhaps unwisely, as it snatches him up. 

Oriax attacks but his blade is no match for stone. Kharron manages to pry himself loose. They all try to make for the portal, but Kharron is tripped and pulled down by goblins. Thunda comes to his aid, and everyone runs through the portal, a grasping horde of goblins on their heels.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Dr. Banner or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gamma Bomb

This is a post in my Omniverse series of a "realistic," shared superhero universe. The original version appeared in the Gplus days in February 2018.

The official narrative regarding the creation of the Hulk prompts one to question: Just what was going on at Los Diablos Missile Base? Let's review the eyebrow raising details: Bruce Banner is given a shocking amount of freedom to place restrictions on and make demands of the base’s military commander, a Russian scientist has somehow gotten security clearance, the control room is grossly under-staffed, and the detonation is down to just one push of a button. Ultimately this is all the result of the government's Cold War mentality, but the immediate cause of the irregularities in the base’s operation and the tragedy that followed is Dr. Bruce Banner.

The first mystery (this one obscured by governmental secrecy) is just what the gamma bomb was. It was not a gamma ray weapon—though that was exactly what Banner had dangled in front of the Army to get his project off the ground. Once he had funding and security clearance, Banner went for something more daring: he planned to build the K-Metal Bomb the German’s had sought near the close of World War II, but never perfected. He hoped to use the K-Metal (or Kryptonite as it was becoming popularly known) to power a weapon that would weaken and incapacitate but not kill (in a manner similar to so-called “slow kryptonite” developed years later by Metallo) and would also not destroy infrastructure. “Gamma” became the Army’s codename for this weapon.

Not only were the generals incredibly interested in what Banner was offering, but Banner’s secrecy (either conscious or unconscious) regarding the physics involved only served to leverage a virtual celebrity status for him. A status coupled with Cold War thinking regarding means and ends would prove disastrous for more than one person present that faithful day.  Truth being more complicated than fiction, Windsor-Smith's version of these events in Monster would split Banner into two characters: a traumatized victim of a sadistic experiment and the sadistic scientist running the experiment. 

Dr. Leonard Samson, psychiatrist, wrote extensively about the psychological dynamics of the principles after the fact. That Banner was rigid and emotional repressed was obvious to virtually everyone, but Samson argues that he projected his anger for his mentally ill and abusive father onto the bellicose General Ross and taunted him in a passive aggressive manner. (This, incidentally, only served to heighten Ross’ daughter’s attraction to the emotionally unavailable scientist.) It was Banner who demanded and got unprecedented control over the test and a limited, handpicked staff. 

Which brings us to the oddest figure in this drama, “Igor Starsky,” the Soviet spy. Igor had been assigned to establish a relationship with Banner in graduate school—something not easy to do with the young physicist. For reasons of his own, Banner suffered Starsky’s presence, but seldom showed him any genuine warmth. When they were working together on the gamma bomb, he often treated the man like a lackey. Samson surmises that Starsky’s presence on the project was merely another way for Banner to assert his mastery over Ross, his father surrogate. He was the personification of foreign power in Ross’ domain. Banner would deny ever having considered that Starsky might be a Soviet agent, but he pointedly did not reveal any more of the science involved with the project to his colleague than to the military.

Why did Starsky attempt to kill Banner in the gamma bomb test when his presumed mission was not yet completed? Clearly, he had reason to resent Banner for the treatment he had received, but wouldn’t have stealing Banner’s secrets for his government been revenge enough? Samson believes Starsky’s murderous feelings against Banner were a reaction-formation of his attraction to the scientist. His tolerance of abuse had been the masochistic, unconscious expression of the depth of his feeling, but in a pivotal moment he pushed the button to free himself from Banner, and perhaps the intensity of his own feelings, once and for all.

That isn’t, of course, how it turned out.