Monday, March 1, 2021

Colonel Gander's Mutant Recipe


This is a session report for two Land of Azurth 5e games: January 31st and last night. 

The party was still exploring the weird chicken factory complex in the deserts of Sang. Exploration had led them to discovery of both the birthing area of the mutant chicken folk, and a living mutant. Trying to find out something of the history of the place, they interrogated him, and he pointed them in the directions of the communication center. There they were able to play some sort of hologram off something like looked suspiciously like a super-VHS tape (it was, of course, not recognizable as such to the party). 

The hologram was of one Colonel John Harcourt Gander, foundered of Gander Foods. He revealed that his Civil War veteran grandfather, John Gander, had been whisked away by some magical doorway to Sang from a place called America. In Sang he had won the love of a princess and founded a kingdom. He also discovered that something made animals grow large in Sang, and exotic Sang spices tasted really good on chicken. These insights and a stable gate back to Earth allowed his descendants to create a poultry empire based on commerce between the worlds.

These revelations made the party more sympathetic to the mutant chicken who had otherwise been acting completely murderous and so were responded to in kind. 

Then, they discovered the master computer running the facility, who offered to store the factory to functioning if only the mutants were exterminated. The party was noncommittal but did follow the computer's directions to the surviving mutants. They found the chickens supervising a robot's attempt at surgery on one of their wounded fellows.

Dagmar healed the injured chicken, earning the party the chickens' attention for parley. The chicken were receptive to being given the factory as a homeland, but when the party suggested they might still grow nonmutant chickens for human consumption, things took a turn, and Dagmar the Cleric decided they might as well attack. Soon, the chicken's were slaughtered and the party had thrown their lot in with the computer.

They did let the chicken Dagmar had healed live, but left him to figure out exactly what to do with him later.

In exploration, Waylon opened a safe containing fuel pellets and apparently exposed himself to radiation, but he was sure his hardy frogling constitution would save him. The computer directed them to the only other surviving mutant who was in the control room of the station's atomic reactor.

The party went to get him too, but wound up tangling with a beef security bot in the mutant's control.  Once the robot was destroyed, they prepared to enter the reactor room.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Underground Freaks


Paul "Gridshock 20XX" Vermeren used to talk about running Operation Unfathomable as a superhero thing. I don't know exactly what he had in mind, but I think it would be most interesting to do something with weird powers bizarre deaths underground that combines superheroes with an old school D&D mentality.

Marvel published a comic in the 80s by Peter Gillis and Brent Anderson called Strikeforce: Morituri about a group of individuals given powers to fight an alien invasion. The catch is that they will die within a year as a side effect of the process that empowered them.

With something like my modern Operation: Unfathomable idea where a group of volunteers (or maybe a suicide squad of "volunteered" criminals) get exposed to chaos and mutated into something more than human in order to complete a mission in the Unfathomable. I'm sure there's some old school based superhero system that could provide powers. Perhaps just a random table of spell or monster trait inspired powers would do.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Omniverse: Fear Itself

This Omniversal speculation originally appeared on Google+ in January of 2018. 


Scarecrows will be a recurring motif, and the first of those is one of the Fear Lords, a group of mysterious gods or demons, who (as the Book of Vishanti states): “are not motivated by base cravings for human worship or for dominion over lowly creatures, but by the desire for greatest, purest fear-which is sustenance and life itself to them.” Until Dream was freed from his prison and reined in his subordinate, Nightmare had a place among them. So does that renegade protector of humankind known as the Straw Man or Scarecrow, the demon patron of the fear of the numinous.

When psychology professor Jonathan Crane first decided to strike a blow against the society he hated via extortion and murder, he relied on his scarecrow costume alone to create fear. He confronted Batman only twice during the 1940s. By the time he resurfaces in 1955, he is making use of a powerfully hallucinogenic fear chemical.

Crane didn’t have the scientific background to synthesize the chemical. Somehow, he must have acquired it from Hugo Strange, who had employed a much weaker version in the 40s. Crane’s experimentation may well have been responsible for the increased potency of the drug, however.

Almost a decade later, wax museum owner Zoltan Drago donned a frightful costume and begins a criminal career as Mr. Fear. He employs a fear gas not dissimilar in effects to Strange’s original compound. Drago’s story was that he intended to make a chemical to bring his wax statues to life as a criminal army, but accidentally made the fear gas instead. It seems clear that Drago was mentally ill, but whether he was a mentally ill genius or liar is unknown. It has been suggested that psychic contact with the Fear Lord known as the Dweller in Darkness influenced Drago’s costume design, so perhaps it also led to his madness? Such things have certainly happened before.


After Drago’s death, at least 3 other individuals took on the Mr. Fear identity and employed the fear gas. Ariel Tremmore, the daughter of the last one, injected herself with a formula made from the fear chemical residue extracted from a sample of her father’s skin. It turned her into a monster, or perhaps made a certain inner monstrousness manifest. In any case, she too gained the ability to cause fear.

But back to scarecrows, again. Ebenezer Laughton was the second costumed criminal to take up the name and costume of the Scarecrow. He was a former sideshow contortionist (perhaps the illegitimate son of the the original Flash’s foe, the Rag Doll). Like Crane, he originally relied on the costume and his natural abilities alone, initially, to commit his crimes. He went insane, or more insane, and became a serial killer. Even serial killers have their uses, it seems, as a shadowy organization had him surgically altered to be able to produce pheromones which caused a panic reaction in those exposed.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, January 1980 (part 2)

I'm continuing my read through of DC Comics output from January 1880 (cover date) to Crisis. This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around October 25,1979.

Action Comics #503: I struggle to see where Cary Bates was going with this story of a fake TV psychic using stolen technology, time travel, and a giant, upright vacuum cleaner from the future. Well, it isn't really a vacuum cleaner, but Curt Swan draws it to look one. This is no doubt the worst Superman story this month, and that is saying something. Interestingly, there is no Lois Lane here; Lana Lang is the snooping the tv reporter in this era with Kent on the nightly news.


Adventure Comics #467
: delivers the adventures of Plastic Man and Starman III (depending on who you count; it's Prince Gavyn). Neither story is particularly substantial, but the Plastic Man story written by Wein and charmingly cartoony art by Joe Staton and Robert Allen Smith. The Levitz Starman story is clunkier, but has Steve Ditko art.

Brave & the Bold #158: Conway's second team-up book this month has a one off, gimmick villain that the cover tries to sell as a big deal. The art by Aparo is good, and I like comradery Conway puts in Batman's and Wonder Woman's relationship. It wouldn't be done that way these days! By the standards of team-up books at the Big Two, this is a solid, if in no way noteworthy, issue.

Green Lantern #124: by O'Neil and Staton was one of my favorite titles of the month, though I can't say it lacks in a bit of goofiness. Sinestro attacks some aviation event for no reason, Green Arrow is mad at Green Lantern and they aren't talking about it. What works, though, is Jordan's journey to Korugar (Sinestro's homeworld) and the discovery that Sinestro's old man is a drug peddler, essentially, operating a Null Chamber that allows death by yellow ray, then resurrection, for the thrills. It's the kind of throwaway idea Morrison could do something with in his run. 

House of Mystery #276: Better than the two horror anthologies earlier in the month, it's still not great. It's got a Blue Beard retread by Wein and Ditko, a sword & sorcery yarn that isn't horror by Mannart and Nasser, and one decent "ghost story" by Joe Gill and Nestor Malgapo.


Legion of Super-Heroes #259
: Conway (again) and Staton (again) deliver a story whose primary purpose seems to be having Superboy leave the Legion so they can finally have the book to themselves, and Superboy can move to a solo this month. The villain has a weak reason for attacking them, and is perhaps offensive to the mentally ill by modern standards (he's called "psycho"-warrior through out, and the issue is cringingly titled "Psycho War") but Conway does seem to be groping toward saying something about trauma and survivor guilt.

New Adventures of Superboy #1: Bates and Schaffenberger deliver another one of those stories that will seem quaint in just a few years, but it may actually be the best non-team-up Superman story of the month, which doesn't say much. From a continuity standpoint, it shows Clark's 16th birthday, and suggests he debuted as Superboy as age 8. Eight year-old Superboy manages to trick some immortal aliens, so he's precocious.

Sgt. Rock #336: Kanigher and Frank Redondo (Nestor's brother) have the Joes from Easy meeting up with a brave, but doomed contingent of Canadian hockey players turned soldiers. In the second story, Kanigher and Estrada churn out a really generic war comic meditation on heroism. Standard DC war comics stuff, but unremarkable.

Superfriends #28: The forerunner of the animation style comics DC would do in the 90s following BTAS. This may not be as good as those, but its fun and has nice Ramona Fradon art to go with its Nelson Bridwell story.


The Unexpected #195
: This anthology has stories under the banner of other (now defunct) DC horror books: Doorway to Nightmare, The Witching Hour and House of Secrets. It's the best horror anthology of the month. Kashdan's and Jodloman's "Weave A Tangled Skein of Death" feels like it could have been a Warren feature. O'Neil's Craig's "Deadly Homecoming!" is gratifyingly nasty (within a Comics Code approved context) and mildly surprising.

Unknown Soldier #235: I don't know why, but this one was disappointing. The Unknown Soldier covers always looked cool to me as a kid, but this issue isn't great, other than the unintentionally on the nose plot point of having a Nazi war criminal hiding out as a drill instructor of a Southern military academy near a Civil War battlefield. The second story is a better than it ought to be allegory for the lasting effects of trauma.

Warlord #29: I talked about in detail here.

Scalphunter #63: Conway and Ayers have Brian Savage looking to rescue his friend Bat Lash, but falling into a trap at the hands of Confederates, with the cliffhanger of Bat Lash denouncing him as a murderer in court. It's got me interested enough that I want to see how part 2 plays out.

And that's DC Comics for a January 1980 cover date! Fourteen of the 29 publications are non-superhero, which is a contrast with Marvel this same month that has only 9 non-superhero (if Master of Kung-Fu isn't a superhero) publications out of 37. Marvel has no war or western titles and only Man-Thing to represent horror, whereas DC has 13.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Superhero Concepts


Superhero characters in rpgs that feel like characters from comics (and now probably film) can be tough for players, in my experience. Most supers rpgs try to make this easier by suggesting archetypes, but these archetypes are typically based on power types (blaster, elementalist) or role (brick). 

I think the best way to construct authentic feeling superhero characters (This is always assuming emulating comics in this fashion is the goal. If you want to just play people with powers, well that's cool. too.) is to construct them from parts of familiar characters. Here's a couple of examples:

The Atom: This character was part of a series where I imagined how Stan Lee and 60s Marvel staff would have revamped DC's Golden Age characters, like a Mighty Marvel version of DC's Silver Age. This Atom was a socially awkward, 98-lbs. weakling (Peter Parker like), who got transformed in an experiment into a green monster at first (like the Hulk) but later was able to contain his power is a special suit and control it (Captain Atom and Solar have had this aspect at times).

Damselfly: Is half of an alien cop duo who came to Earth chasing a criminal (like the Silver Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl/woman). She broke with her partner and has a power set more like the Wasp. She has an African American appearing civilian identity and is a empowered female character in the 70s mold (both aspects of Bronze Age social relevance.) 

So for both of these Power, Origin, Motivation/Background come from different places. Many of these traits could be genericized, to be sure: "accident" is the origin of Spider-Man, the Hulk, Captain Atom, and Solar, for instance. But I think pulling details and instances from actual characters provides a richer substrata perhaps than reductive llists.

But what if someone isn't a comics reader? Well, in 2020, more people have probably developed an interest in superheroes and superhero gaming through movies. I don't think this sort of "cannibalizing for parts" is limited to comics--or even necessarily superhero media.



Sunday, February 21, 2021

Weird Revisited: Alternate Prime Material Planes

The original version of this post appeared in 2015...

 

One of the complaints against the standard D&D Planes is that, while conceptually interesting perhaps, its hard to know what to do with them as adventuring sites. One solution would be to borrow a page from science fiction and comic books and replace them with a mutliverse of alternate worlds. These would be easy to use for adventuring purposes and could put an additional genre spin on the proceedings. Here are a few examples:

Anti-World: An alignment reversed version of the campaign setting. Perhaps humanoids are in ascendance and human and demihumans are marauding killers living underground.

Dark Sun World: In this world, the setting underwent a magical cataclysm in the past and is now a desert  beneath a dying sun.

Dinosauria: Mammalian humanoids are replaced by dinosaurian humanoids.

Lycanthropia: The world is cloaked in eternal night and lycanthrope has spread to most of the population.

Modern World: This version has a technology level equal to our own (or at least the 1970s) and the PCs have counterparts who play adventurers in some sort of game.

Spelljammer World: A crashed spacecraft led to a magictech revolution and space colonization.

Western World: Try a little sixguns and sorcery and replace standard setting trappings with something more like the Old West.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Six More Days to Get Gridschocked


Paul Vermeren's 80s-chromed post-apocalyptic, superhero setting Kickstarter has just 6 more days for you to jump in. While it hasn't funded yet, it's getting close. You can help it reach it's goal.

At the base level you get all 4 32 page zines in pdf for $19, which is a pretty good deal given what I've seen in Zinequest as a whole.

This setting is really a labor of love for Paul (some might say an obsession!), and having be privy to much of the design discussion over the years, I can say it is unique, while at the same time being completely accessible due to a lot of familiar tropes.

It's got great 80s invoking design by Paul's brother Chris and awesome art by Steven de Waele, too!