Monday, December 4, 2023

Under Compulsion in Phaelorn Gap


Our Gnydrion game using Grok?! continued last night. The party on hand:
  • Antor Hogus (Paul) - Vagabond with a stun gun and a dislike of authority, worse now than ever!
  • Nortin Tauss (Aaron) - An arcane dabbler just trying to get by.
  • Yzma Vekna (Andrea) - A grubby teamster watching things spiral out of control.
Having rashly summoned the law last adventure, the party must now deal the consequences. Var Nee the deputy is out of his depth and aware of it once he hears the story of the quaklu and the double Kreik Gelmots. He wisely goes to summon the Shreev while leaving the bleary-eyed innkeeper to watch them.

Shreev Molok is in no mood for the situation that confronts him. He rounds them all up and takes them back to the jail. The original (presumed) Gelmot, still stunned, is locked in a cell, while the others are invited to be guests until the matter can be sorted out. They protest this confinement and while they argued with the Shreev, two things happen. The first is that Gelmot wakes up and more or less confirms their story (while trying to present himself in the best light). The remaining mystery is what has become of the mirror. While they are contemplating this, the other happens, which is that the Fake Gelmot tries to leave.

Molok and Var Nee try to confine him, but his limbs do not appear to be made of mundane flesh. He twists free and scuttles out the door on four limbs. Molok pursues him, ballester in hand, while Var Nee continues to watch the others.

Var Nee shares some liquor with Hogus which serves to moderate the latter's ill-temper for a while. Molok returns and tells them that the other Gelmot dissolved after stumbling into a fumarole and being shot in the head by Molok's ballester.

He tells everyone that they will likely be released, however, they must tell their stories to his superior, Eminent Compulsor Briszm Wungar. Var Nee had already hinted that Wungar is a man much concerned with personal enrichment.

Not having any place else to go, the party takes Molok up on his offer to sleep in the jail, only to consider they might have made an error when the building is locked from the outside and they are trapped. The recriminations fly, then, both from and to Gelmot (who Hogus eventually stuns again) and between Tauss and Hogus. They consider breaking out in some way, but ultimately decide to play it cool and not become fugitives.

The next morning, Briszm Wungar arrives to speak with them, the small man riding some alien creature. He suggests the way to ensure their freedom from any legal suspicion is to locate the mirror and return it to him. Gelmot blames its absence on their also conspicuously absent friend, Jerfus Grek. The Compulsor releases them to find Grek and the mirror (though Gelmot must await their efforts in jail) but has their hands marked with a device that will allow telesthetic hounds to track them, should they choose to shirk this charge.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Oz and the Dying Earth

Driving over the Thanksgiving holiday my family listened to the audiobook of The Patchwork Girl of Oz, and I was struck by how similar Baum's Oz stories are and some of Vance's work, particularly the Dying Earth related material. Some of it, of course, would be resemblances shared with other works of fantasy, but I think there is much more homology of Baum with Vance than say Howard, Smith, or Martin.

I've mentioned before the list of the elements of Vance's Dying Earth stories as outlined in Pelgrane Press' Dying Earth rpg:

  • Odd Customs
  • Crafty Swindles
  • Heated Protests and Presumptuous Claims
  • Casual Cruelty
  • Weird Magic
  • Strange Vistas
  • Ruined Wonders
  • Exotic Food
  • Foppish Apparel

Some of those I think are present in Baum's Oz books, but there are others that have analogs. These are the ones that I think are most prominent:

Odd Customs. In the Dying Earth this relegated to cultural practices. In Oz, the people themselves may be odd not unlike the mythological peoples seem in Medieval or ancient travel tales. Still, the central aspect of using a culture taken to the absurd as an object of satire is present.

Weird Magic. This is all over the place in Oz, with many of the protagonists being products of it. The powder of life made by the Crooked Magician or the "Square Meal Tablets" certainly count.

Strange Vistas. Exploration is as important part of Oz as the Dying Earth. The weird underground world of the vegetable Mangaboos lit by glowing glass orbs in the sky would count, as would the the Land of Naught where the wooden gargoyles dwell.

Ruined Wonders. Oz doesn't have many ruins, but they do have Hidden Wonders, like the city of the China Dolls or the radium decorated city of the subterranean Horners.

Foppish Apparel. It isn't emphasized as much in the text, but it goes through in the illustration...

The other elements are less present in Oz, but Heated Protests/Presumptuous Claims has its analog in humorous exchanges and bickering. Oz isn't as cruel a place as the Dying earth--it shows up in children's stories after all--but it isn't without cruelty. It's a cruelty of the fairytale sort really where axes enchanted by witches might chop off a woodsman's limbs and an evil queen might desire a little girl's head enough to have it cut off.

There are other similarities not really accounted for here. Outlandish, unnatural monsters haunt the wilderness in both (and in both they are often capable of speech). Habitations are separated by wilderness and isolated cultures seem to exist along well-travelled roads. For the most part the societies of both settings seem fairly static (Oz a bit less so than the Dying Earth), in contrast to epic fantasies where world-changing events are part of the narrative. Overall, I think these could be summed up is that both settings seem perhaps descended from fairy stories, Oz more directly, and the Dying Earth through the fantasies of Smith, Cabell, and (maybe) Dunsany.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, February 1982 (week 4)

I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, we look at the comics hitting the newsstand on November 24, 1982.

Detective Comics #522: Conway and Colan/DeZuniga bring back the Earth-One Solomon Grundy (who I only learned about since I started this reading series). It seems a designer clothing shop is wrecked, and a number of furs are taken. The carnage makes it look personal, so Batman decides to investigate, it turns out its a gang that has teamed up with Grundy and have to deal with Grundy's childish whims and destructiveness. The leader of the gang is visited by a guy hidden by a trench coat, hat, and shadows named "Croc" who disapproves of the inclusion of Grundy and severs ties with the gang with a warning. But enough about him. I'm sure this Croc won't show up again.

Anyway, Robin visits his friend Waldo the Clown in a traveling circus passing through, while Batman tracks down the gang. Grundy gets the better of Batman in their first encounter with the Caped Crusader having to play dead to survive. Later, Batman tracks Grundy to the gang's warehouse hideout and he lures Grundy into a furnace where the monster is apparently burned up! Batman's "no killing" thing is apparently narrowly construed.

In the Green Arrow backup by Cavalieri and Novick, Star City is in the grips of a transit workers strike, which threatens to boil over into violence, but Arrow discovers that agent provocateurs are responsible, and the plot is being orchestrated by a group of wealthy elites that intends to throw Star City into chaos and then usurp power, and masterminded by their adviser, the Lord Machiavelli. GA confronts so Machiavelli calls upon his partner, the Executrix, to battle him with twin laser-torches! 

Weird War Tales #120: What I said last issue about Kanigher and Weird War Tales still holds, but this one has a bit of goofy sentimentality that gives it some charm. J.A.K.E.-II who is waiting for his pet robo-cat to be fixed, winds up on Dinosaur Island where a Queen Kong takes a fancy to him and J.A.K.E. seems to like her as well. It ends poorly of course but the gorilla gives her life so that J.A.K.E. and his friends can get away.

In the second story by Gwyon and Jodloman, a group of G.I.s finds a statute fashioned by the ancient druids. A dying soldier winds up with his spirit driving the statue to kill Germans. But on a bridge slaughtered German spirits take control. The statue keeps going back and forth between the sides until a bridge collapses and it's washed away by the river.

Action Comics #540: Wolfman and Kane seem to be getting close to their conclusion of the split Superman story. In the 14th Century, Syrene and Satanis (inhabiting the body of Superman) start continue their magical duel. Syrene gets the upper hand an imprisons Satanis in a ball of Earth. Frantic, Satanis begs Superman to ally with him so that both of them can survive.

In the 20th Century, Clark Kent seems to come back to life on the autopsy table. He sent home to rest. He realizes he needs to get to the past, but Satanis has every time-travelling method he knows of blocked. Clark Kent goes to the Daily Planet to ask for a vacation when he overhears Perry White and Lois arguing about her piece on Forgotten Heroes. Superman streaks towards Rip Hunter's Time Lab.

In the past, Syrene is poised to kill Satanis, but her foe bursts from the ball of earth--Superman has agreed to help him subdue Syrene. Satanis does plan to merely subdue her however, he plans to kill her, take her power, and then take over Superman's body completely. Suddenly, a Time Sphere appears and with it 20th Century Superman.

In the Aquaman backup by Rozakis and Saviuk we get to the end of the current story. Mera defeats Vlana in one-on-one combat, and Vlana, not wanting to admit defeat, commits suicide by electric eel. Having won back her throne, Mera again gives it up to go to Earth with her husband.

Arion Lord of Atlantis #4: Arion is in the hands of his enemy, Garn Danuuth, and the City of Atlantis has fallen to the invaders. Garn gets a chance to relate to the chained Arion their sort of joint origin. A hundred thousand years ago Arion and Garn were the apprentices of  Caculha and Majistra, respectively, two of the twelve great mages of the day, and mortal enemies. Caculha sensed a threat to the 12 crystals beneath the 12 cities whose magic kept the world in balance. He proposed increases the guard upon the crystals and onnly Majistra opposed him. Seeking power for herself, Majistra stole the crystals. Earthquakes shake the world. Ari'ahn sacrifices himself to wrest control of the crystals from Mjistra, and they are both killed. Caculha was exiled to the Darkworld, and Garn's skin was bleached white. To reward his fallen son, Caculha used magic to send Ahri'ahn's energy into the sun.

Cataclysm was averted for a while, but the battle caused a shift in the Earth's axis which would eventually cause an ice age. To save Atlantis again, Caculha used his new power to bring about a rebirth of his son, now called Arion. Although he had no memory of his past life, Arion became a great mage in Atlantis. Now with the fall of the city, it appears that Garn has finally won.

All-Star Squadron #18: Thomas and Gonzales/Hoberg introduce the Tarantula and spend most of the issue plugging continuity holes like why Tarantula and Sandman basically wear the same costume and what became of Dian Belmont. Then there's a fight with the Sadman foe Fairy Tale Fenton in the guise of Thor so it isn't all retcons. One thing I like about All-Star Squadron is how, thanks to it being a period piece, Thomas can be more concrete on dates. Here we learn, for instance, that Tarantula began his costumed career on June 22, 1941.

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #12: Shaw and Gordon introduce Little Cheese, a mouse with shrinking powers. Together they take on the criminal mastermind, Fatkat. The last panel also introduces the Just'A Lotta Animals.

The letter column of this issue publishes a piece of artwork from a fan named Arthur Adams, who seems like he might have some talent...

Jonah Hex #69: Fleisher and DeZuniga pick up where we left off last issue, with Jonah walking into an ambush. Kincaid's talking gives Hex a chance to notice White Claw, so when the shooting is over Kincaid is dead and White Claw is on the run. Hex tracks him and eventually winds up in the hands of ta Shoshone tribe who White Claw has convinced that Hex is tried to kill him for no reason. Hex tries to tell his side of the story, but given his experience with white men the chief, somewhat understandably, will not allow White Claw to be taken to the white men's courts. White Claw wants Hex killed, but the Chief gives Hex a chance to run the gauntlet. Hex survives, but barely, and makes it to the river where he is found then nursed back to health by Emmylou from several issues back. White Claw eventually shows up, but Jonah kills him, though not before he stabs Emmylou. Unusual for a supporting character and friend of Hex's, she doesn't die. At least not in this issue.

New Adventures of Superboy #38: This is a continuation of the switched Superboy and Superman story, or rather the Superboy era side of the tale. Superboy enters that rift in time when returning from the Soames Reform School and his annual Thanksgiving visit. The date is given as November 27th, which would suggest this is set in 1969. Anyway, Superman is now in his 16 year-old self's body and going to have dinner with his parents.

When he wakes up in the morning, it's again Thanksgiving Day. Forced to relive the events of the last day, he realizes he's trapped in some kind of time loop. He knows he can't escape by travelling into the future, so using some dodgy theory about time being a flat circle, he comes up with the idea of going back further into the past.

Luthor, who expects Superboy to be trapped in Thanksgiving prepares to commit a crime, but Superboy stops him. Lex doesn't understand how his latest device can have failed, and Superboy reveals how he did it, to gloat, I guess. Luthor isn't willing to give up just yet and pulls out a magnetic repellent device. Supes ain't in the mood. Knowing Lex will never change and just keep causing trouble over the next decade, Superboy/man starts beating Lex up, but he's stopped by Chief Parker who calms him down. Knowing it's futile to try to change the past, Superboy apologizes for losing his temper and flies away. He's still got to find a way back into his adult body.

In the Dial H backup by Bridwell/Rozakis and Bender/Adkins the Chris and Vicki dial up identities that interestingly come from the sketchbook of a guy they know to take on a new villain, Windrider.

World's Finest Comics #288: Superman is frantically trying to find Batman after he was snatched away by demons. In discussing an early issue in this storyline, I had praised Burkett's handling of the friendship of Superman and Batman, even if it was jarring to modern portrayals of the characters. Here thought Barr and Wolfman have Superman being a bit overwrought. More like what I would expect from him if Lois were in danger, if at all. He snaps at Flash and even tries to punch him in misplaced anger.

Meanwhile, Madame Zodiac and her master complete the ritual giving it control over Batman's body. The dark entity plans to take over the world using several and has clones of the Batman's body he plans to run through during his conquest.

Battling one of the dark entity's minions, Superman is transported to the place where the ritual occurred. Using (super-)hypnosis, Superman induces Batman into fight the evil inside him by making him recall the past tragedy that shaped him.

While Batman fights for control of his body, Superman gets help from Dr. Zodiac, who tells Superman about a barred door behind which there is someone can help them against the dark entity. Superman breaks down the door and they find the real Madame Zodiac inside. The dark entity used the Zodiac Idol to separate her into two parts. Her evil counterpart allied with the creature, and they imprisoned her other self. Once freed, the good Madame Zodiac confronts her evil self and a single person emerges. Unfortunately, it's evil Madame Zodiac who does battle with Dr. Zodiac. Both are swept aside by the dark being who has been defeated by Batman and cast back into the sphere that held it, where it commands all the Batman clones to fight Batman and Superman. The heroes destroy the clones and then they use the Zodiac Idol to destroy the dark entity's sphere and send it back to its own dimension.

A decent end to the storyline, I think, at least for the standards of the era where it was all about the journey not the destination.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Black Star and the Light of Xaryxis

As a break from our Land of Azurth 5e game, I decided a wanted to run a loose, more space opera adaptation of the Spelljammer adventure Light of Xaryxis. After considering the Star Raiders action flick of Outgunned and some other fairly light space opera games, I settled on Black Star from LakeSide Games. Mainly, I felt like trying something new, but it's even lighter than Outgunned, I think, and made for Space Opera.

The system uses a simple 2d6 roll to resolve tasks, though characters can spend Resolve (which also serves as Stress/Hit Points) to either reroll or move a failure to a partial success or a success to a greater success. It also has only player rolls and minion rules, both things I've enjoyed in Broken Compass/Outgunned.

It's only about $5 on drivethru, so worth checking out if that sort of system sounds interesting to you.

Anyway, we only did characters this session, but I'm looking forward to bringing a touch of Star Wars ripoff space opera in the vein of Battle Beyond the Stars and Micronauts to Light of Xaryxis.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Some Observations on Science Fiction Names

I think there is a lineage of science fiction name coining that whose progenitor is Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars stories but that passes through early to mid-20th Century pulpier sci-fi like the works of Edmond Hamilton and Jack Vance to the galaxy far, far away of the Star Wars Universe.

In his Mars stories Burroughs went for relatively short (mostly 1-2 syllable), two part, phonetically simple names. Though they don't mostly sound that way to modern ears, I suspect Burroughs was after what he thought of as an "Oriental" feel. They also wind up being very simple for English speaking readers to pronounce. Examples: Kantos Kan, Gan Had, Ras Thuvas, Sab Than, Sojat Yam.

Burroughs uses a not hugely different style in many of his Planetary Romances.

Edmond Hamilton was clearly influenced by Burroughs in a number of ways and the naming practices in several of his works are similar, though they are a bit more phoentically diverse and have more consonant blends. Here are some names from his Captain Future series:  Sus Urgal, Re Elam, Thuro Thuun, Rok Olor, Si Twih, Brai Balt

Typically, he doesn't always try to be so "exotic." Sometimes he seems to be trying to convey future developments of English names. This tact he shares with other writers of the 1940s-1960s, including the various creators of the members of the Legion of Super-Heroes in DC Comics: Irma Ardeen, Rok Krinn, Garth Ranzz, Tinya Wazzo.

Jack Vance tends to take this latter approach in some of his science fiction, too, though his names are more often multisyllabic and have a first-name last name pattern with each name sometimes made up of more than one element. Still, they have a similar vibe I think to the Hamilton and Legion names. These are from the first two Demon Princes novels:  Miro Hetzel, Conwit Clent, Lens Larque, Sion Trumble, Kokor Hekkus, Kirth Gersen.

Star Wars names aren't the product of one individual, though later writers have obviously tried to fit the standards of the original trilogy. There are more straight up English names in Star Wars and of course some pseudo-Japanese ones, but a number could easily have been characters in Captain Future stories, like these: Ric Ole, Sio Bibble, Pondo Baba, Plo Kloon, Nien Nunb, Mace Windu, Sy Snootles.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Occurrences in the Night in and Around Phaelorn Gap

Art by Marvano

Our Gnydrion game using Grok?! continued last night. The party on hand:
  • Antor Hogus (Paul) - Vagabond with a stun gun and now a chatty quaklu
  • Nortin Tauss (Aaron) - An arcane dabbler, skeptical of Hogus' decisions
  • Yzma Vekna (Andrea) - A grubby teamster trying to be the voice of reason
  • Jerfus Grek (Jason) - A vagabond, but fat where Hogus is lean, and possessed of a kaleidoscopic cloak
The quaklu, ungagged last session, related to Antor Hogus that it had seen a murder. Kreik Gelmot had dropped a body wrapped in a cloth into a pit outside of town, then he tried to dispose of quaklu who had witness the deed.

Jerfus Grek, resposing on the scrub nearby around a meager campfire of dried caloot dung,  overheard this entire story and strode up to see if there was some way he might profit. Around this time, the others arrived. Jerfus shared some honeyed, beetle-spiced dusted pastries to win them all over.

The group had the quaklu lead them (after it was placated with a pastry) across the plain to the whole where the body was dropped. It appeared to be an abandoned mineshaft or well. The ascertained their was indeed a body in the hole, but it was dead! Bafflingly, the individual in the pit named himself as Kreik Gelmot!

The group thought of various ways to allow him to climb out, but they were stymied by Gelmot's reported injuries. Using Jerfus' undergarment wrap and Yzma's collapsible pole, Yzma manages to get itno the whole and get Gelmot out.

He seems injured pretty bad, but while they are discussing what to do, he stands up and straightens his own broken limbs then walks off toward town. The party finds this highly unusual and suspects the first Gelmot is the genuine one (if there is a genuine one) and this one is some sort of doppelganger. Antor tries to stun him, but he shrugs it off and keeps going.

Yzma rushes ahead to town to warn the law, The Shreev is in bed but she finds his deputy, Varr Nee. He's skeptical of their claims of the Gelmot Double being unusual, so they get no help.

Yzma and Jerfus shadow Gelmot Double to the hotel, The Golden Idle. He enters a room where they find the other Gelmot. He tells them quite a tale: He took on a job from a mysterious individual he took to be a high official to deliver a tube-shaped container (unopened) to a Wol Zumderbast  at the Inn at Thono. Gelmot's curiosity got the better of him and he broke the wax seal of the tube and found a strange, flexible mirror inside. When he unrolled it to examine it, his reflection started to move out of sync with him, then stepped from the mirror!  He subdued the double and tried to dispose of it to hide his actions, but the talkative quaklu gave it all away. 

While he's telling his story, Jerfus slips the tube from Gelmot's bag, and when he gets a chanc,e hides it outside the hotel. The others arrive, and Gelmot begs them all to dispose of the doppelganger. They refuse and instead stun him and tie him up. Then, they summon the deputy, who demands an explanation for the strange scene.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

The Battle with the Loom

I'm a session behind with my reports on our 5e Land of Azurth campaign. We played last Sunday and on October 29th, and the second was a continuation of the first, the events separated only by a short rest. The party was seeking the artificial being, Loom, responsible for this place, the even madder copy of the failing mind of Mad Mirabilis Lum. They had managed to defeat every challenge Loom had thrown at him, but they still hadn't found the Warrior Princess of Sang they were trying to rescue.

They took on two robots with flamethrowers, then an enraged Ettin. After that, they progressed down into the excavation. Clearly Loom was having his forces dig out some ancient structure which none of them recognized. Looking for some evidence of what it might be, they came into a cave. They didn't have much time to look around, because there was a battle cry and the mind-controlled Princess Bellona came running at them with sword and pistol. They get lucky, evading her blows and their numbers allow them party to finally subdue her. They notice a shimmering cloud that leaves her and flies away into the dark extent of the cave.

The party followed it and came to the end of the excavation. There was the shimmering image of Loom. he sent forth more of those clouds to attack them (nanite swarms, though they didn't know what they were). Still, they persevered and the substance of Loom was so degraded, what was left of him had to flee. That worried them, but it was a problem for another day.

The returned with Bellona to the workshop of the Clockwork Princess who told them about a metal giant she planned to resurrect to attack the Wizard in the Sapphire City!