Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Season of the Witch

Agatha Harkness, elderly former governess to Franklin Richards, was alive (according to some sources) well before the sinking of the last remnant of Atlantis. She is one of the homo magi, a subspecies of humanity with a greater facility at the magical arts. A witch, in other words, and one of the oldest still living. Mundane humanity has not always been kind to members of homo magi, and the witches and wizards have long sought an escape from persecution. Some sought refuge in other dimensions; Harkness and others hoped the New World would be a place of safety.

She and her coven contrived to bring a witch homeland into being through their actions in Salem village in Massachusetts in the late 17th century. The project is depicted in the television series Salem, albeit in a sensationalized and one-sided fashion. Mistakes were made, to be sure, and many of those could be blamed on Harkness’ son, who would begin calling himself Nicholas Scratch in mockery of the Puritans’ fear of the Devil. The Harknesses and their cover were forced to move on.

They found refuge in an isolated valley in the Rocky Mountains and founded the town of New Salem where they could live in peace. Once the town was well established, Agatha chose to return to the outside world, perhaps to search for other homo magi, perhaps to keep a closer eye on wider humanity. During World War II, she may have joined our magical practitioners in helping the Allies. She likely had a hand in helping to establish the national Council of Witches and Miss Robichaux's Academy in New Orleans to secretly nurture more attenuated homo magi bloodlines. Certainly, she would have checked in on the Spellmans, her descendants through her daughter, Abigail.

In her absence, Nicholas Scratch eventually took power. He fathered several children by several wives: those becoming the magically mutated individuals known as the Salem Seven, and at least one illegitimate child among another hidden sect of witches named Klarion Bleak. Eventually, Scratch and his children and followers in New Salem sought to move against Harkness. With the aid of the Fantastic Four he was defeated and vanished to another dimension, though he would continue to plague the Fantastic Four and his mother.

The settlement of New Salem does not survive the end of the 21st century. Its inhabitants will choose to join other homo magi refugees on the distant world of Zerox.

Wednesday Comics: X-Men Grand Design

X-Men: Grand Design is a mini-series, planned to last 6 issues, that is intended to weave the over 40 years of X-men publication history into a single, epic narrative. This bold perhaps even foolhardy task is undertaken by Ed Piskor, alternative comic artist, who has already authored another sprawling epic, the Hip Hop Family Tree.

Piskor's version begins with Namor's flooding of New York in the 1940s (setting the stage for mutant hysteria) and moves through the formative years of both Magneto and Xavier, before getting to the formative years of the X-men--and that's just issue one. This is no summary like Marvel Saga, but something more like comic book adaptations of the Bible. It's pretty condensed, but it's a genuine narrative. Piskor makes up very little. Instead he emphasizes certain elements and streamlines or omits others in the name of giving these stories by numerous creators with different visions a throughline. The incarnation of a new Phoenix Force host is a big thing that obviously didn't appear quite some early in the original comics.

The style of the comic is a fusion of an alternative comics sensibility with the decidedly retro that works. There are no glorious splash pages to drool over, though. This is all about the story.

Issues 1 and 2 are currently available.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Cult of the Cobra

On May 25, 1953, one of a pair of twins was stolen from a New Delhi hospital by the shadowy Cobra Cult. Twenty-three years later, Jeffrey Burr ruled the cult as Kobra, and had transformed it into an international subversive organization.

In the next few years, his organization would see even greater expansion in Western hemisphere and pose a sufficiently serious threat to American interests that a special task force would be created to deal with them. The unlikely architect of this success was a recent convert to the cause: A former car salesman turned con man and anti-government agitator who would become known as Cobra Commander.

The key to the future Cobra Commander’s success seems to have lain in his ability credibly speak to the desires of angry political fringe of whatever persuasion. He could recruit from the United Freedom Front, Black Spectre, Posse Comitatus or the Sons of the Serpent, or keep things ideologically light and bring in disaffected members of strictly criminal groups. Cobra Commander’s only certain belief personally seems to have been in brokenness of the current system, and in the power of fascist symbols and pageantry. He tossed the snake-scale costumes and robes for a more imposing, paramilitary vision. Given the Commander’s success, Kobra allowed it.
It was quite a rise, but in the end too high and too quick. Kobra would not share the throne. In the mid-eighties, barely a decade into his meteoric rise, Cobra Commander was assassinated at Kobra’s command.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Silver Metal Lovers

There is no doubt that Henry Pym is a scientific genius, but advanced robotics and artificial intelligence is far afield from biochemistry and biophysics. The achievements in those areas credited to him (for contractual reasons) in Marvel Comics are actually the work of his friend, William Magnus.
Magnus was of old Dutch New York stock and his family knew the van Dynes socially (perhaps even dating Janet) before he became a student of Janet’s father, Vernon. Magnus surpassed his mentor at young age, had developed intelligent robots, the Metal Men, had an impressive list of patents and government contracts, and an advanced laboratory complex while Hank Pym was still falling into anthills.
There had been robots before, certainly, but Magnus was interested in his creations doing more than passing Turing’s test. He wanted emotive machines, something truly animate. Magnus was an esotericist as well as a man of science, and his theories on emotion were an odd mixture of alchemy and psychodynamics. He brought forth the traits than were already in the metal, he said. His nuclear-powered Philosopher’s Stones, the responsometers, were an attempt to model the mind or soul more than the brain. One of his Metal Men, Tina, made with platinum responses, fell hopelessly in love with him. For reasons conscious or unconscious, Magnus always told her this meant her responsometers were faulty.
For his second series of robots, he tried encoding the psyche of a human as a substrate. Ultron would be birthed from Hank Pym’s brow. This robot was self-evolving, and he transformed himself into an Oedipal monster who wished to kill Pym so it could have Janet van Dyne. Ultron’s reproduction has become almost viral. So many iterations have existed and become separate lines of evolution, he has proved impossible to eradicate.
When Ultron decided to build his own wife, he had Magnus aid him (perhaps with brainwashing, perhaps not). He wanted Janet van Dyne’s soul in a robot body. He named that new being “Jocasta.” His psychocircuits had surpassed any human concern with irony. Jocasta was as unlucky in love as any of her predecessors, dying at the hands of Ultron just when she found her feelings requited by Machine Man.

Unfathomable Variations

The digital version of Operation Unfathomable is now in the hands of Kickstarter backers, inching us closer to the time when anybody will be able to buy it. Having played OU in a game run by its creators, I can attest to it being a solid adventure, and one I could see using in more contexts than just old school D&D. Jason's vision seems to be informed by pulp fiction (when the boundaries of science fiction and fantasy where not so clearly delineated), B science fiction movies, and comic books. While some traditionally-minded epic fantasy campaigns might need to do some tweaking to content and tone, their are other genres where it would work with about the same amount of effort.

Here's what I've come up with with just a little bit of thought:

Post-apocalyptic: Put the Underworld beneath a Gamma World or Mutant Future. The monsters become weird mutants or alien incursions. The Chaos becomes literal radiation, or some reality warping residue of the biggest super-weapon the ancients had. Or the malfunctioning drive of an immense alien saucer. Whatever.

Call of Cthulhu or similar Pulp Horror: Tweak the tone a bit, and Jason's Underworld is every bit as much a lurid place of weird menace as K'n-Yan or red-litten Yoth. It already Great Old Ones and their cults lurking around, too, though it would be easiest enough to substitute known mythos horrors like Eihort or Tsathaggua. Turning lurid up to ultraviolet, I invite you to contemplate the potential parallels with the Shaver Mysteries.

Superhero: This will seem the most unlikely of these suggestions, and it certainly won't be for all campaigns, but I would point to the Silver Age strangeness of Cave Carson (recently rebutted for modern psychedelic strangeness) and even the Mole Man and the various subterranean cultures of the Marvel Universe. Obviously, the parameters of the mission might be different, and the previous force that cleared the path the PCs followed, might will be the campaigns next major villain. (Or the original X-men to your team's New X-Men, if you get my Giant-Sized X-Men #1 drift). You might also want to Kirby up the monsters a bit, too.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Boys of War

In 2007, the U.S. Veterans of Underage Military Service reported that most of their members had first served between the ages of 14 and 16, with twenty-nine active members entering service at 13. No report exists as to how many were in the so-called Young Allies, or as they were later and unofficially named, the Boy Commandos.

In 1941, after a few dedicated members of the Sentinels of Liberty (a patriotic youth organization and Captain America fan club) aided Bucky and Toro in defeating a group of would-be saboteurs in a Brooklyn shipyard, the United States government commissioned the formation of the “Young Allies,” a group of older youths that would help protect America’s shores against spies and saboteurs with there vigilance and prepare for military service should the need arise. A comic book was also commissioned that presented the boys in a more active role than they actually had (at least initially) and portrayed them as younger than they actually were for twofold propaganda purposes: to build support for war among young people and to ridicule the Axis powers by showing them defeated by children.

Not long after America’s entry into the war, members of the Young Allies were fighting overseas alongside Bucky and others, though their activities were directed more for publicity and propaganda purposes than military effectiveness. This “Boy Commando” unit (as it came to be called) was officially made up of boys of minimum legal military age. In fact, most were between 14 and 16, and conspicuously, all were orphans. This group allowed members from allied countries, including two from nations under German occupation.

Beyond the fictionalized incidents presented in comic books, a full accounting of the activities of these brave boy commandos has ever been given.

Weird Revisited: In the Belly of the Beast

This 2012 post on the hunting and uses of the leviathan didn't make it into Weird Adventures.

Leviathans are perhaps the largest and most mysterious denizens of the ocean depths. These gigantic creatures dwarf both whales and reptilian sea serpents. Their name in the gurgling language of the sea devils translates roughly as “monster-thing stronger than even the gods.” Despite their great size, the creatures are seldom seen, and carcasses are rarer still.

Some have suggested that the size of leviathans is impossible and therefore indicative of a magical nature. It has been theorized that the creatures' rarity is a by-product of the fact that they actually swim through the etheric substructure of reality, only passing through the physical world’s oceans incidentally.

The discovery of a leviathan carcass always instigates a mini-”gold rush.” The flesh and bone of the beast are of interest to alchemists (synthetic insulating blubber was an outgrowth of study of the leviathan) and thaumaturgists who use various leviathan parts for spell materials. Leviathan ambergris can be used to make perfumes and colognes easily infused with charm or suggestion properties. It’s also a psychoactive and can be smoked to produce a euphoric effect and intense sexual desire that in some individuals manifests a a mania lasting 10 x 1d4 minutes.

Less scientifically minded individuals hope to salvage treasure swallowed by the leviathan in its journeys. Whole ships laden with cargo are sometimes found (this is facilitated by the fact that internally leviathans are cavern-like, evidencing a strange paucity of organs). The loot-minded must be wary, however. Strange miasmas are sometimes produced inside a dead leviathan that can cause death or mutagenic effects on the unprotected.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Day It All (Didn't) Happen

We do not live in one of those universes where a teenage president was elected and set everything right, at least for a time. No youthful wave managed to get the Constitution amended so that eighteen year-olds could run for the highest office in the land. There was no teen President, but there was a Prez Rickard.

The young man from Steadfast who made the clocks run on time did spark a national movement. A protest, a bit of political theater, aimed at what he viewed as the corrupt system. Prez went through all the motions of running for president on a campaign of truth and love, just without officially being able to run.

He had been a legal candidate for a local office, hand picked by Boss Smiley who may have been a literal avatar of the political machine. At the very least, Boss Smiley represented it. Youth was the wave of the future, and he had the foresight to want to catch that wave for his own purposes.

Prez went around him and ran straight for the presidency. He named his mother his running mate (she had named him Prez, after all), and said he would appoint that shaman and amateur naturalist, Eagle Free as head of the FBI. He would not be shackled by the forces of Old and Evil.

They tried to stop him, of course. Years before they resorted to the madbomb to sweep the vestiges of democracy away, the Elite went after the Prez. Supergirl saved him from an assassin employing high technology and black magic. The Establishment meant business.

Everything came to a head in August of 1968. The Prez and his followers were in Chicago along with other youth activists. They held their own nominating convention where the Prez beat out Pigasus the Pig, who gave a gracious concession speech through his spokesman. Many historians cite the refusal of the Democratic Party to allow Prez to speak at the national convention as pivotal cause in the escalation of the protests and a factor in the violence that followed.

Big Heads

At the height of the Cold War, there was a strange arms race going on: the creation bio-computers via massive craniocererbal enlargement. The best evidence suggests that this unusual research began in China. Its first publicly known product was the Chinese agent and scientist codenamed in the West “Egg Fu” but in China (perhaps) known as Chang Tzu. Chang Tzu came to the attention of the U.S. government in the mid-60s when he was the leader of a military research installation on Oolong Island. The xenophobia of American comics in that era led to him being depicted as a ridiculous Yellow Peril caricature with a Charlie Chan speech pattern. The truth is that only the intervention of Wonder Woman stopped him from launching a deadly attack against the United States.

Wonder Woman later encountered a similar being who the comics called “Egg Fu V.” Another called “Dr. Yes” (Egg Fu’s twin brother, reportedly) tried to kidnap Dr. Magnus and his Metal Man. It seems likely these individuals represent a refinement of their process, but may have also been a further evolution of Chang Tzu.

Sometime during Chang Tzu’s tenure on Oolong Island, information about the process that created him appears to have gotten into the hands of the subversive group known as Advanced Idea Mechanics. It is possible that U.S. intelligence agencies provided this information to AIM either with or without their superiors’ knowledge, as AIM was at that point a branch or splinter group of HYDRA, who had heavily infiltrated the U.S. government. In the project dubbed “MODOC” (acronym for Mental Organism Designed Only for Computing), AIM experimented with the Chinese procedure and ultimately subjected a technician named George Tarleton to process.

Their hope was to create a computer capable of comprehending the Cosmic Cube, which they had recently created with recovered alien technology. Soon after the Tarleton-MODOC came online, he killed his creators and took control of the organization. He renamed himself MODOK (Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing). MODOK controlled AIM for years, but was ultimately ousted due to the organization’s dissatisfaction with its lack scientific progress as he pursued increasingly personal vendettas against various members of the superhero community.

Perhaps as a contingency against MODOK, AIM agents within the Soviet military worked to give the Soviet’s their own bio-computer. SODAM (Specialized Organism Designed for Aggressive Maneuvers) later MODAM (Mental Organism Designed for Aggressive Maneuvers) was the result. The female agent originally claimed to be Maria Trovaya, Henry Pym’s supposedly deceased first wife, but this may have been psychological warfare. Later, she was identified as Olinka Barankova. Her allegiances were always murky, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union, MODAM dropped any pretense of working for anyone other than AIM.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Further (or Furthur) Misadventures of a Battlin' Bowman

By 1964 and the age of 21, Clint Barton, the orphaned son of the original Green Arrow, had been a carnival performer, a criminal, and a superhero. Now he wasn’t feeling so super. What was a guy who was good with a bow and arrow compared to a thunder god or the living symbol of America? The drugs didn’t help. It was marijuana, mostly, but some Dexedrine, too (ironic that it was his older brother with the heroin habit who would use the name “Speedy” for a time). At the Peppermint Lounge, he met a go-go dancer and sometime model with similar hobbies. She called herself Athena Tremor and claimed to be the daughter of Wonder Woman. Given Barton’s experiences, that seemed vaguely plausible, thought he didn't much care.

Around the time of the World’s Fair, the two met Ken Kesey and Merry Pranksters out from California. In that group was Merryman, Myron Victor, who claimed to be the illegitimate son of the Patriot, but may actually have been the child of the 50s Captain America, William Burnside. In any case, Merryman was the leader of a Situationist superhero performance art troupe. Barton and Tremor joined in as "White Feather" and "Dumb Bunny," respectively, and the group began calling themselves the Inferior Five.

The two followed the Pranksters back to California. The Inferior Five were San Francisco’s unofficial and ineffectual protectors for a few years, but they were done before the Summer of Love.

Barton was on his own again. He looked up his old flame Natasha Romanov but found her living with another man—another superhero. He headed out into the Arizona desert with a young Native American named Eagle Free and a whole lot of mescaline to find the Miracle Mesa. Later, he would claim to have astrally projected to the Old West and met Two-Gun Kid and other famous gunslingers. Back to California.

Stoned out of his mind on a sail boat to Catalina Island, he fell overboard. Waking up the next morning on some small island, he ironically and unknowingly almost recapitulated one of the comics' fictional origins for his father. Using an improvised bow, he subdued a small group of fairly intoxicated drug smugglers who had otherwise refused to help him get off the island and threatened him with violence. He commandeered their boat (and a bit of their stash) and returned to the mainland, where he alerted the authorities to their location.

Then he got a haircut and called the lawyers for his father's estate. The island interlude and slapdash heroics was just what he needed to get him back in the game.

A new Green Arrow, sporting a van dyke and a new attitude would soon emerge.

Azurth-dex 2018

As I anticipate my Land of Azurth 5e game resuming next month, it seemed like a good time to do another index of Azurth posts. Entries new since the March 2017 indexing are noted.

I've left off posts just updating work on Azurth projects and post-adeventure right up posts.

An Azurth Creature Catalog (through 2015) and playable races from 2014.

Creatures/races/hazards since then:
Alchemical Dwarves
Arthropods from Nowhere
Bad Seeds
Cosmic Cat
Faeborn of Virid
Frogacuda (new)
Giants of Azurth
Goblinic Slime
Mighty, the (new)
New Azurthite Races (new)
The PCs in the 5e game (new)
Random Motley Pirate Captains (new)
Shooting Star Folk
Stork of Azurth (new)

Along (the Yellow) River
Big Fin (new)
Castle Machina
Deodand, Leprous
Geographic Highlights of Yanth Country
Islands in the Boundless Sea
Lardafa, the Beggar City
Mondegreen's Mixed Up Magics (new)
Motley Isles
Murk (new)
Night of Souls
Paper Town
Prismatic Hole (new)
Rabbit Folk Eggs (new)
The Stone Sages

Mad Mirabilis Lum
Mysteriarchs of Zed
People of Azurth (NPCs)
Velocipede Gangs
Unusual Denizens of Azurth
Wizards of Troglopolis
Witch-Queen of Noxia

And an overview.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Stray Bullets

Matt Liebowicz aka Matt Hawk was a Boston lawyer who, inspired by a dime novel character, took on the identity of a masked gunfighter for justice, the Two-Gun Kid. Matt Hawk was killed by the Two-Gun Kid on April 28, 1885 and the Kid died in July of that year. Except that they were one in the same man, and he did not died in 1885, but rather in 1887 in Wonderment, Wyoming, fighting alongside a number of colorful crimefighters of the Old West.

Unless he didn’t. In 1938, Dr. Thomas Holloway was tending a dying, elderly man who claimed to be the Two-Gun Kid. He seemed to know the future. He bequeathed Holloway a mask and a pair of six guns. Holloway would use these to become the vigilante called the Angel.

Two-Gun Kid visited the future at least twice, becoming an Avenger. Perhaps his timeline is as branched as Kangs? Here he went out in the blaze of gunfire, there he died in bed, there he visited his own grave, seventy years after his death.

Jonah Hex’s fate is more certain. Maybe. He was shot and killed by the coward George Barrow while playing cards in Cheyenne in 1904. Barrow opened fire with a shotgun while Hex fumbled with his glasses. His body was stolen by an unscrupulous wild west show promoter who had it stuffed and put on display.

Jonah Hex visited the future, too. Stolen from the year 1875 (or more likely 1878), he spent years in a nuclear war ravaged future. He also met the Justice League as a member of a group picked by the Lord of Time. Is it possible then, that the Jonah Hex whose stuff body was displayed in the Frontier City Amusement Park in Laramie, Wyoming, as late as 1987 (Hex had seen it himself in storage in the 2050s), was not Jonah Hex but an imposter? Hex knew the future needed a body, but did it need to be his body? Just who was George Barrow, really?

Wednesday Comics: Daredevil

Since about 1983, seems like everybody's Daredevil run has include angst, Catholicism, and probably ninjas and the Kingpin. There was a time before Frank Miller's seminal run where Daredevil wasn't like that. Where he smiled and fought guys like Stilt-Man. (Yes, Stilt-Man appeared in the Miller run, too. No need to tell me.)

Enter Mark Waid, who brings that more standard superhero sensibility back to Daredevil without jettisoning the character's history. The idea is that the reveal of Daredevil's secret identity (in a previous run) has not be completely refuted, leaving Matt Murdock too infamous to try cases in court. Instead, he coaches people no one else will represent to represent themselves, while solving the problem that makes it so hard for them to get a lawyer as Daredevil (because it always seems to involve super-villainy!).

In addition to restoring more of a early Bronze Age Daredevil, Waid also avoids the serious decompression that is too common in modern comics. Most of these cases take two issues. "B Plot" runs through the background, but it's along the lines of a network TV drama in terms of complication.

The art by Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin is great, too. They really try to find visual ways to represent his super-senses, which is not completely new to Daredevil, but appreciated.

Volume 1 contains issues 1-6. There's also an omnibus of the Waid run if you feel like going all in.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Whom Gods Destroy

Later she would claim to be named for a "cosmos-slithering dragon of interstellar legend" the hyper-Jormungandr of the time before the Old Gods died, but at first she called herself "Madame MacEvil." It had the ring of the menaces born in the fires of Apokolips: just ask Granny Goodness, Doctor Bedlam, or the Deep Six. Cosmic evil advertises and cares not if you think it banal. Madame McEvil, Moondragon, was not on the side of Apokolips, though. She mimed the madness of its minions as a sort of sympathetic magic, a way to bring down the dread Darkseid himself.

Or maybe she had just gone crazy. Being a mortal raised in a austere monastic tradition of the gods can do that. You cannot gaze upon the glory of Supertown and remain unchanged. Ask the boy who sampled the Forever Peoples' cosmic capsules.

Monday, January 22, 2018

"She Could Be You!"

That was the tagline on the later issues of the comic book based loosely on her adolescence and young adulthood that ran from when the actual Patsy Walker was barely in her teens until she was in her 30s. Her real life was far stranger than the fiction with time as a superhero, a second marriage to the literal son of the Devil (or a devil), mental illness, and then suicide (and then resurrection).

Viewed through the lens of the comics, Walker (who first appeared on the teen scene in the 40s) was a twenty-something when she and her best friend were at the front of the crowd to see Reed Richards and Susan Storm emerge as a married couple. In reality, she was in her early thirties, married, and dealing with an abusive husband. Buzz changed in Vietnam the comics said, but Vietnam was yet to come. Buzz's first war was Korea, and the truth is he didn't change much.

Buzz Baxter was mostly a nonentity in the Patsy Walker comics, but never one to let is girlfriend get the limelight ahead of him, Buzz had inked a deal for a comic based on him, too. Buzzy was even less truthful and only lasted half as long.

A chance meeting with the Beast would turn the abused housewife into a superhero, divorce Buzz Baxter, and expose corruption within the military contractor Brand Corporation. The early sixties were a different time.

Weird Revisted: Release the Hounds

This post from 2011 was one of a series on planar related stuff for the Weird Adventures setting. None of it saw publication other than on the blog..

Chronos hounds, or temporal hounds, are extradimensional beings who sometimes hunt the Prime Material Plane. Some ancient tomes hold that these creatures are benevolent, and defend causality and stability against horrors form outside spacetime. Observed behavior of chronos hounds is ambiguous at best, and those who may encounter them are urged to caution.

From a distance, a chronos hound has the silhouette of a large, lean dog. A closer look reveals that the body of the creature is actual more like a human's, perhaps specifically an androgynous youth's, twist and stretched to conform to a canine’s basic arrangement. It's front paws, for example, are slender, human-like hands. The heads of the hound is always blurred and indistinct, as if in constant motion, but there is the suggestion of toothy, canine jaws, and glowing eyes. Hounds appear to be able to speak by telepathy, but also make a garbled sound like the cough and growls of a pack of dogs, as if heard at the other end of long and empty hallway. Their skin is hairless, and the faintly luminescent blue-white of moonlight.

Only in the past decade, has metaphysics developed the proper theoretical framework to understand the chronos hounds--and even now those theories remain controversial. The most brilliant minds in the City hold the hounds to be a wave function which only observation causes to collapse into the form of the creatures described above. Thaumaturgic investigation suggests they serve an eikone called Father Time, or are perhaps extensions of his will. They act to prune "streams" of time and possibility--making reality from probability--toward some inscrutable purpose.

# Enc.: 1d6 (1d6)
Movement: 120’ (40’)
Armor Class: 4
Hit Dice: 4
Attacks: 1 (bite),
Damage: 1d6
Save: F4
Chronos hounds are only visible if they choose to be, prior to acting. Only some rare circumstance keeps a first attack from being by surprise. Their actions in this plane have a stuttering appearance, as if they are teleporting short distances rather than moving normally. Chronos hounds reduced to 0 hit points disappear entirely. Chronos hounds are able to pass through (or around) any physical barrier--or indeed temporal barrier. A combat with them may begin one day, only to have them break off the attack, and re-appear months or even years later.  A first encounter with a chronos hound, maybe not be the true first encounter, from the perspective of the creature's timeline. Whatever subjective amount of time appears to pass in combat with them, 1d100 minutes have based for the world external to the combatants.

The greatest enemies of the chronos hounds are the achronal hyperbeasts, which they will fight to the death when they encounter them. Thankfully, these higher order dimensional monstrosities are seldom encountered on this plane.

Friday, January 19, 2018

When The (Star) Man Comes Around

Doomed planet. Desperate scientists. Last hope. Kindly couple.
Except that the planet of Daxam (or Dakkam in some dialects) wasn’t doomed, and the desperate scientist was wrong. He and his wife launched his last hope anyway, their son, just before government agents killed then. The tiny ship would carry this lost son of Daxam to earth where it crashed in the everglades. No kindly couple rescued the child, but he was safe there in the ship’s technological womb as he grew to physical adulthood over the next almost 20 years. When he emerged, he still had the mind of a child.

An encounter with the Man-Thing sent this strange visitor from another planet fleeing from the swamp. As fate would have it, he first encountered Superboy, Kal Kent, son of the original Superman. The alien clearly had abilities at a near Kryptonian level (in fact, the Daxamites maybe an offshoot of the Kryptonians), and Superboy assumed the newcomer was a refugee from that world. Remembering stories of his father’s encounter with the amnestic Halk Kar, Superboy called the alien “Mon-El” as his father had the last near-Kryptonian arrival.

Superboy lost track of “Mon-El” who eventually ended up in New York, just in time to encounter Ben Grimm leaving a showing of Five Fingers of Death. Grimm saved him from an attempted assassination by Daxamite agents. Ultimately, Grimm got the alien to Reed Richards who determined that Mon-El was sound of mind (though it was undeveloped) and that exposure to cosmic rays had altered his physiology in unforeseen ways, making him an energy dampener. He also noted lead levels building up within the alien’s system.

At Project PEGASUS (a military/industry partnership with the involvement of STAR Labs) for further testing, Mon-El encountered the Cosmic Cube, which sent him into a coma. When he emerged, he was no longer child-like. He was aware of who he was and his true name, Lar Gand. What’s more, he was spiritually transformed. He took the name Aquarian. He set out to wander the earth, bringing peace and enlightenment to the world. He gained something of a following, and more than one “spiritual program” arose in his name.

His ministry was cut short when lead poisoning began to kill him. Rather than some other form of suspended animation, he voluntarily chose exile in the Phantom Zone, hoping to bring some measure of peace to the criminals imprisoned there. He is said to have emerged again, after a millennium, a changed man, ready to embark on a new stage of his existence.

A Supers Campaign Idea from the Vaults

Re-organizing some old gaming stuff (i.e. moving from one closet to another). I came across a campaign intro document for a Mutants & Masterminds game I ran maybe 10 years ago. The idea was a universe where characters from virtually every comic book publisher existed in the same world and there was no "sliding timescale," so characters than first appeared in the 60s for example were in that era.

I don't have it in digital form anymore, but here's a scan of it:

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Bootstrap Paradox

More than once, accounts blithely relate that someone or another built a time machine, yet we seldom are shown or given details about the construction,,and this achievement is notably beyond the greatest geniuses like Reed Richards, Lex Luthor, or Tony Stark. Rip Hunter is in possession of two time ships which he keeps in working order, but we have never been privy to their design or development. Victor von Doom claims to have invented one, but we only ever see the finished product, and the exchange depicted above with Rama-Tut suggests some doubt about its origins. Rumors swirl that Doom made a deal with the Devil, or a devil at least, for the secrets of time travel, but where did Mephsito get them?

Was it the nameless (or more accurately, variously but unofficially identified) Traveler whose account H.G. Wells edited? Or perhaps from it was an outgrowth of the Philadelphia experiment that transport the USS Eldridge through time and space in 1943. Nathaniel Richards (another man later said to have invented a time machine) seems to have been involved in the planning stages of that experiment. If so, he would have been aware—and possible even provided oversight—to the secret project that followed to develop saucer-like time travel craft, based in the Rockies and led by Eldridge survivor Reno Franklin. Franklin’s team definitely developed time craft of a sort, so are they the original source? Or is all time travel technology a causal loop and an example of the bootstrap paradox?

Operation Unfathomable Players Guide

One of the stretch goals in the Operation Unfathomable kickstarter was the Players Guide. Like all the other, Operation Unfathomable material it's nearing completion. It's one I've been involved with in some small ways, and I got a look at the rough layout of yesterday.

The guide will include:

  • A compilation of the Operation Unfathomable one page comic strips that were created as promotional material
  • New Races: Underworld Otter and Wooly Neanderthal
  • New Classes: Citizen Lich and Underworld Ranger
  • New Spells & Equipment

Alligator People

The script writers must have had a source pretty close to the events, because the 1959 film gets a lot of details right, though the names and locations are changed. There were experimental treatments for limb regrowth being used on a veterans in a secluded clinic in the swamps, and it all ended in tragedy.

Not enough of a tragedy that after a little more work on his formula, Curtis Connors didn't try again, this time on himself. The results, unfortunately, were similar. He got his arm back, and much more than he wanted

What the movie doesn't say, what the filmmakers possibly didn't know, was the amnesiac nurse was pregnant. She wasn't driven into a fugue state by the transformation and death of her lover, but by the birth of a son that carried similar disfigurements, similar reptilian DNA.

The child was named Waylon Jones but as a criminal and assassin he was known as Killer Croc. The doctor's told the aunt that raised him he had a peculiar skin condition. No one ever side just how peculiar.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Trail to Gorilla City

It’s been nearly two decades since Gorilla City petitioned for and was granted United Nations membership, but still the colony of super-intelligent apes remains mysterious.

Some accounts suggest that the city’s inhabitants are actually aliens, inadvertently brought to Earth by the actions of Green Lantern Hal Jordan from a world where apes evolved from man. Either Pierre Boulle’s novel carries some degree of truth, or this is a telepathic fiction created by Grodd or another of the apes for some purpose. Other accounts suggest they are terrestrial hominids, evolved by the actions of an alien visitor. It is possible (and some of the depictions of their physical characteristics support this) that they are not actually gorillas at all, but rather evolved Mangani, their ancestors cousins of the tribe that raised Tarzan.

More intriguingly, there seems to be (or have been) more than one gorilla city. In 1931, Tarzan discovered a replica of London, peopled by gorillas uplifted by a mad geneticist who called himself and was thought of by the apes as “God.” “God's” notes on hybridizing gorilla and human DNA were sought (and possibly found) by both Robert Yerkes and Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov (and possibly Ivanov’s protégé Ivan Kragov, the Red Ghost).

Perhaps twenty years later, Congo Bill discovered a more primitive city of intelligent gorillas who claimed to be from a world with two moons. Bill took this description to mean Mars (an idea perhaps supported by the existence of an alternate earth where Martian apes ruled and were opposed by Jonathan Raven, Ape-Slayer), though perhaps it was Calor. The link between the current Gorilla City and these others is unclear; they may represent periods in the evolution of ape society or purposeful obfuscation of the gorillas’ true nature and history.

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Slayer of Eriban (part 6)

My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues with his adventures in the world of Pandarve. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Slayer of Eriban (1985) 
(Dutch: De Doder van Eriban) (part 6)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

Storm and Nomad race toward the royal box with the guardsmen on their heels. They effectively take the ruler hostage to get his attention. They are surprised to find young Tilio there--and even more surprised and he reveals himself to actually be Renter!

Storm tells Renter they've got him beat. One false move and they'll kill the ruler, depriving the young assassin of the ability to complete his graduation assignment. Renter, however, reveals a surprise:

Ember has been drugged and put into the Barsaman game!

Storm snatched two shields from the guards and improbably uses them as improvised "snowshoes" to cross the molten floor of the arena. He gets there just in time to catch Ember. His shoes begin to sink quicker with more weight, so Nomad is forced to relinquish the captive royal to help Storm out.

Renter takes over threatening the ruler to keep the guards at bay. One of teh guests in the bos has a surprise of his own. He removes his mask, revealing himself to be Renter's teacher. He delivers another revelation:

The royal family realizes this is the son stolen from them. Renter is in utter disbelief, but ultimately he can't bring himself to kill his father. His teacher reports Renter has failed his graduation exercise. As a horrified Renter is embraced by his mother, the teacher leaves. Storm, Nomad, and Ember make their escape, aided by both the turmoil in the royal box and the turmoil in the stadium caused by the escaped prisoners. The Barsaman games are suspended indefinitely.

They make it back to the ship. To their surprise, Renter is there waiting. He tells them he sent Tilio away with some money. Renter trained all his young life to be an assassin. He doesn't know what to do with himself now. He asks our heroes to place him in the regeneration capsule and set him adrift, where he can dream, maybe to the end of time.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Weird Revisited: Take the Subway to the Wizard's Sanctum

This post first appeared in January of 2012. It's still true today... 

You may have heard this one: A homeless newsboy in a nameless city follows a mysterious stranger into a subway station. 

The stranger leads the boy aboard "a strange subway car, with headlights gleaming like a dragon's eyes," and decorated inside and out with weird, perhaps mystic, symbols.  The car "hurtles through the pitch-black tunnel at tremedous speed."  Their destination:

And beyond, a cavernous hall decorated with grotesque statues of the iconic failings of man.  At the end of the hall, a hierophant sits immobile on a throne, a square block of granite hanging precariously over his head by a slowly unraveling thread.

The wizard is, of course, Shazam and the Boy is Billy Batson.  Billy is about to be given the power of six mythological figures. At that point this story becomes a superhero origin, but at all times it's a fantasy story, too.  Grant Morrison (in Supergods) sums it up like this:

"the train carries Billy into a deep, dark tunnel that leads from this world to an elevated magical plane where words are superspells that change the nature of reality."

My point is bringing up Whiz Comics #2, is that I think fantasy in an urban setting ought to have a bit more of this and a bit fewer succubus streetwalkers, werewolf bikers, or angels in white Armani suits.  Not that there's anything wrong with those things--but they've gotten commonplace.  Perfunctory.

There's no reason why fantasy in a modernish setting can't be infused with weird or wonder.  We've got plenty of examples: Popeye's pet jeep, the Goon's antagonists, or in a less whimiscal vein, VanderMeer's city of Ambergris suffering under occupation by fungoid invaders. I can't be the only one that wants fantasy in the modern world to be something other than 90's World of Darkness retreads.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

What If?

This is an idea I had this morning, so I haven't thought out all the angles of how to operationalize it best. Comic books have traditional had stories where things they didn't want to institute in the primary continuity occurred: DC called them imaginary stories; Marvel placed them in the pages of What If?

I've usually run superhero rpg campaigns just like most rpgs. The past is immutable and a bad outcome for the PCs is a bad outcome. What if one borrowed a from What If? You could give the PCs a "retcon" session, beginning perhaps at the point of one pivotal change in events. After the retcon session, the group could decide which continuity the campaign would continue in. The other wouldn't necessarily cease to exist, but could be the sort of visitors from alternate timelines to interact with the PCs later.

Saturday, January 13, 2018


The first Kryptonian arrived on earth as infant, crashing not into a corn field in Kansas around the time of the first World War, but in a cottonfield in the American South prior to the Civil War. The last son of Vathlo Island was taken in and raised by slaves.

The boy would grow up to be known as Augustus Freeman, once the war was over and that surname meant something. He would never be as public as his fellow Kryptonian, Superman. Like Hugo Danner (whose abilities might stem from his father's isolation of genetic material from a sample of Freeman's blood), Freeman would struggle to find his place in the world , where his powers, great as they were put still woefully limited, might have some purpose.

It may be that he woke up amnesiac in a hospital in 1931 and was given the name "John Hancock." He may have spent the next few decades wondering from place to place and trying to out-drink his superhuman constitution.

Some accounts relate that he eventually recalled who he was, or at the very least was given a reason to return to heroic action, a chance to become the icon he was destine to be.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Weird Revisited: Real Dungeon Hazards: Snotties & Slime

This post first appeared just about 8 years ago. It's as pertinent to dungeon crawls as ever.

Ooozes and slimes aren’t just the the subject of Gygaxian dungeoneering fancy. Interestingly, it appears they have some basis in subterranean fact. Ready for an introduction to the world of snotties, red goo, and green slime?

"Snotties" look like small stalactites, but have the texture of mucus and drip battery acid. They’re actually colonies extremophile archaebacteria that thrive in intense levels of atmospheric hydrogen sulfide produced by volcanism. They’ve only been found in a few places including Cueva de Villa Luz, southern Mexico, and Sulphur Cave in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Other unusual things have been uncovered in Cueva de Villa Luz by the self-styled SLIME (Subsurface Life In Mineral Environments) team. “Red goo” is an acidic (pH 3.9-2.5) breakdown product of clay, which also makes a home for bacteria. “Green slime” which may be decaying algal elements.

Sulphur Cave also sports the red worms which live off sulfur--the only such higher organism ever discovered residing on land.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Wednesday Comics: FF

Between having a plumber doing repairs to 9pm and taking care of the baby, the next installment of Storm didn't get written. Next week!

Today, here's a quick recommendation. I picked up FF (2012 series) by Matt Fraction and Mike Allred after seeing a panel from it on a blog with an intriguing explanation of Pym particles. It's just 16 issues and probably best read in tandem with Fraction's contemporaneous run on Fantastic Four. (I didn't read it that way, but I've heard that play off each other.) It deals with Ant-Man, She-Hulk, Medusa, and popstar Darla Deering agreeing to fill in for the usual FF at the Future Foundation, which is essentially a school for gifted youngsters (including familiar faces Alex Power, Artie, Leech and some new ones). They are only supposed to fill in for 4 minutes while the regular FF goes somewhere  off-world and does something, but plans, of course, go awry. The series has a fair amount of humor and a (mostly) light approach, but there is real danger and character stuff.

It's out in two trades.

Monday, January 8, 2018

It Was Never Pure

Art by Kyle MacArthur

D&D has always been a bit "gonzo." The internet era has pulled out all the stops for gonzo, so things are a bit more heightened, it's true, but if you believe Jeff Reints that "You play Conan, I play Gandalf. We team up to fight Dracula," is an apt description, then don't let the dry, wargamer prose and armchair Medievalism fool you, it's sorta gonzo.

Now, as a guy with a strong appreciation for pulp literature, I like my D&D (most of the time) heavily flavored with the likes of Howard, Smith, Leiber, and Vance. Of course, Saturday Morning cartoons, Bronze Age comics, and 80s barbarian films are in there, too, to one degree or another.

There are people only slightly younger than me for whom computer games and anime are a much bigger deal. There are even those unfortunates who could never get into Leiber or Vance, but read the hell out of some Drizzt novels. There are those for whom Harry Potter was their gateway drug and who think Tolkien is best appreciated as interpreted by Jackson at high frame rate.

My point is, whatever parts you use, D&D is always a Frankenstein bastard of lowbrow things that don't make sense together if you think about them too much. A lot of digital ink has been spilt analyzing the influence of Appendix N and the like, and that's fine, but D&D as written had Hammer horror vampire hunters, Vancian spellcasters, and kung fu film monks. It's a broad enough territory for a lot of structures to be comfortably built on it, and that's a good thing for its continued life.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Olshevsky's Marvel Time

To allow their characters to stay evergreen, both Marvel and DC have established "sliding timelines" so that the present is always today, and modern Heroic Ages of their respective universes are only 10 or 15 (or some less specified number) of years old.

As I've mentioned before, this was not always the case. George Olshevsky's Marvel indices argue that in the early years, Marvel seemed to preceded in real time. Will most are unfazed by this, at least this guy thinks it ruined the Marvel Universe. While I wouldn't go that far, I do think there are certainly tradeoffs. The eternal present comes at the sacrifice of allowing characters to truly grow and inevitably means big changes are impermanent.

Anyway, here are the "Marvel Years" as outlined by Olshevsky. He measures them by years in Peter Parker's life. The actual calendar years are my addition and relate the most likely real-world translation (if your were inclined to do that) based on the time of publication.

YEAR ONE [1960-1961] (PP-HS-SophY):
June*- FF spaceflight.
Sept. - Peter Parker is a junior in high school.
Winter – the FF #1.
(Hank Pym in the Ant-Hill) (The Hulk)
Spring (March-April) – Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man [Aug 62]
intro Thor
debut Ant-Man

YEAR TWO [1961-1962] (PP HS-JunY)
debut Wasp
Intro. Dr. Strange

YEAR THREE [1962-1963](PP HS-SenY):
Sept. – PP is a senior in high school.
Sept. – The Avengers form.
Oct. – The X-Men go public. [Sep 63]
November – Ant-Man becomes Giant Man.
mid-Dec. – The Black Widow first appears.
March – Iron Man fights Hawkeye and Black Widow.
May – Reed and Sue engaged. Johnny and Ben almost meet the Beatles.
June – Hawkeye joins Avengers. PP and JS graduate High School. Quicksilver and SW join the Avengers. Reed and Sue marry. Nick Fury named director of SHIELD.
July – Galactus arrives. Sentinels. Quentin Quire is born.

YEAR FOUR [1963-1964] (PP-CY-1):
Peter Parker’s freshman year of college.
Winter- Captain Mar-Vell arrives.
Feb. - Bobby Drake (Iceman) turns 18.
Late May-early June – 1: Lorna Dane
Summer. Franklin Richards born.

YEAR FIVE [1964-1965] (PP CY-2):
September. The Vision is created. Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne are married.
Late Sept-early Oct – 1: Sunfire
June-July: Hank McCoy goes to work for Brand Corp

YEAR SIX [1965-1966] (PP CY-3):
October – Beast gets furry.
May – GXM#1. The New X-Men

YEAR SIX [1966-1967] (PP CY-4):
Sept – Thunderbird dies.
Jan – Jean Grey replaced by Phoenix.

If Jean Grey was 24 when she is presumed to have died (based on the dates on her tombstone), and she is the same age as Peter Parker, then she must have died around 1968-69.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Get Ready for Operation Unfathomable!

Operation Unfathomable is drawing near! With text and art by Jason Sholtis and layout by Jez Gordon you will want to get in on this when it's available.

It's in the layout proofing stage now, but it shouldn't be too much longer. Here are two sample pages to whet your appetite:

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Mondegreen's Mixed Up Magic

In the Land of Azurth, the wizard Mondegreen is infamous among magical practitioners, not because he was powerful (though he was) nor for his output of arcane scrolls (though it was prodigious) but because of his habit of misprinting magical sigils and formulae. He seems to have suffered some sort of malady in this regard, perhaps a curse.

A Mondegreen scroll will not contain the traditional version of the spell it appears to catalog at cursory examination. The subtle errors will either effect some aspect of the spell (50% of the time giving:

1 Advantage to the spell save
2 An increased duration
3 Increased damage (if applicable)
4 Decreased damage (if applicable)
5 A decreased duration
6 Disadvantage to the spell save

The other 50% of the time, it will not work as it should, but rather produce a magical effect from a roll on the Wild Magic Table.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Slayer of Eriban (part 5)

My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues with his adventures in the world of Pandarve. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Slayer of Eriban (1985) 
(Dutch: De Doder van Eriban) (part 5)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

When Renter and Ember return to the ship, they find Nomad seemingly under assault by a gang. Renter jumps in to help, but Nomad bashes him over the head from behind, knocking him out cold.

It was a ruse. Storm hadn't returned to the ship yet, so Nomad paid the dock ruffians to help him stage a distraction so he could waylay Renter. Wanting to confine the young assassin, Ember and Nomad put him the one place they are sure he can't escape: the regeneration capsule.

Leaving Ember with the ship and Renter, Nomad goes out looking for Storm. He ends up finding him:

Nomad and Storm blame to escape. The prisoner the next cage over tells them the only way out is straight to the barsaman arena.

Meawhile, the boy Tilio happens by the ship. He tells Ember about his success as a chess entrepreneur. He asks Ember to marry him, but she demures. She asks him to watch the ship while she goes looking for her friends.

In the city, she discovers that Storm and Nomad have been taken prisoners as would be assassins. She returns to the ship to find weapons or maybe money to bribe the guards. Instead, she's attacked by Renter. Curious about the contents of the sarcophagus, Trilio released him. Renter chokes her to unconsciousness.

In two weeks, the fanfare sounds, announcing the Holy Barsaman game. The spectators file into the arena past the contestants. Some of the crowd carry miniature chess sets.

In the dungeons, on the eve of their execution, Nomad and Storm waylay a guard, steal the keys and make their escape. Storm still wants to warn the king of the assassination attempt--and enlist his help against Renter. The two steal guard uniforms and with a captured guard as an unwilling guide, they head to the royal box at the arena.

Within the arena, the game has begun:


Monday, January 1, 2018

Weird Revisited: New Year's Day

And here's part 2 of a Weird Adventures New Year's yarn from 2012...

Then the weird codger just smiles under his beard and says:

“Take it easy, fella. It’s just a yarn.”

And that’s when you realize you were holding your breath. As you let it out slow, it occurs to you that there’s a murmur of “happy new years” around and somewhere the pop of a champagne cork, and there’s a dame standing close with a creased brow and disappointed pout because you didn’t kiss her at the appointed moment. The moment you just missed ‘cause you were listening to some old man’s story about the end of the world.

You take a glass of champagne from a passing waiter. The strange spell seems to be fading with the old year, but you still have to ask: “So what happened. How’d the world get saved, anyway?”

The old man strokes his beard. “It just so happens that Father Time prepares for this eventuality. He knows that the agents of entropy will try to take advantage of the changing of the year, to try and force a premature end to time. He has a plan...”

The new year is born at the center of a maze--almost a giant puzzle box, really-- outside of time and the material plane. Here the new born year can’t be strangled in its crib before temporal custodianship changes hands. All sorts of nefarious forces send their champions to seize it or kill it, true, but Father Time has his champions, as well. He can choose anyone, but it’s often adventurers that make his list. His temporal champions must brave the challenges of the achronal labyrinth and present Father Time's hourglass sigil to the multidimensional titan that guards the neonate year.

Finishing your second glass of champagne, you say, “Guess the good guys won again, huh? I’d be glad to meet one of those guys that saved the world. I’d by ‘em a drink.”

The old man shrugs and puts on his hat like he’s going to leave. “Well, the thing about that is, none of those brave souls ever remember what they did. The maze is outside of time. Everything that happens there occurs in less than an instant and outside of causality as we know it here. No, I’m afraid none of them has any idea what they accomplished.”

With that he turns to walk for the door. He’s only gone a couple of steps when he stops and half-turns. “Unless, of course, someone tells them.” And then he winks.

“Happy New Year, friend.”