Thursday, March 4, 2021

Twilight: XXXX

With Twilight: 2000 on it's way back in a new edition, it seemed like a good time to think about retro-apocalyptic alternate histories other than the official one.

Twilight: 1945
Germany gets the bomb, but it isn't enough to save the Third Reich, just enough to take basically everyone else down with them. The players are allied troops stranded in Europe, just trying to make it it back home.

Twilight: 1984
The worst fears of the early 80s are realized and there's a limited nuclear exchange, but enough to send everything crashing down. Here the action might be stateside, in the fractured United States (much like the state of the U.S. envisioned in the regular game).

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, February 1980 (part 1)

 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.

Batman #320: O'Neil suggests that when there isn't enough crime in Gotham, Batman scans the international papers for international crimes to solve. He's off to Italy to deal with murders of priests. This is sort of a giallo in the confines of the comics code.

DC Comics Presents #18
: I've always liked this 70s Zatanna costume. It's a shame they've never done an updated version. This team-up with Superman, Zatanna, and her dad by Conway and Dillin, again emphasizes Superman's vulnerability to magic, and suggests its due to his nonearthly origin and therefore complete lack of Homo magi genes. However, Superman recalibrates his a spectrometer device he has to detect magic "at the far end of the spectrum" with smaller wavelengths even that cosmic rays.

Detective Comics #448: This is the inheritor of the Batman Family setup. The Batman story by Burkett and Newton features the Spook, a character I only knew from the Who's Who. Batgirl actually helps out a street gang while lamenting her recent failed bid at Congressional re-election in a story by Harris and Delbo. Harris aided by unexpected but welcome art by Schaffenberger has Robin taking down kidnappers targeting his college's campus. The other two features are more humorous tales of a Gotham City cop on the day of his retirement and a Elongated Man yarn. This may be the best issue this week.

Flash #282: Continues from last issue, Bates and Heck have the Flash escaping form the deathtrap Reverse Flash left him in. Meanwhile, Reverse Flash is toying with Green Lantern back in 20th Century Central City. Somehow, the yellow of Zoom's costume is such that Green Lantern can't catch him even when he is dressed as the Flash, which makes Green Lantern seem pretty weak.

G.I. Combat #218
: These three Haunted Tank stories make me feel like I don't like the Haunted Tank very much. Not any worse than the other war comics this month, I suppose, but some variety might have helped.

Ghosts #85: This issue has a conceit of all of it's stories being based on true events which was absent from the last issue. The stories are a bit better this time around too, with more creative use of the ghost conceit: a murder is run down by a ghost car in a junkyard, a fiery ghost of a man pushed into a volcano comes for his murder and his faithless wife.

Jonah Hex #33: Hex is witness to a family tragedy while trying to take out some outlaws in this tale by Fleisher and Eufronio Reyes Cruz. Both the father and son make some boneheaded decisions, so it seems like tragedy was inevitable, honestly.

Justice League of America #175
: Conway and Dillin are channeling Marvel and Roy Thomas' Vision stories with "But Can an Android Dream?" Red Tornado frets about his lack of humanity and reconnects with his sort of foster daughter and former girlfriend to form a family. Doctor Destiny provides some menace. A solid issue for the time.

Men of War #25: Continuing from last issue, Gravedigger gets to save FDR, then for his trouble gets given another deadly mission that would have otherwise gone to the Unknown Soldier. I guess that's a win? We got more of Rosa's origin, but also the indication he might not be truthful. This character piqued my interest, and I like Grandenetti's art. It's a shame there wasn't more of it.

Secrets of Haunted House #21: More EC-esque yarns. The first is a perplexing yarn about a ghost that isn't. I would say it was dumb, but the plot-twists indicate Carl Wessler put some thought into it, for better or worse. The second is a cautionary tale about the the highstakes world of rural scorpion fighting. The last is sort of the Island of Doctor Moreau, but not quite. 

Superman #344: Superman stories of this era like to throw magic at him a lot. Maybe it's the presumed vulnerability? In this Wein/Levitz story drawn by Swan, Superman combats Dracula and Frankenstein for the life of a young medium. Superman uses heat vision and super-pressure to turn a hydrogen balloon into a miniature sun to get read of Dracula, but not before Frankenstein robs a bakery delivery truck.

Weird War Tales #84:
The goofiest tale this issue is by Mike Barr and Charles Nicholas wherein the ghost of Woodrow Wilson prevents the assassination of DeGaulle by Nazi saboteurs. In the other two stories a Russian general sells his soul for victory in WWI, only to get killed in the Revolution, and American troops from WWII getting transport to Camelot to loosen up the sword in the stone with explosives. 

Wonder Woman #264: Conway and Delbo have the Gaucho employing robotic rheas (roborhea) to bedevil Wonder Woman. I think that says it all, really.

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!

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Knacks or Gifts

I haven't done the work, but it seems like to me that it would be fairly easy, using one or another of the available 5e "race creation" rules sets to essentially make super-powered humans. I don't mean in the costumed adventure sense necessarily but it terms of that branch of fantasy where a lot of people are born with some sort of singular, inherent gift or power.

This sort of thing isn't uncommon in fantasy literature, but is less common, I think, in rpgs. In fantasy novels that utilize this trope (much like in superhero or psychic hero media) gifts didn't to get categorized, and maybe these types of gifts would run in families, creating lineages or ancestries. 

This sort of setup would allow you to get rid of the standard D&D idea of "race" with all its baggage and potentially suggest a bit of a weirder world where magic caused mutations or individuals with these magical gifts became sort of a society set apart (not unlike mutants in marvel, but also not unlike adventurers in D&D).

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, January 1980 (part 1)

October 11, 1979, was (according to Mike's Amazing World of Comics) was likely the date that the first batch of DC Comics cover dated January 1980 appeared on the racks. 

One difference between DC's output his this period and the latter half of the 80s is readily apparent: There are a lot more nonsuperhero titles being published. Only fifteen (if we don't count Swamp Thing) of 29 titles published with this cover date are superhero titles; The rest are war, horror, western, and one sword & sorcery.

Anyway, let's look at this first batch of issues:

All-Out War #3
: This is a Dollar Comic format war anthology, fronted by Kanigher's Viking Commando, who I always found conceptually dubious. Here he has a forgettable adventure, working for the Allies and calling the Germans "Huns," because that's his thing. The other recurring characters in this issue, I had never heard of before. They didn't make the Who's Who even. Black Eagle is the titular leader of a group of Tuskegee Airmen Blackhawk-types. "Guerilla War staring Force 3" is but an American, a Pole, and a Greek resisting Nazis in the Mediterranean. Both of these stories are perfunctory, but the art by Jerry Grandinetti on the Force 3 piece, "Dominoes of Death," is off-beat--thick-lined and a bit Toth-y, perhaps--and interesting. I barely remember anything about the other two stories here, and I read it last week.

Batman #319: Wein and Novick give pit Batman against the Gentleman Ghost. Nothing special, but it hits the right marks, so I don't think any Bat-fan who bought it off a spinner rack (this ain't a library, kid!) in '79 was unsatisfied. I wonder if we ever found out if the Gentleman Ghost was really a ghost or not? Catwoman is apparently reformed (and retired from costumed stuff) at this time, but has some sort of beef with Lucius Fox. Bruce is still living in town, not in (stately) Wayne Manor, though Alfred's there.

DC Comics Presents #17: Conway brings back Firestorm about a year after his short series dying in the Implosion to team up with Superman against Killer Frost who, as is often in the case with villains in team-ups, becomes powerful enough to give them both trouble. The artist here is the always great Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. Superman offers Firestorm JLA membership at the end.

Flash #281:
Cary Bates has Barry Allen in the middle of the length storyline about the murder of Iris. There are corrupt cops and Professor Zoom. This issues really drives home the transitional nature of this era at DC. The Don Heck cover could easily be on a Silver Age Comic, but the story itself is more gritty and 80s-like.

Ghosts #84: Bland horror analogy. One of the stories didn't even have a ghost, I don't think.

Jonah Hex #32: Long-time JH scribe Michael Fleischer and Garcia-Lopez deliver a decent but unspectacular tale of Hex going to confront a bounty hunter who had humiliated him when he was starting out, only to have a different sort of reckoning than he was imagining.

Justice League of America #174: This Conway and Dillin joint seems a bit like a Marvel story in the socially relevant (and blaxploitation) 70s. Green Arrow thinks the way the League treated Black Lightning (who GA wanted to join the team) last issue was basically racist, so he and so others go to try to track him down, but everybody gets sidetracked by an African American scientist in Suicide Slum using a device he control rats and giant rats into rampaging to get back at the Man. When the villain is defeated, Black Lightning still doesn't want to join the League, because he likes to play by his own rules.

Men of War #24: Gravedigger is a badass, black commando in World War II, dealing with racism on both sides of the conflict. His story here by Harris and Ayers is pretty good for a war anthology of the era, which may be damning with faint praise. Rosa by Kupperberg and Grandinetti (again with his unique style) is another character I'd never heard of: a mid-19th Century adventurer with a vaguely Dumas vibe. This story feels like there show be more too it, being more serial. 

Secret of Haunted House #20:
Better than Ghosts, this at least has one decent (for this sort of thing) yarn, then another where a couple of criminals are tricked by their own reflections. Destiny (later of the Endless) hosts.

Superman #343: Is a goofy, Silver Agey tale by O'Neil and Curt Swan about a wizard/seer from ancient Pompeii who keeps interpreting his visions wrong and messing things up. but ultimately Superman saves the day and teaches the wizard not to jump to conclusions. Of course, Pompeii is long destroyed, so lesson learned at last, I guess? This story buys into the conceit that Superman is not merely as vulnerable to magic as any normal person, but is specifically susceptible to it. Every Superman story published this month outside of the team-ups feels like a throwback compared to almost any Marvel title published this same month.

Superman Family #199: These stories feel less like throwbacks (well, except the "Mr. and Mrs. Superman" story, which does) and more like episodes of tv series that never existed. Supergirl takes on a guy who steals her (invulnerable) cape to sell to a crime boss, Lois Lane busts a sinister corporation testing mind control drugs on inner city school kids, and Jimmy Olsen foils a blackmail plot against one of his journalistic mentors who's harboring secret. All of these stories are pretty good in basic storytelling ways (baring in mind it's 1979 and a comic), but are utterly without the color and bombast one typically associates with superhero comics.

Weird War Tales #83: Doesn't have much to recommend it. Of note, however, is that only one of the three weird war tales in the issue takes place in World War II (Nazis versus vampires). The others are in the Syrian-Israel conflict and British Rhodesia, respectively. I guess eventually you can get too much WWII in comics!

Wonder Woman #263: I talked about a bit here

Also on your local grocery magazine aisle at this time, two DC digests: Best of DC #3 (Superfriends) and Jonah Hex and Other Western Tales #3, and a Dollar Comic reprint issue, DC Special Series #20, featuring three Wein and Wrightson Swamp Thing tales.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Bronze Age of Comics Counterfactual

What if somehow the deal that saw Marvel sold to Cadence and (eventually) Martin Goodman out of the company had gone wrong in some way? I don't have a single pivot point to make this an honest to goodness alternate history, but let's just assume Marvel was crippled sometime in the early 70s, and DC was the beneficiary of an influx of young talent needing jobs. This talent glut may have also weakened the hold of DC's old guard editorial, opening up DC to innovation that were definitely needed.

In one sentence: What if 70s Marvel had basically happened at DC?

Now, since this is ostensibly a gaming blog, I am more focused on how certain storylines or character intros might have transpired at the Distinguished Competition more than "wouldn't Batman have been great under creator [x]?" mainly because I think that focus is no less interesting, and more supers rpg gameable.

Here are some highlights:

Starlin takes over Green Lantern after the commercial failure of "Hard Traveling Heroes" and goes cosmic. GL battles a new assault by Darkseid (Starlin becomes the first writer to tackle the Fourth World after Kirby's series ended) and eventually even gains cosmic awareness through an encounter with the being that first set the Guardians on their path.

Steve Gerber brings his off-beat style to a revival of the Doom Patrol, and makes the adventures of the Swamp Thing even stranger.

Len Wein and Dave Cockrum bring some new members to the Legion of Super-Heroes, and Claremont follows for a long run. He also pens the limited series, drawn by Frank Miller, that makes Timber Wolf a star.

That's just for starters, but you get the idea.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Zines to Love

 Zinequest 3 is upon us and several of blogging and gaming compatriots have some entries for your enjoyment:

GRIDSHOCK 20XX is the long-awaited (at least by me) totally 80s, post-apocalyptic superhero game by Paul Vermeren. GRIDSHOCK is a great concept, imminently gameable and fairly original (in its synthesis of its influences), and the art and design look gorgeous. 

The Many Crypts of Lady Ingrade by Tim Shorts is an old school adventure with art by Jason Sholtis. I did the cover design for this one. Tim's GM Games really cranks out really table-ready, classic-gaming stuff, and I expect this one to be no different.

Through Ultan's Door #3 will reveal more of Ben Laurence's dreamlands-type fantasy setting. It's already busted is initial goal and blazed through it's stretch goals, but there's still time to jump in. The previous issues are both great physical artifacts and chock full of content.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Weird Revisited: The Mighty

This post originally appeared in 2018...

Art by Jack Kirby

In the Country of Sang in the Land of Azurth, there are those born among the human tribes and city-states that have abilities beyond those of other mortals. These are the Mighty.

No one knows why the Mighty are so gifted. Some believe they bear the blood of the Ancients, who had mastered mastered sorcery and science to make themselves superhuman, while others think that they are specially chosen by forgotten gods. Often Mighty individuals will appear as normal humans until some sort of fateful trial or challenge, but these experiences are merely the catalysts of change not the source of their power.

Mighty Traits:

Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 2, and your Constitution score increases by 1.
Age. The Mighty live somewhat longer lifespans as mundane humanity, perhaps a bit over a century, but the mature at the same rate.
Alignment. The Mighty may be of any alignment.
Size. The Mighty are powerfully built and generally tall (6 to 7 feet, or sometimes more). Your size is Medium.
Speed. Base walking speed is 30 feet.
Athletic Prowess. You have proficiency in the Athletics skill.
Superhuman Endurance. You can focus your will to occasionally shrug off injury. When you take damage, you can use your reaction to roll a d12. Add your Constitution modifier to the number rolled, and reduce the damage by that total. After you use this trait, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
Strength Beyond Mortals. You count as one size larger when determining your carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift.
Fearlessness. You have advantage on saves against fear.

Art by Bruce Timm

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Wednesday Comics: Logos and Directions


If you are a fan of comic book (and other media) logo design, you should be periodically checking in on Todd Klein's pages, where he providers commentary on classic logo treatments and his own design process.

I also discovered yesterday that Rian Hughes (designer of all of DC's very modern Tangent line logos among others) has put out a book hos his designs called  Logo-a-gogo: Branding Pop Culture.

From Implosion to Crisis

I've also decided in the coming weeks to return to a project I mentioned about a month ago of reading all of DC's output in the years between the DC Implosion and Crisis on Infinite Earths. I believe I've settled on cover date of January 1980 as my start date (this would have been comics on the racks in October of 1979). This is about a year after the end of the implosion, so things have settled in again. It also gives me a year's less comics to read than starting in '78.

Look for this starting next week in this space.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Star Trek Ranger: Here Be Dragons

Player Characters: The Crew of the USS Ranger, Federation scout ship:
Aaron as Lt.(jg.) Cayson Randolph
Andrea as Capt. Ada Greer
Dennis, as Lt. Osvaldo Marquez, Medical Officer
Paul as Cmdr. D.K. Mohan, Chief Helmsman

Synposis: Ranger answers a distress call from a shuttle carrying the Ksang ambassador to important talks with the Federation. The ship has gone down on Gweldor, a primitive world with a Medieval level of technology, off-limits thanks to the Prime Directive. The away team goes down to investigate and finds the shuttle strayed into Gweldor's atmosphere due to a malfunction, but was downed by a mysterious energy discharge that came from the planet. They find the shuttle's pilot dead and decapitated (the head not in evidence) and the ambassador apparently carried away.

Mingling with the population, they discover the ambassador was taken to the local lord who wishes to kill a dragon (they are now extinct on Gweldor) to prove his worthiness to marry the daughter of the King.

Commentary: This adventure was based on an idea I had had years ago for my Starships & Spacemen Star Trek game, but never ran. The Ksang look like Marvel's Fin Fang Foom, but are mammal-like.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Weird Revisited: STAR WARRIORS!

In a distant part of the galaxy, on the worlds orbiting a giant blue star, a war wages between good and evil....

So begins a fairly derivative space opera saga and mini-setting for any game. Here are two of the primary factions:

The good guys:

The Lords of Light are the surviving members of the oldest intelligent species in the universe. They created the star system of the Star Warriors in the distant past. Most have become one with the Enigma Source, but are still able to advise the forces of good.

And the baddies:

The Demons were unleashed by the greatest failure of the race that would become the Lords of Light. These insectoid shapeshifters have harnessed the power of the Abyss--the entropic Anti-Source and use it to empower acolytes of their own. Their dark cult is behind much political unrest.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Weird Revisited: Hexcrawl Rann

The original version of this post appeared in 2016...


I've mentioned Krypton before, but that's not the only planet in the DC Universe that has a lot of crazy locations. Check out the map of Rann, I talked about in this old post. Here are some highlights:

Dancing Waters of Athline: A field of high-power geysers whose sprays are shaped by strong winds.
Flaming Sea: Flames sprout from the surface of this body of water.
Illsomar: A ruined city where Nimar, a megalomaniacal, super-intelligent energy being that resembles a gigantic, Bohr-model atom has taken up residence. He is able to animate humanoid figures of metal, stone, and sand to serve him.
Kryys: A city of ice in the polar regions.
Land of A Thousand Smokes: An area containing numerous fumaroles.
Old Reliable: A sinking island in the Sea of Ybss; a source of the rare metal orichalkum.
Samakand: An advanced city that exists outside of conventional spacetime and only appears once every 25 years.

Tower of Rainbow Doom
: In the ruined city of Yardana (or Vardana), it is a sacrificial place for the primitive Zoora tribesman. When a switch in thrown in it's central room, concentric flashes of rainbow light surround a throne-like chair and transport anyone or anything in it to a neighboring planet.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Appendix X Minus 1: Pulp Uranus & Its Moons


This continues my pulp DIY anthology of the solar system I first mentioned in this post on the Jovian moons. This time, another cold, distance spot less glamorous than Mars or Venus: Uranus.

"Planet of Doubt" (1935) by Stanley Weinbaum - "Something moved! Up! Up!" Pat screamed.
"Code of the Spaceways" (1936) by Clifton B. Kruse - A tale of far places, of men who are not afraid, of life on the star trail.
"Derelicts of Uranus" (1941) by J. Harvey Haggard - Here is Adventure and Danger. Mud-fishers, and a girl, — and a quasi-human looking for trouble.

And its moons, which don't see as much action as Jupiter's, have some stories, as well:

"Salvage in Space" (1933) by Jack Williamson - To Thad Allen, meteor miner, comes the dangerous bonanza of a derelict rocket-flier manned by death invisible.
"Shadrach" (1941) by Nelson S. Bond - Once, in Bible times, three men were cast into a fiery furnace—and lived! Now, on far-off, frozen Titania, three space-bitten Shadrachs faced the same awful test of godship.

"Treasure of the Thunder Moon" (1942) by Edmond Hamilton - It's hell to be told 37 is too old to fly the
void when yon know where a great treasure lies.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Roaring Engines Under A Dark Sun

Art by Brendan McCarthy

The pulp story, "The Dead-Star Rover" (1949) by Robert Abernathy, presents a post-apocalyptic future Earth, where people are divided into tribes/cultures mostly based on the vehicles they employ: The Terrapin are nomads in armored cars, the Bird People fly fixed-wing aircraft, etc. Replacing human cultures with Athasian races would be, I think, a fine idea for a campaign on it's own, but I think there are some other things you could do to spice it up.

I figure the machines would be left over from some ancient war, perhaps shortly after humans partially terraformed and inhabited the planet. Something happened, and the machines have gone all Maximum Overdrive. Maybe its some sort of technological misunderstanding like in Shroeder's Ventus, or possibly a result of exposure to some Athasian exotic energy source ("magic," in other words). The various cultures would have learned to secret of taming one "species" of vehicle or another, though perhaps not all members of any given culture would be able to do it. There could be rituals involved, too. And taming is likely the wrong word, and the machines would most likely be viewed with as spirt totem or the like. The machine is the patron of the fragile, biologic entity.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Thieves' Guild Built in the Subterranean Ruin of [Insert Generic Anthropomorphic Urban Rodent God Your Choice]'s Temple

Billy Longino just can't take D&D seriously. Well, I can't say for certain that he's incapable, but I can say that he doesn't try very hard.

Which can make for some pretty fun game sessions, actually. He greatly enjoyed his Halfling police procedural Southfarthing Confidential back in 2017 (has it really been that long?) at NTrpgcon. I have not played this current adventure of his, but the name says it all really: Thieves' Guild Built in the Subterranean Ruin of [Insert Generic Anthropomorphic Urban Rodent God Your Choice]'s Temple.

This is certainly the sort of thing I could run in my Azurth game, at least in broadstrokes, but I'm no real critic of adventure design. Bryce Lynch and Gus L have opined, so there you go.

Anyway, it's now available in print on demand.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Ootherion Logos

 Jason Sholtis is working a comic set in the world Operation Unfathomable called Ootherion: Ape Myrmidon. He asked me to come up for a logo for the comic. I did several iterations, not because Jason is demanding but because I wasn't satisfied. Here are the last two I did:

I don't know which will appear on the comic, but I'm relatively satisfied with both of these.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Elves Don't Do Magic!

My kid has become a fan of Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom, a British animated series about the comedic exploits of a community of fairies and elves. These particular elves are certainly more of the Santa's and Keebler's varieties rather than Tolkien's. While the Little Kingdom elves are likely unsuitable as a PC rave in D&D as presented, I think their adaptable. 

Unlike your standard elf, they eschew magic. They are practical, hardworking beings, largely responsible for keeping fairy society up and going by filling positions in most trades and using and repairing modern technology.

Adult male elves tend to have beards. All elves seen to favor pointed caps.

Note that these elves are capable of using magic. Some are artificers of magical devices. They just believe that using magic inherently leads to trouble and it offends their personal work ethic.

Elf traits:
Ability Score Increase: Intelligence score increases by 2. Any other ability score of the player's choice can increased by 1.
Size: Small. (Elves in the cartoon are actually Tiny, but we're adapting here.)
Speed: Base walking speed is 25 feet.
Industrious: An elf is proficient in one skill and one artisan tool or vehicle of the player's choice. Whenever you make an ability check with the chosen skill or tool, roll a d4 and add the number rolled to the check's total.
Technologically Savvy: Elves may add their proficiency bonus to any check relating to advanced
technology or mechanical devices.
Languages: Elves can speak, read, and write Elvish, Common, and another language of their choice.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Tenet and Further Meditations on a 4-D War

I saw Tenet last night, and I thought it was good, but I am typically a fan of Nolan's work. If you aren't I can't say you would like this one more than the others. It most resembles Inception with a plot involving a degree of spy fiction doings, overlaid with a science fictional conceit that is a strong, visual representation.

The film underscores nicely--and it's something I've talked about here before (this post is really just a reinforcement of those ideas, so check it out)--is how time travel/manipulation is how a temporal cold war provides a great set up for espionage paranoia. Shifts in allegiance and betrayal can have retrospective as well as prospective effects, and individuals changing over time can bring them in direct conflict with themselves in a very literal way. Your worst enemy could indeed be yourself.

Futility and fatalism, sometimes and aspect of spy stories, are played up in this sort of setting. If the best case scenario is that the world doesn't change drastically, then the protagonists are always stuck fighting for the status quo, no matter what the personal cost.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Weird Revisted: Impish Misadventures

This post originally appeared in 2018. I still haven't done anything with this idea, but I still think it's a good one...


I've had this idea for a game for a while, but haven't done anything with it yet, but I thought writing it down would insure I don't forget it.

The high concept would be: "C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters meets GURPS Goblins." It would be an infernal Horatio Alger story (or parody thereof) where young imps try to get ahead in Hell's hierarchy by misadventure, toadying, and blind luck. They would be abused and give out abuse and probably come to comedically horrible ends--only to be respawned in the larvae pools and start their Sisyphean climb to archdevil-hood once again.

The rules would need to be simple, but (like GURPS Goblins) flavorful, and I imagine gameplay as something like (GURPS Goblins) with a bit of Paranoia and D&D with a pinch of Planescape.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Appendix X Minus 1: A Pulp Solar System Anthology

I've written a number of posts about old-style inhabited solar systems. Given that the literature that might prove inspirational for games in that setting are old and mostly out a print, I thought I might give a guide.

These stories were selected because they present and interesting (and gameable) take on the celestial body in question, not necessarily for quality--though I do think a number of them are good stories.

Since Mars and Venus stories are probably most famous and most available, I figured I'd start with the more obscure, Galilean Moons of Jupiter.

"Monsters of Callisto" (1933) by Edward R. Hinton - Lost at the bottom of the mysterious aquasphere, they struggle on!

"Mad Robot" (1936) by Raymond Z. Gallun - Did it ever occur to you that a machine could be complex enough to go insane? This one did! 

"The Callistan Menance" (1940) by Isaac Asimov - What was on Callisto, the tiny moon of vast Jupiter, that was deadly enough to make seven well-armed, well-equipped space expeditions disappear? And could the Eight Expedition succeed where the others had failed?

"Redemption Cairn" (1936) by Stanley Weinbaum - Here is one of the last stories by one of the outstanding writers of science- fiction. Remember him as you read it.

"Mutiny on Europa" (1936) by Edmond Hamilton - An unnerving spectacle we must have been to them!

"Repetition" (1940) A.E. van Vogt - Because a people live on a planet, it does not mean that they have a civilization on that planet. First they need to learn the old tricks and make them new.

"Tidal Moon" (1938) by Stanley and Helen Weinbaum - Shackled by the Gravity of Mighty Jupiter, Three Vertical Miles of Water Rush on to Blanket the Surface of Ganymede!

"World of Mockery" (1941) by Sam Moskowitz - When John Hall walked on Ganymede, a thousand weird beings walked with him. He was one man on a sphere of mocking, mad creatures—one voice in a world of shrieking echoes.
"Crypt-City of the Deathless One" (1943) Henry Kuttner - Only once could a man defy the deathless guardians of the Ancient's tomb-city deep in Ganymede's hell-forest and expect to live. Yet Ed Garth had to return, had to lead men to certain doom—to keep a promise to a girl he would never see again.

"Tepondicon" (1946) by Carl Jacobi - He was not the savior-type. He certainly did not crave martyrdom. Yet there was treasure beyond price in these darkened plague-cities of Ganymede, if a man could but measure up to it.

"The Dancing Girl of Ganymede" (1950) by Leigh Brackett - She was like a dream come to life--with hair of tawny gold and the glowing face of a smiling angel--but she was not human!

"The Mad Moon" (1935) by Stanley Weinbaum - The great, idiotic heads, the silly grins and giggles--those infernal giggles--would drive him crazy. 

"Invaders of the Forbidden Moon" (1941) Raymond Z. Gallun - Annihilation was the lot of those who ventured too close to the Forbidden Moon. Harwich knew the suicidal odds when he blasted from Jupiter to solve the mighty riddle of that cosmic death-trap.

"Outpost on Io" (1942) by Leigh Brackett - In a crystalline death lay the only release for those prisoners of that Ionian hell-outpost. Yet MacVickers and the men had to escape—for to remain meant the conquering of the Solar System by the inhuman Europans. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Wild Wild West Wednesday: The Night of the Skulls

This post appeared over at Flashback Universe a couple of weeks ago. Consider this a teaser and reminder that Jim and I are doing a Wild Wild West rewatch over there...


"The Night of the Skulls" 
Written by Robert C. Dennis and Earl Barret
Directed by Alan Crossland Jr.
Synopsis: West is a fugitive after appearing to shoot and kill Artie. It's a ruse, they leads him to a secret organization, rescuing fugitive criminals for a sinister purpose.

Jim: This episode really encapsulates some of the things we've been discussing the past few days.

Trey: That's right, folks. We talked about WWW even when not getting ready for one of these posts! But yes, I feel like it brings weirdness I like to see. Sure, a villain building a band of fugitive criminals for some caper, we've seen before, but it's the details: the skull make up and colorful robes, the kidnap hearse, the trial, and the insanity of the main villain and his motley, chosen group all lend what I view as the essential WWW touches. 

The writers are reported to have said: "We saw The Wild Wild West as a comic book type show, so we camped it up." I agree with their approach!

Jim: There is a good bit of humor in this episode. And the third act cliffhanger with West shooting Artemis (again) is one of the better ones. 

Like you,  I really liked the cloaked skull faced cabal in this episode-- though I found it amusing that the "girl of the week" Lorelei just got a domino mask.

Trey: Emblazoned with a skull, though.

Jim: I'm always impressed with the dining rooms of these secret, criminal cabals. The stylish chairs and sumptuous dinner makes a nice juxaposition with the various notorious thugs and murderers.

Trey: I feel like we may have seen that same table and chairs in a previous episode, but I'm not sure.

Outside of the camp and presentation, I think it's well done episode, with a fair amount of action and stuff for both Artie and Jim to do. There's a hint of friendly rivalry between them here which I think works. 

Jim: I was impressed with Artie in three different disguises. I found the aged minister at the funeral particularly good. It's no wonder he was nominated for an Emmy for this role, albeit not until the fourth and final season.

Trey: The only complaint I have is that Skull Judge and his crew are really quick to believe West has turned villain. I mean, even if he murdered Artie in a crime of passion, it seems a stretch that he's willing to help you overthrow the government.

Jim: That's the least of Skull's problems with rationality, I think.

Trey: True!

Jim: I have to say, seeing him rant at the end about how he's the rightful president of the United States hits a little too close to home!