Friday, July 30, 2021

DC, October 1980 ( wk 2, pt 3)

My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This continues my look at the comics at newsstands around July 24, 1980.

Sgt. Rock #345: In the lead story, Kanigher and Frank Redondo almost make you feel sorry for the Iron Major. He's constantly losing to Rock (and presumably other Allied forces) and seems to keenly feel his men's deaths. At one point, Rock stops him from killing himself! It's an interesting tack to take, not because it strives to portray a German officer with some positive traits (that's not uncommon in Kanigher's war books that often focus on how bad war is for everyone), but that this supposed arch-nemesis of Sgt. Rock is portrayed as kind of a sad sack.

The next story is set in Korea and is written by its protagonist Sgt. Major Richard J. Bissette, who I assume is the father of the artist, Steve R. Bissette. Bissette's group is ordered to stay back and clear the way for a brigade to cross a bridge before it is blown. Bissette's team has to hold on until after the bridge is blown and swim the river. Pretty harrowing stuff! "The Bridge" (creators aren't credited) is the story of a selfless GI trying to get a group of Japanese civilians, including women and children, to surrender rather than commit suicide after the U.S. takes an island. He succeeds but only at the cost of his own life. In the last story (also uncredited, but maybe the same artist) a doughboy in the trenches of WWI thinks the pilots have it easy until he's forced to witness the mercy killing of one who is burning alive in his crashed plane. 

Super Friends #37: The main story has that comic book trope of the villain who is barely a match for one hero in a solo hero book becomes a challenge for an entire team in a team book. In this case, it's the Weather Wizard who's up to some nonsense, but the real story is about Supergirl being jealous that Linda Danver's students lavishing so much attention on the Justice League while Supergirl does most of the issue's heroics. It all works out in the end, of course. The backup story by Bridwell and Tanghal presents the origin of the Global Guardians member, Jack o' Lantern. It backs a lot of Irish cliches into one story.

Unexpected #203: The horror host Judge Gallows returns courtesy of Seeger and Patricio who offer up a penal theme horror story, which is unsettling in 2021 for reasons the author didn't intend. Murderer Joe Mundy gets his mother to plead for leniency at his trial, so he gets life in prison rather than the electric chair, which the guards assigned to him think is a complete travesty. So do the ghosts of his victims who torment him in his cell. The horrific part is the guards standby and watch him do this in response to unseen entities only thinking maybe they should intervene when it's too late. One of them quips upon finding that Mundy is indeed dead that maybe he was just "energy conscious" in avoiding the chair. 

The second story by Wessler and Patricio is a kind of Frankenstein movie riff only with the twist that the corpses are reanimated by clone tissue and there's a good one and a bad one. The final tale, also be Wessler, opens with a well-rendered scene by Malgapo where a Gadwin, about to be burned at the stake defends himself by claiming he's a sorcerer not a necromancer (he might have wanted to consult a lawyer there). Anyway, he burns, but not before cursing Joshua Xerxes Tabor, his accuser, and vowing to destroy his family 300 years from that day. Why he waits so long to enact his vengeance and allow generations of Tabor's to live and die in great wealth is beyond me, but eventually a Tabor is in line to be President, only the other baby, Lester Colt, saved from a fire in the hospital years ago and supported by the Tabor family is his challenger. When Colt seems to be winning the Tabor patriarch decides to shoot him. As he gets the electric chair, the ghost of Gadwin reveals that the man he shot and killed was his real son and the man about to win the presidency was the real Lester Colt. Revenge! This issue is a big step down from last month, I think.

Unknown Soldier #244: Haney and Ayers pit the Soldier against a Japanese "ghost sub" and throw in Captain Storm of The Losers as a guest star. The solution to this one is pretty convoluted: a German sub crew is pretending to be Americans and actually impersonating a Japanese sub. Haney's  approach to his book is very different from Kanigher's over at Sgt. Rock. We get to compare the two side by side, because the lead story is followed up by a Kanigher/Yeates story told from the point of view of an American bomber that flies on after it's crew is dead to crash into the intended target. The Dateline: Frontline feature by Burkett and Estrada continues to be not on the frontlines. Instead, this installment looks at the jobs women took over on the homefront for the war effort as the correspondent Clifford meets a woman mail carrier who wants to join the WAC.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Tolkien in Blacklight

It's well known that hippies were into Tolkien's work. Some of it's themes appealed to them, certainly, but like with Ditko's Dr. Strange comics, there was also the idea that the works might somehow be drug-influenced. That the author might be taking the same trip as them. This was, of course, a false belief, but it was one that existed.

I feel like this appreciation of Tolkien filtered through 60s countercultural and mixed with the prevalent cultural representations of fairytale fantasy led to a a subgenre or movement within fantasy, most prevalent in the late 70s and early 80s, before D&D derived fantasy came to ascendancy. While this subgenre likely finds expression in literature and music to a degree, I think it's most obvious and definable in visual media. It's evident in works like the Bakshi's film Wizards and the comic Weirdworld ( both in 1977), and in the Wizard World sequences (starting in 1979) of Mike Grell's Warlord. Elfquest (1978) shows the influence to a degree. Bodē's Cheech Wizard (1966) and Wally Wood's Wizard King (introduced 1968 but significantly presented in 1978) are either the oldest examples or it's direct progenitors.

Essentially, the subgenre eschews the serious world-building of LotR for a more drug-influenced riff on The Hobbit, often with greater use of anachronism, camp, and sexiness, and often with a degree of psychedelia. Beyond the Tolkien influence, these works tend to share a number of common features:  a "traditional" visualization of elves and dwarfs as "little people," arising in folklore and classic illustration, but coming more directly from Disney animation and the fairytale comics of Walt Kelly; the influence of Denslow's Oz illustrations or design aesthetic of The Wizard of Oz (1939); more unreal and visually alien settings informed by Sword & Sorcery comics rather than the historical or mythic sources of Tolkien.

Given they were contemporaries, why didn't D&D borrow more from this? I think in some of the less than serious aspects of classic D&D, it did. It may have influences some of the visuals as well. But as a game that arose from wargaming there was always a thread of verisimilitude or equipment fixation that runs counter to this freewheeling psychedelic adventure vibe.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, October 1980 (wk 2 pt 2)

My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around July 24, 1980. Other obligations kept me from getting through all the comics by Wednesday, so look for a follow-up later in the week with the rest.

Legion of Super-Heroes #268: I like the Perez/Austin cover on this, but the story is rough. DeMatteis introduces perhaps one of the goofiest villains to ever appear in a comic, and I don't mean goofy-charming like sometimes happens. Having Ditko on art chores doesn't do the story any favors either; he's a poor fit for the LSH. Anyway, Dr. Mayavale appears as a handle-bar moustachioed guy with hair something like a white guy's afro, a cowboy hat, a "Like Ike" medallion, a chainmail skirt, and 6 extra, noodly, green arms. He's a bit like Marvel's Stranger, I suppose, but with worse fashion sense. And more arms. Anyway, he's an alien mystic who's aware of all his past lives, retaining the knowledge of them. After being virtuous for so long he decides to be evil for a bit. He bedevils the Legion members that fall into his grasp by sending then back to their supposed past lives including being Native Americans of the Great Plains and the assassins of Julius Caesar. He plans to sacrifice Dream Girl for, well, I don't really know what. It turns out all those "past lives" really aren't and the characters they meet are robots. The Legion prevails against them and Mayavale withdraws to contemplate his next move. Hopefully it takes him a long time. 

Mystery in Space #112: The first story by Barr and Sutton is that old standby: a tale of prejudice. The starship U.S.S. Liberty assumes the humanoid race on an alien world to be the virtuous defenders and the reptilians the aggressors--a perception the humanoids foster until they've had human help to eliminate their foes. Then they turn on the humans. In "Howl!" by DeMatteis and Wise, the United Earth ship Lenin rescues a young ensign, Luanna Helstrumm adrift in a lifeboat following an attack by alien warships. Captain Karamozova is uneasy about the Helstrumm, and gets even more so when her crew starts turning up dead. Helstrumm is revealed to be a vampire and Karamozova tries to kill her in a star, but has to settle for entombing her forever in a starship made of silver. It's a bit silly, I guess, but I feel like DeMatteis redeems himself (a bit) for that Legion story.

In the next story by Kasdan/von Eeden, an emblezzer injured in a spaceship crash gets rebuilt in the image of his stepson's reptilian toy by helpful aliens. The final story by Kashdan and Bingham sees a ham radio operator in a loveless marriage accidentally transporting a beautiful alien to earth in a radio beam. They develop a relationship over a number of nightly encounters. When his wife discovers them she attacks the alien only to to killed by an equally alien pet. The radio ham is arrested for her murder. When convicted he gets the electric chair, which transports him to the realm of his alien lover when he's shot full of electricity. Overall, this issue was a cut above what we previously got in Timewarp, I think.

New Adventures of Superboy #10: Superboy travels to the 52nd Century where he finds a replica of Smallville and an android ("humatron") version of himself in a futuristic theme park. He subs in for a malfunctioning humatron and gets nabbed by a rival of the park's owner who wants to improve his own alien replica androids. Superboy teaches the thief a lesson while never revealing he's the real article, then slips back to his own time. Bates' and Schaffenberger's story could reasonably be said to have "Silver Age charm," though it probably wouldn't have interested me in the 1980, and honestly isn't the sort of thing I would seek out now. The Rozakis, Calnan, and De Mulder backup is sort of a day in the life of Krypto and has a similar feel to the main story. The only break with Silver Age tradition is that this Bronze Age Krypto thinks in full sentences.

Warlord #38: Read more about it here. In the backup, Starlin's continuation of OMAC rolls on with the GPA destroyed and the U.S. now in the hands of corporations. We are told by the corporate representative Wiley Quixote that IC&C control's one half and Verner Bros. controls the other. Given the similarity of those names to the corporate owners of the Big Two at the time (Cadence Industries Corporation and Warner Bros.) I can't help but think Starlin was making doing some allegory for the comics industry here.

Monday, July 26, 2021

On Fantasy Naming

Since I read Lin Carter's worldbuilding advice in Imaginary Worlds, at least, I've had an interest in names and neologisms in settings. I certainly have an interest in the "conlang" end of things--the world of Professors Barker and Tolkien appeal to me--but I don't think it's necessary to invent a language or even partial devise one to have character and place names that seem plausibly like they might arise from a an actual language.

Carter points out in his essay, names need to have an appropriateness to them. He uses the example of Stonehenge (the location), and asks the reader to imagine it was named Piccadilly. Stonehenge seems a much more appropriate name for the place, not the least because it has "stone" as a component. Obviously, the "fit" of a name depends on preconceptions arising from one's native language, but also one's personal preferences. There are people that feel Clark Ashton Smith was horrible at invented names, and plenty (Carter included) who think he was a master of them.

In coming up with names I try to first consider this aspect of appropriateness: What vibe do I want the name or names to convey? The second thing I try to do is give them a sense of linguistic cohesiveness, as if they might come from the same language. 

For the imperial Vokun in Strange Stars, I wanted them to have names that suggested a tradition-bound, decadent, warrior culture. I thought longer names with some "heavier" (to the English speaker) sounds would fit the bill. I wound up using a list of Old Avestan names as my base, adding in some names from other sources, mixing and matching syllables and selecting mostly longer ones that I further tweaked to taste. Online name generators that accept a list of words as an input are good for inspiration, but they seldom provide a lot of "keepers" without tweaking. I wound up with names like this: Artazosthra, Ishramis, Jannaxa, Valakasta, Vahupareshta, Zrayangashamesh.

For my as yet unnamed science fantasy setting, I wanted most of the human names to have an easy and obvious rhythm and length for English speakers, but not generally be actual (or at least common) English names. the naming styles of Edmond Hamilton and Jack Vance were particular influences here, leading to names like: Glattis Malva, Godo Shrune, Yreul Dahut, and Festeu Harfo. The place names similarly were devised to be like English place names, but not actually be English place names.

The names of the nonhumans in this setting (like the various clades in the Strange Stars) had names suggesting they came from different languages:  hohmmkudhuk, ythlaxu, and hwaopt are "weird" in some way for English speakers, but trell and ieldra are much easier. Not every alien should have a name like something out of Marc Okrand's Klingon!

Of course, there are a lot of other things to consider. Carter's essay suggests things like trying to spread them out over the alphabet to make them distinct. 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Paleomythic, Ewoks and Rats

by Michael Whelan

I recently picked up Paleomythic by Graham Rose, and it's a relatively simply but definitely flavorful "Stone Age" rpg--or "Stone and Sorcery" as the subtitle would have it. It's perhaps a little less Jean Auel and a little more Robert E. Howard than say Würm, but really I think you could do pretty much the same stuff with each system depending on your preferences.

One thing I've been thinking about this past week though is using Paleomythic for a setting where the characters are primitive, but not necessarily human. 

Without their toyetic, teddy bear looks, the story of the Ewoks is one of a "primitive" culture in a world of magic and exotic creatures (if we consider the cartoon and tv movies)--and then it's invaded by murderous aliens. Plenty of game fodder to be found in that, I think.

Simon Roy's Habitat and other Metamorphosis Alpha-adjacent stories feature post-technological primitive humans. Betram Chandler's "Giant Killer" is in no sense post-apocalyptic, but has a bit of the vibe of those settings--only with nonhuman protagonists. There are mutated rat tribes making their caves in the walls of a spacecraft and their "giant" antagonists are the human crew. The rat(ish) scale would make the sizes of generation ships more vast and add some interesting detail to those sorts of settings.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Weird Revisited: The Like You for Your Brains

The original version of this post appeared in 2011...

Bored with the standard monsters? Tired of the same old thing? Here’s a couple of mechanically-unchanged stalwarts with a shiny new finish:

Moon Men
Mysterious beings that appear by night and move silently to feed upon the minds of humans. Moon Men appear as tall humanoids whose heads are hidden beneath gleaming, featureless domes. These scientist-sadists rarely make any attempt to communicate, and treat other sentients with clinical detachment, as if they were mere cattle.

These are good ol’ mind flayers--because tentacles are so last year. The only change would be to dispense with the tentacle attack--or maybe keep it and have pseudopods emerge from a Moon Man’s liquid metal head. With that option, they might literally eat brains, but otherwise its the mind they’re after, not the meat.

Though the picture is Mysterio, the name was inspired by a pulp hero with a similar look.

Brain Parasite
“The brain was in a serious state of liquefaction. Only the brain-stem had any discernable structure. A puncture in the back of the skull likely indicates where the creature insert its venom...Yes, that’s the thing in the preservative vat there. It was completely invisible--or more precisely, simply, unseen--on the victims back until it was killed.  And by then it was too late.”

These reskinned intellect devourers look like the zanti from the Outer Limits and act sort of like the mutant spiders from Metebelis 3, the titular Planet of the Spiders in Doctor Who. I imagine they inject some sort of a toxin into the skull, dissolve the brain slowly, and suck out the sweet, sweet juice over time. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, October 1980 (wk 2, pt 1)

My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around July 24, 1980.

Action Comics #512: I have to hand it to Bates and Swan on this one. Here's one of the Bates "conundrum" plots where the ending works just as well as set-up. In fact, I think this is the sort of story (in basic concept) I could see someone like Grant Morrison doing (in their more Silver Age homaging moments), though the execution would have been different in their hands. Anyway, Luthor's reform is a ruse, as we knew all along. When Luthor's new bride asks to give Superman a kiss at the wedding, Luthor's robots show up and whisk him away. They take him back to the Nefarium where they remind him of the plan he made himself forget: Luthor cloned a dying woman in an overly elaborate plot trap Superman forever in the Phantom Zone. He even excised his own memories of the plot to pass any test Superman applied. Callously, he "disposed of" the young woman and cured her clone of the disease. Luthor sits impassively as these memories are returned to him and the robots explain to the reader. We do not see his expression.

Superman comes busting in, of course. He had seen through Luthor's plot when he noted the cells encoding Luthor's memories of his marriage to Ardora of Lexor were severed (so Luthor's a bigamist too!). Supes played along in the hopes that the young woman might still be alive, but when he heard she wasn't, it's time to end Luthor's game. In the end, we find that Luthor played himself. When we finally see Luthor's expression, he is in tears as he watches his clone bride forever trapped in the Phantom Zone--his sacrifice to trap Superman. He's forever separated from the woman he tricked himself into falling in love with.

Adventure Comics #476: DeMatteis and Giordano have not yet hit their stride (I'm being optimistic that they have one). Aquaman is still, I guess, on a quest to find Mera but he continues to he get sidetracked. This time he tangles with Neptune-or as he insists, Poseidon--merely so DeMatteis can give the story a clever title. It turns out that Poseidon's power to control sea creatures comes from his trident. When it's destroyed, he disappears without us finding out whether he was really Poseidon on not. The point of this story seems to be contrast Poseidon's manipulative control of sea life (including Aquaman) with our heroes friendship and cooperation. Considering the last two issues, the point of these stories seems to be rehabilitating the idea of Aquaman. A laudable goal, but it would be nice to have a better story as its vehicle.

In the Starman feature we reach a sort of climax with our hero confronting the throne-usurping Oswin. He's in a bit of a bind, though, because if he wins his sister the Empress (unaware of his identity) wants to marry him. When he reveals his identity, she might order his death as a threat to her throne. Starman makes a shrewd move and fakes his death after defeating Oswin. Plastic Man's goofy adventures from Pasko and Staton continues as he tangles with Cheeseface who has been killing execs in companies that manufacture nondairy creamers for revenge. 

Brave & the Bold #167: Wolfman teams up with Cockrum for what the splash page calls a tale of the "Golden Age Batman," which means a tale of a Batman active in WWII, because he meets the Blackhawks. It's interesting they say "Golden Age" instead of the diegetic "Earth-2." Is this indicative of Wolfman's dissatisfaction with the multiple Earths idea he'll get rid of in Crisis, or merely him not wanting to pin himself down since the most commonly appearing Blackhawks are the Earth-1 version? Regardless, the story is fun with Batman entering a boxing match as it's being broadcast over the radio to ruff up and interrogate a German boxer. There's also an appearance by the Hidalgo Trading Company of Doc Savage lore. Cockrum draws a good Golden Age Batman and Bruce Wayne that pays homage to Sprang's without aping the style. He also is good with the Blackhawk planes.

Detective Comics #495: The Crime Doctor story by Fleisher and Newton continues, picking up with Thorne realizing that Batman is Bruce Wayne. Batman gets knocked out by one of the thugs, but Thorne keeps them from killing him because "he's still a doctor." The cops are on the way, so they all run out, leaving Batman to wake up and rescue a doctor before a bomb goes off. Later, the thugs fill in crime boss Sterling Silversmith that the Crime Doctor may know Batman's identity and Sterling decides to have a chat with the doctor. Thorne is in disguise and trying to get out of the country, but gives himself away when he can't help but save a woman's life. Silversmith forces Thorne to drink some mercury ("quicksilver"--it's thematic!) and won't get him to a hospital if he doesn't give up Batman's identity. Thorne won't break confidentiality. Batman shows up to save him, but not before Thorne's mind is completely destroyed by mercury poisoning. A good, solid story.

The "Tales of Gotham" feature by Rozakis and Spiegle has a numbers runner desperate to get his mattress full of money out of a burning building. It's sort of clever, but I wonder who the audience was for this sort of thing? Burkett and Delbo continue the adventures of Batgirl, or the "Darknight Damsel" as this story puts it. This storyline isn't bad, but it suffers a bit by comparison to the better stories around it, which include the DeMatteis/Forton Black Lightning yarn. "Animals" has Black Lightning trying to resolve a hostage situation with a teen gang within the school without any of the gang members loosing their lives. It's 70s heavy handed, sure, regarding life in the ghetto and how it shapes youth, but it works pretty well. In the last story, Robin takes down a drug ring that is shipping the drugs to the campus under the guise of being an academic book publisher in Gotham. I bet the pricing was ridiculous.

Green Lantern #133: Wolfman and Staton get Carol and Hal back together around their mutual desire to not see Ferris Aircraft go under after several mysterious plane crashes. Things are complicated by Dr. Polaris whisking Green Lantern to the North Pole to try and kill him. Based on the trouble Polaris gives GL and the dialogue about the ring's power and magnetism, Magneto would be a deadlier foe for Jordan than Sinestro! The backup story by Laurie Sutton and Rodin Rodriguez has Adam Strange and friends fighting to save Ranagar from Kaskor the Mad. There's a lot of action, but it still feels kind of dull.

House of Mystery #285: Great cover on this one courtesy of Joe Kubert. I don't think any of the stories live up to it. The cover story by Wessler and Henson (in that it has a clown, otherwise it's unrelated) is sort of a Murder on the Orient Express riff set in a circus where the clown arrested for stabbing the lousy circus owner was actually the only member of the circus that couldn't have killed him because she stabbed him after he was dead at the others' hands! Kupperberg's and Cruz's "Cold Storage" has a soldier freaking out due to isolation in the arctic and committing murder, only to wind up infected by a deadly disease careered by a quarantined astronaut that will keep him isolated and in the extreme cold. Barr and Patricio deliver a tale of an overzealous vampire hunter who, after the accidentally murder of a boy just pretending to be a vampire, has a curse put on him by the child's mother. It causes him to develop a phobia that leads to his death when it manifests at a crucial moment: a fear of pointed objects.  Barr takes another swing, this time with Garcia, in a slightly better story of a robber and who plays his boombox at an annoying volume. The music allows the woman he injured in a jewelry store robbery to guess his identity. The woman's husband ultimately traps him in a basement under debris--and turns up his radio so that no one can hear his cries for help.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Random Dying Earths

Here are a few random tables to create the barebones of your own Dying Earth setting.

What's happening?
1 The Sun is going dark
2 The Sun is becoming a red giant
3 The Earth is just worn out
4 The universe is ending (the Big Crunch)
5 The universe is just worn out
6 Reality has changed in some way

What's the environment like on Earth?
1 Ok for now
2 Desert or becoming desert
3 Frozen over in ice
4 Dark and mostly barren of life
5 heavily polluted
6 overrun by some new/mutant lifeform

Art by Darrell Sweet

Earthly civilization is:
1 Dependent on magic
2 Post-technological and primitive
3 Primitive
4 Utterly reliant on machines they don't understand

Prevailing mindset?
1-2 Decadent and cruel
3-4 Fatalistic and world-weary
5-6 Innocent and ignorant

Friday, July 16, 2021

Dark Sun: The Pristine Tower

"The effect of this cannot be understood without being there. The beauty of it cannot be understood, either, and when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you."
- Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer

The Pristine Tower is a mysterious structure in the deserts of Athas. It is first mentioned in Denning's novel Amber Enchantress, but later figures into an adventure Dregoth Ascending. I'm going to ignore for this post what the Tower is and the roll it plays in the history of Athas, as that's something one might or might not want to use in there own campaign, but I think the Pristine Tower as enough interesting things about it, it's worth including even without the backstory.

Tower is at least mutagenic, perhaps reality-warping. While the novel is disappointingly bland in the description of its environs, I think you can easily borrow strange details from Annihilation (the film or the novel) or perhaps Roadside Picnic, though with more emphasis on the biological rather than the technological.

We are told that anything that bleeds within the zone around the tower (perhaps anything that is injury) begins getting remade as some other creature. This is the source of the "new races" of Athas--like the nikaal or the humanoid baazrag. Also it creates unique mutations like Magnus, who was born of elves but looks nothing like one, and the half-human, half-insectoid Prince Dhojakt.

The fact that mutation only seems to occur after bleeding (or perhaps injury) is interesting. Is the Tower exerting some sort out of control healing field? Or is it trying to produce lifeforms better suited to survival on Athas and just needs better access to genetic material than intact skin provides? Or perhaps it's just a mutagen changing everything in range slowly, and natural healing just gives a more rapid avenue for that process?

In the novel, the area around the Tower is inhabited by rather normal creatures, but I think the chimeric creatures of the Annihilation film are more appropriate. You could also use my Random Zonal Aberrations tables. Of course always keep in mind that "weird for Earth" isn't necessarily weird for Athas.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Weird Revisited: Aboard Aureate Majestrix on the Occasion of the Panarch's Anniversary

The airship Aureate Majestrix is a wonder, even by the standards of airships. It was carved by the hands of the Ancients from a single, massive stone of an unknown variety. Fitted with mirrors which serve as sails, it is pushed to its destination by concentrated magical energy beamed at it. Long ago, it was claimed by the Panarch, and now it is operated mainly to transport those of means from Imbis to the Panarch's capital. Today, it carries various dignitaries, courtiers, and seekers of influence to the celebration for the anniversary of the Panarch:

by Jason Sholtis
A hohmmkudhuk stone-shaper whose name is actually Mmungmatukt but he is not offended when called "Mung Matuk." His clan wishes to send a new Princess to establish a descendant warren in wilderness controlled by Omunth-Ech and wishes the Panarch to support their settlement. Mung Matuk bears a tableau vivant in stone that enacts a fanciful version of the Panarch's victory over the Great M'gog and the Gog Horde as a gift.

Yreul Dahut, Galardinet Officer of the Daor Obdurate armed with customary punishment rods. Her presence suggests there is a defector from her city-state's tyranny among the celebrants, and one formerly highly placed, as the Obdurs are notoriously frugal with state funds and disdain public spectacle.

Pwi dwek Abth, hwaopt senior scholar sent by the Library to record the events in that pedantic and overly detailed way hwaopt are famous for. He wears heavy perfume to mask his odor in deference to the "simplistic and unrefined" olfactory preferences of humans, but it is not quite sufficient to the most sensitive noses.

Zira Si, ostensibly a demimondaine in the entourage of--well, one noble or another, depending on who you ask. She is actually a powerful Green sorceress and prized agent of secretive Yzordadreth, Mountain of Wizards. When her mission is done, her confederates will swoop in under cover of darkness and spirit her away on a swift-winged and silent thrykee, and no one will remember she was ever there.

(more from this world.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, October 1980 (week 1, part 2)

I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm continuing my look at the comics at newsstands on the week of July 10, 1980. 

Justice League of America #183: This issue is mostly setup--but it's an enticing setup! Conway and Dillin have the JSA and JLA getting together, only to be whisked away to an empty New Genesis. It seems that Apokolips is ascendant and the remaining free New Gods (Metron, Mr. Miracle, Big Barda, and Orion) need the help of the greatest heroes of two Earths. The end reveals Darkseid (presumed killed at the end of the Adventure Comics revival of the New Gods) to be back amongst the living. While Superman has interacted with the Fourth World mythos before, this is the biggest step to integration in the wider universe DC has taken since the New Gods' creation. It's the harbinger of what's to come.

Secrets of Haunted House #29: The first story here illustrates the sort of "twist that doesn't really work" ending that these horror stories sometimes fall prey to. An old magician, angry at the praise being given a young upstart, reveals that he truly possesses magical powers by kidnapping the young magician and his girl and putting them in the grasp of a demon he summoned. The young magician defeats the demon who seems to declare the young magician really has magical powers too before taking the old wizard's soul. The girlfriend queries the young magician about his powers, and he sort of shrugs it off with a vague answer. The second story by Gill and Henson has a classic suspense radio program vibe. A nephew ingratiates himself on his elderly uncle, then once he discovers the old man's secret vault, kills him for the inheritance. A police lieutenant knows the nephew is guilty, but can't prove it, so harasses him for years hoping hill slip up. He assumes the nephew got away with it, until when the old house is demolished and his corpse is found in the vault. He knew how to get in but not how to get out!

Lasky and Rubeny's "Master of the Double-Cross" has a tabloid reporter stealing the typewriter of a deceased mystery author after a seance and finding out it will magical type manuscripts in the vein of its previous owner. He uses this to get fame and fortune, but then the seance crowd discovers a cache of unpublished manuscripts of the deceased author and the former reporter gets arrested for fraud (?). It appears the ghost double-crossed him. The last story by Kellay and Henson has nice art, but that art doesn't convey some of the story beats it was supposed to, I guess. An aspiring model is snooping around the chateau of a reclusive, but very successful modelling agent and discovering--well, something that shocks her about the models, but there are a couple of panels where I can't tell what they are trying to convey. It's clear it has something to do with plastic surgery, though, and the young woman begs to get in on it. The agent and the surgeon agree, and the woman is transformed into their star model. Apparently, the surgeon somehow did his job too well, because all the assembled press rush up to touch the woman and all the rough handling makes her dissolve into a "putrescent," "crumpled mass." I don't think that's how plastic surgery works, but the story doesn't explain any more than that. 

Superman #352: Wolfman and Swan bring in Destiny (later "of the Endless," but in 1980 he's just a horror host) for a guest appearance, and he drains Superman's powers and restrains him by mystical means to keep him from helping people. Superman even goes on TV to announce his retirement to the world. This is all to teach Superman a lesson to let people save themselves from time to time so they don't become dependent on him. A dubious moral makes for a bad story. 

The backup introduces the "World of Krypton" feature. It has the simple but more reasonable moral of "stay in school, kid." Newman and Buckler have Superman relating the story of Kandorian citizenship classes to a potential high school dropout. Based on the story, Kandorian citizenship classes teach an unusual amount of wilderness survival, but then Krypton can be a pretty harsh environment so maybe that makes sense. It did cross my mind that Superman was just making up this story to keep the kid in school, but surely he wouldn't do that, right?

Weird War Tales #92: The first story by Burkett and Sutton is set during the Crusades. A Christian knight and a Muslim warrior must put aside their hatred to defeat the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The second story by Kashdan and Redondo is the obligatory World War II piece. Here a Nazi experiment that turns soldiers in giantish, purple troll sort of creatures is uncovered. So has not to leave the Allied troops at the mercy of the monster, an American soldier bravely volunteers to have the procedure done to him. Neither of these stories are spectacular, but they're also not notably bad either. Meat and potatoes Weird War stuff.

Wonder Woman #272: Conway and Delbo reset Wonder Woman in the last issue and the cover to this one trumpets: "A brand new start for the amazing Amazon--against her greatest foe!!" Which is Angle Man. A brand new start to just to fight Angle Man? He's her "greatest foe?" It's not a bad Angle Man story, but it's an Angle Man story! The Huntress backup by Levitz and Staton features Solomon Grundy, and is pretty good.

World's Finest #265: Five features, and none of them particularly good. The Haney/von Eeden is the best of the lot, though it has an over-complicated plot involving roses, an obscure point of Star City history, an evil twin, and the kidnapping of Dinah. Equally confusing but less enjoyable in the end is the Superman/Batman and Robin cover story. where old JLA villain Simon Magus returns with a plot to siphon science energy to bolster his power in Earth's universe as well as the magical universe he comes from so he can take over both. Maybe he's siphoning magical energy from the other universe too? I don't know. Anyway, it's got Superman fighting what he calls a Balrog, for what it's worth. The Hawkman story by DeMatteis and Landrgraf works a Star Trek-esque "alien rebels with a legit grievance but deplorable immediate aims/methods" plot, but with less skill. The Red Tornado tale by DeMatteis and Delbo is just a recap of his story thus far to set up conflict with a new villain" T.O. Morrow, who has now transformed himself into a buff, nongreen Leader-type with bulbous cranium and moustache. Bridwell and Newton continue their Marvel Family yarn with conflict with Kull (not that one, the other one) and Mr. Atom is sort of a modern take on the Monster Society of Evil, I think. 

Monday, July 12, 2021

Dark Sun: The Shadow King of Nibenay

The original Dark Sun campaign setting calls the Sorcerer-King Nibenay "a bizarre and enigmatic
figure." He is seldom seen by his people--to the degree that rumors sometimes spread than he has died. All his Templars are women, and they may or may not all be his wives. By the 4e version of Dark Sun they were definitely his wives, though the marriage is "purely ceremonial."

In the later versions of the setting, Nibenay is seldom seen because he looks like a humanoid dragon. But in the novel Amber Enchantress, Nibenay is inhuman, though more of a mollusk-arthropod creature. I like this version better for reasons I discussed in an earlier post.

Nibenay is called the Shadow King because he's so reclusive. I think we could do better and have him typically giving audiences from behind a screen so he's seen only as a shadow (and likely a magically or psionically generated one). Perhaps he even uses his powers only to appear as some sort of shadow puppet. Maybe he appears to those who have displeased him in any place in the city in the same way?

Nibenay's son Dhojakt is monstrous in form, as well. In the canon, this is due to actions of his mother, but I think it might be interesting if Nibenay himself was just rather to only partial human children. Nibenay is not only trying to ascend to a transhuman form himself, but to breed progeny who are also transhuman. He's the family-oriented Sorcerer-King.

Here I would draw inspiration from Gregory Keyes' Chosen of the Changeling duology where the royal family descended from the River God sometimes produce inhuman fish or water aspected children the royals keep locked away. Also, there's the recent comic book limited series the The Goddamned: The Virgin Brides by Jason Aaron and R. M. Guéra where a cult of nuns on an isolated mountain are offering up child brides to angels, and then tending the monstrous, Nephilim children.

I feel like Nibenay's Templars are both his cult and the source of his brides. There could be in number of inhuman children sulking about his massive and forbidden palace.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

From the Sacred Scrolls: Go Ape in 5e

This post first appeared in 2016...

As presented in the original films, the apes are fairly un-ape-like in characteristics (because of course, they are played by people in masks, but that’s beside the point). Taking what we see on screen and what we are told of ape history as true, we may assume they have been genetically modified/selectively bred to something closer to a australopithecine morphology. They don’t possess the long upper limbs and associated strength, relatively stronger jaws, or opposable great toes of modern apes.

Ability score increase. +1 to any two abilities of their choice.
Speed. The apes of POTA are more bipedal than extant apes, but their foot structure still doesn't appear to be as optimized for upright walking as a humans, and they tend to have a stooped posture. Base walking speed is 25.
Grounded. For whatever reason, apes are less susceptible to illusions and mind control. They have an advantage on saving throws to resist such attacks or attempts at subterfuge.
Keen Nose. Proficiency in smell-related Perception checks.


Ability score increase. +1 Intelligence.
Studious. Gain proficiency in either one Intelligence or Wisdom skill, or a tool proficiency.

Ability score increase. +1 Strength.
Menacing. Gain Intimidation proficiency.

Ability score increase. +1 Charisma.
Knowledge Keeper. Gain proficiency in one Intelligence skill.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, October 1980 (wk 1, pt 1)

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

Batman #328: Wolfman takes over as writer, and his first story is a nice little mystery, marred only by the fact that it's a pretty obvious one. A killer taunts Batman with a video where he confesses his guilt. The problem is, he's already been tried and found not guilty, so there's no way he could be touched legally. Batman vows to bring him to justice somehow by discovering why he committed the murder in the first place and how he got away with it. Meanwhile, the killer is wooing Harvey Dent's ex, and the man he murdered was supposedly the killer of Dent's former assistant. Already, I'm suspicious about the killer's identity. When a frantic visit to Two-Face's former plastic surgeon leads to the killer committing another murder in anger...well, his identity is certain. And we've still got a part two to go! The backup story teams Wolfman with Newton, and reveals something of Gordon's early days on the police force and a little bit about the origins of the batcave (that it was part of an old subway line). Both of these things will be rendered "noncanon" post-Crisis.

DC Comics Presents #26: Wolfman and Starlin give us a team-up of Green Lantern and Superman. This is interesting because we get two DC big guns, which is rare for this title. Jordan responds to a distress call from another green lantern, but it's a trap by a rather second rate Starlin cosmic baddie (something like a b-grade Eon in design). The creature steals Jordan's form, but then Superman shows up and defeats it, though he needs Hal's help to deal with some Kryptonite. Still, Superman is pretty dismissive of the power of the creature and the Green Lanterns. He calls Jordan's ring a "little green trinket." Starlin's art here is not up to his usual standards and his round-faced Superman is off-model, but it's not a bad story--though the New Teen Titans preview that follows by Wolfman and Perez really outshines it in terms of visual storytelling and interest. It's really just a tease, though.

The backup of is "What Ever Happened to...Sargon the Sorcerer." It reminds me of the "continuity clean-up" stories Roy Thomas did in Solo Avengers/Avengers Spotlight, undoing things done by other creators or otherwise reseting a character. It does explain Sargon's recentish appearances as a baddie, but it feels like it was written just for that purpose.

Flash #290: As is not uncommon with these Bates/Heck stories, the reveal of why Fiona Webb, Barry Allen's neighbor, thinks he is trying to kill her is both sort of convoluted and not as interesting as the setup. It seems Webb saw a mob hit and has under gone some extreme form of witness protection courtesy of King Faraday, where her memories of her previous life as Beverly Lewis were suppressed. Not suppressed enough, apparently, because the guy she testified against looked like Barry Allen, so when a master of disguise hitman named Saber-Tooth (no relation) comes after her, she attributes the danger to Allen. This story does have an interesting bit where Flash as to enter a computer to make its circuits print out the punch card on Beverly Lewis because the computer has (as apparently have all in U.S. law enforcement) been programmed not to release that info. 

The backup story by Conway and Perez/Smith continues Firestorm's origin and recent history. There's not much to it beyond the recap.

Ghosts #93: I feel like this title is declining in quality, but maybe its just in a temporary slump. It probably doesn't help that a couple of the stories feel like reprints due to using Golden Age artists Charles Nicholas and Jack Sparling on the stories. Both of these stories were written by Carl Wessler, whose work also dates back to the Golden Age. The first is about a boy and his ghostly grandfather teaming up to use a toy train and sympathetic magic to save his father from death on a sabotaged train track. The second is about a sadistic prisoner guard who takes a job at an old mental asylum only to find all the patients are ghosts. Only marginally better is the David Allikas/Tom Mandrake story about a fraternity hazing incident leading to a death and a plan to make the instigator of that death confess by means of a fake ghost ploy that turns out not to be fake! Wessler is back a third time with Henson for "The Flaming Phantoms of Frightmare Alley." The story is a confusing and ultimately pointless tale of a reporter that falls in love with a ghost then becomes a ghost himself in a car crash and the bystander that relates the story. It in no way lives up to its title.

G.I. Combat #222: We have the usual 3 Haunted Tank stories from Kanigher and Glanzman. "For Sale: 1 Tank Crew" sees our heroes at the mercy of black marketeers in occupied France who in the end have a change of heart. "God of Steel" has Bedouin raiders trying to use the tank and crew to take out a fort--which they are happy to oblige with when they find out its occupied by Germans. "Cold Meat--Hot War" has the Haunted Tank improbably plunging into the sewers after been blocked in by Drachenzähne and German artillery. Kanigher is always inventive and Glanzman's art is on point, but I'm just not much of a Haunted Tank fan. 

The other stories are a bit better, though none are really outstanding. "Angels--of Death" by Jan Laurie and Alfredo Falugi has a group of Pacific Theater nurses pitching in to launch a torpedo on a beleaguered sub. Boltinoff and Catan shift the action to Korea and have a group of Marines allowing themselves to get frozen in a river so they can use the ice as cover for a surprise attack. Despite the unlikely premise it's probably the best story of the issue. Control coldly sends a couple of trapeze artists on a suicide mission in the O.S.S. installment "Death is an Old Friend" by Kanigher and Cruz.

Jonah Hex #41: Again Fleischer's story has a TV Western morality play feel. Hex brings in the Jody Randolph gang and they're to wait in jail for the arrival of "Hanging Harrow" the local judge. The judge turns out to be a woman who feels she has to be stern in the enforcement of the law to prove yourself qualified for her position. Her real challenge at this point, though, is from her son Rodney who is smitten with a saloon girl, Vanessa. Ostensibly to get money for diamond earrings, Vanessa enlists Rodney in a plan to free the Randolph Gang for $10,000, but it's a set-up: Vanessa is actually the girl of Jody Randolph. Rodney accidentally kills a deputy in the jailbreak and so is forced to stay with the gang even when the truth is revealed. Hex shows up to kill the Randolph gang and apprehend Vanessa and Rodney. Judge Harrow presides over their trial, showing her usual lack of mercy even for her son. Hex rides out of town as Vanessa and Rodney swing from the gallows. Ayers is inked by De Zuniga here so that its hard to see much Ayers in it.

In the Scalphunter backup, man who tried to kill Scalphunter last issue is revealed to be a college professor interested in excavating a burial mound or "ghost hill" as Scalphunter calls it. His assistants proved unscrupulous and tried to kill him once they found valuable grave goods. Scalphunter is none too happy with the mound excavation, but helps the professor stop the thieves--but perhaps ultimately they are slain by the ghosts of the mound, as the ending is ambiguous. Conway's story here feels padded as last issue turns out largely to be filler.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Dark Sun: The Gray

Cosmology is really on comes up and references to certain monsters or magic in the original Dark Sun campaign setting, but in the second edition supplement Defilers and Preservers the "planes" called the Gray and the Black are established. The Black mainly serves a backstory purpose or to be a place for monsters to be from. It's similar to the Plane of Shadow/Shadowfell, a concept I've felt to be of limited utility in most settings, Dark Sun included. 

The Gray is a different story. It at once solves one potential problem with the Great Wheel: there are too many afterlifes. It also provides a thematically appropriate underworld for the this particular setting.

The Gray is described as a "dreary, endless space" or "ashen haze." In conception it's not unlike Hades or Sheol. Like the River Lethe of Greek myth, the Gray steals memory and identity, but in this case the environment leeches it from them. Eventually their spiritual being becomes one with the gloom.

The only thing I don't like about the Gray as described is that I don't think it should be featureless. More interesting to me, would be if it mirrored in most respects the desert landscape of Athas, except perhaps more desolate. It would be doubted with ruins of dead cities and the tombs and monuments to long dead potentates who thought they could carry their riches into the afterlife--and perhaps, in a way they did, for all the good it did them.

Of course it should be possible (though not easy) to visit the Gray, like visiting the Underworld in Greek mythology. The souls of the dead are probably not dangerous for the most part to visitors, but the the ghosts that could pass between the Gray and the mortal realm might well be.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Dark Sun: The Desiccated Sea

Here I'm going to break a bit more with Dark Sun as published than I have in my previous posts. I'm afraid I don't really like the Sea of Silt. I know realism doesn't really have much of a place in a fantasy setting about sorcerer-kings and dragons, but it isn't very realistic. Also, I think it robs the setting of a bit of it's desert feel because it gives kind of an "out." Travel across the Sea of Silt is more difficult that ocean-going travel, true, but it provides some of the same type of adventuring opportunities. This could be a feature, but I see it as a bit of a bug.

Instead of the Sea of Silt, I'd just like to have a dried up sea. A harsh, saltpan basin dotted with a few shallow, hypersaline lakes where only bacteria can dwell, and tall mesas that were once islands. In other words, something like the Mediterranean would have been during the Messinian salinity crisis of the Miocene.

It would be an incredibly harsh environment, potentially. If the Sea of Silt had anything like the depth of the Mediterranean basin the pressure at the bottom would be something like 1.5 times that of "sea level" above it, and the temperatures might soar to 170 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer according to some models.

Given that salt is a quasi-element in D&D lore you would loose the Silt Sea creatures, but you could replace them with bizarre creatures of the the Quasi-elemental Plane of Salt if you wanted. You can still have giants on the islands if you wish (in an inversion of the tendency to insular dwarfism), but you can also have isolated city states in Planetary Romance fashion.

If one wanted commerce across the expanse, that would still be possible, but likely it would be via flight. If not that, land-sailing across the saltpan. It wouldn't be the most pleasant way to travel, but it could be done (if one avoided the summer months assuming temperatures as mentioned above, but we don't have to assume temperatures so high, either).

Once a thriving port, now a dead city on the cliffs