Friday, March 31, 2023

A Tale of Two Paradises


It is possible for the determined traveler who has been shown the hidden paths to walk from the Elysian Fields to another planar realm. The primaeval forests and unworked fields of wildflowers give way to pastures, farmland, and finally, quaint villages. There, they will be greeted by the local inhabitants and perhaps invited in for a meal. The traveler has come to the Twin Paradises.

The Paradises represent the rejection of the universal contentment of Elysium as unearned. Also, not for its souls is the selfless dedication required to scale the Heavenly Mountain. Those who come to stay in the Twin Paradises find contentment in industriousness and a life well-lived--or afterlife well lived. 

The denizens of the Paradise reachable from Elysium are small folk like gnomes. They live in villages governed by democratic councils and send representatives to the over-councils that govern the smaller the interactions of the smaller ones. All the citizens work for the common good, and all who contribute partake of the communities' supplies according to their need. The Paradises are not Elysium; the land, though pleasant, is not free from the caprice of nature. The people, though similar in outlook, are individuals and not immune to petty disagreements and misunderstandings. It is overcoming these obstacles that make the pleasantness of life in the Twin Paradises deserved.

At the far edge of the first Paradise, there is a great, mist-filled chasm. One sturdy bridge spans it. On the far side, the land begins to become more rugged and more thickly wooded, though it is still beautiful and bountiful. Here the habitations are more isolated, and the people place a greater value on self-sufficiency. They are more willing to teach a newcomer than to provide what they view as charity. The people still work together on tasks of common need, but they do so as individuals and of their own volition. 

The Holy Mountain is visible from this land on clear days. Even these hardworking folk occasionally take a moment to stare at it from time to time. They are perhaps comforted to know it exists, but they have little desire to see its heights.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Let's Review...

I think I've got another entry in my series on the Outer Planes coming soon, perhaps tomorrow. Here's a review of where we've been so far.
The Layers of Heaven (part 1) (part 2) (part 3) (part 4)

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Wednesday Comics: The Adventurers

I remarked to Jason Sholtis a couple of months ago that The Adventurers is probably the most Dungeons & Dragons comic book ever, at least until the works of Tim Sievert. Jason rightly questioned whether that includes D&D licensed comics. I think that, yes, it does in that those licensed comics have all the trappings and IP of D&D, but don't necessarily read like the writers had played D&D. 

Anyway, The Adventurers is a black and white series by Steve Milo, originally published in 1986 by Aircel, then moving to self-publishing under Adventure Publications. In 1989 Adventure Publications was acquired by Malibu. The comic ran through three volumes or "books," and at least two associated series, Warriors and Ninja Elite.

The series has art and story lines are pretty much the epitome of how I, at least, thought of D&D in the 80s.

Tragically, there are no collections of it, but there is a fan page here with a lot of info.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Mythic Exalted: Lookshy

The city-state of Lookshy is pretty easy to get a handle on: it's Sparta-Shogun era Japan to the Realm's Imperial China-Imperial Rome. "Sparta-Shogun era Japan" is a pretty nice combo for a more Sword & Sorcery Exalted, so it's an easy one to work with.

The name I'm not to fond of though. I'd say it's a bad transliteration of Lukshi or Luk Shi, so that's easy enough to fix. Given it's origins as the holding of an old Realm legion, I think its Sparta character should really be pushed in a Republican Rome sort of direction (making the Realm more later Empire or even Byzantium) to take into account their conservative adherence to traditions likely abandoned in the Realm.

Visually, I think I would go with the Japanese influence, but use the look of armor from an earlier era than the more Tokugawa illustrations in things like The Scavenger Lands.

Add a few Roman Legion flourishes and maybe more Greek style helmets for parades and I think it works.

A difficult bit for a lower-powered, Sword & Sorcery take on things are the warstriders. I think they are easy enough to remove, but I don't really believe that's necessary. Mecha type things are not without precedent in four-color Sword and Sorcery, at least: 

I think they get easier to envision if they look like Daimajin above or maybe the Shogun Warriors. Maybe a bit less colorful that those guys.

One interesting tidbit from the initial setting description is the mention of Lookshy (Luk Shi!) Dragon-Blooded intermarrying with a "federation of outcaste bandits" called the Forest Witches. Maybe I missed it, but the Forest Witches don't seem to show up again in Scavenger Sons or 2nd edition material. It's not a major point, but it makes me think of both the "rivers and lakes" of the Jianghu and Fuqua's King Arthur, with the Forest Witches as the Picts. Jianghu Picts, perhaps?

Friday, March 24, 2023

The Library, Ao-Dweb

What follows is excerpted from the journal publications of the scholar Nura Glismod who was sent by one minster or another of Ascolanth (the writ, in the manner of all standard Imperial bureaucrat text, is unclear on its specific authorities) as part of an "exchange" with the hwaopt at the Library of Ao-Dweb. 

First, I should address the less pleasant aspects of interaction with hwaopt, namely the odor. My associates and I utilized olfaction dampeners to make it bearable, but I found it necessary to burn my clothes afterwards.

What has generally been said about the Library is true: It is undoubtedly the greatest repository of knowledge currently in existence and a center for the most advanced scholarship in the world. It sprawls over numerous subterranean chambers, some of which must be natural, if modified, others some entirely constructed.

The humidity of caves would generally be a barrier to their use as an archive, but the hwaopt have enacted some sort of magical shield (one can feel it when entering the structure) that keeps the air dry. I was told by another visitor (a suspicious voluble An-Woon Thuan of the Mountain of Wizards) that the hwaopt have wards to dampen magics within the Library for fear of eroding their controlled encompassment.

The hwaopt organizational system is arcane. I was told that librarians only those you can passed rigorous examinations in the hwaopt classification of knowledge. The dangers to any would-be browser are more than merely not finding the volume one was looking for. I was told by our guide in what I assume are sober tones for a hwaopt that persons have become lost in the library for days when they wondered off to more esoteric collection areas. Apparently, scent plays some part in the hwaopt system, but the details are closely guarded.

One unusual danger in the Library: the occasional incursion by troglodytes from some neighboring caves. This occurred in a part of the structure why we were there. It is puzzling as to why the hwaopt allow this, when presumably they could prevent it. Instead, they merely close areas of the library to the public until the brutish creatures have moved on.

Perhaps related to this mystery, I happened to observe at a distance an interaction between a troglodyte and a hwaopt while we were being ushered to a different location due to the incursion. The hwaopt seemed in some sort of stupor, perhaps even paralzyed. The troglodyte approached very close with a demeanor of hostility, but the hwaopt remained rooted to the spot with an expression I would call vacant, while acknowledging the difficulty of diving meaning from their alien countenances. What became of the hwaopt, I do not know, and I thought it best not to question our guides on it.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Mythic Exalted: The Immaculate Order

The Immaculate Philosophy in Exalted is an engineered belief system, created by a faction of Sidereals looking to bolster the Dragon-Blooded and cement the coup against the Solars. Whether it was formed from whole cloth or based on existing beliefs we aren't told, at least not in the first book. We are told the Order is monastic (presumably solely), which is unusual for earthly religions, but could be. The description of the Immaculate Philosophy and practice suggest the writers were mostly thinking of Buddhism, perhaps with a bit of Hinduism, but I think some of the more interesting parallels and inspiration can be drawn from Confucianism. 

Immaculate Philosophy acknowledges the existence of the gods and spirits, but that's not it's focus. Proper ritual toward these spirits--which means these rites are respectful and discrete--is appropriate, but the focus is more on self-cultivation and living virtuously. I feel like, again not unlike Confucianism, Immaculate Philosophy would view "Heaven" (or Yushan) and being in harmony with it important, but they would largely disapprove of personalizing it as gods. Yu-Shan would be the sort hand for the proper process of the world.

In a sense, the Immaculate Philosophy is more secular than spiritual. In a world where essence is real and demonstrable, as are the hypostases of the belief, the Elemental Dragons, I feel like the focus on correct behavior, self-improvement, and social ritual, qualifies it as such.

It isn't discussed in the texts, but I feel it's more fun and more realistic if there are perhaps various schools of thought within the Immaculate tradition. We are told it's concerned with stamping out heresy, but that's an odd aspect of it and given the desires of the Sidereals who crafted it, I take that to mean mainly "too much god worship" or the "belief the Solars aren't Anathema." Within the confines of its view of the world, I suspect you have traditions that are more or less mystical or ascetic than others. The equivalents of Pure Land Buddhism or even Prosperity Gospel. Perhaps there's even "left hand path" Immaculate belief that seeks a dangerous shortcut to Dragon status?

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, June 1982 (week 4)

My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, we review the comics hitting the newsstand on March 25, 1982.

Action Comics #532: Wolfman seems to never to miss a chance to use his creation H.I.V.E. Lois goes undercover, impersonating a H.I.V.E. agent she captured, and finds herself part of a squad assigned to kill Superman with Kryptonite ray-guns. Lois and Superman escapes, but it turns up to all be some sort of elaborate plot by H.I.V.E. which will probably be revealed next issue.

Rozakis and Saviuk are back with the Atom, and the story's still hard to care about. Palmer manages to deactivate the bomb without using his shrinking powers and investigates where it came from, but he gives away his secret identity to two crooks and then appears to have killed them!

All-Star Squadron #10: Thomas and Gonzales/Ordway keep demonstrating how difficult it is for these superheroes that (naively, I think) gave up their super-identities just to enlist and kick the costume habit. Which is a good thing, I guess, because a weird, eye-shaped aircraft is attacking U.S. planes on the West Coast and Hawkman and Starman must intervene. Dr. Mid-Nite on a Pacific outpost also tangles with the Eye. And the Eye pops up again to halt hostilities between the Russians and the Germans. In the end, the Eye is hovering above the White House and a tall man-like form emerges from an energy beam. He announces that he is Akhet, from the 2nd planet Proxima Centauri, here to annex the Earth in the name of the Binary Brotherhood!

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #4: In one respect, Thomas and Shaw/Grothkopf are sort of ahead of their time with this book. The Zoo Crew are quite concerned with becoming famous in a way I don't think we see mainstream supers be until the 90s. Anyway, while Roger Rabbit tries to keep the team focused on establishing themselves and capitalizing on recent successes, Rubber Duck and Yankee Doodle (with Fastback tagging along) head off to the Okey-Dokey Swamp to continue their film-related careers. This film just might be a gentle parody of the then-recent Swamp Thing movie but turns real really quick as discarded monster makeup bonds with a decaying alligator skeleton to create a mud monster it will take the whole Crew to defeat.

Detective Comics #515: Conway is back, so we discover the second-rate villains of a couple of previous issues were trained by the Headmaster in his Academy of Crime in Hollywood, where people learn to organize their crimes and create tactics to succeed. When Batman hears about the Academy, he heads out West in order to learn more about it in his old disguise of Matches Malone. Meanwhile, Dick Grayson is following his ex, Dala, to see what caused her change in attitude towards him. He follows her as Robin to an ancient house located in the middle of nowhere. Curious about what she could be doing there, Robin sneaks inside the house, only to be knocked out by a hooded figure.

In the Batgirl backup by Burkett and Delbo, our heroine has her hands full with Lady Viper, and we get the snake woman's origin which involves a love of snakes and a mystical artifact.

New Adventures of Superboy #30: An experimental device created by Lex Luthor turns Bash Bashford, football star, into the fiery Glowman. Meanwhile, a girl who steals a crystal ball from a carnival fortune teller finds only Superboy's kiss can remove her curse of old age.

In the Dial H for Hero backup by Bridwell/Rozakis and Bender/Giella Vicki as Miss Hourglass saves Chris from a fall. He dials the identity of Mr. Opposite and the two defeat the Disc Jockey.

Tales of the New Teen Titans #1: A popular series demands spinoffs and Wolfman and Perez oblige with this limited series. This issue reveals the origin of Cyborg containing some discussion of racism and the plight of black people in America that is, at best, a bit naive seeming in 2023 and possibly even offensive. Luckily, the worst stereotypes are foisted onto side characters, and Cyborg emerges are a more well-rounded portrayal of a black character than many we've seen previously in comics.

Unknown Soldier #264: Haney and Ayers/Talaoc are back with another high concept Unknown Soldier yarn. The Soldier has to go to Switzerland and climb a perilous mountain called the Needle to retreive information from a crashed Allied plane. Klaus von Stauffen and his Nazi lackeys are on the mountain, too, and it's a race to the top. Turns out the Nazis don't know anything about the plane, their own on a mission to put the corpse of a German climber at the top so Hitler can claim bragging rights for the Reich. The Soldier foils their plan and completes his mission. 

The Kanigher/Spiegle Balloon Buster feature has Savage continue to skirt court martial and maybe even execution by breaking the rules, including firing on his own side to keep them from getting to von Hammer when the German Ace returns the kid he flew to the doctor in Berlin. Spiegle draws great airplanes and aerial action. In the Tomahawk story by Haney/Delbo Tomahawk and his Rangers bust out of jail to save Washington from Lord Shilling's assassination plot. They succeed, and Tomahawk's name is cleared. 

World's Finest Comics #279: In the lead story by Burkett and Buckler/Smith, Bruce Wayne has been captured by General Scarr and his crew, but Scarr thinks Batman has just disguised himself as Wayne. Batman is taken to a cell in their hideout, but soon he escapes and learns that the villains are planning to hijack alien weapons left behind by the Weapon-Master from a couple of issues back. Batman contacts Superman, but the Man of Steel fails to stop the crooks from acquiring the weapons as he gets thrown into a continuum of no time and seems unable to escape. Batman is on his own.

In Cavalieri's and von Eeden's Green Arrow, Queen manages to locate his friend's daughter in the cult compound, but she refuses to leave until the cultists' condemn her independent thinking. They leave (surprisingly) without any violence. Hawkman, in contrast, has to engage in a lot of violence against some Starlin-esque aliens not so ably rendered by Saviuk. He ultimately defeats the pirates, but he and another captive are stranded in their ship.

Bridwell and Newton finish up the retcon to the history of Kid Eternity, making him Captain Marvel Jr.'s brother. The story implies, interestingly, that the wizard Shazam has the role traditionally assigned to St. Peter of acting as the doorman to Heaven. Maybe he just fills in on occasion?

Monday, March 20, 2023

Weird Revisited: Professor Crowe and his Ugly Bird

 This Weird Adventures post first appeared in August of 2010. I recalled it due to this cool post.

Art by Daniel Kopalek

Professor Enoch Crowe and his familiar/partner-in-crime are wanted for the sell of unlicensed alchemicals, and fraud related to such, in the City and smaller municipalities in the Smaragdines and the South. The Professor (this title is an affectation--he holds no known degree) sells dubious nostrums from the back of his truck which he drives on a circuitous route mostly through rural areas, but sometimes visiting poorer neighborhoods of cities.

Crowe will typically have the following “cures” for sale, but will only be specifically hawking one at a time:
  • Priapic Vigor - said to increase male sexual performance (allegedly made from extract of satyr musk, and other natural ingredients).
  • Hirsutific Unction - said to cure baldness cure (from "essential oils" of de-odorized skunk-ape hide)
  • Triodia’s Specific - An unguent (sometimes tonic) to cure venereal disease. (from alchemical purification of a species of lilly that grows in secret Ealerdish grottoes where nymphs are known to bathe).
  • Panaceatic Lens Treatment - The patient sits under a head-sized dome of purplish crystal (actually colored glass) which he or she is told will “re-align their mental energies and vital forces to be in greater harmony with the universe.” Mostly, it does nothing, but Crowe can use it to given a suggestion (as per spell) to the patient.
Crowe can also produce some genuine minor magical potions, but only sells these to high-dollar costumers, and may just as like substitute a minor cursed potion, if he thinks he can get away with it, and might lose a sale otherwise.

Crowe’s partner or servant, is called by him “Dearest” or perhaps just “Bird,” but is known to everyone else as “Ugly Bird.” Ugly Bird is an harpy of a particular spiteful disposition--and this is in comparison to others of her kind who aren't paragons of compassion. She won’t generally be seen when Crowe is about his business of sales, but she is always watching, and never far from his side.

Prof. Enoch Crowe: MU4, HP12, spells commiserate with his level, and 1d10 real potions in his truck, besides his charlatan’s wears.

Ugly Bird: AC 7 [12], HP 17, 2 talons 1d4 each, Special: flight, unlike often presented, harpies in the world of the City have no “siren’s song” power.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Mythic Exalted: The Gods


I wanted to continue the thought process from this post by looking as the gods of the Exalted universe. It's interesting, because the theogony and cosmogony have echoes in Greek myth, but in it's "final form" as interacted with by the players, it has some features of Chinese traditional religion.

The earliest gods or god-like beings are the Primordials who arose in chaos and then created the world from it. Their group name and function recalls the Greek Primordial deities (Gaia even shows up in both groups), but few are well described and there are hints that they are monstrous (like the Mesopotamian primordial deity Tiamat) or aloof and alien (like Lovecraft's Outer Gods, particularly as referenced in the Dreamlands stories) or both. 

The Primordials create the lesser gods to run Creation for them. Chief among these are the Celestials or Celestial Incarnae who are based on the classical planets--the seven moving astronomical objects visible to the naked eye. They are largely just given the modern names for these celestial objects borrowed from Greek myth, which I think is sort of mistake, in that those names have connotations that may mislead as much as illuminate. They don't really have the roles or portfolios of the Olympians, at least.

While Apollo and Artemis are solar and lunar deities, respectively, the Unconquered Sun and Luna resemble more the gods that were the personifications of those Celestial objects, Helios/Sol and Selene/Luna or those sorts of deities in other cultures. Along those lines, I think it's better to think of the Five Maidens not as the goddesses of war, serenity, endings, etc., but as the deities of fortune and destiny related to those areas like the Greek Fates or the Norns of Germanic myth. It's a subtle distinction, but one worth making because it makes the Celestials less gods more personified cosmic forces--but more relatable and understandable ones than there Primordial creators.

They would be at the top of the Celestial Bureaucracy like the gods of Heaven China traditional belief. Beneath them were the various gods that might get more direct worship and serve as the analogs for traditional fantasy rpg deities. 

All of this works pretty much as is, I think. The Celestial Bureaucracy might be viewed as working against a Sword & Sorcery or ancient (European/Near East) feel, but I don't view it as a problem. Incorporating some ancient Chinsese elements is fine with me. The names of the Five Maidens bug me, so I might change those, but do know to what right off hand. Maybe substitute the names of the Olympian Spirits?

GRIDSHOCK'D! (part 2)

This continues my conversation with Paul Vermeren about his 80s-veneered, post-apocalyptic superhero game, GRIDSHOCK 20XX available on drivethru in pdf and in hardcopy from Exalted Funeral. You can read part 1 here.

How much does "retro" play a part in the aesthetic of GRIDSHOCK 20XX? We live in a time where cyberpunk is mostly considered a "retrofuture" genre thanks in large part to design that harkens back to cyperpunk publications of the 80s? How much is it a retrofuture as opposed to an alternate present?

GRIDSHOCK 20XX's apocalypse was a reality-warping event that took place in 1986, and its present day of 20XX is set several decades after that. I'd say it's an alternate present, since one of the conceits of the setting is that the existence of superhumans changed the course of history more significantly than it did in your typical "mainstream" superhero universe. The GRIDSHOCK universe's 1986 looked quite different from ours, with things like clean energy and various forms of super-science gadgetry introduced by heroes (and salvaged from villains) in widespread use. So, GRIDSHOCK 20XX's alternate, post-apocalyptic present includes elements from its alternate, pre-apocalyptic past that could be described as retrofuturistic.

In terms of aesthetics, I alluded earlier to having a more retro vision for GRIDSHOCK 20XX that changed as I and my collaborators worked on it. The original over-the-top, exaggerated 80s feel had been toned down a little by the time I published the zines, but that Trapper Keeper retrofuture aesthetic is not completely gone. The 1980s are viewed by some of the setting's factions and characters as a lost golden age, so there's still a good deal of big hair, shoulder pads, and laser grids in the setting. I think those elements help the setting feel toyetic in a way that I hope encourages players and GMs to think big in terms of what do with it.

In creating something and sending it out into the world, it seems to me there's always a bit of difference between what you liked about it and what others do. Is there some aspect of GRIDSHOCK 20XX you really like that you feel maybe folks haven't latched on to or recognized to the degree you would like?

I think those who have picked up GRIDSHOCK 20XX really like the look of the zines. That's gratifying to hear, because the aesthetics were always a focus for me. While I've had people tell me they think that the setting is awesome or interesting, so far, I haven't heard much about specific elements of it that they particularly enjoyed. 

This is my first foray into writing for tabletop RPGs, so I'd love to know which parts of the zines readers liked most (or maybe didn't like as much) so I can make more of what works well for them. For example, I'd be interested to know if people enjoyed zine 3, Regions, as much as I do. I think it presents a lot of interesting, gameable material in a small package, but did others feel that way? Did they love the landscape format of that booklet or hate it? I'm not sure yet. 

Hopefully you'll get some of that feedback! Last question: Where do you see GRIDSHOCK going (or where would you like to see it go) in the future?

There might be additional GRIDSHOCK 20XX zines, including adventures, adversaries, or new regions to explore. I think games often live or die based on whether they've got some solid adventures ready to go, but I'm not especially skilled at writing them. I've considered working with other creators to make that happen. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, June 1982 (week 3)

My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around March 18, 1982.

Brave & the Bold #187: Boatner and Aparo present a Batman/Metal Men team-up with a continuity deep cut. The Metal Men are being destroyed one by one and Batman tries to protect the remaining ones from harm. He fails at that, but he also discovers they all have lost their memories of a previous member of their group he recalls. Batman asks Doc Magnus about that and learns that the Doctor is responsible for erasing the Metal Men's memories of "Nameless" after their first reconstruction. Magnus rebuilds them and Batman convinces him to give them their memories back.

It turns out Nameless is at the root of the attacks, as is Platinum Man (one of a group of now-destroyed gender-swapped Metal Men). Once their neglect of Nameless is explained as due to Magnus' actions, the vendetta by the snubbed robots halt. Tin and Nameless can resume their relationship and they decide to get "alloyed," but the ceremony comes to a tragic end when a rogue Missile Man attacks them and Nameless sacrifices her existence to save her friends. She dies with the new name Tin had given her: Beautiful.

Legion of Super-Heroes #288: Princess Projectra and Karate Kid are about to be executed by her usurping cousin, but a squad of Legionnaires shows up just in time. Karate Kid and Projectra best her cousin, and Projectra ascends the throne. Meanwhile, the spy squad and Saturn Girl are lost on an icy world after an attempt to infiltrate Khundia--necessitating Saturn Girl returning to her pre-disco outfit. Back at HQ the remaining Legionnaires are trying to figure out what to do.

Green Lantern #153: Wolfman/Mishkin and Cohn and Staton/DeCarlo present the solution to last issues mystery.  Jordan realizes that all beings on M'Brai - the Savages, the Cormm, and the Queln - are part of the same species evolving cyclically: every individual progresses from single-celled organism all the way to Queln and beyond, and then repeats the cycle, without retaining any memory of it. So if the Queln use their devolving ray to get rid of the other factions, their entire race will become extinct. Hal uses a meteor to destroy the satellite and stop the Queln plan. He figures out that the meteor shower is in collision course to the planet, and it could disrupt its entire life cycle. Hal deviates the meteors, succeeding in his mission.

In the backup by Kupperberg and Infantino, Jeryll attempts to stop the invasion on Glirell peacefully as she had been commanded. But when a group of children is killed by the invaders, Glirell's people explode into violence in outrage. Realizing, that this is her burden not her people's, Jeryll stops the suicidal charge of her people and goes on to destroy the invasion fleet. In the aftermath, the Council tells her that she is forgiven, and won't be banished. However, Jyrell bids farewell to her people and leaves voluntarily, feeling she betrayed the peaceful ways of her people. 

House of Mystery #305: The first story by Cavallieri and von Eeden has a derivative artist trapped in a world populated by characters from famous art works after he tries to unleash his potential. "The Rings of Kur-Alet" by Jones and Carillo is tale set in ancient Egypt of time traveling magic rings and a Pharoah and his jealous wife who met their ends using them.

The Jones/Colon "I...Vampire" story takes an odd turn as a cure for cancer is discovered. Also, Vampires across the world begin dying mysteriously with no marks. Bennett tracks into the Egyptian desert. He finds her helpless and dying, where she reveals that the cancer cure has made humans poisonous to vampires! In her weakness she's reverted to the personality he fell in love with, losing her evil. She tells Andrew about the magic rings from the previous story this issue, so they can use them to travel to a time when they are still human and be together. Andrew helps Mary reach the rings, but she betrays him and travels back alone. He travels back in time after her.

Sgt. Rock #365: The main story is another one of those introduce a new character to Easy Company who dies heroically. In this case, it's a kid who makes jigsaw puzzles. It also has the common Sgt. Rock story trait of reviewing how great the recurring members of Easy are.

The other two stories are oddly both science fiction. In the first, by Harris and Mandrake future warriors find out that their ultimate weapon which supposedly allows them to take control of enemy soldiers unleashes their enemies' primitive instincts. In the last story, two operatives who can't get along are united in death on an alien world.

Superman Family #219: Kupperberg and Mortimer have the Master Jailer show up and put the Girl of Steel in quite a predicament. He uses a device to put her in a sort of phantom state so she can observe, but not interact with the world. Playing clever by using a Supergirl robot only backfires on Kara as it leads to the destruction of the device she needs to change back to normal. In the Bridwell/ Schaffenberger Mr. and Mrs. Superman, Supes is perplexed when the Flying Tiger identity he created last issue, starts committing crimes. Lois comes undercover again as his sidekick "Kitty" to ferret our the perpetrator who turns out to be Funny Face.

Jimm Olsen, star reporter for the Metropolis Eagle, is given the assignment to discover Superman's secret identity. In reality, this is all a dream implanted by Brain Storm to trick Olsen into uncovering Supes' ID when he wakes up. In the O'Flynn/Oksner have Lois meeting another Lois Lane, a blonde fan of hers who runs into trouble when a thief attacks her boss. The characterization may not be quite right (though it isn't bad) but the Teri Hatcher Lois Lane of the '90s is a pretty much exact visual representation of Oksner's version of the character in the early 80s, much more so than the Margot Kidder version.

Warlord #58: I detailed the main story in this issue here. In the Kupperberg and Duursema Arion backup, the three beings representing the balance are mocking Arion and his powers seem as nothing to them, but then it turns out Calculha was still around, just waiting for Arion to show humility. He dismisses the three beings and reveals that Arion was born in the stars from cosmic forces. Then, he sends the sorcerer and his pals on their way back home.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Mythic Exalted

Back n 2001, I heard White Wolf was releasing a fantasy game. I was interested when I heard (I don't remember where) that it was going to have a Sword & Sorcery vibe and was inspired by CAS's Zothique and Tanith Lee' Flat Earth series. Still somewhere near the height of my old school Sword & Sorcery mania in those long-ago days, and impressed with the White Wolf products I had, I was bound to check it out as soon as I could make the purchase. 

I was a bit disappointed with what I found. Tanith Lee's series was namechecked (and the world was flat), as was other intriguing inspirations like the Old Testament, the Ramayana, and Greek myth, but the world failed to deliver anything close to that flavor to me. Some of that was the anime and video game aspects. Another was how the World of Darkness related-framework was implemented.  None of those things were bad, just different than what I had thought I was going to get. Maybe as Grabowski said: "it's not just Ninja Scroll the RPG, it's also a pulp fantasy revival game that happens to have anime parts," but the pulp fantasy elements seemed pretty low in the mix for me.

Mainly, the world of Creation, just didn't seem very flavorful. One of the original writers was of the opinion that the made-up words/names common to fantasy are silly to modern audiences. I've seen later writers support that view. Whether that was true (and whether it remains true post the success of Lord of the RingsGame of Thrones and The Witcher), I was and am a fantasy fan, and it doesn't reflect my preferences.

Over time, I got over my initial disappoint and came to appreciate Exalted's Creation for what it did do well: providing a sort of fantasy supers in a world with a background conceptual complexity not unlike the other "deep settings" of rpg lore: Tekumel and Glorantha. I recognize the little bits of cool worldbuilding that existed side by side with what I had seen as an unevocative initial conception.

But I still sort of wonder what the setting would have looked like had it leaned heavier or Sword & Sorcery and Sword & Sandals and ancient myth instead of fighting anime, the requisites of White Wolf splat book based line-development, and magitech.

So, I think I may spend a few posts thinking about that.

Friday, March 10, 2023


Tom Kidd

I finally decided (well, at least decided for the time being) on a name for a previously nameless science fantasy setting I've blogged about a few times over the years. The planet will be named Gnydrion (with a silent "g", I think) inspired by Clark Ashton Smith's original name for Zothique, Gyndron.

Here's a selection of a couple of posts in the setting:

Science Fantasy Hexcrawl Inspirations

Two Towns

And the post where I collated more of them can be found here.

Thursday, March 9, 2023


I had a conversation with my friend Paul Vermeren recently about his 80s-veneered, post-apocalyptic superhero game, GRIDSHOCK 20XX available on drivethru in pdf and in hardcopy from Exalted Funeral. Here's the first part of that conversation:

What's the secret origin of GRIDSHOCK 20XX?

GRIDSHOCK 20XX was born from my then-local gaming group's attempt to return to playing Rifts, a game we had loved as teens, 20+ years after we had left it behind. Though we knew there were things about Rifts that were going to be difficult for us to work with, we still had a lot of enthusiasm for the world and our characters, and we wanted to give it another shot as adults. We eventually ended up replacing the Palladium rules with Fate, and then ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying (when we wanted something Fate-like that could handle all the crazy powers and characters). While we enjoyed it for a while, it eventually fizzled out. Despite all the elements in Rifts that didn't work for us anymore, I felt strongly that there was something worth exploring further. 

For me, the genius of Rifts was that it's a post-apocalyptic game which still seems to include every single thing its creator thinks is cool, sort of like Dungeons & Dragons is a hodgepodge of every variety of fantasy. So, I decided I should try to make my own "spiritual successor" to Rifts. I stumbled at first, but it began to take shape once I realized that rather than starting with the real world as the starting point, I could create a post-apocalyptic setting that included all of the elements I wanted if the world was a superhero setting before everything went wrong. Since the superhero genre already contains elements of every other one, I could include whatever I liked.

As I tinkered with what I was calling GRIDSHOCK, it became less of a Rifts tribute and more of its own unique thing - though the influence of Rifts is pretty clear if you look for it. After several years of tinkering, it dawned on me that I could keep on tinkering forever, so I decided (on the spur of the moment) to publish what I had written as a set of small zine-style booklets, using ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying for the system. Lo and behold, GRIDSHOCK 20XX was born.

As currently conceived, is it in your mind more a "post-apocalyptic superhero setting" or "post-apocalyptic kitchen sink setting?" Essentially, is it more like Rifts where anything goes and it can be played in different ways or is it more focused and aimed as supers?

I've occasionally called GRIDSHOCK 20XX a "post-superhero" setting. It's a superhero world that went terribly wrong in 1986 is very important to understanding its present day, 20XX. Many of the player character templates (called Vectors in the setting) riff on established superhero archetypes. In its current booklet incarnation, it uses a superhero RPG system, because ICONS is relatively light but can handle the full array of powers and characters the setting includes. 

The game can played in many different ways, but the default mode of play in GRIDSHOCK 20XX assumes that you're heroic characters standing up to a villainous status quo. That's not usually the case in the traditional superhero genre. 

If you called the world of GRIDSHOCK 20XX a "kitchen sink" or even "gonzo" setting, I'd say that's probably fair. Those terms are often used to describe Rifts, but while Rifts was apparently a cyberpunk-esque world when its apocalypse happened, GRIDSHOCK 20XX was a comic book superhero world. As a result, I've put a good deal of work into unleashing many of the wilder elements of the superhero genre in ways that I think make for an interesting post-apocalyptic, kitchen sink setting where civilization has been radically reshaped, if not destroyed. 

Are there any particular superhero comics you'd point people to for inspiration?

There's a whole page of inspirations (seinen manga, European comics, British comics, movies, video games, toy lines, cartoons, etcetera that were on my mind in addition to American superhero comics) listed on the back inside cover of the fourth zine, Reference.

But to your question, the "Days of Future Past" storyline from Uncanny X-Men #141-142 is the first exposure I had to the idea of a superhero world gone disastrously wrong - though since it does have all those other influences, GRIDSHOCK 20XX is perhaps not quite as grim. It's still something I would recommend. GRIDSHOCK 20XX also has things in common with "deconstructed" superhero comics like Watchmen or Squadron Supreme, and with "alternate future" stories like Earth X, Wonder Woman: Dead Earth, and maybe even "Age of Apocalypse."

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, June 1982 (week 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 March 11, 1982.

Batman #348: Conway and Colan/Janson are back, and we've returned to the ongoing storyline with the "Batman Family" returning to Wayne Manor. There's an amusing bit where Bruce and Dick lose control of the giant penny while moving it. Anyway, Conway's looking to tie up the Man-Bat story, so the Man-Bat is lurking about, just as Langstrom's wife, Francine, and kid show up to accuse Wayne (somewhat rightly) of not fulfilling his promise to help them. Batman makes the questionable to decision to take Langstrom's little girl with him into the caves where Man-Bat may be hiding to deliver the new antidote (that may be lethal) to him. In the end, it works out, though not until after some serious child endangerment.  Meanwhile, Vicki Vale has told her editor she thinks she might know Batman's identity, and that information gets to Rupert Thorne.

Flash #309: Bates and Infantino/Jensen have Barry and police colleagues forced to attend the birthday party of Willard Wiggins' son, which is a great opportunity for Colonel Computron to attack again. The Flash thwarts the attack, but Computron escapes. Again, we get Basil Nurbin and his wife watching the news and lowkey accusing each other of being Computron, but now a college age daughter is added to the mix. Then, Captain Boomerang shows up, looking to help Wiggins out for giving him his start, but then Computron makes him a better offer.

The Dr. Fate backup continues in the hands of Gerber/Pasko and Giffen/Mahlstedt. Nelson's again seeing visions of doom in the Orb of Fate, so Dr. Fate must investigate, and Inza again isn't happy, which I suppose is realistic, but seems a bit of backsliding from the resolution of the last story.  Fate investigates an Iowa farm and gets blasted by a farmer who is more than he seems. Meanwhile, Inza agrees to have dinner with Vern Copeland, a museum director who's been trying to get in touch with Nelson.

G.I. Combat #242: Perhaps in an effort to modernize the title, Kanigher and Catan introduce the Mercenaries feature. These characters are an American (Gordon), a Brit (Prince), and a German (Horst) who are ex-members of the French Foreign Legion, now become mercenaries. In this first story, they are fighting to defend a democratically elected African leader from a General and his forces trying to take over the government in a civil war. The story reveals their code (they refuse to work for the General who's willing to pay more because they've already got a contract). In the end, they don't get paid at all because they fail to bring the General in alive.

We get two Haunted Tank stories. In the first, they do mail delivery and then take over defense of a hill for a unit already dead when they arrived. They sit down to answer the dead men's letters. In the second, pretty ridiculous story, Jeb is found wandering and raving, and he's put in a psych unit. Still raving, he becomes the leader of the other patients, and leads them in an escape. They head out and rescue Jeb's crew, only then does he come to his senses and recall what the "green umbrella" he's being yelling about is: the camouflage cover of a German installation. In the end, all this nonsense has cured the other psych unit escapees.

Nothing special in the rest of the stories. Allikas and Glanzman/Ayers have a blacksmith getting back at a deserter in the Sino-Japanese War by sabotaging a horseshoe. Kashdan and Ayers have a photographer turn his camera into a smoke bomb to help defeat a German pillbox. The second story from this team has a black cat being good luck for a squad of American G.I.s.

Jonah Hex #61: Jonah and Mei Ling sent by the Warlord to infiltrate the Imperial palace so Jonah can assassinate the Emperor. Mei Ling is smuggled into the seraglio, while Jonah has to sneak in on his own. Unfortunately, after the agent of the Warlord that helped them is captured and tortured by the Emperor's forces, things get tough, and Jonah appears to be likely to get captured.

Saga of the Swamp Thing #2: Photo cover on this one, a still from the movie that opened less than a month before. Swamp Thing and the little girl, Casey, are captured by goons working for Sunderland Corporation. A man with mechanical hands, Grasp, plans to torture Swampy to get the secret of the bio-restorative formula. Somehow, Casey manifests psychic abilities that saves Swamp Thing. They escape and Grasp doesn't survive. 

New Teen Titans #20: Kid Flash writes a letter to his parents, filling them in recent events in the lives of himself and his friends: a new super-villain calling himself the Disruptor attacks members of the team; the Titans throw a surprise birthday party for Cyborg; and Kid Flash himself is captured by the Disruptor and his demanding father, a forgotten Batman villain, "Brains" Beldon. The Titans run to the rescue, but the Disruptor keeps disrupting their powers until he is defeated by Raven's soul-self. The "day in the life" framing Wolfman and Perez chose for this issue works well and gives the Titans more depth and personality than was typical of supers comics of this era, outside of the X-Men.

Superman #372: This is a crazy one from Bates and Swan. Scientist Mason Strath threatens to destroy the world with a sphere of anti-matter if Superman doesn't go back in time and save his kids from drowning in a "tidal wave." Superman takes him back in time to prove the past can't be changed, but he discovers that the kids were just robots! It turns out his work has made Strath radioactive, and the government removed the kids to protect them and replaced them with robots. When the robots got washed out to see in the tidal wave, they just figured they'd let Strath think they died. Superman creates suits to protect the kids from the radiation and reunites father and kids. Also, he stops the anti-matter that slipped Strath's control.

Rozakis and Kane bring back "Superman 2021." Jimmy Olsen's grandchildren are kidnapped by two extortionists, so old man Jimmy improvises a new secret signal to call Superman III for help. It's amusing how "futuristic" the 2021 clothes look.

Monday, March 6, 2023

13th Age: The Strangling Sea


Last night we had our first actual session of 13th Age (after a character creation session). I was running the adventure The Strangling Sea. The setup for the adventure is based on the character's relationships and some random rolls, so we were perhaps a little slower getting started that normal (of course the biggest delay is always the pre-game chitchat), but it ran pretty smooth after that being a D&D derivative.

The party was sent by a wizardly patron connected with the Archmage to find a missing artificer. Their only clue was a friend of his in a distance town. This necessitated a travel montage, which is one of 13th Age's dfferences from other sorts of D&D, which asks the player's to essential describe what happened in a round-robin description of incidents. There seems to be a bit of reticence here in the players' parts, surprising since all of them have run games before and two have published works. Likely, it was just being put on the spot.

After the travel we got to the only combat of the adventure. A battle with some thugs in service of the Diabolist:

The player's triumphed, though without the escalation die, it might have been a close thing. 

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Imagining the Hyborian Age

 The map of Conan's world by Katrin Dirim I shared the other day was interesting not just because her her artistic style (though that's great), but because of the way she chose to depict the Hyborian Age costume and material culture. The prevailing style, since the Frazetta covers have been a vague "barbaric fantasy," which each artist working their own variation on the theme.

Howard's stories, by contrast, tend to be much more "historical" in their depiction of these things--though they aren't really consistent in their historical era. Different locales in Conan's world seem to come from different points in history: there are High Medieval tales ("Hour of the Dragon", "A Witch Shall Be Born"), Golden Age of Piracy stories ("Black Stranger"), stories that seem to be set in the ancient world ("God in the Bowl"), and even stories that like ahistorical periods of a Medieval version of the 18th Century ("Beyond the Black River").

I think Dirm's idea to narrow this range a bit to make it make more sense is a good one. On Reddit, she says she capped the level of armor at roughly the early middle ages, and mixed in elements from as far back as the Bronze Age to keep the atmosphere.

I think this fits well with the more "ancient world" interpretation Mark Schultz does in volume 1 of the Wandering Star/Del Rey collection:

Some of the slight re-shifts of the names would be fairly simple. Iranistan becomes the Persian Empire (take you pick which one), and Turan instead of being a stand-in for the Ottoman Turks, are maybe the Parthians? Aquilonia and Nemedian could be recast as somewhat Carolingian Frank:

Though I have seen portrayals (and there is some support for it) that Aquilonia could be Roman!

The Age of Sail stuff in Zingara and the Barachan Isles would require the most change, but there have been pirates as long as there have been boats, so it's possible.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, June 1982 (week 1)

I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! Today, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands on the week of March 4, 1982. 

Arak Son of Thunder #10: Thomas and Colon/Acala have Arak and Valda head striking out over land now, still trying to get to Constantinople. They run into some scuzzy Byzantine soldiers and then a couple of mythic beings: Valda is bewitched by a satyr's pipes and Arak fights a centaur. The centaur then shows our hero the strangest thing of all: his face carved into a mountain! In the Viking Prince backup by Kanigher and Duursema, the Prince has his arm back, but it won't work, so he runs out into the snow to commit suicide by engaging wolf pack, weaponless. Seeing his dwarf court jester fighting the wolves, though, shames him out of self-pity, and the Prince returns to heroic form. He and the jester travel to the Castle of Krogg the Red, where his sister is being held.

DC Comics Presents #46: Bridwell and Saviuk bring back the Global Guardians from the Super-Friends series. Interestingly, because Super-Friends isn't considered continuity, the fandom wiki lists this issue as the characters' first appearances, but Superman has clearly met then before. Anyway, Dr. Mist summons Superman to help the international heroes of the Global Guardians stop a band of evil magic types from raising an evil sorcerer from the dead. There's globe-trotting artifact collecting to resurrect the sorcerer, necessitating several team-ups. In the end, Dr. Mist and Supes have outsmarted the villains and their apparent victory isn't.

Fury of Firestorm #1: Because Gerry Conway (at least) demanded it, Firestorm has got his own series again with Broderick and Rodriguez on art. Firestorm will make his debut in the Super-Friends cartoon in 1984, so maybe there was already talk of that? Anyway, this issue introduces the Native American shaman villain, Black Bison, when an ancient talisman causes teacher John Ravenhair is controlled by his great-grandfather who wants to get religious artifacts back from the Museum of Natural History. 

The possessed Ravenhair steals the Bison headdress and coup-stick. Calling himself Black Bison, he uses the magic of the coup-stick to animate the taxidermied animal displays causing them to run riot throughout the museum. While Firestorm is saving visitors from the stampeding animals, Bison animates a white steed and declares revenge upon all those who have desecrated the sacred tradition of the Bison Cult. He makes good his escape while Firestorm is distracted, and we last see him in front of the house of a senator.

Justice League #203: If this issue were a TV show, Conway and Heck would have served up a backdoor pilot for a Royal Flush Gang series. Instead, it's just an issue where we get more on the origins of the members of the new Royal Flush Gang then we perhaps wanted or needed. At sea, Aquaman is enjoying a day of hazing the new kid, Firestorm, when the two encounter a hydrofoil piloted by the Jack and Ten of Spades who nearly kill them. Wonder Woman is headed to the hospital to mee those two when she is ambushed and defeated by the King of Spades. Meanwhile, at the Royal Flush Gang's headquarters, the Jack discovers that the Ace, who recruited the other members, is secretly a robot reporting to a mysterious superior he calls "Wild Card."

Weird War Tales #112: Kanigher and Spiegle give us the silliest Creature Commandos story yet. The Commandos are in North Africa and are forced to hide from the Germans inside(!) a pyramid, where they find the tomb of a Medusa. In a D&Dish twist, the Commandos (minus Dr. Medusa) partake of some old wine in the tomb and have a trippy experience--where the actually shrink down to like a 3 inch size! Dr. Medusa is forced to carry her tiny comrades in her snake hair (where they are bitten) and complete the mission on her own, though the Tiny Commandos do group together to provide supporting fire. Somehow, the bite of Medusa's hair's causes them to grow back to normal size.

That's followed by a story of the French Reign of Terror by Newman and Matucenio where an army officer sends his superiors to the guillotine for personal gain, only to be beheaded by their headless ghosts. Finally, Kasdan and Zamora reveal the fate of G.I. who saves an old witch's cat from the Germans and is gifted with nine lives. He uses eight of them being a reckless gloryhound, but the last he sacrifices to save a green kid, earning himself instant reincarnation as a cat.

Wonder Woman #292: Levitz/Thomas and the artistic team of Colan, McLaughlin, and Tanghal continue the Amazon Princess' conflict with the Adjudicator. Wonder Woman doesn't actually appear much this issue. Instead, we get Black Canary, Huntress, and Power Girl defeating Plague at the CDC (or Disease Control Center as it's called) in Atlanta. Supergirl and Madame Xanadu head to war-ravaged Earth-X to team-up with Phantom Lady and confront the personification of War.