Thursday, April 27, 2023

The Grind of Acheron

There is a realm where the obdurate, crystalline structure of a Mechanus shatters and fragments, floating free into the void of half-formed concept. This is a border, though not any physical border because the clockwork nirvana is infinite and redundant in its mechanism, but a conceptual border where the Prime Mover's certainty no longer holds, where the grand program fails. This was the place where, after the fall from Unity (as Law sees it), rebellious Archons sundered themselves from Mechanus. This is the ideaspace separating Pure Law from Hell. This is Acheron.

It's a hell of sorts in its own right. Its acolytes know it as the Crucible. Here, they contend, new truths of Law are formed. Perhaps one day there will be one stronger and surer than either Hell or Mechanus? Adepts of Pure Law view it as gall on the purity of Order, the place where Hell's error abrades it. The Lords of Hell see it as an opportunity.

Pieces of supernal machinery break off at the edges of Mechanus, twisting and reforming, to store failing Order within, into planet-size Platonic solids which continue to degrade, erode and crumble. These have been colonized by numerous beings: malcontents from Hell, reformed things of Chaos, and authoritarian souls with iron dreams of their own version of Order. All the would-be dictators and tyrants begin to gather their followers among the lost and the beaten and forge their own armies of conquest. And then they go to war.

The struggle is as senseless as it is endless. None of the despots or authorities are ever able to overwhelm the others and seldom do they convert them. The strength of Law is shattered, after all. Also, none of them have clear vision of Unity, for they were only born after it. They merely ape what they know of Hell, crudely. 

One might be tempted to view Acheron as a place of Chaos, but philosophers point out that when taken as a whole, the plane is as predictable as Mechanus. Its war machines grind forever on at the behest of devils who will never achieve the godhood they crave.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, July 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 April 29, 1982.

Action Comics #533: Wolfman and Swan resolve the H.I.V.E. story. The organization threaten the world with a cloud of nuclear waste to distract Superman so they can kill Jimmy and Lois. Our heroes stay one step ahead. 

In the Atom backup, Air Wave and his father D.A. Larry Jordan help the tiny titan foil a Dallas oilman's plot to blow up the nuclear physicists' convention.

All-Star Squadron #11: Thomas and Gonzales/Ordway have Akhet and his Flying Eye are preparing the annex in the Earth in the name of his Brotherhood. After an encounter with the All-Stars, the alien abducts Hawkgirl, Steel, Robotman, and Atom. While the Flying Eye patrols the globe, the world leaders weigh their options. A group of All-Stars investigating the disappearance of a group of missing scientists and the captured All-Stars in the Eye both discover the same thing: Anton Hastor, the supposedly dead enemy of Hawkman and Hawkgirl.

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #5: The Zoo Crew help museum curator Oklahoma Bones (son of the famous archeologist) with the issue of alien easter eggs uncovered before World War II on Easter Bunny Island. Pig-Iron accidentally activates an egg and releases an alien yolk monster. The Crew ultimately scrambles the egg monster, but at the annual White House Easter Egg hunt a visiting ambassador turns out to be the Ratzi Baron von Vermin and the eggs he donated eggs are duplicates of the one which nearly destroyed the Zoo Crew.

Detective Comics #516: Conway and Newton bring the School of Crime storyline to a close. The criminals catch on to Batman's disguise as Matches Malone. The Headmaster asks him to be the next guy to dress up as Batman for a demonstration. Batman realizes what they are up to and escapes the trap, then starts taking the thugs down one by one. The Headmaster has a total breakdown seeing all his plotting and planning brought to an end. Meanwhile in Gotham, Vicki Vale is pushed to deliver her photos with evidence of Batman's identity--which will go into the hands of Rupert Thorne, and Gordon becomes partners with Jason Bard, determined to find the truth behind Hamilton Hill.

In the Batgirl backup by Burkett and Delbo, Barbara is in a bad way after the bite of Lady Viper. While she remains unconscious for about a week, Lady Viper continues her criminal spree. But when Barbara finally wakes up, she finds out things have gotten even worse: She's now a snake woman like Viper!

New Adventures of Superboy #31: An obsessed scientist gives his son super-powers. As Pulsar, he's pitted against the Boy of Steel. Dear old Dad continues to sap Superboy's strength with a red sun ray just to make sure of his kid's victory. In the end, though, tips from Pa Kent on the "sweet science" of boxing help Superboy win the day, and Pulsar turns against his father's "win at all costs" methods.

Dial H for Hero continues to be a thing. They fight a villain named Whitefire and their are two characters created by one fan this issue, which is notable, but honestly that's all I recall and I only read it two days ago.

Tales of the New Teen Titans #2: Wolfman and Perez reveal the origin of Raven, most of which we knew already, but now we get more of her time in Azarath and the reveal (at least I think it was a reveal) that Trigon was actually born of the evil of the people Azarath they cast out into the space between dimensions. One nice touch is how questions the Titans ask Raven as she's telling the story kind of lampshade questions the reader might have like: "How did these people leave Earth and go to this place between all dimensions to begin with?" Anyway, given that most of this was known, I don't feel like the extended origin justifies its page count.

Unknown Soldier #265: Haney and Ayers/Talaoc send the Soldier to North Africa where he must solve the murder of the tyrannical Brigadier General "Bull" Bannon. He has full authority to act as judge, jury, and executioner, but Bannon was hated by his men and the Colonel that seems likely to have killed him is beloved and by all appearances a fine leader. This one is continued to next issue.

The Losers encounter some kids really gungho to go to war and the Losers are sort of forced to let them in a story by Kanigher and Evans, which is disappointing in that it barely uses the Losers at all. Kanigher/Severin bring the Enemy Ace back to the killer skies where takes out some French planes trying to ambush him then tangles with crazy ol' Steve Savage briefly.

World's Finest Comics #281: Burkett and Novick bring Superman's and Batman's class with the military name-themed b-listers to a close. While Batman prepares to thwart their plans from the inside, Superman escapes the timeless dimension they sent him to by focusing on his heartbeat and thus bringing time to the timeless place. With the team back together, the bad guys go down. 

Next up, Green Arrow tracks down a homeless woman to was witness to an arson for insurance money scam, but not before the arsonists kill her. Ollie figures out the real estate mogul responsible and blackmails him into building a homeless shelter to avoid jail. Rozakis and Saviuk still have Hawkman out in space fighting aliens. This incident has gone on too long for me. We end on the Bridwell/Newton Marvel Family, which has the Family (plus Kid Eternity) having to contend with a giant Mr. Mind.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Weird Revisited: Comic Book Swordswomen of the Seventies

The original version of this post appeared in 2010...

"Sword-swinging fantasy protagonist" has generally been a male gig. The pulps gave us a number of Sword & Sorcery heroes of renown, but Jirel of Joiry, CL Moore's "gal Conan," is the only heroine of note from the era--Howard's Dark Agnes being a "historical" adventuress. It wasn't until the Sword & Sorcery revival of the late seventies-early eighties that more women joined the fray.

Despite the smaller number of Swords and Sorcery heroes in comics, there's a much larger percentage of swordswomen. This can probably be attributed to the visual nature of comics--and the inherent appeal of scantily-clad warrior ladies to a predominantly male audience. Despite that, the beauteous women warriors of comics are for the most part more obscure than their male counterparts. It's time they got their due, starting with the trailblazers of the 1970s.

The first swordswoman of the seventies didn't have to deal with sorcery, but she did exist in a post-apocalyptic-fantasy setting, so I'm going to give her a nod. Lyra of the Femizons is from the pages of Savage Tales (vol. 1) #1 (1971) in a story called "Fury of the Femizons." This might be Stan Lee's update on William Moulton Marston's psychosexually underpinned Wonder Woman concept, or an alarmist "cautionary tale" of women's lib gone wild--or, you know, an idea he scrawled on a napkin at a local deli to fill pages.

Lyra's 23rd Century is essentially a reverse Gor, or The Planet of the Apes if you replace "apes" with "Amazons." Lyra is the toughest gladiatrix around, defeating (and killing) the weak for the "vicious voluptuaries" of Queen Vega's court. That's until she meets hunky slave Mogon and agrees to help him with his revolutionary aims for the sake of love. It all ends tragically, of course--well, mostly for Mogon. Lyra is forced to kill him to "prove" her loyalty to Vega. But she feels really bad about it and realizes, "when a man is but a slave--it is the women who live in bondage." Not sure what Lee meant there, but let's move on.

Our next swordsman is a little less obscure. Red Sonja, the so-called She-Devil with a Sword, debuted in 1973 in Conan the Barbarian #23. Sonja was Roy Thomas' Hyborian Age adaption of Sonya of Rogatino in his Conan-ified interpretation of Robert E. Howard's historical actioner "The Shadow of the Vulture." Thomas' Sonja got magical puissance with a blade from a goddess, along with geas that she would never know (in the Biblical sense) a man until he had defeated her in fair combat. After her Conan appearances, she got a famous chain-mail bikini from artist Esteban Maroto and a lot of further appearances, including a succession of three self-titled series.

Marvel's loss of the Howard licenses couldn't sheathe Sonja's sword. She came back, and so did her chain-mail outfit so beloved by artists and fans. After a couple of one shots at other companies, Dynamite Entertainment picked up the character in 1999, and she's still going strong in an ongoing series and a succession of limiteds.

Just as Red Sonja was beginning to climb in popularity, DC unleashed their own swordswoman. Raven-haired Starfire got her own title from the start, debuting in 1976. The creation of David Micheline and Mike Vosburg, Starfire swung her sword for her world’s freedom from the alien Mygorg and Yorg for only 8 issues. Like Lyra, she had a dead love for motivation, and like Red Sonja, she was always spurning the advances of men.

The next two heroines chronologically have a connection to Red Sonja. The first, and the one to appear in the seventies, was Ghita of Alizarr. Frank Thorne took over the pencilling chores for Red Sonja in Marvel Feature #2 (Jan. 1976) and continued through the eleventh issue of her first self-titled series. Thorne spent most of the seventies getting photographed with attractive women--mostly by dressing up like a wizard and judging Red Sonja lookalike contests at conventions:

It's fair to say that ending his tour on Red Sonja didn't end his interest in buxom warrior women, so he created his own. In Warren's futuristic 1984 #7 (1978), the Red Sonja-reminiscent but blonde-tressed, Ghita of Alizarr debuted. Freedom from Comics Code restrictions freed Ghita from her clothes--frequently--and she proved not at all encumbered by any Sonja-esque restrictions on whom she might have sex with or how often.

Ghita appears in three issues of 1984 and also in several collections where Thorne gets to play Thenef the Wizard in the cover photographs.

And here our heroines ride forth out of the seventies. 

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Go Ape


Over on the Flashback Universe Blog, Jason Sholtis and I have started an episode by episode review and commentary on The Planet of the Apes 1974 TV show.

Head over there are check it out if that short of thing interests you.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, July 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 April 22, 1982.

Brave & the Bold #188: Kanigher and Aparo team Batman with Thorn (as in Rose & Thorn). After taking a group of any city kids to do some environmental clan up, Batman investigates the murder of a former Nazi spy and the theft of a canister of a deadly, biological warfare gas. Batman meets Rose Forrest as she's weirdly being attacked by birds, then investigates the theft of her father's corpse from its grave. At the cemetery, Batman tangles with a group of Neo-Nazis and he is assisted by Thorn, Rose's alter. Together, Batman and Thorn defeat the Nazis, but Batman decides to continue his investigation alone.

Legion of Super-Heroes #289: The Legion searches for its five members who are lost on an icy asteroid. Lightning Lad and Chameleon Boy both engage in some self-flagellation on how their leadership got the group here. Saturn Girl and Timber Wolf, trapped on the asteroid get close, which is easily misunderstood by Light Lass when she arrives with the rescue party. Meanwhile, the darkness teased a couple of issues back is about to make itself known. Levitz and Giffen/Patterson are handling both the character stuff and foreshadowing their epic well.

Green Lantern #154: Barr and Staton/Smith have a distress signal taking Hal to planet where he saves some natives and takes them to their tribe, whose chief thanks him for protecting them "again." Only problem is Hal's never been here. After he helps them out again they offer him a throne and jewels. It turns out they mistaken him for a Green Lantern, named Dalor, who shows up and tells Hal that he is in Sector 2813 instead of 2814. Dalor explains that the tribe's offerings are merely his payments for his services. Hal's not happy about that and demands Dalor to accompany him to his spatial base.

Dalor's a new Green Lantern, but he explains all the planets have been paying him for his services, so he thought was the way it went for Green Lanterns. Hal wants to tell the Guardians, but there's another distress signal from the planet. Dalor tries to beat Hal to attend to the emergency, but he falls unconscious, just like the rest of the tribe, due to a sulfur cloud. Hal fans out the gas and saves everybody but the chief, who died by intoxication. Hal lays into Dalor for his behavior, but the projection of a Guardian appears in front of them, saying that they'll judge the one responsible.

House of Mystery #306: Jones and Sutton bring Andrew Bennett and Mary to Victorian London. Bennett is immediately mistaken for Jack the Ripper, and Mary is murdering woman in the name of the ripper to try to kill the ancestor of Dr. Barr who made the cancer cure that's killing vampires, so he'll never be born. Turns out the doctor who helps Bennett is actually Jack the Ripper, and his housekeeper (the sister of a prostitute Mary kills is Barr's ancestor.

The next story by Cavalieri and Patricio is better and certainly less convoluted. Government agents are interrogating a Private who stole a file on the secret Project: Ultra. They give him an experimental truth serum, which allows him to see all truth. The final story by Gwyon and Curry has a young boy told all his life by his vain and neurotic mother only to find it it's true--as he bleeds to death from hemophilia. As someone with hemophilia, I don't particularly find the story offensive, but it is dumb and terribly inaccurate in its portrayal of the condition.

Sgt. Rock #365: Kanigher and Redondo have Easy in a tough spot in the desert, but they're saved by a gungho kid from Appalachia who loved the arm so much he wants to stay in 30 years. He doesn't get to, but breaking the usual formula, he isn't KIA, but gets a ticket home due to injuries. He guips he got 30 minutes of action instead of 30 years. Mandrake is on art duties for the next story, a sci-fi yarn where a woman fleeing invading aliens is helped out by the geyser, Old Faithful. Between this and Brave & the Bold this month, I suspect Kanigher has an environmentalist streak.

In "Destruction from Below" a violent leader of a Stone Age human tribe leads them underground, but then he falls into some weird mushroom patch and sleeps for a looong time. When he awakens, he attempts to lead the degenerate descendants of his band, but the modern world is too much for them to handle when they emerge in a city park. In the final story with art by DeMulder, an F-4 Phantom pilot's dream of a dogfight with a dragon is symbolically prophetic of the way he escapes an enemy in a dogfight the following day. 

Superman Family #220: Supergirl is still trapped in a ghostly state thanks to Master Jailer. She goes to Ivy University and seeks help from Ray Palmer, the Atom, who is able to figure out a solution. Returned to normal, Supergirl goes back to New York. She manages locate the Master Jailer's hideout in the Brooklyn Bridge--but he turns out to be a robot, and the real Master Jailer is still at large.

In the Kupperberg/Delbo Jimmy Olsen, the accumulated inconsistencies lead Jimmy to begin to realize that he is under someone's influence. But he goes to the Planet and accuses Clark of being Superman, as Brain Storm observes from his secret lair. The O'Flynn/Oksner has a reformed criminal Lane helped stay out of jail tipping her off to a job his old gang is pulling. She helps fake his death so they can catch the gang. Finally, in the Mr. and Mrs. Superman story by Bridwell/Schaffenberger, introduce (briefly) a Supergirl stand-in--Liandly from the planet Rolez. She returns to her homeworld at the end of the story, but not before helping Superman against the Earth-2 Colonel Future.

Warlord #58: I detailed the main story in this issue here. In the Kupperberg and Duursema Arion backup, Arion continues on his journey more troubled than before, after learning he was born from cosmic matter. Meanwhile, Garn Daanuth, sorcerer and ruler of the dead city Mu, plots Arion's downfall. While Arion sleeps the sorcerer sends an astral projection to kill him. Arion awakes up but is struck down by Garn. Gemimn and Chaon observe the battle an argue over who they think will prevail.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Four-Color Swords & Sorcery: Monsters!

Earl Norem

Big monsters are a hallmark of Bronze Age Four-Color fantasy of the Swords & Sorcery mode. These creatures are often are the antagonist of the "big battle" of the issue, the full manifestation of the menace posed by the main villain--and occasionally the main villain themselves. Less formidable big monsters may be an obstacle to the final confrontation with the villain.

The monsters come in a variety of forms from merely giant to gargantuan natural animals to animate statues/automata of humanoids or animal shape. Tentacled, tendriled, or pseudopod-waving creatures seem to particularly common. I suspect so their threat is made clear in a way that doesn't immediately injure the heroes or result in a Comics Code Approval imperiling amount of blood.

So are multiple heads. Both of these have the added benefit particularly in games of allowing one creature to engage multiple heroic opponents more easily.

These creatures, at least the bigger ones, are seldom defeated by hacking them until they die. In game terms, the simplest to defeat require a "critical hit" or called shot of some sort, often an injury to their eye. Others are dispatched by a trick of some sort: using the environment or their own abilities or natural weaponry against them. Finally, some can only be killed using a special item or weapon, typically obtained earlier in the adventure.

What does this meaning for emulating the genre in gaming? These are my take aways:

  • Unique, big monsters need to show up regularly. Maybe not every adventure, but most of them.
  • The best way to defeat the creatures should seldom be the most obvious brute force method.
  • This means the GM needs to reward creative thinking by the players to handle these encounters.
  • If the ways of defeating the monster are particularly limited, the means must be telegraphed to the players and be available to them.

Friday, April 14, 2023


Two Little Mice, the designers of Broken Compass, have a new game on the way called Outgunned, which is billed as "a cinematic action rpg inspired by the classics of the action and heist genre, from Die Hard to True Lies, passing through James Bond, Lethal Weapon, Kingsman, Ocean’s Eleven, Hot Fuzz, and the latest John Wick."

The Kickstarter hasn't launched yet, but the "quickstart" (really more of a preview) is available on drivethru as pay what you want. It's basically the same system as Broken Compass, though has a few new features and refinements. It's a bit less rules lite than BC, though still very much a rules lite game.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, July 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 April 15, 1982.

Batman #349: Conway and Colan/Alcala reveal just what sort of trouble Robin is in, when Dala outs herself and her "brother," a Monk, as vampires. Robin escapes, but not before Dala bites him. Meanwhile, with the threat of Vicki Vale revealing her photo evidence about Batman's real identity, Alfred goes to Boston to hire the Human Target to impersonate Bruce Wayne. To shake for father out of his depression after losing his job, Barbara gets him to partner with Jason Bard in order to investigate the suspicious political situation in Gotham.

Flash #311: Bates is milking this mystery of the identity of Colonel Computron. He's firmly zeroed us in on the suspects, but it's really just a tease in that he isn't giving us any means of choosing who might be the culprit. The alliance Colonel Computron and Boomerang doesn't last long, as Computron traps the Flash and Captain Boomerang on a high-tech boomerang that takes them both into the past. They contend with pirates, but then make it back to the present--but Computron still gets away. 

In the backup, Dr. Fate is trapped in the nihil-verse and his to contend with the Lord of Chaos,  Vandaemeon. He makes it back to Earth, only to find Inza missing from the tomorrow. Meanwhile, Inza is getting close to the silver fox, Vern Copeland. 

G.I. Combat #243: In the first Haunted Tank tale, Kanigher would have us believe that a group of highly disciplined teen soldier would turn on their Oberst when it was revealed that Americans weren't cowardly like he said. Next we get something more plausible, as an O.S.S. operative pretends to be a blind man to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower--and blow it up--so the Germans can't use it as an observation post. He fails. 

Newman and Redondo present a pointed tale of the Pacific Theater, where a Nisei soldier fights bravely for the U.S.--and his parents read his letters about his exploits from a U.S. internment camp. Kashdan/Catan reveal the secret history of a Jewish clairvoyant who tricks Hitler into flubbing the response to D-Day. In the final Haunted Tank story, Jeb briefly loses his nerve worrying about the price of command, but rallies to when the day.

Jonah Hex #62: Hex's caught by the Manchu Emperor, who knows about the assassination plot by the White Lotus and is prepared to torture Hex to find out where she is. Luckily, Mei Ling rescues him and the two escape the palace. Sledge, a sailor, offers them passage back to the states, on the ship Malay Tiger, but when they discover the ship's carrying opium, things get ugly. Meanwhile, the Imperial troops raid the White Lotus stronghold, but Wu Gong Phat escapes and swears revenge against Hex.

Saga of the Swamp Thing #3: "A Town Has Turned to Blood." Pasko and Yeates have the Swamp Thing and Casey arriving via freight-train in Rosewood, Illinois. Swamp Thing becomes involved with a small band of hunters out to rid their town of vampires. They ultimately flood the town to get rid of the vampires--will see how that turns out in Alan Moore's run. Swamp Thing is pretty cold in that the sole survivor of the humans, a teenage boy, asks Swamp Thing to take him with him, but Swampy says, "no, stay and rebuild the town." This town that is under feet of water. Where no one else is left alive.

New Teen Titans #21: Wolfman and Perez introduce Brother Blood. Raven and Starfire save a baseball stadium crowd from terrorists, unaware that they are being monitored by the criminals' secret backer in a satellite base. Meanwhile, Cyborg's ex, Marcy Reynolds, is murdered when she tries to leave the Church of Brother Blood's commune. Trying to get information on the cult, Robin, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, and Raven infiltrate the cult, and are disturbed by what they see. Their identities are discovered, and the four battle Blood and his minions, but are defeated. Raven's soul-self escapes to warn the other Titans.

This issue also contains a preview of "The Night Force" by Wolfman and Colan/Smith. The mysterious, time-traveling Baron Winter reviews the operatives he soon plans to gather: Jack Gold, a reporter investigating a Pentagon operation called "Project Satan"; Donovan Caine, a professor conducting a parapsychology experiment in the form of a Black Mass; and Vanessa van Helsing, a young psychiatric patient who only Winter seems to be able to calm. But someone else is watching these individuals, as well.

Superman #373: Bates and Swan/Hunt bring back Vartox. He's after a quick hookup with his love interest, Lana Lang, but when she suddenly acquires an aura that will allow her to live on his homeworld, maybe they can get married after all? Vartox assumes this strange turn of events is just his power working unconsciously (okay), but it turns out it's part of a revenge plot by Vartox's first (and supposedly deceased) lover.

In the "Private Life of Clark Kent" backup, Linda Danvers talks Clark into doing a cameo on her soap Secret Hearts as himself. When Clark hears an ambulance nearby being stuck in gridlock, he tries and apparently fails to get Linda to change into Supergirl help. He becomes Superman and does it himself. He confronts Linda about not handling it, but it turns out she was asking him via super-ventriloquism to handle take care of it. Embarrassed that he was not listening to her at the time, Clark apologizes. The drama!

Monday, April 10, 2023

Weird Revisited: Four-Color Fantasy Adventure Seeds

This follow up to this post first appeared in 2016. These aren't actual stories from comics (though some are close), but pastiches of the sort of thing that does show up.

1. A madman seeks a golden disk to bring life to colossal automaton, an ancient weapon of war, that lies half-buried in a remote desert.

2. A city under seige! Legend holds a magic gem will restore to life the mummy of the cities demigod founder. His body lies in a crypt in deep within the city's catacombs.

3. The jungle-choked ruins of an ancient city surround a vast, walled garden, an earthly paradise, inhabited by beautiful, golden-skinned youths. The brutish beast-folk that dwell in the ruins will let no stranger enter the garden, nor any of the garden's inhabitants leave.

4. An arboreal village of elfs is harassed by pale, giant bat riding goblins from a cave  high on a nearby mountainside, who raid the village for victims for their cook-pots.

5. A PC has a rare trait that fits a prophecy--a prophecy predicting the downfall of a tyrannical ruler, who means to ensure it does not come to pass.

6. A lake of lurid, swirling mists where time becomes strange. At it's center is an island with a castle where an immortal witch queen dwells with her eternally youthful handmaidens. No one comes to the witch's castle without being summoned.

7. A playing piece from the game of the gods falls to earth, perhaps accidentally or at the whim of a capricious godling. This touches off a race to acquire the piece with the rat-men minions of one sorceror contesting with the shadow demons of a cambion child--and the PCs caught in the middle.

Friday, April 7, 2023

Broken Compass What If?

CMON, the current owners of Broken Compass, have been slowly releasing the books in the second Broken Compass Kickstarter in pdf to drivethru. (When and if there will ever be a physical book reprint is unclear. There have been conflicting reports.) The latest of these is What If? It's a book of 14 "mini settings" adding to the pulp, pirates, and Verne style Voyages extraordinaires setting books already available. I've been anxious to get my hands on this book for some time as I knew it had rules adaptations for some genres I was interested in.

So, what's it got?

  • Cosmic Horror for Lovecraftian stuff. It's got new rules for Madness. This one is a bit of an odd fit for BC as it's a game of cinematic action heroes, but they make a few suggestions to up the lethality.
  • Space Opera is particularly geared toward a Star Warsian setting, giving rules for Energy (the Force) and succumbing to Darkness--and also for beam weapons that haven't appeared in any setting before.
  • Gods and Men for Hercules and Xena style adventures. It would also work for things like the Clash of the Titans remake, and probably the Harryhausen Greek myth films or even Sword & Sandals movies. It has rules for Mythological Adventurers (demigods, exiled gods and the like).
  • Good Boys, an animal adventures (typically pets) setting. It includes Animal Tags (which could be some use in creating nonhuman alien tags for a Space Opera game, now that I think about it)
  • Fantasy Quest for D&Dish fantasy. It has the rudimentary magic system and rules for fantasy races. I'd choose it over D&D to play something like the Dungeons & Dragons movie! :D
  • High School for stuff "kids on bikes" fare or stuff like The Faculty or a number of CW shows.
  • Last on Earth, a post-apocalyptic setting. It has "Danger Clock" rules for impending doom.
  • Black Light is a classic cyberpunk setting. It has rules for Grafts (cyberware).
  • Toon City is for Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or Cool World type games, though you could probably ditch that angle and just use the rules for a toons game. In addition to toon characters it also gives rules for "stuffed" characters, so you come do Muppet movies, too.
  • Urban Legends does X-Files or Warehouse 13 sort of stuff. It could probably also be used to set up a GvsE thing, too. There are rules for playing Supernatural entities.
  • Leaving Wonderland has a narrower premise, I think, than the others. It's about trying to escape a weird, fantastical world like Alice in Wonderland or Labyrinth. There are rules for creating a random Wonderland.
  • High Noon is an Old West setting. It's got Quick-draw Duel rules.

There are also guidelines for hacking the Broken Compass system, and a couple of adventure set ups.

While not all of these settings are things I see myself playing, all of them give rules that I could see myself kitbashing to make up other stuff. As such, this is a really useful book for BC fans. One caveat: in order for these settings to stay "mini" they reference material presented in the other, full setting books. If this is the only BC expansion you buy, you aren't going to be able to use it's contents to the fullest.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Sword & Sandals Mystara

The Known World of Mystara is a Hyborian Age-esque fantasyland of often thinly disguised real world cultures from a variety of historical eras, but the general vibe seems Medieval to early modern. I think it would be interesting reimagine Mystara as a more ancient world inspired, Sword & Sorcery setting, though will not greater adherence to a single era. Here's how it could breakdown:

Emirate of Ylaruam: This desert region has always been oddly placed, but depending on what latitude you think it's at, it might be weird for it to be a hot desert. Maybe it's a cold desert like the Tarim Basin or the Taklamakan. You could ditch the faux Arab culture for something more Central Asian, and give it's central religion a more Eastern flavor.

Empire of Thyatis: Less Byzantium and more Rome, though I would probably move it more in a Hellenistic direction. What the Empire of Alexander might have been like if it had been able to hang together better after his death.

Grand Duchy of Karameikos: This would stll be a breakaway, former province (though not a "Grand Duchy"). There wouldn't be true, Medieval feudalism here, but something more like the Roman latifundia.

Kingdom of Ierendi: This kingdom ruled by adventurers is kind of a pure fantasy trope, but I would give its material culture a Minoan spin.

Minrothad Guilds: A plutocratic thalassocracy more like Phoenicia or Carthage. The Guilds would be collegia.

Principality of Glantri: Well, still a magocracy, but maybe more like the Estruscans?

Republic of Darokin: Keep the plutocratic republic, but cast it less as Venice and more as Republican Rome with a of the "center of caravan routes" feel like Samarkand or Palmyra. A bit of Persian influence wouldn't be misplaced as Darokin does border Sind, which is sort of Mystara's India.

The Northern Reaches would probably still just be sort of Vikings, I guess, maybe more proto-Vikings like the horned helmet wearing raiders of the Nordic Bronze Age. Ethengar might be more Scythians than Mongols. Haven't given much thought to the demihuman lands or Atraughin. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Wednesday Comcs: DC, July 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 April 8, 1982. 

Arak Son of Thunder #11: Thomas and Colon/Acala continue Arak's encounters with creatures from Greek myth. Khiron leads Arak to the top of Mount Olympus where Arak's face has been carved in the mountainside! Khiron offers to train Arak like he did Heracles. That's got to wait, thought, because they've got to fight a harpy. Then, they encounter the satyr, Satyricus who lured Valda away from Arak in the night. The satyr tells them that soldiers led by Brutius have captured Valda. They raid the soldier's camp, but Valda has already been taken elsewhere, and Khiron gets shot by an archer.

The Viking Prince back-up comes to its conclusion with Prince Jon and his companions reaching the fortress of Krogg the Red. Jon fights his way to the tower where Krogg is holding his sister at swordpoint. Rather, than risk his sister's life, Jon surrenders. To save her brother, Ailsa throws herself out the tower window. Jon throws his sword and kills Krogg. His quest at an end but not in the way he had hoped, Jon sets out to wander the world with his companions.

DC Comics Presents #47: Kupperberg and Swan/DeCarlo bring us a crossover with the Masters of the Universe franchise. This would be when is only a toy line (and possibly one not even on the shelves yet. I'm not sure of the dates.), before the Filmation cartoon. Superman is brought to Eternia to help He-Man and Battle Cat fight off Skeletor and Beastman, who are attempting to take over Castle Grayskull. This is the first appearance of the Prince Adam secret identity, though he's more of a playboy here, more Don Diego de la Vega than Clark Kent. Also, Swan does not draw particularly compelling muscle-bound fantasy warriors.

Fury of Firestorm #2: Conway and Broderick/Rodriquez complete the Black Bison story, and really there's not much to it. After Firestorm lost his trail last issue, Black Bison is loose on the streets of New York, and rides his white stallion to the uptown townhouse of senator Walter Reilly. In the name of avenging his people's stolen sacred heritage, he kidnaps Reilly's daughter Lorraine, and brings her to Central Park to hold her hostage.

Firestorm flies to the rescue, but Black Bison animates the Alice in Wonderland statues to attack him. Luckily for our hero, John Ravenhair's girlfriend Vanessa arrives at the park. She tries to reach the John still with Black Bison. While Bison is distracted by Vanessa, Firestorm snatches the cult talisman off his chest. With the influence of the talisman gone, Black Bison turns back into John Ravenhair. The smitten senator's daughter tries to get a date with Firestorm.

Justice League #204: Conway and Heck/Tanghal continue the attack by Royal Flush Gang. Superman is defeated by the Queen of Spades at a circus; Green Arrow is attacked aboard the JLA satellite by the Ten, while Elongated Man and Black Canary trace a clue to their antagonists to Megaform Industries in California and its president, Derek Reston. We get several lines to the effect of "wow, California's so different!" I wonder what Conway was doing with that? Anyway, Wild Card is revealed as Hector Hammond.

Weird War Tales #113: Kanigher and Carillo have J.A.K.E.-2 dropped to soldiers in the field, and just in time too, because the Japanese have deployed a samurai robot! As the cover completely gives away, J.A.K.E. uses his head to dispatch his foe. 

The next story by Snyder and Cullins purports to describe how a soldier shooting at birds led to the start of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. The final story by Pasko and Silvestri/Mahlstedt has aliens giving the human inhabitants of a post-apocalyptic Ice Age technology, but the humans chaff under what they perceive as unfair restrictions. The aliens just don't want the humans to repeat the mistakes of the past, but the human won't listen. As their resentment explodes in a rebellion against their patrons, we discover the slaughtered aliens were actually the descendants of humans who escaped Earth and went to the stars, returned to help their brothers.

Wonder Woman #293: Levitz/Thomas and Colan (abetted by a cadre of inkers) brings the Adjudicator saga to a close. The women Teen Titans and Wonder Woman take on the final horseman, Death. They are on the verge of defeat, but when Adjudicator sees the people of Earth trying to defend their heroes, he recalls his horseman. At the same time, Wonder Girl, Starfire, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Zatanna, Madame Xanadu, Black Canary, the Huntress, Power Girl and Phantom Lady vanish from their respective Earths as they are transported to Adjudicator's ship. He still plans to destroy the Earths, but he's going to keep them as specimens. There they discover the truth: the Adjudicator is no cosmic judge of worlds. He was merely given unimportant worlds to play with by his alien Overseers to keep him out of trouble. Just as he is about to blast them all into oblivion, when he is teleported away by his keepers. Zatana returns them all to their proper worlds and times.

Monday, April 3, 2023

Dungeon & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

I went with most of my gaming group to see Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves this past weekend. The short review is: we all enjoyed it and thought it was a lot of fun.

That out of the way, I think the way that is good--and the ways that it isn't--are kind of interesting. Fantasy films, like fantasy lit, generally seem at least in part about transporting us to a different world. The best fantasy films attempt to evoke wonder or horror, the lesser offerings at least seem to want to evoke another place or time. 

The Dungeons and Dragons movie doesn't seem much interested in those things. In fact, it doesn't really act like the typical fantasy movie much at all. It has the tropes, to be sure, but it doesn't try to wring a reaction from the audience with them, nor is it concerned with the typical stylistic elements of fantasy storytelling. There are no grubby streets, or seedy, dimly lit taverns. Monsters aren't really scary. Underground passages in the deadly Underdark seem spacious, clean, and relatively well lit. At best it's a dark ride at a theme park, and the magnificent CGI cityscapes could well be some sort of new addition to the Magic Kingdom. 

Honor Among Thieves is a fantasy movie set in the Forgotten Realms, sure, but in a real sense, it isn't a fantasy movie of the usual sort at all. What it is a evocation of what it's like to play a D&D game. The characters (within the bounds of not breaking the fourth wall) get to be as snarky, bumbling, and at times blasé as players at the table. It's like a memorable game session dramatized before you, allowing the D&D-versed viewer to imagine what's going on at the table to create what you see on the screen.

I'd say it's very clever, if I thought that were intentional. Rather, I think it's just the fortuitous consequence of post-Guardians of the Galaxy, action-adventure filmmaking and a script sharp in the sense that it keeps things moving and is filled with as many "easter eggs" as possible. Just lucky, perhaps. Still, no gamer looks askance at a lucky roll.

Other brief thoughts:

  • Elves, dwarves, and halflings take a backseat to WOTC IP "ancestries." It wasn't a choice I was expecting.
  • To maintain a PG-13 rating, no doubt, things must remain bloodless, which means combat relies a lot on fisticuffs and grappling. I've seen a lot of twitter jokes (well, the same joke multiple times) about "what system would be good for that D&D movie?" but I remarked to my players after the show that Broken Compass might be better at replicating what we saw on screen than D&D.
  • There wasn't really a hint of a possible sequel, but that surely won't stop them if it does well enough.