Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, December 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 September 2, 1982. 

Wonder Woman #298: Frank Miller cover on this issue. Mishkin and Colan/McLaughlin continue the Aegeus story. Wonder Woman consults the Magic Sphere on Paradise Island and learns Bellerophon's history. On Themyscria, the island which the Amazons abandoned for their new home centuries ago in this Earth-One continuity, Bellerophon tries to get the location of Paradise Island out of Steve Trevor because he wants to get ahold the Amazon's healing Purple Ray. Aegeus tries torturing Trevor, but Steve escapes into the temple of Athena. There he and terrorist Sofia see a vision of Athena, who tries to persuade Sofia to turn against Aegeus. Steve grabs Athena's scepter, which he saw destroy one terrorist, and hides it under his jacket. Unfortunately, he's recaptured by Aegeus who knocks an approaching Wonder Woman out of the sky with a thunderbolt.

In the Huntress backup, the would-be superhero Blackwing is captured by the gang running the protection racket and they take him to their boss with Huntress following behind. The boss is called Boa, and he's got a big, pet constrictor--though Staton doesn't appear to have used photo reference in drawing the snake. Huntress busts in and takes out the gang, but Boa sicks his snake on her and the gang leaves while she struggles in the animal's deadly grip.

Arak Son of Thunder #16: Thomas and Gonzales/Alcala bring Arak to Byzantium as he continue his search for Valda. They are in from trouble from the beginning as he has to save Satyricus from an angry mob after he accidentally destroys an icon. Luckily, the duo are aided by General Cometas who they met last issue. he gets them in the see the young Emperor Constantine VI who is being presented with potential wives when Valda catches his eye.

A fight breaks out and Arak intercedes to help her. He's ordered to swim across a pool to prove the turh of his words. In the water, a monster comes out of a mosaic and attacks him--or seems to, as no one else can see it. Despite successfully completing the challenge, Arak and Valda have upset the emperor's and he orders their deaths.

In the backup, Valda and Malagigi attend of fair in Paris. While Malagigi meets with the local Count, Valda explores the market. She encounters a pickpocket dwarf named Brunello who sells her a baby elephant. As she leads the elephant through the streets, Valda is attacked by saracens who claim that the elephant is stolen and think she's the culprit. Valda holds her own against their superior numbers until Malagigi arrives and use his magic to end the fight. The saracens taken possession of the elephant, while Valda and Malagigi are glad to let them have it.

Blackhawk #253: Evanier and Spiegle put the spotlight on one of The Blackhawks in this story. The team (minus Hendrickson) is summoned to a meeting with command to discuss Hendrickson's future with the team. The eldest Blackhawk's mental state is called into question after it is discovered that he is writing letters to his wife--who was killed a year before. Blackhawk promises to speak with him.

When the team returns to Blackhawk Island where Hendrickson was left on duty, they find that he is gone. Putting together clues, they realize that he has located a secret Nazi air base by measuring the fuel load of downed aircraft. And they thought he was crazy for always siphoning the fuel!

The Blackhawks follow to the location specified and find and destroy the air base, but Hendrickson is shot down. A German pilot finds his crashed plane, but Hendrickson outdraws his opponent with pistols. Hendrickson reveals that he has always known that his wife was dead. He simply wrote the letters to her because he was lonely and felt ignored by his teammates.

DC Comics Presents #52: Kupperberg and Giffen introduce Ambush Bug. He's the villain here and a good bit different from the character he will become. The story guest stars the New Doom Patrol (a team Superman doesn't even know exists until this story). A being of black energy is wrecking Metropolis and Superman's attempts to stop it are complicated by the teleporting agent of chaos, Ambush Bug. The Doom Patrol tries to lend a hand and let him know that the being is actually an out of a control Negative Woman, but Ambush Bug's machinations makes Supes distrust them. Superman's character is different in Kupperberg's story than what we are used to seeing: he's testier, quicker to act, and more fallible than the usual portrayal. It makes him a better mark for Ambush Bug's shenanigans.

Fury of Firestorm #7: Conway and Broderick/Rodriquez introduce the Québécoise, terrorist super-villain Plastique. She's spurred to action after Firestorm thwarted the impact of the attack by her fellow terrorist Andre by absorbing the energy. She happens to choose the offices of the New York News Express, it happens to be a day where Ronnie has come with the intention of telling his reporter father that he is Firestorm. Being held hostage by Plastique with the Express staff, Ronnie can't change to Firestorm without revealing who he is to everyone! Stein comes to his rescue by sneaking past the police into the building and shutting off the power, so they can become Firestorm unseen. After rescuing the hostages, Firestorm dissipates Plastique's costume, so the bombs drop to the floor before she can detonate them.

Justice League #209: The final chapter of Crisis on Earth-Prime. Don Heck is the artist here, with Conway scripting, per usual. The All-Stars, JLA, and JSA meet with FDR to recap the success of their teams. There is still some work to be done, though. Power Girl, Firestorm, and Steel are in Geneva, Switzerland, looking for more missiles. They find them along with Johnny Quick. The missiles get launched, but the heroes take them down in mid-air. 

After meeting with Professor Zee and cluing him into his megalomaniacal assistant, he gives Green Lantern, Firebrand and Zatanna his prototype time machine, which they use to travel to 1962 on Earth-Prime. There they're ready to take action when the Crime Syndicate arrives on the scene in a Time Vortex. The heroes surprise the villains and defeat them. The Soviet missiles aren't stolen, and Earth-Prime's history proceeds as it should.

On Earth-Two 1942, the heroes take the fight to Per Degaton's base and capture him and his men. Huntress takes care of Own-Man who had been in hiding, gloating over the others' defeat. History is restored, so that no one even remembers this Crisis having occurred. All and all, a nice arc, though perhaps a little longer than it needed to be.

Adventure Comics #494: The only new story here is The Challengers of the Unknown by Rozakis and Tuska/Mushynsky. Picking up where last issue left off, the Challs to be compare notes and decide some gangsters mad at Rocky for ruining their attempts to fix a match where the ones that sabotaged their plane. They pay them a visit, but they turn out not to be the culprits, so the mystery remains.

Monday, August 28, 2023

The Cleric and the Rituals of Faith

Over the weekend, I read this interesting blog series about how polytheism worked in the real world. Check it out. 

Anyway, it got me thinking about how D&D/rpg polytheism might be made more realistic without changing it much. Granted, it's a bit of an uphill battle since rpg polytheism of the D&D variety is very unrealistic in a lot of ways, but I'm going to focus here on one thing and that's Devereaux's central point in the early articles: religion is mainly about ritual not metaphysics.

This is actually pretty good for the D&D cleric, because they are largely soft on metaphysics and philosophy (short a lot of worldbuilding) but out-of-the-box do a lot of things like spells and special abilities that could be glossed (and roleplayed) as rituals. It's sort of transactional, even mechanistic from a modern lens, which is good for D&D because that's what clerical magic is. 

So, clerics are the most religious (in what Devereaux relates is the Roman sense) because they have the most effective deity-related rituals (spells) and they are the most diligent in their performance (it's their job). The use of the cleric to the adventuring party is this very religiousness: their ritual performances always get results. 

I think it would take relatively little roleplaying in this direction and reframing of these abilities in a more religious ritual context to make it feel a lot less merely mechanistic and a lot more flavorfully mechanistic.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Into the Arena

 Our 5e Land of Azurth game continued last Sunday with the party still trying to find the power core within the crashed spacecraft. It turns out there weren't any more major threats after the undead spacemen--just a will o' wisp and some poltergeist, so it's mostly down to doing a thorough search. The party finds the core, but they are (quite reasonably) afraid of some sort of malign energy or radiation off it, so they choose to handle it with mage hands. They carry it back to the Church of Clockwork without (apparent) incident. 

Viola thanks them for their help, but now she has another mission for them. She needs them to Bellona, the Battle Princess of Sang, out of the arena of Junk City. She's fallen under the control of the Loom--the mad and bad duplicate of the mind of Mirabilis Lum. She leaves it to the party to determine how they do it, but she assures them it's necessary.

The next day, the party disguises themselves and heads over to the arena to check things out. Waylon disguises himself as a theatrical gladiatorial combat promoter from Yanth Country and Erekose pretends to be a fighter. They talked to the trollish emcee of the arena, but things go badly when Dagmar gets insulted and snaps back at the caustic creature. 

They do get to check out the games, though, and they see the fierce, silver-masked, woman warrior, who they are sure is Bellona.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, November 1982 (week 4)

I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, we look at the comics hitting the newsstand on August 26, 1982.

Action Comics #537: This is the second cover in a row where Superman is trussed up in some way on the cover. Do Buckler and Giordano think this is Golden Age Wonder Woman or something? Seriously though I wonder if these covers, like the depowering of Superman that has taken place in Wolfman's ongoing storytelling are a means to up the perception of peril to incease reader interest? Anyway, Superman tries to go back into the past to resolve his problem, but Satanis stops him cold. Meanwhile (well, shown to us at the same time) in the past, Syrene plans to filter the Runestone of Merlin's magical energy through the other Superman's invulnerable body and into her. This will probably kill him, but that's not her problem. 

In the present, this new loser called Jackhammer has an armored suit with jackhammer projects on his fists, and he plans to make a name for himself by killing Supes. Jackhammer draws Superman's attention by wrecking a train track. When Superman shows, up he gets the first punch and staggers him, so Superman is barely able to stop the train with his Superman breath, then passes out with exhaustion. Jackhammer gloats realizing he can actually be the man to kill Superman.

In the Aquaman backup by Rozakis and Saviuk, Aquaman is convinced this woman who looks like Mera but claims to be Lt. Miriam Bridgeman actually is Mera, and he won't let it go. He lays a kiss on her and is further convinced though she still isn't sure. I guess she liked it enough to allow him to hook her up to electrodes and some sort of EEG, because that's what happens. The results of that are weird, but still don't prove her identity, so as a final test, Aquaman has her change into a bikini and jump into the ocean with him to see if she can breathe under water. Luckily, she doesn't drown, but instead finds out that she can breathe water and has telepathic powers, though she still does not remember her Mera identity. When she tries summoning fish, she and Aquaman are mobbed by dolphins, and she panics and encases Aquaman in hard water.

Arion Lord of Atlantis #1: Graduating into its on series by Kupperberg and Duursema. On the dead moon Anuleous, Arion has been ensnared by his "mother," a cosmic energy being responsible for his creation. The mage's former master Caculha comes to his aid to win his freedom. Back on Earth, Lady Chian and Wyynde face off against Garn Daanuth who has taken possession of Arion's mortal body. When Wyynde cuts Arion's body, the evil mage abandons abandons it and flees.

The forces of Chaos and Order are again observing and bickering, but this time their altercation leads to Arion being freed from his mother's control. He turns his magic on her, and with the help of Caculha, he is then reunited with his physical form which has been wounded by Wyynde. In anger his mother strikes down Caculha. Angered at his master's apparent death, Arion unleashes his full power against his mother, dispersing her energy across the surface of the moon. Caculha as it turns out isn't dead ,though. Arion brings him back to Atlantis where King D'Tilluh is preparing for a civil war.

All-Star Squadron #15: The next instalment of Crisis on Earth-Prime. We get a couple of sort of humorous scenes of Per Degaton doing some super-villain scenery-chewing with the more realistic reaction of his henchmen, but most of the issue is given to the heroes dividing up in small groups for tasks in classic crossover fashion. Their jobs are complicated by the re-appearance of the Crime Syndicate. Doctor Fate, Robotman, and Superman fly into orbit, intercept Degaton's space satellite, and start demolishing it, but a kryptonite boobytrap takes out Superman, and then are ambushed by Ultraman. Aquaman, Liberty Belle, and Starman head to the Pacific to investigate radiation detected on a small island and encounter a Japanese military outpost and Superwoman. Hunting for hidden missiles in the Midwest, Hawkman, Huntress, and Johnny Quick are attacked by Power Ring. 

The heroes prevail, of course, but Degaton has one more insane plan up his sleeve--one that will allow him to conquer the Earth or leave no Earths left!

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #9: Scott Shaw and "co-plotter" Thomas continue the Time-Keeper storyline. The villainous Bear takes a liking to Alley-Kat-Abra, which gives her the chance to play for time (heh) while the other members are cast into various eras. This also gives Thomas, I presume, the chance to bring back old DC funny animal characters. Pig Iron and Captain Carrot encounter Nero Fox in ancient world. Rubberduck and Yankee Poodle meet the Three Mouseketeers, and Fastback encounters his uncle in his heroic guise as the Terrific Whatzit in World War II. In the end, Kat-Abra destroys the Keeper's hourglasses and frees her friends.

In the backup, Alley Kat-Abra goes solo against the Debbil-Dawg, a chihuahua painter, Salvador Doggi, who needs a portal out of a Ditko-esque dimension and back into the mundane world so that he can use his reality-warping power to remake it to his artistic whim.

Detective Comics #520: Batman and his allies continue their fight to bring the current, corrupt mayor and police commissioner down. The Dark Knight appears to help Floyd "Deadshot" Lawton escape from prison and a corrupt warden in exchange for Lawton giving up Thorne as the mastermind of the attempt to kill Bruce Wayne a couple of issues ago, but he actually tricks Lawton and keeps him in custody in the Batcave. Meanwhile, Thorne is being haunted (again) by the ghost of Hugo Strange, or so it would seem, and he enlists Dr. Thirteen's help to get to the bottom of it. Thirteen (shaken by his memory loss from Wayne Manor in issue 509) goes on an investigation--and seems to be confronted by Strange's ghost himself! This is a good issue from Conway and Newton and a great Aparo cover.

There's a Catwoman backup by Rozakis and Kane. In Metropolis, Catwoman runs into an old member of her gang and worries he's slipped back into criminal ways. She follows him as Catwoman and learns that he appears to be involved in a robbery. She captures his apparent accomplice, but discovers her friend had actually set up a sting. With everything cleared up, the two decide to go out for a coffee.

New Adventures of Superboy #35:  Rozakis and Schaffenberger continue Superboy's tangle with Yellow Peri, who really isn't a villain but makes some questionable choices. In fact, I had wondered if the twist was going to be that her animate teddy bear friend/advisor, Gadzook, was malign and leading her astray, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Anyway, Superboy finally succeeds in returning her to normal, with no memory of her magic powers, by throwing her book of magic into outer space.

In the Dial H backup, the mysterious Master sends his agent, the Marauder, to break Naiad out of jail, forcing Chris and Vicki must dial up new heroes to fight them, naturally. Two identities for each this story: Gossamer and the Fan for Vicki, and Earthman and Any-body for Chris.

Saga of the Swamp Thing Annual #1: This is an adaptation of the Wes Craven film from earlier in the same year by Bruce Jones, Mark Texeira and Tony DeZuniga. 

Weird War Tales #117: The two features here are Creature Commandos and G.I. Robot, but only the Commandos get title billing where the J.A.K.E.-2 is an "extra." The first story has art by Carillo which is making me miss Spiegle. Anyway, the Commandos are getting some R&R (I guess) in Paris, but face prejudice for their appearance from the citizenry and their own military. Shrieve asks for and gets an alternate posting, but no one wants his old job. The Commandos head out for Lourdes hoping to be cured of their condition by a divine miracle. Shrieve, meanwhile, finds his new administrative duties don't have the same excitement, so he retakes the job with the Commandos, and rushes to join them as they've managed to run into Nazis along the way. They are freaks, he tells them, but they are his freaks. So he's still a jerk.

G.I. Robot is still hanging out in the South Pacific with his dog, CAPD. When protecting a reporter from a group of Japanese soldiers CAPD reveals there's a robotic kitten inside him in a hidden compartment. The military function of that cat escapes me, but its existence allows for JAKE, CAPD, and the cat to pose for a "family" picture. I can't say this story doesn't have a sort of kitschy charm, but Kanigher phone this one in, clearly. While I doubt that it would have been more commercially successful, in a way this book as currently constituted seems to beg for the more bombastic Marvel approach to war stories. The Creature Commandos, in particular, really seem to play with classic Marvel themes.

World's Finest Comics #285: Nice cover on this issue by Miller and Giordano. In this first full-length story for the title, by Burkett and Buckler/La Rosa, Superman is flying Batman back to Gotham when they spot a man being attacked by a tiger man. The heroes engage, and more animal humanoids appear. Superman is whisked away by a strange, black cloud leaving Batman to do battle alone. He wins the day but collapses from exhaustion and injury afterwards. This opening leads to the two being embroiled in a magical plot, one related to their old foe Dr. Zodiac and some mystical coins, but with Batman as a target. The story is continued next issue. 

What's more interesting than the story, perhaps (though it isn't bad), is the shift in characterization of Batman and Superman. They are still buddies as per the standard of this era, but their friendship seems more than just a surface camaraderie. Batman, particularly, is vulnerable in a way that seems shocking in this post-Dark Knight Returns world. He asks Superman to stay and have coffee to soothe his mind. Superman relates stories of his childhood in Smallville and Bruce actually likes hearing them. I can't fully say it's better as it's alien to the portrayal of these characters over most of my lifetime, but I'm also reluctant to say you can't take the characters in this more humanized direction. 

Monday, August 21, 2023

Classic TV Flashback

Over at the Flashback Universe Blog, Jason Sholtis and I have started a series where we watch an episode or two of some "classic" TV show we find on streaming and blog about it. So, far we've watched Mr. Lucky (good) and Gigantor (less good)--a post that debuts tomorrow. 

If you're entertainment starved, might be worth a read.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Sail the Microversal Seas!

Artist Jeff Nelson has imagined Marvel's Microverse from the Micronauts comic as islands in a sea. Only tangentially related, but this reminds me how the Microverse would be a good Spelljammer setting.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, November 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 August 19, 1982.

New Teen Titans Annual #1: This is the conclusion to the Omega Men/Blackfire saga that has been going on over the past couple of months. Lord Damyn's Psion advisor, scheming to take greater control over the Vega System, proposes Starfire fight Blackfire in a duel to the death, ostensibly to decide Komand'r's succession and the fate of Tamaran--though he really plans a double-cross. Meanwhile, aboard the Omega Men's ship, the Titans learn X'Hal's origins which--I hadn't thought about this before, but it fits--seem to have some passing similarities to Phoenix/Dark Phoenix. On Tamaran's surface, the death-duel results in Blackfire's defeat and apparent death but also triggers a series of explosions set by the Psions that will wipe out the Vegan system. Vega is saved only when X'Hal breaks free and detonates the explosives harmlessly. Raven heals the badly injured Starfire. While this is a reasonably well done story, I feel like the arc was paced poorly. I think a Starfire spotlight issue is fine, but sidelining the rest of the Titans for a double-sized annual just for the duel seems bad planning.

Brave & the Bold #192: Barr and Aparo team-up of Batman and Superboy. I.Q. (a villain I have only seen before in the Who's Who) shoots Superman with a special ray that sends the Man of Steel back in time, leaving in his place a very confused Superboy. While Batman is on the case, Superboy tries to visit his family and finds out his adopted parents are dead. Moping, he loses his determination to do this superhero thing. Batman gives him a pep talk and together they confront I.Q., learning of his experiments and using them to reverse the ray. Superboy returns to his own time, and Superman returns to the present.

In the Nemesis backup, our hero assumes the identity of a bad stage actor in order to get close to Council member, Irene Scarfield. We're told at the end of this installment that it will continue in the main story next issue.

Legion of Super-Heroes #293: Levitz and Giffen/Mahlstedt give us Chapter 4 of the Great Darkness Saga. Most of the Legionnaires are searching for the servants of Darkness--and they find them. Though some Legionnaires are taken down, Wildfire burns the cloned Guardian of the Universe to ashes, and Element Lad creates Gold Kryptonite to destroy the Superboy clone. The third with the astro-harness escapes. Brainy has deduced the identity of the Master and his plan--but it may already be too late.

Meanwhile, Chameleon Boy is visited by his Dad in prison. At Legion HQ, the baby that Dream Girl thinks is important is growing up unusually fast.

The Master of Darkness is on Daxam. He's brainwashed the people into his slaves and forces them to remake their world to his requirements. When that's done, he commands them to go forth and conquer the universe in his name--Darkseid.

Green Lantern #158: Barr and Pollard have Jordan looking to replace his destroyed home with a ship, so he goes to Talkor "home of the finest shipwrecks in the galaxy." He gets a distress signal on the way, though from a ship being attacked by a giant, yellow monster. Since the creature's skin is immune to his ring, he lets it swallow him to attack it from the inside, driving it off. He goes with the grew to Talkor's moon where he meets the scientist, Dr. T'Gura who is working on the time travel. The scientist, obsessed with again being with her lost love, tricks Jordan and imprisons him so she can use his ring to power her device. Jordan uses his ring to attract the monster he fought previously. Its attack frees him, destroying T'Gura's machine, but the scientist chooses to stay in the past.

In The Green Lantern Corps backup by Kupperberg and Novick, Charles Vicker saves the insectoid inhabitants of Ftl'yl XI from extinction, but still feels disconnected and unappreciated by the alien species in his sector. A mother thanks him for saving her child, though, and Charles realizes that they don't need to look like humans to have the same sorts of feelings. Charles considers settling on that world.

House of Mystery #310: Another nice Kaluta cover. In I...Vampire, Bennett is back in the present day and apparently so is Mary, because one ring must follow the other. That's a rule that wasn't clear before, I don't think. Anyway, Bennett throws the ring in the ocean to stop Mary time traveling and so she does the same with her ring. So that's that. Bennett has the vampire version of a meet cute with a lonely woman vampire. He tries to enlist her to his cause, but ultimately, she chooses death seeing the sunrise one last time as she feels her hunger is too great for her to stay as virtuous as him.

That story is followed by an interesting but amateurishly drawn story by Skeates and Curry and Smith. The captain of the high school football team gets a dose of reality as his interest in an enigmatic girl at school leads him to discover a fringe group called "The Realists" who reveal to him his true, degraded appearance and that of everyone else thanks to pollution and radiation--an appearance the powers that be hide from everyone with drugs in the water supply. Rather than join the rebellion, the jock runs back to comfortable illusion by chugging as much water as he can. Then he goes to the prom. The final story by Kelley/Bissette and Capital has an unscrupulous used car salesman gets what he deserved at the hands of a surgeon whose wife died in one of the salesman's lemons.

Night Force #4: Wolfman and Colan/Smith have Baron Winter get a visit from suspicious police officer thanks to recent events. Meanwhile, Gold and Caine are still uneasy allies in London, looking to rescue Vanessa. The creepy Zakarig Zadok leads the Soviet interrogation of Vanessa, but her literal demons prove too powerful. By the time Gold and Caine arrive at the estate owned by the Soviets outside of London, the place is in flames and Vanessa has been spirited away to Moscow.

Sgt. Rock #370: Rock and Easy are suffering in the North African heat, nearly out of water and ammo, when the Germans drop leaflets suggesting they surrender. They come across a platoon of German soldiers who appear to have taken the Allied leaflets to heart and surrender to Easy. It's a ruse, though, and Rock figures it out in time to turn the tables on them. Harris and DeMulder follow that up with a tale of Grumman Avenger pilots who pick up some combat tips from their pool games on their aircraft carrier. 

Then there's an uncredited story about submarines and a frogman. Finally, Ron Randall gives us a futuristic tale of an android secret weapon being outdone by the enemy's facility not for quality but quantity in mass production. 

Warlord #63: I went over the main story in this issue here. The new backup feature here is The Barren Earth by Cohn and Randall. Humans have returned to Earth after abandoning for the stars. They find their ancestor's world a desert thanks to the sun having become a red giant. They also discover their enemies, the Qlov, have followed them. As a result of the battle, a group of humans are stranded on Earth, among them our heroine, Jinal. 

Monday, August 14, 2023

Dead Spacemen and the Clockwork Princess

Last week, I forgot the session report on our last Land of Azurth 5e game, so here it is. The party was still in the labyrinthine, ramshackle of Junk City. The former Mayor of Rivertown, Gladhand, though ailing from a mysterious attack was able to lead them to where Viola, the Clockwork Princess of Yanth Country (who has been absent for quite some time) was hiding out. Turns out it's in a shabby temple to Clockwork--but that's really just a front for her operation to build--well, some sort of weapon, she didn't elaborate to fight the Wizard and his shadowy allies.

The party is a bit nervous about this as last time they saw her (in the future) she was crazy and on a rampage. They ask a lot of questions to probe for signs. She seems her same old self though, and she has a mission for them. She needs them to still a power source from a crashed spaceship to power her weapon.

The party agrees, but later maybe they wish they hadn't as the remnant of the ship's crew are undead. At least one of them a fairly powerful undead with the power to drain life. It's a close call for Erekose, but the group wears the creature down. 

They still haven't found the power core, though.

Friday, August 11, 2023

The Mixed Up Setting


Sometimes, always with an eye toward being able to use the published material for some well-supported game or another, I get (possibly mad) idea to take parts of one setting and combine with another so that the result wouldn't immediately be recognizable.

Ideas I've had in the past playing a wuxia game using the map of Middle-Earth (and MERP materials), The Known World replaced with Talislanta equivalents, or Creation from Exalted, but built as a D&D setting (using published 5e material).

I've never done any of these as at the end of the day the work required wouldn't be that much less than making up my own stuff in some instances, but it's still an idea that pops up from time to time.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Swords Against Sorcery: Archetypes

 In the game I'm working on, all PCs are defined in part by two Archetypes. These represent types of characters found in comic book Sword & Sorcery. In game terms, they provide bonuses to Attributes and Domains and also special abilities. 

Each archetype has a primary and secondary Attribute and Domain. Should a player pick two Archetypes with the same primary Attributes/Domains they can use that one and their choice of the two Archetypes secondary Attributes/Domains. The character also gains the Expertises and Talents of each Archetype.

While the Archetypes remain a work in progress, below is a sampling of the ones I've come up with. At this point, the plan is not to give any description of them beyond the abilities they provide, letting players interpret them as they will.

Attributes: Presence (Intellect)
Domains: Words (Sorcery)
Expertise: Religion
Talent: Divine Favor. Make a successful roll to call upon the aid of your gods or guiding spirit. Any successes can be used like Momentum to aid you or another hero for one scene. It does not add to your Momentum pool. 

Attributes: Daring (Instinct)
Domains: Wilds (Deeds)
Expertise: Survival or Hunting
Talent: Like A Jungle Cat. Gain an additional die when detecting dangers in the wilderness or when trying to sneak up on a foe.

Attributes: Instinct (Presence)
Domains: City (Words)
Expertise: Persuasion
Talent: We Were Close Once. Once per session, succeed at a Persuasion Challenge to create an NPC and/or declare a recently introduced one a former intimate acquaintance. A failed roll means they now harbor some ill-will against you.

Attributes: Intellect (Instinct)
Domains: City (Sorcery)
Expertise: Occult Lore
Talent: Just What I was Looking For. Add an extra die to any roll related to quickly finding a particular magical formula, ritual, or piece of information in a tome or even library.

Attributes: Presence (Daring)
Domains: City (Swords)
Expertise: Persuasion
Talent: Flashy. Use Presence instead of Might as an attribute for melee fighting when you have an audience but deal one less Blow.  

Attributes: Daring (Cunning)
Domains: Deeds (Swords)
Expertise: Seamanship
Talent: Bloody-Handed Buccaneer. Apply your Seamanship Expertise to shipboard combats and to attempts to intimidate foes or lead pirate crews on the high seas.

Attributes: Might (Daring)
Domains: Swords (Wilds)
Expertise: choice of a weapon
Talent: Valor. Spend 1 Momentum to shake off any Fear condition in a combat situation.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, November 1982 (week 2)

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 August 12, 1982. 

Marvel and DC Present Featuring the the Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans #1: The existence of this crossover is a testament to changing times at Marvel and DC. The previous crossovers involved "blue chip" characters big in merchandising, but here are the current hot teams from current titles. Darkseid resurrects Dark Phoenix intending to use her power to transform Earth into a second Apokolips. The Teen Titans and the X-Men move to stop the two and Darkseid's lackeys the Para-Demons and the Terminator (Deathstroke, that is). Raven and Professor X psychically weaken the Phoenix-entity so that she it is forced to possess the body of Cyclops to survive. Reunion with her former lover returns Phoenix's memories of her life as Jean Grey, and she turns on Darkseid in revenge for his having reawakened her from death. Darkseid and Dark Phoenix vanish in a massive explosion, and later Metron sees Darkseid apparently imprisoned like the Promethean giants. Claremont delivers on what you want from one of these which is the characters interacting on complimentary ways but also briefly fighting each other. The Simonson/Austin art team isn't what we expect for either team, but it works.

Batman #353: This is a pretty standard Bronze Age Joker story from Conway, helped a little perhaps by art by Garcia-Lopez and Tollin. The Joker plans to dynamite the New Jersey Palisades into the shape of his head and kill the Batman in the process. What's interesting about this story to me is it positions Gotham as not in New Jersey (contrary to more recent and other Bronze Age lore) and puts the New Jersey Palisades right across the river from Gotham, suggesting Gotham occupies the same spot as Manhattan, which is weird because New York also exists in the DCU (as seen in The New Teen Titans).

Daring New Adventures of Supergirl #1: Kupperberg and Infantino/Oksner have relocated Linda Danvers to Chicago where she enrolls in Lake Shore University and gets an apartment--with a neighbor named Johnny Ostrander? Anyway, at the campus, she has a chance encounter with Gayle Marsh, a psychic with incredible powers, and both sense the power in each other. Gayle is being trained by a Svengali-type called Mr. Pendergast to wipe out the moral "decay" around them by destroying Chicago. Marsh transforms into the scantily-costumed Psi to do just that, but she is opposed by Supergirl. She initially defeats Supergirl, but, after a mental argument with Pendergast, she's allowed not to kill her--at least not until she saps Supergirl's powers and adds them to her own!

Flash #315: Bates and Infantino bring Goldface, fresh from his defeat in Green Lantern, to Central City as he attempts to start a new criminal network. He tries to capture Mick "Heatwave" Rory to learn the Flash's identity, but Rory escapes and goes to the Flash for help. Meanwhile, the Eradicator kills again, this time to protect his secret identity--which is even more clearly telegraphed as the "bleeding heart" Senator, Creed Phillips. I'll say this, and not necessarily as a complete reflection on this story: Bates has always done a good job of juggling subplots in this title, even at times when the main story wasn't as interesting.

G.I. Combat #247: I've to feel a bit for Kanigher, because the twilight of the war comic I suspect means the sunset of his long career, but I can't be too sad about it when he recycles plot ideas. The first Haunted Tank story here is much like a Sgt. Rock story from a few months ago, where the heroes wonder through various war vignettes and wind up being stellar at a bunch of different jobs. The second HT story s better, with another of the crew seeing a ghost for once, as Craig is haunted by the ghost of Slim (the guy he replaced) until he proves himself.

In the Mercenaries story with art by Vicatan, the trio is hired to bring in a group of treacherous agents selling weapons to terrorists. The agents see through the deception, but don't reckon on the Mercenaries boobytrapping their own boat. Kana the ninja is back in the good graces of Control and doing honorable ninja stuff to help the American war effort. In the last story, an actress's knowledge of Shakespeare allows her to formulate a plan for an American victory in battle.

Jonah Hex #66: Hex is still on the vengeance trail, going after another of the rogue cavalrymen that left his fiancée to die years ago. Webster tries to use a criminal gang to do his dirty work but comes to ruin in the end and is exposed as a coward as well as a thief and murder before his wife, who takes a liking to the more manly Hex. Fleischer and friends are coasting.

Saga of the Swamp Thing #7: I mentioned last time that this title was weird, right? So we ended last time the reveal that most of the partygoers were cyclops-like monsters. As they attack, the Sunderland Corporation Executives escape on a hydrofoil. For some reason, Harry Kay gives Dennis Barclay a gun and tells the other executives that Barclay and Tremayne were killed. They make their way to to ship's sick bay to analyze the monsters' blood. Meanwhile, Swamp Thing discovers a large sea monster in the depths of the ship and learns by telepathic means, that it arrived on earth as a microscopic organism on a spaceship that landed in the ocean and mutated when it came into contact with an experimental strain of herpes virus (a Sunderland Corp cargo ship sank with the virus on board). The alien now continues to spread by infecting humans and destroying passing ships in an attempt to rebuild its own spaceship to go home. The monster then tries to infect the Swampy, but his blood seems to cause the monster pain. He escapes and Barclay is able to use his blood to make a serum they put in a bomb and use to inoculate the monster, killing it. Swamp Thing winds up on an island that apparently has dinosaurs.

In the Barr/Carrillo Phantom Stranger backup, the Stranger, after saving a woman from killing herself in remorse over her fiance's death, reasons that she is being punished for transgressions in a past life, so he bargains with a mysterious Voice to be allowed to show them to her so she can be aware of what she has done.

New Teen Titans #25: More action in the Vega System. Thinks aren't going so well in the Titans' attempt save Starfire and the Omega Men's plan to keep the Citadelians from taking X'Hal from Oa. Raven is almost overcome by the Trigon side of her personality, and Demonia attempts unsuccessfully to betray her comrades to Lord Damyn. There's a standoff where Cyborg threatens to kill Lord Damyn unless Komand'r surrenders, but Blackfire just kills Damyn herself and claiming the throne of the Citadel homeworld. And X'Hal decides to go with the Citadelians! 

Superman #377: Kupperberg is credited as "guest writer" this issue. Terra-Man's back, but losing a battle to Superman, he accidentally warps o an alternate Earth where he meets a double of himself with magical powers. Like, mainly he makes a gun shape with his fingers and shoots a magical beam. The two Terra-Men team up to lure Superman to the magic-based Earth and defeat him. Superman has to throw out some spells he learned from Zatanna and gather magical wands and other tools from a museum to defeat them, fighting fire with fire. It's all goofy, admittedly, but Superman's method of dealing with the threat is also kind of clever, so not bad.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Lord of the Rings and the Beginning of "Serious" Fantasy

Hear me out!

I'm aware, course, that there are many works that we would now call fantasy that predate Lord of the Rings, but the conception of fantasy as a specific genre post-dates those works. The conception of fantasy as a genre grew out of fairy stories, and so what I mean here is a work distinct from fairy tale that nevertheless contains the elements of fairy tales: elves, dwarves, dragons, etc. The works of Howard, Smith, and others would be been thought of as adventure stories, weird tales, and the like when first published.

Even still, there are older works that that meet that criteria: MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin, some of Baum's works, and Dunsany's. But all the works I can think of that do they aren't obviously children's works have strong elements of whimsy, irony, and often outright humor. Even Tolkien's own The Hobbit could be so characterized. Lord of the Rings, while not humorless, is much more serious business, though perhaps not as much as Anderson's The Broken Sword, which closely follows it.

Did this seriousness play a role in it's centrality to the emerging genre? I think a bit, though it might be easy to overstate the importance of that one factor. I do think that with Howard and Tolkien sort of being the prevailing template for fantasy has served to influence the tone of a lot of works that followed and the games that inspired them.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Things to Read If the Spirit Moves You

 I've gotten into 2 good fantasy novels with connections to British esoteric spiritual belief at the turn of the 20th Century which are both good reads and good gaming inspiration.

Summerland by Hannu Rajaniemi

I've praised Rajaniemi's science fiction work before. Here he goes for an alt-history and alternate physics in a spy-fi story set in 1938 were Summerland (the 4-dimensional space where the dead go) s being exploited with etheric technology and Britain and the Soviet Union are involved in an escalating proxy war in the Spanish Revolution. Behind all that are mysteries regarding the afterlife: where do souls come from? And why isn't Summerland full of ghostly civilizations? (Not all these questions are answered!) The spy stuff reminds me of a couple of novels by Tim Powers (particularly Declare) but the very science fictional rigor applied to the mechanics of afterlife physics is all Rajaniemi's own.

The Revolutions by Felix Gilman

Gilman is another author I've praised previously. In this one, a young couple in Victorian London gets involved in an attempt by a occult cabal's ambitious attempt to visit Mars by means of astral projection, but in doing so they make themselves targets in a magical war being waged between occult societies. One of the highlights here for me is how magic is portrayed in a way that is powerful, but somewhat subtle. A duel between magicians involves bystanders controlled or charmed into hurling insults or punches rather than mages hurling bolts of glowing energy.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Weird Revisited: Combat as Bloodsport

The original version of this post appeared in 2018.


A common reframe in the old school landscape is "Combat as War vs. Combat as Sport," often used to negatively contrast elements of 5e and particularly 4e concerned with encounter balance and "the encounter" as a fundamental unit of game action in general with the old school. Without getting into the merits of how this argument is typically framed, I think that even if we accept this as true, there is a way to lean into those elements of modern D&D and come out with something cool. Instead dungeoncrawling for treasure (mainly), maybe the dungeon environment could be the battleground of a big tournament.

X-Crawl deals with some of this territory, I guess, but from what I read of it, it is set in the modern day, and seems very much concerned with the celebrity aspect of things, bringing in a lot of professional athlete cliches. All well and good, but I'm more interested in something more like Dragonball Z. The fighters are in it often for the personal betterment--a personal betterment that is practically apotheosis, which dovetails nicely with D&D advancement. What if the gods or immortals or whatever design the dungeons as tournament grounds, and foundries to forge new exalted beings to join their ranks?

In this context, the lack of XP for gold makes perfect sense. Also, "levels" of dungeons are like brackets of a tournament. In order to give a good spectacle, you don't want scrubs advancing to take on the contenders too soon. Mainly playing this sort of setting would just mean thinking about the game differently. The only change might be that there wouldn't be any nameless rabble or humanoid tribes with kids and the like. Everybody in the dungeon is playing the game!

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, November 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 August 5, 1982. 

Adventure Comics #493: This digest gives us one new story along with the reprints: Challengers of the Unknown by Rozakis and Tuska/Mushynsky. This is a retelling/updating of their origin complete with the plane crash and "living on borrowed time" but seems to suggest that the crash was an accident. We'll see next issue.

Wonder Woman #297: Nice cover here by Michael Kaluta. Mishkin and Colan/McLaughlin introduce a new menace in the form of Aegeus. He's a Greek terrorist looking to establish a utopian community on an island but discovers an ancient ruin where he is given the thunderbolts of Zeus and the winged horse Pegasus. He attacks a group of U.S. military jets bringing him to conflict with Wonder Woman. In the end, he kidnaps Steve Trevor.

A new writer, Joey Cavalieri, joins artists Staton and Trapani on the Huntress backup. Helena takes a position as a liaison between the D.A. and the Police Comissioner's office, but Harry isn't exactly happy to be working more closely with his girlfriend as it reminds him of her superhero activies he worries about. That evening, Huntress is preparing to confront a gang running a protection racket, when she's startled by a Batman-like shadow. A new hero, Blackwing, joins the fray, but promptly knocked out and unmasked by the gang. It's Charley Bullock, intern from Cranston, Grayson, and Wayne.

Arak Son of Thunder #15: Arak and Satyricus are in the port city of Thessalonika trying to find out where Valda was taken. They run afoul of the Byzantine soldiers and find out Valda has been taken east as a prisoner, but they also hear that the town has been beset by a ghost or invisible monster. Arak learns that the invisible creature is actually an invisible hydra or the ghost of a hydra summoned by the tavern keeper to rid the city of the foreign soldiers. 

Racing to the docks to try to get a ship to follow Valda, Arak has to fight the monster. The tavern keeper's daughter is killed by a collapsing wall, so he learns a lesson, I guess. Arak then continues his quest to find Valda and Malagigi.

In the backup by the Thomases and Colon, Valda awakens as a captive of the Hun priest Chelchak, he of the horse-had mask. Valda killed the hun leader's prize mare and is now scheduled to be sacrificed. Chelchak has taken a shine to her and attempts to get her life spared. When the Kagan will have none o it, the priest transforms into a horse and carries Valda to freedom. At the river, Valda is reunited with Malagigi who shows her that all the horses of the frank army have mysteriously died. Valda realizes that it was Chelchak's spell which killed them. Without the horses, Carolus Magnus cannot continue the war against the Huns.

Blackhawk #252: Evanier and Spiegle have the Blackhawks tasked with the recovery of Professor Merson, a scientist and inventor who has been nabbed by the Germans. They receive intelligence which places the professor, an avid gambler, is at a casino in Beldorf. Flying over South Belgium, the Blackhawks are delayed when they spot a destroyed town. Survivors claim that a giant War Wheel was responsible, and the Blackhawks suspect that this is one of Merson's inventions.

At the casino in Beldorf, Blackhawk meets Domino, a specially trained female assassin tasked with killing the team. She gets the drop on Blackhawk, but then departs. The other Blackhawks have located Merson and separated him from the Gestapo guards, but it turns out that Merson is willingly working with the Nazis for financial gain. After capturing him again, Blackhawk interrogates him, and figures out a way to stop the War Wheel with an electric shock. Still, before Blackhawk can get Merson back to the Allies, he's again ambushed by Domino, who again chooses not to kill him, despite her orders. Blackhawk smugly muses to his team later that he must have been the kiss they shared in Beldorf.

I like this book, reading it today and when I read it the first time, perhaps 3-4 years ago, but I don't know if it would have appealed to me in '82.

DC Comics Presents #51: At least 3 issues this week have a Masters of the Universe preview by Kupperberg and the not ideal art team of Swan and Hunt. As this is one of them, it's as good a place as any to talk about that story. Zodac shows up at the royal court and demands that He-Man be brought to him so that he may take him from the world forever. This leads to a lot of fighting between Zodac and He-Man. Meanwhile, Skeletor is trying to get into Grayskull with the Power Sword and Superman is somehow transported from Earth and starts fighting him. (They fought previously in DCP.) He-Man finally makes it to help Superman and appears to have been killed by Skeletor, but survives. Zodac shows up to say essentially "well, it worked out ok. So, my works done." Cosmic beings, am I right?

In the main story, a Superman/Atom team-up by Mishkin and Saviuk, the Atom goes back in time by dipping in the Time Pool (which we last saw in those Atom backups in Action #522-523) to the 19th Century, sees Superman apparently killed battling aliens in the American West. Back in the present, he tries to see if he and Superman can avert the Man of Steel's seeming destiny. This involves Var-El, the ancestor of Superman whose old lab Superman and Hawkgirl visited back in issue #37. The aliens are technology thieves and Var-El--still alive in the 19th Century--has been fighting them. Superman doesn't die, of course. Instead, what the Atom saw was Superman shrinking himself Atom-style. The heroes are unaware that Var-El is still alive in the past, so that's a dangling thread for another issue. 

Fury of Firestorm #6: Conway and Broderick/Rodriquez have Firestorm escape the Pied Piper-controlled masses from last issue by creating a firehose and blasting the Piper. Defeat by Firestorm is the least of the villain's problems, though, as he finds himself being turned into a satyr by the power of the Pan's Pipes he stole. Firestorm visits the Piper in the hospital. He can't tell the hero the current location of the pipes, but Firestorm learns that a dealer in Greece named Pandrakos sold the pipes to Senator Reilly. 

Firestorm flies off the Greece and discovers Pandrakos is really Pan! The god has taken command of a ship and transformed all of the ship's crew into satyrs. He has his pipes again and uses the music in an effort to hypnotize Firestorm, but our hero traps him in a metal box and dumps him in the sea. When his music can't be heard, it's effects disappear, and everyone turns back to normal.

Justice League #208: The "Crisis on Earth-Prime" continues. The All-Stars and the JLA, meeting for the first time in 1942, fight for a bit as superheroes do, but then team-up and answer the call of FDR. He's received a mysterious piece of electronic equipment (from 1982, it turns out) and they all get to hear the ultimatum Per Degaton delivers to all the world's major powers. He's got ICBMs and he will demonstrate them tomorrow at dawn. 

Meanwhile, in Earth-Prime's October 1982, the JSA must contend with mutated survivors. They discover that the Cuban Missile Crisis went hot in this world, thanks to some missiles disappearing. The more mystically inclined suss out who's behind this: Per Degaton.

Back on Earth-Two, aboard a Royal Navy warship, the All-Stars and Leaguers stand by to observe Degaton's demonstration. Aquaman warns all sea life to flee. On schedule, an ICBM drops into the area and goes off. Zatanna shields the assembled vessels from the shockwave and other destructive effects. Then, appearing out of the center of the blast zone, a transparent flying bubble appears, carrying five unconscious JSA members. The heroes regroup on the flagship's deck and get to work on making a plan.

All-Star Squadron Annual #1: In Roy Thomas fashion, this story seems to exist to plug some continuity headscratchers. It provides an explanation (that no one was clamoring for) for the excess of champion boxing trainers in Golden Age comics--1 each for the Guardian, Wildcat, and the Atom--with a "split personality" angle. It also references the retcon regarding the relationship of the Earth-Two Green Lantern to Earth-One's Guardians of the Universe. Still, it's not a bad story, and the Gonzales/Ordway art works well for it.