Thursday, September 28, 2023

The Adventure-Point Crawl Campaign

My kid has been rewatching Avatar: The Last Airbender, which means I have been rewatching it, and that gave me a roleplaying game related idea, not so much in regard to its content, but really its structure. 

The creation of the fantasy epic, such a staple of fantasy media, has always been hard in games because historically, attempts to do so have led to drastically limited options for player agency. At best, the Adventure Path that is the modern descendant of the Dragonlance modules tends to be really linear. At worst, it's an outright railroad.

I don't think it has to be that way, though, but it would require some discussion and buy-in from players and a good session zero. Here's how I think it could work:

1. The GM tells the players the campaign setting and situation and suggests (but not mandates) a Quest, perhaps. Or perhaps, the players and the GM sort of make that up together? The "Quest" is the desired outcome: defeat the Firelord in the case of The Last Airbender or defeat Sauron in Lord of the Rings.

2. The player's make up characters, finalize the Quest, and plan the steps they think they will need to achieve it. The Quest needn't be etched in stone. It's possible the campaign as it unfolds might lead to a different goal, e.g.: Babylon 5 was our last, best hope for peace. It failed. But in the year of the Shadow War, it became something greater: our last, best hope for victory. It's even conceivable PCs might switch sides. Anyway, there should also be more character specific goals woven in, not just big campaign ones.

3. The GM plots those steps both geographically on a pointcrawl map and node-wise for a campaign structure map and makes clocks of antagonist/rival actions and other events. It's important to note here that the steps which will become nodes aren't plotted scenes. They aren't linked to each other in a linearly (or strictly linear) fashion for the most part, and they aren't supposed to go any certain way. Nothing is "supposed" to happen. In Avatar, Aang has to master the 4 elements. That goal could have played out in a lot of different ways. In fact, it takes two potential teachers before he ultimately gets to learn firebending. Localizing potential places where the goals can be achieved is important, because fantasy epics tends to cover a lot of geography. They aren't just dramas or soap operas to be played out in a limited location.

4. The players choose where to go and have other adventures and encounters along the way due to those choices. This may call for a bit of separation of player and character knowledge, but even without that, I feel like it works if the players just know the likely location of achieving one of their goals. Circumstances may mean it doesn't work out. The world doesn't stay static. But any unsuccessful attempt to achieve a goal at a point should always yield clues to a goal--either another one or the one they failed to achieve. In this sense, it's like running a mystery; clues to the next goal location shouldn't be hard to find.

5. Players can alter goals in response to events or their desires.  New point crawl "maps" may need to be generated in response. When new goal nodes come online, new hooks and areas of interest need to be populated around them. It's the "story" goals embedded in sandboxy locations that makes this much less linear than an adventure path.

6. Repeat until the PCs achieve the goal or the clocks expire and a new status quo (and possibly campaign) is established. What if the hobbits fail to destroy the ring before Sauron's victory? Well, the story needn't be over.

This approach doesn't feature the degree of session to session freedom of the completely sandbox game, it's true. However, the player collaboration in the planning phase ensures it's not a GM enforced story. Indeed, both players and GM will be surprised by the final shape of the emergent story. 

While this may be a bit of a novel approach (at least I haven't seen anyone ever talk about it) ideas about "node-based scenario design" and "mission-based adventures" have existed for a long time. What this does to enhance those is get player input prior to the missions and link the nodes in a grander campaign.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, December 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.

Weird War Tales #118: Kane provides a cover that seems to be an homage to Giant-Sized X-Men #1. I've praised Kanigher certain sort of inventiveness before and this issue is another example. He and Carrillo have the G.I. Robot and the Creature Commandos brought to London to be decorated by the King. With this framing device of our heroes adventures getting related to his Royal Highness, we get the usual sorts of adventures of these guys. G.I. Robot, who already bested the samurai robot, now has to face the "geisha robot"--and the female is deadlier than the male, because J.A.K.E. apparently doesn't want to hurt a lady. Instead, in their second encounter, he leads her on a chase that winds up with her destroying herself stepping on a landmine.

In the Creature Commando yarn, a group of Nazis escape from a military prison and take a group of kids that had previously been having a picnic with the Commandos captive. The monsters go all out to rescue their young friends.

World's Finest Comics #286: Burkett and Buckler/LaRosa contain the zodiac story. After Zatanna's injury last issue, Superman and Batman take her to the JLA Satellite, but ultimately Wonder Woman decides to take Zatanna to Paradise Island where they can use the Purple Healing Ray. Batman and Superman return to their respective cities.

In the meantime, Dr. Zodiac ponders his current situation and recalls how he was sprung out of prison by Madame Zodiac, who he's now romancing. It's clear that she has been the promoter of his actions to fulfill the dictates of the evil dark cloud she serves. 

The dark cloud is on the move again. Its powers seem to unleash people's darkest impulses and turns people against each other using hate as the fuel.Clark's neighbor's dog is stolen by a Satanic cult to be sacrificed. Superman stops them, but he is once again attacked by the dark cloud and is temporarily incapacitated. In Gotham City, Lucius Fox returns home to find the Ku Klux Klan waiting for him outside his house. Batman, Robin, and ultimately Superman respond.

Later, the dark cloud has gained all the power required from Dr. Zodiac and Madame Zodiac, and a new wave of monsters start plaguing the cities of America. The Justice League members encounter werewolves and vampires. In Gotham, Batman, Robin and Superman contend with a horde of zombies, but after dealing with the monsters, Batman is possessed by the dark cloud.

Action Comics #538: Barr and Norvick have Superman at a low point after his defeat by Jackhammer. Bruised and half-conscious, Superman limps to Jimmy Olsen's apartment and asks his friend to use his disguise skills to help him hide his bruises. 

For the next few days, Superman keeps a low profile, using his other powers to thwart robberies from a distance as his wounds heal. At the same time, Jackhammer exploits his newfound fame to rise in the Metropolis underworld and go on a crime spree.

After a week goes by without a Superman sighting, the Daily Planet staff starts wondering what has happened to their hero. At night, Clark Kent privately admits to himself he is afraid. Thinking of his parents, Clark mans up and heads out.

Superman confronts Jackhammer again, but the armored villain still has the upper hand. The crowd of on-lookers moves in to help Superman, distracting Jackhammer long enough for Supes to defeat the foe. Superman receives the multitude's congratulations, but he insists he's the one who is grateful for the help of the people of Metropolis.

In the Aquaman backup by Rozakis and Saviuk, Aquaman and Mera first have to deal with the fallout of her out of control powers. Then, it's revealed that Mera's psyche is somehow imprisoned and someone else shares her body--a someone who commands the body to strangle Aquaman!

Arion Lord of Atlantis #2: Kupperberg and Duursema bring Arion back to Atlantis, which is under attack from Thamuz, a state-city ruled by D'Tilluh's son M'Zalle. Arion helps defend the city and defeats a band of assassins. Arion learns his rival, Garn Danuuth, is commanding the Thamuzian forces and seeks a secret hidden beneath the city. 

Meanwhile in the wastelands, Lady Chian and Wyynde try to find their way back to Atlantis under the mistaken belief that Arion is dead. They encounter a girl named Mara fleeing from Thamuz. She carries with her a crystal ram's head which soldiers have been sent to retrieve. Chian and Wyynde defeat the soldiers, then bring Mara back to Atlantis.

All-Star Squadron #16: Part One of this recounts All-Star Squadron #14 which has now been altered due the crossover that just completed last month now having never happened. When the All-Star Squadron returns to the meeting rooms of the JSA.  they discover a disheveled Wonder Woman await for them. She had her own encounter with Nuclear. Steve Trevor was captured in the battle, and she has come to the Squadron seeking aid.

The Squadron takes Wonder Woman’s invisible plane to Norfolk to investigate. They track Trevor and Nuclear to the lab of a dilletante named Percy Playboy. The villain’s magnetic powers are effective against the All-Star’s, but Trevor escapes and shoots Nuclear, apparently killing him.

Thomas concocted this story to plug an old continuity gap. Percy Playboy, the villain Nuclear, had his first and only other appearance in 1950 in Wonder Woman #43. Strangely, that story is called "Nuclear's Return" and calls him Wonder Woman's archnemesis, even though he never appeared before. So, Thomas gives his that previous meeting, at least in continuity.

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #10: I bought this issue off the stands as a kid. Andy "Wolfie" Wolf, the antagonist of Peter "Pigiron" Porkchops from when they both were just funny animal characters in the 40s is brought into this superhero update by doing a riff on the Wolfman. A curse transforms him into the Wuz-Wolf--'cause he "was a wolf, but he ain't no more."

Anyway, there's also a backup where Fastback has to deal with Chesire Cheetah who reminds me a lot of Chester Cheetah, except he's not cheesy. In the literal way, I mean. 

Detective Comics #521: Conway and Novick seem to be heading toward returning Catwoman to villainy by first making her the crazy ex-girlfriend.  Selina awakens from a nightmare where she murders Victoria Vale. She calls Wayne Manor, hoping to talk with Bruce, but when Alfred tells her that Bruce is asleep (really, he's out as Batman), Selina assumes that Bruce is really spending the night with Vicki, which only makes matters her jealousy worse. 

A few hours later, Vicki Vale gets a visit from Catwoman, who warns her to stay away from Bruce and she threatens to kill her if she doesn't. The next morning, Vicki tells Bruce all about it. Bruce tells her that Selina was responsible for their breakup and that now she has to deal with him moving on. As Vicki and Bruce kiss, Catwoman watches from a distance and makes a vow to fight to the death for Bruce's affection.

With Selina's heel turn, Green Arrow moves into the backup slot courtesy of Cavalleri and von Eeden. And we're in for some early 80s computer stuff! A story on computer crime Oliver Queen is working on vanishes from his terminal at the Daily Star. In its place he gets the image of Hi-Tek, who tells Oliver that he deleted his story rather than have his secrets exposed. Learning the address of the IT firm that stores the Star's data, Oliver becomes Green Arrow and goes there to confront H-Tek, but instead has to deal with an exploding robot that knocks him out. GA wakes up to find security sticking guns in his face, demanding he explain what he's doing there.

Jonah Hex #67: Fleisher and DeZuniga continue Hex's trail of vengeance against the rogue cavalrymen responsible for the death of Jonah's fiancée, Cassie Wainright years ago. This time, it's Croy's turn. He's a gambler and cheat. He tracks Hex to the town of Careysburg and takes a shot at him through a hotel window but instead kills a barmaid visiting Hex for the evenings.

The next morning, Croy fires another rifle shot that creases the back of Hex's skull. A few locals bring him to Doc Brewster's office, and Hex begins to suffer from fever dreams. He recalls the events, which led to the death of Cassie.

The following day, Croy learns that Hex is still alive and decides to take another try. He barges into Brewster's office, but Hex seems fully recovered. Croy tries to get the drop on him by way of a concealed revolver in his sleeve, but Jonah shoots him twice in the chest before Croy can get a shot off.

New Adventures of Superboy #36: Kupperberg and Schaffenberger delve into the dangers of standardized testing in schools! A researcher (I guess) named William Wright administers a test in Smallville High School and is able to take mental control of a number of students there. He discovers that he commands mental power enough to defeat Superboy.

In the Dial-H for Hero backup by Bridwell and Bender, Chris is captured by the Master and his dial is taken by the villain who proceeds to dial himself a powered identity.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Arena Assault

I completely forgot to write up our last session (two Sundays ago) in our Land of Azurth campaign. The party was still trying to figure out a way to free Bellona, War Lady of Sang, from the control of Loom. Their attempt at subterfuge hadn't played out the way they thought, so they shifted tactics and cased the place for an assault under cover of night.

The were pretty sure Bellona was being housed in the building behind the arena, but the means of spying (using Waylon's owl familiar) were insufficient to get a real sense of the inside of the place. Still, they are confident in their abilities.

The sneaking across the deserted arena is easy, but they must have tripped some alarm, because an image of a being called itself Loom appears before them when they reach the door and demands they bow down in reverence. Most of the part goes along, but Dagmar views it as sacrilege and won't do it. Loom allows his lackeys to attack first: Helmarg the troll woman and her ogre bruisers move in to attack--but Loom says this match won't be to the death.

These guys are tougher than the party anticipated, but after a battle that saw Waylon fall twice only to be revived by Dagmar healing magics, they finally prevail.

When they still won't bow to Loom he unleashes some sort of poison cloud on them. They still isn't enough to take them out, thanks to good saving throws all around. After looting their unconscious foes, they prepare to move into the complex. 

Thursday, September 21, 2023

A Taxonomy of Fantastic Lands

Thinking about the phylogenetic connection between the Lost Worlds of Victorian adventure fiction and the planetary romances of last century led me to an overall classification scheme for all sorts of unusual/fantastic lands or country within large settings (whether that larger setting be an approximation of the real world or a secondary, fantasy world). This was quickly done, so it might bear further though. 

The Strange Country: The Strange Country probably is an outgrowth of The Odyssey and Medieval travelogues. It is a place definitely situated in the wider world and generally not differing in its physical laws but possessed of its least one unusual feature whether than be a geographic anomaly, cultural eccentricity, or weird animal. Most of the various city-states of Barsoom, and the countries of Vance's Tschai or Raymond's Mongo fall into this category. The "Planet of Hats" TV trope is the Strange Country on a planetary scale. The Strange Country differs from the more mundane foreign land by the degree of exaggeration in its unique thing and by the fact that beyond that thing, it isn't usual that foreign in terms of culture, language, etc.

The Lost World: The Lost World is more remote and more divergent from the outside world that the Strange Country. Most often it's an isolated pocket of one or more elements of the world's past, but it could be completely alien. Perhaps its most defining feature is that it is typically a hidden place and is much harder to reach than the strange country. Maple White Land of Doyle's The Lost World is the prototypical example, but Tarzan encounters a lot of these "lost valleys" from Crusader to remnants to lost Atlantean cities. The dividing line between the weirder Strange Countries and Lost Worlds isn't entirely clear, but if the place is widely known to scholars just seldom visited, it's a Strange Country. If no one knew it existed or it was believed to be mythical, it's a Lost World.

Fairyland: The Fairyland is a region defined by its fantasticalness. Physical laws may be very different from the surrounding world. If it has contact with the wider world if is limited and geographical conscribed. Often though, it will be as remote as the Lost World--even more so, perhaps, because it may not strictly be placeable on a map, existing in an extradimensional space. Literal Fairy lands are generally Fairylands, but so is the demonic subworlds of a number of Michael Shea's fantasy novels, Hades in Greek Myth, or Wackyland in Warner Bros. cartoons featuring the Dodo.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Wednesday Comics: New Stuff I've Liked

 I spend all my Wednesdays talks about old comics that I don't get much of a chance to talk about newer things. Here are a couple of recent comics that I have enjoyed and you might too. They all happen to have "world" in the title.

World's Finest: I've mentioned this one before, but Waid's and Mora's classic (Bronze Age-y) stories and characterization with a modern sensibility continue to be really good. There are now a couple of collected editions in the series.

World's Finest: Teen Titans: Spinning out of World's Finest, Waid and Emanuela Lupacchino bring a similar (though not identical. Being about younger characters makes this book feel a bit more modern) to a sort of new version of the 70s Teen Titans. It's like what might have been if X-men style angst and later 80s Deconstruction hadn't intervened.

Worldtr33: Shifting gears, this is a horror comic by James Tynion IV and Fernando Blanco. In 1999, a group of computer nerds discovered the Undernet―a secret underworld/intelligence in internet. They charted their explorations on a message board called W0RLDTR33. They thought they sealed the Undernet away for good. But now, seemingly random killings posted on social media proclaim the arrival of a new age. The world has access to the Undernet again, and, like Cthulhu rising, it will mean a terrible new age dawning for humanity unless they can stop it again.

Monday, September 18, 2023

What I Like

In this DIY rpg world, there are a lot of factions, cliques, theorists, declarations of movements, manifestos, categorizations. I'm not really adherent to any of these except in the loosest since of being an rpg enthusiast of a certain vintage, preferring games of a more traditional tabletop lineage (in which I would include most rpgs) rather than strictly story games, and being a member of the Hydra Co-op and enjoying the gaming material written and run by my fellow Hydra heads. I do have things that I like in games and try to produce in the games I run.

It should go without saying, but to make it clear, I don't necessarily think these things are better (though sometimes maybe I do!), they just happen to be my preference. Starting loosely with a list that gets quoted a lot in Old School and related circles that I believe was created by Scrap Princess allow, here's what I like:

1. Interact with the world. I want players to approach the world as if their characters are inhabiting it, not as a gloss over a rules set or just flavor. The world, however, isn't merely composed of (imaginary) physical objects and locations but of (imaginary) social relationships, and conventions of genre or setting.

2. There is nothing that is supposed to happen, but some outcomes are more likely given (1). The story is in the hands of the players, but the world is going to dictate some more likely outcomes of actions. To give absolute, unfettered agency is to violate the first principle, but there is always a high degree of variation within a broad outcome, and the player actions and preferences are going to determine how it all turns out.

3. The player is an actor but also a participant in a social activity. I don't mean actor in the arch sense of the stereotyped thespian behavior, but I mean that the player has the roll of portraying a character, but also in considering (in a somewhat metagame fashion) what makes sense for that character within the larger context of the "story" unfolding. (And by invoking "story" here, I don't mean in a preconceived way. I mean: given the inputs of character, setting, situation, and genre, what seems cool to the player to have happen?)   This differs from the stance of strictly playing the character, wherein the player gives no consideration to the big picture, which can lead (in my view) to a player becoming too involved in the character and viewing the character's losses or setbacks as a loss or setback for themselves. Also, "it's what my character would do" can lead to disruptive behavior at the table.

4. It's the player's job to make your character interesting and to make the game interesting for yourself and others. This follows logically, I think, from (3) and (1) and leads directly to (7) below. The GM is also a player in this regard.

5. The character sheet is the mediator between theory and result. Plans and actions should be conceived in line with (1) and a lesser extend (3), but the mechanics of the game should support the actions players are likely to engage in. The character sheet as the rules-based abstraction of the character's capabilities ought to have some role in that, otherwise why not just play pretend and dispense with it?

6. Player skill/talent is important. The way I see rpgs as "winnable" is not primarily in character survival or successfully achieving goals (though those things are far from insignificant) but rather in making the experience more fun or cooler. I like skills and related systems some old schoolers dislike, but I think good, clever roleplay and tactics--defined as ideas that are not merely sensible or logical in the abstract but are also entertaining, spur/inspire players, and show clear consideration and interaction with the sustained, consistent, imaginary world we are involved with--are crucial.

7. Sometimes your character will die, but it's seldom interesting to die pointlessly. Death can be an important possible outcome in rpgs and I don't generally favor removing it as an option (though perhaps some games make a case for this), but I don't find pointless death as a result of computer game style "gotchas" or super-swingy rolls fulfilling. It's more gamey perhaps than I typically want. Often, another sort of setback other than "start over" is a better option to me.

8. It's fun to try new things. New settings, new mechanics--all worth a go. I don't think there is a particular formula of the type of game I want to spend all my time with. To me, it would be akin to eating the same thing every day for lunch. It gets old. Sometimes that even means sampling something you already know you aren't going to like most of the time to see if you enjoy partaking of it rarely.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Witchmire Rumors

 A few rumors regarding the Witchmire on Gnydrion:

  • “Does the Witchmire seem forlorn in aspect? Well, so it is. But it is also locale of historic importance as the site of the Landfall, which is to say, the place of humankin’s advent on Gnydrion.” 
  • “I take you for experienced travelers, inured to the variegated configurations human appetite and proclivity may take, so I will speak with candor unadorned by circumlocution: The prominent families of Gamory are perverse. Their cult seeks congress of a carnal nature with ieldra.”
  • “The witch Heth has come to live on an island surrounded by treacherous quag. She wears the semblance of a crone, but in her true form she is youthful and very beautiful. She holds a treasure of jewels and fine trinkets lavished upon her by wealthy suitors in her homeland.”
  • “Last winter, a mushroom-hunter of Draum made it known he had happened by a Black Obelisk with an aperture where before there had been scatheless stone. Word perhaps traveled as far south as Ascolanth, for scant months ago a party led by a trio of sorcerers arrived. They hired a guide and undertook to find the Obelisk. None of that expedition returned.”
  • “Are you familiar with the ditty? It speaks of the disappearance and looked-for triumphant return of  Prince Wanaxandor. He found it expedient to flee more civilized regions after his ill-planned efforts to overthrow the rule of his uncle, the Panarch. He is popularly supposed by rustics and simpletons to be in hiding, gathering a force armed with dire alien armaments, plundered from the Black Obelisks for a repeated attempt.”
  • “Wollusk is no more in the grip of rogues meager of scruple than most habitations similarly situated far from civilization, but Zeniba and her Devils have a zeal in the application of violence that borders on obsessive. My admonition: watch yourselves and do not attract undue notice!”
  • “A famed medium from the South has recently arrived. She offers intercession for the folk of the region with the wrathful presences of the Mire. She asks no compensation at present for her services. Popular opinion is divided between those that regard her as a fool and those that judge her insane. I am broader of imagination than most and accord both concepts a measure of validity. Be that as it may, I suppose she will need escorts in her endeavors.”

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, December 1982 (week 3)

My mission: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around September 16, 1982.

Camelot 3000 #1: Barr, Bolland, and Patterson present DC's first "maxi-series." Earth in the year 3000 is being invaded by aliens. In London, Thomas Prentice flees to a historical dig site and opens the crypt of King Arthur Pendragon, who rises and kills Tom's alien pursuers. Arthur takes him on as his squire. The two steal an alien spacecraft and fly to Stonehenge. There, Arthur calls forth Merlin. They all go to find the Lady of the Lake, who--rising from the cooling waters of a nuclear plant--throws the sword Excalibur to Arthur, but it disappears in midair. At the United Nations, a rock thrusts up from the floor of the assembly room. Stuck in the rock is Excalibur. Interesting enough story, but the real draw here is the Bolland artwork.

Brave & the Bold #193: Burkett and Aparo give Nemesis his last hurrah by again teaming him up with Batman. This will be his last Pre-Crisis appearance, but he'll return in the Post-Crisis Universe in Suicide Squad #1. Nemesis contacts Batman to enlist his help in an operation against a The Council. It' seems Irene Scarfield is in cahoots with the terrorist organization the PLA and wants to use them to kill a congressman who's pushing through anti-crime legislation. 

The two make a coordinate attack from two fronts. Batman goes looking for the terrorist Bloodclaw and Nemesis goes after Scarfield. After a lengthy search, Batman locates and confronts Bloodclaw, but during the struggle, the criminal falls to his apparent demise. Nemesis tracks Scarfield to a secret base where the Council attempts to send a helicopter bomb on a mission, but Nemesis hijacks the chopper and brings it down to the Council headquarters, sacrificing himself in order to eliminate the Council leadership for good. 

Daring New Adventures of Supergirl #2: Kupperberg and Infantino/Oksner pick up where the last left off. Supergirl is clashing with Psi, a young woman being manipulated by psychic researcher turned moral crusader, Pendergast.  Supergirl exerts her powers and breaks free from Psi's psychic trap. Then she fights back and begins beating Psi, while arguing against Psi's morally monstrous goal of destroying Chicago to wipe out "decay". Psi, in moral conflict, finally breaks off the battle and teleports away. Later, Psi reports to Mr. Pendergast, who tries to kill her for her failure. Psi blitzes him with a mental bolt, which somehow mutates Pendergast turning him into the monstrous embodiment of what he claimed to want to destroy. He becomes a slime-being calling himself "Decay."

Green Lantern #159: Barr and Pollard/DeCarlo bring back Evil Star who we haven't seen since issue 133. Evil Star is a villain I didn't know anything about until starting this read-through, but he's kind of interesting. He's a guy who was trying to achieve life extension but the device he created to do so corrupted the user and turned them evil. He is aware of the personality switch and part of him mourns it, but he is unwilling to give up his life to be rid of it. He destroyed his whole planet in the name of keeping it.

Anyway, his current plan is to spread his evil light throughout the universe, corrupting everyone. But Hal sacrifices himself and tells Evil Star to make him evil and spare everyone else. So Green Lantern turns into Evil Star's sidekick, and together they spread terror in a neighboring world. But when he is about to destroy a dam to cause a flood, Hal remembers his friends, Carol and Thom, and his predecessor, Abin Sur, and these memories help him break free from Evil Star's corruption. Hal flights back to Evil Star and defeats him again, this time taking off the component of the Star Band that makes it a weapon.

We get some other things setup: On Earth, a kid named Donny Weems finds a strange crystal, and he gets in a trance when he grabs it. In Oa, the Guardians dismiss the Green Lantern Eddore of his current mission, saying it's now out of his space sector.

In the Tales of the Green Lantern Corps backup by Rozakis, Moore, and Rodriquez, aquatic Green Lantern Penelops of Penelo (who looks like an eyeball with tentacles), finds the seas of his world being artificially heated invaders shooting some kind of weapon at the sun. Penelops saves his fellow inhabitants and flies to confront the aliens.

House of Mystery #311: Paris Cullins pencils this issue's "I...Vampire" story. Bennett wanders through the streets of New York City and stumbles into a theater, where they're showing a documentary about the Woodstock. When he sees a young Deborah Dancer, he remembers the way they first met.

In 1969, Andrew Bennett and Dmitri Mishkin visited Woodstock on the hunt for Mary. The Cult of the Blood Red Moon is using the festival as a cover to recruit new vampires. Deborah Dancer is there with her friends, and they're invited to a private party with the Blood Red Moon. Bennett rescues her, but he is too late to save the others. When Deborah is later cornered by her former friends turned bloodsuckers. They are suddenly destroyed by the overwhelming positive emotions at Woodstock during an awesome Hendrix guitar solo. Really, that's what happens! It's a known vampire weakness. Anyway, from that day on, Deborah joins Andrew and Dmitri in their crusade against vampires.

There are a couple more stories but neither have vampires getting dissolved like a Wicked Witch hit by a bucket of water by a cool guitar solo, so they aren't worth the time.

Legion of Super-Heroes #294: Levitz and Giffen/Mahlstedt bring the Great Darkness Saga to a very satisfying conclusion. Things start bleak for our heroes. The mind-controlled Daxamites are rampaging across the galaxy. We get cameos by the Heroes of Lallor, the Wanderers, and Dev-Em putt up a fight, but they are no match for the forces against them. The Legion calls in their reserves including the Legion Subs.

The main battle is joined on Daxam. With reversals and last minute saves, a plenty, including the reveal of the child as Highfather and the restoration of one of Darkseid's clone servants to the form of Orion. Then Superboy and Supergirl arrive just in time, their powers bolstered by Izaya despite the red sun. Darkseid blasts Superboy back to his own time, but Supergirl fights on. Her struggle gives the Legion time enough to regroup around Darkseid, and Saturn Girl declares he's lost.

Perplexed, Darkseid realizes that his long sleep has made him too weak to fight the Legion and simultaneously control billions of slaves. The Daxamites are now free, and the Legion's allies are leading them in an assault. Darkseid admits defeat and after uttering a curse that the darkness will keep growing within them until it destroys them, he vanishes, taking Apokolips with him.

In the aftermath, the White Witch joins the Legion, Light Lass quits, and Brainiac 5 tells Supergirl he is finally over his crush on her. Kara, before she leaves for the 20th Century, remarks that that is a pity, since she was noticing how cute he was.

Night Force #5: Wolfman and Colan/Smith set most of this issue in a Soviet "Science City" in Siberia. Colan seems to have seen pictures of this place, but his version is decidedly more futuristic. Wolfman tells us it's all about psychic research. This is where Vanessa gets taken, and this is where Gold and Caine have to go to get her back. Vanessa at first is treated kindly, but then the administrator springs a trap and reveals he plans to torture her and still her power. Meanwhile, Caine and Gold get to know each other while almost dying out in the snow before reaching the city and getting captured.

So far, I feel like this is the well-done series that probably doesn't get its due, being out of step with the continued ascendancy of superheroes.

Sgt. Rock #371: So Kanigher and Redondo are out to make a point about the replaceability of the soldier and how it's the mission that's important, but what's memorable here is that the story has Rock and a few of his men coming to rescue of the rest of Easy from an ambush by riding a log down a river. Then there's a non-war story about a too wily for his on good general who survives Earth's final war and then rockets to a paradise planet that turns out to be deadly. That one's by Kelley and Randall.

Kanigher and Mandrake are back with an interestingly illustrated but silly ode to paean to the G.I.'s boots. Fianlly, Kanigher and Truman dubiously depict the kamikaze pilots as modern samurai. 

Warlord #64: I went over the main story in this issue here. In the Barren Earth backup, the crashed the humans that survived the crash and the Qlov assault start trekking across the desert to--well, anything. Most of them are killed by weird creatures along the way. There are a lot of them in this desert! In the end, only Jinal is left, and her pants have disappeared along the way! She finds herself surrounded by robed and veiled people with weapons on lizard-back.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Beetles & Birds

Beetle Milk Mead 

A beverage favored in the west of Gnydrion, beetle milk mead is made from the fermentation of a sugary liquid ("the milk") produced by a species of beetle native to the titanic trees of the coastal forests. These colonials insects have members of their community who function as living casks for their hive. They gorge themselves on food and store the liquid they produce in their abdomens so they distend to an incredible degree, having the appearance when full of plump fruit with a diameter as wide as the length of the first digit of a man's thumb. The milk is harvested from the engorged beetles and fermented. The resulting liquid is sometimes added to beer to sweeten it but can also be mixed with the local liquor to render that more enjoyable, as well.

The beetles are farmed by placing thick slices of the bark of their favored trees into beetlehouses. This practiced has allowed the production and enjoyment of beetle milk mead to spread to places where the trees do not grow.


Quaklus are the ubiquitous saddle birds of the Northwest region. It is assumed by most learned folk of the modern age, that the birds are a result of the puissant science of the ancients, though the pedants of the hwaopt have alleged that the quaklus are a distinct lineage from the creatures of humankin's homeworld and so must have been taken from some other world in the past.

Whatever their origins some quaklu, considered atavistic in the modern parlance, are more than just cunning animals and are capable of speech.  The accidental acquisition of such a gifted fowl is considered an unlucky turn due to their willingness to make their thoughts and wishes known--and unwelcome trait in a riding beast.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, December 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 September 9, 1982. 

Batman #354: Batman has been declared a public menace by Mayor Hill and Commissioner Pauling, but despite a heightened police presence, the Dark Knight still manages to break into their office, and put them on notice that Deadshot spilled what he knows about them (which he hasn't). When Batman leaves the building, Pauling activates an alarm that alerts the officers about his presence and the police start shooting at Batman and hitting him. Still, Batman escapes.

Meanwhile, Dr. Thirteen shows Rupert Thorne the Hugo Strange haunting is a fake, done with holograms. Thorne jumps to the conclusion the responsible parties for this charade are his own pawns, Pauling and Hill.

Later, Alfred has to juggle an annoying Deadshot, who is being held prisoner and blindfolded in the Batcave, and tending Batman's wounds. Vicki Vale gets a phone call from a mysterious (cat) woman, who warns her to stay away from Bruce Wayne.

Thorne is drinking at his home and planning his revenge against his subordinates, when Batman appears and stands there is silence as Thorne rants. Unnerved, Thorne accidentally sets his house on fire. While Batman fights the blaze, Rupert Thorne gets away. Thorne goes to City Hall with a gun, ready to kill his lackeys. Batman arrives just in time to witness Thorne's murder of Pauling and the shooting of Thorne by one of Pauling's loyal cops. Batman disarms the cop and a fearful Mayor Hill promises he will reinstate Batman's special deputy status, but he won't be able to prove that he was ever involved with Thorne.

This Batman is, of course, Dick Grayson, as Bruce is still recovering. After a successful mission, Dick returns home, but someone else is watching Thorne get taken away to the hospital. The person is none other than Hugo Strange, who is very much alive!

This was a satisfying end to this arc by Conway and Newton.

Flash #316: Bates and Infantino continue the Goldface story with the Eradicator lurking in the background. The Flash tangles with Goldface twice and gets defeated. Goldface demands Flash leave town or he'll continue murdering people in Central City.. The Flash isn't about to leave, but he recruits the reformed Heatwave to help him try to take down the villain. They get closer, but again Goldface escapes, and Flash is left in peril of drowning. Meanwhile, the Eradicator makes short work of Goldface's goons that come after him, and Creed Philips discovers that the Eradicator killed his physician (he doesn't appear to know that he's the Eradicator).

G.I. Combat #248: No Mercenaries this month, but hey, more Haunted Tank! Joy. The first Tank story has an interesting high concept, if utterly predictable development in Kanigher style. The crew is leading 3 condemned soldiers to their execution. The three learn something of heroism from Jeb and his men, and then show it themselves by dying in battle giving our heroes a chance to escape the Germans. In the second story, the Haunted Tank manages to capture General Kuntz, "Rommel's right-hand man" and have to transport the injured general across the dangerous desert to command. 

The O.S.S. story is better than average. There is a traitor among four agents sent on a mission, and the still loyal agents have to discover who the turncoat is and complete the mission before the he takes them out. Drake and Trinidad round out the issue with a story about the lives of three individuals in different places and on different sides who wind up intersecting with the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Masters of the Universe #1: I reviewed this issue here back in 2015. One of the mysteries here is why Tuska is doing the art with Alcala only inking when Alcala did much cooler work in the mini-comics? Maybe a question of speed?

Saga of the Swamp Thing #8: Swamp Thing, Dennis and Liz are stranded on an island where they encounter dream-like scenes out of movies. They have to deal with dinosaurs, hostile tribesmen, and King Kong and wander through Rick's Cafe American.

Abruptly we get an interlude. In New Jersey Karen "Casey" Clancy" looks much older and is more sure of her powers. Paul Feldner tells her he won't be a part of her plan. He slaps her and tries to run away before Karen uses her mind power to make him burst into flames. 

Back on the island, Dennis and Liz are finally able to confront dreamers and it is discovered they are Vietnam vets that came into contact with the defoliant, Agent Blue. Traumatized and unable to reintegrate into society, they re-enlisted. They were transferred on the USS New Hampshire, which exploded and sank, leaving them as the only survivors. It was then that the soldiers realized they could "create stuff outta thin air" just by thinking about it and decided to live out the fantasies of their imagination instead of returning to reality. Liz then scolds one of the vets for hiding from reality, essentially calling them all cowards unworthy of sympathy. The vets have a falling out over this, and their fantasies begins to fall apart along with the entire island dissolving. One of the soldiers creates a helicopter and he, Swamp Thing, Liz and Dennis escape while the other dreamers drown.

In the Barr/Carrillo Phantom Stranger backup, the Stranger takes Amanda Dove (the woman from last issue) to see the latest incarnation of her lover, a general, and tries to stop the war he is currently involved in.

New Teen Titans #26: Wolfman and Perez prove social relevance in comics wasn't just a 70s fad. The New Teen Titans return to Earth from Vega, and Robin, having revealed his true feelings during the battle, begins a tentative, romantic relationship with Starfire, and the other Titans get back to their civilian lives. Several weeks pass in a couple of captions. Then, Raven meets a young girl who has been the victim of domesticate abuse, presumably by a pimp. Dick and Kory, on a movie date, witness the accidental death of a drug-crazed youth who attacks D.A. Adrian Chase (who seems a bit to the right of Bronson's character in the Deathwish movies) and his wife before running into the path of a car. Cyborg and the others visit a home for runaways and basically get a PSA on the problem. The other The next day, at the site of the Statue of Liberty, Changeling battles a young costumed girl, who calls herself Terra. 

It's easy to view this kind message comic as sort of heavy-handed. I feel like it would have seemed hard-hitting and gritty had I read it as a young teen. In a way, I feel like this is better than the Vega arc before, though probably a little of it is going to go a long way.

Superman #378: Kupperberg and Swan introduce a character I only know from the Who's Who: Colonel Future. NASA scientist Edmond Hamilton (a name borrowed from the sci-fi writer) accidentally gains prophetic powers that warn him of a doom the Earth faces in the near future. He adopts the secret identity of Colonel Future and begins stealing devices to help him build a defense against it, but runs afoul of Superman. It turns out, interpreting visions is a tricky thing and Future actually causes a problem Superman has to prevent.

Friday, September 1, 2023

The Woods are Dark and Deep

This half-formed rpg setting idea I got the other day. It could probably work with something D&Dish but might be better suited to something else. Anyway, the world that the players' would know and explore is a sort of mythic forest, a dark fairytale sort of woodland with no apparent beginning or end. Within the woodland are areas of human habitation, where everyone probably speaks the same language, and probably some enigmatic ruins, suggesting perhaps a once united human culture or series of cultures, but nothing like that exists in the present and nothing more than fables that hold any memory of it. Memory, like everything else, gets swallowed by the forest.

The woodland can be a strange place. There are dangers there, even horrors, but there are also places of beauty and enchantment. These last are perhaps hard to find again after visiting, though.  Adventurers are wanderers in the wood, dealing with the things the forest brings them.

I envision it as something like an adult, darker Over the Garden Wall. Perhaps with a bit of Ravenloft with the forest replacing the Mists. The forest might give a similar uncanny vibe to the Zone in the film Stalker. Other inspirations: Grimm's fairytales and the film Company of Wolves. Maybe some stuff from the rpg Symbaroum though it's a bit less "Brother's Grimm meets Acid Western" than what I'm envisioning.