Thursday, November 30, 2023

Oz and the Dying Earth

Driving over the Thanksgiving holiday my family listened to the audiobook of The Patchwork Girl of Oz, and I was struck by how similar Baum's Oz stories are and some of Vance's work, particularly the Dying Earth related material. Some of it, of course, would be resemblances shared with other works of fantasy, but I think there is much more homology of Baum with Vance than say Howard, Smith, or Martin.

I've mentioned before the list of the elements of Vance's Dying Earth stories as outlined in Pelgrane Press' Dying Earth rpg:

  • Odd Customs
  • Crafty Swindles
  • Heated Protests and Presumptuous Claims
  • Casual Cruelty
  • Weird Magic
  • Strange Vistas
  • Ruined Wonders
  • Exotic Food
  • Foppish Apparel

Some of those I think are present in Baum's Oz books, but there are others that have analogs. These are the ones that I think are most prominent:

Odd Customs. In the Dying Earth this relegated to cultural practices. In Oz, the people themselves may be odd not unlike the mythological peoples seem in Medieval or ancient travel tales. Still, the central aspect of using a culture taken to the absurd as an object of satire is present.

Weird Magic. This is all over the place in Oz, with many of the protagonists being products of it. The powder of life made by the Crooked Magician or the "Square Meal Tablets" certainly count.

Strange Vistas. Exploration is as important part of Oz as the Dying Earth. The weird underground world of the vegetable Mangaboos lit by glowing glass orbs in the sky would count, as would the the Land of Naught where the wooden gargoyles dwell.

Ruined Wonders. Oz doesn't have many ruins, but they do have Hidden Wonders, like the city of the China Dolls or the radium decorated city of the subterranean Horners.

Foppish Apparel. It isn't emphasized as much in the text, but it goes through in the illustration...

The other elements are less present in Oz, but Heated Protests/Presumptuous Claims has its analog in humorous exchanges and bickering. Oz isn't as cruel a place as the Dying earth--it shows up in children's stories after all--but it isn't without cruelty. It's a cruelty of the fairytale sort really where axes enchanted by witches might chop off a woodsman's limbs and an evil queen might desire a little girl's head enough to have it cut off.

There are other similarities not really accounted for here. Outlandish, unnatural monsters haunt the wilderness in both (and in both they are often capable of speech). Habitations are separated by wilderness and isolated cultures seem to exist along well-travelled roads. For the most part the societies of both settings seem fairly static (Oz a bit less so than the Dying Earth), in contrast to epic fantasies where world-changing events are part of the narrative. Overall, I think these could be summed up is that both settings seem perhaps descended from fairy stories, Oz more directly, and the Dying Earth through the fantasies of Smith, Cabell, and (maybe) Dunsany.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, February 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 November 24, 1982.

Detective Comics #523: Conway and Colan/DeZuniga bring back the Earth-One Solomon Grundy (who I only learned about since I started this reading series). It seems a designer clothing shop is wrecked, and a number of furs are taken. The carnage makes it look personal, so Batman decides to investigate, it turns out its a gang that has teamed up with Grundy and have to deal with Grundy's childish whims and destructiveness. The leader of the gang is visited by a guy hidden by a trench coat, hat, and shadows named "Croc" who disapproves of the inclusion of Grundy and severs ties with the gang with a warning. But enough about him. I'm sure this Croc won't show up again.

Anyway, Robin visits his friend Waldo the Clown in a traveling circus passing through, while Batman tracks down the gang. Grundy gets the better of Batman in their first encounter with the Caped Crusader having to play dead to survive. Later, Batman tracks Grundy to the gang's warehouse hideout and he lures Grundy into a furnace where the monster is apparently burned up! Batman's "no killing" thing is apparently narrowly construed.

In the Green Arrow backup by Cavalieri and Novick, Star City is in the grips of a transit workers strike, which threatens to boil over into violence, but Arrow discovers that agent provocateurs are responsible, and the plot is being orchestrated by a group of wealthy elites that intends to throw Star City into chaos and then usurp power, and masterminded by their adviser, the Lord Machiavelli. GA confronts so Machiavelli calls upon his partner, the Executrix, to battle him with twin laser-torches! 

Weird War Tales #120: What I said last issue about Kanigher and Weird War Tales still holds, but this one has a bit of goofy sentimentality that gives it some charm. J.A.K.E.-II who is waiting for his pet robo-cat to be fixed, winds up on Dinosaur Island where a Queen Kong takes a fancy to him and J.A.K.E. seems to like her as well. It ends poorly of course but the gorilla gives her life so that J.A.K.E. and his friends can get away.

In the second story by Gwyon and Jodloman, a group of G.I.s finds a statute fashioned by the ancient druids. A dying soldier winds up with his spirit driving the statue to kill Germans. But on a bridge slaughtered German spirits take control. The statue keeps going back and forth between the sides until a bridge collapses and it's washed away by the river.

Action Comics #540: Wolfman and Kane seem to be getting close to their conclusion of the split Superman story. In the 14th Century, Syrene and Satanis (inhabiting the body of Superman) start continue their magical duel. Syrene gets the upper hand an imprisons Satanis in a ball of Earth. Frantic, Satanis begs Superman to ally with him so that both of them can survive.

In the 20th Century, Clark Kent seems to come back to life on the autopsy table. He sent home to rest. He realizes he needs to get to the past, but Satanis has every time-travelling method he knows of blocked. Clark Kent goes to the Daily Planet to ask for a vacation when he overhears Perry White and Lois arguing about her piece on Forgotten Heroes. Superman streaks towards Rip Hunter's Time Lab.

In the past, Syrene is poised to kill Satanis, but her foe bursts from the ball of earth--Superman has agreed to help him subdue Syrene. Satanis does plan to merely subdue her however, he plans to kill her, take her power, and then take over Superman's body completely. Suddenly, a Time Sphere appears and with it 20th Century Superman.

In the Aquaman backup by Rozakis and Saviuk we get to the end of the current story. Mera defeats Vlana in one-on-one combat, and Vlana, not wanting to admit defeat, commits suicide by electric eel. Having won back her throne, Mera again gives it up to go to Earth with her husband.

Arion Lord of Atlantis #4: Arion is in the hands of his enemy, Garn Danuuth, and the City of Atlantis has fallen to the invaders. Garn gets a chance to relate to the chained Arion their sort of joint origin. A hundred thousand years ago Arion and Garn were the apprentices of  Caculha and Majistra, respectively, two of the twelve great mages of the day, and mortal enemies. Caculha sensed a threat to the 12 crystals beneath the 12 cities whose magic kept the world in balance. He proposed increases the guard upon the crystals and onnly Majistra opposed him. Seeking power for herself, Majistra stole the crystals. Earthquakes shake the world. Ari'ahn sacrifices himself to wrest control of the crystals from Mjistra, and they are both killed. Caculha was exiled to the Darkworld, and Garn's skin was bleached white. To reward his fallen son, Caculha used magic to send Ahri'ahn's energy into the sun.

Cataclysm was averted for a while, but the battle caused a shift in the Earth's axis which would eventually cause an ice age. To save Atlantis again, Caculha used his new power to bring about a rebirth of his son, now called Arion. Although he had no memory of his past life, Arion became a great mage in Atlantis. Now with the fall of the city, it appears that Garn has finally won.

All-Star Squadron #18: Thomas and Gonzales/Hoberg introduce the Tarantula and spend most of the issue plugging continuity holes like why Tarantula and Sandman basically wear the same costume and what became of Dian Belmont. Then there's a fight with the Sadman foe Fairy Tale Fenton in the guise of Thor so it isn't all retcons. One thing I like about All-Star Squadron is how, thanks to it being a period piece, Thomas can be more concrete on dates. Here we learn, for instance, that Tarantula began his costumed career on June 22, 1941.

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #12: Shaw and Gordon introduce Little Cheese, a mouse with shrinking powers. Together they take on the criminal mastermind, Fatkat. The last panel also introduces the Just'A Lotta Animals.

The letter column of this issue publishes a piece of artwork from a fan named Arthur Adams, who seems like he might have some talent...

Jonah Hex #69: Fleisher and DeZuniga pick up where we left off last issue, with Jonah walking into an ambush. Kincaid's talking gives Hex a chance to notice White Claw, so when the shooting is over Kincaid is dead and White Claw is on the run. Hex tracks him and eventually winds up in the hands of ta Shoshone tribe who White Claw has convinced that Hex is tried to kill him for no reason. Hex tries to tell his side of the story, but given his experience with white men the chief, somewhat understandably, will not allow White Claw to be taken to the white men's courts. White Claw wants Hex killed, but the Chief gives Hex a chance to run the gauntlet. Hex survives, but barely, and makes it to the river where he is found then nursed back to health by Emmylou from several issues back. White Claw eventually shows up, but Jonah kills him, though not before he stabs Emmylou. Unusual for a supporting character and friend of Hex's, she doesn't die. At least not in this issue.

New Adventures of Superboy #38: This is a continuation of the switched Superboy and Superman story, or rather the Superboy era side of the tale. Superboy enters that rift in time when returning from the Soames Reform School and his annual Thanksgiving visit. The date is given as November 27th, which would suggest this is set in 1969. Anyway, Superman is now in his 16 year-old self's body and going to have dinner with his parents.

When he wakes up in the morning, it's again Thanksgiving Day. Forced to relive the events of the last day, he realizes he's trapped in some kind of time loop. He knows he can't escape by travelling into the future, so using some dodgy theory about time being a flat circle, he comes up with the idea of going back further into the past.

Luthor, who expects Superboy to be trapped in Thanksgiving prepares to commit a crime, but Superboy stops him. Lex doesn't understand how his latest device can have failed, and Superboy reveals how he did it, to gloat, I guess. Luthor isn't willing to give up just yet and pulls out a magnetic repellent device. Supes ain't in the mood. Knowing Lex will never change and just keep causing trouble over the next decade, Superboy/man starts beating Lex up, but he's stopped by Chief Parker who calms him down. Knowing it's futile to try to change the past, Superboy apologizes for losing his temper and flies away. He's still got to find a way back into his adult body.

In the Dial H backup by Bridwell/Rozakis and Bender/Adkins the Chris and Vicki dial up identities that interestingly come from the sketchbook of a guy they know to take on a new villain, Windrider.

World's Finest Comics #288: Superman is frantically trying to find Batman after he was snatched away by demons. In discussing an early issue in this storyline, I had praised Burkett's handling of the friendship of Superman and Batman, even if it was jarring to modern portrayals of the characters. Here thought Barr and Wolfman have Superman being a bit overwrought. More like what I would expect from him if Lois were in danger, if at all. He snaps at Flash and even tries to punch him in misplaced anger.

Meanwhile, Madame Zodiac and her master complete the ritual giving it control over Batman's body. The dark entity plans to take over the world using several and has clones of the Batman's body he plans to run through during his conquest.

Battling one of the dark entity's minions, Superman is transported to the place where the ritual occurred. Using (super-)hypnosis, Superman induces Batman into fight the evil inside him by making him recall the past tragedy that shaped him.

While Batman fights for control of his body, Superman gets help from Dr. Zodiac, who tells Superman about a barred door behind which there is someone can help them against the dark entity. Superman breaks down the door and they find the real Madame Zodiac inside. The dark entity used the Zodiac Idol to separate her into two parts. Her evil counterpart allied with the creature, and they imprisoned her other self. Once freed, the good Madame Zodiac confronts her evil self and a single person emerges. Unfortunately, it's evil Madame Zodiac who does battle with Dr. Zodiac. Both are swept aside by the dark being who has been defeated by Batman and cast back into the sphere that held it, where it commands all the Batman clones to fight Batman and Superman. The heroes destroy the clones and then they use the Zodiac Idol to destroy the dark entity's sphere and send it back to its own dimension.

A decent end to the storyline, I think, at least for the standards of the era where it was all about the journey not the destination.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Black Star and the Light of Xaryxis

As a break from our Land of Azurth 5e game, I decided a wanted to run a loose, more space opera adaptation of the Spelljammer adventure Light of Xaryxis. After considering the Star Raiders action flick of Outgunned and some other fairly light space opera games, I settled on Black Star from LakeSide Games. Mainly, I felt like trying something new, but it's even lighter than Outgunned, I think, and made for Space Opera.

The system uses a simple 2d6 roll to resolve tasks, though characters can spend Resolve (which also serves as Stress/Hit Points) to either reroll or move a failure to a partial success or a success to a greater success. It also has only player rolls and minion rules, both things I've enjoyed in Broken Compass/Outgunned.

It's only about $5 on drivethru, so worth checking out if that sort of system sounds interesting to you.

Anyway, we only did characters this session, but I'm looking forward to bringing a touch of Star Wars ripoff space opera in the vein of Battle Beyond the Stars and Micronauts to Light of Xaryxis.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Some Observations on Science Fiction Names

I think there is a lineage of science fiction name coining that whose progenitor is Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars stories but that passes through early to mid-20th Century pulpier sci-fi like the works of Edmond Hamilton and Jack Vance to the galaxy far, far away of the Star Wars Universe.

In his Mars stories Burroughs went for relatively short (mostly 1-2 syllable), two part, phonetically simple names. Though they don't mostly sound that way to modern ears, I suspect Burroughs was after what he thought of as an "Oriental" feel. They also wind up being very simple for English speaking readers to pronounce. Examples: Kantos Kan, Gan Had, Ras Thuvas, Sab Than, Sojat Yam.

Burroughs uses a not hugely different style in many of his Planetary Romances.

Edmond Hamilton was clearly influenced by Burroughs in a number of ways and the naming practices in several of his works are similar, though they are a bit more phoentically diverse and have more consonant blends. Here are some names from his Captain Future series:  Sus Urgal, Re Elam, Thuro Thuun, Rok Olor, Si Twih, Brai Balt

Typically, he doesn't always try to be so "exotic." Sometimes he seems to be trying to convey future developments of English names. This tact he shares with other writers of the 1940s-1960s, including the various creators of the members of the Legion of Super-Heroes in DC Comics: Irma Ardeen, Rok Krinn, Garth Ranzz, Tinya Wazzo.

Jack Vance tends to take this latter approach in some of his science fiction, too, though his names are more often multisyllabic and have a first-name last name pattern with each name sometimes made up of more than one element. Still, they have a similar vibe I think to the Hamilton and Legion names. These are from the first two Demon Princes novels:  Miro Hetzel, Conwit Clent, Lens Larque, Sion Trumble, Kokor Hekkus, Kirth Gersen.

Star Wars names aren't the product of one individual, though later writers have obviously tried to fit the standards of the original trilogy. There are more straight up English names in Star Wars and of course some pseudo-Japanese ones, but a number could easily have been characters in Captain Future stories, like these: Ric Ole, Sio Bibble, Pondo Baba, Plo Kloon, Nien Nunb, Mace Windu, Sy Snootles.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Occurrences in the Night in and Around Phaelorn Gap

Art by Marvano

Our Gnydrion game using Grok?! continued last night. The party on hand:
  • Antor Hogus (Paul) - Vagabond with a stun gun and now a chatty quaklu
  • Nortin Tauss (Aaron) - An arcane dabbler, skeptical of Hogus' decisions
  • Yzma Vekna (Andrea) - A grubby teamster trying to be the voice of reason
  • Jerfus Grek (Jason) - A vagabond, but fat where Hogus is lean, and possessed of a kaleidoscopic cloak
The quaklu, ungagged last session, related to Antor Hogus that it had seen a murder. Kreik Gelmot had dropped a body wrapped in a cloth into a pit outside of town, then he tried to dispose of quaklu who had witness the deed.

Jerfus Grek, resposing on the scrub nearby around a meager campfire of dried caloot dung,  overheard this entire story and strode up to see if there was some way he might profit. Around this time, the others arrived. Jerfus shared some honeyed, beetle-spiced dusted pastries to win them all over.

The group had the quaklu lead them (after it was placated with a pastry) across the plain to the whole where the body was dropped. It appeared to be an abandoned mineshaft or well. The ascertained their was indeed a body in the hole, but it was dead! Bafflingly, the individual in the pit named himself as Kreik Gelmot!

The group thought of various ways to allow him to climb out, but they were stymied by Gelmot's reported injuries. Using Jerfus' undergarment wrap and Yzma's collapsible pole, Yzma manages to get itno the whole and get Gelmot out.

He seems injured pretty bad, but while they are discussing what to do, he stands up and straightens his own broken limbs then walks off toward town. The party finds this highly unusual and suspects the first Gelmot is the genuine one (if there is a genuine one) and this one is some sort of doppelganger. Antor tries to stun him, but he shrugs it off and keeps going.

Yzma rushes ahead to town to warn the law, The Shreev is in bed but she finds his deputy, Varr Nee. He's skeptical of their claims of the Gelmot Double being unusual, so they get no help.

Yzma and Jerfus shadow Gelmot Double to the hotel, The Golden Idle. He enters a room where they find the other Gelmot. He tells them quite a tale: He took on a job from a mysterious individual he took to be a high official to deliver a tube-shaped container (unopened) to a Wol Zumderbast  at the Inn at Thono. Gelmot's curiosity got the better of him and he broke the wax seal of the tube and found a strange, flexible mirror inside. When he unrolled it to examine it, his reflection started to move out of sync with him, then stepped from the mirror!  He subdued the double and tried to dispose of it to hide his actions, but the talkative quaklu gave it all away. 

While he's telling his story, Jerfus slips the tube from Gelmot's bag, and when he gets a chanc,e hides it outside the hotel. The others arrive, and Gelmot begs them all to dispose of the doppelganger. They refuse and instead stun him and tie him up. Then, they summon the deputy, who demands an explanation for the strange scene.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

The Battle with the Loom

I'm a session behind with my reports on our 5e Land of Azurth campaign. We played last Sunday and on October 29th, and the second was a continuation of the first, the events separated only by a short rest. The party was seeking the artificial being, Loom, responsible for this place, the even madder copy of the failing mind of Mad Mirabilis Lum. They had managed to defeat every challenge Loom had thrown at him, but they still hadn't found the Warrior Princess of Sang they were trying to rescue.

They took on two robots with flamethrowers, then an enraged Ettin. After that, they progressed down into the excavation. Clearly Loom was having his forces dig out some ancient structure which none of them recognized. Looking for some evidence of what it might be, they came into a cave. They didn't have much time to look around, because there was a battle cry and the mind-controlled Princess Bellona came running at them with sword and pistol. They get lucky, evading her blows and their numbers allow them party to finally subdue her. They notice a shimmering cloud that leaves her and flies away into the dark extent of the cave.

The party followed it and came to the end of the excavation. There was the shimmering image of Loom. he sent forth more of those clouds to attack them (nanite swarms, though they didn't know what they were). Still, they persevered and the substance of Loom was so degraded, what was left of him had to flee. That worried them, but it was a problem for another day.

The returned with Bellona to the workshop of the Clockwork Princess who told them about a metal giant she planned to resurrect to attack the Wizard in the Sapphire City!

Wednesday Comics: DC, February 1983 (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 November 18, 1983.

Warlord #66: I reviewed the story in this issue here. No "The Barren Earth" backup this time around.

Brave & the Bold #195: Barr and Aparo team Batman up with Andrew "I...Vampire!" Bennett, which brings that strip definitively into the DC Universe (and that in turn necessitates the events of House of Mystery this week). Anyway, Batman is on the trail of killers who attacked the daughter of a crime-lord named Hodges, leaving bite marks in her neck, and Bennett is in Gotham after the Blood Red Moon. The two team-up and discover the responsible part is another crime lord who is the new lover of Mary. Bennett takes a bullet meant for Batman, which turns out to be a silver. Batman saves Bennett's life with a blood transfusion. Realizing that his daughter is the only thing important to him, Hodges decides to retire from his life of crime. The two heroes part ways, both feeling like they've made a new ally and friend.

Camelot 3000 #3: Another solid installment in the futuristic Arthurian epic from Barr, Bolland, and Patterson, though we're still in the "getting the band together" phase. Merlin tells Arthur that there is an enemy arraying forces against them. We learn that Morgan Le Fay is organizing the aliens that are attacking Earth. Merlin sends Arthur and his allies to find his remaining knights: Percival (a newly made Neo-Man), Galahad (a futuristic samurai), Tristan (a woman at her wedding) and Kay (a criminal). At United Earth Defense headquarters, the alien ships have been traced to their point of origin: the tenth planet!

Daring New Adventures of Supergirl #3: Kupperberg and Infantino/Oksner pit Supergirl against the Gang, a group of four super-powered costumed mercenaries, who are stealing a satellite from the Aerospace Technologies Show. Ms. Mesmer, one of the Gang members, hypnotizes Supergirl into immobility long enough for them to make a getaway. She also plants a post-hypnotic suggestion in Supergirl's mind that will trigger something she fears when she sees her reflection, if she and the Gang meet again. Supergirl's house-neighbor John Ostrander is unwittingly to be the messenger to deliver payment for the robbery to the Gang, who has given the satellite to Lester Adams, but Ostrander has bails on the messenger gig to audition for a play. When the Gang confront Ostrander, Supergirl is on hand to battle them. Then she sees her reflection in a window, but it's the face of Linda Danvers. Thinking she may have revealed her secret identity, she flies away.

There's a Lois Lane backup by O'Flynn and Oksner that continues the story from last issue. Two crooks paralyze Missy's mother from the waist down with a gunshot, but she is reunited with her husband and the crooks responsible for the kidnapping are captured. Then, Lois and Perry White discover that, somehow, Jimmy Olsen is responsible for the prophetic news stories.

Green Lantern #161: Barr and Pollard/La Rosa are aiding and abetting Wolfman's efforts to make the Omega Men happen. They come in like the cavalry to rescue Jordan and Dorine from execution by the Headmen. They head out to free the people of Garon. The Guardians step in to make sure the Citadel doesn't help the Headmen. The battle on Garon is still tough and our heroes are unable to prevail outright, but they do manage to evacuate the remaining anti-Headmen dissidents in the face of a Psion invasion.

In the Tales of the Green Lantern Corps backup by Snyder and Gibbons, Harvid, a retired Green Lantern is tending his garden as a storm approaches, when he gets a surprise visit from his brother. A brother he sent to 100 years of solitary confinement during his time of service. The two old men begin to fight while around them the storm gathers strength. When the storm causes the dam to break, neither man has the strength to fix it alone, forcing them to work together. In the end, the exhausted brothers make peace and head to Harvid's house for some wine.

House of Mystery #313: Mishkin and Gonzales/Sutton pick up where last issue left off with "I...Vampire!" Bennett and the reporter are captured by scientist Allen Barr who reveals that his famous cancer cure is made by injecting homeless people with a spider-derived serum and turning them into arachnohumanoids. Also, the cancer cure never worked and was just a means to killing off vampires by making the blood supply poisonous. Why? Well, Barr is revealed is a vampire himself and he's tries to eliminate the competition. But that's not the last twist! After rescuing Bennett the reporter reveals herself to be a vampire as well. She tosses Bennett a copy of the antidote, then returns to her masters in the Blood Red Moon. Bennett flies away from the burning laboratory, wondering why an agent of the Blood Red Moon would help him. Surely this wasn't what was intended when this cancer cure storyline was introduced, but comics have to turn ever back to the status quo.

After that there's a short by Skeates and Rodriquez about a guy on a fad diet whose idle fancies have been changing his wife. First making her more attractive, and dutiful and finally accidentally changing her into a fried chicken. In the last story by Kashdan and Infantino a greedy Uncle Ben kills his young, scientifically inclined nephew so he can inherit his fortune, but the bacterium cultivated by the boy (which looks sort of like a Viking Proty) avenges him. 

Legion of Super-Heroes #296: This was another issue I had as a kid, though I didn't remember the story at all. While the Legionnaires are involved in some missions or personal time, a terrorist (a fireballer) strikes at the home of Cosmic Boy's parents. Also, Light Lass leaves the team.

Night Force #7: With the "demon" (whatever that means) unleashed by or from Vanessa's psyche rampages through the complex, Caine and Gold try frantically to escape. Both are made to face how they exploited Vanessa in different ways and are punished for it. Caine loses an arm and a leg and is forced to recognize it was his actions that led to his wife's death.  Gold admits (to himself) that he misled Vanessa about his feelings--but to save their lives he has to do it again. Vanessa's rage subsides.

Meanwhile, Baron Winters rescues the cops stuck in the past, and they are so confused and scared they leave without arresting him.

Sgt. Rock #373: This is a goof one from Kanigher and Kubert. Rock and Easy are in North Africa. Rock has to cross the desert solo to get to some town for some reason and the merciless sun beating down on his helmet makes him start hallucinating (I guess) that his helmet is on fire. Except the native peoples he's there to help see it too and take him for some sort of mythological character or demigod and give him a sword and a shield. He runs at the Germans with these and defeats them. Maybe this isn't the worst Sgt. Rock story since I've been doing this, but it's the worst I can remember in a while.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Weird Revisited: Alternate Worldcrawl

The original version of this post appeared in 2015...

One of the complaints against the standard D&D Planes is that, while conceptually interesting perhaps, its hard to know what to do with them as adventuring sites. One solution would be to borrow a page from science fiction and comic books and replace them with a mutliverse of alternate worlds. These would be easy to use for adventuring purposes and could put an additional genre spin on the proceedings. Here are a few examples:

Anti-World: An alignment reversed version of the campaign setting. Perhaps humanoids are in ascendance and human and demihumans are marauding killers living underground.

Dark Sun World: In this world, the setting underwent a magical cataclysm in the past and is now a desert  beneath a dying sun.

Lycanthropia: The world is cloaked in eternal night and lycanthrope has spread to most of the population.

Modern World: This version has a technology level equal to our own (or at least the 1970s) and the PCs have counterparts who play adventurers in some sort of game.

Spelljammer World: A crashed spacecraft led to a magictech revolution and space colonization.

Western World: Try a little sixguns and sorcery and replace standard setting trappings with something more like the Old West.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, February 1983 (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 November 11, 1982. 

Batman #356:  After all the Catwoman business, Bruce and Vicki are still an item, but Vicki's work increasingly means Bruce only gets a limited amount of her time. After a date cut short, Bruce returns home and gets attacked by Alfred. Except it isn't the real Alfred, and Bruce wonders if somehow he imagined the whole thing. Meanwhile, Vicki gets done with her work and calls Wayne Manor only to find that Bruce hasn't returned home. It's all part of the overly elaborate revenge plot of Hugo Strange.

While the real Dick Grayson goes looking for Bruce, Bruce is attacked by a fake Grayson in the phony Wayne Manor. Injury to that Dick Grayson reveals it to be a robot. Bruce goes into the Batcave and he finds a cleanshaven Strange dressed as Batman. Strange reveals how he faked his death, then he gives Bruce a spare Batsuit so that they can settle the score once and for all. The two Bat-men duke it out, but Strange's ruthlessness momentarily gives him the upper hand. Robin appears in the Batcave and is confused at the sight of two Batmen. When Strange Bats commands him to kill the "fake" Batman, Robin realizes who's the real deal and turns against Strange. Not wanting to be taken in, Strange apparently blows himself up and the fake Wayne Manor.

Dick and Bruce return to their real home just in time to save Alfred from a final Bruce Wayne robot. I guess Conway didn't like the way Strange died the first time? It seems a lot of effort just to quickly kill him again. Of course, he'll be back, but not in a Conway story. 

Flash #318: Creed Phillips is starting to unravel it seems. He kills his Butler who discovers the Eradicator costume he left carelessly laying around, then he goes on live TV and outs himself as the deadly vigilante during a TV interview. It turns out the Eradicator and Creed personalities are somewhat separate, and the Eradicator one chooses to kidnap Fiona Webb as they flee the station. This is all sort of (perhaps unintentionally funny) because elsewhere in the issue Flash and the lunatic, wannabe hero Captain Invincible have been trying to figure out who Eradicator is--then the guy just reveals himself on TV. 

While Philips/Eradicator and Webb are in a cave outside the city, Flash and Invincible are searching Phillips' apartment, which has been rigged with a bomb booby trap. When the bomb is triggered, The Flash vibrates his molecules to become intangible, but the blast wave knocks him out, and he gets partially fused with the wall. Captain Invincible tries to help, but overestimates the necessary force in breaking the way, sending them both plummeting to the street, far down below.

We get a Creeper backup from Gafford and Gibbons. The Creeper prevents a mugging in Gotham City, as enforcer "Thumbs" Tamblin tries to collect an overdue payment from discredited doctor Ben Goldstein. Jack Ryder has a new job, so he leaves Gotham and catches a bus to Boston. His new boss, H.J. Harrigan, suggests he start with an investigation into Tamblin, who has also moved to Boston after getting involved with his former boss's daughter. Tamblin's new boss, Wesley Winterborne, sends him to collect some debts, but the Creeper interrupts. Tamblin's goon shoots the Creeper, who falls out of the window into the Charles River.

G.I. Combat #250: In the first Haunted Tank story, the crew has been told one member of their crew is going to be representing the armor division in a nationwide bond drive tour. Each member of the team believes they're the best and deserve to be chosen, but a day of the typical sort of fighting the tank gets into, they return to base and tell their commander he'll need to pick someone else, because everyone in their team is more important than in other. They act as one.

In the second Tank story, the crew picks up a Major Kendall, who had just escaped from the Germans with important information. Ultimately, The group has to split up, with Rick and Kendall running off to lure the Germans away. They walk into a trap at an abandoned mill, however, and the rest of the crew must come to the rescue.

There's an O.S.S. story by Kanigher and Cruz where an operative named Eagle is taken to a German POW campe where he hopes to ferret out a mole. It turns out to be a man the other prisoners believed was simple-minded and harmless. Then Kashdan and Ayers present the story of an experiment Sergeant in Vietnam who finally snaps under pressure, but in doing so he still inadvertently saves his unit. The last story relates to ANZAC coast-watchers and intelligence provided before the Battle of Midway.

Masters of the Universe #2: I bought this issue off the stands as a kid, I reviewed it here.

Saga of the Swamp Thing #10: Kay, now revealed as Helmut Kriptmann tries to force Swamp Thing and his allies to help in his quest to destroy Karen Clancy. When his psychic, Grossman, fails to hold him Kriptman, has to switch tactics and persuade them. Ultimately, they agree.

Meanwhile, Grasp and Sunderland discover that Liz Tremayne is still alive, and Kay is working on his own project. Grasp is ordered to hunt them down.

Feldner as able to fill Swamp and crew in on Karen's plans thanks to the period she had him captured. She needs the pendulum of Nazi occultist von Ruhnstedt who eventually died at Dachau. The group rushes there to find a hellish scene. Karen has raised an army of dead German soldiers while she flies overhead searching for Von Ruhnstedt. The undead occultist tells her that the pendulum is in the hands of a person with a collection of Nazi memorabilia in Berchtesgaden. Karen then destroys the entire camp in "an avalanche of psionic fury" and disappears.

When they've escaped the rubble, Kriptmann begs the others for assistance in stopping Karen. Barclay says that he wants nothing more to do with the sort of monster responsible for places like this. Kriptmann reveals that he wasn't a Nazi by showing the prisoner's tattoo on his arm.

In the Cavalieri/Carrillo Phantom Stranger backup, The Phantom Stranger and his ally are sentenced by living gargoyles to be killed by being crushed by the great clapper of the church's bell, but in a Raiders of the Lost Ark-ish turn, the two have to shut their eyes and not move as the power of God (I guess) punishes the gargoyles for their sacrilege.

New Teen Titans #28: Changeling continues his pursuit of the fugitive Terra. He finally captures her and brings her to Titans Tower, convinced the team can help her. Meanwhile, Brother Blood's cult strongholds are being systematically attacked and destroyed by the Brotherhood of Evil. 

While all this is going on, the other Titans pursue their private lives: Dick gets being kind of an ass to Kory; Donna meets Terry Long's ex-wife and young daughter for the first time, and it's a tense meeting; and Raven meditates. Kid Flash, Raven, and Cyborg are on hand when Changeling brings Terra in. After hearing how she had been forced to commit crimes by terrorists holding her parents, the rulers of the nation of Markovia, the Titans rush off to attack and subdue her tormentors but discover that the girl's parents have long since been killed. Changeling befriends Terra in her grief, but Raven keeps getting bad vibes about her.

Superman #380: Bates and Swan reveal the perils of time travel. Superman returning from a mission to the past and Superboy going home after a visit to the Legion of Super-Heroes. They both come across a strange gap in spacetime, and both make the unwise decision to fly straight through. They bump into each other and their consciousnesses get mixed up. While they are doing the usual heroics and trying to sort things out, but there's a man named Euphor who has to ability to absorb people's unhappiness. He's got ulterior motives, though, and plans use all of Metropolis' unhappiness to gain power.

Monday, November 6, 2023

The Gagged Quaklu

We did some in my Gnydrion setting this weekend in the area of the Lake of Vermilion Mists using the rules lite game Grok?! Most of the players had the game, but none of us had ever played it, so it was a good excuse to take it for a spin.

I quickly put together new Background and Asset tables, but it was a rush job, and something I'm probably revisit over time. Anyway, the players were:

Aaron as  Nortin Tauss, an arcane dabbler possessed of a vial of hwaopt intoxicant for some reason.
Andrea -  Yzma Vekna, teamster with poor hygiene and a blunderbuss.
Paul - Antor Hogus, skinny vagrant with a stun wand.

Yzma and Nortin arrived in Phaelorn Gap on the stage coach out of Flinterjay. (Yzma was driving, Nortin a passenger.) Antor was already in town, sleeping in the stables and doing odd jobs. They all intended to eventually make their way to the hippy spectacle of the Festival of the Hierodule in the vicinity of the Lake, but at the moment they were looking for lodging for the night.

Finding the hotel a bit pricey, Nortin, on recommendation of the local constabulary, sought a room at the more modestly priced (and appointed) boarding house of Milda Brept. While Nortin and Yzma discuss the hidden fees and riders associated with boarding with Matron Brept, Antor inquires if there is any work for him. Another stranger at the boarding house, one Kreik Gelmot, speaks up to offer him a minor commission.

In the boarding house's back yard, Gelmot explains that he has a quaklu (either a flightless bird with hands or a feathered theropod dinosaur with beak, depending on how you look at it, used as a riding animal) he wishes to part with. He wishes Antor to take the beast outside of town and make sure he doesn't return. Interestingly, the quaklu is muzzled, which isn't common. 

The three noted this as unusual and assumed something else was going on. Yzma examined the animal and found it to be sound to her experience eye for draught beasts. Nortin threatened to summon Shreev Molok. Fearing this potential income might be snatched from him, Antor quickly pulled up the stake and leaped upon the creatures back to ride away.

Gelmot was satisfied enough with this outcome and departed. Nortin and Yzma were still curious and followed on foot.

In the scrub outside of town, Antor removed the quaklu's gag. It was indeed one of those rare, atavistic specimens, capable of speech. It immediately began squawking that it had seen a murder!

Friday, November 3, 2023

Medioxumate Devils


Art by Ske Bozic

Zeniba Goll, called Zeniba the Shrewd, self-anointed Mayor-Prefect of  Wollusk is the leader of gang known as the Medioxumate Devils. It is through this group of cutthroats that she maintains her hold on the town and resists overthrow by the faction led by Sodmos Thalur the Vitner.

Pictured here: Kro, Skeesik Two-Knives, Zeniba, Chult Angmox, and Olma "Silence" Mondark.

I've been reading the rules lite rpg Grok?! recently, so here are Zeniba's stats in that:


Traits: Aging, former bodyguard, gang boss, "The Shrewd", wants to run Wollusk

 Assets: Power Rod, leather armor, goon entourage, [+4 slots]

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, February 1983 (week 1)

My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! Today, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands on the week of November 5, 1982. 

This week features a sort of 80s milestone. The "Meanwhile.." column appears for the first time. You can see the column from this month's comics here. There is a discussion of a History of the DC Universe series which sounds less like the series we got post-Crisis and more like Crisis on Infinite Earths itself which won't actually show up for a couple more years. Then, there are two Marvel/DC crossovers mentioned, one of which won't come along for 20 years and the other has yet to appear.

Wonder Woman #300: Nice wraparound cover, suitable for an anniversary issue, by Hannigan and Giordano. The interior uses quite a cadre of artists: Gene Colan, Ross Andru, Keith Giffen, Jan Duursema, Dick Giordano, Rich Buckler, and Keith Pollard, but it's the story by Roy and Danette Thomas that I have a problem with. Wonder Woman has been having bad dreams and awakens to see some kind of shadow creature looming near her. The 70s Sandman shows up and reveals it's a creature escaped from nightmare. He keeps promising she's okay now, but after she accepts Steve Trevors' proposal, and they start planning a wedding, the nightmares and anxiety just intensify.  Her nightmares all reveal sort of "What-Ifs?" (or perhaps Elseworlds) of alternate ways her meeting with Trevor and their subsequent relationship could have gone and ended up badly. In the end, it turns out the creature is Wonder Woman's own insecurities and doubts. She faces those with the help of Sandman. Trevor jilts her at the altar, ironically deciding he had feelings for Diana Prince (who is believed dead). The status quo is restored!

This probably read better in 1982, but in 2023 its problems are blatant. Primarily, it's that Wonder Woman is incredibly passive and reactive throughout the whole thing. She's literally being defeated by her own negative emotions. Sandman plays the "nice guy" creep, showing up with a pretense of helping, but later admitting to having been spying on her dreams ("to help") and being in love with her. Oh, and withholding information about the nature of the shadow being. After her marriage plan fails, he whisks her off to the dream world and assumes they'll start a relationship without any real consent from her. In the end, he recognizes his bad behavior, but it's a tepid admission and more importantly it still leaves Wonder Woman--the hero of the book--dazedly acquiescing to both the behavior and the apology. All this is particularly galling because this is a milestone issue and should be a celebration of the character,

Arak Son of Thunder #18: The trouble in Byzantium continues, courtesy of the Thomases and Gonzales/Alcala. Arak manages to escape from his bonds where Haakon and the treacherous Greeks have left him and battles to rescue the others from being consumed in Greek fire. He's help by Satyricus waking up and rousing the others. They manage to survive and save the Emperor and his mother, but Haakon escapes with a scholar than knows the secret of Greek Fire and hids for White Cathay. Irene gives Arak and crew a mission to follow Haakon back to White Cathay to retrieve Kallinikos or to kill him. A heretic Nestorian priest, Johannes, appears before the court and offers to help. The Byzantines want to kill him, but Arak defends them man who will serve as a guide. The four depart on their quest.

In the Valda backup, Greeramada needs the words of power from Malagigi to enact her evil plan for power, which he refuses to give. When the sorceress threatens to kill Valda, the wizard relents. Greeramada then leads Valda to the Mount of Martyrs to perform the resurrection spell. The spell appears to succeed when St. Denys appears carrying his own head. Valda manages to break free from the sorceress' control and impales her own a blade. The sorceress plans to use St. Denys to heal herself only to discover that she was tricked. Malagigi and the thief Brunello disguised themselves as St. Denys. The wizard hadn't given her the true spell. With the sorceress now dead, Brunello departs, and Malagigi and Valda plan to return the stolen reliquary.

Blackhawk #255: Evanier and Spiegle continue what I think is an underrated (and certainly uncollected!) run. Nazi scientist Dr Gehirn, having worked closely with Hugo Merson, has developed a low-frequency, mind-effecting radio signal which will induce psychological insecurities. The receiver is placed in a medallion, and German agents arranged for Blackhawk to receive this medallion and to wear it. For the next few days, the transmitted signals cause Blackhawk to experience nightmares and affect his concentration and leadership ability. He's pushed to the breaking point after he crashes in the desert and experiences physical deprivation as well as Gehirn's unrelenting attack. Luckily, the other Blackhawk's show up to rescue him and shoot down Gehirn's observation plane.

DC Comics Presents #54: Kupperberg and Newton work-in a sort of environmental message as Superman joins forces with Green Arrow to get to the bottom a mysterious, persistent smog over much of the country (including Metropolis and Star City). They are forced to battle against a scientist's energy-harnessing apparatus that causes tremendous air pollution as a by-product, which is more involved than you might think, as it's pulling from some extraterrestrial living energy thing. Interestingly (to me anyway) Kupperberg has Superman describing Star City as "to the north" of Metropolis which in context seems to imply it's further north on the East Coast.

Fury of Firestorm #9: Conway and Moore/Rodriquez pick up where last issue left off with Firestorm sinking in New York Bay and Stein trying to wake Ronnie up. He final does and the two head out to fight Typhoon and the storm. Ronnie gets frustrated with Stein criticizing his ill-considered attempts to help, and he releases all his nuclear energy at once, dissipating the storm, but causing them to split into their separate identities and they fall 4 feet to a building below.

Ronnie gets into another argument with Carmichael and the two arrange a time to fight. When they do, Carmichael takes advantage of a couple of distractions to knock Ronnie down, which has the effect of causing Doreen to rush to his aid. Ronnie has also been allowed back on the team and will play that night. Stein has a worse day as he loses his job and then falls off the wagon. Then, Typhoon starts up again. Firestorm is stymied a bit by Stein's intoxication, but Ronnie's renewed confidence perhaps gives Firestorm new reserves of power. Wherever it comes from, they apparently dissipate Typhoon ("he's gone" is all we are told, but it seems final.) 

The next issue blurb trumpets the return of Pat Broderick.

Justice League #211: Conway and Buckler continue the X-Element story, with the Justice League eager to accept help from the Treasurers who can give the element Earth now lacks. The Justice League begins to suspect the Treasurers' motives however when the alien's request they be given one particular human in exchange (who agrees to go willingly). They are right to be suspicious, because the aliens' cure causes one third of people and animals to be transformed into monsters. The Phantom Stranger appears to help out, even as Truthspeaker, a rebel Treasurer, reveals that his fellow aliens are actually the first wave of an invasion of Earth by the reptilian War-Kohn.

Adventure Comics #496: The only new story here is The Challengers of the Unknown by Rozakis and Toth/Giacola. Following up on the Professor's lead regarding a potential responsible party for the attempted murder of the group, they discovered that his cousin not only didn't try to kill them, but the uncle whose inheritance was the hypothetical motive isn't even head, having faked his death for tax purposes or something. Red Ryan gets confronted by a casino owner he owes.  The man is accused of plotting the murder, but he logically points out if Ryan were dead, he wouldn't get what he was owed. The Challengers-to-be are no closer to a solution.