Thursday, June 30, 2011

The City's Druids

Cities (and the City is no different) aren’t just haphazard agglomerations of people and buildings. They develop their own spirits--oversouls made of all the lesser spirits that make up their sprawling bodies. Some hear the call of these spirits and enter their service like pagan priests bowed to the nature spirits of old. These shamans of streets are considered more than a little crazy by the adventurers who sometimes encounter them and refer to them as "urban druids."

It’s an austere life they choose, living close to the rhythm of the City; they eschew wealth and comfort. They can afford few distractions or they’ll miss the whispered truths in the passing of subway, or the secrets to be augured in the tumbling of a scrap of newspaper in the breeze.

In return for their almost monastic devotion, the City gives them power. They can transform restaurant garbage into fine meals, turn fountain water into whiskey, make their skin as hard concrete, or scale the sides of buildings like insects. They know the secret passages between streets, and can summon elementals of smoke, steam, and electricity. Rats and pigeons pay them deference.

Rumor holds the “archdruid” of the City (if such a title really exists) is an old bum called Mad Mooney. More fond of vegetation than others of his kind, he’s often found napping on a bench in Empire Park. In addition to his (likely great) powers, he’s loyally served by a gang of urban-feral children who dress like savages and paint their faces like Natives.  They use short bows and blowguns (their missiles tipped with poison from fungus that grows in subway tunnels) and can pass through the streets unseen and track across concrete.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Warlord Wednesday: Artists after Grell

Mike Grell was the creator of the Warlord, and certainly the artist most closely associated with the character, but he isn't the only one to bring the adventures of Travis Morgan to the comics page.  Rob Liefield, for instance, got his start at DC penciling a Warlord backup (in #131)--but I'm not going to reproduce any art from that here.  Instead, here are some cool covers penciled by other artists:

Tom Grindberg's cover for #107 is very sword & sorcery and very Conan-esque.  Not surprisingly, Grindberg did work on Marvel's Conan titles:

Rich Buckler gives us Morgan locked in a struggle with a Vashek assassin that may be the death of them both:

Jerry Bingham's cover for #121 finds Morgan jumping into a hail of arrows--somewhat reminiscent of Miller's iconic cover to Daredevil #189:

Last but not least, Dan Jurgens' off-beat cover to #84 highlights Morgan's successful presidential campaign:

Monday, June 27, 2011

More Four-Color Cartography

Here's a few more maps from the Marvel Universe which could probably be put to game use--or at least provide some inspiration.

I've been chronicling the Warlord's adventures in the lost world of Skartaris, but Earth isn't the only hollow world out there in comics. Titan, the moon of Saturn, is hollow in the Marvel Universe and the home, according to Jim Starlin, of an offshoot race of Titans (later retconned to be Eternals).

Returning to more earthly locales, how about a sandbox set in a tiny kingdom ruled by a tyrannical wizard who hides his facial deformity behind an iron mask?  Well, welcome to Latveria and its capital of Doomstadt:

Once you're there, might as well explore Doom's castle, so here's an overhead schematic of it.  Note the "dungeons (sub-basements)":

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mail Order Magic-Item: The Hypno-Coin!

The hyno-coin allows anyone who possesses it and has read the accompanying book of secrets and instructions (learning the 25 lessons contained there in) to hypnotize others. This acts as the spell Hypnotism, other than it can only be used on one person at a time (without the single creature saving throw penalty) of no more than 3 hit dice. Beings of any number of hit dice many still be fascinated by the coin if appropriately used.

In the hands of a thaumaturgist or other truly skilled mesmerist the coin aids in the casting of Hypnotism and other subtle compulsion spells by giving targets a -1 to their saving throws to such spells generally, but doubling the saving throw penalty when hypnotism is used on a single creature to -4.

The hypno-coin is usually gray and white and 1.5 inches in diameter.

Friday, June 24, 2011

North to Alaska

Like the Johnny Horton song says (theme to a 1960 John Wayne film, by the way), I'm "way up north" for a few days.

In keeping with the theme, why don't you check out my take on the wendigo, if you missed it the first time?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cancerous Growth

As the story goes, some well-meaning thaumaturgist or scientist developed a form of artificial flesh to revolutionize the practice of medicine. Adventurers who encounter the ever-growing, ever-consuming neoplastic blob might have a moment to appreciate the irony before being absorbed into the quivering flesh.

HD: 5
AC: 8
Save: F2
Attacks: 1
Defenses: regenerates 3 hp/round; half damage from bludgeoning weapons.
Special: On a successful hit (or if the neoplastic blob is touched directly by an attacker) it begins to engulf the person on a failed saving throw. Absorption takes 1d6 rounds. As long as part of a person is still free of the creature they may still escape, but it will require someone else to help them except for the very strongest.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Warlord Wednesday: Tinderbox

Let's re-enter the lost world with another installment of my issue by issue examination of DC Comic's Warlord, the earlier installments of which can be found here...

Warlord (vol. 1) #59 (July 1982)

Written by Mike Grell (Sharon Grell); Penciled by Mike Grell; Inked by Mike DeCarlo

Synopsis: Despite his reservations, a couple of Darvin’s other urchins convince Tinder to sneak inside the mysterious cell. When they see a strange, angular shadow on the wall they run away, leaving Tinder alone with whatever cast the shadow. Tinder’s made of more adventurous stuff than the others, and dagger drawn, he creeps toward the shadow’s source.

What he finds is a man chained and imprisoned in an iron mask. That man is the Warlord--and Tinder’s real father.

Morgan hears someone around and starved for human contact, he begs him to stay. He promises not to hurt him, and asks his name. Tinder warily tells him. Morgan asks the boy if he likes stories. Tinder says he does--sometimes. Morgan assures him he’ll like this one, then regales him with his tale of the outer Earth--a world of flying ships, chariots without horses, and a sun that moves throughout the sky, and falls leaving the land in darkness. Tinder marvels at this story--never guessing the armlet he wears (Morgan’s wristwatch) comes from that very world.

Meanwhile Praedor is meeting in a secluded part of the palace garden with the Morgan impersonator. Praedor complains about Darvin’s greediness and the impersonator’s poor work--primarily due to his drunkenness. The fact that Tara is seeking solace with Graemore means the impersonator has lost influence over her. Either he cleans up his act, or Praedor’s going to abandon the whole scheme, have Morgan “disappear,” and turn the whole thing into a ransom plot. The impersonator promises to do better.

Praedor then meets with two grinning assassins. The real Warlord is now more of a liability than insurance--as is his greedy, too clever keeper. They’re to find Darvin at the Blue Goose tavern, but he must lead them to the prisoner before they kill him.

Meanwhile, Griff (shirking his duties, gaming with friends) sees Darvin walking toward the hideout. Griff takes off running to make it back to his post before he can be caught away. He makes it back and finds the door open, but doesn’t see Tinder. Quickly, he shuts the door--and just in time. Darvin tells him to come to his office.

Darvin tells Griff that they have more royalty under their roof than in the palace. Griff doesn’t know what he means. Darvin asks if Tinder’s still around. Girff says he is. Darvin tells him to keep a close eye on him--he’s a very important boy. Girff asks who’s going to watch the prisoner in the dungeon. Darvin replies that may not be an issue soon: he’ll likely be disposed of.

This doesn’t sit well with Tinder who's listening outside the door. For some reason, he feels moved to act to save the prisoner. When Darvin comes out on his way to the Blue Goose, Tinder bumps into him by “accident”--and picks his pocket for the keys without Darvin noticing. Almost as soon as Darvin’s gone, Griff (paragon of work ethic) leaves as well, leaving Tinder to guard the door.

In the tavern, the two assassin’s approach Darvin to get the “package.” Darvin intends to give them the keys, but finds them missing from his pocket. The assassin’s aren't bothered. At the point of a dagger, they suggest to Darvin they all go back together.

Meanwhile, Tinder has opened the door and uses the keys to begin unchaining Morgan. He plans to leave with him--he doesn’t know why Darvin has suddenly taken an interest in him and he doesn’t like it. As Tinder moves to open the mask, Morgan grasps the wristwatch around the boy’s arm. He seems to recognize it--but at that moment Tinder hears heavy footsteps on the dungeon stairs! 

Things to Notice:
  • Grell is back on pencils!
  • Morgan and Joshua are (unknowingly) reunited for the first time.
Where It Comes From:
The two assassins hired by Praedor look familiar.  Overall, the two of them evoke Fafhrd and Gray Mouser.  The shorter one is dressed and armed similarly to DC's rendition of the Mouser (drawn in Wonder Woman #201-202 by Dick Giordano and by Howard Chaykin in Sword of Sorcery #1-5).  The taller, musclebound one with the squarecut black mane isn't Fafhrd but rather resembles Conan.  The gap between his front teeth resembles the movie version in Conan the Barbarian this same year.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Lanterns Green and Other Four Color Features

Green Lantern underperformed its opening weekend, but I don’t think that should dissuade anyone who enjoys superhero films from seeing it. It may not be the best of the bunch, and it’s a bit formulaic (why is it that since Iron Man the hero’s journey only ever starts from irresponsible jackass? Aren’t there some other stock lessons to learn?) Anyway, my point is: if you thought Thor was great, you’ll probably think Green Lantern is at least “good.”

A bit better though is the latest DC animated effort Green Lantern: Emerald Knights. This is an anthology like the previous Batman: Gotham Knight, but instead of giving alternate takes on the same character, it gives glimpses of lantern’s besides Hal Jordan. The framing sequence involves Arisia arriving on Oa as a rookie just as Krona is trying to bust out of the antimatter universe. More seasoned lanterns tell her stories as they prepare--and wait--for Krona to strike. Three of the four stories are based on ones from the comic book (one, “Abin Sur,” really only loosely borrows from Alan Moore’s “Tygers”--adding in Geoff Johnsian elements like Atrocitus). These include the wuxia-infused “Laira” (inspired by “What Price Honor?”) and another Moore tale, “Mogo Don’t Socialize.”

For what I think is the best of DC Animated’s recent films we’ve got to go outside the Corps. All-Star Superman a very faithful adaptation of Morrision and Quitley’s eponymous limited series. Both are veritable love letters to the Silver Age and ring from those tropes a tale at once postmodern and mythic.

If you got the time from only one superhero dramatization, skip all the recent live action films and see All-Star Superman.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why do You Think I Have This Outrageous Accent?

A question for you GMs out there: How much do you “play” NPCs in your game?

I (mostly) tend to play NPCs as characters. They get their own manner of speech and verbal idiosyncrasies. A pirate captain might get a vaguely piratical patter, a wealthy, double-dealing merchant might sound like Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon, or a supercilious shopowner a bit like Jonathan Harris' Dr. Smith in Lost in Space (I should add all these voices most only be considered approximate). I tend to keep the use of accents to a minimum, as I’m not particularly good at them, but sometimes I hint at them with stereotypical vocabulary.

Now that’s what I try to do. Sometimes I lose track of who I gave what voice to. Other times it just gets tedious dropping in and out of character, so I mostly abandon it once the player’s have “got it.”

I’ve played in games where GMs did similarly, but also games where the GMs went light on differentiating NPCs, often just telling the players what they said in the third person. I have no idea which approach is must common, though.

(The title of this post also represents my first Monty Python reference in a year and a half of rpg-blogging. I feel like I’ve crossed some sort of Rubicon.)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pictures from Ealderde

Though the Great War diminshed its importance to the City and the New World, the Old World continues:

Despite the ever-present poison, mutagenic fog and periodic morlock assaults, the surviving people of Lugdun seldom fail to take part in traditional Godsday worship services.

Soldiers in the Imperial Staarkish Army on the day the Great War began with one of their walkers.

Hellhounds--summoned and bound by military sorcerers during the war--now stalk the wastes in Eastern Ealderde.

Hard times have led people to turn to perverse old religions out of desperation. Here, witchcraft is lampooned in a racy stage show in Metropolis, but the fear of these cults is very real.

Since Korambeck had to relinquish its hold over the Middle East, the Jinn (beings of smokeless fire) have reasserted their rule over much of the region. There are rumors they’re even rebuilding their fabled capital lost Irem of the Pillars.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mail Order Monster

Some unlucky sap in the City will find out this ad is genuine--at least once. The seeds for seven plant monsters will arrive, but there is only a 30% chance of 1-3 more than one of them actually being viable. One is quite enough, as it grows into a ravenous monster with a taste for flesh. Small quantities of blood will satiate it for the first 1d8 days, then it require small animals or the equivalent for 2d12 more. Finally, only human flesh will truly satiate it: one full body every 3-4 days. The creature communicates its needs nonvocally--perhaps telepathically--with its owner. Only the need is clear, not how this is known. It will not let the owner rest unless it's fed. The incessant need has been known to drive men to madness.

After 5-6 weeks the monster has reached full size and goes on a rampage. The oh-so helpful owner is often the first victim.

[I'd treat the grown creature(s) as a tendriculos from the SRD, or from the Swords & Wizardry Monster Compendium.]

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Not Heroes

The grizzled veteran looked up from the finger he had been diligently sawing at with his knife.


“I says,” his small friend repeats, not taking his eyes from the bugbear’s finger—and more importantly the ring on it—”it must be magical, else why’s it so damn hard to remove?”

“Not you.  Him.” The veterans gestures to me with the knife, and the smaller man finally notices.

“Oh! You’re the scribe, ain’t ya?”

I nod.

“Thought Goan was minding you.”

“He was. He died yesterday.” I think back to the unfortunate, nervous Goan. He had eyes that had darted around like spooked birds. They weren't vigilant enough, apparently, to avoid the dripping slime that burned a hole straight through him. It had taken him longer to die than I would have thought, but die he did despite the cleric’s efforts.

“Ah,” the veteran says with a tone that refuses to commit to either sympathy or disinterest. The smaller man just nods, and seems a bit embarassed.

“I’m looking for the captain.”

The veteran points with a thumb, slick and glistening with what must be bugbear ichor. “Down that passage. He’s at the door with the mage.”

I head down the rough-hewn passage, stepping around more bugbear carcasses, leaving the adventurers to their work.

The two did eventually succeed in getting the ring. The small man (his name was Orven) was right: it was magical. It allowed the wearer to breath underwater--which saved Orven from a judicial drowning in Nharm, but helped him not at all when months later someone drowned him in a cask of cheap wine and cut the ring from his hand.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Warlord Wednesday: Back-Up from Atlantis

Here's another look at one of Warlord's backup features--the one running in the issues I've been reviewing in recent weeks:


First Appearance: Warlord #55 (1982)
Featured as Back-up: Warlord #55-62
Next Seen: Arion, Lord of Atlantis #1 (November 1982)
His Story: Arion is the Grand Mage to the King of Atlantis and Atlantis' defender against the encroaching ice age and the forces of Chaos--including his brother, Garn Daanuth. Arion was the creation of writer Paul Kupperberg and artist Jan Duursema.  It's a more "high fantasy" series than the most of comic's fantasy offerings that tend to be in a Sword & Sorcery mode.  The series lasted 35 issues and Arion made contemporaneous appearances in Crisis on Infinite Earths.  After 1985, Arion didn't appear again until 1991's Books of Magic vol. 1 #1, which was followed by a six issue limited series Arion the Immortal.
How He's Like the Warlord: He's got ties to Atlantis and a swordswoman consort.  He's also resembles Jennifer Morgan, the Warlord's daughter, with his magical prowess and flowing locks.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Double Your Fun

One of the great things about superhero role-playing games is that you can do things that would never be done in comics. If you want Spider-man to grow old and retire, you can do it. If you want Batman to take on a young blind kid named Matt Murdock as the new Robin, you can do it. Any number of cross company (or even cross-media) crossovers you can do it.

Unfortunately, other than a few cross-company crossovers, there aren’t too many comic images to inspire the imagination in that regard. Or at least there weren't.

The blog Marvel Two-in-One...The Lost Issues! (previously Brave and the Bold...The Lost Issues!) features covers than never were for those two famous team-up titles. Here’s some examples:

So head over and check 'em out!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Troll Hunter

I saw the Norwegian film Troll Hunter (Trolljegeren) this weekend--which was timely given all the recent blogosphere discussion related to 0-level characters and the heroicness (or nonheroicness) of adventurers. The film is a mokumentary supposedly made by a group of students setting out to do an exposé on a bear poacher, but instead recording their adventures with a lone troll hunter sanctioned by a secret Norwegian government agency.

Along the way we learn a bit about the naturalism of trolls. There are multiple varieties with different habits, but they all have a weakness to sunlight (exploited through the use of UV radiation) and they can smell Christians (though not Muslims, apparently). We also see the lengths the government goes to hide the knowledge of trolls' existence from the general populace, which provides much of the film’s humor.

Hans, the troll hunter, is wearily professional and matter-of-fact about his job--and occasionally regretful of his past actions. The students are sometimes fascinated (perhaps even exhilirated) by the hidden world they’re discovering--and sometimes scared out of their minds. Everybody does a good bit or running and more than a little hiding. It strikes me as a nice approach for the portrayal of adventurers in any era.

The film is obviously low budget, but the digital effects are surprisingly effective. It shows what SyFy originals could do if they had more effort put into their scripts. There’s a lot of riding around in the Norwegian countryside--it isn’t th fastest moving film--but I think that just lends it more verisimilitude.

If you get a chance, check it out (I saw it on HDNet movies and it's coming to blu-ray next week). It’s an inventive premise, and a nice mixture of humor and thriller.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Images from the Strange New World

The Academy Obscura convenes only rarely but always to punish those who have made the unknown known. What mysteries they hold sacred, what secrets inviolate, who can say? It’s rumored their punishment involves forever removing the certainty of the transgressor's existence, leaving them forever trapped between life and death, being and nonbeing.

You can even get the drop on a shadow assassin--if you’re packing the right ammunition.  Bullets made from paraffin mixed with used candle wax (with right incantation applied when it was burning) do the job.

Such is the power of the brain invader that Colonel Gordon’s men didn’t notice his body was being ridden by one of the creatures until it was far too late.  The corpses of his men were found in a mass grave; there was, of course, nothing left of the Colonel's skull.

"Charley Rictus is a trusted lieutenant and enforcer for the Malbolge family. He's been killed and raised at least nine times on record: multiple shootings, stabbings, a couple of poisonings, an emasculation, and one total dismemberment. Now it looks like he wants to cut a deal. Maybe he wants to retire on a beach somewhere and rot in peace, or maybe he thinks he can break his Faustian pact and save his soul from eternal damnation. I don't know and I don't care. I just need him at the courthouse--with the important parts intact."

Friday, June 10, 2011

Dragged from the River

A lot of unusual things get pulled out of the Eldritch and Wyrd Rivers that run through the City and flank Empire Island. Here are a few examples (1d12):

1. A crate packed with soggy straw and 1-4 large blue-gray eggs.
2. A chained box containing a frog. The frog will dance belt out vaudeville songs--but only when just one person is present.
3. A doll crudely made but nevertheless bearing an uncanny resemblance to one of the PCs.
4. A mummified creature:

5. A metal hand that, when placed on a hard surface and unrestricted, will scuttle and orient itself to point west.
6. A metal box resembling a hat box, difficult to open due to a magic lock. In darkness, a glow emanates from its seams. Particularly sensitive individuals my hear soft moans periodically from sinide.
7. An undead mermaid bearing a zombie contagion.
8. A shabby coat--which is utterly dry, and in fact, can never be made wet.
9. A case of bootleg whiskey an imbiber will be able to perceive the astral plane for 1-2 hours, and then be sick for 2-8 more on a failed save.
10. A figurine of snake-like creature with human arms. Anyone who touches it will have a nightmare about a basalt ziggurat beneath a blood-red sun in some distant jungle.
11. A book of matches from "The Ostensible Cat" night-club.
12. A wax phonograph cylinder containing a third of a potent magical incantation.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Two Tough Characters from the City

In gearing up for my game in the City, I thought I’d stat up a few characters for my player’s to have as examples. Here, (in my modified version of Stuart Robertson’s Weird West) are a couple of Tough Guys (the City’s version of Fighters):

“Salty” Sam Depape
Old sailor as at home in a South Seas squall as he is in a Wharf Street ginhouse brawl.

Path: Tough Guy
Level: 5

Fighting 5 “I always out-roughs ‘em”
Toughness (Grit) 5 “one tough gazookus”
Special (Magic) 1 “I gots a secret weppin”
Knack (Skill) 2 “old sea-hand”

Fists d2

Special Abilities:
koboloba leaf: Fighting +2, Toughness +1 after consumption. Unarmed attacks use d6. Lasts until end of fight.  Once a day.

Eliza Gunn
Tough young gal from the Dustlands.

Path: Tough Guy
Level: 4

Fighting 4 “good in a scrap”
Toughness 4 “girl’s tougher than she looks”
Special 0
Knack 3 “ace mechanic”

magic over-sized wrench: d6 damage. Can harm magical creatures that couldn’t otherwise be harmed. Unbreakable.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Warlord Wednesday: Royal Flush

Let's re-enter the lost world with another installment of my issue by issue examination of DC Comic's Warlord, the earlier installments of which can be found here...

"Royal Flush"
Warlord (vol. 1) #58 (June 1982)

Written by Mike Grell (Sharon Grell); Penciled by Mark Texiera; Inked by Pablo Marcos

Synopsis: The Morgan impostor has taken to drinking from the stress of his intrigues. When Tara comes looking for him he lashes out and backhands her. Mistake--as Tara quickly has a sword to his throat.

She's more upset that enraged, though. She bars “Morgan” from her bed and runs out with tears in her eyes--right into Graemore. He sees she’s upset and asks her to go for a ride with him.

Out in the countryside, Graemore can’t help but ask about the man he can’t believe won Tara’s heart. Tara says that Morgan’s changed: he sides with the conservatives in the council, he never speaks his native tongue anymore, and he doesn’t wear his gun. He isn’t the man she fell in love with anymore.

That gives Graemore hope. He thinks back to when he first met Tara. He and his parents were brought before her father, the King of Shamballah, in shackles as spoils of war. The king found out that Graemore’s mother was a smith responsible for making many of the arms used against Shamballah. Rather than hold a grudge, he giave her a job and Graemore’s father as well, who was to teach the princess to read. They were quartered in the castle, and it was in the castle garden’ that Graemore first met Tara when they were children.

Over time, their friendship blossomed into young love. This doesn’t go unnoticed by the king who sends Graemore and his family away to remove any impediments to Tara doing her duty and entering a political marriage to another royal.

Graemore’s mind in the past gets his head whacked by a tree branch in the present. He falls from his horse. When Tara, taunting, comes to help him up he pulls her down, too. The two share a moment, and Graemore goes in for the kiss. Tara allows it briefly, then pulls away. Graemore feels rejected and goes to get the horses. Tara follows after him and...

Back in Shamballah, Darvin leaves Griff to watch the prisoner’s cell. Griff wastes no time in delegating the duty to Tinder so he can go outside. Tinder bemoans his bad luck--unknowingly sitting outside his father’s cell.

Meanwhile, Darvin waits outside the palace walls and accousts Praedor when he sees him leaving. Once he figured out who the prisoner was, it wasn’t hard for him to figure out where to find the conspirators. Now, he wants more gold because of the danger of what he’s doing. While they negotiate, Darvin sees the impostor walking by and he knows the whole game. He wants his gold doubled.

Praedor tells him to wait there and he’ll get it. Darvin stands there, twirling his cane, pretty pleased with himself. He happens to be there when Tara and Graemore come riding back in. In a flash, he remembers where he saw Tinder’s weird armlet (actually a wristwatch) before--it had been around the arm of Queen Tara when he had performed for her back when he was court magician.

Praedor returns with the gold and a threat lest Darvin come back to the palace, but Darvin isn’t even listening. A bigger score occupies his mind. He’s got the prince of Shamballah in his gang!
Things to Notice:
  • Again, the imposter does a poor job of impersonating Morgan.
  • Despite living in a world where magic makes impersonation really easy, no one has yet considered that this person behaving very much out of character might not be Morgan.
  • Maybe I'm imagining it, but I believe Texeira's pose for the Shamballan king on the throne is similar to some Kirby renderings of Odin.
Where It Comes From:
The title of this issue references a "royal flush," the highest ranking standard poker hand (an ace-high straight flush).

Elsewhere in the Bronze Age... My friend, Jim, has returned to the blogosphere after an extended time away in his Arctic Fortress of Solitude (which he sublets to Doc Savage) over at the Flashback Universe Blog.  Check it out.  There, you can find some of my pre-FtSS  comics related articles in the "Bronze Age Spotlight"--including my as yet uncompleted Bronze Age Alphabet.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cults & Muscle Cars: Drive Angry

Drive Angry didn’t perform well at the box office, which is a shame. It’s an over-the-top homage to grindhouse (probably the most grindhouse film (not titled "Grindhouse") since The Devil’s Rejects. What Drive Angry’s got that none of the those other recent films have (well, except maybe Planet Terror) is eminent gameableness.

Drive Angry starts in media res with Milton (Nicholas Cage)-- escapee from Hell with a muscle car--getting the best of some thugs and getting information from them before doing them in. Milton is a man with a mission: A Satanic cult leader has kidnapped his granddaughter (after killing his daughter) and plans to sacrifice her on the night of the full moon. Milton's got three nights to track them down to save his grandchild and exact his revenge.

Complicating matters is that Milton himself is being pursued. The smartly dressed and unflappable Accountant (William Fichtner) is after him, sent by Lucifer to bring him back to Hell. The Accountant is unkillable (mostly) and able to convince others (mainly the law) by supernatural means to help him in hunting Milton down.

Milton’s companion through all this mayhem is a former waitress (Amber Heard) whose car he borrows. The two must fight the Accountant, cultists, and law enforcement to reach Milton’s goal. Milton’s also unkillable (he’s already dead) but his best weapon is likewise fugitive from hell: the God Killer--a mystic firearm with three Latin engraved bullets--that could kill the Accoutant if it hit him.

Drive Angry plays like a synthesis of several seventies b-movie types: the car chase film (Vanishing Point, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry), the revenge film (Rolling Thunder), and the "fight with a Satanic cult" film (Race with the Devil)--plus a comic book supernatural element. Is there a generic grindhouse rpg? No matter; I could see this sort of thing in a modern occult game (like Unknown Armies), but you could probably do it in a post-apocalyptic game easily enough, or even borrow elements (the Accountant, the God Killer) for non-modern settings.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Fat and Lonely Frog

That fat frog isn’t a statue! It’s no idol of a god but the god itself--or at least the part of it that can fit into four dimensions. It’s a god, and it’s terribly lonely and lovelorn.

That flower and basket are gifts to woo the object of its desire. It appears in a person’s dreams and offers those gifts naively, sweetly. Once it’s made contact with a person, however, its gifts become more personally meaningful--and seductive.

The frog must be resisted at all costs. Notice it’s obscenely over-full belly. The objects of the frogs devotion wind up there, slowly being dissolved and subsumed into the frog’s alien substance over eternity.

When encountered has a 60% chance of developing an interesting in the person present with the highest Charisma (in event of tie, the first one it saw gets preference). The frog enters the unshielded mind of the object of its ardor in dreams. The victim will imagine the frog has promised them of great value--riches, station, his or her hearts desire.  The Frog will charm person (as a 12th level caster) to make the victim succumb and return to where its statue is so he may swallow them up. Saving throw gets a +1 for every 10 miles distance the victim is from the statue at the time of the frog’s overture. A victim swallowed by the frog is alive for a period of time, but held inside the frog’s extradimensional substance and unable to escape with the use of magic (teleportation or the like) even if they wanted to do so. 
Inspired by Tim's worries about his and the Whisk's batrachian garden statue, and JB's challenge to write something related to it. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

X-Men: First Class

I saw X-Men: First Class this weekend, and I think it may be the best of the x-films (it’s been awhile since I’ve seen the first and second though, so I can’t say for certain). It’s certainly the best since the second. Still, my primary reaction to the film is to wish it had done a bit more

(Which I suppose was similar to reaction to Thor, admittedly, though for different reasons. Neither rank as my favorite film of this spring--which was Hanna, for the record).

So for those unaware, First Class is a prequel to the earlier X-Men movies, mainly telling of the story of the rise and fall of the friendship betwixt Charles “Professor X” Xavier and Erik “Magneto” Lensherr. Much of the film is character set-up: Xavier living it up in college and being super-enthused about mutation, and Lensherr playing super-powered badass Nazi hunter as he goes after the sadistic doctor who first noticed his mutant power.

The main action of the film takes place in the sixties--specifically around the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Xavier and Lensherr must train a team of young mutants to take on Sebastian Shaw and his gang who’ve got a wonderfully mad science plan to touch off a nuclear war, spreading radiation to create more mutants, so then Shaw can rule in a post-apocalyptic mutant world.

Strangely for a film with a group of young mutants, it doesn’t attempt to tap any of the Twilight teen energy--which would have seemed a good way to go in a marketing sense (if not any other!). Instead it focuses on Xavier and Lensherr, yet all the doings don’t give us as much on the philosophical/personality differences (other than a facile "don't kill!" from Xavier) as I would have liked. Also, it largely kind of short-hands the development of their friendship. One can only do so much in one film with a lot of characters to introduce and a lot of set-up to do, but it would have been nice if the script had focused more on some drama stuff rather than exotic locales that don’t really feel particularly exotic.

And maybe its because I’ve recently been burning through 4 seasons of Madmen, but the sixties of the film doesn’t evoke the era much beyond the hippie Halloween costume sort of way. The Hellfire Club is cast as a swank Playboy Club-type night-spot, but what music do they have playing? “Palisades Park.” Now, why not something more apropos to the setting and the age of the people in attendance--and cooler--like maybe “Mister Kiss Kiss Bang Bang?”

Those complaints aside, the film did make me think about how the superhero genre could be combined with other genres in the rpg context. World War II is an easy one, but this film suggests how supers could be done with a splash of swinging spy-fi--or swinging spy-fi with a supers chaser like Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD. A grittier supers game could probably be done around super-powered Nazi hunters. Kim Newman’s alternate history short-story “Ubermensch!” might be instructive here , as well.

Friday, June 3, 2011

More Weird Adventures Art

With the last of the Weird Adventures art rolling in over the next few weeks (hopefully), I thought I'd tease with a few more great illustrations:

This is a day (uh--night) in the life of a Barrow-Man--just doing his job defending the serenity of the City's dead buried on its island Potter's field.  This piece was masterfully rendered (with a sort of EC Comics flourish I really dig) by Stefan Poag (Limpey to the fans of his blog).

Here's a portrait of a cabal of insidious Reds--those diminutive, subterranean would-be world conquers.  This one was done by Alex Garcia in what strikes me as sort of a Marvel Bronze Age style.  Cool, huh?

Last but not least, Felt delves into alternate universe archeology and comes up with this fragment of Ancient pottery, probably brought out of tomb-mound by some adventurer.

Still looking forward to more to come from these guys and other artists from the blogosphere like Johnathan Bingham.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Death & Taxes

After surviving the deadly hazards of the underground, loot laden adventurers in the City must face another foe as cunning as he is rapacious: The taxman.

Long ago, the town father’s of the City decided that treasure uncovered in the areas of its hegemony rightfully belonged to the people. This particularly applied to ancient artifacts like coins or objects of art. The brave (or foolhardy) souls who hauled it to the surface deserved something for their efforts--which they reckoned at best at 70%. This is, of course, reduced by various other fees resulting from destruction of public property, hazardous carcass removal, etc. Adventurers are allowed to deduct equipment and provisioning costs, but only if the appropriate forms are submitted in the appropriate manner.

Adventurer’s might consider melting down precious metal artifacts to render them unrecognizable--but the ownership of gold by private individuals (except in jewelry or coins of numismatical interest) is illegal--not that adventurers are opposed to illegal means, but why keep the evidence around? An adventurer’s only option is fencing of his loot and laundering the proceeds. Of course, this too puts an adventurer in danger as it may draw him into the web of the Hell Syndicate.

Discretion is always important. The bland, gray-suited men of the Municipal Department of Taxation and Finance are not without their own resources. Higher level agents carry wooden coins which writhe in their pockets in the vicinity of gold. Some are able to detect lies as well.

The Municipal Building, where their offices are housed, is a veritable temple to the eikone Management. The place is so aligned with Law that all nonlawful beings suffer confusion and demoralization (-2 to all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma checks) inside its walls, if seeking to act against its bureaucracy.

Those who damage (or attempt to damage) the Municipal Building or harm its agents, while flaunting its rules run the risk of calling down an inevitable upon them. These powerful constructs punish transgressions against bureaucracy and law. They're believed to be summoned by a teletype machine in a sub-basement office beneath the building. Some rumors suggest the summoning of an inevitable requires a civil servant to burn his employment record in a waste bin, surrendering his identity--and his pension.