Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Slayer of Eriban (part 6)

My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues with his adventures in the world of Pandarve. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Slayer of Eriban (1985) 
(Dutch: De Doder van Eriban) (part 6)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

Storm and Nomad race toward the royal box with the guardsmen on their heels. They effectively take the ruler hostage to get his attention. They are surprised to find young Tilio there--and even more surprised and he reveals himself to actually be Renter!

Storm tells Renter they've got him beat. One false move and they'll kill the ruler, depriving the young assassin of the ability to complete his graduation assignment. Renter, however, reveals a surprise:

Ember has been drugged and put into the Barsaman game!

Storm snatched two shields from the guards and improbably uses them as improvised "snowshoes" to cross the molten floor of the arena. He gets there just in time to catch Ember. His shoes begin to sink quicker with more weight, so Nomad is forced to relinquish the captive royal to help Storm out.

Renter takes over threatening the ruler to keep the guards at bay. One of teh guests in the bos has a surprise of his own. He removes his mask, revealing himself to be Renter's teacher. He delivers another revelation:

The royal family realizes this is the son stolen from them. Renter is in utter disbelief, but ultimately he can't bring himself to kill his father. His teacher reports Renter has failed his graduation exercise. As a horrified Renter is embraced by his mother, the teacher leaves. Storm, Nomad, and Ember make their escape, aided by both the turmoil in the royal box and the turmoil in the stadium caused by the escaped prisoners. The Barsaman games are suspended indefinitely.

They make it back to the ship. To their surprise, Renter is there waiting. He tells them he sent Tilio away with some money. Renter trained all his young life to be an assassin. He doesn't know what to do with himself now. He asks our heroes to place him in the regeneration capsule and set him adrift, where he can dream, maybe to the end of time.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Weird Revisited: Take the Subway to the Wizard's Sanctum

This post first appeared in January of 2012. It's still true today... 

You may have heard this one: A homeless newsboy in a nameless city follows a mysterious stranger into a subway station. 

The stranger leads the boy aboard "a strange subway car, with headlights gleaming like a dragon's eyes," and decorated inside and out with weird, perhaps mystic, symbols.  The car "hurtles through the pitch-black tunnel at tremedous speed."  Their destination:

And beyond, a cavernous hall decorated with grotesque statues of the iconic failings of man.  At the end of the hall, a hierophant sits immobile on a throne, a square block of granite hanging precariously over his head by a slowly unraveling thread.

The wizard is, of course, Shazam and the Boy is Billy Batson.  Billy is about to be given the power of six mythological figures. At that point this story becomes a superhero origin, but at all times it's a fantasy story, too.  Grant Morrison (in Supergods) sums it up like this:

"the train carries Billy into a deep, dark tunnel that leads from this world to an elevated magical plane where words are superspells that change the nature of reality."

My point is bringing up Whiz Comics #2, is that I think fantasy in an urban setting ought to have a bit more of this and a bit fewer succubus streetwalkers, werewolf bikers, or angels in white Armani suits.  Not that there's anything wrong with those things--but they've gotten commonplace.  Perfunctory.

There's no reason why fantasy in a modernish setting can't be infused with weird or wonder.  We've got plenty of examples: Popeye's pet jeep, the Goon's antagonists, or in a less whimiscal vein, VanderMeer's city of Ambergris suffering under occupation by fungoid invaders. I can't be the only one that wants fantasy in the modern world to be something other than 90's World of Darkness retreads.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

What If?

This is an idea I had this morning, so I haven't thought out all the angles of how to operationalize it best. Comic books have traditional had stories where things they didn't want to institute in the primary continuity occurred: DC called them imaginary stories; Marvel placed them in the pages of What If?

I've usually run superhero rpg campaigns just like most rpgs. The past is immutable and a bad outcome for the PCs is a bad outcome. What if one borrowed a from What If? You could give the PCs a "retcon" session, beginning perhaps at the point of one pivotal change in events. After the retcon session, the group could decide which continuity the campaign would continue in. The other wouldn't necessarily cease to exist, but could be the sort of visitors from alternate timelines to interact with the PCs later.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Weird Revisited: Real Dungeon Hazards: Snotties & Slime

This post first appeared just about 8 years ago. It's as pertinent to dungeon crawls as ever.

Ooozes and slimes aren’t just the the subject of Gygaxian dungeoneering fancy. Interestingly, it appears they have some basis in subterranean fact. Ready for an introduction to the world of snotties, red goo, and green slime?

"Snotties" look like small stalactites, but have the texture of mucus and drip battery acid. They’re actually colonies extremophile archaebacteria that thrive in intense levels of atmospheric hydrogen sulfide produced by volcanism. They’ve only been found in a few places including Cueva de Villa Luz, southern Mexico, and Sulphur Cave in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Other unusual things have been uncovered in Cueva de Villa Luz by the self-styled SLIME (Subsurface Life In Mineral Environments) team. “Red goo” is an acidic (pH 3.9-2.5) breakdown product of clay, which also makes a home for bacteria. “Green slime” which may be decaying algal elements.

Sulphur Cave also sports the red worms which live off sulfur--the only such higher organism ever discovered residing on land.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Wednesday Comics: FF

Between having a plumber doing repairs to 9pm and taking care of the baby, the next installment of Storm didn't get written. Next week!

Today, here's a quick recommendation. I picked up FF (2012 series) by Matt Fraction and Mike Allred after seeing a panel from it on a blog with an intriguing explanation of Pym particles. It's just 16 issues and probably best read in tandem with Fraction's contemporaneous run on Fantastic Four. (I didn't read it that way, but I've heard that play off each other.) It deals with Ant-Man, She-Hulk, Medusa, and popstar Darla Deering agreeing to fill in for the usual FF at the Future Foundation, which is essentially a school for gifted youngsters (including familiar faces Alex Power, Artie, Leech and some new ones). They are only supposed to fill in for 4 minutes while the regular FF goes somewhere  off-world and does something, but plans, of course, go awry. The series has a fair amount of humor and a (mostly) light approach, but there is real danger and character stuff.

It's out in two trades.

Monday, January 8, 2018

It Was Never Pure

Art by Kyle MacArthur

D&D has always been a bit "gonzo." The internet era has pulled out all the stops for gonzo, so things are a bit more heightened, it's true, but if you believe Jeff Reints that "You play Conan, I play Gandalf. We team up to fight Dracula," is an apt description, then don't let the dry, wargamer prose and armchair Medievalism fool you, it's sorta gonzo.

Now, as a guy with a strong appreciation for pulp literature, I like my D&D (most of the time) heavily flavored with the likes of Howard, Smith, Leiber, and Vance. Of course, Saturday Morning cartoons, Bronze Age comics, and 80s barbarian films are in there, too, to one degree or another.

There are people only slightly younger than me for whom computer games and anime are a much bigger deal. There are even those unfortunates who could never get into Leiber or Vance, but read the hell out of some Drizzt novels. There are those for whom Harry Potter was their gateway drug and who think Tolkien is best appreciated as interpreted by Jackson at high frame rate.

My point is, whatever parts you use, D&D is always a Frankenstein bastard of lowbrow things that don't make sense together if you think about them too much. A lot of digital ink has been spilt analyzing the influence of Appendix N and the like, and that's fine, but D&D as written had Hammer horror vampire hunters, Vancian spellcasters, and kung fu film monks. It's a broad enough territory for a lot of structures to be comfortably built on it, and that's a good thing for its continued life.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Olshevsky's Marvel Time

To allow their characters to stay evergreen, both Marvel and DC have established "sliding timelines" so that the present is always today, and modern Heroic Ages of their respective universes are only 10 or 15 (or some less specified number) of years old.

As I've mentioned before, this was not always the case. George Olshevsky's Marvel indices argue that in the early years, Marvel seemed to preceded in real time. Will most are unfazed by this, at least this guy thinks it ruined the Marvel Universe. While I wouldn't go that far, I do think there are certainly tradeoffs. The eternal present comes at the sacrifice of allowing characters to truly grow and inevitably means big changes are impermanent.

Anyway, here are the "Marvel Years" as outlined by Olshevsky. He measures them by years in Peter Parker's life. The actual calendar years are my addition and relate the most likely real-world translation (if your were inclined to do that) based on the time of publication.

YEAR ONE [1960-1961] (PP-HS-SophY):
June*- FF spaceflight.
Sept. - Peter Parker is a junior in high school.
Winter – the FF #1.
(Hank Pym in the Ant-Hill) (The Hulk)
Spring (March-April) – Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man [Aug 62]
intro Thor
debut Ant-Man

YEAR TWO [1961-1962] (PP HS-JunY)
debut Wasp
Intro. Dr. Strange

YEAR THREE [1962-1963](PP HS-SenY):
Sept. – PP is a senior in high school.
Sept. – The Avengers form.
Oct. – The X-Men go public. [Sep 63]
November – Ant-Man becomes Giant Man.
mid-Dec. – The Black Widow first appears.
March – Iron Man fights Hawkeye and Black Widow.
May – Reed and Sue engaged. Johnny and Ben almost meet the Beatles.
June – Hawkeye joins Avengers. PP and JS graduate High School. Quicksilver and SW join the Avengers. Reed and Sue marry. Nick Fury named director of SHIELD.
July – Galactus arrives. Sentinels. Quentin Quire is born.

YEAR FOUR [1963-1964] (PP-CY-1):
Peter Parker’s freshman year of college.
Winter- Captain Mar-Vell arrives.
Feb. - Bobby Drake (Iceman) turns 18.
Late May-early June – 1: Lorna Dane
Summer. Franklin Richards born.

YEAR FIVE [1964-1965] (PP CY-2):
September. The Vision is created. Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne are married.
Late Sept-early Oct – 1: Sunfire
June-July: Hank McCoy goes to work for Brand Corp

YEAR SIX [1965-1966] (PP CY-3):
October – Beast gets furry.
May – GXM#1. The New X-Men

YEAR SIX [1966-1967] (PP CY-4):
Sept – Thunderbird dies.
Jan – Jean Grey replaced by Phoenix.

If Jean Grey was 24 when she is presumed to have died (based on the dates on her tombstone), and she is the same age as Peter Parker, then she must have died around 1968-69.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Get Ready for Operation Unfathomable!

Operation Unfathomable is drawing near! With text and art by Jason Sholtis and layout by Jez Gordon you will want to get in on this when it's available.

It's in the layout proofing stage now, but it shouldn't be too much longer. Here are two sample pages to whet your appetite:

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Mondegreen's Mixed Up Magic

In the Land of Azurth, the wizard Mondegreen is infamous among magical practitioners, not because he was powerful (though he was) nor for his output of arcane scrolls (though it was prodigious) but because of his habit of misprinting magical sigils and formulae. He seems to have suffered some sort of malady in this regard, perhaps a curse.

A Mondegreen scroll will not contain the traditional version of the spell it appears to catalog at cursory examination. The subtle errors will either effect some aspect of the spell (50% of the time giving:

1 Advantage to the spell save
2 An increased duration
3 Increased damage (if applicable)
4 Decreased damage (if applicable)
5 A decreased duration
6 Disadvantage to the spell save

The other 50% of the time, it will not work as it should, but rather produce a magical effect from a roll on the Wild Magic Table.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Slayer of Eriban (part 5)

My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues with his adventures in the world of Pandarve. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Slayer of Eriban (1985) 
(Dutch: De Doder van Eriban) (part 5)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

When Renter and Ember return to the ship, they find Nomad seemingly under assault by a gang. Renter jumps in to help, but Nomad bashes him over the head from behind, knocking him out cold.

It was a ruse. Storm hadn't returned to the ship yet, so Nomad paid the dock ruffians to help him stage a distraction so he could waylay Renter. Wanting to confine the young assassin, Ember and Nomad put him the one place they are sure he can't escape: the regeneration capsule.

Leaving Ember with the ship and Renter, Nomad goes out looking for Storm. He ends up finding him:

Nomad and Storm blame to escape. The prisoner the next cage over tells them the only way out is straight to the barsaman arena.

Meawhile, the boy Tilio happens by the ship. He tells Ember about his success as a chess entrepreneur. He asks Ember to marry him, but she demures. She asks him to watch the ship while she goes looking for her friends.

In the city, she discovers that Storm and Nomad have been taken prisoners as would be assassins. She returns to the ship to find weapons or maybe money to bribe the guards. Instead, she's attacked by Renter. Curious about the contents of the sarcophagus, Trilio released him. Renter chokes her to unconsciousness.

In two weeks, the fanfare sounds, announcing the Holy Barsaman game. The spectators file into the arena past the contestants. Some of the crowd carry miniature chess sets.

In the dungeons, on the eve of their execution, Nomad and Storm waylay a guard, steal the keys and make their escape. Storm still wants to warn the king of the assassination attempt--and enlist his help against Renter. The two steal guard uniforms and with a captured guard as an unwilling guide, they head to the royal box at the arena.

Within the arena, the game has begun:


Monday, January 1, 2018

Weird Revisited: New Year's Day

And here's part 2 of a Weird Adventures New Year's yarn from 2012...

Then the weird codger just smiles under his beard and says:

“Take it easy, fella. It’s just a yarn.”

And that’s when you realize you were holding your breath. As you let it out slow, it occurs to you that there’s a murmur of “happy new years” around and somewhere the pop of a champagne cork, and there’s a dame standing close with a creased brow and disappointed pout because you didn’t kiss her at the appointed moment. The moment you just missed ‘cause you were listening to some old man’s story about the end of the world.

You take a glass of champagne from a passing waiter. The strange spell seems to be fading with the old year, but you still have to ask: “So what happened. How’d the world get saved, anyway?”

The old man strokes his beard. “It just so happens that Father Time prepares for this eventuality. He knows that the agents of entropy will try to take advantage of the changing of the year, to try and force a premature end to time. He has a plan...”

The new year is born at the center of a maze--almost a giant puzzle box, really-- outside of time and the material plane. Here the new born year can’t be strangled in its crib before temporal custodianship changes hands. All sorts of nefarious forces send their champions to seize it or kill it, true, but Father Time has his champions, as well. He can choose anyone, but it’s often adventurers that make his list. His temporal champions must brave the challenges of the achronal labyrinth and present Father Time's hourglass sigil to the multidimensional titan that guards the neonate year.

Finishing your second glass of champagne, you say, “Guess the good guys won again, huh? I’d be glad to meet one of those guys that saved the world. I’d by ‘em a drink.”

The old man shrugs and puts on his hat like he’s going to leave. “Well, the thing about that is, none of those brave souls ever remember what they did. The maze is outside of time. Everything that happens there occurs in less than an instant and outside of causality as we know it here. No, I’m afraid none of them has any idea what they accomplished.”

With that he turns to walk for the door. He’s only gone a couple of steps when he stops and half-turns. “Unless, of course, someone tells them.” And then he winks.

“Happy New Year, friend.”