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Updated: 1 week 12 hours ago

Wednesday Comics: Obscure Indies

Wed, 09/11/2019 - 11:00
Inspired by Cartoonist Kayfabe, I impulse-bought some black and white indie stuff off a ebay recently. I got some good deals, though I didn't quite achieve quarter bin level value. Here are some highlights:

Warlock 5
I managed to get the whole run of this, though I haven't read anything but the first issue yet. It's a story of an eclectic group from across parallel dimensions (a cyborg, a dragon, a armored knight, a street punk, the usual) who are engaged in a conflict for control of a mystical grid located in an unnamed city which is a nexus for interdimensional travel. It's written by Gordon Derry and has generally pretty great art by Denis Beauvais. It was published by Aircel, a Canadian publisher eventually gobbled up by Malibu (who was in turn gobbled up by Marvel, ultimately). The reviewer in Space Gamer/Fantasy Gamer #83 summed it up: ""The lure of this book is that the reader is unsure of exactly what is going on. Lots of magic, guns, swords, robots, babes, motorcycles, and very nice art."


DragonBlade and She-Drak
These two super-obscure indies (there's virtually nothing on them on Grand Comics Database) are from 1991 (so far as I can tell) but resemble 80s black and white boom indies in a lot of ways, not the least of which is being in black and white. They are published by Comax, which seems to be an imprint used by cartoonist F. Newton "Butch" Burcham for some of his work. Mostly, Burcham does stuff in the Frazetta sort of vein: a few muscular, barbarian warriors, but an awful lot of scantily-clad, curvy cavewomen and the like. However, these two titles are actually superhero fare (though you would be forgiven from perhaps thinking otherwise from the cover). They tell the parallel stories of two astronauts who were part of an mission that fell into a blackhole to emerge in the Megaverse. There they are guided in gaining powers by a mysterious and powerful alien in a Marvel Comics sort of vein named Phiddeus Phoom. DragonBlade, She-Drak, and presumably Robo-Beast and Night-Flight were to appear together in the a comic called Mega-Force, but I can't find any evidence that actually came out.


Highway Across the Outlands

Mon, 09/09/2019 - 11:00

Climb up the walls of the city, passed the rookeries of the poor and dispossessed and the ramparts where the city guard stand bored but vigilant, and look over the side and you will see more gray nothingness, occasionally pixelating and deresolving to show the more abstract astral manifold beneath, same as if you looked up at flickering spark that passes for a sun. But if you take a corkscrew ramps below ground to one of the city's gates and pass through the checkpoint, quickly the gray mist would recede behind you, and you would find yourself on a highway in an immense desert. This is the Outlands.
The Outlands is the phase boundary between the city and the Outer Planes. Its existences preserves the city's ambivalence, keeps it from being conquered by some conceptual force or another. Its desert is vast, but it is more its indifference that keeps strongly held ideas at bay. The Outlands and its few inhabitants are stubborn.
The highways that stretch from the city gates run through alkali saltpan, scrub plans, and stretches of sandstone buttes. There are a few settlements along the way: outposts and waystations run by those too noncomformist for city life or exiled for some other reason. There are also bands of evangelists and missionaries from other Planes working to convert travelers, though these will die out eventually, either in conflict or by loss of faith. Some of them get violent in their death throes, though. Most Everyone else is a traveler or trader, headed one direction or the other--or a bandit. Though the highways are most often lonely (that is their nature, not a description) many convoys and caravans pass along them, and they all ripe for the taking.
At the edge of the Outlands are the Border Towns. Their appearance vary from town to town, but they control the flow of traffic from whatever plane is on the other side. All are fortified borders, no matter how benign the appearance of the Plane on the other side, indeed the most benign are often the most dangerous.

Carnacki Ghost-Finder

Fri, 09/06/2019 - 11:00
I recently discovered there are a number of readings of William Hope Hodgson stories on Youtube. They vary in quality of course, but all the ones I've listened to are decent. Try this one:


The City at the Center, Reprise

Thu, 09/05/2019 - 11:00
Anton Furst"I live now, only with strangersI talk to only strangersI walk with angels that have no place"- Bruce Springsteen
It is the living (and dying and living again) embodiment of Reality 2.0. A ring and a promise. The strange loop that sustains itself and possibly the entire multiverse. Born out of the last war and the first cause (second iteration), it has no history and is nothing but history.

Its sights. Horizonless urban landscape, sprawling vertiginously upward in two directions to loom overhead, darkened narrow, cobblestone alleys feeding into modern thoroughfares awash in neon, lined with deco skyscrapers and gleaming glass spires, rooftop slums perched on skeletal high-rises, ramshackle mobile markets, the rusted out carapace of dead factories, dutch-angled slabs of never-finished freeway tagged in occult scripts, geodesic domes housing lush gardens, gargoyles that sometimes take flight, the sky gray with spasms of occasional pixelation, a sparking blue-white point instead of a proper sun.


Its sounds. The rattling rumble of an elevated train, the high-pitched invective of angry fairies, the beat drifting from open nightclub doors, the patter of street dealers, the nervous shifting of strange animals and the groan of heavy-laden carts, the growl of engines, the squeak and hiss of arthritic pneumatic joints, the distant crackles and pops of spells met with gunfire, the wail of sirens.

Its smells. Fast food thick with alien spices, stale alcohol and sweat, a hint of ozone, a stray whiff of expensive perfume, burning oil, cigarettes.

(sensory-based format borrowed from Jack Shear)

Wednesday Comics: Dreadstar and Grimjack

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 11:00

Yesterday, in a post-holiday flurry of package deliveries, I got the first volume of Jim Starlin's Dreadstar Omnibus in hardcover. I already have the pdf, but it didn't prepare me for the gorgeousness of the actual book. Can't wait for the other volumes!

Oh, and hey kids, a comics podcast! The next episode of the Bronze Age Book Club by yours truly and some other Hydra notables dropped today:

Listen to "Episode 4: GRIMJACK #1" on Spreaker.

City At the Center

Mon, 09/02/2019 - 11:00

Reading Grimjack for our comics podcast and a friend's work on a vaguely Rifts-like superhero setting, got me thinking about a sort of gonzo cross-genre setting for 5e. I'd freely draw from things like Planescape, Eberron, and a host of genres like cyberpunk and sci-fi, and whatever I decided to borrow from things like the Marvel Micronauts series, TORG, Mayfair's Demons, and Rolemaster's Dark Space. There would a gigantic ring megapolis in the center of the multiverse, part Sigil, part Ringworld.

The "standard" D&D races would represent various alternate universe hominids, so one could play a dwarf from a standard D&D world, one from a more technological background, a Steampunk world, or what have you. Warforged would probably be living robots of some sort.

Jean Pierre Targete

Mail Call!

Fri, 08/30/2019 - 12:24
I got several gaming related packages this week. The biggest was probably the chairs I have been waiting on for a nearly a year from Table of Ultimate Gaming to go with our sweet gaming table. The other two were the first in the series of Dungeons & Dragons cartoon character statues, Shelia the Thief:


The other was the physical copy of Aquelarre (which I had forgotten I had gotten from the Kickstarter!)


Great stuff!

Combat as (Blood) Sport

Thu, 08/29/2019 - 11:00

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

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

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

Wednesday Comics: House of X/Powers of X

Wed, 08/28/2019 - 11:00

Jonathan Hickman has a penchant for "big idea" comics, often with an epic scale and science fictional overtones. All of those things I like, but for me there is a lack of focus on character, and perhaps a Kubrickan coolness that has made it difficult for me to love his Avengers or Fantastic Four runs. Maybe with the X-men, he's finally won me over.

House of X and Powers of X (actually pronounced powers of 10, a reference to its logarithmically remote future stories) tell of an interlocking tale of the world's mutants under Xavier embarking on a radical plan to save the future from....well, yet another mutant-related dystopia, then one takes "Days of Future Past" to a transhuman extreme, with the Nimrod controlled Man-Machine Empire facing off against the surviving mutants under Apocalypse.

I'm not sure how Hickman will bring this all to a satisfying close. It feels so much like an ender, its hard to see how the inevitable return to some sort of superhero status quo won't seem like something of a let down, maybe even a cheat.

So far, though, it's a fun ride.

Between Planar Stations

Sun, 08/25/2019 - 14:00

It doesn't have a name. Not really. This is intentional; names are power, after all, and power that can be used against you. When whoever instantiated the original version of the city did so, they fixed and compressed its noumenal building blocks into a potent glyph, a sigil. And that is what its inhabitants and its visitors from myriad plane-aware worlds have called it every since.

Only rubes get duped by maps hawked in Sigil markets or the orreries venerated by mundy cargo cults, the city is not at the center of anything physical or even metaphysical. It's just that it embodies the concept of nexus, and so it's the most stable router or gateway for astral bodies shooting through the howling conceptual metric.  From Sigil, you can get to anywhere, whether you should or not.

A lot of travelers get to Sigil and never leave. Some, the trafficked, press-ganged, fearful, or injured, have no choice. Others stay out of business interest, boredom, inertia or laziness. Why endure the vicissitudes of travel when all the worlds will come to you, eventually?

Eberron & the Jackelian Sequence

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 11:00

The announcement of a 5e Eberron book got me thinking about a similar setting that I like better than Eberron: Stephen Hunt's Jackelian series. I wrote about it back in 2011. Hunt wrote a few more novels in the series after that point, but it's a shame there has never been an rpg.

Anyway, the novels are well work checking out.

Wednesday Comics: A New Episode of Bronze Age Book Club

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 11:00
Here's the latest episode, taking on Adventure Comics #462. Oh, and we're now on Google podcasts and Apple podcasts. Like! Subscribe!


Listen to "Episode 3: ADVENTURE COMICS #462" on Spreaker.

Weird Revisted: The Weird Frontier

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 11:00
The original version of this post first appeared in 2010. I've revisited it from slightly different angles a couple of times since.
 

This cover deserves to be the basis of an rpg setting.

Well, maybe not just this cover all on its own, but the crazy idea it and the series (Tomahawk) it's a part of suggests (at least to me)--namely, combining the James Fenimore Cooper-style frontier tale with fantasy. Transplanting the whole civilization-against-the-wilderness thing to a colonial pseudo-America.

It’s almost completely unmined territory. It’s only been sort of attempted once, as far as I know--Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series does early nineteenth century fantasy in an alternate North America. Sure, one could point to novels (and even an rpg or two) with a kind of “Illuminati/Masonic magic behind the revolution” or a “Ben Franklin cavorts with the Hellfire Club” sort of deal, but all of that pseudo-historical “hidden magic” speculation fails to deliver a moment of rpg inspiration Zen like:


Wilderness adventures wouldn’t be the only way to go. Surely things like Mystery Hill, and the rampant speculation such sites inspired (even at the time) ought to suggest plenty of ancient American civilization to provide honest to goodness dungeons. There might not be demi-humans (though there could be), but all the other standard D&D ingredients are easy to find.

Garage Sale

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 14:00

My local gaming store (Firefly Toys & Games) had a "Gamer Garage Sale" where they sold old games that folks had brought in. Not a lot of rpg stuff, but some. In picked up the box set, Gary Gygax's Hall of Many Panes for five bucks, the Exalted boardgame War for the Throne, and most randomly this miniature, paper Old West town, and assorted Western miniatures. They're all different scales (H/0, 00, 1:72), but hey, that's an impulse buy for you.

Read for that next Boot Hill game, I guess.


Swords & Monsters

Fri, 08/16/2019 - 11:00

It occurs to me that you could throw out the atmosphere and, well, pretty much everything else about Ravenloft except for the vague notion of adventure fantasy characters fighting creatures of horror. If the world was more of a sword and sorcery setting, and the monsters leaned even heavier in the Universal Monsters direction, I think that would be pretty cool in its own right. The jeweled thrones of the Earth might be sat upon by wolfmen, vampires, man-made monsters, and perhaps even an invisible person or two.

There is some inspiration for this sort of thing in Sword & Sorcery/pulp fiction. Howard wrote "Wolfshead" (which isn't S&S, but hey). Karl Edward Wagner has Kane take on a vampire ("Mirage") and a werewolf ("Reflections on the Winter of My Soul"). In the DC Comics' Warlord there is at least one vampire and two werewolves over its run. I'm sure there are others, but that's off the top of my head.

Conqueror [ICONS]

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 11:00
CONQUEROR

Abilities:
Prowess: 6
Coordination: 4
Strength: 8
Intellect: 4
Awareness: 4
Willpower: 5

Determination: 1
Stamina: 13

Specialties: Athletics

Qualities:
Man Out of Time
Powers Granted by Otherworld Magic
Forgotten Hero

Powers:
Damage Resistance 4
Leaping 4
Life Support 3

Background:
Alter Ego: Joseph Henry Danner
Occupation: Retired
Marital Status: Single
Known Relatives: Ben and Abigail Danner (adopted parents, deceased)
Group Affiliation: formerly the United States Army
Base of Operations: Middleville, Nebraska
First Appearance: CHAMPION FAMILY #138
Height: 6'1"  Weight: 222 lbs.
Eyes: Gray  Hair: White

History:
Sensing the threat to the world that would be posed by the Axis Powers, the Otherworldly wizard Zyrd had sent a fragment of the Champion emblem into the world to be found by a worthy bearer. Shortly before the United States entered World War II, Joe Danner, found the magical emblem while clearing an old tree stump from his farm. The shield belt buckle embued him with the powers of the Champion! Shortly thereafter, the U.S. entered the War, and Danner volunteered for the Army. He was sent to the European theater where he used his powers (in secret) to fight the Germans, while pretending to be a country bumpkin in his real identity.  He lost the shield near the end of the war, and was imprisoned by a Nazi-allied sorcerer, the Yellow Lama. The spell made the world forget him.

It likely would have stayed that way, had not Tommy Trent, the Boy Champion, freed him decades later. Danner helped the Boy Champion defeat the Yellow Lama, but soon began to age rapidly when the mystical field was no more. Zyrd slowed his aging, and gifted him with a portion of the might he had wielded when he had the emblem. He renamed himself, the Conqueror, and occasionally joins the current Champion in fighting evil.

Wednesday Comics: Things I Read Last Week

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 12:15
Here some stuff I read in the past week or some that I recommend.

House of X #1
Hickman begins his X-Men epic. It is full of grand, science fictional ideas, giving the X-Men a transhumanist edge that has only ever appeared sporadically before. As he's a bit detached from characters with perhaps a Kubrickian coolness, which makes characters doing mysterious things (which may be intentional, but it's hard to tell). This has a companion series, Powers of X, that tells a story over several time periods.

Coffin Bound #1
Weird, hip characters with "cool" dialogue who we meet in media res, with very little explanation. It might be 90s Vertigo, but instead its Image 2019. Gorgeous art and intriguing story.

No One Left to Fight #1
A (perhaps) more serious take on a Dragonball Z sort of gang of fighters, focusing on what happens to them after they defeat the world-threatening baddie. I love the art on this, particularly the colors, which has a kind of gaudiness that makes me think of Jade Man Comics, in a way.


The Princess and the Darkness

Mon, 08/12/2019 - 11:00

Our 5e Land of Azurth campaign continued last night, with the party climbing the stairs to the next level, despite the madness-inducing noise. (Their plan of using Silence proved to be unwieldy.) They all stuffed wax in their ears (except the frogling that has no external ears to put wax in!). Shade was the first up. She found a room full of automata pieces with a whole in the ceiling and bodies of birds beneath it. Beyond that room was an iris-type door.

After retrieving the rest of the party (most of whom made their saves, and the one's that didn't were only minorly impaired), they opened the door. Inside they found a circular shaft with an obelisk, skirted with a platform floating inside. Leading to it was a climbing, arcing path of floating discs, each separated by about 5 feet. Interestingly, the dread noise seemed absent from the shaft--but no other spells worked, either.

Waylon the Frogling was made for leaping, so he was chosen to jump from disk to disk to reach the obelisk and platform. There, he discovered another brass mechanical face. The face explained it was the guardian of the obelisk's treasure, which certainly got Waylon's interesting. It initially was reluctant to reveal the treasure but Kully the Bard connived the head into doing it, though he strongly warned them any attempt to tamper with it would lead to the collapse of the floating obelisk and the release of the "criminal" fire elemental, leading to everyone's death.

Within a milky, glass sphere and festooned with wires, Waylon found a book called The Wondrous Wizard of Azurth, with a drawing of a smiling, benevolent old man on the cover. The book was dangerous, he was told, because it was an anomaly. Not heresy per se (as Dagmar though), but perhaps heresy against the nature of reality.   The book was somehow related to the Clockwork Princess' madness. It's author is listed as O. March Loam (which brought to mind Mirabilis Lum for the player's), but the guardian suggests this was the actual identity of the author who is a "thought form" of some other being, a being with name such "fragments."

Despite Waylon's desire to look for other treasure, the party is more eager now than ever to seek out the princess. On the next level of the castle, they find her. Her face, frozen in horror or madness, is on a great tree like shape of brass and iron, gears and wires. It's wire and conduit canopy spreads out across the ceiling, and his root-like tendrils radiate out along the floor.

There is a shadow, think as velvet, along the ceiling, that slowly brings itself together like a snake coiling for a strike. The party doesn't notice at first. When the shadow has become a whispy sphere, and triangular eyes open in its void like malevolent stars, they do take notice! It tells them it has waited so long for someone to kill so it can be released from this prison of cold light and return to the embrace of the dark void.


Then it nearly kills half the party with a blast of necrotic damage.

The party flees to heal and regroup. Dagmar's knowledge of the arcane suggests it's a aberration from the Outer Dark, which hates light. The party them remembers they are in possession of energy weapons they do radiant damage. Gearing out with Haste spells, Light, and of course those energy guns, they return the challenge the creature.

Though still a fearsome foe, it is perhaps overconfident from its last victory and they catch it off guard. It doesn't long survive what is practically artillery fire of laser beams form Hasted gunmen.

They now have the Princess to confront.

TO BE CONTINUED.

Weird Revisited: The Gods Themselves

Fri, 08/09/2019 - 11:00
This post originally appeared in June 2014.

I've being thinking on the idea that all deities in fiction can be defined by two axes: Mythological-Literal and Transcendent-Physical. Mythological gods have origins and interactions that don't make sense in a literal sense; Think gods born from salt licks or jumping from their fathers' skulls. On the other end of the scale are literal beings whose origins are at least logical and generally pretty much biologically or technologically similar to other classes of lifeforms. Transcendent beings are bound by the usual limitations of single body, mind, and/or perspective, while physical beings certainly are.

The gods from the Greek or Norse mythology are typically mythological, but either physical or transcendent. (They tend to be physical seeming in the texts of the myths, but seem somewhat transcendent in terms their actual historical worship.) 
The Asgardians of Marvel Comics or Apollo of the Star Trek episode "Who Mourns for Adonis?" are mostly literal and mostly physical in portrayal. The Asgardians of the movie Thor and its sequel are entirely literal and physical.
AI masquerading as gods? Literal, transcendent or physical. The Endless from Sandman? Straddling the literal-mythologic border, transcendent. Kirby's New Gods? Slightly mythological, physical.
So there it is. There may be other factors I haven't thought of.

Classic Monsters Classed

Thu, 08/08/2019 - 11:00
After yesterday's podcast, I had the Universal Monsters on the brain. Probably got another, less frivolous, post on a monster topic.

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