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A Taxonomy of Fantastic Lands

Thu, 09/21/2023 - 12:13

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

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

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

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

Wednesday Comics: New Stuff I've Liked

Wed, 09/20/2023 - 11:59

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

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

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

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

What I Like

Mon, 09/18/2023 - 11:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Witchmire Rumors

Thu, 09/14/2023 - 11:00

 A few rumors regarding the Witchmire on Gnydrion:

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

Wednesday Comics: DC, December 1982 (week 3)

Wed, 09/13/2023 - 11:00
My mission: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around September 16, 1982.

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

Brave & the Bold #193: Burkett and Aparo give Nemesis his last hurrah by again teaming him up with Batman. This will be his last Pre-Crisis appearance, but he'll return in the Post-Crisis Universe in Suicide Squad #1. Nemesis contacts Batman to enlist his help in an operation against a The Council. It' seems Irene Scarfield is in cahoots with the terrorist organization the PLA and wants to use them to kill a congressman who's pushing through anti-crime legislation. 
The two make a coordinate attack from two fronts. Batman goes looking for the terrorist Bloodclaw and Nemesis goes after Scarfield. After a lengthy search, Batman locates and confronts Bloodclaw, but during the struggle, the criminal falls to his apparent demise. Nemesis tracks Scarfield to a secret base where the Council attempts to send a helicopter bomb on a mission, but Nemesis hijacks the chopper and brings it down to the Council headquarters, sacrificing himself in order to eliminate the Council leadership for good. 

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

Green Lantern #159: Barr and Pollard/DeCarlo bring back Evil Star who we haven't seen since issue 133. Evil Star is a villain I didn't know anything about until starting this read-through, but he's kind of interesting. He's a guy who was trying to achieve life extension but the device he created to do so corrupted the user and turned them evil. He is aware of the personality switch and part of him mourns it, but he is unwilling to give up his life to be rid of it. He destroyed his whole planet in the name of keeping it.
Anyway, his current plan is to spread his evil light throughout the universe, corrupting everyone. But Hal sacrifices himself and tells Evil Star to make him evil and spare everyone else. So Green Lantern turns into Evil Star's sidekick, and together they spread terror in a neighboring world. But when he is about to destroy a dam to cause a flood, Hal remembers his friends, Carol and Thom, and his predecessor, Abin Sur, and these memories help him break free from Evil Star's corruption. Hal flights back to Evil Star and defeats him again, this time taking off the component of the Star Band that makes it a weapon.
We get some other things setup: On Earth, a kid named Donny Weems finds a strange crystal, and he gets in a trance when he grabs it. In Oa, the Guardians dismiss the Green Lantern Eddore of his current mission, saying it's now out of his space sector.
In the Tales of the Green Lantern Corps backup by Rozakis, Moore, and Rodriquez, aquatic Green Lantern Penelops of Penelo (who looks like an eyeball with tentacles), finds the seas of his world being artificially heated invaders shooting some kind of weapon at the sun. Penelops saves his fellow inhabitants and flies to confront the aliens.

House of Mystery #311: Paris Cullins pencils this issue's "I...Vampire" story. Bennett wanders through the streets of New York City and stumbles into a theater, where they're showing a documentary about the Woodstock. When he sees a young Deborah Dancer, he remembers the way they first met.
In 1969, Andrew Bennett and Dmitri Mishkin visited Woodstock on the hunt for Mary. The Cult of the Blood Red Moon is using the festival as a cover to recruit new vampires. Deborah Dancer is there with her friends, and they're invited to a private party with the Blood Red Moon. Bennett rescues her, but he is too late to save the others. When Deborah is later cornered by her former friends turned bloodsuckers. They are suddenly destroyed by the overwhelming positive emotions at Woodstock during an awesome Hendrix guitar solo. Really, that's what happens! It's a known vampire weakness. Anyway, from that day on, Deborah joins Andrew and Dmitri in their crusade against vampires.
There are a couple more stories but neither have vampires getting dissolved like a Wicked Witch hit by a bucket of water by a cool guitar solo, so they aren't worth the time.

Legion of Super-Heroes #293: Levitz and Giffen/Mahlstedt bring the Great Darkness Saga to a very satisfying conclusion. Things start bleak for our heroes. The mind-controlled Daxamites are rampaging across the galaxy. We get cameos by the Heroes of Lallor, the Wanderers, and Dev-Em putt up a fight, but they are no match for the forces against them. The Legion calls in their reserves including the Legion Subs.
The main battle is joined on Daxam. With reversals and last minute saves, a plenty, including the reveal of the child as Highfather and the restoration of one of Darkseid's clone servants to the form of Orion. Then Superboy and Supergirl arrive just in time, their powers bolstered by Izaya despite the red sun. Darkseid blasts Superboy back to his own time, but Supergirl fights on. Her struggle gives the Legion time enough to regroup around Darkseid, and Saturn Girl declares he's lost.
Perplexed, Darkseid realizes that his long sleep has made him too weak to fight the Legion and simultaneously control billions of slaves. The Daxamites are now free, and the Legion's allies are leading them in an assault. Darkseid admits defeat and after uttering a curse that the darkness will keep growing within them until it destroys them, he vanishes, taking Apokolips with him.
In the aftermath, the White Witch joins the Legion, Light Lass quits, and Brainiac 5 tells Supergirl he is finally over his crush on her. Kara, before she leaves for the 20th Century, remarks that that is a pity, since she was noticing how cute he was.

Night Force #5: Wolfman and Colan/Smith set most of this issue in a Soviet "Science City" in Siberia. Colan seems to have seen pictures of this place, but his version is decidedly more futuristic. Wolfman tells us it's all about psychic research. This is where Vanessa gets taken, and this is where Gold and Caine have to go to get her back. Vanessa at first is treated kindly, but then the administrator springs a trap and reveals he plans to torture her and still her power. Meanwhile, Caine and Gold get to know each other while almost dying out in the snow before reaching the city and getting captured.
So far, I feel like this is the well-done series that probably doesn't get its due, being out of step with the continued ascendancy of superheroes.

Sgt. Rock #371: So Kanigher and Redondo are out to make a point about the replaceability of the soldier and how it's the mission that's important, but what's memorable here is that the story has Rock and a few of his men coming to rescue of the rest of Easy from an ambush by riding a log down a river. Then there's a non-war story about a too wily for his on good general who survives Earth's final war and then rockets to a paradise planet that turns out to be deadly. That one's by Kelley and Randall.
Kanigher and Mandrake are back with an interestingly illustrated but silly ode to paean to the G.I.'s boots. Fianlly, Kanigher and Truman dubiously depict the kamikaze pilots as modern samurai. 

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

Beetles & Birds

Thu, 09/07/2023 - 11:00

Beetle Milk Mead 

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

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


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

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

Wednesday Comics: DC, December 1982 (week 2)

Wed, 09/06/2023 - 11:00
I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! Today, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands on the week of September 9, 1982. 

Batman #353: Batman has been declared a public menace by Mayor Hill and Commissioner Pauling, but despite a heightened police presence, the Dark Knight still manages to break into their office, and put them on notice that Deadshot spilled what he knows about them (which he hasn't). When Batman leaves the building, Pauling activates an alarm that alerts the officers about his presence and the police start shooting at Batman and hitting him. Still, Batman escapes.
Meanwhile, Dr. Thirteen shows Rupert Thorne the Hugo Strange haunting is a fake, done with holograms. Thorne jumps to the conclusion the responsible parties for this charade are his own pawns, Pauling and Hill.
Later, Alfred has to juggle an annoying Deadshot, who is being held prisoner and blindfolded in the Batcave, and tending Batman's wounds. Vicki Vale gets a phone call from a mysterious (cat) woman, who warns her to stay away from Bruce Wayne.
Thorne is drinking at his home and planning his revenge against his subordinates, when Batman appears and stands there is silence as Thorne rants. Unnerved, Thorne accidentally sets his house on fire. While Batman fights the blaze, Rupert Thorne gets away. Thorne goes to City Hall with a gun, ready to kill his lackeys. Batman arrives just in time to witness Thorne's murder of Pauling and the shooting of Thorne by one of Pauling's loyal cops. Batman disarms the cop and a fearful Mayor Hill promises he will reinstate Batman's special deputy status, but he won't be able to prove that he was ever involved with Thorne.
This Batman is, of course, Dick Grayson, as Bruce is still recovering. After a successful mission, Dick returns home, but someone else is watching Thorne get taken away to the hospital. The person is none other than Hugo Strange, who is very much alive!
This was a satisfying end to this arc by Conway and Newton.

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

G.I. Combat #248: No Mercenaries this month, but hey, more Haunted Tank! Joy. The first Tank story has an interesting high concept, if utterly predictable development in Kanigher style. The crew is leading 3 condemned soldiers to their execution. The three learn something of heroism from Jeb and his men, and then show it themselves by dying in battle giving our heroes a chance to escape the Germans. In the second story, the Haunted Tank manages to capture General Kuntz, "Rommel's right-hand man" and have to transport the injured general across the dangerous desert to command. 
The O.S.S. story is better than average. There is a traitor among four agents sent on a mission, and the still loyal agents have to discover who the turncoat is and complete the mission before the he takes them out. Drake and Trinidad round out the issue with a story about the lives of three individuals in different places and on different sides who wind up intersecting with the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Masters of the Universe #1: I reviewed this issue here back in 2015. One of the mysteries here is why Tuska is doing the art with Alcala only inking when Alcala did much cooler work in the mini-comics? Maybe a question of speed? 
Saga of the Swamp Thing #8: Swamp Thing, Dennis and Liz are stranded on an island where they encounter dream-like scenes out of movies. They have to deal with dinosaurs, hostile tribesmen, and King Kong and wander through Rick's Cafe American.
Abruptly we get an interlude. In New Jersey Karen "Casey" Clancy" looks much older and is more sure of her powers. Paul Feldner tells her he won't be a part of her plan. He slaps her and tries to run away before Karen uses her mind power to make him burst into flames. 
Back on the island, Dennis and Liz are finally able to confront dreamers and it is discovered they are Vietnam vets that came into contact with the defoliant, Agent Blue. Traumatized and unable to reintegrate into society, they re-enlisted. They were transferred on the USS New Hampshire, which exploded and sank, leaving them as the only survivors. It was then that the soldiers realized they could "create stuff outta thin air" just by thinking about it and decided to live out the fantasies of their imagination instead of returning to reality. Liz then scolds one of the vets for hiding from reality, essentially calling them all cowards unworthy of sympathy. The vets have a falling out over this, and their fantasies begins to fall apart along with the entire island dissolving. One of the soldiers creates a helicopter and he, Swamp Thing, Liz and Dennis escape while the other dreamers drown.
In the Barr/Carrillo Phantom Stranger backup, the Stranger takes Amanda Dove (the woman from last issue) to see the latest incarnation of her lover, a general, and tries to stop the war he is currently involved in.

New Teen Titans #26: Wolfman and Perez prove social relevance in comics wasn't just a 70s fad. The New Teen Titans return to Earth from Vega, and Robin, having revealed his true feelings during the battle, begins a tentative, romantic relationship with Starfire, and the other Titans get back to their civilian lives. Several weeks pass in a couple of captions. Then, Raven meets a young girl who has been the victim of domesticate abuse, presumably by a pimp. Dick and Kory, on a movie date, witness the accidental death of a drug-crazed youth who attacks D.A. Adrian Chase (who seems a bit to the right of Bronson's character in the Deathwish movies) and his wife before running into the path of a car. Cyborg and the others visit a home for runaways and basically get a PSA on the problem. The other The next day, at the site of the Statue of Liberty, Changeling battles a young costumed girl, who calls herself Terra. 
It's easy to view this kind message comic as sort of heavy-handed. I feel like it would have seemed hard-hitting and gritty had I read it as a young teen. In a way, I feel like this is better than the Vega arc before, though probably a little of it is going to go a long way.

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

The Woods are Dark and Deep

Fri, 09/01/2023 - 11:00

This half-formed rpg setting idea I got the other day. It could probably work with something D&Dish but might be better suited to something else. Anyway, the world that the players' would know and explore is a sort of mythic forest, a dark fairytale sort of woodland with no apparent beginning or end. Within the woodland are areas of human habitation, where everyone probably speaks the same language, and probably some enigmatic ruins, suggesting perhaps a once united human culture or series of cultures, but nothing like that exists in the present and nothing more than fables that hold any memory of it. Memory, like everything else, gets swallowed by the forest.
The woodland can be a strange place. There are dangers there, even horrors, but there are also places of beauty and enchantment. These last are perhaps hard to find again after visiting, though.  Adventurers are wanderers in the wood, dealing with the things the forest brings them.
I envision it as something like an adult, darker Over the Garden Wall. Perhaps with a bit of Ravenloft with the forest replacing the Mists. The forest might give a similar uncanny vibe to the Zone in the film Stalker. Other inspirations: Grimm's fairytales and the film Company of Wolves. Maybe some stuff from the rpg Symbaroum though it's a bit less "Brother's Grimm meets Acid Western" than what I'm envisioning.

Wednesday Comics: DC, December 1982 (week 1)

Wed, 08/30/2023 - 11:00
I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! Today, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands on the week of September 2, 1982. 

Wonder Woman #298: Frank Miller cover on this issue. Mishkin and Colan/McLaughlin continue the Aegeus story. Wonder Woman consults the Magic Sphere on Paradise Island and learns Bellerophon's history. On Themyscria, the island which the Amazons abandoned for their new home centuries ago in this Earth-One continuity, Bellerophon tries to get the location of Paradise Island out of Steve Trevor because he wants to get ahold the Amazon's healing Purple Ray. Aegeus tries torturing Trevor, but Steve escapes into the temple of Athena. There he and terrorist Sofia see a vision of Athena, who tries to persuade Sofia to turn against Aegeus. Steve grabs Athena's scepter, which he saw destroy one terrorist, and hides it under his jacket. Unfortunately, he's recaptured by Aegeus who knocks an approaching Wonder Woman out of the sky with a thunderbolt.
In the Huntress backup, the would-be superhero Blackwing is captured by the gang running the protection racket and they take him to their boss with Huntress following behind. The boss is called Boa, and he's got a big, pet constrictor--though Staton doesn't appear to have used photo reference in drawing the snake. Huntress busts in and takes out the gang, but Boa sicks his snake on her and the gang leaves while she struggles in the animal's deadly grip.

Arak Son of Thunder #16: Thomas and Gonzales/Alcala bring Arak to Byzantium as he continue his search for Valda. They are in from trouble from the beginning as he has to save Satyricus from an angry mob after he accidentally destroys an icon. Luckily, the duo are aided by General Cometas who they met last issue. he gets them in the see the young Emperor Constantine VI who is being presented with potential wives when Valda catches his eye.
A fight breaks out and Arak intercedes to help her. He's ordered to swim across a pool to prove the turh of his words. In the water, a monster comes out of a mosaic and attacks him--or seems to, as no one else can see it. Despite successfully completing the challenge, Arak and Valda have upset the emperor's and he orders their deaths.
In the backup, Valda and Malagigi attend of fair in Paris. While Malagigi meets with the local Count, Valda explores the market. She encounters a pickpocket dwarf named Brunello who sells her a baby elephant. As she leads the elephant through the streets, Valda is attacked by saracens who claim that the elephant is stolen and think she's the culprit. Valda holds her own against their superior numbers until Malagigi arrives and use his magic to end the fight. The saracens taken possession of the elephant, while Valda and Malagigi are glad to let them have it.

Blackhawk #253: Evanier and Spiegle put the spotlight on one of The Blackhawks in this story. The team (minus Hendrickson) is summoned to a meeting with command to discuss Hendrickson's future with the team. The eldest Blackhawk's mental state is called into question after it is discovered that he is writing letters to his wife--who was killed a year before. Blackhawk promises to speak with him.
When the team returns to Blackhawk Island where Hendrickson was left on duty, they find that he is gone. Putting together clues, they realize that he has located a secret Nazi air base by measuring the fuel load of downed aircraft. And they thought he was crazy for always siphoning the fuel!
The Blackhawks follow to the location specified and find and destroy the air base, but Hendrickson is shot down. A German pilot finds his crashed plane, but Hendrickson outdraws his opponent with pistols. Hendrickson reveals that he has always known that his wife was dead. He simply wrote the letters to her because he was lonely and felt ignored by his teammates. 
DC Comics Presents #52: Kupperberg and Giffen introduce Ambush Bug. He's the villain here and a good bit different from the character he will become. The story guest stars the New Doom Patrol (a team Superman doesn't even know exists until this story). A being of black energy is wrecking Metropolis and Superman's attempts to stop it are complicated by the teleporting agent of chaos, Ambush Bug. The Doom Patrol tries to lend a hand and let him know that the being is actually an out of a control Negative Woman, but Ambush Bug's machinations makes Supes distrust them. Superman's character is different in Kupperberg's story than what we are used to seeing: he's testier, quicker to act, and more fallible than the usual portrayal. It makes him a better mark for Ambush Bug's shenanigans.

Fury of Firestorm #7: Conway and Broderick/Rodriquez introduce the Québécoise, terrorist super-villain Plastique. She's spurred to action after Firestorm thwarted the impact of the attack by her fellow terrorist Andre by absorbing the energy. She happens to choose the offices of the New York News Express, it happens to be a day where Ronnie has come with the intention of telling his reporter father that he is Firestorm. Being held hostage by Plastique with the Express staff, Ronnie can't change to Firestorm without revealing who he is to everyone! Stein comes to his rescue by sneaking past the police into the building and shutting off the power, so they can become Firestorm unseen. After rescuing the hostages, Firestorm dissipates Plastique's costume, so the bombs drop to the floor before she can detonate them.

Justice League #209: The final chapter of Crisis on Earth-Prime. Don Heck is the artist here, with Conway scripting, per usual. The All-Stars, JLA, and JSA meet with FDR to recap the success of their teams. There is still some work to be done, though. Power Girl, Firestorm, and Steel are in Geneva, Switzerland, looking for more missiles. They find them along with Johnny Quick. The missiles get launched, but the heroes take them down in mid-air. 
After meeting with Professor Zee and cluing him into his megalomaniacal assistant, he gives Green Lantern, Firebrand and Zatanna his prototype time machine, which they use to travel to 1962 on Earth-Prime. There they're ready to take action when the Crime Syndicate arrives on the scene in a Time Vortex. The heroes surprise the villains and defeat them. The Soviet missiles aren't stolen, and Earth-Prime's history proceeds as it should.
On Earth-Two 1942, the heroes take the fight to Per Degaton's base and capture him and his men. Huntress takes care of Own-Man who had been in hiding, gloating over the others' defeat. History is restored, so that no one even remembers this Crisis having occurred. All and all, a nice arc, though perhaps a little longer than it needed to be.

Adventure Comics #494: The only new story here is The Challengers of the Unknown by Rozakis and Tuska/Mushynsky. Picking up where last issue left off, the Challs to be compare notes and decide some gangsters mad at Rocky for ruining their attempts to fix a match where the ones that sabotaged their plane. They pay them a visit, but they turn out not to be the culprits, so the mystery remains.

The Cleric and the Rituals of Faith

Mon, 08/28/2023 - 11:00

Over the weekend, I read this interesting blog series about how polytheism worked in the real world. Check it out. 

Anyway, it got me thinking about how D&D/rpg polytheism might be made more realistic without changing it much. Granted, it's a bit of an uphill battle since rpg polytheism of the D&D variety is very unrealistic in a lot of ways, but I'm going to focus here on one thing and that's Devereaux's central point in the early articles: religion is mainly about ritual not metaphysics.

This is actually pretty good for the D&D cleric, because they are largely soft on metaphysics and philosophy (short a lot of worldbuilding) but out-of-the-box do a lot of things like spells and special abilities that could be glossed (and roleplayed) as rituals. It's sort of transactional, even mechanistic from a modern lens, which is good for D&D because that's what clerical magic is. 

So, clerics are the most religious (in what Devereaux relates is the Roman sense) because they have the most effective deity-related rituals (spells) and they are the most diligent in their performance (it's their job). The use of the cleric to the adventuring party is this very religiousness: their ritual performances always get results. 

I think it would take relatively little roleplaying in this direction and reframing of these abilities in a more religious ritual context to make it feel a lot less merely mechanistic and a lot more flavorfully mechanistic.

Into the Arena

Thu, 08/24/2023 - 11:50

 Our 5e Land of Azurth game continued last Sunday with the party still trying to find the power core within the crashed spacecraft. It turns out there weren't any more major threats after the undead spacemen--just a will o' wisp and some poltergeist, so it's mostly down to doing a thorough search. The party finds the core, but they are (quite reasonably) afraid of some sort of malign energy or radiation off it, so they choose to handle it with mage hands. They carry it back to the Church of Clockwork without (apparent) incident. 

Viola thanks them for their help, but now she has another mission for them. She needs them to Bellona, the Battle Princess of Sang, out of the arena of Junk City. She's fallen under the control of the Loom--the mad and bad duplicate of the mind of Mirabilis Lum. She leaves it to the party to determine how they do it, but she assures them it's necessary.

The next day, the party disguises themselves and heads over to the arena to check things out. Waylon disguises himself as a theatrical gladiatorial combat promoter from Yanth Country and Erekose pretends to be a fighter. They talked to the trollish emcee of the arena, but things go badly when Dagmar gets insulted and snaps back at the caustic creature. 

They do get to check out the games, though, and they see the fierce, silver-masked, woman warrior, who they are sure is Bellona.

Wednesday Comics: DC, November 1982 (week 4)

Wed, 08/23/2023 - 11:00
I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, we look at the comics hitting the newsstand on August 26, 1982.

Action Comics #537: This is the second cover in a row where Superman is trussed up in some way on the cover. Do Buckler and Giordano think this is Golden Age Wonder Woman or something? Seriously though I wonder if these covers, like the depowering of Superman that has taken place in Wolfman's ongoing storytelling are a means to up the perception of peril to incease reader interest? Anyway, Superman tries to go back into the past to resolve his problem, but Satanis stops him cold. Meanwhile (well, shown to us at the same time) in the past, Syrene plans to filter the Runestone of Merlin's magical energy through the other Superman's invulnerable body and into her. This will probably kill him, but that's not her problem. 
In the present, this new loser called Jackhammer has an armored suit with jackhammer projects on his fists, and he plans to make a name for himself by killing Supes. Jackhammer draws Superman's attention by wrecking a train track. When Superman shows, up he gets the first punch and staggers him, so Superman is barely able to stop the train with his Superman breath, then passes out with exhaustion. Jackhammer gloats realizing he can actually be the man to kill Superman.
In the Aquaman backup by Rozakis and Saviuk, Aquaman is convinced this woman who looks like Mera but claims to be Lt. Miriam Bridgeman actually is Mera, and he won't let it go. He lays a kiss on her and is further convinced though she still isn't sure. I guess she liked it enough to allow him to hook her up to electrodes and some sort of EEG, because that's what happens. The results of that are weird, but still don't prove her identity, so as a final test, Aquaman has her change into a bikini and jump into the ocean with him to see if she can breathe under water. Luckily, she doesn't drown, but instead finds out that she can breathe water and has telepathic powers, though she still does not remember her Mera identity. When she tries summoning fish, she and Aquaman are mobbed by dolphins, and she panics and encases Aquaman in hard water.

Arion Lord of Atlantis #1: Graduating into its on series by Kupperberg and Duursema. On the dead moon Anuleous, Arion has been ensnared by his "mother," a cosmic energy being responsible for his creation. The mage's former master Caculha comes to his aid to win his freedom. Back on Earth, Lady Chian and Wyynde face off against Garn Daanuth who has taken possession of Arion's mortal body. When Wyynde cuts Arion's body, the evil mage abandons abandons it and flees.
The forces of Chaos and Order are again observing and bickering, but this time their altercation leads to Arion being freed from his mother's control. He turns his magic on her, and with the help of Caculha, he is then reunited with his physical form which has been wounded by Wyynde. In anger his mother strikes down Caculha. Angered at his master's apparent death, Arion unleashes his full power against his mother, dispersing her energy across the surface of the moon. Caculha as it turns out isn't dead ,though. Arion brings him back to Atlantis where King D'Tilluh is preparing for a civil war.

All-Star Squadron #15: The next instalment of Crisis on Earth-Prime. We get a couple of sort of humorous scenes of Per Degaton doing some super-villain scenery-chewing with the more realistic reaction of his henchmen, but most of the issue is given to the heroes dividing up in small groups for tasks in classic crossover fashion. Their jobs are complicated by the re-appearance of the Crime Syndicate. Doctor Fate, Robotman, and Superman fly into orbit, intercept Degaton's space satellite, and start demolishing it, but a kryptonite boobytrap takes out Superman, and then are ambushed by Ultraman. Aquaman, Liberty Belle, and Starman head to the Pacific to investigate radiation detected on a small island and encounter a Japanese military outpost and Superwoman. Hunting for hidden missiles in the Midwest, Hawkman, Huntress, and Johnny Quick are attacked by Power Ring. 
The heroes prevail, of course, but Degaton has one more insane plan up his sleeve--one that will allow him to conquer the Earth or leave no Earths left!

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #9: Scott Shaw and "co-plotter" Thomas continue the Time-Keeper storyline. The villainous Bear takes a liking to Alley-Kat-Abra, which gives her the chance to play for time (heh) while the other members are cast into various eras. This also gives Thomas, I presume, the chance to bring back old DC funny animal characters. Pig Iron and Captain Carrot encounter Nero Fox in ancient world. Rubberduck and Yankee Poodle meet the Three Mouseketeers, and Fastback encounters his uncle in his heroic guise as the Terrific Whatzit in World War II. In the end, Kat-Abra destroys the Keeper's hourglasses and frees her friends.
In the backup, Alley Kat-Abra goes solo against the Debbil-Dawg, a chihuahua painter, Salvador Doggi, who needs a portal out of a Ditko-esque dimension and back into the mundane world so that he can use his reality-warping power to remake it to his artistic whim. 
Detective Comics #520: Batman and his allies continue their fight to bring the current, corrupt mayor and police commissioner down. The Dark Knight appears to help Floyd "Deadshot" Lawton escape from prison and a corrupt warden in exchange for Lawton giving up Thorne as the mastermind of the attempt to kill Bruce Wayne a couple of issues ago, but he actually tricks Lawton and keeps him in custody in the Batcave. Meanwhile, Thorne is being haunted (again) by the ghost of Hugo Strange, or so it would seem, and he enlists Dr. Thirteen's help to get to the bottom of it. Thirteen (shaken by his memory loss from Wayne Manor in issue 509) goes on an investigation--and seems to be confronted by Strange's ghost himself! This is a good issue from Conway and Newton and a great Aparo cover.
There's a Catwoman backup by Rozakis and Kane. In Metropolis, Catwoman runs into an old member of her gang and worries he's slipped back into criminal ways. She follows him as Catwoman and learns that he appears to be involved in a robbery. She captures his apparent accomplice, but discovers her friend had actually set up a sting. With everything cleared up, the two decide to go out for a coffee.

New Adventures of Superboy #35:  Rozakis and Schaffenberger continue Superboy's tangle with Yellow Peri, who really isn't a villain but makes some questionable choices. In fact, I had wondered if the twist was going to be that her animate teddy bear friend/advisor, Gadzook, was malign and leading her astray, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Anyway, Superboy finally succeeds in returning her to normal, with no memory of her magic powers, by throwing her book of magic into outer space.
In the Dial H backup, the mysterious Master sends his agent, the Marauder, to break Naiad out of jail, forcing Chris and Vicki must dial up new heroes to fight them, naturally. Two identities for each this story: Gossamer and the Fan for Vicki, and Earthman and Any-body for Chris.

Saga of the Swamp Thing Annual #1: This is an adaptation of the Wes Craven film from earlier in the same year by Bruce Jones, Mark Texeira and Tony DeZuniga. 

Weird War Tales #117: The two features here are Creature Commandos and G.I. Robot, but only the Commandos get title billing where the J.A.K.E.-2 is an "extra." The first story has art by Carillo which is making me miss Spiegle. Anyway, the Commandos are getting some R&R (I guess) in Paris, but face prejudice for their appearance from the citizenry and their own military. Shrieve asks for and gets an alternate posting, but no one wants his old job. The Commandos head out for Lourdes hoping to be cured of their condition by a divine miracle. Shrieve, meanwhile, finds his new administrative duties don't have the same excitement, so he retakes the job with the Commandos, and rushes to join them as they've managed to run into Nazis along the way. They are freaks, he tells them, but they are his freaks. So he's still a jerk.
G.I. Robot is still hanging out in the South Pacific with his dog, CAPD. When protecting a reporter from a group of Japanese soldiers CAPD reveals there's a robotic kitten inside him in a hidden compartment. The military function of that cat escapes me, but its existence allows for JAKE, CAPD, and the cat to pose for a "family" picture. I can't say this story doesn't have a sort of kitschy charm, but Kanigher phone this one in, clearly. While I doubt that it would have been more commercially successful, in a way this book as currently constituted seems to beg for the more bombastic Marvel approach to war stories. The Creature Commandos, in particular, really seem to play with classic Marvel themes.

World's Finest Comics #285: Nice cover on this issue by Miller and Giordano. In this first full-length story for the title, by Burkett and Buckler/La Rosa, Superman is flying Batman back to Gotham when they spot a man being attacked by a tiger man. The heroes engage, and more animal humanoids appear. Superman is whisked away by a strange, black cloud leaving Batman to do battle alone. He wins the day but collapses from exhaustion and injury afterwards. This opening leads to the two being embroiled in a magical plot, one related to their old foe Dr. Zodiac and some mystical coins, but with Batman as a target. The story is continued next issue. 
What's more interesting than the story, perhaps (though it isn't bad), is the shift in characterization of Batman and Superman. They are still buddies as per the standard of this era, but their friendship seems more than just a surface camaraderie. Batman, particularly, is vulnerable in a way that seems shocking in this post-Dark Knight Returns world. He asks Superman to stay and have coffee to soothe his mind. Superman relates stories of his childhood in Smallville and Bruce actually likes hearing them. I can't fully say it's better as it's alien to the portrayal of these characters over most of my lifetime, but I'm also reluctant to say you can't take the characters in this more humanized direction. 

Classic TV Flashback

Mon, 08/21/2023 - 11:00

Over at the Flashback Universe Blog, Jason Sholtis and I have started a series where we watch an episode or two of some "classic" TV show we find on streaming and blog about it. So, far we've watched Mr. Lucky (good) and Gigantor (less good)--a post that debuts tomorrow. 

If you're entertainment starved, might be worth a read.

Sail the Microversal Seas!

Thu, 08/17/2023 - 11:45

Artist Jeff Nelson has imagined Marvel's Microverse from the Micronauts comic as islands in a sea. Only tangentially related, but this reminds me how the Microverse would be a good Spelljammer setting.

Wednesday Comics: DC, November 1982 (week 3)

Wed, 08/16/2023 - 11:00
My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around August 19, 1982.

New Teen Titans Annual #1: This is the conclusion to the Omega Men/Blackfire saga that has been going on over the past couple of months. Lord Damyn's Psion advisor, scheming to take greater control over the Vega System, proposes Starfire fight Blackfire in a duel to the death, ostensibly to decide Komand'r's succession and the fate of Tamaran--though he really plans a double-cross. Meanwhile, aboard the Omega Men's ship, the Titans learn X'Hal's origins which--I hadn't thought about this before, but it fits--seem to have some passing similarities to Phoenix/Dark Phoenix. On Tamaran's surface, the death-duel results in Blackfire's defeat and apparent death but also triggers a series of explosions set by the Psions that will wipe out the Vegan system. Vega is saved only when X'Hal breaks free and detonates the explosives harmlessly. Raven heals the badly injured Starfire. While this is a reasonably well done story, I feel like the arc was paced poorly. I think a Starfire spotlight issue is fine, but sidelining the rest of the Titans for a double-sized annual just for the duel seems bad planning.

Brave & the Bold #192: Barr and Aparo team-up of Batman and Superboy. I.Q. (a villain I have only seen before in the Who's Who) shoots Superman with a special ray that sends the Man of Steel back in time, leaving in his place a very confused Superboy. While Batman is on the case, Superboy tries to visit his family and finds out his adopted parents are dead. Moping, he loses his determination to do this superhero thing. Batman gives him a pep talk and together they confront I.Q., learning of his experiments and using them to reverse the ray. Superboy returns to his own time, and Superman returns to the present.
In the Nemesis backup, our hero assumes the identity of a bad stage actor in order to get close to Council member, Irene Scarfield. We're told at the end of this installment that it will continue in the main story next issue.

Legion of Super-Heroes #293: Levitz and Giffen/Mahlstedt give us Chapter 4 of the Great Darkness Saga. Most of the Legionnaires are searching for the servants of Darkness--and they find them. Though some Legionnaires are taken down, Wildfire burns the cloned Guardian of the Universe to ashes, and Element Lad creates Gold Kryptonite to destroy the Superboy clone. The third with the astro-harness escapes. Brainy has deduced the identity of the Master and his plan--but it may already be too late.
Meanwhile, Chameleon Boy is visited by his Dad in prison. At Legion HQ, the baby that Dream Girl thinks is important is growing up unusually fast.
The Master of Darkness is on Daxam. He's brainwashed the people into his slaves and forces them to remake their world to his requirements. When that's done, he commands them to go forth and conquer the universe in his name--Darkseid.

Green Lantern #158: Barr and Pollard have Jordan looking to replace his destroyed home with a ship, so he goes to Talkor "home of the finest shipwrecks in the galaxy." He gets a distress signal on the way, though from a ship being attacked by a giant, yellow monster. Since the creature's skin is immune to his ring, he lets it swallow him to attack it from the inside, driving it off. He goes with the grew to Talkor's moon where he meets the scientist, Dr. T'Gura who is working on the time travel. The scientist, obsessed with again being with her lost love, tricks Jordan and imprisons him so she can use his ring to power her device. Jordan uses his ring to attract the monster he fought previously. Its attack frees him, destroying T'Gura's machine, but the scientist chooses to stay in the past.
In The Green Lantern Corps backup by Kupperberg and Novick, Charles Vicker saves the insectoid inhabitants of Ftl'yl XI from extinction, but still feels disconnected and unappreciated by the alien species in his sector. A mother thanks him for saving her child, though, and Charles realizes that they don't need to look like humans to have the same sorts of feelings. Charles considers settling on that world.

House of Mystery #310: Another nice Kaluta cover. In I...Vampire, Bennett is back in the present day and apparently so is Mary, because one ring must follow the other. That's a rule that wasn't clear before, I don't think. Anyway, Bennett throws the ring in the ocean to stop Mary time traveling and so she does the same with her ring. So that's that. Bennett has the vampire version of a meet cute with a lonely woman vampire. He tries to enlist her to his cause, but ultimately, she chooses death seeing the sunrise one last time as she feels her hunger is too great for her to stay as virtuous as him.
That story is followed by an interesting but amateurishly drawn story by Skeates and Curry and Smith. The captain of the high school football team gets a dose of reality as his interest in an enigmatic girl at school leads him to discover a fringe group called "The Realists" who reveal to him his true, degraded appearance and that of everyone else thanks to pollution and radiation--an appearance the powers that be hide from everyone with drugs in the water supply. Rather than join the rebellion, the jock runs back to comfortable illusion by chugging as much water as he can. Then he goes to the prom. The final story by Kelley/Bissette and Capital has an unscrupulous used car salesman gets what he deserved at the hands of a surgeon whose wife died in one of the salesman's lemons.

Night Force #4: Wolfman and Colan/Smith have Baron Winter get a visit from suspicious police officer thanks to recent events. Meanwhile, Gold and Caine are still uneasy allies in London, looking to rescue Vanessa. The creepy Zakarig Zadok leads the Soviet interrogation of Vanessa, but her literal demons prove too powerful. By the time Gold and Caine arrive at the estate owned by the Soviets outside of London, the place is in flames and Vanessa has been spirited away to Moscow.

Sgt. Rock #370: Rock and Easy are suffering in the North African heat, nearly out of water and ammo, when the Germans drop leaflets suggesting they surrender. They come across a platoon of German soldiers who appear to have taken the Allied leaflets to heart and surrender to Easy. It's a ruse, though, and Rock figures it out in time to turn the tables on them. Harris and DeMulder follow that up with a tale of Grumman Avenger pilots who pick up some combat tips from their pool games on their aircraft carrier. 
Then there's an uncredited story about submarines and a frogman. Finally, Ron Randall gives us a futuristic tale of an android secret weapon being outdone by the enemy's facility not for quality but quantity in mass production. 

Warlord #62: I went over the main story in this issue here. The new backup feature here is The Barren Earth by Cohn and Randall. Humans have returned to Earth after abandoning for the stars. They find their ancestor's world a desert thanks to the sun having become a red giant. They also discover their enemies, the Qlov, have followed them. As a result of the battle, a group of humans are stranded on Earth, among them our heroine, Jinal. 

Dead Spacemen and the Clockwork Princess

Mon, 08/14/2023 - 11:00

Last week, I forgot the session report on our last Land of Azurth 5e game, so here it is. The party was still in the labyrinthine, ramshackle of Junk City. The former Mayor of Rivertown, Gladhand, though ailing from a mysterious attack was able to lead them to where Viola, the Clockwork Princess of Yanth Country (who has been absent for quite some time) was hiding out. Turns out it's in a shabby temple to Clockwork--but that's really just a front for her operation to build--well, some sort of weapon, she didn't elaborate to fight the Wizard and his shadowy allies.

The party is a bit nervous about this as last time they saw her (in the future) she was crazy and on a rampage. They ask a lot of questions to probe for signs. She seems her same old self though, and she has a mission for them. She needs them to still a power source from a crashed spaceship to power her weapon.

The party agrees, but later maybe they wish they hadn't as the remnant of the ship's crew are undead. At least one of them a fairly powerful undead with the power to drain life. It's a close call for Erekose, but the group wears the creature down. 

They still haven't found the power core, though.

The Mixed Up Setting

Fri, 08/11/2023 - 11:00


Sometimes, always with an eye toward being able to use the published material for some well-supported game or another, I get (possibly mad) idea to take parts of one setting and combine with another so that the result wouldn't immediately be recognizable.

Ideas I've had in the past playing a wuxia game using the map of Middle-Earth (and MERP materials), The Known World replaced with Talislanta equivalents, or Creation from Exalted, but built as a D&D setting (using published 5e material).

I've never done any of these as at the end of the day the work required wouldn't be that much less than making up my own stuff in some instances, but it's still an idea that pops up from time to time.

Swords Against Sorcery: Archetypes

Thu, 08/10/2023 - 11:00

 In the game I'm working on, all PCs are defined in part by two Archetypes. These represent types of characters found in comic book Sword & Sorcery. In game terms, they provide bonuses to Attributes and Domains and also special abilities. 

Each archetype has a primary and secondary Attribute and Domain. Should a player pick two Archetypes with the same primary Attributes/Domains they can use that one and their choice of the two Archetypes secondary Attributes/Domains. The character also gains the Expertises and Talents of each Archetype.

While the Archetypes remain a work in progress, below is a sampling of the ones I've come up with. At this point, the plan is not to give any description of them beyond the abilities they provide, letting players interpret them as they will.

ACOLYTEAttributes: Presence (Intellect)
Domains: Words (Sorcery)
Expertise: Religion
Talent: Divine Favor. Make a successful roll to call upon the aid of your gods or guiding spirit. Any successes can be used like Momentum to aid you or another hero for one scene. It does not add to your Momentum pool. 
BARBARIANAttributes: Daring (Instinct)Domains: Wilds (Deeds)Expertise: Survival or HuntingTalent: Like A Jungle Cat. Gain an additional die when detecting dangers in the wilderness or when trying to sneak up on a foe.
COURTIERAttributes: Instinct (Presence)Domains: City (Words)Expertise: PersuasionTalent: We Were Close Once. Once per session, succeed at a Persuasion Challenge to create an NPC and/or declare a recently introduced one a former intimate acquaintance. A failed roll means they now harbor some ill-will against you.
DABBLERAttributes: Intellect (Instinct)Domains: City (Sorcery)Expertise: Occult LoreTalent: Just What I was Looking For. Add an extra die to any roll related to quickly finding a particular magical formula, ritual, or piece of information in a tome or even library.
GALLANTAttributes: Presence (Daring)Domains: City (Swords)Expertise: PersuasionTalent: Flashy. Use Presence instead of Might as an attribute for melee fighting when you have an audience but deal one less Blow.  
REAVERAttributes: Daring (Cunning)Domains: Deeds (Swords)Expertise: SeamanshipTalent: Bloody-Handed Buccaneer. Apply your Seamanship Expertise to shipboard combats and to attempts to intimidate foes or lead pirate crews on the high seas.
WARRIORAttributes: Might (Daring)Domains: Swords (Wilds)Expertise: choice of a weaponTalent: Valor. Spend 1 Momentum to shake off any Fear condition in a combat situation.

Wednesday Comics: DC, November 1982 (week 2)

Wed, 08/09/2023 - 11:00
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 August 12, 1982. 

Marvel and DC Present Featuring the the Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans #1: The existence of this crossover is a testament to changing times at Marvel and DC. The previous crossovers involved "blue chip" characters big in merchandising, but here are the current hot teams from current titles. Darkseid resurrects Dark Phoenix intending to use her power to transform Earth into a second Apokolips. The Teen Titans and the X-Men move to stop the two and Darkseid's lackeys the Para-Demons and the Terminator (Deathstroke, that is). Raven and Professor X psychically weaken the Phoenix-entity so that she it is forced to possess the body of Cyclops to survive. Reunion with her former lover returns Phoenix's memories of her life as Jean Grey, and she turns on Darkseid in revenge for his having reawakened her from death. Darkseid and Dark Phoenix vanish in a massive explosion, and later Metron sees Darkseid apparently imprisoned like the Promethean giants. Claremont delivers on what you want from one of these which is the characters interacting on complimentary ways but also briefly fighting each other. The Simonson/Austin art team isn't what we expect for either team, but it works.

Batman #353: This is a pretty standard Bronze Age Joker story from Conway, helped a little perhaps by art by Garcia-Lopez and Tollin. The Joker plans to dynamite the New Jersey Palisades into the shape of his head and kill the Batman in the process. What's interesting about this story to me is it positions Gotham as not in New Jersey (contrary to more recent and other Bronze Age lore) and puts the New Jersey Palisades right across the river from Gotham, suggesting Gotham occupies the same spot as Manhattan, which is weird because New York also exists in the DCU (as seen in The New Teen Titans).

Flash #315: Bates and Infantino bring Goldface, fresh from his defeat in Green Lantern, to Central City as he attempts to start a new criminal network. He tries to capture Mick "Heatwave" Rory to learn the Flash's identity, but Rory escapes and goes to the Flash for help. Meanwhile, the Eradicator kills again, this time to protect his secret identity--which is even more clearly telegraphed as the "bleeding heart" Senator, Creed Phillips. I'll say this, and not necessarily as a complete reflection on this story: Bates has always done a good job of juggling subplots in this title, even at times when the main story wasn't as interesting.

G.I. Combat #247: I've to feel a bit for Kanigher, because the twilight of the war comic I suspect means the sunset of his long career, but I can't be too sad about it when he recycles plot ideas. The first Haunted Tank story here is much like a Sgt. Rock story from a few months ago, where the heroes wonder through various war vignettes and wind up being stellar at a bunch of different jobs. The second HT story s better, with another of the crew seeing a ghost for once, as Craig is haunted by the ghost of Slim (the guy he replaced) until he proves himself.
In the Mercenaries story with art by Vicatan, the trio is hired to bring in a group of treacherous agents selling weapons to terrorists. The agents see through the deception, but don't reckon on the Mercenaries boobytrapping their own boat. Kana the ninja is back in the good graces of Control and doing honorable ninja stuff to help the American war effort. In the last story, an actress's knowledge of Shakespeare allows her to formulate a plan for an American victory in battle. 
Jonah Hex #66: Hex is still on the vengeance trail, going after another of the rogue cavalrymen that left his fiancée to die years ago. Webster tries to use a criminal gang to do his dirty work but comes to ruin in the end and is exposed as a coward as well as a thief and murder before his wife, who takes a liking to the more manly Hex. Fleischer and friends are coasting.

Saga of the Swamp Thing #7: I mentioned last time that this title was weird, right? So we ended last time the reveal that most of the partygoers were cyclops-like monsters. As they attack, the Sunderland Corporation Executives escape on a hydrofoil. For some reason, Harry Kay gives Dennis Barclay a gun and tells the other executives that Barclay and Tremayne were killed. They make their way to to ship's sick bay to analyze the monsters' blood. Meanwhile, Swamp Thing discovers a large sea monster in the depths of the ship and learns by telepathic means, that it arrived on earth as a microscopic organism on a spaceship that landed in the ocean and mutated when it came into contact with an experimental strain of herpes virus (a Sunderland Corp cargo ship sank with the virus on board). The alien now continues to spread by infecting humans and destroying passing ships in an attempt to rebuild its own spaceship to go home. The monster then tries to infect the Swampy, but his blood seems to cause the monster pain. He escapes and Barclay is able to use his blood to make a serum they put in a bomb and use to inoculate the monster, killing it. Swamp Thing winds up on an island that apparently has dinosaurs.
In the Barr/Carrillo Phantom Stranger backup, the Stranger, after saving a woman from killing herself in remorse over her fiance's death, reasons that she is being punished for transgressions in a past life, so he bargains with a mysterious Voice to be allowed to show them to her so she can be aware of what she has done.

New Teen Titans #25: More action in the Vega System. Thinks aren't going so well in the Titans' attempt save Starfire and the Omega Men's plan to keep the Citadelians from taking X'Hal from Oa. Raven is almost overcome by the Trigon side of her personality, and Demonia attempts unsuccessfully to betray her comrades to Lord Damyn. There's a standoff where Cyborg threatens to kill Lord Damyn unless Komand'r surrenders, but Blackfire just kills Damyn herself and claiming the throne of the Citadel homeworld. And X'Hal decides to go with the Citadelians! 

Superman #377: Kupperberg is credited as "guest writer" this issue. Terra-Man's back, but losing a battle to Superman, he accidentally warps o an alternate Earth where he meets a double of himself with magical powers. Like, mainly he makes a gun shape with his fingers and shoots a magical beam. The two Terra-Men team up to lure Superman to the magic-based Earth and defeat him. Superman has to throw out some spells he learned from Zatanna and gather magical wands and other tools from a museum to defeat them, fighting fire with fire. It's all goofy, admittedly, but Superman's method of dealing with the threat is also kind of clever, so not bad.

Lord of the Rings and the Beginning of "Serious" Fantasy

Mon, 08/07/2023 - 11:00

Hear me out!

I'm aware, course, that there are many works that we would now call fantasy that predate Lord of the Rings, but the conception of fantasy as a specific genre post-dates those works. The conception of fantasy as a genre grew out of fairy stories, and so what I mean here is a work distinct from fairy tale that nevertheless contains the elements of fairy tales: elves, dwarves, dragons, etc. The works of Howard, Smith, and others would be been thought of as adventure stories, weird tales, and the like when first published.

Even still, there are older works that that meet that criteria: MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin, some of Baum's works, and Dunsany's. But all the works I can think of that do they aren't obviously children's works have strong elements of whimsy, irony, and often outright humor. Even Tolkien's own The Hobbit could be so characterized. Lord of the Rings, while not humorless, is much more serious business, though perhaps not as much as Anderson's The Broken Sword, which closely follows it.

Did this seriousness play a role in it's centrality to the emerging genre? I think a bit, though it might be easy to overstate the importance of that one factor. I do think that with Howard and Tolkien sort of being the prevailing template for fantasy has served to influence the tone of a lot of works that followed and the games that inspired them.