Sorcerer's Skull

Subscribe to Sorcerer's Skull feed
Treyhttp://www.blogger.com/profile/04647628467658839351noreply@blogger.comBlogger2723125
Updated: 1 week 1 day ago

Sentinels Comics RPG Session 3: "Demons from Never"

Mon, 05/03/2021 - 11:00

Roll Call:
Blur: Amnesiac Speedster!Fibbit: Manic Pixie Extradimensional Dream Girl!Infranaut: IR-Powered Celebrity Hero!Il Masso: The Rock-Solid Hero of Little Italy!

Supporting Characters: Moonshadow

Villains: demons from Never (first appearance); Dark Duplicates (cameo)

Synopsis: Fearing another attack on Zauber, Action Jack accompanies him to the hospital while his companions stay behind to try to sort out why this happened. Fibit appears with a speedster in tow, confident she's found their missing teammate. The others don't remember a missing teammate clearly, but don't think that teammate was Blur if there was one. Blur doesn't know why she's here or where here is, but she goes with it.

Fibit tries to read the mysterious book and discovers it isn't really a book at all. It's a multidimensional object whose 4D cross section looks like a book. In any case, she senses it won't help them at this time. They decide to investigate the air gallery/museum further only to see an apparition of a woman.

It turns out this is a thought-projection of Moonshadow who was looking for Zauber. She asks for the team's help in protecting a family in suburban Ravenwood who is beset by demonic entities from a place called the Never--a realm outside of time of conceptions never realized. She uses her power to transport them.

In the house, they find reality warped in the master bedroom. A couple and their young daughter are sleeping, obviously to the demonic creatures that attack the mental shields Moonshadow has erected. Moonshadow explains the girl is her younger self and that she is from a parallel world.

The group destroys the demons, but Moonshadow tells them more will return. There is something malignant in the Never, and it appears drawn to the psychic potential of her younger duplicate. She believes it may be related to Anachronus somehow.

The team agrees to enter the portal and find the source of the malevolence. This find a strange maelstrom of floating shapes, and half-real ideas.

Suddenly, I blast strikes near them from a floating asteroid overhead. They look out to see five sinister looking superhumans.

"Anachronus sends his regards, " one of them sneers.

DC, June 1980 (part 1)

Sun, 05/02/2021 - 14:30
I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands on the week of my 7th birthday in February 1980.

Batman #323: Cat-Man puts Batman and Catwoman in an almost 60s TV show death trap, which they escape. Cat-Man's potentially magical cloak seems to heal Catwoman's fatal-at-any-moment illness no one ever seemed to name. Weak sauce, Wein and Novick! Nice Aparo cover, though.
DC Comics Presents #21: In a story by Barr and Dillin, we get an appearance by Captain Comet, comics' first identified mutant superhero (as far as I know). Another mutant tries to steal Captain Comet's powers out of jealousy in an elaborate plot.
Flash #283: This issue is like a Silver Age throwback complete with a title page and a silly villain like the Rainbow Raider. The Flash triumphs by using his power creatively, though, which is kind of cool.
Ghosts #86: Three sort of novel ghostly stories of revenge. These stories drive home how much the ghost story (at least as DC does it) often involves the murderer dying in the same way as their victim. The Kashdan/Yeates story "The Phantom's Last Act" has the twist of the killer acknowledging the ghost's existence, but not being afraid of it due to its incorporeality, then panicking when it threatens to reveal his secret in a halogram display, and getting himself killed.

G.I. Combat #220: One thing I've noticed about these Haunted Tank stories: the ghost of J.E.B. Stuart shows up less than you might think from the name of the strip. In these 3 stories written by Kanigher and grittily rendered by Glanzman, the crew play host to a no-nonsense Soviet Major who happens to be a woman, they are forced to haul a big gun for the Germans to keep Belgian hostages safe, and they run into Rock and Easy Company on the way to Bastogne. There are a lot of cameos in these war books. In other tales, Kanigher puts a plug in for the indigenous people of a Pacific Island (if with a cringeworthy portrayal) as a warrior gets the better of both the Japanese and American invaders, and Haney and Caliva tell the life story of a G.I. canteen.
Jonah Hex #34: Fleisher gives us another story of Hex's Civil war past, this one revealing how he was the one that killed Stonewall Jackson in a friendly fire incident at Chancellorsville. The only problem is Fleisher told us a couple of issues ago that Hex left the Confederate Army right after the Emancipation Proclamation, and so shouldn't have even been there.
Justice League of America #179: Conway's creation, Firestorm, gets to join the JLA. He immediately gets into trouble crossing a disco super-model vampire, the Satin Satan!

Secrets of Haunted House #25: A criminal and a vampire (who apparently doesn't know how her powers work in some crucial ways) try to make it across some really hostile wilderness in a weird story by Catherine Barrett Andrews, Stuart Hopen, and artist June Lofamia. The second story was written by famous letterer Todd Klein and has art by von Eeden. It's one of those typical "trying to escape Destiny only leads you to do the exact thing you were supposed to do" yarns.
Superman #348: Conway and Swan deliver a pretty nonsensical tale of an old Native American who summons an extradimensional storm monsters with some sort of alien artifact. Neither the monster or the artifact are ever explained, but hey, Superman tosses them both into another dimension where they're somebody else's problem, I guess, and gives the old guy a regular rock as a replacement. Problem solved!
Weird War Tales #88: Fleisher and Ocampo deliver a problematic story about the Seminole Wars where the U.S. can't defeat the tribe because they have the fountain of youth to keep their people young and healthy. It all ends in tears though as a would-be white savior you turned on his unit gets killed by his commander who then destroys the sacred waters, dooming the Seminole. Alligators get him in the end, though.
Wonder Woman #268: Animal Man is still guest staring, but now they're in France fighting some ridiculous assassins. 

Wednesday Comics: Who's Who Omnibus

Wed, 04/28/2021 - 12:13


I was sick all last weekend, so my reading on June 1980 cover date DC got slowed down. So while you wait on that, you should check out the gorgeous tome that is the DC Who's Who Omnibus vol 1. It's got all of the pre-loose leaf Who's Who entry in it (well, except Atari Force characters they no longer had the rights to) and it looks great.

Here's an image on an interior spread:



Sentinel Comics Role-playing Game

Fri, 04/23/2021 - 11:00

The Sentinel Comics rpg
is based off of a superhero card game. Presumably like the card game, it has the conceit of being based on a comic book universe. Mock covers are shown and issue numbers thrown around, etc. It's art is a bit cartoony, which seems to be kind of a trend in supers rpgs (ICONS is the same way).
The game is best characterized as a somewhat narrativist, superhero combat simulator. "Somewhat narrativist" meaning that it is built to emulate superhero stories not model a world which has superheroes, and that some things that might be specified in other games are left loose, or a lot of different fictional descriptions might fit the same basic mechanics. I say "combat simulator" meaning that it, like 4e D&D, seems geared toward combats. Almost all of it's abilities are aimed in that direction and it's bells and whistles for players to engage with are combat oriented. Unlike 4e, combat really isn't tackle; their is no strict movements or battle maps. I guess you could say combat most reflects its card game roots.
I find a lot of things about the system compelling. In many ways, it seems a refinement of some of the concepts in Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (at least one of the same designers worked on both). It's basic mechanic is make a dice pool from a Power, Quality, and their status (more on this soon), and take the middle number. It's pretty easy and quick.
Status follows a color-coded system called GYRO (Green, Yellow, Red, and Out). Advancing from one color to the next "unlocks" new abilities specific to your character. I think this models pretty well something seen in comics, where Spider-Man does usually seem to have the proportional strength of a spider until he really needs to have the proportional strength of a spider. The Hulk gets angrier and stronger the longer he fights, etc. 
All actions are subsumed into four categories: Attack, Overcome, Boost/Hinder, Defend. Overcome is probably the broadest of these. It's used for most sorts of story obstacles from finding information to disarming a bomb. It's also the main one that gets leaned on in none combat situations. Success at it is graded with narrative consequences: twists of the major or minor variety, than are similar to 2d20 system Complications. Sentinel Comics only having subsystems for combat is one of its deficits for me, though admittedly the Overcome action works in a more "cinematic" (or comic book) way than a bunch of skill challenges or the like.
My biggest complaint with it is character creation. It's kind of a mini-game onto itself and can be done Guided (random die roll), Constructed (choosing the options you could have rolled), or then for modelling characters, just picking and choosing individual abilities, which would be the hardest of the three. Every step gives you certain options and dice types to distribute to those options. It takes a longer time than I would like and requires a lot of flipping back and forth in the book, without even giving you the freedom that other "complicated character generation" supers games like Champions or Mutants & Masterminds. It's easier to tolerate an extended character generation to get exactly the sort of character you want, but Sentinel Comics rpg is an exercise in making compromises, some of which seem arbitrary.
Ending on my big complaint perhaps makes my review seem more negative than I intend. With two sessions in, I feel like the game plays pretty well at the table. It would be great for pregens and a con game. I'm less sold on it, as yet, for a longterm campaign.

Wednesday Comics: DC, May 1980 (part 2)

Wed, 04/21/2021 - 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 January 24, 1980.
Action Comics #507: Jonathan Kent appears to have returned from the grave. Meanwhile, a hippy with the power to make anyone follow his suggestions (including Superman!). It's an odd story, but I feel like Bates and Swan are going somewhere with it.

Adventure Comics #471: Plastic Man takes on the (Chester) Gouldian villain, Brickface, in a tale by Pasko, Staton, and Smith. We also meet I.Q. Small, alias Lowbrow. The Levitz/Ditko Starman has him taking on the alien Captain Krydd and featuring high quality dialog like: "That's right--Starman--and right now, that's spelled: F-U-R-I-O-U-S!"
Brave & the Bold #162: Kelley and Aparo present a tale of "the original" Batman (the Golden Age version. You could say the Earth-2 Batman, but Sgt. Rock is typically considered an Earth-1 character, so that doesn't fight exactly, either) and Sgt. Rock in World War II. It's a fun, if lightweight, story with the Iron Major as the villain.
Detective Comics #490: Only two of these stories are in any way interesting to me. The O'Neil/Newton lead feature sees Batman finally catching up with the Sensei for the death of Kathy Kane, but it's not really all that exciting in the end. The Robin story by Harris and Saviuk is amusing. Robin takes down a cheating ring that caused his girlfriend to have to retake a test. The masked ringleader is called the Answer Man!
Green Lantern #128: Wein and Cockrum take over from the usual team for a encounter with Hector Hammond, who (somehow) appears to be working for the Qwardian general who--in a shocking twist appears now as a teenage kid from some reason. Interestingly, this story asserts that GL's ring doesn't actually talk, but it's just Jordan projecting his subconscious thoughts. This runs counter to the portrayal in Morrison's recent run, at least.

House of Mystery #280: Both of these stories are weird. Wessler and Bulanadi present a tale of a wicked ruler who keeps the people in line with fear of monsters that come out of a magic painting he has. Except, that they are only illusions of monsters coming out of the magic painting. Until they aren't, and the ruler gets his comeuppance. The second story by Kashdan and Ayers is like something out of an Atlas/Marvel monster title from the '50s: A scientist tangles with Kharnu, the God of Lightning.
Legion of Super-Heroes #263: The parents of a handful of Legionnaires are lured to the clubhouse to be kidnapped by the Dagon the Avenger, who looks like a green, longhorned, Baron Karza. Jimmy Janes art on this Conway tale is pretty good, but the Legionnaires' parents aren't only in really good shape and fans of similar, revealing, clothing to their kids, they don't really look any older than them, either.
New Adventures of Superboy #5: This silly story about alien seeds in Ma Kent's tomatoes is interesting because it's ending has aliens offering to do something "impossible" for Jonathan Kent, and the caption at the end specifically ties it in to the storyline in Action Comics with Jonathan's return from the grave. I wasn't expecting that!
Sgt. Rock #340: If I told you that a Westpoint Lieutenant, author of a book called How to Win A War showed up to lead Easy Company, thinking he knows better than Rock, well, I'm sure you can predict what happens. The only surprise is that the Lieutenant is man enough to admit his errors. Back up stories in this issue are by Kelley and Yeates.

Super Friends #32: Scarecrow makes a forgettable appearance and Schaffenberger fills in for Fradon. He seems to be trying to follow the cartoon character designs a bit more than Fradon and gives the panels rounded borders, presumably for a TV feel. 
Unexpected #198: Two stories in this are okay. In a very EC-esque tale by Wessler and Ayers, a brilliant scientist who becomes a brain in a jar to escape the death of his body due to a medical condition, gets revenge on the assistant who tries to exploit his genius for financial gain. In "Eye on Evil" by Kashdan and Tanghal, a mix-up in a glasses prescription seals a man's doom when he is able to see the invisible lord of an evil cult.

Unknown Soldier #239: Haney and Ayers reveal a secret plot by the Germans to build a tunnel beneath the English Channel. Luckily the Unknown Soldier is there to thwart it. This story feels like it drags on to me.
Warlord #33: Warlord and Shakira meet munchkins and the hawkmen that eat them. Read more about it here
Weird Western Tales #67: A a snoozer of a morality play about greed with stiff art by Ayers and Tanghal. Maybe part two will get better, but I'm not counting on it.
This month also had two digests. Best of DC #5 is the year's best stories of 1979. I haven't read any of these. DC Special Blue Ribbon Digest #2 features a number of Flash and Kid Flash stories.

Sentinel Comics RPG Session 2: "Mayhem at the Midnight Museum!"

Mon, 04/19/2021 - 11:00

Roll Call:

Action Jack: Man of Action--Man Out of Time!
Infranaut: IR-Powered Celebrity Hero!
Il Masso: The Rock-Solid Hero of Little Italy!

Supporting Characters: Zauber the Magnificent; Fibbit

Villains: Spiderbots

Synopsis: Only moments after the revelations at the end of the last adventure, the group experiences a wave of what can only be described as jamais vu, and Space Racer is gone! Only Fibbit notices for certain he is gone, but when she points it out to the others, they agree that they vaguely remember him. Fibbit walks off into high order dimensions to investigate, promising to catch up with the guys "somewhere in the timeline."

A frantic police officer tells the heroes that a giant spiderbot has risen from the Eald River and is attacking a building in vicinity of the Gasworks. Infranaut flies himself and Action Jack to the scene. He doesn't quite stick the landing and they both come up a little off-balance. Il Masso takes a prodigious leap, but winds up crashing through a building on the way there.

They find the strange building they saw before surrounds by a shimmering field, which is in turn cover with spiderbots. The spiderbots are being steadily released by a sixteen foot tall "mothership" like a bigger version of them. There are a number of bystanders webbed up and strung around the area. Within the shield, Zauber the Magnificent seems taxed to his limit.

In a pitch battle, the heroes defeat the spiderbot, and Infranaut manages to rescue some of the bystanders. Even with the mothership disabled, the attack continues. Each hero trashes a number of spiderbots, and Infranaut throws Action Jack in the midst of them to play hell, but one manages to make it into the building.

Il Masso busts through the wall. It registers with him that the place must be a museum of some sort from the looks of it, but he doesn't have much time to look around, as he is scrambling to grab the spiderbot. It seems to be going for antique book within a plexiglas case. In their struggle they knock the display over.


Jack and Infranaut launch attacks that destroy the bot. While Infranaut and il Masso puzzle over the book, Jack helps Zauber to a waiting ambulance. They notice that Zauber has aged significantly during the fight; he now looks more like a man of his actual years.

Before Zauber is carried away he warns Jack: "We won't stop coming. If he can't get the book now, he will try in some other time."

"Who?" Jack asks.

"Anachronus, the Destroyer of Timelines," Zauber replies before falling unconscious.

Weird Revisited: Secret City

Sun, 04/18/2021 - 14:30
The original version of this post appeared in 2014...
 
An email from a friend  on every Russian's favorite holiday destination (not really) of Zheleznorgorsk (it's flag is pictured above), reminded me that secret cities aren't just for hidden cultures in comic books.

Zheleznorgorsk used to be called Krasnoyarsk-26 (like all Soviet secret cities, it was designated by a post office box). This town made produced weapons-grade plutonium. All the Soviet "closed cities" were doing secret military (mostly nuclear) or space stuff. The cities didn't appear on maps and could only be accessed by special permit.

This sort of thing just didn't go on in the USSR; Oak Ridge TN was similar deal in the U.S. during the days of the Manhattan Project.

The gaming value of a secret society out to be obvious. Beyond the spy/espionage genre, what better place for a zombie outbreak to start or a legion of Soviet Man-Apes to be based? Of course, if none of that is fantastic enough for your setting, Brigadoon (or Gemelshausen)--or it's gore-splattered, redneck counterpart--is just another sort of secret city

Wednesday Comics: DC, May 1980 (part 1)

Wed, 04/14/2021 - 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 on the week of my 7th birthday in February 1980.

All-Out War #5: My favorite story this issue is Kanigher's and Granidenetti's Force 3 tale about Fredric (the Polish pianist--also Jewish we find out this issue) bringing a reckoning to the Nazi tank commander who killed his wife in the taking of the Warsaw ghetto. Granidenetti's gritty and almost primitive style (at this point) is great for this sort of thing. Black Eagle has a confusing (to me at least) adventure regarding a supposedly miraculous church--with a brief cameo by the Haunted Tank. Archie Goodwin and Rico Rival provide a downer tale of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, proving these war books aren't all American jingoism. And then there's the Viking Commando to be ridiculous, as usual.
Batman #323: Catwoman's committing crimes again--or is she? After two (and a half) issues of misdirection later, it would appear, no, it's C-lister, Cat-Man. 
DC Comics Presents #21: Elongated Man has contracted some illness--and before Superman can cure him so has everyone else in the world. Turns out its an alien attack that actually transform anyone who gets it into that alien species. Superman sciences up a cure using the Gingold extract. It seems like the hyper-competent Superman is something lost with the Byrne reboot.

Flash #283: "Featuring the Trickster," is seldom a description I associate with a great comic. He's a little bit more menacing here than usual, but it feels like mostly this issue is about Bates setting up Barry Allen's new status quo after the climatic solution to the "Who Killed Iris?" storyline. The Heck/Chiaramonte combo on art is not great this issue, either.
Ghosts #86: "The Phantom City" has Michael Golden art and is a sort of a novel tale of an architect killed by home-invading bikers who die in the titular city construct by architect's son's toys and imagination. The cover story "Harem in Hell" from Allikas and Rubeny is about a guy more in love with the ghost wives (he murdered) and only keeps his new living one around to do housework. Of course, the tables are turned in EC fashion.
Jonah Hex #34: The Confederate survivors of Ft. Charlotte capture Hex, but luckily also a saloon gal who knows him a favor--and then sacrifices her life so he can escape. which is really a bit above and beyond, I think. 

Justice League of America #178: This issue I had as a kid. I think I still may have the cover--and a great one it is by Jim Starlin. Despero is back, and up to his usual chess-playing tricks in this Conway/Dillin joint.
Secrets of Haunted House #24: A man returns from a near death experience to find he now shares his body with a spirit of a killer in a Kashdan/Carrilo story. Sutton and Nasser offer a cautionary tale about what reading too much about the meaning of dreams might get you: eaten by demonic entites, as I'm sure you guessed. Maggin and Rubeny in a nonhorror tale offer a "humorous" alternate take on Noah's ark.
Superman #347: Superman encounter's an alien "ghost." Actually kind of an old school Doctor Who sort of story in basic plot, I think. Art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, and here he gives us a real disco-era alien design.
Superman Family #201: Everything here is pretty business as usual, except for this crazy Supergirl story by Harris and Mortimer. Supergirl is fixated on this guy Peter Barton, who is in turn attracted to this fellow professor--except for the fact he erroneously believes her to be Supergirl. Supergirl challenges his male ego or something, he muses. Anyway, at a hypnotism demonstration, Supergirl's absolute infatuation leads her into accidentally super-hypnotizing Barton into becoming a super-villain. In the end, he can safely pursue the woman he's into because he believes he's somehow made it so she will never become Supergirl, and the real Supergirl has to hide herself from him, lest he get "triggered" again.

Weird War Tales #85: In the perplexing lead story, Kanigher and Castrillo have a mysterious spacecraft visiting the Earth over various eras, where we seen scenes of violence. In the end, when the surface the Earth is consumed by nuclear fire, the craft deems it time to beam Satan down to hell on Earth. Who was carrying the Devil around in a spaceship? Anyway, the second story has art by Tom Sutton. It's about a cursed, immortal warrior sowing chaos in the Hundred Years War, only to be laid low by the Black Plague.
Wonder Woman #265: Conway and Delbo have Wonder Woman teaming up with Animal Man (or "A-Man" as he says he's called here) against the Cartel. The story has A-Man calling the Mod Gorilla Boss a "publicity stunt." I wonder if this is an attempted retcon or just a dismissive way of talking about the original story? 

Star Trek Endeavour: Agents of Influence

Mon, 04/12/2021 - 11:00
A continuing campaign in Star Trek Adventures...

Episode 5:
"Agents of Influence"Player Characters: The Crew of the USS Endeavour, NCC-1895, Constitution Class Starship (refit):
Andrea as Lt. Ona Greer, Engineer 
Bob as Capt. Robert Locke
Gina as Cmdr. Isabella Hale, Helm Chief
Eric As Lt.Cmdr. Tavek, Science OfficerTug as Dr. Azala Vex, Trill Chief Medical Officer
Supporting Cast:Toshiro Mifune as Admiral Nogura
Synposis: Endeavour is summoned to Starbase 24 where they receive an unexpected visitor: Admiral Nogura. Nogura needs the ship to undertake a mission to the Ivratis Asteroid Field on the Klingon Neutral Zone ostensibly to search for debris from the recently destroyed scout vessel USS Ranger, but actually they wish to recover both the surviving Ranger crew and the 3 deep cover Starfleet agents that had recently ended their mission on the Klingon homeworld of Qo'noS.
Pretending to be smugglers, the Captain and a team enter the asteroid belt to look for the Ranger survivors. The mission is particularly urgent for Lt. Greer whose sister is captain of the Ranger!
Commentary: This adventure is based on a novel by Dayton Ward of the same name. In the novel, it is Ward's Endeavour crew that is being sought by Kirk and the Enterprise.
Nogura is mentioned in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but never seen on screen. Somebody helpfully made this image of him, though:

Our Heroic Age

Fri, 04/09/2021 - 11:00
This post first appeared in 2015...
  Though we played a lot of fantasy games (mostly AD&D) in my middle and high school years--probably more than anything else--our longest campaigns (defined as the same characters in the same setting/situation) were in superhero games. While we'd played with Villains & Vigilantes and with the first editions of TSR's Marvel Super Heroes and Mayfair's DC Heroes, our "Heroic Age" really got started in '86 after the release of the Marvel Super Heroes Advanced Set.

Our first and longest running team was called the New Champions (taking the name from the L.A. based team of the Bronze Age and the idea of a new iteration from The New Defenders, which had just ended the year before). Our characters were street-level/near street-level characters, some of which were reformed villains. We picked the characters from the pages of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, for the most part, rather than going with well-known characters. I used Paladin, my brother, Puma, and our friend Al, Hobgoblin (the former Jack o' Lantern version). That was the core group of players and characters, but other players and other Bronze and early Modern C-listers joined the New Champions ranks at some point: White Tiger, Madcap, Shroud, and Unicorn, among others I've likely forgotten. The team had a West Coast era (borrowing from West Coast Avengers, which I had a subscription to), as well, and probably at least one "all-new, all different" period--but it was also part of the same continuity.

The second edition of DC Heroes, was probably our last gasp of superhero gaming. The Marvel games had mostly been over the summer and with a crew somewhat different than my usual gaming group, since none of us were able to drive yet and it was tough to get together when we weren't in school. By '89 though, that wasn't the case, so the DC group was largely the same as my Dungeons & Dragons and GURPS crowd. This time, we made up our own characters and our own super-hero universe. Lower key, more "realistic" superheroes were the order of the day. About half of the group (which was never named as a team, really) didn't wear costumes, and the villains were are somewhat quirky, and many of them didn't wear costumes either. I suspect the primary inspiration was the Wild Cards universe, but Thriller, the New Universe, and Doom Patrol might have been in there, too.

We played some 4th edition Champions after that and maybe some GURPS Supers, but neither of them had the ease of use of MSHRPG or DCH so they didn't last long. These two campaigns created some truly memorable characters--or at least memorable sessions.

Wednesday Comics: DC, April 1980 (part 2)

Wed, 04/07/2021 - 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 January 24, 1980.
Action Comics #506: It turns out the Kryptonian hairy hominid android was a ploy by it's creator to save all of Krypton's children from the coming cataclysm. Now it's threatening to steal all of Earth's children. Superman uses time travel and has Superboy inadvertently destroy it with a James Kirkian paradox. It is locked in on Superman's brainwaves to eliminate him--but it can't harm a child, so it explodes. Pretty clever, Cary Bates!
Adventure Comics #470: More forgettable Starman and Plastic Man adventures. The Plastic Man story by Martin Pasko has villains with construction-related pun names. That's really the only thing I remember about it.

Brave & the Bold #161: Conway and Aparo have Batman and Adam Strange switching places to solve a mystery. In the end, it doesn't amount to much, but it's a clever concept.
Detective Comics #489: You might think ass-kicking Commissioner Gordon was an invention of Frank Miller, but no Kupperberg and Novick have him going into a prison overrun by the inmates to secure the release of hostages and singlehandedly turning the tables on the ringleaders. Alfred gets to beat up some thugs, too, in a solo tale by Rozakis and Delbo. The Atom tries to fix the JLA satellite computer and gets in a fight with subatomic aliens. Batman gets two stories: one has him weirdly dismissive of the supernatural despite all the times he as encountered it--including possibly this very story! In the second, he's on the trail of the Sensei for the death of Kathy Kane. Bronze Tiger makes a (brief) appearance.
Green Lantern #127: This is an action-packed issue, with an all-out assault by the Green Lantern Corps to retake Oa from the Weaponers of Qward. A number of (nameless, never seen before) Lanterns die in the assault, and Jordan only prevails with the unexpected aid of Sinestro. A good issue, but I don't really feel like Staton quite delivers in the way another artist might have.
House of Mystery #279: The most ridiculous (but entertaining) of these three stories is by Barr and Noly Zamora and features con men named Ecks and Wye (get it?) in the Old West, apparently committing murders in a werewolf fashion, then charging the town for anti-werewolf supplies. When Ecks decides to double cross his partner, the twist is revealed--Wye really is a werewolf!

Legion of Super-Heroes #262: This is a sort of Star Trekian tale about an old spacecraft out to entertain it's long-dead captain. Better than the last couple of issues; particularly, the art by James Sherman.
New Adventures of Superboy #4: Superboy foils Astralad's every attempt to reveal his secret identity as nerdy Joe Silver to his classmates and thereby become popular. Then, the boy of steel convinces Joe it was all a dream so he gives up on making his life better by changing the past. I'm not sure Superboy was completely in the right on this one.
Sgt. Rock #339: Much of this issue is a flashback to Rock's participation in an unnamed attack that I assume is meant to be the Dieppe Raid (or its DCU stand-in). Rock definitely gets around a lot in this war.
Super Friends #31: This issue has Black Orchid! And Kryptonite! I honestly don't remember much else, other than the Ramona Fradon art, which I always find charming.

Time Warp #4: Two of these stories are time travel yarns, but not your usual ones. The one by Allikas and Ditko sees scientists deciding to prevent nuclear conflict by offing Einstein (there's an old Frederick Pohl story with the same basic idea, I think), but they can't do it. Instead, they take him back to the 18th Century--where he changes the future by giving Native Americans the atomic bomb! There's also an overly complicated tale by Kashdan and Patricio where a mutated astronaut landing in the future starts infecting the defenseless population with the common cold, so naturally the future-folk go back in time to ensure the astronaut never gets a cold, only to doom their future with a disease the cold would have prevented! 
Unexpected #197: Jockeying over an inheritance leads greedy relatives to ruin in a treasure hunt, a guy euthanizing stray cats for cash runs up against a witch's cat, and a horror writer gets the inside scoop first-hand from a vampire.
Unknown Soldier #238: The Unknown Soldier plays pied piper to get a group of Hitler-loving kids away from a German commander using them for human-shields in a Haney/Ayers tale. In the backup, an Olympic skier puts his skills to use leading his company in North Africa--in ways as ridiculous as you might imagine. It illustrates a common theme in these war books: the American G.I. heroes often prevail due to Yankee ingenuity. Out-of-the-box thinking is more often the key to victory than badassery.

Warlord #32: The first appearance of Shakira. More on it here.
Weird Western Tales #66: In a somewhat offbeat tale by Conway and Ayers, Scalphunter winds up in Pittsburgh, where he is nursed back to health by a single mother. To help the family, he goes to work in the factory besides her and her children, but revolts against the ill-treatment and poor conditions. The woman and her kid refuse to go with him, because it's the only life they've known.

Guns of Middle-earth

Mon, 04/05/2021 - 11:00

The Shire, particularly in the first published version of The Hobbit, has a number of (at the earliest) Victorianisms. I don't see why you couldn't run a sort of 19th Century version of Middle-earth that would make those not be anachronisms, or at least not as much of an anachronism, as we might want to not tie ourselves down to the feel of a specific part of the 19th Century.

The rangers of the North would be like Mountain men or frontier scouts.

Gondor might have the architecture and general vibe of Old Mexico or Spanish California.

And Mordor perhaps becomes some sort of Steampunk industrial nightmare.

Weird Revisited: People of the Feud

Sun, 04/04/2021 - 14:30
This alternate, sci-fi origins of Mind Flayers and Gith-folk first appeared in 2016...
 
There was a colony ship, sent out from Earth or a world very much like it to settle a new world. It's navigators had been genetically modified to take advantage of a new drive system allowing FTL travel. The majority of the colonist were placed into cryogenic suspension for the voyage.

Something went wrong. Inadequate shielding? Purposeful sabotage? No one remembers. The navigators began to mentally breakdown, expose to psychoactive and mutagenic properties of the manifold outside normal spacetime. The ship was stranded stuttering in an out of spacetime.


The navigators began to develop psionic powers and with them certain physical requirements. Boosted quantities of certain neurotransmitters. No synthetic source was available, but there were the stored colonists to feed on.

To help them manage the ship and their food source, the former Navigators awakened a military contingent, a few at the time. They mentally enthralled them and enslaved them. Molding them over generations.


As generations passed under the accelerated mutagenesis of the manifold, both the Navigators--calling themselves the Masters now--and their soldier caste had diverged significantly from their original genotype. The Masters had long ago authorized larger scale awakening of more of the colonists to serve as a more docile slave caste--and cattle.

The Masters grew complacent and removed from human concerns and feelings. They didn't see the revolution coming. A soldier named Gith lead a coalition of the soldiers and the menials against their oppressors they now called Mind Flayers after their manner of feeding.

The former Masters were either killed or used their power to flee into the non-space. The coalition that had brought about their downfall did not long survive. Former menials resented the soldiers as long time collaborators and the soldiers disagreed with the menials attempts to master Mind Flayer psionic disciplines.

When the ship was finally cannibalized and destroyed, two cultures had emerged as firm in their hatred of each other as they were in their former masters.

Ewoks!

Fri, 04/02/2021 - 11:00

I happened to see one of the old Ewoks cartoons on Youtube the other day. It was a pretty good fantasy cartoon of the era. It prompted me to recall than "Endor" is the Quenya name for Middle Earth, which may or may not be relevant.

Anyway, I feel like halflings/hobbits could be replaced with ewoks with very little difficult and bring a slightly different feel to things.

Wednesday Comics: DC, April 1980 (part 1)

Wed, 03/31/2021 - 11:00
Continuing my read through of DC Comics output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around January 10, 1980.
Batman #322: Captain Boomerang shows up and pretends to be a real threat. I'm of course, biased by Boomerang's portrayal in the 80s Suicide Squad and later. Still, he doesn't do himself any favors of tying Batman to a giant boomerang as a death trap--a repeat of something he did to the Flash. Catwoman getting a terminal diagnosis from a doctor who neither names the conditions and suggests that some ancient Egyptian herbs (also unnamed) are the cure is also pretty silly.

DC Comics Presents #20: This story by O'Neil isn't really much of a team-up. Green Arrow pursues a oil tycoon, Bo Force, who's looking to get an exotic energy rich flood emerging from a geyser, and Superman just shows up to save the day in the end. The art by Garcia-Lopez looks good though!
Flash #284: I got to give it to Cary Bates. I have never been much of a Flash fan, and I would have not pegged this era to the place I'd get turned on to it...and well, I haven't exactly, but it's better than I expected! Last issue ended with Zoom and the Flash heading unstoppably into the distance past in the time bubble, but Flash jumps out, preferring to take his changes than spend eternity with Zoom. He winds up in a domain ruled by the Lord of Limbo, but other prisoners help him make his escape. The issue is very specific in its 1980 setting, and implies Barry Allen is "about 30" years old, and that he's been the Flash for about 10 years. Heck's art gives it a Marvel vibe, but the lack of direct confrontation between hero and villain feels un-Marvel.
G.I. Combat #219: Despite my previous griping about the Haunted Tank strip, the first story here by Kanigher and Glanzman is pretty good. Jeb plans to shoot it out with one of those honorable German officers whose path he's crossed twice before across different fronts of the war and two continents. A passing American patrol picks off the officer, before we get to see who would come out the victor. It's followed by a goofy but amusing O.S.S. story where an assassin uses trick shoes to take out his target. The other stories are typical war stuff.
Ghosts #87: The horror titles are lackluster this month. This one has a distasteful tale involving a freakshow that was likely inspired by Browning's Freaks. The other stories are merely forgettable.

Jonah Hex #35: Fleisher reveals an important part of Jonah's backstory, telling us why he quit the Confederate Army (due the the Emancipation Proclamation). Just about everything that could go wrong for him does so after that point, and his hunted as a traitor by his former allies and countrymen. There's some amusing stuff at the beginning with Hex taking down a group of outlaws.
Justice League of America #177: Conway and Dillin are mostly doing set-up here in that classic "each hero gets their own story" sort of JLA way. The reveal at end gives us the return of Martian Manhunter, who hadn't appeared since '77 and hadn't appeared in JLA since 1974.
Secrets of Haunted House #23: This issues "highlight" is a story by Wessler and Frank Redondo about a man saving his grandkids from fire ants. I recognize invasive fire ants were more of a "hot" (heh) topic in the '70s, but c'mon, Destiny! Is there nothing better in that weighty tome of yours?
Superman #346: Lois investigates a crooked game show and discovers Amos Fortune (a villain I only knew from the Who's Who) behind it. He uses his "Murphy Machine" to cause people to have bad luck. Unusual premise by Conway but still a bland story.
Weird War Tales #86: Two World War II yarns, one with a giant monster, and the other by Zilber and Sparling with a Twilight Zone-esque premise: a young soldier can make anyone disappear by willing it. Nothing special.

Wonder Woman #266: Continuing that story of Diana's time with NASA. It's okay. It's got another installment of the Wonder Girl story, too.
World's Finest Comics #262: The lead story here by O'Neil and Staton, where Superman and Batman battle a one-shot villain called the Pi-Meson Man, is probably the weakest--but at least it doesn't have an old lady with gravity control powers as a villain like the finale of the Green Arrow/Black Canary story. This time around, the old woman does look like an old woman, thanks to Tanghal and Colletta. The Aquaman story by Rozakis and Newton leaves me with a couple of questions: How does Aquaman's computer work underwater? And, does this story which mentions Barbara Gordon as a Congresswoman take place prior to the stories from the last couple of months mentioning she lost re-election? The Hawkman story by DeMatteis and Landgraf also references some recent DC events. I'd forgotten what it was like to have comics that came out on a consistent enough schedule they could actually have a shared universe! The last story, a Captain Marvel tale by Bridwell and Newton, gives backstory to the wizard Shazam, which I was unaware of. Fun stuff, if nothing groundbreaking.

Chicken, Fried

Mon, 03/29/2021 - 11:00


Our Land of Azurth 5e game continued last night with the party prepared to confront the chicken mutant who was in the reactor room of the Gander chicken plant. They were uncertain what these strange suits were they found or the "radiometers" so they went back to consult the computer. It explained, but the explanations weren't of much help. It did elucidate why their keycards could open the door: you had to have a priority keycard of some color. 

Waylon went back and looted the bodies of chicken mutants they had killed to find a keycard. With a stack, they were able to find one that worked and entered the reactor room. 

The reactor room was really loud, so they were able to get the jump on the mutant. Even impaired in their movements in the bulk radiation suits, they made short work of him. It turned out to be a good thing, too, as he was apparently trying to cause a meltdown, according to the computer.

The party let the only surviving chicken mutant leave with his life and some money. He didn't seem happy, but he did it. Then, they negotiated a deal for the citizenry of Falgo which got them jobs in the factory in exchange for food. How the simple folk of Falgo were going to adapt to working in a mechanized factory the party left to the people and the computer to figure out.

With that good deed behind them, they were once again on the road to the Virid Country.

Cinematic Superhero Rpg Universes

Sun, 03/28/2021 - 14:30


While we may be past the era of "peak television," we seem to be entering the era of peak superhero TV. The CW and HBOMax have got new DC shows, and Disney+ has the latest Marvel offerings. Then there's a few other things on Amazon Prime like The Boys and Invincible. The superhero dominance of the box office got put on hiatus by the pandemic, but it has gone on long enough now to get backlash.

All of this makes me wonder when we'll get a superhero rpg with more of a cinematic vibe, much in the the same way we got a number of rpgs with a "animated series" aesthetic (some of that could be pragmatic, though. There may be more artists able to do a cartoony style willing to work at rpg rates). Of course, you don't have to want for a new game to run a cinematic style campaign. You could even reboot an old campaign in a cinematic version.

What would "cinematic superhero universe" mean in a rpg context? I haven't really fully formulated an answer to that but their are some traits I can think of:

  • Fewer superhumans (though they are getting more all the time!), particularly villains
  • Lower power levels (in general), but...
  • Fewer "skilled normal" masked heroes. (Captain America seems super-strong in the CMU; Falcon as more gadgets)
  • Fewer secret identities, fewer masks
  • Less colorful costumes
  • A smaller array of possible origins
  • Heroes more likely to engage in potentially lethal action
In general, cinematic universe changes seem similar to "ultimate universe" changes. They are more "realistic" versions of the characters.

Flashback: DC at Marvel Collected Edition

Fri, 03/26/2021 - 11:00
The original version of this post appeared in 2018...

In case you missed the previous installments, here's a collated list of the posts I've done so far based on the idea that the staff at Marvel in the late 50s early 60s got to revamp DC's Golden Age characters (except for those that never stopped being published). The idea was introduced here.

All the characters presented so far are statted for the TSR Marvel Superheroes rpg:

The Atom The Nuclear Man!
Green Lantern Most Cosmic Hero of Them All!
Hawkman Master of Flight!
And a couple of villains Silver Scarab, the nemesis of Hawkman, and Star Sapphire--is she Green Lantern's lover or his enemy--or both?


Wednesday Comics: DC, March 1980 (part 2)

Wed, 03/24/2021 - 11:00

Continuing my read through of DC Comics output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around December 20,1979.


Action Comics #505:
Bates and Swan bring us a tale of a puppy-eyed, hairy hominid from space, who charms children and can wallop Superman. In a twist I did not expect, the creature turns out to be a synthetic being from Krypton. The story is continued to next issue. I kind of dug this one.

Adventure Comics #469: The Starman story here has a bit more of classic space opera vibe than the previous installments, which is a welcome change of pace. The Plastic Man story is the same old stuff. I can't say I'm really excited about either of these features.

Brave & the Bold #160: With Superman and Batgirl teaming up early this month, now it's Batman's and Supergirl's turn. Burkett and Aparo have Batman do some mentoring with Supergirl, which works well. The story suffers from a bland villain who doesn't seem like he'd be a challenge for Batman, much less Batman and Supergirl.

Green Lantern #126: O'Neil and Staton ended last issue with an impending Qwardian invasion of Earth, and now...well, we get the Shark. Sure, it turns out the Qwardians are employing the Shark, but it seems unclear why they would need to do so. It seems like it's just stalling before the main event.

House of Mystery #278: The cover story by Jay Zilber and Rubeny goes out of its way to make the parents of a kid with the power to pull things (weapons mostly) from out of the TV the bad guys, when anyone would be sensibly worried about the kid. The other two stories have sort of dumb morals: truth-telling isn't always good, and old people can be bad, too!


Legion of Super-Heroes #261:
Conway and Estrada complete this LSH undercover circus mystery. Doesn't seem like it really warranted a two-parter. The basic idea was good, but the story is lacking.

New Adventures of Superboy #3: A nerd jealous of Superboy and Clark Kent, uses a device to project back his mental energy to make himself cool in the past. What's interesting about this one to me is that it clearly sets the present of Metropolis in "winter 70-80," with this story in Clark's high school years prior.

Sgt. Rock #338: Rock and the boys from Easy try to take a few days R&R at a ski lodge, only to be menaced by ski Nazis. We get the almost obligatory, semi-honorable German commander, though that doesn't mean he makes it out alive. There's more continuity than I remembered: Kanigher has this issue pick up directly after the events of last issue.

Super Friends #30: Grodd and Giganta are employing a ray to change humans into gorillas as a bid for world conquest. Fradon's art is charming as always.

Unexpected #196: The first there stories in this are nonsense, but Mike Barr and Vic Catan Jr. present a somewhat clever twist on the sell your soul to the Devil plot in a story about a doctor willing to do anything to stop a deadly, global pandemic.


Unknown Soldier #237:
A rabbi, a black guy, and the Unknown Soldier cross German lines dressed as the Magi. It's not a joke; it's a Bob Haney Christmas story! Like many war stories of this period, it tackles racism, but also has a extra bit of "all men are brothers" holiday oomph to it. It's silly in ways, I guess, but one of my favorite war stories since I started this project. The second feature is pretty good too. I liked the art by Tenny Henson.

Warlord #31: I talked about this issue here.

Weird Western Tales #65: An anti-war story is unexpected in a Western book, but it works reasonably well. Conway's story also picks up right after Scalphunter bids farewell to Bat Lash following their team-up last issue.

This month, we also had two digest books: Best of DC #4 was a quartet of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer stories (who knew DC had so many?), and  DC Special Blue Ribbon Digest #1, which featured four reprints staring the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Sentinel Comics RPG Session 1: "Itsy Bitsy Spiderbots"

Mon, 03/22/2021 - 11:00

Roll Call:

Action Jack: Man of Action--Man Out of Time!
Fibbit: Manic Pixie Extradimensional Dream Girl!
Infranaut: IR-Powered Celebrity Hero!
Il Masso: The Rock-Solid Hero of Little Italy!
Space Racer: Cosmic Speedster!

Supporting Characters: Zauber the Magnificent (flashback only)

Villains: Spiderbots (first appearance)

Synopsis: Individually, enjoying a day in Empire Park, our heroes are startled by an attacked of spider-shaped robots emerging from the sewers, which seem to be particularly targeting them. Our heroes destroy the robots, and join forces. During the melee, Fibbit catches gets images of a peculiar industrial building and a man dressed as a magician, who ages before her eyes. Space Racer had a flashback to a vague memory of a dead world, somehow displaced in time.

Action Jack recognizes Fibbit magician as Zauber the Magnificent, a magician and crime fighter from the war years.

Fibbit also warns the others that she also sensed a malevolent force in the direction of the spiderbots' origin--and it seemed to sense her back!

Pages