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Wednesday Comics: DC, February 1981 (wk 2 pt 2)

Wed, 12/01/2021 - 12:00
My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around November 25, 1980. 

Legion of Super-Heroes #272: Conway was doing better for a bit, but this issue ruins that streak. It doesn't help that Ditko is on art. We get the origin of Blok, which is really dumb because his hatred of the Legion (strong enough to become a Super-Assassin) stems from a childhood misunderstanding of their evacuation of his homeworld. No one has since explained to him what really happened. He hasn't bothered to read about it anywhere. Nothing for it but to plan to kill the Legion. There's supposed to be a Dial H for Hero preview, too, but my digital copy didn't have it.

Mystery in Space #116: This one wasn't very good, either, despite an intriguing cover. The DeMatteis/Craig lead is probably the best of the bunch, with a race of robots capturing a disguised human who has come to enlist the robot's help against a mysterious alien invasion force. The robots, previously subjugated by humanity, are in no mood to help. It's revealed the robots were actually built from humans considered "inferior." Then in a twist, the disguised human reveals himself to actually be a robot--one of the invaders looking to ferret out hidden biologic life! The next story by Barr and Delbo is so dumb, I can't even bring myself to write about it in detail. Suffice to say,  it includes a alien race of living skeletons stealing an earth spaceship, crashing on a primitive alien world, and getting worshipped as a god, then sacrificed, thwarting an invasion of Earth. Dammit! I wrote too much. The next story by Wolfman and Smith is shaggy dog yarn about a mission to another world flummoxed by aliens giving them the silent treatment so they'll go away. 
Mishkin/Cohn and von Eeden/Celardo delivery a complicated time travel mystery, but by this point I'm skimming so I couldn't make sense of it. The last story by Drake and Ditko is like the sort of thing that would be published in an Atlas era Marvel sci-fi/suspense comic and involves a scientist making his house a rocket to escape a dictator.

New Adventures of Superboy #14: Luthor is in reform school but still manages to make a "power distorter" device he tries out on Superboy when he visits the school to give a talk to the inmates. With his powers going haywire, Superboy does things like set the fridge on fire with his heat vision and turn an armed car as transparent as Wonder Woman's jet with his x-ray vision. The funny thing is, Luthor had already thrown his distorter out in disgust because when he didn't work instantly, he thought it was flawed. Luthor breaks out to get it back, and he's bushwhacked by Pa Kent and son who take the device from him.
The backup has Superbaby (i.e. Superman as a toddler) teaming up with Zatara. It's goofy and mildly fun, in exactly the way you would expect.

Sgt. Rock #349: Easy gets a new soldier, which over course means he's going to die heroically this issue. And a good thing for him, too, because Kanigher gives him an singular trait that would have made his fellow G.I.'s kill him eventually: he's a ventriloquist who's always "on" and uses his dummy to insult his fellow troops and officers. Maybe I'm reading this all wrong, though! Could this really be the secret origin of Scarface, the dummy of the Ventriloquist in various Batman comics?
Bill Kelley (and no artist credited) gives a story of a Nazi-collaborating French singer who gets sent to a concentration camp anyway after his son and a Jewish fiancée escape Paris. Duursema does the art on a story of "game recognizing game" in the Korean War, where a U.S. bugler plays taps for a dying North Korean bugler. The last story is a "Men of Easy Co." feature where he learn that Bulldozer is really strong and doesn't care much about medals.

Super Friends #41: Rozakis is guest writer with Fradon still on pencils for a clash with the Toyman. The Wonder Twins are so often central to these Super Friends stories, it makes me wonder if that was editorial mandate. Anyway, they get fooled by a false Toyman, but then redeem themselves. 
The backup features the return of the Israeli hero Seraph courtesy of Bob Oksner. Seraph has to defeat a group of crooks or terrorists looking to steal the technology behind a new desalinization plant.

Unexpected #207: Barr and Sparling/Patterson bring us a continuation of the Johnny Peril story about the star gem amulet. A mob boss, Dan Blodgett, who already has one such talisman is eager to get a hold of the one Peril has too. He sends his fiancée to lure Peril from his office, but instead she tries to enlist his help.  Thugs show up to take the detective to their boss. Blodgett demands Peril give him the amulet and reveals the powers the star gem has given him in an attempt to get his way.  Before he can kill Johnny, the fiancée pulls the amulet away, causes Blodgett to change from a bloated slob back to his normal, nonpowered self. Still, the true master of the amulets plans on stopping Peril from interfering with his plans. One weird thing about this story is that twice Peril and a police lieutenant have a moment where we are told "their eyes meet, and a seeming eternity passes" like there's something going on between the two of them.
The rest of the stories here are pretty rough. Seeger and Nicholas/Trapani present a yarn where a money-grubbing charmer realizes the rich girl he's been wooing really does have a father with magical powers when a winged bear kidnaps her. The guy does what anyone would do: he decides to follow them to Iceland so he can learn magic, too, and get rich. Unfortunately, the harsh winter led to the father burn his magic books to stay warm; he's trapped in wing bear form, so instead of magical knowledge the guy gets eaten. The Kashdan/Infante "Timewarp" tale sees a stranger hung for the murder of a girl, but then it's revealed the true murderers were shape-shifting aliens who framed one of their own who was threatening to reveal their presence to Earth. The last story is again by Kasdan but has nice Grandenetti art. When a skull begins appearing to members of a family before their deaths, they all believe it is the result of a curse by one of their own, but in reality it's a hoax perpetrated by a living family member, who gets a supernatural comeuppance in the end.

Unknown Soldier #248: Haney and Ayers/Talaoc reveal a bit (possibly) of the Soldier's origin. SS officer von Stauffen has trained a deadly female agent named Helga for the express purpose of finding some weakness in the Soldier's past and killing him. In the U.S. she gains access to secret files that reveal the Soldier is the second son of a family with a long, proud military history. His father wants the older son in military service, and the second carrying on the family name, but both sons wind up in service in the Philippines. A grenade kills the older son and disfigures the younger, who goes on to train to be the Unknown Soldier. Helga takes the Soldier's father hostage and demands the Soldier show up. When he does she apparently shoots and kills him. Of course, the story is continued, though.
The backup story is more of Burkett and Ayers "Tales of the Ruptured Duck." I just don't care about this. I have a hard time believing anyone did. "The Duck" winds up saving the guy that fell out of the plane and was captured. Does that surprise anyone? Enough already! 

Warlord #42:  Read more about it here.  We also get the return of OMAC with writers Mishkin and Cohn and art by LaRocque/Coletta. OMAC has made an alliance with IC&C against Verner Bros., but the war isn't going well. Things get worse when OMAC is attacked by Vanquisher, a superhero working for Verners, the two are transported to have their battle in front of rolling cameras. The next issue promises "Vanquisher the Movie."

Dark Sun: Daggers in the Night

Mon, 11/29/2021 - 12:00


The party's caravan arrived at the Silver Springs Oasis. Eowen and Egon went to try to deliver a message given to them by the elf Iseela back in Dur-Taruk for  Toramundi, Chieftain of the Silver Hand Tribe that controls the carvanserai. With the mention of Iseela's name they are taken through confusing back alleys and underground passages until they are are ushered into a room where the chief sits cross-legged on the floor with a shaman.

Toramundi accepts the coded message. Egon asks him for help with information on Golothlay Canyon. He laughs and tells them he doesn't believe that the House Madar treasure exists, and he thinks they are on a fool's errand which can only lead to their deaths. Any other information will cost them.

Egon and Eowen pay his price in silver and obtain a map which will allow them to skirt some of the known dangers on the way to the canyon. Their employer, Urum ath Wo, is pleased because he has been unable to find a guide. He bids them bed down near the animals and heads off for better accommodations.


That night, while Eowen is on watch, she discovers two masked elves attacking some of the merchants in the party in their sleep. She sounds an alarm, and Egon and Keeb-Raa join the fight. They kill one assassin, but the other runs away. Eowen gives chase, but looses him in the twisting passages of the ancient structure.

Keeb-Raa manages to use his healing magics to stabilize the wounded merchant.

The Arborean Experience

Fri, 11/26/2021 - 12:00

One of the paradoxes of Chaos is that, whatever the pronouncements of it's Powers and Lords, it is defined by ideas they were only possible when a lack of Unity was manifest in the multiverse. Philosophers have noted that as with Mechanus, the Plane of Law Absolute, there are core paradigms or truths without which the planes of Chaos could not exist. It is the centrality of those truths that separates the border regions of Chaos from the more encompassing Chaos of Limbo.
Arborea is a plane built upon the ideal of sensate experience. Its inhabitants reject any notion that formlessness or nonbeing is equivalent with being, and they reject the shackles on experiences and individual freedom regarding them that Law would forge.
Arborea typically appears as a vast, archetypal forest. Within there are glades or small manors where in the revels take place. These are sometimes open to the view of passersby, sometimes not, and they may be larger internally than they appear; effectively they are subrealms of the plane. Dramas of love, intrigue, daring, and violence, play out within these alcoves, but only among the likeminded who have chosen those experiences. The games are impermanent; diversions lead to no lasting harm, and may be replayed again and again, or abandoned and others taken up instead.
The only crime in Arborea is coercion or the abrogation of choice (unless a participant's choice was to have limited abridgement of choice). Violators of this rule who don't heed a warning are given over to the caprice of the eldarin, who devise a lesson of some sort--which like all the pleasures of Arborea, is not permanent. Habitual violators are barred from the plane.
The Devils are angered by the very existence of Arborea. Its uncoupling of actions from consequences, and the general frivolity and indolence of its inhabitants, make it an frequently cited example of what the cosmos would be like if Chaos got it's way.

Wednesday Comics: 2021 Holiday Gift Guide

Wed, 11/24/2021 - 12:00

 The DC 80s review will take this week off, so I can make some suggestions for holiday gift-giving in the comics arena:

Monsters by Barry Windsor-Smith: Windsor-Smith turned a rejected Hulk story idea into a magnum opus about trauma and the horrors of war that just can't seem to stay in the past. It can be tough going given the subject matter, but it's well-worth the effort.

Head Lopper by Andrew MacLean: Follow the adventures of the Norgal, a mighty warrior and the eponymous Head Lopper, as he and his companions take on evil wizards and monsters. Four volumes of this Sword & Sorcery series are available now.

DC Through The 80s: The End of Eras: This is one of two volumes presenting a survey of DC in the early to mid-80s. This one focuses on the era as a time of change. The Moore/Swan "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" is here as well as his "Twilight of the Superheroes" pitch, but there's also a grab-bag of other genres--horror, Western, fantasy, and science fiction--that were destined to die away as superheroes solidified their hold at the Big Two.

Marvel Classic Black Light Posters Portfolio: This is a massive (actually poster size) collection of many of Marvel's 70s black light posters, all suitable for framing. It's pricey, true, but a great gift for any Bronze Age Marvel fan.

Cowboy Bebop and the Faithful Adaptation

Mon, 11/22/2021 - 12:00

I've watched one episode of Netflix's Cowboy Bebop. so I could be wrong, but I think I already see how this is going to be. I don't think it's awful, but there are definitely things I'm not fond out.
Watching it brought to mind Rodriguez's first Sin City film. That film is a pretty faithful adaptation of the comic, down to the composition of shots, but my reaction on first viewing was very different from my reaction to the comic. It felt silly; I was vaguely embarrassed by it. It's not that I missed that Sin City the comic is over-the-top in some ways, and part of that over-the-topness is Miller's dialogue and narration. But when I read it, I get to decide how the characters deliver the lines, and the almost superhero comic level action scenes are just Millerisms to be translated to real world terms. (Much in the same way I know when reading a comic that characters don't have time for long discussion while they trade a couple of lightning quick blows. It's mere convention of the form, not something to be taken literally.) But on the screen their were actors not selling the clunky lines they were saying and all the action was taken all too literally.
Cowboy Bebop came from a cartoon not a comic so it's closer to film, but it's also the product of another culture (and honestly, another era) so maybe that all washes out. The show gets the details right in cosplay sort of way, but it doesn't feel the same. Gone is grubby future and much of the range in tone. The action is similar in prosaic description but what seemed dynamic in the anime feels fairly flat here. It may be less wacky than the cartoon, but then my tolerance for wacky is much less in live action.
Perhaps the biggest disappoint is some of the choices they made. The first episodes of the anime and the live action show have the same basic plot, but are otherwise fairly different. The anime opens with Spike's dream (enigmatic at that point) then goes into spare scenes of the solitary, early morning rituals of Spike and Jet, accompanied by blues harmonica. There is a lonesome feel to this sequence, and there is nothing like it in the live action show, which instead opens with quipy action. The cartoon returns to a bit of this somberness later with Spike's discussion with Katerina. This is also quite different in the live action episode. The show perhaps gets Bebop's silliness right, but misses the anime's mix of tones, except as absolutely requisite to the plot, and then it can't quite land it.

There's also the indication that we will be seeing hints of the Vicious-Spike conflict every single episode. This is no doubt to make a "season arc" fit for a modern streaming show. Cowboy Bebop the anime was structured like old school tv, with "stories of the week." Over-exposing Spike's arc robs it of any sense of slow reveal or discovery and has the potential to make everything else feel secondary.
Anyway, I'll keep watching. The wife likes it, and I've still got the animated series to watch when I want.

Every Devil is a Cop

Sun, 11/21/2021 - 15:30

"So sooner or later, everybody's working for the Man."- Go (1998)
Hell was born when border Archons of the Machine became convinced that It's algorithms would never conquer Chaos. Stronger measures were needed. These warriors cut a path into Chaos and fixed it with iron, stone and fire, and created Hell.
Though Hell's propaganda won't admit it (devil's have been rendered back to Lermure-hood for saying it), the War on Chaos has not gone well over the aeons. The Infernal Marches once safely reached to the Black Iron Prison of Carceri. Chaos not only has refused to be subdued, but it has been able to turn formerly loyal soldiers. Does anyone in Hell's hierarchy trust the Yugoloths or Gehreleths? No, they've both been compromised and will be the next targets as soon as the demon threat is ended.
If there's one bright spot it's the Material Plane. Diabolic agents have been able to turn an unexpected action by Chaos into a key recruiting tool. The soul-stuff of material beings may be relatively modest in absolute magnitude, but every transgressor that can be brought over and gotten under contract is added to the Infernal warchest.
Minor devils and trusted agents work to uncover (one might even say tempt) wayward, souls all in the name of recruiting--coercing--them as assets. Let the priggish supplicants of the Mountain fret about "right." There is no right in a fallen cosmos, outside the Law. And right now, the Law needs strength more than mercy.
And the fires of Hell are not eternal for those see their error. With toil and penance the most Chaos-ridden soul can become a devil, a stalwart soldier in the armies of a new order for the all things. Is that not mercy? 
Not all beings turned by infernal influence are small. Big fish are particularly prized, those with influence over other souls. Even Gods and their cults have been suborned to the diabolic agenda. Of course, there are also devils posing as gods to the unsuspecting people of material worlds.

Wednesday Comics: DC, February 1981 (wk 2 pt 1)

Wed, 11/17/2021 - 12:00
My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around November 25, 1980.


Action Comics #516: I like the cover on this one. Wolfman's Vandal Savage story continues with Superman out for vengeance against the immortal. Luthor quickly spills it that Savage is traveling through time. He even gives Supes a device to detect where Savage is. Everywhere Superman pursues the dictator, though, something goes awry and their is a big explosion. Olsen and White smell a rat. They get Luthor to tell them more, which includes the origin of Vandal Savage and that Superman's actions in the past now are actually what brings Savage to power. It seems their are time-changing bombs Superman is inadvertently setting off. Luthor sends Olsen back in time to stop all this--which is just another part of his master plan. He's going to see to it that Savage, Superman, and Olsen die in one big explosion, leaving him to be ruler of the world. Back in the Age of Dinosaurs Savage gloats he's about to be struck by a fireball from space like the one that made him immortal, and then his victory will be complete. Superman has finally caught on and doesn't destroy the fireball. Savage's victory is foiled (and Luthor's too). Jimmy and Superman return to a restore timeline where Lois is still alive. 
The Atom backup story by Rozakis and Saviuk is pretty forgettable. Chronos is committing crimes but being really good about not leaving clues. Perhaps too good. Chronos does not come off as particularly impressive either in the story or in Saviuk's depiction of him.


Brave & the Bold #171: Conway and Garcia-Lopez bring us a really off-beat crossover, which well, only happens in Batman's mind, I guess? Bruce Wayne wins an auction for a jewel box once owned by Martha Jennings, the "Florence Nightingale of the Civil War." While Bruce is admiring his $10,000 box he confides in Alfred he had a crush on Jennings when he was a schoolboy, which really tells us that Bruce was a nerdy kid. (Or maybe not, as Garcia-Lopez depicts her as pretty attractive, but I digress.) He finds a secret compartment with a note with the bat symbol on it! As one does in these situations, he goes to see an old professor from college who has a "time hypnosis" technique. Under hypnosis, Bruce goes back in time to see what's up. There, he meets Jennings and Scalphunter, and the two heroes help Jennings get supplies through Confederate lines. Bruce really spends a lot of time wondering what makes that enigmatic Scalphunter tick. But did he ever really meet Scalphunter? And what is time hypnosis? Conway is following in Haney's time-honored "just go with it" writing style.
Nemesis is back in the backup by Burkett and Spiegle. This time there's casino action, and Nemesis actually gets shot, which is a big deal in a way that I suppose is realistic but seems odd for comic book action heroes.

Detective Comics #499: Conway and Newton/Adkins open with Blockbuster contemplating killing Batman, who lies unconscious in a mine in West Virginia, but the corrupt union leader's goons set off in explosion to cause a collapse before Blockbuster can act. In the aftermath, with Batman struggling to help the the crusading reformer, Macon, the giant has befriend, Blockbuster decides to ally with him for now. They all manage to escape the cave, then Batman and Blockbuster go after the badguys who have kidnapped Macon's daughter. In the end, justice is done, and Batman decides to let Blockbuster stay "dead" and remain here.
In the backup, we reach the end of the "Barbara Gordon, Murderer" storyline. Batgirl has to escape from a watery death-trap and rescue Doreen the secretary who helped frame her--all before Barbara is found in contempt for not showing up to her own hearing. In the end, Batgirl gets there in time to reveal the true murderer. The wrap up seems a little bit to quick for how long this drug out--and maybe it is. It seems like from previous issues there was a conspiracy against Barbara (though I'd have to look back).

Green Lantern #137: The Wolfman/Staton tale of GL visiting the future continues. I apparently missed a plot point last issue by not carefully reading one panel: Jordan was drawn to one point in the future but instead wound up in a different point (apparently 1000 years earlier, or something) where he Space Ranger. So the Gordanians attack Earth twice. Anyway, the story opens with GL and Space Ranger in the hands of the enemy who are getting ready to throw cables around the Earth and drag it to Vega so the Citadel can auction it off. Space Ranger breaks them free, but Jordan is still without his memory, so he doesn't know how to use his ring and is useless in the fight. Space Ranger's girlfriend, Myra Mason, shows up to lend a hand, but once she is injured the battle turns against them. At that moment, GL is yanked back to the 58th Century. Apparently he's met these people before as Iona is in love with him from meeting previously (that would be in Green Lantern #51, but the issue has no footnotes anywhere to tell you that). They manage to restore his memory, and GL defeats the Gordanians in this time, then wipes Iona's memory of him so she'll stop pining. He jumps back to help Space Ranger before returning to his on time.
The backup is another Adam Strange story by Laurie Sutton, joined now by Infantino on art. It's an improvement. This is mostly an Alanna solo story, though Adam shows up at the end (courtesy of the zeta beam) to rescue her from bird-riding tribesmen with blowguns. It turns out Sardoth had sent her somewhere to distract her until he and Adam could complete a surprise (big goof on that one, Dad. You almost killed her!) Anyway, a double zeta beam is ready to take her with Adam for a trip to Earth.

House of Mystery #289: "Brother Bob's Home for Wayward Boys and Girls" by DeMatteis and Rubeny is the opener. It's starts off with the familiar sort of sanctimonious disciplinarian who runs up against a new resident, Joshua, who seems able to thwart him and inspire the other kids to petty rebellion. Bob is convinced Joshua is Satan, but in the end Joshua reveals he works for the other Guy--whose vengeance is also terrible! Kashdan and Zamore follow with an odd tale (told in a different style, it could almost be a Ligotti yarn) of two thieves wanting to steal a treasure from cultists in a cave. In order to win it, they impersonate Kronus, the god of the cult, and Braxus he's opponent in myth. The Kronus imitator kills his companion, seemingly possessed by an unnatural rage. He ascends the throne to claim his treasure, but finds the cult won't let him leave, and if he removes his costume, they'll kill him. He hears the dark laughter of Kronus ringing in his years. DeMatteis returns with Amongo for a story of a reclusive "hippie" musician trying to make a comeback, but when taunted by the crowd looking for something newer (they're all over the place wanting Alice (Cooper), disco, and the Village People--harder not to see DeMatteis making some comment on post-60s music), he lets his vampiric hunger take over and kills them. He flies off into the dawn as a bat and dies, leaving the crowd awed by the theatrics and the promoter wanting to repeat the show tomorrow night.

Everyone Comes to Sigil

Mon, 11/15/2021 - 12:00

I've said before that Sigil is perhaps the most interesting thing about Planescape, and it doesn't really rely on the Great Wheel for the things about it that are interesting. For most people, who seem the dislike the Great Wheel, that may be a design feature. I happen to like the Great Wheel (As a concept. I can't say I'm particularly excited by a lot of the execution. On the other hand, I also feel like a lot of the "what do you do with this?" response to it shows a willful lack of creativity. That's perhaps a topic for another post.) so I think a setting meant to make the classic planes of D&D a setting, but instead makes a setting that can mostly ignore them, has some flaws in execution.
We are told gods can't enter Sigil. This is very convenient, because it provides a base of operations very much like the Prime Material Plane (where gods can go, but don't much) for the PCs to run around in. It also raises a lot of metaphysical questions, which sure, might have interesting answers, but I feel like it would be just as interesting--maybe more--not to keep the gods out. Sigil is the center of a plane surrounded by all these hostile forces. It's a Neutral Zone, a DMZ, a Free City with no allegiance to any of those eternally warring philosophies. 

It would be a good place for the gods to come together to make treaties and talk, but also maybe a good place for them to vacation and let their hair down. What happens in Sigil, stays in Sigil. I'm thinking it should be a bit like the bathhouse in Spirited Away, a bit like Cold War Berlin, Throne from Kill Six Billion Demons, and Yu-Shan from Exalted. (Yu-Shan being the capital of Heaven has more bureaucracy than Sigil would have, certainly, but I mean in terms of a place crawling with spiritual powes minor and major.)
I think this would make Sigil more colorful perhaps, as part of the thing the PCs must navigate is avoiding offending visiting dignitaries. Of course, they have more room to be daring and burn the gods in some scheme or confidence game in Sigil, as the gods are constrained in what they can do within the city. Even still, it would be a risky play, but perhaps a tempting one. It would also supply a ready supply of quest-givers or dubious patrons.

The Petrified Polyhedron Forest

Sun, 11/14/2021 - 15:30

 


Our Land of Azurth 5e session last Sunday saw the party continuing their exploration of the strange, underground tunnels as they searched for the Cyan Sorceress. They had no luck in that regard, but they encountered a number of weird things. Waylon took a bracer off an alien skeleton that allowed the wearer to reach into a pocket dimension. They discovered a room where the walls were covered in green filaments, though they couldn't discern its purpose. Then there was the room where the emanations of a crystal seemed to have frozen a number of people (both aliens and recognizable folk) in time. 

The group freed a couple of the humans, who were priests of the oracular temple above and had been frozen for hundreds of years. The party hoped the priests might be able to shed some light on everything that was going on, but no such luck. They pointed the confused priests in the direction of the surface and went on.

The last room they came to had a column of light that they figured out acted as some sort of teleportation beam. They all used it and came out in a vast, underground cavern, full of a petrified forest of sorts--or perhaps a garden of standing stones might be more accurate. Except the stones are all "natural" and in various geometric shapes. They come in sizes from merely imposing to positively gigantic. And the party discovered that some of them move.

In fact, the party figured out how to nudge who of these rolling stones in a forward (deeper into the forest) direction, and they followed in its wake to the central hill.

Talislanta: Werewood

Thu, 11/11/2021 - 12:00

My work on a Talislanta adaptation for the Dying Earth rpg, made me think it was worth reviving my dormant series of posts from 2020 touring Talislanta through editions. Still, in the Western Lands, we come to Werewood. 
"Look yonder to Were Wood and its darkling oaks!"- Jack Vance, Rhialto the Marvellous
The Chronicles tells us that Werewood is a "dark and tangled forest region" north of Zandu. It's described in forbidding terms. Enforcing this impression, Tamerlin tells us of its most baleful inhabitants: the Werebeast, which combine the "worst attributes of men, apes, and tundra beasts" (the Naturalists Guide says "Ur, beastman, and lycanthromorph") and the Banes. Banes are vampiric creatures with the power to mimic voices of any sort. They were inspired by Vance's deodands with their skin as "black as polished obsidian" and their large fangs and eyes that "glow like embers." Then there are the mandragores, plant things that stand immobile during the day, but move around at night to hunt prey.
Not everything in Werewood is deadly, however. There are the Weirdlings or Wish-Gnomes, who according to legend must give over their underground treasure if caught or grant their captor a wish. There are also the Dhuna, the human inhabitants of the forest. The Dhuna were persecuted for witchcraft in ages past and were forced to flee into the forest. They are still believed to have magical powers, particularly the women who can "capture a man's heart with but a single kiss." The Handbook adds, under the Dhuna Witchwoman/Warlock archetype listing, that they are "strange and mysterious by nature" and are "believed to engage in sacrificial rituals."
A Naturalist's Guide expands a little on the lore of the creatures. In fashion reminiscent of Dying Earth monsters, it says banes are thought to be a bizarre hybrid of "darkling, night demon, the extinct babbling howler, and perhaps even Ariane." Their fangs, claws, and ocular organs are sought by alchemists and thaumaturges. The mandragore are valuable because they speak the secret language of plants and trees.
The second edition expands a bit more upon the region. It adds locations with the forest, including the Valley of Forgetfulness, where a mist from the river steals memory, and the creatures known as gnorls, who get player character archetypes. The gnorls are an underground dwelling race, who practice a divination art called "rhabdomancy" (rhabdos rod, wand). They are speculated to be related to the Weirdlings.

This is pretty much the Werewood of later editions. The Dhuna get a bit more fleshed out: we are told they are persecuted for their "pagan beliefs" (presumably meaning non-Orthodoxist), and that they live in "close-knit clans or covens." They also have "liberal views toward matrimony," but the descriptions suggest more that they practice polygamy.
Werewood is the sort of dark, fairy wood of Talislanta. It has elements that recall Tolkien's Mirkwood, and Vance's Tantrevalles in his Lyonesse trilogy, but those resemblances may just be that they are drawing from the same inspirations. The Dhuna are sort of compositions of various witch tropes, including maybe some neo-pagan witches flavor. They're a good counterpoint to the Rennfaire types of Silvanus.
Given the potential fairytale scariness of Werewood, I feel like the Dhuna as insular, isolated people either fighting against (or sometimes embracing) that darkness ought to be played up. It seems like protecting their covens against banes, werebeasts, and mandragores ought to be a bigger concern than Orthodoxist oppression. The canon is somewhat inconsistent regarding the eldritch danger of the forest. The proliferation of inhabitants has added to that, but I'm in favor of gaining a bit of that back.
Jack Shear has some interesting thoughts on Talislanta and the Gothic that would be interesting here.

Wednesday Comics: DC, February 1981 (wk 1 pt 2)

Wed, 11/10/2021 - 12:00
My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around November 13, 1980.


G.I. Combat #226: This story has a couple of decent stories. The Kanigher/le Rose "The 6-Minute War" chronicles the harrowing descent and ultimate death in battle of a paratrooper, 6 minutes after his first drop. Wessler and Talaoc tell the story of an American medic who treats the wounds of 3 German soldiers, then takes them captive. When they try to kill him with a grenade, he bats it back at them with his rifle butt and blows them up! O.S.S. by Regan and Carillo continues to be hardcore and grim. A German working for Control volunteers to assassinate Dr. Mencke who killed his wife and child in Auschitz. He purposely gets captured and sent to the camp where he assaults a SS officer and is shot and killed. Mencke catches sight of his extensive tattoos and takes him to his lab to remove his skin for a nice lampshade. The time bomb that started up when his heart stopped beating explodes and kills Mencke during the procedure. While we're on the note of grimness, Wessler and Vicatan present the tale of a deserting GI being chased by his sergeant. His sergeant saves him from some Japanese, then he saves the Sergeant from quicksand when he could have gotten away. Regretfully, the Sergeant takes the deserter back to be shot by firing squad.
The first of the two Haunted Tank yarns also deals with a runaway tank of deserters. These guys have the decency to die in battle after seeing their error of their ways, though. The second story has the Tank and its crew playing a pivotal role in capturing the bridge at Remagen in March of 1945.

Justice League of America #188: Zatanna's 80s costume designed by Perez has it's co-first appear with New Teen Titans #3 in this issue. Here it is drawn by Heck/McLaughlin. Even though they came out at the same time, I guess this issue is technically the first appearance, since it shows Zatanna debuting it for her teammates. Or one of her teammates; Conway has the Flash is trying to put the moves on Zatanna, and she's conflicted about workplace romance and being the rebound girl, but she's kind of reciprocating. A villain from the Creeper series, Proteus, Man of 1000 Faces, has been defeating the JLA one by one and making them think they are average joes. Zatanna's costume change cues the Flash into the fact something is going on. His suspicions aren't strong enough, though, and he too is replaced, but their are signs the other heroes are coming to the rescue. Proteus wanting JLA duplicates to commit jewel theft hardly seems to be aiming high with all that power.

New Teen Titans #4: I continue to be impressed (or exhausted) by how much Wolfman and Perez put in these issues. We get a little bit more of Raven's backstory here. We find out that she first approached the JLA about helping her against Trigon, but they would because they didn't believe her. They instead want to fight these three wizards she thought were doing the right thing, I guess? Maybe I didn't read it close enough, but I'm a bit confused. Anyway, the Titans fight the JLA not once, but twice. Once because they were give hypnotic suggestions by Psimon, the next time because Raven convinced them they should. In the end, the JLA reveals how much Raven has been manipulating them (for good reasons, she assures them) and now they aren't helping her. The fights with the JLA were well done, and with the backgrounds Perez draws in this magical realm, it really has a "warming up for Crisis" vibe to it.

Secrets of Haunted House #33: "In the Attic Dwells Dark Seth" by Kashdan and Serpe may not be the the best horror story I've read since I started this, but it really feels like the answer to "just what are these horror comics like?" Wealthy and kind of creepy looking Stanley is bringing his new bride (a gold-digger as her thoughts reveal) home to meet the creepy family. Turns out the couple has a baby on the way, and Stanley says the "Professor" expects a perfect baby. His bride doesn't know who the Professor is but when older brother Seth starts howling upstairs she forgets all about that. She's told to leave Seth be and not to disturb him. Naturally, she goes and unlocks the door during the night and Seth, looking like some sort of winged gargoyle, chases her down the hall, until Dad and Mom send him to his room. They explain to their shocked daughter-in-law that they are Satanists. They were supposed to get Satan's perfect child, but instead got this demonic mutation. They didn't want to sacrifice the kid, so they keep him locked up. Turns out Satan kept at it, though, and her husband is the son Satan always wanted! As her sanity flees, the cringing bride hears how she's going to bear the continuations of the line. 
Wessler and Bingham follow that up with a confusing yarn about a guy the cops think killed his 4 previous wives, but they can't prove it. There fears seem founded, because he clearly seems to be planning to kill his new one. The cops are trying to find a way to stop him, but he's too slick. Until, that is, his new wife brains him with a hammer, killing him like she did his other wives. Kashdan and Wade then present a pointless yarn about a spy sneaking into a Baron's castle and getting vampirized. Finally, Rozakis and Spiegle are back with a Mister E story involving a wealthy man who is being blackmailed by his chauffeur who has a cassette tape of a voodoo ceremony that appears to resurrect the dead. He's threatening to use it to bring the man's brother back to life and get him arrested for insurance fraud (since he's brother's insurance policy was the source of his fortune). Mister E exposes the blackmailers as frauds, and scares them by impersonating a zombie, sending them falling from cliff.

Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes #3: The Legion origins continue, wrapped in the RJ Brande is dying story. We learn that Bouncing Boys costume is not in fact a costume, but the regular clothes he was wearing when he got his powers. Anyway, Saturn Girl spills the beans, revealing that the reason for reviewing the Legion's origins is that one of them is Brande's kid.

Superman #355: "Battle of the Super-Hyper Powers!" by Bates/Swan pits Superman against that Sean Connery lookalike, Vartox. Clark Kent and his tv co-workers are skiing up at Mammoth Mountain, but then Vartox shows up. He came to let Lana know their love can never be because he found a planet that needs a champion, so that takes up pretty much all his time. But all is not as it seems! Vartox believes the people of his new world are playing games with him. They've been manufacturing world-threatening dangers to keep him busy. Superman goes to the world pretending to be a space outlaw, so Vartox can apprehend him and they can work to discover what's going on. Meanwhile, the Tynolans summon dread Noxumbra and plan for Vartox to be a sacrificial hero!
The backup by Newman and Deblo is the first of the "Fabulous World of Krypton" features. It's the story of an ancient member of the Nor family who enlisted the help of aliens in securing leadership of his people, but then led the rebellion when the aliens proved to be untrustworthy. While in exile, he also destroyed a space cloud that threatened Krypton.

World's Finest Comics #267: Burkett and Buckler have Batman and Superman teaming up with the Challengers of the Unknown.  It's a decent team-up yarn with everyone getting something to do as they go after terrorist with the power to effect gravity. Haney/von Eeden switch it up from Green Arrow to give his lady friend a chance to shine. Black Canary saves a Black woman police officer from a mob convinced she killed a man in cold blood. Canary tries to prove the cop's innocence, but not before the officer is kidnapped and put on trial by The Graffiti Gang. With a blind man as her star witness, Canary reveals that the real killer was one of the gang members who was dealing drugs. This story is almost "70s socially relevant" and seems very naïve in 2021, but von Eeden's art is great in it.
The Red Tornado story be DeMatteis and Delbo has RT kidnapped by a macrocephalic T.O. Morrow who has been killing himself with his super-advanced brain and needs a new body. He transfers his mind into RT and then precedes to take over the android's life. The Rozakis/Saviuk Hawkman story has the insectoids that were menacing last issue attacking. At the end, the Hawks prepare to face off with Lord Insectus! Birdwell and Newton get to the culmination of their Monster Society of Evil story with the villains staging an all-out assault on the Rock of Eternity. Captain Marvel calls in Mary Captain Marvel Jr. and the Lieutenant Marvels for the battle. The individual takedowns are clever. This is my favorite story of the issue.

Weird War Tales #96: The cover warns the reader that you "might hate" the cover story by DeMatteis and Spiegle, suggesting perhaps than stories about Vietnam were still considered "edgey" in comics of this era. And this one kind of is, at least for kids. It's 1967, and Marty Voight, hippie, is drafted. He's injured when a buddy is blown up by a mine, and he becomes convinced that some energy in the Viet Cong device got into him and is mutating him. He's also using heroin, and starts using more to deal with the pain in his shoulders. His response to being forced to participate in atrocities and seeing friends die is more heroin. He hallucinates his friends back home and the girlfriend that left him as he stumbles through the streets of Saigon. Finally, the mutation is complete and he sprouts wings, at least in his mind. He jumps from a helicopter, to his death. "It was the drugs," one soldier opines, but another doesn't seem so sure it was only the drugs. I think this may be the strongest story since I've been reading this title.
The rest is a let down Kasdan and Rubeny deliver a short yarn about a tulip field in Holland that subsumes German and American combatants to keep things peaceful. Kashdan and Henson reveal the futuristic late 1990s where the ultimate weapon has been developed, but it will inadvertently destroy the entire solar system, so a soldier colludes with an alien to cripple it.  The final story isn't particularly a Weird War Tale, but Kanigher and Vicatan have a racist U.S. soldier getting a supernatural comeuppance after abusing the locals in 1899 in China.

Wonder Woman #277: Staking out the funeral of Priscilla Rich (Cheetah I) Wonder Woman has her first run in with a Kobra goon. Conway really doesn't portray Wonder Woman as having super-strength most of the time--or at least only minor super-strength. It turns out Kobra has infiltrated the military and draws her into a trap at Carlsbad Caverns. Meanwhile, the plans for the "ultimate dirty bomb," Cobalt 93, have been stolen. Wonder Woman finds them in the caverns in the hands of Kobra. 
The backup story by Levitz and Staton brings the Huntress/Power Girl story to a close. The DA (who now knows Huntress' identity) reveals the Thinkers plot. Power Girl is briefly in the Thinker's control, but our heroes rally, and the Thinker's helmet gets smashed.

The Affairs of Wizards

Mon, 11/08/2021 - 12:00


What is a D&D character to do after they've surpassed all those domain building levels? Epic level campaigns where the monsters are just have more hit points? Walk a path of apotheosis like some out of Mentzer's Masters Rules set?

Both of those are good, but they could also hang out in luxury, go to parties on exotic demiplane, try to one-up their fellow epic levels at every turn. In other words, they could act like the Arch-Magicians in the Rhialto the Marvellous stories by Jack Vance.

I feel like the hero/quasi-deities of Greyhawk are ripe for this treatment (see Mordenkainen's magical prep of what must be an epic sandwich in the image above), but Elminster seems like this sort of guy as well. I don't mean to suggest they would never go on something resembling a traditional adventure (Vance's "Morreion" is good inspiration, here.), but the main challenge for these demigods is out doing other beings of power. Sure you could kill Asmodeus, but wouldn't it be more civilized and rewarding to humiliate him in front of his infernal peers?

The Conquered Setting

Thu, 11/04/2021 - 11:00


I've thought about this before, so I find it a strange I haven't blogged about it, but I can't seem to find the post if I did. Anyway, tt seems like one way to ameliorate problematic nature of of D&D and related fantasy game characters killing hapless humanoids to clear them from their land and take their stuff is to have the PCs being the ones fighting off the invaders. This is not guaranteed to free a setting of racist stereotypes (just take a look at Nowlan's Armageddon: 2419 AD), but it's perhaps a start. It at least makes the PCs freedom fighters rather than conquistadors. 

Inspirations abound (I'll list some below) but something like the set-up of the 70s science fantasy comic from DC Starfire would work well. Two warring factions invite armies from other worlds to fight for them and wind up getting conquered by them. The mercenaries-turned-conquers might be orcs and drow, or something more exotic. Ideally, there should be a difference between them, but not a difference that makes one side particularly preferable as allies to the other. You could also have the remnants of the two native blocs (elves and humans. maybe) that called in the outsiders still be mistrustful of each other.

I think it works best if the invading forces lost cohesion due to infighting or to fighting with the other invaders, and are now only slightly more powerful that the indigenous folk, but not enough so that they can really mount a concerted effort to destroy them. Perhaps in many places the native people are allowed to live out their lives relatively peacefully as second class citizens in the alien-order (like the humans in the Planet of the Apes tv show--or any number of real world examples). There could also be some weird artificial cultures like the various *-men groups in Vance's Planet of Adventure.

Anyway, other genre works that could be inspiring:

De Camp. "Divide and Rule." Aliens conquer Earth and enforce a neo-feudal culture on mankind.

Burroughs. The Moon Men. Men from the Moon have long ago conquered Earth and reduced North American civilization to a more "primitive" state. Not dissimilar from the Star Trek episode "Omega Glory" if you replace the Communists with Moon Men--and Burroughs' original draft had Communists!

Killraven from Marvel Comics.

Of course, the original Planet of the Apes films and tv shows are also good.

Wednesday Comics: DC, February 1980 (wk 1 pt 1)

Wed, 11/03/2021 - 11:00
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  November 13, 1980. I've been traveling the last couple of days, so I got through fewer comics for this first installment.

Batman #332: Wolfman and Norvick pick up from where last issue left off. Robin leaves the Batcave convinced that Batman is making a mistake by trusting Talia. He goes to find a sympathetic ear: Catwoman. Meanwhile, Batman is focused on finding out who is sabotaging his company. He figures out that Bruce Wayne's secretary is working for the opposition. Before she can tell Batman everything, a hulkin, a slightly coneheaded mutate attacks and nearly kills Batman. Bruce Wayne confronts Falstaff who practically gloats over his involvement. Talia attempts to drug Batman with a kiss and goes to meet with Falstaff herself. Batman feigns being drugged to follow her. More mutates show up, but this time Batman is ready for them. Falstaff seems about to spill the beans about who he's working for, but then Talia swings in and kicks into a shimmering bubble (there's a rover from the The Prisoner thing going on in the background of this issue). Still, villain defeated, Batman and Talia lock lips just as Catwoman shows up to get jealous. 
The backup is Wolfman and Newton continuing the story with Catwoman doing her own investigation of all this. The issue ends with Talia laughing at Catwoman from the shadows.

DC Comics Presents #30: Conway and Swan bring us a Black Canary team-up. Canary parachutes into the arctic to drop in on Superman at the Fortress of Solitude. She wants him to use Kryptonian science to prove the dreams she has been having that suggest her dead husband Larry Lance is actually alive are true. Turns out it's really all Dr. Destiny's doing (he's a go-to villain for Conway, it seems), and the heroes enter a pocket dream realm to stop him. An interesting thing on display here is the convoluted backstory of Black Canary of the JLA being the Earth-Two character (active in WWII) who migrated to Earth-One after the death of her husband, then took up with Green Arrow on the rebound. The contemporaneous New Adventures of Superboy would suggest that Clark was a teen in the early 60s. If he's the same age as the other Earth-One heroes, then Black Canary must be like 20 years older than them. Also, Kryptonian science is apparently like magic. It can pretty much do anything. Black Canary might as well be visiting a wizard's remote tomorrow.
The "What Ever Happened To..." backup is about the Earth-Two Atom, as the conclusion of the Atom story last month. I still do know how swapping their powers briefly restores the cosmic imbalance of them not having the same power set, but that's why Mallo is a cosmic entity and I am not, I guess.

Flash #295: Solovar, leader of Gorilla City, is worried the concept of leisure time the gorillas have learned from humans is making them dumb and lazy. Also, there's an attempt by a sort of Symbionese Liberation Army-esque group to hold the gorilla delegation to the UN hostage that the Flash has to thwart. Solovar hatches a plan to make the whole world forget Gorilla City, and the Flash agrees to power the device. Meanwhile, Grodd escapes from gorilla jail by trickery. He co-opts the device to make everyone forget him! Fairly standard Bates/Heck stuff, but not bad. I like how they are running through the Rogue's Gallery.
The Firestorm backup has Professor Stein calling a 2 week moratorium on turning into Firestorm so he can actually go on an ocean expedition where they need a nuclear engineer. Robbie agrees, though he's frustrated going cold turkey from superheroics. Meanwhile, things go badly on the ship and Stein summons Firestorm.

Ghosts #97: The cover story by Kupperberg and Adams/Blasdell has Dr. Thirteen encountering the Spectre, and it blows his ghost-breaking mind! After exposing a seance's fakery, Thirteen is present when a rich soiree is crashed by the People's Freedom Army (that's two of these this week!). Intent on taking hostages, they wind up shooting some people. Eventually, the Spectre shows up and delivers a gruesome reckoning to the murderous revolutionaries, causing their bodies to run like water! Thirteen is appalled by the grimness of the punishment and confronts the Spectre, but the ghost of vengeance merely fades away. Thirteen swears to bring him to justice.
The other stories are lackluster. Mi Mai Kin and Mike Nasser have a famous "ghost-chaser" invited to a Civil War museum he has snubbed before by a Confederate ghost intent on improving museum visitorship. Mi Mai Kin returns, this time with Don Heck, for a story of a murder via bridge demolition. Ironically, the murderer is involved in the construction of the new bridge--and more involved than he could ever want when the ghost of the man he killed buries him alive in the concrete of one of the support pillars. Kasdan and Estrada bring us "Deep Six Phantom," a tale about a U-boat captain who kills one of his officers who threatens to reveal his smuggling, but then the ghost leads the boat to destruction at the hands of Allied warships.

Jonah Hex #45: Jonah Hex is getting married, and of course, it doesn't go smoothly. Town busybodies disapprove of Hex's reputation, his looks, and his Chinese bride. They try to get the realtor to stop the sale of property to Hex. Mei Ling's family doesn't approve of her marrying a white guy. Old enemies of Hex's see it as the perfect time to ambush him. The marriage goes off though, but Hex has to break his promise to Mei Ling and pick up his guns to shoot it out with his enemies who are threatening to burn down the town. Despite saving the townsfolk, he's now refused the property he was going to buy, and he and his new bride must move on.
Brian Savage, Scalphunter, returns as a backup feature by Conway and Ayers/Tanghal. Scalphunter meets an old buffalo hunter who know his father and talks to him about finding a place where he belongs. Then, he saves a Sioux youth from plunging over a cliff to his death with a rampaging buffalo heard. The young man invites Scalphunter back to his village. Maybe Savage will fit in better among the Sioux than the white men? We'll see.

Horrors from the Past

Mon, 11/01/2021 - 11:00


I really should have posted this on Halloween, but entertaining horror is still entertaining horror, right? All last week the Radio Classics channel on satellite radio was a running a series of horror episodes from the Golden Age of radio. Here are a few of the best I heard:

"Three Skeleton Key": A lighthouse off French Guyana is overrun by thousands of rats from a wrecked derelict. Stars Vincent Price.

"House in Cypress Canyon": A strange tale of something bestial lurking in a new, post-war subdivision.

"Poltergeist": No relation to the film of the same name, other than being a tale of a malign spirit moved to horrible vengeance by a desecration of a graveyard.

"Behind the Locked Door": A sort of Lovecraftian horror story about some discovered in a cave near Lake Mead.

"The Shadow People": They can't be seen in the light, but a young woman finds out their deadly reality. 

Talislanta in the Dying Earth RPG

Fri, 10/29/2021 - 12:02
Still cogitating on Talislanta in Pelgrane Press' Dying Earth rpg, I tried out character creation of a character from the Chronicles of Talislanta: Crystabal, the Cymrillian/Saristan self-styled "rogue magician." Here's what I came up with:
Abilities:Persuade (Charming) 10Rebuff (Wary) 8Attack (Finesse) 9Defense (Parry) 9Health 8Magic (Curious) 9
Appraisal 2, Athletics 3, Etiquette 2, Gambling 3, Perception 4, Pedantry 2, Riding 2, Seduction 2, Stealth 3, Wherewithal 2 Wealth 2Resistances: Avarice 2, Indolence 5, Gourmandism 4, Pettifoggery *[infinite]
Possessions: High-collared cloak, breeches and tunic; dyed leather boots; leather-bound spell book; rapier; pouch; shoulder bag; 2 magical trinkets; equs steed; 50 gold lumens worth in assorted coinage.
I had had the thought of just using the archetypes from 4e as the scale of abilities is pretty close to that of Dying Earth. Unfortunately, it isn't close enough--and Dying Earth's scale doesn't seem to be consistent across abilities, at least as far as I can determine looking at NPCs. This means a lot more just re-creating the archetypes, which isn't hard given the relative simplicity of the systems, but more work than I was hoping for. Of course, one could just ditch adaptation and interpret the Talislanta setting alone in the Dying Earth game, but I worry that would lose much of the flavor the archetypes provide (and make chargen take longer).
Another issue is spells. In Talislanta 1st-3rd editions, basic spells are rare broad and generically named, but advanced spells are more specific and have Vancian names. In DE, all spells are specific and have Vancian names. I'm inclined to just use DE spells, renaming some of them eponyms with the names of famous Talislantan mages, using the Tal advanced spells as a model.

Encounter with the Cyan Sorceress

Thu, 10/28/2021 - 11:00

Our Land of Azurth 5e game continued on September 16 and again last Sunday. The party passed through the door opened by the sleep walkers and into an older structure. Just beyond the door, they encountered an animal like a great cat with a ball of energy for a head. The party fought with it, and though it had some unusual powers, put it down reasonably quickly.
They moved into a larger passage where a humming sound presaged the passing of something at high speed. During the rest of the time in this central tunnel the thing periodically passed at unpredictable intervals. They had to be careful and stay out of its way.
Crossing the dangerous "highway" they came into a room full of strange, junk machinery--and another (or perhaps the same) energy-headed cat. They fought it again, and realized finally it would stay did until they shocked it with lightning. 
More weird rooms followed that one. There were several with sarcophagi where beings seemed to be in various states of growth around old bones. Dagmar touched the semi-solid green stuff in a vat and got sucked in and would have drowned, had they not pulled themselves out. A strange, cybernetic undead attacked them, but they stopped it with the first of the trinkets they had managed to figure out how to use.


Eventually they came to a room where some of the hapless, captured townsfolk were being turned into more such creatures. When they moved to free them, the Cyan Sorceress appeared. She revealed that she was one of the Chromic Witches, in the same coven as the Magenta Mage they met back on the Candy Isle. The Sorceress's speech seemed halting, and occasionally she was confused, suggesting to the party she was being controlled by someone. She also mentioned a book as being important which Waylon guessed (rightly) was the Wondrous Wizard of Azurth. The group tried to apprehend her, but she teleported away.

Wednesday Comics: DC, January 1981 (wk 2, pt 2)

Wed, 10/27/2021 - 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 October 23, 1980. 

Legion of Super-Heroes #271: continues the story of the last two issues. Light Lass learns the secret of the Dark Man, who is clone made from part of Tharok's irradiated brain (and apparently all evil). The various Legionnaires manage to escape from their confinement and make common cause with the Fatal Five who have decided the Dark Man doesn't have their best interests at heart. Blok (late of the Super-Assassins) gets to prove his worth to the Legion, but it all comes down to Tharok versus the Dark Man, which appears to lead to mutual annihilation.  Conway's and Janes' story is inferior in craft to the sort of stuff going on over in the X-Men at this time (and probably Teen Titans) but it's a solid story that only suffers for perhaps being a little drawn out.

Mystery in Space #115: None of these stories are particularly interesting except for some of the artists brought to bear. "Certified Safe" has got Bolland drawing Drake's story of a hotshot, space opera general whose overconfidence is his undoing when he's killed by a weird organism on a routine scout mission. Still, his political opponents meet the same fate. Denys Cowan is artist for a humorous tale by Allikas which has contestants vying to be delegates to a convention on Planet Rxaxx, only to discover it's our viruses they consider kindred intellects, not humans. La Rocque and Sech collaborate on a space opera yarn where a couple both sacrifice themselves thinking the other can then get to earth and warn of an alien invasion. This causes the aliens to change their plans of conquest because of the human power of love. 
The other two stories have artists from an older generation. Barr and Tuska give us a story of a spacefaring Noah contending with a AI gone mad. In "The Planet of Loathing" by Utley and Ditko, aliens contact one human to offer to help earth enter a new Golden Age only to be rebuffed. They unknowingly contacted a hardened criminal on deathrow.


New Adventures of Superboy #13: This is not usually one of my favorite titles in the DC catalog and this story isn't anything special--but the ending had a twist I wasn't expecting. This sort of continues from last issues story, with Clark acting extra cowardly to convince everyone he isn't a hero, which makes Clark seem really masochistic, but okay. On a plane ride to Coast City, he meets a young man named Harold who impresses Clark by seeming without fear no matter what happens. He and Clark become friends and later on the beach, he helps Clark out against some bullies. Clark as Superboy soon  soon returns the favor when Harold gets in over his head with some criminals. At the end of the story, we find out Harold's (or Hal's) last name is Jordan, and he will one day become Green Lantern. Well played, Bates and Schaffenberger! Other interesting continuity tidbits: comments regarding the distance from Smallville to Coast City puts Smallville in the Eastern Time zone and suggests it must not be too far from the coast, so it isn't in Kansas at this point. The story also mentions the Beach Boys as if they are new, so it must be set in the early to mid-60s.

Sgt. Rock #348: The lead story by Kanigher, Ayers and Randall has Zack, former bazooka man for Easy, preparing to head home because he lost his left arm. Zack doesn't go home though, instead following Easy into battle, and helping Rock out one last time before leaving him in the hands of his replacements, Short and Long Round. Jan Duursema pencils the next story about the depravity of the Roman gladiatorial games under Nero. Kanigher seems to like these historical asides. "Runaway" has really amateurish looking, apparently early, art by Ron Randall. It's a nasty tale of deserting British soldiers in World War I who disguise themselves with cowhides and escape the Germans only to die in a grisly mishap in an abattoir. The last story is a "Men of Easy" feature focusing on 4-Eyes and what happens the day he breaks his glasses. Spoilers: he still makes the shot.

Super Friends #40: Bridwell and Fradon introduce the Monocle, who has the power to fool any sense, and pretty much makes fools of the Super Friends until they lure him into a trap by pretending Wonder Woman is getting arrested for one of his crimes. Then the Wonder Twins take him down. The backup story is about Jack O' Lantern of the Global Guardians and features a leprechaun and a piece of the Blarney Stone for really concentrated Irishness.

Unexpected #206: The cover story is a Johnny Peril tale by Barr with appealing, sort of cartoony art by Sparling and Patterson. A robot appears to acting as a brutal vigilante. Johnny traces the robots to a factory and discovers the killer robot is the prototype for an assassin (and really more a vehicle or powered armor, but whatever). The creator, Dr. Haskell, powers the robot with a star-shaped talisman given him by a mysterious benefactors--who then apparently kill him for revealing their secret. More on this mysterious group is promised next issue.
Drake, Nicholas, and Demulder open the issue with a businessman wanting to wise up the liberal, vegetarian, animal-loving son of his old mentor. He drops him on an island with a gun where he believes he'll be forced to kill a rabid wolf and give up his beliefs. He returns to find the young man does now have a taste for meat--human meat! He's become a werewolf. "The Iron Beast" by Utley and Garcia is a bit like Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains" except the machine looking for commands from humanity is a futuristic tank. 

Warlord #41: Read more about it here.  We also get more of a "Tale of Wizard World."

Seven Years in Azurth

Mon, 10/25/2021 - 11:00

 


We played the 7th anniversary game of our 5e campaign last night, having had the inaugural session in the Land of Azurth on October 19, 2014. It hasn't been as many sessions as the time might suggest; we only played once a month over much of that time, though the pandemic and a switch to telegaming led to an increased frequency. Still, it's the longest myself or any of my players have continued a game.

We've lost no characters to misadventure, and only one player has left the game over that time period: the teenage daughter of two of the other players who decided she had been things to do than game with middle-aged folks. 

I can't say my eye hasn't wandered to other games over that time. It has probably helped the longevity that we were able to squeeze in Star Trek Adventures in the pandemic, and I'm able to play some other games with another group. Still, I think the inertia of doing this game for so long actually helps carry it forward. It's much easier to quit something you haven't invested as much in.

I don't think we've plumbed the depths of the setting, yet. There's still a lot more the group could get up too.

Vancian Talislanta

Sun, 10/24/2021 - 14:30

I've again been pondering running Talislanta in Pelgrane Press' Dying Earth rpg. Why this particular ruleset, which just happens to be based on the work of an author who was a big influence on Talislanta (particularly when there's another Dying Earth game on the way, after all)? Well, attempting to emulate its source material, it discourages combat and killing and encourages social interaction and trickery. While this isn't the only way to approach Talislanta, it is certainly a reasonable way to do it, and one supported by the example of the picaresque travels of Tamerlin through the land in The Chronicles of Talislanta.
Also, take a look at the key ingredients of a Dying Earth adventure the GM advice identifies:

  • Odd Customs
  • Crafty Swindles
  • Heated Protests and Presumptuous Claims
  • Casual Cruelty
  • Weird Magic
  • Strange Vistas
  • Ruined Wonders
  • Exotic Food
  • Foppish Apparel

I don't think all of those are essential for a good Talislanta adventure but Odd Customs, Weird Magic, Strange Vistas, and Ruined Wonders seem to me to be--and none of the others seems at all out of place.
The base level of the Dying Earth rpg is the "Cugel level" which seems to recreate the adventures of the knavish Cugel (hence the Crafty Swindles and Presumptuous Claims). The next level is that of Turjun (of Miir) and the earliest Dying Earth tales, which are a bit more standard Sword & Sorcery.  Turjun level protagonists are more competent and at least sometimes more moral, so the key adventure elements change somewhat:

Talislanta certainly leans "Turjun level" (with many an archetype based around combat), but I don't think it needs to abandon the swindles and verbal interplay of the Cugel level. My personal conception of Talislanta is that it would be best served by analogy to a Vance work that was written between the time of the early Dying Earth stories and the later ones (though Cugel's first appearance does predate it) and that's the planetary romance of the Planet of Adventure series. Tschai presents a sort of Turjun-level-esque hero, Adam Reith, in terms of competence--but he's less bloodthirsty than some other Turjun-level types--who is forced to deal with with verbose grifters at every turn and maneuver through oddball cultures.
Conceptual grounding aside, the ease of adaptation is always an issue with something like this. Completely remaking Talislanta in the Dying Earth system would daunting, even though Dying Earth is not terribly crunchy. I think though a complete adaptation might not be necessary; there may be a way to meld the sort of traditional Talislanta system with the DE mechanics, but I have only started thinking on this. Perhaps more on that in a later post.

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