Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Go Fer Yer Gun! and Silver Gulch [RPG]

After running a few multi-year campaigns that were enjoyable but draining, I've come up with a different approach for the next year or so.  A series of four-session long adventures, with each adventure set in a different genre and with a different mix of players.

The first adventure was a lot of fun and definitely a chance to trying something different: a Western!  I used a free D20 RPG called Go Fer Yer Gun! and while it might not stand up to campaign play, it was perfect for four sessions of gunslinging.  The PCs arrived in the veritable ghost town of Silver Gulch (nearly abandoned since the local mine petered out) and soon got caught up in a scheme by a mysterious masked bandit to drive the remaining townspeople away.  It was a chance to use all of the hallmarks of the genre, including cattle stampedes, a "new sheriff in town", abandoned mine shafts, and even a damsel in distress about to be blown to smithereens by dynamite!  We had an interesting mix of PCs:  a Maverick named Dusty (who ended up becoming the new sheriff after the NPC sheriff was killed at the beginning of the adventure), a Drifter named Quint (who had a predilection for shooting villains in the back), a female Doctor named Zenobia (a no-nonsense type), and another Doctor named Doc (a scarred fellow).  Naturally, they managed to save the day after an exciting climax on a teetering rope bridge high above a gulch and unmask the bandit leader as the town's mayor!  I stole a good chunk of the setting and NPCs for the adventure from a Western novel called "Ghost Town" by Will Sutton, and it really helped me flesh out characters.

The second adventure will start up in January and will be a 1930s pulp adventure in the Indiana Jones/The Mummy/Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow vein.  I've still got a lot of details to work out, but I'll be using the Savage Worlds rule-set for the first time.

Then later in 2016, I've got post-apocalyptic mutants lined up (using Gamma World) and super heroes (not sure what I'll use yet).

We'll see how the experiment proceeds, but so far it's been a refreshing way to move beyond the standard sword and sorcery and try out some different types of RPGs.

Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown (Marvel) (Ltd. 1988) [COMICS]

Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown definitely stood out from mainstream Marvel superhero comics when it came out.  A four-issue limited series, the comic was published by Marvel's Epic imprint, which allowed it a more mature tone and adult (read: sex & violence) content.  Visually, it was quite different with fully painted covers and interiors.  I remember reading it years ago and thinking the artwork was ugly, but today I appreciate it more.  As the title indicates, fellow X-Men Havok (Alex) and Wolverine (Logan) team up in the issue; it's not a natural or familiar pairing, so it was interesting to see what writers Walter and Louise Simonson would do with it.

Issue # 1 begins with a conversation between the series' two main villains:  a manipulative Russian strategist named Dr. Neutron and his ally, a super-powered figured named General Meltdown.  It turns out they arranged events to cause the Chernobyl crisis in a bid to slow down Gorbachev's reforms, and now they've turned their attention to Havok for a reason that won't yet be revealed.  The scene then shifts to a small town in Mexico where Wolverine gets into a bar fight while Havok watches, bemused.  Good artwork and fun banter make it work.  The pair end up getting chased by gun-toting thugs and steal a car with a woman inside, just as some sort of cyborg with a laser rifle opens fire.  Basically, it's all a trick to get Wolverine and Havok to reveal their superpowers, and then the female driver (whose code-name is Quark and who works for Dr. Neutron and General Meltdown) tranqs them.  Logan eventually wakes up in a hospital and is told Alex is dead; but smelling a rat, he digs up Alex's "grave" and finds it full of rocks.  It's an interesting, fast-paced, and intriguing beginning to a series that is definitely different than the norm.

In Issue # 2, Logan is on the kidnapped Alex's trail.  He busts up that same Mexican bar for info, and then interrogates a taco seller for information.  It's a really fun scene, and quite bloody, justifying the Epic treatment.  Meanwhile, Alex wakes up in a weird, fake hospital.  Quark wears a disguise and gives her name as Scarlett and pretends to be a nurse at the hospital.  She tricks Havok into thinking Wolverine has been captured and brainwashed by a nefarious organisation--perhaps the CIA!  The bad guys' real plan is revealed to the reader:  General Meltdown wants to absorb the full force of Havok's radiation power to become invincible, but the only way Havok would ever let loose enough is if he thinks Meltdown has been responsible for Wolverine's death.

Issue # 3 starts with a nice piece of irony:  Alex flies with Scarlett on the way to "rescue" Logan, while Logan is actually tracking the plane to rescue Alex.  Logan gears up, and in a fun and gory scene, impales a fellow in the eyes with his claws (from behind!)--try that in a Comics Code Authority approved book!  I have to admit, I'm starting to get into the moody painted artwork.  Anyway, Wolvie gets caught in a barbed-taser trap and gets brainwashed for real--when he and Alex track down each other, Wolvie attacks and Alex has to blast him to what is apparently death.  He vows revenge on whomever set up the whole thing, and General Meltdown assumes his plan is going to work.  Only, Scarlett seems to be falling for Alex for real, and I don't think Alex really thinks he killed Wolverine so easily . . .

In Issue # 4, Scarlett literally stumbles over a "clue" (a partially burned diagram of a nuclear reactor in India) to lead Havok to the site of General Meltdown's planned endgame.  After burying Wolverine in a shallow grave, Havok and Scarlett board a plane from India.  There, they find the reactor is melting down and Havok absorbs radiation to try to stop the problem but General Meltdown attacks.  There's a cool battle in the middle of a live nuclear reactor, which I can say I've never seen before.  Seeing that Havok still won't unleash his full power on him, Meltdown kills Scarlett.  Havok blasts Meltdown and is weakened, but then Wolverine arrives!  It's a tough, well-depicted battle that sees Wolvie impaling Meltdown with multiple control rods to sap his inner reactor.  Wolverine and Havok escape, having saved the day, and in a sweet moment Logan decides not to tell Alex that his beloved Scarlett was in on the whole thing.  There's an interesting and foreboding epilogue featuring Dr. Neutron, but I'm not sure if anything ever comes of it . . .

All in all, a really good limited series pairing two heroes who don't often adventure together in a novel setting.  The painted artwork can be a bit off-putting at first, but it really grew on me.  Final verdict: an interesting and successful experiment.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Buffy Comic Project: "Note From the Underground, Part 2"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 48

(Dark Horse Volume 1, 1998-2003)

Creators:  Scott Lobdel & Fabian Nicieza (story); Cliff Richards (pencils); Will Conrad (inks)

Setting:  After Season Six

T.V. Character Appearances:  Buffy, Xander, Dawn, Anya, Angel, Faith, Pike

Major Original Characters:  San Sui (Chinese Vampire)

Summary:  Buffy and her friends had heard word of a secret demon gladiator ring in hidden chambers underneath Sunnydale University, and now Buffy fights her twenty-seventh challenger in the last four days!  She recognises it as a vampire named San Sui she thought she dusted years ago.  Meanwhile, nearby, Xander, Dawn, and hundreds of Sunnydale residents are held captives by the demons.  Anya, in her vengeance demon form of Anyanka, is apparently undercover and tells Xander that the demons are extracting the pain and misery of the captives to use in a narcotic called Soul Drops.  Elsewhere, Faith and Angel arrive in Sunnydale and survey the damaged scene of a fight at the Magic Box--
Angel says he's unable to track Buffy's scenet.  Back underground, Buffy keeps fighting and unleashes her inner anger on the demons.  Suddenly, machine gun fire kills a demon and a motorcycle appears.  The driver tells Buffy to hop on the back, and they manage to escape to the town limits.  Buffy thinks from the motorcyclists apparel that it is Riley who rescued her, but it actually turns out to be someone from much further back in her life:  Pike!


Starting with the end, it was an awesome twist that I didn't see coming.  I haven't thought about Pike in a long, long time and I'm really curious to see what Lobdel & Nicieza do with him.  Clever writers!  The main story with the underground fight ring and the kidnapped townsfolk is interesting, partially because we're not 100% clear on exactly what went down prior to the events in the story.  I'm used to Buffy comics spelling everything out scene by scene, but I don't mind imagining some backstory for myself.  I'm anxious for Faith & Angel to get involved after their excellent scenes in the previous issue.  As far as I'm concerned, I'm sold on the new writers and the new direction.  Bring on Issue # 49!


*  A few days before reading this issue, I was telling a friend my theory that pretty much every genre supernatural genre series I can think of has at least one story involving a demon fight club:  Angel, Lost Girl, etc.  I don't mind too much.

*  That art cover is awesome.  Poster-worthy.  People who bought the photo cover because it included Angel and Faith would be disappointed to see they're only on one page of the comic inside.

*  Intriguing mysterious subplot about the demons Buffy is fighting having been ones she's sure she's killed before.  I had to do some research to remember that San Sui is the kung fu vampire she dusted way back in Issue # 1!

*  It's really interesting really the advance solicitations released for this story arc to see how much the final product has changed.  Apparently, these four issues were going to be called "Hellmouth to Mouth."  This issue, for example, was supposed to include Giles, Oz, and Willow (who would be tempted by dark magic) but they don't actually show up at all!

*  The Pike reveal was pretty cool.

*  The issue includes a very, very early ad for Firefly.  "Joss Whedon gave new blood to vampires.  Now he turns his unique vision to space."

Note the different version of the show's logo font and the firefly symbol.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Realms Toowoomba Recap # 55 [RPG]

[2 Flamerule 1372 continued]

The adventurers leap through the mirror-portal and immediately find themselves falling towards a hard stone floor. All but Myst and Syd manage to land on their feet, but the whole group is in far worse danger. They've arrived in a warehouse that has been set ablaze, and several members of the group seem dazed and shaken by the mystical journey. Fortunately, Syd keeps his cool and instantly transforms into an ape. Climbing and leaping over crates with abandon, the druid finds an outer wall, blasts it open with a powerful spell, and returns to start ferrying his friends, confused and choking from smoke, to safety. Mellia also arrived in full possession of her faculties, and she decides to look for a nearby exit. While invisible, she witnesses Mortemont being carried to safety by his clay golems, while nearby guard-hounds yap and cringe. She returns to the others, and with Syd's help is able to escape.

The adventurers find themselves in an alleyway adjacent to the burning building. The sound of yelling echoes through the night, and occasional glimpses of large groups of men running and shouting can be seen past either end of the alleyway. As Syd and Mellia stand watch and tend to injuries, the others start to recover from the smoke and rigours of the instantaneous journey. Gradually, however, a startling realization dawns on Fargrim, Ralkin, Dolcetto, and Myst: they've switched bodies! Dolcetto's mind is trapped in Fargrim's body, the dwarf's mind is in her's, and Ralkin and Myst have likewise transferred. They have little time to grapple with the implications of such a dramatic turn, as a shirtless, tattooed man wearing red breeches dashes into the alleyway pursued by an enraged mob chanting about throwing off the shackles of Thay. 

From her studies, Mellia realizes the man is likely a Red Wizard and communicates this to her allies. Syd transforms again, this time into a giant eagle, and telepathically instructs the fleeing figure to climb on his back. The man does so and gleefully says that "the rabble below" will now face the punishment they deserve. He calls forth from realms unknown a massive, two-headed troll to appear and wreak havoc on the Laothkundians, who flee en masse. Dolcetto, who just seconds before realized she was in a new body, is filled with a sudden uncontrollable rage and charges towards the monster! The beast inflicts multiple grievous wounds before Syd convinces the Red Wizard, who names himself Olver of the Order of Abjuration, to send the creature back whence it came. Olver says his Order has a safehouse in Laothkund where they can regroup. With Syd scouting ahead through the air, the adventurers bypass heavy fighting in the streets as the uprising continues.

Once inside the safehouse in the hidden basement of a decrepit residence, Olver suddenly realizes he knows little about his rescuers. The two tieflings pass unremarked, but he is quite surprised to see a dwarf and a halfling in the city. He grows suspicious and truculent. Mellia explains that they are a group of adventurers who seek to enter Thay on important business with the Flaming Brazier. Olver says that to obtain a travel permit, they should seek an audience with the autharch of a border province. He then asks the adventurers to leave, after thanking them grudgingly.

[3 Flamerule 1372]

Shortly past midnight, the adventurers again find themselves out on the streets of Laothkund. They decide to head towards the eastern portion of the city, hoping to escape the uprising and camp in the wilderness. In the city's labyrinthine streets, a wrong turn leads the party face to face with a bloody and enraged patrol of gnolls. Mellia tries to persuade them that she and the others are on the side of Thay, but the motley band of adventurers look too suspicious to the gnolls and a fight ensues. Syd, who has transformed yet again and taken the shape of a horse, calls down lightning from otherwise clear skies to strike the hyena-faced humanoids, while Mellia sends magickal spheres of force and summons black tentacles to crush them. Ralkin, in Myst's body, is injured during the fighting, but the adventurers are victorious and able to keep moving.

The party's quest to rescue Cain has just begun, and already peril dogs them at every step!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Torchwood Magazine # 16 [TORCHWOOD]

I noticed some months back that on my Torchwood page, I had reviewed all of the issues of Torchwood Magazine but one.  It took a bit of digging to find someone with a back issue for sale online, but Issue # 16 has now arrived and I'm only six years behind the cover date!  This issue was published just before Children of Earth was set to come out, and the writers and letter page fans are understandably excited.  There's some good stuff in this one:

* An interview with Cush Jumbo, who plays the far less interestingly-named character Lois Habiba in Children of Earth;

*  A feature on the making of three Torchwood audio plays (Asylum, Golden Age, and The Dead Line).  I listened to and reviewed these a long time ago, and it was surprisingly fun to see behind the scenes.

*  A short story:  "The Man Who Dreamed of Stars".  It has an excellent hook:  a terribly disfigured burn victim turns up at a Cardiff hospital, and Jack realizes he's a former Time Agent.  I won't spoil it, but there's a good twist and it's a dark story that fits the Torchwood feel perfectly.

*  A feature on the episode They Keep Killing Suzie, one of my favourite episodes.  The theme is Gwen's contrast to Suzie as a member of the team.

* An interview with the actress who plays Detective Swanson.

*  Part 2 of the 5 part comic strip "Broken.  It's a Bilis story, but frankly incomprehensible without the first part.  Amateur artwork.

*  A feature on the Rift War! comic strip collection.  The revelation that multiple writers apparently had no idea what each other were doing helps explain why it was so terrible.

*  Part one of a short story called "Closing Time."  The team discovers that food, flowers, etc., are spoiling in Cardiff, but only along a particular path through the city.  Gwen & Ianto follow a suspicious figure to the Passmore Research Institute, and when Jack meets Professor Passmore, the man is clammy, leaky, and smells rotten.  Effectively creepy!  Very good, and definitely worth seeing what happens in part two.

* A "Behind the Hub" feature on immortality.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Mynock Squadron Recap # 4 [RPG]

[4.6.7 ABY]

Tuvolo wakes everyone with the announcement that the planned final exercise has been postponed to allow attendance at the memorial service for Moldva Vanir, the operations chief who died in the recent X-Wing crash.  The recruits are told they have just enough time for a grueling run around the base perimeter carrying rucksacks full of heavy rocks.  Stavros discreetly shifts some of the rocks out of his pack and into others, including poor Slaprat's.
During the run, Stavros and Kero fall back from the others.  Stavros shares his suspicions that perhaps Waric, unbeknownst to himself, is the spy.  Stavros points out the recruit's strange behaviour during the Gauntlet and suggests he might be mentally unhinged.  Kero is unconvinced, but agrees it would make sense to have Waric undergo an evaluation.

 When the two reunite with Waric and Keth, the group discuss the upcoming memorial and agree it could be a time when everyone would be vulnerable.  Each recruit agrees to carefully watch a different aspect of the event for any suspicious behaviour.  However, the service passes uneventfully.  Tuvolo states that later in the day Major Dei wishes to interview all 12 recruits, 4 at a time, in order of ranking on the leaderboard.

 In the meantime, Stavros talks to Waric about the latter's strange behaviour and black-outs.  Waric is quite agreeable to having his cybernetic neural net put through a diagnostic and explains the origin of his injury: during an explosion, a battlefield medic was forced to salvage the processor from a nearby entertainment droid in order to keep him alive.  Kero states that if she brushed up on her cybernetics she could perform the examination, but later states she's not very good with computers and that the base computer technician should do it. The two agree to go together to see Stapos later in the day. Before they split up, Kero mentions that something should be done to improve relations with the two Rodians, Torgo and Torga, as there is a fair chance one or both of them will make Mynock Squadron. Waric tracks the two down and receives a respectful greeting as he was the only one of the final contestants in the Gauntlet challenge to continue fighting.

That afternoon, Stavros, Waric, Kero, and Keth have their "interview" with Major Dei, which is actually a ruse for a planning session. Dei states that he managed to crack the encryption on the code cylinder brought to him by Kero and that it contains a message to the Imperial spy on the base. Apparently, an Imperial strikeforce is on the way and will bombard the base from orbit unless an abort signal is sent; the deadline for the signal is just 18 hours away! Dei tells the recruits he needs them to find the spy soon or he'll have no choice but to order an evacuation; and, without knowing who the spy is, the security clearance of everyone on basis will be suspect and it may mean the end of Mynock Squadron before it truly begins. The recruits receive permission from Dei to enter any base property and interview any base personnel as they urgently hope to find the spy before it's too late. On their way out of his office, they overhear the base quartermaster, Ainsi Noh, reporting to Dei that an inventory of base equipment shows that a field kit and a speeder bike are missing.

Waric and Kero start their investigation by speaking to the base administration droid, C5-B9. They learn that only three individuals on the base have the requisite authority to alter its or the maintenance droid's programming: Major Dei, Stapos, and the deceased Moldva Vanir. Later, when Waric and Kero track down Stapos and ask her to perform a diagnostic on Waric's cybernetic neural-net, a strange feedback loop damages the diagnostic equipment and forces an end to the procedure.

Meanwhile, Stavros visits the Chief of Security Wapos Du, and examines holo-footage from the interior and perimeter of the base. Stavros notices some strange discrepancies, and realizes that the base's east gate was opened just prior to the time when the maintenance droid must have been tampered with to sabotage the sims. At about the same time, across the base, Keth conducts a thorough inspection of the A-Wings that will be used for the recruits' final training mission and discovers that the harmless targeting systems on one of the craft have been bypassed and that real ordinance would be armed on the craft.

The four recruits reunite, and after discarding Stavros' suggestion that Waric should be detained for observation, quickly share the information they've gained. Keth is sent to examine the electronic access terminal on the east gate and determines that the credentials used to gain access at multiple suspicious times, including when everyone was at the morning's memorial service, were that of Moldva Vanir. Even more impressively, Waric manages to isolate a reflected image from a transparisteel pane that shows Moldva Vanir himself sneaking onto base! The four conclude that Vanir is not dead after all and must be hiding somewhere in the rugged terrain outside the base. Rushing to find Major Dei and Lt. Tuvolo to share the news, they learn that speeder bikes have hidden homing beacons on them, and that the stolen bike's beacon is active.

While Keth and Waric jump in A-Wings to patrol the airspace above the base, Kero and Stavros persuaded Torgo and Torga to help them in the hunt for the saboteur. With the Rodians' tracking skill and coordinates from the stolen bike's homing beacon, the recruits quickly reach the entrance to a deep, narrow ravine. They find the stolen bike hidden nearby and disable it before proceeding the rest of the way on foot.

As they traverse the rugged terrain into the narrow, shadowy ravine, Kero notices a formation of boulders high up on rock face that do not look like they can have been put there naturally. Careful searching of the area in front of them reveals a small motion sensor placed at ankle height. The recruits decide to try to jump over the area scanned by the sensor, but a running leap by Stavros goes awry as he stumbles at the last minute and sets off the beam! Explosive charges hidden amongst the boulders detonate, causing several of them to fall in the ravine and start rolling towards the recruits! Stavros had just enough warning to run forward and out of the danger zone, but Kero, Torgo, and Torga are hurt, with Torgo knocked unconscious trying to shield Torga.

After making sure that Torgo is safe and stabilized, the three recruits press on, but not before deciding to call in Waric and Keth for air cover. Waric spots an E-web gun emplacement pointed down at the ravine and destroys it, giving his friends below a clear path to the where the ravine ends in a small grotto. There, Moldva Vanir has made himself a small campsite. His holotransceiver, with the attached Imperial code scrambler, has been rigged with an explosive charge and Moldva boasts that in seconds, it will too late for the recruits to do anything to stop the Imperial fleet's arrival. It becomes apparent that Moldva faked his death in the X-Wing crash and has been working as an Imperial spy out of anger that he washed out in his attempt to join Mynock Squadron. 

Stavros tries to jump Moldva, but the spy reacts quickly and blasts the area all around the recruit, knocking him to the ground and raining debris all over. Likewise, Torga is shot as she leaps for Moldva and hits the ground hard, unconscious. With Kero hurt as well and time before detonation rapidly winding down, salvation surprisingly comes from above. Waric and Keth, unknown to the others, had landed their A-Wings nearby and now enter the fray. Waric grabs Moldva's head and slams it hard into the holo-transceiver, miraculously knocking the explosive charge loose. Instants before it explodes, Kero picks it up, tosses it to Keth, and the Zabrak hurls it into the sky where it explodes harmlessly. Moldva, stunned, tries to escape but the implacable Waric and Keth keep on his trail until the spy finally surrenders. 

Returning with their prisoner to the base, the four recruits (along with the injured Torga and Torgo) are greeted by Lt. Tuvolo. "Ya mooks done good," he says. "Now we can get back ta business--the final exercise is tomorrah, an' don't think I'm lettin' ya off easy!"
Director's Commentary (October 10, 2015)

This was a fun session that was a step forward for the campaign.  The PCs got to do much more than training, as they're explicitly tasked with uncovering the spy/saboteur before the entire base is compromised.  The PCs did some really good investigative work, with Keth's natural 20 on his check through the holocams responsible for him catching a recorded glimpse of the malefactor.  (I had gone with the classic "the first murder victim is actually the murderer" trick, which I thought worked out pretty well--at least no one guessed it before the clues were assembled).  The PCs took a surprising tack by splitting into two groups (one on the ground, one in the air) when they went to the bad guys' hideout, but I was glad everyone was able to get into the action in the end.  The sequence where they lobbed the thermal detonator to each other to finally hurl it out of the grotto was cool, as one misstep would have meant massive damage to low-level characters. 

This combination of training regimen, competition, and real intrigue/action was what I had in mind when I designed the campaign.  This first story arc ends with the next session, and then things got tougher for me!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Buffy Comic Project: "Note From the Underground, Part 1"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 47

(Dark Horse, Volume 1, 1998-2003)

Creators:  Scott Lobdell (story); Cliff Richards (pencils); Will Conrad & Joe Pimentel (inks)

Setting:  After Season Six

T.V. Character Appearances:  Angel, Cordelia, Faith, Gunn, Groo, Fred, Buffy

Major Original Characters:  Steglar (demon drug dealer), Marget Brown (judge)

Summary:  Angel and Cordelia go undercover as drug dealers to infiltrate a demon nightclub named Dante’s Inferno.  There, they discover that a demon named Steglar, who carries his head on a pole, has been trafficking in a new drug called Soul Drops, harvested from the souls of the unborn!  Steglar reveals that the source of his supply is Sunnydale, leading Cordelia to have a vision of terrible events happening in the city.  With their cover blown, Angel and Cordelia are forced to fight and kill the demons.  Angel then calls in a favour with a judge he’s helped in  the past, Marget Brown, to get Faith temporarily sprung from prison.  Over the objections of his employees in Angel Investigations, Angel takes Faith with him to Sunnydale.  Meanwhile, Buffy lies unconscious somewhere in Sunnydale, while a mysterious figure putting on clothing from Riley Finn’s locker vows to help.


What a fantastic debut for Scott Lobdell as writer.  I enjoyed this issue as much or more than any other so far in the series, and it feels like the series is finally getting the right (darker, edgier) tone.  Buffy hardly makes an appearance (one page where she’s unconscious), but I honestly didn’t mind: Angel, Cordelia, and Faith steal the show, with the combat against the unique head-on-a-stick demon a highlight for me (some panache on display for once in a Buffy comic!).  I’m quite legitimately looking forward to reading the next issue.


·         *  Angel and Cordelia undercover as mobsters is bound to be fun!

·         The headless Steglar.  Things don’t end well for him.