Wednesday, December 28, 2011

V&V Vednesday: Tyr

Character Name: Tyr     Real Name: Johnathan Harris    Side: Evil
Gender: Male     Height: 6'1"     Weight: 190 lbs     Age: 32

Physical Description: An athletic-looking male in his early 30's with blue eyes and short black hair, who is missing his left hand.  His costume is gray-colored medieval style garb.

STR: 27     END: 28      INT: 12     AGL: 14     CHA: 12

Level: 4th     XP: 11,581     Basic Hits: 4     Hit Points: 43      Healing Rate: 3.2/day
Movement: 69”      Power: 81      Carrying Capacity: 2,136 lbs     HTH Damage: 1d12
Damage Modifier: +1     Accuracy: +1    Detect Hidden: 10%     Detect Danger: 14%
Inventing: 36%     Inventing Points: 2.8     Reaction Modifier: -1 good/+1 evil
Training: Agility

Heightened Endurance A: +15
Heightened Expertise: +4 to hit with swords
Heightened Strength A: +15
Invulnerability: 18pt
Mutant Power - Empower Sword (can 'power up' a normal sword, adding +1d8 damage to the sword's normal qualities, for PR=1 per turn)

Physical Handicap - does not have left hand.
Psychosis - Bigotry:  hates all non-Caucasians, and may have to make an INT roll if taunted or attacked by a minority (a d20 roll if taunted, a d100 roll if he takes damage) to avoid attacking  that person directly.  He also suffers a -4 reaction roll penalty from most people who do not share his views. 

Sword (+2 to hit, +1d6 damage)

Areas of Knowledge
Law Enforcement, Crime, Medieval Reenactment Groups, Hate Groups

Character Notes/Origin/Personality: Johnathan Harris was a cop in one of the worse parts of Philadelphia.  His talents weren't especially noteworthy, but he was considered a steady, reliable sort, the type you would want watching your back when things got dicey.  He disliked having to deal with non-Caucasians, but for the most part was able to hide that dislike well enough so that most people did not pick up on his prejudiced attitude.  He was much more hostile toward any gays he encountered, due to his own deeply repressed homosexuality, but aside from a couple of 'excessive force' situations that got him the occasional reprimand, it wasn't something that was an issue as far as anyone else knew.  His only real quirk, as far as his fellow officers were concerned, was his association with the Society of Creative Anachronism, where every now and then on certain weekends he would dress up in pseudo-medieval clothing, ride around on horses, and beat the crap out of people in mock-swordfights.

All that changed when he participated in a drug bust targeting one of the local street gangs.  The gang was better armed than the police was anticipating, and Harris was hit by an exploding round from one of the gangbanger's rifles, which pretty much destroyed his left hand beyond any hope of repair.  Johnathan survived, but was cut loose from the police force due to his injury.

Bitter, Johnathan drifted in and out of various white supremacist groups, eventually joining up with Norsefire, shortly after Odin had begun to re-create that group more in his own image.  Harris quickly became one of Odin's trusted lieutenants; his police experience meshed well with Odin's military background.  Harris became the first of the Norsefire agents to be granted powers by Odin and to join the ranks of the New Asgardians; now calling himself Tyr, he is Odin's (wait for it) right-hand man, second in command of Norsefire, having become a capable leader in his own right.  He is fully committed to Norsefire's goals, and is a loyal follower of Odin.

Campaign Use: Besides acting as Odin's second-in-command with the other super-powered Asgardians, Tyr can also be encountered by superheroes leading non-powered Norsefire agents on smaller missions, as well.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Photodump Friday 12/23

A few seasonal pics to remind me that it isn't actually snowing here...

Monday, December 19, 2011

A very special Music Monday

Kim Jong Il, you were a murderous dictator and an evil SOB, and if there's an afterlife you are surely roasting in Hell...

...but goshdarnit, you did help to contribute to one of the great cinematic moments of our age:

With a tip of the hat to Greg Hatcher , from whom I stole the idea for this. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

It would be easy to abuse...

...but D&D characters who get killed off should perhaps have a 1% chance of returning as a ghost of some sort.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Review: "Power Windows"

Following up Grace Under Pressure, Rush would collaborate with co-producer Peter Collins to produce yet another synth-heavy album, one that more than any of their other albums from this period would be firmly identifiable in later years as very much a product of the 1980's. Not as dark lyrically as its predecessor, Power Windows would deal with the concept of power, and how we react to it, in its varied forms. Unfortunately, Power Windows is much more hit-or-miss lyrically than Grace Under Pressure, resulting in a more uneven album.

The album starts off strong with 'The Big Money', a catchy, energetic tune (inspired by a John Dos Passos book of the same name) that ponders the nature of money and the power it can have, for good or ill. “Big Money got no soul”, the last line of the song proclaims, neither inherently beneficial or harmful – what we do with it is up to us. After that is 'Grand Designs', a less noteworthy song about individuality and the plans one makes, that at times comes across as lyrically stilted and a bit forced.

Things pick back up with 'Manhattan Project' – a strong, driving tune about the bombing of Hiroshima, and how the atomic bomb still affects us today. Following next is 'Marathon', which uses the metaphor of a race to describe the value of persistence over the span of one's life; a symphonic feel, with a effective choral backing near the end, help to make this a powerful and anthemic song.

The second half of the album start off a bit weaker with 'Territories', a somewhat simplistic polemic against nationalism. 'Middletown Dreams' picks things back up, dealing with the soul-crushing nature of some smaller communities, and the value of dreams in temporarily escaping them; a more adult counterpart to Signals' 'Subdivisions'.

The last two songs suffer again from weaker lyrics. 'Emotion Detector', which deals with how our emotions can both strengthen and weaken us, has little to distinguish it musically. By contrast, 'Mystic Rhythms' – which deals with how we respond to the unknown - also comes across as a bit forced (the New Age-y lyrics seem at odds with Peart's normal approach to such things), but despite this, the atmospheric music combined with the simple-but-effective African sounding beat help to give this closing piece an appealing, almost hypnotic quality.

The production here on the album is clear and well-balanced, although it lacks a bit of the musical bite that the Terry Brown-produced albums did. Musically the songs are solid enough, although there aren't as many individual standout moments as there are on the band's other albums – 'The Big Money', 'Manhattan Project', and 'Marathon' are probably the three most musically impressive songs here. Alex has some good moments on the guitar here, even if there are at times a lack of dominating power riffs, and his chords don't sound as thick as one might wish. Although the synthesizers once again dominate the album, Geddy does get some great bass lines in when he isn't at the keyboard. Geddy's vocals here are clear, and convey well the different emotional contest of the different songs. Peart's drumming is solid throughout, although there's nothing overly noteworthy here in terms of percussion work; it's with this album that Neil also begins to rely a bit more on electronic drum effects than he had on previous albums (although Peart's drumwork is so sharp and precise that it can be hard to tell the difference at times).

Unfortunately, the uneven lyrical content hampers what would otherwise be a better album. Overall, this isn't as good as Grace Under Pressure, and it's about a half-notch below Signals as well. Although here are some fine songs here, Power Windows falls under the good-but-not-great category; even if one is interested in the band's synth-heavy oeuvre, there are better albums to start with.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Trollslayers - The Snow Queen

Much is speculated, but little is truly known, about the enigmatic figure known as the Snow Queen.  That she resides in the frozen northern lands, and is a magician of great power, is accepted as fact.  Of the rest of what is said, most of it is contradictory, and all of it may be unreliable.  After all... men lie.

There are three common theories as to the nature of her existence.   Some say that she was once a mortal sorceress who bargained for, and gained, great magical power, but at a terrible cost.  Others say that she was a demon who has been trapped in a mortal guise, bound to the frozen lands by an ancient pact.  Still others whisper that she was once of the Sidhe, but was banished from the faerie lands for crimes so horrible that even the other fae could no longer abide her.  Only the Snow Queen knows for certain what is true, and she prefers not to speak of her past.

Although she prefers her frozen domain and the castle of ice that resides there, she can travel to any land where snow or ice can be found on the ground.  Her home is said to be rich in treasures acquired from ships that sailed too far north into the icy waters, as well as the weapons and armor of those who dared to try to invade her castle.  Some whisper that those who have died in her domain continue on in a half-life, forever under her command.

It is said that she can see and hear anywhere that the winter winds blow, should she so choose.  It is for this reason that some seek her out, not for sake of treasure, but instead to gain knowledge.  It is for this same reason that those who live in the northern lands often do not speak of the Snow Queen by name, for fear that she will hear them and take offense.

It is possible to bargain with the Snow Queen, but the bargainer must be very careful in doing so, for she both wise and unforgiving of error  More than one adventurer has found himself trapped in her domain, a victim of their own hubris. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Trollslayers - Henchmen (part 2) and Morale

More stuff on the fine art of hiring lackeys meat shields henchmen to assist you in your plunderings noble endeavors.  This post refers heavily to both the previous post regarding henchmen as well as the post regarding reaction rolls.

At any given time, a standard roll of 8+ is needed to find a potential henchman (usually rolled once per week).  This is assuming that the potential employer is currently in a large village/small town of about a 1,000 people or so.  For settlements less than that number, there is a -1 penalty for every 100 or so less that a thousand.  For larger establishments, every doubling of the population past 1,000 nets a +2 bonus.  This same modifier based on population is also applied to the roll that determines the potential henchman's character level (rolled separately).  For every 4 points the roll is exceeded by, there is an extra potential henchman available in the area.

If advertising for someone of a specific skillset, penalties apply to the roll for finding potential henchmen.  Advertising just for warriors is a -1 penalty.  If you want a warrior with a specific skill (i.e. archer), or one of the Expert types (thief, priest, bard), that's a -2 penalty.  Looking for an Expert with a specific skillset (not just a thief, but a cat burglar) gives you a -3 penalty. Trying to hire any type of spellcaster is a -4 penalty.

Relying solely on word of mouth is free, but nets you a -3 penalty.  Hiring a town crier on your behalf costs around 5 SP a week, but there's no penalty on the roll.  Hiring a scribe to put up postings (usually torn down after a week or so) costs around 10 SP, giving you a -1 penalty on the roll (or -2 if the type of henchmen you're looking for tends to skew closer to illiteracy than not).  You can also make a roll at no cost or penalty if you are part of a connected organization of sufficient size (i.e. thieves' guild), but you're limited to prospects of that specific profession.

As noted previously, actually getting the potential henchman to agree to hire on is essentially a PRE Reaction roll, so all the usual modifiers for Reaction rolls (outsider, religion, magic, reputation, authority) apply here as well.  Talents such as Persuasion would also apply.  Other situational factors may also modify the roll, with anywhere from -2 to +2 as appropriate.

Example: after his misadventures in the big city, Drogo is laying low (relatively speaking) in the not-quite-so-big-city of Haresh, which has a population of just over 2,000.  He has heard of an abandoned temple nearby with riches for the taking, but he wants an extra pair of hands with him to deal with any monsters that might be nearby.  Drogo begins putting word out that he is looking for someone to help him on a treasure-hunting expedition.  Drogo gets a +2 modifier due to the size of Heresh, but a -3 penalty because he is relying on word of mouth.  Because he doesn't specify what type of aid he's looking for, there's no penalty there, so his overall modifier is -1.  He rolls a 10, which becomes a modified 9; there is one potential henchman (named Ranulf) available that is willing to consider the offer.  The GM rolls to determine Ranulf's level, adding a +2 modifier; a roll of 7 becomes a 9, indicating Ranulf is 1st level.  A further roll indicates that Ranulf is a Warrior.

Now Drogo must convince Ranulf to join him.  There are no modifiers for reputation or other such factors, so Drogo is mainly relying on the +1 modifier his high PRE score gives him.  He rolls a 6, which becomes a 7 after his PRE mod is added.  Ranulf's reaction is neutral; he's not totally opposed to the idea, but he needs something more to sell him on it.  Drogo modifiers the offer to include giving Ranulf a full share instead of a half-share (not that Drogo intends to keep such a promise, but hey, it sounds good).   This gives him an extra +1 modifier, so the GM rolls again, this time with a total mod of +2.  A roll of 8 becomes a 10, and Ranulf agrees to the job.

Whenever a henchman or henchmen face a grave threat, or begin taking casualties (say, 1/4 of your number dead or incapacitated, and again when 1/2 the party shares that state), a Morale check may be needed.  As with Reaction rolls, a 6 or less is bad (flee!), 7-9 is neutral (hold your ground but not advance, fight defensively), and 10+ is good.  The employer's PRE modifier is included in the roll (something along the lines of a Leadership talent would also be applicable), as well as mods for Religion and Authority.  Penalties for Magic and Outsider status may apply, although these may eventually fade away if the henchman sticks with the employer over an extended period of time.  Modifiers for Reputation will fade very quickly, to be replaced by appropriate mods regarding the employer's actual treatment of the henchman, which may vary from -2 to +2 depending on circumstances.  Other situational modifiers include:

Relative numbers - Being outnumber 3:2 gives you a -1 on Morale, and being outnumbered 2:1 puts you at -2.  For every next step in terms of ration outnumbered (i.e. 3:1, 4:1, 5:1, etc), an extra -2 penalty accrues.  Outnumbering your foes gives you bonuses to your Morale roll equivalent to the penalty for being outnumbered.

(this is, obviously, only appropriate given humanoid foes with roughly similar arms and training - different monsters would be treated as if worth more or less than a human(oid) threat, with a dragon (for example) being worth at least a hundred or more men)

Henchman level - a 1st level character (as opposed to a zero-level 'man-at-arms) gets a +1 to their roll.  Characters 2nd level or higher get +2.

Length of association - having served with an employer on a previous adventure gives the henchman a +1 bonus to Morale.  If that time together is a year or more, the bonus is +2, and five or more years together gives a +3 bonus.

Casualties - having lost half or more of your forces incurs a -1 penalty, and having lost 3/4 of said force is a -2 penalty.  Also, there's an extra -1 penalty if your leader has been knocked unconscious, -2 if they've been killed. 

Magic - encountering a spellcaster, or a creature with magical abilities, incurs a -1 penalty for those not used to dealing with magic.

Example, part deux: Drogo and Ranulf are poking around the abandoned temple when a trio of animated skeletons show up, skulls grinning and swords a-swinging.  The GM decides that this is as good time as any for a morale check for Ranulf.  The unlikely duo are outnumbered three to two, so that's a -1 penalty.  Ranulf is a 1st level character, so that's a +1 bonus.  Ranulf has no real prior experience with magic, so that's another -1 penalty.  Combined with Drogo's +1 PRE modifier, and the previously established +1 mod for Drogo giving Ranulf an equal share of the treasure, this totals out to a +1 mod on the roll.

The GM winds up rolling a natural 8 for Ranulf, which becomes a modified 9, a neutral result.  Ranulf fights defensively, but needs to keep making further Morale checks until he gets either a negative (run! run away!) or a positive result.

"History is'a made at night! Character is what you are in the dark!"

Adamant Entertainment to release Buckaroo Banzai RPG in 2012

Saturday, November 19, 2011

This is somewhat ironic...

...given how I like to put the screws to elves in D&D games:

I Am A: True Neutral Elf Wizard (5th Level)

Ability Scores:

True Neutral A true neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. He doesn't feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. Most true neutral characters exhibit a lack of conviction or bias rather than a commitment to neutrality. Such a character thinks of good as better than evil after all, he would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, he's not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way. Some true neutral characters, on the other hand, commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run. True neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you act naturally, without prejudice or compulsion. However, true neutral can be a dangerous alignment when it represents apathy, indifference, and a lack of conviction.

Elves are known for their poetry, song, and magical arts, but when danger threatens they show great skill with weapons and strategy. Elves can live to be over 700 years old and, by human standards, are slow to make friends and enemies, and even slower to forget them. Elves are slim and stand 4.5 to 5.5 feet tall. They have no facial or body hair, prefer comfortable clothes, and possess unearthly grace. Many others races find them hauntingly beautiful.

Wizards are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard's strength is her spells, everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar- a small, magical, animal companion that serves her. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells.

Courtesy of What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rethinking the comic book reviews

It's been painfully obvious that my posting of late has dropped off.  In large part this mainly stems from a lack of desire to continue to write up the capsule comic book reviews.  I've been somewhat dissatisfied of late with how they've turned out.  Because I've avoided giving spoilers in my reviews, and because I'm not the wordsmith that other reviewers are, many of the reviews were pretty darned scant in their content (this was especially true with the middle chapters of extended story arcs - just how many times can you say, 'yeah, this is good, looking forward to the ending', anyways?).

Because of this growing dissatisfaction with the reviews, I've delayed actually writing the damned things, to the point where the backlog forces me to be even more skimpy, just to be able to get caught up.  And because I've felt guilty about letting the comic reviews (which are more 'time-sensitive' than anything else I post) slide, I've held off on writing other posts that I was actually more interested in.  Which has made the blog even more of a wasteland of late.

But I don't want to give up entirely on writing about comics.  I care a lot about the medium, and I like to see cool and interesting things done with it.  I also like to give the occasional shout-out to a well done title that perhaps doesn't get as much attention as it deserves.

So I'm thinking of doing the occasional review here and there, when something catches my interest enough that I want to write about it.  The occasional trade paperback or OGN, perhaps a serialized story arc that has been completed, and the occasional first issue or one-shot. Meanwhile, I'm hoping to write a little more on the gaming side, and occasionally get some other stuff written up as well, such as some more Rush reviews.

For those that actually did read the weekly comics reviews, I hope that someone out there saw something in them that caught their attention, that they might not have looked at otherwise.  If they did pick up something because of one of my reviews, and liked it, I'll count that as a win.

Not admitting defeat, just switching gears...

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Boycott Outlaw Press

It seems that James Shipman is continuing his thieving ways, blatantly ripping off the work of others for his Outlaw Press publications.  I confess that I'm not certain how much good it will do, but Paul Ingrassia over at the Troll Hammer Press blog is trying to organize a boycott, hoping to hit Shipman where it will hurt the most (the wallet).

Trollslayers - Reaction Rolls

Upon meeting NPCs for the first time, the GM may make the PC's make a Reaction Roll, modified by the PRE modifier, as well as any relevant skills (Persuasion, Seduction, etc).  A modified roll of 6 or less means a negative reaction, a 7-9 is neutral or indifferent, and 10+ is a positive reaction.  A number of things can modify the roll; most such modifiers will range from -2 to +2, with the various modifiers being cumulative:

Outsider - if you are not from the area in question, or are of a different race/species, you usually suffer a -1 penalty.  If the two races/cultures have a history of conflict, the penalty is -2.

Religion - people of different faiths usually react to one another with a -1 penalty.  If the faiths have a history of hostility toward each other, or the reactant's faith is particularly hostile toward non-believers, it's a -2 penalty.  If a religion is dominant in an area, two people of the same faith usually have no modifiers toward each other (as it's pretty much considered the default, after all). However, if the faith's adherents are in the minority of the local area, they have a +1 reaction to each other (the 'we need to stick together' effect).  If a faith has been outlawed or is particularly fringe or obscure, meeting another follower gets you a +2 bonus to the reaction roll.

Magic - most people tend to react negatively to those who practice the arcane arts.  Those who are known to be spellcasters generally suffer a -1 penalty if the area is not totally devoid of the occasional magician or witch.  If in an area where there are no (known) spellcasters, the penalty is -2.

Reputation - If a person is known for being an 'above-and-beyond' kind of person, they will usually get a +1 to their reaction rolls.  Also, recent acts of bravery, generosity, etc (standing up against bad odds, buying a round of drinks, etc) will usually get you a (short-term) +1 bonus.   Those who have a longstanding reputation for great bravery, selflessness, etc usually get a +2 bonus.  Those who are known for being a bit of a jerk, or have recently committed some sort of social faux pas, they suffer a -1 penalty.  Those known for being a complete asshole, miser, sadist, etc suffer a -2 penalty.  Also, most known criminals also suffer a -2 penalty from law-abiding citizens (if in an area where crime is rampant (i.e. Sanctuary from Thieves' World), the penalty may only be a -1). 

Authority - those in a position of local authority (town sheriff, local priest, etc), if they are not known for abusing said authority, usually get a +1 reaction.  If their authority extends over a greater area (a prince or high bishop), the bonus is +2.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Capsule reviews: Comics from 10/26

Secret Avengers #18 (Marvel, $3.99, Warren Ellis, David Aja) - This reads kind of like an issue of Planetary, and in case you were wondering, yes, that's a good thing.  Steve Rogers, Sharon Carter, and Shang-Chi have to invade an Escher-like dimension with its own physical laws to keep the Shadow Council from using that dimension to threaten the Earth.  Ellis nails Shang-Chi's character nicely (including his distaste for the "games of deceit and death").  Aja's art is wonderful, and handles the martial arts sequences beautifully.   After last issue's hiccup, this issue is pretty much just as good as Ellis's debut in #16.  Highly recommended.

All-Star Western #2 (DC, $3.99, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Moritat, Jordi Bernet) - Gotham's lords of crime (followers of the teachings of the Crime Bible, an aspect of the DC universe I'm not overly familiar with) decide to get rid of Hex and Arkham, which gives Jonah an excuse to do what he does best - namely, kill a whole lot of SOB's who need killing. As a result, with the extended gunfight in all of its gruesome glory (beautifully illustrated by Moritat), there's a little less room for the interaction and banter between Hex and Arkham.  Which is a bit of a shame, but the issue still moves along nicely enough, ending with our unlikely pair of heroes in quite a bind.

There's also a back-up story, with the first part of an El Diablo tale, where our haunted hero must face the walking dead (what else?).  This didn't grab me quite so much; the set-up here seems rather by-the-numbers, but I'm more than willing to see where Gray and Palmiotti are going with this.  Even with the less-than-stellar backup story, overall this is still one of the best things DC is doing right now.

Legion: Secret Origin #1 (of 6) (DC, $2.99, Paul Levitz, Chris Batista, Marc Deering) - While the basics of the founding of the Legion is fairly well established, there's still obviously plenty of unexplored territory that can be touched upon, as the first issue of this mini-series demonstrates nicely.  Little is changed, but rather is instead fleshed out and expanded upon.  It's a nice trick that Levitz pulls off here, balancing that which is already known with new revelations and insights.  Quite frankly, this should have been released before the two ongoing Legion series; if it had, then perhaps those who tried (and found wanting) the first issues of Legion of Super-Heroes and Legion Lost might perhaps have been more inclined to stick around, having a better grounding with what is admittedly an unwieldy and intimidating story concept to jump into.  Recommended for both long-time Legion fans as well as newbies to the 31st century.

Vescell #3 (Image, $2.99, Enrique Carrion, John Upchurch) - Again this issue has two stories in it, the conclusion to last issue's cliffhanger, as well as a stand-alone story with some new characters.  This issue pretty much has the same strengths and flaws that the preceding two issues did; lots of interesting ideas that aren't fleshed out or executed quite as well as perhaps they could be.  There is some attempt at characterization, but more attention seems to be paid toward establishing all sorts of background detail for this particular setting (I'm beginning to wonder if this wasn't originally conceived as a setting for a tabletop RPG game - the fetishization of background minutiae is a common trait of gamemasters-turned-writers).  I'll be giving this a few more issues, but this series really needs to tighten its chops, and concentrate less on fiddly details and more on clearer storytelling techniques.

War of the Independents #1 (Red Anvil, $2.99, Dave Ryan and others) - A huge crossover story, in the style of Marvel and DC's 'event' books, but instead featuring a myriad of various characters from various independent comic books.  There's something of a hook here that involves a robotic Enkidu (of the Gilgamesh epic) who faced off against some unnamed wizard in the past, and said wizard - with the demon Orcus in tow - faces off in the modern day against a disparate group of heroes (the only one of whom I recognize is Cerebus, who it should be noted pretty much steals every scene he's in).  Then there is the obligatory 'gathering of heroes' sequence, which quite frankly drags on too long.  This is all in service of facing a threat from someone named Razorjack (which strikes me as an odd name for a female character, but what the heck).  The first issue here, quite frankly, isn't very good, but with the groundwork established, hopefully the basic set-up will allow for some good stories to be told in future issues.

The Last Trick-Or-Treaters

If you don't normally follow Randy Milholland's webcomic Something Positive, then you probably haven't seen his series of strips called The Last Trick-Or-Treaters - start at the link and click on 'next comic' to enjoy the Halloween fun.

Music Monday: "This is Halloween"

The classic opening theme to The Nightmare Before Christmas, as covered by Marilyn Manson:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Review: "The New Death and others"

The following is a little different than my normal music or comic book reviews, as it covers a collections of prose short stories and poems by James Hutchings, author of the Teleleli blog; Mr. Hutchings provided me with a free copy in exchange for a review, which follows below.

The New Death and others is a collection of 44 short stories and 19 poems; in PDF form the document clocks in a 94 pages, not including the cover image.  The short stories, as one can imagine from doing the math, are very short - many are a page or less, and the longest runs about six pages in length.  Many of the stories rely primarily on ironic or twist endings (O. Henry has much to answer for), and several of the stories are based around puns and similar wordplay.  These would be fine if spread out a bit more, but reading several such stories in short succession quickly diminishes what enjoyment I might have otherwise derived from these particular offerings.

Hutchings is at his best with his (relatively) longer pieces.  'How the Isle of Cats Got Its Name', 'The Scholar and the Moon', and 'The God of the City of Dust' are all fine fantasy pieces, showing no small amount of influence by Dunsany, as well as perhaps a bit of Lovecraft's Dreamlands stories and C.A. Smith's fantasy tales.  'The Adventure of the Murdered Philanthropist', despite its reliance on puns, is an enjoyable spoof on Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.  'Todd' is an effective modern-day horror story.  All of these stories show potential, and I hope that Hutchings' further writings follow more in their vein, as opposed to the one-note shorter pieces.

As for the poetry, well, that's something that's even more up to individual taste, and as a result is harder to critique in a manner useful to anyone reading this review.  That said, I liked several of the pieces offered here, written in a traditional rhyme structure, which I happen to prefer (you can peddle your hippie 'free verse' elsewhere, mister).  Occasionally a line of a particular piece came off as a bit forced, but most of the poems here flow reasonably well.  Four of the poems are actually adaptations of prose short stories (H.P. Lovecraft's 'Under the Pyramids', Robert E. Howard's 'The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune', 'The Garden of Adompha' by Clark Ashton Smith, and 'Charon' by Lord Dunsany), and these are some of the best poems available in the collection, perhaps because they are based off of stories that are already quite enjoyable in their own right.

The New Death and others is available for download at both Amazon and Smashwords, in a variety of formats, for a mere $0.99.  Despite the uneven quality of the different stories and poems here, I think that the better pieces in the collection are worth the price of such a meager sum.  Anything that costs a buck can pretty much be justified as an impulse buy, and I believe that there's enough here of value that such a purchase would not be regretted.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tonight, we got Rushed

Tonight, my Better Half and I got to see a screening of Rush's Time Machine 2011: Live In Cleveland, which will be released on DVD in a couple of weeks.  We weren't able to see the band live when they Atlanta during the Time Machine tour, so this was the next best thing.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Trollslayers - Henchmen

Player characters may not wish to adventure without employing a bit of aid to help them out.  Henchmen are those NPC's who are under the employ of the PC's and help them out as best they can, as long as too much is not expected of them.  Payment can vary wildly, bur for jobs where treasure is being sought out, giving a henchman a half-share of the loot taken is not unreasonable (or, for the mathaphobic who dislike working with fractions, a henchman gets one full share while a PC gets two shares).

Generally, a PC can have up to (PRE+Level)/4 (rounded down) henchmen at any given time.  If they try to have more than that number, they spread themselves a bit too thin, and all of the various henchmen start taking penalties to their morale as a result.  The means of contacting a potential henchman are numerous, and can range from hiring a town crier to bumping into the right person at a bar and buying them a drink.  Getting the potential henchman to agree to follow the PC requires a 10+ on a PRE attribute check.  A modified roll of 7-9 means that the potential henchman is uncertain, and that the PC can try again if they offer an extra incentive to help sweeten the deal.  A result of 4-6 is a flat-out 'no', and a natural 3 or less means that the PC will suffer a -1 penalty on any potential future hires in the area, due to the potential employee trash-talking the PC behind his or her back.

The level of the henchmen can be determined randomly, if desired, by rolling 2d and adding the PC's level, then comparing to the following chart:
8-        Zero-level 'man-at-arms'
9-12      1st level
13-16     2nd level
17-20     3rd level
every +4  +1 level 
(this can and probably should be modifed by the size of the village/town/city that the hiring is being attempted at, but that's a post for another day)

Usually, a henchman won't follow someone who is of lesser level than their own, although there may be exceptions to this.

If the henchmen is 1st level or higher, then he or she is (roll a d6) on a 1-3 a Warrior, on a 4-5 some sort of Expert, and on a 6 a Magician (Paragons are almost never found as henchmen).

Henchmen usually start out with only 1d x the PRE in SP (if that) - the employer may need to pay for some of the henchman's basic equipment to get them to agree to hire on.

When following a PC/leader, the initiative rolls for henchmen cannot exceed that of their employer (they're looking to their leader to take the lead, after all).  This goes for NPC leader-types as well - a goblin horde will not exceed the initiative score of their chieftain on any given round, for example.

Henchmen get full EP for facing threats and spending money on tithing/studying/carousing, half EP for exploration while in the service of an employer, and no EP for time spent playing at the gaming table (after all, they're NPC's).

Besides all the other benefits having henchman can provide, once per gaming session a PC may opt to deflect a threat/hazard/attack towards one of their henchmen instead, if such a thing can be explained in a reasonable manner (if the PC Drogo fails to disarm the poison needle trap on a treasure chest, it's not too likely that one of his henchmen is just going to happen to suffer the effects instead - however, if Drogo triggers a wire trap that causes a crossbow bolt to be fired from down the hallway, a nearby henchmen could instead be made to suffer for Drogo's lack of alertness).

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Capsule reviews: Comics from 10/5, 10/12, and 10/19

In a desperate attempt to get caught up from the last few weeks, these reviews (such as they are) will probably be a little more capsule-y than normal...

Action Comics #2 (DC, $3.99, Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, Brent Anderson) - It's one thing to capture a man of steel, it's another thing to break him, as Luthor finds out the hard way.  Morrison's script continues to entertain, smartly updating the '38 Superman concept for the modern day.  Anderson's guest work here on the pencils meshes decently enough with what Morales is doing, enough so that the difference isn't terribly jarring.  Recommended.

Stormwatch #2 (DC, $2.99, Paul Cornell, Miguel Sepulveda) - A little better paced that the preceding issue, but still a bit clumsy in spots.  The best thing about this issue is that we can already see the different factions and power plays that are showing up in the group.  Hardly perfect, but interesting enough to make me want to see this through at least to the end of the first storyline.

Moriarty #5 (Image, $2.99, Daniel Corey, Anthony Diecidue) - Part one of 'The Lazarus Tree' finds us with a Moriarty who is a different man than he was during the Dark Chamber story - coming face-to-face with his own mortality has changed him.  In search of answers, the Professor heads to Burma, where he quickly gets entangled in the local political and criminal maneuverings.  It's not the blockbuster start to a story that #1 was, but it works well enough, especially in terms of the first chapter of a sequel.  Recommended.

Vescell #2 (Image, $2.99, Enrique Carrion, John Upchurch) - Once again, this issue has two stories in it, although the second story is of the 'to be continued' variety.  And once again, the ideas and background presented here are interesting, but the presentation thereof could use a little fine-tuning.  Also, the second story suffers from an excess of sexual content that serves less to drive the story and more to act as clumsy titillation.  Which is a shame, because the core concept of this book is certainly a serviceable one; I only hope that Carrion and Upchurch start to hit their stride sooner rather than later.

Our Man Flint #0 (Moonstone, $1.00, Gary Phillips, Kevin Jones) - Based off of the Flint movies of the '60's, which were parodies of the Bond films.  I've never seen the Flint movies, so I don't know what tone this book is meant to emulate, but this doesn't work as a comedy, and likewise it's a pretty bland action story.  Neither the writing nor the art overly appeal to me, for that matter.  I'll be giving this one a pass.

Phases of the Moon #2: Honey West/Kolchak (Moonstone, $2.50, Mark Rahner, Glen Fernandez, Matt Hebb) - After the disappointing first issue of PotM, I wasn't really intending to get the rest of the story, but it wound up in my pull list anyways, and it was cheap, so...

Unfortunately, the second installment really isn't better than the first one was.  The art isn't that great, and it doesn't fit very well with the kind of story being told (the coloring is too bright, as well).  The best part of the issue is the Kolchak story, which isn't fantastic, but holds up a little better, and at least Rahner captures Carl Kolchak's 'voice' and narration fairly well.  I'll probably wind up getting the rest of this, but only because there's only one issue to go, and because, well, it's cheap.

Demon Knights #2 (DC, $2.99, Paul Cornell, Diogenes Neves) - This book continues to be one heck of a romp.  Vandal Savage is hilarious, and pretty much steals every scene he's in.  There's no small amount of humor here (including the fact that nobody seems to be fooled by Shining Knight's disguise), but it's not a comedy, and there's plenty of action, and even some drama here, as well.  Of the 'new 52' titles, Action and All-Star Western are probably better written, but overall this is the title that I'm enjoying the most. 

Legion Lost #2 (DC, $2.99, Fabian Nicieza, Pete Woods) - Wildfire narrates this issue, giving some much-needed backstory that probably should have appeared sooner.  The local townsfolk mourn the loss of their dead, and the time-stranded Legionnaires mourn as well, although they apparently can't be bothered to grieve for their two 'dead' teammates in the process.   The team encounters the first victim altered by the pathogen that was released, and suffice to say things don't go well.  Better than the first issue, but there's still plenty of room for improvement here.

(as an aside, can I point out that the concept of the Legionnaires having so much difficulty with the taint of 21st century Earth's atmosphere, when their transuits have dealt without difficulty with the atmospheres of alien worlds that were far more hostile and polluted, is a really, REALLY stupid and ham-fisted concept?)

The Shade #1 (of 12) (DC, $2.99, James Robinson, Cully Hammer) - An enjoyable first issue that re-introduces the anti-hero of Robinson's Starman series.  It moves a bit slowly, and is more character driven than action oriented, but Robinson handles the pacing of the quiet moments deftly enough.  Which is to say, this is written by good-Robinson and not Cry For Justice-Robinson.  Recommended.

Elric: The Balance Lost #4 (of ???) (Boom!, $3.99, Chris Roberson, Francesco Biagini) - Okay, I officially have no idea just how many issues this story is supposed to run.  Is it too much to ask that this sort of information be included either on the cover or in the publishing info?  In any case, the story moves along decently enough, although it's spread a bit too thin at points.  Eric Beck finally looks like he just might develop a personality, and perhaps even a spine; hopefully, he'll actually continue to grow as a character and perhaps even actually have a meaningful impact on the story.

Glamourpuss #21 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, $3.00, Dave Sim) - C'mon, it's Glamourpuss... if you've read the earlier issues then you know what you're in for.  If not, then this sure as hell isn't the place to jump in to find out if it's for you or not.

Liberty Annual 2011 (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, $4.99, various writers and artists) - This year's anthology by the CBLDF, as part of their ongoing fight against censorship.  Detailing the multiple stories presented here would taken an entire blog post by itself, so suffice to say that not only is this for a good cause, but the stories presented here are quite good, as well.  Very much recommended.

Legion of Super-Heroes #2 (DC, $2.99, Paul Levitz, Francis Portela) - For those still reading after last issue's non-jumping on chapter, this issue is decent enough, especially for long-time Legion fans.  The threat from Daxam is fleshed out a bit, some needed background info is given, and a few subplots are serviced along the way.  It's a workable 2nd chapter to a multi-part story, albeit not an exceptional one.  

Fables #110 (DC/Vertigo, $2.99, Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham) - Part three of 'Inherit The Wind' continues to entertain, in terms of both main storyline and the Oz subplot.  Obviously, this isn't the issue to jump in on to see if you like the series, but really, you should already be picking it up.  Yeah, it's that good.

Conan: Road Of Kings #9 (Dark Horse, $3.50, Roy Thomas, Dan Panosian) - I'm still not crazy about the current storyline, but this issue does pick up a notch with some decent action sequences and a nice twist at the end.  Panosian does a decent job of taking over the art from Mike Hawthorne, giving me a bit of hope for the rest of this series.

Dark Horse Presents #5 (Dark Horse, $7.99, various writers and artists) - One of the best values in the market today keeps on moving along nicely; seriously, any comic book fan whose reading doesn't begin and end with superheroes really should be checking this out.   Eric Powell and Andi Watson provide a pair of enjoyable one-off stories, and the various ongoing serials continue to entertain (with the exception of Neal Adams' 'Blood', which just continues to plod along - *sigh*). Both the overall value and the range of storytelling styles and genres make this pretty much a must-read.

Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword #3 (Dark Horse, $7.99, various writers and artists) -While not as overall as strong in terms of content and execution as Dark Horse Presents, this is still worth picking up for any Howard fan, or any fan of action-adventure in general.  The Conan serial ends well enough, finishing up a bit better than I had anticipated.  A western story featuring the Sonara Kid starts off well enough, there's a fair Brule story, and a pretty decent Steve Harrison story here, as well.  The highlight of the issue is a re-printing of the first part of  'The Vale of Shadow', a Kull story illustrated by Tony de Zungia that was first published as a stand-alone graphic novel by Marvel back in the late '80s. 

Near Death #2 (Image, $2.99, Jay Faerber, Simone Guglielmini) - Another fine done-in-one hardboiled story, with Markham agreeing to protect a man whom others are seeking to kill, only to find out that things aren't exactly black-and-white in terms of doing the right thing.  Faerber avoids taking the easy way out here with the story's conclusion, which I appreciate.  Recommended.

Animal Man #1-2 (DC, $2.99 each, Jeff Lemire, Travel Foreman) - One of two DC titles that I initially wasn't planning on picking up, but decided to give a try based on good word of mouth.  I have a fondness for Morrison's run on the original run of this book, and Lemire wisely acknowledges that part of the character's life without directly trying to emulate it.  It's not quite a horror story, but there are certainly horrific elements to it.   It's very well written, although I'm not certain if it's a concept I want to follow in the long-term; that said, I'm more than willing to give the rest of this story a chance, and see just how it plays out.

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1-2 (DC, $2.99 each, Jeff Lemire, Alberto Ponticelli) - Another title that I was originally going to pass on, but had recommended to me anyways.  It's also written by Lemire, as it turns out, and it's another book that I wound up enjoying (perhaps I should give Sweet Tooth a try, if this is any indication).  The basic concept comes off as if someone crossed together the B.P.R.D. with Grant Morrison's run on Doom Patrol, which as it turns out is a pretty neat thing in my book.  Lemire isn't afraid to throw plenty of weirdness and high concepts at the reader; not everyone will appreciate this, especially a certain branch of comic book reader who like their fictions to be easily explained and digested.  That said, I enjoyed it quite a bit, and am looking forward to see where this all goes.  Recommended.