Sunday, February 27, 2011

Capsule reviews: Comics from 2/23

(I meant to get this up sooner.  Really.  Honest.)

King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel #1 (of 4) (Dark Horse, $3.50, Timothy Truman, Tomás Giorello) - The first issue of a storyline narrated by an older Conan, one who is in his later years, as he tells the tale to a court scribe about an adventure during his younger days as king. This has many classic Conan elements to it: Conan is captured, brought low by sorcery, refuses to compromise his principles, and is left to die a horrible death.  With another writer this would be mere pastiche, but Truman gives the story enough emotional heft to make the telling enjoyable, and Giorello's art is wonderfully visceral.  Highly recommended.

Astonishing X-Men vol 6: Exogenetic (Marvel, $14.99, Warren Ellis, Phil Jimenez) - Wait, a Marvel book?  How did that get on the list?  Oh yeah, it was written by Warren Ellis, who is pretty much my favorite writer in the field today.

This storyline, when published in serial form, was plagued by various delays, but none of that hinders the story when read in a collected format.  Like Ellis's previous Astonishing story, this is self-contained, with no real knowledge of the current X-Men continuity is needed (thankfully!).  Ellis still has to dance around the idiotic '198' rule that was imposed on the X-books in recent years, and in doing so comes up with an intriguing challenge for our heroes: someone is using the DNA of past friends and enemies to create monstrous threats for the X-Men to face.

The writing here is pretty much as good as you would expect.  Ellis's dialog is sharp, and often hilarious.  The characters are pretty much spot-on - there's a wonderful sequence where Beast utterly deflates the 'Cyclops is a stone-cold killer' nonsense that has been passing for Scott's characterization in recent years.  And of course there are plenty of 'oh Hell yeah!' moments thrown in for good measure.

While I've been concentrating mainly on the writing, Jimenez's art also plays an important part here.  His detail is excellent, both with the main characters and the tons of insane backgrounds that Ellis's script calls for.  It's a beautiful package, and well worth the price for any X-fan.

Essential Spider-Woman vol 1 (Marvel, $16.99, Marv Wolfman, Mark Gruenwald, Michael Fleisher, Carmine Infantino, others) - Another Marvel book, reprinting stories from an era when Marvel wasn't actively trying to drive me away as a reader.  The issues reprinted here vary a bit in quality, as one might expect from a series with multiple writers, but overall the stories are enjoyable enough.  In her early days, there was a bit of 'weird menace' to Spider-Woman's character, and that bleeds over into her villains as well.  Most of her bad guys aren't exactly iconic by any stretch, but in all they're a fairly creepy bunch.  Later on, when Fleisher takes over the writing, the supernatural elements that had pervaded the series are dropped, and Spider-Woman becomes a more standard 'street-level' heroine, albeit one who makes her living as a bounty hunter.

As for the art, this isn't Infantino's best by a long shot, but it's still quite a bit better than some of the stuff he would do in his post-Flash days, when at times it was clear he was pretty much phoning it in.  After Infantino leaves the book, the art takes a dip in quality for a few issues when Frank Springer and Trevor von Eedon handle the visuals, but it picks up in the final issue of vol 1 when Steve Leialoha comes on board.

If you have any interest in the character of Spider-Woman, it's hard not to recommend this: like DC's Showcase collections, Marvel's Essentials line give such a bang for the buck that it's a fairly safe recommendation - you're almost guaranteed to find enough comic book goodness to justify the price.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Trollslayers - Melee Weapons

(apologies for the uneven formatting - blogspot doesn't want to have things line up nice and simple, I guess)

Weapon               Type     Hand      STR      DEX      DV      DEF      ENC    Cost    Notes

Battle Axe                C            1          14         11       x2/3       +1          3          12        A
                              C            2          12         10       x3/4       +2                                  A
Club                        B            1           8           8        x3/5       +1          1           -
Bastard Sword         C            1          14         11       x3/4       +1          3          35
                                            2          11         10       x4/5       +2
Dagger                    C            1           5           8       x1/3         -           1           3
Flail, hand                B            1           13        12      x2/3        +1          2           9       A, B
Flail, war                 B            2          12         12      x3/4        +2          4          12      A, C
Great Axe                C            2          14         12       x4/5       +2          4          22         A
Greatsword              C            2          14         11         x1       +2          4          55         A
Hand Axe                 C            1          11          9        x1/2      +1          2            3
Lance                      P            1           13         11         x1        -           5          25      A, D
Mace                       B           1           13         10       x2/3       +1          2            6         A
Mace, spiked            B            1          13         11       x3/4       +1          3          10      A, E
Maul                        B            2          15         12       x4/5       +2          5          12       A
Pole Arm                 P            2           11        10          x1       +2          5           15     A, F
Quarterstaff              B           2           10         12       x3/4      +2          2             2
Short Sword            C            1           7           9        x3/5       +1          1          15
Spear                       P             1          12         12      x3/5       +1          2            2        F
                                              2            9          8       x2/3       +2  
Spear, long               P            2          11           9       x3/4       +2          3           4      A, F
Sword                      C            1          12         10       x2/3       +1         2          25
Warhammer             B            1           15         12       x3/5       +1          3           8          A
                                             2          12         11       x2/3       +2
Whip (20')               C            1            7          13       x1/4         -           1           4    G, H

Type indicates the basic damage type the weapon inflicts, which includes Blunt, Cutting, and Piercing.

Hand indicates whether the weapon is used one-handed or two-handed (for human-sized users).  If a weapon can be used either way, different values will be shown for STR, DEX, DV, and DEF.

STR indicates the minimum Strength required to use the weapon without penalty.  The number listed is for Experts and for Commoners with some combat training (i.e. "zero-level men-at-arms").  For Warriors and Paragons, the number required is reduced by one.  For Magicians and Commoners without combat training, the number required is increased by one.

If the user's STR is less than the listed minimum, the user suffers a -1 penalty on their attack roll.  If their STR is half or less of the listed number, the penalty is increased to -2.

DEX indicates the minimum Dexterity required to use the without without penalty.  This otherwise functions as per the notes above on STR.

DV is the base Damage Value of the weapon, represented as a fractional multiplier of the user's STR (a person with a STR of 11 has a base DV of 4 when using a dagger, for example).  If the DV for a weapon that can be used either one- or two-handed comes up with the same DV either way (due to a low STR), add a +1 to the DV for two-handed use.

DEF is the bonus to the user's Defense score when using the weapon, indicating the user's ability to parry incoming attacks with the weapon.  The DEF bonus for melee weapons does not protect against missile attacks.

ENC is the Encumbrance score of the weapon.

Cost is the standard cost for the weapon in Silver Pieces.


A - whenever this weapon is used to attack, it suffers a -1 penalty for Initiative on the following round.

B - this weapon negates up to 2 points of DEF from a defender's weapons and/or shield.

- this weapon negates up to 4 points of DEF from a defender's weapons and/or shield.

D - this weapon is usually only used when mounted; if on foot, it requires two hands to use and is treated as a long spear.  When mounted and the mount is charging an enemy, 2/3 of the mount's current MOVE score can be added to the user's STR for determining damage, up to double the user's current STR.

E - treated as Cutting vs Leather armor, and Piercing vs Chainmail.

F - this weapon may be braced against a charging attack; 2/3 of the charger's MOVE score is added to the user's STR for determing damage, up to double the user's current STR score.

G - may be used to try to 'grab' small objects within its range.

H - if the user does not have a talent with this weapon, an extra -1 penalty to hit is incurred.

Jim Shipman is back... unfortunately

I may not have a lot of contact with T&T fandom these days, but I still have enough goodwill toward the T&T crowd that what Jim Shipman is still up to pisses me off.  And I'm not the the only one whom it annoys.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

DriveThruRPG helping New Zealand

DriveThruRPG has put together a RPG bundle charity package to help out people in dire need, this time the victims of the earthquake that recently struck Christchurch, New Zealand.  For a meager $20, you can get over $300 worth of RPG PDF's.

Go help someone out, and get some cool swag while you're at it

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"I just do the best I can."

Nicholas Courtney, best known for playing Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (more simply just referred to as 'the Brigadier') on Doctor Who, has passed away.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The wrong kind of shock

Just found out that Dwayne McDuffie, a long-time comic book veteran, passed away Monday night due to complications from a medical procedure.

McDuffie was a co-founder of Milestone Media, and helped to create the character of Static, which eventually led to the Static Shock cartoon.  He also did a lot of excellent work on the Justice League animated series, and was just recently doing press work for the new All-Star Superman cartoon.


Monday, February 21, 2011

No, I'm not dead

However, writing up the weapon stats for Trollslayers is taking a lot longer than I anticipated, for a variety of reasons.  Sorry. 

Hopefully I'll get this hashed out sooner rather than later.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

PoMoMa returns!

Atlas Games will be putting out a new print version of Postmodern Magick for the Unknown Armies RPG later this month.  This is excellent news for UA fans, and hopefully it well sell enough that they also bring back print versions of Lawyers, Guns & Money and Statosphere as well, allowing me to complete my dead-tree collection of the game line.

Update 2/24: the reprints of PoMoMa have arrived at Atlas Game's warehouse, and should hopefully start shipping tomorrow.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Capsule reviews: Comics from 2/16

(I'm going to try to make an effort to get the comic book reviews up quicker - no guarantees, though)

Legion of Super-Heroes #10 (DC, $2.99, Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Wayne Faucher) - The storyline with the Durlan extremists continues... and quite frankly, I really wish they would wrap this one up sooner rather than later.  Levitz's characterization is still strong, but the story is really starting to drag.  There's a time when Levitz would have handled the pacing on this better, perhaps throwing in a few subplots to help with the pacing (yes, I'm harping once again on the lack of subplots - deal with it).  On the plus side, the art by Cinar and Faucher is quite nice, and the sequences showcasing Brainiac 5 as the new acting leader are entertaining. Hopefully,once this Durlan storyline is resolved the book will pick back up again.

The Spirit #11 (DC, $2.99, David Hine, Moritat) - Part one of a new storyline, dealing with an gangster from New York, Shonder Zeev, making a play for control of Central City.  Zeev is said to lack even the few morals that the Octopus allows himself, and so the Octopus and Dolan form a temporary alliance to work against Zeev... but Dolan finds that such a partnership is not a simple or as clean as he might have hoped.  The Spirit, of course, is also heavily involved in this, trying to help a family smuggled in by Zeev from South America as slave labor.  As the issue ends, a special operative and his unique companion arrive, with a plan to deal with the Spirit in a permanent manner.  Hine's story is solid, and Moritat's art is growing on me.  Worth picking up.

Fables #102 (DC/Vertigo, $2.99, Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham) - The start of a new story arc, set half a year after the big battle in #100, dealing with the Fables as... superheroes?  Well, a few of them, anyways.  It's part of Pinocchio's plan to defeat Mister Dark, whose power is continuing to encroach on Flycatcher's Haven (you just *know* that the words 'Pinocchio's plan' means that this will probably end in tears).  The plan, such as it is, revolves around creating superhero identities as leverage in a battle where confidence is crucial.  While Ozma's costume does look charmingly appropriate, you just know that Bigby's, when we do get to see it, is probably going to come off as (deliberately) ludicrous.  We also get a couple of subplots along the way (see, Levitz?  It can be done!) concerning the North Wind's dilemma regarding the fate of the grandchild called Ghost, as well as Nurse Spratt biding her time until Mister Dark returns.

There's a lot going on here, but both Willingham and Buckingham handle it well.  The story and art work nicely together, as is so often the case in Fables.  This book continues to entertain consistently; there's a reason why it's one of Vertigo's longest running titles.

And now for something a little different...

The Doodle Inc. Reunion Special - March 2011 (YMCA of Greater Seattle, $5.00, Brianna Edwards, David Lloyd, Aja Reb, Amanda Stephens, Rachel Townsend, Katrina Varney, others) - This will require a little backstory, so bear with me.  As I've mentioned elsewhere, my friend Greg Hatcher teaches cartooning classes to middle-school students in the Seattle area.  Recently, some of his former students got together to put together a benefit book, one that would support the Y's art and activity programs in the Seattle area.  The result is a 64-page black-and-white magazine-sized fanzine; you can read more about everything that was required to put this together here.

As one might expect, the standards for reviewing this is a little different than usual... but not entirely.  The creators here are not 'professionals' in the same regard that the writers and artists of other titles reviewed here are.  At the same time, while you want to help a good cause when you buy this, it's not unreasonable for you to also want some bang for your buck.

Most of the stories are somewhat autobiographical, and Brianna Edwards' "Sailor Spiderman & Tuxedo Batman" is no exception.  Like many of the other creators on this book, Edwards' style shows a clear manga influence.  Her art is clean and clear, and she also has a strong sense of layout.  Unlike some of the other artists here, she also uses some subtle computer effects to help with the backgrounds.

David Lloyd's "Chef" is the exception to the autobiographical nature of the stories in this book; it is the closest thing to a 'traditional' comic book story we have in the book.  The art is a bit rough, but honestly I don't mind because I like the story concept so much.  "Chef" deals with culinary masters acting as secret negotiators on the global political stage.  How do I put this delicately... I LOVE THIS CONCEPT AND WANT TO MARRY IT AND HAVE BABIES WITH IT *ahem* where was I?  Anyways, while not the most technically proficient story in the book, it is my favorite.

Next is an untitled short piece by Aja Reb.  Reb's art has a light, airy, cartoony style to it.  The lettering here could have been cleaner - that's what whiteout is for, Aja!

The middle of the book has several sketches by both the main contributors and other graduates of Greg's cartooning class.  As one might expect, there's a wide variety of styles and subjects shown here (my favorite is probably Lindon Schaab's octopus with a boombox).

Amanda Stephens' "Comics!  A Story About Cartooning" also shows a manga influence, but also has a style not too unlike what one might expect to see in a daily newspaper comic strip. The backgrounds (or more precisely, the lack thereof) could use a little work, but it's a good piece.

Rachel Townsend's "Through the Eyes of an Artist" also showcases an art style that would not be out of place in a newspaper comic strip.  Her art shows influences of both American comic books as well as Japanese manga.

The book wraps up with "Draw Draw Revolution" by Katrina Varney.  Like Edwards' opening piece, Varney's art has a very clean, manga-influenced style to it, with a good sense of layout and pacing.

There's a lot here that's of interest, if you are willing to forgive a bit of roughness here and there.  There's no reason to believe that we won't be seeing some of these people again, either through self-publishing, or possibly even eventually getting work published elsewhere.  Just for the chance to see budding storytellers in their early years, this (to my mind) is easily worth the five bucks...  and hey, it is for a good cause, after all.

At the moment, there's about fifty or so extra copies that were printed up; if you want a copy, contact Greg (details in the above link) to find out if they have any left, and if so how to order a one.  Failing that, if you plan on going to Emerald City Con, they'll have plenty of copies there, as well.  If not, there may be a second printing if the first run sells through quickly enough.

Review: "Hemispheres"

Building off the success (in more ways than one) of A Farewell To Kings, Rush would take the prog-rock concept just about as far as they could with Hemispheres.

The album starts off with 'Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres', continuing the story that we left off with on the last song of A Farewell To Kings.  It runs the length of side one of the original vinyl album, the third (and last) Rush song to do so.  When the two pieces are taken together, they run over 28 minutes in length.

Before we continue the story of our wayward star traveler last seen in 'Cygnus X-1 Book I', we are introduced to the concept of Book II, concerning the battle between reason and passion (inspired loosely by Frederick Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy), as represented by Apollo and Dionysus; a struggle that gives mortals no peace, and threatens to tear humanity apart.  Halfway through the song, our traveler arrives, drawing the attention of both the mortals and the gods in the process.  In the end, it is he who brings balance to the dual nature of humanity.

Next, we get the album's shortest song, 'Circumstances' - a perfectly fine song, but compared to the rest of the album it doesn't stand out overly much.  Following that is 'The Trees', which at first glance looks like Neil Peart has once again looked to Ayn Rand for inspiration, but in actuality, Peart was inspired by a comic strip which light-heartedly dealt with trees arguing as people do.

The album concludes with 'La Villa Strangiato', the bands first stand-alone instrumental piece, and one of their most complex musical compositions ever.  Inspired by a dream that Alex Lifeson, the 9 1/2 minute instrumental is subtitled 'An Exercise in Self-Indulgence', which may be a bit of a return volley against the music 'journalists' who were giving the band no small amount of flack at the time.

Overall, this is another very strong album.  'Hemispheres' shows yet again that the band can do extended pieces very well, 'The Trees' showcases some masterful musical arrangements, and 'La Villa Strangiato' is, without question, a virtuoso musical tour de force.  This would be the last of the truly prog-rock albums for the band; they had done what they wanted to in the progressive style, and would decide to switch gears and move forward in a new direction...

SJG's 'Report to the Stakeholders', 2011

Steve Jackson Games has released their annual Report to the Stakeholders, giving a look at how SJG did last year, covering both the good and bad, and to a lesser degree touching how the RPG industry is doing in general. If you have any interest in the ins and outs of the RPG market (even if you're not necessarily a fan of SJG's products), it's pretty much required reading.

The fact that the sales of GURPS is being driven more and more by PDF's, rather than books, is probably something that's telling of the industry in general (WOTC excluded, of course).

Edit: Posthuman Studios has also put up a year end review, which serves as a suitable 'compare-and-contrast' with SJG's report.

Second Edit: Green Ronin also has their yearly report posted.

Happy birthday, Andre Norton

Andre Norton (born Alice Mary Norton) wasn't the first female writer of science fiction and fantasy, but she was the first one to become truly popular among fandom circles.  More importantly, the 'Grand Dame of Science Fiction and Fantasy' was the inspiration for multiple female SF/fantasy authors to follow.  On a personal level, she was one of the first authors, along with Robert E. Howard, that I knew by name as a young child, and actively sought out any books I could find with her name on it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Trollslayers - Slavery

Slavery exists in many nations in Trollslayers.  The reasons, and justifications, may vary, but for simplicity's sake the economics are fairly straightforward.

Slaves fall into roughly four classes: Children (usually too young to have any notable Talents, and will almost never have a Profession), General Labor (working the salt mines, housework, etc), Pleasure Slaves (such as dancers or concubines), and Specialists (gladiators, scribes, etc).

The cost of a slave is mainly dependent upon what primary Attribute is considered most relevant to the tasks the slave must perform.  Common examples would include Knowledge for a house scribe, Presence for a concubine, Dexterity for a gladiator, and either Strength or Endurance for a laborer (depending on the type of work called upon).

Some attributes act as a modifier to the primary attribute, if high enough to have an attribute modifier, and also relevant to the slave's primary function.  For example, while Dexterity would be the primary attribute considered for a potential gladiator, Strength, Endurance, and even Presence could also modify the price thereof.  The attribute modifiers are added (or subtracted, if the attribute is low enough, although Children are usually exempt from this unless their attributes are really low) to the primary Attribute for purposes of the slave's price.

If a character's Profession is relevant to their desired slave-task, add +2 to the score.  For each +1 in a relevant Talent, add that to the score as well.

That total score is the base cost in Gold Pieces, with the following multipliers:

Children x1
General Labor x2
Pleasure Slaves x3
Specialists x4

Example: Groff the barbarian hasbeen captured by slavers, and is being sold to a gladiator school in a nearby decadent nation.  He has a STR of 14, a DEX of 15, an END of 17, and a PRE of 12.  His base cost is 15; a +1 is added for his STR, and a +2 for his END.  There is no modifier for his rather average PRE.  Being a Warrior, with a Profession of Barbarian, add a +2, and his Talents of Sword +2, Shield +1 and Dodge +1 adds another +4, bringing his sub-total to 24.  As he is being sold as a specialist, that number is multiplied by four - Groff is sold for a whopping 96 GP.

Another example: Taara is a scribe and translator for a wealthy merchant.  She has a KNO of 16, and gets a +1 for her PRE of 13 (as she has to deal with others frequently as a translator). She has a Profession of Scribe (+2), and gets another +3 for the three extra languages she knows.  Should her master decide to sell her, she would be worth 88 GP.

One more example: Sylana has been sold to an up-and-coming bureaucrat to be a house slave. Her PRE of 13 counts as her primary attribute, as she is expected to deal with guests in a courteous manner. Her Profession as a Herbalist is not considered relevant to her new station, but her Talent of Cooking +1 is, bumping the base cost up to 14. This number is doubled for general labor, so she costs 28 GP.

If the character has a notable defect, this will reduce the overall price by -25 to -50%. What counts as a defect may vary depending on the type of slave desired: multiple body scars would be considered a defect for a dancer or a concubine, but would probably not affect the price of a manual laborer (and might even be considered an asset for a potential gladiator!).

If slavery is illegal in a given area, the cost for purchasing a slave is usually tripled.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Capsule reviews: Comics from 2/9

Adventure Comics #523 (DC, $2.99, Paul Levitz, Phil Jimenez) - I had been passing on this title, mainly because I didn't want to pay full price for a title with a back-up feature I have no interest in.  However, the back-up feature has been dropped, and Phil Jimenez has joined the creative team as the artist, so it seems as good a time to jump in as any.

This is part one of a new storyline revolving around the Legion Academy, a concept I have something of a soft spot for.  We see a mixture of old and new faces, and our primary POV character is the new Glorith, a young magician who has led something of a secluded life and has trouble adjusting to her new surroundings.  Along the way she falls in with some of the troublemakers among the students, which leads us to our cliffhanger ending.  Along the way we get your required training sequence, and everyone gets just enough characterization to help move the story along.

It's a decent story, though not a great one... but Jimenez's art is nice enough that for the moment I really don't care.  Seriously, the Legion is a setting pretty much custom-made to play to his strengths as a storyteller.  Overall, this isn't the best place to for the uninitiated to jump into Legion lore, but neither is it the worst.

Doc Savage #11 (DC, $2.99, Ivan Brandon, Brian Azzarello, Nic Klein) - The penultimate chapter of the 'Doc and crew goes to the Middle East' storyline.  We get to see what Ronan's plan is, and a little more of his reasons for it.  Oh, and there's the obligatory non-shocking cliffhanger.  At this point, I'm just biding time until the new creative team takes over in a couple of issues.

Cinderella: Fables Are Forever #1 (of 6) (DC/Vertigo, $2.99, Chris Roberson, Shawn McManus) - Fabletown's master spy is back in another mini-series.  The first issue bounces back and forth between early 80's Soviet Russia and the post-Fabletown modern day, as it becomes quickly apparent to Cinderella that her current mission involves a loose thread from the past one.

There's what at first glance might be considered a continuity error, or a mischaracterization - we've seen a  version of Cinderella's opponent in an earlier issue of Jack of Fables, with a very different portrayal.  Also, the appearance of some of that character's secondary minions doesn't quite jibe with what we've seen in a recent issue of Fables,  That said, this is just the first issue, and we have five more issues to go to hopefully explain away any discrepancies. 

That aside, the actual story is pretty good.  The portrayal of our title character is entertaining without being cloying, Roberson's plotting is solid enough, and our main antagonist appears to be very much a credible threat.  McManus isn't necessarily my favorite artist, but he does a good job with the layouts and structure of the art.  Overall, this is a very good start, in what promises to be a story just as entertaining a espionage/action thriller as the previous Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love mini-series.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Review: "A Farewell To Kings"

After the success of 2112, Rush would return to the studio to make an album that was, if anything, even more prog-rock than its predecessor.  That album was A Farewell To Kings.

Even more so than 2112, this album is rife with fantasy and sci-fi imagery.  We start off with the title track, which condemns those who would demean truth and wisdom in service of tradition and hypocrisy, framed against a pseudo-medieval backdrop.  Following that is 'Xanadu', one of the two longer pieces on the album, inspired the Coleridge poem 'Kubla Khan'.  This is notable for being one of the first Rush songs where synthesizers are used as an integral part of the piece.

Next up is one of the band's most famous songs, 'Closer To The Heart'.  Peart had co-written the lyrics with his friend Peter Talbot, and this was the first Rush song to become a hit in the UK.  After that we have 'Cinderella Man', with lyrics written by Geddy Lee (inspired by the film Mr. Deeds Goes To Town), and then the ballad 'Madrigal', one of the softest (and shortest) songs in the band's history.

The album concludes with Cygnus X-1 Book 1: The Voyage.  The other longer piece on the album, it starts off with multiple shifts in time-signature, and also has the distinction of having the highest note ever sung by Lee on a studio album.  The song concerns a space traveler who is drawn in by a black hole.  But his story is not over...

This is another extremely strong album, with no weak pieces to pull it down.  'Xanadu' and 'Closer to the Heart' are the two best known songs on the album, but the other songs are equally entertaining.  The music is wonderful, and very multi-layered at times, while the lyrics are sharp and engaging.  In short, A Farewell To Kings is well worth picking up.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Trollslayers - Attributes (part 3), Money, and Equipment

Attribute modifiers in Trollslayers follow a very simple progression:

Attribute          Modifier
1-4                  -2
5-8                  -1
9-12                --
13-16              +1
17-20              +2
21-24              +3
25-28              +4
29-32              +5

And so forth.  Those modifiers may not look like much, but remember a +1 mod represents a fairly significant alteration of probabilities on a 2d roll.

(I originally had a more complex system in mind for attribute modifiers for task rolls - it involved comparing the attribute to the Difficulty Number, and the modifier would be based on the multiple or divisor of the DN.  This would allow for there to be no set 'break points' for mods, which I like, but the overall idea would probably be too cumbersome for the GM to use on the fly.)

Also, I've since rewritten the rules for the Movement attribute - I didn't like the wide spread possible under the earlier rules.  Revised rules are as follows:

Start out with a base score for a given race.  (For humans, this would be 10.  For elves, it's 12, 8 for dwarves, etc.).  Then add 1d.  Add +1 if the character has an above-average (13+) STR, and another +1 if they have an above-average DEX.  Likewise, subtract -1 from the score if the STR is below-average (8-), and another -1 if their DEX is below average.

The total is their base MOVE score.  Among other things, a character can sprint (10 x MOVE) feet per 6-second combat turn.  If the character has a Running talent, that can be added to the MOVE score for figuring sprinting and marathon-style running; if they have a Hiking talent, that can be added to the MOVE score to determine long-distance daily movement.

Money and Equipment  

The base of currency in Trollslayers is the Silver Piece.  5 Copper Pieces = 1 SP, and 20 SP = 1 Gold Piece.

To determine starting money, roll 2d (PC's get to roll 3 dice, and take the two most desirable).  Doubles add a bonus die.  This number is multiplied by the character's PRE score to determine their starting money in SP (the assumption being that more likable characters have perhaps received some stuff as gifts, were able to haggle down the prices for items bought, etc.)

Below is a basic equipment list, with costs, ENC values, and various notes.  Weapons, armor, riding animals and riding gear will be dealt with on later posts.

Arrow (1 cp) - 1 to 2 dozen arrows = 1 ENC
Backpack (2 sp, 1 ENC) - holds 4 ENC
Bedroll (2 sp, 1 ENC)
Bedroll, winter (5 sp, 2 ENC)
Belt pouch (3 cp)
Bolt, crossbow (1 cp) 4 bolts = 1 ENC
Chalk (1 sp)
Clothing, winter (4 sp, 1 ENC)
Cooking gear (10 sp, 3 ENC)
Drum (4 sp, 1 ENC)
First aid kit (10 sp, 1 ENC)
Fishhook & line (2 sp)
Flute (4 sp, 1 ENC)
Food, preserved (2 sp, 1 ENC) – feeds 1 person for 3 days, lasts 2-4 weeks
Food, unprepared (4 cp, 1 ENC) – feeds 1 person for 2 days, will start spoiling within a few days
Garlic, bud (1 cp)
Grappling hook (2 sp , 1 ENC)
Hammer, small (4 cp, 1 ENC)
Harp (2 gp, 1 ENC)
Holy symbol (7 sp)
Holy water, flask (2 sp, 1 ENC)
Horn (10 sp, 1 ENC)
Iron spike, 10 (1 sp, 1 ENC)
Lamp oil (1 cp, 1 ENC) – burns for about 2 hours
Lantern (2 sp, 1 ENC)
Lodging, common room, 1 night (1 cp)
Lodging, private room (1 sp)
Lodging, private room with bath (2 sp)
Meal, common (1 cp)
Mirror, small (10 sp, 1 ENC)
Papyrus, 10 sheets (1 sp, 1 ENC)
Quiver (3 sp, 1 ENC) – holds 2 dozen arrows or bolts
Rope (4 cp, 1 ENC) – 50' long, supports two average people, one large man, or one heavily encumbered person
Rope, heavy (4 sp, 2 ENC) – also 50' long, supports about a ½ ton
Sack (3 sp, 1 ENC) – holds 10 ENC
Scabbard (4sp)
Scribe's tools (5 sp, 1 ENC)
Scroll case (2 sp , 1 ENC) – negates ENC of any papyrus, maps, etc. carried within
Sheath, dagger (3 cp)
Shovel (3 cp, 2 ENC)
Signal whistle (3 cp)
Stringed instrument (15 sp, 2 ENC)
Tent, personal (5 sp, 1 ENC) – for one person
Tent, standard (15 sp, 6 ENC) – for 3-4 people
Tent, pavilion (2 gs, 20 ENC) – for about a 1½ to 2 dozen people
Thieves' tools (7 sp, 1 ENC)
Torch (1 cp) – burns for an hour, 5 torches = 1 ENC
Travel basics (1 sp, 1 ENC) – utensils, wooden cup, flint & tinder, hand rag
Whetstone (3 cp)
Wineskin (1 sp) – 2 ENC if full
Wolvesbane, sprig (2 sp)
Once gameplay starts, the GM should consider giving a discount for relatively expensive items (say, 10 sp or more) to character with a high PRE and/or some sort of Haggling talent.  A 5% discount for each +1 PRE mod or Haggling talent is probably workable.  If the character has a low PRE, or is just overly obnoxious, they might wind up paying a bit more for their equipment. 

Of course, someone will eventually something not listed above.  It's a fundamental law of nature: fish gonna swim, birds gonna fly, players gonna want crap that's not on the equipment list.  Hopefully, there's enough different items listed to give you enough frame of reference to make a decent guess how much a certain item would cost, given the relative scale of economy.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Capsule reviews: Comics from 2/2

(Yes, I know, I haven't been posting as much lately - besides other real world concerns, the next section of Trollslayers that I'm working on is taking a lot longer than I had originally planned)

Jonah Hex #64 (DC, $2.99, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Nelson) - Jonah finds himself passing through a small Mexican town, when he comes to the attention of a beautiful woman named Rosa.  Although she takes a fancy to Hex, he quickly deduces that she's several cards shy of a full deck.  Coming in contact with Hex seems to exacerbate her instability, which leads her to a bad end, albeit one of her own making.  This issue doesn't have as much impact as some previous ones, but it is darkly humorous.  Gray and Palmiotti's dialog and plotting are solid as always, and Nelson's art here fits the story nicely.

Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #1 (DC, $4.99, Paul levitz, Keith Giffen) - Can I get a 'Hell Yeah!' from the audience?

This is probably the best Legion story I've read in quite a while.  We're introduced to a new Emerald Empress, who if anything is even nuttier than the previous one.  She's taken over Orando, and it falls to a handful of Legionnaires to try to stop her.

Levitz, who has been good but not spectacular on his recent run of LSH, knocks it out of the park with this one.  The pacing, the plot and the characterization all are handled expertly. Collaborating with his old Legion partner Giffen here shows that the two still work well together.  Giffen, who can be something of an artistic chameleon, here looks a bit like he did on his run on the Defenders back in the 70's, with a healthy channeling of Jack Kirby thrown in (the latter influence may well be in part due to inkers John Dell and Scott Koblish).  Which is to say, it looks really, really nice.

As a side note, I'm pleased to see that the relationship between Lightning Lass and Shrinking Violet is being re-established.

In addition to the main story, we get a humorous summary of the team's history (via the current continuity) disguised as a board game, an A-Z list that touches on some of the Legion's distinctive history and characters, and a two-page teaser ad for the upcoming Legion of Super-Villains one-shot.  

All in all, this is one of my favorite comics of the new year.  If you have an interest in the Legion but have been intimidated by the book's long, long history, this is a nice done-in-one story that gives a taste of what the LSH is like at its best.  

Saturday, February 5, 2011

If you haven't done so already... sure to check out the latest episode of Community, "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons."  If your cable or satellite provider doesn't have an 'on demand' function, you can watch it on Hulu.   

Review: "All The World's A Stage"

“I hope they play Bangkok.” *pause* “Nah, they never play Bangkok.” - Jerry Stiller

The first of many live albums for Rush, All the World's A Stage was recorded while they were on their tour promoting 2112.  This would begin the tradition of releasing a live album after four studio albums, a tradition that would last until the early 2000's.  The cover, with an empty stage set, emphasizes a less obvious tradition, that of the band members never actually showing up on the album covers. 

The song selection is pretty even split between Rush, Fly By Night, and 2112 (including a slightly cut version of '2112' coming in at under 16 minutes), with a couple of songs from Caress Of Steel also thrown in.  It's a pretty hard-and-heavy set, with not a lot of slower and/or quieter pieces included.  It's interesting to see, from a historical perspective, which songs the band considered to be their standards in those early days before they were to achieve greater popularity.

The production isn't as smooth as later live albums would be, but there's a lot of energy here, and that makes up for a lotYou can see how far the group has progressed musically when hearing some of the early songs from the first album being played alongside their then-recent stuff (it also makes abundantly clear how much the drumming had improved with Peart sitting behind the drum kit).  If you want to try a sampling of the band's early years, you could do worse than this album.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Capsule reviews: Comics from 1/26

Fables #101 (DC/Vertigo, $2.99, Bill Willingham, Eric Shanower) – After the battle with Mr. Dark last issue (and aftermath thereof), we briefly switch gears with an issue concentrating on Bufkin the (formerly flying) monkey, who gets conned by the Magic Mirror into climbing up the ancient magical tree beneath Fabletown in order to perform various heroic deeds, and hopefully find a way to escape the Fabletown business office, which is currently cut off from Earth due to the events last issue. He winds up in his old stomping grounds of Oz, and helps the Bungle the cat (who appears to no longer be made of glass), Sawhorse the wooden horse, and Jack Pumpkinhead who are trying to escape from the prisons of the Nome King, who has taken over Oz.

For those whose familiarity with Oz begins and ends with the movie, these characters will be new, but for those of us who have read the original novels, we're on familiar territory. All of this has Willingham's signature approach to this sort of story, and Shanower (who has no small familiarity with Baum's original stories, having written and drawn several original Oz graphic novels back in the late 80's) provides some simply wonderful art. There's a nice touch with the coloring; the first half of the story, in the business office and in where Bufkin is climbing the tree, is done in muted tones, but when he shows up in Oz the colors are bright and vibrant. I know some people haven't cared so much for the recent storylines after the war with the Adversary, but this issue is a real corker. I only wish the next issue would continue this storyline, instead of starting a different one. That said, this issue is excellent, and highly recommended. 

Conan: Road of Kings #2 (Dark Horse, $3.50, Roy Thomas, Mike Hawthorne) – After finding themselves in Shadizar the Wicked, Conan and Krimsar engage in some thievery, while Olivia still wishes to return to Ophir. Honestly, I didn't care much for this issue. Hawthorne's art is okay, but compared to some of the recent Conan artists is nothing special, and Thomas's script feels rather bland and generic, something I never expecting to say about one of his Conan stories. I hope this is just a momentary dip in quality; the first issue was better than this, and hopefully the following issue will pick back up. 

The Spider and Domino Lady #1 (Moonstone, $3.99, Nancy Holder, Joe Gentile, E.M Gist) – A fun little one-shot teaming up two very different pulp characters. The format is similar to the Battle For L.A. one-shot from a few weeks ago, in that you have a lot of text with the occasional black-and-white illustration used as a centerpiece. Overall, I liked this better than Battle For L.A. Holder and Gentile's story works well, being a good, fast-paced story that still showcases the differences between the personalities of our two lead characters. Gist's art helps to highlight the mood of the story nicely, although I'd still like to see these stories attempted in a more traditional comic book format... if you're going to primarily rely on text to tell your tale, why not just publish these as short stories in a prose book? Still, if you have an interest in pulp-style storytelling, this certainly worth picking up.  Edit: I forgot to mention that there are a couple of rather glaring typos in the text.  These appear to be word processing notes that didn't get caught in the final edit.

Glamourpuss #17 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, $3.00, Dave Sim) – This issue forgoes for the most part the satirical look at the fashion industry via the title character that we normally get, instead spending about half the issue with various illustrations and quotes from John F. Kennedy. The rest of the issue continues the history of photorealism in comics, concerning a meeting between comic strip artists Alex Raymond and Stan Drake. Honestly, either you groove on this sort of thing, or you don't. If you didn't care for this book initially, this issue isn't going to change your minds. For me, part of the appeal is seeing Sim's approach to photorealism; even when attempting to mimic another artist in this manner – and honestly, he doesn't do a bad job of it - you can still see that it's clearly a Sim piece of art. 

The Savage Sword of Kull, vol 1 (Dark Horse, $19.99, Roy Thomas, Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Marie and John Severin, Geof Isherwood, others) – Picked this one up a while back, but just recently got around to finishing it. This volume collects all of the black-and-white Kull stories that Marvel did in the 70's and 80's. Given that it covers about a decade and a half, with a wide variety of writers and artists, the overall quality varies quite a bit, but overall these stories reprinted here are fairly enjoyable. My main complaint is that one of the major storylines reprinted here – where Kull loses his throne to Thulsa Doom - had its beginnings in a color comic, and was concluded in another color comic; neither are reprinted here, so we only get the middle chapters. A summary of this (and other) Kull comic book storylines is touched on in a later text piece that is also reprinted, but until you get there the lack of a beginning or ending for that particular storyline is somewhat jarring. A text summary bookending these middle chapters would have been appreciated.

That complaint aside, most of the stories and art are quite good, and you certainly get a lot of bang for your buck. If you like Howard's orignal barbarian king, this is easily worth picking up.