Wednesday, February 29, 2012

New Avengers movie trailer

Oh.  My.  God.

C'mon, why wait until May, just show it now, okay?


V&V Vednesday: Anansi

Character Name: Anansi     Real Name: Gabriel 'Gabe' Barnes     Side: Evil
Gender: Male     Height: 5'5"     Weight: 120 lbs     Age: 19

Physical Description: A short, extremely skinny young black man with short-cut black hair and brown eyes.  His costume is a simple black bodysuit, notable only for the lack of gloves and boots.  His belt has several lockpicking and safecracking tools attached, and he wears a pair of high-tech goggles.  

STR: 9     END: 12      INT: 16     AGL: 28     CHA: 25

Level: 1st     XP: 1,368     Basic Hits: 3     Hit Points: 15      Healing Rate: 0.9/day
Movement: 49” (running), 25" (climbing)      Power: 61       Carrying Capacity: 116 lbs  
HTH Damage: 1d3     Damage Modifier: +4     Accuracy: +5
Detect Hidden: 12%     Detect Danger: 16%     Inventing: 48%     Inventing Points: 1.6
Reaction Modifier: -4 good/+4 evil     Training: STR

Animal Powers (Arachnid)
     Body Power: Wall-crawling (1/2 running speed)
     Heightened Agility A: +11
     Natural Weaponry (claws): +1 to hit, +2 to damage
     Poison/Venom - a 'carrier attack' that can be used with any successful use of Natural Weaponry that inflicts damage: does an additional 1d8 damage, and has a chance to knock the victim unconscious (requires a second attack roll, treat as Paralysis Ray), 12 doses/day.
Heightened Charisma B: +17

Goggles (UV vision, distance or fine detail magnification x10, camera function)

Areas of Knowledge
Crime, Electronics

Character Notes/Origin/Personality: Gabriel grew up in a poor neighborhood with a distant father and an alcoholic mother.  A short, skinny kid who was also smart and more than a little shy, he was a natural target for bullies while growing up.  He had a natural talent for fixing and fiddling with various electronic devices, but aside from that he never quite had the drive or inclination for the type of study that would have been needed to get a college scholarship.  He knew at a young age that he would have to make his own way in the world, that no one would be helping him along the way.

His earliest attempts at breaking-and-entering were aimed more at getting back at some of the bullies who had tormented him, with getting some of their money a secondary consideration.  However, he soon realized that this might be a way for him to get ahead; it seemed a lot easier and more profitable than flipping burgers for a living.

He had a pretty good run, but was caught after nicking some diamonds from a jewelry store shortly after his 18th birthday.  While in jail he met up with some of the Scarlet Queen's henchmen who had recently been captured.  When Scarlet Queen and some of her superpowered followers busted the imprisoned henchmen out of jail, Gabe managed to tag along with the other escapees.  At first the Queen was upset that Gabe had presumed to use her to escape jail, but she eventually decided that the young second-story thief might have his uses. 

Although not used to working with others, Gabe's talents served him well as one of the Queen's henchmen, even if his combat skills were mediocre at best.  Eventually, the Scarlet Queen offered Gabe the opportunity to gain superpowers, much as her other favored henchmen had.  Despite the risks, Gabe accepted.

Most of the abilities that Gabe gained were pretty obvious early on.  His ability to climb wall, the small claws that could extend from his finger and toe nails, the ability to generate a knock-out venom from those claws, and his reflexes being enhanced made him even more useful as a break-in guy, and although he still didn't exactly relish getting into a straight-up fight, the Queen often used him to sneak ahead to disable key targets on certain missions.

Less obvious to the Queen and her followers was the quiet confidence and natural charm that now replaced the young man's shyness and lack of social graces.  Anansi, as he is now called (named after an African trickster figure), has no particular loyalty to the Scarlet Queen; while he is grateful for his new abilities, he can see better than most that SQ is a highly unstable person psychologically, and he figures her downfall is more a matter of when than if.  Although he has made no attempt to usurp the Queen's leadership, he has begun to ingratiate himself with the Queen's other superpowered followers.  He figures one of them will take over eventually, and he is positioning himself to be the adviser/power-behind-the-throne to that new leader.

And if things really go bad... well, it wouldn't be the first time Gabe has had to work alone.  It's not like there's anyone else he really trusts.

Campaign Use: Anansi would most likely be encountered by superheroes as an advance agent, either to break into somewhere, or to disable someone key to the operation at hand.  It's also fairly likely that Anansi will eventually become a solo villain, a superhuman thief for hire that might make a good foe for a beginning solo hero. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Music Monday: "Jonny Quest/Stop That Pigeon"

What could be better than a melody of the opening themes to the original Jonny Quest and the Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines cartoons, you ask?  Why, said melody being performed by The Reverend Horton Heat, in his trademark psychobilly sound, of course!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Campaign Setting: Tripods & Titans

July, 1902:  A month after the first landing of the Martian invasion, the war enters into its second phase.

It has been a week since the Martians (so named for the world where they set up their advance bases before invading Earth - their actual homeworld is in another solar system) suffered the results of terrestrial viruses.  Some of the Martians die as a result, although the alien invaders did manage to inoculate themselves with their advanced science before their numbers were further reduced.  However, in their panic during the hours that they thought themselves to be eradicated, the Martians released a deadly virus of their own design onto the landscape, targeting the major cities of the globe that the aliens were now occupying, designed to wipe out the human race in retaliation.  Of those humans infected, the vast majority of them do indeed die, their bodies horribly mutated as death overcomes them.  A small percentage of those infected also also mutated, their bodies becoming horribly twisted, deformed and grotesque, but they somehow manage to survive (although many would say that survival is no kindness).

Of the survivors, a very small percentage are not changed  in terms of appearance, but rather become something perhaps more than merely human.  The reports that one hears is astounding, but there are enough of them from credible sources that they can not be dismissed out of hand: men (and women) who can fly, or display superhuman feats of strength, or create lightning from their bare hands, or read the thoughts of other humans, or any other number of remarkable and terrifying abilities.  These 'titans' (as some have dubbed them) are not powerful enough to to change things individually, even given their unique talents, and many have died under the heat rays and the black smoke of the Martian tripods.  However, there are reports of some of these titans banding together, each using their individual talents as part of a greater whole.  Most notably, a group of a half-dozen of these titans managed to take down and destroy one of the alien tripods in these streets of London recently.

Of course, given human nature, not all of these titans are dedicated to fighting the alien invaders.  Some are merely interested in their own survival and well-being, and avoid any contact with the Martians, using their abilities to lord over other humans for their relative comfort.   Even worse are those titans who have sided with the Martians, along with the other human quislings* who have thrown in with the invaders in hopes of retaining or achieving some degree of power over their fellow human beings.  Perhaps the worst of these quislings are the 'keepers', scientists who have thrown in with the Martians so as to learn more of the unearthly science of the aliens.

As the Martians have settled in, they now begin a number of scientific experiments, perhaps for their own amusement, which also seem to be designed to help keep humanity in line, and to also counter the threat poised by the titans.  There are rumors of Martians projecting their thoughts into human bodies, so that they may walk among the conquered undetected.  There are whispers of captured humans being experimented on in hopes of creating a Martian-human hybrid that can more easily cope with Terran gravity.  And perhaps most disturbing of all, there seems to be evidence of the Martians mutating various animals and giving them intelligence so as to act as ground soldiers against the human resistance.  The most notable of these reports come out of the dark continent of Africa, where it seems the Martians are creating a new breed of ape: apes that can speak human tongues, apes that can use tools and fire guns, apes that can organize into armies for their Martian masters, apes that hate human beings.

(Inspirations: War of the Worlds, Wild Cards, Planet of the Apes, Killraven)

*yes, I know 'quisling' isn't a term used in WOTW, and in fact would not become a word for traitor until WWII - I'm using it here anyways, so deal with it.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: "Presto"

As the 1980's were drawing to a close, Rush would once again begin stretching themselves musically, moving in a different direction from their last several albums. As it turns out, Presto would not be a total break from the synth-heavy material that dominated the band's output during the 80's, but it would indicate yet another transition in the group's musical approach.

This was the first album for the band with Atlantic records, having ended their long-time partnership with Mercury/ PolyGram. Rush had originally intended to work again with Peter Collins as the album's producer, but Collins had to bow out for personal reasons. The group eventually wound up working with engineer Rupert Hine, who would produce both this album and the next one to follow for the band. Hine and Rush did not completely move away from the synthesizers that helped to define the band earlier in the decade, but their use was lessened, with Lifeson's guitar moving once again into the forefront. Peart's approach to songwriting also shifted with this album, moving away from abstract concepts, instead concentrating on more personal, yet concrete, experiences.

The album starts off with 'Show Don't Tell', a slightly funk-inspired tune which deals with confronting someone who has fooled them once too often with lies and misdirections, framed against the backdrop of a courtroom trail where the deceived is both “the judge and the jury”. It's not the strongest opening track on a Rush album by any means, but it was a popular single for the band, becoming only the second song for the group to top the U.S. Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks Chart (the first being 'New World Man'). Next is 'Chain Lightning', where Neil returns to his science-as-metaphor trick that he occasionally employs, in this case touching on how we deal with our surroundings, and we share that experience with others. It's one of the best tracks on the album, merging powerful music with excellent and heartfelt lyrics.

'The Pass' is arguably the band's most poignant song, a solemn, slower tune that deals with the topic of teen depression and the romanticization of suicide, and manages to do so without being clichéd or patronizing. Geddy's singing is at his most emotional here, and the music backs up that emotion nicely. 'War Paint' touches on the nature of illusions and masks, framed against the courtships of youth (using both classical and modern imagery), where neither the image we show to others, and the self-image we think of ourselves as, are necessarily a truthful representation of our true selves. 'Scars' features a complex drum arrangement inspired by various tribal rhythms that Neil encountered during his bicycle tour of Africa. It's also a rare instance of the bassline actually being the result of a sequencer. Lyrically it touches on the nature of memories, both good and bad, and how those memories can leave lasting impressions on us.

The title track 'Presto' has a nice bit of acoustic guitar work from Alex, a playful and spritely riff that nicely accompanies Neil's wistful lyrics about hindsight and the desire to make all the wrong things right. 'Superconductor' is a fast-paced, highly kinetic, and extremely tight tune with a great guitar riff; its catchy, upbeat nature (it just may be the only Rush song that you can actually dance to) is deliberately contrasted with highly cynical lyrics about how easy it is in the music industry to market a false-but-entertaining persona in lieu of actual musical talent (and remember, this was written years before American Idol hit the airwaves). After that we have 'Anagram (for Mongo)', a humorous title for a song that deals with serious topics, but in a playful manner (many of the song's lyrics are anagrams of each other). This seems to be a song that a number of hardcore prog-rock fans seem to dislike, which only feeds into my theory that no small amount of prog fans take themselves waaaaay too seriously, and seem to regard 'fun' as a strange and foreign concept.

'Red Tide' is an ominous, yet dynamic piece that talks about an ecological plague and the need to address it while it is still possible to do so. Musically, there's a lot of tension that is conveyed here, between both Lifeson's guitar solo and a really nice bit of piano work from Geddy. This is one of those songs that's easy to ignore at first, but can slip up on you after you hear it a few times. 'Hand Over Fist' addresses the need for forgiveness to overcome conflict, and to open yourself up to others even if you've been hurt in the past, framed around the classic game of rock-paper-scissors. Finally, the album's closing track 'Available Light' is a sweeping and heartfelt composition, with more fine piano work from Geddy, as well as some bluesy riffs from Alex. It's a reflective piece (not unlike 'Time Stand Still' from Hold Your Fire), but it's also hopeful and optimistic, choosing not to dwell too much on the past, while acknowledging that the past is inevitably tied to where you are now. It's a beautiful song, and a fine choice to close out the album.

Presto is a definite step up from Hold Your Fire; there are several excellent tracks here ('Chain Lightning', 'The Pass', 'Superconductor', 'Red Tide', 'Available Light'), and the rest of the songs here are still quite good, even if they don't stand out quite as much. In the end, Presto is even by Rush standards an album that stands alone; it has a unique sound that is distinct from the rest of the band's output throughout the years. As a result, it's remarkably un-dated; it's still very fresh musically, even two decades after it was made, and if it was released today it would not sound anachronistic.

Probably the main drawback of the album is the almost subdued nature of the production at times, which works well enough on some of the subtler pieces, but drains a bit of the energy from the more fast-paced tunes that are present here. Overall, it's a far cry from the band's bombastic 70's fare, instead showing a surprising amount of restraint, using just the notes needed for each song, and not a single note more. Presto isn't as immediately accessible as some other Rush albums, but it is one that benefits heavily from multiple listenings.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sad, but kinda funny at the same time

It never fails.  Have someone comment on one of the elephants in the room of modern American comics - the poor portrayal of female characters by the Big Two, and how that adversely affects female readership -  and the 'angry dumb' (as my friend Greg put it) come out of the woodwork, attacking the messenger for pointing out what should be obvious, with a vileness and stupidity one normally reserves for YouTube comment threads.

Don't believe me?  Check out Kelly Thompson's excellent article on the subject, and then - if you dare - wade into the comment section to see a prime example of certain male comic book fans living down to their stereotype.

V&V Vednesday: Quickstrike

Character Name: Quickstrike     Real Name: Edward 'Eddie' Langford     Side: Evil
Gender: Male     Height: 6'6"     Weight: 290 lbs     Age: 25

Physical Description: A tall, extremely muscular Caucasian male with blue eyes and short-cut blond hair. His costume is a black and purple bodysuit with yellow and white trim.  He has a pair of tonfa sticks, one strapped to each of his thighs when not in use.

STR: 21     END: 40      INT: 7     AGL: 27     CHA: 14

Level: 4th     XP: 9,114     Basic Hits: 6     Hit Points: 137      Healing Rate: 7.2/day
Movement: 598”/turn (136 mph)      Power: 95      Carrying Capacity: 1,923 lbs      
HTH Damage: 1d12     Damage Modifier: +2     Accuracy: +5
Detect Hidden: 6%     Detect Danger: 11%     Inventing: 21%     Inventing Points: 2.8
Reaction Modifier: -1 good/+1 evil     Training: Combat Accuracy w/ tonfa clubs

Combat Accuracy: +1 to hit w/ unarmed HTH attacks (from training)
Heightened Agility B: +19
Heightened Endurance B: +21
Heightened Speed: +510" ground movement, +17 initiative
Heightened Physical Prowess (acts similar to Heightened Strength A, Heightened Endurance A and Heightened Agility A, bonus may be split between those three attributes as desired): +5 END, +6 STR
Invulnerability: 9 pt

Tonfa clubs (+2 to hit, +1d4 damage) 

Areas of Knowledge
Athletics, Crime

Character Notes/Origin/Personality: Eddie liked playing football.  Besides making him popular in high school and college, it let him work out his aggression in a socially acceptable manner.  If he beat up someone away from the stadium, he sometimes got into trouble, but when he sacked an opposing quarterback, people cheered for him.

Eddie wasn't the most agile player out there (even among defensive lineman), and as he wasn't exactly the sharpest tack on the field, he sometimes had problems adapting to opposing strategies, but his size and strength were impressive enough to make him one of the most dominant linebackers in college football.  He probably would have been a first-round draft pick for the NFL if he hadn't been caught placing bets on upcoming games during his senior year.  To his mind, he did nothing wrong, as he was betting for his team, not against it, so it wasn't like he was going to be throwing the game.  Still, the act of gambling on games he was competing in was enough to get him expelled from college, as well as killing any chance of making it in the NFL.

No longer in college, and no longer able to work out his aggression on the field, Eddie started getting into fights, picking up a minor criminal record for assault in the process.  Over time he started working as an enforcer and legbreaker for a local criminal syndicate, which allowed him to earn a living, indulge his violent tendencies, and have smarter people than himself run things so that the law would not get involved.  This eventually led him to becoming one of Scarlet Queen's criminal henchmen.

The Scarlet Queen took a liking to Eddie; he followed orders well, and his strength and physique were useful assets for her criminal operations.  After getting to know Eddie in a more personal and private manner, she offered him the chance to become one of her superpowered followers.  He accepted.

The first thing that became apparent was Eddie's super-speed, which allowed him to run over a hundred MPH.  It soon became obvious that his stamina and reflexes had also been boosted to superhuman levels, and that he was also mildly resistant to physical damage (enough so that wind shear would not adversely affect him while running).  Combined with his already impressive physique, his super-speed makes Quickstrike (as the Scarlet Queen has dubbed him) especially dangerous, as he can deal out a lot of damage before most foes can ever hope to lay a glove on him.

When facing superpowered opponents, Quickstrike prefers to initially target foes lacking Invulnerabily, Armor, or other means of deflecting/absorbing the sort of damage he can dish out.  He will try to take out as many of these targets as possible, trying to decrease the numbers of foes as quickly as he can, so as to stack the odds in favor of his allies.  He dislikes attacking women, and will usually target them last, hoping that his teammates take out any female foes before he is forced to do so.  He has recently picked up a pair of tonfa sticks that he has been practicing with to use in combat, which just make him even that much more dangerous.

Quickstrike is extremely loyal to Scarlet Queen, not from any romantic desire or bond, but simply because she is the one who has given him these wonderful powers, and that she is an intelligent and charismatic leader.

Campaign Use: Quickstrike will rarely be found alone; when not in the company of the Scarlet Queen or one of her other superpowered henchmen, he will usually have a few of the Queen's non-powered henchman with him as his 'handlers', making sure he doesn't do anything too stupid.  If for some reason he was no longer associated with the Scarlet Queen and her gang, he would probably hire himself out as superpowered muscle to various criminal organizations.  Failing that, he might try to get by committing simple smash-and-grab robberies.

On his own, his combination of decent strength, multiple attacks per turn, and high durability can make him a suitable opponent for a group of neophyte heroes.  As part of the Scarlet Queen's gang he's really dangerous, as he can quickly decimate the heroes' ranks before they can react, leaving them badly outnumbered and outgunned by the rest of the Queen's gang.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Music Monday: "The Wake of Magellan"

Before anyone had ever heard of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, there was a heavy metal band called Savatage...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

V&V Vednesday: Evelyn Dawson

Character Name: Evelyn Dawson     Side: Good 
Gender: Female      Height: 5'6”     Weight: 160 lbs     Age: 24

Physical Description: An average looking, slightly pale Caucasian female with brunette hair and brown eyes.  She favors casual clothing, usually wearing jeans and a t-shirt.

STR: 12     END: 30      INT: 13     AGL: 12     CHA: 11

Level: 1st     XP: 103     Basic Hits: 4     Hit Points: 27      Healing Rate: 3.6/turn
Movement: 54”      Power: 67      Carrying Capacity: 378 lbs     HTH Damage: 1d6
Damage Modifier: +1     Accuracy: +1    Detect Hidden: 10%     Detect Danger: 14%
Inventing: 39%     Inventing Points: 1.3     Reaction Modifier: -     Training: Charisma


Heightened Endurance B: +17
Heightened Expertise: +4 to hit with Psychic Assault 
Psionics: Psychic Assault (2d8 damage, range 24" (INTx2), attack as Emotion Control, if base attack is successful then victim must make percentile roll vs CHR or be stunned into inactivity (if failed, victim may make rolls on following rounds to throw off the effect), PR=13)
Willpower A (vs physical functions only)

Prejudice: although they may not pick up on it immediately, people tend to react negatively to Evelyn's near-death state when they do notice it (consciously or otherwise) - most people would get to make a Detect Hidden roll once per turn while interacting with her to pick up on her altered biological state.

Areas of Knowledge
Mechanical, Writing

Character Notes/Origin/Personality: Evelyn was by all accounts a pretty normal person.  She worked as a mechanic during the day at an auto repair shop, while at night she wrote various fanfics that she put up on the internet under the name "Darkmoon Queen".  She dated occasionally, but nothing serious ever came from it.  She lived by herself in a one-bedroom apartment.

One late afternoon when she had a day off from work, she was jogging in the park when she suddenly felt like a sledgehammer had struck her in the chest.  A split-second later she heard the gunshot.  As her body tumbled off into the ravine, she saw the blood on her chest and realized that she had been shot.  Then darkness.

That should have been the end of Evelyn's story, but it wasn't.  Several hours later, she woke up in the ravine.  There was still (dried) blood on her chest and her back, and a hole in both the front and back of her shirt where a bullet had passed through, but she couldn't find any sign of injury on her body.

Wandering back home in the darkness, a man with a knife forced her into the trees to try to sexually assault her.  Evelyn fought back, and after the man slashed her arm with the knife, something welled up inside her, and she felt all of the pain that she felt when she had been shot, when she thought she was going to die, and somehow projected that pain onto her attacker.  She left him there in the woods, in a fetal position, crying.  As she left the park she realized that her arm was no longer bleeding, and that the wound had somehow healed itself.

Uncertain as to what had happened, and what to do about it, she tried to continue her life as usual, but that wasn't so easy.  Her co-workers started acting coldly toward her; Evelyn eventually realized that her breathing and pulse rate, during times of relative inactivity, where far below normal (about 1/5 the normal rate for each), and it was pointed out to her that she could be oddly still when not engaged in physical activity, lacking the normal body kinesis that most people are used to seeing in others.  Also, she came to realize that she doesn't seem to get tired, or suffer from fatigue anymore, even after serious physical exertion, and that she can hold her breath for over fifteen minutes before being discomforted.

Going back to the area in the park where she had been shot, she eventually found the bullet that pierced her heart in the ravine.  So far this is the only clue she has to the shooting, and given that she's not a detective, it's not much.  She can't figure out why someone would wish her dead, possibly even hiring an assassin to kill her.  She had no real enemies that she could think of, and didn't have enough money to warrant such a crime against her person.  She has been hoping that whoever shot her doesn't find out that she's still alive (relatively speaking - Evelyn's worst fear is that she's actually dead, but still sentient and animated for some reason), but she's also beginning to suspect that a further confrontation with whoever wished her dead may be the only way to find out why she was targeted.

Campaign Use: The PC's may encounter Evelyn as she tries to find out who had her shot, or she may even come to them for help, especially if one or more of the PC's are known for their detective work.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Okay, I'm really torn here

Apparently, Kevin J. Anderson is going to be writing a novelization of the forthcoming Rush album Clockwork Angels.  Now, as is painfully obvious to anyone with even a passing familiarity with this blog, I'm a huge Rush fan, so I'll probably wind up getting this.  That said, 'Kevin J. Anderson' isn't exactly a name that fills me with confidence. Rather the opposite, in fact.

Oh, if only Neil Peart was friends with John Scalzi instead...

Music Monday: "Waitin' For The Night"

The Runaways were ahead of their time, an all-girl rock group in an era that wasn't ready for them.  Straddling the line between hard rock and punk, the Runaways never got any commercial airplay in the U.S., although they did achieve a certain amount of commercial success in Europe and Japan.  This is the title track from their third album, after Cherie Currie left the group and Joan Jett took over on vocals, and is a rare example of a power ballad from the group (pay attention to Lita Ford's guitar solo - not that you can miss it).

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Trollslayers - Spellcasting notes

Most spells require the caster speak the necessary incantations in a firm, commanding voice, while making various needed gestures in an obvious manner (when you're trying to override the laws of physics through the power of your will, it generally doesn't pay to half-ass your way through it).  A few spells, when noted, might only require the incantations be spoken softly, or that a few subtle gestures be made.  Even rarer still are those spells that might not require any spoken or physical actions on the caster's part.

Casters of sufficient skill can attempt to get around these limitations, though it is not easy.  A spellcaster casting a spell whose Rank is five levels less than their personal character level can cast a spell that normally requires a loud spoken incantation with but a whisper at a -2 penalty, and with double the normal Essence Cost.  If the caster's character level is ten levels higher than the spell Rank, then a loud incantation may be performed silently with a -2 spellcasting penalty, at x2 the Essence Cost.  Also, a loud incantation may be uttered softly, or an incantation spoken softly may not be spoken at all with a -1 penalty, and at x3/2 the Essence Cost.

Likewise, similar modifications of the required gestures needed for a spell (bold gestures to subtle gestures to no physical motion required) can also be attempted by casters of sufficient skill for simpler spells, with penalties and EC modifiers similar to those for modifying the spoken requirements of a spell.  These modifies are cumulative:  If a 6th level spellcaster is casting a 1st Rank spell which normally requires both loud incantations and sweeping gestures, to cast that spell with a softly spoken whisper and a few wiggles of their fingers would incur a -4 spellcasting penalty, and have a x4 Essence Cost.

(if an Expert is casting a spell, their character level is halved (round up) for these purposes)

Using a wand or a staff that has been properly 'attuned' to the individual caster grants a +1 on any spellcasting rolls.

When casting spells at a target that affect the mind or the spirit (including curses), the caster can increase the odds of success by using certain acts of similarity. These include the following:

Names:  +1 modifier for knowing a common nickname for a target, +2 for using their true name.

Time of Birth:  +1 for casting on the target's birthday, +1 for casting during the hour of their birth.

Imagery:  +1 for using a rough drawing or a crude doll of the target, +2 if using a fine portrait or a detailed doll of the target.

Association:  +1 if the caster has an object that is sometimes used by the target, +2 if the caster has clothing commonly worn, or an object of strong emotional meaning to the target, +3 if the caster has part of the trget's body (a lock of hair, nail clippings, blood, etc).

Friday, February 10, 2012

DC fails miserably to expand new readership

Hey, remember how DC's 'New 52' was supposed to expand their reader base, attracting new readers who were not part of the already existing comic book fandom, especially hoping to draw in new female readers to expand the traditionally male demographic?  Well, it looks like it didn't exactly work out that way.  According to the Nielsen survey, only 5% of their current readership were new to buying comics when the DC reboot began, and only 7 % of the overall readership were female.  Yes, DC did increase their overall readership, but mainly by attracting already existing-readers who had in the past stuck with either Marvel or the various indy companies.  In other words, the overall numbers increased, but the demographics pretty much remained the same.

Is it any surprise that DC failed to attract new female readers?  Especially when the portrayal of several of their female characters has been, to say the least, problematic?  Even putting aside the negative publicity that DC garnered with the reboot's early portrayals of Starfire and Catwoman, there were only a handful of female creators involved with the New 52, and the few female characters that were starring in their own titles were still firmly entrenched in the superhero mold; while there have always been female readers who like superheroes, they've also always been a minority, and if you want to seriously expand your reader base to include a greater percentage of females, you're going to have to step outside the traditional confines of the four-color superhero genre.   You're also going to have to expand access outside the comic book shop - digital is a good first step, but that's not necessarily enough. 

Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that only 2% of DC's readers are under the age of 18.  If DC (and also Marvel, presumably) isn't being read currently by kids, then who will be reading and supporting the comic book industry in the years and decades to come?  Publishing a 'kiddy' version of your superhero comics isn't the answer, because kids more often than not don't want to read comics aimed at kids.  You need all-ages comics that are accessible to younger readers, but are also well-written enough to draw in older readers as well.  The trouble is, so many writers (and fans) desperately want their four-color adolescent power fantasies to be respected as serious literature, and as a result many of the superhero comic books out today, in their attempts to be more 'adult', aren't accessible as an all-ages story - the need to appeal to aging fanboys who desperately require their superheroes be faux-realistic and overly gritty is doing so at the cost of future generations of readers. 

I wrote last week about how DC could expand both their female and younger reader base.  I still think it's a workable option, but even so that's only one property for DC to exploit.   If DC is really serious about getting both younger readers and getting a larger female fanbase as well, they have to massively expand outside of their current publishing paradigm, making a concentrated effort to both attract younger readers, and to go beyond the superhero genre to draw in female readers who might enjoy comic books as a medium, but need something besides the usual four-color stuff to attract their interests.  Moreso, you can't just try for a few months and then give up when initial sales aren't what you hoped they would be.  If DC is serious about changing and expanding the current demographics of their readership, they're going to have to commit to the long-term.  Because if DC wants to be a viable entity throughout the 21st century, then business-as-usual simply isn't going to cut it.

Photodump Friday 2/10

Thursday, February 9, 2012

But where are the bees?

Because some of you still have a few Sanity points left, here's a Muppet-ized version of the original version of The Wicker Man (Nicolas Cage and bees not included):

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

V&V Vednesday: Norsefire agents and the Aesir

Norsefire is a Aryan hate-group who seek to establish a society free of multiculturalism, one where the white race is dominant and all other ethnicities are subservient.  Norsefire was founded and is led by the superhuman known as Odin.  Their numbers at any given moment vary, depending on recruitment and how many they've had captured or killed recently: as a rule of thumb, any Norsefire operation that superheroes encounter will have 2d4 agents per superhero (including NPC's) that they might be facing, or 2d6 per agent if the number of superheroes outnumber the superpowered Norsefire agents (i.e. the 'New Asgardians') present.  If the GM wants to keep things simple, here's a stock stat listing for the rank-and-file non-powered Norsefire agents:

Side: Evil     Gender: Male (usually)     Weight: 175 lbs

Physical Description: Goons wearing a white bodysuit (complete with mask) with black gloves, belt, and boots.  They are typically armed with an energy rifle, and usually have a dagger in a boot sheath.

STR: 12     END: 12      INT: 9     AGL: 11     CHA: 9

Level: 1st     Basic Hits: 4     Hit Points: 7      Healing Rate: 1.2/day
Movement: 35”      Power: 44      Carrying Capacity: 256 lbs     HTH Damage: 1d6
Damage Modifier: -     Accuracy: -    Detect Hidden: 8%     Detect Danger: 12%
Inventing: 27%     Inventing Points: 0.9     Reaction Modifier: -

Laser Rifle (+3 to Hit, 1d12 damage, range 55")
Dagger (+1 to hit, +1d2 damage)

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.

Areas of Knowledge
Hate Groups

Some GM's like having individual stats for all the various goons and henchmen that the heroes may encounter. Other GM's may occasionally find that, due to circumstance, a faceless goon is suddenly not so faceless (a la Bob, Agent of Hydra), and may need to be personalized a bit.  Individual character creation notes for Norsefire agents are as follows:

STR: 7+2d4     END: 7+2d4      INT: 4+2d4     AGL: 6+2d4     CHA: 4+2d4

Most agents are male, 1 in 20 is female.  Males weigh 70 + (3d6x10) lbs, females weight 50 + (3d4x10) lbs.

Most agents are 1st level, 1 in 12 will be of higher level (1 in 20 of these will be 3rd level, otherwise such agents are 2nd level).   Training from level increases have even odds of either going to an attribute increase (roll a d8: 1-2 STR, 3-4 END, 5 INT, 6-7 AGL, 8 CHR) or Combat Accuracy with a weapon (roll a d6: 1-4 laser rifle, 5-6 dagger).   

1 in 6 agents will have a combat Talent (roll a d4: 1 = Heightened Attack, 2 = Heightened Defense, 3 = Heightened Expertise, 4 = Natural Weaponry).

1 in 20 agents will, in addition to their standard weaponry, will also carry a non-standard weapon (roll a d6: 1-3 = sword, 4 = hand axe, 5= battle axe, 6 = bow).  If a non-standard weapon is carried, any Combat Accuracy or Heightened Expertise bonuses go to this weapon instead. 

Besides having an automatic Background/Knowledge dealing with Hate Groups, 1 in 4 agents will also get a standard roll on the Knowledge Area table.  In addition, each agent has a 1 in 20 chance of having a Military background, a 1 in 20 chance of having a Law Enforcement background, and a 1 in 8 chance of having a Crime background.


Inbetween the rank-and-file Norsefire agents and the superpowered New Asgardians are the Aesir.  These are agents who were chosen by Odin to be granted powers, but their actual abilities are less impressive than those of the New Asgardians.  They do not have individualized costumes like the New Asgardians do, but their Norsefire costumes do tend to be personalized a bit.  Their natural abilities, even without powers, tends to be a bit more impressive than the usual Norsefire agent (which is why they usually stood out enough to Odin in the first place), but their powers are usually weaker than most superhuman types.  They usually have names derived from lesser known Norse mythological figures (i.e. Forsetti, Vidar), or occasionally from human Norse heroes (Sigurd, Beowulf).  There are generally 1d6 of the Aesir as part of the Norsefire group at any given time.

To create an Aesir, roll up a normal Norsefire agent with the following modifications:

For their attributes, roll 3d4 instead of 2d4, and drop the lowest die.

Roll 1d6 for character level: 1-3 = 1st level, 4-5 = 2nd level, 6 = 3rd level.

Even odds of them having a combat Talent.

1 in 4 Aesir will carry a non-standard weapon; if they do, they automatically get the Heightened Expertise talent with that weapon.

Aesir have even odds of getting a general roll on the Knowledge Area table.  In addition, each Aesir has a 1 in 12 chance of having a Military background, a 1 in 12 chance of having a Law Enforcement background, and a 1 in 6 chance of having a Crime background.

Aesir get 1d3 of the 'standard' powers usually granted by Odin (roll a d6, rerolling any duplicates: 1-2 = Heightened Endurance B, 3-4 = Heightened Strength B, 5-6 Invulnerability).  They also have a 1 in 10 chance of getting a roll on the regular Powers table.  If the power gained would fit thematically into the Norse motif, then they get some sort of power limitation that reduces the effectiveness or appropriateness of the power.  If the power really doesn't fit into the Norse motif, no limitation is applied, although powers that are truly impressive or useful anyways might need to be rerolled.  For Invulnerability or any Heightened Attribute power, roll 4d10 instead or 3d10 and drop the highest number.

For GM's who don't want to go through that much work to have a few extra superpowered henchmen on hand, use the following template and modify as directed:

STR: 13     END: 13      INT: 10     AGL: 12*     CHA: 10

Level: 2nd     Basic Hits: 4     Hit Points: 9      Healing Rate: 1.2/day
Movement: 38”      Power: 48      Carrying Capacity: 306 lbs     HTH Damage: 1d6
Damage Modifier: +1     Accuracy: +1    Detect Hidden: 8%     Detect Danger: 12%
Inventing: 30%     Inventing Points: 2.0     Reaction Modifier: -

Roll or assign one combat Talent, and roll or assign one Background/Knowledge skill.  Assign a non-standard weapon, if desired.  Roll or assign 1-4 powers, using the above guidelines.  Invulnerability is 12 points, and any Heightened attribute is +12.  (Aesir with Heightened Endurance have 19 HP, a healing rate of 2.1/day, a movement rate of 50", a Power score of 60, and a Carrying Capacity of 411 lbs; Aesir with Heightened Strength have 15 HP, a movement rate of 50", a Power score of 60, and a Carrying Capacity of 1,481 lbs, increasing their base HTH damage to 1d10; those with both Heightened Endurance and Heightened Strength have 32 HP, a healing rate of 2.1/day, a movement rate of 62", a Power score of 72, and a Carrying Capacity of 1,586 lbs, increasing their base HTH damage to 1d10).

*note that this increases the Energy Rifle range to 60" 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

To the person yesterday who found this blog while searching for 'halfling porn'...

...I'm sorry to disappoint you (hell, I'm not even certain how such a search led to this blog).  That said, if by any chance you're still hanging around, let me offer you the following:

Yes, they're all wearing clothes, but let me assure you, underneath those clothes they're actually quite naked.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Music Monday: "Personality Crisis"

Even though many people these days have no idea who the New York Dolls were, they had a tremendous influence on performers that would come after them, and their musical DNA can be traced through various punk, glam and hard rock bands from the 70's on to today (most notably, both the Ramones and KISS cited the Dolls as major influences).  So lets crank up a live version 'Personality Crisis', one of the staples of their first album:

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Avengers Super Bowl commercial (extended trailer)

linky linky

"We have a Hulk."

Oh hells yeah.

Trollslayers - Ritual magic (part 2)

Continued from yesterday's post...

Another advantage of Ritual Magic is the ability to draw extra Essence that you can use from certain times and/or locations of spellcasting.  Those attempting Ritual Magic at either midnight or high noon get a half-die (1-3 points) of 'free' Essence that they can draw upon.  Likewise, casting under a full moon also nets an extra half-die of Essence to use.  During a day that is a solstice, equinox, or the beginning of one of the four seasons, the caster can access an addition 2d6 Essence during that 24-hour period.  There are generally few restrictions using said Essence, as long as you don't try something directly counter to the thematic appropriateness of the time in question (attempting a darkness ritual at high noon gains you no extra Essence, and probably nets you a penalty to your spellcasting roll for being stupid).   

Most temples, churches, sacred groves, etc. that have been properly consecrated will have built up a certain amount of ambient Essence over the years.  Those who are attempting a Ritual that is part of the religion's 'canon' can access some of that ambient energy as 'free' Essence, depending on how long the temple has been in use.  A new church that has been around for 1-9 years gives access to a half-dice bonus, 10-99 years or more a full die, 100-999 years 2d6, a 1000+ years 3d6 bonus Essence, and so forth.  This free Essence renews every 24 hours, but is available to the first adherent using it; once someone taps the extra Essence, no one else can use it during that same day.

Battlefields and sites of mass death can also grant extra essence toward necromantic spells, demon summoning, and other dark rituals.  Most such sites will grant an extra full die of Essence; particularly large or historic sites might grant 2d6 extra Essence.

While casting on a ley line grants no extra Essence in and of itself, a site where two or more ley lines cross usually will.  Two ley lines crossing grants an extra 1d6 Essence, three ley lines crossing each other grants 2d6 Essence, four ley lines doing so gives 3d6 Essence, and so forth.  There are generally no restrictions on the use of this Essence.  As with temples and churches, it is available to the first spellcaster using it, so that once someone taps the extra Essence, no one else can use it during that same day.   These ley crossroads are fairly rare (especially the more powerful ones), and most have already been 'claimed'.  Many cities are built upon such crossroads, but the activities of day-to-day city life usually disrupt anyone being able to access the extra Essence.  In more secluded locations, they have already been put to use by a temple or wizard's tower.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Trollslayers - Ritual magic (part 1)

As mentioned here, magic in Trollslayers is divided into two types, Sorcery and Ritual Magic.  Ritual Magic is slower, but usually a bit easier to work with, and requires less energy to enact.

When making a Ritual Magic roll, for every point that the spellcaster's roll exceeds the target number, the Essence cost is reduced by one point.  No matter how well the roll is made, a minimum of one point of Essence must still be expended on any given spell. 

Some rituals allow than one person can work together to combine their efforts.  Not only can different people pool their Essence together, as they are able, to enact a certain ritual, but multiple people working together may also give a bonus to the spellcasting roll (the roll is made by the person leading the ritual, referred to as the 'lead caster').  Note that those assisting in a ritual need not necessarily know the spell in question, or even be aware that they are aiding in the casting of a spell (this is the basis for various temple rites).  The bonus gained by multiple participants is equal to the cube root of the number of people participating in the ritual, round down.  For those who are mathaphobic or just prefer tables, this translates as follows:
Participants     Bonus
2-7                +1
8-26               +2
27-63              +3
64-124             +4
125-215            +5
And so forth.  Note that the bonus for multiple participants in a ritual cannot exceed the lead caster's combined Ritual Magic skill and PRE attribute bonus.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Okay, it's nice that DC is finally getting around to putting out a collected version of Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld. A comic book about a young girl who discovers that she is the orphaned princess of a magical land, the series was aimed at a female readership, but as fans of Sailor Moon and My Little Pony can tell you, such franchises can also attract a significant male readership as well, if there are engaging characters and compelling storylines for them to follow.  Amethyst had both, falling squarely into the better-than-it-had-any-right-to-be category, and as a result it had many male readers as well in its day.

The part that bugs me is that this will probably be sold to comic book shops, and perhaps sold digitally, without any extra effort in reaching today's young female readership.  When teen and pre-teen girls want their comic book fix, the vast majority of them don't go anywhere near a comic book shop (and can you blame them?).  They go to the local bookstore, and head to the manga section.  That's where Amethyst belongs, right alongside all the other magical girl characters that are so popular with young female readers (Amethyst was a 'magical girl' a good eight years before anyone ever heard of Sailor Moon).

So here's a plan for DC: collect 4-6 issues at a time, reprint them in the manga 'digest' size format, print the books in color (because when you're dealing with a series that revolves around houses/clans based on different gemstones, color is, y'know, important), actually make the effort to market them to young female readers (yes, DC, that part's actually essential), rake in the cash, and start building up a female readership that, if you play your cards right, might be with you for several years to come.

Of course, does anyone think that DC would really show that sort of marketing savvy and insight?


No, I didn't think so, either.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

You didn't think I would let this slip by, did you?

Seeing as today is 2/1/12, it's only appropriate that we celebrate by acknowledging my favorite band's breakthrough album, 2112.  So let's listen to the first two movements of the song of the same name, 'Overture' and 'The Temples of Syrinx', along with the seventh and last movement, the 'Grand Finale', as performed live by the band in Frankfurt, Germany.

Attention all planets of the Solar Federation... we have assumed control.

V&V Vednesday: Göndul

Character Name: Göndul     Real Name: Laura Matthews   Side: Evil
Gender: Female     Height: 5'5”     Weight: 120 lbs     Age: 15

Physical Description: An sad-faced but otherwise unremarkable-looking teenage girl with strawberry blond hair and blue eyes. She wears a simple black bodysuit, and carries a high-tech pistol holstered at her side.

STR: 23     END: 24      INT: 9     AGL: 13     CHA: 10

Level: 1st     XP: 968     Basic Hits: 3     Hit Points: 22      Healing Rate: 2.1/day
Movement: 60”      Power: 69      Carrying Capacity: 874 lbs     HTH Damage: 1d8
Damage Modifier: +1     Accuracy: +1    Detect Hidden: 8%     Detect Danger: 12%
Inventing: 27%     Inventing Points: 0.9     Reaction Modifier: -
Training: Heightened Expertise w/ Neuro-pistol

Death Touch
Heightened Endurance B: +15
Heightened Strength B: +14
Invulnerability: 15pt

Neuro-pistol (act as Paralysis Ray, range = 30”, 12 shots)

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.  She also suffers a -4 reaction roll penalty from most people who do not share her views.

Areas of Knowledge
Hate Groups

Character Notes/Origin/Personality: Laura's father Frank was one of the earliest recruits of the new Norsefire, and had become a close friend and trusted associate of Odin, the group's founder and leader. During one night of prodigious alcohol consumption, Frank made Odin swear to take care of Laura, his only child, should anything happen to him. Several months later, Frank was skilled in a shootout with a group of C.H.E.S.S. Agents.

Somewhat reluctantly, Odin kept to his vow, unofficially adopting Laura as his own daughter. Not really cut out to be a parent by either experience or inclination, Odin eventually hit upon the idea that the best way for her to be protected was to give her the power to protect herself. He shortly thereafter subjected her to the painful energies that allowed him to bestow powers to others, and was pleased that she managed to survive the ordeal, bringing her intot he ranks of the New Asgardians.

At first it seemed that Laura had only acquired the enhanced strength, endurance, and durability that seemed standard to those who survived Odin's gift. It was until she accidentally killed a Norsefire agent who she had been kissing that she had also acquired the ability to kill with a mere touch. Upon finding this out Odin re-named her Göndul, after the valkyrie of myth and legend. Odin also managed to procure for her a 'neuro-pistol' (courtesy of Intercrime) which temporarily paralyzes targets successfully hit, making her ability to grant 'the gift of death' with a touch of her hand that much easier.

In one of her earliest missions with Norsefire, she was responsible for the death of Graymalkin, a solo super-heroine from the Tampa Bay area. This quickly made Göndul a highly wanted figure by other superheroes – even though the other superpowered Norsefire agents were responsible for multiple deaths including civilians, police officers, and federal agents, there's nothing quite like the murder of a superhero to really draw the ire of other superheroes. She isn't exactly well liked within Norsefire, either. The other Norsefire agents avoid her, fearful that she might accidentally kill them as well if they get too close to her. Only Odin continues to treat her with any measure of kindness, and for this she will do anything that her leader commands, even though she also resents him somewhat for giving her super-powers, which she sees not as a gift, but rather as a terrible curse.

Göndul wishes she could just go back to being a normal teenage girl, but she knows that's not going to happen. Part of her wishes she could leave Norsefire, but she's also aware that on her own she would most likely quickly be hunted down and captured by either federal agents or superheores. If someone offered her a way out, to get out of the super-powered world entirely, she would jump at the chance, no matter what the cost.

Unlike other members of Norsefire, Göndul's racism isn't based so much on actual hatred than simple ignorance; it's been what she's been taught all her life, and she doesn't even fully understand why those views are controversial. Her actual understanding of racial politics is fairly abstract, and until she began accompanying other Norsefire agents on various missions, she had never even encountered any non-whites in person before. Were she to somehow get away from Norsefire, if she were to find herself in a situation where she actually met and interacted with people of other races and creeds, she might eventually move past her current limited viewpoints. As it is, with the crimes she's wanted for and the various groups wishing to capture her, it's highly unlikely she'll ever get the chance to redeem herself.

Generally, there's no malice to her when she is facing an enemy. Even when she is about to use her death touch, she regards combat with a mixture of sadness and fatalism. The only exception to this is when she's facing C.H.E.S.S. agents, whom she hates, due to the death of her father. Against said agents she releases all of her pent-up rage, and will kill with glee. She fantasizes about personally killing both of the heads of C.H.E.S.S., Homer Grimsby and Alexandria Huntington.

Campaign Use: Odin generally uses Göndul as part of a group, having her administer the coup de grace on stunned or immobilized foes. Once she gains a little more field experience, he might also send her out on solo missions as an assassin against various (non-superpowered) targets.

Note: because the successful use of her neuro-pistol would mean that a victim would not get to make an AGL saving throw, and would only get a saving throw vs END to avoid the full effects of her Death Touch, Gamemasters should be very careful about putting PC's in a situation where a single bad roll could be responsible for that character's death.