Monday, July 25, 2016

The Deep # 1 (Marvel) (one-shot, 1977) [COMICS]

"A masterpiece of undersea suspense from the author of Jaws!" proclaims the cover to The Deep # 1, Marvel's 1977 adaptation of a "Columbia Pictures' Cinema Sensation!"  It's done by Doug Moench and Carmine Infantino, which is hard to argue with, and here's the gist.  In the middle of World War II, a ship carrying medical supplies sank during a storm off the coast of Bermuda.  In the present day (1977, that is), two divers are exploring a different shipwreck (from circa 1714) when they find a medallion.  The divers, David and Gail, decide to confer with a reclusive shipwreck expert named Romer Treece.  On the way back from meeting with Treece, they're mugged by some thugs working for a slug wanting drugs who goes by the name Cloche.  You see, that WWII ship was carrying 98,000 ampules of morphine, and Cloche plans to recover them for his drug-dealing business!  In order to forever win the War on Drugs, David and Gail decide they're going to blow up that shipwreck.  After fighting off a moray eel attack, the pair realize that there are two ships sunk right on top of each other! (the 1714 one and the WWII one).  There's a climactic undersea scene as our heroes survive cut air hoses and sharks to outwit Cloche, blow up the drug-filled ship, and recover a lost treasure trove.  Roll end credits, with David being played by one Nick Nolte and Cloche played by my movie co-star, Lou Gossett, Jr.  The Deep (movie) has a 36% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so maybe reading the comic would save you a lot of time!

Friday, July 15, 2016

RealmsToowoomba Recap # 61 [RPG]

[flashback to 4 Flamerule 1372]

When Markus arrives at the Academy for his next duel, it is clear that word of his dramatic exploits are starting to spread throughout Silverymoon.  He receives several cheers and hearty handshakes from the small crowd that has gathered outside the arena to watch him fight.  His next opponent, however, is not impressed.  The heavily-armored dwarf, Urist McBronzebottom, tells Markus that his flimsy rapier will never land a single hit.  The two make a small wager, and soon thereafter the Duelmaster, Artula Porolos, proclaims the rules of the match.  She explains that this contest will test the participant’s ability to discern when to strike and when to refrain, and to use timing to their best advantage.  Artula herself will participate in the challenge, and the winner between Markus and McBronzebottom will be the first to vanquish her in battle.  The two can attack each other at any time, but if Porolos defeats them both, they both lose the duel.

For this match, the arena is composed of a large room that contains a multi-tiered structure in the center.  Artula takes up a position at the top, while McBronzebottom and Markus start at the bottom.  When the match begins, the two males quickly decide that climbing is too risky as each would leave himself vulnerable to the other!  Artula casts several defensive spells and watches as her two opponents engage each other in earnest!  Despite the dwarf’s enormous tower shield, the point of Markus’ rapier does slip past and score a hit.  Most surprisingly to those watching, however, is that the young swordsman becomes almost feral at times, scratching and even biting his opponent!  Clearly, Markus has been changing—but why or how, no one else knows.

Artula decides to climb down to join the fighting, but slips several times in her heavy armor.  By the time she reaches the other two, both are badly hurt.  A true free-for-all results, and for a moment it looks as if McBronzebottom’s bastard sword will drop the exhausted priestess of the Red Knight, but she ducks at just the last moment and then Markus leaps in and lands a vicious swipe with nails as sharp as claws!  Artula falls to the ground unconscious, and Markus is proclaimed the winner.  McBronzebottom acknowledges the swordsman’s victory, and Markus invites him to the celebratory party he plans to throw himself at a nearby festhall.  The two end up having an enjoyable night drinking ale and singing dwarven tavern-songs.

[7 Flamerule 1372 continued]

Back in Thay, Myst and Ralkin are returning through the rain- and wind-swept streets of Bezantur when they notice something odd.  Across the street from the red-brick inn where they’ve been staying, the vendor of a stall selling meat-pies is making discreet gestures to get their attention.  When the two adventurers approach, the vendor (a young man with brown hair flattened by the downpour), starts putting his wares away in an adjacent cart while whispering that he wishes to speak with them in a nearby alley.  Ralkin and Myst are understandably wary, but follow the main to the mouth of the alleyway.  With Ralkin (in Myst’s body) keeping watch, Myst (in Ralkin’s body) moves in to converse with the man.  He says that his name is Renold, and that he knows the two are companions to the sorceress who has come to Thay to find Cain.  Renold is clearly agitated, and says that they must hurry to rescue the cleric before it’s too late.  Myst is cautious not to incriminate himself or fall for some sort of frame-up, and says he doesn’t understand but will pass Renold’s message along to Mellia and perhaps return tomorrow to find out more.

A few blocks away, in the Flaming Brazier, Mellia and Fargrim (in Dolcetto’s tiefling body) have reached the third terrace.  Waves of heat wash over them from the massive firepits that line the broad corridors.  Both persevere, however, and soon find their way to the Tendril that oversees this terrace.  The Immolator is a burly man clad in heavy armor of a type similar to that worn by Cain.  He stands before a blazing furnace and explains to a group of petitioners that those seeking a boon from the Great Lord of Flames must show their devotion by sacrificing something beyond mere worldly value.  If the flames in the furnace consume the sacrifice, the petitioner will find favor, but if black smoke billows forth, the offering has been rejected.  A grey-haired woman offers a locket that she explains was the last thing given to her by her husband before he joined the Legion and never returned, twenty years ago to the day.  The locket is consumed by the flames, and the Immolator says her request to learn what happened to the Legionnaire will be granted.  The second petitioner is an obese man wearing silk clothes and sweating profusely.  He offers forth a signet ring which he says is a cherished family heirloom, but when smoke fills the chamber, the Immolator says that the ring is a fake and orders the man taken to the Chamber of Punishment.  The third petitioner, a Rashemi peasant, offers something intangible but priceless: the memory of the happiest day of his life, in the hopes that Kossuth will cleanse his daughter from the plague. The sacrifice is accepted, and the man leaves in gratitude.

Having witnessed the types of offerings accepted and declined, Mellia and Fargrim are next in line for the ritual.  Mellia offers forth her daughter’s favorite doll, left in the girl’s bed the night she was taken by a mysterious dark figure, and something that Mellia had hoped to return to Allia when they were reunited.  The offering is accepted, and the Immolator says that Mellia’s request to take the test of purification to ascend to the fourth terrace will be granted.  Fargrim, however, seems nervous and unsure what to offer, and quickly decides that his journey here is at an end.  “Excuse me—I think I was in the wrong queue,” he tells the Immolator before departing.

Mellia proceeds to the test of purification.  The staircase leading up to the fourth terrace is covered in burning coals, and the diviner weighs climbing it slowly but with a focused will, quickly in the hopes that the pain won’t register until success has been gained, or strategically by jumping to the areas of the path that look to be the coolest.  She chooses the third route, but misjudges a jump and cries out in pain, instinctively retreating.  The warrior-monks overseeing the test state that she has failed, but may try again upon the morrow.  Frustrated and angry, Mellia heads back towards the inn.

That evening, Syd stays outside and exults in the raw, natural power of the Ride of the Furies.  Using a nearby pool of water, he scrys on Daisy and his animal companion Garry, and sees that both are well and are still in the Silverwood. Inside the inn, Mellia sends a telepathic message to Cain, stating that she has made it to the third terrace and will continue.  The response comes in a tone that can only be described as focused and backed by strength: “Then you have chosen to follow the path of true belief, and I will greet you with honor when you reach your goal.”  Elsewhere in the inn, Pirith continues trying to gather information about the portal that brought the adventurers from Silverymoon.  She obviously thinks the Guild of Foreign Trade will be very interested in its existence.  Dolcetto, in Fargrim’s body, manages to distract her, however, by talking about the best way to obtain books on the Zulkirs that rule Thay.

During the night, the terrible nightmares that wrack Fargrim’s sleep return, no longer held at bay by the ancient wards of Silverymoon.  The warrior dreams about a great battle outside the gates of Nesme.  Protected by a giant dome of ice, the armies of the Frostmistress, Auril, throw down the Witch-Queen and force the Dread-Knight to flee the battlefield. Fargrim feels the bitterness and hatred that radiates from the Dread-Knight, and knows that his thirst to vanquish every living creature from the Evermoors will only grow.

[8 Flamerule 1372]

When morning dawns, the storms that accompanied the Ride of the Furies festival have ceased and the reliable, if dull, weather wards of the Red Wizards have been restored.  Over breakfast, Fargrim talks about the nightmares that disturbed his sleep, concluding that the forces of the undead will redouble their efforts to destroy Nesme.  Mellia surprises the table by saying it a good sign that Fargrim is still having the nightmares.  Despite taking on more mannerisms, and even the accent of Dolcetto, the warrior’s spirit must be intact, she argues, if he is still suffering from the affliction of dark visions. After Myst mentions his encounter with Renold the day prior, Mellia says more information would be useful.  Fargrim offers to find out what the fellow is all about.

That morning, Syd and Dolcetto keep Pirith busy and away from the inn by asking for her help navigating the vast markets of Bezantur in search of histories of Thay and its rulers.  When Pirith tries to turn the conversation to Multivar’s portal, Dolcetto insists on visiting a nearby gladiatorial arena in the hopes of fighting an owlbear!  Forced to remain pleasant and helpful, the Guild’s “guide” can only go along with his wishes.

Mellia returns alone to the Flaming Brazier and is permitted to reach the third terrace and take the test of purity to enter the fourth.  This time, she draws upon all of her willpower and walks slowly up the burning coals.  Although sore and blistered at the end, she passes the test and gains entrance to the fourth terrace.  She finds herself in an unexpected environment: a large workshop where many of the most clever Tendrils are busy experimenting with novel ways to create and disperse fire.  The priests are supervised by the Flamemaker, a bearded gnome wearing stained robes.  He has little time or interest in Mellia’s quest to find Cain, but hurriedly administers by rote a series of questions about the nature and qualities of fire.  Mellia answers them each correctly, but then faces a practical test of her ability to harness it by either using flint and steel to catch a spark on a damp pile of leaves, or create flame by combining certain esoteric alchemical compounds.  She decides to try the latter method, but her knowledge of alchemy is slim and the unlabelled bottles are confusing.  Her attempt to create fire fizzles and results only in a foul odor, leading the Flamemaker to absent-mindedly inform her that she can try again tomorrow.

Fargrim keeps his promise to find Renold.  After being led through a circuitous route to throw off pursuit, Renold talks to Fargrim in a darkened cellar that serves as his bolt-hole.  Renold says that he’s been a friend of Cain’s since childhood, and, after hearing through sources in the church that the cleric had returned to Thay, he’d tried to visit him.  However, Renold continues, Cain is officially a non-being in the church and, again according to unnamed sources, is being held in dungeons underneath the Flaming Brazier.  Renold says that urgent measures must be taken to rescue him, as a secret society of church inquisitors named the Order of the Black Flame will soon interrogate Cain, and he may not survive the process!  Renold says he knows of a secret passage into the catacombs under the temple, but needs help making it past the Disciples of the Salamander, warrior-monks of Kossuth that guard the area.  Fargrim commits only to again passing Renold’s message along to Mellia.

When Fargrim does so, however, Mellia quickly dismisses the notion of rescuing Cain through stealth or force.  She says that Cain clearly wishes to remain a cleric of the order, that her approach is working, and that a risky rescue plan, even if it succeeds, will only lead to certain reprisals.  Dolcetto, however, hearing the discussion, suggests that there is a risk to *not* acting quickly.  Everyday they linger in Thay, she argues, is a day less of the unknown and perhaps random period of time they have left before the portal pulls everyone back to Silverymoon.  If Cain isn’t rescued before then, the group would have to go through the entire journey all over again, and Dolcetto is clearly dubious that most members of the party have any interest in doing so.  In the end, however, Mellia is afforded more time to see if her progress through the terraces continues.

That evening, Pirith finally acknowledges how interested she and the Guild of Foreign Trade are in the possibilities presented by Multivar’s portal.  Because the Guild has been trying to establishing trading enclaves in many cities throughout Faerun but have not been allowed to do so in Silverymoon, and because teleportation spells inexplicably but constantly fail in the city’s vicinity, Multivar’s portal could be a valuable tool for the Guild.  Mellia says that the secrets of the portal’s operation might be made available, if Pirith can use Guild influence to help her ascend the terraces of the Flaming Brazier more quickly.  Pirith is not optimistic about the Guild’s ability to influence internal church rituals, but holds out hope that perhaps the adventurers will still allow a Guild representative to return with them to Silverymoon.

[9 Flamerule 1372]

Shortly before dawn, the adventurers are awakened by the inn’s chamberlain rapping hastily on the doors to their rooms. The man seems frantic, and explains that a member of the Order of Evocation is awaiting their descent to the common room.  Syd cautiously tiptoes down the stairs to see a Red Wizard pacing back and forth, clearly furious.  When the halfling describes him to the others, Fargrim and Mellia recognize the man instantly: Felix Ruul, the evoker responsible for kidnapping Cain in the first place!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Buffy Comic Project: "Viva Las Buffy! Act 3: Deuces Wild"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 53
(Dark Horse, Volume 1, 1998-2003)

Creators:  Scott Lobdell (plot), Fabian Nicieza (script), Cliff Richards (pencils), Will Conrad (inks)

Setting:  Between movie and Season 1

T.V./Movie Character Appearances:  Angel, Buffy, Pike, Hank Summers, Joyce Summers, Dawn Summers, Quentin Travers, Giles,

Major Original Characters:  The Manager (casino operator); Mary-Lou Sidle & Marcus Sidle (conjoined twins); Willem Bryardale (evil Watcher); Garner Sidle (casino owner)


Having found himself transported back to 1930, Angel breaks into the manager's office at the casino and finds, oddly enough, a modern-day computer!  He uses the computer and discovers that the original owner of the casino (Garner Sidle) has been using a Navajo holding spell to keep the place trapped in time so that he could return from the future and invest in profitable ventures.  Back in the future, Buffy surrenders to save Pike's life, and both are taken to meet the mysterious owners of the Golden Touch casino: a pair conjoined twins, one of whom is a vampire!  A fight breaks out, and Pike realizes he's dragging Buffy down by making her always protect him.  He causes a distraction and runs for the rooftop, and then jumps off!  In Sunnydale, Dawn discovers Buffy's diary, and in London, Rupert Giles leads the Watcher's Council to Willem Bryardale's chamber, where they realize, too late, that he has been practicing black magic!


This issue had some awesome moments, like the conjoined twins, only one of whom is a vampire, doing all sorts of cool flips, kicks, and gun shooting.  I like originality, and the Sidle twins take the cake!  But the issue also had some head-scratching moments  like Pike, apparently, deciding to commit suicide so as not to be a burden on Buffy.  I never got this "woe is me" side to Pike from the movie (granted, it's been a long time since I've seen it) and it just doesn't ring true.  I feel kind of "meh" about the Angel "back in time" plot, and the subplots with Giles and Dawn are reasonably interesting.  The artwork continues to be excellent, with some top-notch action scenes.
The Sidle Twins; their origin doesn't make sense, but they're cool anyway!


* I had forgotten, in reviews of the first issues of this story arc, that Angel already knew who Buffy was when she was in Los Angeles, and that he was trying to protect her.  This explains his motivation for trailing her to the Golden Touch casino.

* Having Angel be in full-colour and the rest of the past in black-and-white worked extremely well.

* The letters page has an interesting exchange between a fan and the series editor about some of the fuzzy logic of the previous story arc.  It turns out that there were plans in place to end the series at Issue # 50 and re-launch the book starting with the current creative team, but the previous creative team decided to leave early (one guesses they weren't happy getting canned) and thus there was a scramble to bring the new creative team on early.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Mynock Squadron Recap # 9 [RPG]

[4.6.11 ABY]

Warrant Officer Kero orders Gamma Flight into space, intending to head towards the secret Imperial research base concealed in the asteroid belt around Nishr. During the journey, however, orders are received from the New Republic Intelligence Service (NRIS) liason in the fleet sent to Kuat: "Message received. New Dawn destroyed. Maintain position. Evade Detection. Update Sit-Rep." Kero sets about preparing a situation report and tells the others to formulate a battle plan if Mynock is asked to destroy the base. Waric suggests hit & run tactics, while Torga says they should have interrogated a captured pirate to get a better sense of the number of defenders they may be up against. She raises again the proposal that she be commander during any ground assault, but Stavros tells her she should focus on following orders. 

While the discussion continues, two transmissions are received in short order. General Cracken, director of NRIS, instructs Mynock Squadron to proceed to destroy the base in order to stop the spread of the mysterious plague. However, the Disease Response Unit (DRU) of the New Republic Department of Health transmits conflicting orders, stating that the base must be secured as information about a potential cure for the disease is likely to be stored there. Neither authority has line command for Mynock Squadron (which is part of Starfighter Command), and the group is left uncertain how to proceed. Stavros suggests that, while waiting for the Provisional Council to resolve the dispute, the Squadron should proceed into the asteroid field and scout the defences around the base. The proposal is accepted.

With Stavros piloting and Kero in the turret, the first Y-Wing enters the dense asteroid field. The way through appears treacherous, as asteroids both large and small move through quickly at seemingly random vectors, but Stavros manages to destroy any asteroids that get too close and the starfighter makes it through. Torga, flying solo, tries to follow Gamma Leader through the asteroid field but finds that even with constant attention, her vessel's shields are weakening too quickly. Kero orders her to abandon the attempt, at least for now.

Meanwhile, Waric examines some of the information downloaded from the Nishr Independence Force freighter. He's able to get a rough tally of the number of NIF members left aboard the base, but a file labelled "Access" is password protected and guarded by a subroutine that will destroy the file on three consecutive incorrect entries. Waric decides not to press his luck. When Keth and Waric try to fly through the asteroid field, a combination of poor aim and knowledge of shield modulation dooms the attempt. The vessel is forced to crash land on a huge asteroid and engage its magnetic couplers so that repairs can be attempted. Waric jokes with Keth that, if anyone asks, it was Darth Vader's fault. The duo go EVA to fix the Y-Wing's damaged repulsors and maneuvering thrusters, but the repairs take some time.

Upon hearing that Waric and Keth have "encountered technical difficulties," Kero and Stavros decide to approach the base on their own. As they fly closer to the base (embedded in the side of a massive asteroid), they suddenly receive an encrypted Imperial transmission but fail to decode it. Exactly sixty seconds later, automated defences activate: blaster cannons and drone snubfighters hidden in surrounding asteroids. Stavros lures one of the drones into a dogfight and quickly shoots it down, while Kero destroys the other with a well-placed proton torpedo. The embedded blaster cannons have difficulty tracking the evasive maneuvers Stavros puts the Y-Wing through, and Kero destroys the defences with several additional proton torpedos.

Having finished patchy repairs, Waric and Keth decide to try to navigate the field again. This attempt fares no better, however, and the duo decide to retreat before the damage becomes cataclysmic. Stavros sends them an update on the successful battle outside the base, and Waric jokingly responds that he and Keth's progress was delayed by the need to dogfight a TIE-Advance.

Stavros broadcasts a message to the base, telling its defenders that they should surrender and receive medical treatment. No response is forthcoming. A careful fly-by and sensor-scan of the base reveals two small exhaust ports near the rear of the base. Stavros suggests sending the Y-Wing's astromech droid into the ventilation system as a scout. However, the droid stops transmitting some minutes after entering the facility. Kero sends a new sit-rep to Starfighter Command, NRIS, and DRU: "Outer defences eliminated. Cautious investigation. Base unresponsive."

Waric and Keth try to navigate the field for a third time. The Y-Wing is heavily damaged in the failed attempt, and left slowly drifting through space. Once again, hours-long emergency EVA repairs are necessary to get the vessel operational. 

Waric proposes a dangerous new plan: the Y-Wing will "push" a massive asteroid through the field to clear a path, and then follow in its wake. In a vessel barely holding together, the scheme is both clever and potentially fatal. 

As Waric and Keth start to put this plan into motion, Kero and Stavros face a new complication: the massive hangar doors of the base have opened, and multiple starships are emerging . . .
Director's Commentary (July 1, 2016)

Even cybernetic enhancements couldn't get Waric through the asteroid field!
I really liked the bit with the group receiving conflicting orders without a viable way to resolve it.  Part of the fun of a military campaign is forcing the PCs up against bureaucracy and chains of commands that aren't always 100% clear.  This is the sort of thing I can throw out there and have a great amount of fun seeing how they decide to resolve it, when I really have no right or wrong answer in mind.

Making through the asteroid field was done as a "skill challenge" under the Saga Edition rules.  There were a variety of methods the group could choose to use.  As you saw, the first ship made it through incredibly easy, but another just couldn't get through despite repeated tries!  It was both comical and exciting.

Overall, I was pretty happy with this session.  The asteroid field definitely made this base a difficult thing to reach, and it ended on a good cliffhanger.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Realms Toowoomba Recap # 60 [RPG]

[6 Flamerule 1372]

When the adventurers prepare to leave the Thayan Legion fortress outside Escalant, they discover a "guide" from the Guild of Foreign Trade is waiting for them. The woman wears a bright blue cloak and boots with silver buckles, and introduces herself as Pirith. She says it is her pleasure to escort the group to Bezantur and explain the advantages of Thay for trade and commerce. Dolcetto and Mellia reply that the road to Bezantur is easy to follow and that they haven't come to Thay on a trading mission, but Pirith is not dissuaded, and politely insistent. Suspecting that refusing a guide may bring along a more intrusive response from the authorities, the group relents. Because the group's spellcasters have not prepared sufficient travel magicks for another rider, the adventurers decide they will have to rest nearby another night and depart for Bezantur in the morning.

Pirith's presence is helpful in expediting their passage across the border into Thay and she leads the group to an inn in the nation's westernmost port, Murbant. Along the way, Pirith "chats" with every member of the group about their purpose in coming to Thay, their pasts, their abilities, and more. Mellia says the group is on a quest to rescue her daughter, but she is vague as to who has taken her. Dolcetto, in Fargrim's body, spins a tale about the famous orc King Obould Many-Arrows, but does divulge that the group arrived in the Wizard's Reach through a magickal portal from Silverymoon. Pirith is quite intrigued by this as she says she has heard that such magicks are suppressed in the city, and asks several further questions about the portal, Multivar, and more. 

Ralkin and Myst, in each other's bodies, tell Pirith that they are suffering from a magickal affliction and ask her to find them someone capable of healing their ailment. Pirith returns to the inn a short time later with a black-clad priestess of the Maid of Misfortune, Beshaba! The priestess explains that afflictions such as those being suffered by Ralkin and Myst are the will of Beshaba, but that truer devotion to her Mistress would have passed their bad luck on to others. She says that it may be within her power to aid them, but her intrusive questions lead Myst to suspect that she will pass along everything she is told to Pirith, and he refuses to disclose anything about what caused the "affliction". Offended, the priestess leaves in a huff.

That same afternoon, Pirith finds Syd in the inn's stables and asks him several questions about his deity, Sheela Peryroyl, whom Syd explains is the halfings' goddess of nature and weather. Pirith is surprised to hear that Syd is unfamiliar with Umberlee, Goddess of the Sea, and Talos, Lord of Storms. She says he may be in luck, as if they arrive in Bezantur soon they will be in time to experience the end of the Ride of the Furies, a three-day festival honouring the two deities.

That evening, Mellia agrees to a private dinner with Pirith. As a member of Mellia's "retinue," Dolcetto volunteers to serve as table-servant and utilizes the inn's kitchen to cook some strange but delicious foods. During the dinner, Pirith continues pressing for information about Multivar and then moves on to asking several questions about Cain. When asked why the group has travelled so far just to meet with him, Mellia says that Cain is important to her quest and then hints at a romantic interest in the cleric to help satisfy Pirith's curiosity. 

That night, Pirith awakens Mellia claiming that a maidservant alerted her to the fact that Syd is not in his room. Mellia escorts Pirith to the stables and distracts her long enough for Syd to transform back to humanoid form from the animal form he had been resting in. He says that he enjoys sleeping in the straw and hay rather than in a stuffy room, and Pirith seems satisfied with this explanation.

[7 Flamerule 1372]

The group, along with Pirith, depart Murbant and make great speed east. Along the way, they spot a slave caravan on the side of the road with several wagons overturned. A massive, hideous multi-tentacled creature is feasting on the slaves, who are chained to the wagons and unable to escape. The group slows, and Mellia asks Pirith her advice. Pirith says the group should keep going, as the slaves hold value only to their owner and that there may be a risk in harming the creature if it belongs to one of the Red Wizards who hold estates nearby. The group continues on without intervening, although Syd casts a spell as they leave to warp the wood on one of the wagon to free two of the slaves.

Bezantur is close to 200 miles from Murbant, but the group covers the distance in just a few hours thanks to their mystically summoned mounts and Syd's charms that keep the horses from tiring even at a canter. Extensive shanty-towns lay outside the walls of the enormous port-city, and inside the normal weather-wards of Thay have been lifted and replaced with fierce thunderstorms that lash the city with rain and lightning. The adventurers see that sailors, fishermen, and others who make their living by the sea are nearly naked in the streets and prostrating themselves for the Furies' favour in the year to come. Pirith leads the group through the downpour to an inn made out of red stone and the adventurers take up rooms. 

Mellia emerges from her room with a large cloak concealing her clothing and walks with Fargrim, in Dolcetto's body, to the Flaming Brazier, the largest temple to Kossuth in all of Thay. The Flaming Brazier is a massive ziggurat-shaped temple made out of black basalt, set in the center of a large plaza that steams from the heat emanating from its tiles. Great cauldrons of heatless flame are set alongside the perimeter of the plaza to receive the donations of the faithful, while a massive ball of flame known as Kossuth's Gaze hangs suspended over the highest point of the temple. A staircase made of burning coals leads up to the curtain of flame that bars passage to the highest terrace, but Mellia and Fargrim enter through a door on the first terrace for petitioners.

The first terrace is lit by thousands and thousands of candles, casting deep shadows everywhere. It appears to serve primarily as residences for the temple's lower-ranking Tendrils (ecclesiastical priests) and warrior-monks. Mellia and Fargrim walk past a staircase leading upwards that is guarded by two battle-scarred monks and a staircase leading down that is barred by a steel trapdoor. Petitioners and novitiates of all sorts pass through the busy corridors. When the two adventurers ask to speak to someone in charge, they are led to the Tendril known as the Candlemaster. 

In an office covered with hundreds of gold and bronze statuettes, and with a mostly-finished dessert tart on his plate, the Candlemaster is a portly Rashemi with a soft-spoken but saccharine personality. He explains that he doesn't know a priest of Kossuth named Cain. When told that Cain might be under some sort of discipline or punishment, the Candlemaster says that in such a case, only the temple's Eternal Flame, who resides in the holy sanctum in the seventh terrace of the Flaming Brazier, could give permission for outsiders to speak to such a person. However, the Candlemaster continues, only those who have shown dedication to the Flamelord can ascend to higher terraces. Reading between his words, Mellia and Fargrim quickly surmise that the man is asking for a bribe, but only one that can be conveyed through the legitimate channel of donating wealth into one of the temple's heatless cauldrons in the plaza outside. The two hastily exit to make the required "donation" and, after waiting for their devotion to be verified, are allowed to take what the Candlemaster says is the "test of purification" to ascend to the second terrace. Each adventurer is forced to thrust their hand into the flame of a burning candle without flinching to prove themselves pure. Both pass the test, and climb the stairs to the second terrace.

Meanwhile, Myst and Ralkin, having secretly followed the two to the temple, ask a Tendril for assistance in dealing with their "affliction." Myst takes offense at the Tendril's questions about whether the two are sufficiently pure in Kossuth's gaze to be worthy of healing and says something verging on blasphemy before departing with Ralkin. The two decide to head back towards the inn. 

Dolcetto (with Syd's assistance) spends the day pouring over hagiographies of the Zulkirs fetched for them in the rainstorm by a slave in service to the innkeeper.

When Mellia and Fargrim reach the second terrace, they see it is illuminated by hundreds of torches and is almost uncomfortably warm. The head Tendril on this terrace, known as the Mistress of Torches, is a tall woman with a head and face that are so badly-burned it is difficult to look at directly. When asked about Cain, she states affirmatively that he does not exist. In order to gain permission to take the test of purification to ascend to the third terrace, Mellia and Fargrim are asked to "demonstrate that they lack the weakness of mortal flesh." Mellia asks Fargrim to step into the corridor, and when he returns, the Mistress of Torches announces that Mellia has demonstrated her devotion. Fargrim has difficulty determining what sort of words or actions are required to satisfy the Mistress' demands, and his growing confusion as to whether he is really Fargrim or Dolcetto is growing. Eventually, he settles on channelling the arcane energies contained in Dolcetto's body to transform into a small red dragon! The Mistress of Torches is sufficiently impressed. The test of purification (withstanding the flame of a torch) is successfully passed, and the two are allowed to climb the staircase to the third level.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Mynock Squadron Recap # 8 [RPG]

The pursuit of the NIF freighter continues. Waric damages the vessel's maneuvering thrusters with a skillful shot, and Stavros comms the freighter to order it to land. It does so, but the comm channel carries mostly static and a faint voice saying it is death to come aboard. With the sandstorm only minutes away, the pilots of Mynock Squadron hurry to land and board the ship. Stavros suggests everyone seal up their flight suits and helmets in case the defenders plan to use gas, a decision that will prove fortuitous, albeit for a different reason.

With Tazo-Rhi patrolling outside, Waric, Stavros, Keth, Kero, and Torga board the vessel. The interior is bathed in dim emergency lights and is quiet as a tomb. While the others stand watch near the closed cockpit blast door, Waric starts the search by moving down a narrow maintenance crawlspace; he discovers the body of an NIF member covered in dark purple striations and blotches. Waric instantly comms the others warning that they might have discovered a plague ship, and Kero rushes over. She examines the body and notes strange, fist-size lumps under each armpit. When she moves in to take blood and tissue samples, one of the lumps bursts, showering her helmet with pus and gore. She seems unfazed, however, but warns the others that, on first look, the disease reminds her of something she once read about in a treatise on ancient diseases from centuries past: the "blue-sickness", its causes and cure lost in antiquity.

The decision is made to secure the cockpit. Waric manages to override the blast door locks, but he's met by a spray of blaster fire in response. Torga tosses a stun grenade into the cockpit, and the powerful blast in such a confined space is enough to knock both of the defenders unconscious. However, none of the three defenders encountered so far match the description of the secret New Republic intelligence agent known as "Kors Tanzent".

Conscious of the need to take special precautions to avoid catching or spreading the disease, the group continues their exploration of the ship. Waric realizes the starboard escape pod is occupied and that, upon seeing him, the occupants have started the launch sequence. Working quickly and efficiently, he cuts the launch circuits and manually rewires the door controls to keep the two locked inside. Meanwhile, exploring the port side of the vessel, Stavros is examining the other escape pod when he is suddenly fired upon by two NIF agents who have popped out of a smuggler's compartment! The blasts shred the back of Stavros' flight suit and burn his skin, but he manages to dive for cover to escape further blasts. Torga and Keth engage the pirates and manage to drop both of them

While Stavros receives first aid from Kero, Keth and Torga continue exploring the freighter's portside aft compartments. From the darkened recesses of a cargo hold, a pirate driven mad by the disease ravaging his body leaps out at Torga with a vibroblade in his hand. His attack smashes the visor on her helmet and knocks her to the floor. He then tries to bite her face with his teeth! With the muzzle of her blaster against the man's ribcage, Torga fires a single fatal shot and rolls the corpse off of her. From the rear of the cargo hold, stepping out of a freezer, the agent known as Kors Tanzent appears. 

Shaking, covered in frost, and somewhat disoriented, Tanzent explains that he's surmised that cold slows down the progression of the disease, even though he knows ultimately it's too late for him. He explains that everything started after the Battle of Endor. Unbeknownst even to the Imperial ruler of Nishr, Governor Kollis, a secret Imperial bioweapons research facility was located in the dense asteroid belt near the planet. After the second Death Star was destroyed and the Emperor slain, the staff of the research facility decided to flee to avoid being arrested someday as war criminals. One of the fleeing scientists, however, fell into the hands of the Nishr Independence Force and they "persuaded" her to give the location of the base. Thinking there could be profit in it, the NIF tracked the base down and began exploring. Tanzent says his rescuers can guess the rest; something was released during their explorations, and the contagion spread through the members of the NIF rapidly. The disease, which has a two-day incubation period, is marked by purple striations, pus-filled lumps under the arms, and a painful, gasping death. Tanzent says he's tried to research the disease and obtain broad-spectrum antibiotics, and was fortunate enough to convince the other members of the group to stay aboard the freighter and allow a droid to load supplies in Drushar, lest the disease be ultimately tracked back to them. Tanzent has difficulty staying on his feet, but manages to convey the coordinates of the secret base and says it has to be destroyed as soon as possible so that the pirates waiting for the freighter's return with medical supplies don't flee all over the galaxy and spread the disease.

The group quickly discuss what to do. The decision is made to send Tanzent and the freighter back to New Republic space so that he can receive treatment and the disease analyzed further. Tazo-Rhi will pilot the shuttle as his escort. Stavros manages to briefly get in contact with the New Dawn, and explain the situation, but the ship is in the middle of a battle and it's unclear whether the support/evac team Stavros asked for will be dispatched. Keth remembers seeing a flickering computer in one of the ship's cabins, and, with some help, is able to discern that a transmission had been made recently on an Imperial channel. The group surmise that one of the NIF pirates could have been an Imperial mole. 

Importantly, someone recalls the fact that one of the freighter's TYE-Wing escorts escaped during the battle. Once the freighter and the shuttle piloted by Tazo-Rhi are safely in space, the pilots of Mynock Squadron work quickly to try to track down the missing Ugly before its pilot spreads the contagion further. Kero is able to use her vessel's sensors to discern from the TYE-Wing's ion trail that it was headed back towards Drushar, but she loses the trail near the city. Fortunately, she's able to contact New Republic sympathizers in the city, and one of them reports having spotted such a vessel landing just minutes ago in the slum-infested outskirts of Drushar. Kero orders everyone to land near the Ugly, but it's clear the vessel is empty. While Kero and Stavros maintain watch, the others fan out to track down the missing pirate.

Torga starts trying to track the Ugly pilot's movements through the muddy landscape of squalid huts, garbage piles, and open cooking fires. In a bid to speed up the search, Waric tries to bribe a nearby slum resident with a blaster pistol in return for information on where the Ugly pilot fled to; seeing this and concerned that the pistol could be covered with plague germs, Kero urgently orders Waric to retract the offer and the pistol. Irritated, Waric turns off his comlink. Before his negotiations can continue, however, a dangerous situation arises: a veritable mob of slum residents begin pelting Waric and Keth with rocks and garbage, shouting that the the NIF are freedom fighters. Stavros intervenes and persuades the crowd that Mynock Squadron is concerned with the fled pilot's safety and only want him to get medical treatment. Somewhat mollified, the crowd ceases active hostility. Stavros even persuades the man Waric was negotiating with to get into the turret of one of the group's Y-Wings, hoping to isolate him if he was in fact infected.

Meanwhile, Torga successfully tracks the NIF pilot's trail to a small hut. She, Waric, and Keth take up positions and storm the hut, only to find that the man is already dead. The decision is made to torch the hut to stop the corpse serving as a source of further infection. Back at the vessels, however, a sensor sweep shows that Imperial troop carriers are approaching the area.

With a seemingly simple mission having turned into a crisis that could kill millions, the newest members of Mynock Squadron have found more than they bargained for on the planet Nishr.
Director's Commentary (June 17, 2016)

Torga was a useful NPC this session!
This was a solid, action-oriented session with the interior of the spaceship serving, in effect, as a small dungeon.  The idea to seal up the flight suits before boarding because of concerns over gas was accidentally brilliant, because it kept the PCs from risking exposure to the black plague-equivalent that everyone aboard was infected with.  The presence of the disease made the combat very exciting, because all it would take was one blaster bolt to a flight suit to risk infection.

I'm not sure how much sense the background story made at the time of the session, but the beauty of the recaps is that they gave me an opportunity to explain things in a logical way so that any players who were a bit lost could have the dots connected.  I did give them a tough mission for their first real (non-training) adventure, but they did a good job with both the space combat last session and the boarding mission this session.

Kero used one of her Rank abilities to get intelligence on where the missing TYE-Ugly had landed, which was a perfect example of how that sort of thing should work.  I think Waric's player really was a bit irritated in character at being ordered around by Kero's player, which was one of the risks of having commanders and subordinates I talked about in a previous commentary.

Next Recap

Monday, June 13, 2016

Final Fantasy III [GAMES]

I have, very, *very* slowly been working my way through the Final Fantasy series: I finished # 1 in May of 2010 and # 2 in August of 2011!.  This past weekend, I finished # 3.  It was a solid entry to the series, though there wasn't anything spectacular about it.  The main difference was the introduction of a "Jobs" system which is a little bit like a class but the characters are encouraged to change back and forth between various jobs depending on need.  Frankly, I found that too much trouble and tended to mostly stick with jobs as long as possible, as it wasn't clear to me how the game's equivalent of "multiclassing" worked.  The premise of the game is that four crystals of Light need to be recovered to undo a terrible darkness that threatens to destroy the land, and blah blah blah, plots so generic can put me to sleep.  The hardest part of the game was the end:  there's a final dungeon that you can't save in and, after a particular point, can't leave, and you have to fight four end bosses and the then the big final bad guy.  A TPK here means making up for a couple of hours of game time, so I had to grind a bit at the end before making a final push.  I probably invested about 45 hours in the game, but at least now I get to move on to something more fun:  Batman Lego!

Official Time:  39:07:01

Tmeris, Level 59  
Dark Knight Job Level: 99 (Freelancer 23, Warrior 35, Knight 14)
HP: 3409

Eli, Level 60  
Sage Job Level 42 (Freelancer 11, Red Mage 26, Scholar 99)
HP 3243

Persi, Level 60
Devout Job Level 47 (Freelancer 12, White Mage 74)

Talos, Level 60
Ninja Job Level 47 (Freelancer 10, Warrior 25, Knight 45, Dragoon 34)
HP: 3461