Sunday, May 29, 2016

Little Bigtoes [RPG]

Little Bigtoes is a memorable character I recently played in a Pathfinder campaign that lasted from around level 5 to level 11.  The concept of Bigtoes can be summed up quickly:  a little gnome with a huge hammer and a predilection for thuggish crime.  His combination of the grossest coarseness and a tiny heart of gold for an alchemist named Rosie proved great fun to role-play.  He was built as a true multiclass Fighter/Rogue, and didn't end up being especially useful in combat until near the end of the campaign when the right combination of feats and class abilities came together.  I developed him mechanically to follow an (unoptimized) strategy as swinging as hard as he possibly could at every opponent he saw, which meant that when it worked, it worked pretty well.  Perhaps his most memorable moment came when a fellow PC ran into a confusion trap and attacked Bigtoes.  Bigtoes swung back, critted, and dropped the fellow stone dead.  The gaming group will laugh about that for a long, long time.  When that campaign came to an end, Bigtoes had saved enough cash to build a house across the street from his mom's so that he and his alchemist sweetheart Rosie could retire in style . . .
Little Bigtoes
NE Gnome F6/R5 (FC: Rogue)
Male, 75 years old, 3'6 height, 38 lbs weight, greasy black hair, grey eyes

Str 14 (16): +3
Dex 12 (16): +3
Con 16 (18): +4
Int 12: +1
Wis 12: +1
Cha 15: +2

Hit Points: 106

Speed:  Base 20', with armor 15'

Initiative: +3

AC: 27 (+11 armor, +3 dex, +1 size, +1 amulet of natural armor, +1 ring of protection)  (Touch AC: 15, Flat-footed AC 21)

Saves:  Fortitude +10, Reflex +9, Will +4

BAB: +9/+4, CMB +11, CMD 24

Attacks:  Corrosive Vicious Earthbreaker +1 (Small) (with vital strike and power attack):  +16, d. 2d10+3d6+19 (+4d6 sneak attack) (19-20x3)

Skills:  Acrobatics -1, Appraise +6, Bluff +15, Climb +8, Diplomacy +6, Disable Device +10, Disguise +7, Escape Artist -1, Heal +1, Intimidate +21, Knowledge: Engineering +10, Knowledge (Local) +6, Linguistics +5, Perception +10, Ride -1, Sense Motive +5, Stealth +13 (+21 w/mask), Survival +6, Swim +5

Languages:  Common, gnome, sylvan, orc, undercommon

Feats:  Toughness, WF: Earthbreaker, Lunge, Steadfast Slayer, Power Attack, Furious Focus, Vital Strike, Weapon Specialization, Intimidating Prowess, Improved Crit, Devastating Strike, Accomplished Sneak Attacker

Traits:  Dirty Fighter, Unabashed Gall

Magic Items:  Belt of Physical Perfection +2, Earthbreaker +1 (small), Ring of Protection +1, Cure Moderation Wounds Potions (x2), Cure Light Wounds Potions (x3), Heavy repeating crossbow +1 (small), Cure Serious Wounds Potions (x4), +3 Agile half-plate of Comfort, Muleback cords, Potion of Bull Strength, +1 Amulet of Natural Armor, Goggles of Night, Cracked Magenta Ioun Stone, Snakeskin tunic, Haste potion, Burglar's Bracers, Stalkers' Mask, Potions of Bless Weapon (x5)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Savage Worlds and the Explorers Guild [RPG]

The second adventure in my RPG system/genre hopping plan finished over the weekend and was good fun.  This time, the system was Savage Worlds and the genre was 1930s pulp.  The PCs were newly-minted members of the Explorers Guild.  In the first session, the annual meeting of the group was interrupted by a zeppelin attack and the theft of the recently-unearthed Pandora's Box by a masked crew led by the Phantom Marauder!  The PCs, a merchant seaman (and Brooklyn boxer) named Sam, a pacifist scholar named Benjamina, and a dashing swordstress named Victoria, traveled all the way to the deepest jungles of the Amazon in a race to secure a key to Pandora's Box before the Phantom Marauder and his henchmen could get their menacing hands on it.  Along the way, they handled a bomb on their plane, fought river bandits, survived one of their own getting nearly chomped to death by a crocodile (Sam), and then one of their own getting gutted nearly to death by a booby-trapped temple (Sam again!).  But the clever heroes managed to blow up/stab the massive "Crocodile God" of the stereotypical natives and recover the key, thus saving the world from the evils of Pandora's Box.

I used The Eye of Kilquato! scenario as a basis for the adventure, but with plenty of modifications.  I ran it very much in the vein of classic serials and Indian Jones-type movies, with lots of travel montages, cliffhangers, and larger-than-life (if not blatantly offensive) caricatures of foreign cultures.  I think the players had fun with a very different style of gaming, and I thought Savage Worlds was a good fit for the system as it featured just the right amount of mechanics to keep things working without getting in the way of the fun.  It was everyone's first time with it, but I could imagine using it again for other genres.

Next up:  post-apocalyptic mutants run wild in Gamma World . . .

Monday, May 16, 2016

Defenders of the Earth (Marvel 1987)

So apparently, circa 1986, there was a cartoon series called Defenders of the Earth.  It lasted 65 episodes, though I don't think I ever saw it when I was a kid.  The idea was that the heroes of three King Features comic strips, Mandrake the Magician, the Phantom, and Flash Gordon, would team up to defend the planet against the evil Ming the Merciless.  Along with the cartoon and a toy line, Marvel Comics' Star imprint launched an on-going series that only lasted four issues.

In Issue # 1, written by Stan the Man (with an "assist" from Bob Harras), we get a team origin.  Flash Gordon's spaceship crashes on Earth and is found by Mandrake and Lothar.  After escaping from robots sent by Ming the Merciless, Flash warns his rescuers that Ming plans to invade Earth and that his wife and son have been captured.  The heroes decide they need help, and travel to the jungle to recruit . . . The Phantom!  The four fly a spaceship to Mongo and into a space battle, but Mandrake uses his illusions to trick Ming's fleet into attacking his own palace!  Ming flees to a new base on Earth (in the Arctic), but the heroes find that Flash's wife, Dale, is dead (although her soul is trapped in a crystal shard).  There's a lot of kid sidekicks in this issue, but fortunately they're mostly sidelined.  And I still have no idea who Lothar is or what contribution  he makes. . .  [Edit:  Later research reveals he is Mandrake's assistant, is super strong, and, his toy packaging describes him as a "magic ninja of the Carribean".  That's awesome.]

At the beginning of Issue # 2, Flash's wife, Rick, has the bright idea of putting his mum's soul into a computer and naming it "Dynak X."  I wish more people would think of that!  The heroes discuss getting a new HQ (instead of just crashing in Mandrake's mansion), and some allied aliens called the Cryl agree to build a new base dubbed "Monitor."  I'm guessing this is all effectively a prequel to the cartoon, but I still have no idea since I've never watched it.  Anyway, Ming mercilessly intercepts the group's communications and launches an attack on the Cryl spaceship, but Flash and Mandrake save the day.  Ming then attacks Monitor, but the Defenders of the Universe set off an explosion to trick Ming into thinking they're all dead.  I make jokes, but it's not bad for what it is.

I've had Issue # 3 for years and must have purchased it right off the rack.  "It's a rumble in the Jungle!  Brothers vs. Brother" promises the cover, and indeed the story does involve The Phantom going up against his brother, Kurt Walker, to protect the indigenous Bandar people (the people with whom The Phantom usually lives with).  Walker is torqued that he got passed over to be The Phantom, but while trying to steal some jewels from the Bandar he sneaks into an old cave, finds a skeleton wearing a strange costume, and dons it to become the demonic N'Dama!  N'Dama takes over the Bandar village until The Phantom arrives to save the day.  N'Dama ends up seemingly consumed by his own power.  This was effectively a Phantom solo story, but good quality.  If it had been a solo Avengers story, I wouldn't have blinked.

If the previous issue focused on The Phantom, Issue # 4 is all about Mandrake.  Earth's mightiest magician recalls how he found the orphaned boy Kshin, and decides it's now time to initiate the lad in the ways of magic.  He starts by sharing his own origin (family killed by avalanche, saved by monks, excelled in mystical arts, etc.) and then leads Kshin in meditation.  But meanwhile, Mandrake's arch-rival, Dr. Dark, escapes from another dimension (with Ming's aid: super-villain team-up!) and invades the mansion.  Lothar is quickly stunned, and we're treated to a Mandrake vs. Dr. Dark magic duel, which appears on the page in very much a Doctor Strange-style.  Dr. Dark casts a cool spell to tie Mandrake's life force to the flickering flames of a candle, but Mandrake helps Kshin cast a spell to free him.  And then, a cliffhanger:  the Defenders of the Earth discover Ming's plot to rule the word with ice men!  Alas, since it's the final issue, we may never know who prevailed . . .

Overall, these are perfectly serviceable comics, especially for their intended age bracket.  They don't exactly leave me breathless for more, but I know I've read far worse!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Mynock Squadron Recap # 7 [RPG]

[4.6.11 ABY]

Keth awakens to find himself laying on a med-recliner in an empty infirmary.  Finding his clothes and gear nearby, he staggers out into the hallway and soon realizes he must be on a New Republic starship.  A young red-haired officer spots Keth in the corridor and tells him that he's late before hustling him over to a hanger, handing him a datachip with hyperspace coordinates, and pushing him into an old utility shuttle.  A confused Keth follows his instructions and pilots the shuttle out of the hanger bay and into hyperspace.

Meanwhile, in hyperspace, the new members of Mynock Squadron converse about why they joined the New Republic.  Kero says she joined because it was the honourable thing to do and expresses cautious hope that Starfighter Command will be a place where females have equal opportunities to advance as males do.  Stavros is surprised that anyone would express concern about equality in the New Republic and mildly teases Kero about whether she would like to be called "Sir" or "Ma'm".  Tazo-Rhi says she joined because she didn't want a life of research and study like many Cereans; she wanted a life of adventure and service.

The group also discusses what their plan should be for retrieving the New Republic spy operating under the alias of Kors Tanzent.  Waric suggests potentially posing as pirates and "capturing" Tanzent as a hostage; other ideas include sneaking aboard the NIF freighter and disabling its engines before it even leaves the city of Drushar.  Torga suggests she should be given leadership during any ground operations, but Kero quickly rebuffs her.  The final plan agreed upon is that, should an intercept be necessary, Gamma Leader (Stavros & Kero) and Gamma 3 (Waric) will focus on taking down any uglies escorting the freighter, while Gamma 2 (Torgo and Tazo-Rhi) will try to disable it.

When the Y-Wings drop back into realspace near Nishr, a surprise is waiting for them: due to the vagaries of hyperspace, Keth has actually arrived first!  The others are initially suspicious of the shuttle, but fortunately Stavros recognizes Keth's voice.  Waric tells Keth to hang back from any battle that may soon start, but no one fills Keth in on what the mission is.  On a private channel, Tazo-Rhi says she is uncertain if Keth should be entrusted with any responsibility during this mission given his recent instability, but Kero disagrees.

While Gamma 2 and Gamma 3 fly to the incredibly dense asteroid belt that lays near Nishr to take cover and await further orders, Gamma Leader and Keth's shuttle enter Nishr airspace.  During the flyover of Nishr settlements, the pilots confirm the briefing notes that most of the planet's technology is barely at an Industrial level of development, though signs of the influence of Imperial technology from the forces garrisoned on the planet could occasionally be seen. The pilots soon set down outside of Drushar on a haphazardly arranged landing field.  

A local named Jorrusk tries to wheedle some local currency ("kolkaks") from them, but Stavros uses this as an opportunity to see if the man knows anything about the freighter the NIF could be using.  Having seen some uglies during their initial flyover, Stavros and a recently-arrived Waric decide to casually walk around the field to see if they can spot their target.  The duo do notice a droid-operated cargo loader that is now empty and leaving the field.  Waric hops aboard and downloads its operating manifest and then, in a bid to distract everyone so that his companions can investigate unhindered, starts attacking and yelling at the droid.

It all goes for naught, however, as a trio of TYE-Uglies and a YT-series freighter lift off and start heading for orbit.  The members of Mynock Squadron on the ground immediately head for their vessels to give pursuit while calling in for reinforcements from the asteroid base.  Blasters blazing, Waric corkscrews his vessel at top speed towards one of the uglies and destroys it just instants before a devastating collision would have taken place.  Now piloting the utility shuttle, Stavros talks the pilot of one of the two remaining uglies to flee the scene, while, despite the plan, Torga and Tazo-Rhi line up a careful shot with a photon torpedo to destroy the third.  Its escorts gone, the freighter stops climbing for orbit and instead dives steeply to the east, in the direction of what sensors show is a massive sandstorm.  Repeated hits from laser and ion cannons knock out the freighter's shields and cause it to trail thick streams of smoke, but the battered vessel skims the ground at treetop level.  

Can the new pilots of Mynock Squadron disable the fleeing freighter without destroying it before every trace of it is swallowed up by the incoming sandstorm?
Director's Commentary (May 6, 2016)

Keth's strange arrival in the adventure was of course the best way I could get his player into the game after last session's absence saw the character out of action with a concussion.  The funny thing was that the other characters never filled Keth in on what the mission was, so he had to wing it the whole time.

It fills my heart with joy to sit back and watch as the PCs make battle plans in-character.  When there's excellent role-playing arising out of the initial premise I've laid down, it feels very rewarding to be a director.  And it was fun to see them discuss the very options (and imagine how they would play out), and come up with a plan that was tactically sound.  It also fit well with the premise that the PCs are a combination of fighter pilot/ground commandos.

The TYE-Uglies as mish-mash junker space fighters comes from several of the X-Wing Rogue Squadron novels, and fit in nicely here for the PCs' first real taste of space combat.  In other words, their foes couldn't be flying anything worse that could still shoot back!  And even though the Y-Wings are almost obsolete in the New Republic Starfighter Command, they still are a huge step above TYE-Uglies.  (And one thing I learned from this campaign:  proton torpedoes pack a punch!)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Realms Toowoomba Recap # 58 [RPG]

In the western part of the Evermoors, a city fights for its very survival against an army of darkness. The city of Nesme has turned, in desperation, to clerics of Auril to defend them. In response, the Frostmaiden's servants have erected a protective dome of thick ice around the city. But as the days fall one by one, summer advances, and food supplies run low, the defenders' know that sooner or later, the army that besieges them will break through.

Turned into a foul abomination, the legendary paladin Arden Brightheart now leads the army of Myrkul as the Dread-Knight. Along with the master of the Blight Forge named the Witch-Queen, the Dread-Knight has thousands of undead minions at his command. His legions hack at the ice dome day and night, tireless and unrelenting.

The thousands of residents of Nesme have one last hope: frost giants sent by Orel the Grayhand have strived to erect fortifications in the Evermoors. The leader of their battle-party, Princess Gerti Olafsdotter, is herself a priestess of Auril and has responded to her allies desperate cries for aid.

Now, with the bulk of her forces pinning down the undead legions surrounding Nesme, Princess Olafsdotter leads a charge to slay the Dread-Knight and establish the Frostmaiden's reign over the Evermoors.

When the battle begins, the two opposing armies move slowly towards one another, deciding on the best way to maneuver around a great bog that separates them. The Witch-Queen casts several defensive spells and then magickally takes to the skies. The frost giant army splits into three groups, one coming around the bog to the north, one coming around from the south, and the third tentatively moving towards the bridge that spans the bog.

The northern group makes contact with the Dread-Knight's legions of skeletons first, and in seconds both armies have charged there en masse. The icy breath of the winter wolves has little effect on the undead, and the skeletons' flurry of whirling blades takes a toll. Princess Gerti Olafsdotter decides the time is ripe to summon her secret weapon: the fiendish white dragon Rynnarvyx! The dragon plummets into the midst of the battle and tries to snatch the Witch-Queen away. The two wrestle while the Dread-Knight summons his reserve: minotaur zombies hidden in the great bog! He orders his legions of skeletons to surround Princess Olafsdotter, but the frost giant leader cleaves them into pieces with her great axe. 

The battle slowly turns against the armies of the undead, as although they've inflicted wounds on several of their living enemies, they are unable to focus their efforts to vanquish any but a few of the weaker winter wolves. Eventually, even the minotaur zombies are destroyed, while the frost giant army remains mostly intact. Rynnarvyx continues grappling with the Witch-Queen, while Princess Olafsdotter takes advantage of her foe's distraction by landing several mighty blows. The Dread-Knight tries to summon eldritch fire on the vulnerable giants, but his attempt is interrupted and he takes to the air, spending the most crucial moments of the battle watching from above. The legendary bravery of Arden Brightheart has turned to cowardice during his transformation into the Dread-Knight! 

The Witch-Queen tries one last, desperate attempt to win the day by focussing all of her power into sucking the life-force out of Princess Olafsdotter in one deadly touch, but the frost giantess resists the attack and finally destroys the master of the vile Blight Forge. Seeing his ally defeated, the Dread-Knight retreats in full-flight, leading the scattered remnants of his army deeper into the Evermoors, vowing revenge on the frost giants, Nesme, and all living creatures who set foot in his domain.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Buffy Comic Project: "Viva Las Buffy! Act 1: Broken Parts"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 51

(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:  Buffy, Pike, Dawn, Joyce, Hank Summers, Giles, Quentin Travers, Angel, 

Major Original Characters:  None

Summary:  In the weeks after accidentally burning down her high school's gym fighting vampires (and facing the death of her Watcher, Merrick), Buffy continues the fight against vampires with the help of her friend Pike.  She intervenes when a group of vampires attack police officers and, with Pike's help, stakes several of the monsters.  When he drops her off at home late at night, she sneaks into her room to find that Dawn is sleeping in her bed.  She and Dawn argue until Joyce comes in to settle the fight.  The next day, Joyce, Hank, and Buffy attend Buffy's school (Hemery High) for a meeting on whether she can be readmitted.  The petition is denied, and she is expelled, causing Hank to lash out at Buffy.  Meanwhile, in England, the Watchers Council realizes that Merrick is dead and decide to find a replacement.  Quentin Travers says he is considering two candidates: William Bryardale and Rupert Giles.  Rupert beats up a demon to get a spell he can cast on a classmate.  Back in Los Angeles, Buffy watches her parents argue and then sneaks out to fight more vampires with Pike.  After dusting them, she gets a lead that they may be coming in from Las Vegas.  On the spur of the moment, Buffy accepts Pike's offer to head there.  Little does she know that one of the most feared vampires of all, Angelus, has also heard about vampires having a welcome invitation to Las Vegas . . .


This is good!  It nicely fills in a gap in Buffy's story by telling us what happened after the end of the movie and before the first episode of the TV show.  We were given clues to some of this (Hank & Joyce fighting, the expulsion, etc.) but seeing how it played out is very cool.  I think they should have played up more of Buffy's "valley girl" persona that was a big part of the movie, as she's a bit too much already like more down-to-earth TV series Buffy.  It's also going to be interesting to see more of the Watchers Council decision to send Giles.  A strong start to a new story arc.


*  Buffy gives Dawn the famous "Mr. Gordo" before running away

*  The letters page has some missives complaining about the delays with Fray, and it's clear editor Scott Allie is annoyed too.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Dragonslayer (Marvel) (Ltd. 1981)

Dragonslayer!  An adaptation of a movie I've never seen or heard of, with Denny O'Neil doing the scripts and Marie Severin on the artwork.  The setting is solid: it's a sixth century England where the old ways of paganism, sorcery, and mystery are falling before the crusading monotheism of the Church.  These two issues are quite plot heavy!

In Issue # 1, one of the last of the great wizards, Ulrich, sees visions of a great monster rising in the land and sure enough, soon after, word comes of a massive dragon terrorizing the countryside.  Ulrich's apprentice, Galen, wants to slay the dragon, but Ulrich refuses.  When a representative of the king, an evil knight named Tyrian, arrives at the castle, Tyrian mocks Ulrich and doubts his power.  He arranges a test for the old wizard, which Ulrich intentionally fails and dies.  Galen takes an amulet worn by Ulrich and decides that, although he hardly has any magic power, he'll revenge himself on Tyrian and slay the dragon to boot!  After a rousing fight with the dragon, Galen thinks he's successfully buried it under a pile of rock.  But the king, instead of thanking him, decides that a wizard is too much of a threat to have running loose and throws him in the dungeon.  There's a subplot involving the king's daughter that I won't even try to shoehorn in here, but suffice it to say that she lets Galen loose--only to be confronted by Tyrian!

In Issue # 2, Galen escapes in an exciting scene: he tries to flee the evil king's castle on horseback, but the main gates are closed; so he turns back into the castle and leaps his horse towards a crumbled stone wall in the back and crashes through it!  Very cinematic.  Galen hides from the king and Tyrian by finding refuge with a girl named Valerian.  Valerian's father crafts him a special "dragonslayer" spear, and Valerian herself steals scales from the dragon's nest so her father can craft him a shield.  In molten caverns underground, Galen finally confronts the dragon (a good setting for an epic battle).  It's a stalemate until Galen realizes he can resurrect his mentor by opening the amulet and pouring the ashes onto the lava (apparently Ulrich's master plan from the beginning).  Although both Ulrich and the dragon are slain, the threat is ended and Galen emerges triumphant, but knowing that he is the last of the true sorcerers that will ever walk the land.  A new age has dawned, and the days of magic are withering away.

The theme of the comic--a last hurrah for magic that would dwindle to nothingness with the time of Christianity--was really well done, and made the story much more interesting than the standard fantasy setting.  There were some scenes that I could imagine would be pretty exciting on the screen, so I may actually try to track down a copy of the movie!