Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Comics That Time Forgot

Several years ago, I wrote a series of reviews of (often justifiably) forgotten comic series from the 1980s. Looking back now, I sometimes took the comics far more seriously than they deserved. Anyway, below is a list of reviews you'll find at Comics That Time Forgot

The Shroud # 1-4 (Marvel Comics 1994; Limited Series)

Spellbound # 1-6 (Marvel Comics 1986; Limited Series)

The Generic Comic # 1 (Marvel Comics 1984; One-Shot)

The Gargoyle # 1-4 (Marvel Comics 1985; Limited Series)

Francis, Brother of the Universe # 1 (Marvel Comics 1980; One-Shot)

Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja # 1-16 (Marvel Comics 1989-1990)

Jemm, Son of Saturn # 1-12 (DC Comics 1984-1985; Maxi-Series)

Silverblade # 1-12 (DC Comics 1987-1988; Maxi-Series)

Skull & Bones # 1-3 (DC Comics, 1992; Prestige Format Limited Series)

Hero Hotline # 1-6 (DC Comics, 1989; Limited Series)

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane # 1-4 (DC Comics, 1990; Limited Series)

The Comico Christmas Special # 1 (Comico, 1988; One-Shot)

Slash Maraud # 1-6 (DC Comics, 1987-1988; Limited Series)

Dragon Strike # 1 (Marvel, 1994; One-Shot)

Talos of the Wilderness Sea # 1 (DC, 1987, One-Shot)

Mark Hazzard: Merc # 1-12, Annual # 1 (Marvel, 1986-1987)

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 14

This session covers the end of the player characters' third story arc and their escape from the anomaly. It was an important story arc as it established several of the major themes of the campaign that persist to this day: the mystery of the anomaly, the existence of nine forgotten Sith Lords trapped within it, the strange link that some of the player characters and Jocasta have to it, and the revelation of prophecies from the Oracle that have structured subsequent important story arcs. For this particular session below, the player running Tarn couldn't make it so I had to come up with the solution of him becoming entranced by the Beguiler.

Now's a good a time as any to explain that I give each player a red poker chip once each year (real-time) that they can use to accomplish or avoid pretty much any thing they can think of. The first character to invoke a red chip was Arresta several sessions earlier to save her father from dying in the elevator shaft (an ironic use, given subsequent events). Last session, 8P-MD-4 used a red chip to survive the plunge from the bridge, which meant it wasn't available to help him escape the anomaly in the session you're about to read.

Recently (in real-time) the group has once again encountered the anomaly and four red chips were used during the trip.

Episode 2.3 "Into the Abyss" Session 3

Exploration of the strange Ansion anomaly continues. The Ninth of the Nine Forgotten Sith has fallen, but not without a price: Princess Arresta of Mongui has fled into the darkness beyond, leaving a trail of blood in her wake, while Marpa Zalon, Duros spacer, has fallen and lies on the edge of death, tended to by a lone medical droid. And the explorers' only devotee of the Force has abandoned them to their fate. But the Oracle awaits, and with it, their only hope of escape . . .

Arresta moves forward to find a strange sight: Tarn is sitting and drinking hot caf with a 60ish woman named Tessa in a makeshift living area, complete with salvaged starship seats, working food heaters, and more. Tessa claims to be a survivor of a crash in the anomaly and has settled here because there is supposedly access to power. Tarn is going on and on about all of his adventures for the Republic, holding nothing back. Before long, Jocasta and her crew, along with a slightly recovered Marpa and 8P-MD-4 arrive. Twitch, Kylo-Vas, and Korkoth also promptly sit and start telling their life stories as best they can. After a period of rest, and unable to rouse the others, Jocasta, Arresta, Marpa, and 8P-MD-4 decide to venture forth.

After a period of walking, they encounter an enormous room filled with hundreds and hundreds of the strange transparent tubes, each filled with a body; whether alive or dead isn't clear. Entrance to the room is blocked, but the body of the Gamorrean Warlug is seen being placed within one of the tubes. The corridor proceeds to split into several branches, most of which lead to various "natural" environments that are obviously artificial and poorly duplicate the real thing. In the "jungle" environment, 8P-MD-4 notices that they are being watched; Arresta strips down to a black stealth suit and scouts ahead to find a trio of large, spear wielding humanoids of some kind. She stealthily makes her way back to the others, but later Jocasta senses the group is being followed. She takes off running with Arresta and Marpa, but 8P-MD-4 isn't fast enough and is attacked. Cleverly playing "dead", 8P-MD-4 lives to heal another day.

As Arresta and Marpa proceed down yet another of the omnipresent bland corridors, images start to flicker on the walls and sounds echo throughout. They see Arresta wearing a black body suit sneaking up behind a man with a razor sharp stiletto in her hand and Marpa wearing the clothing of a Separatist and overseeing the production of B-2 battle droids. Those pictures fade and new images arise: Marpa pushing a deactivated 8P-MD-4 over the bridge, and Arresta hiding a spun durasteel garotte in her belt pouch. The last set of images are indistinct, constantly flickering and with details changing instantly: Arresta seated on the throne of Mongui, commanding her guards to turn over a bound and beaten Tarn Tamarand to a figure in full black armor, his mechanically-assisted breathing echoing throughout the throne room; an image of Marpa piloting the Sun Runner, seated next to Jocasta as they escape the Separatist annihilation of the orbital cities of Duros.

"What was, what is, and what may yet come to pass" says a male voice in the distance. In a small chamber, with the transparent, hologram-like outlines of a magnificent castle around him, a figure sits in a meditative pose with black sword laying across his knees and a gold bracelet around his wrist. His muscular upper body is bare and covered with ornate tattoos. The figure speaks again, about how the Eighth of the Nine said she had halted the newcomers' progress but was obviously lying. He claims to control the Oracle but will allow Arresta and Marpa to speak to her.

Beyond lies a huge, circular shaft filled with the color of light seen upon the initial approach to the anomaly. At the very edge of the shaft a pillar made out of the same material as the bridge stands, and chained to it is an impossibly aged woman, speaking softly to Jocasta. Before long, 8P-MD-4 arrives. The Oracle whispers cryptic words: "The corsair wears a false face" and "Those you trusted to protect you will turn on your true guardians and bring them to the edge of extinction". Marpa tries to shatter the chain binding the Oracle, but is interrupted by the arrival of the Seventh of the Forgotten Sith.

The Seventh's role as the Seducer seems misplaced as his eyes fill with rage as his most prized possession is taken away when Marpa persuades Jocasta to use the obsidian kris to cut the Oracle's bonds. The Seventh rushes forward and impales Jocasta with his sword, forcing her to stumble back to the edge of the shaft. The Oracle uses her last breaths to thank the injured Marpa and tell him both a prophecy ("You and those who follow will return, once in the city under the sands and once at the end of days, when all you hold dear has crumbled into dust.") and a warning ("One of the four prophecied must remain behind; the first three will pass the threshold but the forth will be barred"). Her words, although whispered, carry throughout the chamber. Arresta dashes for the far end of the shaft, while Jocasta clutches her stomach and stumbles back towards the entrance. The Seventh cradles the body of the Oracle and leaps into the shaft, intoning the ominous words: "This is but the beginning . . ."

After reaching the far side of the shaft and realizing there is no exit, Arresta returns and begins to chase after Jocasta as Marpa and 8P-MD-4 follow slowly behind. Arresta reaches the Beguiler's lair and sees a partially-healed Jocasta attempting to rouse her crew by shaking and slapping them vigorously. She succeeds just seconds before Arresta manages to awaken Tarn, and the race is on. But such a small lead is enough for Jocasta, and she leaps through the threshold and into the hanger bay along with her crew. Arresta and a still-dazed Tarn decide to follow, leaving Marpa and 8P-MD-4 with a difficult choice: who should go and who should remain behind? They decide on a desperate gamble--by removing the living parasite from 8P-MD-4's body, perhaps the droid's inanimate and completely non-sentient self will pass through the threshold. But destiny cannot be denied, and 8P-MD-4 is thrown out of Marpa's hands as the Duros passes through, leaving the droid on the far side of the barrier.

Delia's Ultimatum is waiting for Arresta, Marpa, and Tarn; Quaddie reports that hardly any time has passed since they first went inside. As they decide what to do about 8P-MD-4, the crew of the Sun Runner succeeds in a running battle against the giant spider crabs and reaches their ship and safety, also having lost a member in the anomaly. Aboard Delia's, sensors report the anomaly is preparing to jump into hyperspace, and a reluctant decision is made to escape while it's still an option.

As the anomaly disappears behind them, the sublight trip back to Ansion is tense. Suddenly, sensors pick up the Broken Diamond approaching at attack speed, its deflector shields raised and weapon systems on-line. Delia's receives a hail: "Tarn Tamarand and his associates are hereby under arrest pursuant to Order 22 for Crimes Against the Republic; stand down and prepare to be boarded". Marpa stealthily stands up from his co-pilot chair and draws a blaster. He fires a stun bolt at Quaddie, but the Clone Commando ducks by instinct and he draws down on Marpa. Arresta brings an end to the standoff and persuades Marpa to holster his weapon. Having just survived the greatest trial of their time together, Marpa, Arresta, and Tarn now face a trial of a whole different nature.

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Monday, March 30, 2009

Bloody Games

Without a conscious intent to do so, me and my sig-other have amassed a growing collection of horror-themed board games (sufficient for a marathon Halloween session).

It started with Arkham Horror. We picked it up because it was the first cooperative board game we came upon, which was a nice change of pace from our previous board games which always left one person a winner and one person (usually me!) a sore loser. In Arkham Horror, the players work together to keep a small city from becoming overrun by demons and other scaly, slimy things right out of H.P. Lovecraft novels. Each player controls a different character (which are well-fleshed out, with different equipment & special abilities), but strategy and planning are a big part of the game. There's basically two ways to win: either close a certain number of demon-spawning portals quickly (which is hard because more constantly appear) or defeat a massive Cthulu-like alien god in a final battle. There's a great mix of different characters, monsters, locations, and encounters so each game is quite different than the last. The designers put a great deal of flavour and atmosphere into every detail, and each session I see a dozen great adventure hooks for a Cthulu role-playing game. The main downside is that it is a quite long and complicated game, and I'm not convinced the fun of playing always makes the length and complexity worthwhile. And surprisingly, it's easier to win than I expected for a product set in the Cthulu mythos.
Several months later, we picked up Last Night on Earth which has Zombie B-Movies as its theme. Each player controls either a Hero character (there are several different options, and like Arkham Horror, they each have different abilities) or the Zombies. Each time you play, you can pick from a bunch of different "scenarios." Each scenario has a different victory condition--there's one in which the heroes win simply by killing a certain number of zombies before time runs out, while in another the heroes have to run through town to find gasoline and then make it to their truck to leave town before the zombies overwhelm them. It really helps to keep the game fresh, and also helps to balance things out between players because some scenarios are easier for Zombies and others are easier for Heroes. Functionally, Last Night on Earth plays out like a role-playing game miniatures battle, as the heroes and each of the many zombies move around on a square-grid map of the small town. The only downside is that in our experience the Zombie player has a big advantage (though others online swear it's the Hero player who always wins).

Most recently, we picked up Fury of Dracula. One player controls Drac while the other(s) control a quartet of vampire hunters who are chasing him all over Europe. Like the other games above, the different vampire hunters have different abilities and can get different equipment, but combat is a much smaller part of the game because the Dracula player doesn't need to fight in order to win. Instead, he just needs to survive a certain number of nights (though he can win earlier by killing the hunters or creating new vampires). In effect, Fury of Dracula is a big cat-and-mouse game. Dracula moves in secret, and every time he goes to a new city, he lays that location card face down on the table, creating a a trail of cards. If a hunter moves into that location, that card is turned face up--this allows the hunter to see where Dracula has been and how many moves he's made since then (which leads to some fun strategy and detective work, as the hunters try to get a step ahead of Dracula). We've only played it a few times, but I think it's most fun for the Dracula player--it's very exciting when the hunters have caught your trail and are closing in, but then you manage to slip through their grasp with some sneaky moves.

Each of the three games above are full-fledged board games that are high-quality, expensive, and take a few hours to play. Sometimes, however, it's fun to play a simple game that only takes 20 minutes or so and that's where Guillotine comes in. This is an easy-to-learn card game in which the goal is to gather the most valuable collection of decapitated heads during the French Revolution. Some heads are only worth a point or so (such as a peasant), while other heads are worth as many as five points (like Marie Antoinette). Although the heads proceed in a steady order towards the guillotine where they can be collected, the trick is that each player has several cards that can change the order of the line in order to benefit themself or screw over the other players. It's a fun, fast game and a good way to get people to try something different than the usual, more traditional board games they might play.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What I Watch

Hey, don't worry. I'm here for you. I know what you're thinking. "What shows does Jeremy regularly watch?"

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles This is kind of an odd show. It's surprisingly slow-paced and dark, and willing to take a long time to finish story arcs considering it usually seems to be on the brink of cancellation. It's also oddly one of the most "artistic" shows I watch, as it's willing to tell stories from unusual perspectives, or with intricate layering flashbacks, or with unusually staged and scored scenes. It's an intriguing show, but one I haven't developed a deep affection for. And I'm not an action junkie, but I must admit that a few more massive robot massacres per seasons would help.

The Office I'm not sure if this is as good as it was in the first couple of seasons, but I get enough out of it to stick with it.

Castle Fairly formulaic, but Nathan Fillion as a cocky mystery writer is just too good to pass up.

The Amazing Race My new obsession! (all my sig-other's fault, too) I shun reality shows like the plague, but for some reason seeing these teams go to exotic destinations all over the world to do crazy tasks and try to avoid elimination has got me hooked. Now, if I can scrape up $ 9,900 to go on the Global Scavenger Hunt, I would be all set.

Lost My obsession prior to The Amazing Race. I think at the heart of it, is that I like a really good mystery. Trying to figure out what's up with all those buried stations, the island, the plane crash, etc., is a great way to while away the hours. I especially liked, early in the first season, how simply scary the island was--the black smoke, the appearance of Jack's dead father, the whispering of the Others, the strange brutality of Ethan Rom--all made for a great show. I still really like it, but as I've often said time travel isn't my favorite so Season Five hasn't hooked me as much as previous seasons.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars I really liked the theatrical movie that was released prior to this animated series, so I had high hopes. I've felt pretty disappointed though. I think the main issue has to do with not having characters to care about--we know exactly what happens to Anakin, Obi-Wan, Padme, R2-D2, C-3P0, and even most of the other Jedi and villains who come on screen. This might have been really interesting if it had come on-screen in-between the release of Episode II and Episode III, but as it is it just falls flat. I'm also annoyed with the continuity conflicts between the novels, the annoying smug voice they gave Obi-Wan, and the largely simplistic nature of the stories (IMHO, Dark Horse's original Clone War comics gave a far better and nuanced view of the conflict).

General Hospital I've blogged about this in a previous post. As I said then, I'm surprised at how not-bad it is for a show that has to come up with a new episode five times a week.

Heroes I really don't like this show. I haven't for a long time. I guess I only watch it out of a desire to see things through to the end. After this season, I'll put future seasons on DVD as # 450 or so on my Rogers Video Direct list.

Reaper An entertaining show, but one that can't quite find the right balance between genre drama and comic fluff.

Dollhouse I really look forward to watching this every week, even though I'm not exactly sure why. It certainly lacks the humor and wit of previous Joss Whedon series, but the plotlines are solid and Eliza Dushku is actually better than I expected. I think, like most people, I'm just waiting to see if it gets cancelled before I get too deeply invested.

How I Met Your Mother This has become very "sit-com-y" of late and a bit gimmicky at times.
But hey, I'm a graduate student and have lots of free time.

Fringe I really like the pseudo-scientific, conspiracy backdrop to this show. I could go for it being a little bit darker and a little bit more biting, but then I say that about most fiction.

You're welcome.


I just finished reading Terry Pratchett's new standalone novel Nation. Although it's not as funny as his Discworld series of books, it was an enjoyable read. What I really like about Pratchett novels is that he has something to say in every book--a view on politics or nationalism or racism or social class or something else that is implied but never spelled out and that makes the books more than just silly adventure stories. The theme in Nation is an old but important one: the difficulty of religious belief in the face of scientific fact. Here's the back of the book description from Amazon. If you haven't read any Terry Pratchett, you really should.

"Alone on a desert island — everything and everyone he knows and loves has been washed away in a storm — Mau is the last surviving member of his nation. He’s completely alone — or so he thinks until he finds the ghost girl. She has no toes, wears strange lacy trousers like the grandfather bird, and gives him a stick that can make fire.Daphne, sole survivor of the wreck of the Sweet Judy, almost immediately regrets trying to shoot the native boy. Thank goodness the powder was wet and the gun only produced a spark. She’s certain her father, distant cousin of the Royal family, will come and rescue her but it seems, for now, that all she has for company is the boy and the foul-mouthed ship’s parrot, until other survivors arrive to take refuge on the island. Together, Mau and Daphne discover some remarkable things (including how to milk a pig, and why spitting in beer is a good thing), and start to forge a new nation.Encompassing themes of death and nationhood, Terry Pratchett’s new novel is, as can be expected, extremely funny, witty and wise. Mau’s ancestors have something to teach us all. Mau just wishes they would shut up about it and let him get on with saving everyone’s lives!"

The Value of Legal Scholarship Debate

An interesting essay by Pierre Schlag on the value of legal scholarship, with response essays by several scholars: http://www.georgetownlawjournal.org/issues/current/

A Real-Life Natural 20

After four years of adventuring together in Toronto (with a brief sojourn to Windsor) and the accumulation of many relationship experience points, I rolled a high Persuasion check last night and a certain lovely sig-other has agreed to become my wife!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Black Axe

Like most comic fans, I went through a period in my life when I dropped comics completely in favor of other things (in my particular case, it was computer games). My abandonment of all things comics-related took place in the mid-1990s, which in many ways was fortunate because I missed out on many of the worst comics-related debacles, like the Spider-Man Clone Saga, the Heroes Reborn nonsense, some of the goofiest Image crap, etc. I also missed out on a period of a year or so when Marvel's UK division published original characters in comics in the United States that guest-starred traditional Marvel super heroes in pretty much every issue. All of the Marvel UK titles had either hi-tech or mystical orientations, and featured an overarching super-bad organization called Mys-Tech. I've only picked up a couple of the titles in back issue bins, and most of what I've found was bog-standard tosh,* with indecipherable plots and muddy artwork.

Black Axe was actually a little better than I expected, though the idea of an immortal, fifty-millenia-old assassin who operates in secret and carries a massive weapon (bigger than he is--look at the picture!) is inherently silly. As far as I can tell, although described as an assassin, the aforementioned Black Axe doesn't actually do much in the way of assassinating in the series, instead hiring himself out as a bodyguard so he can team up with characters like the Black Panther.

Still, the series isn't terrible and at least has coherent story-telling and average artwork. It only lasted seven issues and fans didn't even get the usual heads-up about cancellation (the last page of the last issue even has a "Next Issue:" box). As for Black Axe, as far as I can tell he's never been seen in a comic since. It boggles the mind how the cold-hearted editors at Marvel could resist for fifteen years what must be a landslide of fan letters asking them to bring the title back.

(*slang courtesy of the British Slings & Arrows Guide to Comics).

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Heroes Character: Ringmaster

After every few sessions of the Star Wars campaign, my players are nice enough to direct a session or two of gaming so that I can take a break and be a player. Our next adventure is set in a world a little like Watchmen, where vigilantism is outlawed. We're using the Palladium Heroes system, and here's a draft of my character, created completely through random generation--not just ability scores, but even class, education, country of origin, and super powers. It was a fun challenge to make the various facets of this character coherent. His background is a little cheesy, but I'm not sure whether the tone of the campaign will be relatively dark or lighter, so I wanted some flexibility.

For super powers, I rolled "Gem Powers" (which allows you to use various expensive gems to utilize different superpowers) and "Plant Control," which isn't that useful in urban settings but would be great in the wilderness. I've focused the character mostly on the gem powers, and envision him a little like the Marvel Comics' character Mandarin, who has a ring on each finger, each with a different power. In this game, the gems are actually pretty damn powerful and include the ability to fly, turn invisible, heal yourself, shoot energy blasts, and more. The downside is that each gem can only be used a certain amount of times before it crumbles into dust, which means the character needs to constantly be on the look out for money to buy more gems. My guy's not adverse to swiping a little pocket money or stuff to fence from the bad guys he catches.

Things aren't finalized yet, but it sounds like the other characters in the game will include an archaeologist/mystic (a bit like Dr. Fate), a character a bit like the Question/Rorschach, and a bionic superhero. Should be a lot of fun, and I'm curious to see the game in action.

I've never actually played a superhero in a role-playing game before. When I was a teenager we had a short-lived super hero campaign that was based on a point-based mechanic (everybody got a certain amount of points that they could put into super powers, physical abilities, equipment, etc.). Being a dorky teenager, I decided to play a non-super powered Private Investigator character and put pretty much every single point into building a massively powerful handgun. Incredibly silly in retrospect, but then again the campaign only lasted a couple of sessions before we moved on to something else.


HEROIC CLASS: Experiment
EDUCATION: Trade School
LEVEL: 1 (Exp. Pts: 0)


Physical Strength: 10
Physical Endurance (12 + 1 Run): 13
I.Q.: 10
Mental Affinity: 13
Physical Beauty: 9
Physical Prowess: 23
Speed (13 + 7 Run): 20 (100 m/round, 25 m/action)
Mental Endurance: 7

HIT POINTS (12 Base + 6 Random) = 18

S.D.C. (40 Class + 6 Run + 30 Plant Control) = 76

A.R. 12 (Hard Armor Vest w/ 120 S.D.C.)

P.P.E. 29

COMBAT 4 attacks/round, +4 Dodge, +4 Parry, +4 Strike, + 2 Roll w/ Punch/Impact, + 2 Pull Punch

ALIGNMENT: Selfish (Unprincipled)

POWERS: Gem Powers (p. 274 & see below), Plant Control (p. 285)

SIDE EFFECT: Chemical Resistance (+5 saves, ½ effect on failure)

SKILL PROGRAMS: Mechanical, Criminal

SKILLS: Mechanical Engineer (45%), Basic Electronics (50%), Locksmith (45% or 40% hi-tech), Streetwise (39%), Pick Locks (50%), Find Contraband & Illegal Weapons (45%), Prowl (45%), Cardsharp (43%), First Aid (50%), General Repair/Maintenance (40%), Second Language: French (70%), Research (55%), Pilot: Motorcycle (64%), Swimming (55%), Running, Hand-to-Hand Basic (level 1, 2 extra attacks, +2 to roll w/punch/impact, + 2 pull punch), Pilot Automobile (62%), Basic Mathematics (50%), Recognize & Identify Plants (86%), Climb Trees or Vines (+10%)

BACKGROUND Antoine Marrenne was born in Tunisia on Africa’s northern coast. After his parents died in an auto accident, the 10-year-old Antoine moved with his grandfather (Lalande) to Cleveland in the United States. Antoine was a poor student, and barely graduated high school. After inquiring at the local recruiter for the National Guard, Antoine was instead sent to meet with a secret crime-fighting organization unaffiliated with the government. They offered to make Antoine into a full-fledged super hero if he was a suitable “candidate.” Antoine went through a wide variety of tests and experiments during the day, while being trained in basic crime-fighting and street-survival skills during the evening. However, when none of the experiments provided him with super abilities, Antoine washed out of the program. Months later, while working at a local pawn shop, Antoine realized the experiments worked after all—he had an amazing ability to manipulate gems into doing almost anything he wanted (to this day, he thinks his Plant Control ability is thanks to a green gem that is never “exhausted”). Antoine soon decided to put his abilities to good use, and he hooked up with a local super hero team called the “Justice Circus” and donned the name “Ringmaster” along with a flamboyant spandex costume. For a few years, everything was great until the government outlawed vigilantes. Antoine barely escaped a raid on the Justice Circus thanks to his invisibility gem, and decided it was time to leave Cleveland. With his elderly grandfather, Antoine took a new job as an apartment maintenance man in Bay City. The excitement of crime-fighting proved irresistible, however, so Antoine has begun sneaking out at night wearing a black combat vest under his trenchcoat, hoping to find some bad guys and maybe a little extra cash to pay for his expensive hobby.

EQUIPMENT CASH ON HAND: $_1550____ (Savings: $ 1000)
Two Pairs of Handcuffs (free*)
Pocket Tape Recorder (free*)
Utility Belt (free*)
Backpack (free*)
Polaroid Camera (free*)
Binoculars (free*)
Flashlight (free*)
Grappling Hook & 30.5 m Line ($ 150)
Automatic Lock Pick ($ 160)
Cell Phone & 1 Month Service ($ 200)
Hard Armor Vest (AR 12, SDC 120) ($ 1400)
Light Motorcycle ($ 500)

Amethyst (x2) ($230) 6 Detect Psionics (p.298)
Hypnotic Suggestion (p. 311)
Meditation (p. 297)
Garnet ($ 300) 3 Empathy (p. 306)
Agate, Large (x2) ($ 280) 12 Bio-Regeneration (p. 298)
Aquamarine ($ 110) 3 Underwater Abilities (p. 237)
Black Tourmaline, Large ($ 100) 6 Mind Block (p. 302)
Diamond ($ 1000) 3 Wingless Flight (p. 233)
Emerald ($ 900) 3 Invisibility (p. 277)
Clear Quartz, Large ($ 210) 6 Bend Light (p. 229)
Ruby Quartz (x2) ($ 210) 6 Energy Expulsion: Light (p. 231)
Smoky Quartz, Large ($ 300) 6 Energy Resistance (p. 231)
Sapphire ($ 600) 3 Empathy (p. 306)
Emphatic Transmission (p. 310)
Star Sapphire ($ 1000) 3 Bio-Manipulation (p. 309)
Zircon, Large ($ 1500) 3 Impervious to Fire/Heat (p. 235)

Cash Spent on Equipment & Gems: 9150

(*List of free equipment on p. 24)

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 13

This was a pretty gory sesssion, what with the death of one of the Blood Brothers, the flesh-eating grubs and ear crawlers, tubes full of skeletons, and the agonizing death of the Sentinel. I think I often did a better job with horror elements here than I did in my Buffy/Angel campaign. And in case you're wondering, yes, the self-mutilated warriors were indeed Yuzhan Vong.

EPISODE 2.3 "Into the Abyss"


Deep inside the anomaly, a group of Republic operatives have fallen in battle and are now in the hands of their most dangerous, pitiless enemies yet. Kept alive & even healed, they will soon discover what purpose their captors have in mind for them, with just a few scant moments to make a decision between life and death. But even if they do survive, they will soon realize that what lies ahead is far, far worse than what they'll leave behind.

After a lengthy period of darkness and strange, tempting dreams, Marpa, Arresta, and Tarn awaken in the clutches of their inhuman attackers. Bound hand and foot, they realize that the entire crew of the Sun Runner has been captured as well. One of their captors--a ritually scarred and mutilated priest of some kind--has used strange flesh-eating grubs to heal everyone's wounds and has placed long, thin worms into everyone's throat and ears to act as a translating device. The priest asks each captive a question, one by one, "Will you bear the ka'roth'ri and seek the seer?" One of the Blood Brothers refuses and is immediately slain, but the others agree and suffer the agonizing pain of a small crab-like organism burrowing into their upper backs and closing around their spinal columns. The captives are then set free and pointed in the direction to go.

After traversing a long span of empty corridor, the group come upon a vast chasm spanned only by a narrow, razor-thick bridge. Tarn and Jocasta fall to their knees and have visions of a group of nine robed figures constructing the bridge through the flesh of some of their slaves called the Massassi. In front of the bridge, the party's gear has been carelessly dumped, along with 8P-MD-4 who is reactivated when the slug is placed on his back. Jocasta argues stridently that both groups should return together and kill their inhuman attackers, but is refused. The Sun Runners end up going back alone, while Tarn, Arresta, Marpa, and 8P-MD-4 venture forth across the bridge.

They soon find themselves being stalked by a creature crawling along underneath the bridge. Suddenly, the creature's barbed, poisonous tail lashes out and pierces Tarn's side, knocking the young Jedi unconscious and perilously close to the edge. The party tries to run, but the creature follows and eventually crawls to the top of the bridge. Marpa and 8P-MD-4 wrestle over the power-generating slug, but Marpa ends up winning and uses it to activate his heavy blaster pistol. With a few quick shots, a smoking, burning hole is blown into the creature's carapace and it plummets into the dark chasm below. With a reactivated 8P-MD-4's help, Tarn regains unconscious and the group continues on.

Eventually the group notices a pair of twinkling lights far over their heads. Tarn looks distracted and then says excitedly that he's had visions of a powerful weapon needed to defeat "the Sentinel, the Beguiler, and the Seducer," and that he has to jump from the bridge. Although the others try to restrain him, he leaps over the side and begins to fall into the darkness; yet his descent slows and then he begins to rise higher and higher, above the bridge and towards the lights high above. Following his example, Arresta does the same thing. Meanwhile, Marpa has removed the slug from 8P-MD-4 and uses it to active his ascension gun. He fires it overhead but it doesn't catch on anything. Marpa then wraps one end of the cable around 8P-MD-4 and proceeds to push him over the side of the bridge. Unfortunately, 8P-MD-4 doesn't rise like the others and Marpa isn't strong enough to hold him up; the droid, the ascension gun, and the slug plummet into the darkness below. Marpa decides to take the plunge and rises into the air like Tarn & Arresta.

The three find themselves pulled through an iris-shaped opening and in front of a mold-covered corridor. Marpa explains that another giant scorpion-like creature attacked and knocked the droid over the side of the bridge. Moments later, 8P-MD-4 is pulled through the iris, with the slug having miraculously climbed down the ascension gun cord and reactivated him. The foursome make their way through a series of mold-covered passages and find the purpose behind Tarn's unusual actions: a skeletal hand is clutching an ignited lightsaber. Tarn grabs the hilt and the party continues through the mold-covered passages, coming upon some rooms filled with shattered, skeleton-filled tubes. After reaching another iris shaped opening, the party argues over what they should do next and a split develops: Marpa, Arresta, and 8P-MD-4 decid to return to the main hallway, while Tarn jumps through the iris and falls into the darkness below.

Tarn finds himself falling slowly and landing softly back on the obsidian bridge. He moves forward, past a grotesque display of smashed bodies, until he sees the bridge's Sentinel: a powerful, muscular woman wearing spiked black armor and swinging a wicked looking chain over her head. She shouts warnings, but Tarn advances. Her hatred seethes across the bridge, but Tarn mostly manages to avoid the lethal chain & tumbles past her and into safety.

After by-passing another collector tendril, Marpa, Arresta, and 8P-MD-4 reach the area where they were previously held captive. They find that Jocasta's crew is celebrating after successfully killing their former captors, suffering surprising--and perhaps suspiciously--few wounds in the process.

With Tarn having disappeared, Jocasta assumes leadership and they move forward along the bridge. The Sentinel calls upon the Dark Side to lash out at all who try to pass. Arresta barely makes it past her and limps away into the distance, but Marpa is not so lucky and falls in battle. 8P-MD-4 pulls him to safety, as Jocasta and the sole remaining Blood Brother manage to finally bring the bridge's guardian to her knees. Panting and covered in blood, Jocasta looks around and smiles.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Beauty and the Beast

When Marvel came out with the Beauty and the Beast limited series in 1984, the Beast had already been a member of pretty much every super-team out there (except maybe the Fantastic Four), while Dazzler was finishing up a failed solo series and had just appeared in a graphic novel in which her mutant powers have been revealed to the world and her singing career was in the skids. She decides to head out to L.A. and gets enmeshed in an underground mutant gladiator ring (don't ask why or how), which leads the Beast to go after her for some reason. The two characters hardly have any connection before this series, fall madly in love after about the first issue, and then (as far as I can tell) we never hear about their relationship again after the series is over. Anyway, there's also something to do with a character named Poltergeist who appeared in two issues of the old Spider-Woman series (who is never seen again) and an alleged son of Doctor Doom (but not the alleged son Kristoff who was a major character in 80s Fantastic Four). There's also weird characterization (Dazzler is always in tears, the Beast is neither intelligent nor clever), a clown with telekinetic powers, and one of those endings that involves slowly pulling back the camera higher and higher until the earth is a mere speck in outer space.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Balder the Brave

Marvel's 1986 limited series Balder the Brave is one of those comics that I like a lot more now than I did when I first bought it. I've never been a big fan of Thor and the pantheon of Norse and other mythological deities in that corner of the Marvel Universe, but I was able to enjoy Balder now simply as a good self-contained fantasy story. In the comic, Balder has taken up with Karnilla, Queen of a realm of ice and snow. While Balder is away on a sojourn into Hel (don't ask), Karnilla is kidnapped by a band of Frost Giants and Balder has to away to her rescue. Fortunately, Karnilla isn't a standard damsel-in-distress, and actually has a pretty interesting personality--a heart of ice that only cools when Balder is around. At the end of the series, the two are torn apart because Balder has to return to Asgard to become King since Odin is dead/missing. I would actually read more about these characters, but I don't think they've appeared anywhere other than Thor comics since.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Profusion of Spires

As research for my dissertation on blasphemy, I've recently been skimming John W. Grant's A Profusion of Spires: Religion in Nineteenth-Century Ontario (1988). Although I haven't found a single mention of blasphemy, it's a really well-researched book and one I would like to have more time to read in the future. One of the things I found quite interesting is the idea that Ontario was seen as a largely godless, unchurched place by missionaries from various denominations throughout the early 1800s; there was a wide variety of (mostly Protestant) religious denominations, and the 1842 census reported that 17% of the population had no religious affiliation. This would change quickly, however, dropping to 1.2% by 1871. The book also contains a clear and informative discussion of the Clergy Reserves and other establishment-type issues, which I wish I would have known about when I wrote a previous article on church and state in Canadian history. The only real drawback I see with the book is that the author arranges it in very broad chapters with no subheadings, meaning that the narrative will suddenly shift from say a discussion of Christian temperance movements to Anglican/Catholic rivalries with barely a pause.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My French Coach II

As reported here, I've been using My French Coach for the Nintendo DS steadily for almost a year now and I'm happy to report that I've officially graduated Fifth Grade and am ready to move on. In retrospect, the program is really designed for improving vocabulary and is quite weak on lessons around grammar and conjugating verbs. In other words, I can read French quite well but suck at writing. Anyway, next on my agenda is the 5 CD-ROM set Instant Immersion French, v. 2.0 which contains an interactive mystery centering around a jewel heist. I hope that by the time I'm done with it, I'll be able to fluently rob people in Paris.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 11-12

Thanks to an eagle-eyed reader, I realized I skipped a recap in the series, so here's a double-length post to put things right. You'll notice that Ycram, now an NPC, still has a role to play in the campaign. And poor 8P-MD-4 was fated to have a tough time inside that anomaly. The character of Lee was the alternate character for my sig-other (who normally runs Arresta).

Episode 2.2: The Ominous Silence


Time begins to run short in the Ansion system. As Republic operatives find themselves poised for an attack on a possible terrorist camp, just a few scant days remain before the anomaly becomes accessible, necessitating difficult choices. Will they spend their time readying weapons and supplies for the trials that lay ahead, and trust that preparation will carry them through? Or should they attempt to infiltrate Soerrg the Hutt's operation, and possibly nip these terrorist attacks in the bud? Or risk searching the asteroid field for a missing Jedi Master, and thereby gain a powerful ally? The fates of thousands depend upon the strength and wisdom of a would-be Jedi, a princess far from home, and a mercenary with a hidden past.

Tarn gets a private call on his comlink from Bel Sekand's operation: they receive regular updates on out-of-system business interests, and have learned that Tarn's sister has gone into deep debt with a Hutt. Tarn takes Arresta and leaves to see Bel Sekand to negotiate a deal.

Marpa8P-MD-4 encounter a group of "autograph seekers", but Marpa successfully persuades them that he lost all of the money from the earlier competition gambling in the Ansion Dream casino. The Duros and the droid return to Delia's Ultimatum, where they encounter a Muun held at gunpoint by Maytoc Kolene. The almost gratingly-obsequious Muun explains that his name is Beeze Tonith, and that he is Soerrg's major-domo and has been asked to come for them and deliver Soerrg's invitation. After a brief conference, the two decide to go with Beeze. After several security precautions to throw off pursuit, they arrive at Soerrg's base of operations: a huge moving grasscrawler, bristling with weapons and armor.

At Beeze's invitation, they are taken to the lowest level of the crawler and witness a series of underground pit fights, including one between "John Doe" (recognizable as the Clone Commando spy Quaddie) and the duelist Twitch. Twitch disintegrates a fist-sized hole in Quaddie's stomach but is then getting soundly thrashed by the clone trooper when Jocasta arranges an early end to the competition. Marpa speaks briefly with Jocasta and learns that she has somehow obtained Tarn's datapad and has accessed all of the information stored on it. Later that night, Marpa plants the group's last satchel charge above the tread mechanism of the crawler.

After a few hours of sleep, Marpa and 8P-MD-4 manage to make contact with Quaddie and learn that he's sure the terrorist operations are being directed from the crawler and that, although nothing points directly to Soergg directing the operation, the Hutt is the most likely candidate. The three decide not to assassinate Soergg but instead, after darkness falls, to try to slice into the crawler's communications system to get firm coordinates on where the raider base is located in the asteroid field. The operation will be a tricky one, as one person must slice into the computers in the crawler's control room while someone else simultaneously slices into the rooftop satellite array, and then each infotap must be actively maintained for a full minute.

That morning, Marpa and 8P-MD-4 are granted a brief audience with Soerrg. He berates them for attacking the "peaceful, nonviolent environmental activist group” Ocean Liberty Friendship which he has been supporting to stop the destruction posed by the kelp harvesters. Marpa apologizes profusely for the misunderstanding and attempts to placate Soergg by "offering" 8P-MD-4 as a gift. Soerrg's advisor, Beeze Tonith, accepts the gift on his boss's behalf and then the two guests conduct a full reconnaissance of the crawler by making unannounced “repair jobs”. They notice a loading area with an extra landspeeder and rocket tubes, a lightly-guarded power plant, and the Gamorrean Blood Brothers moving a heavily damaged Destroyer droid in the turbolift.

At about 7 p.m. Quaddie, Marpa, & 8P-MD-4 put their plan into operation. The goal of step one of their plan is to move the satchel charge into the power plant room; but a suspicious technician hears them trying to stun a guard and hits the panic button, sending alarms throughout the crawler. After subduing the guard and the technician, Marpa plants the bomb underneath a power console and the group heads for the roof. Marpa and Quaddie make short work of the rooftop guards and Marpa begins slicing into the satellite array as Quaddie goes with 8P-MD-4 to take over the control room. After a few moments, each infotap is in place and the plan is a minute away from success. Quaddie is able to defend the control room from an additional attacker, but a guard conducting a sweep of the rooftop gets the drop on Marpa and blasts him into near-death, which also severs the infotap. Realizing that the connection is broken, Quaddie reaches the roof and kills the guard. At 8P-MD-4’s behest, he reactivates the infotap and hopes against hope that the medical droid can stand alone against Soergg’s reinforcements for a full minute.


Session # 12

Fortunately for 8P-MD-4, only a single guard stumbles into the control room and is quickly dispatched. After maintaining the infotap for a full minute, the coordinates of the raider's asteroid base are revealed and transmitted to the Broken Diamond. 8P-MD-4, Quaddie, and the unconscious Marpa flee from the crawler on a stolen aircar.

After searching for weeks, Jedi Padawan Lee has finally discovered the location of her missing Jedi Master: somewhere in the Ansion asteroid belt. His telepathic communications have been erratic and muddled, but with coordinates transmitted from Soergg's groundcrawler, a rescue mission is now underway. But nothing comes easy in this galaxy . . .

Aboard the Broken Diamond, Jedi Padawan Lee, Trips, and an injured Deuce are nearing the asteroid field when the sliced coordinates are received. Lee manages to destroy an approaching mine and the ship makes it safely through the field to find that the raider base is embedded in a linked series of asteroids. Avoiding patrols, the ship lands on one and after crawling through some tunnels, Lee and Trips emerge into a small hanger bay. Lee calls upon the Force to get them past a guard, and after a short firefight in a galley, the pair are able to make their way down to the second level. A trap is waiting for them there, however. A crew with an e-web blaster opens fire, but Lee weaves around the shots and severs the barrel. Trips takes out the other guards and after a brief hostage stand-off, General Sarigar is rescued. After a quick escape from the base, the crew of the Broken Diamond receives two incoming messages: first, an order to arrest Tarn Tamarand and company for war crimes & crimes against humanity; and second, notification that the anomaly has disappeared.

After several eventful days on the planet Ansion, a determined team of Republic operatives have set off to enter the strange anomaly & somehow find a way to open hyperspace lanes and communication out of the sector. With the darkness that lies within, they will soon learn that once they cross the threshold, the only way out is through . . .

Meanwhile, Tarn meets with Bel Sekand. Sekand reveals that the Holonews is reporting that Tarn and his friends are responsible for the massacre of Separatist refugees in the Bothan system; he agrees to keep the Ansion judicials from making an immediate arrest in exchange for Tarn agreeing to hunt down a cybernetic assassin at some point in the future. However, Tarn is unwilling to admit why the Republic is interested in Ansion to begin with, and Sekand refuses to help Tarn's sister. Tarn collects Arresta from a waiting room and they head back to Hurkaset.

Tarn and Arresta return to Delia's Ultimatum only to find that an angry Maytoc Kolene has tossed all of their luggage on the ground and is refusing to let them board. Arresta's interpreting shows that Maytoc has seen the Holonet News broadcast which purports to reveal that the group has been involved in a massacre of Separatist refugees. After much back-and-forth, Maytoc agrees to one last trip. Shortly thereafter, 8P-MD-4, Quaddie, and Marpa arrive and the group prepares to head for the anomaly. Ycram Notwal makes a last-ditch attempt to convince them to avoid the anomaly and offers a possible way out: a dangerous escape on a kelp freighter with a special jury-rigged hyperdrive. Ycram is turned away, however, and Delia's Ultimatum lifts off for the anomaly.

[77 AG]

The sublight journey to the anomaly takes several hours, during which Marpa regains consciousness. Minutes before arriving, the Sun Runner appears on sensors and moves into attack position. It twice acquires missile lock on Delia's Ultimatum, but doesn't actually fire. Both ships move into the massive beam of light projected by the anomaly and are drawn by an energy field into one of several openings. Inside what is functionally a cone-shaped hanger bay, hundreds and hundreds of crashed ships are covered by thick strands of translucent webbing. The energy field around Delia's abruptly cuts off and sends the ship hurling towards a wall, but Marpa grabs the controls from Maytoc and manages to pull the ship up at the last possible moment. Seconds later, Twitch pulls the same stunt on the Sun Runner and both ships set down safely.

The crew of Delia's Ultimatum make their way to a relief/rescue ship that seems untouched by the webbing. Inside, they find that an elderly man has apparently been expecting them. He uncovers a black, glass-like kris dagger, a fist-sized obsidian egg, and a partially-burned scroll that pictures Arresta, Marpa, 8P-MD-4, and Jocasta along with various cryptic messages. Realizing that Tarn isn't on the scroll, the old man grabs up the dagger and stabs Tarn, shouting "You're not supposed to be here!" After a struggle, the old man is subdued and taken aboard Delia's. Meanwhile, Quaddie and 8P-MD-4 witness the crew of the Sun Runner using a damaged droideka to hold off dozens of huge, crablike spider creatures before making a run to the tapering end of the hanger. When the crew of Delia's arrives there, they find an ancient droid that delivers a warning and a triangle-shaped doorway with an inscription above. With the spiders nearing, a decision is made to pass through the threshold and into the interior of the anomaly.

On the other side of the threshold, 8P-MD-4 suddenly falls to the ground, deactivated. In fact, all of the party's electronic devices are inoperable. They bring the droid with them and continue walking through the strange, triangle-shaped corridors. At one point the center of gravity shifts, and they also find several pieces of clothing, weapons, and devices of various ages and cultures seemingly phased into the walls. An unknown amount of time passes as they walk, but they grow neither tired nor hungry. Eventually they reach a point where the corridors branch off into three directions. They explore the left and right branches but stop after encountering a strange, mold-like substance growing on the walls. The way forward, coloured differently than the others, brings forth a strange, particle-cloud tendril and a transparent, humanoid-shaped canister. Marpa thrusts the obsidian egg into the particle tendril and the egg cracks, revealing a sticky, slimy, slug-like creature. The party withdraws. After noticing that the creature had activated part of his equipment, Marpa places the creature on 8P-MD-4 and the droid powers up.

The party moves forward again as the ominous sound of drumming gets louder. Four tall, strong humanoids with mutilated flesh and strange organic weapons charge and crash into the party with a vicious fury. Marpa, 8P-MD-4, and Tarn suddenly retreat, leaving Arresta surrounded. Tarn calls upon the Dark Side and uses the Force to slam the leader of the attackers against the wall. Arresta expertly dances around a flurry of attacks until her companions rejoin the battle. Marpa pulls the slug creature from 8P-MD-4 and places it on his heavy blaster, and for a few brief moments it look like the tide has turned; but one of the attackers lunges and knocks the pistol so its pointing towards Marpa's head. Tarn leaps in front of the shot and heroically saves Marpa's life, only to put his own in peril as he falls to the ground with a smoking blaster wound in the chest. Marpa is then subdued and Arresta surrenders, as the drumbeat of reinforcements gets closer.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Reaper Season Premiere

I try not to get too invested in relatively new t.v. shows because most of the ones I like tend to get cancelled, but I have to say the premiere of the second season of Reaper was simply hilarious and one of the most enjoyable hours of television I've experienced in a long time. This show doesn't get a lot of attention, but it's definitely worth seeking out.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Amazing Adventures

Marvel has published several series with the name Amazing Adventures. In 1988 they published an 80-page one-shot subtitled "Tales of Exotic Places, People, and Times By Some of the Top Talents in Comic Art." It actually does live up to the billing and contains several interesting, non-super hero stories in an anthology format. The selections are far more "adult" than normal Marvel comics at the time, both in terms of violence (rape, mutilation, etc.) and time-period (Nazi Germany, the Dark Ages, etc.). Formats like this which allowed mainstream creators to "breathe" after spending so much time on standard super-hero stories were rare in the 1980s, before things opened up with DC's Vertigo line and creator-owned series in the 90s. One can see why Marvel didn't repeat this particular experiment: at a $ 4.95 price tag, this comic was about 6 times what a normal comic cost in 1988, and I don't imagine many of Marvel's readers wanted to spend that much on something with unknown characters set during various historical periods. Anyway, it's worth picking up cheap, though even today I probably wouldn't spend $ 4.95 on it (or $ 6.50 in crazy Canada!).