Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thirty Days of Graphic Novels, Day 28: "Star Raiders"

Star Raiders was the first entry in DC's deluxe graphic novel line of the mid-1980s.  It's a little bit of an odd duck, insofar as it clearly wants to tell a standalone story while simultaneously continually referencing Atari Force.  I have only vague knowledge of that series, so most of the references were lost on me.  Anyway, Star Raiders starts out capitalizing on the tried-and-true concept of a small rebel force up against a galactic-wide empire.  When I say "small" rebel force, I really mean--basically, there's two pilots, an old wise man, and (later) a dozen or so recruits.  They're up against a massive empire of insect-like aliens called the Zylons, which operate as a hive-mind and have enslaved the galaxy for (as far as I can tell) no particular reason.  There's a couple of little interesting twists to set the story apart from Star Wars and some good action scenes, though a seemingly-minor character ends up dominating the last third of the book and bringing it to a conclusion.  All in all, a strange choice to launch the line, though again it might have been more impactful if I had read more Atari Force.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thirty Days of Graphic Novels, Day 27: "Far West, Volume 1"

This was a really entertaining fantasy-western comic written and drawn by Richard Moore (creator of Boneyard, which I reviewed a while back).  The comic follows the exploits of an elf bounty hunter named Meg.  Accompanied by her partner, an intelligent bear, Meg sets off to track down a notorious train-robber who uses a dragon to help him commit crimes.  It sounds really goofy, but it's a lot of fun, with excellent dialogue and action scenes.  Definitely a book I'd like to track down further volumes of.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thirty Days of Graphic Novels, Day 26: "Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey"

I always consider Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey to be the real conclusion to the Death of Superman storyline.  In it, we see an epic rematch between the two that offers a nice capstone to the storyline.  We also finally get an origin and backstory for Doomsday, so he's not simply the monstrous cipher of before.  The villain is given a creative, unique origin that I remember making quite an impression on me when I first read this as a teenager.  Not  only that, we get an awesome slugfest on Apokolips.  Part of the story involves Waverider and the Linear Men, characters that might be confusing if you hadn't read many DC Comics of the time period.  All in all, this holds up quite well and was an enjoyable read.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Torchwood: "Exit Wounds" (S2, E13)

"You have to understand.  I really do love you . . . because this . . . is gonna get nasty."

Exit Wounds

Season Two, Episode Thirteen ("Captain John returns to have his revenge on Torchwood.  But who is he really working for?  And how great a price must Torchwood pay to save the city?")


* Captain John.  Probably my favorite character in the show, cast included.  Admittedly, there may be some cross-over affection from Spike.

*  A great, end-of-season feel.  Appropriately epic (half the city gets blown up, along with the death of two major characters), but not to the point of semi-silliness like the last episode of the previous season (where a giant monster they didn't have the budget for is supposed to be trashing Cardiff).

* Gray stabbing Jack.  A twist you don't see coming, and it ramps up the danger even more.

*  The explanation for the apparent continuity error of Tosh appearing as a doctor in her first appearance in Doctor Who.

*  Tosh's death scene.  Amazing, emotional acting that pulls at the heartstrings.  The best single performance in the whole series, hands down.

*  Tosh's pre-planned good-bye video.  Tear-jerking.


* Gwen's dumb "inspirational" speech to Cardiff's police force, treated by everyone as if she is a master of oratory.  Basically, she told them to wander around and knock on people's doors.  Didn't they have more pressing business, and did they really need Gwen to rally them?

* Cariff's emergency response plan.  One lone technician willing to try to keep a nuclear power planet from melting down?  And why is Tosh suddenly the only capable expert on nuclear power stations?  Dramatic, but kinda goofy if you take a minute to think about it.


* How Jack maintained his sanity, being buried alive, dying, resurrecting, and dying again in an unbroken chain for 1,800 years.  I know it helped him deal with his guilt, but . . . harsh!

* The actor portraying Gray.  Better than I remember from the first time I saw this episode, but I still think they could have cast better.

* (SPOILER)  So presumably Gray is now buried under the rubble from the explosion of the hub in Children of Earth?


* None


* Discussion of Captain John's characterization; filming the scene where Gray stabs Jack; filming the nuclear power station scenes and the difficulty deciding to kill off major characters; and filming Tosh's death scene.

Thirty Days of Graphic Novels, Day 25: "Aztek, the Ultimate Man"

I expected this to be a fairly standard super hero tale, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Aztek, a hero with a combination of magically- and technologically- derived powers, does engage in standard super-heroics, but he has an interesting, original backstory that tied into the stories well.  The best part of the comic is the setting: Morrison & Millar set up the city of Vanity with an intriguing, off-putting feel and mystery that made me want to see what happened next.  I think the series would have worked better in an isolated corner of the DC Universe, as the constant tie-ins to Batman, Lex Luthor, and the Justice League stripped the stories of some of their originality.  The series ended at 10 issues (all collected in this TPB), as the character went on to appear in several issues of Justice League.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Buffy Comic Project: "Remember the Beginning"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 35

(Dark Horse, Vol. 1: 1998-2003)

Creators:  Tom Fassbender & Jim Pascoe (writers); Cliff Richards (penciller); Joe Pimentel & Will Conrad (inkers)

Setting:  Season Five

T.V. Character Appearances:  Buffy, Dawn, Willow, Giles, Anya, Riley (flashback only)

Major Original Characters:  Mysterious Vampire; Unnamed Mentor

Summary:  Still sad about Riley leaving, Buffy becomes annoyed with Dawn's attempts to follow her around on patrol.  Buffy and Dawn talk, and Buffy realizes that Dawn "remembers" events that never happened--like her being present after the Master drowned Buffy.  Later that night, when Buffy goes out on patrol, Dawn secretly follows her--only to fall into the clutches of a mysterious vampire planning to kill Buffy.


Excellent start to a new story-arc.  The characterization of Buffy and Dawn is really well done, and the dramatization of Dawn's memory of Buffy's death at the hands of the Master was fun to see.  Focussing on the relationship between a couple of the Scoobies is a good idea, as there's just not enough space to give each character on the show something to do.  The artwork remains strong, especially the scenes featuring the arc's new villain--blood and gore popping off the page.


*  I have no idea who the floating head on the art cover (behind Dawn and Buffy) is supposed to be.

*  Dialogue indicates that Buffy started going out on patrol when she was 14; I think 16 is the right number, at least if the movie and t.v. show are to fit together.

*  An ad for "Buffy Fruit Snacks".  Man, I would eat those every time I played the "Buffy Board Game" I still don't have!  [If I were really cool, I could do so while sipping from a "Buffy Stainless Steel Travel Mug" and wearing a "Buffy T-Shirt", "Buffy Pewter Cross," and "Buffy Men's Claddagh Ring."]

*  The letters' page is in the wrong issue, as it was clearly meant to go into the previous issue.

Next Issue

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Planet Stories # 19: "The Outlaws of Mars"

The Outlaws of Mars fits very firmly in what's been called the "sword-and-planet" genre.  The hero, Jerry Morgan, a former American soldier, gets transported to Mars via a special craft.  There, he instantly falls in love with a Martian princess of indescribable beauty, but palace intrigue and war keeps them apart until near the end.  In many ways it's a very standard work in the genre--low on characterization, but extremely high on action (and a quick, easy read).  One problematic part of this novel is the implicit racism--a woman is described as "beautiful, despite her dusky skin" and there's a whole history of Martian civilization that explains how the white race came to power over the brown race, etc., with a lot of details I don't want to get into (the main villain is of "the brown race", for example).  Overall, not one worth seeking out.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Charlie Bone et le mystere de minuit

I'd never heard of the Charlie Bone series of YA books before coming across this in the library.  The first book, translated as Charlie Bone and the Midnight Mystery, shows a great debt to Harry Potter--perhaps intentionally.  Charlie is a young boy who discovers he has a strange ability inherited from his father and is sent away to a school for others of his kind.  Instead of magic and Hogwarts, here we have  "gifts" (everyone has a different one) and a school called Bloor.  Charlie's particular talent is that, when he looks at a photograph, he can hear the people in it talking to each other as if it were a recording of the scene.  Other students at the school have the ability to levitate, turn into a wolf, hypnotize students, and more.  The plot of this first book in the series concerns Charlie's discovery that a fellow student has been hypnotized since early childhood into thinking she is someone other than who she really is; Charlie, of course, sets out to find a way to restore her rightful personality.

Overall, I have to say the book is kinda . . . "eh."  It's okay, but not particularly memorable.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Stefan Cassadine, Urbane Crimelord [CLONE WARS CAMPAIGN]

Stefan Cassadine was one of the most important NPCs in the Clone Wars Campaign, which is somewhat ironic given that I initially imagined him as a purely "off-screen" character.  His appearance came about because The Wife decided that Arresta needed to have a dramatic plot twist to further the character's story after the player running Tarn dropped out of the campaign and we took a summer off.

[UPDATE:  The Wife correctly states that, in fact, she created him as part of Arresta's backstory early in the campaign and was waiting for him to appear for some time.]

 The appearance, personality, and name Stefan Cassadine all come from one of The Wife's favorite shows, General Hospital. Although I had no plans to actually role-play the character, one thing led to another and many of those old soap opera episodes featuring the character that The Wife made me watch served me in good stead: I think she was quite impressed with how closely I was able to mimic and adapt the  character for use in a Star Wars setting.

The way I approached playing Stefan as an NPC is that he is an evil man; but not necessarily "the villain."  In other words, I really wanted the clearly problematic aspects of his personality to show through (he is a criminal, an assassin, and largely immoral) without making him so obviously irredeemable that no one could understand why Arresta married him--thus, his qualities of being an excellent husband and father, etc.  I was intentionally not intending to create an "anti-hero", because I saw Stefan as an excellent way to test the morality of the PCs--how far could they get lured down the path of murder and corruption by wrapping it up in an attractive package?  Surprisingly far, as events demonstrated ;)  The other key aspect of his character is that an aura of menace had to lay just below the surface, so that he could never be safely ignored or taken for granted.

As the campaign went on, the character developed rich and complex relationships with other NPCs like Jocasta and Creen (some explored through "fan fiction"), as well as with the PCs.  Because he has such a shrewd and dominating personality, however, I had to sometimes contrive ways to make sure he wasn't around lest he overshadow the PCs.  Overall, I was quite pleased with how he turned out: probably the deepest and most fully fleshed-out NPC I've ever played.

Now, here's The Wife's statement, written independently . . .

I am a massive General Hospital Fan. Whenever I build a character, I tend to look to soaps for inspiration. Since Arresta's physical appearance was based on the character of Chloe Morgan, when I needed inspiration for a past love interest, I looked to GH again. 

Stefan Cassadine was probably my all-time favourite GH character. I am a big fan of the actor, Stephen Nichols who portrayed him (still am - it's the reason I now watch Y&R again). Stefan was an intimidating, educated man with a romantic soul and a tortured spirit. He was a master manipulator who would stop at little to help his family. His lady loves always seemed to forget that about him - leading them to abandon him when his schemes proved too much. 

I always wished that one of them would accept him for who he was (much like Lila Quartermain did for Edward). I loved the Stefan/Chloe pairing so when I wanted a former paramour for Arresta, I decided to use Stefan as the inspiration. At the time, Jhaeman wasn't blogging about this and I had no idea that any of this would end up on-line. That's why I just used the name "Stefan Cassadine" instead of changing it.

I would hate for our recaps our Gaming Fiction to come off as bad Mary Sue fan fic for GH. Our Gaming Stefan shares a name and face and some personality traits with GH's Stefan, but they are very different.

When the character was first conceived, I had no idea if he would ever come on screen. His entrance marked the beginning of the big "love triangle", something I had never anticipated. He was a wonderful "grey" character. He would do something that seemed unforgiveable, but then he would somehow manage to bring Arresta around again. I still remember a scene where he was talking to Arresta and giving baby Allegra a bath - all of the players around the table - all men I might add - immediately let loose with a series of "awwws".

His devotion to family was a great counterpoint to Tarn's altruistic nature. I liken it to the relationship Lois Lane has with Superman and her very human fiance in that recent Superman movie. Even though you can easily see that Lois loves Clark Kent and that he may be her "true love", you can understand why she chooses the man who loves her and her child, and who will always put them first.

There were a few factors that kept Stefan very much a possibility for Arresta. The first was their history - he was her instructor at an exclusive finishing school and I had developed her having a huge Daddy complex. When her father betrayed her, Stefan was ready to step in again.

We had also developed the idea that the age difference and his role as her more experience past lover gave him significant emotional influence over her. He used seduction frequently to further his cause and Arresta actually had a will save penalty to resist him that got much worse if he was touching her.

Stefan also had an almost single-minded devotion to family - which coincided nicely with Arresta's need for security.

There was also, of course, the fact that she didn't think she could stand having either Tarn or Stefan killed by the other. She knew that if she chose Stefan, she could probably keep the two of them alive. If she chose Tarn, Stefan trying to kill him was almost a certainty.

The big thing that really changed the dyamic was the "time jump" after the city of sand story arc. Before that, even though she had married Stefan (on the rebound from Tarn), they had only been together very briefly and she may have entertained notions of running away, faking her death, etc, etc. She didn't necessarily feel as though ending her marriage would be impossible.

After the time jump though, she felt tremendous guilt for having put Stefan through almost two years of wondering where she (and the baby) were. It was clearly an ordeal and when you combined that with Tarn being in a coma, it really shifted the balance. From that point on, her guilt was a real factor in her trying to patch things up with Stefan (up to and including allowing him to seduce her back into his bed).

Jhaeman tells me he thought Stefan was the lead candidate for a while as the campaign wound down. Personally, I thought she was Tarn's to lose - and that Stefan ultimately benefited from the clash between Tarn's heroic destiny and Arresta's desire to put her child first.

Stefan Cassadine

Male Human Nob4/Scoun13 (Height 6'1, Weight 180)

Hit Points: 89

Spd. 6, BAB +12, FP: 9

Str 10, Dex 15 (+2), Con 12 (+1), Int 14 (+2), Wis 14 (+2), Cha 16 (+3)

Defenses (add 10 if not using house rules):  Fort +18, Ref +22, Will +21 (+26 against deception/persuasion)

Damage Threshold: 28

Attacks:  Datadagger +14, d. 1d4+8 (if target flatfooted, +16, d. 1d4+17 & -1 on track)
               Hold-out Blaster +15, d. 3d4+8 (if target flatfooted, +17 d. 3d4+17 & -1 on track)

Special Actions:  1/day reroll attack and take best; 1/encounter 16 or above crits; triple crit with datadagger; if gets critical hit gets free standard action; poison

Languages:  Basic, Huttese, High Galactic, Bothan, Rodese, Durese

Talents:  Wealth, Connections, Malkite Techniques, Vicious Poison, Dastardly Strike, Knack, Lucky Shot, Uncanny Luck, Fortune's Favor

Feats:  WP: Pistols, WP: Simple, Linguist, Unwavering Resolve, SF: Deception, ST: Stealth, SF: Stealth, Weapon Finesse, PB Shot, Quick Draw, SF: Knowledge Life Sciences, Double Attack, Cunning Attack, SF: Persuasion, Precise Shot, Triple Crit: Datadagger, Martial Arts I, ST: Mechanics

Skills:  Acrobatics +10, Climb +8, Deception +21 (Disguise +23), Endurance +9, Gather Info +11, Initiative +15, Jump +8, Knowledge: Life Sciences +20, Knowledge: Galactic Lore +10, Knowledge: Tactics +15, Knowledge: Physical Sciences +15, Mechanics +15, Perception +15, Persuasion +21, Pilot +10, Ride +10, Stealth +20, Survival +10, Swim +8, Treat Injury +15, Use Computer +10

Equipment:  Hold-out blaster, Datadagger, Medpac, Security Kit, Disguise Kit, Sonic Disruptor

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Realms Toowoomba Recap # 15 [RPG]

[3 Mirtul 1372]

On the way to Mirabar, Markus and Nakor put some distance between themselves and the others in order to discuss what should be done about the Scourge. They agree that it may be best to follow her proposed plan and then double-cross her for the reward. There is also some discussion of connecting Grim to the stolen Luskan defence plans in a bid to increase the reward for his capture.

Deciding to work together, the pair enter Mirabar and look for Tazi. They find the boy, but he has terrible news: Fargrim's old friend Bearos has seemingly been kidnapped, with a finger and a bloody number "1" written on the wall of his workshop! Markus and Nakor send the boy to find the rest of the group, but with strict instructions not to tell Fargrim about Bearos' kidnapping.

The two then head to the Goblet and Gem tavern, but are surprised to see it more crowded than ever before. Some quick questioning of a patron and the bartender reveals that a prospector claims to have found a huge lodestone up north and has offered to buy everyone in the tavern a drink. The prospector, a man named Vertoro, indicates upon questioning that he needs escorts to accompany him to actually retrieve the lodestone.

Markus and Nakor decide that speaking to a more sober Vertoro might be worthwhile in the morning, but in the meantime quick visits are made to talk to Thorgrim, an officer in The Axe, who is unwilling to release any information about a possible connection between Grim and Lord Feldspar. Further, a surreptitious search of the wrecked shop where Bearos worked fails to turn up any clues. With the gates to Mirabar having been locked at dusk, the two decide to take rooms for the night at an inn.

Meanwhile, on the road outside of Mirabar, the others receive the message delivered by Tazi and decide to wait. A note from Mellia is discovered indicating that she plans to absent herself from the group for the time being as she is frustrated with the group's handling of the Scourge business.

[4 Mirtul 1372]

Everyone rendezvouses outside the West Gate. Nakor and Markus have become aware that word has already spread along the Blackford Road and within Mirabar that the Scourge has been captured, so they suggest there's no way her plan to infiltrate Feldspar House will work. She claims it would still be possible if they simply snuck her inside, but the group disagrees. Nakor pummels the bound woman into unconscious and then the group turns her over to The Axe for a sizable reward. Still hoping to find a clue leading to Grim, the group searches Bearos' house and returns to his wrecked shop, but even a search in the daylight this time reveals little of use.

During their travels in Mirabar, the group comes across a disturbing sight: a man is strapped down to the bed of a horse-drawn cart, and he seems to be moaning and writhing in pain; his flesh has taken on a sickening greenish hue and pus drips from open sores on his flesh. A woman leading the wagon, who claims to be the man's wife, tells the group that a mere nick from an orc's blade during an attack on the Long Road led to the strange condition. The woman takes her husband to the Shrine of Tymora for healing. Later, Cain spends some time there helping to heal the wounded survivors of a troll attack on the same road.

Ellywick happens upon the group and asks to be filled in on what has transpired since last she travelled with them, having spent much of the past few days with Protius.

Various errands are attended to before the entire group reunites at the Sign of the Forgehammer to discuss their next step. Options raised including trying to infiltrate Feldspar House (Nakor has obtained a rough map through a contact), heading straight for Startop Mountain in the Evermoors, journeying north with the prospector Vertoro (a plan disliked by Trigonnis as it involves dangerous travel in rough, freezing terrain for little reward) or heading in the direction indicated by the mysterious nightmares suffered by Nakor, Cain, and Fargrim (southeast). The group decides the second option is best, as it follows up on a potential lead to the whereabouts of Grim while also taking the group generally southeast.

[5 Mirtul 1372]

Everyone buys horses in preparation for the journey.
Director's Commentary (Sep. 29, 2013)

Another session of pure role-playing.  There were a lot of these at this point in the campaign, which I was fine with but not expecting.  In the Clone Wars campaign, there was maybe only one or two of the 50+ that had no combat.  The sessions like this one start a trend that persists intermittently through the campaign of the bulk of the PCs' XP coming from the bonus XP I give for role-playing (5-10% of the total XP it takes to move from one level to another).  This was intended to encourage good role-playing and make it clear to the players that they didn't have to always pick fights in order to obtain a positive reward from a session, but it was never intended to be a major substitute for traditional combat/encounter XP.  In retrospect, I may have set the bonus for RP too high.  On the other hand, as The Wife often points out, the party has also levelled up perhaps a little slowly because of their paucity of combat XP (about one level every six sessions), so perhaps it all balances out in the end.  I'll have to think this over for future D&D campaigns.

Here we have the introduction of a major adventure hook: the kidnapping of Bearos by Grim in response to Fargrim's capture of the Scourge.  Bearos' disappearance ignites Fargrim's drive to hunt down Grim in order to rescue his friend, and it was intended by me to both tie in Fargrim's background even better to the campaign and provide a rationale for deeper explorations of Startop Mountain.  The first part of this worked, the second didn't, as we'll see in future sessions.

Mellia is absent from this session.  Around this point, The Wife and Boomer headed back to Canada for a couple of months.  The Wife starts to play whenever possible via Skype (with the computer monitor sitting at the table in her place), which seemed really weird at first, but actually worked out reasonably well.  The hardest part was that the time difference meant it was 6 or 7 a.m. when she played in Canada, so sometimes she struggled.

The appearance of the diseased man starts hinting at the idea of blight blades and some of the problems that are developing in the Evermoors.  The source of the blight blades are hinted at further in subsequent sessions, but as of this writing (Session # 56), the party hasn't investigated further.

Next Recap

Realms Toowoomba Recap # 14 [RPG]

[Greengrass Holiday 1372]

From out of the sudden fog, shambling shapes emerge. Animated carcasses of rotting, putrid flesh advance towards the group moaning "Become Us" and "Join us". Sleeping members of the group are awakened by those on watch and take defensive positions. The somewhat reptillian creatures seem to focus their attention on Nakor, Cain, and Fargrim, by-passing the others. The undead abominations claw and bite, and carry with them a stench so strong it makes Nakor nauseated. However, thrice calling upon the divine powers granted to him by Kossuth, Cain forces the creatures to flee from him and into the night.  Before the creatures can return, the group has hurriedly packed up and marched along the road to the east.

Along the way, the group discusses the strange, terrible nightmares some members of the group have been having. Mellia suggests that perhaps the nightmares are visions of the future, and that the group's destiny is to intervene before they should happen to pass. Nakor, however, is not convinced.

After about an hour's walk, the group sets up a new camp. This time, their rest is untroubled.

[1 Mirtul 1372]

Morning heralds the arrival of cold, spring rains that continue for days. In the morning, the group talks about what it should do with the captured and unconscious Scourge. Most members of the group lean towards a coercive interrogation to see what she knows about Grim, but Mellia urges restraint, and suggests they need to either think of a bargaining chip or turn her over to The Axe. The lure of a reward is strong for Markus and Nakor, but Fargrim wants to use the Scourge to find Grim. Later that morning, Trigonnis asks Fargrim about his motivations in hunting Grim, and the dwarf's reply is composed of seething vengeance.

The group begins to march east again. On the way, Markus tells Nakor that if the latter apologizes for his impersonation in Mirabar, they can put the past behind them and continue as fellow adventurers, even though not as friends.  Nakor at first responds in a snarky and insulting manner, but eventually does offer a rather half-hearted apology that seems to satisfy Markus.

[2 Mirtul 1372]

The Scourge awakens and refuses to speak to anyone except Fargrim. She tells the dwarf that it's all a game to Grim, and that because Fargrim has taken one of Grim's pieces off the board, he'll respond by taking two of Fargrim's. At Nakor's prompting, Fargrim asks about Feldspar House. The Scourge, who offers the name Delilah upon request, immediately persuades Fargrim to make a deal: she'll arrange for the group to gain entry into the exclusive and heavily-guarded Feldspar House so that they can question Lord Feldspar about his connections with Grim, and, in return, Delilah will gain her freedom upon the group's entry. Fargrim immediately agrees, much to the dismay, when they hear about it, of the other members of the group.

The group spends several hours that day, before, during, and after marching, debating whether to go through with Delilah's plan of posing as Sembian nobility, with her taking care of ensuring all of the proper protocol is observed in order to gain an invitation to Feldspar House. Nakor suggests that the group could simply take Delilah's idea and carry it through without her involvement. Other suggestions include sneaking into Feldspar House in the middle of the night, telling Delilah the group will go through with her plan but that she'll gain her freedom only after the mission is a success, posing as servants, or simply avoiding Feldspar House altogether and heading straight for Startop Mountain after turning the Scourge in for the 1,500 gold piece reward.  Underlying the debate are concerns about whether there really is any connection between Grim and Lord Feldspar (it could be a ruse) or whether the whole arrangement could be a clever trap. The group is unable to reach a decision, and sets up camp for the night. Since Delilah's arrival, Trigonnis shows a special solicitude--perhaps even infatuation--for Delilah.

That evening, Nakor tries to talk to Delilah but suffers cutting insults for his trouble, centered on his belonging to the merchant class rather than having true noble blood. Delilah resists any attempts by the group to modify the agreement she made with Fargrim, even invoking the warrior's honour as a dwarf. A poorly-worded joke by Nakor about one of the group laying down next to Delilah causes Mellia to erupt into a fury and she renders the Sembian unconscious when he doesn't immediately apologize.

[2 Mirtul 1372]

The next morning, Mellia takes Nakor aside and explains why she has a special sensitivity about the issue of ravishing captive women. The two return to the group on good terms.

The group continues debating what to do with the Scourge. Mellia is particularly critical of Fargrim's decision to make an agreement with Delilah without the group's involvement, and Nakor tries to talk the dwarf into not going through with it. However, although wavering at times, Fargrim does not go back on his word. As the group starts heading east once again, there is some consensus that perhaps Nakor could sneak into Mirabar and talk to The Axe before any further action is taken.
Director's Commentary (Sep. 25, 2013)

After a history of failure, Cain finally got this Turn Undead checks to work, which meant the party didn't have much trouble from the encounter that began the session.  Having an old-fashioned cleric can be quite handy in a campaign that has undead as a major theme!

The rest of the session was heavy on the role-playing as the group tried to figure out what to do with the Scourge of Blackford Road (a.k.a., Delilah).  Mellia turned out to be the moral compass of the group, preventing the party from stooping to, in U.S. military terms, "enhanced interrogation techniques."   Delilah seized on Fargrim's unilateral agreement to her plan, something that the dwarf very much regretted once the other PCs found out about it.  Next session, you'll see what actually happened.

During the session, nobody paid any attention to Delilah's line about Grim taking two of the party's pieces off the board since they took one of his.

This was one of the only times so far in the campaign that I was able to introduce the concept of the party's station in life in terms of nobility.  Delilah's shunning of smooth-tongued Nakor was a quite effective demonstration of noble snobbery of the "lower classes".  It's a theme that would have been very interesting to develop further, but alas was not to be.

Nakor's bad joke described above earned him what became famous as "the Mellia glare".  I think it's also the first time one party member has taken a combat action against another; trust me, it won't be the last!

Next Recap

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Fantasy Football 2012 Week 9

I haven't managed to post many updates, but here's a short one.  My team is on a real roll, having reeled off several straight victories and hitting triple digits multiple times.  I think I've had the two best games of the four years I've been playing, with 140 points last week (50+ from Doug Martin alone) and 121 points a couple of weeks ago.  The streak puts me at 6-3, but that's only good for second place in a tough division.  Four weeks left . .  .

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Thirty Days of Graphic Novels, Day 24: "The Legend of Drizzt, Book 1: Homeland"

In many ways, Drizzt is the Wolverine of the Forgotten Realms: a character that is iconic, fascinating, and much overused.  There are probably as many rebel drow with twin swords running around on gaming tables today as there are kids sticking plastic knives between their fingers and shouting "snikt". That being said, there's a reason both characters are so popular in their respective domains.

Homeland is the comic adaptation of the R.A. Salvatore novel of the same name.  Although not written first, it covers the earliest period of Drizzt's life as he grows into manhood in the massive Drow underground city of Menzoberranzan.  I read the novel several years ago, and I remain impressed with Salvatore's depiction of Drow life: cold, calculating, opportunistic, and dangerous.  Salvatore has obviously thought through the culture and the reason Drow appear the way they do to others in the Underdark and on the surface.  Drizzt will come to loathe and despise that culture, but it won't let its grip on him go easily.

Comic adaptations of novels often fail miserably, but this time I think justice was done.  The plot threads are easy to follow and there's not so much condensing of material that the reader is left confused or feels cheated.  I still think it's not 100% clear what made Drizzt think so differently than his fellow Drow, but perhaps that's part of the point of the story.  The artwork is fairly good overall, especially for the occasional shots of Menzoberranzan architecture and monsters; facial features need work, as much of the Drow males and females look the same.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thirty Days of Graphic Novels, Day 23: "World's Finest: The Deluxe Edition"

Stumbling my way to the end, slowly and not very surely!  Today's selection:  World's Finest: The Deluxe Edition.  This hardcover collection of the well-regarded 1990 mini-series featuring Batman and Superman teaming up was something I was really looking forward to reading, because when I was a kid I only had one of the three issues and always wondered what happened in the others.  Reading it now, 20+ years later, I don't really feel like I missed much.  The central plot contrivance involving the heroes getting mixed up in trouble at an orphanage built exactly halfway between Gotham and Metropolis is clever as far as it goes, but otherwise I really can't figure out why this received the acclaim it did.  Lex Luthor and the Joker trading cities and vigilantes wasn't exactly an earth-shattering idea, the overall plot is simultaneously mundane and confusing, and the artwork, although extremely good panel-by-panel, does not aid the story-telling by failing to use good establishing shots and transitions.  Well, I guess even with Superman and Batman, you can't win them all . . .

Realms Toowoomba Recap # 13 [RPG]

[28 Tarsakh 1372]

In the common room of the Sign of the Forgehammer, Mellia suddenly appears from out of nowhere. The group (sans Ellywick, who has been seen gallivanting around Mirabar with Protius the Potion Purveyor) seem impressed, and Mellia explains she has learned the spell for invisibility. Nakor fills the group in on his plan to follow a diamond-laden caravan from the mines of Mirabar along the Blackford Road west toward Luskan, in the hopes that the Scourge of Blackford Road (a bandit with ties to Grim) will attack it, and can be captured. The other members of the group agree with the idea, and everyone leaves the inn intending to take care of some last-minute errands.

However, once they step out the door, they are accosted by a skinny, balding man with a pot belly. He shakes a finger at Markus and sneers that he plans to take the adventurer up on his (actually Nakor, disguised as Markus') offer the previous evening to duel. But instead of taking part himself, the man presents his "brother", a muscle-bound brawler named Korog. Markus tries to talk his way out of the fight, but Korog doesn't hesitate and starts pummelling the foppish swordsman with powerful punches, elbow jabs, and two-handed slams. Taken aback and bleeding from his nose, Markus pulls out his sword and attacks the unarmed man, much to the dismay of the gathering crowd. While Nakor places a bet with Korog's handler, Mellia has finally had enough and incapacitates the brawler with a well-aimed spell, Slumber of the Innocent. Markus and Nakor exchange words, but nothing is settled.

Markus storms off and heads for the planned rendezvous point at the west gate.  Fargrim collects the special chain and cuff attachment for his greataxe, and stops in at the Shrine of Tymora to speak with Janith. Luck is in the barbarian's favor, as Janith has heard of a place "where the mountains touch the sky." She tells Fargrim of Startop Mountain, a long-dormant volcano in the Evermoors. Meanwhile, Nakor sells the gold bracelet he found in the bandit cavern. Most importantly, Cain tells Mellia about the mysterious visions he, Nakor, and Fargrim have been having in past months, including their origins in a curse by a priest of the supposedly dead god Myrkul. He adds that the three have a strange sense that the terrible events of their dreams will originate somewhere to the southeast. When he adds the fact that one of the images in the vision was of a priest wearing a silver circlet with bony projections, Mellia grows tremendously excited--has she finally unearthed a clue about the mysterious Crown of Horns? Mellia is almost giddy at the news, so much so that the others find it mildly unnerving when everyone (including the still distrusted Trigonnis) assembles at the west gate. Fargrim shares the information he gained about Startop Mountain, and Mellia seems very intrigued.  However, she's willing to help the group out with their current quest to capture the Scourge of Blackford Road.

Outside Mirabar, the group waits a short time and then spots the caravan they hope will be bait for a trap. They follow it west and then camp when it stops for the evening.

[29 Tarsakh 1372]

The caravan continues heading west, as does the group, but no attack occurs.

[30 Tarsakh 1372]

Another day of fruitless travelling leaves the group debating whether they made a mistake. There is some talk of turning back and trying to gain an audience with Lord Feldspar during the gala he was throwing, but the group realizes they won't make it back to Mirabar in time. Instead, they decide to push on.

[Greengrass Holiday, 1372]

The caravan slows down and then stops as it's met by a contingent of what look to be Luskanite soldiers. Heated words are exchanged between the Luskanites and the caravan guards, but, alerted by false birdsong, Nakor suspects it's a trap.  He alerts the others, and they're ready when the Scourge of Blackford Road launches her ambush! As the Scourge (a beautiful young woman wearing expensive clothes) and her band of highwaymen spring forward out of a nearby copse of trees intending to raid the center wagon while the caravan guards are distracted by the "Luskanites", the adventurers launch a counter-attack which catches the bandits by surprise. The Scourge orders a hasty retreat, but Markus catches up
to her. She stabs him with a jewelled dagger before he knocks it away, and seconds later Fargrim lays her low with a vicious attack from his axe. Her fellow bandits reluctantly try to carry out Grim's orders to ensure she is not captured alive, but quick teamwork between Mellia and Markus stop their plan in
its tracks. Cain calls upon his divinely-granted powers to stop the Scourge from bleeding to death. After receiving the gratitude of the captain of the caravan guards, the group heads back east with a major prize.

That night, the group talks about what to do with the unconscious Scourge.  Fargrim suggests perhaps killing her, but Mellia is strongly opposed to the notion. The conversation is unresolved as everyone tries to sleep. But during Markus' and Cain's shift on the watch, a strange, unearthly fog suddenly springs up, seemingly from the ground itself. Lurching, moaning shapes can be seen in the fog, heading straight towards the camp.

On this Greengrass Night, the dead walk! But will the adventurers survive to walk away?
Director's Commentary (Sep 3, 2013)

It was great fun starting the session with Markus getting punched in the face by the brawler (Nakor's revenge for being left out in the cold a couple of sessions back).  I think it's good to occasionally have combat where everyone knows that death isn't a real risk, but the fun part is to see how the PC  handles it.  Markus responding with attacking the unarmed man with his sword would probably have gotten the crowd to intervene if Mellia hadn't cast a handy Sleep spell.  Speaking of Mellia and spells, this is the first session where she gets Invisibility, which soon becomes her go-to spell when threatened.  She's no coward, but she's also made it clear that she doesn't plan on fighting to her last breath if escape is an option.

It becomes obvious in this session that Mellia has a connection to something called the "Crown of Horns" and that the presence of something that could be the Horn in the others' dreams gives them a common interest.  This might seem like sheer coincidence for the sake of the plot (and sometimes a DM has no choice but to rely on coincidence!), but there's actually a good reason for the connection in this instance:  Mellia was directed to join the group by a mysterious figure that is responsible for her motivation to find the Crown of Horns to begin with.  The figures auguries have revealed that her best chance of finding the Crown is with their aid.  I'll discuss this point more in an upcoming session when Mellia reveals to the other PCs why she's after the Crown.

The PCs had one of their first clear successes in the campaign by capturing the Scourge of Blackford Road.  There was a point at which she almost escaped, and a point at which she was almost murdered by her own men, but in each instance the PCs acted quickly and decisively to capture her and keep her alive.  We'll see much more of the Scourge in the next couple of sessions, and although I came up with her personality on the fly, I really enjoyed role-playing her.  What turns a noblewoman into a bandit?  She would have made an interesting antagonist or reluctant ally if things had happened differently.

Next Recap

Hell Frozen Over: Chapter Six [Buffy]


The air was thick with dust, causing Anya to cough frequently as she surveyed the scene. Xander had pulled some strings and had the major structural damage shored up already, but the Magic Box was still in shambles. Although the ceiling was no longer touching the floor, there were still books and arcane implements scattered haphazardly all over the place. The floors, counters, and remnants of bookshelves were filthy with dust and bits of broken plaster. When Willow, filled almost to bursting with dark magic, had challenged Giles to a magickal duel, the others were lucky the Magic Box was left standing at all.

Anya sighed as she picked up books from the floor and stacked them randomly on the shelves. In many ways, the place was even dirtier than before. Although the repair crews had been fast, they weren’t exactly great at picking up after themselves.

Separating minor spell components such as jars of bats’ blood and murkaweed into separate piles, she wondered how they were going to pay for all of the damage. They had insurance, but Anya didn’t think they could make a claim for “Evil Witch Coverage.” Maybe a tornado. Does California get tornadoes? Or an earthquake. Definitely an earthquake. But a really small one. She resolved to ask one of her friends, concluding that they might know more about such mundane things than her.

She hadn’t seen much of the others lately, however. She and Xander were hardly speaking after he left her at the altar and she and Spike hooked up that one time. Buffy was always so busy working at the restaurant that she rarely had spare time to stop by the store, while Willow hadn’t been back since the night she had wrecked the place. And Tara, of course, was gone--Anya wasn’t very close with Tara, but she always enjoyed having someone else around who hadn’t known the others forever. Buffy, Xander, and Willow had such a history that sometimes Anya felt like an outsider in their presence. If only Giles were here—he’d get the place in order. But the Watcher had to leave Sunnydale just hours after Willow had been stopped, citing unfinished business in England. He had promised to return, but no one had heard from his since. Nope, once again it’s all up to me—Vengeance Demons always get the grunt work, she reflected idly.

Anya was pulled out of her reverie by the ringing of the little bells that hung over the front door. I’m surprised they still work, she thought, as she called out “Sorry, we’re still closed. We’ve had an . . . um . . . natural disaster. Maybe in a couple of months or something.”

She looked up to see that a man in a dark suit had entered. He walked with a slight limp and she could tell that his face was lined by faint scars. “I need information on wards and spells of opening,” he said in a quiet but assertive voice.

Anya flashed a sympathetic smile. “Like I said, we’re closed. Everything’s a mess. I’m not sure if we’ll even get the money to open again. Call back later this summer though and you’ll know one way or the other.”

“That doesn’t concern me,” he said, shaking his head slightly. “It won’t take long and I’ll make it worth your while.” He pulled out a thick wad of folded bills from his pocket and laid several on the counter.

Anya counted them quickly. Deciding that the Magic Box was going to need all the help it could get if it really was going to reopen someday, she pried open the drawer of the damaged cash register and stuffed the money inside. “Okay,” she said with a shrug. “I’ll see what I can do.”


Anya spent most of the weekend at the Magic Box. A couple of times a wronged woman somewhere called out for vengeance, and Anya did her duty—but her heart wasn’t really in it. She simply wasn’t feeling very vengeful of late. More and more, she was simply feeling sorry for everyone involved in the dysfunctional relationships she found herself getting involved in.

Early on Monday evening, just as she was going to call it a night, Buffy walked into the store. The Slayer was still dressed in her Double Meat Palace uniform and looked tired. She looked around before walking over to the counter where Anya waited expectantly, a copy of The Decryer’s Camerone in her hands.

“The place looks better,” Buffy observed off-hand. “At least better than when Willow was sending us flying against the walls and stuff.”

“Well, there’s still a lot to do—but it’s getting there.” Anya looked at Buffy carefully. The Vengeance Demon was often still naive about mortal ways, but she was starting to pick up on things. “What brings you here Buffy?” she asked, sure that it wasn’t just to chat.

Buffy thought about prevaricating but decided not to. She sighed and rested her elbows on the counter, holding her chin in the palms of her hands. “Dawn’s made home catfight-of-the-month-club, Willow’s place is depressing as hell, pun not intended, and Xander’s not home. So I thought I’d check out how the store is doing.”

How is Xander? Anya wanted to ask, but instead said “And so I’m the last person you’d go see?”

Buffy looked apologetic. “No, Spike is.” She instantly put a hand to her forehead—it was supposed to be a joke, a flippant comment, but Buffy had forgotten the whole mess with Xander, Spike, and Anya. “I mean—“

“Never mind. Don’t worry about it,” she said, although her face showed that the comment had bothered her. “What’s wrong with Dawn?” she asked to change the subject.

Buffy sighed. “I’m not sure. Things were different after Willow went nuts—it was like Dawn and I had finally become friends instead of just sisters. But all of a sudden she’s been yelling at me for no reason, leaving without telling me where she’s going. A couple of days ago she even made a really stupid comment about the new family across the street.”

“She was a little like that when I saw her too,” Anya said.

Buffy raised her eyebrows.
Anya continued. “She came in a couple of days ago and asked if I’d do her a favor—go to some meeting at Weatherly Park with her.”

“First Principles?” Buffy interjected.

“That’s right. So we went, and there were activities and speeches, and everyone else seemed really excited but it just seemed boring to me.”

“What sort of speeches?

“About community, and security, and knowing who’s a member and who’s not and things like that. I stayed for a while and then told Dawn I didn’t find it very interesting and had to get back to work, and she went nuts on me. Said that everyone liked First Principles and that if I didn’t want to be a member of the community, then I was an enemy or something.”

“I’m not surprised,” Buffy said, shaking her head. “That’s the sort of thing she’s been saying to me too. Her head’s been filled with all this garbage, and I know it’s been a tough time for her but . . . I think I better check this place out. Dawn’s just not like that.”

Buffy turned to go, but Anya had something on her mind. She tried to sound casual. “So how has everyone else been? Like--“

“Xander? He’s doing okay, Anya. He’s working hard and trying to spend time with Willow. But you know, it might help if you two actually talked to each other.”

“That’s harder than it sounds,” Anya replied carefully.

“Yeah. Well I can’t stay to play Dear Buffy. Dawn’s going all Branch Davidian on me, so I better get to Waco before it’s too late.”


Dawn leaped, higher than she ever thought she could, and barely caught the frisbee with the tips of her fingers. She came down off-balance, stumbled, and fell into a sommersault. She laughed freely as she picked herself off the ground and wiped leaves and grass from the jean jacket she never left home without.

“Nice catch!” Timothy said, looking at her admiringly.

Dawn did a mock bow and threw the frisbee back. He caught it easily and then jerked his head as if to say “Look over there.” Dawn followed his eyes and saw Jamie and Brian had abandoned the frisbee and were instead exploring each other’s tonsils.

“Don’t you two need a license for that?” Timothy called out.

Brian raised a hand and waved them away without even looking up. They were near the center of Weatherly Park. It was rapidly filling up, as hundreds and hundreds of Sunnydale’s residents arrived early for the First Principles rally that would be starting soon. The park was large, covering several city blocks, with large groves of trees and winding paths. It was also a prime spot for dog walking, a fact Dawn was reminded of when a dark, chocolate-colored labrador trotted out of some nearby bushes and came towards her. She flinched slightly but remained calm and within seconds the dog was nuzzling her, demanding to be petted.

“Isn’t he adorable?” Dawn asked. Timothy came over and patted the dog on the rump. Brian and Jamie were still oblivious to their, or anyone else’s, presence. “I wonder who he belongs to?”

“I think I know,” Timothy said slowly, his eyes narrowing and his lips taut. He pushed the dog away and stood up, walking towards the trees. Dawn stood up as well and followed him. A moment later she noticed what Timothy had seen: a dark-skinned boy holding a dog leash, walking around and whistling for his companion to come back.

“I think I know that guy,” Dawn said, recognizing the face from the window. “His family just moved into
our neighborhood, a few houses away from us.”

“They’re not from around here,” Timothy remarked. “Hey!” he shouted, to get the boy’s attention. “Come
get your mutt and get the hell out of here. You don’t belong here!”

The boy looked surprised and confused. He looked around and then back at them. “But I thought this was
a public park,” he said, putting the collar back on his dog.

“Not the park,” Timothy shot back, angrily. “The whole town. You don’t belong in Sunnydale. This is an American town, for American citizens. You’re not part of the community, and we don’t need your kind around here.”

“I don’t think he gets it,” Brian said, suddenly appearing besides them. “Maybe we should make sure he remembers.” Dawn looked behind him and saw a sizable number of First Principles members had gathered, watching the confrontation. She felt . . . something . . . in the back of her mind but brushed it aside. One had to keep in mind the First Principles. Members of a community had to look out for themselves. And that meant dealing with outsiders in the way they deserved.

“I don’t want any trouble,” the boy said, obviously shaken. “I’ll just go.”

“It’s too late for that!” Jamie yelled excitedly. She seemed anxious to see a fight.

Brian and Timothy took a menacing step towards him, but froze in place when the labrador growled at them. The boy saw his chance to escape and ran towards the edge of the park with his dog in tow.

“And don’t come back!” Dawn shouted after him, her lips curled in anger. She couldn’t believe the kid’s gall. He was trying to provoke us, she thought. But members of a community stick up for their own.

“He was probably a terrorist,” observed Jamie

“Or a communist,” Brian offered seriously. “They still have communists, right? This guy on T.V. said that
most terrorists are also communists, because communists are un-American and terrorists hate America.”

“Well, either way, we should do something about people like guy,” Timothy said.

“Yeah,” agreed Brian. “Maybe we should talk to Wittingstone. See what he has to say. People like that need to learn their lesson—this place is for us, for our community.”


Wittingstone stepped up to the microphone reluctantly, rolling his eyes at yet one another of Michelle’s overly-enthusiastic introductions. In front of him, the largest audience he had yet faced stood assembled almost five-hundred people, large enough that First Principles had been forced to secure a parade permit and organize a clean-up crew after each meeting. Look at them—sheep, each and every one. Lemmings, really. I could tell them the universe is going to implode tomorrow and they would believe me—and still eagerly agree to “help out their community” by volunteering for latrine-cleaning duty. Wittingstone wiped his brow with a handkerchief—the days were getting longer and hotter as spring gave way to true summer. Wittingstone sighed as the upturned faces of the crowd showed utter adoration. Just like last time, except the new bit at the end. I hope he’s happy! Me, Elias Wittingstone, turned from go-to-man and skilled operative to stand-up hatemonger!

“Ladies and gentleman, today we stand stronger than ever before!” He tried to force some excitement into the words, but they were just too banal. Still, the audience applauded wildly. “Our community is remembering its First Principles, and together we are making it better and better everyday. But our work is not yet complete. There are many dangers facing us in Sunnydale, dangers that we can face only if we stand strong together as a community."

“And what makes a community?” he continued. “A community is made up of shared traditions, shared values, a common view of what makes the world great. But there are always those outsiders who would threaten these great things we share by wanting to manipulate them, or stretch them, or even experiment with them. We mustn’t let that happen. Our community must remain vigilant against the threat of these degenerates who would destroy our values and traditions, who would undermine the very essence of who we are as a people."

“I must remind each of you to be watchful of those who are not members of the community. Those who are different are dangerous because they don’t share our way of life—and thus they have nothing invested in our communities. And, remember, just because someone may look like members of the community does not mean they are truly our allies—outsiders are always hoping to disrupt what makes us great because they are envious of the security and happiness we share."

“First Principles is on the verge of great things. But we need each and every one of you to be proactive. Identify the dangers that threaten our community and do not be afraid to confront them. By working together, we can make America the best it can possibly be.”

Wittingstone stepped away from the microphone to thunderous applause. Damn. Was that “identify the dangers that threaten” or “identify the threats that endanger”? Ah well, same effect. First Principles staff members ushered him to a waiting car, an expensive black sedan. Wittingstone loosened his tie and wiped his brow again as he instructed the driver to take him home. He sighed when his cell phone rang, but flipped it open and listened carefully.

“Mr. Castillo!” he said, surprised but careful to pronounce it exactly as he had been instructed--the lingering pain on the tips of his fingers was a constant reminder. “Yes, sir,” he spoke into the receiver. “Yes. . . . Yes. . . . No, sir. . . . Yes, all is going as planned. In fact I was surprised how quickly they took to it. The creature is certainly fulfilling its end of the deal . . . Move the schedule up? Certainly, sir. . . . Hopefully by the end of the week. . . . Of course I can’t guarantee that but—yes sir, I‘ll try. . . . There’s something else that will please you. The Slayer’s sister has become involved. . . . No, it’s not a trick. She’s as caught as the rest of them. In fact, they’re ready to begin being ‘proactive.’ . . . Yes sir, I spoke to her and her friends myself just before the speech. . . . Yes, I’ll watch carefully. . . .”

Wittingstone flipped the cell phone shut and put it back into his pocket. I can’t believe he actually found it. If he manages to get it open and it does what the legends say it will . . . I’ll just have to make sure I’m gone by then. I sure wouldn’t want to be in Buffy Summers’ place right now.


Tintsman dodged to the side, barely avoiding the gauntlet-enclosed fist that hit the wall instead, leaving a large hole in the plaster. He brought the butt of his rifle down hard on his attacker’s jaw, but the helmet turned what should have been a staggering strike into a mere glancing blow. His attacker reacted instantly, launching a solid kick into Tintsman’s midriff. The sheer force of the attack knocked him to the ground. The padding kept him from being hurt, but before he could recover he found three rifles pointed at his head.

He grinned and removed his helmet. “Well done,” he said, taking hold of a proffered hand and getting to his feet. “I think you’re finally ready.”

“Do you really think so, sir?” said one of the figures, her voice muffled by the helmet she wore. All of the figures wore suits of dark green armor—the material looked and felt like plastic to the touch, but was much harder. The joints were covered by a flexible black rubber-like substance. Each also wore a helmet and carried a variety of weaponry. The Pittsburgh warehouse they had been training in for the past several months had quickly become riddled with cracks, holes, and deep gouges from testing the equipment.

Tintsman eyed them carefully and then nodded. “Yes, I do, Rita. All of you have been through what I’ve been through—and although we never get over it, we can at least ensure it doesn’t happen again. It’s taken me almost four years now to build these suits and train you, and I wouldn’t throw it all away if you weren’t ready.” He spoke confidently and with a measure of pride, like a father telling his son he was ready to play Little League baseball.

The three armored figures had been holding their breath as he answered the question. They relaxed and removed their helmets. Rita was the youngest of them, in her early twenties—her fiancee had been killed by vampires just over two years ago.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Tintsman continued. “But I know we can do it. I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into when I went to Sunnydale last time—how bad it would be. Going there by myself almost got me killed. But I know what we’re up against now—how tricky they are.”

“I still don’t see how we’re going to tell them apart from the normals,” Joshua, the younger of the men, said. He had been an investment broker before losing his parents to the blood-drinkers, and was easily the most timid of the group.

“They’ll find us,” Tintsman answered. “They always do. But if they try to hide, I know what to do.”

“Do you think . . . he’ll be there?” Otis, the last soldier, asked.

Tintsman’s face grew darker. “I don’t know,” he said simply. “He may have fled long ago. But Sunnydale’s the place to start—we may be able to pick up his trail from there. And this time I’m not leaving until they’re all dead, including the humans who helped them.”

Next Chapter