Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Ebon, Githzerai Scout [RPG]

Digging deep into my binder of old D&D characters, I've come across Ebon, a Githzerai scout sent to the Prime Material Plane to uncover the scope of Githyanki or Illithid infiltration.  I have no memory whatsoever of what teenage campaign I created this character for, and I'm guessing from the rather pristine state of the sheet that he probably only appeared in a single session.  Still, I kind of like the concept, and maybe he'll make a good NPC in the campaign I'm running now.  He was created for AD&D 2nd edition, and we must have been using the Player's Option book at the time.


Ebon, Githzerai Scout

Level 5 NE Githzerai Thief

Male, Height 6'1, Weight 170 lbs, Eyes: Grey, Skin: Pale, Hair: Black

Traits: Double-jointed, Empathy

Disadvantages: Bruise-Easily

Abilities:  Str 11 (Stamina 13, Muscle 9), Dexterity 17 (Aim 16, Balance 18), Constitution 14 (Health 12, Fitness 16), Intelligence 16 (Reason 14, Knowledge 18), Wisdom 9 (Intuition 9, Willpower 9), Charisma 13 (Leadership 13, Apperance 13)

Hit Points: 29


AC: 2

Saves:  Spells 13, RSW 12, PPD 12, P/P 11, BW 15

Abilities:  60' infravision, 25% magic resistance, Backstab (x3), Weapon of Choice: Cutlass, Weapon Expertise: Cutlass

Attacks:  Cutlass (3/2), THACO 14, d. 1d6+4 (s/m) or 1d8+4 (L)
              Stiletto (thrown) (2/1), THACO 17, d. 1d3+1 (s/m) or 1d2+1 (L)

Thief Skills:  Detect Noise (15%), Hide in Shadows (50%), Move Silently (55%), F/R Traps (55%), Open Locks (15%), Read Languages (35%), Climb Walls (80%), Detect Illusion (40%)

Nonweapon Proficiencies:  ML: Githzerai, ML: Common, RW: Githzerai, RW: Common, Orienteering, AH: Gith Revolt, Appraising, Throwing

Equipment:  20 days' rations, 711 steel coins, cutlass +3 Frost Brand, stilettos (x4), marked dagger, backpack, thief picks, crystal-tipped staff, bullseye lantern, oil (x4), 25' silk rope, map

Character Profile

Homeland: Gith
Occupation: Scout
Father: Colias, Imperial Diplomat
Mother: Wejon
Brother: Menito, Imperial Guard
Greatest Fear: Being captured by illithids
Short term goals: Gather information on this new world
Long term goals: Rise through ranks of the Githzerai
Special talents/abilities: Thief skills, magic resistance, espionage skills
Religion/Group Affiliation: Worship Gith
Prejudices/Dislikes: Githyankis, Illithids

"Ebon is a freelance operative with the Githzerai Imperial Intelligence Service.  His superiors transport him to worlds on the Prime Material Plane in order to gather information and see if Githyanki or illithids have a presence on them.  Ebon is willing to kill when necessary to achieve his goals (or for a sizable profit) but otherwise tries to avoid killing, seeing it as a waste of time and energy.  He is completely loyal to his superiors.  He sees humans and demihumans as a lesser species and does not hold them in high regard.  He is willing to work with them for information."

Monday, June 24, 2013

RealmsToowoomba Recap # 24 [RPG]

[24 Mirtul 1372]

As they cross the Evermoors headed for Startop Mountain, the group suddenly see boulders flying through the air over their heads and crashing down several yards away. Much to their astonishment, they realize that they've unintentionally walked into a dispute between two hill giants, one high up on a tor and the other on the moor below, chewing contentedly on a dead branta. The two are shouting over who has the right to the branta, and neither seems to notice the adventurers until Markus screams "hill giants!" and draws their attention.  "Let's turn'em over ta Princess Gerti for the reward!" shouts one of the giants.

Markus spurs his warhorse forward to seek some cover behind a collection of nearby boulders, while Mellia directs her mount to gallop forward in a bid to escape, but soon the sorceress and her steed are starting to sink in a treacherous bog! With boulders raining all around them, Markus heroically comes to Mellia aid and throws her a rope. Although her horse is lost, Mellia reaches solid land and is hoisted on to the back of Markus' mount. Meanwhile, Fargrim and Cain have great difficulty containing their untrained mounts as one of the hill giants charges towards them and begins swinging a massive club. Battered and bloodied, the two adventurers decide to trust in luck and allow their steeds to bolt while holding on for dear life. A timely taunt by Markus distracts the pursuing giant just long enough to allow everyone to escape.

As the group begins looking for a safe campsite, Mellia thanks Markus for his aid but reminds him that his shouting at the beginning of the encounter was not wise. The group agrees that if they see any more hill giants, they will immediately flee as silently as possible. Before turning in for the night, Fargrim continues practicing with his new urgosh and Mellia rehearses the gestures to hurl an exploding sphere of flame.

[25 Mirtul 1372]

The group cautiously continues east, making slow progress but avoiding any further threats. That night, while the others slumber, Mellia is visited by a strange, menacing figure that appears from out of a black fog. He tells her that the bones he has cast indicate she is on the correct path, and that she should remain with "these dolts". His auguries show that she is further along than the others he has sent forth, but that his foretellings show that a descent into darkness is necessary. With a last warning that she must succeed in order to secure the safety of her daughter, the figure disappears.

[26 Mirtul 1372]

In the morning, Mellia shares what had happened with the group. Fargrim is secretly relieved that he may not have accidentally fallen asleep while on watch, while Markus openly questions whether they should continue to aid an evil figure in obtaining something so potentially dangerous as the Crown of Horns, which legend says contains the essence of the vanquished god Myrkul. Mellia asks Cain about the origin of the strange nightmares he and Fargrim often have, but the cleric jokingly dismisses the subject. Fargrim is more candid and discusses the mysterious island they were shipwrecked on, as well as the tower of bones. Mellia speculates that the figure who has kidnapped her daughter may be an avatar or priest of Myrkul, hoping to restore the god's power.

The group continues heading east, and late in the afternoon see Startop Mountain in the distance. The mountain is not huge, but looms imposingly over an otherwise flat landscape. The white marble walls of a ruined castle can be seen at its rounded rim.

The adventurers find a concealed place to camp for the night. Markus suggests a potential name for the group: "Pilgrims of Fortune", but Mellia and Fargrim indicate an immediate dislike and the subject is dropped.

The night sky is filled with rain, thunder, and lightning as the four try to rest. Fargrim and Cain's dreams are unsettled with visions of a Dread Knight leading an army on Nesme from the south and a Witch-Queen overseeing the production of vile weapons.

[27 Mirtul 1372]

Cain and Fargrim wake up feeling little rested. The group discuss whether the nightmares are simply that, visions of what is actually happening, or prophecies of what may happen.

The group discuss how to approach Startop Mountain, which Cain recalls once featured a fortress built by Arden Brightheart. The group decide to wait until dark, leave their horses behind, and walk to the base of the mountain.  There, Markus and Mellia send their familiars around the perimeter of the mountain to check for guards or secret doors, but none are found. Mellia's weasel, Warren, excitedly indicates he has found something, but his discovery is revealed to simply be a wide wagon trail that begins to wind its way up the mountain. The group decides to return to camp and discuss what to do next.

Director's Commentary (March 4, 2014)

The guy who plays Markus is still teased to this day for having his character shout "Hill Giants!" and drawing their attention when the group had a fair chance to slip past while the giants were fighting each other.  A lesson that the group didn't learn from this session, that led to fatal ramifications in a recent session (I write this just after Session # 69) is that controlling mounts in battle is quite difficult if you haven't put any ranks into Ride.

We see a quick snapshot of the mysterious figure who has driven Mellia into searching for the Crown.  He makes another appearance several sessions down the line, and I think it's just about time he makes another appearance.  Rereading this, I find it funny that Markus questions the wisdom of turning an evil artifact over to the dark figure, as Fargrim and Mellia just had a big blow up about the very same thing approximately 45 sessions later!

The vision of the Dread Knight assaulting Nesme ended up coming true, as we'll see.

Perhaps the most important thing from this session is that the PCs finally reached Startop Mountain.  As others who have run Castle Whiterock have noted online, it's actually quite difficult to picture how the mountain and castle are supposed to fit together because it's simply not very clear from the materials.  I went for it being a small, dormant volcano with the castle perched on the lip of the volcano's caldera that had filled with water over time.  It seemed to work well enough, and hopefully no one thinks very hard about it!

Next Recap

Hell Frozen Over: Chapter Seven [BUFFY]


Angel walked carefully through the cemetery. It was well past midnight, and dawn lay only a few hours off. The entire night’s patrolling had been uneventful, and it looked like the cemetery was deserted. He was somewhat surprised but definitely not upset by this turn of events. He resolved to call it good and turn in for the day when he noticed that one of the newly installed grave markers was already cracked. It wasn’t unusual for vandals to go on tombstone-tipping sprees, but it was strange that only one would be broken in this whole area of the cemetery. Walking closer, he noticed that some of the tombstones seemed to be dripping. He looked up at the sky—no clouds, no rain.

He put a finger to the liquid to see what it was, but drew his hand back quickly when his fingers burned. He thrust his hand in his pocket and tried to wipe off as much of it as possible. No doubt it was holy water. Further investigation yielded several tiny wooden darts. He pocketed a few.

He wondered what was going on. Did Buffy stay in Sunnydale after all? This didn’t seem like her handiwork. Was another Slayer in town? He remembered with a shudder how Kendra had locked him in that cage, seconds away from being toasted by the sun before Slick Willy had rescued him. But no, Giles would know and would have mentioned it if another one had come to town. Whatever was going on, it was clear that someone—or something—was now prowling the streets of Sunnydale. Not that another vampire hunter would be bad, Angel thought to himself. As long as it realized that he was different than the others. But it was too late to do much more this night, and it was too early to talk to Giles. Maybe tomorrow he would look up some of his informants and see if they knew anything.

He walked wearily through the streets back to his place, too restless to sleep but too tired to do much of anything else. Patrolling wasn’t just walking around waiting for something to jump out at you. It meant carefully and silently making your way through deserted and often unlit places, with your senses always on edge and jumping a little at each cricket or car door slamming. A few hours of patrolling like this could fray the nerves and exhaust one’s patience. How did Buffy manage to patrol several nights a week and still attend a full slate of classes each day? That must be why she’ s always on edge.

Summer and early fall was always a frustrating time of the year for him—just eight or nine hours of darkness each night meant he had to spend the rest of the time cooped up in his room. Maybe I need a vacation to Alaska, he thought as he opened the door. Six months of 24-hour darkness. I would be just like anyone else there, able to go where I please, when I please. As long as I remembered to leave before the 24-hours of daylight kicked in. He climbed down the stairs to his basement apartment, unlocked the door and switched the lights on.

He dropped the bundle of stakes near the door and grabbed a book from the nightstand—Proust’s Swann’s Way—and reclined on the bed to try and relax. His apartment was spacious but largely spartan. Paintings of various styles from the past two-hundred years were on the walls, as were sculptures and knick-knacks he had picked up in his travels around the world. Small piles of books sat along the walls, and a few artificial plants hung from the ceiling.

There were no mirrors of course, and few photographs. One of them was of Buffy—her sophomore yearbook photo. In the picture, her hair was done up and she wore a goofy grin, but in spite of it all she was beautiful. He thought back to what Giles had told him about the night before, and remembered the conversation he had tried to have with Buffy the weekend those monster-eggs were taking over everyone’s bodies. He had tried to get her to think about the future, to confront reality. But she wouldn’t—it wasn’t that she was terrified of it, or didn’t care—but more like she just wanted to, or perhaps needed to, focus on what was now as opposed to what might happen someday.

He rolled over on his stomach and continued trying to read. He could remember reading the novel when it first came out in the original French, back when Proust had to publish it at his own expense because he couldn’t find a publisher. Normally it was engaging and helped pass the time. Tonight he just couldn’t seem to concentrate—something kept nagging at the back of his mind. Something was wrong. Something about his place was different. The smell, he realized, rolling over and jumping to his feet. Someone else had been here—recently!

“What did you mean when you said I should leave well enough alone?” whispered a voice from the doorway. Angel turned and saw that a tall, thick man was blocking the exit. He seemed to be around Giles’ age, but his face was contorted into pure rage. He wore a long coat, but underneath it Angel could tell he was wearing a shiny, metallic body suit of some kind. It seemed to be composed of small, flexible plates that overlapped one another. Was this one of Spike’s brood? Angel didn’t recognize the man, but his instincts told him he was dangerous.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Angel said carefully. “Have we met before?” Even with a great memory, one forgot a lot of faces after being alive for over two centuries.

Tintsman stood there silently. Someone like Angel was not who he expected to find. He always thought it would be some half-mad demonic vampire, or some foul, withered, bloodsucking old crone. Not some handsome young kid who looked barely old enough to run for student body president at a community college. He hesitated a second, before remembering what had been taken from him. He had traveled across the country to finally find this “Angel.” Hatred bubbled up inside him. Vampires were nothing but murderous leeches. And this—this filth has the gall to deny he was even a part of it, he thought. Maybe he’ s killed so many he can’ t even remember the recent ones.

“This is for Maggie and Katie.” He was so enraged he could barely vocalize the words, but his finger managed to find the trigger of the small pistol he was holding. Angel didn’t have time to consciously react as a jet of water shot across the room, but his instincts led him to dive out of the way just in time. He hit the floor hard, knocking over a lamp and plunging the room into semi-darkness. Only a few scant drops of the liquid had touched Angel’s skin, but by the burning sensation, he knew what it was.

Angel recovered quickly and jumped towards the man, kicking the pistol out of his hand. It didn’t fall, however, as it was connected by a hose to a container strapped to Tintsman’s back. Angel landed a solid punch to his attacker’s ribs but was knocked to the ground by a sudden backhand. He could hardly believe how strong his attacker was. No human can do that!

Angel watched as his attacker pulled another weapon from the coat—it looked like a rifle, but Angel knew it was no ordinary one. He dove under the bed and pushed up hard, knocking both frame and mattress on their side, forming a shield between him and this psycho who was after him. The spraying had stopped, but a strange clicking had started from the direction of the doorway. Smoke and the sound of gunshots filled the small room and Angel’s only defense was riddled by small wooden projectiles. One of the darts grazed him on the shoulder, taking a patch of skin along with it before hitting the wall behind him.

It was time for a strategic withdrawal, Angel realized. He pulled the bed back down to its normal position and rolled over, face down on the floor. Even a vampire didn’t live for over two hundred years without learning a few tricks, such as always having a second exit to any resting-place.

With one hand, the intruder flung the mattress and bed aside. A trapdoor was clearly visible underneath. He opened it and peered into the darkness within. “I’m coming for you Angel!” he shouted into it, but he knew it was too late. The vampire probably knew the tunnels below like the back of his foul hand, and he wouldn’t be coming back here anytime soon.

Tintsman stood up, his face contorted with rage. He holstered the small rifle and tried to calm himself down, but to no avail. So close! After all this time! He strode into the main room of the apartment purposefully and walked along the walls, sweeping artwork and knick-knacks to the ground as he went. Precious treasures that Angel had collected over the centuries were broken and ground into the floor. When almost everything in the room had been shattered, Tintsman stood in the center and looked around. He started to breathe again. I’ll simply have to find another way, he thought. Whatever it takes.


Saturday night was usually jumping at the Stop-On-Inn truckstop off Highway 322, and tonight was no different. Saturday was not only a popular travel day for weekend trips, it was also one of the few nights many locals came out for chicken fried steak, biscuits and gravy, and anything else one could rarely find in town after 10 p.m.

It was shortly before the witching hour that almost a dozen motorcycles roared in. Sam Mills, the night manager, stood there in a checkered shirt and baseball cap, watching them circle around the parking lot a few times before they stopped and removed their helmets. He wasn’t worried though—bikers had a much worse reputation than they usually deserved. Often they were more polite and better tippers than the townies, at least.

Most of the bikers headed for the front doors, but a few circled off around the back. All the customers looked up as they came in. Sam noticed that there was one in particular who stood out from the rest. Although dressed in jeans, T-shirt, and a leather vest like the others, there was something about him—some indescribable presence—that clearly marked him as their leader. He walked as though he was ready to order an army into battle or meet the Queen of England with equal ease. Striding in front of his followers, he stopped in the middle of the store. In front him was a long counter that separated the truck stop from the cooks and waitresses who worked there. Off to his right was a long row of booths, most of them filled, while off to his left were the packaged snacks and cheap souvenirs and trinkets one finds in every highway convenience store.

“Yes, this will do nicely,” Castillo said to one of his lieutenants behind him. Inwardly, he smiled. He had been spending far too much time in the office and at interminable meetings. Although it was obvious that power and money came much easier through politics and trading invisible pieces of invisible entities called “corporations,” there was simply something visceral about being on the hunt that could not be matched in the boardroom. Sometimes he longed for the Spain of his youth—prowling the alleyways for courtesans or noblewomen, leaping aboard ships and terrifying the crews just for the sheer joy of it. Yes, this was definitely something he needed to do more often.

He clapped his hands loudly, and every face in the store stared at him curiously. “Friends,” he began, loudly enough for everyone to hear “I am pleased to inform you that tonight is the very last night of your miserable, pathetic little lives on this earth. Now please, line yourselves up by height and then blood type.” Several of his companions guffawed behind him, while the customers didn’t seem to get the joke.

A shapely young waitress walked over. “Do you want a table or do you want to peddle your keesters out of here?” she called, as if she were wasting time by even being in their presence. In my day, we would have called her a ‘saucy wench,’ Castillo thought to himself. Why was it the most apt phrases always go out of style so soon? His hand lashed out, grabbing her around the waist. She gave a little startled cry as he pulled her off of her feet and pushed her to the waiting arms of his men. He paused and listened to the slurping and sucking sounds that were music to his ears.

The customers, who had assumed this was all some kind of stupid prank, changed their minds when they saw the waitress fall face down and hit the floor hard with a loud crack, the blood drained out of her. They panicked and ran for the exits. Castillo knew a dozen ways he could have handled tonight’s events without causing a stir—for example, he could have had his men wait patiently and ambush customers as they entered and exited the store, with none inside the wiser. But that missed the point—the tumult, the confusion, the panic, the terror, the screams—that was what made being a vampire fun! And what would eternal life be, if it wasn’ t fun? Castillo thought rhetorically as his men fanned out and began tearing the place apart while picking out their prey. With all of the exits blocked, many of the customers formed themselves in a small bunch towards the side of the store as the vampires advanced.

Sam Mills had seen various incarnations of Dracula on late-night cable enough times to know what had to be done. He wasn’t a hero--but he wasn’t about to let himself be torn apart by vampires either. He decided to risk it and sprinted for the souvenir section of the store, feeling triumphant when he reached the display of imitation- gilded crosses. Grasping the largest one he could find, Sam thrust it bravely in front of him as Castillo walked over with a thin smile.

“Back demon of the night! Back by all that is uh . . . holy!” Sam shouted, trying to remember what exactly it was that Dr. Van Helsing always said.

Castillo chuckled softly as he walked right up to Sam and grasped the cross without hesitation. He gently pulled it out of Sam’s hand and crushed it into a ball and tossed it on the floor. It slid into the base of a postcard display before stopping. Castillo shook his head slowly, for he knew what all humans--and even most vampires-- did not: disbelief could be as powerful as belief. There was nothing intrinsically powerful about a cross that harmed vampires; instead it was the fact that a person’s mental and spiritual energies were being focused into the cross that was important, much the same as it was the residue of these energies that kept a vampire from entering a domicile uninvited. When these energies were focused into a tangible object, that was what gave a vampire pause and could even harm them. Thus, a Jewish person could focus on a Star of David, a Muslim on a crescent and star pendant, or, for that matter, a skeptic on a volume of Hume. In this case, Sam’s faith was nothing compared to Castillo’s disbelief.

Castillo looked up and realized he had simply been standing there thinking, while all of his men were staring at him expectantly and Sam was trembling in shock. Castillo extended his thumb and index finger, as if to pinch something in the air, and then in a flash jammed them into Sam’s neck. He pulled out Sam’s carotid artery and began to suck from it as if it were a straw, as the humans eyes closed for the last time.

Blood Lite. Tastes great, less filling, Castillo almost said out loud before catching himself. Despite all of his precautions, the relentless American drive to commercialize and advertise everything was getting to him. The thought made him shudder, and he resolved to have all channels except PBS permanently blocked.

The entire truckstop burned as Castillo and his men road away to the west. Once the flames reached the underground gas tanks, there would nothing left to identify what had happened. Not that it mattered much, Castillo knew. No matter how obvious it was that vampires had attacked, the authorities invariably came up with serial killers, drugs, or Satan-worshipping cults as the cause.

They rode for several more hours in the cool night air before turning into a rest stop. There lay two large, black semi-trucks with their cargo doors opened and ramps extended. The bikers slowed down and rode their cycles up the ramps and into the darkened holds. Here they would rest during the daylight while the trucks took them farther west.

“Have them hurry,” Castillo said to one of his men, indicating the cab of the semi. “I want to be at Arctic Ridge by tomorrow night. The Slayer is no doubt there already, and I don’t want her to leave without us being there to send her off appropriately.”


Several hundred miles and a nearly a dozen states away, another black semi-truck pulled into Sunnydale’s small warehouse district. It stopped in front of a low, brown warehouse on the edge of the town. Just as the rear doors of the semi opened and several men in blue uniforms jumped down to unload it, the huge double-doors of the warehouse slowly pushed open as well.

“You’re late,” said a man standing within the doorway of the warehouse. “You’d better hurry. Dawn is in less than an hour.” He carefully wiped the dust off his hands with a handkerchief, careful not to get any on his suit.

“Why don’t you stop yapping and start helping,” retorted one of the men struggling with a large container. Each crate was marked “FRAGILE—SENSITIVE ELECTRONIC EQUIPMENT” and “ELECTROTECH, INC.”

“Because I don’t have to worry about bursting into flame or disintegrating into ash or whatever it is that you do when the sun comes up,” the man, Wittingstone, said snidely. “And besides, moving the equipment is your job. My job was to watch the Slayer, find us a base, track down your preliminary target for tomorrow night, and eventually prepare for the final demonstration. As you can see, I am simply much too busy to engage in manual labor.”

When the truck had been unloaded and had driven off, the movers sat in a semi-circle on the floor of the warehouse as Wittingstone handled each of them a manila folder labeled “DOSSIER—CONFIDENTIAL.”

“Inside,” he said, “you will everything we have on your target for tomorrow night.”

“I don’t get it,” said one of the men, flipping through his folder quickly. “The boss didn’t send four of us for this guy!”

“We had anticipated one or two more targets. But still, even alone I wouldn’t underestimate him. Mr. Castillo is simply being prudent, as always. This ‘Rupert Giles’ is reputed to be quite resourceful. Not only is he the Watcher for one of the most powerful Slayers in history, he is also rumored to be quite skilled in sorcery.”

“Worse yet, he’s a librarian!” snickered one of the men.

Wittingstone sneered at him disdainfully. He was not a humorous man, and he despised insolence. “In any event,” he continued, ”I will return this evening with our target’s final location.” He nodded and walked towards a small door in the back of the warehouse. He was careful to open it only enough to squeeze through, so as not to flood the place with sunlight.

Next Chapter

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Deadly Foes of Spider-Man [COMICS]

The Deadly Foes of Spider-Man

This 1991 limited series was an interesting (though probably unsuccessful) attempt to better develop Spider-Man's second- and third- string super-villains:  the Rhino, Hydro-Man, Shocker, Boomerang, the Beetle, and  Speed Demon (I barely remembered this last guy, despite 25 years of reading Marvel comics off and on; let's call him fourth-string!).  The focus is definitely on the villains and their personalities, though of course they do come into conflict with Spider-Man for at least a few pages every issue; he's the guy selling the book!

In issue # 1, we see how the Beetle, in debt to Kingpin for his early release from prison, organizes the other super-villains (except the Shocker, who is still incarcerated) into forming the Sinister Syndicate to pull a heist.  Spider-Man intervenes, but the group actually manage to defeat him and make off with the loot (except for Boomerang, who is captured).  The Beetle's not particularly popular when the others realize all the proceeds have to be turned over to the Kingpin, but he manages to persuade them to try another job now that the Kingpin has been paid off.

In issue # 2, the Sinister Syndicate try to free Boomerang from the courthouse where he's being tried, but the plan fails.  Boomerang's girlfriend, Leila Davis, is introduced as the planned getaway driver, but it's clear she has mysterious ulterior motives for hanging around the group.  The villains escape the failed rescue attempt, though Rhino decides to leave the group as his only focus is to get his armor removed.

In issue # 3, Spider-Man defuses a bomb set by Beetle and saves the life of a district attorney.  In prison, Herman Schultz (a.k.a., the Shocker) helps Boomerang escape.  Leila's true purpose for infiltrating the group is revealed, and it's a doozy: in a bit of what (I think) is ret-conning, it turns out that the Beetle was responsible for constantly humiliating the costumed super-villain The Ringer, and that this motivated him to stay in the business and be assassinated by the Scourge; Leila was The Ringer's wife, and wants to get revenge on Beetle for her husband's death!  It's a bit of a roundabout way of doing it, but okay.

Issue # 4 involves a battle between what has become two factions of the Sinister Syndicate: Leila, Rhino, and Boomerang versus Beetle, Speed Demon, and Hydro-Man.  Spider-Man, as is his way, intervenes to keep the city from being wrecked.  The battle causes such mayhem and destruction, it leads to rioting and general anarchy.  It turns out, this was all arranged as a clever plan by the Kingpin to cause such a distraction that his operatives could sneak into police headquarters and steal a disk containing the names of all of law enforcement's undercover operatives!  He gets away with it too, which is not something that happens often in comics.  As an epilogue, Rhino finally succeeds in getting his armor removed; but he finds his new, mundane life so boring, that he asks Justin Hammer for a new one!

It was an odd choice to build the central plot of the series around a revenge quest by the wife of a rather obscure, dead super-villain (I actually kinda liked the Ringer after reading about him in the OHTMU: Book of the Dead & even picked up his first appearance, but still).  I do like the idea of developing the personalities and motivations of some of Spidey's less famous villains, and to a degree this was successful: Speed Demon is a would-be ladies' man, Rhino just can't figure out how to live without the excitement of crime, the Shocker is terrified of being murdered by the Scourge, etc.  The more these characters become more than costumes and powers, the better the Marvel Universe becomes.

All in all, an average book that sold well enough to earn a sequel.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Wrath of Ashardalon Adventure # 2: "Monster Hunt"

I think this was one of the easiest adventures we've ever done.  The Wife's a fan of using all five heroes whenever available, so taking out twelve monsters was a snap.  By focussing on killing monsters, we got plenty of XP to cancel the occasionally problematic encounter cards.  The special abilities of certain monsters that are usually quite dangerous, like the keyword Sentry monsters and the Legion Devils, actually proved really helpful in speeding gameplay along.  We took out twelve monsters, but I think we could've handled 24!

Maybe this is one of those adventures that doesn't scale well, and would be much harder with fewer heroes . . .

Next Adventure

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Wrath of Ashardalon Adventure # 1: "A Day in the Life of a Hero"

I admit it: after completing Castle Ravenloft, The Wife and I were a bit cocky about starting Wrath of Ashardalon.  And for the first mission, what could be easier than the standard "turn tiles over until you find the exit" adventure?  Well, the first time through we got schooled--badly!  First of all, playing a solo hero isn't something we had done in a long, long time.  Second, the new keyword "Sentry" monsters kicked the crap out of us; these are monsters that, if on a tile with an unexplored edge, require you to place a new tile from the bottom of the stack along with a new monster.  We weren't prepared for this and it led to a huge number of monsters slowly chasing us from behind.  When we did finally find the Kobold Dragonlord, we were attacked from the front and the back.

We were better prepared on our second time through.  We still decided to mostly run from mundane monsters, but we were careful to put a lot more distance between us and them, and we had better luck with fewer Sentry monsters.  The Dragonlord himself wasn't too tough for our Elven Paladin.

Definitely pleased so far with the new game; it has some interesting monster abilities, some clever new traps, and enough going for it to keep it from seeming like an exact copy of Castle Ravenloft.

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Buffy Comic Project: "Remember the End"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 38

(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, Spike, Dawn, Xander, Giles, Anya, Tara, Willow

Major Original Characters:  Yuki Makimura (vampire); Shiden (mentor)


Spike tries to warn Buffy about the dangers posed by Yuki, but Buffy thinks it's just part of the trap and refuses to listen.  At his construction site, Xander is attacked and kidnapped by several vampires sent by Yuki.  At the Magic Box, the remaining Scoobies discuss what to do about Yuki and the Eidu sect's plan to restore the Master to life by summoning his spirit from the astral plane and placing it into the body of a mortal.  Anya suggests using a vapour blade to kill the Master's spirit.  The Scoobies find the cult's hiding place in the ruins of Sunnydale High and attack, realizing that Xander was to be the receptacle for the Master's spirit!  Willow and Tara cast a spell to keep the spirit from entering Xander's body, and Dawn picks up the fallen vapour blade and uses it to kill (or dispel?) the Master's astral form.  Buffy stakes Yuki and punches out Spike for his ambiguous role in the events.


Fairly standard "interrupt the summoning ritual" stuff.  The twist about it being the Master's astral spirit was a nice touch (far better than just a generic demon).  Solid characterization throughout, and good artwork.  On the whole, though, nothing we haven't seen before and somewhat underwhelming given the story arc's promising first issue.  The theme about Dawn's false memories gets something of a payoff, but could be better.  I really think that the comic writers work so hard to recreate the feel of an episode that their stories end up derivative, and that they've usually missed a golden opportunity to use the medium to its fullest effect.


* Really cool artwork on the cover--something I often don't pay much attention to.

* Funny that Anya just so happens to have a vapour blade laying around  . . .

* There's a really weird series of panels at the bottom of the first Magic Box scene, where the focus is on Giles' hands; not really sure why.

*  On the letters' page, the editor, Scott Allie, says this is his favorite story arc yet and that, when it was being created, he felt like "we were creating a new Watchmen or Dark Knight."  Scott, Scott, Scott.

Next Issue

Sunday, June 2, 2013

RealmsToowoomba Recap # 23 [RPG]

[22 Mirtul 1372]

As the group walks back to Nesme, Mellia is clearly annoyed and says little.  Markus mentions to Cain his suspicion that undead abominations are drawn to the group, and inquires about the process for making holy water. Cain replies that for him it is possible, but expensive. Markus mentions having had alchemy lessons from his father long ago, and suggests the possibility of crafting so-called "alchemist's fire" as a potential alternative. The two go on to discuss whether their foray into Arden Brightheart's tomb constituted grave robbing, and how to go about discovering the functions of magical items.

The adventurers, still unable to decide on a name, encounter a group of the Tyran faithful making a pilgramage to Brightheart's resting place. Speaking eloquently of the dangers to be encountered there, Markus persuades the pilgrims to return to Nesme and wait for brave warrior-priests to cleanse the haunted place. He also turns over the mace inscribed with the Tyran mark to them.

Upon approaching the hastily rebuilt walls of Nesme, the group see a long line of sellswords and adventurers waiting to turn over their trophy heads in exchange for a bounty payment. The Red Ravens are in the line, with the rotund Neville Robideaux practising with his rapier. He looks surprisingly agile and skilled. As the group passes through the city gates, a herald trumpets the announcement that First Speaker Tessarin Alaurin has proclaimed that any faith may practice openly within Nesme, provided they agree to take part in its
defence and, except for that purpose, cast no harmful spells within the city or within sight of its walls. The announcement is met with dismay by some passerby, but is seen as a sign of just how drastically the city needs to recruit newcomers to help defend it.

While Mellia returns to the boarding house, the other three find themselves at a large, warehouse-sized establishment named Tantor's Outfitting just before dusk. Tantor, the proprietor, has a deep, booming voice and jocular manner, and does a nice end-of-day business as he sells a longbow to Markus, brass knuckles and an urgosh to Fargrim, and a shield to Cain. He offers to sell an enchanted map which, he says, will also show the bearer's present location, but his asking price (2,000 gp) is reluctantly determined to be too steep.

As the trio leave, a messenger boy brings them a letter from Mellia. In the letter, Mellia states that her daughter has been kidnapped by a mysterious sorcerer in black, who has demanded from her the "Crown of Horns" in return for the child's release. The letter goes on to explain that the reason she originally sought the group out was because the sorcerer's auguries indicated joining them was the path most propitious to lead her to the Crown. The missive concludes by stating that Mellia is willing to aid the group in its current quest to find the bandit Grim, but in return she needs their commitment to helping her find the Crown of Horns. If they agree, they are to meet her at the city gates the next morning. Otherwise, she will go her own way.

On the way back to the boarding house, the trio encounter a cleric of Loviatar, the Goddess of Pain, taking advantage of the new amnesty by openly admonishing initiates into the faith. The trio quickly depart, disgusted.

[23 Mirtul 1372]

The next morning, Cain hurries to the city gates to assure Mellia of the trio's willingness to aid her in rescuing her daughter. During a brief visit to the Pride of the North festhall (where the pilgrims to Tyr have been allowed to rest overnight), Markus learns that the pilgrims have agreed to send a request for warrior-priests but they have no idea whether one will be sent or how long it will take. When Markus and Fargrim join the others at the city gates, the group decides to continue on to Startop Mountain and hope to find some clues to the Crown's whereabouts along the way.

Although no trail leads to Startop Mountain, Fargrim memorized its location relative to Nesme when he saw Tessarin Alaurin's map. Heading due east, the group makes good time as their mounts have little difficulty on the barren, solid moor. During a meal break, however, an astonishing spectacle takes place when a massive, ten-feet long, six-legged, 800 lb. creature emerges from the ground and sinks its mandibles into Markus! He recognizes the creature as a rare burrowing monster called an ankheg, but his rapier seems to have little effect on it.

Mellia devastates the ankheg with a fiery ray, but her second attempt misses.  Cain tries to charge into the battle, but he trips over a root and lands face first on the ground! Fortunately, Fargrim manages to get a feel for fighting with his new urgosh and fells the monster. That evening, the group sets up camp high on a rocky tor to avoid further attacks from below.

[24 Mirtul 1372]

Led by Fargrim, the group decides to move more slowly and cautiously in the hopes of avoiding further trouble. The adventurers have Beshaba's luck, however, and a peaceful day is not to be had. Before they realize it, the group finds itself in the middle of a battle between two hill giants. With massive boulders raining down around them, with the adventurers fight or flee?
Director's Commentary (Feb. 13, 2014)

Markus mentions an interest in alchemy in this session, and the player who runs him was briefly very interested in the idea and did a lot of research on the topic.  However, it never really came up again.  I think one of the things the player struggled with in running Markus is that the character was designed to be great at one thing--disarming.  He was great at it, but in contexts when that wasn't possible (such as against creatures with natural weapons), doing 1d6 damage with a rapier didn't seem all that effective.  Thus, we'll see the character eventually learn some magic and take a very interesting prestige class to accompany his sword-swinging ways.

The seemingly minor plot point of Nesme deciding to welcome in even evil faiths to help defend it was, I think, initially just a way of showing how desperate the city was.  However, I was able to build upon the idea and link it to the followers of Auril, the goddess of ice eventually rising to power in the city as a result of the PCs disinterest in seeking out and destroying the leaders of the undead forces that were taking control of the Evermoors.  The idea of using Auril came quite naturally since Cain's faith is Kossuth, the god of elemental fire.  As I write this, circa Session # 66, this conflict between the two faiths is about to come to an exciting clash.

The letter Mellia wrote to the group was an important one, as the character revealed the real reason she had joined the group: to find the Crown of Horns in order to rescue her daughter.  She gains the commitment of Markus, Cain, and Fargrim to aid her on this quest, and this commitment becomes an important theme that will recur throughout the campaign.

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