Sunday, July 21, 2013

Realms Toowoomba Recap # 26 [RPG]

[30 Mirtul 1372]

At their campsite near Startop Mountain, the adventurers discuss the best way to make their second incursion into the castle. Mellia suggests that perhaps hit-and-run tactics would be best, but Markus worries that the more time the slavers are given, the better traps and ambushes they'll be able to prepare. He also says that the group was too quick to retreat during their first attack, a proposition with which Mellia disagrees. Other options are discussed and the three males are inclined to make a frontal assault. Mellia is quite reluctant and says she'll follow at the rear, leading Markus into a rare outburst "We're doing this for you!" he says. "Why are you so resistant?" As the conversation continues, Cain casts a beckoning spell that will send an intangible hand to find Melchor and annoy him.

As the group begins moving and starts climbing the trail that winds around Startop Mountain, a cold drizzle begins. The group prepares a parley flag, but when they reach the top of the mountain and enter the long stone tunnel leading to the keep, Fargrim realizes the tunnel floors and walls are coated with oil--much like the slavers did in their hideout southeast of Mirabar. Cain uses the wick from his lantern to set the oil ablaze, and thick smoke billows out of the tunnel as the flames race to the far side and disappear.

Once the flames have died out, the group continues through the tunnel. When they reach the guardhouse at the far end, Fargrim calls out that he wishes to speak to Grim. After some attempts at dissembling, the guards respond that Grim has stated that if anyone wishes to speak with him, they need to earn it.  Markus uses a telekinetic spell to move bundles of dry straw up against the barred door on the far side of the gatehouse and sets the bundles on fire with a flaming arrow. Soon, the door is aflame and the adventurers are able to burst through it into a large courtyard. Arrows rain down on them from the roof of the gatehouse, but Markus fells one with well-placed arrow and Fargrim charges up a ladder to cut down the other.

Next to the gatehouse are two long, low buildings that are open on each end: stables. Markus and Mellia investigate the stables, while Fargrim scouts ahead. Cain notices a long rope trailing from a high tower, and sets it on fire. When Fargrim reports several tents have been set up in the courtyard with little of interest inside, Cain sets them ablaze as well. Meanwhile, inside the stable, Markus and Mellia find over a dozen mounts and two wagons. The pair look inside one of the wagons to see a steel cage bolted to the floor, with empty manacles dangling from the bars of the cage. Markus sets all of the horses free, and they scatter.

Fargrim's exploration through the courtyard shows many piles of debris, isolated sections of interior castle walls, a fallen tower (still mostly intact), and a huge lake in the interior crater of the presumably extinct volcano that is Startop Mountain. He also sees, in the center of the courtyard, a relatively intact keep. Summoning the others, Fargrim bangs on the doors of the keep and then realizes they are not locked. He pushes them open to reveal the keep's main hall, with doors and passages off to each side. At the far end of the hall, flanked by a pair of slavers, stands Grim!

Fargrim strides boldly past the doorway and states that he has two questions for Grim: where is Bearos and why did Grim let Fargrim live? Grim replies coolly that Bearos is below in the Bleak Theater, and that he let Fargrim live because he wanted to see if there would be anyone worthy enough to challenge him. When Grim is finished speaking, Fargrim grips his massive greataxe, gives a battle-cry, and charges forward towards Grim. Crossbow bolts and arrows fired by hidden enemies pepper the dwarf, but, undaunted, he continues running.  Shrugging off a deep cut from Grim's longsword, Fargrim brings his axe down in a long, wide arc and buries it deep in Grim's side! The surprised bandit leader collapses to the ground without even time for final words.

Two of Grim's men immediately flee, but the others are rallied by Ikenvar, a massive half-orc who served as Grim's second-in-command, and Melchor, the decadent monk the adventurers fought outside of Nesme. Markus and Cain come to Fargrim's aid, as the dwarf has fallen to his knees in an almost stunned state after the enormity of his finally achieving vengeance on Grim washes over him.  Mellia decides to take a risk and launches a fireball spell over the assembled combatants, burning Melchor to death and leaving Grim a charred corpse. Ikenvar tries to battle on, but he soon falls beneath Markus' rapier, Cain's mace, and
Mellia's crossbow bolts. Soon, all of the slavers have either fled or are dead.

Markus proceeds to search Grim's body, finding a pair of rings, some armor, and quite fine weaponry. Cain does the same with Ikenvar, burning his hands on a sword which he wraps carefully in cloth. Mellia proceeds to search an adjoining room, and, after scaring away a slaver, finds some gems, a scrap of paper bearing the words "Feldspar House", and a secret door. Fargrim, meanwhile, lifts Grim's body in his arms and begins heading towards the lake.
Director's Commentary (April 15, 2014)

This session was one of the most important in the campaign so far, for an obvious reason: the big showdown between Fargrim and Grim!  Grim, the bandit leader, was not only a prime target of vengeance based on events in Fargrim's backstory, but the kidnapping of Bearos was further motivation for a final confrontation.  I love the cinematic image of Fargrim charging through the keep as arrows and bolts pour into him from every angle before smashing his greataxe down on Grim.  In mechanical terms, the bandits had readied actions to fire, and Fargrim's player used his once-a-year Red Chip to get an automatic critical hit with maximum damage.  It was damned exciting, and the fact that Fargrim barely survived the battle that continued to rage around him kept the showdown from being anticlimactic even though it happened so quickly.  I certainly wasn't expecting it to go down that way--I had further developments planned if Grim managed to escape--but I couldn't complain. It was good stuff.  Fargrim's player also did a fantastic job role-playing the emptiness and shock that came with achieving everything that had been driving him forward for so long.  It's rare to see gamers able to handle complex emotions and do it so well.

Next Recap

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Buffy Comic Project: "Night of a Thousand Vampires"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 39

(Dark Horse Volume 1, 1998-2003)

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

Setting:  Season Five

T.V. Character Appearances:  Buffy, Willow, Xander, Anya, Tara, Giles, Dawn

Major Original Characters:  Verena's Mom (bereaved mother)

Summary:  It is shortly after Joyce's funeral, and Buffy is understandably quite sad.  The other Scoobies meet to discuss how to cheer her up, but no one has any solutions.  Meanwhile, the mother of a young woman named Verena, who died during an altercation with Buffy months ago, seeks revenge on the Slayer.  The bereaved mother has assembled a basement full of corpses, and, using a book written by occult scientist Dr. Flitter, plans to perform a ritual to reanimate them all simultaneously as vampires.  However, the woman accidentally loses the mystical device that triggers the reanimation by dropping it on the sidewalk in front of her house.  Buffy stumbles across the device and accidentally triggers it early, which means the corpses animate before they are fully formed.  The creatures then storm out of the house and attack Buffy.  She manages to stake all 30+ of them (!).  Verena's mom confronts Buffy at gunpoint and blames her for her daughter's death.  Buffy refuses to accept blame, and after a vampire sinks its fangs into Verena's mom's neck, Buffy stakes her.  Sometime later, Buffy and her friends lay flowers at Joyce's grave.


A done-in-one issue, something the series had mostly been avoiding.  I liked it though, and thought it served as a nice follow-up to Joyce's death.  The writers are able to layer the emotion into the story effectively, and the parallel with Buffy fighting a bereaved mother, while perhaps heavy-handed, was effective.  The scenes with Buffy's friends trying to figure out how to console were in-character, as was Buffy herself.  The last page is quite touching, and serves as a nice send-off to Joyce.  I have a couple of quibbles in the Notes section below, but all in all one of the best issues of the series up to this point.


*  The character of Verena originally appeared in Buffy # 28 (she was the wanna-be vampire who ended up getting killed by Baron Samedi).

* I liked the tie-in to Dr. Flitter, who hadn't been seen in the series since his abduction by Spike & Dru in Buffy # 19 (though he may have appeared in other titles).

* Anya mentions she was once the partner of a grief demon, and that since she was a vengeance demon the two made a great team.

* Not a fan of the art cover's return to the cartoony style, especially for a story like this!

*  There's a funny missive on the letters' page from a fellow in Greece.  He says they don't get much American t.v. over there, so when he saw the Buffy comic on the stands he was quite surprised that someone would bother publishing a tie-in to a movie that came out years before . . .

* Quite a coincidence that Buffy just happens to be passing by Verena's mom's house and finds the mystical thingamajig and activates it.

* The death of Verena's mom doesn't really make sense giving what we know about how vampires operate in the Buffy-verse.  She's bitten by a vampire and then dusted by Buffy literally seconds later, but of course it's been established since the show began that bites alone do not spread vampirism (the recipient has to drink the vampire's blood as well).

* The solicitation for this issue (available on, for example) is quite different than the actual story.  In the solicitation, Buffy accidentally opens a portal to a prison dimension and releases a horde of vampires.

Next Issue

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Damage Control (Volume 2 1989) [COMICS]

A couple of months back, I talked about the first Damage Control limited series.  The world's best superhero-damage reconstruction firm came back for a second limited series shortly after the first was finished (there was also a third but, alas, I don't have it).  This second epic series tied in to Marvel's Acts of Vengeance company-wide crossover, as the Damage Control crew are tasked with cleaning up the mess caused during all of those fights.  An overarching story between the issues has to do with Damage Control's ownership.

In Issue #1, it's revealed that the owners of Damage Control were Tony Stark and the infamous Kingpin of Crime!  (that must've been an awkward shareholders' meeting . . .).  The two decide to sell the company to a corporation named Carlton.  Damage Control's long-time boss, Mrs. Hoag, leaves to take a seat on the Commission for Superhuman Activities, leaving Robin Chapel to take her place.  Meanwhile, the Wrecking Crew escape from the damaged Vault despite Damage Control's presence and Captain America's assistance.  It's not laugh-out loud funny, but I did smile a few times.

Issue # 2 guest stars (yes, it's a trend) the Punisher.  He's investigating Damage Control due to the Kingpin's former involvement in the business, which is fine, but he's written very poorly: completely obtuse, taking hostages, and more.  I was a big Punisher fan "back in the day", so I like to see Frank treated better.  Other guest stars include She-Hulk, Jarvis, Captain America, and Speedball, as Damage Control works to lift the sunken Avengers Mansion back to the surface.  The new Carlton Company, however, are real jerks, leading Damage Control's construction staff to go on strike!

In Issue # 3, things go away as an accident leads Damage Control to accidentally drop Avengers Mansion back in the water.  Robbie Baldwin (Speedball) takes a job at Damage Control as an intern, and She-Hulk appears again with her John Byrne shtick of thinking she's in a comic book and addressing the readers directly; I was never a big fan of the idea as it takes the reader away from enjoying the shared Marvel Universe, but writer Dwayne McDuffie handles it really well: She-Hulk, in a battle against a fired Damage Control employee in a robot battle-suit, keeps destroying the walls of a building until it collapses all around her.  One of the observers opines, "No matter how many times I tell them, they never learn.  If you break the fourth wall, the whole structure falls apart on you."

Issue # 4 is also filled with guest stars, most prominently Nick Fury as he works with Mrs. Hoag to oust Carlton Company as owners and settle the strike.  It turns out that Carlton Co. were taking loans from the Kingpin.  Meanwhile, there's a  new supervillain "Dittomaster", who impersonates Henry Gyrich on the Commission of Superhuman Activities, but he's caught within 3 pages of his first appearance, so I can't imagine he has much of a career ahead of him.

Overall, I think the writing is still pretty decent on the second limited series, but the interior artwork is rather shoddy.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

RealmsToowoomba Recap # 25 [RPG]

[27 Mirtul 1372]

At camp, the group decides to discuss their options for Startop Mountain.  Various ideas are proposed, including a frontal assault, luring Grim out for a duel, sending Fargrim in alone and invisible, and more. Eventually, the consensus is to climb the trail at nightfall with Fargrim leading the way with his darkvision and then trying to sneak in and find Grim.

[28 Mirtul 1372]

During the night, Fargrim has terrible nightmares of the inhabitants of Nesme being slaughtered by undead hordes and wakes up feeling exhausted. Fortunately, Cain has discovered a way to temporarily attenuate the effects of fatigue.

The group decide to stay in camp during the day in order to climb Startop Mountain at night. Cain tries his hand at hunting but comes back empty-handed.

That night, the group climb the winding trail up Startop Mountain. It takes several hours for them to close in on the summit, and soon the worn path leads into a man-made stone tunnel about 40' long. Moving through it cautiously, the group reach a stout wooden door at the end. Mellia uses a spell to unlock the door, but doing so causes a very audible click. After everyone prepares for battle, Fargrim slams the door open. Markus charges in to an empty stone chamber with a pair of double-doors at the far end. Before he can react, arrows suddenly land all around him and one grazes his shoulder. Cain realizes there are murder holes in the ceiling just as the double-doors open and two men dressed as monks charge through wielding quarterstaffs. Fargrim quickly dispatches one of them, while Cain throws one of the clay pots he obtained after the battle outside Nesme at the other. It shatters and releases a terrible stench, sickening the man and forcing him to flee. The escapee shuts and bars the double-doors behind him, leaving the adventurers to face arrows and
stench-pots from above.

Cain staunches the bleeding of the fallen defender and drags his body out of the chamber and back to the tunnel. Fargrim tries to parley with the figures he knows are on the roof of the chamber, announcing himself and demanding to see Grim. They reply that they are peaceful clerics and that they won't give in to this murderous assault. The group decide to retreat, taking their new prisoner with them to their campsite west of the mountain.

That night, Fargrim suffers strange nightmares about a massive darkened form stirring, wearing a horned circlet. He gets a sense that the source of all of his troubles are to the east.

[29 Mirtul 1372]

The group decide to interrogate their prisoner. Cain brings the man back to consciousness through careful application of healing magic, and Mellia channels her own arcane ability to detect the captive's thoughts while Fargrim questions him. Although the prisoner, Vortuitas, initially tries to be evasive and claims he is a monk, his lies are quickly detected and he decides to trade the truth for his life. He acknowledges to serving as a guard in the slaving operation that has a base atop Startop Mountain. He provides a rough layout of the base
and an estimate of the defenders' numbers. He states that the group is led by the rarely-present Grim, with a massive half-orc named Iskenvar as second-in-command and a "creepy" man named Melchor in charge of the caravans.  He claims never to have seen Grim, but says he suspects the mastermind behind the operation may be on site as he had heard the man was racing to get to Startop before "the dwarf". He indicates that the operation sells slaves to a variety of purchasers: an orc tribe underneath Startop Castle; a witch who runs
a weapons-making operation in the center of the Evermoors; and, most recently, a small tribe of Frost Giants who are pushing into the area. He claims not to know what any of these groups use the slaves for. Having extracted several useful bits of information, the group allows Vortuitas to go, and the wounded man stumbles away to the west.

The group decide to move their camp east of the mountain, acting on a suspicion that they may have pinpointed the source of the nightmarish events indicated in Cain's and Fargrim's nightmares. That night, Fargrim's nightmares are of a witch-queen overseeing vast cauldrons smelting a strange, bubbling toxic brew
that emanates from a rift in the ground into strange-looking weaponry. He feels that the true source of all this evil is to the west.

[30 Mirtul 1372]

When Fargrim tells the group of his dreams, the group reaches the conclusion that Startop Mountain may be the key to their quest. They decide a return trip is necessary.

Director's Commentary (March 28, 2014)

The group's first foray into Startop Castle is a push; they're injured and forced to retreat, but they cannily take an unconscious foe with them for interrogation.  The move allowed the PCs to confirm that they have the right place to find Grim.  The combat scene in the guardroom was pretty fun, as I'd never used murder holes before and they presented a good challenge.  The PCs by this time were a few levels higher than the designers planned, so I knew the slavers wouldn't win a sustained engagement.

Fargrim's nightmares continue to be helpful in providing some picture of the overall plot.  Not only do they foreshadow the undead siege of Nesme, point a clue to where the Forge is, but they give the PCs confidence that Startop Mountain is the key to finding the Crown of Horns.

Next Recap

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Wrath of Ashardalon Adventure # 3: Roghar's Gear

The heroes are tasked with venturing into the dungeons beneath Firestorm Peak to retrieve the pack of an injured adventurer, Roghar.  What the hell is in his pack that's worth risking lives for?  We'll never know!

This is a pretty standard adventure, with the usual key being to move through the tiles reasonably quickly so the party turns over the vault tile before getting too worn down by monsters and encounters.  I imagine the two monsters drawn as the guardians of the vault could make the adventurer much tougher if there's some bad luck; we got easy ones and finished the adventure on the first try (even though it took so long to turn over the vault tile that I was partially convinced we hadn't placed it in the right place in the stack!).

Next Adventure