Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Buffy Comic Project: "Ugly Little Monsters, Part III"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 42

Dark Horse (Volume 1, 1998-2003)

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

Setting:  Season Five

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

Major Original Characters:  None

Summary:  Buffy tracks down Spike at Willy's Bar and angrily confronts him about Ezekiel's Bane.  Buffy thinks the magical item is related to the attacks by the jealousy-inducing Avendschrook demons, but Spike explains that there is no relationship and that he sold the Bane to a woman named Coma.  He goes on to say that Avendschrook demons are rare and have to be called forth by some sort of catalyst.  Meanwhile, back at the Magic Box, Giles, Xander, and Anya conduct an inventory and discern that vials of videer dust and a small statuette have gone missing.  Anya says it must have been Willow taking them, and Xander agrees and says he's sick of Giles playing favorites.  Angry shouting begins as the Avendschrook watch gleefully!  Elsewhere, Tara explains to Willow that the spell she had cast earlier was a temperance spell that didn't work.  Willow tells her Xander and the others were mean to her because they're jealous of their love.  When they arrive at the Magic Box, Willow and Tara square off against Xander and Anya, all four of them mystically influenced by the Avendschrook.  Buffy and Spike arrive during the fighting, and Giles realizes it must have been a broken bottle of videer dust that summoned the demons.  The power of the spilled regeant wanes, however, and Spike takes the last remaining bottle for safekeeping.  He chastises the others for being overcome by their emotions and for being hypocritical in condemning him for being a vampire when he's the only one with self-control.  Dawn arrives and tells Spike he needs to be more trustworthy, and Spike says he will if she stops sneaking around and listens to Buffy.


A let-down conclusion to the trilogy after a strong first couple of issues.  The big confrontation in the Magic Box falls flat, as does the sudden realization that spilled "videer dust" is the reason the Avendschrook arrived.  I think Spike's big speech is supposed to be impactful, but again it didn't do a lot for me.  It wasn't out of character, per se, and I guess Spike is trying to get the Scoobies to see him differently throughout part of Season Five.  So all in all, a couple of funny moments (see below) but not particularly memorable.


* I enjoyed Willy's reaction "Hey!" when Buffy told Spike he was wasting his time in a "crappy dive bar."

*  Funny dialogue when Willow and Tara arrive at the Magic Box to confront Xander and Anya.  Willow: "You can't have our love!"  Anya: "You can't have our merchandise!"

* A letter writer has a good idea that was later taken up in the Season 8 comics: introduce some new characters that the readers can care about, because those characters can change and grow over time, and actually be put in risk.  The inevitable downside to media tie-in comics is that they can never alter the status quo set by the show if they want to stay roughly in continuity.

Next Issue

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Flight of the Amazon Queen [GAMES]

I recently finished another free classic computer game downloaded from Good Old Games.  Flight of the Amazon Queen hails from 1995 but was great fun to play.  It's a standard point-and-click adventure game that requires the player to find a wide variety of items and combine some of them together to accomplish particular tasks.  Two things really made the game work for me.

First, there was the perfect difficulty level for my tastes: the solutions needed to overcome problems were not so obvious that they were dumb or boring, but not so hard that I had to spend hours wandering around in frustration trying to figure out what to do next. In short, the puzzles are quite fair.  I only had to resort to a walkthrough once, and it told me to do something I swear I had already tried.

Second, the storyline hits the goofy/charming sweet spot.  The main character, Joe King, is the pilot of a charter plane called the Amazon Queen.  While transporting an actress over the jungle, his plane crashes and he finds himself in a bit of an Indiana Jones role, forced to evade a nefarious band of Nazis operating a lederhosen factory named Floda, negotiate with a hidden tribe of Amazons, and trek through a mysterious temple in search of the Crystal Skull.  There are no nuclear blasts or hiding in refrigerators, but there are dinosaurs, dinosaur-men, death rays, and a giant robot from an extraterrestrial civilization!  The jokey script supports the plot well, and the voice acting is quite good.

The only negative I can think of is that when you want Joe to go from place to place, you literally have to watch him walk across each screen.  I had the patience for it even though it got annoying when you had to backtrack, but it was enough to turn The Wife off the game.

All in all, a really fun game for the only price my budget will allow!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Realms Toowoomba Session # 39 [RPG]

[Flashback to 7 Kythorn 1372]

Ralkin, Flindle, and Katanya continue east, and luck is with them as they encounter no hostile creatures.

[Flashback to 6 Kythorn 1372 to 12 Kythorn 1372]

After a peaceful night's rest in the relative safety of Silverwood, Markus is dismayed to find upon awakening that his mount shows signs of dementia and rotting flesh—obviously a supernatural curse or disease from the encounter with undead the day prior. Markus leads the poor mount towards Silverymoon.

Markus reaches Silverymoon safely, and the next few days pass quickly. With little choice due to its rapidly deteriorating condition, the adventurer is forced to put his mount out of its misery. Acting on information gained from the diary entry of the deceased ranger found in the orc slave pits, Markus seeks out Blademaster Isobe Noboru, hoping to challenge the famous swordsman to a duel to win both acclaim and the legendary sword Ninefangs. Noboru refuses to see the young adventurer until he has proven himself, however, and so Markus is forced to duel several of the master's students. Although his immense skill with a rapier allows him to defeat several lesser warriors, the toll of the continuing headaches suffered after the near-perilous encounter with Spawn of Myrkul distracts Markus at a critical moment and he's disarmed by Noboru's top student and leaves in disgrace.

Markus drowns his sorrows in alcohol, but that night he is struck by another strange dream about golden dragons soaring majestically through the sky. The next morning, inspired, Markus seeks out some of Silverymoon's repositories of knowledge and legend and asks for information on where such magnificent creatures can be found. During the course of his inquiries, the adventurer befriends a mysterious, large humanoid named Tunak. Realizing that Tunak seems to know something about pretty much everything, Markus decides to accompany the fellow on his travels west.

[13 Kythorn 1372]

In the safety of the extradimensional pocket created by magic, Mellia angrily asks Fargrim why he hasn't been helpful in dealing with Eve, the paladin who is determined to arrest them on suspicion of murder. The dwarf responds in kind, shouting that "my job is to get our quest finished" and saying that if Mellia has an idea, now's the time to state it. Both agree that Eve must be crazy.

Down below, Sha'dar asks Eve about her pegasus mount and is disappointed to learn that its name is Percy. Eve asks Cain what deity he serves and whether the cleric will assist in apprehending the rest of the party. Cain says that, although he will not harm Eve, he will not assist either, because there is something he fears more than the paladin's wrath: Mellia's. Eve refuses Cain's suggestion that everyone put away their weapons and parlay.

After some more time passes, a frustrated Fargrim emerges from the extradimensional space. After hearing yet another one of Eve's demands that he drop his weapons and lay on the ground, Fargrim memorably tells Eve to "shut your goddamn mouth and talk to me!" Fargrim swears that he has no present plans to attack Eve if she's willing to parlay, but Eve says she does not trust the dwarf as he has evil in his heart. Mellia (still invisible) emerges as well, but even her prayers for divine intervention to Ilmater prove ineffective at resolving the stalemate.

The standoff continues, but soon the assembled adventurers hear fragments of singing carried on the wind from the east. Sha'dar quickly heads in that direction and sees a large carriage pulled by two strong horses. Holding the reins is a massive human, over 7 feet tall, with a thick protruding brow and a medallion hanging on a chain around his neck. Sha'dar tells the newcomer that he had best turn back, as danger lies nearby to the west. Upon hearing about the dispute, the newcomer (speaking flawless Elven) introduces himself as Tunak. Tunak says that he had heard strange tales coming from the area near Nesme and had travelled from Silverymoon to investigate. He invites Sha'dar to join him on the handler's bench and, undeterred, continues driving the carriage west.

Meanwhile, Fargrim tries to persuade Mellia to surrender so that the party can get on with things, especially since they were headed to Silverymoon anyway. Mellia asks Eve for proof that she really is from Silverymoon, and the paladin replies that Lady Joan of Deadsnows will vouch for her. Mellia replies that a mere assertion is not proof and remains skeptical that Eve, acting alone, could protect the unarmed party members if monstrous denizens of the Evermoors were to attack. Finally, progress is made after Mellia proposes that she will drop her spell components pouch and turn visible if Eve drops her lance and investigates Aloysius' death and Terreck's actions to confirm that the others were not involved. Eve agrees on the condition that Mellia gives an oath to submit to arrest if proof of guilt is found. Each carries out their side of the agreement.

Mellia proceeds to tell her side of the story, explaining about the attack of the frost giant and the white dragon that resulted in Aloysius' death. She says she had no idea Terreck was evil or would carry out an act like taking a trophy from the body of a fallen ally. Eve seems to give credence to the story, but then reveals that she knows through her divine gifts that Fargrim is "a creature of evil." Mellia acknowledges that the dwarf has been acting somewhat strangely recently, but both she and Fargrim agree that he has never done anything to call his character into question.

Eve decides that she should examine the scene of the crime, as it were, and question a witness (Bearos) whom she has not yet spoken to. With Mellia's consent, Eve climbs the rope up to the extradimensional space. Instantly, a tragedy ensues! Unbeknownst to the others, Eve's possessions include a magical bag of holding that contains within it an extradimensional space. When she, and it, enter the extradimensional space created by Mellia's spell, the juxtaposition of the space and Eve's bag creates a planar rift and collapses the extradimensional pocket, sucking everything in it to another dimension! In just instants, the paladin Eve and Fargrim's dear friend Bearos are gone.

Fargrim takes Grim's mask from his belt, puts it on, and says "All is lost! Now we're doing things my way! So shut up and listen to me! We're going to Mirabar to get that reward." Cain interjects, saying he knows where Eve and Bearos have gone: to the astral plane! Cain says planar travel is beyond his ken, but that powerful arcane and divine spellcasters in a major city like Silverymoon should be able to do so. The group decides that paying for such a service is likely to be expensive, and that they should travel to Mirabar to gain the reward for Grim's capture first. After introducing himself, Tunak offers to travel alongside the adventurers, stating that he enjoys the open road. Sha'dar, however, regretfully says he cannot travel to Mirabar as his duty lays within the High Forest and the threat posed to it from the manifestations of evil within the Evermoors. The elf quickly finds Cain's missing horse, Nero, chewing on some berry bushes and then departs with the expressed desire of meeting the adventurers again some day.

As the remaining adventurers slowly start to gather their things and prepare to break camp, Tunak hears a tapping coming from inside the carriage. He unlocks and pulls open the rear doors to reveal a sleepy-eyed half-elf. The personable, androgynous newcomer introduces hirself to Mellia as Cammy and asks what's been happening. Mellia is quite abashed about the accidental astral rift, but Cammy says spell mishaps happen to everyone. Cammy goes on to say that zie loves to collect and tell stories, and that zie's taken up to travelling with Tunak for that purpose.

Seconds later, another surprise emerges from the back of Tunak's carriage: Markus! Mellia, overwhelmed by the day's events, bursts into tears and hugs the returned swordsman. Cain is uncomfortable with his hug from Markus, but glad to see him nonetheless. Mellia provides a somewhat rambling explanation of what the party has been up to in Markus' absence, and Markus tells about his harrowing escape from the Evermoors and says he will never travel alone again. He excitedly displays a small increase in his magickal abilities, forming a small sphere of light.

Fargrim, taking the reins of leadership, tries to get Mellia motivated for the danger that lays ahead. The group then discuss the best way to get to Mirabar. Crossing the Rauvin or Surbrin in the spring can be perilous; Nesme may be under siege; the Evermoors are dangerous to cross. The group decide the safest route is the longest route, and plan to head east to Silverymoon and then follow the road south, skirting the edge of the Evermoors and rejoining the Long Road that will finally take them north to Mirabar. With Mellia, Cain, and Fargrim mounted and the others riding on the carriage, the group sets off.
Director's Commentary (January 24, 2016)

Let's start with one of the most infamous incidents of the campaign:  the bag of holding incident.  (This should actually be labelled "the first bag of holding incident", as much later in the campaign there would be another!)  I had made it very clear to my players early in the campaign that any mixing of any extradimensional spaces would result in catastrophic consequences, and that I had a secret random table to determine what would happen.  Still, players were having their characters buy bags of holding and the like willy-nilly, and I knew sooner or later someone would make a mistake!  (insert evil DM cackle here).  When Eve's player rolled on the table to see what would happen, he unfortunately rolled the very worst result: everyone and thing within 10' of the extradimensional incident would be sucked into the astral plane (Reflex save negates, which both Eve and the NPC Bearos failed).  The PCs weren't at the level yet where travel to other dimensions was possible, even if they knew roughly where in the astral plane Eve and Bearos were.  The dramatic event did solve the Eve problem, but also meant that Fargrim's long-term goal to rescue Bearos was seemingly stymied.

We start getting into some complicated stuff in the campaign with characters in different parts of the world on different dates, thus necessitating "flashbacks" and so forth until things become aligned.  I always tried to respect in-character decisions and the verisimilitude of the world, but there were points this was quite burdensome to deal with later in the campaign and still have workable sessions with everyone involved  (that is, without long stretches of people watching while others adventure because no one's in the same damn place at the same damn time!).  In retrospect maybe I should have taken a firmer hand in this, but my philosophy at the time was that it was for the players to sort out amongst themselves--I was just there to respond to what they decided to do.

The campaign continues to go off the rails as the group decides to travel all the way to Mirabar, and along about the longest and most circuitous route possible.

Tunak was actually a very gentle soul, and an excellent healer
Here's Cammy!
We get introduced to some new PCs this session.  Tunak was a neaderthal bard introduced by the player who formerly ran Ralkin.  Tunak was a unique and likable character (and RPd well), though perhaps one that didn't fit into the party especially well.  Cammy was a gender-veiled bard rapidly introduced by the player who had just lost Eve; so in one session, the group went from zero to being 1/3 comprised of bards!  I liked Cammy a lot, but alas, as we'll see, her time was also fated to be short-lived.  Finally, the player who ran (alternately) Markus and Sha'dar decided to settle on Markus and had Sha'dar depart; the hard part with Sha'dar was that his character motivation was strongly tied to protecting the High Forest from the undead incursions in the Evermoors, and when the PCs decided to leave the Evermoors there wasn't a great reason for the PC to remain in the party.  Everyone was happy to see Markus again, and his player decided to start working towards the Dragonborn prestige class--you'll see some hints of that.  We also get the first glimpse of what will be a major subplot for the character: trying to defeat the legendary blademaster Noboru and win the legendary Ninefangs blade.

Next Recap

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Before They Were Giants (Planet Stories # 28)

The concept behind Before They Were Giants is a great one: reprinting the first published stories by established SF writers along with a short text piece by each about the context in which their story was written, what they still liked about it, and what they would change today.  A lot of the big names are here:  Piers Anthony, Ben Bova, William Gibson, China Mieville, Larry Niven, and more.  It turned out to be a fantastic opportunity to sample the work of several writers I had certainly heard of but never actually gotten around to reading, and it persuaded me to add a couple of books by those authors to my Amazon wish-list.  My favourite stories in the collection were Spider Robinson's "The Guy with the Eyes" (the first appearance of Callahan's Place, a bar where people go to get things off their chest) and "Craphound" by Cory Doctorow (the tale of a vintage/retro collector with a SF angle).  Of all the books in the Planet Stories line, this was probably the most enjoyable I've read, and the one that best achieved what I was hoping to get out of reading them: discovering some great stuff that I'd missed.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hell Frozen Over: Chapter Eight [BUFFY]


Xander sat on the couch gripping a soda, resting the ankle of one leg on the knee of the other. He had
changed from his work clothes the minute Buffy called. Now he sat in her living room, anxious and wondering why it was she wanted him to come over. I finally made it. Just me and Buffy, alone in her house. Neither of us seeing anyone. Just the two of us. Could it be?

“It’s about Dawn,” Buffy said, coming into the room from the kitchen.

I knew that.

“Dawn?” Xander said. “Still slipping boxes of Nut ’n Honey under her jacket at the grocery store?”

Buffy shook her head. “No, I think the whole klepto-thing is pretty much over. I would actually prefer a
little petty larceny to what’s been happening.”

“If her problem involves loose floor boards or building a new patio, you called the right guy.”

“I think she’s involved with a cult.”

“Man!” Xander sighed. “Not another giant snake-guy coming up from the well?”

“I don’t think so,” Buffy replied. “It’s this First Principles thing. You may have seen it on the news. They meet at Weatherly Park everyday and ever since Dawn started going . . . she’s been acting weird.”

“Buffy, your sister’s always been weird. I mean, weird in the sense that she’s the Cosmic Key or something, but also weird in that she’s a teenage girl. Of course she’s weird. They’re all weird.”

“You didn’t seem to think I was so ‘weird’ back then,” Buffy said with a smile. “In fact, I seem to remember that you thought I was—“

“We should stick to the point,” Xander said quickly. “So Dawn’s weird huh?”

“I said acting weird. The other day she said our neighbors were ‘outsiders’ threatening the ‘community’ and I don’t think she had ever even met them—she was just assuming because they’re from another country. It all started when she began going to these First Principles meetings.”

Xander shrugged slightly. “I agree with you that’s stupid. And of course I’m happy to play big brother and help out, but Willow seems a lot more serious right now.”

“I’m not asking you to move in. Just go to one or two of these meetings for me and figure out what’s going on and how to get her out of it. I’d go, but I think she’d freak out even more.”

“Okay, I’ll do it. But if I turn into a raving twistie, it’s on your head.”

“Deal. Oh, and Anya said ‘hi.’”

“She did?” Xander looked surprised.

“Yes. Yes, she did,” said Buffy. Just ‘cause my love life is doomed doesn’t mean theirs has to be.

Xander stood up and walked into the kitchen. He set his glass in the sink, thought for a moment, and then came back to the living room. He smiled slightly as he sat back down on the sofa. “We don’t get to do this much anymore, you know?”


“Just talk. I mean we used to see each other everyday at school. Now we just see each other when there’s a crisis.”

Buffy nodded. “I know, I should call more to hang out. It’s just that—“

“We’re busy,” Xander finished.

“Right,” Buffy smiled.

They sat there for a moment uncomfortably. Xander was the first to break the silence. “I saw Willow last night.”

“How is she?”

“She’s dead,” he said.

Buffy did a spit take, shooting soda all over the carpet. “What!”

“I mean—no, she’s not dead dead. I just mean she acts like it. Monotone and one-word answers to everything. Like a zombie without the brain-hunger.” Xander disappeared into the kitchen and reappeared a moment later with a towel. “Sorry to freak you out.”

“Sorry to freak out,” Buffy said. “It’s just that with everything else . . . never mind. But yeah, I know what you mean. I don’t know what’s going on inside her head but at least on the outside the Willow we knew is . . .”

“Dead,” Xander offered.


The depressing, awkward silence lasted longer this time.


Dawn held the pie—chocolate creme—carefully and shook her head. “I don’t think so, guys,” she said, peering around the corner. The house she was looking at was illuminated by a porch light and through the windows she could see inside lights were on.

“You’ve got to,” Jamie said. “Wittingstone agreed it was a great idea—and since you’re the neighbor, it’ll work perfectly.”

Dawn hesitated. She was having trouble concentrating of late. When she tried to think deeply, everything in her head seemed . . . blurry. First Principles. Community. Stick up for ourselves. Outsiders threaten our way of life. She shook her head to clear away the cobwebs but it didn’t work.

“C’mon Dawn, we’ll your friends. We’re with you in this,” Brian said.

“I’m so glad we’re part of the community together,” Timothy added. He cupped Dawn’s chin gently and gave her a soft kiss. “When we work towards the same goals, nothing can keep us from being strong and secure. And it’s just a little pie—no one will get hurt.”

Dawn nodded and walked towards the front door. She rang the doorbell while the others, staying low, concealed themselves on either side. The dark-skinned, middle-aged woman Dawn had walked past several days ago opened the door.

“Mrs. Jocerta? Hi, my name’s Dawn from down the street.” Okay, I’ll just give her this and walk away. I don’t care what the others think.

“Dawn? Oh, of course, Buffy’s sister. She was so nice when she came by the other day and she mentioned she had a sister. We have such nice neighbors here!”

She smiled widely and opened the door wider to let Dawn enter. That’s when the other teens made their move: Timothy jumped from the shadows, grabbed the pie, and shoved it in Mrs. Jocerta’s face. The woman stumbled back, frightened and bewildered, as Brian and Jamie ran into her living room and began wrecking the place. After they had overturned the stereo, broken several pictures, and kicked through the screen of the television, Timothy shouted “Go back to Egypt or wherever you came from!” Everyone took off as Mrs. Jocerta screamed, but only Dawn looked back.

They stopped running and ducked into an alley several blocks away, huffing and puffing. Dawn was in better shape than the others and recovered quickly.

“You didn’t tell me about that part!” she snapped. “A pie in the face—that was supposed to be all!”

“Relax, babe. The opportunity just sort of presented itself. This way they really get the message.” Timothy tried to put his arm around her but she shrugged it off.

“Yeah, stop being such a crybaby, Dawn,” Jamie said. “She deserved it. She’s an outsider and you know how dangerous they are.”

Dawn put her hands to her head and sat down on the pavement and tried to think. Something wasn’t right, but she just couldn’t remember what it was. Why can’t I focus? What’s wrong with me? Stick to the basics. Community. Togetherness. Security. Protection. Friendship. First Principles. “You’re right,” she said, standing up abruptly. “I don’t know what I was thinking. We’ll all be better off when all the foreigners go home.”

“Now that’s the Dawn we know and love,” Timothy proclaimed with a smile. This time Dawn didn’t shrug his arm off.

The group of friends walked down the street. Timothy and Dawn walked arm and arm in front, while Jamie and Brian held hands and brought up the rear. Dawn tuned out their incessant chatter about how great it felt to be “proactive,” but began listening again when Brian shifted topics.

“And it’s not just the foreigners,” he was saying. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, they’re a problem. But there are others too. Like Wittingstone said. People who want to attack our community, I mean, by being like, nontraditional and stuff.”

“Yeah, I know exactly what you mean,” Jamie said fawningly. “Like who?”

“Well, like people who are all perverted and stuff. That’s who we need to be proactive against. I mean really proactive. Like what we did to that old lady, but more.”

“I’m with you there, buddy,” Timothy said, looking back.

“But like who?” Jamie said again.

“Oh I don’t know,” Brian answered before inspiration struck him. “Well like that red-head and that blonde chick who are always together downtown—you know that’s just not natural.”

“I heard they’re lesbians,” Jamie answered.

“And that’s just what I’m talking about,” Brian replied.

“One of the sickos died,” Timothy put in. “But the other one’s still around. Let’s think of something proactive to do to her.”

It took a moment for the others to notice that Dawn had stopped dead in her tracks. Like a flash of light, the blurryness and the confusion in her head was gone. It was like she was waking up from a bad dream and the cloudiness in her brain was filling with something else instead. Rage.

Timothy looked at her. “What’s the matter, babe?”

She stood there for a moment, her fists clenched tightly, trembling with anger. Then she slowly walked up to Timothy, reared back, and punched him in the face. Hard. He went down like a wounded bird, hitting the ground with a thud and a splash of blood from his broken nose. Dawn stood over him as Jamie and Brian looked on, shocked.

Tears flowed down her face as she struggled to get the words out through her anger. “Willow and Tara were the best,” she said through partially clenched teeth. “I loved them. They were some of the best people I ever knew. And I can’t believe you would dare to—“

Her words were interrupted by Timothy’s, who had just gotten to his knees, holding his nose as blood poured down between his fingers. “They were perverts, and a threat to our community!”

“They were my friends!” she screamed at him, the tears coming harder now.

“But—but—we’re your friends, Dawn,” Jamie said.

“No. You never were. And you never will be. You disgust me!” She shot them such a look that they stepped back involuntarily, cowed, while Dawn turned and ran away.

Towards her real community.


Xander had just stood up to leave when Dawn came bursting through the doorway, sobbing. She saw Buffy and virtually tackled her, knocking both of them into the couch. Buffy held her there, trying to calm her down, exchanging a look of what the hell is going on? with Xander.

“God Buffy I’ve done something terrible,” Dawn sobbed when she had finally calmed down enough to speak. “But it wasn’t me. I mean I was so confused and—“

“Dawn—just tell me what’s going on,” Buffy said gently.

Dawn related what she and the others had done to the Jocertas’ house.

“Man, that was cold,” Xander said angrily. “How could you do something like—“

He stopped when Buffy shot him another look: shut up. “She wasn’t herself, Xander. This ‘First Principles’ is behind it. They messed with her mind somehow.”

“There’s more,” Dawn said, drying her eyes.

There’s always more, Xander thought.

“They’re planning to . . . do something to Willow.”

“What?” Xander shouted. “Dawn, I don’t care if you were ‘confused’ or not, if your little friends do something to her I’ll—“

“Do what?” Buffy said protectively, remembering four years ago when Xander had promised to kill her if Willow was hurt by the Anointed One. The worst part was that she had believed him. “Just go check on Willow, Xander. I’ll sort this out.”

They heard the screech of tires on pavement just moments after he stormed out.


Wittingstone shut the door and walked back to his desk. He would have to call Mr. Castillo with bad news—and he hated calling Mr. Castillo with bad news. Still, he was glad the kids had come to him so soon. It was always better to deal with problems before they got out of hand.

He picked up the desk phone and dialed. “Mr. Castillo,” he said as soon as the other phone picked up. “It’s Wittingstone. There’s a situation, sir.”


“It’s about the Slayer’s sister. Dawn, I believe.”

“I thought you had her. Caught, I believe you said.”

“We did sir. But something happened and she got loose. Attacked one of the other members. I believe they had decided to become ‘proactive’ with Willow Rosenberg, who is--”

“I know who she is, Wittingstone. I remember her from the resort, and I’ve been receiving regular updates since I sent you to Sunnydale.”

“Yes sir. I believe Dawn’s going to run home, and the Slayer may get involved.”

“It’s not quite time for that, yet.”

“I know, sir.

“We’ll simply have to keep them busy. Pay attention now.”

“Yes sir.”

Several minutes later, Wittingstone hung up the phone with a sigh. If this job didn’t pay so well . . . .But who else can do what I do? He made several more calls, and then called for his driver to bring the car around. He carefully straightened his tie while waiting. At least it’s better than the damn microphone.

After the car arrived, he gave some brief directions and then made several more calls on his cell phone. It was just after dusk by the time the car finally stopped at a deserted pier near Sunnydale’s docks.

“Are you sure this is where you’re supposed to meet him, Mr. Wittingstone?” inquired the driver.

“Yes. Apparently our prospective agent has a flair for the melodramatic.” Wittingstone stepped out of the car holding a briefcase and peered into the shadows. Moments later, the sound of footsteps was followed by the appearance of a blond-haired figure in a dark trenchcoat.

“Mister, ah, ‘Spike’ I presume?” Wittingstone said.

“Make this good and make this fast,” Spike responded curtly.

“Very well.” Wittingstone flipped the briefcase open to reveal several bundles of bills. “My employer wishes to retain your services to eliminate one Dawn Summers, of 1630 Revello Drive. Payment upon perform—“

Spike knocked the briefcase to the ground, grabbed Wittingstone by the throat, and thrust him up against the car.

“What makes you think I care?” he growled. “Do you think I need cash? What for, a bloody dee-luxe apartment in the sky?”

“My employer is . . . very powerful and . . . very well-connected. He said to tell you . . . that things are going to happen in Sunnydale . . . and that . . . you might want to . . . be a part of them,” Wittingstone gurgled.

“Is that so?” Spike asked rhetorically, loosening his grip. “Dawn Summers you say? You don’t know who I am, do you?”

“Leader of the vampires in Sunnydale,” Wittingstone answered, rubbing his throat.

Spike laughed loudly. “Bloody right. Okay Bob, I’ll see what I can do.” He picked up the briefcase and walked into the shadows, enjoying the irony. If only they knew, he thought, shaking his head in derision.

Wittingstone straightened his tie and pulled out his cell phone. “Yes sir, I’ve contacted him and he agreed. It appears we’ve been successful on both fronts then.


Castillo returned the phone to its cradle and walked to the elevator. Inserting a special key, the digital readout flashed “Sub 2” and the elevator descended quickly. The doors opened with a whoosh and he stepped out into a well-lit, well-guarded corridor. He passed through two more doors, each locked with either retina- or fingerprint- identification systems. At last he emerged into a dark, largely empty room with stainless steel walls, a plain metal folding chair, a small chest, and a large circle drawn in blood.

He shed his clothing and checked the summoning circle carefully, making sure each symbol was exactly where it was supposed to be and that there were no places where the lines had been rubbed out. He pulled out a small knife, cut his flesh, and watched as his own blood dripped into the center of the circle. He then recited the chant from memory. Magic certainly wasn’t his forte—Castillo considered himself a far too practical man to become heavily involved in such things. But he knew its place in the world, the power it could give. And since he was a patient, exact man, he had learned quickly what needed to be done.

The air grew noticeably chilly as a shape began to manifest in the center of the circle. Small drops of water started to whirl about, but they quickly became flakes of snow. Moments later, they were tiny balls of hard ice.

Castillo stood unfazed, however, and completed the ritual.

The dimly-reflected shape of a creature appeared, seen as if through several panes of translucent glass. It was vaguely-humanoid in appearance, but sharp icicles seemed to hang from its arms. The face could barely be made out, but looked like a blob of white snow with a sharp row of teeth.

“Your control is not yet strong enough,” Castillo said, as if speaking to an equal. “One has already broken free. The time is close, and so you must redouble your effort. Soon the hatred will grow and you will be strong enough to manifest fully.”

“Too . . . warm,” whispered a voice, soothing and manipulative.

“Not for much longer,” Castillo replied, glancing at the chest. “By this weekend everything will be . . . prepared. But until then you must focus your energies on influencing the humans we assemble.”

Castillo performed the necessary rites to dismiss the demon and stepped carefully away from the summoning circle. He touched his fingers to his face and traced the lines of the scars that were there and would never completely heal. Then he kneeled down and touched the chest, idly tracing the outlines of the runes carved on it. He smiled in anticipation of what was to come.

Next Chapter

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future [GAMES]

I recently completed Professor Layton and the Unwound Future.  I played it a few puzzles at a time and it took (according to the game) about twenty hours.  The mystery in this one is Layton receives a letter from the future, uses a time machine, and appears in a strange London ten years in the future (where Luke is now an adult).  As with previous games in the series, the plot is full of major (and larger-than-life) twists, but the core characters remain charming.  The puzzles in this one were, with one or two exceptions, quite fair; and the limited hint function keeps any single one from becoming too frustrating.  All in all, good stuff, and I'm looking forward to The Last Spectre.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Faerun Map Alterations [RPG]

This is more for my personal archiving purposes (i.e., so I can find it again someday in the future!) then anything I expect people to read: a list of alterations I've made to the Forgotten Realms map of Faerun during past campaigns (including: the Night Below, Jhaeman's adventures in the Moonsea, the Royal Karameikan Fist Adventuring Company adventures run by Steve, and more).  It doesn't include any changes from the currently-ongoing Startop Mountain campaign.  I have additional information on the added villages in a "City Packet" (which I know about) and other additions in a "Landmarks Packet" (the location of which I need to track down), but all alterations are noted on hand-copied maps.


1.  Added village of Milbourne along banks of Dessarin River.

2.  Added village of Thurmaster at the end of the east branch of Dessarin River.

3.  Added village of New Haven to southeast of Ardeep Forest.

4.  Added Badlands to valley between branches of Ardeep River.

5.  Added Parlfray's Keep to hills south of the Iron Road.

6.  Added Dawn Spire Keep (formerly Broken Spire Keep) just west of the High Forest.

7.  Added the Garlstone Mines to the hills east of the Dessarin Road.

8.  Added the halfling village of Lindendale to the High Forest.

9.  Added the Tower of Eloias to the middle of the Ardeep Forest.

10.  Added dwarven stronghold of Thunderdelve southeast of the Crumbling Stair.

11.  Added village of Beghinnings to hills northeast of Red Larch.

12.  Added a lizardman camp in the Stump Bog (destroyed circa 1370).

13.  Added the Mage's Retreat, a building in the northern section of the Stump Bog.

14.  Added the Humanoid Cave System on the northern banks of the stream east of Rassalantar.

15.  Added Tomb of Leander in the Sword Mountains due west of Amphail.

16.  Added Evergreen's Cave behind a waterfall in the Westwood.

17.  Added stretch of Underdark leading to the cities of the Glass Pool and the Great Shaboath (reachable from the surface starting in Garlstone Mines).

18.  Added secret drow/goblin outpost in western fringes of the High Forest.


1.  Added Temple of Tarastia to city of Phlan. (details in "Church of Tarastia" packet)

2.  Added Shrine to Tarastia just southeast of village of Shadowdale.

3.  Added Shrine to Tarastia in the religious district of Raven's Bluff.

4.  Added two-story residence of mage Damian (W8) in the village of Shadowdale.  The building is distinguished by a stuffed young red dragon that is posed as if climbing up the building.  The building contains a personal altar to Loviatar.,

5.  Added Castle Justheart to mountains west of Suzail.  The castle is currently ruled by Patience the Gladiator (F10) and "The Man in White" (F10/W20).

6.  Added underground Chitine city and the Foundingstone, reached from surface by secret tunnel in hills two days northwest of Ashabenford.

7.  Added ancient, decrepit shrines to Tyr & Helm  (with secret underground crypts) in foothills of Desertmouth Mountains west of Shadowdale.

8.  Added underground cave system leading to Temple of Orcus and the Earth Blood, accessed through secret door in shrine to Helm in foothills of Desertmouth Mountains west of Shadowdale (now guarded by warrior-priests of Tyr).


1.  Guldeph Maremmon, head of the Highmoon Trading Coaster, was kidnapped and slain by humanoids in the Humanoid Cave System.

2.  Yerath Zulpair, nobleman's son of Waterdeep, was sacrificed by the lizardman tribe in the Stump Bog after they ambushed his carvan on the Long Road.

3.  The area of the Underdark containing the Glass Pool and the Great Shaboath now have a heavy presence of Zhentarim.

4.  The Kormallis noble family is allied with the Zhentarim.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What I Read (2013) [BOOKS]

Jan. 1, 2013  A.J. Jacobs, The Know-it-all: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World  "Interesting account of man reading entire Encyclopaedia Britannica from start to finish."

Jan. 6, 2013  Jeff Kinney, Journal d'un degonflé: çe fait suer!  "Fourth book in the series, as Greg has exploits over summer vacation.  Funny in places, though perhaps less so than previous books."

Jan. 6, 2013  Karen Traviss, City of Pearl  "Story of expedition to distant planet inhabited by lost colony and alien presences.  Not bad, but doesn't really catch me."

Jan. 7, 2013  Jasper Fforde, Something Rotten "Always enjoyable, incredibly original and witty.  One of my favorite series."

Jan. 7, 2013  Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire  "Very readable, but similarity in plot to first book is disappointing.  Looking forward to third book."

Jan. 13, 2013  Nancy Kress, Crossfire "Story of a colony of different cultures finding itself entangled in alien war.  Not as good as some, but would read sequel."

Jan. 16, 2013  Rosemary Hunter, et al., Thinking About Law: Perspectives on the History, Philosophy and Sociology of Law "Good, well-researched collection of introductory essays."

Jan. 21, 2013  David Eddings, The Tamuli  "I loathe this trilogy with the fire of ten thousand burning suns.  A whole cast of perfect Mary-Sues triumph against outmatched foes in poorly plotted, poorly described adventures.  Gives fantasy a bad name.  Not to mention, annoying gods who are omnipotent except, for plot convenience, when they are not."

Jan. 24, 2013  Alexander Reilly, et al., Australian Public Law  "Excellent overview and synthesis."

Feb. 11, 2013  Simon Schama, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution  "Massive book, leads one to abhor the revolution and feel sympathy for the monarchy."

Feb. 24, 2013  Connie Willis, Doomsday Book  "This has been on my shelf since I first read it as a teenager, and I'm glad I kept it.  Very evocative of one of the worst times in human history."

Mar. 5, 2013  Laird Koenig & Peter L. Dixon, Attention: Les Enfants Regardent  "Odd thriller about kids who accidentally kill their housekeeper and then try to cover it up."

Mar. 7, 2013  Sean Howe, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story  "Fascinating history of Marvel comics, with tons of behind-the-scenes drama that helps to explain so many of the company's strange decisions."

Mar. 2013  J.K. Rowling, The Casual Vacancy  "Excellent novel of social insight.  Believable, memorable characters with great sense of voice.  Sad, but well-written."

Mar. 23, 2013  Karen Traviss, 501st  "I really liked this and bummed Traviss left the novels and story may never be resolved."

Apr. 13, 2013  Tanith Lee, The Secret Books of Paradys I & II  "Hard to described these stories--somewhere in the horror/dark fantasy genre.  Almost Cthuluesque in spots.  Good, I think, but not great."

Apr. 2013  Robert Jordan  Knife of Dreams  "Some stuff starts to happen: Faile rescued, Tuon and Matt married, etc."

May 13, 2013  Emmanuel Carrere, La classe de neige "A beautiful little novel about the tragic future facing a boy on the cusp of adolescence.  I'm not explaining it well, but the author has a touch for detail and introspection that comes across so well."

May 25, 2013  R.A. Salvatore, The Legend of Drizzt Volume 1  "Trilogy of Homeland, Exile and Sojourn.  Tells of Drizzt's early life in the Underdark and escape to surface.  Well done and evocative settings."

June 2, 2013  Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl  "Very clever, fast-paced story of a criminal genius and fairy law enforcement.  Awesome action scenes."

June 19, 2013  Eoin Colfer The Arctic Incident  "Second Artemis Fowl book.  A little contrived beginning, but overall quite enjoyable."

June 2013  Barbara Hambly, Children of the Jedi  "Luke is trapped aboard massive planet-killing starship.  Introduction of Callista was interesting, but otherwise a bit of a slog to get through."

July 15, 2013  Eoin Colfer, The Eternity Code  "Third Artemis Fowl book.  Remains entertaining, with some hilarious moments."

July 25, 2013  Joseph Heller, Catch-22  "Hilarious and cutting after all these years."

Aug. 2013  Elizabeth George, A Traitor to Memory  "George always does a fantastic job with characters, both her main ones and minor ones.  I always feel a little let down by the resolution of the mystery, however."

Sep. 1, 2013  Richard Lee Byers, Unclean  "First of a Forgotten Realms trilogy set in Thay.  Strong plot, setting, and good action scenes."

Oct. 2013  J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter et Le Prince De Sang-Mêlé  "6th book, as Harry discovers horcuxes.  Stuff on Voldemort's backstory was more gripping the first time I read it."

Oct. 2013, Kevin J. Anderson, Darksaber  "Fairly standard Star Wars novel, but entertaining enough.  A unified Imperial fleet and another superweapon!"

Oct. 25, 2013  Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass  "Second time I've read the book, and I enjoyed it more this time.  Original setting and interesting ideas, looking forward to second in trilogy.  Audio book is a fantastic production."

Oct. 25, 2013  Rich Eisen, Total Access: A Journey to the Center of the NFL Universe  "Overall entertaining book about NFL Network.  Hilarious Pro Bowl karaoke anecdote."

Nov. 5, 2013  Jane Austen, Sense & Sensibility  "Tale of two sisters, one mature and serious, the other passionate and romantic.  Enjoyable."

Nov. 2013  Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey "Five people die when a bridge collapses, and a monk asks: why did God choose those five?  Short book, but interesting and with nice ending."

Nov. 2013  Kerry Greenwood, Flying Too High  "Second Phryne Fisher mystery, as she investigates a murder and an unrelated kidnapping.  Memorable characters and solid story."

Nov. 2013  Richard Lee Byers, Undead  "Second book of Thay trilogy, set 10 years into civil war.  Again, great atmosphere and setting."

Nov. 2013  Guy Adams, The Men Who Sold the World  "Prequel to Torchwood: Miracle Day, starring Rex Matheson.  Surprisingly entertaining given absence of rest of team.  Love Mr. Wynter."

Nov. 2013  Various, Earth (The Book)  "Second book by Daily Show staff.  Lots of laughs."

Dec 2013  N.D. Wilson, 100 Cupboards  "Second read.  Really enjoy premise and characters."

Dec 2013  Howard Berk, The Sun Grows Cold "Man with amnesia awakens in strange institution and tries to discover who he is and why he is there.  Classic plot let down by hurried, far-fetched revelations at very end."

Dec. 8, 2013  N.D. Wilson  Dandelion Fire  "2nd book in 100 Cupboards trilogy.  Still like the idea and writing, but disappointed it goes into very well-trod epic fantasy (evil queen, lost heir) territory."

Dec 10, 2013  Thomas More, Utopia "Readable account of the ideal country that gives the concept its name.  Most surprised by prevalence of communism as central tenet.  Obviously a political ideal that has longer roots than often thought."

Dec. 12, 2013 Michael Moorcock and Joe R. Lansdale, Sojan the Swordsman/Under the Warrior Star "Planet Stories double-feature of 'sword and planet' books.  Lansdale's is good, Moorcock's pretty bad."

Dec. 14, 2013 Eugene Byrne, ThigGMOO "Really fun, clever story about socialist AIs taking over the world.  One to recommend to people with the right sense of humor."

Dec. 18, 2013 Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto "Norton Critical Edition.  Really improved my understanding of the historical context in which it was written and place in evolution of communist ideologies."

Dec 21, 2013  Jeff Grub and Kate Novak, The Wyvern's Spur "Sequel to Azure Bonds.  Very different, but really good.  A great example of a fantasy novel that is set entirely around one small city, and combines domestic mystery with sword and sorcery."

Dec. 22, 2013  Richard Baker, et al., Player's Guide to Faerun "Very well-done and useful D&D 3.5 supplement for Forgotten Realms."

Dec. 24, 2013 Kate Kingsbury,  Herald of Death "Holiday mystery set at turn of the century inn.  Above average."

Dec. 28, 2013 Shane Lacy Hensley, Savage Worlds Deluxe "Well-regarded genre-free system; looking forward to trying it out sometime."

Monday, January 13, 2014

Hawkeye: Earth's Mightiest Marksman (one-shot 1998) [COMICS]

The 1998 Hawkeye one-shot subtitled Earth's Mightiest Marksman begins with an explicit disclaimer that readers interested in "angst-ridden melodrama or sappy soap operatics" should choose another comic.  I've always found writer Tom DeFalco a mediocre scripter of forgettable super hero stories, and he fits this profile here; but in his defense, he does deliver, as promised, an angst-free and relatively action-packed comic.

The issue begins with Hawkeye training a couple of the Avengers' reserve members, Justice and Firestar, in what is the Avengers' equivalent of the X-Men's Danger Room.  A woman named Augusta Seger stops by Avengers Mansion and asks Hawkeye to help her safeguard a computer virus that she's accidentally created.  I'm not sure how Hawkeye thinks he can help, but he dutifully accompanies Seger to her office (in an abandoned warehouse!) and . . . TRAP!  Batroc, Machete, and Zaran leap out and attack.  After plenty of fisticuffs and arrow-i-cuffs, Hawkeye disposes of the trio and they get carted off to the big house.

Seger, however, has escaped (leaving behind the life-like mask she wore).  She travels to the jail where Batroc, et al., are being held, sets them free, and says their role in her plan is done.  Meanwhile, through some Googling, Hawkeye, Justice, and Firestar realize that Seger is actually a super-villainess named . . . wait for it . . . The Albino!  The heroic trio travel to the jail where Batroc is being held to interrogate him, but it turns out The Albino has set up another trap: this time, with "Oddball! The Master juggler turned costumed criminal!"  [I'm pretty sure Oddball is the Big Bad in the next Avengers movie . . .]  Once again, however, the heroes fight their way free of The Albino's trap.

It turns out, however, that both traps have really just been opportunities for The Albino's criminal companion, The Taskmaster, to watch the heroes in action.  Now, this part I didn't really understand, but there's something about how The Albino is an expert on human mutation and, in return for vast wealth, has promised Taskmaster that she can provide him with "real" superpowers as opposed to just mimicking the physical abilities of those he's seen in action.  The heroic trio are again lured into a trap, and, again I'm not sure why/how, this is important for The Albino's plan.  She is able to give Taskmaster real superpowers, but because the process is partially interrupted, it will only be temporary.  This then leads to a flying, cosmic-powered Taskmaster duking it out with Justice and Firestar while Hawkeye takes on The Albino.  Fortunately, the good guys win, and there's a cameo appearance of the New Warriors to boot.  Yay!

To be fair, the comic really probably isn't as bad as I've made it sound; but still, it's not particularly good.  If it's any consolation, according to the Marvel Chronology Project, The Albino never appeared again.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Fantasy Football 2013 Wrap-Up

It was a busy year and I wasn't able to devote as much effort to my fantasy football team as in past years, but I still did okay.  I finished a mediocre 7-6, but that was good enough for # 2 in the league during the regular season.  However, I dropped both playoff games to finish # 4 in the league overall.  I finished just shy of first place in average points per game (96.7), which was about the same as in 2012 when I won the league championship.  What killed me this year was points allowed (91.7), which was the highest in the league.  It's just one of the quirky things about fantasy football that you have no control over, but c'est la vie.