Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Go Fer Yer Gun! and Silver Gulch [RPG]

After running a few multi-year campaigns that were enjoyable but draining, I've come up with a different approach for the next year or so.  A series of four-session long adventures, with each adventure set in a different genre and with a different mix of players.

The first adventure was a lot of fun and definitely a chance to trying something different: a Western!  I used a free D20 RPG called Go Fer Yer Gun! and while it might not stand up to campaign play, it was perfect for four sessions of gunslinging.  The PCs arrived in the veritable ghost town of Silver Gulch (nearly abandoned since the local mine petered out) and soon got caught up in a scheme by a mysterious masked bandit to drive the remaining townspeople away.  It was a chance to use all of the hallmarks of the genre, including cattle stampedes, a "new sheriff in town", abandoned mine shafts, and even a damsel in distress about to be blown to smithereens by dynamite!  We had an interesting mix of PCs:  a Maverick named Dusty (who ended up becoming the new sheriff after the NPC sheriff was killed at the beginning of the adventure), a Drifter named Quint (who had a predilection for shooting villains in the back), a female Doctor named Zenobia (a no-nonsense type), and another Doctor named Doc (a scarred fellow).  Naturally, they managed to save the day after an exciting climax on a teetering rope bridge high above a gulch and unmask the bandit leader as the town's mayor!  I stole a good chunk of the setting and NPCs for the adventure from a Western novel called "Ghost Town" by Will Sutton, and it really helped me flesh out characters.

The second adventure will start up in January and will be a 1930s pulp adventure in the Indiana Jones/The Mummy/Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow vein.  I've still got a lot of details to work out, but I'll be using the Savage Worlds rule-set for the first time.

Then later in 2016, I've got post-apocalyptic mutants lined up (using Gamma World) and super heroes (not sure what I'll use yet).

We'll see how the experiment proceeds, but so far it's been a refreshing way to move beyond the standard sword and sorcery and try out some different types of RPGs.

Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown (Marvel) (Ltd. 1988) [COMICS]

Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown definitely stood out from mainstream Marvel superhero comics when it came out.  A four-issue limited series, the comic was published by Marvel's Epic imprint, which allowed it a more mature tone and adult (read: sex & violence) content.  Visually, it was quite different with fully painted covers and interiors.  I remember reading it years ago and thinking the artwork was ugly, but today I appreciate it more.  As the title indicates, fellow X-Men Havok (Alex) and Wolverine (Logan) team up in the issue; it's not a natural or familiar pairing, so it was interesting to see what writers Walter and Louise Simonson would do with it.

Issue # 1 begins with a conversation between the series' two main villains:  a manipulative Russian strategist named Dr. Neutron and his ally, a super-powered figured named General Meltdown.  It turns out they arranged events to cause the Chernobyl crisis in a bid to slow down Gorbachev's reforms, and now they've turned their attention to Havok for a reason that won't yet be revealed.  The scene then shifts to a small town in Mexico where Wolverine gets into a bar fight while Havok watches, bemused.  Good artwork and fun banter make it work.  The pair end up getting chased by gun-toting thugs and steal a car with a woman inside, just as some sort of cyborg with a laser rifle opens fire.  Basically, it's all a trick to get Wolverine and Havok to reveal their superpowers, and then the female driver (whose code-name is Quark and who works for Dr. Neutron and General Meltdown) tranqs them.  Logan eventually wakes up in a hospital and is told Alex is dead; but smelling a rat, he digs up Alex's "grave" and finds it full of rocks.  It's an interesting, fast-paced, and intriguing beginning to a series that is definitely different than the norm.

In Issue # 2, Logan is on the kidnapped Alex's trail.  He busts up that same Mexican bar for info, and then interrogates a taco seller for information.  It's a really fun scene, and quite bloody, justifying the Epic treatment.  Meanwhile, Alex wakes up in a weird, fake hospital.  Quark wears a disguise and gives her name as Scarlett and pretends to be a nurse at the hospital.  She tricks Havok into thinking Wolverine has been captured and brainwashed by a nefarious organisation--perhaps the CIA!  The bad guys' real plan is revealed to the reader:  General Meltdown wants to absorb the full force of Havok's radiation power to become invincible, but the only way Havok would ever let loose enough is if he thinks Meltdown has been responsible for Wolverine's death.

Issue # 3 starts with a nice piece of irony:  Alex flies with Scarlett on the way to "rescue" Logan, while Logan is actually tracking the plane to rescue Alex.  Logan gears up, and in a fun and gory scene, impales a fellow in the eyes with his claws (from behind!)--try that in a Comics Code Authority approved book!  I have to admit, I'm starting to get into the moody painted artwork.  Anyway, Wolvie gets caught in a barbed-taser trap and gets brainwashed for real--when he and Alex track down each other, Wolvie attacks and Alex has to blast him to what is apparently death.  He vows revenge on whomever set up the whole thing, and General Meltdown assumes his plan is going to work.  Only, Scarlett seems to be falling for Alex for real, and I don't think Alex really thinks he killed Wolverine so easily . . .

In Issue # 4, Scarlett literally stumbles over a "clue" (a partially burned diagram of a nuclear reactor in India) to lead Havok to the site of General Meltdown's planned endgame.  After burying Wolverine in a shallow grave, Havok and Scarlett board a plane from India.  There, they find the reactor is melting down and Havok absorbs radiation to try to stop the problem but General Meltdown attacks.  There's a cool battle in the middle of a live nuclear reactor, which I can say I've never seen before.  Seeing that Havok still won't unleash his full power on him, Meltdown kills Scarlett.  Havok blasts Meltdown and is weakened, but then Wolverine arrives!  It's a tough, well-depicted battle that sees Wolvie impaling Meltdown with multiple control rods to sap his inner reactor.  Wolverine and Havok escape, having saved the day, and in a sweet moment Logan decides not to tell Alex that his beloved Scarlett was in on the whole thing.  There's an interesting and foreboding epilogue featuring Dr. Neutron, but I'm not sure if anything ever comes of it . . .

All in all, a really good limited series pairing two heroes who don't often adventure together in a novel setting.  The painted artwork can be a bit off-putting at first, but it really grew on me.  Final verdict: an interesting and successful experiment.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Buffy Comic Project: "Note From the Underground, Part 2"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 48

(Dark Horse Volume 1, 1998-2003)

Creators:  Scott Lobdel & Fabian Nicieza (story); Cliff Richards (pencils); Will Conrad (inks)

Setting:  After Season Six

T.V. Character Appearances:  Buffy, Xander, Dawn, Anya, Angel, Faith, Pike

Major Original Characters:  San Sui (Chinese Vampire)

Summary:  Buffy and her friends had heard word of a secret demon gladiator ring in hidden chambers underneath Sunnydale University, and now Buffy fights her twenty-seventh challenger in the last four days!  She recognises it as a vampire named San Sui she thought she dusted years ago.  Meanwhile, nearby, Xander, Dawn, and hundreds of Sunnydale residents are held captives by the demons.  Anya, in her vengeance demon form of Anyanka, is apparently undercover and tells Xander that the demons are extracting the pain and misery of the captives to use in a narcotic called Soul Drops.  Elsewhere, Faith and Angel arrive in Sunnydale and survey the damaged scene of a fight at the Magic Box--
Angel says he's unable to track Buffy's scenet.  Back underground, Buffy keeps fighting and unleashes her inner anger on the demons.  Suddenly, machine gun fire kills a demon and a motorcycle appears.  The driver tells Buffy to hop on the back, and they manage to escape to the town limits.  Buffy thinks from the motorcyclists apparel that it is Riley who rescued her, but it actually turns out to be someone from much further back in her life:  Pike!

Review

Starting with the end, it was an awesome twist that I didn't see coming.  I haven't thought about Pike in a long, long time and I'm really curious to see what Lobdel & Nicieza do with him.  Clever writers!  The main story with the underground fight ring and the kidnapped townsfolk is interesting, partially because we're not 100% clear on exactly what went down prior to the events in the story.  I'm used to Buffy comics spelling everything out scene by scene, but I don't mind imagining some backstory for myself.  I'm anxious for Faith & Angel to get involved after their excellent scenes in the previous issue.  As far as I'm concerned, I'm sold on the new writers and the new direction.  Bring on Issue # 49!

Notes

*  A few days before reading this issue, I was telling a friend my theory that pretty much every genre supernatural genre series I can think of has at least one story involving a demon fight club:  Angel, Lost Girl, etc.  I don't mind too much.

*  That art cover is awesome.  Poster-worthy.  People who bought the photo cover because it included Angel and Faith would be disappointed to see they're only on one page of the comic inside.

*  Intriguing mysterious subplot about the demons Buffy is fighting having been ones she's sure she's killed before.  I had to do some research to remember that San Sui is the kung fu vampire she dusted way back in Issue # 1!

*  It's really interesting really the advance solicitations released for this story arc to see how much the final product has changed.  Apparently, these four issues were going to be called "Hellmouth to Mouth."  This issue, for example, was supposed to include Giles, Oz, and Willow (who would be tempted by dark magic) but they don't actually show up at all!

*  The Pike reveal was pretty cool.

*  The issue includes a very, very early ad for Firefly.  "Joss Whedon gave new blood to vampires.  Now he turns his unique vision to space."

Note the different version of the show's logo font and the firefly symbol.











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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Realms Toowoomba Recap # 55 [RPG]

[2 Flamerule 1372 continued]

The adventurers leap through the mirror-portal and immediately find themselves falling towards a hard stone floor. All but Myst and Syd manage to land on their feet, but the whole group is in far worse danger. They've arrived in a warehouse that has been set ablaze, and several members of the group seem dazed and shaken by the mystical journey. Fortunately, Syd keeps his cool and instantly transforms into an ape. Climbing and leaping over crates with abandon, the druid finds an outer wall, blasts it open with a powerful spell, and returns to start ferrying his friends, confused and choking from smoke, to safety. Mellia also arrived in full possession of her faculties, and she decides to look for a nearby exit. While invisible, she witnesses Mortemont being carried to safety by his clay golems, while nearby guard-hounds yap and cringe. She returns to the others, and with Syd's help is able to escape.

The adventurers find themselves in an alleyway adjacent to the burning building. The sound of yelling echoes through the night, and occasional glimpses of large groups of men running and shouting can be seen past either end of the alleyway. As Syd and Mellia stand watch and tend to injuries, the others start to recover from the smoke and rigours of the instantaneous journey. Gradually, however, a startling realization dawns on Fargrim, Ralkin, Dolcetto, and Myst: they've switched bodies! Dolcetto's mind is trapped in Fargrim's body, the dwarf's mind is in her's, and Ralkin and Myst have likewise transferred. They have little time to grapple with the implications of such a dramatic turn, as a shirtless, tattooed man wearing red breeches dashes into the alleyway pursued by an enraged mob chanting about throwing off the shackles of Thay. 

From her studies, Mellia realizes the man is likely a Red Wizard and communicates this to her allies. Syd transforms again, this time into a giant eagle, and telepathically instructs the fleeing figure to climb on his back. The man does so and gleefully says that "the rabble below" will now face the punishment they deserve. He calls forth from realms unknown a massive, two-headed troll to appear and wreak havoc on the Laothkundians, who flee en masse. Dolcetto, who just seconds before realized she was in a new body, is filled with a sudden uncontrollable rage and charges towards the monster! The beast inflicts multiple grievous wounds before Syd convinces the Red Wizard, who names himself Olver of the Order of Abjuration, to send the creature back whence it came. Olver says his Order has a safehouse in Laothkund where they can regroup. With Syd scouting ahead through the air, the adventurers bypass heavy fighting in the streets as the uprising continues.

Once inside the safehouse in the hidden basement of a decrepit residence, Olver suddenly realizes he knows little about his rescuers. The two tieflings pass unremarked, but he is quite surprised to see a dwarf and a halfling in the city. He grows suspicious and truculent. Mellia explains that they are a group of adventurers who seek to enter Thay on important business with the Flaming Brazier. Olver says that to obtain a travel permit, they should seek an audience with the autharch of a border province. He then asks the adventurers to leave, after thanking them grudgingly.

[3 Flamerule 1372]

Shortly past midnight, the adventurers again find themselves out on the streets of Laothkund. They decide to head towards the eastern portion of the city, hoping to escape the uprising and camp in the wilderness. In the city's labyrinthine streets, a wrong turn leads the party face to face with a bloody and enraged patrol of gnolls. Mellia tries to persuade them that she and the others are on the side of Thay, but the motley band of adventurers look too suspicious to the gnolls and a fight ensues. Syd, who has transformed yet again and taken the shape of a horse, calls down lightning from otherwise clear skies to strike the hyena-faced humanoids, while Mellia sends magickal spheres of force and summons black tentacles to crush them. Ralkin, in Myst's body, is injured during the fighting, but the adventurers are victorious and able to keep moving.

The party's quest to rescue Cain has just begun, and already peril dogs them at every step!

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