Friday, October 28, 2016

Mynock Squadron Recap # 14 [RPG]

[4.7.16 ABY]

After a successful return from Nal Hutta, Gamma Flight spends the next two weeks on routine missions: escorting freighters, patrolling vulnerable systems, reconnaissance, etc. With Torga remaining in cryogenic stasis, Stavros away on a med-ship for an undisclosed illness, and Kero away at a conference on immunology, Gamma Flight is operating far short of its normal compliment of pilots. Replacements will no doubt be transferring into Mynock Squadron in the near future.

For Ensign Waric Vigil, Private Keth DeSoult, and Private Tazo-Rhi, however, duty calls. Lt. Tuvolo explains during a briefing that Gamma Flight's next mission should be "a real gimme." He explains that the New Republic is trying to demonstrate its stability and value as an ally and tourist destination for independent systems that remain reluctant to join so soon after throwing off the dominance of the Empire. To that end, the New Republic Ministry of Commerce has begun buying and recommissioning older ships as cruise and entertainment vessels to lure investors. Tuvolo explains, however, that one such ship, The Guiding Heart, has a history of strange problems and that the Ministry of Commerce has requested expert military assistance to make sure it is safe and spaceworthy.

The three Mynocks are ferried to the surface of the planet Sellia. There, in a grassy field, they meet their liaison with the Ministry of Commerce, a New Republic Intelligence agent who is on secondment. The agent, an Iktotchi woman named Marress, explains that The Guiding Heart was built almost two decades ago, but the night before its maiden voyage, the builder (Frick Tunbuk) and his family were brutally murdered by unknown assailant(s). Ever since, Marress says, anyone who has bought The Guiding Heart and tried to put it in service has abandoned it within days due to strange malfunctions, unexplainable phenomena, and emotional distress. Gamma Flight's task, then, is to prove that the vessel is safe for operation.

After a comm signal from Marress, a long starship with segmented compartments appears on the horizon and lands nearby. A pilot emerges and introduces himself as Harod Mercre, a former business partner of Frick and executor of his estate. Mercre gives Marress and the Mynocks a brief tour of the vessel. The interior is beautiful and luxurious, with only the most exquisite materials used in construction. Dining rooms, a library, and multiple guest suites obviously make the vessel ideal for long interstellar voyages. A couple of the rooms are decorated with antique weapons and droids from the Clone Wars, which were just ending as the ship was built. Mercre also explains where the body of each member of the Tunbuk family was found.

After the tour, Tazo-Rhi calmly explains to all present her theory, which is pure speculation, that Mercre has secretly installed equipment in the ship to scare off owners by making them believe it is "haunted." Mercre is quite affronted, and Waric is forced to remind Tazo-Rhi that humans find such statements quite offensive. Mercre returns to the cockpit and Marress begins meditating in one of the chambers in the hopes that, as an Ikotchi, her telepathic abilities will allow her to communicate with any spiritual manifestations of the Force that may be present. The three Mynocks start a room by room troubleshooting search. Tazo-Rhi and Keth begin in the vessel's control room; they bicker over the correct setting for the temperature and moisture controls. Waric, meanwhile, decides to examine the antique droids; he's able to pull up data from one of the droid's visual processors and sees footage of a woman covered in blood and pleading for help on the same date the Tunbuk family were murdered. But when Waric goes to review the footage, it has disappeared!

Seemingly unprompted, Tazo-Rhi suddenly grabs Keth roughly and accuses him of conspiring with the other Mynocks to make her look bad in front of Tuvolo. She says that although she barely made it into the squadron, as least she made it on her own as opposed to Keth who only made it because he fell into the right crowd of friends who worked together. Keth, for his part, thinks he sees Tazo-Rhi with a knife and tries to knock it away. The two struggle until Waric arrives and orders them to stand down. Waric removes the blaster packs from their weapons and tells them to focus on the mission. Tazo-Rhi suddenly seems to realize how she's been acting and apologizes profusely to Keth.

Realizing that his subordinates are somehow being psychologically affected, Waric heads to the cockpit and orders Mercre to land the ship. Meanwhile, Tazo-Rhi and Keth hear a strange noise coming from the vessel's aft section and split up to investigate. Tazo-Rhi hallucinates that Frick Tunbuk is in the corridor, and that someone is shooting at him. Keth, for his part, hallucinates that someone is strangling him. Keth stumbles out into the corridor only to collide with Waric, who has also suffered some strange phenomena. The ship lands, and Mercre and Marress join the Mynocks to talk about what to do next.

After Tazo-Rhi explains what she saw, she catches Mercre in a lie about his whereabouts on the night of the murders and accuses Mercre of having been in love with Frick Tunbuk's wife. Instead of denying it, Mercre takes a small control device out of his pocket and activates it. Suddenly, the antique droids spring into action and begin attacking! Mercre sprints out of the room and shuts doors behind him, heading for the cockpit.

A firefight breaks out in the dining room, but there's a major complication: the Mynocks don't have power packs in their sidearms because Waric seized them! Tazo-Rhi leaps into a refresher for cover as the droids open fire, while Keth tries to dive under a table but stumbles and crashes into it! Waric throws blaster packs to them and then tries to reprogram a B-2 battle droid that is actively trying to kill him! The Mynocks hear the sound of the engines firing up, and realize that Mercre has reached the cockpit and is taking the ship up.

Tazo-Rhi and Keth try to blast their way out of the room so that someone can reach the cockpit and seize Mercre's remote control, but they only make it to an adjoining room before Tazo-Rhi takes a bolt in the chest and barely manages to crawl behind a bar before collapsing. With Keth and Marress pinned down, all hopes rest on Waric, but just as he's about to succeed in reprogramming one of the droids to assist him, a blaster bolt slams into him and knocks him to death's door. The ship begins to accelerate, faster and faster, and then suddenly, instead of feeling the pressure of climbing upward, the Mynocks find themselves having the sensation of falling. Mercre has uncoupled the aft segments of the vessel and left everyone to plummet to their deaths!

The droids automatically deactivate as they fall outside the range of Mercre's control signal, but now only seconds remain until Gamma Flight's existence comes to a smashing conclusion!
Director's Commentary (October 28, 2016)

Another guest session, this one directed by the player who normally ran Kero.  The fun of guest sessions is that you can get very off-beat, unusual stories, and this fit the bill.  It was fun to see Mynock Squadron get a mission very different than the military combat ones they had experienced to date.

The effects the hauntings had on the characters was really fun.  I played Tazo-Rhi, and when suddenly directed to play her angry to point of violence, it felt great to say something that the character thought was true: that she deserved to be in Mynock Squadron far more than Keth.  Sometimes, secrets/revelations like that don't come out unless the characters get a push.

The firefight was a damn tough one!  But it was also quite exciting, starting as it did without two of the PCs having power packs for their blasters.  I think we took quite more of a beating than the guest director expected, which in turn made the fantastic cliff-hangar that much more exciting.

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Mynock Squadron Recap # 13 [RPG]

[4.7.1 ABY]

The remainder of the trip to Nal Hutta proves uneventful. Zutton lands his vessel near Zorba the Hutt's Winter Palace and the members of Mynock Squadron's Gamma Flight, disguised as smugglers, are permitted entry. Inside, they are met with a scene of debauchery. Zorba is hosting a reception for Moff Rann and his crew, complete with potent intoxicants, live music, and enslaved dancers. The Mynocks decide to split up to gather information. Tazo-Rhi announces to everyone she meets that she is a smuggler, and then lurks conspicuously near a table of Rann's crew to overhear their conversation. She discerns they are grumbling about their current mission "protecting slimeballs" and "dirty aliens." Keth trails an intoxicated officer who is winding his way through the crowd, and when the officer drops a datapad, Keth swoops in and skilfully retrieves it before anyone notices. Kero, meanwhile, really gets into her role by challenging some of Rann's crew to a drinking game; she doesn't get much in the way of useful intelligence, but no one in attendance would ever think she were a New Republic spy!

Zorba the Hutt announces that in the morning, a swoop race will be held in honour of his guests. The winning racer and their crew will have the run of the Winter Palace's Pleasure Dome, a reward that gets everyone's attention. After the announcement, Tazo-Rhi finds herself in conversation with one of the dancers, a woman named M'Ghan. Perhaps sensing that Tazo-Rhi is not really who she says she is, M'Ghan confides that she has long been enslaved by Zorba and wishes to escape; she says there are tunnels under the Palace that lead to nearby swampland. Tazo-Rhi says she might be interested in smuggling M'Ghan to safety in return for the information. Elsewhere, in a darkened corner, Keth examines the datapad he recovered. He finds it full of useful information, including blueprints of the Imperial Wing of the Palace.

The Mynocks assemble in Zutton's room, and after searching for surveillance devices, discuss what to do next. Keth points out that the blueprints of the Imperial Wing point to a hidden room that could be a vault or archive. With the information that M'Ghan gave to Tazo-Rhi, the group work out that one of the exits of the underground tunnels is the trash chute in the kitchen of the Imperial Wing. The group decide on a plan to infiltrate the Imperial Wing, but a crucial first step is gaining access to the Pleasure Dome to fulfil Tazo-Rhi's commitment to M'Ghan. To do that, they'll first need to win the next day's swoop race.

[4.7.2 ABY]

Using a swoop provided by Zorba the Hutt, the Mynocks enter themselves as a team in the race. Keth will serve as pilot, Tazo-Rhi as mechanic, and Kero as spotter. The first loop sees Keth eek out a narrow lead over his closest competitor, a being named Jax. At a pit stop, Kero proclaims that she could do a better job and decides to pilot the swoop herself. Jax closes the lead early in the second loop, and then the two race neck-and-neck through the precarious track. Both racers push their swoops to maximum speed, and end up crossing the finish line at the same time! Zorba the Hutt, feeling generous, allows both teams access to the Pleasure Dome.

The success allows the Mynocks to put their plan into operation. As they head towards the Pleasure Dome, a massive Imperial Star Destroyer looms overhead and suddenly starts to open fire on the Palace! With debris raining down from the sky, the Mynocks rush into the Pleasure Dome, only to witness Imperials fighting Imperials! The Mynocks find M'Ghan and a young girl, her sister, cowering in a corner. M'Ghan leads everyone to a courtyard and into a secret tunnel, as TIEs buzz the palace. As they crawl through the tunnel, they can hear Moff Rann announce on a loudspeaker that all of his personnel should assemble in the courtyard at attention to welcome Grand Moff Artis Kain. The tunnel emerges in a swamp, and Zutton agrees to take M'Ghan and her sister to his ship.

Following M'Ghan's directions, the Mynocks then return to the tunnels and take another branch. The tunnels wind for hundreds of meters, and the pilots have to tread carefully to avoid some of the savage animals who live within. In time, they reach the mound of garbage that lays at the bottom of a shaft ascending elsewhere: the bottom of the Imperial's trash chute. A wounded nashtah with a broken collar growls at the pilots as they approach, but Tazo-Rhi orders it to stand down and it obeys. Ascension guns allows the group to ascend the narrow shaft and emerge in the kitchens. Using access codes earlier gained from the Imperial datapad, Kero is able to slice into the area's security systems to show looped activity in the corridors. With Keth taking the lead, the group carefully time the duration between patrols to navigate the corridors and gain entry to the hidden room. 

Inside, they see shelves of flimsies, data crystals, and even oddly-shaped objects that turn out to be ancient holocrons. Keth takes the holocrons while Tazo-Rhi shovels everything else into her satchel. Kero slices into the firewalled computer terminal and discovers the disposition of the Pentastar Alignment's fleet. She also discovers the reason for the earlier bombardment: a disagreement between Rann and Kain! Rann wanted to maintain an alliance with the Hutts, but has obviously had to give in to Kain's superior firepower. Having obtained everything they came for, the Mynocks carefully return to the kitchens, again bypassing patrols, and slide down the trash chute. The nashtah is still there, and, seeing Tazo-Rhi as its master, follows the group out of the tunnels.

When they reach Zutton, they find him at the mercy of a Mandalorian! The Mandalorian lets him go, however, saying he owed a debt to his ancestor. With everyone on board, the freighter lifts off and heads towards orbit. An uncoded, wide-spectrum broadcast comes through the comm: Moff Rann has been "stood down", and in his role is the newly-made Moff Bellis. The Mynocks are relieved to reach the safety of hyperspace and escape the reach of Grand Moff Kain, at least for now.

When they rendezvous with Waric, he tells them that the imprisoned space pirates tried to escape, and that he had no choice but to vent atmosphere and have them sucked out into space. Tazo-Rhi does not doubt him.

Having successfully obtained key information on the Pentastar Allignment, Gamma Flight heads back to base having had its first unqualified success.
Director's Commentary (October 21, 2016)

This was the conclusion of the guest adventure run by the player who normally operates Waric.  There was a lot happening in this session, so much so that, as a player, I mainly had to just focus on the task at hand and review my notes later to understand the full context.  I enjoyed playing Tazo-Rhi because her limitations as an undercover operative were so obvious.  Sometimes gamers try to make "perfect" characters that are good at everything, but it's a lot more fun to consciously play characters with obvious weaknesses and even emphasize those weaknesses to help with the story-telling.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Video Jack (Epic [Marvel] 1987) [COMICS]

Video Jack was an interesting, short-lived series written created by Cary Bates and Keith Giffen for Marvel's Epic Comics imprint in 1987.  The general concept of the series is that the titular hero has to escape from a variety of alternate universes based on different TV show genres in order to get back to his own reality.  Keith Giffen's artwork follows a strict 12-panel grid layout gives the series an interesting aesthetic but that, to my untrained eye, is frankly ugly.  The series has never been collected in trade paperback format, so you'll have to collect it the hard way if you're interested.  Here's an issue-by-issue recap:

In Issue # 1, we're introduced to the series' two main characters: a slacker named Jack and his best friend, who has a dark side, named Damon.  Essentially what happens is that Damon has an Uncle Zach who plans to cast a spell to transform reality into something out of It's a Wonderful Life; but the uncle gets murdered and Jack is watching TV in the conjuring room when the spell takes effect, meaning that every time someone switches the channel on a certain remote control, reality shifts!  The story is a bit hard to follow in this first issue, but it is nice to read a real story that's not an excuse for fistfights.

In Issue # 2, Jack steps out of the uncle's house to realize that his clothes have instantly changed into a costume, his hometown is surrounded by a wall of static, his dog (Kojak) can talk, and he's trapped in a weird punk rock music video!  A girl Jack has a crush on, Doreen, is the leader of a resistance group against an oppressive dictatorship, and she wants Jack to help her group overthrow the dictator; but the dictator is Damon!  The way Giffen draws Damon, with his face always in total shadow except for his bright white teeth, is a fantastic way to convey malevolence.

Issue # 3 starts with a funny, and very snarky, editorial by Archie Goodwin about Bates & Giffen's lateness.  One can see from the cover dates that a book that was supposed to be bimonthly had a five month gap between Issues # 2 and # 3.  Not healthy for sales for a weird book just trying to get off the ground!  There's a really funny (and cogent) recap of Issues # 1 and 2 featuring Archie Goodwin as Mr. Rogers and Jack and Damon as muppets.  The storyline progresses with Jack at first disbelieving that Damon could be an evil dictator, but then changing his mind when he sees his "friend" murder two of Doreen's fellow rebels.  Fortunately, Kojak sneaks into Damon's HQ and presses the "off" button on the magical remote control, returning everyone to reality.  The murdered rebels are still dead, however; they've just died of different causes, thus making the point that what happens in the alternate video reality has very real implications.  Damon has had enough of the whole business, but Jack is intensely curious about how the remote works and starts pushing buttons; first he gets a cartoon land, then a 1950s B&W TV show where's he thrown in jail!

We find out in Issue # 4 that Jack has unwittingly fallen into a version of the town of Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show, but one in which everyone's dark sides are at the forefront: Otis the Drunk, for example, is an evil serial killer!  Otis kills Barney and Andy, but Jack and Damon manage to escape.  Poor Floyd the Barber gets chainsawed (hilarious, admit it!).  Fortunately, Jack, Damon, and Kojak escape Evil Mayberry and into another TV-genre reality: Alien!  There's a fun fight against the alien queen, before another shift to a sit-com.  Kojak theorizes (he's a smart dog!) that Damon's evil is bleeding into and infecting every world they enter.  The issue ends with a surprise twist: Damon's evil Uncle Zach is somehow still around and has the remote control back!

Jack awakens to find himself a captive aboard a pirate ship in an old swashbuckling movie in Issue # 5; and Damon is the pirate captain!  But Doreen is the pirate queen of her own ship, and leads a boarding party to rescue Jack!  Jack and Damon spar with cutlasses, until Uncle Zach (whom I think is a zombie or something) arrives on his own ship and changes the channel on the remote, sending everyone to a Dallas-style evening soap opera.  In this reality, Damon has done a hostile takeover of Jack's company, and kidnapped him to boot.  But then there's another weird shift into something involving artificial intelligence and clone henchmen.  Frankly confusing, but you've just got to go along for the ride.  Damon wrestles the remote control back from (un)dead Uncle Zach; Damon has a doomsday device, but then he's interrupted by a new player in the game:  "Pop" Culture!(?).  Are you lost yet?

The series comes to a satisfying conclusion in Issue # 6. "Pop" Culture is something akin to an evil game show host, and he forces Jack to compete with Damon in order to save Doreen's life.  What follows is a series of two-page long encounters, each drawn by a different artist and taking place in a different TV show genre: there's everything from Star Trek to I Love Lucy, and guest artists include Walt Simonson, Jim Starlin, and Bill Wray.  Suffice it to say, Jack wins the contest and uses the remote to restore reality back to normal (mostly).

All in all, I can appreciate what Bates & Giffen were trying to do with Video Jack; they had a fun concept that allowed them to tell stories that varied dramatically depending on what genre the remote control sent the characters to.  At the same time, six issues was probably a good duration for the series, and much longer would have gotten repetitive.  The characters and setting didn't have enough depth to force the reader to demand more.  I imagine sales on this weren't particularly high, given its somewhat opaque nature and delays in coming out, but it was an interesting experiment that at least told a complete story.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Buffy Comic Project: "Dawn and Hoopy the Bear"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 55

(Dark Horse, Volume 1, 1998-2003)

Creators:  Paul Lee (story & art)

Setting:  Between Movie & Season 1

T.V./Movie Character Appearances:  Dawn, Joyce, Hank

Major Original Characters:  Matthew (demon summoner); Hoopy the Bear (demon bear)

Summary:  A demon summoner named Matthew makes a pact with a mysterious monstrous figure: Matthew will receive great power if he arranges for the Slayer to be destroyed by delivering her a stuffed bear that is actually a d'jinn that will fulfill her unconscious desires before turning on her.  Matthew gets instructions on where the Slayer lives but, never having seen Buffy, is confused and gives the bear to her little sister instead!  Dawn, who is chafing at home because Joyce and Hank keep a close eye on her since Buffy ran away, is quite pleased with the gift.  She takes the bear, which she names Hoopy, with her to school.  A bully picks on Dawn, and (unbeknownst to her) Hoopy transforms into a real bear and attacks the boy after school!  That night, Hoopy transforms into a bear again and sneaks out of the house to retrieve a new doll that Dawn wants.  When Matthew learns of his mistake in giving the djinn bear to the wrong Summers daughter, he wrenches it out of Dawn's hands and runs off.  But as he rests in an alleyway, Hoopy transforms again and attacks him!  Dawn finds Hoopy in stuffed animal form only to be attacked by a gang of vampires before being rescued by Hoopy.  When Dawn returns home, she gets in trouble for being out and is grounded.  Since she's mad at her parents, Hoopy transforms again and attacks them!  But Dawn doesn't really want them to be hurt, so Hoopy starts fighting himself and then runs away.  Hank and Joyce think a bear attacked them, but only Dawn knows the truth.


This was a fantastic issue, and kudos have to go out to writer/artist Paul Lee.  The story is short, simple, and sweet, and far better than  one might expect of a tale featuring a pre-teen Dawn of all characters.  The background context (Joyce and Hank being overprotective and tense because of Buffy running away) is perfect for a story about Dawn and the power of wish-fulfillment.  The artwork is uniformly excellent.  The ending is bittersweet.  Just an excellent all-around comic, and probably one of the most memorable of the run.


* The usual interior front-cover design is replaced by the title written in crayon; a nice way to set the tone for the story.

* There's an ad for a video game called Freelancer; it sounds awesome, but Wikipedia indicates it didn't live up to the promises.

* The reason Dawn gets mistaken for the Slayer is quite clever; she's amped up after defeating a video game monster and is blabbing about it to the demon-summoning "delivery man."

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