Archive for February 9th, 2012

09
Feb
12

kirbsday: the orion gang and the deep six!

New Gods #4 opens with the science-god Metron showing the child-god Esak some of the wonders of the universe…

Esak is curious about the difference between the New Gods and mortal men.  “Time to them is not as time to us–is it?  Tell me, Metron!  Are we truly beyond time?–Are we beyond death?

Nope!

Last time, Orion and his human pets chased down agents of Inter-Gang, getting a timely assist from the bizarre Black Racer. This issue continues that theme, but Orion’s plot opens with his discovery of the murder of his friend Seagrin, who we haven’t seen before and will never see again.  He’s kind of like a hippie Aquaman: “He loved the deeps and all life in it!  It was his element!  Within it, he found harmony in living! . . . Somewhere in these waters he fought and died!”

Orion gives Seagrin a proper Viking New Genesis funeral:

And then, dang it, when Orion goes home after the funeral, the pets keep introducing themselves!  These guys are like parrots.  I understand that, in serialized fiction, you have to constantly reintroduce characters and their plotlines, but surely there’s ways to do that which are more elegant than having the characters repeat their own full names three times in four issues!

New Gods #1:

New Gods #2:

New Gods #4:

Damn it, you guys!  I know Orion found you hooked up to some Apokolips brain-scanning machine, but come on.

Anyway, the plot of this issue is: Seagrin is dead, and Orion’s gonna solve the case with the help of his pets.  The clue is that Seagrin’s Mother Box didn’t activate to save him, so it must have been jammed.  The jammer was likely built by Inter-Gang, Darkseid’s minions in organized crime.  So they must locate the jammer and destroy it.  And they’re going to do this by pretending to be a bunch of Irish mobsters, “The O’Ryan Gang.”

They locate a member of Inter-Gang named Snaky Doyle via Orion’s Mother Box.  (The jammer explicitly doesn’t shield humans from the Mother Box, which if you ask me is a pretty serious design flaw).  Dave Lincoln mugs Snaky with a pipe:

Once they learn of Inter-Gang’s “seashore base,” Claudia “Claudia Shane” Shane poses as a motorist in distress and gasses the guards.

Victor “Victor Lanza” Lanza pretends to be the O’Ryan Gang’s underboss, here to negotiate with Inter-Gang and learn the jammer’s location.  He encounters Country Boy, a mob boss with a fishing gimmick:

Orion locates and vaporizes the jammer, and his henchmen defeat Inter-Gang.  But Orion is captured by Slig and the Deep Six, who prowl the coasts and mutate sea-creatures into creatures of Apokolips.

anything to add?

I’m glad Orion’s friends actually did something useful this issue.  Orion has made a big deal about recruiting them into a secret war; it’s nice to see them actually participate for once.  But it may be too little, too late: we won’t see them again for months, and frankly I won’t miss them too much.

As far as the on-going cosmology: it’s implied in this issue that the New Gods will die if their Mother Box gets deactivated, either because that kills them outright or because it can no longer shield them from harm.

But as far as larger significance in this issue?  I think what we get here is that men can kill gods (albeit indirectly), and gods may disguise themselves as outlaws to move among immoral men.  And that’s about it.

The good news is that we’re setting up for some good stuff in the next few issues.  The bad news is that The New Gods until this point feels like it’s treading water a little bit.  The Forever People have embarked on a huge quest; Mister Miracle is always dueling the villain of the moth.  But Orion has fought a billboard that makes people afraid, some gangsters (but the lion’s share of the credit belongs to the Black Racer), and a guy who shoots a gun by using a fishing rod.  All of which is wonderfully weird, but kind of marginal.  Thor wouldn’t fight a billboard, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Walt Simonson had tried…

The most interesting stuff in The New Gods so far has been the asides on New Genesis, with Metron and Lightray and the Black Racer, rather than the supposed hero.  Kirby will fix that in time, but it feels like an unnecessary commercial risk.  The audacity of The New Gods as a series is that it’s the repository for all the crazy backstory in The Forever People, Mister Miracle, and the Kirbified Jimmy Olsen–basically, it’s the source and destination for all the odd cosmological stuff referenced in those titles, which means it isn’t always an easy sell.  When it works–when the title is devoted to chasing down loose ends in and explaining them with parable–I think it is really effective, but it’s hard to do that while time-sharing a 22 page story with Orion taking on the Mafia.

wait there is more

There’s a funny splash page of Kalibak here.  We didn’t get to see much of Kalibak in New Gods #1–he’s basically just a bellowing cave man with a techno-club thing–so it’s our first indication that he might be more important.

Dig those Kirby toes!  The Man-Gog from like Thor #156 or something has toes just like that.

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09
Feb
12

trolling for 2e

Illustration from The Boy and the Trolls, by Jon Bauer

Over the weekend we did some impromptu delving with Heron Prior’s Trolls Will Be Trolls, one of the winners of the 2010 One Page Dungeon Contest.  Because the New York Red Box crew doesn’t normally mess around with it, I broke out Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition and we ran a bit of that.

one-paragraph review of a one-page dungeon

“Trolls Will Be Trolls,”which also appears in Fight On #10, features the lair of Stencheye, a Troll matriarch and witch-doctor, and her seemingly infinite brood of Trolls, Half-Trolls, and Devil Trolls.  There are scant plot hooks, but the map is nicely non-linear.  NPC’s include Stencheye herself (I gave her max hit points and the spells of a 6th level Cleric), a Hill Giant with the head of a pig, a spriggan named Droopteats, and my favorites the Scragglebeard Brothers, “a pair of insane, lecherous Dwarven warriors” who number among the Troll Queen’s lovers.  My one regret about the adventure as presented is that it’s extremely monster-heavy, particularly with Trolls who aren’t the critters you’d immediately associate with a “let’s defuse this confrontation with some RP” strategy.  Otherwise, you can see why it won “Best Lair” in the 2010 contest: it’s a great little dungeon with some pretty ferocious enemies.

what happened in play?

The two players, a 7th level Mage and an 8th level Fighter, recruited nine first-level Fighter hirelings, and decided to raid the lair searching for the fabled Horn of Gwall, a mystic relic of the primordial God-Mammoth.  They did pretty good, overall: the Mage had scored a mirror of life-trapping during random item rolls, and played it pretty hard, and a squad of melee dopes, even first-level melee dopes, kept things moving right along as the main Fighter carved up the harder opponents.  Eventually they ended up getting so interested in setting up an ambush that they got trapped in an ambush themselves, and ended up fighting on three fronts before the Mage used suggestion to get on the Trolls’ good side.  We left them there, about halfway through the dungeon after 3 hours of play…  I think with a full party they probably could have pulled it off, with a few losses.

Incidentally, I ran this using the 2e PHB and DMG, but using B/X for monsters, and never noticed any problems: the Troll write-up, at least, has barely changed.

2e: this step-child loves redheads

I don't care what people say, 2e 2 tha max

Man, I don’t know what the fuss over 2e is all about.  Or rather, I know what it’s all about and I think it’s bollocks.  Limiting yourself to just the Core Books from 1989 or so, it’s a pretty awesome version of Dungeons & Dragons.

Here’s where I agree with the h8t0rz:

The 2e DMG isn’t a compendium of the craziest random crap you can imagine, and Zeb’s writing doesn’t exude personality the way Gygax’s did. (Then again, the personality exuded by Gygax’s writing in 1979 is extraordinarily off-putting.)

And a lot of the 2e art stinks.  2e exchanges the incredibly awesome pseudo-amateur art of 1e for a blander and more professionalized style, and the art in both of the Monstrous Compendiums is downright bad: at first I was like, “Why are all these of monsters in silhouette?” and then I’m like, “Bring the silhouette back, that’s a terrible picture.”  And speaking of monsters, the loss of demons & devils to the SNL Church Lady is an unfortunate marketing misstep, but which may have been the result of TSR’s delusions of mass-marketing this thing to kids again, the way the D&D fad caught on in the late 70’s/early 80’s.

More critically, the game is far too coy about what it’s about: killing things and taking their stuff.  It’s almost the exact same game as 1e and B/X but it’s far less open about what it’s trying to do, pretending to be all things to all readers.  Again, maybe that’s the marketing folks talking: this game is for doing anything!  After marinating in the Old Ways for many years, it’s clear what this thing is good for, but that was a lot less apparent to me when I was 13.

BUT!

These books were edited.  By a sane person.  Who knew how to edit things.  I cannot stress this enough.  I read a sentence in the 2e DMG and I don’t think, “Please Uncle Gary, if you let the girl go I promise I won’t freak out over your compound-complex-super-subjunctive-passive-voice-pluperfect word stylings.”  Instead I think, “Oh, right: that’s the rule, right where I thought it would be.  Okay, back to the game.”

(Please understand: massive Wookiee life-debt to Gygax which I can never repay, yadda yadda, just saying WTF with the style in the 1e DMG.)

Also: the class mechanics are more-or-less streamlined.  I know some people get bugged that the Ranger gets d10’s for hit points instead of d8’s, and that Druids don’t get a 3rd level spell at 3rd level.  But I dig rationality.  The Bard class is interesting, no longer the mangled Frankenstein’s Monster of 1e nor yet the hopelessly music-is-maaaaaaagical of 3e.  And oh man, build-your-own-Thief is a godsend.

The other thing I like about 2e is that it’s pretty easy to customize for a particular setting.  “Okay, in this world, you’ve got the Base Four classes plus Paladins, Illusionists, and Necromancers.  You’ve got some Norse-worshipping Viking priests up north, who have a slightly different spell list, and the Illusionists and Necromancers hate each other and have been waging fraternity-house style pranks on each other for centuries.  And these dudes over here, they’re like fishermen, so if your character comes from that village you know fisherman-related skills.”

(I’m not a big proficiencies guy, and if ran a 2e game I’d just handle this with a handwave, but I do like the effort to reflect culture in the game, however crudely.  Fighters from over here ought to play a little different from Fighters over there.)

Perhaps not surprisingly, this emphasis on easy customization gave rise to a lot of really evocative settings: Time of the Dragon, Spelljammer, Dark Sun, Planescape, Al Qadim, and some great Historical Setting books.   In time, market pressures caused each of these to bloat terribly (well, not Time of the Dragon) but the initial setting books were great stuff.

I’m not vouching for all of the optional rules: morale looks hella-complicated, the build-your-own-class tables are messed up, and individual initiative is a headache.  (I am intrigued by the “Different XP rewards for each class” rules, though.)  But the core 2e rules are very close to my idealized Dungeons & Dragons: the clarity of B/X with the “big boy” monsters & classes.  Throw in some inspiring settings, and I’m in hog heaven.




Past Adventures of the Mule

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