Posts Tagged ‘comics

21
Nov
11

party gaming to celebrate the digital release of the D&D comics

A while back I ran a public open-table OD&D game as part of the opening ceremonies for the Doomslangers exhibit at the Allegra LaViola gallery. One of the players was Kevin Pearl; when not scouring dungeons, he is part of the comiXology Social Media & Production Team. So when they were preparing for the launch of the Dungeons & Dragons comics from IDW Publishing on their Comics by comiXology service, Kevin reached out to me to put together a gaming event as part of the launch party.

If you’re in NYC and free this Wednesday night, come play with us at Jim Hanley’s Universe; check out the flyer image at right, or the press release below, for details. If you’re coming, be sure to RSVP at the Facebook event page!

Even if you aren’t in the area, or need more lead time to arrange your gaming schedule, I think this is a noteworthy development in a conversation we’ve been having here at the Mule. To review what’s gone before:

The scenario I ran for the Doomslangers show where I met Kevin was a room I created for the Tower of Gygax at Gen Con, which first got me excited about the possibilities for party gaming: ways to do outreach to new players through a reduced barrier to entry, and to entertain existing ones on a larger scale through audience participation and easy drop-in/drop-out. I ran this scenario again at Jaysoncon, where the Tower of Gygax approach worked as well for the small audience celebrating Jayson’s birthday as it did for the hordes who queue up at Gen Con to see how long they will survive before death means they have to give up their seat to the next player in line.

My experience trying to run 4E for a mixed group of experienced current players and newbies or long-lapsed ones at the D&D installment of Ryan McGinness’s  50 Parties series pointed out some of the issues that have to be taken into account to make this kind of public, all-access gaming work. The bachelor parties and birthday parties for kids and adults my fellow Mules and I have done since then are attempts to try out solutions.

I’ve said before that there are  interesting questions for the OSR about the interface between this kind of party gaming and the long-form campaigns that we normally celebrate. There is also an important conversation to be had about commercialization and commodification of our scene. Ryan McGinness told me that he created 50 Parties  in reaction to “the proliferation of parties with corporate sponsorship, where you’re always going to a party that exists to showcase the introduction of a new brand of vodka”. At the time this seemed as far away from my geeky world as could be, but in NYC these worlds are now in collision.

The fact that I really like both vodka and the IDW D&D comics doesn’t blind me to the issues here. How can we keep the collision of worlds from being a disaster and instead ensure that we get their planet’s women and Coca-Cola in exchange for our surplus ray-guns and radium saucers? I’ll have more to say about this down the road; for now, here’s the press release:

Harken to the call of adventure as comiXology, IDW Publishing, and legendary comic shop Jim Hanley’s Universe team up for an unprecedented Dungeons and Dragons gaming event!
In honor of the latest release of IDW’s massive collection of fantastic Dungeons & Dragons comics on Comics by comiXology, comiXology and IDW Publishing will be hosting an evening of classic Dungeons & Dragons gaming at Jim Hanley’s Universe in New York City! Gaming oversight provided by Tavis Allison of http://www.adventuringparties.com/
When: November 23rd, 2011 6:00pm
Where: Jim Hanley’s Universe on 33rd Street, right next to The Empire State Building in New York City.
What: Come prepared with a Dungeons & Dragons Digital Comic already downloaded on your device and receive a free comiXology t-shirt that adds + 5 to your base Awesome factor! Didn’t understand that last joke? Worry not as players need not be experienced in the grand tradition of D&D to play. Adventurers of all levels are invited to take part in an evening filled with magic, adventure and a whole lot of geeky fun. So gather up thy lucky dice, digital devices, and whatever else one might need to slay Orcs or hunt for treasure and come join us on November 23rd at Jim Hanley’s Universe.
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27
Oct
11

kirbsday: Jimmy Olsen 135

One last Jimmy Olsen to get to before this project shifts into second gear. 

I love this cover (by Neal Adams, I think) but sadly, a “horde of [midget] Killer-Supermen” never arrive, and are only briefly implied in the comic itself.  I presume the cover artist was working on an early plot synopsis that got changed midway through the issue.

We open with Simyan and Mokkari, two self-confessed evil scientists, who are cackling about how the Earthmen have no defense against the superior biotechnology from Apokolips.

Superman and the Newsboy Legion take their leave of the Hairies, who urge them to investigate a mishap at “the Project.”

And soon:

So: an anarchic motorcycle gang (the Outsiders) are providing security for a bunch of techno-hippies (the Hairies) who provide traps and diversions to protect the United States Army.  And who’s the Army here to protect?

Teddy Kennedy, some guy, Gregory Peck, and a young Dick Nixon?  No!  They are the original Newsboy Legion from the early 1940s.  (No Flipper Dipper back then, alas.)  The gang hanging out with Jimmy Olsen in the past few issues are their sons.  Except their sons look and act exactly like them and no one ever mentions the kids’ mothers…

So the Project has cloned Jimmy Olsen at least forty-three times and have deployed Clone-Jimmies as infantry soldiers.  And:

digression: okay, wtf

Superman, let’s have a little talk.  The Project is apparently a top-secret military genetics research laboratory (protected by hippies and the Hells Angels).  Your employer, The Daily Planet, presumably one of the nation’s leading newspapers, gathered DNA samples from its teenage interns without their consent, and turned those samples over to the Army.  The Army then grew a squadron of child soldiers grown from your best friend.  Plus you keep a petri dish full of microscopic naked Jimmy Olsens.  Do we need to have an intervention, Superman?  You used to be a journalist for God’s sake.

back to the show

Meanwhile the evil scientists report on their progress to Darkseid via video conference.  This is one of Darkseid’s earliest scenes, and we’re still learning about him: he’s in charge of both Inter-Gang and the Evil Factory, the latter of which is explicitly some kind of advanced expeditionary force from some place called Apokolips tending toward the conquest of Earth.  Darkseid had been trying to blow up the Hairies last issue, and now is operating the Evil Factory, so whatever the Project is up to must matter a lot to him.

Then the evil scientists’ giant, which Darkseid calls an “uncontrollable organic murder machine” gets loose and runs amok:

The scientists use the Penetrator Beam to teleport the giant into the factory.  The giant, of course, turns out to be a mutated, enlarged Jimmy Olsen with kryptonite skin.  Superman gets knocked out when the giant reveals its identity.  You keep dozens of him naked in a petri dish, don’t act so scandalized.

As a soldier (Olsen 43?) exclaims, “Holy smoke!  Someone’s bred a giant renegade Jimmy Olsen!”  The Project sends its own weaponized Jimmy Olsens from stolen cells to fight it.  Meanwhile,

… another Kirby revival:

some comments

This issue is . . . strange.  The villains of this piece are unmistakably bad guys: they’re aliens bent on conquering Earth on behalf of Jack Kirby’s ultimate villain, Darkseid (who orchestrated the plot to kill several children last issue), and they work in a place called the “Evil Factory.”  And yet their dastardly deed is to clone Jimmy Olsen without his consent for use in war, which is apparently exactly what Superman’s buddies in the Project are doing.  Superman is a dick, but in this issue he’s verging on Mad Scientist’s Henchman level villainy.

This is one of the most interesting aspects of Kirby’s portrayal of Superman.  Superman means well, but seems very uncomfortable with the idea that other people have agency.  In issues 133 and 134, Superman is ostensibly worried that his boss, Morgan Edge, is plotting to kill Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion, so he has to warn them off their news assignment at any cost–but rather than explain his concern like a rational person (“I believe Edge tried to have Clark Kent murdered.  Let’s do this together, Jimmy”), Superman’s impulse is to give orders and throw his weight around.  He doesn’t see the kids as his moral equals, and in this issue he and his friends straight-up treat them as lab experiments.  To dramatize this point, Superman is completely defenseless when he sees the giant’s face: the idea that Jimmy, even a cloned Jimmy, might resent and hate him is a disarming shock.

The other frustrating thing about this issue is that the really promising antagonism between Jimmy (the real one) and Superman fades totally into the background here, as if it never happened.  Maybe a day ago in fictional time, Jimmy Olsen was hellbent on finding the truth of this story, even if it meant crashing a motorcycle into Superman’s genitals.  He was fighting the most powerful man in the universe because the dude was getting in the way of his job.  By now, though, Jimmy is a wonderstruck observer to Superman’s cascade of revelations.  He is surprised, but not noticeably dismayed, that a major American newspaper is colluding with the Army to conduct ethically dubious experiments on his own DNA.  Two-fisted Jimmy is gone, and we may never see him again.

13
Oct
11

kirbsday: Jimmy Olsen 133

Let’s get started on the Fourth World stuff!  Anything that kicks off with Superman being slammed in the junk by a motorcycle has to be good.

After leaving Marvel Comics, Kirby’s first gig at National Comics (later to become DC) was on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen.  To non-comics readers, this would be like if Steve Wozniak had quit Apple Computers to design electronic gizmos to put in McDonald’s Happy Meals.  Even by the standards of a genre where men wear their underpants on the outside of their clothes, Jimmy Olsen was juvenile.  But all of the bigger titles had established writers and artists, and Kirby didn’t want to kick anyone out of a paying gig.  So Jimmy Olsen is where he ended up.

Enough talk!  Time for action!

Jimmy Olsen meets his colleagues for a new assignment to the mysterious Wild Area, and checks out their fabulous vehicle.

The Newsboy Legion is a poverty-stricken, scrappy-as-hell kids’ gang consisting of four irritating white kids, plus Flipper-Dipper, a black kid with such an unquenchable obsession with scuba-diving that he apparently walks around the streets of Suicide Slum in full diving gear including an oxygen tank at all times.

Flipper-Dipper is awesome.  You can just picture Kirby at the drawing board, chomping on a cigar, thinking, “Gee, I’ve got a blabbermouth kid, a nerdy kid, a handsome kid, a tough kid . . . what would round that out?  Oh of course!  That most beloved archetype in all of children’s literature, the scuba-diving kid!”  And then one of his assistants says, “But boss, how are you gonna squeeze scuba-diving into the plot every month?”  And Kirby shakes his fist and growls, “Bah!  Just watch me!”

Meanwhile Clark Kent is bitching to his new boss, Morgan Edge, that the Wild Area assignment is too dangerous for Jimmy.  Edge is pretty chill about possibly sending six children to their deaths . . . But he then puts a hit on Clark Kent to keep him from snooping around.I love that hiring a hit-man sounds like it’s easier than ordering a pizza.  The Inter-Gang telephone receptionist must have a fun job.  Anyway, the hit fails because Clark, of course, is Superman (spoilers!), and he decides to stop farting around with this job stuff and just go to the Wild Area himself.  Meanwhile Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion go to the Wild Area in their flying car thingy . . .

And they get attacked by some anti-social motorcyclists called the Outsiders.  When Jimmy punches out a guy who looks like Doctor Doom, he becomes the leader of this chapter of the Hell’s Angels.

Superman shows up in the Wild Area and is sarcastic as hell.The Outsiders defeat Superman with a kryptonite ray-gun–they apparently have access to crazy technology somehow–and Superman realizes that Jimmy is now hanging out with Elves from Dungeons & Dragons or something:Though Superman tries to persuade Jimmy that he’ll be killed if he sticks to his assignment, Jimmy Olsen ain’t no bitch.  He was told to find the Mountain of Judgment, and that’s exactly what he’s gonna do.  Shut up, old man!

In this single issue, we’ve got: a new writer, a new artist, a new team of sidekicks (to Superman’s sidekick), a super-car, a new villain mastermind, a new villain team (Inter-Gang), a “drop-out” society of hippies, and of course, the conversion of laughingstock man-child Jimmy Olsen into one of comics’s biggest bad asses who dominates practically everyone he meets.  Meanwhile Superman comes across as a schoolmarmish killjoy at least partially motivated by professional jealousy.

While it’s customary to talk about how different this issue is from everything that’s proceeded it in Jimmy Olsen, which typically involves something goofy happening to Jimmy leading to a spat with Superman, there are some continuities too.  First: Jimmy Olsen leading a futuristic motorcycle gang is probably the same order of wackiness as Jimmy becoming a member of the Beatles in Ancient Israel.  Second: yep, conflict with Superman.   It’s interesting that this isn’t smoothed out at the end of the issue; it’s clear these guys don’t really want to hurt each other, but Jimmy isn’t backing off the big assignment, even though he acknowledges it might kill him and his friends.  Third: there’s a whole bit of business I omitted where Clark Kent has an answering machine with artificial intelligence, designed to give him an alibi–just the sort of goofy super-gizmo that is always saving Kent’s identity in any other issue.

Still, these continuities are transformed by the escalating tension in the book.  Superman getting maced with kryptonite by some random biker dude under Jimmy’s orders isn’t even the climax of the story.  Rather, it’s the irreconcilable disagreement over Jimmy’s mission, which even the Outsiders believe to be suicide.

At any rate, it is one hell of an opening.

16
May
11

rick jones, sorcerer (pt 1)

“James,” no one asks, “where have you been?

Why don’t you blog anymore?”

I have been on an RPG bender, snorting powdered rule books, line after line of Gygaxian prose, until I’ve ruined my nasal cavities, and sticking irrational-sided dice into various orifices.  I’ve turned myself into New York Red Box’s very own Wandering Monster, showing up randomly at sessions and giggling at things nobody else thinks is funny, encouraging TPK’s through bad advice.  Then leaving early to snort more rule books.  Soon I’m gonna end up like my man Ska-Tay, mainlining retroclones and telling myself it’s no big deal since it’s just micro-lites.

Anyway: content!

+

Crossposted over at the Forge.

While trying to put together another one-shot for Marvel Super Heroes, I ended up thinking about the Hulk.

In the very earliest issues of The Incredible Hulk, which lasted for all of 6 issues in 1962, the Hulk is a rampaging atomic monster hell-bent on conquering the Earth, destroying the human race, and raping Betty Ross.  Not necessarily in that order.

This was a comic sold to children

even creeper in original context

The only thing holding him in check (just barely) is teenage delinquent and high school drop-out Rick Jones.  These early Hulk comics are really the story of an incredibly quick-witted and resourceful boy trying desperately to save the world from a monster he feels responsible for creating.

It’s a Sorcerer story, at least in its better moments.

This write-up isn’t meant to replicate Hulk comics precisely, but rather to play on the desperation, Cold War paranoia, atomic monster fiction of the time.  Rick and the Hulk are just one data point in there.

Sorcerer, for those who don’t know…

Is an RPG where you play Faust.  You’re a mostly-ordinary dude, except that through sorcery you’ve bound a demon into your service.  If you’re a PC, you probably had a really good reason for doing so, but the game is about finding out how well that works out for you. Your goal isn’t just to advance your own interests, but to somehow preserve a shred of your Humanity, which is sort of like your spiritual health.  It’s one of my favorite games and one that I wish I could play more often.

Sorcerer, as a rules text, is all about formal abstractions: “demon” doesn’t have to mean a critter from Hell, all that matters is that, however you define the term in your setting, the rules for demons apply.  (D&D analogy: maybe in your world, Fighting-Man is more of a samurai dude or a Wild West gunslinger, instead of a medieval European knight, but in all cases the rules for Fighting-Men would apply.)

Customizing Sorcerer for the setting

we'll get to you later, Doctor Pym

Humanity is loyalty, friendship, human decency type stuff.  You can roll Humanity vs. Will to compel someone to cleave to you.  Rick does this a lot to persuade the rampaging Hulk to cool it.

Demons are monstrous creatures and unearthly technologies brought forth by the atomic age.  Unprecedented outlanders, these oddities either do not respect or simply fail to understand the reciprocal bonds that make us human.  The monster’s Power score represents the scope or intensity of its loathing.

Sorcery is super science, the relentless pursuit of atomic energies and Space Age revelations that mankind was never meant to know.  Pursuit of knowledge in the abstract, with no regard how it will impact the rest of humanity, marks someone as beyond petty concepts like “loyalty” or “friendship.”

Lore is basically comic-book super science, doing stuff like contacting aliens on other planets, developing biological weapons that turn into blob-monsters, building robots, implanting wasp DNA into teenage girls, and so on.  This isn’t just science, but 1950’s “mad” science, things that just cannot possibly work.

13
Jul
10

rama-tut is awesome

Rama-Tut, by pre-crazy John Byrne

I probably have several bloggable observations about the Marvel Super Heroes Role-Playing Game, but they require me to think lucidly.  Instead I’d rather just post stuff about RAMA-TUT, one of my favorite obscure super villains, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in Fantastic Four 19.

It’s related to gaming because in our game, Chrystos is playing HORUS, THE VENGEFUL FALCON, and Rama-Tut has stolen the mystical scepter he needs to become a normal human again.

Rama-Tut’s deal is that he became a super villain because, in the future there are no role-playing games.

For I was then, as I am now, a man of action, an adventurer! But there were no adventures in the year 3000 . . . No enemies to battle, no dragons to slay!  All was peaceful . . . Horribly, unbearably peaceful!!

Rama-Tut wants to get out there and get his freakin’ LARP on, as passive forms of entertainment totally blow.

Why was I born into an age when the only excitement a man can find is in watching 3-D stereovisions from a thousand years ago?!!

His adventuring urges frustrated by the shallowness of CRPG’s, he steals a time machine, disguises it to look like the Great Sphinx of Giza, and kicks the asses of everyone in Ancient Egypt.

Prototype of the Ultra-Diode Ray-Gun

So, Rama-Tut is like Evil Connecticut Yankee.  Rama-Tut’s super powers consist basically of being a Super-Genius (at least by 20th Century standards), and looking totally ripped while wearing a crazy green headdress.  In Ancient Egypt, that makes him a total bad-ass.

He also has what the Gamer’s Handbook to the Marvel Universe describes as an “Ultra-Diode Ray-Gun,” which can control your brain but mainly is cool because it looks like a Mauser.

This whole schtick – futuristic technology commingling with Neolithic society,  with a gloss of World War II industrial design – is one of the recurring motifs of Jack Kirby’s work, and one of the easiest to imitate in gaming.  Dude was always writing Pulp Fantasy for the Space Age.

To be honest, Rama-Tut is a pretty gimmicky villain, and would be totally forgettable, if not for a chance encounter with Doctor Doom in hyperspace.  Together, they have the GREATEST CONVERSATION OF ALL TIME:

Can you spot the elementary logical flaw which eludes the two greatest minds in super-villainy?  I revisit this conversation, found in Fantastic Four Annual 2, whenever I’m feeling low.

09
Jul
10

dawn of the defenders

By the Book of the Vishanti!  I am roused from my eternal sloth to compose a quick post on the Marvel Super Heroes game.  I’ve been meaning to blog about Marvel Super Heroes generally, but I’ve been busy with work and various holiday-related events.

Quick character summaries:

  • Sternum’s playing DOCTOR STRANGE, the Sorcerer Supreme, whose super power is omnipotence.
  • Bodacious plays The SKINK, a Japanese fire-demon who works in a pizzeria and lives in fear of the INS.
  • Chrystos plays HORUS (a/k/a Sarcophaguy), a millionaire leper who is also a cyborg-mummy gigolo.
  • WeisseRose plays TUNDRA, a Z-list super villain who is pretty much the northern half of Canada.

They fight crime.

Specifically, they are the Defenders.

For anyone who wasn’t a big Marvel Comics fan, The Defenders was a comic book series that ran through the 1970’s, briefly revived a few times since, where the idea is that it’s a team of people who don’t really like each other, and who don’t think they’re part of a team at all.  As Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner phrased it:

The Defenders is merely a name, and no more.  At times we battle together against a common foe–but the Defenders is not an alliance . . . There is no leader, no rules, no charter.

In other words, it’s a super hero team designed around a West Marches or Red Box style of attendance, where the strangest collection of characters, from the Hulk to Howard the Duck to Dracula can all team up, drop in, drop out, and save the day or whatever they please.  Welcome to the world of Steve Gerber!

Character creation was a mixture of selecting established characters (Dr. Strange, Tundra), random rolling, and modeling based on concepts.  The players of the Skink and Horus wheedled a few minor powers out of me, so it wasn’t an “honest” random roll, but since they’re partners with Doctor Strange, who is arguably the most powerful guy in Marvel Comics, and also the game lets you simply adapt concepts without rolling, I didn’t think this was a big deal.

Horus, the Living Mummy

Plot Summary:

Doctor Strange is warned by the Orb of Agamotto that bad guys are gunning for the fabled Scepter of Set, a mystical gizmo that can conquer the world–but anyone who touches it will have their soul destroyed.  He therefore gathers up the Skink (who has no soul) and Horus (whose soul is theoretically sealed in a canopic jar), and after some bickering they arrive in Cairo to protect the Scepter.  (Tundra presumably will arrive later.)

There, they confront the fanatical witch-hunter the Silver Dagger, the robot minions of Rama-Tut, and the astral spirit of Baron Mordo–precipitating a four-way battle for the Scepter of Set.  After a lot of dice-wrangling, the heroes manage to seize the Scepter, only to discover it was a fake–suggesting that someone duped the Orb of Agamotto to keep Doctor Strange occupied…

System comments:

More to follow, but basically things worked pretty well.  It was a very fun session, but mainly because I enjoy playing with these folks so much.  The Marvel Super Heroes Role-Playing Game didn’t get in our way at all, but didn’t do much to facilitate play either.

My only serious complaint is that, like early editions of Dungeons & Dragons, the mechanics permit but don’t require fictional inputs, leading to an “I attack… I dodge… I attack… I dodge” style of play if you’re not careful.

My thought on fixing this is to steal from Ron Edwards’s excellent SORCERER: if you end up repeating your action from last round, you take a cumulative penalty to your rolls.

My not-so-serious complaint is that the Magic Rules befuddled us completely.  Sternum was most familiar with the Advanced Rules, I knew the Basic Rules, and Doctor Strange’s character sheet was from the Realms of Magic accessory–and all of these texts have different rules for magic.  At some point we’ll have to figure it out.

Overall, a pretty good night.  We’ll do  few more sessions and see how things go.

13
Jun
10

make mine Marvel!

Poor Captain Marvel. The years have not been kind.

It’s been a while since I ran a game, and since the New York Red Box crew is well-saturated with fantasy at this point (Tavis’s OD&D campaign, Eric’s B/X campaign, and Adrian’s Rune Quest II arc), I figured I’d run a few sessions of Marvel Super Heroes.

I have a long, frustrating non-history with this game.  I’d bought it in 1985 – my second RPG after Mentzer Basic D&D – an fell in love with it, but none of my friends were comic fans, so it stayed unplayed, in time joined by its brother the Advanced Set.  Aside from a brief two-hour session a year ago, I never had any exposure to it in practice.

So, I’m organizing a handful of sessions for some people I don’t get to game with very often, applying a mixture of old and new school approaches.

The old school approach I’m going for here is a classic sandbox.  Marvel Super Heroes was released after the Golden Age, as Grognardia observed, and the standard adventures published as part of the line were of the worst railroady sort.  But the Marvel Universe is basically a sandbox waiting to happen, as it’s nothing more than a map with beloved locations (Daily Bugle, Gamma Base, City of Toads, Blue Area of the Moon, the Dark Dimension) populated by NPC’s and monsters (J. Jonah Jameson, the Hulkbusters, Deviants, the Watcher, Mindless Ones).  Rather than come up with an overarching plot, there will be a handful of threads and the sessions will go wherever the players lead me.

The new school approach will probably be Beliefs, Instincts and Traits, stolen from Burning Wheel.

  • Beliefs are brief statements about how your character views the world and his or her place in it; they should, ideally, be drafted to apply to the current situation.  Beliefs help the player figure out the character’s general goals, but also give the GM a target, a way to catch the character off-balance or address challenges that are relevant.  “With great power comes great responsibility!”  “Anyone can be a hero – the secret is to never give up!”  “Puny humans never leave Hulk alone!”  “I’m the best there is at what I do…”
  • Instincts are habits, reflexes, or schticks that the character can always be counted to employ.  This helps the player resist GM force, but also helps the GM create situations to show off (or problematize) those habits.  “Always keep my ruby-quartz visor on,” “Invoke the hoary hosts of Hoggoth when surprised,” and “When talking to people, boast about how great the Sub-Mariner is–Imperius Rex!” are instincts.
  • Traits are general comments about a character’s personality.  They’re mainly there so that the group has a baseline for awarding points for good play.

We’ll see how it goes.  At the very least, I’ll be able to cross a game off my list after 25 years of wistful speculation.




Past Adventures of the Mule

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