Friday, July 21, 2017

Valerian

Luc Besson's new film Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets is based on the French comic book series Valérian et Laureline by by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières (The film seems largely drawn from the sixth story in the series, Ambassador of Shadows). It's good source material for Besson, has the exotic locales of the comic and multitude of aliens give plenty of opportunity for him to engage in the in the stunning visuals that have been part of his previous science fiction efforts.

Valerian and Laureline are special agents of the Federation, with a bantering, unresolved sexual tension thing going. After acquiring a cute and valuable alien organism, the Mul Converter, to the massive, multi-species space station Alpha, to save it from a mysterious threat. All is not as it seems, and Alpha's Commander has secret plans of his own. Our heroes make their way through the alien locales of the station to solve the mystery and save everybody.


The plot is perfunctory, its drama is simplistic, and the characters are thin, but the sort of science fiction films Besson makes have never particularly focused on those things. The Fifth Element had an breeziness about some of the core dramatic elements, but did a lot with action, humor, and a Heavy Metal visual sensibility. Valerian may not become a the cult classic it has, but would make a good double feature with it.

In rpg terms, the visuals in Besson's film will likely give plenty of fodder with sci-fi gaming. Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets: The Art of the Film, is worth picking up for that purpose, even if you don't like the film.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wednesday Comics: The Seven of Aromater

My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues with his adventures in the world of Pandarve. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Seven of Aromater (1984) 
(Dutch: De Zeven van Aromater) (part 3)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

Ember and Nomad watch from hiding as the Prince's steamship launches a smaller boat with the Seven or Aromater aboard. As they head toward the waterspout beneath the red, Ember realizes in horror what they plan.

She breaks from hiding to try to reach Storm. She is quickly captured and the former Storm, now the Seventh, ignores her cries. The ship sails on:


The Prince has Ember and Nomad in changes. He plans to keep them alive until the the survivors of the Seven return from the Red Tear with the Brain Coral. Until then, his ship will circle the waterspout and wait.

Ember and Nomad don't plan to be idle. They have hidden the remainder of the potion that converted Storm into a monster. Ember drinks it quickly and:


With enhanced strength and resistance to harm, Ember makes short work of the sailors. She and Nomad take over the ship. Ember isn't mindless like Storm and the others, she guides the ship toward the waterspout! The ship rides through the Storm--and is ultimately smashed!


TO BE CONTINUED

Monday, July 17, 2017

3 Pitches, 4 Colors 3: Agents of A.X.E.

This is the third in a series of posts with brief campaign pitches for superhero games. This one is written by Jason Sholtis of  The Dungeon Dozen:


(based on a rejected proposal found in a briefcase left on the subway by Steve Ditko
in 1968...)

Dateline 1999: Thirty years after the total victory of the hippie counterculture,
a unilaterally disarmed America watches helplessly as nation after nation falls before an unstoppable blitzkrieg of super soldiers, futuristic war machines and weapons from newly independent Transylvania.

Shocking the world in a live press conference, President Tom Hayden unveils the existence of the Agents of A.X.E., secret defenders of America. These highly trained super-operatives, each a paragon of American virtue, are entrusted with the use of super-devices derived from the technology of an alien civilization (details still classified) such as the Gauntlets of Potential, the Girdle of Density, and the Eye of Mastery.  

Moments later, the secret headquarters of the National Institute of Xenostudies beneath
Mt. Shasta falls to a sudden strike by Transylvanian stormtroopers, the scientists and leaders
who created A.X.E. all either dead or missing. If only the Agents had been there to help instead of
a Washington dog and pony show! How can you Agents ever forgive yourselves?

There is only one way: Defend America from the Transylvanian menace until they have to peel the Girdle of Density from your cold, dead midsection.

Style/influence: In a nutshell, THUNDER Agents vs. MARS Patrol written by Pat Mills in the 80's as reactionary silver age satire but drawn by Wally Wood and Steve Ditko in their prime, so it looks cool. Old school in tone, emphasizing all-out super-hero war on beach head America, so there will be black humor, super mayhem, and super death. But fear not, when Captain Density perishes, sidekick girl is there to pick up the girdle.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes


It's five years after a brief and unease truce between humans and apes in Northern California led to war.  The latest films is at turns The Outlaw Josey Wales and The Great Escape rather than a war film unless the title is more clever than it appears and references a war where the apes or not the primary combats--and gives a sly hint to its outcome.

Andy Serkis is again great as Caesar, and so are the other motion-capture actors. The special effects have gotten so good the apes don't really seen CGI at all, other than of course they are. Steve Zahn sort of steals the show here is the new character "Bad Ape" adding a bit of tastefully done levity to otherwise fairly grim precedings. Woody Harrelson is playing crazy, as usual, in the flavor of Kurtz from Apocalypse Now.

If you liked the previous installments in the current trilogy, you'll like this one. If you haven't seen any of this current series, you should start with Rise.


One thing I've noticed, when the first film came out it was widely commented that it was essentially a reworking/re-imaging of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. This is sort of true and viewed from that perspective Dawn and War are then a two part reworking of Battle for the Planet of the Apes. (Dawn, particularly has a lot of specific scene parallels to Battle.)

Friday, July 14, 2017

3 Pitches, 4 Colors 2: Days of Dr. Nightmare

This is the second in a series of posts with brief campaign pitches for superhero games. This one is written by Michael "Aos" Gibbons of  The Metal Earth and Cosmic Tales:


The world lies at the feet of Dr. Nightmare and has for these 30 years. The lands he rules strain under the burden of his mad and sadistic ambition; those he does not struggle in vain to remain free, or exist now only as mutant infested wastelands, scorched by Zero-Bombs and stinking with the taint of gene-gas.

But the weed of hope grows in the garden of despair. A few individuals, scattered across the globe, locked in disparate lives, have begun to experience lucid waking-dreams of another, better world, where they were heroes. All of them know, even if they refuse to face it, that something has gone wrong with time, and only they can fix it- and at the cost of everything they know.

They are the Awakened, and Dr. Nightmare can taste their dreams.

Inspirations: Days of Future Past, Age Of Apocalyse, Uncanny X-Men in general. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

3 Pitches 4-Colors 1: OMEGA TEAM!

This is the first in a series of posts with brief campaign pitches for superhero games. The others to follow are written by some other gaming bloggers you might know...


All of the world, individuals with anomalous and fantastic powers are increasing in number: mutants or victims of strange accidents, these individuals are feared and ostracized. A secret organization located beneath a governmental office building has need of these so-called freaks. The voice of Control describes the coming threat: The work of a brilliant Dr. Rankin has clearly indicated the danger. The ever-increasing number of “freaks,” extraterrestrial contacts, and weird phenomena, can be plotted on a curve showing inexorable progress nothing less that the destruction of humankind as we know it, if it’s trajectory is not altered. A team of special individuals--freaks--can bend this curve. They are the last line of defense: the Omega Team!

Style: Silver Age veneer on Modern Age construction; like Arnold Drake writing Grant Morrison’s  Doom Patrol, or maybe Steve Gerber writing Drake’s Doom Patrol.
Inspirations: Doom Patrol, Challengers of the Unknown, Atlas-era  monsters/horror, Xombi, Thriller, Outer Limits, X-Men.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wednesday Comics: Nocturnals: Sinister Path


I backed the Kickstarter for Dan Brereton's latest Nocturnals graphic novel, Sinster Path. The Kindle/Comixology versions are available now, and the hardcover should soon be available to the nonbacker public.

If you're not familiar with horror/pulp/superhero mashup The Nocturnals, you might want to read this post first.  If you are, then you know Brereton presents his tough guy underworld where super-science and magic exist in a matter of fact way, without a lot of explanation. Sinister Path continues this tradition, so no one evidences any surprise when Doc Horror and his crew head into the mansion of a deceased judge to get the files of dirt he kept on various underworld and government figures and encounter supernatural menaces. All in a days work for a werewolf/mob enforcer/scientist from a parallel dimension!

If that makes the Nocturnals sound like camp, it is not. The tone is serious for the most part, and Brereton makes his unusual concept work. His moody and lurid art probably helps.


Sinster Path could be read as a standalone, but it's probably, but best to start a little earlier so you know the relationships. It's fairly open-ended, promising more to come.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Looking for Adventure on the DMs Guild


While mostly I've been content to translate old school adventures for my 5e campaign, I decided to go looking for some adventures there. I haven't been too impressed with what I've found so far, though. They are no worse in basic conception than any number of older modules--indeed, they often have a more interesting high concept--but they tend to be sort of slight and written with a particular scene-based structure that doesn't give you a lot to work with if you're not going to follow their script.

While I don't absolutely reject a scene-based structure (if it's fairly "open"), as a general rule, if there isn't anything interesting about the setup or setting of the adventure, an author's pre-planned idea of a "cool scene" isn't going to work for me.

The DMs Guild 5e adventures I've read have one advantage over the Pathfinder adventures/adventure paths I've read in that at least they aren't as overwritten (though they aren't terse). They don't tend to be as interesting in details though.

Anybody got in 5e adventure recommendations?

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming and the Backdrop of the MCU


One of the good things about Spider-Man: Homecoming is that it brings Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not in the comic fetishist dream of now having Spider-Man in the same scene with Iron Man, but in the sense of the increasingly cohesive backstory of the CMU undergirding the plot. I am not found of the CMU in its homogenization of plot and uninspired sameness of production design, but the ways that it increasingly portrays a world being changed by the consequences of an alien invasion and the co-occurrent emergence of superheroes I like a lot.

They didn't plan this from the beginning. There is no unification of the origins of any of the Phase One characters, and only some of their villains. As late as Winter Soldier, the Falcon's flying prosthetic wings are just some Army contractors invention, with no need of Stark genius or reverse engineered alien tech.  The small screen is where things begin to change. Daredevil season one has as its setting New York in the aftermath of a very destructive alien invasion (i.e. the Chitauri as seen in Avengers). Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter deal with (and build on) things in the periphery of the films.


Of course, Civil War deals with the political consequences of Age of Ultron (which in turn, sort of grew out of the events of Avengers), but Homecoming shows us the origins of several of Spider-Man's foes in the Roadside Picnic-esque salvage of the Chitauri visitation. It's an interesting thematic element, having the "neighborhood hero" have to deal with the personifications of the mess left behind when the big players leave the field, but it also makes the universe seem more cohesive and real. It's a step away from the Marvel Silver Age comics toward  (again) the Ultimate Marvel Universe in approach.

I think this would be a good thing to emulate in superhero rpgs or really any genre where you wanted a sustain cohesive setting. Thirty years ago, the writers of the Wild Cards books argued a unified origin for super-powers aided suspension of disbelief. That's probably true, but given the proliferation of superheroes today, it seems less necessary. What is still somewhat novel, and still worth considering is the "ripples" in the pond of the setting when a new fantastic element is dropped in. There's a lot that can be mined from that idea, I think.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Dictionary of Azurth Update


I hadn't done one of these in a while, so I figured it was time. Here's the updated Dictionary of the Land of Azurth with entries for Zorka, Tsar of the Shooting Stars, and House Perilous, among others.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Spock has a 12th-level Intellect

This is something I was thinking about while traveling the other day: certain parallels between comic book alien species and those in Star Trek. What's the use of it? I don't know. Trek with different aliens or different backstories for the aliens? Supers with Trek aliens? Some sort of Wold-Newton Space (Woldspace)? Make of it what you will.

Skrulls and the Founders/Changelings
The Founders are a shapeshifting race that runs an expansionist space empire and so are the Skrulls. DC's Durlans would fit in a way, too. They've faced prejudice like the Changelings, but they don't run an empire.

Shi'ar and the Romulans
One species has a space empire with a bird motif and a sprinkling of Roman Empire terminology and the other is the Romulans. Sure, the Romulan Star Empire never seems as multi-species as the Shi'ar, but no reason it couldn't be. Might want to drop the link to Vulcan, though...

Coluans and Vulcans
Turning to DC comics for the Federation species, I'll not the somewhat emotionlessness and computer-like logic of the Vulcans and Brainiac's people, the Coluans.

The other other identifications I thought of, but some are too similar to add anything particularly interesting (The Khunds and the Klingons) and some distant enough to be suggest substitution (Thanagarians and Andorians. Thanagarians might stand-in for Romulans, too, depending on which version we're talking about) but you get the idea.



Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Seven of Aromater

My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues with his adventures in the world of Pandarve. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Seven of Aromater (1984) 
(Dutch: De Zeven van Aromater) (part 2)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

Storm has changed into some sort of monster--the Seventh--then he and the Eternal Prince disappear to prepare themselves for the mission ahead.

Ember and Nomad have no idea what's going on. They go back to the merchant who tried to buy Ember earlier. He tells them the story of the history of  Aromater.

Once Aromater was an incredibly prosperous trading city, ruled by two young and apparently immortal Princes who controlled the forces of nature. Then, for unknown reasons, a rift developed between the twins. One of them used a device called the Brain Coral [or Brain Cell, in some translations] to create a potion from the Blood of Pandarve. It turned the Prince into a "dark demon" and his seven trusted followers into monsters. They slaughtered the guards and stole the Brain Coral.

From they time on, luck was no longer with Aromater. Their crops were destroyed, their ships lost, and their remaining Prince began to age.

The Prince formulated a plan to regain the Brain Coral. A had a fountain made surrounded by seven swords. Only the bravest and strongest citizens were allowed to try to pull them free. Those that succeeded became members of the Seven of Aromater. From the goblets left behind by the fleeing Prince and his followers, the remaining Prince and his confederates were able to synthesize the potion and change the six victors into creatures that could reclaim Aromater's lost glory. Storm is the Seventh. Now, they will go to reclaim the Brain Coral.


For their remaining questions, the merchant jokes they'll have to ask the Eternal Prince. Ember decides to go to his Tower and do just that.



Nomad has to meditate to center himself to throw a grapple across the magma moat. He succeeds! Ember crawls along the rope to an opening in the Tower.


Nomad follows, but the rope catches fire and he would would have fallen in without Ember's help.

Meanwhile, the Eternal Prince and his Second are preparing to leave. Their may only be enough of the Blood of Pandarve for one more transformation left. the Prince puts it in a chest for safe keeping. As they leave the room, Nomad pokes his head up through a hatch in the floor...

The next, morning the Prince, the Seventh, and his men leave in a paddle steamer to the cheers of the crowd. The ship heads out into the great ocean. The next morning, The Red Tear appears on the horizon. As the ship draws loser they see the Red Tear fully:



TO BE CONTINUED

Monday, July 3, 2017

Strange Encounters in the Boundless Sea

Here's a short random table of unusual encounters in the Boundless Sea west of the Land of Azurth. Some of these are likely to appear in the upcoming Azurth Adventures Digest:


Roll d8:
1 - Zoobian Pleasure Barque - Storm-damaged and adrift, 1d4 winsome, green-haired maidens in silken veils cry out for succor. They claim to be brides to be on their way to the harem of a Zoobian potentate. They are actually harpies looking for a meal.
2 - Brazen Devil - With a screeching of rusty hinges, a brass gargoyle, corroded green and white, its wings festooned with seaweed, claws its way aboard. With determined spite--and mutterings of “Trifling jackanapes!” and “I’ll not be the butt of your japery. Not I!"-- it will stalk and kill everyone aboard, if it can.*
3 - Lovelorn Sea Serpent  - The beast begins following in the ship’s wake, occasionally moving close enough to gently nuzzle the vessel’s stern suggestively. Its head and neck are above water at times, and its expression is comically lovestruck. It will place sea creature carcasses on the deck at night as tokens of affection.
4 -  Iceberg - It drifts on the current. A frozen Viking longship and crew can be seen inside.
5 - Eight-Armed Bandit - An immense octopus demands to be giving all the gold aboard, hinting at some dire consequence if its demand is not satisfied. 
6 - War Party - A double-hulled war canoe of the Gator Folk attacks. They wield spears and alligator-toothed war-clubs.
7 - Professorial Sea Cows - A pair of large and apparently quite learned Steller's sea cows can be heard conversing about metaphysics and the nature of the universe. Eavesdropping might well illicit useful information for magical research into spells related to other planes, but attempts to enter into the conversation or even requests to clarification or elucidation will lead them to either give disinformation out of spite or simply submerge (50% of either).**
8 - Strange Shipwreck Survivors - 3 former ship's crew, adrift on debris of their smashed vessel, cry out weakly for rescue. Each offers a different account of the destruction of their ship--and each tale is more terrifying and apocalyptic than the last. They wail and sob hysterically if question about these contradictions.**

*Inspired by a random table by GusL
**Based on suggestions by Jason Sholtis