The Sage Welcomes You

So, here you find a blog about life in general, but with a focus on family, games, books and creativity. Other "stuff" will creep in from timt to time.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

More from the 13th Age: Welcome to My Dragon Empire--From the Miscellaneous Scholar's Archive

I continue my "notes to self" as much as anything else with these two entries.  It appears that I am actually going to get a 13th Age game off the ground in the New Year (yay 2013!) and I am filling in a few things around the margins for myself as I prepare to meet the enthusiastic imaginations of my players. 

So come these two entries, possibly based on (in game) fact or fiction, found here in the Imperial Archives.

Between demons and the gods, the Spirit World
A marginalia by, Ferdinand Cho Sok, the Imperial Spiritual Advisor to Shan Rohan, Third of His Name, year 137, 11th Age of the Empire

While those who are right thinking in the Empire honor the Four Houses, each in their measure, and those who seek the end of the world sell their souls to the demons of the Pit, we know there are other traditions that mediate between the visible and invisible world.  On the one hand are those fae powers of nature superintended by the High Druid.  On the other, and the focus on my thoughts here, are the powers of the spirits, ancestors and primal powers left from the Chaos War. 

These are the province of what the barbarian tribes call the Shaman or Witch Doctor or Medicine Man.  The tradition that most survives is the Chaos Shaman.  While Chaos has not always been the totem of every Shaman, almost every one that practices in this day has been seduced by its power.  Long ago, before the age of the Wizard King, the great mountain empires were served by Shaman-Priests who mediated between the lands of spirits, gods and mortal beings and Chaos was but one power they mediated.  Their days are long gone, however, and all but their Cities of the Dead have been swallowed by the earth and turned to dust.

So now, Chaos reigns supreme among the Shamans, especially those Orcs who have not fallen to demon worship, and the wild human and half-Orc barbarians who both threaten and guard the frontiers of the Empire.  It is a fearsome power to serve and to wield, but it is fickle and tricksy.  For Citizens of the Empire, there is little appeal and no balm for the spirit in such practices.  While the Emperor would never countenance suppression of our barbarian auxiliaries' spiritual practices, I have obtained permission to seek to convert them to more acceptable Imperial practice.  The cult of Thar has always had special appeal, and the mighty Storm Hammer Priests have shown well against the Chaos Shamans.  I have a hope that we shall see these practices fall more and more into disuse, pushed in the end to some few miserable tribes or Orc on the margins, of no threat to the Empire.
(historical note (marginalia in another's hand)): Advisor Cho Sok succumbed to a strangely incurable disease in 138 of the 11th Age and never saw his plans for proselytizing the barbarian tribes come to fruition)

A Warning
Imperial Eye of the Third Rank, Manco Hsieh
Year 200, 12th Age of the Empire
[Note, this field report from the Imperial Information Service (the Eyes of the Emperor) was found misfiled in Imperial Grain records; the misfiling could be because the Empire was teetering on the brink under the weight of the Zombie Plague (often blamed on the Diabolist) and the Imperial Bureaucracy was disintegrating with the rest of the Empire at the End of the Age]

I have found conclusive proof that THEY exist.  As all people know, when the First Emperor and his Allies threw down the Wizard King (may his name be cursed), chief among his supporters was the Elf Queen.  In the twelve years after the ascension of the First Emperor, half the children born to both humans and elves were half-elves.  Fewer people take account of the fact that the victory by the First was also due in part to the role of the Orc Lord.  When the Wizard King was most hard pressed by the First and his Elvish and Dwarven allies, it was the chaotic forces of the Orc Lord that broke the resistance of the Wizard King's reserves and allowed the Allied Forces to route the unsupported Royal Army. 

Then the First was able to maim the Wizard King and cast him down while the Allies secured the power structures of the Kingdom to lay the foundation of the Empire.  The Orc Lord's hordes, on the other hand, were busy chaotically rampaging.  The Allies were easily able to persuade the now surrendered Royal Army to turn its power on the forces of the Orc Lord and drive them from the realm, thus saving most of the Royal territory to be converted to the Imperial Heartland.

The Orc Lord, pushed to the margins, swore never to forgive or forget that his people received no reward for ending the reign of the Wizard King.

And, among the human barbarian and Orc tribes that honored the primal Chaos spirits, in the twelve years following the Orc Lord's expulsion, there were born a twisted parody of the celebratory Half-Elves.  These were the Man-Orcs.  I have seen them, I have learned to know them, they are real, and they are a threat to the security of the Empire.

They are not Half-Orcs.  The sages of the Archmage say that Half-Orcs are a supernatural response to the existence of Orcs that strengthen the communities plagued by the evil scourge of those vile creatures (now chiefly the barbarians at the margin of the Empire).  The Man-Orc is a different creature.  This is a creature that looks human, and seems human, but is an Orc down to the black pit of his soul.  An Orc can instantly recognize the Man-Orc, and acknowledges both their kinship and the superiority of the Man-Orc. 

This tribe of "wolves" in sheep's clothing has been infiltrating the Empire for years.  They infest the barbarian tribes.  Many have fallen to the siren song of the demonic powers, but most stay true to the ways of the Orc Lord's chaos spirits.  They are cannibals of the most obscene kind, and this (as well as the ease with which true Orcs (but NOT Half-Orcs) identify them, may be among their few weaknesses.  They not only like, but they crave human flesh (Orc flesh too, but the hunger is strongest for that of humans).  They delight in dining on any intelligent creature, but they seem to need to devour the meat of humanity.

For over Eleven Ages they have been spreading throughout the tribes, the towns, and the cities.  It is possible that they live among us even unto the sacred Imperial Services.  We must beware and seek them out, turn them out before the Orc Lord rises again.  They are his secret weapon, the knife at our throats.

We must find them and ward ourselves.

We must.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

More from the 13th Age: Welcome to My Dragon Empire--Orders of Paladin

I am still in the early stages of planning my 13th Age game, but it occurred to me that another "blank" that I might want to fill in is the societal role of Paladins in my version of the Dragon Empire.  I was struck with a few ideas on my commute as I, ironically enough, listened to Dead Can Dance's "Chant of the Paladin."

So, here are a few ideas off the cuff to give myself some structures, while leaving enough blank space for my players to fill in their own ideas.

Notes from the Cathedral: On the Orders of Paladins
An exercise by a junior scribe

The wise have this to say of the Empire's Paladins:

In every age, extraordinary men and women have stepped forward to carry the battle flag of justice. By the will of the gods, paladins are both protectors and avengers whose campaigns of awesome justice serve as warnings to any who threaten those under their protection. The people depend on them, lords celebrate them, and monsters hate them. People have never needed paladins more than they do in the 13th age.
However, much more can be said of these holy warriors.  Many are trained by devoted and ancient orders.  Others are inspired by singular events, spirits, saints or the gods.  Some belong to secretive societies, while others are part of the glorious bureaucracies of the Dragon Emperor or the Archmage.  I will discuss some of these in what follows.

One of the most ancient and revered orders of the Paladin is the Golden Order who follow the Great Gold Wyrm.  Much has already been written of them.  Once they held court in the Golden Citadel, but since their stronghold fell to ruins after the sacrifice of the Great Gold Wyrm, they have dispersed through the known world to carry out their holy missions.  Chapter Houses of this order are found in every major city except Drakkenhall, though the Order is reputed to have safe houses for its missions even there.  The Order stands for the empire, but does its service to the Emperor at its own discretion.

A younger, though still well-established order, formed in response to the independence exercise by the Golden Order, is the Brotherhood of Imperial Guardians.  This order places the well-being of the Empire, the Emperor and its people above all.  They are a force for justice, law and order throughout the Empire.  When the empire is threatened, they form the vanguard of the Imperial Armies.

Often a surprise to some is the small order of paladins who serve the Archmage.  While it is certain that the August Supreme Magi of the Empire relies in the main on his colleges of wizards, his bureaucracy of magic users, and his councils of spell casters, he also patronizes a small cult of holy magic.  Though this would normally be considered the province of the Priestess, the Archmage has a higher tolerance for a blending of the Four Houses, such that the powers of Dawn, Twilight, Light and Shadow are revered in pursuit of magic and knowledge [n.b. for details on my campaign cosmology see here, hereherehere, and here].  It is said that some of the paladins of the Archmage also receive wizard's training, thus blending holy and arcane powers in pursuit of the mysterious ends of the grand wizards (though it must be said that they stand ever in support of the Empire and its peoples).  The order is known as the Arcane Defenders.

Many know of the dark order of paladins that follow the Crusader.  These were the champions who helped to establish First Triumph.  Now they are known, in the main, as the Order of First Triumph, or the Triumphal.  Commonly, they are called in hushed tones, the Dark Paladins.  However, two other shadowy orders also serve the Crusader.  While the Triumphal provide the shock troops in the Crusader's war against the fiends of the Abyss, he also dispatches his order of demon hunters, the Inquisitors to ride as dark knight's errant throughout the Empire.  For communities truly afflicted by diabolical forces, the Inquisitors can be their last true hope for deliverance.  However, many communities have suffered The Inquest at the hands of the Order, whose unwritten motto sometimes seems to be lay waste first and let the gods sort it out.  Finally, the most secretive order is known as the Shadow Fist.  These are no bold knights.  These are knights of shadows.  A holy order of assassins, to be frank, this order is the hit squad of the Crusader.  The Shadow Fist does not act with imperial sanction (the Emperor has his own agency for dealing with things quietly), and is routinely said to be "just a story" by the followers of the Crusader.  However, a number of imperial officials, found to be consorting with the Diabolist (or even directly with those of the Abyss) have been found slain under circumstances indicative of this secret order.  Reports of the deeds of the Fists show that they exhibit the powers of the paladin in executing their missions.

It is said that the Elf Queen patronizes an ancient order of Elvish paladins.  Little is known outside of the Elvish realms of these protectors, though the so called Knights of Concord, may be a branch of this order.

A curious and secretive order is that patronized by the quixotic Faith of All Light.  Because of the low regard in which this ancient religion is held in many parts of the Empire, their few paladins do little to advertise their background.  However, they are known to do just and good deeds throughout the Empire, and often appear in the darkest corners at the right time.  They have been called the Captains of Light by some.  Some say that they are closely allied with the Golden Order, and even that the Golden Order and the Captains of Light evolved as societies from the original Knights and Captains of Orobonos which existed during the time of the Wizard King.

Most glorious among all the orders of paladins is that patronized by our most sacred Priestess.  This young order, formed in the Temple of Righteousness in the great Cathedral of Santa Cora and blessed by the Priestess herself is known as the Shining Order of the Temple of Righteousness of the Cathedral of Santa Cora.  In short, the paladins are known as the Shining Templars.  Though relatively new, these warrior paragons spread the word of the goodness of the Priestess and smite evil wherever it may be found.

Other lesser orders have come and gone throughout the Empire's history, and even lonely shrines and impoverished communities have raised up holy warriors who have taken on the mantle of Paladin.  Their mark on history, however, has been negligible to this scribes reading, and thus bear no mention at this time.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Inspired by 13th Age: Part Five--Notes: The Faith of All Light and brief information on Demihuman Pantheons

Today I post my fifth and final (for now) post in a series of posts about my brief cosmology and pantheon for the game 13th Age from Pelgrane Press.  The first post can be found here, the second here, the third here and the fourth here.
I close with a few notes of further elaboration on my version of the Dragon Empire.  The world is dominated by the religion of the Four Houses.  Woship, however, is by no means uniform.  The deities are remote enough that no one gets a good read on what is the "true" way to worship (or, often enough, two diferent interpretations are both given signs of being "true").  It is a wide mysterious world, and the way an Elf, a Dwarf, a Human, etc. look at the deities often sharply contrast.  Further, faith is often very local, and even personal.  I see villages and families having shrines wherein they venerate, propitiate, or at least acknowledge a broad spectrum of deities from the houses.  Just to throw out ideas, I would say you would find in many homes things that fall into (or between on a continuum) the kind of personal, often ancestor centered shrines, found in China, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia, or, also, the kind of collection of devotional figurines and amulets found in a Roman home in the family's Lararium.  While game play is often going to simplify questions of religiosity (cleric prays to the gods, gets spells and powers, kicks some holy butt), I want to give the sense of a wider and more mysterious world, and to allow that to possibly fuel some interesting and compelling stories.
That being the case, here are some notes to further complicate the neatly defined descriptions left to us by our Journeyman Sage writing about the Four Houses.
Notes on The Faith of All Light
Orobonos Lord of Life and Keeper of Creation
Hiktharos The All Death

The Faith of All Light holds that there are but two deific forces in the Universe: Orobonos, Lord of Life and Keeper of Creation, and Hiktharos, The All Death.  The Believers in the Light hold that, in the beginning, the Universe held two siblings, one light and one dark, one keeping the house of Life and one the house of Death, and between them they held the power of creation and balanced the Universe.  However, The Void consumed and possessed the dark sibling, and though the light sought to take in all that was good to save the balance, the dark ever held the evil and destruction with which it had been tainted.  The light sibling thus became the sole possessor of what was good and right, whereas before it had been shared.  Then began the eternal struggle between good and evil, Orobonos and the Void possessed sibling, Hiktharos.  In the end of all things, the Void shall be cast out and Orobonos’ lost sibling will be restored.  Until then, all creatures must serve to fight and defy The Void that is Hiktharos.  Believers do not disdain the worshippers of the Four Houses, per se, but they do believe that, in the main, the world is tainted such that most beings only perceive fragments of Orobonos and seek to understand them through the Houses.  Also, many, say the Believers, are led astray by Hiktharos and when they seek to perpetuate Life they are actually giving in to the All Death.  It is dangerous to worship to ardently any of the gods of the Houses, because while each may be a fragment of Orobonos, each also can be tainted by Hiktharos.

The Faith is generally not suppressed, but it is sometimes ridiculed.  There are small temples in hinterlands, and some scattered communities keep to the Faith.  Enclaves can be found in every major city.  The Priestess has surprised many by giving over a small chamber to the Believers in The Cathedral, giving some pause to think that there may be some kind of truth to the Faithful’s strange beliefs.

Notes on the Masks of the Void
Devourer who consumes all; vulgarly called Eater.

Destroyer who bring annihilation; vulgarly called Breaker.

Pain Bringer who delights in torture; vulgarly called Hurter.

Corrupter whose touch taints everything; vulgarly called Friend.

Notes on Some Demi-Human Pantheons

Gods of the Elves
All elves hold five deities in high regard and build their temples to venerate these five patrons.  Though they acknowledge other gods, they typically have little to do with them.  Some Sages have called these the Elven Five.  The Five are:

Urvonobos, called The Absent.  Revered as the Dragon Origin of the World. 
Maya Zo, the Sun Goddess.
Cipanec, Deity of The Wild.
Sendowa, called the Moon.  Revered as a Secret Messenger, and Messenger of Secrets.
Tzendras, the Dark Empress.

High Elves elevate Maya Zo above all.  Wood Elves revere Cipanec before all.  Dark Elves follow the path of Tzendras first.

Gods of the Dwarves
Here are the gods that the Dwarves hold in esteem.  They have little to do with other deities.

Thar, whom they call The Foe Hammer
Raathay, whom they call Earthblood
Khelebeth, whom they call Hearth Mother
Urfestos, whom they call The Forge Captain
Osiahn, whom they call The Brewer
Duronatos, whom they simply call The Mountain
Urvonobos, whom, when they remember the Dragon of Light, they call Master Builder

Gods of the Gnomes

Maya Zo          Sun Mother
Ptahluran         The Beautiful
Bastash            The Fortunate
Osiahn             The Mad
Pillizoro           Joker

Gods of the Haflings
The mysterious Haflings appear mainly to revere the domestic deities, largely Ptahluran,  Khelebeth and Urfestos, but they are sometimes tricksy and always surprising, and usually their house shrines have a wide array of the members of the Four Houses represented.  When a Hafling steps onto the path, one never knows where he or she might end up, and what deity they might call upon.

Thank you for reading.  If you found any of this interesting or useful, please feel free to leave comments.  As the 13th Age team says, Be Legendary.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Inspired by 13th Age: Part Four--The House of Twilight (Deep Deities and Tricksters)

This is the fourth in a series of posts about a sketch of a cosmology and pantheon for the game 13th Age from Pelgrane Press.  The first post can be found here, the second here and the third here.
The House of Twilight

Titles: Mountain God, The Sky-Earth Bridge, Old Deep Roots, Autumn God, The Miser, Thunderer, Binder of Secrets, Jeweler
13th Age Domains: Lore, Strength
Other Keywords: Artifice, Darkness, Earth, Runes, Skill, Storm, Wealth

Remote, secretive, dangerous, wealthy and powerful: Duranatos is all that and more.  He is highly revered by the Dwarves of the Empire and the line of the Dwarf King is said to descend from him.  His roots reach deep into the underworld, and his realm extends into the Overworld.  His power is respected and feared by all, and both Dwarves and Giants seek to propitiate him.  It is said that he capture the light of Urvonobos to adorn the night sky with stars.  One of his many symbols is the high mountain wreathed in thunderheads and lightning.

Titles: Mistress of Deep Waters, Earth Shaker, Oath Keeper, Revenger, She who gives and takes, Goddess of Speech
13th Age Domains: Beauty, Strength, Vengeance
Other Keywords: Destruction, Law, Ocean, Trade, Travel, Water

Merahnon is another of the deep deities.  She is absolute ruler of the deep waters of the world.  She is radiant beauty in dark water.  A shockwave from her wrath can level cities, swamp islands, end empires.  She oversees customary law, oaths, trade and travel.  Those who violate the law are subject to her revenges.  The wealth of the seas are hers to offer, and the lives and livelihoods of all those who touch water are hers to take.

Titles: Sand Walker, Pathfinder, Gateway to the Deadlands, Messenger, Merchant, Spy, Keeper of the Secret Ways, The Wandering Moon
13th Age Domains: Community, Death, Illusion, Lore
Other Keywords: Change, Magic, Moon, Trade, Travel

The followers of Sendowa prepare the dead for burial.  For many, this service at the end of life is the main community role of Sendowa’s following.  However, Sendowa opens many more doorways that simply sending the dead to their rest and reward (or punishment).  Sendowa is a patron of travelers, traders, heralds and messengers.  Sendowa is an explorer and a trail blazer and a passer of barriers.  Sendowa knows secrets and finds secrets.  While the moon wanders mostly in the night sky, the moon, Sendowa, also creeps into the day at times in the morning and at night.  Wiley are the ways of Sendowa.

Titles: The Trickster, The Thief, The Shapeshifter, Bright Comet, Dark Raven, Slinking Jakal,The Fool, The Silvertongue
13th Age Domains: Illusion, Trickery
Other Keywords: Chaos, Creation, Darkness, Destruction, Madness

Pillizoro is the Trickster.  (S)he may be brave, or foolish, or malicious, or mad, or all of those things put together.  The tales of Pillizoro often pair her/him with Sendowa on the missions of the gods.  Pillizoro gets them into trouble as much as (s)he gets them out of it.  Still, this jester of creation brought many things to aid the peoples of the world in legendary times, from magical plants, to fire, to even finding the Sun herself and releasing her during the Chaos War’s time of Darkness.  Pillizoro takes many forms and wears many masks.  Seemings, glamours, and practical jokes gone very wrong are all hallmarks of Pillizoro.  A comet in the sky signals the ascendancy of Pillizoro and heralds a time of chaos.

That completes the four houses as worshipped in my version of the Dragon Empire, but I have at least one more post in me on this topic.  While the Four Houses view of the universe dominates the Dragon Empire, an earlier view of things hangs on.  A dualistic view that sees the Four Houses as obscuring illusions to the fundemental nature of cosmic conflict ongoing in the universe.  Also, I have some notes on some demihuman views of the deities of the Four Houses.  So, stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Inspired by 13th Age: Part Three--The House of Dawn (It's not all sunshine and gumdrops)

This is the third in a series of posts about a sketch of a cosmology and pantheon for the game 13th Age from Pelgrane Press.  The first post can be found here, and the second here.

The House of Dawn

Titles: Dawn Goddess, Bewitcher, The Cat, The Many-shaped, Tamer of Animals
13th Age Domains: Beauty, Love, Trickery
Other Keywords: Animals, Chaos, Light, Magic

Fickle goddess of the Dawn; she gave the peoples the way to domesticate animals.  She also makes men and women wild with desire.  She favors the cat, but may be found in any form.  Her love feels true, but is too often false.  Though she bathes the morning world in light, she is swimming in darkness to do it.  A beautiful dawn will win your heart, but it will always break when it swiftly leaves you, to charm another the very next day.

Titles: Rain Giver, Grower, Drinker, Rager, Seer and Vintner, Patron of the Spring
13th Age Domains: Life
Other Keywords: Agriculture, Creation, Destruction, Dream, Madness, Water, Weather

Osiahn blesses the world with gentle rain and punishes the world with torrential rain.  He makes crops grow, and especially patronizes the vine and those grains destined for beer and liquor.  He drinks deeply.  He may go mad or drive others so.  He may destroy what he creates, and he may bring renewal through destruction.  He sees the future, and he sometimes drinks to forget what has not yet happened. 

Titles: Patron/Patroness of the Wild, The Pathfinder, Dawn Star, Master/Mistress of the Hunt, Avenger
13th Age Domains: Lore, Protection, Strength, Vengeance
Other Keywords: Animal, Plant, Travel, Wilderness

Cipanec may be the wild child of Osiahn.  (S)he has taken to the wild to husband the plants and animals of the wild lands, be they forests, deserts, grasslands or tundra.  Cipanec may hunt with packs of wild animals, or may be found with bow and spear, silently seeking the greatest monsters in the wild.

Titles: The Wanderer, The Knight Errant, The Shooting Star
13th Age Domains: Justice, Protection, Strength,
Other Keywords: Courage, Freedom, Travel

Weller is the wandering hero, sometimes compared to Batash from the House of Light.  Weller, however, is no happy-go-lucky sunbeam.  Weller is the serious wanderer, seeking out injustice with purpose.  Weller rights wrongs, steals from the rich to reward the poor, quests to protect the weak.  The weapons of Weller streak across the darkness is bright flame: sword strokes, arrow flights, javelins, lances.  While Batash has wandering feet because he goes where the wind may blow, Weller declines to settle because there are always more injustices to be set to right.  Weller can be grim and hard on enemies and worshippers alike.

(Next, the House of Twilight, a mix of Dark and Light, Deep Deities and Tricksters)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Inspired by 13th Age: Part Two--The House of Shadow (Dark Gods for Dark Business)

This is the second in a series of posts about a sketch of a cosmology and pantheon for the game 13th Age from Pelgrane Press.  The first post can be found here.

The House of Shadow
NB: The House of Shadow contains all of life’s dark impulses.  The deities expect much of their worshippers, and blood sacrifice is often the least that is expected.  No mortal invokes the Dark Gods without paying a price.

Titles:Dark Empress/Emperor, The Night Wind, Mistress/Master of Shadows, The Dark Reflection
13th Age Domains: Leadership, Protection Strength, Trickery
Other Keywords: Darkness, Magic, Nobility

Tzendras is often said to be the sibling of Urvanobos, though (S)he is  rarely portrayed as a dragon.  Tzendras rewards the impulse to dominate and control.  (S)he is the iron fist that demands obedience.  (S)he may reward the obedient, and pestilence, pain and misfortune will be directed against the disobendient.  All that magic may touch, Tzendras may command.  Tzendras is propitiated throughout the Empire, turned to in desperate times, but never loved.

Titles: Storm of the Underworld, Smiter of Demonkind, Hammer of the Gods
13th Age Domains: Strength, Vengeance, War
Other Keywords: Destruction, Storm, Strife

Thar is the terror of the underworld.  Thar is a brutal, raging berseker of a deity, ready to fight anyone and anything, but especially demons.  He is a necessary evil to the Empire.  As long as his force is directed at the enemies of the empire, his influence can have a positive effect on the lives of the citizens.  When his protection has been unnecessary, the strife and discord that is Thar has turned inward and torn the Empire apart in Age after Age, often lead by Orcs and Half-Orcs.  For now, the demons occupy him and the Crusader is his first worshipper.

Titles: Trumpeter of the Underworld, Judge of the Dead, Keeper of the Law, Herald of the End Times
13th Age Domains:  Death, Lore
Other Keywords: Darkness, Fate, Law
Mikthanos judges and keeps the dead.  The land of death is his.  The sound of his trumpet can shake the Empire and herald the end of an Age.  He keeps the law, but neither justice nor mercy are in his vocabulary.  If human souls may be judged harshly, there he but trifles compared to the punishment he meets out to the demons and demon-touched who come under his domain.

Titles: Goddess of Endings, Witch Goddess, The Poisoner, The Blight, Goddess of the Dark Moon, The Shadow Beauty/Hag
13th Age Domains: Death, Healing, Illusion, Lore
Other Keywords: Earth, Illness, Magic, Poison

Therkat is skilled at the art of death.  She wears many guises, many masks.  She may be a beauty, or a hag.  The dead of night is hers.  Beware the crossroads on the night of no moon.  Her intimacy with poison and disease also gives her the knowledge to cure and heal, for a price.  Many seek her lore, but all but the most depraved or most desperate shun her dark embrace.

Titles: Demon Killer, The Jealous, Volcano Goddess, Mistress of Pain/Pleasure, Wild Destroyer
13th Age Domains: Anti-Undead, Beauty, Destruction, Healing
Other Keywords: Earth, Fertility, Fire, Purification, Torment, Wealth

Raathay is sometimes the consort of Thar.  She is the great Demon killer.  While Thar is the terror of gods, men and demons, Raathay dances on the bodies of Demon-Lords while stringing their teeth and digits as necklaces, bracelets, armlets and ankle chains.  She vomits forth lava and her teeth are obsidian fangs, her nails are razor sharp diamonds.  Her dance carries forth destruction, but leaves behind fertile ground, purified of the taint of the Void (though often of any other living things as well . . .).  When she drops her monstrous visage, she is the greatest beauty of the underworld.  No lesser creature can resist her charms.  No mere mortal can survive her embrace.  No one loves her that does not seek pleasure, but courts torment.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Inspired by 13th Age: Part One--The House of Light

I have been inspired recently by the forthcoming 13th Age game from Pelgrane Press and produced by Rob Heinsoo, Jonathan Tweet, Lee Moyer and Aaron McConnell.  Others have done a fine job of praising the rule set and the setting, and I won’t repeat that here.  What I will say is that my take away from reading the pre-release version is that it is like playing a home-brew game of Dungeons and Dragons where the guys doing the brewing are masters of the craft.  They have been and the tables running games for decades, and they have decided to publish ideas and advice to make a D20 D&D like experience incredibly fun and exciting.

I really want to play this game.

Another great thing about the “home brew” aesthetic of 13th Age is the open encouragement to make the game your own.  They offer a fantastic setting, defining it with the most powerful and important NPCs (the Icons), but provide enough wide open spaces on the map, that a game master (GM) can fill anything he or she desires within the broad strokes of the world.  It is a terrific model and the designers really know what kinds of things serve as hooks for GMs to build fantastic adventures and stories to own this world.

One thing that they leave wide open is the religion of the Dragon Empire of the 13th Age.  Keeping with their design philosophy, they provide some guidelines, but don’t sweat the details.  Although they too are fans of one of my favorite fantasy worlds, Glorantha (which as they point out, is really tied to its gods and cosmology), they don’t want to freight the Dragon Empire with a master’s thesis worth of history and theology (let alone a doctoral dissertation), when how the religions, gods and pantheons may play in the world is really a choice they want to leave to the group playing at the table.

I think that wise.

However, appreciating the freedom that they provide me, I have conceived for myself and my (hopefully) future game a thumbnail cosmology and a set of gods to give some religious and spiritual depth to my portrayal of the Dragon Empire.  This is definitely a do it yourself pantheon, and I put this out as purely an exercise for my own flabby creative muscles.  These gods are inspired by every piece of mythology, game play and fantasy literature that I have consumed since about the age of 10.  They are a bric-a-brac of themes and ideas, but, I believe that they are in keeping with the thought suggested by the 13th Age text that the gods may have been pulled into the world of 13th Age over vast amounts of time from all parts of the cosmos and multiverse, such that anything and everything may have washed up on the proverbial shore.

In my game, clerics may act under the patronage of a particular deity, a house of deities, or may act for the whole pantheon.  Different parts of the Empire, different racial and ethnic groups, and even different communities emphasize different deities, but all are acknowledged by the majority of the Empire’s population.  A small minority maintains a much older dualistic faith which I will discuss at the end.  Monsters and other bad guys are worshippers of Demons (and perhaps Devils, depending on how they turn out in 13 True Ways).

Before I give the (very) brief cosmological chronology of my version of the world of 13th Age, let me say something about my deity write-ups.  13th Age has (at least for now) a limited number of clerical “domains” that provide game effects for being affiliated with them.  I am providing that association in my description of various gods in my pantheon, since they tie directly to game effects.  I am also giving some secondary “keywords” not with any specific game effect (at least not now) to provide flavor and story hooks.  There will also be some descriptive text that is not tied specifically to the domains.  Together, I hope the information provides enough to do something interesting with these beings and their socio-religious functions, but not so much to weigh things down.  I am very open to comments, but bear in mind this is both a draft and a work in progress.

The Houses of Heaven and Hell
A précis on the celestial and infernal powers by a journeyman sage of the imperial court

In the beginning there was the Void.  Into this vast nothingness, there came an idea and that idea became a Being.  In that instant, the Being shone forth and proved to be a Dragon of pure light and thought.  It pushed back the Void and made Creation possible.  With Creation came the first cycle, and two Houses came into existence: the House of Life and the House of Death.  Between the two Houses, crept in the Void, seeking to Consume, Taint, Torture and Annihilate the two Houses.  Great was the strife and discord.  This was the Chaos War and sometimes all fought against all.  The land, the sky, the stars, the underworld, the waters, all were riven, wracked and maimed.

In the end, the two Houses were no more.  Some believe only one House remained, but others know that four new Houses succeeded and time began.  It was the Lost Agewhich ended with the ascent of the Wizard King.  Other Ages of Wizardry passed before the glorious Dragon Emperor threw down the Wizard King, and the many prosperous Ages of the Dragon Empire came into being.  During this time it is said that gods and goddesses came and went from the four Houses.  Who can know?

Now, the four Houses all find honor in the Dragon Empire, their names are The House of Light, The House of Shadow, The House of Dawn and the House of Twilight.  Together they keep at bay the Void and those dread things that would end creation, like the Demons.  The makeup of each House is written below.

The Four Houses

The House of Light

Titles: Dragon of Light; Creatrix/Creator of the Universe; Distant Guardian
13th Age Domains: Justice, Knowledge, Life
Other Keywords: Animal, Balance, Celestial, Creation, Light

Urvonobos is almost universally acknowledged as the creatrix/creator of the universe and the first among the gods, however, (s)he is little worshiped and generally is simply “honored” in most religious places.  There is a full temple to the Dragon of Light on Santa Cora and the Emperor has a personal shrine in Axis.  The followers of the Great Gold Wyrm honor absent Urvonobos as the progenitor of their absent liege.  Urvonobos is often portrayed as a dragon with multihued scales of metallic and prismatic colors.

Maya Zo
Titles: Sun Goddess, The Wise, Mistress of the Arts, Great Healer, The Sun Spear
13th Age Domains: Healing, Knowledge, Leadership, Strength, Sun
Other Keywords: Civilization, Courage

Great goddess of civilization, she helps build and protect towns, cities and the Empire, filling them with life, light and beauty.  The spear is one of her symbols.

Titles: Bright Sky, Growing Green Field, Golden Grain Stalk, the Headman/Headwoman, Patron of Summer
13th Age Domains: Beauty, Community, Protection
Other Keywords: Agriculture, Air, Fertility

Ptahluran oversees the good things on the earth and protects them from his/her sky realms.  (S)he oversees the fields, the villages, country life, and community.  (S)he is the leader who gets his/her hands dirty to accomplish things.  Not a King or Queen, but a village Headwoman/man.  People in the prime of life are under his/her eye.  In the vast cities of the Empire Ptahluran can still be found watching over people’s kitchen gardens and binding together neighborhoods.  The cornucopia is one of her symbols.

Khal Edain
Titles: The Knight of Stars, Light in the Darkness, Shield of the Faithful, Lightbearer
13th Age Domains: Anti-Undead, Justice, Leadership, Protection Strength
Other Keywords: Competition, Courage, Glory, Nobility, Skill

The Knights of Khal Edain protect all that is right and good in the land.  In darkness, look to the stars for courage.  In daylight fear no powers of Darkness neither the Void for Khal Edain is your strong shield and your bright sword.

Titles: Tender of the hearth fire, singer of songs, comforter of the weak and the sick, patron of marriage and family, The Kindler
13th Age Domains: Community, Healing, Love
Other Keywords: Family, Fire, Fertility, Hope

Khelebeth is the kindly goddess.  She is hearth mother, matriarch, faithful lover, wise woman.  From her springs every small miracle.

Titles: The Smith, Word Forger, Cauldron of Poesy, Maker of Useful Things, The Clever, The Skilled
13th Age Domains: Leadership, Lore, Strength
Other Keywords: Artifice, Earth , Fire, Luck, Runes, Skill

Urfestos is the husband of the kindly goddess, Khelebeth.  He is the gruff worker, the skilled craftsman, the smith, the poet, the speaker of plain truth.  Dwarvenkind honor him deeply, but see him differently than the human communities of the Empire.  He is the foreman, the weaponsmith, the jeweler, the finder of Earth’s treasures.

Titles: The Lucky, The Young, The wandering daughter/son, The Sunbeam, The Fortunate, Hopeful
13th Age Domains: Illusion, Protection,
Other Keywords: Change, Competition, Freedom, Hope, Light, Luck, Travel

Batash is known as the child of Khelebeth and Urfestos in most of the Empire.  (S)he is the prodigal child, leaving the village for fame, fortune, or desperate need.  (S)he is the hero of happenstance or necessity, but not a seeker of honor, glory or complicated ambition.  Batash is the girl sleeping in the cinders or the boy climbing a bean stalk:  charming, changeable, free and very lucky.

Next time: The House of Shadow (Dark Gods for Dark Business)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Reviews: Goodbye to Punisher (Issue #16) and hello to Captain Marvel (Issue #4)

I have been unconsciously and consciously putting off these reviews.  It will be my last regular review of The Punisher, as the run ends here with #16.  The silver lining is that good writing and good comics continue, even when terrific series have to come to an end.  Once more, I got my books at my great local place, Beyond Comics.  So, once more unto the breach . . .

Captain Marvel #4
Now THAT'S what I'm talking about

In my last few reviews of Kelly Sue DeConnick's I have been damning the book with faint praise.  I always liked it, but wanted it to be better.

This last issue turned a corner for me.  I found it witty, exciting, and I feel like the investment in reading was paying off.  We don't yet know all of what is going on, but we're starting to get a direction to the plot which feels right. 

This issue felt like things snapped into focus, that the story which seemed to be zigging and zagging was suddenly on course. 

I finished the pages, and I said to myself "yes, this is the Captain Marvel I knew she was going to write."

So, this issue wraps up Carol Danver's first leg of her time travel saga, but proves that it is going to be an interesting and exciting multi-stage journey.  It starts with a big action piece with is handled just perfectly, with the writing and art balancing out to really deliver.  Then we get the resoultion of the action on the mysterious island off the coast of Peru during World War II and pieces start to fall into place as to why Captain Marvel is being trasported through time and space, just in time for her to transfer to the late 50s/early 60's era of the Mercury 13 (at least the Marvel version of it) and find herself face to face with her girlhood idol, Helen Cobb, in her prime.

I still don't know all of what is going on, but I am finally fully happy to be along for the ride.  Even Dexter Soy's art is growing on me, although it is still not my favorite.  I really look forward to the next issue, and I think that we have passed the "make or break" period for the book, at least for me, and with issue #4, the series is "made."

Check it out.

Punisher #16

Fantastic and tragic end to the series

I really hate to say goodbye to this book.  It's over, and though there is a five issue mini that will be a kind of coda, there will be no going back.  Punisher is going to another author and into a team book, Thunderbolts, in the new Marvel reorganization of titles.  I wish the character well, but somehow, I can't see the next book doing what this book did.

Issue 16 ends a patient, exciting, suspense filled and character driven story arc that took up all 16 issues.  I loved every issue, and this issue is a fitting goodbye to the regular series.  The Punisher and his mission remain, but the tragic toll of violence and revenge tally up in the book.  It is great storytelling, and involves all the terrific characters drawn or drawn into Rucka's story.

The art is also outstanding.  Because of undiscolsed family issues, Marco Checchetto is unable to continue with War Zone, but he gives us an issue to remember with his moody, beautiful art in this book.

I am talking around the details, as I am trying to leave the review spoiler free.  This arc was about not only taking on "The Exchange" but also about what it would cost to do so, especially for Rachel Cole Alves, whose tragedy began in issue 1, and carries through the whole series to come to a conclusion in this final issue.

I loved every page, just as I loved every page of the series as a whole.

If you don't buy and read this, there's no talking to you.

Check it out.

Oh, and one last and final tradition to observe, here's what other's thought:

Weekly Comic Book Review (A) "Brilliant art, brilliant character work, and sophisticated storytelling by all involved.  This is an absolutely top tier comic and I’m more than a little pissed that it’s been canceled…"

IGN (9.3 "Amazing") "Fittingly, this concluding issue doesn’t go out in a hail of gunfire, but a series of well-timed thematic and emotional payoffs that bring this entire 16-issue arc full circle."

Comic Book Resources (4.5/5 stars) "Rucka makes "The Punisher" #16 a story that celebrates the history of this series. The more you know going in, the more you gain, but prior knowledge need not preclude you from reading. This issue certainly would deserve a perfect score when put in the context of the entire run, but with this issue, a little more background is needed to provide testimony to what Rucka has accomplished with the transformation of Frank Castle. That's an interesting spin for the final issue of a series. So many final issues struggle to cover all of the dangling subplots and many of those issues just cut bait and run. Not 'The Punisher.' "

Between the Panels  (postive review) "Between the stellar art team and the writing of one of my favorite authors, I’m very sorry to see The Punisher go. A great procedural, a great redemption story, and an all-around fantastic comic."

Read Comic Books (story 10/10, Art 10/10, Overall 10/10)  "And so ends a masterpiece. Writer Greg Rucka and Merco Checchetto delivered their coup de grace in The Punisher #16. Normally when I review comics, I read and then begin writing as soon as I put it down. When I finished The Punisher this week, I sat dumbfounded and speechless on my couch."

Comic Book Bin (10/10) "I hate that Rucka is about to wrap up his stint on The Punisher by pitting Frank against the rest of the Marvel U in the upcoming, and re-launched, Punisher War Zone #1. I would rather (and could have) read 100 issues of The Punisher written in this vein by Greg Rucka instead. Rucka's The Punisher will be missed, but I'm happy that we got it for at least 16 issues."

OGR (5/5 stars) "Punisher ends on a powerful note and a compelling setup for the upcoming Punisher: War Zone limited series. Rucka succeeded at creating an interesting little world for the Punisher in the Marvel Universe, complete with three-dimensional characters who meshed perfectly as a cast. Far as I'm concerned, this series should now be considered essential reading for the Punisher."

Multiversity Comics (9.5/10 – Buy. Among the best Punisher stories ever told) "Greg Rucka and a bevy of talented artists have crafted a new side to the Punisher that feels like it was somewhere in there all along, just waiting to get out. They also navigated Rachel Alves-Cole through a sneak-attack of truly great character development over just 16 issues. It’s stunning to think of the transformation that took place."

Weekly Crisis (Verdict-Must Read) "Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto's work with Punisher has been some of the best stuff to come out this past year, and Punisher #16 is no exception.  The issue, like the series as a whole, is built on its terrific character work.  Whether it's Frank himself or the people who have found themselves caught in his orbit, this book is all about who these people are and why they do what they do.  That's what's made it special, and that's what makes this issue a must read."

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A little behind schedule: Reviews of Hawkeye #2, Captain Marvel #3 and Punisher #15

September is slipping away and my three comic book titles were released days and weeks ago.  However, I finally get around to some brief thoughts on each.  Once again, my local store, Beyond Comics, came through with my subscriptions.  Unfortunately, September is proving to be a heck of a busy month, so it's either short reviews or no reviews.

Hawkeye #2

Two Hawkeyes are Better than One

In this issue, we get not only Clint Barton doing the things he does away from the Avengers, but we also get "Young Avenger" Kate Bishop.  Clint has been looking into many things that he thinks that he needs to take care of, and he is lucky to get Kate to join in.  First off looks like "Something Big" going down at a circus performance attended by every major crime figure in Mavel's version of New York.  Writer Matt Fraction does a great job of using Clint's shady past and Kate's high society background to lay the foundation for how things get moving.  Once the performance starts in, as well as the heist, things really get cooking.  Of course, Clint brashly goes in over his head, and it is a good thing he brought backup.  Not that he is ever a slouch in any of the action sequences.  Once again the issue demonstrates why Hawkeye is the best there is.  There just happen to be two of them.  The end of the book has Clint with more angry enemies than ever, and reveals that he has a serious plan to make a difference, no matter the costs.  The art continues to be outstanding, and the book is beyond reproach.  It is a perfect comic book experience, and if you are not reading it, go out and buy it!

Captain Marvel #3

The ride is fine so far, but where are we going?

There are two stories in this book.  One is the main Captain Marvel story, and the second is a backup that relates somehow, as its focus is Carol Danver's childhood idol, but how the stories will intersect is still unclear.  The "A plot" continues to follow Captain Marvel as she tries to sort out where and when she is, and why alien technology seems to have gotten involved in a lost corner of the war in the Pacific during the Second World War.  The writing is solid.  The art is growing on me.  The plot is developing slowly.  Generally, I don't mind a slow burn plot, but so far I am neither gripped by the situation or the characters.  It may not be a fair comparison, but looking at last year's relaunch of The Punisher, which also featured a slow burn story (one that is just peaking now, in issues 14-16), there is a real contrast.  That book gripped me from the first.  I still have my attention on the story here for Captain Marvel, but it feels like I could easily shake off the grasp of the story, when instead I want to be locked in like I'm in an iron vise.  The art is growing on me, but I am not convinced of its brilliance.  It is different, but still remains merely adequate for me in the story being told.  All in all, the main story delivers, but only marginally for me.  I am interested in where this is going, but it feels like if I missed it, it would be no big deal.  This is not where we should be at this point.  DeConnick and Wacker need to get on the stick here and start hitting out of the park like Dare Devil and Punisher have over the last year, and the way the Hawkeye is killing it right now.  They are more than capable of doing so.  The "B plot" is quite short.  The background is at the critical juncture in the women's Mercury astronaut program, the part where the men tell the women they aren't getting to go into space.  Not a banner moment in American history, gender relations, or the historical advancement of women.  The problem is, for most of the panels, I don't really care.  I am not reading the book for this particular lecture on how carppy American culture was to women in the 50s and 60s.  The packaging is clumsy and ham handed.    I'm here for a Captain Marvel story.  If I get a lecture in feminist studies on the side, so much the better, but it can't be the main event, because that is not what I paid for.  Only in the last few panels, as Danver's childhood hero from the Mercury 13 is trying to make her own deal to get into space is there any inkling of interest.  Again, the set up is adequate, but I am expecting so much more than adequate for my $3.  The art is solid, and an interesting contrast from the main book.  I will be back for issue #4, but without more, I may not last until issue #6.

Punisher #15

And I thought it couldn't get any darker, or better!  But it is!

Last month began the final end game in the Punisher's plan to take down the Exchange and Rachel Cole-Alves' plan to complete her vengeance on every member of that organization.  The problem is, as Feste the fool observes in Twelfth Night, "And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges."

As it turns out, Sergeant Cole-Alves is not the only seeker of vengeance.  The tables get turned on her and the Punisher and it starts to get really bloody.  Further, despite every piece of advice and order from Frank Castle to Rachel on being patient, on not rushing her punishment of all those connected with the cause of her tragedy, she is too tempted to finish it, once and for all, herself.  The result is pure tragedy taken to a higher level.  Vengeance is begetting vengeance and begetting even more. 
This is a great book, even better than issue #14 which was a tour de force.  Even in the Marvel Universe, vengeance is not free, and only one man alive has converted his pain, and his experience in getting revenge into a cause and a mission that carries on, and that is The Punisher.  Everyone else seems to be ready to follow the classic arc of revenge, and that pretty much ends up with everyone tragically dead (e.g. Hamlet).  We have one more issue to go, and five issues of coda in the War Zone series.  I am thinking it is going to be a hell of a ride.

With us for this issue and the next is the superior art of Marco Checcetto.  Once again, he captures the characters, the places and the mood of every scene deftly.  The entire art team on the book supports and enhances the story in every way.  I will be sad to see the last of that in issue #16.  However, don't miss issue #15!  It would be tragic if you did.

For the second to last time on this run of Punisher, I give you other's voices on this issue:

IGN (8.5/10) "The beauty of this issue is that Rucka’s run has been so deliberate in its pacing and usage of violence, that the sudden chaos of this installment gives it more weight to the reader. If you read issue after issue of guns blazing, it loses its impact. Not so here, and the overall arc of Rucka’s Punisher is the better for it."

I Got Issues (Recoomended) "I recently discovered that this series is ending soon (like next issue) and while this makes me sad, I want to focus on the positive…that this issue, hell this whole series has been amazing since issue #1."

Comic Vine (10/10) "As I mentioned previously, this issue was fantastic because of the way that it connected three characters through very similar experiences. It is interesting to see that although the characters are different, their motivations are different, they act out very similarly when they lose someone or something very close to them. It's a very powerful issue and feels really dense when you read it. It's paired with some pretty incredible art, too, so if you're a Punisher fan you really can't go wrong. I don't recommend reading this issue without at least checking out the previous one as I feel they really go hand in hand."

Newsarama (9/10) "Frank Castle has made murder into a mission, but it's Marco Checchetto that turns it into art. This comic will hit you like a hurricane, as Frank and his partner [Rachel] take on a wild gunman inside Wall Street — not to mention the entire NYPD."

The Weekly Crisis (Verdict-Buy It) "Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto's Punisher has been one of the best books coming out of the Marvel offices this past year.  Frank Castle's actions and his world have been depicted through a serious lens that does not ignore the consequences of his deeds, and the story has been better for it.  It will be a sad day when Rucka's run on the character ends with the Punisher: War Zone miniseries - a day made all the sadder by Checchetto's absence."

Thursday, August 23, 2012

August Closeout: Reviews of Punisher #14 and Captain Marvel #2

Greg Rucka and Kelly Sue De Connick are two very different authors as far as tone, subject matter, and writing style.  But both are examples of excellence when it comes to focusing on character(s) as the motivation and origination of action.  Plot happens because of what the characters (large and small, on and off "camera") are doing.  Plot does not just happen to the characters.

I appreciate this kind of writing and that is why I buy these comic books.  I picked them up last night from my local shop (please go out and support your's wherever it is), Beyond Comics.

Both were good this month.

Punisher #14

Greg Rucka is winding up his run on Punisher.  With only three more issues to go, including issue 14, he is wrapping up his story of the Punisher against The Exchange.  The Exchange was a new type of organized super-crimial group for the Marvel Universe.  The focus was staying under the radar and organizing along corporate lines.  It was the internet startup of criminal groups, peeling off talent from AIM, Hydra, even SHIELD.  However, it got sloppy as it got successful, and some of its more freewheeling employees ended up having a gunfight with a rival organization in the middle of a marine sergeant's wedding.  Sergeant Rachel Cole-Alves survives the massacre, but her new husband, her friends, and her family, do not.

Her quest for vengeance, mirroring the origin of The Punisher, brings her into alignment with The Punisher, Frank Castle.  For issue after issue, Castle has be methodically hunting down leads and leaving a trail of bodies to get to the heart of The Exchange.  Cole-Alves started to do the same, and now they are working together.

Last issue, they pulled a caper that gave them a key to try to set up to get to the very top of the Exchange.  This issue, they put that plan into effect.

The issue is very satisfying.  It shows Castle and Cole-Alves working effectively as a military team, executing a daring and highly lethal plan that builds on everything they have been doing to date.  It is exciting, and, as with every issue in this run, I had not had my fill when it was done.  I wanted more and was disappointed only in the realization that I had to wait another month, and that I was only going to get two more like this.

Yes, there is also the 5 issue mini-series to cap off the run (Punisher War Zone), which I am happy is coming, but the fact that the series is going to be over is very disappointing.

The only other thing that I found disappointing from the issue was the art.  Some of it was done very competently, but artist Mico Suayan lacks the skill shown by series mainstay Marco Checcetto.  This deficiency shows up especially in the drawing of characters' faces when shwing strong emotion (fear, anger, etc.) and by the feeling I got that the backgrounds were flat and uninteresting in many panels.

In the end, the art got the job done, but it did not live up to the high quality of the writing.

Bottom line though, buy this book.

Captain Marvel #2

Last month I gave a somewhat luke warm review to Kelly Sue De Connick's first issue of Captain Marvel.  After a month's reflection, I still feel the same way.  The story, for me, was too slow, and I was put off by the art.  This contrasted with the terrific writing for Captain Marvel by De Connick in the pages of Avenging Spider-Man (reviews here for issue 9 & 10), where she got the tone, pacing and character just right and I really liked the art.

So, how does Captain Marvel #2 stack up?  For me, she did considerably better, though things still start out slow.  Slow is not necessarily bad, in any case, but there can be a fine line between a slow burn and ponderous pacing.  I felt that we tipped more into slow burn territory with the start of issue 2.  By the end of the book, the story's pace has picked up considerably, and delivers some solid action, as well as promising more.  The direction of the story certainly takes a left turn, as we go from gettng background and character information on Carol Danvers, to suddenly jumping into a mysterious time travelling (and possibly alternate timeline) adventure, which Captain Marvel in the middle of World War II action in what appers to be the Pacific, but one where seemingly alien craft are working with the Japanese forces.

It is a little confusing, but the reader is sharing the confusion of the character, Captain Marvel, as she tries to make sense of having be apparently ripped out of her time and place and popped into some other place by powers unknown for reasons unknown. 

Because I trust the writer, I know that it will all become clearer as the story goes on, and I was both intrigued by the wild development in the story and happy with how the action unfolded in the last two-thirds of the book.

I am still not sold on the art.  It has a definite aesthetic which sometimes produces some wonderful and striking panels.  However, as a whole, it still feels muddy and dark to me, and I would prefer a cleaner line and a brighter pallet. 

Nonetheless, I am optimistic about the book.  I am still in "like" with it, and not yet in love, but it appears to me that this is a reader-writer relationship woth the time to invest in, so that is what I am doing.

Check it out.


As has been my custom over Rucka's run on Punisher, here are some other views on issue #14:

IGN (8.5/10)  "Get ready for perhaps the most badass Punisher moment ever."

Comic Vine (Recommended) "If I had to sum up this issue in one word it would be 'heavy.' That's the perfect way to describe the overall tone and mood of the book; from the writing to the art. If you are into comics that are deep, gritty, action packed and weigh really heavy like a good episode of, say, 24 (remember that show?) then there's really no reason for you not to be reading THE PUNISHER on a consistent basis. Not only does Rucka capture Frank Castle's character perfectly in this issue, but he does it effortlessly."

More as they hit the web.

08/28/2012 update

CBR (4.5/5 stars) "'Punisher' #14 is yet another example of just how effective an editor can be to the overall cohesiveness of a monthly title. While most of the credit for this comic should rightfully be placed on the shoulders of Greg Rucka, if Steve Wacker hadn't convinced Rucka to write this book and supplied the writer with an amazing array of reliable artists with similar visual sensibilities, this title wouldn't be nearly as compelling."

Weekly Comic Book Review (A-) "A really, really fantastic read that manages to pull the reader in and get him/her truly involved.  Issues like this only make me more upset about this series’ cancellation due to poor sales.  Seriously, what’s wrong with you people?"

Monday, August 13, 2012

Bending Breakout: Marvel Heroic Role Playing Actual Play

Marvel Heroic Role Playing has been the first game that I have felt comfortable running for a while.  I have been out of the game master game for a long while, and while my son and I valiantly tried to get me to get a D&D 4th Edition game off the ground, I felt there that I had lost my mojo.

However, MHRP has really allowed me to find my way back into mastering a game.  I have published one actual play account already and this is a second.  So far, this has all been one-shot stuff.  But it has been fun, and has made me think that running one-shots is a pretty good way to flex those long dormant muscles, as well as being a lot of fun.

This time around, I ran the game for some old role playing friends that I visited on the West Coast and one new person I had not met, but who was taking a break from another game happening in the house.  I decided to run the shell of the Breakout event, though I knew we would perhaps get through just the first few scenes of the first Act.  I have an idea to mix up Breakout with The Hammer Falls, with a few ideas taken from the Fear Itself arc from Thunderbolts to really mix up a What If? scenario.  However, this was not the time to try to do that.  This was the time to let people rifle through the big stack of official and fan made datafiles and take some heroes for a spin.  We ended up with Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, and Firestar (from Marvel Plot Points; but played with a twist, since we were in a "What If? scenario, Firestar in this reality was a guy and not a gal).

I played the intro pretty straight, though I took on the additional "What If?" of Bruce Banner being held at the Raft instead of Sentry.  Thor was coming to see Banner; Black Widow had SHIELD VIP minder duty.  Captain America was on a helicopter on the way back from Washington, DC, and Firestar was out flying patrol over the city.

All heck breaks loose, the lights go out, and things start happening.  Widow and Thor are in an elevator, momentarily stuck.  Cap's air transport is going down, and he is working with the pilot to get it safely into the drink as close to the Raft as possible.  Firestar sees figures riding the lightning out of the Raft, but makes the decision to tackle the bigger problem of the villains left in the prison, rather than chasing the figures seeming to make a break for it.

Widow quickly acrobats her way out of the top of the elevator and gets the access to the hallway above open.  Thor is about to squeeze through when something (or someone) blasts through the elevator like a missile, leaving Thor surprised.  Cap gets himself and his pilot to safety.  Firestar sees Count Nefaria blast out of an elevator shaft and pause to hover above the raft.  Then stuff really starts happening.

Firestar, true to his name, decides that the Count needs more fire in his life and starts raining down fiery blasts down on him.  This gets the Count's attention, but does not seriously inconvenience him.  Captain America then steps up and, with the SHIELD pilot providing some covering fire, throws his shield, making it ricochet to strike Nefaria from an unexpected angle.  Cap did well and manages to inflict some physical stress on Nefaria.  Then Cap chose Nefaria to go next so that Black Widow and Thor would have plenty of time to bat cleanup in the round.  Nefaria lets loose with just about everything, attempting to fry Cap, Firestar and the SHIELD pilot all at once.  Firestar takes some physical stress, Cap manages to get himself and his shield between the agent and the blasts, keeping them both safe.  Black Widow then on her turn starts sniping with her widow's sting from down in the elevator shaft.  Her goal was not to cause direct damage, but rather to set Nefaria up to be disoriented for Thor's attack.  This she does exceptionally well with a d10 complication.  Finally, Thor blindly blasts his way out of the elevator with Mjolner leading and finishes off Nefaria in a one hit strike.

The heroes then gathered into a single team to determine the next course of action.  On the one hand, they knew that Bruce Banner was trapped down in the Raft with scads of supervillains who had just been released from their restraints.  Also, they knew that there had been some "leaders" (at least the first ones out) in the breakout.  However, they determined that Banner/Hulk could care of himself while they tried to get the prison under control.  Since that was their goal, they knew they needed to get power back up and take control of the control room.  They determined Black Widow was the natural leader for the mission since the had the SHIELD access and knowledge of Raft operations.  Widow then determined that rather than going through the direct route where they might have to fight through dozens of villains, they would take a more indirect route through the belly of the raft and come up through the main service conduits to the power plant and the operations center.

On the one hand, this meant getting through a series of dropped security bulkheads.  On the other hand, they had a THOR.  So this was proving easy.  Then Thor's player had to step away from the table.  So, I spent a Doom Pool die to make it official, and had Widow, Cap and Firestar trapped between two armored doors while Thor got dropped out of the raft and into the river by a trap set up by Typhoid Mary, Vermin, Zzzax and Hydro-Man.  They would have had to face the first three if they had gone back to check on Thor, but they were focused on going forward.  So, Hydro-Man tried to take them out by himself.  He did a major area attack and got lucky, taking Firestar to d12 physical stress.  Widow got herself to the ceiling with her swing line, and Cap is an Olympic level swimmer, etc. and was fine.

Widow then turned to attack and dealt some stress to the overconfident (and quite dumb) Hydro-Man.  Cap swam to the bottom of the quickly filling section of tunnel and recovered Firestar and rolled a recovery action on the stricken hero.  This brought Firestar back up enough to focus, and Cap then pointed him at Hydro-Man, whom Firestar quickly flamed into oblivion. 

Having stressed out the bad guy, the water started to recede.  Black Widow then started in on the far bulkhead door and pulled a MacGyver, using power from her bracelets to jump the mechanism to raise the door.  Low and  behold, there was Thor, who (by a little of Bullpen fiat) had transported himself back with Mjolner.  They then proceeded onward until they had to choose between the control room and the power plant.  They decided to split up.

Cap led a team consisting of Firestar (whose scientific know how was needed to deal with the generators) and Thor, whereas Black Widow split off to take the control room on her own, as she had the necessary access and resources to take it, or so they thought.

Black Widow easily made it through the access tunnels to the Control Room.  There she found former SHIELD agent and Raft Inmate Mentallo using a mysteriously powered control panel to direct confederates to take possession of a momentarily subdued Bruce Banner.

In the meantime, Cap's team entered the power plant to find a villain with his hands in the reactor core, muttering about burning the drugs out of his system.  The villain turned, showing himself as Graviton.

As Rob Donoghue would say, it was then On Like Donkey Kong!

Black Widow acted first in the action order.  She blasted the monitor in front of Mentallo to disrupt whatever control he was exercising over the other goons and/or Banner.  He was taken unawares,  but was soon threatening terrible vengeance on Widow.  Widow then chose Thor to go next.

Thor advanced swinging mighty Mjolner to subdue Graviton.  Graviton simply pointed at Mjolner and Thor found himself humbled on his knees, momentarily unable to even lift his mighty hammer.  Thor picked Graviton to go next, deciding to try to get the worst of it over while other heroes would have time to act.  Graviton fired a mighty blast of force at Thor, staggering, but not disabling the mighty son of Asgard.  Graviton picked Mentallo to go next.

Mentallo put a great deal of thought into trying to immobilize Widow, trying to regress her mind back to her time in the Red Room, under painful and shocking training.  Widow, however, shrugged off the mental stress with that self-same Red Room training and a handy plot point.  Mentallo chose Firestar to go next.

Firestar summoned his most powerful energy blast to go full force, toe to toe with the master of gravity.  Graviton easily captured the energy and began to convert the molten globe of plasma to his own uses.  Firestar picked Captain America to go next.  The Sentinel of Liberty threw his shield into center of the energy fields Graviton was manipulating in order to disrupt his planned attack.  He managed two effects, both robbing Graviton of his stunt die, and inflicting some severe Emotional Stress on the villain.

For the next round, Cap chooses Thor to go first.  Thor again struck with Mjolner, this time overwhelming Graviton's defenses, inflicting physical stress on the villain.  Thor chose Graviton to go again, and Graviton unleashed a brutal multi-target attack.  Thor, however, used his Anti-Force SFX and reflected the d12 of physical stress back on Graviton, taking him out.  Graviton chose Mentallo to go next.

Mentallo continued his relentless mental assault on the Widow, showing her scenes of her friends dying, of her efforts failing.  Widow put almost all of her Plot Points into resisting, and then, activated a counter attack, kicking Mentallo into unconsciousness.  Widow chose Firestar to go next.

Firestar flew to the power controls and quickly managed to restore enough power for Widow to start locking up the prison, isolating inmates and regaining control.  Reacquiring a view into Banner's cell, she saw the Hulk just finishing mopping up the cell with the goons who had been trying to kidnap Banner while he was incapacitated.  She contacted Captain America on what to do.

Cap said, "Let him go."  So, Widow cleared a path for the Hulk, and he left the Raft and headed to New Jersey.

And, we were out of time.  The session was a lot of fun.  I am still quite a rookie at running and explaining the system.  The basics are easy,  but elaborating how to make Opportunities, Assets, Stunts, and counterattacks work are still a work in progress.  Also, Milestones have not yet played a big part.  Mostly, this is because I have run limited one-shots that have not been to coherent as far as short or long term story goals.  Mostly they are just slugfests.  These are fun, but I need to flex some other "Watcher" muscles.

With a little more planning, I would like to develop some short act/action scene milestones and unlockables that could bring those into play even for a one-shot.  The issue, as always, is time.

I was very grateful to find the materials on which will make writing up and producing custom Datafiles extremely easy.  The resources on the web for this game are amazing.

So, after a third play, with a second time being a Watcher, I am ever more a firm lover of this game and the system.  The best thing is that I am still just scratching the surface, and more and more interesting and helpful materials, official and unofficial, keep coming out.  Thus, it is easy to have a very rich play experience with relatively low investment, and without even too much prep. 

Thanks to everyone out there making with the awesome on this.  It's great!