Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Timmy - pt. 1

[Written in 1991 and published in Spire, Elgin Community College’s student newspaper. It is very, very, loosely autobiographical.]

It is very late and I should not be here.

I had to break the lock on the gate to get in. I could not carry what I needed over the fence. I doubted anyone would find anything amiss come morning anyway. I had no reason to fear discovery by the caretaker. He lived like a hermit in his little house. No one remembers ever seeing him. The whole area was an eyesore, because he never came out to tend the grass or the flowers. The whole area had fallen into ruin and decay. No, I did not expect to encounter him at all.

Propping my shovel against a short, gnarled tree, I carried the bag alone to the spot. I carried it past the Olmsteds, and Old Julia Olney with her withered, old flowers. I nearly tripped over the Olsens. Fortunately, I caught my balance. I could not drop that bag. I cut across a path in order to reach – but they were not there! I was amongst the Stuarts when I should have been near the Vullners. Had it been so long since I last visited that I could not remember….No, I could see it then. I had not gone far enough. The Vullner stone was to the right. I hated the Vullners for that big, marble stone of theirs. Although, I confess, I’ve never met them, I can guess they are snobbish, conceited people to have so large a stone.

Then was not the time to dwell on other pains. I had a difficult enough duty ahead of me. I ever so gently placed the bag next to the tiny stone which read, “Kenneth A. Wadford,” my father’s name. I’ll be right back, I thought, but did not speak. I had to go back for my shovel first. I had not yet passed the Olsens when I heard someone at the gate. I could not see the gate, so I must have been equally invisible. Yet my first thought was of the embarrassment of being found, and I hid behind an old, dead bush. I could hear the creaking of leather boots. Had he heard me? I had no doubt been discovered by the caretaker. So, he was more vigilant than I had given him credit for. The gate creaked open. He had discovered my handiwork. Had he found the pliers I so foolishly left at the gate? He must have known I was there, and for a moment I wished he would shine a flashlight on me and get this over with.

He did not come in.

Perhaps he didn’t want to bother, or the night air was too cold for him, but he did not come in. Maybe there was something on TV he didn’t want to miss and so he went back. Cautiously, I waited to hear his creaking boots again. When I had heard nothing long enough, I rose up and fetched my shovel (which had fortunately been on the wrong side of the tree to be seen from the gate). I almost went through the open gate to fetch my pliers, but I realized that the caretaker, should he return, would find it even more suspicious if the pliers were missing.

The bag was right where I had left it. Should it not have been? The caretaker’s appearance had made me frightfully edgy. There was no reason for it, though. The dark and my remoteness would protect me from discovery. Only the moon and the southern cross would see what I would do for Timmy. I had a simply enough task – to dig a hole. How quickly I felt ashamed for thinking such a thing. There was nothing simple about this. The simple thing to do would have been to do nothing. When the church told me Timmy would not be given a proper Christian burial, I could not go along with that at all. Timmy deserved better. I tried to explain to them how Timmy was just a victim of circumstance, but they didn’t understand how important this was. I dug into the earth with my shovel, thus beginning my excavation.

The digging wasn’t easy, but my mind wasn’t even on what I was doing. My thoughts always went out to Timmy. It had always been painful for me that you were not of my flesh and blood, Timmy. Was it difficult for you, knowing you were adopted? I wouldn’t know because I was raised by my own parents. I wasn’t as young as my father was when he had me, but I tried to play the kinds of games with you that he used to play with me. I was on the football team back in high school. Did I ever tell you that? Probably not. I didn’t want to make you feel obligated to follow in my footsteps. If football wasn’t the game for you, then I accepted that. I tried to find things both of us would enjoy doing. We never did try trench digging, did we Timmy? I was exhausted and only two feet deep. Had I become all that tired in body? My limbs trembled, and my eyes were so weak I could no longer see what I was digging. At least, that was my first explanation. Quickly, I realized that the fault lied not in my eyes but in the clouds in the sky. They hid the moon and the stars and plunged me into darkness.

Can you imagine the entirety of the situation? There were no neighboring houses way out there. There were no unshuttered windows to cast light into my hole in the ground, except for one at the caretaker’s house, but that window was so far away as to only be a glow in the distance. I had a flashlight, but I dared not use it. Should the caretaker see it, he would know his vandal was still there and would surely come back out for a more thorough search. Perhaps, my mind at that late hour, and so exhausted from my labor, exaggerated this obstacle, but for a few minutes I was prepared to stop. I tossed my shovel aside and slumped down on the cold earth next to the bag.

I’m sorry, Timmy, I thought to myself. I can’t do it. Will you forgive me if I can’t? Ah, I remember your first birthday. All you wanted was to sleep, but I kept waking you up from your nap. I wanted to sing “happy birthday” to you and give you some birthday cake. I didn’t want to wait a few years until you were ready for a birthday party, so I tried to force one on you. You were so cranky that day. You showed me. Did you ever forgive me for that? Heh, at least I had the sense not to invite the neighbors’ kids. Oh, God, I miss you, Timmy. When the doctor told me you had been sick for so long….Why didn’t you ever tell me? I thought we were closer than that. I suppose you were just paying me back for when I wouldn’t let you take your nap.

Fortunately, the wave of despair which had passed over me did not stay long. What did I need to see for to dig? The ground would be there whether I could see or not. I resumed my work. Those few minutes of rest had done wonders for me, and I worked with renewed vigor. I shoveled out great mounds of dirt, and soon had an enormous pile of disgorged earth to the side of my hole. It seemed I would not fail Timmy after all.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wimpy Tales - p. 2

#9. "Enter: Geraldo!" June?, 1991.
Antagonist: Sgt. Omar Amir and His Iraqi Commandoes. Starring: ? Guest Stars: Geraldo Rivera. Setting: Chicago. Synopsis: When the Wimpy Heroes learned that Omar Amir and his Commandoes were scheduled to appear on the Geraldo Rivera show, the Wimpy Heroes showed up in time to stop the Iraqi soldiers from holding the live studio audience hostage. And they all broke chairs over Geraldo’s head.

#10. “Herbiwar: Part One” July ?, 1991.
Antagonist: Louie the Lilac. Starring: ? Setting: Rosemont. Synopsis: While the Wimpy Heroes were in Rosemont for the annual ComicCon, a gardening convention was being robbed by Louie the Lilac (from the ‘60s Batman TV show), some goons, and a mutated plant monster. After being captured, Louie spilled that the plant monster had been loaned to him by a villainess called Belladonna and he even told them where to find her.

#11. “Herbiwar: Part Two” July ?, 1991.
Antagonist: Belladonna. Starring: Shrinky-Dink Man, Shruiken, and...? Setting: Gary, Indiana. Synopsis: The trail led to a factory in Gary, Indiana. The factory was protected by some traps, but Belladonna was found working them from the office and was quickly captured. She revealed that her boss was the Plant Man.

#12. “Herbiwar: Part Three” July ?, 1991.
Antagonist: Plant Man. Starring: Variable, Shrinky-Dink Man, and...? Guest Stars: Great Lakes Avengers. Synopsis: The Plant Man was mutating plant monsters and selling them, through Belladonna, to other criminals. The Wimpy Heroes confronted him in his giant greenhouse full of plant monsters. All the Wimpy Heroes were captured, but then the Great Lakes Avengers, who were also on Plant Man’s trail, showed up. The GLA freed the Wimpy Heroes and the two teams worked together to capture the Plant Man.

Annual #1. Antagonist: a moloid (from the Mole Man's kingdom of Subterranea). Starring: Shrinky-Dink Man, Dreamwave, and…? Setting: South Elgin. Synopsis: Reports of a monster sighting in South Elgin led the Wimpy Heroes to do a yard-by-yard search. The trail led back to the rock quarry where a lost and scared moloid had wandered to the surface. The Wimpy Heroes captured the moloid and returned it to where it belonged. Bonus: Comic book Jeopardy!

#13. "The Phantom of the Chicago Theater!" August ?, 1991.
Antagonist: Mysterio II. Starring: Captain Jew, Shrinky-Dink Man. Setting: Chicago. Synopsis: The Wimpy Heroes were
contacted and asked to investigate reports of a phantom haunting the Chicago Theater. The two heroes who showed up found a variety of mechanical traps about the theater and discovered that the “phantom” was Dan Berkhart, the second Mysterio.

#14. Sept. ?, 1991.
Starring: Annoying Man, Shrinky-Dink Man, Dreamwave, and …? Setting: Streamwood. Synopsis: An un-finished 14th scenario pitted the Wimpy Heroes against the Chicago branch of the Maggia. The scenario proved too challenging for the dwindling number of players and an encounter where the Maggia attacked the Wimpy Heroes on their home turf ended in Annoying Man killing a carload of hoodlums, changing the tone of the entire campaign. The campaign was resolved “off-panel”, with me informing the
remaining players how I had it planned. All the heroes but Shrinky-Dink Man would have been captured and the Maggia boss would have revealed that their super powers had all been an accident caused by an experiment to give him super powers. The boss would drain them of their powers, but Shrinky-Dink Man would free them and they would still be able to defeat the boss, even powerless.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Beverly Zombies

[Christmas vacation has kept me, ironically, too busy to share anything for 10 days. Here's a bit of creative nonsense I wrote back in 2005]

While on the road for a long time this last weekend, I composed the following in my head:

Let me tell you of the story of a man named Jed
A grizzly bear ate him and now he's dead
But he rose from his grave as a zombie you see
And then he ate the brains of his whole family.

(Hillybilly brains.)
(Small potatoes.)

So along by now the whole family's undead
They sleep in coffins instead of a bed
They don't need a toilet 'cuz' they don't have to pee
So they moved to a crypt in the town of Beverly.

(Hills, that is.)

(Episode in progress)
Media mogul: I have to admit, I thought I could pull the wool over your eyes with my Hollywood savvy and double talk, but I see now that your folksy charm and honest ways are a better life than my million dollar mansion and jet-setting life.
Jed: Hmm...brains...
Media mogul: (chuckles) Yes, you sure have a lot of brains not to have signed that contract to give my network exclusive rights to your life story for just $10,000. But now that we understand each other, let's start over and see if we can renegotiate --"
Jed: Eat brain now!

(Episode ends to faster instrumental reprise of theme song.)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Top 11 Favorite Books

[I put together this list back in 2005 and it has not changed since.]

We were recently asked here at the library to put together a list of our favorite books for a "staff recommended" bibliography. I did slip some graphic novel/trade paperbacks into my list, but thought I'd share my top 10 (I finally decided on 10!) non-comic book novels and novellas, and encourage you all to do the same. Also, so my list wouldn't get glutted by single authors I like a lot, I limited myself to one book I like best from each author.

1. The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien)
2. With a Single Spell (Lawrence Watt-Evans)
3. Gods of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs)
4. Voyage of the Dawn Treader (C.S. Lewis)
5. The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Graeme)
6. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
7. True Names (Vernor Vinge)
8. Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card)
9. The Sign of Four (Arthur Conan Doyle)
10. Dirk Gentley's Holistic Detective Agency (Douglas Adams)
11. Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Valentine's Day Poem

[A highwater mark of my early writing "career". In 1991, I attended a Valentine's Day poetry contest at Elgin Community College, wrote a poem while I sat there listening to the other poems, read mine aloud as a last-minute entry, and won a prize for best humorous love poem. The poem was subsequently published in the 1991 issue of Spire, ECC's student literary magazine.]

Cherished memory of times past,
So much we have shared with each other.
That time we dined at Tony's
And you whispered in my ear,
You must remember the words.
"Can I borrow a hundred bucks?"
"I'll pay you back," you said.
I believed you.
Now, this is the fourth time I've called,
Only to be met by your answering machine.
I thought I could trust you,
I thought I knew you,
And I want my money back.
By the way, Happy Valentine's Day,
And remember, I know where you live.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Character Concept - Jade

[Co-created with my girlfriend Megan, but mainly written by me, for an aborted PBEM campaign]

Name: Jade
Sex: Female
Class: Magic-User (journeyman)
Race: Human
INT: 15
WIS: 14
CHA: 13
STR: 11
CON: 11
DEX: 10
XP: 0
HP: 4
AC: 9
Age: 33
Social Class: MLC
Align: Neutral
Relatives: Crystal (29-yr. old sister)
Money: 1 gold pieces, 20 silver pieces, 8 copper pieces
Items: Shield, simple bow, 12 arrows [made with house rules that allowed magic-users to employ shields and any weapon, but all restricted to 1-4 points of damage regardless of size], dagger, gown, robe, shoes, book, cheese (1 lb.), lantern, salted jerky (1 lb.), waterskin.

Background: Jade was the oldest daughter of two simple villagers in the Village of Barnard. Her father was a tailor and Jade was apprenticed to him in that trade at the age of 16 (being customary for unwed maids of 16 or older to seek employment in the Barony of Blackmoor). Her village was on the edge of the Barony of Blackmoor, along the shores of Loch Glomen. She might have wiled away her years here without any hint of adventure in her life had not a young stranger come to town during her first year of apprenticeship. He was a magic-user, a journeyman in the mystic arts, and was seeking his fortune. He was also young and handsome, just as Jade was young and beautiful. The two fell in love, and the young man promised to take Jade far away to the City of Maus where she could learn magic, as he had, at a college of magical arts there.

Life in Maus proved less than idyllic. The city itself was a nasty, vicious place. Her teachers at the college could be cruel. The student body was small and seldom numbered over a dozen students at a time. Worse of all came the tragic accident during spell research when Jade’s then-fiancé was killed. Numb from the loss, and feeling she could not go back home, she stayed at the college for years, never advancing far as a student.

Finally, with what monies her fiancé had left her spent and with no more ability to work off her scholarship, she gave up college life and returned home. Many years had passed, and Jade was now a mature woman. She thought her home village, at least, would have seen fewer changes than her.

She was wrong. Barnard was considerably changed. It had grown into a small town – a squalid, filthy town that was mostly filled with strangers who seemed more at home in Maus. Barnard was now called Frogtown, named after the new temple constructed in town – the Temple of the Frog.

It was the 19th day of Dewsnap, and Jade had woken in the Village of Nengone on Mare Island . It was the last stop on her way back to Rocking, the village on Rock Island that she once called home. She had a strange dream last night. She dreamt that a shooting star fell out of the sky and landed in Rocking. She dreamt that the people of Rocking had gathered around the fallen star and celebrated it. Jade felt compelled to approach the fallen star. She embraced it, tried to lift it, and tried to move it, but could not lift or move the star.

It was a strange dream, but since Jade’s dreams had rarely been prophetic before, she did not reflect on it long. She did have, after all, a rather momentous homecoming ahead of her. She had been away from Rock Island , near the south shore of Loch Glomen , for 16 long years. For a long time she had dreaded returning home, but now she was anxious to see it again. She thanked the people who had let her stay with them for the night, paid them generously with a silver piece for their trouble, and went to the dock.

The first sign that something was wrong on Rock Island came from the ferryman. “You mean Frog Island , don’t you?” the old man asked. Jade assured him that she meant the next island over to the east, to which the old ferryman gave a curious shrug. “You seem too proper a lady to be heading for Frogtown,” he said, but left it at that.

It was a cold, breezy day. She was wearing her college gown under her robes to help keep warm. There was a light fog that refused to blow off the lake. Because of this low visibility, she did not see Frogtown until they were almost upon it. It had to be Frogtown, because the little village of Rocking that she remembered was one-fourth this size. The ferry was pulling up to a fishing dock at the edge of some slums – squalid little huts and shacks, with a mixture of wood and thatch buildings that were businesses of some sort or another and, beyond that, long warehouses. About a hundred yards east of this dock was a curtain wall with towers that extended from the shore north. The ferryman demanded a silver piece for his troubles.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Wimpy Tales - pt. 1

[My first successful (though not my first) superhero role-playing campaign was "Wimpy Tales", using the Marvel Super Heroes role-playing game ( The following is a record of our sessions, based on notes taken at the time.]

#1. "Green Heroes." April 9, 1991. Starring: Captain Jew, Bob, Variable, Shrinky-Dink Man, and the Disciplinarian. Guest stars: Teen Hulk (, Armand Martel (, various teachers and students from Streamwood High School. Setting: Streamwood High School. Synopsis: Five would-be superheroes between the ages of 13 and 20 gather when Teen Hulk transfers to a high school in the Chicago suburbs and goes on a rampage. Armand Martel, one of the last of the Hulkbusters, shows up to take Teen Hulk into custody, but the school refuses to press charges and lets Teen Hulk continue to take classes.

#2. "If Dentistry Be My Destiny..." April 17, 1991. Antagonist: Molar Man and CADH (Citizens Against Dental Hygiene) Starring: Bob, Variable, Dream Wave, Annoying Man, Leprechaun, Disciplinarian. Guest stars: Annoying Man’s mother, CADH members Terry Anizuko, Raoul Fatim, and Lesly Carter, Hernando Elias Cardona Fernandez. Setting: "Dr." Fernandez's office, Adult & Children Orthodontics (in Schaumburg). Synopsis: A wave of debilitating dental accidents is sweeping Cook County so the Wimpy Heroes recruit some new members to investigate. “Dr.” Fernandez, a gangster posing as a dentist in order to distribute drugs, is stumbled across by accident, and rats out the location for CADH’s newest office. The Wimpy Heroes beard the Molar Man in his lair and capture him.

#3. "The Hand of Swarm!" April 27, 1991. Antagonist: Dr. Bernard Hertzsprung. Starring: Variable, Shrinky-Dink Man, Dream Wave, Annoying Man, and the Leprechaun. Guest Stars: Dr. Henry Pym (, Dr. Alfred Dunivan (Fermilab scientist), Rob McDonal & Hal O'Crant (garbage men), Cliff Raymond (Bartlett Village sanitation director), Shrinky-Dink Man and Annoying Man’s mothers, Swarm (partially,, Red Head (rejected Wimpy Hero). Setting: Mallard Lake Landfill, Hanover Park Village Hall, Fermi-Lab. Synopsis: Dr. Henry Pym cameos at Fermi-Lab, there to study the skeletal hand of the villain Swarm, which is accidentally thrown in the garbage. The Wimpy Heroes discover the hand by accident, lose it again, and find that it wound up at the nearby Village Hall and is generating a dangerous bee swarm. Dr. Bernard Hertzsprung (who has a wooden hand and a horrible German accent) had botched stealing the hand from Fermi-Lab and tries to recover it now, but he is captured, the hand is recovered, and the hand is returned safely to Fermi-Lab for study.

#4. "It Came from the Stars -- C.O.D.!" May 1, 1991.
Antagonist: M'maelmaan. Starring: Variable, Bob, Shrinky-Dink Man, Disciplinarian, and the Leprachaun. Guest Stars: Torgo (, Matthew Blazer (postman), Mayor Daley, Cook County Postmaster General (name not given), a friend of Bob and the Disciplinarian named Joe. Setting: Bensenville, Chicago (Daley Building). Synospsis: M’maelmaan, a big robot that looks kind of like a mailman lands in Bensenville and announces its intention to destroy and take over, in no particular order. The Wimpy Heroes head into Bensenville in the Leprachaun’s car, only to lose that car when they crash it ineffectually into M’maelmaan. M’maelmaan realizes he had not landed in a very large city and flies to Chicago instead, with the Wimpy Heroes following suite. They through everything they’ve got at the robot outside the Daley Building, but since they haven’t got very much they only slow him down. And then Torgo shows up.

#5. "P.O. Box Infinity!" May 2, 1991.
Anatagonist: M'maelmaan. Starring: Captain Jew, Variable, Shrinky-Dink Man, Disciplinarian, Annoying Man, Leprachaun, and Shruiken. Guest Stars: Same as last issue, plus another would-be hero named John. Setting: Chicago. Synopsis: Torgo is on the good guy’s side, claims M’maelmaan is a renegade from their home planet, Mekka, and has come to arrest him and bring him back. Torgo and M’maelmaan battle, but find themselves stalemated. More wimpy heroes show up to join the fight. Capt. Jew, sensing that the evil robot’s mailman motif is its weakness, brings dogs to bark at it. Basically, M’maelmaan gets so annoyed by the Wimpy Heroes that he eventually just decides to leave. Torgo pursues him into space.

#6. "We, the Few..." May 11, 1991.
Antagonist: Sgt. Omar Amir and His Iraqi Commandoes. Starring: Variable, Shrinky-Dink Man, Annoying Man, Jock, Disciplinarian. Guest Stars: Variable and Shrinky-Dink Man’s parents, Teen Hulk. Setting: Tefft Middle School (Streamwood). Synopsis: Streamwood is starting to see some of the cosmos-wide effects of the Infinity Gauntlet Saga ( Worse, Saddam Hussein had a band of “elite” terrorists infiltrate the U.S. for the purpose of taking over the White House, but they had got lost and wound up at Tefft Middle School in Streamwood, Illinois. Making due, they take the middle school hostage, but are stomped by the Wimpy Heroes with Teen Hulk’s help.

#7. "The 24-Hour Nightmare!" May 11, 1991.
Antagonist: Thanos ( Starring: Bob, Variable, Shrinky-Dink Man, Disciplinarian, Annoying Man, and the Leprachaun. Guest Stars: Death (in dream sequence), Dan Quayle (on the phone), various Streamwood teenagers, George Bush and Captain America (on TV). Setting: Streamwood. Synopsis: Thanos has erased half the people on Earth (and everywhere else) and more disasters keep happening that overwhelm the Wimpy Heroes. The Variable calls the White House, gets the Vice-President on the phone, and almost talks Quayle into handing him emergency executive authority before someone else takes the phone away from him. Later, the Wimpy Heroes suddenly appear before Thanos who can’t believe these are the last heroes left in the universe to oppose him. So it won’t be so insulting, Thanos boosts all their powers and they tussle. Some of the buffed Wimpy Heroes go down, but the Variable manages to get Thanos in a hold and give him a swirlie. Then everyone wakes up, and it was all a dream.

#8. "The Search for Clark!" May ?, 1991.
Antagonist: Dr. Bernard Hertzsprung and Jose Fernandez. Starring: Variable, Shrinky-Dink Man, Disciplinarian, Annoying Man, and Dream-Wave. Guest Stars: Red Head. Setting: Elgin. Synopsis: Annoying Man calls the Wimpy Heroes together to inform them that his friend Clark (the rejected hero Red Head) is missing. Their search leads them to the city of Elgin, where their old foe Dr. Hertzsprung has teamed up with the cousin of Hernando Fernandez, another gangster. Hertzsprung has some surplus weapons from A.I.M. ( that he is trying to sell to Fernandez for his gang. Red Head got in the middle of this and was captured, but the Wimpy Heroes show up and defeat everybody.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Killer DM Song

[Written in 2005, when I had way too much time alone in the car on the way back home from Indiana.]

I've got a mission
Of major attrition
I've got to achieve a TPK.

My blood lust knows no bounds
It makes me say "Zounds!"
I've got to spill some DNA.

Crit! Crit! Miss your save!
Hurling damage like a wave!

This dungeon of mine
Is the baddest of all
It's really the creme de la creme.

I've got no remorse
For your casualties of course!
I'm just a killer DM.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

New Monster: Harmless Old Man

The story behind this is an old joke made in our AD&D gaming group back around 1990. The joke is about how players tend to lazily accept descriptions from the DM on face value without asking for additional information. So, in the joke, the DM says the PCs meet a harmless old man. The PCs don’t care until the harmless old man kills them all. It turns out, “harmless old man” is actually the name for an enormously deadly monster. Not long after making the joke, I wrote up a harmless old man, and the joke has been a running gag in our group ever since. I have recently edited the stats I wrote in 1990, but kept them specific to AD&D (as opposed to later editions of the game).

Frequency: Very rare
No. Appearing: 1
Armor Class: -8
Move: 18”/27”
Hit Dice: 19+37
% in Lair: 40%
Treasure Type: H (x2)
No. of Attacks: 1 claw/1 claw/1 claw/1 claw/1 bite/1 horn/1 horn/1 tail
Damage/Attack: 3-12/3-12/3-12/3-12/9-20/3-10/2-8/2-8/6-13
Special Attacks: Death gaze, breath weapon, energy drain, stench, poison, spells, vorpal and wounding bite, sharpness and wounding claws, and see below
Special Defenses: +4 or better weapon to hit, regenerate 5 hp/round, immune to cold, lightning, fire, poison, gas, energy draining, ½ or no damage from acid (always allowed a save)
Magic Resistance: 95%
Intelligence: Genius
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
Size: L (15’ tall, 30’ wingspan)
Psionic Ability: 540
Attack/Defense Modes: All/All
Level/X.P. Value: XII (out of X)/a lot

The harmless old men of the lower planes are feared by all save the gods and swear no allegiance to demon, devil, or daemon. Their gaze is as deadly as a bodak (MMII). Anyone coming within 40’ of them must save vs. paralyzation at -2 or be stunned by the stench for 3-12 rounds. They radiate an aura of energy draining that drains 1 level per round from anyone within a 5’ radius of them. So, just meeting harmless old men is deadly before combat is even joined.

In combat, the harmless old man will try to lift shorter opponents so it can bite with both heads (the smaller, telescoping head in its stomach can attack any opponent), as its main head is too tall for biting man-sized opponents on the ground. If it cannot reach to gore with its horns, it can use spikes on its knees to the same effect (but does not use both). Its upper head can spew an unlimited quantity of breath weapons per day in a cone 12” long and 1” wide, of either cold, lightning, fire, or chlorine gas, doing damage equal to the harmless old man’s current hp (like a dragon). Its claw attacks and the bite from its stomach-head necessitate a save vs. poison, success means 25 points of damage and failure means death in 1 segment. The stomach-head can spit this poison up to 3” once per round. The stomach-head will also hold fast after biting and drain blood at the rate of 1-8 hp per round. The bite of the main head has the cumulative properties of a vorpal sword and a sword or wounding. All four claw attacks have the cumulative properties of a sword of sharpness and a sword of wounding. The harmless old man can continue fighting even if both heads are severed.

A harmless old man has the following spell-like powers, usable at the 20th level of ability: animate dead, burning hands, cause fear (gaze at will), charm person, comprehend languages, cone of cold, darkness (30’ radius), detect invisible, fireball, gate (15% of 1 harmless old man), ice storm, invisibility, know alignment, lightning bolt, magic missile, permanent illusion, read magic, shocking grasp, suggestion, teleport (no error), and word of recall. They have continuous telepathy, infra-vision, and ultra-vision within a 24” radius.

A harmless old man has 20 psionic devotions and 10 psionic sciences.

Weapons +2 or less have a 1 in 10 chance of breaking when striking a harmless old man.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Parenting and Teen Drug Use Bibliography

Parenting and Teen Drug Use
A Bibliography


HE 20.402:T 49/CLUB DRUGS
Tips for Teens: the Truth about Club Drugs. Rockville, Md.: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, 2004. 6 p. pamphlet. Also at:

HE 20.402:T 49/COCAINE/2004
Tips for Teens: the Truth about Cocaine. Rockville, Md.: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, 2004. 6 p. pamphlet.

HE 20.402:T 49/HALLUC./2004
Tips for Teens: the Truth about Hallucinogens. Rockville, Md.: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, 2004. 6 p. pamphlet. Also at:

HE 20.402:T 49/INHAL./2004
Tips for Teens: the Truth about Inhalants. Rockville, Md.: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, 2004. 6 p. pamphlet. Also at:

HE 20.402:T 49/MARIJ./2004
Tips for Teens: the Truth about Marijuana. Rockville, Md.: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, 2004. 6 p. pamphlet. Also at:

HE 20.402:T 49/METH./2004
Tips for Teens: the Truth about Methamphetamine. Rockville, Md.: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, 2004. 6 p. pamphlet. Also at:

HE 20.402:T 49/STEROID./2004
Tips for Teens: the Truth about Steroids. Rockville, Md.: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, 2004. 6 p. pamphlet. Also at:

HE 20.3958/2:5
Szapocznik, Jose, Olga Hervis, and Seth Schwartz. Brief Strategic Family Therapy for Adolescent Drug Abuse [microform]. Bethesda, Md.: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2003. vi, 87 p. on 1 microfiche! Also at:

Abraham, Henry David. What's a Parent to Do?: Straight Talk on Drugs and Alcohol. Far Hills, N.J.: New Horizon Press, 2004. xii, 227 p.

YA 362.29/Hyd
Hyde, Margaret O. and John F. Setaro. Drugs 101 : an Overview for Teens. Brookfield, Conn.: 21st Century Books, 2003. 159 p.

YA 362.29/Rac
Raczek, Linda Theresa. Teen Addiction. San Diego, Cal.: Lucent Books, 2004. 112 p.

YA 362.292/Tee
Torr, James D. (Ed.) Teens and Alcohol. San Diego, Cal.: Greenhaven Press, 2002. 159 p.

YA 362.299/Oli
Olive, M. Foster. Designer Drugs. Philadelphia, Penn.: Chelsea House, 2004. 96 p.

YA 613.8/You
Youngs, Bettie B. and Jennifer Leigh Youngs. A Teen's Guide to Living Drug-Free. Deerfield Beach, Fla.: Health Communications, 2003. xxvii, 339 p.

Internet Sites

Heads Up: Real News about Drugs and Your Body.

NIDA Goes Back to School: Science-Based Drug Abuse Education.

NIDA for Teens: the Science Behind Drug Abuse.

Parenting is Prevention.

Partners for Substance Abuse Prevention.

Prevention First.


Scott Casper
Government Documents Librarian
Poplar Creek Public Library
1405 S. Park Ave.
Streamwood, IL. 60107

Friday, November 16, 2007

Constitution Pathfinder

[Published at work and freely distributed]
Studying the Constitution: a Pathfinder

This document will help you find information on the U.S. Constitution and the Illinois State Constitution.

U.S. Constitution

The following sources interpret the Constitution:

342.73 Fou
Four Pillars of Constitutionalism: the Organic Laws of the United States.
Prometheus Books, 1998.

342.7302 Mon
The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution.
Hyperion, 2003.

342.04 Hol
The Meaning of the Constitution.
Barron's Educational Series, 1997.

342.73 Ama
For the People: What the Constitution Really Says About Your Rights.
Free Press, 1998.

Subject headings: Constitutional law
Constitutional history
Civil rights

The following sources discuss the judicial history of the Constitution:

344.73 Bro
Brown v. Board of Education: Caste, Culture, and the Constitution
University Press of Kansas, 2003.

344.73 Sec
The Second Amendment in Law and History: Historians and Constitutional Scholars on the Right to Bear Arms.
New Press, 2000.

347.73 Rob
The Tyranny of Good Intentions: How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice.
Prima Pub., 2000.

Subject headings: Segregation in education
Race discrimination
Law reform

The following sources detail the history of the Constitution:

320.10973 Fle
Our Secret Consitution: How Lincoln Redefined American Democracy.
Oxford University Press, 2001.

342.73 Fed
The Federalist: a Commentary on the Constitution of the United States.
Modern Library, 2000.

973.318 Ber
A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution
Harcourt, 2003.

Subject headings: Statesmen
United States -- Politics and government

The following sources contain the Constitution and discuss it for children:

J 342 Qui
The Constitution
Children's Press, 1998.

J 342.73 Col
Creating the Constitution
Benchmark Books, 1999.

JR 342.73 Con
The Constitution and Its Amendments
Macmillan Reference USA, 1999.

Subject headings: United States -- Constitution
Constitutional amendments

The following are study guides for the Constitution:

VG 342.73 Ram
Quick and Easy Study Guide for the U.S. Constitution.
Basic Educational Materials, 1999.

The following sources explain what is in the Constitution, or in parts of the Constitution:

R 342.7302/Mad/GOV.DOC.
The U.S. Constitution A to Z.
CQ Press, 2002.

AE 2.102:P 92/2000
Provisions of the Constitution and United States Code Relating to Presidential Elections.
Office of the Federal Register, 2000.

Projects in Progress

This has been a slow week for the blog, but I am still keeping busy and wanted to share on what.

I am currently writing a "re-mix" of Avengers #119 (cover date Jan. 1974), using my own pick of Avengers and altering details to fit the continuity I established on my Superland Yahoo!Group. I already have chapter 1 posted at, but am still posting the same pages one-per-day at Superland, which allows me to catch errors I missed the first time.

I have started writing "Ehlissa's Story (Castle Greyhawk Prologue)". When I have more of it done, I will start serializing it on the Greytalk listserv (join from the Canonfire! web site) and then will post it to when complete. I expect that to be a single chapter, but we will see.

I am sitting on "Skull Mound" right now, a dungeon level I wrote for my old South Province AD&D campaign and altered into a one-round tournament module I ran at GenCon one year (wish I could remember which year!). I've decided there isn't a lot of publication potential for it and will be submitting it soon to Canonfire! after I look it over for possible changes one last time.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Original Superhero Character Concept - Mr. Magnesium

[Another character meant for an online role-playing game, but never used. The brief game mechanics notes are for the Champions system.]

Real Name: Todd Chaston
Occupation: Adventurer, former librarian
Identity: Secret
Legal Status: Citizen of the United States with no criminal record
Marital Status: Married
Known Relatives: Teri Evans Chaston (wife, 55), Jenny Chaston (daughter, 28), Tara Chaston (daughter, 19).

Background: Todd Chaston was born in 1942 to an auto mechanic with a love for comicbooks. Gary Chaston would read comics to his son most every night, and it was an early inspiration. Todd grew up, went to college to study the humanties, and fell in love with the daughter of the campus librarian. Teri Evans was a high school graduate, three years Todd's junior, but the union had the blessing of Teri's father and the two were married the following year. Inspired by Teri's father, Todd pursued a Master's degree in library science. Upon graduating, he had a job lined up for him at the reference desk of the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, IN. But it was 1967, and the draft was threatening. Todd joined the navy, and served on a carrier in the South Pacific for two years. After serving his time, he settled down to a quiet lifestyle, thinking his most adventurous days were over.

By 1981, Todd was 39, his daughter Jenny was 9, and his daughter Tara was just an infant. Todd had advanced to assistant director to the library, and it was in that capacity that he was sent to Chicago for a library conference. He was heading back to his hotel downtown by bus after a long day at the conference, when the bus and all 20 people onboard were abducted. Their abductor was Throckmorton Sivana, last heir to a line of mad scientists. Sivana planned to use everyone on the bus as guinea pigs in an experiment to turn humans into "elementals" under his control. Todd didn't know most of the people on that bus -- and has never had the courage to learn most of their names, as most of them didn't survive. The treatments worked on him, though, and he began to transform into pure magnesium. Luckily, the Olympians found Sivana's hideout under Lake Michigan and rescued him, because as pure magnesium he was literally burning up on contact with the air! The Olympians saved him, and somehow reversed the process. And so his adventure seemed to be over.

But it wasn't. Todd was changed already, even though he seemed to be back to normal. Once again inspired by superheroes, he was now determined to show that he could make a difference too.

Lacking superpowers, he quit his job at the library and ran for public office. For the next 16 years he would be a city councilman, and did many good things for Ft. Wayne and its people. However, he gradually began to discover that there were side effects to his previous transformation. Todd felt an affinity to magnesium, and could sense its presence. High levels of magnesium in his body kept him vigorously healthy, unusually so for a man in his 50s. Most remarkably, though, he found that with practice he could control magnesium! In increasingly greater amounts, he could summon magnesium from exposed earth or seawater in fountains of bright, blazing flame!

Todd experimented with his powers slowly and secretly, though he shared everything he was doing with his wife. Teri was slow to accept that her husband had superpowers and wanted to use them to perform random acts of heroism! He also told his older daughter, Jenny. Jenny was now 27, and teaching social science at a junior high school. His younger daughter, Tara, was 18 and too undisciplined to share in the secret. Tara dated excessively, partied instead of studying, and barely passed high school. Instead of college, she intended to make it big in a rock band. Luckily, Todd was not so prone to impulsiveness. He planned careful for a career change to superhero. He studied judo and tae-kwon-do. He bought several specially tailored suits, but covered his tracks carefully so he could not be tracked down later by them. Teri insisted that he wear a bullet-proof vest. The cane weapon was Jenny's idea. Todd's original idea of joining the Olympians didn't pan out when the Olympians vanished, but there was a promising new team which had sprung up in Pennsylvania. Todd read the account of how they had saved lives at a factory fire, and knew that this would be his chance.

Height: 5'10"
Weight: 190 lbs.
Hair: Grey-brown
Eyes: Brown
Age: 58

Appearance: Mr. Magnesium wears a white sports coat and matching slacks and a fedora. Under the fedora he wears dark sunglasses over a black hood which tucks under the lapels of his jacket. On the pocket of his jacket are two red letters -- "Mg." He wears a concealed bulletproof jacket beneath his sports coat. He carries a black metal cane which opens at the top and contains a magnesium flare.

As Todd Chaston, he appears to be a well-built man in his late 40s, with a toothy grin and crow's feet. His widow's peak is thin on top, and he sports a moustache.

Powers: Todd Chaston has unearthly control over the element, magnesium. He can manipulate the element over great distances, and even separate or combine it with other elements at the molecular level.

His body absorbs magnesium from his environment, maintaining his good health.

He can cause plants to absorb great amounts of magnesium from the soil and grow at an accelerated rate (magnesium being the main element of chlorophyl). In this fashion, he can cause a seedling to sprout in an hour, or cause a grown plant to double in size in the same amount of time. Todd must concentrate on the plant for the first ten minutes of that time.

Todd can draw magnesium forcefully out of another person's body. The magnesium combusts on contact with the air, burning on the victim's skin, and creating a bright, blinding light. The victim is also left disoriented by the withdrawal. Todd uses this ability only as a last resort due to how harmful it is to its victim (1d6 points of killing damage, temporarily blinded for 1-3 turns, disorientation causes -2 to all rolls for 1-6 hours).

His most spectacular ability is to draw great amounts of magnesium directly out of the earth or saltwater, where the element is most abundant. The magnesium spout can reach a height of up to 7-12 feet, and is useful in a variety of ways. The bright flame can temporarily blind anyone in 40 feet. The spout serves as a barrier most dangerous to cross (3-18 points of killing damage). Soft metals will melt and combustibles will burn on contact with the magnesium spout. Todd could conceivably fill his entire range of vision with magnesium spouts. The only limit to his power is range, and the availability of magnesium. Only the earth's crust and seawater have enough magnesium. Todd cannot affect this power inside a building, for example.

The magnesium flare concealed in his cane can also temporarily blind an unwary opponent. Todd can exercise such precise control over the magnesium that he can use his flare to write literally in the air with it. He can also cause the burning magnesium to leap from the flare to another spot within 10 feet.

His eyes are naturally resistant to blinding attacks, and his polarized sunglasses complete his protection from the brightness of the burning magnesium. Sunglasses alone are not enough protection at close range. Todd is also to some degree resistant to heat and flame, though to ensure his safety his costume is flame retardant. The bulletproof vest he wears will stop a .42 caliber slug at medium range.

Todd is an above average athlete and hand-to-hand combatant.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

More Misc. Avengers Graded

[Continued from October]
Avengers #179 (Jan. 1979). “Slowly Slays the Stinger.” Grade: C+. When your best feature is a stunning cover (by Keith Pollard, who never did enough work in comics), you know you’re in trouble. Fill-in writer (and then-newbie) Tom DeFalco thinks the best way to deal with a large roster of heroes with disparate power levels is to split them up on simultaneous challenges. And maybe he’s right. But the Stinger is so generic a villain he’ll put you to sleep before you even get to the mildly original Bloodhawk for the tougher Avengers.
Avengers #183 (May 1979). “The Redoubtable Return of Crusher Creel!” Grade: A. The start of a trend that the writer, artist, and editor of this issue would continue into the ‘80s, of repackaging old villains with nostalgia value as sympathetic characters.
Avengers #184 (June 1979). “Death on the Hudson !” Grade: A. The art is surprisingly unhurt by multiple inkers. Only four Avengers have a chance to shine and the others just stand around and watch, but the treatment of the Absorbing Man is so…absorbing, that much can be forgiven.
Avengers #185 (July 1979). “The Yesterday Quest!” Grade: A+. Byrne and Green’s artwork is fantastic, but even better is this stellar epic, tight despite sprawling over three issues, that ties up nearly every loose end in Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch’s origin.
Avengers #186 (Aug. 1979). “Nights of Wundergore!” Grade: A+. Cap going over Gyrich’s head to the President is a classic, but the star is Wanda, who should not have had to wait four years for a series outside the Avengers after this.
Avengers #187 (Sept. 1979). “The Call of the Mountain Thing!” Grade: A+. A great wrap-up to a near-perfect three-part epic, marred solely by the lame title.
Avengers #188 (Oct. 1979). “Elementary, Dear Avengers.” Grade: A++. Another Bill Mantlo one-shot masterpiece. The debate between Avengers about helping the Soviets is perfect, the living elements are an original, creative threat, and we even get a peek at the Inhumans. Has a pregnancy (Crystal’s) ever been revealed by a fill-in writer before?
Avengers #189 (Nov. 1979). “Wings and Arrows!” Grade: A+. Maybe the best solo Hawkeye fight to this point. And it still took years before he got his own series? Everything works perfectly, all the characters are so believable, the continuity with other titles is tight, and the Beast gets such great lines!
Avengers #190 (Dec. 1979). “Heart of Stone.” Grade: A+. The greatness did not want to end! Gyrich vs. the Avengers in court! Surprise villain! Another cliffhanger ending!
Avengers #191 (Jan. 1980). “Back to the Stone Age!” Grade: A+. The Avengers acting like a team, the Falcon finally getting his chance to shine, and, sadly, my last issue of Byrne and Green working together on art. What a team that was! This is the two-parter bringing back a classic Thor foe that the Absorbing Man two-parter tried to be.
Avengers #194 (Apr. 1980). “Interlude.” Grade: A+. I missed a few issues, but David Michelinie still delivers. Moments like Capt. America waxing his shield and Ms. Marvel opening the jar of Turtle Wax for him are moments that mark a great writer. George Perez, along with the tightest inker ever, Joe Rubenstein, is not too bad after the magic of Byrne and Green, though Perez had designed one of the worst Wasp costumes ever for this issue.
Avengers #195 (May 1980). “Assault on a Mind Cage!” Grade: A+. The inking is so good, Perez has never looked better. Yellowjacket, Wasp, and even the second Ant-Man all shine while the other heroes have to wait. Taskmaster and the Solomon Institute (where the henchmen were trained the heroes have been fighting all these years) is a brilliant innovation that adds much to the Marvel universe. The biggest disappointment – weapons called “janglers”?

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Origin of Captain Marvel Annotated - pt. 4

[Parts 1-3 posted in October]
It is by sheer dumb luck that Capt. Marvel spots Sivana’s henchmen through the first window he tries with seconds to go before Sivana’s deadline – unless luck is one of the powers of Zeus.

The crooks make use of a technological television, while Shazam had used a magical “super-television.” That the screen bearing Sivana’s likeness is hidden behind a curtain is reminiscent of the wizard in The Wizard of Oz.

Sivana is allegedly based on C.C. Beck’s dentist. His demands are reiterated in the caption because this was originally meant to be part two of the story and readers coming in late would not know what the ransom demand was.

Once again a clock figures into the story, though this time the narrator provides the clock since Capt. Marvel is nowhere near the clock tower from earlier. Time as a recurring motif in the story may symbolize how we all grow up like (though not exactly like) Billy. The fear of a deadline may represent the fear of growing up, or how quickly Billy in particular had to grow up.

Capt. Marvel has still not been described as invulnerable, but the first indication seems to be the panel of him lunging head-first through a glass window without a scratch. It is, however, a cliché of the action genre for characters to jump through windows without a scratch.

P. 10: Sivana has entrusted his two henchmen with the “radio-silencer” machine that he needs to extort the $50 million. Sivana is not even present, so the henchmen would have had the honors of activating the machine. It may be smart of Sivana to keep his direct involvement minimal, but certainly defies certain mad scientist clichés.

Instead of smashing the radio-silencer machine with his fists or a weapon, Capt. Marvel effortlessly throws one of the henchmen into it. This scene echoes the cover, where Capt. Marvel threw a car and its driver in almost the same pose. This also shows a mean streak in the Captain, at least toward criminals.

There is a dynamic, beautifully drawn panel here of Capt. Marvel bracing himself as he pulls the elevator car and the escaping henchman back up to the penthouse, with the elevator cable flying wildly. Even the carpet under Capt. Marvel’s feet is being bunched up by the struggle. It is one of the more realistically-drawn panels in the entire issue, but it also suggests that pulling up the elevator car is a difficult physical feat for Capt. Marvel – hence, the bracing with his foot. Perhaps Capt. Marvel has underestimated the Strength of Hercules, or his creators had simply not decided yet just how strong to make him.

The next panel is a study in contrast, with the realism of the previous panel replaced with a “pop” sound effect as Capt. Marvel cuffs the henchman on the back of the head, and a thought balloon comically showing a bird singing coming from the now-injured henchman. It is a convention of the comic book genre to visibly show that a character has lost consciousness with the aid of visualizations like this. This dichotomy could represent Billy’s “real” world he knew before and the magical one he inhabits now.

P. 11: Capt. Marvel has not only destroyed the radio-silencer, but has used its parts to bind the two assistants; very likely the irony is intentional. Further evidence of Capt. Marvel’s playfulness is that he bows to his prisoners and calls them “gentlemen.” The first confrontation between Capt. Marvel and Sivana, via television, ends with Capt. Marvel seemingly losing his temper and threatening to kill Sivana. It is, of course, important to the story that Sivana not be present, for Capt. Marvel would subdue him easily. That Sivana is still present, in a way, through an electronic medium sets up the conflict of man vs. machine. Capt. Marvel would easily have won a man vs. man conflict, but must be unsure of the outcome of man vs. machine or he would not have lost his cool.

Capt. Marvel soon gets his cool back and is next seen leaning nonchalantly against a table with a telephone on it. The telephone may be an echo of the man vs. machine conflict, foreshadow Billy’s call to Sterling Morris, or simply be there to show Capt. Marvel is now in a different room where he has not smashed everything.

P. 12: That Billy has resumed his “normal shape” suggests that Billy physically transforms into Capt. Marvel and does not trade places with him. Hopefully, Billy did not just transform in front of Sivana’s assistants, at least one of whom was still conscious when last seen.

Billy must sound more persuasive over the phone, because he tried to convince Sterling Morris to come to the Skytower Apartments earlier in person and failed. Perhaps he forced one of the assistants to confess over the phone off-panel. Morris is now willing to take “a half-hour” to reach Billy.

Billy insists on anonymity and wants Morris to wait until after Billy leaves to call the police. While remaining secretive fits the superhero genre, it seems strange that a boy Billy’s age, without parents, would not be desperately craving attention (he does not appear in the least bit introverted). Perhaps Billy is avoiding the police for more practical reasons, such as if they were aware of his “orphan on the lamb” status and want to catch him and put him in an orphanage. Morris is quick to accept Billy’s plan, without asking for a reason why. We never hear what he tells the police, or if he takes credit for a larger role in stopping the radio-silencer.

Whatever his other intentions, Morris is feeling unusually generous toward Billy. Billy has only asked for a job. Morris could meet that condition and give Billy as menial a job as he would any under-aged boy. Yet he immediately gives Billy an on-air position as a reporter.

P. 13: These last two panels were the original ending of the shorter, ashcan version of this story, with the words changed.

Billy, who was not so excited about receiving superpowers, is suddenly jubilant about being rewarded with a job as a reporter. Becoming Capt. Marvel may have been the realization of his childhood fantasies, but securing a good job is surely the realization of his adult fantasies. Even though he still appears to be a child, Billy has crossed over into adulthood already – which is probably why he no longer craves child-like attention for himself. And yet…

The story ends on a silly joke, with Billy almost slipping up and giving his secret away, and then covering it up with a bad pun on microphone and “Mike.” Perhaps the story takes this step back to give Billy some more room to grow?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Element Kings Campaign Setting Proposal

[A combination of three different edits of my submission to Wizards of the Coast for the create a campaign setting contest that led to the creation of Eberron.]

Core Ethos Statement: On a world where the elements are the enemy and the gods are not your friends, mankind fights for redemption.

Who are the heroes? The lone, scattered clerics, listening for the faintest whisper from their gods, and the monks sworn to protect them. One example is Selornim Vass, High Priest of Wokond. Selornim is in closest contact with the God of Mercy, and in perhaps the best position to broker peace between man and the gods. The druids who swear fealty to the Element Kings, but scheme in private to aid mankind against them. The fighters who protect the borders of their principalities from constant hostile threats. One example is Torvol Drosk, Warlord of Parumbrol. Torvol has defended the southern border of Parumbrol from the monkey golems of Vodania for years with just a small army and his elemental sword. The paladins born to a destiny the gods had left for man centuries earlier before the Divine Exodus. The rogues who slip into the long-sealed temples of the gods and steal back their artifacts for their current worshippers. The wizards who learn the ways of magic in secret guilds so they can one day master the Elemental Planes. One example is Grand High Transmuter of the Principality of Harumbar. Gederand is the most knowledgeable man on the planet of the schemes of the Element Kings.

What do they do? At basic levels (1-3), the heroes foil the agents of chaos -- such as the elves, the gnolls, and the lermeshurs (lemur-men) -- as they work to break alliances and disrupt the principalities. They struggle against a cold, hostile world environment full of wild lands and savage monsters. At the mid-expert levels (4-7), the heroes gain the notice of the Element Kings as they begin to fight back against the elemental golem hordes and become forces to reckon with in the world around them. At the high-expert levels (8-12), the heroes gain the ire of the Element Kings by finding allies from the Elemental Planes, and their delvings into the underworld begin to produce evidence of a previous age when man and gods were still close. At the master levels (13-18), the heroes can begin combating the Element Kings, who for 600 years have ruled the world as their own, on their home ground, winning the attention or favor of the gods. At the epic levels (19+), the heroes can begin reuniting the gods with man, winning redemption in the eyes of the gods that their ancestors abandoned, ending the reign of the Element Kings over the world, and restoring the kingdoms of old.

Threats, Conflicts, Villains: The halflings are slaves and the race of humans are peasants in the eyes of the Element Kings. The dwarves are free, though they revere the Element Kings, and are busy vying with kobolds for their layer of the underworld. The elves scheme against mankind to keep them disorganized, because men have had their time to be the dominant species and next it could be the elves' turn again. Orcs are common and control many towns and much of the trade. Bugbears, ogres, and dire elemental animals prowl the wild lands. The gnolls are direct pawns of the Element Kings, disrupting the alliances of mankind for their own ends. Worse still are the elemental golem hordes, monkey- and ape-shaped embodiments of the elements of nature. The underworld holds secrets and wonders of the past age, but is also home to fearsome races like aboleths and beholders. Finally, heroes will seek allies on the Elemental Planes and push their battles to the home ground of the kings themselves. There are many Element Kings, “big bosses” of astonishing variety of powers.

Nature of magic: The world is surrounded by such a density of Inner Planes that the Outer Planes have almost no contact, and the world itself is infused with elemental magic. The gods are distant, and have but a few score clerics each at any time. Demons, devils, and other outer-planar beings are virtually unheard of. Undead, in a traditional sense, do not exist. They are empowered by the Elemental Planes rather than a Negative Material Plane.

What's new? What's different? Once, the gods had an active hand in guiding the world, but 700 years ago the gods left the world, telling mankind that they would return. It was called the Divine Exodus after they left, because the world was a cold, desolate, and dangerous place without the intervention of the gods. Then the Elemental Kings contacted the leaders of mankind and told them that the gods had left for good, and offered to protect mankind in a dangerous universe. And so man began to pay tribute to the Element Kings and lost their freedom. The Element Kings each rule an Elemental Plane - but not ones for air, earth, fire, and water. Rather, there are over a hundred Elemental Planes corresponding to coal, tin, iron, etc. he Element Kings have no intention of giving the world up even though the gods have long since returned. And the gods, miffed with man, aren't hurrying to reclaim it.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Dwarven Philosophy Primer

[This work was prepared for a sourcebook on dwarves proposed, but never submitted to, Kenzer & Co. for Kingdoms of Kalamar. When rejected, it was modified to fit TSR's World of Greyhawk and intended to go in a "Dwarves of the Flanaess" article for the Canonfire! web site, but then was cut and a more concise "Dwarves" article can still be found on Canonfire!]

Ever since Moradin created the first dwarves and showed them around his smithy, the gods have been generous in sharing knowledge with dwarvenkind. This has not been a hindrance in the development of dwarven philosophy. Some are driven by a need to understand for themselves. Others seek answers the gods have always protected. These answers include the nature of the world, knowledge, truth, and alignment with the gods.

Middle Bronze Age Philosophy

The earliest known school of dwarven thought was propagated by four known philosophers -- Telak, Rogamikim, Remimikim, and Remakanaz. They all lived roughly 8,500-8,000 years ago. Variations aside, all four subscribed to the same theory on the nature of the world. The world was forged out of earth, and all life is understood through earth. What's more, all earth is itself alive, albeit in a different sense than dwarves are alive. As proof, they offered plant life, and how it springs directly from the earth. Telak elaborated on the relationship of earth to the rest of the four basic elements -- air, fire and water. Air, fire and water are finite -- there are places where dwarves have trouble breathing, fires eventually all burn out, and water disappears over time. Only earth is permanent and infinite.

Dwarves have always known this world, which men call Oerth, by the name Gurad. Many human religions hold that the world has always existed, while others have conflicting creation myths. Dwarves, who have always valued the act of creation above all else, have poured many a philosophical thought into solving how the gods created Gurad. Rogamikim offered an explanation for the creation of the world in his analogy of a scrambled egg. In the beginning, earth was the yolk -- the life. Air, fire, and water fed the earth. But the gods scrambled the elements together until they intermingled into the shape of the world as it is now.

Almost universally, dwarven thought has focused on Gurad as being everything underground. The aboveground is the top of the world, or at least a natural extension of it. Remimikim described the world as a melon, with the rind being the aboveground. What mattered was inside, but the rind was still important to the melon as a whole. Completing the analogy, the seeds inside represented living beings, like the dwarves.

Some failings that crop up in ancient dwarven philosophy include the failure to acknowledge life on the aboveground as important, or even that a universe beyond the world mattered. Dwarves of eight millennia past surely knew of life on the aboveground. The philosophers valued surface world items for their value in analogies. The aboveground was a useful tool for understanding how the world as a whole worked -- like being on the outside looking in. But dwarves seem to have found little other importance in it. Even more curiously, no known ancient dwarven writings so much as mention the sky, the moons, the sun, or the stars. It is as if dwarves found these things above the world only a distraction, and not necessary in an understanding of the world.

Remakanaz came closest to describing the sky when he proposed his layered world theory. This theory held that the world was divisible into 11 layers. The uppermost was the air layer, or sky. Beneath that was the water layer, which seemed to include the entire surface world down into the soil. The rest of the world was composed of layers of the nine then-known components of earth -- coal, sulfur, lead, mercury, tin, iron, copper, silver, and a gold core. The layers were not pure, but contained veins of the materials from the other layers.

As early as Rogamikim, it has been believed by dwarves that all knowledge is ultimately knowable. The basic tenents of how reality works are lawful and unchanging, and thus mortals could eventually accumulate the total sum of knowledge about reality. Documentation of knowledge becomes even more important with this mindset, explaining how any writing by philosophers 8,500 years ago has endured. Only Remakanaz of the ancient scholars remained skeptical, believing that the gods would always keep some information unknowable.

Followers of skepticism have been rare throughout dwarven history. It has been generally assumed that the gods are always truthful in what they reveal to dwarvenkind, that what they choose to reveal is in dwarven best interests, and that truth itself exists a priori to the gods, and is thus unalterable by the gods.

Late Bronze Age Philosophy

Though it was Moradin who taught dwarves about smithing, it was Ulaa who first took them to the surface and showed them how many hills and mountains there were, thus showing the dwarves the way of numbers. When dwarves were still 4,000 years from the present date, they had already mastered arithmetic and were beginning on geometry. These developments profoundly changed the nature of philosophy. Logic was now dictated by mathematical doctrines.

Rurimari was the first to apply shapes to theology. Rurimari’s famous table of squares has been borrowed since by other races. It is a grid three squares on a side that shows law, chaos, good, evil, and neutrality intersecting and combining at various points on the grid. As an example of how seriously dwarves take their philosophy, Rurimari had an argument with his students over mapping the known gods onto the table of squares. Several students were so adamantly opposed to his placements that they bound him to his chair and held him prisoner. They were unable to force him to reconsider, until eventually his family effected his rescue.

Ulgimurar Angak lived nearly 3,000 years ago. He is remembered for two advances. The first was differentiating between Rogamikim’s notion of perfect truth, which is attainable through knowledge, and truth perceived by the senses. The second was suggesting that Rurimari’s table of squares can be viewed as a series of paths. Dwarven history reflected a movement from the juncture of chaos and evil across the table to the juncture of lawful and good. Ulgimurar believed that history was a macrocosmic view of a path every dwarf was meant to take in life, always aiming to be lawful and good. In fact, the dwarven phrase rorm lem digar (“left and up”) is a direct reference to Ulgimurar’s theory.

Turimardek was a dwarven noble who turned his mind to philosophy around 2,100 years ago. Turimardek tried to reconcile the world as an ordered, rational place -- as dwarves understood it -- with the existence of magic, which was unknowable and unpredictable -- as dwarves understood it. He declared that magic was not real or, more specifically, was in varying degrees illusionary. After Turimardek’s death, there would be a schism amongst his followers for the next 1,000 years. Some believed that if all magic was illusionary, and the gods wielded magic, then spellcasters were all taping divine power. The rest believed that, if magic was illusionary, then the gods were all tricksters and their power should be denounced. The schism ended dramatically when his atheistic followers were struck down in a massive retribution by the gods.

Tegimum Angak was a poet who lived 1,700 years ago. As well as being a direct descendent of Ulgimurar, he is also remembered as the first dwarf to advocate the notion of dualistic reality. Light and dark are exclusionary, in that one "is" while the other "is not." Yet, when looked at together, light and dark create shadow -- a more comprehensive reality than either is separately. Tegimum applied this thinking to explain how chaos could exist in a lawful universe. The truth is the more comprehensive reality revealed when one looks at lawful reality with the "spheres" of chaos inside it. Previously, some dwarven scholars had even doubted that chaos truly existed or, rather, that chaos could be explained by rational law if it was fully understood. Turimardek had refered to "cycles" of chaos, which were themselves lawful in nature. Tegimum asserted that this was not a true assessment of chaos on an individual level. That chaos existed in its own "spheres" (read as microcosms) within which results could not be predicted.

It was 1,600 years ago that a once-young apprentice of Tegimum named Onez began a campaign of skepticism that contradicted his former mentor. Onez's bone of contention was time, which did not seem to have an opposite or a dual reality. It would take over 50 years before another thinker, Turtek Tumal,came up with a solution. Time, he said, was the lawful structure of reality. Its opposite was entropy. Viewed together, the larger reality was the plan of the gods. Turtek is still widely respected today, perhaps moreso because he was also a warrior. Had he not been cut down at a relatively early age by orcs, who knows what further insights he might have had.

Living after Turtek was a poet/philosopher named Relbidak Zargok. Relbidak tried to explain how a dualistic universe operated with a system of four elements. His solution consisted of two dualities which existed simultaneously -- air and fire opposed by earth and water, and a balance of elements opposed by an imbalance of elements. The former pairings have been judged as weak and arbitrary by most other philosophers, but the later concept has been much favored since. What Relbidak is really remembered for, though, is the concept of "four in two in one," or, two pairs of dualities which combined make an even greater truth. Philosophers since have used this slippery math to explain the paradox of duality with four elements. Skeptics have delighted in using the phrase "four in two in one" to apply to situations which do not add up.

Larminad Danglim was a later contemporary of Relbidak who offered his own fix on the duality of elements. Larminad saw separate dualities above and below ground -- fire and air held sway aboveground (as evidenced by the sun), earth and air held sway underground (as evidenced by air-filled caves deep beneath the surface). This concept would be adopted by the field of medecine. If a dwarf suffered any malady while aboveground, it was said the dwarf was lacking earth in his body and needed to return beneath the surface. Likewise, dwarves who stayed too long underground were said to need a trip aboveground to restore their inner fire.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Original Superhero Character Concept - Fermia

[For an online superhero campaign that never happened, circa 2005]

Real Name: Sheryl Catelani
Occupation: Activist/adventurer
Legal Status: Citizen of the U.S. with no criminal record
Age: 37
Marital Status: Single
Base of Operations: Mobile

Background: Sheryl was born to a book editor of English ancestry, and a mother of Italian ancestry in 1963, Minneapolis, MN. Sheryl led a normal, well-adjusted childhood until her family took a vacation to California when she was 13. Her father was working with a nuclear physicist who was writing a manuscript about inexplicable phenomena, as if an unseen visitor was performing his own experiments. The would-be author was giving Sheryl and her father a tour of the facilities when an experiment of the unseen visitor turned dangerous. All three of them were caught in a spatial warp, where they briefly existed in the same space with a quantity of radioactive fermium. The experience was lethal for the other two, and would have been for Sheryl as well if the unseen visitor had not intervened. As the visitor merged with Sheryl to protect her, Sheryl learned that the visitor was a fourth-dimensional being who was teaching himself more about three-dimensional atomic physics when the unfortunate accident occurred. Sheryl was saved, but changed by the experience when she returned to real space. Portions of her body were transmuting back and forth between flesh and blood and pure fermium. While Sheryl was apparently unharmed by each transmutation, the appearance of fermium in her body was posing a health risk to people around her. Sheryl was hospitalized, first at a hospital, and later at a military research facility. The government was interested in her use as a living weapon. For the next 12 years subtle efforts were made to brainwash her into a killing machine.

In 1988, funding for Project Fermium was running low and Sheryl had proved almost immune to brainwashing attempts. Her fermium-laced body tended to shrug off drugs, and isolation never had the effect on her it was meant to. That was because Sheryl was never alone -- the fourth-dimensional visitor was now inside her. For several years it bothered her and made her feel dirty when it would manifest in her mind. Its thoughts were incomprehensible for a long time, but over the years she realized that she was feeling loneliness from Ford, as she named "him." Ford was trapped inside her, or at least part of him was. The three-dimensional world was a scary prison for Ford, and Sheryl was able to forgive him for the accidental death of her father.

It was in said year that Project Fermium was traded from the Dept. of Defense to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA saw potential in an agent who was both
super-humanly strong AND immune to radiation, and they tried a different tact than the military had.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Salireta: City of Heroes

[Written for, but never submitted to, Kenzer & Co. for the Kingdoms of Kalamar -- and before the City of Heroes video game]

A Sourcebook for the Kingdom of Kalamar

by Scott Casper

Welcome to Salireta! One hundred and fifty miles upstream of the capital, Bet Kalamar, Salireta is a small but important port city along the Badato River. It has a rich history, almost as old as the kingdom itself. The appellation, City of Heroes, dates back only 200 hundred years, when the first of several Kalamaran heroes called Salireta home. Today, it is a thriving city, built on river travel commerce, logging, and agriculture.

Bet Kalamar and Salireta

To understand Salireta, one must look at its relationship to its considerably larger neighbor. Bet Kalamar eclipses all other cities in the Kingdom of Kalamar, if not the known world. Bet Kalamar is the largest of cities -- grand in its excesses. Not counting lands handled by lieges, the king directly controls a roughly 300-mile radius of land around the sprawled metropolis, because Bet Kalamar and its suburbs need that much farmland to support them. There are cities the size of Salireta and larger within five miles of the capital, few of which delude themselves into thinking they have any autonomy. Smaller towns fan out from the capital in a fifteen mile radius. Everywhere else there are much smaller farming villages and thorps. Between all of these locations is a vast network, a web, of commerce that connects them. Salireta is very much a part of that web, yet it still retains much character from its frontier days when this was not yet so.

History & Background

Salireta in 30 IR

It was only 29 years since King Ali Inakas established the Kingdom of Kalamar, and nine years since Rulakan and Fulakar seized the throne. To the northeast of Bet Kalamar, the Paliba Woods remained unexplored, and considered beyond the frontier of Kalamar's immediate holdings. The carpenters of Bet Kalamar must have salivated, thinking of all that unused timber, but instead they fought over scraps from lesser, closer copses that have since all been decimated. In fact, Rulakan did indeed have plans for a great logging enterprise situated where the Badato River met the Paliba Woods -- the modern site of Salireta. But he was swayed by advisors who warned that the Paliba was reportedly full of goblins, and would have been too costly to clear out.

The reports of goblins in the woods, as it turned out, were greatly exaggerated. Oh, there were goblins there all right, but they were not great in number, and they had no wish to draw the ire of the First Legion stationed in the capitol. Aside from their wastes found floating down the Badato, and the occassional raid on a village, the goblin threat existed only in rumor and fairy tale.

Now, at this time there was already a small thorp of farmers and herders living in present-day Salireta. It is thought that there might have been only four large families of initial settlers, which made them brave people indeed. Yet for their bravery they were rewarded with ample wood for building, water for drinking, and land for farming and grazing. Life must have been difficult, for it was a ten mile hike to a village downstream that had a mill. This tiny community had attracted a blacksmith before attracting its own miller.

Almost nothing is known of The Smith, except that he was responsible for organizing the first militia in the area in response to a goblin raid. The Smith's name remains unknown, and there are no written records of his existence, which has lent an appealing air of mystery to the countless retellings of the goblin attack. A mythology of sorts has arisen around The Smith, and the more glib-tongued bards present him as Salireta's first hero -- almost single-handedly fighting a horde of goblins. It is unlikely, of course, yet goblins are the first boogey-men most children here learn to fear, and The Smith is the fairy tale hero who drives them off in each night's bedtime story.

Moving back into the province of facts, it was in the spring of 30 IR that The Smith's thorp is mentioned in any documentation. Prince Fulakar himself was leading the First Legion north along the Badato River, to engage in some violence far afield. By some chance, they continued past the Wooded Road (it might have been washed out, which has always been a problem) and Fulakar first eyed the site of Salireta. He remarked it was a promising location and went to investigate. The settlers, he learned, were illegally free serfs, yet he uncharacteristically spared them from execution. Instead he ordered that enough men be left behind to construct a watchtower on the spot. It was a long overdue precaution against goblin attacks from the Paliba Woods, and the tower's garrison would need food. The settlers would provide it -- in addition to other heavy taxes -- to make them pay for their arrogance in wishing to be free. Whether or not The Smith actually spoke to the prince and convinced him to be so lenient is questionable, but it is usually a glib-tongued bard who raises such questions.

The Legionnaires, disgruntled at having to miss out on the spoils of war, were vindictive towards the settlers. Much of the labor of constructing the watchtower was done by local hands -- after a full day of their regular chores. It would take until the following summer for the watchtower to be completed. It remained for 42 years -- longer than The Smith ever did.

Salireta in 100 IR

The thorp struggled hard over 70 years to grow into a village. It had its biggest setback nearly three decades ago (72 IR) when orcs and hobgoblins marched over the P'Sapas Hills and charged down into Kalamar. The watchtower was razed, and most of the people were killed or taken for slaves. That might have been the end of the village, had it not been for Baron Balamir Aroposi. Baron Aroposi was overseeing the defense of the region, and was determined to keep the humanoid invaders from getting any closer to the capitol. He was also an ambitious man with eyes on the throne in Bet Kalamar, which had been disputed since the death of King Kolokar in 89 IR.

To secure the Badato River, the baron dubbed one of his knights Baronet Pilamel Salireti and dispatched him to construct a new keep where the village had been. There were low expectations for the young baronet, but this suited the baron who feared granting power to competent vassals who might turn against him.

In the previous decades, Salireta had been a frequent stopping point for the Badatarans. These nomadic anglers had been moving up and down the Badato for years without making any permanent homes, choosing instead to follow the spawning habits of the trout that populated the river. When Pilamel neared the ruins of the village, he found the Fishermen waiting for him with a proposition. The village needed new people, and the Fishermen wanted to settle down.

New Monster: Berlodaemon

[From the aborted project with Rob Kuntz, The Waystation of Water.]
MOVE: 6"
% IN LAIR: 10%
MAGIC RESISTANCE: 15% to 1st level spells
INTELLIGENCE: Semi- to low
ALIGNMENT: Neutral Evil
SIZE: S-M (4-5' long)
Attack/Defense Modes: Nil/Nil
LEVEL/X.P. VALUE: IV/120 + 3/hp

The berlodaemon appears as a giant lamprey that pulls itself forward on two strong but stubby legs, dragging its body behind it. A third limb, like a deformed arm ending in claws, grows out of the top of its head. It is amphibious -- more like a frog physiologically -- and inhabits the stagnant mires and stinking cesspools of Hades. They are the bottom of the food chain amongst daemonkind, normally feeding only on what wayward souls fall their way. As such, they are seldom summoned to the Prime Material Plane on purpose.

The arm of a berlodaemon is capable of grasping and using simple tools, but is more often used for clawing at its prey. Much worse than its claw attack is its bite, for the berlodaemon's mouth functions much like a real lamprey's mouth. Once attached, the daemon can suck blood almost indefinitely (its lower body can swell up like a balloon). Blood loss amounts to an automatic 1-4 points of damage per round, and it cannot be dislodged unless it takes at least half its full hit points in damage.

The lowly berlodaemon enjoys few of the special abilities common to most higher daemons. Of the spell-like abilities, they only retain detect invisibility at will. They have 60' infravision and 90' ultravision. They still take only half-damage from acid, cold, and fire, and are immune to poison and paralysis. They can be harmed by normal weapons, though nomagical weapons that are not iron or silver do -2 points of damage.

As an amphibious creature, the berlodaemon can breathe both air and water, and can swim in water as fast as it can crawl on land.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Favorite Marvel Comics Character by Month in the Silver Age

I had the idea for this mini-project while browsing The Silver Age Marvel Comics Cover Index ( for the umpteenth time.

Jan. 1961-Oct. 1961 No superheroes yet!
Nov. 1961-July 1962 Thing (Fantastic Four #1-5)
The Fantastic Four had no in-house competition for superheroes at first during this formative first year, but no one could match the Thing for unprecedented pathos in a superhero character.
Aug. 1962 Spider-Man (Amazing Adult Fantasy #15)
Until Spider-Man, that is – the ultimate teenage geek wish-fulfillment fantasy. The first story is one of the best origin stories ever.
Sept. 1962-Feb. 1963 Thing (Fantastic Four #6-11)
The jury was still out at this point as to what would happen with Spider-Man. Luckily…
Mar. 1963 Spider-Man (Amazing Spider-Man #1)
The saddest thing is that Marvel was STILL hesitant about Spider-Man, and only launched his new title bi-monthly. So we get this flip-flop between Spider-Man and the Thing for awhile.
Apr. 1963 Thing (Fantastic Four #13)
May 1963 Spider-Man (Amazing Spider-Man #2)
June 1963 Thing (Fantastic Four #15)
July 1963 Spider-Man (Amazing Spider-Man #3)
Aug. 1963 Thing (Fantastic Four #17)
Sept. 1963-June 1964 Spider-Man (Amazing Spider-Man #4-13)
July 1964-Sept. 1964 Thor (Avengers #6-8)
But what’s this? The Avengers was just starting to live up to its potential of being the best superhero group of them all, thanks mainly to its powerhouse Thor, who always stole the show.
Oct. 1964-Jan. 1965 Spider-Man (Amazing Spider-Man #17-20)
Steve Ditko showed he really shines on these multi-issue storylines, so much so that he just seemed to be phoning in the single issue stories here.
Feb. 1964 Captain America (Tales of Suspense #62)
Meanwhile, Jack Kirby was doing great things with Capt. America , making him better than he ever was in the ‘40s.
Mar. 1964 Thor (Journey into Mystery #114)
Oh, and Jack Kirby was transforming Thor from a superhero comic book into a modern Wagnerian opera.
Apr. 1964-Feb. 1966 Spider-Man (Amazing Spider-Man #23-33)
The last, great Ditko issues.
Mar. 1966-Apr. 1967 Thing (Fantastic Four #48-61)
Just in time for Kirby to rebound on the FF and turn this into his truly innovative work.
May 1967 Goliath (Avengers #40)
But I can’t help it, I still really like the Avengers, even though Roy Thomas was comfortable with keeping it a 2nd-tier team. And Goliath was Henry Pym at his best for the next 15 years.
June 1967 Thor (Mighty Thor #141)
The FF was taking a breather from greatness, allowing other stars to shine again.
July 1967 Hulk (Tales to Astonish #93)
Aug. 1967 Mr. Fantastic (Fantastic Four #65)
By now, the Thing’s pathos was wearing thin, and the cosmic storylines made Reed’s brain more important than superpowers.
Sept. 1967 Spider-Man (Amazing Spider-Man #52)
Oct. 1967 Thor (Mighty Thor #145)
Nov. 1967 Goliath (Avengers #46)
Dec. 1967-Feb. 1968 Mr. Fantastic (Fantastic Four #69-71)
Mar. 1968 Hulk (Tales to Astonish #101)
Apr. 1968-May 1968 Spider-Man (Amazing Spider-Man #59)
And in some months, none of the titles were so great anymore. John Romita’s Spider-Man was certainly a let down from Ditko’s greatness.
June 1968-July 1968 Captain America (Captain America #102-103)
Aug. 1968 Silver Surfer (Silver Surfer #1)
Wow, what a comic book this started out as! Why didn’t more readers get it at the time? Thank goodness it was bi-monthly, though, or no one else would have had a month to shine.
Sept. 1968 Captain America (Captain America #105)
Oct. 1968 Silver Surfer (Silver Surfer #2)
Nov. 1968 Spider-Man (Amazing Spider-Man #66)
Dec. 1968 Silver Surfer (Silver Surfer #3)
Jan. 1969 Mr. Fantastic (Fantastic Four #82)
Feb. 1969 Dr. Strange (Avengers #61)
Best all-issue ad for Dr. Strange’s comic book he ever got! Even, in my estimation, beats out Silver Surfer this month.
Mar. 1969 Capt. America (Captain America #111)
A sample of how good Steranko could be.
Apr. 1969 Mr. Fantastic (Fantastic Four #85)
May 1969 Mr. Fantastic (Fantastic Four #86)
June 1969 Silver Surfer (Silver Surfer #6)
July 1969 Capt. America (Captain America #115)
Aug. 1969 Silver Surfer (Silver Surfer #7)
Sept. 1969 Silver Surfer (Silver Surfer #8)
Oct. 1969 Silver Surfer (Silver Surfer #9)
Nov. 1969 Silver Surfer (Silver Surfer #10)
Dec. 1969 Silver Surfer (Silver Surfer #11)
Jan. 1970 Capt. America (Captain America #121)
More uneven goodness from Cap.
Feb. 1970 Black Panther (Avengers #73)
Roy Thomas seemed to understand that the Panther worked best as a solo hero.
Mar. 1970 Silver Surfer (Silver Surfer #14)
I first read this, years later, retold for Spidey Super Stories!
Apr. 1970 Scarlet Witch (Avengers #75)
May 1970 Scarlet Witch (Avengers #76)
What a classic this two-part story was.
June 1970 Human Torch (Fantastic Four #99)
Because his relation to Crystal always made a good excuse to show off the Inhumans again.
July 1970 Mr. Fantastic (Fantastic Four #100)
Only Reed could guess exactly which robot-using villains made all those robots.
Aug. 1970 Mr. Fantastic (Fantastic Four #101)
A reprint of this issue was my first FF acquisition!
Sept. 1970 Silver Surfer (Silver Surfer #18)
Back as a hiccup, better than it had been before, and then gone again as it was getting good.
Oct. 1970 Spider-Man (Amazing Spider-Man #89)
Fighting one of his greatest enemies, naturally.
Nov. 1970 Spider-Man (Amazing Spider-Man #90)
Dec. 1970 n/a
Nothing good this month, signaling the end of the Silver Age.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Origin of Captain Marvel Annotated - p. 3

Billy suddenly finds himself back where he started, as if he had just woke up from a dream while he was standing there. The clock tower now says five minutes to one, so the whole story so far has taken place in one hour. Then the scene cuts to the next morning. Most retellings will later cut straight to the next morning and have Billy actually waking up after the events in the cave with Shazam. The death of Shazam always ends with Billy turning back into himself, even though he does not say “Shazam” to change back as he normally has to do. Power of Shazam explains this by having Shazam be the conduit through which the powers of the gods are passed down to Capt. Marvel, whereas in the original version Shazam passes the power of the gods directly to Capt. Marvel before his death. Perhaps the death of Shazam unleashes so much magical energy that it disrupts Capt. Marvel temporarily. Billy was either teleported back to the subway entrance, or perhaps was unconscious and returned there by the “phantom companion.”

The clock tower shows it is almost 8 am the next morning.

Billy’s newspaper is called the Morning Herald. Both New York City and Chicago had newspapers called the Morning Herald in the 19th century, though they were both defunct well before 1940 in our world.

The headline says “Maniac Scientist Threatens U.S. Radio System: Demands $50,000,000.” This was more money than the national debt in 1940, which stood at less than 43 billion dollars. While still an outrageous demand, radio was crucial to communications in the U.S. back then, far more so than it is today. The article goes on to call the maniac scientist “phantom scientist” and “mad wizard,” as if directly alluding to Billy’s phantom companion and the wizard Shazam. The deadline of “midnight tonite” gives the rest of the story a sense of urgency, due to end in 16 hours, 24 hours after the story began. That the article was written in haste for the morning extra is evident by the misspelling of tonight as “tonite.” The article is also the first mention of Sterling Morris, who Billy soon meets in the story. The name “Sterling Morris” seems invented from whole cloth and is not suggestive of any other names important to the radio industry I have found, although “sterling” refers to silver, providing connotation for Morris being rich.

American radio was threatened by something more mundane in 1940 – the threat of monopoly, held jointly by RCA and NBC. The FCC was the real-life “hero”, forcing NBC to sell off some of its stations.

P. 7: “Skytower Apartments” is a generic enough name that it does not narrow down where Billy lives except to cities with skyscrapers. Interestingly, when searching Google for both “Morning Herald” and “Skytower Apartments” today, the top hits for both refer to Australia.

It is convenient to the plot that Billy goes straight to Sterling Morris, president of the Amalgamated Broadcasting Corporation instead of the police. The Wisdom of Solomon would tell Capt. Marvel that he is withholding vital information from a police investigation, but Billy may distrust conventional authority figures who all failed to save his parents or protect him from his uncle.

Amalgamated Broadcasting Corporation may have been named for Amalgamated Broadcasting System, a short-lived radio network that was on the air for less than two months in 1933. Little could Capt. Marvel’s creators know that the NBC affiliates sold off in 1940 would grow into the American Broadcasting Corporation – ABC – four years later.

Though Hammond strikes a blow for equality in the workplace by defying traditional gender roles, the male receptionist does not prove to be a recurring character.

This is the last page of the Captain Thunder ashcan, except for the artwork from the last page of this issue (with different dialog). There is a strong shift in the story at this point, from the deeply meaningful, mystical origin story, to an adventure tale that seems to be a cross between a Superman story and an action-oriented movie serial.

P. 8: When Billy shares what he knows with Sterling Morris, Morris mocks him and asks why he did not say the “Phantom” was in “City Hall” or “the Capitol at Washington.” Perhaps Morris is voicing his frustrations with the FCC’s recent actions, as outlined above.

Morris is wearing pince-nez glasses, as popularized by President Teddy Roosevelt (though there is little other physical resemblance to suggest Morris is meant to look like Roosevelt).

After securing a promise from Morris to give him a job if he finds the “madman’s” laboratory, Billy is next seen much later that night, still mulling over how to get into that apartment building. As the next page makes clear, it is almost midnight again – meaning Billy has wasted as much as 15 hours on the first step. It would have been no difficulty at all for Capt. Marvel. He has either forgotten about his dream-like visit to Shazam or simply remained skeptical of it, as he has not have even tried saying the magic word all this time.

P. 9: After finally trying out his magic word, Capt. Marvel jumps from the roof of a nearby skyscraper to the penthouse apartment of the Skytower Apartment building. Capt. Marvel has either chosen not to fly or, at this time, cannot fly.

Few superheroes in 1940 could fly, and the standard for them all, Superman, would not be flying for another few years. It is a shame that Capt. Marvel, with such varied sources of power, would display no more abilities than any Superman-clone in the comic book market displayed. If we assume that Billy’s world was the same as ours, except that what happened in Fawcett comics was real, then Superman would also be a comic book character, and one Billy would undoubtedly be familiar with. Superman was enormously popular in 1940, thanks to his appearances in comic books, newspaper comic strips, and radio. If Capt. Marvel was limited to only what abilities Billy could conceive, Superman likely would have been his model.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Origin of Captain Marvel Annotated - p. 2

It is curious that Achilles here represents courage, when Achilles is normally associated with invulnerability.

The title of Shazam’s book is visible in two panels, but sadly illegible. The characters are likely not from the English alphabet.

If Shazam has been active for 3,000 years, then he predates the Roman names of at least two of the gods who gave him their powers. Since being published by DC comics, Shazam has been depicted as even older and said to derive his powers from different deities than Capt. Marvel, though this is clearly not the case in the original origin. Shazam could hail from the early period of Greece, which seems appropriate given his patron gods, though it is difficult to identify his heritage except that his skin is fair and centuries spent underground could have changed that from any shade. Shazam has been amazingly good at remaining anonymous while fighting evil over three millennia, though he has likely used aliases. Odysseus, Jason, and Beowulf all fit within Shazam’s timeline.

The word “historama” delivers about 53,400 hits in Google today, though it cannot be found in the Oxford English dictionary. It may have been coined here. It would be nice if the historama was the globe, with images superimposed over it, but instead the historama appears to be a flat image projected on the wall, like a movie, only from no visible projector. Again, the fantastic elements are limited to what concepts Billy is able to comprehend at his age, or perhaps by Billy’s level of comprehension.

The historama is a “super-television screen.” The first working television was invented in the 1920s. More advanced, the historama is clap-activated, anticipating the Clapper light switch by about 40 years.

Billy’s “wicked uncle” is not named here and is last seen here for possibly almost eight years, his next known appearance being in Captain Marvel Adventures #88 (Sept. 1948). There are physical similarities between Ebenezer Batson (as he is later named) and Capt. Marvel’s arch-foe, Sivana, and most of their differences are simply distorted characteristics of Ebenezer (Sivana is more bald, has thicker glasses, is more wrinkly, etc.). The concept of a child’s parental figure playing the role of villain in his fantasies can be traced back to Peter Pan, where many stage productions have the father and Captain Hook played by the same actor.

Roy Thomas understood the connection between Ebenezer and Sivana, but simplified it by combining them into one character for Shazam!: the New Beginning.

No explanation is given for how Billy’s parents died. It may have been a recent event for Billy, as he does not appear noticeably younger in the historama as his uncle is kicking him out of his home. That Billy’s father had an intact fortune in money and bonds to pass onto Billy at the height of the Great Depression shows that Billy would have been extremely lucky. Of course, having a fortune willed to you during the Great Depression would have a very common wish. There is accumulating evidence to suggest that Capt. Marvel is not just a wish-fulfillment fantasy, but is specifically part of Billy’s wish-fulfillment fantasy.

In Power of Shazam, Billy's parents are archaeologists and killed by Black Adam (who would not debut in the original continuity for another five years).

P. 5: Shazam says he has spent his life fighting “injustice and cruelty.” Injustice is one of the Seven Enemies of Man. Since cruelty is not one, Shazam may just be speaking in general terms here, or perhaps Injustice was his principal opponent and cruelty is his blanket term for the other six.

By making Billy his successor, Shazam becomes a father figure for Billy.

Billy gains the powers of Shazam by speaking his name. The concepts of magic words and true names having magical power are deeply rooted in folklore.

Billy is transformed into an adult by speaking his magic word. In Power of Shazam, Billy’s father is shown to look identical to Captain Marvel and in Kingdom Come, Billy is shown to look identical to Captain Marvel when he reaches adulthood (through mundane aging instead of magical means). It is a common wish for children to wish to be adults, thinking adults have easier lives.

Although Fred MacMurray is often cited as the inspiration for Capt. Marvel's appearance, the earliest appearance of Capt. Marvel scarcely resembles him at all.

From Wikipedia: Captain Marvel wore a bright red costume, inspired by both military uniforms and ancient Egyptian and Persian costumes as depicted in popular operas, with gold trim and a lightning bolt insignia on the chest. The body suit originally included a buttoned lapel, but was changed to a one-piece skintight suit within a year at the insistence of the editors (the current DC costume of the character has the lapel restored to it). The costume also included a white-collared cape trimmed with gold flower symbols, usually asymmetrically thrown over the left shoulder and held around his neck by a gold cord. The cape came from the ceremonial cape worn by the British nobility, photographs of which appeared in newspapers in the 1930s.

It is also worth noting that the armbands on Capt. Marvel's costume look like bracers, or armor that goes over the forearms, furthering the militant look of the uniform. I think the “flower symbols” look like daggers, but that’s just me. Michael Norwitz says E. Nelson Bridwell had identified the "flower symbols" as moly. Allium Moly does have splayed yellow leaves, somewhat similar to the design on the cape. Moly, of course, also sounds like the "moley" in Billy and Capt. Marvel's favorite catchphrase, "Holy moley!"

Captain Marvel is first named by the narrator, but first hears his name from Shazam. In the ashcan version of Capt. Marvel’s origin, he was to be named Captain Thunder, but the name was dropped over copyright concerns.

Shazam charges him with “sacred” duties, which might be a pun or meant to be taken literally given that gods are the source of most of his powers. “To defend the poor and helpless” and “right wrongs” are democratic ideals, with the former a liberal democratic ideal. Crushing evil, on the other hand, is much more heavy-handed and suggests that the war against the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man is an active one (hence inspiring Shazam to give Capt. Marvel a military-themed uniform?).

That Capt. Marvel calls Shazam “sire” can mean that he recognizes Shazam as his master (Jeff Smith would have Capt. Marvel call him “master”) or can mean that he recognizes Shazam as a father figure (Shazam, in a magical sense, sired him just now).

Shazam has discharged his duty to pass on his legacy to Billy just before being killed, making him the second father figure Billy has lost. Shazam will return, though, as a spirit to guide Capt. Marvel. In Power of Shazam, Shazam does not die and goes back with Billy to Fawcett City.