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.