[Just in time for Christmas, here is a try-out cartoon I had to submit to the Aurora University student newspaper before they would let me continue "Journey into College" there. Like the previous comic strip, this was published in black and white, but has since been colored by my girlfriend, Megan.]
HIDEOUTS & HOODLUMS is a fantasy roleplaying game, but not the type of fantasy where sword-wielding barbarians kill hordes of orcs while robed wizards shoot fireballs at dragons. This is the fantasy world of the superhero genre. The genre created by writers like Siegel, Robinson, and Kirby is surprisingly similar to the genre of Burroughs, Tolkein, and Howard. Both are escapist fantasies of, largely, male wish fulfillment.
As I grew up, reading comic books and then taking to DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, I often wished there was a way to combine my two passions. Many game systems have come and gone in the 26 years since I started gaming that attempted to do just that, but none of them greatly resembled D&D. In time, I realized that too many superhero games were obsessed with endless customization, while part of the charm of D&D was its very limitations – its limited archetypes with their preset paths from obscure novices to powerful uber-heroes. And, while I grew up with the comic books of the ‘70s, I also came to realize that an Old School superhero game should seek to capture the feel of Old School superhero comic books as well. In both cases, I have gone as close to the original sources as copyright laws allow.
Stripped to their essentials, the rules for a superhero game are relatively short compared to, as the introduction to the SWORDS &WIZARDRY rules puts it, “the multi-paged rule-libraries required to play most modern roleplaying games”. And yet this game allows one to play a two-fisted tough guy who grows into the world’s best fighter, a tuxedo-clad stage magician who grows into master of the mystic arts, or a superhero who goes from being able to knock down doors to knocking down mountains. Also, to quote the S&W introduction again, “The customizability of a small system is very powerful (it is always easier to add rules than to untangle them away)”. This will also be true of H&H, which will expand through supplements as the Golden Age of comics expanded to incorporate more ideas. New material will not come faster than a locomotive or a speeding bullet, but will hopefully be as exciting as reading about characters who are that fast.
[This is the first installment of "Journey into College, from the ECC Observer were it first debuted, Oct. 20, 1989 issue. As an added bonus, my girlfriend Megan has colorized it, since she can't stand black and white.]
The Wachowski Brothers were on top of the world with the first Matrix movie. They had redefined the look and the mood of the action movie. There had been cool movies and there had been dark movies before, but here they had upped the ante by making dark look cooler than it ever had before. Unless you were really paying attention, you could get so lost in the coolness of the Matrix that you might miss that innocent people were being gunned down left and right. Fans screamed when the second and third Matrix movies actually jumped from building a "cool dark" world to moving on to an actual plot. Granted, the sequels were just not that good, but bad sequels have been hungrily gobbled up by the masses before (like Spider-Man 3). Their worse crime was dropping the ball. Their movies did not epitomize this new "cool dark" genre anymore because they were not cool enough.
Enter Christopher Nolan and the reboot of the Batman movie franchise. Nolan realized that, if he was going to draw in record breaking crowds, he would have to make Batman the new "cool dark." And he did. Despite that, he still made a good movie with Batman Begins (I have reviewed it previously and gave it an A-). Hype began early that The Dark Knight would be just as dark and cool. The hype would be confirmed -- The Dark Knight was indeed even darker and "cooler" than the previous movie.
Meanwhile, the Wachowski Brothers followed up V for Vendetta, a wonderful movie at least as good as Batman Begins, with Speed Racer, a loving tribute to a cult anime classic. It looked "way cool", but had shirked darkness for bright colors. The masses, schooled to like darkness, could not fathom it. How could a movie, they puzzled, be both bright and cool?
Respect for the original source material. The Dark Knight may have used the names of four characters that first appeared in comic books almost 70 years ago, but the characters were much different. Jim Gordon was not a working class cop, he was a distinguished commissioner. The Joker did not kill just to kill, but was motivated by greed. Harvey Dent was not a romantic rival for Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne/Batman is virtually unidentifiable as The Bat-Man who debuted in 1938. All the original material has been drained out of the characters and replaced with retconned material from much later comics.
In Speed Racer, the characters all look just the way they are supposed to (with the exception of Racer X, who perhaps understandably has traded in white for black). The cars all look like the manga/anime. Characters move across the screen without really moving, characteristic of the cheap animation of the original anime. Some of the cast -- particularly Christina Ricci, practically transforms herself into an anime character, with her eyes opened as wide as possible and her exaggerated movements. The relationship of the characters is all the same as in the manga/anime. The roles of some characters, like “Mom” Racer and Royalton (representing less-defined businessmen-characters who had attempted to buy Speed), are necessarily fleshed out and enhanced without contradicting anything. Heroism. Hard to believe, but Speed Racer is more a movie about superheroes than The Dark Knight! Superheroes save people, or make the world better for others. Speed did both, saving the lives (or at least the livelihood, since few people are in danger of dying throughout the movie) of his family and making the world of auto racing free of corruption. In The Dark Knight, Batman only saved a few of the lives he set out to save, failing more often than he succeeded. Worse, he completely failed at making the world better. The mob had taken some hits, but so had the law, achieving a morbid balance and an unpleasant status quo. We were even denied the opportunity to see the Joker stopped, as his plot line was literally left dangling.
Surprising the Audience (SPOILERS!). Each movie has one big surprise that is reversed on itself by the end. The Dark Knight’s is the death of Gordon, who turns out not to be dead. Speed Racer’s is that Racer X is not really Speed’s brother, but then he really does turn out to be Speed’s brother. In Speed Racer, the big surprise is relevant because the theme of losing family is strong throughout the movie. In The Dark Knight, the big surprise is not relevant at all because it is was just another death in a movie littered with too much death. Gordon’s death is a cheat, where everyone else either dies or just survives.
Fat to trim. I was discussing Dark Knight with Megan after she finally watched it and we agreed that the Dark Knight needed about 30 minutes of dead weight edited out of it to make a better movie. The whole "which boat is going to blow up the other one?" scene drags on horribly long. Maybe if a travesty like Saw VI ever comes out there will be a scene of hundreds of innocent victims being forced to mass murder each other, but there was really a zero-percent chance of this happening in a summer blockbuster, even one as grim as Dark Knight. And the Batcomputer subplot comes in way too late in the movie and seems to only be there to give Morgan Freeman more screen time. Speed Racer, meanwhile, had no fat to trim.
[Written in 2000 (I think) when I ran Hommlet at GenCon.] Firstly, know that there was no lack of adventure on the Wild Coast. Though the Common Year calendar marked this as but the 580th month of Planting, and the Wild Coast was not yet as wild as it would become, there was still plenty for aspiring adventurers to do. The great difficulty was in finding work for mercenary adventurers, as so many novices begin as. Herein the lawlessness of the region worked against them, and the lands to the north began to seem more palatable. It was, in fact, a rumor that the Viscount of Verbobonc was paying a bounty on bandits that caused a small company of novice adventurers to form in the town of Safeton and make plans to reach the Viscounty on the far side of the Gnarly Wood. Little funding for the expedition could be arranged, so much of the provisions and hired porters came from the company’s own pockets. Investigation revealed that, while travel through the Gnarly Wood was routinely dangerous, there was still a trail leading through that was well-traveled by woodsmen, rangers, and less human travelers. A map showed that this trail would hit a major crossroad at a village called Hommlet. The rumors of danger could not have been more true. Goblins harassed the company and picked off all the porters in the first two days through the Wood. A skirmish with orcs exhausted more than a quiver of arrows and some spare weapons. Night watches had to be especially alert. By the company’s reckoning, there was no more than two miles left of the Wood to cover, and the forest was visibly thinner already. But night had fallen and it was too dark to cover those two miles safely, so camp was set up one last time. It was during the second watch that the company received a visitor…
Old Plaza: The Old Plaza is an entire acre of ground paved in broken stone. The plaza is crowded with people. Hawkers are selling foodstuffs besides weapons. Lecherous sailors chase bawdy women out in the open. A business transaction is literally ended with a knife between the ribs within sight of you. Orc soldiers ignore it all as they cling to the shadows of awnings and overhangs. The plaza is ringed on all sides by shops, taverns, and bawdy houses. Two noteworthy exceptions are the large, raised platform where slave actions are held and the temple itself.
If the PCs loiter conspicuously in the plaza, then they will encounter an ogre. He is walking by, chewing on a whole goat, when he starts harassing the PCs. Hostilities can escalate as follows: 1) 1 ogre: AC 5; HD 4+1; hp 20; Dmg 2-7+2 (goat-club). 2) 10 pirates: AC 10; F 0; hp 4 each; Dmg 1-8 (scimitars). 3) 20 half-orc guards: AC 5 (scale & shield); F 1; hp 6 each; Dmg 2-8 (broadswords); led by 2 warriors: AC 4; F 2; hp 12 each; Dmg 1-8 (longswords); and a swordsman: AC 3; F 3; hp 18; Dmg 2-8 (bastard sword). 4) 2 thaumaturgists: AC 6; M-U 5; hp 11 each; Dmg 1-4 (dagger). Spells – Magic Missile, Shield, Sleep; Levitation, Stinking Cloud; Fireball.
Surveillance on the Temple: The 40’ high walls of the temple are as ravaged by time as the plaza floor. The stone is pitted and cracked, but has no holes big enough to climb through less than 20’ high – and those only a halfling could negotiate easily. On the west side of the temple are some shops – a stonecutter’s shed and a stable. On the east side of the temple is a shorter, newer building that seems to be an extension of the temple. If the temple ever had a grand entrance, it is not concealed by this east wing. The wing is fortified like a small keep. Steps lead up to a gatehouse on the north side. Orcs watch from the arrow slits and crenellations above, while a massive portcullis blocks the 20’ wide entrance below.
By day, a dozen half-orc veterans patrol the 20’ walls of the east wing. Patrols switch off in 0-7 hours. After one hour, Davilar the Slave Lord appears in the sky on a hippogriff and lands in area 14. By night, check each turn for wandering encounters. Stirges or ghouls may come down from the walls and attack.
Key to the Temple Level 1. Secret Door Remove bar-spike trap. 2. Bricked Up Room Hissing and skittering, like from a large lizard, can be heard from behind the east wall. There is a 1' hole in the wall, and a 1 in 6 chance to see the basilisk on the other side. 3. Collapsed Guard Tower Pieces of a wooden staircase still hang from the walls of this tall shaft that ascends to the roof of the temple. There are 8 ghouls and 2 ghasts on a half-ruined upper level. There is a "nest" of 20 partial corpses up there with colorful but tattered clothes, banners, and painted baubles, plus the 6 gems. There is no potion. The 27 hp ghast says, "Lord Davilar will be pleased to know we have company," and then scampers over the roof to the east wing, alerting the orcs there. 4. Treacherous Floor The fall is 20' (for 2d6 dmg) into a lower section of area 9. The wight from there will show up in 2 rounds.
[Written - gosh, when was it that I went to RockCon and ran this? 2002? It is an expanded introduction to the classic tournament module and should be useful for anyone else wishing to run it.]
Background: In recent years, organized bands of pirates and slavers have raised the coastal towns on the Sea of Gearnat. Across the Wild Coast, Hardby, and even distant Onnwal they have descended quickly and ruthlessly on civilization, carrying off prisoners of all social classes. For too long, no opposition could be organized against them save for scattered naval confrontations. Land fortifications were too slow in coming, so bribery became the accepted method of fending off these sea wolves.
Recently, the attacks of the slavers have become more frequent and vicious. Entire villages are burned and towns have seen their walls wrecked down. Women, children, and whole families are disappearing. Bribes are accepted, but agreements are ignored.
You were summoned south from the free town of Safeton to the troubled town of Fax. Its businesses were closed and its citizens hid behind walls that afforded no protection. Their only hope seemed to be Sir Laren Ganden, defender of Fax, who had acquired a weapon against the slavers no one else seemed to have – information. From escaped slaves and captured slavers he confirmed that the despoiled city of Highport was the base for the slavers' fleet. Launching a fleet capable of defeating the slavers at their home port was still months of diplomatic wrangling away, but Sir Ganden reasoned that a small team of heroes experienced in stealth could enter Highport, locate the slave lords, and dispatch them. At the very least, the attempt would throw the port into chaos, ensuring victory in a later large-scale attempt.
Already driven to vengeful thoughts by personal losses to the slavers and persuaded by Sir Ganden’s arguments, you traveled by land to the border of the Pomarj – that wasted peninsula overrun with goblins, orcs, and worse monsters. The City of Highport once held good men in its halls, but Highport had been looted and burned until its splendor was no more. Now human brigands and pirates walked the streets beside green-furred gnolls and mottled-flesh ogres. Kobolds, goblins, and orcs slunk through the shadows. All seemed grim and bleak, yet through perseverance you found numerous leads. It was clear that the slavers operated out of an old temple. You learned of an old man named Erebrid who was said to have been a cleric of the temple in the old days before the slavers took it. You learned of an orc named Grud who worked in the stables adjoining the temple, a gambling orc who could be easily bribed. You learned of an orc named Bug who was a disgruntled employee of the stonecutter whose shop also adjoined the temple. Your last lead was Derjetto Sklartez, said to be the slavers’ best customer.
Prompt: Do you want to talk to one of those four, watch the temple grounds for awhile, or march right in?
1) Erebrid. Erebrid is an old man who refuses to leave his hut. “You must forgive me,” he says, “for my wife is blind and needs me here, you see. Ah, the temple! Yes, I remember it as if it was yesterday. The rangers of the Suss Forest built it for our patroness, Ehlonna, goddess of wildlands and I was one of its lay keepers. It had the most beautiful gardens…until the orcs came. They killed our priests, destroyed our icons, and claimed the temple as their own! Many a day has passed since when I’ve wished I were a young fighter. I would use the secret entrance…”
Erebrid will describe the secret door, but will not lead them to it.
2) Grud. Grud can be found at the Dead Dragon Gambling Den. Grud’s story: “Who told you I work at those stables? Well, it’s true enough. I can come and go as I please, even into the temple so long as I stay on the west side. If you’re, eh, interested in seeing the inside of the temple, I could let you in for, say, 50 gold – it’s worth it for the risk I’m taking – but I’ll need it by Freeday evening.”
3)Bug. Bug can be found at the Bloody Entrails Tavern. “Oh, woe is me that I must go back there!” he laments. “You can’t imagine what it’s like. Ghostly things haunt that temple! They scratch at our doors and attack us if we’re ever alone. I’d do anything for a vial of holy water to protect myself with!”
4) Derjetto Sklartez. Derjetto can be found at the Inn of the Sinful Sailor. His companions, Klaria the Anti-Hero and Byronkainen the Magician, stand behind his chair. “I understand you’re interested in slaves,” Derjetto says. “You have come to the right city, my friends, for the slave market is exceptional here in Highport – the slave women are particularly exceptional. You could attend the slave actions in the Old Plaza, but the best slaves are reserved for private showings in the plaza’s temple. You would need a reference to get in. I happen to make an exceptional reference – for a fee of, let’s say, 100 gold pieces.”