Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Hobbit of Mars

Observant readers of my blog might have noticed that two of my favorite books are The Hobbit and Gods of Mars, my favorites of the Middle Earth and Barsoom books respectively.  But what, I recently wondered, would a mash-up of both of them look like...

Ch. 1 An Unexpected Party on the Arizona Hills
Flip Bancroft is a midget (4’6”), late of Virginia where he served as a Confederate cavalryman, now living in a prospector’s shack in Arizona with his partner of all of three weeks, James Gandell. On the 21st day of their partnership, James reveals that he is not from Richmond, but from another world and has invited six Indians, who are not really Indians, to join them for dinner. One of them is Princess Oakah Thorishield. Gandell wants Flip to go with them.
Ch. 2 Roasted Dead
Flip and the six “red men” (5’ tall with reddish skin) set out to find a cave that serves as a portal to the planet Aik’joom, only to be beset at the cave by a throll (savage green men almost 10’ tall, with third arms) cooking one of the “red men” they had left behind.
Ch. 3 A Short Rest and then Adventure
Flip and company are rejoined by Gandell in the hills on Aik’joom, with Gandell revealing himself to be a magician. Gandell wants to lead them to a town of thelves (like throlls, but only 8 ½’ tall and with average intelligence) hidden in the hills, called Korandell. However, on the way there they are ambushed by 10 thelf sentries.  Flip accidentally critically injures one because, unbeknownst even, seemingly, to Gandell, Flip has extraordinary strength and athletic ability while on Aik’joom.  Despite Gandell’s protestations, they are taken to Korandell as prisoners.
Ch. 4 Prisoners under the Hill
While in the hillside prison of the thelves, Gandell reveals more fully to Flip their purpose here.  In the home of the thelf leader, Tars Tarrond, they hope to find a map showing the secret entrance to the princess’ home city of Erebor. The Thorishields always ruled Erebor until years ago when a great Martian dragon took it over. To prove his worth to Princess Thorishield, who has been skeptical of, if not hostile to, Flip from the start, Flip breaks out to find the map himself.  He befriends a thelf named Sola (and her six-legged hairless dog, Woola) who gains him an audience with Tars.  Impressed, Tars offers to let him see the map.  But he has no intention of releasing his prisoners and has Flip returned to his cell.  But Gandell and company have managed to spring themselves by then and they all race into tunnels from the prison to escape.  The thelves don’t follow because the tunnels are where the white goblins live.
Ch. 5 Riddle of the Watch Dog
While fighting their way through the white goblins, Flip is separated from the others and encounters Woola again.  At first he can’t imagine how Woola found him, but he soon discovers that Sola and Woola were hurled into the caves via a pit for having aided Flip.  Sola is injured from the fall and sent Woola for help.  Flip and Woola come to Sola’s rescue just as a creature called Gollum is about to attack her.  Despite Gollum’s ability to turn invisible, Flip beats him up and takes the ring that allowed him to do so. 
Ch. 6 Out of the Fight and into Friendship
Flip, Sola, and Woola are reunited with Gandell, Thorishield, and the others and escape the caves to daylight, only to find that Tars and a company of thelves have been waiting for them.  It turns out that they had intended for Flip and company to enter the caves, as it serves as a gauntlet for criminals to prove their innocence by surviving.  Tars allows them all to go on their way, with Sola and Woola joining the company.
Ch. 7 Lodgings and Child-Rearing
Gandell takes them next to the hall of Beorn, a shapechanger.  Beorn has seven children and is amazed at how good Flip is with kids.  Tenderness and compassion are lost skills in child-rearing on Aik’joom and Beorn asks Flips to stay behind as his nanny.  Gandell, at this point, leaves the company, as Beorn has told him about business to the south that needs his attention.  Beorn uses shapeshifting to fool the princess into thinking Flip has changed his mind about staying, and then impersonates the princess to fool Flip into thinking they don’t want him anymore.  Luckily, Woola helps them see through the deception and Beorn, ashamed, allows them all to leave.
Ch. 8 Captives of the Spiders
While traveling on the lightly-wooded plains, Flip and company (still missing Gandell) are accosted by another tribe of thelves, this one led by Lorquas Ptomel, that uses trained spiders.  All but Flip, who eludes them invisibly, is captured.  Later, while freeing her, Thorishield speaks openly for the first time and Flip learns that the princess likes him and respects him, but that her culture does not openly display such feelings.
Ch. 9 He Learns about Barrels
While snooping around in the thelves’ caves, Flip discovers a way for them all to escape via an underground stream.  Initially, he hopes to hide everyone in barrels, but there is no way to fit Sola in a barrel and Woola cries when stuffed inside one.  Unwilling to leave either of them, Flip comes up with a new plan.  He tricks the thelves into getting drunk, springs the others, and then they only have to fight their way out past the spiders to escape.
Ch. 10 Welcoming the Champions
Flip and company reach Lake-Town, the first community of red men Flip has seen.  The princess gains an audience with the townmaster, only to discover both Tarrond and Ptomel are already there ahead of them.  The thelves don’t want to make waves, as they need Lake-Town for trade (and, although this is the smallest lake Flip has ever seen, it is the biggest lake the red men and thelves have seen), but over the next week that Flip and company stay in town to stock up on supplies, the thelves try to discredit the princess until the townmaster asks them to leave so as not to make trouble.  Flip and the Princess are now friendly with each other, to the shock of all other red men.  She makes Flip her personal champion.
Ch. 11 On the Doorstep with Oakah Thorishield
Flip and company cross the desert around Erebor and, en route, Oakah tells Flip more of the planet’s history.  How it had once been an arid desert world, barely inhabitable, until her ancestors in Erebor invented weather controlling machines.  The machines have not been maintained since the dragon came and chased everyone out and Oakah fears the environment is already suffering from droughts caused by machine failure.  Little do they know, though, that Tarrond and Ptomel are sneaking after them along with five of their best warriors, including the more throll-like Tal Hajas .
Ch. 12 Prisoners with Information
Flip and company reach Erebor and settle into the outer city to make camp and quietly fortify against the dragon.  The thelves meanwhile, have had a disagreement.  Tarrond only wants to observe from a safe distance how well the company does against Smaug, but Ptomel means to sneak in to the inner city ahead of the company and warn Smaug himself.  Tarrond and the two warriors loyal to him withdraw while Ptomel moves on, only to be captured by the dragon Smaug in the inner city.  Ptomel, of course, squeals like a pig to save his life.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Rpol H&H Campaign - pt. 33

[Continued from here]

"Why she buy ‘fohtwess," the Daoist asked St. Stephen? "If she think you ‘afwaid, then she just take what she want. She no have to buy it."

The Daoist continued to foster distrust in St. Stephen. "Maybe the Chinaman is right," he said angrily. "Where is the money, Ultra-Humanite?"

"In my autogryo," the Ultra-Humanite said, "but it's a little inaccessible right now, since my autogyro is now a robot pointing machine guns at you. Lay down your weapons and we can still complete this transaction."

"Deactivate your robot and we'll drop our weapons," St. Stephen commanded as the stand-off continued.

After a tense minute, the Ultra-Humanite sighed and signaled with her free hand. Her pilot pulled out a gun from his jacket. The Lone Gunman reacted too fast and shot the pilot, but not before the pilot shot a flare from the gun into the air.

"It's a trap! Open fire and fall back to the temple!" St. Stephen ordered the others. The Ultra-Humanite grabbed the falling pilot and used the poor sap as a body shield to absorb bullets. She must have taken her hand off the dead man's switch too, because the robot roared to life, bullets exploding from its twin machine guns and tearing up the ground all around the retreating party of cultists.

The Daoist perceived the necessity of finding cover and made a mad dash for the nearby shacks. St. Mendel took a bullet and fell as he ran, but it looked like St. Stephen and the Lone Gunman were going to make it to cover as well as the Daoist did.

The Daoist wanted two things. The first was to not be involved in this battle if he could help it. The second was to rescue his friends. Waiting for a break in the gunfire, the Daoist ducked out from behind his cover, transformed into a cheetah and ran as fast as he could for the Temple's entrance.

In cheetah form, the Daoist ducked and weaved across Roostertown. Some of the transplanted villagers from Highland, mostly women and children, were fleeing from the shacks as the robot continued to shoot them up. Then they fled from the “cheetah”. Luckily, they were still running in the right direction, away from the shooting.

Meanwhile, Dice Morgan and Gandor the Great were approaching the edge of the forest and the large clearing that held the temple when they heard the roar of gunfire up ahead and saw a flare shoot up over Roostertown's west end.  They came up on the south end of the clearing, right by the pond they had circled around on their first visit here.  Both men were still seriously wounded, but at least on their feet again and able to walk.

Dice stared slackjawed at the towering robot blasting away. "Aw, hell no! Well, at least it ain't a freakin' giant rooster."  He began looking around for his cronies in the chaos, keeping his rifle at the ready.  He tried to make a good guesstimate of exactly how many cultists were still up and running, while he kept to the shadows.  "Hey, Mr. Wizard. Ya’ see any of our crew around?"

The Daoist remembered that the gardens were full of killer roosters again, so he opted for leaping up over the high wall around the courtyard -- high, but no difficulty for him in cheetah form.

On the other side, the Daoist saw Alpha-Woman had managed to win her way to freedom on her own in his absence. Nearby her, Captain Liberty and someone else was lying on the ground, still unconscious. Alpha-Woman was holding a rifle on a man -- a fourth saint from the look of his white outfit -- who was lying on the ground and crawling towards the temple. Alpha-Woman seemed to have already won the fight and was letting him leave so long as he crawled on his back.

"Where the others?" the Daoist asked Alpha-Woman as he shifted back to human form.

Alpha-Woman was surprised at first and turned around, giving the fourth saint time to crawl quickly back into the temple behind her. "I got out who I could. What have you been doing?" she asked angrily.

"Getting shot at by a giant robot! What your excuse?" the Daoist responded. The stressful situation had both of their tempers high.

Meanwhile, Dice Morgan and Gandor the Great opted for avoiding the giant robot by going counter-clockwise around the gardens and skirting the east side of Roostertown. It seemed like it would still be dangerous at first, as there were more townspeople about, but many of them quickly fled when it becomes apparent that the firefight on the west side of Roostertown was out of control. It helped that Dice looked a lot like a mobster and only Gandor was conspicuous in his tuxedo.

From the woods south of the pond came the roar of car engines and the crash of vehicles through the underbrush. The four jeeps peeled out of the forest, ahead of schedule. Dice, who was suspicious of the G-Men in the woods from the start, went with his instinct and pulled Gandor behind a shack in time. The men in the jeeps were firing their weapons at the fleeing villagers without asking for anyone to surrender first. With a giant robot on the west side of the temple and fake feds on the east side, there seemed to be no place to go besides the temple.

Back in the courtyard, the Daoist regained his composure. "The saints are retreating back through the gardens right now. They be here soon. We have to get out of here."

"Fine," Alpha-Woman said. "Let's make another exit, like last night." The two heroes worked together and bashed on the north side of the high fence until the planks were wrecked down. Then they each grabbed an unconscious person and hightailed it out of there just as the retreating saints show up.

Close to the temple, Dice and Gandor finally met opposition from two big bruisers in brown leather jackets, each with crewcuts and looking very much like ex-soldiers. At first, one of them is going to shoot, but he paused and looked at Gandor again. "Are you with the intruders from last night?" he asked. Dice's instinct was to say "No," but Gandor said "Yes." The men just nodded and led them both to a nearby shack.

To their surprise, Dice and Gandor saw the Mountain Man and Silver Scorpion were laying inside on cots! "We snuck them out this morning," one of the guards explained. "When St. Mendel revealed that he...well, that he wasn't human, we didn't want any part of this cult anymore. We've been waiting for them to come around and help us figure out what to do next."

"Next, we exit the stage before the curtain falls on us," Gandor said. "Do you feel up to carrying someone, Mr. Morgan?"

In spite of the situation, Dice grinned. "I got dibs on the skirt!" He hefted Silver Scorpion and turned to the door. "Okay, let's beat feet outta’ here."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day

For those who pay attention to such things, the Swords & Wizardry “retroclone” rules is the system on which my superhero roleplaying game, Hideouts & Hoodlums, game is built. Why? Well, that leads to my Appreciation Day contribution…

The top 4 reasons why Swords & Wizardry was perfect for Hideouts & Hoodlums

1. OD&D Compatibility. At the time, the White Box edition of S&W was the closest thing to the Original Dungeons & Dragons rules being published. It has some serious competition for that title nowadays, but it is still a close fit.

2. Movement is just a number. In D&D, a character’s movement rate was expressed in a number of inches a miniature representing that character could be moved across a table (itself representing the battlefield) in one combat round/turn. This was kept for years and years as a hanger-on from the game’s roots in miniatures-based wargaming. In S&W, your movement rate may be just 12. 12 what? If you’re not using miniatures, it doesn’t matter. 12 is now just a relative number, higher than 9 and lower than 15. Combat is a swifter thing when movement is simply relative. “Your move is 9 and mine is 12, so you can’t catch me” is a logical resolution to a chase sequence that doesn’t even need a referee’s intervention.

Now, I didn’t keep these number values in H&H because I, perhaps foolishly, wanted those numbers to mean something and I wanted to be able to convert them into MPH. But I now see that S&W may have had it right all along. As long as all movement is relative, I don’t need to know MPH (except for long-distance travel, which is really a non-combat concern and doesn’t usually need mechanics). I could even eliminate numbers and replace them with slow, average, fast, very fast, and so on. Which I might. See if I’m not tempted.

3. Easier saving throws. Nothing, game mechanics-wise, sets the bar for how dangerous the world is for the characters in it than the saving throw mechanic. Once you taste poison, get hit with a spell, or spring a trap, how difficult it is to make the saving throw determines how likely it is your character is now dead. High saving throw numbers mean the world is a deadly place. And the challenge of that can be fun sometimes. But it is difficult to be the hero in a setting where most of what you accomplish is just surviving. That’s why it’s important to have low saving throw numbers. Your characters can still face deadly opponents, even supervillains, but they are aberrations in a world that isn’t trying that hard to kill your characters. This more accurately reflects the world most superheroes live in.

4. Splitting up the experience point bonus. For a long time, I disliked the inherent unfairness of the XP bonus for high ability scores. Maybe that comes from me being unlucky with dice and seldom having characters with high ability scores, but it seemed an unfair additional advantage for someone who was already getting a game mechanic bonus for the high ability score to then also get to advance in level faster. And that was true – in later editions of D&D where power inflation kept adding more bonuses but also giving the xp bonus. What I was failing to see was, originally, the XP bonus was the game mechanic bonus. Because, in OD&D, what is going up in level other than a +1 hit die bonus, maybe a +1 to hit, and maybe a +1 to saving throws (depending on which level you are gaining)?

Still, the XP bonus was awfully easy for many characters to get. If you were making a Fighter and you had just one high ability score roll (assuming you were allowed to assign your rolls), you would obviously choose to place it in Strength, your Prime Requisite score, and – tada! – you got a 10% bonus. The rest of your ability scores hardly mattered at that point.

What S&W does differently is it makes you work for that bonus a little. If your Prime Requisite is high, that gives you +5%. But it also ties an additional +5% to your Wisdom and Charisma scores each as well. Besides giving you a chance at an even bigger total XP bonus, and giving you a reason to put high scores in WIS and CHA when they otherwise gave you no or little game mechanic bonus, it also says something about what it should take to do well as a hero. Now it’s not just about a Fighter being strong anymore. He has to have the Wisdom to use his strength wisely, and the Charisma to get people to follow his lead while he’s doing it. And that says a lot about what being a comic book superhero means to me, despite being such a small game mechanic.

Monday, April 8, 2013

An Avengers Roster for an Alternate Fanfiction Timeline

In a rare instance of two blog posts in one day, I'm going to slap up here some continuity notes for my Superland/1970sverse fanfiction.
Avengers #1-2: Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Ape Man, Monkey
Avengers #3: Hulk leaves in a spat.
Avengers #4: Sub-Mariner joins after rescuing Captain America II
Avengers #5-11: Thor, Iron Man, Ape Man, Monkey, and Sub-Mariner battle the first Masters of Evil (the Tomorrow Man, the Red Barbarian, Comrade X, a Kosmosian, and the Python)
Avengers #12: Ape Man changes his name to Giant Ape. Thor’s increasing duties to Asgard force his resignation (after Avengers face Loki and the Red Ghost in Subterranea)
Avengers #13: Iron Man, Giant Ape, Monkey, and Sub-Mariner deal with Count Nefaria.
Avengers #14: Captain America I joins, at Sub-Mariner’s request, to help the Avengers defeat the Kallusians in time to save Monkey.
Avengers #15: Iron Man, Giant Ape, Monkey, Sub-Mariner, and Captain America I battle the new Masters of Evil (Queen Kala of the Netherworld, the Protector, Egghead, Queen Jarna of Venus, and the Black Talon I). The Black Talon dies.
Avengers #16: Iron Man leaves.
Avengers #17: Giant Ape, Monkey, Sub-Mariner, and Captain America battle the Minotaur.
Avengers #18: Rick Jones, as Bucky II, joins the Avengers in Vietnam to fight the Commissar.
Avengers #19-23: Giant Ape, Monkey, Sub-Mariner, Captain America I, and Bucky II are the Avengers. The Swordsman almost tricks them into letting him join.
Avengers #24-25: Giant Ape, Monkey, Sub-Mariner, Captain America, and Bucky II are caught in a war between Kang and the Space Phantom and then face Dr. Doom.
Avengers #26: Spider-Man joins, after warning the team about Attuma.
Avengers #27: Giant Ape, Monkey, Sub-Mariner, Captain America I, Bucky II, and Spider-Man defeat Attuma.
Avengers #28: Sub-Mariner finds it too hard to be both an Avenger and on the Fantastic Four and quits the Avengers.
Avengers #29-30: Giant Ape, Monkey, Captain America I, Bucky II, and Spider-Man are the Avengers.
Avengers #31: Hawkeye enters training/reservist status.
Avengers #32-35: Giant Ape, Monkey, Captain America I, Bucky II, Spider-Man, and (sometimes) Hawkeye
Avengers #36: Ixarians sick the Hulk on the Avengers.
Avengers #37: Hawkeye officially made a member after helping defeat the Ixarians’ Ultroids.
Avengers #38: Giant Ape leaves the team after the Enchantress turns him against the Avengers.
Avengers #39-42. Monkey, Captain America I, Bucky II, Spider-Man, Hawkeye are Avengers.
Avengers #43.  Hawkeye and Black Widow marry, though concerns of Black Widow having recently been a Red spy prohibit her entry in the Avengers.
Annual #1. Scarlet Witch invited to join to help them stop the Mandarin.
Avengers #44-46. Monkey, Captain America I, Bucky II, Spider-Man, Hawkeye, and Scarlet Witch are Avengers.
Avengers #47. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver first meet while battling Magneto. Monkey resigns to spend more time with Giant Ape.
Avengers #48. Captain America I is seriously injured in fight with Magneto and sidelined/replaced at his request by Captain America II.
Avengers #49. Bucky II, Spider-Man, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Captain America II stop Magneto.
Avengers #50. Avengers first meet Hercules. Quicksilver is placed on reserve status with the team.
Avengers #51-54.  The current team of Bucky II, Spider-Man, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Captain America II face the third Masters of Evil – Titanium Man, Electro, and Boomerang.
Avengers #55.  Quicksilver is made a member after helping against the Masters of Evil.  
Annual #2.  Bucky II leaves.
Avengers #56.  Spider-Man, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Captain America II, and Quicksilver are Avengers.
Avengers #57.  Vision debuts, but possessing infant-like AI.
Avengers #58-59.  Spider-Man, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Captain America II, and Quicksilver are Avengers.
Avengers #60-62.  Spider-Man, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Captain America II, and Quicksilver are Avengers.
Avengers #63-64.  The Avengers team up with the Second Doctor and his companions when the War Chief gives mind control technology to Egghead, the Puppet Master, and the Mad Thinker.
Avengers #65.  Captain America II steps down.
Avengers #66-67.  Spider-Man, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver are the Avengers.
Avengers #68.  The Black Widow is finally cleared to join the team.
Avengers #69-71.  Spider-Man, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Black Widow are the Avengers.
Avengers #72-74.  Spider-Man, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Black Widow are the Avengers.
Avengers #75.  Black Knight becomes reservist-in-training.
Avengers #76.  Black Knight helps fight Arkon.
Avengers #77.  Black Knight officially made a full member.

Avengers #84-94. Spider-Man, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Black Widow, Black Knight
#88 – 1st Vision Avengers-in-training story, Hercules start subbing in for Black Widow while on maternity leave
#89 – Vision reserve Avenger from now on
#93 – Cap. America II guest-star run begins
Avengers #95-106. Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Black Widow, Black Knight, Hercules
#97 – Bucky II (Rick Jones), Sub-Mariner guest-star, last issue in Capt. America II’s guest-star run
#100 – Thor guest stars
#105 – Black Panther becomes Avenger-in-training
Avengers #107-118.  Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Black Widow, Hercules, Black Panther
#110 – Captain America III (Rick Jones), Iron Man guest-star
#111, 114-115, 117-118 – Captain America III guest-stars
#117 – Swordsman Avengers-in-training
#118 – Swordsman becomes reservist
Avengers #119-130. Hawkeye/Black Knight, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Black Widow/Swordsman, Hercules, Black Panther
#120 – Captain America III guest-stars
#121 – Hawkeye leaves and Black Knight comes back
#122 – Black Widow leaves, Swordsman becomes regular member
#127 – Thor guest-stars