Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Earth 52 Pre-Game Show

Since I'm running my DC Adventures Earth 52 campaign at Armored Gopher tonight, I figured I'd look at some inspirational material.  You'll read about the New Guard's exploits if I ever sit down and put the last two sessions on the blog, but (spoiler), the team now has access to the Hall of Justice and the Watchtower.

Now if there is one thing that DC Universe Online does right, it's give you a feel for unique locations in the DC Universe.  I love just flying around Metropolis, Gotham City, and the Watchtower in the game.  So for inspiration, I thought I might fly around the Watchtower in game, so I had some fresh impressions to throw out in game.

That's when I noticed that Metropolis is tricked out in Christmas decorations, with Christmas music playing.  The music playing was pretty traditional Christmas march type of music, suitably upbeat and life affirming.  There were lots of trees and lightposts decorated.  In general, a nice job portraying Metropolis at Christmas time.

Now I was curious, so I jumped to the Watchtower, then over to Gotham City.  In Gotham, the decorations were up, but the music, while Christmasy, was much more "Danny Elfman" style moderately ominous fair.  I loved it.  I honestly have to give the DCUO team credit for understanding the atmosphere and personality of the locations.

Oh, and the central hub of the Watchtower has Christmas trees up as well, with Hal Jordan hanging our near one.  No music though.  Watchtower is all business.

Honestly, I just wanted to give some props to some other MMO team besides the TOR guys this holiday season.  The TOR guys deserve the accolades, but, hey, credit where credit is due.

Star Wars . . . Nothing But Star Wars . . .

So, I know I'm still down two session on my Earth 52 DC Adventures posts, and I could do a better job of detailing our Deathwatch game.  Heck, there are even interesting developments in comics and tabletop RPGs that I could yammer on about.  However, none of that has happened because I've been playing Star Wars:  The Old Republic.

I caught the tail end of the beta on Thanksgiving weekend.  I enjoyed the game, but when I was playing the beta as a smuggler, I was a little disappointed that the mechanical side of the game was similar to World of Warcraft.  This certainly wasn't a deal breaker for me, because, honestly, World of Warcraft initially seemed a bit like Everquest.  What let WoW knock Everquest off the top wrung wasn't what was similar about the game  (essentially, what worked), but what was different.

Getting to play The Old Republic from the beginning, in the full context of how the game is suppose to be experienced, even my slight reservations about WoW similarities went right out the window.

Disclaimer time:  I have played lots of MMOs, and I've cut out on a lot of them due to my general gamer ADD.  I'm not a bit person for raiding or end game content or dungeons or the like.  So as soon as a game gets to the point to where I have to grind too much or the story goes flat, I tend to drift away.

I'm not sure if that will happen to me with this game or not, but I'm strongly leaning towards "not any time soon."  Are there "fetch" quests?  Yes there are.  However, seeing a really nice, fully voiced introduction to that fetch quest that gives a really in depth context for why the kerpluxus needs to be brought back to the quest giver does really help to keep the fetching from feeling old.

There are also "kill X number of Y" quests, but what is nice is that fact that these are usually presented in the context of "bonus objectives" to the main quests that you took.  For example, if you have to hack four consoles throughout a complex, while you wander the complex, you might run into Imperial troops, and you get the optional  "clear out the Imperial agents" bonus objective.  If you complete the quest before you complete the bonus, the story advances.  If you do the bonus objectives . . . more XP!

It's kind of nice, because the extra objective just kind of slides in there.  You don't talk to five different farmers asking you to kill slightly different versions of the same bad guys, all within a block of one another.

In a lot of ways, the game plays very much like Knights of the Old Republic, but with eight different campaigns  (four Sith, four Republic).  Multi-player really comes into play when you get special missions that are kind of in-between the rest of your game experience that you can take a vacation from so that you can wail on some bad guys and potentially get some better gear than you normally would.

There are also one or two side quests in each of the main story areas that are "Heroic 2" or "Heroic 4" side quests that generally require 2 to 4 extra players to work through.  These are full, major areas like the "Flashpoints" are, but a few interconnected rooms with extra tough bad guys that encourages you to ask some of the other people running around in your area to group with your for a little while, long enough to survive the side quest  (which you can skip if you don't want to talk to any of your fellow faction members).

Combat and combat skills look very similar to WoW.  You have a certain number of abilities.  When you get levels, you have to go to a class trainer to learn more abilities, and you pay credits to learn them.  You have skill trees that modify how those skills work depending on how you fill our your tree.  Your main attack doesn't have a refresh time, but a lot of your other abilities will.  It's really tempting to look at that overview and assume that combat plays out just like WoW.  It doesn't, or at least it doesn't feel like it does.

The first change is that there is no auto-attack.  You always have to click on an attack to make it work, so you always have to pay attention to the combat you are in.  Abilities seem to play off of each other much more dynamically.  Not only do you have to pay attention, but you have abilities that chain a bit more.

I've played as a smuggler and a Jedi Knight.  As a smuggler, I had to roll behind cover to activate some abilities, and other abilities were "set up" abilities, i.e. I'd throw a charge at someone that wouldn't go off until something else damaged the target.  As a Jedi Knight, I have to build up Focus with a basic strike in order to access other abilities, like a sweep that shoves multiple opponents back, or an elaborate master strike where you slash and stab your opponent in a sequence to do a lot of damage from "one" hit.

The voice acting and sound effects also go a really long way towards making this feel like a Star Wars experience.  Your lightsaber sounds like a lightsaber, and engine whine sounds like classic Star Wars vehicles going by.

It's not all rosy.  For some strange reason, some people have such bad lag that they have to run the game in windowed mode, which goes against all performance logic, yet it seems to be the only way to make the game playable in some areas.  And then there is space combat.  Yup.  Space combat.

You know how, in between major points in the movies, there were climactic space battles?  There are space battles in this game too.  Maybe I just suck, but if you are like me, you won't be completing many of these missions until you sink a whole lot of credits into your ship that you probably need to complete the main storyline, which means that space combat is kind of an add on if you want to mess with it and invest the time a credits it will take to have a competent combat star ship.

But despite those flaws, if you liked the KOTOR games, the only downside I can see to this game is if you don't have the $15 a month for the ongoing fees.  Heck, it's restored my enthusiasm for Star Wars that was heavily damaged by the Clone Wars cartoon foray through the EU, leaving twisted wreckage and Lucas-fueled ideas behind it.

Also, I didn't get killed by a Corellian Butterfly in my first combat.  So I almost forgot I ever played Star Wars Galaxies.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Games in Review: What Ever Happened to that Space Wolf Guy (December 19th, 2011)

Taking a slight break from detailing my insanity via DC Adventures/Mutants and Masterminds, let's take a look at that most heroic of Space Marines, Rangar Then, ten-thousand year old Space Wolf.  What's Rangar up to you ask?

Our group is playing through the adventure The Emperor Protects at the moment.

Spoilers:  We shoot things that are aliens and/or potential threats to the Empire.  Or things that may have looked at the Empire funny.  Or things that may one day grow up to look at the Empire funny.  No reason to take chances.

One of the awesome gamers in our group has been building our characters with 40K mini bits.  Here is a picture of some of the works in progress:

Above is our Dark Angel librarian.  Also, we go through cycles like other people go through ammo.  Possibly because they get used as weapons.  However, since we've gotten back on track with the actual adventure, I don't think we've destroyed any of our vehicles.

The cheerful fellow above is one of the most completed members of the group, miniatures wise.  That's Fray, our assault marine.  Fray had an amazing propensity for getting hit in the right leg.  Fray eventually got his right leg blown off as he dove into a horde of enemies, and died gloriously.  Thus this mini is more of a memorial than representational of the current team.

Above are the models that one of the guys in the group brought out for a scale comparison.  It also serves as an example of an encounter I don't really want to have.  Eh, maybe I do.  I really like playing Rangar, but if he's going to go out, I'd rather he go out BIG.

Anyway, we are investigating a cult that has ties to something that no one in the setting knows about yet, so we are absolutely certain that we know nothing about them.  I'm also pretty sure they don't have anything to do with these guys:

To be fair, we haven't seen "those guys," but we've seen those green bolts of nasty and those green bolts of nasty are even enough to mess up a Space Marine.

Currently, our team consists of me  (a Space Wolf Devastator Marine), a Ultramarine Successor Kill Marine sniper whose chapter has a skull with a worm burrowing through it as their standard  (I gave him a cloak that says "ask me about my worm" in Fenrisian), another "custom chapter" Assault Marine, a Dark Angel Librarian, a Dark Angel successor apothecary  (that I beat in naked wrestling), and an Imperial Fist techmarine.

Notable moments from the game:  A cliff face nearly killing two of our Kill Team, via a steady stream of unfortunate events.  Also, our sniper literally turning someone into a fine red mist right after that NPC made a proclamation of "no more games!"

Also, our apothecary shot a citizen in the head in the middle of the market square for selling alien artifacts.  I'm not sure why we didn't see it coming.

It's been a fun group, and a nice spread of different chapters.  Of course, after First Founding came out, we had some rethinking of concepts and potentially of characters, but so far, we haven't switched out any more characters  (besides Fray's demise, our previous Devastator marine left to make room for the Kill Marine sniper).

I didn't rethink Rangar after getting the book, I was just thrilled that my previous (somewhat joking) question about "can I requisition a Fenrisian Wolf" is answered with a yes!  Or at least I can burn xp to buy one as a follower.

I have very little profound to offer about my experience playing in this game, except to say that I'm having fun.  Oh, and I have a few words of wisdom, as imparted by Rangar, over the last few sessions:

"I have to quit ending my stories with balls getting torn off.  It seems to turn off the listener."

"Shoot a fat one.  More of a chance that the others will trip over him."

(Upon arguing about the proper use of a requisition servo skull, which Rangar was using to tip his drinking horn when he was having a hard time lifting it due to his Terminator armor, upon discussing that the skulls were made into servo skulls as an honor to faithful chapter serfs that has served with distinction):

"And what did that chapter serf do in life?  Serve me ale!"

Friday, December 16, 2011

Games in Review: Out of Order One Shot Fill In Justice League Mayhem! 12-15-11

Our GM for our Pathfinder Shackled City campaign had a family obligation for the night, but many of us can't quite bring ourselves not to hang out at the coolest game store ever, the beloved Armored Gopher Games.  No one managed to plan out a game to fill in our GM vacancy, and those of us planning on showing up figured we would just be screwing around most of the night.

But then, for some reason, on the relatively short drive from my work to the game store, I had an idea.  I still had my Mutants and Masterminds/DC Adventures books in my car.  Could I be crazy enough to plan out a one shot in ten minutes and be able to run a fun game?  Why not find out.

It was a simple, oft repeated story.  The PCs would be established DC heroes, in this case, a character with stats in the DC Adventures Hero's Handbook  (because I could pass that book around while running the game out of the M&M Hero's Handbook, and run the bad guys out of Heroes and Villains Volume One).  There is an alien invasion, and the PCs have just recently formed the Justice League to turn back the invaders.  In this case, the alternate reality of the session would see whomever the player's picked as the founding members of the Justice League.

The very simple plot would be that there would be a starting round of challenges for the PCs to build up hero points, with a raging city wide fire, a tidal wave, crumbling bridges and buildings, and people in immediate danger.  After saving the city, the heroes would face the lead ship in the invasion, which just happened to be Brainiac's ship.

Now here I'll point out that I was assuming someone would take, say, Superman, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, someone like that.  With this assumption in mind, our alternate fledgling Justice League was going to raid Brainiac's ship, and have Brainiac unleash a Kryptonian artifact on them in the form of a cryo-frozen Doomsday.

Now, let's talk about what the actual composition of the Justice League was in this case.  Green Lantern, Aquaman, Robin, Flash, and Batman.  Hm.  Realizing that they might be outgunned, the group recruited another regular from the store to play someone else to be the cavalry.  He picked Plastic Man.

Now that we know our line up, a note about how these heroes were portrayed.  Green Lantern was Ryan Reynolds, Aquaman was the Brave and the Bold version, except with the Peter David hook, Batman was Batman from Frank Miller's All Star Batman and Robin, but worse, and Robin was a terrified abuse victim.

Starting out with the various challenges saving the city . . . Green Lantern turned aside the tidal wave with a giant Hot Wheels track to shunt the water away, and then absorbed the rest of the water with his second construct's toga  (a construct of his character in my Tuesday night game, Ares' son Myrmidon). Flash used his super speed and quickness to rescue trapped people.  Aquaman summoned squids to catch trapped people and shore up bridges.

While this was going on, Batman was letting Robin drive.  Robin crashed into a building with the Batvan  (don't ask), contributing a failure to the attempt to save the city.  Batman also failed to jury rig a fire fighting device, but didn't fail badly enough to contribute another failure.  The next time around, Robin contributed another failure by backing the Batvan into another building.  Batman spent his next turn shoving Robin out of the van.  Then Robin attempted to throw a sleep pellet into the van to knock Batman out because he shoved him out of the van.

The rest of the team managed to erase the mistakes of the Caped Crusaders from Hell, and Green Lantern flew them all up to Braniac's ship.  Batman power stunted his equipment to make a "Bat Scanner" to use his technology roll to point out a weak spot in the shield, granting the heroes a +5 bonus on their attempts to break down the shield.

In the ship, they bantered with Brainiac  (including Green Lantern making a construct of Brainiac to taunt Brainiac), and Brainiac unleashed cryo-stored Doomsday.  At this point the Plastic Man cavalry arrived by slinging himself into the ship.  Flash used a hero point to go before Doomsday was thawed out, using quickness to try and figure out the code to reset the cryo-chamber using his technology roll.

Flash didn't manage to do it, but Green Lantern threw a construct over the chamber, and Robin stood on it to brace it with his staff.  Yup.  That was his tactic.  After the chamber already opened, Flash figured out the code, and a plan was born.

Doomsday shattered the construct, and swings at his nearest target, Robin.  Robin dodges.  Robin throws his tracers in Doomsday's eyes, keeping him busy.  Plastic Man stretched out behind Doomsday's legs, and Green Lantern slammed into Doomsday with a Superman construct, knocking him over, while Flash used his quickness to input the code he figured out to re-freeze Doomsday.

I actually really loved how the players defeated Doomsday.  Green Lantern was the only heavy hitter in the group, but the plan was text book "how do we beat someone that we can't fight toe to toe."  Robin even contributed because Doomsday couldn't hit him  (granted, if he had, Robin would have been a red smear, but hey, no risk, no reward).

Batman's chance to shine kind of left him behind, because by the time Batman hacked the lock, with Robin's help, Plastic Man slid under the door and opened it from the other side.  Then he needed Robin and Flash to help him to give him a +5 in order to disarm Brainiac's "flood the corridor with deadly radiation" trap.  But, hey, in the end, Batman still got to shine, right?

In the final room, in the battle with Brainiac, Flash spent several rounds unplugging conduits and replugging them in randomly.  Brainiac was plugged into his invasion fleet, and with multiple successes with Flash's quickness for juggling cables, I gave Brainiac a -2, and then a -5 on his checks due to being disoriented by the crossed conduits.

Green Lantern countered a pulse of energy that was a power stunted area attack by Brainiac.  Robin tried to blind Brainiac, to no avail, and then Batman saw another chance to shine.  Batman's player decided that he was going to train all of the invasion force's missiles on Brainiac's main ship, thus ending the invasion even if the heroes couldn't defeat Brainiac.  Unfortunately, Batman seemed to be stuck rolling 2s and 5s for his Technology checks, and he gained two degrees of failure.  I ruled that the missiles on the other ships armed, but were trained on the major cities that the ships were hovering above.

Plastic Man launched himself at Brainiac, turned himself into a sheet, and blinded Brainiac.  Then Aquaman charged Brainiac, and Brainiac rolled a 1 on his Toughness check, and with the -5  from Flash's conduit shuffling, this got Brainiac four degrees of failure, dropping Brainiac.

Then the crowning moment of awesome happened.  Batman failed another technology check.  No stopping the count down.  Hero points flew for re-rolls.  Aiding another happened from everyone that Technology as a skill.  And in the end, after surviving Doomsday, and defeating Brainiac, Batman managed to set off the missiles that destroyed all of the major cities on Earth.

Green Lantern apprehended both Brainiac and Batman for sentencing.  It was great.  One of my players even asked if we could visit this alternate Earth in my regular DC Adventures game on Tuesday.

Armored Gopher Games has the best gamers in the world.  Thank you to my fellow Gophers, and to Gopher Dave, his lovely wife and family, for hosting such an awesome community.  These are the kinds of experiences that gaming memories are made of.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Games in Review: Back on Target! (December 10, 2011)

Let's get back to recapping.  Due to some real world conspiracies to keep me from gaming, I had all sorts of disruptions and derailments from my regular gaming schedule, but I'm sort of back on track, and we'll start things off with a recap of the DC Adventures campaign!  Hooray!

To recap, the New Guard  (Beorn, Fahrenheit, Marathon, Myrmidon, Necromancer,  and Paradox) had cut a deal with Neron  (former ruler of Hell) to steal the crown of Hell from Blaze  (current ruler of Hell) in exchange for transport to the Rock of Eternity and two boons to be named later.  The party eventually gave in to the little red versions of themselves on their left shoulders and went to the Rock of Eternity.

There, they found Composite Superman  (who was included in the scenario because I told one of my players that I would include something from the Hero Clix booster I just bought in the next session) and the Fearsome Five.  Long story short, the group beat the Fearsome Five, Myrmidon got Composite Superman to squish his own head with his impenetrable logic, and the group went on to find out that Blaze was actually trapped by Shazam and the Fearsome Five was trying to teleport the Rock of Eternity to Hell to free her.

My players managed to make almost all of the wrong choices, and, long story short, they almost lost the crown, freed Blaze  (but managed to get the crown), and freed Black Adam, who, through some soul side trading managed to get Isis' soul and get Black Adam to swear fealty to her.  On top of all of this, Jason Blood was running around in the background trying to do . . . something.

Before Jason Blood could do anything to explain his skulking, Myrmidon utilized his new power that essentially either really intimidates an opponent or pisses them off so much that they attack him.  Thus, the power triggered Blood's alter-ego:

Change! Change, O form of man!
Release the might from fleshy mire!
Boil the blood in heart of fire!
Gone! Gone! — the form of man —
Rise, the Demon Etrigan!!

So, quite literally all Hell is breaking loose, and Black Adam uses his super speed and strength in conjunction to hit the whole team  (I power stunted a burst area damage to simulate Black Adam using his super speed to to hit everyone in the room).  What is interesting about this is, for months my players have been very hesitant to get into physical altercations with Black Adam.  In one action, he completely justified their fears by knocking three of them unconscious and knocking the other three for a serious loop.

Thankfully, Etrigan jumped on his back to distract him, the PCs loaded up the "Harry Potter Train" from the Rock of Eternity with missing "B list" superheroes that Black Adam had been collecting, and the group headed back to Earth just as they saw Etrigan being punched through a wall by Black Adam.

At the end of the night, they briefed all of the heroes on what had happened while they were gone, Marathon got into a fight with Geo-Force of the Outsiders, and Neron showed up later to collect the crown.


1.  Marathon taunting the Fearsome Five after they were launched into the void surrounding the Rock of Eternity.

2.  Beorn telling Marathon that he understands how he ended up divorced, but not how he got married in the first place.

3.  Necromancer falling for Shimmer.

4.  Myrmidon hitting on Jinx while attempting to knock her unconscious.

5.  Fahrenheit getting to be all sorts of awesome shooting at Fearsome Five members.

6.  Paradox getting trapped on the other side of a wall with the Fearsome Five while the group was fighting Composite Superman.

7.  Preserving the Black Adam mystique by knocking out half of the team in the first action of the first round of combat.

And for those of you keeping track  (and I'm hoping I remember this), the "cashed in" boons from Neron include:

Marathon:  Control over the Crown of Hell  (i.e. he can summon it to his hand to "dethrone" whomever is currently wearing it . . . I'm telling you, my players practically write this campaign for me sometimes)

Myrmidon:  To be as powerful as the heroes on the Justice League  (boost to PL 14)

Beorn:  To be as powerful as the heroes on the Justice League  (boost to PL 14)

Necromancer:  To be 100% human again  (no New Gods/Apokalips DNA), to be as powerful as the heroes of the Justice League  (PL 14 boost)

Fahrenheit:  For his parents to be safe  (they were, under a technicality, under Neron's control, and were moved to Purgatory after Fahrenheit's intervention), to be as powerful as the heroes of the Justice League  (PL 14)

So Fahrenheit and Necromancer have cashed in both boons, Myrmidon, Beorn, and Marathon have cashed in one, and Paradox is a bit paranoid about cashing any of them in, at all, ever.  Those Canadians . . . always cautious.

Oh, and we started using the "borrow a hero point for a complication to be named later" rule from the Gamemaster's Guide . . . more on that when I recap the next session  (which already happened).  Necromancer cashed in two hero points and got some interesting results.  Paradox didn't even borrow a hero point and created some nice ill will with Geo Force.

Good times all around.  One recap to get caught up, but I'm not sure that I'll be caught up before we play the next session.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Long Story Short . . . People Online Can Be Jerks

I know, the title contains a spoiler.

Anyway, I've been playing DC Universe Online since its free, and I'm curious as to what got tweaked after my beta testing days.  Turns out, some of the stuff that didn't work or was silly wasn't so much reworked as just yanked out of the game.  But I digress.  On to our tale of online socialization or lack thereof.

One of the boss fights in the game has to do with you taking on the Titans, who are possessed by Raven, who is herself possessed by Trigon.  You fight the Titans one at a time, and the first one out of the batter's box is Cyborg.

Cyborg was the subject of a bit of tweaking by the programmers.  Literally one day I went in and blasted the Hell out of him, and it just took a little bit of care and strategy to dodge and weave until he was down for the count.  Two days later, after the patch, Cyborg was given more hit points and instead of healing himself once when he gets down to 30% of his health, he always heals himself when he hits 30% on his health.

I dodged around the possessed million dollar Titan for a really long time.  It's not that he does horrible damage  (he stuns you with some attacks and has a few that hit for okay damage), it's that he always heals himself at 30% of his health.  I just kept circling and circling, and eventually I died because I got pissed off and careless.

I attempted to use my two abilities that lock down opponents.  I have one that roots an opponent to their spot, and another that turns them into a dog, so they can wander around but can't take any actions except for movement  (I know, I have no idea why a dog, but it amuses me).  I managed to do both of these "lockdown" abilities while Cyborg was healing himself, and neither one interrupted him.

I told you that story so I could tell you this one.

I decided to go to the SOE website to see if there was something simple I was overlooking, and lo and behold, I was validated that Cyborg was, indeed, upgraded.  Someone casually asks how to take Cyborg down because they don't know how to beat him with his upgrade in power.

This is where the elite of humanity comes out to play.

First, there is the somewhat forgivable phenomenon of people talking about how Cyborg was easy when they fought him, and seemed to miss that he was upgraded in a patch.  Okay, reading comprehension is off, but we can live with that.

Then comes the people berating the original poster for even asking the question.  On top of that, the original poster, and the few brave souls willing to admit they too were having problems, were informed that they shouldn't ask anything unless they intimately knew the controls scheme of the game, because clearly if you know how to dodge, block, and combo, you should never ever have to ask how to defeat something.  Ever.

I know I shouldn't be surprised now, but it still kind of stunned me that people were answering a perfectly polite question with derision.  Only the hardcore gamer that intrinsically figures out control schemes and masters them should be playing a game.  Damn you sub-human scum for wanting to play a game casually, and on top of that, the whole game should be made even harder because that is the only way to ever satisfy the deep, gaping whole in the lives of those elite gamers that can brook no dabblers in the electronic realm which they prefer to real life.

A comment on the Paizo forums about their upcoming MMO   (that's a whole other blog post there) reminded me of the same attitude.  Immediately upon hearing that the crux of the game would be building settlements in the wilderness and the like similar to the Kingmaker adventure path, someone on the forums decried that the game was going to be a "Care Bear Sandbox" game, because obviously the only online experience worth having is one where you can not help your fellow gamer  (unless it's your guild members that have already undergone your strict indoctrination program) but rather, where you crush your fellow players, letting them know how much better you are within the digital world.

I know, the larger the forum, the more likely you are to get jerks on a forum, and the louder and more obnoxious the jerks, the less likely the sane and reasonable are to post, because they will get attacked like the thread originator on the SOE boards.  But, wow, have we sunk so low as a species that even polite questions must be seen as an chance to "win" online.  Maybe we need PvP forums, so we know that if we post we'll get attacked no matter what we inquire about?

All of this again leads me back to thinking, at least in the tabletop realm, of the age old question of how to garner more people into the hobby.  Perhaps the first step is to not be a clannish misanthropic jerk that has to win conversations.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

It's Comic Book Day Extended Special Edition #2 (Final New 52 #1s)

I was planning on getting a few more #1s to get a more rounded experience.  In this, DC actually shot themselves in the foot, at least regarding my interest.  Beyond the books that I'll summarize here, I was planning on picking up Flash, Superman, and Aquaman, and based on some positive feed back I had heard, even Men of War, which I had no interest in before I read said positive feedback.

Unfortunately, before I was able to play "pickup" on these titles, I started reading tons of stories about what was coming next at the DCnU, as well as quite a few stories about writers leaving projects and directions changing and the like  (I thought we just had a major direction change . . . across the board).

I didn't really start picking up #2s, and I'm not sure if I am going to do so.  I'll admit even I got caught up in the adrenaline of the relaunch, but at the same time, without good ideas or a coherent direction, it's hard to keep caring.

So, with that rousing endorsement, here are the last two "New 52" that I picked up.

Hey, broken record time . . . anyone care to guess what I'm going to say about Wonder Woman #1?  If you said that the story just kind of cuts off without really resolving and leaving a ton of questions, you would be right.  

It was okay.  It didn't make me feel like I wasn't reading Wonder Woman, but I was a bit perplexed by the rave reviews.  Greek gods doing mysterious stuff, some girl is in trouble, and she gets teleported to WW for help, and she helps, and we find out why Hera doesn't like her . . . which isn't a big surprise.

I have to say, my opinion is further maligned by knowing the "big reveal" coming up in Wonder Woman.  Taking a unique origin like Wonder Woman's, and then changing it to something as base as "Wonder Woman is a Zeus' kid" is about as bad as saying Thomas and Martha Wayne were part of some secret society working against an organized evil organization in Gotham . . . wait . . . how about, it's about as dumb as Peter Parker's parents being spies . . . no . . . wait . . .

Our generation of comic book creators have much to answer for.

Swamp Thing #1 references (at least vaguely) the pre-Crisis Alan Moore "Anatomy Lesson" story, the Death of Superman storyline, Brightest Day, and has Superman appear in his DCnU outfit.  And none of these references are really fully, explained.  Swamp Thing may be the least new reader friendly book in the entire new 52 line up.  And the story doesn't resolve.  In fact, we kind of see the potential future villains, but there isn't even a hint that Alec Holland is going to go anywhere near them yet.

I can't say it was bad.  I'm just not sure if it's worth the effort to follow.  I read Swamp Thing even before Alan Moore started his famous run on it, and I always liked it, but man, I wish it had just been a story that sort of explained who Swamp Thing was, and told a complete story.  Especially for a new #1 issue.

I'm not sure if I'll eventually go back and check out any more new 52 books.  One nice thing about same day digital is that, even if everything is sold out, I can still read these things, and if I'm not getting them "same day," a month later I save a buck.  I'm still thinking they might need to be cheaper than the actual physical copy even same day, but hey, that's me.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

It's Comic Book Day! Special Edition Madness #1/2 (The New 52 Part 3)

Just as a side note, I have to point out that I was more geeked out and excited about one episode of Young Justice last night than I was after reading any single issue in the relaunch.  Just a disclaimer and some perspective on who's bringing you these opinions.

Legion of Superheroes is a book that I picked up for much the same reason as Legion Lost, i.e. I wanted to see how a book that was suppose to not be rebooted would work in the reboot atmosphere, and what DC had planned to relaunch without rebooting.

Over the last few years I've picked up a few issues of the new LOSH and Adventure comics, so I kind of know what's going on.  Storyline wise, it picks up right where the old series left off.  No reboot at all.  Also, no real introduction, so if you are a mythical new reader . . . well, the Legion cartoon from a few years ago was a fairly good introduction to these future people.

Also, like most of the New 52 . . . we spend most of the issue learning that there is a murky impending threat without any real resolution or a contained story arc.  Honestly, if I ran RPG sessions like this, I'd say "X, Y, and Z may be a threat, everyone roll initiative . . . and that's the end of the session, good night."

I feel like I'm saying this a lot, but, not a bad book, but also not one that makes me care if I'm not already following LOSH, and not one that does anything to explain the group if I am really new to the concept.

Nightwing also ends in a cliffhanger, but I liked it.  It does, indeed, directly reference the "old days," i.e. before Flashpoint, by having Dick talk about his time as Batman, but it's also nice to get back to Dick being his own man, and mentioning that he wants to be Nightwing, even if he had to be Batman.  I wasn't sure how the "visiting the old homestead" thing was going to work with Nightwing going back to the circus, but it wasn't really bad.  Plus, the book may not have ended, but a least the mysterious lurking threat actually attacked Nightwing and started a fight by the end.

I'm liking it, as it doesn't seem quite as overtly grim as the other Bat books.  I'm not sure it's a great "starter" book, but you do at least pick up that Dick was the first Robin, became Nightwing, filled in for Batman, and then returned to the Nightwing persona, and the visit to the circus at least gives some nods to his origins, which is a lot more that some of these supposed introductory books did.

I was worried about the new costume and new home announced for Static Shock.  I really didn't want Static to move away from Dakota City or lose anything that made the book what it was originally.  After reading the book, I'm not too disappointed in the direction it took.  While there isn't much in the way of explaining Virgil's origins or past exploits, we do get that he's been a superhero, he just moved, he's a science geek, and he's establishing himself in New York.  I can't put my finger on it, but it at least feels like there is some momentum towards explaining the character, instead of just jumping without any backstory at all.

In fact, the book feels like it kind of promises some resolution, especially when it comes to Static's conversations with Hardware back in Dakota.  If I have a complaint, it's that I wasn't thrilled with the art, and the villains didn't really grab me, being a bit more "we're villains that have a nefarious plan you don't know about, so let's attack" kind of guys.  But that can all be fixed in context of a good follow up story.

If, of course, the fact that the book is already changing writers doesn't kill all of this positive momentum.  Sigh.

I will never, ever read another issue of Stormwatch.  Pretty simple.  I picked it up because of Martian Manhunter.  He does absolutely nothing of consequence here, and exists in the book only to let you know that these Wildstorm characters are now in the DCU.

How to sum up the book?  These guys have vague weird high concept powers, they are a million times better than the Justice League, and fight threats that are kind of like what would happen if God dropped acid.  "What's this, the intestinal tract of an alternate reality is perforated and cosmic feces is infecting sub-space?  Quick, let's use our powers that directly affect the plot to make us look quirky high concept!"

I was so not impressed that even knowing this book will tie into Demon Knights bumps Demon Knights off my list of books to keep up with.  I'm not really even sure why this book (which is really the Authority not Stormwatch) is one of DC's big relaunch books.  An actual DC Stormwatch would have been better, except that that Stormwatch is really JLI.

I'm not sure how to take this book, and part of the problem is that I know too much "meta" information, i.e. that the writer of Superboy, at one point, said that Superboy may have been active and returned to his status at the beginning of the book.

Basically, Superboy's origins look a bit more like his origins in the Young Justice cartoon, i.e. with far fewer sympathetic good guys working at the lab where he was born, and with a member of Gen 13 assigned to watch him  (not sure if any version of Gen 13 canon exists beyond the character), and Rose Wilson, who I'm not sure is Deathstrokes daughter or not, assigned to off him if he goes off the rails.

It's confusing.  I'm not sure it's "damning" confusing, because it may actually be building to some kind of resolution, and appears to be tied to Teen Titans for part of it's story.  Not sure how I feel about that within the construct of a big relaunch like this, but, surprise, this book doesn't resolve any kind of story by the end, just introduces the potential connection to Teen Titans.

I'm still picturing a memo from DiDio:  "Remember, the best way to get people to buy the next issue is for people to not have any idea what happened in issue #1.  So don't resolve anything!"

Supergirl does not appear to be off to a bad start.  From the blurbs, I expected an "attitude" drenched hip know it all Supergirl, but she pretty much seems like a bewildered teenager that doesn't know what's going on, which fits.  I do think that it lessens the impact of Supergirl when she shows up as we are still trying to figure out who Kal-El is in this universe, but, hey, that's not this issue's fault.

All in not, it's not a bad book, and probably better as an introduction since it's actually an origin story.

One more round, and I should be all through everything that I planned to pick up from the #1 issues.  Interestingly, my thoughts on continuing to follow these has gone from, "hey, I might, some of these aren't bad" to "wow, DC really seems to be dumb, so I'm not sure there is a point in even following the OK titles" due to some more recent events, but who knows?

Finally, I'm really waiting for the DC Universe Online Legends book to wrap up, as I am actually fairly convinced that the scenario and timeline presented are actually a pretty good set up for an RPG setting based on DC Comics, even if the game isn't the best MMO going.

Monday, October 10, 2011

It's Comic Book Day Extended Special Edition #1 (The New 52 Continued)

Continuing my journey through the new 52 issues that I read, now only about a month late on a few of them!

Demon Knights #1 gave me a weird mixed feeling about a lot of things.  On one hand, it had enough mystery to it that it would have been interesting to follow up with, but on the other hand, there were a few stylistic issues and entanglements that keep me from being comfortable with the book.

Thematically, I'm not thrilled that Etrigan isn't the cagey rhyming demon we've seen before, and that the first New 52 appearance of Vandal Savage has him appear as almost an affable barbarian instead of a brutal immortal villain.  Theoretically, this reboot is as much about new readers as old ones, so this the first chance you have to make an impression with these characters.  And also, since DiDio seems to be very conscious of other media appearances of the characters, people that may have seen these guys on Justice League may not even remember these guys as the same characters.

The story doesn't really resolve, which isn't a fatal flaw, but the book seems to be linked to two other books, Justice League Dark and Stormwatch, and that you may not fully get all of your answers just by following this book.  It takes a really stellar story to convince someone to invest in a mystery that might span multiple titles, and those titles have to really be hitting all the right notes as well.

As you can tell from my long winded inability to peg this book down, it's got lots of potential, and is an interesting read, but creates a lot of uncertainty that I'm not sure is worth the digging and investment that might come.

Detective Comics #1:  Hey, this one is easy.  Didn't like it.  First, it was too confusing to figure out that this was another "in the past" book.  Second, Joker, as a serial killer that is very prolific, looks like a clown, and has been hard to catch, is a really, really boring character.  Audacity and chaos make Joker, not body count.  Finally, I don't mind Batman dealing with serial killers.  Track down Szasz or Cornelius Stirk once in a while.  But the crux of this is that Joker, who is a serial killer, is being stalked by a family of other serial killers so that they can all work on serial killing together . . . gah . . . really?

Green Lantern Corps #1 appears to have been written with the same paradigm that many of the other New 52 books had, which is, don't resolve anything in one issue!  Whatever you do, don't tell a complete story!  It's not that I mind, but it really seems like a few "introductory" stories could have been more complete.

That said, this book wasn't bad.  It not only gave you a background on who Guy Gardener and John Stewart are, it gives a really quick synopses of the GLC without getting dragged down with explaining a billion lantern corps or hammering new readers with "the Guardians suck!"  I didn't pick up Green Lantern #1, because I promised myself that I wasn't reading any GL book that didn't move away from the spectrum corp soap opera, and honestly, this one looks like a better introduction to the GL universe than the standard GL book or the New Guardians.

What can I say about Justice League #1?  It's Geoff Johns in a nutshell.  I really enjoyed the character interactions, and yet the story hardly advances at all.  It was worth it to see Batman tweak Hal, and then to see Superman pretty much put Hal on his ass, especially after years of "Hal is better than you all gave him credit for," and the Batman denigration that occurred in Rebirth.  

I'm not sold on Cyborg being a founding member, but that's as much a part of the freaking screwed up timeline as a problem with the character himself being on the team.  I actually want to keep reading this, as it was fun, but I'm really afraid I'm getting set up for another Johns "this was fun and interesting up to the halfway point, at which point I got lost and then in the last issue a bunch of stuff that was never even foreshadowed happened to resolve the story without really resolving it so we can wallow in the same stuff for years" storyline.

Justice League International #1 reminds me that I feel like I'm getting whiplash from all of this jumping forwards and backwards in time.  The Justice League is just forming, but after it's been around for five years, the UN decides to copy it with their own team!

I didn't mind the issue, but I did feel like some of the inter-team conflicts were played up too much to establish that this team isn't suppose to get along well, even if some of the conflicts feel really vague.  It's also a little confusing to figure out who has been where.  Were Fire and Ice on the regular JL over the last five years?  Was Guy?  I got the feeling that this book was still a work in progress with DCnU continuity not quite settled, and the book had to be written around that.  It's an interesting set up, so I think its worth giving more time to develop, I just hope the interaction feels a bit more natural and less forced as it moves along.  And where the Hell is Skeets?  If you don't have Ted Kord for Booster to play off of, at least you need Skeets!  Jurgens of all people should know that!

I'm not sure why I got Legion Lost #1.  I think this had to do with the fact that I wanted to see how the "not being rebooted during a reboot" worked for the Legion, and because, in this comic, I thought it would be fun to see how a group of Legion members would cope with being in the modern day realm of current superheroes.

Guess what?  I didn't get that.  I got a bunch of B and D list Legion members chasing a terrorist with some kind of plague through time and technobabble happens and their Legion stuff doesn't work and they can't go back through time because of technobabble.  Instead of letting Timberwolf use his powers to track down the bad guy, it's more important to sit around and argue about why the technobabble doesn't work, and then something happens, and techobabble apparently kills two members of the team along with my interest in ever reading this book again.

I think I will hold off on that last round of new 52 books at this point.  However, at this point in the New 52 framework, let me just say, some books aren't bad, some are amazingly bad, but none of them really seem to be hitting that magic must read button or feel like the great jumping on point for the mythical "never read  comics before" reader that DC claims to want to snag.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Games in Review, October 9th, 2011 (DC Adventures)

First off, the technical rules hoo hah out of the way.  The same day as my DC Adventures game, Green Ronin finally released the Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition Game Master's Guide.  Among the things that immediately caught my attention were the more detailed Wealth rules, Knockback, Lethal damage, and a sub-system for straining one's abilities in order to throw out a really big wallop, beyond what extra-effort allows.  Ironically, all of this GM goodness came out after I finally got around to typing up the current campaign standards with my own rules for lethal damage and a few other things  (informed by, but not 100% matching, some of the suggestions in the Hero's Handbook).

So I'll be doing new standards soon, but I'm happy to have what appears to be a pretty solid base for the next iteration of the standards.  However, with all the technical stuff out of the way, it's time to fight some Black Lanterns!

Black Lantern Marathon was in charge of the bad guys, and right off the bat, he attempted to power stunt a wormhole so he could implement some plan.  I allowed Marathon's player to make an Insight check to figure out what he would do if he were dead and had no soul, to whit a few of the others in the group said, "so, how is that different than he is now?"

The Black Lanterns had their stats generated by utilizing the sidebar in Black Hand's entry.  Man those are some nasty abilities.  Then again, Black Lanterns are definitely a "come up with some kind of comic book plan to defeat them" enemy, not a "beat them up or blast them to Hell with your powers" enemies.

In the comics the main way to deal with the Black Lanterns would be to apply two or more different emotional spectrum energies to a Black Lantern.  Unfortunately, that solution wasn't going to work in this situation.  I had already decided that, given the weakness to the White Ring and the power of the entity of life, Necromancer's ability to raise the dead would provide a possible means of defeating the Black Lanterns.

So basically, if one of the Black Lanterns was knocked out, and Necromancer raised them before their next turn  (since they had Immortality 20 with the Black Lantern rings), the ring's connection would be severed and the dead body would be immune to being animated, leaving the ring vulnerable to being destroyed, but only until that character's turn, at which point, the dead would rise again.

First off, my group, the entire group, was on with their amusing superhero and not quite as heroic quips, so I threw out a lot of hero points.  Thankfully, as soon as one of the Black Lanterns was down, Necromancer tried his ability, and so the means of defeating the bad guys became evident.  The biggest problem was that while the rest of Task Force X were minions, Marathon was not, and Black Lantern Marathon would not drop.

Eventually the group was triumphant, and none of the Black Lanterns managed to successfully use their "rip out their hearts" ability.  When Black Lantern Marathon went away, the rest of the rings  (all products of Hypertime) disappeared  (except, of course, the one from this reality that Myrmidon was still wearing).  Thankfully, Myrmidon's plan of getting killed, becoming a Black Lantern on his own and attempting to become the new alpha male of the Black Lantern pack never got implemented.  Fahrenheit did grab a ring, which would have been disastrous, except it was still bonded to the guy he lifted it from, so it didn't turn the formerly dead hero to a newly dead and then reanimated villain.

Oh, and Paradox finally got to use Leadership.  Just wanted to note that.

What was interesting was that Necromancer wanted to raise Amanda Waller, feeling bad for her death.  Myrmidon adamantly stated that they shouldn't be trying to raise anyone else after all that happened, and the argument escalated from there.  In the mean time, Marathon and Fahrenheit conspired to have the DMA take the bodies to a local hospital, and everyone agreed to keep Mister Freeze from being the guy that attempted Waller's return.  That led to a fun application of the Nullify power from Fahrenheit to make Freeze's suit warm up, and then the rest of the party to crack his dome, causing him to freeze up to save himself.  They also got Trevor to have him transferred back to Arkham instead of Belle Reve.

Fahrenheit started seeing an attractive blond man wherever he went, Myrmidon went to a gentlemen's club with the team's pilot Javier to help him think, Paradox started writing up his report for Trevor, and Marathon was doing research on Circe's domain for Myrmidon.  After Myrmidon provided some lore to Marathon to go on, he located some areas near Greece to check out, and Marathon and Necromancer checked out a mysterious island that might bear some investigation.

Eventually with the whole group home, the mysterious blond man introduced himself to the team  (minus Paradox, who had a date) as Neron.  Necromancer knew who that was, and stated that they should never ever ever cut any kind of deal with him ever.  Neron, however, is a charming guy and offered to get them into the Rock of Eternity, and promised a "freebie" wish-like promise.  Marathon called Paradox back home, and against their better judgment, pretty much the whole party agreed to Neron's offer, which was to steal the Crown of Hell from Blaze for him, while she is at the Rock of Eternity.  He also mentioned that Blaze took Black Adam "out of the game" by calling in a few favors to gain Isis' soul.

The party got their freebies:  Myrmidon became more powerful  (he's PL 14 in a PL 11 game), Fahrenheit's parent's souls are safely on the outskirts of Heaven, Necromancer asked to have any Apokalips DNA taken out of him, and Marathon, Paradox, and Beorn all opted to cash in the favor later.  Neron handed the group a model of the Rock of Eternity that will allow them to show up, unannounced, on Blaze's doorstep, and that is where we leave our heroes.

Full Disclosure:  I'm hoping more of the favors get traded in for a boost in power.  I can handle a PL 14 game, but I'll feel a bit guilty if the whole group doesn't even out to the same PL by the end of this segment of the campaign.  However, it's the player's choice on how to cash in those favors.