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Kingmaker: Blood for Blood, Session 3, Part 1

On the 28th day of Arodus (August), 4718 AR, Caerelia’s Emperor, High Priest, and Keeper of the Grove suddenly appeared in the town square of Tatzylford, accompanied by the holy crusader who often adventured with the rulers. It was late in the afternoon, and the small logging town was a beehive of activity. Families carrying their belongings were trying to leave Tatzylford on foot or wagon or cart for the assumed safety of Salar’s Rest to the south, while the combined militias of Tatzylford and Salar’s Rest made ready to defend the town.

The Lord and Lady of Tatzylford, Loy and Latricia Lezbin (say that five times fast!) came to greet their Emperor as soon as they heard he was in town. They thanked him for coming, and queried as to whether he would be taking charge of the defense of Tatzylford himself. “Well…” replied Satampra the swashbuckler noncommittally. But then he looked at the numbers, and decided he would actually have more impact as the commander of the combined militias, what with his Charisma and his free Ruler Boon.

Army of One

I decided to go with the “1-man army” approach for integrating the PCs into the battle. As 10th level PCs, they converted to armies with ACR 2 and enough hit points to absorb some blows. Per the mass combat rules, Remesio the cleric and Iofur the druid got to add 5 to their attack (OM) and defense values (DV) – their highest spell level. Orseen the warpriest got to add 4. Satampra got to add… nada, zip, zero, zilch. I suppose this is one area of the Pathfinder rules that acknowledges upfront the caster supremacy baked into the system! But between Satampra’s Charisma and the Loyalty Boon, he could give the militia a massive Morale bonus that would come in handy if they had to save vs. rout.

So playing defense, we had:

  • The town of Tatzylford itself, with a Defense bonus of +5
  • The militia, a Gargantuan army of human warrior 1’s with ranged weapons; led by Emperor Satampra himself; ACR 5
  • High Priest Remesio; ACR 2
  • Keeper of the Grove Iofur; ACR 2
  • Orseen; ACR 2

This led to another question not covered by the rules, namely: does a 1-man army lead itself? That is, armies have a commander that influences Morale and can provide extra options in battle via Boons; who commands an army with 1 person in it? No one? The 1 person? Thankfully the question never came up during the battle, but it still bugged me.

The invading army consisted of:

  • The Pitaxan mercenaries, a Gargantuan army of human warrior 3’s with ranged weapons and 2 siege engines; led by Aemon Trask; ACR 7
  • The Tiger Lord barbarians, a Large army of human barbarian 4’s; ACR 5
  • A Small army of trolls; ACR 3
  • A Tiny army of hill giants; ACR 3
  • A Tiny army of lurkers in light; led by a faerie gnome with butterfly wings (see below); ACR 1

This Cassandra was Believed

With that settled, the Lord Mayor informed the Emperor that a young woman had arrived in Tatzylford a couple of days ago, warning of an attack. He was unsure of her motives – she could be using the warning as a cover to perform sabotage, for example – so he had her locked up until after the danger had passed. But he thought his liege should know, in case he wished to question her himself. And Satampra did.

In the jail sat the Lady Kisandra Numesti of Fort Drelev, wearing travel-stained clothes and looking miserable. She claimed that she fled from her home because Baron Drelev wanted to hand her over to the Tiger Lords as a hostage. After escaping, she witnessed the army on the road from Fort Drelev, heading towards the Wyvernstone Bridge, and assumed they must have been going to invade Caerelia. So she came here to warn of the attack, in the hopes that Caerelia might eventually overthrow Drelev… and free her father, Terrion, who (she thought) was rotting in Drelev’s dungeons.

Whoa, back up! said the PCs. Why was the Baron handing her over to the Tiger Lords as a hostage? Kisandra explained that a massive army showed up at Fort Drelev’s doortep, led by a new warlord who had united the Tiger Lord clans: Armag the Twice-Born. The Baron cowardly surrendered to Armag rather than risk a battle, and handed over the first-born children of his lieutenants to the barbarian to serve as proof of his subservience. But Lord Terrion Numesti refused the order, and ensured that Kisandra was able to escape before he was locked up. Then the army must have come here to find towns to sack, perhaps at the Baron’s suggestion. For it was well-known that he had long been jealous of Caerelia, and desired their lands for his own.

That filled in some important holes for the rulers, but they were still curious. Where did all of the soldiers come from, for example? The trolls? The giants? Here I didn’t want to tip the players off as to Pitax’s involvement too early, or make it too obvious, and in any case it was reasonable that Kisandra didn’t have all the details. She told them that they were most likely mercenaries from the River Kingdoms; Fort Drelev could barely feed its people, much less support such a large force. The players wondered how the mercenaries were being paid, but Kisandra didn’t know, and they had more pressing concerns anyway.

The rulers thanked the Lady for her aid, and promised that after they dealt with the invaders, they would march on Fort Drelev and free her father. Kisandra had one final request: that she be allowed to fight in the battle. Satampra shrugged. She had seemed sincere enough, and they could use all the help they could get, so why not? They got her out of the jail and ordered that she be equipped for the fight.

No Rain

That evening, the invaders reached the edge of the treeline and stayed put. There was some talk among the players of executing a midnight raid to either take out the leadership of the army (still thought to possibly be Baron Hannis Drelev) and/or the siege weapons, which I was ready for. First, I had rebuilt Aemon Trask from the crappy fighter 6/rogue 3 TWFer that’s in the adventure to a magus 9 with the Eldritch Scion archetype that could actually put up a fight against 10th level PCs. Then, I had created a gnome sorcerer 9 with the Fey Creature template to lead the lurkers; she and her evil faeries could similarly deal with an aerial assault.

But the players eventually decided against the raid, which made my life a little easier. And so after a tense night, the enemy army spent the morning hours getting their battle lines organized for the assault from the safety of the forest while the defenders of Tatzylford sweated. It was a clear, hot, humid, windless summer day in the Greenbelt. “This is terrible siege weather!” cried Bill, Orseen’s player. “Where’s the rain! The howling winds! Lightning and thunder! Can we hold off on this whole battle until there’s a storm? Hey, can Iofur create a storm?” But the druid could not; controlling the weather was still a ways off for him. They would have to fight and die under the sun, with nary a dire portent to be found.

Next: war!

 

Kingmaker: Blood for Blood, Session 2, Part 2

With the only exit from the library blocked, thanks to the cleric’s stone shape, there was no escape for Baroness Pavetta Stroon-Drelev, and no hope for a rescue anytime soon. As guards pounded on the stone barrier, Satampra the swashbuckler, Orseen the warpriest, and Remesio the cleric tried to convince the Baroness to go with them. She was more interested in fighting Satampra for her dog, Jewel, whom had been snatched from her grasp.

But Pavetta was an 8th-level aristocrat who had spent her gear allocation on clothing and jewelry, and Satampra a 10th-level swashbuckler covered from head to toe in magic doodads. He could play keep-away all day. Orseen – grown to massive size by his buff spells – tried to cow her into compliance, but she was made of sterner stuff than that. Dim-witted brutes didn’t scare her! Soon the party lost their patience, and Satampra, noble Emperor of of the great kingdom Caerelia, threatened to hurt her dog if she didn’t come with them. Pavetta shrieked in terror, and relented.

Having made their target willing, Remesio bade everyone to hold hands as he chanted his prayer of plane shift. They had only one teleport that was used in getting to Fort Drelev, so their plan was to jump to a different reality until such time as the cleric could get his spells back. They had chosen Elysium for their destination, Golarion’s plane of Chaotic Goodness.

In Azata Davida, Baby

The castle’s study faded around them and was replaced with a wild, untamed wilderness… kinda like the First World, really. How does one differentiate between different planes that are defined by being paragons of nature? In this case, I figured I would have some of the inhabitants of Elysium turn up – the Azata, elfy-looking outsiders who… are basically like powerful fey. Sigh. I guess that’s what you get when your world is a mashup of a zillion different interpretations of various mythologies.

But before there were any encounters, Baroness Pavetta Stroon-Drelev demanded her dog back. Satampra was more than ready to hand the yapping, squirmy pooch back to its owner. Then Pavetta wanted to know just who the PCs were and what they hoped to accomplish by kidnapping her. When they told her they were the rulers of Caerelia, she snorted and muttered drolly, “How shocking.” And when they informed her that they were going to use her as leverage against her husband, she laughed bitterly. “Obviously you do not know my husband very well.” She sneered and spat, “Fools!” at them before turning on her heel and striding off into the wild.

The kidnappers were not about to let their target get away, though. And really, where could she go? They tied her up, and then soon after gagged her when she wouldn’t stop berating them.

As the group settled down to wait for happy hour to roll around (“It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, right?” asked Antony, but it was not yet 5 o’clock in Elysium), a squad of ghaele azata came by. The tall, elegant, and well-armed elvish-looking knights were surprised to find adventurers from Golarion in their home. But seeing as the visitors were of mostly similar dispositions (i.e. alignment) and their prisoner was not, the azata allowed their presence as long as they promised to leave at the first opportunity, and to take their captive with them. The humans thus swore, and the ghaele went on their way.

Burned Bridges

After a time, Remesio started to sober up, a sure sign that the time for him to renew his prayers (and libations) was near. Once his spells were refreshed, he plane shifted the group back to Golarion, and then teleported them to Stagfell.

Their first concern was what to do with the Baroness. All thought of somehow using her against her husband was gone, and now they merely hoped that perhaps they could ransom her to her family in Brevoy. In the meantime, they stuck her in a cell with a few guards, who had orders to strike her down if her brother, the wizard Imeckus Stroon, should teleport in to rescue her.

Then it was back to dealing with the invasion. Women and children from Tatzylford and Stagfell were sent to Salar’s Rest, which was considered safe from attack at the moment. The elite ranger unit known as Salar’s Pathfinders had returned to the capital, and were promptly sent out again to destroy bridges and disrupt the invading army’s supply lines, if possible. That was a sensible tactic, I thought, albeit one that has no translation to the mass combat rules. I suppose it could be said that supply disruptions would increase the armies’ Consumption by some amount, or perhaps even hinder their morale or combat effectiveness. But since Fort Drelev isn’t statted out like a real kingdom and doesn’t have an actual treasury to worry about, increasing Consumption doesn’t mean much. Stat penalties were therefore probably a more reasonable side-effect. Either way, I resolved to take their actions into account in how the opposition reacted, and left it at that for the time being.

Meanwhile, the invading army was busy pillaging Last Hope, the settlement built around the Temple of the Elk. Once again, there were no real rules for this, so I just picked a few random buildings each day to be destroyed. Since destroying a building increases Unrest by 1 per plot, the kingdom’s Unrest was soon over 10! That actually didn’t represent much of a threat for making kingdom checks, aside from Loyalty, but it did mean that Caerelia would start losing hexes in the next kingdom turn.

I didn’t want the armies to sit on Last Hope for too long, though. The kingdom might have fallen into anarchy (which occurs at Unrest 20+) if I had them continue to destroy the town! So they set off looking for fresh meat at Tatzylford, which was just a couple of days away.

When scouts reached Stagfell with the news that the invaders were heading south towards the logging town, the rulers of Caerelia quickly decided that they would make their stand there. One clerical prayer of teleport later, and the PCs arrived in time to take some action before the Drelev armies arrived. And somehow, through no planning on my part, we had managed to replicate the location of the big showdown from the published adventure.

Next: the big showdown!

PSA: Cortex Prime Kickstarter

I post a fair amount about Marvel Heroic Roleplaying here, which probably seems weird since the system has been out of print for years now. In my defense, it’s the best supers RPG that I’ve played that brings actual comics to life, captures the “anything goes” nature of the supers genre, and all without getting bogged down in lots of number-crunching or complexity. It was also my first “narrative” RPG which opened my eyes to what I’d often wanted, and rarely got, from RPGs in the past (which is to say, genre emulation rather than physics simulators).

Anyway, MHR and other games in the same Cortex+ family – Firefly, Smallville, Leverage – are gone, but the rights to the underlying systems have gone to Cam Banks, the game designer who oversaw the creation of most of those RPGs. Cam has a Kickstarter right now for Cortex Prime, the next iteration of the system, which takes all the elements of previous games and combines them into one RPG. Also included are various example settings, with more settings as stretch goals.

The $10 “digital” pledge is a very good deal, in my opinion, if one is interested in the system at all. I went for the softcover pledge, as I like having physical books – I’ve found that I rarely read RPG PDFs that I own – and I live in the US so the shipping won’t be crazy, and that’s a pretty good deal as well, I think. The Kickstarter is already funded, so it’s all just stretch goals at this point. I don’t know how much use I would get out of any of the individual settings, but I assume they’ll serve as good examples of how the system can work for different genres… and of course they could be mined for ideas.

The Kickstarter can be found here.

Where I Read: Captain Marvel, Part 13

Captain Marvel #11 (cover date March ’69)

“Rebirth!” by Arnold Drake (w), Dick Ayers (p), and Vince Colletta (i). We have a new artist, and it’s not good. It seems Dick Ayers is mainly known for being a longtime inker of Jack Kirby during the 60’s. I would have thought some of Kirby’s storytelling talent would have rubbed off on Ayers during that time, but if so it’s not evident here.

Strap yourselves in! This title apparently hasn’t been doing too well, because it’s about to go in some weird directions.

When we last left our hero, he was about to be executed by his own people. But before the firing squad can shoot, the entire squad is obliterated by a huge “ray barrage” from the sky! captmarvel-13-aWho saved Mar-vell from certain death, and why? Medic Una points up to a fleet of manned sky-sleds that are swooping down on them! “The Aakon – mortal enemies of the Kree people!” exclaims Mar-vell, despite the fact that the ships are clearly being piloted by goons in blue jumpsuits – the Organization’s mooks. Oops, major art fail.

“It is you they truly seek to destroy, Mar-vell!” helpfully notes Una. Well, why did they shoot the guys that were about to shoot him them? Why not let them do the deed or, you know, just shoot Mar-vell? Anyway, the Captain evades their blaster fire, grabs two fallen rifles that curiously were not destroyed by the ray barrage, and starts firing back at the Aakon, a rifle in each hand. As he systematically shoots down his attackers, he ponders the meaning of war: “Must it ever be thus, on every inhabited world – among all beings of intelligence? Will there never come a time when life will be valued above ego – justice and right above power? To join with other beings in the building of a fitter universe – I must first survive! Or is this the rationale which all fighting men have used from the beginning of time – to hide the blood on their hands from their own eyes?” Heavy stuff. Also completely out of left field, but hey.

Colonel Yon-rogg sees the battle taking place on the Earth below, and arrives with more Kree soldiers to beat back the Aakon, even though by doing so he may be saving Mar-vell’s life. The guy is still sentenced to death, is he not? A full-scale battle erupts in the Everglades, and Una is felled by a stray shot.

Mar-vell runs to Una’s side, but before he can ascertain the seriousness of her injuries, he is confronted by Yon-rogg. Mar-vell leaps to attack the man that has created this situation, and the two slug it out over Una’s still form. But when Una stirs, Mar-vell abandons the fight in order to fly her to safety. Yon-rog orders his men to shoot Mar-vell down, offering 10,000 kredits from his own wallet to whomever takes the Captain out!

Apparently the Kree soldiers fail to hit Mar-vell, or don’t follow the order, because the Captain reaches the Cape without apparent incident. The base just happens to be readying the launch of a moon rocket, and Mar-vell thinks that if he steals the missile, they could escape to the freedom of space. There’s not a lot of medical care up there on the moon, is there? Or food? Or air? This doesn’t seem like a very workable plan, Mar-vell. Nevertheless, he hijacks the rocketship and blasts off as Carol Danvers and the General look on in disbelief.

captmarvel-13-bSo it seems the vessel has medical equipment on board after all, meant for “Earth’s first lunar-nauts.” Fun fact: the moon landing was in July 1969, so several months off when this issue was written. Mar-vell stands by, helpless, as Una’s heartbeat slows and then finally stops. Mar-vell lands the rocket (how?) on an “uncharted asteroid that lies not far from the planet Mars” and uses his u-beam to carve a sarcophagus for Una out of the rock. “There shall she lie – her perfect form protected by the near-vacuum of space – for all to see! And then shall they know the complete and exquisite love that once was ours! Camelot alone could match its majesty – and nothing equal its permanence! Farewell – beloved!” Man, if only we had actually seen any of that on the actual page. After saying his good-byes, Mar-vell launches the rocket back into space (how?).

Unbeknownst to the Captain, his Colonel has been out looking for him in the Kree spacecraft. The Earthling’s rocketship is no match for the Kree vessel, and Yonny ensares Mar-vell’s ship with a magnetic ray. Then the Colonel whips his ship in a circle and releases the rocket, flinging it off into space like a stone from a slingshot. “So this is the end that Yon-rogg planned for me!” reflects Mar-vell after 63 days of hurtling through the void. “Wandering through space at speeds too fast for Earth instruments to even record, or the power of feeble Earth rockets to overcome!” Mar-vell notes that he has food and water for 90 more days. And how about that Kree air supply? Seems to me you should have run out of it by now…

“I can no longer trust my own judgement!” he further says to himself. “I have begun to imagine things – to see the planets as mere floating toys, the very stars as a child’s marbles!” He also has visions of Una, who runs from him, and his dead parents. Apparently they perished “in father’s first experiment in surpassing the speed of light! The same speeds that are carrying me to relentless death!” Interestingly, this would imply that the Kree were not capable of traveling faster than light until after Mar-vell was born. Makes you wonder how they ended up on Earth in the distant past to create the Inhumans.

captmarvel-13-cThen we enter the LSD quadrant of space. Mar-vell sees “brilliant colors and designs,” which is followed by “only darkness – and unfathomable evil!” Strange, monstrous beings appear around the rocket, and somehow speak to him: “Turn back, Captain of disaster! Do not cross the Forbidden Belt!” The twisted, tentacle beings warn of a being who has the power to condemn them to “eternal pain!” Mar-vell wonders of whom the monsters speak, but then concludes that all of this is the result of his Space Madness.

On Day 112, the rocketship is being pulled toward a planet smaller than Earth. This makes no sense to the Kree, for such a small body would not be able to exert enough gravitational pull to alter his ship’s trajectory, given its great speed. He also worries that the ship is in no shape to survive re-entry. And his fears appear to be justified, for as the rocket enters the atmosphere, is begins to burn up! But then, a strange ray shoots up from the planet’s surface, stabilizes the spacecraft, and brings it gently down to the ground.

Captain Mar-vell exits the ship to find himself on a world enveloped in mist and fog. He stumbles about, wondering why he even goes on, before finally laying down in defeat. But then, the mist thins out, and our man of the Kree feels rejuvenated. As he looks up, he sees a group of beautiful human-looking women wearing dresses, and carrying food and drink. One asks him, “You wonder… what great fortune brought you here, eh?” Mar-vell replies that he places “no special significance upon the accidents of life!”

“You think your coming an accident?” replies the woman, incredulously. “How sad, Captain, that even great Kree science – is unable to fathom more than half the truth of our universe! But, if you do not fear having the veil lifted from your eyes – follow, Captain… follow!” Giant golden doors appear before Mar-vell. The women walk away into the mist, and the one says before she departs, “And behind that gate lies all wisdom – and all life! But this you must face alone – good-bye, Captain!” The women are gone, and the doors open on their own, with nary a whisper.

Trippy.

captmarvel-13-dBeyond the door is a strange, alien-looking obelisk, which speaks. “Hear me, Mar-vell! Attend to the voice of Zo! You were brought here not by near-disaster alone – but by infinite wisdom and planning!” Mar-vell questions whether Zo means to say that it caused Una’s death and all of his recent suffering, to which Zo replies that it moves in mysterious ways. Mar-vell then questions the wisdom of bring a broken man such as himself all this way, for he is now without purpose in life, but Zo points out that he does have a purpose – revenge!

Mar-vell agrees to serve Zo in exchange for the power to defeat Yon-rogg, but he notes that the unremovable monitor upon his wrist gives the Colonel power over him. But then his body is “bathed in a brilliance, bright as a super-nova… followed by a flaming, searing ray that brings bone-deep pain!” When the power-up ends, the man of the Kree is disappointed – the wrist monitor is still there. “What you just endured was not meant to destroy the monitor,” chides Zo, “But to give you the power to do that yourself!”

The monitor is made of Daxilium, the strongest alloy that the Kree know of. But by concentrating really hard, Mar-vell shatters the device. “I – SHALL – BE – FREE!” Zo explains that it has also taken away Mar-vell’s uni-beam, for “you have no further need of it!” The cosmic being continues, “Now you know the full dimension of your power – but of only one such power! For you have many Mar-vell! You must begin to learn how to use them all!”

captmarvel-13-eBut wait – there’s more! Captain Mar-vell has a new uniform that looks only slightly different than his old one. The soldier asks why, considering that his old uniform could withstand re-entry. Zo replies that the new one can also withstand the “incredible stresses wrought by – teleportation!” Mar-vell then explores his new powers: he can “teleport [himself] at a speed faster than that of light!” Although the picture shows him flying. And speed isn’t really a thing with teleportation, one would assume. So I’m guessing that the writer meant something else, or the artist got confused, or both. Mar-vell also has great(er) strength, and can also project “fearsome illusions.” Random power is random.

Before the issue ends, Zo reminds Mar-vell that after he kills Yon-rogg, “Your life and strength belongs to Zo!” Mar-vell is cool with that. Once Yonny is gone, he will no longer have any attachments to his old life, and agrees to be Zo’s servant forever and ever.

Finally, the narrator takes us out: “This is indeed a new Mar-vell! [and hopefully one the readers will be more interested in!] A man without emotions – and with limitless power! But even he may not realize the full dread of this pact he has made – a pact that must one day be paid in full!”

Next: revenge, presumably.

Kingmaker: Blood for Blood, Session 2, Part 1

Caerelia had been invaded by its western neighbor, and had no armies of note with which to defend itself! And what armies the kingdom did have were so very far from the front. It would be several days before a messenger could reach them, and then several more days for the armies to march or ride back to the capital of Stagfell. That was time that the kingdom simply did not have!

Luckily, this is D&D, and magic handily turns the Medieval into the modern. Remesio the cleric prepared several prayers of sending, and used them to send orders to the cavalry unit near Varnhold, and the elite ranger unit near Lake Silverstep, to hurry back to Stagfell (riders had already been sent by Empress Sojana while the PCs were in the First World, but they had not had a chance to deliver their orders yet). The priest also relayed orders for Lord Mayor Loy Rezbin of Tatzylford to have nearby crossings on the Skunk River destroyed, and had the militia at Salar’s Rest march to reinforce Tatzylford. The logging town was closest to the invaders’ presumed current location, and its defenses were much weaker than that of the capital or Oleg’s Gate.

A final sending was, um, sent to Aecora Silverfire, Daughter of the Moon and leader of the Nomen centaurs. The Nomen and the Caerelians had agreed to come to each others’ aid in case of an attack, and who could have known that an attack would come so soon? Though the centaurs had been devastated by the lich Vordakai, they honored their agreements, and Aecora said she would send what warriors that she could spare.

Snatch and Grab

With their military orders delivered, the party decided to get pro-active. They figured they couldn’t personally stop the army bearing down on them, but they could take out its leadership, right? They incorrectly assumed that must mean Baron Hannis Drelev himself – they obviously didn’t know the Baron all that well if they thought he’d be leading his own armies – and contemplated a scry-and-snatch. The plan was to teleport in, plane shift out (since Remesio the cleric only had one teleport from his domain slot), and then plane shift and teleport home on the following day. But their plan was foiled when they looked at the spells and saw that they required willing targets. You couldn’t transport someone against their will, unless you were using plane shift to forcibly get rid of one creature.

So the group set its sights a little lower, and figured they could just switch targets to Drelev’s wife, the Baroness Pavetta Stroon-Drelev, whom they had met way back at the start of Rivers Run Red. As a (presumed) civilian, they assumed that they could strong-arm her into agreeing to be subject to their magic, and then use her as a hostage against her husband – again, badly misreading their enemy. Though once again, they hit another, minor, snag in that Remesio had never actually seen Pavetta – the party’s meeting with her had been two clerics ago!

But nothing ventured, nothing gained! Based off of Satampra the swashbuckler & Iofur the druid’s descriptions, Remesio attempted to scry on her… and it worked! He found her in a study holding a yappy lap dog while she talked with an imposing-looking fellow. The unknown man had long dark hair and beard that were both shot through with streaks of grey, clothing of a wealthy nobleman, and a staff fashioned from a reddish wood and bound in bronze. Both the Baroness and her companion failed their checks to spot the magical sensor that was spying on them.

Orseen the warpriest fully buffed himself, and the others handed out a few spells before Remesio teleported himself, Satampra, and the warpriest to the room (making the d100 roll to be on-target). They left Iofur behind because the cleric could only take three passengers with him, and they planned to have Pavetta as one of those people on the return trip.

Surprise!

Needless to say, the Baroness and her brother, the evoker Imeckus Stroon, were shocked when three heavily-armed thugs suddenly appeared in the room with them! Orseen, enlarged and surging with divine power, made a grab for Pavetta, but was disoriented from the teleport and tripped over his own giant feet (rolled a 1). But as his target backed away, Satampra smoothly stepped in and snatched her yap dog from her grasp. Remesio spoke a prayer of hold person against Imeckus, who was an unknown quantity to them, but he easily made his saving throw.

The wizard quickly recovered his wits and responded to the ambush with one of his most powerful spells, chain lightning! An arc of electricity leapt from his outstretched hand and coursed through the giant warpriest before sending off secondary arcs to the cleric and swashbuckler. Orseen failed his save and ate the full strength of the spell, 53 points of damage, as did Remesio, though his blast was only half the intensity of the initial one. Satampra easily avoided the lightning, keeping both himself and Jewel the dog unharmed.

The now-smoking Orseen recovered and smote the wizard, getting a critical hit in the process! Imeckus lost 77 hit points, and a good deal of blood, as he realized these were no common teleporting thugs (if such a thing could even be said to exist), and that he might have to flee the scene. Remesio attempted to block off that escape with a stone shape that covered the exit to the room. But luckily for Imeckus, he had a teleport of his own handy, and he vanished in a puff of smoke.

Next: escape from Fort Drelev!

Where I Read: Captain Marvel, Part 12

Captain Marvel #10 (cover date February ’69)

“Die, Traitor!” by Arnold Drake (w), Don Heck (p), and Vince Colletta (i).

The scene: the Florida everglades, with nary a mountain or a canyon to be seen. Captain Mar-vell of the Kree stands before a swampy-looking tree, his hands behind his back. In the foreground, a Kree firing squad prepares to execute the Captain… oh, is it Tuesday again? We’ve gone a whole three issues without an attempt on Mar-vell’s life by his comrades-in-arms.

And then we flash back to the end of last issue. Carol Danvers does kiss Mar-vell, and Colonel Yon-rogg and Medic Una do bear witness to the event. Una puts on a brave front in front of Yonny, but inside she believes that Mar-vell has betrayed her.

Mar-vell flies back to the ship, as the battle with Cyberex and the Aakon has torn up his suit and he needs a replacement. Oh, and more of his air supply. Hey, remember that? Alas, gone are the days when we would read about Mar-vell sneaking down to the hotel bathroom to dilute his breathing potion with water.

Ronan the Accuser (who is yellow/gold colored for some reason) calls the ship while Mar-vell is aboard. After reviewing Mar-vell’s recent reports, the Kree Supreme Council wants to know more about Number One and the Organization. Based on the Organization’s bankrolling Lawson for millions in order to produce a giant robot, the Kree believe that “this group possesses power equal to good-sized nation!” Their hope is that they can use the Organization against the other Earth powers when it’s time for the Kree to make their move. It’s a clever idea – identify powerful criminal groups that can be turned into unwitting traitors.

As Mar-vell leaves, he runs into Una, who gives him the cold shoulder. Yon-rogg is ecstatic! Finally, Mar-vell has no allies left on the ship, which apparently is key to Yonny’s plans. Didn’t you give up on trying to engineer Mar-vell’s demise a few issues ago, Yonny? Some people never learn!

captmarvel-12-aOver at the Organization’s HQ, #1 is haranguing the goons who have failed to find Dr. Lawson. Since the penalty for failure is death – why do people join these groups, anyway?!? – one of them gets shot with the eon-ray! This invention of Dr. Lawson ages the target by 10 years per second, and the unfortunate test subject turns into an old man, and then to dust. Damn. Lawson was a straight-up evil mad scientist.

captmarvel-12-bOver by the Cape, Carol Danvers has invited Dr. Lawson for a drive in her pink car. She wants answers about the giant robot that busted up his hotel room and house. He claims he has no idea who could have been smart enough to invent such a contraption. But their argument is interrupted by some blue jumpsuit-wearing goons in another car – it’s the Organization! They shoot at Carol’s automobile with the eon-ray, and Mar-vell pulls them both out of the vehicle just in time. The car is reduced to a rusting heap of junk, and a nearby bird is turned into a pterodactyl.

Yep.

Carol tries to run, but somehow falls backwards and hits her head on a tree, conveniently knocking herself out so that Mar-vell can change into Captain Marvel! The art looks like maybe she fainted, but then they added the tree in afterwards? And then the text says that she tripped, but there’s nothing on the ground for her to trip on, and anyway, who trips backwards when trying to run forwards? Anyway, Marvel fights the dinosaur while the jumpsuits grab Carol. Eventually our man of the Kree is forced to snap the beast’s neck, but when he returns to get Danvers he finds a note instead. The Organization wants Lawson to surrender, or they will kill the woman. Mar-vell decides to go along with their demand, but as Captain Marvel, not Dr. Lawson.

Captain Marvel is brought before Number One, and proposes an alliance. Carol, who is being kept prisoner in the same room, can’t believe her ears. She and Marvel get into an argument, during which Marvel plants a knockout gas capsule in her hand. He whispers to her that she can use it to escape when she’s alone with her guards, and they take her away.

As #1 and Marvel discuss how he can be of use to the Organization, a guard comes running with news of Carol’s escape. Since she had been thoroughly searched (and why didn’t they search and disarm Marvel?), that must mean… Marvel tricked them! #1 escapes on a hidden elevator platform, while a mob of goons with guns swarm around our man of the Kree. He evades the gunshots and gets in close enough that his opponents are forced to combat him in hand-to-hand, where the Kree has a decided advantage. However, #1 appears behind Mar-vell, and shoots him with the eon-ray!

As the Kree ages at an unbelievable rate, he takes note of what is happening to his body. “Skin shriveling – body drying out – muscles atrophying! Starting to gasp for each breath like a septuagenarian! Gums receding – pulse growing feeble – limbs trembling now!” One of the mooks watching this remarks, “That’s what you call collecting your social security the hard way!” And #1 triumphantly rants while the sands of time run out on Mar-vell.

captmarvel-12-cIn a last desperate bid for survival, the Captain lunges at #1, grabs the eon-ray, hobbles off, reverses its controls, and shoots himself with it before anyone can act. Given his advanced age, that’s quite the feat! While all the bad guys just stand around wondering where the geriatric hero went, Mar-vell runs away, where he apparently encounters Carol Danvers because she shows up in the next panel. When #1 and the guards finally pursue, they run into a rejuvenated Marvel, who gives them a taste of their own medicine! #1 and the goons are sentenced to death by eon-ray, but it’s a death that we don’t get to see, because “stray eon-rays have aged the very walls! The structure is starting to fall in upon us!” The Captain grabs Ms. Danvers and flies away as the building collapses.

Up on the Kree ship, Yon-rogg watches all of this take place, and feels like he now has incontrovertible proof that Mar-vell disobeyed orders. Una overhears Yonny’s call to Ronan, informing the Accuser that Mar-vell is going to be executed. Despite her broken heart, she still loves Mar-vell, and flies from the ship with the intention of warning him. Elsewhere on the vessel, the crew has misgivings about executing a hero like Mar-vell, but Yon-rogg quashes the dissent. captmarvel-12-dThe firing squad pilot a shuttle to the Earth’s surface, and they run into Una along the way. They figure she’s going to warn Mar-vell, and knock her out with a “controlled blast.”

Una comes to in time to find the scene from the issue’s opening. The lieutenant in charge of the squad apologizes to Mar-vell, but he tells them to get on with it. And so the lieutenant gives the order to fire as an off-panel Una yells for them to stop.

Next: the end?

MHR: 1990’s Excalibur Datafiles

Back in the mid-1970’s, writer Chris Claremont and penciler Dave Crockum took one of Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s lesser creations, the Uncanny X-Men, and transformed American superhero comics in the process. Claremont and his collaborators would make UXM into the highest-selling American comic with vibrant characters, soap opera drama, long-simmering plots, and themes of bigotry and prejudice. If you’ve watched X-Men cartoons or movies, 80-90% of what you saw were adaptations of stories and characters written and created by Chris Claremont and the artists that worked on the X-books over the years.

UXM’s success spawned a slew of spin-offs. One of the quirkier ones was Excalibur, by Claremont and artist (later writer, after Claremont left) Alan Davis, whose work I adore. It was quirky in part because it took a few mutants from the X-books: Nightcrawler, Kitty Pryde, and Rachel Summers (the daughter of Jean Grey and Cyclops from the Days of Future Past timeline), and paired them up with the little-known Captain Britain and his partner Meggan, and sent them on wacky adventures far removed from the other X-titles. Most of the stories picked up plot threads and characters from old Captain Britain comics published by Marvel’s UK arm, which were created by Alan Moore (Watchmen, From Hell, etc.) & Alan Davis, rather than your typical mutant stories. It was an odd book. But a very charming and entertaining one, I thought.

Nightcrawler & Kitty Pryde were two of my favorite X-Men, and as I said I loved Davis’ art, so when I saw the book in the comic store back in the day I bought it, and followed the title when I could. As an adult I’ve gone back and read the entire Claremont/Davis and the subsequent Davis/Davis runs, and enjoyed them so much that I was inspired to stat up the characters in the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game. I think they’re good examples of where MHR shines: with the authors’ penchant for distinctive characters, interpersonal drama, and long-running subplots, each character has several arcs that make for good personal Milestones; and as the characters are not much of a classic team, the Affiliations can really come into play in how the different characters will want to approach a situation.

Beyond that, this little slice of comic book history shows how ephemeral character writeups for superhero RPGs can be. Costumes, powers, motivations, and the status quo are constantly changing and shifting, making any writeup – especially one that focuses on character issues vs. just a plain accounting of powers – just a snapshot that will soon be overtaken by future changes. Captain Britain and Meggan now have different powers, Nightcrawler died and became a priest and came back to life (not necessarily in that order), Kitty grew into adulthood and got engaged to Star Lord and became headmaster of Xavier’s school. The terrain is ever-shifting, and no character is set in stone. Read more…