Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Six Years of Blogging

This past Sunday, the 11th of February, marked my sixth year blogging here at Daddy Rolled a 1. As per the tradition of my most of my years blogging, I missed the actual anniversary, although this year I did remember it on the day, but just didn't have a chance to get to my computer to write about it.

Year after year, I blog a little less - last year I only averaged about one post a month, which is much less than I'd really like. Much of this has to do with a combination of increased workload (which is a good thing, given that I own boutique ad agency that I started myself, so having "too much work" really means "you have some job security") and also some lingering effects from my daughter's accident that I wrote about in the autumn of 2015. I've just not felt much like blogging because I feel like I'd like to spend my free time with my daughter playing games or reading to her, and then when I'm not doing that, we've had to deal with multiple medical and legal appointments for her, and the rest of the repercussions from her accident have honestly just been emotionally draining on my family and me, so blogging tends to take a back seat.

I hope for that to change this year, as I still have a long list of topics I want to blog about (many of them still on the list  made for myself when I first started my blog), and I have slowly but surely been continuing to work on a project that I eventually intend to publish, and I've been thinking about maps and art styles that that. I'd say it's about 50% written at this point.

Unlike the last two years, I don't have a "Top 10 Things from the Past Year" list, nor a "Things I'm Looking Forward to Next Year" type of list, but I can recap a few of my posts from last year before I get to the stats.

I actually started off last year pretty strong, with two posts in January, including the first of a new "series" I started wherein I review forgotten, under-the-radar D20 books (starting with From Stone to Steel) and talk about how you can apply them to modern systems like Pathfinder (easy!), D&D 5th Edition (relatively easy), or stuff like Savage Worlds (not as difficult as you might think).

My biggest month of blogging was in February, when I wrote another D20 post about The Book of the Righteous and also a sort-of "accompanying" post for my "Victorian Era Mondays" series in which I reviewed the D20 version of Masque of the Red Death. I also blogged about my first participation in a LARP and previewed that I had been honored with being selected as a Judge again for the One Page Dungeon Contest.

Things slowed down in March, when I blogged only twice, once about a half-history/half-biography about the Comics Industry by writer Grant Morrison, and also reviewed one of my favorite comic series, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (again, the comic, not the movie).

I didn't blog again until June, when I posted some comics reviews including the new DC Universe Rebirth Special, which rebooted their universe. My next post wasn't until August, when I blogged about one of my favorite drawing books (or really, just favorite book, period) from childhood, How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. And that was it for the year, unfortunately.

Here at the Stats
  • 5,512 Page Views. This is down from the 8,235 I had last year.
  • 1.43 Pages/Session (last year: 1.53 Pages/Session, down 6.07%)
  • Average session duration 1:26 (last year 1:44; down 17.79%)
  • 81.19% Bounce Rate (last year 79.55%, down about 2%)
  • 79.73% of visitors were "new" instead of returning (70.85% last year, so this is an increase of 12.53%)
  • 81.21% of the readers are from English-US readers (last year, 83.96%)

My goal this year will be to blog more and increase those stats above.

Over the past month, eight of the Top 10 posts are older posts on the site (some dating back to the year I started blogging in 2011), and one of the perennial top posts is actually a page on the site, "Currently Reading" which is funny because I haven't updated that in years. 

I look forward to hearing from you all, particular with topics you'd like me to cover (or to resurrect). Leave me a comment below, or message me on Google Plus, Facebook, or Twitter (links are all to the right-hand side).

Cheers, everyone!

  • Hanging: A conference room in West Los Angeles for a mediator (related to my daughter accident) on my laptop
  • Listening: Nothing right now
  • Drinking: "Talking Rain" sparkling water

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

New Comics Wednesday: Kamandi Challenge

Today is Wednesday, and that means it's New Comic Book Day - the day all of this week's new comics hit the store shelves (both physically and digitally). Every comic I feature here on Daddy Rolled a 1 is one that I'll personally be picking up later this evening when I go to my local shop with my daughter after I pick her up from school.

Please note also that every Wednesday, I tweet out which issues I picked up that week, and then over the course of the week I send out individual tweets with 140-character reviews of each issue. You can follow me on Twitter here.

Lastly, if you're really interested in more comic reviews, I do "professional" reviews for the comic book site, ComicAttack where I post my reviews under the name "Martin." You can search my tag to see what I've reviewed lately.

As with all of my comic book overviews, I will attempt to explain what makes this comic interesting without giving away any spoilers. 

For today, I'll be focusing on Kamandi, which I know holds a special place in the heart of many old-school gamers, especially those who enjoy Gamma World. Kamandi is described in the comic as "The Last Boy on Earth" - he is the protagonist in a post-apocalyptic earth following the "Great Disaster" in which most of humanity has been reduced back to a savage state in a world that is now ruled by intelligent animals that walk upright, can use tools, and speak a common language.

Kamandi was created back in the 1972 by Jack "The King" Kirby as DC's answer to The Planet of the Apes franchise, to which they did not own the license but which was a very popular science-fiction property at the time. It ran for about six years, through 1978, and the character has popped up since then in a variety of ways, most notably in the "Batman: The Brave and the Bold" animated series on Cartoon Network from 2008 - 2011.

Today's comic I'll be picking up is the Kamandi Challenge #1, which is the first issue of a 12-part limited series by DC Comics. As part of a centennial celebration of Jack Kirby's birth back in 1917, DC created the Kamandi Challenge wherein each month, a different creative team will write and illustrate a chapter in a Kamandi story and leave off with a cliffhanger, and the following month, the next creative team has to pick-up where the previous team left off to propel the story forward. The teams include some of the best names in comics, including Peter J. Tomasi (current writer of Batman), Neal Adams, Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Bill Willingham (yes, the same guy who used to illustrate old D&D products), Gail Simone, Keith Giffen, Greg Pak and so many more.

If you're a fan of Jack Kirby, post-apocalyptic stories, or fun comics with a Silver Age vibe, you'll definitely want to pick this up. I haven't had a chance to read the actual issue yet, but everything I've seen leads to believe that this will be right up my alley. The original Kamandi comics had a ton of inspiration for a post-apocalyptic style role-playing game and have impacted a current project I'm working on, so I suspect that this new series will add even more ideas.

Note that last week, DC also published the Kamandi Challenge Special #1, which is a reprint of the classic Kamandi #32 double-size $0.50 "giant" issue from 1975, which in turn also included a reprint of the #1 issue of the series. It's a great way to familiarize yourself with the world of Kamandi and its cast of characters.

Anyone else picking up the Kamandi Challenge today? I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

KAMANDI CHALLENGE
  • Format: Monthly 12-issue limited series, full color
  • Where to Buy:  As always, try to buy it at your local comic shop. You can find one by visiting the Comic Shop Locator. If you don't have one, try a bookstore, or you can buy the digital version to read on your PC, tablet, or smartphone by going to Comixology.  That link takes you to the Kamandi Challenge #1 page, where you can find a link to buy the first issue.
  • Price: $4.99 per issue
  • Rated: "T" for Teen
  • More Information: The official DC page on the Kamandi Challenge

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Just came from a pub where I drank a Mikkeller "George" Imperial Russian Stout
Listening: "Waltz for Debby" by Cannonball Adderly





Thursday, January 5, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Old Campaign Maps & Drawings

Old map I drew in one of my high school notebooks. Based
on the names I used, this was probably from my junior
year, circa 1986/1987.
I don't typically do "throwback Thursday" posts (not even on social media), but I thought this particular one would be a bit fun and hopefully spark some discussion, as it deals with creating maps for fantasy worlds.

Over the summer, my dad moved out of the house that he'd been living in since around 1991/92 or so. I lived in this house for only a few years, while I finished college and started my job, but I had moved all of my old stuff into the house and much of it did not come with me when I moved out in 1995. Over the years, tons of my old stuff has been safely tucked away in my old bedroom, in the closet or garage, untouched for the better part of two decades.

I am, for better or worse, a bit of a pack rat. I tend to carefully pack things away rather than get rid of them, mainly from a weird sense that one day in the future, my descendants can get a better sense of the type of person I was based on the things I collected rather than just from the occasional picture or greeting card. My family on both my mom and dad's side kept very little in terms of personal keepsakes or mementos, and both families went through a very significant purge when they moved from the South and Midwest and made their way out West in the 1940's or before. As part of my mom's genealogical research, I have a pretty long collection of names and dates of my ancestors, but very little that tells me what kind of people they were. This was always very frustrating to me as I grew up, and I believe contributed to my personality quirk of never wanting to part with my things; I have this feeling that some day, someone might want to know that I read a certain book, or wrote or received a card from someone, or that I drew a picture or map, or that I played D&D or Warhammer 40k.

Cleaning out my dad's house was a huge task that included going through not only my old stuff but also my mom's, grandma's, and uncle's possessions, all of whom had already died and whose things had been boxed up and packed in the garage at my dad's house for years. It was a monumental undertaking that took weeks, and we ended up throwing many of the things out (much to my chagrin) due to lack of time, and throwing a lot more of it into a storage unit (family photos, a couple of pianos, etc.).

This particular map was from either my freshman or
sophomore year of high school. It was based on the
students and friends in my Third period Spanish class.
©1985 Martin R. Thomas
While focusing on cleaning out my old closet and boxes in the garage, I found a bunch of my old notebooks from high school and college. Yes, I know it might sound strange, but I actually kept all of the notebooks that I used to take notes during class, and even all of my old paperbag book covers that I used on my school textbooks (mainly because I drew pictures all over the book covers). One thing I was happy to discover during this process was a bunch of old maps I had drawn in various classes. I used to love doodling during class to pass the time, and I would create maps of fantasy worlds based upon the people in the class I was in, and then I would develop the political history of the region based upon the relationships of the people in my class. I'm sure I'm not the only person who ever did this, but I've never talked to anyone else who did this. I found two of these maps in my old notebooks, which I've enclosed here with this post. One of them that really cracks me up is "The Continent of Shinaps Drith" which was based on the students in my Third period Spanish class (I took a lot of my naming conventions back then from Gary Gygax). Looking closely at the map, you'll see a country named "Samoth" and another one named "East Samoth" (tweaks of my last name); this was a very early proto-campaign that morphed with a few other maps and notes I had that eventually evolved into my World of Samoth campaign, which I've been running since May of 2001.

One of the earliest maps and list of countries I created for
what was to eventually become my World of Samoth D&D
campaign. This was probably from my sophomore year
of college.
©1990 Martin R. Thomas
In addition to maps, I would make notes, and the back of one of my notebooks included notes on various countries I was planning on developing into a campaign world. The picture that includes a sketch of a goblin with a spear would have been from my sophomore year of college around 1990 (I can tell because I took Ancient Greek for my language requirement that year and I was clearly experimenting with some of those letters), and it also includes the start of a list of countries including Esoría, the Holy Ætonist Theocracy, and Kovlich, all of which became part of my campaign world. The small map to the upper right might be one of the first (at least, that I can still find) maps of my campaign world.

Lastly, just for fun, I also included a drawing I made on the back of one of my notebooks. This was based on a drawing from one of Marvel's old Conan comics, from around 1987 or so. Despite what it may look like from all of the drawings I made in my school notebooks, I actually did quite well in school. We moved around a lot and by the time we moved to where we lived when I made most of these drawings, it was in the middle of high school (my dad got transferred between my Sophomore and Junior years in high school) and so I was constantly the "new kid" and would spend a lot of time drawing and working on a campaign world even though I didn't have anyone to play with because it always took me forever to make friends. My drawings were my passive-aggressive way to get people to talk to me. I was really shy, but I figured if someone saw me drawing, it might be an ice breaker to a conversation. It worked sometimes but backfired a lot more as I got labeled as "that weird kid who draws maps and strange creatures."
This drawing was based on one of Marvel's
Conan comics from around 1987. I was
practicing my figure drawing.

Anyone else out there used to draw maps in their school notebooks, and did you ever base the politics of your worlds on the relationships of people in your class? 

For more info on my World of Samoth campaign, you can of course on the World of Samoth tag, and also read this post celebrating my 14th year of DM'ing my campaign back from May 2015 which includes a bunch of my drawings from my campaign notebook. 

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Tap water
Listening: "Christmas in Rio" by Tony Martin

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

D20-Era Reviews Tuesday: Legends of the Samurai

It's a new year, and time to try to renew my annual resolution to blog more.

Continuing with a "semi-trend" I started last year, I'm going to reserve Tuesdays mainly for a new feature on the blog, wherein I'll review an old D20-era product, mainly from the standpoint of how useful it is for gaming with any system, whether you prefer stuff like D&D (any edition), Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, or other systems of your choice.

One genre that's always fascinated me when it comes to fantasy RPGs is that of Asian settings. I remember how excited I was when I read in Dragon magazine that an Oriental Adventures book (the original one for AD&D 1st Edition) was coming out, and how thrilled I was when I received it as a Christmas gift from my mom later that year. That particular book, while it had its problems mechanically, did help open my eyes to all of the different possibilities of a fantasy campaign and how certain concepts could be slightly tweaked to accommodate a different genre or culture.

Today's book falls into that category of "Asian Campaign Settings" but it's really much more than that. The author does a great job of mixing historical Japanese culture along with notes on how to incorporate the more fantastical elements seen in films, books, and video games. Legends of the Samurai, by Charles Rice, was published by RPGObjects, in 2005, so it comes at the later end of the "d20 craze."

This is a 168 page book, 12 of which are appendices in the form of tables illustrating the stats of various NPCs from 1st through 20th levels. The end papers are used for maps (the opening ones are for a full-color map of the islands of Japan as of the 16 Century (one labeling cities, castles, trade routes, etc., and one that labels all the provinces), and the back end papers present maps of a typical Dojo.

The first section of the book provides a lot of interesting and informative detail on the Japanese gaming tradition, how to adapt the book for a historical or a fantasy campaign, and also how to adapt to an "action-based" or "intrigue-based" campaign. As noted in the introduction, "One of the goals for Legends of the Samurai was to make a purely Japanese setting for fantasy or historical adventures." Of course, I tend to just "kit-bash" my campaign settings to take the pieces that I like for my own home-brew campaign setting, so I grabbed quite a few ideas from this book for my long-running World of Samoth campaign.

The first chapter discusses some new concepts for the game, Bloodline and Honor. Bloodlines essentially take the place of races in a standard fantasy campaign. There are no elves or dwarves or even things like hengeyokai in this setting -all characters are human. To take the place of races, there are bloodlines - characters might come from a background of Artisan, Farmer, Merchant, Monastic, Noble, Warrior, or might be an Outcast. These are all related to social standing and each bloodline gives the character an idea of basic personality traits, how he or she might interact with other characters, physical description (including clothing and items), lands where they are most common (e.g., cities, ports, rural, etc.), religion, and why they might be adventuring. It also includes basic ideas on bonuses or penalties a character from this bloodline might have, along with the types of character classes they are most likely to focus on. The real benefit here for someone who wants to play in an Asian-inspired game is all of the background information on the different bloodlines - the information is presented in an easy-to-understand manner and it focuses on broad descriptions that a player or games master can easily grab onto in order to help define an Asian-themed area of a campaign to help set it apart from Western-inspired areas.

The next section on Reputation, Honor, and Allegiances is typically a main part of many Japanese-themed RPGs and Honor can tend to become almost like a seventh ability score that is tracked with a lot of numbers and benefits and penalties. Honor in Legends of the Samurai can provide a bonus to certain skill checks (and its opposite, Infamy, provides bonuses to completely different skills), but the main idea of this section is to illustrate what feudal Japanese culture considered important and how someone from the samurai class might act as opposed to someone from a lower class, and what the societal expectations are. Again, for those of us who grew up in Western cultures and mainly exposed to Western media, this is a very useful section to help provide guidelines for how a Japenese-themed character might act according to his or her culture and how that would be different from the societal expectations of a more Western-themed culture. I know this information, as presented in a clear and concise manner in this book, would have come in very helpful back when I was playing a Samurai style character in my friend Cal's game.

The next section is the longest in the book, at 31 pages, and covers "The Martial Classes" including eight base classes of Ashigaru (footsoldiers, typically drawn from the artisan, farmer and merchant bloodlines), Kuge (nobles), Ninja, Ronin, Samurai, Shokunin (master craftsmen), Touzoku (petty criminals), and Yamabushi (warriors of the monastic class). There are also nine Prestige Classes presented in this chapter, which include Censor (spies for the Shogun or the Emperor), Kensai (master of the blade), Martial Arts Master, Otokodate (greatly renowned warriors of commoner ancestry who fight with seemingly innocuous weapons and defend the weak), Sensei (martial arts instructor), Wako (pirate), Weapon Master, Yakuza, and Yojimbo (a warrior who has taken up arms in service of the people).

For those of you who don't like class-and-level systems, don't be turned off by the number of classes in this book. While you might not end up using the mechanics from this chapter, the background information on each character class helps to define the culture of a Japanese style game, including the types of adventures each class might take, their characteristics, honor, religion, background, honor, and role in the campaign. This is all very useful information regardless of whether you plan to use the actual stats for the classes presented. 

My one complaint with this chapter is that many of the Prestige Classes seem duplicative. Even in the text, the author points out that the Yojimbo is "similar to a Otokodate" and it's not clear why a Kensai isn't just a type of Weapon Master who has chosen to focus on the blade as his primary weapon. Even the Martial Arts Master and the Sensei could probably have been defined, with just a few options at each level to distinguish them rather than having separate classes. Although I am on-record for actually liking character classes, class bloat is one thing that a lot of people complained about regarding the d20 era, and having nine Prestige Classes in this chapter doesn't help that argument.

The successive chapters focus on skills and feats (including a separate section on martial arts feats), and equipment. This is pretty standard stuff, but the equipment section in particular would be very useful to anyone running a Japanese-themed game.

Next up, in an interesting choice of layout, is a section on the "Mystic Classes." The author actually made the choice of separating the Mystic classes from the Martial classes, and it's a choice that does make sense when you consider how the beginning of the book mentioned that there were two standard ways you could approach the game - as historical or as fantasy. If you plan to play a purely historical campaign, you can completely ignore the chapters on the Mystic Classes and the Mystic Arts (which covers spell points, mystic skills and feats, fate and destiny, spell lists; the only part of this chapter you'd actually need is for the Gods and Religions of Medieval Japan, which technically would be applicable even in a historical game and probably should have been presented in a separate chapter).

The mystic classes include the Kenza (master of elements), Mahoutsukai (master of sorcery or "black magic"), Senkensha (divine seer), and the Shukke (priest). The author wisely makes the choice here to have the Shukke class be applicable to all religions (including "mythic" as well as Christianity, Buddhism, and Shinto.

The spell system for Legends of the Samurai is not the standard d20 system of gaining spells by level, but rather that of using Spell Points. Although this is technically a completely new system, the book is able to explain its application in fewer than two pages.

Also included in the section on Mystic Arts is the idea of Fate and Destiny, which is a fun way for a character to pick a fate, and for the GM to also pick a secret destiny for that same character. There is an easy-to-use mechanic presented for the idea of "fate points" and "destiny points" which is a way to use some light rules to illustrate how, in Japanese media, many characters are presented as having destinies that they cannot seem to escape, no matter how hard they try. As an example, the author provides a scenario where a character might declare his fate to be "the greatest samurai in history," but unbeknownst to him, his destiny could be to end up facing his long-lost brother in a battle to advance the cause of his Shogun. 

The next section of the book is eight pages long and covers Gamemastering a campaign, providing tips and advice on running both historical and mythic campaigns, adventure locations, a timeline of Medieval Japan, and short histories of all of the provinces of Japan. 

The book wraps up by discussing monsters in a chapter of 16 pages. The first part of the chapter reviews monsters from the Monster Manual that are appropriate to a Japanese-themed campaign (and any modifications to make to those monsters) and then presents 16 new monsters, many of which are somewhat humanoid in type, such as Hengeyokai, Naga, Nezumi, and Swamp Goblins. There are details for quite a few of these monsters on how to use them as a Player Character race in the event that you want to add non-human characters to your game.

The artwork is all black-and-white pen and ink and is very reminiscent of the artwork from the 1st Edition Oriental Adventures book, so there's a nice sense of nostalgia to it.

This is a really great book to read and use if you're planning on running a Japanese campaign, or have a Japanese-type area in your game world, or even if you're just looking for some new ideas to add to your game world (e.g., you could take the concept of the "Bloodlines" but adapt them to your own campaign world to help differentiate the humans in your campaign, and you could grab the spell point system to revise the standard D&D style magic system, or even take the section on the weapons, re-name them, and use them as the weapons from a specific culture or race from your campaign).

As mentioned, this book came out at the end of the d20 craze, so it unfortunately was a bit under the radar, which is a shame given how well-researched and presented it is. Anybody else out there pick this up? What were your experiences with it?

LEGENDS OF THE SAMURAI
  • Format. Originally collected three separate PDFs into one 168 hardback tome, with a color cover and end-papers and black-and-white interior. 
  • Where to Buy. This is long out-of-print but there are used copies available right now on Amazon, and you can also download the whole PDF from DriveThruRPG
  • Price. The original hardback retailed for $29.95 The PDF version is currently available for $8.95. 
  • More Information. There is very scant information available for this book. The publisher website has a listing but it basically just has a short blurb and provides the table of contents. Interestingly, the PDF is available slightly cheaper on the publisher website (currently at $8.00 versus $8.95 on DriveThruRPG). 

If you're looking for some more info to help with building your Asian/Japanese themed areas of your campaign, you can refer to my tag on "Asian Campaign Settings" and also my review of the Dark Horse comics adaptation of "The 47 Ronin."


Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Blue Christmas (To Whom It May Concern)" by Miles Davis

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

New Comics Wednesday: How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way

Today is Wednesday, which of course means it's the day all of this week's new comics hit the shelves. As always, I'll be heading over to my local shop with my daughter after school today to pick up my pull-list and chat with the staff and regular customers. It's one of the traditions I've had with my daughter dating back to when she was only about 3 years old or so. She's basically the "store mascot." Last week there was a signing with writer Ed Brubaker and artist Tom Coker, and the store owner mentioned it was the first time they'd done a signing that my daughter wasn't there (she was visiting my in-laws).

Normally I chat about a new comic that I'll be picking up tonight, but today I wanted to write about a fantastic book that I received as a gift when I was around 14 years old back in the mid-1980's, Stan Lee's and John Buscema's How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way

I've written before about how my friend John at this time, who was an incredible artist. He was a true natural talent, whereas I really had to work at drawing and never had the technical expertise he possessed. I made up for it by being clever, which is great but will only take you so far. Even at age 14, his figure drawings were incredibly detailed and exact, with a sense of musculature and movement that would pull the viewer into his sketches. He taught me a bit about his process and then mentioned this book to me. I picked it up at the library and devoured it, and eventually my mom gave it to me as a birthday gift.

The book itself is divided into 12 chapters and covers topics such as the equipment you'll need, form, perspective, figure drawing, adding action, faces, composition, covers, inking, and more. It does a great job of showing how to start with a very limited sketch, such as a stick figure, to capture the action and pose, and then build on top of it with successive three-dimensional shapes until it's completely fleshed out. It's how my friend had taught me, and how I do my drawings to this day, but having it all laid out in easy steps with tons of examples of what to do and what not to do is very helpful.

This really isn't a book for beginners or little kids. It would help to have some basic artistic training before trying to tackle some of the projects in this book. It's still a fun read, with Stan Lee's over-the-top sensationalist writing and looking back at the world of Marvel comics in 1978 and seeing great examples of the Marvel style from that era. The book also includes examples from older comics from the 1950s - 1960s that are fun to look at.

If you or your kids are comics fans with any desire to learn a bit more about the craft of making a comic book, as well as taking a stab at improving your drawing skills, this is a great book to pick up. It's available on Amazon in Paperback for $12.93. I have the hard-cover version and I'm sure if you searched hard enough, you could find it.

A few funny personal memories about this book - firstly, in 9th Grade, I took an art class by one of the former animators on the Thundarr the Barbarian TV show, and he mentioned being in a meeting once (not sure if it was for Thundarr or another job) where a fellow artist was having problems with his figure drawings and the guy's boss grabbed a copy of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way and chucked it at the guy's head and said, "Learn how to draw!"

In my 10th Grade English class, we were required to write an essay completely in passive voice from start to finish - every sentence had to be passive. As the topic, the teacher challenged us by making us write a "How to" essay but we were left to our own ideas as to exactly what we were trying to teach in our essay. I chose to write "How Comics Are Drawn the Marvel Way" and described every step in passive voice. I remember I got a perfect score, except I got graded down a half grade because I accidentally left the essay sticking out of my manual typewriter and my mom had to drive it to school later that day, so it was "late."

Lastly, the main reason I wanted this book, other than to just in general improve my drawing skills, was because I had recently picked up the Marvel Superheroes Role-Playing Game by TSR and I wanted to create my own superheroes using the game's mechanics (instead of playing Spider-Man, for example) and of course I wanted to illustrate them, but I wanted my drawings to look really good.

Below are some of the sketches I did following the steps in this book - this would all be from around 1985 or so.


©1985 Martin R. Thomas
I sadly forget the name of this team. The guy on the left was obviously
just a giant-size guy with super strength. The red guy was a speedster, modeled
after the unfortunately named "The Whizzer" from Marvel's Squadron Supreme.
The green metal guy was the team leader who put on the armored suit to
compensate for the fact that he normally needed a wheel-chair to get around.
I remember nothing about the chick character. Sadly I was an adolescent boy
when I drew this, so the chick was mainly just supposed to look "hot."
There's nothing really original here - these are all clearly based on typical
superhero archetypes but at the time I loved making these up.



©1985 Martin R. Thomas
An "action-shot" of my speedster character.

©1985 Martin R. Thomas
The guy on the left is obviously Blue Bolt. For the guy on the right, I was
experimenting with "Kirby Krackle."


Hanging: Home Office (laptop)
Drinking: Sparkling Water
Listening: "Down the Road" by Lurob (from Mushroom Jazz 7)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

New Comics Wednesday - A Universe Rebirth, A Girl and Her Cat, and A Fun Female Spy

Today is Wednesday, which means of course that it's New Comic Book Day, when this week's new comics will be on-shelf at your local shops and newsstands. For today's post, I'll talk about three relatively recent comics that I started reading, why I chose them, and as always, if there are any ideas you can steal for your role-playing games.

Note that I keep my reviews spoiler-free. 

DC Universe Rebirth #1 (one-shot)
This comic came out about two weeks ago, but you should still be able to find it quite easily at your local shop considering that it had quite a huge print-run. I'm sure a lot of you out there are groaning about, well, typical comic fan-boy stuff like "DC doesn't know what they're doing" or "I stopped reading DC with the New 52" or whatever.

What Is It?: This is a comic book for people who, frankly, just enjoy comics - superhero comics in particular. The story is driven by the lore and the legacies of DC characters that were unfortunately lost when DC did their last reboot in September 2011 following the Flashpoint maxi-series. In the intervening five years, DC initially experience huge sales growth but recently has seen quite a decline, and a variety of factors have led them to reconsider the wholesale destruction of the nearly 70 years of pre-New 52 continuity. A small "test" of sorts from last year, an event called "Convergence," brought back some old characters thought long-gone. While the story line of the event itself was a bit muddled and the titles were very hit-and-miss in terms of quality, it was clear that fans wanted to see the return of some of their favorite characters.

Geoff Johns, the Chief Creative Officer of DC Comics, writes the DC Universe Rebirth special, which is a massive-sized 80+ page giant for only $2.99.

Why You'll Like It: Johns brings back a character that's been missing from the New 52 as the "narrator" of a tale that discusses "what happened" to the DC Universe and why nobody remembers what changed. The narrator choice is quite inspired and relates back to some of Johns earlier and celebrated work in comics writing. Throughout the tale, the narrator, attempts to interact with other characters as an "anchor" to pull him back into "real time." We therefore see both New 52 characters as well as older characters that we haven't seen since the New 52 reboot. All throughout, the narrator discusses that "something is missing" as a way to inform that reader that things we used to enjoy about comics, like the relationships of the characters, the sense of fun, and the legacy of characters (via new people taking on the mantle of a hero once the previous character retired or died) were unceremoniously wiped away for a more grim, dark universe.

If you've missed certain elements about DC Comics over the past few years, I can almost guarantee that this story line, combined with beautiful art by Gary Frank, Ethan Van Scivber, Ivan Reis, and Phil Jimenez, will have you feeling the excitement and the fun that you used to have reading DC stories.

Whatever you do, please don't read any online reviews that contain spoilers, as there is a huge moment at the end of the story that has huge revelations for DC comics stories moving forward, and I was lucky enough to have been completely surprised by it.

Why I Chose It: This is pretty much covered above, but I know a lot of people who simply stopped reading DC Comics in the New 52, or maybe only read Batman just because he's Batman. There was quite a bit of bad stuff in the New 52, but honestly there was some good story-telling (I was particularly fond of Jeff Lemire's run on Green Arrow and Gail Simone's run on Batgirl, among others), but something just felt like it was "missing." These weren't the characters I grew up with. With Rebirth, we're getting a return to those characters I read back in High School and College, but without negating the good parts of the New 52.

Is There Anything In Here You Can Use In Your Role-Playing Games?: Even if you're not playing a supers-themed game, there's a lot in here about multi-universes, time/space-shifting and that kind of crazy theoretical science-fiction stuff that can find a place in any type of game that involves those themes. Most fantasy-themed and some science-fiction games include the idea of other planes, etc. and the DC Universe Rebirth special explores the idea of what happens when certain parallel universes are able to exert an influence on other ones, perhaps combining them together without the other universes even realizing that they are changing. I can't say too much more about that without getting into spoiler territory.

Also, Geoff Johns is a master of characterization, and any GM can benefit from seeing how Johns creates characters, both heroes and villains, that are interesting, believable, and unique.

MAE
The first issue of this new fantasy comic by Dark Horse also came out a few weeks ago, and since Dark Horse is a bit of a smaller publisher it might be more difficult to find, but it's very much well worth it. If you can't find a print copy, just drop by the Dark Horse website and snag a digital copy.

Gene Ha does both writing and art-duties in this story, which was originally designed as a graphic novel but being adapted to a monthly series.
 
What Is It?: This is, for a short explanation, a twisted young adult fairy-tale, in kind of a like a weird interpretation of something like Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland. As in those stories, a young female character (Abbie) is whisked off to another fantasy realm. Unlike those stories, however, the main focus of this book is on what happens in "the real world" while that character is gone, particularly focusing on the character's sister, Mae.

Why I Chose It: The artwork in this is superb - Gene Ha's style is typically a bit more "realistic" but for this story he wisely chooses a slightly more exaggerated, almost cartoon-like look that's more appropriate to the story and the characters, but without sacrificing the level of detail for which he's known. The coloring is fantastic (trust me, it makes a huge difference having an excellent colorist) and the odd lettering style all match to make for, visually, a great looking book.

I also like that the main characters are both younger girls (teens) because, as the father of a young girl, I feel like there aren't enough stories featuring strong female characters. We're getting there - there are certainly more than there were when I was a kid, but more can be done.

Lastly, the story is just tons of fun, and I'm curious to see where it goes next. Ha injects a level of mystery and intrigue that's grabbed my attention, and it certainly will for you when you read it.

Is There Anything In Here You Can Use In Your Role-Playing Games?: There are tons of great fantasy creature designs in here, and the idea of twisting the familiar fantasy trope of a character who gets whisked to another world is turned-around here and that's a really interesting concept for a fantasy game - exploring the real world once that character returns (and maybe is followed by a few denizens of the fantasy world...). The characters are drawn in somewhat broad archetypes, but that makes them great patterns for PCs or NPCs for a role-playing game. Even after only one issue, I could easily see this being used as the source for a fun, younger-adult role-playing game scenario where characters move back-and-forth between the real world and a fantasy land, but play the same characters in each.

MOCKINGBIRD
This relatively recent comic from Marvel is currently on issue #3. It's intended to be a somewhat limited series (it won't be going on for 20+ issues), so depending on your style, you may want to wait until it's trade paperback format. In any event, it's a great story and shows off some fun things you can do in comics that you can't do in other media.

What Is It?: This is the story of Bobbi Morse, aka Mockingbird, a somewhat "street-level" type hero of the Marvel Universe who typically doesn't have any "powers" and fights just using her brain, her totally awesome martial-arts fighting skills, and sometimes with her staff.

If you're not familiar with the name Mockingbird, but Bobbi Morse sounds familiar, that's because her character is prominently featured in the TV Show "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." They never call her Mockingbird on the show, and she doesn't wear her familiar comics costume, but it's the same character.

The story in Mockingbird is built in a very interesting premise - in the comics, Bobbi has been exposed to a few different reactive "agents" including the Super Soldier Serum (what turned Steve Rogers into Captain America) and "The Infinity Formula," so she is required to visit the SHIELD medical labs once a week for testing and monitoring. The opening page of each issue is treated like a medical form, wherein a patient has to fill out a form for why they are at the SHIELD medical facility and includes little humorous, tongue-in-cheek notes from doctors, psychiatrists, friends, etc., which are all part of Bobbi's file. There is also a running gag about Bobbi having to get a "replacement medical beeper" which she is required to carry on her person, and Bobbi has to check-off boxes indicating why she needs a replacement beeper (she typically checks the "Other" box and then writes something snarky like "Hulk sat on it."). Mockingbird clearly shows her contempt for the medical tests and is at the SHIELD labs under duress. She'd rather be out kicking bad-guy butt.

Why I Chose It: This comic shows how comics can still be lots of fun and have a sense of humor but still have plenty of great action. In the very first issue, as an example, there's a splash-page spread of Bobbi sitting in the waiting room at the SHIELD medical labs, reading something while she waits to be called into the doctor. The scene looks pretty mundane until you really start to look at the characters. In the background is a nicely-dressed guy with dark here and a neatly trimmed mustache and beard.  He's reading a small pamphlet, and if you pay close attention to the title, you'll see it's about "Gonorrhea and you." Poor Tony Stark.

Once you notice that, you'll realize that the entire issue is pretty much full of little visual gags and easter eggs like that, and it makes it a blast to read, and re-read.

Also, this is one of the few comics that's written by a women author. I wrote about under Mae about why I sometimes go out of my way to find strong female characters as role-models for my daughter. But finding "real world" role-models is just as important, and I like being able to tell her, "This was written by a girl!"

Is There Anything In Here You Can Use In Your Role-Playing Games?: Absolutely - there's clearly something weird going on with Bobbi and the action drops you in media res - there's no explanation of why scenes move from one-to-another but not in chronologically linear fashion, and that style makes a great example for running a non-linear scenario. I wouldn't recommend it every time in a game, but once in a while dropping the players into an unfamiliar scenario and then having them play out "scenes" at various points in the past (or future) non-consecutively, can be a fun way to do a one-shot type game. Mockingbird is written very much in this style and follows a "show don't tell" type of mentality, so if that kind of thing bothers you and you want everything explained to you, this might not be the book for you.


Please drop me a comment below, or find me on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook (links to the right) and let me know your thoughts on any of the comics above, as well as what other comics you'd currently recommend. 

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Tap Water (but don't forget that it's Negroni Week!)
Listening: "Back in the Dayz" by the DJ Cam Quartet

Monday, March 7, 2016

Victorian-Era Mondays: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the COMIC)

Let's just get this out of the way right off the bat - if you enjoy the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film, that's great. But you should definitely read the source material. It's like watching the film version of The Watchmen but never having read the graphic novel.

However, if you strongly disliked the film (I fall into this camp), you should definitely read the comic. It's so different as to practically be a completely different story.

With that said, let's get onto looking at this work of graphic fiction as a source of inspiration for some Victorian-era influences in your games.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is set in Victorian London and brings together a disparate set of Victorian-era fictional characters into one cohesive story, led by Mina Murray (of Bram Stoker's Dracula). Unlike the film version, the American Tom Sawyer is nowhere to be found in the story.

Mina is hired by a gentleman named Campion Bond, a member of a British Intelligence agency to put together a team (described by author Alan Moore as "a Justice League of Victorian England") in order to stop a "gang war" (to put it mildly) between two major villains of Victoria-era fiction. This type of situation is one of the true bright spots of the series - major Victorian characters who never interacted in the fiction of the time are brought together into one very well-written story so that it seems completely natural that they would know each other. There are characters from Gothic fiction (Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) alongside characters from mysteries and crime fiction (such as Sherlock Holmes) and adventure fiction (King Solomon's Mines).

All of this fantastic story-telling is coupled with beautiful artwork by artist Kevin O'Neill, including some really neat pseudo-steampunk designs and period advertisements to really help convey a sense of the world in which the characters live. The artistic style of the character designs is perfect for the story, and O'Neill is a master at facial expressions, but also excels at background and architectural work.

As I mentioned before in my post on Gotham by Gaslight (another Victoria-era inspirational resource), one of the things I really enjoy about the Victorian-era for gaming purposes is that it combines some more "modern" inventions and things like travel and exploration alongside more "antiquated" ideas like superstition and globe-spanning empires. All of these types of ideas are used to full effect in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics.

There are actually several books in the series - Volume II involves many of the same main characters but brings in ideas of Victorian space exploration via inspiration from works by the likes of H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs (with an artistic sensibility not too dissimilar from the Space: 1889 game). The third volume of the series, entitled "Century" is actually three stories that take place in 1910, 1969, and 2009.  There's also a spin-off series, the Nemo Trilogy and a Black Dossier (which came out between Volume II and Volume III) that is more of a source book for the world of the League.

All of the volumes, but especially Volumes I, II and the Black Dossier, are fantastic, imagination-inspiring resources for a Victorian-type role-playing. There are tons of ideas for character backgrounds and personalities, equipment, architecture, and more to be found in these comics. On top of all that, they're great stories. Alan Moore is one of the masters of modern comic fiction and combined with the images of artist Kevin O'Neill, they create a world full of fun, adventure, and fantasy that can inspire any role-playing gamer. 


THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN
Format: Available in a variety of formats. The first two volumes have been collected in a 416 omnibus edition, but there's also a 176 page edition of just the first edition for about half the price.
Where To Buy: I am strongly in favor of buying comics at your local comics shop, if you have one. If you're not sure, visit the Comic Shop Locator, where you can enter your ZIP Code and see if there's a shop nearby. You can also of course order online at sources like Amazon. Lastly, if you're into digital comics instead of paper, here's a link to where you can download a copy at Comixology.
Price: Prices vary depending on the edition you get (e.g., the omnibus or just a single trade paperback). Currently, Volume I is available on Amazon for $11.68.
Rated: Comixology rates this as "Ages 15+ only" which is probably just about right. There are some real adult situations in here that could be confusing or inappropriate for younger readers. As always, my suggestion is that you read it first before deciding if it's appropriate for your kids.
More Information: It's a bit tough to find a "true" website for the series, because the publishers have changed over the years (Alan Moore has a bit of a bad history with DC Comics, who purchased the original publisher, Wildstorm Comics, and so he later moved it to another publisher, Top Shelf). Your best bet is probably just a Wiki type page, such as this one.


Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: A Scofflaw (with Orphan Barrel Rhetoric bourbon)
Listening: Happy-Go-Lucky Local (Live) by Duke Ellington

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