Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Klarkash-Ton Is Up in Your Canon



Just discovered today that S. T. Joshi has edited a collection of Clark Ashton Smith's stories and poems for PENGUIN FRICKIN' CLASSICS. What a great 45th birthday present! Say "hello" to my next ENGL 1119 "Literature of Fantasy" syllabus, Mr. Smith!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

[13th Age] Gnome Ranger Mim and Her Woolly Rhino Loth



Back when I played World of Warcraft, my character was a dwarf hunter—primarily because of my penchant for woodsy characters. I soon discovered the charms of pets, though, an enchantment that has reached the point of RPG evaluation criterion. (Seriously! I find myself judging games based on how easily they integrate pets among other companion NPCs.) Although my character had many pets, including a six-legged alligator named Crocostimpy, his favorite was the woolly white rhino he picked up from the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Said rhino was named Alexei (after Marvel Comic's Rhino), and his most charming feature was the nearly subsonic thundering sound made by his feet as he charged around Azeroth.

So I was thrilled to realize, while making a Ranger for a 13th Age game at my FLGS, that I could reskin the Boar Animal Companion as a Woolly Rhino. (All Animal Companions in 13th Age share the same base stats, being differentiated only by a single trait; this makes diversifying one's pet beyond the six book options extremely simple.) Because the only thing cooler than having a rhino as a pet is riding one's rhino pet, I opted to make my character a gnome. Here are the current stats for Mim the ranger and her rhino Loth:

MIM, GNOME RANGER

Level 4

STR 13 (+1), CON 15 (+2), DEX 18 (+4), INT 10 (+0), WIS 15 (+2), CHA 10 (+0)

AC 20 (22 vs. OA b/c Small), PD 17, MD 14

HP 72, Recoveries 10 @ 4d8+2 per recovery

One Unique Thing: I know what the North Wind is saying

Icon Relationships: Archmage +/–1, Dwarf King +1, Orc Lord –1

Backgrounds: Woolly rhino wrangler +4, Frost Range guide +4, Flunked out of illusionist school in Horizon +2

Racial Powers: Confounding, Minor Illusions, Small

Class Talents: Animal Companion x2 (woolly rhino), Lethal Hunter, Two-Weapon Mastery

Feats: Animal Companion x3 (rhino adds Escalation Die to attacks, rhino can attack 2x in a round 1x per day, rhino has +1 to PD and MD), Extra Backgrounding (increases to "Woolly rhino wrangler" and "Frost Range guide") Two-Weapon Mastery (adds level to miss damage)

Basic Melee Attack: +9 attack, 4d6+2 damage, 8 miss damage (2 hand axes)

Basic Ranged Attack: +8 attack, 4d6+4 damage, 4 miss damage (thrown hand axe)

LOTH, MIM'S WOOLLY RHINO

Level 3

AC 19, PD 18, MD 14

HP 45

Companion Power: +1 attack when Loth moves before attacking

Basic Melee Attack: +9 attack, 3d6 damage

Mim has had three Incremental Advances since she began play, adding both a feat and a talent as well as increasing her hit points. She also has a few magic items she's never really used in play (they're objects the other players/characters didn't want, and they don't fit Mim's theme); I didn't bother including them as a result.

I'm really happy with the combined effect of Mim's One Unique Thing and her Backgrounds: they give her the wintry effect I was after as well as defining how she differs from the stereotypical gnome. Finally, it's quite clear to me that animal companions are one area where 13th Age has it all over Dungeons & Dragons: the latter game's CR 1/4 limit on a Beastmaster Ranger's companion choices has really undermined what's cool about animal companions in what appears to be the name of game balance.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Book of Kirby



Over on Twitter, Copra creator Michel Fiffe announced a blog post describing his process producing Cobra #16 as one inspired by the King of Comics: "Kirby Is My Co-Pilot." His choice of phrase reminded me of the old saying "God is my co-pilot," and the above saying immediately popped into my head. Use this meme well, and use it wisely. But most of all, use it to celebrate Jack Kirby!

P. S. If you haven't read Fiffe's Copra (his love letter to Ostrander and Yale's Suicide Squad), now is a great time to start: Bergen Street Comics is about to release a TPB collecting the first six issues of the self-produced series. Pre-order the book; you won't be sorry you did!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Modrons Are Back . . .



. . . in the Fifth Edition Monster Manual, and this old Planescape hand is thrilled to hear it. I generally prefer the Fourth Edition cosmology to the traditional Great Wheel, but I will always have room in my heart for these little guys from Mechanus.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Diamonds Are Forever in Frank Miller's Daredevil


[Here's the last of my old comics blog essays on page layout, a piece on Frank Miller and Klaus Janson from 2 May 2012. Let me know if you'd like to see more layout analyses in this vein. Thanks!]

I've been rereading Frank Miller's run on Daredevil lately, and the following page from "Gang War!" (issue #172, July 1981) caught my eye:


Here Miller and inker Klaus Janson turn in a wonderful piece of fight choreography. The use of tiered panels gives them lots of room for their figural work (the entire issue has lots going on panel-wise; this fight is mostly done in horizontal tiers, setting up a spectacular shift on the page after this one, a page that replaces horizontals with verticals). And their figures are spectacular! The Z-patterns I've discussed previously on this blog show up here as well, but doubled (or possibly even tripled). The first Z occupies panels 1-2: Daredevil's left hook draws our eye through the first panel to the right (even as his right arm reverses this motion, tossing Bulleye's gun away to the left), while the elbow to Bullseye's back takes us down and left into the second panel (aided by motion lines and the deliberate crossing of the gutter by Daredevil's hands). The leftward force of Daredevil's attack focuses our attention on Bulleye's kick in the left half of the panel; that exchange of blows is also a second diagonal line down from panel 1, a line formed by the angles Daredevil occupies in both panels. A similar parallelism is taking place on the right side of the panels as Bullseye's elbow draws our attention down to his head shooting forward. That head jerk sends us to panel 3 (as does the heavy use of black shadow on the Daredevil figures in both panels' left halves).

Panel 3 continues the downward, leftward stroke of the Z-pattern. Once again, gutter crossings aid and abet our eyes here: Bullseye's knee gets us from panel 2 to panel 3, and the brick in his left hand in panel 4 connects back to panel 3 (assisted by the lines on his glove and boot). But the shift from panel 4 to panel 5 splits. The main stroke of the Z runs down and left into the rightward moving boot that Bullseye delivers to Daredevil's face–a kick that sets up the final, horizontal strike of the Z. At the same time, Bullseye's panel 4 brick attack sets up another diagonal path into panel 5, this time running down and right into another kick by the villain. Motion lines aid this transition, although they establish a bit of tension between the lines of the page layout and the diegetic action of the story—Bullseye's brick attack and second kick are both moving up and left even as our eye moves down and right.

Panel 6 looks like it's starting a new Z-pattern with panel 5 as the top horizontal stroke, and panel 6 as the beginning of the downward diagonal stroke. The motion of the figures in the panel might be a truncated bottom horizontal, but something else is going on here besides Z-patterns. Look at panels 2 and 5: both break the page's general rule of one action per panel. Panel 2 gives us two attacks, and so does panel 5. Moreover, both attacks aim at the center of the panel: the lefthand attack in each panel moves right while the righthand attack moves left.

There's also a mirror-effect going on here. Panels 1-3 depict Daredevil in charge of the encounter, while panels 4-6 give Bullseye an edge. Panel 2's double-figures are mirrored in an X-pattern with panel 5's double-figures: we see all of the combatants in the exchange on the left half of panel 2 and on the right half of panel 5, while the right half of panel 2 and the left half of panel 5 give us close-up shots of the action (even if the character getting struck differs in the two panels). The bricks on the right side of panel 3 are mirrored by the bricks on the right side of panel 6. Daredevil is on the left in both panels 1 and 4, Bulleye's on the right. Finally, in panels 3 and 6, Bullseye is positioned on top of Daredevil.

In fact, the more I look at the page, the more I see two vertically-stacked diamond patterns. The first diamond is panels 1-3; the second, panels 4-6. The Z-patterns help us move from panel to panel, but the diamond patterns anchor the entire page as a single instance of layout. Perfectly legible stuff, but awesomely intricate as well.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Line-Up for My Fall 2014 Comics Course



Here, in pictorial form, are the ten titles I'll be teaching this coming fall semester in ENGL 121, the comics and graphic narratives class I added to my university's literature curriculum. The books are spread out across the 76 years since Superman's first appearance in 1938. (That said, the 40% of the titles that were published in or after 2000 reflect the mainstream presses' discovery that comics could be critically and commercially successful.) Los Bros didn't make it on the syllabus this go-round, but I'm reading Love & Rockets and will probably be adding them when I teach the class for the third time.