10 March 2017

Review: Batgirl, Vol. 1: Batgirl of Burnside

I am not the target demographic for this story. Not in the least.  I'm old, fat, 47, and married with 5 children. On the flip side, I am a big geek and love my super hero stories; plus, the graphic novel club I'm in chose this for our D.C. selection for the month, so here we are.

First of, I know I should look at a volume in s series as part of a whole, but I still expect my stories in a collection to be fairly well-contained. The main plot of this story is self-contained, but there references to the previous run of Batgirl as well as Birds of Prey. so, going in, I'm a little lost. Where does this fit into main continuity? Is it pre-Killing Joke, post Killing Joke? If post, how is BabswalkingwhatthehellisthistensionwithDinahwhostheoldroommateandthenewonewhatsgoingonwhycantanyonehelpme?!!!!!! So, a minor quibble, as most of these are answered eventually.

Second, the resolution of the main plot is a bit of a cliche' or trope. Spoiler-free! Now, as the plot unfolded, I did not see the particular end coming until the Big Reveal and then I groaned. Of course, I'm as old as dirt, so maybe I read too much into the reuse. In some ways, it was a bit fresh and it's more akin to something from Star Trek than comics...although I have seen this same idea in comics as well.

The art is awesome! There are nice reveals and the color palette is wonderful. It's a hard rule, but most of the brightly-colored scenes take place in the day as Babs and most of the dark-shaded ones take place at night with Batgirl. Again, not a hard rules, but generally followed. Oh, and the "Sherlock" detection scene at the beginning is extremely well done.

Costume. Very nicely done! In some way elements of it harken back to Yvonne Craig's 1966 costume such as the palette and the bright yellow belt pouches. The yellow combat boots are a wonderful change from high-heel boots of any color. And the cover for the volume is simply adorable!

Friends & Allies. Diversity. It's a thing. It has always been a thing in the U. S. of A., culture was just completely whitewashed in the 1950s and early 60s. Her relationship with Dinah is complex...I'm a big Green Arrow/Black Canary fan since the Grell run, and I cannot see Dinah leaving Babs in the lurch like she does (bridge scene). Also, where they channeling Josey and the Pussycats or Dazzler for Dinah's arc?

Antagonists. We did not see the Bat Family Galley of Supervillains. Thank you, D.C. and Cameron Stewart! Sequins and bedazzler on the loose, too.

Burnside. Burnside is a borough of Gotham. As one of my friends described it, it's "gentrified." Hipsters and young 20-somethings. Very cliched, but not the same gritty dirty feel as Gotham "proper," or at least what we expect Gotham to be ("The audience knows what to expect, and that is all they are prepared to know."). But, from what we see of it, it feels like a place where hipsters and college students would hang out.

Social Media. Was it to excess? No. Social media is the world- and reality-filter that those 23 and below live in, by and large. It's well done. We live in an age where we carry mini-computers around with us, the power of the Interwebz in the palm of my hand. It's nice to see it used correctly and better and the tony Stark MySpace reference in the first Iron Man movie.

Overall. As i said at the beginning, I am not the target demo. The target demo is a 16-23 y.o. young lady with a touch of geek and hipster who wants to be Babs. That's the nature of comics; they are power fantasies that people can relate to and there's nothing with that. Women have been sorely mis- and underrepresented in the Super Worlds, and that is slowly starting to change (thank you!). 

Because of some of the flaws I mentioned above, I would normally give this 3-3.5 stars. However, it does reach its target demographic and speaks to them more than it does to me, so it gets a bump to 4 stars.

05 December 2016

Fantasy Monday: OD&D Single Volume Read-Through, Pt. 3

Well, here we are again, gentle readers. Pts. 1 & 2 are here and here. Today, we're looking at Section 5: Encounters & Combat!

The section starts off with movement and reemphasizes the 120' per turn for an unarmored man and also the fact that chase scenes double the speed, but mapping is not allowed. Monsters reactions are next, and each monster is likely to be aggressive, neutral, or friendly, all things being equal.
Dungeon Encounters are next and there is a 1-in-6 chance every turn (or 10 minutes) of a wandering monster encounter. So, there should be at least one per hour; that's pretty steep! Distance of the encounter is 20-80 feet, unless surprise (2-in-6 chance) occurs, then distance is 10-30 feet. A chase sequence mechanic is laid out which seems like it would work well in practice and be easy to adjudicate. It is interesting to note that animals are more likely to stop pursuing for food, and monsters are more likely to stop for treasure; the two are inversely proportional.

Wilderness Encounters are similar, but encounter distances are greater: 40-240 yards normally, 10-30 yards for surprise. Wandering monster checks are only made at the end of the day, however; apparently the Wilderness is more desolate than the Dungeon! Staying in one place is bad, however; for each full day of rest in the Wilderness, two wandering monster checks are performed. Evading in the Wilderness is a little more complex and is "a function of the size of the party of adventurers and the number of monsters, modified by surprise, terrain and comparative speed," (pg. 32).

And now the meat of the Section: (MORTAL) COMBAT! The combat sequence is fairly simple and composed of 8 steps:

Combat Sequence
  1. Determine Surprise.
  2. Roll Initiative.
  3. Winning side acts first. Referee may determine monster action and morale.
  4. Movements can be made.
  5. Missile attacks/spells cast if applicable.
  6. Melee attacks occur, damage rolled.
  7. Losing follows steps 4-6 and round ends.
  8. Next round begins at step 2.
Surprise is determined by rolling d6 with a 1 or 2 indicating that the party is surprised. The distance is determined (10-30"); if the distance is 10" the non-surprised group will attack; otherwise, they get a free move action to either close, flee, or cast a spell. And then there's the best "eff-you!" rule in OD&D, or any version of D&&D for that matter: "There is a 25% chance that any character surprised by a monster will drop some item." Oops.

Once surprise is determined and acted upon, Initiative is rolled and modified upwards by 1 for high DX or lowered by 1 for low DX (the penalty, but not the bonus, is optional); highest roll on d6 goes first. Simple enough.

Then combat ensues: Movement, Missiles/Spells, Melee by the initiative winner, and then that sequence is followed by the losing side (if any remain able to resist). Initiative is rolled again, and the cycle repeats. Isn't this way simpler than AD&D, even using DM Prata's ADDICT article

Some interesting notes: first, AC maxes out at two. Thus, magical armor's bonus adds to the target number to hit, and the plus of a magic weapon adds to the roll. Missile fire is a little different, and medium range adds 1 to the target's AC and long range adds 2. All weapons do 1-6 points of damage. 

Unarmed combat is a single paragraph; each combatant rolls a number dice equal to level/hit dice and the highest number wins the grapple. Attackers pins the victim if he wins, and the if the victim wins, the attacker is thrown off and "stunned for a number of turns equal to the difference between the scores," (pg. 33). (A tie indicates that they're both still up and struggling; try again next round).

Saving throws are next, and there are no surprises here. Of note is the fact that the magic items only need to make a saving throw if they are unattended or the bearer is dead (exception -- helmets). Next follows two sections on aerial and naval combat which are pretty useful and well-written. 

All-all-all, the section is short and to the point. It really doesn't get any easier than this. The only complicated (if one can call it that) parts are the sections on aerial and naval combat, but those are both special situations where a more in-depth look is appreciated.

And that's all for now, Next time, we'll pick up Monsters & Treasures!

28 November 2016

Fantasy Monday: OD&D Single Volume Read-Through, Pt. 2

     Well, in an attempt to continue coverage of Greyharp's single volume compilation of the Original Dungeons & Dragons LBBs that I began here. Today, I'll cover "Spells & Magic" and "Adventuring Rules." Let's get to it, then!

Section 3: Spells and Magic

     Spell-casting and memorization seems similar enough to later editions. There is the clarification that more than one of any given spell can be memorized and/or cast from a scroll per day. I remember arguing with a DM back in my early B/X days that that's how it was, but he said if I wanted a second magic missile, then I would have to learn it a second time when leveling. Lame.
     Spell books are next with the charming notation that each level of spells requires its own book! Ouch! And to replace or copy cost 2,000 g.p./level...that's a 2,000 g.p. investment given by the master to his apprentice!
     Apparently only clerics have reversible spells. Interesting. This also seems to be a function of alignment (i.e., Lawful clerics can cast Finger of Death, but they better have a darn good reason!).
     Spell research is merely a function of money and time; each period of research costs the base for the level (2,000 g.p. per) and gives a 20% chance of success. Fairly simple. Creating magic items is the same, but can only be done by Wizards (8th level and above). Pay 2,000 g.p. and spend two months and you too can enchant armor to +1! Of course, the wizard won't be doing anything else and I'm sure he has his own things to do, so....explains why items are worth more than it costs to make them.

     On a side note, there are no rules for clerics making scrolls. A quick glance forward to the magic item section produces this line: "All scrolls are spells for Magic-Users, and regardless of the level of the spell they can be used by any Magic-User capable of reading them." Oops. However, the Type of Scroll chart has the notation: "*There is a 25% chance that any scroll of spells found will contain those usable by clerics." So it makes sense that clerics can produce scrolls in a manner similar to magic-users. Potions are another thing, and they should stay firmly in the hands of Wizards.
     Next we have the Spell Lists. Few surprises here. All fairly basic. No magic missile, making sleep the combat spell du jour. Cleric lists are the same: familiar with some little differences; bless is 2nd level, which is a little different. There is a typo here in that the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd level lists for clerics are marked 4th, 5th, and 6th, but that's minor. (On a side note, this also means that the group in Doctor Demento's "I'm Always the First to Die" are playing B/X because the magic-user learns "the two standard spells, magic missile  and light.")
     Going through the Spell explanation section, little stands out. 
     Charm Person notes that the spells works on "two-legged, generally mammalian figures near to or less than man-size." Lizardmen are out, then? 
     Contact Higher Plane is interesting as the planar cosmology has yet to be defined; there are 10 higher planes rated from the 3rd to the 13th with a greater number of questions and accuracy the higher one goes, but with an increased chance of caster insanity as well. Unlike the AD&D version which caps out a 50% chance of insanity, OD&D takes it up to a 95% chance at the highest level of veracity!
     That's all that really stands out, other than the dimensions of spells being given entirely in map inches (walls, for example).

Section 4: Adventuring Rules

     This section starts off with time and movement. No surprises here: 10 minute turns, with two movements allowed per turn. It is interesting to note that unarmored hobbits have the same movement rate, 12", as unarmored men. Then we come to our old friend: encumbrance. 
     First of, every character has the same encumbrance profile: 750/1000/1500, based on "coin weight" (i.e., 10 coins weight 1 lb.) and conforming to light, heavy, and armored foot movement of 12"/9"/6". No adjustments for size, race, sex, or strength. So, in a way, more simple. Realistic? Well, this is a game not a strict simulation, so it's probably OK as it stands. Encumbrance is still one of those things I eyeball--that is, until the players are saying they're carrying a kitchen sink list.

     Resting is required, 1 turn/hour, although no penalties are mentioned for not doing so. "Light and Darkness" has the interesting note of "Monsters are assumed to have permanent infravision as long as they are not serving some character." So, the orc henchman you pick up loses his infravision for hanging out with a "hoomie?" Tough break, there. On doors, even dwarfs get a better "hear noise" roll than humans (1-2, same as elves and hobbits)! "Traps are usually sprung by a roll or a 1 or a 2 when any character passes over or by them." Good to know. And falling is the familiar 1d6 per 10 feet but without an upper limit. Oh joy!
     The Wilderness section (only about a half-page of material) gives some basic rules and charts for movement on the hex map and chance of becoming lost. Each hex is 5 miles across and a man can cross 3 hexes a day in normal terrain, a man on a light horse 10, for example.
     The section continues with guidelines for hiring retainers, mercenaries, and specialists. Hirelings are more akin to what AD&D calls henchmen, and it is a more expensive and demanding process than getting mercenaries because the player-character is essentially hiring a low-level PC class type. The rules do note the possibility of using charm spells or enticements on Men encountered in dungeons (as they are then considered "monsters"). This seems to be the only way to entice high-level class-types into service.

     Normal hirelings are simpler to hire and require the posting of notices and expense from 100-600 gold pieces. Availability and success is up to the DM. Specialists are "rare" and cover the range from armorer to spy. An interesting note on orcs explains their prevalence among the armies of Chaos: "Chaotic characters may wish to employ Orcs; Orc support and upkeep is only half that of a man." It's a bargain! Well, that and you have do the pesky Chaos thing, but hey, Warduke and Death Dealer for the win, am I right?

     This section ends off with rules for awarding experience. Familiar ground once again. Experience is awarded for monsters defeated and treasure gained. Only one level can be gained per award, and the example given places the character 1 point shy of 3rd level. An interesting part of the passage is as follows:

Gains in experience points will be relative; thus an 8th level Magic-User operating on the 5th dungeon level would be awarded 5/8 experience. Let us assume he gains 7,000 Gold Pieces by defeating a Troll (which is a 7th level monster, as it has over 6 Hit Dice). Had the monster been only a 5th level one experience would be awarded on a 5/8 basis as already stated, but as the monster guarding the treasure was a 7th level one experience would be awarded on a 7/8 basis thus; 7,000 G.P. + 700 for killing the Troll = 7,700 divided by 8 = 962.5 x 7 = 6,037.5. (pg. 30).

Well, that takes care of monster levels versus player levels very simply. Of course, unfortunately for those 1st levels that manage to take out a 4 HD Ogre or even a 6 HD Minotaur, the reverse is not true. "Experience points are never awarded above a 1 for 1 basis, so even if a character defeats a higher level monster he will not receive experience points above the total of treasure combined with the monster's kill value." Oh well.
   That's all for this time, mi amigos. Tune in next time when I go over "Encounters and Combat." Adios! Or, in other words, scram! :)