Saturday, July 5, 2014

Zatannurday: Bloodspell

I finally got around to reading the new Zatanna/Black Canary graphic novel Bloodspell.  In short. No one writes Zatanna as well as Paul Dini.

Bloodspell was not what I expected it to be and that is a good thing.  I knew the idea behind bringing these two together was an off the cuff remark by Dini years ago about doing a Zatanna/Black Canary story that he was jokingly referred to as "Trouble in Fishnets".  But this was so much more than that.

The eponymous "Bloodspell" is only a plot device (though it is a good one, more later) to tell the real story.  The story about two very different kinds of women and their long friendship.

When we first see the characters in the book Zatanna is a 12 year old sorceress in training.  Nice cameos here by her father AND mother.  She meets 16 year old Dinah on the top of Mt. Everest.  Zatanna floated up, Dinah climbed. Both to prove they could do it.

We fast forward a number of years to Dinah/Black Canary foiling a heist while undercover. She defeats the baddie, but soon all the members of the heist start dropping dead. Canary takes her concerns to Zee and they discover that Canary is under a Blood curse.    I'll leave it at that since I don't want to spoil the reading.

Like I said though the Bloodspell takes a backseat to the real story. The friendship between Zee and Dinah.  We are treated to a number of "insider" jokes (Green Arrow not having a car anymore because Batman made fun of it) and cameos of Superman, Plasticman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman and of course Green Arrow and Zatara. Plus there are some great scenes too. Zee animating the Black Canary and Green Arrow action figures (all profits of the sales of official JL merchandise go to help the children hurt by super-villains), to Canary mentioning that "the Hawks speak very highly" of Zee (a nod to Zatanna's first appearance in the pages of Hawkman. To what is a good reason for Ollie not to bring expensive glass vases of flowers to Dinah's apartment.

We also get to see via flashbacks important milestones in the friendship of Zee and Dinah.  Zee's first trip to the Watchtower thanks to Dinah (featuring their older costumes) and Zee and Dinah (with Wonder Woman and Plastic Man) battling Granny Goodness and her Female Furies. Also with costumes appropriate to the publishing time.

No one gets Zatanna quite like Paul Dini. This in not the new 52 DC, this is classic DCU and Paul Dini has Zatanna's voice down so well he can make us really feel for her at these different points in her life. He can do powerful Zatanna, stage magician Zatanna and even starry eyed fan girl Zatanna on her first trip to the Watchtower.   Equally he shows us a great evolution of Black Canary from "Loud Mouthed Girl" to founding member of the Justice League.

But just like this is not just Zee's story, it is also not just Paul Dini's.  The illustrations from Joe Quinones bring this to life.  Teenage Zee and Dinah are adorable and quickly sets the stage for how different they are.  The short hair-perm of Zee on the Watchtower easily makes you think that this is still a very young hero.
Quinones has been showing off his work on his blog for a number of months, but one of the real treats with the book are all the sketches in back (with Dini's original script) that show how this project evolved under the creative talents of both men.

For those that are curious does Bloodspell pass the Bechdel Test? This is fair to ask since the book does feature two female leads.  Briefly the test of the media is:
1) Two named female characters
2) who talk to each other
3) about something other than a man.

Bloodspell is passed this test in the first few pages and then went on to pass it over and over again.  Zee and Black Canary are fully realized characters with names. Who spend pages talking to each other on every sort of topic to who gets the money from licensed products, to Zee's tiger, to whether or not stores should give them a bulk-discount on fishnets, to basically recalling years of friendship and kicking evil's ass.  The two main men in their lives are either dead (Zatara) or sidelined (Ollie Queen).  Important to them, but not to this story so much.
It also passes the Mako Mori Test, as both characters have arcs. Well Canaray's arc is more relevant to the story at hand.

Honestly there is nothing I didn't like about Bloodspell.  Black Canary was one of my first super-girl crushes and I have always loved Zatanna.  Paul Dini is a master at his craft and no one can do Zee better.  Quinones is also a master, but in a more subtle way that makes you check every panel to make sure you didn't miss something important.

The story has been described as feeling like it was taken out of the Justice League Unlimited series.  I can totally see that. It actually shares a number of similarities with the Batman the Animated Series episode "Zatanna".

I hope against hope that this is not the only chapter in the adventures of this Dynamic Duo. But it nearly took us 8 years for this one, I hope more won't be as long.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Skylla: Dragon Magazine #114

The first witch class that many people remember the best is the very good Dragon Mag #114 version.
It was the first one I remember seeing and using.  Chances are if you ran into someone playing a witch anytime after 1986 then they were using this class.  Interesting that it was designed as an NPC class.
It was another update to the venerable witch from Dragon Mags #5, #20 and #43.  While issue #43 had a great deal of information, Dragon #114 is known for the art. There was controversial cover and the use of Larry Elmore art as one of the witches.   It was this issue that set the desire in my mind to have Elmore art in one of my books one day.

Like issues #5 and #20, Skylla seems to be a good fit for this witch.  Like those witches the prime abilities for this witch are Intelligence and Wisdom.   Charisma is still important since it determines the witch's starting gold.
The amount of magical powers this witch gets is much less though.  Some the power don't really make a lot of sense, like a find familiar ability at 10th level.
Spells are more inline with the other spell casters.
Like most AD&D spell casters the witch starts out weak, but soon grows to be very powerful.  Maybe too powerful for some games to be honest.

Skylla from Dragon #114
Again I am making her 7th level.  If I had to name a Tradition for her it would absolutely be the High Secret Order Tradition.

Not exactly Skylla, but really close
Skylla, 7th Level Witch "Mystic" (Dragon #114)
Strength: 9
Dexterity: 11
Constitution: 10
Intelligence: 14* (bonus 2 1st level spells)
Wisdom: 13*
Charisma: 12

Hit Points:  20
Alignment: Neutral Evil
AC: 4 (Ring of Protection +1)

1st level: none
2nd level: none
3rd level: Brew poisons & narcotics
4th level: Brew truth drug
5th level: Brew love potion
6th level: Manufacture potions & scrolls
7th level: Candle magic

First: Charm Man I, Darkness, Detect Poison, Give Wounds, Light, Magic Disk, Sleep
Second: Detect Invisiblity, Locate Object, ESP
Third: Calm, Lightning bolt
Fourth: Levitate

Magic Items
Ring of Protection +1, Dagger +1, Staff of Enchantment, Skull of Death**

Of course I am pleased with this build but that is no surprise.   I played a "Dragon 114" witch till she was about 10th level and then rolled up a "Mayfair Witch", but that is a post for another day.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Interview / Round table Discussion at Aethercon

Here is a interview / round table discussion I did last month for AetherCon.

We spend a lot of time talking about Strange Brew but we talk for about an hour and half so we hit a lot of topics.

I really should have put a light on. It is kind of hard to see me.

So have a watch! Learn more about Strange Brew.

Ghosts of Albion: Carcosa

"Every good story begins with a death." - Amber Benson

So I have had this terrible, terrible idea.

I want to run a Ghosts of Albion adventure set in the Reconstruction-era South. I am going to borrow heavily from sources like "True Detective", "Salem" and of all things "Little House on the Prairie" (trust me here).

So the basic plot is that the characters leave their typical English environs for America at the behest of a friend.  A girl has been ritually murdered in an otherwise quiet, hard working American town.  Upon investigation they discover a wide ranging cult of some of the town's most powerful men and the ritual that will take them to place known as Carcosa.

Following in the footsteps of TD I am not sure yet if Carcosa will be a real place or not. It doesn't have to be. There is plenty horror here without the need of things beyond the stars.  But given that this is a Ghosts of Albion game there will be some supernatural elements.

If it works out half as nice as I think it will I could really run it under any Victorian system. From the stark hyper-realism of Victoria to magic in the shadows of Cthulhu by Gaslight to the steam/magic-punk world of Victoriana.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

White Dwarf Wednesdays? Sure!

Today is Wednesday.  That used to mean something around here at the Other Side.  I spent a nice long time reviewing White Dwarf from issue 1 to 100.

I missed doing something special each Wednesday to be honest.

Thanks to a kind benefactor I now have 25 issues of Games Workshop's precursor to White Dwarf, Owl and Weasel.

Owl and Weasel was launched in 1975 and was aimed at War-, board- and role-playing game enthusiasts.
Issue #6 is often considered their watershed issue where they devoted the entire issue to the new Dungeons & Dragons game.

The title was always a bit of mystery. Most people believe that it referred to the editors, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, themselves.   I personally have never heard a definitive answer, but that is fine. I like the name.

So sit back and over the next 25 weeks I am going to briefly go over these issues.  Not a review so much as a looking for topics that interest me and readers of this blog.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Summer Cleaning

So making some cosmetic changes here at the ole' Other Side.

I moved my Kickstarter applet lower on the screen so people can still see it, but make room for my social media buttons.

I also have a great summer themed banner from old friend from the Kitten Board, Willow Ehrenreich.
Yes that is Willow and Tara up there. Yes I think it's cool.  Here is her untouched copy.

I like symbolism to be honest. Tara under the tree, Willow on a rock.  Fits well with how I have been running these characters for the last 12 years.

Posting might be light this summer.  Working hard on Strange Brew and other projects.  But don't worry.  I am not going anywhere.  In fact I have something special in mind for tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Best of the Best

I am very pleased to have replaced my lost Best of The Dragon vol. 1.

As you see my Vol. II is a little worse for the wear.

I loved these growing up. Even though some of the articles were only a few years old when they got into these "Best of"s they seemed like some lost artifact of a bygone age.

Gygax's first details of what has come to be known as the Great Wheel cosmology was and still fascinating reading.  Sure I had already seen it a 1000 times in the Player's Handbook but here and in color no less was a rare treat.

The famous (or infamous) "How Green was my Mutant" was the article that got me interested in Gamma World more than anything else.

Here are also reprints of the first versions of the Illusionist and the Witch.  Not to mention a different version of the Bard class and the original version of the Ranger.

I am struck with the overall feel of the magazine. It reminds me what I loved the most about old-school gaming and gaming back in the day; the complete DIY feel of everything.   Granted there was a lot more undefined areas back then.

Still. I love reading this old stuff. I love my Dragon magazine CD-Rom set, but holding on to the actual old mags is really nice.