Saturday, February 21, 2015

Psionics, Not Mind Magic

Psionics entered RPGs with Eldritch Wizardy, a supplement for the original Dungeons and Dragons game published in 1976.  Psionic powers were available to all character classes; there was no distinct psionicist class.  That class would not arrive until the 2nd edition Complete Psionics Handbook in 1991.  As originally presented psionic powers were a randomly rolled benefit, not easily obtained, and gave player characters one or more (though never very many) powers, not unlike low level super heroic powers (such as the ability to grow in height or climb walls), but acting as at-will micro-spells powered by psionic strength points.  This added a new dimension to characters and was not all that disruptive really.  It was the release of the aforementioned Complete Psionics Handbook that introduced a class devoted to psionic powers.
This was a very different type of class with a mixed bag of features that did not meld easily into the standard fantasy teams we'd come to expect.  From personal experience I can say that with the exception of my original gaming group the groups I played with did not like psionics and often would not allow them.  I suspect this had to do with personal prejudice, as I often heard people say they just didn't like it, didn't feel it fit a fantasy setting, or that is was imbalanced.  To some extent I can understand.  In every edition the psionics rules came out after the core had been published and was being played, sometimes several years after the fact.  This had the effect of shoehorning in the psionics rules and that can lead to imbalance if not handled properly.  I never noticed any imbalance personally.

3.X psionics even seemed to be just another form of magic, albeit using power points instead of "spells per day".  So if a 3.X sorcerer can cast any spell he knows, vice spells memorized, up to his allotment per day, how is a character than does the same thing but uses power points imbalanced?  If a cleric or paladin or bard can swing a weapon and wear armor while casting spells how is a psychic warrior imbalanced?
Short answer: They aren't.  It is personal prejudice.
There are spells a wizard or sorcerer can learn, depending on the edition, called ESP and telekinesis.  Indeed many spells exist that seem to mimic psionic powers, so what's the big deal?
To me the big deal is that psionics and magic should not simply be the same thing only different.  They should fundamentally work differently.
Psionics come from within.  Not like a sorcerer that is born magical with spells running in the blood, but from the mind itself.  The ability to move objects with the mind should not be the same as a spell that pushes an object.  Classic fictional psionics always seems to involve the continued application of the will, not a fire and forget magic spell.  Magic bends, twists and sometimes outright breaks the laws of physics and reality itself.  Psionics is more subtle in that respect.  As an example, let's look at the classic Fireball of magic.

Fireball is a spell that summons a ball of fire from nothing, that burns seemingly without the need for fuel, and then allows the mage to launch said ball at his target(s) whereupon it explodes on impact, doing damage and setting flammables alight.  One way to express this is to say that the mage, upon casting the spell, rips open a hole in the Prime Material Plane and pulls forth a bit of fire from the Elemental Plane of Fire.  This is pure fire.  This is Platonic Fire.  The mage then sends this ball of elementally pure fire toward his intended target(s) where it explodes, unlike normal fire, and then any remaining burning is normal fire.  That's magic.  That save for half damage represents the targets getting the hell out of the way as much as possible, not the targets being somehow immune to burning.  We can assume the remaining unsaved damage is heat, burning, ignition of flammable objects and shrapnel from the explosion.

For the psionic equivalent we have pyrokinesis (like in Firestarter), but what is pyrokinesis?  It is the ability to start fires with the power of the mind.  Can we do better?  Indeed.  Pyrokinesis is a specialized form of telekinesis wherein the pyrokinetic agitates the molecules of a target object causing them to generate intense heat (motion equals heat in an exothermic process) and that heat causes flammable objects to burst into flame.  Not at all like a fireball, really.  Can't be thrown, does not explode on contact, requires the object be able to burn, etc.  Unlike Fireball, which is a spell unto itself, pyrokinesis is a variation of telekinesis.  If you can do the one you should be able, with practice, to do the other.  Can the pyrokinetic use their ability to create explosions?  Sure, if the conditions are correct, but it is not part of the basic act itself.

This simple comparison illustrates the key difference between magic and psionics.  Psionics is not simply magic of the mind.  It is a fundamentally different concept.  It deserves its own rules and classes.  Think of spells as formula for a specific outcome.  For the most part these are rigidly defined outcomes.  The spell for levitation causes the target to defy gravity and float.  The spell should provide guidelines for how much weight can be levitated, for how long and at what velocity.  Can a mage use levitation to throw a target across the room?  Maybe, depending on the GM, the game system, and the creativity of all involved.  If a levitation spell specifically states that the movement rate is very slow then no, the mage cannot throw anyone with it.  He might be able to crush someone against a ceiling, however.
Even the Wookiepedia calls this "telekinesis"

Ideally, psionics works much differently.  The telekinetic does not have a list of spells, that is formula designed to produce a specific reality warping outcome.  Instead he has a power with a general description: allows the user to move physical objects with the force of the mind.  From there it is all about application of power and creativity.  Ideally we are looking at power, expressed in psionic strength, and skill, expressed as the psionicist's ability to manipulate his power.  I point you to the Jedi for a moment.  Is the ability to choke someone to death with the Force really a separate power or is it the application of the Jedi's (Sith in this case) knowledge of the Force.  That is to say that if you have the ability to manipulate the physical world with the power of your mind and will such that you can move objects, is it not an extension of this to crush the windpipe of a target?  Obviously it is and that is how it should be treated, although games disagree with how to do it.  Primarily I believe this is because games need to provide a structured rewards system (e.g. leveling).
Darryl Revok is about to have a very bad day
Remember the movie Scanners?
Remember the part about 15 minutes in where Revok (played by Michael Ironside) makes that dude's head EXPLODE?  Okay, keep that scene in your head, because that is psionics in action.  Revok closes his eyes, grits his teeth, starts sort of moving his head like he's imagining the outcome, there is shaking, the other guy starts to freak out, clearly in pain, and then...KABLOOIE...head explodes.  Now in the film scanners are telepaths only, but by connecting with the mind of another they can influence their nervous systems, sometimes in dramatic ways, such as the head exploding thing.  In the climactic final battle skin burns, eyes go white, veins bulge; it's almost telekinetic except that it all comes from within the target using their own nervous system.  The key thing to get from this is that it takes effort, the force of willpower, and it can be resisted, as with Revok and Vale's final battle.  Each is using their will like boxers use their muscles, straining, fighting, looking for openings in the other's defenses or forcing openings with their own strength and skill.  This is quite different from magic where the mage says the words, maybe pays the mana cost, and shit just happens per expectation and formula.

In game terms we could view this as follows:
You have a mage that wishes to get past a monster.  He looks at his available spells and decides to charm the monster to use it to aid him.  The mage considers his options.  His low level charm person spell will not work on the monster as it is not a person.  He must cast his higher level charm monster spell.  A spell like that requires more power and knowledge, which means a higher level spell.  A neophyte (that is, 1st level) mage simply does not have the power or knowledge to do it, represented by not having access to the more complicated magical formula that is charm monster.  If the game uses a mana system (power points) the spell will most assuredly cost more mana to cast than the simpler spell.  He says the words, uses whatever gestures and/or components are required and viola, instant pet.  That's magic in action.
The psionicist should, properly, have an ability to telepathically dominate targets.  A monster is tougher than a person, having an alien mind, so the psionicist must concentrate, focus his will and pour on the power points.  Ideally the system will let the psionicist keep adding power points in a battle of wills until the monster is under his command.  He can break off the attempt, saving his points, if he feels it is not going to work.  That's psionics in action.
At least that is how it should be.
Ultimately the balance is found when we see that mages are more powerful in the end game.  All the messing about with components and wands and such gives the mage a power advantage.  He violates reality with his magic.  Psionicists tend to be less powerful in that extreme but more versatile.  Not requiring magic circles, wands, or bits of freshly killed chickens means that the psionicist has all his abilities with him at all times, but is limited in their absolute power.  He has to be creative with it.  Mages throw magic missiles but not psionicists.  Psionicists disrupt neural pathways, or perhaps shoot bio-electricity.  It should not just be Mind Magic.  Think of it as internal versus external.  Magic calls on spirits, extraplanar entities, effects the physical world through the application of formulaic (or inborn for some types) power, but always it involves the world without.  Psionics comes from within and mostly works within.  Even the reshaping of physical objects or pushing them around is about extension of the mind's energy to interact with the very molecules, perhaps even the very atoms in the truly gifted, of the world.
There are MANY things wrong with 3rd edition DnD, but this is not one of them.
Mages that specialize in mind magic seem to cross the line into psionics, and while they have appeal, I like to keep them separate.  Of course there is nothing that says that a psionically empowered character would not be called a wizard in the right circumstances.  This is fiction, after all, and the author/creator can do what he or she pleases.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Thinking Like A Magic User

If you have it in your head to play an old school Magic User (M-U), sometimes called a Wizard (but technically not until level 9, "name level"), you have to first think like an M-U.  This can be a bit tough for players accustomed to the newer systems that molly coddle the PCs and for players that have gained most of their gaming experience via MMOs and consoles.  An M-U is, as the name outright declares, a user of magic.  Magic is a powerful force that can tip the balance of the game subtly in the favor of the user or wildly off the plane.  Good DMs know how to keep the semblance of an even keel while the churning seas of PC skulduggery make the game waters treacherous for any and all who venture forth upon them.  Poor or inexperienced DMs quickly find themselves awash in the waves and coming up on the lee shore of a tortured and extended metaphor.

In order to survive and thrive in an old school gaming scenario as a member of the Magic-User set you, the player, need to understand the game, the DM, and most importantly how to think like the class that is supposed to be the smartest person in the room.  You need to think like a magic-user.
NOT this guy...
1. You are not Gandalf...and you are never going to be.  I know the problem because I've had to face it myself.  You've been sitting around watching another marathon of the Lord of the Rings on TNT, or maybe the Hobbit trilogy on HBO and you start thinking that old Gandalf was pretty cool.  You start thinking that you too would like to be a wizard and since you have a new campaign coming up you might as well roll one up.  The problem with this line of thought is that while Gandalf is a pretty cool example of a wizard, you are not going to be a Maiar.  You are not going to be, essentially, an angelic being in a humanoid form.  You are not going to be a servant of the secret fire nor a wielder of the flame of Anor.  And you will not have a magic sword.  Even if you are allowed to wield a magic sword you probably should not given your lack of hit points, armor, and general fighting skills.  If you manage to survive to level 9 you will get some pretty bitchin' spells however.  Spells that you never saw old Gandalf use.  So at least there is that.
...this guy.
2. You are really more like Willow Ufgood.  That might come as a shock and maybe a disappointment to you, but it's not all bad.  You are going to start your career with a cumbersome spell book holding a few spells that might seem unimpressive and you are only going to be able to memorize and cast one or two for quite some time.  That's the bad news.  Now the good news.  90% of all the magic items your party finds are yours.  You are the only one that can use them and you can do so quite freely.  Find a scroll?  That's yours; use it as you like.  Find a wand?  That's yours too.  Wands are like guns for M-Us.  Why memorize 1 magic missile when you can find a wand full of them and start firing it off like you are in a John Woo film?  Remember Willow's magic acorns that turned things to stone?  Or recall how he could use Cherlindrea's wand to eventually turn Fin Raziel back into a human.  That's you.  Not Fin Raziel.  Willow.

3. Avoid combat as much as possible.  This is really a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how many new M-Us screw this one up.  On a good day an M-U starts with 7 Hit Points, depending on the edition you are playing.  That's a very healthy Magic-User.  He's really not going to own a weapon capable of doing more than 1d6 points of damage and he's not going to increase in attack power very quickly.  In fact it is going to be dreadfully slow progression as the only old school class that needs more XP to advance than the M-U is the Elf.  Magic-Users do not wear armor.  Period.  You might find some magic bracers or a cloak to help your AC a bit, but you are always going to be the easy target.  Try your best to stay out of harm's way.  Missile weapons are your friend, and don't engage a target that can easily engage you.  Fighter types LOVE to fight.  That's what they live for.  Don't deny them their simple joys of smashing things with melee weapons.  It is true that as you level you gain more Hit Points, but at 1d4 per level (plus Con bonus) you are most likely going to be quickly outpaced in damage absorption by everyone except the thief (again depending on edition) and since thieves traditionally level faster than any other class, even that character is going to leave you behind in this respect.  I am not advocating cowardice, just common sense.  The dice care nothing for your PC halo and as such all it takes is a few bad rolls to snatch a total party kill from the jaws of victory.  Just because you CAN fight, does not mean you SHOULD fight.
You call it cowardice, I call it tactics.

4. Be creatively tactical.  Or tactically creative.  An old school player, especially an experienced old schooler, tends to combine tactical actions with creative problem solving.  Indeed such is one of the joys of the game.  More than just rolling some dice and killing some monsters the older style of game is about solving problems.  As such adventuring gear tends to be full of extremely useful mundane items that can be used in a variety of ways.  Spikes can be used to hold doors open or closed.  Oil fills lanterns and makes a nice incendiary device when the time comes.  A piece of chalk is extremely useful for marking dungeon walls to keep from getting lost and for drawing a protective circle when dealing with evil monsters and a half dozen pieces of hardtack inside of a small sack makes an excellent makeshift sap or blackjack in a pinch.  While all players should be thinking in this manner the M-U needs to be in this mode even more so, since magic spells are precious things and limited in number daily and most weapons are forbidden.  A carefully laid trap before the action is worth a hundred blows from a sword once melee begins. This is not a video game.  You are not locked into a pre-determined set of actions limited by programming.  You don't have to look for the highlighted items on the wall or ground that you can use.  Pay attention to your surroundings and use them to your advantage.
The most massively useful piece of adventuring gear of all time.  50 foot of hemp rope.  You can use it to climb, to tie up prisoners, you can soak a bit of it in lamp oil as a wick or a fuse, you can take two lengths of it and splice them together to make a longer rope, you can feed it to a goat, and if you are really desperate you can put it into your pipe and smoke it.
We start here, I'm afraid.
5. Use the party, support the party.  No PC goes it alone, or rather they should not go it alone.  Thinking like a Magic-User means thinking in terms of the party as a whole.  The Fighter is your armor and shield.  The Cleric is your life saving emergency first responder.  The thief is a kindred spirit (lacking much in the way of combat abilities and relying on skill) who will likely avoid direct combat and look for a smart solution to the problem.  Keeping these guys alive is part of your job for should they fall you will be a robe...and quickly overwhelmed.  Not only that, but the party works together, practically lives together, for extended unbroken periods of time (and these other players are supposed to be your friends) so it becomes like a little family unit.  The Fighter may be like your annoying cousin, but he's still family.  Don't rush ahead of the group trying to grab personal glory, but, if you can, subtly take over the group leadership using that vaunted Magic-User intelligence.  Be the brains of the operation; that's what you are supposed to be in the first place.  If you have to make a choice for a spell to memorize and your choices are between one that selfishly aids only you/gives you one measly kill or a spell that can benefit your whole group, choose the latter.  Keeping your friends alive will keep you alive and give you a better chance at some loot with the possibility of magical items and scrolls for more spells.  If all the enemy monsters are tied up fighting your more combat oriented friends, be useful.  A blow from your staff can tip the balance for a friend or work with the thief to set up a one-two punch.  And finally...
Ideally this is where we end up.

6. Know your magic.  I can't stress this one enough.  Your spells, scrolls, wands, and various other items are not just a bunch of bonuses you stack on your d20 roll.  These are what the Magic User is all about.  This is the Magic that you Use.  Get to know it and know it well.  There are the obvious reasons why you should know your magic, such as not launching a fireball into a small space where you and your companions will be caught in the blast, and those are good reasons, but there are the less immediately obvious reasons as well.  Some spells have uses that are not immediately obvious, and this holds true for items as well, but if you carefully read the descriptions you can find the uses.  Sometimes a simple, first level spell, like light or hold portal can have tactical combat applications and never underestimate the value of protection from evil, which literally prevents magically enchanted creatures from touching (melee) the caster.  A Magic-User's life is about knowledge, the gaining of it and using of it, there is no excuse for not knowing your magic.
What is this wizard doing wrong?  He should be polymorphing that monster into something really easy to kill, like a bunny rabbit.  Know your MAGIC, people.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What is she looking at?

This is what happens when you let alien bounty hunters come to your house.
I mean bounty hunters who are aliens and also hunt aliens.  Not just one or the other.
I think she was trying to bag Bigfoot.  Who is an alien visitor.  From South America.

I don't always fight crime...

but when I do, I do so dressed as a robot alien Jack O' Lantern.

Marvel's Darth Vader #1

Okay, it's February and that means Darth Vader #1 hit the comic store shelves and because I like sticking my tongue into the ulcerous open canker that is modern Star Wars media I just had to read it.
I swear it looks like he's about to just drop his lightsaber and be all, "Peace out, bitches."

So what can I say about it, in brief?
It was not bad.  In fact it was much better than Marvel Star Wars 001 & 002, with which its story is tied as it is part of the ongoing story line between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.

The story sees Vader dealing with the fallout from the Rebel attack against Cymoon 1 that destroyed a major munitions production facility costing the Empire both time and money.  Required to redeem himself in the eyes of his evil master, Darth Vader travels to Tatooine to "negotiate" with Jabba the Hutt for the raw materials since the Hutt won't send an emissary into the galactic core.  We see some preliminary fun and games with Vader tuning up Jabba's minions and having a face to face with the big slug himself.  Vader ends his negotiations by showing Jabba the power of the Dark Side with a Force choke.  Jabba wisely capitulates and we are then taken to a day earlier where Vader obligingly links his own comic to the ongoing main Star Wars comic by recounting the events of SW 001 and 002 in brief.  It is from this that we learn he's on a punitive mission to appease his master.  We also glimpse a mysterious character that is working for the Emperor who seems human but for his right eye and surrounding tissue, which seems to be Rodian (Greedo's race).  Oh and the Emperor insults our boy DV by telling him he is useful only as a blunt instrument of Imperial force and shackles him to Admiral Tagge who is given Imperial Primacy after the loss of G.M. Tarkin.
We then head back to Tatooine a day later to see Vader discussing business with what looks to be Boba Fett (you never know in these comics, but all evidence says it is) and a psycho Wookie bounty hunter.  Vader hires them to find the X-Wing pilot that left Tatooine aboard the Millenium Falcon and to find the mysterious agent for the Emperor and to bring them to DV alive.  Aha.
The last page shows us an annoyed Vader saying he is ready to leave "this planet" and that his business there is concluded showing us the bodies of dead Sandpeople and their burning huts.

So that's the story, how was it?

Well the art was solid.  I have liked Darth Vader since I was a wee tyke and I like seeing him in art, especially good art, which the comic has.  Unlike the SW 001 and 002, this story is more personal and less insane.  Vader is fairly active in it, fighting Jabba's minions in the first third, and honestly that is only in the book for fan service.  Fans, especially Vader fans, want to see Vader kick ass.  Despite the fact that in the films Vader is more a threat than an active combatant, all Vader fans want to see him kicking ass.  I've seen it executed better in issues of Dark Horse's Empire comic, but I've seen it executed far worse as well, so it wasn't bad.
The psycho Wookie seemed a bit much, what with Wookies being a slave species during the Imperial years and I loathe Boba Fett, so seeing him just made unhappy, but hopefully that bit of fanboy pandering will be small in the overall story line.  The final scene with Vader among the slain Sandpeople did not suit my tastes.  Why should Vader still care?  He expended most of that emotion when he was a callow youth in Episode II.  Now, over 20 years later he still wants to kill Tusken?  It was a poor choice, I believe, in attempting to recall a past event for current character development.  Indeed it does nothing to develop the character, serving only as a recall of his past.  The Anakin that detested slavery is now the Vader that enforces the will of an Empire that enslaves races.  I just don't feel that Vader would have enough of the old emotion in him to slaughter a bunch of Tusken, especially if he did, as he claimed when he was whining to Padme, kill them all (the tribe that captured and tortured his mother to death).  It just felt Un-Vader-Like to me.

There was a major bright point however.  HIS FUCKING HELMET STAYED ON THE ENTIRE TIME.

This comic also comes in about 6 million variant covers from different artists in the biz, including the amazing Alex Ross (Kingdom Come, Justice League).
Gamestop Exclusive Variant cover...GAMESTOP?  Don't they sell video games?  Oh who am I shitting...

I purchased the regular cover because I really just wanted to read it and although variant covers are cool, some of them are referencing shit that just didn't happen in the issue.  Like that Gamestop variant above.  Sweet cover with a great looking Vader and the Death Star (which has been blown up by the time of the comic) and some Star Destroyers and such.  It looks like DV is summoning the Imperial fleet out of a Pokeball.  "Admiral Ozzel I choose YOU!"

If you are a Darth Vader fan, or even a Star Wars fan, you could do worse than to pick up DV#1.
"The power to destroy a planet is insignificant compared to keeping my damn life support helmet on for an entire issue.  If that Terran archaeologist can  keep a fedora on his head while being dragged by a German truck, surely I can keep my damn helmet on."

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Top Ten Reasons Why...

This Wizard kicks ass.

For someone who writes about wizards often, I didn't play them much in my youth.  I didn't play them at all.  As a dedicated AD&D player I saw the mathematical weaknesses inherent in the wizard class and decided it was not for me.  I avoided most spellcasting classes, to be honest.  When I got a bit older and got my hands on Warhammer Quest from Games Workshop I did not immediately run to the Wizard, but I did come to appreciate the character.  Compared to the standard D&D wizard the WHQ Wizard is a completely different type of hero.
Fig 2.  The Wizard
He's just so much more kick ass and here are my reasons why:

1. He carries a sword.  Is that so important?  Is a sword such a big deal?  Not in and of itself, especially in Warhammer where any single hand weapon is, effectively, the same damage.  What is a big deal is that he carries a sword and knows how to use it.  He won't ever be as good with his hand weapons as the more martial warriors like the Dwarf or Barbarian but he is not completely ineffectual and he has normal human strength.  Again in Warhammer this means his strength is on par with other men and elves, none of that percentile strength and sharp change in bonuses for minor differences.  Like wizards in RPGs everywhere, he does suffer from less life points and no armor, but he does not have a major melee handicap to go with it.

2. The Winds of Magic.  Magic in Warhammer works completely different than in AD&D.  Rather than memorizing a set of spells out of a spellbook and losing them as he casts them, the WHQ Wizard must deal with the source of magic in Warhammer, the Winds of Magic, which are not actual winds but are aetheric magical energy, come from the Realm of Chaos and move about the world.  The wizards feel the fluctuating ebb and flow of these "winds" and use them to power their spells.  When the power is slack the Wizard cannot use the more powerful spells at his command unless he chooses to tap into his personal store of power, but that does not return so easily.  These winds can give the wizard vast amounts of power one turn and leave him bereft of all power the next, such is their chaotic nature.  In practical terms the Wizard can cast as many spells as he wants, as long as he has the power and the Winds provide the power.

3. He looks damn cool.
Look at the veins throbbing in the forearms, the combat beard flowing as the winds of magic blow about him!  This wizard looks like he means business.

4. He can dual wield a hand weapon and a staff.  Figure 2 and the close up above both show this, but within the game itself a Wizard can acquire a Wizard's Staff which not only acts as armor, it can be used to make attacks while still using his trusty sword or some other weapon.

5. He is not a rear echelon character.  Down in the dungeons or on the field of battle, wizards are warriors.  While not as ferocious in melee as the Barbarian or plate clad Knights, Wizards are fountains of legendary and frightening power, feared and respected for the reality warping spells at their command.  As you can see from the art, this guy is in the fight, right beside the roid-raging Barbarian, ready to face any challenge that comes.

6. He pisses on the colleges of magic.  Only the ancient and mysterious elves can use magic in its pure form.  Humans break magic down into a component and study the lore of that one component.  There are eight in all and the Empire sanctions this with its colleges.  The Empire Battle Wizards are all specialists in their field or lore and bring that knowledge to the battlefield in narrow lists of powerful spells.  Not this guy.  This guy is an Adventuring Wizard.  He knows the value of practical spells that can save your life in a dungeon adventure, and so he spends little time among the collegiate wizards and tends to be more eclectic in his spell knowledge at the expense of specialized power.
      "The Wizards of the Colleges of Magic often look down upon these Warrior-wizards,
declaring that they haven't the ability or concentration to devote
themselves to one aspect of the magical spectrum and master it completely.
They accuse them of being parlour charlatans who pick a little of this and a
little of that. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.
A Warrior-wizard must embrace the whole magical spectrum, bending it to
his purpose as the need arises. He does not turn his back on any part of it. but
learns to live with the whole. He sees magic in everything he does and
everything he meets, and must have the exact spell to hand that the Warriors
need to turn the situation in their favour. In this respect, Warrior-wizards are
closer to the High Mages of the High Elves than the College-led Wizards of
the Empire."

7. He can carry a gun.  In the equipment lists, at the Gunsmith shop, the Wizard can purchase a brace of pistols, blackpower and shot to take on adventures.  Hitting with the damage of sword (more than any bow or crossbow) and coming in pairs, the pistols are a great way to clear a path through the lesser monsters of the dungeon without having to get up close and personal.  If he likes, and has the gold, he can purchase a musket as well, which hits even harder and can kill monsters in a domino effect should they be stupid enough to form into a conga line of death.
He can carry a gun.  That trumps Magic Missile any day of the week.

8. He's a bit of a Gandalf.  Well, I mean, look at him.  It's more than that, however.  Gandalf was the sort of wizard that didn't rely on his magic to solve his problems, but when he did use magic, it was always at the right time and for good effect.  WHQ's Wizard, when played properly, is like that.  A staff to the face of a goblin, a sword thrust into the groin of a skaven; these things are effective tools and don't require the expenditure of precious magical power.  As I stated before, he's no slouch in the groin stabbing, face smashing department, but he'll never be Aragorn, thrashing a half dozen orcs in one attack.  He does improve nicely during play, however.  Like Gandalf the other warriors gather around him and protect him because they will need his magical power when they face a threat that swords simply cannot harm.

9. Magic in Warhammer is inherently dangerous, but varied and tactical.  Unlike D&D, this Wizard can heal his comrades.  Many RPGs do not allow wizards to heal, saving that magic for the Cleric types, and yet Clerics have gotten more and more damaging spells over the years.  Is that fair?  Hell no, it's not fair.  In Warhammer magic is not so rigidly defined and the Wizard may start with only 3 spells in his bag of tricks, but he can cast them as much as he wants, anytime during a turn (not just on his turn) as long as he has the power to do so.  Of course a lack of power (see 10, below) can be disastrous, but with a personal store of power points and a good solid roll for power the Wizard could cast a Heal on the Barbarian who has just gone down with a bleeding head wound, erect a magical Shield in front of the Elf and still send a ball of screaming flaming death down the corridor to strike the Minotaur in his furry ballsack.  And then smack that pesky goblin in the head with his sword.  And that's a neophyte Wizard.  Let him get some levels under his belt and you will see a tactical, versatile warrior that can hold his own against most monsters (as long as he is not surrounded) and brings a variety of practical magic into the adventure.  He might also call doom down on the heads of the party...

10. Wizard rolls a 1!  In the game itself every turn begins with the Power Phase where the Wizard player rolls 1d6 to determine his power for that phase.  Yes, he has a personal store of power should he get a poor roll like a 2 or 3, but things really get exciting when he rolls a 1.  Not only is he SOL for power that turn, but an unexpected event comes with it.  Nothing gets the action going like a string of 1s leading to a conga line of monsters waiting in the corridor outside the room to file in and kill the whole party before the adventure has even gotten going.  Does that, properly speaking, kick ass?  Well, no, but it is funny as hell once everyone has gotten over being pissed.

Ten good reasons, I think, why the WHQ Wizard kicks ass among all the other wizards available for play in RPGs, and that especially includes the 5e D&D bastards.

Fig 4: The Awesomeness

Friday, February 6, 2015

The New Star Wars Comic Sucks Bantha Dicks

As a child I loved Star Wars, not just the film, but the whole shebang.  I played with the toys, I dressed in Halloween costumes, I made up new stories with the characters (we now call that Fan Fic); essentially I did what fans and kids do.  This did not end as I grew older, indeed well past my college years I was a Star Wars fan.  I would enter into debates with friends about some picayune point, often heated debates, and watched the original trilogy endlessly.
Then came the prequels.
Well I still had the EU (Expanded Universe), so I was not completely bereft of my fandom.  Only the EU became infected by all that I did not like about Star Wars so one day I just gave it all up.
The NEW Star Wars...from the House where Ideas go to die.
Yesterday I purchased the first two issues of Marvel's new ongoing Star Wars comic.  Marvel, being a Disney property, and Star Wars being a Disney property, meant that the license for Star Wars comics moved from Dark Horse to Marvel.  Now Marvel has a history in this area.  In 1977 Marvel published the adaptation of the movie Star Wars (now known as A New Hope) with Roy Thomas doing the writing and Howard Chaykin doing the art.  After spending 6 issues adapting the film they continued on with a seventh issue writing new stories with the characters, often quite good, and quite apart from any canonical Lucas storyline.  That comic would run for 107 issues finally ending in 1986, nearly a decade after the first issue had hit newsstands.  Marvel had taken the characters and the story of Star Wars into areas that the bulk of the EU never managed and for a kid growing up, loving the property and reading the comics, it was all so wonderful.  No Lucas lawyers looking over the shoulder to approve or reject every new story or idea.  No bloody continuity and canon to worry about.  Just stories about the heroes you loved and the villains you loved to hate (or loved, because we have some serious Darth Vader fans out there).

The Original 1977 Star Wars...check it out, Vader's green!
Well that's not the new Star Wars, I'm sorry to say.  So what is it?  Aside from ass gravy?
The new comic opens sometime between A New Hope (ANH) and The Empire Strikes Back (ESB) with a shuttle from Tatooine landing on Cymoon 1, an Imperial industrial outpost munitions factory in the Corellian sector (because fucking EVERYTHING happens in the Corellian sector).  An emissary from Jabba the Hutt has arrived to do a deal with the Empire to supply raw materials for the Imperial war machine.  We are treated to our first "shout out" moment (SOM!) when the Imperial Overseer calls the visitors, sight unseen, "outer rim scum" and expresses his desire to kill them all.  Out of the shuttle comes...Han Solo, flanked by two guards that are wearing the attire Lando used to infiltrate Jabba's palace.  Oh and R2-D2 as well.  Back on the Falcon is Threepio, who comments that he has "a VERY GOOD feeling about this" (SOM!), flipping the script on that classic line in every SW film.  So Han is walking with the overseer where he learns, in no uncertain terms, that he is not there to bargain or negotiate.  When the Imperial negotiator arrives said negotiator will state the terms, Han will agree and Jabba will accept whatever price the Empire is willing to pay.  So Artoo pisses lube all over the floor and shock-prods soem Stormtroopers and the remainder of the Keystone Cop-out as Han and his guard beat them up.  The guards take off helmets to reveal...Luke and Leia (oh, come on, you knew that was coming) then they ask where the power core is and the overseer stands firm.  He lets them know he is a sworn Imperial officer and want talk, but all it takes is the comedy threat of a shock prod from old Artoo and he's pointing the way.  Then Xena punches him out.  So they take time to change into their cool Rebellion action clothes and run to the core.  Meanwhile Threepio is sitting in the Falcon, hiding among the garbage and refuse on the planet (SOM!).  Han and Leia rig the power core to blow, Luke is on look out but decides to use the Force and discovers slaves are being held in cages, so off he goes to rescue them.  And then the fucking Rancor Keeper arrives.
I'm not making this up.  The Imperial slave master/jailer is drawn to look exactly like that fat dude who cried when Luke killed the rancor at Jabba's.  So Luke tries the Jedi mind trick but fails.  (SOM!)Then he cuts the dude's hand off with his lightsaber (SOM!).
Back in the power core the writer (Jason Aaron) felt that what we really needed was to see some background on the Han and Leia love story, so he has Han deliver some lascivious dialog then get all embarrassed schoolboy crush and clam up when Leia asks him why he sticks with the Rebellion.  Very deep (shit).
Did I mention Chewie yet?  He's in a tower acting as overwatch sniper for the team.  Yeah, I know.
Then the negotiator arrives.  Can you guess who?  I'll give you a hint: his initials are Darth Vader.
Yeah, so suddenly Leia tells Chewie to assassinate Vader, despite the fact that in ANH he was not that important.  Oh well, prequels and shit.
So Chewie doesn't want his balls broken by Princess Ballbreaker, and takes the shot.
But Vader is all like, "Oh no you di'nt" and blocks the first shot.  Then he grabs two Stormtroopers with the Force and lifts them up as a human (clone?) shield.  That shit is cold.  Then he drops the tower on Chewie.  Shit you not.
So Chewie escapes and Han calls Threepio to bring the Falcon and Vader senses the "Rebel pilot who destroyed the Death Star" and sets out to find him.  But Threepio can't get the Falcon off the ground because pink slug-like, horribly tentacled ersatz Jawas are taking the Falcon apart for salvage.  Because Threepio says they are.  So Han tells him to grab the blaster from the cockpit and deal with the situation.
Then Han and Leia and the slaves find AT-ATs without VIN plates and steal one, but Luke is talking to Obi Wan in his head and comes face to face with Vader.  End of first issue.

Issue 2 opens with Vader kicking Luke's ass.  Just swing, block, and Force grab that lightsaber.  Only Vader recognizes Luke's lightsaber.  He bloody well should, seeing as how he's the one that built it.  Anyway, before he can kill Luke, Han and Leia smash through the roof with the stolen AT-AT and there's some fighting and while Artoo and some convenient Jawas attempt to get the AT-AT's guns online Threepio gets the blaster and steps out of the Falcon to deal with the natives.  Only he drops the blaster, because he just isn't built for blaster holding, let's face it, and the natives speak in some language we don't understand, prompting Threepio to say, "Sorry, could you repeat that?  I am fluent in over six million forms of communication.  Do you speak...Bocce perhaps? Or..." (SOM!) then he gets blasted.  So Luke is pinned down by enemy fire, hiding behind some boxes and starts berating himself for sucking so much when he sees some speeder bikes (SOM!) and says, "Yeah.  I'm a farm boy, all right.  A farm boy who can bullseye womp rats." (SOM!...also WTF?).
Now let's take stock here.  Luke's on a speeder bike blasting Stormtroopers, Vader's just standing there looking all...well Vader, and up comes Han and Leia to STEP ON HIM WITH AN AT-AT.  Oh like you've never thought of it.
But they can't, because he stops them.  With the Force.  Then he starts crushing the AT-AT.  With the Force (SOM!-special Force Unleashed).  Han was as confused as I was, but Leia quickly explained that Vader was "using the Force!"  Right.  Han, ever the rationalist, responds with a classic "THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS THE FORCE!"
So Artoo gets the guns online and Leia shoots the shit out of Vader with them.  I promise, I'm not making any of this up.  I know it sounds like a story I would have written in 2nd grade, but this is an actual comic book that Marvel paid people to write and printed and sells for real Earth monies.
Threepio is being carried away by the slug people, so he says "Sir, if you'll not be needing me...I believe I'll close down...for a while."  (Double SOM!)
So how does it end?
Vader rises from the rubble Leia put him in...WITHOUT HIS HELMET AND MASK!  It just FELL OFF.  You remember how Luke had to disengage it and it made all sorts of hissing sounds because it is a locked down, sealed life support system (ROTJ)?  Yeah, it just fell the fuck off.  We only see the back of his head and in shadows (SOM!) then a Stormtrooper sees him and gets his head rotated 180 degrees on its axis by the Force for his troubles.  So the overseer comms in and tells Vader they have to evacuate because the factory is going to explode but Vader tells him that if it does explode the Overseer, "best blow up with it."  Jason, please, for the love of Obi Wan's Force ghost...this is not Vader dialog.  Go back.  Watch the films.  Vader does not talk like an angry Southerner.  And off Vader goes, posing with a bunch of Stormtroopers on speeder bikes as he declares that the boy is his to deal with (Luke).

Oh yeah.  It's worse than I made it sound.

Why does it suck so much?
I get that it is doomed by canon.  We all know who these characters are and how they came to be, so there are not many surprises, but a better effort could be made.  Honestly, a slightly better effort would improve it immensely.  All this comic consists of is fanwank and shout outs to existing Star Wars IP.
Just a few points that really bug me...
1) Han Solo just comes out and says, "Hey, I'm Han Solo, how are you?"  Doesn't anyone remember how he wanted to avoid Imperial entanglements?  Hell, the Imperial droid in the comic positively IDs him on page 3 and provides his rap sheet to the overseer.
2) What is Leia even doing there?  This is not the stage for her to enter into commando missions.  At this stage of the saga she enters adventures by happenstance.  In ESB she is only with Han because they get cut off from her evac shuttle.  This is not a mission for the Rebellion's key leaders and diplomats.
3) Why can Threepio speak Teddy Bear but not Slug?  He's famously fluent in over six-million forms of communication, but as of ROTJ the Ewoks (not even named in the film) would seem to be an unknown species, yet he can speak Ewok.  Can't speak slug.  And then to ask if they speak Bocce?  Why?  Because we all heard it in ANH.  Stupid, fucking, shout out for the children (mentally,not chronologically) that need to hear "Star Wars" words to enjoy the work.  Well truth is, I was a child when Marvel did it the first time and I DIDN'T need Star Wars words to get into the story.
4) Keystone Cop-Out: All the Imperials in this story.  Oh,the side-splitting humor.  Oh.  Oh.  Burn in Space Hell, Marvel.
5) Oh, and this place is in the Corellian Sector.  That's a major civilization sector, not a backwater.  These Slugs don't speak Bocce, the Galactic Pidgin Trade Language made up of many languages?  Banthashit.
6) Love struck Han!  Little early, I think.
7) Sniper Chewie!  How did you get a wookie, a known slave species in the Empire, up on a tower with gun?  Star Trek transporter maybe?
8) The Force unleashed?  Wow is Vader powerful.  Never mind that he was nowhere near that powerful in the canonical films, or that Leia has him pegged as the number 2 man in the Empire (which he was not until, well, the bloody prequels), let's just focus on his AT-AT crumpling skills.  Where was that shit when Han was knocking him out of the trench in ANH?  Why didn't Vader just smash all the X-Wings together and be done with it?
9) Vader loses his helmet.  Oh, this is a laugh riot.  Oh, how good.  What a shout out!, wheeze).  I can't take it.  Seriously.  Stop.
Just.  Stop.

So there you have it.  The new Star Wars comic from Marvel is a case of herpes on the already syphilis infected Dewback dick that is Star Wars today.

And if you enjoy it...
Do I really have to finish that sentence?