I want to play games. These games, to show but a few:
As you can see, I’ve accumulated quite a bit of new RPG stuff, through both purchases and gifts, during this interminable pandemic. That’s some of it, up there. I acquired it with the intent (always the intent) that I would eventually play and/or run these games; and in some cases, I have managed to do that. But not enough.
The problem is that I listen to too many gaming podcasts. I watch too many YouTube videos. All this new stuff sounds awesome, and I want to try everything. When you add the fact that Modiphius and Free League have acquired the licenses to some of the best licensed properties out there (Star Trek, Alien, Dune, Conan, Blade Runner,) and that their stuff is both gorgeous to look at and fun to play, you can actually watch and see what little willpower I possess fading away. I cannot resist the pull. I wants it, my precious.
It’s a lot of stuff, and it would be nice to use it rather than just look at it. When you pile it all up like that, it’s a bit sobering, because my regular gaming group (the guys I’ve played with for decades) don’t want to play most of these at all. For one reason or another, my group can’t agree on shit lately. It’s fucking aggravating.
One great thing about remote gaming is that it’s remote (duh). I have been fortunate enough to play some short games over the course of this pandemic with some really cool people from different parts of America and Canada that I would likely never have met in person (and probably never will). Some of them play-tested my own Call of Cthulhu project (still working on that, BTW); and some have gamed with me outside of that. I had fun each time, and I’d like to think they did too. They keep inviting me back, so I must be doing something right…
If you check out THIS PAGE RIGHT HERE, you will see my plans for running some classic games over the course of this year. I’m looking for new players, so if you’re interested in playing then let me know. You never know what could come of it!
Finally, if you are running any of the games shown in the picture above and are looking for a player, I’m your man; and I already have the rulebook.
Well, it’s that time again: time to rate how faithful I was to my hobby resolutions from last year, and time to make some new ones for 2022. Last year I decided to keep it simple and not set too many lofty or unrealistic goals for myself (including goals that just seem to be set every year and never started; like my Old West scenery or my Wargames Factory Shock Troopers). In fact, this what I said: “I’m going to paint whatever the hell I want, whenever the hell I want…with some minor guidelines.” Sound advice, and it will be more of the same this year.
So, how did I do last year? I only set four goals for myself. They were:
More Roleplaying Stuff: Goal met! I posted some write-ups of a Marvel Super Heroes game I ran way back in January. The game was much more fun to write up than it was to play, because two of my four players didn’t exactly enjoy a return to the old 1980’s TSR system, (One really didn’t enjoy it, but that’s another story. ‘Nuff said.) Still, for myself and the other two, it was a lot of fun. I didn’t manage to write up any further Star Trek Adventures games, although we did play a few times. I hope to return to running both these games again this year, although likely with a new group of players (see below).
One Character a Month: Goal met! You can see the results here if you want. Some were late for their respective months, but all made it in by year’s end.
Painting Challenges: Goal Met! In addition to the one I set for myself, I hosted my now-annual Monster Mayhem in May, and I took part in no less than six other painting competitions: Leadballoony’s Fembruary (although I posted my miniature in March), Carrion Crow’s Forgotten Heroes (my favorite painting challenge!) in June, Dave Stone’s Season of Scenery (July-August) and Apocalypse Me challenges (October, although I posted her late), Orctober (October), and, although I didn’t “officially” enter, I painted a miniature for Deadcember, an Instagram challenge.
More AARs: Goal met! I posted After Action Reports with original scenarios for two games: a couple of Green Hornet .45 Adventure games, and a return to Super Mission Force, featuring The Crimson Hound!
So,I grabbed all the rings, despite being annoyingly late a few times. I also got two more personal projects completed: all the Star Wars: Imperial Assault miniatures in the Twin Shadows expansion, plus the accompanying Ally and Villain packs; and all the miniatures for the Aliens: Another Glorious Day in the Corps game, including the Ultimate Badasses expansion. Not too shabby!
So what about this year? Well, these goals should look somewhat similar.
More Roleplaying Stuff: This year, Dead Dick’s Tavern will feature even more RPG content. Roleplaying games were my first love and my initial entry point into the miniatures hobby. I love playing RPGs, I love running RPGs, I love talking about RP games and game systems. We are in a golden age of RPGs; with tons of small-press and creator-owned content sharing the market with amazing companies like Free League Publishing and Modiphius. I will (hopefully) discuss RPGs old and new, post some game write-ups and reviews; and if possible, maybe even get to play in more games as a result.
Through Instagram and Discord, I have been fortunate to meet some roleplaying gamers from all over the country and play games with them. It’s been a pretty fun experience, and one I plan to continue this year. If you look at the top of this blog, you will see there is more than one page. (Yeah, I know. I didn’t realize that either for the longest time.) Anyway, a new page will soon be up there, talking about which RPGs I hope to run in 2022. If you are interested in playing anything I list (remotely, of course), then by all means contact me for the particulars!
One Character a Month: Maybe more, actually. As I said, I won’t be hosting this challenge, but it’s open to anyone who has an Instagram account and wants to participate. It’s essentially the same challenge as mine (though no backstory required): paint a D&D character class each month. I’m using this as an excuse to paint some classic lead: Grenadier, Ral Partha, RAFM…I will post my submissions here, too!
Painting Challenges: I’ll be paring it back a bit this year. Aside from the above Character of the Month, I will absolutely be hosting Monster Mayhem again, and I will always do Forgotten Heroes for as long as Jeremy hosts it. I can’t say no to Dave’s Season of Scenery, either; he’s so accommodating by giving us two months, and it’s pretty much the only time I force myself to build and paint scenery. Other than that, we’ll see what comes my way.
More AARs: Yes! This year will see a return and conclusion to the Green Hornet adventure. I would also like very much to do some more Star Trek skirmish games; perhaps this time using the TNG crew; and of course, Super Mission Force.
Personal Projects: I don’t like to make promises to myself that I don’t keep (although it happens often)…BUT…I’m going to be focusing on getting all my Star Wars: Imperial Assault miniatures painted this year. Will I be able to get through 3 more boxed expansions and 20 + blister packs, a total of 63 miniatures? Probably not. We’ll see. I have some other things I keep looking at, thinking I should start or finish them. As always.
Get Back Out There: I’ve been neglecting the blogs of others for a while, as real life has reared its ugly head. I hope to be once again be more of a nuisance to hobbyists everywhere.
Well, that’s about it. Keep watch for that new RPG page, if interested. (I have no idea what I’ll be posting next, but it’s a good bet it will have something to do with the miniatures hobby.)
Visitors to Dead Dick’s Tavern may recall me lamenting the fact that I don’t get to play many games any more, especially roleplaying games. Since I opened an Instagram account about a year ago, I’ve met some pretty cool hobbyists and gamers, many of whom live much too far away from me for us to ever be able to sit around the same table. Because of remote play during the COVID pandemic, that hasn’t been as much of an obstacle, and I’ve been able to get some gaming in with some very cool people.
One of them, my friend Bruno, has a YouTube channel called The Chronicles of the Crimson Hound, and through this, he has come up with something truly ingenious that all but guarantees he gets to play a ton of games. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t envy the guy.
Bruno created a character: the Crimson Hound, a vampiric vigilante super hero in a cyberpunk-style city. Bruno’s brilliance is that he gets other people to GM games for the Crimson Hound, using whatever rules system and running whatever story they like; then he puts the game sessions up on YouTube. So far, the folks running the games have mostly been gamers who have websites and podcasts of their own; so viewers get to see a variety of game mastering styles and get a feel for diverse methods of storytelling and gaming. The serials are broken down into sessions of about 15 minutes each, so they’re great to listen to while you’re…oh, say, cooking dinner or painting miniatures. Check them out!
Anyway, Bruno asked me to GM a game for the Crimson Hound, which made me feel immensely flattered. Run a game for a vampiric vigilante in a pulp/cyberpunk setting? Yes, please! On YouTube? No, thank you. Some folks, like Bruno, are handsome and charismatic enough to be on YouTube. Others, like me, are far too handsome for YouTube but lack any charisma whatsoever. Sad, but true.
Still, I felt bad because Bruno was kind enough to playtest one of my Call of Cthulhu adventures that I am planning to submit to the Miskatonic Repository. In other words, when I asked, he said yes; while when he asked, I declined. Kind of a dick move on my part. (See? No charisma.)
So, as a way to say thanks, I decided to immortalize Bruno’s creation, The Crimson Hound, for Forgotten Heroes. The Crimson Hound isn’t “forgotten”, of course; his legend is only just beginning! But this challenge gave me all the excuse I needed to practice my green stuff kung-fu. (Special thanks to Dave from Wargames Terrain Workshop for the quick assist in answering my noob sculptor questions.) Besides, Carrion Crow is usually pretty lenient when it comes to enforcing the rules.
The base miniature was Captain Griffon, by Reaper, from their Chronoscope line. (If I remember right, Bruno wanted to use this miniature himself for the Hound, once upon a time.) I couldn’t find anything better in my rather extensive pile of Heroclix. I had considered using a Robin miniature as a base, but I picture the Hound is bigger (and cooler) than Robin.
In his single-minded pursuit of vigilante justice, the Crimson Hound has used stun batons, handguns and even an enchanted short sword. I considered giving him one or more of these, but in the end I decided just to stick with his bare hands. The Hound is a brute, after all. He’s not too subtle when it comes to kicking ass.
I added some green stuff to bulk out his shoulders and his collar, and sculpted his mask and his knee pads. Then I let him dry and sanded him down with an emery board, because Dave said to.
Of course, unbeknownst to Bruno, while I was IN THE MIDDLE OF sculpting and painting the Crimson Hound, Bruno put up a new Instagram post, showing the Hound’s upcoming NEW COSTUME. In other words, not this one anymore.
Here he is, all painted up. I tried to be as faithful to the top picture as I could, but there was no way in hell I was going to even attempt that belt. It’s way beyond my green stuff skillz. As it is, looks like I could have done a better job sanding him down. Hope you like him, Bruno!
Here’s a funny little anecdote: for my final touch, I decided to give the red parts of the costume a light wash of Citadel’s Bloodletter glaze, which really does a good job of highlighting and tying together the different shades of red. It was supposed to be the very last thing I did, but shortly after the application, I noticed a bunch of mysterious white spots all over the model, wherever I put the Bloodletter. Seems my glaze went bad somehow, and I had to redo all the red. Isn’t that funny? Ha ha ha.
That’s probably it for my Forgotten Heroes submissions this year, although I could still pull something out last minute. Stranger things have happened. In the meantime, I will continue to watch the other participants with great interest!
For June’s Character of the Month, I decided to do a Barbarian.
From the night Berjotr Skaldisson was born, it was assumed he would follow in the footsteps of his father Gilvi and become a skald; but by the time he reached his tenth winter, it became apparent that Berjotr had no skill for it. He could not sing, nor could he compose poetry. He could not remember the lineage of his own Jarl, never mind the lines of the Kings of Old. Berjotr could not so much as keep time with a drum while his father sang. He was a disappointment, that was certain; the son of a skald who had none of his father’s skill. But before long, Berjotr Skaldisson discovered where his true skills lay: he was very strong, and he was very good at killing things.
The Winter of Despair is remembered well by the people of Thord. Many died that year, not as warriors, but of starvation; for the summer raiding parties had not returned with plunder enough to last beyond the first snows. To make matters worse, that was the winter of Vargyr, the Great Bear; who devoured livestock and men equally and had no fear of Jarl Hranulf’s warriors.
One night, one of Hranulf’s thanes burst into the hall, bloodied and raving. He told of how Vargyr the Great Bear had devoured his family, after first crashing through the heavy oak door of his house. The warrior had no chance to even fetch his sword before the bear was upon them. He was lucky to escape at all. While the Jarl’s men listened to the thane’s tale in fear and awe, young Berjotr took up a greataxe and quietly left the mead hall. He set out into the cold darkness, pausing only long enough to retrieve two things from a nearby hut: a shovel and a young pig. When he judged himself far enough away from Hranulf’s hall, Berjotr used the shovel to dig a shallow ditch in the frozen ground, big enough for him to lie in. Then he used his greataxe to kill the pig, splitting its body in twain. He pulled the bloody corpse of the pig over him as he lay in the ditch and waited. Vargyr scented the kill and came before the pig’s blood had time to freeze. As the beast began to drag the pig’s corpse away, Berjotr sprang up and–in the time it takes for a man to draw a single breath–killed Vargyr, the Great Bear. The beast didn’t even have time to bellow in pain.
Thus Berjotr, son of Gilvi, decided that if he could not sing the songs of the skalds, he would instead give them songs to sing.
In his twelfth winter, already bigger and stronger than any of Hranulf’s warriors, Berjotr hunted and killed a pair of mated Thunderwyrms. The year after, he killed a snow spider that had built a nest too close to the settlement. Jarl Hranulf began to worry for his throne as Berjotr Skaldisson’s legend began to grow, so Hranulf sent the boy south with raiding parties for the next three years in the hopes he would not come back. Always Berjotr returned.
Unlike the others, Berjotr did not enjoy raiding. He felt always apart from his fellows and though he fought beside them, he called no man friend. He cared nothing for loot. He killed men easily enough, but his heart wasn’t in it. After three years of raiding, he decided he would go no more. He craved more of a challenge than plundering villages could provide, and besides, the longboats made him seasick.
The raiding party returned to Thord to find Hranulf’s mead hall destroyed, the Jarl dead, and most of the villagers gone; taken by trolls several weeks earlier. Berjotr followed the trolls’ trail into the mountains, entered their cave lair, rescued what remained of the villagers, and killed every male, female and young troll he found. Over several more years, he killed countless ogres, serpents, wolves, draugr, tree-men, cold ones, ice toads, and of course, men; for Berjotr Skaldisson’s legend had grown, and always there were those foolish enough to believe the legends untrue. There seemed to be nothing and no one Berjotr Skaldisson could not kill.
Berjotr was known throughout Thord by the time songs of his deeds finally reached the ears of the ice giant Brynnga, who flew to the settlement on his great frost dragon, Orl. From high above the mead hall, the enraged Brynnga bellowed his challenge to Berjotr Skaldisson: meet him in battle or he would lay waste to the hall and slay all the people within. So, Berjotr took up his greataxe once again and strode out to meet the giant, wearing the skin of Vargyr, the Great Bear he killed in the Winter of Despair.
Striding fearlessly into the plumes of Orl’s icy breath, Berjotr killed the dragon. Then, one arm frozen to his side and half his face burned black with frostbite, he killed the giant.
The people of Thord wanted Berjotr to be Jarl, but Berjotr had no interest in sitting in a mead hall while his warriors brought him treasure. Likewise he had no interest settling down and taking a wife. Although he swore he was finished with raiding, he did embark on a longboat once again, this time for lands unknown; for by the age of twenty-one, Berjotr Skaldisson had killed everything he could kill in Thord, and the skalds were hoarse from singing the songs of his deeds. It was time for him to move on.
Berjotr Skaldisson is Reaper’s “Barbarian Axeman of Icingstead” (14620), from their Warlord line. While the backstory is different and the miniature no doubt looks nothing like what he imagines, this Character of the Month is based loosely on my friend’s character in our current D&D 5E game.
My “Character of the Month” for March isn’t MY character at all. Raphinfel, “The Adored”, is the creation of Jon, producer and creator of the brilliant Tale of the Manticore podcast, which you should all be listening to. As such, Raphinfel’s story isn’t mine to tell, so apologies in advance for those expecting my customary prose. You can hear it for yourself by checking out Tale of the Manticore: 31 short episodes and counting, all really good.
Unless I’m completely missing the point, I can say with a fair degree of certainty that Raphinfel is a wizard. Not the good kind of wizard. The other kind.
The miniature I used is Lamann, Sorcerer (02807), by Reaper Miniatures, sculpted by James van Shaik; but as I said, Raphinfel is a Wizard (actually called a Magic-User in Basic Dungeons & Dragons), not to be confused with the “official” D&D Sorcerer class, which will get its own “Character of the Month” at some point.
Although I’m pretty happy with how he turned out (and hope Jon is, too), this miniature would be a perfect miniature to display some Object Source Lighting (OSL) techniques as that crystal ball is begging for it. But I suck at that, and I wanted Raphinfel to look good, not sucky. Maybe if I wasn’t on a timetable I would be more inclined to mess around, but to be honest I’m a coward when it comes to risking the work I’ve already put into a model.
I haven’t decided what class will be featured next month yet. In the meantime, Imperial Rebel Ork has put out a call for hobbyists to display their geeky T-Shirts this month. Although I have far too many to display, here are a couple I’m proud of.
I bought this at Gen-Con in 2012, and to be honest I forgot I had it. It recently resurfaced from the depths of my dresser. While I was disappointed by Cloverfield, I have never been disappointed by my old furry pal, Grover. (He’s the Monster at the End of this Book, after all.)
Next, This T-shirt just arrived yesterday, all the way from Ireland, which is why it’s so wrinkled from the long trip over the water. It should come as no surprise to any who regularly visit this site that I would be powerless to resist the Vitruvian Dwarf, made by Quertee, purveyor of limited edition T-shirt designs. I am trying desperately not to give in and buy their “Surf Arrakis” and “Let’s Summon Demons” shirts. I’m managing.
Anyway, this fulfills my Character of the Month resolution with weeks to spare, unlike last month. New post soon!
Well, I’m not off to a good start with my 2021 Resolutions. I’m already a month behind on my Character of the Month. For Fem-bruary’s character I chose a to paint a fighter; and here she is, better late than never. Nevertheless, being late doesn’t get me off the hook for another character this month, so watch this space for my official submission for March. In the meantime, this miniature is Rhaine, Rogue; from Reaper Miniatures, sculpted by Werner Klocke. At least, that’s what she’s called now. My blister said “Rhaine, Duelist”; so I decided to stick with that concept for her backstory.
Among the rich and powerful nobility of Evalaux, disputes are often settled at swordspoint. Despite this, most nobles barely know which end of a dueling saber or pistol to hold, never mind how to employ one for its intended purpose. The richest noble houses have fencing masters on staff, ready at a moment’s notice to avenge an insult or satisfy the slighted feelings of their patrons. If, however, yours is not one of the richest houses; or if you have recently suffered the inconvenient (yet permanent) loss of a fencing master due to poor job performance, then you must hire one; else be at the mercy of the social jabs and thrusts of the aristocracy.
Aramise Del’Arco is the most sought-after duelist in Evalaux. She has been offered fencing master positions at the most prestigious and wealthy houses; positions she has declined. Some of the masters of these houses saw her refusal as an insult and made the poor decision to hire a duelist of their own to seek redress. Aramise Del’Arco killed every one without compassion or apology. Thus, the nobility of Evalaux must content themselves with never having the best duelist under permanent retainer; and they must fear that Aramise Del’Arco may one day show up on their own doorstep in the employ of a rival.
Aramise Del’Arco does not work solely for the nobility. In the crowded streets and back alleys of Evalaux, crime lords, cults and other nefarious organizations have all used her talents. Provided you can afford her, Aramise Del’Arco is for hire. But be certain you pay the bill when it comes due.
You may ask why. An illustrative example: before he was known as “No-Nose, One-Eared, One-Eyed Rickard”, Rickard the Butcher was a man to be feared in the dark underworld of Evalaux. When he decided to send three bravos after Aramise Del’Arco rather than pay her fee for her elimination of a rival, Aramise Del’Arco gave him the visually-appropriate nickname he enjoys at present.
As for the bravos, they didn’t get nicknames. They just got dead, and Aramise Del’Arco got her money.
Aramise Del’Arco is a mystery. No fencing master in Evalaux can say she was their pupil or their classmate. No one knows where she came from or how she became so skilled with a blade. All that is known about her is that she is quite possibly the finest swordswoman alive; and that she will work for anyone who meets her price. Once hired, she will work until the terms of the contract have been fulfilled. She cannot be bought off or bribed; but make no mistake: she is no assassin. If an opponent dies in the course of a lawful duel, then so be it; but she will not murder for hire, and sad indeed is the person who would make the mistake of assuming so.
I instantly fell in love with the “unofficial” duelist character class when I saw it collected in Best of The Dragon (magazine) Vol. 4, and promptly made one of my longest-running AD&D characters ever: a half-elf duelist who constantly found himself embroiled in political games with players much bigger than he. I used him as an inspiration for this Character of the Month.
“HULK…SMASH…HULK…SMASH…” The robotic Hulk grabs a nearby crate and hurls it at the heroes.
“I’ll say one thing for Machinesmith,” says Hawkeye, ducking, “he really nailed Hulk’s personality.”
“Relax,” says Spider-Man. “It could be worse. We could be fighting the actual Hulk.”
“You fought the…?” asks Power Man, circling the green behemoth, awaiting an opening.
“Yep,” says Spidey. “It was very un-fun.”
“Time to introduce this robotic wannabe to my steel-hard skin…” begins Power Man.
“…and 300 lbs. of solid muscle,” finishes Cyclops, distracting the robot with a full-force optic blast. “Yeah, we know. Go for it.”
Power Man charges the Hulk robot, giving it his best Sunday punch. He connects solidly, knocking it back a full ten feet, splintering crates and dropping it to its knees. Sparks fly from the exposed robotic “brain” as it slowly stands upright. “Nope,” says Hawkeye firing an incendiary arrow. “Definitely not the Hulk.”
Daredevil’s radar sense reveals something odd. “This room is a lot bigger than it looks,” he says.
“One thing at a time,” says Cyclops, firing at the Hulk robot again. The green machine seems to be shrugging off most of the damage, until Spider Man decides to attack the head directly. Unshielded, the delicate mechanisms that animate the robot begin to fail. All five heroes concentrate their attacks on the head, until a few minutes later when the robot suddenly stops moving and falls over stiffly, managing a final “HULK…SMASH…” before falling permanently silent.
With the help of Cyclops’s optic blasts and Power Man’s fists, the heroes break through a series of false walls that lead into what was, until recently, the Machinesmith’s secret lab. Scattered among robotic schematics and diagrams are several unfinished robotic frames and one robotic head bearing the likeness of Machinesmith himself. Hawkeye picks it up and stares at it.
“Alas, poor Machinesmith…” he begins, before Cyclops snatches it from him irritably. “There’s a camera in here, recording everything, ” the X-Man says.
“That explains why they were watching us,” says Power Man. “Machinesmith is making movies. Why would he do that?”
“Someone paid him to, it seems,” Daredevil says. “Stands to reason it would be the same person who hired the Circus of Crime to attack you and Hawkeye. Machinesmith is long gone now. His consciousness could be anywhere, in any robotic body. How are we going to find out who’s really behind this?”
Spider-man, hanging upside-down on his webbing, slowly descends into the midst of the group. “I think I know where to look,” he says, holding up a map of Coney Island, circa 1945.
“Coney Island?” asks Cyclops. “Why there?”
“Because some fool circled a warehouse here with a big, fat, red magic marker,” says Power Man, pointing at the map. “Looks like a clue to me, Scoob.” He turns around, coming face to upside-down face with Spider-Man. The two stare at each other for a moment.
“You want to kiss me, don’t you?” asks Spider Man. “It’s ok. I get that a lot when I’m in this position.”
Cage grins. “It’s gonna hurt real bad when I hit you, wall-crawler.”
“Coney’s not that far away,” Cyclops says. “Let’s go.”
About half an hour later, the heroes arrive at the address in Coney Island to find yet another warehouse, one that was once converted into a factory. It looks to be condemned, but some bricks have crumbled on the facade, revealing an old faded marquee for Cheezo the Clown’s Coney Island Circus Show. Seems the Circus of Crime used the name deliberately.
“Should we knock?: asks Hawkeye. Power Man tries the security door. It opens easily. Inside, all is in darkness. Daredevil senses mostly open space. Hawkeye is about to fire off a flare arrow when the lights suddenly come on, revealing the main factory floor has been converted into a three-ring circus ground! A series of raised catwalks crisscrosses the floor, forming a mazelike upper level.
Cyclops barely has time to notice that his portable Cerebro unit is active; indicating there is a mutant of significant power nearby, before a gravelly voice comes over a hidden loudspeaker. “Hawkeye. Power Man. Good to see you again. I have been watching your performances with great interest, as well as that of your friends. But I have friends too! Meet my star performers!”
One by one, a spotlight illuminates each of the rings, revealing a figure standing within.
“Blacklash! Master of the bullwhip!“
“Huh.” Power Man cracks his knuckles. “I slapped this fool silly once already,” he says.
“I did it first!” says Spider-Man.
Oddball! The deadliest juggler in the world!
“The ‘deadliest juggler in the world’? Seriously?” says Cyclops. “You know I’ve fought Magneto, right?”
“And last, but certainly not least:Trick Shot! The greatest of all archers. But wait…isn’t that supposed to be you, Hawkeye? Ha Ha Ha!”
“Friend of yours?” asks Daredevil. Hawkeye scowls at the sight of his former mentor, but says nothing.
Suddenly, another spotlight illuminates the catwalk network above. Standing high overhead, the skull-visaged face of Taskmaster leers down at the heroes in triumph. “By all means, fools, let us fight,” he says, “as gladiators did in circuses of old. This whole arena has been wired with cameras. Upon your defeat I will be able to study every move you make, so that my photographic reflexes can ensure that your skills become mine!”
“You have to beat us first,” says Hawkeye, nocking an arrow. Before he can fire, however, he is struck by a razor-tipped arrow fired from Trick-Shot’s bow! A few inches to the right, and it would have been curtains for the Avenger! Spider-Man bounds up to the catwalk to face Taskmaster while Power Man charges Oddball!
Daredevil leaps into action, hurling his billy club at Blacklash and following up with an acrobatic flying kick that knocks the villain clear out of the ring and into the darkness beyond. Some would hesitate to pursue; but darkness is no hindrance to a blind man, and so Daredevil follows him as he does all things…without fear!
Power Man doesn’t quite reach Oddball before the evil juggler tosses an explosive ball directly at him. Not missing a beat, Cage catches the ball and hugs it close, containing the blast as best he can. It stings, but it’s nothing he can’t handle. A moment later and he has hold of Oddball, crushing him in a bearhug that robs the juggler of his breath! He collapses, colorful balls falling to the ground around him like…well, like a lot of balls falling to the ground at once.
Spider-Man takes a swing at Taskmaster, but the mutant mercenary easily avoids it. “You forget, Spider-Man…I’ve studied you already. I know your every move. Much like Captain America!” He hurls his steel-alloy shield at the wall-crawler, who manages to catch it. “You can’t possibly beat–ARRRRRGH!” Taskmaster screams as Cyclops opens up with an optic blast from the ground floor. He wasn’t expecting it, and that leaves him vulnerable. Spider-Man promptly smacks Taskmaster with his own shield!
Meanwhile, Hawkeye decides it’s time to put down Trick Shot for good. Unfortunately for him, Trick Shot thinks the same about Hawkeye. The two trade explosive arrows, and both hit! If Hawkeye wasn’t already wounded, he may have been able to withstand the blast; but instead both hero and villain are knocked unconscious! Somewhere in the darkness, Blacklash is trying desperately to see Daredevil. But he can’t whip what he can’t see; and he soon falls beneath the merciless fists of the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen!
That leaves Taskmaster alone, and quite outnumbered. The canny mutant knows he has lost, and knows the time has come to flee. He whips out his sword and lunges at Spider-Man, hoping to force the web-swinger to retreat. It doesn’t work. Spider-Man dodges easily, and, still holding the Taskmaster’s own shield, uses it to knock the villain out cold and off the catwalk in one smashing blow!
Later, after the NYPD has been called and the villains have been carted off, the five heroes regroup outside what was once Cheezo the Clown’s Coney Island Circus Show.
“Not bad for a day’s work,” Hawkeye says, sighing.
“Yeah?” asks Power Man. “I get paid when I work, Avenger. Doesn’t look like anyone’s paying me today. Only one who looks happy is web-head over there.”
“Wealth and fame, he’s ignored,” says Daredevil. “Action is his reward.”
Cage nods. “To him, life is a great big hang-up.”
And wherever there’s a hang-up, True Believers, you’ll find the Spider-Man!
“Ok, fellas,” Spider-Man says, “I’m gonna see if I can get a fix on our bearded, junk-food loving friend. Try to keep up.” Spider-Man leaps a full 30′ straight up, then fires a web at a nearby flagpole, zip-lining across the street.
“Sweet Christmas!” says Power Man. “How are we supposed to keep up with that?”
“Easy,” says Daredevil, grinning. “I’ll follow him, and you can follow me.” Without waiting for an answer, he nimbly scales a nearby fire escape, landing on the roof seconds later.
“I knew I should have brought my skycycle,” Hawkeye sighs.
Meanwhile topside, Spider-Man quickly homes in on the buzzing of his spider-tracer. A few minutes later, he catches sight of his quarry: the same bearded, trenchcoat-wearing man he saw earlier, still holding a stick of what was once ice cream in his hand, now-completely melted. The man is walking away from the CTB Center grounds; not rushing, but definitely moving with purpose. Spider-Man follows for while, keeping out of sight on the rooftops. Daredevil uses his radar sense to keep tabs on Spider-Man while keeping in sight of the other three heroes, who follow along on the ground as fast as they can.
After a few minutes, the man suddenly stops, turns and stares directly at Spider-Man; then takes off at a speed far beyond that of a normal human. Were it not for his spider-tracer, Spider-Man would be left in the dust. The mysterious man makes a beeline southeast, quickly reaching speeds of almost 40mph at a run with no sign of tiring. It’s all Spidey can do to keep up as the man runs parallel to FDR drive, heading through Midtown to the Lower East Side before crossing the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn some 20 minutes later.
“I guess you can travel faster on foot than I thought,” says Spider-Man, coming to a rest on one of the bridge pylons to wait for the others. Once they are all together again, Spider-Man follows the tracer to a warehouse in Red Hook, where the heroes find the man and three others who look just like him awaiting them on the roof of a warehouse that looks to be abandoned. All of the men remove their overcoats and hats, revealing one-piece coveralls underneath.
“Check out those beards. Those are serious facial accessories,” Hawkeye says aloud. Daredevil has no comment. Three of the men spread out in a triangular pattern, each fixating on one of the heroes, while the fourth moves quickly to the rooftop door into the warehouse. “We’ve got a runner!” Cyclops says.
“I’ll head him off at the pass,” Spider-Man replies, bounding off the side of the building.
“I don’t like how they’re just staring at us,” says Power Man. “Gives me the creeps.”
“I’ll lay down some modesty for you, big guy,” says Hawkeye, loosing a smoke arrow.
As the purple vapor begins to billow throughout the area, Daredevil notices something peculiar with his enhanced senses: none of these men have a heartbeat! “They’re not human!” he exclaims. “They’re robots!”
“Then that makes things a lot easier,” says Cyclops, adjusting his visor and letting fly an optic blast.
“Time to introduce these turkeys to my steel-hard skin and 300 lbs. of solid muscle!” says Power Man, moving towards the trio.
Behind his hand, Hawkeye theatrically whispers to Daredevil: “He really needs to work on that battle-cry.”
The battle on the roof is brief, and the heroes pull no punches. Daredevil accounts for one, while Luke Cage and Cyclops both battle the others before Hawkeye puts them both down for good with electro-arrows, short-circuiting their systems. Once again, Daredevil’s senses alert him of danger just in the nick of time; and he exclaims “They’re going to explode!” mere seconds before they do…
Meanwhile, the fourth man rushes into the rooftop entrance to the warehouse and down the stairs, barely having time to reach the second floor catwalk before Spider-Man crashes through a boarded-up window on the side of the building!
“Hiya, Baldy!” Spider-Man says, “Miss me?” Inside, the warehouse looks disused and mostly abandoned; although there are crates and boxes covered with dusty tarpaulins scattered about the ground floor, some of them quite large. Both Spider-Man and the mysterious man face each other on a second-story catwalk that runs the perimeter of the interior. Spider-Man’s spider sense warns him just before the man lunges at him. Spidey evades him easily and gives him a light smack in return, which is when he notices the man’s skin is harder than normal; in fact, it’s completely artificial.
“Heeyyyyy….” he says, “you’re one a them there robots, a’int ya?” Armed with that knowledge, Spider-Man makes quick work of him, putting him out of commission just as a huge explosion blows a whole in the ceiling, tumbling The remaining four heroes inside. Sizing up the situation, Cyclops blasts the prone body of Spider-Man’s opponent, reducing it to debris before it, too, can explode.
The heroes barely have time to catch their breath when a mechanical voice is heard from a hidden loudspeaker:
“Well, well…I must commend your resourcefulness, heroes…I truly didn’t think you’d make it this far. But where others may panic, I see further opportunity for profit!”
“The Machinesmith!” Daredevil exclaims. “I recognize the voice!”
“I remember, now,” says Hawkeye. “He’s in the Avengers’ files. Captain America told me about him. How come you didn’t recognize him from all his robots?”
“I…uh…didn’t get a good look at him,” says Daredevil.
The voice continues. “Unfortunately, I must depart, as my benefactor now has his merchandise. In the meantime, I’ve arranged to broadcast this bonus material to him, so be sure to put on a good show! Mu hu ha ha ha ha ha!”
Suddenly, one of the large crates bursts open to reveal the unmistakable form of the Incredible Hulk! Or it would be unmistakable, if it had an actual head instead of two visual diodes suspended on a robotic frame. Apparently this particular robot is unfinished. A bestial roar erupts from where the green giant’s throat would be as he lunges to attack!
It’s a bright, sunny July day in Manhattan, a good day for a celebration. The Cyrus Theophilus Bartlett Community Center is finally open. Made possible by a grant from the Rand-Meachum corporation, the CBT Center promises opportunities for growth and outreach among those residents of Harlem who most need the services. The CBT will offer adult education classes, child care and social services; as well as a free clinic that will provide the uninsured access to health care and preventative medicine. Nelson and Murdock, PC will also offer pro-bono legal services to those who qualify. The residents of Harlem have turned out in droves for the official ribbon-cutting ceremony, which features music, free food, entertainment and appearances by prominent community professionals, including Hero-for-Hire Luke Cage, a.k.a. Power Man; lawyer Matt Murdock; and Daily Bugle editor and Harlem native Joe “Robbie” Robertson; who is the featured keynote speaker.
To keep the crowd contained, an entire city block has been cordoned off; the perimeter manned by NYPD police, some from on horseback from the mounted division. Most of them are holding coffee cups, munching on fried dough and street food. It’s a festive atmosphere, and everyone seems to be having a good time.
Much of the entertainment is being provided by Cheezo the Clown’s Coney Island Circus Show; which has erected a scaffolding and a makeshift Big Top on the main stage. It features aerialists, a fire-breather, a strong man (who seems a bit self-conscious with Power Man here), and, of course, Cheezo the clown himself. But the real main event of the day is an appearance by the Avenging Archer, Hawkeye; who has promised to entertain the crowd with his amazing marksmanship, and even sign autographs afterwards!
Both Luke Cage (in costume) and Matt Murdock (not) share the stage with “Robbie” Robertson and the Reverend Placide Puree of the 138th St. Baptist Church. Robbie is supposed to be the keynote speaker of the event, as he is the only one who actually knew community activist Cyrus Bartlett; but the Reverend Placide Puree and his epic jheri curl has hijacked the dedication for his own self-aggrandizing purposes. Meanwhile, Cheezo the Clown and his Coney Island Circus Show await backstage with Hawkeye, going over their plans for the entertainment soon to follow. Hawkeye will dazzle the crowd with some trick shots, while the aerialists, the cowboy and the strong man all do their thing. Cheezo himself will juggle while riding his unicycle; he’ll throw some bowling pins high in the air so the Avenger can shoot them and make the kiddies laugh.
In the crowd, meanwhile, Scott Summers, a.k.a. Cyclops, regards his portable Cerebro device. Professor Xavier told him there was a good chance Angela Ivers, a teenager who has recently demonstrated some mutant abilities, may attend this event. Professor X knows her newly-manifested powers have frightened her and he wants to be sure she receives some guidance and support from the X-Men. So far, Cerebro has been quiet. (Unbeknownst to Cyclops, Angela got grounded yesterday and has not been allowed to attend the ceremony.)
Peter Parker is also in the crowd, on assignment from the Daily Bugle to get some photos of the opening of the CBT center and his editor Robbie’s speech. A man jostles him, ruining his shot. The man heads off into the crowd with a mumbled apology. Since Peter failed his Intuition roll, he takes no notice of how the man is dressed in an overcoat and hat; odd considering the warm weather; or how he’s holding an ice cream bar that has melted all over his hand, and doesn’t seem to care. He does notice the man’s old-fashioned facial whiskers, but quickly forgets about them.
The Reverend Placide Puree introduces Hawkeye while back-handedly apologizing for the absence of the Human Torch, who was the first choice for the event’s headliner. The Human Torch along with the rest of the Fantastic Four is busy, says the Reverend, but Hawkeye the Avenger will certainly do his best to entertain the crowd.
And entertain them he does; briefly, at least.
Spider-Man’s spider sense barely tingles before suddenly, the cowboy dazzling the crowd with rope tricks loops his lariat over Power Man, pinning his arms to his chest! Power Man has just enough time to chuckle in surprise, thinking it’s all part of the act, before 40,000 volts of electricity surge through the cable. If it wasn’t for his steel-hard skin and 300 lbs. of solid muscle, Luke Cage would be toast! Meanwhile, the twin aerialists leap from the scaffolding and maneuver a huge cannon to point at Power Man, while the clown blows a comically-large horn, discharging a cloud of high-potency knock-out gas directly at Hawkeye! The Avenging Archer begins to sputter and cough; but manages to fight off the effects of the gas as the Strong Man heads towards him with malicious intent and the clown follows up with a weighted tenpin, beaning Hawkeye off the noggin!
Peter Parker’s spider-sense is blaring klaxons now; so he takes the opportunity to duck under the stage to change into his Spider-Man costume. Cyclops likewise finds an out of the way corner; but Matt Murdock, on stage with Power Man; has nowhere to go. Instead he “accidentally” blunders into the cowboy, smacking him with his blind-man’s cane hard enough to hurt!. Power Man is shocked again by the electric lariat; but he soon has bigger problems than that: the cannon booms, and a brightly-costumed man with a bullet-shaped helmet rockets into Power Man with incredible force! Sadly, the Human Cannonball didn’t reckon on steel-hard skin and 300 lbs. of solid muscle. He ricochets off the Hero-for-Hire, barely managing to budge him. but definitely making him mad!
The Strong Man tries to grapple Hawkeye, but the Avenger evades him long enough to put a blunt-tipped arrow directly into the clown’s breadbasket at point-blank range, knocking him clear off his unicycle! Power Man flexes his muscles, loosening the lariat and slipping free! Matt Murdock swings his cane wildly, “accidentally” knocking the cowboy completely out cold as Power Man charges the Human Cannonball and grabs hold of him! The twin aerialists leap once again into the scaffolding above, as Hawkeye fires an explosive arrow at the Strong Man’s feet. The resulting blast puts the Strong Man down for the count! Matt Murdock takes the opportunity to slip offstage, but not before he notices that someone in the crowd is acting strangely: his radar sense picks up one man standing stock still, watching the action; while all around him, a sea of spectators is milling about in excitement and the beginnings of panic as they realize what they’re seeing on stage isn’t mere entertainment!
Luke Cage swings the Human Cannonball like a club, connecting solidly with one of the aerialists. Both villains careen wildly offstage, while the remaining aerialist reaches the rafters. Spider-Man and Cyclops emerge from their hiding places just as a disturbance parts the crowd. A sultry woman throws off her cape, revealing a slinky costume that barely covers enough to keep this event family-friendly. Coiled around her as she undulates towards the stage is an enormous, 20′ long python! Standing next to her, a man in an old-fashioned, vaudeville suit with an oily, handlebar moustache places a large top hat on his head…
“Wallopin’ Websnappers!” exclaims Spider-Man as he leaps into the rafters after the remaining aerialist. “This is no Coney Island Circus Show…it’s the Circus of Crime!”
“The Circus of what, now?” asks Cyclops. At least the villains the X-Men face usually have cooler names, he thinks, as he notices a red-whiskered man in the crowd staring fixedly at him, loosely holding a bag of popcorn, almost as an afterthought. In fact, most of it has spilled on the ground in front of him.
“The Circus of Crime,” says Daredevil, seemingly appearing from nowhere. “Ringmaster, Princess Python…and, uh…the rest of them.”
“Buncha low-life turkeys!” says Power-Man. “Picked the wrong party to crash!”
Hawkeye wastes no time and fires a bola arrow at Princess Python, completely entangling her and her snake; while Cyclops unceremoniously optic-blasts the Ringmaster, blindsiding him and knocking him out before he can even fit the hat on his head. Faced with overwhelming odds the remaining aerialist, Luigi Gambonno, surrenders.
While the NYPD rounds up the Circus of Crime, the five heroes meet in the midst of the trashed stage amidst resounding cheers from the crowd. Before he can protest, Hawkeye is quickly led away on the arm of Reverend Placide Puree to sign autographs. Spider-Man waves to the crowd and begins bowing theatrically, but stops short when he sees that same red-whiskered man in the crowd that jostled him before, still holding a melted ice cream bar, staring directly at him. His spider-sense is quiet. Still, he decides it might be a good idea to see what’s up.
A leap and bound later, and Spider-Man stands in front of him. “Hey, buddy,” Spidey says, “a bit warm for a coat, don’t ya think?” Immediately, the man turns and begins to walk away. Spidey watches him go, but not before he tags him with a spider-tracer. Best to keep an eye on this guy.
Back onstage, the heroes interrogate the Circus of Crime, now handcuffed and awaiting the paddy wagon. A hatless Ringmaster, hands cuffed behind his back, stares with unconcealed hatred at Spider-Man.
“You,” he spits. “Always it’s you, wall-crawler.”
“Oooo,” Spider-Man says, “you really should twirl your moustache when you say that, Ring-o. It’s so villainous! Here,” he says, “lemme get that for you.” He reaches out and twists Ringmaster’s moustache, while Daredevil, casually leaning against the scaffolding nearby, chuckles audibly.
“Curse you!” sputters Ringmaster. “You weren’t even supposed to be here!”
The heroes exchange looks. “Who wasn’t supposed to be here?” asks Cyclops.
Ringmaster stares defiantly at Spider-Man, ignoring Cyclops. “I’ve got nothing else to say.”
Luke Cage steps closer, loudly cracking his knuckles. “Hey, web-head…how many punches does it usually take to get this pigeon talkin’?”
“He’s a stubborn one,” says Spider-Man, sighing. Ringmaster stares at Power Man in abject terror. “Might take a few. Plus, once you start, you just can’t stop.”
Ringmaster slumps in defeat. “What do you want to know?”
“Well, we already know you’re an idiot, Ringmaster,” Daredevil says, ” so you can skip that part. Someone put you and the rest of these clowns (pardon the expression) up to this. Who was it? And don’t lie. I’ll know.”
“I don’t know who he was. We were just supposed to attack Power Man and Hawkeye, then leave after a little while. He never said anything about three more heroes! It’s his good luck we got caught. Now we can’t collect, and I’d demand more money now!” Daredevil listens for the telltale skip in heart rate that would indicate a lie, but there isn’t one. Ringmaster really doesn’t know.
“You mean you ain’t even been paid yet?” Power Man says, laughing aloud. “Man, you’re just sad.” Ringmaster flushes scarlet, but stays silent.
“What did he look like?” asks Cyclops, scanning the crowd.
“Bald. Red whiskers,” says Ringmaster. “But not a full-beard, just side-whiskers. He looked ridiculous.”
“Listen to Oil Can Harry with the handlebar moustache, here, giving out fashion advice,” says Hawkeye, having disengaged himself from Reverend Placide Puree for the moment.
“I saw that guy,” says Cyclops. “He was standing over there, just staring at me. Stared so hard he spilled his popcorn everywhere. Guess I’m an interesting fellow.”
“I saw him too,” says Spider-Man. “But he was over there, and he had ice cream. It was melting all over his hand.”
“The same guy can’t be in two places at once”, says Power Man.
“Make it three,” says Daredevil. “I noticed someone watching me too, but I didn’t get a good look at him.”
“Let me guess,” says Power Man. “Funnel cake?”
Daredevil grins. “I didn’t notice.”
“So someone, probably these guys, hires these idiots to attack me and Power Man,” says Hawkeye. “Why? I never even met you before today.”
“It ain’t like we travel in the same circles, Avenger,” agrees Cage.
“I think we can find out pretty easily,” says Spider-Man. “It looks like the NYPD can handle things from here. I can follow Ice Cream Man’s trail. You all can follow me.”
“That’s if you’re done signing autographs, archer,” Cyclops says with a smirk.
Hawkeye glances apprehensively at Reverend Placide Puree, who is looking in his direction, and nods. “Let’s get out of here.”
As faithful readers of this blog know, during the pandemic, I have been a regular player in a friend’s D&D 5E game over Roll20. I’ve also managed to run some Star Trek Adventures, too. But Star Trek Adventures, while a lot of fun, is a complex game with a lot of moving parts. I love running it, but it takes some preparation to do so. So when my friend unexpectedly said he needed a couple of weeks off from running D&D, we needed something quick and easy to fill the gap. It wasn’t gonna be Star Trek.
I suggested TSR’s old Marvel Super Heroes game. Why, you ask? First of all, I love it. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine. Second, it takes little preparation to run, as everyone takes the role of an established super hero. Third, even though it was last in print in the late 80’s/early 90’s, it’s quite accessible to everyone. You can get the Basic and Advanced sets, as well as pretty much everything ever published for them, at Classic Marvel Forever for FREEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!! Last, we’ve all played it before. Sure, it was decades ago, when we were in high school; but who cares? It’s not a difficult system to learn, or in our case, remember.
It’s not a particularly great system, either; but neither were any of the old TSR percentile-based boxed games. Still, I was eager and willing to jump back into the four-color comics of my youth. I hastily wrote a quick adventure for some low-power heroes (no Thor or Hulk here, sorry). Although I gave them a choice of several heroes including Black Cat, Iron Fist and Dazzler (one of my friends insisted on her, don’t ask); my friends chose to play Spider-Man, Daredevil, Power Man (Luke Cage), Hawkeye and Cyclops.
It’s set in the early 80’s comic book continuity; so Luke Cage is wearing a yellow, open shirt and a chain belt; Peter Parker carries a camera with actual film in it; Hawkeye is just thinking about starting an Avengers team on the West Coast; Matt Murdock is a lawyer and Cyclops is sad that his girlfriend turned into an evil super-powerful cosmic entity and then died; and then he then fell in love with a clone of her that was really a demon queen; and that he has a really shitty relationship with his brother; and that his father would rather jaunt around the galaxy with a bunch of misfits rather than spend one minute with his kids; and that maybe that it would be nice to take his friggin’ visor off every once in a while without blowing big holes in anything he looks at. (He doesn’t know that his own son from an alternate future timeline is a cyborg who is also a colossal douchebag. Not yet, anyway.)
So, gather ’round, True Believers, and get ready for the first Marvel Super Heroes game I have run this millennium, and probably (but hopefully not) the last: Taken to Task! In two days!