Hi, I’m The Angry Piper. You may remember me from such things as being active in the online hobby community and having a blog, once.
Jesus. Another month from hell. I hesitate to say things are getting better, because I said that last month and shit went south again immediately after I did. I’m not one to knock wood; but I’m coming around to the idea of embracing superstition. It can’t hurt, right?
In the meantime, I’ve managed to keep up with one challenge, at least: Tom’s #paintanadventuringparty challenge on Instagram. To be honest, if I wasn’t nine for nine already this year, I wouldn’t have bothered. But why break my streak?
This bad boy is from Grenadier, a Dark Elf Sorcerer sculpted by the great Julie Guthrie. I’ve decided to call him a wizard for the purpose of the challenge. I also decided to paint him with a bright palette, because who the hell is gonna stop me?
I’ve had this guy for a while. Since 1988 (or 1989, I can’t make it out). He was even painted once, but he was painted primarily glossy crimson. Spiffy, huh? I stripped him for repaint about a decade ago.
I feel like I should do something better with the staff, but…nah.
Check out the widow’s peak on this guy! Full-on Eddie Munster!
Picture this. Old-school D&D. Your first level Magic-User has 2 hit points and one random spell, and it’s Read Magic. You meet an Owlbear and you die.
Grab some dice and a new character sheet.
Once again, I’m hoping to make a return to normalcy here at Dead Dick’s next month. I still have a lot of Pop Culture miniatures I would like to get to by the end of the year. Thanks for sticking with me.
Those Dark Places is a game the evokes the theme and mood of great classic sci-fi/horror movies like Alien, Outland,Event Horizon and Saturn 3. It’s got a simple system and easy game mechanics that don’t get in the way of roleplaying in an atmosphere of isolation and horror. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Those Dark Places is one of the best games I’ve played in the last decade; and the best part is it’s all contained in this one little book.
Characters have four attributes, Strength, Agility, Charisma and Education, each with a unique value of 1-4. In addition, they have both a primary and secondary job aboard the ship; things like Security or Helm Officer or Engineer, etc. You use a single six-sided die to resolve everything in the game, and you usually roll one die, add your relevant attribute score and add a bonus from your job (2 for primary, 1 for secondary) if applicable. If the total equals 7 or more, you succeed. If it ties, it’s a partial success. If it’s less, you fail.
So, let’s say your character is the ship’s engineer and you want to cut open an airlock door from outside the ship. You would roll a single die, add your education score (let’s say your education is 3), and another +2 from your primary position as engineer. If the total is more than seven, you succeed.
Ranged combat is very much the same. Roll a die, add your Agility and any bonus from the Security position, if applicable. The target to beat is a 6 for short range, a 7 for medium and an 8 for long, with an additional +1 added if the target elects to dodge, losing his next action but making it harder to be hit.
Hand-to-hand combat is an opposed roll, meaning both you and your opponent roll a die, add your strength, plus any relevant bonus from the Security Officer position. Compare results and whoever has the highest wins, doing damage to his or her opponent. In the event of a tie, nothing happens (they just feint and jab, grapple or block…whatever).
Then there’s pressure, a measure of how much stress you can take under duress. You make a pressure roll any time the game master thinks it’s appropriate. Roll a die, add your pressure bonus (the sum of your Strength + Education scores). If it’s more than 10, you pass; anything less and you get to increase your Pressure Level by 1. The higher your Pressure Level, the more likely you are to crack under the stress and suffer an Episode; anything from fatigue, to freezing, to all-out panic. Returning to the example above, let’s say you’re the engineer and you don’t just want to cut through the airlock from outside, you NEED to because your spacesuit is compromised and you’re leaking air like a punctured balloon. Time is of the essence. Sounds like a good time for a pressure roll before you roll to see if you succeed in your task.
Like I said, I like this game a lot, and a big reason is the system mechanics. It’s quick, easy and fun. Just what I needed for my 1970’s street crime RPG: The Hub.
I’ve wanted to run a 1970’s crime game like this for a while, ever since I came across the RPG Dog Town, by Cold Blooded Games. From the official description: Dog Town is a realistic role playing game set in a New York City ghetto in the mid to late 1970’s, think of films like “Donnie Brasco”, “Goodfella’s”, “Shaft” and “Carlito’s Way” and you’ll get the picture. It’s about attitude and swaggering machismo, about being a “bad ass” like gangsters portrayed on the big screen. There are no heroes trying to save the world from evil forces, just at best anti-heroes trying to profit from it.In Dog Town it is the people that are the animals and your own dark destructive motives, which you have to be careful of. Life often is short and brutal starting and ending in the gutter. That’s just the way it is.
Dog Town is a true labor of love by the game’s creators. You can see in every page how much they respect the source material. The core rulebook and its various supplements are a treasure trove of information about this time period and subject matter. The artwork is awesome and the production value is high. It’s really exceptional.
It’s also free on DriveThru RPG. All of it. Lately, I have a hair across my ass about DTRPG, and I wouldn’t encourage anyone to shop there. But like I said, it’s FREE, so DTRPG isn’t making money off them. Not that they’d want to anyway: this game definitely contains “potentially offensive content” and “acts of criminal perversion”, two things DTRPG says are against their selectively-enforced content rules. Better get over there now and grab it while you can, before someone gets offended and complains.
Unfortunately, Dog Town’s game mechanics are fucking incomprehensible to me, and I’m no dummy. They’re clunky, to say the least; and it requires a lot of math and chart referencing to resolve most actions. I’m not a fan of the rules; but once again, I can’t say enough good things about the setting and the work these guys put into it.
I knew I wanted to set my game in Boston, because it’s a city I’m familiar with and it has a long history of corruption and violence. I had several scenario ideas, I just needed a good game system. I briefly considered Fate, because I really like it; but Fate is definitely a “heroic” roleplaying game. Player characters have a high chance of success in almost everything they do, and they are able to perform feats and stunts that normal folks can’t. I don’t want that. I want gritty realism, not John Wick.
Those Dark Places has exactly what I need. Simple mechanics, deadly combat, fast resolution and the pressure mechanic all foster great roleplaying opportunities and fit exactly into the atmosphere I’m trying to create. Once I decided, it was easy to adapt.
Attributes remain the same. I just replaced the ship positions with criminal types; so instead of things like helm officer, engineer and medical officer, I have things like heavy, thief, grifter, etc. Each one of these gives primary and secondary bonuses as applicable. Pressure is the same; except you roll a pressure test for things like getting chased by the cops or getting threatened by a gang boss; or, you know, getting shot at. I went a step further and added some basic skills that give bonuses in specific circumstances, like “Manson Lamps”, which gives a +1 bonus to Charisma when trying to intimidate someone, or “Wicked Smart” which gives a +1 bonus to assess unfamiliar situations. Characters get to choose one skill.
I’m happy to say it has worked perfectly so far. My first playtest of the game was Sunday, and everyone seemed to have a good time. The players really embraced the setting and made some cool characters that would be at home in any 70’s crime movie. Combat worked exactly as I wanted and there weren’t any game-breaking flaws (yet). Both characters survived, too; which is always a plus!
I’m always looking for players; so if this setting intrigues you, let me know! Or check out all the other games I will get around to running eventually. You can find them here.
For my Character of the Month and for Tom’s #paintanadventuringparty challenge on Instagram, I decided to do this half-elven ranger, sculpted by Dennis Mize for the Ral Partha AD&D Adventurers collection back in 1989.
Another old-school, metal miniature from yesteryear that’s been sitting in my pile of shame without a drop of paint on him since the day he was purchased.
I’m really happy with the way he came out, and I’m glad I chose yellow as the prominent color. I hate painting yellow, but for some reason I thought it would look good.
True to form, I waited until the last possible day to finish him up, but that still counts!
This month has been fun. Make sure to stop by Carrion Crow’s Buffet for the Forgotten Heroes blogroll and check out everyone’s fantastic submissions. Next month here at Dead Dick’s Tavern starts with a major gripe session, followed by more pop culture miniatures, another character of the month, and…oh, yeah…a little thing called the Season of Scenery, hosted by Mr. Star Wars himself: Dave Stone! This year, I have decided to merge both the Season of Scenery challenge and my own Year of Pop Culture and work on something that will satisfy both.
This is a character I created for an online game of Star Trek Adventures. The game never ended up happening; but I thought I’d share him here anyway. In this first post, I’ll detail the character’s back story. In the next post, I’ll discuss a bit about his Atributes, Disciplines, Talents, Values and Focuses; all of which play an important part in Star Trek Adventures.
Rhin Valim was born to artisan parents in Kendra Province on Bajor. His mother was a potter, his father a landscape architect. Perhaps Rhin Valim could have been talented in one or the other, but he never got the chance. When he was four, the Cardassians came to Bajor. Once your planet is occupied and your family is sent to a labor camp, pottery and flowers seem a lot less important.
Unlike most Bajorans, Rhin Valim is not a man of faith. He believes the Prophets, if they even exist, stopped caring about Bajor long ago. For his part, Rhin stopped caring about the Prophets when he was ten. By then, he was an orphan; and not a single prayer or appeal to the Prophets had ever done him or anyone else he knew any good. Now that their supposed “Emissary” is a Starfleet Commander in charge of a former Cardassian labor camp/mining station, he can’t understand why no other Bajorans can see the absurdity of their entire religion. The Prophets never did a damn thing for Bajor, certainly not in recent history.
Who actually did something for Bajor? He did. Rhin Valim, and those like him in the Bajoran Resistance. The Resistance is who liberated Bajor, one dead Cardassian at a time; not the Vedeks, or the Kai, or the Prophets. At least some of the Vedeks were Resistance fighters. The Prophets were nowhere to be found.
Once the Cardassians withdrew, Rhin was dismayed to see the various factions of the provisional government quickly degenerate into a disorganized mess, praising the Prophets for their liberation while securing their own power bases. If it weren’t for the Federation, the Cardassians never would have left; and Rhin would still be avenging every Bajoran who was beaten, abused, murdered or worked to death in a filthy camp by a Cardassian overseer. Rhin long ago lost count of how many Cardassians he has personally killed.
It’s a large number, and he doesn’t regret a single one.
Like all Bajorans who weren’t collaborators, Rhin is grateful for the Federation’s help in ending the occupation. But he knows the Federation had a vested interest in keeping the Cardassians off of Bajor; and since the discovery of the wormhole, that determination seems to have increased. Rhin Valim joined Starfleet because he couldn’t stomach working for the Bajoran Provisional Government, not out of love for Starfleet. For now, Starfleet’s interests align with his; but he is no career soldier. He has no interest in rising through the ranks, and little use for exploration and discovery when his home world is still very much under Cardassian threat.
Because of the skills he learned in the D’arana Resistance Cell, Rhin Valim was best suited to Security Division. Rhin already knew how to fire a phaser and check an ID; and he knew how to hit someone and make it hurt. His instructors at the Academy were impressed.
Unbeknownst to them, though, he also knew how to defeat security systems, jury-rig explosives, extract information from those unwilling to impart it, plan and execute an ambush so that not a single target got out alive, blend into the surrounding terrain and/or population to escape detection, sabotage a power generator, blackmail an asset, infiltrate a high-security outpost, and silently and effectively murder a Cardassian Gul in his bed while his wife slept peacefully beside him.
Skills not taught at Starfleet Academy, but learned at great cost in the Bajoran Resistance.
Rhin Valim is a quiet man with few friends, not because he is difficult to get along with; but because he is extremely focused on survival, even now. He knows how quickly things can change for the worse. Although not obvious, he constantly scans his environment for threats and takes the measure of his companions early and often, taking nothing for granted, not even food and basic necessities, things that should not be a concern for a member of Starfleet. At Lieutenant Jr. Grade, he is a low-ranking officer; but despite this he likely has a better understanding of the capabilities of the individuals on his team than they have of themselves. Rhin’s opinions on the Prophets of Bajor are not popular among his own people and he does not go out of his way to share them; but neither does he wear the traditional earring symbolic of the Bajoran faith. Likewise, despite the inclusivity that Starfleet tries to instill in its recruits, Rhin Valim hates Cardassians. All Cardassians, without exception.
Over my roughly 40 years of roleplaying, I have made a fair few characters for many different RPGs. Some I played for a long time, others maybe only one game; some achieved greatness, others didn’t survive long enough to reach second level. I’ve decided to share some of them with you, so every once in a while, I’ll post one of my characters from one of my roleplaying games from years past. (And yes, I complained making up backstories for my Character of the Month challenge was too time-consuming. I know.)
I’ll start with one of my most recent characters, Milton Blish; a character I created for a friend’s Call of Cthulhu Modern game. Although Milton survived his first outing against the Horrors of the Cosmos, I won’t be playing him again. My Keeper wanted to turn him into part of a ghost hunter team with their own TV show. I’m not having it, and neither is Milton.
Milton embodies the most negative stereotypes of Gen Z. He’s selfish, lazy and generally socially awkward. He spends most of his time in front of a screen; whether it’s his phone or laptop. He has almost no ambition and assumes the world is terrible, so there’s nothing he can really do about it except exist in it until he dies. If stereotypes were true, then Milton would assume (like many of his generation) that the world owes him a living and that he’s entitled to a safe space and participation trophy for everything; but Milton’s parents never gave a shit about him at all, and he never got even the slightest bit of recognition or praise from anyone in his life.
He works in a dingy store that still (in 2022!) inexplicably sells pornographic magazines and videos. MIlton has little interest in porn himself and despises the customers, partly because they’re too stupid to understand they can get all the porn they could ever want on the Internet for free; and partly because he has to endure their questions about porn and requests for whatever their particular kinks are. To top it off, the store is one of the only places in the state that still has spank booths (they’re grandfathered in), where customers can pay to watch porn on the premises. It’s Milton’s job to clean them out and make sure no one uses them for prostitution, which of course they do; otherwise Milton would probably be out of a job and the patrons would just jerk off at whatever squalid hovel they call home.
Milton firmly believes the government is watching everything we do. He jailbreaks all his cell phones and owns two laptops that he has built himself; one of which is air-gapped. He tries to pay cash for almost everything, including rent, and pays his utility bills (under an alias, of course) at the corner convenience store. He spends most of his evenings at home. When he does go out it usually for necessities only. HIs apartment is pretty sparse with almost no furniture beyond a huge couch that doubles as his bed and a kitchen table he uses as a workbench and writing area. HIs trash is often overflowing and his bathroom is best left to the imagination. He eats a lot of junk food and takeout, and the results of this diet are obvious. He’s a big guy, but he’s not in anything like good shape. Still, his large physical presence has served him well in ejecting lingerers from the booths.
Milton is really smart. Smarter than you, that’s for sure. Although he won’t say so (why state the obvious?) this attitude comes through fairly strongly in most social interactions. It’s no surprise that Milton has few friends. Well, none, really.
Last Wednesday was a slow night. Maybe it was the snow: six inches on the ground and a foot and a half more forecast before Thursday evening. Milton barely looked up from his laptop at the tinkling of the door bell; but the blast of cold air got his attention. It was Amber, one of the girls he regularly had to eject from the booths for plying her trade, or for falling asleep back there. She looked like shit, was hardly dressed for the weather and was obviously dopesick; in other words, nothing new for Amber. She was leaning heavily on a shapeless man in a huge overcoat, who half-dragged her towards the entrance to the booths.
She pulled away long enough to fish a ten-dollar bill out of her bra and put it on the counter. “Don’t be a dick about it, porn guy,” she said.
Milton looked down at the Hamilton, the back up at Amber. He looked over her shoulder at the man, but he was already entering the darkened back rooms where the booths were located. Milton slid the ten off the counter and pocketed it. He didn’t bother giving her a code to activate the video screens in the back, since she wasn’t there to watch porn. “Make it quick,” he said. She flipped him the bird on her way to the booths.
Milton went back to his surfing. Five minutes later, he heard something.
Milton had worked in the porn store long enough to be able to block out the usual sounds coming from the back area, some from the movies, some from the patrons. This wasn’t that. It sounded like a drain backing up; a sick, wet gurgling sound. But the only drain in the store was in the bathroom sink, and that was behind him. It wasn’t coming from there.
Milton stood up and grabbed the cut-down baseball bat from behind the counter. As he warily approached the entrance to the booths, the sound got louder; the strange squelching now punctuated with sharp, cracking sounds, like someone stomping on bubble wrap. He stepped over the threshold to allow his eyes to adjust to the darkness and looked down the corridor to where he could see the industrial switch that would illuminate the entire booths area in an instant. He started towards it, hitting the bat against the wall a few times. “Time’s up, Amber,” he said loudly.
That’s when the smell hit him. Something like burnt circuitry mixed with soiled diapers. It was revolting. The sounds got louder and somehow wetter. Milton felt ice down his back as he stared into the darkness at the line of doors on either side, wondering which of the booths was occupied and knowing he would have to walk between them all to reach the light switch.
“Milton,” Amber’s weak voice came from somewhere in the dark, pleading. “Help me.” The gurgling sounds continued, louder now. Wet sounds. Eating sounds.
Milton turned and bolted out of the shop and into the blizzard. He didn’t bother to get his laptop or his coat and didn’t stop running until he got to his apartment two blocks away. He collapsed on his couch, chest heaving and throat on fire from his mad flight through the darkened, snowy streets.
When the panic finally subsided, Milton knew he was right to run.
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.
“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!