Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The legacy of Magic: The Gathering on Dungeons & Dragons

I know some gamers, including some close friends of mine, who believe the true end of Dungeons & Dragons came about when TSR was acquired by Wizards of the Coast.  Being a fan of the both Dungeons & Dragons 3E  and Dungeons & Dragons 4E , I am obviously not one of them.  In fact, I tended to dismiss their claims about the influence of Magic: The Gathering on D&D as being overblown.  After all, 3E D&D was under development when the company was acquired, so how much influence could the new owners have had?

After this last weekend I have decided I needed to reevaluate this position.  Last Thursday I purchased Magic: The Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers on the Xbox 360.  Prior to this weekend I hadn’t played Magic: The Gathering in nearly a decade.  While playing this weekend I was struck by how many core concepts from Magic: The Gathering have migrated to Dungeons & Dragons over the years


This is one of the most obvious influences.  Magic: The Gathering is driven by keywords.  If a creature is listed as having Double Strike, Flying, or Haste, you can look up those standard keywords and figure out immediately what the creature can do.

Dungeons & Dragons 3E and Dungeons & Dragons 4E both make extensive use of keywords.  Knowing a creature has the Insubstantial property or a spell is a Force effect allow for greater consistency within the rules of the game.  Before the use of keywords, there would often be big differences between how very similar abilities would be adjudicated.

I am actually a big fan of the use of keywords.  I believe they both streamline the rules and add a great deal of consistency to the game.

Art Style

One of the contributing factors to the success of Magic: The Gathering is the artwork on the cards.  Not surprisingly, when Wizards of the Coast acquired TSR they put their stable of artists to work on redefining the look of Dungeons & Dragons.

The effect this had on the game should not be underestimated.  Obviously a lot of people (although not everyone), found this new look appealing.  I would even argue that the new and more fantastical look encouraged game designers to create more fantastical arms and equipment.

I personally have mixed feelings on the new look Wizards of the Coast brought to Dungeons & Dragons.  I do feel that the old art style felt somewhat dated to me.  However, I am not always a fan of the new style either, which sometimes looks a bit too “medieval punk” for my tastes.  So for me this is a wash.

Customizable Builds

Magic: The Gathering is all about customizing your deck.  A good deck consists of cards that may be individually decent, but devastating when combined. 

Dungeons & Dragons 3E added this concept of customization to player characters.  Using feats, multiclass, and prestige classes players were able to customize their characters like never before.  Dungeons & Dragons 4E added powers into the mix, which means the player gets to choose the majority of his class abilities. 

Not surprisingly this focus on customization leads certain players to game the system.

Once again I find the customizable builds to be a mixed bag.  I do enjoy customizing my character… in fact, my perfect system would likely be a classless point buy system.  On the other hand, the tendency to power game can go a bit too far at times (as any trip to the Character Optimization boards will show).

Exception Based Rules

The basic rules of Magic: The Gathering are rather simple.  You summon creatures and attempt to use them to damage your opponent.  The complexity comes from the fact that many cards allow you to “break” these rules in a specific way.

Powers in Dungeons & Dragons 4E work in a very similar manner.  While the basic rules of D&D 4E are pretty simple, each power allows you to “break” the rules as well.  It is not surprising that many players use power cards, whether home made or store bought, to keep track of these effects.

I know that exception based rules is one of the most controversial parts of Dungeons & Dragons 4E.  I tend to like the concept, but sometimes have issues with how it was implemented.

In conclusion…

It really is impossible to deny that Magic: The Gathering has influenced Dungeons & Dragons since it was acquired by Wizards of the Coast.  Of course whether you see this as innovation or blasphemy depends on your point of view.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Thoughts on Wizards Apology

Are you a person who sees a glass half-empty or a glass half-full? The answer to that may determine how you view the recent kerfuffle over Dragon Magazine's July 13th’s Class Acts: Ranger article.

The article had a number of errors in it that sparked an immediate reaction (pardon the pun) at various forums where D&D is discussed. Wizards of the Coast apparently got enough negative feedback on this article that Andy Collins actually published an apology for the lapse in quality! A new version of the article was posted on July 17th.

So what was wrong with the original article? The main problem was that several encounter attack powers were listed as immediate actions, but had no trigger mechanism. In 4E, immediate interrupts and immediate reactions always have something that triggers their use. Without a trigger, the concept of how an immediate action would work is a bit vague. When the article was corrected, the immediate actions were replaced with standard actions.

Another problem was that there was a utility power, Death Threat, which caused ongoing damage (with the save ends mechanic). Utility powers don’t generally cause damage... after all, that is what attack powers are for! When the article was updated, Death Threat was changed so that it made the target your quarry and granted combat advantage instead of causing damage directly.

If I had to guess, I would bet that the immediate action issue was a simple typo or "cut and paste" problem. The utility power acting like an attack power seems like a design problem. Of course, I could be completely off-base. In any case, both of these issues slipped past the editorial staff.

I know a lot of people are pissed off about this. After all, D&D Insider is a paid subscription service and subscribers (including me) expect a quality product in return. Posting an article that has enough problems in it that they actually have to post a retraction is not encouraging.

On the other hand, I feel Wizards of the Coast handled this situation as well as they could. They reacted to customer feedback quickly, confirming that the article had issues.. They addressed these issues and posted a written apology. More importantly. they promised to review their design, development, and editorial processes to prevent a reoccurrence of the issue.

Of course, that is what I meant at the top of the article where I asked if you are a glass half-empty or a glass half-full kind of person. While I am disappointed that the problems with this article were not caught before it was released, I truly appreciate the speed and seriousness with which it was handled.

Just try not to let it happen again, OK? After all, apologies seem a lot less sincere the second time around.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Scales of War Game Recap VIII-July 12th, 2009

Normally I would post the game recap up at Lords of Tyr, but the website seems to be having issues at the moment.  I will post a link to here when it is back up and running.

I would like to thank Rook103 for writing this recap.  I was unable to attend the Lords of Tyr game this weekend due to pesky real life reasons, so Rook103 graciously took up the pen.

If I am feeling cheeky later, I may have to write up The Adventures of Almirith in Camp.


Stormlords (Present)

Samantha (Halfling Rogue) - Storm Chaser - Todd

Wardren (Half-Elf Paladin) - John

Niles (Drow Bard) - Purple Rain - Brian

Duamerthrax (Dwarf Beastmaster Ranger) w. White Wolf Deifenbacker- The Twin Storms - TJ

Hurricane (Human Wizard) - Starts Out Slow and Ends in Disaster- Tony

Vala (Elf Druid) - Stephanie

Syed (Halfling Pirate) - Mike T

Stormlords (Not Present)

Almirith (Eladrin Warlord) - The Approaching Storm - Robert

Tuldil'el (Genasi Cleric of the Raven Queen) - The Calm Before the Storm - Mike D

Nebin (Halfling Fighter) - Ashby

The party retreated to the camp, to rest for the evening. Almirith remained at camp as the rest of the party prepared to return to the Ettercap room. Moving through the room the party accessed a newer part of the dungeon.

"Von Adrez-Kauthin Crypt Crypt"

Combat Round 1:

The party enters the room to discover five hobgoblin guards and some spitting drakes.

Syed's deadeye opens the round and drops a hobgoblin with a headshot. A sneaky foul smelling goblin launches a vexing cloud obfuscating the party's vision. The party leaped from the cloud and launched themselves against the villains. The drakes spit and snapped and the party slashed and shot until several hobgoblin minions fell. Niles sings a new song (something about a tale of the sea, that Syed took offense to) and is beaten quite bloody for his efforts (Syed seriously considered putting Niles out of his misery, but at the top of the next round decided on another course of action).

Combat Round 2:

To begin, Syed exploded the goblin's head with pistol shot. Vala followed up with a mauling strike against a drake. Warden seeing the tide of the fight turn around, delivers a mighty blow to a drake with his great axe. Duamerthrax creeps up behind the middle drake and attempts to circumcise it (apparently it’s really a circle strike, but it came out…well you get the idea). Niles continues his sea chantey and remains bloodied for his trouble (Syed remained quite annoyed at the landlubber’s blasphemy). To increase the level of irritation he taunts a well-cultured hobgoblin. Rather then gouge out its own eardrums, the hobgoblin stabs itself through the heart, expiring immediately. A bloodied drake snaps at Warden and takes a small bite out of his calf. Another drake attempts to take off Niles hand but chokes on its own tongue, rather then taste the sourness of talentless flesh. Sam blasts a drake with a dazing blow. Hurricane, cowering in the corner, flung his most potent offensive tool, a magic missle, at a drake. A drake seeing its chance to slay the wailing cat-thing drow, spits at him. Niles, in taking a bow, avoids the attack.

Combat Round 3:

Syed kills the stunned drake with a pistol shot to the brain pan. Vala performs another fierce and flamboyant grasping claws attack, but to no avail. Wardren, his great axe still dripping with the blood of the vanquished, strikes the drake menacing him. Duamerthrax and Deifenbacker move in and with Wardren pin the drake against the wall and properly circumcise it. Niles spits all over himself in some drakish language and the drake is now enthralled with him. Sam, like David before him (her), delivered death by a sling bullet to the last drake. Rejoice! The party is victorious!

Out of combat:

Room is filled with bas reliefs of merchant type activates. Sam lifts a key from the goblin corpse and with Syed's help is able to identify it as a shackle master key. The party takes a short rest and then decides to take the left door after staking the other 2 doors closed. Approaching the door, Wardren and Duamerthax hear pleas for salvation. Hurricane, in his cowardly way stepped out of the possible blast range, just in case. Sam steps up to check the door, declaring it free of traps. Then he (she) opens the door, insisting that Almirith would want to rescue whomever was within. Inside the room, the party sees three low sarcophagi (like bas reliefs) and a woman (Jalissa) shackled to the wall. Jalissa asks to be freed. Duamerthax frees Jalissa using the key that Hurricane recovered from the goblin. Jalissa ignores the dwarf, flinches upon seeing the drow and runs straight into the arms of the paladin. After sobbing to be returned home she informs the party that an eight-year-old boy Thurdren (a thief of foodstuffs) is around here somewhere. She also said that the hobgoblins, had abducted her. Syed offers the girl a flask to calm her nerves. Syed also is beginning to wonder why the paladin doesn’t bed the talling girl. Perhaps somewhere within the Paladin’s vows and sacrifices he agreed to give up his …. I mean become a eunuch? Wardren takes the girl back to camp and Almirith's care (no passion there either, the fey don’t mix with the commoners). The sarcophagi are loaded with treasure (2 parcels worth). (695 xp--now listed on the Google Docs XP tab)

The party unpins the middle doorway to reveal a huge complex. Almirith's squire moves forth to investigate. He (she) moves down the stairs to find a very still pool of water. As he (she) was moving back into the hallway, the door to the party's left opened and a horde of undead burst into the halls. Sam stands in the middle of the hallway, eyes wide, and wetting him(her)self.

Combat Round 1:

Duamerthrax critically cleaves through the leading zombie returning it to its unholy rest. Niles sings out a jaunty drow tune, half the party contemplates suicide. All decide that being devoured by the undead is reason enough to fight even with the drow singing! A ghoul bites down on the ranger, sampling dwarf flesh and Duamerthrax is paralyzed with shock. Warden seeing the unholy abominations rushes into the fray, slamming a ghoul back into the room. The ghoul retaliates by grabbing the paladin and ordering the zombies to feast on the holy blight. The partner ghoul's jaw clamps down on the paladin's arm and subdues him. Syed puts a pistol shot between Niles legs (missing the family jewels by an gnat's wing) to punish a front rank zombie (z2). A zombie (z1) sees wolf flesh as a treat.

Combat Round 2:

Duamerthrax takes offense and belts it for touching the wolf. Warden enjoys his time as a ghoul sandwich. Not much fun, but no real damage either. Sam scales the walls and proceeds to pelt the undead with his (her) blinding dagger of death. He (she) slays a bloodied zombie, blinding to zombies, and scaring several ghouls. A zombie (z4) tries to slam into the paladin. Sam falls spectacularly to the ground as his (her) boots fail. [The ghoul rips a section of the paladin's neck out and throws his now dying body to the ground.] {History rewrite} Having missed Niles attack, the ghoul is now insulted and the Wardren receives a surge of health from the drow. The ghoul attacks again, but finds the taste of paladin flesh too rich enough for seconds. The paladin collapses (*again if you believe in time-space travel). Syed drills one of the offending ghouls with another pistol shot. The ghoul with the newly acquired lead accessory (bullet shaped) in his shoulder, steps over the paladin's body and thrashes Duamerthrax. Sam tosses a dagger with flourish and slays the blinded ghoul. In its death throws the ghoul attempts to defile the paladin one last time. Hurricane finding a use for the magical Staff heaves a critical blow against several of the abominations. Drawing upon his reserves, Hurricane presses the attack...

Combat Round 3:

The Ranger slays a ghoul with a mighty strike. The last ghoul's claws bounce off the paladin's mail armor. Wardren, feeling divine inspiration, rises up from near death to separate the ghoul's lower body from its upper. Rejoice the party is victorious again, but not without spilling much of its own blood.

Moving into the room. The party discovered a black sun marking on the floor. Sam walks past the floor mosaic to check the far side of the room. The floor is quite rickety and will require the party to pass one at a time.(162 xp)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Forgotten Realms: Issue 4 – The Hand of Vaprak (Part 4 of 4)

The comic begins with Priam Agrivar dying.  In fact, the only thing keeping him alive seems to be his need to recap the last three issues. 

I just love the image of Vartan's soul screaming. Luckily for him, the cavalry from last issue has arrived to bring him back from the brink.  A quick lay on hands from “healing potion” administered to him by Dragonbait and Agrivar is back on his feet.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much they can do for the petrified elf.  Alias is anxious to keep going, but Agrivar demands some answers.

I am not a bard, but I was made by one! After some prompting by Dragonbait, Alias tells the story of the hand. She explains that a young Elminster fought a young Gornak and severed his hand.  Unknown to Elminster, the troll-god Vaprak had caused Gornak’s hand to become the legendary ogre’s paw.  While Elminster was studying the strange magic in the hand, he accidentally unlocked its power.  Unable to destroy it, Elminster hid it away in a “safe” location.  Unfortunately, it was recovered by the Realms Master crew and set loose again.

Meanwhile, Captain Omen is undergoing “enhanced interrogation techniques” at the hand of the Ogre Mage.  Gornak attempts some form of life draining effect, which backfires and causes him immense pain.  Captain Omen reveals he is dying from some form of incurable (and painful) disease.  The pain Gornak felt is simply the pain he feels every day.

The Ogre Mage decides it may be time to simply kill Omen when the cavalry arrives (twice in one issue!).  Gornak quickly hits the red-hot Minder with a cone of cold, incapacitating her.  He also conjures an earth elemental to slow down the group.

Earth Elementals, when you absolutely have to take down every MotherF***** in the room. Alias takes on the elemental, but is unable to fight it effectively without magic.  Agrivar defends himself from Ishi, but he is unable to get past her either.  Using his brain, Agrivar realizes only Captain Omen can put an end to this and tells everyone to focus on freeing him.  Since the elemental is in-between the group and the captain, Dragonbait chooses to toss the halfling over it.

Halflings are graceful.After a somewhat undignified landing, Foxy finds himself face to face with the Ogre Mage.  He tosses a dagger and misses… on purpose.  In reality, Foxy was aiming for Captain Omen’s bonds.  Omen shoots Gornak in the back with some handy magic missles, then uses a dispel magic to free Ishi from Gornak’s influence.  This allows Agrivar to get close enough to cut loose the Hand of Vaprak from Gornak.  Cutting off the hand causes an explosion of white light.

Don't go into the light!Agrivar and Dragonbait both reach the hand at the same time.  However the real problem turns out to be that the whole tower is collapsing because the earth elemental dissolved when the hand was removed, taking some structurally important parts of the tower with it. Omen teleports Agrivar and Dragonbait to his ship while everyone else scrambles for an exit.

Captain Omen reveals that he can open a portal to the Demiplane of Fear on his ship.  This is how Omen gets rid of the artifacts he discovers.  After some doubts from both Agrivar and Omen, Agrivar tosses the accursed thing into the abyss.

I just made that name up.

Man the coloring on Minder was awful this issue. Alias, Ishi, and Foxy barely make it out of the tower before it collapses.  Minder doesn’t make it out in time, because she had gone back to retrieve the petrified elf.  Luckily, her iron body protected them both.

Back at the docks, everyone ties up loose ends.  Vartan is returned to flesh.  Alias declines Agrivar’s offer for them to join the crew and reveals to Priam Agrivar that Dragonbait is also a paladin.  Foxilion decides to use the “Juggernaut Solution” take care of Gornak, commissioning a fountain to be built over his body.

or at least Frenemies? Perhaps most importantly, Ishi apologizes for attacking him while charmed.  She reiterates the Player’s Handbook text that a charmed individual cannot act against her creed and will not attack a friend.  However as a fighter who barely knew Agrivar, neither stricture applied.  Agrivar suggests that the easiest way to prevent that from happening again is for them to become friends.



  1. How old is Gornak?  Elminster is about 900 years old at this point, yet he still had brown hair when he first fought Gornak.
  2. I thought Jeff Grubb did a great job of introducing us to Captain Omen’s illness in this issue without it seeming forced.
  3. Jeff Grubb also dropped a major hint as to Minder’s identity in this issue by having her exclaim “By Clanggedin!”. 
  4. I thought it was humorous that both Captain Omen and Elminster dealt with the artifact the same way, by chucking it somewhere where “no one would ever find it”.  This is not a flaw in the story, since most wizards are arrogant enough to assume their hiding place is the safest.
  5. Considering how much time was spent setting up the Realms Masters Crew’s artifact hunting mission and their artifact disposal method, it seems ironic that they spend almost no time artifact hunting in later issues.
  6. Rags Morales’ art was great as always, but man were there a lot of coloring issues this issue.  Minder’s colors were completely off for most of the book.
  7. I liked the reasons why Ishi was able to attack Agrivar while charmed and Agrivar’s solution to the problem.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A new class and new mechanics

Dragon released the psion as its first “official” debut content.  In reality, this seems similiar to the previous playtest content they have released for classes like the barbarian, the artificer, and the monk.  In other words, they are providing one build of the class and a couple of prestige classes to get you start.

In fact, the biggest difference is the layout.  The PDF now no longer contains full descriptions of the powers in the article. Instead each power has a name and a link that takes you to the D&D Compendium for a full description.

This is obviously an attempt to prevent subscribers from sharing the PDFs with other people.  In practice, I found it extremely annoying.  That is all I will say on the subject since I am not here to rant about how copy protection tends to create problems for paying customers while doing little to dissuade pirates.  Well, at least not today.

The psion itself is a controller with the psionic power source.  This is pretty much what most people were expecting.  There were two surprises to me though: one is fluff and the other is mechanical.

The fluff surprise is that they have tied psionics into the far realm.  Well, more accurately it is a reaction to the encroachment of the far realm into the natural world.  Much like the human body will create antibodies to fight off infectious diseases, the rise of psionics is an attempt by the natural realm to fight back against the infection of aberrant creatures.

I am torn on this.  On the one hand, it puts helps explain the enmity psions have against their traditional enemies (e.g. Mind Flayers, Intellect Devourers, etc).  On the other hand, most of these aberrations were traditionally psionic creatures in previous editions of the game.  So putting aberrations at odds with the psionic power source seems a bit odd to me.

The mechanical surprise is even more shocking.  Unlike other classes, psions do not have encounter attack powers.  Instead, they gain new at-will attack powers at the levels where they would normally gain encounter attack powers.  They still gain daily attack powers and utility powers normally.

These leveled at-will attack powers are less powerful than the encounter attack powers gained by other classes.  To compensate, psions have small number of power points.  These power points can be used to augment the at-will attack powers, as listed in the power descriptions.  The powers may have more than one level of augmentation.  If they do, you can only choose one augment per use of the power. 

The psion regains power points whenever they take a short or extended rest.  Since the total number of points is small, basically enough to simulate burning through your encounter powers on a normal character, the additional bookkeeping is not that great or a burden.

I am worried that this new mechanic may be a bit too good.   Having so many at-will powers will add a lot of flexibility the other classes lack.  This is especially true when you add in the ability to augment these at-will attacks as necessary.

I will reserve final judgment on this until after I get a chance to see a psion in play.  I do know that in my characters I tend to favor flexibility over raw power any day though.

As an aside, I couldn’t help but wonder what this system would be like if adapted to the other classes.  I know some of my friends have expressed difficulty with the at-will, encounter, and daily power framework when applied to martial characters.  They cannot see why a fighter should only be able to perform certain kinds of attacks once per encounter or once per day. 

Moving martial powers to this new mechanic might help.  Almost all of their attacks would be usable at-will, but not as powerful as those of the arcane or divine classes.  However, you give them a small number of “Endurance Points” that they could use to augment these powers when they need to.  Its an idea that just might be crazy enough to work.

It is also an idea that would require more reengineering of the rules than I have time to do at the moment.  If anyone else wants to give it a try though, I would love to see it!

Monday, July 6, 2009

If I didn’t know better, I would think this was directed at me

When Wizards of the Coast first announced exclusive content for D&D Insider customers, I had a few choice words on the subject.  This is not a surprise.  After all, if I didn’t have strong opinions on this kind of thing I probably wouldn’t have a blog.

What I didn’t expect a response to my concerns.  Feel free to read the entire editorial, but here is the relevant portion:

Question #2: Will content that appears as a D&D Insider exclusive ever have additional support?

Answer: Yes, and support articles will likewise be exclusive to D&D Insider. You won't see revenant feats or paragon paths, for example, appear down the road in a print product. We already have plans in the works for an article this fall that features new revenant racial feats, and we'll treat the revenant like any other race in the game. As an article warrants, we'll provide revenants with new character options.

Well, I am glad to hear that they are at least trying to address the issue of “walled off content”.  I am still not sure that I am convinced.  Not that I don’t expect them to put out some additional content for the revenant.  The problem is that the amount of additional content needed will increase as the amount of exclusive content increases.

Right now they just have to worry about the revenant.  Soon, it will be the revenant and the assassin.  Eventually, once they have enough exclusive content they could fill up entire issues of Dragon just supporting the exclusive content.

Of course maybe by the time this becomes a problem they will just announce D&D 5E where the revenant is a core race.

(OK, I admit I just put that in to piss off a couple of my revenant hating friends).

In related news, it seems assassins will be tied to the new “shadow” power source.  As new power sources go, I can live with it.  I do wonder if we will be seeing support in Player’s Handbook 3 for other “non-exclusive” classes using the shadow power source. 

(I know the cover mock-up said “Psionic, Divine, and Primal Heroes”, but it is still early enough that I don’t trust that information).

In any case, I am going to continue to watch how this exclusive content is handled with great interest.  I still think it is a bad idea, despite being a D&D Insider customer myself. 

So now all WOTC has to do is prove me wrong.

Friday, July 3, 2009

OK, this image from Divine Power kind of bugs me.

Hi there, my name is Princess Mia. Not sure if you have seen this image from the upcoming Divine Power supplement.  At first glance it is not a bad picture, even if she does look a bit like Anne Hathaway from The Princess Diaries

However, when you blow things up a bit, it looks a little odd.  Specifically, when you look at her waist.

Her armorer has been playing a bit too much Tomb Raider: Underworld.

Apparently, she is wearing a chainmail bodysuit and low-rise plate leggings.

Despite the anachronistic nature of this fashion statement, I think this wouldn’t bug me as much if it wasn’t supposed to be armor.  Even in a fantasy world, chainmail shouldn’t act like spandex!  Even worse, I can’t even conceive how low-rise plate leggings would work.  To quote my man Morbo, “Platemail does not work that way!”

Ready for the beach or for battle! Granted, it is no less realistic than a chainmail bikini.  I guess for me the difference is that, like it or not, the chainmail bikini has become a classic of the fantasy genre.  So I tend to cut it a little slack.

On the other hand, the chainmail bodysuit and low-rise legging combo just seems like a cheap attempt to sex up the picture.

It just seems so unnecessary.  I personally feel that the artist did a beautiful job at making a picture that screams cleric.  She seems to be strong and in control of the situation.  In fact, this picture would make a great character portrait for someone playing a female cleric.

Which is probably the root of my problem.  It is so rare to find women in fantasy artwork who are not dressed in revealing clothing.  This one was so close, but using the chainmail bodysuit and low-rise legging combo sex it up compromises it for me.

I’m not opposed to pictures like the Red Sonya one above.  After all, Conan is just as naked and idealized in his pictures as Red Sonya is in this one.  The difference is that it is relatively easy to find fantasy artwork of fully armored men or ones whose body types deviate from the heroic mold.  I just wish that other options than “sexy” were available for female characters.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Random Reviews: Batman: The Black Casebook

It would be far easier to consider this a dream... but how can I?  For in my hand I hold the BAT-RADIA! One of Grant Morrison’s themes while writing Batman was that everything in Batman’s 70 year publishing history actually happened in some manner or another.  This included the Batman stories of the 1950’s, where stories like Batman being transported to an alien planet where he has powers like Superman were common place.

Grant Morrison decided to bring these stories back into the fold by introducing the concept of Batman’s “Black Casebook”.  Sort of like Batman’s personal X-Files, this is where he cataloged all of his experiences that didn’t make any sense.

The events of the Black Casebook came up many times during Grant Morrison’s run.  They proved to be the major driving force behind Batman: R.I.P.  The only problem was that many of these old stories were somewhat obscure and difficult to find.

Well, not anymore.  Batman: The Black Casebook compiles these Batman stories from the 1950’s in one easy to read volume.  Since these stories are only connected by virtue of having been referenced during Morrison’s run (especially during Batman: The Black Glove and in Batman: R.I.P. ) I will be looking at each separately.

A Partner for Batman

This basically is a story about Robin’s insecurities.  While Robin is laid up with a broken leg, Batman takes to training another superhero named Wingman.  Robin becomes increasingly convinced that Batman intends to make Wingman a permanent replacement for him.

During Morrison’s run on Batman, Wingman pops up during the Batman: The Black Glove storyline as a member of the Club of Heroes.

Story: 3 out of 5 bats (You never truly believe Robin will be replaced)

Relevance to Batman R.I.P.: 3 out of 5 bats (Nice to know who Wingman is, but not essential)

Batman – Indian Chief

This story introduces Man-of-Bats and Little Raven, two Sioux Indians named Great Eagle and Little Eagle, who have taken Batman and Robin as inspiration.   Great Eagle is injured by his enemy Black Elk and Batman and Robin decide to impersonate the duo so that Black Elk will not be able to confirm his belief that Great Eagle and Man-of-Bats are the same person.

During Morrison’s run on Batman, Man-of-Bats and Little Raven, now know as Red Raven, are also members of the Club of Heroes.

Story: 2 out of 5 bats (mostly due to the casual racism)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.: 3 out of 5 bats (Nice to know who Man-of-Bats is, but not essential)

The Batmen of All Nations…

Apparently there are Batman wannabes all around the world.  Knight & Squire from England, the Musketeer from France, the Legionary from Rome, The Gaucho from South America, and the Ranger from Australia all travel to Gotham City to learn from the legendary Batman.  Once there, the criminal “Knots” Cardine runs circles around Batman, even with all of the extra help.  What could be Caradine’s secret?

Story: 4 out of 5 bats (I liked that the other “Batmen” weren’t straight clones)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.: 4 out of 5 bats (This is nearly the entire cast of the Club of Heroes)

The First Batman…

Batman finds a Batman costume hidden in his father’s desk.  After a little research, Batman determines that his father had a brief (one time) career as Batman.  He also learns that his father’s death might not have been a result of random street crime after all.

Story: 2 out of 5 bats (I really hate it when they mess with the origin story)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.: 4 out of 5 bats (The costume plays a prominent role in the story)

The Club of Heroes

Batman nominates Superman for the chairman position in the Club of Heroes.  However, John Mayhew wants it to go to the most heroic member of the club, and a new superhero in Metropolis named Lightning-Man begins upstaging Superman.

Story: 2 out of 5 bats (This had a lot of silver age elements that I liked the least)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.: 2 out of 5 bats (While this had both the Club of Heroes and John Mayhew in it, the story was really a Superman story.  Also, Superman’s presence in the club really detracts from the Batman: The Black Glove storyline)

The Man Who Ended Batman’s Career

Professor Milo manages to give Batman a phobia of bats, to the extent that he can’t hold a batarang or look at his own shadow.  Batman briefly takes on the identity of Starman, but realizes that it won’t be long until the criminals realize who he is and begin using bats against him.  It looks like Batman’s career will be over for good.

Story: 4 out of 5 bats (I like that Robin saves the day on this one)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.:  4 out of 5 bats (The concept of taking down Batman psychologically is key to the Batman: R.I.P. storyline.  Plus in Grant Morrison’s mind, it ties in to the Batman - The Superman of Planet X story)

Am I Really Batman?

Batman wakes up in an insane asylum where he finds out that “the real Batman” has dumped him.  He escapes and makes his way to stately Wayne Manor, only to find Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson both their already!  Can Batman unravel what is going on?

Story: 3 out of 5 bats (I felt the resolution did not match the build up.  It does feature Professor Milo again though, even if he looks completely different)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.: 2 out of 5 bats (This story could be skipped)

Batman – The Superman of Planet X!

While flying around in his Bat-Plane, he is transported to the Planet Zur-En-Arrh by the Batman of that world.  There is an alien invasion coming, and he needs our Batman’s help to repel it.  Luckily, Batman has Superman’s powers on Zur-En-Arrh.

Story: 3 out of 5 bats (A very strange Batman story)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.: 5 out of 5 bats (Batman spends a decent portion of RIP running around proclaiming himself to be “The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh” and talking about “The Bat-Radia”.)

Batman Meets Bat-Mite

This story introduces the Bat-Mite, a fourth dimensional imp like the Superman foe Mr. Myxyzptlk.  Bat-Mite tries to be helpful, but his help might be more than Batman and Robin can survive.

Story: 3 out of 5 bats (this follows the template of almost any Bat-Mite story)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.: 3 out of 5 bats (While Bat-Mite plays a major role in the Batman R.I.P. story, he is better known than most of the characters in these stories)

The Rainbow Creature

While visiting a “South American Republic”, Batman and Robin encounter a Rainbow Colored Creature which has various Gygaxian powers tied to its colors.

Story: 1 out of 5 bats (Seriously?)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.: 1 out of 5 bats (Batman mentions this in passing while flipping through the Black Casebook)

Robin Dies At Dawn

Batman wakes up on an alien planet with no knowledge of how he got there.  Robin appears to help him out, but is killed by a four-armed alien at the break of dawn.  It is then revealed that Batman had volunteered for a military experiment on the effects of sensory deprivation on the human mind.  He leaves the facility, but his problems with hallucinations are far from over.

Story: 5 out of 5 bats (This story was a lot of fun.  The way the hallucinations are resolved seemed more like a modern Batman story)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.: 5 out of 5 bats (Without this story, there is no Batman R.I.P.)

The Batman Creature!

Batman is turned into a bestial version of himself.  So horrible in fact, that he makes Batwoman cry!  He is eventually returned to normal.

Story: 0 out of 5 bats (It didn’t even have the Gygaxian fun of the Rainbow Creature)

Relevance to Black Glove/R.I.P.: 0 out of 5 bats (Reading this does nothing for the Batman R.I.P. experience)

Final Thoughts

So, what do I think of Batman: The Black Casebook overall?  It is a great companion piece to Batman: R.I.P.  I would definitely recommend picking it up to read first if you are picking up Batman: R.I.P. in the trades.  In fact, my biggest complaint is that they didn’t release this while the actual Batman: R.I.P. storyline was going on in the comics!