Role Playing Games

Over the past several months my older son has been increasingly spending more time in what I call “solitary imaginative play.” People may disagree with me, but I believe it’s good creative fun.

The trouble here is logistics: it’s hard for him to find space where his younger brothers don’t intrude. And then there are the times I interrupt, however briefly, to ask about what he’s imagining. I don’t get much of a response, which is understandable. He just wants to continue on whatever adventure I had inadvertently pulled him out of. Believe it or not, I get it.

So really, I desire 3 things:

  • A chance for my oldest son to have awesome epic level adventures
  • Him to play with at least one of his younger brothers and genuinely enjoy it
  • A window for me to see into those epic imaginary adventures without distracting him.

Which is where the idea of introducing Role Playing Games started to come in. Then during this year’s Free Comic Book day, we visited a shop that had an extensive RPG section. This year the boys were more curious about the RPGs, but not so curious to ask me to explain it to them. Which is good, because I couldn’t. I participated in exactly 1 rpg session when I was 14 and I had to leave early. So clearly I know more than someone who has never sat down at a table to play, but less than someone who has stayed through one complete session (which may not even be the end of the adventure).

But hey, there’s the internet which makes anyone an expert. Even me. I watched a couple of youtube videos, and showed my two older boys (even though they didn’t ask to see them). And they were really excited about the idea. I was honestly not prepared for how much my six year old was excited for the game.

These Pathfinder videos and I eventually came to the conclusion that Pathfinder is awesome… for someone who knows what they are doing and is at least 13 with a high IQ. It is safe to say that you want someone who has played more than a fraction of 1 game 2 decades ago to be the Game Master.

Someday we’ll play and when we do, I will not be running the game.

So the quest was on (ugh! Dad pun) to find an RPG that met the 3 criterea from earlier, plus these two:

  • A six year old can understand it enough to enjoy it
  • Its level of complexity is one that I can manage

After less then 30 minutes of research, I landed on Dungeon World [Wikipedia]. It has several of the same elements as Pathfinder (and D&D), but is more focused on creating a collaborative story.

The boys were on board and all we needed was dice… the rule book… character sheets… pencils… and wait I have to prep this game? All of which I’ll get into next time. Maybe.

Featured Image came from OpenClipArt.Org

Bargain Bin: JLA

Once I shied away from superhero titles, but now I’m on a quest to stretch my comic book budget further… (for a summary of that journey see this post.)

The Acquisition

I picked up 6 issues from a 50 cent bin at a used book store and won an auction of 10 issues for around $8. Lastly, I bought a single issue of the JLA at a comic book store for about $2. But it was accompanied by 3 free books from the 50 cent bin so, I view it as a 50 cent purchase.

So 17 issues for around $11.50 That’s around 70 cents an issue. On a good day $11.50 could be 3 new issues at the current prices.

I felt pretty good about the acquisition. Until I realized that the auction I won was for JLA Classified, which is different from JLA. Classified featured stories of the various iterations of the Justice League, but wasn’t tied directly to the 6 issues I had originally purchased. But since these were also acquired for about 70 cents an issue, I don’t feel too bad about my mistake.

Between the two JLA series the acquisition looked like this:JLA issues 17 – 26 (7 issues) and JLA Classified 1-10.

My Familiarity With the Title

I’ve read some digital editions of the Justice League, which is different. I didn’t recognize one of the characters (Zauriel) and didn’t recognize Superman in a few issues because he looked like he was a mutant smurf (this was one of the more radical costume changes for the character).

Grant Morrison and Mark Waid wrote the JLA issues (Waid was backup). From talks with other fans and perusing the internet, these two writers seem to be at their best when they write DC characters.

How were the Issues?

There was some great material in these issues, but there was also some stuff that didn’t sit right with me. I intended to read  the issues than loan them to a friend’s son. The friend does not read comics, so I looked with a critical eye.

The 7 JLA issues were fun, but I also think the phrase “far out” also applies. I feel like these are a great set of issues for someone new to comics to read, only because it has the potential to draw a very bright line on what someone finds appealing.

JLA Classified was also fun, but had a few moments that kind of soured it for me.

Classified had an arc that reintroduced Guy Gardner. I’m not really a fan of him, but I also haven’t read anything with him in it. In any case, his treatment of women was terrible. It seemed like it was intended to increase the “anti” part of his anti-hero role.

First he assaults Mary Marvel, while she is in her adult powered form, but still for all intents and purposes is a young teenager, if not a pre-teen. The actual touching part takes place off panel, but it is clear that there was contact and it was uninvited.

Now some might argue that it’s a situation that would be impossible to happen in real life because she’s a child in an adult body. True. Children don’t become super powered adults by using magic words. But there are adults with cognitive disabilities which have the mental capacity of a 10 – 12 year old child.

In short, not something I want my children thinking is acceptable, nor a friend’s child.

Mary eventually beats him up and he straight up apologizes. It did nothing for me as a reader. Stories with protagonists (anti-heroes) can be an intense and compelling read. But the way Guy Gardner is written doesn’t make him an anti-hero. It makes him a jerk who assaults women.

I thought I could get away with lending out the other issues from Classified, but in the next issue Guy Gardner is tempted to assault Power Girl… while she is asleep… and I’m pretty sure he was the one who magically knocked her out.

Both scenes were totally unnecessary. The plot would not have collapsed if these pages had been removed or included less disturbing content.

There was also a moment when Blue Beetle asks Booster Gold what his older wife sees in him. Nothing was said, but it was clear that it was physical. But it might not be clear to my friend’s 11 year old son. And I can only imagine him asking his Dad about it and then it just goes down hill from there.

I should point out that these issues were approved by the Comics Code Authority. It was towards the end of its existence and clearly long past it’s effectiveness.

Also, the books were not the greatest in bringing new readers up to speed on what was going on, which lead for a few moments of confusion.

Other than that (and I know that is a heavy bit of dissatisfaction), the books were good. The arc with Guy Gardner was actually pretty hilarious (absent the terrible things I just wrote about ).

Definitely worth the 70 cents an issue.

Will I read it to my children?

No surprises here. But I try not to over do it with censoring what they read. They’ll be able to read when they’re older and it will come with a conversation about what is wrong about how Guy Gardner was written.

 

 

Bargain Bin: Invincible Iron Man

Once I shied away from superhero titles, but now I’m on a quest to stretch my comic book budget further… (for a summary of that journey see this post.)

The Acquisition

I had looked for Iron Man lots on ebay for several weeks, but each auction was going for about $2/issue. While I wouldn’t object to paying that much, I pursued other bargains.

And then came a local comic book and toy convention. One stand was selling 15 comics for $10 and there was a large run of Iron Man. I took the 15 oldest titles they had and called it a day.

Not quite the 50 cent per issue standard that I seem to have settled on, but the fact that I considered the market value to be $2/issue made me feel like it was a good purchase. Plus, its still under $1/issue which is respectable… in certain circles. There are plenty of people in plenty of circles who would think any amount on comic books is a waste.

The run of 15 issues was from 197 – 216, with only one issue gaps. With current comic book prices, I would have only gotten 2 issues by spending the same amount on brand new titles.

My Familiarity With the Title

Mostly through Avengers titles that I acquired in my bargain hunting. In the issues where he was present, Tony Stark had developed a drinking problem and someone else (I presumed Rhodey) was in the Iron Man armor.

How were the Issues?

First off, they physically stunk. The moment I cracked the plastic I realized why they sold at such a bargain. Fortunately, it wasn’t a cigarette stench. Just musty. Probably the result of a previous owner storing them in a basement. I researched how to get rid of the smell and was relieved that there were a few techniques. What ultimately wound up working is that I switched their bags & boards. (Note this wasn’t even a technique I had found in my research).

Onto the stories… they were kind of all over the place. The run had some of the elements I love about comic books and plenty of the elements that were marks of lazy storytelling. What was especially surprising was that one issue consolidated both those extremes into one issue. I’m looking at you #202! I’m hoping to detail that emotional roller coaster in a different post.

But then there was issues #216, the last one in the run and wow was it one to end on! I refer to this as the issue of “No Ways”, because each time I turned a page to another plot twist I said “No Way!”

Not only was I lucky that I ended at #216, but in order to enjoy it I was lucky to start where I did. My run covered almost a two year time span in terms of publishing, and many of the story elements that build to #216 began around #175 from what I can tell from my (very lazy) internet research.

I found myself thinking that to get the amazing finale in 216 when it was released someone would have had to read the title for 2+ years!? No wonder story arcs are so much shorter now. With single issues priced as high as they are right now, no one has that type of patience. Then again, issues were written to take into account that many of the readers did not read consecutive issues. So there is a reasonable amount of retracing the story (admirably, not using flashbacks or making such light use of them that I cannot recall them). That is generally something that is lacking in the writing styles of current issues.

Some of the things that I felt detracted from the storytelling were:

  • The amount of time it took to read an issue. While I wasn’t timing myself, these definitely were close to 30 minutes. That’s fine. But a 30 minute comic book read needs to be flawless, and that just wasn’t the case.
  • The way Tony’s alcoholism was referenced. The characters reference this self destructive phase a lot, but in weird ways. The one that comes to mind is something like “back when I was pickling my brain with my alcohol problem.” I think another one could have been “drowning in cuckoo juice” or something to that effect. The point is that it trivializes the problem. This was pretty common in 1980’s storytelling across several formats. Sit-coms frequently had one episode dedicated to where a main character dealt with the demons of alcoholism for all of one episode. In TV time that might have been a week (the exception being Cheers whose introduced it’s main character as an alcoholic who owned a bar). Iron Man also borrows the idea that alcoholism is similar to nicotine addiction. It’s not. Neither are good, but alcoholism is far more complicated.
  • The various dialects in Rhodey’s dialogue are inconsistent and frequently cringe worthy.

Ultimately, I’m not sure I’ll be reading these again or even keeping them.

Will I read it to my children?

I’ve offered, but they weren’t interested. Which is funny, because Iron Man is the favorite of at least one of my boys.

Favorite Panels

At some point in my bargain reading I started taking pictures of panels that I thought I could sneak into a Facebook comment or two and look totally hip. Here are the panels I’m saving for the right occasion. (but I’m leaving out one from issue from 216 because its a spoiler).

 

Bargain Bin: Midnight Society the Black Lake

Once I shied away from superhero titles, but now I’m on a quest to stretch my comic book budget further… (for a summary of that journey see this post.)

The Acquisition

All 4 issues of this stand alone mini-series published by Dark Horse was picked up at a used book store for 50 cents an issue! They have the standard $3.99 cover price, which would have been around $16 at full price. By only paying $2 I received a 88% discount! Compared to the trade paperback at $14.99 my acquisition was discounted by 86%.

I was more than happy.

My Familiarity With the Title

I had read an early review, which sounded promising. But I’ve learned not to trust reviews of comics before they are released to the public. In any event, I didn’t pick this up and I can’t remember the reason why. It’s possible my pull list was already too full or the comic book store didn’t order any copies.

I remember a few disappointing reviews after it was released. But they paid full price, I paid $2. Would that make a difference?

How were the Issues?

These issues were amazing, and I would have paid full price for them. The covers too are spectacular! The plot balances mystery with ethical dilemmas, which are two elements of story telling that I appreciate.

My original plan was to flip these, but I’ll be putting them in my “permanent” collection… which are my high quality favorites. They are only full runs and only about 10% of my collection.

Honestly, if there are follow up series I’ll add them to the pull list.

Will I read it to my children?

While this is probably considered part of the ‘horror’ genre it is light and won’t give nightmares. There are a lot of characters to track and dangling plot threads, but no kissy face stuff.

 

 

Bargain Bin: X-Men Volume 4

Once I shied away from superhero titles, but now I’m on a quest to stretch my comic book budget further… (for a summary of that journey see this post.)

The Acquisition

4 issues at 50 cents each in one trip to a comic book store. In comic book math I spent $2 for books that would have cost $16. The issues range from 4 to 18 so there is are some significant gaps.

My Familiarity With the Title

The more I read the Marvel X titles the less I understand. I was more familiar with Brian Wood the writer. I’ve found his historical fiction to be incredible (see recent bargain bin post for reviewing Black Road) , but was disappointed with his creator owned super hero series called Mara. The art on it was great, but the plot just … ugh.

In any case, some writers do great with their own characters while others do their best work on a company character.

I felt comfortable giving this a try for $2.

How were the Issues?

Decent. It’s an all woman team up and they weren’t in your face about it. It felt natural. The art was good, but I got the impression that this was drawn to appeal more to men than women.

I mostly understood the plot to each issue (someone is attacking! or we need to save people!). However, I didn’t understand the plot that connected the issues together, and 3 out of the 4 issues had a synopsis. That 4th one really had me confused.

Good superhero comics are great at getting the reader up to speed quickly. For whatever reason, I just couldn’t get there.

I wouldn’t object to buying more, but I’m not likely to pay more than $1/per issue.

Will I read it to my children?

It is rated teen plus, but I’d be ok with them reading the issues before 13 if they are eager to read an all female team up comic.

 

 

Bargain Bin: Conan

Once I shied away from superhero titles, but now I’m on a quest to stretch my comic book budget further… (for a summary of that journey see this post.)

The Acquisition

This mostly came down to one lot obtained from ebay that had a variety of Conan titles from 2 different publishers, plus a few other Robert E Howard character based stories. Altogether there were 20 issues for a little over $12; around 60 cents per issue.

Normally, I share the range of issues I received, but that won’t do it for Conan because Conan has had multiple series with multiple publishers. Needless to say, the gaps in this lot were substantial.

At current prices (~$4 / issue) the same amount would have yielded just 3 issues.

After reading these I picked up 2 more at $1/issue at a local comic book store.

I felt pretty good about the purchase. If I didn’t like them I knew I could find them a good home, even if it meant giving them away.

My Familiarity With the Title

I knew the Conan as represented in pop culture. I was not familiar with the world that he traveled. I had also picked up a few of the more recent titles of “Conan the Slayer”. I enjoyed it, but didn’t connect it to the broader world.

How were the Issues?

Really enjoyable. Each issue was mostly a self contained story. By that I mean about 90% of the issue was a complete story and around 10% linked to a larger story line. In other words each story was a satisfying read, and the enourmous gaps in the issues didn’t matter. This was more

In fact I became fascinated at how the worlds were so consistently told, which lead me to some casual research on the character and the original author, Robert E Howard. And oh my, there was more there than I was prepared for.

I found this short documentary to be the most informative, but I don’t necessarily agree with every thing the contributor states or implies. Namely that the Marvel comics were a disservice to Howard’s work.

There is also a biography titled the “Blood & Thunder”. It generally receives favorable reviews from Howard fans because it put some serious research into print. I don’t think the favorable reviews are written by people who frequently read biographies.

This also lead me to watching the most recent Conan film, which I would love to review in a separate post… after I finish the first volume on short stories. Which I’ve started listening to via Audible.

And the final endorsement for how much I enjoyed these comics: there is another set of 15 Conan comics coming my way from a second Ebay auction. Those were won at a price of about 90 cents per issue. These are in sequential order and a more recent run.

These are definitely worth picking up from the bargain bins.

Will I read it to my children?

They like adventure, but I don’t think sword and sorcery is their genre. I won’t stop them from reading them, but I won’t be suggesting them.

Favorite Panels

At some point in my bargain reading I started taking pictures of panels that I thought I could sneak into a Facebook comment or two and look totally hip. Here are the panels I’m saving for the right occasion.

 

Bargain Bin: All-New X-Factor

Once I shied away from superhero titles, but now I’m on a quest to stretch my comic book budget further… (for a summary of that journey see this post.)

The Acquisition

I only have 3 titles, two of which were from a an auction that included other titles. The other one was from the 50 Cent bin at a store. I picked it up knowing I had recently acquired the other two.

I short, I sort of wound up with these issues.

My Familiarity With the Title

I can’t keep track of these X-titles.

I think one of the characters was from Alpha Flight, but that’s a guess because she has green hair and wears unusual glasses. I should also point out that I don’t know what Alpha Flight is other than it somehow involves Canada.

Gambit is in it too, but I only know him from the cartoon in the 90s. So I’m guessing he’s changed. After all it has been over 20 years.

Quicksilver is in it too. Every issue I’ve read that had Quicksilver in it had him as a minor character or his appearance was temporary. I’m guessing that is why he seems like 6 different characters to me. Which one will show up in this series?

All that said, these issues were written by Peter David who wrote the issues of the Incredible Hulk that I picked up.

How were the Issues?

These were fun. Which seems unusual and fresh for a series written in the last 5 years or so.

Will I read it to my children?

These might be the issues I suggest my children to read if (when) they show an interest in X-Men. I know it’s a different title but the themes and characters travel the same orbit.

Favorite Panels

Nothing really stuck out. But it is only 3 issues.

 

Bargain Bin: Black Road

Once I shied away from superhero titles, but now I’m on a quest to stretch my comic book budget further… (for a summary of that journey see this post.)

The Acquisition

Black Road is series by Brian Wood and published by Image. I purchased the first issue at full price when it came out. I liked it but, couldn’t justify adding it to my pull list to purchase each month.

Then on a random trip to a used book store, I found issues 2 – 5 in their comics section for $1.50. Cover price was $3.99, so these issues were more than half off. Most of the stuff I’ve been picking up have had significantly lower cover prices, so they haven’t been worth mentioning.

Overall I walked out of the store feeling pretty awesome that I was going to be able to read the series.

My Familiarity With the Title

I’m familiar with Brian Wood through the historical series Rebels which was set in the American revolution, and his super hero mini series Mara. They were published by Dark Horse and Image respectively.

I really enjoyed Rebels and did not enjoy Mara (although I remember the art was really great). I wound up selling Mara with a bunch of other comics to the same used book store, and it was not a sale that yielded much in terms of cash.

In any case, my conclusion was that Brian Wood wrote really good historical fiction, and anything else I needed to be cautious.

How were the Issues?

They were great! It had an interesting plot, engaging dialogue and spectacular art. These 5 issues only make up the first arc and the issues for the 2nd arc are currently being published.

Will I read it to my children?

Nope. Not a series for kids.

 

 

Bargain Bin: X-Force (Volume 4)

Once I shied away from superhero titles, but now I’m on a quest to stretch my comic book budget further… (for a summary of that journey see this post.)

The Acquisition

This was purchased from an Ebay auction that listed several different series. Many of auctions that have multiple series do not list the titles. Some will even say that they are random (I don’t believe them), or that they haven’t been picked over (I always assume the previous owner picked over it).

In this case, all the titles and issues were disclosed. I just wasn’t smart enough and wound up bidding on an auction that I thought would fill the gaps in my “Uncanny X-Force”. But no. The auction only included titles for “X-Force” without the “Uncanny” prefix.

Yes, I got this one by mistake.

The lot was for 30 issues, 7 were X-Force ranging from issue 3 to 14. In total I paid about $12. This means I received 10 times as many comics from this auction than I would have received if I spent the same amount on new titles.

My Familiarity With the Title

Obviously not very familiar if I bid on the auction thinking it was a different series. I was slightly more familiar with the writer Si Spurrier.

How were the Issues?

Uncanny X-Force was not my favorite, so I didn’t have high expectations for this series. It features two of the characters that made Uncanny weird.

But they weren’t weird this time and the series was glorious. When I read an issue by Si Spurrier I feel like I’m getting more than one story.

Obviously, it’s a team series. Or in theatric terms it is an ensemble cast. The series landed well with me for a couple of reasons:

  • Each of the issues I read focuses on one of the team members mostly through inner monologue, but continues to advance the plot for the entire team. Instead it builds momentum as the other characters reference previous issues either through dialogue or action.
  • Each character has a unique voice. It’s like there is a team of writers working here. Not just one. I am very, very envious.

Will I read it to my children?

Tough call on this. It has a lot of violence, but not a lot of gore. The language isn’t out of control (one issue actually deals with this in a rather humorous way). I don’t feel that women are misrepresented. Characters face dilemmas that are not always solved by violence and their decisions have consequences.

In short, it’s probably not something that I’d walk up to my 6 & 9 year old and say “Hey let’s read this.” But if they were asking for a recommendation on X-Men (or any X titles) I’d probably share it with them.

Favorite Panels

At some point in my bargain reading I started taking pictures of panels that I thought I could sneak into a Facebook comment or two and look totally hip. This is one of the few modern titles that had these types of panels.

 

Bargain Bin: Avengers Volume 5

Once I shied away from superhero titles, but now I’m on a quest to stretch my comic book budget further… (for a summary of that journey see this post.)

The Acquisition

In total there were 5 issues acquired in about 3 different purchases. The 4 of the issues range range from #3-7, with only 5 missing. The other one is issues 35. 4 of the issues came in as part of a purchase of a lot. One was purchased through a 50 cent bin at a local comic shop.

I paid around 50 cents for each, so only out $2.50 for these titles. Using comic book math I couldn’t even buy a regular issue for that. If I was lucky I might be able to buy a promotional comic or two that sell for $1 a piece.

My Familiarity With the Title

It’s the Avengers, I’ve been reading more of these titles recently. Some thing like 40 issues from the 80s. Plus some of The New Avengers issues that I loved were written by John Hickman who wrote all 5 issues of the Avengers covered by this review.

Did I mention I really enjoyed the New Avengers? This is by the same writer. It should work out.

How were the Issues?

It did not work out. With the New Avengers it was like reading them for the first time. With volume 5 of The Avengers, it was like I didn’t know who these characters were any more.

How was the plot? I’m glad you asked, because I was unable to figure out the plot for any of the 5 issues. Maybe that’s on me. Maybe I should have read more than 40 issues before reading even one volume 5 issue.

Bottom line. These issues aren’t good bargain bin material. None of the issues provided adequate background for new readers like myself to enjoy. Plus the roster looks like it is over 20 characters! Not every issue has all 20, but each issue covers multiple threads with a large cast in each. It’s hard to follow, and for me it was impossible to know what the plot was.

I don’t mind plots that are elusive, as long as that is the intent of the writer. This didn’t have that vibe. It felt like I wore a costume to an exclusive party that turned out not to be a costume party and was hosted by someone who didn’t invite me… but somehow received an invitation. Ya. I think that sums it up well enough.

I’m guessing that these are enjoyed by long-term fans (or people with a subscription to Marvel Unlimited).

I probably won’t be picking up any more of these on purpose. The ones I do have will find there way onto eBay.

Will I read it to my children?

Maybe they could explain it to me?

Favorite Panels

None. But I did like the cover to Issue 7 (the featured image for this post).