Monday, March 7, 2016

Earth 10: Timeline and Time Travel

With the player set so far we have one PC and one team member (Superman and Flash, respectively) with time travel, one PC and one team member with immortality (Vigilante and the Hawks, respectively) and one PC as a legacy hero with heroics going back 90 years in her family (Zatava). This means I have to give some thought to the timeline and key events both past and future. So here we go.

Note: many of these plot ideas come from things in the Best of Fenix anthology, which is just wonderful.

The first rule of time travel is that it’s relatively easy to get to a period about 512 years ahead or behind of the current day – this is what 0 AP of Time Travel gets you. Each AP after that lets you get half again as close to the current day and twice as far away. Superman has 2 AP of Time Travel, which means he can get as far back as 2048 years from now (or 0 AD more or less) and as far forward as 4060 AD. He can also get as close as 128 years ago (about the Reconstruction era, as close as 2140 AD. The more powerful a time traveler you are the closer you can get to the absolute now, which is where the real power is in possibly being able to effect things. The further away you are the more likely the time steam will wash over the changes or break off a separate stream rather than change absolute now.

9 to 23 AD – Wang Mang’s China

The period when Wang Mang was emperor of China, this is the far edge of how back Superman can go with his time travel. Wang Mang is one of Superman’s most bitter foes, seeing him as the embodiment of everything that is not classical China. Once Wang Mang lears of his existence and, by extension, the events of the next 2000 years he puts into place a two millennia conspiracy to restore proper culture to the world.

64 AD: Nero’s Rome

When Jimmy Olsen puts Superman in contact with a historian looking for specific critical information on the early Roman empire Superman agrees to bring Jimmy back to ‘get the story’ – there they uncover a plot by ancient Egyptian cult of Ammut, the crocodile god of dreams, to replace Nero with a homunculus. When Egyptian magic reduces his power Superman is forced into a gladiatorial bout as Jimmy manages to reveal the faux Nero. The last remnants of the Ammut cult are destroyed in the fire and the proper Nero returned to power. Superman recovers his power enough to return Jimmy and himself to the 21st century.

1174: Between the Second and Third Crusade

In the chaotic period between the second and third crusades, as the crusader states are intriguing against one another in the wake of the second crusade and Saladin is gathering his power in the East, a small group of crusaders following clues from an ancient Chinese scroll accidentally wake a huge red dragon. One of the survivors of the dragons first attack on a small crusader unit was Etienne of Navarre, as he and Isabo were travelling to Jerusalem in hopes that the True Cross could break their curse, and survive only because a red and blue angel appeared to defeat the dragon. 830 years later the Hawks relate the story to Superman after their first team up, and the Man of Steel travels back to fulfill the time loop, barely defeating the enraged magical beast. He strongly suspects this was a planned assassination attempt on him by Wang Mang. (Note that the Hawks don’t have their flight gear yet, as it was Da Vinci’s design)

1770: Revolutionary Dating Triangle

Because part of me adores the old silly stories of Superman time travelling, there definitely has to be one where Superman travels back to the pre-revolutionary war period and gets into a romance triangle between the forceful and passionate Mary Ludwig (future Molly Pitcher) and the beautiful Elizabeth Phoebe Griscomb (future Betsy Ross). Is this entirely illogical? Well, no, both women were alive and unmarried in 1770, but other than that yeah, it’s totally absurd. We are therefore doing it anyway. I think we tie this to a fictitious precursor event to the revolutionary war (the Boston Massacre is on March 5, the Golden Hill Incident is January 17, so it’s right in that time period). Two possible options are that this is a story of Superman when he was a boy and young Betsy Ross sews the first Superman costume for him to wear while preventing another massacre, or it’s another one of those wacky “Jimmy Olsen convinces Superman to time travel and they end up double dating Molly and Betsy” stories. I could go either way.

1881: Rockets in the West

Nikolai Kibalchich, a Ukranian engineer and anarchist, built the bomb that killed Tsar Alexander II. He later escaped from prison, and then the Russias, with a solid fuel rocket of his own design. Making his way to the American west he perfects his designs and tries to use them to foment more anarchy in the US but is defeated by a team up between Vigilante and the Hawks. (The Hawks now have their glider wings, but don’t yet have the full flight capability because they haven’t yet been upgraded by the Wright Brothers.)

1927: Arthur Conan Doyle

Towards the end of his career Doyle became deeply involved in the Spiritualist movement even as he perfected the art of modern detective work. He wrote about the latter in his fictitious Sherlock Holmes stories, and the former in his non-fiction accounts of discussions with his spirit guide and the completion of final novels by other writers who had passed on. In 1925 he predicted an enormous upheaval of earthquakes and floods in 1927, but later told people he was wrong because he and his spirit guide were using the wrong calendar! The truth is that this was the first rumbles of the Mayan Apocalypse of 2012, forestalled by the combined work of Doyle, Vigilante (who was there learning detective techniques) and a young Zatara (who was mastering his ability to speak with the dead).

1931: New York City

The construction of new towers allows the ancient gods shadowy access to Manhattan, influencing people, manipulating effects, forming cults and otherwise trying to alter the world. Only the works of Zatara prevent moldy Babylonian gods from appearing in Central Park West to tear up the city.

2130’s: the Arctic Circle

A series of enormous solar flares has shut down much electromagnetic technology and communications, and combined with existing warming trends to melt the polar ice and reveal a whole new landscape to the North. This is exactly Ken Hite’s “wild west in the future arctic circle” article from Fenix, it takes place at closest future timeframe Superman can access and Vigilante is, of course, right in the thick of it because it’s a Western. A whole arc of the “Vigilante as immortal in other times and places” comic “Legends of the Vigilante” takes place here.

26th Century

500 years in the future, the only thing I know from here is that it’s where the Reverse Flash comes from. Yes, we have a Reverse Flash because shut up Reverse Flash that’s why.

31st century: Legion of Super Heroes

With the conclusion of my X-Men PBEM my next likely play by email project will be a rebuilt from the ground up Legion of Super Heroes. If that’s the case they will totally be part of this timeline, explaining part of where Superman was between developing his powers and going public as Superman. It’s a full on bright Gernsback future where a group of teenagers use their non-human powers to emulate the super-heroes of the 21st century. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Earth 10 Rogues Gallery 6: the Question

The final rogues’ gallery is, much like Zatava’s, not really a rogues’ gallery at all. Instead they are the outcroppings of the 6-7 issue conspiracy arcs that the Question has uncovered in his travels.

The initial story arc has to do with Hub City, and how the city’s political structure is corrupted on a purely human level. He manages through the course of the first film noir arc to deal with one aspect of that, installing a new police chief in Isadore ‘Izzy’ O’tool, restoring some sense of justice to the city, but the city itself is still monstrously corrupt. The only real supernatural element in this arc is a voodoo priest, just called Hogan, who appears across two issues.

The second story arc is such a radical departure that you might be wondering if you’re reading the same book – the Question goes to New England where he is investigating the disappearance of one of his old contacts. This kicks off a bizarre conspiracy concerning Cotton Mather’s stolen notebooks of supernatural events, the new appearance of a truly evil witch cult and a hidden city in rural New England made up of clockwork puritans whose outcast members reveal that some of the blue blood of the Brahmans is in fact gear lubricant.

The third story arc is back to hub city, where the Question starts tracking down the Mikado, a serial killer hunting the evil men of the city and killing them in ironically or philosophically appropriate ways. While Vic Sage might agree with the list of targets, the Mikado’s hilariously horrific means can’t justify the ends.

The fourth story arc has the Question in Machu Pichu, unravelling a decades old conspiracy of silence around the city’s discovery and what was really under the ground there. The long term ramifications of this will turn into the Calendar Man arc in the Justice Alliance, which will be the first the faceless occultist works with the world’s premier super-team. (But that’s a couple of years in the future).

The fifth story arc is back to Hub City, where the ghosts of the Mikado’s murders have to be put down using Orgone generators, Hindi magic and bare knuckled courage.

The sixth story arc is another assault on the conspiracy that runs the city, as the Question is now armed with knowledge ripped from the ghosts of the Mikado’s villains using tellurically powered Ouija board interrogation. This further reveals the corruption of the city and actually opens the door for possible improvements with the appearance of a federal task force. This arc also guest stars a well-known federal agent in Adam MacTaggart.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Earth 10: Darkness Falls and the Smallville R-Map

So part of the way we built out Zatava’s rogues gallery was by making a relationship map using the Smallville rules as a base. I wanted to quickly record how we did it (i.e. the mods we did on Smallville) so that I will remember in the future, because it worked pretty well. Part of this was to simplify things so the r-map doesn’t get too unwieldy, as it can in a full Smallville setting, but also because our game mechanics are not dependent on the strength of the relationships – we’re just looking for narrative potential. As such each core character should only have 9 connections (one for each corner and edge of the square, plus one more). A Link is the line between two things on the r-map, with the relationship defined.

1)    Draw a box for your core character, and link your character to each of the others. With 4 players this is should make a square of squares, with connections using 3 of the 9 links.
a)    Jason, Marinette, Marian and Angel are drawn and linked
2)    Draw a circle for a secondary character, and an oval for a location. Link each to your core character. You can also link them to each other, but you don’t have to.
a)    Jason adds the prestigious medical college and Dr. Korloff, head of their experimental surgery department, and links them.
b)    Marinette adds the nightclub and Mr. Saturday, the gravekeeper, but does not link them.
c)    Marian adds the orphanage/international adoption agency and Min, its administrator, and links them
d)    Angel adds her swanky downtown apartment and the crime boss/international antiquities thief.
3)    Draw either an oval or a circle for another location or secondary character. Link to your core character.
a)    Jason adds police chief M’bego, placing the police under his control
b)    Marinette adds the Graveyard at the crossroads for a potent Voodoo site
c)    Marian adds Claire, her ward from the orphanage.
d)    Angel adds her true love/accomplice/techie
4)    Link your core character to a different core character’s locations or characters or Draw another character or location linked to your core character
a)    Jason adds his rambling estate outside town.
b)    Marinette links to Jason’s Police Chief M’Bego
c)    Marian links to the crime boss, indicating a trusting relationship.
d)    Angel links to the graveyard, saying she visits dead allies there.
5)    Link two characters or locations your character is linked to
a)    Jason adds the tunnels linking the rambling estate to the medical college
b)    Marinette links Chief M’Bego to the nightclub, saying he visits there wearing a magical mask.
c)    Marian links Min to the crime boss, showing they are married, tightening the link between the two
d)    Angel links her accomplice to the crime boss,
6)    Link your core character to one of different core character’s locations or characters – a different one than prior – or Draw another character or location linked to your core character. This is your 8th character link.
a)    Jason adds Mr. Ice, his highly capable butler and Renfield who handles his domestic affairs
b)    Marinette adds the Ogham’s Hammer motorcycle gang
c)    Marian links to the motorcycle gang, sowing how they’ve been threatening her (obviously outside of Marinette’s control)
d)    Angel links to Jason’s rambling estate, showing where she robbed one of her artifacts from there.  
7)    Link one of your locations or characters to another locations or character, yours or someone else’s
a)    Jason links Dr. Korloff to Min, indicating how the good doctor is after Min’s blood.
b)    Marinette links Mr. Saturday to the Graveyard
c)    Marian links Min to the Orphange, hoping to use it as a safe space for her.
d)    Angel links her true love to the police chief, showing that they are father and son.
8)    Link your core character to one of the final core character’s locations or characters, or Draw another character or location linked to your core character. This is your 9th character link.
a)    Jason links to Angel’s swanky apartment building, showing that he owns it.
b)    Marinette links to the Crime Boss, indicating that they do business together.
c)    Marian links to Dr. Korloff, showing that she is suspiciously watching the good doctor, doubtless concerned about Min.
d)    Angel, concerned about her house now offering no protection against Jason adds the secret magically shielded hide out.
9)    Link any two locations, yours or others.
a)    Jason links Mr. ice to his Rambling Estate.
b)    Marinette links the motorcycle gang to the Crossroads Bar.
c)    Marian links Dr. Korloff to the Orphanage, either to set up a major future scene there or to exercise some control over the doctor.
d)    Angel links her true love to her hideout.

There, that covers everyone. We ended up with a nicely complicates series of plots that, when you add in monster of the week episodes, can easily take 100 issues of a comic to play out.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Earth 10 Rogues Gallery 5: Zatava

Rogues Gallery 5: Zatava

Zatava is an interesting case because she feels much more like the heroine from a Vertigo book – I just don’t picture her fighting a different magical villain every month in a magical punch-out. The solution was having three of the potential players (but not Kris, who is playing Zatava) make up characters (using Villains and Vigilantes for the random aspect) and then map their relationships using the Smallville system. This led me to formalize a stripped down Smallville r-map system that I’ll present here tomorrow and may see some use in other settings. In any event we ended up with a quartet of key magical players in the LA area city of Darkness Falls. This is the environment Zatava entered and is trying to work as the protector of, interacting with, balancing and playing off of the local power structure, with the occasional Monster of the Week.

Jason Dark

Darkness Falls was originally an African American community built on unincorporated land between several Sundown Towns. Originally derogatively mapped as Darkie Falls, this was where Black people lived and spent the night when the unofficial rules kicked them out of the surrounding towns at sunset. In the 1930’s Jason Dark moved there and through his influence in state politics took steps to make it a legal town and laid the foundations of what is now one of the country’s most prominent medical collages. Though there is significant revenue coming in from the LA commuters who now live in the integrated town Stoke College remains the bedrock of Darkness Falls’ finances. Jason Dark is still around to appreciate that, as he is a Vampire. This DC universes Vampires have their origins in the Arabian deserts, being creatures of wind and water that have thrown in their lot with dark forces. Jason Dark is one of these, but one whose connection to the dark forces is weak, in part because he eschews much of his power to avoid their influence. He can still drain the blood from a man, has inhuman reflexes and his size is completely under his control, changing in a gust of wind from the size of an insect to that of a bear, but that is all he allows himself. Otherwise he relies on a peerless intellect, centuries of understanding of human weaknesses, and magical artifacts to supplement his power. The most often used of these is a cloak of shadow stitched together with the essence of another Vampire that gives him several of his old abilities (flight, invisibility, becoming a shadow, summoning a fog) at no risk to himself. His other prize possession was a mirror that allowed astral travel, but that was lost some months back. The absence of demonic support means Jason’s unnatural state is not masked, and that gives him a repellent aspect to those without a magical background, so Jason always works through catspaws.


The owner of several bars, restaurants and nightclubs in Darkness Falls, this striking Haitian woman is the social force in Darkness Falls, having moved here with the first wave of entertainment types and opening a small bar. Twenty-five years later she owns or indirectly controls most venues in the city, though she knows she is still subordinate to Jason Dark (who acknowledges her as a near equal, but still uses her to distract others from his movements). Marinette is also a powerful Voudun, having made pacts with a half dozen Loa to grant her a variety of powers. She can call on them to act for her on other people or have them ‘ride’ her to directly grant her powers. These are most commonly manifested as telekinesis, extreme personal magnetism, hypnosis, emotion control, and rarely bursts of superhuman strength or combat prowess. She also has a magical artifact of her own -  a choker stolen years ago from the Sirens – that gives her powerful vocal abilities: she can unleash screams that will shatter walls, minds, or souls, mimic voices and make use of crude active sonar to see through walls and sense her environment.


The young woman Marian was rescued from somewhere in the world by the international adoption and child welfare agency Open Arms and was raised in their main orphanage in Darkness Falls. She developed an intense love of the orphanage, the organization and the community and has decided to make this place her home and someday transform it utterly unto a place not like anywhere else on this Earth. Being the seventh reincarnation of Nicholas Flaumel with an intuitive understanding of alchemy she could go anywhere, of course. Marian has a wide variety of magical spells and alchemical potions at her disposal (she is the European equivalent of Master Bai in terms of expertise), and favors those that produce solid matter from the air – she is able to create ice, snow, earth, and trees almost at will with potions secreted about her person. She is also damnably intelligent and strong willed, superhumanly so, if a little inexperienced. Marian is still consolidating her powers and has a very small power based in Darkness Falls compared to Jason and Marinette, limited to her ties to the orphanage and the charity scene, but she is young and with a scary amount of potential. Marinette is terrified of her and wants her dead and also wants not to engage her wraith, while Jason likely maneuvered her presence here for subtle reasons of his own.


Her name is a truth – she is an angel, one who fell voluntarily to spend a life with her mortal true love. That man is the son of the Darkness Falls chief of police, a hacker and thief. She has joined him in this pursuit, and appears to be in a long downward spiral from her former state of grace. Angel lives in a swanky high rise apartment in the center of Darkness Falls, working for the international artifact smuggler who is married to the woman who runs the Open Arms charity. Over the course of the series so far her love has broken with their boss and his father and is now in hiding in Angels magically shielded sanctum hidden somewhere in the city, while Angel ostentatiously keeps the attention of both the hunters on herself. Being made of the thoughts of God she has an array of powers – she can take the shape or powers of an creature in God’s kingdom, she is immune to harm from the physical world save for sheer brute force disrupting her body, she is superhumanly brilliant and charming, and a millennia in the Host has left her skilled with all physical combat. Her sanctum also contains a powerful artifact – a mirror that when gazed into will allow astral projection, so that she can travel the world without being seen or heard. She and her partner stole that from a manor house on the outskirts of town. No way that comes back to bite her. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Earth 10: Rogues Gallery 4, Firestorm

Firestorm’s Rogues Gallery is interesting the same way that Vigilante’s is – the new character bares so little background resemblance to the original that it’s hard to find links between them, but this one is even worse because we don’t even have the same motif as he is magic rather than science, Asian rather than American. Some of them are well worth saving.

Killer Frost

She’s the Firestorm villain as far as I’m concerned, so we need some version of her. This version of the ice maiden is Lila Shen, a young alchemist who had hoped to be Jai Bai’s pupil, but he saw an unredeemable emptiness in her soul. When she discovered that Bai had taken on Johnny in some capacity she set her mind on vengeance, creating the alchemical potions that unleashed that void within her, allowing her to generate endless amounts of cold and snow. (I’m not 100% sold on this because the Killer Frost origin of ‘hero rejected woman’s advances so she becomes an ice princess’ is a little too on the nose; must think on this more)

Bountiful Harvest

Bai’s actual assistant before he started the path to his ascension, Chang Fuhua left his master under good graces, but shortly thereafter was captured and brainwashed by Kobra and trained to mastery of kung fu skills. Fuhua was the leader of the assault that Johnny interrupted, where he and a cadre of Kobra’s brainwashed to mindlessness thugs were merged together into a single being. Since only Fuhua had any identity left those bodies have conformed to his features and personality, letting him split himself into multiple people, each possessing superior physical abilities and martial arts skills. Firestorm has used his purifying flame to break Kobra’s brainwashing once, but it didn’t stick. What Firestorm does not know is that the original Fuhau is directly in Kobra’s custody, where he can reverse Bai’s efforts to save him – this is a long term plot thread in the series. (This is obviously the new Multiplex, but I refuse to use that name as it’s dorky; anyway Bountiful Harvest hits the same notes as being the former partner turned enemy with duplication powers.)

The Hyena

A talking animal of the Chinese tradition, the Hyena is able to shift back and forth between hyena and various human forms, which can be either solid shape-shifting or illusions overlapping her shape, whichever works better (she can also create illusionary surroundings). She is able to speak in anyone’s voice in any shape she takes, and her voice can be extremely hypnotic and persuasive. She is a trickster first and foremost, pushing people to do foolish or unwise things, but she occasionally has flashes of mad passion – be it anger or ‘true love’ – that drive her to darker criminal behavior. Her nature shape is abnormally powerful for an animal her size, making her a credible threat to a  martial artist of Johnny’s caliber. In her first appearance she was romancing a friend of Johnny’s, and she’s more of a Johnny Lo villain than a Master Bai one.

David Lo Pan

Due to a licensing agreement with John Carpenter DC is able to use all of the characters from the classic Big Trouble in Little China, which means that David Lo Pan, the Three Storms, the Wing Kong and the Lords of Death. Johnny Lo actually has a history of fighting with the Lords of Death gang pre-Firestorm, and Master Bai is an old ally of Egg Chen. What more needs to be said? OK a little more, but these guys make great wixua villains and capture the furious martial arts energy that often infuses the Firestorm series.