• I was beginning to think my first Bistrip was going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy and that I’d never have an idea for a second strip. Then I started messing around with the editor and trying to figure out what I could do with my avatar. Messing around with the poses let me to my second strip, “Pumped Up” (click image to enlarge).

    Bitstrips: Pumped Up

    My third strip, “On Originality“, was born from the fear that I would subconsciously steal a gag I’d seen in someone else’s webcomic. The mini-strip (or “meta-strip” or “recursistrip”) was a bit of a pain to create, as there aren’t really any drawing tools or primitives on Bitstrips yet. I had to use the “speed line” effect over and over again for all the lines, and getting them aligned was a chore. I wanted to put some background color into this one, but there would have been no (easy) way to make the margins on the mini-comic white if I had.

    Bitstrips: On Originality

    The script for my fourth strip, “Bigger on the Inside“, wasn’t written until after I had the entire layout finished. I wanted to see if I could effectively create a gaming table that was longer than the one included in the Bitstrips furniture library. Once I had Chris Miller and Miscellaneous G™ (AKA GoonStar) seated at the table, I decided they should be having an argument, much to the dismay of the other gamers at the table. Special guest star: Jason Penney.
    Bitstrips: Bigger on the Inside

    In retrospect, I really wish I’d kept the background color the same in all three panels to promote the idea that everyone is sitting at the same table. EDIT: I published a new version with a consistent background color across all three panels. Yes, it bothered me that much.

    EDIT (again): I just published the final version of this strip. I found a bigger table that allows me to put together a proper-sized gaming group (four players plus a Game Master). This allowed me to do the strip in two panels instead of three and add a new guest star, SambearPoet. I also tweaked the expression on my face a bit; I figured two adjacent characters with closed eyes wasn’t a good idea. I’m leaving the second version here for posterity and comparison.

    Bitstrips: Bigger on the Inside (Ver. 3)

  • NaNoWriMo 2007: Day 11 – Where are all the words?


    How Not To Grow A Beard: Day 11
    Hey, wasn’t I writing a novel or something? What happened to that, anyway?

    Yeah, I took a few days off to attend Con on the Cob 2007 in lovely Akron, Ohio. I had a lot of fun, got to do some gaming, purchased some dice (nerd!) and a piece of artwork and pre-ordered a fantasy novel. I also interviewed some very interesting people, including legendary fantasy illustrator Larry Elmore.

    But I didn’t write. Well, not my novel. I wrote about 1,800 words about a game of The Savage World of Solomon Kane one day and blogged at length about the convention, but unfortunately not a word of it counts toward the 50,000 I need to have written in just over two weeks.

    This should be interesting.

  • Con on the Cob 2007: Day 3 – Interviews


    Con on the CobThough I was presented with numerous opportunities to get my game on again today, I abstained. Today was all about earning my press badge, so I wandered around the convention with a digital recorder and badgered people until they agreed to talk to me. Alas, due to a compatibility issue between operating system and digital recorder, I am unable to retrieve the interviews, or I’d spend a little pre-party time editing and uploading them. For now, I will provide a teaser list:

    • Brannon Hollingsworth of The Wandering Men. Brannon is one of five authors who collaborated on the upcoming, novel Skein of Shadows, and tie-in RPG setting, Crown: City of the Fallen.
    • Matt Duhan of Gozer Games. Matt designed Collateral Damage: The Anime Board Game.
    • Larry Elmore, legendary fantasy illustrator. Larry’s paintings have appeared on numerous roleplaying game source books and novels, and he helped define the look of Dragonlance. Recently, Larry did the cover for the final issue of Dragon magazine.
    • Sean Patrick Fannon of Talisman Studios. Shaintar is Sean’s forthcoming fantasy setting for the Savage Worlds system.
    • Steve Kenson of Green Ronin. Steve was the lead designer for Mutants & Masterminds: 2nd Edition and is currently working on the Wild Cards setting book, due to be released in August of 2008.
    • Evil Mike of Pinnacle Entertainment Group sat down for a few minutes to talk about The Savage World of Solomon Kane, the new licensed Savage Worlds game based on the works of Robert E. Howard.

    Maybe, just maybe, I’ll score another interview or two before I leave tonight.

    Once the interviews have been retrieved from the digital recorder and edited (to add intro and outro material as appropriate), they’ll be up on the Con*Live blog/feed and where ever else I can put them.

  • Con on the Cob 2007: Day 2 – Solomon Kane


    The Savage World of Solomon KaneThe Savage World of Solomon Kane
    Game Master: Evil Mike
    Scenario: Schläfrige Höhle”Schläfrige Höhle” (which translates roughly to “sleepy cave”) was the title given on the sign-up sheet for the game, though I suspect that Evil Mike changed the actual adventure at the last minute.

    If you (like me) aren’t a Robert E. Howard fanI have nothing at all against Robert E. Howard; I’ve just never read any of his novels., you may not be familiar with Solomon Kane. Fear not! Wikipedia has a very informative entry about the character. In a nutshell, he’s a gun-slinging, sword-wielding Puritan bent on vanquishing evil in 16th century Europe and Africa. Sounds like he’d be fun at a party, right?

    Solomon Kane mixes muzzle-loaders and swords with witches, warlocks and the horrors of the undead. In The Savage World of Solomon Kane, player characters follow what is called “the Path of Kane”; in our particular adventure, we had all at one point met Solomon Kane and were being guided by Kane’s shaman friend, N’Longa. Our party consisted of:

    • Erlich Goettler (played by me), a German woodsman who wields a two-handed great ax.
    • Montigue Bonet, a former thief. The Frenchman wields a short sword and an intense curiosity.
    • Richard Pettijohn (played by Gus), an English bowman.
    • Enigo de la Vega, a rapier-wielding Spaniard.
    • Joseph Smith, an English hunter armed with a mighty blunderbuss.
    • Sven Jammerhagen, the mighty Norwegian whose two-handed sword deals death with every blow.

    After an adventure in Germany’s Black ForestWas there cake? No. I do not believe there was cake., the heroes travel to the English farming village of Chelsea. Enigo has his rapier sharpened by the town blacksmithI swear that is not a euphemism. while Sven and Erlich quench their thirst at the local tavern. Meanwhile, Montigue and Joseph seek forgiveness of their recent sins at the local church. The priest and the blacksmith reveal that several of the townsfolk have disappeared in recent months, apparently vanished without a trace while working in the fields outside the walls of the town. Enigo and Richard visit the sheriff, an elderly man clearly unsuited to deal with these mysterious disappearances. The sheriff asks Enigo and Richard for their aid, and they agree, recruiting the remaining party members to the cause.

    Though it is already dusk and they learn that all of the apparent abductions have occurred after sunset, the party decides to investigate the cornfields, enlisting the aid of the sheriff’s honorary deputy, though he is only willing to assist them after assurances that he will be protected and no small amount of intimidation.

    As they travel to the fields, the deputy relates the legend of Jack Harrison, a warlock who was supposedly burned alive in those very fields by French marauders who sought to destroy Chelsea’s mint. The deputy’s tale is scarcely finished when the party stumbles upon three mutilated corpses, who the skittish deputy identifies as Mr. and Mrs. Johnson and their young son.Hmm. That’s a little unsettling.

    The sharp-eyed Montigue spots something unusual on one of the bodies: fresh pumpkin seeds, still wet and covered with pulp. Eying the nearby scarecrows, Sven marches into one of the fields with Montigue following close behind. As Sven nears the scarecrow (whose head is not, as the Norwegian suspected, a pumpkin, but a burlap-covered bundle of straw), the horrible hodmedod comes to life, pulling a scythe from behind its back!

    Montigue steps around Sven and delivers a quick blow with his sword, rendering the scarecrow to little more than tattered burlap and scattered straw. Enigo runs to assist and the very ground seems to come alive, a hulking creature with a glowing pumpkin head rising from the soil to strike at the Spaniard. As quickly as the creature appeared, it is gone again, melting into the cornfield without a trace.

    “Pumpkin Jack!” the deputy cries, seeing the enormous being with its glowing head. The nervous little man faints dead away and his lantern goes dark. Richard Pettijohn readies his bow and sends an arrow through the air toward another scarecrow, while two more of the animated creatures—these, like Pumpkin Jack, with orange gourds atop their shoulders— advance on Joseph and Erlich. The creatures are quickly dispatched, but Smith is unable to accept that they were animated by supernatural means; surely, the hunter says, the scarecrows were carried by bandits who fled into the darkness when the straw men were destroyed by arrow, sword and blunderbuss.Smith has the Doubting Thomas Hindrance, which was played quite nicely by his player.

    Once assured that the immediate threat has been vanquished, Goettler and Jammerhagen examine the tattered remains and discover strange gold coins, which Bonet identifies as having been minted at precisely the time when Jack Harrison was said to be burned alive in the fields. The deputy notes that the mint is nearby, through the woods at the edge of the field, but Pettijohn insists that the body of the young boy be returned to the village before the party continues to the mint. The deputy volunteers to carry the body back to the village, allowing the party to carry on toward the mint, and perhaps the warlock.

    In the dark forest, the adventurers hear strange noises that they are unable to identify. Without warning, eight massive spiders descend from the trees and, after alighting on the forest floor, ensnare several members of the party with their webs. Soon, swords are swinging once more, some with the purpose of cutting away the sticky webbing, others with the intent of destroying the attacking arachnids.

    In the heat of battle, Joseph Smith’s mighty blunderbuss misfires, sending a shot directly at Enigo de la Vega. Acting with near-preternatural speed, Sven Jamerhagen throws himself into the path of the blast, taking a near-fatal shot that would surely have killed the smaller man.During this game, we made use of the Savage Worlds Adventure Deck. Each player began the game with a card that could alter the course of events at some point of his choosing. In this particular instance, I was holding the “Noble Sacrifice” card, which would allow me to take all of the damage dealt to one member of the party standing adjacent to me. Unfortunately, Erlich and Enigo were not adjacent to one another. Fortunately for Enigo, players are allowed to trade cards with one another and the hardy Norwegian was standing next to him. Sven’s player and I switched cards and Enigo was spared from death, much to the dismay of Big Mike.

    Erlich’s massive ax swings again and again, first freeing the woodsman from the sticky silken strands, then smashing two of the spiders. Steel blades flash in the light of the waning moon and soon the eight-legged horrors are all dead.

    In the aftermath of the battle, Erlich heals two of his companions’ minor wounds, but is unable to repair any of the damage done to Sven Jammerhagen by the mis-fired blunderbuss. Despite his wounds, the Norwegian presses on, unwilling to rest until the malevolent spirit that terrorizes the villagers has been defeated.

    When the adventurers arrive at the abandoned mint, they are met by none other than Pumpkin Jack himself. The pumpkin-headed warlock mocks the men, unwittingly revealing a weakness that the sheriff’s deputy had either forgotten in his retelling of the tale or simply did not know: magic weapons that the warlock himself forged.This was an exceptional bit of cooperation by Joseph and Montigue’s players, who played a combination of adventure cards that resulted in the villain running off at the mouth and revealing his weakness. Each player can play only one adventure card per game, so the timing on this was perfect. Montigue slipps into the mint, hoping to find one of the weapons hidden within, while Erlich, Joseph, Sven and Richard prepare to do battle with Pumpkin Jack.

    Enigo, who did not approach the mint with the others, wheels around when he hears a noise behind him. A monstrous spider, easily ten times larger than those the men fought in the forest, is bearing down on him! The swordsman turns tail and runs, shouting a warning to his companions as he leads the giant arachnid directly toward them.

    Sven Jammerhagen, faced with horrors beyond his ability to comprehend, flees Pumpkin Jack’s glowing visage and finds himself instead locked in combat with the massive spider. Though he is severely wounded, the Norwegian still wields his sword skillfully, cutting the beast down even as two more trundle out of the woods.

    Meanwhile, Montigue has located precisely what he sought: a finely forged French rapier hidden in the mint. Drawing the blade, the former thief races back into the fray and finds his hopes realized as the enchanted sword deals incredible damage to Pumpkin Jack, where Enigo’s efforts with his own rapier had proven ineffective only seconds earlier. Weakened by the eldritch energies coursing through the French sword, Pumpkin Jack is destroyed by a blast from Joseph’s blunderbuss. Its master slain, the remaining spider attempts to flee back to the safety of the woods, but is cut down by Sven’s mighty sword.

    Evil vanquished, townspeople safe once more, the six adventurers once again resume their journey on the Path of Kane, not knowing where N’Longa will send them next, nor what horrors they’ll face once there.

    If it’s not immediately obvious, this game was a blast to play. Evil Mike was a great Game Master; he kept things fast and fun, rewarding players when they did something particularly clever and punishing them when they were playing Enigo.Evil Mike and Allen (Enigo’s player) were well acquainted, and Evil Mike apparently had a history of killing Allen’s characters. Under some circumstances, targeting one player for death might seem…well, dickish, but I think everyone at the table would agree that it was done in such a way that it kept the game fun and didn’t take away from anyone else’s (or even Allen’s) enjoyment of the game. Having witnessed the Savage Worlds combat system in action earlier in the day, it was great to get the opportunity to dive in and give it a go myself.

  • Con on the Cob 2007: Day 2 – Savage Worlds


    Con on the CobI’ve written a few posts about our Savage Worlds game, which is just getting started. In fact, it’s so early in the game that full-fledged combat has yet to ensue.

    After buying some new diceGaming geeks can never have too many dice, so I picked up a full set of polyhedrons: black and red w/gold numbers. I also grabbed a black-and-red velvet dice bag. Gus bought a new set, too, but I was disappointed that he didn’t spring for the hematite set; is forty bucks too much to spend for seven or eight dice? this morning, we stumbled on a game of Savage Worlds in progress and combat had just begun.

    Savage Worlds by Shane Lacy HensleyInitiative is determined by a deck of standard playing cards, with the Joker being wild (the player who is dealt the Joker can go whenever he wants, even if it means interrupting another player or NPC). This seems to work pretty well and saves the Game Master the hassle of having to keep track of each player’s initiative; a quick looks around the table (cards are dealt face up) tells him who goes next.

    Combat was handled very quickly, and soon lead was flying every which way. The Englishman sauntered to the center of the bar and whipped out his twin pistols, putting down two of Val Resnick’s goons before their guns cleared their holsters. Sledge and The Swede burst in the back door, and soon the barking of the six guns was joined by the thunder of a shotgun and the rapid tattoo of a Thompson machine gun.

    Each time a gun was fired, the player rolled two dice—his attack roll and a six-sided “wild die”—and used the higher result of the two. Any time a die rolled its maximum value, that die was re-rolled and the new value was added to the total. The base target is 4, and a successful hit may have one or more “raises” depending upon how well the attacker rolled (every 4 points over the target results in a raise). These raises may cause additional damage and certain Feats add attack and damage bonuses or even allow multiple attacks in a single round (e.g., Double Tap). The result was usually quite dramatic as bullets and buckshot peppered the gangsters and their foes alike.

    Savage Worlds game in progress at Con on the Cob 2007
    The whole thing was fun to watch, and each player added his own cinematic flair to the gunplay, be it a snappy comment, a twirling pistol, or even offering a helpless, trussed up accountant a cigarette. I walked away with a good feeling for how the Savage Worlds system works and a strong desire to have my grizzled gumshoe kick some ass.

  • Con on the Cob 2007: Day 1 – Gaming


    Con on the CobThe first day of Con on the Cob 2007 wrapped up at just after midnight.For Gus and I; when we left there were still several games and the con suite was still abuzz with activity, including Larry Elmore and one of the convention volunteers bouncing some sort of ball back and forth across the table. Was it a game? I don’t know, but they seemed to be enjoying it. Following four rounds of the Quick Draw competition—the first three I’ve already mentioned, the theme of the fourth was “A Sentient Tub of Butter Fomenting an Agrarian Uprising Against the Cow From Whence It Came” and resulted in two equally fantastic drawings—and some pizza, Gus and I adjourned to our first roleplaying event.

    Mutants & MastermindsIntroduction to Mutants & Masterminds
    Game Master: Steve Kenson
    Scenario: The Wreck Room

    The intro to Green Ronin‘s Mutants & Masterminds setting was a (relatively) short one; only two hours. Game designer Steve Kenson gave a brief overview of the game, explaining character stats, powers, feats and skills and how the basic game mechanics work. Mutants & Masterminds uses a single twenty-sided die for all skill checks, so there’s never any fumbling around and wondering which of your many colorful polyhedrons apply to the task at hand. Roll a d20, add the appropriate modifier and report the result to the Game Master. Piece of cake.

    After explaining the game and answering a few questions, Steve launched right into the scenario. We were all members of The Freedom League, training in The Wreck Room, a highly advanced danger simulator designed to put our powers and abilities to the test. In this exercise, we were split in two teams and pitted against one another in a game of Capture the Ball, in which the object was to simply find the ball and possess it for eighteen consecutive seconds. A complex array of interlocking steel rods turned the Wreck Room into a jungle gym, just to complicate things.

    Team One: Bowman (played by gus), a deadly accurate archer; Dr. Metropolis, who embodies the spirit of Freedom City and bends the very environment to his will; Johnny Rocket, a man who moves even faster than his namesake.

    Team Two: Daedalus, immortal Greek inventor who uses his mighty power armor to dispense justice; The Raven (played by me), the dark detective who has several clever tricks in her utility belt.

    The game was very quick and a lot of fun. Everyone got plenty of chances to show off their powers (or, in The Raven’s case, the contents of her utility belt) and the ball changed hands quite frequently. Johnny Rocket was able to grab the ball in the first round, but Daedalus took it by force two round later. The Raven used a smoke bomb to conceal Daedalus and then Bowman accidentally plunged the Wreck Room into darkness with his EMP arrowThe EMP arrow wasn’t in Bowman’s equipment, according to his character sheet, but Gus spent a Hero Point to declare that he had one. A moment later, I spent a Hero Point to declare that The Raven carried a pair of night vision goggles on her utility belt (which, again, wasn’t on the character sheet). In the introduction to the game, Kenson had likened this method of expending hero points to the scene in Batman: The Movie, where Batman just happens to have Bat Robotic Shark Repellent when he is being attacked by a robotic shark. Other ways to expend Hero Points include re-rolling in the event of a bad die roll at a critical time or immediately shaking off the effects of being Stunned.. Ultimately, The Raven failed to learn the lesson that it’s nearly impossible to catch Johnny Rocket off-guard; she failed to dazzle him with her flash bomb or trap him with her adhesive pellets (another Hero Point expenditure) and wound up on the receiving end of his whirlwind vortex, which rendered her unconscious until the end of the game.

    We ran out of time before either team had managed to hold the ball for the required eighteen seconds (three game rounds), but the adventure was a good way to introduce the Mutants & Masterminds system and showcase some of its unique features.

    Now that we’d been introduced to the system, it was time for Gus and I to dive into a four-hour session with power-level 14 characters.

    Mutants & Masterminds: A.G.E. of Heroes – “The Walls Come Tumbling Down”
    Game Master: Sean P. Fannon

    Characters: Shiva (played by me), a four-armed martial artist; Incendus (played by Gus), a fire elemental; Nerys, the Excalibur-wielding modern-day incarnation of the Lady in the Lake; PDQ, a speedster with the ability to turn himself insubstantial; Sarge, a living weapon; Alexander Running Wolf, a Native American powerhouse, strong enough to throw a garbage truck into orbit.

    The game began with the heroes gathered in Washington, D.C. as a host of punk angels assaulted the Washington Monument to the sound of heavenly thrash metal. Though outnumbered at least two-to-one, the heroes made short work of the winged vandals and discovered that one was not quite who he seemed to be.

    Joseph, the angel whom Running Wolf captured, revealed that the marauding seraphim were members of the archangel Gabriel’s army, and that their attack was but a diversion, meant to keep the heroes of Earth busy while a dark force known as The Shadow Host attempted to use an ancient and powerful artifact to free a powerful ally and ultimately to destroy all of mankind. Joseph, an agent of the archangel Raphael, infiltrated the ranks of Gabriel’s army to learn more about his nefarious plot and to enlist the aid of Earth’s heroes.

    Joseph and the heroes journeyed to the UNISO base on Storm Island, an underground facility that houses the Storm Gate, a carefully controlled wormhole. With the assistance of UNISO personnel, Joseph enabled the Storm Gate to transport himself and the heroes to a strange dimension where the angel used his sword to rend a hole in the very fabric of space. Explaining that he would die if he entered the Dark dimension where the ancient prisoner was held in eternal stasis, Joseph sent the heroes onward.

    The heroes found themselves in an eerie and unsettling landscape of rocky platforms, over the edge of which was the Dark abyss. In the distance, the glimpsed a mighty castle, surely their destination. Without a second thought, Running Wolf split off a large section of the rocky platform and, holding it above his head, invited those heroes lacking the power of flight to climb atop it. Once PDQ, Sarge and Shiva were aboard the stone slab, Running Wolf took to the air, still holding the rocky platform over his head. Nerys and Incendus, both capable of flight, led the way to the castle, where Incendus blasted through the werewolf guards and ignored the door in favor of melting a large hole in the wall.

    Inside the castle, the forces of evil were already at work. A mighty battle ensued and the villains (whose names I cannot recall, save for The Ghoul and Baron Gnaw) were forced to flee, leaving behind the Spear of Longinus, the artifact they had planned to use to free a being so vile that he had been ejected from Hell. Spear in hand, the heroes returned to Storm Island, victorious, if only for the moment.

    And that about wrapped it up for our first day. Two gaming sessions totaling just over six hours. On the menu tomorrow: the exhibitor’s hall and…more gaming.

  • Nerdstuff: Con on the Cob 2007


    Con on the CobCon on the Cob 2007 starts in about two and a half hours and ends Sunday evening. This is good news for my inner geek and bad news for my aspiring writer. On the other hand, maybe a little geeky distraction is just what I need to push through to 20,000 words. Ideas come from the strangest places, after all.

    There are a handful of reasons I’m going to the con instead of writing:

    • Miscellaneous G™ is one of the organizers.
    • Fantasy artist Larry Elmore will be there.
    • Green Ronin’s Wild Cards expansion for their Mutants & Masterminds RPG. If you’ve been reading for a while, you probably know that Wild Cards is my favorite sci-fi/superhero/alternate history series in the history of ever, and it’s a perfect setting for a roleplaying game.

    It’s after 1:00 already and I’m carpooling with Gus, who’s going to be here in 30 minutes or so. I’ve got to get ready. Beard pictures when I get home tonight (probably after midnight).

  • Gamestuff: Savage Worlds, Session 1


    Savage Worlds by Shane Lacy HensleyChris, Gus and I got together last night to play Savage Worlds a role-playing game by Shane Lacy Hensley, published by Great White Games. I picked up a copy of the core rulebook at Con on the Cob last year, Chris picked up the Explorer’s Guide1The Explorer’s Guide is essentially the same content, with errata and updates, as the core rulebook at a third of the price. I’m not bitter. At all. at Origins in July, and Gus downloaded the Explorer’s Guide last week.

    Gus volunteered to run the game early this week, specifying that the setting would be New York City sometime in the 1930’s/1940’s and we’d be playing in the pulp/action/horror genre. Chris and I spent an hour or so last night generating our characters and finished up just as Gus arrived.

    Chris is Templeton Dirge, a professor of the occult at New York University. Dirge is everything a professor of the occult should be: arrogant, filthy rich and British. He’s smooth and sophisticated, has a keen eye for detail, and just might be a handy guy to have around when fists and bullets start flying.

    I am Mack Noland,2Mack didn’t have a last name until Gus called him “Mack No-Last-Name”. I grabbed the first letters of each word, and declared that his full name was “Mack Nolan”. That … Continue reading a grizzled ex-cop turned even-more-grizzled private investigator. Mack walks with a limp, looks like he’s been on the wrong end of a baseball bat and a carving knife a couple of times, and doesn’t buy into any of this spooky supernatural horsepuckey. On the other hand, he’s a damn good private dick and he’s packing heat.

    As our story begins, the Professor and the P.I. are complete strangers, but a mysterious postcard from none other than John D. Rockefeller summons both men to the famed industrialist’s stately manor to discuss the acquisition of “a book”.

    Met at the door by a butler, Dirge and Noland are ushered to Rockefeller’s library and informed that the master of the house will join them shortly. While the Professor peruses the impressive collection of literature, the Gumshoe smokes a cigarette and makes himself comfortable in an armchair that likely cost more than the annual rent for his office and apartment combined.

    Moments later, the butler returns, explaining that Mr. Rockefeller has been delayed and offering refreshments. Ever the gentleman, Dirge requests a cup of hot Earl Grey tea, while Noland gruffly demands a glass of whiskey. The beverages arrive in a matter of moments, and an uncomfortable silence occupies the room while both men sip their drinks.

    As the last of the whiskey burns its way down Noland’s throat, there is a disturbance in the front hall. A loud pounding on the manor’s front door precedes an equally-loud demand that the door be opened, on no less authority than that of the New York City Police Department.

    Neither Dirge nor Noland makes a move to open the door—surely that’s the domain of Rockefeller’s manservant—but after it becomes abundantly clear that the butler has no intention of fulfilling his duties and the police make their intent to batter the door down if necessary, the P.I. sets his empty whiskey glass down, exits the library, and opens the door…to find the barrels of five service revolvers and one Lieutenant Bill Dillinger—a familiar face indeed—staring back at him.

    The Occultist and the Gumshoe quickly explain their presence at the Rockefeller manor, turning the mysterious postcards over to Lt. Dillinger, who reports that they’ve received word of a disturbance. Dillinger crosses to Rockefeller’s study and opens the door, then invites Noland to have a look in the room. Instinct tells the P.I. what the Lieutenant already knows: John D. Rockefeller lies dead on the floor, a bullet hole in the center of his forehead. Around the bloody hole, someone—presumably the killer—has drawn a large, black spider. The gruesome sight stirs a dim recollection in Noland’s mind, something about a vigilante killer dispatching criminals in a similar fashion and leaving the eight-legged embellishment as his macabre calling card.

    Dillinger confirms Noland’s suspicions, mentioning a series of killings attributed to an outlaw the police refer to as “The Spider”. “But,” the Lieutenant says, “this guy only kills criminals, and Rockefeller’s clean. No ties to the mob whatsoever.”

    Noland sneers at this. “You and I both know, Bill, when we’re talking about as much money as Johnny’s got, there’s always something stinking up the cellar.”

    Dillinger places both men under arrest and Noland turns his Smith & Wesson .44 over to the boys in blue, noting that the chamber is fully loaded and the gun clearly hasn’t been recently fired. Dirge is unarmed, and while he is being frisked his keen eye spots something out of sorts on the desk: a rectangular area, roughly the size of a book, conspicuously absent of dust.

    “Looks like the butler hasn’t been doing is job,” Noland comments gruffly.

    “That’s just it,” Dillinger replies, “the butler was let go weeks ago.” Rockefeller, it seems, has yet to hire a replacement.

    “Are you going to come along quietly” asks Dillinger, “or do I need to have the boys cuff you?”

    Noland and Dirge agree to cooperate and Dillinger forgoes the handcuffs.

    As the police escort their suspects out of the manor, a shot rings out in the darkness and one of the Lieutenant’s men collapses. A second shot fells another flatfoot and Dillinger barks at his men to retreat. Noland and Dirge duck behind the tall pillars outside the double doors leading into the house as a third shot catches another of the officers in the shoulder.

    “Hey, Mack,” Lt. Dillinger yells, perhaps coming to the realization that his suspects are telling the truth. “You want your gun back?”

    Noland responds in the affirmative and a second later his trusty .44 is soaring through the air in a graceful arc. The Detective snatches the revolver out of the air, then follows Dirge back into the house.

    The Professor, unarmed and recognizing that he has nothing to add to this particular fracas, ducks into the study to get a better look at the crime scene. Meanwhile, Noland races to the library, returning a moment later with a lit kerosene lantern. Running out onto the front steps of the manor, the P.I. lobs the lantern into the darkness, hoping to shed a little light on the scene and perhaps reveal their attacker. Alas, Noland isn’t a young man anymore, and the limp he sports as a result of a gunshot wound suffered in his days on the force slows him down; the lantern doesn’t fly as far as he’d hoped, and when it lands, the kerosene lights the hedge lining the driveway ablaze.

    After a few tense moments it appears that the gunman (or woman) has fled, so Dillinger’s men assist their wounded comrade to their patrol car and the Lieutenant returns to the manor. The attacker has been playing possum, however, and the next bullet catches Dillinger in the shoulder. Returning from the study, Dirge hauls the Lieutenant into the safety of the house while Noland closes the door behind them. A moment later the sound of two explosions comes from outside, muffled by the manor’s thick walls, and Noland surmises that the police cars parked in the driveway have been obliterated, along with their unfortunate occupants.

    Dirge and Noland drag the wounded Dillinger into the library, where the Professor attempts to staunch the bleeding while Noland’s attempts to ring the police are stymied by a decidedly dead phone line. Satisfied that the unconscious policeman won’t bleed to death before help arrives, Dirge suggests that finding another way out of the house may be in order. Noland agrees, but before leaving the library he retrieves the postcards from Dillinger’s jacket pocket and Dirge avails himself of the incapacitated lawman’s service revolver.

    The two men conduct a quick search of the ground floor and find what appears to be a servant’s entrance near the kitchen. Gun drawn, Noland kicks open the door only to find a beautiful, frightened woman hiding behind it. Sensing that the situation requires far more finesse (and, quite frankly, charm) than the P.I. is capable of, Dirge intercedes and attempts to calm the blonde, berobed damsel. “Put the gun away,” the Occultist advises, “and fetch the young lady a drink, won’t you?”

    “Oh, I’m the butler, now?” Noland grumbles, but holsters his revolver and returns to the study, where he breaks into Rockefeller’s well-stocked liquor cabinet and pours a generous glass of brandy.

    The booze seems to have a calming effect on the distressed dame, and as she starts to sip her second glass of brandy, she finally speaks. Her name, as coincidence would have it, is Brandy, and she knows something about a book; specifically the Book of the Dead.

    “Sumerian or Egyptian?” Dirge asks, surprising the woman with his knowledge of the subject.

    As the Occultist and the Damsel discuss the nuances of necronomica, the trio adjourns to the study, where Noland notices that Brandy—if her confused glances at the empty spot on Rockefeller’s desk are any indication—had expected to find a (if not the) book.

    Brandy is caught off-guard when the Gumshoe confronts her, but nothing could have prepared either of them for the next words to come out of Templeton Dirge’s mouth.

    “Brandy, my dear,” the Professor says, smirking slightly, “your hair seems to be somewhat askance.”

    Instantly, Brandy’s demeanor changes. Before either man can react, the young woman peels back a blonde wig to reveal a head of short, brunette hair. In the same motion, she shrugs out of her all-concealing robe and draws a pistol from the shoulder holster on the form-fitting flight suit she wears beneath it.

    Dirge persuades Brandy to lower her weapon and offers his postcard as evidence that—whatever her business with Rockefeller and the Book of the Dead may be—he and Noland are not involved and neither man means her any harm.

    Brandy tells Dirge that the book missing from Rockefeller’s desk is a diary believed to contain the location of the original Egyptian Book of the Dead.

    The trio moves their conversation into the library and the Professor is in the process of checking the dressing on Dillinger’s wound when Brandy draws her revolver again, aiming the weapon at the incapacitated officer. Dirge positions himself in the line of fire and Noland levels his .44 at Brandy.

    “You don’t understand,” she protests. “He’s here for the book, too!”

    This time it is Noland who persuades Brandy to lower her gun. The lieutenant clearly isn’t a threat in his current condition, and it’s a bit much to ask the Detective to take the dame’s word against an old colleague’s. Brandy holsters her pistol once more, then cocks her head to one side. “Listen,” she says. “Do you hear that?”

    The sound of approaching sirens would normally be a welcome one, but Brandy insists that they must all flee before additional law enforcement personnel descend upon the manor. Against his better judgment, Noland agrees to accompany Brandy, but not before leaving a hastily scrawled note for the unconscious Lt. Dillinger: Bill. We didn’t do it. Really. Mack.

    Any compunctions Templeton Dirge might have about fleeing the scene of a crime are overwhelmed by the idea that he might actually be on the trail of the original Egyptian Book of the Dead. He, too, agrees to go with Brandy, and soon the trio is roaring away from the Rockefeller estate in the raven-haired beauty’s sporty roadster.

    To be continued…

    1 The Explorer’s Guide is essentially the same content, with errata and updates, as the core rulebook at a third of the price. I’m not bitter. At all.
    2 Mack didn’t have a last name until Gus called him “Mack No-Last-Name”. I grabbed the first letters of each word, and declared that his full name was “Mack Nolan”. That was a bit to close to Mack “The Executioner” Bolan for my liking, so I tacked a “d” on the end.