Basilika at Dawn

The fog broke over the sharp rises of the parapets of the city. Black stones absorbed the dawn’s heat and light like sponges. The sun hardly reached any surface below the capped roofs, so brass was employed in cardinal placement to catch the meager illumination.

The sun did not wake Basilika. The Dead City always murmured for those who would listen. Every surface seethed with secreted intent. The only question was how deeply to delve before knowing you could never really return.

The dark bricks twist in maddening ways as you wind towards the ground. Annexes from unknown eras web across the architecture. Breezeways interconnect from the city’s many towers beset with polypous additions from designers long gone. Each path splinters amongst countless others. Some have been walled off, whether for a purpose or not. There are many roads in Basilika. They all might lead somewhere, whether or not to a place you’d ever want to go.

Basilika is at dawn. But this means little to those that scuttle in the morass of its antiquity.

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Playing Pretend

I’ve been telling stories a long time.

When I was little, I imagined worlds to exist in. “Pretend.” Didn’t everyone?

I was captured by adventure. By heroics. By victory. By power and death and evil and life. I’d flip over my bed and land crouched on the floor, poised for action. I was a creature of battle and bliss, merely existing as a spirit of freedom.

Messy room

My room was constantly a mess. Not because I was particularly grungy, but because it was my canvass for storytelling. They were wastelands, junkyards, metropolises, battlegrounds, asteroid fields, even baseball diamonds.

My superhero toys liked to play baseball. The Thing batted cleanup.

Quite simply, I just loved playing with sticks. Mostly they were swords. Very occasionally guns. But swords were always more satisfying. More romantic.

Where’d I get these ideas from? Robin Hood? Peter Pan? Lego? I struggle to remember where I first got the idea to grab a fallen branch straight enough to capture my imagination and transform me utterly.

That is the nature of “Pretend.” Transformation. It wasn’t a stick. I wasn’t Graham, a human boy. I had utterly become something else.

As a tiny child– or as I like to say, “In The Time Before I Could Read,” I’d watch movies endlessly. I’d memorize all the lines, I’d rewind parts over and over. I’d delve into these worlds, breath in the characters and colors of it all.

But what I wanted was adventure. My own adventure.

I have to assume it was a movie the first time I saw a sword fight. The Disney “Robin Hood” seems the most conspicuous culprit. I don’t think I ever saw the famous 1938 Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone duel from “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” But it was paid homage to in “The Rocketeer,” which I watched endlessly.

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It was “Hook.” Oh, it had to have been. That Hero Shot of Robin Williams appearing to Hook fully for the first time. And the swordfight that followed. Robin flying around almost haphazardly fencing incidental pirates while occasionally actually getting face-to-face with Hook.

And his sword.

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Holy god, I loved Peter Pan’s sword in this movie. Was this the first time I ever truly fetishized a sword? How cool they looked. How cool it was to strike a blade against another. The crashing, clanking back-and-forth of two swords clashing.

What could be better?

I remember for my 4th Christmas, after my 4th birthday party which had been Peter Pan themed, my family traveled from Corvallis, Oregon to my grandmother’s house in faraway Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was the one-and-only time I’d spend on an airplane until I was 20, when I decided to fly off to have an adventure of my own.

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It was easily one of my most memorable Christmases. Christmas was one of my favorite holidays, and not just because you got free stuff. It was just fun. I liked the spirit of it. Music and lights and laughter and fires while it was dark and cold. My family had books we would read every year, breaking them out of boxes packed away til December. Books like “Polar Express.” I loved what it was about: imagination, wonderment, magic.

Though this Christmas, I received this:

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Kinda looks like shit now, doesn’t it? I remember most being excited about his sword. The sword! He had his sword! I have no memory of playing with the toy other than that Christmas, bouncing him up and down the big stairwell in my grandmother’s house. Did he get left behind? Did I lose him back home? He certainly didn’t survive move after move my family took over the years of my childhood.

We’d move state to state from Oregon to Kansas to upstate New York all within three years. We also took trips, camping and hiking and exploring the country. We never had a lot of money. But we spent a lot of time time together riding in the car.

On long trips my mother apparently would tell my older brother and I stories about two mice, named Fred and Oscar, who would go on adventures together. Although I have no memory of these stories. What I do remember, however, is my grandfather purchasing my family’s first ever computer from the Best Buy in Topeka, Kansas, some 50-odd miles away from where we lived. My mother took two weeks of classes from the local community center and was suddenly armed mightily with knowledge of the Windows 3.1 operating system.

It seemed to be called “Windows” for a good reason. There were always so many of them open at once, like piles of fallen gunmetal leaves. My brother and I would play DOS games through some overly complicated framing program called KidDesk:

I remember it being ugly and bold, with plenty of primary colors and fat icons. Mostly I think we played “The Castle of–“, or alternatively “The Island of”, “–Dr. Brain.”

castle brain island brain

That’s the stuff.

But what most shocked and overjoyed me about the presence of the new computer and my mother’s expertise was her promise that she could print and make my own books.

So I suppose I went with a subject I was familiar with:

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I was 5. I’d pace back and forth and dictate aloud to my mother, then would produce for each page in MS Paint choppy illustrations composed of black straight lines, ovals, and rectangles sometimes filled in with color in places.

Telling the story seemed easy. I was just playing Pretend.

Make it Happen: Part II

  • Characters

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  • Black Lash

The Black Lash. I came up with him back when I discovered the “Urban ranger” was a thing. Everyone likes Aragorn, son of Arathorn, right? All sexy and strong and cool and bowy and swordy. Rangers are supposed to be sneaky and foresty, too, so the idea of an “urban ranger” totally gave me that all-powerful creative spark. Isn’t that what we all pine for?

The core of the idea is the dual identity. He’s pulpy as hell, so much of that should be familiar territory. He has a whip and domino mask, cloak and cowl and lashing along rooftops, swashbuckling enemies. Definitely someone I could develop into a serial hero.

But I think it might be cool if he wasn’t the protagonist. Or maybe I could focus on him in a single one shot. Kinda like that Abnett & Lanning issue of Guardians where they just focus on Drax. Get inside his head.

But Batman comics are about Batman, right? Everyone likes Batman. And he’s the coolest thing in Gotham.

But is he though? I’ve always said that a good superhero has the best villains. Batman easily has one of the greatest rogue galleries in comics history. That’s one of the exciting parts of mysterious rogue galleries. The reader guessing “Whodunit this time?” Sort of the  Carmen Sandiago style of storytelling.

Like the opposite, for example, in Iron Man. Until RDJ made him funny, Tony Stark was boring as hell. And Iron Man villains? Even worse. “The Unicorn.” “The Melter”, who’s got a gun. That melts. Mostly he just fought communists. Even his so-called arch-nemesis is basically the Fu Manchu. I shouldn’t be so hard on Iron Man.

Everyone gets a second chance. I mean Daredevil was basically a low rent Spider-man. And DD fought Stilt-Man for God’s sake. But then Frank Miller got a hold of him, and basically turned him into a red ninja Batman.

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Losing my train of thought here.

The idea is what other characters could I have. Especially female ones that A. aren’t sexualized B. don’t necessarily use violence as their main method of problem solving.

First to (A). Particularly in fantasy fiction, there really seem to be two kinds of female characters: those that are hyper-sexed and those that have zero sex about them. The zero characters are either mommy Madonnas, ingenue innocents or sexless crones. The hyper-sexed are anything from seductive demons, enchantresses, or the painful Strong Female Character, whose thirst for masculine violence is usually only matched by their the size of their wobbling tits and g-stringed buttchecks.

The Strong Female Character is basically just a Male Power Fantasy combined with a sexual image intended for the male gaze. Violence is typically the main problem solving method of men, so the goal would been then to create a female character with power and agency that exists independently of the patriarchy.

So, I’m currently thinking about a conning, vaguely-feral little thief girl.

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  • Conning, Vaguely-Feral Little Thief Girl

Not “cunning” might you. Though that too. But I really mean like “taking part in con artistry.” I want a smart, morally-grey young girl who doesn’t specifically use violence to solve her problems. Not specifically because she’s a pacifist. But I’m looking for someone who’s more creative in deliberating obstacles.

You have no idea how long it took to try and find a picture that didn’t just made me sad. TnA is as big a part of pulp as Swords meeting Sandals. It’s been its legacy since the very beginning:

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Ah, yes. The Leg Cling. Don’t take my word for it. (WARNING: CONTAINS TVTROPES LINK. IT COULD POSSIBLY TAKE HOURS FROM YOU IN FASCINATING READING.) It worries me that some of my favorite styles of media (noir, superhero, pulp etc) employ some of the regressive social depictions around, particularly those of women. But like poor DD being reinvented, I just need to remind myself that these forms of media aren’t inherently misogynist, even in vastly more dangerous implicit ways. I’ll be aware and just do it the right way.

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  • Scary Invincible Knight Hunter Guy

Another archetype I’ve always enjoyed is the righteous villain. He sure as shit does what he believes to be right. And that’s scary. You can make them heroes, even as their actions become more and more evil. Where can you draw a moral line? What can and cannot be justified? An effective villain simply opposes the goals of the protagonist. But the story could just as easily be theirs.

I’ve already discussed a big spooky theocracy that runs Baslika. I came up with some cool names for things too, I thought. “The Glorious Hierarchy of Martyrs” sounds lofty and titanic enough. I’m looking for naming conventions that invoke the age, authority, and stuffiness of a cathedral. Theocracies also fascinate me since it is seemingly so easy for nationalism to resemble religion. Citizens and propaganda so often cement the righteousness of their existence through mythologizing its founding and the historical figures that did so. Legitimizing the authority of the state is done through a hierarchy of divine logic: laws of humanity are, in fact, the laws of God. Theocracies just cut right to the chase and say they’re doing the Word of the divine.

Then you gotta have a BIg Bad Boss, or at least the figure of one, so I have “the enigmatic Hierarch”, and then just as much as I like bad guys, I like elite groups of bad guys. “The Godhead” seems like an excellent name for some creepy league of powerful cardinals. I want to be flexible for what these guys will want/mean.

  • The Black Sect

Who doesn’t like leagues of assassins! Seriously though. What is sexier than that. Not sure what part they’d have. Largely, you’d think they’d be mercenary in nature. Hired to do the bidding of dark plots. But what I don’t want is for them to be too visible, too expendable, or too cool and sympathetic.

Make it Happen

Well here I am again.

Am I scared? I think I’m scared of failure. Self-sabotaging any way I can. Ignoring how fucking good I am at this.

Comics. Writing comics. What should I/could I do?

Could I? Anything. That’s the bottom line. I’ve tried to do genre breakdowns again and again. Countless times over the years. Hoping to get inspired.

Seem impossible to “get inspired” just by staring at a computer screen. Sitting with a notebook and pen in hand.

What ideas do I have so far.

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  • Basilika

Dark, gothic city. Kinda medieval. I could be happy there, telling stories. Lots of alchemy, cause that opens up the world building. Kinda steampunk, not really, but gears are cool. Cooler than Victorian fashion, anyway. Just the inhumanity or soulessness of machinery. Potentially lovely metaphor.

I got a secret society of thieves and assassins. “The Black Sect”. Seems like generic, but that’s the sort of thing that’s fun. Sneaking, killing, stealing. Being smart and being quiet. All very enticing.

Then the official government has some manner of religious organization to it. I’m thinking the church just runs things, plain and simple. Monolithic theocracy and fascist bureaucracy certainly seem like peas and carrots to me.

It is too much like The City? Hammerites and all. It’ll probably be fine.

“Focus on making the media you wish existed, but doesn’t.” I can do that.

Old Lash

Old Lash
Male Human Ranger 1
Chaotic Neutral

Strength 18 (+4)
Dexterity 16 (+3)
Constitution 12 (+1)
Intelligence 10 (+0)
Wisdom 12 (+1)
Charisma 8 (-1)
Size: Medium
Height: 6′ 0″
Weight: 190 lb

Total Hit Points: 12

Speed: 30 feet

Armor Class: 15 = 10 + 2 [leather] + 3 [dexterity]
Touch AC: 13
Flat-footed: 12

Initiative modifier: + 3 = + 3 [dexterity]
Fortitude save: + 3 = 2 [base] + 1 [constitution]
Reflex save: + 5 = 2 [base] + 3 [dexterity]
Will save: + 1 = 0 [base] + 1 [wisdom]
Attack (handheld): + 5 = 1 [base] + 4 [strength]
Attack (missile): + 4 = 1 [base] + 3 [dexterity]
Combat Maneuver Bonus: + 5 = 1 [base] + 4 [strength]
Combat Maneuver Defense: + 18 = 10 + 1 [base] + 4 [strength] + 3 [dexterity]
Light load:
Medium load:
Heavy load:
Lift over head:
Lift off ground:
Push or drag:
133 lb. or less
134-266 lb.
267-400 lb.
400 lb.
800 lb.
2000 lb.
Languages: Common

Dagger [1d4, crit 19-20/x2, range inc 10 ft., 1 lb., light, piercing]

Greatsword [2d6, crit 19-20/x2, 8 lb., two-handed, slashing]

Composite Longbow (attached to belt w/ string) [1d8, crit x3, range incr. 110 ft., 3 lb, piercing]

Leather armor [light; + 2 AC; max dex + 6; check penalty 0 15 lb.]

Feats:

Power Attack Take penalty on attack for larger bonus on damage
Quick Draw Draw weapon is free action
Skill Name Key
Ability
Skill
Modifier
Ability
Modifier
Ranks Misc.
Modifier
Acrobatics Dex* 7 = +3 + 1 + 3 [class skill]
Appraise Int 0 = +0
Bluff Cha -1 = -1
Climb Str* 4 = +4
Craft_1 Int 0 = +0
Craft_2 Int 0 = +0
Craft_3 Int 0 = +0
Diplomacy Cha -1 = -1
Disable Device Dex 4 = +3 + 1
Disguise Cha -1 = -1
Escape Artist Dex* 3 = +3
Fly Dex* 3 = +3
Heal Wis 1 = +1
Intimidate Cha 3 = -1 + 1  +3 [class skill]
Knowledge (nature) Int 4 = +0 + 1 + 3 [class skill]
Perception Wis 5 = +1 + 1 + 3 [class skill]
Perform_1 Cha -1 = -1
Perform_2 Cha -1 = -1
Perform_3 Cha -1 = -1
Perform_4 Cha -1 = -1
Perform_5 Cha -1 = -1
Ride Dex* 7 = +3  +1  +3 [class skill]
Sense Motive Wis 2 = +1  +1
Sleight of Hand Dex* 4 = +3 + 1
Stealth Dex* 7 = +3 + 1 + 3 [class skill]
Survival Wis 5 = +1 + 1 + 3 [class skill]
Swim Str** 4 = +4

* = check penalty for armor/shield
** = some groups double armor/shield penalties for swimmers

Favored class points: Hit points +1; Skill points +0

Adjust weapon attack rolls and armor penalties as required for masterwork / magic equipment.

Human

  • This human chose +2 to strength (already included)
  • Extra feat at first level (already included)
  • Four extra skill points at first level (already included)
  • One extra skill point at each additional level (already included)

Ranger

    • Favored enemies. Bonus applies to attack, damage, bluff, knowledge (can always make checks), perception, sense motive, survival.
    • Favored terrains. Bonus applies to initiative, geography, perception, stealth, surival; need not leave tracks.
    • Bonus to tracking
    • Combat Style
    • Endurance
    • Wild empathy (roll level + charisma bonus)
    • Endurance (level 3)
    • Hunter’s bond — either an animal companion or bond with companions and grant some favored enemy bonuses to them(level 4)
    • Woodland Stride (level 7)
    • Swift Tracker (level 8)
    • Evasion (level 9)
    • Quarry (level 11)
    • Camouflage (level 12)
    • Improved Evasion (level 16)
    • Hide in Plain Sight (level 17) — any favored terrain
    • Improved quarry (level 19) — any favored terrain
    • Master Hunter (level 20) — lethal attacks, superior tracking
    • High wisdom gains bonus spells daily
    • Concentration check: d20 + ranger level + wisdom modifier vs. DC

Favored Enemies:

    • Humanoids (orc) + 2

This ranger chose the archery track.

Class HP rolled
Level 1: Ranger 10

Old Lash’s Equipment:

27 lb
6 lb
4 lb
2 lb3 lb
5 lb
1 lb
2 lb
_____
50 lb
Weapons / Armor / Shield (from above)
Arrows (quiver of 20) x2
Throwing daggers x4
Backpack
Flint and steel
Torches x3
Climber’s kit
Thieves’ tools
Tools (miscellaneous) x1Total

Also…

      Climbing hooks (wrists), Cloak w/ cowl, Lash (black)

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ABQ to Austin: 3/6/2015 [Day 1]

We were somewhere around Moriarty on the edge of eastern New Mexico when the hell cloud began to take hold.

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Jacob and I weren’t really sure what it was. The ocean? It couldn’t be. Just understanding what was bend across the distance challenged creative logic. It was white and titanic and rose over the coming horizon. The shape’s flatness disputed reality and disrupted the imagination.

 

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We were quickly and utterly engulfed. It froze the air and perverted the quality of light. I stared in the rear view mirror to see green grass and blue sky clearly reflected vanish and be replaced with grey death and pale ghosts.
 

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It was clearly the land of the dead. Earth had vanished. Souls had replaced the sky. Jacob suggested we were witnessing the ground event of nuclear winter. I thought of Odysseus speaking to shades. Maybe this was Hell.

A good start to a trip.

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