Volume 4, Issue 4

Stormreach is a city of rumors and whispers, from the political intrigues of the Coin Lords to the power structure of the criminal underworld. There is talk of prophecies still to come to fruition, and of battles already fought. In the marketplace, folks talk of an invasion by devils from the plane of Shavarath, and how the former glory of the marketplace tent was devastated during the attack. But amidst the dark talk, a vibrant culture of performers continue to entertain crowds and help to liven spirits.

For one of Stormreach’s citizens, at least, the invasion hit too close to home. Nolan Gann, a nobleman of Stormreach, haunts the pawn exchange plaza each day hoping for news of his missing son Nat Gann.

Nobleman Nolan Gann continues the search for his missing son Nat.

Nobleman Nolan Gann continues the search for his missing son Nat.

Lost in the Invasion

The elder Gann explained that, even as a boy, his son was a natural acrobat, juggling and cartwheeling around Gann Manor. When Nat was older, he began performing in front of crowds in the marketplace – and Nolan was intolerable. Banishing his son from the family estate, Nolan has not seen his son since and fears he was killed in the attack from Shavarath several years ago.

“Oh, I was such a fool,” Gann confessed. “What I wouldn’t give to see Nat one more time. To tell him how proud I am of him.”

While the elder Gann continues to wait for news of his son’s fate, his other child – a daughter named Nelle Gann – took a more active role in discovering the truth behind her sibling’s disappearance. Nolan explained that an archaeologist claimed to have a means of finding Nat, and convinced Nelle to accompany him to an excavation where he’d discovered an artifact called the Chronoscope. For his part, Nolan promises to reward any capable bodyguards willing to accompany his daughter. He does not fully trust the archaeologist and believes him to be a charlatan. The archaeologist himself could not be reached for comment.

While Nat may be missing, another performer has taken his place in the pawn exchange. Tag Hardcastle is a skilled acrobat and, inspired by Nat’s example, carries on his legacy of entertaining the people of Stormreach. In addition to wowing crowds with his amazing feats of agility, Hardcastle offers something in return for the gold coins given by passersby for his efforts. For 50gp, Hardcastle will give anyone a quick lesson in tumbling, with an advanced course costing 100gp. Hardcastle’s respect for Nat Gann is evident in both his words and his tireless dedication to craft and showmanship.

“I don’t know what happened to Nat Gann,” admits Hardcastle. “One day he was just gone.”

Tag Hardcastle performs acrobatic stunts in the pawn exchange. For a few gold pieces he'll share a few tips with passersby.

Tag Hardcastle performs acrobatic stunts in the pawn exchange. For a few gold pieces he’ll share a few tips with passersby.

One of the usual crowd of onlookers, Olpha Tallow can regularly be found watching Hardcastle’s show. Like the elder Gann, she hopes to find clues as to Nat’s disappearance. Her furrowed brow and the quaver in her voice has led to the belief that she and Nat were involved somehow, but she would not speak on the matter herself.

“I don’t know if he’s [Hardcastle] any better than Nat,” was Tallow’s only reply.

Olpha Tallow and others gather to watch Tag Hardcastle's show in the marketplace.

Olpha Tallow and others gather to watch Tag Hardcastle’s show in the marketplace.

Whether or not Nat Gann’s fate will ever be discovered is unknown at this time. Adventurers who wish to join the investigation can speak with Nolan Gann at the pawn exchange. In the meantime, Stormreach adventurer Kasti believes hope is not lost.

“They’re pretty sure he hasn’t been killed,” said Kasti. “Or else he would have respawned at the taverns by now.”

Singers and Songwriters

Street performance in Stormreach isn’t limited to just Hardcastle though, even if his show involves more drama than most considering the circumstances surrounding Nat Gann.

Just around the corner, Martin Songsmith sings original material set to the beat of drums played by Helga Rocksmasher. The slow, sonorous rhythm of the drum is the perfect accompaniment to Songsmith’s bartione as he sings songs about the often lonely life of adventurers and their dark and dangerous quests. For her part, Rocksmasher is all to happy to celebrate the existence of adventurers who help to keep her city safe. Questing types may wish to heed the rumors she shares.

Martin Songsmith sings his original compositions in one of the marketplace's side alleys.

Martin Songsmith sings his original compositions in one of the marketplace’s side alleys.

“Arzag-Khor hobgoblins are turning up around Stormreach,” warned Rocksmasher. “That can’t be good. First the giants, and now this!”

Away from the bustling streets, inside Phoenix Taven – the marketplace’s other rest stop – a nameless band keeps the atmosphere upbeat. The five piece ensemble features vocals by Toheas Songweaver, with Johann Lonnen on the lute, Rongi Starwatcher on drums, Lagira Marblefist on windpipes and the Warforged Strummer handling the zither.

One of the band’s fans, a collector named Mantakhan from House Jorasco, offers several suggestions for the band’s name.

Mantakhan, fan of Phoenix Tavern band and great admirer of beetles.

Mantakhan, fan of Phoenix Tavern band and great admirer of beetles.

“Duskbrood Trumpeters,” Mantakhan offered as a moniker, admitting his obsession with insects. “Or, how about Headsman Beetle! Executioner Beetle?”

Phoenix Tavern's five piece band remains nameless. Life goes on.

Phoenix Tavern’s five piece band remains nameless. Life goes on.

Getting in on the Action

For more interactive entertainment, visitors to the Phoenix Tavern can speak with Jackson Laws, a fight promoter. Laws and his assistant, the hobgoblin Jhank, arrange fights inside the tavern for the entertainment of the crowd.

Warriors, rogues and spellcasters alike are welcome to test their mettle against each other.

Warriors, rogues and spellcasters alike are welcome to test their mettle against each other.

Laws offers two different types of arenas for the battles. One is a game of capture the flag, where a team must obtain their opponent’s flag and return it to their own base. If the flag carrier is killed, the flag returns to its home base.

“Lucky for you there are resurrection areas nearby,” Laws explained. This is good news for those who engage in the other type of bloodsport Laws manages – death matches. In these engagements, opponents literally fight each other to the death. However, thanks to the aforementioned services combatants are quickly brought back from Dolurrh. In addition to the arenas at Phoenix Tavern, Laws maintains venues at the Wayward Lobster in the harbor, the Open Palm Inn at the House Jorasco Enclave and Hammersmith’s Inn located within House Deneith’s ward.

Fans of arena entertainment can watch the battles from the best seat in the house at Phoenix Tavern.

Fans of arena entertainment can watch the battles from the best seat in the house at Phoenix Tavern.

Word on the Street

With citizens and street performers going about their business while adventurers run hither and yon, leads to more than a few quests lay scattered about the marketplace. For some, these adventures don’t even require any travel. Others will carry glory seekers far and wide.

Back at the Rusty Nail, Maude Coulter continues to make her rounds while parties of adventurers and solo questers come and go, seeking fame and fortune. Tales of devil assaults and the prophecies of giants await discovery, while rumors of stirrings at from the Necropolis – the city of the dead – and excursions to the ancient ruins of Threnal tease of treasure and power.

Will you heed their call?

Citizens of Stormreach speak of adventuring opportunities.

Citizens of Stormreach speak of adventuring opportunities.

 

Advertisements

Volume 4, Issue 3

Stairs leading down from the Stormreach Marketplace to the neighborhood of Jester's Haunt.

Stairs leading down from the Stormreach Marketplace to the neighborhood of Jester’s Haunt.

Situated off the main thoroughfare of the Stormreach marketplace, Jester’s Haunt is a small neighborhood boasting only a single establishment, the Rusty Nail inn. Adventurers gather inside to toast fallen comrades and muster for their next quest. Some parties, like the one led by Palis Littleton, plan excursions to the nearby steam tunnels based on dark rumors. Others, like the nameless band who last month headed into what the locals call the Foul Chambers, have yet to return and most assume they perished on their quest.

“Almost a month ago, a party descended into the sewers to chase a rumor of treasure,” said Ulcana Braddock, a contract mercenary keeping vigil outside the entrance to the Foul Chambers. “They never returned, and I have been retained to discover their fate.”

Ulcana Braddock will hire any adventurers brave enough to enter the Foul Chambers and discover the fate of the missing adventurers.

Ulcana Braddock will hire any adventurers brave enough to enter the Foul Chambers and discover the fate of the missing adventurers.

As if on cue, two such adventurers dash over to the sewer entrance and slip inside. Both drow elves, they wore the robes and accoutrements of spellcasters and one of them was followed by an impish creature similar to a kobold shaman. A moment later, along came another adventurer, this time a Warforged sorcerer named Sneakythumbs Picard. Into the sewers it went. Whether or not any of them were successful in finding the missing party – or if they shared in what is thought to be their grisly fate – is unknown. None of the adventurers emerged.

Two drow elves prepare to enter the sewers.

Two drow elves prepare to enter the sewers.

Around the corner from the Foul Chambers, a woman identifying herself as Wayfinder Dael greets passersby with praise and compliments before leading in to her pitch to get adventurers into the steam tunnels. The Wayfinder Foundation is a large organization spread across Eberron to promote exploration. The group hopes that diligent exploration will one day result in the discovery of a means to cure its founder – renowned halfling explorer Boroman ir’Dayne – of a rare wasting curse.

Sneakythumbs Picard delves into the Foul Chambers alone.

Sneakythumbs Picard delves into the Foul Chambers alone.

Close at hand to where Wayfinder Dael enjoys an ale at a sort of outdoor bar festooned with one-handed weapons on display, the entrance to the steam tunnels stands waiting for adventurers to explore. What lies down there seems to be all the buzz in Jester’s Haunt, with parties anxiously planning excursions inside. For her part, Wayfinder Dael is offering substantial rewards for anyone willing to find out what’s going on down there.

One of those brave souls is Kurik Forgewarden, a dwarf fighter hiring out his services as a hireling through a manager located in the plaza leading into Jester’s Haunt. Several managers for hirelings of various skill levels gather there regularly, selling contracts for the hireling under their employ. [editor’s note: see photos at the bottom for a brief overview of hireling contracts.]

Wayfinder Dael sips an ale outside the steam tunnels, enticing adventurers with the promise of great rewards for exploring within.

Wayfinder Dael sips an ale outside the steam tunnels, enticing adventurers with the promise of great rewards for exploring within.

Forgewarden, greataxe in hand, entered the steam tunnels with confidence. An odorous mist hung about the place, obscuring much of the view from the landing at the top of the wide staircase leading further down. Through the mists down one of the corridors, several shapes scurry about. Forgewarden, undaunted, dashed over towards them to investigate. From a closer vantage point, the shapes are revealed to be a couple of kobolds milling to and fro down the hallway. Attempts to parley were met with yips of anger, and the kobolds began tossing flaming vials of oil at Forgewarden. The fire had no effect on the dwarf thanks to his armor and the ablative armor infusion placed upon it. [reporter’s note: you’re welcome!] The kobolds quickly fell to the mighty swings of his axe as well as the gnashing metal teeth of the iron defender at his side. On a related note, the iron defender this reporter cobbled together during the airship ride from Khorvaire to Xen’drik still remains nameless. A couple of readers have sent in suggestions for possible names, but editors would like to leave the contest open for more possibilities. So readers – please offer your suggestions in the comments.

Shapes move about in the steamy mists. Turns out they were kobolds, and none too happy about Forgewarden's presence.

Shapes move about in the steamy mists. Turns out they were kobolds, and none too happy about Forgewarden’s presence.

The kobold throwers were led in their assault by a shaman of their kind, who furiously cast spells at Forgewarden before falling to his axe. Before he could recover, a pair of filthy slime creatures oozed from the walls and whipped pseudopod-like appendages at him that sizzled on impact, corroding both his armor and weapon when struck.

After that threat was vanquished, Forgewarden took what he explained was an ‘adventurer’s shower.’ Frequent excursions to sewers and other less-than-opulent locales have led adventuring types to develop their own unique habits, one of which is this means of removing the gunk and gore that comes along with a life of combat.

The 'adventurer's shower' - the cascading water of an open sewer pipe washes off the blood and gore from many combats while adding a unique fragrance of its own.

The ‘adventurer’s shower’ – the cascading water of an open sewer pipe washes off the blood and gore from many combats while adding a unique fragrance of its own.

One of the kobolds, cowering in an alcove, did not instantly attack and instead offered the opportunity for further adventure. Greezix stood outside the entrance to a secret passageway leading to the stronghold of someone named Shaagh, and he implored Forgewarden to enter the complex in order to rob and murder him.

“Shaagh is big, Shaagh is strong, but everyone knows Shaagh’s brain not so strong,” said Greezix. “That why Shaagh has strong helmet, keeps brains in skull.”

Greezix explained that Shaagh’s hold over his crew came through the power of his magical helm, which he suggested Forgewarden steal and use for himself. For his part, Forgewarden seemed confused when this reporter declined the offer, instead opting for further exploration of the steam tunnels proper.

“Do you mean you really just hired me to watch your back in the steam tunnels?” Forgewarden seemed taken aback, at the same time content to take the paper’s gold in exchange for what he considered easy work.

Thankfully, Forgewarden remains ever vigilant. During further exploration of the steam tunnels, the small team took a short break while this reporter took some notes. A quiet skittering made the iron defender sit up just in time to witness the horror of a huge brown spider advancing quickly toward us. The arachnid was dispatched quickly enough though, falling to a single strike from Forgewarden’s axe. Several more of the spider’s kind sprang forth rapidly, all defeated handily by the dwarf and iron defender.

Kurik Forgewarden stands amidst the carcasses of several brown spiders. The spiders attacked while the crew took a break to review their notes.

Kurik Forgewarden stands amidst the carcasses of several brown spiders. The spiders attacked while the crew took a break to review their notes.

Deeper down one of the corridors, a strange creature called a glass spider descended from its web and attacked as well. Oddly, after defeating it, the body of the beast faded away but its internal organs remained behind, floating eerily in the air and still pulsating with some kind of reflexive life.

At one point, the group became violently nauseated by a terrific stench, only to be attacked from the shadows thereafter by the source of the malodorous miasma – a pair of troglodytes! These disgusting reptilian creatures are no friends of Stormreach and had set up a crude shrine to The Devourer in the tunnels beneath the marketplace.

The most dangerous part of the steam tunnels was an area that had been overtaken by kobolds who had set up a makeshift camp and shrine to their dark gods. Banners displaying their clan symbol festooned the hallway and gave Forgewarden advance knowledge to expect danger ahead. Nevertheless, the bold dwarf rushed headlong into combat, pushing through a cadre of warriors to dispatch a pair of shamans before laying waste to the rest.

“Gotta take out them spellcasters first,” Forgewarden advised. “When I spot fellers at the back of the bunch waving their arms around, those are my priority targets.”

Beyond the kobold encampment, a fortified tunnel entrance led deeper into the steam tunnels. It appeared that the kobolds had built some sort of blockade there, preventing further exploration. Forgewarden explained this was all the talk in the hireling community. Rumors of the mystical ‘seal of Shan-To-Kor’ had led a group of Wayfinders here to discover its secret, and that’s the real reason Dael is hiring adventurers.

Kurik Forgewarden at the entrance to the steam tunnels, before bidding me farewell. "You've got 39 minutes left on my contact," he explained before vanishing when i exited to the marketplace.

Kurik Forgewarden at the entrance to the steam tunnels, before bidding me farewell. “You’ve got 39 minutes left on my contact,” he explained before vanishing when i exited to the marketplace.

Emerging from the steam tunnels, Forgewarden takes his leave but graciously reminds the crew that there is some time left on his contract. Should his assistance be needed again, it is only a simple matter of summoning him via the magic of said contract.

It is night now in Stormreach, and the sky is covered by a blanket of stars. Overhead, an airship passes by leaving whimsical rings of blue energy in its wake, the product of the bound elementals that provide its power.

An airship cuts a swath overhead the marketplace. Wispy rings of elemental energy spiral in its wake.

An airship cuts a swath overhead the marketplace. Wispy rings of elemental energy spiral in its wake.

Inside the Rusty Nail, Cobblestone still ponders the possibility of Warforged-exclusive beverages. Callico and Lucien still pine for lost love and the good old days, both still too shy to approach one another. Rollins and Monty still argue the merits of splitting treasure and the elves continue to sink their sorrows in song and ale.

I tell the trio of adventurers about the blockage, and how Kurik Forgewarden is a stalwart hireling worth his price in gold. Their planning continues.

*     *     *     *     *

Hirelings: a brief overview in photos

The marketplace plaza up the stairs from the Rusty Nail has hireling vendors for various level ranges.

The marketplace plaza up the stairs from the Rusty Nail has hireling vendors for various level ranges.

One of the hireling vendors makes a pitch for his contracts.

One of the hireling vendors makes a pitch for his contracts.

 

A lower level hireling vendor offers his wares.

A lower level hireling vendor offers his wares.

The vendor explaining how the contract works.

The vendor explaining how the contract works.

A little DDO Store advert - you can round out an entire party with Gold Seal hirelings.

A little DDO Store advert – you can round out an entire party with Gold Seal hirelings.

The vendor's window shows a variety of hirelings at reasonable prices. Try haggling to lower the rates!

The vendor’s window shows a variety of hirelings at reasonable prices. Try haggling to lower the rates!

Volume 4, Issue 2

The melodic tones of the Rusty Nail’s usual soundtrack were broken by the sounds of grunting and straining late Saturday night. Those resting at one of the two taverns in the Stormreach marketplace were awoken by the exertion of Iris Vaht, a human woman deep into the zone – and deep in debt – to Rusty Nail regular Rue the Dashing, a drow elf.

Iris Vaht and Rue the Dashing bet on who can get the most points hitting a target dummy with throwing daggers, at the Rusty Nail.

Iris Vaht and Rue the Dashing bet on who can get the most points hitting a target dummy with throwing daggers, at the Rusty Nail.

“Five points for a bullseye, three for the inner ring, two for the outer,” Rue repeatedly reminded Vaht. “Anywhere else on the body is one point.”

Vaht readied another dagger from her seemingly inexhaustible supply. In graceful motion, she drew her arm back, holding the blade loosely by the hilt. Her body taut, she followed through on her latest throw with steely resolve. Her expression never wavered, never changed. Another hit on the target dummy, this time a body shot that netted her one point.

Vaht pulls back for another throw.

Vaht pulls back for another throw.

“How many points do I get for the head?” Vaht, accustomed to throwing daggers at moving – and often deadly – targets asked Rue, the man she had been betting against all night.

A short distance away, in the shadow of the arch that lead to the tavern’s throwing gallery, a hard-faced man in white robes looked on. Vinny Vintner, human, appeared intensely interested in the nearby test of skill. Armed only with a simple staff, Vintner didn’t look the part of one skilled with a blade, and his lamentation confirmed the suspicion.

Vinny Vintner, sorcerer of Stormreach, laments his lack of skill with weapons.

Vinny Vintner, sorcerer of Stormreach, laments his lack of skill with weapons.

“If they were tossing spells, I’d be sure to win,” said Vintner. Devoid of evidence of a spellbook or pouches stuffed with scrolls, Vintner was most likely a sorcerer. A natural spellcaster, he could no doubt hit the target unerringly with the commonly-known magic missile spell. But when it came to handling more mundane weapons he was out of his element. Maybe someday he’ll unlock the secrets of Tenser’s transformation and start cleaning up in the contest. There’s also the possibility of the low level true strike incantation that would ensure a bullseye, but that particular incantation hasn’t reached the shores of Xen’drik.

Vaht tries for another bullseye to get out of the hole.

Vaht tries for another bullseye to get out of the hole.

No bullseye this time.

No bullseye this time.

At another table, two men continue the same debate they hold each day. One, a halfling named Monty Wilder, looks the part of a rogue. His companion, a human named Rollins, perhaps a wizard. Their neverending debate centers around the distribution of treasure, and Wilder continues to argue that it is one’s kill count on a quest that should reward them with a larger share.

“I got more kills,” Wilder said. “So I think I should get more of the treasure.”

Rollins, however, remains adamant.

“We split the treasure fifty-fifty,” he said. Further inquiry confirms that Rollins is indeed a wizard. He revealed that his specialty is enchantments, and that Wilder’s impressive number of monster kills is due to the crowd control effects his spells provide.

 

Bar Service at the Rusty Nail

Patrons waiting at the rear bar for over five minutes, with no sign of either barkeep Jordan Coulter or his wife and barmaid Maude. Frustration soon set in, and thirsty taverners stormed to the front to quench their thirst. Anger quickly gave way to fear, though, when patrons saw what was holding up service. A zombie had entered the establishment and was holding ground near the entrance. Swaying back and forth, surrounded by a cloud of buzzing flies, the vile thing said not a word.

Before anyone – including Silver Flame representative Brother Kew – could do anything about it, the undead creature starting waving his arms around, his hands enveloped in sickly purple energy. Suddenly, another unliving abomination appeared, a fully armed and armored skeletal knight that bowed to the zombie at greeted it as Master Oxiam Malrage. As it turns out, the “zombie” was actually a necromantic wizard called a “pale master” who could magically take on the traits of various undead creature. Further information about this newcomer was unable to be gleaned however, as after standing there a moment, Malrage and his skeletal pet simply vanished.

Once Malrage had departed, Kew took a moment to explain the Silver Flame’s presence at the tavern. He implied that House Jorasco is either too weak or not brave enough to face dangerous locales in order to rescue fallen adventurers, and offers to bind the spirits of those folks for easier retrieval later on. [reporter’s note: Kew looks like a dead-eyed altar boy. He’s not binding my soul!]

The Coulter’s, who had been transfixed by Malrage’s presence, were relieved. Not sure if they were being robbed or witnessing the start of a zombie apocalypse, they simply shrugged at the arrival and departure or just another adventurer. Another typical day at the Rusty Nail, the finest establishment in Stormreach according to its owner.

A zombie attacking the Rusty Nail? Nope, it's just Oxiam Malrage, pale master.

A zombie attacking the Rusty Nail? Nope, it’s just Oxiam Malrage, pale master.

Coulter offers a wide variety of food and beverages on his menu, including what he calls Stormreach Lemonade. Costing 1 gp 1sp 1cp, the drink is quite expensive for standard tavern fair but Coulter assures that it is well worth the price. One gulp of the stuff leaves the mind racing for the next two minutes. Khyber of a way to start the day. [reporter’s note: yes, my day started when i rolled out of bed around 11 p.m.] Nervously tapping its foot and stroking its chin, the Warforged Cobblestone stands impatiently at the bar.

“They should make drinks just for Warforged,” it said. “I would buy it.”

Maude, for her part, makes the rounds to each table of the tavern, calling everyone sweetie and offering the same menu as her husband behind the bar. In addition to sustenance, the tavern offers repair services for worn equipment as well as brokering deals for unwanted gear acquired during adventuring. The leek and potato soup, in particular, is a refreshing cold soup that bolsters the body.

Across a Crowded Room

Near the front of the tavern, Guard Lucien sits solemnly. His table cluttered with several empty flagons, the veteran Stormreach guard is another regular here. His standard chainmail uniform appears tight on his frame, and he admits the guards have seen little action in the last few years. Despite regular training, his body just isn’t in the shape that it used to be.

“This place is full of adventurers,” Lucien said. “Stories of battle, and good cheer. It’s my favorite place after making my guard rounds.”

Guard Lucien likes to hear the stories of adventure from other patrons of the Rusty Nail.

Guard Lucien likes to hear the stories of adventure from other patrons of the Rusty Nail.

Although he claims to visit the Rusty Nail for the spirit of bold adventure, when his eyes do drift up from the table, his gaze can be followed to another patron. Sitting alone each night, the human woman Callico faces the doorway, anxiously tapping her carved wooden staff. She is brusque, stating only that she is awaiting a companion – specifically not this reporter. She has been here a long time.

A Place for Adventurers to Muster

Two tables at the Rusty Nail are occupied by dyed-in-the-wool adventurers. The real deal, these two parties face danger and death for the chance to find fame and fortune.

At one table, a party of elves reflect their fallen comrades, each in their own way.

Sonnet, a bard by profession, plays a song on his lute dedicated to old friends and companions. Sureshot Whitefern, a ranger, shows her respects by toasting Stormreach’s defenders.

The leader of the group, Johan Fey, has a demeanor that speaks to his name. A fickle sort with a fatalistic look in his eyes, Fey is “drinking to buddies who perished at his side the day the Devils attacked.” Could he be referring to the disaster hinted at by panhandler Barrigan Turaen? Many of Stormreach’s citizens make allusions to some past terrible conflict in the marketplace. Perhaps the libraries of The Twelve will have more information.

At another table, a more serious discussion took place, of adventures yet to be had. Palis Littleton, a halfling wizard, discussed plans for an upcoming quest with her the rest of her party. Pawn, a Warforged ranger and Glory Stonemason, a dwarf cleric, weighed the party’s strength against a contract to investigate a place called The Steam Tunnels.

It was unclear who the official party leader was, but as a team, they talked about the pros and cons of utilizing a hireling contract to provide extra help for the planned excursion. The world of adventurers can get pretty complicated, it seems, with descending tiers of patrons contracting out work to various people. On any given job, there is some entity that needs a task performed, who then hires someone to get the job done. Often, these people will put the word out to the adventuring community seeking a suitable party to complete the task. Once accepted, the party members who will actually engage the quest can themselves hire help, in the form of hirelings.

Palis Littleton (left), Pawn and Glory Stonemason discuss the possibility of hirelings for their excursion into The Steam Tunnels.

Palis Littleton (left), Pawn and Glory Stonemason discuss the possibility of hirelings for their excursion into The Steam Tunnels.

A Nice, Quiet Room

Back up in the Rusty Nail’s short-term apartments, the din of the tavern is gone. Vaht’s straining cries as she continues to throw daggers to pay back Rue are inaudible, and the comings and goings of adventurers both living and undead are shut away. Covering the beat in Stormreach tonight didn’t even involve leaving the instance of The Rusty Nail to find stories of love and danger, wistful ruminations and brave expeditions. My editor back in Khorvaire sent a missive stating that my initial report was well received. The column was featured in the community Chronicle and with any luck, might even garner a brief discussion on the weekly portalcast.

The publisher’s hub itself even saw a rise in average daily visits, so you’re welcome! The guy who runs the thing suggested I submit a sort of bio of myself, so I went ahead and added that to my Stormreach profile. Here’s a copy of it, for anyone interested. Also, my mechanical mutt is still without a name. There were a few great suggestions in the comments on my first column. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to comment below and I’ll choose the best one to dub this artificer’s Iron Companion.

Reporter for The Long Shot @ www.thelongshotist.com

  • Covering local Stormreach news and occassional assignments that require travel to strange and far off places. Working the beat and finding out what the people on the street have to say.
  • Objective reporter, a semi-strict piker to buff party members, hirelings, pets and summons to best ability. Also skill with traps and locks. And has pet of his own for protection.
  • Not built for adventuring. If invited to join a group, will do so to get a story. Then write an article about it for the website.
  • Playing in first person POV exclusively for authenticity. More likely to be taking screenshots than repeating crossbow shots.
  • @longshotist on Twitter for news and other seemingly random diversions

 

Stop back soon to read about this Stormreach reporter’s investigative piece on the mechanics of hirelings, and a peek into The Steam Tunnels!

 

 

Thor Losthers

As testament to how far comics have come and been ingrained in the cultural consciousness, i was honestly shocked to hear actual watercooler talk the other day about the big news from Marvel Comics. In the long, proud tradition of geekdom, it was a hallmark day June 16 that a 44-year-old comic book character was all the buzz. Enough of a buzz, i’d say to warrant asking if you’ve been living under a rock if you don’t know by now.

In October, Marvel Comics will launch a new Thor book, one in which the titular character will NOW! be female.

October will see the debut of a new Thor.

October will see the debut of a new Thor. Esad Ribic is series artist on Thor: God of Thunder

i became aware of the story during an early afternoon lav break, which offers a fleeting moment of escape from the donkeywork, and flagged the topic for future reading. About an hour later, a friend posted his thoughts on the announcement, incredulous as they were.  My attempt to make a case included reserving judgement until reading the story, the evolution from adolescent boys’ power trip fantasy to diverse readership and the difficulty of establishing new, lasting characters.

It fell on deaf ears.

Okay, how about cyclical character arcs that return to status quo without growth, and how Marvel these days is experimenting with significant character changes and new kinds of stories?

Impenetrable. It just didn’t make any sense to arbitrarily change Thor’s sex, to my friend or several others involved in the discussion. Even offering the simplest possible reason had no effect. Because magic.

Readers versus nonreaders

The social scientist in me ad hocced data collection. It seems to me most people who have any sort of problem with the change to Thor are those who don’t read comics now, and often for the most part really haven’t at all. There’s some outrage, some skepticism and some disbelief at this mysterious journey Thor is taking. On the other hand, folks who know their comics are excited by the prospects. There’s a good chance the story by writer Jason Aaron might be really fantastic. Esad Ribic’s (seen above) and Russell Dauterman’s (seen below) art looks evocative. And seasoned comic book fans know, they can always change it back. There’s a good trend in comics right now, i think, that allows for all different types of stories being told with the same characters. If Thor turns out to be the hottest selling book of all time, and another creative team pitched a good original Thor story, well they probably would publish that too. Heaven and The Long Shot  know i could go on and on about comics – there’s always something good out there each Wednesday.

i’ll go out on a limb and say, if you only read one comic in 2014, pick up Thor #1 this October. If it got you interested enough in comics, put it on your digital pull list or visit the comic shop and pick it up. Get an answer to your burning question. Does it make any sense? Find out.

Thor #1 cover art by Russell Dauterman

Thor #1 cover art by Russell Dauterman

“This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR. This is the THOR of the Marvel Universe,” Aaron said. “But it’s unlike any Thor we’ve ever seen before.”

Men versus women

These two groups did not see much differently as regards the change to Thor, except as they differed in readership. For nonreader women, the issue most often concerned whether or not Chris Hemsworth would remain movie Thor. If we’re going to make our nonreader girlfriends watch explosive superhero action movies, Hemsworth helps sell the ticket i guess.

Men who were skeptical seemed put off by turning a burly, rugged mighty man into a woman. So in a way, maybe the same thing a little?

Speaking to the NY Daily News, pop culture journalist Jill Pantozzi  shared her thoughts about the news.

“Giving her the title of Thor gives her a great power behind her from the get-go,” says Jill Pantozzi, editor in chief of TheMarySue.com, a pop culture news site. “People know the character Thor from the Marvel movies, that makes this a big event. It is nice to see that both Marvel and (rival publisher) DC Comics are realizing that there is an untapped market in women readers.”

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/theater-arts/thor-woman-comics-marvel-announces-article-1.1867428#ixzz37nHsh8K9

The husband of a co-worker is a huge Marvel zombie based on her descriptions, and i shared the news with her, suggesting perhaps bringing it up as dinner conversation. She did, and they had an insightful conversation about it.

You’re welcome, co-worker’s husband.

Love connection.

Age versus youth

Here again, there seems to be little difference of opinion except between those who are and aren’t comic book readers already. On the older side of the spectrum, readers have seen Thor and a multitude of other characters change over the years, and are for the most part intrigued by this new direction. After all, in the Marvel Comics universe, Thor is in some ways a concept rather than an individual. The persona and power of the thunder god resides in his trademark weapon – the hammer Mjolnir. Inscribed on the mystical artifact are the words “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” Over the years a few people have proven worthy, and i am looking forward to reading about how this new hero will prove herself.

Younger people, especially those without a history of comics knowledge, wonder why comics creators aren’t developing brand new characters instead of retooling old ones. On a related note, a friend of mine who is opposed to the upcoming change asked why they don’t just elevate existing female characters, like fellow Asgardian goddess Sif. Others cite existing female heroes like Wonder Woman as being sufficient role models for women. But, barring the fact WW is from a different publisher, should there be but a handful (or one) great example of powerful female superheroes?

In response, i offered my observation that it seems to be extremely difficult to create and establish new characters in comic books. While there are modern day superheroes of note, rarely do they ever achieve the kind of status or staying power held by the icons we all know. At the same time, the pillars of the superhero community have been around a long time, and to me it only makes sense that publishers shake things up for them now and again. Taking one of Marvel’s “Big Three” (along with Iron Man and Captain America) and making waves with this big change i think is great. The reactions of her fellow Avengers will be interesting to see, and personally i love a good female ass-kicker. Mass Effect’s FemShep taught me the value of that.

Results

Odds are in your favor with this new direction for Thor. If it’s a great story and terrific art then it’s money well spent. If you still don’t buy the premise, then at least you’ll know you gave it a shot and your instincts were correct. At the very least, you’ll have a Wednesday evening moment to talk about on a coffee break or over dessert. Maybe it will turn you into a regular reader. Making a judgement before you see what the story has to offer seems means you might be losing out on a great experience.

In the meantime, i decided to check out Thor: God of ThunderOnly a couple of issues in, but i am impressed by the artwork enough to keep going. The characterization of Thor keeps me interested, but the story hasn’t taken hold of my imagination just yet. i’ll give it at least another issue or two though.

Existing comic book fans and readers hopefully will give the new Thor a chance in October. With any luck, all the buzz created by this announcement will make create some new comic book readers, too. Personally, i’ve always preferred the classic superhero characters, and i enjoy seeing all the changes they go through over the years.

And the thunder god isn’t the only one undergoing a change, either.

Captain America

Captain America

Another of Marvel’s top tier characters, Captain America will be undergoing an identity change in the near future as well, with the superhero known as The Falcon taking on the mantle of the Star Spangled Avenger. Fans of this summer’s blockbuster Captain America: The Winder Soldier known Sam Wilson from his popular portrayal by Anthony Mackie. This longtime close friend of Cap’s will be filling his buccaneer boots after a storyline in which the super soldier serum that made frail Steve Rogers into Captain America is drained away, leaving him a fragile shadow of his superheroic self.

Even though i enjoy comics from other publishers, Marvel Comics have always been closest to my heart and i’m really enjoying the ride lately. They’re putting out a number of great books that offer a break from the standard bad guy throwdowns of the month. Books like Silver Surver, Daredevil, Magneto, and especially Moon Knight – all titles on my digital pull list – are telling off-the-wall stories. Another title i just discovered has rocketed up my charts, too. Hopping on board with issue #13, Superior Foes of Spider-Man quickly enchanted me with a sort of behind-the-scenes look at the lives of supervillains. The often-hilarious story of this gang’s attempts at supervillainy got me going back to issue #1 and working my way up to speed. Look for a full review soon here at The Long Shot.

Volume 4, Issue 1

I had a nice, cushy gig going in Aundair covering the culinary scene for the rest of Khorvaire, and what happens? My editor pulls me from this plush assignment to travel all the way to backwater Xen’drik! Seems the green reporter he’d sent there, Longshotist, hasn’t sent a story in over a year. His last report covered a string of kidnappings in Korthos Village, a tropical island where he’d crash landed on his way to Stormreach. Earlier reports said something about a white dragon attacking the airship he was on, The Heart of the Wind. But seeing as how that’s the same ship the Chronicle booked my passage on, it’s more likely he skipped out on his assignment and is currently living it up on the resort island. So now, it’s up to this veteran reporter – @Longshotist Twitterhandle – to cover his beat. And wouldn’t you know it? The travel agency from the mysterious continent has some rule about nonstandard characters in their registry, so they have me booked as ALongshotist.

So here i am on the same airship he took that was “attacked by a dragon” and left him as “the only survivor of the Heart of Wind.” The trip was smooth as could be. One of the other passengers, Thealeh Auryath, yakked my ear off the entire time, prodding me with questions about my past. She seemed overly enthusiastic to hear all about my training as an artificer, and all the skills and tricks I’ve picked up that help in my job as a reporter and yadda yadda yadda. What is she, my biographer?

Finally, i couldn’t take it anymore and checked with Captain Korvyn d’Lyrandar, who thankfully announced we were almost arrived. He suggested I make contact with his friend Bellweather Bill once I disembarked. Bill, it seems, could point me in the right direction. Except all he did was offer me a choice of confiscated weapons they had on board and bid me good luck. At least there were enough spare parts around the ship to cobble together an iron defender. It’s my understanding that Stormreach can be a dangerous place, and a mechanical mutt with sharp metal teeth that never needs to sleep will come in handy to watch my back.

Atop Falconer's Spire in Stormreach. Stuck here indefinitely, I might as well make the best of it and see what this backwater pirate town has to offer.

Atop Falconer’s Spire in Stormreach. Stuck here indefinitely, I might as well make the best of it and see what this backwater pirate town has to offer.

So this is my new beat, huh? Stormreach, a frontier city once home to pirates and smugglers, now an important trade hub ran by a Harbor Lord and four Coin Lords. First impression? A dump.

What they call a “marketplace” looks like the raggedy remains of a refugee camp, with tattered tarpaulins streaming over a few random vendor booths surrounded by cracked masonry and a pit leading down into some abyssal dungeon. At the base of Falconer’s Spire, the airship dock, two dusty drow argue over religious politics while a nearby warforged offers transport to the remote desert refuge the pair arrived from. A couple of mercenaries around the corner try to entice me with the opportunity to act as cannon fodder for some scheme of theirs. And in a shadowy alcove another creepy drow offers to trade some magical doodads for bits of blood and bone.

However, a warforged named Vertigo provides a little taste of home, standing on the street handing out Cannith crafting bags courtesy of the Fabricator’s Guild. Usually, these folks are pretty exclusionary but it seems their numbers here in Stormreach are quite low and they’ve opened their doors to independent types – like me. I know I may look the part, but I never quite fit in with those dragonmarked houses. Nope, I picked up my artificer skills by trial-and-error (and a few blackmarket correspondence courses smuggled out of the enclave in Fairhaven). Vertigo directs me to the crafting hall located in the House Kundarak Enclave for further instruction.

Vertigo, handing out free ingredient bags in the Marketplace

Vertigo, handing out free ingredient bags in the Marketplace

On the way over to the hall, a scuzzy dwarf panhandler named Barrigan Turaen stops me to let me know “we deserved this.” Pressed to elaborate, he mutters something about the glory of the marketplace tent and a great conflagration. He believes those responsible must be brought to justice, but refuses to provide further details. Instead, he only continues with his cryptic babbling.

“We should have seen it coming,” Turaen said. Seen what coming? This bears further investigation at a later time.

The Crafting Hall is easy enough to locate, and just inside, another warforged named Maker offers new recruits guidance through the magical crafting process. The first step, it said, is acquiring the magical essences that are combined to add various effects to items. It instructs me to visit a vendor and purchase Lorinda’s Ultimate Remover and Dust of Disjunction, and then return for further guidance. The remover, as Maker explained, removes a magical effect from an item and turns it into essences while the dust prepares an item to receive a new effect.

Fortunately, the hall has a bank kiosk inside, where my editor has set up an account for me to receive my stipend. Checking the account, I am surprised to find there’s a balance of 1 million platinum as well as a cache of artifacts giving off a serious magical aura. Looks like my employers finally recognized I’m a world class reporter! [editor’s note: find out who’s responsible for this banking error and fire them!] It probably wouldn’t be too wise to walk around this den of thieves with that kind of loot, so I withdraw a paltry 5,000 plat and head to the hall’s vendor for the required tools. With the extra pocket money I ought to be able to live pretty comfortably in this town for a while at least.

Maker next directs me to the Item Deconstruction Device to use the remover on an item. It generously provides an item to deconstruct, in my case a weak quarterstaff of lesser halfling bane. Hey, wait a minute – is this some kind of cruel joke? Who would even make such a thing? I am more than happy to break this vile staff down to its components and the device spits out two lesser fire essences.

Next, the essences are combined into a shard. Maker again provides the supplies for this task, three more fire essences and a Siberys dragonshard fragment to use at the Bound Shard Crafting Device. Finally, Maker teacher how to apply a shard using the Dust of Disjunction, this time on a heavy mace he hands me for the task. The shard and the item are combined at the Bound Items Device and viola!

Hopefully I won't find much use for this fiery mace.

Hopefully I won’t find much use for this fiery mace.

The Fabricator’s Guild must be really hard up for members, doling out all these free essences and items, and even offering a reward for taking the course. Maker offers several items to choose from including a trinket that speeds up travel around the city and a couple of things to help with future crafting endeavors. The experience is overall positive, although nothing new to me. I’ve been around the block a few times when it comes to whipping up minor magical items, and heck I even built my own robot dog on the way over here. But if these rubes want to hand out free stuff, who am I to argue? If this is indicative of what Stormreach has to offer, I think I’m going to like it here.

Maker's selection of rewards for taking the course on Cannith crafting. Sucker!

Maker’s selection of rewards for taking the course on Cannith crafting. Sucker!

Heading back to the marketplace proper, I head down to The Rusty Nail, which I hear is a great watering hole. Great by Stormreach standards, maybe, as this place looks like they serve the swill that Aundair’s restaurants toss out as leftover at the end of the business week. That’s the last time I take accommodation advice from a half-orc. If any readers know of better places to stay, please let me know via lightning post. In the meantime, I’ll be lodging at this one-star establishment for the foreseeable future, as my assignment in Stormreach is indefinite. At least they allow pets, mechanical, undead or otherwise.

Your erstwhile correspondent in Stormreach signing off from The Rusty Nail

Your erstwhile correspondent in Stormreach signing off from The Rusty Nail

*     *     *     *     *

Boy, ALongshotist Twitterhandle sure seems like a crass fella. i’m not sure if he’ll make too many friends in Stormreach with his attitude but we’ll see. Like his predecessor Longshotist, this reporter plans to avoid questing unless it in required to access new areas. Instead, he’ll be covering his beat by exploring what all those NPCs milling around town have to say. It is actually pretty interesting to read their dialogue and gives a much different experience that simply running from quest to quest.

If you do find yourself in a group with ALongshotist, please be advised that he will continue the Free Agent reporter’s rule of no killing. As an objective reporter, he has no interest in fighting monsters and saving the day but will be happy to support you and cover your victories. Keep an eye out for this little guy around town if you’re on the Sarlona server, and throw him an invite if you’d like your adventures covered here at The Long Shot. As an artificer, he’ll be happy to handle your traps and locks as well as buff you up and let his iron companion fight at your side.

Speaking of the mechanical mutt, ALongshotist isn’t the sentimental type and as such his companion has no name. So how about a contest? Share your ideas for this pooch’s name in the comments, and I’ll use the best one to name his Iron Companion! Bonus points for elaboration, stories and explanations for your suggestion.

 

Prophets of Science Fiction, part three – H.G. Wells

Prophets of Science Fiction is a documentary television program that aired on the Science Channel for a single, eight-episode season between 2011-12.  Produced and hosted by Ridley Scott, each episode focused on a different writer of sci-fi, exploring their life and work and attempting to correlate the fictional science of their stories with the factual applications in the real world.  Thanks to Netflix, i discovered this terrific program (which is also streaming on the Science Channel’s website).  Frankly, i was pleasantly surprised to find the program suggested by Netflix, as their algorithm’s analysis of my viewing habits – Dexter, Breaking Bad, Star Trek, The Writer’s Room and the like – somehow comes up with picks like Benchwarmers and The Croods.  As a fan of the genre, i’ve often been amazed at how concepts and constructs from works of the past have so clearly come to fruition in the present.  Ideas like the flip-open communicators from Gene Roddenberry’s utopian vision of the future to Daniel F. Galouye’s total environment simulator, presented as works of fiction some 50 years ago, are not only real parts of the world we live in today but in many cases even more mind-bending than their speculative counterparts.

Unlike the hyperserialized programs that are the usual culprits of the binge-watching phenomenonProphets of Science Fiction does not take viewers on an emotionally-invested roller coaster ride with a cathartic ending that compels the audience to watch successive episodes.  My experience with the show found me frequently nodding off before completing a single installment, but this was due more to queuing it up when i should have been going to sleep.  Nevertheless, the complete 5-plus hour series did keep me coming back night after night for its blending of re-enactments, expert interviews and animated recreations centered on the worlds these imaginative writers created.

Prophets of Science Fictino

Sporting the first true scientist in the series, Episode 3 of this terrific series spotlights H.G. Wells. Often referred to as the father of science fiction, Wells produced several cornerstone works in the genre including The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man. The latter held the most intrigue for me, as i’d read somewhere years ago that originally Wells attempted to publish a scientific paper on the real-world possibility of time travel, but having it rejected he adapted it to a work of science fiction. This is covered in the episode, which describes Wells’ attempt to get a paper on his theory of a four-dimensional universe published in a prestigious journal. The editor, however, found it to be too confusing and convoluted. Disheartened, Wells took his essay and turned it into the story we all know, making popular the very idea of time travel that had been preceded only by the 1881 story The Clock That Went Backward.

On a side note, the re-enactment of the scene between Wells and the editor is actually played quite well, with the actor portraying Wells doing an excellent job of showing both his enthusiasm for the concept and his disappointment at the rejection. The re-enactments on Prophets are typically well done, with good use of period costumes and limited sets to put the sci-fi authors into a real context. Tangentially, i wonder if school curriculum these days make use of all the great historical re-enactments out there? Thinking about my own elementary school days, i recall more than once wondering what it was really like at the times we were reading about in our text books, which tend to gloss over a lot of details and go for the big picture stuff. i remember thinking about how the text would say something about an event in, say, 1905 then the next paragraph in about 1920 – that’s a lot of time in between!

But i digress, the term “time machine” itself – today a common sci-fi trope – had it’s origin in Wells’ story. And, in keeping with the theme of the program that yesterday’s sci-fi writers visionary tales often become today’s amazing breakthroughs, it was just reported that a team of researchers in Australia effectively simulated the behavior of time-traveling photons. As fellow blogger Erdrique commented in a recent post about commercial space travel, we are seeing things today that many people – myself included – never thought we would in our lifetime. Now, we regularly hear things about 3D printing advancements, huge leaps in communication technologies, suborbital transportation, the Internet of Things…and now even time travel itself!

In his debut novel, Wells’ The Time Machine presents the quintessential science fiction story that blends technology’s possibilities with social commentary and man’s desire to change the course of his own past to make a better tomorrow. In this novel, Wells’ protagonist primarily travels forward in time, avoiding many of the time travel paradoxes we are familiar with today like the grandfather paradox. The end of the novel does see him return to his own time though. Interestingly enough, as Wells’ theory in based on the four-dimensional universe concept, his time traveller literally only travels through time and not space – arriving at each of his destinations in the same location. To this day, many of the notions of time travel both scientific and speculative are drawn from the same well, or in this case, Wells. i wonder if perhaps a breakthrough will occur when researchers begin to think outside of this conceptual model.

For Wells, his literary contributions are primarily motivated by a common question, one that all too often occupies my thoughts too: will mankind annihilate itself? Personally, i think we’ll simply make ourselves obsolete at some point through the exponential advancement of technology and artificial intelligence, but that’s the subject for another post at another time. Wells, whose writing took place during the Victorian era, took the technologies of the time to what he thought might be the logical outcome. He pondered not only how scientific knowledge would affect the future, but what humankind would do with that science.

Herbert George Wells and his Martian walking machines - illustration by Richard Morden

Herbert George Wells and his Martian walking machines – illustration by Richard Morden

Poet Robert Browning’s famous line “ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp — or what’s a heaven for?” is meant to inspire people to bigger and better things than they believe possible, but Wells’ stories offer a caveat to this by asking is perhaps mankind sometimes reaches too far.

Like the previous two writers highlighted on the program, Wells blends his own creative imagination with the science of his time to speculate on possibilities. Naturally, fiction requires drama to drive a story forward so this results in often dangerous scenarios, a perfect example of which is The War of the Worlds. Sparked by a conversation with his brother about the British Empire’s violent colonizations, wherein military forces descend on native people as if they are nothing more than primitive pests, Wells imagines what might happen if visitors from another planet arrived on Earth. At the time, Mars was particularly close to Earth and astronomers first noticed the channels on the surface of the red planet. Mistranslated as “canals,” this led many – Wells included – to wonder if perhaps there were civilizations there which might one day come to Earth with not-so-friendly intentions in the same manner that earthbound nations act upon each other. That is to say, their arrival and reaction to the primitive people they find here might not be so peaceful.

One of the underlying terrors of the story, which in the decades that followed would become an all-too-real situation, is the idea of large scale warfare that involves not just soldiers, but civilian populations. Unfortunately, this is a trend that has only continued to escalate and one need look no further than the headlines of this very day in fact, where the Gaza conflict is seeing both sides – Israel and Palestine – causing scores of casualties within each others’ urban populations. And this conflict, awful as it continues to be, is itself dwarfed by other Middle East aggressions like in Syria, where the death toll is estimated at 170,000 – one-third of which is civilians. Wells, who was intensely interested in sociology, would likely be as shocked and horrified by modern man’s violent struggles as we are when we read the news and wonder “how do we let these things happen?” Chemical warfare, tanks, laser weapons – all hallmarks of Wells’ work that are terrifyingly existent in the real world. Just a mere 19 years after WotW is published, Einstein develops a theory of laser technology that is eerily reminiscent of the Martians’ heat-ray weapons that use rotating lenses. Now, i can impulse-buy laser at the drug store to amuse my cats with or opt to have them shot into my eyes to correct my vision. Fortunately, we’re not disintegrating each other out there. Not yet, anyway.

Rob Gregory, director of laser systems at Textron Defense Systems, read WotW as a kid, and while he thought the concept was scary, it was also a compelling one that he now works to develop as just one of many DoD contractors. Once again, the sci-fi of youth leads young people to grow up and become engineers and scientists themselves, taking the concepts that fascinated them and asking if it can really be done. It is interesting to me that the larger context of the dangerous knife-edge these breakthroughs caution us about seem often ignored, but i guess for some the old saying about breaking eggs to make an omelette holds water?

Replace the death machines with colonial soldiers and the running, screaming people with natives from any number of places - could we expect any different from extraterrestrial visitors?

Replace the death machines with colonial soldiers and the running, screaming people with natives from any number of places – could we expect any different from extraterrestrial visitors?

“The terminology you’ll hear is ‘speed of light engagement’,” said Gregory in an interview segment on the program. “If you can engage an object of interest or a target with the speed of light, then there’s essentially no delay between when you decide to fire and when you start to engage that target.”

Here, he’s talking about defense systems like those used to intercept airborne rockets and the like. In this sense, the use of lasers if for defensive purposes. As of the air time, lasers are already capable of disabling immobile targets by directing massive amounts of energy at them. But Textron researchers estimate within the next few years (so, like…now) fast-moving objects can also be targeted by lasers. In fact, there’s already some capability to take down mortars and drones using vehicle-mounted lasers.

Ultimately, WotW ends with humanity’s survival – but not through our own ingenuity. The Martians, despite their highly advanced technology, succumb to illness and biological vulnerabilities and show that superior technology does not equate to invincibility. Quite the opposite in fact, as several of Wells’ other works show that it’s our own dark nature – often enhanced by technology – that leads to our downfall.

The best examples of this in Wells’ work are the classic novels The Invisible Man and The Island of Dr. Moreau. Both of these stories have at their heart the same basic question, an examination of what mankind will do when freed from societal constraints. Left to his own will, without restrictions on his morality – are we good, or evil?

In The Invisible Man Wells examines what people would do when no one is watching. And if you’ve read the story you know, they get into quite a bit of trouble.

With The Invisible Man, Wells really hits his stride with a story that skillfully combines his interest in science and human nature. But despite the violence and terror that follows the stories eponymous character, scientists today work to unlock the secrets of invisibility. The program elaborates on then-current research involving metamaterials, which affect how light reaches and is refracted by objects. As recently as a couple of months ago, work in this area has continued to blossom and thanks to 3D printing, the nanofiber “cloak” is becoming closer to practical reality than ever before.

“The only concern would be the use that may go with this, and that’s something that scientists need to prevent,” said Majid Gharghi, one of the researchers developing the invisibility technology. “It’s going to change a lot of things in our lives.”

“We just have to be vigilant of what we are doing,” added professor Xiang Zhang, whose nanoscience research lab at UC Berkeley is working on the project.

Like Wells, these scientists understand that there is a possible dark side to man’s achievements in science and technology. For his part, Wells often explored the path that suggested mankind would abuse whatever scientific might it acquired – something history has proven all too true. But we also have the capacity for great good, and that’s the line we’ll always walk.

Perhaps his most disturbing story, The Island of Dr. Moreau looks at the perversion of medical science without restriction. In Wells’ time, experimenting on animals is a new and controversial aspect of medical science, known at the time as vivisection – surgical experiments on living creatures. In the story, the disgraced titular doctor retreats to an isolated island where he creates chimeric creatures, human-animal hybrids using scientific methods.

Moreau

Once again, Wells explores the dark side of scientific research, which has his Dr. Moreau operating without ethics to literally transform animals into an approximation of humans. Little reason is given for his efforts other than the pursuit of knowledge and the ability to do so – basically he is doing it only because he can.

In contract, scientists like the University of Nevada at Reno’s professor Esmail Zanjani work towards medical breakthroughs that can be of benefit to humans. In his case, he works to use sheep as essentially organ farms, growing organs suitable for use in human bodies.

The sheep in question are kept in what is shown to be a humanitarian environment, and live their lives as happily as a sheep may. But in listening to the work being done, especially describing how in some cases a sheep’s brain has shown partially human qualities, i can’t help but think of Moreau’s beast-folk or even characters like Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the just-released Dawn of the Planet of the ApesOnce we start messing with nature like that…i’m not sure which is scarier – that animals become more humanlike or that we humans can have such a bestial or savage side.

When posed the question whether or not the sheep’s behavior becomes any more humanlike, Zanjani says no, although he admits his work is ethically complex. Whether or not a scientist should do something is an issue he believes in the hands of society as a whole – not the individual scientist, as Dr. Moreau has decided. In this regard, the message in Wells’ stories becomes clearer. He offers his speculative tales not as warnings, but rather as challenges to society that we always have a choice in what we will accept or reject, and therein i think is the message we should all take away – that when we see or hear things that we feel are unjust in the world, we need to realize that we are a part of that world and have some obligation to it.

The final segment of this episode deals with Wells’ darkest story, one whose shadow has haunted humankind ever since. In The World Set Free, he envisions mankind’s devastation at our own hands when this novel accurately predicted the development of the atomic bomb – years before it would actually come about. Even with his scientific background, it is astonishing that Wells would conceptualize such a weapon just shortly after the discovery of the decay of radium.

world set free

Because so many of his ideas about mechanized warfare and man’s violent use of technology has already come to pass, Wells became a leader in the pacifist movement. In a scary twist of life imitating art, The World Set Free actually changed the course of human history when Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard was so fascinated by Wells’ story that he set about to find out if such a thing as the fictional “atomic bomb” were truly possible. And we all know how that turned out.

Perhaps it was his horrifically accurate assumptions about the dangers of atomic power that led Wells in his later years to produce Things to Come, using the new medium of cinema to present his ideas to the public. In the film, a global war involving chemical weapons wipes out most of humanity and leads to a drawn-out conflict that, in time, people forget the reasons why it began in the first place.

Much later in the movie’s timeline, the same forces of science and technology that caused Earth’s devastation lead to it’s ultimate salvation. A technocracy emerges to lead the world into a prosperous age, a sentiment whose descendants can be seen in other visions of the future like the Star Trek universe.

Throughout all of Wells’ work, he deftly blends his true scientific background with wildly imaginative creativity to weave tales that, while dark and disturbing, portray science as humanity’s most powerful tool. But they also carry a warning to us that we must use our tools responsibly, else we’ll face dire consequences.

As the episode wraps up, futurist David Brin describes his admiration for Wells by explaining his often contrary attitude.

“If he was around optimists, he’d point out the devastating flaws in human nature. And when he was around cynics, he would talk about the possibilities that we would overcome our racism, and overcome our sexism and all of these things.”

i like this description the best, because to me it says he was a person who really sought the push humanity to be their best by challenging our own ideas about the direction we’re headed and participate together to move forward towards the future.

*     *     *     *     *

Have you watched Prophets of Science Fiction yet?  If not, i highly recommend heading to Netflix or sciencechannel.com and checking it out.  Episode 4 focuses on Arthur C. Clarke, and a conversation with my favorite space lawyer provided some up-to-date info on some of this legendary sci-fi writer’s speculations that are now a reality.  If you do hopefully check out Prophets of Science Fiction, i hope you also take the time to enjoy these writers’ stories as well!

ANIME REVIEW: Hamatora

By Long Shot Contributor Brett Bennett:

Serial Killer on the loose!

I am not one who particularly cares for the gruesome criminal-type shows. Blood, guts, and gore are subjects that I generally prefer to be kept in the war and/or historical genres. I had a stint of watching Bones, CSI, and SVU but my speed of crime shows is more along the lines of Foyle’s War, Poirot, Sherlock, and Columbo. My wife affectionately calls my tastes “old lady murder mystery,” but I like to think of it more along the lines of “refined,” where the story and characters don’t need the added support of grim to make it stand out from the crowd. So my initial thought after reading a brief synopsis of this graphic serial killer thriller was that this anime was probably not going to make it past the third episode with me. Boy was I wrong!

 hamatora

Super Heroes with a Twist?

The show picks up right away with a tongue-in-cheek philosophical conversation two guys are having over their mobile. We come to find that one, Murasaki, is trying to reason through an existential explanation to the other, Nice, that it is rather ridiculous to cause a scene at the bank because they won’t let him withdraw his last 430 yen in the account. All this is happening while the bank teller is trying to let Nice know that the bank is being robbed by heavily armed masked men. Someone is just in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this case, it just happens to be the bank robbers. Murasaki and Nice make up the private detective group known as Hamatora and coincidentally have “super powers” known as Minimums. Those bank robbers never stood a chance!

hamatora punch

A Fistful of Dollars or A Few Dollars More…

The episodes progress the story much like every other anime worth its salt by introducing and revealing tidbits of background on the list of supporting characters and their relationships to the cast collective. Nice is the carefree nice guy who never has any money because he is picky about what job the duo chooses to do. Whereas Murasaki is his practical counterpart that is there to balance out the team and offer his sage advice – even when it isn’t asked for. They make their “office” in a coffee shop where they rent a table to conduct interviews and other business transactions. As the duo takes on jobs from new clients, ranging from a middle school student who is worried about his missing teacher to the Yokohama Police force asking for help because they are spread too thin, they start realizing that all of the bizarre mysteries that they are involved with all come back around to a serial killer’s brain robbing spree…and he is only targeting Minimums.

Or maybe a penny for my thoughts.

Without giving away too many spoilers, this show gives its audience a little bit of everything that is expected all while keeping them on the edge of their seat: superhero battles, visits to the local spa, a special event beach triathlon, and the season-closing battle on a runaway cargo ship in the harbor. What starts as a happy-go-lucky Starsky and Hutch-esque crime story turns into a dark and disturbed murder conspiracy. This one is definitely not something the kids could watch alongside me.

speed reading

Another quick mention before I get into the final breakdown, this show is dialogue heavy and that means for you non-Japanese understanding folk like me there are a LOT of subtitles going on. At some points there are two different people talking in the background while two others are quickly discussing an entirely different situation in the foreground. Be prepared to either pause to read or lose some of the extra flavor context.

 Story

The writers of Hamatora really deserve a pat on the back. While Season One was only twelve episodes long, they keep the plot moving along quickly while throwing in extra little bonuses along the way. I am definitely interested in seeing if they can keep it going with Season Two.

9 out of 10.

Characters

hamatora main cast

Overall, I am impressed but nothing really jumping out as spectacular with the cast. I was pleased to see that they included a couple of the iconic anthropomorphic cat characters though. Everyone had a decent background story and personality to cover the spectrum of what you would expect in an anime.

8 out of 10.

hamatora office

Art

Ok. Wow! Seriously I mean WOW and many times over, WOW! The artists really give you a feeling of what modern day Yokohama looks like in extreme detail. Talking photo realism detail here. There are these gorgeous little photo montages of the city that they throw up sometimes  when the story cuts to an event that is taking place in a different part of town. They could have easily omitted from the show, as they literally blip up on and off the screen in a blink of an eye, and it would have still been something to behold  but with these added snapshots you feel like you are flying past all of the local landmarks just on the way to the next scene. The action scenes blur into an acid trip explosion of color whenever the characters super powers are activated. My thoughts are that the producers found some amazing talent in their studio and wanted to show it off. I am glad they did. Something else I am looking forward too in Season Two.

10 out of 10!

Check out this trailer for a smattering of what this show has to offer.

Music

So I wasn’t overly impressed so much by the actual songs…sorry to the guys whoever wrote the songs but I didn’t even feel like looking you up. It reminds me of Matchbox 20 meets Muse meets sappy songwriter. Albeit, I couldn’t even pretend to sing along because there were no subtitles so that might have played a small part in my lack of interest in the songs. I suppose they must have blew the subtitle budget on the actual storyline for this because of all the dialogue. Normally, I would have just skipped past the opening and closing credits but for one small thing: the art was so damn amazing that I found myself mesmerized time and time again by it before I even realized I could have skipped it.

+0 extra points. Kudos again to the artist!

So there you have it. If you are looking for a good mystery solving show that turns creepy dark all while being drawn by some modern day Michaelangelos and you don’t mind testing the limits of your speed reading capabilities then this is a show for you. Personally, I am glad that I stumbled across this one on Crunchyroll. I rate Hamatora with a BOOYAH! Definitely recommend.

Know of any other mind blowing artful masterpieces out there? Then please let me know. Keep calm and watch anime.

Sayonara