Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Marvel Adventures

I've spoken of the Marvel Star Wars comics before. In short, a lot of folks think they're kind of crappy. And in some ways, I would have to agree. Back in 1977 or 1978 (can't remember exactly), I picked up a copy of one of the comic adaptations of the movie (just one part of a six part series, as it turned out). At the time, I was psyched to have ANYTHING from the movies (I was only 6 or 7 at the time). But even so, I remember being vaguely disappointed. The art was...okay. The stormtrooper outfits in particular were cool. But so much in the posturing of the people and the abstractness of the backgrounds (to say nothing of a lot of the poorly-rendered starships), just did NOT look like the movies. There was a disconnect for me. I suppose that is to be expected. I mean, the people who did this did Comic books. And (at the time at least) Comics were done ONE way and movies were done another. Perhaps they thought folks wouldn't 'get' a comic if it wasn't done in exaggerated 'comic' style. I don't know, but it's a theory.

Once the movie adaptation was over with, the comics delved into their first 'Original' storylines. As a kid, I was completely out of the comic loop at this point. I never even HEARD about these initial adventures until years later and the invention of the internet (thank you, Wikipedia). Well, recently I picked up the first in a series of the collected Marvel Series- and it has ALL those books I missed out on as a kid. Looking at it with an adult's eyes, I still find the artwork to be bizarrely abstract. I also find the dialogue to be stilted and melodramaculous (intentionally mis-spelled). Some of the stories and motivations seem rather unbelievable and childish as well, especially in hindsight (in particular, one character develops an intense HATRED of Luke Skywalker just because Luke works with droids. Evidently, early in the comics, they had this impression that droids were 'rare' things...umm yeah. Not so much).

But even with all these faults, I can actually see quite a few nuggets of goodness. First of all, there are a few moments of genuinely funny dialogue (particularly between Han and Leia). But secondly (and more importantly from my viewpoint), the storylines presented would actually make some great adventures in a Roleplaying game. Take for example the first 'Original' Star Wars 'Expanded Universe' adventure. I will describe it in terms of an adventure one might run for their group- or an adventure that may even be the catalyst for getting an adventuring team together in the first place. Some of the details have been altered, but the core of the story remains.

While on their way...somewhere, a smuggler or tramp freighter (and perhaps his faithful co-pilot) are waylaid by an infamous pirate and his femme-fatale lieutenant. Though left with their ship, the PCs are now flat broke and in need of repairs]. They are barely able to limp to the nearby world of Aduba-3, but can't get spaceborne again without repairs- and the money to pay for them. NOTE: This whole setup, while seemingly 'unfair', exists to set the stage for what is to come. If the group has access to a starship with guns, it would completely change the nature of this adventure. Yes. It is 'railroading', but a certain amount of that goes into any 'story' adventure. Best to get it out of the way right off the bat, then let things develop from there.

Arriving on Aduba-3, the players become embroiled in a local disturbance. Seems some members of a non-human species are trying to bury one of their dead in the local cemetery. A group of human toughs opposes them. The PCs (hopefully) help out the poor aliens (who are, perhaps, natives of Aduba?) and in the process show they aren't just normal travelers. This attracts the attention of a group of farmers who are seeking help for their remote town. Seems a swoop gang is terrorizing it. They don't have much to give, but it will be enough to get the PCs ship in space again.

From this point, the GM can go a couple way. If this is an 'initial adventure' for a group, he could have other Player Characters (also down on their luck and stuck on Aduba-3) sign on for this mission (perhaps they even helped with the whole cemetery situation). Even if the group is already established- it may require more manpower. The party will find themselves approached by several other space-vagabonds who wound up (for various reasons) on Aduba-3. These include:

A dangerously attractive feline-humanoid gunwoman

A mysterious alien knife and thrown-weapon master who uses 'spines' grown from his own body

A crazy old man who claims to be a Jedi knight. He wears armor he made himself, but has an actual lightsaber (and maybe even has some force abilities?)

A young farm boy who wants to make a name for himself as a gunman and spacer

A beat-up old tractor droid- a servant of the above farm boy. He's gruff and tough and surprisingly capable for a labor droid. Despite his cynical nature, he's also intensely loyal to his master.

These NPCs are useful, sure, but should also be played to help add depth to the story from a roleplaying perspective. They can form relationships with the PCs and/or serve as comic relief or for dramatic purposes. They can also be 'killed off' at times in the adventure to generate a sense of mortality or anger towards the villains. This isn't to say they should be 'throw away', just that they should be treated as characters, not just generic 'redshirts'.

Once the team has been assembled, they set off into the arid plains of Aduba-3 towards the distant farm village, riding local beasts of burden (perhaps with some other PC vehicles if they have any). It is here that the villain first makes his appearance, circling in with a few of his boys to try to talk the Heroes out of helping the locals- using threats and (failing that) the offer of a small pay-off. Assuming the PCs turn him down (likely in a heroic campaign) or attack him, the Gang Leader rides off, vowing vengeance. Indeed, later during the trip (perhaps when the players are camping or moving through a canyon or something), the Swoop gang rides in. They are quickly turned back by any stiff resistance, however. They've had it too easy pushing around farmers.

The PCs arrive at the village, just in time to see some of its people under attack by some dangerous local wildlife (could be bird like critters or something else). With the hero's help, the critters are driven off and introductions with the locals ensue- including, perhaps, a local girl (or guy or maybe one of each) who could be a love interest for one of the PCs- the child of the village elder. Speaking of the local village elder, he is a half-breed 'native' of Aduba who has grown to dislike most off-worlders due to the depredations of those like the Swoop gang. He makes cryptic references to an 'avenging force' his ancestors once called upon. He does not like that his people brought more into his village. There will likely be a celebration of some sort to welcome the players, and a little time for them to prepare. This is a good spot for some roleplaying- letting the characters stretch their legs in various non-combat situations (romance, drinking games, sightseeing, building defenses, planning tactics, etc.). While this is gone, the Village Elder becomes scarce, disappearing into a 'shrine' in the center of the town, doing some strange kind of ritual (which may give any Force users in the group a 'bad feeling about this).

Ultimately the Swoop Gang will make its move- and in numbers and strength that may very well prove to be a match for the group. It is at this point that the Elder makes his reappearance (and where the story REALLY diverges from its Magnificent Seven source material). Evidently, the 'ritual' he has been performing- to summon an 'avenging force' that his ancestors spoke of- was real. This force takes the form of a gigantic beast that had been slumbering beneath the ground. It rises now to attack the Swoop gang, turning the tide of battle. Unfortunately, the elder doesn't have as much control over it as he thought. The beast turns on the village, and will destroy it if the players don't figure out what to do.

There should be a couple different ways to handle this situation. Earlier, as the characters journeyed into the village, or explored it, the GM should introduce some kind of terrain feature that could be used. Perhaps a huge stone pillar outside the village is just waiting to fall over. Or there is a deep canyon not far away where the creature could be lured to fall into. Likewise, if there are Jedi in the group (even just the crazy old NPC from above), it should be hinted at that the beast reacts to the Force. Perhaps it was the creation of some long dead Sith 'alchemist' or even a naturally 'evil' beast driven into hibernation long ago by Jedi. Whatever the case, this sensitivity could be used to lure it. But who knows, perhaps the players rig up some kind of explosive and trick the critter into eating it? Maybe the town square has an old fusion reactor that they have to be careful with or it'll blow? Maybe while exploring the village, the players found some ancient native carvings that showed a beast being defeated by ingesting some kind of local plant? Whatever hair-brained scheme your players come up with you should give a good chance of working- especially since the beast itself is impervious to anything the players will likely have on hand to deal with it. This should be a test of ingenuity at this point, not just firepower. Oh, and just to give the beast some added threat- it should have SOME kind of ranged attack. Maybe it breathes fire? Generates a 'natural' energy blast from crystals embedded in it skin?

As an added wrinkle, the Gang Leader (or one of his boys) having somehow survived the beast's initial attack, may suddenly reappear and attempt to foul things up for the players out of spite. Likewise, if the heroes are in a pinch, the village elder may Sacrifice himself by trying to control the beast. He may be able to do so for a second or two to, but may then be killed by the creature (but it may be time enough for the players to recover from a bad plan or come up with a new one).

With the beast defeated and the village (hopefully) saved, it is time for a bit of a celebration (and mourning of those lost in the battle). The Villagers give the heroes enough money to cover repairs on their ship (and perhaps a little more?) and get off world. The various NPCs (those who survived) each go their own ways as well. The Gunwoman has adventures to find. The spine guy likewise. The crazy old man must follow his quest (whatever delusion that may be), Jim (and/or his droid) feel like they'd best serve right here on Aduba-3, helping grow the village into a prosperous and safe community. The villager love interest (if any) will likewise want to stay in the two and make a new life of it.

See? Sounds pretty cool, doesn't it? I could totally see running that adventure. Now, as for what I changed/omitted? Yeah. One of the 'NPCs' in the original story was a giant, green bunny man who wore a red space suit. I shit you not. Yeah. That's kind of stupid. Then again, so was the guy with the spines- who was drawn as a giant, purple porcupine man. Oh, and he SHOT spines, didn't throw them. Which to my mind is kind of dumb because.. well, eventually you're going to run out, aren't you? If you're like.. firing a half-dozen spines every time you shoot... and they were BIG spines and- oh nevermind. Giant green bunny. In any case, I think I made my point. From some of the silliest of things, a kernel of goodness may be harvested.


  1. Interesting, I've had exactly the opposite experience. I always loved the old Marvel Star Wars stories and I've rarely heard bad about them. They hearken back to the age of pulp sci-fi.

    There was even a blog dedicated to it not to long ago, which I think is gone now:

    As far as Jaxxon goes (the green bunny guy) he wasn't really meant to exist in the Star Wars movie universe--just appeal to kids. Yeah, he was silly. But then Hasbro consistently gets requests to make him into an action figure...

  2. Yeah, I've been to the starwarsmarvel site. It is AWESOME. I love his page by page run through of each adventure. And don't get me wrong. I don't HATE the Marvel comics. There are just some things about them that bugged me as a kid. I'm a very visual person and when I saw something that was supposed to be Star Wars...only it didn't LOOK like Star Wars, it just threw me a loop. In retrospect, knowing what I do now about the origins of Star Wars as a pulp kind of thing, I have a new appreciation for the old comics- but they are still silly.