Free Book


Yes you heard me correctly.  For the next week, from November 14th to the 21st I am giving away my debut horror novella, The Tome, for free.  Why?  because I want to see just how many readers I got.  So I guess you are a part of a test, but you get a free book and have to do nothing else.  Of course, if you wish to leave a review that would be great and if you want to share my link to any of your friends, I would be in your debt.

October Comic Book Awards


~ Nandor Shaffer

Though October brings with it the cooler weather, the comics that hit the stands were as hot as ever. It was a month of finales and exciting twists as we were presented with the very last issue of the current Captain America title (returning in November rebranded as All-New Captain America which will be following Cap’s longtime partner Falcon as he assumes the mantle of the Sentinel of Liberty himself), the anticipated climactic clash between our Flash and Future Flash in The Flash #35, as well as the continuing mysterious troubles the Fantastic Four are facing in their own book, and much more. Marvel Comics’ Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier series debuted this month, also, to such pure delight of yours truly. In addition, Whovians picking up Titan Comics’ new Doctor Who comics couldn’t be disappointed with the ever impressive quality of each issue thus far. With this said, October was a fine month to be a comic book reader.

But out of these and other nominees, which were the best? With much debate, October’s winners are now in.

Cover of the Month Award: Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier #1

​Cover Artist: Marco Rudy

If you’re perhaps familiar with James Buchanan Barnes and his history in comics, you know he’s had quite a life, to say the least. As Bucky, he fought alongside Captain America as his iconic sidekick in World War II, then, at the time thought dead, became the ruthless, tragic assassin known as the Winter Soldier during the Cold War, until finding redemption as Captain America when Steve Rogers no longer was among the living. This time around on the side of the good guys, Barnes is the Winter Soldier once again and what makes the cover for Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier #1 so interesting is that it portrays, very uniquely mind you, glimpses of his history through the faces of his many aliases. I don’t know how to describe it but this sophisticated painted piece by Marco Rudy is, simply, really fascinating. With Winter Soldier in the middle, his former identities wrap around him to brilliant effect. I’ve never seen anything like it before, which is almost impossible to say nowadays with all of the excellent talent out there in the comic book industry.

Art of the Month Award: Buck Barnes: The Winter Soldier #1

​Artist: Marco Rudy

Out of the plethora of words, there is only one I’ve found to describe artist Marco Rudy’s phenomenal style—psychedelic; and psychedelic in the best of sense. This book is staggeringly stunning. It’s pure artwork if I’ve ever seen it as every page is a privilege to look at. Done by just Rudy himself, an admirable feat no less, his work jumps out at you with power. The panels are seamlessly interwoven with beautiful sights, faces, and gorgeous colors, filling up each page to the max. It’s hard to tell how the creative process proceeds smoothly because of what is shown and how much is shown on each page. The only downside to Rudy’s art is that, since it’s very creative, it can be a bit difficult to follow what’s going on in perfect sequence. This is no way diminishes the masterful art that is here, however. Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier #1 is worth picking up for the art alone and as long as Rudy stays on as leading artist, this will probably be the best looking comic book currently coming out in comic stores everywhere.

Story of the Month Award: Avengers #37 (“Archangel”)


Writer: Jonathan Hickman

Crossing over with New Avengers, the Illuminati are on the run, and in Avengers #37 the hunt is on. Witnessing what will happen eight months from now regarding Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, we see how far Steve Rogers, now devoid of his super-soldier serum, will go to make sure the Illuminati, made up of once close friends, are captured and detained for keeping the world ignorant of the looming multiversal end of everything. Here in this issue we get a better taste of how much has changed for our starring characters. Steve Rogers is bitter at always seeming to be one step behind the Illuminati and we’re also given hints and clues of curious events that occurred in the past which we have yet to see explained. With memorable moments and an unforeseen twist in the last couple of pages, Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers epic is ever growing, and is ever keeping you on your toes.

Issue of the Month Award: Uncanny Avengers #25 (“The Low Road”)

redWriter: Rick Remender

Artist: Daniel Acuna

In Uncanny Avengers #25, the stage is set. This is the penultimate issue before Rick Remender’s Avengers & X-Men: Axis event and you could cut the tension with a knife. Pitting the Uncanny Avengers side-by-side with Magneto against the infamous, diabolical Red Skull and his S-Men, this is a battle issue with high stakes hanging in the balance. Our team of heroes is trying desperately to put a stop to the Red Skull’s menacing plot to encamp every mutant in the world, but at what cost? Scarlet Witch fights within herself as she watches her father, Magneto, turn into the thing she hoped he would never become again. Magneto is definitely the show-stealer in this issue as he is written perfectly, coming across as enraged and entirely finished with the actions taken against his mutant brothers and sisters. What he does in this issue took me by total surprise. Artist Daniel Acuna’s snappish artwork is great, bruising the book with darkness and identity. His lighting is exceptional and he carries the story and fight scenes in good fashion. Uncanny Avengers #25 is both shocking and highly applaudable, ringing it in as the most satisfying comic book of the month.

Thanks for checking out my awards and check back sometime next month for November’s Comic Book Awards! Moreover, the end of November will mark the end of my second year of doing these monthly awards so be ready for what will be my second annual COMIC BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARDS, which I will be revealing the winners for throughout December. Until then, I, and hopefully you, will continue to be reading comics!

The Tome


Wild Bill Coyote never played a hand of poker unless his back was to the wall, except the time when a kid put a bullet through his brain. Jim Jason wasn’t going to make a similar mistake, as he nestled himself in the corner of the Wallace Terrence Library gazing across the large open atrium. Jim Jason harassed, berated, and bullied at school never thought he would be able to exact revenge against his fellow students. Then one day he finds an ancient book, the tome. The many varied short stories whisper to him, telling Jim how to get even, to take what he wants in the world. He realizes the power on the yellowed pages and focuses all his lusts and desires onto the one girl he wishes to have. What are the costs for this power to bend time and the minds of others?

The Tome

The Mayan Civilization

The Maya
The Maya

Corn was the great invention of the Maya, yet we take it for granted.

Even though corn is used as an essential provision, along with other staples to feed the world, corn is more than food because it is also used as currency and the building blocks for a cornucopia of modern products. Corn is a crop that has changed the way we eat, drink, and live our lives. The golden kernels have grown to be integral to society. Not only does it feed billions of people, but it has been used for cash for thousands of years and as the building blocks of everyday products used by people from around the globe.

The plant originated in the Yucatan Peninsula more than six thousand years ago, during the latter half of the Neolithic Age. Corn is a purely human engineered plant, starting from what is known as Teosinte, a group of grass genus with some external similarities to the modern plant, most notably the tassels. Over the course of several thousand years of direct human farming, this tall grass transformed itself into corn as we know it. Several major civilizations of the region exploited the use of corn including the Aztecs of central Mexico; the Mayans of what is now southern Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala; and the Incas of modern day Peru.

Corn shares the world stage with wheat, rice, and potatoes, as a staple to feed the population of the planet. Although the other food stocks have fed billions, none of them stand up to the influence that corn has exerted over the globe. More and more farmers are seeing the value in corn, in more than just food but also in a global perspective of cash and resources.

In states such as Kansas, which grows 1/5th the total wheat yields of the United States, more and more farmers are switching to corn. In Africa, a country beset with hunger and starvation, corn has grown ever increasingly more abundant than wheat. In 2009, 12 percent less wheat was planted and an increase of 10.93 percent of corn was planted in the African continent. Often when we think of rice, Asia comes to our thoughts, but even in the Asian continent, corn is winning out. Rice is a rich source of calories for poor starving nations, but it is also very labor intensive and requires large quantities of water. Corn on the other hand takes less than 120 days to come to yield and can be sown in practically any terrain, environment, or temperature (except for very dry climates or arctic conditions). There are a number of reasons why rice continually declines over the use of corn, but specifically the Law of Diminishing Returns and the increased cost of hydraulic works are the chief claims. Lastly, potatoes are another source of protein to feed the world, but the plant also has many problems associated with its planting, harvesting, and distribution. Much like rice, potatoes are not cost effective in the amount of labor needed to produce, although unlike rice which requires watershed lowlands, potatoes require far more tolerant land resources than corn.

Most people do not realize that corn has become more than something you pop in a microwave oven or gobble down on the ear during the summer months. “Edible corn for humans, whether fresh, canned, frozen or in the form of cornmeal, makes up less than one percent of the American corn market, a tiny amount that nonetheless adds up to about three pounds of corn per person per day.” In the United States alone, corn is grown on more than eighty million acres of land with yields of 384 million tons yearly. Most of that corn is neither popcorn nor sweet corn, but a variety called dent corn (the name derived from the dimple on the tuft of the corn kernel). Dent is also known as field corn or deer corn. The plant in America is used in the production of plastics, from which innumerable products can be fashioned, such as plastic bottles, paper plates, and utensils. The plant’s harvest is also used in the manufacturing of corn syrup, a sweetener that can be found in bread, cereals, pasta, soda pop, ketchup, juices mayonnaise, and thousands of other supermarket items. Finally, corn has been used to make ethanol, and in the last twenty years the production of that kind of alcohol has accelerated as car manufacturers have converted automobiles from using gasoline and diesel fuel to new bio-fuels.

When the Spaniards came to the New World they were in search of gold to fill the coffers of their kingdom back home. Unbeknownst to them, time after time, these conquerors stared blankly at the true gold of the New World, and it wasn’t that of the lustrous metal that the Incans used to lavish on their buildings, but the simple plant in the common man’s backyard. “The wealth generated by plants probably has increased at a rate and in a more sustained fashion than any other American resource. In any given year – 1980, for example – the annual value of American crops, was on the order of 200 billion dollars, probably is higher than the total value of all the precious metals exported to the Iberian colonies over the course of the entire colonial period.” Often the conquerors were so close to discovering that beyond the gold ingots and silver bars, the metal would pale against the incredible power of the corn in later centuries. Instead of the gold fever that existed at the time, they should have monopolized the plant rather than precious metals.

Corn made its transoceanic move in the latter half of the 15th Century CE, but the plant was not thought of as a spoil or treasure by the Spaniards at first. It was not until Peter Martyr d’Anghiera wrote, “Affixed by nature in a wondrous manner and in form and size like garden peas, white when young,” that we heard the first mention of corn. Although Peter’s work was not published until 1511 in a book called ‘De Orbe Nova’, the word mahiz was being used excitedly throughout the old world by this time.

Another account of corn being discovered by the Spaniards, written by Juan De Cardenas, was in an abridgment of an encounter on November 6th 1492 when Columbus decided to gather a small party of explorers to search the interior of lands he thought was China. When the soldiers returned, they did not talk about large Asian cities or courts of royalty, but rather brought back baskets full of golden grain as if they were coins, called maize.

We repeatedly see how Spanish explorers took maize as payment for tribute from indigenous peoples of Central and South America, such as in 1519 when Hernando Cortes confronted the Aztecs and they were given thousands of bushels of corn along with gold and silver bars. Again, we see in 1531 when DeSoto confronted the Incans, he was given 5000 bushels of maize as tribute. Even as late as 1650, when by now the Spanish pushed into the American Midwest and the lower extremities of Canada, maize continued to show up as both a food and a bargaining tool (currency). However, even though it is obvious that the people of the New World thought corn was a hard currency, the Spaniards often would dispose of it as they did with the 5000 bushels of maize given to them by the Incans, for gold and silver metal.

It took less than forty years after its discovery in the New World for corn to make its way to tropical Africa, for which the exact date is lost because the Portuguese who brought it over did not refer to it by any given name. Corn became the common man’s currency in the escalating colonial Africa. The plant had become a commodity and a dietary mainstay, something few agricultural products possessed with such flexibility. Wherever the sixteenth century Portuguese landed their ships, corn spread. By 1517, it was grown principally around the slave-trade ports of the west in order to supply cheap fodder for the slaves during their transport and as a method of payment for trading with interior indigenous people for goods and services.

Corn quickly became the primary dietary caloric consumption in African. By the latter half of the twentieth century, corn had spread to every corner of continent, save for the very wet and very dry localities. Without any surprise the countries that consumed the highest amounts of corn are also the countries with the smallest percentages of hunger, disease, and political instability.

Africa is a diverse continent with equally rich, robust economies. One of the continuing issues with Africa, even from the start of European involvement in the early 16th and 17th Century CE to the present, is the scarcity of food resources. Most of the rural economies have struggled with water and food, with the latter often being traded as a cash commodity as more advance cultures use currency to pay debt.

For the most part livestock and fishing make up very little in the excess food stocks, with almost 80 percent of tropical Africa having less than a single head of cattle per capital. Even though goat populations are relatively larger, they still rank less than .5 per capita. With less reliable data on fishing, no direct correlation can be made suffice to say that other than in local communities along the Atlantic and Indian oceans, food from the sea make up very little of the excess food stores. The two largest commodities, traded both among internal economies and also the broader world economies, are manioc (a starchy tuber also called yucca or cassava) and corn. Yields from 1957 and 1958 show more than 70,000 metric tons of manioc and almost 60,000 tons of corn were traded. There appears to be five principle categories of food in Africa, used as a delicacy, insurance against famine, secondary staple, primary staple, and as production for cash crops. In each of these categories various foods rank higher or lower, but in almost every African nation, corn is at the top of the list for being used as a cash crop.

Today, Africa still grows corn to feed its population, but also relies on foreign governments to send relief aid often in the form of corn. “Six Southern Africa countries – Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho, and Swaziland – were facing severe food shortages and an estimated 14 million people in the region needed about 4 million metric tons of food aid to meet minimum consumption requirements before the next harvest in April 2003.” Many U.S. companies use corn crops to feed desperate third world countries, with just one company alone producing 130,000 metric tons in 2009 of special corn biscuits to be given to countries in need.

No other place in the world has corn reigned supreme than in the United States. In the burgeoning technocracy of the twenty-first century, corn has become the Holy Grail of genetic manipulation, turning the plant into the building blocks for everything Americans eat and drink; pump into their automobiles as fuel; feed their livestock, chemically change into plastics and cloth; and biologically mutate into fiber for utilization of paper to particle board.

The United States produces nearly 40 percent of the world’s corn and has learned how to genetically alter the plant to such a degree that most people fail to realize that the plant cannot grow in the wild, but must be modified into hybrids each year to create the seeds for the next season’s planting. Each year, corn is created by mating two different corn hybrids to create a new strain of corn; often the result is a new type of corn that is better than either of its parent strains. So, even though the plant is highly dependent on mankind in its reproduction, it earns its next year’s prodigy with its incredible characteristics allowing it to be manufactured into more than three thousand food sources and four hundred non-consumable products.

Dent corn can be modified into a high fructose sugar, cheaper to produce than cane sugar. According to CornSugar [], “sugar is sugar and that high fructose corn syrup is nutritionally equivalent to sucrose.” The website goes on to say that there is not a shred of evidence that these products are different biologically and are just as healthy as foods derived from sugar cane. The commercial use of corn syrup is as a thickener, sweetener, and humectant (the ability for food to stay soft and moist). Suffice to say, corn syrup is used in thousands of foods consumed by Americans.

At present there are more than 400 non-consumption products being engineered from chemically synthesized corn byproducts. Most plastics today are created from limited-recurring resins such as oil. Nature requires 100 million years of fermentation to create oil, but with the recent advancements in corn manufacturing in the United States, engineers hope to cut that down to less than 100 days. The first polymer resin known as polylactic acid or PLA is derived from corn and is a crystalline or amorphous sheet of plastic like material. Although you cannot eat this material, though derived from corn, it is bio-degradable. PLA products are very sensitive to heat so it makes it unusable in cooking ware, engine parts, aircraft panels, or other heat intolerant applications, but can be used as bottles to hold liquids (such as water, soda, juices), plates and utensils (such as given out at fast food restaurants), and medical applications. PLA is just the start to many similar organic chemicals that will be used to formulate new and wondrous plastics.

One of a select few manufacturers to start producing biopolymers (plastic from plants) is a firm called NatureWorks LLC. This company is at the forefront of the new science which can produce plastics that are completely bio-degradable and have very low carbon footprints on the environment. Within the last month the company began producing yogurt cups made of this new material, with a savings of 48 percent of carbon emissions over standard plastic. In the next few years, more corn will be grown to create ethanol than used for the production of food. The history of bio-fuels has been an epic struggle against the cheaper and, at the present, more easily accessible petroleum. If it wasn’t for some short sighted government officials who saw ethanol as a way for moonshiners (illegal corn whiskey manufacturers) to gain legal rights to production of alcohol, we may never have had need for gasoline. As early as 1862, alcohol was being taxed at $2 a gallon, forcing inventors like German engineer Nikolas Otto and American industrialist Henry Ford to re-examine the use of ethanol as a fuel for vehicles – even though Ford had a working prototype of the Model T running completely on ethanol. The use of alcohol as a primary agent in combustion engines was dashed in the early 20th century in America with the passage of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: basically prohibiting the manufacture of all alcohol (even for combustion). Ethanol never recovered from that stroke of the pen, even though the law was repealed years later.

Alcohol is still heavily taxed in the United States and would make its use as combustion still very expensive compared to gasoline. To circumvent the taxation, the alcohol goes through a process called “denaturing” in which the ethanol is subjected to various bittering agents such as benzoates and methanol, making it poisonous to consume. In this form, farmers are not levied tax on the alcohol. With improvements of ethanol production, the US Congress has mandated that production of bio-fuels increase from its present state of 12 billion gallons a year, to 36 billion gallons by 2022.

Today, American farmers grow corn to turn into E10 or E85, which is a mixture of gasoline and ethanol. E10 is 90 percent gasoline and 10 percent alcohol, while E85 is 85 percent alcohol and 15 percent gasoline. E10 can be used in any car today, even those that are not designated to be used for ethanol. The E85 mixture requires special automobiles and is often limited to warmer climates, with the present technology, that do not have extended frigid temperatures. It has been statistically proven that ethanol is better for the environment than carbon based fuel sources (oil), even after considering that most farm equipment still use gas or diesel for the production of the corn.

Beyond the use of the kernels of corn, researchers are now utilizing every facet and part of the corn plant. Recently, corn stalks are being analyzed for its ability to be used for medium density particle boards – used in many applications including framing homes and commercial buildings throughout the world. Analysis of the fibers suggests they have a chemical composition similar to softwood a-cellulose, common in softwood deciduous trees. The advantages, of course, is that it takes less than 120 days to grow a single harvest of corn compared to years, if not decades, for many forests.

As we move into the early part of the twenty-first century, corn is going to increase in its varied uses to feed the planet and become the building blocks for everything from clothing, plastic, fuel, domesticated feed, new construction material, and everyday consumer goods. Vast portions of the planet are still locked in a day-to-day struggle with feeding the inhabitants. In these areas, corn will still be used as a staple, as a form of currency, or as a way to barter for services. As much as corn is intrinsically bound to humanity in its survival, so too will mankind be linked to the ancient tall grass that was born in the lowlands of central Mexico because corn has become more than food, it has weaved itself into every aspect of our global society.

My Other Blog

History should be fun
History should be fun

Perhaps not too many people know that over the last several years I have another blog.  It is not about science fiction, fantasy, games, or being a geek.  It is about my other true love: History.  I try three times a week to post historical anniversaries on the blog.  Its very fun to think that on this day in history of all the events that took place.

Teaspoon of History

I got the name for the blog one day while eating lunch.  One of the big detractions to history is often the length and verbosity of its articles. So I decided to try and put history into teaspoon size bites.

Try coming every couple days to the blog and read up on all the odd and fascinating historical anniversaries that are taking place.

I welcome you to take a look.

September Comic book Awards

New Avengers.jpg

~Nandor Fox

Welcome back everyone for the third installment of my monthly annual COMIC BOOK AWARDS! If this is your very first time taking a glance at what this is all about, I’ll give you a brief rundown to catch you up just in case. This is the column where every month , out of the ten-plus comic books I personally purchase, I choose which individual comic book issue deserves the award out of the four categories: Cover of the Month, Art of the Month, Story of the Month, and Issue of the Month. It’s been a bit of a hobby I’ve done for a while mainly just for myself for the fun of it, but now I have the pleasure of sharing it, hopefully, to a wider audience like yourself. My Comic Book Awards are meant to simply entertain, inform, and maybe even possibly help you see what comics you might be missing out on that you might otherwise enjoy. Anyways, without further ado, here are my Comic Book Awards for the month of September!

The month of September proved to be an overall good as well as competitive month for comics. I honestly had a somewhat difficult time figuring which comic book issue was most worthy of an award over another and why due to the fact that many issues were, comparatively, on-par with each other. But that’s what makes this fun, right? September saw many extra-sized issues as they garnered a $4.99 price tag, special tie-in’s for DC Comics’ Future’s End event, and also the unfortunate end to Jason Aaron’s commendable Thor: God of Thunder series with #25 (which will be returning in October with Thor #1 featuring the controversial new female Thor). Avengers and New Avengers took a bold and mysterious turn as their current epic storylines take place eight months from now in the future, the 11th Doctor arrives with his latest companion Alice on a planet with whose citizens are all-too curiously happy, and the Red Skull’s menacing plan comes to a head in Captain America and Uncanny Avengers as Marvel’s Avengers & X-Men: AXIS fall comics event is upon us.

But out of these and other nominees, which were the best? The results surprised me.

Cover of the Month Award: Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #2


Cover Artist: Alice X. Zhang

Wonder. Imagination. Joy. Whenever I think about the amazing sci-fi BBC Doctor Who TV series, these are the foundational emotions that I feel. When I look at this cover for the second issue of Titan Comics’ Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, some of those same emotions hit me. This gorgeous, almost transcendent, painted cover by Alice X. Zhang is an extravagant rendering of the 11th Doctor played by the unparalleled Matt Smith. The Doctor’s pose as he looks in amused delight at the shining lights above him, and that happiness expressed in its life-like fullness, carries this lovely work of art to warrant Cover of the Month in a heartbeat.

Art of the Month Award: Uncanny X-Men #25


Penciler and Colorist: Chris Bachalo

Inkers: Tim Townsend, Mark Irwin, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba & Al Vey

I’d have to admit I’ve never really liked Chris Bachalo’s art. That’s not to say I think his art is bad; not at all. His diverse, true comic book style presentation is impressive and even needed in the comic book world today, but it’s not necessarily what I’m looking for in terms of art when I pick up a comic. However, when I finished Uncanny X-Men #25, I was taken aback. From the first two pages, there was a part of me unexpectedly drawn to this issue. Nothing about Bachalo’s work was different or altered — I just found myself being strikingly pulled in by it. The pages are filled to the max with unique panel formatting, and his storytelling is at its best, resulting in a packed, satisfying issue. Maybe it’s the great teamwork present involving writer Brian Michael Bendis and Mr. Bachalo, but, nevertheless, it is a fine example of a rewarding comic book.

Story of the Month Award: Avengers #34.1 (“The World In His Hands”)


Writer: Al Ewing

Avengers #34.1 is a standalone tale spotlighting the character, and current Avenger, Hyperion. He’s not a well known Marvel character, but that doesn’t diminish how cool or powerful he is (think Superman powerful). The plot revolves around a child being abducted and Hyperion takes it upon himself to locate the child and kidnapper. What might sound like a straight-forward story becomes, actually, a touching one. Al Ewing expertly explores Hyperion’s psyche throughout the issue and, doing so, manages to make him a very likeable, thought-provoking hero. In the issue Hyperion questions who he is and why he does what he does, which all relates to his fascinating back-story. When you flip the last page, Avengers #34.1 ends up as a rich, character driven superhero story that captures something great about hope and how we can help people. Usually I pass over “.1’s”, but I’m so glad this particular issue was an exception.

Issue of the Month Award: New Avengers #24 (“The Cabal”)
New Avengers.jpg

Writer: Jonathan Hickman

Artist: Valerio Schiti

Cover Artist: Gabrielle Dell ‘Otto

New Avengers #24 is not your conventional “next issue”. Why is that? The story takes place eight whole months after the last issue and is also a part of Jonathan Hickman’s grand Avengers masterpiece crossing over with his ongoing regular Avengers title. You’re put into the middle of dire times and circumstances in New Avengers #24 where there are more questions than answers, making for much intrigue. The Illuminati are in hiding, the Cabal is killing worlds left and right, and Doctor Doom is up to something…all this and more give way for a brilliant first building block in Hickman’s next step for this book. Valerio Schiti in addition returns for this thirty-page issue offering up his rising talent. With such cinematic grace, Schiti’s facial and action scenes are remarkable here. If you want a consecutively incredible comic book series, New Avengers is totally the way to go.

Thanks for checking out my awards out and check back sometime next month for October’s Comic Book Awards! Until then, I, and hopefully you, will continue to be reading comics!

Original Review of Advanced Phantasm Adventures

112-page Players Handbook,
96-page Gamemaster’s Handbook

According to the Bloodchant game, as of 1988, the Phantasm Adventures game was the biggest fantasy game in Japan. Apparently, the Phantasm Adventures game is the revised, English-language publication of those rules.

Physically, the game consists of two books with heavy-paper covers, punched and bound with plastic strips, as done in many photocopy stores. The interior text is fairly large and easy to read, typically divided into two columns, sometimes with a narrow sidebar of auxiliary text. Occasionally, the type becomes much denser, in places where the writer obviously wanted to get a lot of material for one topic onto a few pages. In general, large headings break the text into manageable pieces, with a fair number of illustrations for variety and illumination. Overall, the illustrations are unusual but respectable. (At first, I thought many of them were pieces garnered from a century ago, they have that sort of engraved-line quality and dense shading, but I find them too specific to the text and too fantastic in subject for that to be the case.) A multitude of tables supplement the text, typically collected into sections of their own.

The introduction in the Players Handbook states that the game is designed for incredible developmental possibilities, yet is simple enough to be easily played and expanded. I would agree that the game is very flexible at least in terms of the sheer number of types of characters that can be generated but it is hardly simple or easy. Rather, this is a number intensive product, particularly in terms of character generation, and one that requires quite a bit of rules reference during play.

At first, I found the game to be rather exciting. The idea of rating characters stats both by racial base and by personal variation is interesting. This allows a great degree of personal variance within a race, and when stats are to be compared between members of two different races as in an arm-wrestling match, for instance multiplying the racial stat by the personal stat makes the difference between even the strongest goblin and the weakest giant immediately evident. And some undoubtedly will be glad to know that you can choose characters from fifty-five different races (though as GM, I prefer to keep my bugbears and trolls as monsters rather than player characters).

The general approach to magic is also exciting, with designers of spell-casters deciding what realms ”their characters casting powers come from such things as a deity, spoken phrases, gestures, special instruments, symbols, components, and the like. In other words, you decide whether your character speaks and gestures to cast a spell, or holds an object while invoking a deity, or gestures with an DRAGON 27 object, to name just a few of the many possibilities. Furthermore, you even choose among options to determine how wieldly or unwieldy the method is, how fast it regenerates energy, how much energy it yields, and what effect it has on casting time and chance of success. Then you decide what circles of magic to specialize in, which determines what spells are available to your character. Note that this all means that while two players might end up with the same spell for their characters, the dramatic effects of casting that spell are quite different nice storytelling element. In terms of flexibility, spells can be modified as they’re thrown, to speed one up at the cost of accuracy, for example, and characters can spend experience on the spot for emergency power points.

This freedom of choice is also evident in terms of the skill system. Players are given beginning experience points with which to purchase desired skills, with guidelines given by a characters chosen clan— e.g., a professional club, such as military, religious, crime, trade, etc. Certain skills are required purchases for members of a particular clan, and some list multipliers for the cost of learning magical spells. Magical ability is also dictated somewhat by the race decided upon.

Actually generating a character reveals, however, just how number-, table-, and rules-intensive the game really is. (It doesn’t help that the promised character sheet is not included.) First, you choose a race and write down nine racial stats plus a height base and move rating. Then you begin collecting personal stat modifiers for nationality, town size, clan type, and clan rank. Now you roll 2d10 for each of those personal stats and add the modifiers you’ve noted. Then you refer that number to a table, to determine the actual personal stat value. Don’t throw away the original number, though, because you’ll be spending your experience on it during play, and coming back to the conversion table to convert the new number to a new stat value. Then you determine a god worshiped, if any. There are special restrictions and abilities to be gained from doing so. Now determine exact clan background and resulting age. From clan, you decide upon skills. Just as the numbers you rolled for personal stats are converted to a value using a conversion table, you spend experience to buy levels of skill, which are converted using a table to a numerical value, based upon the skills related stat, the number of levels purchased, and the cost per level as dictated by the character s guild. Decimal values are retained for a “slim chance” rule: e.g., if you have a success chance of 12.6 and roll a 13 (the game uses 1d20 for skill tests), there is a 6 in 10 chance that the skill actually succeeds.

If your character is to cast magic, age will be affected by that as well, and you’ll need to make the decisions mentioned earlier, concerning realm and the like. (Unfortunately, I still haven’t figured out how to determine the effect levels for the various aspects of those realms.) Then you’ll have to decide which circles to use and roll to see what spells are available to the character.

In any case, you’ll also need to generate starting money and buy initial equipment. Then you choose three personal goals for the character, from a list of samples, which affect how the character gains experience points during play.

Combat is a bit number intensive as well. For initiative, each character has three different PSNs (Phase Sequence Numbers): one for melee combat, one for missile combat, and one for spell-casting. At the beginning of the turn, you decide which type of action your character will take, then roll 1dl0 and add it to the appropriate PSN. Totals higher than 20 allow actions in more than one phase of the turn. The actual course of activity your character performs may consist of one or more action types (draw weapon, go berserk, fall prone, etc.), each of which counts as anything from half an action to three actions, in terms of elapsed time. (Actually, this sounds more confusing than it really is, but it does require a lot of reference to the book during play.) Any attacks are rolled on 1d20, with numerous possible modifiers (again requiring frequent reference to the book). There are also rules for how many attackers of what size may attack a target of a particular size, how to find spent ammunition after combat, chance of missile breakage, equations for damage from falling and throwing, movement and coordination effects of armor, and suchlike, plus a fairly lengthy table of special tactics such as throwing sand in the eyes, etc., adding a bit of storytelling to combat.

Finally, every skill in the game has its own critical success and fumble chart, again adding a bit of storytelling to play but also requiring even more reference to the rulebook. Given the preceding reviews, it should be noted that the Phantasm Adventures game is somewhat more carefully worded than the Bloodbath and Bloodchant games. Nonetheless, it is just as prone to spelling and grammatical errors. Also, while it strives for realism in such things as how much water a character needs per day in a desert, it has significant lapses in logic at other places, such as in its description of the game world’s solar system. For example, while the world nearest the sun is quite reasonably a tiny, barren rock, and the second is a large hot world, the third has a frozen atmosphere, and the fourth is the Earth-like one. I have to wonder how that frozen planet exists in that slot, especially given that the sixth planet, much farther away, is an ocean world. And as for the fifth, it is described as an airless moon. No mention is made of it orbiting any world, however. Again, I’m glad to have had a chance to peruse this game. And I imagine I’ll keep playing with its magic system in particular. But I can’t really recommend it as a finished product.

~Lester Smith

Ancient Dragon [Magazine]

In my continuing research on detailing my historical impact on games, I discovered that three of my creations were reviewed in issue number 193 of the Dragon magazine.  This issue was published in May of 1993 by TSR and contained the reviews for Advanced Phantasm Adventures (two books), Bloodbath, and Bloodchant.

I feel so honored that my three games made it into the monthly roundtable of new and up coming rpgs of the 1990s.


Troy Christensen