I try to change genres often when I read, and having just completed Dragons of the Hourglass Mage, the last book in the Dragonlance Lost Chronicles, I was due for some science fiction. I’d had my eye (pun!) on this book for a while, so I took the plunge.
Back in 1978, people were starved for Star Wars. I suppose in some sense, people still are starved for it, but back then it was different. There was the Marvel comic series (with the infamous green space rabbit, Jaxxon), and that was about it. No movie series, cartoon spinoffs, video games, or any of that. This was the year that the Star Wars Holiday Special came out, which tells you all you need to know about how folks wanted ANYTHING Star Wars.
And so, Alan Dean Foster served up the first novel with new Star Wars content. And fans everywhere rejoiced. Or so I suppose they did, I was only four years old at the time. Looking back on it forty years later, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is more interesting as a historical relic than as a good Star Wars story.
Luke and Leia are on their way to recruit some rebels when they crash land on the jungle planet Mimban. They come across a secret Imperial mining operation and meet a force-sensitive old woman named Halla. Halla has a piece of the titular Kaiburr crystal, and even this small piece is enough to greatly magnify Force powers. Luke and Leia get captured, then meet a couple Yuzzem, Wookie-like creatures, and Luke conveniently speaks their language. With Halla’s help, the heroes bust out of jail and head off in search of the crystal. Naturally, a certain tall, dark bad guy shows up with a bunch of stormtroopers.
The story is as generic as it gets. It doesn’t really feel like a Star Wars story. Of course, when it was written, there was only one real Star Wars story, and much of the mythology hadn’t been introduced yet. Take out the thin veneer of Star Wars elements and John Carter or Buck Rogers would be right at home. Given the pulp influences of the franchise, this isn’t a big problem. But Splinter is small in scale and fairly boring when compared to the first movie. Foster has stated that the story was intended as a potential low-budget sequel if Star Wars didn’t take off. That’s the likely explanation for the lack of anything epic.
There are a host of story elements that feel distinctly out of place given what followed. The elephant in the room is the romantic tension between Luke and Leia. Luke just barely manages to restrain himself from planting a big ol’ kiss on Leia more than once. Knowing they are siblings after, this is REALLY AWKWARD. Still, it was a natural direction for the series to go at the time it was written. Also out of place are Luke using power packs to charge his lightsaber and his puzzlement at whether the saber will work underwater. Vader has a blue lightsaber, too. Weird, right?
Splinter of the Mind’s Eye got some things right, though: for the first time, we see a Force-sensitive person using telekinesis. (If you don’t count Vader force choking Motti, that is.) Halla moves a salt shaker, and it’s heavily implied that Luke subconsciously moves a large rock to dispatch a foe. In Empire, Luke and Vader both use telekinesis, and it’s common from then on. Unfortunately, Vader never uses the awesome Street Fighter-style force ball attack he uses in Splinter. Kit Fisto did, though, in an excellent Clone Wars animated short, which you should track down in you haven’t.
The Kaiburr crystal is the Maguffin of the story, allowing Luke to channel its power to become a far more effective combatant than he otherwise would. I won’t spoil the ending, but the battle between Luke and Vader at the end goes much differently than the modern reader would expect. The Kaiburr crystal concept was mostly abandoned, but the idea was more or less translated into kyber crystals, which are now a big part of Star Wars lore.
While Splinter of the Mind’s Eye didn’t absolutely blow me away, it was an interesting read. The story itself is vanilla, to be sure. But reading it is almost like a puzzle. It’s fun to pick out what shouldn’t be there, but the most enjoyable part to me was seeing things that turned up later in the saga. I may go back and read the early Marvel comics soon, for the same reason. The Star Wars galaxy is incredibly rich and dense now, so dense that I can’t hope to keep up with everything. Looking back to a time when that galaxy far away was much smaller is very comforting.
Last summer, I wrote a haiku for each episode of the original Generation One Transformers series that aired in the United States. (Plus five based on the ’86 movie.) I had a great time with this little project. There were many episodes I had never seen, though I’ve owned the series for years. As a big Transformers guy, I needed to see them all.
After the release of my third book, I rewarded myself by picking up the complete Japanese Transformers collection on DVD. This set includes three Transformers shows that never aired on American shores: The Headmasters, Masterforce, and Victory. Never having watched a single episode, I’ve really been having fun with the first show, The Headmasters, and bringing back the haikus seemed like a no-brainer.
A few thoughts on The Headmasters 2/3 of the way in:
The quality of these DVDs isn’t as good as that of the G1 show. It looks like Shout Factory didn’t restore it in any way. Fuzz and scratches are apparent throughout, and the colors seem washed out and bland. The quality of the screenshots for the haikus has taken a hit, as a result. It’s certainly watchable, but hard to ignore.
I’m happy that Titans Return was so heavily based on characters featured in The Headmasters. I’m more of an early G1 fan, and don’t have much interest in the often-weird(wolf) toys from 1987 and beyond. Watching this show has changed that for me, just as it must have done for Japanese kids in the late 1980s. Thankfully, I’ve got many of these characters in their inexpensive Titans Return forms. Hopefully, they’ll remake the Horrorcons and Autobot Targetmasters in Power of the Primes!
The American G1 show was tame, due to the standards imposed on kids’ TV at the time. The Headmasters is brutal in contrast. Characters die horribly – often. The Decepticons blow up entire planets. They straight up murder human-like aliens onscreen. One particular episode stands out. A civilian Transformer gets whipped (not beat up, WHIPPED), mind-controlled, and implanted with a bomb. He’s sent on a suicide run and one of the Autobots, who was the poor guy’s friend, has to kill him to save everyone else. It was really shocking to see this in a cartoon intended for kids! Maybe not as shocking as seeing Optimus Prime die (glad I never saw that as a kid), but still shocking.
The Headmasters has been a fun series to watch. There are some cheesy slapstick moments, and Daniel and Wheelie are still around, but the good outweighs the bad for the most part. I’m not as excited for Masterforce, as I’ve heard it’s not as good. But Victory will surely be better. Follow me on Twitter for a daily dose of Japanese G1 in haiku form, and see the whole collection here!
My third book is finally here! The Thing from the Drive-in is now available at the Kindle Store.
My life’s a giant monster movie.
And it’s all my fault.
Before I found the marble, I was just a typical twelve-year-old nerd. My only problems were beating my buddy’s arcade scores and hiding my secret crush. Now I’m trying to stop an atomic dinosaur from destroying the whole town.
Not exactly your typical Friday night.
You can purchase your Kindle copy using this link. PRE-ORDERS for the paperback version can be made using the link below. Save $3 and get FREE SHIPPING in the US!
Last summer, I decided to watch the entire Original Series of Star Trek, one episode each day. On a whim, to keep my creative juices flowing, I decided to also take a screenshot for each ep, then write a haiku on it. I enjoyed the process so much, I continued on through the Animated Series as well.
This summer, I decided to continue the haiku project, but with a different franchise, one near and dear to my heart: The Transformers! I’m posting a new Transformers haiku each day here and @marcallie on Twitter. So far, I’m through my favorite portion, Season 1, and just beginning Season 2. Right now I’m planning to end after Season 2, and take it up from Season 3 next summer… but we’ll see.
I’ve done a bit of housekeeping here on the site to make it easier to find the haikus. There is a Geek Haiku tab at the top of the page, and from there you can select which you’d like to view. I’ve enjoyed watching these classic episodes from my childhood again, and hopefully you’ll enjoy experiencing them in haiku form, too!
Last week, I had the chance to sit down and chat with my podcasting buddies, Christopher Tupa and Kevin Zerbe! It had been way, way, WAY too long. Have a listen as we talk about a plentitude of topics. From the Tupacast site:
The gang finally gets back together after 6 months! We had a great time getting caught up with each other while discussing TV shows, Star Wars Rogue One, new web comics, art presentations, portraits, music and so much more! Join us on this episode of Tupacast!
After a significant break last year, I’m back in the swing of Dungeons & Dragons again. I’m playing on an online campaign through Roll20.net, and DMing two different tabletop campaigns. One group is running Curse of Strahd. In the other, we just finished Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. I’ve wanted to run this module for years now, and finally I did! Here are some things I learned from the experience.
You Can’t Run It All
First of all, there’s just plain too much content in the crashed spaceship to get through in a reasonable time frame. Our group meets roughly once a month, for 3-4 hours each session. I knew I wanted to get through the adventure in three sessions, so I really had to prioritize things.
I read through the module, highlighting cool scenes and encounters as I went. I decided that the vegepygmies, police robots, both medical androids, the telepathic plant, the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” plant, the froghemoth, and the mind flayer were must-run encounters. Everything else would either be ignored totally, found dead, or just described before running away from the party in fear.
But there were so many rooms! How was I to adequately and accurately describe them all? Well, I totally cheated, that’s how. I made copies of the maps for level 1, 3, and 4, and simply gave them to players when the time came. It made sense that there would be maps on the walls in such a big spacecraft, and it really sped things along.
Also, in the interests of expedience, I let the group find a red key card (which works on all locks) by the end of the first session. I realize all the backtracking and finding new cards was part of Gygax’s intentions when he wrote it, but ain’t nobody got time for that. I’d rather see my players do something epic than collect colored keys and backtrack all over the ship.
No Minis? No Problem
The second big take-away from running Expedition to the Barrier Peaks is the lack of miniatures for most foes. I was able to find no official vegepygmy miniatures, so I decided to make some myself. As a backer of the first Reaper Bones Kickstarter, I had tons of unpainted minis available. I’ve got plenty of zombies and skeletons already, so the Bones zombies and skeletons could be repurposed as vegepgymies. It was quite simple and the results were great!
I layed on a black basecoat, followed by a sloppy drybrush with dark green. Next was a lighter drybrush with a brighter green, followed by a heavy wash in brown ink. I knew I wanted to have some texture to the minis, so they wouldn’t simply appear to be green skeletons. The perfect texture was easy to find; I just opened up a couple of teabags. I also mixed in some green flock I had lying around, but you really wouldn’t need that.
Mixing a few drops of water into some plain old Elmer’s glue, I “painted” each mini liberally with the glue. Then I sprinkled my tea bag mix over each mini, and let it dry completely. I then mixed some more glue up, and applied it to the mini again, as I didn’t want pieces flaking off. Finally, I based them and sprayed them with a heavy coat of matte sealer. Very simple, and they look nice. The minis are great for vegepygmies, but also any plant-like humanoid, twig blight, moss man, whatever.
On to the main event, then: the dread Froghemoth. I knew I wanted this fight to be the closer, and so a suitably epic miniature was needed. An official Froghemoth mini was produced in limited quantities, but I was unable to find one. There were some very expensive alternatives, but I’m cheap. The third Bones Kickstarter offered a Froghemoth as an addon. I backed it (late), and the anticipated delivery was last fall, well within my time frame. However, the delivery has been significantly delayed. As the day of the Froghemoth approached, I had no mini to use. Making one was my only remaining option.
I decided to hew closely to the actual illustration from the module instead of modern reinterpretations. I ordered this frog toy from Amazon, and used the tentacles of this octopus toy. This project would require heavy customizing, more than simple limb/weapon swaps and such I was used to. Prepping the frog was easy: just cut off the frog’s eyes and front feet. I used grey stuff to fill in the eye holes, smoothing out the head.
Attaching the tentacles was tough. I drilled small holes in the leg stump/midsection and each tentacle, then pegged a small piece of dowel in between. (The process was similar to pinning a smaller miniature.) Multiple applications of grey stuff were required, the first to simply stick the pieces together, the rest to smooth it out. Time was short, so added one twisted eyestalk with eyes looking in every direction rather than three separate eyestalks. A simple mouth and tongue wrapped up the sculpting.
Next up: painting! I primed the creature using the gradient method. A heavy coat of dark gray, then a lesser coat of medium gray, and finally a burst or two of white for highlighting. I went with glazes of thinned paint over the gradient, which ended up looking great and saved me lots of time. The tentacles were tough to paint, with so many bits and bobs everywhere, but a coat of orange followed by a red drybrush ended up looking OK. Next, I washed it all with Nuln Oil, (from Games Workshop, the best wash IMO) and sealed it with matte spray.
Overall, I think the froghemoth turned out fine. If I’d had more time, I’d have used toothpick ends to make some gnarly teeth, and better sculpted the eyestalks and nostril-thingies. Still, my players thought it was pretty awesome when I dropped the froghemoth on the table, resting on a 5 inch square base.
What about that mind flayer? There are plenty of mind flayer minis out there, why not just use one? Well, a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s clear that the mind flayer in this module is not your traditional robe-wearing squidhead. Second, I had a conversation with a player that led me to want to go in a different direction. We were discussing the new Ghost in the Shell movie, and I commented that they added a Robocop element to the story (a forgotten identity). My buddy responds “DUDE we’d better run into Robocop somewhere in this spaceship.” That’s when I decided that this particular mind flayer would be wearing power armor.
I had a War Machine figure from an old game lying around, but a Heroclix Iron Man or even a 40K Space Marine would work fine. I spent $4 on a two pack of mind flayer minis from the new Nolzur’s Marvelous Miniatures series, and cut off one’s hands and head. Some grey stuff and a paint job later, and the mind flayer was done. When he showed up, my players named him Power-Cthulhu. If you think a mind flayer is tough on its own, add in some spells and power armor. You’ll thank me later.
The Big Finale
I knew I wanted to use the froghemoth as the centerpiece of the big final fight. KNowing how OP my group’s characters already were, before they found power armor and stun grenades, I knew I’d need to really crank up the challenge. I beefed up the froghemoth with Legendary Resistance and actions, similar to those of dragons. The wing attack was replaced by a RIBBIT power that dealt modest damage in an area, knocking foes prone if a save vs. Con was failed. The auto-damage dealt nicely with summon woodlands creatures shenanigans from the druid.
Even with these alterations, I knew the froghemoth would die quickly. So I went with a multi-stage fight where other residents of the spaceship, including Power-Cthulhu, made appearances.
Stage 1: Froghemoth fights alone, the mind flayer simply observes
Stage 2: Froghemoth is joined by charmed vegepygmy minions with 1 hit point (throwback to 4E). These were useful for disrupting concentration and blocking positions. They also burst spores upon death. In this stage, Power-Cthulhu hovers around, taking potshots at the party with the laser blaster in the armor.
Stage 3: Vegepymies all die. Froghemoth is nearly dead, so Power-Cthulhu steps it up, unleashing his spells and stun attack.
It was a tough fight. The rogue got swallowed by the mighty Froghemoth first, then the barbarian. It took all the 10th level party had to fell the beast. This was the closest the group has come to a player death since level 2. The casters had used up nearly all of their spells. And yet they still had a mind flayer arcanist with a laser blaster and 100 hp of power armor left to face.
Good thing for the group that Power-Cthulhu was ready to parlay. The froghemoth was blocking the only way out of the ship, you see. The froghemoth was too much for the kind flayer to handle alone, so he used the heroes to fight the beast for him. Power-Cthulhu offered a way to destroy the ship (to prevent an infestation of alien vegepygmyism) and directions to the exit if the party simply let him flee.
Expedition to the Barrier Peaks was an incredible experience. Sure, it’s over the top, almost Monty Haul with all the technology, and by far the weirdest adventure in the history of D&D. But it’s also a great deal of fun. Focusing on the highlights, making miniatures for key monsters, and tying it all together in a huge set piece finale will make your crawl through a fallen spaceship a memorable one.
Have you read my books yet? Check out more information about them at marcallie.com/books!