My earliest memories of Micronauts are, of course, the toys which for several years (I'm guessing 1977 to 1980 based on release dates) would inexplicably appear beneath my Christmas tree on Christmas morning.
I say "inexplicably" because (as far as I can remember) I never asked Santa (or my parents) for a Micronaut toy ever (at least, not till the very final series) and they were largely off my "kid radar;" I didn't see ads on TV for them (Saturday morning cartoons had not yet started marketing toys via serial tie-ins to children), my cousins/friends didn't own them (so far as I knew), nor did I ever see them in the stores (not that I frequented these regularly as a small child). In later years, following the first batch's appearance on Christmas morning, my brother and I, now familiar with them, would sometimes pore over the Sears "wishbook," divvying up which Micronauts each of us would eventually own (as we did with ALL toys appearing in such catalogues)...but we never went so far as to actually LIST these, so far as I can recall.
Then again, if I had been older would they have gotten so tightly woven into my subconscious imagination?
If you had asked me, as a child, which was my favorite Micronaut toy EVER, I would probably cite the last one received: centaurus, with his laser crossbow and glow-in-the-dark (removable!) brain. That's a figure I absolutely wanted and asked for...even saw it on a store toy rack before Christmas. And even today, it's still solid...one of the coolest action figures I remember owning. But two other figures stand out as being exceptionally loved and played with by Yours Truly. One was the (original) Acroyear, whose dagger I managed to retain for years, despite being of the age when one loses accessories right and left. The other was Pharoid and his Time Chamber which fascinated me endlessly. I took it with me to Christmas morning Mass (the only toy I ever treated with such reverence) and recall spending long hours just...fiddling...with the thing. Opening the tomb. Putting him in the tomb. Taking him out. Repeat. What was the story of this guy?
|Such a weird toy.
[if I had to guess, the Egyptian motif probably had much to do with the fascination. The King Tut exhibit traveled to Seattle in 1978, and was another momentous experience in my formative years]
But regardless of childhood toys, it was the Marvel comics written by Bill Mantlo that really cemented my love of the Micronauts. I am 99.9% sure I started reading Micronauts with issue #34 (circa 1981) in the middle of the whole "Enigma Force" storyline (guest starring Doctor Strange!). I mean, talk about starting with a bang: mysticism, magic, super science, alien species, drama, betrayal...and, of course, a murderous band of gunslinging adventurer-heroes...all in the desert environment ("Sand Zone") of Aegyptia, with its towering tomb monuments, said to house the giant ancestors of the Microversians.
In addition, there was also Pharoid and Acroyear, Force Commander and Baron Karza.
Well, whatever. I collected more than a few of the comics during its 50-some issue runs, including several of the back issues...mostly ones that were Micronauts-specific rather than crossovers with the X-Men and such. See, I wanted stories steeped in the lore of the specific IP, strange as it was, weird as it was...and, often, quite "dark" in nature (considering the concept's origin as a children's toy line). Some of those body bank stories...brr, frighteningly gruesome. A lot of body horror in Ye Old Micronauts, even the first issue of "The New Voyages" (the last issue I ever purchased, summer of '84) when protagonist Commander Rann was forced to sever his own hand at the wrist.
[and people wonder why I like to make player characters suffer...]
Okay, okay, enough with the nostalgia: why am I writing about the Micronauts? Well, the last few days I've been working with the Desert of Desolation module series (I3: Pharaoh, I4: Oasis of the White Palm, and I5: Lost Tomb of Martek), seeing if there is some way, somehow, that I can twist them into something fun and functional for use in my own D&D campaign. After all, they ARE just sitting there on my shelf, and I have fond memories of them as a child. Plus, they seem to be...more or less...in the proper "level range" for my current batch of players.
Mm. I won't lie. They're all pretty bad. Or, maybe, "inconsistent" is the operative word. Take Martek, for example: it's got some pretty cool ideas in it. The Cursed Garden. The Abyss. The Moebius Tower. But it's a real stinker of an adventure...just really poorly designed and fatally flawed in several gross ways (the Skysea is AWESOME...but it also one of the easiest TPKs I've ever seen in a TSR module). As well, it is just...missing...stuff. Things to do. Monsters to fight. Places to explore...in a non-linear, nor railroad fashion. There are several "here's a place that the DM can develop...so long as it doesn't PCs too long from the story being told" instances. Why the heck not? Because we're in such a hurry to get onto the next story?
[probably...considering the absolute dearth of requisite treasure levels in these modules]
SO...interesting concepts/ideas, poor-to-terrible execution...and as with my analysis of I6: Ravenloft, I find that a LOT of this adventure would work just fine for LOWER LEVEL CHARACTERS. There is really nothing "mid-level" about this adventure, save that all the Hit Dice of encounters have been pumped up...to no good end.
FOR EXAMPLE: You don't need these unique "noble class" djinni and efreeti...a normal 10 HD efreet with max hit points would work JUST FINE for characters of levels 3 to 5 (remember also that the MM specifically says there are noble djinni with the same HD as an efreet). You don't need all these 4 hit dice dervishes and air lancers...just make them standard dervishes and nomads of the MM. And these new undead? They're just 8 and 10 hit dice NOTHINGS that cause fear and hit for 1d10 points of damage. Just what the hell are we playing at Hickman? It's not like the treasure count justifies a party of 6th - 8th level!
And remember that whole post about how much water you need to carry? In AD&D (the edition for which these adventures were...ostensibly...written) a cleric receives the create water spell at 1st level. By 5th level (the minimum suggested level for I3: Pharaoh), a cleric with a 16 WIS can cast five such spells per day, each casting conjuring 20 gallons of water per day...enough for some 25 humans. As with my review of I6: Ravenloft, it appears that Hickman's design assumptions are based on an earlier rule set (in OD&D, only a 6th level bishop can create water...and doing so leaves the character without the ability to neutralize poison, cure serious wounds, or cast protection from evil 10' radius).
[side note: when I ran the Desert of Desolation series in my youth, the party tackled it withOUT a cleric, making the adventure considerably more difficult]
SO...the modules are crap, but they're crap with interesting bits. They're railroads and poorly stocked, but they've got a bunch of maps that ain't terrible. So when I think of how to fix them...to take their interesting bits, and make them both playable and (if possible) more interesting...I keep coming back to the Micronauts and those images from my youth: Giant, upright sarcophagus-tombs. Ancient tech/magic lost centuries before. Techno-bedouins riding giant, domesticated "ostras" (think: axebeak) against horse-headed "centauri" (re-skinned centaurs) in tribal warfare. And somewhere, lost in the sands, a laboratory-temple housing the ghost of Baron Karza, waiting to be resurrected and resume his conqueror's ways.
Lots of ways to spin and 'skin this thing. And probably a lot of ways to do it in a way that doesn't require a large group of mid-level characters. A post-apocalyptic, desert wasteland concealing generational secrets buried beneath riddles, legends, and sand. Sand and blood and treasure. Dig it.
|Who needs "Sambayan air lancers"
and "Thune dervishes?"