Saturday, July 31, 2021

Let's Make a Game Session 1

I am going to be posting some videos - I'll be doing both game design and posting ebooks of my various Doc Stalwart short stories. Here's the first in a series of videos creating a free, fan-focused game based on a certain fantasy world that may have been Peter Jackson movies.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Byron John Interview

 Over on Patreon, I've posted a lost interview from 1983 with the one-man army who created Doc Stalwart comics for several years, on a legendary run that ended with issue 250. This is a public post, so you can see the benefits of being a patron! (Nudge, nudge)

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Rick's Designs in Hero Forge

 Rick sent me some pics of Doc Stalwart and Lab Rat that he created in Hero Forge ... they are pretty sweet, if you ask me :)

Update for the Week of 7/24

Over on the Stalwart Age Comics Database, I have added a summary and overview of issue 250, as well as the prose adaptation of issue 255. I won't quite call the database 'robust' yet, but it's filling out nicely, and I am happy with the variety it represents. If you are a Patron (and I hope you think about becoming one if you're not), you've already seen the next few things that I'm planning. Patrons get to see things at least one (and sometimes several) weeks before they go live, and also get to take part in behind-the-scenes conversations around the development of Doc and his world.

One of the things that I've introduced in the summary to 250 is the idea of a larger universe around the Doc comics that is also part of my own experiences; I loved the comics, but I also loved the interviews with comics creators and the letters pages of the comics. I allude to both of these in the historic notes to 250, and these are something I plan to explore in the future. Some of my favorite teenage memories are spending time reading the in-depth interviews in The Comics Journal and seeing under the hood of how the industry worked (or at least a glimpse of how it worked). At the time, I was all in on wanting to make superhero comics as my livelihood, and I was just as interested in what it was like to be a writer or artist as I was in reading the comics themselves. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Retconning a Story I'm Writing

I've got a few Doc Stalwart side projects I'm working on... if you are on Patreon, you already know what I'm talking about... so you can sign up to get in on the conversation. But, in this process, I was thinking about the history of Doc and his story. In many ways, I'm looking at the story starting at issue 251 as establishing 'new' canon. One example of this is the character of Simian Prime. Simian Prime first appeared as a Doc Stalwart villain in the golden age comics, and his origin was always tied to Doc in the silver age comics... but starting with 251, he is ret-conned to have been an enemy of Hartland, 25 years earlier. I know that this seems like a mistake, but it's actually not. The current writer of Doc Stalwart (me, but not me, of course), has decided to revisit 'classic' Doc elements are re-imagine them. It is a soft reset of Doc's world; effectively, the John Byrne's "Man of Steel" of Doc's Superman history. One of the writer's goals from 251 forward is to create a definitive storyline that works out all of the contractions in Doc's publishing history.  Comics have a proud history of making narrative messes and then working hard to clean them up; if I wasn't doing the same, I wouldn't be creating an 'authentic' homage.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Tessek Lives!

This week's update is all about a certain mummy. Tessek the Terrible has ended up being a more powerful foe than I first conceived him; he starts pretty powerful, but he gets increasingly powerful as he gathers his artifacts. He could work as a big bad for a campaign, since hunting down his relics and fighting him with different power levels is on the table. Each encounter with him can be a little different. The Stalwart Age databases have been updated; his character profile is in the characters tab, and the summary of his first appearance is in the comics tab. Head over and take a look.

Remember, you can see this sort of content a week (or more) before others do... sign up as a Patron (for as little as $1 a month) to keep new content flowing. Thanks to those who have already signed up!

Friday, July 16, 2021

Print Edition Now Live

 The print edition of the Stalwart Age is now live at

This version has a little bit of updated art, a few clean-ups throughout, and some minor tweaks and edits. There are no changes to gameplay, but I found (or had pointed out to me) a number of minor errors that I wanted to address. I also tightened up the layout throughout, getting rid of a little bit of white space and pushing the images to be a little bigger throughout.

If you already ordered the pdf, check drivethrurpg for an updated file and a link to the discounted edition. Remember, if you have already purchased the pdf, I am giving you a link to a discounted edition at 9.95. The link will be in the revised document, at the bottom of page 31.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Print Proof of Life


The print edition arrived today. I have a set of notes (Thanks, Rick!) for some minor edits, and I want to give the whole book one more read-through before I put it live. I will then also create a discounted edition, share the code, and release the updated PDF (with the code included for the discounted download). My goal was tomorrow, but it may not all go live until Friday... we'll see how it goes. I am very happy to have a physical book in hand, though :)

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Stalwart Age: Some Actual Play and Notes

Yesterday, much to my surprise (and joy) my daughter asked if she could 'try out' my game. After picking myself up off the floor, I had her roll up a random character - and it was RANDOM. But, we made it work. Her character ended up being called Harmony Hex; she has a life tap, time travel, gadgeteer, dimension shift, martial arts, charm, and air supply. It was a little difficult to tie it all together, but eventually we figured it out. She is a high school student who is into physics and engineering (hence the gadgeteer) and who has been studying martial arts, who got in the way during Oberion's last caper, when he was carrying around chaotic pixie dust variants and she was a bystander who got covered in pixie dust that gave her random fay powers. 

We went through the starter adventure (got through the first two scenarios), but I added Gila the Monster right away, and she charmed him and made him her sidekick; so she is running around with a 7' lizard dude. Okay. She decided he lives in the pool behind her house. Yep. That tracks. And then she got the pager and started to go on adventures; she decided she would use her dimension shift power to simply get rid of villains; she will fight for a round of two, but if it's not going well, she just opens a portal into another realm and boop - there goes my problem. She ended up casting the robot rat into a variation of Candy Land, and dropped Gloam the Shadow Bandit (appropriately enough) into the Shadow Lands. She had used a gadget to get into the jewelry store (neutralizing all security for 1 turn), so when a glass case holding jewelry was shattered (when Gila botched an attack), it didn't set off any alarms. We thought about her trying a stunt to use time travel to reset the glass case to before it was broken (basically replacing it in time with the one from ten minutes earlier), but she failed the INT check I required her to make to figure it out.

A few design choices were important here, and I am happy how the game design supported the adventure:

1. The locations are presented in broad strokes. That is really, really helpful. I know the CRs of an environment, and a few important details, and can make up the rest on the fly. It was (for me) the perfect balance; I knew what the CR was of foiling the security system (so I didn't have to hand wave it), but there was no 'one best way' through anything. She made her way into the rat lair by charming one of the rats and having him lead her through obstacles. Great. This reinforced the approach I plan to take going forward, which is locations with some notes and CRs, a few key events or triggers, and then let slip the dogs of war.

2. The rules for powers are open ended. She could use dimension shift to drop enemies into alternate realities, and she could use time travel to try and reset a jewelry counter (or at least think about trying it), to a previous state. The rules encourage 'try it' as the default setting, and that paid off here. I never found myself saying something to the effect of "well, your power cannot really do that..." Her powers could do what she wanted them to do, in ways I didn't anticipate, and the system fully supported it.

3. The law of unintended consequences is already kicking in. If we play again (she's 13 - there are no guarantees), I know that she is already on the radar of the Keeper of the Mystic Veil. I mean, his name tells you his job - and she is wantonly tearing through that veil willy-nilly. I think at the least she's going to get a visit from Eldritch pretty soon who's going to want to have some words with her about great power and great responsibility... and we'll see how that goes :) She decided to be neutral and not heroic at the outset, so (again) no guarantees... I also know that Gloaming the Shadow Bandit, who is now in the Shadow Lands, may not come back the same as he went in. I see an arch enemy being born... 

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Stalwart Age Update for the Week of 7/10/21

Here is your weekly update on all things Stalwart Age.

Over in the comics database, I have added two things: an archival entry for Doc's first meeting with Ro the Ravager (issue 77), and a prose adaptation of his more recent meeting Ro and his newer assistant (issue 254).

Meanwhile, in the character database, I have added a character profile for the Voice of Ro, for those times when you need a pretty powerful cosmic character to show up and lay the smack down.

FYI, this is the model for how I plan to build the game going forward. Every weekend, I plan to add 2-3 new things to the larger Stalwart Age database. I will endeavor to thematically tie these together; if you get a new Doc story, you probably get stats for one of the characters who appears in the story, or an adventure write up of the location from that story. I would like to move both the larger narrative and the game forward one step each week. I think, before long, there will be a pretty robust database at hand of both story and game material to draw upon. I already feel like the database is shaping up nicely, with 19 characters, 8 comics, and a bunch of resources there already. 

And remember, if you sign up as a patron, you get early access to all of this; I am already several weeks ahead with patrons, and they already have access to the next two Doc Stalwart comics and previews of two past issues that will be added to the database, along with other crazy goodness. Even a dollar a month will go a long way to keeping Stalwart Age content flowing. Thanks!

Friday, July 9, 2021

The Desingverse

Max T has jokingly (I think) referred to my work as 'the Desingverse', which I suppose is my own sort of universe where my stories exist. Up until now, I didn't think much about the moniker (although I found it flattering), but I've started to realize that I can unify everything I've done in this one milieu - or at least my comics work.

My first comic book was called Seymour, about a fantasy world and a sword-wielding teddy bear who is on a quest. A few months ago, I started sketching Seymour again, and actually created two pages of a comic. I knew he was on a quest in a dark land, and that he was protecting a baby girl. I didn't really know much else. It hit me today; he is an important link in the story of Vesper. She is the princess of the Shadow Realm, but is currently deposed (she and Oberion can get together and complain about it some time). However, she was originally trapped there as an infant, and her subconscious mind created Seymour to protect her and get her out, into the mortal realm. He is still there, waiting for her return. He cannot leave the Shadow Realm (he is part of it), but he's still there fighting the good fight. He's met Doc Stalwart a few times.

I already fit the Army Ants in. They were a backup feature in the golden age stories, and have appeared in dream machine sequences in his present adventures.    

Teaching Ted was a comic strip I did about a teacher named Ted Zeitgeist who is trying to make his way through his first few years of teaching. However, Ted has a side hobby - he is the world's biggest collector of Doc Stalwart merchandise, and he is publishing a book about Doc Stalwart, taking a scholarly approach to documenting and analyzing Doc's adventures. He is 'me' in the world where Doc Stalwart comics are being published. I almost think that he is the one writing the prose adaptations, not me... if that makes any sense. So his comic strip has actually happened to him in the world where Doc Stalwart comics are being published (but where superheroes and Doc Stalwart are entirely fictional). The Stalwart Age is the world's most popular RPG in that world (as it should be in this one, but I digress...).

Thursday, July 8, 2021

250 Cover

Over on Patreon, I've posted a public link to the cover to Doc Stalwart #250. I have already posted a summary (in draft form) of what happens in issue 250. I have been posting A LOT to the Patreon page, and I plan to do that going forward. Patrons get to see at least two new things per week (character profiles, issue summaries and covers, new one-page adventures), a week before these things go live to the Stalwart Age blog. I've also added a $1 tier to pledge at; please consider signing up. I am going to be delivering a LOT more than $1 worth of content every month, and your patronage will help me keep working on Stalwart Age material. Thanks!

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Clean Up and Update

 A few Stalwart Age pieces of business and updates:

  • The print edition is still nigh. I am waiting on a physical copy so I can approve it before putting it live. I just want to make sure that everything looks good in print, and that the covers are lined up, before I start selling this. There are no 'do overs' on physical books.
  • Speaking of do-overs, I will be releasing an update to the game when the print edition goes live. The update will have a few relatively minor changes (see below). There will also be a link for the discounted print edition, for those who buy (or have already bought) the pdf.
  • Stat blocks are being updated with colons instead of hyphens between the attribute and the rating (Thanks, Rick, for the suggestion). I have updated the character archive on the Stalwart Age site with corrected stat blocks. I also upgraded Ro slightly to show he truly is at the peak of measurable game attributes. He is Ro, after all.
  • I am going to add a small tweak to the focus talent. I was toying with some rules for popularity when I was writing the game, because I really like that as a concept (as well as infamy for villains), but I didn't have a good way to plug it in in an economical way, and I also didn't like how it kind of becomes redundant with CHA. I realized a few days ago that I can leverage the focus talent to give you a +3 CHA bonus when you can use your name or reputation to your advantage. Villains then can access infamy, which grants a +3 CHA bonus to use their name and reputation to intimidate or coerce. It's a nice, clean, mechanically-sound way to solve the problem. I updated Doc's stat block with this talent. I thought about doing this for Simian Prime as well, but decided against it... I don't know that his reputation is greater than just the fact that he's a talking ape in a battle suit. Popularity/Infamy should be REALLY special.
  • There's new content on the Stalwart Age Page! There's a new adventure location (Junkyard Dawg's lair) on the resources tab, and there's a stat block for Junkyard Dawg on the characters tab. Of course, if you are a patron through Patreon, you already got these a few days ago... you can sign up as a patron to get early access to new content, and also to get some behind-the-scenes looks at my thought process as we build the game together going forward.  Just this week, patrons got to see Doc Stalwart 1994, met Harvyst, got a preview of content featuring Tessek the Terrible, and got to read the next two chapters in Doc's adventures. Those things will be rolling out on the Stalwart Age site in the next few weeks. 

Why I Like Stalwart Age

I know... it's my game, and I wrote it, so of COURSE I like it. That's kind of obvious.

But there are things that are baked in that are not necessarily intentional, but are cool side effects of the design philosophy I've employed. You can play the game 'out of the box' as is, or you can toolkit the whole thing and start tinkering. Someone over the Supers RPG forum on FB was asking about building custom powers for his character, and we ended up going through about four different ways he could solve the power set for his character. The game allows any of those pathways to work, and to customize the gift that best fits his character concept. Instead of having clear lines between gifts, there is significant bleed between some gifts so that two characters with different powers could do similar things; and two characters with similar powers could have them present in fundamentally different ways.

But the other benefit is that powers (and even origins) have various levels of complexity. In D+D, if you want to keep things simple, you play a fighter; if you want to have some complexity, play a Drow magic/user thief, and you'll have all sorts of fiddly things to play with. In many ways, Stalwart Age is that concept on adrenaline. Cyclops and the Thing are simple. You shoot stuff with your eye beams or you are big and tough and strong. Those are easy to conceive of, and easy to play. At the far end, you can have the Scarlet Witch, with myriad ways to apply her powers. I also like how 'comic-booky' this ends up being. I was reading through some old FF comics (from Byrne's run, of course) and in the letters column someone pointed out that Sue was more powerful now than she was before; the editor replied that she always had those powers, it was just that she (and JB by extension) were finding new ways to apply them. In comics, the powers of supers change depending on who is doing the writing; the powers as applied in the game change depending on how the player is interpreting them. How I use sonic energy control and how you use it might be different; we read the same small block of text and get different ideas about how this might work and the types of things we might do with it. This is actually not a weakness of the game; it is a strength because it better emulates the source material, and our shared experiences in spending time in that source material. 

Monday, July 5, 2021

Bronze Beacon Logo

Over on Patreon, I posted a cover for an upcoming Doc Stalwart comics update that includes the Bronze Beacon, and Rick suggested that the Bronze Beacon needed a logo. I played with this for a little bit, and decided the one with the red arrow pointing to it feels the strongest, simplest, and most iconic. Thoughts?

Sunday, July 4, 2021

More Rabbit Holes (Literally and Figuratively)

I was working on the cover for Doc Stalwart #77, the first appearance of Ro (this is NOT it, by the way), and I was very happy with how it turned out. I'll be sharing it next week, but if you sign up for my Patreon, you get to see it immediately. Cause that's how that works :)

However, I was thinking of how the backstory works, and how drama happens behind the scenes, and I was thinking that it would be fun if in the late 60's (or early 70s) there was a Saturday morning cartoon based on Doc Stalwart, the Doc Stalwart Action Hour. It had a lead feature (15 minutes long) featuring Doc Stalwart, but the writers of the show picked and chose things from the series. The breaking point for Lee Stanford (Doc's creator and writer) was when they did an episode where Ro appeared, but they had him talk. That went against everything Lee thought about the character, and he almost quit the series in rage (not for the first or last time, either). He had already been mad that Doc had been given a bunny sidekick (Carrot the Stalwart Bunny), and that Simian Prime kept making ape sounds whenever he would talk. But Ro talking (and speaking like an angry toddler - "Ro no like that! Ro destroy planet!") put him over the edge.

About Being Dr. Mike

I got a Facebook notification two days ago about posting one year ago... when I got my Doctorate. I was awarded my degree on July 2, so it's been a year of having a title and not really using it. I mean, I use it at school, but pretty much nowhere else.

A few people have mentioned that maybe I should be using it here. In fact, it's kind of cool that my character is a 'doc' and I'm a 'doc', so there's that sort of natural synergy. I feel a little weird about it, but then again I worked really (really) hard to get my degree, so I may as well leverage the title. I'm going to shift over my identification on various platforms to include the title, and the minor edits I do to the core rules before releasing the print edition will include that change.

You can still call me Mike, by the way :)

Tessek on Patreon

Over on Patreon, I'm sharing design work. My most recent post is public, so you can see what it's about. Have a look... 

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Solo Gaming!

I've posted the two-page plug in for solo gaming. The idea is that I will be releasing locations (one-page adventure starters) that would work perfectly with the Super Solo Framework. Or, you can just use the framework to completely make up your own comic stories. I recommend building them an issue at a time, and labeling your series (and keeping copious notes. And publishing them. Yesss. Excellllleeent). 

You can get it at Drivethrurpg or you can download it from the Resources tab on the Stalwart Age site. I'm not going to tell you what to do. 

Doc Stalwart 254

My Patreon page now has issue 254 of Doc Stalwart's adventures live - and you get to meet a certain Ravager of Worlds in person. This will go live to the Stalwart Age site next Sunday. Thanks to those who are Patrons, and sign up today if you want to see content a week before anyone else.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Check out the Splinterverse

Jimmy F at the Splinterverse (love the title, as you'd imagine) does game previews, and he mentioned my new book in his latest podcast. You can stick around for the full thing (he does a nice job talking through each of the games he previews), but you can jump to the 1:40:30 mark if you want to see what he says about previewing my book... I appreciate the signal boost!

Supers Gaming and Solo Play

I opened the Solitaire Framework file yesterday, expecting to dust it off, give it a once-over for language, and then put it up on my Stalwart Age page as as support for supers solo play.

But as I tinkered, I realized that it's pretty good for fantasy, but not so great for supers gaming. One of the big problems is that the primary motivations for fantasy gaming and supers gaming differ. At its heart, the Solitaire Framework assumes you can run entire campaigns around the idea that your character is there to kill things and take their stuff. All you really need is to generate who the things are, where they live, and what their stuff is like. The environment is reactive; the heroes are making the decisions, and then the scenario, in effect, responds to those choices. Goblins gonna do what goblins gonna do. They sit there and stand guard over their loot until heroes show up to take it. I'm not saying it's logical - I'm saying it's game logical. 

I was reflecting on how superheroes are largely the reactive ones (at least in comics). Spidey is on patrol when he hears the bank alarm. Reed Richards is working in his lab when the dimensional status sensor goes off (there are lots of alarms and sensors in the world of superheroes). You can predict (in large measure) what Spidey is going to do. If the bank alarm goes off, he's going to investigate. He's going to foil the robbery so he can save the day and get home to Aunt May in time for dinner (or to school for the test, or to Mary Jane for the date, or to the Daily Bugle to keep his job...). That's usually what he's trying to do.

But what if the basic idea is that you are playing the villains? I mean, they have the active motivations - to take over the world. To rob the bank. To gather an army of mutant rats (and take over the world). To lure the hero into a death trap.

In effect, the paradigm shift is that you don't use the Framework to emulate the GM - you use it to emulate the player. It might be a 'villain of the week' setup. You KNOW who the hero is going to be (because you are leveling up Kid Zealot), but each time you play, you play a different villain, with different motivations, in a different scenario. You know that Kid Zealot is going to appear - you just don't know how or why when you start.

And now the choices get more interesting. Kid Zealot is not looking for a vat of acid to be pushed into, but Simian Junior (Simian Prime's rogue sidekick that you created - hey, it's your game) always has his radar up. Maybe this old factory has a vat of acid sitting around. I mean, it's worth rolling the dice to find out. 

Some excellent comic stories have taken this focus - you don't frame things from the hero's point of view, but you look at it from the criminal's perspective. I can randomly determine what the super is doing much more easily, because there are fewer logical choices. Since I am playing the villain, I can use the dice to emulate the environment around them - and now things can get CRAZY. 

The only problem I see is the motivation piece as a player. I mean, if my hero is Kid Zealot, I don't want the villain actually succeeding - because that would mean KZ dies. 

But again, this doesn't necessarily undermine comics narrative 'truth'. I mean, I know that Spiderman is not going to die this issue. I'm sure of it when I pick it up. The only thing I'm really reading is HOW he's going to escape this villain, or HOW he's going to overcome this obstacle. 

I guess that maybe the focus should be on generating conflicts. Yes, the villain is one of the conflicts, but heroes can face other conflicts, too.

I have this theory (I have a lot of theories by the way - I've been teaching ELA for 20 years and have had too much time to think about this stuff) that ALL conflict is actually internal. Any external conflict you face is really just a manifestation of some internal conflict you have to overcome. Dangers in the environment are really just battling fear. A foe is just a projection of something you don't like about yourself. Being hunted by the law is really just an opportunity for you to work out your personal issues with authority figures. If you are focusing on playing the conflict, you are actually doing some deep character development by proxy. 

Now, I'm playing the burning building. My motivation is to trap as many civilians as possible and to destroy the structure - I'm rolling to see how and where the hero intervenes to stop me. Meanwhile, the hero is working through their deep-seated anger, as reflected through the element of fire, and I'm just here to help.  

Yeah. I don't know if this is going to fit on one page.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

More Stalwart Age Updates!

The core rules for Stalwart Age are now available, and the initial reception (in like 6 hours) has been really positive. Thanks to everyone who has already downloaded your copy. I would love to hear what you think.

The Patreon page is getting up to speed. I have already posted the first 'preview' of future content. As a patron, you will see new content before it goes live to and have a chance to get peeks behind the scenes. If you go all in at $10 (because you are rich, of course), you'll get some original art of a character to your specifications. I will be posting regular content (the pledge I've made is two updates a week at least).

The print edition layout is done and a perusal copy has been ordered. Once I get eyes on it and can confirm it looks sharp, I'll put the print edition live. Anyone who orders the PDF will get a code for $5 off the print edition.  

The Stalwart Age is Now Available

It’s 1984. 4th period. You should be studying for the math quiz (it’s JUST a quiz), but you’d rather talk about issue 250. The Mighty Doc Stalwart 250 came out yesterday, and it’s all any of your friends want to talk about. Of course, Dave (such a Dave) is fixating on Doc holding up that bridge. Something about the Official Stalwart Age Handbook putting his upper limit at 70 tons, but Dave’s dad said that bridge section was at least 200 tons, and he’s an engineer. Whatever. It was awesome. But not as awesome as the end. Emissary died? For real? Did NOT see that coming. But it makes sense. It feels right.

And then Marcy says she’s been home brewing her own supers game and wants to run that this weekend instead of fantasy. She wants to do an homage to issue 250, and she thinks you should play the Messenger character (maybe calling him ‘the Red Runner’. Not sure yet). You say you’re in. You’re totally in. Your parents say you can stay all day, and they give you money for pizza. Everyone is going to be there.

This is going to be EPIC.

The Stalwart Age is a superhero RPG released under the Open Game License.