Friday, December 13, 2013

Rules in 52 Pages

Roger just posted a complete Version 1.0 of his 52 Pages Rules RPG for character levels 1-3. I've been following this for a while as he posted pages in progress to his blog. He has some neat little rules in there, but what I like most about this project is the design. No lengthy paragraphs of description here; everything is concise in quick blurbs and iconography. It's easy to understand and would be quick to reference at the table.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Birthday, Bruce Lee

Don't get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless--like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend. 
        -- Lines written by Lee for his character on the TV series Longstreet.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Finding time to be creative

Ben Gerber wrote a great article at Troll in the Corner about how to stay creative and focused while still dealing with life's challenges. His suggestions are all good points for GMs, game designers, and freelancers in general to keep in mind. I'm going to try and put some of these into practice. Real Life concerns and responsibilites have been draining my creative spark for quite a while now, as evidenced by my posting history here in the past few months. As we start bringing 2013 to a close, I want to get into a new routine that allows me to do everything that I need to do, while also having energy left for fun hobby projects.

What do you do to maintain your own level of creative output?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Clark Ashton Smith -- Penguin Classics edition

One often-discussed mystery of early Dungeons & Dragons is the lack of works by Clark Ashton Smith in Appendix N, the listing of fiction titles that Gary Gygax found inspirational for his own campaigns and spelled out in the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide. Gary had said that he hadn't read Smith until after D&D was released, which seems strange as much of the feel of those early games closely resembles imagery found in Smith's prose.

It's a shame, then, about the lack of Smith's work in print. The Night Shade collections of his fantasy stories are going out-of-print, leaving only a mass-market paperback collection of stories as the most widely available text.

That will change March 25th, when a new collection of Smith's prose and poetry is published as part of the prestigious Penguin Classics series, edited and with an introduction and notes by S.T. Joshi.

My knowledge of Smith's writing is deficient, as I've only read a handful of stories. This new collection is terrific not only for me to read more of his work but as an acknowledgement of Smith's talent and place among the great world writers.

The final table of contents was posted to the message board at the Smith scholarship site The Eldritch Dark.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Campaign ideas and gamer ADD

I'm not really set to start up a new face-to-face in-person RPG campaign any time soon, as much as I might like to (I do want to start up a short G+ Hangouts game). In spite of that, like any GM I am always thinking about "that next game", finding inspiration in multiple sources, and having dozens of campaign ideas swirling around in my head, some more nebulous than others.

Here's an attempt at putting these in a list and out of my brain:
  • converting 40K/Dark Heresy/Deathwatch and/or Shadowrun to Fate Accelerated
  • Night's Black Agents -- Jason Bourne vs. the vampire conspiracy
  • Hyborian Age of Conan
  • 1920s/30s Call of Cthulhu in "pulp action" mode
  • Solomon Kane-style globetrotting horror-fantasy in the 1590s/1600s
  • Montgolfier Brothers -- light-hearted picaresque adventures by balloon before the French Revolution
  • Hammer Horror/Ravenloft/Warhammer horror-fantasy mash-up in a cinematic alt-Europe
  • X-COM/STALKER -- War against the alien invaders and the search for littered alien technology
  • Some sort of near-future transhuman sci-fi game set in our Solar System (riffing on Jovian Chronicles, Eclipse Phase, CthulhuTech, with doses of Firefly and Heavy Metal)
  • It might be fun to run a Western campaign...
  • The Day After Ragnarok -- Post-apocalyptic 1948 after the Midgard Serpent is killed with the Trinity Device.

That should be all for the moment, until the next cool thing I see.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Brief Gen Con Report

Now that I'm between semesters I can turn some attention back to games. It's been some time since Gen Con, so rather than going over the show in detail, I'll cut to the bullet points.

The photo above is all of the loot I picked up at the con -- 13th Age, Arkham Detective Tales, The Armitage Files, and Owl Hoot Trail (from the Pelgrane Press 4-for-3 sale), one of the Creature Card Decks from Inkwell Ideas, Gygax Magazine #2 from the OSR Productions booth, Hammer Films: An Exhaustive Filmography from McFarland Publishing, and the Hellfrost Player's Guide from Triple Ace Games and Studio 2 Publishing.

I participated in the 2013 GM's Jam panel on Saturday morning with Zachary Houghton from RPG Blog II, Phil Vecchione from Gnome Stew, and Chris Sniezak from the Misdirected Mark podcast. Chris recorded the panel for the podcast. We had a great time talking with the audience about ways to improve campaigns, and I only lost my train of thought once. My friend Derek was in attendance and picked up the slack for me by telling a story about our Freeport campaign. I was honored to be a part of this event, and the panelists intend to do it again next year.

My friend Lowell was one of 16 finalists for the Tabletop Deathmatch boardgame design competition sponsored by Cards Against Humanity. He was in interviews, meetings and judging panels all weekend. All of this was filmed for a upcoming web video series -- I'll post a link when it begins.

I got a chance to play Night's Black Agents on Saturday afternoon, in a session with D. A good GM and a good group of players made this a fun session.

Mrs. Kaiju and I saw J., a friend and Indy local, for about 15 minutes on Friday, and played Zombicide and AD&D with the usual crew of  D., R. and J. It was fun to see them all.

We didn't arrive in town until Friday afternoon, and then didn't get to the con itself until around 4pm. We barely saw any of the Exhibit Hall until Saturday. By the time I made it to the Pelgrane booth, copies of Double Tap were sold out. This expansion for Night's Black Agents was at the top of my list to buy this year.

I didn't get to the Studio 2 booth until Sunday so I didn't know about their incredible Solomon Kane deal: all the print books for the line (including the rulebook) for $50. By Sunday I had used up most of my gaming loot funds.

Another disappointment: no booths for Media Blasters or Discotek Media, so no obscure kung-fu or monster movie DVDs this time.

We were on the move all weekend and still missed out on seeing people and events. Next year, I think we will look at arriving on Thursday to give us more time to see everything we want to see.

500th post!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Gen Con report delayed

I had hoped to post my Gen Con wrap-up today, but some of the photos are blurry. I will try to work some magic on them over the long weekend and post it next week.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Paramount DVDs from the Warner Archive

As part of Tuesday's wave of new DVD releases from Warner Archive, two out-of-print titles return to availability. One of Boris Karloff's last films (and director Peter Bogdanovich's first), Targets, and the last Hammer Frankenstein film, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, were previously available on DVD from Paramount. Rights for these and other movies licensed to Paramount have transfered over to Warner Brothers, and the first batch became available this week.

Although no new remastering was done on these transfers, the good news is that the original extra features from the Paramount DVDs are on these new Warner MOD discs. I missed both the first time around, so I'm very glad to see these films available again.

Tomorrow: my Gen Con 2013 report

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

8th Blogiversary

This past weekend marked the eighth anniversary of this blog. It doesn't seem like so long, yet at the same time, it feels like a worn, comfortable old reading chair that has always been around.

I would like to thank everyone who takes time out of their schedule to read my crude scribblings here and post comments. Feedback is always welcome. With luck, I'm hoping to break out of the creative slump I'm in at the moment and post more original content soon. Two RPG-related reviews are still in the works, and reports from Gen Con will be on the way. I would also like to bring back the Cult Classic of the Week movie reviews.

Kaijuville started as a place to post just for myself and my local gaming groups, and I'm thrilled to have had readers from all over the world -- not counting the spambots. Regarding the statistics, I've had just over 40,700 page views since Blogger started keeping track internally, and closing in on 500 posts. I look forward to many, many more. Thank you!

"Keep watching the skies!"

Monday, August 12, 2013

Gen Con 2013 Preview, part 2

Continuing from part 1, very brief notes of new (and new-to-me) games on my list and making their debut at Gen Con 2013.

Pelgrane Press might get the majority of my cash this year. I mentioned 13th Age previously. Owl Hoot Trail is Kevin Kulp and Clinton R. Nixon's fantasy spaghetti western RPG using a simple d20+stat+skill system. I knew that Double Tap, the expansion book for Night's Black Agents, was in development, but being on the Gen Con release list came as a surprise. It's now my #1 must-have purchase of the show.

Catalyst Game Labs recently released the PDF of Shadowrun 5th Edition, and I hope to flip through the book at their booth. The Spell Card and Gear Card decks could be pretty neat as well. Despite owning several Cyberpunk 2020 and CyberSpace supplements, I don't have the rulebooks, and I've never played in a cyberpunk game. SR 5e has me interested again.

Catalyst is also showing off Alpha Strike, a fast-play tactical miniatures game set in the Battletech universe. I'm always curious about more minis games.

One of Chronicle City's new products is The Demolished Ones, which seems like a bizarre steampunk/horror/noir mystery RPG/setting combo. It has all the elements to be really interesting.

I'm hoping to pick up a copy of Monstrosities from Frog God Games. It has been available for a while and from everything I've read, it might be the best of the OSR monster books. At some point either at Gen Con or through my FLGS, I'd like to get a copy of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG as well. I keep hearing enough praise for the game, and it could be fun to try out with our group.

With such a short list, I'm sure to have missed out on something. Take a look at the list of must-see booths and events at RPG Blog II.

If you see me at the convention, please say hello!

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Gen Con 2013 Preview, part 1

Gen Con officially opens one week from today, and I am putting together some notes on my top priorities to see and do, products to look over and investigate, and must-have products to buy.

Renaissance Deluxe is a d100/BRP ruleset for historical or fantasy gaming in the black powder era and has received great reviews. I have skimmed the free SRD, but I find that to really learn a system it helps me to have it in print so I can flip from page to page. This is a book I will be looking at closely -- d100, the historical era -- all in my wheelhouse. It's based on OpenQuest, and the second edition of that book will be arriving around September.

13th Age seems to be a hybrid of d20/D&D 4e with less emphasis on the tactical grid and some indie/story-game elements added. It has been very popular in the online gaming community since the pre-order period and the physical books are now making their way to general public release. Some others in our local gaming group are curious about it as well, so I need to check it out.

Monday, July 29, 2013

2013 GM's Jam at Gen Con

16 days to Gen Con! I'm honored to be on the panel for the 2013 GM's Jam, hosted by Zachary Houghton of RPG Blog 2. This free event takes place on Saturday, August 17th from 11am to 12:30pm, in ICC 242. It's a fun opportunity for game masters of any system to talk shop -- discuss problems that happen in games, get advice on planning, and trade your best tips and tricks. I hope to see you there.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Obligatory Pacific Rim review

Perhaps not so much a review as a recommendation:

If you enjoy

a) giant monsters,
b) giant robots, and/or
c) military sci-fi,

then you need to go see this movie, especially on the big screen.

I particularly liked the opening exposition, and the scenes leading up to the title. The first kaiju attack on the Golden Gate Bridge was a favorite and very well done, having the heft and "reality" of suitmation effects.

This gives me great hope for next year's Godzilla, also produced by Legendary Pictures. Now could someone greenlight del Toro's At the Mountains of Madness already?

Friday, July 05, 2013

Upcoming DVD/Blu-ray releases

Several long-awaited disc releases are near, and may be of interest to readers of this blog -- gamers, classic horror fans, and pulp fiction aficionados.

Next week sees the release of the next in Synapse Films' Hammer series, Hands of the Ripper. Restored for HD and presented uncut, the DVD/Blu-ray combo includes a featurette about the film, two "motion still galleries", the US television cut introduction, and an isolated music & sound effects track.

One week later, July 16th, finds two noteworthy discs, Black Sabbath and Solomon Kane. Kino brings us Mario Bava's original anthology of three horror tales -- one of which stars Boris Karloff -- on Blu-ray for the first time in the US. I'm a bit disappointed that the US release of the film isn't included.

The other important disc that week, Solomon Kane, is finally appearing on DVD and Blu-ray in the US after seeing discs and a theatrical release in Europe, although it has been on streaming services here. I've heard mixed reactions to this film. I know that I shouldn't expect Howard's version of Kane, so I am just expecting a good period adventure film.

On September 3rd, we find the US version of Dracula, Prince of Darkness. After an initial test of the Region 1 waters, Millennium Films and Hammer start to bring us US versions of restoration project discs already being released in the UK. This looks like a direct port of the Region B disc, and more information including extras and the final cover art may be found in the recent press release. I think the UK cover art is much better. The other important bit, buried in the middle of the press release, is "Millennium is also planning to release several other Hammer Films on Blu-ray later this year including Quartermass and the Pit, The Plague of the Zombies, and The Devil Rides Out."

Finally, a bit further out on October 21st, is The Vincent Price Collection on Blu-ray from Shout Factory. Titles include The Fall of House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Haunted Palace, The Masque of the Red Death, Witchfinder General, and The Abominable Dr. Phibes. All of these titles have been released previously by MGM on DVD under the Midnite Movies banner, and it is unclear right now what sort of remastering and clean-up the titles have been given in HD for Blu-ray. Presumably we will see more details as the date draws near. Despite owning the Midnite Movies releases of each film, I'm bound to pick this up because... it's Vincent Price. On Blu-ray. I'm glad to support the project if we get high quality transfers.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Still here

Between the end of one semester, the beginning of another and a vacation in-between (and overlapping), some time has gone by since my last post. I should get back to a more regular schedule soon.

Tomorrow, a look at some important upcoming DVD/Blu-ray releases, and I hope to have two RPG product reviews next week.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Some Notes for a Hammer Horror/Ravenloft/WFRP RPG campaign mashup

I had intended for this post to be part of the May RPG Blog Carnival, "Campaigns I'd Like to Run", but I did not get it wrapped up by the end of the month.

Transylvania, land of dark forests, dread mountains and black, unfathomed lakes, still the home of magic and devilry... Count Dracula, monarch of all vampires, is dead, but his disciples live on, to spread the cult and corrupt the world.

This campaign setting is a fantastic alternate-history horror mashup of the world as presented in Hammer Horror movies, Ravenloft, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. The European landscape of this world has some of the fantastic elements found in alt-European settings such as Castle Falkenstein and Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death. Additional inspiration can be found in the Solomon Kane stories of Robert E. Howard, the Ravenloft art of Stephen Fabian, Marvel Comics' Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf by Night, and GURPS Creatures of the Night.

What is the campaign about?

It is not heresy, and I will not recant!

The world is more that what it appears to be on the surface. Despite the perception that scientific study is bringing forward progress, folk legends and superstitions of the occult are true and very real. Werewolves roam the dark primeval forests, witches brew potions and place hexes on the unwary, ghosts roam the halls of power, sorcerers attempt to summon and bind demons, and vampires prey on the living. When confronted with this evidence, men and women of every station across Europe and around the world meet the challenge of holding back the forces of darkness in a secret war of wills and knowledge.

How does the game do this?

In much the same fashion as Call of Cthulhu, the player characters are ordinary people who find themselves investigating the malevolent machinations of vampire families, gorgons, witch cults, and other fantastic foes. Ingolstadt and Carlsbrück are likely central locations for the PCs to operate from.

I expect that most of what I would lift from the Ravenloft material would be locations and floor plans, general adventure seeds, inspiration for NPCs, and of course the art.

Most of my ideas for setting the tone of the campaign have been in deciding how to plan out the system and house rules.

* Lamentations of the Flame Princess for the base rules system (B/X D&D with some variations, and it already assumes an early modern historical setting).
* Careers from Small but Vicious Dog (B/X version of WFRP).
* Magic would be available as low-level cantrips and at higher levels, rituals. Some magic effects would be available through alchemical potions and devices for mad scientists.
* Either Jim's Death, Dismemberment and Dangerous Damage table or Kirin's Death and Dismemberment Table.
* Jack's Dark Secrets table from the first TotGaD compendium (for character backgrounds and future plot hooks).
* Aspects from FATE - These could be combined with the Dark Secrets to further add a cinematic quality to the characters. Also, more ways to complicate their lives.
* Firearms are tricky. I could cobble together something based on Renaissance d100, or use Dak's firearms rules. The updated printing of LotFP includes firearms rules, although I have not checked it.

Film Inspirations:

Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter
Brides of Dracula
Revenge of Frankenstein
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
The Plague of the Zombies
The Vampire Lovers
The Curse of the Werewolf
The Devil Rides Out
Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires
Blood from the Mummy's Tomb
Taste the Blood of Dracula
Frankenstein Created Woman
Witchfinder General
Blood on Satan's Claw
Horror Express

Sunday, May 26, 2013

100 years of Peter Cushing

Today was the 100th anniversary of Peter Cushing's birthday. The video below is a clip that was added to the end of part 2 of Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror when it aired on BBC1.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Campaigns I'd Like to Run: X-COM/STALKER: Fight the Future

Like many GMs I often have more ideas for RPG campaigns than time to run them all. It's part of the fun to build on a creative spark and plan out the "what if" possibilities for new campaigns, even if it's unlikely to hit the table.

This month's RPG Blog Carnival -- hosted by Age of Ravens -- is based on this theme, "Campaigns I'd Like to Run." The Carnival is a great opportunity to work out some of these partially-formed campaign ideas.

X-COM/STALKER: Fight the Future

Yeah, we got the package, Colonel. No we didn't open it.

North of town? No, there's nobody there, no survivors. You see how many of us made it back?

It's perpetual night in there. Like walking though a curtain. Right inside the edge of Zone Mike Three. Gordon lost it right then. Didn't you know that?

The designator signal held out, it's the only way we could have found the package again. We secured it and fell back to the DZ. That's when they hit us. They knew we were there.

This campaign idea is for a near-future sci-fi/horror mashup that combines elements from two complimentary settings, the video game X-COM: Enemy Unknown, and the STALKER tabletop RPG, based on the novel Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky Brothers. Additional inspiration can be found in The X-Files, Delta Green, GURPS Atomic Horror, and GURPS Warehouse 23.

What is the campaign about?

Ever-increasingly desperate battles against an alien threat to humanity. Worldwide, there are gains and losses by both sides. Some areas previously controlled by the aliens have been mysteriously abandoned and are designated Zones. Some of the natural laws of physics no longer apply in the Zones. Despite the danger to body and mind, priceless alien artifacts of every description litter the Zones. It's only a matter of time before we learn how to use what they left behind to finally destroy the aliens. Conspiracy and fear reign: What do the aliens want? Which humans are collaborating with them?

How does the game do this?

The tone and the style of the campaign would depend on the interest of the players. I see two ways to go with the source material, and a sliding continuum between the extremes.

1) Investigation, Research and Building: The player characters are involved with the investigation of alien artifacts, and may be out in the field collecting data and material. This would certainly include forays into Zones of previous alien activity. They could also be involved with the development and management of team and agency resources, from the unit level expanding to the worldwide XCOM organization.

2) Tactical combat: The player characters are assigned to the combat field teams that face the alien threat. This would encompass actual combat roles (ranged, hand-to-hand, sniper) and support roles (medic, engineer, field tech).

As far as which rules system to use, again this would depend on the intended style of the game. For a more investigative game, and a focus on building resources, perhaps GUMSHOE, FATE Core, or Action Cards. For a game focused on combat with the aliens and other field operations, a system with more specific combat options, skills, and weapons might be more appropriate, such as Cyberpunk, Shadowrun or even nWoD. Somewhere in the middle, perhaps True20, Savage Worlds, or Chaosium BRP.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ray Harryhausen was a Magician (including random tables)

(Part of the Ray Harryhausen Blogfest)

Ray Harryhausen was a magician. He took foam rubber and fur wrapped around a wire armature and made it come to life in dozens of feature films and short subjects.

Harryhausen's contributions to visual and photographic effects cannot be overestimated. His pioneering work in refining the art of stop-motion animation over the course of 50 years gave us defining moments in the history of science-fiction and fantasy films. His technical wizardry and attention to detail mark the work of a true professional of the craft. Several generations of film fans, filmmakers, and gamers have been inspired by his creations.

This should have been a story in honor of Ray Harryhausen's 93rd birthday in June. Instead, it is in memoriam for the filmmaker, artist and writer who passed away on Tuesday.

I don't remember the exact first Harryhausen movie that I saw. Many of my early memories of movies as a kid are mixed together. My best guess is that it was 20 Million Miles to Earth, about an alien creature loose in Rome; a late-night showing (9pm?) that my parents let me stay up to watch. I soon began to recognize his work in other movies over many more late nights and Saturday afternoons. They were known as "Harryhausen movies", as his special effects overshadowed the names of producers, directors, and often the actors. I wrote about one particular film, The First Men in the Moon, in this review.

To me, the battle with the skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts represents the pinnacle of Harryhausen's talent, even if he would go on to create more intricate models and complicated effects in later films. He spent four months animating the skeleton models, and the amount of synchronization required to match up models to the live actors is still astounding.

Although we can create all manner of wondrous effects, creatures, and whole worlds through the use of computer animation, I feel that sometimes we lose a connection to the real objects, like stop-motion models and the physical sets they inhabit. Their lack of slick perfection make them less polished and more uneven, but more immediate and ultimately, real.

Bonus: Two d12 tables for random Harryhausen monsters in the fantasy role-playing game of your choice.

Small Creatures

1 -A Roc hatchling

2 - Skeletons

3 - Pterodactyl

4 - Giant bee

5 - Harpies

6 - Selenites

7 - A homunculus

8 - Animated ship's figurehead

9 - Centaur

10 - A chess-playing baboon

11 - A mechanical owl

12 - Medusa

Large Creatures

1 - Giant ape

2 - Rhedosaur

3 - Giant octopus

4 - Triceratops

5 - Cyclops

6 - Giant crab

7 - Talos

8 - Hydra

9 - The Avatar of Kali

10 - Griffin

11 - Troglodyte

12 - The Kraken

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Free Renaissance D100 one-shot adventure

Monday saw the release of a free one-shot adventure for the Renaissance D100 rules. From the announcement email:
You may have thought that the Renaissance Deluxe D100 rules were only useful for black powder games, but Adrian Jones shows their flexibility with a FREE one-shot adventure and resource pack which pits Celtic Adventurers against Viking raiders in an 11th century adventure in the spirit of Robert E. Howard...

I have been interested in the Renaissance rules, although I've not yet dug into them very deeply. This adventure might be a good catalyst to do so. The SRD is also free, being the core of the Clockwork & Chivalry RPG and based on OpenQuest.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Roger Ebert, RIP

I was very saddened to read the news yesterday afternoon that film critic (and so much more) Roger Ebert passed away at the age of 70. Only two days ago he posted about his webpage getting revamped and taking off some time for "reviewing only the movies I want to review," for reasons of declining health.

Mr. Ebert was my favorite film critic. Although I didn't always agree with his opinions -- particularly on some genre films -- our tastes matched up more often than not. I have very fond memories of watching "Sneak Previews" on PBS, then later "At the Movies" and "Siskel & Ebert". In the opening credits, a poster for Godzilla 1985 was clearly visible behind his desk as he typed.

Beyond his work as a critic, what I liked most about him was that he obviously loved movies. He was passionate about them, and made you want to share his enthusiasm. He was a scholar of film history, working to preserve Hollywood's history and point out the shoulders of the giants on which today's films stand. His commentaries on Citizen Kane and Dark City are legendary.

Save us the aisle seats behind you and Gene, Roger. We'll see you at the movies.

This last clip is NSFW (language):

Monday, March 25, 2013

Hammer DVD and Blu-ray releases in April

After a long dry spell, April sees the release of several Hammer Horror classics on home video. Each one had been released previously but are now back again after being out-of-print.

The Hammer Horror 3 Feature Film Set from Millennium Films is out next Tuesday, April 2nd, a 2-DVD collection including Dracula, Prince of Darkness, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, and Frankenstein Created Woman. These titles were previously released as part of Anchor Bay's Hammer Collection. No word on any extras for this set, although the press release mentions "new extras" and Blu-ray collector editions. This may be an initial release to test the market demand, as "a full release schedule is planned", and if so the under-$10 price at online retailers makes this an easy decision.

On the 30th, Shout Factory brings us The Vampire Lovers on Blu-ray. This first entry in the Karnstein Trilogy stars Ingrid Pitt, Madeline Smith and Peter Cushing. MGM released this film on a Midnite Movies double-feature DVD with Countess Dracula, which is also due on Blu-ray (at some unspecified point) from Synapse Films. The MGM disc extras carry over, along with some new interviews with Madeline Smith and Hammer film scholars.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Happy Birthday, Akira Kurosawa

Today would have been the director's 103rd birthday. To commemorate the occasion, Hulu is offering all of Kurosawa's films from the Criterion Collection for free this weekend on their streaming video service. Watch a old favorite or check out a film you may not have seen before.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Montgolfier Brothers Flying Balloon and Adventuring Co.

Elevator pitch for an RPG campaign.

Montgolfier Brothers Flying Balloon and Adventuring Co.

The Montgolfier Brothers have invented the passenger balloon, and they use it to travel widely and have adventures. Light-hearted picaresque romps through an alternate history in the vein of Baron Munchausen, the Three Musketeers, memoirs of Pre-Revolution France, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, and Monty Python.

 In December 1782, the Montgolfier Brothers made the first test flight of their hot-air flying balloon design. They successfully flew in a balloon on September 19th, 1783, during an audience with King Louis XVI. While aloft, the brothers' balloon disappeared behind a low veil of mist. They found themselves traveling through the aether and soon their balloon was gliding above the Pyramids of Egypt. Upon guiding the balloon back into a low cloud bank they were returned to Paris. Through a series of trial-and-error test flights and some mathematical calculations by their friend Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier at the Académie des sciences, the brothers could direct their flight's course -- often to a known destination, and occasionally to unknown and far-off lands.

The Montgolfier Brothers use their knowledge of ballooning through the aether -- accompanied by other like-minded individuals -- on missions of discretion for rich nobility, occasionally for the King, against rival British balloonists, and always, for adventure.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fire Sale for Chris Huth

Freelance RPG illustrator and designer Chris Huth and his partner lost their home and possessions in an apartment fire last week. His most current project is 13th Age, which was about a week from layout completion.

From the Pelgrane Press news page:

...until Friday, all margin on sales from Pelgrane Press products from the store will go to help Chris get back on his feet. DriveThruRPG will also give their royalty share to Chris on Pelgrane products.

100% of the price of download sales, and 50% of all physical sales will go to Chris. This is one step of several that 13th Age creators Fire Opal Media and Pelgrane will be taking to help out.

If none of Pelgrane's current offerings appeal to you but you still wish to help, direct donations can be made to Chris's Paypal account. His email can be found in the comments at the above-linked page.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Conan and the Academy

I was surprised this week to see that Conan and the Academy: Multidisciplinary Essays on the Enduring Barbarian had been released. I was expecting it but didn't know that it was published at the end of November.

Brian Murphy wrote an outstanding review and critique of the book at The Silver Key (read the comments, too). Finding out that some of the scholars involved with the book are perpetuating ideas that were debunked years ago, and not using the latest existing scholarship, is disappointing. With luck I can find a discounted copy this summer at the ALA annual conference or at Gen Con.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

C.L. Moore and Arthur Machen

I just realized tonight that I missed the recent birthday anniversaries of two notable fantasy legends, C.L. Moore (102 years ago) and Arthur Machen (150!), whose works have influenced later fantasy and horror writers -- and RPG designers. Taranaich was on the case with the above-linked tributes.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Thoughts on the Dungeon World RPG

About four weeks ago I had the chance to finally play Dungeon World at a local games day. After reading so many comments about the game I wanted to give it a chance and see what all the excitement is about.

I should mention that the game master was very good and I would play in any game with him again. The following thoughts are about the rules, not his performance as game master. I'm writing this based on a brief reading of the free version of the rules, one four-hour play session, and other actual play comments I've read on blogs or G+.

DW strikes me as a game for people who want to like Dungeons & Dragons and want to play the game but have had bad experiences with D&D in the past, either with the mechanics, with bad players, with bad DMs -- the stereotypical "killer DM" -- or with railroad-y adventures, and the game is designed to prevent those problems from occurring.

What I like about traditional RPGs is that the outcome isn't so apparent, and anything could happen. The outcomes of Moves in DW (a mechanic first appearing in its parent system Apocalypse World) aren't always locked and static, but they do have only a narrow amount of room to interpret what happens. Depending on the die roll, one or more outcomes are provided by the Move and are played out in the game. I like the ability of the GM and players in a traditional RPG to interpret the dice vis-a-vis the current situation and decide what happens in that context. It does require an amount of trust between players and the GM, and it seems that DW and similar games are written for groups of players who do not have that trust, although this does make it easy for pick-up games at conventions.

As a result, DW has taken the high-trust mechanics of indie/story games and bolted it onto the frame of D&D. The problem then becomes one of choice. By codifying high-trust into the mechanics, rather than relying on it at the table between players, it loses the amount of freedom of action found in a traditional RPG. If these types of high-trust mechanics are a necessary part of the gaming experience, they can be added and dropped into nearly any existing system. One method can be seen in FATE. Aspects in FATE provide the some of the same story background/genre emulation function as Moves in DW, with the added benefit of being fluid, without being rigidly locked into set choices and outcomes. Our group has drifted many story game ideas into our campaigns over the past ten years or so -- card-based resolution, greater player narrative control, action/fate/hero points, etc.

Like many other story games, DW runs under the principle of rules-as-written (RAW). Many traditional gamers play by RAW, many do not. "If you are going to play the game, use all the game's rules," is what I perceive from many story game rules. Traditional gamers use the rules, but not always in the same way, and not always all the rules presented, in more of a toolbox approach. In traditional games, "if it doesn't seem right, make it up" is where the idea of "rulings, not rules" applies.

This is a case where there are two different play experience expectations. Scrabble and Words with Friends are both games using letters. Pictionary and Win, Lose, or Draw are both games about drawing pictures. Monopoly and The Game of Life are both games about "real world" finance, but each of these are different play experiences. It's OK to choose to play chess, or Dungeon World, or Shadowrun, depending on what you want to accomplish.

Story games and traditional RPGs are not that far apart in what they are trying to accomplish: the creation of a "storyline" through play. What many story game systems try to do is use the mechanics to shape and create the story, while traditional games use the mechanics to create situations that allow "stories" to develop through emergent play. Where the difference lies, in my limited experience with them, is in the idea that with story games, the stories seem to be more preplanned and forced by their rules systems, where traditional games present situations to be played through without a preconceived notion of where the story might go, independent of system.

None of this should suggest that I dislike DW; it seemed to work well, and many players love it. Like any other game, it may not be right for everyone. I thought there were some very clever ideas: using stat modifiers for some actions (much like True20), and stat penalty conditions, for example. The Move for combat that incorporates a miss by the player with a hit by the opponent is interesting, and still something that I'm wrapping my trad-gamer mind around.

One of the commenters in a recent G+ discussion about DW made an important point -- and I wish I could remember who it was to give proper credit. This person said (paraphrasing) that all it would take to make DW work the way I might expect is to change a bit of the wording in the Moves, from "Choose one or two from this list" to "These are some suggested results:" Give some examples, and let the players make a decision on how to proceed based on their unique situation in-game.

And this is where DW really shines for me: as an introduction to roleplaying for brand-new players. It shows people who are new to tabletop gaming what a game can be like, and what they as players can do. A traditional RPG might advertise itself by saying "You can do anything!", which could be overwhelming to a new gamer. DW addresses this by showing players exactly what their characters can do and what the outcomes might be. I would like to see traditional RPG quickstart rules set up in the same way as DW, rather than the choose-your-own-adventure style sometimes seen in beginner sets. I also like the fast and easy way that characters can be created; again, ideal for pick-up games with new people and little or no preparation.

DW is billed as delivering an old-school gaming experience. I didn't fully have that impression from the short trial that I played, but I may have too little data to fully judge. As some players have discovered, going back to an earlier system can recapture that feeling. Even so, with all of the various role playing games now available, it's easier than ever to find that right play experience for you and your group.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Happy birthday, Frank Frazetta

Yesterday would have been the 85th birthday of American fantasy and science-fiction illustrator Frank Frazetta, whose work graces the iconic cover of Conan the Adventurer in the blog header above. The following is part of a post that I wrote when Frazetta passed away in 2010:

...a few words about an artist who has had such a profound effect on my own imagination and ideas about art in general.

I can't pinpoint exactly my first encounter with Frazetta's work. I've always been a big fan of fantasy and science fiction, for as long as I can remember. I do have the memory of seeing the Lancer (and later Ace) Conan and Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks with Frazetta covers in bookstores, especially the prominent display in the Waldenbooks upstairs at Scottsdale Mall. I also remember seeing samples from, and the ads for, the Ballantine Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta books in Starlog Magazine in the early '80s.

Later, after more time and reading, I learned more about his extent of his work -- not just cover paintings but pencil drawings, ink work, comic book art, movie posters and album covers... on and on.

What I think makes his work so powerful and popular is how dynamic it is, how much is going on in that single snapshot of time. In some works, we see the moment before something happens. In others, it's the aftermath. But in all of them, there's the quality and artistry -- visceral, raw energy, in every brushstroke or line of ink. Pure magic.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Happy Birthday, Robert E. Howard

Today marks the 107th anniversary of the birth of pulp writer Robert E. Howard. It has become a tradition on this date for Howard fans to read a favorite story and raise a toast.

You can't go wrong with any of the stories, and there should be one to suit your preference: sword and sorcery, hard-boiled detectives, weird horror, historical fiction, boxing, westerns, pirates and a sword-wielding puritan. One of my favorites that I often choose for a birthday reading is "Worms of the Earth", a story of Bran Mak Morn, last king of the Picts, and a weapon "to terrible to use, even against Rome". It's available in many publications but I would suggest the text found in Del Rey's Bran Mak Morn: The Last King.

This year I might read one of the stories from Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures.

For more information on his life and career, start with the following sites:

I would also recommend Mark Finn's Howard biography, the Locus and World Fantasy Award-nominated Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard. An expanded edition was released last year by the REH Foundation.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Lynn Willis, RIP

On Friday afternoon the notices began to circulate in gamer social media that designer and publisher Lynn Willis had passed away.

Ken Hite wrote a short yet moving overview of Willis' legacy, including work on BRP, co-designing the Ghostbusters RPG, and the dice pools of Shadowrun and Storyteller. I was struck at this observation:
Every Call of Cthulhu product you've ever loved from the first edition to 1999 exists because Lynn Willis made sure its text was coherent, made sure its gameplay was sound, and made sure it got to print. And there's a strong possibility that the thing you like best about it was added or correctly shaped by Lynn, not by the credited author.
This was a surprise to me. I didn't know. The hows and whys of publishing are still a mystery to me sometimes. If asked about my favorite published role playing game, the most likely answer is "Call of Cthulhu" (with Basic D&D hovering close by). Call of Cthulhu 5th Edition is my own favorite version of almost any RPG, being one of the best examples of great rules, tone, layout and production I know. I did not realize that Lynn Willis was the person to thank for how good it is.

It is a reminder to me that if I love a game/book/song/movie, it is important to thank the creative person behind it before it's too late. As it happens, I'm running a Call of Cthulhu 5th ed. adventure on Saturday, and I can think of no better tribute.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

In the new year

An old cliche tells us that something is "better done than perfect." The sentiment behind it is sound -- get something finished rather than try for an impossible state of perfection. In regards to the blog and my other creative pursuits this year, I intend to keep this advice in mind.

My examination of game systems that could be used for Conan/Hyborian Age sword-and-sorcery campaigns fell by the wayside last year. I hope to pick it up again and look at a variety of game systems including OpenQuest2, Barbarians of Lemuria, WaRP and Crypts and Things. I'll run this someday and stop just talking and writing about it -- "better done than perfect". Often gamer ADD takes hold and another completely different idea moves ahead of it in the queue. Speaking of which...

This year I intend to either play or run a short campaign (6-8 sessions) of Night's Black Agents. From the early development of the game and the pre-order campaign of a year ago, I've been very excited about it. While I would like to push forward and get started, that perfectionist quality I try to avoid makes me think I should wait until the expansion book hits the street.

A conversation on G+ among fellow gamers and Star Trek fans about the pulp sci-fi qualities of the Original Series sparked the creation of a Trek RPG community group, and I was invited to play and run over G+ Hangouts using a shared setting and characters. We have had two sessions already (a two-part series pilot episode), and it's been great fun.

This month, I will run a convention scenario for Call of Cthulhu at a local games day. While there I'm also scheduled to play in a Dungeon World session. I'm eager to finally play and see why so many other gamers are excited about it.

Monday, January 14, 2013

2012 Blog year in review

I always like to take some time at the beginning of the new year to look back at what I wrote on the blog and elsewhere over the past year. I had high hopes to post more often and to write on a more diverse set of topics this year. Unfortunately, that did not happen.

Some of the ideas I mentioned last time did not come to fruition, such as the game review series From the Dusty Shelf, or my look at Fantastic Four starting from issue #1. No new movies went up for Cult Classic of the Week.

On a positive note, I was able to play more this past year. I had the chance to play in a few RPG sessions online over G+, in a friend's 3.5 campaign, until connection problems forced me to drop out. Also, I was able to play more games in person, with two short-term campaigns and a local games day event.

Near the end of the summer, I started to think about what I could do to jump-start my creative spark. Several opportunities arose at nearly the same time, and I am grateful:
  Tomorrow: What to expect in the new year.