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.