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Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The Week In Geek...

A round-up of geeky news you might have missed...

(1) Space 1889 Goes Savage: The awesome Victorian sci-fi RPG Space 1889 is getting a Savage Worlds makeover from Pinnacle Entertainment in Space 1889: Red Sands.

(2) Record-Breaking Railway: The world's longest model railway is being built in Germany.

(3) Free Comic Book Day: This year's Free Comic Book Day, May 2, will include a special preview of the forthcoming Blackest Night saga facing The Green Lanterns.

(4) Neil Spicer - RPG Superstar: Amateur game designer Neil Spicer has been named RPG Superstar 2009 by Paizo for his work.

(5) Sounds Of Sherwood: Big Finish, the audio drama company best known for its Doctor Who plays, is producing a line of licenced Robin Hood talking books, featuring actors from the recent BBC series.

(6) Ron Howard Tipped To Tackle Lovecraft: Ron Howard is the potential director of The Strange Adventures of HP Lovecraft, the movie adaptation of the Image comic of the same name (due to hit shelves on April 8).

(7) Spidey Swings To Top Of Charts: Amazing Fantasy #15, the first appearance of Spider-Man from 1962, has been voted The Greatest Marvel Comic Of All Time by fanboys as part of the publisher's 70th Anniversary celebration.

(8) Win Time On Doctor Who: The BBC is offering cosplay fans of Doctor Who the chance to appear in a "specially-written scene" filmed on the Doctor Who sets.

(9) The Doctor Returns: The BBC has confirmed Easter Saturday (April 11) as the date of the next Doctor Who special: Planet Of The Dead.

(10) The Land That Time Forgot...Again: Work has begun on a remake of the 1975 Edgar Rice Burroughs-inspired classic.

(11) Origins Of April Fools' Day: A history of the marking of April the first.

(12) Geek Goes Pro: Reis from the excellent Geek Orthodox blog, has been given the job of About.com's official Action Figure Collecting Guide author.

(13) Forget 2012: According to British professor John Beddington, the chief scientific advisor to the British Government, the world could end by 2030.

(14) See The First Cylon: While Battlestar Galactica may be no more, a trailer for the forthcoming Caprica features a brief glimpse of the first cylon.

(15) Blade Runner's "Original" Ending: A recently discovered early draft of the Blade Runner script confirms that Deckard was a replicant.

(16) The Art of the Old School Renaissance: Your last chance to nab a copy of this limited edition book, which will be discontinued tomorrow (April 1).

(17) Spidey's Charity Work: Astonishing Fantasy #15, the 1963 issue featuring the debut of Spider-Man, previously owned by TV and radio host Jonathan Ross, sold for £5,575 at auction in aid of Comic Relief.

(18) Happy Anniversary: It's hard to believe that one of my favourite "old school" RPG blogs, Grognardia, is only a year old, because of the major influence it has had on my thinking re: games.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Legends Of Steel Available For Savage Worlds!

Long-time 'virtual' friend of HeroPress and operator of the popular Lair Of The Evil DM, Jeff Mejia has been slaving over his swords and sorcery supplement for Savage Worlds for months... and the work has paid off.
Legends of Steel is finally available, direct from The Lair (look for the button on the right-hand side), as a downloadable pdf, for the reasonable sum of $12.

It's a worthy investment (and don't forget to tell him The Acrobatic Flea sent you)!

Jeff is one of those guys who puts me to shame. I talk the talk, but never seem to get much done in the way of game development/writing etc, while Jeff knuckles down, follows through and delivers on his promises.

Show him some love, so he will continue producing great products like this.

Next up, for Savage Worlds, is his pulp action adventure setting The Lost World Of Hador, inspired by the setting of a thrilling play-by-email game he ran for a few of us several years ago. I think the cover says it all...

Salute To Tiny Men...

As I said yesterday, Salute is the UK's biggest wargames show and while Nick is a more regular attendee than I, I try to go whenever I can (missed out last year, sadly because of Rachel's broken wrist, but by all accounts the general buzz in the hall was that this year's was better anyway).

The highlight for me this year was Rachel's "surprise" (early) wedding anniversary present - a box set of the fantastic pig-nosed orcs from Otherworld Miniatures that I had been eyeing greedily as part of my "old school renaissance".


I was weighing up a couple of blister packs of Gary Gygax-flavoured orcs for the "relaunch" of my Tekralh roleplaying game (now under the auspices of the Labyrinth Lord ruleset) when Rachel offered to buy me the box set of the whole tribe - 25 figures - which a little while later I handed over to my painter, Neil (who also had a stall at the show).

Apparently, the three pink d6 I got Rachel from Chessex and the mood die and weather die I got her from em4miniatures aren't quite enough to count as a reciprocal anniversary gift!

For my tastes the finest display of the day was the Lovecraftian Assault On Innsmouth, staged by Gloranthan Army from France, using the Chain Reaction 2.0 rules from Two Hour Wargames.

As well as a higgledy-piggedly town, lit with spooky green illuminations from within some of the shacks, the scene was set-off from fantastically with a gigantic figure of Great Cthulhu himself rising from the sea fog on the edge of the board (fantastic use of the beautiful 16" high Horrorclix figure).

As it was explained to Rachel and I, it was being run as a rolling game that people could join at any time, with each player effectively playing "his own game".

Imagine how fantastic and evocative it would be to play a game of Call Of Cthulhu with scenery like that!

For another view of this game check out Bleaseworld.

I was pleased to see a strong zombie presence in many of the games on display as well this year, including the fantastic participation game run by Frothers Unite (pictured above), which featured stunning, "flat" scenery giving the game the impression of being some twisted version of Paddington Bear, written by Clive Barker and filmed by Tim Burton.

From the always friendly Mike at Black Hat Miniatures, as well as picking up a few more of his gorgeous wuxia Chinese figures from his Tales of the Dragon Kings line, I learnt that Ganesha Games would be producing a Chinese fantasy supplement, based on the Black Hat line, for its Song of Blades and Heroes rules system and Mike was considering producing a special figure to accompany the rules when they launched.

Overall, a good - if tiring day - with the only downside being the total lack of signage from the ExCel Centre in London's Docklands back to the M25 which made driving a nightmare for poor Rachel. Next year I think we will revert to using the train.

My full portfolio of pictures from the day can be seen here.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Holding Pattern...

Rachel, Nick and I went to the UK's largest wargames show, Salute (at ExCel in London's Docklands) yesterday and had a great time - but the bad lighting in the expansive hall and the limited capabilities of both my camera and my photographic skills means the pictures I took will require a bit of work in Photoshop.

I hope to have my review of the show - with pictures - ready for Monday, but in the meantime here are shots of a magnificent double-sided display Rachel and I saw at the Edinburgh branch of Games Workshop last week.

The side visible from the street was this magnificent Warhammer 40,000 set-up, while on the reverse...

...The Fellowship were making their way through the goblin-packed mines of Moria. We also had a quick demonstration of the new Games Workshop mass battle system for their Lord of The Rings game, which appealed to me because it involved rolling bucket loads of dice!

The shop assistant also explained that they are planning a third "side" to their giant display, which will be a Warhammer dwarf mine - but that will be designed downwards, so it is visible under the surface of the table.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

I Ain't Afraid Of No Ghosts...

Ghosts, of course, don't exist in the real world (like pixies, elves, angels, magic etc), but that doesn't stop them being fascinating subjects for stories.

It was with this attitude that I approached the "ghost tour" of The Pantiles In Tunbridge Wells, which Rachel had snagged a pair of free tickets for as part of Kent County Council's annual Big Day Out promotion.

Twelve of us gathered in a cafe on The Pantiles (the old Georgian promenade area), which our guides claimed was "the most haunted area in Kent" before leading us on an hour-long walk.

It was just getting dark as we started, and the earlier heavy rain thankfully held off, but the chilly and slightly oppressive air certainly contributed to the atmosphere.

The interesting part of the tour dealt with the early history of Tunbridge Wells (it grew up around the "healing waters" of the Chalybeate Springs) and The Pantiles, as well as a brilliant old 10th Century folktale of the blacksmith Dunstan (later archbishop of Canterbury and saint) who tweaked the nose of the Devil with a pair of red-hot tongs, forcing Satan to take flight, then plunge his sore nose in a nearby spring - which was then forever tainted by his singed nostrils (how this metamorphosed into "healing waters", however, wasn't explained).

However, the ghost stories were, naturally, the usual cross-section of unsubstantiated, second/third/fourth/fifth-hand (or more estranged) accounts stemming mainly from such reliable sources as the area's numerous ale houses, the odd behaviour of animals or the proclamations of self-declared psychics.

It would also seem that the spectres frequenting The Pantiles have little more to do than rearrange people's clothes, lift toilet seats and tap on windows, with evidence of their presence mainly boiling down to "strange feelings" - if evidence was proffered at all.

Reading between the lines, many of the stories - if they hadn't already been totally exaggerated through multiple-retellings - were variations of my own "spooky encounter" in China, which the rational and logical part of my brain decided, on further analysis of the facts, was simply a common side-effect of a phenomenon known as sleep paralysis - which can explain away the majority of night terrors and phantoms which haunt people in the night.

That's not to say that these things aren't frightening - sudden noises in the dark, creepy shadows, unexplained movement - can still scare the bejeezus out of me; but I know that's just the primitive survival instinct of "fight or flight" hardwired into my genes... and has nothing to do with supernatural creatures returning from the grave.

We'll save that for the movies.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Seeking Inspiration...

Looking for an inspirational image to spark an original idea for a wilderness - or dungeon - scenario in your role-playing game?

Check out these 10 Geological Wonders You Didn't Know at Oddee.


This, for instance, pictured above, is "The Door to Hell" in Uzbekistan!

Oddee is an amazing site for Gamesmasters looking to inject a slice of peculiar verisimilitude in to their games.

Recent articles of interest to role-players have included Medieval torture techniques (bring a strong stomach), people with real-life "superpowers" and strange wars.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Don't Shoot The Messenger...

This post is by way of an apology to the various brilliant blogs that I read that have been unintentionally "spammed" by HeroPress in recent weeks.

Before one blog master contacted me about this issue I'd already noticed that "links" back to totally random HeroPress stories were starting to appear under entries on totally unconnected blog sites (for a long while it was a link back to a review of an episode of Demons from January called Saving Grace).

Then the problem just seemed to get worse; I've seen some entries on sites I adore, and certainly wouldn't dream of defiling, with around a dozen HeroPress links on.

I don't know what Blogger is doing and my attempts to stop it happening have come to nowt. It's not even selecting links even vaguely connected with the subject matter of the post it is violating.

Frankly, it's embarrassing and is so annoying to me that I've even considered closing HeroPress down because I don't want it to get a reputation as a "spam" site.

The truth of the matter is: I don't know how or why Blogger is doing this and I would certainly stop it if I knew how.

In the meantime, to those whose blogs are being tagged with links from HeroPress, I can only say I'm sorry and I hope you won't think any less of my humble little site.

This Has All Happened Before...

As of twenty-three hundred hours on Tuesday, on-going Battlestar Galactica was over. Sky screened the final two-hour episode and then an hour-long "making of" documentary, with input from all the stars...

...And now my life feels a little more empty. Four seasons of frakkin' great television, over five years, to tell an epic, mythic story with a very satisfying ending and now it's all over.

As I've said before, I don't write much about Battlestar Galactica on HeroPress because I believe it requires more erudite minds to critique its brilliance, but I feel I ought to at least acknowledge its passing.

To be honest, I had foreseen a variation of the true ending, but earlier in the season before the rag-tag fleet rolled up at the deserted, barren planet that was the "first" Earth at the mid-season break for the final run.

However when the series returned for these last few, powerful episodes all bets were off and I just allowed myself to be taken along for the ride.

That being said, as thrilling and beautiful as the closing episode was, in the cold light of day I can't help but feel slightly underwhelmed by the massive injection of deus ex machina as a way to explain away many of the mystical elements of the show.

The way the various visions and prophecies came to pass was sublime, but rather a lot was left in the nebulous, undefined hands of "god" and his "angels"; elements I'd always thought would be explained in a scientific manner that suited the very grounded nature of the Galactica universe.

Slight gripe aside, this "new" vogue for science-fiction shows to give themselves limited runs, started (albeit rather haphazardly) by Babylon 5, and now championed by Battlestar Galactica and Lost, is one of the best innovations in genre television at the moment as it allows the programme makers to tell the story they want to tell and doesn't allow a programme to outstay its welcome (e.g. The X-Files).

I know there is a TV movie, called The Plan (directed by series star Edward James Olmos, written by Jane Espenson and set during the time of the show) due out later this year and I am anxiously awaiting the DVD release in April of Caprica, the Battlestar Galactica prologue series that tells the story of the rise of the cylons in the 50 years before the events of the recently ended TV show.

The Caprica series is due to take off in early 2010, but will the showrunners be able to capture lightning in a bottle twice?

Battlestar Galactica is a hard act to follow, it has helped reshape science-fiction on television and hopefully drawn a few more people into the wonderful world of geekdom who might have otherwise passed it by.

I shall certainly miss the grim and grittiness, clever storytelling, fantastic character arcs and powerful acting of Battlestar and, once a respectful amount of time has passed, will enjoy visiting the series again on DVD. For many years to come.

So Say We All.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

At The Fleapit: Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009)

When I was eventually allowed home after my extended stay in hospital, the first film I watched was comedy horror Shaun Of The Dead. After I'd watched the film right through, I'd laughed so much I watched it again - straight away.

Lesbian Vampire Killers isn't Shaun Of The Dead, but comparisons are bound to be made - it is a comedy horror starring popular British comedy talent.

However, in some senses it is Shaun Of The Dead with the subtle humour replaced by tit and bum gags. But most importantly, it is very, very funny.

James Corden and Matthew Horne, best known for the hit series Gavin and Stacey (which Corden co-wrote with Ruth Jones), are a pair of feckless hitchhikers drawn into an ancient curse centring around a strange, isolated Norfolk village that is home to the legend of the ancient vampire queen Carmilla (Silvia Colloca).

Throw in a minivan full of hot Swedish folklore students - including the gorgeous MyAnna Buring (from Doctor Who and The Descent) - and you're in for "one hell of a night".

It's a very simple, uncluttered plot that gets to the meat of the action as soon as it can and is carried by the central performances of Horne, as the straight-man, and Corden, as the funny man.

Corden, in particular, shines as a master of comedy timing and facial expressions.

As well as a send-up of Hammer Horror and Carry On films, Paul Hupfield and Stewart Williams script for Lesbian Vampire Killers also has shades of Abbott and Costello and American Werewolf In London.

The humour is broad and potty-mouthed, but as long as you're not going in to the film expecting some nuanced, European art film, Lesbian Vampire Killers delivers with the subtleness you'd expect from a film with such an on-the-nose title.

Since seeing this movie in Scotland on its opening night (last Friday) - with a packed audience who were all laughing their socks off - I've read a lot of negative comments, and general hate, directed towards this film and I can't understand why.

Perhaps people were expecting Gavin and Stacey with vampires? I was expecting playground humour, slapstick comedy and knob gags - and I got exactly what I was expecting and had a great evening watching it.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The Week In Geek...

A round-up of geeky news you might have missed...

(1) Branagh To Remake Classic: Kenneth Branagh has his heart set on remaking the incredible Night Of The Demon, from 1957. The original is still unavailable on DVD, but remains one of my all-time favourite horror movies.

(2) Superman/Batman Team-Up For DVD: DC Comics has just announced a forthcoming direct-to-DVD team-up between Batman and Superman entitled Public Enemies, to come out in the Autmn.

(3) Full Steam Ahead: A new look website is now up and running for news on UK Games Expo 2009, which takes place in Birmingham in early June.

(4) New Who From IDW: A new on-going monthly Doctor Who comic is coming from IDW, starting in July, written by the excellent Tony Lee, who wrote The Forgotten.

(5) Raimi Goes To Hell: Sam Raimi, director of Spider-Man, returns to his horror roots with Drag Me to Hell.

(6) After Watchmen, What Next? DC Comics has launched a site for those new to comics who are wondering what to read after Watchmen.

(7) Chariots Of The Gods - The Movie: Erich von Daniken's barking 'factual' account of aliens posing as gods on ancient Earth, Chariots Of The Gods, is to be made into a sci-fi movie.

(8) Marvel Movie Delays: Release dates for the Thor and Avengers movies have been pushed back a year.

(9) Enemy At The Goats: Expect some silver age sci-fi silliness at the UK's largest wargames show, Salute, this weekend with a 'Space Vixens From Mars' demonstration game.

(10) Think Small: 15mm.Co.UK - a branch of Alternative Armies, which produces the Flintloque range - has introduced a new, fast play fantasy rules system, The Age of Might And Steel, that should allow you to play a full game inside an hour with 100-200 15mm miniatures on the table.

(11) The Cardstock Of Cthulhu: Fat Dragon Games has reached an agreement with Chaosium to produce offical Call Of Cthulhu 3D cardstock terrain. The first wave is due out this Summer.

(12) Patty And Selma Will Be Pleased: MacGyver is coming back - as a feature film. No word yet on Richard Dean Anderson's involvement though.

(13) Marvel Goes MMO: Marvel Comics has signed a deal with Gazillion Entertainment for the production of 'massively multiplayer online' games featuring characters from Marvel Comics.

(14) Jericho Lives Again: The short-lived, post-apocalypic drama with a vocal fanbase, Jericho, is returning - in comic book format, thanks to Devil’s Due Publishing.

(15) Working The Magic: Fred Hicks, from Evil Hat Productions (and "friend" of HeroPress) , talks about the current stae of play with the forthcoming Dresden Files RPG.

(16) Linda Hamilton Back in Terminator: Linda Hamilton, the original Sarah Connor, will have a presence in the upcoming Terminator: Salvation.

(17) Ultimate Predator: Scientists have revealed fossil remains of a 15m long aquatic sea monster from the Jurassic Era.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Top Of The Pile: Dark Reign - Fantastic Four #1

While I couldn't give a hoot about Marvel's current Dark Reign "event" storyline, it was great to see a new writer breathing life into my favourite superteam - The Fantastic Four - given Mark Millar's uninteresting run on the main title.

Thankfully, Jonathan Hickman is scheduled to take over writing duties on the main Fantastic Four tile when Millar's time is up... and it can't come soon enough.

As demonstrated in this first issue of Dark Reign - Fantastic Four (a five-issue mini-series), Hickman gets The Fantastic Four in a way that Millar clearly doesn't. They are not like every other team; they are a family first and foremost and explorers, adventurers and scientists - not just another crimefighting clone of The Avengers.

While repairing the Baxter Building, after the latest destruction wrought on it during Secret Invasion, Reed Richards invents a device for visiting alternate dimensions so that he can see how they have dealt with the problems that have recently beset the FF and the Marvel Universe as a whole. You see Richards blames himself for all these disasters.

Just as he's stepping into the viewing machine, a horde of Norman Osborn's goons storms the Baxter Building, with the intention of shutting the Fantastic Four down, and cut the power - causing untold trouble in the process.

I'm secretly praying that Reed will find a way to retcon out everything from the Civil War onwards on the Marvel Universe, so it can get back "on track" and we can all forget about Civil War, Secret Invasion, One More Day, Dark Reign etc etc

Dark Reign - Fantastic Four issue one is brilliant, it's classic Fantastic Four and it inspires me to ride out the current storm with my beloved characters because there is a bright light on the horizon.

Top Of The Pile: The Stand - American Nightmares #1

And so the second story arc (American Nightmares) of Marvel's fantastic adaptation of Stephen King's classic The Stand begins.

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is remaining as faithful as possible to the original text and certainly isn't rushing things.

The main players are being slowly inched into position as they adapt to the new, horrific world they are facing in the wake of the Captain Trips superflu outbreak - which swept the world with a 99 per cent mortality rate (in the first five issue mini-series).

The opening two-page prologue of American Nightmares presents us with a graphic illustration of this dead world, then once again we jump between vignettes of the current situations of four of the main characters (deaf, mute Nick Andros, rock star Larry Underwood, pregnant, young Frannie Goldsmith and stoic, everyman Stuart Redman).

While Marvel's other King adaptation, The Dark Tower, is beginning to wallow in its own complex mythology, The Stand is taking its time to set out its wares, teasing its audience with hints and foreshadowing of the dark times to come. The "good guys" may have survived the Apocalypse, but worse is down the road in the shape of The Walkin' Dude and his legion of followers.

This is certainly one of Marvel's stronger titles at the moment and the combination of Aguirre-Sacasa's writing and Mike Perkins beautiful art has, so far, managed to hit the sweet spot every issue.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

My Life And Roleplaying: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Labyrinth Lord...

I can tell you exactly where I was when I fell in love - page 26 of Labyrinth Lord, the clerical spell descriptions, Sticks To Snakes.

The brief description of the spell effects concluded with the game statistics for the snake that would appear... and it was written out in a single line!

One of my "holy grails" of gaming has been finding a system with the simplicity of the old games of Dungeons & Drgaons I used to play as a teenager.

Maybe I should have realised sooner - when I first stumbled into the current Old School Renaissance - that the best way of recreating the fun I used to have with roleplaying games was by revisiting the very rules that we used back then.

Labyrinth Lord, by Daniel Proctor, is one of the foremost of these "retro-clones" that seek to resurrect the fun and simplicity of the original Dungeons & Dragons.

As I understand it, Labyrinth Lord is more or less Basic (red box) Dungeons & Dragons, Swords & Wizardry is Original Dungeons & Dragons and OSRIC is First Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (although I have suspicions,as yet unexplored, that the first two are pretty much interchangeable and all three are close enough to swap material between without too much hassle).

Labyrinth Lord is beautifully written, proving that you don't need a legal text book the size of a family Bible, printed in microscopic point size, to explain the ins and outs of a role-playing game to an intelligent and creative audience.

There are facts and figures when we need them, with enough left unsaid for creative games' masters to "house rule" between the lines without breaking the game or having to indulge in complex mathematical juggling to keep everything on track.

This is the closest I will ever get to time travel. I feel 11 again, discovering the limitless worlds of possibility that role-playing games can offer.

Scanning back through this My Life And Role-Playing series of sporadic, short essays on HeroPress, the answer to my role-playing quest was in front of my face the whole time - in yearning for the past, for "old school", I had been overlooking the obvious solution... back to square one. Thankfully there are brighter and more creative people out there who felt the same as me, but realise the solution far quicker and I and did something about it.

Move over, Castles & Crusades (the current operating system of The Tuesday Knights), there's a new game in town. C and C sought to ape old school sensibilities with modern mechanics, but Labyrinth Lord is the real deal. It's Old School, Baby!

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Doctor Who: Attack Of The Cybermen (1985)

When I first saw Attack Of The Cybermen, as a naive 19-year-old, back in 1985, it left a lasting impression on me - and not just because of Nicola Bryant's drool-inducing figure.

This story is remembered by most for its excessive violence (by Doctor Who standards), particularly in the bloody scene where Lytton (Maurice Colbourne) gets his hands crushed by the cybermen.

The Doctor (Colin Baker) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) arrive on Earth - in the Totters Lane junk yard where his televised adventures began back in 1963 (An Unearthly Child) - in answer to an intergalactic distress call.

They are drawn into the machinations of former dalek agent Lytton (who the 5th Doctor met in Resurrection Of The Daleks), who is posing as a diamond thief to infiltrate the cybermen stragglers who are hiding out in London's sewers (The Invasion).

The cybermen, on their newly conquered planet of Telos, have captured a time ship and are planning to redirect Halley's Comet into the Earth, so it will be destroyed before it can facilitate the destruction of their home planet, Mondas, in 1986 in the First Doctor adventure The Tenth Planet.

While all the continuity tie-ins of Paula Moore's script make it ideal trivia fodder for Doctor Who fans, Attack Of The Cybermen is rather linear in its plotting, with much of the continuity gems thrown in as fan-pleasing set dressing that does nothing for the story (e.g. what did it matter that the TARDIS returned to Totters Lane, even though The Doctor drew attention to it, and what's the end result of The Doctor's tinkering with the workings of the TARDIS?).

The cybermen, although quite intimidating, are also rather undervalued and underused in this story with the suggestion (highlighted by the rather portly Cyber Controller) that they are getting a bit lazy and apathetic because they haven't been challenged recently.

The plot becomes strangely convoluted, when the scheme to destroy Telos is revealed (this would achieve nothing) and the addition of a couple of escaped slaves to the story doesn't really go anywhere and just eats up some valuable screen time.

And what was the unexplained significance of the black cyberman?

This was only the Sixth Doctor's second on-screen adventure with Peri and so their relationship is still quite brittle at this stage, but the lead performances by Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant can't be faulted.

The problems in Attack Of The Cybermen lie with Moore's over-egged script and some strange costume choices (e.g. The Cyber Controller's parachute pants and the Telos natives' outfits). The story tries to do too much and ends up posing more questions than it answers.

Friday, 20 March 2009

More Bang For Your Buck...

The first thing that strikes you about the Buck Rogers Adventure Game is the total lack of spaceships.

This is because the game is based on the original 1930s comic strips which had Buck waking up in a 25th Century where the Earth was under the heel of foreign invaders - a Mongol horde known as The Han - who had swept in from the East crushing everyone in their path with their "advanced" technology (that is "advanced" as imagined from the point-of-view of the mid-1930s).

There is, of course, a resistance movement and this is what Buck joins as soon as he can, teaming up with Wilma Deering and Doctor Huer.

For want of a better pigeonhole this is a "post-apocalyptic" role-playing game, but with a very retro feel - there are anti-gravity jump belts, disintegrator guns and rocket cruisers but also biplanes, airships and cowboys - creating a unique background for a roleplaying game.

Ruleswise, The Buck Rogers Adventure Game is for people who think Savage Worlds is too slow and crunchy.

Published in 1993 as the first of TSR's High Adventures Cliffhangers range (presumably designed to attract new, younger gamers to the hobby but never developed any further than this game) it uses a very simple dice pool mechanic to resolve all issues.

Characters have four statistics - Strength, Aim, Brains and Health - graded OK, Good, Better or Best granting dice pools of two, three, four or five six-sided dice respectively.

Characters also have a number of skills (usually one for each ability and one extra) which add an extra die to their pool.

The idea is to roll your dice and score over a target number to succeed in a task (every dice that comes up a six allows an additional dice roll, with a cap of eight dice in total for any action check).

Combat is basically opposed rolls, with damage being of the "fail your Health roll and you're out" variety.

That's it in a nutshell - as you can see there are some similarities to Savage Worlds, but it is even more streamlined than that rules lite system. There's the added 'complication' of characters having a limited number of "action points" each round, but this, again, is a very minor piece of incidental book keeping and ties in to the fact that the system also uses gridded maps for movement, ranges etc (much like 4e Dungeons & Dragons these days).

The box set the game comes in includes the 32-page rule book, a 32-page guide to the world of the 25th Century and a 48-page adventure book with an entire campaign in. There are also two full-colour maps with stand-up counters, dice and small poker chips.

These chips are to indicate experience and are given as rewards for completing missions. They are spent (again, like Bennies in Savage Worlds) to increase the number of action points you have in a round, add extra dice to your pool when making a check or trading in to increase your skills and abilities.

The game has a nice optional rule, designed to encourage "team play", of a group of players creating an "experience bank" for their team of characters which they all contribute to and can withdraw from (to modify dice rolls only) when the party agrees.

Almost certainly viewed as oversimplistic when it came out - with very little fanfare (and on the back of TSR's other Buck Rogers RPG, which was much more in the spirit of space opera and cyberpunk) - the Buck Rogers Adventure Game was possibly ahead of its time.


It probably didn't help not having the background people might have been expecting, and sadly the game died as suddenly as it appeared, spawning only one supplement (War Against The Han), which I will review at a later date.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Bottom Of The Pile: Ultimate Wolverine vs Hulk #3

Issue two of Ultimate Wolverine vs Hulk - by Lost creator Damon Lindelof - was dated April 2006, issue three May 2009. Has it been worth the wait?

In a word: no.

Despite seemingly taking three years to arrive, this issue of Ultimate Wolverine vs Hulk is a very uninspiring slugfest - admittedly featuring two of the Ultimate Universe's big hitters - from start to finish and only really picks up on the final page with the arrival of the mysterious She-Hulk (although thanks to Leinil Francis Yu's particular art style she isn't the sexy She-Hulk of mainstream Marvel, but a rather butch bodybuilder who's popped too many steroids).

And we're only half-way through this six issue mini-series. Will we have to wait almost a decade for a resolution? Let's hope not.

Comic book companies should have a rule that mini-series scripted by "celebrity" writers (such as Lindelof, Kevin Smith etc) shouldn't be released until every issue is in the can - to avoid these dreadful delays.

I mean, come on, it took three years to script a punch-up between Hulk and Wolverine? Really? It wouldn't have mattered so much if we'd had issue two a month ago, there would still be some momentum in the story, but to wait three years for this? Very disappointing all round.

Up, Up And Away... To Bed!

The other day Rachel was doing some late night shopping at the Lakeside Shopping Centre and made the mistake of texting to tell me she had seen a "Superman dressing gown".

A furious exchange of texts - and several hours - later, she returns home with my new dressing gown.

Given that my previous one had lasted me since before I went to university, I think it was about time I got a new dressing gown...

But I could never have imagined one so bathed in awesomeness!

It's the perfect complement to the Flash hoodie Rachel gave me for Valentine's day... and means I can now be a superhero 24 hours a day (should I wish to).

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Not In Kansas Anymore...

Despite the absence of Steve (who plays the heroic ranger Red), The Tuesday Knights ploughed on with our Tekralh role-playing campaign last night.

Picking up from the last session, Nick's dwarf was trapped behind a stone portal while a large, mystical winged creature posed riddles to his colleagues - to allow them access to the inner chamber.

Inside, with Wu Bao (Nick's dwarf), was a rather angry (and very magical) troll, which Nick - aided eventually by Clare's fighter Clodius, defeated surprisingly easily. That, however, was when the magic kicked in, just as Pete's half-orc druid Gregor got into the chamber, and Wu Bao was transformed into a replacement guardian troll.

Meanwhile the other troll regenerated (as they do) and was rather annoyed that someone had taken his place as treasure guardian. Great hilarilty ensued for the better part of 90 minutes, including a time when Gregor KO-ed the Wu Bao-troll and was transformed, himself, into a guardian troll.

It took a lot of heavy hinting, intelligence checks and, eventually, a Hero Point for Nick to deduce the only way to change Gregor back was for the former half-orc to 'lose' a fight against the original troll, so it would be transformed back into the guardian troll... and Gregor would be released from the curse.

The rest of the evening saw the party dodging through a corridor of spear traps and then stumbling into a cavern of strange mutant vampire bats, which took a particular liking to Gregor-vintage blood and nearly drained all the life from him (he helped them a bit by wildly stabbing himself in the neck at one point!).

Eventually they found their way out of the caverns... and that's when things got really strange!

The group had already encountered a section of the entrance tunnel that gave them all a "giddy" feeling on the way in; on the way out the giddiness returned and they found themselves no longer in the woodlands they had entered the caverns through... and that Red was walking along beside them as though nothing had happened.

In fact, as they will soon discover, they're not even in the same country they were when they discovered the Trollstone Caves.

I had already decided, when the time was right, to institute some major changes in the campaign and this particular "high magic/gonzo" dungeon proved the ideal place to make these structural changes.

In my campaign's multiverse, I've decided that the Trollstone Caverns were a "gateway" between worlds, where the laws of magic and physics were blurred and the barriers between reality were distorted by strange, supernatural powers.

The party had entered the caverns from the continent of Tekralh, but there's no telling where they have emerged (or under what physical laws their new world operates).

I shall probably be dropping more hints about the changes ahead this weekend on HeroPress, but suffice it to say, although they will be quite major (in the short term), I genuinely believe they are a step in the right direction.

There were a couple of reasons for these changes - the first, which I shall discuss more later this week, is for a simplification of our rules system. Castles and Crusades is a slimmed down version of 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons, so still retains a small amount of crunch and then I've wildly thrown in a bunch of house rules (some of which have worked and some of which have just added a degree of complication I'm not so happy with).

Secondly, I'm not 100 per cent comfortable with the actual physical structure of the campaign. I rushed ahead, when I first thought up the Tekralh setting, and hammered out a big background book with details on various countries, their rulers, various races etc etc. It must have seemed very daunting and overwhelming to my players (three old schoolers and a newbie).

Frankly there was too much information and I was expecting my players to absorb it all and construct detailed backgrounds for their characters with a host of supporting characters etc

But that's not "old school", that's a very modern approach of gaming and, to be honest, my players are all busy people with hectic lives, who come together once a month for a bit of gaming fun in a social environment (with pizza and crisps).

By changing the location, I can build up a new setting one block at a time, as it is needed. By allowing the campaign to grow organically around the players I reckon they will become more attached and involved with it.

A full, in-campaign, account of the evening adventures can be found on The Chronicles Of Tekralh blog site, while a selection of photographs from this and other sessions of our gaming nights can be found here.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The Week In Geek...

A round-up of geeky news you might have missed...

(1) Keith Herber Passes Away: Well-regarded Call of Cthulhu writer Keith Herber died on Friday.

(2) Year Of The Comic Strip: Belgium, home of Tintin, Asterix and The Smurfs, is hosting The Year Of The Comic Strip events in Brussels throughout 2009.

(3) Flintloque Third Edition: The third edition of the black powder fantasy Napoleonic skirmish game, Flintloque, is avilable for pre-order from Alternative Armies.

(4) Grognardian Guru: Ken Hite interviews 'old school' Dungeons & Dragons expert, and author of the Grognardia blog, James Maliszewski .

(5) Buy The Farm: em4's gorgeous, prepainted, 28mm farm complex will soon be going on sale, for around £85.

(6) Mad Max... The Cartoon: Mad Max could be returning to the big screen in a couple of years, but as an anime-style cartoon.

(7) I Fought The Law...: Warm Acre, the company behind the hugely successful Hour of Glory miniatures game is bringing out, at Salute 09, No-Go-Zone, a game of modern police versus urban criminals. Basically Grand Theft Auto with miniatures!

(8) It's A Nightmare: The first of the "lost stories" of Doctor Who, The Nightmare Fair, has been recorded as an audio play by Big Finish for release in November.

(9) Streaming Spider-Man: Marvel Comics is offering streaming video on its website of a bizarre Japanese Spider-Man TV series about motorcycle racer Takuya Yamashiro who gains the powers of Spider-Man to fight Professor Monster.

(10) Good Dog: The first picture of the new-look K9 has been released online. The futuristic Doctor Who spin-off will air in Australia later this year.

(11) Fantastic Four Film Franchise Reboot: The Fantastic Four films are heading for a make-over and a relaunch of the franchise.

(12) Live Action Casting Begun Has: George Lucas has begun his quest for actors to appear in the forthcoming live-action Star Wars serial, which will be set between Episodes III and IV. The show is unlikely to appear on TV until an entire season has been recorded, so is a long way off yet.

(13) Saturn Nominees Revealed: Lost and The Dark Knight top the nominations charts for the 35th Annual Saturn Awards, with 11 nominations each.

(14) Watchmen Numbers Drastic Drop Off: Watchmen box office figures dropped around 70 per cent in its second week of release in the US.

(15) Sci-Fi Channel Changes Name: And alienates viewers... just read the comments on this PR puff piece!

(16) Doctor Who For Gen Con Indy: Cubicle 7 is aiming to have its Doctor Who RPG ready for release at Gen Con Indy in August (as long as the BBC don't ask for too many changes to the manuscript).

(17) Once More Unto The Breach, Dear Friends: The Tuesday Knights are due to meet again tonight to continue their adventure in The Trollstone Caverns.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Top Of The Pile: War Of Kings #1

It is because of titles like War Of Kings that I could never see myself abandoning comics, or even just dropping Marvel titles from my monthly pull list.

From the talented, and inventive, minds of Marvel's cosmic kings Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, comes the most thrilling war story I've read in years.

Royal weddings are crashed, galactic empires are at war, epic battles are waged and that's just in this first issue of the six issue mini-series.

The high-quality script is perfectly complemented by Paul Pelletier's beautiful, almost Alan Davies-like, artwork. He isn't afraid of large pictures to really show-off his pencils, Rick Magyar's inks and Wil Quintana's colouring.

Even though the vast majority of the characters are aliens, I still care more about the events unfolding here than back on Marvel Earth - because there is no telling what could happen out here in the wilds of space.

While the story starts quietly - with the impending wedding of Inhuman Crystal to Kree Ronan The Accuser - things quickly heat up when the Shi'ar, under the leadership of the slightly potty Vulcan (brother of Cyclops and Havok), launch a pre-emptive strike on the wedding party with the Imperial Guard (established analogues of DC's Justice League Legion of Super-Heroes).

I am genuinely excited about what comes next as I have no idea.

This is how good comics should be...

UPDATED (March 17): factual error corrected (thank you, Nimbus).

Doctor Who: Destiny Of The Daleks (1979)

Destiny Of The Daleks begins with the strangest regeneration sequence in Doctor Who's history - his Gallifreyan companion Romana, who as far as we know wasn't injured (unless we imagine some "unseen adventures" between The Armageddon Factor and this episode), declares that not only is she regenerating, but that she can choose what she form she takes.

She then presents The Doctor with a variety of options, starting with that of Princess Astra (from The Armageddon Factor; as portrayed by Lalla Ward) - which is, ultimately, the body they agree on.

The TARDIS, now fitted with a 'randomiser', so they can elude The Black Guardian, takes The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana to a strangely-familiar, desolate planet, crackling with radioactivity.

Exploring the ruins of an ancient city, The Doctor discovers the planet is Skaro - the birthplace of the daleks.

The daleks are currently locked in a stalemate with the Movellans and the daleks have returned to Skaro to unearth their creator, Davros (David Gooderson) from hibernation. The Movellans have followed them to the planet to find out what the daleks are after.

It turns out that the humanoid Movellans - who, with their silver dreadlocks and skin-tight space suits, look like they are heading for a '70s disco rather than a showdown with the most feared race in the galaxy - are actually robots, but they are never going to be much of a challenge to Battlestar Galactica's cylons for the title of 'supreme skinjob' because of one, rather major design flaw: they wear their power packs on their belt. Remove these and they stop working! D'oh!

The mighty, computer-controlled, space fleets of the daleks and Movellans are held in an impasse until one side or the other can introduce a non-logical factor into their battle plans - which is what the daleks want Davros for... and why eventually the Movellans set their beady eyes on The Doctor.

Several times the daleks are referred to as robots (including by Davros), but they are not, as we all know: they are Kaled mutants inside mobile suits of armour. This is just one of several continuity errors with established dalek and Davros history that, while not crucial to the story, niggle long-term fans of the show and are especially annoying given the calibre of crew behind the show at this stage.

Terry Nation's last dalek script for the series is less than impressive. While the Movellans could have been worthy adversaries for the daleks (the idea that only another machine race could hope to even achieve a stalemate against Davros' brood is a strong one) their execution in the series leaves a lot to be desired and, not surprisingly, they have yet to reappear on our TV screens, despite being at war with the daleks for several centuries.

Destiny Of The Daleks was also Douglas Adam's first solo script editing gig on Doctor Who and he couldn't resist slipping in a Hitchhikers' Guide To The Galaxy gag by having The Doctor reading a copy of The Origins of the Universe by Oolon Colluphid (an author frequently namechecked in Hitchhikers).

There's a lot of oddness in this story that doesn't sit quite right, from Romana's sudden and unexplained regeneration through to Davros not being quite himself (the extended sequence where he allows The Doctor to wheel him through the city tunnels like an invalid, without resistance or comment, seems totally out of character for the creator of the daleks).

Despite the presence of my favourite Doctor Who foes, Destiny Of The Daleks is a very small story compared to the epic grandeur and ambition of The Key To Time sequence which preceded it.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

"It's The End Of The World As We Know It..."

How better to celebrate the anniversary of moving in to our new home than busting out a selection of pulp heroes to face off against my zombie hordes for my games table's inaugural confrontation?

The evil soceror Wu Fang had raised an army of zombies and only Doc Savage, three of his assistants, Indiana Jones and Cliff Secord (aka The Rocketeer) stood between them and world domination.

Using Howard Whitehouse's very simple Astounding Tales! rules (which I managed to make even simpler by forgetting several of the system's nuances), Nick and I gamed a very basic scenario - which I saw as the last episode of a long-running movie serial. The heroes were outnumbered and backed into a corner by the living dead. Would they survive? Would the world be saved?

The adventure didn't exactly turn out as planned. Although the Rocketeer quickly killed Wu Fang with a burst of airborne Tommy Gun fire, the zombies turned out to be tougher buggers than we'd first imagined.

Doc led Ham, Renny and Monk (carrying his pig Habeous Corpus) on a brave charge to meet the zombies and I'd expected them to make short work of the horde - but very quickly we realised that fists against zombies (even the massive fists of Renny and Doc's superb physique) were pretty rubbish.

The zombies overpowered Renny and made him into a tasty snack, at which point Doc called a strategic withdrawal. The survivors withdrew, bolting through the swamp towards their base - a spooky tower, from where Indy and the returned Rocketeer laid down covering fire.

As the zombies drew closer, slowly shambling towards the tower, we realised that the best offence was automatic fire - with Cliff Secord claiming the bulk of the zombies kills, although Indy managed to pop a few by blazing away with his pistol.

Doc and Monk made for the tower steps, but Ham was distracted by the zombies who had clambered over the defensive wall and were making for the base of the tower. He sought to engage them with his sword cane, making a heroic stand that inevitably led to his demise.

Doc reached the top of the tower, where Indy and Cliff were beginning to suffer from repeated weapons' jams, while a zombie made a grab for Monk at the bottom of the stairs and promptly suffered for its audacity.

Doc ordered the Rocketeer to fly off and seek out other heroes (with BIG guns), while the survivors of this heroic band secured themselves in the tower to wait out the zombie apocalypse.

Lesson Of The Day: Always bring guns to a zombie fight.

Final result: Two dead heroes, 20 dead zombies (including their master). A draw.

For the full portfolio of pictures click here.

Nick and I are now looking at a globe-spanning pulp era campaign (with dinosaurs, Chinese warlords, evil sorcerers, zombies etc), but probably using the Warhammer Historical rules as we will have larger forces on each side (and Nick has just invested in the Warhammer Historical Great War rules).

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Season One episodes...

Continued from last week...

(11) Dooku Captured: Anakin and Obi-Wan follow Dooku to the Outer Rim, but the jedi become trapped in a nest of gundarks and the sith falls into the hands of Weequay pirates, who offer him to the Republic for a ransom. Having been rescued by Ashoka and some clone troopers, Anakin and Obi-Wan are dispatched to meet with the pirates to confirm they are really holding Dooku.

Craftily starting in media res I thought I'd somehow missed an episode when this one started, but I soon realised it was a time saving device to get the story rolling. And what an action packed one it is! As well as some meaty jedi versus sith action, the Weequay pirates were a fine horde of reprobates, representing the Fringe elements of the Star Wars universe that aren't so often shown in this era of the Saga. I still can't get my head round Dooku being taken so easily by the pirates (although I suspect it's all part of some Machiavellian plan to turn the tables on The Republic) and my heart sank when it was announced by Chancellor Palpatine that "Representative Binks" would be delivering the ransom (in the next episode). (3.5/5)

(12) The Gungan General: Jar Jar Binks, another senator and some clones are dispatched to deliver the ransom for Dooku to the pirates, who have also captured Anakin and Obi-Wan. The two jedi are forced into an uneasy alliance with the sith lord in their repeated attempts to escape captivity. Meanwhile, the ransom delivery goes wrong and the senior senator dies, leaving Jar Jar in charge of the mission. Hilarity ensues.

Despite this episode looking gorgeous as always, and Hondo and his gang of treacherous pirates being very interesting characters, there is so much to dislike about this story- and not all of it revolves around Jar Jar. This episode, and the previous, seems determined to totally undervalue the powers of the Force as Dooku, and then the two jedi, are captured ridiculously easily by the pirates - without even the use of cunning traps or ysalamiri! It wasn't even part of the "cunning plan" that I'd thought... unless Dooku is playing a very long game. Then, of course, we have the rank stupidity of Jar Jar to contend with; in this story he contributes to the death of the other senator and a couple of clones, but somehow gets away with it. I just wish one of the clone troopers would 'accidentally' shoot him in the back of the head and put him out of our misery. (2.5/5)

(13) Jedi Crash: Aayla Secura's ship is damaged during a battle with the Separatists and accidentally jumps into hyperspace, taking her, her unit of clones, Anakin and Ashoka, to parts unknown. Anakin was severely injured in the battle, the ship's navicomputer misfires and they end up crashing on a dusty planet of giant trees and dangerous monsters. They meet up with the local lemur-people, the Lurmen, who are none too happy that the jedi have brought the war to their planet.

It seems as though the more interesting episodes are those that don't concentrate on the main characters from the movies, perhaps the writers feel more at liberty to flex their creative muscles when they are playing with the peripheral characters. As well as the usual fantastic visuals, exciting Force-powered action and thrilling air combat, this episode saw an intriguing exchange of ideas between the Lurmen headman and Aayla, when he challenged the jedi's claim to the title of "peacekeepers" when their solutions to everything are inevitably so violent. (4/5)

(14) Defenders of Peace: Anakin is still recovering in the Lurman village when The Separatist's turn up - not knowing of the jedi presence on the planet - with the idea of testing their new super-weapon on the native population. Anakin, Ashoka and Aayla defend the village from attack, despite the Lurmen headman's initial desire to give in to The Separatists without a fight.

Another near-perfect combination of jedi awesomeness with spectacular animation and first rate sound effects. The jedi stealth attack on The Separatist's base was one of the finest sequences I've yet seen in this series... and that's saying something. I wasn't quite sure what to make of the script's efforts to equate the Lurmen's extreme pacifism with weakness, but I'll leave it to more erudite viewers of this series to decide what message that was sending out. (4.5/5)

(15) Trespass: Anakin and Obi-Wan travel to a supposedly unpopulated, frozen planet, with the young senator and Chairman (ruler) of the neighbouring planet, which claims sovereignty over the rock, to investigate the disappearance of a Republic outpost. It turns out that the outpost, as well as a Separatist base, were actually wiped out by a native tribe of the furry, four-eyed Talz. The jedi try to broker a peace with the natives, but the Chairman wants them removed from "his" planet. It's left to the young senator to negotiate a treaty after hostilities break out.

There was something about this story which rang bells with me; I was sure it was a reworking of an old Star Wars comic stript I'd read, set on Hoth, but I haven't been able to track it down - so maybe it was just my faulty memory. Not that that would detract in any way from the brilliance of this episode. Setting it on a stunning snow planet immediately elevated it in my eyes before the story even began to unfold, and when it did everything about it was spot on. However, I do have to question the wisdom of the Galactic Senate in letting so many young children take such important roles in the fate of the galaxy! (5/5)

To be continued...

Action Comics #1 Sells For $317,200

One of the world's rarest comics, the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics issue 1 from 1938, has just sold in an online auction at Comic Connect for $317,200 (£227,269). It attracted 89 bids.

There may be a global economic crisis, but as I tell Rachel often: "There's always money for comics."

That said, I'd like to stress I wasn't the buyer of this gem...

Friday, 13 March 2009

Do Something Funny For Money...




This year's Red Nose Day, always a highlight on the comedy calendar, with feature a special episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures - starring Ronnie Corbett. Written by Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman, I believe the mini-adventure might feature the Slitheen, as well as K9.

The Red Nose Day telethon will take over the BBC1 TV schedule from seven o'clock tonight and run through to about 3a.m., raising money to help people in the world's poorest countries as well as in the UK.

David Tennant (aka the current Doctor Who) will be hosting the opening segment of the live show, with Big Brother hostess Davina McCall, from 7pm to 8pm, and it is during this hour that The Sarah Jane Adventures special is scheduled to screen (although the evening rarely runs on time).

Also of geeky interest for Red Nose Day is Jonathan Ross' auction of the iconic Amazing Fantasy #15 - the first appearance of Spider-Man, dating back to 1963.

(Teaser Clip May Not Be Available Outside The UK)

Thursday, 12 March 2009

The Perfect Illustration...

If I was looking for a perfect illustration of my recent reckless and thoughtless spending it would be the DVD of the Watchmen Motion Comic which arrived this week.

Sitting down to view it the other day, after a few minutes I wondered why I'd bought it; in fact, why would anybody buy this?

It is a 12-episode (ie. one episode per comic book) animated comic strip of the original Watchmen (not the movie), but the animation is very basic - hence the "motion comic" descriptor.

Perhaps I was expecting something more akin to an actual cartoon, but having just read the graphic novel myself I didn't really fancy the idea of sitting through five hours of someone reading it to me from my TV screen... and not particularly well.

This is, euphemistically, a dramatic reading (with sound effects and the sole reader putting on voices for the different characters - particularly jarring when it's a female character), rather than a full audio play (with different voice actors for the different characters).

Another problem with the Tom Stechschulte's voice (no, I don't know who he is either) is the pacing; clearly he has to get through a certain amount of text in a limited time for each chapter and so some of the dialogue just sounds off, rather hurried or with strange emphasis on certain phrases.

The bottom line is it's never going to sound as good as it does in your head if you are reading it yourself.

So, I just don't get it. Who is this DVD aimed at? If someone is too lazy to read the graphic novel, I can't see them sitting through five hours of animation; even the text from the comic appears on screen!

On the other hand, this doesn't have the potential to be "relaxing" listening, like books on CD, tape or an iPod, because you're going to have to be sat in front of the TV the whole time (I guess if you have a DVD player in your bedroom, it might be reasonably relaxing...) and Watchmen, as a novel, demands an attentive reader because there's a lot going on - sometimes in the background.

Do these extra effects add anything? Not really.

Perhaps a "motion comic" would work as a literacy aid for teaching children to read... as they'd be able to follow the words along in the speech bubbles; although probably not a suitable book to start the little 'uns on.

It was only £7.99 from Play.com (RRP £12.99), but let's be honest, the way things move these days the film will be out on DVD in next to no time. I should have waited...

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

My Life And Role-Playing: Playing With The Big Kids...

With The Tuesday Knights only meeting monthly I have rather taken my foot off the gas when it comes to working on our on-going Castles & Crusades campaign.

Therefore, inspired by James Maliszewski's Grognardia blog, about old school gaming (something I'm trying to emulate in my own game - because that's, basically, what I grew up playing), I was led to Pied Piper Publishing.

Pied Piper Publishing is run by Robert J. Kuntz, a legendary figure in the history of roleplaying (amongst other feathers in his cap, Rob was co-DM of Gary Gygax's original Greyhawk campaign).

He also oversees a new blog, Lord Of The Green Dragons, which chronicles the fascinating history of the original Dungeons & Dragons game, reminiscences about the hobby's glory days etc

These websites are at the forefront of the current "old school" revival, which I latched onto when I started work on my Tekralh campaign just over a year ago.

As I have said before, most of our group - now known as The Tuesday Knights - began roleplaying in the mid- to late-'70s, but our serious gaming pretty much died out towards the end of the '80s.

It is only recently, first with our Hollow Earth Expedition campaign (run for Clare and I by Nick) and then with my Castles & Crusades campaign, in the mythical realm of Tekralh, that we have got back into regular gaming.

Therefore imagine my shock and awe when I found myself corresponding, albeit briefly, with the great Mr Kuntz himself and, without any prompting, he had cast his eye over HeroPress and told me he "loved the blog".

I was honoured and flattered, but not only that, I later found myself invited to be a contributor to Lord Of The Green Dragons (honest; look at the blog, down on the right hand side at the list of Contributors and you'll see my name).

Now I feel like a bit of a fraud - to put me on the same page as these giants of the "old school"; I don't think I have anything worthy to contribute, but it is still an incredible privilege to be invited to join this adventuring group by one of the greats.

My only real "old school" credentials are owning a battered (and much loved) copy of Dave Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign supplement (a collection of notes, character backgrounds, floorplans etc from his original Blackmoor campaign) and a large proportion of the material produced for, and about, Dave Hargrave's Arduin campaign (e.g. The Arduin Grimoires and massive World Book Of Khaas).

I can still remember my dad helping me fill out the order form and write the cheque to send off for the original Arduin Trilogy back in the day (I think I'd seen it advertised in a very early copy of White Dwarf); no Interweb back in the Dark Ages!

This was Dungeons & Dragons as played by me and Gublin, years before I even met my current gaming crew at grammar school. I guess I must have been about 11 or 12 back then.

However, what all this has inspired me to do now - having invested in a couple of Pied Piper Publishing's pieces and a copy of Labyrinth Lord (a retro-clone of one of the original versions of Dungeons & Dragons) - is toy with the idea of swapping out Castles & Crusades for Labyrinth Lord to make our game even less crunchy and even more old school.

I'll make the final decision once all the paperwork has turned up, and probably after next week's game (if it ends at a convenient point for a system change).

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The Week In Geek...

A round-up of geeky news you might have missed...

(1) Dalek Found In Pond: An old school Doctor Who dalek has been salvaged from a pond in Hampshire.

(2) Enter The Vortex: Big Finish, producers of the excellent Doctor Who audio adventures, have published the first issue of their free pdf magazine Vortex.

(3) Red Dwarf's Return Expands: The return voyage of Red Dwarf to British TV - Back To Earth - has been confirmed as a three-part mini-series to be screened April 10 - 12, with a "making of" documentary following the final episode.

(4) More Smallville & Supernatural: Both Smallville and Supernatural have been given new seasons.

(5) Go To The Dark Side: A definitive, licenced guide to all things Darth Vader is due out in October. Written by Pete Vilmur and Ryder Windham, Vader: The Dark Lord and His Universe will be published by Random House. Windham, of course, wrote The Rise and Fall of Darth Vader, a Star Wars biography.

(6) Family Guy Trek: The full, main cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation are reuniting for an episode of Family Guy.

(7) Arrrgghh! Mockumentary Alien Trespass, about a "lost" '50s sci-fi classic, opens in cinemas on April 3.

(8) Dawn Treader Sails In 2010: The third Narnia film, Voyage Of The Dawn Treader sets sail in December 2010, under the banner of 20th Century Fox - now that Disney has jumped ship.

(9) Ooops! Late News (Sorry): Battlefront Miniatures, the company behind Flames of War, acquired Wargames Illustrated, the UK's leading general wargames magazine, in February.

(10) No More Life On Mars: The American version of the hit British retro-cop show, Life On Mars, has been axed after a single season.

(11) Zombie In A Chicken Suit: The second wave of Studio Miniature's zombie range has been unleashed... including one guy in a chicken costume!

(12) Return To Elm Street: The reimagining of Nightmare On Elm Street is slated to hit cinema screens on April 16, 2010.

(13) Worldwide Dungeons & Dragons Day: This year's 'global' event on March 21 will co-incide with the release of Players Handbook 2 for 4e Dungeons & Dragons, which, apparently, sees the return of both the gnome and half-orc as playable races.

(14) Green Ronin Says 'No': Popular games publisher Green Ronin will not be supporting 4e Dungeons & Dragons under the terms of the new Game System License (GSL).

(15) Size Does Matter: Toy Collector claims its global calender of events is the largest on the web.
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