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Friday, 23 August 2019

American Horror Story Continues Our Current Love Affair With The 1980s...


Welcome to Camp Redwood. Prepare for a summer to die for.
American Horror Story: 1984 airs from Thursday, September 19, only on FOX, in the UK.

It'll be intriguing to see what sort of spin the AHS crowd can put on the perennial slasher horror genre.

While the show has largely been successful, with a new story every season, not all of its experiments have worked (e.g. Roanoke).

However, the last two (Cult and Apocalypse) were magnificent, so my hopes are high.

We've Bought A Stairway To Heaven...


Following on from the rather self-indulgent piece about our new doors earlier in the week, Ben - our "second fixings" man - has been slaving away on his own, not only installing the pocket doors upstairs, but also putting in the skirting boards, window sills, and - much to my delight - the banister on the stairs up to the top floor.

I now feel a lot safer going up and down the stairs to the new bedroom, with a railing to hold on to.


Ben reckons there's about one more day of work for him, which will include replacing the wall of Rachel's dolls house room (currently a store room, which we will need to empty over the long weekend), installing the pocket door there, and putting handles on all the pocket doors.

Rachel and I are very pleased with the way everything's been going so far.

Jason, our decorator, is all ready to come in - once Space Invaders have finished - and do his magic, bringing the appearance of the room into line with Rachel's vision for the project.

Looking in to the new bedroom, from the top of the stairs (ignore the tools, obliviously)
Looking back to the landing at the top of the stairs
This will be a walk-in wardrobe; the door at the back of the room leads into the eaves
(that was where I was always worried Alice would escape into)
This will, eventually, be the en-suite shower room - but needs plumbing, tiling etc
View back down the stairs 

#RPG Getting Your Players To Engage With Your Carefully-Crafted Sandbox...


Funded in a couple of hours, On Downtime and Demesnes has been doing gangbusters on Kickstarter and getting a metric ton of positive coverage from all the cool kids of the OSR.

It's the first Kickstarter from Courtney Campbell, of the Hack & Slash blog, and is a book of "downtime activities" to encourage your players to become more involved in your sandbox-style campaign world.

On the Kickstarter page, Courtney writes:
"Do you sometimes wish you didn't have to put in so much effort into engaging your players? Wouldn't it be nice if they couldn't wait to play around in your world? If they were pushing you to spend more time in the land you create?

That's why I developed these downtime procedures over decades of play and now I can share it with you!"
He goes on to explain:
"No longer will your players wonder what their characters should do with all their gold. It includes clear, common-sense rules for everything from starting a cult, making sacrifices to gods, to hiring mercenaries and building vehicles and castles."
Check out the Kickstarter page for the sundry investor incentives, more details on the book, stretch goals etc

The funding window closes on August 31, so stake your claim now!

Gods, Dragons, Demons, Magic, Monsters: What More Do You Want?

A young boy, Nezha, is birthed from a heavenly pearl by the Primeval Lord of Heaven.

Born with unique powers, Nezha finds himself as an outcast who is hated and feared.

Destined by prophecy to bring destruction to the world, the young boy must choose between good and evil in order to break the shackles of fate and become the hero.

See in select IMAX 3D August 29, in theaters everywhere September 6.

Review Round-Up: The Last Wish; The Dragon Prince; The Outpost

The Last Wish: The collection of short stories that introduced us to The Witcher, Geralt (soon to have his own series on Netflix, starring Henry Cavill).

Set in a grimdark, Central Europe-inspired world, mixed with a heavy serving of Brothers Grimm twisted fairy tales, the stories - translated from the original Polish - manage to be both familiar and new.

The language is occasionally quirky and, more often than not, the "zingers" that sign off the stories fall a bit flat, but I suspect this is something that has been lost in translation.

Geralt's exploits are dramatic and visceral, some wearing their fairy tale roots on the sleeves (such as the brilliant reworking of Beauty & The Beast, in A Grain Of Truth, my favourite of all the yarns in this collection), while in others it's more buried (such as the very twisted spin on Snow White in The Lesser Evil).

The stories draw you in with their evocative, nightmarish descriptions, and gruff, engaging, and morally ambiguous characters.

And while the adventures may often be violent, much time is devoted to Geralt's investigations, in various manners, as to whether the so-called monster he is facing in a particular story is truly the evil beast it has been portrayed as.

I listened the Orion audiobook of The Last Wish, read by Peter Kenny, who does a magnificent job of giving all the characters recognisably unique voices (the choice to go Welsh with the dwarf, rather than the stereotypical Scottish, was much appreciated).

The Last Wish is followed by Sword Of Destiny (which I've just started), another collection of short stories, before the multi-volume Witcher saga that begins in Blood Of Elves.

The Dragon Prince, Seasons One & Two: I stumbled upon this, as is my wont, on Netflix while looking for a "filler" show... and ended up bingeing the two seasons that have so far been produced.

The Dragon Prince is an engaging fantasy story from the people who brought us the original, and wildly popular, Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon.

The same, beautiful, slick anime style (rather than, say, the more jagged approach of Castlevania) mixes with complex characters and engaging storylines as two young princes - and an elfin assassin (with a delightful Scottish accent)  - find themselves on a quest to prevent their world from being torn apart by war.

There are multiple strands to the story and a vast array of well-developed supporting characters, all with their own convictions and motivations, moving their own agendas forward, either interacting with the main protagonists or independently.

The cartoon also boasts an inventive - and inspirational - take on the various forms of magic that are central to the world of The Dragon Prince and the deep rift between the humans of The Pentarchy and the magical creatures of Xadia (such as the elves and dragons).

While I instantly fell in love with The Dragon Prince, and cannot wait for the third season to air (hopefully) later this year, there are some elements that aren't quite working for me yet.

The computer-generated animation is superb for most part, especially the elves and various critters, but some of the humans - particularly the key brother and sister team of Claudia and Soren - sometimes don't look quite right.

There's a bit of an uncanny valley thing going on there, I think, with some odd shading and vanishing noses.

I also have a bit of a problem with the brilliant General Amaya. While she's one of my favourite characters, and certainly not the sort of representation one usually sees in swords-and-sorcery, I find it difficult to grok how a deaf-mute became the leader of her country's army.

As someone who has to overcome his own handicaps, I hope it's deeper than the fact that she is the late queen's sister. I really think we need to see an episode exploring her backstory and ascension through the ranks.

But, please, don't let my quibbles put you off The Dragon Prince. With episodes lasting only about 23 minutes, and nine episodes a season, it's very easy to find yourself thinking "just one more..." and then getting through an entire season in a matter of hours.

The pacing is great as well, nothing is rushed, but then it never drags either, spending just the right amount of time in each location to tell a particular story then moving on to the next stage of the quest.

The Outpost, Season Two: We're almost half-way through the sophomore season of Arrowstorm's big break into television, The Outpost, and the show has improved in leaps and bounds since I made some rather snippy comments about it.

In the space of a half-a-dozen episodes it's gone from last season's "I'll watch this because it's like a Dungeons & Dragons LARP and because Jessica Green, the lead actress, is very easy on the eye" to "I have to watch this every week because it's one of my favourite shows".

An obvious - and much-needed - boost to the finances has seen improvements across the board, particularly in the sets and special effects.

The latter an essential part of a fantasy show allowing the directors to be braver with their creature and magic effects; and the former, especially with the titular Outpost itself, which always should have had a character of its own, means we are no longer distracted by the low-budget sheen and empty spaces.

You could almost imagine the story of The Outpost coming from the home D&D campaign of one of the show's creators.

There's an inescapable Keep On The Borderland feel to it, infused - subconsciously or not - with a hint of Game Of Thrones (the capture and breaking of the nominal hero of season one, Captain Garret Spears, played by the charming Jake Stormoen, was one castration away from being a total rip-off of the Reek/Ramsay Bolton sub-plot from GoT, but, ultimately, has gone in a very interesting direction).

Accentuating the homebrew D&D angle, though, is the rubbish name for the show's main non-human species, the not-elves known as The Blackbloods.

If it were a disparaging nickname, or even a racial slur (such as when aliens in Star Trek call humans "pink skins"), that would be one thing, but when they refer to themselves by that name, it's a bit cringe-worthy.

I'm holding out hope that, down the line, we learn that that's not what this race is really called, and that they actually have an exotic, alien-sounding, more poetic and less prosaic, racial nomenclature.

I, also, really can't stand Janzo (Anand Desai-Barochia), the over-the-top nerd/brewer/scientist. For some reason - I suspect a misguided attempt to make him appear vulnerable and charming - everything the character gets to do is just a bit creepy or sleazy and, often, inappropriate.

But, then again, I don't expect to like every character in a show. That only helps make it more "realistic".

However, as The Outpost goes from strength-to-strength, I hope that the rather lacklustre first season hasn't discouraged people from checking out the new season, and it can score enough viewers to earn more seasons.

There's clearly plenty of stories to tell in this world, and an ever-increasing budget and ever more confident actors means The Outpost will have the facilities to tell them.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

#RPG You'd Be Quackers Not To Invest In This Antipodean DuckQuest...




As I said recently, I'm a big fan of anthropomorphic animals in fantasy RPGs, but my heart really belongs to ducks - being a Howard fan from way back.

Therefore, long time readers of HeroPress may remember my fondness for the growing range of duck characters coming out of New Zealand, courtesy of Darcy Perry and Star Hat Miniatures.

I'm delighted to report that he has just launched a quacking new Kickstarter for yet more incredible figures: Star Hat Miniatures for DuckQuest Fantasy Role Playing Games.

On the Kickstarter page, Darcy announces:
"Time to explore Duckwyrld... where four valiant Heroes of Quackmoor have been summoned by Mandrake, founder of the Guild of Delvers, to do battle with the nefarious Mordux and his evil minions. Seated upon the legendary Throne of Bones, the power of the Duck Lord grows with each passing night. You must boldly descend into the darkest dungeons of Castle Greyduck, defeat the Champions of Chaos and end the wicked rule of Mordux!"
As well as ducks, this Kickstarter offers crows, turtles, and mushroom men to keep your players on their toes.

You can see pictures of all these on the Kickstarter page.


Check out the site for the numerous investor incentive levels
- which include options to get your own character immortalised by Darcy and pick up the Jennell Jaquays module, Quack Keep - as well as learning about shipping costs, stretch goals etc

The campaign runs until September 20.

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