Sunday, 31 August 2008
- Swords & Sorcery 56%
- High Fantasy 45%
- Space Opera 42%
- Superheroes 32%
- 1920s/30s Pulp Adventure 26%
- Supernatural Investigation 21%
- Hard Sci-Fi 20%
- Western 10%
- Wuxia 9%
- Espionage 7%
As I have said several times, I am a great believer in long-term campaigns and reckon one-shots should be left for special occasions like conventions and demos. For me, role-playing is all about creating not just a story around your character, but an epic story.
Thus, having chosen Castles & Crusades as my game of choice for my long-delayed return behind the Gamesmaster's Screen, I can take great comfort in your conviction that I have chosen the right genre for forging great tales of daring do that the Tuesday Knights will be able to retell in years to come - when we're all in that Gamer's Retirement Home that you know someone is going to build eventually.
It will probably come as some satisfaction to my old online buddy The Evil DM, currently working on his Savage Worlds setting Legends of Steel, that 'swords and sorcery' came out top, just beating its sibling 'High Fantasy' to the accolade of 'best genre for RPG campaigns'.
What came as a surprise was both how well 'wuxia' (Chinese sword & sorcery) did - given that it's a comparitively new genre for Western audiences and quite specific in its mores and requirements - and how poorly 'espionage' did.
As a young gamer back in the day one of my most enduring characters was an assassin created for TSR's classic Top Secret game. The great thing about that genre is that it lends itself well to the 'single player and gamesmaster' format more easily than possibly others (except maybe 'superheroes'.)
Because the results turned out pretty much as I thought they would - barring the minor issues raised above - I have no great insights or comments to make on the final verdict other than to thank everyone for voting and hope you all gleaned something helpful from this.
Saturday, 30 August 2008
They make our Star Wars-themed do seem quite tame in comparison; I have no idea how Rachel's parents or my mum would have coped if our shindig had resembled any of these!
Friday, 29 August 2008
However, to be honest, there's enough material in the available Buffy books to run a decent game of Supernatural and the Margaret Weis version could serve as a great fluff provider.
And you never know, the game might actually be pretty good in itself!
Supernatural follows the lives of two modern day monster hunters - brothers Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles).
The Pilot episode hits the ground running and immediately sets out its mission statement that this isn't going to be yet another vanilla Buffy wannabe. Supernatural is contemporary TV-friendly horror with top notch special effects and 'genuine' spook lore that pits mankind against the creatures of the night (no reformed vampires in this series... yet).
The series has the gloss and panache of a Dark Castle horror movie, but with layers more substance.
This pilot episode doubles as an 'origin' story and a first adventure, giving us the gruesome details of what turned the boys (and their father) into monster hunters as well as sending Sam and Dean off on a quest to find their missing father that introduces them to a murderous ghost called a "Woman In White".
The ghost is dealt with quite quickly as the real plot of this episode is to draw Sam, who has disowned his obsessed brother and father and is trying to live a normal life, back into the fold and give the first season its main focus.
And as a setting for a roleplaying game, I reckon the universe the Winchesters inhabit would work with pretty much any contemporary horror system that centred around freelance characters fighting creatures of the night, from White Wolf's World of Darkness or Pinnacle's fast and furious Savage Worlds to Abstract Nova's Heaven & Earth or, of course, Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu.
The 'character wronged or hurt by a supernatural creature in the past' is a solid start for a backstory for an archetypal monster hunter. Throw in a bit of family history and not only will your Gamesmaster love you, but you should have enough material to keep a game on track for multiple sessions.
Thursday, 28 August 2008
Officially opened in 1965, the year before I was born, it symbolised "the future" and "technology" to a young Flea, with its sci-fi abundance of dishes and spikes.
I did a project on the tower when I was in primary school and obtained a giant poster from the GPO's marketing department, showing a cross-section of all the tower's workings.
So, when I discovered the Doctor Who adventure The War Machines was using the tower as the headquarters for its Big Bad, I got excited.
The First Doctor (William Hartnell) arrives in Swinging 60s London with his annoying companion Dodo (Jackie Lane) and immediately senses something odd about the newly completed Post Office Tower.
Investigating, he discovers a scientist preparing the supercomputer WOTAN (Will Operating Thought Analogue) to be become a hub for the world's fledgling computer networks.
Sadly, the story is rather a let down. Kit Pedlar's original idea of a super-computer achieving artificial intelligence and deciding to replace mankind because we are "broken" is solid enough; with its prophetic vision of the Internet to come - a system linking all the worlds computers.
But Ian Stuart Black's script is riddled with plot holes, stupid mistakes and characters' acting inconsistently, with the ultimate resolution of the story being rather heavy-handed and uninspiring.
The War Machines is only the Doctor Who story to date where the protagonist is actually referred to (by WOTAN and its cronies) as "Doctor Who".
There is plenty of fan-spawned justification for this 'slip', but for me it's just an easily overlooked sign that the show had yet to firm up its mythology. It's also suggested in passing that The Doctor is "human", but then it would be quite some time before we would hear of the planet Galifrey.
The War Machines themselves, which WOTAN's army of hypnotised slaves construct, wouldn't look out of place on Robot Wars and seem drawn to propel themselves through dustbins and packing crates like Starsky and Hutch driving their Gran Torino through every pile of cardboard boxes in Bay City.
Dodo, while she wouldn't be missed, gets the shoddiest of send-offs for a companion: she is hypnotised by WOTAN in episode one, then deprogrammed by the Doctor in episode two and shunted off to "rest for a few days" in the country. She isn't mentioned again until almost the final scene of episode four when the Doctor is told she has decided to stay in England.
And the less said about the War Machine that conveniently "runs out of programming" the better!
There are some flashes of genius in both the script and Michael Ferguson's direction; we are introduced to future companions Polly (Anneke Wills) and Ben (Michael Craze); and The War Machines has its share of unintentionally funny lines (The Doctor looking for Dodo in a "happening nightclub" gets praised for his "fab gear" and compared to Jimmy Saville), but sadly William Hartnell stumbles his way through the dreadful technobabble-heavy dialogue, fluffing more lines than usual.
This was the last story of the Third Season of Classic Who and Patrick Troughton would be taking over the role in the second story of the next season.
On a positive note, this story marked a sea change in the show's story content, moving it away from historical stories towards those which focused on The Doctor and his companions defending modern day Earth.
Of course, in recent years, this has been carried to extremes by out-going showrunner Russell T Davies, who has only rarely allowed his Doctors to stray away from Earth!
Wednesday, 27 August 2008
Booster works away from the main characters, as an agent of the time stream-patrolling Rip Hunter, correcting anomalies.
This issue sees him drawn to a Gotham City where Batman was never created and Booster tries his best to put things back on track.
It's not mind-blowing or world-altering stuff, just straight forward, funny, exciting and interesting story telling by Chuck Dixon, complemented by beautiful artwork from Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund.
With all the 'big events' going on in comics, as the two main publishers fight for readers, you often wonder if they've forgotten about the everyday stories of superheroes duffing up supervillains that brought us to this party in the first place.
Although, this current run of Booster Gold obviously grew out of DC's weekly event title from several years back, 52, it just tells simple, pure superheroic stories and sometimes that's all I want from a comic.
Indie pop meets Doctor Who in this fantastic animated, music video for unsigned London band Bo Pepper's track 'For Kicks'. The video was made by cult internet film makers Penny Mix Films and was pointed out to me by Marcus of Doctor Who Toys.net.
See also: 'Bowhovian Rhapsody' by Penny Mix Films.
Tuesday, 26 August 2008
(1) Jackson/Del Toro To Write Hobbit: Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro have announced that they will handle the writing duties for their two-part adaptation of the Lord of The Rings prequel: The Hobbit. The first part is due to hit screens in 2011, the second a year later.
(2) Superman Reboot: Warners Bros has revealed that it intends to 'reboot' the Superman film franchise sometime in the next three years, ignoring Bryan Singer's dire Superman Returns.
(3) Who's The Programme Of The Year: Doctor Who has been named the best programme of 2008 by a panel of TV industry executives and journalists at the Edinburgh TV festival's annual awards.
(4) You Only Get Two More Wishes: The latest contender for the title of 'ultimate gaming table' was unveiled at Gen Con the other week - The Sultan from Geek Chic.
(5) It's Alive: A special 'thank you' to Dane of War for letting us know that Eden Studios is still alive and well and has just released a pdf of a new Cinematic Unisystem roleplaying game (using the slick and simple system which powered the old Buffy and Angel RPGs). Ghosts of Albion is a Victorian supernatural game based on the an animated serial drama by Amber 'Tara' Benson and Christopher Golden.
(6) Fox May Block Watchmen Release: 20th Century Fox is filing an injunction against Warner Bros in an attempt to block next year's release of Zack Synder's Watchmen movie because of alledged rights issues relating to the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel.
(7) Crusader Goes Monthly: The fabulous Crusader gaming magazine, from Troll Lord Games, the publishers of Castles & Crusades, goes monthly as of issue 11 - out now.
(8) No Plastic Pants: The main reason for watching Primeval is, of course, the chance of seeing the lovely Hannah Spearritt dancing around in her underwear. Sadly these are not on display in the new additions to Character's Primeval range of action figures.
(9) Podcasters United: Gaming podcasts The Tome, Fist Full of Comics & Games, and Gamer’s Haven has formalized their partnership and formed The Vorpal Network. The Vorpal Network will be hosting the combined forums for all three websites and hopefully others as the network expands in the next year. Users of those podcasts' old forums are invited to go to vorpalnetwork.com and set up new accounts.
Monday, 25 August 2008
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army has all the ingredients for a fun, action flick with supernatural creatures battling each other for the fate of humanity, and on that surface level it succeeds.
The top secret Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence members - Hellboy (Ron Perlman), pyrotechnic Liz (Selma Blair), amphibian creature Abe (Doug Jones) and their boss Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) - are back in action, investigating a slaughter at an auction house which, in turn, uncovers a plot by exiled elf prince Nuada (Luke Goss) to wage a war on mankind.
Nuada plans on using the indestructible, mechanical Golden Army of legend, which the goblins built for his father in the 'olden days', and needs the pieces of a magical crown to activate them.
However, there is so much else going on in the story (Liz and Hellboy's soap opera relationship, Abe's attraction to the Nuada's sister, Hellboy 'outing' the BPRD to the world and the general public's reaction, the arrival of a new agent etc) that very few of these threads get satisfactory treatment and, at times, the plot itself appears almost secondary.
For the most part, the movie seems rather fragmented, even though the plot is a very straight forward railroad from A to B, with no unexpected twists and turns.
Writer/director Guillermo del Toro is one of the true masters of fantasy film-making working in cinema at the moment and when his imagination runs wild (such as the Troll Market sequence) it can give a fanboy goosepimples, but - as with Pan's Labyrinth - sometimes the visuals substitute for substance.
Perlman remains perfect as Big Red and Blair has made the character of Liz her own, but the various romanitic sub-plots in the film come across as almost an afterthought to add more depth to characters which we are already rather fond of anyway.
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army is good entertainment for a couple of hours, but lacks the lasting impact of Del Toro's first stab at the franchise.
Although only a minor detail, I also thought it was a shame that Abe's voice was - quite noticeably - switched from David Hyde Pierce's in the 2004 original to that of Doug Jones, the actual actor who portrays the fish-man in the two movies.
A fine physical actor, I don't think Jones' voice has the otherworldly quality that Pierce brought to the Abe's first big screen appearance.
To quote my earlier post, I find these images: "hauntingly beautiful, yet poignant and inspirational."
The weirdly, wonderful site Oddee caught my attention the other day with this collection of "10 Most Amazing Ghost Towns".
Sunday, 24 August 2008
This surreal mash-up of Doctor Who, Benny Hill and Eminem has to be the single funniest Time Lord-related parody on the Internet! I stumbled across it the other day on the geek humour site: Topless Robot and haven't stopped grinning.
Unlike some (vocal) geeks, I've been impressed with Wizards of The Coast's latest reinvention of Dungeons & Dragons and saw this as as good a reason as any to invest in some "Premium Dice" - the 'official' dice of 4e.
And they are lovely, and the dice bag is rather smart, but what bewildered me was the annotation on the back of the box they came in that read:
"To use this accessory, you'll need the Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook core rulebook."
Huh? Aren't they just dice - you pick them up and roll them on the tabletop, don't you? Unless the PHB has a section of dice-rolling techniques and maintaining dice luck - as found in the Hackmaster equivalent!
Saturday, 23 August 2008
Coming February 2009. From the people who brought you Superman: Doomsday; Justice League: The New Frontier; and Batman: Gotham Knight... so you know it's going to be good!
However, in the wake of last month's Doctor Who extravaganza, I've managed to retain a decent regular readership thanks, in part, to signing up to the RPG Bloggers Network, which has 'featured' HeroPress articles on a number of occasions.
This month also sees HeroPress changing its web address - to the more convenient http://www.heropress.net/ - it's too early though to say if this will have any effect at all on readership numbers.
Of course, the big news for me was the formation of The Tuesday Knights - our monthly roleplaying group, who are facing the terrors of Tekralh in a series of old skool adventures. This was a validation of years of faffing about, buying and selling RPGs and miniatures, trying to find that elusive Holy Grail of the "perfect RPG".
It was also a massive morale boost, as I proved to myself that I was still physically and mentally fit enough to run games (even if in bite-sized chunks) after my aneurism and stroke.
I had been rather depressed after having to pull out of Simon's Buffy game and was beginning to wonder if I had wasted a whole heap of years (and incalculable amounts of money) persuing an impractical pipedream. The Tuesday Knights says otherwise!
Here are the visitor numbers for the last month. Where applicable I've included a note of the previous month's figures for comparison.
Visitor Numbers (as of Saturday, 23 August): 26,435 (21, 917)
Average Number of Visitors Per Day: 124 (155)
Top 5 Countries of Origin:
United States 41% (46%)
United Kingdom 23% (26%)
Canada 10% (8%)
Unknown 7% (-)
Germany 4% (3%)
When details of Star Wars: The Clone Wars were first released I was less than impressed by what I saw as stylised video game characters that were being presented as the heroes of my youth (all 40+ years of it).
However, having now seen the animation 'in the flesh', I was so wrong. This film just looks amazing; stylish, beautiful, detailed and pure Star Wars.
The plot is unrelentingly frenetic, moving with the speed of a small child with ADHD who has just consumed a quart of Red Bull.
It's clever, funny (not in a painful Jar Jar Binks kinda way) and full of wicked space battles, clone soldier versus droid entanglements and - most crucial of all - dazzling lightsaber duels.
For my money, Star Wars has never looked better. As far as I can tell George Lucas has entrusted his franchise into the hands of true fans who intend to keep his creation alive for many, many years to come - and do it proudly with panache and style.
For canonicity, I believe The Clone Wars slots in somewhere in the Star Wars timeline between the two seasons of the original Clone Wars cartoons, and concerns a typically Machiavellian scheme by Darth Sidious and Count Dooku to use the baby son of Jabba The Hutt as a pawn to pit the Hutt gangster clan against the Republic; by kidnapping him and eventually placing the blame on the Jedi.
This is the first film I have seen this year that has enthralled me from start to finish - I was there, in the action and loving it. There were no "crystal skull" moments to shatter the mood and make me suddenly aware that I was just watching a work of fiction.
Even though I have yet to see The Dark Knight and Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, at the moment I can safely say that Star Wars: The Clone Wars is currently my strongest contender for film of the year.
I'm not even going to address the vocal minority of so-called Star Wars fans who just seem determined to undermine everything George Lucas produces for his franchise that fails to match their vision of what it should be like. Instead I will hand them over to my good buddy Dane of War, who has a few things to say on this particular matter.
Friday, 22 August 2008
Written by Garth Ennis, the genius behind Preacher, this is another title that earns its "recommended for mature readers" tag from its opening page.
It takes a very valid thought - "if you really had super strength, invulnerability, the power of flight etc, when would you stop thinking of yourself as just another 'human' bound by human morals" - and takes it to extremes.
In this world, the superheroes still battle supervillains, fight crime and so on, but they are not the whiter than white characters we read about in our everyday comics. Behind the scenes, we discover that even their perversions and vices are super-powered... and that's when The Boys step in.
Who Watches The Watchmen? The Boys do... a five-strong CIA-backed 'superhero police force' consisting of Billy Butcher, Mother's Milk, The Frenchman, The Female and new boy Wee Hughie (the one who looks like Simon Pegg).
Sure, it's sick, grim and twisted in unimaginable ways, but it's also very darkly funny and surprisingly insightful. It's the sort of material that could give hardcore superhero fanboys nightmares because you can't help but look at the so-called heroes of this universe and try to figure out who in the Marvel/DC Universes "inspired" them.
The Boys, themselves, are also very likable people - despite their moments of extreme graphic violence - because Garth has developed them beyond two-dimensional caricatures into people we actually care about; for instance Butcher initially comes across as cruel and foul-mouthed, but as the stories develop we discover there are reasons for all his quirks.
In a world of capes and costumes The Boys prove that, ultimately, there is nothing cooler than a long black coat and witty turn of phrase. And, be warned, they like to cuss... Garth is another writer who can pen a mighty swear and he likes to use the whole vocabulary when appropriate.
Wee Hughie is our 'point-of-view character for the series, which opens with his girlfriend being accidentally killed in front of him by a careless superhero - just one of those innocent bystanders we never see again in mainstream superhero comics. Traumatised by the incident, he eventually comes to the attention of Butcher (who is looking for a new recruit anyway), who opens Hughie's eyes to the "truth" about superheroes.
The first trade paperback collection of The Boys - The Name Of The Game - deals with Hughie's early days with The Boys and the emotional repercussions of his first kill, while the second - Get Some - has two stories, one a murder mystery and the other a super-fuelled conspiracy to take over Russia.
Addictive reading, these books are both true page turners, with the individual 'issues' having some of the most shocking and memorable cliff-hangers in recent comic history.
The Boys was originally published by Wildstorm, an imprint of DC, until it was dropped after six issues (if you imagine the superhero team The Seven as The Justice League when you read The Name Of The Game you might understand why) and then picked up by Dynamite who have run with it ever since.
I know I was knocking Dynamite recently, for their generally dire licenced product titles, but if they keep The Boys going this strong, then you won't hear another word against them from HeroPress (okay, you can't hold me to that if they dangle another tasty licence under my nose and the comic turns out to be pants... but The Boys does kick ass).
There should be no real difference for visitors; this is just an easier address to hawk around. No more explaining that the "o" of HeroPress is a "zero" in the web address, for instance.
All your old bookmarks should redirect to this spiffy, new address and, eventually, this should allow me (if I've understood things correctly) to create a whole HeroPress website, to run parallel with the blog.
Thursday, 21 August 2008
On the plus side, it was a return to battling the Goa'uld (although the Ori were intriguing opponents, the Arthurian myths never really gelled with the Stargate theme as well as the original Egyptian ones) and we were promised special guest appearances from some familiar old faces (Richard Dean Anderson, the late Don S Davies etc), but the plot still seemed rather hackneyed.
Yet again, SG-1 find themselves stranded on an Earth where the timeline has been changed and they have to set things right.
However, while the plot of Stargate Continuum wasn't anything new, it was delivered with such gusto and enthusiasm that you soon forgot that you'd seen variations on this story several times before in the franchise's ten year history.
Everyone's on fine form and Claudia Black, as newest recruit Vala, proves a more powerful actress in her role as a villain - when the timeline is adjusted by Ba'al the System Lord, she reverts to her original form as another symbiote-possessed System Lord.
The team were attending what they believed was the 'extraction' of the last symbiote from a clone of Ba'al, when things start to go wrong and people start blinking out of existence. The Earth the team jump back to has never heard of the Stargate, SG-1 or the Gao'uld and even once they convince the US military of the truth of their story, they are forbidden to try and correct the time line as everyone is quite happy with the way things are, thank you, very much...
Until, a year later, a fleet of Gao'uld ships turn up, led by Ba'al, and start to invade Earth.
This is silly Stargate-fun on a grand scale, with movie-calibre ambitions delivered on a TV budget by a team that clearly know what they're doing and love it.
Hopefully, this movie will secure the future of the franchise and we can only hope that the next Stargate movies can come up with some original plots.
Wednesday, 20 August 2008
This is the first role-playing game I've actually run for over a decade, and - as I've said before - I've bottled out of running games several times since I came out of hospital in 2005 and have been very anxious about whether my health (both physically and mentally) would be up to the challenge.
There was a lot of preparation (not all of which came into use this time round), but it all seemed to go very well. Everyone - Nick, Clare and Pete - appeared to enjoy the evening and all threw themselves into the adventure with great gusto.
The only thing I forgot about was the "thematic music" (the Dragonlance movie score), which sat unplayed in the stereo.
Nick liked the use of poker chips for the character's "hero points" and said we'd be using them the next time we played Hollow Earth Expedition.
The main benefit of running the game in my own house meant I could have everything set up how I wanted it, ready and waiting for the players. I think the 'home ground advantage' also helped me relax and get more into the swing of things, taking control of the game as necessary.
As had been requested, we were starting off with an old skool dungeon crawl, just to remind us old timers (ie. myself, Nick and Pete) what we loved about playing Dungeons & Dragons back in the day.
Only about 90 minutes of actual hacking took place as the start of the evening was taken up with consuming pizzas and sundry snacks that my good lady wife had supplied, and creating Pete's character (the half-orc druid Gregor).
The Chessex Battle mat turned out to be my best investment (complemented by my water-based OHP markers obtained from WH Smith on Monday), although eventually I might break out the "dungeon tiles". Even though we've never really used figures for RPG combat before, it instantly helped everyone visualize what was going on.
My only problem, which I will have to work on next game, is that the combats were still quite static; I got so swept up in the excitement of rolling dice that I didn't really move the monsters around much.
Everyone has taken away their character folders to read, which included the latest draft of the Tekralh guide book, a summary of the C&C key rules, their character sheets and a couple of pages of 'house rules' (mostly cribbed from either Dungeons & Dragons 4e or Hackmaster), so hopefully we'll be able to use more 'new rules' next month.
In the meantime, Pete is going to work on the background of his character, while Steve (our last player) has offered to create his character 'online', so he can hit the ground running at the next meeting of our little group (which I've decided to call The Tuesday Knights) in September.
A brief account of the party's exploits can be found here, on the Chronicles of Tekralh blog.
Tuesday, 19 August 2008
A round-up of geekly news you might have missed...
(1) Tekralh Takes Off: After months of blithering and talking about it, the HeroPress Castles & Crusades campaign kicks off this evening, with a party of brave adventurers tackling their first dungeon.
(2) Torchwood On The Air: The Torchwood radio play Lost Souls airs on September 1o as part of BBC Radio 4's day-long coverage of CERN's (European Organization for Nuclear Research) experiment re-creating the aftermath of the Big Bang using its Large Hadron Collider (which hopefully won't destroy the world in the process... I have plans, you know!)
(3) Depp In Wonderland: Johnny Depp and Tim Burton are to work on a live-action/performance-capture version of my favourite book: Alice in Wonderland. The film is scheduled for release in 2010.
(4) The Trial Has Been Delayed: The release of the DVD of Colin Baker's Doctor Who story The Trial Of A Time Lord has been delayed until September.
(5) That'll Be Five Gold Pieces: Wizards of the Coast has unveiled its subscription pricing plan for the online components for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. These range from roughly £2.50 a month if you sign up for a year to around £4 if you pay monthly.
Monday, 18 August 2008
There are less than two weeks left to vote in the latest HeroPress survey (the voting booth is over on the right hand side of the page).
You can only vote once (obviously), but that vote can go to as many of the genres as you think fit the bill.
For those who have asked, I consider 'post-apocalyptic' role-playing games as 'Hard Sci-Fi' (which I know is twisting things a bit, when you consider Gamma World and its ilk, but, hey, give a guy a break, wilya?)
The exhibition is "small, but perfectly formed". It took us about 45 minutes to go round the first time (once you've paid, you can visit again as many time as you like that same day - we went round twice).
It opens with a brief overview of the Classic years, with the first eight Doctors paired up in four displays, with a relevant alien costume concealed behind a large sheet of photographs and text. These creatures were only visible once you pressed a button at the bottom of the text. For the First/Second Doctors we had an ice warrior; for the Third/Fourth Doctors a sea devil; for the Fifth/Sixth an original cyberman; and for the Eighth/Ninth a haemovore.
After this we got to the meat of the exhibition - costumes and props from the first four seasons of the revitalised Doctor Who; including the primary costumes worn by Freema Agyeman, David Tennant, Christoper Ecclestone, Billie Piper and John Barrowman.
Alines on parade includes a weeping angel, a hath, a dalek, a new cyberman, a sontaran, the clockwork men, autons and various droids, while props ranged from dalek guns, and John Lumic's wheelchair to a vial of anti-plastic.
What sets the Cardiff exhibition above and beyond the other various exhibitions around the country is its location - step outside and you're in the shadow of Torchwood. A quick wander around Cardiff Bay and you can spot sights familiar from many episodes of this Doctor Who spin-off, as well as buildings used for backgrounds in Doctor Who.
The only thing you should be aware of, if you are thinking of attending the exhibition, is not to get your hopes up about purchasing many 'unique' souvenirs. The shop, attached to the exhibition, appears to operate in cloud cuckoo land when it comes to pricing - basic action figures are £9.99 (that's about a £3 mark-up from High Street prices and at least £4 up from Internet prices), for instance.
I picked up a car sticker for 50p and a map that was supposed to guide me round shooting locations. It cost 20p and was worth every penny... it might have been more useful if the numbers identifying the locations weren't tagged to a website. I don't tend to wander round on holiday with a handy laptop!
To see my pictures from the exhibition, click here.
To learn more about our week in Wales, read my brief holiday journal here.
Sunday, 17 August 2008
Monday, August 11 - Took us an hour and a half to get to Oxford, then another hour to find the hotel in the annoying one-way system - complemented by a lack of useful signage. At one point, Rachel was ready to give up and go home!
Eventually, though, we found the hotel - a converted Victorian prison, next to Oxford Castle - and after checking in, we went for a walk around the city and stumbled upon the shop where Alice Liddel bought sweets as a child!
Back at the hotel courtyard, we enjoyed a pizza at Prezzo before hitting the streets again for another short jaunt.
Tuesday, August 12 - After a very expensive breakfast, we went next door to the castle for a tour. The castle had been built in 1071 and was converted to a prison by the Royalists during the Civil War. It remained a prison right up until 1996.
At mid-day, we got in the car and headed on to Wales; the moment we saw signs for Wales it started to rain! It rained on and off as we headed through beautiful wooded hills to get to our hotel.
We checked in and were immediately overawed by the stunning views from our room across the River Usk.
Before dinner we drove out to Tretower. Although the court and castle were closed at that time, we saw chickens, a horse, ducks etc and then drove on to Llogers(?) and its nameless lake. The heavens opened as were preparing to leave, with a mist settling on the roads as we headed back into the hills to our hotel.
Enjoyed a posh dinner that evening - had pigeon pie for starters and followed it with duck and mash. Rachel had goats cheese followed by beef rostie.
Eventually (after several stops) pulled up outside the Red Dragon Centre in Cardiff Bay to see the Doctor Who Exhibition before wandering around Cariff Bay, having some snacks and revisiting the Doctor Who exhibition.
That afternoon we visited Caerphilly Castle, a very well restored Medieval castle right in the centre of the town. It rained heavily as we drove back to our hotel.
We tried to go for a pub meal at the nearby Lamb & Flag, but after waiting almost 30 minutes for service, we instead went into Abergavenny and picked up pizzas from a takeaway that Rachel knew of old. We ate the fabulous pizzas back in our hotel room.
Thursday, 14 August - An overturned oil lorry in Abgavenny scuppered our plans to go to Raglan Castle and brought most of the area's roads to a grinding halt. Instead we decided to go to Tretower Court and Castle. This was a lovely Medieval manor house with a castle in its garden. The house suffered from minimal signage, but it was in such good condition that it didn't really matter.
When we arrived there were two other cars in the car park and one man in front of us in the queue to get tickets. The lad manning the kiosk apologised because things were so "manic".
Back at the hotel we were met by Aime and her dad. They took Rachel to Hereford for a dress fitting (Rachel is bridesmaid at Aime's forthcoming wedding), while I stayed in our room watching the Olympics and reading Devil's Cape.
When Rachel returned, the two of us went to Abergavenny to have a look round, then drove up to Sugar Loaf mountain - to a car park Aime had told Rache about - with amazing views over the area.
In the evening Aime and Gareth took us out to a lovely country pub. It was very small and local, serving the largest meal portions either of us have ever seen (for very economical prices). The outside loo though left a lot to be desired, though - the gent's was basically a trough in the ground in an unlit shack that stank of piss. The lady's was much fresher and illuminated, so I used that instead.
Friday, 15 August - After another hearty breakfast, we headed to Raglan Castle which was a grand ruin, then across country to White Castle.
This latter castle was hidden down a warren of back lanes on a hill top, where its ticket office was manned by an elderly chatty old woman in a kiosk.
As with most Welsh castles, there was lots to see but minimal informative signage. It didn't matter though as it was a wonderful sight and great to explore.
We took a brief afternoon nap back at the hotel, then went to meet Aime at her mum's, had cake and saw their menagerie of animals: Aime's horse Santa, three cats, a field of sheep and a large dog called Angus.
Aime then took us to see the new house she and Gareth have just bought, before the three of us went to the nearby Harvestor for a meal.
More pictures of Welsh Castles...
Yet More Pictures of Welsh Castles...
A TV reporter (the amazingly cute Manuela Velasco) and her camerman are filming a "day in the life" documentary about a local fire crew, when the call comes in to rescue a woman trapped in her apartment.
Unfortunately this routine job turns out to be anything but when the old woman suddenly attacks and bites one of her saviours.
Things spiral out of control from there, when the people in the apartment block find they have been sealed in by the police and special forces - because of a "possible infectious outbreak".
As with Cloverfield, The Blair Witch Project, Man Bites Dog, Diary Of The Dead and probably several others I've missed, the film is entirely seen from the point-of-view of the unseen TV cameraman, making the audience very much a part of the action, limiting our knowledge of what's going on to what the reporter sees and hears.
It's superbly paced from the get go, with events almost happening in 'real time', with thrills and spills snowballing as the 'outbreak' in the apartment block gets increasingly out of control.
As TV journalist Ángela, Manuela Velasco is amazingly easy on the eye, and a convincing actress to boot, while the rest of the cast were clearly chosen for their 'non-film star' looks, which adds to the authenticity of the piece.
REC drip feeds the clues as to what's really going on, but it doesn't long for a savvy audience to grasp the fact that we're seeing a zombie outbreak up close and personal, which is why it's mystifying - and intriguing - when the plot takes a sudden and unexpected left turn into Exorcist terrority towards the end.
I love films that let me figure out what's going on for myself, but this sudden shift from scientific reasoning to supernatural wierdness caught me totally off balance. There had been mutterings from an elderly couple earlier, that hinted at there being more to this than meets the eye, but this was a major leap of faith by the film-makers that I wish had been developed slightly earlier.
Nevertheless, REC is a brilliant zombie flick, and a major change of pace from the usual Romero fare (not that there's anything wrong with that), so is well worth checking out if you're into zombie action horror... or just want to watch a really cute Spanish babe running around in a vest top for the better part of 75 minutes.
REC has recently been remade in the States, for audiences who can't handle sub-titles, as Quarantine, which is due out the week before Halloween over here in the UK.
Saturday, 16 August 2008
Last Man Standing is a self-contained, 33-page story (which slots into the ongoing story of the main title's issues 138 - 141) about an out-of-control paintball 'war' between the various gaming groups in the city.
It starts out as a simple gamer versus gamer challenge, but - due to a misunderstanding between Game Pit owner 'Weird' Pete Ashton, of The Black Hands, and Brian VanHoose, of The Knights Of The Dinner Table - escalates into a full-scale war that eventually spills over onto the floor of Garycon (the Knights' equivalent of Gencon).
Ultimately, Gordo's dalek costume plays a key role in resolving the conflict and bringing a satisfying end to events.
Last Man Standing is out now and well worth the $3.49 price of admission.
Friday, 15 August 2008
His raison d'etre was, as his job title suggests, to "kill daleks"... and he got off on doing this up close and personal with his sword (imagine a chainsaw reworked into the shape of a sword), but was quite happy shooting them or blowing them up.
This high-body count anti-hero was the epitome of the Bronze Age of comics (or Iron Age, depending on your definition), and he certainly has more in common with The Punisher than Spider-Man.
He's not the sort of person you'd want as a friend, but certainly you'd want him on your side in a fight...
This graphic novel, from 1990, collects his comic book appearances to date, starting with his introduction when he ix exiled by a galactic court to the planet Mazam to live the short life of a "Dalek Killer" for his numerous, evil crimes.
Arriving on Mazam, he proves more successful than expected at killing daleks, rescues Princess Taiyin, falls in love with her and prepares to escape.
It is then that the last remaining dalek sneakily shoots Taiyin in the back, pushing Daak to declare his mission statement: "I'm gonna kill every damned, stinking dalek in the galaxy!"
The man with a suicidal death-wish now has a reason to live.
In subsequent stories he teams up with a Draconian noble, a Martian ice warrior and a human con-man before heading to the final show-down with the daleks on the Planet Hell. All this time Daak has been transporting Taiyin's body with him, frozen in cryogenic suspension, in the belief that somewhere 'out there' will be someone able to restore her to life.
Daak becomes trapped on Hell and meets The Seventh Doctor; together they discover the dalek's have constructed an enormous Death Wheel in orbit around the planet, which has the capability to cloak a world in poisonous gas, and so pledge to destroy it... even if one of them is forced to make the ultimate sacrifice.
The best has certainly been saved for last in this collection of stories, with Nemesis Of The Daleks, teaming Daak and The Doctor against The Emporer Dalek and his metal minions, a better read than its predecessors - the panel sizes are larger, yet the dialogue is less verbose, making the action move along at a slicker pace.
Playing off The Doctor finally gives Daak's personality a chance to surface - rather than just the unshaven drunken psycho-killer - and there's a hint that the character might have had more to offer.
This, along with the text piece that immediately precedes it, were written by Steve Allan (aka John Tomlinson), while the earlier strips came from the pen of Daak creator Steve Moore.
Art throughout is superb, with Steve Dillon setting the style in the first story, David 'V For Vendetta' Lloyd following and then Lee Sullivan rounding off with a rendition of the characters that looks more Steve Dillon than Steve Dillon's original work on the strip.
Daak still pops up every now and again in the Expanded Whoinverse, but I doubt he'll be having any encounters with the Tenth Doctor any time soon.
Thursday, 14 August 2008
Authored, primarily, by David Whitaker, an early writer and script editor for Doctor Who, and beautifully illustrated by Richard Jennings and Eric Eden, in a painted style vaguely reminiscent of Look And Learn's epic Trigan Empire, these 104 single-page strips chart the origins of the Daleks through to the eve of their invasion of Earth.
The story immediately contradicts what was later seen on television with the Daleks originally being blue-skinned humanoids, with large heads, and the creator of the metallic Daleks being a scientist called Yarvelling.
Lance Parkin, in his sweeping Ahistory, which catalogues the history of the universe as seen in the stories of Doctor Who and its spin-offs, heroically manages to weave these comics into the established mythos, but - while I generally like to take Parkin's intricately researched tome as 'gospel' - I am inclined to view The Dalek Chronicles as part of that strange alternate universe that embraces the Peter Cushing Doctor Who/Dalek movies. Here 'Doctor Who' is an eccentric Earth-man who built the TARDIS in his back garden!
Very much a product of its time, The Dalek Chronicles is a wonderful piece of nostalgia but things turn corny early on when The Dalek Emporer, while duelling Red Dalek Zeg for his right to rule, uses an "inflatable plastic Dalek Emporer" as a decoy!
Like the Doctor Who comics of the time, these stories are aimed at children and are written to that level. It was also inevitable then that eventually children would crop up as antagonists for the Daleks.
Towards the end of The Chronicles, as the Daleks are on the verge of discovering the route to Earth, the metal masterminds are thwarted by a small child and his sister - who seem impossible to "exterminate".
The children were passengers on a crashed Earth ship, from which the Daleks ultimately salvage directions back to Earth... on a burnt scrap of paper, that, in true Hitchhikers' Guide To The Galaxy style, amount to "circle Andromeda - then N by NS to landfall Earth".
I'd be very worried if the captain of the spaceship I was travelling home on had the intergalactic route to my planet scribbled on a piece of paper; in case he forgot the way?
The Daleks also have a strange quirk of referring to all humans as "androids", which is never clearly explained, and the stories are full of alien creatures called "Terrorkons" and "Monstrons", but The Dalek Chronicles also established the look of The Emporer Dalek, introduced flying Daleks and developed the landscape of the Dalek's home world, Skaro.
Like much in the Doctor Who canon, it is up to the individual fan to decide how far The Dalek Chronicles tie in to his version of the Whoniverse; for me, they are an interesting curiosity from my childhood - I have strong memories of the blue-faced, yellow-lipped, ape-like Monstrons - but I would dispute their connection to the current iteration of Doctor Who.
That's not to say I won't change my mind at some later stage...
Wednesday, 13 August 2008
The story focuses on the life of Susan Mendes (Sarah Mowat), a geologist ensalved by the daleks and used as a propaganda tool to encourage other slaves to work productively. She teams up with the aged Obi-wan Kenobi-like Kalendorf (Gareth Thomas, Blake from Blake's 7), a knight of Velyshaa, said to highly trained in martial arts, although we never witness any such displays, but also gifted with the power of telepathy.
Meanwhile, Susan's boyfriend, an Earth Alliance spy called Albert Brook (Mark McDonnell) drowns his sorrows, evades the daleks and has run-ins with his bosses as he tries to track his lost love across the galaxy.
As the story unfolds across the four, hour-long, discs, the importance of the mysterious 'Project Infinity' becomes apparent - with the suggestion that the whole war is just a distraction as various factions pursue this enigmatic goal.
The point-of-view switches between the human protagonists and the daleks. I, for one, never get tired of hearing the daleks and Nicholas Briggs' script keeps their dialogue suitably terse and harsh. Of course, he should be an expert on their speech patterns as he is the voice of the daleks in the new Doctor Who.
The script also makes good use of the dalek's human/robomen agents, spreading the paranoia that anyone could be an agent of the enemy.
We even get to meet The Dalek Emporer, who sounds suspiciously like Deep Thought, the massive supercomputer, from Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, which came up with the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything as 42 and then designed the Earth as a more powerful computer to find the ultimate question! Now there's a cross-over waiting to happen...
The complex Dalek Empire tale comes to a sudden and abrupt end on disc four with an unexpected, but dramatic, cliff-hanger; which is presumably resolved in the next Dalek Empire arc.
Tuesday, 12 August 2008
(1) Vote Dalek: A Radio Times cover from May 2005 (General Election week) featuring a Dalek has been nominated for the title of the UK's favourite magazine cover in a poll being conducted by industry publication Magazine Week 2008. Click on the cover, and that will take you to a page where you can register your vote. The winner will be announced during the week of September 29 – October 5.
(2) Playing With The Big Boys: HeroPress is moving up in the world and has joined the RPG Bloggers Network, which promotes "the best blogs about tabletop role-playing games".
(3) Knights Templar Take On The Pope: In an attempt to restore the good name of the disgraced order of knights, a groupd claiming to be descended from the legendary 14th Century crusaders has filed a claim against The Pope over the seizure of the order's assets - said to be worth £79 billion - seven centuries ago.
(4) It's Raining Frogs: With Lost Boys 2: The Tribe going straight to DVD, it may come as a surprise to learn that Dread Central is reporting rumours of a second sequel being on the cards, with a more substantial appearance by Corey Haim.
(5) Sanity-Busters Go On Sale: Talented 'steampunk/Lovecraftian' artist Alex CF has started to sell his creations direct from his website. For truly unique works of genuine art (and the ultimate in Call of Cthulhu game props), I think they are very reasonably priced... but still, sadly, way out of my league.
(6) The Clone Of The Baskervilles: An American woman has had five clones of her late pit bill terrier 'grown' for her by South Korean firm RNL Bio - at a cost of £25,000.
(7) Best Four Days In Gaming: If you didn't know, Gen Con 2008 kicks off in Indianapolis on Thursday. If you're going, I'm very envious. If you're envious, don't forget to listen to This Just In..., which aims to be a twice-daily podcast from the show.
Monday, 11 August 2008
The two-part, 89 minute story from 1985 is heaving with camp characters and wonderful double entendre (the most memorable of which is secretary Vogel's "I'm a past master at the double entry").
Revelation Of The Daleks was Colin Baker's last story before the Trial Of A Time Lord arc which constituted the entirety of Season 23 of Classic Who and led to his replacement by Sylvester McCoy as the seventh incarnation of The Doctor.
With cancellation looming over the show's head, Revelation Of The Daleks proved to be Doctor Who as its darkest and most disturbing best - without an excess of gratuitous violence, despite coming from the pen of Eric Saward.
A complex, multi-strand plot finds The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) lured to the planet Necros, where the galaxy's great and good reside in a state of suspended animation, at the 'funeral home' Tranquil Repose, awaiting cures to whatever was killing them.
The trap has been set by Davros (Terry Molloy), masquerading as 'The Great Healer', who is using the brains of brightest residents of Tranquil Repose to create a new generation of daleks.
Davros has been receiving funding for his operations from a food corporation, which sells a synthetic protein he helped develop to eliminate famine throughout the galaxy, run by Kara (Eleanor Bron), with the assistance of her secretary Vogel (Hugh Walters) - a most entertaining double act!
However, Kara is sick of Davros' interference in her plans and hires legendary assassin Orcini(William Gaunt), a knight of the Grand Order of Oberon, and his Baldrick-like squire Bostock (John Ogwen) to kill the creator of the daleks.
Orcini and Bostock are another great Doctor Who pairing that it would have been great to see more of - a chance for Eric Saward's gung ho, macho writing to come to the fore.
While not a perfect story, Revelation Of The Daleks stands the test of time and remains one of the most inspired and memorable dalek stories of the original run of Doctor Who.
When the story falls down (the styrofoam statue of The Doctor that Davros sets up seems a childish prank and the DJ (Alexis Sayle), who broadcasts to the comatose residents of Tranquil Repose, even though he saves Peri from the daleks at one point, is rather a redundant character), it is on minor issues and the overpowering, all-embracing atmosphere and horror of the tale remains triumphant.
Much of what occurs on screen probably would have happened without the arrival of The Doctor, and the Davros' white daleks are little more than flunkies, but this too doesn't detract from the classy story... especially when the grey daleks, who serve The Supreme Dalek, show up towards the end.
Even though, once again, we see The Doctor wielding a firearm, Revelation Of The Daleks allows his humanity to shine through and his sarcastic, light-hearted but caring relationship with Peri is very reminiscent of The Tenth Doctor and Donna.
The Doctor even offers an interesting insight into the idea of his regenerations, when - upon seeing the memorial statue to him - he comments that he thought he had a "good few" ahead of him; therefore indicating that the number of regenerations may not be as set to 12 as otherwise thought.
Sunday, 10 August 2008
"You rollin' twenties on the polyhedral? You makin' the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs? Know the difference between Mego and Remco? Then welcome to your new church."
If you're already reading HeroPress, then you'll probably enjoy Geek Orthodox just as much. So come on, true believers, get over there and show Reis some love!
Saturday, 9 August 2008
Iron Man is coming to TV in a new animated series next year... hoody hoo!
But Tony Stark is a kid, huh? What's that all about?
Seems a bit dumb to me to go for all the 'teen angst' malarky, when they have a blockbuster film (with a very adult Tony Stark) to tie in to...
A daring scheme, using fragile, light-weight torpedo boats to skim into the Gulf of Finland, past the imposing Kronstadt fortress, was dreamed up to rescue agent ST-25 aka Paul Dukes (the only M16 officer to be knighted for work in the field).
It was a race against time to get to Dukes before the Cheka (Bolshevik secret police) found him.
The suicidal rescue mission was led by young naval officer Gus Agar, with a hand-picked team of 'expendables', and very quickly the reader realises that this espionage lark doesn't run as smoothly as James Bond or Sidney Reilly would have you believe.
Reilly has always been a popular character here at HeroPress Towers, based entirely on his own accounts of his exploits as serialised on TV in the early '80s. He even turning up in one of our Hollow Earth Expedition adventures, but author Harry Ferguson dismisses him as a fantasist.
It is shocking to think that it has taken almost 90 years for this incredible story of heroics and bravery against the odds to be told, but Operation Kronstadt is packed to bursting with detailed research by former spy and undercover customs officer turned author Harry Ferguson, broken up with the requisite maps and period photographs.
If you are a fan of Peter Hopkirk's "back of beyond" true-life tales of turn-of-the-century daring do, then this is the book for you.
Where most people would say "this should be made into a film", I have a suspicion it won't because there is no American angle and would be too expensive for a British company to do well on its own, however I would say "there should be a game made of this".
This has 'wargame/role-playing game adventure' written all over it. Perhaps if Harry doesn't get anywhere with film companies, he might take this story to a few games companies and see if they are interested in helping keep the story of Agar and Dukes alive.
Friday, 8 August 2008
My (much) better half, Rachel, celebrates her 29th birthday today... stuck at the office (as she couldn't get the day off).
Known in various quarters of the Interweb as Lumpy, Flea-Girl and even Mrs Knight, Rachel puts up with my unending spew of weirdness, my moments of panic and doubt, my geeky obsessions with games, comics, Star Wars, Doctor Who and countless other TV franchises and off-the-wall films I drag her to see, with nary a complaint.
She does all this while juggling an increasingly hectic job and then coming home and organising that as well.
Talk about multi-tasking!
I don't know what I did in a previous life to deserve someone as caring, patient and tolerant as Rachel - but I'm glad I did it.
The traditional week-long celebrations have been rather muted this year, because of Rachel's workload, but things kicked off on the right foot last weekend when we had a meal out with Abbie and Martin.
We're off for another meal this evening with Rachel's parents and then next week we are visiting Wales, so Rachel can drop in on bride-to-be Aime (Rachel is a bridesmaid and needs a final dress fitting before the big day in September) and I can visit the Doctor Who exhibition in Cardiff.
Two brilliant supplements have been out for Hollow Earth Expedition for some time, but until I get round to reviewing them myself, I'll leave you in the trusted hands of Kurt Wiegel, the host of Game Geeks on YouTube (whose original video review of HEX I posted here) to fill you in on the pulpy goodness available from Exile Games.
The great news is that the eagerly awaited Mysteries of the Hollow Earth should be released at Gen Con Indy next week. This is the book that goes more in depth into details of the lands and people of the Hollow Earth.
"Get ready for all the natives, beastmen, and dinosaurs you can handle!" promises author Jeff Combos.
Thursday, 7 August 2008
Tuesday, August 19 is the day.
Hopefully the dining room will be clear of boot fair boxes and we can gather around the table to roll some dice.
Clare requested a pure, old skool dungeon crawl and so that's what's on offer. None of this New Age 'getting to know you' B.S., the party will start - ready assembled - at the top of the steps down into the underworld.
If they survive, then maybe we can start to think 'backstory', but I just want them to get straight into the action, in true Knights of The Dinner Table/Hackmaster style.
I've got my Chessex Battle Mat ready, the Castles & Crusades Castle Keeper's Shield is all poised, the miniatures are all gathered.
There's a dungeon full of monsters ready for hacking and a new edition of the Tekralh primer for the players to read through at their leisure.
I've even created a new blog to record their adventures in: The Chronicles of Tekralh.
This will be my first attempt at running an RPG for almost a decade. Since coming out of hospital three years ago, I've had a couple of false starts (a Hollow Earth Expedition game that I bottled out of running at the last moment, then my online Buffy game which generated very little interest among my friends, and then, earlier this year, initial concerns that Tekralh might never take off), but now I'm fired with enthusiasm and excitement and can't wait to get going.
All I need is the players to show up!
Wednesday, 6 August 2008
While the plot may be unfolding at a deliciously slow pace, as long as it remains this good, I can't see anyone complaining.
The old Norse gods have returned from Ragnarok, thanks to Thor, and Asgard floats over some small mid-Western American town - much to the bemusement, and entertainment, of the locals.
Thor isn't going around beating up purse snatchers or even battling Skrulls (at the moment); his plate is full with the politicking of his all-too-human fellow deities.
The mix of contemporary small-town American life and Nordic mythology meshes beautifully as characters move from one world to the other, interweaving plot threads as they go.
I hope this partnership of Straczynski and Coipel stay on this title for a long and successful run, and the 'powers that be' at Marvel leave them alone to craft a true masterpiece.
Thor is unlike anything else Marvel publishes and while it is very much a part of the Marvel Universe (Thor kicked the snot out of Tony Stark some time back, when Iron Man turned up to get him to 'register'... and fandom cheered) it doesn't feel the necessity to shoehorn in every little 'crisis' that might be plaguing other heroes in other titles.
It takes its own sweet time and gets to these particular plot points when it's right for the story.