Reality Is The Playground Of The Unimaginative

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Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Original Scooby Gang Make A Stand...

Velma, Daphne, Fred, Shaggy and Scooby seek refuge on top of the Mystery Machine for their final stand against the zombie hordes in this great shot from photographer Jeff Zoet.

The full range of pictures, reimagining the original Scooby Gang in a post-apocalyptic zombie world, can be found at Zombiepop.

This is a show I'd watch!

Meet Boba Fett...

Many have seen the early Ralph McQuarrie sketches of Boba Fett sporting the all-white helmet and armor. What you haven't seen is the original white Fett costume in action. A videotape was rolling to capture "proto Fett's" reveal to Lucas and company at the filmmaker's home on June 28, 1978. In the video, sound designer Ben Burtt "hosts" Fett's reveal, describing the different weapons, functions, and characteristics of the costume (worn by Empire's assistant film editor Duwayne Dunham for the test).

Time To Roll Up A New Character...

Saturday, 29 June 2013

"Let's Go Fishing!"

Conan Is Attacked By Magic On The Eve Of Battle...

from issue one of King Conan: The Hour Of The Dragon.
Written by Timothy Truman with art by Tomás Giorello

Remembering Ray: The Medusa From Clash Of The Titans

Today is the anniversary of the birth of the late, great Ray Harryhausen - the man whose stop-motion fantasy movies continue to inspire my games more than anything else with their visions of what I believe the world of Dungeons & Dragons (particularly its monsters) should look like.

In his honour, I present my version of The Medusa (as depicted so vividly in the original Clash Of The Titans).

This write-up draws upon the version presented in the Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook as well as Larry DiTillio's Come, Clash With The Titans article from the September 1981 issue of Different Worlds.

#ENC: 1 (unique)
AC: 0 [19]
HD: 8 (Hit Points: 64)
#Atk: 1, +2 Bow (1d10+2) + special; or two fists (1d4+1) and snake bites (save vs poison at -3)
Move: 12
ST: 8
  • Petrifying Gaze - save or be turned to stone
  • 50% magic resistance
  • Immune to acid
  • Immune to attacks by weapons of less than +2 magic 
  • Arrows are coated in powerful venom (a hit necessitates a save vs poison at -3 or victim suffers 8d8 acid damage. If this kills him his body dissolves in a round, taking any fragile possessions with it).
  • Any combatant in hand-to-hand combat with The Medusa who causes more than six points of damage to he with a melee weapon must save (against Dexterity) or be splashed with her acidic blood causing 3d4 damage.

CL/XP: 15/ 2,900

  1. Medusa's eyes retain their petrification ability (as long as they remain in her head) for 1d12 months after she has died 
  2. After her death, her blood can also be used in a summoning ritual to create 1d3+1 giant scorpions (see Swords & Wizardry: Monstrosities, page 411)
  3. If her bow can be retrieved it requires a 17+ Strength to pull. It is a magical +2 warbow that causes 1d10+2 damage. Her quiver will contain 2d4 of the oversized arrows she uses. 
  4. Should someone attempt to use her blood/venom to coat these arrows (or any other weapon) they must save (versus Dexterity at -3) every time they do (every arrow fired, every melee weapon swing) to avoid suffering 3d4 damage from the vile liquid getting on their skin.

Dungeons & Dragons - And The Influence Of Tabletop RPGS...

Produced by PBS Offbook.
Since their growth in popularity in the 1970s, RPGs have had a huge influence not just on players, but on everything from Hollywood to the development of video games. Now, In a world dominated by video games and social media, there remains an enduring interest in gathering around a table and playing games face to face. Beyond cards and board games, Role Playing Games allow not just for interaction and play, but the creativity of storytelling, world creation, and engagement with ideas.The adaptability of D&D and other tabletop RPGs can satisfy players in a way that our digital world still cannot, with unique game mechanics and engagement and limitless use of imagination. As tabletop RPGs enjoy a cultural resurgence, more and more people are discovering the freedom and interactivity that makes them unique.

Jon Peterson, author Playing At the World
Lauren Bilanko, Twenty Sided Store
Wythe Marschall, Game Master, @hollowearths
Ethan Gilsdorf, Writer Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks

Ladies & Gentlemen, Power To The Proletariat...

Another busy, and successful, week here at HeroPress - even if I say so myself. I'm pleased that my rash of RPG reviews are getting hits; hopefully they are proving useful to people.

I shall endeavour to keep the gaming content up in coming weeks (it's even helping me to claw my way back up the Comic Blog Elite charts - so I guess I should write something about comic books as well).

In the meantime, I'd like you all to link arms for a drunken, high-octane rendition of Come On Eileen to welcome the latest recruit for our big adventure:

Friday, 28 June 2013

Fleamarket Friday: Hear Cosplay Piano Live At Masquerade...

If you happen to be in Los Angeles next month you can catch Sonya Belousova performing her Cosplay Piano arrangements and more at the 16th Annual Labyrinth of Jareth masquerade ball on 5 and 6 July, at the Park Plaza Hotel.

Welcome To Our World, Bettany Genevieve Law...

At 2:45am today, my godson Alec acquired a sister: Bettany Genevieve Law.

Delivered at home with the assistance of four midwives, the beautifully-named Bettany's a healthy 7 lbs 8 oz.

I'm sure the birth is in no way connected to my visit yesterday, and Facebook posts from both mother, Clare (a Tuesday Knights stalwart), and father, Nicholas (lapsed member, always welcome back), report that everyone is doing fine.

No doubt we will raise a glass to them - in absentia - at games night next week.

I strongly suspect the latest Law was named after Bettany Hughes, Nick's favourite historian.

Fleamarket Friday: A Great And Powerful Blu-Ray?

Paul saw this at the cinema and was deeply critical of it, comparing it to Tim Burton's soulless surfeit of CGI that was supposed to be the story of Alice In Wonderland. Personally, I'm slightly more optimistic about Oz The Great And Powerful, but I guess we'll see next week...

Love Is In The Air...

Once again I'd like to thank everyone in our little corner of da interwebz for their input on my "romance in old school games" enquiry the other day either here, in the Old School Games group Facebook or the OSR Community on Google+.

It even inspired a real life conversation with Clare when I popped in to see her, Alec and Nick yesterday, from which I took some great ideas to seed into future games.

Perhaps I was spoilt when I first gamed, back when Gublin and I would play our epic, day-long games of Dungeons & Dragons, unburdened by any preconceived notions of 'doing it the right way', we had characters getting married and raising a clutch of off-spring, who - in turn - became adventurers.

Even though we were, at most, in our early teens it seemed like the sort of thing the characters would do. There was a certain logic to my main character, Staghind Starlight, marrying his, Egghead Aramioc.

We didn't go into the details of the wedding, or any of that "bedroom stuff". One or other of us would simply announce that the couple had had another child - and it would be added to the family tree.

Eventually Egghead disappeared while off adventuring (my last memory is of him trying to feed some pterosaurs with sandwiches on the end of a spear) and Staghind remarried - another player's character, called Glorfindel Blacksword, but that was more a strategic marriage and didn't last.

That's the kind of sub-plot I'd like to bring back to my games one day.

From an unscientific study of the online responses to this week's enquiry about in-game romance it would seem there is a reasonably even split between those who wouldn't touch the topic with a bargepole, those that make it an integral part of their game and those - such as myself - who hope it will crop up, but find the players are more interested in hacking and slashing their way through dungeons.

Unfortunately, in the Facebook discussion, several people responded purely to the headline rather than reading my original HeroPress post - and therefore were bringing up topics already covered. But I guess that was my fault for not posting a more substantial enquiry (I shall know for next time).

While most, who used romance and family in their games, relied on pure roleplaying, those who added a mechanical element primarily used straight-forward reaction rolls although my attention was drawn to the romance rules in Pendragon (which, as stated in the original article, I was well aware of) or Bushido (which, I wasn't; these don't appear to be in the edition I have, so I guess I'll need to track down a later version).

For any old school gamers who happen to read HeroPress, but aren't members of either the Facebook group or the Google+ community I'd highly recommend signing up for one or both as both are very active and (generally) good-natured in their discussion of our hobby.

Once Upon A Time In Wonderland...

Thursday, 27 June 2013

[RPG REVIEW] Kefitzat Haderech - Incunabulum Of The Uncanny Gates and Portals

Kefitzat Haderech - Incunabulum of the Uncanny Gates and Portals is another miniature masterpiece from Paolo Greco, this one serving as a very readable treatise on portals and dimensional gates in fantasy role-playing games.

The 32-page, digest-sized booklet is available direct from Paolo at Lost Pages, but is currently out of print and he is taking pre-orders for a second printing.

The initial couple of sections of the book are an introduction to the idea of portals; coupled with the final chapter which discusses Paolo's influences from films, TV and video games, he explains that his ideas embrace more than the obvious Stargate-style "door through space" and includes such devices as the transporters used in Star Trek and even The Doctor's TARDIS, although I'm not so sold on this latter choice.

Kefitzat Haderech is a Hebrew expression for "shortening the way" or "contracting the path" and that, in essence, is the purpose of portals - they get you from place to another without the need to actually travel the distance (which is why I'd query the inclusion of the TARDIS as it does travel from one place to the other, like any other space ship, only it can move through space and time. Compare this with the USS Enterprise where the ship isn't the 'portal' but the transporters are).

Following the introduction, and the establishment of the idea of "portal networks" (again, think Stargate here), we get our first random table (and there are a lot in such a small little book) for deciding the portal's frame, the nature of its opening and any extra features it may have.

First, for instance: I roll 3d20 and discover my portal is made of ordinary stone (13), the opening is full of psychedelic colours (5) and faint music can be heard near it (11).

Then we move on to keys which open, or activate, the portals. These are more than just physical keys and can really be anything from a time of day (or year) to an emotion or a song. Here we get another table to generate the very emotive and poetic name of your key.

For instance, if I rolled (on my 4d20) 11, 1, 13, 16 that would create the Reversed Key Of The Illogical Death. Nuff said!

This is followed by two pages on portal construction (yes, player characters are encouraged to attempt to build their own) and a table of random complications/requirements.

The next two chapters (before the 'bibliography') are the insane, beating heart of Kefitzat Haderech's portal creation process. The Portatron is a roll six dice (1d4, 1d6, 1d10, 1d12, 1d20 and 1d30) all at once collection of tables that will tell you everything you could ever want to know about your portal... except its destination.

Another "for instance". I roll my handful of dice and get these results:
10 (on d10) - gate is an ornate bas-relief and (1 on d6) set in the wall, stepping it through it causes burns (6 on d30), save for half-damage. To activate the portal a sacrifice must be made right in front of it (4 on d12) of a burnt offering of food (an extra roll of a d6, another 1), which is somehow related to something on one side of the portal or the other (1 on d4). This sacrificial ritual is, presumably termed the Reversed Key Of The Illogical Death (see above). The portal is special because (3 on d20) the link is only one-way. The portal on the other side links somewhere else.
If you, as gamesmaster, haven't already decided on the portal's destination then you turn to chapter seven and roll 1d666 (three different coloured d6) for 216 different destinations, some vague enough to squeeze into your own game world, but some most definitely not on your own game world and guess where the player characters end up if you roll 666!

Final, for instance: I roll 4-1-4 and discover that my portal leads to the trenches during the battle of The Somme.

Until I read Kefitzat Haderech I hadn't even considered using portals, or dimensional gates, in my games (except as a method of summoning the Great Old Ones), but Paolo's enthusiasm for his subject is contagious.

System-free (there's the occasional mention of "levels" for characters or monsters, but nothing that should conflict too greatly with your game of choice), this book oozes with ideas and inspirational imagery - simply reading the list of random portal destinations should set your mind flying off on all sorts of tangents.

It's easy to understand now why Gary Gygax was so besotted with portals that he filled his original Greyhawk dungeon with them.

Mega-City's Sounding Minty Fresh!

Another 'bonus feature' from the Drokk-tastic Judge Dredd fan movie Judge Minty. This time it's four minutes of Mega-City One adverts.

As with the last 'bonus feature', this makes a great audio backdrop to a Judge Dredd-themed RPG or wargame.

D&DVD Of The Week: Hansel & Gretel - Witch Hunters (2013)

Having escaped being eaten by a witch as children, Hansel (Jeremy Renner, Hawkeye from The Avengers) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton, from Quantum Of Solace) grow up to be a pair of highly-skilled, leather-clad BAMFs roaming Eastern Europe killing witches with their arsenal of tricked-out crossbows and steampunky firearms.

They are summoned to the town of Ausburg by Mayor Englemann (Rainer Bock) after a large number of children go missing and soon find themselves facing a powerful coven of evil as well as the truth about their childhood.

Hansel & Gretel - Witch Hunters isn't exactly Oscar material, but if you were expecting that going in you were seriously misinformed about this movie. It's low-brow, pulpy entertainment in the same vein as Van Helsing - but about a million times better!

As presented here, witches aren't the misunderstood earth-mothers seen in recent supernatural romances (although a couple of white witches do play key roles in the story) but the hideous, twisted, child-eating monsters of fairy tale infamy.

The action-packed script from director Tommy Wirkola is very linear and stuffed full profanity to pander to the lowest common denominator as well as creative, stylised violence to strengthen the message that this is not a dry, intellectual study of the mistreatment of women wrongly accused of consorting with the Devil during the witch trials of 15th to 18th Century.

The only point I'd pull Wirkola up on (and this is a bit of a spoiler) is, given the circular nature of the plot, the fact that no one (including our protagonists) realises sooner that the town they are saving also happens to be the town they grew up in... especially given the prominent use of newspaper headlines proclaiming "town welcomes home witch-killing twins" during the opening credits.

Hansel & Gretel - Witch Hunters was made for Saturday nights, with a beer and pizza, when you want to let off steam after a stressful week and not be bothered by anything too intellectual.

The Boy And The Monster...

You may remember Julia Zhuravleva from her incredible animation of the opening of Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines novel a couple of years ago

At the time she was studying at the Russian State Institute of Cinematography and now she has graduated.

The Boy And The Monster is her adorable six-minute graduation movie. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

[OSR QUESTION] Does Romance Have A Place In Your Game?

A question for my old school compadres - how do you handle "romance" in your games?

I'm not talking about a quick bunk-up with a barmaid (a cliché of most teenagers' games) but genuine courtship, marriage etc

Has such a scenario ever cropped up in your games or don't your characters live long enough to contemplate the need for love and heirs?

Has anyone been involved in a game - non-Pendragon, anyway - where a player has gone the whole hog in his attempts to woo a fair maiden: poetry, flowers, acts of gallantry etc?

Would you handle this process entirely through role-playing or would there be some mechanics and dice-rolling involved?

Is this something you'd even think about or encourage as a gamesmaster or player?

While the concept of a generational game is integral to Pendragon, do you think about it in D&D-style games?


The Class Divide...

Following on from my thoughts about my forthcoming Beyond The Wall And Other Adventures campaign the other day, I got to thinking about the mix of characters I'd be hoping to gamesmaster for.

As of writing this piece, there are three sets of playbooks available for character creation - the villagers (which is the core, basic setting), the nobility (which creates a manor house/castle possibly adjacent to the village) and non-human characters.

I'm pretty sure I'll rule out non-human characters for starters as I want the characters to have the shared background that Beyond The Wall is all about.

This leaves us with 'villagers' and 'nobility'.

So, I'm thinking that I'll get the players to create two characters at our first session, but I'm toying with different set-ups.

One idea is for the first round of characters all will be villagers, bar one who will be a noble who has befriended the villagers. Then the second round of character creation will be all nobles except for one who will be a villager - and probably a servant of one of the nobles.

The more straight-forward option though is do all villagers for the players' first characters and all nobles for their second.

Not only will this two-character approach produce a large starting environment to draw upon, but will allow me, as Gamesmaster, to tailor adventurers to either the Medieval everyman or to the nobility.

Of course, things may well change if Flatland Games releases any more playbooks before the end of the year...

At present, the playbook options I'm considering are:

  • Self-taught mage (mage)
  • Untested thief (rogue)
  • Village hero (warrior)
  • Witch's prentice (mage)
  • Would-be knight (warrior)
  • Young woodsman (rogue)
  • Nobleman's wild daughter (warrior)
  • Apprentice court sorcerer (mage)
  • Forgotten child (rogue)
  • Future warlord (warrior/rogue)
  • Gifted dilettante (mage/rogue)
  • Novice templar (warrior/mage)

Thanks For Noticing...

I'm not sure I can adequately express how happy I was last night when I checked my "Week's Hot Posts" widget (down in the left-hand column) and saw that eight out of ten of the posts were gaming-related.

Sure, one's a Dungeon Bastard video skit, but barring the top two entries (come for the babes, stay for the games, right?), I'm very pleased to see that people are - hopefully - taking notice of my concerted effort to up the roleplaying content of HeroPress.

And it's only taken seven years - and about five aborted campaigns - to get to this point.

I found myself reading one of my old posts (from the time when I had a brainfart/meltdown and changed the blog name) and realised I was probably in a very dark place back then.

I like to think that I'm finally coming out of that now - not that my health is that much better, but on the whole I'm feeling more positive about things.

There's still a long way to go, and some things can never change, but regular gaming (even if it's only once a month) and regular writing about gaming is certainly all helping.

Wonder Woman Wednesday...

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

A Field In England...

A Field In England - They're over here Devil! from Rook Films on Vimeo.

A Field In England conjures images of that very British sub-genre of rural horror that embraces The Wicker Man, Blood On Satan's Claw and their ilk.

With this retro-grindhouse trailer, it also looks as though it could be a cinematic realisation of James Raggi's Lamentations Of The Flame Princess!

[RPG REVIEW] Burgs & Bailiffs - Hunger, Disease & The Law

Upfront I have to say that Burgs & Bailiffs - Hunger, Disease & The Law is one of my all-time favourite OSR gaming supplements because it taps into ideas I've long wanted to embrace 'in-game' and deals with them succinctly and eruditely.

Put together by Paolo Greco, of Lost Pages fame, this 30+ page, digest-sized booklet features nine essays, by a selection of authors, on ways of adding some "genuine" Medieval flavour to your fantasy roleplaying game (if that kind of grittiness is the sort of thing you want, of course).

The articles are a mixture of "subjects to think about" (these are invariably game mechanic-free) and mini-rules additions that can be seamlessly added to your game. The latter are mostly in the D&D simulacra-style (although none is specifically named), yet very light-weight and easily adjustable (if necessary) to your game engine of choice.

The entries range from simulating Medieval tournaments at your table (not jousting, but the hardcore, free-for-all Melees); settling disputes (with some simple mechanics for resolving random punishments); a couple of articles on disease and Medieval medicine (trepanning, tadpole enemas, bloodletting and other treatments guaranteed to turn your players green at the gills); and curfews and the 'night watch'.

The articles without houserules in cover the role of archers and the warbow in the Middle Ages and food - embracing both the supply of edible produce and the typical fare that adventurers will find on their table.

All these pieces are infinitely fascinating and inspirational, ably condensing volumes of information down to just the key points that a gamesmaster needs to add a touch of the Middle Ages to his game. Should he require more in-depth information there is a short "Further Reading" section at the back of the book, but he can always turn to the internet or the many, many historical books on the era.

It's hard to pick a favourite section from this booklet as each one, even when discussing subjects I was vaguely aware of, got me thinking about them from a new angle.

For instance, I was looking for ways to handle Medieval medicine in my planned Beyond The Wall campaign - which is low-magic - and the rules presented here fit perfectly, but the chapter on 'The Night Watch' was something I'd never even considered before and can now see employing when the characters eventually made it to the capitol city and, foolishly, decide to venture out at night!

The print edition of Burgs & Bailiffs is available from Lulu for the princely sum of £1.96 (and is easily worth every penny), while the PDF can be downloaded from the site for free.

The next volume is in the works, according to Lost Pages, and is Burgs & Bailiffs - Warfare Too.

Paolo's introduction to Burgs & Bailiffs - Hunger, Disease & The Law promises further volumes and I sincerely hope they are forthcoming as these few pages have already helped shape my campaign and I'm sure future volumes will mould it further.

Anything that simultaneously "adds value" to my game while reducing the amount of books I have to read (I'm old, give me a break) is welcome.

Pacific Rim - At The Edge...

The First Doctor's "Other" Adventures...

This week Michel Albert (aka Siskoid of Siskoid's Blog of Geekery) has unveiled the unofficial First Doctor Expanded Universe Sourcebook for use with Cubicle 7's Doctor Who: Adventures In Time And Space RPG.

While Cubicle 7's own supplement about the First Doctor covers his televised adventures, this free-to-download 104-page pdf document features at least one entry from each First Doctor novel and audio - covering everything from the comic strips featuring The Doctor's grandchildren John and Gillian through to the Peter Cushing movies.

There's even a few characters from the TV show that were left out of the Cubicle 7 tome that have found their way into this publication.

Compiled from input by fans of the game on the DWAITAS Boards, the first Expanded Universe Sourcebook is clearly a labour of love, but that doesn't mean it looks cheap. If you're a hardcore Whovian and gamer you'd be proud to display this amongst your campaign research material.

Sample pages are displayed on Siskoid's blog for those unsure of downloading the whole document.

Work is already under way on the next supplement, which, of course, covers the era of The Second Doctor.

Black Sails On The Horizon...

Monday, 24 June 2013

Words Fail Me, But OVC Never Does...

A customer sharing her revelation of the existence of George RR Martin's A Song Of Ice & Fire series of novels -

Another real-life slice of genius from Our Valued Customers.

[RPG Review] The Gnomes Of Levnec

The Gnomes Of Levnec is a totally mental mini-sandbox from Unofficial Games' Zzarchov Kowolski (author of Lamentations Of The Gingerbread Princess, so clearly messed up dark fairy tales are his thing).

A tiny (13cm by 17.5cm), 18-page module, The Gnomes Of Levnec takes a rather scattershot, almost stream-of-consciousness, approach to setting out its wares.

At first you think it's a 'straight-forward' murder mystery (but then the player's introduction is about them being hired for a different task), yet as you read on you learn more and more about the screwed-up goings on in the micro-setting and you realise you're being presented with an environment that the players could mess around with for many sessions.

However, this isn't a module you can just pick up and play. The Gamesmaster needs to read the whole thing - and make some deductive leaps of his own - to get the full picture and work out how best to get the characters invested.

However, once they have been introduced to the village, the Gamesmaster can sit back and let matters unravel of their own volition - with every possibility that the character's original McGuffin is forgotten as they come crashing up against the many strange events happening in the woods.

The booklet is clearly written for Lamentations Of The Flame Princess, possibly even the pseudo-Earth that James Raggi has used for a backdrop to many of his recent publications. The few creature statistics are written in the LotFP style (but why no statistics for the 'flesh squirrels'?), it uses the silver standard and while no specific deity is mentioned for the Levnec village church the suggestion is that it is the Christian one.

Of course, the minimal game statistics here make it simple to use in any old school game with a minimum of work for a willing Gamesmaster.

The setting is primarily human-centric, with the only 'traditional' non-human race in the area being the titular gnomes. But these are not the gnomes of Gary Gygax. The gnomes of Levnec are an insane fusion of garden gnomes and Smurfs gone wild - and not in a good way. Once you've read the page on "the truth about gnomes" you will never look at these little buggers in the same light again - and you will begin to fathom the warped genius of the module's writer.

There's also an inescapable Eastern European feel to the wonderfully miserable, run-down village of Levnec and its environs and Zzarchov has certainly put the Grimm back into fairy tales. You just feel, although it is never stated, that it is probably raining the whole time the player-characters are in this area.

Wrapping up the booklet (before the all-important recipe page) is a very clever random encounter chart for when the characters inevitably get lost in the woods. I can see this multi-dice format being adopted/stolen/homaged by other scenario writers.

My only real gripe at The Gnomes Of Levnec is the ridiculously small scale of the area map on the back page - everything is so tiny it's pretty darn near impossible to make out any of the writing and it's left to the reader to guess what's what among all the miniature hand-drawn trees. It's quite simple to do so, but a larger map that didn't induce eye strain would have been nice.

The Gnomes Of Levnec is available as a PDF from RPGNow for $2.94 or in print form from Unofficial Games for $6 (Canadian), plus shipping.

Two Thousand Five Hundred Tons Of Awesome!

"If you want to stop them, you have to understand them."
"Or we could just blow 'em to pieces."
- Pacific Rim channels the old school Dungeons & Dragons mentality.

I'm loving it more and more each clip I see...

Thinking Small Beyond The Wall...

My new obsession with Flatland Game's brilliant Beyond The Wall And Other Adventures has had me rethinking my plans to reboot my Tekralh campaign setting.

Even with the vague wiffle I was kicking around at the start of the month I was still thinking too big.

All I need to know is the rough location of the player-character's village (which will be largely dictated by any geographical locations thrown up during the character creation process); that the capitol city of Tekralh, Kaerlud, lies a long-distance to the south-east and on the coast (or the edge of a large lake); and that about a day's travel to the east of the village lies a geographical feature called The Lip (the only real definite feature that I want to keep in my new version of my gameworld).

They may have heard travelling bards sing, and tell stories, of far-away lands but they won't know where they are (or if they even really exist).

The village will probably be surrounded by forest, but again that will possibly change during the co-operative character creation process of Beyond The Wall.

Everything else is optional at this stage as the player-character's knowledge of the world will be limited to the environs of their village at the start of the game, so I can create the rest as the campaign grows and they start to venture further afield.

I'm still torn on the issue of non-human player-character races, but am erring towards an all human cast - again with stories and legends of dwarves, elves and halflings from the 'mists of time'. I feel this could work well with Beyond The Wall's largely folkloric take on the nature of monsters, the supernatural and magic.

Musical Monday: Circa Paleo - Shikee, Shikee Baba

Circa Paleo
perform Shikee, Shikee Baba at the Sherwood Medieval Faire in 2011

Sunday, 23 June 2013

A Taste Of Tonbridge...

A conglomerate of Tonbridge traders organised the first Taste Of Tonbridge day in town today, which saw the High Street closed off to traffic and various events taking place around the town - including Dragon Boat racing on the River Medway (see above).

On the way there, a random teenaged girl stopped me to praise my Jake The Dog T-shirt, which quite made my day.

The High Street was filled with entertainers as well as stalls run by local businesses and organisations, either promoting their activities or selling fresh food and crafts.

The charity groups that had boats in the Dragon Boat races had stalls set up along the river bank by the castle, then in the castle courtyard there was a light-hearted dog show going on, as well as a number of outlets selling dog food, toys and grooming equipment.

While all this was going on, round the corner on the sports ground there were a number of "have-a-go" activities aimed at youngsters - such as a cycling assault course and some climbing walls.

The event must have been a success for the organisers, The Tonbridge Town Team, as I don't think I've seen our town so busy before.

A lot of the shops had also taken advantage of the event and chosen, wisely, to open on a Sunday, as the idea of the event was to encourage people to make more use of our town centre shops.

Rachel and I had a great time wandering round the stands, watching the events and, despite the ever-present threat of a downpour, the organisers were very lucky with the weather as - for the most part - the rain stayed away until the day was closing down around 4pm.

Hopefully this will become a regular fixture on the Tonbridge calendar.

The Age Of Steam Is Alive And Well...

On Friday, Rachel and I caught a steam train to Cambridge and back. This was a private charter service that runs only occasionally through Tonbridge, organised by a firm called Steam Dreams.

The short film above shows the engine, Tornado, pulling into Cambridge railway station in the evening to ferry us all back to Kent.

You simply can't beat steam travel for the height of luxury - from the smell of the steam to the obvious envy of the crowds of people who had gathered along the route to wave at the passing locomotive.

We travelled First Class in refurbished Pullman carriages. The journey took roughly four hours each direction. On the way to Cambridge, we enjoyed a five-course breakfast (with champagne), while on the return journey we had a six-course dinner (with wine).

                                            The Onboard Menu                (click to embiggen)
Once at Cambridge, we had about five hours to wander around, see the sights, grab a bite to eat and generally act like tourists before making our way back to the station for the return journey.

The two pictures below show the engine arriving at Tonbridge in the morning:

Here's a shot of Rachel and I travelling home after our long day:

Rachel has created an album of Facebook with all our pictures of the day, which I think you should be able to see here.

The Power Of The Written Word...

Saturday, 22 June 2013

And Now, Live From The Streets...

Who doesn't enjoy a good "videobomb" on a live news broadcast, when some hapless journalist gets upstaged by gormless members of the public (sometimes without their knowledge)?

Here's a ten-minute compilation of some classics to brighten up your day.

You will notice a common component is many of the clips is the presence of alcohol and sports fans... I wonder if there's a connection?

Torn From The Headlines: 10 Unusual Weapons From Ancient Times...

The man-catcher - a fiendish polearm for unhorsing mounted foes
Interesting piece on I Can't Believe It profiling "10 unusual weapons from ancient times".

Some of these I've already seen statted up in sundry D&D (or simulacra) supplements (or Tunnels & Trolls, which has a penchant for obscure weaponry), but others - like the Chinese emeici and the zhua - were new to me.

Now to figure out a way of justifying arming the villains in my forthcoming campaign with some of these bad boys...

A Bad Week For Superheroes...

Friday, 21 June 2013

[RPG REVIEW] 6 Iron Spikes & A Small Hammer #1

The cut-and-paste artwork of John Yorio's wonderful little 6 Iron Spikes & A Small Hammer fanzine reminds me both of the DIY music fanzines I occasionally picked up in my youth and the similar 'high-tech' approach that Steve, Pete and I used in putting together the original HeroPress 'zine back in the '80s.

So he'd already won me over.

But to name-drop Devo (and show where one of their most famous lyrics came from) was the icing on the cake.

The cherry on that icing is the guy twirling his Salvador Dali 'tache on the cover.

6 Iron Spikes is a 16-page (including front and back cover), photocopied 'zine, seemingly stitched together with dental floss (no staples here!) written by John Yorio of Tabletop Diversions and available direct from him for a mere $2 (an extra 50 cents will get it shipped to the UK, Canada or Europe).

As the cover shows this premier issue is dedicated to a mini-sandbox setting (system neutral) inspired by HG Wells' The Island Of Moreau.

We are treated to a synopsis of the novel (which John stresses should not be used as the basis for a book report), followed by an explanation of Moreau's motives as they would fit into a fantasy campaign, with some ideas of how to work a Moreau-like character into your setting.

This is followed by six-pages on the setting itself - a simple hand-drawn map of the island, with three marked locations; hooks and seeds to get your characters involved in the story, a couple of pages of statistic-free NPCs, and a pair of encounter tables for the island.

And, to be honest, that's all you need. Just enough information to give you an overview of what's going on and the characters involved, without swamping you with unnecessary fluff. All a potential gamesmaster has to do is come up with some statistics for NPCs and monsters.

After this the 'zine wraps up with a natty series of random tables (boy, do we love random tables in our hobby!) for generating Moreau-esque Beast Folk - fronted by a page of the Laws Of The Beast Folk, taken from Wells' novel (this is where the Devo lyric comes in, for those interested).

Unlike the rest of the 'zine, these tables actually feature some game mechanics - well, they mention Armour Class and Hit Dice - but nothing that prevents them being used for whatever your system-of-choice is this week.

Although the island is clearly written up for fantasy games (here Moreau is a crazed wizard, rather than a crazed scientist) it wouldn't take much to seamlessly slide it into any other environment.

Fleamarket Friday: More Young Heroes...

Yesterday game designer Justin Halliday unveiled a new collection of Hero Cards (premade characters) for the brilliant Hero Kids RPG (which I reviewed earlier this week).

For $1.99, you get a PDF containing 10 new characters, all illustrated by Eric Quigley, ranging from the acrobat to the wolfchild, and including the spunky, archery-loving, rebellious princess (all you need do is colour her hair red)...

Fleamarket Friday: The Knights Hit A Double Century...

Coming soon from Kenzer & Co, issue 200 of The Knights Of The Dinner Table - featuring this gorgeous cover from legendary artist Larry Elmore.

Meanwhile, if you are quick (and financially well-off), the original artwork for the cover of issue 198 (pictured below) is up for auction,  by the artists The Fraim Brothers, on eBay.

It is, of course, a parody of the famous Frank Frazetta painting Death Dealer as seen on the 1978 cover of the self-titled Molly Hatchet album.

The auction ends on June 25 at 12:29:43 PDT.

Fleamarket Friday: Make Mine LEGO!

And here's a trailer for the world's first official feature-length LEGO movie. Yes, you read that right... a feature-length LEGO movie...

"...directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, [the film] opens in theaters February 7, 2014. It stars the vocal talents of Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman and Alison Brie, with Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman.

"The original 3D computer animated story follows Emmet, an ordinary, rules-following, perfectly average LEGO minifigure who is mistakenly identified as the most extraordinary person and the key to saving the world. He is drafted into a fellowship of strangers on an epic quest to stop an evil tyrant, a journey for which Emmet is hopelessly and hilariously under-prepared

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Robert Downey Junior Signs Up For The Avengers 2 & 3...

Sad Sandor...

Ahhh, look at that sad, hangdog expression on lil' Sandor 'The Hound' Clegane's face.

Who couldn't love a face like that?

Horror DVD Of The Week: Mama (2013)

A banker goes mental, kills his work colleagues and his wife, then kidnaps his two young daughters and drives away with them. Before he can get too far though his car skids off the road, down an embankment and crashes into woodland.

He leads the girls away from the wreck to an abandoned cottage where, five years later, the two girls are found by trackers employed by their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from Game Of Thrones), an impoverished illustrator who lives with his hot rock chick girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain).

The sisters, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) are pretty much feral but the eldest - Victoria - tells psychiatrist Dr Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) they were looked after by "Mama" who ran away from a "hospital for sad people" with her baby.

Because Lucas and Annabel can't afford to look after the children, Dreyfuss arranges - in return for continued access, so he can study the children - for them all to move into a large house owned by the hospital.

Soon after they move in though, Annabel begins to suspect that the girls might have brought someone - or something - back from the woods with them.

Mama is a well-made, very old school ghostly horror story carried by the wholly convincing performances of the central characters, some clever scares along the way and a plot surprisingly unburdened with unnecessary red herrings.

As well as praise for the actors, I have to give credit to director Andrés Muschietti, who co-wrote the script with Neil Cross and Barbara Muschietti, as he uses a fair degree of smarts and subtlety to weave the movie's creepy atmosphere - instead of simply relying on jump-scares (and even when they are used they are done well).

Mama, herself, (portrayed by both Javier Botet and Hannah Cheesman, aided by the vocal talents of Laura Guiteras and Melina Matthews) has a rounded backstory and convincing motivations for her jealous guardianship of Victoria and Lilly and it's this that drives the story.

Unfortunately, that's not to say Mama's perfect. There's a stand-out moment of rank stupidity that surely could have been addressed in a less clichéd way: Dr Dreyfuss goes back to the spooky cabin to follow some clues, but goes in the middle of the night. In the pitch dark. You just know that's not going to end well and is quite groan-worthy, especially given the generally high calibre of the screenplay.

There's also a rather clunky moment when Lucas is in hospital and Mama is coming to pay his a visit and a computer starts spelling out the word "Mama" over and over again. Once you discover Mama's backstory the idea of her having any concept of a computer or its operation seems totally incongruous.

But my biggest gripe, and it's an odd one, is on account of "Chekov's gun" - the dramatic principle that if you have a loaded gun on stage in act one it will eventually be used. For some reason, and I can't believe it was penny-pinching, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays not only Lucas but his brother Jeffrey (the guy who goes nuts at the start). It's never even stated that they are twins, just brothers.

I thought this might pay-off in some way relating Mama's interaction with Lucas back to her first encounter with Jeffrey back in the pre-credit sequence. But no. Nothing. And I'll be honest it's slightly distracting.

I've seen a fair bit of criticism of the ending of the movie, but for me it worked and tied off the plot with a neat little bow. It's neither the entirely happy ending this style of storytelling often has nor the sudden, shocking reversal where everything unexpectedly goes to hell in a handbasket just when you thought everyone was safe.

Barring a couple of bumps along the road, Mama is a solid, intelligent, old fashioned ghost story with a downbeat ending.

The Insidious Spread Of 'Golf' Through Fantasy Worlds...

Robert Baratheon demonstrates the correct method of "playing through"
under the Westeros Golf Greenskeepers Association rules

Golf was invented in Middle-Earth, as we are all well aware. However, this gentleman's sport is also alive and well - or has been in the past - in Westeros.

In the seventh episode of Game Of Thrones' Season Three - The Bear And The Maiden Fair - the disgraced Maester treating Jaime's affliction (I shall be vague for the sake of spoilers should anyone not be up to speed on the show) says he's "stymied the corruption".

The etymology of the word of "stymie" is a golfing term describing the "condition in which an opponent's golf ball blocks the hole".

The only way he could know that word is if the game of "golf" existed, or had existed, at some time in Westeros.

Case closed!

Behind The Scenes On The Lone Ranger...

Disney's The Lone Ranger is scheduled to open in the UK on August 9, featuring Armie Hammer as the titular hero and Johnny Depp as Tonto.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

[RPG REVIEW] Hero Kids by Justin Halliday

As the cover states, Hero Kids is a "fantasy role-playing game for kids aged four to 10", and it does exactly what it says on the tin.

The print edition, a compact little digest-sized book, is basically divided in two with the first 40 or so pages explaining the very straight-forward rules and the balance of the book being made up of single-page pre-made player-characters and monsters.

Although the rules are very simple, using only basic math, they are clearly intended to be read by the designated adult who has decided to introduce a group of youngsters to our hobby.

As well as the rules there are some brief pointers on issues to take into account on how running games with young kids are different from the normal 'adult' gaming environment. These are neither patronising nor preachy, just a sensible reminder that some things we take for granted in our games may not be appropriate for youngsters.

After a bit of scene-setting - giving the characters a base of operations and a reason to hang out and adventure together - the book cracks on with explaining how combat works.

The initial level of the game is geared towards combat, to get the players used to the idea of working the dice, co-operating with each other etc

Characters - as well as monsters - have four statistics (melee, ranged, magic and armour) rated on zero to three dice (this game, sensibly, only uses six-sided dice).

These are then rolled in opposed checks.

Characters also have a special ability, some of which are triggered by the actions of friends, other allow multiple attacks etc (for instance, one character, a female hunter, has long hair she can as a lasso to drag monsters closer to her).

All attacks (generally) cause one point of damage, with heroes able to take three strikes before being knocked out (again - kids game: no killing!).

The rules are scaled so that as the players become older, and more confident, additional twists can be brought in to keep gameplay lively and varied (such as introducing skills and exploration).

There's a short section on creating player-characters from scratch - rather than using the pre-made archetypes - and while the allocation of dice for statistics is remains straight-forward, the rules are very vague on giving character's special abilities and skills. The best thing is, obviously, to crib them from the pre-made characters, but then you might as well stick with the pregens.

Written by Justin Halliday, and published by Hero Forge Games, the core rules book of Hero Kids is available in print or PDF format. The PDF comes bundled with an adventure (which includes character cards, stand-up counters to represent the player-characters and their foes, and a grid map to enact the adventure on) and a number of other adventures are available (all with maps and counters, I believe).

The book is gorgeously illustrated with hero and monster art by Eric Quigley, which has a very 'easy-on-the-eye' smooth cartoony/anime style about it.

This eye-candy carries over into the game's great use of props - the stand-up markers (easily cut out and assembled) and the large, gridded maps for movement and combat- which means the players don't have to contest with the "theatre of the mind" elements of the games that some of us older kids play. It gives them something to relate to and means they can see where their characters are and get a better understanding of what's going on in the adventure.

Unfortunately for me my godson, Alec, is still too young to introduce to Hero Kids (he'll be three at his next birthday), but hopefully in a year or so this will be the ideal gateway for his parents (or I) to introduce him to roleplaying.

Hero Kids manages to model the core aspects of more adult games in a very simple fashion and looks like the perfect game for young wannabe gamers.

Of course, the most crucial ingredient is finding a patient, and creative, adult to explain the rules and then guide the kids through their first foray into roleplaying.

Justin also has a blog dedicated just to Hero Kids, which is worth keeping tabs on for the latest developments in the game (e.g. there's an expansion on the way with more heroes, more equipment and the addition of pets for the characters).

Shiver Me Timbers! It's Prop Making Time...

I've chronicled a number of my attempts to make role-playing game props over the years, but the wonderful Propnomicon site has directed me to a natty little step-by-step guide by Janet at It's A Little Like Magic on "how to make a pirate map".

The tutorial comes in two posts: part one and part two.

I shall definitely take this more methodical approach the next time I embark on a bit of map-making.

Top Ten Movie Monsters...

According to Filmclips...

Wonder Woman Wednesday...

submitted by Al Bruno III
This is Kimberly Kane, adult movie actress, as featured in the io9 article on the Best Wonder Woman Outfit.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Torn From The Headlines: Tacoma Bridge Collapse...

Not happy about their casual, off-hand, reference to the death of a dog!

This Pathe News footage of the collapse of the world's third largest suspension bridge (at the time),Tacoma Narrows Bridge, Washington, in 1940 will surely make you think twice about the use of bridges in your games as more than just tools for helping parties get across rivers and chasms.

DVD Of The Week: Warm Bodies (2013)

It's eight years after an unspecified zombie apocalypse, the streets of America are awash with the walking dead and there's a single enclave of surviving humans, led by the militant Grigio (John Malkovich), tucked away behind a huge wall.

R (Nicholas Hoult) is an unusual zombie, he collects records, snow globes and other bric-a-brac which he uses to decorate his nest, an abandoned aircraft at the airport he spends most days wandering aimlessly around. He can also, with some effort, talk and it's his thoughts that narrate a lot of the movie and present the scenario from the zombies' perspective.

One day out in the city, R and some of his undead chums come upon a band of young humans, including Grigio's daughter, Julie (Teresa Palmer), on a medicine run. A fight ensues and R kills Julie's ex-boyfriend, Perry (Dave Franco), and eats his brain - thus absorbing the young man's thoughts and memories.

R leads Julie away from the fight, taking her to his home, explaining as best he can that he is protecting her.

From there a kind of friendship blossoms and although Julie is initially sceptical, and tries to give R the slip whenever she can, eventually she begins to realise that R is changing... and his change is somehow affecting the other zombies.

That is, except for the hardcore, skeletal zombies known as Boneys.

Now all Julie needs to do is convince her trigger-happy father that R, and the other zombies, are 'coming back to life'.

Warm Bodies is a light-weight spin on Romeo And Juliet (R and Julie, gettit? There's even a balcony scene) with some subtle satire - reminiscent of Romero's early zombie flicks -  mixed in along with a healthy dose of humour and the action-adventure that comes with any good man-vs-zombie movie.

Yes, it's slightly cheesy in a "love-conquers-all" kinda way, however this isn't really a horror film but a teen zom-rom-com about two kids from different sides of the tracks finding love against all the odds. You could argue that Warm Bodies isn't wholly consistent in its portrayal of the zombies, but then again it doesn't take itself too seriously, so why should you?

A pleasant change of pace from what passes for cinematic supernatural romance these days, this has none of the creepiness factor of the Twilight saga, with Julie being a strong, confident female and not the simpering imbecile that Kirsten Stewart played in those other hideous abominations while R is a sad, yet sympathetic, character who never once expresses any desire to turn Julie into one of his kind.

Another factor in its favour - and rarity these days - is the story is wrapped up in a single 94-minute episode. No sequel necessary. No dangling plot threads.

There's, naturally, a degree of violence and bloodshed in Warm Bodies, but it's pretty tame compared to mainstream zombie movies - hence the (almost) family-friendly certificate. Those who are sensitive to such things though need to be aware there is one (rather pointless) f-bomb dropped for effect.

Riddick & Starbuck Sitting In A Tree...

It's A Dungeons & Dragons Ride...

As if I didn't already have enough things to distract me from any form of 'serious' writing, I've decided to dip my toe once more in the wild waters of Tumblr.

So far I've managed to sidestep my previous 'Tumblr addiction issues' by limiting accounts I follow to those I think will supply me with material suitable for my (so far) focussed It's A Dungeons & Dragons Ride (primarily anything to do with fantasy RPGs, literature, cinema and television, Game Of Thrones, Hawk The Slayer etc).

If you're on Tumblr please pop on over and have a look.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Spider-Bed, Spider-Bed, Does Whatever A Spider-Bed Does...

I don't know where my father-in-law found this picture but he cheekily emailed it to me today asking if this bed was on my Christmas list? I replied saying: "It is now!"

I'm sure Rachel would be delighted if we replaced our bed with this!

Race Relations...

A massive thank you to everyone in the gaming community who shared their views on my question about the necessity of non-human player-character races in fantasy RPGs - either on the original post, on Google + or in the Google+ OSR group.

The topic attracted a fascinating cross-section of opinions, with views ranging from those that supported my own to those who felt these other races were key touchstones of the genre and a good shorthand to establishing the fantasy oeuvre.

While I understood most of the latter points of view, none truly persuaded me that I needed these player-character races in my mooted campaign.

In the last few years I've thrown a number of setttings at The Tuesday Knights and all failed through my own indecision and lack of confidence, rather than any lack of interest from the players.

However, out of those, my personal favourite was the one I named Tekralh II, a human-centric, swords-and-sorcery setting that collapsed under the weight of its own Game Of Thrones-inspired background. All I need to do is resist the urge to develop volumes of deep background ahead of time and instead concentrate on adventures, dungeons, monsters, villains etc

Looks Like We're Going Beyond The Wall...

In recent weeks I have become rather smitten with a new (to me) RPG: Beyond The Wall And Other Adventures, thanks to a mini-blogfest being organised by Rob Barrett of Vargold: The Wolf-Time.

Flatland Games' Beyond The Wall appears to be a streamlined version of basic D&D but with some interesting twists, particularly during character creation.

Character creation is a communal affair with the players not only creating their own in-game personas at the table, but also the village they come from.

Through the use of 'playbooks' (a different one for each character based upon the archetype he or she is emulating), the players shape their home environment and weave background stories that tie the characters to each other - and help explain why this rag-tag assemblage wants to go adventuring together.

The 'playbooks' are mainly collections of random tables so a lot of the heavy lifting is done for the players and all they have to do is connect the dots.

This is already sounding like something I've been kicking around for years, but the more I learn about the game the more boxes it ticks:
  • No clerics - mages have healing magic
  • Non-human character races are optional (I'm really hooked on the idea of a human-centric campaign; I also think this will help differentiate my game from Meredith's Warcraft campaign)
  • Low magic - which can sometimes run awry
  • Ascending Armour Class
I've ordered the print edition of the game and am waiting for that to arrive before I really get stuck in, although I have the PDF that came with the bundle (as well as the extra free playbooks that Flatland Games offers).

Straight off, I'll say my only real quibble with the rules is their version of "ability checks", which while simple fail to take a character's level into account as far as I can see. As these are the core of the minimal skill system that seems a bit of an oversight . There's also the oddity of the fact that these tests require a d20 roll UNDER a target number, whereas combat rolls and saving rolls require a roll OVER.

In this case I think I'll simply port over Castle & Crusades' method of making attribute checks, which will work fine with Beyond The Walls' nice little touches, but create a unified "roll over" mechanic (that also factors in a character's experience level).

I'm also not totally sold on the games' method of adventure creation (it's almost a step too far towards 'indie' gaming). While I may use it for the initial adventure which is included in the game I expect future scenarios - although tailored for the characters to a degree - will more closely resemble traditional D&D-style adventures.

In the meantime I've created a blogroll (in the left-hand column of this blog) of all the blogs taking part in Rob's online character/village creation exercise for those seeking more flavour. Although the best place to start is Rob's introductory post here.

I'm thinking that when it comes close to me resuming my seat behind the screen for The Tuesday Knights I'll email them a list of the available playbooks, get them to pick what archetype they want to create and then print out those so they are ready at the table when the group sits down to 'roll up' new characters.

Thor: Love & Thunder (2022) + Dr Who (2022)


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