Reality Is The Playground Of The Unimaginative
Home Of Superheroes, Swords, Sorcery, Star Stuff, Sci-fi, Scares, Silliness, Sauciness, Smeg, and the Supernatural

Monday, 30 September 2019

Musical Monday: Goodbye Moonmen (Johnathan Rice)

Enjoy this live rendition featuring Johnathan Rice, from the Rick and Morty Ricksperience at Adult Swim Festival '18.

Map-A-Monday: Temeria (The Witcher)

click to embiggen

Musical Monday: Get Schwifty (Open Mike Eagle & Father)

Open Mike Eagle and Father perform Get Schwifty at the Adult Swim Festival's Rick and Morty Musical Ricksperience.

Map-A-Monday: Blackmoor

click to embiggen

Blackmoor was the first fantasy RPG campaign, the brainchild of Dave Arneson, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons.

Tomorrow, October 1, is the anniversary of Dave Arneson's birth and a day for celebrating his work.

The map, a favourite setting that played a formative role in my development as a gamer, was found via an old post on Timothy Brannan's The Other Side blog, and this version was created by Blackmoor archivist Håvard Frosta.

Musical Monday: Stab Him In The Throat (Rick & Morty)

Sunday, 29 September 2019

The Finishing Line Is In Sight...

The wetroom tiling is complete...

Just when it looked as though things were slowing down, there now seems to be a bright light at the end of the tunnel. The building work on our loft conversion project must surely be coming to an end soon.

On Friday and Saturday, the brickie finished the gabling work, which means the plumbers can now come in and install the fixtures for the wetroom.

The week began with a team boarding an area inside the eves, behind the small door in the closet, which meant the brickie was free to fill the enormous hole in the side of our house.

Meanwhile, Ollie the tiler came and put the finishing touches to his part of the wetroom/en-suite bathroom, so that room is now just waiting for the plumbers to come in and install the shower, toilet, heated towel rail and sink.

Elsewhere, Rachel has organised several tradesmen to come in, to give us quotes for both laying new carpet (in the loft area, down the stairs and into the lounge) and installing a new first floor bathroom (the current incumbent having suffered somewhat during all the works elsewhere).

It's all coming together!

Feels Like We've Been Waiting An Age For Word On The War Of The Worlds...

This is the original alien invasion story. Staring Eleanor Tomlinson, Rafe Spall and Robert Caryle, this tense and thrilling drama follows a young couple’s race for survival against escalating terror of an alien enemy beyond their comprehension.

Sundays With Supergirl - Week Five...

Introducing The Thagomizer...

Saturday, 28 September 2019

The Walking Dead: A Look At Season 10...

In the run up to the return of The Walking Dead, we join the cast and crew as they reveal what to expect ahead of the October 7 launch date.

Streaming Superheroes: X-Men - Dark Phoenix (2019)

Despite the dreadful reviews and almost universal disdain for X-Men: Dark Phoenix, I'd still been looking forward to catching up with this - as I'm quite often able to find some good in any genre movie.

When it was finally released on Sky Cinema this week, I excitedly sat down to watch it and almost two hours later was simply struck by how unengaged I felt by the entire experience.

It's not that i doesn't feature some stylish moments of superpowered action, it's just that Dark Phoenix doesn't do anything new or inventive with the material.

The original comic book arc - by Chris Claremont, with art by John Byrne, in the late '70s - that inspired this storyline (and has already been tackled before in X-Men: The Last Stand) is generally regarded as one of the finest, mainstream, superhero stories of all time, yet this movie singularly fails to hit any of the emotional touchstones of the source material and lacks any sense of engaging drama.

A space shuttle mishap in the '90s triggers a rescue mission by The X-Men, now regarded as this world's equivalent of The Avengers, no longer "feared and hunted". But it turns out the problem wasn't a solar flare as NASA thought but a mysterious alien entity that targets Marvel Girl aka Jean Grey (Game Of Thrones's Sophie Turner).

Back on Earth, Jean quickly discovers her powers are increasing at an exponential rate, making her a danger to those around her.

Humankind's love for The X-Men is so fickle that it just takes one out-of-control incident from Jean and we're back to power-suppressing collars and talk of interment camps.

Meanwhile, a group of shape-shifting aliens (come on, they're Skrulls... possibly even Super-Skrulls) turn up, seeking to steal Jean's cosmic power for their own - nebulous - reasons.

Along the way we get to visit Magneto's mutant haven of Genosha, although here more a hippie commune and not actually given a name, take a trip to New York, then a train journey, and end up with a slugfest in an industrial crash site.

The trouble for me is that, since the spectacular, broad daylight, battle of Wakanda in Avengers: Infinity War I'm so over night-time superhero fights in bland, characterless, bomb sites (yes, Endgame climax, I'm looking at you).

X-Men: Dark Phoenix feels like a tired retread of superhero clichés - and not even the best ones - with characters just going through the motions.

Even great actors like James McAvoy (as Xavier) and Michael Fassbender (as Magneto) are unable to save the day, try as they might.

And there's definitely a Wolverine-sized hole in the film as well.

Everything in X-Men: Dark Phoenix just sort of happens before our eyes as we watch with distant disinterest.

And what happened to Quicksilver (Evan Peters), one of my favourite characters from earlier X-Men movies? He's in it at the start, then disappears.

It's almost as though his spectacular speed-power was too costly to put on screen for too long as so he was, conveniently, forgotten about.

In truth, there's an air of cheapness about a lot of this film: whenever we are introduced to large groups of 'background' mutants, such as at Xavier's school or Magneto's commune, they all just look like ordinary people (some might have a minimum of face paint), but nobody is doing anything with their powers.

These scenes actually compare poorly to similar ones in The Gifted, and that was 'just' an X-Men TV show!

It's such a shame that this is the end of the cinematic X-Men franchise as we've known it since 2000's X-Men, because with the wonderful yarn Jonathan Hickman is spinning with the characters in the comics at the moment, the X-Men deserve to be lauded as highly as the MCU's The Avengers.

Maybe, now they're available for appearances in the main MCU they'll get better service, but I guess we'll be waiting many years to actually see this.

The History of Original Dungeons & Dragons...

Friday, 27 September 2019

Review Round-Up: Rick and Morty vs Dungeons & Dragons, Chapter Two - Painscape #1; Battlepug #1; Spider-Man #1

Rick and Morty vs Dungeons & Dragons, Chapter Two - Painscape #1:  Two great flavours, one great taste.

Genius writer Jim Zub perfectly captures both the voice of the Rick and Morty show and the essence of freewheeling Dungeons & Dragons fun in this hilarious new chapter in the lives of our crass protagonists.

The world is obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons (woo-hoo!). It's everywhere, across all media, infusing every aspect of everyday life.

But only Rick remembers it wasn't like this yesterday.

He realises this is some viral infection from an alternate dimension, and so drags his grandson off to investigate.

Their investigations take them somewhere that seems familiar to Rick, but then he meets the apparent instigators of the virus... and their connection to his youthful dabblings in Dungeons & Dragons become clear.

Zub's wit is spot-on, a loving send-up of the game - and more broadly, the hobby - that means so much to so many of us.

This certainly isn't a comic for non-gamers, as it's heavy with both overt references to the rules and deep dives into the history of hobby (just look at that variant cover with a 5e character sheet for Wizard Rick), nor is it a mindless piss-take of RPGs.

The final page alone cements how much of an homage to the "olden days" of the hobby this title is going to be.

If you enjoy both Rick and Morty and Dungeons & Dragons you really need to be reading this comic.

Battlepug #1: Mike Norton's Battlepug is my new favourite thing.

The new series, which launched this month, follows on from previous stories - collected in the Compugdium - which I now have to read,.

However a a smart reader can easily pick up who is who, what's going on etc from the information provided in this glorious first issue.

The cover alone tells you all you need to know before tucking in.

The story revolves around a Conan-esque barbarian (the last Kinmundian) who rides a giant pug - and, now, has a small gang of fellow, quirky, adventurers with him.

Norton manages to balance political satire, comedy, and genuine swords-and-sorcery to tell an engaging, if light-hearted, fantasy story.

The supporting characters are rich and memorable (I'm already a huge fan of young, potty-mouthed, druid Bryony) and I'm intrigued to learn more about the world.

The stylised, almost cartoonish, colourful art - by Allen Passalaqua and crank! - suits the subject matter perfectly.

Battlepug certainly isn't just another Clonan title, but it's also not a piss-take of the genre. This is a very loving, intelligently written, fantasy that has taken an outlandish idea and run with it.

And long may it run!

Spider-Man #1: I'll admit I approached this title with some caution.

Despite my entrenched dislike of 'stunt hiring' celebrity writers from outside the world of comic books, I'll confess the presence of JJ Abrams' name in the credits certainly caught my attention.

However, I wasn't entirely sure of the validity of his son, Henry, being there as well, sharing the top billing.

How many other 20-year-olds get their first ever comic book writing gig working on Marvel's most famous character?

But petty jealousy aside, the comic itself - issue one in a five-issue mini-series - is surprisingly entertaining.

Having avoided plot spoilers - and that's the best way to come at this story - it wasn't at all what I was expecting.

But then again, as an Abrams' family project I guess I should have expected the unexpected.

It's from the "What If..."/"Elseworlds" stable, positing a scenario a dozen years after a tragic encounter with the villain Cadaverous, and his xenomorph-like agents, seemingly puts Peter Parker out of the heroing game for good.

Setting the story outside the canon of the main Spider-Man titles (which I had to recently drop... for financial reasons) means all bets are off, this could go anywhere and I'm intrigued enough by this set-up issue to stick around.

Genndy Tartakovky's Dialogue-Free Primal Gets Lunch And A Launch Date...

That's One Creepy Baby Right There...

Produced by M. Night Shyamalan (who also directs a couple of the episodes, including the pilot), Servant was created and written by Tony Basgallop, and will be appearing on Apple TV.

The story concerns parents Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose) and Sean Turner (Toby Kebbell), who have hired young nanny Leanne (Nell Tiger Free) to care for their newborn child.

But as the psychological thriller unfolds, things start to get rather weird...

These brief trailers scream a strong Hereditary vibe to me (even the poster has stylistic echoes of that divisive horror flick), and that's all I really need to know to be sure Servant will be my kind of show.

If it ever appears on a UK channel, that is...

#DCTV Flash Hits The Ground Running...

#RPG Revisiting An Old Friend...

Back in 2012, just four years into the life of the Tuesday Knights, I was pretty much the de facto gamesmaster for the group, but had been unable to get a long-running campaign (always my dream) going.

Since then, I have my three-year Chronicles of Cidri game under my belt (which remains my personal gold standard, and a target I now wish to aim for again - and hopefully excel - when I finally return to the head of the table).

However, this doesn't stop me from frequently rereading this post from seven years ago, where I conducted brief autopsies on "failed" games I ran for the group.

The Tuesday Knights membership has changed a bit since those days, we've lost some people and gained more members, which means tastes have changed as well, but I still feel these "revelations" hold water and I aim to adhere to them.

I wish I'd had the foresight to conduct a similar autopsy on our Cidri campaign when it wrapped, dissecting my thoughts on why it worked, but I think I was just basking in the adulation of my players... and so it never crossed my mind to attempt the kind of surprisingly perceptive analysis that I had with these earlier efforts that hadn't worked out.

Of course, I also always welcome the opportunity to replay the credit sequence that Craig Oxbrow put together for the Cidri game:

With the new game I'm working on having similarities to the one I was working on when I wrote this (that particular game never even made it to the table in the end as it was superseded by yet another "great idea") I like to continually remind myself of the potential pitfalls...

Campaign Autopsies

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

As will be clear by now I've started work on my latest attempt to run an "open-ended" campaign for the Tuesday Knights.

This will actually be my fourth campaign since the Tuesday Knights first started gaming back in August 2008.

So, what went wrong with the previous three games?

TEKRALH I: The first game I ran for the Tuesday Knights started as heavily houseruled version of Castles & Crusades (with a heavy dose of Hackmaster and Arduin) and it worked really well to start with...

Until, for no readily apparent reason, I decided to switch horse mid-stream and changed the rules system to a by-the-book version of Labyrinth Lord. The characters were severely de-powered and the game turned into a meatgrinder of TPK after TPK.

Within a few sessions all the fun that we'd had at the start of the campaign was sucked from the campaign. Eventually, I had to pull the plug on the game as it wasn't getting anywhere.

When we started the players were giving me nice backstories for their characters, with plot hooks etc, but by the end I was lucky if they'd give their characters names as they knew their life expectancy had become so limited.

MORAL: If it ain't broke don't fix it.

KNIGHT CITY: Next up was my Villains & Vigilantes campaign, set in Knight City. This was driven almost entirely by the naive dream of trying to recapture the magic that Steve, Pete, Nick and I enjoyed with our original V&V games back in the '80s - the games that led to the creation of the concept of HeroPress.

Almost from the start things started to go wrong with this campaign due to the simple fact that we weren't all singing from the same hymn sheet. It wasn't anyone's fault in particular, but when we were teenagers we were all (except for Nick) avid comic book readers and had reasonably similar tastes in comics and superheroes.

Thirty years later, tastes have changed and the sort of scenarios I wanted to run (e.g. dimension hopping, cosmic stuff) didn't sit comfortably with some of the players, who were expecting more straight-forward supervillain bashing.

There were also problems with the rules (from the clunky combat table at the game's heart to the peculiar diversity of character's random power sets), but ultimately these were just the straws that broke a very unhealthy camel's back. I think we could have overcome these if everyone had had contiguous ideas of where the game should be going.

MORAL: Make sure everyone is on the same page.

TEKRALH II: I thought I'd found a winner when I came across D101's Crypts & Things (a sword & sorcery variant of Swords & Wizardry) as I thought this kind of human-centric adventure game was the way to go.

The simple problem with this very short-lived campaign - and it had nothing to do with the rules - was I had just discovered A Song Of Ice & Fire!

I was in the grip of Westeros-fever and spent all my time thinking about developing the wider world, quickly losing sight of the intimate adventure I should have been running for the players. 

This would have been fine if the player-characters were all high-up members of House Stark or House Lannister, but they were actually 1st Level D&D proto-adventurers and tunnel grubbers.

Instead of developing scenarios or stocking dungeons I was researching medieval legal systems, clothing, cuisine, bartering etc My eyes were fixed on the horizon rather than the gamestable in front of me.

MORAL: Intimate, not epic.

Therefore the stage is set for my third attempt at running a game in my Tekralh setting. Learning from my past mistakes, I first asked everyone what sort of game they preferred playing (the verdict came back: fantasy)  and I'm starting with a single town (Sanctuary) and a single dungeon locale.

We'll be using the Crypts & Things rules (but with houserules gleaned from what worked and what didn't in our earlier campaigns).

None of the previous background material or world-building remains canon (although if anyone wants to use names or locales from previous Tekralh games I'm happy to allow that) and players are free to extrapolate as much backstory or as little as they want from the basic framework of their character - if they're a noble, they can create the house they come from; if they're religious, they can invent their god(s) etc

Hopefully then from these small seeds, a mighty campaign may be allowed to grow.

But that's already getting ahead of myself...

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Victor Crowley's Slashing More Than Pumpkins This Halloween...

Main cover by Roy Allen Martinez

Although - in the greater scheme of things - a relatively new slasher, Adam Green's Victor Crowley has already developed a rich and storied mythology across multiple media.

The urban legend-made-flesh star of the Hatchet movie franchise has already stamped his mark on comics, but is returning to the printed page next month in a one-shot Halloween special from American Mythology Productions.

Victor Crowley’s Hatchet Halloween Tales is scheduled to carve up comic store shelves from October 9.

Between its cover the holiday special contains three original tales and a selection of "holiday themed activities in the vein of Hatchet" (whatever that means!!!).

Spend Halloween with these three creepy tales from Honey Island Swamp:
  • Following by writer Jason Pell (Beware The Witch’s Shadow), which shows us that heartbreak can lead to a fatal outcome;
  • In The Company Of Freaks, which sees novelist SA Check (Volcanosaurus) deliver the doomed destiny of a circus troupe attempting to add Victor Crowley to their freakshow;
  • and Gourd To Death by horror author James Kuhoric (Freddy vs Jason vs Ash) about a Halloween monster mash of bloody revenge.
Variant cover by Cyrus Mesarcia
Shining parody by Richard Bonk
Orange variant of main cover (limited to 350 copies)
American Mythology-exclusive cover by Puis Calzada (limited to 500 copies)

#RPG REVIEW: Keranova 'Clever Paper' Medieval Town Tavern...

Keranova Clever Paper Medieval Town Tavern

There has been a lot of chatter in certain quarters of the RPG community about the Keranova range of "Clever Paper" Medieval buildings and their suitably for Dungeons & Dragons style tabletop shenanigans.

Being notoriously cack-handed and historically poor at following modelling instructions (my Apollo Lunar Module with the stairs on the opposite side to the door was a source of great mirth in the family when I was growing up), I was pessimistic about my chances with one of these sets.

However, conversely, my interest was piqued by the affordability (this tavern was less than £14 on Amazon) and the reported durability of the materials.

To cut a long story short, this tavern took me about 25 minutes to build, from opening the packet to completion (and that's including several stops along the way for photo opportunities).

The building came flatpacked:

The text on the packaging is in Russian, with an insert in Spanish, but the very-easy-to-follow, wordless, instructions simply rely on a blend of colour coding and numbered parts.

I quickly discovered that where one part slots into another it's always best to punch out the hole first, but - with the minimum of force - the pieces are so brilliantly made that they click together with ease.

The methodical instructions even tell you which pieces to fit together first in each stage of the construction.

There's no gluing or cutting required, although I did resort to a kitchen knife to pop out some of the slots as my finger nails weren't long enough to do it unaided.

Hopefully you can tell from the photographs that the set is made from very sturdy cardboard.

Some parts of the building are hinged for opening and closing, but I can't see this damaging the integrity of the building in normal use.

Twenty-five minutes later and it was ready to introduce Syr Edvard and His Merry Band Of Miscreants (the Tuesday Knights' characters from Simon's 5e Ravenloft game) to the tavern.

Syr Edvard, with the big sword over his shoulder, couldn't quite fit on the top floor, but everyone else did just fine, and he was okay on the lower floors.

I then tried the building with a couple of Antediluvian Miniatures "Dungeons Explorers" - let's call them Presto and Bobby - and they proved to be a perfect fit.

The set actually comes with a sheet of push-out card characters (and bases), as these sets were originally designed as educational pieces for young kids rather than wargames/RPG scenery.

Antediluvian's miniatures are of a comparable size to the card figures (which could easily serve as NPC henchmen or random encounters in your game).

"Presto" is approximately 28mm from base of feet to eyes

On the strength of this one model, I highly recommend checking out this Russian line of card buildings.

They produce quite a few - and not all are to the same scale, so make sure you research each thoroughly before pressing "add to cart".

Some of the buildings are listed as "3D Puzzles", including the one I purchased, for some reason, but, again, don't let this put you off.

These are way more affordable than resin buildings and way less fiddly than laser-cut MDF ones.

The 'Clever Paper' buildings are predecorated (inside, outside, top, and bottom) textured card, precision made, sturdy, quick and easy to assemble, and great value for money.

Black Widow (2021) + The Batman (2022)


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