Reality Is The Playground Of The Unimaginative

Home Of Supernatural Scares, Star Stuff, Superheroes, Swords, Sorcery, Sci-fi, Sauciness, Smeg, and Silliness

Sunday, 31 May 2020

#RPG Let Me Fly, Far Away From Here...

Beginning with the arrival of the new Red Dwarf special on Dave (The Promised Land), April and May have been two intense Dwarf-themed months here at HeroPress HQ.

I watched - and rewatched - all the episodes, collated my collection of reference material onto a single shelf (above), listened to audiobooks (read by master impressionist Chris Barrie) of the first two Red Dwarf spin-off novels, and did some more housekeeping on The Red Knight Chronicles campaign site and blog.

This adrenaline-shot of Red Dwarf to my system confirmed my earlier thoughts that, while I enjoy the show (mostly) and really like the concept behind it, the fact that it's a sitcom parodying sci-fi tropes - of which a core conceit is continuity - can be an issue to a canon-head like myself.

Much of it also hasn't aged well, confirming what I discovered years ago during another of my revisits to the show.

While most episodes have laughs in them, and some of the the classics remain classics, these are surprisingly are few and far between.

Another revelation was the woefully misguided Season VIII, that I'd never seen before, which threw out the innovative, central theme of the show, Lister's "isolation",  and brought all the original crew of the mining ship back to life.

The painfulness of this season was heightened by stretching the "jokes" and scenario of the first episode into three episodes, padding it out unnecessarily.

No wonder that was the end of the show's original run on the BBC and it was totally forgotten when Red Dwarf returned a decade later.

Watching everything back-to-back, also undercut my original appreciation of Back To Earth (ie. Season IX), when it became clear it was just recycling a twist from an earlier episode (that had done it much better), in a very clunky way.

Turns out I had only previously read the first novel, Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, and it was this that had led to my love of Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life.

I guess this is why I never read the sequel Better Than Life in the intervening years because, in my mind, the last act of the first book (in the virtual reality world) "had" to have happened in the second book.

Of course, it didn't.

The superb Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers also has simply the best, most bittersweet, ending to any book I've ever read (it was just in my head, it had become the ending of the second book).

The sequel, which I had previously sworn blind I had read back in the day, was a total revelation, particularly with its introduction of the idea of Garbage World.

I do wish "Grant Naylor" had brought the brilliance of these books to their patchy live-action sitcom.

So, where does this leave my Red Knight Chronicles campaign?

Still lost in space. I'm not as convinced as I was a couple of weeks ago that this is "the" campaign I want to run for the Tuesday Knights when my time returns to take the seat at the head of the table, behind the gamesmaster's screen.

I know at the moment, because of the pandemic lockdown, we're gaming a lot more than we have in previous years - thanks to the magic of Zoom - but I can say, without fear of contradiction, that this won't continue once things return to some semblance of normality.

We'll be back to our one, two-to-three(ish) hour, meeting a month.

From my perspective, I reckon I've got one great campaign left in me, if I'm lucky.

I don't want to run a disjointed, couple of sessions and then give up because I'm not selling it to the group.

It needs to be a campaign - and setting - that I believe in one hundred percent and can inspire the members of my gaming group to want to "live in".

My goal is for another long-term campaign that equals - or exceeds - the three-year Chronicles of Cidri that received spontaneous applause from my players at its conclusion.

Perhaps I was slightly wrong about "not dissecting what you love", perhaps I need loftier ambitions.

Time to return to the Batcave for some more navel-gazing...

It's MJ, Not Aunt May - Week Five...

Animals: They're Probably Not Thinking What You Think They're Thinking...

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Saturday Night Smooth: Melee Range - A Dungeons & Dragons Love Song (Ginny Di)

Written and performed by the fabulous Ginny Di, featuring her fiancé Josh, Melee Range is a delightfully humorous little ditty using Dungeons & Dragons combat terms to evocatively describe romantic love.

Darling, you’re too far away
Much nearer would be sweet
Come a little closer, dear
At least within five feet…

I want you in melee range, I want you close enough to stab
Go on, roll a grapple check, if you wanna make a grab
I don’t wanna leave but if I do then you can have an opportunity
To take a slash at me
At melee range

I’ve never been in love before
I don’t know what weapon to wield
I’ll wave away the fog of war
And adjust to this new battlefield

When rolling to hit somebody’s heart
I don’t know where I oughtta start
But if other combat can compare
I need you in my threatened square!

I want you in melee range, I want you close enough to stab
Go on, roll a grapple check, if you wanna make a grab
I don’t wanna leave but if I do then you can have an opportunity
To take a slash at me
At melee range

I’m happy to take initiative
I’ll make the first move if you like
I’ll show you the heart I’m glad to give
If ever you wanted to strike

Oh, cupid has rolled his ranged attack
He hit me with some kind of hex
He’s buried his bolt right in my back
And darling I hope that you’re next

I want you in melee range, I want you close enough to stab
Go on, roll a grapple check, if you wanna make a grab
I don’t wanna leave but if I do then you can have an opportunity
To take a slash at me
At melee range
Please take a slash at me
At melee range

#RPG Exploring The Multiverse Of My Nascent Superhero Campaign...

The Web Of Worlds
Some of the science

I realise this will only be of passing interest to most, but this is one of my favourite pieces I've written for a gaming campaign (my yet-to-see life Villains & Vigilantes hack, Knight City).

Enjoy this 'in-universe' slice of weird science as I discuss the Multiverse as pictured in my campaign, from its homework on "Earth-H" (HeroPess), and how my beloved Acrobatic Flea appears across various alternate dimensions.

I tend to regard the original version of this, on the campaign blog site, as a "living document" and am known to add new "alternate Earths" when ideas strike. The piece is a combination of references to other games (some my own, some others) and pure "thought experiments" on various different comic book style iterations of Earth and the Acrobatic Flea.

Extrapolating on earlier quantum theory work by Erwin Schrödinger, the visualisation and study of parallel dimensions is a new field of science pioneered in a joint project between scientists working for Nick Law and Miskatonic University.

Currently, the team is only able to observe - and theorise about - these alternate realities, and not interact with them. But, clearly, such interaction is the ultimate goal.

The Acrobat (of Earth-B)
THE ACROBAT (of Earth-B): Inspired by the comic books he devoured as a child, thrill-seeking teenager Sean Ritter transformed his natural athletic prowess into a crime-fighting persona he called The Acrobat.

Now, dressed in camouflage-clothing and a vaguely insect-like hockey mask, Ritter gets his kicks on the streets of Vigilante City by fearlessly jumping off rooftops, swinging from flag poles, bouncing off of awnings and smacking the bad guys in the face.

A twitchy, adrenaline junkie, his small stature has earned him the nickname of “The Acrobatic Flea”.

A wise-cracking, loquacious youth, his love of comic books has fuelled his creativity and when asked about his “origins” he often spins wild tales of being bitten radioactive fleas, finding lost artefacts of ancient gods, being the last survivor of an alien race etc

Armed only with his fists, feet, and a small number of throwing stars for distance attacks, The Acrobat is a master of close combat, never remaining still, always bobbing, weaving, ducking and diving, looking for a weak spot in his opponent’s defences.

THE ACROBATIC FLEA (of Earth-DCTV) A very distant parallel and hard to truly visualise, Earth-DCTV is another nexus world with branches off to its own parallels.

The alternate Earths spinning off from this parallel are coded with numbers, one to 52 (so far), as well as one classified as Earth-X (not to be confused with an Earth-X parallel of our own world).

On Earth-DCTV, Dr Tim Knight (picture left) is a scientist working at S.T.A.R. Labs with Cisco Ramon, Caitlin Snow et al, but as the metahuman known as The Acrobatic Flea (pictured right) he is also a member of Team Flash, and has fought alongside both The Flash and Supergirl.

This parallel is cut off from the rest of the Multiverse by a cosmic shell, or wall, and, so far, science suggests it would be inaccessible from our world, yet still observable with the right technology.

The Flea of Earth-F
THE ACROBATIC FLEA (of Earth-F): This strange parallel dimension (The Fuzzy Dimension) is home to sentient, animated toys. The woollen Acrobatic Flea daily patrols Knit City looking to unravel the tangled threads of crime.

THE ACROBATIC FLEA (of Earth-G): A mere teenager starting out on a career of superheroics, the Acrobatic Flea of Earth-G perished (along with all the other inhabitants of that plane) when that universe unexpectedly disintegrated.

THE CURRENT ACROBATIC FLEA (of Earth-H): The most recent superhero in the multiverse to take up the mantle of The Acrobatic Flea, 17-year-old Tim Knight is learning the ropes as a junior member of Knight City's Agents of C.O.M.P.A.S.S. on Earth-H. (NB. This is THIS Earth!)

THE ACROBATIC FLEA (of Earth-L): Even less well-known than his Earth-S colleague, the Acrobatic Flea of Earth-L is currently more a rumour than a reality.

However, this Earth is of particular interest to multiversal scientists as it's a nexus of links to different branches of the "web of worlds", proving the theory that the multiverse is more than just parallel universes but expands in other dimensions.

These worlds are classified by Grecian nomenclature, and include such exotic parallels as Earth-Mu (a world of anthropomorphic cats) and Earth-Xi (a world of toy bricks).

Scientists on Earth-L who study these other universes refer to their own as Earth-Alpha.

Flea-Girl of Earth-M
THE ACROBATIC FLEA (of Earth-M): A good-natured fantasist, The Acrobatic Flea of Earth-M is still fighting crime well into middle age, with Flea-Girl by his side.

Both remain members of the premier British superhero team known as The Gauntlet.

When not fighting crime, the Flea, in his secret identity, is an entomological scientist for the prestigious Masters’ Corporation and a champion practitioner of the martial art of savate.

Sixteen years younger than The Acrobatic Flea, Flea-Girl is the Flea's best friend and verbal sparring partner, whose abilities continue to develop as she continues to fight crime alongside her mentor.

Earth-MCU's Flea
Over the years her phenomenal luck power has saved both her and the Flea's bacon on more than one occasion, and while he still jokingly refers to her as his "sidekick", he really knows that these days they are very much equals.

THE ACTROBATIC FLEA (of Earth-MCU): Like Earth-DCTV (above), Earth-MCU is another sealed parallel, that also serves as a nexus world.

In this reality, the teenaged Acrobatic Flea is a member of The Avengers, protecting Earth from Thanos alongside Captain America, Falcon, Iron Man etc

As befits the design aesthetic of this universe's superheroes, his uniform is more of a 'combat suit', with flexible armoured panels on his shoulders and sides.

The Avengers' identicard of Earth-MCU's Acrobatic Flea

DER AKROBATISCHE FLOH (of Earth-N): Given its pivotal role in recent human history, it's a quirk of all parallels that they feature - in some form - a world where the Nazi's actually defeated The Allies in the Second World War.

This was the fate of Earth-N, an industrialised, fascistic nightmare planet dominated by The Eternal Reich. Here the villainous Der Akrobatische Floh is one of the foot soldiers of the Reich's Übermensch Division.

THE ACROBATIC FLEA (Of Earth-P): Another nexus world, Earth-P has one of the most storied and dense histories of superpowered characters. On this world, the young Flea is Sean Gentry.

Born in the UK, son of billionaire industrialist Geoff Gentry, his mutant powers were recognised at an early age, but Geoff's dislike of "powered individuals" means it was kept quiet.

However, when a supervillain targeted Sean for assassination (Geoff, on his way to supervillain status himself, has a lot of enemies), Geoff did what any sane parent would do and faked his son's death, before sending him to live in New Jersey with distant - impoverished - relatives, under the name of Tim Knight.

THE ACROBATIC ZOMBIE (of Earth-R): This decaying, rotten Earth has seen 99.999% of the human and metahuman population wiped out by a zombie virus.

Unfortunately for the handful of uninfected survivors, the zombie-metahumans (including The Acrobatic Flea) have retained their superhuman abilities (if not their intelligence). It's just now coupled with an insatiable, bestial, hunger for human flesh.

THE ARMOURED FLEA (of Earth-T): Earth-T - or Herph as its inhabitants refer to it - is a Medieval world of magic and monsters, gods and demons, ruled by mighty warriors and powerful wizards clashing by force of swords of sword and sorcery. The Armoured Flea is Timotheous Cniht, a young squire, with dreams of being a great hero... dreams he has yet to act upon.

Another nexus reality, the parallel existences that conjoin with Earth-T (named for the central realm of Tekralh) are all born of magic rather than science. Moving through these alternate realities is the hellworld of Croatoa, home of the elder god known as the Yellow King and his various minions, such as Baba Yaga, The Witch Of The Woods.

Rachel Ritter
THE ACADEMIC FLEA (of Earth-U): On a world where vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and crazy witches are the primary antagonists, rather than metahuman villains, Rachel Ritter leads the fight back.

Growing up a proud bookish nerd, she thought her organisational skills as class president and hall monitor meant a career in middle management or local government until her birthright as The Chosen One was revealed to her.

Already nicknamed The Academic Flea for her size, pestering nature, and love of the written word, Rachel embraced it as her "fighting name" once she began to work on developing her innate martial arts skills.

Reluctantly, at first, she embraced the mantle of "this generation's vampire slayer" - until she realised she could bring her organisational skills to her new vocation.

Now, she's the leader of a very well disciplined and coordinated Scooby Gang fighting every Big Bad that comes to her town.

THE ORIGINAL ACROBATIC FLEA (of Earth-V): The first superhero of the multiverse known to have taken the mantle of The Acrobatic Flea is an old man now, living out his twilight years training young up-and-coming heroes in his gym.

During the brutal "iron age" of Earth-V, this Acrobatic Flea lost a leg in a confrontation with his arch-nemesis Dr Bionics.

Retired Hero: The aged
Acrobatic Flea

of Earth-V
The fiendish master of cybernetics replaced his fallen foe's lost limb, but the hero later discovered it was rigged with explosives.

Luckily scientific genius and billionaire inventor Nick Law was able to give the hero a proper prosthetic, but the Flea was never his old self again.

During this violent time, the Flea's sidekick, the effervescent Flea-Girl suffered brain damage after an oversized villain cracked her skull in the middle of a particularly viscous brawl on a space station.

The Flea now divides his time between training others and caring for his severely disabled former partner-in-crimefighting.

THE AQUABATIC FLEA (of Earth-W): On this waterworld, where mankind evolved as a mer-race, The Aquabatic Flea is the leader of the crimefighting Agents Of N.A.U.T.I.L.U.S.

THE AGGRO FLEA (of Earth-XF): On the peculiar Earth-XF music drives the world's economy, an immortal Freddie Mercury has ruled The United Kingdom for over 60 years and Simon Cowell is the President Of The United States.

In middle-class, suburban England, Titch Knight and two of his school friends managed to turn their punk garage band, The Bondage Girls, into a global phenomenon. But while gigging in the Far East, Titch was bitten by a radioactive flea and transformed into The Aggro Flea, a punk rock superhero.

He continues to tour with the band, and record top-selling albums, but also uses his powers for good... and fun... and a bit of anarchy.

THE REVERSE FLEA (of Earth-Z): While Multiversal scientists at Miskatonic have proved the existence of Earth-Z, they find studying it next to impossible as the passage of time there runs counter to our own.

It is as though everything is moving backwards, left is right, up is down etc and extended periods of study of Earth-Z tends to be hazardous to equipment on our Earth.

However, a villain has been identified who bears a passing similarity to our Acrobatic Flea. He has been labelled "The Reverse Flea", even though the true extent of his abilities has yet to be analysed.

DECODING THE WORLDS (by game system):
  • Earth-B: Bloat Games' Vigilante City
  • Earth-G: Guardians
  • Earth-H: HeroPress (aka V&V Second Edition)
  • Earth-L: Light City
  • Earth-M: Mutants & Masterminds
  • Earth-P: The Mighty Protectors (aka V&V Third Edition)
  • Earth-U: Unisystem (Buffy The Vampire Slayer RPG)
  • Earth-V: Villains & Vigilantes (our original campaign)

Storytime: Thumbelina by Hans Christian Andersen (read by Ginny Di)

"I recorded Han Christian Andersen's original folktale Thumbelina while in costume as Thumbelina from the 1994 animated film!"

Friday, 29 May 2020

#RPG Looking For Quality "Modern, Mythos, Or Sci-Fi" Stock Art? Then Click Here...

Renowned freelance artist James "Je" Shields is launching his latest stock art Kickstarter on June 9, themed around "modern, sci-fi, and Lovecraftian" genre imagery.

The Modern Mythos and Machine Stock Art Kickstarter is a collection of 75 to 100 or more stock illustrations created for the three different genres, including fonts, cover art, vehicles, scenes, effects, characters, and items.

James told me that the "greatest bulk of the art will be divided among vehicles, scenes, characters, and items with an even dispersion among the genres".

However, he added that:
"Backers will get to submit illustration ideas [which] will be curated and put to a vote. Winning ideas will then be created for at least two of genres in this project.

"Every backer will also receive a non-exclusive right to use the artwork indefinitely for any number of projects.
Initial Kickstarter funding will support the create of all of the line art for the project, with colours being unlocked as stretch goals.

James said: "If we unlock every stretch goal, then all of the art will be in colour at no extra cost to the backers."

Addressing the background to the project, he explained:
"As I began planning my next stock art project, I opened up the conversation to independent publishers for what they saw was needed.

"That engagement offered me a perspective I would not have had otherwise and it became very clear that there was a high demand for modern art assets and science fiction. There was just enough conversation about
Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos to convince me to include it to push my artistic talents even further.

"When I stepped into illustrating for tabletop roleplaying games, I wanted to give independent publishers with a limited budget the opportunity to still have quality art to bring their worlds to life and entice people to explore their worlds. This project is my next attempt to do just that."
Modern Mythos and Machine, by Jeshields, (a Mix-N-Match stock art project of Modern, Sci-Fi, and Lovecraft themes), will go live here on June 9, and you can click the tag for a reminder to be emailed to you once the campaign is open to investors.

The Kickstarter will then run for two weeks.

The Shat Is Back!

William Shatner is back with a second series of The UnXplained, and as the face (and voice) of the "summer of secrets" season on the recently rebranded History Channel (now Sky History).

Like Red Dwarf? Like LEGO? Don't Be A Smeghead, Show Support For This Idea...

Bob Turner, of Bob's Vintage Bricks, has crafted his version of Starbug from Red Dwarf, and with enough support from LEGO fans could see his idea transformed into an official LEGO kit.

He's aiming for 10,000 supporters and already has almost 7,000 with nearly two years to run on the campaign, before LEGO decides.

Starbug has been made in partnership with Ben Bancroft and Nick Savage, who designed the minifigures and custom tiles featured in the set, including Rimmer in a gingham dress and sporting the evil hand puppet Mr Flibble (as seen in the classic episode Quarantine).

Reason enough to do everything possible to ensure this gets turned into a mass market product!

Pop over to the LEGO Ideas site for Starbug and register your support for the campaign.

Prepare Your Eye-Holes For A Psychedelic Battering From The Blood Machines...

Inspired by the spirit of the 80's films and music, Blood Machines, now available on Shudder is a 50-minutes science-fiction film written and directed by Seth Ickerman, scored by the synthwave artist Carpenter Brut, as a sequel to their first collaboration, the music video Turbo Killer (which you can find at the bottom of this article).
Two space hunters are tracking down a machine trying to free itself. After taking it down, they witness a mystical phenomenon: the ghost of a young woman pulls itself out of the machine, as if the spaceship had a soul. Trying to understand the nature of this entity, they start chasing the woman through space...
While I suspect that, ultimately, Blood Machines will be a psychedelic triumph of style over substance, it's piqued my interest enough that I'll want to track it down when it beciomes more widely available.

Can You Solve 10 + 4? Sorry, Out Of Time!

The Cathedral of Contemplation is an enigma, existing outside time. It turns through history, opening its doors across the universe to offer solace to those in need.

Occasionally, the Doctor drops in – when he's avoiding his destiny, it’s an ideal place to get some perspective. Only, he's already there several lives earlier, so when dimension barriers break down, his past and present collide.

And when the Daleks invade and commandeer the Cathedral, two Doctors must unite to stop them – or face extermination twice over!
Due for release in August, the first volume of Doctor Who: Out of Time sees the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) team up to outwit the Daleks (voiced by Nicholas Briggs) in a new, full-cast audio adventure.

Featuring the most popular Doctors from both the classic period and the new era of the television show, the hour-long episode is available to pre-order from production company Big Finish as an £8.99 download or £10.99 CD.

A bundle deal of all three volumes of the forthcoming Doctor Who: Out of Time series is also available for £27 (on CD) or £24 (on download)

Thursday, 28 May 2020

#RPG I'd Still Rather Be Killing Monsters!

Running since the start of the year, my old school roleplaying Facebook group - I'd Rather Be Killing Monsters - received a nice bump this week from headlining a new feature - #Follow Friday - on Timothy Brannan's highly regarded The Other Side blog.

IRBKM has seen a steady stream of new arrivals since the initial tidal wave at its creation, but following Tim's article we've had a resurgence of applications to join.

As we head into our sixth month, membership is now well over 250 gamers, with Facebook's mystical algorithms regarding 82 per cent of them as "active" participants in the site's fun and frolics.

I'll be the first to admit that, like its administrator (ie. me!), IRBKM isn't always the most "focused" of groups, but then that does lead to a variety of discussions around gaming topics.

For me, the biggest indication that it's taking off is the fact that I can drop into the group on any given day and discover numerous posts have appeared that I previously knew nothing about.

It's great to see the group developing a life of its own, with so many posts from other bloggers and gamers.

Further credit needs to go to Mr Brannan for being the site's top contributor in the last 28 days (as shown in the table below):

Thank you to everyone who has joined the gang so far, or is thinking about it, has started a conversation in the group, joined one, liked a comment, whatever. It all helps IRBKM gain traction in the battlefield of Facebook and our niche corner of da Interwebz.

I look forward to many more months and years of gaming banter in the I'd Rather Be Killing Monsters group and I hope you'll pop in as well (if you're not already a member).

Paradox Of Horror: Why Scary Movies Can Make You Feel Good During Tough Times...

Venom (2021) + Eternals (2021) + Spider-Man (2021) + The Matrix (2021) +The Batman (2022)


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