Wednesday, January 31, 2007

man, this game is slick

At 6.5 by 10 inches and 192 pages, this thing has a pretty darn good awesome to size ratio.I recently bought a copy of the Batman Role-Playing Game on the cheap. Published by Mayfair in 1989, this came is sort of a slimmed down DC Heroes released to cash in on the Batmania of the Michael Keaton films. Those in the know tell me that the game is sort of a DC Heroes 1.5, not exactly the 1st edition of that game, but not incorporating all the changes of 2nd edition of that award-winning design.

As a teenager I owned both this game and the first edition DC Heroes, but I never played them. Like James Bond 007 this game was too sophisticated for my beer-and-pretzels palate. But as a grown-up (or a reasonable facsimile of one) I am totally digging this design. I think back then I avoided running both games for the same reason: two chart resolution. You look up one chart for the die roll and then with the results in handle you consult a results chart to determine level of success.

For teenaged Jeff that was one chart too many. And I was one of the rules wonks in my group. No one else was interested in tackling these beasts, so both games sat idle on my shelf. We used the still-awesome FASERIP edition of Marvel Super Heroes for caped slugfests. And espionage was just to subtle for us. Heck, most days I think it's still too subtle for me to run.

The other turn-off for the Batman game is that it's written too straight. Most of the text is in that dry school tome language one expects from designs written by wargamer types. Meanwhile the Basic edition of Marvel featured Ben Grimm telling the reader how to use the mechanics to properly beat up Skrulls. How cool is that?

But looking at Batman now, with almost 20 years of perspective (cripes, has it really been that long?), and I can finally see the game for what it is: an incredibly tight design. I'm not saying its replaced MSH as my supers game of choice, but I wouldn't mind running this game at least once.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

'Darth Viraxis, say hello to my little friend.'

The Star Wars Heromachine toy solved a problem for me. I needed a character sketch for one of my PCs for my upcoming Encounter Critical con event. Check her out:

Omigod!  She's coming right out of the panel!
Xenarella Antillius, Evolved Amazon Warrior Princess!

Move over Galactus.

Man, this cover is creeping me out.



This post nicely demonstrated how out of touch I am with the world of video games. Traveller's Tales, the makers of the super-fun LEGO Star Wars games, are working on video game expansion of the LEGO Batman sub-franchise. This news was apparently announced in September.

'I'm Batman.' 'So you keep saying.'
I'm not even that big of a LEGO fan. These games are just good, silly fun.

another graphic toy

Yesterday I linked to some Heromachine toys made for Star Wars and GI Joe. And a few eeks back I linked to a Lego people maker. Here's one more fun graphic doo-hickey. Follow this link and click on "Build Your Own Wrestler" to be able to make cartoony little luchadors like this guy:

I call this little piece 'Self Portrait in Lucha'.A week or two back I went and dropped the money for the full-blown Heromachine download, by the way. It's pretty cool, especially for folks like me who can't really draw.

Monday, January 29, 2007

news item: AnimalBall games now free

[The press release below is pretty cool news. The AnimalBall gang are nifty people. A while back I reviewed Instant Game: Barebones Edition and RPG Pundit took a look at Sandbox Hill. Both Hill and their mythic Greek game, Ascension to Olympus, look right up my alley.]

Everything's Free at Animalball Games!

After many months of studying the market, spending dozens of dollars on various demographic studies, and reviewing the balances in their checking accounts, Animalball Games has decided to start offering its products for free download. Games that had previously been for sale through RPGNow, like the Steadfast Shield and Sandbox Hill, are now available for free download.

Animalball Co-Founder Kyle Jones stated, "We stuck with a 'traditional' business model for nearly two years, but realized we just weren't making any money selling pdfs of our games through the internet. After consulting with some of the greatest entrepreneurs in the rural midwest, we decided to go to a radically different business model-- volume, volume, volume. Our advisors concluded that we could move far more product if we reduced the price. We figured that nothing's lower than free, so we can really expect to move large volumes of product under our new business model."

Animalball's other Co-Founder, Mike Jones, added, "We're still creating great roleplaying games and over the next few weeks we'll roll out several more games that were originally intended for retail. But we decided that getting people to actually play our games was more important than making money. We decided that we do this because we enjoy it, not because we want to get rich from it."

Click here to go to Animalball's download page.

Animalball Games is a small, independent publisher of free, unique games that do not fit the traditional mold of "mainstream" rpgs. When developing its products, ABG heavily depends on the assistance of its online community to give feedback, input and playtesting help. It is ABG's philosophy that the best games are those developed by the gamers themselves.

A long time ago in an exceedingly cute galaxy....

The Star Wars Galactic Heroes toyline makes action figures and a few vehicles for the preschool set. I own a bunch of these and my daughter and I play with them pretty regularly. The usual scenario involves Darth Maul throwing a pizza party and inviting everyone. But sometimes Darth Vader is a school teacher and everyone else is a student. So far I have managed to resist the urge to buy the new Marvel Super Hero Squad line, where the apply a similar design ethic to a bunch of Marvel characters. But honestly it's only a matter of time. Those things are adorable. How can you not like tiny kawaii Punisher? If they made a Ben Grimm I'd probably already own the whole line.

Anyway, here are two of the more unusual Galactic Heroes figures that we've got at home.

That's the Millenium Falcon my wife got me that they're perched on.
The armored mummy you might recognize as Dengar, one of the bounty hunters that Vader hired in Empire for the purposes of rounding up the good guys. According to he went on to have some expanded universe adventures of his own, like pretty much every other named character in the original trilogy. What makes this figure so special to me is the fact that it looks like he's wearing the best shoes in the galaxy. Nearly everyone in Star Wars wears boots. Some aliens such as Chewbacca or Bossk go shoeless. But this little Dengar looks like he's wearing some comfy moccasins. I love that!

The little black robot is R2-Q5. I didn't even know this character existed until my wife got me the Death Star themed Galactic Heroes tenpack for Christmas. Back in the day I loved R series astromech droids. R5-D4 was one of my favorite robotic action figures. That was the red R2 unit with the bad motivator that futzed out right after Uncle Ben bought him. Turns out R2-Q5 is an R2 unit working for the bad guys. Given the recent revelation that R2-D2 was one of the Alliance's top agents, I can't help but wonder what roll this droid really played in the Empire.

By the way, while I was poking around Hasbro's Star Wars hub I found that they had a slick custom Heromachine just like the GI Joe version I found a while back. Dig it:

Not that I need another spellcasting robot picture.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

found another D&D comic ad

This one has made the rounds on the net before, but with both hot cleric ass and a red dragon making puppy eyes I could not pass up a chance to share it again. Especially with such a bright, clean copy.

Click to feast your eyes upon the nostalgic goodness.

Low Impact High Weirdness

You know what I like? Games that make it easy to get into but then go deep over the long haul. I've mentioned in the past how both Eberron and S. John Ross' Uresia both make it super-easy for D&D people to hop on board. You can create a bog standard surly dwarf or axe-wielding viking for either campaign and then let the GM spoonfeed you the deeper weirdness of the two settings. Similarly, you can play Traveller without knowing much about sci fi other than what you can get out of watching Star Wars, yet there is so much more under the surface.

Low Impact High Weirdness is my new catchphrase for these kinds of games. The big thing about these games is that you don't need a PhD in the setting to whip up a PC, or for the player to know what to do with that PC. There are a lot of rich, wondrous games out there I simply will never play because I don't want to spend umpteen hours conveying the setting to the players so they can make appropriate characters. Most versions of Tékumel, for instance. Or Fading Suns. At its most basic, I don't want to tell players why the setting is cool, I want get them into the game and then show them.

Example: at my Eberron game this last Tuesday the PCs met up with Ms. Johnson in an abandoned tower. Since the party is composed of despicable sky pirates, she brought some back-up. When I described the kobold mercenaries perched on the tower, wearing ewok-style hang-gliders, one of the players nearly jumped out of his seat. This was something new and weird for him. He was startled with the idea of hang-gliding kobolds, pulling quasi-legit merc work in a human city. I loved that reaction.

The player was Jon, who does the same thing to me all the time in his awesome World of Alidor campaign. You can make a regular D&D character for that campaign, and go on regular adventures. Someone with no knowledge of the setting can show up and play cold, but the campaign is chock full of awesome memorable stuff. Hell, after the first session I wrote up a list of things I wanted to do in his campaign, just 'cause it was so loaded with coolness. (Hmm, I've only got three items crossed off that list. Looks like I need to get to work.)

Many games set in the modern world do a good job of being Low Impact High Weirdness. With its easy premise ('occult investigation in the Roaring 20s'), D&D style stats, and percentage skills, Call of Cthulhu is extremely newbie friendly. At least when you don't make the mistake of fetishizing the source material. Most other horror, spy, or action movie games work that way as well. Feng Shui has a boatload of wacky setting info, but actually works better if you only dole it out to the players in bitesized morsels. You start out in a stock action movie and only later see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Most White Wolf games don't work for me precisely because I need to grok too much at the beginning of a campaign. If the Storyteller has to explain the difference between a Tremere and a Brujah before I can make my PC, then I just don't really want to play. Is that fair, considering that back in the day I had to learn the difference between an elf and a dwarf? Not really. But nowadays I just don't have the time to absorb vast amounts of setting info prior to starting a game. Put me in the game now, and freak me out later.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Wrestling Society X sneak preview review

Okay, so this show is a little unpolished and a little trashy, but it had some good wrestling. And they squeezed two long (for TV) matches into a 30 minutes show. I gotta respect the high wrestling to talking ratio. The main event was a battle royal that was screwed up with a lot of hardcore props, including stupid Japanese gimmicks like "live electrical wires" and cheesy explosions.

But the first match, Jack Evans vs. Matt Sydal (two unknowns to me), was a respectable match that would not be out of place in TNA's X-Division. The finish was weak, as it featured flagrant outside interference that the ref clearly acknowledged. Yet there was no DQ called. If the ref is not going to keep up the pretense of officiating, then make it a no DQ match and get the dude out of the scene.

I really liked the way the main event was designed to set of Wrestling Society X's first championship bout. The battle royal was designed to have two winners, with the goal of the match to reach one of the two championship match contracts suspended above the ring. The winners of the match, who next episode will fight for the chance to be the first WSX champ, are these two guys:

Sean Waltman,
a.k.a. Six-Pac, a.k.a. X-Pac, a.k.a. Syxx, a.k.a. the 1-2-3 Kid,
former member of both D-X and the nWo.


"scary" goth guy

I loathe Sean Waltman with such a passion that I'm going to be rooting for the Vampire LARPer. Seriously, this Waltman guy sucks. It's not that he's a badguy I love to hate. It's not that I want to see Vampiro beat the crap out of him. I just don't want Sean Waltman on my TV at all. And I'm not the only fan like that. The term "X-Pac Heat" was coined for him. It means heat (wrestling slang for 'crowd reaction') against the wrestler and not his badguy character. Lots of people find this guy annoying as hell and I'm one of them.

Which, in the crazy world of wrestling, means he'll probably win the championship and have a long and glorious reign.

The joys of ROM #24, part 2

In issue 24 of his book, Rom teams up with Nova to defeat some Skrulls, who are attempting to conquer the planet Xandar. Rom fights the Skrulls alone while Nova, an Earth kid with Xandarian superpowers, seeks to free the Champions of Xandar from imprisonment. Things look desperate for Rom, but the local populace decides they aren't going down without a fight.

...but my mustache can still kick some Skrull ass!
Holy crap, but that old guy with the mustache is awesome! And the eyebrows! And the outfit! Why this guy doesn't have his own 12-issue miniseries is beyond me. It's a tragedy that his only appearance in the mag is this one panel. This unnamed Xandarian reminds me of half the oldsters in my Masonic lodge: tough as leather and not taking any crap from the likes of you!

In fact, I so dig this dude that he served as the inspiration for the first fully statted character in New Bronze City!

Space Geezer
Gee-Zar of Zandaria, pensioner from the stars

Fighting: Incredible (40)
Agility: Good (10)
Strength: Typical (6)
Endurance: Poor (4)
Reason: Remarkable (30)
Intuition: Excellent (20)
Psyche: Remarkable (30)

Health: 60
Karma: 80
Resources: Excellent
Popularity: 0

Contacts: Space Geezer is on good terms with many of the old guard of the Zandarian Space Corps. Locally he has limited but friendly contact with the Zandarian Embassy to the UN.


Inhuman Grumpiness: Once per day Space Geezer may attempt a Psyche FEAT to enter a fit of righteous fury, boosting his physical abilities for 1-10 rounds. A red result boosts his Fighting, Agility, Strength, and Endurance by two ranks. A yellow result boosts the same stats one rank. After the period of enhancement all of Space Geezer's physical abilities drop to one rank below normal for 1-10 minutes. A green result boosts a physical stat of Space Geezer's choice by one rank, but with no subsequent rank reduction. If the Psyche FEAT yields a white result nothing happens but Space Geezer cannot attempt further Grumpiness for 1-5 hours.


Marksman, Martial Arts A & C, Pilot (including spacecraft), Military, Leadership


Ultrium Swagger Stick: Space Geezer occasionally carries a metal cane of alien design. It is made of an unearthly alloy of Amazing material strength. When wielding it in hand-to-hand combat Space Geezer does +1 rank of damage. The head of the cane contains a laser emitter capable of doing Excellent damage at a range of 4 areas. The power of the laser is variable and can be turned down so as to light cigars or toast bread.


Gee-Zar served 8 terms with the Space Corps, the mighty military machine of the Zandarian Star Empire. He's seen fighting all over space, participating in most of the colonial wars of the last three decades. When Sergeant Major Gee-Zar reached mandatory retirement age he pulled a few lucrative mercenary tickets and then opted to settle down on a shiny little planet outside of the major interstellar trouble areas. His pension keeps him very comfortable on this backwater world and his only trouble's nowadays is the occasional local hooligan in need of a drubbing. And frankly, Gee-Zar enjoys the workout.

Incidentally, if you look back up at that panel you'll see that old guy's left fist is behind the blonde woman in the foreground. But there's a second purple gloved fist on the left side of his body, completely visible. I think the penciller intended the visible fist to belong to the dude to the left, the guy in the green. The colorist's decision to make that guy's fist purple confuses the image and almost makes it look like the elderly gent with the mustache has two left arms. That confusion actually worked to my advantage when I tried pulling the old guy out of the panel with a paint program.

Always remember...Yeah, I'm digging up a year old meme here, all for a character I just made up. I have no shame.

Friday, January 26, 2007

the links came marching five by five

On costume color in DC comics

Futurama: Super Happy Fun Show - a picture (click on it for the close-up)

Claw the Unconquered: Cliché and the Perfect Genre Piece - about a comic, but perhaps useful to the non-comic reading sword & sorcery fan

Loren K Wiseman on Traveller and Star Wars

Those Magnificent Mandarins in Their Flying Machines - colonial airship sci-fi from a different empire than usual

Sometimes Fights Just Stop

In D&D as I have known it for 20+ years most combat encounters go to a definite conclusion, mostly the death of one side in the conflict. Sometimes a member or two of the losing side is captured. Occasionally one or more losing combatants get away, but this can be very hard for the GM to orchestrate. Many players are absolutely determined to let no one escape the slaughter.

In earlier incarnations of D&D we had useful, crunchy morale rules. The 1st edition Advanced rules were messy, like most 1st edition subsystems. But the 2nd ed morale rules and the Basic/Expert version were very useful mechanics. These morale rules combined with my groups tendency to not use a tactical display allowed for a lot fights to end with 'and the rest of orcs run away, never to be seen again.'

I'm not a huge proponent of 'realism' in my dungeoning and dragoning, but sometimes I think the tendency for D&D combats to turn into total slaughters is a tad bit too video gamey for my tastes. As the title goes of the post goes, sometimes fights just stop. I don't spend a lot of time studying real violence, but I've seen examples of brawls where the atagonists trade some punches, scuffle a bit, and then just quit fighting. Whatever psychological energies led the parties to blows had been expended, and the tusslers just stopped. And whole wargames (I'm thinking particularly of Sniper!) have been written about the skirmishes in war where two forces meet unexpectedly, trade some gunfire, and then one or both sides just leave.

Fiction is chock full of these sorts of conflicts as well. Comics are chock full of stories where the first act involves an unsatisfactorily concluded fight with the villain or his henchmen. Or think about the light sabre duels in Star Wars. Qui Gon's first encounter with Darth Maul and Luke's with Vader were both inconclusive. Well, Luke got a severe ass-beating, but I think you see my point. No one died and, more importantly, the narrative tension between the combatants was not released. Sometimes this combatus interruptus is caused by one of the parties ending the combat intentionally, other times circumstances align to make continuing the fight no longer viable.

So I think I've got two intersecting issues here. First, from a strict realism argument, more badguys should run away or surrender than I've normally seen happen. A simple morale rule would help here. Something like the old Basic rule, where every critter had a morale stat and you checked at first blood and 50% casualties, but without inventing a whole new stat. Maybe a DC 15 or 20 Will save?

The second issue is basically looking for a way to build dramatic tension by delaying gratification. We all know that the villain getting away is set-up designed to make finally nailing the bastard all the more savory. Yet played by the book D&D (and many other RPGs) either makes it hard for the villain to get away or else makes it really, really lame, such as the kind of game where every master villain always teleports out of danger.

I've seen a couple mechanical solutions to this problem over the years, but not many. The original Marvel Super Heroes game allowed master villains to spend some Karma (that game's version of Luck Dice or Fate Points or whatever) to get out of jail free. As long as the villain had the unspent Karma, he was pretty much immune to capture. I thought that was a pretty slick design decision, especially in the comic book superhero genre, where recurring villains are the standard. Eden's Buffy the Vampire Slayer rpg gives players more Luck Points (or whatever they're called) whenever the GM pulls stuff like blatantly escaping the villain by fiat. Both of these a pretty good solutions, I think. Especially if you allow players to spend their own Nifty Points to prevent the bad guy from getting away in the next encounter. S. John Ross' Risus neatly solves the problem by making the fate of the defeated the choice of the victor. Given the general comedic bent of the game, most foes end up humiliated rather than destroyed.

But here's my own idea for villain escapes: time limits on preliminary encounters. Here are the examples I came up with when I discussed this problem with Stuart. The basic idea is that fights have a limited duration, after which the GM (or a player, if you're playing that kind of game) narrates some sort of ending.
Okay folks, you have 2d4 rounds to play out this prison riot before the guards totally shut the fight down. Go!

Here's your challenge people: If you don't bring down the big bad in 5 rounds he is totally going to get away.

Time's up? Well, dang. The house in on fire, right? Howzabout falling timbers separates us from the baddies?

Do you see the advantages to this method? Without any real mechanical alteration you make it easier to build up to that final confrontation with the Big Bad via a series of brief and unsatisfying encounters. And you can totally pull off cinematic stuff like the fight ending because the ice over the river breaks up or the volcano erupts or whatever. I'm not saying every encounter needs boundary conditions and a scenery destroying ending, but used judiciously this technique could really punch up a game. As much as I like the overall concept, I wouldn't pull this crap every session because it would be a little too railroady for my tastes. And none of my NPCs are so precious that every one of them needs a chance to get away. I build those creeps specifically for the PCs to beat down.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The joys of ROM #24, part 1

The same week I scored some Team America I also got a few issues of ROM: Spaceknight, another Bill Mantlo scripted mind trip. This one features a trip to Xandar, the world that is home to Nova and the Champions of Xandar, a sort of also-ran space super-team that was eclipsed by the more popular Guardians of the Galaxy. Though Nova himself has had a recent relaunch that some people are saying is cool. Anyway, issue number 24 of ROM includes one of those great old D&D ads that was itself a comic strip.

Click on the thumbnail to awesome-size it.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Players: Please Connect the Dots

Here's a handy tip for any player in a game run by a non-jerk GM: Don't make the enigmatic figure behind the screen guess what you are trying to accomplish. Sometimes the GM is mentally juggling more stuff than is immediately obvious. Do yourself a favor and connect the dots for whoever is wearing the viking hat.

Last night was the second session of my new Sky Pirates of Eberron campaign. We still have a lot of kinks to work out but in general I think things are going swimmingly for the early stages of a new undertaking. The players were in the local equivalent of the Mos Eisley Cantina when a Warforged hauled ass out the front door, a bunch of cops following fast on its metallic heels. On Pat's move his Warforged Warlock (mentioned previously) sauntered over to the front door and casually vented all its waste orifices*. I dutifully drew in a little pool of urine and feces on the battlemat, but I was not able to figure out where Pat was going with this.

Pat was trying to use his character's own bodily wastes as an impromptu 'oil' slick, hopefully tripping the policemen and halting their pursuit. Normally I would have picked up on this. I've been gaming with Pat for over a decade and I have some ideas how his sick mind works. But at the time Pat was pulling this stunt I was busy doing something I almost never do in D&D. I was actually trying to manage a plot, what with factions and agents in the field and hidden agendas and clues and everything. Maybe to the players this encounter looked like little more than another Friday night at Bob's Country Bunker, but in my head there was a helluva lot going on.

If Pat had simply said in passing "Let's see those coppers try to catch that robot now!" then I would have been a mensch and come up with on-the-fly rules for slipping on robo-shit. As it was his efforts were wasted because the GM didn't have a clue. Now mind that this advice won't work if your GM is the kind of dillweed that will use your intentions against you. For that situation my advice is to get a new GM.

*Warforged biological functions and anatomy was the subject of much pre-session banter. I ruled that since Bluff is designated in some Wizards' book as the correct skill for seduction, therefore Warforged who took ranks in Bluff at 1st level would be built with genitalia. And like Mr. Data, they would be "fully functional". Little did I know where that conversation would lead me.

Demons 6 & 7

These two are Homestar Runner fanart of minor recurring characters. The little green dude is The Goblin, who lives under the old '74 Gremlin in the woods. He does a great little dance. The other dude is Rumble Red, the sensational character find of Nineteen Aught Eleventy Twelve. He's Old Timey Homestar's Great Gazoo figure. Follow the wiki links on the character names to see the originals. I did both of these without a reference. Rumble Red turned out pretty good, but the Goblin is kind of a mess.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Behold, Wrestling Society X!

I got this item from Pro Wrestling Blog, but the original report comes from PW Insider. Wrestling fans can see the premiere of Wrestling Society X this Friday at 11pm Eastern on MtV. After the Friday night 'sneek preview' the show is scheduled to be on Tuesdays.

Wrestling Society X is a new wrestling federation that looks to take the Attitude Era and put it through the MtV media blender. I expect it to be awful, but I plan to find out myself. Vampiro is on the roster, so that's cool. Then there's the brother who calls himself the Human Tornado. I'm always a sucker for a Dolemite reference. And then there's this dillweed:

Nice shirt.  I take it this is your first time on television.

How can you not want to see this guy get a beatdown?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Mighty Works of Moldvay

Tom Moldvay is one of the great unsung talents in the RPG hobby. I can't really tell you anything about Tom Moldvay regarding his biography or personality or anything like that. All I know about this guy was that everything he touched turned to awesome. Let me tell you a little bit about 5 books he worked on.

D&D Basic Rules (TSR, 1981)

Regular readers know that I started with these rules and that I simply cannot stop telling people how awesome they are. Tom Moldvay took the great start J. Eric Holmes had made with the original D&D Basic rules and distilled down to the awesome and then re-fleshed it out. I prefer Moldavy's edit not just for nostalgia reasons. The earlier Holmes version is still pretty crude while Mentzer's '83 edition kinda talks down to the reader. Moldvay's version is a sleek ass-kicking machine. Also, Morgan Ironwolf rules.

X2 Castle Amber (TSR, 1981)
I've had this module for years but I've not run it... yet. Based extremely loosely on the Amber novel series, this is one of those morks that annoys the crap out of people who demand 'realism' from their modules. But it is chock full of gonzo adventure. This is one of those great modules that you can just fall into and never get out. What I mean is that you could base a whole campaign on the plot threads contained within its meager pages.

Lords of Creation (Avalon Hill, 1983)

I've written about this game before. If you like wild and wooly multi-genre dimension-hopping madness, then this game is right up your alley. The rules are easy and clean. The various magical, technological, and psychic powers look like a hell of a lot of fun to play. And the skill system is one of the best I've ever seen. Folks looking for gritty resolution mechanics would do well to keep on looking, but if you interest is more along the lines of enabling whacky adventures, then look no further. This is the only skill system I've seriously considered adapting to Classic Traveller play. And the three modules that came out for this game are non-stop freak-outs.

The next two items are Moldvay works I do not own, so the info I'm passing on to you is second hand. Both are collector's items. And despite having a room in my house devoted to games, I don't consider myself a collector. I don't buy games based upon collectibility or rareness or resale value or crap like that. Up until now I've been too cheap to pay collector's prices for these babies. But I thought I would pass on what I know.

Seren Ironhand (Challenges International, 1986)

Holy crap, that cover is awesome! What adventurer worth his salt wouldn't want to visit that place? Seren Ironhand was meant to be part 2 of a trilogy of Moldvay written 3rd party modules, but neither the first nor last installment were published. Weird. Copies come up regularly on eBay, usually going in the high thirty or low forty dollar range. The same dude is always selling, so I assume he has a case of them he's trickling out. According to the non-TSR xD&D item list hardcore D&D collector James Sinks (he wrote the list of TSR products most collectors work off of nowadays) considers Seren Ironhand to be the best module he has ever seen.

The Future King (publisher and date unknown)

The cover pic is my sole source of info. I can't even tell you if this is a game or a module or what. But with Bruce Lee, Doc Holliday, Nostradamus, and Cyrano DeBergerac on the cover, how can this not be the coolest thing ever written? I really need to plonk down the money to get myself a copy of this thing. The prices at the one or two places I've seen it for sale make it a better prospect than getting Seren Ironhand. UPDATE: Found an old review!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Five from my bookmarks

Monty Python & The Holy Grail, Scene 14 - This one goes out to Stuart.

Kibo's sig - Anybody else remember Kibo?

random sci-fi adventure generator

Lankhmar geomorphs - the best part of the old 1st edition AD&D Lankhmar book

The 95 Theses of Geek Activism

Friday, January 19, 2007

Honcho? Wolf. There is trouble.

I consider Chris Sims to be my personal online comics guru. Dude hasn't steered me wrong yet. A while back Sims did a three part freak-out on Team America, another toyline comic written by Bill Mantlo. The basic deal with Team America is that they fight crime with the power of awesome motorcycling. When I got a chance to acquire issues 5, 6, & 7 for fifty cents apiece I snatched those puppies up. Here's a panel from number 5:

Wolf is basically Wolverine without the healing factor, claws, or admantium skeleton.I always find that sort of laconic understatement to be badass, whether its from a grim loner like Wolf (the dude on the phone here) or a stiff-upper-lip Brit or an intense samurai. The comic mentions that Wolf has never before asked for help from anyone in his entire life. So this is Wolf when things are at their most desperate. And that one panel is everything he says. Conan and the Man With No Name have had longer phone conversations than this. With each other.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

news item:

The item below came to me via email. I know there are some other Star Frontiers fans out there.



We are happy to announce the beginning of a new era for New content, including full new print-ready revised and illustrated rules sets will soon be available, as well as a host of other EXCLUSIVE content. Among these little gems will be a new Animated Graphic Novel for the Star Frontiers setting. 3d ship designs, complete with drawing and animation software (all FREE) are or will soon be available, as well as a 650 MB Star Frontiers add-on for the Orbiter Space Simulator (a FANTASTIC quality realistic simulator...ALSO FREE). Some of this content can be viewed for a while yet at HTTP://ARSPONLINE.ORG/GAME.html , but will soon be on the new forum site. All old content on will be preserved, organized and presented all afresh as well. e-mail addresses for contributors and moderators will be available, and Play-by-email and Play-by-Post games will be ALWAYS available. Knight Hawks games will be available in a graphical setting, using the new Knight Hawks Vector rules. A Orbiter Space Simulator Multiplayer server will be on-line (as soon as the full Orbiter Multiplayer Module is released using all the Star Frontiers star systems, planets, and ships from the Frontier team's FRONTIER: 55CANCRI release (this message background is a screenshot from that).

More Forum Features, including code and image hosting, as well as private forums for GM's will be provided. Images and original 3d art including poseable SF Species figures, Ship Designs, and scenery is available.

Finally, for those that always wanted to create their own 3-d game environment, FREE training and software for Animation and programming, as well as a forum to support questions will be available.

Please visit and post! the User List is being updated as well!

Thanks Everyone, and Happy Gaming!
Art Eaton

That Dragon Owes Me Two GP!

Dear Mum,

I am writing you from atop a tortoise city occupied by dwarves. They tell me we're somewhere in the Valley of the Gods, but I haven't seen any gods yet. The city of Alidor is supposed to be around here somewhere. Me and my crew may go check that place out. It's supposed to be the center of the world or something.

These dwarf guys don't care much for our folk, but I managed to make some friends by telling everyone how much I despise those stuck-up samurai elves. Some local tried to pull some funny business with me, so I pushed him off the tortoise shell. Later we went looking for dragons to slay. I accidentally stepped in some ettin poop. Got the stuff all over my slaad hide boots!

We spotted a dragon but we haven't slayed it yet. We did find the poopy ettins, their pet chimera, and some orcs. So we killed them. Except for one orc that my buddy Kane wanted to take prisoner. I punched him in the nose, just like you taught me. Orc noses make a funny sound when they break.

There's a guy in the dwarf city who pays a gold piece per orc head. That's what I call easy beer money. The green dragon I saw stole two of the orc corpses before I could decapitate them. I was gonna kill him just because he's a dragon, but now it's personal.

I hope you and the rest of the family are doing well. I will visit as soon as I can figure out which way is home. Travelling via teleportation makes keeping your bearings a bit tricky.



Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Morgan Ironwolf: Old School Iconic

This set is still wicked awesome.Using the word "iconic" to describe the exemplar characters for D&D is a new phenomenon. I hadn't heard term until 3E, with its more brand-savvy approach. But D&D had signature characters right from the very start, they just weren't branded as heavily as nowadays with their own novels and what all. The '81 Basic D&D Set that I started with had its own share of named characters, but head and shoulders above the rest stood Morgan Ironwolf.

Morgan appears in the text three times over the course of the 64 page rulebook, more than any other character. We first encounter her on page B13, where she is the character generation example. I absolutely love how the first 13 steps of chargen outline the creation of a classic butt-kicking high Strength/Dex/Con, low Int/Wis/Cha fighter. And only in the last step do we get this:
14. This player is female and decides that her character will also be female. Inspired by the name of Morgan le Fay from Arthurian legends, the player decides that the name of Morgan Ironwolf would be a good name for a fighter.
That's gender equality, Dungeons & Dragons style. It should be noted that this version of D&D lacks the penalties on female Strength that Gygax would be so rightly lambasted for in AD&D. Incidentally, I can't help but wonder if Morgan's last name was inspired by the Howard Chaykin character of the same name, who appeared in DC's Weird Worlds in the early 70s. Whatever the origin of the name, Morgan Ironwolf remains one of the coolest PC monikers in the history of the hobby.

On the page following the chargen example we get a complete character sheet filled out for Ms. Ironwolf. Click the teeny one below to see it in all it's glory.

As kids we produced our first 'official' charsheets by taking whiteout to this page and photocopying it.  No blank version was included in the Basic Rulebook.
Then on page 20 we're treated to this very excellent Jeff Dee illo of Our Heroine.

Obviously orc-infested catacombs get very cold.
Okay, there's really nothing that proves that this picture is meant to be Morgan Ironwolf. The equipment she carries matches the chargen information and as kids that was all we needed to make the connection. As a grown man it strikes me as sexist to assume that the one female warrior illo simply has to be the only female fighter in the text, as if there couldn't be two female fighters in the world. But as a kid I was just looking for ways of making sense of the totality of the rulebook. As a result, that pic will always be Morgan Ironwolf to me. I have no doubt that Dragonsfoot is chock full of people my age who came to the same conclusion.

Morgan appears two more times in the text. On B28 the sample combat features her and her friends Silverleaf (an elf, of course), Fredrik (a dwarf), and the cleric Sister Rebecca. Morgan makes a good accounting of herself, killing one hobgoblin with an arrow shot and another with swordplay. She's wounded in the battle and wants to kill some hobgobbo prisoners, but Sister Rebecca threatens to get stingy with the cure light wounds should the the wretches be harmed. Those Lawful clerics can be a real pain in the ass sometimes.

The general example of play also features Morgan Ironwolf and the same cast as previous, joined for a while by Black Dougal the thief. I say 'a while' because he blows finding a poison needle trap and dies during the example of play. It has nothing to do with Morgan Ironwolf, but I absolutely adore this exchange:
DM: Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead.
Fredrik: I'm grabbing his pack to carry treasure in.
Damn, that is cold. The dwarf doesn't even confirm the dude is dead before he starts vulturing his stuff.

In the example of play the standout thing about Morgan is that her player (who we know is female) is the caller. No one I know has had a formal party caller in 20 years, but back in the day it was the most important player position. Much player-to-DM communication was filtered through the caller, who was tasked with speaking for the party as a whole. In my experience the caller was the de facto leader of the party.

So that's Morgan Ironwolf in a nutshell. As far as I know she's never appeared again in a game product. If you know otherwise, please clue me in.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

more crossover silliness

On Awesome PC names

The sample name list has been a staple of fantasy rpgs since at least the 90s, often each culture and/or race in a setting has its own list of typical names. These lists can be very helpful in selecting a PC name that places your character firmly in the milieu. But every awesome PC name I've ever encountered ignores the setting rules and does its own thing instead. I've found that the best PC names follow a narrative logic all their own. Rather than being a string of culturally-approved consonants and vowels, a PC name can tell you something about the internal nature of the character or somehow signal the intentions of the player. Let me run down some examples selected from my favorite PC names past and present.

Dix Falcon - Looks weak on paper, but when you combine the way the first name sounds with the fact that the character really is a dick, suddenly you have comedy gold. Then add to the equation that Dix is an ill-tempered wizard who would not hesitate to fry you for making fun of his name. I think Johnny Cash once wrote a song about this PC.

Forgelock X-51 - Forgelock seemed the obvious answer when the question of what to call a Warforged Warlock came up, but appending the X-51 really makes this name sing. A crazy alphanumeric designation is pitch perfect for my new Eberron campaign, where Warforged aren't just kinda like robots, they're exactly like crazy comic book robots built by mad scientists. And as someone who has been reading Nextwave: Agents of HATE the X-51 designation even provides personality info. Marvel comics nerds will recognize X-51 as the model number of Aaron Stack a.k.a. Machine Man. In his recent Nextwave appearances ol' X-51 has been one of those "we robots are superior to you fleshy ones" types. I can't wait to see how that plays out.

Osric the Slayer - On the surface this is nothing to write home about. But if you're a huge fan of the greatest film of all time, Conan the Barbarian, then surely you get that this name was swiped from Osric the Usurper, the old king Max Von Sydow played. Since my guy was meant to be Osric prior to becoming a king, I dropped the Usurper part. 'The Slayer' seemed like a good alternate title, as the black lotus dealer in the film refers to Conan and Subotai as slayers. 'Osric the Slayer' sounds like the title of a bad sword & sorcery comic or paperback series, which is exactly the effect I was shooting for. Osric is a cheap Conan rip-off and the name communicates that fact on several levels. When Doug heard this dude's name he immediately understood the whole character. It should also be noted that Osric follows Ron Edwards' suggestion (from Sorcerer & Sword, one of the best genre guides in the hobby) for creating authentic sword & sorcery protagonists: use a real name that someone in history actually used and not a random jumble of renfaire-sounding crap.

Gleep Wurp the Eyebiter - The pre-gen PCs in Against the Giants all have great names but this one takes the cake. Seriously, this is the greatest character name Gary Gygax ever came up with. I have no idea what it is supposed to mean, and maybe that's the secret. I have to acknowledge the sheer undiluted coolness of Gleep Wurp the Eyebiter. And Gleep Wurp is fun to say out loud. Try it.

Bart Bolt - I stole this name and do not regret it. In fact, I stole the name from two different places. Bartholomew Bolt was the name given to a Citadel figure, a mounted crossbowman, that was released round about the same time 2nd edition AD&D rolled out. I was working on a crossbow-shooting ranger and there he was. But Bart Bolt was also inspired by Black Bart, the munchkin PC of Roger Moore. The editorial page of Dragon #161 (September 1990) was devoted to Mr. Moore waxing nostalgic about Black Bart and his beloved, the barbarian Ursula. Black Bart went on the kind of crazy dimension-hopping, high-octane escapades that were out of style in 1990, but Bart's adventuring career sounded like the bee knee's to me. Getting back to the matter of names, Bart Bolt's name worked even better in conjunction with his partner-in-crime, Sir Ian Wulfric Belvidere the Third. The two of them were a rolling buddy movie. Sir Ian played the nobleman swashbuckler who slopped his way through adventures and Bart was the Felix Unger, a ranger raised by dirt farmers who liked his adventuring overplanned and overcautious.

Kane Bloodtiger - I would call this an absolutely perfect example of the Morgan Ironwolf School of PC Naming. (Don't hesitate to ask who Morgan Ironwolf is. I will explain at length if it's requested.) For the first name you unabashedly reference someone cool. Here I don't know for sure if the reference is to the Karl Wagner sword & sorcery character or the Biblical father of all killers. Either option is badass to the nth degree. The last name is constructed by smashing together two English words. The more macho the individual words, the better.

Jayne Silverhand - Another great Morgan Ironwolf name. Do I even need to tell you who the first name references? Silverhand looks a little less macho than Ironwolf or Bloodtiger, until you realize that Nuada, the Celtic wargod, has a hand of silver that detaches from his wrist and flies around choking the shit out of his foes. I read that in the Deities & Demigods, so it must be true.

Endrin Greencloak - A wimpier Morgan Ironwolf style name for a wimpier character. The first name came out of the PC generator software that came bundled with the 3E Players Handbook. I tacked on Greencloak because that sounded somewhat Druidish and mysterious, but also a bit hackneyed. Which fits this character. Endrin is a total poser who thinks of himself as a Kane Bloodtiger, but in reality is more a Papertiger.

Razzak Gristlyguts - This one was meant to parody the Morgan Ironwolf style badasses of the world. Razzak was a shifty little xvart witchdoctor who grew up in a world where convincing bigger monsters you tasted bad was so critical to survival he used it as the basis of his last name.

Chester o' the Pointy Hat - A somewhat unorthodox and silly name for a somewhat unorthodox and silly wizard. As you probably already figured out, I don't buy into the immersive gamer's idea that naming a character is Deadly Serious Business. Which leads me to...

Bob the Fighter - I'm not talking about a particular character here, but rather the subset of PCs with boring, generic names. This is territory I've covered before, but it bears repeating. Sometime's Bob's player is stuck and can't come up with a good name. I'm all for helping that player out. Other times Bob's player is perfectly satisfued with a bland name. I urge GMs not to punish this impulse. This player is sending you a very important message about what they want from your game: Bob the Fighter isn't meant as a vehicle for deep setting exploration or immersive psychological play. This sort of Bob-player is at your table to roll some dice, hang with his buds, and eat cheetos. I say rock on, Bob!

Unrelated: It occurred to me this morning that my Wednesday night group maps onto the mid-90s incarnation of the greatest pro wrestling stable in history, the Four Horsemen. Pat's wizard is Ric Flair. He's got mountains of charisma and sets the house on fire the moment he walks in the door. Doug's ranger is "The Crippler" Chris Benoit: fearless, professional, and utterly badass. He will wreck your shit. Jason's druid is Steve "Mongo" McMichael. Most of the time no one is sure how he got in the group or why the others keep him around, but every once in a while he does something completely awesome, usually involving the laying out of some sucka. And my barbarian is Arn Anderson. He may not bring anything new to the table, but in the lucrative field of brutal beating administration originality is often a secondary consideration.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Demon 5

When Empire Strikes Back came out me and my crew were still young enough to think action figures were cool. (We outgrew that phase but I eventually outgrew the outgrowing.) Dave, at the time my bestest friend in the whole wide world, got himself a Hoth Han Solo. Even back then we all considered Captain Solo to be the coolest guy in outer space. I was never a big toy-wrecker as a kid, but somehow I ended up snapping the head right off of Dave's Han Solo. He re-attached it with some superglue, but it was never quite the same. For one thing, poor Han lost all ability to rotate his head. This isn't one of the stories where Dave stopped being my friend because I broke his toy. He and I continued to be best buds for years after the Han Solo Incident. Still, when I try to figure out why Dave stopped talking to me a few years back I can't help but remember that one broken action figure.

Friday, January 12, 2007

RIP: Robert Anton Wilson

I picked this up from Dorkland: Robert Anton Wilson passed away yesterday. Best of luck to Uncle Bob, wherever he may be.

I mourn for Jolli

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I have the coolest in-laws in the known universe. As supporting evidence I will offer up the fact that my brother-in-law and his wife got me a Star Wars trade paperback for Christmas. I've been interested in Dark Horse's A Long Time Ago... line since they came out in '02. In seven volumes this series collects the entire run of the old Marvel Star Wars comic from back in the day. The first volume, Doomworld, collates the first 20 issues. Issues 1 through 6 of the original Star Wars comic were a fabulous adaptation of the film. The remaining 14 issues in this book are something special. Basically, it's some guys over at Marvel going apeshit making up stories using just the stuff from A New Hope and their own imaginations. It's glorious. There are no worries about following canon, no heavy-handed Lucas oversight, just rocking adventure tales set after the Battle of Yavin and before Episode V was anything but some half-baked notes in a file folder.

Nearly every story features Chewie totally kicking the crap out of alien goons.In addition to being made of solid awesomite, this volume also solved a personal childhood mystery of mine. For years I've had a gap in the memory of my early childhood: what was my first comic? Most comic fans can tell you without hesitation, but for the longest time I couldn't remember. Well, cast your gaze to the right to see the cover of the first comic I owned: Star Wars #7, the first post-movie adventure. When I saw the cover it all came back to me in a flash. I got this comic off the magazine rack at Bart's Market, the only grocery store in Flanagan, Illinois (population 1000). I grew up on a farm about 3 miles outside Flanagan and Bart's was the nearest source of comical funnybooks. When they had any.

Looking back I kinda understand why my memory was clouded for so long. First of all, I was only four years old when this comic came out in early 1978 and I can barely remember some things that happened to me in my twenties. But more importantly, this comic has long been filed in the Star Wars bin in my brain, which apparently is nowhere near the conceptual space wherein I keep my memories of comics. Growing up a nerd in the late seventies and eighties, that Star Wars bin is pretty crowded. I had action figures to keep track of and stuff.

Star Wars #7 is hella cool, by the way. For starters it stars the coolest guy in outer space and his big hairy pal. Other features include an alien priest trying to bury a dead cyborg, a 'Sikurdian' battle-axe wielded by a dude with purple tentacles for arms, disco Cantina babes, and space pirates. Boy, howdy, does this issue have space pirates. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to Crimson Jack and his girl Friday, Jolli:

Being an infamous space pirate means never having to wear pants.
Despite my dodgy memory those panels taught me a few things I will never forget. First, space pirates are awesome. This lesson would be confirmed later in '78 with the original broadcast of tLightcutlass versus heat vision!he Superfriends episode "Sinbad and the Space Pirates". Unlike Crimson Jack, Sinbad the Space Pirate wears pants. And a cool hat. Another thing I took away from this comic is that Crimson Jack is a fabulous name for a pirate captain. Seriously, you'll be hard-pressed to come up with a better pirate name. But Crimson Jack pales beside the sheer awesome-ness that is Jolli. She is both stone cold and smokin' hot.

I know in this modern era of anime and Lara Croft knockoffs and whatnot that busty ball-breakers with weird hair colors are old hat, but back in '78 I had never seen anything like Jolli. She was wicked cool. And that beret is just perfect. I wouldn't lay my hands on another Star Wars comic until issue #13, "Day of the Dragonlords". And amazingly enough, Jolli is in it! Since last I had seen her it seemed that she has developed some feelings for a certain Captain Solo. Also, we get to see her gams.

Jolli remembered to put on her gold dominatrix choker between these two panels.
That was the last issue of Star Wars I would read for a long time. But in the Doomworld trade I discovered that Jolli got a complete character arc of sorts. In her last appearance we find out that Jolli was the daughter of a space pirate. The old scallywag abandoned her and her mother when the Imperial forces came looking for him. Mom died in the resulting carnage, orphaning Jolli. So what does Jolli do? She grows up to become a man-hating space pirate and finds a substitute father-figure in the form of Crimson Jack. Sheesh. Genre stories are chock full of female characters with daddy issues, but this one takes the cake.

Jolli may have been a stock type , but it's worth noting by that point in the comic she has a more fleshed-out character history than either Han Solo or Leia Organa. More importantly, unresolved feelings about one's father are an important motif in the larger Star Wars story. Just as the House of Skywalker eventually laid Anakin's sins to rest, Jolli ends up with a sort of redemption. She rejects Crimson Jack and saves Han Solo, at the cost of her own life.

Seriously, this broke my heart a little.
Now I won't disagree if you point out that picking one man's affections over another is not the most fufilling way to track Jolli's self-actualization. But the important thing here might simply be that Jolli made a choice. And when push came to shove she chose the possibility of a scoundrel's love over the domination of an authority figure. When I first encountered Jolli in 1978 she was a titillating but two-dimensional character, but somewhere along the way she became something a little bit more.

Rest in peace, Jolli.

On a completey unrelated note, remember how awesome it was the first time you saw the Falcon jump into hyperspace in Episode IV? In the comic version that moment is almost better.
Awesome!The use of color here is fan-frickin'-tastic. Until I saw this panel I would have told you that Fantastic Four #290 was the coolest comic portrayal of FTL travel I had ever seen.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

art project: 100 Demons

When I want to read a serious, non-explosion based comic I turn to Lynda Barry, the master of what she calls "autobifictionalography". Her book One Hundred Demons is one of the reasons I've started drawing recently, even though I suck at it. (If you're looking for more people to blame Scott McCloud and S. John Ross' Encounter Critical were my other two big inspirations. These three helped me ignore my internal critic and just draw some stuff, no matter how inept or juvenile the results.) Anyway, One Hundred Demons was itself inspired by an earlier work, a 16th century Zen monk who painted a long scroll with a hundred demons running across it. Barry decided to try a similar project.

Barry urges her readers to try drawing a hundred demons of her own. Strangely, she takes the brush and ink she uses very seriously and instructs fellow travellers to use a similar set-up. Then she notes that for paper she uses any old thing. Newspaper, yelow legal pads, whatever. Weird. Personally I'm going to ignore her suggestions for writing utensils and use whatever is at hand. Here are my first four demons, done with magic markers and crayons on printer paper.

They may not rank highly in the demonic hierarchy, but if you're a little pie-shaped yellow dude these guys are the stuff of nightmares.
Don't expect much more sophistication than this, folks. I'm using this project as an excuse to play with my daughter's art supplies.

Winter War Preview Links

Friday afternoon, February 9th

Friday evening, February 9th

Saturday morning, February 10th

Saturday afternoon, February 10th

Update to Friday and Saturday events

Saturday evening, February 10th

Sunday morning, February 11th

Sunday afternoon, February 11th

Winter War Preview: Sunday Afternoon

This is it, folks! The last installment of my Winter War preview series. For all my regular readers who have not commented over the last few days, let me thank you for putting up with me devoting my energies to purely local matters.

Here are the links to the previous entries in this series: Friday afternoon, Friday evening, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, general update, Saturday evening, and Sunday morning. Now let's get down to business.

Sunday, February 11th, 2pm

I expect the Advanced Squad Leader and Living Greyhawk rooms to still be active through the final few hours of the con. But since the ASL room is devoted to one big tournament I suppose it is theoretically possible they could be done before this session starts.

Other boardgame events include more sessions of Formula De and Feudal. Tim Gritten will be running Power Grid. That's a fun game and Tim Gritten is a good ref and instructor. In addition to Feudal, Tom Hendricks offers some Axis & Allies action, with a variant allowing for more special weapons to brought into play. That sounds fun. I love the special weapons in A&A but they don't get much screentime in a regular game. Speaking of variants, El Nyberg will be running Rail Baron with ramped-up starting trains. My personal pick for the Sunday afternoon boardgaming would be Al Conrad's Aliens game. Based upon the movie of the same name, Aliens offers a some fun tactical play with awesome special rules, like the "Oh crap! Acidic alien blood just ruined my face!" rule or the "Oh noes! I just fell down an inexplicable bottomless pit!" rule. And playing with the flamethrowers is always fun. If tactical xenomorph slagging doesn't ring your bell, go with Tim Gritten's Power Grid session.

In the minis area four events are scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Two of them, Ken Vreeman's Advanced Civilization game and Russ Hartley's 25mm fantasy affair, are continuations from Sunday morning. Given it's the last day of the con and people might not want to spend 8 hours at a single game, it might be possible to get into one of these two events anyway. Ask the ref at the table but always make sure to clear special situations like this with the front desk. The con staff are always keen to know these things, not because they want you to jump through hoops to play, but because they need to know which games are popular and which aren't.

The two new minis games are Tom Reed with another Desperado Wild West shoot-out and Chris Fawcett with Full Thrust. Recommending one game or the other is a tough call here. Cowboys versus Indians in 25mm reverberates with the childhood of many a gamer who remembers the golden age of the cinema Western. But Full Thrust is one of the best rules-light sci-fi ship-to-ship games ever written. I have to give the nod to the Desperado game simply because referee Tom Reed is such a fun guy to game with.

As things are set right now the role-playing department offers you two choices. I'll be running a session of dungeon-delving using the 1981 Basic D&D rules. That's the one with the awesome Erol Otus cover. Meanwhile Chris Fairfield will be running Pentatastar. I don't know anything about that game but Chris has run it before at least a couple of times. I can't really offer you a recommendation here other than to say this: you're either interested in a dungeoneering game where Elf is a class and only Thieves (not Rogues) have skills, or you're not. I think you'll probably have a good time at either table.

an experiment: 5 links, 4 random - used to generate the four links below - one of those fakeout search-results based jobbies, but kinda cool nonetheless - those crazy kids and their 'hacking the matrix'! - An interesting photography project. - "interactive art works"

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Winter War Preview: Sunday Morning

For those of you just tuning in, I've been spending some time giving my chatty opinions about the upcoming Winter War gaming convention. In its 34th year, Winter War is Illinois' oldest local boardgame, miniatures, and roleplaying convention. About 300 souls gather for a long weekend of dice-slinging and general fun. This year Winter War will be from Friday, February 9th to Sunday, February 11th at the Hawthorn Suites in Champaign, IL. If you like cons that focus on games and gamers, not publishers and celebrities, then Winter War might be your kind of thing.

Today I'll be talking about the events on the pre-registration schedule for the Sunday morning of the con. For earlier events, check out my previews of Friday afternoon, Friday evening, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, and Saturday evening. And don't miss this update to the Friday and Saturday events.

Sunday, February 11th, 9am

Sometimes at cons (including Winter War) the Sunday morning events can be a little underwhelming. Alot of people game or debauche heavily the night before. But there are several good events on the schedule for Sunday morning run by straight shooters who will show up on time and run a fabulous game despite any festive activities the previous evening. As mentioned in every previous installment, the Advanced Squad Leader and Living Greyhawk people are expected to still be doing their respective things. Personally I can't play the same game for 2 and a half days straight, but different strokes for different folks.

The boardgame area features three guys running five games. Clark Barthel offers newbies a chance to try out Detroit-Cleveland Grand Prix, a racing game that is totally new to me. Tom Hendricks (I really need to find out if this is the same Tom Hendricks I used to game with. That guy is cool.) offers another session of the chesslike game Feudal and also a board full of Shogun. My brother-in-law Jim will be running both Mississippi Queen and Puerto Rico. Both these games are good, clean fun and Jim is a great guy to have running a game. And I'm not just saying that because he's my wife's brother. Jim's great. Both of Jim's games are listed as 'newcomers welcome' but if you're new to both of them I suggest going with Mississippi Queen. While Jim can handle teaching Puerto Rico to newbies, that game takes longer to really grasp. Pick Mississippi Queen if you're going to the event to play a game, but go with Puerto Rico if you're there to learn a game. If you already know how to play Puerto Rico, then that's my pick for the Sunday morning boardgames. Great game, excellent game moderator.

Over in the miniatures depaartment we have six games on tap. '40K At Its Finest' is billed as a game where you show up, pick an army, and smash it against an opponent. This no-frills straight-to-the-point action is provided by Mr. Jake Welch. (I first read that name as Jack Welch, the ex-CEO of General Electric. I bet he'd play the Imperial Guard.) If you like your elves without lasers, then look to Russ Hartley's 25mm Victors of the Realms session, which promises hot human-on-demihuman action. Ron and Shawn Ralston offer a second session of Starmada Compendium, once again in a slot that makes the game unavailable to me. SC is one of those games I enjoy so much I bought an extra copy of the rules so that multiple people could reference stuff during play. Not that Starmada even requires that much page-flipping. The mechanics are simple and rock solid, delivering fun space-operatic capital ship shoot-em-ups.

Ken Vreeman, subject of much praise in previous installments in this series, will be offering an Advanced Civilization game. Advanced Civ is a much-beloved boardgame, but this event is slotted in the miniatures area. I presume this is because Mr. Vreeman will be using one of his large, elaborate custom boards with 25mm figures replacing the counters. If you like the idea of playing out some alternate history, consider 'The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming', a 6mm micro armor look at a speculative Russian invasion of West Germany in 1948. The rules for this scenario are Cold War Commander and the referees are Steve Massey and Terrance Haas.

In my opinion the most intriguing event in the miniatures area would be Chris Fawcett's French Foreign Legion event, 'The Last Remake of Beau Geste'. An emphasis on player interaction and secret agendas makes this event look like one of thos proto-RPG things that usually make for a great con game. If I wasn't running a game Sunday morning I'd probably be at the Starmada game, but don't let my personal obsession with exploding starcruisers keep you away from 'The Last Remake'.

Speaking of me running a game, as I type this I have the entire RPG room to myself Sunday morning. The RPGA folks will still be doing the voodoo that they do, but they usually get their own room. My event is entitled 'The Revenge of Obiwan Shinobi' and will be run using something resembling S. John Ross' faux retro sci-fi/fantasy freak-out, Encounter Critical. I ran EC last year and we all had a frickin' blast. If you like wild gonzo games with things like elf ninjas and robots that worship Satan, come and play Encounter Critical with me. This year Obiwan Shinobi, the newly-rebuilt robodroid warlock IG-666-A, and a new crew of adventurers will attempt to infiltrate the Crawling Chaoskeep of Darth Viraxis!

Okay, folks, only one more preview to go. Next time I'll go over the events scheduled for Sunday afternoon, the last session of Winter War.

morning TV

Until I saw this video I had never heard of the group TV on the Radio. But I totally dig their sound on this track and the video is pretty fun.

I also caught some Star Trek this morning, the episode where the Kelvins hijack the Enterprise to Andromeda. Scotty gets himself and an alien drunk by clearing out his liquor collection. "What's that?" "It's green." And Kirk gets his mojo on with that old "Tell me more about this thing called kissing, Earthman" chestnut. Classic stuff.


Comics guy Kevin Church is reporting that Stephen Colbert's Tek Jansen is going to be made into a comic book! You got that right, the Nobel Peace Prize winning epic sci-fi/fantasy/adventure/espionage/romance novel series that doesn't really exist is finally making the translation to graphic novel format. Hi-yah!

This is either going to be one of the best or worst comics ever made. And it will be *awesome*!

weird dream

I was in this Big Brother style gameshow where a group of strangers lived together for weeks at a time. During the course of the week you scored points by playing stupid reality gameshow challenges. Then at the end of each week you spent those points buying yourself necessities and luxuries for the following week. Your points purchase things like use of the shower, better food, etc.

The catch was that you spent your points during a lightning round where you had to juggle a bunch of numbers fast. I froze up during the lightning round and failed to spend all my points. Over the previous week I had earned enough points for a comfy week, but I failed to purchase laundry priviledges or changes of clothes. Nor did I get any food. The result was I doomed to wearing the same set of filthy clothes all week. And for sustenance I would receive a glass of milk three times a day.

The idea of the show was to put people in situations like that to drive them to quit the game. No one was voted off, the game simply continued until only one person could stand to live under these annoying conditions.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Winter War Preview: Saturday Evening

Winter War is the oldest annual gaming convention in Illinois. This year is the 34th installment in the series. Come join us in Champaign from February 9th to 11th for a weekend devoted to gaming.

In today's Winter War preview I'll be looking at the events in the Saturday night section of the pre-registration schedule. If you haven't checked them out already, here are links to the Friday afternoon, Friday evening, Saturday morning, and Saturday afternoon events. And don't miss the update to those earlier installments.

Saturday, February 10th, 8pm

Several events continue into Saturday night from earlier in the convention, such as the all-con Advanced Squad Leader tournament, the awesome Blind Sniper throwdown, and action in the dedicated Living Greyhawk room. The Warmachine and BattleTech Total Warfare events from Saturday afternoon will continue into the night as well.

The boardgames area is bursting with cool stuff to play on Saturday night. Don Botkin has reserved room for two full tables of Puerto Rico, one of my alltime favorite German games. El Nyberg offers a 16 player Settlers of Catan tournament. He notes "Using resource start plus Soldiers' Perogative rule." I've played Settlers more times than I can remember and I have no idea what that means. Super-nice guy Al Conrad offers a particularly intense session of Roborally specifically designed for veterans of that game. Racing game afficionados Leland Black and Charlie Priest present Daytona 500. And Glenn Overby offers even more Memoir '44 and BattleLore. That last one, BattleLore, is generating a lot of internet buzz. I plan on checking out that table to see what the big deal is. That's a lot of good stuff in the boardgame section, but I'll give my top recommendation to Al Conrad's Roborally event, with the notation that you need to have played that game at least once before showing up.

Over in the miniatures area you get your choice between beating up Nazis, zombies, or ninjas. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call a win-win-win scenario. Travis McLin supplies the anti-Nazi action with his 15mm Flames of War game. Steve Massey and Bob Legro offer All Things Zombie, the 28mm game of post-zombie apocalypse skirmishification. And Ken Vreeman, subject of much gushing in earlier installments, once again will be running 'Shogun-Maker' his big Kingmaker/Shogun/house rules hybrid freak-out. Making a recommendation here is a tough call. I want to once again tell you to sign up for Ken Vreeman's game, but if you want something historical the real pick is Flames of War. And don't forget those zombies.

Besides all the Living Greyhawk events, the Saturday night schedule includes 3 role-playing games. 'Terror From the High Seas' promises to be a historical Call of Cthulhu event by GM John Harting. Important Tip: Evening Call of Cthulhu events almost always fill in pre-reg! If you want to play this game, go sign up for it ASAP. I think this particular event is a repeat or sequel to a similar game last year. Players from that previous game had a glowing report. If horror is your bag but the CoC game fills you might want to consider Brad Trumpinski's GURPS Space/Horror adventure. The event is called "In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream." Man that sounds familiar. Where have I heard it before? Finally, Dave Hoover is on the schedule to run Iron Gauntlets. Based upon recent events I don't expect that item to remain on the list. Look for Mr. Hoover to run another system in this slot. And look for that game to be awesome. Seriously, you could do a lot worse than filling out your pre-reg sheet with "Whatever game Dave runs".

Tomorrow I'll look at the game running in the Sunday morning slot of the con. Like many cons that's usually the hangover session, but I see a lot of cool stuff on the schedule. Also, this will give me a chance to talk more about my favorite subject: me! ;)