Saturday, August 25, 2012

Thoughts on The Last Dragon

I'm on a redeye flight from Dallas to Boston. My better half and I watched The Last Dragon to stay awake so I could catch the 130 am flight and now at 30,000 feet I can't stop thinking how awesome it is. Probably helps that Ive had a couple of Irish coffees but what the hell. In no particular order, these are the top reasons why this is an amazing movie.

* William H Macy's finest hour
* What kung fu movie isn't improved by musical interludes?
* The song, "Rhythm Of the Night" was created specifically for this movie!  Who knew!
* The villain Arkadian never blinks. Not once.
* I think Terry Crews learned how to act from watching Sho Nuff chew threw the scenery.
* Speaking of Sho Nuff - greatest villain ever or greatest villain of all time?
* You've got the Glow!
* Get your feetsa to Papa Georges Pizza!
* Seriously - He's the SHOGUN OF FRIGGIN HARLEM.
* There are two people in the film with one word names. What can I say - it was the 80s!
* Totally gonzo plot - Thug/Producer wants his girl to be a popstar so he kidnaps local night club singer/celebrity to convince her to get his girls video rotation at her club. Club singer/celebrity escapes with the help of young naive Kung Fu master and protects her from the army of mercenaries hired by thug/promoter to avenge the slight. Meanwhile the Shogun of Harlem is determined to fight young naive Kung Fu master at any cost. Sounds like a Grant Morrison script.
* Young naive Kung Fu maater's little brother - what ever happened to that kid? Seriously that kid had Charisma.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Death Love Doom: A Review


It's just after 6 in the morning, I just finished reading through the pdf of James Raggi's Death Love Doom and well, hmmm.

I have a tendency to think of myself as jaded.  I laugh my way through horror films, I make jokes about inappropriate topics, and look oddly at  others whose stomachs don't allow them to.  Every once in awhile, though, I'm reminded that I haven't quite lost every bit of my innocence.  Usually I come upon that realization only as another bit is ripped away.  The last time this happened was when I read Garth Ennis' Crossed comics.  I remember thinking to myself that I admired the craft that went into writing something that was able to disturb me.  I also remember wondering if it that was a good thing. 

Raggi definitely wades into deep water with this module - he is staking his claim to the dark, murky depths of extreme horror roleplaying, and his promotion of the contents has been accurate - this module does what it says on the tin.  There is a Cronenberg meets Barker sort of vibe running through the descriptions that leaves you feeling uneasy, and slightly queasy.  I can only think of Mongoose Games' Noctum as comparable RPG material, if that gives any indication.  The artwork brings out the horror, with the two page drawing in particular evoking feelings of disgust.  You know the one I'm talking about.  Or you don't.  I'm certainly not going to reproduce the image here, but kudos to Kelvin Green for his evocative artwork.

The thing is, this sort of product is essentially review-proof.  You're either sucked in by the idea of a Big Nasty, in which case a bad review isn't going to sway you, or you're repulsed by the idea, in which case it could have been ghost-written by Gary Gygax, and you're still not going to pick it up.  

So is it good?  I don't see it as compatible with my gaming group.  That's not necessarily a failing on the part of the product, but rather a realization that it isn't providing material that would prove entertaining for the dynamic of the group that I play with.  I suspect I won't be the only one to feel that way.  That doesn't mean it's not good, it just means it's not useful.  Hrm.

So maybe good/bad isn't the correct indicator for this review.

So is it effective?  To a certain extent yes.  It's essentially a tableau, a diorama that the PCs wander through, and experience the horrible things Raggi has dreamed up.  There's no saving anyone, there's no rescuing the damsel here.  Shit has gone down, and there's no coming back from it - the best that can be hoped for is to put some that linger out of their misery.  There's no satisfaction to be found, no victorious release to be had, and some groups will not enjoy that.  They don't interact with the setting, but rather bear witness, and indeed, are punished in many cases for interaction.  So the question of it's effectiveness depends on the expectations of the group, not just with regards to the gross-out factor, but with regards to how much influence they should have over the story, and it's outcome.

I think that, for better or for worse, whether your group would appreciate this module or not, whether you can stomach it or not, whether you agree with the design or not, there is a strong statement being made here.  To me, it seems that this is less an adventure than it is a manifesto, so take it for what it is - a declaration of intent, a vision of Raggi's world, where life is a Hobbesian nightmare - bad thing happen to good people, and the best you can hope for are "heroes" to clean up the mess. 

Unless a man possessed by a giant insect sprays black goop from his junk and kills them first.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Improvements in POD Tech to Reduce Costs Significantly

Ingram Content Group has announced a new “standard color” pricing model for print-on-demand technology that has reduced costs by roughly two-thirds, making color POD an economical publishing option for the first time. Achieved through advancements in inkjet technology, the price drop means that a greater range of book content can be printed in color and done faster around the world.

Depending on the exact dimensions of a book, color POD for a single 120 page trade paperback would previously run in the general range of $12-$13.50, making such books prohibitively expensive.  Standard Color reduces the cost of a single book to the general range of $4-$5, with a short run of 500 books pricing out at below $3/copy for a 6”x9” trade paperback. 

As much self publishing as is going on in the RPG community, this could be huge.  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Card Games!

I received two (well, two and half, maybe three) games yesterday, and I'm excited enough about them to post about them here!  Yay!

The first game is Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre, published by Cryptozoic Games

With a design sense that is somewhere between Munchkin, Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Flapjack, and a tongue planted firmly in cheek, this game is ridiculously entertaining, with nice high production values. 

As the back of the box says: 

"Did you know that magical wizards are battling to the death ... and beyond ... right now!? "Why battle?" you might ask. "What have I got to prove, magic man?" Only who's the most awesomely powerful battle wizard in the entire realm, that's what!

As a Battle Wizard, you'll put together up to three spell components to craft millions* of spell combos. Your spells might kick ass, or they could totally blow -- it's up to you to master the magic. You will unleash massive damage on the faces of your wizard rivals in a no-holds-barred, all-out burn-down to be the last Battle Wizard standing. And it doesn't stop there! Powerful magic items bring on a whole new level of bloody carnage as you and your mighty wizard opponents tear each other limb from limb in an orgy of killing! Do you have what it takes to use epic spells in a war at Mt. Skullzfyre? Will YOU be the Ultimate Battle Wizard!?! "

                                                                                                          ~The Back of the Box

While definitely not a game for kids, this is an extremely entertaining game.  The artwork is top notch, the game mechanics are easy to pick up, but with sufficient complexity to keep you entertained.  It uses a mixture of cards, counters and dice, as well as a true depiction of Mt. Skullzfyre to set up between the players!  The object is to collect cards (spells) that link together to form more powerful spells!  With player names like Jung Jung the Spirit Master, Pisster the Pissed Wizard, Fey Ticklebottom the Enchanter, and Princess Holiday and Her Furicorn, how can you go wrong?  At $30, it seems a bit pricey at first, but once you crack the box you see where your money is going.  The cards are hearty, the counters are thick cardboard, every piece of this seems built to last. 

And seriously - a giant Mt. Skullzfyre!  Shown here:

The second (and second and a half, well third) game(s) that I got was(were) Gloom (and Cthulhu Gloom).  Both are essentially the same game, just with slightly different niche markets to cater to.  The original version of the game, published by Atlas Games, was based on the art and aesthetic of Edward Gorey and has a marvelous gimmick that i'm honestly suprised has taken this long to be utilized. 

The basic story is that you play a family who is faced with various trials and tribulations, which eventually result in their Untimely Deaths.  You have a card for each member of the family, and you play additional cards on each member, each of which represents a new horrible thing that happens to them (pursued by poodles, that sort of Gorey-esque sort of thing).  The trick here, and the brilliant mechanic, is that the cards are transparent, with the exception of various symbols which are strategically placed on the cards.  As the cards are laid down, the effects described by the symbols activate, and as additional cards are laid down, symbols which are covered deactivate, while only the one on top is active.  Each effect, each horrible situation you curse your family members with, lowers their self worth.  Once it's as low as it can go, you can play an Untimely Death Card, which pulls the family member out of the board, and puts "points" on the board.  The goal is to have the collectively lowest Self Worth by the time your entire family dies.

Sounds like fun, right?  I might not have explained that as clearly as the rules do, but it's actually quite easy to pick up.  But again, the design is where it's at - these are beautiful cards, and someone has gone to great lengths to ensure that this has an Edward Gorey feel to it.  It probably helps that I'm a fan of Edward Gorey already, right?

Anyhow, Cthulhu Gloom is pretty much the same thing, just with Cthulhu references thrown in, since apparently you can just draw funny shapes on a 12 sided die, slap "Cthulhu!" on the cover and turn it into a succesful game about... rolling dice.  No names there, but you know who I'm talking about.  Anyhow, Cthulhu Gloom is basically the same joke told twice, and like most times, it's not quite as funny the second time around.  I dunno, I guess I just preferred the understated humor of the original.  Cthulhu Gloom just seems a bit... on the nose.

Still worth playing, mind you, I would just recommend that you pick one or the other, since once you have one you essentially have the other, just with a different set of artwork.  So if that's important to you, you love Lovecraft and Gorey so equally that you can't have one without the other, or you just support this sort of thing existing and want to reward its creators, then by all means, buy both.  At $24.95, it's not horribly unreasonable for a card game.

So, for anyone who has bothered to read this far down the page, and is interested in card games, are there other card games like this that I'm missing? 

Monday, August 6, 2012


As I've been going through the various paper and files I've accumulated over the last year or so as I've worked on From the Ashes, I've started dividing them into two camps - Mechanics and Universe.  The mechanics have changed to a certain extent as I've gone along.  Initially a Gamma World retroclone, I included such old-timey concepts as THAC, Hit Dice, Armor Class, and even toyed with breaking out the borrowed-from-Marvel-Superheroes-Action Chart.  As it's evolved, I've moved away from some of those concepts, and kept others (I won't get your hopes up - the Action Chart was discarded).  At it's core, the system that has emerged is simple, even elegant, if I may be so bold.  I'm still working through some of the kinks, trying to figure out what I haven't thought of as I try to break the rules.  So far so good.  The biggest challenge I have had was in regards to my last big post, where I decided to scrap the entire idea of random mutations.  What worries me about this is mostly that it requires trust in the players, and to a certain extent, the GMs who run this game.  If it's not done right, it could be not-fun.  If it's run right, I'd see people custom designing off-the-wall mutations and using them creatively.  If it's done wrong, you'd end up with a samey group of Alpha Mutants wandering the wastelands nuking things with their mind.

Which has gotten me thinking - that sounds not-fun to me, but maybe to someone else that sounds like a great time.  So for whom am I building this game?  To a certain extent myself, but, like all of my writing, it's more of an "excorcise the demon" type of thing, get it down on paper and get it out get it out get it OUT!  I'm building the game that I want to play.  Of course, RPGs are not single player games, so I have to make a game that not only do I want to play, but others want to play with me.  I love DCCRPG, I love what their doing, but the introduction, where it says that the game was created for on person, always struck me as a bit of chest beating that had little bearing on actual game design - like a Conanalike barbarian holding aloft a dripping sword, newly fashioned, still glowing from the forge and proclaiming, "Do you see what I have wrought????"

So if you accept you're not building a game for yourself, who are you building it for?  Do you cast as wide a net as possible and risk being bland and forgettable, target a niche market within our niche market and risk missing a tiny tiny target, or walk the line between the two and risk ending up as palatable to neither?

The broader the net you want to cast, the less important the Universe stuff is.  White Wolf had it's target demographic nailed to the wall with their Storyteller Series, and I don't imagine that their market share has grown considerably - they know who they're selling to, they know how many of them there are, and they know how many books they'll buy in a year, so they write their books for those specific people.  Nobody at White Wolf is wringing their hands and trying to figure out how to break out of their niche - they OWN their niche - why leave?

It seems the broader the net you want to cast, the less specific you want to be - you don't want to alienate people that hate playing elves by building an elf-centric product.  A big part of D&D's success was that it was almost literally just a set of rules that you could hang just about any type of game on.  Sure, you got Greyhawk as a suggested setting, but if you didn't like it, you could start your own world of Hawkgrey, where things were completely different.  You had the broad remit of, "A game of adventurers battling monsters", anything beyond that you brought to the game yourself. 

The only way to top that is to build the better mousetrap - if you're playing D&D and you're happy with those rules, why switch systems, unless you find a better set of rules?  You're not invested in anything that the company has given you, beyond the initial idea. 

My bragging earlier as evidence to the contrary, I'm not confident in my mechanical design skills to go head to head in that kind of battle, but I do want to have a game that others will play, so that means finding some sort of halfway point between the System and the Universe.  Enough to let people "see" my vision, while leaving them room to dream their own dreams.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Perfect Movie

Buckaroo Banzai vs. Danger! Diabolik

Seriously, Hollywood, make it happen.  I don't know why it hasn't happened yet, and honestly, I don't need to know.  No need to credit me, just




Thursday, August 2, 2012

Deranged - A Review

Y'know, who hasn't read an article somewhere about the zombie fungus that drives ants up trees, or other weird parasites that alter the behaviors of various and sundry critters and thought, what if something like that were to infect people?  To be honest, I'm surprised Syfy hasn't jumped on it already, starring Cyndi Lauper or something.  No, it was the Koreans who have successfully tapped that well for the first time, with an interesting little movie entitled, Deranged.

Taking a Dick Wolf-esque, "ripped from the headlines" approach, the movie takes the very real Horsehair Worm, specifically Spinochordodes tellinii and unleashes it upon mankind.  All Horsehair Worms are fundamentally atrocious, but Spinochordodes tellinii is especially so.  "Normal" Horsehair Worms are content to just grow inside different insects and sealife, leaching them of their nutrients and killing them as they hatch.  Spinochordodes tellinii  though, gives it's host the added bonus of releasing chemicals which drive the infected to seek out the nearest body of water and leap into it.  There the worms abandon the body via whatever orifice is handy, mate, deposit eggs in the water, and start the horrific circle of life all over again.

So what happens when these start to infect humans? 


Bodies start popping up in rivers and lakes, folks are downing bottled water like it's going out of style, and then drowning themselves in everything from bathtubs to fishtanks.  Things only get worse when it's discovered that this mutant strain kills the host when exposed to vermicide.  At first the medical community is puzzled, until it turns out that one particular brand of vermicide works.  Unfortunately, that brand was discontinued due to poor sales, leaving the protagonist to search with increasing desperation, and fail to obtain them due to increasingly improbable coincidences and turns of fate. 

The government becomes more and more authoritarian, going from "We're quarantining you for your own protection", to "We're taking away your cellphones because... um... we're concerned about public safety?"  Evil corporations get involved, and, well, to be honest the whole thing sorta goes off the rails a bit towards the end, and the SHOCK! last shot is just silly.

But at the core of all of this is a solid idea, and the first hour or so delivers a solid Robin Cook style medical thriller.  Definitely more Outbreak than Contagion, though.