Saturday, March 31, 2012

TV Preview Extravaganza!

LOTS of awesome shows returning on TV tomorrow.

A Game of Thrones - Season 2

If you don't know, you should.  Get thee to a Netflix - there's still time to get caught up before tomorrow night.  Based on George R.R. Martin's best selling (and seemingly never ending) series, A Song of Ice and Fire, this show is doing for fantasy in this decade what Lord of the Rings did for the 00s. 

River Monsters - Season 4

If you had told me five years ago that one of my most anticipated shows would be a fishing show, I'd have told you you were nuts.  But Jeremy Wade hosts an aggressively addictive show - an "extreme angler", he travels around the world, tracking down creatures that attack humans.  Along the way he meets with local fishermen, and learns their ways of doing things.  He's reeled in everything from Bullhead Sharks to Goliath Tigerfish, Giant Manta Rays to Candiru.  It's on Animal Planet, and you'll be just as surprised as I was to find that it's more than worth your time.

Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes - Season 2

If you've been waiting for Marvel's answer to the unparallelled awesomeness that was Timm/Dini's Justice League (Unlimited), this is it!  It's got everything you could want from a comic book cartoon - guest stars galore, and action and set pieces on a scale that no live action movie can afford.  Written by solid comics scribe Christopher Yost (who also wrote the late, much lamented Wolverine and the X-Men cartoon), the first season was solid - mixing the Ultimate and 616 continuity, taking the best of both.

The Killing - Season 2

It's been compared to The Wire, and from one perspective that's certainly true - both present rich, complex worlds, and take a multifaceted approaching to studying the effects of crime.  But while the Wire was very intellectual, almost coldly so, and was focused on institutions, the Killing is a very personal, very emotional, very raw story.  It takes the time to examine how the titular Killing affects the lives of people from the immediate family to politicians running for office.  Based on a Danish TV series of the same name, the second season is essentially the second half of a 20-odd hour movie, so go back and find the first season first, or you'll be lost.  This is also the American breakout performance for Danish-born Joel Kinnaman, who, as a result of his work on the Killing as the creepy/awesome Stephen Holder, was cast in Safe House and the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and will be playing Murphy/Robocop in the upcoming remake.

I'm going to put a trailer up for Season 1, to avoid spoilers.  It's yet another big hit for AMC, to go with Mad Men, Walking Dead, and Breaking Bad.  Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Might and Magic

During one of my fits of rage at the nigh-impossible task that was the quest to defeat Zork, I picked up Might and Magic (the first one), and dove into another game, furthering me down the path of preparedness for the moment when P&P RPGs would enter my life.  It tooke everything I loved about Zork and added a visual layer to it, as well as preparing me for party dynamics and balance.  Crag the Hack was the fighter, Sir Garland the Paladin, Zenon III the Archer, Swifty Sarg the Robber, Serena the Priest, and Wizz Bane the Sorceror.  I didn't even have to look up their classes as I typed that - that's how indelibly this game imprinted itself on my consciousness.  The spellcasters had spells (New World Computing's anti-piracy measures consisted of printing the spell list on the instructiong guide.  Without it, it would be tough to play the game), the Thief could rob and pick locks and such, the cleric healed, the wizard had his fireball, etc etc. 

And the world was HUGE!  I'd often look at the map provided of VARN, and imagine what sorts of things hid in those woods, or in the desert, or in the swamps.  There were five cities, each with a dungeon underneath it, there were castles, there were cave systems, there were dungeons, the game even had it's own Astral Plane!  Now mind you, I was on an Apple IIe at the time, so the wonders of Elder Scrolls were out of my reach at the time.  So this was unbelievable to me.  It seemed as though the game never ended!  I had a vague notion that graph paper would help me defeat the game more easily, but every time I would put serious thought into it, I would remember how freakin' huge the game was, shrug, and keep stumbling around.  Eventually it got to the point where I didn't NEED a map, and I could race through the dungeons beneath Sorpigal at light speed.  I still remember the time that I discovered my first hidden door in the game.  There was nothing telling me it was a hidden door, I wasn't able to "detect" it, I just happened to be facing a wall and pushed the forward button instead of turning, and voila!  I was on the other side of the wall, in a hidden room!


I proceeded to go back through the entire city, testing every single wall, looking for  more hidden rooms.  Found quite a bit, too, as I remember.  From that point on, I tested every single wall space in every single room, forest, cave or dungeon.  Obviously, that slowed me down a bit.


I finally ended up winning (It turned out that the guy I was hunting for was disguised as the King the whole time!  OMGWTFBBQ!!!), and set the game aside.  I have a vague recollection of buying the sequel, Gates to Another World, but the prospect of diving back into that world was a bit daunting, so I never got far.


The REAL mindf*ck of the games, though, is that while the setting appears to be standard medeival fantasy, the "world" that you're on, VARN, is actually a frikkin' spaceship.  VARN, it turns out actually stands for Vehicular Astropod Research Nacelle.  CRON, where the second game takes place, stands for Central Research Observational Nacelle. 

After the second one, the series migrated to the Mac, while my family stuck with the IIe, so the game moved on without me, but reading the wiki article, apparently it turns out, in the final twist, that the reason the whole setting was medeival was because it's actually post apocalyptic, there was a giant war, the ships everyone is living on were cut off from the Ancients, and descended into barbarism.

Crazy stuff - it's like Dungeons and Dragons, Metamorphosis Alpha and a dash of Gamma World thrown in!

If you're into this sort of thing, the first six games can be purchased from Good Old Games for $9.99!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

You Are Likely To Be Eaten By A Grue

This was one of three video games that directly steered me towards role playing.  We had an Apple IIe for quite some time growing up, so the number of games available to us became more and more restricted as we aged.  The Zork franchise stuck with us longer than most, though, all the way to Zork Zero.  I stuck with it all the way, mainly because it was damn near impossible to defeat (no way was I calling that 900 number to get hints!).

Interestingly enough, it was that impenetrability that drew me in, and kept me coming back to the game.  It's one of the few games actually feels like an old school RPG.  I just didn't know it at the time.   

Full of vast underground empires, magical artifacts, spells, humor, Zork had it all.

Almost... too much, though, at times. 

The series could be positively labyrinthine.  My favorite example of this is from Beyond Zork, where you need an ancient artifact, the Pheehelm, in order to be intelligent enough to read word that opens the door to the last area of the game.  In order to get the helm, you need a minx (found by wandering in the forest until you come across a band of hunters chasing one, which you save), an hourglass (purchased for 1000 zorkmids, which you can only obtain by selling a huge gem, which you get by making a mother hungus chase you towards a statue.  She charges you, hits it, it falls into your lap.  Don't ask what a hungus is.), an ever-fresh truffle (minxes hunt for truffles, find one, then wade into the pool of Youth (found in another area), and the truffle will never age).  Now you go, stand under an arch and turn the hourglass, which takes you back in time, to the last time the Helmet (remember the Helmet?) was seen, in a vicious battle between the forces of Pheebor and Borphee.  A prince is wearing the helmet, is decapitated, and his head falls into a trench.  Can you pick up the helmet there?  Hell no you can't!  You throw the ever-fresh truffle into the pit, then turn the hourglass and go back to the future!  Your minx (remember the minx?)  leaps from your arms, and digs through the earth, finding the ever-fresh truffle, and, HEY!  It's the Pheehelm!

Take a moment to reread that paragraph, and try and comprehend how much trial and error, how many "You can't do that here"s you would have to go through, in an ALL TEXT adventure, before you figured it out.

Trust me, the Tomb of Horrors ain't got nothing on Zork - by the time I cracked the Player's Handbook for the first time, I was primed and ready for D&D.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Light on Quests Mountain

I remember picking this up as a lad, at a garage sale.  I was big into Choose Your Own Adventure books, and the cover grabbed me right off the bat.  Co-written by James Ward, these definitely had a je ne sais quoi that my pre-rpg brain connected with.  I remember sitting up nights, going through the book over and over, trying to get the "perfect" ending.  At some point, I put it away, and forgot all about it.

Years later, having since actually played Gamma World, I was back at my parents' house, and was digging through my old stuff, and found my beat up copy.  I couldn't help but wonder if my affection for the book had somehow influenced me subconsciously, years later, to get into D&D, and subsequently Gamma World.  Probably not, but it's fun to imagine such things.

Reading through it as an adult, though, I was surprised to see that the story, for all intents and purposes, holds up as an actual adventure, and in fact, I ended up lifting large parts of Light on Quests Mountain for an adventure I ran, with the final battle in the robot's control room plagiarized directly from it. 

Looking on the interwebs, I see that a number of these were written, including three more Gamma World adventures.  I'll be keeping an eye out on ebay for any good lots that I can pick up cheap.

Who knows how many more adventure seeds they hold?

Monday, March 26, 2012

One Page Dungeon Contest

It's back!

One of my favorite contests in years past, I'm looking forward to this years entries.  I have to say, so far my favorite by far is Closet Barbarian's Holy Sword dungeon, which is both deadly and entertaining to look through.  I was thinking of designing my own, but I'm not sure I can top this one!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Legend of Korra

For those of you who fondly remember Nickelodeon's Avatar: the Last Airbender, the long awaited followup The Legend of Korra is nearly upon us, with a debut date of April 14th.  In anticipation of the upcoming event, Nickelodeon has released the first two episodes.  I'm told it's only viewable in America, so my apologies to anyone reading this elsewhere for the tease. 

Follow the link below.

What's that you say?  An Avatar the Last Airbender movie?  Never heard of it.  I'm sure they'll make one some day, and it will be marvelous.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Block

As anyone who follows this blog can guess, I've hit a bit of writers block when it comes to the game this blog was originally supposed to document.  I've listed the mutations, I've got a good idea for a character progression system that is skill based, rather than level based, lots of rivals/monsters, and lots of background and flavor.  And, um... that's about it.  As much as I'd like a "rules lite" setting, I think the precedent set by the character progression system pretty much precludes it.  I don't want to be inconsistant, and the skill based progression fits with the theme of the game - that actions matter.

It doesn't help that I've started GMing again, which, honestly, has been a blast.  I've got a great crew of players, who each bring something different to the group, and makes for a dynamic that has been alot of fun to tinker with.  Problem is, it saps my creative juices.  Every time I start daydreaming about something for From the Ashes, it ends up getting mutated into an idea for the 2e game.   

So I may try and serve two masters for awhile.  I've got an idea for a post apocalyptic fantasy... something that I'm going to try and set up.  Maybe a setting, maybe a dungeon, I dunno.  I just have notions of a ship, powered by unholy energies, crash landing into the side of a mountin.  Generations later, there are cannibalistic goblins lobotomizing their young to keep them from being mind controlled by the hulking descendants of the mind flayers who piloted the ship, their tentacles mere nubs, their psychic powers reduced to rudimentary levels.  I imagine the descendants of ancient adventuring parties, devolved into one mixed race with characteristics of dwarves, humans, gnomes and halflings, divided up into tribes based on classes.

Vague notions, but my hope is that it's similar enough to the 2e game that any of my crazy ideas that don't work in that game will spill over, and become something usable.

Here's hoping!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Things To Do

After last night's session, the party has a full plate indeed.  It all started when the dwarven cleric, in a drunken stupor, flew the ship north instead of south, inviting attack by a White Dragon.  They were able to slay the beast, but the cost was high - the life of Serendipity, the NPC sibling of Chartreuse was lost to the initial blast of the icy breath weapon.  Luckily, they were able to trade the corpse of the dragon to an elven mage, who put in a good word with the High Priestess of Solanfir, the Elven Goddess of Renewal, Rebirth, Spring, etc.  She cast a limited Resurrection spell, which brings the dead back for seven days.  There is a cave, however, where time flows strangely, slightly to the east of the elven city.  At the heart of this cave lies a pool which, should the resurrected submerge themselves within it, will make their resurrection permanent.

The party managed to stumble through a formal dinner with the King of the Elves without causing a major incident.  Not for lack of trying, though.  The dwarven priest, again intoxicated, picked a fight with some elven nobles, but was subjected to a Hold Person spell, and they shaved him.  He currently plots his revenge.

Oh and a Yuan-Ti was present at the dinner.  The party is convinced is either an illithid in disguise, or a spy.  Possibly both.

The dinner was productive, however - it turns out they're not quite done with the dungeon they abandoned last session - in addition to recovering the sacred gem of the Dwarven Beer God, there is an elven Star Seer who has gone missing in the same area.  They were also given a lead on the strange writings they recovered from the dwarven altar the illithids desecrated.  It turns out that they are written in the hidden language of the mind flayers, a language whose secrets are jealously guarded by the star-spawned creatures.  Only a few people in the entire world know even a handful of the symbols, and the papers the party found represent the largest example of their writing found to date.  The foremost expert on the language is a high mage by the name of Magrush, in the Human capitol of Sundallassar. 

There was also a fight with a pair of yeti, one of which was subdued, and is now being trained to read and write, while chained up in the hold of their flying ship.

Yep, it's one of those types of games.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Bloat

I've been in a happy place for the last year or so, as I've rediscovered my love for AD&D 2e.  I've managed to grab just about everything that I had before the Great Purge of '96, and now I'm gathering peripherals and stuff I wished I had been able to have back then.

So it was that I found myself staring at a copy of Hellgate Keep at my local Half Price Books yesterday, thinking, "Why not?"  It was five bucks, and while I probably would never use it, it might have some good ideas that I would spring on the guys at tonight's game, so what the heck.

Later that evening, as I settled into bed, I flipped it open and started reading.  I made it to the second sentence, which reads as follows:

"No rules are necessary for this adventure beyond the core AD&D rules ( the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master Guide, Monstrous Manual Tome, and Tome of Magic), the Complete Psionics Handbook, Players Option: Skills & Powers, the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting Box, and Faiths & Avatars."

Oh, is that all?

No, actually, it isn't, as the next sentence helpfully informed me:

"However, having access to the North Boxed Set would provide more background on the region the adventure is set in and its recent history, and Volo's Guide to All Things Magical provides more information on the Gatekeeper's Crystal, an artifact prominent in the recent history of Hellgate Keep."

Wow, that's alot.  Surely that's all I need?


"Folks also might find some Planescape materials useful in expanding the details and backstory of some of the more fiendish inhabitants of Hellgate Keep."

All of that for a 32 page adventure, priced at $9.95.

Obviously, by the time this came out, they were in a full-on, "how can we squeeze every last drop of money out of the people who play this" mode.  I mean, seriously?  Five hardcovers, two boxed sets, and three softcovers?  Not even getting into the multiple boxed sets Planescape generated?  For a 32 page adventure?

I can definitely see how this sort of marketing would have upset people way back when.  Hellgate Keep was released in 1998, so it seems as though I got out just in time.  Had I been getting into the hobby at this point, I would have looked at the laundry list and ran, not walked, back to the bookstore to return this incomplete thing that had been foisted upon me.

Steve at Howling Tower was talking about how each system starts off popular because a complete product is initially delivered.  The product takes off because it's easily accessible.  The public demands more, though, which means more product - more rules, more monsters, more line expansion.  This continues, until the line collapses under it's own weight, at which point the next iteration emerges, to perpetuate the cycle.  I think the type of shameless, cash-grabbing thinking that generated that opening paragraph is pretty indicative of the snake choking on it's tail.

I still love me some 2e, don't get me wrong.  I actually think it's a better system, now that everything (official) that will ever come out for it already has.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Another find!

After looking around on craigslist again, I hit another jackpot. I'm still sorting through everything, but highlights so far include TSR's Divine Right and Bushido Box Sets, a 6th printing of the Original D&D Box Set with duplicate copies of the booklets, the version of Deities and Demigods with the Melinbone and Cthulhu gods included, an untouched, unpunched Crossbows and Catapults game, a Dragonlance inspired boardgame called Magestones, and a complete run of Dungeon Magazines.

Plus the guy had a sweet box that is now my official dice box.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

RUIN - A Pretty Awesome Post Apocalyptic Short Film

This apprently went online Friday, and I love the look and feel of it - it could practically be a Gamma World short film. Make sure you stick around after the credits!

RUIN from OddBall Animation on Vimeo.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Epic Battles!

Chuck Norris vs. Bruce Lee

Kareem Abdul Jabaar vs. Bruce Lee

Royce Gracie vs. Akebono

Inigo Montoya vs. Dread Pirate Roberts

Warriors vs Baseball Furies

Jason and the Argonauts vs Skeletons

John Nada vs Frank Armitage

Kirk vs Spock

Sunday, March 11, 2012

RIP Moebius

I was devastated this morning to learn that he passed.  There are so many examples of his amazing art, it's hard to choose just a few, but I was a huge fan of his work.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Who's got two thumbs...

...and is going to meet William Shatner for a VIP meet and greet on the 22nd?


Friday, March 9, 2012

Game Mastery Decks

On a whim, I picked up a pair of Game Mastery Decks at Ye Olde Game Shoppe last week, and thought to myself how much fun those would be to drop into my 2e campaign.  And y'know, when I'm right, I'm right!

It was a bit weird at first - they're designed for Pathfinder games, and so some of the stuff was lost in translation.  We figured out ways around it though, such as when the party caught a critical hit which called for Intelligence Bleed.  It required a bit of fudging when it was inflicted upon a Stone Giant, we ended up deciding that it had an Intelligence of 10, and when it bled out, it was dead.

But oh, the Critical Fumbles.  Hilarity ensued as the dwarven cleric knocked himself out after smashing himself in the foot with a hammer and bleeding out, the elven archer tore a muscle and notched her fingers, causing bleed damage and penalties to hit, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera...

The party seemed to get into it as well, even if there were far more cards drawn from the fumble deck than the hit deck. So yeah, all around success.

They're available here, along with other types of cards of dubious usefulness -

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Distribution of Labor

Last night, as I DM'd my 2e campaign, I decided that I was going to make "passive" hidden doors rolls myself, as opposed to the players.  Elves, for instance, can locate a hidden door on a 1 or a 2 on a d6 just by passing by them.  It just made more sense for me to be doing that, so as not to tip off the players.

This segueued into a conversation about the distribution of labor in RPGs.  The episode of Community ( you know which one) was referenced.  In it, Abed was the DM and he did all the dice rolling.  Players announced their actions, and the he made the rolls to see if they were able to complete this action.

This, to me, is the true Old School.  It removes all of the number crunching, all of the min/maxing from the game, and it becomes all narrative.

But holy crap how much work is that for the GM.  Too much for me, anyways.  In addition, it also makes the players more passive participants in the game, as opposed to being actively involved, as they can be when they're determining the fate of their own character.

I tend to roll for NPCs, unless they're henchmen or hirelings, and let my players roll for themselves and any affiliated characters they travel with.  Honestly it had never occurred to do it any differently, but now I'm curious - what is the distribution of labor at your table?  Does anyone play it Abed's way anymore?  Did they ever?

Enquiring Minds Want To Know