Friday, December 9, 2011

Session XLI: PornOGREphy

So Monday was our last RPG session of the year. The holidays just go too damn busy to even try to schedule 10 people to get together to roll dice. So we usually take this time off and regroup after the new year.

We were planning on a full table, even Tim, who hasn't played in I don't know how long, showed up. We lost one player at the last minute and one ended up Skyping in due to new Baby watching duties. Eight faces around the table along with three cats and two dogs; full house no matter which way you slice it.

It was the usual raucous session and much hilarity ensued most of which, unfortunately, doesn't make it into the posts.

After passing through the gore and entrails of the 12 apostles of the Black Sun and catching up to their companions in the Temple of the Black Sun, Gnarly and Wolfheir come upon the scene we left our heroes in last session; Arg the half-orc unconscious by the hand of Skwanky the halfling, Slick Vinny invisible and bleeding after being mauled by a Hydra, the turn-coat Father Halford entangled in a web cast by Vinny, Flora-Fawn the fairy hovering around the remaining snapping jaws of said hydra, and Televon with the Crown of the Black Sun upon his head.

As Gnarly was healing Vinny and Wolf was debating slaying the entangled Halford, in walked their long lost companion, Adessa. Apparently, Adessa had split the group after she had lost a battle with her evil side and had recently taken up with Halford. She was working with Ankral the Dwarf assassin in a distant chamber was was told by her dwarven boss to go see what the commotion was.

Spying his new hire, Halford tries to get Adessa to free him but Wolf leaps onto the amazon and pinned her to the ground. Even with her Gauntlets of Ogre Strength she was unable to free herself from the Viking warrior. Soon afterwards, Wolf and Gnarly had her bound but that didn't last long as she snapped the rope strands and began to attack the Viking. But it was Gnarly that put her down once again by heating her armor and making her pass out. This time they removed her Gauntlets and bound her once again.

The hydra, who was unable to climb out of the hole, fled back into it's lair with one of it's head dragging behind, a causality of Arg and FloraFawn.

Arg and Skwanky wanted to follow the Hydra down it's Hydra-hole but first they prodded Halford a bit. Gnarly stabbed him in the back with his spear and then Arg tossed him into the pit. (Wolf then urinated on him from above but I'll leave that part out).

Then Arg and Skwanky tied a rope to the alter and lowered themselves down into the pit. They saw Halford limping away, mumbling. The two warriors pursued the fallen priest and began to hack away at him. Halford had one last ace up his sleeve as he reached out and grabbed the Half-orc and burned him with the remaining power of the black sun. Then calling the Hydra back upon his enemies Father Halford, former priest of Mithra and now follower of the Black Sun fell dead. But Arg and Skwanky had more to contend with as they were face to face with the now four headed hydra. As one head began chomping on the halfling, Arg began smashing through the other heads until the beast lay dead. Finding nothing in the lair and wounded and bloodied, they ascended back up to the temple.

Adessa, learning of Halford's death felt no obligation to him what-so-ever and told his former companions that there were hidden treasures somewhere within these chambers. The Dwarf assassin had some and Halford had some hidden as well. It was decided to head over to the dwarf and steal her treasures.

Still unsure of Adessa's motives, Gnarly kept her bound as she lead them to the Dwarf's chambers. Now with the Gautlets of Ogre Strength upon his tiny hands, Skwanky the halfling and Arg knocked on the door. A gruff female voice on the other side answered. When Arg, trying to impersonate Adessa responded, a furious Ankral opened the door to discipline Adessa She was surprised to find Arg standing there. A brief fight in the doorway later Ankral was dead but then her lover Charles the Ogre battled Arg and Skwanky but soon he too fell to the onslaught of the Half-orc and mighty halfling barrage!

Lifting some keys off of their fallen foes, the party explored the temple dungeon and the chambers of Ankral and Charles. Within the Dungeons they discovered a handful of citizens of Caladan awaiting their fate to be turned into Ghouls for Halford's undead army. Gnarly and Televon aided the unnerved prisoners.

Meanwhile, Arg broke into Charles' the Ogre's room. Besides a pile of straw and dirty rags the walls were etched with crude drawings of naked ogre females as well as nude drawings of Ankral the dwarf (this is what happens when you let the players help describe the contents of the room).

Finding nothing of value within the chamber the party proceed to explore Ankral's room and found a sensual pleasure chamber; incense, and tapestries, cushions and divans and even a heart shaped bed! It seemed that in the recent weeks of Adessa's employment, Ankral the Dwarf and Charles the Ogre had tried to get Adessa to join them in a dwarf / ogre / amazon three-way but she didn't want any of that.

After finding a trapped chest which hit Gnarly with an arrow, the room was looted and the party, leading the prisoners, moved on. Gnarly lead the prisoners back up to the cabin (the entrance to the temple tunnels) to await their return as they continued to explore the rest of the temple.

Heading down the southern and final passage they descend deeper into the temple. Opening a final door, Arg and Skwanky step into a large cavern guarded by three ogres and overseen by an aid to Halford. In front of this shady character were two tables with two townsfolk on them, other prisoners are in a cell at the back of the cave. Arg tried to bluff his way in and past the Ogres but eventually the shady character called the ogres to attack as the rest of the party rushed into the room.

Skwanky put on his ring of invisibility to try to get behind the shady guy and kill him but it wasn't before the minion pulled a lever that opened up two grates and in rushed twenty ghouls! Televon, acting quickly, lifted his holy symbol of Morpheus and half the the ghouls retreated back into the safety of their cave. Gnarly entangled another portion of them with some vines and thorny bushes. Along with the Ogres the remainder of the ghouls attacked the party. A large chaotic battle ensued with Skwanky and Arg taking out the ogres while the ghouls began to paralyze and the rest of the party. Eventually, one by one, the remaining ghouls were destroyed but not before a number of close calls!

After freeing the other prisoners and plundering the ghoul lab, the party headed back up to the cabin. Dusk was falling so it was decided that they all, party, mushrooms and rescued prisoners, hole up in the cabin until dawn. The session ended with the party discussing where they might have missed some treasure for they never found Halford's quarters.

So after almost two and a half years of gaming, forty-one sessions with S&W and a year passing in game time it was a pretty fun session for the last one of the year. A lot of laughs and some surprises with Brian gifting games to everyone. A great group indeed!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

ICONS Campaign Creation: Exquisite Corpse Style

Update: This post squeaked out before it was done in the oven. I hope it's not too badly written.

I mentioned that I'd start discussing my ICONS campaign idea so here we go.

I've been running my Swords & Wizardry campaign for just over two years now. We took one break last summer so that I can be a player in a Savage Worlds campaign (which still needs to be completed). Needless to say, I'm getting a bit dry on running a fantasy campaign and a nice change is needed. That is where ICONS will be coming in.

Here's the pitch....

I've learned to let the players create the campaign world while I just fill in what is needed. I love campaign histories too so instead of coming up with this on my own for ICONS (which I really don't want to do), I thought I'd let the group as a whole create this campaign. I also want to be a player more and not be stuck 'behind the screen' so much.

Now ICONS, if you haven't checked it out, is a very rules lite Heroes game. I think it would be easy for anyone to run a session. The mechanics are quite simple leaving all the rolling to the players, that leaves the GM as more of a guide for the session, introducing plots and characters and situations without having to keep all the rules and rolls in his/her head.

I like that. I like that a lot.

So the ICONS campaign will rotate GMs every session. The GM can use whatever the previous GM used such as plot, characters, events etc or just go off on his own tangent. Since most of the sessions will be self-contained there shouldn't be much of a problem. Even if a session is 'to be continued', the next GM can take that story anywhere he wants. Any GM can tap into previous events to spark a session of their own. Think of it as an Exquisite Corpse style of gaming. Everyone GMs and everyone plays. Think of every GM as a comic writer coming in to take over a title.

There will four or five rounds of this. The first round will take place in the Golden Age of comics around the early 1940's, the second round will take place in the Silver Age (the 1960's) while the third will take place in the Bronze Age of comics (70's/80's) and finally modern times. So each GM would run just a single session within one of those ages.

This whole process will create a history rich campaign that any GM can tap into for additional story material. Perhaps a villain from the Golden Age puts himself in suspended animation and returns in the bronze age more powerful than ever? Maybe the outcome of WW II is different than real history which would create a totally different world and scenarios than now? Whatever the case may be, everyone would be involved and invested in the creation of this campaign world.

So I would run the first game session starting in 1942. At the end of that night's session, the remaining players that are interested in running a session all roll a die, we'll say a d12 since it's kind of a lonely die. The highest roll will run the next session which continues the Golden Age era, all the way around until everyone had a turn to run a session then we move on to the Silver Age, etc.

Now I like the idea of not knowing when your GMing turn comes up as it keeps you on your toes, letting your ideas form based on previous sessions. Of course, you can come up with a complete adventure without tapping into anything that happened previously. But my experience with this group is that they're very creative and there's gonna be plenty of things happening that no one else would have thought of but could be a great inspiration.

So that's the general concept. The rest of the group liked the idea too. I'll be fleshing things out a bit more and, of course, posting it here for your reading pleasure!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

ICONS' Appeal To Me, An Old Schooler

What is it about ICONS, a modern rules-lite heroes game, that has such strong appeal to me, a self-proclaimed old-school gamer?

Good question, I'm glad you asked me!

I'm not a big fan of modern table-top RPGs. With but a few exceptions, I think most of the rules are way over complicated, character generation is absurdly drawn out, and the marketing aspect of having to purchase more 'optional' books and crap is, well, just a shitty marketing ploy. I'm a cheap-ass gamer, if I can't get something for a few dollars or less I'll just make it myself. Plus I always felt that the odds of killing some monster are really the same no matter if you're a 5th level Fighting-man battling a room full of Ogres or if your a 5th level Gnome Barbarian who's half Lycanthrope with a +8 quarterstaff of dread and rolling 20d6+3 for dammage battling a room full of Ogres (well, you know what I mean). The game mechanics just scale but the odds are the same just over complicated. Feel free to check my math, but that's my theory anyway.

The same story is told, the same battles take place so why not keep it simple? Who really has the time for all that nit-picking? I just want to have a good time with friends where we all tell a story.

So back to ICONS....

First off, ICONS is a rules/mechanic lite game. 2d6 and the players make all the rolls testing one ability against another. Modifiers are kept to a minimum. Anything goes in combat between heroes and villains but the rules are simple and open enough that with just half a thought rolls can be made. The action and the game is colored by all the players involved. Actions are fully open to the depth of the players imagination, which I think is THE key element to any rules-lite game. The same rolls of the dice my be used to determine similar actions but what the player adds to that action determines the drama. Again, the creativity of play falls back onto the players and not the rules.

Though the layout and production of the rules and supplements may have a Bruce Timm cartoon quality to it don't let that fool you, the game can be played with any mood in mind, from a grim, dark and dirty avenging knight to a Kirby-esque cosmic level world eating threat and anything in-between. The rules give you just what is needed to take it anywhere you want to go. It's a complete game in under 130 pages.

Steve Kenson, the creator of ICONS (and of Mutants and Masterminds) hit the nail on the head with what I feel is a modern old-school style game. There are plenty of references in the rules to 'using common sense' and 'just make it up' which might be alien to some strictly modern gamers but is pure gold for someone coming from an Old School background. In the section that is called Game Rules vs. Common Sense Kenson wryly states:
'...ignore the rules and go with what makes the most sense to you and what
you think will be the most fair and fun for your players; and if one of them should object and say, “That’s not in the rules!” point them to this paragraph and say, “Yes, it is.” '
Beautiful loophole to put rule sticklers in their place.

Character generation is quick and exciting and sparks plenty of imaginative characters. Everything is laid out for a player to flesh out his rolled character with his own creativity. That's a beautiful reference to the early versions of RPGs where the player developed the character based on a few stat rolls and not the other way around. And that's the point, there is plenty of room for developing a well rounded, three-dimensional character based on the players imagination and not dice rolls.

Kenson gives us random charts to create adventure hooks on the fly, a handful (13) of fully fleshed out colorful villains each with origins and three adventure ideas, and even a sample adventure. Did I mention a provided single page character sheet with a full quarter of it left open for you to draw your character?

As I mentioned above, it's a complete game in 130 pages. Adamant Entertainment have the pdf rules on sale right now over at RPG Now for $1.99. So for that price it's worth checking out. I'm not a big fan of using rules in pdf format. I usually need to reference and flip back quickly to clarify and compare elements so I actually purchased the print version of the rules. Now, the cost is a bit steep for what I would pay for a 130 page rule book but I made the exception for ICONS and was very happy with the purchase. A very well produced and printed book, the size and shape of a graphic novel.

So in short, why ICONS appeals to me, an old-school gamer:
  1. Complete game in 130 pages.
  2. Quick and creative character generation
  3. Rules-lite with simple mechanics
  4. An anything goes and anything can happen attitude
  5. Creative game play is left up the the players around the table and not the dice
  6. Adventures and villains included.

One common criticism of the game is that it is limited towards long term campaign play. This I disagree with. It can work fine in long-term play as is or with a couple of simple house rules to allow for character 'advancement' or a point based character creation process. Like many of the games I started out with, Holmes Basic D&D, Traveller, and Top Secret the game doesn't have to 'define' specific rules for 'level' advancement, character development and situations define that. Levels are just a guide.

So there you have it. The mystery of the allure of ICONS revealed.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Preparing To Play A New Game Takes Me A Loooong Time

Time is limited for everyone these days so picking the 'right' game is everything.

For me, preparing to play a new RPG takes me a long time. Once we start playing, however, prep-time shrinks to almost nothing but prior to that first session, I spend months looking over the rules, understanding the rules, contemplating campaign scenarios, debating rule-sets for genre, etc. The main reason is that I want everything during that first session to go smoothly, I want the players to have a great time and I, as GM, want to have a great time as well and not be hung-up on rule mechanics.

When I began our Swords & Wizardry campaign back in October of 2009 I went through quite a long process before that first session. Not in game session prep but in research. At that time I've been out of gaming since the early 80's so I was starting fresh.

After a big reminiscence session with a friend of mine about D&D (he pulled out the LBBs) and soon after Gary's passing, I began being drawn back into the excitement of that FRPG. It was then that I discovered DragonsFoot and from there I found the beginnings of the soon to be called OSR. I found out that many folks kept playing the original rules, that there were plenty Holmes fans out there and that people were publishing 'new' rule books based on the old games.

Those new rules are what really opened things up for me and began the journey to find what rule system to use. I thought about just going back to Holmes (my starter) but I worried about getting other folks interested. I thought that these new rules, however similar to the origins, would be a great way to get folks interested into something new yet old.

I picked up Basic Fantasy RPG and loved what I saw there. I thought this was great! A 'modern' take on the FRPG that I loved so much back in the day. However, though it was so close to what I wanted to run it wasn't quite there. I then found Labyrinth Lord. Ah, now this was much closer to what I was looking for. At first I felt it was closer to my Holmes edition but upon deeper exploration I saw it was closer to Moldvay's. A slight difference to some but a big difference to me.

When I discovered Swords & Wizardry I had found my rule-set (January 2009). Perfect. Loose, open-ended and 'new'. Perfect for getting folks involved and rules-lite for my limited time commitments.

Now that I had my rule-set I began to re-learn the game; combat, monsters, armor class, saving throws, all of that once second nature to me back in junior high and high school but lost to my modern brain.

I took months to understand the rules and the rule potentials which is not surprising as many of you still debate rules from the early versions of the game.

Then came deciding what type of campaign it would be. But with much research with the blogs popping up with the same questions and curiosities that I had, much was answered. With interesting charts found and additional classes I finally put together my first session nine months later. Yes, nine months.

So if you've been following this blog recently, you may have noticed that I've had some interest in running a Heroes game. I've picked up a copy of the 1st edition of Champions, V&V and began playing in an online Mystery Men! game, comparing everything I want in a heroes games. I've had my eyes on ICONS and have been studying the rules for a couple of months now. I think this is the game rules that I plan on going with. They're very lite, and after a few mechanics tests it proved to have some staying power.

Believe me, it took me a loooong time to make that final decision. I've worked up a pretty decent campaign idea which I'll share shortly but it looks like we'll be hitting some ICONS actions shortly after the holidays.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Welcome Black Friday....

....or as we like to traditionally call it:

Try to guess which picture are the actual black Friday shoppers. I know, it's hard isn't?

Woman Pepper Sprays Shoppers To Get X-box

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Session XL: Jamaican Me Crazy

WITH former priest of Mithra turned follower of the Black Sun Father Halford captured, our faithful adventurers interrogated the traitor at their Moon-tower.

Slick Vinny, after doing some research on the Crimson Skull of Yam-Gregak, charmed the priest. The priest took a liking to Vinny but gave a rat's ass about the rest of the group.

Vinny found out that Zenopus the Vampire was indeed living deep beneath their tower and that Halford was in cahoots with her for quite a while, using the party to retrieve the Crimson Skull for his own nefarious plans of raising an army of the undead.

Halford had built a temple to the Black Sun hidden beneath the cabin of a female dwarf assassin named Ankral.

After some debate, it was decided to go after Halford's temple of the Black Sun in the hopes of gaining the treasures of the travelers that he had captured and turned into his ghoul army.

With the poisonous Halford leading the wary party down the South Coast Road to the edge of Harrowood, they came upon the abandoned looking cabin of Ankral. The sprite Flora-Fawn flew down the chimney to check things out. She found just an empty cabin and relayed that back to the party.

They entered the cabin and Halford lead them to the hidden entrance to his temple. They all descend down a spiral staircase and into a lit chamber. After coming upon a locked door with the key lost, Arg the Half-orc bashed the door open alerting the acolytes of the Black Sun. Halford quieted their concerns and lead the party to the temple entrance. But Arg turned around and started smashing through the religious fanatics. At that point, Halford rushed through the door and into the temple of the Black Sun, running for an alter with a black crown upon it, shouting to his cult followers to attack the party but spare the wizard, Vinny.

Vinny followed Halford and cast a web spell upon him holding him in place short of the alter. Televon ran up to the alter and lifted up the iron crown. At that moment, from a pit in the center of the floor, rose the five heads of a hydra which attacked the nearest victim which just so happened to be Vinny. Near death, Vinny turned himself invisible and raw away while Flora-Fawn attacked the heads with her magic.

Meanwhile, Skwanky the halfling warrior and Arg quickly hacked and slashed their way through the cult followers leaving a bloody mess in the hallway. Heading towards the temple entrance the Orc and Halfling saw the hydra heads attacking their allies. Skwanky took a sling and tried to attack one of the heads but critically missed and the stone flew backwards and knocked Arg out!

While Televon tried to use the crown to 'control' the Hydra, Vinny attempted to steal it by levitating it off the cleric's head, but the priest of Morpheus was too quick and grabbed onto the crown. This caused Vinny to become even more frustrated with his long time companions and pushed him ever closer to the darker side of his arcane arts.

So that ended the session. You might be asking yourself what the heck does the session title have to do with anything that happened in game? Well, due to a few too many beers at the table the Cleric of Morpheus suddenly began speaking in a Jamaican accent. Hilarious, though typically expected RPG table action.

It looks like we'll be fitting in one last session before our usual holiday break so stay tuned dear reader!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tales Of High Adventure Now Available For Kindle

Earlier this year my colleagues and I put out in print what we hoped would be an on going series of pulp adventure stories called Tales Of High Adventure. The first issue contained reprints of some of our favorite pulp authors from Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft as well as new authors and comic stories.

Our hope was to continue the series with new authors and new stories.

Unfortunately, life always takes unexpected turns. Though we had put together most of the second issue we never quite finished it for publication.

During the summer we put out our Tales of High Adventure Radio Plays: Beneath the Ruined Tower of Zenopus. We hoped you enjoyed those and have some more in the works.

Well, as we finally get back together to tackle finishing up issue 2 of our Tales of High Adventure pulp magazine I've put together the original book for Kindle readers. Since there were a number of comic pages and illustrations I found the Kindle ebook format worked best for our publication.

So those with Kindles check out great pulp adventures with our Tales of High Adventure book now available on Kindle through Amazon.

The book is still available through ComiXpress in print format!

Available for the NOOK too!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tower Of Zenopus Radio Play Chapters 1-3

If you remember this past summer the Warlocks Home Brew released its radio play; Beneath The Ruined Tower Of Zenopus! in three chapters.

We'll the original concept was that these three chapters actually made up the first chapter of the story. So here is the original three chapters together in their 34 minute entirety for your listening enjoyment!

Download and listen at your leisure.

Tune in to the theater of your mind with Tales of High Adventure!


Written and Produced by Paul Fini

Music by Kevin MacLeod

Performed by the Warlock's Home Brewed Role-players:

Corey Bishop…..Arvin Ardmore, priest of Mithra
Brain Dunkle…..Tibag Backstabber, rogue
Paul Fini…..Announcer, Father Halford, Sorcerer
Zachariah Hoffman…..Skwanky Furrytoe, halfling
Clay Lewis…..Gedleesmote Hammersend the Dwarf
Max Lieberman…..Vincent the Wizard
Mike Moran…..Wolf the Viking
Christy Cameron Smith…..Narrator, Harlot, Morak

Also featuring
Richard Gabriel…..Mithra pirest
Sara Gabriel…..Jesse the bar wench, goblin
Brendan & Adam Gabriel…..Goblins
Michael Griffith.....Pirate Captain

This Pod-play is dedicated to John Eric Holmes

Or Download for your leisure listening!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

You Don't Pull On Superman's Cape...

After finishing the fantastic historical book Men of Tomorrow by G. Jones, I got really pumped up for some Superman action, most notably the earliest newspaper strips of the underwear clad hero. These were exclusively written by Jerry Siegel and illustrated by Joe Shuster, creators of Superman (with a little help from their studio) for National Periodicals (DC Comics) wayyyy back in 1939.

Siegel and Shuster's pulp influences shine through as this Superman is grim, a bit of a smart-ass, and a cold-hearted do-gooder before DC (without Siegel and Shuster) removed all edge from the hero.

In just only six months of the strip, we have one suicide attempt, 6 death (most of which are by the hands of Superman himself), one case of animal experimentation (let's face it this one is just plain cruel), child abuse from a orphanage superintendent and Superman delivers some cold justice and Superman's 'cold justice' is literally letting you die.

Here's just some examples from the first few months of the strip (pardon the images as I couldn't scan them from my book but had to take photos).

This speaks for itself.

Superman's patented style of 'persuasion' as he liked to call it.

A little too much 'persuasion' perhaps?

Thugs attempting to escape in a plane? Not with Superman around and
his form of Justice!

Cold, Superman, cold. Dick Cheney better watch out, Superman don't like no war-profiteers.

Oh, and this is just an amazing sequence for any comic strip....

No, Clark, sadly this is not a gag....

Ambrose looks a bit agitated, as well he should for in the next sequence....

Yes, Clark, he's dead. DEAD! Ambrose! Noooooooooooooo!

I love this old Superman strip. He's mostly fighting gangsters, graft and corruption at all levels, definitely a sign of the depression era. Siegel and Shuster's hero was pretty dark and grim, much on the same level as Batman was back then too - a direct influence from the pulps that these creators grew up with in the 1920's. But they were heroes in the eyes of the readers as everyone felt the oppression and hopelessness of the times with breadlines, unemployment and the shadows of the coming war. Superman struck a chord of the times and began an industry.

It's sad that today's comic strips are nothing compared to the grim fantastic tales of the origins of adventure strips. They lack the sexuality of Flash Gordon, the noir of Dick Tracy, and the cold violent reality of the times from Superman. Maybe the print media wouldn't be on the ropes so much if they advanced their comic strips with the times. But times are different and they're constantly changing faster today than ever. It sure would be great to have strips like this promoted by your local great metropolitan newspaper.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Warlock's Book Review: Men of Tomorrow

Though I love reading I'm not much for writing up book recommendations. Movies? Sure. But books, there are plenty of other folks out there that can give you a better explanation of why one should read a book. Me, I either like it or don't like it and I have my reasons.

Today I make an exception.

"Men Of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of Geek Culture" (2005) by Gerard Jones was a fascinating read - a book I couldn't put down and one of the best books I've read this year.

It follows the history of Jewish immigrants and 1st generation Americans as they claw their way into the American dream and into the American consciousness creating our modern geek culture and media empires.

This incredibly researched book revolves around Harry Donenfeld, Jack Liebowitz, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (the creators of Superman) and all the other Golden Age creators that gave birth to the superhero and the comic book.

It follows the history of Donenfeld as he works with gangsters and bootleggers during prohibition setting up a network that would later evolve into distributing his Spicy Tales nudie mags and eventually comics. It follows Siegel & Shuster's evolution of geek culture through fanzines of the early pulps and the beginnings of the Science Fiction genre and their creation of and eventual 'sale' to Donenfeld of Superman, the hero that started an industry. It follows Jack Liebowitz, Donenfeld's accountant who cultivated and controlled the comic book industry with National Periodicals (DC comics) all the way to becoming the senior board member of Warner Communications.

Filled in with the other creators of the industry, Bill Gains and EC comics, Will Eisner, Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and the 'birth' of modern Marvel comics and even Fredrick Wertheim (Seduction of the Innocent) all amidst the backdrop of the 50 year battle over the ownership of Superman, it's the best history of the industry I've ever read.

I highly recommend it for anyone interested in Pulps, Comics and Geek culture in general.

On a side note, years ago I (mostly) read Michael Chabon's fictional "The Adventures of Caviler and Clay". I found that novel extremely frustrating in it's portrayal of the early history of the industry and the (based-on-real-life) characters. As I read his book I didn't want some fictional story I wanted the real story with the real people involved. Men of Tomorrow is that book and I cannot praise it enough.

Friday, November 4, 2011

ICONS Character Sheets

I just can't stop myself from making character sheets for the games I play. Perhaps it's a curse, dunno. So here are my ICONS character sheets modeled after my Mystery Men! Character sheets I put together a while back. The ICONS sheets have all been gathered together into one PDF file, 5 different sheets (one blank space to draw your own image from scratch for those so inclined).


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

ICONS: The Green Manalishi

I'm still interested in getting an ICONS game going. Playing around with the system, I rolled this villain up.

The Green Manalishi


Prowess 7
Coordination 6
Strength 6
Intellect 2
Awareness 4
Willpower 4

Stamina 10
Determination 4

Expert in Wrestling

Telekinesis 4
Immortality 5
Wizardry 5
Blinding 6

Catchphrase: I shall bring your world to it's knees, for I am The Green Manalishi!

Weakness: Powers held within staff. Can roll a willpower test to have staff return if out of his hand.
Hunted: by the Konn
Burnout: Staff may burn out and need to be 'recharged' with the negative black energy from another dimension.

A brash and arrogant warrior who hails from a pocket dimension of a pocket dimension, Xothulituz, the Green Manalishi comes to earth to conquer this pathetic orb. His powers are carried in his Battle Scepter. If the Scepter is stolen from him, the Scepter uses the Usuper's willpower to break-free and return to it's owner. The Green Manalishi is hunted by The Konn, a race of warriors from an alternate reality that was destroyed by the Green Manalishi. The Konn seek to bring the Green Manalishi to justice.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Session XXXIX: Victory!

Things weren't looking too bad as our heroes, along with the former Watchmen of Caladan, took on the army of Ghouls. The soldiers were holding their own, but soon it became apparent that the hoard of Ghouls were slowly cutting down the line of soldiers.

Skwanky, who was paralyzed by a Ghouls touch was lifted up and was being carried away.

How quickly the tide turned!

But suddenly, out of the darkness across the road came Televon, Curate of Morpheus, holding the symbol of the Lord of Dreams on high and frightening off a good portion of the ghouls. With him came two of Gnarly's strongest Mushroom-men warriors. The battle continued with the remaining Ghouls who were defeated but not until all of the Watchmen were dead, save the archers.

With Skwanky saved and the wounded healed the party searched through the ghouls and found that they were all former citizens Caladan and travellers of the realm. Piling up the bodies, Gnarly lit them ablaze and the party headed back to the Moontower.

But no sooner hitting the road they were confronted by another group of Ghouls lead by an evil cleric of the Black Sun holding the Crimson Skull of Yam-Gregak. This cleric was none other than Father Halford formerly of the Temple of Mithra!

Flora Fauna acted quickly and tried to put the confederate priest to sleep but he shook it off. As the ghouls rushed forward, Halford of the Black Sun engulfed the archers, Arg and Flora Fawn into darkness, but Televon countered with a prayer to Morpheus and held the dark priest in his tracks! Gnarly sent Tuk the owl to lift the Crimson Skull from Halford while the rest of the party rushed upon the remaining ghouls and finished them off.

With Halford stripped of his power (and armor) he was taken prisoner and marched to the Moontower as dawn broke over the coast of Eir-ian.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Creature Features

If there's anyone old enough to remember (we're talking early 70's) on Friday evenings WGN channel 9 in Chicago would run their classic horror program called Creature Features. This was long before The Son of Svenghoolie though I think around the same time as the original Svenghoolie. Anyway, I grew up watching these classic horror programs on our little black and white tv in my parent's bedroom. The cool thing about the show was the intro recreated here by Dan Siciliano.

Now it's off to watch our annual viewing of Night of the Living Dead.

Happy Halloween all ya Ghoulie Grognards!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hammer Time

This Halloween I'm on a Hammer Films kick. Not only do you get gory horror with the likes of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing but plenty of eye candy with Rachel Welch, the late Ingrid Pitt and the rest of the Hammer Glamor girls.

Dracula A.D. 1972
Dracula rises from the dead into the swinging 70's of London in this inspired version of the same old story. Peter Cushing plays Van Helsing's modern heir and Stephanie Beachman plays his daughter who gets caught up with some swinging hippies lead by Johnny Alucard who's real motivation is to bring Dracula back from the dead. The opening scene is pure late 60's hippie schlock with a rock band and a bunch of their followers sticking it to the man. But with Lee, Cushing, Beachman and Caroline Munro this is a must see for Hammer fans. Available through Netflix streaming so perfect for this weekend's Horror film festivities.

Vampire Lovers
An odd but enjoyable vampire story staring Ingrid Pitt and Peter Cushing. Pitt plays the beautiful Marcilla/Carmilla preying on the young and beautiful Madeline Smith. Great Gothic imagery, though much of the day for night shots look terrible. Some minor nudity with Pitt seducing Smith but, hey, it's a Hammer film. Great for late night Netflix streaming this weekend.

One Million Years B.C.
Now I haven't seen this one since I was a kid but watching it now, with an adult perspective, I see it as a one of the best pre-historic (though not at all accurate) flicks. Made in 1966, a couple of years before Kubrik's 2001: A Space Odyssey and his famous ape sequence, it has quite the spacey intro grounding the audience in the past. If it wasn't for the cheesy narration to spoon-feed the time frame to the audience, it's quite a great sequence. Then we meet the brutal Stone Tribe and the 'enlightened' Shell Tribe and the stunning Rachel Welch as the most beautiful cave-woman in pre-history. When I was a kid watching this flick, I was taken more by the Ray Harryhausen animated monsters then a scantly clad 60's icon. But now, Rachel is the star of the show and real joy to watch. Besides all that, the whole story has quite the pulp feel as the Tomac, the outcast from the Stone Tribe explores this desolate wilderness. Oh and then the great cataclysm at the end? Great stuff! Unfortunately, it's not available on Netflix streaming so I had to order it via Netflix snail-mail (yes, despite everything we're still Netflix customers - for now).

Bonus feature:
Twins of Evil
A great little vampire flick staring Peter Cushing and Madeleine and Mary Collinson (the Twins of Evil). Cushing's role is great as a puritan witch-hunter (think Solomon Kane) who tries to protect one of his nieces (one of the twins) from falling for the satanic Count. I thought this movie had some amazing themes which would make for a great remake.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Skirmish (Mass) Combat Part 2

First off, let me say that I'm not any type of expert at 'creating' gaming rules. I'm fine with tweaking and altering something that exists already and lifting and mixing from other sources but to flat out creating balanced war-game, rpg rules, - nope, not me. There are plenty of other folks out there who are much better creating something like that than me.

So I'm still looking for some alterations on the Swords & Wizardry Mass Combat rules which I've scaled down to just Skirmish Rules.

Justin from Old School Psionics came up with some simple streamlined Mass Combat rules. I'll be giving those a closer look later today.

I also ran across these sets of rules; Song of Blades and Heroes from Ganesha Games which looks promising on some levels. For only $5 for the pdf download from Lulu, it's worth checking out.

Grungi posted his results of a similar combat yesterday using the Gabor Lux's Swords and Magic Retro clone and the Ghouls overwhelmed the soldiers as well. That verifies some of the results that I've been getting in my sample combats as well. Very similar to the Swords & Wizardry Combat rules but with a few more things added.

Conclusion: Ghouls are pretty bad-ass as an 'army'.

So there's a lot to look over today but some of the questions I'm looking to answer are the following:

Defensive positions, how would they come into play and for how long?

Would monster units get multiple attacks? Some folks say yes, but how would a special attack such as Paralyzing touch from a ghoul come into play for a unit vs unit battle?

What about the ghoul units that were 'wounded', how would that be handled after the battle? In the example above, sure some of the Ghoul units were hit and their HP numbers deflated, even to zero (which doesn't mean they are killed) but how many are actually left?

How would a PC support a friendly unit in combat or moral? What about adjacent units?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mass Combat Part 1

In my most recent S&W session we had a battle of about 40 ghouls vs about 30+ soldiers and a couple of PCs. As I wasn't yet 'fluent' in the S&W mass combat rules and thought I'd like to see the battle play out in 'real scale' we started rolling the dice. It actually worked out pretty well and didn't take too long, though we still have to finish the battle in the next session.


I don't think I would run something like that again as a straight combat. So it was off to explore the S&W Mass Combat rules.

I ran through the same combat, minus the PCs, on my own to see how it would turn out compared the actual combat. Using the Swords & Wizardry mass combat rules the Ghouls pretty much overwhelmed the soldiers. Perhaps that is what would really happen? Ghouls are pretty vicious creatures and with forces of equal number on both sides the ghouls would still have the advantage.

For those unfamiliar with the Swords & Wizardry Mass Combat rules, they are part of the Core Rules and only take up two pages. The rules are quite simple, as they should be. Soldiers and monsters are grouped in units of 5 or 10, hit points added for a unit's total and you roll on the regular charts to determine out come. If a hit is scored, the unit is not destroyed (1 in 6 chance) but could be 'broken' and unable to fight until moral (d%) is made. That's just a broad stroke and if you are more interested in reading the details you can download the free version of the rules and look it over yourself.

A number of questions come up using these rules as is, and who says you have to use the rules as is?

Ghouls normally get 3 attacks per round, would this hold true in Mass Combat? Thus three chances to 'wound' a unit and roll a d6 for reaction results? That would seem pretty extreme but perhaps true to the monster. Perhaps just one attack with a d6 damage would be fine. For other monsters as well? How would you handle the paralyzing effect of their attacks?

How are PC's handled? That's not really handled much in the rules. A unit attacking a PC does half damage to the PC which could still be pretty vicious and deadly. In this case, would Ghouls still get their 3 attacks? How would the PC's presence affect the ally unit's moral on breaking?

I know the Mass Combat Rules are a very broad stroke to handle a situation like this and maybe works fine for larger scale battles but groups of about 10-50 combatants on each side should be handled by this rule as well as taking the PC abilities into account. So maybe what I'm looking for isn't mass combat but something in-between?

This week I'll be exploring this Mass Combat system and tweaking things and hopefully come up with some useful additions. I want to keep it simple and don't want to break out of the RPG and into a totally different (war) game. I'm looking to make or add some supplemental tweaks to make a combat such as this flow better within the scope of a table top RPG and make it fun, exciting and have the outcome be 'realistic' in terms of the outcome of standard melee combat.

If anyone has any thoughts on this I'd love to hear from them. I'd want to keep things pretty quick and simple using the Mass Combat rules but tweaked a bit to make it a bit more scaled to a large group of combatants and not so much an army.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Session XXXVIII: War With The Living Dead

Ah, to have a cleric in your party when needed - which was not the case in Monday's session. The hints were there but who listens to their DM when there's slaying to do, right?

IN camp with the Watchmen, the rebel group of former Caldan watch members, Arg the half-orc, Flora the fairy, Gnarly the druid and finally joined by Wolfheir and Skwanky plot their rescue of Lord Osric who had been overthrown by Morak.

After much discussion it was decided to try to move the Watchmen to the Moontower which would involve crossing a guarded bridge and working their way around the outskirts of Caladan unseen. It was decided to go with the ol' Wookie in chains trick.

At dusk, Skwanky and Gnarly, after paying a toll, crossed the bridge and hid in the woods on the other side but not before being warned about traveling at night.

After a while, Wolf and his brigand followers dressed in stolen soldier uniforms, lead Arg and some of the Watchmen, as prisoners, to the bridge. There the guards question Wolf and Arg which goes something like this:

Guard: Where are you taking this...thing?
Wolf: Prisoner transfer from cell-block 1138.
Guard: I wasn't informed about this....
Arg: Look out, I'm loose!

And Arg proceeded to toss a bunch of the guards over the bridge. Meanwhile, Flora cast sleep on the rest of the guards rendering them helpless.

After some looting by Skwanky and more body tossing by Arg, the bridge guards were replaced by the five charmed soldiers from the previous session to cover their tracks.

Flora flew back over the bridge and gave the signal for the Watchmen to cross.

From here, the large group headed around the farmlands of Caladan. Edging the woods south to cross the Great Coast Road to return to the Moontower, they spot a lone figure standing in the dark in the middle of the road. Trying to get it's attention but to no avail, Tuk the owl and Flora fly out to spy who this might be. It turned out to be a ghoul.

Arg, loosing patience, walked out of the woods and approached the creature who turned to face the half-0rc and let out a fearsome screech! From the woods on the other side of the road rushed a literal army of hungry ghouls, former travelers and townsfolk of Caladan!

Arg high-tails it back to his party and the Watchmen while Wolf organized his men into defensive positions.

After burning the initial wave of undead, the ghouls rushed the group of defenders and a brutal battle erupted. The Watchmen along with Wolf and Skwanky on the front lines hack and slash at the fierce creatures who claw and gnaw their way through the lines of fighters.

The session ended with half of the Watchmen dead, half of the Ghouls dead and Skwanky paralyzed by the attack!

The beginnings of battle. The tokens with the peanut butter cups are ghouls ablaze!

The faceless tokens are allies while the imaged tokens are the Ghouls. Slips of paper keep track of the monster's HP. We played the battle out completely - every monster and every NPC and PC.A rules lite combat make this possible.
It appears that the ghouls are breaking through the lines...

To Be Continued....
(thanks to Zach and Corey for the war photo)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Campaign Hex Map

So I've had to work up a full 11 x 17 campaign hex map with a 2 mile scale.

I've worked up pieces of the map before in a 10 x 10 hex format on the One Page Wilderness pages and populated most of the hexes randomly.

You'll notice that the hex numbers repeat as those are pieces of the 10x10 hex maps which fit on the one page wilderness layouts. I've had to piece these together and add the currently 'unexplored' areas into this larger map so the players can get a better view as they travel around Caladan which we will be using the chits form Death Maze!

007 Dr. No Pre-credit Sequence

*UPDATE: Sorry, but it doesn't appear that this video will play due to various 'issues'. Dunno why Youtube plays tons of copyrighted material but not this. Oh well.

I've been on a bit of a James Bond kick these past few week, specifically analyzing five of the first six films.

Watching the early Bond film adaptations in the order as they were written; From Russia With Love, Dr. No, Goldfinger, Thunderball and On Her Majesties Secret Service is a fantastic viewing experience to watch the progression of a very human James Bond. The only issue is the reversed order of the first two films films From Russia With Love and Dr. No.

Dr. No (1962) was the very first Bond film. Without any disrespect to a great film and though it had many of the elements that would later be expanded upon in the future Bond films, it lacked some of the polish that showed up in the second film (From Russia), most notably, the full John Barry score and the infamous pre-credit sequence. It becomes quite apparent watching Dr. No after From Russia.

So I created a edit of Dr. No with a pre-credit sequence and a new score over the title credits. I never liked the looped James Bond theme which eventually breaks into "The Three Blind Mice"during the Dr. No titles. Though it blends in with the first scene of the three blind assassins, the lightness and comical attitude breaks the thrill of the Bond film especially placed second in the film sequence.

The music I placed there instead was an unused track from the Dr. No soundtrack which fit quite nicely into the sequence and keeps the mood a bit darker and dramatic (or so I felt). Ironically, it too is called James Bond Theme but it was only an early version of the theme.

So placing Dr. No as the second film with this edited pre-credit sequence I think helps smooth the transition between the new sequence. I'd be curious for your opinion on this too.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Avengers Assemble!

No doubt to be talked about all day....

Quite a lot going on there but it all looks quite marvelous in the Merry Marvel Manner!
Highly anticipated? Hells yes!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

This Week In The War Of The Ring

October 3rd
Gandalf is attacked at Weathertop.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Warlock's Digest of Dungeon Dwelling Denizens

I've been working on trying to keep the GM's side of the table a bit less cluttered these days. I love the digest sized books or smaller for quick look-up reference. I needed a quick guide for monster stats so I didn't have to flip through books for AC, Experience, Damage, etc.


I've put together The Warlock's Digest of Dungeon Dwelling Denizens, a no frills old school monster statistical reference in digest format. It lists the stats only for all the monsters published in the Swords & Wizardry Core rules with a couple others monsters that I've used in my campaign thrown in. It sports ascending and descending armor class so it should be helpful in most old school style games.

It's a free download so have at it!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

This Week In The War Of The Ring

Sept 25
The hobbits re-unite at Crickhollow.

Sept 26
The hobbits enter The Old Forest and have an unexpected encounter with Old Man Willow. They're saved by Tom Bombadil

Sept 27
Gandalf crosses Greyflood.

Sept 28
Those poor hobbits run into a barrow-wight.

Bree at last and a drink at the Prancing Pony. An' w'hos dat? Why it's Strider!

Sept 30
The Black Riders attack Bree.

The hobbits and Strider leave Bree in the morning.
Gandalf arrives at Bree in the evening.

Oct 1
Gandalf leaves Bree.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Bond Films In A New Light

I've been a huge fan of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels since I was in junior high. Of course, prior to that I loved watching the movies as they were replayed on television. At the time, they were all the Connery films and the first two Moore pix, Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun.

But the first time I read Fleming's original novel, I believe it was Dr. No, I was blown away! The character and story seemed so much different then the invincible, gadget heavy, overly promiscuous secret agent of the films. The character in the novels was much more human, and vulnerable. He wasn't the blockbuster 'superhero' but a deep cover secret agent up to his neck in cold war espionage.

Out of the 22 Bond films produced (with six actors playing the lead) only a mere five followed Fleming's novels; From Russia With Love, Dr. No, Goldfinger, Thunderball and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The rest were lifted in title and character only with screenwriters taking the stories into their own directions (with mixed results).

These five novels were adapted into film in almost the exact order that Fleming wrote them and with only minor changes to the stories, with the exception of Dr. No and From Russia being reversed. These five films are often thought of the pinnacle of the Bond 'franchise' and indeed they are.

What if these were the only Bond films made? What if we reversed Dr. No and From Russia With Love and place them in the order that the books were released? What I think we end up with is a very human character and a thrilling short and sweat franchise that builds up to an appropriate climax.

These 5 films, in the order they were released as novels, complete a full story arc of the Bond character and also fixes some continuity errors in the films (while adding a few). It displays an agent with human weaknesses and emotions and a villain that builds over the five films as well. Also, director Terrence Young would be director on three of the five films while Peter Hunt would edit all of films and direct OHMSS. Also, screenwriter Richard Miabaum would adapt all of the related books to film. All this helped unify this five film series.

So getting past the minor issues with reversing Dr. No and FRWL we come in as spectators in the middle of Bond's career in the order of the novels. The first four novels; Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker and Diamonds Are Forever; though great cold war spy thrillers themselves, built up to the middle novels where you get the grandiose villains of Dr. No, Goldfinger and SPECTRE.

So we start with the movie....

From Russia With Love
Our intro to James Bond as he is the victim of an assignation attempt, fights for his life (the hand to hand with Robert Shaw is one of the best fight scenes ever) and nearly dies at the end of the film (as in the novel though the reader actually doesn't know if he survives). The only gadget is a fancy brief case. This film will introduce the Bond character (quite late into the film) as well as SPECTRE and it's leader Blofeld (and his infamous white cat). Bond must be a bad-ass if this organization would want him out of the way. We're coming into the middle of the character's story, remember. Think if it as Episode IV: A New Hope. Here Bond still believes that he is fighting his cold-war rivals SMERSH, which will fit well with the plot of stealing the Russian Lektor, but is introduced to SPECTRE . It shows SPECTRE to be a international organization. Also, the late John Barry completes the entire score for this film and along with the infamous pre-credit sequence solidifies the Bond film right from the start. And the exotic European locations fill out the foundation of a Bond story. Minor continuity issues would involve SPECTRE's mention of Dr. No and his defeat at the hands of 007 but one could look at it as a precursor to the next film in the 'series'. SPECTRE want's Bond out of the way so that their operation with Dr. No can go on without a hitch. The other is Sylvia Trench, a woman whom Bond 'met' in the film Dr. No and is seemingly having a long term relationship with at the beginning of FRWL. Trench mentioned Bond's trip to Jamaica.

Dr. No
SPECTRE's first big plot with the series' first colorful villain Dr. No, mechanical hands and all. Bond comes out of this story beat to hell and tattered in rags but, of course, with Honey Rider in his arms. No gadgets at all - man vs man. Dr. No will again introduce Bond to SPECTRE. Famous for being the only Bond film without a pre-credit sequence, placing this movie second may prove to have an abrupt bump after the more polished FRWL. Minor continuity issue would involve Sylvia Trench, mentioned above, whom Bond 'meets' for the first time in the casino at the beginning of the film. A minor re-edit at the beginning to add the typical Bond walk barrel shot and the scene involving the Three Blind Mice assassins killing Strangways and his secretary would serve well as the pre-credit sequence. From there the movie can roll without a hitch.

Of course the first two films can be viewed in their original release order but there's something about watching FRWL first that makes the beginning of the series quite intriguing.

Of these five films, it is here that the Bond character reaches his heroic peak and would also be the only film to not directly involve SPECTRE which gives some breath to the series and builds the return of the SPECTRE threat into the final two films (as they recover from their failure Dr. No?). Though he fights for his life against the colorful Oddjob and Goldfinger, the plot consisting of creating economic chaos by irradiating the gold in Fort Knox is still human is scale. Here, however, Bond comes out unscathed and smelling like roses.

Here we begin the two part conclusion to the series. SPECTRE reaches it's full potential of a world-wide blackmailing terrorist threat with the abduction of two nuclear weapons. Bond actually gets shot and bleeds running for his life from Largo's agents in a memorable scene filmed during the Junkanoo celebration in Nassau. Again, less myth and a more human character in the midst of a world threatening plot though it is pretty spectacular. All this brings us to….

On Her Majesty's Secret Service
The finale of this five film Bond series (skipping the film You Only Live Twice). Again, SPECTRE is involved and Bond comes face to face with it's leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, for the first time (as does the viewer). But the key here is that Bond falls in love and actually marries giving more depth to some of his romantic entanglements in the earlier films. Of course we all know that this doesn't end well and thus ends the series on a very human level. Major continuity issue solved, however. In the movie You Only Live Twice, which came out in 1967, two years before OHMSS, Bond meets Blofeld face to face for the first time. In that continuity, though Bond has already met Blofeld, in this film they act as if meeting for the first time staying true to the novel but disrupting the film continuity. Removing YOLT from this 5 film series fixes that continuity problem. Also, this would be the only time that anyone sees Blofeld. No issues with multiple actors playing this villain (Donald Pleasence and Charles Grey) but, of course, we have George Lazenby replacing Connery as Bond.

This would be the end of the series as no Bond film again ever truly tackles a Fleming novel nor brings a sense of vulnerability to this 'super' agent. Nor does a film ever touch upon the death of his wife with the brief exception of a small scene in For Your Eyes Only where Moore places flowers upon the grave of his beloved. Other than that, Bond becomes the super-hero.

These five adaptive films, in the order that they were written in, present a story arc of a thrilling spy facing real death and real life.

I think it would be a fun exercise to watch these five films in this order which I'm currently in the process of doing.. If you're a true Ian Fleming James Bond fan I think you might enjoy it too.