Thursday, June 30, 2011

Origin Stories And Do We Need Them?

When I was a young kiddie I never knew how the Fantastic Four became the Fantastic Four. I new some of the basic super-hero origins, Superman, Spider-man, Captain America, something about Bat-man and his parents, but there were plenty I didn't know about. Did that stop me from enjoying their exploits? Not in the least. Did I need to know that the FF received their powers by being blasted by cosmic rays before I read their battles with Doc Doom? Not really. They were good, Doom was bad. Simple.

I bring this up because of the Solomon Kane movie and the upcoming Conan flick and their need to tell the origin of both characters.

Does knowing if full detail a character's 'origin' enhance the character's story?

At times, yes and at times no.

Sometimes it's better not knowing, leaving it a bit of a mystery.

Superheroes almost beg for an origin story, it's part of the genres mythos. We've seen it in most hero movies. So I can let that go most of the time. But remember Tim Burton's first Bat-man movie? Bat-man good, Joker bad, Bat-man kicks Joker's ass. Bat-man's origin (thus motivation) was woven into the story with flash-backs and character connections. Sure, it was part of the story but it wasn't the centerpiece of the move. I think that worked great.

Now, why can't something like that be done with Howard's characters? Where the origin takes a back seat to the story. I'm not saying eliminate the 'origin' and motivation altogether, but weave it into the story. Let these characters be a bit ambiguous to the audience. Let the audience decide on their own if these 'heroes' are good or evil or something in-between.

Take for example Sergio Leone's 'Man with No Name' spaghetti western trilogy staring Clint Eastwood (For A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly). Now what side of the 'law' is he on? Who knows and who cares. He's a bad-ass with his own moral code. Now who does that sound like? Maybe a couple of Howard's characters perhaps?

Did we need to know that Eastwood's Man with no Name had a troubled childhood or that his parent's were killed by bandits and since then he's had a mad-on? No, and we don't care. He's just a guy in the world living by his own code and us as the audience either has to travel with him or not.

I think a take on Howard's characters can lift a thing or two from these films mentioned above.

The 60's and 70's were a much different time. The anti-hero was all the rage. The law was just as crooked as the 'bad-guys'. These days, the lines between good and bad are more 'clearly defined', at least in most media but that is just an illusion. George Bush's "you're either with us or against us" philosophy defined the beginning of this century but on either side of that line is both good and bad. And who's to judge? This thin line is where our heroes lie, Solomon Kane, Conan, The Man With No Name.

I know Hollywood is scared chicken-shit to take any chances and to leave the audience with any ambiguity of where a 'hero' stands these days; case in point, Han Solo from the 70's as opposed to the 90's Han Solo. But these ambiguous anti-heroes are iconic as who they are.

The Man With No Name, 1970's Han Solo; these are our heroes and these are very Howardesque characters.
I don't need their origins, leave that a bit of a mystery. I just need them to kick some ass on both sides of the law and take what they can get because we know that who ever they kill most likely deserved it.

Sometimes it's better not knowing everything.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Eternal Debate of Armor Class

Fairly safe for work...

Solomon Kane and WTF Hollywood? A Rant.

With the help of some dark magic and a sacrifice or two I was finally able watch the entire Solomon Kane movie.

For those of you in the states who haven't seen it, rest assured I won't give anything away.

I'll only say that it was a pretty great flick and there were parts that Howard fans would be more than happy with.

Michael Bassett did a great job taking the material seriously and James Purefoy played the role of Kane with passion and dedication. They really did nail the screen presence of the character. Purefoy is staring in the upcoming Ironclad, btw)

Again, that's all I'll say about the film itself. You won't be disappointed.

What I am disappointed in, though, is the brainless, gutless drecks that represent the film distribution industry in Hollywood CA.

Why this film was never picked up and distributed to theaters or at least to video is beyond my comprehension. Considering the incredible amount of super-crap they release and re-release time and time again, I find it insulting to Bassett, Purefoy, and Howard himself that they couldn't toss us a tasty morsel in Solomon Kane.

Is it because of the violence?
Sure, it's brutal (a plus for any Swords and Sorcerery movie) but it's no more violent that most things on screen or on TV. Oh, maybe there weren't enough guns, I don't know?

Is it because some Christians would be upset?
Well, they get upset about almost anything these days, but a Puritian that kicks ass? How can you go wrong?

Is it because Adam Sandler isn't in it not being funny?
I'll let you answer that on your own.

Is it because you guys are threatened what it might do to your precious Conan the Barbarian release?
The suits might be nervous about that but Kane would have built up an anticipation to the Conan movie. Sure, comparisons would have been made, especially in the budget department, but come on guys, show some balls!

Is it because the general movie going audience is too dim-witted to take a chance on something they haven't seen before and prefer to watch sequel after sequel of the same story over and over?
Um..actually that's quite possible.

So what is it? Please tell me, 'cause I really want to know.
Cause it's a decent movie and has an audience and kids will rent it and think it's cool and who knows, maybe influence one of them to get creative.

So lets see what you deem release worthy for the month of June, shall we?

The Warriors Way
Nice! But why this and not Kane?

Season of the Witch
Really? Nicolas Kane?

Another Liam Neeson straight to video killing rampage flick. Okay, whatever.

Big Mammas: Like Father, Like Son
Just shoot me now!

Just Go With It
OMFG! Sandler AND Aniston??? Someone better have gotten fired for that one.

Hell, if you want to pay $30 million to watch James Cameron masturbate, I'll save you some cash!

Drive Angry

I'd go on but it's too depressing.
So what is it Hollywood? What's the flippin' deal? I'd really like to know 'cause I'm just starting to think you guys are just too high to do your job.

To Bassett and Purefoy I give you kudos!

To Hollywood I give a kick to the nutz!

And for you Warlock readers who got to the bottom of this ranting post your reward is 20% off any Lulu order through Thursday June 30 by using the word: SUNSHINE305

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Grids vs. Hexes

I don't know when 'official" D&D went from hexes to grids, I wasn't really a part of the transition. Grids have always been a part of the game I suppose, maybe because of the graph paper mapping thing, but when D&D evolved into more of a tactical combat game than a game of exploration and abstract combat one would think hexes would be the way to go.

Apparently some folks in charge didn't think that.

I do know that Avalon Hill's early war game Tactics II (1958) used a grid map. By the early 1960's they began using Hexes for the basis of their war game maps. Their game Outdoor Survival used a hex map and that map later was used by Dave Arneson for his early D&D RPG games. From there the hex map worked it's way into the RPG hobby ie. Judes Guild and various wilderness maps from TSR, Traveler, and pretty much every war-game etc . (though the B2 adventure Keep on the Borderlands had it's wilderness laid out in a grid).

Now when I was younger and saw the D&D game for the first time and saw sheets and maps based on hexes, it added to the mysterious allure of the game. Again, D&D (Holmes basic) was nothing I've ever seen before. Along with 'role-playing' and funny dice, there were minis and hex maps. Talk about opening doors to your imagination!

So why did a game, which evolved into more of a tactical combat game devolve back to a grid format?

Everything I've seen come out from WOTC 4th ed (even 3.5) is printed with a grid. Sounds backwards to me. If the 'constant distance of a hex map is desirable for games in which the measurement of movement is a factor' why use a square grid? By comparison, a square grid give you different distances from the center points of adjacent and diagonal squares. If I recall, somewhere in some version of D&D special rules were created for diagonal movement within a grid. Why write an extra rule and complicate an already complicated game system when you really don't have to. WOTC (and other games) just print their square 'grid' over their battle maps so why not just print hexes? Do players even still map those gaming sessions or do they just throw down a battle map?

I'll never understand that decision path so if somebody knows, please share it with me.

When I began making my gaming table, I had planned on going with a grid. But the more I thought of it, the more I felt that going with a grid was just counter-intuitive. So I went with a hex board...and I'm glad I did. I'll always prefer hexes of grids.

So hexes or grids? Which is your preference?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Gene Colan: 1926 - 2011

Another great illustrator has passed on.

Gene Colan, who brought a heavy noir style to superhero comics has passed away last night at the age of 84. Through his career he has worked for both Marvel and DC on some of their iconic characters most notably Daredevil in the mid and late 60's, Iron-man and Bat-man and Marvel's Tomb of Dracula among others. Bringing a sense of intense drama and realism through his penciled art to the four color medium he raised the bar of sequential storytelling.

His influence and artwork will live on.

Gene Colan's virtual studio

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Gaming Table: Phase 1

I love many of the custom gaming table that folks have made: +3 Gaming Table

Recently, our gaming group went from a standard sitting around a large table with pencil and paper to a more casual lounging around a coffee table with pencil and paper. I needed to rework the space in the guest house (currently my man-cave) so we ended up with the coffee table. I don't think it's a favorite accommodation but we've made due.

My long-term plan is to eventually get back to the standard table which I have been planning to customize as a gaming table.

So this past weekend, for the first phase of this project, I've reworked the coffee table into what would eventually be the stepped top to the main game table.

I started with a pretty nice garbage-picked coffee table (a major score!) and painted the tabletop black.

I created some 11 X 17 white on dark gray hex sheets and purchased some decoupage glue.

I next began gluing down the hex sheets. It was a little tricky lining the hexes up properly but after some careful patience things were starting to come along nicely. The trickiest part was that the printer had slight variations in the gray. I think if I were to do this again I may just buy a roll of hex paper from somewhere (but I'm such a cheap-ass).

I've got six sheets glued down and only three more to go!

Next, I trimmed the edges to give it a clean border.

A few coats of glue and some shellac later, I was ready to role.

Of course I tested the table out with some minis and Jenga block walls, and idea that I got from Jim over at Carjacked Seraphim.

When character sheets, beer and snacks and minis are all scattered about the same playing surface it gets quite cluttered. I want to separate the playing area from the 'snack' area of the game table. When I eventually move the above top to the actual game table, it will be raised up (see illustration below). The Hex table platform will not be permanently attached to the main table so it can be removed for other gaming purposes.
I'll keep you posted when I get to Phase 2!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Really? Conan Rocks Out?

I don't know why they insist on filling the Conan the Barbarian movie previews with heavy guitar licks. Are guitar licks the cue for awesome bloody action (check out the Red-bar trailer at Crom)? Perhaps you can say this is the Danzig influence? Say what you will about the '82 John Milius version but his choice of composer Basil Poledouris was spot on for any Conan/Kull soundtrack.

But I think I know why the film-makers are leaning in the direction of cliched 'heavy metal' muscle-bound barbarian tunes. It's because Conan once fronted a band...
Yes, that's right, we can blame Stan Lee and John Romita for this ha-ha funny that has directly influenced the music choice for the new Conan movie.

But Conan and the Barbarians were just part of a larger recording project, there were many famous folks that have kept their musical talents 'hidden' for these many years. Don't be shy, come on out and let the world dance to your music!
Hulk on drums? Sure. Power-man on Bass? I can see that. But Captain America on tambourine? What the hell, he's not Davy Jones he's an American legend!

And what is the product of all this 'untapped' talent? Why it's Spider-man: Rock Reflections of a Super-hero!

Listen at your own risk!

And just for a bonus for listening to the entire track, get yourself a vintage Conan 7-11 cup by none other than Barry Winsor Smith, no less!

Friday, June 17, 2011

My First Comics...

Over at Steve Does Comics he posted about the first comic he remembers reading. Of course that got me thinking about the first comics that I had. I don't remember actually 'reading' them but I flipped through them constantly. This was back when we could buy comics from actual corner news-stands in Chicago for 20 cents! Either my mom or grandma would buy my brother and I a comic each. I was around 6 at the time and these first issues left quite an impression on me. I still have most of these comics to this day too. Ah, the memories they bring back....
Bat-man, Joker and a killer shark in a tank that Bat-man kills with his bare hands. Awesome! Nothing like the television show.
A little Romita Spider-man action with Medusa no less! The coolest thing about this issue is Norman Osbourn has a flashback pulling off Spidey's mask. I was like "WTF is that all about!!??" It took me 20 years to find out.
Typical crazy Superman storys. I was impressed by the art even back then.
A lesser hero but a fun comic with a fantastic cover. They don't make covers like this one any more.

My first introduction to Jack Kirby. Still one of my favorite comic covers of all time.

Another Spidey tale. I was starting to wonder what was up with the Osbourn's hair styles! And who the heck was this Gwen Stacy??

The most colorful array of heroes I ever laid eyes upon. The Vision became one of my favorites. Nobody knew who the heck I was talking about!

And finally....

This one appeared a bit later but I always consider it part of that original handful. Very thankful I had this one. Crazy flippin' stories and BWS art!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Session XXXIV: Zenopus, Party Of Doom?

So after a long break we've continued kind of a side quest in our Swords & Wizardry campaign. Our split party of lost and doomed adventurers weren't so doomed after all. Well, they did run into some pretty rough giant ants lead by a troll but with some luck and skill they survivied to begin making they're comeback. I'll be the first to say, however, they're not out of the woods yet! I'll get to all that in just a moment.

When you get back behind the screen after a long break you gotta shake the rust off but it doesn't take long to get back into the swing of things. And as usual, nothing goes according to what you have planned, not that I 'planned' anything specific but the players, as usual, went their own way.


Session XXXIV: Zenopus, Party Of Doom?

Skwanky Furrytoe the Halfling, Maudlin the dwarf fighter, Slick Vinny the magician and Gnarly Brunderbrush the druid (along with his two Mushroom-men and Tuk the owl) were sitting in the misty cavern of the blue lava mourning the apparent death of their long time companion Tibag. having followed the halfling through a mystic portal and realizing they were lost somewhere beneath the tower of Zenopus, they were determined to find a way out soon as their supplies were running low. They decided to trace-back their steps and look through some of the cave openings that they had passed earlier.

Backtracking up a cave they entered a small cavern, inside of which were two very hungry mules. Gnarly tried to give them some food but the starving and terrorized mules attempted to kick and bite him. But the Druid was persistent and was eventually able to calm the beasts down and fed them (thus, Gnarly became know as the ass-whisperer). The beasts had two chests tied to their back inside of which were additional supplies; torches, water, bedrolls, etc. (I kid you not, the lucky lot found a stash of supplies).

With a bit more confidence, they continued on exploring another large cavern with the giant eyeballs embedded in the floor. But instead of finding an exit they only found a troll herding a number of giant ants. When the troll saw the party enter the cavern, he maliciously threw one of his javelins at the eyeball closest to the party causing it to explode damaging our fearless explorers. The ants changed the party and a battle ensued while the Troll continued to hurl javelins.

It was looking pretty grim for our adventurers, especially the dwarf, but with the help of Vinny's magic they prevailed and then set upon the Troll which was another tough conflict. Tag-teaming, they defeated the Troll and before he rose again he was consumed with fire.

Licking their wounds they thought it best to rest and recover. Heading back to the cave with the mules the party held up for a rest, taking turns as watch.

The time passed slowly but on Gnarly's watch he heard some whispering and a bit of torch-light coming from outside the cave. Gnarly sent Tuk the owl out to investigate. Through Tuk's eyes, Gnarly was able to see a large party of pirates coming through the cave approaching their refuge.

Waking his wounded companions they readied themselves but as the pirates approached Gnarly parleyed with them. After a few tense moments tensions defused and the pirates were invited in to rest as well.

It turned out that the party of pirates, lead by One-eyed Jones (who actually still has both eyes) and Henry, had also gotten lost by passing through the very same portal that Skwanky and the others traveled through. Some of their group died by exploding eyeballs and going insane staring into them. The pirates also believed Gnarly and the others were working for the 'Dark Mistress' and were part of the collective larger plot, who along with the pirates and their mysterious Captain, threatened Caladan and Lord Osric. It was agreed upon that they would all work together to escape the dungeons.

After everyone rested the entire party (including two mushroom-men and nine pirates) made their way back into the cavern where they had fought the troll and his ants. Sending Tuk ahead to scout a couple of the exit openings, Gnarly saw another cavern filled with the eyeballs and something else. Something that resembled a giant sphincter (seriously) was on the floor of the cavern in the far corner.

Agreeing it best not to tangle with a room full of eyeballs and a giant sphincter they preceded down an alternative passage. They soon found themselves in a large man-made chamber with five stone sarcophagi! No more eyeballs!

The pirates, excited that they found some possible treasure began to open the first sarcophagus which turned out to be empty. But upon opening the second one they all backed away fearfully as inside the second sarcophagus was a skeleton wearing a golden crown and dressed in colorful robes and waving it's arms around - a lich!

With the 'lich' waving it's arms around from within it's resting place, Skwanky and the others cautiously approached and began to bash it's bones. Within moments it was dead. Scared and confused as to what the heck it really was they felt it best to leave the rest of the sarcophagi alone and move on. It was around this time that Slick Vinny charmed One-eyed Jones to help keep control over the unruly but fearful pirates.

Sending Tuk ahead once more, Gnarly relayed that ahead was another large chamber with a number of exits but was inhabited by a large number of humanoids; some sleeping and some standing watch.

What this needed was a grand plan!

It was decided that they all would sneak up and surprise these creatures. Using Tuk, the owl would drop a flask of oil upon the sleeping victims while Skwanky and a pirate, both turned invisible by Vinny, would sneak into the chamber and position themselves near the watch-guards. The rest would charge in, throwing torches and slinging spells once the creatures were alerted.

Sounded good.

Execution: Skwanky and the pirate positioned themselves while Tuk flew into the chamber. The guards, however, were alerted to the flight of the owl and began to sound an alarm but it was too late. Vinny burst into the chamber casting light! With a bloodlust the pirates burst into the chamber flinging torches at the waking Bug-bears covered in oil, the invisible Skwanky and pirate hacking away at the guards. A massive melee ensued between the party allied with the pirates and a room full of surprised Bug-bears. Soon it was over with most of the bug-bears dead (though one, lit aflame with farie-fire fled down a hallway).

The Pirates began to loot the bodies and the party began to search the chamber....

It was a great session and I enjoyed getting back into my Swords & Wizardry campaign even for just a little bit. We'll continue these side-sessions until the fate of these companions is determined.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Warlock Movie Review: Black Death

What do you get when you cross a couple of veteran knights, a thief and a novice cleric with the Wicker-man? You get one heck of a great D&D flavored flick called Black Death (2010)!

Directed by Christopher Smith and staring Sean Bean (Game of Thrones & Boromir from LOTR) it's a story set in 14th century England during the era of the Plague (Black Death). It's a gritty, dirty, and brutally violent film about a party of veteran knights sent by the bishop to investigate a village that appeared to be unaffected by the plague. The Church believes that the village is run by a necromancer and that they are raising the dead. Bean as Ulric, the leader of the group, enlists a novice Christian monk to accompany them.

Now if that doesn't sound like a D&D hook, I don't know what does.

Great atmosphere and enjoyable characters carry the story through some unexpected turns. And when the swords (along with maces and axes) start to swing, body parts go flying! I don't want to give anything away but it is a grim tale indeed, though at times, you may think back to Monty Python and the Holy Grail with the plague and the dead and all that (but really, it's not funny at all).

You can pick it up via NetFlix instant so add it to you cue right now! A great movie to get you in the mood for some inspired dice throwing!

Update: Read Stefan Poag's review of this movie also over at Aldeboran if you really need a second opinion ; )

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

New Swords & Wizardry Character Sheets

To reflect some of the changes in the new Swords & Wizardry Core Rules I've updated my S&W character sheets for you to download. Using the sheets for the past year and a half or so I felt there were some things missing that would help at the table. These have been added as well.

There are two versions of the character sheet. The only changes being one having a space for spells (good for Clerics or Druids) and the other having more room for Equipment and Special Abilities.

I've also added a special sheet just for Magic-Users to keep track of their found spells, known spells and memorized spells. This should help Magic-User player keep all his spell notes organized.


Monday, June 13, 2011

A Dip Back Into Swords & Wizardry

Tonight will be my first night back behind the screen since March. We've taken a break from our Swords & Wizardry campaign to play in a Savage Worlds game for a while (to be followed by Paranoia). But tonight's game is with just a small group of our regular players. You see, their PCs separated from the rest of the campaign group and got trapped and lost beneath the tower of Zenopus. One of the 5 PCs died by slipping and falling into icy blue lava. We're going to continue with the remaining 4 right where we left off to determine their fate and play through until they're all dead or they find a way out or become slaves or whatever may be. We've all been looking forward to this session as it seems pretty grim for our players.

Anyway, it got me back flipping through my campaign material and I just so happen to have received my new printed Swords & Wizardry Core rule book.

I know, everyone is all excited and talking about the new Dungeon Crawl Classics beta sample and it is interesting. But I'm a Swords & Wizardry guy and reading these new Core rules just solidifies that.

We've been playing with the 1st & 2nd printing of the rules. These were great and I've made a number of house rules to fill in the gaps and flesh out the campaign. We've been playing for almost 2 years without a hitch. I skipped the whole Frog God games version of the rules but decided it was time to pick up the new Core.

I have to say that I love the additions to the new Core. It's a beautiful reworking and tweaking of the rules which I think perfect the game even more. It's still a great foundation to house-rule as well.

I was brought up with Holmes Blue Book and that has been and always will be my vision of D&D. Swords & Wizardry Core captures, what I feel, are the same gritty rough edges of the Holmes book. In my mind, the Holmes rules are the balance between the loose free-form OD&D and the (over-complicated) AD&D. A perfect balance. Swords & Wizardry Core is that modern balance.

I've picked up and read through most of the 'retro-clones' to have come out in the past number of years (and they're all great rule-sets, mind you) but Swords & Wizardry just clicked perfectly with me.

I'm not breaking out the Core rules into our campaign just yet. I'll be waiting until we determine the fate of these lost souls and regroup to continue as a whole. I've got to do some tweaking to my house rules a bit to 'conform' to some of the changes to the Core but I think this version of Swords & Wizardry Core Rules has reached a perfect plateau of perfection.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Post-Apocalypse With Survivors

...And I'm not talking about that crappy reality show.

Survivors is a British two season, twelve episode television program by the BBC about the aftermath of a super-flu that wipes out 90% of the worlds population. It's actually a remake of a BBC show from the 1970's of the same name. It's available on NetFlix streaming so add it to your instant cue now, you won't be disappointed!

It's about a group of survivors that have come together to make a life for themselves and all the troubles and trials they run into in a lawless, hungry world.

There are no mutants or CGI aliens or robots, and doesn't carry with it the bombastic militaristic adventurism in most American Sci-Fi (Si-Fi) programs which is quite refreshing. It's a realistic drama about a 'doomed' society trying to hang on.

It's quite a compelling show and the character driven acting is top-notch. The show touches on a number of social issues in a post-apocalypse society, which for me, falls into the true realm of science-fiction themes - the kind that make you ponder the events of the episode.

It's hard to come across great science-fiction and I think this is something worth watching. Check it out!