Saturday, December 10, 2011

Lives of the Predators, The Red Hourglass, by Gordon Grice

First, let me say that Gordon Grice writes with a smooth flow that is easy to appreciate regardless of why you might be interested in reading in the first place. His tone is easy on the inner ear and yet has its own pace, timing and black humor to it.

Having said that, I would recommend anyone interested in adding some more details to the 'mundane' animals in their role playing games, or in their fiction if writing, buy and read The Red Hourglass. It's entertaining and after watching some nature stuff on dangerous animals on the Nature Channel or the History Channel or one of those shows that has completely sold out, doesn't treat you like you were some brain dead dolt.

When last I left off, there were quite a few chapters to go. I'm going to try not to bore readers with a breakdown of each chapter, rather I'm going to hit a few things I thought were interesting and a few that even made me think in terms of where some of our belief systems come from as opposed to why we have them.

Looking at the Mantid, the thing I took from the author is that while we may attribute features to an insect based on our own lifestyles, such as needing a head to survive, they may not be true. Grice talks about roachs living for a month before dying or starvation. This would be a great thing to add to a role playing game where you still keep the villains fighting, perhaps minus an attack, to showcase the grizzly nature of combat against non-humanoid foes.

Another bit that Grice adds is that we don't know everything. The author captures some weird bug and throws it in with a Mantid, fully assuming that the Mantid, a very dangerous predator in its chain, will easily kill the creature. It retreats, it runs, it seemingly shows fear! Keep in mind that there may be some horrific monsters in a role playing game, but that doesn't mean they know no fear. Just because the players may not know what something fears, doesn't mean the creature is fearless. This could result in a separate quest in and of itself in which the players have to find a fierce predator that is fairly harmless to everything else but their chosen enemy. What if there is some weird type of deer in another reality that finds Mind Flayers taste just like deep fried squid?

Rattlesnake is a potent reminder that rules for poison should favor the players. This isn't to say that poison from snakes or other animals isn't potent or dangerous, but it isn't always fatal and may be the result of a 'dry' bite. Snakes have their own hunting mojo and methods and the interesting factor for many different types of snakes is in terms of their venom. If you're not throwing a huge snake at the party to crush them physically, be ready with a few different types of venomous effects. Does it cause the organs to fail? Does it cause internal bleeding through lack of clotting? Does it just really mess with the body causing other issues like heart attack and stroke, but not outright death?

I put the pic of a tarantula up front because the author makes a very strong point about tarantulas, sharks, and crocodiles. Sometimes, a simple predator that leaps on its enemy and rips it to pieces, a throwback in terms of evolution, is all you need. Sure, there are hundreds of templates, numerous bestiaries and manuals of monsters and other sources of creatures, but sometimes, simple is better and brute force is indeed the answer.

Pig and Canid, despite having little in common in Grice's words, do have one thing in common. They are both flesh eaters, both scavengers, and in the dark ages of humanity, ate dead human flesh. Grice contents that the Jewish prohibition in eating pig flesh is in part because of their diet of dead human flesh. The fear of cannibalism even through a third party so to speak.

He also brings up an interesting point in terms of how quickly some animals are able to be tamed and made into different things contrasting the wolf and the dog, contrasting the wild hog and the slaughtered pig. This isn't necessarily a bad thing though, because he points out that some domestic pigs are huge and only possible due to their specific breeding conditions. He also notes that there are several similarities, in terms of organs and placement, between pigs and humans. It's almost too easy to imagine a setting where orcs are the direct result of skin and organ grafting between humans and pigs as opposed to their own wholly original race.

Grice ends with the recluse spider. This is another example of giving players a break with poison. Some people die from the bits of the brown spider. Some develop a small necrotic piece of skin that falls off. Some suffer greatly and for years after as the venom effects them for the rest of their life. Some don't suffer any effects at all.

Lastly, as entertaining as Gordon Grice is, don't take any one source as the end all be all. I've paged through his next book a little and he has a huge section that provides a list of recommended reading. Don't be afraid to move beyond a single sourcebook if you feel that adding more details and options will make the material more entertaining.

On the other hand, if youre running a beer and pretzels game, save or die in the OSR is pretty standard and you should enjoy that horrible power while you have it!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Lamentations of the Flame Princes Sale

One of the blogs I follow is heavy into old school. Like actually producing their own products and other people's products. At Gen Con, I picked up a few old school products like Lesserton and Mor, Relams of Crawling Chaos and Vornheim. Turns out that latter was also published by LoTFP.

Now they're having a sale for a few more days. I pretty much picked up everything. I'd been hearing good things about Death Frost Doom for a long time and it seems like something I can raid for ideas in most game systems.

For $1.35, its hard to go completely wrong here. Note that some of these are considered 'adult' products so if looking for the core book, make sure you have your filters off in your preferences. Spread the news.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

13 Assassins

Blogger ate my initial post so I'll try to break this one down again. Spoilers follow so beware.

1. 13 assassins uses a standard formula of a small group against a larger enemy. Note that for role playing games that are level based, such as Rolemaster and Dungeons and Dragons, due to the way magic tends to increase for spellcasters, this might not be a viable threat if the larger enemy is mainly 'fodder' type as the spellcasters will make sure work of them.

2. While the visual appeal of a small group against a larger group is great and can be fun, remember that if you use a critical hit based system that it will work against the players due to the odds of the dice being rolled multiple times against them.

3. Speaking of dice rolling, when there are dozens if not hundreds of enemies, it might take hous for a few rounds to be played out. Be prepared for a long haul or have another way to handle mass actions in play and explain it to the players before hand.

4. Some of the material that works in the film will not work in the game. For example, one ssamurai sets up a place to take a stand where he has dozens of weapons stuck into walls, ceilings, and other spots. While it has a great visual, no player is going to give up a magic weapon in order to allow some visual to play out.

5. Evil. the main villain of the piece if shown as being unremorsefully evil. To the point where like even his loyal retainers trained strongly in the ways of the samurai and to serve their lord have doubts about it. This allows thep layers to be pretty self assured in their actions and works well for the constrast of samurai versus samurai.

6. Times of peace suck for samurai. I've mentioned this before for the Ronnin Rabbit, but in a time of peace, while there are things for characters to do, the caste as a whole comes into question. Are they still needed? Are they still the warriors their forefathers were? This firlm answers that question with a resounding "No!" It in essence explains minion status. See, when you do nothing but sit around on your ass all day eating bon bons, you're not a warrior. There are those from old blood lines, true tradionalists, naturally skilled warriors, and some rogues, who manage to retain and improve their sword skills through grit and determination, but for most of the caste? Yeah, they're hopless which is why they can be challenged in this fashion.

13 Assassins is well worth a viewing for those who enjoy Seven Samura or similiar films.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Red Hourglass: Lives of the predators by Gordon Grice

One of the great things about the web is how it allows you to communicate ideas and recommended reading with a few keystrokes. In this instance, Philip Athans, author of several books, on his blog, mentioned The Red Hourglass by Gordon Grice. I was a little disappointed at the ebook price as the print price was similar so went with the print book. While I enjoy e-format, the main benefit to me know still has to come in savings.

I have not read the whole book, only the first portion dealing with the Black Widow, but Gordon's writing is so breezy and entertaining, that I have ordered the 'sequel' if you will, written by Gordon that is in hard cover (and still almost the same price as the ebook.)

So what are some things you can learn about the black widow if you know nothing about them?

1. They coat themselves in a special secretion so that they do not stick to their own webbing.

2. They use their spider webs as ropes and binding on those entities that become stuck in them.

3. They can 'dry' bite, a bite with no venom, to try and scare away larger predators that may not feel the effects of venom anyway.

4. They are such voracious eaters that they can eat themselves to death.

5. Depending on their food supply, their spider brood can grow. May help explain when they'll eat themselves to death.

6. They do not always kill their mates. The mating, especially on the male side, if heavily ritualized.

7. They have a ton of names. This can be good for those wishing to move outside of the standard. Names range from cherry spider, black wolf, twenty-four hour spider, night stringer, shoe button spider, coal-black lady and others like sneaky bitter.

8. The spiders get darker as they get older with the traditional red hourglass coming in when they turn black. This can be a great way to showcase the age of mutant or giant spiders. "That spider wasn't really black... more like brown?" To prepare the party for ever larger creatures.

9. The venom of a black widow can vary in its intensity, but can take a grown man out for week and kill the elderly or the young. One thing to play with, is not making the venom fatal to full grown healthy men, but to make them sick and a liability to the party they travel with. They can't wield weapons, can't march, can't take guard. All they can do is suck up resources. Mind you I've been there as a player when you get hit by a ghoul or a carrion crawler so yeah, it sucks but it is an alternative to death and a cure poison or antivemon might take you out of it.

10. The webbing is almost invisible to the naked eye, requiring you to look at it from a certain angle or determine its whereabouts through the things captured within it.

11. They are invisible. Well, not quite, but if they're not biting you, chances are you won't notice them because they go after different prey. Most attacks used to occur in the outhouse because see, spiders love the hole shape of the toilet. It's wind proof and has a place for bugs to come get stuck in. Spiders have been taken around the world, like other vermin and beasts, around in boats and other travelling methods. Could be a great point of origin for an Island of Spiders where players once travelled to a dinosaur filled island only to discover that the new inhabitants have grown... very large and now run things.

There are all sorts of other neat facets to the Black Widow and based on that chapter alone, I'd give the book a recommended reading.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Amazon's Kindle 100 Sales for December

Every month Amazon selects or has one hundred books, in addition to the daily deal, that go on sale for the month. It's a nice way to try out a different author or catch up on the back stock if you're a fan of the medium but have a low price threshold like myself.

For December, I'm thinking about the following;

Star Wars: Fate of th Jedi: Outcast. It's by Aaron Alliston, the guy who wrote Hero's Strike Force, a book that essentially was incorporated into the BBB (Big Blue Book). It's also Star Wars. I'm a sucker for the setting and am greatly enjoying the Clone Wars animated series from the net with new episodes popping up once a week.

Temple of the Winds: Sword of Truth Vol 4 by Terry Goodkind. I know, I have no taste but this was the last one I read and since I already have book 1 in Kindle format and it is on sale...

Warrior (The Blade of the Rose) by Zoe Archer. No idea but it's inexpensive and as I mentioned updthread, a good opportunity to check out new authors.

The Romance of Tristant and Iseult by Vincent Nicolosi: I'm a sucker for the old tales and even though I'm sure there's a version free, the cost ones are usually better formatted.

I'm sure my mother will want a few of the thrillers and some of the non-fiction stuff looks interesting but let's see how much overtime they're going to dump on me as I'm recovering from a seven day straight week and fighting off the plague as I type.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Conan the Barbarian 2011

While I rarely get to the movies, having Netflix and RedBox does allow me to occasionally pick up some of the more modern releases. I'm not going to talk about Conan the Barbarian 2011 version in terms of a review, just what might be useful for those looking for Appendix N style inspiration.

1. A brief history of the character. Conan has gone through many incarnations ranging from his origins in the pulps to Fazetta's covers renewal and Marvel Comics to Dark Horse Comics with the movie, television show and cartoons in the middle. It's not an intensely detailed section or anything of that nature, but it does showcase how an idea can change and grow and become something different.

2. A brief history of Robert E. Howard. I know little of the man and a little more of his now that I've watched the special. I note this in terms of inspiration because Howard would interview older people and they lived through some things back then. As some of my inner city friends, they had "for realzies" experiences like taming the west, the civil war, and slavery. Not the type of sex slave trade we have going on now mind you, but actual legal ownership of people. It helped inform him of various bits of foreign lore not native to the shores and expanded his horizons quite a bit there.

3. Visuals. While Conan the Barbarian may have some script/pacing/action sequence issues for some, there are some great vistas that can be used for fire up the imagination. One of my favorites is the walking fortress that is pulled along by some odd eight elephants. It also serves as a battering ram.

4. Monsters. There are not a lot of monsters in the movie. Really, I only get two real monsters. The first are what I'd call Sand Stalkers. Summoned by a witch, these creatures look like muscular humans with skin too tight the color of sand. The only exception here would be their eyes which appear startling human. They wield weapons of hard sand that can be used in melee or thrown. They appear fragile, being smashed to pieces through falls that wouldn't even stun a normal person. They can be pretty simple in game terms as in 4e, something like a Minion status would work well with one good hit providing shattering them. The second would be the Dweller. In infiltrating a fortress, Conan is chest deep in the sewage. His friend, a prince of thieves, is pulled under by a tentacle. Conan saves him. This tentacle turns out is only one of many that is brought out by sacrificing people to it. The creature isn't ever really dealt with. In this instance, it serves more as a trap or an obstacle to overcome. This might be resolved either by making it a constant effect like a Evard's Black Tentacles, or an ongoing attack, or an ability check. Most game systems are versatile enough to handle a variety of methods to prevent similar encounters from being exactly the same.

5. Unique Looks and Weapons. This is one I've mentioned numerous times. The main villain has his own goofy version of a double bladed sword that reminds me of some funky 90's remix of the three blade sword from the ancient times of the 70's-80's. Many of the henchman we are first introduced to are very unique looking either with special weapons, tribal tattoos or massive frames and scars or other distinguishing marks that make them stand out. for the most part, they pose no threat to the main character, but viewers are able to instantly recognize them and this provides a quick intro to them that doesn't have to be anything other than a visual. Robert Jordan was actually pretty good with this, not even bothering to name some of those who fought Conan outside of their physical traits. This is true for the main character as well as his daughter who has a very unique hair style and a set of rings that covers her fingers and acts as a set of claws as well.

6. Enjoy it for what its worth. Too often you might get  caught up in a game thinking of ways to pile on the action, pile on the threat, pile on the meaning. sometimes you might just need to take a step back and bring out some minions and let the dice roll. Beer and pretzels games have been part of the game from the start and not every game will roll the way you as a GM or even as a player want. Try to recognize the situation you find yourself in and see if its something you can enjoy for what it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Kindle Daily Deal for Cyber Monday is Pretty Sweet

My favored price pint of $2.99 is on for a lot of books by authors whose work I've enjoyed but due to spacial constraints, have rid myself of. The e-formats, assuming Amazon doesn't freak out and die or some other weird bats from space attack, provides me a quick way of renewing my ownership of some Barbara Hambly and some Robert R. McCammon, including Swan Song, the book a lot of people recommend when someone says they enjoy Stephen King's The Stand.

There are dozens, if not hundreds of books on sale this Cyber Monday and hey, unlike a lot of sales on Black Friday, you don't have to wait in line, don't have to wait for a lightning deal that will probably sell out before you can click it, and don't have to get pepper sprayed in the face by a woman looking to score a cheap X-Box.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Art of Ray Harryhausen by Ray Harryhaussen and Tony Dalton

Half-Priced Books continues to be a gold mine for the imagination. The Art of Ray Harryhausen was $14.99 and I had a coupon so it's overall price was embarrassingly low. On Amazon the sucker goes for $50 but they have a decent discount. The thing is though, the book I have was a stack of 'em so that tells me these are overstock sales.

Anyway, the book is filled to the brim with goodness. There are pictures of the various models Ray created, black and white illustrations, full color paintings, movie panels, and all sorts of awesome within.

This includes images that Ray gained his own inspiration from so you can see and compare and contrast the art styles.

There is so much majestic stuff here, it's hard not to emphasis it.

For example, let's start with the cover. An arabian adventurer fighting a skeleton warrior atop a crumbling stair well admists ruins while the clouds blow behind him. How about a charcoal and pencil illustration of the Hall of Zeus where a massive status of Zeus is surrounded by vast pillars and huge braizers light the temple. All this atop a dias where people walk up and down and look up at their god.

How about something a little more action based as King Kong, in front of a wooded fenced in village, is beating the crap out of a pride of lions, using one of them as a club by the tail, crushing another in his hands, and snarling his defiance at them. No bear baiting here!

There are dozens of great illustrations as well as details about various other bits in the book. It's well worth having on the shelf and well worth doing some internet searching if you're never heard of him before.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

W. Barnard Faraday's Pendragon published by Green Knight

Having finished off Pendragon, I thought I would take a few moments on an actual day off, to post a few more thoughts on the book.

Even in a time when war with the Saxons and Pics if upon them, the land is not singularly united. This theme plays out in the book in several instances that would make for good role playing opportunities.

For one, Gwendaello, the actual Pendragon in this version, is not well loved. Her former leader was conspiring with the Saxons to take the lands and lords down in exchange for treasures and plunder. His plan didn't work out too well but did leave Gwen in charge of things. However, the other rulers are not pleased at this prospect and try to take away her lands and titles.

This results in a large meeting where diplomacy is at full bloom. The various lords and ladies vieing for attention and trying to determine who has the right of things. It works well in the novel, showcasing a deep amount of mistrust between the rulers as well as showing how things can quickly move from one assumed finale to another with the right placed bribes and blackmail.

3rd edition brought out a lot of rules, well, not a lot of rules, but some rules, to try and bring these role playing elements to the table top with dice rolls and for some, they work. Others, used to having to actually speak and interact with the other participants around the table, are able to talk a fantastic game. 4th edition brought this more into the game with skill challenges that allow different characters to bring different things to the game.

For example, a skill challenge here might involve some of the more obvious candidates like intimidation and diplomacy, but a GM who has players that know the setting and details of it, and have the appropriate skills like ancient history, should be allowed to persuade people through speaking of the land and its past and how those ancient lores may be effecting the here and now. Others may speak using their religion skill to detail how the gods will be angered or pleased by the path being taken here.

I can agree with this because it helps get people who might not have any will or desire to roleplaying, or worse, who have no skill at it, to still contribute to the game with a dice roll and some idea to me how they're trying to achieve their goals.

I also allow role playing 'stunting' for those who get into it. I'll allow them to make a speech and detail what they have in mind and why they think it'll work and provide a bonus to the roll. Now if there are things that the characters don't know, like their speech is hostile to the locals around them, or that they've gotten several things wrong, or if they just flub it, I'll give them a penalty. Of course, the natural 1 always rolls around as well so perhaps while they were talking, they choked on a chicken bone or something of that nature.

For those who don't enjoy such politics though, and are more action based, what about assassination? In this instance, Artorious learns of an attempt on Gwen's life. Of course he does! He's the main character of the book. This is the same deal players can expect for their characters when the DM wants the characters to be able to effect the game. While hearing about an assassination is powerful stuff because it potentially reminds everyone at the table that they are mortal, being the ones to stop such an event carries with it the promise not only of stopping a murder, but the thanks of whatever lord they saved. Finding out who did the deed and what to do about it then become further adventure seeds.

Another issue that arises when the land is in turmoil, is bandits. Artorius notes during his journey, that by travelling alone, if necessary, he can usually hide from such bandits, but a small group is easy pickings as the bandits ten to travel in groups of ten to one hundred. Seeing this in print makes me smile because I don't feel bad when I do it to the players. I'm sure the AngryGM would love having that quote above his DM Screen so that he could point out the 'semi-historical' accuracy of a hundred man bandit attack.

Despite some of the problems in these times though, people do tend to pull together and the rulers must respect those that do so. While talking about the problems with bandits, he recounts how a well liked merchant sought justice for the loss of his goods to bandits and had to pay a legal fee, that was provided by his fellow merchants who wanted to see justice done. When nothing was done and the fee not returned, social unrest sprouted up.

In Usagi Yojimbo, there is an instance where a Samurai tests his sword on a beggar, killing the man instantly. The surviving beggar, the father of the slain one, goes to his guild and they pool their funds together and hire an assassin who kills the son of the samurai.

In short, just because one person is not a problem, does not mean that one person lacks the means to become a problem, even if they themselves are never wielding a sword or casting a spell.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pendragon by W. Barnard Faraday

I love me some Arthurian fiction. It can take a wide variety of shapes and styles. It can be written in a deep dark gritty style or as a take on modern events. This version tends to feel more historical in nature and brings some differences to the table.

I'll be laying into the spoilers fairly quickly here and note, I haven't finished reading it, so there may be some more random thoughts shot out on another post soon.

King Arthur is replaced here by Artorius. His lady love is now Gwendaello, and we have a druid bard known as Merddin. The little changes in name give it a more archaic feel, more ancient, more fitting perhaps to some of the themes within.

One of the interesting things is that here, Gwendaello is not some princess to be rescued. She meets Artorius, who is a general at this point, after she has escaped capture by killing those who sought to despoil her. Artorius is a bit unsure of her, perhaps because she's already tried to kill him at this point!

She's brash and bold and has a love for the Island of the Mighty and sees in Artorius, someone who will do all he can to save the people of that island, even if they themselves are not going to do all they can. She is a battle queen here, and it's a role that fits her well.

Another interesting bit was reading on what were accepted common courtesies of the time. For example, when stopping at someones home. The thing that struck me was the author mentioning that people were welcome in such instances not only because of manners, but because there were hungry for gossip, for news, for things outside of the norm. This was their chance for entertainment.

In an era where there are no phones and no Internet, human interaction and communication becomes vital. The going door to door, as the bards do here, to raise spirits and showcase confidence, are of great importance as well as providing that touch of entertainment that people long for.

While there is no G4 network, there is still paper.  Artorius is written to by Princess Gwendaello and she wishes him luck in his efforts to preserve the Isle of the Mighty even as she explains to him that forces she herself will be leading. Letters are an excellent way to do some 'Blue Booking'.

Pendragon has a lot of historical richness in its veins and that material can come through in any setting should the GM focus on it. For example, when looking at the spot where two rivers meet, Artorius notes that people will always go to such locations regardless of how many times they are destroyed or occupied because of the utility of such a boon. Towns build on rivers or bodies of water are a staple of fantasy games because they are all over the place in history. Survival becomes much more achievable when water ways become involved not only for trade and transportation, but food and well, water.

If you're looking for a Pendragon with a bit more weight in its heft, Pendragon by W. Barnard Faraday is for you.

Monday, November 21, 2011

e-book Free Battles!

I was listening to NPR, National Public Radio, and a musician was discussing the difficulty of getting the brand name and brand awareness out there and while he admitted that he wasn't sure what the financals of it all would be, some bands would be lucky if people would even bother to steal their music given how much material is out there in the 'wilds' of the internet.

When looking through the top one-hundred free science-fiction books on Amazon for their kindle format, I noticed that At the Queen's Command, while in the top ten, is still being beaten out by two authors I have no idea who they are or what they write, and one by H.G. Wells, his novel, The Time Machine. This is a man whose been dead since 1946. If at free, with a great cover and a brand new book in the series, you can't make the first place or beat out a dead man, this is some serious thought to be given to how expensive your book is not only in comparission to other authors, some of them whose popularity allows them to essentially charge whatever the market will bear in whatever format, but to the dead authors who have been classics before you were even born.

Now to go download the Time Machine...

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Haunting of Dragons Cliff: Arron of the Black Forest

I try to keep my price point of ebooks fairly low. Even when there is an author you enjoy, there's no guarantee that you'll enjoy every book they make. In addition, thanks to living in Chicago, I can often find books very inexpensive at Half Price or at various book fairs. But when I see something like The Haunting for $2.99, I'm willing to take a chance on it.

I'll be discussing one of the elements from the novel below, so if you want to avoid spoilers, read no further.

Alright, the thing to steal from this book is how they set up a haunted house. Dragon's Cliff is the name of the manor where an old captain went to die after failing to finish off some great sea wyrm. The manor is haunted by various retainers of the captain who want the captain's funds that he supposedly saved away.

But while those details are important to the novel, they're not important to the set up of the haunted house itself.

When the main character, Arron of the Black Forest, gets himself into this location, it's not a typical exploration of a house. If you or I go to a house to do a tour, we know where everything is, or at least, we can do the tour and find it.

Not so here.

Every time Arron opens a door to try and escape from the house, he discovers another room, without rhyme or reason. In a role playing game, this would be the perfect opportunity to make a haunted house entirely out of randomly rolled rooms. This would make preparation very quick and easy and could be something that you could use in several different styles of haunted house.

You could assemble common cards of each of the standard type of rooms if you wanted to lay down maps for example, and each time the characters open a door, take out a new room tile to showcase what the room is.

You might have a few keyed encounters for specific rooms, like perhaps a certain haunt runs in that room and if the players defeat it, that room is no longer encountered. You could do this until they defeated the 'end boss' at which point the house becomes normal.

Hell, that would almost make for a good random board game. Someone get on that right away.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Season of the Witch

Season of the Witch falls into one of those rare movie spots for me. As a 'regular' movie, I'm not that impressed with it. As a gaming movie, I don't want to say its pure gold, but I could easily see a GM stealing everything from the movie itself.

I'm going to be hitting the spoilers for the movie below so if you wish to avoid such for the movie, read no more!

The plot of Season of the Witch is relatively simple. A young woman that is accused of being a witch that has brought the plague to the lands must be taken to a specific temple so that the priest there may use a special book of exorcism to break the back of the plague.

That's pretty simple no? It's a get someone from here to there bit.

Now the characters add a little something to the story mind you, but not overly. We have Nicolas Cage and his friend, two templars that have left the holy war. We get a third knight whose lost many to the plague. We get a priest whose a little shall we say, zealous in his work, and another priest who wishes to become a knight. And of course, the witch herself.

Now mind you, in almost any game I've run or seen, if the players were trying to keep things running smoothly, unless they were paid, or quested, or on their word of honor or other really pushing it factor, the witch would not have lived to see the light of day because the witch here is obviously an actual witch. Or at least she appears to be.

Because this is where the movie makes for a perfectly good Warhammer of Dark Ages Call of Cthulhu mix because of the switch. You see, at climax of the movie, if you will, when they arrive at the church, and find that place already decimated by plague, they discover that all of the priests there were making copies of that one sacred text. The witch? Turns out she's actually a demon that, for some reason, needed to be taken to the church so that she could destroy this last full copy of the sacred texts as it's actually one of the few things that can banish demons.

This leads to a battle against the animated corpses of the priests and the demon itself. It also only leaves one survivor and the young woman whose soul is saved from demonic possession. But the plague is broken and the world itself saved.

That little switch made the whole movie for me in terms of role playing elements because to be honest, I didn't see it coming. It just seemed to be a kinda m'eh movie, a no-brainer or sorts, and that took it to another level.

In terms of gaming, as I mentioned upthread, Dark Ages Cthulhu or a similar variant would be good for a one shot. The 'witch' is able to summon wolves and use illusions. She knows things that she's not supposed to but never lets out exactly how much more she knows until the end. She displays great strength as well as stamina and is able to shake off the effects of sedative drugs as well as hold a man above a yawning chasm with one arm.

The ending of the movie, also showcases that in true Cthulhu fashion, not everyone needs to survive for the mission itself to be a success.

In terms of game mechanics, the possessed priest at the end showcase something I've done with minions and one hit wonders in the past. I stat up the creature as a regular creature with a weakness and when the players discover the weakness, I break then down to minion status. If you've ever read an X-Man comic book, there are enemies they battle, like the Brood or Sentinels, where the initial one is almost a match for the whole team, but then when they fight groups of them, they mow through them. That's how I try to model it. Not easy but...

In terms of the exorcism itself, I think you could run that a few ways. You might have the players making some type of skill check and have to hit so many numbers, or that they have to hit a certain level of success or that they have to actually be reading it for so many rounds. Something that can't just be a single dice roll has to be initiated to represent the time needed for the ritual.

Season of the Witch is available for instant viewing on Netflix and if you're a gamer who wants a quick steal of a movie, this might do it for you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What D&D Character Am I?

On one of the blogs I regularly follow, I saw this test so had to take it.

warning, it is long.

As far as character...

I Am A: True Neutral Dwarf Bard/Wizard (2nd/1st Level)

Ability Scores:







True Neutral A true neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. He doesn't feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. Most true neutral characters exhibit a lack of conviction or bias rather than a commitment to neutrality. Such a character thinks of good as better than evil after all, he would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, he's not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way. Some true neutral characters, on the other hand, commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run. True neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you act naturally, without prejudice or compulsion. However, true neutral can be a dangerous alignment when it represents apathy, indifference, and a lack of conviction.

Dwarves are known for their skill in warfare, their ability to withstand physical and magical punishment, their hard work, and their capacity for drinking ale. Dwarves are slow to jest and suspicious of strangers, but they are generous to those who earn their trust. They stand just 4 to 4.5 feet tall, but are broad and compactly built, almost as wide as they are tall. Dwarven men value their beards highly.

Primary Class:
Bards often serve as negotiators, messengers, scouts, and spies. They love to accompany heroes (and villains) to witness heroic (or villainous) deeds firsthand, since a bard who can tell a story from personal experience earns renown among his fellows. A bard casts arcane spells without any advance preparation, much like a sorcerer. Bards also share some specialized skills with rogues, and their knowledge of item lore is nearly unmatched. A high Charisma score allows a bard to cast high-level spells.

Secondary Class:
Wizards are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard's strength is her spells, everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar- a small, magical, animal companion that serves her. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

At the Queen's Command for Free At Amazon

While I will be purchasing books in physical format for some time to come, due to great deals at various markets or through Half-Priced books, or simply when the format is not available in another format, I'm always pleased when e-books provide readers with reasons to check them out. In this casse, At the Queen's Command: The First Book of the Crown Colonies, by Michael A. Stackpole is available in Kindle format for the princely sum of zero.

I find these types of bargains, where the first book in a series is reduced or even free, or the first book by a new author, to be an excellent way to provide new readers to that authors work with an introduction to the work without fear of investment. Well, outside of time.

I hope to see more authors doing this and seeing older works continue to go down and more variety in sales as Amazon and it's new Fire tablet continue to work the market.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes For $1.99!

I have a few posts where I discuss some of Joe Abercrombie's work and well, if you are interested in getting his latest in e-format, Amazon has The Heroes for $1.99. It's not my favorite of his works but there was enough in there for me to post a few things about it and well, it's the price of a cup of coffee at Star Bucks.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

When Art Attacks

I'm certainly not saying that the two have any relation to each other, the one being a Frank piece and the other a more recent artist, but the pose certainly seems iconic in and of itself.

Lawrence Watt-Evans The Sword of Bheleu

I have finished The Sword of Bheleu, a relic from the dark era known as the 80's or that specific time known as the early 80's. The books are still available in both print and in electronic format so those interested in some old fashioned sword and sorcery books might want to check them out. This volume at least, was well worth the read.

Below I'll be discussing some of the bits in the book that I enjoyed and how I might try and bring some of those elements to my game, as well as somethings that I would try to be aware of before bringing them to my game.

First, when looking at material like the Sword of Bheleu, it's important to keep in mind the different purposes between fiction and gaming material. Much like Elric and his famous sword, Stormbringer, or King Arthur and his blade, Excalibur, these characters and events are not written with anything resembling 'balance' or 'realism' in mind. There are ways and methods to overcome these individuals and they are not invincible, but the needs of fiction pit them against a few select enemies while a standard dungeon crawl might pit players against dozens who would be powerless against such might.

And if that's what your game is going for, a throw the game balance out the window thing, that's fine. Because in such situations, it often works both ways.

For example, Elric's sword, as awesome as it is, has a whole host of enemies that its ineffective against that Elric rarely meets. A player on the other hand with a soul sucking blade might find himself fighting a lot more constructs and elements and traps. Garth the Overman, finds he's got two choices in this book. The first is to accept that he is indeed the avatar of the god of destruction and will rain death on the world for thirty years, or give in to the King in Yellow. Neither one appeals to him, but he hopes he'll be able to work out something to his satisfaction with the King in Yellow. In a standard role playing game, if Garth decided to just keep on his marry way, he'd probably become an NPC.

Interestingly enough, I recently picked up a PDF copy of something called Fourthcore Alphabet. The whole idea of Fourthcore seems a bit supported in this in that there are high risks and high rewards that go beyond the standard balanced encounters and in many ways, remind me of the older editions of the game where one, at a fairly low to mid level, might encounter a weapon like Black Razor in an adventure as opposed to 3rd and 4th editions where most items are good in what they do, but rarely bring the awe to the game that earlier editions did. Game balance in this instance is great in terms of easily designing scenarios and encounters but terrible an encompassing some of the non-tangible elements of game play.

Another interesting thing Lawrence Watt-Evans does here, is provide the viewpoint of Garth's enemies, a council of mages. It's interesting because in previous adventures that have been recaptured here quickly, the council is catching up to events from an outsider's viewpoint. While some might be upset at what could be perceived as a waste of pages telling us things from a different perspective, I found it interesting and as a Game Master, a reminder that the world is not one big vast network where everyone knows everything that goes on.

In some instances, this should be a boon for players when they are at the center of events. If players see a king, baron, or other noble taken down and have first hand information on how things actually went down, they may be able to husband this information into deals behind the scenes latter. If they are actually the cause of some news, they may have a limited time to work things out before their adventurers become well known. While many campaign settings do have some magical means of communication, in default sword and sorcery settings, or settings like 4th edition's Points of Light, communication is dangerous and takes time. This should give the players time to engage in other acts.

Am I saying that players should be able to do anything they want with never fear of repercussion? No. But without things like telephones, the internet, or some other method of world wide communication and perhaps more importantly, visual recording, players would probably have a lot more leeway than the Game Master might initially think about. Even in a large fantasy city broken down by wards, the people in a rich ward might know nothing of the murder of the Beggar King in a lower ward by a group of vagrant adventurers.

Another break against common fantasy elements, is that Garth, as an overman, is of a created race, and while that creation happened thousands of years ago, the creator is known and it's essentially an established fact. Most games hem and haw about race creation, pointing out to the very roots of time and the gods involved with such things. Not so here. Its a change of pace from the standard methods of showcasing how ancient and vast a race is.

The Sword of Bheleu, while the third in the series, and doesn't end in a spot I'm happy with as a reader, is fairly self contained and easy to get into. Those looking for magic items with outrageous powers and an author not afraid to chop up his setting should check it out.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Sword of Bheleu by Lawrence Watt-Evans

Written by Lawrence Watt-Evans, the Sword of Bheleu is apparently the third in a series. This is another one of those novels that I picked up for $1.00 at Half Priced books. Hell, maybe I had a coupon and picked it up for eighty cents or something.

The interesting thing is that at the time of its printing, it was $2.50. Yeah, inflation in a specific field gone wild again eh? More interesting to me, is that at Amazon, you can buy it in ebook format for $5.59 which to me is a little overpriced considering the original cover price but not horrible.

Knowing nothing of the series, the author, or what happens after, as I'm still reading it,  but I'm going to hit some spoilers below.

First off, the book is sword and sorcerer. Magic is fairly rare but those who have it tend to be powerful. Magic items are also fairly rare, and in this case, while we have a few of the standards, like the crystal ball, the Sword of Bheleu itself turns out to be a major artifact, effectively making the user a avatar of the god of destruction. This isn't a one way ticket though. Indeed, the sword often compels its user to destroy, to attack, to kill. this is often indicated by the massive ruby on the hilt of this two-handed bad boy glowing with an inner fire. A great visual cue but if you're playing the prototypical dumb fighter, all the visual cues in the world aren't going to help.

The sword is also a bit of old school in that it seems it can do many things. For example, when the wielder, Garth, is spied upon with a crystal ball, his connection to the got of destruction travels back on that feed and destroys the crystal ball. Garth can also use the weapon to set fire to buildings, to burn through stone itself. This doesn't count that others don't seem to be able to use the weapon without suffering massive burns and wind up dropping it.

By not pinning everything the sword does, the author provides himself some space in which to use the sword for different elements. One of the terrible things that third edition started, and fourth edition fully embraced and has been struggling to get back ever since, is removed the magic from magic items. I haven't played a lot of 4e lately and I know that some others, like the Fourthcore group, have also tried to bring some of the magic back to the magic so to speak. Damn shame that it ever got that far to begin with.


Another interesting aspect of the book is that Garth isn't human, he's what's called an overman, humanoid but physically better than a human. The problem is that the overmen lost the Racial Wars that happened some odd three hundred years ago. Turns out that like orcs and some other humanoids, while they may be great independent fighters, they are terrible fighters when it comes to war as they are not great social creatures, each too headstrong and independent to do any group warfare that doesn't involve a numerous commanders involved with many levels of the soldiers. Their home life structure isn't that great either, they essentially borrow the idea of marriage to provide some stability to their lives.

I like this factor because it provides the overmen some character and showcases why they are where they are when I read this book. It's not some nine hundred page beast that I feel compelled to read because it's trying to teach me history. Rather, it's a quick sword and sorcery romp that showcases  bad things happen and sometimes, more bad things happen. Heck, I think Rolemaster old versions may even have something similar to this guy. I know that they had High Men, which were essentially homages to Strider's people, but I think they had something even bigger and stronger and with even fewer background points in one of their series of companions.

In addition, it gives me some ideas as to why elves and dwarves and other long lived races don't rule the world. They're just not able to compete with humanity. It's not that elves aren't the best archers, rangers, or masters of magic. It's just that they're so tied up in their own thing they never think, "Man, these humans are going to take it all over." For the dwarves, they might have so much going on in their various book of grudges, that they don't necessarily care that humans are taking over until those humans get into the book of grudges themselves, and because humanity at least if often allied to dwarves, the dwarves are only worried about specific humans to hunt down. The decline of their race isn't something directly attributed to humans often, but rather to their many numerous other enemies ranging, at least in say, Warhammer, to goblins, trolls, orcs and Skaven, to even chaos dwarves. Humans may provide worthy foes, a few may even go into the book, but for the most part, allies and trade partners.

Speaking of those bad things, in that war three hundred years ago, when the overmen lost, they got some bad terms. But interestingly enough, the garrison, the town, the fortress that provided them? Well, as Garth notes, humans have short memories and yesterday's heroes are today's useless dregs of society. The town that has its borders with the overmen is poor and feeble and easily overcome. Mind you this isn't necessarily a good thing because as I read its indicated that yeah, this was a wasting outpost but its just a part of a larger entity. Still, showcasing how decay can ease up onto these elements of society, especially those that might have been considered the most important at one part of a setting's history, are important.

The overmen have another advantage here in that they have warbeasts. These are essentially large, black massive hunting cats that, like like worgs, wargs, or dire wolves, are actually more dangerous than the overmen themselves. This makes fighting overmen even worse when they come prepared. Worse still, the beasts aren't too concerned with what they eat as at one point Garth is worried about the warbeast eating patrolling soldiers if they're not feed soon. Scary but entertaining stuff.

A third interesting factor, is the use of the King in Yellow. Now I'm not saying it's the exact character from the Mythos, but when you read a little on the author's page about the series, yeah, it's pretty much him. He comes off as a tragic character with a terrible destiny but also a little like the dude of Many Eyes and the Faceless mentors of the Twain from Fritz Lieber's various Swords Against series. Good stuff.

So, still reading, and may/may not get the ebook versions, but they're out there, the paperbacks are still out there, and there's even an omnibus edition. It's old school with a bit of a twist and well worth reading for those looking for a non-human hero with a kick ass magic weapon.
and come on, how can you not lover a cover where the guy in the middle of these enemies isn't looking like he's going, "What, you wanna piece of this?"

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Brunner: Equipment Evolution

One of the interesting things about Brunner, the bounty hunter from the Warhammer series of books, is that unlike a lot of fantasy characters, he tends to accumulate some toys along the way.

Don't misunderstand me, there's a lot of cash he's collected. Somehow we never see him spend it. I suspect that like the manga Lone Wolf and Cub, we'll see he's been saving these coins for a very special rainy day.

But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm not even talking about how he names his large serrated cutting knife because that's what he uses to lop the heads off his bounties or his horse or his pony that he carries various items. I'm not even talking about the 'standard' weapons he starts with, which include some expensive ones like a highly polished gun that works almost every time he needs it to.

Rather, I'm talking about loot!

In one of the stories, he 'liberates' a sword from a false noble. The blade is of a special magical  variety against those of chaos.

In another, he earns a repeating crossbow from an encounter with Skaven.

These items in and of their own, become a bit of a signature thing with Brunner.

This is something that happens in movies and books and comics all the time. A nifty weapon makes an appearance and then everyone wants one! Admit it, how long after the Phantom Menace came out and we saw Double Light Sabers did you see one at the game?

Signature weapons can be useful and fun if used correctly. In level based games like Rolemaster or Dungeons and Dragons, they can be a little more difficult to efficiently fit in the actual game as unless you allow the player to upgrade the item, no matter how signature the Blade of the Family Blood is, it's it's +1 +2 versus Undead and the character gets an opportunity to get a +3 weapon... well, we can all see that old blade hanging on the shelf right?

Another thing about signature weapons and items is that they may have history and significance that showcases some aspect of the character's own background. For example, some weapons may only work for individuals of a specific race or a specific family line. Others may take rites and rituals to activate. Others may just look so unique that they are known wherever they go. One of the fun things to do is allow these items to provide hooks into the game, but not dominate it.

Use and reward players with special items that fit into their own goals and background and don't forget to use them against them when the players are trying to sneak around. "The Dagger of St. McMac! No lowly acolyte would have that item! Arrest them!'

Good times.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Warhammer Religions Versus Brunner by C. L. Werner

In the Warhammer setting, there are many deities that are followed. The general ones or the popular ones, would probably be Sigmar, the patron of the Empire, the White Wolf 'cult' in the north, and the Ruinous Powers of Chaos.

While Brunner himself is not given over to active worship, or at least, does not appear to acknowledge it, he does have several incidents or encounters with religion and those who are religious, or at least pay lip service to it that span a bit differently than the standard gods of the Warhammer setting.

Shallya: While Brunner does wind up crossing blades with a worshipper of Uncle Nurgle, the interesting thing was the prespective it puts on that worship. Tear down hospitals not because the help the injured, but because they cure the sick. This in and of itself could easily become a mini-campaign with one faction trying to wipe the other one's forces out. Brunner appreciates the healing but doesn't feel he owes anyone here anything because he earns his keep.

Solkan: I remember when I first bought my Warhammer FRPG book. It wasn't the hardcover first edition, but it was a great edition by Hogshead. Nonetheless, one of the interesting things I remember reading about in those early days, was deities of law. Not as known or as active in the world as those of Chaos, nonetheless, they were there. One of my friends ran a campaign where we were trying to free one of the trapped gods, the Lady of Law or something like that.

In one of the stories, Brunner is visiting a city state where Solkan is ascendant and his worshippers, while not the only faction, do have a lot of leeway in how they deal with sinners. The unfortunate thing is that they essentially come off like flagellants or other heavy handed worshippers of Sigmar so with a little name change, I wasn't seeing a lot of difference.

Ranald: The patron god of thieves and someone one of Brunner's bounties gives lip service to often.

When using a setting that has a lot of deities, try to focus on some that may not be receiving a lot of attention. It may force the players to pay a little more attention. If in a game where there are special toys different deities provide their worshippers, or different methods of worship are known, use them. Make the game a little different in aspects so that you can get away from the whole Ruinous Powers and Sigmar association that tie up so much of the Warhammer setting.

Keep it fresh and keep the players guessing.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Brunner the Bounty Hunter by C. L. Werner

Brunner the Bounty Hunter is a collection of a trilogy of books; Blood & Steel, Blood Money and Blood of the Dragon. I'm not quite sure what the actual break down is in each book as most of the tales are short stores, framed by an author in the fantasy Warhammer setting who knows Brunner and sells tales that Brunner tells him.

C. L. Werner's work is solid here but may suffer a little from the length of the stories. With most of the contents being short, there isn't a lot of room for character development, and while the overall story continues to build and change and evolve and we see everything in previous tales move forward, it's a much different feel than reading a standard trilogy where there might be dozens of characters with their own goals and motivations.

On one hand, this allows C. L. Werner to put Brunner into a lot of situations and brings a lot of action to the reader. In many ways Brunner would be perfect for a weekly cliff hanger style show where Brunner continues to hunt down bounties and we continue to learn a little more about him.

On the other hand, there's not a lot of supporting cast and well, I can only read about how fierce Brunner looks a dozen times before yawning at his bad assery so to speak.

I think overall I enjoyed C. L. Werner's Witch Hunter series a little more but know that in many ways, Brunner is far more appropriate for gaming inspiration thanks to its shorter tales providing more material to a potential GM.

I've often mentioned that bounty hunters are my favorite type of character in games. They have a quick and easy hook that the GM can use to bait the campaign with a variety of bounties, rival hunters, and organizations that make use of such individuals. The ring of details that can be included varies from informants, bars to gather information in, and the law men who sit back and allow the hunters to do the leg work.

These law men may vary tremendously in terms of their authority and their need. In the standard, Brunner receives many of his 'quests' from a judge. On some of his travels while getting those bounties though, Brunner comes across situations that are tasked of him that come from a different authority. In one instance, he's invited by a noble to kill a were wolf. Normally a man of Brunner's status wouldn't even be allowed near the man, but due to the noble's need of seeing the creature captured or killed, Brunner is allowed into the inner circle.

A short job like this allow the character to brush up against society he might not normally be involved with. Unlike the manga Berserk, where initially Griffin is able to rise in rank and ascend to the highest political levels, the jobs Brunner does are so quick that he's not around long enough to necessarily rise or want to. Staying in one place limits the type of jobs he could take after all.

One of the things that Werner does well, is provides a larger backdrop to the setting. For example, when discussing Brunner. "It was said that the bounty hunter had spirited a buccaneer captain from the sanctuary of the pirate stronghold of Sartosa, that he had brought down a traitor to the King of Bretonnia in the court of an Arabyan sheik, and that he had pursued one notorious smuggler to the depths of Black Crag and returned with his prey from the bowels of the goblin fortress."

In that bit alone we get a brief flare of how large the setting is, and how fierce Brunner is. It's a nice bit of reputation and the GM should allow players to craft their own reputations and incorporate things they've down, as well as things that might sound like things they've done. Exaggeration is always a useful tool to have.

Another bit to consider when running characters who thirst for bounties, is that they will be spending a lot of their time in places knights, nobles, and other aristrocrat races, like elves, would probably avoid. They would need to do this in order to gather information, and it allows the GM to occasionally throw them a small bone in that they may recognize a bandit, a mugger, or a smuggler with a bounty on his head. Of course the players need to be secure in their own prowess least they fall prey to ambush or trap themselves...

When looking at where the enemy might flee to, try to incorporate already existing bits of the setting into it. For example, in one story, Brunner has to hunt down a man known as Bertolucci. Turns out their family, like many, owned villas in the country, but waves of beastmen and orcs drove the nobles out of those homes. But sometimes better the unknown then the sure death that waits if you stay... These little bits allow the players, especially those who are already familiar with a setting with a large fan base, such as Warhammer, Greyhawk, or the Forgotten Realms, a chance to enjoy it.

Collecting bounties may provide some challenges to characters. For one thing, if they are employed as more than just assassins, a lot of their victims may have to come back alive. This is something the GM can play on the characters with by providing bounties of various costs that may be worth less than half, or even a fourth dead. Keeping the characters on their toes, and actually providing them with a sound reason for keeping an enemy they've defeated alive.

Another benefit of having a setting like Warhammer, is that little things can be done to customize it further that incorporate the already existing elements. For example, "Farmers in Bretonnia would train hogs to hunt truffles and they held that the noses of their hogs were sharper than any hound. He was counting that the snouts of the Empire's swine were no less keen. If there was one thing a pig enjoyed eating more than a truffle it was a snotling."

Snotlings are a race of goblinoid in the Warhammer setting and by putting that little touch of character there, it provides just a touch more of being somewhere that isn't Earth in a dark ages setting.

Another benefit of running a bounty hunter style campaign, is that the players should be on the alert for the unusual. Brunner is often noted for having a great memory and always examining his surroundings. "I have both three-toe and the one with the clubbed foot here. There can't be two orcs with feet like that rampaging about in your father's domain.'.

A fine example of knowing what to look for and where to look for it.

In terms of these unique elements though, Werner doesn't pause when detailing out monsters, bandits, dragons, vampires, or others. His vivid imagery showcases an interesting bit though when compared to gaming. There are several enemies Brunner quickly bowls through thanks to the use of his crossbow pistols, his actual pistol, and other weapons he's mastered. But from a quick read, you might not know which foe was supposed to be which. Treat every enemy the players face as if it was the preordained winner in the fight when describing it. The players won't know who is a minion and who is the real deal.

Werner is also entertaining. The Warhammer setting is strange in its use of fire arms and dueling and knights and wizards. There are often unspoken honorable agreements about how such things are to be used. But he does manage to capture what I'd call an Indiana Jones moment here when a famous duelist challenges Brunner, the bounty hunter goes outside and shots the man. It's entertaining but also gets the point across that most often, unless restricted by some limitation, Brunner, like many players, will do what he needs to win.

Keep that in mind when coming up with adversaries and foe men. The players might not be bound by the same rules of honor. They might be so slipper on the morale chart that those around them keep a wide distance.

But at the same time, unless you've completely changed the fantasy setting you're running, this should have the occasional benefit allowing them to get the drop on a knight, on a noble, on an elf, or another variant whose honor is held in such high regard that they would never think the players would sink to some dastardly level.

At the same time, the players, engaged in bounty hunting, may be involved in locations that only the most vile murderers and scum may call home. For example, "Will you be needing more salt, master?' the boy asked, a tone of eagerness in his voice. Even at his tender age, he had witnessed death often enough, and heads of criminals adorning pikes set before the town's main gate were commonplace." Remember that no matter how shinny the armor of a knight, that knight is still probably ruling over peasants and dispensing harsh justice that may take the form of entertainment for the common folk. No television, no radio, and no form of instant communication with people around the world makes for some people who in their limited experience have already seen a lot of things that others would consider truly horrid but to them is mild entertainment.

There are some more bits I'll pull from Brunner, but I'll leave off with the recommendation to pick it up in trade paperback as the individual books run quite a bit higher.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Problem With Brunner

As I'm getting ready to finish off Brunner, a collection of short stories set in the Warhammer Fantasy setting that features Brunner, a bounty hunter of no small prowess, I decided to do a quick snoop around the Black Library site to see if this was offered as an ebook.

No such luck.

I did however, look around at another series by the same author, the one about the Witch Hunter. Now when I read the series, I read it in a collected format that I bought either at for something like $11 or at Half-Price for something like $7.50 plus tax. So how does the Black Library decide to sell the series?

In individual book form only for $7.99.

So... buy all three books and pay more than you would if you bought the print collection at a brand new price with zero discount, or, well don't.

I think publishers still have a long way to go in terms of figuring out where they want to be, what they think the customer will pay, and how the customers behavior will influence them.

For myself, I would never buy an ebook for more than the price of the printed book, and this includes collected editions. If as a publisher you've already made enough money from the series that you decide to get another round of dollars from it by collecting the books into a collection and don't sell that in the same format as an ebook, you, as a publisher, are effectively telling your fans to buy the print version.

There is nothing wrong with that, but considering unless its a direct sale that most of the profits from sales of print books go to the various middlemen there as opposed to the ebook, that might not be the best way to make the money.

Ah well, let me finish off Brunner here and post some actual inspiration material as opposed to yet another ebook price rant.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Return of the Living Dead

With the Halloween season on a full run, I decided to watch Return of the Living Dead. I saw movie in the theater when it first came out with some friends and my dad. He was, shall we say, unimpressed with the need for the undead to eat brains to cull the pain of being dead.

Return of the Living Dead is a sequel in a different vein than Dawn of the Dead of the movies that follow that director's vision of the undead as social commentary. 

Indeed, Return of the Living Dead has many differences in its adaptation of the zombies to the big screen.

1. The zombies in the Return series can still speak. They are far more mobile than those in the standard zombie films with the remake Dawn of the Dead being a clear exception to that rule.

2. The zombies have thinking process. Now mind you, this isn't always the best and they have no sense of self preservation, but since they're incredibly difficult to destroy, that's isn't a problem. Indeed, it leads to some entertaining moments. The point of their intelligence though, comes through when they're using emergency radios to call for more paramedics and send more cops and other such classic lines.

3. The zombies don't have a single point of weakness. This isn't to indicate that they are super strong or that they can accomplish feats of physical prowess beyond humanly possible. They just ignore all injury. A blow to the skull does nothing more than annoy them. They require complete physical destruction. This might be a challenge to rule so in a game.

4. The zombies haven't taken over the world yet.

That latter part might or might not be important because the zombie in say, the Walking Dead, are an omnipresent threat that are everywhere. In Return of the Living Dead, they are a localized one. They might make for an interesting threat in a location that was somehow cut off from the rest of a setting. An island, warded cemetery, or even a demi-plane where something the characters need is trapped with these difficult to destroy undead.

Another part that is tied into the isolation factor, is that everyone who comes into the area, is killed. Paramedics, police, and friends of the employee working at the cemetery, all meet an untimely death at the hands of the zombies.  This can work it's way into a setting as well and provide another reason why characters all called on. Everyone else that the kingdom has sent into this location with the super zombies, has already died and the players are the last hope before the entrance way is sealed forever.

Return of the Living Dead is goofy but it does provide some differences in zombie action to those looking for more than just shamblers that aimlessly get shot, bashed, or stabbed in the brain.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mordenheim by Chet Williamson

In between reading the Invisible Man on my Toshiba, the Brunner trade paperback collection, and various other books, I've been reading Mordenheim by Chet Williamson. This is another book I bought at Half Priced Books for the kingly sum of $1.00.

Mordenheim is one of the books in the Ravenloft series. This series brought a touch of gothic horror to the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons setting initially through a single module and then through a meta-setting that could reach any other setting and was heavily inspired by many a tale of the classics.

Mordenheim is in many ways the answer to Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. The interesting thing, to me, is how the author plays off the differences inherent in such a take. Mordenheim, the name of the doctor, lives in a setting where magic is real. Being a true man of 'science' however, he has long discounted magic and relied only on those things that he himself can bring to the table.

This makes him an interesting stand out from other villains. He seeks a deeper understanding of the world through the physical attributes that he can disect. This started off with animals and worked its way up to humans, including the associated grave robbing inherent in such a task. But his goal, of extending life, of curing disease, or making man immortal and invicible, well, to him, and to many throughout history, the ends justify the means.

And that makes him a dangerous villain and makes for a great nemesis motivation. If the GM can play such a villain correctly, if he can choose his words and examples with great care and catered to the players, he may even be able to lure some of them to the villain's side. But it has to be a compelling arguement. It has to be something grand.

And more importantly, there has to be some evidence that the villain is capable of doing what he wants. In this case, Mordenheim is no idle scientist, he has created Adam, which in Dungeons and Dragons, amounts to a unique, advanced Flesh Golem with its own will and mind and its own desires. But to Mordenheim, it is a truimpth of science. And to anyone who sees it, physical proof that Mordenheim is capable of showing his theories in the flesh.

Keep the motivation of the villain out front where the players cna see the strength of it and either take up arms in rebellion against those ideas which tye consider foul or pause and wonder if indeed, the ends do justify the means.

And for one more furthe price rant, the cover price of this book was $4.95 in 1994 and most paperbacks these days cost $9.95. So... 100% inflation in less than twenty years... but surely everyone is making double what they made back then right? The minimum wage has doubled since then right? Righ? Ugh. And the Kindle Price? No such animal. Ugh again.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Another e-book Pricing Rant

I've mentioned before that my sweet spot for e-publications is around the $2.99 point. Amazon has various daily deals that meet my standard in addition to hundreds, if not thousands of free books. Hell, I'm reading the invisible man now that was free. Tor has some steambooks on sale for the $2.99 and took some of their biggest fantasy franchises to the $2.99 price point for the first book in the series. I've seen a few others, like a recent steampunk fantasy anthology for $2.99 as well as others, that makes me ponder that my 'mythical' price point isn't that far out of line.

What does that have to do with anything?

On, someone start a WIR, short for where I read, and the book in question was Black Company, by Glen Cook. Go over to Amazon and hey, no Kindle copies at all, regardless of the cost. But the new stuff? Yeah, it's there. This is another case of author not taking control of his e-rights and insuring that his existing material is creating another revenue stream for him.

But then on an art blog, I see this fantastic drawing of Death Dealer, a Frank Fazetta character. It inspires me to look up one of my favorite authors of sword and sorcery fiction or semi-modern times, David Gemell. All of his books cost around $7.99 in kindle format.

Uh... listen estate of Dave, if you didn't make the money necessary to earn profit on those books while he was alive, then it might be a little late now and because the author is dead, it might be easier to spread information about him and his works at a much lower price point since as I started off, there are thousands of e-books out there for free.

I dread looking up what something like the Amber series would cost.

And one reason for that, is at the end of the series, sometime well after it, there was a nice trade paperback collection of the whole series. And Glen Cook's Black Company is also in collection edition. So how would the e books go in that instance? $7.99 per each of the original Black Company or Amber books or one reasonable price for a collection? While many of Bernard Cornwell's e books are around paperback price, the trilogy covering Bernard's version of King Arthur, the Warlord Chronicles, covers all three books and runs $5.14 for The Winter King, Enemy of God, and Excalibur under one file.

Once again, this tells me that my preferred price point isn't out of whack with reality and that if living authors like Bernard can do it with collections of their work, that someone needs to step up to the black and first make sure we have e books that take the existing work already out there and two, make it affordable to the masses.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Lincon Park Zoo

One of the nice things about living in Chicago, outside of having one of the most expensive set of taxes, parking tickets, public transportation, gas, and electricity, is there is a lot of free stuff to do and a lot of it is cool if you're willing to either take public transportation there or be gouged on 'public' parking.

I went with the later option knowing that I was going to be doing some further driving down the road and went to the Lincon Park Zoo. Turns out that after thirty years the zoo is going to be, in theory, temporarily removing the penguins due to the age of the machines in the park. They are some odd thirty years old.

Bad news? A few of the beasts were no where to be found. A lot of the cafes were closed. The price for a bottle of water or soda was $3.00. My girl friend smoked me in terms of walking. Sure, I've got a broken toe, but when we hit the gym I'm usually able to do the cardio far longer then her. The reality of walking up and down and moving in the outdoors came into play here. Embarrassing! I'm sure there are a few other petty annoyances I could think of but...

The good was that it was a fantastic day in Chicago. The crowd's weren't too bad. There were plenty of places to sit so that when my girlfriend was leaving me in the dust, I was able to gather my wits. My camera actually lasted most of the trip so I had opportunity to take a lot of pictures, or at least, my girlfriend did after I showed her how to work the thing and she stopped worrying about dropping it.

But why post this type of stuff here on Appendix N? What about it brought out any gaming inspiration?

Lots of things.

For one, despite it being a public and free zoo, it has a lot of variety there. Sure, you're typical fantasy campaign setting may not be appropriate to throw all of the animals that you can see gathered in one spot at a zoo, but it does allow you to get an idea of just how diverse animal life can be.

Differences in animals of the same type and the same breed can be vast. This one should be a no brainer. I'm six and a half feet tall and a fat bastich. I tower over a lot of my co workers and outweigh many of them. You'd think some of them were from pygmy tribes if you didn't know we were all human.

The same is true of animals but even more so. For example, one set of birds I saw had different lengths and colors of beaks. The sizes between male and female can be vast, and not always in the male's favor. The coloration of animals can vary by age. In one exhibit on fish, the smallest of the fist started off as yellow with blue stripes and grew to be blue as they grew larger. And the smallest of these fish were perhaps in the two to three inch range while the largest were over a foot in length and almost as wide.

Adding little details like that can either be boring or fascinating for your group, depending on the preference of the players. For example, knowing that an ape should be approximately so many pounds and knowing that whatever they're following appears to be an ape, but one much larger, is mostly background noise leading to a confrontation with a giant ape, but what if the nature sense people can tell that even at the giant size, it's still a young ape? Now you're setting up foreshadowing.

Animals also have their own needs and cares. One of the bears had surgery on its mouth so that its tongue slightly protruded. The animal would have died without it but thanks to modern science it was saved. These distinguishing marks can be the sign of a druid or other animal lover in the region or noticing issues with the animals in the first place, could be the start of a separate campaign dealing with plague.

The movie reviewer, Ebert, noted that the Hunted, wasn't some tricky fighting movie but that its characters looked like they had weight and that they felt ever blow and cut between each thrust and attack. When looking at some of the animals here, especially some of the lions or the rhino, its important to think about how weight can be an issue. A charging rhino may not have all that jazz of a demon or undead, but the sheer weight of it should be enough to ensure that all but the most heavily armed and armored character strive to remove themselves.

The important thing though, is that with all of the things animals can have going for them, in terms of superior senses, using the environment, pack tactics, and a host of other bits, that if the GM goes out of his way to make them 'realistic' and the players are feeling like they're in a slash fic remake of The Ghost and the Darkness, then what happens when the GM starts using supernatural elements like demons and devils or animals that are well, greater animals such as dire or legendary?

I'm not saying ditch all the cool elements that an animal can bring to the game, but don't become so bogged down in how much more dangerous hippos are than crocodiles that you make them tougher than stone giants. Respect the animals but in most fantasy games, know their place.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

John Carpenter's The Thing

As Halloween comes around, I tend to watch more horror movies. So far this month I've knocked out Trick 'R Treat, the original Wolf Man with Lon Chaney, and today, John Carpenter's The Thing. I watched this one because of a few reasons.

One, it's a classic. It's almost thirty years old. There are some good things still going on here.

Two, there is a remake that is also a prequel coming out.

Three, there is a Dark Horse digital free comic; Some good stuff there, especially since it's in a dark ages setting.

The Thing relies on several common elements of horror.

The first of these, is isolation. By placing it in a far flung location that is physically isolated from the rest of the world, the director forces the characters to rely on only the possessions and knowledge that they have and can expand in a limited direction.

The second, is man against the elements. This isn't some tropical island where if they didn't have issues with an alien capable of assimiliating them all that they could just go play some golf. Survival itself is at stake here.

The third, is fear of the unknown. Like a good Call of Cthulhu adventure, the characters go about learning more and more about the nature of the enemy they face until its time for the final showdown.

John Carpenter's The Thing is definately worth a second look and could easily be a campaign in and of itself. Imagine that instead of the Far Realm sending out specific entities to the prime material plane, the 'Thing' arrives as a disease. Can players either stop it from escaping the planar workshop they are in or must they destroy the gates on the other side to insure that no one escapes?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Berserk 35 by Kentaro Miura

Dark Horse comics continues to support my type of manga as Berserk collection 35 hits the United States. While the series is a little further according to my research, it looks like it'll be some time before volume 36 hits the streets.

When I read Berserk, the high energy of Miura's art inspires me. For me, his style is similar to another favorite of mine on the Super Hero comics shores, George Perez. It has a ton of detail and a lot of movement to it.

In this volume, we see further ramifications of past events continue to unfold. This provides some good ground work for those who run episodic adventures with an other all theme or arc. In this instance, Guts efforts to save Caska by taking her to the isle of the fey comes under complication when a pirate ship falls pray to the new madness and in turn becomes an enormous threat. In D&D 3rd edition, this could easily be done through the addition of templates, class levels, or other such goods. In other versions of the game, depending on how serious the GM is taking it, he might just rewrite the material and hand wave the reasoning.

In addition, since the ship takes some damage in their battle with the monster ship, the group is forced to make landfall on an island.

Islands are great bits for fantasy games for several reasons.

1. They can be isolated. This allows the GM to throw in things that are older than the standard setting in terms of dress, eating, religion, weapons, attitudes and outlook.

2. They can be isolated physically. Sure, the weird natives might be giving off a Wicker Man vibe and setting up all sorts of unpleasant events, but the real problem is that there's no damn way off an island outside of repairing the wreck you came in.

Movies like Cast Away or television shows like Lost showcase some of the other problems with an island. Equipment may be hard to come by for example. Isolation from the mainland may cause strange mental illness to forment on those isolated too long.

But in a fantasy game, there could be other issues.

For one, the island itself could be alive.

For another, the island could be slowly moving through the planes.

For another, the island could be at a center of power that attracts all sorts of weirdness to it as individuals try to harness this energy in ritualistic manner.

Another useful thing about islands, is that if you're not making them a continuous stop or part of the setting, it's not that big a deal to wipe out the inhabitants to showcase how vile a particular monster is. In this case, the creature that's coming after Guts and his party has destroyed the village and absorbed them, making them new monsters that come against the party.

Another thing to note about islands though, in all this talk of flesh eating and isolation, is that they make a good point in a sea campaign to introduce new players. In this instance, Isma, a native to the island whose mother is supposedly a mermaid and whose life is outside the town, showcases how to introduce a new character that has reason to trust the party (isolated from the other inhabitants of the island) and is full of the desire to explore and leave the small town behind. It works well in this instance and provides more fuel for the unusual side of the Berserk saga.

Berserk 35 isn't going to bring in any new fans to the series but it doesn't disappoint the old fans. The kinetic art and action provide a lot of fodder for the imagination and the new character brings more complications to the young 'ens of the cast.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

I love the cover of this book. It's a simple piece that would work fantastic as a miniature with a character in apparently some type of light armor with a nice fancy hilted sword with a hooded cloak where the cap is moving. Dynamic but static.

In terms of the book, it's got a lot of grit going for it but I'm a little undecided if I like it or not. the main character is a little too competent either through blind stupid luck or through bad assery that makes me think this kid could bitch slap Elminster and while that would be amusing, it just rubs me wrong in some ways.

In terms of spoilers, they'll be coming below because I'm going to talk about intangibles as they relate to setting the tone of a campaign.

Prince of Thorns isn't heroic. It's not even friendly. the character isn't even an anti-hero. But how could you do this in a role playing game? How could you model having 'brothers', a group of murderous bandits, working with the Prince, a player, and showcase the tone you're trying to set?

First off, let's discuss the brothers. By being part of a bandit group, Mark Lawrence has provided the main character with a group of characters he can easily kill off and most people aren't going to care or blink an eye. This almost harkens back to older editions of Dungeons and Dragons with hirelings. "You there peasant, take this mighty one silver and take up arms against yon ogre for a further single piece of gold!" Of course morale was a game factor too in the day eh?

But in terms of showcasing a setting, you can crib the following without having to resort to game mechanics.

1. Life is worthless. The main character is almost assassinated by an enemy from one of the Hundred Kindgoms that make up the setting and his father, instead of taking vengeance against the murderer or his wife and his youngest son, makes peace through concessions from the enemy king.

2. Life is worthless. Kill some of the 'brothers' or bandits, or hirelings in standard tasks or fights. For example, in the book, while the characters are climbing a mountain, one of them falls to his death. Another character suffers a cut from a farming implement and dies as a result of infection.

3. Life is worthless. Introduce a whole new race of creatures and entities that the players interact with a bit and have a few of those new found humanoids join the player characters. Then destroy the rest of the race while the players continue their trials and journeys.

4. Life is worthless. Have the players use every means at this disposal to win, even if that win results in mass overkill and the destruction of hundreds of people. Some may argue that the method used in the book needs rules when Jorg, the Prince of Thorns, destroys another kingdom. They may note that it is science that destroys it! Humbug. In Eberon and the Forgotten Realms we've got numerous scars and blisters on the land that are the direct result of magical armagedon. Rules only matter when destroying a kingdom if you want them to matter.

5. Life is worthless: In having the players use every means at this disposal, push them against the boundaries of the standard fantasy tropes. This is done twice in the novel. The first time, Jorg kills a man so skilled with the blade that this knight is able to out fence Jorg's champion, who himself is a master duelist. Jorg however has no problem provoking the knight, running into a guard, snatching a crossbow and putting one through the blademan's skull. This is allowable because Jorg is the King's son and the king is impressed with this show of ruthlessness. In another venue, Jorg is in a knightly tournament and goes for the kill on numerous knights. Because Jorg not only survives in that arena but takes out the king of that realm, he is able to avoid repercussions from it.

6. Life is worthless. Have the 'brothers', the brigands that you've been so eager to kill off in the most minor of fashions to showcase how fragile life is, ready to turn on the players if they're not always at the peak of the game. It's not just that life is worthless for them, it's worthless for the players if those slip and showcase mercy or weakness. Have some of the 'named' brothers challenge the players after a particularly tough battle or when a loved one dies as an opportunity for the player to man up or be put down.

By focusing on the things you want the campaign to convey, regardless of the game you're running, you can do a far better job than if you sat around making up rules for diseases that lice may be carrying or what the chances of players catching infections from having sex with villager's unwilling daughters. Focus on the mood. Focus on the atmosphere. Focus on the tone.