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.