Sunday, March 30, 2014

Three Outlaw Samurai by Hideo Gosha

My membership to +Hulu expires every now and then and every now and then I feel a need to watch some Samurai action. +Hulu for whatever reason, appears to have an excellent relation with +The Criterion Collection , a company renown for their taste in films and giving those films 'deluxe' treatment and restoration but perhaps more importantly to the people I know, tons of Samurai films including the classics like Yojimbo, Samurai trilogy, and Seven Samurai.

When looking for something new to watch, I recognized the title Three Outlaw Samurai from another movie I watched not that long ago, Sword of the Beast. (I think the guy was also in Kill!)While I haven't written about that one, one of the actors from there is present here as well so that was a plus for me. Being a selection on Hulu from The Criterion Collection was another plus.

Looking into the history of the movie, it's old, from 1964 and it's DVD and bluray versions are fairly recent, 2012. It's apparently based on a television show of the same name, which I've never seen available. This is an 'origin' tale in how the Three Outlaw Samurai first met and joined together if Wiki is to be believed.

So on it went to the old Samsung Pro 12.2. Let me tell you, I've been using that tablet to watch cartoons like Ugly Americans and Bob's Burgers, but it did a fantastic job streaming Three Outlaw Samurai. I have to imagine that a lot of the crispness of the image and the quality of the sound, even from that tablet, was due to the excellent restoration job that the guys at Criterion did.

In terms of plot, pacing, and characters, Three Outlaw Samurai doesn't necessarily follow the 'standard' that other movies have often utilized, but it does have elements of them. There will be some spoilers below so if you'd rather have none, go sign up for a trial of Hulu or buy the DVD and enjoy it's awesomeness.

But in terms of cliches that work well because, well, they're still true today in the  dreaded real world?

For example, corrupt government? Check. Corrupt isn't necessarily the correct word here if taken into the full context of 'evil'. Rather, there are instances in the samurai society that when a man's word is given, especially between two samurai, that it's unbreakable. Such is NOT the case here where words are exchanged, punishments agreed on dealt out, but then instead of letting things go, power and appearance of power must be maintained and so the honorable thing is left to the wayside.

Note that this 'corruption' goes further than that. For example, while the farmers are rebelling against what they feel are unfair payments and taxes they must make, due not to their unwillingness to pay mind you, but poor harvest thanks to seasonalities that they can't control, they take prisoner the daughter of the magistrate. In turn, the magistrate takes prisoner one of the farmer's daughters and has her beaten in front of the farmers to demoralize them and get his daughter back. The daughter knowing the importance of her father's mission though, bites her tongue off in order to prevent herself from being used any further against the peasant cause.

Incompetent government? Check. Note that the two things are not quite the same. Towards the end of the film, when the outlaw samurai are fairly easily dispatching the foes sent against them, the 'villains' decide to burn the mill that the samurai are hiding in. If that had been done at the start of the film, the whole thing would've been vastly different.

Nobility: This one is a little trickier. In A Game of Thrones, Ned Stark has been dead since the end of season one. His name is still invoked by people who talk about how much they respected him and what he tried to do and what he stood for. It winds up getting some killed and winds up in part, setting some on a different path. The presence of nobility, or a noble spirit, even when set against another, such as the case of Shiba and the things he forces the magistrate's daughter to see as they really are.

Status Change: One of the things that threads its way through the story, is that the peasants may be poor off, but the Samurai as a caste, are not doing much better. The magistrate, while having his own forces, hires various thugs and prisoners to do his dirty work because the samurai are out of work and hungry. Not hungry for work mind you, but literally hungry. Their era as knights who are well provided for due to their nature of being on the front line, is no longer needed.

Faceless Hordes: One of the things about many Samurai movies, is that there are 'skilled' samurai and then people who pretty much hold a sword and hope that they don't get in a fight. The Three Outlaw Samurai are of course the former but if you were using a game system that didn't say, involve morale, even they would fail to the faceless hordes. Instead, when the Three Outlaws prove their merit, and do it quickly and with style, those who aren't 'professional', such as hired ronin, tend to flee, or breakaway and reform.

Status Unchanged: In Seven Samurai, one of the classics of the genre, even though the heroes have triumphed at the end of the movie, things haven't really changed. The peasants are going to continue to have a hard time of things just without the bandits. The samurai who are dead will get no hero burial. Their legends will not live on. Here, despite the broken promises of the magistrate and despite all those killed, the peasants don't rise up, the world doesn't change. The Three Outlaws survive and go onward to new adventures but the world remains much as it was at the start of the film.

Wandering Ronin: The initial meeting between Shiba and the peasants occurs because Shiba is a wandering ronin. The other two he eventually teams with, are also wandering ronin, even though initially one of them is a retainer for the magistrate. Problem with being a ronin working for a corrupt magistrate is that you've completely expendable.  In many ways, role playing games are built off of the whole concept of wandering adventurer so much so that these adventurers have come to jokingly be called 'murder hobos'.

Three Outlaw Samurai is worthy of being considered a classic of the genre and its many twists and turns can easily be incorporated into most types of role playing games.

IMDb entry found here.

Wiki entry found here.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Parsantium city at the crossroads Richard Green

Parsantium: city at the crossroads is written by +Richard Green for the Pathfinder system. The PDF runs $11.99, the print book, in black and white, runs $19.99, and the combo pack of PDF and print runs for $22.99 The book weighs in at a meaty 178 pages in PDF terms.

The cover boasts an excellent look at the city in the background while in the foreground various inhabitants from different parts of the world look out on the dock ward. In terms of book break down, we then get a blank page, followed by a title page, followed by a credits page, which even lists what is product id and what is closed content.

Much of the book is devoted to the city and its background. All of the art and proper names are closed off and in terms of game mechanics, the book comes up a short which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it.

After the credits, we get a single page table of contents that does an excellent job of breaking down the book into broad chapters. Of more use to those who want pinpoint accuracy on where anything is, after the meat of the book, is an eight page index. It's a fantastic resource if you have the physical copy and does a better job of pointing out where things are then the electronic bookmarks.

The two page introduction does a nice job of bringing the reasons how Parsantium came to be from a homegrown city in a campaign of the author to a full rpg product. It's a nice break down and more information can be found on the Parsantium blog.

The full color map of the city by Johnathan Roberts, maps featured several times on +Fantastic Maps,  is two pages of awesome. I would love to have a larger fold out of the map. Something along the lines of one of the old Waterdeep maps from back in the day. The colors are nice and crisp and show a city divided by it's waterway and an island in the middle of said river. Bad thing? The map is cut in half of course, and part of that is the text and the island in the middle. It's not a huge problem or anything but it is another reason I'd like a separate big ass map.

The city is designed to allow a variety of cultures by having a feel similar to say, Byzantium. It's also an old fantasy city so it has a wide range of races that fit into its borders, outside of the different human ethnicities. We have the following major ethnicities:

Bathuran: Roman/Greek influence.
Sampurans: Heavily influenced by India.
Aqhrani: Heavily influenced by the Middle East and bravely goes with a pantheon of one god.
Tiangaons: Heavily influenced by China including it's own 'Silk Road'

In terms of other cities like it in fantasy games? Maybe the old GURPS book Tredroy, which is available for a laughable $2.99 from Steve Jackson Games Warehouse 23 website. The only bad thing is it's been decades since I've run Tredroy, the City of Three Laws, so there will be no comparison outside of this mention.

Despite its length, the book has some weaknesses. The biggest of these would be lack of art. There are so many different cultures and characters referenced in this weighty text, that illustrations of the various characters, sigils, symbols, and say, house icons, would only benefit the material.

The good news is that the two column layout doesn't suffer from that lack of break up because the author doesn't ram every inch of space with text. There are also no annoying back ground images behind the text. Things that look awesome and premium in print products like some of the Forgotten Realms products look horrific in electronic medium. The author avoids that problem here by keeping it clean and simple with a nice border on the top of the page and chapter identification and page number at the bottom.

The other potential problem is game mechanics. An order of wizards, the Esoteric Order of the Blue Lotus, is noted as being founded so that the magics of all these different cultures can be studied and collated so that knowledge isn't lost. Having so many different opportunities to bring unique magics to the Pathfinder system, which easily supports numerous alternative classes, should have allowed many bits of crunch to shine through.

Nope. Not happening. Most of the 'game' mechanics fall into noting the class and level of the NPCs. For example, among the members of the evil Brotherhood of Spite, Posy is described in game mechanic terms thusly: (CE female gnome rogue 5/assassin 2).

So in a city of multiple cultures with some places designed specifically to catalog those, we get nothing. No prestige classes, no magic items, no spells, no monsters, no templates or other crunchy bits. Heck, I think the deepest crunch we get are the various character backgrounds, which are extremely light on crunch, being more like Kits from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition, where there's a small bonus, often to a specific set of skills, and role playing and background information.

On one hand, that's great for people who have a heavily customized mod of the Pathfinder or d20 system going and want to create their own game mechanics. It's also great for people who don't actually play Pathfinder and instead play say, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition or some other variant or OSR game. While the multi-class bit isn't going to transfer over seamlessly, the lack of game mechanics means more information on the city and its inhabitants is in the material.

The naming conventions are a little off to me. For example, in honor of the old Byzantium history, we have the 'Axe Bearing Guard', a group of elite warriors who protect the emperor. If these guys aren't based directly on the Varangian Guard I'd be shocked. So why not just call them that? Is Varangian so entwined with gaming that people who instantly know them? But not too far after them we have Janissaries, who were another historical fighting force and they're called, yeah, Janissaries. Either fake names for everyone or no one! Nah, it's not that serious, just struck me as odd to go all generic with one and kept that very specific name for the other.

The eleven wards of the city cover a lot of ground. We have not only the standards of the dock ward and poor ward, but also a 'floating' ward and a 'hidden ward' that allow for a bit of variety that can be missing from some cities. The variety of wards allow for clustering of different cultures and ethnicities so you can find things like gnolls and half orcs with no difficult in the city.

In terms of playability, for Game Master's willing to roll up their sleeves, the book has you covered. There are numerous factions in the modern city. The history of the city lends itself to numerous adventurers in and of itself. For example, the city was only recently controlled by hobgoblins. There are ideas for routing growing bands of various humanoids or for retrieving treasures taken from the city during those looting days. This doesn't count the gnolls of centaurs that are raiders either.

The city is built atop numerous old ruins which are built atop numerous old caverns. The ruins are perfect for those who want the standard dungeon crawl.

There are hidden cults and evil gods with deceptions within deceptions. This includes nods to the old favorite, the serpent people if you want to get some of that 'Mythos' flavor up in there.

In terms of the past, many who are exiled are maimed when they are forced out, such as by being blinded. Those who survive and thrive in exile? They might wait a long time before coming to take revenge on the city and do so with some magical peepers after all that time.

Now note, I said Game Master's willing to roll up their sleeves right? While there are all sorts of adventure seeds and ideas strewn about the book, actual gaming material is again, scarce. Some of the material might have been better off being cut to provide a brief adventure or something along those lines to get players immediately into the game. Being that it's a Pathfinder book though, any adventure with maps and game mechanics would eat up a lot of room due to the difference in size between an OSR and a 3.5 stat block.

Having said that, there are numerous random encounters tables and some locations, that would be better with maps, that easily lend themselves out to adventure with a minimum of effort. For example, there are teams of gladiators that fight in a large arena. There are were rats in the sewers. There is a fallen guild of paladins that did not thrive in the city and so raid and attack boats. The adventure seeds are then but will require the Game Master to fully stat out everything if he's using the numerous NPCs from the book.

Those going a 'softer' route and wanting to just grab their Monster Manual still have a lot of options. In terms of low level foes we have the standard goblins, hobgoblins and those can be worked up to gnolls, centaurs and minotaurs. At different spectrums, due to the different grave sites, there are undead and possibly wild summoned creatures from the various spellcasters about. There is also a large body of water that the city utilizes so all manner of creatures can be found within those murky depths.

Parsantium needs some polish. While it has massive potential, the dearth of art and game mechanics make it more of a fixed upper than run straight out of the box. If we ever see a 'deluxe' edition I'd love to see more art, maps and closer illustrations of the city with the locations called out in the various ward descriptions.

For those already running it, what resources are you using for game mechanics? Have you busted out some standards in Pathfinder or switched over to a favorite OSR book? Due to the wealth of political opportunities here, I can easily see this being a solid fit for the Adventurer Conqueror King System but given how many game stats I have for things like gnolls via 4th edition and it's many monster entries for the same monster, I can see myself using that and it's 'quest' awards for XP to make characters rise in level fairly standard while exploring ruins, guarding caravans, and fighting epic rakashas.

For those reading this review, I haven't hit a 'regular' game review in a while. Are there some things you'd like me to hit more in the future if I do more? Hit less? Provide more examples of material from the book? More links to outside material like the Varangian for example?

If you think anyone else would want to read, please +1 and share along the old circles.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Captain Midnight Volume 1: On the Run

Not too long ago, +Dark Horse Comics had the first nine issues of Captain Midnight on sale for $2.99 in digital format. Written by Joshua Williamson and illustrated by Victor Ibanez, Pere Perez and Fernando Dagnino. The first few issues are very self contained and hint at a larger world while not overwhelming new readers.

Now me? I personally knew nothing about Captain Midnight. I was completely unaware of his vast swathes of history which are summed up much better on the Wiki over here than I could hope to do.

The art reminds me of Neal Adams. It's not a comparison I make lightly as Neal is a treasure for the comic book world. Thankfully +Dark Horse Comics does a lot of preview material on their website so you don't have to take my word for it. For example, if you wanted to see some pages from the first issue, go here. The colors are vivid and eye catching being easy to read and view on a computer. Hell, I read mine on my Gateway monitor. They don't even make Gateway monitors anymore!

The Dark Horse take on Captain Midnight is part homage to Captain America and part nod to the old serials. His introduction is straight from the fields of World War 2 and in that aspect, he finds himself a man out of time whose nemesis, I kid you not, Fury Shark, has taken his technology and is corrupting its original purpose and use.

There is a bit of a spy and mystery element to the series as well. Black Sky is introduced as little more than a name and a rumor but turns out to have old ties to Captain Midnight himself.

The first nine issues break off into self contained stories that don't tag much into the larger super hero world that Dark Horse is building. This is a good thing because it keeps things nice and simple for new readers.

The run is a bit rough for me though. Captain Midnight fits too well into the new world. It's like he's so far ahead of his own time that his acclimation to modern times is near instant. The problem though turns out in how that's portrayed. For example, when discussing the internet, he 'doesn't trust it' and instead relies on newsprint. Eh? That's not man out of time, that's just an old person.

The authors had some real opportunity to take a man out of time, his clothing, his outlook on race relations, his outlook on the opposite sex, pollution, environmentalist issues, and hell, even the borders of the world compared to WWII, heck, the  various results of WWII and run with it.

Instead we get a person whose dedication to good and justice is only slightly flawed through his unwillignness to 'follow orders' such as when he's initially introduced to modern times and he MUST go out and see the modern world.

On one hand, I'll admit that I'm tired of seeing 'heroes with mud' on their feet so to speak. Not every take on a character has to involve them being some homophobic, woman hating racist. On the other hand, it's such a wash that it leaves Captain Midnight very little to distinguish himself from other heroes. It's a problem that even DC has faced with many of its own characters who were often too powerful for their own good.

The good news is that the action is fast and furious. In a matter of nine issues Captain Midnight battles numerous foes, including Skyman, an inheritor of the Captain's own technology. Apparently there is a new Skyman who has his own comic but I haven't delved into that character yet. The battle though, between Captain Midnight and Skyman, is reminiscent of Captain America, the 'original', fighting against the 50's Captain America whose outlook and attitudes did not translated well to the modern world. It's a good scene and isn't afraid to blow things up real nice.

Another benefit for potential future stories involving Captain Midnight, outside of any 'dream' or alternative reality takes of Captain Midnight meeting some of Mike Magnolia's World War II creations, is that because he is an established character from that time, there are all sorts of 'flashbacks' that the company can use to introduce all sorts of crazy stuff to the story.

The first volume of Captain Midnight is available from Dark Horse comics at the link earlier here, as well as for $11.32 in paperback format. Note that Dark Horse has also published a lot of the older material in various omnibus editions in hardcover so collectors of the older material can hunt down Volume 1: Battles the Nazis, for $34.10 or Volume 2: Captain Midnight Saves the World for $38.99.

For those who follow comics closer, any readers of Captain Midnight? Any other favorites out there that stand out among the crowd? For me, if it's an inexpensive trip, like this collection initially was when I purchased it, I've got no problem plunking down the funds for it.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Pavia 1525: The Climax of the Italian Wars (Campaign)

So after watching the Borgias and the Borgia series on Netflix, I was still in the mood for more information on the various issues in Italy. Well, the area around which the series took place as Italy as a unified state didn't exist at that time and the whole area was rife with warfare from French and Spanish, as well as numerous Italian, French, and German mercenaries.

Pavia 1525, The Climax of the Italian Wars, is written by Angus Konstam, and outside of the numerous illustrations from historical sources, utilizes the modern day talents of Graham Turner to bring to life the battles in the Italian Wars the cumulated at Pavia in 1525. Note that the cover I used here is not the latest one, but rather, the cover of the edition I personally own that at its time of publishing, ran for $19.99, but not runs for $21.95.

There are a number of interesting factors at work when looking at history.

Never Ending War: When looking at the Italian Wars, such as over on the Wiki,, you'll see that there are various 'wars'. LIke the Italian War of 1521-1526. The sack of Rome happens in 1527. War is a part of the landscape.

Names: I sometimes laugh at some of the names I see in fantasy novels, my own characters, friend's characters or other media. Historically though, such names like 'the Bastard of Savoy' or Saint-Severin (Master of the King's Horse) among others, such as Bande nere, the Black Band mercenary group.

Weather: One of the things that happen with canons and hand canons, is that they are vulnerable for a wide range of weaknesses. For example, once the canons are in place, they don't move. Mobility is not a key factor. Another thing is fog. If you can't see the enemy, you can't shoot the enemy. Another problem is rain. Wet guns and wet gunpowder do not make for good weapons.

Reversals: The French lose the battle at Pavia. The Imperials though, don't have time to take advantage of it due to the quick thinking of the mother of the French King.

Mercenaires: The Italians were known for their mercenaries. The Germans, such as the Landsknechts, and the Swiss, are all employed here. The payment, or lack of payment for these forces, provide fooder in and of itself for how things could work.

Large Campaigns, Small Campaigns: Despite the book being titles Pavia, it covers many of the other events that happened, such as 'The Storming of Mirabello", where the Imperialist troops attacked the French at the hunting lodge. This hunting lodge is described as a small castle with its own drawbridge. This would be a perfect fortification to hold back a larger group. For example, a group of players fighting against larger numbers to slow them down. Another example is when a group of French soldiers fight a group of Spanish infantry outside the small town of Binasco.

Pavia is an interesting look at a small slice of a terrible time in history and has enough odd bits between its pages to provide readers with many bits for their own games.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Shadow Chaser: The Chronicles of Siala by Alexey Pehov

I bought this book about a month ago in paperback for $3.40 from Amazon after reading the first book in the series, Shadow Prowler. It's not that the first book blew me away with its awesomeness or anything but with Amazon Prime I don't pay s&h and it gets here quick so why not.


I don't know if it's the translator or just the short clipped names but I had a hard time "getting into" the book. With the main character Shadow Harold, I can see it being a 'jab' at fantasy names by going with something more normal, but there are a lot of characters with three letter names like Eel, and Ell which make keeping track of some of them difficult. Others have names like For which is a pretty commonly used word in and of itself.

The mythology of the world has a nice difference in that elves are second cousins if you will to Orcs who are the oldest race in the setting. The author also uses dreams to provide the reader with more information.

The characters are also very 'player character' like in that for the most part, they don't come across as stupid but rather competent and use all their advantages when possible.

The author also doesn't have a problem killing characters or throwing them into terrible situations. Alexey Pehov does a good job in providing the characters additional hardships, like losing their special key that is required to get into the Ogre's grave, to which they must take it back.

In terms of gaming, there are a few things that resound here that hail from historic times as well as in popular culture about those times.

The Judgment of Sagra: In the Game of Thrones series, on at least two separate occasions, the 'truth' of a matter or charge is determined not through a court of laws, but rather through trial by combat. In the Chronicles of Siala, the Judgement of Sagra is that trial by combat. When accusing a group, the lot draws straws to determine who will fight the accuser. An interesting way to handle it. The other thing is that only 'knights' or nobility or warriors if you will, can draw lots because it is a warrior's code.

Destroyed Villages: One of the terrible things most published settings do is fail to show how dark and dangerous their settings are. Often there are very powerful creatures that just happen to wait for the players to show up and stop them from doing bad things. Here, as the companions are in the Borderlands, one of the villages they come across has been destroyed by an advanced scouting party of orcs. If you put towns and forts in areas where they should be sacked and raided, have them sacked and raided when the players aren't around. It provides the setting more feeling of movement, that things are happening when the characters aren't around.

Alexey Pehov's website can be found here for further information and details about the Chronicles of Siala which appears to already have two more books ready for reading. As my own library has continued to grow after buying this book, unless I spot them on sale, I'll probably hold off for now and work on some of my other material.

For those who've read his other books, any particular one you'd care to mention? Any other particular Russian authors that stand out and are easily available in English?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Amazon's Kindle books does another up to 85% off

Touchstone (Glass Thorns) by Melanie Rawn : I don't remember too much of Melanie Rawn but recognized the name. Solid cover.

Spider Man: Spider Island: Ah, more work from Dan Slott. Good stuff and a decent collection for $3.99.

The Death of Captain America, Vol. 1: The Death of the Dream  This was a fantastic arc. I have it and the other parts in the big ass omnibus edition. $3.99

Captain America Reborn: This is part of the same series by Ed Brubaker. Again, I have the omnibus collection. A solid part of the Marvel comic setting.

Anyone have any recommendations based on what else is out there? There were a few Thor collections but the reviews were... unkind to say the least.

Outside of reading comics, Shazam Volume One, which was on sale, was very good. A nice change with a lot of nods to the old comics. There are still others I'm catching up on including some Avatar the Last Airbender from Dark Horse that was on sale last weekend.

I've also been reading Parsantium, a Pathfinder based RPG. It's got a nice simple layout and is a beefy size and reads well. Needs a lot more art though.

What's everyone else up to?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Game of Thrones: The Wall & The Night Watch

I believe there is an old saying that goes "Late to the Party" or something along those lines. When it comes to watching the series based on the George R. R. Martin books, Game of Thrones, I'm well behind. I just finished watching season two of Game of Thrones and while normally I'd babble on about this or that, I just wanted to touch on a moment on 'The Wall.'

History and role playing games in particular touch on the symbolic if not actual importance of fantastic monuments designed to keep enemies out, to act as fortifications, and as a symbol of power. One of history's most famous is probably the Great Wall of China but there are others like Hadrian's Wall for example. Heck, even the comedy South Park got to make fun of the whole Wall bit with their own wall keeping out the Mongol hordes.

In terms of Game of Thrones though, George R. R. Martain may have taken inspiration form the later, but his own creation, The Wall has its own bits.

Green Ronin, and others before them, have already done role playing games based on the series, which includes a free quick start rule set found here. Strangely enough, Amazon seems to show that everything is sold out and only available from second hand sellers.

I just wanted to point out how handy something like the Wall would be in a role playing game with a low powered set of rules like 1st or 2nd Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, especially if emulating low magic settings.

1. Character Origin Points: The characters can come from a wide variety of backgrounds. The Wall includes murderers, sons that are bastards, and a wide variety of other types that essentially go into exile. In a game system where characters are killed frequently, its great to have a quick way and reason why characters can come and go into the game.

2. The Wall is Not Independent. While the Wall has a singular purity of purpose, it has to interact with the whole of the setting. It is not nearly as self sufficient as it needs to be. They need supplies, they need men, they need information. All of these things require them interact with the world.

3. The Wall is Not The End: There are whole swathes of land to the North of the Wall and to those who live there, all those South of the wall are Southerners. This isolation allows a lot of variety to be thrown into what should normally be a barren and isolated wasteland.  Depending on how far characters search in those areas, there are all manner of ruins to explore and clear out and all manner of 'Wildlings' to encounter, some which may be friendly and some foes.

4. Uniformity: Depending on which run of say, X-Men you've read, there was a point where the X-Men decided to ditch the costumes and go with almost uniforms. In the Night Watch, they all have similar clothes, supplies and teachings. Everything however, is not so ingrained that there is no room for individual styles or options. For example, Rob uses a sword. Others uses axes. Most can use a bow, but not necessarily all are skilled with them.

In terms of art, there's a nice job over here:

I'm looking forward to watching season three and seeing the dreaded 'Red Wedding'. Yeah, I read up to book four I think and then, like I did with the Wheel of Time, stopped. I'm waiting till George R. R. Martin finishes the series so I suspect by season five or so of the HBO series, which I hear they hope to get eight seasons out of, that I'll start to be surprised.

I myself haven't played in Westros but seeing the shows and the great character work, especially on the imp, does inspire me. Anyone else picked up the RPGs based on watching the show or are you just using Fate or whatever other RPG you've got lying around to do it?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Clone Wars: Season Six on Netflix

One of the interesting things about Netflix, is that it has evolved and continues to evolve as time goes on. Their streaming is so intensive that Comcast, and I'm sure others, have gone directly after them. Their use of original media, like House of Cards, has also taken a little twist in that they premiered Clone Wars season six. Imagine a time when say a company like Showtime decides, "This Borgias isn't cutting it" and Netflix steps in and completes the series? That would be awesome.

In terms of the Clone Wars, I've always found Star Wars a mixed bag for a variety of reasons. I really, and I mean really, have to turn my brain off. The powers of the Jedi, as well as just their general perceptions of whats going on, are so poorly done, that in one scene they'll be smashing through dozens of droids and in the next getting stomped by some lone character for 'pacing' and 'story' purposes.

The Clone Wars also doesn't end with closure on all subjects or all maters. Some of the delves are interesting in "Oh, so that's how he learned that" but pointless in that I don't recall people screaming to learn every nook and cranny in the setting.

Overall I think that the Clone Wars is well done. It shows that should they ever choose, they could do a series in the Star Wars setting without Jedi and do it quite well. As a matter of fact, I believe that there is a new series already on the horizons.

For role playing purposes, there are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Consistency: Player's are not writers forced to pull their punches and not act in a consistent manner at all times. Players are not going to suddenly forget that they have access to abilities A, B, and C just because it would be 'cool' if Y happened at that particular time. Know the difference between what your characters have been shown to do when planning traps and hired encounters against them.

2. Closure: Sometimes there may be a player who does a great job with a character but then real life gets in the way and they have to leave. In the Clone Wars, Ahsoka Tano may have come into the series a little annoyingly but she left it on a high point and we have very little closure as to what actually happens to her during say, "Order 66".

3. Villains React: One of the things I've commonly seen blasted about Star Wars, is that the Emperor was just too clever. That he had too many controls in place. If you watch the show, the Emperor is a great villain because he has agents that can react to things as they happen. For example, when it's discovered that "Order 66" may be found out ahead of time? Oh yeah, the Emperor is all over that with multiple agents from different sides covering the issue. If your villains are just sitting around waiting for the characters to show up, they deserve to have their asses kicked. 

4. Unique to Common: Many genres and media share this particular bit. A new enemy appears, like say a Sentinel. At first it's such a vicious foe that it takes multiple times to beat it, or it takes a wide spread group effort that costs tremendous resources. Soon though the characters are taking on five or ten or more of them at a time. We see that with the 'Commando' droids, 'Destroyer' droids and the other leadership style droids that initially seem to be unstoppable and then come up short every time they're encountered after that. Combat changes and when something doesn't work, it will be augmented or changed. How many 'Marks' or generations of Sentinels are we up to now?

While I think Clone Wars could've been better, I think it did a fantastic job of providing a look into the Star Wars setting and look forward to seeing what else they can do.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Amazon and Dark Horse Comic Sales

Those who've read my blog here know that I enjoy comic books. Due to physical limitations in terms of housing though, a lot of comics I buy these days are in digital format.

Today only I believe, Amazon has several graphic novels on sale to get you into the DC New 52 series for a low price. Good stuff if you enjoy comics or wanted to see what was 'new' at the time.

Green Lantern: Jokes on you sucker! Remember how I said 'New 52'? Turns out that DC has some intelligence and didn't reset everything. Green Lantern and Batman got to essentially keep going with what they were doing to begin with. Still, this collection of the first arc is by Geoff Johns whose well known and opinions of him are easy to find.

Wonder Woman vol 1: Blood: Everyone is taken by how awesome her new origin is. I think she's now the daughter of Zeus or something. For me that's more blah than her old origin. Her old origin was used a few times in interesting ways. Having super powers because you're the scion of some one? M'eh. It's worked for Thor for hundreds of issues so clearly there can be validity to the process.

Aquaman Vol 1: The Tench. Okay, I know, "He talks to fish!". It's still funny to me. Aquaman can be more than that and often is, but between him and Submariner, overall Subby wins. The later is a often a colossal bastard whose ego gets him into all sorts of trouble. Aquaman is the guy whose son died and is otherwise a nice guy. Except when they make him 90's vicious. There was a brief sword and sorcery run but I think they pretty much nuked that into oblivion. Aquaman as he's done would probably be a better fit in his own setting as opposed to the DC one. It's all like, "Yeah, but Superman!" Poor bastard.

Justice League vol 1: Origin. I already own this one. Fantastic art by Jim Lee but really feeling the crapitude of 'The New 52'. Other people love it so take my opinion here with a grain of salt.

Justice League Dark vol 1: In the Dark. Okay, I got nothing here. I bought it for $2.99 because hell, I'll try most things for an introductory price but really? Did DC see Marvel absolutely stomping them with dozens of Avengers and X-Men titles and was like, "Hey, Justice League rolls off the tongue right? Right?"

Shazam Vol 1. I feel bad for DC here. It's like they can never do this character justice. He's had some great stories like one of the retellings of his first meeting with Superman, or his time with the Justice Society of America, but when you have Superman, and your ownership of Shazam came about directly because you claimed he was a copy of Superman, what's left for Shazam do to? Still, for $2.99 I wanted to see what Geoff Johns did with him. Man, is that guy on everything these days?

Superman: Action Comics Vol 1. Superman and the Men of Steel. Grant Morrison tackles Superman and his 'new' origin or at least his new stylings. It was a nice change of pace even though, like Spider Man, it nullified his marriage to Lois Lane. Still, it, like Spider Man's annulment, has lead to some interesting stories and they start here.

Green Arrow Vol 1. The Midas Touch. Haven't read it yet, but for $2.99 I'm there. With the popularity of the television show Arrow, I'm surprised that DC hasn't been pushing this character more.

But not all comics hail from DC comics! In terms of Dark Horse, every now and again they put their Star Wars comics on 'blow out' prices. I'm a little worried about it but I believe there has been mention that while they will stop selling them, you will be able to access them.

Darth Vader XL Bundle: A ton of comics featuring Darth Vader aka Anakin Skywalker for $24.95.

Captain Midnight Bundle: 255 pages of pulp science brought into modern day times? For $2.99, I bought it and will check it out. That's a hard deal to pass up for a comic fan. Individual issues have previews of the material, so for example, if you go here: , you'll see the preview avialable for that issue and can use those previews to decide if it's worth the $2.99.

Keep those sales coming you magnificent bastards! Memory is cheap these days and I can always download more!

For those who've already read this comics, any particular favorites? Any that you'd look at this list and warn people away from?

As usual, if you know anyone that would benefit from the sale here, +1 and share it among the peeps. Save the comic fans a few $$$$.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Heroes of the Jade Oath (Pathfinder version) arrives!

I mentioned ordering Heroes of the Jade Oath for Pathfinder the other day from +DriveThruRPG  by +Andrew Betts Rite Publishing. I immediately received the PDF, which while I've downloaded, I haven't done more than page through.

Today the physical hardcopy has arrived. That's some damn fast service. Faster than I get from some normal game stores.

Physical copy has non-glossy pages. Construction seems pretty solid. Cover is nice with that great art by Wayne Reynolds.

Heroes of the Jade Oath is still on sale for 30% off on both the physical copy, which gets you the PDF, and just the PDF copy.

Hopefully I'll have time to do more than just keep it on the shelf.

Has anyone been using it in their campaign? Are there any huge differences between this and the Arcana Evolved version? I picked it up to mine for ideas. While I enjoy the core of Dungeons and Dragons, and Pathfinder, I also enjoy seeing alternative takes on things.

If you have any stores, resource links, or other cool bits for Heroes of the Jade Oath, lay 'em on me.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Borgia: Further Random Ramblings

I'll be hitting a few more points from the non-Showtime series, Borgia below. Anyone who doesn't want any spoilers should read no further.

One of the things I failed to mention about the Borgia series, the non-Showtime one, is that the motivation for Lucrezia to murder Juan, or at least to murder him at that time, is that Juan wants to redeem himself. He wants to confess his sins. He wants to live a virtuous life.

This means he'd get into Heaven.

So Lucrezia kills him to prevent that from happening. Her hatred of her brother is so great, that she cannot abide the thought of him going to Heaven. Her motivation is there, but the timing is directly influenced by religious belief.

It resounded in my mind an echo of the version of Hamlet with Mel Gibson as well as the play itself mind you. Here Hamlet comes across the king who has begged the Lord for forgiveness so if Hamlet does kill him at that junction, the king would go to heaven.

The hatred that Hamlet and Lucrezia share, to prevent the soul from going to a 'just' reward in the afterlife, is played out in both instances here.

In role playing games, what religious motivations can be arranged to do something similar for characters and their enemies?

In fantasy settings that have saints or gods or war, would fleeing from overwhelming victory be enough to damn a soul? What if the individual suffered from a magical compulsion that forced them to flee?

What if the damnation of the soul is of secondary importance but the appearance of the damnation is what's important?

For example, during the siege of a city, a war leader priest might call for a retreat when the city is going to fall and a high marshal or otherwise highly placed and respected knight prepares to lead the retreat but his assassination is arranged so that it looks like he was killed fleeing from the combat. This can be a devastating blow to the morale of the people he was supposed to be leading.

Such a thing might call on the players to investigate what actually happened. Was the weapon used to kill the knight one that the enemy uses? Did the knight suffer any other wounds? Is there a 'signature' mark like Zorro or other skilled opponents leave on their foes? Has the body been moved?

That's the first plot point that has a lot of potential implications for the game master and those players who pick clerics as their characters.

The second is specific missions.

Cesare's rise to power starts with a limited force of soldiers. So few in fact, that he has no desire to spend any of their lives when he doesn't have to.

In one instance, he's able to assure the people of the town that if they resist, the destruction he rains on them will be hoffic and on the other hand, he assures them that taxes and other fees will be lessened under him. They surrender.

He tries this on another town, but Caterina, 'Il Tiger', has captured the man's son so he cannot surrender without his son paying for it.

Cesare sees this as a perfect opportunity and infiltrates the castle holding the child, kills the child's captors, and makes the get away with the child and a bonus prisoner.

He does this alone, but in a role playing game, something like this might be accomplished by a few special characters, like the player's characters.

By having specific missions that can have tremendous impact on the game, the Dungeon Master allows the players the opportunity to directly influence the game. By having the players rescue an important son, or daughter, it gives the players a 'touch' with someone whose powerful or influential directly and gives that powerful person, a reason to respect the abilities of the players and to have a personal tie to the players.

Borgia: Rules of War, Rules of Love, provides a lot of ideas and visual inspiration for those who want to take their campaigns out of the dungeon.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Amazon Sales: Kindle, blu-Ray and other goods

For March, I'll didn't run through the kindle sales list of $3.99 or less because nothing there looked appealing to me.

Today though, for their Gold Box deal of the day, Amazon decided that they would like a little (or a lot) of my money. Some great deals on the various kindle format books. 

Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales [Kindle Edition]: $1.99. I've read a few of Ray's stories in my 42 years and this is almost a thousand pages of goodness. 

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: The Chronicles of Narnia [Kindle Edition] another classic. I'll be Honest, I haven't read this in about 20-25 years but it's the start of one of the oldest fantasy series out there and it's been made into Television and movies so if you want to get an inexpensive start to the series, here's the first one for $1.99.

American Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition: A Novel [Kindle Edition] Sometimes you want something a little more modern and Neil Gaiman doesn't disappoint. If you want to see what gods would be created like in the modern world and have something different to enjoy, Neil's book is on sale for $1.99.

Coraline 10th Anniversary Edition [Kindle Edition], another book by Neil Gaiman and well, 10th anniversary shows it has some staying power and also has a movie based on it. Also for $1.99.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance [Kindle Edition] by Robert Pirsig is one I'm throwing up here not because it's fantasy or science fiction but because it's one of those books I read in college and thought it a very intense story and one worth reading again. For $1.99 it's an inexpensive volume. 

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. Here's I'm asking for opinions. Anyone read this? It looks more up my mom's alley but I think she read it when it first came out. For $1.99 though I wouldn't mind rebuying it, especially as it doesn't take up much shelf space.

There are a few other books that look to be good based on what I've heard of them. Anyone have any particular recommendations on them?

In other items though, it's Joss Whedon week.  The funny thing is, most people probably interested in the stuff on sale here, yeah, they probably already have it because he tends to build up a large fanbase.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Series on dvd, not bluray, for $63.99. Hate to say it but never really a big fan personally. In most situations, the genre itself isn't my thing although there are some gems in the series. 

Firefly: The Complete Series ah, now we're talking. The dvd is $12.99 and the bluray $18.49. 

Angel: The Complete Series another one I'm going to confess to never being a fan of. Heck, I haven't even seen any of these to tell you if there are any 'gems' within it's borders. Has a lot of fans though and it's been at a few comic book companies so there has to be some appeal eh? $56.99 for the whole thing. 

Sopranos: $139.99. I'm so out of touch, I don't know if that's a good price or not. A family based crime drama where, like many of the better series, it's all about the characters. Well worth checking out for those who never have. 

Well, I think that's enough spam for this morning. Anyone have any particular favorites? I saw that they had the Dollhouse on sale as well but to be honest, have no clue about the whole series. I've heard it referred to as a snore fest for example.

If you know anyone who might enjoy any of those sales, +1 and share it on.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Late Kickstarters

Presented without any comment. I'm sure I'm missing one or two. If there's a yellow mark, that means that some stuff has been delivered. I suppose I should mark a few more of them that way but laziness and all.

Project Name Due Date Date Late Days Late Months
Tectonic Craft Studios 6/1/2012 3/8/2014 -645 -22
Dwimmermount 8/1/2012 3/8/2014 -584 -19
Steampunk Musha 10/1/2012 3/8/2014 -523 -17
Imbrian Arts Miniatures 3/1/2013 3/8/2014 -372 -12
Assimilation Alien Host 5/1/2013 3/8/2014 -311 -10
Relic Knights 5/1/2013 3/8/2014 -311 -10
Cthulhu Mythos Foundy Style 7/1/2013 3/8/2014 -250 -8
Drake The Dragon Wargame 7/1/2013 3/8/2014 -250 -8
Fractured Dimensions 8/1/2013 3/8/2014 -219 -7
Tablescapes 10/1/2013 3/8/2014 -158 -5
Domains At War 10/1/2013 3/8/2014 -158 -5
Dungeon Crawler 11/1/2013 3/8/2014 -127 -4
Kingdom Death 11/1/2013 3/8/2014 -127 -4

Borgia: Faith and Fear

After watching the Showtime series, Borgias, Netflix decided, hey, you know, since you enjoyed that, you'll probably enjoy . I was like what is this? Another series on the infamous Italian family? And yup, it is.

Commonly referred to as Borgia, Faith and Fear for the subtitle of the first season, this is another show that looks at the infamous family of fifteenth century Italy. There are currently two seasons on Netflix, each season being twelve episodes long with a third one coming soon.

I'd try to do a breakdown on the differences between the two but to be honest, I think this guy over here does a fantastic job: , a specific post on a blog that has a lot of other cool stuff over here:

In short, the Faith and Fear series starts earlier in the time frame, it goes into more detail and dove tails more events, it has more character growth and more vile things happening not just to the 'villains' or opposition of the period, but to the heroes as well. Cesare here is far more confused, far more looking for himself, then he ever was in the Showtime version. The Pope here is far more flawed , far more flawed, far more seeking of redemption at times, then Jeremy Irons.

Both are enjoyable but I'll be honest, I'm looking forward to the next season of Borgia: Faith and Fear hitting Netflix.

Below I'll be discussing some potential bits that would be useful for various role playing games:

1. Life: Often players need to eliminate a threat. They need to find a way to remove an obstacle. But what if, what if they need to keep something alive instead. When Faith and Fear starts, the old pope is dying but that Pope's bastard son has changed the will. Some are not pleased with this so special doctors and medicines are brought in to prolong the Pope's life and have the problems of that changed will undone. Changing the nature of what it means to succeed can provide different challenges for the players. In a fantasy game like Dungeons and Dragons, this can be a relatively simple thing if the players are high enough level with spells like Cure Disease and Remove Curse so keep those elements in mind when designing the issues.

2. Shifting Alliances: The Pope has many enemies. There are even some who seek to have him removed through military means. When these methods fail though, they don't necessarily 'come around', as they are always still in opposition, but they recognize the political landscape for what it is and work within it. This is perhaps even more dangerous for the Pope in that the old saying, "Keep your enemies closer" means that well, your enemies are closer.

3. Politics: Lucretzia's wedding is prevented from being consummated by the Pope. This allows the pope the easy annulment of the wedding if he decides that he can marry his daughter off to a better match. This political gambit is easier to believe than tales of impotency that were used as grounds in the Showtime although turns out that happens here as well.

4. The French Disease: Syphilis! There are historical debates about the so called French Disease. Apparently there are those who think it  came from North America and those who think it was present all the time in Europe. As player characters in advance science fiction settings, and high fantasy settings tend to wander all over creation, to different planets, different times, different planes, the players may carry disease with them when they return. Or when interacting with people who have been to those places, may encounter the disease first.

5. Historical Uncertainty: In both series, Juan dies. Both have the deed happen differently. When looking at things that happened in the past, keep your options open. Unless the players specifically need to know exactly what happened and have the means to do so, such as with time travel or viewing it directly with magic or technology, having the past events be more fluid allows you to change or customize things later on. The end result doesn't change though, but the viewing of it, the happening of it, do.

6. Public Executions: So you've committed a crime. No big deal right? No so quick here. One man is put on the wheel and his bones and body broken with a hammer. Others are spread eagled upside down and sawed in half. Others hung and burned. Public execution is a  common thing here and its for the masses. Its the public entertainment of the day and the warning of what happens to those who cross the people in power.

7. The Papal States: Too often history, indeed, most subject matter, tries to simplify things to make them easier to digest, to give the reader/viewer/observer some method of starting to gather information about the subject in question. For example, when thinking of Italy, do you think of it as a single country or do you break it up into the various factions and city states? Within those city states, do you further break those down into cities with individual governors and fortifications that provide security to those around them? The Papal States are an excellent example of a miniature country within Italy surrounded by various City States and stronger countries, like France that allow the information to flow out in parcel form. Here is independent city state, here is unrepentant Il Tiger, etc... When setting up the locations in your campaign world, while the whole of it might not need to be presented to the players in one bite, having the ability to expand beyond the starting point is important.

8. Random Death: People die all the time and sometimes die of the weirdest things. For example, imagine being a captain of the guard and having a lightning bolt strike a cross atop a building that causes the cross to fall down and crush you. Imagine eating some bad fish at dinner and falling dead not long after that.  Without access to modern medicine, or it's magical equal, death can occur from any number of things ranging from small cuts that lead to infection, to STDs that without cure, grow progressively worse and worse.

9. Action and Reaction: In the later part of the series, as Cesare is walking through Rome, he encounters a blind man. The man relates that he was blinded in a brawl by a great warrior. Cesare asks if the blind man hates that warrior, who it turns out was Cesare himself, and the man replies that no, it was his own act of aggression that lead to him being blinded. When characters take action, there will be reactions to those. Some of those will be in support, some indifferent, some in direct opposition. When you know who the players are, the actions of the characters become easier to see how they ripple and effect others.

10. Introductions: Long before we see Caterina Sforza, the fierce warrior woman, various characters mention her prowess. This feats of impressive ability from third party allow the viewer to get an idea of the nature of Caterina. This is similar to how various shows or novels or comics will bring in a new villain and the first thing they have that villain do is demonstrate how powerful they are by destroying someone else. Having the players learn about some new menace through word of mouth is an effective way of providing information and allows the Game Master to put false information and rumor out as well as actual information and detail out.

Borgia: Faith and Fear, brings a lot to the table that the Showtime series didn't get to and I'm looking forward to the third season when it hits Netflix.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Sales: GM Day Sales and Other Goodies:

The internet has created a holiday for Game Masters. This is a good thing because there are way too many anti-perks from running games ranging from the prep time to juggling the different priorities of the game. Its good to see some good things heading that way.

And Amazon has some stuff on sale that might be useful for role playing and board gamers.

So some links will be thrown about!

Shadow Chaser: I'm still reading Shadow Chaser. It's the second book in the series. It's 'okay' and could be better. I'm not sure if it's the result of the translation or if it's just m'eh writing. But it's $3.20 which is why I bought it in the first place eh? I'll have a review of it sooner or later.

Wizards of The Coast Legend of Drizzt: A Dungeons and Dragons Board Game: A little over $35 bones right now and 45% off. I snagged it because I'm a sucker for fancy board games. Mind you I'll probably just put it into the old storage unit but who knows, perhaps for the price I'll sell it at a later date.

Red Dragon Inn: A fun board game and it's under $18. It's a 55% off sale. Spread the word! I myself have all three of them and need to do a review one day.

Red Dragon Inn 3: I don't know why 3 is on sale and 2 isn't but again, a massive sale. Less than $17.

Ultimate Psionics: The Drivethru sale has this huge book for $13.99. Yeah, I bought that. I'd say I'll review it 'soon' but my actual gaming is minimal and I hate reading PDF's of this HUGE size on my tablet. Perhaps when I get a new one I'll read it more than just a glimpse here or there.

Heroes of the Jade Oath: Drivethru has the PDF and the hardcover on sale. Ordered the hardcover and received the PDF instantly. Now that's service. Another one that's not quite suited for long term reading but love that Wayne Reynolds cover.

Those are the ones I've personally bought. There are some others I'm looking at like the Red Tide and some of the source material from other publishers but for now, that'll do.

Anyone else pick up anything? Anyone else have any recommendations?