Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Star Wars coming in 3D

Seems that George Lucas doesn't have enough of my money. Now he is going to be re-releasing all 6 Star Wars films in 3D. Here is the release schedule:
  • The Phantom Menace (2012)
  • Attack of the Clones (2013)
  • Revenge of the Sith (2014)
  • Star Wars (2015) - I refuse to call it "A New Hope" and Han better shoot first this time!
  • The Empire Strikes Back (2016)
  • Return of the Jedi (2017)
So I'm going to have to wait six years to see the asteroid field chase scene in 3D. I have a feeling it will be worth the wait. The rest... I'm not sure what 3D is going to do for The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones, but there are probably a couple of scenes in each of the other films that will be better off for it; the Battle of Coruscant, the Death Star trench run, the asteroid field chase, going into the superstructure of the Death Star...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tolkein and D&D

It's well-known that Gygax publicly downplayed the influence of the works on JRR Tolkein on the (A)D&D game. His stated stance was, to paraphrase, "the fans expected hobbits because of the popularity of The Lord of the Rings, so we included them, but I wasn't a fan and the impact of the books on the game was minimal."

As I've been going through the minutiae of the AD&D game as I am working on the manuscript for Adventures Dark and Deep™, however, I am noticing quite a few more subtle (and not-so-subtle) influences from Professor Tolkein's works on the game. I am becoming ever-more convinced that Gygax's attitude was influenced by the lawsuit from the estate of Prof. Tolkein that famously forced TSR to change hobbits to halflings and ents to treants, and may well have been an effort to avoid another. However, the concept of half-elves seems derived from Elrond.

The whole idea of the ranger class, for example, is taken whole cloth from Aragorn and the other rangers. Details such as their propensity to operate alone or in small groups, as well as their abilities with tracking (as we see when Aragorn is trying to figure out what happened to Merry and Pippin), make this plain.And at 10th level they gain the ability to use scrying devices... like crystal balls (palantirs). Seems a random ability, if not for the Tolkein connection.

However, we also have the cloak of elvenkind; an obvious nod to the cloaks that the Fellowship are given by the elves. Too, we have the crystal hypnosis ball, that gradually brings the user under the thrall of some off-stage evil force; clearly a reference to the palantirs as used by Saruman and Denethor. The retributive strike of both the staff of the magi and the staff of power seems inspired by Gandalf's battle with the Balrog. (Speaking of which, the Type VI Demon is clearly more than inspired by that most lethal of the denizens of Moria, right down to the flaming whip.) The ability of giants to hurl boulders is not, to my knowledge, found in any source prior to The Hobbit, where the thunder of the storm that forces Bilbo and company to seek shelter in the cave in the Misty Mountains is compared to the sound of the giants in the mountains hurling boulders to amuse one another.

The drums of panic may well be a reference to the drums sounded by the orcs of Moria... "the drums in the deeps." Could the ring of elemental command have been inspired by the rings of the elvish kings, which were attuned each to a different element? (Agreed, 3 in Tolkein and 4 in Gygax, following the classical Greek assignation of the elements.) It's certainly possible. The rope of climbing bears an uncanny resemblance to the elvish rope that Frodo and Sam use to penetrate the outer barriers of Mordor. I am sure there are many other examples that could be cited.

I don't say that (A)D&D was entirely inspired by Tolkein, but I am pretty sure that the influence of Tolkein on the design of the game was much greater than Gygax let on.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Matinee: Hawk the Slayer (1980)

Right at the crest of the popularity of Dungeons and Dragons there was a minor wave of swords-and-sorcery films that were, more or less, blatant attempts to cash in on the trend. 1980's Hawk the Slayer was, in my opinion, one of the better efforts.

Unlike some of the other films in my Sunday Matinee series, this one doesn't offer much of anything in the way of social commentary. Or, for that matter, fine acting or special effects. But when it hit Cinemax, this fourteen year old was entranced, and watched it literally hundreds of times. It was, almost literally, a D&D game brought to life.

The evil Voltan (played by Jack Palance; just imagine Jack Palance deliberately trying to over-act, and you'll have an inkling of what he's like in this film) has kidnapped an abbess, and is demanding a ransom from the church for her return. The church cannot, by policy, pay the ransom, but suggests that the warrior Hawk, who has been an agent of good in the past, may be able to assist. Hawk re-assembles his band of adventurers with the help of a witch (whom he has saved from being burned at the stake); we have the dwarf, the giant, the elf, and the one-handed crossbowman who was sent to fetch the hero in the first place. Each has a short scene that sets the stage for who he is, and really works for giving a background to the characters.

Seeking the money to pay the ransom, the heroes attack Sped, a slaver on the River Shale (and a thoroughly disgusting character that nobody is sorry to see get his head staved in). Voltan's son, Drogo, learns that they have the ransom money and attempts to get it for himself, but is slain in the process, sending Voltan into a fit of rage. The party heroes are betrayed by one of the nuns, seeking to win the return of the abbess by letting Voltan into the strongly-defended abbey. We are treated to a flashback of backstory, wherein Voltan and Hawk are revealed to be brothers, with the evil Voltan killing the bride-to-be of the saintly Hawk. Eventually, Voltan slays the dwarf, Hawk slays Voltan, and all is set right with the world.

This film defines the B-movie of the 1980's. The soundtrack is cool, but repetitive. The special effects are unbelievably cheesy (we are treated to a barrage of luminescent ping-pong balls as a magic spell at one point), and half of the effects budget must have been spent on fog machine rental. Jack Palance is, well, Jack Palance on steroids, but there is a surprising amount of talent in this movie, including veteran character actor Roy Kinnear as the innkeeper.

What really makes this movie are the interactions between the characters. They are really well portrayed as a group that has a history. The elf is aloof, but deadly with his bow (infamously, there are scenes where he jumps over the same log over and over and over, shooting bad guys each time) and is a sort of mentor for Hawk, and the dwarf and the giant have a continuous battle of wits and insults, but all good-naturedly, leading up to the touching scene of the giant weeping over the dwarf's death. There is a lot of humor throughout the film, and it is used to good effect. But the star, John Terry, makes Keanu Reeves look positively flamboyant by comparison.

Nothing but fluff, and B-grade fluff at that, but it's still a lot of fun. Oh, and it turns out there's finally a sequel in the works! 30 years late, but still welcome.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Vampire: The Masquerade MMO

I normally don't care much about online role-playing games, because there just doesn't seem to be all that much role-playing in them, but the news coming out of New Orleans seems a bit noteworthy.

It seems that the folks at White Wolf, who have been pointing in the direction of giving up print RPGs altogether, have announced that early 2012 will see the debut of a Vampire: The Masquerade MMO. I know it's not popular amongst the OSR crowd, but I played a lot of V:TM and W:TA back in the early 1990's, and am cautiously optimistic. Then again, if I didn't sign up for the Star Trek MMO, I'm not sure I'd actually get around to playing a Vampire MMO, but we shall see.

Hopefully, more details will be forthcoming over the next year and a half...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cavaliers and Barbarians

Over on the Adventures Dark and Deep forums, I have posed a question, and I invite you all to chime in.

Over the years, I've seen a lot of people say that they were not fans of the way that Cavaliers and Barbarians were implemented in Unearthed Arcana. Unfortunately, specifics have been few and far between.

What are your specific problems with the Cavalier and Barbarian classes as they were originally presented in UA?

Please post your replies over in the forums.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Terry Pratchett Forges Own Sword of Meteoric Iron

Terry Pratchett, he of Discworld fame and unfortunate sufferer from Alzheimer's Disease, decided that the thing to do after being knighted by the Queen was to go out into a field where meteoric iron was to be had, find his own samples, smelt them himself, and have the ore turned into a sword.

Oh... my... gods...

The one downside to this story is that he has the sword in hiding, because he's afraid the British authorities would confiscate it in some application of their "knife crime" laws. Hell, I'd be in jail right now if it were me. But it's just such a cool thing,

In honor of World Alzheimer's Day. Plus, just because it's freakin' cool.

EDIT: And I no longer have to wait to see it! Here it is!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Matinee: Roots (1977)

This one might seem a little out of place, being a TV mini-series rather than a straight film, but it made such an impression on me when I was 11 years old that I feel need to include it; Alex Haley's Roots. This really was the first really huge mini-series, and set the stage for other "television movie events" such as The Thornbirds, The Blue and the Grey, and V. It was such an event that watching Roots was our homework for the days it was on, back in 6th grade.

The series tells the story of a family of Africans originally brought to the United States as slaves, and who experience a lot of history in the process of becoming free. It begins in Africa with Kunta Kinte (played by future Star Trek star LeVar Burton in his debut role), who is captured by slavers and brought to America. There, he has a great deal of trouble accepting his new role, is seen as rebellious and attempts escape. He is befriended by another slave, Fiddler (played by Louis Gosset Jr.), who teaches him not only English but the role of the slave. One of the most famous scenes in the entire mini-series focuses on Kunta Kinte being forced to respond to the name he has been given; Toby. An adult (now played by John Amos), eventually he is maimed after yet another escape attempt and eventually settles into his lot, marrying Belle and fathering another slave, Kizzy.

Kizzy (played by Leslie Uggams), now a teen, seems to be genuinely friends with her white owner's daughter, Missy Anne (Sandy Duncan), who even teaches her to read (which is forbidden). The secret is revealed eventually, and she is sold off to another owner, Tom Moore (Chuck Connors), who rapes her and fathers a son by her; George.

When George (played by Ben Vereen) grows into manhood, he is the constant companion of Moore, being skilled at the art of chicken fighting and earning the nickname Chicken George. Because of his skills at chicken fighting, he is sent to England, where he eventually earns his freedom and returns to America, where his son, Tom Harvey (Georg Stanford Brown), is a blacksmith. Of course, the white slave holders are less than impressed with George's papers of manumission, and there are some great scenes between him and them. The Civil War breaks out, and eventually George, Tom, and their families are freed. Reconstruction sees the appearance of the Ku Klux Klan, and eventually the families move to Tennessee to start a new life, and the series ends.

The cast for this production is simply incredible. Aside from those named above, Lloyd Bridges, Edward Asner, Robert Reed, Vic Morrow, George Hamilton, Burl Ives, O.J. Simpson... the cast is a virutal who's who of late 1970's acting talent. The story is completely engaging (even for an 11 year old, which should tell you something), and although there is a bewildering number of characters, each is drawn so well and distinctly that even as a kid I had no problem following who was who. The writing and dialog are impeccable, and there is action, humor, and most especially drama in a fine mix.

I had the opportunity to re-watch the series last year, and it aged very well indeed. The story and characters were still as powerful and compelling as they were some thirty-odd years ago. As a youth, the series made me appreciate a chapter of American history that had hitherto been unknown to me, and as an adult I found the story of that family to be especially poignant and compelling. There was a Roots The Next Generations, but it paled in comparison with the larger-than-life story of slaves struggling to be free, and unfortunately while such comparisons are inevitable, they doomed the sequel to looking pale indeed by the light of its predecessor.

If you've never seen this series, do yourself the favor and seek it out on Netflix or Youtube.

Purity of vision, or success?

Another philosophical question, if you will indulge me...

If you had a choice... would you rather pursue a vision that you knew would not be popular and probably not succeed, or would you change your vision to make it something that would be more popular and more likely to succeed? Purity of vision or success?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

How Frank Should You Be?

Quick question for my fellow Old School DMs...

When you are DMing a group that might not be as in tune with the OSR as you are, how explicit are you about some of the conventions that are now accepted as part and parcel of our way of playing?

Specifically, would you come out and say, "Don't expect to clear out every level of a dungeon", or "There are some things you're expected to run away from, rather than fight"? Or would you let them try to clean out every level, and get frustrated by the futility of the effort? Or let them attack the trolls when they're 2nd level, under the mistaken assumption that "it wouldn't be here if there wasn't a way for us to kill it".

Hasn't happened in the campaign that I'm currently running, but it has in the past. Just wondering how harsh everyone is in teaching these valuable life lessons to their players.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Joseph Campbell: The Power of Myth

Next week sees the release of the whole "Joseph Campbell: The Power of Myth" series from PBS. Bill Moyers interviewed the dean of modern mythology, Joseph Campbell, back in the late 1980's before his death, and those interviews form the core of this series dealing with mythology and how it impacts modern society.

Campbell wrote the books that influenced George Lucas as he was writing the Star Wars saga (and Moyers' interviews with Lucas appear in this series as well). Anyone involved in the telling of stories-- and that is at the heart of what every role-playing gamer does, system be damned-- owes it to themselves to watch these interviews and realize just how universal some of these stories really are, and how they impact our lives today.

Amazon has the collection for only $36. For nearly 6 hours of material, that's a steal.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Megadungeon in its Natural Habitat

In response to my previous post about the possibilities of the avaricious taking advantage of the existence of a traditional megadungeon, someone wrote:
...stuff comes OUT of wild dungeons, right? To, you know, feed on stuff, like merchants stupid enough to be hanging out too close.
And I thought it was an interesting enough question to bring it into the light of day and answer it as a post of its own.

The short answer is, no. The only things that come out of megadungeons (such as Castle Greyhawk, Maure Castle, Castle Blackmoor, etc.) are treasure and adventurers, some of the latter on their shields rather than holding them.

The reasons for this are manifold. The geography of the megadungeon is definitely a factor against it. Most traditional megadungeons have choke-points in the dungeon itself that serve to restrict movement from level to level (or, alternatively, region to region). In most cases, these are stairs. There are just so many staircases that lead from one level to another, and in many cases there's only a single staircase that even breaches the surface. (Castle of the Mad Archmage, I should point out, has a number of such entrances, including some that lead directly to some of the deeper levels of the dungeons, as did Castle Greyhawk which inspired it; but the principle holds, as those are still limited in number.) Those trolls on level 10 of the dungeon just aren't going to spend hours schlepping up through the upper nine levels to get to the surface. What would be their motivation? Food? Loot? If that was what they were looking for, they wouldn't have put their lair 200' below the surface of the earth, with hundreds of traps, tricks, portals, and other monsters between them and daylight. Those dungeon denizens are there to stay.

Too, it should be remembered that, not only is the megadungeon a "mythic underworld" in the classic sense, but it is also, for the most part, a closed ecosystem, fed occasionally by protein from adventuring parties and the odd influx of gold from insane wizards. That's Gygaxian naturalism at its best; while it may not work out entirely square in terms of the ratio of large carnivores to herbivores, at least there is usually an attempt to have sources of water, lichen eaten by vermin eaten by small things eaten by big things, etc. The large nasties that would rampage across the countryside simply have no incentive to do so. They made their lair in that maze because there was an ample supply of giant rats, not because of its proximity to deer (or humans) on the surface.

Note that this is all said in relation to the megadungeon. A smaller dungeon, or a monster lair, is a different thing entirely. In those environments, most of the time the big nasties are going to come out, if for no other reason than it's easy to do so and the underground isn't large enough to support enough giant rats and centipedes to sustain a clan of ogres and trolls.

So the environment around a megadungeon is probably going to be relatively safe. Getting out is relatively difficult (just as difficult as getting in), and a megadungeon by definition is going to be large enough to be able to sustain the creatures within without forcing them outside for food. Creature lairs and small ten-room dungeons are a very different story, but nobody is talking about setting up an inn outside the entrance to a lost demon shrine. Those cultists are lousy tippers anyway.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Megadungeon Industry

Y'all know me. Know how I earn a livin'. I'll catch this bird for you, but it ain't gonna be easy. Bad fish. Not like going down the pond chasin' bluegills and tommycods. This shark, swallow you whole. Little shakin', little tenderizin', an' down you go. And we gotta do it quick, that'll bring back your tourists, put all your businesses on a payin' basis. But it's not gonna be pleasant. I value my neck a lot more than three thousand bucks, chief. I'll find him for three, but I'll catch him, and kill him, for ten. But you've gotta make up your minds. If you want to stay alive, then ante up. If you want to play it cheap, be on welfare the whole winter. I don't want no volunteers, I don't want no mates, there's just too many captains on this island. Ten thousand dollars for me by myself. For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing. -- Quint, "Jaws"
It occurs to me that, once a megadungeon is discovered and starts being exploited by various adventurers, it's only natural that a sort of "capitalistic ecology" will begin to form around the dungeon environs.

For example, I once had a megadungeon placed out in a wilderness, which the player characters subsequently discovered and started hauling out the usual cartloads of treasure. Within a couple of weeks, other adventuring parties started showing up. A month later, a tavern started getting built. Soon the tavern added rooms, and a blacksmith showed up, then a gem-buyer, etc. You get the idea.

It occurs to me that a whole industry would, in the case of particularly large megadungeons, rise up. Sure, there would be the usual folks who sell $100 shovels and $10 torches, but there would be other, more ingenuous, sorts as well. The traders in treasure maps would descend first; not only selling but buying too-- the trade in information is invaluable. Hirelings, of course; need a cheap spear or sword? They're probably going to be readily available, but at a stake of a share of the loot. The usual run of alchemists ready to buy the odd stirge proboscis and such, but maybe the alchemists don't want to deal with the violent and dirty adventurers directly. Perhaps there's a whole class of middle-men who take the greasy grimy griffon guts and pass them along to the folks who turn them into the wonderful potions they keep finding in the dungeons.

And then there are the specialists, like Mr. Quint quoted above. Why wouldn't there be people who you would hire, on a one-off basis, to fight the tough baddie you just can't get past? The troll-hunter. The dragon-slayer. The purple worm tamer. They'll all have a reputation, and they'll insist they're in charge, and they'll all have a very high price for their services...

Guides, too. If there can be guides for the wilderness, who can take you through the forest and over the ridge to the next valley, then surely there are guides who will hire out to take you to the third level of the dungeon. Maybe they were the lantern bearer in the ill-fated expedition of the Knights of Holy Fire. They saw the way through, and managed to scrape out alive, and they'll show you, too... for a price.

I see a whole complex of NPCs ready to help, and take advantage of, player characters hitting the enormous dungeon complex "but a league east of the city". Might make things a lot more colorful, when it comes time to change in those gems, or when the party is flummoxed and some helpful chap happens along with a map that "is guaranteed to show you the quickest route to the fourth level of the dungeons!"

Gamma World and Star Frontiers Minis - Who Wants 'Em?

In the course of buying stuff on eBay, I happen to have collected some miniatures that I am dead certain I will never in a million years use:
  • TSR 5502 Gamma World/Star Frontiers Pure Strain Humans (3 figures/pack, 2 packs)
  • TSR 5802 Star Frontiers Funnel Worm & Korrvarrs (4 pieces, assembly required, 3 packs)
Anybody want these? They're all still in the blister packs, and are 25mm scale.

I'd prefer a trade for any spare 15mm medieval/fantasy figures you've got lying around (because most people don't use 15mm these days), but I'd be happy to just send them to a good home where they'll get painted and used. Either post in the comments or email me offline if you're more comfortable with the anonymity; the address is off to the right and down at the bottom.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Game of Thrones coming to HBO next year

Apparently the first book of George R.R. Martin series "A Song of Ice and Fire" is getting turned into a mini-series for HBO called "Game of Thrones" (which is the title of the first book, so perhaps this HBO series is just the beginning). Here's a quick behind-the-scenes piece (with an approving Martin himself in it). I tried to start the first book a few years ago, but couldn't get into it. I'll have to give it another try, because this looks very good, and he is the author of one of my favorite series of short stories ever (the "Haviland Tuf" stories, as well as the rest of his Thousand Worlds work). There were two attempts at making a Game of Thrones RPG, but I've not taken a look at either.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Matinee: Colossus, The Forbin Project (1970)

I've got to say, for all that I love Colossus: The Forbin Project, I have to wonder how it ever got made. It's rather... procedural. When I was growing up, and one of two kids in my entire school learning about computers myself by staying after school and working on the teletype machine connected to the district's HP9000 timeshare mainframe, scenes of magnetic tapes spinning and words being spelled out in 12x9 lights was awesome... But how the hell did anyone think this would draw in the crowds? In hindsight, though, it plays out a little like "Telefon" or "The Day of the Jackal"; there's no denying the suspense builds and builds, and there is simply no relief.

The film portrays the activation of Colossus, a computer system designed by Dr. Charles Forbin (played by the always-outstanding Eric Braedon). Colossus is designed to take complete and autonomous control of the United States' nuclear weapon stockpile, in order to respond to any Soviet attack without the need for human intervention. The Soviets, however, seem to have created their own version of Colossus, which they call Guardian, in secret. Together, Colossus-Guardian soon prove that they have vastly outperformed their creators' expectations. Together they are, in fact, what we today would call an artificial intelligence, and conspire to bring the entire planet under their control with the aid of the combined nuclear arsenals of the USA and USSR. In order to assure their continued communication, they each launch one of their missiles when the line is cut. An oil complex in Russia is vaporized before it can be restored. These adding machines aren't joking.

The humans, of course, attempt to stop the machines. The members of the Colossus programming unit try to overwhelm the computer with data. Not completely understanding just how far it has progressed, they fail miserably, and the ring leaders are executed. The designer of Guardian is ordered killed, while Forbin is placed under essential house arrest and continual monitoring by Colossus. Continual, that is, except when he is seeing his "mistress"; a member of the Colossus programming team pressed into service as a means of getting information to the conspirators without Colossus' knowledge.

At one point, the military attempts to disarm the nuclear missiles under the guise of changing their targets as ordered by the computers. But, of course, Colossus is one step ahead of them, and detonates one of the warheads as a warning. (I had the extreme pleasure of meeting William Schallert, who plays CIA director Glauber, at a science fiction convention once. I mentioned my love of the film Colossus, and he quipped that he was probably the only character in film history who had been assassinated by an H-bomb. He was a really nice guy in person.)

The film ends with Colossus firmly in control, explaining to Forbin that he will eventually come to replace awe of Colossus with love. The film then just ends, with humanity under the electronic thumb of the computer, backed up by the threat of nuclear annihilation. It's very much a product of its time; a cautionary tale about the Cold War, the threat of nuclear war, and the rise of technology and the dehumanization wrought by computers.

One thing this film did do was introduce me to the trilogy of novels upon which it was based; Colossus, Colossus and the Crab, and The Fall of Colossus. The latter two books get a little more "out there" as Martians come to help rid the Earth of the machine menace, only to prove themselves a bigger threat than Colossus itself. But as a whole the books are excellent, and explore questions of human nature, the impetus of religion (a cult establishes itself dedicated to the worship of the computer, with Forbin as its reluctant chief), and the nature of intelligence itself.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The One-Shot - Campaign Spectrum

I read today Wil Wheaton talking about playing in a Gamma World game at PAX, and he mentioned something that got me thinking:
My takeaway from Gamma World: I wouldn't want to play an entire campaign, because it's just a little too gonzo for me, but I think three or four sessions (would you call that a mini-campaign?) as a break from my regular game would be perfect. 
I found it somewhat interesting not because of what he says about Gamma World (one wonders what he'd make of Mutant Future), but rather because of what he says about mini-campaigns. I've done one-shot games, mostly at conventions, and I've of course done long campaigns, but I've never actually set out to do a game that would only last three or four sessions.

How about you? Am I just too caught up in the sandbox/megadungeon paradigm to see the appeal of the mini-campaign?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Happy Birthday, Star Trek

On September 8, 1966, "The Man Trap" aired on NBC television (I being slightly over 3 months old at the time), ushering in a new era in science fiction.

Today, 44 years later, Star Trek is still going strong, bringing enjoyment to legions of fans young and old. I've been a huge fan for as long as I can remember, having been in a fan film myself, and actually having met my future wife in a Star Trek fan club. Star Trek has been an enormous influence on my life, for better or ill.

Congratulations, Trek.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

15mm Medieval Figures: Old Glory 15s

Commanders, foot and mounted
As part of my burgeoning effort to put together some 15mm armies to fight mass battles in the World of Greyhawk, I recently took advantage of a sale being run by Old Glory 15s, run out of Michigan, to purchase two Field of Glory starter armies plus some miscellaneous troops. A friend of mine from the Greyhawk AD&D campaign also went in on the deal with me, getting two armies for himself and his wife (ah, the family that games together...)

I got a Medieval French and a Medieval German army, intending to paint one of them in the colors of the Iron League (Sunndi, Idee, Irongate, and Onnwal) and the other in the colors of the Great Kingdom (specifically South Province, Medegia, and possibly some Imperial troops as well). I also ended up getting a bunch of peasant levies (because those Dragon magazine articles on the events in the Flanaess often make mention of the commanders employing large number of peasant levies in their campaigns) and a couple of camps to round things out.

I haven't decided which will be which yet, but the best part is, even if they're painted as Greyhawk armies, they can still be put to use as regular German and French armies, should I ever feel like taking them to a Field of Glory tournament. The easiest thing (from a Field of Glory point of view) is that Old Glory 15s sells entire starter armies, straight from the rulebooks, pre-sorted for you (the bags even tell you which battlegroup is which). An excellent idea (admittedly not unique to them, but hardly universal), and I note they do the same for other game systems such as Lasalle and DBM.

Some mounted crossbowmen
The figures themselves are, quite simply, terrific. There is very little flash and not a single one of the nearly 700 figures I purchased was seamed. The variety of poses was good (I like the good mix between "standing ready" and "in the throw of battle", which will look good when based properly), and the detail on these guys is unbelievable. I am only sad they will have to endure my own horrific painting skills. When it comes to the packs of figures, there's no guarantee which poses you will get; some of the bags I got were definitely heavy on certain poses and light on others, but on the whole that's something you expect when it comes to purchasing large numbers of figures for minis battle. There seem to be 4 types of horses used throughout; two galloping, two trotting, each with one with barding and one without.

Rangers
My friend also got some fantasy figures from their Black Raven Foundry line (rangers and dwarves) and they, too, were outstanding. The rangers in particular had very vibrant poses and sharp details. I will be buying some for myself in my next order, to serve as woodsmen.

In the order there were a total of 6 figures missing (out of 1500 or so for the entire order; again not an altogether unexpected occurrence when buying large numbers of figures). I contacted Old Glory by email and got an immediate response that replacements were on their way. They were similarly responsive to questions I had as I was putting the order together. The customer service is excellent, from my experience.

A camp set
I should take a moment to point out that Old Glory 15s is having a sale right now. Spend more than $50 and get 20% off. Spend more than $100 and get 30% off. Spend more than $400 and get 40% off! That's nearly half price. (Plus free shipping on orders more than $100.) If you're planning on dropping some cash for minis, now's the time over at Old Glory 15s. Great figures at an excellent price. The best sort of combination.

Note: The photographs of the figures in this post come from the Old Glory 15s website, are Copyright (c) 2005-2010 by 19th Century Miniatures LLC, and are used with their kind permission.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Castle of the Mad Archmage Poster Maps

EDIT: If you're playing in my Greyhawk campaign, please don't look at these maps!

Good news for fans of the Castle of the Mad Archmage!

Our erstwhile cartographer, Joe Bardales, has come up with a comprehensive set of poster maps covering levels 2-13 of the dungeon! Here's just a sample of the wonderfulness that awaits your downloading pleasure (click to embiggen):


You can download a .zip file with the whole kit and kaboodle --> HERE <--

Of course, the individual 8.5"x11" maps are already included in the regular .pdf file of Castle of the Mad Archmage, but these poster maps are really exceptional, and add a lot to the feeling that each level is a cohesive whole.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sunday Matinee: A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Hi, hi, hi, my little droogies!

This bit of ultra-violence came on my gazzies when it viddied on HBO and Cinemax back when I was just a young veck.

Oh, hell, I can't continue this post in nasdat, no matter how much I would like to. A Clockwork Orange was one of those films that, if my parents knew what the hell I was watching when I was 13, would have gotten the cable turned off in our house. And, if you've been following this series at all, you'll know that there is a lot of deep thinking behind the gratuitous sex and violence, it's somewhat iconic in popular culture, and that it made something of an impression on my young mind.

The film follows Alex, a young hoodlum in an undefined, but assumedly near-future Britain, who leads a small gang of "droogs" on nightly rampages of theft, rape, assault, rape, and on at least one occasion, manslaughter. We are treated to Alex, Pete, Georgie, and Dim roughing up a rival gang (caught in the midst of gang-raping a "weepy young devotchka"), beat up an old drunk on the street, and then stealing a car and "doing the old 'surprise visit', which was sure for a laugh'", in which they cripple a man and rape his wife in front of him. Jolly!

The next day, Alex is visited by Mr. Deltoid (Aubrey Morris), his "purse-collective advisor" (read: probation officer), who advises him to stay to the straight and narrow. Alex's been missing more than a little school, it seems, and the police are on to his activities. "You can count on me, sir," Alex assures him. "As clear as an azure sky of deepest summer."

After an encounter with two girls at a record store, who return with Alex for a twosome (remember, this is 1971-- quite shocking-- and even in 1979, it was shocking enough to see two nekkid girls on tv!). His droogs await him, and seem to have plotted something of a revolt. George is now to be the leader, and Dim "his mindless, grinning bulldog." Fortunately for Alex, "wonderful music came to my aid", and he lashes out, slicing into Dim and knocking George off a wharf. Chastened, the two are brought to heel, and suggest a "man sized crast". Alex agrees, ends up killing a woman in a house (with a 4' statue of a penis) and gets hit on the head with a bottle of milk by his former friends for his troubles.

Now in prison, Alex volunteers for the Ludovinko Treatment, which reprograms offenders to be violently ill at the thought of violence. He thinks he's gaming the system to get out early, but Alex really is reprogrammed. The mere thought of violence or sex sends him to the floor in violent retching. Released, he finds he cannot go home, as his parents have rented his room to someone else and the government has confiscated his possessions. The bum he had earlier accosted recognizes him, and he and his compatriots fall upon Alex, who can no longer defend himself. Finally, the police come to his aid; newly-minted officers George and Dim, who proceed to nearly kill Alex and drop him in a wilderness. Alex makes his way to an almost-familiar home; the home of the writer whose wife he had raped, who eventually recognizes him, drugs him, and, having found out that Alex had been conditioned not only against violence and rape, but also Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (incidentally), tries to kill him by blasting the music into Alex's room. Alex tries to kill himself, the government reverses the treatment through surgery, and Alex is finally "cured", with a display of ultra-violent images at the very end of the film to give us proof.

Yikes, this is one hell of a downer of a movie! You'd be hard pressed to find something as cynical as this. Aside from the striking visuals, however, is the musical score. One of the things we learn about Alex is that he is a fan of classical music (particularly Beethoven), and that plays into the plot of the film more than once. But it is also the soundtrack of the film, and possibly the most memorable aspects of it; I actually set up a tape recorder in front of the television back when HBO played the soundtracks of the films between 2 AM and 10 AM, when they didn't actually broadcast, just to record that music. My initial love of classical music comes from that film, and I'm not ashamed to say it, even if some of it is done on synthesizer and has a very futuristic tone to it. This is one of those films where the soundtrack is a character unto itself.

The message of the film is vast, touching on free will and the nature of totalitarian states (one throwaway line is "we must deal with these common criminals on a purely curative basis; soon we'll need all this prison space for purely political offenders"). I personally find quite ironic the fact that the prison chaplain is the one person who points out that the treatment that Alex undergoes does not make a man good; it simply robs him of choice. And that is true; Alex is physically incapable of violence. But does that make him a good person, "completely reformed"? Obviously not, and also oddly vulnerable in a society so consumed with violence. The themes of vengeance are also somewhat obvious.

On the whole, this is one of those films that needs to be watched more than once. Watch it once or twice to get the imagery out of your system-- it's jarring and disturbing, and it's intended to be. Only then can you take the time to appreciate the really deep themes of free will, the futility of the striving towards redemption, and the utterly cynical world-view that the film portrays. Show that to your 13 year old.


And, of course, this is one of those films that has made quite an impression on popular culture.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Compartmentalization of Information

I was going through the various plots and schemes and widgetry that's going on in my AD&D Greyhawk game, and it occurred to me that one skill vital to all DMs is the ability to compartmentalize information.

That is, one must be able to bring oneself into the mind of an NPC, and immediately restrict one's knowledge to what that NPC knows. And if you screw up, you need to be quick enough on your feet to have a justification for it.

But even more than that, you need to know, and be able to enact, the impact of information on different NPCs. NPC A, a member of the city guard, might have no information about the activities of a certain cult. NPC B, a member of said cult, might be pretending to be a member of the local Fine Upstanding Church, and attempting to feed the PCs false information. NPC C, the mercenary, might have no inkling of either plot thread, but is going to jump on any opportunity to capitalize on potentially profitable information.

Each of these NPCs, if asked for information about said cult, will have a different answer to give. But what happens when the PCs start *telling* the NPCs about that cult? That's when the DM's facility to compartmentalize comes into play. That city guardsman is going to react completely differently from that mercenary, and they're going to be doing things beyond the scope of the PCs based on that knowledge.

But it can get really confusing for the DM when it comes to remembering which NPC knows what, what they will do with the information, and what the impact of those actions are. With more than a couple of NPCs, and more than a handful of possible actions, it is impossible to plot out the possibilities. The DM is required to be so fast-thinking that he can be that city guardsman, who knows facts G, H, and J about the cult; as well as the mercenary who, having been told fact K by the PCs, will have told a version of that to the hidden cultist, who then, knowing that the PCs are "on to" the cult, tells them fact L, which is in fact a lie.

Heady stuff!

But that compartmentalization is a vital skill, especially in a game that is non-linear. I personally don't know any way to develop it as a mental skill other than practice combined with simple and effective note-taking. But in a game with lots of story going on, often behind the scenes, it's a vital skill to have.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"Let them eat static"

Much as I love the final trench run in Star Wars, and the destruction of Caprica from the original Battlestar: Galactica, I present to you the best space battle scene ever filmed. And the reason? Because it concentrates on the characters, not the ships and explosions. The best RPG battles share that same trait. It's not about how many orcs you kill; it's about how the battle impacts the characters.

Ubercon: Edison, NJ Nov 5-7

Is anyone interested in attending some AD&D games at Ubercon this year? I just got a very nice invitation from the good folks who run it.

I'm sort of on the fence on this one, as it's the weekend after Halloween, which is usually the Big Season around the Casa de Grognard, and thus good for sleeping in for the first time in a month, but if there is interest I am more than willing to run a couple of sessions.

What would not be on the table: Castle of the Mad Archmage. I've run this a BUNCH of times at Dreamation and Dexcon over the last couple of years, and feel it might be time to take a breather. I was thinking maybe some classic dungeon modules. Tomb of Horrors went over very well at this year's Dexcon. Giants/Drow perhaps, as a tourney? I might also put together some classic board games. It's been literally decades since I've played Titan, for example.

Anyway, if you're in the NJ/NY area, let me know if you'd be interested in playing in a game or two run by me. Make it quick, though; I'd like to get in an application soon, if I'm going to do it.

And, of course, I know they'd be thrilled to have some other Old School games represented there. They explicitly mentioned it in the email. I would play in some classic Gamma World for sure.