Showing posts from 2013

Looking Back on the 1990s

With the lights out, it's less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us
- Nirvana, "Smells Like Teen Spirit", 1991.

"No one holds command over me. No man. No god. No Prince. What is a claim of age for ones who are immortal? What is a claim of power for ones who defy death? Call your damnable hunt. We shall see who I drag screaming to hell with me."

"A Beast I am, lest a Beast I become."
- Vampire: The Masquerade, 1991.

I've mentioned in this blog that I'm very much a child of the 1980's, being born in 1971. However, I became an adult in the 1990's. I went off to college in fall of 1989 so the great bulk of my undergraduate career was in the 1990's. I had my first serious relationship in the 90's, met my wife a mere month before graduation (on an evening dedicated to forgetting about women), began my professional career in the mid-90's, got married, and moved to the …

Introductions to Doctor Who and Avoiding the Info Dump

About a month ago I was watching the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special "Day of the Doctor". Jasmine, my eight-year old daughter, wound up joining me and watching most of it - she didn't quite get it having only a vague idea as to what it was about but she still couldn't pull her eyes away. She had a ton of questions and I promised her I'd watch an episode with her that made no assumptions on experience.

Yesterday Jasmine and I watched "Rose", the first episode of the new series. She absolutely loved it. And the format was, of course, perfect. You've got an established franchise but you are relaunching it after a long dormancy. There's some die-hard fans out there who will be watching it but you need to go far beyond that fan-base. So you start with a viewpoint character who is a surrogate for this audience. And you don't dump all the history and lore of the program all at once. Instead you release it as you need to.

Jasmine liked it enoug…

Heroism in the Cthulhu Mythos

We recently finished a Call of Cthulhu scenario in my group (we'd been playing ACKS but we needed something with a bit of a lower quorum threshold - decided to whip out that old favorite Cthulhu to see how it worked out). Having played The Haunting scenario with this group we played another of the classic adventures, The Edge of Darkness. I'm not going to go into spoiler territory, suffice to say it provides ample opportunities for investigators to meet horrible end. In our playing of it there was one PC death and many more were avoided by making some difficult, at times brutal decisions, including going up against police in order to be able to succeed in a ceremony to banish an eldritch abomination - one of those "for the greater good" circumstances.

I've heard Call of Cthulhu described as a non-heroic game and when you think about more over-the-top superhero and pulp games I can definitely see the point. The premise of the Cthulhu Mythos is that of an uncaring…

Fiction Review - "The Long Tomorrow" by Leigh Brackett

"No city, no town, no community of more than one thousand people or two hundred buildings to the square mile, shall be built or permitted to exist anywhere in the United States of America."

- 30th Amendment of the United States Constitution

As I've mentioned in my blog a few times, the post-apocalyptic genre is one that filled me with feelings of both dread and fascination as I grew up. Born in the early 70s I became aware of my world in the era of "Ronnie Rambo" and the Cold War heating up one final time. I remember playing the Gamma World Role Playing Game with our primitive mutants exploring the ruins of Pitz Burke. There were films set after the End, ranging from the "Mad Max" series to absolutely dreadful movies like "Threads" and "The Day After". (And I use "dreadful" not in the sense of a bad movie but rather an experience that can fill one with actual dread.)

However there is still the sense of fascination. We hu…

Film Review: Frozen

Yesterday, the day after Thanksgiving I took my youngest daughter, Jasmine, to see "Frozen" in the movie theater. This was actually her second viewing, also seeing it on Wednesday with her mom and older sister (poor dad was working from home).

Obviously Jasmine was a fan. Immediately after seeing it with me she asked "Can I see it again?"

So it's got the little one's endorsement. What about dad's?

I liked it a lot. I'm a fan of well-done animation and this is one of Disney's greatest, ranking up there with "The Lion King" and "Beauty and the Beast" - indeed I'd view it as superior as many of the Pixar efforts.

The story is set in one of those fairy tale kingdoms in that nebulous pre-modern fairy tale period. It is a tale of two sisters, the eldest, Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell). They are princesses in the kingdom. They are very close but Elsa has a power - the ability to control temperature and ge…

Why Spirit of Knowledge Charter School Should Be Saved

It's pretty clear that this is an out of the ordinary post for this blog. I talk about all sorts of geeky stuff on this blog - Dungeons & Dragons, Stephen King, Call of Cthulhu, etc. This post is a lot more personal. I've a hunch the audience for this posting is very different from the normal audience for my blog - but this is my corner of the internet and this is far too long a posting for Twitter or Facebook. It also explains why I've not been particularly active on this blog of late.

When I first began this blog my wife was dealing with partial employment, working as a long-term sub when possible. In fall of 2012 she secured a full time job at Spirit of Knowledge Charter School in Worcester, MA and began her second year there this fall.

[Note - this the remainder of this blog posting represents my understanding of a situation. If I have any factual errors I will most certainly acknowledge them and correct them. i.e. no slander or libel is present here. And while I&…

Sandbox Cthulhu

I've had a little time to brainstorm a little as we've skipped a session of our ACKS campaign with the start of the school year and the beginning of organized insanity as the kids and my wife go back to school.

One thing I've discovered in our ACKS campaign is how over time a non-plotted campaign begins to write itself. Right now our band of adventurers has two dungeons it has visited (and may return to either) as well as a third dungeon they are aware of. They've also developed two bases, one an outpost near the dungeons and the other the capital city of the region with better access to equipment, healers, and the like. Having put things in motion I can honestly say I really don't know where the adventurers will go in our next session. Will they finish cleaning out the kobold lair - with its rumored green dragon? Will they return to the dungeon beneath Skull Hill? Or will they venture to the Tomb of the Goblin King - now having a few magic items and possibly havi…

Queen - A Kind of Magic

Here we are, Born to be kings,
We're the princes of the universe,
Here we belong, Fighting to survive,
In a world with the darkest powers,

"Princes of the Universe" from the Queen album A Kind of Magic

Initially I was going to write about the 1986 film Highlander, for which A Kind of Magic is essentially the soundtrack. But my thoughts kept focusing on the music and thus, here we are.

One of my musical regrets is I never got to see Queen live in concert. I have some memories of seeing them perform on television from the 1985 Live Aid concert with my uncle. But my young musical tastes at the time shifted to more trendy/pop music, something that shifted when I started college in 1989. The early 1990s had me discovering Queen for myself, sadly months prior to Freddie Mercury's death.

Anyways.... A Kind of Magic is an album that just screams fantasy. Epic, ass-kicking fantasy with tracks like "Princes of the Universe" and "Gimme the Prize". A touch o…

RPG Mini-Review - FATE Core

FATE is one of those games in my collection that I really, really want to play some day but haven't had the chance to.
FATE is the game engine that powers games like Spirit of the CenturyThe Dresden Files, and Diaspora. Relics like me remember the original FUDGE RPG from the 1990s from which FATE spun off of.
Mechanically, FATE isn't too complicated - there is an Accelerated Edition of it which is a rather tiny book. The idea is you role 4DF (FUGE/FATE dice). These are six side dice with 2 pluses, 2 minuses, and 2 blank sides, You add the total together (-4 to 4), add your appropriate skill and other modifiers, and compare to a difficulty number.
The other modifiers I mentioned above is where FATE gets interesting. FATE uses a mechanic known as "aspects". Anything can have an aspect - a location, a person, a PC, a scene, a city. They are basically an interesting description that can drive the action. "Last son of Krypton" would make for a good aspect. So…

RPG Mini-Review - Stars Without Number

One thing I've liked about Sine Nomine Publishing is they take the adage that old school RPGs should be all about the "sandbox" (i.e. players go wherever they'd like on the map with no predefined plot) and make games and supplements that actually help you do that. As I've built up a modest collection of 1970s and early 80s RPG products I have seen there were a ton of products designed to help GMs do just that.
System-wide, Stars Without Number is pretty similar to early D&D incarnations. It has three classes - Expert, Psychic, and Warrior. It has a simple, yet effective, skill system of which, not surprisingly, the Expert is the best at.
Where it really shines is a default setting which is really made for adventure. The idea is there were two waves of human expansion. The first of which made use of spike drives which allowed faster than light travel in bursts - basically you had to start it from the edge of a solar system and had to turn it off at the edge o…

RPG Mini-Review - 13th Age

This is a game I preordered but didn't really look at much as I received the preliminary materials. It's a bit of a hybrid of D&D 3.x and 4th editions as well as taking a lot of elements from more narrative based games.
13th Age takes a nod from 4e D&D by giving each class its own set of neat powers but it avoids 4e's tendency to make everything balance out perfectly. It also makes the classes more distinctive from one another, evoking much of their feel from 3.x D&D.
While it has a nice set of customization options for your characters it avoids the tendency of D&D 3.x to punish those who do not have every detail of their character planned and avoids the need to hyper-optimize your character.
It also avoids the dreaded "grind" I experienced when I played 4e, as the game has an "escalation die" which gives bonuses to characters as combats last longer. It also has a number of mechanical tweaks to allow failures to be interesting. Perhaps b…

Saving Throw vs. GMADD - Some Mini-Reviews

Right now I've got an ACKS campaign that is beginning to pick up some steam. So I'm trying hard not to give into my GM ADD - that urge to switch to a shiny new system.

Nevertheless I have checked out a few new systems, some of which I can definitely see wanting to try out at some point. Well all of them really, if I ever had the time... And truthfully they're not really all particularly new, though they are to me. What follows are a series of min-review posts that I may later expand into a more fleshed out review, especially if I get to play or run one or more of them..

Elves and Geology

I used to think it would take six-hundred years to tunnel under the wall with it. Old Andy did it in less than twenty. Oh, Andy loved Geology, I guess it appealed to his meticulous nature. An ice age here, million years of mountain building there. Geology is the study of pressure and time. That's all it takes really, pressure, and time.  - Stephen King, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redepmption

I want to see mountains again, Gandalf, mountains, and then find somewhere where I can rest. - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

I'm with Bilbo Baggins. I love mountains. Before we had kids my wife and I would often spend summer weekends hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It's certainly had an impact of the campaign settings I've used and created - forested mountains of moderate height, settlements in the notches between them. Lots of rivers and lakes. I look at pictures of the Basin and Range terrain that can be found at west and it is a very alien landscape…

Biblical Roleplaying

"Go, now, attack Amalek, and deal with him and all that he has under the ban. Do not spare him, but kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and asses."

- 1 Samuel 13:3, New American Bible

To be honest, it sounds a lot like the behavior of your typical gaming groups mechanism of dealing with a goblin lair. However, that passage comes straight out of the Bible.

I recently finished Reza Aslan's book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. In it Aslan examines what we know and what we can surmise about the historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth. It's a fascinating work, something I will be reviewing in its own right, either here or in my political blog (or in both places, from different perspectives). I'm pretty certain I'd not want to live in  Judea within fifty years of 1 AD. But as a time for adventure, it is an absolutely fascinating period. It is a period of numerous Messiahs who rose up against the Romans in attempts to bring a…

My ACKS Campaign Setting

Part of the reason for my lack of posting of late has been doing actual gaming and some prep work around it. (Another part is due to family life - my eldest daughter somehow managed to have her third corneal abrasion and man do they appear painful.)

One thing that might be of some interest is sharing the background to my ACKS Campaign Setting. I use lots of Google tools for my gaming and personal/family life. I've been using Google+ and Google Drive to manage my ACKS campaign and you can link to the document here. It's an expanding document - I'm trying to avoid the trap of avoiding every detail about the setting but rather keep it a place I can easily add to.

I've found inspiration from a variety of sources. Autarch has given glimpses of their official Auran Empire Setting for ACKS. I'm not using that setting directly but I like a lot of what they've revealed about it so I am gladly porting much of it. I really like the implied pre-medieval/late-antiquity setti…

New Class for ACKS: Zaharan Necromancer

After the first fatality in our Adventurer Conqueror King System game the player of our sadly departed thief asked if there was any way he could play a necromancer. I did some experimenting with the ACKS Player's Companion and came up with the following class. It's balanced per the class creation rule but with only one session so far I can't yet vouch for how well it works in play, though we had no issues in that session. The Zaharan Necromancer has some inspiration from the Death Master of Dragon Magazine 76. by Lenard Lakofka. I might try an alternate version more alchemical in nature as was that class.  The background for this class is from the version of Zaharans I'm using in our game and differs slightly from the official Autarch version.

Zaharan Necromancer Class Summary Image credit: katalinks / 123RF Stock Photo

Prime Requisite: INT Requirements: INT 9 Hit Dice: 1d4 Maximum Level: 11 (can continue advancing to 14 HD if becomes undead)

In ages past the dread Necr…