Showing posts from 2014

Non-Fiction Review: Dark Tide: The Great Molasses Flood of 1919

Stephen Puleo's book Dark Tide covers a remarkably forgotten tragedy. On January 15, 1919, a 2.3 million gallon tank of molasses collapsed, spilling its contents in Boston's North End in a wave traveling some 35 miles per hour. Twenty-one people lost their lives and some 150 were injured. It almost sounds comical until you consider the horror such an event would no doubt present. Consider how horrible it would be to literally drown in molasses. Yes this is an event that is not in the popular history of the nation or even Boston.  Dark Tide is divided into three sections. The first, "A Monster in Our Midst" deals with the construction of the tank. Rather than being an exercise in engineering discussion it instead explains why it was built and what the nation and city were like at the time. Puleo explains how the United States Industrial Alcohol Corporation (USIA) distilled molasses in various plants, with one such plant being in Cambridge. A portion of the molasses wo…

Boston in the Cthulhu Mythos

With the Call of Cthulhu RPG most commonly being set in the fictional Miskatonic Valley of Massachusetts (with trips all over the world a possibility), it always surprised me how comparatively little Boston has featured in the Call of Cthulhu RPG. In the United States there are sourcebooks for San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, and New Orleans. Cubicle 7 has been doing a fantastic job showcasing the British Isles in their Call of Cthulhu supplements. Miskatonic River Press published a fantastic book of adventures for New York City and Golden Goblin Press followed in their footsteps with a New Orleans adventure book. That's not to say that Boston has been entirely absent from the RPG. For example, the adventure Shadows of Yog-Sothoth begins in Boston. The Unspeakable Oath magazine did have an article giving an overview of Boston. But those resources seem to be few and far between. In one sense it's not too surprising. It's tough to find much on Boston of that time …

Fiction Review: The Given Day

Boston in the late 1910s was a fascinating time. The North End was plagued by anarchists. A police station was destroyed by anarchists. Influenza struck the city hard in 1918. 1919 saw both a giant molasses tank spill over the North End with a horrible death toll and also bore witness to the underpaid (below the poverty line) police force go on strike. When one thinks of the Roaring Twenties (the period just after this book's) in the United States there are a number of places that come to mind. First and foremost there is the Chicago of Al Capone. There is the New York City that appears in countless novels, television, and movies - for me F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby immediately comes to mind. Over the past several years HBO's Boardwalk Empire has given us a view of Atlantic City of the 1920s, with trips to Chicago, New York, and many other places. Two places which do not tend to come to mind are Boston, Massachusetts and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Maybe Boston but to be …

First Thoughts on Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition

Even though I go through various other games, sometimes for a while, sometimes for a brief spin, I keep on finding myself working my way back to a Call of Cthulhu game. I've recently just finished my first session using the newest incarnation of the game, the 7th edition.

I've noted before in this blog that there's tons of shinier games out there. What I've found is Call of Cthulhu has the virtue of just being darn playable.

One thing Call of CtThulhu has been known for is how little changes from edition to edition. An edition war in Call of Cthulhu  is pretty much unheard of. I've used adventures from the 2nd edition of the game in a 6th edition campaign with conversion, even on the fly, being wholly unnecessary.

So though I've talked about Call of Cthulhu here before, let's do a little recap. The Call of Cthulhu RPG is based on the writings of early 20th century writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Lovecraft's central premise was that humanity is ignora…

Lovecraft and the World Fantasy Award

I've been following some of the debate around the World Fantasy Award trophy for various forms of fiction being a bust of HP Lovecraft. The controversy seems to have taken off when Nnedi OkoraforNigerial-American Nnedi Okorafor one the award for best novel in 2011. Another writer, Daniel Jose Older, began a petition for the bust to instead honor African-American writer Octavia Butler.

Why the controversy? As it turns out, Lovecraft was a racist. I would say he was one even beyond the standards of his time, a far from enlightened time, which saw the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan (an organization he professed to admiring). You can sense his fear of corruption from mixing of the races throughout his works. "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", probably my favorite Lovecraft work, is a particular example of this, with interbreeding between humans and Deep Ones. I'll let one of Lovecraft's poems speak for itself:

On the Creation of Niggers  (1912)by H. P. LovecraftWhen, long ago,…

Remain Calm. Trust in Science. Atomic Robo Overview.

My gaming group has been experimenting with Evil Hat's Atomic Robo RPG. I've been itching to try out Fate for ages. I'm somewhat surprised to discover Aromic Robo as the setting, being as it is a comic book series I only had peripheral awareness of. Essentially, what I'd heard of the RPG as a good introduction to Fate got me to check out the RPG, figuring even if I didn't use the setting I could mine it. But the RPG is designed to greatly emulate the comic which caused me to go on a Comixology binge and obtain all of the digital Atomic Robo collections. I was hooked pretty quickly.

I'll be talking about the RPG in the future (I hope - I also still plan on writing about some of the Delta Green stories I've read and my update frequency has been horrible of late.) Here I'll want to talk a bit about the Atomic Robo comics.

Atomic Robo is the creation of writer Brian Clevinger and artist Scott Wegener. Atomic Robo is the creation of Nikola Tesla, "born…

RPG Review: The Big Crime

This post isn't a first impressions review of the new Spectrum Games RPG The Big Crime.

A few disclaimers. The first is that while I've never met one of the authors, Cynthia Celeste Miller, she is someone who I've corresponded with a lot on Facebook and I admire a great deal. Moreover, our interests are pretty close together - 80's cartoons, comic books (especially of the Silver and Bronze ages), etc.

The second disclaimer is more administrative just in case I never get around to a more full review reflecting actual play or additional details (I have some Delta Green reviews I'm meaning to do as well). Life of late has been more intense than usual. My wife's school closed down at the end of last October and being a person who has anxiety problems in the best of times, the last few months have been rough. The past week or two has seen an improvement - I've been paying more attention to my own mental health and my wife has secured a long-term sub position th…

Remembering Aaron Allston

Aaron Allston passed away this past week. Allston was a prodigious game designer and author. In the roleplaying world he was best known for his work for Hero Games, TSR, along with Ghostbusters International for West End Games. He later moved on to producing fiction, best known for writing several well-received novels set in the Star Wars universe.

For many in the gaming world he is best known for his Hero Games work but I was most familiar with his work for TSR, most notably being the force behind three of the most noteworthy D&D products of the late 80s and early 90 (along with several other products he wrote):

GAZ1: The Grand Duchy of Karameikos (1987)Dungeons & Dragons Hollow World (1990)Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia (1991)
The Grand Ducky of Karakeikos was a detailed look at the default starting area of play in the D&D "known world" (later renamed Mystara). The Hollow World gave us a good measure of pulp with the lost civilizations of the known worl…

Film Review: The Warriors

New York actor Roger Hill passed away about a week ago according to the New York Daily News. He was best known for playing Cyrus from the 1979 film "The Warriors".
I first encountered "The Warriors"on television in the 1980s. It was a perfect movie for me. By this time I was settled in Connecticut but still had a healthy love for my native city of New York and still went back there quite often to visit and stay with family. I have prints of old maps of New York City in my house here in Massachusetts - one of Colonial-era New York and another of the 1970s New York City Subway map. What got my attention as I was channel surfing was the frequent scenes taking place in the subway. 
"The Warriors" tells the tale of a gang (named the Warriors oddly enough) that travels from their home turf in Coney Island to a meeting of gangs in the Bronx. They have been assembled under a flag of truce by Cyrus, leader of the biggest gang in the city. Cyrus has a vision of bri…

No Power in the Verse Can Stop Me - Thoughts on Firefly Gaming

Yes... Yes... This is a fertile land and we will thrive. We will rule over all this land and we will call it... This Land. - Wash, Firefly Episode 1: "Serenity"

With a new Firefly RPG out this month I've been rewatching some episodes of the sadly short-lived television show. There's a decent chance I'll at the very least be taking it for a spin - I have some pretty good memories of the the older Serenity RPG, the basis for which Margaret Weis Productions (MWP) created the Cortex System. Cortex System had a decent amount of similarity with the Savage Worlds RPG.

With the Smallville RPG, the Cortex System evolved into Cortex Plus. Though the character sheets might look rather similar, the engine changed quite a bit to be a far more "narrative-based" RPG. For example, one of the most important aspects of a character in Smallville is his or her relationships with other characters. For example Clark Kent could use his rating in his relationship with Lex Lut…

Delta Green Fiction

In my last post I spoke a bit about Delta Green. After posting I realized that my familiarity with Delta Green is solely through RPG supplements and I was very unfamiliar with the Delta Green. To be honest, I have a tendency to avoid most "gaming fiction" - I read and enjoyed Dragonlance and Drizzt once upon a time but generally speaking I tend not to enjoy it. However, I was curious as to the Delta Green fiction so I asked around on the Call of Cthulhu RPG Google+ Community.The people there spoke very highly of the Delta Green fiction, even those who, like me, generally don't read RPG fiction. With that in mind I've obtained some ebooks of what seemed to be available and did some searching online to compile a list of what seems to be available in chronological order. After I finish the first anthology I'll post a review. However in the meantime I thought it might be worthwhile to share what I've been able to find.

Delta Green: Alien Intelligence. An anthology…

Alternate Mythos Lenses

HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos have had an influence on various forms of entertainment. Many episodes of Doctor Who and Star Trek have had a Lovecraftian feel to them. The early Tom Baker episodes of Doctor Who with stories like Pyramids of Mars, Horror of Fang Rock, and Talons of Weng-Chiang have many elements to be found in the Cthulhu Mythos, like ancient aliens, god-like beings visiting the Earth, etc. Star Trek had references to the Old Ones placed by Robert Bloch in What Are Little Girls Made Of and many episodes dealt with the remnants of previous interstellar empires - the Iconians, known as "Demons of Air and Darkness" come especially to mind.

And looking at the Mind Flayers of Dungeons and Dragons one cannot help but find influences from Lovecraft.

What I've found rather interesting is those settings which go beyond mere influence from the Cthulhu Mythos but embrace their cosmos in its entirety yet put their own unique perspective on them.

One of the best kn…

Having a Long-Term Relationship with the Old Ones

The Call of Cthulhu RPG has a reputation for extreme mortality. If you don't die you're pretty much doomed to go insane.

The rules certainly allow for this to happen. Even without adding the supernatural your character is rather fragile. He or she has about 12 hit points. Almost any firearm can kill an investigator with a single hit (sometimes requiring a critical). As of the 6th edition you can only dodge once per round so if your foes gang up on you you're pretty much doomed. Add to it supernatural beings and you become aware of just how fragile your character is. And then you've got the danger of going insane. It doesn't take much to drive an investigator at least temporarily insane.

Reading on various gaming forums you 'd get the idea that your typical character can last but a single adventure or two. I mentioned previously that this uncaring fragile heroism nevertheless gives the game a certain heroism. However, I also have found that the genre is absolut…