Showing posts from March, 2016

Non-Fiction Review: One Minute To Midnight

I first read Michael Dobbs' One Minute To Midnight when it was first published, back in 2008. Both due to my general enjoyment of history and that I have an RPG campaign in the late 1950s (a few years before this) I recently listened to the unabridged audiobook version of this book.
The impression I'm left with is amazement that humanity as a species survived the Cold War in general and the Cuban Missile Crisis specifically. Throughout the thirteen days of the crisis there were multiple points where war between the USA and USSR could have broken out - from the USA discovering the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba to a US spy plane getting lost near the North Pole and stumbling into the Soviet Union in the midst of the crisis. The horror of discovering it was Soviet troops, not Cuban ones, who shot down a U-2 plane over Cuba. Does the US retaliate? If so, where does it end? There were so many opportunities for things to have gone wrong that it almost seems unrealistic that P…

Port Henry - Under Construction

"When you operate in an overbuilt metropolis, you have to hack your way with a meat ax." - Robert Moses
The fact that I absolutely love maps probably explains why I'm in the process of building a map for Port Henry, home of our superhero game, with far more detail than is required. As a kid, the first things that got my attention in The Hobbit were the excellent maps. I studied New York City subway maps so much that to this day when I visit New York and get asked for directions on the subway I can accurately send them on their way (I stay up to date - I really want to live long enough to see the 2nd Avenue Subway come fully into service).

Our game is kicking off in late 1957, after the launch of Sputnik. This is the era of urban planners like Robert Moses. People with good attentions but rather married to the idea that the automobile is the answer (regardless of the question) and any problems with that answer can be solved by more lanes. I've kept that in mind as I …

Welcome to Port Henry

Our Icons campaign has a home city that actually has a name. We worked through a few possible names and came up with Port Henry.

Our city occupies where, in the real world, can be found New Jersey's Great Bay. Though it is indeed a decent sized bay, it averages about five feet depth. It is one of the nation's best preserved wetlands so I feel a little guilty virtually draining and dredging much of it.

To be honest, we didn't quite know what Port Henry was named for, it just sounded neat. It brought to mind Henry Hudson, though cities tend not to be named after a person's first name. After some thinking I went with a fictional son of Patrick Henry, Founding Father and independent Virginia's first governor. Like many people of his era, did not see all of his children survive. We're going to create a fictional son of Patrick Henry, Thomas Henry, born in 1758.

In the American Revolution, Thomas Henry served as an officer in General Washington's army. Though ve…

Developing a Superhero Campaign: Silver from the Wreckage of Gold

We'll be rolling up some Icons characters Monday night and giving some details to our setting. If nothing else, I need to give the home city a name... I've had mixed results with superhero games, though I'm hoping a combination of a good group, straightforward rule system, and some lessons learned from past games will help. 
Among the things I've learned is to make certain the campaign has an easy springboard for ideas. With that in mind, I've been thinking about the history of the world. The characters will be in the lead of the late-1950s second wave of superheroes in the world, after the Golden Age. I'm not planning for a full Silver Age feel in terms of mimicking the Comics Code Authority, but communist menaces, lost worlds, and super-science are all up for grabs. 
I've been giving some thought to how in this campaign world the "Golden Age" came to an end. I'm picturing the disgrace of the two primary Golden Age superheroes in the world. 

Non-Fiction Review: Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974

Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe  Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, "The King and I" and "The Catcher in the Rye"  Eisenhower, vaccine, England's got a new queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye - Billy Joel, "We Didn't Start the Fire"

It's a bit of an odd experience reading a history book and having it reach the period where I'm alive... My memories of the 1970s are pretty fuzzy, especially the first part of the decade, what with me being concerned with things like being born and learning how to use the toilet.

In getting a game set in the late 1950s ready I decided to do a little bit of research. Given I enjoy history, James Patterson's Grand Expectations was already on my to-read list. Grand Expectations covers the period from the end of World War II in 1945 to 1974 as the economy began tanking after an unbelievable run.

During the three decades covered…

The Secret Origin of Kkumi

So in keeping with diving into Icons, let's go ahead and take random character generation out for a spin...

Phase 1 - Origin Phase 1 has us rolling for our character's origin...

So rolling 2d6 I got an 8, which means my character has a gimmick.

Phase 2 - Attributes So for Phase 2 I roll 2d6 and look up on a table for my Prowess, Coordination, Strength, Intellect, Awareness and Willpower.

Attribute Roll Adjective Level Prowess 10Great6Coordination 6Fair4Strength 6Fair4Intellect 10Great6Awareness 11Incredible

Developing a Superhero Campaign: Finalized Rules Decision

After a number of iterations. I've settled on a game engine for a superhero campaign. In the end I'll be using Steven Kenson's Icons. 
For those unfamiliar with Icons, it is a bit of a hybrid of Fate and TSR's Marvel Superheroes RPGs. Let's take a look at a sample character in Icons, an adversary taken from the main rulebook.
Fate uses Fate (or Fudge) dice, 4dF. The Fate dice are six sided dice, with 2 sides marked with a plus, 2 with a minus, and 2 blank. A 4dF roll gives a range of -4 to 4. Icons uses a similar mechanic - essentially it involves rolling d6-d6 to generate a range of -5 to 5. Technically the initiator rolls their stat plus a d6 and you subtract from this result an opponent stat or difficulty plus a d6. 
Unlike Fate, Icons does not use stress tracks or consequences. It has stamina points which are pretty similar to hit points. For most tasks you roll a d6 plus your ability score or power. Abilities are pretty broad but can get bonuses via specialti…

Only a Communist Would Hide Behind a Mask - Superheroes During the Red Scare

I'm currently working my way through James Patterson's Grand Expectations, covering the history of the United States from the end of World War II and Watergate. Currently I'm in the 1952 presidential election, though the book isn't 100% sequential - for example, it covered the end of the Korean War before diving into the 1952 election. 

One thing I'm finding fascinating is the multiple facets of American life in the late 1940s and early 1950s. On the one hand, we see the United States enjoying prosperity which, to our eyes, is hard to believe. But that assumes you were white. And not a farmer. Or a woman looking for her own career. Or non-straight. Or having unpatriotic views.
There's a definite undercurrent of fear at the communist menace. The commies are everywhere. To be clear, there were unions whose leadership did indeed receive marching orders from Moscow. And the Soviet Union did indeed engage in espionage. But it is also clear how much of the Red Scare…

Locating a Fictional Superhero City

Gotham City. Metropolis. Central City. Star City. Coast City. Opal City. DC Comics has a number of fictional cities in the United States. As a counterpoint, Marvel Comics tends to use real cities, though it does have its share of fictional nations such as Latveria and Wakanda.
As I work out a superhero setting I have to confess to preferring the DC Comics method. I'm the type of person who likes "getting things right" and setting a game in a city can put me into a research loop. To be sure, it's a mental block on my part. It's one of the things I like about setting Call of Cthulhu games in Arkham.
However, creating a fictional city gives its own type of problem. A city needs to go somewhere. And good places for cities tend to be occupied by... well, cities. Being a Brooklyn originally boy my bias tends to be a city along the eastern seaboard and no further north than the mid-Atlantic. Gotham City is probably my main inspiration, with influences from Star City on…

Fiction Review: The Sword of Shannara

Capsule Review: Way too derivative of Lord of the Rings though with some interesting twists and it gets very interesting when Han Solo and Chewbacca show up.
In my gaming groups in middle and high school Terry Brooks' Shannara were extremely popular. Looking back, it's a bit easier to see why. While taking much from Tolkien (especially in the first book, which I'll be discussing here) they were definitely much easier reads than Tolkien's Lord of the Rings novels, eschewing Elf songs that go on for pages.
The Sword of Shannara is the tale of Shea Ohmsford, a half-elf adopted into the Ohmsford family and his adopted brother Flick. They are warned by the druid Allanon that Shea is a descendant of Jerle Shannara - the last living one - and is therefore the only person who can wield the legendary Sword of Shannara and defeat the Warlock Lord. However, the Warlock Lord and his dark servants, the Skull Bearers, having slain all the other descendants, are searching for Shea.

Pouches Were Cool: Brief Reflections on the Iron Age of Comics

Probably my favorite of the "ages" of comic books was the Bronze Age - it's not a rigidly defined time, but generally considered to span from 1970 to the mid-80s - often with The Dark Knight Returns as being considered the dawn of the Iron Age. Though the Bronze Age is my favorite, I started reading comics as it was ending - Crisis on Infinite Earths was just about to appear on the shelves.

So most of my initial collecting was in the Iron Age. I'm pretty sure in my parent's house in a box are multiple copies of X-Men #1 and Superman #75, just waiting to be cracked open to fund my kids' attending Harvard, MIT, and Yale. And maybe Columbia for good measure too...

Joking aside, I enjoyed the early efforts of the Iron Age. Though I don't particularly care for Frank Miller's more recent works, The Dark Knight Returns was an interesting examination at Batman, suggesting there was something very seriously wrong with him. In all honesty though, I believe his…