Sunday, August 24, 2008

Linkfest 7

Well, I do apologize for not updating this recently....but with moving to another state and starting grad school, time has been at a premium. So hopefully the linkfest will appease you all for now, because it's either this or nothing.



So what could be better than Batman The Dark Knight? Batman The Musical! Well, better in terms of riotously amusing at least. I couldn't stop laughing after hearing some of the songs, and there was no Joker Gas involved, honest!

Besides, the CD would be wonderful taking up space along with the Evil Dead Musical which unfortunately is about to close according to their website.

I have two words to describe this....Genius, Pure Genius. A gift for the geek friend who can't take the hint, D20 Soaps. It's a sad situation where one has to resort to these measures, but it's for the greater good that we do so. Of course, on the other hand, one already wonders where some people's dice have been, do we really want to encourage them?

Oh, and for anyone confused about the whole digital TV transition that's going on, my friend has posted up a fine guide.

Finally, Geekdad has a pretty entertaining list of some of the more ridiculous Transformers out there . Not that some of them aren't tremendously entertaining(Waspinator dezztroy catbot!) but others are in the "what were they thinking" category.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

You Know You're Reading Stackpole When...

How to know that you're reading a Michael A. Stackpole novel. Now let's start off with the fact that I do enjoy his books, they're some of my favorites, with Talion and a Hero Reborn always holding a special place in my heart, however, there are a few elements that tend to get reused. And since I'm just finishing up The New World, the third in his Cartomancy(actually properly Age of Discovery but Cartomancy is easier to type) series of books, I felt that this would be more useful(not to mention entertaining) than a straight up review.

Before you take a look, take note of two items. 1. I didn't include novels from Battletech or Star Wars since those are shared universes. 2. I only put down books that I've read, and there may be some inaccuracy due to the fact it's been some time since I've read a few, particularly Eyes of Silver and Hero Born. If there is, feel free to tell me to add in the appropriate area, or even suggest a whole new category.


Now let's go over the highlights of the chart.


Talion Eyes of Silver Once A Hero A Hero Born(Chaos Rider Universe) Dragoncrown Cycle Cartomancy Universe
Wandering Swordsmen Dispensing Justice 1

1
1 3
Dinosaurs In All But Name


1 1 1 3
Created Cannon Fodder


1 1 1 3
Fallen Empire 1 1 1 1 1 1 6
Fallen Empire of Near Immortals

1
1 1 3
Mecha or Magitech Golemns
1

1 1 3
Magical Radiation


1
1 2
Amnesia/Reincarnation/ etc.
1 1 1 1 1 5
Meet Me At The Ball 1

1 1 1 4
Circle Duels 1


1 1 3
Limited Shapeshifters/Natural Magicusers
1 1
1 1 4
Huge Statues Crafted/Moved by Magic 1

1 1
3









5 4 4 8 10 11



Wandering Swordsmen: Simple enough for Talion, the Talions themselves. A Hero Born I included the Chaos Riders, not specifically targeted at justice, but certainly protectors. The Cartomancy universe has them as well, with a italicized and hard to pronounce name. I was tempted to include the Fortress Draconis universe, but I don't think Crow can count as more than an isolated adventuring party.

Dinosaurs in all but name: Fortress Draconis has the temeryces, Hero Born has various species warped by chaos, and Cartomancy has the creations of its sleeping evil and mad grandfather.

Created Cannon Fodder: This was a hard one to label. The main creatures that fill this niche are the Gibberers from the Dragoncrown cycle, a slight variation also appears in Cartomancy, and while debatable, I included the chaos creatures from Hero Born. I could have included the "goblins" from Talion, but they didn't really fulfill the same role.

Fallen Empire(Of Near Immortals): Yup, every single one of them fulfilled the post shattering/after the fall of empire theme. And we ended up immortal overlords many a time, Once a Hero had the Reithrese, Dragoncrown cycle had, what else, dragons, and with Cartomancy we have the Viruk.

Awakening/Reincarnation/etc: Moraven Tolo, Neal Elfward, Locke, Kereena Dost(whose name reappears in the Cartomancy series), etc. I think Talion is the only one where this doesn't feature in somewhere.

Meet Me At The Ball: Actually these make up some of my favorite scenes, the Bear's Eve Ball for Hero Born, the ball to kick off the expeditions in Cartomancy, the coronation ball for Talion. The Dragoncrown cycle one eludes my memory though.

Limited Shapeshifters/Natural Magic Users: Actually I cheated a little bit in combining the two categories, but I think they fit as usually they're the anathema of magicians. The Dost's shapechanging ability from Eyes of Silver seems to clearly have a legacy in the UrZethi of the Dragoncrown books, and the Dreel and Fennych of Once a Hero and Cartomancy might as well be cousins.

Anyways, whether it's a good or bad thing that these tropes appear more in his most recent works. Well that depends on how much you like them to begin with, whether he's pulling his vision of a fantasy world together, or just repeating himself. Either way, I enjoy his writings, but dammit! I wouldn't mind a few surprises to look forward to.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Linkfest 6

Well, I've had a pretty intense last few weeks, between the whole Airport fiasco and moving up to NC for grad school, so take this as a teaser, with a full update hopefully coming soon.

I found this site with some free wargame rules, and plenty of battle reports. Well written and quite interesting, so go ahead and check out Damned Human Race - Miniature War Gaming

Here's an unrelated but possibly quite useful tool. Stun your audience, players, or victims by knowing the impact effects of a meteor or asteroid hitting the Earth. Cataclysm or romantic night out? Will we fall into a hundred year winter, or will the planet simply go kablooey? Well, in much more technical terms than that of course, but....

Also, I feel a need to share the wealth. Have you read any Zelazny yet? If not, then go ahead and try out the first book of his epic Amber series, Roger Zelazny. Nine Princes In Amber.

Now here's something that you might not have seen, or even known, that Robert E. Howard, best known as the creator of classic pulp characters such as Conan, Solomon Kane, and Bran Mak Morn, was also a prolific poet. Actually Howard scholars will know this, but for the rest of you, I would like to give you a little taste of what he had to offer, so here's a link to a website that has many of his poems for you to enjoy.

While we're in a artistic and musical mode here, Zooey Deschanel stars and sings in the new music video by She and Him, "Why do you let me stay here".

For you BSG fans....we have a trailer for Caprica! Wooooo! Hopefully that'll keep us from going into total withdrawl when BSG ends.

And simply because this is so totally awesome, I just have to link this. A little late, I know, but it's there. The Great Office War.

Also, here's a nice little tidbit written by a friend of mine on how to Mod Firefox. Useful for the less tech savvy of us.

Finally, something I should have done already. I'm adding in Gunnerkrigg Court to the webcomics list. I'm also thinking of taking several off due to inactivity. Does anyone have an opinion on whether I should leave them on for sentimental reasons or take them off to reduce clutter?

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Flying Dutchman. Or: How I learned to stop the yawn.

This is a bit of a personal post, but given that I haven't done much on here I thought I would give you all a bit of an explanation.

You may not know, but I went up to visit a friend in rural Harbor Beach Michigan over the weekend. Getting up there I was delayed two hours, but nothing compared to getting back. First off, Harbor Beach is a good 2-3 hours from the Flint airport, with a flight scheduled to leave at 5ish, and needing to get something to eat, I left at 1pm. That's when the travel time clock started.

Arrive at the airport to see that the flight has been delayed until 11pm. Fortunately there is another, earlier flight, the 3pm flight(it's now 4pm with it scheduled for 6). Get on that flight and wait, and wait, as it gets delayed, and delayed. As it is delayed past 8pm, I change tickets for my connecting flight. As it gets delayed past 9pm, I change tickets again for the last flight to Ft. Lauderdale out of Atlanta. As it is delayed past 10:30pm, I realize that it is impossible to make that and change the ticket once again to Miami.

Two hours of flying time so far for 10 hours of travel time. The plane actually leaves at 10:50pm. Enter, Atlanta. After an hour sitting on the tarmac waiting for a gate to open up, I learn the Miami flight is canceled. As all the flights have been delayed the terminal is packed, standing room only, and there is a line of about 200-300 people for the customer service.

I estimate about 2 hours of wait....I was wrong, it was more like 4.5 hours. I got in the line at 1:30, I got out of the line at 5:30am. They were able to put me on standby for the next 3 flights out to Ft. Lauderdale, unfortunately the only flight they could confirm me on was the next day, about 28 hours away.

The 8:10am to Ft. Laud leaves without me on it. But I did luck out and get a emergency row seat on the 9:10am. Finally getting me in at around 11:30 or so due to delays. Finally get home around noon.

So, all in all, 23 hours of travel time. Yeah, for all of 4 hours of flights.

Not that I was the worst off, by no means, there were people who had been waiting just at Atlanta for 20 hours or more. Highlights include a group of 20-30 people who banded together to charter a bus to Ohio. An elderly lady with 1 day of medication left being given a ride across two states by the sister of a person she met while in the line for customer service. A man with a medical problem told that the only medical station was in another building, unfortunately he wouldn't be able to get there because he didn't have a boarding pass for that terminal. A family separated as the husband goes out to look for a rental car(none were to be had), only to find they could not get back into the gate area because their ticket was from the day before(about 3 hours), and that there was no way to get a new ticket until the counters opened(another 3 hours). Which was in vain anyways as there were no rental cars or hotel rooms to be had for blood or money, and no shuttles to take you anywhere. And a family with toddlers who learned that the entire terminal was sold out of drinks, it took a gate agent who was going off shift to bring back a little carton for them.

All in all I got two impressions from this. First, that the agents of the airline that were there were helpful despite the pressures, with high level of patience. I complemented the gate crew at Flint on juggling me from one flight to another until the last second. Second, there was no organization. The line was never addressed or separated, services were not provided for those who needed them, especially concern for medical problems. There was no effort made to make our wait more pleasant, even a small gesture would have counted for much, a free water bottle while you waited or blankets. In fact, I don't think it unreasonable to have opened up extra counters at the empty gates and to direct portions of the line to be serviced there. However none of these things were addressed. For our troubles, what we got, if we asked, was a hotel discount voucher, good for a reduced rate at a hotel....of which all were filled to capacity long ago.

Anyways, I may be ranting, and I know there is nothing that one can do about the weather, but the weather was only a small part of making that return flight the trip from hell. I've been on longer flights, waited longer times, but never with such conditions that the elderly, families with children, and medically endangered were not seen to.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Dragon Never Sleeps


The Dragon Never Sleeps - Glen Cook



Canon space has been ruled for thousands of years, overseen by immortal Guardships, ready to dispense justice and restore order with extreme prejudice. But the years have taken their toll, and for the crews, constantly undergoing a rebirth cycle to rival any karmic wheel, and the nascent AIs, things are not what they once were. Whole ships have gone silent, prowling about the uncharted rim, seeking the mysteries of the web, and worse, some have gone insane. Some are no more than ghost crewed flying dutchmen, while others have turned into dictatorial fiefdoms, and even the other ships fear their presence. Canon space has changed as well, what was once a human empire is a decaying husk, aliens, clones, and artificial constructs battle with rebel agitators and trade families to carve out their own pound of flesh.

Only one race challenged the Guardships for supremacy, and they have entered into the realm of myths and legends. The Ku recreated themselves into perfect soldiers and tacticians, adapting their race for one thing, the war, and even they were wiped out, except for one. After a hundred generations of rebellions rising and falling, the Ku's last and greatest general has resurfaced, and the time for vengeance has arrived.

But there are other things out there, things more horrible and strange than even the insane AIs of the Guardships. Aliens from beyond the Rim, and they look with hungry eyes on the bloated jewel of order known as Canon Space.

Let me first say, I am a fan of Glen Cook, from his Black Company to Garrett PI books, I've devoured them. And this one is no different, I would compare it to his Dread Empire books, with intricate plots and powerful, sometimes mysterious and unexplained forces pushing schemes within schemes. That said, I've only given the bare outlines of the plot above, but believe me, I couldn't explain it all without reams of pages, not to mention spoilers galore, best is to simply read the book.

As for the book itself, some of the description is a bit sparse, but Cook is able to do quite a bit with a few words, creating the atmosphere of a scene so palpable that you can feel the bulkheads. This is Space Opera at it's best, while still being somewhat believable. There aren't any immortal heroes(resurrected, yes, immortal, no) that right the wrongs of the universe, like the Black Company books, the Guardships have definitely drifted into the gray area of morality. With believable, if somewhat insane, characters, and a twisting plot, this is one of the few books that I can say that I didn't have a clue what would happen even as I turned the page. When I was finished there was that "oh wow" feeling that one gets after reading mindblowing literature, but also a hunger, that there could have been more, especially in the last few pages. But still, this one gets my full recommendation.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

BSG: 410 Revelations

"All of this has happened before-"
"But it doesn't have to happen again."

Wow! Just....wow. If you haven't already guessed, this is SPOILER TERRITORY to beware!



First off, we have some stunning acting by, well, everyone. Secondly, there was so much plot and story there that it almost felt like I had just watched two episodes, at least. The parts with Saul Tigh waiting to be flushed out the airlock and yelling at Lee Adama to get the balls to push the button really cemented his character. Vulgar, proud, and always ready to do his duty. The reaction by Admiral Adama after Saul's revelation, just as priceless.

Although the "Run Starbuck, Run!" sequence seemed a bit forced to me, they've got telephones for a reason dammit!

Beautiful shots of everyone, the couples with their cylon hybrid children(still a loose plot end in my opinion), and it's amazing how much they squeezed in with only an hours worth of screen time. Also, poor Gaeta, at least Dee is being nice to him. But this is not the time for me to go into a Gaeta/Dee OTP rant, so lets move on.

As for the end, I think my friend said it best. "MY HEAD IS ABOUT TO EXPLODE!" (check out her nonfiction writing by the way over at hubpages by the way) My personal opinion on their touchdown site is New York, anyone else have any ideas? Since the skyline isn't exactly, uhm...helpful. Anyways, I think it's a well deserved WHAT THE FRAK moment, but in a good way.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Myth Hunters





The first in the Veil series by Christopher Golden, the Myth Hunters evokes images of Gaiman's American Gods or
China Mieville's King Rat, with fantastic myths and legends living in a mirrored world of fantasy. The book follows some pretty classic fantasy tropes with the reluctant and somewhat bewildered hero thrust into a land of gods and fantasy. But these aren't always the myths we remember, more often than not they're the ones that originated in the bloody past, primeval things, uncaring for mortal lives.

The protagonist, Oliver Bascombe, is torn from his everyday life by a near death Jack Frost. Accompanied by Frost and the enigmatic and exotic Kitsune, they set out to find what has been targeting the Borderkind, those personifications of myth that can cross freely between the worlds. While on the other side of the veil, his sister and fiancee search desperately for him. Once the Sandman is freed however, the ante is upped, with his sister imprisoned in a dungeon of sand and his fiancee and a detective on the trail of a serial killer with a disturbing pattern.

Anyways, that's enough of an overview without revealing too much of the plot. First off, the writing is excellent, pulling one into the scenes and portraying the characters in a very believable manner. Which is quite a difficult thing to do indeed when one is encountering mad gods and legends. The only trouble I had with the novel was that there was a definite change in tone as the story switched between the various characters. So while at some points it felt almost like fantasy, other portions could be horror or mystery themed. However, I found the effect worked out in the end, as the separate plot threads weaved their way closer together. Overall, an excellent work, with good pacing and wonderful characters. If you have a taste for the myth as reality genre then this is a book for you.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Power of Good Dialog

Often Inspired is hosting a short story competition. The Power of Good Dialog.
From the rules
"Register in the forum.

You have to write at least a thousand words of dialog - and have a beginning, middle, and an end.

You're allowed a title, and a byline. The rest has to be dialog only."

Anyways, check it out, if there are enough people participating the winning entry gets a cash prize. Further rules are there on the forum, so go, go and write!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Linkfest 5

There's a thin line between embarrassment and nostalgia, especially if you grew up in the 80's/90's. This site celebrates that, from an adequately distant perspective. A look back at all that Retro Junk.

Speaking of reliving one's childhood. Or at least the cartoons, this was one of my personal favorites, click and listen to the Sky Pirate Song from Tailspin. I have to say, Don Karnage was as much a hero to my formative years as anyone.

Anyways, my last post was on the Modern Ops rules, but let's not forget that there are plenty out there, and many of them are free. Freewargames rules is a pretty good starting place if you want to test some out and see what strikes your fancy.

This link is one that will either have facepalm and groan over all the puns, or giggling uncontrollably. Yuri The Only One For Me.

And finally, Often Inspired has a shiny new design and contest for dialog writing up, so that should be fun to check out.

Edit: It always happens that just after you post, you find more neat stuff that should have gone in there. Well a day late, but it's too neat to leave off for next time. The Retropolis Transit Authority, for all your retro future t-shirt needs. I particularly like the Certifiable Mad Genius one.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Moderns Ops Review and AAR




Modern Ops by Pinnacle Entertainment Group
is a skirmish level wargame based on the Savage Worlds ruleset. It uses the abbreviated version known as the Showdown rules as well as its own setting rules.

Now for anyone familiar with the Savage World rules, the Showdown set is essentially what happens when you strip off most of the RPG elements and excess fat away to turn it into a lean mean fighting machine. The result is a highly intuitive set of rules that can move fast even if one has little experience with them.

I'm not going to go into the core system, since that's a bit beyond the scope of this post. On the plus side, it lived up to the expectation of Fast, Furious, Fun. Highlights included the unit cards that are available for free, these kept bookkeeping down to a minimum, essentially all we had to recall was how many bennies we had left, and some of the expendable ammo(grenades and RPGs). The pace never bogged down, even though the units might have from enemy fire, and the setting rules made it appropriately deadly for the genre.

On the down side, there were portions of the rules that were either vestigial or lacking. Close Combat rules and mount rules were included, but there was no real follow up on either. There weren't any living mounts statted out, and there was no section for hand to hand weapons in the armory. At best one could look at the batons that the swat teams wielded, but I felt that given how they emphasized how important Ganging Up bonuses were, especially to untrained troops, that they should have at least included a few. Even if they just had the point values for the baton, a bayonet and knife/sword it would have been enough. Also the militia units refer to not being able to use the aim action, but from what I can see, that was one of the actions cut out from the rules. Suppressed weapons were another item that didn't really have an explanation aside from the obvious. Finally, nowhere could I find the point values associated with the various abilities and edges.

I would also have liked some more Savage Tales to have come with this product, but perhaps that's just me being spoiled, as some games only come with a single or no scenarios. But on to the AAR.

We rolled up a meeting engagement, and decided on a 1000 point target, we both ended up relatively close to the number. I took the role of the Taliban commander and my opponent taking over as the German commander. We put together a few ruined city blocks for them to fight over. For this game we played a bit loose on the Loyal rules, as he wasn't happy about having to retrieve corpses, and in turn I was able to play loose with my morale checks, which would occur whenever 25% of a team is lost. Which, in a 4 man team means that I would be checking for every casualty, so I said it would trigger when >25% was lost in a single turn.

German Forces
Panzergrenadiere Gruppe(644 points)
-1 NCO with G36
-5 Riflemen with G36
-2 Soldiers with MG3
Sniper Fireteam(388 points)
-2 Snipers with G3-SD1
-2 Soldiers with MG3
=1032 points

Taliban Forces
Taliban Command Fireteam(353 points)
-1 Taliban Warlord Leader with AK-47(Wild Card)
-1 Soldier with RPG-7
-1 Machinegunner with RPK
-1 Soldier with AK-47
Taliban Fireteam(2x)(253 points each)
-1 Soldier with RPG-7
-3 Soldiers with AK-47
Taliban Sniper (166 points)
-1 Sniper with Dragunov SVD(Wild Card)
=1025 points

I'll be referring to the placement of units by my perspective at the Taliban edge of our 2x6 table. The Command Fireteam set up along the far left, with one fireteam in the middle and one on the right, the sniper set up along the right hand side as well. The German forces mirrored mine, their 8 man team on the left and their sniper team on the right.

The first turns were mostly feeling each other out, but some skilled sniper fire by the Germans pinned down my rightmost fireteam, shaking the RPG man. My own sniper returned fire from the second floor of a building, but had little success. It was not an even matchup. I outranged them, their guns considered my sniper as in medium range, while mine could reach them as close range. However this was evened up by the fact that my sniper only had a D10 in shooting while the German snipers were sitting pretty with D12s. I quickly learned that their body armor(giving them a toughness of 11! Most of my soldiers had a 5 or 6) kept them relatively impervious to small arms fire.

Along the left side of the board both sides inched towards each other. I started things off with a volley of RPG shots, which quickly took out one of the sniper team. After that my opponent kept all his units relatively spread out, which helped reduce casualties, but kept him from a concentrated assault as my command team moved into position.

Midgame was when I learned the importance of not bunching up as well. The German soldiers were keeping their heads down due to my command team, I believe that one rifleman and one machinegunner had been killed by my MG or RPGs, my AK-47 armed soldiers were having trouble hitting or damaging his(although that might have been due to the dice more than the mechanics), again due to the body armor. His snipers had concentrated on my RPG soldiers, taking out the one in my command team and in my right hand side fireteam. My middle fireteam had bunched up, minus the RPGman who had been shaken by sniper fire and had not caught up with the man bunch, but a well placed grenade took out three of them in one hit. What was amazing was that the RPGman was able to make his morale check, acing it and continuing on. Meanwhile, every German soldier that was getting close enough to toss a grenade was being taken out with accurate MG fire.

The endgame was a continued attempt to flush out my command team with grenades, and accurate sniper fire chipping away at the remainder of my forces. By the time we ended due to hunger the tally was pretty close. I had lost 7 of my 13 men, including my leader, while he had lost 7 of his 12. 6 of those were from his Panzergrenadieres, leaving only his leader and a MG man from that squad. The remaining casualty was from his sniper team, which really didn't move all that much throughout the game.

I was actually rather surprised at how well the Taliban forces did given that of my 13 soldiers, 9 of them had weapons that barely scratched the body armor of the German troops. My opponent's major complaint was that the German squads were too big, in order to avoid a grenade or RPG landing in the middle and taking multiple soldiers out, he was forced to essentially move his forces in a chain, which limited firepower at a point. Also he felt that the two MG men with his sniper team would be better served near the front, as opposed to with his sniper on overwatch. Actually that whole team could have moved up and flanked my forces, given that my own sniper was having trouble doing any damage other than perhaps shaking a unit for a turn or two.

My own problems included, of course, the fact that the body armor made most of my shots harmless, it was only due to the luck of my MG(acing damage repeatedly) that I was able to do as much damage as I did. In general I felt that there was a little trouble with interrupting actions, as we had two ties before resolving an interrupt, I think the one on hold should win ties personally, so I might houserule that. My leader's fireteam was waiting for them to move into the open, but lost the interrupt and got a grenade down their throat for their trouble.

All in all, a really fun game that played fast and was suitably deadly. Unlike the Chain Reaction ruleset, this game doesn't almost run itself, but the Modern Ops ruleset is very intuitive, and most likely second nature to anyone who has Savage Worlds. So, aside from the above gripes I'm quite happy with it. It could have been executed better, so it's not perfect, but it gets done what it set out to do.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Magic Burns - Ilona Andrews



"Bring your army little god! My sword is hungry!"

Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews is the second in her Kate Daniels series, set in a world where Magic came back, ending, or at least highly disrupting the reign of technology. However it comes and goes, ebbing and flowing like the tides as the magic returns into the world. Not only does the magic bring power, but it transforms the world with its abilities, and when the magic is in control, everything from phones to cars shuts down, not to mention skyscrapers.

The heroine Kate Daniels is a mercenary working for a modern day version of the Knights Templar(called the Order), toting a flesh melting sword and a take-no-shit attitude. Which has all the makings of a good Urban Fantasy story. World shattering danger? Check. Summoning of elder gods or in general things MAN WAS NOT MEANT TO KNOW? Check. Vampires and Werewolves? Check. Magic? Check. Sword slinging violence? Check. Sexy situations? Double check.

The world itself makes for some interesting twists on what you usually see with your urban fantasy. Instead of the "Magic was hiding" or "It was there all along" types that you usually see, often accompanied by all sorts of 'don't tell the normals' rules and regulations, we have magic and tech as a pendulum, swinging back and forth(Actually, the first thing I thought about was an association with global warming and cooling periods and solar cycles, but I don't think that's exactly what she had in mind).

Secondly, the coming of magic wasn't something that just shocked the world, it shattered it. The most obvious example being the Atlanta skyline, full of ruined towers and fallen buildings, not quite post apocalyptic, but you get the feeling that it felt pretty close. Although it does have what seems to be the trend in having scientific viral explanations behind the main monster staples(vamps and weres), the Vampires are not the sexy seducers you find in most urban fantasy. Mindless, putrefying, and bloodthirsty, and hopefully under the mental control of necromancers, who are in return hopefully under control of the law. There was a hilarious line about how to make a Vampire being a dozen forms and a stack of applications.

The heroine is instantly likable. Ready to kick ass and take names, with practicality and doing right at the top of her list. And unlike some female heroines in urban fantasy, doesn't get sidetracked by sex. There are steamy situations, and it almost seems that for all her protestations about not getting any, every other person is ready to jump into her pants. However the sexual aspects don't ever become the focus of the story-something which always tends to turn me off a bit to a book. Not to mention quoting lines of cheesy movies, and despite death everywhere she doesn't become flooded with existential angst, another danger of the genre.

The other characters are also interesting. I just have to give props to the heroine's coworker Andrea at the Order for excellent pistol choice(she carries SIG226s if you're wondering). Sorry, inner gun nut coming out, anyways, every one of them have at least an interesting quirk that make them stick in your mind. However it felt very uneven in how they were covered. Perhaps it's just because of the long time it's been since I read the first book in the series(Magic Bites), but some of them don't appear long enough to get more than that single quirk. For instance, Saiman appears for a single scene, and later is referenced to another character simply for that trait(wanting to bed the protagonist). They come on stage and then disappear just as quick. Now if you know them from the first book, then you won't need any explanation, but I could easily see losing track if you didn't have at least some foreknowledge.

One of them really stood out for me, Bran, a warrior from another age who made the unwise choice of making a bargain with Morrigan. I'm trying not to give too much of the plot away, but suffice to say, it was like seeing a character Robert E. Howard or David Gemmell could have written about, but all barbarian, no heroism.

Now I have to admit, I'm a sucker for good Urban Fantasy, and that is what this is. Between getting in into my grubby little hands and turning the final page I doubt more than 4 hours passed, including the ride back from the bookstore. So it quite definitely has my recommendation, with the reservation that you really should read the first book of the series before this one. As I mentioned, some recurring characters really should be known about beforehand, and some of the explanations of the world are only glanced at during this book, whereas they're more fully explained in the first. Also, it tends to jump around, the fact pacing and quick action sometimes left me feeling like some scenes were cut short where they could have lingered a bit longer.

Anyways, the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews is top notch urban fantasy, right up there with the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher or the Kitty series by Carrie Vaughn, and you would do well to jump in while it's still early in the run.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Top 5 Cartoon Vixens and Villainesses

You know them and love them, or at least love to see them defeat some meddling do-gooders. Eye-candy? No sir! Let that tongue loll out and they'll take it, staple it to the wall and play darts with what remains as a target. These are those downright evil, or at least maniacal women of animation fame, the ones that you cheer on, despite knowing that after 25 minutes of success, the heroes of the show will pull something off through sheer luck and turn it all around, much to your dismay. Anyways, here are my 5 top favorite vixens and villainesses of cartoons(anime deserves its own category, and is a bit too vast to address here).


5. Harley Quinn


"Face it, Harl, this stinks - yer a certified nutso wanted by the law in over a dozen states - and hopelessly in love with a murderous,psychopathic clown"

Originally appearing in Batman: The Animated Series before crossing over into the comic books, Dr. Harleen Quinzel was a psychiatrist at Arkham before falling in love with the one and only Joker. Deeply devoted despite disastrous and sometimes deadly abuses to her "puddin'" and wielding her psychoses like a weapon, she's that dangerous dame that you can't resist, the moll to the diabolical and dastardly Clown Prince of Crime.....okay, okay, enough alliteration. In addition to her abusive codependent relationship with the Joker, she's got a near legendary relationship with Ivy, or "Red" which not only titillates, but brings out the soft spot in viewers and readers. Harley is the puppy dog that won't go away after being kicked, and whether her true love is the Joker or Red, you hate to see her trounced by the Bats, week after week. Either way, we give Harley some mad love!

4. Azula


"Maybe you should worry less about the tides, who've already made up their mind about killing you, and worry more about me, who's still mulling it over... "

The newcomer on the scene. What can you say, but EVIL. EVIL! Delighting in fear, retribution, and long walks on the beach while her enemies burn, she's one of the prime antagonists in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Sister to Zuko, she's demonstrated time and again that she's one of the best firebenders(save perhaps her father), and actually has beaten the protagonists most of the time that they meet head to head. She's the girl that pushed you around on the playground and laughed about it, the one who ripped heads off of dolls, and then set them on fire. Cruel, sadistic, and downright mean, but with a surprising insecurity as revealed in a recent episode. She realizes her own social ineptitude, and in the end, scathing and malevolent are all she knows. It makes you want to hug her....if you enjoy hugging electric eels that is. But in the end, Azula is evil incarnate, and doesn't give a damn if you don't like it, her ambition is set to burn anything in her path, and we're okay with that.

3. Shego


"I am EVIL! Have I made myself clear?"

She's green, she's evil, she's snarky, she's Shego. But for all that, she's still rational, something we haven't seen yet. Evil is a job for her, but when your hands sprout green plasma fires, it's also a calling. Shego started out as a hero, but by the time we see her on Kim Possible, she'd already taken up as henchman(or henchwoman) for Dr. Drakken. Along with kickass moves and snarky comments, this dark counterpart to Kim Possible's action girl is definitely genre savvy. And is probably the most well adjusted of all of these, she just enjoys villainy. Despite the bad hours, inept boss, and crazy schemes, she knows her job and does it well, despite her bumbling boss. Shego is an equal at hand to hand combat with the heroine, and can hold her own against the best of them. In fact, in the alternate dystopian future episode, not only has evil won over good, but she's the one that pulled it off and rules as Empress.

2. Baroness


"All's fair in love and war!"

Slinky black leather catsuit, glasses, evil, she's every nerd's wet dream. Well, perhaps not the evil part(or perhaps so, you never know), but anyways, anyone who's ever seen a GI Joe comic or cartoon will be able to recall the Baroness. COBRA Commander and Destro may have been in command, but you knew it was the Baroness who was getting things done. EEEVVVILLL things, like impersonating Joes, or torturing Joes, or shooting Joes, or...well, you get the picture. Not only that, but despite being evil, her loyalty and devotion to Destro are legendary. Head of COBRA Intelligence and Second in Command, she knew how to kick arse and take names(usually ones associated with the character's specialty). While she was originally motivated by vengeance for her brother's death, we know the truth, she's evil and proud of it.









1. Carmen Sandiego


"It's not whether you win or lose the game, Player, but how much fun you can make it for me while we play."

Is it the red trench coat and fedora? Is it the legion of punning minions she employs? Is it her encyclopedic knowledge of history, geography, and art? Is it the air of mystery? Is it the fact that she's unattainable(literally)? She first appeared in the series of educational games bearing her name, and did more to teach me about history than years of grade school, if only because of my burning need to FIND HER! This master thief is desired, and knows it, she pounded into our little kiddie brains that smart is sexy, and you don't have to strip down to a skintight suit to be sought after...Just steal a national monument. And by the clues she leaves behind for you, it's clear that not only does she love the chase, but that she knows that she's the best. Though I have to say, it was the TV show version that brought out the wow factor. Self-confident, mysterious, and brilliant, what more could you ask for?(Aside from perhaps, not being a kleptomaniac, which is part of the charm) Not to mention of course, being one of the very few that can claim leading lady status. No position of sidekick, henchwoman, or ensemble villainess for this lady in red, she was the primary antagonist, and that gets her extra credit all around.


Either way, this bad girl of the screen tops our list of Cartoon vixens, showing you that evil pays!

Do you have a different opinion? A favorite evil dame from your childhood Saturday mornings? Well go ahead and post it up in the comment section, I'll be glad to hear from you.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Savage Archaeology

So, inspired by articles like this:
What Real-Life Dungeon Exploration Might Look Like, Graduate Students in Tow
And this
Back From Yet Another Globetrotting Adventure, Indiana Jones checks his mail and discovers that his bid for tenure has been denied

I wanted to do a lighthearted subversion of the typical dungeon crawl. I'm using the Savage Worlds system, which is by Pinnacle Entertainment Group. I've mentioned it before in my reviews of Solomon Kane and Rippers, but it really is a fast system that you won't feel that you're bogged down with, and if you don't have it, they've got a free Test Drive with most of the basic rules to play. The only exception for this little adventure is the Big Events, but there's a list of monsters so just use something similar if possible.

Anyways, opinions are needed, this was scrapped together in a few hours of manic inspiration, also if you want to try a playtest for this minigame, lol. But really this is more or less an amusing diversion as a solo dungeon crawl turned on its head.

Savage Archaeology

Congratulations Professor! You have just received funding to excavate an underground site suspected to be the ruins of an ancient civilization. To this end we have laid in an adequate supply of index cards and graduate students to carefully complete an initial survey and mapping of the site. The University is expecting great things, and respectfully reminds you that you have not published recently. In order to remain of the highest standards, regular publication in a peer reviewed journal is expected, and we hope that this trip will offer you the opportunity which you have been lobbying the finance department for, to gather field data .

Armed with notebooks, index cards, pencils, and a variety of small brushes you and your sad lot of graduate students arrive in a foreign land. Record and map the culturally significant features of the site, preferably without destroying the contextual evidence of the site matrix.

Each grad student must spend 2 turns studying the object of their specialty to record it, passing an appropriate Knowledge check. The Professor may do the same, but is not limited to any one type of item. (If the Knowledge check is failed then another with the appropriate skill can attempt to identify it)
Anyone who enters a previously unknown room must make a notice roll, those that fail are subject to any traps in the room(roll randomly to see who the trap targets), and on a natural 1 has a 50% chance of ruining the artifact(stepping on, breaking, using as a rest stop, or in the case of living creatures, insulting their ancestry through their actions). After the turn a room is entered it is assumed to be "discovered."
Traps may be disarmed, though in doing so they are no longer valuable to fulfill the Engineer's requirement. Or simply bypassed by an agility roll.
If an object is removed from the site matrix or damaged, it cannot count towards the items recorded. For biologicals, they must be studied while still alive.
If indigenous peoples are encountered(not from the big events table) then one can make a persuasion roll for them not to attack. A raise means that they offer to trade(likely a spear, bow and arrows, or sling for one of your grad student's shiny digital watch and a few candy bars).
After 10 rooms have been mapped then roll on the Big Events table as well.

Professor – Wild Card
Agility D4, Strength D4, Smarts D10, Spirit D10, Vigor D6
Skills: Guts D8, Investigation D8, Notice D8, Knowledge D8 in Engineering, Anthropology, Linguistics, and Zoology/Botany
Hindrances: Bad Eyes(minor), Curious(major)
Edges: Command, Inspire, Scholar(your choice)


Grad Student Types
Agility D6, Strength D6, Smarts D8, Spirit D6, Vigor D6
Skills: Fighting D4, Guts D8, Knowledge(Appropriate D8), Notice D6, Driving D4, Taunt D6
Engineer – Lockpicking D6, can be used to disarm traps
Anthropologist – Persuasion D6
Biologist – Survival D8, Tracking D6
Linguist – Can translate and identify writing,
Med Student – Healing D8, Healer


Roll 1d4 to choose hindrance/edge for any Slacker/Thug/Jock
Doubting Thomas, Greedy(may make an attempt at stealing artifacts if possible), Brawny, Clueless

Slacker – Notice D8, Persuasion D4, Guts D4, Lockpicking D4
Thug – Fighting D8, Shooting D6, Intimidation D6, Streetwise D6, Guts D6. Comes with knife
Jock – Throwing D8, Fighting D6, Climb D6, Intimidation D6, Guts D6. Comes with 6pack of empty bottles

(Beer Bottles – 3/6/12, Str+D4, -1 to attack, after a hit it shatters and becomes unusable)

Native Beaters/Guides(Does not wish to enter into the site at this time, but will provide protection for any researchers who escape from the site)
Agility D8, Smarts D6, Spirit D6, Strength D6, Vigor D6
Skills: Fighting D8, Guts D4, Notice D8, Shooting D8, Stealth D8, Survival D6, Tracking D6

Map Creation

Room Creation(Note, if you already have a dungeon generated, feel free to use that, and overlay it with the room features and events)
D10
1-3 Continues on after this room
4-5 – Turns Left
6-7 – Turns Right
8 – Tunnel Up
9- Tunnel Down
10 – Roll again twice

D20
Room Features (A=Anthropologist, E=Engineer, B=Biologist, L=Linguist)
1 An underground river flows through it
2 This room is mostly empty
3 Dust, and more dust
4 Lava pit

5 Old potsherds litter the floor(A)
6 A statue of an unknown god or goddess dominates the room(A)
7 Old burial jars and human remains litter the floor(A)
8 Simple tools and stone artifacts are evident(roll on weapons table). (A)

9 Ancient writing covers one of the walls(L)
10 Hieroglyphics depict the dangers of the next room (L)
11 Ancient clay tablets rest upon an alter, possibly describing 10 suggestions(L)

12 A rare species of insect thrives here(B)
13 A luminescent fungus is growing throughout the room(B)
14 This room is filled with bats(B)
15 Fossils of prehistoric beasts litter the floor(B)

16 An exquisitely arched ceiling with a hole in it (E)
17 A Natural underground cavern has been integrated into the structure(E)
18 Evidence of pipes and plumbing systems(E)

19 – Empty room
20 - Roll twice


Events D20
1 - A pit trap(one time use)
2 - A swinging blade trap(first person into the room is effected)
3 - A poisoned dart trap(line from one side of room to the other)
4 - A boulder trap(comes rolling down next hallway if applicable, or in line with previous hallway)(one time use)
5 - Encounter with a wild dog
6 - A big cat has made this site its home
7 - A hunting party of indigenous peoples
8 - A silver dagger rests upon a sacrificial alter
9 - Strange chanting can be heard
10 - Holy man or hermit lives here
11 - Unstable foundations give way(treat as pit trap)
12 – 19 No event
20 Roll twice

Big Events D12
1- Crocodiles, 1d3 of them
2- Pygmy Cannibals, 1d6 per turn
3- Morlocks, 1d4 per turn
4- Minotaur
5- Zombies! 1d4 per turn
6- MacGuffin! Grab it and Run
7- Rumble, Rumble, the site begins to collapse, 1 room per turn starting at outermost areas
8-12 Nothing so far


Scoring
First, make up a suitable name for your paper, some examples being, "Pre-Sauron Architecture in Subterranean Mordor." "Hyborian Hieroglyphics in Stygian Burial Mounds." "Early Paleolithic Trap Making of the Cannibalistic Shoggoth Worshippers" or something along that vein, make it snappy!

Each item recorded : 200
Recorded at least 2 of each: 200
Recorded less than 2 of each: -200
MacGuffin recovered : 400 (Though you get a stern talking to about inappropriate recovery methods by your head of department)
Each Grad Student Killed : -100
Each artifact/site/trap damaged or removed : -50
Each indigenous creature/plant harmed: -25
Each sentient native killed : -75
Each Turn taken : -10

Scores under 1000, unable to acquire funding(or willing grad students) for next year's trip. Tenure revoked!
Scores over 1000, translate into cash for the next trip. Survivors are assumed to return next year. For 200 you can get a student of your choice, for 100 you get to roll randomly among the slackers, thugs, and jocks. It can also go towards buying supplies. Two notes of supplies, 1. It's hard to justify guns as an expense(for some reason the dean doesn't think they're necessary), though you can get them on the black market for 2x listed price. And 2. If you have a video camera along, the student equipped only needs to take 1 turn to record their find.

Friday, April 11, 2008

BSG: Six of One

BSG: "Six of One"
Wow....just, wow. Also, danger, danger, spoilers ahead!







You still here?
Okay, great.

First off, Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, by the gods, that's just some amazing acting, they've really made those roles their own.
"You can stay in the room...Get out of my head."
They really are just at the end of their patience with each other, and I have to say that was one of the most powerful scenes I've seen in a long time. They have the chemistry down pat, tired, strung out, and cranky. Lol.

Apollo is going goodbye...at least from the pilots. And apparently the Strip Pyramids games? Now that's a sacrifice! The stripping pilot looks familiar by the way, but I didn't get a good look, does anyone know? Is that Seelix? Anyways, I feel sorry for Dee, she got the short stick all around.


Of course, then we have the Cylons.
"Centurians can't vote Six." "Oh, they're not here to vote Cavil."
So on one side we have the Sixes, the Sharons(sans Boomer), and the Leobens(interesting), along with any of the modded Centurians, versus the Cavil faction with however many Raiders they've managed to upgrade. I think this is an interesting carryover from the previous episode when the Six with the fleet mentions that the Significant Seven are programmed "Not to think about" the final five and now Cavil mentions that it's outright forbidden. Do the Raiders not have that stipulation in their programming? Are the Raiders actually the true inheritors of the PLAN? Either way, we have Cylon civil war on our hands...and isn't it just delicious!
"I'll pray for you. I'll pray HARD." What a way to deliver a threat.
And you know what else is delicious? More topless Sharons doing tai-chi.

And then we have Baltar....and HEAD BALTAR! So, what do you think? Spiritual Guide or Supreme Egoism? It seems that he is well aware of the danger of the cult, but seems reluctant to end something that he has more or less converted to. Of course, none of this stops him from being the supreme charismatic leader who gets to bed everyone.
Baltar: "Well, she's a sexy lady."
Head Baltar: "You slay me, you really do Gaius." "She's more than she's things, she's....fragile."
Baltar: "Fragile, oh yes I sense that too, you're very observant."
Head Baltar: "Handle with care."
Baltar: "Oh, I'd love to."
Even when he's talking with his head self he can't stop complimenting himself!

Also, poor Tory..."You're crying!" "It's just something I do during sex." Not to mention Baltar's harem staring daggers at her. Meeeooowww! Of course, one is tempted to blame Tigh for putting the suggestion forward, but so it goes.

Anyways, I figure I'll end this with what I heard from the hybrid's speech.
"The excited state decays by vibrational relaxation
Into the first excited symptom state
Yes, yes and merrily we go
Reduce atmospheric nitrogen by 0.03%
It is not much consolation that society will pick up the bits
Leaving us at 8 modern is punishment interdiction is paramount
Please, cut the fuse
They will not harm their own, end of line
Limiting diffusions to two dimensions increases the number of evolutionary jumps within the species
Rise and measure the temple of the five
Transformation is the goal
They will not harm their own....."
Anyone want to take a guess at what this means? Other than that four of the 12 are going to go extinct perhaps?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Rippers

"Those who fight monsters should take care that they never become one.
For when you stand and look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you."
-Friedrich Nietzsche

Rippers is a Savage Setting of Victorian Horror for the Savage Worlds gaming system. Imagine every myth and folklore of mad science and playing god, every boogie man that kept you up at night, imagine, all the myths are true. Mix one part Van Helsing, one part Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and add a dash of your favorite mad science story, from Dr. Frankenstein to Dr. Moreau, and you might end up with something like this. Where Abraham Van Helsing leads a clandestine organization devoted to, what else, fighting monsters, opposing him is the brilliant and sadistic Jack the Ripper. And you, my friend, have just entered into this covert horror war.

I purchased the PDF version, so I can't tell you how the print version is put together, but the PDF is quite nice. There was only 1 page that was rather hard to read, but out of 146 pages, that's not bad at all. And it's very well organized, with both a detailed table of contents and an index, having these always scores points with me because of the functionality I demand from my RPG books.

There are main three setting specific changes that Rippers makes from the standard Savage Worlds model, introducing Reason and Reputation, which are derived characteristics. Reason, in a world of monsters and monstrous deeds, might be a bit fleeting, akin to Sanity or other similar measures of a character's ability to deal with the supernatural. However it's not quite a one way slide into oblivion and madness, Rippers also provides the appropriate edges for recovering reason, whether through therapy or a bout in a mental institution(which will unfortunately leave you with a whole new set of mental scars, but at least you're not babbling incomprehensibly). Either way it's a very powerful thematic tool.

Reputation in a Victorian world is of course quite important. However this more so than reason seems to be a slide towards the bottom, with plenty of opportunities for losing it(e.g. staying at a lodge that doesn't have enough influence), and very few for gaining it. While I understand the reasoning behind this, I think that I would like modify it a bit before GMing for Rippers. While some may enjoy roleplaying this aspect more fully, when you're fighting monsters I don't think it needs to take a front seat. However if one were to just take this mechanic and rip it into simply a Victorian oriented campaign where roleplaying status was key, then that would make an suiting combination I believe.

In addition you have the standard equipment list, supplemented by your cinematic monster hunting gear. Including a Gatling pistol and various exploding/trick/silver/grappling ammunition for your trusty crossbow. Which I felt was an especially nice touch.

The other options included are Rippertech, essentially grafting monster parts onto your characters, and Lodges. Now I have to say that the possibilities granted by these two are really neat, and having a base of operations for the players is always a powerful adventure tool. Especially when combined with the very comprehensive random adventure creator included. And when I say comprehensive, I mean it, you can create a pretty convincing scenario with just a few rolls. However it is mostly oriented towards the Rippers setting specifically, so keep that in mind. Also I have some problems with the aspects related to the strategic missions for the upkeep of the lodge that one assumes that you're sending your NPC buddies out on. The more and better your people that you send out, the more cards you draw, and yet success is based simply on whether you've got more red or black cards, and if there are face cards it's a big time success or failure. Now the two jokers give a little bit of skewed odds towards more cards being a good thing, but I think I'd tweak it a bit to let you actually discard a card with more or more experienced people.

But the meat of the book is definitely the plot point campaign and savage tales. There are about 30 adventures set around the world with opportunities to meet everyone from Sherlock Holmes(deliciously subverted as he wastes away in the grips of cocaine addiction) to Dr. Frankenstein. Not to mention encounters with cryptids such as the Jersey Devil and of course your standard beasties from Werewolves to Vampires. I'm keeping it short as not to spoil too much, but there are quite a few plot twists and subversions that will keep you entertained.

While there is some overlap with the Savage World of Solomon Kane, there is very definitely a different atmosphere evoked. In Rippers, one is no wandering hero, but a part of an organized force battling a sometimes losing war against monsters. Rippers also leans more towards steampunk sensibilities than Solomon Kane, if that interests you, though I think that there is enough that sets them apart that warrants getting Rippers if your players are interested in the time periods, or even if they were at least excited about something like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Five Fists of Science(one could easily see Tesla and Edison set as agents or enemies for instance). Actually one with delusions of grandeur might imagine a massive cross generational campaign spanning time periods and, errr...well, one gets ahead of themselves.

All in all, a solid product, even though at times it seems to be confused whether it wants to focus on being a Victorian, a Horror, or a Monster Hunting setting, it does manage meld them together in an enjoyable way. If you're not interested so much in the supernatural horror involved, then perhaps this isn't for you, but frankly, I think most people will be getting it exactly for that reason. And the rules contained will adapt pretty well to any Victorian or Steampunk oriented game. While it doesn't qualify as best value/purchase of the year, to me it's easily worth the $20 bucks or so that I paid for it.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

BSG: Season 4 Premiere

"He That Believeth in Me" or, Gaius Baltar: Messiah at Large. Or, What Would Gaius Baltar Do? Or, No Asking for Directions!

Danger, Danger, spoilers ahead!





Okay
Season 4, the premiere episode, what can I saw but....wow. Just....wow.

The revealed final 4, let's talk about that first. We've had some time to let it sink in about them being Cylons. But damn does Saul Tigh lay down the law, even though he spends much of the episode with a horrified look on his face. Will be interesting to see how the writers resolve his presence in the first Colonial war, before there were actual skinjobs walking around. Poor Anders, he's just not getting a break there, not only is his wife hugging and kissing Apollo, but the Cylon raider recognized him(One of us! One of us!). Big foreboding moment, I wish we could have seen what was going on with the Cylon side of things.

Starbuck. I don't even know where to begin with that. It's not hard to see that things are going to be tough for her. Not that she was totally sane to begin with, but I've a feeling she'll lose it completely.

Apollo....no flying for baby Adama? Okay, so no Apollo flying, no Starbuck flying, who do we have on the roster left? Athena, Seelix, and Anders(who has problems performing *cough cough*)?

Helo, it's good to see him on the c-in-c. Interesting that he's not flying though, didn't all the other CAGs tend to fly? Or maybe Adama knows he needs someone who isn't going to flake out on him in the command center.

Gaius Baltar.....has suddenly become the messiah....to a cult of nubile young women. I couldn't help but laugh at the part where one of them asks "Can you feel God's presence?" then puts his hands on her breasts. "Yes, yes I believe I do!" Squish squish! Of course, later on we see what could very well be the redemption of Gaius Baltar.
Photobucket
Yes? No? Maybe?

Anyways, the most interesting part to me is the teaser for next week. Cylon Civil War? D'Anna returns(or is that a version of 6)?

And since everyone has a theory on the final five...Here's mine. In the beginning, the Cylons discovered that there was vast disagreement on how to approach the human problem. The Significant Seven seeing the humans as parental figures that must be surpassed and destroyed for them to come into their own. The final five on the other hand perhaps wanting to protect humanity, or at least understand it so that they could go back and inform the rest of the Cylons on what makes us tick and why we should be saved, or even because they were made TOO human and empathized with us. Whatever the reason, in order to prevent a Civil War(or because they'd lose if they tried to fight), they leave the main Cylon population and erase as much of the evidence that they were there as possible.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The World of Broadsword


Since we last reviewed Broadsword, I felt that now would be a good time to look at the new add-on, The World of Broadsword in which Mejia which expands on the original product, continuing the barbarous rampage across an entire world, ripe for the picking. It includes a section on new advantages, a bestiary, an overview of the major cities and features, and a new adventure. Compared to the original Broadsword, the writing is more sober, factual, informative....as such I see no need to invite my barbarian guest commenter's back(they left after they found out that I had no wenches).

The advantages are fully in the spirit of the cinematic sword swingers, there are six new ones for your players to chew upon. I personally would have liked a few more, perhaps by cutting a picture or two from the bestiary section they could have squeezed some more in. That leads us to the Bestiary. It's not inspired but you do get all the stereotypical monsters, animals, and creatures that one is expected to encounter, along with a blurb on their special abilities if necessary. One thing that I have a love hate relationship with in it is that what it tells you is essentially, how hard it hits, and how hard it is to kill. On the one hand it means that if your PCs want to interact beyond "I see it....I SMASH IT IN DA HEAD!" you'll have to make up those extra stats. On the other hand, if your players are going for the whole barbarian ethos; chain mail bikini wearing, over-sized musclebound, or swearing by Crom, then 9 times out of 10 it is going to be "I see it....I SMASH IT IN DA HEAD!" There's some black and white art here for the various monsters(though animals and common enemies such as skeletons don't rate having an illustration, and I don't blame them for that decision, everyone should know what those look like without needing it sketched out) with varying levels of quality, but it gets the job done. Anyways, it's a pretty necessary and well done portion if you're going to be playing Broadsword with the 1pg rules(will definitely cut down on prep time), but nothing spectacular.

On to the world section. Now this is where the product really shines. Each major city gets an overview, and then a SWOT analysis(strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). As a GM, one of the things that has always bothered me is where to draw the line on how much the PC's should know as 'common knowledge' versus what they need to ask around for. Give them too little, and all they do is head to the tavern to wait for something to happen, too much and there's no incentive for them to ask around. This covers that nicely, the overview gives enough that you won't have befuddled PC's wandering around aimlessly if you let them have that much info, and the SWOT gives you plenty of things to tell them about if only they dig a little bit deeper. Not to mention that it essentially gives you 4 or 5 plot hooks for every city. Heck, even if you just hold up the map, close your eyes, and point, you'll have half a dozen adventures that you can delve into at the nearest city. The location section is a little bit sparser, but still gives plenty of mysteries and adventures that your PC's can stick their noses into. Though personally there are some locations that I would have preferred to be treated almost like the cities in their descriptions(e.g. The Moors of the Witch-Queen? The Tribes of the Sikkar Plains? I could definitely see a page worth of info on each). There's also a small section on the gods, which is nice, but personally if I were to GM a game in the Broadsword world, I'd just as soon drop in a pantheon that has a little more detail than what's given.

The River Pirates of the Belsa is the new adventure. And I have to say that Mejia really knows the tropes, we have all the ingredients to put this firmly in the sword and sorcery genre. The witchy woman with her leopard right out of a Frazetta painting, the dashing rogue, trials by fire, treachery and backstabbing, and to top it all off, an ALLIGATOR PIT! Campy and cheesy, perhaps, but does it set the tone of the adventure nicely? You bet. The other thing that I especially liked about it was that there was a section devoted to the major characters that the PCs would be interacting with, I thought it a nice touch and something that I wouldn't mind for other RPGs to adopt(since many just give you a stat block and make you infer their motives by their actions).

At $4, this is another beer and chips money purchase. But in fact, I think this will appeal to a larger audience than the core Broadsword ruleset can. Just drop in your favored system and viola, instant game world. Forgive me, but I think the best analogy is that it's like cooking semi-homemade. With the World of Broadsword you're getting the bare bones(well, actually you get bones and major organs) of a setting that you can fill in without having to search out the relevant passage. You don't have to devote hours and hours trying to draw out and create your own world, or else spend a bundle of cash to buy a setting book(which you'll then need hours to read through), in order to have a coherent and consistent world for your players to explore. And I think that's a very valuable thing, gamers are looking for ways to keep the time needed to have fun low, that's why I feel that systems like 1pg games and Savage Worlds are becoming more popular, we've got busy lives and being able to run a pick-up game with a few friends on 10 minutes or so of prep time is great.

The key here, is recognizing what you're getting and what you expect from it. Don't expect a work of art or minutiae filled tome of knowledge, do expect a pre-made world with enough detail in the SWOT analysis of the major players to let you jump in headfirst and not have to overly worry about inconsistency. Which is something that I think both GM's and players will appreciate highly. All in all, if you need a world, and don't want to spend the big bucks or long prep time, maybe it's a one shot game or you just don't have the free hours, then the World of Broadsword is the way to go.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Broadsword


For all the works of cultured man
Must fare and fade and fall.
I am the Dark Barbarian
That towers over all.
-Robert E. Howard, "A Word
from the Outer Dark"

Broadsword, by Mejia, Stubbs, and Downing is campy barbarian goodness in its purest form. Reading it I couldn't help but feel like I had Robert E. Howard and David Gemmell peering over my shoulder with comments. And every time I started to stray, my inner gamer wanting technicalities and minutiae, I could hear them behind me, laughing, telling me that such things are for soft, civilized folk. Well, it ended up in an uneasy truce between the two sides of my inner heart, so that's why I think I need some special guests to help me do this review. I'm sure you'll recognize some of them, and they'll be chiming in throughout with their opinions.

First off, you can tell that the writers had fun making this. They knew the trope in and out, "Ride, fight, wench and kill! The walls of the Jeweled Cities of the south will tremble as you crush them beneath your heels!" announces the introduction, setting the tone for what's to come. Whatever the medium you encountered the barbarian of legend, be it old movies, pulp fantasy, or blood stained comic pages, you'll know that they tend to be a heroic reaction to the encroaching of civilization and the gluttony of those that reside in cities.

Conan: Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing. Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.

Well, Broadsword promises plenty of skull splitting action, the faster and simpler the better. Using the 1pg system, it promises that you could cleave your way through a bunch of temple guards of cultists with a beer buzz and a head wound, and it very nearly seems that way. Rolling for stats and skills is simple and well explained, although has a significant random element that I worry might leave a player a bit less than heroic if their luck has deserted them. Or the gods have taking an interest in them. It makes for powerful roleplaying, if you have a good group for a pick-up game, though as mentioned in the introduction to rules of play, Broadsword is meant for gamers with some experience. And of course it helps not to get too attached, characters are living a dangerous life, and somewhat expendable.

Druss: What are 40 years of life if you cannot say that you lived well, compared to 40 minutes where you can say that you stood against the darkness? Remember the code,
Never violate a woman, nor harm a child.
Do not lie , cheat or steal. These are things for lesser men.
Protect the weak against the evil strong.
And never allow thoughts of gain lead you into the pursuit of evil.
If you follow it, live and die by it, then none shall hold you as less than a hero.

Overall the character creation rules are quick and solid. You're not going to be mulling over decisions of minutiae(because they aren't there), and this isn't an in depth character that you're making. The one thing that I feel is a bit weak is that there are no real examples of what your stats translate out as. For example, I would have liked to know would a reputation of 1 would make you a local village brute, as opposed to a reputation of 5 making one Khan of Khans. Rep is something very important to the barbarian genre.

Demid: That is the Cossack's road. No other can follow it. To live by the sword and die not otherwise, to endure torture, to make new paths into the wilderness. What is the reward? The minstrels will sing our names, the grandfathers in the villages will speak of our deeds, and children yet unborn will gather quietly to listen to the hero-tales. And that, my brothers, is Cossack glory!

As for the Advantages, they're fun and lighthearted. Including things such as the classic Chainmail Bikini(providing an armor bonus that goes away if your hero puts on more than a loincloth or the aforementioned bikini), and Summon Horde(also known as heading to the tavern to recruit drunks with promises of...well, you know), the one complaint is that there aren't more of them. Though I'm sure that one can convert such from another system that has a similar feature(i.e. feats or edges).

However, it feels like there were quite a few places where the designers were more ambitious than the result. We have a mechanic for rolling up money, as well as a background that increases starting cash, and yet, no prices for anything! Equipment other than weapons doesn't even show up, and as for the weapons, as I mentioned, no prices listed. Of course, survey says, as a barbarian your weapon is either A. Taken from someone who didn't need it anymore(of course they didn't, you killed them) or B. A family heirloom renowned in song and story. But it dos bother me that there isn't at least a list of common equipment and prices. The other thing is the hit location chart, telling you to take the armor value from any damage to that hit location, but there's nothing in the rules on fighting that tells you how to use it, or how to make a called shot.

The other place where you're essentially told to handwave it, is magic. What are presented are guidelines, and it'll take a pretty sharp GM to incorporate magic without having it unbalance the system. Of course, being barbarian fantasy, most of the heroes should be discouraged from using magic in the first place, leaving it to the evil sorcerers or inscrutable druids.

Bran: I am no fool to twist empty words and incantations. Now I need no spells, simply the allegiance of three hundred fickle Norsemen who are the only warriors among us who may stand the charge of legions on foot!

The scenarios provided are in some ways, the best part to capture that heroic sword and sorcery feel that the movies and comics have pounded into us. Though I wonder about the decision to have most of them belong to a single linked campaign when the entire feel of the product is short adventures with a relatively high turnover rate. But the plot lines and locations will be familiar to anyone who's encountered the genre, and they hit all the major themes. Actually the Captain's Daughter, the first of the scenarios is a particular favorite to set the tone, we have the price of honor, the evil mystic, the beautiful damsel, and above all, the debauched nature of civilization. And even if you decide not to use the 1pg rules, then it's as easy as swapping out a few stat blocks to convert it over to something else.

The artwork....Well, there's the pretty front cover illustration, and that's about it. My barbarian commenters are rather mute on this issue, art isn't something that they understand, or can fight, screw, or ride. And they also mention that it makes poor loot unless it's dipped in gold or gem studded, then it's just treasure.

I have to say however, that Broadsword isn't for everyone. It's a bare bones ruleset with 1 dimensional characters and some strange omissions. But for about $4, that's less than a sandwich and fries at a fast food place, it's chips and beer money, it's something you can easily convince yourself into paying. And if you play it even once and enjoy it, then you're more or less getting your money's worth. I think the moral here is not to expect more out of it than it is. This is not likely to replace your regular game system or long running campaign, but it does have its uses.

Kull: There comes, even to kings, the time of great weariness. Then the gold of the throne is brass, the silk of the palace becomes drab. The gems in the diadem sparkle drearily like the ice of the white seas; the speech of men is as the empty rattle of a jester’s bell and the feel comes of things unreal; even the sun is copper in the sky, and the breath of the green ocean is no longer fresh.

What it does make is a refreshing break from a long campaign. Or if you are suddenly short a plot important member. Actually one use that I think it might be especially good for is breaking in a new GM, one that has experience as a player but not much as GM. Heck, you can hand out the third page and roll up your characters while they study the rules(which shouldn't take more than 10 minutes or so). Or if you've just watched the latest sword and sorcery movie and feel a need to raze and pillage some civilized states. By the time the new batch of popcorn is done or people finish arriving you should be familiarized with the rules and ready to get into the action, something that you won't see with other systems.

If you want intricate rules and details, you won't find it here, but if you want some quick sword swinging, blood spattering, wench stealing action, then this can provide it, at a very reasonable cost. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to learn how to untie knots and escape these ropes before my guest commenters finish with the pillaging and start with the burning.

Conan, Demid, Druss, and Kull are not owned by me, and belong to their respective copywrite holders, they were just visiting...oh Crom I hope they're just visiting. They've already drunk all the ale, I just hope they get tired and try and find some wenches soon, my feet are getting numb.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Carriers at War

Midway

Early Morning, June 4th, 1942

Seaplanes fill the air.

8:40 A seaplane from Midway spots a Japanese carrier group, a heavy and light carrier escorted by an unknown number of cruisers and destroyers, but is this the main group that US codebreakers have been warned about?

12:00

Midway command thinks so, for the next 20 minutes the Japanese TF comes under air attack. Heavy fighter cover and AA claims a heavy toll, the CAP accounts for 14 kills and 7 damaged, the AA damages 4 before the US fighters disengage, without a single successful strike.

16:40

A Search plane from Zuiho has detected a large US carrier force, 4 carriers. A strike is debated, but there is no way that the planes would arrive before sundown, and the smaller northern force cannot risk its air assets in a dusk strike, and even more dangerous, a nighttime landing.

June 5th

6:50

Dawn brings a strike at the Jap seaplane force anchored at Neva shoal....but not before the US carriers are revealed. Nagumo makes a fateful decision, to launch his full strike from the southern carrier force, but at 420nm it would remove 70 dive bombers to wait for his planes to form up, it will not be a cohesive strike.

7:55

Just as planes are leaving the Jap main striking force to the south and east of midway, a searchplane is spotted overhead. But it is too late to recall the fighters for CAP duty, the entire strike has been sent to attack the US Carrier force.

9:35

The Jap bombardment force, has snuck past the patrols, Midway is under fire, and the carriers Saratoga and Wasp are under attack, with planes on deck! Nimitz is obviously preparing to strike Nagumo's main force.

10:00+

Yorktown is also attacked, but its planes are up, taking a toll on the strike. At the worst possible time, Jap planes spot Hornet and Enterprise, bombs away! Wasp and Saratoga soon fall victim as well.

The toll, 21 planes downed, 29 damaged...but in return, 3 hits on Saratoga(presumed sunk), 1 on Hornet(burning), the CA Indianapolis also took a hit, but was still under control. Wasp and Enterprise both take 3 hits, and Yorktown takes 4, all three are presumed sunk by the Nagumo's pilots.

The Bombardment force however does not escape unscathed, by 14:45 the Mogami is sunk and all cruiser are damaged, with Suzuya on fire.

Near dusk a strike from the northern striking force reserve goes in. No American carriers are observed still afloat.

June 6

Dawn brings new sightings by the Northern force, now NNE of Midway, only 280nm from American battleships trying to flee.

Confident that the US carriers destroyed, Nagumo launches a full strike against midway from the SE, near Raita bank to relieve the pressure from the invasion force.

14:10

A full strike by the Northern force hits home, savaging the American cruisers and destroyers.

June 7

It's all over except the cleanup. The invasion force ships have taken a mauling, but Nagumo takes his carrier striking force in to support them with fighters from his carriers. And before the day is over, Midway is denuded of fighters, and Jap marines are supported by heavy air cover.

After The Battle

Intelligence for the IJN reports 20 US ships sunk.

9 CA – Pensacola, New Orleans, Vincennes, Minneapolis, Portland, San Fransisco, Salt Lake City, Chester, Augusta.

3 DD – Anderson, Clark, Plunkett

1 BB – South Dakota

2 AV – Thornton and Ballard

5 CV – Enterprise, Hornet, Yorktown, Saratoga, and Wasp

They also report 293 Naval Aircraft destroyed along with 111 land aircraft

The IJN has lost 11 ships

4 CA – Mogami, Mikuma, Cuzukya, Kumano

4 TR

1 DD – Hayashio

2 AV

Carrier casualties include 101 Naval Aircraft lost, most in that first disorganized strike that eliminated the US carriers.

For another 2 years, the IJN will reign supreme with air superiority over the Pacific until the Essex class carriers come on line. Nagumo, with Midway behind him, now sets his sights on Pearl, and nothing is going to stop him.



Or that's how it could have gone.



Carriers at War published by Matrix games, this naval simulation recreates the major naval battles of the Pacific theater of war, with plenty of variants and possibilities, it's enough to keep you well entertained. The above AAR was from a random Midway variant, giving the US a substantially larger carrier force than was historically present. Of course, it didn't do them that much good.

The look is very much old school, but pleasant, I'm reminded of a real time version of PTO, except on a more intimate scale. There's no production here, just your carriers and the enemy, and a whole lot of ships, bombs, and torpedoes with somebody's name on it.

The first principle of carrier warfare, is to get in the first strike, as hard as you can with as much as you can before they strike back. And that's apparent in this game, a lucky search plane can turn the tide of the battle, and don't think that all the battles come out as easy as this particular AAR. I actually played through twice, the first time forgetting to take screenshots(Doh!), the first time came out much closer, with an American carrier strike launched at my main carrier force at about the same time as I launched, leaving me with 4 of my 5 large carriers sunk, and further air operations reliant on my light carriers in the northern force.

This is a game where minutes count, and wisely they have a 5 minute count option, not to mention uninterrupted running for the long nights. So I have to say that the AI is adequate, make a mistake and let your carriers come too close without a CAP and expect to get slaughtered, because even a minor mistake that costs you a carrier can turn the battle. On the other hand, don't expect any dazzling tactics from the AI, it strikes hard, and strikes fast, but has a bit of tunnel vision, going after the enemy it can see instead of the enemy it knows should be out there.

Playability, well it's not a very steep learning curve in my opinion. The controls are very intuitive, left click to select, right to order a move, or else select an option from the dropdown menu. Your options are a bit limited by the scale, and that's good for the most part, since you don't have to worry about the minor details. In fact the best way to learn is to play through a game or two. Set your search rosettes, order about your task forces, and learn the value of cloud cover and a CAP(combat air patrol) the first time an enemy strike blasts your carriers out of the water. Or if you're lucky, you can deliberate over the difficult choice of striking as soon as you spot an enemy force, or waiting to get closer(at extended range your planes will have only a fraction of their maximum payload). To leave your planes below decks until the strike, or to arm them beforehand and leave thousands of tons of live ordnance up on your decks for an enemy strike to ignite. To send your fighters in armed with bombs or to have them fly escort. To take the time that you may not have and send them in as a cohesive strike, or let them fend for themselves, winging their way towards destruction as soon as they clear the decks? Once you send your strike off to that suspected enemy contact all you can do is hope and pray, as your brave little simulated pilots dive towards victory or death. Once there your pilots will select their own targets and report back(which can either be accurate or not depending on your options) on their suspected kills. But be warned, I've lost more than one game to an enemy carrier force that I thought sunk, so it's up to you to try and get your ships back under cover of a squall or storm while your planes rearm.

On the other hand, this abstraction and hands off approach does have a few downsides. Your surface fleet fights in much the same way, you tell your fleet elements to get closer or further away and select a main group of targets for their guns and that's it. You get a few seconds of explosions and that's it. This however, doesn't happen that often to begin with, so it might be forgiven, the only time I actually had a surface engagement was when my ships and the enemy's tried to use the same squall as cover during the night and more or less ran into each other. Other times one side or the other would usually see the odds and be able to retreat.

Also, your taskgroups are relatively fixed, you can dispatch a ship to retreat or scuttle it, but other than that you are unable to split or combine TG's. Something which is especially useful as Japan who tend to have all their carriers in a single large TG, making it very vulnerable, whereas until the late war the US nearly had a TG for every carrier, making it a bit slow to coordinate strikes. Of course, in my opinion this can be forgiven due to the creator's wish to avoid ahistorical hindsight tactics, but it still would have been a nice feature.

In addition, you'll eventually get tired of the same plane attacking random ship/plane shot down by CAP/AA, and ship showing damage(signified by a fire and estimation of its health) animations, and be ready to just see the results. So be warned that this isn't a showy game. Speaking of planes, I would have liked a little more detail on the search plane routes, the rosette is user friendly, but I wouldn't have minded being able to modify the standard search pattern or order additional planes out. And part of the abstraction is the need for your carriers to more or less stay in one place once planes are launched, I seem to recall the Japanese coordinating rendezvous points so that their carriers didn't have to remain stationary(correct me if I'm wrong however, since this is from half remembered history courses taken awhile back). So the ability to estimate and place a landing/retrieval point would have been nice.

Another thing that history doesn't exactly give us, is balance. There are playing one side or another will be decidedly easier depending on the scenario, shifting from Japan to the US respectively. Though the variants do a good job at providing alternate orders of battle(Playing as the US at Midway in the historical scenario for example or as Japan in the Philippine Sea scenarios, you realize how desperate the situation can be, outnumbered, outgunned and outpositioned, but not out of the fight). Fortunately, it ships with a very functional editor, and if you wish you could create scenarios to your heart's content.

The one thing I would have liked, is a way to tie the scenarios together in a campaign. Though I'm sure that'd be difficult given how ahistorical things can get if one side gets in a lucky strike. Imagine the US carriers wiped out at Pearl, the entire war would have changed, not just the order of battle for the next mission. So I can understand why it's presented the way it is, with the main battles(Though conspicuous in it's absence is Leyte Gulf, which is surprising, it would have been interesting to replay the harrowing trial of Taffy 3) and variant scenarios.

Now, the pricetag, at about $50 I found it a bit on the pricey side. For $50 you can get a new cutting edge, graphics out the wazoo, computer game, or an epic, down to the last faulty instrument panel on that plane sort of game, and this isn't an epic, battles usually take between half an hour to an hour if you play like I do, but it does what it needs to. Provide some real good edge of your seat tension, which is all too often missing from a strategic wargame. This feels like a beer and chips game, one that you don't have to devote a whole night playing, and it doesn't require a degree in logistics and a MENSA membership to enjoy the heck out of it.

The question however, is it worth the money when other independent games usually tend to run about twenty bucks less. Well, when I first started playing and realized the limits to my options I was almost ready to say no, but then I kept playing, and kept playing, and kept playing. I was hooked, an hour free here, an hour free there, in fact I was even dreaming about search rosettes and torpedo strikes for a few days! And now after a week or so of buying it, I'm convinced that I got my money's worth, because I know I'm going to keep on playing. I do feel that a more detail oriented grognard may be disappointed, but if you want a fun carrier game that doesn't take forever, then this is a good buy.