Monday, November 8, 2010

H. P. Lovecraft's The Dunwitch Horror; pulp fiction giveaway

Two months ago I had the pleasure of visiting one of our local flea malls in Sweetwater Tn. I call it a flea mall because this market was as large as many modern shopping centers. The main building is an industrial size warehouse that is, at least, 100 yards long. I was happy to find, among the cheap Asian tools, Nascar banners, Avon, silk screened purses and cell phone booths, a book dealer. I purchased Lin Carter's Year's Best of Fantasy Stories Vol. 2 and Lovecraft's The Dunwich Horror which still has the price of $1.75 pasted on the back.

I had a copy of The Loved Dead, a collection of Lovecraft inspired tales, which I attempted to read last year and this was my only previous experience reading Lovecraft. I didn't read half the stories in The Loved Dead before I became bored with the content and posted the book on Paperback Swap. I'm glad to say that the stories collected in my $1.75 edition of The Dunwich Horror have fulfilled the legendary status associated with Mr. Lovecraft's writing.

This edition was published in 1969 and has seven short stories and a forward by August Dereleth. The first tale that really caught my attention was Pickman’s Model. This is the tale of a painter who produces ghoulish images. “Boston never had a greater painter than Richard Upton Pickman… Any magazine-cover hack can splash paint around wildly and call it a nightmare or a Witches’ Sabbath or a portrait of the devil, but only a great painter can make such a thing really scare or ring true.” Lovecraft could have been describing his on writing with this description. I’ve never read many vampire novels, Edgar Allen Poe or Steven King and the tales in The Loved Dead bored me because they were not scary. The seven tales in this edition The Dunwich Horror are, nearly all, creepy if not creepy to the point of horror.

The subsequent tale, The Rats in the Walls, gets high marks for creepiness too. In this story a New England gentleman extensively restores his family estate only to discover that the legends associated with his distant ancestors were true. The ancestral home was built above a pit where prehistoric rituals were practiced and they were not rituals to the God of the Harvest.

A majority of these tales, including The Rats in the Walls, The Hunter of the Dark, The Dunwich Horror and The Thing on the Doorstep, involve Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. Each of these provides additional information about the mysteries of the Great Old Ones, the alien horrors central to the Cthulhu Mythos. Lovecraft’s talent is that he does not depend on monsters of violence to provide the horror of his tales. He will provide a familiar historical background and then crack that background wide open to questions of; “How much do we really know about the Salem Witch Trials?” Certainly, the Great Old Ones are monsters with an ever increasing potential for violence but placing these mysteries into 20th. Century New England mixes the familiar with the unknown for maximum creepiness.

So, before this opinion piece becomse an essay, I really enjoyed reading Lovecraft and was happy to find that many of his works are available as Google Books. I can certainly agree that Lovecraft was a major influence on AD&D, as listed in Appendix N of the DMG, since these are tales of mystery, occult magic, monstrous outsiders and, often, investigation of unknown geography.

As I was reading the book many of the pages became detached from the spine but I managed to salvage all the pages. I’m offering this book free to anyone who cares to read it, just leave a comment and e-mail your snail mail address to ccreel at yahoo dot com, I’ll be glad to mail the book to anywhere in the U.S.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Photosynthetic Elves for Encounter Critical

The one thing I have learned about n.p.c. encounter design is; two n.p.c.s are better than one. Since the day my players steamrolled over everything in my first Encounter Critical adventure I always throw in a few spare n.p.c.s for each encounter. If the player characters encounter a mob, perfect because a mob has no determinate size. There is always the chance that the p.c.s will defeat a majority of the opposition and the extra opponents will lose moral and flee.

EC, as most should know by now, is best considered a Science Fantasy, Dystopian or Weird Science Fantasy game. The character system is based on the old standard; 3d6 ability score generation system. The EC abilities are Intellect, Strength, Dexterity, Magic Power (wisdom), Leadership (charisma), Robot Nature, Adaptation (constitution), ESP and Luck. The EC stats have a flavor of scientific realism all their own, but are easily converted to the stats of the traditional fantasy role playing games, without discounting the ESP, Luck or Robot Nature stats which certainly add fun to adventurous situations.

These two characters, Ligustrum and Indica, male and female elf mutant archers are featured in the Epilogue to Raiders of the Mercenary Coast. (Phasic #2) Their main mutation is the photosynthetic process which has adapted to their elfin biological process making them part humanoid and part plant. Their skin is green and they wear little clothing in order to maximize the photosynthetic process. Ligustrum appears to wear a loin cloth of fresh plant material while Indica wears a midriff of interwoven vines. Ligustrum’s hear looks like little more than leaves on his head. His mates’ hair is a trail of fine flowering vines.

Their mutation helps them blend in to their woodland habitat to virtual invisibility (+10% to invisibility when in woodland environs). This mutation also prevents the necessity that they digest traditional solid foods. These mutants sustain their metabolism with plenty of liquids but never alcohol. They will also consume fruit and other simple foods for pleasure rather than necessity.

The couple also has matching broken heart tattoos. Indica has the left half of the broken heart on her upper right arm and Ligustrum wears the right half of the broken heart on his upper left arm. When they stand side by side the two halves of the broken heart join, spelling the work “love.”

Ligustrum – Male Elf Mutant Archer/ Warrior – Level: 2 Hit Points: 2d8+2d6
Ada/Con: 15 Dex: 16 ESP: 8 Int: 12 Lead/Ch: 12 Magic/Wis: 9 Robot: 5 Luck: 10 Str: 13
Mutation: Photosynthetic Skin – Additional Mutations: Non-magical Potions just perk him up!
Weapons: Compound Bow @1d8+1, Elfin Blade @ 2d4
Armor: Wicker Shield; +23% to defense

Indica – Female Elf Mutant Archer/warrior – Level: 2 HP: 2d8+2d6
Ada/Con: 14 Dex: 15 ESP: 9 Int: 13 Lead/Ch: 11 Magic/Wis: 9 Robot: 5 Luck: 12 Str: 12
Mutation: Photosynthetic Skin – Additional Mutations: Homing Instinct; always knows direction.
Weapons: Compound Bow @1d8+1, Elfin Blade @ 2d4
Armor: Wicker Shield; +23% to defense

Ligustrum and Indica will have 1d6 gold coins /credits and 1d10 coppers each. Roll 2d6 and 2d10 and divide each result by two appointing their fortune evenly. There is a 10% chance that each of them will possess a power weapon; attempt this percentile roll for each n.p.c. There is also a 25% chance they will possess a chro-no-meter. This is an all purpose wrist calculator and communicator.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rollerball: original edition

"In a corporate controlled future, an ultra-violent sport known as Rollerball represents the world, and one of it's powerful athletes is out to defy those who want him out of the game."

So, this film came out in 1975, I was eight years old, and here I am watching it for the first time thirty-five years later. If that seems unbelievable than you will not believe that I viewed the film via a video cassette player. One of my rpg pals had the tape of Rollerball on his shelves and allowed me to barrow it and I still have my old VCR, just in case I wanna watch that original release of Blade Runner I have hoarded among the rest of my priceless treasures.

If this film had any redeeming qualities they would be, James Caan, John Houseman and, without question, Maud Adams. Watching this film is a history lesson in entertainment. I have to ask, what where these people thinking when they made this movie? I pretty sure they were thinking that Sci-Fi was going to be the next big thing in film and they wanted their slice of the pie. Caan plays a conflicted athlete, honestly none of the guys in the move where believable athletes. But Caan is too soft spoken even for the introspective, question authority type that he supposed to be here.

I find it very difficult to complain too much about any film that includes Maud Adams. Eight years after she appeared in Rollerball she was still hot enough to play Octopussy so who's complaining?

Rollerball does succeed at, what I believe, was the intended goal to make a movie that is “over the top. “ I can’t imagine what a sport which combines gladiatorial combat, roller derby and motorcycles could possibly be except over-th-top! This is another idea which screams to be used in an Encounter Critical adventure and I’m sure the ideas been used in some old Gamma World, D&D or other rpg in someone’s gaming past.

I am a sucker for my own little view of film history thus I wanted to see the original version of Rollerball which was remade in 2002. The original is slowly paced which is often a death sentence for films. I feel that the 1975 version of Rollerball is like Logan’s Run. Both these movies are vaguely entertaining and can provide some good ideas role playing games. But, neither of these films is award winning entertainment.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Encounter Critical Bestiary; Razorback Jack-o-lope

Razorback Jack-o-lope

Numbers: 1-12
% Liar: 50%
Size: 1'- 2’ long
Move: ? (they are quick)
# ATT: Spear with Antlers
Defense: quills, see description
ATT %: spear 70%
Damage: antlers 1-8, 1-6 quills
Hit Points: 6-18 (4d4+2)
Save: 75%
Lurk: 50%
Psi Resist: 65%
Sneak Attack 72%
Intelligence: Intelligent Animal
Edible: 60%
$ Value: special

The Razorback Jack-o-lope is a natural mutation of the native Vanthian Jack-o-lope. The evolution of the predatory Sky Piranhas necessitated the mutation of quills and additional size to this traditionally harmless horned rodent. Their docile nature made the native Jack-o-lope perfect pray for the ever feeding Sky Piranha and initiated the natural mutation of the Jack-o-lope. During decades of attacks by the piranhas, the Jack-o-lope became smarter, quicker and larger. Nature further aided the rodents with the development of quills to add superior protection from the piranhas and any other foes.

The Razorback Jack is uniquely suited to for survival in the wilds of the Might Land. They are now able to attack any opponent with their antlers and possess the natural defense of their quills which will inflict damage on any animal which comes in contact with the Razorback Jack. Each successful attack by the Jack-o-lope will require their opponent to make a successful Dexterity save or suffer an additional 1-6 points of damage from the quills.

When the Jack-o-lope is successfully subdued, killed, their meat is still a popular food stuff among the woodland folk, and dwellers, of Vanth. A healthy, average sized, Razorback Jack will command a cost of 5 copper pieces, or 5/100th of a gold credit. The horns of the Jacks are favored among woodland craftsmen and women. A pair of antlers sell for about as much as the meat.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Another Man's Scientific Realism

A gentleman named J.J. writes a blog titled; More & Bigger Loot, and he occasionally writes about his Encounter Critical ideas. Most recently he has written a random chart to determine the size of the monsters which are encounter in the game. I thought this was a great idea and just had to give him kudos for his creativity. What’s a kudo anyway?

Monday, October 4, 2010

I'm still here & ...

I'm still lurking about the fringes of the blog-o-sphere. I've just been a bit preoccupied with real life lately. My gamer A.D.D. has been in full effect, I have three or four writing projects and haven't completed anything with any degree of expediency. I did come up with the following idea which I'm surprised hasn't been produced before. At least, I have never seen it represented around the internet.
I introduce to you all;

Sponge Bob and the Masters of the Universe!

Encounter Critical made me do it!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Andre Norton’s The Time Traders

Miss. Norton’s novel The Time Traders is another oldie, but, a goody. The Time Traders was first published in 1958 and the tone is typical of that golden age of Sci-Fi Lit. The main character, Ross Murdock, is a juvenile delinquent who is drafted into a top secret government program instead of receiving criminal detention. This program or project involves tracking the secrets of the “Reds” but the chase is through time as well as across the globe. The backdrop of the Cold War does not have the effect, with the immediate relevance, it held sixty years ago but it still serves as a meaningful historical marker and plot point.

The “project” takes the Time Agents to a time on the fringes of civilized history. The agents pose as traders of the era, the Bronze Age of Western Europe, in order to move through the ancient society in freedom. They, the agent -traders, must learn the language and practices of their historical setting to pass as legitimate members of the ancient society. I’m a real sucker for these 1950s era Sci-Fi and Norton has woven an intriguing story with the elements of time travel, history and alien involvement. The pace of the book was quick and I seemed to fly through the one hundred and ninety-one pages. The plot pace reminded me of a Robert E. Howard adventure containing action around every corner or chapter. The Time Traders is one of the Sci-Fi books on the 501 Must Read Books List. The Time Traders is also available as a Google Book, through Project Gutenberg and Paperback Swap dot com.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dungeon Dressing: What’s that drawing on the wall?

I’ve begun designing a D&D or Labyrinth Lord adventure for my game group. The setting for the first encounter is in some ruins of an older civilization. I want the ruins to be interesting and too provide clues about the former inhabitants for the players. So, I’ll include statues, fountains, decaying manuscripts, pottery and murals among the artifacts for the players to explore.

I’m sure this idea’s been covered before in some published gaming text but here’s my take on twelve ideas for murals and, or cave paintings for rpg adventures.

Apply 1d12 and results are as follows:
1. A hunting scene
2. A battle scene
3. A ritual or other scene of shamanism (sacrifice)
4. A portrait of a deity, demon or other religious or mythic scene
5. A domestic scene; farming, crafting, pottery, weaving, cooking, metal working
6. A calendar
7. An educational chart; alphabet , math or poetry
8. A magic user practicing his art or magic related content
9. A dragon or dinosaur
10. A UFO or angels
11. Erotic art
12. Roll twice more and combine the results into one mural.

There's also the chance that the mural may be an advertisement from a forgotten and, or alien culture. The message may be as common as "Eat at Joe's" but this remains a mystery if the script is an unknown language to the players.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Plot ideas from my e-mail box

I imagine that you have all gotten these e-mails with titles like "Strange but True." I just got one of these mails this past week and found a few of these cultural tidbits too priceless to send into the trash folder.

Example 1: It's all in a days work...

Example 2: Two dimensional guardian...

and you might want to avoid Shaw Dr. for the time being.

Finally: Uncle Rico is at it again...

Monday, September 6, 2010

Phasic, an Encounter Critical fan’zine, issue 2.

Phasic is a fanzine unique to the Encounter Critical community. It was originially created by Jeff Rients in the fall of 2008. Jeff had mentioned reviving the ‘zine earlier this year but I’ve taken the liberty of producing the current issue of phasic in an attempt to stir the productive juices of the EC community. Weather the productive juices are sufficiently stirred I enjoy producing the ‘zine and have an outline plan for a subsequent issue which should debut later his fall.

Issue two is a tiny little affair which contains an adventure for ambushing player characters. Of course, I had to include five for six non-player characters in order to do the ambushing. I’ve posted the file of phasic 2 at Scribd so that the rpg community and the world-at-large might enjoy this bit of one-sided silliness. Consequently, if Scribd ever requests a membership too download any of my files just send me an e-note because most of my files are small enough to fit into an e-mail attachment.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Encounter Critical Blog Ring Activate!

A few of our fellow bloggers who write about Encounter Critical have taken up the flag for the EC blog ring. Here's a list the other blogs which participate at the moment.

American Barbarica

Guy Hoyle's Encounter Risical

No Signal!

And, of course; Jeffs Gameblog.

Here's an oldy too; God City Sandbox.

The EC Wiki: The Lexicon of Vanth

Our little ring o' blogs is open to new members at any time. No secret signals or handshakes required, just add your link in the comments.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Encounter Critical Blog Ring

There are a few of us who write about the S. John Ross retro-classic Encounter Critical. I could list a hand full of bloggers who occasionally write about this game and there are certain to be more which I have forgotten or haven't seen. I've created the following digital badges for any who would care to join me in the creation of an Encounter Critical Blog Ring. Copy and paste the following tags to your blogging content and keep EC scientifically real.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Miscellaneum of Cinder

Along with Fight On! issue 1, I purchased The Misellaneum of Cinder from Lulu last month. (I think it was?) This book should need no introduction, now that I think about it, this book should have gotten an Enny nomination last year. The Misellaneum of Cinder is by Jeff “Gameblog” Rients who I was surprised, but not startled, to learn was also a contributor to Fight On! issue 1.

The book is a collection of random charts for designing fantasy role playing adventures. I was never a fan of the random charts as a younger man. I thought the charts form the old game systems looked like they would just lead to chaos. The amounts of treasure in the treasure charts always looked ridiculous too me and I knew that too much treasure would lead to chaos. But, we grow and we learn and, now I can appreciate the helpful, conservative, applications of an occasional random chart or two. Mr. Rients mentions this subject in his introduction to the book; “be advised that no random table can fix a faltering game. However, using input generated from a die chart can damage an otherwise functional campaign.” I interpret this as, use this book for prep before the game, don’t use this book during play.

The book has thirty-eight pages and at least as many charts as pages. The first chart is Monster Mutations which is prefaced with the comment, “Oh, yawn. Yet another stock critter.” The chart contains twenty creative variants that would make any monster a bit more interesting and difficult to handle in a combat situation. I like mutation number eleven, “Extra Head – extra bite, second save versus charm, etc.” I never would have thought of the extra save vs. charm but, thanks to this book, I will never forget to give a saving throw for each head of multi-headed monsters.

The second chat is statistics for Six Sages. Mr. Rients has a very creative approach to naming his npcs with names like Rembo the Denier. He calls his style Retro-Stupid but I think it’s just a great sense of humor. The third chart takes the sages and provides adventure seeds for each of them. Rembo, for example, “needs help moving out of town before the witch hunters arrive.” That should be fun, since he’s a sage, he’ll probably need a caravan to haul all his belongings!

Chart four is a d12 chart titled, “What’s my motivation,” and includes helpful and popular silliness like, “PC owes d6x10,000 gp to Jabba…” Chart five is treasure locations and chat six is “A Dozen Saints,” and popular oaths are listed along with each saint. For example; “ By Bertrand’s bloody bludgeon!” Chart, the sixth, listed twelve Gods of Neutrality. Each god has a very creative name such as, Ituchinnikakya. Chart seven lists the names and descriptions of “ The Loathsome Toad Gods,” including, “AkThay – Mistress of the Hopping Dragons.” That was actually not the Toad God that I intended to list but what the hey? I’m only up to page eleven of the book and I want to start designing an adventure with these charts right away.

Next we have charts for “People you meet” and “Carousing.” The creativity of this book really shows in the Carousing chart. Mr. Rients seems to have devised a system where carousing, which happens between every adventure, could have lasting consequences on the adventuring party. The activities include; romantic entanglements, gambling losses, new tattoos, drinking binge and being robbed. These are the milder problems that the pcs could encounter from carousing.

The book continues with charts for Humanoid Politics, Monster Moodiness, dungeon dressing, lists of magic items and, the old standby, the treasure charts. If you’ve read Jeff’s Gameblog you’ll have a pretty good idea what to expect from the Miscellaneum of Cinder. The books a compact portable print out of the fun ideas common to the blog and I recommend it to anyone who emphasizes the fun in role playing games.

We are dropping like flies?

So, I'm surfing the blog-o-sphere, reading and writing and I discover that there's no Eiglophian Press? I know that we all get writer's block, we have to take vacations, family and careers interfere with our free time and sympathize with anyone who has to take a hiatus from blogging. I fear the day that I have to return to the production floor and have no time for blogging or other leisure pursuits.

For the brief time that I subscribed to Eiglophian Press I thought it was one of the most creative and thoughtful blogs in the olden style gaming community. I don't know if the blog's shut down permanently, temporarily or if it's just lost in cyberspace at the moment? I hope it's some spacial distortion in the entree-net but, if it's not, I'm sorry to see you go Mr. Eig and your marry band of Lophians.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fight On! issue #1

Yes, I'm behind the curve a bit here but I believe it has been proven that rpg game content can withstand temporal displacement. I got my issue of Fight On! Issue 1 last month and, as they say, it was worth every cent. The pages of the publication are filled with useful information for fantasy role playing games. The material is presented in the style of older editions of fantasy rpgs. Issue 1 of Fight On! was produced over two years ago, I imagine this was the beginning of what has been termed the Old School Renascence. I don’t care what the movement or philosophy is called, this is the style of rpg design I prefer.

One thing I found interesting about the first issue is the fact most of the writers and the editor use pseudonyms. An attempt, I guess, to insure that the content of the publication, or writers, are free from any copyright claims. I certainly wish I had known that a bound version of the Fight On! issues had been on sale recently. In the months to come I'll be collecting the subsiquent issues of Fight On! and I'll be intrested to see if the use of the pseudonyms continues.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Recent Acquisitions: RPG and RPG related

Hello, my name is Chris and I have Gamer A.D.D. When I'm not distracted by my job or family I'm usually hunting to add new items to my collection of role playing games and related material.
Three of these items, Fight On! issue 1, The Encounter Critical Phaysic Cyaborg Edition and Miscellaneum of Cinder are the products of my first order from Lulu. I received two Perry Rhodan novels from Paperback Swap dot Com. I also received a copy of the Edgar Rice Burroughs based rpg, Red Planet, compliments of the author Clovis Cithog. Thanks Clovis!

The dice are from e-bay. When I'm not surfing the blog-o-sphere or otherwise looking for rpg material, I randomly shop for dice on e-bay. The six sided die is actually numbered 5 through 10 and should come in quite handy when creating npcs. All these items should add plenty of content to my gaming table and blog.

An almost forgotten Encounter Critical post.

I was browsing the ol' local rpg forum and found this post I had made last year. It was the start of my Encounter Critical thread over there. A recent poll at our forum, KnoxGamers, has produced only ten responses so I thought I'd repost these comments here for the wider audience of the blog-o-sphere.>>>

I've said a lot of things about this game and I'll add a few more comments now. Perhaps it's not "role playing through the imagination of a 12 year old boy" but, rather, the imagination of at 12 to 22 year old young man. Any one who reads the rule set will certainly understand these comments. Said rule set is available for download at:

That copy of the game looks like a photocopy of an old beat up copy of the game. This is intentional and explained at the web site. There's a yahoo group for fans of the game and members can download a clean pdf of the game. This copy doesn't look old and beat up but the gazette format isn't easy to assemble. We end up with a game that appears to have been designed in someone's basement with either file. So, what is the allure of such a low budget game?

The character creation begins with the standard 3d6 ability scores. The fun begins with the list of twelve basic character races; Amazon, Dwarf, elf, Frankenstein, Hobling, Human, Klengon, Lizard Man, Planetary Ape, Robodroid, Vulkin and Wookie. The alternate spellings of Hobbit, Klingon, Vulcan and Wooky were supposedly used to avoid copy right violation. In all the information I've read about the game, the dwarf, elf and human races are rarely used. What twelve year old could resit the chance to play a Frankenstein, Klengon, Lizard Man or a Wookie? And what Forty two year old game-boy could resist the same opportunity?

The character classes begin with the standard Warrior, Warlock, Criminal and Pioneer but the last two are a bit out of the ordinary. These are Doxy, or harlot, and Psi-Witch or Psychic Warrior. There are even rules now for ninjas and bikers.

The game mechanics consist of pages of old school charts. Each ability gives a percentile chance to succeed at a desired action. Thus, all actions are determined by the percentile dice. For example, a strength of 14 gives a 68% chance to succeed in a melee attack, 16 strength = 77% success, 18 strength = 86% success. Warriors have 20% chance to increase their strength each level. With some luck, or a friendly and liberal Journey Master, pc's could be facing 100% success rates for their actions around fourth or fifth level.

If you need further proof that this game is equally brilliant as it is stupid just imagine, remember being a young gamer? You probably wanted ray guns or pistols in your D&D game. Maybe you wanted space travel or time travel or bikers or robots? I know I wanted all that in my D&D game as a young lad, now I can have it all in the form of Encounter Critical.

You've all been fairly warned, if you see me approaching with an ugly photocopy of a rule book in my soil stained paw, run away. Run far, far away.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Rudie Can't Fail!

Here's one for Lawrence and all the rest of us hard working stiffs sturggling to keep a roof over our head, food on the table and more books on our shelves.

The disappearance of R. Lawrence Blake

Exactly one month ago another of our fellow rpg bloggers stepped away from the keyboard, at least for blogging purposes, and I've just slowed down long enough to bid my regards. Mr. Blake's blog was the excellent Prime Requisite Games and I know that many of you where followers of his work. I've been known to draw an occasional doodle but generally shy away from most forms of graphic representation. Lawrence impressed me with by his ability to design rpg adventures as well as produce the art work for the adventures. I'm sure it's safe to assume that he did the layout and word processing for these, Labyrinth Lord based, adventures.

In his last blog, Lawrence mentioned that he would no longer have time for rpg or Prime Requisite Game related activities due to the responsibilities of regular life. He implies that he should eventually return after an undetermined hiatus. I'm certainly sorry to lose such a productive member of the rpg blog community and look forward to, what I hope is, the eventual return of R. Lawrence Blake and Prime Requisite Games.

Good luck, Lawrence, with your presuits in the day to day and thanks to the contributions you have left for us to enjoy.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tarnsman of Gor Revisited

As predicted, I did enjoy reading Tarnsman of Gor again. The hero of the novel, Tarl Cabot, gets into a fight and/or eludes death in every chapter. The story telling has an obvious foundation in classical English Literature. In fact, Cabot was employed as a college professor before he is abducted to Gor, the Counter Earth. He is returned to Earth at the end of the novel, where he avoids returning to his employer due to the embarrassment that would surround his disappearance.

He is abducted to supposedly serve the Priest Kings, the megalomaniacal leaders of Gor. He seems resigned to his abduction after finding a message, left by means of alien technology, which self destructs after he has read the message. I can’t help but to parallel this plot device with the works of Ian Fleming and George Lucas since the message was from Cabot’s father. “I rose to my feet. As I did so, a door in the side slid quietly upward. I must go in. My father’s word recurred in my memory: The fate is upon you.” p. 21

When he arrives on Counter-Earth, Cabot receives an education in Gorean culture which emphasizes the Code of the Warrior Caste. Gorean culture is a caste system. The upper classes, scribes, priests and administrators are well educated and better informed of politics and technology. The lower castes, laborers and slaves have a cultural and intellectual level of nomadic barbarians. An individual’s movement into an improved caste position is strongly influenced by financial power or brute force.

He is given lessons on prayers to the Priest Kings which he does not memorize. “…they were in old Gorean, a language cultivated by the Initiates but not spoken generally on the planet, and I never bothered to learn them. To my delight, I learned that Torm (his instructor) had forgotten them years ago.” p. 40

One of the first creatures Cabot meets on Gor is a servant of his father’s. He is shocked by his initial introduction to the caste of servitude but must accept the tradition as commonplace in Gorean culture. The evening before he is to receive his quest from the officials of the city of Ko-ro-ba Cabot is sufficiently accustomed to the caste of servants. “I remember, too, the girls in the last tavern, if it was a tavern… If there were natural slaves and natural free men… those girls were natural slaves.” p. 61

The quest which Cabot is given is an elaborate version of capture the flag. He is to steal the Home Stone, the central alter, of a rival city. In the process will also kidnap the daughter of the city’s administrator, a man how seeks to become dictator over all the tribes of Gor. This has been the focus of his training in Gorean culture and his instruction as a Tarnsman. Tarns, giant predatory birds of Gor, are use for aerial cavalry and scouting by warriors, or Tarnsmen. On Tarn-back he enters the rival city at the appointed time and is able to seize the stone and the girl but is subject to the many anticipated threats to his own life. “…she suddenly locked her arms around my waist and with a cry of rage hurled me from the saddle. In the sickening instant of falling I realized I had not fastened my own saddle belt in the wild flight from the roof…” p. 81

Our hero is miraculously saved, in the style of all serialized adventurers, when his fall to death is stopped by the web of a giant spider creature. The creature has an intelligence level of man and since he, the spider-man, has no argument with Tarl, he has no desire to kill Tarl or prey on him. Immediately after this startling introduction Tarl and the spider-man engage in rescuing the kidnapped princess, Talena, from a giant lizard. Telana agrees she must submit to Tarl’s leadership if she is to survive the many perils of the swamp in which they have landed. But since she is the proud daughter of an Ubar of Gor, Talena attempts to betray Tarl at the first possible opportunity. “We were near the Ka-la-na trees when I heard a slight rustle of brocade behind me. I turned, just in time to seize the wrist of the daughter of the Ubar as she struck savagely down at my back with a long, slender dagger.” p. 97

Later, Talena comes to understand that Tarl is an honorable comrade and helps as they struggle to escape capture form a group of military scouts. “Suddenly his eyes emitted a wordless scream, and I saw a bloody stump at the end of his arm. Talena had picked up his sword and struck off the hand that held the dagger.” p. 104

This outline I’ve provided covers the main plot of Tarnsman of Gor while omitting a majority of the supporting characters of the 219 page tale. The attraction of this novel to fans of fantasy role playing games or too a reader of adventure novels or fantasy fiction, I believe, is apparent from this outline. The action, intrigue, combat and culture of Gor could easily be the setting for D&D, Hack Master, Encounter Critical or any role playing system desired. Here’s a final combat sequence for your hungry, adventure starved, appetites;

“As the burly magistrate hastened forward, I seized my spear and hurled it with such force as I would not have believed possible. The spear flashed through the air like a bolt of lightning and stuck the oncoming magistrate in the chest , passing through his body and burying itself in the heart of his companion.” p. 205

Friday, July 9, 2010

OSR debate?

What's too debate? We are what we are and we play what we like. It's that simple. Well it's that simple for me because I have no idea what all the debate is about. I do have to comment that given recent qualifications; If you play a game published before 1989, my gaming group and I definitely qualify.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

OSP play Encounter Critical

My game group, the Old School Pastafari, played Encounter Critical this past Tuesday. We played the adventure which I wrote for our local convention, Three Rivers Con. As has been mentioned in the Encounter Critical corners of the entrée-net, the adventure is titled The 36 Chambers of Darth Viraxis. Darth Viraxis is the token evil overlord of the EC setting, the world of Vanth. I intend to keep this adventure on ice as a backup plan for future gaming conventions. I imagine myself traveling the South East U.S. and running E.C. in various ‘burbs; Chattanooga and Birmingham are definite possibilities for this plan. I can, for the blog, reveal a few details of the adventure without revealing any of the main plot points.

The guys choose a variety of characters from my pregens and surprised me by staying in character more than usual. The characters where a dwarf warrior wearing a ten gallon hat and long red mustache and armed with twin Colt revolvers named O’ Cinnamonie Sham, an ammunition expert with superior driving skills and a nifty van named Mr. S.U.V. and a high school kid acting as a wizard named Napoleon Dynamite. Napoleon managed to make friends with the Tyrannosaurus Rex at the beginning of the adventure and the killer robot at the end using his Ensorcel and Monster/Machine Friend skills. I, acting as the J.M. (Journey Master,) forgot to attempt saving throws against these magical acts but the successful magic didn’t break the game. In fact, these two successful uses of magic by the pc kept the plot moving smoothly.

A majority of the plot of The 36 Chambers of D.V. involves problem solving and I occasionally had to prompt the players for solutions. As if often the norm in rpgs, the guys wanted to solve all of the problems or puzzles through violence. The solution to the puzzles was, at least one, simply solved by my reading the “flavor text” a second time. (No taunting occurred during the playing of this rpg adventure.) The players managed to escape the legendary chambers of Darth Viraxis in two hours.

My next rpg design projects will be:
1. The Epilogue for Raiders of the Mercenary Coast. I've already started typing this and it's very short. I will probably be two pages with one page dedicated for a list of the NPCs involved.
2. On simmer on burner number two we have another free adventure. I’ll be converting one of my few remaining old adventure designs for use with Labyrinth Lord.
3. Burner number three: Infinity and Beyond!

Friday, July 2, 2010

A brief discussion of Brian Aldiss' novel; Hothouse

How is this for imagination, the sun is going nova and Earth and the moon are locked in a plan of gravity and no longer rotate, plants have evolved to take on characteristics of animals and giant plants, a mile long, spin their webs between Earth and the moon? These are only a few of the features which will grab your attention in Hothouse by Brian Aldiss. Some of the human characters decide to travel between these satellites by riding the traverser (giant plant – spider.) The group knows that riding on the outside of the traverser is dangerous, so they break into a tigerfly nest which has been injected into the body of the traverse. Their encounter inside the tigerfly nest could be a scene from a E. R. Burroughs or R. E. Howard tale.

"'Look out,' Band Appa Bondi cried. From the terrible dark, something launched itself at them... The tigerfly's eggs had hatched. An uncountable number of larvae with jaws as wide as a man's reach turned on the intruders, snapping in fury and fear... Even as Band Appa Bondi sliced his first attacker, another had his head off. He fell, and his companions launched themselves over him in the dark. Pressing forward, they dodged those clicking jaws." p. 68

This battle continues until the group of humans defeats all of the tigerfly larvae; "They killed unceasingly with neither hate nor mercy until they stood knee deep in slush. The larvae snapped and withered and died." p. 69

The book is full of fantastic species of plants which Aldiss has created like the giant seaweed and the gunpowder tree. "...a great mass of seaweed had threshed itself far out of the water and covered a gunpowder tree. By sheer weight, it was pulling the tree down, and a fight to the death raged about it." p. 83

Each chapter of Hothouse if full of new adventures with new plants species. Aldiss has created a mystery of adventure with his wild, imaginative variety of alien life forms and alien ecology without leaving the previously familiar setting of Earth.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Now that I've been gone for a month

Now that I’ve been gone for a month I’ll attempt to get back on this horse. I spent some time last month working on an Encounter Critical adventure which I was to run at Three Rivers Con. For whatever reason, the turnout at 3RC was light and no one wanted to play Encounter Critical. I’ll keep that adventure in my bag of tricks to offer at future conventions. I’ll also develop a sign-up sheet, complete with a description of the adventure, which may help establish players who are committed to playing my adventure at the appointed time.

After reading The Eye of Argon I was breezing through Gurps for Dummies. I found the book fascinating but , half way through, I realized I was reading a book for a game I neither played or intended to play in the foreseeable future. I opted to return to reading fiction and working through the 501 Must Read Books list. I’ve acquired many of the Sci-fi books on this list over the past few years so, starting with A by author, I read Brain Wave by Poul Anderson. The book made me mad. Brain Wave was Anderson’s first novel and he makes writing appear as child’s play. The style is like other classic Sci-fi writers, Sturgeon, Van Vogt and Simack. The book actually made me sweat psychologically; I was concerned for my health and the well being of the characters in Anderson’s book. Brain Wave, I suppose, is a Science Fiction Psychological Thriller. Needless to say it was a good read, as good as any I've read on the 501 list. It was written in 1958 so my initial description of Animal Farm on Acid was a bit premature but it's still an illustrative description.

Upon finishing Brain Wave I was tempted to read one of the other P. Anderson books which crowd my shelves but I stuck with my 501 Must Read Books List and dove into Hothouse by Brian Aldiss. So far this book is really good and I can certainly see where this book may have been an influence on role playing games like Gamma World and Encounter Critical. Hothouse is set in the far future when Earth is literally a hothouse. Plant life has evolved or mutated to dominate ecology and biology and only five species of animals survive in this environment of killer plants.

I’ve had lots of fun with my other blog this June but I really don’t intend for the brief personal comments to interfere with the more creative work of an vaguely rpg related blog. I began work on a longer description of Tarnsman of Gor and that blog entry is still in the rough draft stage.

Last week I went to Colorado for my vacation and visited Mile High Comics and picked up a few more books for my ever expanding collection of ‘80s Marvel Comics. I also found Vol. 3 of the Ray Bradberry graphic novels at Capitol Hill Books in Denver. Oh yeah, I found a book I had never heard of; Gary Gygax Cyborg Commando. I found this at a bookstore called Mutiny Now on South Broadway in Denver.

That's some of the stuff I did outside of the 9 to 5 this past month. Now I'm gonna get on with doing what I'm doin'. Have a good one and see ya soon.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Eye of Argon by Jim Theis

I have just spent the last week, or so, reading The Eye of Argon and it was the most difficult thing which I have ever read. It was not challenging from an intellectual or conceptual approach, it was a painful trap of typographical errors and misplaced modifiers. I dare to compare The Eye of Argon to James Joyce’s Dubliners, stories about drunks, swindlers, unhappy young brides and generally miserable people. The Eye of Argon was as painful to read as Joyce’s close up of cultural misery.

Here's a typical passage from the tale;
“Taking hold of the rodent around its lean, growling stomach with both hands Grignr pried from his crimson rent breast, removing small patched of flayed flesh from his chest in the motion between the squalid slack claws of the starving beast."

This sounds to me like the “growling stomach” has “both hands” and a “chest” is “in a motion between squalid slack claws of the beast.” The modifiers and the sentence structure make me cringe but, on the other hand, I wish I had the stomach to emulate this style, I might become the next Lionel Fanthrope.

The Eye of Argon is available as a Google Book but only seven, or so, pages of the introduction are available through Google. But that’s enough because the introduction contains the “publication history” or The Eye of Argon. There are a few web sites dedicated to this wondrous work and a Wikipedia entry but I am convinced that this whole tale is a hoax. I’m not certain when it started, it may have begun in 1970 as reports claim or the hoax may have begun in the year 2000, but I’m almost certain this work of fiction is a brilliant and elaborate, internet perpetrated, hoax. I’m also convinced that the cover photo of the Google edition of this book is a photo of Old Faithful or a geyser very near that famous frequently flowing fellow.

While Joyce challenges us to investigate our surroundings and origins more closely, The Eye of Argon has taught me not to investigate bad pulp fiction too closely. From now on, I’ll be inclined to believe internet reports of really bad pulp fiction and avoid the work in question. (Unless the work in question was spawned from the mind of Mr. L. Fanthrope.) The Eye of Argon is actually available in a print now and I have to wonder if the typos have been corrected in the print edition, it might be handy to own a properly edited edition of this nighmare.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Tale of Two book purchases; part 2

Book purchase 1; Hackmaster Player’s Handbook and Hackmaster Game Master’s Reference$12.99 + $3.99 shipping from e-bay. The player’s handbook is a bit more beat-up than I’d like but I did pay 60% off the retail price, including shipping.

Book purchase 2; The Hacklopedia of Beast, vol. 2 from a local used book store: $2.00.

I’ll offer comments about those old copies of The Space Gamer soon. Now, to come up with a plot line wacky enough to use with Hackmaster, oh yeah, I found Little Keep on the Borderland at the used book store earlier this year!

Next at the Polyhedral Dicebag; I offer my two cents on The Eye of Argon.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

RPG Brain Storm Questionnaire

Last week I got an idea to give my game group some random questions to use in generating plots for rpgs. I’m not out or plot ideas but I thought the questionnaire would be fun and, perhaps, inject a bit of creative thinking into our group. This is certainly no insult to my group, they are all great fun and I’m often guilty of running out of creative ideas while we’re sitting at the gaming table. Here are the questions which I presented along with their responses and my comments about the responses.

1. What type of character have you always wanted to play but have never gotten the opportunity? (Any genre or setting is acceptable.)

Reverse Dungeon, a mob boss, a young Jedi or a paladin. A hybrid character of Conan, Han Solo, Boba Fett, Dracula and Elvis.

Comments: Yeah, my guys are a bunch of jokesters but these are some creative ideas.

2. What book and, or movie contains elements which you would like to use in an rpg?

Dune, the Mad Max series, Hellraiser, King Kong, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Robin Hood, Reservoir Dogs, Land of the Lost and Raiders of the Lost Ark

Comments: I haven’t seen three of these films but they all sound like good ideas.

3. What rock band and, or song would you like to see used within an rpg plot?

Michael Bolton; the whole collection (a joke)
Rush (Another joke, I think based on the recent film Fanboys.)
The Ramones (This is an idea I could work with.)

4. What historical event or period would you enjoy in an rpg?

Victorian, 1930s, Prohibition, South Central L. A. circa 1990, The future as envisioned by the past.

Comments: I like the 1990’s L.A. idea and “the future as envisioned by the past,” brings to mind the novels of A.E. Van Vogt, Doc Smith and Poul Anderson.

5. Insert any additional comments here:
I want to level like a Mofo and; Brought to you by Carl’s Jr.

Thanks to by pals in the OSP for answering my random nonsense with their own brand of nonsense. It’s entirely likely that this first questionnaire will lead to a second set of questions and I may get around to developing some of these ideas and suggestions in 2011.

Guest Book Review of Mercedes Lackey’s The Fairy Godmother

One day, a few weeks ago, I found my wife, Sally, searching around her bookshelves. I immediately ask her if she had run out of things to read. Her response was the “uh huh” which I anticipated. I remembered that I had purchased a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and began searching through my piles of books. I found Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and two other books for her to choose from. One of the books was The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey and this was the book she chose to read first. Once she finished reading the book I got the idea that she could do a guest book review for the ol’ blog and composed the following questions for a brief interview.

Q. What genre would you consider The Fairy Godmother?
A. It’s fantasy but not what I would consider romantic fantasy. It is really a modern twist on fairy tales. The setting is called the Five Hundred Kingdoms and the main character, Elena, is ushered into “the tradition” of the Fairy Godmothers. Elena was supposed to be the Cinderella of her kingdom and became a Fairy Godmother initiate when this plan went astray.

Q. How long did it take you to read this novel?
A. Two weeks.

Q. As a point of reference, would you compare the style of The Fairy Godmother too Shrek?
A. Yes, the characterization is similar.

Q. Would you recommend The Fairy Godmother for male readers?
A. Yeah, sure.

Q. Was this book better than an Archie comic?
A. Yes

Q. Was the book better than a Hellboy comic?
A. No

Q. What are you reading now?
A. Wild Fire by Christine Feeham

Q. Would you do another guest review for the Polyhedral Windbag in the future?
A. Sure

Thanks to Sally for this brief view into this novel which we received through a book trade we established on Paperback Swap dot Com.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A tale of two book purchases

This is actually the tale of three book purchases from two ends of the same subject.
Book purchase #1, Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition, Player’s Handbook = $14.99.
Shipping = 3.99.
Knowing I bought this book for 30% less than the cover price = priceless.

I’ve been shopping for the Fourth Edition Player’s Handbook for a while. I wanted to get a copy of the book so I can form my own informed opinion of this new edition of the game. I can’t believe this edition of the game is broken or think it’s the bee knees until I’ve read the rules and devised my own opinion and owning a copy of the book will facilitate this process.

Book purchase #2, Fantasy Role Playing Games and Mahars of Pellucidar by J.E. Holmes.

Fantasy Role Playing was $12.49 with shipping and Mahars of Pellucidar was less than $5.oo. I remember that my college library had a copy of Fantasy Role Playing Games. I also remember looking through the books in those days too. I'm pretty sure I never read this book back then because I was too concerned with trying to pass Biology, Anthropology and Speech. I also didn't have the money to buy Dr. Holmes' book at that time. I believe that the original cover price is actually $12.50. This was in the late Eighties and we were still playing 1st edition AD&D. Of course, that is what I still play today too, when my group isn't playing Mutant Future or Encounter Critical.

I should have a tale of two book purchases, part two, to write about pretty soon. It's an even better deal than the 4th ed. Player's Handbook. I think it will be around 75% off the cover price after shipping. I also hope to have a guest book review posted soon too.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Old School Files

I've been digging through my old gaming material with the intent to use this material to create a generic system adventure. Yesterday, I found this old character record sheet which I had created for 1st edition AD&D. I've edited it a bit to share with my blog-o-sphere faithfuls. I think this file should prove to be useful as a record sheet for retro clone and weird fantasy gaming.

Generic RPG Character Record

Friday, May 7, 2010

Raiders of the Mercenary Coast

I’ve finally completed my adventure design for Encounter Critical and posted it at Scribd for the world to enjoy. I can’t claim that my design up holds the EC standard of scientific realism because I’m certain that some of the stats I’ve listed are incorrect. I’m certain I over looked some attack bonuses or have some attack percentages listed wrong. In my defense, when I ran the original design of this adventure with my game group we laughed out loud as the players bulldozed through everything in their path. Which is the true spiritual realism of role playing games, I believe.

I had intended to have a larger treasure haul in this adventure but the final draft only contains a pile of gold, a pile of copper and a pile of bottle caps. What is not written into the adventure is the fact that the basement warehouse is full of trilithum crystals which are far more valuable than gold. (The crystals are the power source of all Vulkan technology, don’t ya know!)

After my group steam rolled through my original npcs I beefed up the final design. I’m not sure that first level characters can survive the killer robot encounter or the final scene with the crime boss and his gambling buddies. If any of the player characters should survive there’s a lead to follow for more adventure at the end of this design. I also have an epilogue to this adventure which I need to type up and share. At the rate I produce game designs; I may have the epilogue released around December of this year.

The pdf has italic text and plain text. The plain text is like the text boxes in the old module designs of our youth. This is the information the GM/JM can read or explain to the players. The italic text is the information the players should learn through role playing. I thought this would be a simple enough system but I found it difficult to work with. Like all things rpg, perhaps this system will work it’s self out in time.

I hope some of you give this file a read or run through and, please, share your thoughts.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The OSP still play AD&D and blog name change.

First, since I have a second blog now for social commentary, Fanatical Recycling Inc, (link to the right) I thought a more rpg related title was in order for this corner of the blog-o-sphere. No matter what we play, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, old school or new, we can all relate to the polyhedral dicebag.

My current game group, the Old School Pastafari, formed in March of 2009 and we still have a core of three of the original group members and we’re still playing AD&D 1st edition. Recently our party of six player characters hired twenty-two men at arms to invade a bandit camp. The bandits had attempted to rob the player characters in an earlier adventure and the party hoped to turn the tables on the bandits a second time. The party thief, Nigel, scouted the hills where the camp was located. He found a well kept farm and farm house at the foot of the hills. The farm appeared to be an odd form of watch tower guarding the bandit camp. That night Nigel counted twenty-five to thirty camp fires within the camp.

The party attempted to find employment guarding the merchant caravans on the route which the bandits were harassing but were informed that their group was too small, inexperienced and ill prepared. Plan B was instigated; follow the merchants and enter the woods along the trade route before the bandit ambush. This plan worked well and all twenty-eight members of the adventure party entered the woods and blended into the landscape before approaching close to the bandit camp.

With the body of the brigade concealed in the forest, Nigel drank a potion of invisibility and snuck into the camp to snoop around. He noted that there were simple timber fortifications used to guard the camp. He slipped past the fortifications and under the floorboards of the one cabin in the camp. All the bandits appeared to be in the camp, it must have been their day off from ambushing merchant caravans. Nigel didn’t hear any conversations containing information that would be useful to the party. He started a fire under the floorboards of the cabin and hid among the tents to watch the bucket brigade. The bandits quickly rescued some valuables from the cabin and began burying them. Nigel returned to the party with the knowledge of the location of the bandits’ treasure.

Nigel, still invisible, set fire to the barn on the farm to create a distraction. The bandits promptly streamed out of the camp to distinguish this fire and then began a search for the pesky arson. The player characters set their hirelings into an attack formation and charged the bandit camp. The hirelings formed three ranks, a first row of seven pike men, a second row of six crossbow men and six long bow archers as the rear guard.

This brigade approached a timber fortification and attacked from the range of the bowmen. The fortification was protected by five or six men which were quickly defeated. The brigade remained in formation and marched into the bandit camp and soon discovered a group of bandits gathered around the freshly buried treasure. The brigade again attacked this group from crossbow range. As this battle proceeded a second group of bandits joined the fight, thus attacking our heroes from two directions. The pickmen were instructed to turn at a right angle to protect the bowmen from this second attack. The bowmen finished off the treasure guards and all hands began to dig for treasure with and stick, spear or make-shift shovel available. (The plan at this point was; “Grab it and go.”)

The events of the evening concluded with the party/brigade safely escaping the bandits and finding they had enough loot to progress to the next experience level.

Next up for the blog, I share my Encounter Critical adventure design with the world.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Harn Ironfell's Dwarven Advice Column

Inspired by a young man named Kahn and the real life adventures of my hometown gaming miscreants, the Knox Gamers, I present to the rpg blog world; Harn Ironfell's Dwarven Advice Column.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Daddy Grognard Says;

"They've all been reissued with rather risque covers."

Yeah, I didn't mention in the earlier post that the Gor books have gained a popular following among practitioners of B&D. The Google Books version displays the cover art pictured above, as if the original cover art by Boris Vallejo was not risqué enough?

Now, back to the musical portion of the program. If you don't know about this, you don't know diddley.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tarnsman of Gor, part 1

Along with The Hobbit, Dragon Riders of Pern and some Nancy Springer novels, Tarnsman of Gor was one of the earliest building blocks of my pulp fiction reading and fantasy role playing hobby. The tales of Gor or Counter Earth are a combination of Conan meets John Carter of Mars. The hero, Tarl Cabbot, is an earthman who is abducted to Gor and finds adventure in a barbaric culture controlled by a small group with highly advanced technology which is, of course, called magic. (This, high tech culture controlling barbarians with their “magic,” is a plot element common in many a pulp fantasy novel, including Fritz Leiber’s Gather Darkness.) The books over flow with magic, sword fights, scores of alien creatures like the Tarns, science fiction and, with an added appeal to adolescent boys, slave girls.

I believe there are twenty-eight novels in the Counter Earth series and they’re all supposed to be in print. I never see these books available at used book stores but I’ve been able to find a few copies of the books through Paperback Swap dot Com. I will be posting a recent publication copy of Tarnsman of Gor for trade through this service,, right away. I noticed that on the new copy of the book, the artist bio is as nearly as fictitious as the contents of the story. I’ve also noticed many comparisons to other works of pulp fiction and I think I’ll feel inclined to continue this book review when I complete my reading.

Monday, April 5, 2010

My Opinion of Encounter Critical

Since Jeff Rients has declared 2010 The International Encounter Critical Year I’ll throw my hat into the ring. I discovered E.C. last year and I immediately thought that the game is brilliant. Not only is E.C. an imaginative game system but, as has been bandied about the entrée-net, E.C. began as an rpg publishing practical joke. “This is gaming from another past, a garage-made RPG designed circa 1979 by two mythical gamer-buddies,” S. John Ross even wrote the game in character using a personality named Hank Riley.

If we can believe anything written in this rule set than E.C. is an rpg for all genres and encourages mixing these genres. This is a big selling point for me because who wouldn’t want to have laser guns, Road Warrior style cars and a Tyrannosaurus Rex or two all in the same role playing campaign? The twelve player races include entries from the two most popular Sci-fi franchises of all time along with the obligatory fantasy races.

E.C. has an old school rpg look and presentation complete with pages and pages of percentile based skill charts. I loved this skill system since the use of percentile dice is nonexistent in D20 systems. In fact, the E.C. system exists without the use of the d20 at all. Brilliant, Encounter Critical is the Anti-D20 in a gaming environment dominated and seemingly dependant on the D20 System. I believe the development of E.C. was a study in how to build an imaginative and independent rpg system from scratch. S. John Ross has released a digital document titled the Phasic Cyaborg Edition which includes a discussion of his development process. I have not purchased this product yet but another payday is just around the corner.

I’ve introduced E.C. to many friends and relatives, I’ve run an adventure of the game with my gaming group and I’ve been scheduled to run the game at a convention. Not everyone I’ve introduced to E.C. shares my enthusiasm, some have declared the system broken. To these detractors I must point out, the same man who created the complexity and challenge of Encounter Critical is also the creator of the simplicity and free spirit of Risus.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Musical Portion of the Program

Our local entertainment guide, Metro Pulse, recently ran a story of popular songs which mention Knoxville. Most of these songs are about outlaws and this seemed depressing to me. But I had to consider the modern songs which mention my hometown, Birmingham Al. The two songs which I immediately thought of are; Sweet Home Alabama and Black Betty, "She's from Birmingham, Blam, Ba-damn," and this musical selection is pretty depressing too.

The saving grace is a song which does not mention Knoxville, much less B'ham, in the original version. Richard Thompson's 1952 Vincent Black Lightning received a reference to Knoxville when recorded by Del McCoury in 2001. Despite being one of the most talented singer-song writers alive, Thompson is not a widely known musician. He is a personal favorite of mine and has performed in Knoxville twice in the last three years. I suggest his recordings; Action Packed or Live from Austin City Limits for any interested in his style of folky-rock.

I'll paraphrase Matt Everett, author of the original article, for the rest of this story.
It’s a haunting, beautiful song, and if the tragic tale of Red Molly and the motorcycle outlaw James doesn’t move you to tears, there might be something wrong with you... McCoury also modified Thompson’s reference to Box Hill—“and down to Box Hill they did ride”—to “Knoxville,” giving the city yet another fist-pumping anthem of Appalachian anti-authoritarian defiance to go along with “Thunder Road” and “Copperhead Road.”

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Mutant Future session 3, part 2; 2009, 12.15.09

The adventurers relaxed and collected their thoughts after their defeat of the one-eyed giant with four arms. Bucky yelled down to the others, “Should I try to bring the raiser back up?” Everyone agreed that they should explore the pit since they had found no exits or additional rooms at their current level of this temple and ancient vehicle storage complex. Bucky pushed the lever forward again to activate the raiser in the pit and the mechanism groaned as gears pushed against the strain of the recent explosion of the magic item the adventures a had activated.

They saw that the raiser was covered with organic goo, the remains of the blasted one-eyed giant formerly with four arms. “Someone must travel down into the Pit of Mystery to seek a tunnel,” began Bro. Mathias. “You, Bro. Bacon Fat, travel down the lift and explore the mysterious pit.”

“How will you know what I’ve found Bro. Mathias,” asked Bacon Fat.

“We can yell,” Bro. Mathias explained as he pushed Bacon Fat toward the raiser. “Activate the raiser,” Mathias yelled up to Bucky.

Bacon Fat was lowered into the pit and after a few seconds he yelled, “I see another passage way.”

“Do you see the slot of sluts which might control this mighty raiser,” Bro. M yelled at Bacon Fat.

“Yes Brother,” Bacon Fat responded.

“Toss me the magic card of activation,” Bro. M instructed Bucky. “We will send Axel Grease and Brother Bottom down to Bro. Bacon. They will in turn raise and lower the raiser so the remaining three of us may join them.”

After moments of manipulating the lift all the members of the group met on a second, lower, level of the ancient vehicle storage facility and temple. They discovered many men working busily on this level. At least these creatures resembled men in appearance, movement and manor.

“Look at them,” squealed Bottom, “Their working!”

This lower level was as large as the level above. These humanoids were working all around the adventures. The workers were disassembling cages similar to the one that contained the monster on the lift.

“They’re taking apart the cages,” continued Bottom. “We must learn their motivation,” Bro. Mathias suggested and approached a group of the dedicated workers. “Hello brothers, what is the nature of your task?” The rather dumb looking human glanced at Bro. M but immediately returned to his work. Mathias followed the laborer, insistent on attracting the attention of the hardhead. Mathias danced in front of the worker attempting to distract him. “Excuse me brother,” Mathias panted while hopping from foot to foot. Again the worker avoided Mathias and continued working.

"Stop him,” said Hedgehog Jack. Mathias grabbed the worker and attempted to communicate with the man. The worker moved too quickly and avoided Mathias who lunged at the man and pushed him. Then Mathias pushed him to the floor. Mathias called, “Help me brothers,” and Axel Grease and Bacon Fat surrounded the worker too secure him. As the three men grappled with the laborer, Alex and Bacon held him by his arms and Mathias appeared to be ready to inflict bodily harm, he began to yell.

His call was a simple repeated, “Ahh, Ahh, Ahh,” and within the minute a group came rushing to his aid. Three humanoids carrying clubs rushed in to the area to aid the alarmed worker. These new guards ran straight to worker too engage Axel, Bacon and Mathias who released the worker too defend themselves. One of the guards paused a moment before entering the combat, he placed one had at the tip of his club and a spark ignited a flame on the end of his club.

Bucky, Hedgehog Jack and Bottom prepared their various means of defending their “brothers,” Axel, Bacon and Mathias. While the guards were busy with the melee Bottom turned and kicked the combatant with the club of flame. Bottoms kicked knocked the guard away from the combat and the club of flame fell from the guards grasp and Hedgehog Jack quickly retrieved the club. The other adventures had defeated a second guard and the third attempted to flee to safety, away from the seemingly combat savvy adventurers.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Order of the d10,000, Paperback Swap and such...

Since G. Benedicto at the Eiglophian Press has created the Order of the d10,000 I was inspired to create a chart for using this set of dice. There are only 100 possible names in the chart but it was fun using the d10,000 designations and I hope this is just the beginning of my chart making. The chart is a random name generator for PCs and NPCs for weird fantasy rpgs. I hope you all follow the text link to the download at Scribd and enjoy!

I threw the dice a few times to test the chart with these results. 5887 = Stretcher, 2120 = My Space, 5163 = Soda Pop, and 6041 = Claw or Claws.

As suggested in the archives of the many rpg blogs, I have been using the Paperback Swap for a few months now. I enjoy using this service and have found many classic fantasy and sci-fi novels through the site. Occasionally I'll receive a paperback which is on it's last dog-eared leg. So I'm beginning a new feature for my blog to distribute these books. I'll use the title Pulp Fiction Giveaway in the blog header when I have an old book up for adoption. In fact, I've already started the Giveaway as I mailed The Skylark of Space to my in-state neighbor Brutorz Bill this morning.

Monday, January 25, 2010

E. E. “Doc” Smith; Skylark of Space

From what I understand, Doc Smith is the real grand daddy of Science Fiction novels and formulaic Science Fiction such as Space Opera and tales of galactic empires. The short novel, Skylark of Space, certainly supports this theory. The story was first published in Amazing Stories in the fall of 1928. I’ve created the following outline, or synopsis, to illustrate how ol’ Doc Smith’s work could cement the foundation of all subsequent literary and pulp Sci-fi.

Government employed scientist “A” discovers an extremely economic source of nearly unlimited energy. The fuel source is a compound derived from a meteor and is, thus, in limited supply.

Government employed scientist “B” is the only co-worker of “A” who believes the potential of “A’s” discovery. Scientist “B” is also willing to use any means to steal ideas, material and inventions from “A” including kidnapping “A’s” fiancé.

Scientist “A” resigns his position at the government agency, purchasing the supposedly useless meteorite waste from a surplus auction on his last day on the job. “A” then demonstrates his discovery to an extravagantly wealthy inventor friend who he invites to assist in building his Skylark of Space. Extravagantly wealthy inventor friend “jumps at the idea.”

Unscrupulous scientist “B,” to our knowledge, still employed by the government is also on the payroll of the only metal fabrication facility capable of building a spaceship. Scientist “A” and his investor friend know this so they build a dud or dummy ship while their Skylark is assembled at a secluded location by a smaller fabrication firm. Both ships are completely assembled on the same date, scientist “B” steals the dummy Skylark, kidnaps “A’s” fiancé and the serialized space race is off to the stars.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Random thoughts on the OSR

Yesterday I had a random thought moment which I'm prone to have occasionally. I’m not sure what triggered this “flash” of personal enlightenment; perhaps I was thinking about my constant search for old books and gaming material. I realized that for ten years, between 1980 and 1990, I only used five books for role playing games. I owned the Holmes Basic rules, Ad&d Player’s Handbook, DMG and Monster Manuel and first edition Gamma World and these where the only books I used for the first ten years of my role playing career. So this is my personal definition of Old School Gaming; simple game settings and systems derived from a minimal amount of source material and that’s how I still role and roll.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lloyd Alexander; The Book of Three

A good friend or mine suggested these books, the Taran wander series, in a conversation about genre fiction that was initially written as juvenile fiction. I found a few of these books, The Book of Three and The High King, at a used book store on New Year’s Day and I agree with my friend and fellow gamer, the series may have been conceived as juvenile fiction but they read like classic fantasy fiction.

Alexander dedicates the book, “For the children who listened, the grown-ups who were patient,” which implies that he wrote the book for young readers. At the beginning of the book we are told that Coll is, “charged with the practical side of his (Taran) education.” Based on these comments alone as evidence that these books were intended as juvenile fiction I suggest, simply because the main character or characters are juvenile, doesn’t categorize the book to the childrens' shelves. Of course, Harry Potter’s the most famous modern example of this point. I am probably over analyzing this subject and ignoring the fact that these books, Alexander’s and Rowling’s, are juvenile fiction because they contain no content of an adult nature. This brings up another comparison between The Book of Three and Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions. Anderson’s main character engages in “adult situations” throughout the book but there is no suggestion of adult-only activities in The Book of Three.

The characterization in The Book of Three, like Three Hearts and Three Lions, could easily be the bases for player characters in a fantasy role playing game. The characters are; Taran the Assistant Pig Keeper, Eilonwy the sorceress apprentice, Fflewddur the bard, Hen Wen the oracular pig and Doli the dwarf guide and magician, This is as solid an adventure party as I’ve had at the gaming table in the last four months. The characters’ names give me another argument against The Book of Three as juvenile fiction, what young reader would be accustom to these Old English names? I will, again, concede the point, I am sure many young readers could adapt to the ancient linguistics as easily as I did.

I have, unintentionally, left out one among the adventures of the tale. I feel certain that Alexander was familiar with the work of Prof. Tolkien because Alexander’s character Gurgi is so similar to Golem. Gurgi is the guide for the adventurers in the early chapters of the book and is an annoying, occasionally childish, but ultimately entertaining character.

Other elements which I feel make this a good, if not great, fantasy story are the magic items, magic creatures, monsters and bad guys. The Book of Three, a magic tome in the story, is introduced in the first chapter, “The Book of Three… the boy believed, held in its pages everything anyone could possibly want to know.” (p. 15) Taran is never allowed to read the tome but he cannot resist the temptation to access the secrets of the book. When he reaches for the book his fingers receive a shock as if being stung by hornets. Coll, Taran’s guardian, explains, “that is one of the three foundations of learning; see much, study much, suffermuch. “ (p. 19) After this introduction to the magic system, the Book of Three is forgotten while the tale explores other magics.

The bard, Fflewddur, has a unique magic item. Fflewddur explains that he actually failed his examines to enter the Bard’s Guild, he is a fine storyteller but is not a talented musician. His stories could be referred to as tall tales, bordering on lies, so the Guild Masters rewarded Fflewddur with a magic lute which allows him to perform beautiful music. The balance being that the lute will break a string each time Fflewddur’s tales become too tall.

A third magic item is the sword Dyrnwyn which is stolen from the crept below the Spiral Castle as Tarran and Eilonwy escape the castle dungeon. The castle begins to crumble from the foundation as Eilonwy crawls from the crept with Dyrnwyn in tow. When the adventurers reach safety, away from the tumbling masonry, Tarran attempts to inspect Eilonwy’s new treasure. Eilonwy refuses to give Tarran the sword as if she is controlled by an evil charm associated with the sword.

Later the adventurers gain the assistance of the Fair Folk. This group or race resemble what we traditionally call fairies and Alexander’s treatment reminds me of the presentation of fairies in the works of Jack Vance. They are as likely to play tricks on the humans as assist them, “Spare me from fools and Assistant Pig Keepers,” Doli the Fair Folk guide exclaims at one point.

I could go on listing the details of this book and describe the story completely. This would hardly do justice to the fine work of Lloyd Alexander and leave little reason or enjoyment in reading the book. I did discover, while planning the blog, that The Book of Three is an available e-book at Google Books. Thanks to the magic of modern tech we’re all “just a click away” from this old-fashioned fantasy tale for the enjoyment of Old Schoolers or Junior Grognards.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Mutant Future session 3, part 1; 12.15.09

Bucky McLeroy, the whitetail deer anamorph, ran the thin plastic card through the slot of sluts next to the giant gate. There was an immediate click and a hum as the gate began moving, opening into the vehicle storage room. Bucky and his companions, Hedgehog Jack and Brother Mathias, watched as the door magically opened into the room they are in. Their discovery of the ancient lock mechanism by the gate allowed their giant donkey friend, Bottom, to join them. Bottom had previously been stuck in the passage beyond this gate. He was too large for the smaller passages the other three adventures had used to get around the gate.

“Now that we’re all in here, what the heck is that,” Brother Mathias turned to face a large circular pit which dominated their end of the vehicle storage room. “I,” began Hedgehog Jack, but he was interrupted by Bottom. “Let’s see how deep it is,” without warning Bottom turned and kicked Candy Cane into the pit. Candy gave a brief grunt and scream, but she vanished into the depths of the pit in the blink of eight mutant eyes.

Hedgehog Jack cleared his throat, “I was try to tell you all, I threw a torch in there and couldn’t tell where it landed.” His companions, including Bottom, were all stunned by Bottom’s sudden and swift elimination of Candy Cane. “That’s a deep pit,” Bottom added in a stunned tone.

The circular pit was twenty feet across, Bucky pointed out, “There’s a ledge up on the wall around the pit. There’s also a ladder that leads up to the ledge. I’ll climb up and investigate it,” he volunteered. “You there,” Bro Mathias said, selecting one of his followers. “You, Bacon Fat, climb up to the ledge with Bucky while I remain here and perform the proper penance for our newly lost sister, Candy Cane.” Brother Mathias began to mumble is liturgical nonsense as Bucky and Bacon Fat mount the ladder to the ledge around the mysterious pit.

At the top of the ladder Bucky found that this ledge went halfway round the giant pit below. In the middle of the ledge they discovered a shrine of the ancients. “There is a shrine to Cau-tion and Poos,” Bucky announced to the companions gathered around the pit. The shrine contained many lines of messages in the ancient languages which Bucky investigated as best he was able. “There is a lever next to Poos’ name,” Bucky announced. “I’ll attempt to push the lever,” he added. Bucky attempted to move the lever only to discover that it was immobile. “The shrine also has the slot of sluts. It may respond to the Magic Card of Activation,” he suggested.

“Oh say can you see the sacred stash of tokens to Visa the spirit of finance…” Brother Mathias abruptly stopped his meditations. “Brother Axel Grease take this, the Magic Card of Activation, to our Brother Bucky,” he instructed while removing the card from his neck and handing it to Bro. Axel.

Bucky placed the Magic Card of Activation into the Slot of Sluts and slid it back out as they had recently learned to do. “Cau-ton has accepted the offering of the Card of Activation. I hear a humming within the shrine now,” he announced. “Try to move the lever now,” Brother Mathias shouted. Bucky pushed the lever forward activating some mechanism down inside the Pit of Mystery and the companions waited in stunned silence to discover the results of their latest action.

After what seemed like an eternity, but was only a minute or more, the companions could see that a section of the floor was rising out of the Pit of Mystery. As the floor came into view they could see a large cage and the shadow of something moving within the cage. “What by the Financial Fathers is that,” said Bottom. “It’s a cage on a raiser,” responded Bucky from his post on the ledge. “No, there’s somethin’ in the cage,” yelled Hedgehog Jack.

The “raiser” reached a few feet from the floor level just as Jack finished his comment. The shadow took one step and was out of the cage and into the artificial light of the vehicle storage room. The creature that stepped into the light appeared much like a giant man but a giant man with four arms. The companions where silent for a shocked moment which was long enough for them to realize that the giant four armed creature only had one eye.

The one eyed creature continued to move away from the cage and the companions quickly gathered their thoughts and their actions. Brother Mathias began shouting orders, “Bacon Fat and Axel Grease, you must descend form that ledge and join us in combat with this terror!” The creature moved aggressively toward Bottom who quickly moved to avoid him. Bottom spun around and kicked the creature back toward the cage. Bucky quickly fired an arrow from his long bow but failed to hit the creature.

Hedgehog Jack was still morning the loss of his very good friend, Candy Cane, and was too shocked to help combat the monster. Bacon Fat and Axel rushed into the fight and joined Bro. Mathias in casting sling stones at this horror from the Pit of Mystery. The one eyed creature from below rushed at Bottom again and grabbed the giant donkey with two of his four fists. Bottom was able to kick the creature back into the pit as Bro. Mathias yelled, “The magic items, don’t we have some magic items of destruction? Buck, you should pull the lever thus lowering this creature back into it’s very spawning pit.”

“Oh, yeah,” said Bucky. “Oh yeah, I have a magic item of destruction,” responded Bottom. “Let me find it.” While Bottom looked through his belongings for a magic device, Bucky released another arrow but failed to hit the, rather large, beast. Then Bucky pulled the lever and activated the raiser into downward motion. “I’ve found it, I’ve found it,” Bottom shouted. “Launcheth thou the Magic Device of Destruction in the direction of this pit beast,” Bro. Mathias instructed. Bottom managed to properly manipulate the Magic Device and throw it before the beast could climb out of the pit again.

The Magic Device released an explosion as it hit the raiser at the feet of the pit- spawn creature. The creature gave a yelling scream of pain and beat at the walls of the pit. The raiser continued to lower, “It appears the creature was only harmed by the device but was not slain,” Bro. Mathias announced. “I have a Magic Device of Destruction too,” Bucky volunteered as he tossed a second device into the pit. The resulting explosion released fire out of the top of the pit and produced a scream that could only signal the death of the pit-spawn creature.

--- We finished the Mutant Future adventure on Dec. 22 and we're back to playing first edition AD&D now.