Friday, May 20, 2022

Stranger Days

I loved Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness! But then I've been a Sam Raimi fan since I was about 10, and the film is more or less Evil Dead 4 with a Marvel budget.

I found the first film interesting -- not least how it rejects the traditional hero origin narrative -- but I'm not sure I liked it. I very much liked the sequel. It rattles along at a great pace and it's full of fun ideas and bold action and wonderful imagery, leaning away from the almost mathsy weird geometry of the first film and more into liquid dreams and nightmares and horror, which is not surprising given the director. Sam Raimi was an excellent choice.

(Although I would love to see what Guillermo Del Toro would do with Strange; I suspect it would be even better.)

The big fan-pleasing moment in the middle is perhaps the least interesting part, which is a surprise. Still good, but overshadowed by the rest of the film.

It's not perfect. There are some generic cgi bad guys in the finale that look like they've wandered in from a PS3 game. There's also no real character development; America Chavez is introduced but never becomes anything more than a plot device, which is a shame. Strange sort of learns a lesson over the course of the story, but it's handwaved and feels disconnected from the rest of the narrative, suggesting it's a remnant of an earlier draft.

I've seen some comments that the film ruins Wanda and negates WandaVision, and while I see where that criticism comes from, I disagree. I think it follows on from WandaVision without contradiction, but I do think the film wastes the character a little. WandaVision suggested an interesting, and probably extended, story arc for Wanda, one I'd have expected to see developed over multiple films and TV programmes, and while it is sort of addressed in the film, it's almost as a throwaway thing, and it does feel like potential squandered.

All that said, there's nothing to say that the suggested arc couldn't be explored in future, and even if we don't get the Wanda I wanted to see, Elizabeth Olsen does a fantastic job with the Wanda we do get. She's more or less a co-protagonist -- and a very interesting one, but I won't say more for spoiler reasons -- to the point that much as I love the title, Doctor Strange and the Scarlet Witch would perhaps be more apt.

It's not as good as Thor 3 or the Guardians of the Galaxy films, but it's in the top tier of Marvel movies for me. I give it four Crimson Bands of Cyttorak out of five.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Sort-Of-Savage Initiative

We've been playing D&D5 again. Our GM has lost his fancy magnetic imitative tracker, a gadget he's been using since the days of D&D4, so that got me thinking about how to track turn order in a simple but visual way.

I very much like the way Savage Worlds tracks initiative using standard, non-nerdy playing cards; there are all sorts of funky game effects involved which are irrelevant in D&D5, but the basic idea of having a card in front of each player so everyone has a clear idea of who goes when is appealing. So how about this:

  1. Everyone rolls initiative as normal to determine the order.
  2. Everyone gets handed a token that marks where they are in the order; playing cards work as well as anything, unless you somehow end up with 14+ separate combat groups.
  3. Everyone forgets about their rolled initiative number, because it's no longer relevant.
  4. (Optional, but probably useful) Everyone flips their cards over when they have completed their actions.
And that's it! It may be wise to hand out all even or all odd cards in step 2, just in case there are late arrivals that need to slot in between other combatants, or you could just hand out new cards to anyone affected by the new turn order. I would be tempted to have any new combatants either go first (if their entrance was a surprise) or last (if they were heard coming), but we're getting into the long grass of house rules there, so I'll stop.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Terror in the Youtubes

Here is a very generous review of my adventure Terror in the Streets:



The adventure is available in print in Europe here and in North America here; the fancy boxed set version is only available in Europe, alas. A pdf version is available here.

Work continues on even more adventures, and I hope to have some more news soon.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Cosmic!

I'm not sure what this is or why it popped into my head.

Monday, April 18, 2022

It's Not Quite a Jaguar

A couple of weeks ago, Stuart and I ventured into the Outside World to play a round of Battlecars, a game from the early days of Games Workshop, designed by Gary Chalk and (Sir) Ian Livingstone. Stuart had long wanted to play it, and I had a copy knocking around from a few years ago when a generous blog reader decide to give his game collection to me.

Alas, that battered old copy was lacking instructions, but I pieced together a playable set of rules from the Battlebikes expansion, a rules summary that I thought I'd got from Board Game Geek but seems to be absent now, and a remake called Cars That Do Battle. As it turned out, all that wasn't quite enough and we had some minor issues during play, but nothing that caused too much trouble.

I also decided to draw my own board. The original game uses boards upon which flat card terrain pieces are placed, and I could see the whole thing going flying if nudged during the game. The previous owner had used blu tack to attach the terrain to the board, but that seemed an unsatisfying solution and I was worried about damage to the components. Plus, I could draw the board at a slightly larger size so that neither of us would have to do as much squinting.

I didn't have a chance to come up with a similar fix for the car templates, but there was a certain tactile fun in applying the little red damage counters and removing components and weapons as they were damaged and used.

The game was good fun. Playing a new game for the first time always takes a bit longer but we managed it in just over two hours and once we got used to things it rattled along; I was worried that it would be slow and fiddly and wouldn't capture the feel of Mad Max style combat at all, but it did feel fast and, um, furious, which was quite a surprise from such an old design. By the end of the game both cars were burning wrecks, but I made an error of judgement and had my driver leave his vehicle when staying put would have been more sensible, and Stuart punished my poor decision making with a burst of machine gun fire. Ratatatat!

Poor Terry Hawk, gunned down in his post-apocalyptic prime!
Both Stuart and I are keen to play again. I have now found a copy of the actual rules, and we have decided to make use of a variant initiative system as the original game's approach is a bit inadequate and unfair. I have access to a couple of scenarios with different win conditions, so we may also give those a try.

Day, made.
You can read Stuart's thoughts on the game here. We are thinking of giving the more complex Car Wars a try soon, and perhaps even Dark Future, as I've long wanted to play it.

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Emergent Cannibalism

My group is playing its way through Patrick Stuart's Silent Titans on Sunday nights. It's going fairly well. Sort of.

The players have just left a coastal village in which the inhabitants were "eating OYSTERCATCHERS from the flats". The emphasis is Patrick's.

This is an oystercatcher:

Eurasian oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)

I didn't know this as we were playing, so I described the villagers munching on large chunks of meat, and nibbling at very long bones, because I was thinking of this sort of oyster catcher:

Oyster Farming

Oops.

There's a concept in role-playing games called "emergent storytelling". The idea is that you don't prepare a plot beforehand, rather you present the characters with a situation, and the "story" emerges through play. I suppose this is an example of that, although I'm not sure what sort of story it's becoming.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Business Time

Just a quick one, as March expires, April rises from its ashes, and Mr Taxman sharpens his scythe.

I am told that after some... mysterious delays, the Lamentations of the Flame Princess US shop now has my books Green Messiah and Terror in the Streets in stock. If you are a Filthy Colonial and want my newest books -- and some of the older ones! -- you should be able to order them now. Alas, the fancy pants boxed version of Terror in the Streets has not made it across the Atlantic, although it may be available at GenCon later this year. As soon as I know LotFP's plans for the big convention, I will pass them on.

(The big box is available at the EU shop, as is a selection of other books.)

In other news, the Kickstarter for In the Hall of the Blue Wizard has launched. This is a collaborative zine to which I have contributed one page out of 100. I realise that Kickstarter is Evil these days, so if you don't want to support the Hall, then I understand, but I thought I should probably mention it.

That's all for new. I hope to show off some new bits and pieces soon!

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Old Yeller

Years ago, I stumbled upon a film version of The King in Yellow, or at least something associated with the entity. I seem to remember that it was either a short film, or a proof-of-concept for a full scale production, but other than that, I have nothing. Except a screenshot:


I can't find any reference online to such a short film, which is a bit weird. Maybe it was nothing to do with the King. Maybe it was just a music video with a similar visual style. Who knows? I don't. Clearly I failed a SAN roll at some point and blocked it all from my mind.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Not Taking Me Seriously, Yes?

It's #DrawDeathsHeadDay the most wonderful holiday of the year!


I would apologise for the pun, but you should never apologise for a good pun. Nor indeed a terrible one.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Misjudging a Book

I've got a couple of new books coming out soon, and so I'm thinking about cover designs. Prompted by a discussion over at House to Astonish, I found myself nostalgic for a very specific period of Marvel comics covers: 1998.



So many fonts!

So many colours!

So many logos!

I'm sure, from a design perspective, that these are "bad", but there's something about the insane throw-everything-at-the-wall energy that I love. It's too colourful, too disorganised, too messy, but it's also wonderful. It feels like the visual equivalent of pick'n'mix.


Soon after, Marvel moved to a dreadful and dull "pin up" style, with no text, and generic images that had little or nothing to do with the contents. There was much lamentation, and darkness came upon the world, etc.

I don't think any of the next wave of my books will have covers like these, but maybe one day...

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Two Women and a Baby (Except It's Not a Baby, It's a Pig-Man's Ray Gun)

We're still playing Silent Titans, although I am expecting my players to revolt very soon. Here are some pictures.

Eliuda Octave, an NPC, who is described as a "historian" but is also, apparently, a drunk.
Emily Gondal, a player-character. A Georgian governess with a harpoon gun, because it's Silent Titans and that's the sort of thing that happens here.
A ray gun looted from an evil Pig-Man. The players don't know what it does.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Masque Crusaders, Working Overtime

There is a half-decent idea here.

Let's take Ravenloft...

Wait, what's a Ravenloft?

Right, so it's Dungeons & Dragons does Universal -- or if you have excellent taste, Hammer -- horror. It's a patchwork world in which each of the classic horror archetypes rules over a little fiefdom, terrorising the locals, and the players go around staking vampires and shoving silver up werewolves, while trying not to draw the attention of the evil Darklords. The twist is that the bad guys are trapped there too, for Reasons, so if you wanted to you could examine concepts of destiny, responsibility, and enforced roles, but it's D&D so of course you don't do that.

I will say this, it's a great cover.
Do we ever find out who the Skull Guy is
or why he's on a train?
No. We do not.
Anyway. Masque of the Red Death and Other Tales backports the Ravenloft mechanics and setup to Earth in the 1890s, so instead of Tesco Value Dracula, you can fight actual Dracula, which is nice. All of the classic bad guys -- and some good guys, like Sherlock Holmes -- are running about, and ruling over the whole lot is the Red Death. What the Red Death is or does is not defined, which as we will see, is a bit of a recurring problem.

(The Red Death is more or less Nyarlathotep, but is never named as such, probably because of licensing reasons.)

I like the basic idea, I even admire the attempt to use AD&D2 for a near-modern setting, but the whole thing is a mess, veering from cack-handed to half-hearted and back. It's a shame.

Some examples:

It's unwieldy from the start. To play you need the AD&D2 books, this boxed set, plus the Ravenloft boxed set, and the Ravenloft: Forbidden Lore boxed set. The latter two you need for a couple of rules mechanics that could have been reprinted here -- as we will see, it's not like the space was needed for anything else -- but ah, then you'd be buying only one box, not three and how then would TSR avoid going bust?

Oh.

Imagine playing this in 1994, before everyone had pdfs. Imagine you were the GM but you were running the game at someone else's house, and you'd need to lug three boxes plus rulebooks plus whatever else over there. Crikey.

The setting-specific rules -- the ones that you don't have to go and find in other boxes -- are a bit of a mess too. AD&D2 for the 1890s was always going to be a fudge but it feels like they just gave up after a first draft. Fighters/soldiers are the only viable character type; magic use has interesting drawbacks -- corruption, insanity, attracting the Red Death -- but they are also probably too punitive to make playing a magician worthwhile, although I love that sort of thing in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay so (shrugs).

Thieves become "tradesmen" and lose their thief skills, but get them back as Non-Weapon Proficiencies, the effectiveness of which are based on the character's -- random -- statistics, and must be bought from a pool of points of which the magic users will in most cases get more, AND the tradesman doesn't in fact get default access to the thief skills -- no one does -- so has to spend more of that pool of points to get them.

"You can play these other classes," TSR seems to say, "But they are crap, so don't bother." Soldiers for everyone! Which is fine, I suppose, if that was the intent, but if so why bother with the other classes -- the tradesman in particular, who is crippled by these rules -- at all? I can imagine that further development could fix the issues with the other classes, or even shift to a classless variant, but that didn't happen.

There's a section on explosives, because blowing monsters up is great! It has three tables, two of which are identical, and the third is different in only one place. Why do these tables exist? I'm not picking on one section; it's all like this.

In fairness some parts work better than others, and you could probably fix the rules, but once you've done that, what do you do in Masque of the Red Death and Other Tales? How are you supposed to play? Excellent questions.

You can't use most D&D adventures because it's Earth in the 1890s. You could use Ravenloft adventures because they at least have the right mood and are similar in setting, but for some odd reason that's never floated as a possibility. There are three adventures in the box, one of which isn't bad, one is an interesting idea executed as a linear series of fights, and one is dead in the water -- literally -- and wastes a major character.


Well, you don't need example adventures, not if the setting guide is full of evocative plot seeds and compelling adventure ideas.

(Spoiler: it is not.)

The setting is vague and underwritten in that annoying style that was everywhere in the 90s, all "rumours" this and "unconfirmed" that. It's all quite terrible, but this is perhaps the best/worst example, from the Australia section:
The arrival of the Europeans has resulted in the violation of old taboos and the disruption of countless traditions. The exact nature of these trespasses and their repercussions may not be known for decades to come. Interviews with the native population of Australia tend to be less than informative, for many of the taboos forbid even the discussion of them.

Whahuh? I can see words there, but I see no actual content. Someone was paid money to write that. This particular idiot paid money to read it.

Look, I know you can't cover everything in an introductory box, but this sort of non-committal nothingness is of no use to anyone. I would have put in some concrete examples, perhaps mentioning specific D&D monsters that could be used for the basis of an adventure, even mentioning published adventures that could be slotted in. Anything other than the "I dunno, you sort it out" we get.

(There is one weird exception. Singapore gets a few lines about a very specific incident involving tiny creatures that make people disappear. There's not much more than that, and no suggestion of what the things are, but it's something.)

The Red Death, the Big Bad of the setting, is left completely undefined, except that it might be living in Vienna, except that's probably just -- wait for it -- a rumour. Okay, fair enough, I understand not specifying what the Red Death is, but maybe offer three examples, Dracula Dossier style, of what it could be. That way the GM can take one and use as is, or use the three as examples to develop their own Red Death. This is not difficult, and my gosh, it's not as if the page space is being used for anything important.

I'm not sure why this box exists. I can't imagine fans were clamouring for a Ravenloft-but-the-1890s product and it seems like an odd thing to release as a boxed set, although 1994 was in the era of TSR spaffing out as many boxed sets as they could. My guess is that it's an unfortunate confluence of someone making a joke pitch over lunch in the TSR canteen, and a sudden box shaped gap in the production schedule; the pitch got commissioned and then everyone scrabbled to get the thing out. It feels like an initial idea shoved out the door before it was ready. Perhaps it was an attempt to compete with Call of Cthulhu, but if so it's the most lacklustre attempt imaginable.

Masque of the Red Death and Other Tales is a broken product that requires umpteen other products to use, it feels unfinished, and what is included is of little use, so I wouldn't recommend tracking this one down. All that said, there is still something compelling about the basic concept, something that got me to buy it in the first place.

(I think; I don't remember when I got my copy or even if I bought it at all. It may have been a gift.)

With quite a lot of further development -- which it is obvious never happened with the published box -- Masque of the Red Death and Other Tales could work. Maybe. Ish.

I give it two Draculas out of five.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Stag Do

Last weekend, my group started playing Patrick Stuart's -- not that one -- weird sandbox adventure Silent Titans. I haven't yet decided if I'll post game summaries, as I don't want to spoil things for anyone that hasn't played it yet. Thinking.

In the mean time, here is Godbold Stag-Star, one of the player characters:


He's a dapper mesmerist, with an opera cloak and a glass sword. He's also a humanoid stag, because that's Silent Titans for you.

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Going Grey

Another from my upcoming Lamentations of the Flame Princess book:
This is in fact a filler piece because we ended up with pages left over after layout, but it turned out to be one of my favourite bits from the book.

Monday, February 07, 2022

Dum Dum

Here's a thing from an upcoming book for Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

Friday, February 04, 2022

Night Night


The original version of this had a fancy gradient in the night sky, but (a) the file size was huge, and (ii) this flat version looked better.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

2022 Squarecrawl: B05 - New Dezoris

Here's the starting town for the "squarecrawl" I showed in a previous post. This is the information that would be available to the players; other details would be uncovered in play, although there are some hints in here for sharp-eyed detectives. None of which is massively important; this should be a home base for adventures in the wilderness, rather than a source of adventure itself.


B05: When minions of the plague god razed Dezoris (A05), the survivors fled to the east and camped within the protective walls of an ancient ruin. Over decades, this camp became the town of New Dezoris. Closer to the river and with the protection of the walls, this turns out to be a much better location for the settlement, although some elderly residents still miss their old homes.
  • The wall is constructed of an unknown white material. It is smooth and unblemished and runs in a perfect ring around the town, apart from one wide opening in the south.
  • The population of about 400 runs the town via a council of 11, chosen by lottery each year. Living in New Dezoris for 90 days earns you a place in the council lottery. Important matters are often decided by a vote of the entire official population. Old Dezoris was run a by a noble class; the current population, in general, prefers the new system.
  • There is a mill, a small dock just outside the ringwall, two trading posts, a forester, and a market on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
  • The most popular inn is The Roaring Mug, which is of average quality. It is known for the many decorative pelts and skins hanging from its walls, and the innkeeper offers a free drink and meal for anyone that can bring in a -- hunted -- pelt that he hasn't seen before. The speciality is deep-fried crow.
  • The town's other main inn is The Jar & Raven, which is of fair quality.
  • Both inns field teams for the local tavern brawl league. As expected, both teams consider the other a rival, but there is also rivalry with the teams of Drogan's Pass (D02).
  • There are no temples in New Dezoris, but there is a small shrine to Tyrest, the god of justice and patron deity of Old Dezoris; the young priest wants to consecrate this shrine with a religious festival but has not yet received permission from the council.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Let Me Be Your Phantasy

I finished Phantasy Star!

It only took about 30 years.


I'm pretty sure Phantasy Star was the first computer role-playing game I encountered. The genre wasn't common in the UK in the 80s, I think because tape was the medium of choice for home computers and most of the big name rpgs were released on disk, and because console rpg releases were spotty in Europe until Final Fantasy VII crashed in and changed everything. I got my copy of PS at some point around 1992, second hand and without a manual, five years after the Japanese release, from a fellow called Graham, who operated a "computer club" from a converted stable, and yes, in hindsight the whole thing seems a bit dodgy.

I have no idea why I picked Phantasy Star up. I hadn't heard of it, and I wasn't into rpgs in general at that point, beyond the Fighting Fantasy phase every 80s kid went through. Whatever the reason, I fell in love with the game, and despite having no manual, and with no coverage in the magazines of the day -- because, remember, it was five years old and it was all about Sonic by then -- I somehow muddled through. I remember getting about halfway through the game when the save erased itself; it wasn't the battery because I started again and the saves were fine. A mystery for the ages.

(I also played it for hours in a bedroom that my father was painting, so I always associate the game with the smell of paint, and vice versa.)

I didn't finish that second play either, because I became distracted by other things. The PlayStation came out. I discovered actual tabletop rpgs. I mutated into a hormonal teenager. Beer. Girls. And so on.

In 2009, Phantasy Star came out on the Wii's Virtual Console, and I gave it another try, this time as a sort-of-professional. I didn't finish it that time, either, which is probably a breach of journalistic ethics.

Later, I got it as part of a collection of old Sega games for the PlayStation 3 and decided that this time I would complete it. Reader, I did not.

This chunky fellow is standing right on top of a hidden trap door. Does he set it off?
He does not. Unfair, I say!
And then in January 2022 something in me -- possible because we recently had our kitchen painted; that smell! -- made me try again, this time via emulation, and in four lengthy sessions, I did it. I finished Phantasy Star. I didn't get every character to level 30, but there's no difference to the game if you do so, so I'm happy to let that go. I did defeat the "impossible" Saccubus, which I had done only once before in my many, many playthroughs, so I'll consider that an achievement.

But finishing the game at all, after a literal lifetime, is what's important. Well, not in fact important, obviously, but you get my meaning. Important to me. Phantasy Star has been part of my life for so long, always there, from when I was a child, discovering the world of console gaming, to when I was -- briefly! -- a computer game journalist, and now as I turn grey and withered, as an actual games designer, albeit in a different medium.

Will I go back and play it again? I'm not sure I will, in part because I've seen everything it has to offer over my many attempts, but in part because I always put off playing the three sequels until I finished the first one.

The road, as they say, goes ever on.

Monday, January 17, 2022

"Hex" Is Latin for "Four"

I spent a couple of hours in the evenings last week putting together an old-school "hex" crawl setting. Here's the player map:


The starting town -- New Dezoris -- is at B05 and there's a six by six area in which to roam around in the first few sessions. After that, the players will have to explore and fill in the map for themselves. Old-school!

I won't post the complete map, just in case I get it to the table some time, but you can always email me -- look to the top-right -- if you want the whole thing.

Why is it not a proper hex map? I've never liked hexes. Don't know why!

Monday, January 10, 2022

IRON BRUTE

This is all based on me misreading (Sir) Ian Livingstone's handwriting on this map.

RUST MINOTAURS, also known as "IRON BRUTES" by northern folk, are aggressive and terrifying hybrids of -- wait for it -- minotaurs and rust monsters, although they seem to take more of their characteristics from the homicidal bovine side. Those ever-clueless sages speculate that the iron brutes were first created by a mad wizard, but that's their excuse for anything they can't explain, and is probably a result of professional jealousy.

RUST MINOTAUR: Armour 15, Move 120’, 6* Hit Dice, 27hp, rusty horns or weapon +2, Morale 12.

Rust minotaurs can attack with either their horns or a weapon, not both, in a single Round. The iron brute's horns destroy metal at a touch. Magical armour and weapons get 10% resistance per "plus" of enchantment.

The rust minotaur can metabolise enchanted metal and convert it into temporary armour plating, taking the form of hexagonal metallic scales. Every "plus" destroyed by the creature's touch, is converted to a point of armour, which erupts from the monster's hide a Round after it is absorbed. This bonus armour flakes away after a day.

If you are playing Troika! or a similar game of fantasy fighting, then you can use the following statistics:

SKILL 9
STAMINA 9
Initiative 3
Armour 0 (but see below)
Damage as Weapon or Rusty Horns

If a Rust Minotaur hits with its Rusty Horns attack, the target takes no damage but instead loses 1 point of armour, to a minimum of 0. If the armour was magical, the iron brute gains this point of absorbed armour at the End of the Round. These bonus points of protection have no maximum, but on the plus side, they disappear after a day. Good luck!

Monday, January 03, 2022

No Way, Jose

Spider-Man: No Way Home is great fun, surprisingly touching in places, and even a bit sad, but in a good way. It makes less and less sense the more you think about it, but gets by on momentum and a big heap of charm. It's probably the best of the MCU-Holland series, and overall is the fourth best Spider-Man film, but Into the Spider-Verse remains king of the arachnids.