Friday, January 30, 2015

Polearms Prevent Rape

I recently had the pleasure to discover the Skyllitzes Matritensis, an illustrated manuscript that chronicles the history of the Byzantine Empire from the early 800s to mid-1000s AD. One image caught my interest. Upon further research, I learned what it's all about. This woman is stabbing a Varangian (Viking/Germanic guards of the Emperor) for trying to rape her. His buddies feel so bad about what he did that they present her with a fine, expensive cloth afterward. Perhaps if more women and girls carried seven-foot-polearms around, rape statistics would drop dramatically. Hats off to this ancient lady for knowing how to handle herself. Inspiring stuff!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Drones of Mars

No, this isn't a post about a lost Edgar Rice Burroughs classic. Drone is not only my favorite style of ambient music (one that makes everyone else in the house think there's a machine malfunctioning somewhere), but also a little robotic aircraft. As we all know by now drones are increasingly used in warfare. There are other more peaceful applications in the planning stages. Amazon has discussed using drones for home delivery. But what about space exploration? When it comes to being any further away than the moon, our greatest explorers have been robots. Here's an interesting article about a little drone helicopter planned for future Mars rover-type expeditions.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Multiple Shots Per Round...?

Okay, maybe you should be able to fire a bow more than once in a round during most tabletop RPGs. My buddy Eric (artist, mechanic, skater, and barber par excellence) linked me to this video as we were discussing combat techniques as discussed in The Mongoliad. Pretty impressive stuff. This Danish fellow, Lars Anderson, demonstrates some cool archery techniques. Check it out!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Basic Roleplaying

I've heard Chaosium referred to as "the sick old man of the roleplaying industry." Best known for Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer and other licensed games, Chaosium provided one of the earliest percentile systems for gaming.

Evolving from a version of Dungeons & Dragons played in a southern California game store, the Chaosium geeks realized that while they'd started with modifying D&D, they'd essentially retooled it to the point that it was a legitimately original system. The fact that one of the chief Chaosium agents claims their group invented the Thief character for D&D and were never credited for it might have something to do with them striking out on their own.

RuneQuest, as the first Basic RPG incarnation was known, carved out a strong niche for itself, quickly gaining a reputation as being far more intuitive and easy to play than the most popular systems of the day (namely D&D and Traveller). The company licensed H.P. Lovecraft's mythos for the Call of Cthulhu RPG, easily Chaosium's most popular, and it's the longest-running game system published under the same owner.

Basic Roleplaying didn't stand alone. It was the house system at the core of most Chaosium games, which weren't all necessarily fully compatible, as variants developed to better serve different settings (such as more detailed rules for insanity in Call of Cthulhu as opposed to RuneQuest). Eventually, the variants were boiled down, re-edited, regurgitated, to form a GURPS-like generic system.

Several Halloweens ago I played my first Call of Cthulhu game at Pulp Fiction, with Jay Sprenkle holding the reigns. I had a good time, and picked up the book. Last weekend I finally got my chance to run a Call of Cthulhu game of my own with my regular gaming group.

We're all big Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay fans - back from the percentile days, no expensive custom dice for me, thanks - so the Basic system was easy to grasp. In fact, there almost didn't seem to be much to it. More than any game I've played in a long time, the rules seemed to fade into the background. Very little interfered with the fictive dream.

Some games change so much over time, the cynic in me wonders whether, in most cases, there is a sincere need to revise things that don't work, or whether new editions and rules changes are planned to come out every few years regardless of how well the system works. Hasbro, now producers of D&D, is especially bad about this, and now that Fantasy Flight Games has revamped Warhammer and Star Wars with custom-dice systems, I wonder how Chaosium has managed to stay afloat all these years with their system. I guess they designed it "right" in the first place.

Also, the new wave of tabletop games, exemplified by such systems as FATE and Burning Wheel, tend to elevate to full rules status (that is, mandate and spell out), subtle things such as character ambition and morality and what makes them special - all stuff that, to my mind, players have always been doing anyway. There's nothing wrong with codifying and encouraging that behavior, but I sometimes wonder if, by marrying free-form roleplaying to hardwired game mechanics, the new wave hasn't so much liberated or enhanced roleplaying as strangled it. I suppose it all depends on the group, the game master, and their personal tastes.

For me, the Basic Roleplaying system was a a breath of fresh air. Simple, direct, intuitive, easy-to-learn. Within 15 minutes our group was gaming it like veterans. While I am certainly not of the Bitter Betty School of Game Design that mars the so-called Old School Renaissance (that is, the assumption that everything created after 1980 is shit), it's nice to know that there are some systems out there solid enough to withstand nearly 40 years without much change. My guess is games change so publishers can sell new games, not because the rules need changing. I applaud Chaosium for not going down that road.

That being said, I believe the general graphic design of the company's products leaves a bit to be desired, but that's purely subjective.

Anyway, for you "old-school" gamers out there, remember that you're playing brand-new games designed to emulate old ones. That's awesome. But it ain't actually old. Looking at the history of RPGs as seen through the lens of D&D, I don't think anyone could successfully argue against the assertion that when it comes to playing "old-school," Basic Roleplaying is about as old-school as it gets. And in today's bevy of supposedly simple games that add layer after layer of complexity and special booklets, that's refreshing.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Prog Rock: Faith Restored

If you're into intelligent but hard-rocking stuff that isn't afraid to get mellow, if you're bored with what you're hearing in bars and on radio, check out this record

Here's a statement to make me sound like an artsy, jaded music snob, but it's true: I'm SO bored with rock and roll. In my opinion, we haven't seen or heard anything legitimately new and exciting since the early 1990s. Ever since then it's either been recycled Green Day or recycled Stone Temple Pilots or recycled Blues Explosion (Jack White, take note) or recycled Strokes which was just recycled something-else. Now that punk and so-called "alternative" bands are the norm, now that the Sound of What Was Once Weird has become Completely Tame and Mainstream, I wonder where the legitimately new, experimental music is.

My ennui led me backward, not forward. I love a lot of progressive rock of the 1970s, especially the so-called "Third Incarnation" of King Crimson (Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, Red), and Jethro Tull. When I look around for modern "progressive" music, it seems the term has shifted a bit on the public consciousness to describe such metal bands as Dragonforce and Dream Theater. I've wondered where the "new" progressive is, in terms of pushing boundaries rather than recycling the same old stuff. I'm looking for "progressive" as in "new," not as in "retro."

I found the best of both worlds, thanks to Mark at Vinyl Renaissance. He guided me to a 2013 record by Steven Wilson, who I'd never heard of. I hesitated, went home and listened to the first track on YouTube. Not even halfway through the first track, I went right back to the store and picked up the record.

The Raven That Refused To Sing is a two-record set that, while steeped in 1970s prog-rock traditions, uses that as a trampoline (or rather, a rocket-launching pad) to fly into new territory. Opening with a 12-minute-long, bombastic, jazz-influenced heavy, mathy rock song, the record descends into more mellow territory, proving they're masters of both light and shade, heavy and mellow. On this record I hear echoes of everything from King Crimson to early-Eighties British new wave to Ornette Coleman to Jethro Tull. There's a bit of a frenetic quality to the record that almost reminds me of deconstructionist punk band Pussy Galore, but filtered through the discipline and musicianship of, say, Rush. Fans of bands like NoMeansNo will appreciate the driving bass, especially on the first band of the record.

Take a listen to the first track, here on YouTube, Luminol. Awesome stuff, truly epic in scale, exciting and bombastic when it needs to be, soft, pretty (almost sininsterly so) and back into music that sounds like a Fokker dive-bombing a village. While the 1970s influence on this track is fairly obvious, it's equally obvious that it departs from that archetype, and if you listen to the rest of the record, it's even more obvious.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Making Better Maps

I love making maps for my stories and games. Here's an article with some great advice.

10 Rules for Making Better Fantasy Maps

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Poem

Now sounds the sad refrain
The temple walls have crumbled
The drinking songs have changed
Our reign toppled
A mottled chalk-mark
Fading in the newborn rain
While outline artists
Fade into obscurity
To seek out truer things

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Friday, January 9, 2015

Planet Comics Triple Feature

Weird adventure on alien worlds! Planet Comics had some of the best covers of the Silver Age. This is the best exemplar of the "sword & planet" genre I've found so far.