Monday, December 19, 2016

World's Oldest Languages

I'll give you a hint - English ain't one. Here's a cool little article about the 10 oldest languages still spoken in the world today. Proud to see Irish Gaelic on the list. It's also interesting to note that if you want to hear the proto-Indo-European tongue as close to the real thing as possible, just google someone speaking Lithuanian. The most interesting bit of all is that Basque is a linguistic mystery - it's unique in that it's not related to any other language.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Armenian Ghost Town

This ghost city in what was Armenia is a great inspiration for game scenarios. Amazing that some 200,000 people used to live here - but no longer. Lots of evocative names have cropped up for these structures, such as the "Mausoleum of the Child Princes," pictured here. Check out everything else. Also, click around Vintage News in general for some interesting reads.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Mysterious DNA Remnants...

A third human race was once out there somewhere. Check this out. It just might be the Vilani...but more likely it's yet another group of folks who found all their men murdered and women raped by Homo Sapiens.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Handy Falling Damage Graphic

Someone posted this in the Lamentations of the Flame Princess group on Facebook. Apparently it's from a 1985 British RPG called Dragon Warriors. I thought it was cute, and helped me visualize falling.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

More Evidence for Water on Europa

 Just read this. I just know there's a watery someone there waiting for us.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Free National Geographic Maps

Last week we visited an interactive Classic Traveller map. This week let's go closer to home. National Geographic has put up an amazing site where you can zoom in to a desired area on the Earth's surface and BOOM - print a PDF of a detailed topographical map. They did this to aid outdoor photographers and other adventurous sorts, but it seems to me the perfect tool for running an RPG in a modern setting. It will certainly get use in phase two of my Top Secret game I'm running soon. Check it out - if you love maps you'll get lost for hours.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Interactive Map of the Traveller Imperium

It's possible I've shared this elsewhere before, but every time someone reminds me of its existence I lose a good hour playing with it. It's an interactive online map of the Imperium, the interstellar government of Classic Traveller. I love this - it's so freakin' huge (that's what she said). The best part is being able to click on a sector, then a sub-sector, then a system itself and get images of the star and world. You can also click options for layers such as jump routes. Very cool stuff.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Online Database of Egyptian Demons

So here's a really cool database of Egyptian "demons." The name is a bit misleading to Western ears. These demons are actually helpful spirits, for all their ferocious aspect. Most of them were there to help protect Egyptians from evil influences. For example, the "bad guy" in the picture above is the bound humanoid figure, not the monster with the other monster ridin' on his back. Still, this is a valuable resource for anyone who likes making up monsters. Check it out.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Black Hack: Awesome.

A while back I reviewed The Front by Mark Hunt, a WW2 RPG using a really cool, simple hack of OSR rules. I praised the hell out of it. In doing so, I gave Mark Hunt a lot of credit for stuff I thought he came up with. Actually, The Front is based almost entirely on The Black Hack by David Black. The Front is still awesome, don't get me wrong - it's a solid, engaging piece of work. But all that I attributed to the genius of Mark Hunt I should have attributed to David Black. I'm a big fan of this ultra-simple, streamlined, elegant version of old-school tabletop roleplaying. Here's a helpful "SRD" of the text that anyone can use, without permission, to do whatever they want. Just like Mark Hunt did so very well.

I can't say for certain, but the next time I run "D&D" I'm almost positive it's going to be this. It's a liberating re-imagining of the basics of the system, keeping the terminology and spirit but turning the basic procedures on their heads.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Iceland Believes In Elves

...or at least they're being on the safe side. Beware of upsetting sacred elf-stones during your construction projects! Read all about it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Art of Laurence Chaves

I can't find out much about Laurence W. Chaves the artist, but I want to. Someone on the Lamentations of the Flame Princess facebook group posted these illustrations from Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater. This comes at a time when I'm researching an underwater hex-based adventure, so it's quite inspirational. These remind me of the work of Gustav Dore or Alphonse de Neuville. Great stuff.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Poe, Read by Rathbone and Price

If you're a fan of weird fiction, you surely venerate, if not regularly read, the work of Edgar Allen Poe. Almost single-handed, he invented the modern horror story and the modern detective tale. If you don't feel like reading (or re-reading) some of his classics, then you might enjoy listening to them. And if you're going to listen to Poe, you might as well listen to Poe read aloud by such masters as Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone. Price, of course, was the star of dozens of horror films throughout his career. He was typecast early on, but it didn't seem to bother him. His voice is of course also immortalized in Michael Jackson's Thriller. Even people who aren't necessarily into old movies probably know the face and voice of Mr. Price from the Tim Burton film Edward Scissorhands. Rathbone is not as well-known by name, but he's famous for being what most people think of when they think of Sherlock Holmes. He portrayed the fictional detective 14 times on film, and many more on radio. He was also known for swashbuckling roles. Quite often, he was cast as a villain. He wasn't the horror movie icon Price was, but he was probably a more well-rounded performer. Spotify has uploaded a virtual "greatest hits" of Poe, read by these extraordinary actors who certainly have the voice for it. This fall, as the days shorten and autumn storms rage outside, I intend to spend at least one evening before the fire with these recordings.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Proxima Centauri, Here We Come...

It seems the German weekly Der Spiegel announced that scientists have discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri - that's the closest star to our own, and it's the only one we could conceivably reach within a human lifetime. In fact, plans are already underway for a "laser-sail nanocraft" that could reach speeds of 20% the speed of light. That means we could reach this unnamed world in about 20 years - of course, it would take at least 4 and a half years to receive information from it. Nevertheless, this is exciting stuff. The nanocraft is the brainchild of a Russian billionaire, supported by Stephen Hawking and facebook dictator Mark Zuckerberg.

The only thing that bugs me about this report is that the German newspaper used an unnamed source. As a former reporter with two decades of experience, I feel pretty confident that means the discovery is not at all confirmed, otherwise they'd go public. And, as with so many other unnamed sources, that's likely an indication that the whole thing is bullshit.

Time will tell. Meanwhile, we can at least enjoy knowing our fantasies of alien life are one tiny step closer to plausibility.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Weird Ways to Die in the Ancient World

 Just in case you had too much faith in humanity, here's this.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Six Demon Bag, Vol. 2

...and here's the latest from Six Demon Bag. We're doing six "singles" of two songs each, followed by a 12-song collection. We've had some really good feedback on this one. Take a listen to "Daughters of Tiamat Come Home" and "Huge Buzz."

Monday, August 1, 2016

Pinball: Flight 2000

Here's another great pinball table I've been playing on Pinball Arcade - Flight 2000. Released by Stern in 1980, it was one of the first "talking" pinball tables (Gorgar, in 1979, was the first). It was designed by Harry Williams, who'd been working in the industry since the 1940s. He was mostly known not so much as a pin-table designer but for his pioneering work on early electronic video games, most notably Defender (which was, I think, the first popular side scrolling game). He also designed Joust, which I spent many quarters on at the old Price Chopper on 23rd St. in Independence, MO.

Flight 2000 first drew me in with the art, which is by Geraldine Simkus (Star Gazer, Split Second) and Doug Watson (Swords of Fury, Grand Slam). Usually I'm mostly attracted to pictures of people, but this one has a nice retro sci-fi vibe, with a great discolored Saturnesque world in the center, and a spaceship on the back glass that looks like it walked straight out of the Traveler RPG's famous "little black books."

Of course, Flight 2000 is considered one of Stern's most classic games, which is why it's included in Pinball Arcade at all. 

The theme is a space flight in the amazing far future (that is, the year 2000). Different "missions" or goals are tied to the idea that you're traveling to a specific world in our solar system. There are two slingshots on the table that whip the balls around very fast. This would be pure hell on a standard sized table, but this is a big wide-body. The main "wow" factor for the time probably came from the multi-ball effect. If you shoot the ball into a maze on the upper left, it will lock the ball in place and say "first stage" or something to that effect. Hit another ball in there and it's "second stage." When you get all three balls in, they all unlock and you get some amazing fast-play multi-ball action. It's pretty tough for me to pull this off but I've managed it a few times, and it's inordinately satisfying.

Here's a cool video of the real (that is, not Pinball Arcade's digital version) table in play.

Friday, July 29, 2016

"Sirenswail" by Dave Mitchell

Here's the world's shortest review: it's good. Buy it. Dave Mitchell is doing exactly the kind of independent, thought-provoking work that ought to be supported by the old-school cognoscenti. Our group playtested this adventure and had a great time. Can't wait to go back and delve into it more deeply. It would fit in perfectly with the historical adventures from Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Six Demon Bag, Vol. 1

Here's two lo-fi instrumental/minimalist/cinematic/ambient tracks from Six Demon Bag. That's a new project Scott Chaffin and I (Electrophonic Foundation/Octopuss Men) are doing. We did a split 7" with our independent projects (Call Me Snake and True Love is Ugly) and were inspired to collaborate again after many years. It's not rock'n'roll, really, but it's where our heads are at right now. Hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ancient Greek Games

I did a program for International Alpha chapter of Beta Sigma Phi on ancient Greek board games. I did simplify/streamline the rules a bit for a non-gamer audience, but they had a lot of fun. I think the boards looked pretty good. We used counting chips from US Toy as gaming pieces. Here's Petteia and Stadion.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Thanks, Pope Francis

So this incredible illuminated manuscript of Virgil's Aeneid has been scanned and put online by the Vatican, believe it or not. If you don't know, The Aeneid is an epic poem written after the manner of Homer's Odyssey, mostly to flatter Augustus Caesar. I've actually read it, last year when I was plowing through all the ancient epic poetry I could handle (which means Homer, Virgil, and Ovid). This is a nice move from the Vatican, considering the pagan nature of the poem. Cool stuff. Thanks, Pope Francis!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Call Me Snake / True Love is Ugly (Split 7")

So here's a digital split 7" single from Call Me Snake (my ambient project) and True Love is Ugly (Scott Chaffin's ambient project). It's certainly a far cry from what you might know us for. I like it. Look for more, as well as some collaborations, coming soon.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Pinball: Visit Lovely El Dorado!

Next up in our exploration of classic pinball tables is El Dorado, produced in 1975 by industry giants Gottlieb. Designed by Ed Krynksi, with art by the great Gordon Morison (who I've blogged about elsewhere) this table is by far one of my favorites in the Pinball Arcade lineup. About 2,880 machines were produced.

Being a 1975 game, it's all electro-mechanical (of course, I'm playing a digital replica). The old-school bells and clacking targets give it real charm compared to the barrage of synthesized digital noise we get from many post-mid-1980s games. The art must have been "retro" even for the 1970s, because it looks like nothing so much as the illustrations from 1950s and 60s Western comics like you can find here. Overall, the graphic design is very pleasing, with a great color scheme of mustard yellow, burnt orange, sandy tan, and saddle-leather brown. Sometimes that brown was tinged with purple, as in the illustration above.

The basic goal of the game is to hit the two sets of drop-down targets. This is very common in pre-1980s games, and it's a clear, unambiguous goal. Unlike most games, these targets don't re-set with every single ball, so you've got a fairly good chance of hitting them all if you're even remotely skilled (or, as is the case so often with pinball, lucky). There are also a few roll-over buttons to go for. Other than that, the gameplay is very simple. The theme is, of course, a simulated Western gunfight. One innovation that was pretty cool for the time (and still is): four flippers. There's a separate playfield in the upper left with two small flippers. If you start the ball just right, it will sail right into this area and you can keep the ball up there for quite a while - it's a great way to knock out a bunch of the upper drop-down targets at the beginning. But the upper flippers are so close to their targets that you've got to have lightning-quick reflexes to pull this off. The lower set of drop-down targets are set at an oblique angle to the lower flippers. It's much easier to hit these with the left flipper, so when the ball heads toward my right flipper, I try to hit it lightly and knock it over to the left flipper before going for these targets.

This was a very popular game in its day, and the playfield worked so well, Gottlieb exploited the crap out of it by re-branding the same game with new artwork over and over and over

You can play a faithful digital replica of this game in the free version of Pinball Arcade, but once you hit the high score it won't let you go any higher. I bought the game for $4.99 after a few plays, and it's been worth every penny. If you like your pinball games loud, flashy, with booming sounds, disembodied voices, toys, ramps, and multiple goals and missions, you might find El Dorado fairly tame. If you like a clean table with old-school graphic design and some "buzzers and bells" worthy of The Who, you might find this game a pleasing diversion.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Pinball: Destroy Centaur!

I've been playing a LOT of Pinball Arcade on my Kindle Fire. Many modern for-phone-or-tablet pinball games are created for the platforms, so there's all kinds of effects you could never achieve with a classic, real-life pinball table. Pinball Arcade is cool because it provides digital replicas of actual classic machines. While playing, I've become interested in the history of pinball tables. Over the next few weeks I'll share some of my favorites. Let's start with Centaur.

This table was released in 1981 by Bally. About 3,700 were produced, and about 2,500 of those are accounted for today by collectors. Designer Jim Patla was inspired by the 1956 game Balls-a-Poppin, in terms of game play. Artist Jim Faris gave the Centaur table its distinctive look.

Centaur was ahead of its time in many ways. It was one of the earliest games to have speech effects - most notably the stern instruction at the beginning of the game, when a computerized voice says, with much gravity, "DESTROY CENTAUR!" The player is supposed to defeat Centaur, a human/motorcycle hybrid with a hot goth girlfriend. The game also features a constant background sound, which, again, is rare for the time period.

The coolest thing about it is the graphic design. Compared to other games from the late 1970s and early 1980s, this one is strikingly different. Most graphics are black and white, with a touch of red and some other colors when various targets light up. The art sets it apart from almost every other game of the period, and, frankly, feels very modern by comparison. The game was re-released several years later as Centaur II, but it was the exact same game with different back glass.

Play-wise, the biggest challenge is to hit various banks of drop targets. You also have a bit of control over the ball when it sinks into the out-lanes. A multi-ball effect is in play as well. A ball can be captured, but you can knock it free later. You can have up to 5 balls on the table this way, but I've never even come close to pulling that off. In fact, I've never been able to keep even two balls in play for very long, though that hasn't stopped me from achieving a few top 5 scores on the online leaderboards.

This game is not included in the free Pinball Arcade Underground. It is included in Pinball Arcade, and you can play free but only up to the first high score. Then you've got to pay $4.99 if you want to get past that score. I did and haven't regretted it. I've played hours and hours of it, and if you see "JP" on the leaderboards, that's little old me.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Star Wars Portion Bread

I thought the self-cooking/inflating bread Rey eats in Star Wars: The Force Awakens was pretty cool. Turns out it's no science fiction, but something you can make yourself. Check it out.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Review: "Give Up" by CV

Here's a record from my friend William Scott Chaffin. The old CV moniker now falls under the "Brighton Street Ghosts" name, which is appropriate, because this represents an evolution from older CV stuff I've heard.

Cover photo by Jacob Wold
Compared to other releases by this artist, I hear less hip-hop beats and more piano. Still, there are the canned beats underpinning it all. Still, there is Scott's effortlessly bluesy voice, which is an instant identifier. Whether growling or in orgasmic falsetto, it's instantly recognizable.

"Gotta Move On" is a solid starter with an insanely cool acid meltdown at the 1:20 mark. Reminds me of King Crimson if Robert Fripp listened to more Sam & Dave.

"Fight You" is in the same mold, perhaps a bit more dance-oriented, maybe? Scott's voice is gentle and vulnerable on this one. I like it.

"Fang" is a straight-up rocker that would have been right at home with Scott and I's old band Electrophonic Foundation. This is bar-room rock with brains, which is the best kind. A healthy dose of reverb on the vocal gives it a nice retro-50s vibe.

"Clancy's Mojo Blues" for some reason reminds me of Steely Dan. It doesn't really sound like Steely Dan. Perhaps if Steely Dan lived under a bridge and smoked too many cigarettes. It's nice and smooth.

"Snakes of Portland" begins with a vibe I'd put somewhere between acoustic Nirvana and the Folk Implosion. This one sounds like a broken music box. That's a compliment.

"Cue Portland Rain" reminds me of old-school CV - that is, full-on Chocolate Velvet. There's a certain vibe here that I can't quite place - maybe it feels like some of the lighter Led Zeppelin stuff, off Led Zeppelin III, maybe. The rhythm of the vocal track pushes this one forward. If you're not careful it will get stuck in your head. There's some fun Nicky Hopkins-style piano noodling in the instrumental breaks that does, indeed, bring to mind a soft rain.

"Ripped To Skull" reminds of me of nothing so much as the second track on Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica. 17 seconds of Scott uttering quasi-mysterious poetry.

"The Witches in 148" begins with a strong borderline 1980s beat, helped along nicely by some guitar-slabs. This is an instrumental track. It would make a good driving song. The entire vibe of this one is a bit more straight-up rock than most of the rest. Some very nice chiming Chris Isaac/Chris Penn guitar work at the 3:06 mark is the climax of the song, in my opinion. Now it's not just a driving song, but a driving at night song. I can almost see the steam rising from the road. Wraps up with a nice "fuck it" style ending that screams "bedroom pop."

"All Going Down" has a great intro, very reminiscent of one of my favorites, the Marcin Wasileski Trio. Over the top of this is Scott reading poetry (or speaking lyrics, however you want to look at it). This would remind me of beat poetry if it wasn't so gentle and didn't rhyme. There's a touch of Jim Morrison on this one, but better, because it's not about Jim Morrison's penis.

"Lion" is another one that reminds me of the Electrophonic Foundation. A phallic blues riff that would make Robert Johnson proud kicks things off, and continues in various iterations throughout the song. The guitar break at about 2:30 something sounds like a train whistle, which is totally appropriate the bluesy vibe. We get a break at 3:13 where the main riff cuts out and things get a bit mellow. More disembodied guitar trails out to the end, and the track ends, satisfyingly, not with a bang but a whimper.

"dribeulb" (that's "bluebird" spelled backwards) has an early morning vibe. One can almost imagine waking up, pulling open the curtains, flooding the house with sun, especially with some faux vibrophone action at about 1:15 or so. Scott's disembodied backward vocals on this one sometimes remind me of David Yow of the Jesus Lizard, if David Yow had eaten about 15 tablets of hydrocodone.

"How Dat Move Mountains?" Another one that would remind me a lot more of classic CV if not for the weird cosmic tones that pervades most of it. The airiness of the vocal matches well with this. I like the chord changes that start around 1:28 or something. At about 2:30 this breaks down into what I can only call "space ambient." We return rather quickly to the quasi-chorus. A somewhat sad and somber tone to end the record on seems appropriate.

"Secret Backwards Message" is 17 seconds of just that - a secret backwards message. Less of a "last song" and more of a mysterious capstone.

Overall, this is another winner for CV. It also showcases a certain growth, perhaps a mature mellowing out of a hard rocker who is slipping into his 40s and is just fine with it. If you like it, keep an eye on that link above. Scott is probably the most prolific songwriter I know. He's probably written more songs that Bob Pollard. This record just scratches the surface of his various releases and collaborations (such as the Black Bullet Promise). This is indie rock at its purest form, made by someone who's not doing it for the money, or the girls, or the party. Scott would be recording music even if no one was listening. But I know I'll be, at least.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Complete Guide to Heraldry

Thanks to the always-fascinating Project Gutenberg, I found this digital version of an old book by Arthur Charlies Fox-Davies and illustrator Graham Johnston. It was published in 1909 in Scotland. Everything you ever wanted to know about heraldry - more than you ever wanted to know, I'm sure - is here. The real treat is a ton of illustrations of various pieces of heraldric devices. Creative types might enjoy cutting and pasting their own coat of arms together, if you're not happy with yours. Personally, I like mine so I'll leave it alone. At any rate, there's much to explore in this interesting book (not to mention Project Gutenberg in general).

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

D&D Clarifications From Beyond the Grave

When Gary Gygax was alive, he was a regular participant in the forums at Dragonsfoot. In that time, he answered all kinds of questions about various forms of D&D, specifically his baby AD&D. I remember some of his answers being surprising. Often, questioners were far more concerned about "the right way to play" than Gary seemed to be. That being said, he'd happily digress into excruciating minutia regarding alignments, druids, weapons proficiencies, and so on. Leon Baradat has compiled all of those separate threads into one massive (somewhat low quality) PDF. While it's certainly not what I'd call casual reading, you can pretty much randomly sift through it and discover some interesting tidbits. The one thing I take away from it more than anything is that edition warriors and old-school purists either don't know or conveniently forget that Gygax himself didn't really love all the AD&D rules, openly admits to writing the Dungeon Masters Guide ("off the top of my head") and so forth. The purist approach to D&D is a castle built on fluid. There's never been a right or wrong way to play, and Gary always acknowledged that.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Retro Waste

Here is a great web database for "all things vintage." Great photographs here and a wealth of interesting trivia. Check it out when you've got some time to waste.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Pinball Art of Gordon Morison

One of my favorite artists is Gordon Morison (not to be confused with the botanical illustrator Gordon Morrison), who is mostly known for pinball machine art. I became acquainted with his work from the app Pinball Underground, which I play on my Kindle Fire. Something about the art for the game "Genie" spoke to me, and it wasn't just the buxom Caucasian-looking Arabic women. Morison's style reminds me of one of my favorites, Alex Raymond, who did the old Flash Gordon strip. He also reminds me of a more psychedelic John Buscema. Morison also worked in advertising, but his tendency to "borrow" art led to him being asked to leave at least one company. Morison worked on about 200 machines for Gottlieb, the pinball wizards of the 1970s. I like this retro look, somewhere between the old pulp serials and the "maximalist" LSD-inspired art of the 1970s. Here are a few of my favorite Morison pieces.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Adventures of Richard Hannay

While reading Philip Jose Farmer's Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, I came across a reference to a cool-sounding hero of fiction called Richard Hannay. He's the star character of The 39 Steps, which I'd heard of as a Hitchcock film. A little research indicated the Hannay novels are among the first "modern" espionage novels. They were written by this fellow, who seems pretty interesting himself. Amazon offers a $1 six-pack of the Hannay novels. So far I've read The 39 Steps, Greenmantle, and Mr. Standfast. There are numerous film and television versions of the character - the first, the Hitchcock film, starred Robert Donat (left). 

Hannay is a sort of proto-Bond, whose occasional mistakes and self-doubt are always overcome with a stiff upper lip. He has an uncanny knack of extricating himself from impossible conundrums. He never sought a career as an agent of the British crown - he's more of a big-game hunter and soldier, and he sort of falls ass-backward into his first adventure. He's also not above an occasional racist comment. Nevertheless, he's a resourceful, likeable protagonist. The novels read very quickly and easily, and approach a more modern, clipped, rat-a-tat-tat tone we'd see in the pulps that followed Hannay's adventures (the first was written in 1915).

If you have the time or inclination, and would like to start on a campaign of espionage reading, why not start at the beginning of the 1900s with our good friend Hannay? I can guarantee a pretty good time. There is a lot of really cool information about Hannay the character - and all the actors who have portrayed him - right here.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Front: Roleplaying in WW2

I'm not often inspired to write a review. I don't enjoy reading them. I don't know why anyone would. It's all so subjective, after all. It's just opinion. So take mine for what it's worth (which, I'm told, is about two cents). But I'd like to share my thoughts on The Front Field Manual, a $5 game you can get from Lulu right here. I found this game by accident, just doing random searches about WW2.

If you don't want to read this entire review, here's the short version: I like it.

The Front is the most exciting and refreshing product from the so-called "Old School Renaissance" that I've seen in a long, long time. Rather than just re-casting that old fantasy game as a WW2 game, author Mark A. Hunt has essentially redesigned the system from the ground up and jettisoned all the junk. It's not that I like this game because I approve of what Hunt did do - it's because I approve of what he didn't do. He could have easily drummed up a massive list of skills, researched a bunch of period weapons and vehicles and made complicated rules for 'em. He didn't. He cleanly sidesteps all that.

My gaming group suffers from what I call "d20 fatigue." We're also wary of what one of us calls "YARCs" - that is, "Yet Another Retro-Clone." The fact that we played - and enjoyed - The Front is a big deal, because the gang is a little sick of "business as usual" in the OSR world. My players are picky. If they don't like a set of rules, they'll tell me. This one got rave reviews from everyone who played, and all were some variation of "it's really simple!" We're not a rules-heavy group, of course, so again - subjective. If you're into, say, Burning Wheel or Mutants and Masterminds, there's probably not enough here for you. If you like simple games, The Front is about as simple as you can get and still be "complete."

What makes The Front different? Let's just throw out a few examples. For one, forget about Armor Class. When you attack in melee, you roll your Strength or less to hit. When you make a ranged attack, roll your Dexterity or less to hit. This extends to pretty much every other aspect of the game. Saving throws? Those went right out the window. Instead, most actions and reactions boil down to rolling the appropriate attribute or less on a d20. This "roll low, all the time" approach is what is so refreshing about it. It also un-clutters the character sheet, with no slots for base attack, saving throws, blah blah blah.

So basically, you've got six stats and that's it. They're the standard old-school stats, but Wisdom is re-named "Awareness," which makes sense to me. There are no skills, no feats, and there are no derived attributes (and to me, that's a good thing). Hit points are equal to your Constitution score, plus a d6 per level if you're doing a "cinematic" game. This streamlining makes for fast, simple, play. So many games that claim to be "fast and furious" or "rules lite" simply aren't. This one is. Just figure out which attribute applies, roll low to succeed, and you're good.

There are four "classes" - Combat, Intelligence, Leadership, Reconnaissance. Each of these classes comes with some simple special ability, but it's nothing as complex as a list of feats. A few bullet points suffice, and most use the rule for advantage/disadvantage (see below). It's here that most GMs who want to tinker with the game will have a field day - creating a "medic" or some other class really wouldn't be all that tough. Playing the game, however, these class differences really fade into the background. It's not like one player felt like "the fighter" and another one "the thief." They all felt like soldiers, which is what it's all about.

Another innovation is that "bad guys" don't roll to attack - the PCs just roll not to get hit or take damage. This speeds things up considerably. After playing it that way, I did tweak the rules and decide to have NPCs roll to attack just like PCs do. It just fits our personal style of play better and it's more fun for me. But Hunt's approach works, and works well, especially if you're trying to capture a cinematic tone. The "HD" of a foe doesn't refer to "hit dice," but "how difficult" they are to overcome. For the GM who likes to "take it easy" this is a godsend. Like I said, I sort of ignored it and made the NPCs more like PCs, but I've never played a game by-the-book.

Another nice mechanic is the Advantage/Disadvantage rule. When you'd be at an advantage or disadvantage, you roll two d20, not one. If you have an advantage, pick the lower of the two. If you're at a disadvantage, pick the higher. Simple, clean, easy. Elegant, in fact.

The "usage die" mechanic is a great way to track items that have limited resources - specifically ammunition, but also things like fuel for your jeep. Such items have a usage die type. When you use it, roll the usage die. If it comes up a 1 or a 2, you move to the next-smallest die type. Eventually, you're going to get down to a d4 and have a 50/50 chance of running out. This isn't "realistic" at all, but who cares? Do you really want to track every bullet that comes out of that submachine gun? Calculate how much gasoline you need to get from Aachen to Paris? I don't. I like Hunt's system. It pays lip service to the idea of diminishing resources without tedium. 

Of course, everything I just wrote about in the last four paragraphs - that is, things I like that depart from the typical OSR game - are exactly the sorts of things that I'd imagine OSR "purists" would not like. If you're looking for a game that "plays just like D&D but is set in WW2," this game probably isn't for you. But if you're interested in seeing an OSR product that takes a sort of "deconstruct then reconstruct" approach, keeping the basic spirit but stripping away all the B.S., then this will be right up your alley.

One of my players said it best during our first game: "This doesn't feel like D&D." I think that was probably Hunt's point, and he should take it as a compliment. What he's done is to take a system that has been massively bloated and spread too thin across the small market - I'm talking about all retroclones here - and make it clean and accessible.

Another plus is that Hunt doesn't seem interested in the nitty-gritty of historical detail. Which is weird, because most military-style gamers are obsessed with that sort of thing. The Front is more about replicating the kind of action you see in The Dirty Dozen, Kelly's Heroes, Where Eagles Dare, Force 10 From Navarone, and Inglourious Basterds. It really doesn't matter whether you're using a Thompson, an M3, or a ZK 383 - in this game, it's a "submachine gun," and that's fine with me.

Granted, some may feel this game is incomplete. But, as Hunt points out, half the fun of old-school gaming is coming up with rules on the fly. You either agree with that or you don't. I happen to. And let's face it - this book is $5. That's about as good as it gets, price-wise, and I think it's worth it. I might not have wanted to pay more than $10 for this slim volume - in fact, the price point was the deciding factor for me. This book is slim enough that my guess is Lulu wouldn't allow any printing on the spine. But that's OK. It's compact, light, and sturdy, and leaves plenty of room for my imagination.

Drawbacks: I am an editor for a living. Most days, I spend hours going over text with a red pen. So when I see a typo, it really leaps out at me. I hate it. This book has a lot of typos. More than it should, especially for a print-on-demand product. It wouldn't take someone long to clean it up and re-upload the file. But let's be honest - the RPG world is full of typos. More than any other type of book I read, I find typos in roleplaying books. So it's not like The Front is alone in this regard, and I'll forgive it and focus on what's important.

Design-wise, the book isn't exciting, but it's not offensive, either. In some places it reminds me a bit of the "little black books" from Classic Traveller - Hunt is focused on rules, not presentation. It's clean and readable and very easy to find things. 

I would also have liked to see a list of credits for the illustrations. I realize these are probably all from the public domain (in fact, The Front, like Colonial Gothic, proves that you can do a lot of really attractive things with public domain art). Still, I think it's appropriate to devote a page to show the sources of your images. But again, I'm nitpicking.

Overall, our group was very taken by The Front, and while we originally were just going to do a one-shot, we decided to extend it for another session, and interest is strong for coming back to it. Believe me, that's high praise, when it comes to my group. Hunt deserves a pat on the back for this well-thought-out take on the OSR phenomenon.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Colonial Cannibalism in America

So...archeologists have unearthed the remains of a 14-year-old girl from the site of the Virginia colony of Jamestown. Turns out, someone ate her. You do what you've gotta do, I guess. The Jamestown site was chosen by the Virginia Company because no Indians lived there. That's because Indians didn't like to live on swampy ground that was useless for agriculture. This girl (a facial reconstruction is above) had a protein-rich diet, leading experts to believe she was the daughter of a gentleman. Incidentally, I learned from this article that a hurricane blew a Virginia-bound ship off course to Bermuda, and this was the inspiration for Shakespeare's play The Tempest. Flash fact!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Newton's Lost Alchemy Manuscripts

Here's a cool story from National Geographic about Isaac Newton's lost alchemy tests. The father of modern physics was, indeed, a thoroughgoing mystic and alchemist. It's theorized that his experiments with alchemy - breaking down matter into its constituent parts - led to his discovery that light is made up of many constituent colors. The article discusses Newton's copy of a work by an American alchemist's attempt to create a key ingredient for the Philosopher's Stone. Much of Newton's alchemical work, embarrassing to scholars who venerate him, has never been given a proper public perusal. Now it is. Good stuff, showcasing an age when science and mysticism often walked hand in hand.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Soviet Anti-Religion Posters

Nazis suck, but during World War II they had the best fashion sense. Just sayin'. Similarly, I think the Soviets nailed the art of the propaganda poster. Here's a collection of posters specifically designed to combat religious feeling in the Soviet Union. No religion is safe - even the Buddha gets singled out. Regardless of your feelings on this matter, these posters are extremely well-done.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Mexico's Cave of Crystals

I saw this post on a few game-related Facebook groups. I thought this picture was fake at first. But it's real. Read all about this fascinating spot on Earth right here.

Monday, April 4, 2016

As Minimal as D&D Can Be...

Here's a cool, ultra-simple approach to playing D&D. Essentially, it reduces a PC's stats to the sort of stat blocks you'd find for a monster in old-school-style games. Here it is. All on one page. Impressive.

Friday, April 1, 2016

"Slaughter at the Bridge"

Here's an article about the discovery of a massive, unrecorded battle some time in the Bronze Age. Lots of evidence of how ancient armies were organized and armed. I can't believe stuff like this is still out there waiting to be discovered. Read all about it here.