Wednesday, September 25, 2013

First Look At Dynamite's Legends of Red Sonja

September 25, 2013, Mt. Laurel, NJ - Dynamite is proud to show the first look at interior pages for Legends of Red Sonja #1, is a collaborative effort uniting Simone with a star-studded and prestigious creative team including Marjorie M. Liu, Mercedes Lackey, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Rhianna Pratchett, Leah Moore, Tamora Pierce, Blair Butler, Nancy Collins, Meljean Brook, Nicola Scott, Devin Grayson, and more to be announced.  Frank Thorne, one of the key artists responsible for defining the character's distinct look, will be among the artists to contribute cover artwork, as will Jay Anacleto. The first issue of the five-part Legends of Red Sonja #1 miniseries is solicited in the September Previews catalog for preorder by retailers worldwide.

Here's a Q & A with the various Legends of Red Sonja writers!

What is it about Red Sonja that has allowed her to meet this 40 year milestone?

Marjorie Liu: Red Sonja is the dream of all little girls.  Which isn't to say that all little girls want to grow up to be swords-women (though I did), charging into battle, fighting evil.  But it's her spirit that calls to us, that unbendable, fierce, warrior nature that is so alluring, inspiring -- and sexy.  In a world where women are constantly besieged by forces that want to steal our voices and power, Red Sonja is an icon of strength and stubbornness.

Nancy A. Collins: For decades Red Sonja has, consistently, been one of the few female protagonists in comics who is an unabashed warrior. While she has a code of honor, she also has no problems killing whoever gets in her way. That was a pretty radical concept for a female character, back in the 1970s. And it's still not that common, even in the modern era of Grim & Gritty comics.

Devin Grayson: I'd like to say it's because we all love redheads, but it probably has more to do with her unmitigated ass-kicking. I think for a lot of us who grew up as tomboys, she was a hugely compelling role model . And for those of us who were tomboys also into fantasy, she was peerless. She's also managed to keep an air of mystery around her all these years, which is no small feat. There's a directness to her character that's both refreshing and enduring.

Rhianna Pratchett: She's a striking character in every sense of the word. She's tough and enigmatic

Tamora Pierce: The way she blazed her way across the comics universe as a super-powerless female swordslinger, bolstered by the name of the immortal Robert Howard (the second major fantasy writer I discovered and always a lure for me to new adventures), was unique.  And let's face it, that blazing mane of red hair and the chainmail bikini so do not hurt!

Leah Moore: I think the interest is because she makes no attempt to court favour or play nicely with anyone. She's not just strong and independent, you get the feeling she really doesn't give a hoot about anyone else. In a male character that would be dull, another lone wolf who kicks ass and looks out for number one. Yawn. But in a woman, in Sonja it cuts straight though the whole gender divide and proves that yes, women can be curmudgeonly and unpleasant too!

Mercedes Lackey: She's iconic.  She is one of the first female fantasy characters that held her own with the guys.  Mail bikini notwithstanding, it was clear from the start that she was no one's possession, toy, or arm-candy.

Nicola Scott: Sonja has an attitude not often granted to female characters. She's ballsy and brawny, has an Eastwood swagger and dismissive tone. It also doesn't hurt that she rocks a sword and a metal bikini.

What can you tell us about your story?

Nancy A. Collins: It was written as an affectionate tribute to the straight-up sword & sorcery tales of the old SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN. It's set during Sonja's early days as a thief--the time period where I was first introduced to her. Before the chainmail bikini.

Devin Grayson: I wrote a nautical horror story in a classic pulp fantasy style. There's forbidden magic, sword swinging, and tentacles. Lots of tentacles.

Rhianna Pratchett: I wanted to explore an iconic aspect of Sonja that, from a story point of view, is often seen and not heard - her chainmail bikini.

Tamora Pierce: When she meets a woman and her daughter, seeming innocents in search of a guard, Red Sonja discovers her goddess has intervened in her life again, demanding a cost in death.

Leah Moore: I have pitted Sonja against the fearsome might of a necromancer. I've been a fan of necromancers since I first read Clark Ashton Smith, and saw that basically as a writer you cant have much more fun than writing a bit of necromancy. Clark Ashton Smith based a lot of his stories in Hyperborea, a region in Robert E Howard's Hyboria, so I saw a chance to do my own little homage both to Howard and Clark Ashton Smith at once. Sonja battles liches, it was so much fun.

Mercedes Lackey: Sonja serves as the inspiration for another girl's fantasy.  And while the fantasy is unrealistic, the girl herself, and her village, gain enormously for it.

Nicola Scott: My story is about a stolen moment of good fortune that Sonja has since obliviously benefited from.

Blair Butler: It's shrouded in mystery, but I will say that it's circular, and I tried to do something a little different with the page layout. Also, it may bum you out. I had no idea how dark this story was going to get when I started it...

Kelly Sue DeConnick: An all-male troupe of traveling thespians perform The Red Devil's Legerdemain for the Grey Riders, get them drunk, turn them on, and rob them blind. Theatre!

What are you hoping fans will learn about Red Sonja from your story?

Nancy A. Collins: That she means business.

Devin Grayson: Well, as fans know and newbies should be able to grok, the only thing you really need to know about Red Sonja is that you don't mess with Red Sonja. Also: she may be waterproof.

Rhianna Pratchett: I wanted to bring back a sense of ownership and choice to the much maligned chainmail bikini. I also wanted to weave it into the way Sonja utilizes all her attribute to aid her in battle and how this knowledge may have come about.

Tamora Pierce: That she is very much more than a barbarian swords woman; that she has many layers, and uses crudity, violence, and drunkenness not only to conceal those layers, but to hone them, particularly her intelligence.

Mercedes Lackey: Sonja might not live up to someone's fantasy....or then again, she might.
which gives her great power on the page as well as on the battlefield.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hermes Press' Gold Key Comics The Phantom Reprints

Have you heard of Hermes Press? I will admit that I had never heard of them, until an announcement on one of the comics websites talked about a new Buck Rogers comic written and drawn by Howard Chaykin. Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a big fan of Chaykin's work. While I still haven't had a chance to get the comic that set me on to this path, that one article lead me down a collector's rabbit hole that lead me to one of my favorite comic characters, King Feature's The Phantom.

In addition to "traditional" floppy comics, Hermes Press also does a number of high end collector's restored editions of various comics and comic strips. These aren't cheap books, or trade paperbacks, because they feature high end restoration processes and high end printing and materials. I checked out Hermes Press' The Phantom: The Gold Key Years Volume 2. Gold Key Comics should be familiar to comic fans and collectors. In the 50s, 60s and 70s they did a number of licensed comics adapting characters like The Phantom, Flash Gordon, the television Tarzan, Star Trek, The Green Hornet and many more. They also brought us original characters such as Doctor Solar, Magnus, Robot Hunter and Turok, Son of Stone.

The reason that collectors and fans remember Gold Key Comics after so many years is because of their quality art and storytelling. That's no different with The Phantom stories, and Hermes Press brings this quality to the forefront with their new reprint.

Yes, there are some goofy bits to the comics, like The Phantom's "secret identity" being him wearing an overcoat and hat over his costume, but those touches were established in the original comic strips as well. The art is a bit two-dimensional, compared to current comic art standards, but the art does not detract from the story.

Here are some sample pages that I dug out...

The vibrancy of the original art is maintained and brought to a vivid life by the careful work of the reproduction artists. It makes you feel like you are a kid again, and eagerly flipping through the pages of your favorite comic book. Now, these old stories aren't for everyone. As I said, compared to contemporary comics the art isn't as sophisticated and the writing isn't as complex, however despite that I thought that these comics held up remarkably well. Reading the stories brought a smile to my face as I flipped through the pages.

Do I think that this is worth buying? I'm going with an unreserved yes. The original stories are still fun, and the people at Hermes Press have created a quality product that will appeal to collectors. It isn't cheap, as the books put out by Hermes Press range from $50-$100, but if you want quality you sometimes have to pay for it.

Dynamite's Shadow 2013 Annual

There are two things that I like: Las Vegas and good, old-fashioned pulps. Admittedly, those aren't the only things that I like, but both of them are relevant to the comic at hand. Dynamite has had the license for the Shadow for a while now, and some great talents have been attached to the character while Dynamite has had the rights: Alex Ross, Chris Roberson and Matt Wagner have all been involved in the character in some way. In this one-shot story, set in Las Vegas in 1947, writer Ande Parks takes his turn with the character. Parks has long been in comics as an inker, working with such artists as Phil Hester, Jack Kirby and others. He has written for a while, doing books like The Lone Ranger for Dynamite and the excellent mini-series Capote in Kansas (which was inspired by the research and writing of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood).

Let's talk about the Shadow 2013 Annual put out by Dynamite Comics.

This story is very connected with Las Vegas and it's criminal founders, most importantly Ben "Bugsy" Siegel. The feel of that era was captured ably by Parks' writing. His Shadow was faithful to the character. Parks' work in writing historical fiction meant that he understood the significance of the difference between now and a historical period, and how to keep characters from just being modern characters in period costumes. This isn't a skill that is easy to acquire or use, but Parks uses it wonderfully.

Now, more this a pulp story? Is this faithful to the character of the Shadow and his tales? Parks pulls off an exciting page turner of a pulp story. The banter between The Shadow and Margo is authentic, to both the period and to the pulp sources. I would have liked to have seen this antagonist more fully developed, over a story arc rather than a single tale, but that is a strength of the story if I feel that I want more of the villain of the piece.

A weakness to this was that the transition to the flashback was a bit jarring. In one panel The Shadow is jumping into the backseat of a car, and then on the next page we are in the "Great" War. The transition back to the present of the story was just as abrupt. With two characters who have not aged dramatically between the time periods of the two stories, this could have been handled better I think. Overall, the art was the weakest element of this story. While professional, it comes across as sketchy and rushed throughout the comic, which also did not help with the transitions between the flashbacks and the present of the story. The transition to the "origin story" of the antagonist was better done, and a similar method would have made the transition to the first flashback make much more sense.

Much like with Dynamite's Masks series, the Shadow 2013 Annual has an excellent story, from a writer who understands the pulp conventions, marred by art that just does not live up to that story. I find myself wishing that this had been done "pulp style," as an illustrated prose piece than as a comic.

Do I think that this is worth buying? I am going to have to give that a qualified yes. The writing on this story is solid, engaging and has fidelity to the pulp sources. The art, however, just does not live up to the potential of the story. This is a real shame because this is a really good story by a writer who really gets historical and pulp fiction, but mediocre art takes away some of that thrill. In another artist's hands, this comic could have been really incredible, but as a visual medium the art just has to be as good as the writing. If you can get past the art, and I could despite my harshness towards it in this review, you will be rewarded by a fun story from Parks.

Monday, September 16, 2013

My Necronomicon 2013 Schedule

This year, Necronomicon (down here in sunny Tampa Bay) is moving back to Tampa. Christopher Paolini, the author of Eragon (made into the big movie) will be the big guest of honor, but once again I will be there as a gaming guest. The convention is October 18-20th.

My panels for this year:

DAY        TIME               ROOM          EVENT NAME
Friday      5:00:00 PM      SALON G      Social Media and the Author
Friday      8:00:00 PM      SALON C      How to Keep Writing in the Face of Adversity
Friday      9:00:00 PM      SALON C      How to Get the Most out of Your Gaming Experience
Saturday  10:00:00 AM    SALON B     Game Design for Beginners
Saturday  12:00:00 PM     SALON C     Small Presses: Taking Risks the Big Guys are Afraid to Take
Sunday    10:00:00 AM    SALON C     Hidden Gems: RPGs & Boardgames

I will likely be available for opening gaming around these times, and I'm planning on bringing my Swords & Wizardry and Fate Accelerated stuff with me.

Melior Via's Accursed RPG Kickstarter

This past Friday saw a great evil descend upon our land… That evil being Melior Via’s Accursed Kickstarter, here to spread monsters and mayhem throughout our tabletops! And for those who are unfamiliar with this game: it’s a dark fantasy setting for Savage Worlds where the players play as humans who have been transformed into monsters via a witch’s curse. There are quite a few different comparisons out there for the setting and here’s mine: Rippers meets Warhammer Fantasy. But enough of the vague descriptions, what about the details?

Instead of dropping straight into the game mechanics/details for this article, let’s touch on the Kickstarter, the ‘playtest’ Player’s Guide, and what you can get for your money.

The Kickstarter, as of this writing in the middle of Sunday night, is sitting just shy of $8,800 – just $1,200 off of their primary goal. So, it’s pretty much certain that it’ll complete and get to working on the stretch goals. Speaking of stretch goals, if you are worried that they may only be for backers of certain levels or for people who toss in additional money – fear not, they have a mixture of goals that add additional improvements to the rule books, in addition to extra works that can be added separately (or come with certain tiers).

The "playtest" Player’s Guide is something I feel needs talking about not just  for potential backers but for people thinking about running a Kickstarter, as this is one of the better playtest materials I have gotten from an ongoing Kickstarter. The layout appears to be done, the backgrounds are in, there is some hyperlinking, the PDF is multi-layered (so you can turn off what you don’t want), and it is playable. Sound complete? It feels pretty darn close to it. The major element missing, of course, is the bulk of the artwork – which is what the Kickstarter here is for. Having a Player’s Guide that is this far along should be a confidence builder for backers. Potential kickstarter creators – please take note of that.

For the last bit here we’ve got the "bang for the buck" – what’ll it cost you to get the books? The PDF portion is simple enough -- $10 gets you the Player’s Guide and $20 gets you the full PDF with all the GM spoilery bits. From there it’s slightly more complicated -- $30 is the base tier for the print copy, but how this Kickstarter does it is a bit different from what you may be used to. Essentially, the print copies will be done as Print on Demand through DriveThruRPG and the $30 covers the base costs of that, but there are two more additional fees on top of that – binding/production and shipping. What this means is that a backer will get to choose the type and quality of the binding/printing they want, and then the shipping. I’m not certain how well this will work but it will be interesting to see.

[Editor's Note: It looks like Kickstarters for vouchers for final products, rather than the books themselves, are becoming a thing for tabletop gaming Kickstarters. Mostly, this is a good enough method for battling the always increasing costs of shipping (which of late have increased once or twice on a lot of Kickstarter projects before they could get to fulfillment. Will this catch on with the audience of Kickstarter projects? It looks like only time will tell. At the moment it looks like a good method for publishers to fulfill their projects without losing what little money is made on the projects.]

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Using The Internet To Help With Your GMing

Google rolled out a new toy on Google+, the ability to take G+ posts and embed them anyplace that will allow embedding HTML code. This can be cool for sharing things, but it will also have the potential for abuse as we start to see an upswing in "Ha! Ha! Look at what this idiot said" posts on blogs.

However, it is a good way to share gameable information. For example, I shared this post earlier today on Google+:

+Dirk Puehl's post gives GMs a great inspiration for an NPC. Marie Laveau can be used as the basis of an NPC in any variety of campaign, from fantasy to historical to even modern horror. The great thing is that the NPC doesn't have to be Laveau in order to inspired by her. Looking for a strong female character with connections to the occult world? There you go. File off some the specific details, or change them enough to fit into your game world, give her a new name and you have a brand new and fleshed out NPC for your game world.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Dear RPG Publisher On Kickstarter

Dear RPG Publisher on Kickstarter,

You've sent me a direct message on Twitter, or Google+ or an email, and you want me to talk about your project. Many people might not think of it this way, but you treat gaming bloggers like you would the media: you give them the tools that they need to talk about your project. Otherwise, we are going to assume that you don't know what you are talking about, or worse that you won't be able to manage your project.

You want buzz for your project, and that is great, but being prepared is the way to go about it. If you send me a link to your KS page, or to your website, and ask me to talk about your game, you aren't giving me the tools with which to do your project justice. Yes, a blog post with a link and "content" that consists of "Wow, this is cool...go spend your money!" may be what you want, but it isn't really helpful. See, we've worked hard to get the traffic that you want to be pointed at you, and we want that work to be respected. Enthusiasm is great, but it takes a lot more than just enthusiasm to get a Kickstarter funded and get your game finished and out to market. There are long time professionals who can't seem to get their games finished after a successful Kickstarter, so it isn't as easy as it looks.

We want to talk about the cool new stuff, and we want to be excited about what you have to show us what makes you so excited. I strongly suggest having a press kit ready (preferably before your Kickstarter starts) with some images (or concept art is you are using the Kickstarter to fund art) and either a preview of the game or a beta version of your game's rules. Even just a PDF of your Word file is good enough for this. This way, it gives us as bloggers something meaty to talk about, and the more excited that we are about your project the more likely we are to blog about it and spread it around on our social networks. Also, make yourself available for interviews. Interviews are good because they show 1) your enthusiasm and 2) your plan for getting things done.

I am not trying to berate anyone with this post, I am just trying to share some successful methods from others that will help to get you the publicity that you want (and the traffic that we all want as well).

Yes, I know that I don't put an email address here on the blog. There are reasons for that. :) However, I am on Twitter as @dorkland and on Google+ as +Christopher Helton. It isn't hard to find me if you want to talk, and if you want one of the Dorkland! bloggers to talk about your project, or just offer help or suggestions about getting publicity those are your first ports of call.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Voices Carry: Dorkland Sidles Into Vblogging/Podcasting

One of my favorite songs back in the 80s was 'Til Tuesday's poignant (at least to the teen me) song Voices Carry. Really, the video is here only because I like the song.

When I added the new bloggers to the blog a few months ago, one of the reasons for that was because we had talked about doing some form of podcast. After appearing recently on +Ben Gerber's Indie Talks podcast, I thought that recording via a G+ Hangout on the Air was a good (and cheap) method for making a podcast. Things are progressing behind the scenes and sometime soonish there we should start on out podcast. Joining me on it will be +Stacy Dellorfano, +Josh Thompson and +David Rollins. Much like the posts that you see here on the Dorkland! blog it will be a mix of news, opinion, reviews and nonsense, as we talk about geeky things that come to our attention. I don't know yet about the frequency of the podcast, maybe bi-weekly, but we will work all that out as we go. We don't even have a name yet.

This is all a part of the growth of the blog as it celebrates its 10th anniversary later this month.

Just as an update, here is the "logo" for the podcast, complete with name.

September 24th will be the recording of the vlog, and then shortly after I will upload it to my Soundcloud page (complete with RSS feed for those of you who use those to follow podcasts).

Friday, September 06, 2013

"My" Hobby Isn't Mine: It Belongs To Everyone Who Wants It

It seems to come up every few months or so: another round of people on social media proclaiming what is wrong with their hobby and how, by God, they're going to do something about it. The problem with that is that none of us own the tabletop RPG hobby outside of the play that happens at our tables, or the games that those of us who are publishers or designers create and publish. No one gets to impose their worldview or morality upon others. I don't want people thinking and gaming like I do, and I certainly don't plan on thinking or gaming like others do at this point in my life (or, really, any other point for that matter).

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Purple Ducks Games' The Twice-Robbed Tomb For Labyrinth Lord

The Twice-Robbed Tomb is an adventure module written by Perry Fehr and published by Purple Duck Games for the Labyrinth Lord system. The module suggests "4 PCs of 3rd level, or 6 or more of 2nd level." The asking price is an easy $2. And, to get the last of the technical bits out, it comes in at 10 pages, including the front cover and an OGL page. The eight pages in-between are packed full of material, more than enough for a single adventure over one or two play sessions.

So, how is it all? Well, the adventure could fit in easily with any campaign or setting (it uses a desert, but could easily be replaced with anything else). If I would have one slight problem with it, it is that the opening hook for the adventure might be a little too suspect. As a gamer, it would make me highly suspicious – which might be its intent – but it could work for your group, or with just some slight editing. There is also a section on rumors from the villagers near the Tomb, which may help get the PCs curious.

Apart from those two little sections, you have the tomb – the bulk of this adventure. I will note that the module does provide two maps – one for players and one for the GM, both in the module and separate printable copies – which are easy to read and use with or without any battlemats. As I mentioned before, this is an adventure you can play through in about one play session as the tomb is not terribly big. However, it does have a trick or two up its sleeves that may keep the party busy for a bit – or even lead to a really out-of-this-world adventure.

Story-wise, this can be placed into an on-going campaign without interrupting anything, used to help further it (with a tweak or two), or as a starting point for a campaign based off what happens within the tomb. As to the story in the module, on its own, it’s a simple, complete story. Nothing terribly complex, but realistic to a fantasy setting.

The part the party cares most about – loot – is present in decent quantities here. A few magical goodies, though not a massive amount – you may want to add a little more to it, depending on preference.

I will take a moment to touch on the art – there are a few pictures in the module to illustrate the monsters and one of them does feature some nudity. The store page for the module mentions this, as well. So, that could be a positive or a negative for you. Maybe both, somehow.

And, lastly, the part the GMs will care about – how quick and easy would it be to run? The answer: very quick and easy. The module has everything you would need – maps, monster stats, flavor text, and plenty of instructions. The flow of the module is also easy to follow and, since there are not tons of pages, getting to the part you need is quick. The tomb is a little linear, but has the potential for the party to “go off track” and find some interesting things. Overall, the prep-time should be minimal, so it’s a good option to pick up right before game day.