Friday, April 17, 2015

That Big Swords And Wizardry News

There was a quiet announcement made today regarding the next "edition" of the Swords & Wizardry retroclone created by +Matt Finch, and published in its "Complete" version by Frog God Games.

For those who don't know, Swords & Wizardry is a clone of the earliest edition of the Dungeons & Dragons rules, before there were Basic or Expert versions and long before there was an Advanced version. Published as a boxed set, this edition of Dungeons & Dragons was three booklets...Volume 1: Men & Magic, Volume 2: Monsters & Treasure, and Volume 3: Underworld & Wilderness Adventures. There were also a handful of supplements for these rules as well: Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry, Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes, and Swords & Spells.

Swords & Wizardry comes in three versions: Whitebox, Core and Complete. Whitebox covers the initial three booklets of the D&D rules. Core uses the first three supplements and parts of Greyhawk. Core uses the three booklets and the stuff from Greyhawk and Blackmoor. [I'm sure that I got one of those wrong and someone will correct me.]

So, this summer there will be a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money for a new printing/edition of Swords & Wizardry. What makes this newsworthy is that the fact that the graphic design, layout and art direction for this new edition will be an all-woman team of artists and designers lead by +Stacy Dellorfano, the founder of the online gaming convention +ConTessa. The art for the new edition will also feature new iconic characters that are female and people of color. In a way, the old school is stepping into the "new" school and with this edition of Swords & Wizardry we see Frog God Games bucking the perception that OSR/old school gamers are all conservative and reactionary individuals, interested only in continuing the status quo. Good on them for that.

This couldn't have come at a better time. It was only a few months ago that the latest edition of D&D was under fire from conservative elements of the tabletop gaming community for "insufferable PC propagandizing" for putting language saying that it was okay to play gay or transgendered characters in the game (not that anyone really needed permission for that anyway). I have said before, and I say again, that I don't like elements like these to try to claim any form of gaming of their own, and I am more than happy to see tabletop gaming dragged into the 21st century (even if some of the people are kicking and screaming).

There will be more to come on this...

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

R.I.P. Herb Trimpe

For comic fans of a certain age, artist Herb Trimpe was everywhere, and for those of us who were fans of the Shogun Warriors and Godzilla, Trimpe was a defining part of our childhoods.
Herb Trimpe was born in 1939 and raised in Peekskill, New York, where he graduated from Lakeland High School. Of his childhood art and comics influences, he said in 2002, "I really loved the Disney stuff, Donald Duck and characters like that. Funny-animal stuff, that was kind of my favorite, and I liked to draw that kind of thing. And I also liked ... Plastic Man. ... I loved comics since I was a little kid, but I was actually more interested in syndicating a comic strip than working in comics." As well, "I was a really big fan of EC comics and [artist] Jack Davis."
In the 1960s, during the period known as the Silver Age of Comics, Trimpe was assigned to pencil what became his signature character, the Hulk. Beginning with pencil-finishes over Marie Severin layouts in The Incredible Hulk vol. 2, #106 (Aug. 1968), he went on to draw the character for a virtually unbroken run of over seven years, through issue #142 (Aug. 1971), then again from #145–193 (Nov. 1971 – Nov. 1975). Additionally, Trimpe penciled the covers of five Hulk annuals (1969, 1971–72, 1976–77, titled King-Size Special! The Incredible Hulk except for #4, The Incredible Hulk Special), and both penciled and inked the 39-page feature story of The Incredible Hulk Annual #12 (Aug. 1983). Most writers on The Incredible Hulk heavily relied on Trimpe for the plot as well; in most cases he was not even given a written plot, and was left to draw the issue after only a brief story conference. Trimpe has said that he had no difficulty with this level of collaboration, and in fact enjoyed it.
Among the characters co-created by Trimpe during his run on the title were Jim Wilson in issue #131 (Sept. 1970) and Doc Samson in #141 (July 1971).[13] During his time on the comic, he became the first artist to draw for publication the character Wolverine, who would go on to become one of Marvel's most popular. The character, designed by Marvel de facto art director John Romita, Sr., was an antagonist for the Hulk, introduced in the last panel of The Incredible Hulk vol. 2, #180 (Oct. 1974) and making his first full appearance the following issue.[14] Trimpe in 2009 said he "distinctly remembers" Romita's sketch, and that, "The way I see it, [Romita and writer Len Wein] sewed the monster together and I shocked it to life! ... It was just one of those secondary or tertiary characters, actually, that we were using in that particular book with no particular notion of it going anywhere. We did characters in The [Incredible] Hulk all the time that were in [particular] issues and that was the end of them." Trimpe co-created nearly all of the characters introduced during his run on The Incredible Hulk, with Wolverine being a rare exception.
I was lucky that I was able to meet Herb Trimpe a few years ago at a local comic show in Tampa and thank him for everything that he did for my childhood. I was also able to get him to sign an issue of the Shogun Warriors comic for me.

Herb Trimpe drew The Hulk for forever, and even illustrated the Hulk story written by Harlan Ellison. He also drew the first appearance of Wolverine. His fingerprints are on the Marvel Universe until the end of time.

He will be missed.

Over on Twitter, writer Ron Marz made a couple of tweets that should be a reminder to comic fans.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Going Back To Kali

Sure, everybody loves using ninjas in their super-hero campaigns, but what if you want something that is a little different?

Luckily John Ostrander gave us an interesting new option during his run on the Suicide Squad (which I have talked about before) by introducing the Thuggee assassin Ravan in the first arc of that book. He later went on to become a member of the team and added an interesting moral dimension to the team.

There may be historical issues with the existence of the Thuggee, but that rarely gets in the way of good gaming (or comics for that matter). What I liked about Ostrander's incorporation of the cult into the DC Universe was the idea that, while they ostensibly worshiped the dread goddess Kali, their worship was out of fear and the murders that they committed were sacrifices to her in order to forestall the end of the current age and the start of the Age of Chaos, the Kali-Yuga. Ravan's "catchphrase" was "A Thousand Years, O Kali," because each consecrated death to their goddess would stall the coming of the Kali-Yuga by another thousand years.

Ravan, one of these Thuggees, set himself up as a mercenary killer. This way he could not only forestall the coming of Kali, but he could become very rich and live a playboy lifestyle while doing it. No mindless abasement here. He saw himself (as the panel to the right says) as the first of a new Thuggee cult that was in touch with the modern world. He used technology in his kills, using it to augment the traditional tools like the garrote.

Unlike the ninja, there is no running around in their underwear and using of ancient, outdated weapons for this cult. Their mixture of the ancient and the modern makes them an interesting foil for high tech super-heroes, or espionage agents.

So, how do you do this in your campaign? You could easily just reskin whatever passes for a ninja in the existing writeups for the system you are playing and add the bits about "killing for a higher cause" to them. Bam. You have Thuggee. When I introduced them into my Marvel Super-Heroes campaign back in college, that was basically all that I did. I think that my writeup for Ravan was cribbed from the one for The Taskmaster, removing his powers. A Ravan-like enemy should be capable of going toe-to-toe with a Daredevil or Bronze Tiger, but should be outclassed by a Batman or Captain America. Throw in a half dozen generic Thuggee to round things out for the player characters.

When will you use these Thuggee in a campaign? Their "calling" makes them a little more complex than your typical smash and grab type of villain. You can even make the Thuggees in your campaign world into a sort of morally grey hero, after all they are trying to keep the destruction of the world at bay and stop millions from being killed when a mad death goddess incarnates in the world. Sure, their tool for doing this is to kill people, but sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make omelettes. These killers consider themselves to be holy warriors on a mission, and the super-heroes are at odds with that mission.

This can add an interesting moral dimension to a super-hero campaign, particularly if the Thuggees only target evil or criminal individuals for their sacred killings. If there was demonstrated proof that gods like Kali really existed in the world, would that make a hero's choice to stop a killer from killing a killer a more difficult one? It would certainly make it a more interesting choice. Super-heroes, particularly in role-playing games, tend to have a black and whiteness to their morality. The simple addition of a faction like this can spice a game up considerably.

Another way to introduce the Thuggee into the campaign (and this is what we did with our game back in college) is to have one of the heroes be a repentant former member of the cult. This gives an immediate "in" for the cult, and it juices up the backstory of the hero. Did they leave the cult before...or after making their first kill. Is the hero trying to make up for having killed...or are they trying to make up for the deaths that the cult is responsible for. Either choice adds interesting dimension, and motivation, to a character.

This can make a character who is like the Paul Kirk version of Manhunter from the 1970s revamp of the character. The hero is fighting a silent, shadowy war against the cult, which occasionally erupts into the streets of the city, or on some espionage mission, drawing the heroes into the action and giving the former Thuggee some allies for a time.

And if you would prefer to not integrate a real world religion or goddess into your games, then substitute a fiction god or goddess for Kali. Imagine a version of the Cthulhu Cult that isn't trying to raise their god from his watery grave in R'lyeh, but is instead trying to keep him from rising and destroying their world. Imagine a cult that sprung up out of the end of the novel Dracula (or any of the countless adaptations if you prefer) that is taking the blood of victims so that the Count will not once again rise and make his vampiric armies. A concept like this has a lot of applications to a number of different genres of gaming. The idea is that the deaths caused by this religion is supposed to serve a greater good, and by interfering with them the heroes may be dooming their own world.

Of course, it could all just be a lie and, no matter what the members of the religion believe, there is no actual god or goddess or future destruction that they are forestalling, and their murders don't make them any better than any other killer.

Regardless of how you use this concept in your games it will add an interesting morality to them. My only real recommendation would be that whatever variant of this cult that you use in your games, you make them NPCs and any PCs are former members of the group.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The Super Villain Handbook Kickstarter

Last year, we had a post and interview about a little supplement that was in development for ICONS -- The Super Villain Handbook. Now, that supplement is being Kickstarted and, at the time of this writing, already nearing its funding goal with over three weeks left to go. For those not in the know, The Super Villain Handbook contains 40 different super villain roles for use with the supers-themed RPG, ICONS. So, if you play ICONS (or are interested in it -- you can grab it here) you'll definitely want to check out the Kickstarter.

Speaking of the Kickstarter, this project is set up fairly simply, but fairly efficient. The video is fairly long, at just over six minutes, but it covers all the information that you could want about the supplement. The text of the page is wordy, but it's written in-character and some may find it entertaining and worth the read specifically for that. Probably the biggest negative I can find is the general lack of imagery for the Kickstarter page -- having a book all about super villains should have some pretty fantastic artwork to tease the potential pledger with.

Some of the biggest positives for this project are on the financial side -- the funding goal is very reasonable and the pledge tiers are well priced. If you'd like to get in, you have some choice, low-cost options available: $1USD gets you the unillustrated PDF version of the rules, $10USD gets you the illustrated PDF version of the rules (and stretch goals) and $25USD includes the PDF, stretch goals and a credit for the print copy (shipping to be handled separately).  The more stretch goals hit, the better the value, to boot.

They have also added stretch goals with support for Fate Core, so fans of that game can now use The Super Villain Handbook in that system as well.

If you'd like to know more about The Super Villain Handbook, be sure to check out its Kickstarter page or its Facebook page.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Car Wars Giveaway: Not An Imaginary Story

This is not a Dream! Not a Joke! Not an Imaginary Story!

I've been threatening a giveaway for a few months, and it is time that I actually do it. I have an extra copy of Car Wars Classic, still in the shrink wrap, that I want to give to someone who reads the blog. In fact it is the copy that I just took a picture of:

First, I am sorry to say, that this contest is only going to be open to people within the United States. Postage anymore has gotten ridiculous, and it is too much (and to much hassle anymore) to send this outside of the U.S. for a giveaway. I will be taking entries from now until the end of April, at which point I will choose a winner.

What is the contest, you may be asking right now? Simple. In the comments of this blog post finish this sentence: "When I rolled into my first autodueling arena I ____________." Don't get carried away, the odds are good that the longer you write, the less interested I will become in your entry. The winner will be judged solely on whether or not their answer amuses me. Also, only enter once.

The box will then be put into a padded mailer and sent via some form of US Postal Service service that will allow me to get a tracking number. There will be no requests for how I send it.

I have to be able to reach the winner and get a real name and address, so if you don't want to do that please don't bother entering.

Direct questions about this contest to me via social media instead of in the comments.

Good luck and Start Your Engines!!!