Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What Do You Mean, Gordon's Alive? Flash Gordon and The Phantom in Fate Accelerated

These guys were super-heroes before there were super-heroes, and their adventures set many of the ground rules for the super-heroes who would come later. I have also been a fan of these characters for a very long time. Flash Gordon! The Phantom! Mandrake the Magician! Don't let the awful movies that two of these characters had to endure (or the equally awful live action TV programs) set your expectations for them. These are not campy characters.

In honor of Dynamite Comics upcoming launch of these characters in the Kings Watch comic (named after the fact that all three were syndicated and owned by King Features), I am writing up Flash Gordon and The Phantom for Fate Accelerated Edition. I have to think a bit about how I would do Mandrake, so he may come in another post after the comic comes out. I think that I need to see how Jeff Parker is going to handle the character before I write him up. Gordon and The Phantom are pretty primal, so I think that my write-ups should match them regardless of what the writer has in mind for them in the upcoming comic.

Flash Gordon
High Concept: Interplanetary Adventurer and Warrior
Trouble: Romantic Fool

Careful +0
Clever +1
Flashy +3
Forceful +2
Quick +1
Sneaky +2

Because I am an Interplanetary Hero, I get a +2 when I Flashily overcome when I’m trying to do the right thing

The Phantom
High Concept: The Jungle's Protector
Trouble: The Ghost Who Walks

Careful +1
Clever +1
Flashy +0
Forceful +2
Quick +2
Sneaky +3

Because I am a Jungle Warrior, I get a +2 when I Sneakily create advantages when I’m in the jungles.

I only gave these two the basic two aspects, I thought that leaving a couple of the aspects open would make it easier for GMs to adapt the characters to their settings as NPCs, or to allow players some space for customization if they want to play Flash or the Phantom.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

DC Nation: Wonder Woman Short

DC Comics has put the first three parts of a Wonder Woman short that is going to be part of their DC Nation block on the Cartoon Network. It is sort of Wonder Woman meets Aeon Flux meets The Prisoner set in the 1970s. Check these out.

I hope you enjoy them. I know that I did.

Paranormal Friction: Jimmy Jam (Sample Character)

Hopefully next week I am going to be starting up a new bi-weekly campaign on Google+ called Paranormal Friction. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of paranormal romance, and one thing that I have wanted for a long while was a role-playing game that tackled the genre. Well, I got tired of waiting, so I started work on my own game. Paranormal Friction is a hack of the Fate Accelerated Edition rules onto which I am building guidelines for creating the characters from the genre. I am also hoping to work out a couple of sample campaign frames as well, because I think that giving worked examples helps when dealing with a genre that people might not be familiar with, or when dealing with people who might not be gamers (but fans of the genre) and would need a bit of guidance.

I really like the simplicity of Fate Accelerated. It gets right to the heart of creating cool characters, and lets you get to the role-playing with a minimum of effort. Thanks to the guiding design principle of the Fate Fractal, it also makes it easy to design things for a game (like magic and supernatural abilities) without having to come up with a long list of new rules and excepts so that a character can cast a spell. My approach (ha!) is to use the approaches that help define a character also define a character's supernatural abilities, along with their high concept aspect. This should make for a game that doesn't need a lot of extra rules and just reuses the basic concepts of the game's design to do a variety of things.

This is (probably) the first of a series of posts about the game as I work on it. Today I am going to post a sample character made up using the rules. The bit on the supernatural powers will probably be confusing, since it isn't in the baseline rules, but hopefully it will be easy to to figure out.

This is a sample character, Jimmy Jam, a half-demon wannabe rapper. Imagine that the demon with the silly headband (the art is a panel from the excellent Justice League Black Baptism miniseries) is our boy, Jimmy.

Jimmy wants to be a rapper. He mostly means well, but he has to deal with being the result of a night, regretted by his mother, that she spent in the bed of someone that she didn't know was a demon until it was too late. Jimmy has a lot of urges and emotions that he doesn't understand because of who his father is. He isn't always sure about the flames either. Jimmy has not yet met his father.

High Concept: Horny Demons
Trouble: Who Is My Dad?
Aspect(s): White Boy Rapper, Look At That Fire

Careful +1, Clever +0, Flashy +2, Forceful +3, Quick +2, Sneaky +1

Because I am a badass rapper, I get a +2 when I Forcefully attack someone in a battle of rhymes.

Creates fire in a Flashy way; Uses Fire in a Forceful way

Refresh: 3

And that is really all that there is to a starting character. That's the beauty of the system, for me. I write a paragraph with a bit of background and then go.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Flying Man: Call of Cthulhu With Super-Heroes

Special effects artist Marcus Alqueres has done effects work on the movies 300 and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Now he has done a short film that features a horror-take on the idea of super-heroes called The Flying Man.

This seems like it would make for an interesting Call of Cthulhu scenario to me where instead of dealing with Mythos horrors, the characters would have to deal with enigmatic and inhuman superbeings seeking to rid the world (or their city) of crime. The characters could be criminals, normal citizens, or just people who live on the fringes of society. Wouldn't this make a cool idea?

Monday, August 05, 2013

Chamber Band: The Soundtrack To Your Next D&D Game

I know that you've heard of nerdcore music before, and while that can be cool I am really only going to listen to so much hip-hop music. I was then surprised to discover that there was a nerdy band (doing music inspired by gaming and D&D stuff) that had more of an "indie" rock sort of vibe to them. Think of The Lumineers or Of Monsters and Men (maybe with a harder edge at times) singing about their D&D game, and you have an idea of what the band Chamber Band sounds like.

Photo by Jay Hoffman

You should check the band out at their Bandcamp page and pick up their digital record Deities in your favorite digital music format. I really got into the songs Lawful Neutral and Shapeshifter. Asmodeus is well worth a listen as well. The production values on this record are slick and hold up to comparison with any mainstream or big label release you might be listening to. I am a fan of bands with boy/girl harmonies with their vocals, and Chamber Band delivers on that with crisp singing of well-written lyrics that you don't just have to be a nerd to want to listen to.

Photo by Lauren Bilanko
Seriously, if you haven't already clicked on the link to their Bandcamp page and bought this, you need to do that right now. Gaming is about the DIY approach to things, and now bands can do the same thing (with sites like Bandcamp and many others). Just like how gamers can put together a game book that they want and need and put it up on sites like or RPGNow/DriveThruRPG and get it out to the people that it will connect to, musicians can do the same thing. This is something that we should all support, because that cool virtual garage band of today could very well be the next big thing, and Chamber Band definitely has the talent to be that thing. All that is needed is that missing

Tell me what you think of this record once you have it. I'm curious to hear your takes on it as well. This record should be the soundtrack to your next D&D game.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Next Doctor Is Peter Capaldi

I'm not going to call him the 12th Doctor, because I think we all know better (and I'm pretty certain that they'll acknowledge the counting of John Hurt's Doctor after the anniversary special). But, in case you haven't already heard...they hired a new guy to play the part of the Doctor on Doctor Who. On the off chance that you haven't seen this on every other website in the world, check it out.

This is a bit fuller of a video than what was broadcast on BBC America, so enjoy. Now begins all the speculation. I'm hoping for a new Master. Perhaps Capaldi's Doctor will be the one to turn into the Valeyard? As long as you're here, click the tag and look at my other Doctor Who-related posts.

Friday, August 02, 2013

The Arduin Adventure

As you know, about a month or so ago I received a shipment of classic Arduin material from Emperor's Choice, the current publisher/rights holder of Dave Hargrave's Arduin game and setting. Even with just a few of the books in the line, I have enough gaming material to keep me busy for a long, long time.

As I have been discussing the Arduin stuff on Google+, one of the things that I brought up was that I wanted to see Hargrave's first attempt at a game (the early Arduin Grimoires were really intended as supplements to OD&D) as a stand alone game. Called The Arduin Adventure, this boxed set was a simple, OD&D inspired set of rules for fantasy gaming that could be expanded upon with the Arduin Grimoires. And now, The Arduin Adventure is available in PDF from RPGNow/DriveThruRPG.

Dave Hargrave's Arduin and Steve Perrin's "Perrin Conventions" were influential in creating the West Coast style for D&D back in the late 70s and early 80s. Both of these lead to a style of play, and a style of game worlds that were different from the "mainstream" D&D that TSR was selling. This West Coast style lead to The Arduin Adventure and also to Runequest. There are references to DMs and designers like Perrin and Greg Stafford throughout the Arduin Grimoires. Like Bigby and Tenser in the OD&D rules, there are spells and monsters named for both Perrin and Stafford.

So, what is the Arduin Adventure? It is a fantasy role-playing game, class and level-based, very much in the mold of OD&D. In fact, these codified rules owe a lot to the Holmes boxed set for D&D that helped to codify and mold those rules into something cleaner and clearer. The influence of Holmes' rules, however, are filtered through the imagination of David Hargrave.

If D&D is Tolkien's Middle Earth and Moorcock's Young Kingdoms as filtered through the imagination of Gygax and Arneson, then Arduin takes those influences and a number of science fantasy ones (Star Wars being very important to Hargrave) and pulls them through the psychedelic experience that was the mind of Dave Hargrave. I consider this to be very much a plus because Arduin definitely has a much stronger voice to it than D&D did at the time, perhaps because it was the vision of one person instead of a growing committee. Don't get me wrong, D&D is a great game (I play one of the retroclones of OD&D on a regular basis), but it does not have the voice to it that Arduin has. For some this might be considered a weakness, but I think that it was a strength of the game. I believe that Arduin was the first RPG that was as much the vision of its author, rather than just a way to come up with some rules that could be used within a certain genre. I think in this way, Arduin is the spiritual father of games like Kevin Siembieda's Palladium Fantasy and Rifts. There are a lot of similarities between Arduin and Palladium Fantasy to me (but that is probably something for another post).

Now, while The Arduin Adventure has everything that you need to play, it is really not a complete game. Much like how the Holmes version of OD&D covers only the first three levels of play, so does The Arduin Adventure really only cover the equivalent for Arduin. You have enough to get play started, and play for a bit before having to "upgrade" to a fuller version of the rules in order to continue. If you have The Arduin Adventure and the first three (at least!) Arduin Grimoires you can fill in a lot of the gaps and play for a while. If you're interested, Emperor's Choice does offer a print version of The Arduin Trilogy that contains the first three of the Arduin Grimoires and The Arduin Adventure. This thick book will give you a lot of gaming, whether you use Arduin's native rules, or plug them in to D&D or some retroclone of it. If The Arduin Adventure whets your appetite for Arduin, then I really recommend getting the Trilogy in print.

All of the things that are familiar to OD&D players will make Arduin easy to pick up. The classes are basically the same, races are handled in a similar manner, and spells and advancement are very similar. Moving between the two games would be ridiculously easy. Picking up Arduin will not be difficult, if you already have a familiarity with OD&D or various OSR games that duplicate the experience of it. If you aren't already familiar with the "old school" approach to fantasy games, Arduin may cause some problems for you because it does assume a familiarity of that style of play. However, at 66 pages, reading Arduin and picking up the rules shouldn't be that much of an investment of your time. Whether you want to pick up Arduin in order to learn about an old school game that you may not have known about previously, or if you want to pick it up because you want to supplement your OD&D/OSR games with some new material, I think that you should be picking up The Arduin Adventure (and then moving on to as many other of the Arduin Grimoires that you can find). You will not be disappointed.

Combat is a bit more complicated in Arduin than in OD&D. Dave Hargrave liked his critical hit and fumble charts. Each weapon hits differently, depending upon the Armor Class of a character's opponent. This looks more complicated, but the combat tables in The Arduin Adventure and The Arduin Grimoires make this process much simpler than it should be. Regardless, this is still OD&D at its heart, and that game really only gets so complex. Some may see this added complexity as a boon in their old school games.

On the negative side, this is an ugly PDF, however as it is a reproduction of the original game (layout warts and all), I don't know that I can hold that too much against the publisher. Much like with the older edition D&D PDFs available, this book is an artifact, a reflection of its time. If pretty and shiny is a requirement of your role-playing games, then The Arduin Adventure may not be for you. However if you like rough and tumble RPGs that do at the table what they say they will, you will want to pick this up for your gaming library. And then, go to the Emperor's Choice website and buy more Arduin stuff.

All in all, if you like old school style D&D and you haven't already experienced Arduin, you should buy The Arduin Adventure and kick the tires. I think that you will like what it can bring to your gaming table, even if it is as a supplement to your OD&D/OSR game of choice. Go out now and get your copy.

I still have some more Arduin posts in me. There's a lot of material in the books that I have, and a lot to talk about. I may try to run Arduin, or perhaps an Arduin-influenced Swords & Wizardry game. Really, I think that the only thing that I could ask of the publishers of Arduin to do is to open up some of the content of the game (spells, monsters, maybe even some of Hargrave's original races) under the OGL so that homebrewers and hobbyists and pull Arduin into our games, and maybe even share what we've done with it.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Teasers For Valiant Comics Unity

What does it all mean? Unity comes to Valiant Comics. The original Unity was the blueprint for the modern comic event, so what will happen this time?

We will find out in November, I would guess.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Machinations of the Space Princess: Some Talk From Our New Game And A Rule Variant

As you may (or may not) have noticed last night, we started a new Machinations of the Space Princess game last night via G+ Hangouts on the Air. Now, if you've read my previous review of our playtests of Machinations using an earlier version of the rules, you'll know that we have a sort of love/hate relationship with the game (although hate is probably too strong of a word, really). Now, we have the really final copy of the game from the IndieGoGo campaign that a couple of us pledged on and we're taking another swing at the game. As fans of pulpy, sexy stuff and science fiction, we should be in the target demographic of this game. We're trying to like it.

One of the main problems that we ran into last night was the fact that the organization of the game made it difficult on us at times. Important pieces of information that should have been together wasn't, and the general information organization could have been better. It also would have help to better explain things like which attributes the Saving Rolls are derived from (hint: you have to look at the character sheet in the back of the book to find this information rather than the text). The section on racial/cultural traits is cool, and offers some great options for character customization, but how you pick traits for your characters could (still) stand to be better explained. You know that you get three traits for a character (before you start to take penalties) but the rules are kind of vague on how you take those traits. Rather than picking three of the traits listed, when you get your options for the characters you instead pick from the list under each trait. For example, the Chiropteran trait (which is what you would use for bat-like creatures) has the Acute Hearing, Echo-Location and Flight traits listed off of it. When you pick your character's three traits, you pick from those (I guess we could call them) sub-traits. We had problems with this in our first playtest, and in the final rules things aren't really that much clearer.

Now, the real reason for this post was to put out a rule variant that we will be using for the game. It isn't a secret that I am not a big fan of the skill system for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. That is one of the things that I've hacked around for our own games, but I never found something that I liked. However, with the larger number of Saving Rolls in Machinations of the Space Princess, I find that it is easier to implement a variation of Akrasia's Saving Throws As Task Resolution variant for Swords & Wizardry. Actually, I am not a fan of that variant for Swords & Wizardry itself, I'm not sure why exactly, but I think that the single save just isn't granular enough for me.

This is how it will work for use. If you look at pg. 13 of Machinations of the Space Princess you will see the initial writeup for Saving Rolls. There is the boxed text about rolling high. We use that, where the saving roll becomes a modifier to the d20 roll. Add the rank that the character has in the skill and get a total over 20. Simple enough. For our purposes, skills will likely default off of Dexterity or Intelligence.

I will bring up variant rules and our approaches to the game through blog posts as things come up.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Analog Pixels: The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot

A new type of article for the Dorkland! blog and one that I've been toying around with for quite some time. An overview: I’ll be throwing around ideas and thoughts for tabletop RPGs that I get from computer games -- in this particular article, The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot. (TMQ from here on.)

For those unfamiliar with the title, TMQ is an action RPG/dungeon builder that is currently in development. Those two elements of gameplay are what really make this game ripe for the picking (of RPG ideas) and provide us with the first two ideas to take: dungeon delving and dungeon building.

“We already have those!”, you say? True, many (if not most) RPGs do have those concepts. There is a slight difference here though -- every player in TMQ participates in both parts. The gist of the game is building a dungeon to protect your treasure horde from other players, while also invading the dungeons of other players to raid their coffers. And that leads straight to the central idea to take from it -- each player designs their own dungeon, and they go through all of their rivals’ dungeons. In the case of tabletop, this would most likely be a gaming group’s worth of people -- each designing and running their own dungeon in turn, the rest of the group using their characters to run through them as far or as fast as they can.

That’s all very basic though, isn’t it? Something that gaming groups have had to of tried before. Well, it’s after that general idea that things get a teeny bit more interesting, and the part where the computer game aspects start to come through a bit more.

There are limitations on the dungeon building -- limitations put in place to help keep things reasonable. Now, I know that limitations are often the bane of some tabletop gamers, but in this case it really is for the greater good. The limits here largely deal with the number of monsters you can place within your castle, the density of monster placement, the density of trap placement and the number of rooms allowed. Rooms in this sense being more like geomorphs -- which actually helps immensely with converting that part to tabletop.

Explanations ahead, followed by immediately by the potential tabletop applications and ideas:

Starting with the monsters, the cost works a bit like armies in war games or building encounters in the newer D&D titles. Every monster is worth a set amount of Defense Rating and your dungeon has a hard cap on how much Defense Rating  you can use at a particular time. For the monster density, each monster has a zone around it that merges with other monsters to form an encounter and each encounter has a set maximum Defense Rating that can be placed within it (with the special Boss encounter being a bit higher). While this does put a cap on how big an encounter can be, you have free reign over what you can put in it, so long as it fits within the cap. For TMQ this provides a core for the dungeon building strategy -- making encounters as challenging as possible within the limit.

Bringing the monster rules to the tabletop should be fairly easy, depending on the rules you would use. I mentioned D&D in the previous paragraph and for good reason -- the encounter building rules in that game make it very easy to use with this style of play. Just set a maximum amount of XP for the entire dungeon, along with the maximum XP in any particular encounter and you have most of it already finished. For other rules, such as OSR-type games, you could use things like Hit Dice to set limits. Other limitations that the game tends to place is by applying a level to every monster in the dungeon -- this helps give the dungeon an overall level rating and helps prevent the abuse that might come with throwing in one single, very high level monster that, while fitting the limitations set, would still wreck the players.

Traps have no hard cap on the number you can place. Instead they also have a zone around them that prevents them from being built too close to other traps -- so you cannot stack a bunch of traps to instantly destroy the players. You can, however, place traps and monsters on the same area -- making synergies between the two very useful.

The traps in tabletop tend to be a bit more deadly than in TMQ and, as such, the usage of them might have to be looked at differently from the monsters. It’s perfectly reasonable to use them as they are, just spacing them out a bit more than you usually would. The best means of doing so might would use a certain number of squares/hexes or feet/meters buffers from other traps.

And, lastly, the rooms -- or geomorphs, as mentioned. Each of the dungeons in the game have two particular rooms that must be included -- the entrance and the boss room/treasure room combo -- but the amount of rooms and the types you include can be customized after that.

Rooms are the easiest to rule in -- just have the group create a pool of geomorphs to draw from and set a limit to the number of them that can be used. The actual make-up of the geomorphs can vary depending on taste, but, for reference, TMQ tends to have around one large room or up to three small rooms in one geomorph. Though, the dungeons are deliberately made small in order to encourage faster dungeon runs and to better accommodate the solo hero. Alternatively, you could easily set a total number of squares/hexes, set number of individual rooms, etc.

The last issue to concern ourselves with is that of resources. In TMQ you have two primary resources -- Gold and Life Force. These are what you try to protect in your own dungeon and what you try to steal from other players. Using these resources you upgrade your character and your dungeon.

Once again, there are mechanics here that can be taken nearly whole-cloth to the tabletop. Gold is generally used in the same way that gold is already used in tabletop RPGs -- to buy equipment and potions. It is also used to level your hero up, but leveling up can just be done as normal, per your rules. Life Force is primarily what you use to buy and upgrade monsters. Both of these resources are also used to upgrade various machines and tools within TMQ’s dungeons, but I don’t think that system is terribly necessary to convert to the tabletop.

Anywho, in TMQ you obtain these resources in two ways -- the good old fashioned way of dungeon delving/slaughtering monsters and by having mines in your dungeon that generate them over time. In the second case, I feel a decent conversion would be to have a set number of resources given per session or per rotation of dungeons. For dungeon delving, the resource drop rate off of monsters should be a little random or set in a per encounter manner -- basically like how you might do it in a normal game. The drop rate will probably be the harder part to convert over, though, as the amount should scale to provide for a little bit of improvement in the players’ own dungeons each run, with upgrades for their characters coming once or twice per dungeon rotation. Though all of that should be tweaked for preference -- I’m mostly comparing it to TMQ and trying to replicate it, to then tweak from.

And that about wraps it up, I think. Below you should find a video featuring the game and some commentary to give some visual references to what I mentioned above. I’m still working out the format and functions of this type of article, so please let me know what you think -- critiques and comments are welcome!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bruce Cordell Leaves Wizards of the Coast

courtesy Wikipedia
Over at his blog, Bruce Cordell announced that he was leaving Wizards of the Coast:
It’s with mixed emotions that I announce the end of my 18-year run at Wizards (and TSR before that). I gave my notice last week and will be leaving the company.

This isn’t an easy departure for me, both because of my long history with Wizards, and my recent good luck to be a member on the D&D Next design team. I’m thrilled to have been part of Next, and proud of what we accomplished: a kick-ass set of D&D rules. The team is on track to carry D&D Next to wide success.
 Hired by TSR in 1995, Cordell worked in both game design and fiction, writing adventures, sourcebooks and novels for both TSR and Wizards of the Coast. Outside of novels such as Plague of Spells and City of Torment, Cordell is probably best known for seminal adventures such as Return to the Tomb of Horrors and Die, Vecna, Die (both for AD&D 2nd Editions), as well as for writing (and re-writing) the D&D 3.5 psionics rules (both officially in the Psionics Handbook and Complete Psionnics, and "unofficially" in Malhavoc Press' If Thoughts Could Kill and Hyperconscious supplements).

Hopefully his next work will as inspiring to gamers. We all look forward to seeing what he does next.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Shaintar: Legends Unleashed Preview + Kickstarter

Shaintar: Legends Unleashed is the sequel to Shaintar: Legends Arise and expands upon the previous Savage Worlds content to introduce Heroic and Legendary levels of game play. The Shaintar setting was created by Sean Patrick Fannon and will be published by Evil Beagle Games, with the Kickstarter fulfillment being published by Savage Mojo.

For those that might not know, the world of Shaintar is one of world-spanning conflicts, mysterious ancient magic, and plays for power among elites – both ostensibly and covertly. It is a world ripe for adventures of both small and large scales.

But enough of the introduction stuff – what does Legends Unleashed hold in store for the Veteran Hero looking to advance further? Well, quite a bit.

Legends Unleashed is bringing dozens of new Heroic and Legendary edges including race-specific and plenty of Leadership, Combat and other edges. For the casters out there, High Magic, War Magic and rituals within both will allow you and any fellow magical buddies to weave spells that have truly massive effects – even covering entire battlefields to turn the tides of battle! And there are dozens of these new spells to get your gnarled, magey fingers on.

The game is going to include many new armor and weapon pieces – having played a rogue in Chris’ Swords & Wizardry game for the past year, the arrowhead options caught my eye in particular. I really would have loved to have some of those. Arcfire devices – a sort of magical technology – appear as well, bringing a bit more flavor to the potential equipment you can use. The Arclance reminds me of a staff weapon from the Stargate universe, which means it should provide a pretty good time (on the using end).

And that’s just a brief highlight of what is included in Shaintar: Legends Unleashed. If you are a fan of Shaintar: Legends Arise (which is out already) then be sure to check this title out and continue your adventures. Speaking of checking it out, it’s currently in the final stretch of its Kickstarter campaign!

As of this writing the Kickstarter is sitting at a week left with it’s initial pledge goal already more than doubled. Of the stretch goals given, ten have already been reached, unlocking even more content in the form of guidebooks that go into detail on various realms within Shaintar and other books on some of the more mysterious organizations that exist. (The books in the stretch goals are included for backers at the $45 tier and higher, with higher tiers getting more of them.) In addition to the stretch goals the kickstarter also has separate bonus goals which currently include some bonus content for the slightly higher tiers (starting at the $55 tier and higher).

But, suppose you don’t have quite that much to spend – what’s the minimum buy-in you need to get the book? Well, starting at $15 gets you a PDF copy of the Player’s Guide and at $25 you get a PDF of the full book. As far as I can tell, these lower tiers do not automatically include the books from the stretch goals which most likely will need to be purchased separately or by backing at a higher tier.

If you would like to know more, the kickstarter can be found here:

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Revelations of Jim Steranko

If you're a fan of comics you should know who Jim Steranko is. Even if you aren't a fan of comics, you really should know who Jim Steranko is. Steranko has sort of exploded across Twitter, like a comic creating money shot.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Shadowrun 5: A Preview/Review

Honestly, I had hoped to get this done a few days ago, but the July 4th holiday weekend took a huge bite out of my time to get this PDF read.

The new 5th edition of Shadowrun is (almost) here. You've seen the quickstarts and previews that have surfaced since the Origins con, and now the book is almost here. I am going to predict that Shadowrun 5 is going to be the runaway hit of this year's Gen Con.

Let me start by saying that I have always had a sort of love/hate relationship with Shadowrun. I played it in college a few times, one of the benefits to going to college near Chicago when FASA Games were still in control of the game, and my experiences with it were always mixed.

I love and have always loved the setting of Shadowrun. Yeah, I a fan of cyberpunk I am supposed to be upset by the fact that they mixed elves and magic into my peanut butter, but I just can't get upset by that. The world of Shadowrun has always been the draw for me, rich and vibrant and full of the excitement that makes you want to run a game. In this new edition, that is no different. The world of Shadowrun is still alive, and brought to you with gorgeous art, vivid and well-written vignettes, and clear, precise descriptions of the world. The text does stumble a bit in a few places, only because the "in character" style of writing comes across as forced in places. That style can help set the mood and tone, but if not done well it can be jarring. In this case, there were just a few instances where the in character stuff sounded a bit silly. Context is everything.

There are always pieces of art that don't work, and the art in here is no exception. However, when the art works it is phenomenal in setting the tone and feel. And women in the art wearing sensible footwear? Awesome. I can't imagine going on a 'run in heels (but that might just be me).

This is a huge freaking book at nearly 500 pages. For me, anymore, that is a turn off. I'm personally willing to trade a concise rulebook for getting rid of things like fiction, but for the intended audience this is a good thing. Although I have to admit, there is a little whisper in the back of my head that wishes that they could take these up-to-date mechanics and present their own "clone" version of the first edition book. Wouldn't that be fun? But basically the high page count is only a detriment if you don't like that sort of thing, so I am not going to hold that against them.

The mechanics of the system are clear and well-explained. This is the fifth edition of this game, so that shouldn't be an issue by now (you would hope). Character creation goes through things carefully and slowly, step by step, so that no one gets left behind, or gets confused, during the process. Shadowrun 5 has one of the more clearly written sections on character creation that I have read in a while. This is a big part of the reason why the book has the page count that it does, and frankly if I have to have a big book I would like it to be because the options for character creation are well-presented and well-explained.

I have to admit that reading Shadowrun 5 did something that hasn't happened in a very long time: it makes me want to play Shadowrun. Yeah, I said that. Despite my preferences in gaming systems being for non-dice pool games reading this book did what a game book is supposed made me want to play it. However, for me at least, running/playing a game off of a PDF of this size is just not going to happen. Maybe once the book is available the Dorkland! bloggers can have a try at a game on our livestream.

So, is this game worth the price of admission? I am going to give that a hell, yeah. Even if you don't want to use Shadowrun 5 as-is (and really, what gamer doesn't hack? I'm already seeing a number of new Shadowrun hacks showing up online), this book is definitely worth getting. If you are a Shadowrun fan then I don't need to tell you to pick this up. Regardless, this is a good quality book that has inspiration dripping off of the pages. Fans of mashup settings who haven't tried Shadowrun really should use this edition as the opportunity to get to know the game.

RPG Review: All For Me Grog From Mt. Zion Press

All For Me Grog is a family-friendly pirate-themed storytelling game written by Ryan Shelton and published by Mt. Zion Press. The game aims to provide a simple rules set that will not get in the way of the story building.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Fetish Model and Adult Performer Caroline Pierce: My Life As A Gamer

In the latest My Life As A Gamer, I spoke with Caroline Pierce. For those who don't know, Caroline is a fetish model and award winning adult performer. She's a smart and witty woman who you should be following on The Twitter, if you do those sorts of things. I am also hoping to get the chance to play Call of Cthulhu with her and some of her friends in a few weeks. The picture is courtesy of these nice people.

With what game did you get started down the path of tabletop RPGs? About how old were you when you started?
The D&D red box I got when I was 10? 11? I didn't get to play an actual game of D&D (or maybe by then it was AD&D) until I was in high school.

What are some of your favorite games?
My generalized answer is "the games where the people I'm playing with have a genuine enthusiasm for the game they're playing."  Enthusiasm can be contagious, and people that are a fan of a specific game tend to know the game well and don't mind explaining things like timeline and game play and  rules etc.

Specifically, I really love Deadlands: Hell on Earth. I love the system (original not d20), I dig the setting.

I adore Lovecraft anything, and really enjoy Call of Cthulhu, though I've only played the 1920's setting. Good times. My characters seem to always end up maimed in that game.

I'm still a sucker (no pun intended) for the Old World of Darkness Vampire game. (I mean pen & paper, but yeah, I LARPed 20 years ago, for a few years with a really great group of non drama, laid back people. It was SO fun!)

I enjoyed Exalted. I like the world, I think it's fun and fascinating to play in. Plus you roll TONS of dice.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was darned fun the few times I played it. I like "moving at the speed of plot" in a game setting. No rationalizing that your character shouldn't go do something stupid, because of COURSE they should because that's fun and moves the story along.

What is that one game that you have always wanted to play, but never had the chance?


I've heard about Paranoia from various gaming friends. Both of my regular Las Vegas game groups have mentioned it. It sounds like fun mayhem. I don't know a whole lot about the game itself or the specific game mechanics (death, lots of death, and clones is all I really know about it) but based on my friends' reactions to it when it comes up and the few stories I've heard I want to play it too!

What is the ongoing appeal of tabletop RPGs for you?
Comradery. Using imagination and story telling. Polyhedral dice. Mentally exploring imagined worlds. Being a dork with my friends, and sometimes strangers.

Are you primarily a GM or a Player? Which do you prefer?

I'm a player.  I have the luck of knowing a LOT of gamers, and play with several groups in real life.

In my hometown of Vegas, my main group has several people that GM the various games they know and love (or own and are interested in exploring and learning). If I pick up a game I want to run I'm welcome to run it, but I travel a lot so would be unreliable to GM a weekly game.

My Shadowrun group has a designated GM who's been running SR games for 20 years and has encyclopedic knowledge of the game.

In Los Angeles I'm not around long enough to GM anything more than a one-shot and I haven't done that yet.

Your day job requires acting, how does that help you with getting into or creating characters to play?

It helps me RP conversations (specifically with Mr Johnson in Shadowrun!) I'm fairly good at ad-libbing.

But honestly, I'm the kind of gamer that I don't particularly care what I play as long as I get to play (and the character isn't utterly useless in the game.)  I like to random roll to generate characters if I can.  Backstory and characteristics usually come out of the character creation and the accompanying group of characters.

If you were asked to put together an adaptation of an RPG setting for a movie, what would it be and why?

Oh JEEZ.  In the make-believe world where I could make an RPG into a movie and have it done right. How can a person choose JUST ONE?!

I want to see Shadowrun done as an ongoing television series. Each a stand alone episode but with ongoing story arcs and reoccurring characters. Start in the 2050s. Have flash back episodes that explains important timeline events like when the UGE first showed up, the development to the megacorporations etc. After a few seasons of that then the whole show can get rebooted with the second cataclysm and go into the "current" SR timeline in the 2070s.

I also want to see  Exalted done as an animates series.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Comic Artist Gene Ha: My Life As A Gamer

You may best know artist Gene Ha from his work on the Alan Moore created comic Top 10. That has long been a favorite of mine, and Moore's combination of the police procedural in a super-hero universe with Ha's realistic approach to art is what made me interested. I first "met" Gene Ha years ago on Steve Jackson Game's now closed private forum version of Pyramid Magazine. I also am the proud owner of an signed copy of Top 10 #1 autographed by Ha at an old Chicago Comic Con. We ended up talking about the (then unreleased) GURPS 4th Edition game, much to the chagrin of the artist who was sharing a table with him.

Recently I approached him to answer some questions in one of my Life As A Gamer posts. What follows are the questions, and his answers.

With what game did you get started down the path of tabletop RPGs? About how old were you when you started?
I think I was in third or fourth grade when me and my brothers were introduced to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. We started off with the Blue Box, and quickly began assembling the AD&D books with our allowances. Despite the size of the books, it was wonderful how much it left to the imagination. There were no rules for specific wounds or maneuvers: if someone got a great hit the GM had license to describe the goblin’s head flying across the room. Tabletop roleplaying gaming is a form of improv theater. It’s an exercise to expand the imagination.

What are some of your favorite games?

I have a lot of affection for Twilight 2000. In part because the rules are so loose. Mostly because of how loosely written the adventure modules were. They had almost no stats or maps, but they worked great in play. It taught me how to improvise details once you had a solid plot.

I also love Robin Laws’ Feng Shui. Mathematically it’s a messy rule set, but the gaming advice was brilliant. It took the example I’d learned from Twilight 2000 and turned it into a philosophy. These are lessons I’ve carried into my comics artwork. When you make a script or rough sketches or pencils, always leave room for improvisation at the next stage. Don’t try to define every little detail right away. Future you is at least as creative as present moment you.

I love the idea of Microscope. I’m really eager to try it out some day.

What is the ongoing appeal of tabletop RPGs for you?
It’s exactly the same appeal as going on a road trip with a really geeky pal. It’s talking crazy ideas with my best friends. That’s the heart of it. I’m not a convention gaming guy, I don’t like gaming with a group of strangers. I’m in it more for the company and the resulting ideas than the game itself.

Are you primarily a GM or a Player? Which do you prefer?
I’d love to GM, but to do it really well takes preparation. My friend +Lowell Francis  ( has given me a high standard for table running. He knows the rules backwards and forwards, he’s picked out musical tracks for probable dramatic beats, and he never lets the narrative slow down. It’s glorious to behold.

It’s like grilling a great steak. It looks simple, but I don’t have the time and tools to make a properly dry aged and grilled steak at home, so I leave it to the masters. I’m a player, because my obsessive comics work doesn’t leave room to become great at another hobby.

As an artist, is your approach to gaming different, do you think? Do you create characters/settings from a visual perspective first?

When I was a teenage Dungeon Master my older brother would stop the game if NPC actions or the setting made no sense. This made me appreciate well told minor characters in every media. Every character has their own story and reasons. Buildings are built and adapted to how the people in them live. When I draw I try to think this through. I like to start with a simple visual cue for a character, but how I flesh it out comes from gaming.

If you could work on a comic adaptation of any RPG, what would it be and why?

I’d love to do something like Jared Sorenson's octaNe: premium uNleaded, if not a licensed comic. I suspect he borrowed some ideas from my comic Oktane so I don’t feel guilty with the thought. It’s a game set in a “psychotronic” post-apocalyptic America where Elvis impersonating samurai monkeys cruise the outlaw highways with extraterrestrial luchadores and genetically engineered warrior nuns. If I ever meet Clay Moore I’d love to see if he’d be interested.

If you have one of your comics adapted to an RPG, which would it be and why?

Other than Oktane, my genius GM friend Lowell told me he’d like to run a campaign inspired by Global Frequency using the Hollowpoint rules. That makes me very, very proud.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Kenneth Hite's The Nazi Occult From Osprey Adventures

I'm not sure which came first for me, the Nazi Occultists in Raiders of the Lost Ark, or the ones that were in the early days of Roy Thomas' retro-revival comic set in the (then) World War II Earth-2 continuity of the All-Star Squadron from DC Comics. Regardless of which came first, both of these sources imprinted upon me (and probably countless other geeks of my age) that the Nazi bad guys should be occultists.

Gaming has long followed this idea, with more Nazi Occultist bad guys than you could shake a rune-scribed stick blessed by an Eastern holy man.

If you're a gamer and you do not know who +Kenneth Hite is, you can take a few minutes and go over his Wikipedia page/resume. One of the foremost horror/occult writers in tabletop RPGs, Hite has also been writing a lot of non-fiction over the years as well. The latest in his non-fiction works is for a new imprint of the historical war publishers Osprey that is called Osprey Adventures. Hite's book for this imprint The Nazi Occult combines historical fact and historical speculation to create a history book that isn't a dry or uninteresting read.

To be honest, much of what Hite covers in The Nazi Occult would be considered to probably be the material from bad horror novels...if it wasn't taken from historical facts. In part, that is also what makes this book so scary. Madmen who put so much faith and belief in myths and legends being the truth came so close to nearly controlling Europe during World War II, and a lot of these myths and legends are explained in this book.

On a level, much of what the Nazi Occultists put forward was likely to be little more than propaganda to bolster their scary and extreme viewpoints, but this book also demonstrates just how many people believed the propaganda as truth and thought that the war would be won as much by Germany's magical forces as it would be conventional troups.

The Nazi Occult is a slim volume but packed full of facts, names and information about the occult traditions of Nazi Germany, as well as the time leading up to that. The graphic design is top notch and helps to overcome what could be a blistering wall of text in the book. Hite presents a lot of information in the book in an entertaining manner. The art in the book is a combination of photos of the people involved taken at the time with scans of book and magazine covers and new art that reproduces scenes of what the Nazis thought they were doing, as well as some of Hite's historical speculation.

This is a solid, information-packed book that can be as much use to someone of interest to the period from a historical view, as it would be to a gamer. For a gamer these is a lot of information that is nearly begging to be included in World War II games that deal with the Nazis and their interest in the occult worlds. If you are in either of those two categories, I suggest that you grab a copy of this book from your local book store. You will not be disappointed in it.

Machinations Of The Space Princess Playtests

One of the things that we have been talking about behind the curtain here at the Dorkland! blog is to augment our usual "capsule" reviews (talking about games by reading them) with Hangout-based playtest reviews. Obviously, this isn't something that we are going to be able to do with everything, but when we can do it we would like to provide as many angles as we can.

Recently we played a couple of sessions of +James Desborough's Machinations of the Space Princess game. A couple of the bloggers back the Indigogo campaign, so that got us some early access to the rules. +David Rollins, one of the new bloggers here, ran a couple of sessions of it. We were all excited about the game, many of us being fans of science fiction, and that's what lead us to back, and then play a couple of sessions of the game.

Machinations of the Space Princess, despite calling itself an "old school" game, really owes a lot more to D&D 3.x and D20 Future than it does the Lamentations of the Flame Princess rules that were used as the game's starting off point. That isn't automatically a bad thing, but it did cause us some problems with expectations of the game. All of us have previous experience with Lamentations of the Flame Princess, which actually caused us trouble during play. Those expecting Machinations of the Space Princess to be the result of the equation of Lamentations of the Flame Princess + European science fiction may be disappointed. The game really diverged quickly from its base and took it into directions that were both heavier (from a rules angle) and more confusing in places.

Like I said, it could be that some of our troubles came up from the fact that we were expecting an "old school" game and instead received something different. Not different bad, but just not the game that we thought that we would be getting.

While we had fun with the game, we felt that much of that came more from the group itself than the game. Obviously what we played was a playtest draft, and hopefully there will be some changes made in the final version that is supposed to be out in July.

The parts we enjoyed: 

Character creation was fun. You can make interesting and varied characters with the system. Some of the rules were a bit confusing as to how many options characters received, but we decided on a ruling based on an extrapolation of a couple of the rules. The game went out of its way to support the weird and sleazy style of science fiction in the Heavy Metal/Metal Hurlant vein. There was plenty of support for creating weird alien races for the game. The game did a pretty good job of spelling out what kind of game that it was, and tried its best to support those things.

The parts we didn't enjoy:

The game was fiddly. The game was very fiddly for a gaming touting itself as an "old school" game. There were a lot of moving parts to character creation and combat, and they didn't always work the way that they should have. You can see us having troubles with the combat rules in our playtesting. Being called an "old school" game, our expectations were different from what we got out of the game, and I think how combat worked was a prime example of that. There was also a disconnect to the rules at time, as things were attempted in order to bring "balance" to the game that ended up not making sense in play.

The things that we didn't get to see:

This was a text-only playtest draft of the rules that we used, so we did not get to see the art from +Satine Phoenix, which was an important selling point to many of us in the initial crowdfunding campaign. This isn't a negative against the game. The cover provided, at the time, was a great and evocative piece of art, stylistically idiosyncratic and different from a lot of what you see in games today. Gaming seems to have forgotten its idiosyncratic past in favor of more homogenized experiences. Seeing that style coming back is a good thing.

Once the book is officially released, we may revisit our review of the game.

Superstar Artist Trevor Hairsine Joins Valiant as Exclusive Creator

In advance of the release of Eternal Warrior #1 this September, Valiant is proud to announce that superstar artist Trevor Hairsine has signed on as the publisher's next exclusive artist!
A veteran of 2000 AD and Judge Dredd Megazine, Hairsine made his mainstream comics breakthrough in 2002 as the artist of the acclaimed mini-series Cla$$war. Shortly thereafter, Hairsine moved to Marvel, where was named to the first wave of up-and-coming "Young Guns," alongside Jim Cheung, Olivier Coipel, David Finch, Adi Granov, and Steve McNiven. From 2003 onward, Hairsine penciled several high-profile titles, including Ultimate Six with writer Brian Michael Bendis, X-Men: Deadly Genesis with writer Ed Brubaker, and Ultimate Nightmare with writer Warren Ellis. 
Hairsine made his Valiant debut earlier in early 2013, illustrating the prelude to the best-selling "Planet Death" storyline in X-O Manowar and, at present, is completing an acclaimed four-issue run on Harbinger with co-artist Khari Evans. On September 11th, the newly Valiant-exclusive artist will launch his first ongoing series for Valiant with New York Times best-selling writer Greg Pak in the pages of Eternal Warrior #1.
"I had a blast working on X-O Manowar and Harbinger, and couldn't be more excited about launching Eternal Warrior with Greg Pak," said Hairsine. "Valiant's an incredibly exciting place to be, and I'm looking forward to making great comics with them for some time to come."
"Trevor is one of the premier artists in comics and with good reason," said Valiant Executive Editor Warren Simons. "His work is nothing short of stunning, and, at the helm of Eternal Warrior with Greg Pak, they're readying an absolute monster of a book."
Hitting shops on September 11th, Eternal Warrior #1 is the first issue of all-new ongoing series featuring Valiant's most feared immortal, the Eternal Warrior. Across ten millennia and a thousand battlefields, Gilad Anni-Padda has traversed the darkest, most mysterious corners of history. But the horror and bloodshed of constant warfare has finally taken its toll on the man myth calls the Eternal Warrior…and he has abdicated his duties as the Fist and the Steel of Earth for a quiet life of seclusion. But when a blood vendetta from the distant past suddenly reappears in the modern day, he must decide if he will return to the ways of war…for the child who betrayed him thousands of years ago…
Hairsine joins Eisner Award-winning artist Cary Nord (X-O Manowar, Conan) and New York Times best-selling writer Joshua Dysart (Harbinger Wars, Harbinger) as the next addition to Valiant’s roster of exclusive talent.
For more information on Eternal Warrior, X-O Manowar, and the rest of the Valiant Universe, visit Valiant on Facebook, on Twitter and at


Friday, June 28, 2013

Some of the New Voices

In case you haven't seen any of these panels from the +ConTessa online convention, watch them. I think these will be a good demonstration of why I asked +Stacy Dellorfano and +David Rollins to join me here on Dorkland!

WTF is the OSR:

and the I Hit It With My Axe Reunion panel:
If you haven't seen either of these, they're some great stuff. If you have seen them, watch them again.

And of course +Josh Thompson helped our team go on to victory in the Lamentations of the Flame Princess competitive game:

And of course you can catch me on the panel about online gaming from ConTessa as well:

The New Faces of the Dorkland! Blog

Face Front True Believers!

Today starts a new era for the Dorkland! blog, as it gets closer to its 10th anniversary this September. As I mentioned the other day, three new bloggers are going to join me here on the blog. That should make us three or four times dorkier than previously (math isn't a strong suit around these parts, so we'll take what we get).

This means that Dorkland! is going to be able to expand into new areas of dorkiness beyond my regular interests and cover things that had previously been beyond the scope of just a single writer. There's already been a swell of writers, designers and publishers wanting us to talk about their stuff, and if you want to be in on this just send me an email at christopher <dot> helton at the Gmail and I will connect you with one of our fine bloggers.

Let's meet the new faces of Dorkland!

First off, +Stacy Dellorfano, the creator and organizer of +ConTessa, the online gaming convention lead by women and for everybody. She's a fan of comics and Doctor Who and (this might be the strike against her) the World of Darkness. We try to not hold that last part against her. Stacy is the most experienced in blogging of the new people (despite having done it wrong for so long, according to some), so I am hoping that she brings a unique perspective to the blog because of her being from California.

+Josh Thompson is our blogging wild card. Also hailing from the American South, he likes playing characters that allow him to stay in the hallway while everyone else is embroiled in the fighting. He's a fan of both old and new schools of gaming, and will lead the charge on coverage of the Savage Worlds game for the blog. When not writing for the Dorkland! blog he cosplays as a morning drive disc jockey.

Underneath that smiling exterior, +David Rollins apparently is plotting the downfall of the OSR. At least that's what the YouTube comments say from his panel appearance during the ConTessa convention. David is Canadian and likes maple syrup and real beers. He is a fan of D&D B/X and the Talislanta game. He is here mostly because we can now claim to be an international coalition of bloggers, which is like an Axis of Evil for some.

So, these are the new faces of the Dorkland! blog. They will be joining me in this den of iniquity and pushing their own brands of biased opinions. Over the next couple of weeks you will see their voices joining mine around here as we talk about the geeky, dorky things that get us excited (or piss us off).

Thursday, June 27, 2013


 With the 10th anniversary of the Dorkland! blog just around the corner, there are some changes coming. I will make a formal announcement tomorrow, but the first (and probably BIGGEST) change coming is that I will be adding more bloggers to Dorkland. Starting next week a stalwart brand of three new faces will grace this blog.

The reasons for this are many. After 10 years, I get a lot of requests for interviews, reviews and other considerations by designers, writers and publishers here on the blog, more in fact than one person can handle on their own (even if that person is me). Having more bloggers talking about things here means that more of these things can get addressed. Also having more bloggers means that the scope of the blog can be widened, and things that I might not have normally addressed can get some coverage here on the blog. I am excited and nervous about the change. Since the fall of 2003, Dorkland has been my baby, and has reflected my singular and unique viewpoint of the varied worlds of geekery out there. Now, I am expanding that to include other viewpoints, ones that may not always agree with me. That is a little bit scary. However, I've known these new bloggers for a while, and I think that they are going to bring some excitement and energy along with their perspectives.

Things may be a bit clumsy over the next few weeks, as we get used to each other and working together on things. Regardless, I will work to keep my same standards for the blog. Blogging may not be journalism in my opinion, but I can attempt to try to keep some journalistic standards. While Dorkland may have biases, we will always try to be impartial and talk about things that excite us, and talk to the people who are doing cool stuff and share that stuff with all of you.

We are also in the figuring out stages of stepping into podcasting, in conjunction with the blog. That is probably going to take a little longer, as none of us have ever done podcasting before. I have come close with with the Dorkland! Roundtables (which will continue on an infrequent basis) video blogging, but that still isn't exactly the same thing. There will likely be more video blogging as we all explore the new tools that YouTube is almost constantly unveiling.

Expect a lot of changes and excitement around the blog over the next few months.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Cyberpunk 101: The Anthologies

In a few weeks I am going to be starting up a Cyberpunk 2020 game on G+ Hangouts. In addition to boning up on the rules (I don't think that I have read the Cyberpunk rules in at least 6 years), I decided to dust off some fiction on my bookshelves and reread the source material. Ever since my first paperback copy of William Gibson's Neuromancer, I have been a fan of the genre. I remember getting it to read for my first ever airplane trip, when I went off to college in Indiana. I had read about the book in a Rolling Stone review and knew that I had to read it. The rest was history.

Today, in this post, I am going to talk about fiction anthologies. For me, the stories in these anthologies represent a cross section of Cyberpunk fiction from the orthodoxy (Bruce Sterling's seminal Mirrorshades anthology) to the revelatory (Larry McCaffery's Storming The Reality Studio) to the apocrypha (Peter Lamborn Wilson and Rudy Rucker's Semiotext(E) SF). Between these three books you get an excellent cross section and sampling of Cyberpunk literature, and some of the people who influenced it as well.

Since it is likely to be the one that people are least familiar with, I am going to start by talking about Semiotext(E) SF. Semiotext(E) is an underground publishing house (originally their books were distributed by the anarchist publishing house Automedia) that specialized in cutting edge cultural and political thinking that bleeds out into both fiction and non-fiction. The Semiotext(E) SF anthology looked at the science fiction of the time (a lot of which was Cyberpunk or similar in themes) and put out what they thought was some of the best representations. Assembled by mathematician and science fiction author Rudy Rucker and philosopher Peter Lamborn Wilson, their final product was not unlike Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions, in that it showed a side of science fiction that had teeth to it, unlike much of the commercially available fiction.

Many of Cyberpunk's "usual suspects" are found in this anthology: William Gibson, Rudy Rucker, Bruce Sterling, John Shirley and Lewis Shiner. Other names, like Rachel Pollack, Hakim Bey, Kerry Thornley and Robert Shockley, may not be as recognizable to many science fiction fans, but they were doing some cutting edge work. Early instigators and influences like William Burroughs, J.G. Ballard and Phillip Jose Farmer are also represented in this book.

Storming The Reality Studio is a bit different from the other two anthologies because it was meant to be a college textbook. For me, one of the nice things about this is that it has essays about cyberpunk and postmodern writing in addition to the fiction. For those without an academic bent, those can be skipped, but I think that they help to give a place and relevance to the Cyberpunk literature. This book also has the most non-fiction of the three anthologies, which might not be a selling point for everyone. It also has the usual suspects: Gibson, Rucker, Shirley, Shiner and Sterling. It also has Ballard and Burroughs, and mixes in Thomas Pynchon and Samuel R. Delany. Some of the reasons that I like Storming the Reality Studio is that it excerpts the often ignored Life During Wartime (the title influenced by the Talking Heads song) by Lucius Sheppard and has a (non-Crow) comic by James O'Barr.

The first Cyberpunk anthology, and one of the things that helped to "kickstart" the "movement" was Bruce Sterling's Mirrorshades. I saved this for last because it is likely to be the anthology that people already have. Many of these stories appeared in the issues of OMNI magazine, the Bob Guccione published magazine of science and science fiction. Obviously, the usual suspects are all here. Unlike the other two anthologies, Mirrorshades doesn't try to go wider than the "usual suspects," it was edited by one of them after all. This isn't a criticism. The stories in this anthology are some of the best out there, and for me, Pat Cadigan's Rock On and John Shirley's Freezone are seminal and important Cyberpunk stories. Ironic that they're both about musicians. I'm pretty sure that one (or both) influenced the Rockerboy in Cyberpunk 2020.

Now I will leave you to tracking down copies and reading. There will be a book club about these books (I may be kidding about that). Hopefully this starts a few discussions, now excuse me while I get back to my game prep.

Monday, June 24, 2013


Arduin holds a special place in gaming history. It was one of the early 3rd party "hacks" of D&D, and along with the Perrin Conventions helped to create a "West Coast style" of gaming back then. I have never actually encountered the Arduin materials previously, gaming was just much too regionalized when I was a kid and getting material like this just wasn't much of an option in my neck of the woods.

However, I received a big, heavy package from the nice people at Emperor's Choice today, chock full of Arduin goodness.

It isn't an understatement to say that there is a lot of stuff here. The (systemless) world book alone is over 800 pages of material alone. I know what my bedside reading is going to be for a while now. Check out Emperor's Choice's website (the publishers and owners of Arduin these days) while I digest and get ready to talk about David Hargrave's creations.