Friday, August 31, 2007

Dr. Strange

I watched the new Dr. Strange movie from Lionsgate Studios and the same animation team that brought us the two Ultimate Avengers movies and the Iron Man movie.

Not bad. In fact, probably my favorite of the Marvel animated movies to date. Didn't feel particularly comic bookish; more urban fantasy combined with wuxia or something, but that's OK.

I've also picked up Walking With Dinosaurs, Walking With Prehistoric Beasts and Prehistoric America. I've also recently seen When Dinosaurs Roamed America, Before the Dinosaurs and of course Chased By Dinosaurs which I actually bought.

All of them are very interesting, but at the same time, all of them are disappointing. In most cases, it's because either the CGI, the artistry (or lack thereof) of the CGI models. It's extremely disappointing, for example, to see the Allosaurus fragilis in Walking With Dinosaurs because the skull would have to be grossly swollen and deformed and the jaw would have to be dislocated for that to look accurate. On the other hand, When Dinosaurs Roamed America has fabulous looking allosaurs, but the writing and voice-over narration is almost painfully terrible.

On the other hand, we've got movies like Jurassic Park and King Kong which care little for biological accuracy, yet which have absolutely fabulous looking dinosaurs and other "prehistoric"---or better yet, fanciful---creatures. I guess that's the difference between a blockbuster budget and a BBC/PBS special budget. If I were independently wealthy, I'd love to finance and have some oversight over a really good documentary series chronicling the history of life on earth from the Pre-Cambrian all the way to the extinctions that took place a few thousands years ago with the end of the last glacial maximum.

So, if anyone wants to give me money so I can be independently wealthy and accomplish that... ;)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Running again?

Well, there's a possibility that I'll be running a game here in the very near future.

I don't know how good a possibility it is, but I'm going to throw my hat in the ring, anyway.

Given the group, I think I better stick with D&D (although I'd rather not) and since I've somewhat recently acquired The Pirates' Guide to Freeport (which I better hurry and finish, it seems) I'm thinking of pitching the game as Pirates of the Caribbean done in D&D. I mean real D&D, with dwarves, elves, orcs, wizards, etc. But the setting is very definately pirates.

Anyway, I'm excited. I hope it pans out. I miss running.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Alternate history

Well, I found the list I made of changes. This is still fairly summary form, but it's enough to put together a game, I think. I don't know if I'd still stick with everything here (the moreau's, for instance---do I still care about them?) but otherwise it's still something that intrigues me greatly.
  1. Japan was the first WWII nation to develop the atomic bomb. Their plan was to put it on submarines that would run suicide missions into US harbors. However, the first one developed cracked a leak and detonated in Yokohama harbor, where it was berthed, preparing for the first nuclear attack in the history of the war.
  2. After the launch of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler died in 1943. The new leader of Germany – General Erich von Manstein, a military man and fervent party member, pulled back from the war with Russia and didn’t expend nearly as much resources in the Holocaust as Hitler did in real life. Von Manstein was a shrewd politician with an eye for the long-term survival of the Nazi party, and his decisions, while often criticized by war hawks within Germany, have stood the test of time as decisions that put and kept Germany at the forefront of the world geopolitical map throughout the 20th century.
  3. Following the pullback from Russia, Germany concentrated on the invasion of Great Britain, but found that their blitzkrieg stalled under much stiffer resistance from the Brits (bolstered by Americans) than they had in France. When the Germans had access to the Bomb, they fired one on a V2 which exploded near London in an effort to move forward their stalled blitzkrieg.
  4. By this time, the Americans, with the help of defectors from Germany and their own scientists had successfully tested nuclear bombs and had developed a different delivery method: B1 bombers. Dropping bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki didn’t have quite the same effect, since Japan had already shown that they had bomb capability, and Germany had also already used them. However, the devastation caused by these bombs was so immensely shocking even to those that developed them, that the state of open war came to a de facto end, and treaties limiting the use of atomic weapons (called the Stockholm Accords, because they were signed in neutral Sweden) were drafted by Germany, the US and Japan.
  5. Shortly thereafter, the Soviets were able to develop nuclear technology and became the fourth atomic superpower. Because the Soviets had not signed the Stockholm Accords, this precipitated the arms race which was not terribly different from that which actually happened in our world – each of the four superpowers continuously raised the ante on atomic weapons for the sake of deterrence.
  6. During the late 40s and early 50s, somewhat “hot” action occurred in the Middle East, which became the “Vietnam” styled debacle of Germany, the US and the Soviets as guerrilla warriors kept any superpower from controlling the oil reserves.
  7. Finally, Ahmed Al Rahid, an Arab king, was able to unite many of the Arab tribes under his banner. In a political move, both the US and Japan recognized him as the legitimate ruler of the “Arab Empire,” and Germany and Russia pulled back after seeing the favorable trading agreements that they were able to maintain because of this recognition. The Arab Empire has thus maintained the status quo for nearly sixty years due to their economic shrewdness and dominance of the largest oil reserves on the planet.
  8. With Russian pressure in the west and north and Japanese occupation of much of eastern China, Mao Tse-tung is not able to unite all of China under his banner. In fact, two Chinas eventually form, the Peoples’ Democratic Republic of China in the northeast and Nationalist China. Tibet and possibly even seccesionist Xinjiang remain separate entities unconnected with China in this scenario.
  9. Some other features of the cold war include prolonged tension between Germany and the West over South Africa, German and Russian conflict over Scandinavia, Japanese and Western conflict in Singapore and many South Pacific islands, and Russian and Japanese conflict over Communist China. Despite several attempts by many, especially the Germans, to weaken their position, the US retains tight control over the politics of Latin America.
  10. Both the Germans and the Japanese lead the charge on eugenics programs which leads to the development of – among other things – the moreaus.
  11. Following the incident at Roswell in 1947, the US becomes aware of the gray aliens and that the Germans have been experimenting with extra-terrestrial technology for a few years. Germany is the first to launch satellites in the early 50s, although Japan, Russia and the US all have satellites up before the end of the decade.
  12. In the early sixties, communist Cuba is overthrown after the assassination of Fidel Castro. Although the CIA is suspected, it is never proven. This prompts a crisis with the Soviet Union that very nearly leads to the launch of atomic strikes.
  13. In the 1967 the Germans launch the first successful manned flight to the moon. Oddly, though, none of the superpowers make any attempt to do much of anything with the moon, although US astronauts also land there.
  14. In the very late sixties, the Soviets develop the first psychic agents for the KGB. The Germans also develop occult agents.
  15. In the early years of the 21st century, intelligence suggests that the state of the world is as follows: the Soviets are stretched financially tighter than they can afford, the Japanese are also stretched too thin over overtly hostile territory in the Philippines, Korea and Manchuria. The US is facing restlessness from much of Latin America and the Germans are facing increasing opposition from non-Nazis. There is also some kind of occult threat – the details of which are not known at the present, which seems to be occupying the Germans and threatening to spill out over the rest of the world.
  16. A security agency that is jointly chaired and operated by the CIA, the FBI and the NSA is formed in the 70s called the Paranormal Defense Agency (PDA) specifically to deal with occult and psychic threats. The PCs are all members of this agency having come from law enforcement, intelligence or military backgrounds of some sort, although they may have been analysts, programmers, or any number of more mundane “career paths” and still come under the auspices of the PDA.

Tannhäuser, yo!

I played the boardgame Tannhäuser at GenCon. While the game itself certainly isn't bad (I had a good time) I honestly think that the real strength of that game is the setting and the artwork.

For the uninitiated, the idea essentially is that it's 1949 in an alternate timestream. The Great War (WWI to us) never ended, but dragged on into a semi-Cold war state. The Alliance (US and Brits, I presume) have reverse-engineered crashed alien technology (from Roswell?) to get cool weapons, while the Kaiser's troops have taken to demonology to get their special weapons. Future expansions look to expand into what the Soviets are doing as well.

Freakin' awesome. However, what it really prompted in me was a desire to utilize the material for an RPG. That brought me around to my old attempt at developing an alternate history; in mine, the aesthetic was similar, but I got there a little bit differently. Hitler died earlier, and the Nazi party was taken over by the Wehrmacht, and actual competent leaders. The Germans got the bomb first. Anyway, I'll spill all the details later, but the short version is that the cold war happened with four superpowers rather than two; the US, the Soviets, the Nazis and the Japanese. I also thought about layering in some Hellboy and X-files type occult/alien secret history, so it really does end up being nearly the same.

Anyway, I'll try to post the details of that later today, but in the meantime, here's some images cribbed and cropped from the Tannhäuser site so you can see what I'm talking about.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Monday, August 27, 2007

Ask me about 4e!

For many, the big news of GenCon 2007 was the announcement that Wizards of the Coast will be releasing the 4th edition of their flagship RPG Dungeons & Dragons during the summer of 2008. And yet more than a week has gone by, I've made a good half a dozen posts and I really haven't said anything about it other that a reference in passing.

What gives?

Mostly what gives is that I'm not a huge fan of D&D. Way back when I started this blog and I tossed a few placeholder topics up, one of them was D&D editions through the ages and I never did that, so maybe now is the time.

I first played D&D, like many others, in the late '70s, using the old Basic Rules that came in the red box. It actually didn't take for me right away (I do have a memory of an old friend of mine named Clark who was trying to run a game for me, but all I cared about was playing with his massive collection of Kenner Star Wars action figures.) I did kinda catch on and had my eye on the hobby a little bit later; in the early 80s, still with the Red Boxes and eventually also with the AD&D books. I also discovered things like the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks and even Rolemaster and MERP, Top Secret, Star Frontiers and a ton of older games, mostly by TSR, during these years. However, I left D&D behind before the 80s were over and before the second edition came out. Primarily this was because D&D did not do what I wanted a roleplaying game to do.

Later on, a friend of mine in college and I used to play some old Top Secret S.I. and MegaTraveller, so I kinda got back in the groove with RPGs. I had always kinda sorta had my eye on them even when I wasn't playing, but for some reason I got big into it in college, when I had no time and no money. I still managed to scrape together a fairly decent collection of Werewolf: The Apocalypse books. At the time, the Storyteller conceit appealed to me; that games were more than just going in dungeons and killing things for XP and GP. Looking back at White Wolf now, it all seems so pretentious, but honestly I was probably a pretty pretentious prick back then as well. Not sure that's changed.

In fact, I became almost an anti-D&D advocate. I was a latte set gamer who couldn't be bothered with such low-brow entertainment. All that changed during the summer of 2000 when I quit school, started working, and discovered that a third edition of D&D was about to come out. It did, I bought it, I liked it. It had enough flexibility that I could conceivably take it away from it's roots and play whatever game I liked with it. Wizards then released a Star Wars and a Wheel of Time game using the same basic mechanics, and they were fairly well done. But wait! I said. After all, Star Wars and Wheel of Time use fairly similar conceits to D&D, so it's no surprise that d20 works well for them too. Then WotC produced d20 Call of Cthulhu. I was sold.

From that moment on, I decided that d20 was mutable and modular enough that I could do anything I wanted with d20, and there was no reason for me to look at other systems anymore. My interest in D&D itself actually waned considerably, as the inmistakable "D&Disms" started to annoy me more than ever, but I still maintained (and maintain today) that d20 itself is a flexible enough mechanic that I prefer it to any other still. It's not perfect, but barring the release of a Holy Grail system, which I can't see happening, it does the job. Not only that, it's got so much source material, especially via the OGL and d20 license, that I feel there are tools out there for anything I could imagine.

The only snag here was the release of 3.5. This fell very flat with me; it changed stuff for the sake of change and to get people to upgrade their books when IMO there was no real need. While it did make some improvements, some things it did were worse, and tons of changes were just different for no net benefit or loss, but suddenly stuff we thought we knew we didn't really anymore. All in all, the update was poorly timed, IMO, it came way too early, it wasn't a good upgrade that made it seem exciting, and it felt like a money-grab opportunity to sell more core books. I was not impressed, I only bought the Monster Manual and simply used SRD print offs for other upgrades, and it's part of the reason I turned away from D&D again.

Of course, that brings us to the 4e announcement. As of right now, I don't know how much 4e will differ from 3e. Hints are that there are some fairly massive changes, and hopefully most of them will ease playability, especially at higher level. Things that were clunky or frustrating from d20 as it currently stands will be replaced by streamlined systems. The "sweet spot" will be extended. So all this means, I don't know if 4e will really be compatible with my current d20 stuff or not. Honestly, I'm not terribly intrigued by D&D itself anymore, so I could take it or leave it, but I'm intrigued by these putative improvements to the system. If I can take some ideas that work really well, reverse engineer them into d20 Modern, and release a "hacked" d20 Modern pdf to my players that gives me the best of both worlds, while still maintaining enough compatibility that I can use all my material that I currently have with a minimum of fuss, than that's great.

If I can't, chances are I'm not going to do much beyond picking up the 4e core rulebooks and occasionally playing a game with my group when they're in a D&D mood. Because otherwise, I'm pretty happy with d20 where it is now. Not D&D d20, but d20 as a complete suite of modules that can be layered to create the effect that I want.

So I haven't really talked much about 4e because I'm not that excited about it. I don't think it's the end of the world, because I'm already not playing D&D anymore anyway, so I don't care if it makes putting together a 3e group hard or not. I don't care if it's a massive improvement, because I'd still prefer to play something other than D&D. I'm hopeful that it's got some nifty ideas I can mine to improve my game, but if not, I'm not really at that big of a loss.

Dark•Heritage tidbit

Part of the reason I created this blog was to talk about my ongoing campaign setting that I'm always tinkering with. One of the things that I always wanted to have in Dark•Heritage was zeppelins. Big ole honking dirigibles crossing the desert. I had initially imagined them sorta like the Hindenburg only perhaps covered in a thick coat of light-weight lacquered scales to provide a sort of armor to the ballon portion. But then I saw this picture.

And honestly; isn't that a much better image right there? I kind of Spruce Goose suspended from a gigantic balloon; that's awesome. So there you have it. And to the artist, Steve Thomas; you da man! I didn't see him myself, but apparently he was at GenCon, and reading a GenCon-goers blog, I was pointed to his website. That kind of pulpish old-fashioned sci-fi travel poster is brilliant. And he's got more. At least four in all in that style.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Flower list

Sweet! I was monkeying around in the code for this blog template and found (among other things) the way to take away those ridiculous flowers that the template used for lists. Now my ordered list looks like an ordered list with numbers and stuff, just like it should.

Next post... actual content. I promise!


Well, I'm playing around with some new templates and stuff. Don't mind things if the blog looks different when you check in. I'm trying to find a template that's closest to what I want, then I'll probably see about hand-customizing it in the html code or something.

Anyway, I've got more post GenCon blathering to do still. I haven't even mentioned the big 4th edition announcement yet!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Yet again: More GenCon ramblings

I had an odd thought. I played in Gabe's Saturn game. Planetary Romance. I played in a Mars d20 game written by lizard, which was almost exactly Barsoom really. I played in Sky Galleons of Mars, and although the source material there is technically scientific romance a la Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, that's only at most a hop, skip and a jump from planetary romance, and the game itself really was more plantetary romance than scientific romance anyway. I also spent a reasonably fair amount of the con hanging out with a guy who's username features Barsoom.

Is this an actual trend, or is it just me? I also noticed that lots of pulp inspired stuff is floating around. This is incredibly exciting to me, because frankly I think that vaguely Tolkien-like fantasy is somewhat boring, and worse; since nobody else does it as well as Tolkien, and it compares very poorly as a result.

In any case, although I'm probably not really looking too hard at planetary romance per se, except for one-shots and stuff, my own setting, which I use for both fiction and games both, definately points toward Barsoom as one of the most significant influences and the conceits of Barsoom are the same as what I've used. Layer in some Charles Dickens, H. P. Lovecraft and even Sergio Leone, and have plots that read like modern thrillers a la some of the earlier Robert Ludlum books (back when he was still good) and that's what I call my ideal fantasy setting now. Clearly I'm a huge fan of what planetary romance has brought to the table of fantasy as a whole.

In any case: Gabe, Scott and Alan, who ran my planetary romance games at GenCon--thanks, guys! Great games! Exactly what I was in the mood for, too.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Another post-GenCon ramble 2

Liz's Dangergirl game was awesome. Sadly, I was stuck playing Abbey Chase herself, and not have a good read on what the character was like, I wasn't able to come up with a better schtick other than jumping on enemies and trying to squeeze them to death with her thighs. Kirin totally pwned that game.

Gabe's Saturn game is already legendary. Tony's totally inept Captain was a blast and Travis's "Communications officer" coined the wink and double gun "Hola" routine that's still haunting my dreams to this day.

My Dark•Matter game was largely saved by my incredible cast of characters, because the ending sadly turned anticlimactic when they didn't do what I thought they would. But it was fun because everyone in it was so awesome. Anyway, by the time I ran the second instance of it, I had thought of a better ending that wasn't so dependent on what the players would do, so I think it ran better. Sadly, nobody played Bruce Gamble, out of work B-movie star that time, because I had six instead of seven players. Bruce will be greatly missed.

Sky Galleons of Mars is also legendary. We had freakin' Kevin Kulp for cryin' out loud. Any game he's in is bound to r0xx0rz. And it did. But we also had Matt(hew), Davest, Scott, Jeff, Eridanis (who's real name I forget)---I mean, this was an all-star production. I have no idea what I was doing in that game, because everyone there was so much cooler than me.

Alan's Mars d20 was a blast. I got to be the naked red Martian slave princess. I got to traumatize Corey with my terrible portrayal of Derah Thojis. Sweet. Fun system. lizard is da bomb, once again. Next time I go to GenCon, I think I want to run an Iron Lords of Jupiter game, by the way.

Did I forget to mention Kirin's Kobolds Ate My Baby game? I think I did. Holy crap. Kirin is made of win. That game is another legendary one that people will be referring to for years. barsoomcore's anal bestiality rape death scene is one that'll be remembered for a long time. And it wasn't even the funniest thing that happened.

DINO PIRATES is already legendary even before I get to it. There's a reason it was one of the fastest filling slots around when it opened up. And it lives up to the hype. If nothing else, the absolutely brilliant lava rules will live forever as a work of genius. And I have to admit the description of the main BBEG as "an evil Dejah Thoris" was super hot. Maybe that's why I couldn't actually hit her, failed my will save against her domination attack, and ended up spending the rest of the game as a gigantic gorilla (sans biplane, sadly) trying to kill Rystil Arden's character.

The last game of the Con for me (besides the second instance of Dark•Matter I ran) was the Halfling Musketeer game. Holy crap. Again. Already legendary before I get here, and again; totally lives up to the hype. Fighting gigantic wine bottles was a work of genius, and prompted one of the funnier lines I heard all week: "I am French and you are my natural prey." Or something like that. It was probably better when Matthew said it than me paraphrasing it later.

So yeah; I could totally play and run CM games exclusively. I pretty much did, and I was not in the least disappointed. I would do so again in a heartbeat.

The only thing that was sadly lacking for me was some Cthulhu. I had my d20 Cthulhu book in my bag all week and never even broke it out.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Another post-GenCon ramble

So... I made that ordered list a post or two ago, and it came out as flowers?! I like this skin, because it looks like an old time scroll or something, but that's pretty whack.

I was thinking about writing up a bit more detail about all the games I got to be in, but I'm not going to put that much effort into it, because I'm trying to keep up with post-GenCon craziness at Circvs Maximvs and get caught up with all the stuff that happened at work while I was away. Typing really long involved blog-posts would interfere with either of those goals.

Instead, I'll point you towards the HEX website. I didn't get this book, but I spent a fair amount of time (an hour or two?) looking at Corey's copy, and I went over with Corey to talk to Jeff Combos (President of Exile Games) for about ten minutes, and I'm very thoroughly impressed both by Combos and by the book. They deserve a look-see, and after winning the ENnie for best cover art, they seem to be getting a surge of some much-deserved attention from the RPG market at large.

Congrats, Jeff!

Monday, August 20, 2007

More GenCon ramblings

So, yeah... as I said last time, I just got back from GenCon. There were probably a good two or three dozen or so people that I spent most of my time with while there. Many of them I had been excited about meeting in real life for a long time, and honestly... they lived up to the hype. They were awesome.

Others I hadn't really thought too much about and wouldn't have worried too much about going out of my way to meet, but I see now that I would have totally been missing out. They were awesome.

There were two guys that distinctly didn't like, but yeah... well, we won't go there. I didn't spend too much time with either.

There are two guys of the first group mentioned above that bear singling out and mentioned particularly. One of them is Stuart. Honestly, I think that for several years we irritated each other online more than anything else, but two watershed conversations really changed all that dramatically. The first was about campaign setting design philosophy, where we realized that in some major respects we had the same conceits that are NOT shared by the majority of GMs. The other was about religion, where I found out that his major area of research was Mormon folklore. In any case, after those conversations, the two of us became VERY friendly, I think we developed an incredible amount of respect for each other, and although we still differ about many major issues, I think we recognize at least a bit of a kindred spirit in each other. So I was very happy and gratified to meet and talk to Stuart. We only talked briefly until after the Ennies when I went to his room for an hour or two and we just talked and talked until neither of us could stay awake, and then Sunday he picked up an open slot at the last minute and slipped into my Dark•Matter game. Fun times. Very glad I met him, and even more glad that he wasn't one of the many, many people that I had been really excited to meet, but only ended up greeting and chatting with very briefly before not seeing them again.

The other is Corey. Corey and I have known each other online for a long time now. I'm not even sure how long, although it can't possibly be less than five years and is probably closer to seven or maybe even eight. Unlike with Stuart, Corey and I are in a really bizarre situation in that we apparently have 95% of our brain completely in common. We have the exact same taste about almost everything, and the funny thing is that it's not like we exactly have common tastes that a lot of other people share. So we already knew we were kindred spirits from the get-go. I was really excited to meet him; and especially to just chat about stuff and even more especially to GAME with him. Sadly, I did too little of both, but we did chat a fair amount, we did both play in the Kobolds game, the Mars d20 game, and I was also in one of his DINO-PIRATES games (he assures me that it must always be capitalized.) Part of the 5% in which we differ is that he is much more charming, polite and friendly than I am, though. He was a true delight to hang around with. I'm disappointed that of all the chatting we did do, we didn't get to talk more about gaming itself, though, which given the venue in which we met is kinda strange now that I think about it.

The funny thing about Stuart and Corey is that both are former Vancouverites who have both decamped to Toronto in just that last few years or so. The other funny thing about that is that I live only about 4-5 hours from Toronto. The other funny thing about that is that apparently I'm too stupid to have arranged some way to meet them before GenCon when it should have been relatively easy to do so.

GenCon 2007

Well, I'll have more to say about this in subsequent postings, no doubt, but for now, let me just recap the games I was in. All 11 of them.

  1. Powergrid
  2. Mutants & Masterminds Dangergirl's save DisneyWorld
  3. Under Saturns Rings--planetary romance with True20
  4. Dark•Matter d20 "Exit 23" (I ran this one)
  5. Kobolds Ate My Baby with like 15 people
  6. Sky Galleons of Mars (not the old tactical minis game, but a d20 Modern RPG using the same setting)
  7. Mars d20---lizard's magnum opus
  8. DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND, which we learned must always be written in all caps
  9. Tannhäuser--a bit frustrating as a tactical game at times (I really don't like the random turn order) but what a beautiful game and what a great setting!
  10. Halfling Musketeers
  11. Dark•Matter d20 "Exit 23" #2

Monday, August 13, 2007


As anyone who's paid even a remote degree of attention to my campaign setting knows, I incorporate a fair bit of "advanced" technology, at least from a fantasy norm standpoint, and much of that is steam-powered. In addition, I do have a rather dark, dystopian view of society in this setting. This raises the question amongst many that my setting is a "steampunk" setting.

What is steampunk, exactly? I ask this, because I just got in an argument with some guy who claims that Eberron is steampunk. When I asked him to tell me even one element of the setting that was steampunk, he couldn't do it, and instead just did a quick Google search to show that he wasn't the only one who thought so, and that he was in fact just parroting back what he had heard somewhere. So while I came to the conclusion that he either simply didn't know what he was talking about, or is using a definition for steampunk that is completely meaningless to me, he did raise the question in my mind: what exactly is steampunk, and what are some examples of it?

I think that's more problematic than it sounds, on the face of it. Coming up with a definition isn't difficult; it's clearly an outgrowth of cyberpunk, and like cyberpunk, it has to deal with a certain theme of rebellion against impersonal dystopian societies. That's the -punk equation in steampunk; the first part of the word is of course that it uses steam-based technology.

However, I think the word has accreted additional usage to the point where few people even recognize this confined definition anymore. Basically, the -punk addage is forgotten. If it has steam-powered technology, particularly bizarre steam-powered technology a la the scientific romances of Jules Vernes or H. G. Wells, then it's steampunk.

In the case of Eberron it has neither steam nor punk, and the elements that some folks use mark Eberron has "having some steampunk flavor" whatever that means, could just as easily be used to claim that Peter Pan or Pinocchio are steampunk stories. I remain thoroughly unconvinced. However, true, "pure" steampunk remains an elusive entity. A few works, such as The Difference Engine or Steamboy are obviously clear, but others like Perdido Street Station or Iron Kingdoms use some trappings of steampunk but incorporate other elements just as much.

My own setting uses "steampunk" elements, but no more so than it uses Sergio Leone elements, Edgar Rice Burroughs elements, H. P. Lovecraft elements or Robert Ludlum elements. And I think that's what steampunk has become; a patina or template that can be applied to any other work and give it a "steampunk aesthetic" without actually fundamentally altering the work from whatever subgenre it already belongs to.

Not that I worry too much about subgenres--for my setting, I'm perfectly happy to reclaim the old umbrella term "Weird Tale" and have done with it.

In any case, not that I've been a faithful blogger, but I will be at GenCon most of the rest of this week, so I won't be making posts. But hopefully I'll have quite a bit to report on when I'm back. I've got at least seven games fairly well confirmed, including three planetary romance games, two Dark•Matter games (that I'm rumming), a Dino-Pirates of Ninja Island game, and another swashbuckling D&D game too. I'm hoping to also work some Blood Bowl into the week somewhere, and maybe one or two other pick-up impromptu games here and there.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

From the review above:

"The only fantasy novel from an author not known for his subtlety, this bizarre, witty, elegant little gem is an odd tale with an odd history. That we have the story at all is amazing, since Lovecraft wrote it for his own amusement and never submitted it to any publisher, refused to circulate it among his friends (contrary to his normal practice), and did not even bother to type it; it was not published until years after his death. Written in deliberate imitation of another author (the inimitable Lord Dunsany), it is nonetheless distinctly, even quintessentially Lovecraftian. It never mentions Cthulhu, yet paradoxically it's fair to say it's the best Cthulhu Mythos novel ever published.

Lovecraft himself -- a pulp horror writer who ironically earned his living as a ghost writer -- is mainly remembered today for his creation of the Cthulhu Mythos, an idea for an open-ended shared universe which continues in popularity today, a good seventy-five years and more since it first took form. As a horror writer, he suffered the major handicap that none of his stories are actually frightening. However promising an idea might sound in the abstract, any tension is sabotaged by his deliberately quaint style (marked by overuse of a few favorite words, such as "foetor" and "eldritch" and a tendency to end the last line of his story in italics),[3] an assumption the readers share his phobias (about foreigners and anything that lives in the sea), and the ease with which his all-powerful fiends are defeated (Wilbur Whateley, the precocious half-human half-alien who plans to open the way for his alien kin to swarm into the world and eliminate mankind, is killed by a dog while sneaking into a library; Great Cthulhu himself, a godlike being whose advent will usher in the End Times, is sent packing by being rammed with a yacht). But read as fantasy, his stories have more appeal, especially the idea of a secret history (which strikes a cord in these paranoid, conspiracy-theory-ridden times) and another world that underlies our own and occasionally threatens to flood over into it -- in his horror or science-fiction/horror stories, always with tragic consequences; in his fantasies, with moving poignance. ... [H]e wrote a series of otherworldly fantasy stories that mark the unappreciated high point of his literary achievement. Fans of his horror tend to disparage his fantasy because it is so very different from his other work; fans of fantasy rarely discover it because they only know of him through his reputation as an eccentric hack. Only relatively few have discovered its merits on their own, making the Dream-Quest paradoxically a seldom-read classic by a much-read author."

If you haven't read the Dream-Quest, and you consider yourself a fan of fantasy, you are missing out. It truly is one of the best---and one of my favorite---fantasy stories of all time. And I quoted that section from the review above because I agree with it completely and it reflects my own views perfectly.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Planet of Peril

I just finished reading Otis Adelbert Kline's Planet of Peril. Some few of you readers (if any) may possibly remember me talking about Otis and his work some two years ago, when I read his two Mars books. Essentially, he was a contemporary and less-skilled imitator of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and his Venus series (to which this book belongs) was his first foray into planetary romance.

It was OK. Like I said, OAK was not as skilled a writer as ERB. Plots seem to unroll with remarkable swiftness in OAK books, and his characters seem occasionally to be bizarre.

Nonetheless, it was fun to read this. I've got access through Project Gutenberg to the other two Venus books by OAK, so I'll probably go ahead and finish them while I'm at it.

And I might even dig around in my basement and find my Lin Carter Callisto books. Honestly, as much as I thought Lin Carter was a talentless hack, I have to admit that his planetary romance in the form of the Callisto books seem to be the best expression of the subgenre other than ERB himself.