Thursday, March 27, 2008


Well, according to my definitions, anyway, there are about six bands "of some consequence" that count as Depeche Mode imitators. Of course, there's lots more than that, but I'm talking about bands "of some consequence"---meaning bands that either had a few minor hits during the late 80s or early 90s, or went on to become prolific leaders of the synthpop scene after it's nosedive to the underground. Cause & Effect, Camouflage, Red Flag and Seven Red Seven count as the former, and Mesh, De/Vision and also Camouflage and Red Flag count as the latter.

I've got the first CD's of each of those six on my mp3 player right now, and I've gone through them a few times now whilst commuting. Here's a few observations:
  • Cause & Effect is the weakest of the bunch. While they have some great songs ("The Echoing Green," "Another Minute," and "You Think You Know Her") the rest of the songs feel like filler, and the schtick of being "the Depeche Mode imitators who were English majors in college and make literary references here and there" is a weak schtick.
  • Camouflage and Seven Red Seven both have songs ("They Catch Secrets" and "Everybody Lies" respectively) that sound like they're trying to be their answer to Depeche Mode's "Blasphemous Rumours." They're not as good, of course, but they do well enough at capturing some of the same morose atmosphere.
  • Red Flag and Mesh both seem to be more dance oriented than the others. Oh; I didn't use Mesh's actual first CD, which would have been Fragile; I used Original '91-'93 which was released later but which were the first recorded songs. In general, where the groups do straight up club songs, they seem more successful; they're slower songs are not as good. With some few exceptions.
  • Camouflage and De/Vision both have pretty thick German accents and occasional bad grammer. Camouflage cleaned that up fairly well in more recent releases, but De/Vision still suffers from that today.
  • They all have slightly different twists on the "I sound like Depeche Mode" theme; Red Flag is more hardcore club oriented, Camouflage (at least on their first CD) gets a nice melancholy, dreamlike quality to most of their songs, Seven Red Seven has a trance and house mixture with a lot of vocal samples, etc.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


My wife just wrote this tribute to our oldest son, Spencer. Check it out! I like it.

I happened to have "The Luckiest" by Ben Folds (formerly of Ben Folds Five.) Made me cry.


Here's a few lists. First, "official" third edition (including 3.5) Dungeons & Dragons products that I own.

Third Edition
  • Player's Handbook
  • Dungeonmaster's Guide
  • Monster Manual
  • Monster Manual II
  • Fiend Folio
  • Tome and Blood
  • Sword and Fist
  • Defenders of the Faith
  • Races of Destiny
  • Frostburn
  • Draconomicon
  • Lords of Madness
  • Fiendish Codex I
  • Fiendish Codex II
  • Elder Evils
  • Manual of the Planes
  • Deities & Demigods
  • Epic Level Handbook
  • Book of Vile Darkness
  • Savage Species
  • Unearthed Arcana
  • Dungeonmaster's Guide II
  • Psionic Handbook
  • Eberron
  • Sharn: City of Towers
  • Races of Eberron
  • Monster Manual 3.5

Wizards of the Coast non-D&D RPG Products

  • Star Wars
  • Star Wars Revised
  • Alien Anthology
  • Call of Cthulhu
  • d20 Modern
  • d20 Past
  • Urban Arcana

D&D Products to Buy:

  • Complete Warrior
  • Complete Arcane
  • Complete Divine
  • Complete Adventurer
  • Complete Psionic
  • Complete Mage
  • Complete Scoundrel
  • Complete Champion
  • Races of Stone
  • Races of the Wild
  • Races of the Dragon
  • Sandstorm
  • Stormwrack
  • Cityscape
  • Dungeonscape
  • Monster Manual III
  • Monster Manual IV
  • Monster Manual V
  • Libris Mortis
  • Drow of the Underdark
  • Fane of the Drow
  • Hellspike Prison
  • Fields of Ruin
  • Dragondown Grotto
  • The Frostfell Rift
  • City of Peril
  • Ghostwalk
  • Miniatures Handbook
  • Book of Exalted Deeds
  • Expanded Psionics Handbook
  • Planar Handbook
  • Heroes of Battle
  • Heroes of Horror
  • Magic of Incarnum
  • Spell Compendium
  • Weapons of Legacy
  • Tome of Magic
  • Player's Handbook II
  • Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords
  • Dragon Magic
  • Magic Item Compenium
  • Player's Handbook 3.5
  • Dungeonmaster's Guide 3.5

Note: this includes a lot of products which I've prioritized very low.

Forgotten Realms Products to buy:

  • Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting
  • Player's Guide to Faerûn
  • Races of Faerûn
  • Power of Faerûn
  • Faiths and Pantheons
  • City of Splendors: Waterdeep
  • Lost Empires of Faerûn
  • Mysteries of the Moonsea
  • Serpent Kingdoms
  • Shining South
  • Silver Marches
  • Unapproachable East
  • Underdark
  • Lords of Darkness
  • Champions of Valor
  • Champions of Ruin
  • Magic of Faerûn
  • Dragons of Faerûn

Eberron Products to Buy:

  • Five Nations
  • Explorer's Handbook
  • Magic of Eberron
  • Player's Guide to Eberron
  • Secrets of Xen'drik
  • Faiths of Eberron
  • Dragonmarked
  • The Forge of War
  • Secrets of Sarlona
  • Dragons of Eberron
  • City of Stormreach

Non-D&D WotC products to Buy:

  • Star Wars SAGA edition
  • d20 Future
  • d20 Apocalypse
  • d20 Cyberscape
  • d20 Menace Manual
  • d20 Dark•Matter
  • d20 Future Tech

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Music and Fantasy

I replaced most of the Depeche Mode that I've had on my mp3 player for the last month or two with some late 80s rather blatant Depeche Mode imitators. Specifically I put the first CD's of Camouflage, Cause & Effect, Red Flag and Seven Red Seven. For Cause & Effect, I even have the older, indie-release original version, not the repackaged and rereleased version that is more common. Woot! Bought that years and years ago at a used CD store in my old college town.

I also left DM's Music for the Masses on my mp3 player, because its interesting to hear it interspersed with the obvious imitators. None of them are as good, which isn't terribly surprising, but they all have their strengths and charms. Camouflage in particular needed some help with their enunciation and English translations, but I like the kinda of slower, wistful dream-like melancholy of the album as a whole (even with dance hit "The Great Commandment" this overall mood isn't broken.) Cause & Effect had a similar mood, although slightly less pervasive. In retrospect, they strike me as the least polished of the bunch. Red Flag cares less for mood and concentrates more on making straight-up club tracks, although they do have a couple of strikingly beautiful piano tracks, including one piano only instrumental. Seven Red Seven phases in some techno influences and has more overt samples.

Once I get past this run, I'll probably pick up my long-deferred De/Vision and Mesh retrospectives, listening to their entire collections. Mesh and De/Vision are interesting in relation to the earlier Depeche Mode imitators as they formed (or at least broke into the industry) just a little bit too late to actually achieve any significant mainstream commercial success with their work, but went on to become long-running stars of the 90s and beyond indie-synthpop movement. Qualitatively, other than their timing, there's not much to distinguish early Mesh and De/Vision from early Red Flag, Cause & Effect, Seven Red Seven or Camouflage; all six groups were more or less successful by imitating the "classic" Depeche Mode sound, with a twist or two of their own.

Now; fantasy. Recently (maybe because of seeing 10,000 B.C.) I've become interested in Sword & Sandal epics and some Greek historical documentaries (including Michael Wood's Trojan War and Alexander the Great themed programmes) and that naturally leads me to Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age. I really like the idea of there being a "lost" age in the prehistory of the world; Howard actually posited two: the Hyborian Age of Conan and the earlier Thurian Age of Kull. Of course, it becomes much more difficult to explain how any such lost age could exist within the parameters of today's science, but you've got to remember that when Howard wrote, the theory of Plate Tectonics was still thirty years or so from being formulated, and Howard blithely speaking of antediluvian ages and cataclysmic re-arranging of the earth's surface. Sadly, in order to do so now, you have to pretend you don't know anything about actual science and utilize some pseudo-science ideas, like Graham Hancock's theories of ice age high civilization, a 12,500 year old sphinx at Giza, and creationist ideas like catastrophic plate tectonics, which are apologia intended to reconcile science with Genesis.

Not that I have any problem with doing so, if I ever want to create such a setting, and honestly, I'm really feeling the attraction of it. Although 10,000 B.C. was otherwise a pretty mediocre movie, I've gotta give it credit for bringing out the desire for some very classic sword & sorcery in me.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Ernest Gary Gygax, the person most responsible for the creation and disemination of the Dungeons & Dragons game passed away yesterday. He was just shy of 70 years old, had been in poor health for the last few years (especially after suffering a stroke) and is survived by several children and grandchildren.

Although I do take the odd moment to bash the conventions of D&D itself, and I strongly dislike the "Gygaxian" paradigm of how a game should be run, without Gary, there wouldn't even be a hobby at all. I can't fault him for coming up with a game that isn't exactly to my tastes; he came from a wargaming background, and the game did too, and his love of early pulp writers of science fiction and fantasy is very obviously an influence on the game. Gaming as a hobby has evolved---often in many competing directions at once---so that D&D and the D&D ingrained paradigm is never my first choice anymore.

That said, everything I've ever heard about Gary paints him in a good light. He was a nice guy, patient and attentive, well-read and literate, pious and devout, firm and unmoving in his opinions while still respecting those who differed with him... all in all a true gentleman in every sense of the word.

While I did not know him or interact with him personally, I know plenty of people who did and I feel saddened by his passing.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


I just watched Where Eagles Dare in preparation for bringing it up to a friend here at work so he could borrow it. I had the strange thought while watching it that in some ways, I miss that Germany. I mean, in no way am I disputing that the Third Reich was evil, terrible and otherwise extremely undesireable, or that we weren't right to bring the war to them. But since then, Germany has been completely... I mean, it's hard to even respect Germany these days.

So, I went and looked up some Harry Turtledove and other alternate history stuff. One of my favorite alternate history conceits is that there's still a Nazi Reich in Europe in the present day. Harry Turtledove's Southern Victory series may have had an even better idea; in that one, since the CSA managed to not be defeated in the American Civil War, and was traditionally allied with Britain and France, the USA was allied with the "Second Reich", i.e. the Prussian based Kaiser-helmed Germany that fought in WWI. Without the US support, the Etente powers actually didn't defeat Germany in this scenario. The series goes too far, in my opinion, with recreating the Nazi ideology and experience very specifically on CSA soil. That strains credibility. But the idea of Kaiserreich surviving to the present day is intriguing.

The board game Tannhäuser, which I've discussed here before, also has a Reich that is an extension of the Kaiserreich, not a Nazi Third Reich (although the imagery is very Nazi themed regardless.)

One of these days, I'd really like to do something with some of this alternate history. I remember posting a fairly detailed alternate history setting that I had come up with several months ago here, but honestly, I think I now like the idea of an extended Kaiserreich better than an extended Third Reich. It opens up at least a little ambiguity. Nazis are so obviously and culturally ingrained in our culture as evil that it makes the setting simplistic; but if it's the Kaiser's troops... are they the bad guys? Suddenly it's not so clear.