Monday, January 28, 2008

I'm running!

D&D, that is. After a bit of debate, we decided that our next campaign will be mine. Then we finished Kevin's Age of Worms.

Rather anticlimactically (a fact that even he gladly admitted, but he thought it better to play it "as written" rather than adjust it for dramatic impact. I'm glad I can now say that I've honestly played a campaign from 1st to 22nd level, but I can also honestly say I hope I don't do it again any time soon. I'm definately suffering from Long Campaign Fatigue Syndrome.

My game will be quite a bit shorter. I'm purposefully giving D&D a bit of a Cthulhu-like vibe, but I'm also going to purposefully try to pump up the swashbuckling vibe. I guess horror and swashbuckling together is a bit more The Mummy or Pirates of the Caribbean or even Van Helsing than it is Cthulhu, but I also have some rather overt Cthulhu references. More as an in-joke than anything else, though. A country (centered on a plateau) called Leng, for instance, or a horrible island chain called Rilyeh. A city called Carcosa. A nasty, northern country called Kadath.

The real challenge is trying to find something that works in D&D, but gives the same vibe as something like The Necronomicon, Nameless Cults, The Book of Eibon, or other obvious Cthulhu horrible tomes. Still working on that, as well as exactly how to use them.

I think there will be three main threats, and the PCs will have to choose which to address. If they're really lucky, they'll be able to address two of the three; more likely only one. Otherwise, they'll have to let the other one play out and live with the consequences of the threat they couldn't stop. Mwahahaha!


Saw Cloverfield this weekend.

I don't know how much Julie liked it, but she at least admits that it was interesting. I thought the same thing. I guess in some ways I was turned off by the unconventional storytelling techniques. I'm not a huge fan of constant hand-held cams, and would have a preferred a more traditionally shot movie, honestly. I'm not that thrilled with telling the story of a few normal New Yorkers to the point that there's literally no explanation for where the monster came from.

Other than that, I liked it. I guess maybe if they had done more of that, we would have ended up with yet another Matthew Broderick Godzilla. Which maybe I'm crazy, because nobody else seems to think so, but I think that's a sadly under-rated movie. It really isn't that bad. I kinda like it in a bad movie kinda way, the same way I like Van Helsing for instance. I can recognize that it's a far cry from brilliant while still enjoying it nonetheless.

Not only that, I'm probably the only person you'll ever hear of who wished the Cloverfield could have been more like Godzilla, even in a minor way.

Barring that, I wish it could have been more explicitly Cthulhu-esque, as early rumors had it.

Earlier Depeche Mode

Well, I added Speak and Spell, A Broken Frame and Construction Time Again to my mp3 player, while keeping Some Great Reward, Black Celebration and Music For the Masses, so I've got pretty much all of Depeche Mode's 80's output together and in order (technically I think the early singles for Violator were out in fall of 1989, but I consider that a part of the early 90s, and a different phase of Depeche Mode's evolution anyway.

This now covers three of the stages that I identify: 1) the Vince Clark penned, happy-go-lucky pop music, 2) the transitional, socially conscious Martin Gore efforts (including a period where he still penned a few songs that deliberately sounded sorta like Vince Clark songs) and 3) the darker, personal depression bits of the last three albums I had mentioned. Of course, elements of the styles blend together somewhat; it's a continuous evolution, not one marked by sudden breaks (well, except for Vince Clark leaving the band after Speak and Spell obviously.)

It's fun to hear all six of those albums back to back and watch (listen to?) the evolution of Depeche Mode. I can see why the band themselves now thinks much of their early output is cheesy and they don't like to play it; much of it is pretty cheesy. Then again, they don't do a concert but that they end with "Just Can't Get Enough" and "Everything Counts" and they haven't for years. I guess they can still mine from the early material where it's justified.

Too bad they have such a negative opinion of other classics like "People Are People" these days, though. I mean; c'mon. That song was a major hit.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn!

On a whim I recently reread three classic H. P. Lovecraft stories, Call of Cthulhu, The Dunwich Horror and The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Granted, these aren't my favorite Lovecraft stories (those would be The DreamQuest of Unknown Kadath, At the Mountains of Madness and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward) but they are considered three of the foundations of the entire Cthulhu Mythos idea.

Rereading those three stories cemented in me the idea that Lovecraft has some good ideas from time to time... but he was a singularly untalented writer. His prose is belabored and clunky, his dialogue is terrible, his characters are wooden and flat, and there's little tension in them. His "nameless horrors" are an example of "extreme cop-out"---more horrible than words can describe being a phrase he paraphrases frequently.

Still, for some reason that I can't quite explain, I keep turning back to Lovecraft. What is it that draws me back to stories that always leave me unsatisfied; that make me say, "boy I wish someone else would run with this idea" or even "I wish someone else would insert a different idea in this story?"

I don't know. But now I'm tempted to turn to The Colour Out of Space or even The Whisperer in Darkness even so...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The joys of coloring books

Sometime around 1980, when I was still a wee tyke of just under the age of ten, my father discovered a little specialist curio toy store. Our big purchase there was a series of "castle blocks" vaguely LEGO-like toys made by some European company that really only allowed you to build castles. They were pretty cool. To this day, I've seen my grown brothers whip them out and construct something if my kids are around. It's still fun.

However, that store contributed more meaningfully to me via two oversized coloring books on solid poster-like paper published by Troubador Press. The first one was the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Coloring Album.

I was vaguely familiar with the game, having kinda sorta played a session or two with a friend of mine, but honestly it wasn't until I got this coloring book that the idea really clicked with me. Thanks to this coloring book, I also came up with a workable model for drawing dragons, a hobby that consumed me for many years as I sat bored in my elementary school and middle school classes.

The other book was Tales of Fantasy, so similarly themed. It started off talking about mythological characters and locations: Atlantis, Merlin, Siegfried, Odysseus, but thanks to this book I was also introduced for the first time to Robert E. Howard, J. R. R. Tolkien, H. P. Lovecraft, Lord Dunsany and more, as well as becoming much more familiar with Lewis Carroll, Frank Baum, Edgar Allen Poe, etc. In some ways, my subsequent complete migration to fantasy as my genre poison of choice can be directly attributed to these two brilliant books.

Sadly, I colored all over my copies (I was pretty young, after all, and the idea that I'd one day wish I had these as collectibles hadn't even occured to me), read them until they fell apart and then threw them out. Turns out that these books now go for quite a bit of money on the used market, and this for copies that are in less than stellar condition. Still, if you have a hankering for that kind of thing, I can't recommend them enough. Here's a picture I nabbed from an ebay auction of the front and back covers:

Friday, January 18, 2008


Now that you mention it, Bob, I do have a topic that I'd like to at least have thought about before we meet, so we don't have to spend too much time talking about it. What do we do once this campaign is over this next weekend?

I'll go ahead and throw my proposal out there for what to do when this campaign ends next week. It looks like John won't be ready for a few months, and honestly I think a few smaller "mini-campaigns" before we dive into another 1st-20th marathon would be a good thing.

Here's my proposal; I could run a small mini-campaign using D&D rules, starting at 3rd level and probably getting to about 6th level; I anticipate that the game would run 6-10 sessions before being done. My goal would be to combine heroic, swashbuckling action with horror---sorta the same vibe as The Mummy or the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Like those movies, however, the end threat can't be simply defeated in combat---you'll need to uncover the ritual or secret weapon, or whatever it is that will allow you to defeat a foe much greater than your capabilities---turn the mummy or the pirates back into mortals, as it were.

I'd be pretty wide open on rules available (pretty much like Kevin was---anything from WotC would be fair game, and I'd probably accept anything else too if you really wanted to use it.) I've held off hammering out too many details until (if!) we decide we want to go down this route, to prevent me from doing a lot of work that won't get used, but we can discuss it some more next weekend if the group is interested.

The advantage (in my opinion) of this campaign is that it isn't very long; with any luck we'll still have time for another small campaign of some sorts as well before we start a major campaign like Shackled City, or whatever it is we decide to do after that.

--- In, Bob wrote:

> PS If you feel like you have a topic that you would like to save for discussion at our next session.....why not try to air it here?


Well, today's the day. I'm going to compose and send an email to my gaming group making my proposal for a campaign. I've decided that it's time. I think it'll go over well, but I need to be careful how I compose it to make sure that it doesn't sound like the kind of thing that some of the players won't like; I honestly don't think the idea is, but I don't want to give that impression either.

Wish me luck!

I also flipped through a copy of Elder Evils, a Wizards of the Coast book by Rob Schwalb which is basically about how to turn your D&D campaign into a Call of Cthulhu campaign. Given that that's pretty much always my goal, I decided I needed this book. However, I'm going to have to wait to pick it up for a few weeks; but in the meantime I've flipped through the d20 Call of Cthulhu book again for inspiration. Circvs Maximvs is down right now, but otherwise I'd be creating a d20 CoC character for a new Pbp game that Creamsteak is going to run. I'm excited; I always have loved CoC. I'm still fairly disappointed that it looks unlikely that Bob will be able to run his CoC stuff as long as Matt is in the group, because he seems actively interested in avoiding that game, but there you have it.

Since I don't have Elder Evils (and because I've got plenty of material anyway) I'm trying to decide what the "Cthulhu" monster needs to be for my D&D campaign proposal. Maybe I could wait until we decide for sure that my game is going to be on, but I'd rather have some ideas ready, frankly---since I don't think Matt really wants to run his "D&D Star Wars" if he can play something else, I don't think we're ready for John's mega-campaign (nor is he ready until he passes the bar, presumably in a couple of months) and Bob's game looks like it will stall due to the divisiveness of the concept in our particular group. I keep forgetting about Franz' suggestion, but honestly given his schedule, I don't think any of us are thinking that it'll really get off the ground anyway. I might log on later and write some stream of thought rambly notes on potential antagonists. I'm thinking the new Demon Lord Dagon might be a good one; he's been obviously heavily modeled by James Jacobs on the Dagon of H. P. Lovecraft, melded with the standard D&D conventions of a demon lord. I think some fantasy Innesmouth would be fun too. We'll see, though.

Also; three day weekend coming up; I'll be going to the Ann Arbor University of Michigan Museum of Natural History with Julie and the kids this Monday. That museum is most notable (at least in my opinion) for the large full skeleton of an Allosaurus fragilis that they have mounted, although it's otherwise still a cool museum with a nifty planetarium and a rather extensive collection of stuffed Michigan wildlife. It occurs to me that adding Allosaurus fragilis to just about anything improves it greatly. Now if I can just figure out how to add dinosaurs to my game above, I'll be all set!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Music again

I've had Black Celebration, Music for the Masses and Some Great Reward on my mp3 player for some time now and this weekend I'll probably change them out. Wondering what to get here next, actually. I kinda wanted to go through all of Depeche Mode's releases in chunks. The latest three releases I never really got to listen to as much as I'd have liked, so I could use some refresher there anyway, but with the exception of Playing the Angel I remember being disappointed in them anyway. I think I'll go further back in time, actually. Since I just did albums #4, 5 and 6, I should do #1, 2 and 3 next.

But I'm also considering jumping to De/vision. I shouldn't; I should stick to my plan first.

It used to be that I'd listen to music all the time while doing other things. Now, I only listen to music while doing other things, and I do it much less frequently. It used to be that I'd listen to music and really focus on it; now even when I try that my mind wanders and the next thing I realize, I've lost track of what song I'm even on, much less not heard much of the detail of the music.

*sigh* Julie says sometimes that somewhere deep down I actually still want to be a bachelor. I think she may have a point. I just don't have time to do all the things I want to anymore, and I think there's some part of me that can't quite let go of that desire.

Monday, January 14, 2008


As a quick aside; we look like we're one session away from finally nailing the coffin down on our Age of Worms game. It's time to seriously consider what we're going to do next.

I'm going to officially throw my hat in the ring and propose a game. I think in some ways it's a compromise solution (it's not what I'd be most inclined to run if I had free reing to run anything) but it is something that I think I can enjoy---a horror themed D&D mini-campaign, starting at 3rd level, running for 6-10 sessions (estimated) and probably capping the campaign at 6th level.

Bob was offering to run Cthulhu, which I'd love to do (as would several others) but there is a strong feeling from a few in the group that it wouldn't fly with everyone. John's offering to run Shackled City, assuming he's done and ready to rejoin, but I think we need something shorter to prevent "fatigue" after playing Age of Worms for three years relentlessly. Matt's offered to run his Star Wars/D&D game, but honestly I get the feeling that while he's willing to do so, he'd rather play in someone else's game. Franz is really excited about running Shadowrun, which again I think everyone would do, but his availability is the spottiest of all of us, and he'd be using a version of the rules that only he and one or two others actually own. Kevin is anxious to stop running for a while and play something, leaving Amber as the only group member who hasn't so far got a hat in the ring.

We're really close to the time where we'll need to parse all these options out and figure out what we're going to be doing.

In my Pbp, I'm down considerably, which I didn't exactly NOT expect. One group has almost completely ground to a halt after officially losing 50%. Another group is down to four, but still moving along nicely. I'd like to combine the groups, somehow, assuming I can salvage a player or two out of the defunct group, but we'll see how that works.

I also had this crazy idea (which I haven't yet proposed to anyone, but it's been kicking around in the back of my head) of trying to make it to Toronto once a quarter for a nice long weekend of gaming, assuming Corey, Stuart, and maybe a few others would be willing. We could have two or three campaigns that meet quarterly, go through long marathon all-day sessions and then hibernate again for another quarter. Since these marathon sessions would be equivalent to 2-3 regular sessions, that would come to something equivalent to playing different games once a month. If we can get two or three concurrent campaigns going, that's actually not too bad at all. How fun would that be?

De/vision "Noob"

I picked up De/vision's Noob this weekend. Although it's been out for a few months now, I've been kinda out of touch with the synthpop world and De/vision in particular, since finding 6 Feet Underground and Subkutan both somewhat disappointing and bland. Noob so far strikes me as harking back to their classic heyday---but I haven't heard enough of it yet to say definatively. I can say that my first listen through was considerably boring than my first listen through on either of their last two.

In case you don't know, De/vision is one of the longest running and most successful of the Depeche Mode imitators, who were unfortunate enough to come along a little bit too late to ride the synthpop wave to mainstream recognizabability. They're not terribly different in many ways to Red Flag, Camouflage, Seven Red Seven or Cause and Effect, who managed to eke out at least a single or two and a full-length CD before synthpop was pushed underground by the ressurgence of Grunge. De/vision's first full-length CD came out in 1994; well too late for mainstream success.

They have, however, been very popular in their native Germany, and that success gradually propelled them to being one of the most popular bands in the indie-synthpop movement. In my opinion, they peaked in 1998 with their classic Monosex, but most of their CD's have had at least something to recommend them. I suspect Noob will linger long afterwards as one of their best.

Here's a quick and dirty list of their major full-length CDs. I've included three compilations because they included numerous rarities or at least rare remixes and alternate versions, but I did not include any of their two or three live albums.

  • World Without End (1994)
  • Unversed in Love (1995)
  • Antiquity (1995)
  • Fairyland? (1996)
  • Monosex (1998)
  • Zehn (1998)
  • Void (2000)
  • Two (2001)
  • Remixed (2002)
  • Devolution (2003)
  • 6 Feet Underground (2004)
  • Subkutan (2006)
  • Best of... (2006)
  • Noob (2007)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Everything counts in large amounts

For whatever reason, the last few days I've been listening to a lot of Depeche Mode. I don't keep my mp3 player very full most of the time (in fact, I purposefully try to keep it down to 2-3 CDs worth of songs for the most part; it makes it easier to find and play what I want and then change it out when I'm ready to move on.) So lately, I loaded the three CDs of Depeche Mode's "Early Maturity" period: Some Great Reward, Black Celebration and Music for the Masses. Wow, y'know, sometimes you forgot how good that stuff really is until you go back and hear the songs in context and in order right off the CD.

I'm sure many disagree and think Depeche Mode is simply pre-emo emo; overwrought teenage angst. I can see that. But I disagree. I think they really hit on some timeless, ageless emotional leverage here; stuff that still resonates with me, doesn't sound dated over twenty years later and just plain rawks.

Other stages of Depeche Mode have much to recommend them too, especially the next phase: "Mainstream Popularity" with Violator and Songs of Faith and Devotion but for me, the three listed earlier are as good as synthpop ever got. Still.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Some things... including dinosaurs and space opera

This last weekend, I was listening to one of my favorite classical pieces of music: Franz Liszt's Les Préludes and I had a thought.

I'm a real philistine. In fact, not only am I a self-professed philistine, I'm obnoxiously, fiercely and zealously philistine. Prejudicially philistine even. I have an aversion to "high brow" culture if I can have "common" culture instead.

"But waitaminute Mr. Dark•Heritage blog writer," you may be saying. "If you're so philistine, why were you listening to Franz Liszt's Les Préludes this weekend instead of something like Fergie or Justin Timberlake?

Well, see... you have to keep in mind that to me, Les Préludes isn't a fancy piece of classical music with a fancy French name. To me, it's the themesong of Flash Gordon. In fact, as a little kid, I actually thought that the music was written to accompany the old Republic serial; I only later found out that it had a life of it's own completely unrelated to Flash Gordon.

Then again, classic music is my kinda departure from my almost quixotic obsession with low brow entertainment. Flash Gordon, however is not. I'm a huge fan of the idea of the Republic serial. Of pulp writers. Of comic books and the trashy literary ghetto of genre fiction. The idea that James Joyce wrote the greatest novel of the 20th century is completely foreign to me. James Joyce wrote a novel that has been celebrated by a tiny, tiny number of people in the literati elite. Few others care about him in the least. Tolkien has a much better claim in terms of influence and popular appeal both.

See, that's where I think George Lucas really dropped the ball, and he did it way back in about 1978-1979. I read a fair amount of the ebook The Secret History of Star Wars right before the holiday started, and frankly I already knew every conclusion that he came to. My own conclusions were based on common sense, gut instinct and vague memories, while that book tracked down almost every comment in every interview, every draft script, every scrap of information he could and proved what I believed to be the case all along. That is:

George Lucas never set out to write a grand "mythic" story based on Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. George Lucas didn't have a grand plot about "The Tragedy of Annakin Skywalker" in mind from the beginning. Darth Vader wasn't Luke's father until the second draft of Empire in 1979 or so. What Lucas wanted to do was write---basically---a Republic serial, just like Flash Gordon. In fact, he wanted to actually make Flash Gordon; he tried to buy the rights to the title but couldn't afford it, which is why he wrote his own. In any case, what I really salute about George Lucas---and where I think he got it right, even if he for whatever reason now disagrees and wants to portray the genesis of Star Wars differently---was that he tapped into that low brow fantasy vibe that our society was sorely missing at that point. His timing was impeccable; it was due to come back in.


Some of you (does anyone read this besides me anyway?) may recall that I have a problem with the documentaries produced to date on dinosaurs. Walking With Dinosaurs has good writing and narration, and pretty good technical competence on the graphics, but the artistry is terrible. Some of the dinosaurs would need to have malformed, pathological or dislocated bones to actually fit inside the computer models made for them. I prefer the artistry of When Dinosaurs Roamed America but the technical competency isn't as high (the CGI looks plastic on several occasions) and the writing and narration is almost painful to listen to. Dinosaur Planet is almost as bad (and obviously by the same people) while Chased by Dinosaurs was probably my favorite, as an improved follow-up to Walking With Dinosaurs. The idea of having Nigel Marvin be a time-traveling zoologist humanizes the experience and is just fun anyway, which really helps.

I recently discovered that a few months ago another series was released called Prehistoric Park. It also features Nigel Marven, production by Impossible Pictures and CGI by Framestore (like Chased) but apparently was not funded by the BBC. This led to some obvious budget cuts; they shows do some noticable frame repeating, for instance. However, other than this minor problem, Prehistoric Park is clearly as good as Chased by Dinosaurs. The artistry and technical competence is pretty good (although still not perfect to my very high standards on dinosaurs), Nigel running around like a prehistoric Crocodile Hunter is fun to watch and for the most part, his selection of critters to focus on is just about right.

The premise is that he travels in time to "rescue" extinct animals and bring them back to a modern wildlife sanctuary kinda place. There are six episodes, and although he focuses each episode on a single critter, he usually ends up bringing back more than one. In the first one, he goes for T. rexes for instance, but also comes back with a Triceratops horridus and a whole herd of Ornithomimus velox. Three of the episodes focus on the Mesozioc era (although in the last one, he's actually looking for dinosaur hunting supercroc Deinosuchus hatcheri. He also makes two trips to the Ice Age; one looking for mammoths, and one to the tropical savannahs of South America to get a giant sabertooth; Smilodon populator. The penultimate episode stands out (in a bad way) in my opinion, since Nigel and team go to the Carboniferous and wallow in swamps looking for giant millipedes and dragonflies. That's the least dramatic (or interesting) from a zoological perspective, so they have to up the ante on the narrative to compensate.

All in all, I highly recommend this as a DVD purchase (or at least a rental or library checkout) from anyone who likes dinosaurs or prehistoric animals even a little tiny bit.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Lords of Creation

Science fiction author S. M. Stirling has recently started a new series called "Lords of Creation" that features to date one novel---The Sky People and another one In the Courts of the Crimson Kings scheduled to come out later this Spring. I quote a portion of this Acknowledgements from the first book:

Thanks to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Leigh Brackett, Otis Adelbert Kline, Leinster, Heinlein, and to all the other great pulpsters for gracing my childhood with John Carter, Northwest Smith, “Wrong-Way” Carson of Venus, and all the heroes gifted with a better solar system than the one we turned out to inhabit. From the jungles of Venus and the Grand Canal of Marsopolis, I salute

Frankly, I think anyone who freely acknowledges that he's writing an alternate history science fiction where Venus and Mars are as envisioned by writers like Burroughs, Brackett or Kline to be on the right track. I'm almost ½ of my way through The Sky People right now; Venus is much like Pellucidar; a mixed bag of dinosaurs, sabertooths, Neanderthals and beautiful primitive Cro-Magnon like humans, and the rival Soviet and American colonies get off to a bit of trouble when a Soviet ship carrying a cargo of AK-47's crashlands in Neanderthal territory.

As much as I like The Sky People, I have to admit that the prospect of In the Courts of the Crimson Kings set on Mars sounds even more exciting to me. Maybe that's just because I love the Mars of Burroughs and Brackett so much, though.

Holy cow. As much as it's fashionable to hate George Lucas these days, I love him to death. Not least because he made old fashioned science fiction like used to be in the pulps and Republic serials a viable (and indeed extremely popular) genre to work in again.

George Lucas, S. M Stirling, Leigh Brackett and Edgar Rice Burroughs as well as Murray Leinster, Otis Adelbert Kline, Edmond Hamilton, Ralph Milne Farley, Alex Raymond and even Lin Carter... as well as countless others... I salute you!

Berberosaurus liassicus

Holiday's are over. I've got more to say, but for the moment, let me just comment in this recent discover in a Toarcian formation in the High Atlas mountains of Morocco---Berberosaurus liassicus---a basal abelisaur. This is pretty interesting, because otherwise we haven't found any early abelisaurs, and they were considered a Cretaceous radiation of theropods. Post-Ceratosaurus as it where, which was considered an ancestor. Although abelisaurs are still nested within ceratosaurs, clearly Ceratosaurus itself had to be a parallel development rather than an actual ancestor.

Funny; just a few years ago Ceratosaurus was considered the last hurrah of an earlier type of therapod. Now, with the abelisaurs, we realize that the big success of the family was yet to come. And we now don't believe that ceratosaurs are nested within coelophysids anymore either.

That's the funny thing with dinosaur studies. New discoveries can really throw your beliefs out of whack at a moment's notice. The somewhat recent discovery of grass going back almost 100 million years (instead of appearing sometime after the dinosaurs extinction as was previously believed) and dinosaur coprolites that contain grass is another one.

Anyway. More to come on the blog later. I won't tell you about my holiday, but I may spend a moment talking about Japanese 2-D fighting games and S. M. Sterling's brilliant (so far; I'm less than halfway through) novel The Sky People.