Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

My favorite holiday.  And my favorite "Halloween carol..."


I really love a good Jeep.  Ever since I was a little kid, I've coveted one of these, and it hasn't ever made sense for me to have one yet.  The year fast approaches, however, where it will.  I'll be past the point of supporting kids (or at least some of them), I won't need to haul them around, and I'll be indifferent to the price of gas (to a certain extent) and the practicality of my vehicle.  Plus, as I've made hiking and backpacking a major hobby again, I've found that the ability to drive on some of these really bad roads to get to remote trailheads is actually a practical concern after all.

That said, I see Jeep as a type of vehicle moreso than as a brand.  Ironically, most Jeeps are not jeeps (just as Libertarians are not necessarily libertarians.)  I don't know how a Grand Cherokee can qualify when it's really just a soccer mom SUV with only minimal off-road capability (or styling, for that matter) to call itself a true Jeep, an actual descendant with similar capabilities as the old GP's or Jeep-class light utility vehicle.  And there are a number of others that I'd love to drive, but since we don't live in a free country anymore... I can't.  They've been legislated out of legality here in the US, usually due to spurious association with "global warming"--a non-scientific theory which has just recently made the news again after it was rather prominently denounced and debunked by a wide variety of experts who are finally going public--a little late, since the general public has seen for years that "global warming"--whether under that name, or the more nebulous new labels it's been getting like climate change or climate disruption--is intellectually bankrupt.

Ahem.  Anyway, Jeeps.  My first love is probably, of course, the actual Jeep Wranger, which luckily are readily available in the US.  But I wouldn't mind getting my hands on any of these perfectly acceptable surrogates, if I could.
The original, with lift kit and big super-swamper tires.  Beautiful, even in Caterpillar orange.

The Land Rover Defender, or "Landy"--the best and most widespread ersatz Jeep, inspired by the MBs seen in Europe during WW2.  Sadly, this icon will cease production at the end of 2015, and it's never been for sale in the US--even though you can get them almost everywhere else.
The Chevy Niva, for the Russian market.  Although it has the look of a "sport cute" as much as an honest-to-goodness light utility vehicle, it's still been engineering to be relatively capable.  I'd take one.
Troller T4, a Brazilian vehicle which has been part of the Ford family for a few years now.  This is the upcoming redesign, and holy cow is it hot.  I really wish Ford would bring these guys over.  Isn't there a market among the old Bronco buyers for something like this?  My favorite of the current crop of ersatz Jeeps.  Plus, I like that it's with Ford, which isn't owned by Italians, and which wasn't given millions of dollars by the federal government just to go ahead and declare bankruptcy anyway.
Some new Land Rover concepts.  Whatever ends up replacing the Defender will probably look something like this.  Sport cute?  Yeah, kinda.  But also very sporty and probably reasonably capable.  As long as I can get them with a lift kit and big tires; these particular ones with the low profile tires and fairly non-aggressive approach angles aren't going to be rock-crawling anytime soon.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

New Marvel announcement

I've been way too busy to focus on the development of my new DARK•HERITAGE site (possibly exacerbated by the fact that it's not going to be terribly different from the old one, really, which means it's less exciting to work on.)  I've also been too busy to give too much thought to my campaign noodling projects, such as AD ASTRA, SOLNOR, HYBRID DREAMLANDS, ODD D&D, or heck, I might as well throw REALMS TRAVELER and EBERRON REMIXED into that while I'm at it, right?

Frankly, I haven't had much time to even game, much less develop games.  Work has swamped me, personal life has been very busy.  I'm not even reading very fast anymore.  This means that my normal suite of topics has been kinda dry for several months, and I've been struggling to think of meaningful things to post about.  I did, however, make a trip report post on my hiking blog.  Check it out, if you're at all interested in that kind of thing.  I've got one more yet to do on that trip before I'm done; it was big enough that I split the trip report into three posts.

In keeping with the season, I've watched a few scary things here and there, but I'd like to do more.  I got Mama and The Grudge for my daughter, who wanted to watch one of the two of them for a Halloween party with the rest of her teenager friends.  I've seen the latter but not the former, and thought it was quite good.  I've also been wanting to watch the remake of The Wolfman in October for quite some time now, but haven't done it in the last few years.  Maybe this will be my year.  I did, however, watch the second half of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, specifically the part where Mr. Toad ends and Ichabod begins.  The Disney Headless Horseman retelling has always been one of my absolute favorite Halloween stories and I've had a tradition for many years of watching it.  It's short; can't be more than about half an hour, and it's fun.  A true classic.  Although the tone is mostly silly, the Headless Horseman itself is a reasonably frightening entity as portrayed here.  Not bad, Disney.  Plus, you can never go wrong with Bing Crosby.

However, what I think is the biggest and most interesting news is the announcement of a full slate of Phase III Marvel movies yesterday.  Some of them were surprising, but many were not.  In any case, there's a lot more news available than there had been for some time.  Marvel is, of course, done for 2014, and we will have the final two Phase II films next summer; Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man, which surprisingly, has been under development for a long time, and which so excited Marvel's production company that they bent over backwards to accommodate it.

Phase III then kicks off with Captain America: Civil War in 2016 that will feature Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man (thus validating a number of rumors that he managed to insert himself into the Marvel management's consciousness as necessary to move forward.)  This also gives us some hints as to how Avengers 2 may end.  Dr. Strange is next, which isn't terribly surprising either, given that his character was notably mentioned in Captain America: Winter Soldier, fueling speculation that there was a strong desire to get him on the schedule.  Although filming hasn't yet started, apparently Benedict Cumberbatch is strongly favored for the role and is in negotiations for it as we speak.

In 2017, we get three movies: Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (about which we know very little), Thor: Ragnarok (which hopefully doesn't have the stupid "Asgard in Oklahoma" finale that it did in the comic books--I'd be happier if it was more similar to how Thor #400 ended up as an expression of the Ragnarok myth.  The third is Black Panther, who as a character will debut in Captain America 3 first, actually.  The next year, he gets his solo film.

2018 also gives us three films: Avengers: Infinity War Part 1, in which the Thanos threat (presumably) makes its appearance, Captain Marvel (with Carol Danvers; it's rumored that Emily Blunt is favored for the part, but that's just a rumor) and.... Inhumans.  Yeah, that's a weird one.  Then again, that's what I thought about Guardians of the Galaxy too, and the Inhumans could work out interestingly.  The second two movies also suggest that the Kree are somehow associated with the Infinity War in some way or another, and that Inhumans and Captain Marvel would be spin-offs of a sort from that.

The last Phase III film is slated for 2019 and is Avengers: Infinity War Part 2, which given the close release dates will probably share much of its principle photography with Part 1, a process pioneered with the Back to the Future series and cemented as viable with the Lord of the Rings films.

There are also persistent rumors of work being done on a Black Widow project, a Nick Fury project, and an Iron Fist project, although clearly none of them have made the release announcement yet.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Top 5 80s songs

The other day, I was talking to some of my kids about 80s songs (I was probably listening to Pandora on the stereo smart TV too.)  My kids always want to rank things.  I have a harder time actually doing it.  I like stuff.  I like some stuff even more.  I don't like other stuff.  But forced rankings?  Those are hard for me.  That said, we had a discussion about our top 5 80s songs, and I thought for the heckuvit, I'd post them here.

Given my predilections, it shouldn't be surprising that for the most part, I'm going to lean towards post punk New Wave, especially stuff that has a drum machine and a synthesizer as the main instruments.  But not exclusively.

In no particular order (and if you ask me again next month, there may be some significant differences in my choices.  Maybe.)

"Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order.

I've included the official music video version, but for years, the version (and only version) that I had was the 12" one that's included on Substance.  In the meantime, I've come to also really love the Richard X remix.  It's a little tough to leave off "Blue Monday" but I think I should only have one song per band or artist when I'm only picking five songs anyway, and I do like "Bizarre Love Triangle" better.  And, as an aside, when I first met my wife, we danced to "True Faith."  I like both of the other mentioned songs better than that one, though.  Sorry, hon.

"If You Leave" by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

You can probably see why I tend to just write OMD; that British spelling of maneuvers is killing me.  Every single time I write it.

I don't actually really like the movie Pretty in Pink all that much, but for whatever reason, OMD's "If You Leave" definitely makes the cut of one of the top songs of the decade at me.  Never featured on any album other than the soundtrack for the movie and OMD's various greatest hits compilations is kind of a real shame; you have to go a little bit out of your way to pick this one up (along with their other great song, "Dreaming".)  For what it's worth, this song also makes my teen-aged daughter's list, but she is a big fan of Pretty in Pink.  In fact, she watches the movie on Netflix every couple of months or so.

"Behind the Wheel" by Depeche Mode

It's hard to pick a single Depeche Mode song.  I think that Music for the Masses is my favorite album of theirs, though (although that's a hard pick), and of the songs on that album, certainly "Behind the Wheel" is my favorite.  I think "Enjoy the Silence" is the single most iconic DM song ever, and probably their single best single, but it was not released in the 80s (5 February 1990) and more properly belongs, of course, along with the rest of Violator with the transition into 90s post-New Wave Alternative music.

I've included the album version rather than the single version, which was remixed and which misses out on a lot of the dark droning menace of the album version, honestly.  There's also a very interesting Vince Clark remix of the song that came out much more recently.

"A Little Respect" by Erasure

To show that I'm not all dark and edgy with my synthesizer New Wave music, I should probably put something like Erasure on the list too (although I'm also tempted by Book of Love and Pet Shop Boys for this slot.)  And among Erasure's songs, is it "A Little Respect" or "Oh, L'amour" that gets the nod?  I'm going with the former just because The Innocents was the first Erasure CD I picked up and I have some nostalgic attachments to it above and beyond the others for that reason alone.  There's a great 12" for "A Little Respect" including an Extended Mix and a Big Train Remix.  The 12" Vocal and Dub remixes, on the other hand, are not worth the trouble.

"Animal" by Def Leppard

Not everything that I listen to and like is synthesizer New Wave from the second half of the decade, though.  As we get to the "bottom" of the top five, I'm finding more and more that there is a ton of material competing to be on the list.  But, hard choices have to be made!  Duran Duran gets edged out, as does a-ha, Real Life, and a bunch of other similar artists.  In fact, I think that I definitely need representation from at least one of the "hair rock" bands of the 80s.  For this selection, I went with my favorite track from Hysteria, which is truly one of the greatest albums of all time.  Competition for the glam metal bands was pretty fierce, though--strong output from guys like Quiet Riot, Whitesnake, Mötley Crüe, Van Halen, Ratt and more merited consideration.  At the end of the day, there could only be one, however, and "Animal" gets the nod.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Star Wars Rebels

Well, with the double-length pilot now out, and the droids cameo episode now out, and with the a Zeb/Ezra buddy "cop" episode impending, I thought it might be a good idea to talk about this show and the Star Wars franchise as a whole (interesting after a bunch of leaked concept art has appeared on the internet just recently.)

I'm still waiting for the show to get really good.  It had a credible beginning.  It's certainly not bad.  But the character relationships and the plot haven't really "gelled" yet.  And although the Robin Hood approach is a familiar one to Americans, who appreciate a good rebel, the problem of keeping these character heroic and sympathetic seems like an interesting and difficult line to walk.  In this regard, I'm interested in seeing where the next episode goes.

What bothers me a little bit is that there isn't any hint yet of a direction for the show. If it devolves into "caper of the week" it won't go very far.  So far, that's all we've seen.  Even the pilot didn't really hint at much of a direction, although it does set up an apparently recurring antagonist in the form of Agent Kallus.  One of the things that made The Clone Wars good were the arcs, however.  If we don't start seeing arcs that go somewhere, this show will not be as good as the show it replaces.  Even though, as my kids say, the era is more interesting.

I do like the concept of an ensemble cast being the crew of a heist team, basically, though.  That's not a bad idea at all, and one that feels almost like a shout-out to RPGers everywhere.  I've heard more than one gamer say that they are tuning into the show basically because the crew of the Ghost reminds them an awful lot of their own PC group in an Edge of the Empire game or something.

Speaking of my kids and the franchise overall, I also recently found out that there's a Star Wars: Battlefront reboot in the works.  This is tremendous, since the first two games are really quite good.  I haven't had a chance to tell my boys yet, but I'm sure they'll be thrilled.  I found some interesting concept art for a fallen Dark Obiwan Kenobi that is pretty interesting.  It's probably best repurposed, but we've seen both Clone Wars and now Star Wars Rebels have been able to quite nicely repurpose old concept art into new characters to good effect.

For what it's worth, the Star Wars Rebels character Zeb is based on original Ralph MacQuarrie concept art for Chewbacca and Chopper is based on old concept art for R2-D2.

And oh, hey, here's some concept art from cancelled game 1313 of a younger Boba Fett.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Setting noodling

I've got a number of irons in the fire with this basic idea; noodling around with high concepts for settings, including REALMS TRAVELER, SOLNOR and ODD D&D.  There may be others that I'm not thinking of at the moment.  But, in my read-through of the Complete Works of H. P. Lovecraft, I got to the novella The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, which was always actually my favorite Lovecraft story, in spite of its atypical nature.  And I thought, as I have done before, that there's a wealth of useful information in that setting.  Therefore, here I am adding yet another setting noodle tag: DREAMLANDS REMIXED.  Sigh.

Not that I'd want to actually game in the Dreamlands per se.  That can be done, of course.  There's a Call of Cthulhu scenario/setting that explores the Dreamlands.  But I'd rather just use the map and a few of the details of the Dreamlands as a setting, and then play it straight as a secondary world fantasy setting, rather than using it as it really is meant to be.

How would I do this, if so?

1st: There's really only one PC race; human.  It's not possible to play one of the almost-men of Leng, or a zoog, or a moon-beast, or one of the lunar fish people of Ib or whatever.  Only human.

2nd: I'd look to the primary sources (or perhaps secondary sources) of the Dreamlands for inspiration, but not force myself to be completely stuck into the interpretation thereof.  Ghouls and ghasts, for example, might be like they are in D&D, or how they are in Dream-Quest, or some other interpretation that differs even more.

3rd: Might have to whip up a little bestiary.  Zoogs, gugs, ghouls, ghasts, night-gaunts, shantak birds, moon-beasts, and more all make notable appearances.

4th: The Great Ones, or gods of the Dreamlands, are only vaguely referred to, really, in spite of their prominent "off stage" roles in a few stories.

5th: Magic seems relatively subtle.  I don't see any role for clerics, although the more arcane magic-users aren't necessarily out of place.

6th: I'd almost certainly use an m20 variant anyway, although I don't know that I'd use the same one that I use for DARK•HERITAGE.  Maybe a more "classic" m20 variant is called for; "Purest Essence" without clerics and a few minor house-rules (like Heroism Points, fer instance, to counter a bit the lack of healers.)

7th: Lovecraft himself never wrote any action-oriented stories of any kind.  Randolph Carter is not an action star, and he's a bit questionable in his choice of allies and actions.  I'd rather borrow a bit of Robert E. Howard's tone here, and make it a bit more straight-forward in some ways, while still retaining the sense of dark fantasy sword & sorcery as much as possible.

8th: Not all Dreamlands stories were by Lovecraft.  Gary Myers wrote a long set of them, collected in the book Country of the Worm.  Brian Lumley wrote others.  A lot of Lovecraft's own stories are unclear; do they take place in the Dreamlands, or in some kind of semi-mythological past world, not unlike the Hyborian Age?  And Lovecraft also generously makes reference to the works here and there to places created by Howard or Clark Ashton Smith, including Valusia, Hyperborea, etc.  Some of these would not be unwelcome in my Hybrid Dreamlands campaign.

9th: The map linked in the image is not the DREAMLANDS REMIXED but rather an interpretation of the actual Dreamlands.  I wouldn't mind whipping up a DREAMLANDS REMIXED map.  I'd love to figure out a way to color hand-drawn maps well and without as much effort as I need to use to do it digitally myself, though.

10th: I'm going to also think about adding some of these locations to my Forbidden Lands area of my setting.  I already had, of course, but now that I'm reworking the setting a bit, well, that gives me the opportunity to rework that as well.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

New setting wiki

Well, Wikispaces went down.  Or at least it's no longer hosting wikis for free.  Therefore, both the rules wiki, the setting wiki, the archived earlier version of the setting wiki, and the sister-setting wikis are all gone.  I was able to archive all of the content from them before they went dark, but they're going away as we speak.

I've decided that how I'll handle this is to create a new Google Site--which probably won't go anywhere for years--to replace all of them.  I won't merely be replicating the old content, though--I'm starting from scratch.  I'm also taking this opportunity to perhaps make some addendums, changes, and some evolution if you will to the setting.  Some stuff that I've done before has fallen out of favor, and some things that I really like didn't really fit before.

Much of the content will, of course, be fundamentally the same.  Much of it may be even be exactly the same, verbatim.  Much of it will be copied and pasted from this blog.

But... I can't resist taking advantage of this unforeseen opportunity to tinker a bit.  Make some modifications.

I'm not going so far as to say that this is now a Mk. V of the setting; I'm still on a Mk. IV that's just getting a little bit of a clean-up, restructure, and a few other minor changes.

Anyway, although I don't really have any content there yet, here's where the site will be:

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Free Kindle fantasy titles

I'm not super good at reading titles on my Kindle app on my phone.  But I'm optimistic about the concept, and I'm even more optimistic about the concept of using Amazon and ebooks to enable independent writers to get their work out there, sell it to paying customers, and make a living (or at least a supplement to their living) from their work without having to work through the increasingly bloated, bureaucratic, ideological, and frankly blatantly rapacious traditional publishers.  Great idea.

The big problem, of course, is how does one find authors that one likes in this new, expanded, decentralized market?

If you go to Amazon's Kindle Books section, browse to Science Fiction and Fantasy, subheading Fantasy and then sort price low to high, you'll find that there are literally more free books than you can ever hope to read at any given time.  Many of them, no doubt, will be terrible.  But some of them are not.

In a rash of enthusiasm, I just "bought" about 20 free ebooks for the Kindle.  I specifically ignored anything that had a cover that looked like a romance novel (sadly, at least half of the titles.  What in the world has happened to our genre?)  Just to be extra careful, and because I had more selection than I'd be able to actually consume anyway, I even avoided most titles written by women entirely--I've been burned more than once with a book that had a great looking cover and blurb that ended up being a stealth romance novel with a fantasy coat of paint slapped on--unless it really looked like it was up my alley.

Along with all the content that I already had, my "To Read" list is now dramatically longer; I've just (mostly) ignored my Kindle content as not quite the same as my "real book" content.  I am, however, going to go ahead and add all of my Kindle titles to my "To Read" list and track (and review) them like regular books.  Anyway, here's my list, for the curious, in the order they are listed on at Amazon (I think in reverse order to how I bought them):

  • The Realm Shift by James Somers
  • Stealer of Flesh by William King
  • The Prophecy by Jeffrey Poole
  • The Unsuspecting Mage by Brian S. Pratt
  • Sword Bearer by Teddy Jacobs
  • Red Axe, Black Sun: Sword & Sorcery by Michael Karner
  • A Dwarf With No Name by D. P. Prior
  • Winds of Change by William Robert Stanek
  • Forged in Death by Jim Melvin
  • The Elder Unearthed by Michael W. Garza
  • Death's Angels by William King
  • Knights: The Hand of Tharmin by Robert E. Keller
  • Hammers in the Wind by Christian Warren Freed
  • The Emperor's Blades: Chapters 1-7 by Brian Staveley
  • The Sable City by M. Edward McNally
  • Wind Warrior by Jon Messenger
  • A Tide of Shadows by Tom Bielawski
  • Cthulhu Mythos Writers Sampler 2013 by David Conyers
  • Knights: The Eye of Divinity by Robert E. Keller
  • The God King by James A. West
  • The White Tree by Edward W. Robertson
  • Moth by Daniel Arenson
  • Nightblade Episode I by Garrett Robinson
  • The Last Roman by Edward Chrichton
  • The Last of the Sages by St. Clair
  • Thinblade by David A. Wells
  • Witch Hunt by Annie Bellet
  • The Dark Citadel by Michael Wallace
  • Fire Mage by Jon Forrester
  • The Chronicles of Dragon by Craig Halloran
  • Eye of the Moonrat by Trevor H. Cooley
  • A Quest of Heroes by Morgan Rice
  • Altdorf: The Forest Knights by J. K. Swift
  • Where the World Is Quiet by Henry Kuttner
  • The Metal Monster by Abraham Merritt
  • The Moon Pool by Abraham Merritt
  • The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
  • Pellucidar by Edgar Rice Burroughs (I've read this before in print)
  • At The Earth's Core by Edgar Rice Burroughts (this too)
  • Chosen (The Amish Bloodsuckers Trilogy book 1) by Barbara Ellen Brink (this is the exception to my avoidance of cheap fantasy romance novels.  This looks too campy to be believed, so I couldn't resist.)
  • Servant: The Dark God Book 1 by John D. Brown (I actually paid for this one, but it was dirt cheap as part of a promotion a few weeks ago.)
  • Quantum Mortis: A Mind Programmed by Vox Day
  • Awake in the Night by John C. Wright
  • The Testing by Jonathan Moeller
  • Child of the Ghosts by Jonathan Moeller
  • The Tower of Endless Worlds by Jonathan Moeller
  • Blood of Requiem by Daniel Arenson
  • Magic of Thieves by C. Greenwood
  • A World if Born by Leigh Douglas Brackett
  • Polaris of the Snows by Charles B. Stilson
  • A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (I've read this many times and own it in print)
  • The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (this too)
  • Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (and this)
  • Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini (yes, and this too)
  • Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini (and this)
  • The Sea-Hawk by Rafael Sabatini (I don't, however, own this one in print and haven't read it in years.)
  • The Circle of Sorcerers by Brian Kittrell
  • Gateway to Nifleheim by Glenn G. Thater
  • The Darkslayer by Craig Halloran
  • The Weight of Blood by David Dalglish
  • Caliphate by Tom Kratman
  • A Magic Broken by Vox Day
  • The Wardog's Coin by Vox Day

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

October Music

Cooler weather got you down?  Not me (October is actually my favorite month of the year, and Halloween my favorite holiday.)  But my wife hates it when summer ends.

Here's something.  Check out some Halloween music, and use it as background music while playing your RPG games.  The two outfits that seem to be the most well known in this particular ouvre are Midnight Syndicate and Nox Arcana.

There; that's the entire first CD by Nox Arcana, Darklore Manor that someone made as a youtube playlist.  Their other CD Blood of the Dragon, with its more overt sword & sorcery theme might be a better fit for most fantasy RPG players, but frankly, I think the Halloweeny sounds work quite well too.

The only thing to watch out for if using Nox Arcana in your games is to eliminate the tracks where Vargo narrates his poetry or other spoken lyrics over a bit of background.  That'll probably distracting at the game table.  Personally, my favorite Nox CDs would be probably Grimm Tales, Transylvannia and Phantoms of the High Seas, which is a little bit different thematically from the others.  Necronomicon is a decent Cthulhu-themed album, although the track "Azathoth" doesn't even have any "infernal piping of blasphemous flutes" which is bizarre.  They have a big catalog, but in my experience, the albums mostly start to run together after a while; they're all cut very much from the same cloth.  Phantoms and Blood of the Dragon are the most divergent, other than the winter/Christmas ones.  Instrumental gothic Christmas music?  They actually put that stuff out with a straight face, yeah.

From competitors Midnight Syndicate, I'd vote for Vampyre, Dungeons & Dragons, and maybe Dead Matter--not the movie soundtrack album of that name, but the unrelated studio album with the same title.  Yes, the same band put out two albums with the same title but a completely different track list.  Confusing.  The subtitle for the one I'm recommending specifically is Cemetery Gates.  But as with Nox; the albums aren't really all that different from each other, with the possible exception of Dungeons & Dragons and The Rage.  It wouldn't hurt you to instead go for "greatest hits" reissues--although neither of their two such albums has my favorite track, "Blackest Rose."