Tuesday, December 19, 2017

(Belated) Friday Art Attack

Ooof.  Savages.  Another Ken Kelly piece.

You've always got to worry about mobs with torches.  Could use more pitchforks, though.

I'm really not quite sure what's going on here, but that's a pretty cool looking robot, the likes of which AD ASTRA could have plenty.

Gorilla vs leopard.  Is this a great Tarzan-themed piece of work, or what?

I don't have a lot of pictures of water demons with bikini-clad scuba divers, but... that's really kind of a shame, isn't it?

Although in general, I tend to dislike proliferation of undead that are all basically the same, this picture really kind of is asking to have some unique story.  I think it's probably a Nizrekh Immortal, honestly.

Modern people with prehistoric animals—that's the kind of adventure I wish there'd be more of.

There's a lot of distinctiveness on how the Red Men of Barsoom have been illustrated, from really, really red to just kind of olive-toned.  The description of them suggests that they are copper-skinned, and compares them to the Injuns, so this is probably the most accurate, really.  Also, they took the description of the zitidars as "mastodonian" pretty literally and made them have a trunk and elephant-like head.  I took that merely to mean that they were really big; kind of a more colorful version of the adjective elephantine.

King Kong!

I actually posted a different version of this same picture recently; a Horseclans chief with their sabertooths.

Sometimes there's a tendency to want to make Medusa pretty; but this is almost certainly more likely, given that she was supposed to be so hideous that she turned people to stone.  That's mostly been reimagined as some kind of laser attack firing out of her eyes in many iterations of the story.

Old school Brontosaurus.  I miss him sometimes!

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Last Jedi

I've seen a lot of reviews of this now.  Most of them will echo what I have to say (or more likely, vice versa, since I'm a little late to the party on Monday morning after the movie's been out for a few days.)  One curious one, here, tries to excuse the movie, at least a bit, by saying that it's not science fiction, but it is successful (in a way) at being 1) a heroic magical fantasy movie, and as a subset under that, 2) a Disney princess movie, and as a subset (or maybe superset thereof), 3) an advertisement to move tie-in merchandise.

That gets into the loaded question of "what does and doesn't qualify as science fiction?" which is too big of a question for me to really tackle here.  Suffice it for now to say that it meets that standards offered at Infogalactic: "Science fiction (often shortened to SF, sci-fi or scifi) is a genre of speculative fiction, typically dealing with imaginative concepts such as futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life. Science fiction often explores the potential consequences of scientific and other innovations, and has been called a "literature of ideas." It usually avoids the supernatural, and unlike the related genre of fantasy, historically science-fiction stories were intended to have a grounding in science-based fact or theory at the time the story was created, but this connection is now limited to hard science fiction."  There's a case that can be made that if those are reduced to merely trappings and that they don't actually impact the development of the plot or aspects of the setting that can't be substituted with something that doesn't have a "sciencey" element, then it isn't science fiction.  I get where that's coming from, I suppose—although I dislike that kind of snobbishness, which plays directly into Campbell's nebbish attempt to feel superior by writing out mainstream science fiction.

Of course, now that I've argued that Star Wars is science fiction, by definition contrary to the claim above, I'll add that I'm not really interested in arguing that with anyone about the question.  Mostly because I see your point, and the notion that science fiction should be defined as fiction in which an element of science plays a crucial role in the development of the plot or the setting such that it couldn't be told by "converting" that into something else is one that I can at least understand.  Or at least fiction in which some kind of science features prominently,  And certainly, that is not true for Star Wars.  So, if you prefer a more restricted definition of science fiction and Star Wars doesn't fit in your definition, OK.  I'll attempt to discuss the latest Star Wars movie without making any reference to whether it is or isn't science fiction—in fact, I'll even try to discuss whether or not Star Wars works as a heroic fantasy space opera and within the context of the Star Wars milieu; because honestly, I think simply saying that The Last Jedi isn't science fiction (and therefore; what? We don't have any standards for it?) is a cop-out at best.  I also think that he's wrong to suggest that this movie succeeds on any of the three levels that he mentions except maybe the third.  And we'll see; I personally believe that its failure to capture the imagination of the audience means that it will fail to move merchandise all that well too.  Check out this analysis for more info.  It's long, but very salient.  But the question is interesting; does The Last Jedi work as some other kind of movie than maybe the fans were expecting?  Can it be "salvaged" as a good movie on at least some level if you consider it as something other than what it probably should have been?   

It's my contention that the only way in which The Last Jedi works as a good movie is if you align your expectations to consider it agitprop designed to poison and corrupt what Star Wars was and remake it as intersectional social justice propaganda.  It's quite good at that, although I think the market for that kind of movie is much less mainstream than what you'd expect for a Star Wars film.  It's also successful, or at least interesting, seen as a case study for some r-selected behavior, and how r-strategists would imagine in their heads swashbuckling heroic fantasy to work; given that heroism is inherently alien to their mindset.

Other than that, though... it fails almost everywhere.  It even fails as a sequel to The Force Awakens, much less as a chapter in the greater Star Wars saga.

This review will have spoilers.  A lot, actually.  So, if you don't want them, don't read below.  I'll insert an image juxtapositioning the critics vs the audience impression of the film to protect you from them if you want to bail now.

OK, so where does this movie fail?  
  • Like The Force Awakens before it, it deliberately ruins well-loved characters from the past.  We already got to see Han Solo as a gimpy old man who failed at life somehow; divorced, living like a bachelor, deadbeat dad, Leia's reaction to him is more pity than love, etc.  What happened?  That is not Han Solo.  Well; in this movie, we get to do the same thing to Luke, except even worse.  Not only is Luke now a whiny, sad, completely anheroic loser who is so scarred by a setback, where he was also unable to even rise to a fraction of the heroism that he did in Empire or Return of the Jedi but it also creates a major plot hole.  If Abrams suggested that Luke left this map so he could be found in case he was needed, why do we find out now that Luke really just wanted to run away and die on a planet that is even less of the bright center of the galaxy than Tatooine was?  The old heroes cannot be heroes.  They have to be re-imagined as losers whose heroism in the original trilogy is invalidated, because it doesn't fit the tone or the themes that the new creators want to explore.
  • Along those lines, none of the new characters get to be heroic either.  Poe and Finn continually try to be heroic, because they're kind of the closest thing to characters that remind you of the fan favorites of the past—and every time they do they have to fail, and they have to, in fact, be hammered down by totalitarian feminist bureaucrats with the concept of "running away to survive is heroic."  They literally say that.  And near the end of the movie, Poe accepts this finally as a kind of epiphany.  Now look; running away can be the right move if you're in an untenable situation, and you need a strategic retreat to regroup and try again.  But we're not talking about that; we're talking about the notion that even making a heroic sacrifice so that your friends and allies can get away is stupid and wrong.  Poe really wants to be Maverick from Top Gun but the movie really wants to tell the audience that that sucks, and that men can't be trusted, and they should shut up, sit down, and listen to their "wise Latina" betters.  Not that Laura Dern or Carrie Fisher are Latinas, but the "wise Latina" archetype, if such a thing can really be called an archetype rather than a joke, clearly applies to them (thanks to Richard Spencer and Hannibal Bateman for pointing out these specific comparisons.)
  • Well, that's not necessarily true.  The incredibly unlikable 7-foot tall lavender-haired Laura Dern who is "admiral in an evening gown", after berating Poe and Finn for trying to be sacrificing heroes, ends up doing the same thing by making a kamikaze attack on the First Order fleet.  Jar Jar Chinks, the most annoying new character, stops Finn from blowing up the "battering ram cannon" and utters literally the stupidest line ever heard in a Star Wars movie (yes, it's worse than the sand flirting dialogue) and tells him, "I saved you.  That's how we're going to win.  Not fighting what we hate.  Saving what we love."  Wha...?!  So, you don't win wars by fighting the enemy?  Finn was willing to sacrifice himself to save the #Resist guys, but tubby Asian girl was willing to sacrifice the entire resistance movement to save Finn?  This is what Rian Johnson thinks is heroism?  By the way, this is Rian Johnson up there above; using the Heartiste axiom that "physiognomy is real," this tells you an awful lot about him.  
  • Leia, who's supposedly the supreme leader of the #Resist movement does this too.  She's the worst leader I've ever seen, who has no plan, no clue, no nothing—but by deus ex machina she somehow ends up being right just because.  She also flies through space like Superman.  I'm not kidding here.  She does this.  Somehow, she's the only old character who survives, even though the actress hasn't, so I have no idea what we're supposed to do.
  • Although not quite as clear as it was in Rogue One, isn't it curious that the creators are now openly and overtly making the case that non-state terrorists are the "good guys?"  In the original trilogy, the rebels were more like the American Revolution patriots (even if Lucas himself saw them as the Viet Cong, audiences clearly saw in them Revolutionary patriots) but now, they're very overtly the PLO and Che Guevara.  Including being openly anti-white, of course.
  • Rey continues to be the worst Mary Sue ever; she can just do whatever just because.  Yoda even shows up as a plastic looking apparition to tell Luke that she don't need no Jedi training, or Jedi Holy Books, or anything at all that has to do with the Jedi to be a heroic force user who's better in every way than the Jedi ever were.  She's actually a little better as a character with a little bit of an arc this time around, but it's still absurd that with literally... what; two or three days worth of training, she's the equal of any force user we've ever seen?
  • Speaking of which, Luke, after deciding that after his entire life's goal was to be a Jedi to just do away with the Jedi because this one kid went bad, turns out to be too much of a pussy to go through with it.  So plastic Yoda shows up and burns down the original temple and Holy texts for him, and then tells him that those scriptures were boring and sucked anyway.  What?!  Yoda destroys the Jedi order, and their history and heritage. Yeah, really. Leftists like Johnson are like ISIS except too cowardly to actually go around burning down real things, so they ingratiate themselves to some amenable authority and burn down things like the Star Wars franchise instead.  The projection here from the writer is hard to miss.
  • The First Order can track the #Resist guys through hyperspace because they have what looks exactly like a flux capacitor on one of the ships.  I'm not even kidding. I think they may literally have recycled the same prop. This doesn't actually need to be shut down, as it happens, because "Admiral Gender Studies" as Hannibal Bateman calls her, blows it up in her kamikaze run, but in spite of that there's a a huge subplot where Finn and Jar Jar Chinks, who's played up like a love interest for him, although they have no chemistry and never even seem to like each other as friends much less in any other way.  No, rather the whole thing is merely an excuse for some gratuitous CGI and Phantom Menace style "jokes" and then it devolves into a lecture on white privilege in space. I've seen one reviewer call this whole sub-plot like a grafted The Fifth Element in the middle of a Star Wars movie. On top of this, there's some supposedly sympathetic little kids, but... they're not sympathetic.  So freakin' cheesy and gratuitous.
  • Stuff dropped or wrapped up cheaply: 1) the Knights of Ren.  No explanation.  2) Who Snoke is.  He dies even more chumpy than Boba Fett, without any explanation of where he came from.  3) What the deal with Rey's parents is.  Apparently they're just space meth users (I actually didn't mind this too much, because the whole "everything is always about the Skywalkers" was stupid—but it's also stupid that Abrams set this up as a mystery, and there isn't actually an answer to it.) 4) Captain Phasma was supposed to be built up to be the new trilogy's Boba Fett, but she never did anything that wasn't major loser in the first movie, and here she has a single fight scene for a few minutes and then dies.  5) Benicio del Toro; what was that all about?  I mean, I guess he wasn't necessarily "set up" to be anything and then wasn't, but it's kinda weird, unless he just really wanted a cameo or something.
All that said; there are even more problems than just these.  It really is a pretty terrible movie, and what does it all mean?  As Brian Niemeier says in the comments of his post which I linked on Friday, the creators of Star Wars hate you if you are 1) white, 2) male, 3) a fan of the original Star Wars.  And they not only hate you, they want you and your family dead.

So, to tie this back to the beginning of the post: no, The Last Jedi really fails as a heroic fantasy.  It fails as a Disney princess movie (which, I'll point out, with the exception of Brave all have their romance as a key elements, although it was poorly done and tacked on in FrozenThe Last Jedi doesn't have that, because Rey has to be "I don't need no man" as a feminist icon.)  Will it succeed in moving plush toys of those weird furry bird thingies or salt crystal foxes?  I highly doubt that that'll end up being true either.

It fails as a Star Wars movie.  It fails as a heroic fantasy movie.  It fails as a Disney princess movie.  It fails as a sequel to The Force Awakens.  Why?  Because its creators are nihilists.  The closest thing to the true theme of the movie is actually said by Ben Solo at two points to Rey in an attempt to get her to join him: just let everything die.  Destroy the past and everything about it.  Build your own identity ex nihilo without any reference to where you came from.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Last Jedi review of a review


This is a fascinating "review of a review".  I haven't seen The Last Jedi yet.  I will tomorrow.  We've already bought tickets and everything.  But I have no expectations that it'll be good; I'm going because of inertia with regards to Star Wars, combined with the hope that the spectacle will be worth the cost in bad characters, bad plots, and the bizarre effluvia that comes from the diseased minds of the broken, dysfunctional artists who make up Harveywood.  I also hold out in the forlorn hope that somehow the franchise will make a Hail Mary pass and pull it together in spite of all of the stumbling blocks in place that make that impossible (namely, the people working on it.)

It looks like this one won't be the one that does it, though.  While the aggregate critics score is 93%, an improbably high score, the aggregate audience score has fallen just this morning from a tepid 67% (few movies except ones that the critics are desperate to pawn off on us show a significantly higher critics than audience score) to a withering 59% over the course of... what?  Four hours?  I wonder how far it will fall over the remainder of the weekend where most people who are going to see it will have done so.

Sigh.  As I said earlier; people in Hollywood (and other entertainment media, for the most part) don't know how to entertain anymore.  Mostly because they don't understand actual people.  They themselves are such broken, dysfunctional beings that their thought processes don't resonate with normal people anymore.

As the pithy old saying goes; what's down in the well is what comes up in the bucket.


Ha!  After posting yesterday's talk about gamebooks, I did two things: Read the first Lone Wolf book online at Project Aon—Flight From the Dark.  I also read the one remaining Fighting Fantasy Gamebook in my collection, City of Thieves.  I "lost" both of them.

Not in combat, either.  I was mostly "cheating"—I didn't even bother making a character sheet or making careful notes about my equipment, or anything, and I didn't roll any dice.  I just assumed I won combats, mostly (although not completely) assumed I passed "Test Your Luck" checks, etc.  I don't even know what "Kai Disciplines" I had, so I kinda fudged that too and mostly just made decisions without their benefit.

No, I actually lost in the good old fashioned Choose Your Own Adventure fashion; by making choices that led me to a "you failed" result.  In City of Thieves, I was locked up in prison for a minimum of five years, in Flight From the Dark, I fell into a pit trap and was killed by enemy hunters.

In both cases, I was surprised by a couple of things: 1) how Spartan and sparse the text was.  There's very little description, and stuff just breezes by super fast.  I don't remember this from when I read them before, but then again, I was 13-14 or so back when I read these before.  And, 2) how random stuff was.  In City of Thieves, as you're walking down the street, you just are randomly able to notice this or that store or person, and you can either ignore them and keep walking, or go explore it.

I dunno.  Can I outdo these?  Almost certainly, if I buckle down and actually write something.  But I'm now wondering if I want to?  These books haven't aged as well as I thought.  Is this really what I want to do?

I'm not sure.

I really wish I had a copy of Night of the Nazgûl so I could see both how they did the system and how they did the hexcrawl.  Chances are it'd disappoint me the same way these two did, but it'd be another data point in how to put one of these together successfully, though.  I'm really disappointed that I can't buy a copy on Amazon or anywhere else for less than nearly $30.  I really doubt it's worth that much.  Plus, I'm pretty sure I bought it in the 80s at cover price, which the scan says was $2.95.

That's why I bought a lot of books back then.  They were cheap.  Even for me, I could afford a couple bucks here and there for what was sure to be hours worth of entertainment.

I do note that the maps are available online, even if the text isn't.  And the maps were done as two back to back hexmaps.  North to south they were labeled A-H, and east to west they were labeled 1-27—it's mostly an east to west journey, so the map, if it were laid end to end, would be long and thin.

I do seem to recall that the tone of the books was more serious and "adult" if you will, which probably coincides with the more complicated system.  But I doubt it was as much so as my 30+ year old memories make it.

EDIT: Here's a scan of a couple of pages, including where the map was embedded in the binding.  It looks like I was right.  Note that these are the numbered sections; which you had to deal with if the hex you were in had additional choices to make.  I recall now the Move on direction given at the bottom; that's how you picked the next hex and moved.  Anyway, this small sampling is, I guess, all I'm gonna have without buying another copy of the book.  Sigh.  I wish I could read the game system again, actually.


EDIT 2: I read Flight From the Dark a couple more times, and finished it successfully twice.  I found a few more "you died" endings, but I just hit back and did something else when that happened.  I was more interested in exploring the book and what it offered than in attemping to "win" or not.  It's curious to me that there is actually very little description.  Half of the time, I don't know what these enemies I'm facing are supposed to be, even.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Timischburg Fantasy Gamebooks?!

So... of all of the things that I've given up, lost, sold, or otherwise don't have anymore, what I regret most are some gamebooks.  I've mentioned this before, but I used to have the better part of 50 Choose Your Own Adventure books, three or four Which Way Books, half a dozen or so Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, half a dozen or so Lone Wolf fantasy gamebooks, three TolkienQuest slash Middle-EarthQuest books, and off and on a few Endless Quest books even (including at least one Super Endless Quest book.)  Of these, I have about 25 or so Choose Your Own Adventure books, but I'm missing some of the ones that were my favorites, and I have one Fighting Fantasy Gamebook, which I've rebought in the years since because I missed it.  (Of course, since I rebought it, I haven't read it again either.  Sigh.)

I also had a few other books which are similar, but a bit different; the Escape from Tenopia books (I think I had all four; I know for sure that I had three of them at one point) and it's sister-series, Escape from the Kingdom of Frome (I think I only had two of these, though.)  I also had the similarly structured Time Machine series—at least three volumes.  These latter series were more like puzzles; you just kept wandering around making choices until you found your way "out" by finally having done everything that allowed you to progress to the last page and finish the book.  I recall looping around many times trying to find the way out, but they're quit a bit different than the others because of the fact that you couldn't lose, die, or otherwise do anything except go around in circles until you got to the one ending.

And finally, several years later I bought about half a dozen books from the Star Challenge series, but I bought them in Argentina, and in Spanish, where the series is called El Reto de los Galaxias.  This isn't a direct translation, needless to say.  While it fits neatly with the Choose Your Own Adventure style, because they're in Spanish, I've usually not associated them together.  Plus, I actually still have all of these.  All in all that has to be; what, nearly 100 titles?  Plus several that I read without buying, usually from a public library.

Many of these are not "gamebooks" in the sense that there's no system; you just read it, make choices and keep making choices until you get to an end.  The Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks were the first I got that had a very minimalist (and frankly, inadequate) RPG system along with them, turning them into what is basically a solo module; albeit a very railroady one.

One that I never actually owned, but which I read a few times in the library was Scorpion Swamp written by the other Steve Jackson (it's curious that the first book not written by Steve Jackson or Ian Livingstone was written by the GURPS guy who also happens to be named Steve Jackson).  This one was interesting because rather than merely railroading you through the plot, you actually wandered around making a map of the swamp; not unlike a hexcrawl.  And the book that I miss the most, and really wish that I hadn't gotten rid of, was Night of the Nazgûl which actually was a hexcrawl, complete with a hexmap and everything.

Now, while I say that the Fighting Fantasy Gamebook "system" is inadequate (you have three scores; STRENGTH, STAMINA  and LUCK and you just roll 2d6 a lot, you have to keep in mind that by its nature, you probably don't want a very involved system.  The TolkienQuest game had what is probably too involved of a system, and not only that, there were several pages exploring how you could use the book as a solo MERP adventure even if you really wanted a complicated system.  Although the system didn't come with the book, in that case.

I actually think the Lone Wolf books had the best "system" but the TolkienQuest books (specifically Night of the Nazgûl, which did it best) had the best structure.

Now; why am I mentioning this?  I'm actually giving some serious thought to creating what is basically a gamebook for the TIMISCHBURG setting.  I could, in theory, adapt FANTASY HACK as is, or I could maybe adapt the Lone Wolf system by turning Kai Disciplines into skills, etc.  And then I'd need to get writing.

In the meantime, you can read the Lone Wolf books online, thanks to the generosity of the original copyright holder, by following the link right there above.  But if I do them, it'll be more like Night of the Nazgûl, and they'll be more hexcrawl-like.

What Star Wars got Right


Trey Causey revisited an older post recently, and he's still 100% correct in what he notices.  However, I don't think he gets the whole story.  He correctly notes a few things:
  • European-style swashbuckling action; here he means "Euro-style" in the sense of the Ruritanian romance with princesses, nobles, swordfights, etc.  He specifically references Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Mad King, which was his own take on the Ruritanian romance (and is therefore one of the better ones); he doesn't mean that the authors are necessarily European.  Specifically mentioned both Burroughs and Alex Raymond, who are both Americans—rather, the setting has a kind of romanticized European Old Country charm.
  • The more pulp type of square-jawed science fiction with jet packs and robots and stuff.  The vibe of The Rocketeer or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (although both post-date Star Wars; maybe the original Buck Rogers stuff is the best analog.  I'm not 100% sure that a clear line can be drawn between works from this oeuvre and the one mentioned above; or maybe he just happens to have examples that often blur the lines (specifically Flash Gordon and Barsoom.)
  • Fun exoticism that takes the elements that made Orientalism and chinoiserie popular, but even more alien; funny-headed aliens speaking Huttese that actually sounds like a real language, for instance.
  • Nostalgia for the Americana that Lucas himself grew up with; many have remarked that there is much more in common between Star Wars and American Graffiti than initially meets the eye.
What he doesn't point out, which I think is also part of it, is that all kinds of other genres get heavily mixed in.  There's a lot of Western influence to the point where the cantina scene is almost exactly a straight up saloon with Han Solo and Greedo as gunfighters.  There's a lot more noir influence than many realize (although it became much more overt over time, especially in certain episodes of the prequels and the Clone Wars series).

The fact that the Star Wars setting can credibly work for everything from Graustark to a train heist to Roman gladiators to steely-eyed gunfighters with tumbleweeds rolling by to walking the plank pirate stories to Raymond Chandler to Godzilla stories to zombie plague stories—and none of it really feels too forced or out of place—is part of the charm.  The original movie trilogy didn't literally use all of those elements, but it used a lot more than some people realize.  They are somewhat subtle, I suppose, and because they're just embedded in our cultural psyche, we don't really think much about them, but Star Wars is basically every single type of romanticized boy's adventure story rolled up into one.

This is also where Star Wars is going to go wrong in the future, to the extent that it isn't already, though.  Those who are making new Star Wars movies have embraced the feminist imperative.  Because the feminist imperative is fundamentally at odds with biology, there's nowhere to go with this but down.  There's a reason that Star Wars is a melange of boy's adventure tales, and making all of the boys bumbling comic relief and making Mary Suewalker act like a boy, except even more capable at anything and everything isn't going to make Star Wars more appealing.

As an aside, I watched the 1981 Clash of the Titans last night while holed up in the house due to lots of falling snow, inability of our infrastructure to clear the roads well, and stuff getting canceled across the board that I would otherwise have been out doing.  It's not a great movie, but I've kind of got a soft spot for those old cheesy sword & sandal movies, especially with the stop-motion mythological monsters.  I imagine most D&D players kind of do.  Now, I might watch the 2010 remake here soon, but even if I don't, I think I can remember well enough why that failed compared to the 1981 version, and much of it comes down to that.
  • In the 2010 version, Perseus is kind of whiny and reluctant.  I hate the trope of the reluctant hero.  Men that women love and other men aspire to be are movers and shakers.  Leading men who are passive, or even worse, surly and whiny, just are incredibly unlikable.  The Perseus of the earlier version, on the other hand, is happy to go find his destiny; he's even impetuous about it, which gives him a kind of youthful charm.
  • In the 2010 version, Andromeda isn't even the love interest.  Oh, she's pretty enough, but she's cold, distant, and there's nothing feminine or charming about her at all.  (For that matter, the same is mostly true of the actual love interest, some new character played by Gemma Aterton.  She's credited as Io, but has absolutely no connection to the mythological Io, so I don't know why.)  Judi Bowker's Andromeda, on the other hand, is everything a young princess should be; full of youthful, virginal sweetness, compassion, femininity, and very, very beautiful.  When she runs off on her horse in front of the guys, it's not because "I'm a manly pseudo-woman in the feminist vein, here me roar!" it's because she's young, impetuous, in love, and it makes her even more cute and more feminine rather than less so.  It's not unlike the famous line from A Princess of Mars; "Fly Sola, Dejah Thoris stays to die with the man she loves."  The men react to it fondly.  But they protect them, even from themselves, and when Andromeda wakes up to find that everyone except old Burgess Meredith has already left and there's nothing for her to do except go back home, it's sad, but not as sad, reckless or foolish as taking the girl you love into harm's way.  These two are where I say that the feminist imperative fights against biology; the story that the feminist imperative would have us tell simply isn't a story that most people are going to react to very well, because it makes men into low-T losers, and it makes women into pseudo-men.  And then to make it worse, these pseudo-men have plot immunity to even minor setbacks, because the shrieking harpies who write this stuff can't bear to see them suffer even that.  So the stories not only feature unbelievable and unlikable characters, but they also feature unlikable, boring plots with no real tension or suspense.
  • Poor Sam Worthington is probably a decent guy, but I've never yet seen him in a movie where he had any charisma or chemistry with the other actors.  Harry Hamlin, on the other hand, isn't a particularly talented actor, but even so, he had a kind of dumb jock charm, and it was credible that Perseus and Andromeda were victims of young love.
  • On the other hand, the 2010 version had much better special effects, and usually better action sequences (although I actually think the Medusa scene works better as a tense horror scene than as an action scene, so 1981's version actually wins there.  By a little bit.)
  • Yes, I admit that my exploration of The Serpent's Skull eventually led me to believe that I did need snake-men instead of merely lizardmen.  And yes, I did gravitate towards making them different by going more with a yuan-ti abomination than with just scaly people with snake heads.  And yes, that led me to Medusa, and proposing a link between Medusa, lesser medusae, and the snake-men.  And yes, that led me to watching Clash of the Titans, mostly to see the Medusa scene all over again.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Capsule review of Nizrekh

What is Nizrekh?  In short, it's a part of the TIMISCHBURG setting that is an island nation off the coast (so to the south and a bit to the west) of Timischburg itself.  I expect that it's kind of a satellite to Timischburg itself in terms of importance, but it's going to be sending agents and more to the benighted shores of my fake Transylvania from time to time.

In the language of the "Hollywood pitch" Nizrekh is "Undead and pirates from ancient Egypt."

An archipelago nation, Nizrekh was once a much larger island, and the very first High Civilization of Mankind lived on it.  Terra Atlans, it was called, and they ruled with an iron fist over the continent, although they were little interested in the people there except to take them occasionally as slaves, or to exploit the natural resources of their lands.  Mighty in technology and in magic, the Atlaneans were unchallenged for centuries.  When their Doom came, it came because of the curse that befell one of their own.

A princess of Atlans named Medusa brought a curse down on the people for reasons that are now forgotten (or better said; there are competing accounts of what happened.)  The ancient, heathen chthonian entities that the Atlaneans worshiped turned her into a horrifying monster for her crimes, her body below the waist transformed into that of the thick snake, her hair turned into a nest of vipers, and her malicious gaze would turn those who beheld her to stone.  Full of hatred and bitterness for what happened to her she took her revenge on her people, and waged war against them.  Although it's not clear how this happened, she did in fact bear children after her transformation, and these are called the lesser medusae, or sometimes the gorgons.  Their own petrification abilities were similar to that of their monstrous mother, although less potent, and those of sufficiently strong will could resist it.  Medusa herself was finally killed by a hero, but her vile progeny, which now included the warlike snake-men continued a bitter war of attrition against the Atlaneans.

Disgusted with the behavior of the Atlaneans, who had fallen into bitter rejection of their gods, a massive sea monster known as Mekaketos destroyed their island, killing most Atlaneans and snake-men both.  There are disturbing rumors that Megaketos was not related to Ketos, but was rather Cthulhu itself, awakened for a short time by the gods.  If so, the devastation to Terra Atlans makes more sense; the majority of the land was sunk and only sun-bleached fragments of it remain.  A single structure, the great pyramid of Halkatash is all that remains.

New peoples came to these islands, peoples from the shoreline of what would later become the countries of Gunaakt, Baal Hamazi and parts of Timischburg itself.  These were mostly simple fishermen and other coastal types, but they grew in power and influence as well, becoming wealthy traders and sailors.  Occasionally, they would find nests of snake-men still lingering in the islands, but mostly the survivors of that Pyrrhic war had fled for foreign parts.  But at the height of their power, they discovered that not all of the Atlaneans were dead.  Some of the wisest and most powerful (and the most blasphemous and corrupt) knew that their destruction was imminent.  Sacrificing many of their lesser brethren's lives and souls in foul rituals, they turned themselves in the Heresiarch's—arch undead that combine the strengths of both vampires and liches with few of their weaknesses—and sealed themselves in thick sarcophagi that would be able to survive the sinking of their land, slumbering for centuries or even millennia on the bottom of the sea.

Nobody knows how many of these there are, but about half a dozen or so returned to their former lands (or what was left of them) and quickly conquered it with their foul and powerful magic, establishing themselves as undead Pharaohs over the Nizrekhs who lived here now.  They did, however, not disrupt the native Nizrekh culture too much, and are content to rule openly yet quietly.  The world is not as primitive as it was in their time, and much of their science (if not their magic) was lost in the destruction of their world, so they bide their time, attempting to locate and raise the rest of their brethren and fortify their power base before they make any attempt to expand their influence through conquest yet again.

The Court of the Heresiarchs

Today, they rule over an aristocratic urban Nizrekh, a strange place where necromantic magic, Immortal soldiers (mummies) patrol the streets, and powerful traders still make their living.  But more along the coasts are lawless communities, which have gradually become more mixed and cosmopolitan—havens for pirates and other worse riffraff who make of themselves a nuisance across the entire Mezzovian Sea.  Few foreigners leave these anarchic, violent pirate cities, as they are rarely welcomed in the urban centers ruled by the Heresiarchs.  In addition to these pirates, natives who live in rebellion against the Heresiarchs wander the plains and other inland rural areas of the islands.  For some reason they are tolerated, to a point, probably because they cause very little actual harm.  However, unknown (presumably, at least) to the Heresiarchs, these nomadic rebels have made contact with a cell of medusae and their snake-men soldiers, and may have found a means to wage a more successful rebellion—even if the cost is their own humanity, ultimately.

Anyway; that's Nizrekh in a nutshell. The advent of the Heresiarchs spawned a "Golden Age" of necromancy among the people, and a recognition of their past dealings with the snake-men has also spawned numerous odd details, including the worship of many snakes and snake-like entities, even as actual snake-men and their medusae rulers gather to threaten them yet again.

More details on some aspects of it will be forthcoming in future posts.

Worst classic D&D name

There's some terribly stupid names in D&D.  While not meant to be exhaustive, this list is certainly a few of the worst.
  • Blibdoolpoolp—kuo-toa sea goddess that looks like a naked woman with a lobster head and lobster claws instead of hands.
  • Yan-C-Bin—how do you even pronounce the "C"?  Evil prince of air elementals (it doesn't help that that's also kind of a stupid concept.)
  • Ixitxachitl—not only are demonic intelligent manta rays who are the favored children of Demogorgon incredibly stupid, but why'd they have to get this mouthful of vaguely Aztec sounding consonants appended to them?  On this list, throw otyugh and svirfneblin too.
  • Speaking of which, just because a name is a "real" one doesn't mean that it's a good one that anyone would be interested in.  Q'uq'umatz may be an Aztec god, but as the D&D god of frog people, it should have been at least somewhat anglicized as Kukumatz or something.  That at least doesn't look like a cat walked on my keyboard.
  • For that matter, anything with gratuitous apostraphes, since English doesn't include glottal stops, should get the ax.  Yes, Fraz-Urb'luu, Graz'zt and Drizzt Do'Urden, that means all of you.  This got worse when Forgotten Realms turned uber big in 2e, but obviously G'ary Gy'gax himself wasn't immune to it. Yeenoghu isn't great, but at least it avoids that particular trap.
  • Zygag.  Blegh.  Drawmij is just as bad.  Iggwilv is nearly so.
  • Yes, I know St. Cuthbert is a real person (or at least, it's based on a placename that's named for what was believed to be a real person.)  That is not the name of a god in a polytheistic pantheon.
  • Also for that matter; some of those pulp writers did not have a good ear for names.  Cthulhu was deliberately designed to be unpronounceable, but that's just silly.  Nobody will ever say a word that's unpronounceable, so it has to get linguistically "eroded" into something that actually fits the language of the people saying it.  That's why in spite of its atrocious spelling, most people who care to aren't particularly bothered by pronouncing cuh-THOOL-hoo.  It's not exactly how Lovecraft tried to say it was pronounced, but who cares.
  • On the other hand, when I took the old Slavic god Chernobog and modified the spelling somewhat to Chernovog for my DARK•HERITAGE setting, I actually had no idea that D&D had already done so as well in the Expedition to Castle Ravenloft which, give me a break, I've never read (and which doesn't predate my setting by much either.)  Heck; I came up with the idea independently, borrowing from Disney's Fantasia for crying out loud.  Maybe I should adopt my original spelling Czernovog?  Or Sir Walter Scott's dubious spelling of Zernebock?  Or the Chronica Slavorum's spelling of Zcerneboch?  In Serbian, it's spelled Crnobog, Polish Czarnobóg and in Czech, Černobůh.  In Russian, Bulgarian and Croatian, of course, it's written in Cyrillic letters.  I've got lots of options.  I thought Chernovog was the closest to English that I'd likely get without sounding exactly like the guy from Fantasia, but it seems I wasn't the first to independently think that.  Of course, their Chernavog seems to be some kind of Green Man evil druid demon-lord figure, while mine is much more like Nyarlathotep's Black Pharaoh persona and the father of the kemling race.
  • It is kind of ironic that in the 3e Ravenloft they call Chernovog "the Green God" when the name, literally translated from the Slavic language, means "the Black God."  But I doubt the D&D developers did very in depth research into the name; they just liked it.
  • On the other hand, when C. J. Cherryh wore her Russian fantasy trilogy and used the spelling Chernevog, she knew exactly what she was doing, I think.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Optional Fantasy Hack material: more monsters

Developed as I've gone through my CULT OF UNDEATH project, and just a bit of my ISLES OF TERROR project too (although I may yet have more from that) here's some more monsters that can be added to your FANTASY HACK game.
HEADLESS HORSEMAN: AC: 16 HD: 4d6 (16 hp) AT: touch +4 (1d6) STR: -4, DEX: +2, MND: +1 S: undead immunities, only hit by magic or silver weapons, arrows do a max 1 HP damage.  Also: drains 1d3 DEX on touch, creatures reduced to -5 DEX are immobile and helpless for coup de grace attack that kills them automatically, forces a Sanity check on all characters that can see the horseman.  
MOUNT: AC: 15 HD: 5d6 (20 hp) AT: bite +5 (1d6) STR: +3, DEX: -1, MND: -3, S: breathe fire (1d10 HP damage—DEX + Athletics check DC 14 will halve damage.) 
These two go together, needless to say, although it would be unusual that the mount would continue to fight if the horseman was killed.  Headless horsemen are often geographically bound; i.e., if you make it out of the woods that it haunts and crosses the covered bridge that leads to town, you have escaped from it.  Or something along those lines.
GHOUL-HOUNDS: AC: 13 HD: 2d6 (8 hp) AT:  bite +2 (1d6) STR: +2, DEX: +0, MND: -1, S: touch paralyzes for 1d4 rounds, humans wounded by ghoul-hounds are cursed if they fail a MND + level check (DC 12) and will slowly turn into ghouls themselves.  This process involves taking 1 point of MND damage every day (which does not heal overnight) until they reach -5, at which point the conversion is complete.  GM may provide antidote/remedy to counter this curse.
Ghouls hounds are to wolves or large dogs what ghouls are to people; a kind of undead monstrosity with many of the traits of a ghoul.  These horrible canine monsters sometimes haunt the area surrounding a powerful undead, such as the forest around the castle of a vampire lord.
SPIDER-BABOON: AC: 12 HD: 2d6 (8 hp) AT: bite +2 (1d6) STR: +1, DEX: +3, MND: -4, S: Acrobatics affinity, successful bite attacks deliver poison.  Target must succeed on STR+Level check DC 14 or take 1d4 STR damage.  One minute later, a second check must be passed or character takes 1d4 DEX damage.
A monster that was supposedly bred in Hell; these are like an agile primate, but with multiple eyes like a spider, and a poisonous bite.  They are not native to anywhere on Earth, but may infest certain cursed areas, and some powerful sorcerers even summon one as a familiar (since it has 2 HD, any sorcerer of 4th level or higher.)
NIZREKH ROYAL HERESIARCH: AC: 17 HD: 10d6 (40 hp) AT: touch +5 (1d6) STR: +4, DEX: +2, MND: +3, S: undead immunities, only takes half damage from non-silver weapons, regenerate 3 hp per round, on a successful hit (MND + level to resist, DC 19) does 1d4 STR damage, can hypnotize (MND + level check, DC 19), avoids crosses and mirrors, immobilized and apparently dead if a stake is driven through its heart,  cause fear in creatures under 4th level/HD, can cast spells up to 5th level.
While the vampires of Timischburg have a powerful undead grip on immortality (of a sort) they are pale shadows of the true masters of undeath, the Royal Nizrekh Heresiarchs.  There are only a handful such that exist, but all are powerful scions of undeath and thaumaturgy, and attack with powerful physical as well as magical abilities when they are spurred to combat.  They rather spend their time in Machiavellian manipulation against each other and other rivals, however—if they are reduced to fighting for their lives, usually something has gone really wrong for them.

Like Liches, Heresiarchs have horcruxes that make their total destruction extremely difficult, and many enemies that think that they have destroyed one find to their fatal chagrin that they just keep coming back.

The best literary comparison to the Heresiarchs is the Ten Who Were Taken from Glen Cook's The Black Company.
SPIDER, GIANT: AC: 15 HD: 7d8 (35 hp) AT: bite +6 (1d6+4 plus poison)  STR: +6, DEX: +1, MND: -4, S: successful bite attacks deliver poison.  Target must succeed on STR+Level check DC 14 or take 1d4 STR damage.  One minute later, a second check must be passed or character takes 1d4 DEX damage.
Modified from wyvern stats.  Less of a Shelob and more of the Mirkwood spiders, though.
DOPPLEGANGER: AC: 14 HD: 3d6 (12 hp) AT: broadsword +3 (1d6), STR: +2, DEX: +2, MND: +2 S: Can change form as a single action.
Can mimic the appearance of any character, PC or NPC.
FLESH HOUND: AC: 14 HD: 2d12 (10 hp) AT: bite +4 (1d6+2) STR: +3, DEX: -2 MND: -3 S: Immune to most forms of magical attack.  Regular weapons do only half damage.  Fire (magical or mundane) does 2x damage.  
CHILD GOLEM: AC: 14 HD: 2d12 (15 hp) AT: slam +5 (2d4+2) STR: +3, DEX: -2 MND: -3 S: Immune to most forms of magical attack.  Regular weapons do only half damage.  Fire (magical or mundane) does 2x damage.
Two minor alterations to the flesh golem stats, for a hound-like golem (instead of humanoid) and for one made from the corpses of children.
SLENDERMAN:  AC: 16 HD: 4d6 (16) AT: touch +4 (1d6) STR: -4, DEX: +2, MND: +1 S: undead immunities, only hit by silver or magical weapons, arrows do a max of 1 HP damage, forces Sanity check on all who see him, drains 1d3 DEX each round on touch attack. Characters with -5 DEX are helpless and immobile, and will be killed by coup de grace. 
MOURNING MAIDEN: AC: 16 HD: 4d6 (16) AT: touch +4 (1d6) STR: -4, DEX: +2, MND: +1 S: undead immunities, only hit by silver or magical weapons, arrows do a max of 1 HP damage, casts Glance of the Gorgon as a 5th level caster once per round.
Two variations on the ghost template, as needed for a specifically haunted house themed adventure.
SNAKEMAN: AC: 16, HD 2d8 (10 hp) AT: bite +3 (1d8+4) or bow and arrow +2 (1d6+4). STR: +2, DEX: +0, MND: -1 S: amphibious, successful bite attacks deliver poison.  Target must succeed on STR+Level check DC 14 or take 1d4 STR damage.  One minute later, a second check must be passed or character takes 1d4 DEX damage. 
Powerful children of Medusa (the original) they often are ruled by a lesser medusa (as shown in the stats for FANTASY HACK).  They lack the petrification ability, but are quite large and strong, and have a poisonous bite.  From the waist down, they are a slithering snake, like medusae, but they lack the snake "hair" and in general have a more serpent-like face.
SNAKE GOLEM: AC: 20, HD 4d12 (28 hp) AT: glaive +6 (2d8+6). STR: +6, DEX: +0, MND: -1 S: Turn to Stone on failed DC 12 MND + level check) if you look the snake golem in the eye
In the very early days of humanity, when the Heresiarchs of Nizrekh were new, their wars with the snakemen were legendary.  Some of their slain enemies were turned into a horrifying creature; undead skeletons of the largest and most powerful snakemen; like giants compared to their stunted cousins who survive today.  Their skeletons are fossilized into black marble, but with a baleful light in their eyes, they still serve their conquerors.  They also have a bit of the curse of their Mother, Medusa, in that they can turn opponents to stone (albeit not as reliably as the medusae can.)

Why not D&D?

Reading a review of Atonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, I was struck by the passage posted below.  First, let me give a little context.  The system for this game is a slightly derived evolution of AD&D.  The setting is a pastiche of Howard and Smith and Lovecraft's S&S output.  As I've noted before... well, read it for yourself.
So what's the problem? 
The problem is that AD&D is a poor vehicle for portraying adventures in that world. AD&D is all about collecting: the heaviest armor, the baddest weapon, the deadliest spells, the flashiest magic items. Conan or the Gray Mouser were never defined by their +2 frost brand sword, boots of striding and springing, gauntlets of ogre power, and rope of climbing. No sorcerer of Howard's or Leiber's ever cast a spell like ice storm or haste. 
When magic spells function like rocket launchers and tasers, wizards turn into soldiers. When the power of magic items outstrips the power of the character wielding those items, the character becomes an adjunct to his gear, a carrier. Both of those styles are characteristic of AD&D (and, by extension, AS&SH), but they're contrary to the pulpy flavor that Hyperborea wants to place front and center. [...] 
Could AD&D / AS&SH replicate Weird Tales? Of course they could, but not without either the DM or the publisher of the setting placing severe limits on what's allowed. 
Rules have profound impact on the underlying assumptions of a game world. In the stories of Howard and Leiber, human freedom, courage, and indomitability are ultimately more powerful than the potent but decadent force of civilization and its corrupting familiar, magic. Contrast that to AD&D, where a high-level magic-user is unlikely to be bested unless he's confronted by an almost equal use of magic and where a warrior's or thief's inventory is likely to contain as many magical items as a wizard's, if not more. 
AS&SH's extensive chapters on AD&D-inspired spells and magic items contain no discussion of limiting magic for the sake of preserving the old-shool weird fantasy feel this game wants to be about. The original DMG at least contained warnings to the DM about what would happen if too much magic was set loose in the game. That warning wasn't just Gary spouting about his preferred style of play; it was motivated by the sacks of letters TSR received from DMs begging for advice after rampant magic torpedoed their campaigns--magic that was, in most cases, generated straight off the game's treasure and magic item tables. Since AS&SH's random treasure table is nearly identical to AD&D's, history leads us to expect it to generate the same Monte Haulish problems. [...] 
Grafting AD&D's everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to spells and magic items onto Hypberborea is a disservice to the pulp-style setting. Of course, a DM can go through the AS&SH spells and magic item lists and cross off all the effects and items he wants his players never to get their hands on. I'd be fine with that approach if AS&SH was a generic fantasy game, but it's not. 
As it stands, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea is the Odd Couple of FRPGs: two individually excellent products cohabiting the same box yet living in separate universes. If you're looking for a solid, approachable retroclone of AD&D, AS&SH is a strong choice. If you're looking for a weird fantasy setting inspired by the stories and ambiance of Howard, Leiber, Moorcock, and Smith, you won't find one much better than Hyperborea. But these two sharing an apartment? The linguini will hit the wall.
In other words; D&D (or at least AD&D) is a poor emulator of exactly the kind of source material that it deliberately claims to be emulating.  Yeah.  That's a problem.

Read the full review here:  http://www.howlingtower.com/2013/08/astonishing-swordsmen-sorcerers-of.html

The Mysterious Morrison

I'm a huge fan of the Morrison Formation; the famous North American formation from which Brontosaurus and Allosaurus and Stegosaurus come.  Although it's very well known and kind of established what was once seen as a "standard" Jurassic fauna, there are actually some real questions i it is representative, or unusual.

In large part, this is because of the strange prevalence of diplodocid dinosaurs.  The Morrison is teeming with them.  It's got Diplodocus itself of course (two species, probably separated in time) plus Apatosaurus, Barosaurus, Supersaurus, Galeamopus, Kaatedocus, the newly re-split out Brontosaurus plus (probably) Amphicoelias

The most common sauropod was the macronarian Camarasaurus, however, and Brachiosaurus appeared rarely, probably living more in the highlands where it's remains were less likely to be fosssilized.  Nowhere else is this diversity represented, and even in contemporary faunas that are often compared to the Morrision, the diplodocids are much more rare and less diverse than they are in the Morrison.  In the Lourinha formation, for example, there's only Dinherirosaurus (which may be simply a different species of Supersaurus instead) and in the Tendaguru, there's only Tornieria.  Portugal's fossil needs more surveying (the same is true for Africa's) but in Tendaguru it seems abundantly clear that the analog to Brachiosaurus (Giraffatitan) is relatively much more common.

So the diplodocids are actually present in only a fairly narrow window of time, and really only had amazing diversity in one (albeit a large one) location; the Morrison itself.  Other than that, they don't really appear anywhere else, except in small numbers in some formations that are contemporary in time with them.  What does that mean?  Were they a briefly flourishing local family, or do we just need to find more of them in the rest of the world as more formations get to be better known?

It seems clear that the macronarians, especially the titanosaurs, are the most diverse and successful clade of sauropods; they lasted the longest, were by far the most widespread, and had by far the largest number of clades and specimens both.

But somehow, I can't get over the classic "Brontosaurus" and "Diplodocus" that I grew up with.  Along with "Brachiosaurus" (which was actually based on the African skeleton rather than the related but different North American one, so it isn't actually Brachiosaurus after all) they were the three sauropods that everyone knew; the most well-known, the longest and the biggest, respectively.  None of those is true anymore, but it's weird to think that the classic dinosaurs I knew... aren't.

(Sigh) Hopeless and hapless moderates

I've been banned from commenting three times in the last couple of months at Breitbart.  Not for saying anything that isn't untrue, or even readily documented.  For saying something that's too right wing for them.

They are especially hard on anyone who points out facts that call into question the Jewish narrative. 


Well, yeah.  Modern Judaism is essentially the corruption of the Pharisees turned up to caricaturish levels.  The Talmud is little more than an exercise to excuse any form of exploitation (especially of the goyim) that Jewish elders wish, up to and including pedophilia. 

It gets difficult, especially in the wake of (((the Gropocaust))) to see the Judaic religion as anything other than a tribal supremacist cult.

How can you tell a lying moderate from someone who's actually on the Right? (I hesitate to even call them conservatives anymore, since the Conservative Brand has been so tarnished by losers who don't even attempt to "conserve" the little girls' room, much less anything else about Western civilization.)  Ask them if they support the same policy for Israel that they do for America.  Border wall?  Strictly controlled immigration?  Deportations of foreigners? Toleration of a foreign nation on our soil that refuses to respect the anthem or the flag?

If it's good enough for Israel, it's good enough for America.  If you think Israel can have it but America can't, get out and go home to Israel where your true loyalty obviously lies.



Steve reviews The Force Awakens...

...in the comments section at Vox Day's.  I have tickets to see The Last Jedi on Saturday. But I can't say that my expectations are very high.
I finally saw about half-to-[two-]thirds of The Star Track Awakens recently because I have a little boy who likes the robot character BB King and demands to see it on Netflix. 
I really don't know what the fuss is about. 
Bargain Bin Keira Knightley couldn't act her way out of a damp paper bag. She's not terrible, she's quite pretty in a boobless, definitely-check-her-ID sort of way, but teeters on the verge of being insufferable for the entire film. 
D'Shawn the Stormtrooper is a bag of meh too. Apart from being incredibly sweaty and spazzing out because someone gets a tiny bit of blood on his helmet (so much for the training at stormtrooper school), he's a completely forgettable and redundant character. 
Dago Han Solo - gay. 
Actual Han Solo - cuts a pathetic figure, still dressed like he did in the 70's even though he looks about 90 now. At least his dog is still alive but even he doesn't look happy. 
Dork Helmet - Terrible. I felt like cringing whenever he flew into an infantile rage. They lampshade his difficulty enunciating through his breathing mask early on in the film, but that doesn't forgive the fact I could only make out about 2 words out of 3 - at best. James Earl Jones' elocution teacher wept. 
Grand Moff Rick Astley - I didn't believe for a second that this pissy ginger nerd was some sort of badass leader of men. He came across more like a peevish assistant manager at PC World. 
Carrie Fisher - they did a good job on the CGI to make her look slightly under 300 lbs. 
Gollum - dunno why he was even in this film. 
Orange Female Mr Magoo Yoda - I don't remember anything she said or did, because I was distracted by the way her eyes look like they're set in puckered bumholes. 
The usual teevee sci fi worldbuilding credibility problems exist. In Star Force'scase, we're supposed to believe that these people live in a society which has mastered cheap, easy faster-than-light travel, AI, and antigravity. Fine. But why, then, does everyone seem to be poor? [ed. note: this one doesn't bother me at all, on the other hand.  We have all kinds of fantastic technology in OUR world too, and yet most people are poor and getting poorer, even in the so-called First World.]
Overall I give The Last Starfighter Awakens two light-phasers out of five. It's apparently entertaining enough for preschoolers, but only for about 20 minutes until they decide to do something more amusing such as trying to shoot the cat with a nerf gun. The new characters are all garbage except for BB King, and he's just R2D2 after eating too many robo-carbs.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Deconstructing the Serpent's Skull 5: The Thousand Fangs Below Part II

PART FOUR: CITY OF SERPENTS  Really about half the city, but this is the payola for the whole module; finally infiltrating the serpentmen held portion of the city, fighting a bunch of them, and rescuing Eando Kline so he can tell you how terrible their plan really is and you can gear up for even more gratuitous snake killing in the last installment.  The "random" encounters you're likely to have here are mostly patrols of six serpentmen fighters.  (If you haven't noticed, yes—I emphasize the -men in serpentmen and lizardmen and ratmen too for that matter, because I refuse to bow to the politically correct nonsense that quietly changed them to serpentfolk and lizardfolk and ratfolk in the official crazy Seattle sources.  Now that I've pointed that out, I can probably just quit using the italics, though.)  There are also several non-random serpentmen guardposts with six or more soldiers standing there keeping watch.  All in all, you could conceivably kill a couple dozen serpentmen guards just wandering around town.  According to the module, they are disciplined enough to maintain their post even if they hear a disturbance from somewhere else in the city, which is mostly good for the PCs, if perhaps unlikely in real life.  Then again, who knows what snake men would do if they existed in real life?

For some reason there are also four vrocks (vulture demons) literally dancing in one of the street intersections, and they attack anyone who comes by.  Why the snakes haven't attended to that obvious threat is... I dunno.  There's actually, other than that, surprisingly little to do or see in the snake section of the city, other than their big fortress.  This is, of course, crawling with snakemen guards and advanced snakemen officers, but there's also a number of other monsters to fight in here.  Let's go through what you'll face in the Thousand Fangs fortress:

There are stats for bloodwine, a potent drink that the snakes like, but which is poisonous to most other peoples.  There are two "great cyclopses" that are dominated by the head snakey-head himself.  There are also two iron golems (with snake heads) that you'll have to fight.  How you can do this "stealthily" is beyond me, so most likely you won't actually.

There's a succubus spy, who works for the head-snake.  Supposedly the vrocks came with her, but why they're out dancing in the streets is... I dunno.  She'll pose as one of the dead companions of Kline, most likely, and follow the PCs around as a sympathetic help, looking for the best opportunity to stab them in the back (probably when something else dangerous is around.)  She may even get away and plague the PCs later, although she has no other role in this adventure.

The other major guest is the urdefhan defector mentioned in the last post.  There are also four starving, savage gugs, trained to not attack serpentfolk hiding behind a secret door nearby.  This means that Paizo treat gugs as if they're little more than animals, but in The DreamQuest of Unknown Kadath, they are city-building and presumably civilized, if violent.  After this, and a fair bit of wandering around exploring other rooms, many of which are not particularly interesting, you eventually stumble across the commander of the snake guard, sitting in his office oblivious to the carnage happening among his charges.  In a moment that kind of made me chuckle, you can then go kill his harem of snake girls in his seraglio.  Unless you decide that that's too sexist or something idiotic like that.

There's also a named snakey witch to kill, with a bunch of crap in her laboratory of magical research.  There's also some strange thing called a "gohl" or serpent cloud, which is described as, "a conglomeration of thrashing, serpentine tails and three fanged snake heads with gold and emerald scales."  There's a room full of the sarcophagi of magically hibernating snakemen from ancient times, guarded by a snakeman ghost sorcerer who's own hibernation was botched or something.  It also tells you how you could wake them up, although how the PCs would figure that out or why they would want to is... I dunno.  But the snakes now living here haven't really figured this place out either, and have been scared off by the ghost, so they haven't explored a secret chamber behind it, guarded by a chain lightning trap and having a bunch of magic items stashed away in it.

More secret and hidden doors lead to the dungeons below the temple.  There's more guards here, unsurprisingly, and loads of imprisoned morlocks (like 200 of them.)  They can be convinced, albeit with some difficulty, to riot and try and join their brethren, which creates a nice distraction for you, except by this point, you've already killed almost everything in the temple anyway.  There are four snake-demon things here (fiendish spirit nagas, to be exact) as well as the actual body of the woman the succubus is impersonating.  If she's still with the PCs, that'll be awkward for her, and she'll probably flee.  You'll also probably kill the head snake torturer,  at which point they'll finally find the famous Eando Kline.

Technically, the adventure is over at this point, but there's a few loose ends to wrap up.  Do they go back to Izon and tell him that they killed his defector for him?  Do they go back to the old morlock lady and tell him that they rescued her Pathfinder for her?  Both?  Neither?  Do they interrogate Kline here and now (details of what he knows not included in this volume) because; I mean, after all the torture equipment is handy.  (Heh.)  Or do they take him back to the surface to rest and recover and tell them about the impending end of the world at his leisure?  Or do they just tell him and his elf-lover Juliver to get to the surface on their own while they continue to explore the city and kill anything that's left in it?

If they do the latter, there's a small section on the city, including some encounters, that aren't directly related to the module, so are left to the appendix.  Here, we have "serpentstone golems", which are animated statues of snakes and hydras with breath weapons—not a bad idea, and not unlike some of the old Tomb Kings troop types, as I recall.  There's other treasures, traps, and some giant morlocks to deal with too.

The bestiary includes, along with "random encounters" which are mostly patrols and guards of things like morlocks, intellect devourers, urdefhans and serpentment.  There's a few other things, but honestly, most of them fit poorly and I don't know why a GM would want to use any of them.

There's an "arcanotheign"—a strange herald of "mad god" of wizardry.  There's some kind of giant cobra that supposedly comes from Zulu mythology (it's a little ridiculous at this point to pretend that African mythology has anything to do with an underground city of snakemen, though.)  There's a folkloric Ugandan giant eel monster (same) and Zulu haunted tree.  None of which I can imagine having anything to do with an underground serpentmen city.

And that wraps up the penultimate Serpent's Skull adventure.  ISLES OF TERROR is moving along quit rapidly, isn't it?  Much easier than my CULT OF UNDEATH project was.

Friday Art Attack

Since I was starting to not enjoy trying to tie pictures to one of my three "active" campaign settings, I've decided to get rid of those tags from these Friday Art Attack posts and no longer make any attempt to link them explicitly.  Unless, of course, I have a picture that just perfectly fits, which by coincidence, my first one for this week does.

Good old fashioned yeoman soldier.  A classic of pseudo-Medieval fantasy.  This would actually fit quite well in DARK•HERITAGE Mk. V

I like the pseudo-80s vibe to this illustration, even as it is something bizarre and occultish.

You really can't go wrong with yetis, sasquatches and savage apes.  I'm really digging them lately, as a matter of fact.

Speaking of, an illustration of a white ape attacking John Carter and presumably Dejah Thoris in a ruined old city of Barsoom.

4e style Orcus and Demogorgon fight two PCs, including a dragonborn.

I believe this was the cover to a Gor book (yep, just looked it up.  #20: Players of Gor.)  I actuallly remember seeing this on the shelf in the book section of Wal-Mart when I was a teenager.

A decent reptilian demon fight piece of art.

Everybody needs ancient ruins in the desert!

Everybody needs people with gigantic swords riding T. rexes!  Unfortunately, there's a bit of a subtle anime vibe to the character.

Very much in the vein of the DARK•HERITAGE Mk IV setting!

This Mexican comic book is what Flash Gordon or Star Wars with trashier chicks should be like.  Check out that awesome fake Darth Vader!

An interesting take on a general of the undead.

An interesting sword & sorcery piece.  That does look like a woman, though, which is odd.

The Martian Maginot Line.  From the Destiny series.