Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Forlorn Temple Awaits! Now In Pathfinder Flavor

My first Pathfinder-labeled product is now out, hot off the virtual press. It's a short module, a dungeon delve in "Warlords of Lingusia" flavor that is my test bed product for a new series of PDFs I have been working on over the last several months. The idea is to release alternating scenarios and setting books, preferably one or two a month (although actual rates of release will vary wildly, knowing my own limits), with each book providing a slice of content on the Warlords of Lingusia setting. This was the first book; the second book will be the first "setting book" on schedule, and will focus on the region of Golmadras, a land once occupied by elves and now dominated by a cruel empire dedicated to a self-proclaimed god king.

Warlords of Lingusia will be an interesting treat to showcase. It's a direct successor to the Keepers of Lingusia campaign setting, but with the timeline spun forward more than a thousand years. In that thousand years a variety of dramatic events have shaped the very nature and geography of the world, the mystery of the ancient, cthonian Skaeddrath has at last come to light, and the divine politics of the gods have changed--for the worse. I see the Warlords Era of Lingusia as my "modern baby," a sort of reimagining of my original setting through my current sensibilities, while still remaining "canon" to my original campaigns from many years ago. Of course, the continuity of my own campaign is of little concern to anyone other than myself....so the idea is to make these new books both internally sound for my own sensibilities while writing them to be as accessible as possible to gamers who have no concern about such esoterica.

As a free bonus, I am going to add another 4E monster to the roster here. Specifically, it's a 4E adaptation of the Big Bad and its artifact at the end of the module. Enjoy!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Conan the Barbarian: A Review

I'll preface this by establishing my "credentials" before moving forward: reading Conan in the original 12 book series featuring Howard's edited tales in conjunction with new stories by de Camp and Carter was what got me into both fantasy and reading in one fell swoop as a kid. The seventies were, for me, a time when I could manage to get the novels with ease, but trying to get the non-CC Authority approved "Savage Sword of Conan" comics was out of my reach. As a result, I felt strongly that Conan was a literary character, and that the comics were fun but pale imitations.

I got to see the original Conan the Barbarian movie when it was released in 1982, and I had cool enough parents and uncles that they were all there watching and enjoying it as well. It was a profound movie to see as a kid, and I have always considered it the kind of film that was unique to that period in film history....the idea of a movie laden with nudity, violence, sorcery and lots and lots of hippie extras was a singular convergence of films in the late seventies and trailing into the early eighties. It was a good film, and Arnold did a pretty good job, this despite the fact that the movie was not a true adaptation of Conan's tales but rather a sort of spiritual re-imagining of the character. For one thing, it managed to take Conan's key defining trait in the tales --his natural development into a warrior through years of fighting and adventure-- and changed it into this sort of angsty "my family is dead" theme that made him more a victim of circumstance and a hapless pawn for years before he is unexpectedly given an unwanted freedom. It's not bad as stories go, just not Conan. Not the real one, anyway. The sequel is barely worth mentioning, as far as I'm concerned; it's tragic misdirection of tale and intent derailed by focusing on something more PG-friendly and taking too many qeues from the comics (or so I've felt, at least until recently).

So anyway, I've been with Conan as a source of interest and inspiration for a long time. I wrote some of the supplements for the role playing game in recent years (Tales of the Black Kingdom and books 2 and 3 of the Messantia boxed set) as well, which was a real pleasure, and also in interesting insight into the nature of professional freelancing in the RPG business. These days I've been enjoying the resurgence of interest in Conan and Howard especially, with purist-driven anthologies of his works, with all editing and politically incorrect adjustments restored to the original texts. I've also at long last been able to catch up on the surprisingly good Savage Sword of Conan collections Dark Horse has been releasing. In short, I've read a lot of Conan, and a lot of Howard.

So now I've seen the new movie, which I honestly had only nominal expectations for. I was fully expecting it to be a spin-off of the original films, with maybe a modest nod to the current MMO and possibly, just possibly, a bit of recognition of the original stories. Instead, I was treated to one of the goriest films I've ever seen this side of the zombie subgenre, a movie which portrays a Conan who is a naturla born killer both in youth and adulthood, setting the opening act of the tale with Conan as a youngster who has Ron Perlman for a dad and later cutting to the chase with Conan in his mid twenties, set sometime after he has likely done his time as a thief and a wanderer, met Belit, and gone through a number of adventures (and a few references, such as to the Tower of the Elephant, are provided as indication of his exploits).

The movie establishes right off that it's not related to the previous films, starting with the more accurate depiction of Conan's birth on the battlefield and converging only briefly with what now must be the traditional "massacre of the home town" event that is apparently necessary in the minds of screenwriters to motivate the hero to go forth. It then cuts forward several years to a Conan in the middle of his adventuring career, as he stumbles on a clue that leads him to vengeance against his village's destroyer. This time it's a cruel warlord and his sorcerous daughter, seeking to use an ancient Acheronian artifact to resurrect his mad and quite dead wife, using the blood of the last pure Acheronian woman in the world. Good stuff, nice to see a new villain and not wonder why Conan is fighting Kull's nemesis, for one thing! They also didn't decide to recycle Thoth Amon or another villain from Conan's tales, who might not have been specifically appropriate for a new tale as this one weaves.

So I'll avoid any more spoilers, but state the film's strengths:

1. It pulls no punches, and this movie shows off gore, violence, depravity and naked slave girls as often as it can. The violence was seriously over the top. This is all a good thing. This film earned its R.

2. The story is original, but it studiously avoids violating the canon of the original tales as much as possible. Where it gets muddy (such as the periods of time that are not specifically addressed in traveling across the length and breadth of the continent) it glosses over, and one must be reminded of Howard's own interpretation of his Conan tales: as the stories of a man you are sharing an ale with in a tavern, told out of sequence and sometimes not quite accurate, as they are recalled from memory of the old warrior telling you about the highlights of his long career. This movie manages that just fine.

3. The new actor for Conan works out better than I expected. He's got the lithe, panther-like quick movements and speed that Conan was always described as having, but which the slow and lumbering Arnold couldn't manage. He looks more "Frazetta-like," to me. He's good eye candy for the ladies as well, my wife has informed me.

4. The set pieces, scenery and costuming for this film was impeccable. I loved it, and need to watch it again just to pay closer attention to all the little details. It was scenery porn all over the place, and really looked and felt like Hyboria. Great stuff.

Now for the bad bits:

1. The 3D was unnecessary and of mixed value. Sometimes it stood out, and other times is was obviously flat or missing. It was actually kind of distracting at times. If you can see it without 3D, I would suggest that option instead.

2. I don't know why Conan's fellow villagers keep dying in movies. I guess it would explain why Conan in his long career never meets another Cimmerian with whom he grew up, but this is clearly some sort of perceived plot necessity by Hollywood screenwriters....still, it was done well, and Conan the younger kicks a lot of ass for a kid.

3. The movie is a quality B film, a lot of fun, but anyone watching it will notice moments where the story is sacrificed for the effects, or occasional spots where maybe some additional dialogue or a slower and more purposeful effort at focusing on the slow moments may have better served the mood of the film.

4. The special effects are by and large amazing, and I loved the sand demons, but there are a couple moments where the film really fell flat due to the effects. The most outstanding moment of this problem was (for me) with the kraken/hydra tentacled thing toward the end. I wish they'd taken the time spent rendering that and put it into a more impressive finale....speaking of which....

5. The finale was fun, but missing something: specifically, something demonstrating the decidedly Mythosesque Acheronian Mask's powers, such as....oh, I don't know...some actual sorcery? It was a perfectly decent ending, but still, if the sorceress can summon sand demons, why on earth does she decide to tackle the monk woman herself at the end? Still, a minor quibble.

So in the end, this is a fun movie, and closer to the Real Conan than the 1982 Arnold Conan. It's getting brutalized by the film critics who are clearly taking the film to task for being a continutation/reboot of the 1982 movie, and demonstrating a lack of awareness of its broader literary context. Is it a perfect adaptation of the books? Not hardly, but its a pretty damned good pastiche, and I don't think Howard is spinning in his grave. In fact, I think he'd rather enjoy it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Legend has a Cover

Here it is:

Looks like its still on schedule for an October release in digest format at $20. This is going to make "buy in" from players a lot easier for me.

I would like to be the first to point out that this cover will do nothing to assuage the concerns of the cleavage-in-art nazis out there who were blasting RQII for a couple pieces of art that were considered less about "sorceresses doing magic" than about "strippers doing magic" but oh well.

My take has been presented in various forum battles on this: I could care less about sexy art (other than that I appreciate it too) but rather I prefer my fantasy or SF art to be realistic. At least the two gals on this cover don't look like they plan in taking on an army of orcs in their lingerie....maybe hurling spells from a distance instead? The gal on the left looks like a non-combatant type. Which I would like to point out Runequest...er, Legend does very well. Its one of the few good fantasy RPGs out there that could start with a tale of a merchant, a minstrel, a courtesan and a squire and therefrom begin to weave a fine tale of fantasy that at no point requires that each protagonist lift a sword with proficiency.

I am very tempted to make Legend my only game of choice for a while once its out (hell, why wait, I'll just pre-emptively do so now with RQII) and see if I can break the D&D habit. It would be nice to enjoy the hobby without having to stake out a corner of the edition wars for once...!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Random Stuff

Those of you who have kids probably know this song and dance. I've avoided it for more than 20 years now, and honestly my wife and I were probably 49/51 on the tipping point of continuing life childless vs. having at least one kid. of course, we picked option #2, and we're on week 27ish of the pregnancy now...just 13 more weeks to go, yay!

But that said, I've been projecting finances for the next six to eight months, and its not pretty! Its going to be an interesting exercise in budget control and personal restraint....I guess I'm going to get a lot of mileage out of my massive book collection, games and all the other stuff I've accumulated over the years...at least, I will, someday, when I have time again...IF I ever have time again....

But who am I kidding? We wanted this, it's a good thing, and I've little or no doubt its going to be a fun and interesting experience for us becoming parents.

On an unrelated note, I stumbled across this page on ebay. I wonder if people really pay that much for old xerox-made fanzines from the 80's? I feel like I should head back to the old ranch where my folks live and dig around, see if I can unearth any of those old magazines again. Personally, its hard for me to look at them as anything other than an artifact of my youth, a sort of lens upon my life as a teenager, but it's also nice to know that they seem to exist as a component of the greater spectrum of gaming as a hobby from the 80's, too.

So while reading Pars Fortuna some more for a theoretically planned campaign down the road, I thought to look up some of the web links that John Stater references as sources of inspiration. One of them is Chaotic Shiny, a seriously cool site full of creative random generators. If you don't know about it yet, go there, bookmark and have fun messing around.

Strong Female Character of the Week: Femshep!

Admittedly, in the real world armor manufacturers are probably not worried about modelling the bust

Now, I ran out of energy playing straight-and-narrow crewcut-sporting white dudes in space marine adventure games a long time ago, so I play a female Shepard in Mass Effect; but my Femshep is a tough-as-nails takes-no-crap from anyone black gal who looks kinda like this:

Ayu Shepard

Which is pretty close to my own Femshep. Picture from this cool blog here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Monsters Most Foul

I'm working on some new monsters for 4th; my scheme is to try and produce a fun set of monster tomes (Tome of Foul Beasts is the working title) and I thought I'd offer up the latest creation for everyone to enjoy, use, and comment on (if you spot anything that looks like it needs fixing, please let me know!) Without further adieu, I present to you something ripped from the weird mind of John Dee himself: the choronzon!

For more weirdness on the origin of this beast, you can read about it here and see one site's effort to collect all things related here.

If you want more cool monsters, you need to check out Robert J. Schwalb's webpage. He's a guy who knows his 4E, and he's got a project called "Lost Monsters" that brings old monsters up to date for 4E. It's really very cool. Here's the update on my favorite, the Brain Collector. (Warning, there does seem to be a problem on this site with opening the PDFs (at least for me), but I am not sure what the issue is. I got them all to open at least once, but now they freeze up my browser when I try (firefox and IE8 both had trouble).

UPDATE: I did notice I left out the XP value of the choronzon, which is 1,400.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Okay, I think I am officially stoked for this game. It looks good enough that it might just replace Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas as my two favorite CRPGs....

I may preorder it. It's due out October 4th, and the missus also wants a copy. That gives us roughly a month to enjoy it before B Day!

Players 5 DM 0!

Player Aggro is A Terrible Thing!

After announcing to my regulars on Wednesday that I wanted to make Pathfinder the obsession of my next campaign (which exists in the amorphous, undefined future of "sometime after my wife either gets tired of running her BRP post-apocalypse High Weirdness campaign and/or reaches criticality in the pregnancy and is forced to take a break for a bit") the general consensus was: no. Well, not entirely. There's a new player who showed up (he's been here before, but has a weird and very much "guest appearance" style schedule) who has absorbed whole-cloth the anti-4E meme; he doesn't count because he's so intermittent, anyway. There's my one cohort (you, Dima!) who like me enjoys all games equally, and then there's my wife. Who knows how to gut a fish and isn't afraid to demonstrate on me. Anyway....so 4E it is!

Anyway, I got "Engineering Castles" in from Troll Lord today. It looks interesting...not quite the same as its predecessor (Engineering Dungeons) but still versatile. I think that these two books plus the legendary Cities sourcebook from Avalon Hill/Midkemia may be my tripartite power house of all-purposes "any fantasy game" books for quick adventure design.

My next campaign is going to jump feet first into my long-in-development world of Enzada. Enzada has only seen print in a short story set in its wilderlands, but the theme is "nonwestern fantasy, to the nth degree," and it tries to be different from my other campaigns by dispatching the "order/chaos" themed pantheon of Lingusia and the "twelve dead gods who caused an apocalypse" theme of Chirak for a more worldly "dozens of pantheons and thousands of gods in the hub of a vast, culturally mixed region, and no one has a damned clue as to who is right about the cosmos" approach.

I have a couple fun dungeon delves (well, temple delves) ready to go for this new campaign, will try to post them here soon.

Best Sourcebook Ever 

Female Role Models of the Week: Batwomen

Been forgetting to do this...today, we present Batwoman, a character that has been well-regarded amongst DC Comics fans of late:

There is also this random picture of Batgirl I found that I thought was a pretty cool suit...no idea of who the model is, or what it's tied to, and the google source wouldn't load:

And finally, the best Batgirl of all, the tough-as-nails cosplayer who asked the hard-hitting questions of DC execs recently about their reboot and why it didn't include more female characters, more female arists and authors, and just generally was ignoring a significant percentage of the readership:

The San Diego Batgirl

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

U.S. Air Force Aircraft identification Chart

Never seen this before, too funny not to share:

I found it here in reference to an XKCD parody of similar nature, which also led me to this great Fish Identification Chart:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tekumel Preserved

Well, I just keep stumbling across interesting news bits for the RPG world today. This one is over at Grognardia, and reveals that M.A.R. Barker's world of Tekumel is under a sort of preservation/restoration project, in which his accumulated works, artifacts and writings are going to be preserved and archived for posterity. Given that I consider Professor Barker easily one of the greatest creative minds and world-builders out there, this is a great thing! Anyway, head over to Grognardia and read the specifics, its quite interesting.

And Now for the Pathfinder Battles Miniatures

Here's the main link at the Wizkids website. I think this idea is pretty interesting, and its a relatively safe bet for Paizo, who is effectively licensing the idea to Wizkids, who in turn know their prepainted minis. I like the look of what's been shown so far. I am tempted. I guess the only thing that's going to stop me here is the needs of Baby and Wife--may not be much spare change to spend on gratuitous minis...