Sunday, December 5, 2010

Untold Elite Access: Shop and Compare!

Not too long ago The Wandering Men wanted to offer something more to the dedicated fans of Untold…. For a modest fee. What they came up with was Elite Access!

Elite Access offers fans of Untold a look behind the curtain and a chance to directly participate and guide the course of the game. The team has taken their queue from many other games and websites for their elite offering.

For a monthly fee of $6 or $54 a year (A savings of $12 against the monthly fee.) gamers get access to some perks and more are coming!

Currently subscribers get a look at the complete release schedule from Wandering Men Studios, seeing what the company is going to release and when. This also comes with opportunities to purchase cards and other releases before their official release. Something the studio is working on is a subscription option where players can receive new releases automatically. When this goes live Untold will be offering the same service as the larger companies

Other access perks include a library on line where cards can be viewed as a slide show in a large, high resolution format. This is a front and back view, allowing the subscriber to see the power, but not the UP (untold points) they cost. This allows the gamer to see what they can purchase and if that power is one they want on their side! There is an exclusive forum with development discussion. This allows players to suggest powers and card builds, actually participating in the development of Untold. Currently some of the discussions have revolved around the “crunch” of power and use of new developing cards.

Custom deck builds are being beta tested now in Elite. Players can submit a deck to be built exclusively for them. Talk about buying EXACTLY what you want! No other card based game comes close to offering this. Untold already offers mini-flats for sale. In the future they will be offering custom flats for sale. Again: getting exactly what the player or GM needs for the game.

Here are a couple examples of exclusive member access offered by two similar sites. First you have the big boy on the block, Dungeon and Dragons; they too offer subscription services. For a base fee of $9.95, (71.40 for a year which breaks down to $5.94 a month) one has access to all the D and D manuals on line, character builder software and subscriptions to Dungeon and Dragon magazines on line. Dollar for dollar Hasbro does offer more, but Untold already offers much of this particular content for free, their rules, including step by step video primers are available at no cost to the gamer. The monthly newsletter and Ben’s Untold Blog offer many of the gaming tips and tricks that might be found in such publications as Dragon, and Hebdomadal Persona, faction, and the adventure seeds found on the Untold website offer similar content as a Dungeon publications. Hasbro is also a huge corporation and Wandering Men Studios a small, four man, fan driven operation.

The second comparison is ErfWorld, a webcomic, and one man operation, that offers subscription benefits as well. For $33 dollars a year reader’s gain store credit that could conceivably give them a free print runs of the comic. Also podcasts, scripts, and wall papers are available; similar behind the curtain kind of peeks that Untold offers.
Overall is the purchase of Elite Access worth it? Weigh expense against gain. Do the extras make it worth it? Does tinkering with a system and rule set on the ground floor interest the gamer engineer in you? Being the guy on the edge of every release excite you? That look behind the curtain satisfy your curiosity? Then does the cost of two comic books seem too much? Give it a look and judge for yourself.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sherlock Holmes in the 21st Century!!!

As a Sherlock Holmes fan and having posted a couple of blogs on the Victorian sleuth I’m almost embarrassed that I missed this one. BBC has launched a new Sherlock Holmes series of mysteries, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin John C. Freeman as Watson set in the London of today.

The idea of making a modern day Holmes is nothing new. Basil Rathbone had a career of playing Holmes in what was in the 1940s’ the modern era. Roger Moore even had stint in the 70s’ with a female Watson. There have been a couple of instances of waking Holmes from a deep freeze into the present day.

The first of these new Holmes adventures is called A Study in Pink, an adaptation of A Study in Scarlett, followed by The Blind Banker, which I am not sure, but appears to be a take on The Adventure of the Dancing Men . Holmes is still a Consulting Detective, a occupation he created and is the only one of his kind, as he told Watson. Holmes is very tech savvy, utilizing GPS, text messaging, and other modern mean of information gathering as easily as his Victorian counterpart did with his Baker Street Irregulars. Watson is a returned war veteran looking for lodgings in London, having been wounded in the leg in Afghanistan, a very strong and historic parallel.

The character of Holmes and Watson are as much as they are in Doyle’s original prose. Holmes is distant, sharp, insulting, and flawlessly observant, Watson, a man of action, amazed in Holmes’ ability, with a sharp eye for the ladies. They are well fleshed out men in their own right, yet complete and compliment each other.
The acting is top notch Cumeberbatch makes Holmes his own, yet stays true to the heart of the character, giving him new quirks and nuances so different from Rathbone and Berrett’s interpretations. Freeman is a great Watson, he can’t help but like Holmes and be annoyed by him at the same time. His participation in the war has left him an adrenalin junkie, he, like many warriors and soldiers, needs action--danger, to feel alive. The opening of A Study in Pink has Watson with a therapist discussing his blog. It is not going well as Watson cannot bring himself to write down those inner most thoughts and feelings that the therapist feel will help him heal from his experiences in war. This should be a foreshadowing of Watson becoming Holmes’ Boswell.

Mycroft and Moriarity are both introduced immediately into the story. Mycroft Holmes keeping security tabs on his younger brother and Moriarity being a shadow figure chatting with other villains via computer. Though Moriarity seemed to be a device by Doyle to lead up to Holmes’ demise, the series starts with Moriarity immediately setting himself as Holmes’ arch nemesis. This promises to be the underlying plot for the series.

These adventures of Sherlock Holmes are as cerebral as Doyle’s narrative, yet add the action and flash of Guy Ritchie’s vision from 2009, even the music has strains that hearken to that film’s period soundtrack.

Of course the adaptation suffers from the modern era’s political correctness as well. The two episodes I watched are rife with homosexual reference to the two characters, an “are they or aren’t they?” kind of thing with dating references, sharing rooms and beyond. One of the creators, Steven Moffat, stated that he thought it just shows how acceptable that lifestyle is now in society. Be that as it may, the constant reference gets old, and appears to be used for cheap laughs. Not exactly an enlightened perspective that Moffat suggests. Let it go…..Watson’s four marriages within cannon, and Holmes avowed dislike of women as cunning creatures and his cerebral asexuality are enough to work with. One almost expects such juvenile references from Saturday Night Live.

A second is Holmes’ use of nicotine patches instead of smoking his pipe. “it’s a three patch problem…..” as he says. This is lame (My own personal enjoyment of a good pipe aside) because Holmes basically laments his inability to be able to smoke anywhere in London, yet there are strong references that the character is a drug user, as he was in Doyle’s stories. It would seem to me, as unconventional a man as Holmes would fire up a pipe to aid his thought process should he want to. New social mores be damned!

The overall production and performance are great and have had me wanting to watch the next episode. It also shows the resilience and power of great writing. Despite one hundred and twenty five years passing Holmes and Watson are still relevant and entertaining in a modern venue. As Shakespeare, Shelly, Wells, and others who wrote in their own eras the stories they told are easily and smoothly adapted to the modern age and sensibilities.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Figure Flats for Untold: Game Accessories for the Dark Future

Not so long ago I announced the release of Untold to the general public. I have also posted the character backgrounds and ecologies I have created for Wandering Men Studios’ post-apocalyptic fantasy. The company has big plans for expansion beyond releasing decks for the game. One such release is figure flats for Untold. Figure flats are not a new concept, many board games actually utilize the card board cut outs to represent the player’s pieces on the board, and Steve Jackson Games released numerous versions for their myriad worlds of GURPS. These character representations have also been referred to as penny men, because the base can be weighted with pennies pasted to the base to make them stand better.

Wandering Men Studios released these flats a couple weeks ago as a PDF download. I decide to see what they had and give them a try in my own pick up game I run for my nephew.

Armies Assembled
The download is pretty standard for such things that are purchased through places like RPGNow, etc. The basic sheets total twenty-five pages, including the cover page. The images are recycled art from the actual cards in circulation , using various minions, iconic characters, and creatures from Toa, the Apoc-Churl, to klik, to Vrr, a wide smattering of images to use in your game. The images are crisp, allowing for high resolution if one so desires. There is the ability in character building in Untold to allow for a Large character, and the images are offered in this scale. (My nephew encountered several Vrr with such an advantage.) The images are offered both in color and in gray scale for those who want to save precious ink.

Assembly was easier than Tab A to Slot B, simply cut and tape the base. I attempted to use thin card board backing to stiffen the figures, but the card board as still too thick when bent and the glue of course adds a layer of mess I don’t want to deal with. So I kept it simple with just the paper. I found with the Large images that the base was not wide enough for the height if the tabs were over lapped, no big issues as I simply joined them at the edges. (Who would have thought the whole height/base ratio we learned in school would have practical gaming application?) I did not bother weighting the bottoms as it was for a quick pick up game and the only issue I had with that were any air gusts that came up. No issues there during the session I ran with them.

The benefits of these flats versus minis are cost, weight, and space. At $3.50 and the ability to print off vast armies over and over again, these simple cut outs are more cost effective than miniatures which can cost as much for one mini. This price point seems to be in line with other PDF products out there. Weight is of course nonexistent with just paper minis, and they take up a fraction of the space that solid plastic miniatures use. These are perfect for travel and convention play.

There is also a versatility factor, with Untold, and the Splintered Serenity the default setting, having a multi-genre feel, the flats can be used for numerous games. On the whole, the post-apocalyptic Gamma World or even Twilight 2000 come to mind, but the high-bred flats could be easily co-opted for a special ops game, or the churls used in any fantasy setting. How about introducing your dungeon crawling adventures to a Vrr? Of course the L’na and kilk offer endless possibilities as well.

The only draw back is aesthetic, because these are recycled two dimensional images; there are back images, only shadow outlines to represent the back of the character.

Much of the art can be seen on the Untold website so the buyer already knows the great quality of art they are receiving. The versatility is there to make this a worthwhile investment for gamers of different systems and settings. It paid off for me, as the images helped bring the world and adventure I created for my nephew to life. It was actually the imagery of the klik roller that prompted him to play that character when I ran the game. When I put the Large Vrr out there with his smaller brethren, my nephew knew pain was coming…… so worth it!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Prophecy Forgotten: Young Fantasy in a Different Direction

The Prophecy Forgotten is the first of The Elysian Chronicles written by M.B. Weston. The series has been likened to C.S. Lewis, for its religious allegory, though the overtones are heavier than Narnia’s yarns. Michelle Weston says that she does not write Christian fiction, but rather, she is a Christian that writes fiction. After reading the book I would agree with her statement. The Prophecy Forgotten has Christian trappings to tell the story, as Harry Potter, Artimes Fowl, and Spiderwick have used other mythologies and trappings to create their setting and stories for younger readers.

The books are geared for younger readers, but I found it an enjoyable modern fantasy despite the age of the target audience. The cherubian’s have been at war with the mornachts for thousands of years. (read angels and demons) The battle raging across their own dimension and spilling to Earth as mornachts seek to possess and use humans for their evil ends. The cherubians also fight on Earth as the guardians and protectors of humans: assigned to watch over their charges as Guardian Angels to keep humans from harm and to subtly nudge them toward goodness and charity, so that they do not “harden” and become easier prey for the mornachts. This spreads their efforts thinly on both fronts, but they have allies in the unicorns as the other mythical races like gnomes and dragons stay relatively neutral. Gnomes are almost war profiteers in these stories.

The Prophecy Forgotten is two stories that converge and over lap, becoming the overarching plot. The prophecy refers to a human that is important in the war between good and evil that shall rise when he is most needed; a warrior named Davian realizes that the time of the prophecy is at hand. Unlike many cherubians he has not forgotten their mission handed down by Ianoda (God) to protect and watch over Man, nor has he lost his faith. Davian is the proverbial bad ass with a Bushido code. He is the leader of an elite infiltration special forces team that does extensive reconnaissance into mornacht territory, yet all he yearns for is time to read and plant a garden.

APF Graphic Novel Concept Art: Artist: Adam Black

Then there is Gabriella, a Guardian Angel that is set to watch over Tommy, a small eight year old boy that has a tendency to take great risks in his personal quest for adventure. Tommy appears to be the one that the prophecy is referring to. So Gabriella’s task is doubly challenging, but she is a deadly archer and committed warrior that has a mother’s love and protective instincts for the boy. Davian has of course fallen deeply in love with her. Hell I fell in love with her! So did Tommy’s dad when she assumed human form in the story.

Meanwhile there is a cabal of cherubians sick of the politicians and their far too cautious approach to the war with the mornachts and the bureaucracy that keeps final victory out of reach. These cherubians have dismissed Ianoda as a long absent father that no longer holds any importance to them. They devise a plot to take control of Elysia, pinning the blame on the mornachts.

The story itself is fairly straight forward, with clever twists and turns to entertain older readers, despite the target audience. Some of the devices M.B. Weston uses are a little cliché for my jaded mind, but they move the tale forward. I also found some very important plot points had been glossed over, or too simply resolved even for the audience it was intended for.

What really makes the story enjoyable for me, as with all stories are the characters. They are well drawn, living, breathing individuals, with well defined goals, loves and hates. Gabriella and Davian are only two examples. Marcus, Davian’s good friend and fellow soldier has the sidekick personality that Davian needs to keep him grounded, but is also the guy who has his back no matter what. Even the family of young Tommy that Gabriella interacts with are wonderful characters to meet.

APF Graphic Novel: Artist: Adam Black

I have always enjoyed fantasy stories that involve the war in Heaven idea and this one is no exception. What I enjoyed most about the novel as opposed to others like Harry Potter are the adults. They are not bumbling or disbelieving fools, but rather they are adults interacting with a child and the events that swirl around that child. They protect Tommy, keeping him out of harms way, unlike those in the aforementioned series, that seems to use Harry as bait or actually pin the success of defeating the evil squarely on him.

Michelle‘s first novel is a great debut, with the second novel already out: Out of the Shadows and the third close behind. I will be delving into the second shortly, and looking forward to the third: The Sword of the Vanir.

M.B. Weston

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Monster House: Halloween Horror--for Kids

Monster House is a 2006 animated film (adult speak for cartoon) by Gil Kenan, produced by Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg, with voice talents from Kevin James and Steve Buscemi. DJ Walters (Mitchel Musso, Second Hand Lions, Hannah Montana) discovers that the home of Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi) is alive with the spirit of his dead wife, when he witnesses the home taking toys and people that trespass on the lawn. It is Halloween night and the house really, really, really hates the holiday and the children that are sure to come knocking on, or worse--egg the front door. The boy, along with his friends Chowder and Jennifer seek to extinguish the heart of the house, killing it and putting an end to its evil before it can do more harm. What follows is visually stunning and action oriented with frightening images that should give parents pause before letting their younger children watch the film.

There are numerous things to recommend this film to viewers, whether lovers of pulp action, horror, or cartoons. The animation is CGI based on the motion capture style called simply movement capture. Though high tech this is the same style utilized by Max Fleischer, Disney, and Ralph Bakshi in the 70’s of capturing the actual movement of the actors and rendering them in animation. This is not as ground breaking as it was hailed, (along with Polar Express) but it is an interesting footnote in animation history.

What recommended this film to me, as any, is the story. Reminiscent of Stephen King’s early short stories like The Mangler, that gives malignant life to inanimate objects; one wonders if Monster House drew inspiration from another of King’s works, The Wastelands, published in 1991 that features a living, malevolent house. Though, such ideas are not unknown in literature.

What sets this apart for me is the way the story unfolds as the children discover and piece together the truth of the house, finally confirmed by the old man Nebbercracker. Here be spoilers so you are warned…….

Armed with the knowledge that the house is a spirit bound to the structure and super soaker squirt guns they begin their quest. The children become trapped within the house after an attack so they begin to explore the creepy environs. They seek the fiery heart of the creature, by extinguishing it the house can be “killed”.

Through their harrowing investigation they discover that the old man was married to a gargantuan woman, and judging by the pictures, very happy and that the old man was once a demolition expert in the military; further supported by the plot enabling explosives laying about. The local lore has it that Nebbercracker murdered his long missing wife. They discover the lost toys from the neighborhood in the basement, and the remains of Nebbercracker’s wife, Constance, encased in cement. The corpse is confined within a cage that declares Constance the Giantess, a side show freak’s cage, sealed with a heart shaped lock, the key is in DJ’s possession after Nebbercracker dropped it earlier in the movie. The house awakens and the battle resumes, with the house attempting to devour the children. Old man Nebbercracker returns to explain what DJ has all ready puzzled out. He explains that his wife’s death was an accident on Halloween years before when the house was being built. Nebbercracker completed the construction and guarded the neighborhood against his wife’s vengeful spirit, loving her beyond death and despite it. Now, with age and time creeping upon him, he knows that it must end. What ensues is a rampaging house sized monster that does battle with Chowder behind the controls of a earth mover and and DJ doing a Death Star run on the chimney with a packet of dynamite to extinguish the heart.

The story was well crafted, with imagery blending well to tell the story as well as the words spoken. The flash back scene with Mr. Nebbercracker meeting and falling in love with Constance, with her tragic life as a side show attraction was heart felt and sad. Such a device is well employed later in Pixar’s Up! It demonstrates that animation can tell as powerful story as any film that employees live actors. The axiom of “if you have a gun in the first act it better be used in the third” is well demonstrated in the film, each piece a clue to the puzzle and a layer to the story. The kids are kids, with kid fears and kid stupid courage well voiced and fun to watch. The action is cliff hanger style that has Zemeckis’ and Spielberg’s finger prints all over it. Considering their track records this is not a bad thing.

It was an enjoyable film that I may wind up adding to my growing collection. I would strongly recommend parental previews though for smaller children. The house, with its gnashing boards as devouring fangs, its clawing tree limbs as its arms and grasping hands, along with the skeletal remains of Constance create harrowing imagery that might be too much for younger viewers.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Prince of Persia: The Trouble with Time Travel

Recently I caught Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and it has just hit video. The movie stars Jake Gyllenhall in the title role Gemma Arterton as the love interest, and Ben Kingsley as the villain. I guess now is the time for the warning that this will be a spoiler heavy post. So those of you that have not seen this film stop reading now………

Prince of Persia is set in a fantasy version of said empire, nothing historical need be noted. Frankly, I am just fine with this, I wanted to see a pulpy, swash and buckle adventure and I got one, with Arabian Nights trappings and plenty of pulpy goodness.

The basic plot is that the Persian king has three sons. Two are his natural children, the eldest destined for the throne, the second, captain of the cavalry, and the third, adopted from the streets is a rogue. The hero of the film and leader of the king’s special forces.

The vizier, played by Kingsley, convinces the brothers that they should attack a holy city that is seemingly running weapons for Persia’s enemies. The hero prince, through high flying swashbuckler daring, takes the gates and lets his brothers rush in to take the city. During the fighting he takes down an escaping warrior and obtains a glass hilted dagger that is a potent magical weapon, because within the glass are the Sands of Time. The sands allow the wielder to step back in time by a minute to correct a mistake, or avoid a killing strike.

Kingsly’s character manipulated the attack to gain possession the dagger and, the actual source of the power, to place himself on the throne.

Despite the sheer predictability of the story, which is actually the focus of this post, I just want to say that I really enjoyed it just the same. The adventure itself was a fun ride, the characters well done, the villains even more so. The use of, and look of the Hashishins (assassins) was very pulp sword a sorcery, and very cool. Of course the special effects were what is expected from Hollywood now. Despite any nit picky complaints, it is a fun movie that I will add to my collection.

In Prince of Persia, the hero is able to step back a minute and correct his mistakes, or change the course of events. The films follows the course where everyone dies, the brothers, the father, the love interest, and even helpful sidekicks all the way through are dying off. These characters dying, their sacrifices, created tension for the hero, but not for me, because the whole time I knew that the hero would turn back the clock to a certain point and none of it would have happened.

The actual idea of this post is the nature of time travel in movies and fiction in general. It always sounds so cool, but is nearly impossible to execute because of the paradoxes and the idea of “do overs”.

This is the biggest flaw in trying to create a time travel adventure. The hero can always fix his mistakes. As a matter of course it is actually the main thrust of such adventures from Back to the Future to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The tension and story come from the hero trying to correct those mistakes or set things right, but in the end we know they will. Outside of failing in the middle of the adventure, which no writer if it be screen plays, scripts, or fiction, would do.

Some films have pulled off the time travel adventure by stepping out of the norm for such stories, and a very few have actually pulled off some surprises. The two above used humor to tell the time travel story, Bill and Ted was over the top with the guys taking mental notes on going back in time to set up events to help them in the present, which of course worked….mostly. The first of Michael J. Fox’s movies did this well with the “my own grandpa” kind of shtick. Few actually seem to hold many surprises though.

The Terminator series took a slightly different tack, thank you Harlan Ellison. The first did well with the time travel elements of Reese being Conner’s father, because even the viewer knew he was going to die, the tension in the film actually came from that knowledge. The rest fell into a cycle of sending the next new and improved model after Conner. I imagined Sky Net sitting in Mordor (oops) saying “Did it change yet? Damn! Send another one!” Again, I imagine: why not send Arnold back with a dirty nuke in his guts and BOOM! Sky Net wins!

So what is the purpose of this post? Not much other than pointing out the pit falls of the time travel genre. I will turn off my logic engine and put in Time Rider followed by Time Line and if I have time, another viewing of the sword and sorcery fantasy Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. I will follow the axiom on the subject from South Park: The rules for time travel are just silly.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ex-KOP- Sci-Fi Noir

KOP: Koba Office of Police, a corrupt graft ridden cess-pool of bribe taking sociopath cops that appear to be keeping order in the city of Koba on the planet Lagarto. Set several centuries in our future Warren Hammond brings us the gritty anti-hero Juno Mozambe the once bad-ass enforcer for the former chief of police, until said chief was assassinated in a coup.

Now Juno works as a private eye, mostly peeping though key holes trying to get the goods on high-tech off-worlders to bribe them as much as get an honest fee. His former partner asks him to investigate a young woman’s confession that will see her to the gas chamber. What follows is a twisting, creepy, and dark adventure in the near future on a distant planet that would have done Hammet or Chandler proud. Bogart would have made a convincing Juno Mozambe.

The story is excellent, noir ridden, and earthy. One part China Town with a dash of Big Sleep, except instead of .38’s and tommy guns, the bad guys carry body mods and las-pistols.

Ex-KOP is for anyone who enjoyed Blade Runner or The Maltese Falcon. There is an engaging story; heroes and villains are only separated by a few shades of gray, with plenty of character story and world building to swirl around the antagonists!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Thor: Please Dont’s Let it Suck!!!!

So unless you are not a comic book fan or totally without internet access you have probably seen the Thor preview trailer that premiered at Comic Con a few weeks ago. The movie is slatted for a May 2011 release, starring Chris Hemsworth in the title role with Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman. I had previously posted my thoughts on the initial release of photo stills from the film and the general plot line. The preview brought some of the action to life and, though it has not allayed my fears, it has eased them. If you are interested in watching it hopefully it is at Marvel is pulling it as fast as fans can post it. This by itself seems to be a smart marketing tool because it keeps fan boys constantly searching for it, possibly creating an inflated interest and desire to see the film when it is released.

The preview opens essentially where Iron Man 2 left off with its “after the credits trick ending” with the discovery of Mjolnir in the New Mexico desert by SHIELD. Thor is being interrogated after being captured breaking into the secured area and trashing some of SHIELD’s best soldiers. It then pans across the vistas of Asgard flashing to Odin’s throne room. There are scenes of Thor and his companions doing some fighting, Odin then banishing Thor for actions that have brought Asgard to the brink of war.

Thor appears upon Earth in a crumpled heap, meeting Jane Foster as she aids him. It then flashes to Thor trying to explain to Foster who he is and where he comes from. She then apparently helps him in his attempt to regain his hammer.

Flashing back to Asgard it appears that Odin becomes incapacitated and the throne passes to Loki, the trickster god, who lurks one step behind the throne like Worm Tongue. (I hope they are not using the ridiculous “Odin Sleep” to see the All Father out of commission for Loki’s machinations.) The scenes shift into a montage with Thor’s voice over “For the first time in my life I have no idea what I am supposed to do.” showing the thunder god on Earth then in Asgard with his hammer high. Battle and adventure ensue with brief glimpses of the Warriors Three: Volstagg, Hogun, and Fandril. Sif and Hemidall, as well as whom I take to be Frigga played by Rene Russo.

The preview wraps up with the Destroyer, a construct built by Odin to help fight and stave off Ragnarok, making an appearance and unleashing fiery destruction.

This is a very brief sketch of the five minutes of uber cool that was the preview. Yes, oh yes, I loved it, but I do not completely give my heart away. The sequences were obviously out of sync to the movie progression, which is usual, and like many movies, the scenes used in previews don’t make it to the screen in the theater.

From what I saw I am very excited. The costuming looks a little less rubbery and cheesy in the environments of Asgard. I am pleasantly surprised by Hemsworth as Thor. At first, based on seeing him in his brief appearance on Star Trek as George Kirk I thought he would be too small physically to portray the god of thunder, but seeing him straining to free Mjolnir from its resting place as well as the obligatory beef cake shot for the ladies, I was impressed by the gym time he put in.

The story itself follows the idea that launched Thor’s career with Marvel Comics in Journey into Mystery #83 back in 1962. Thor has become arrogant and prideful; Odin banishes him to Earth to learn humility and humanity. In the comic he is placed into the crippled form of Doctor Donald Blake. For the movie he appears to be stripped of his godhood; a good way for a movie adaptation to go for the time constraint and to give the super hero, instead of his alter-ego, the screen time.

Anthony Hopkins as Odin, in my opinion, was inspired, when I saw him on screen and heard his voice delivering such powerful lines, I could overlook the ridiculous eye patch. “I have sacrificed much to achieve peace. So too must a new generation sacrifice to maintain that peace. Responsibility! Duty! Honor! These are not mere virtues to which we must aspire. They are essential to every soldier….to every king.” Awesome dialogue! And when he dresses down Thor: “You are a vain, greedy, cruel boy!” Pitch perfect. The man is easily a match for the material and Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespearian chops.

The rest of the cast looks like it will mesh well with the roles assigned to them. I only wish I could have seen a bit more of Loki’s manipulations and mischief as it relates to the plot of the film. I hope to see something in that vein in future previews.

I am very excited about the film now, but the decision to use 3D leaves me cold. I hope to be able to catch it in a normal format, for almost half that price tag. Regardless, I will be there opening night, and if they do a midnight show then I will be at the theater by 10 PM to make sure I have a ticket. I hold hope that the film will hit me as hard as the extended trailer did. Now I have to wait almost a year to find out!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Memphis Beat: Thank You, Thank You Very Much!

TNT has put on a new crime dramady starring Jason Lee of Kevin Smith film fame as well as the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies. Memphis Beat follows Detective Dwight Hendricks and the cast of characters that make up his precinct, from his new Lieutenant Tanya Rice to his partner, even his mom.

This is the kind of cop show I enjoy, one that focuses on the character rather than procedural investigation or neat DNA testing that miraculously comes back within a couple of days. Rather, it is much like Castle and one of my favorites, Republic of Doyle.

Like Republic of Doyle which is set in St. Johns, Newfoundland, Memphis Beat uses its namesake city as a character as much as the people in it. From the music, atmosphere, humidity, and character, Memphis (and New Orleans) is as much a star as Jason Lee.

Detective Dwight Hendricks is a sly yet caring guy who loves his city, loves his music, and loves his mama. He has the admiration of his peers and is starting to earn it from his new boss. He is driven to take care of those who need protection, to see justice done, and to finish the job at hand. He spends his off time singing in blues clubs. (Vocalized by Mark Arnell) He grew up idolizing Elvis and has his own shrines dedicated to the King. It was a great end scene to the first episode with him on stage, his friends in the crowd, and his boss coming by at his invitation. Jason Lee is perfect for the role he is bringing to life. I look forward to more as he grows into the character, truly making it his own.

I just really, really hope that the good detective does not go into full blown Elvis impersonations……..

Monday, July 5, 2010

Jonah Hex: Weird West Goodness

The new Warner Brothers movie starring Josh Brolin has been panned by purists and critics alike. I DON’T CARE!!!! This movie rawked for me! To me it caught the essence of the Jonah Hex character and setting, creating a steam and iron reality of gun smoke and supernatural weirdness.

Jonah Hex is a hideously scarred gun slinging bounty hunter in the Old West of the DC Universe. A Weird West comic book, think Spaghetti Western with zombies, metal men, and magic!

A soldier that fought on the side of the Confederacy, Hex still wears the colors of his former service. He travels across the West encountering weirdness, blazing death, and Power’s corruption. His guns earn his keep as much as get him into trouble.

The film directed by Jimmy Hayward brings this character to live-action life. Starring the aforementioned Josh Brolin, a very creepy John Malcovich, and, unfortunately, Megan Fox. The action takes place about ten years after the end of the Civil War with Hex making a living by killing as a bounty hunter. His past is as marred as his face with the death of his family and the brush with death that left him with the ability to speak with the dead.

Both his past and the ability to communicate directly with the dead is a departure from the established canon of the comic book. The set up works just fine for me, because the character remains Jonah Hex and the supernatural ability adds the weirdness that is actually lacking from most of the pages of the comic.

Josh Brolin plays Hex perfectly. The hardened bounty hunter, who seeks vengeance against the world itself, caring little for his own well being, he has looked into the Abyss and laughed in the face of the Darkness. Brolin does this without once coming off as a Clint Eastwood wannabe…..a far departure from his Goonies days.

John Malkovich plays the villain Turnbull, a former Confederate who seeks to destroy the United States on it Centennial, while seeking personal vengeance on Hex for the death of his son. Malkivich plays Quentin Turnbull with an understated menace that seems to be his trademark and fits well for the “Southern Gentlemen” style villain his portrays.

Then we have Megan Fox. The character of Tallulah Black/Lilah, a prostitute with a derringer or dagger stashed in her garter is as clichéd as it can get for the genre. She holds out hope that Hex will come to love her and take her away from the life she has created for herself. As presented she is as far from the character in the comic as one could get. At least Hex and Turnbull stay within the established roles that they have always had. Not to mention that Fox is too good looking in the modern sense that she is an anachronism even in such a film as this. I tolerated her till her final words on film and physically cringed with the delivery of that last line.

The film itself had some odd, but interesting editing choices. Hex’s voice over and comic book style cut scenes filled in back story quickly and to the point; a lesson most superhero movies could actually learn from. The surreal battles in Hex’s mind with Turnbull tried to add too much to the weirdness factor and took away from the actual conflict. The rest was a perfect mix of supernatural spookiness, steam punk technology, and western fun. Clocking in at an hour and twenty, I think it was a little short, but I have seen movies that could benefit from brevity, so I cannot condemn the short run time unless I see a directors cut in comparison.

I would say sit back with a bag of popcorn; settle in when the lights go down for the weirdest ride in to Yesteryear ever!

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Conqueror’s Shadow: A D&D Novel that is Different

Like many gamers that started reading fantasy in the 80's my first experience (after The Hobbit) was TSRs line of Dungeons & Dragons shared world novels like Dragons of Autumn Twilight and R.A. Salvatore's Crystal Shard. As pretentious as it sounds, I out grew these stories set in their ridged worlds that evolved with the next gaming supplement that was put out and moved on to the older, richer history of fantasy fiction. Not to say that there were no gems in that mound of dead tree pulp, only that I moved away from it. So it was with expectation and trepidation that I picked up The Conqueror's Shadow by Ari Marmell. This is his first novel that featured his own setting, as he had been writing novels for Wizards of the Coast. Fortunately for him he proved that his writing skill did not come just from the "setting bible" given by the publisher of his previous works.

The Conqueror’s Shadow follows Corvin Rebaine, the once Terror of the East seventeen years after his failed bid to conquer his nation. Now a new force has risen, called The Serpent, he slithers across the land with an army of mercenaries and undead to finish the job Corvin failed to; following Corvin's own battle plans in his bid for power. Corvin dons his skull and bone armor once more and gathers old allies to aid him. He realizes that the war will be at his door step and this foe threatens the domestic retirement he cherishes. Corvin regains the power and allies he once possessed, fighting with himself not to become the man he had been before, yet yearning to do so because of his deep seated belief that he could rule far better than the collection of guilds and nobles that spend more time bickering with each other than dealing with the threat that is before them.

Marmell's world, characters, and plot are well woven; an enjoyable tapestry of pulp and high fantasy. I have my usual nit picks, but the one thing that I was looking for I found only hints of and that is simply a pastiche of his work that came before. So many writers allow the shared world concepts of their previous novels to influence their own world setting. He seemed to avoid this pitfall and made the story impactful and relevant with the omission.

My chief nit picks stem from his writing style itself, the characters are all sarcastic and snipping. Everyone wants to be a wiseass, from demons to trolls, to the "heroes" that stand against Rebaine. Admittedly I chuckled out loud at the humor for my own wise-assery knows no bounds. But it did get tiresome when every conversation is in this vein. As well as the modern speech patterns for the characters; it was jarring to the world setting. As always I fall back on a caveat: The author's intent, or simply style, is very similar to Karl Edward Wagner who wrote the Kane novels in the '70s. Wagner wrote the characters speaking as we do in a sense, because to the characters in their time, that is how they would sound to one another, as we do in conversation. I just prefer a more immersive reading experience.

That said there was far more that I enjoyed in this novel to easily overlook any failing I may have found with it. Marmell has successfully written a sympathetic villain (read: anti-hero) in Rebaine. He has broken from the tropes of the deep seated evil that many fantasy villains carry, and without Rebain serving some dark god or blood thirsty agenda. The Terror earns his name, but is rationalized and, in a chilling way it makes sense. He hates what he must do, but he is driven by what he sees as a clear purpose that will one day benefit those he must first harm. How many tyrants in reality felt the same? This makes him flesh and blood and not a caricature with a curled mustache and black hat. The supporting characters are as well fleshed out with personal motivations and various reasons to hate Rebaine. The battles that are fought are not as detailed as I like, but this story is character driven so that is easily forgiven by me as a reader.

As much as I try to support writers with my dollars by buying their books I was put off by the writer's resume, I had been burned too many times by shared setting writers that could not stand alone, so I picked this novel up at the library to satisfy my curiosity. I regret that I did so, because at the very least I would have picked this book up in soft cover and thought my self well served by the money I spent. Perhaps I still will when it comes out. So to those who want to support a writer that can write and is not simply banking on past success and carry over fandom pick up The Conqueror’s Shadow.

(I dedicate this article on this Memorial Day to my grandfather and my father, Richard served in Europe in WWII, receiving two purple hearts. Raulston Sr. served in Vietnam, leaving a wife and a son on the way. Both men were reluctant warriors that served their country with honor. They were called and they answered. Their memories have always been the moral compass that guides me.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Slys-ayr, Spider-Man from Hell!!!!

I created another ecology for Untold: The Game recently that was recently featured on their website and thought I would share this deadly creature. The slys-ayr can be used in almost any role playing game as a foe or even a race. Enjoy!

The Awesome art is by Chris Miscik


Forest, ruins, cave

There has always been an arms race between nations, since there have been nations, since one cave man decided he needed a bigger club than his neighbor. The slys-ayr are a product of the arms race between nations before the Event: an arms race to build a better soldier. The attempts to create better soldiers met with varying degrees of success from the barbaric, sometimes animalistic Churl to the disciplined, yet unpredictable High-bred. Every nation in the world attempted to create some variant of the super soldier. Norway, the Russian states, Greece, all tried to create a better soldier; Brazil created the slys-ayr.

The notes from Nazi experiments conducted after the Second World War in Brazil and Argentina made their way into the hands of both governments, to be perfected as technology reached the heights the Third Reich only dreamed of. The use of genetic splicing and DNA research had already advanced to the dangerous point of creating chimeras and giving birth to extinct species when the research into creating a more perfect human was in practical trials.

Taking the genetic material from various arachnid species, the attempt was to create something akin to a comic book super hero; what they got was something from a Saturday creature feature. Created as a jungle combatant, mostly in answer to Argentinean encroachment and Columbian raids, the slys-ayr were perfect for the verdant environment.

It was not until long after the Event, however, that the slys-ayr were freed from the coccoon-like stasis-pods in which they had been held. Legend has it that a foolish tribe of pgymy Churl from South America stumbled upon the strangely unearthed pods and unknowingly unleased the first of the slys-ayr horrors into the light. The slys-ayr are human in build and general size, though slender and wiry with a semi-hard carapace covered in small bristling hairs. Slys-ayr stand between one and a half meters to nearly two meters, weighing in a slight 45 to 70 kilos, with six three fingered clawed arms and a pair of legs that end in two toed talons. The features of the slys-ayr are hideously human with a pair of poison dripping pincers erupting from the sides of a fang filled mouth.

Deceptively strong and dizzyingly agile, the slys-ayr have the capability to spin webbing in complex traps and designs. The poison that they can inject from their mandibles is a neurotoxin, causing paralysis and, in those of weaker constitution, painful death. All the skills and traits the slys-ayr inherited from the arachnid experimentation made them effective ambush warriors and jungle fighters, it also made them complete sociopathic monsters, with no regard for humans except easy prey.

The slys-ayr are deadly: using all six limbs in concert during hand to hand fighting. The ergonomics of the slys-ayr's hands are not designed to hold firearms, or use more primitive ranged weapons such as bows. Their lips cannot form a seal to use blow guns favored by the deep jungle Churls of the Amazon. This lack of manual dexterity is compensated easily by the crude hand to hand weapons they do employ: flint headed spears, long bone knives and metal machetes when they can be obtained; even blades created from their own webbing. With their ambidexterity, fighting a single slys-ayr is like battling several foes at once.

The slys-ayr produce webbing from glands within the upper pair of arms, extruding the strands from orifices within the palms of the appendages. Through team work and skill, the slys-ayr use the webbing to create blinds, traps, and snares. The webbing has the tensile strength of a strand of steel twice its thickness and alternates from the cable-like substance to the sticky strands that would rend the flesh off bone for one trying to break its hold on them. The skill of the web weavers and the strength of the webbing allow the creatures to actually "forge" weapons from the webbing. The blades and bludgeons created by slys-ayr webbing is as fatal and sharp as any forged of steel, yet lighter and more durable in the humid environs.

One third of the slys-ayr are born with flexible, veined membranes that spread between their multiple limbs, attached to the thorax, allowing these "elite" creatures to glide and maneuver in the air. With their tree dwelling habits the gliders are the strong first defense of any slys-ayr community. They can deploy quickly to engage a foe while the "grounded" members can follow as they can. The gliding wings allow for a tree dodging agility that is utilized to take the unwary by surprise.

As the slys-ayr are primitive, using only natural weapons they are very conscious of the technological advantages that their enemy may possess over them and prepare accordingly, removing the tactical advantage of firearms and introducing their own in hand to hand combat. They use their web creating ability to make elaborate mazes in the jungle to herd prey into a chosen killing ground. Like arachnids, the creature can move about its own webbing without becoming ensnared, so a favorite tactic is to design a web across a road or known path near the twilight or early dawn hours to catch the unwary patrol, or traveler. Once trapped, the prey is easy victim to the attacking slys-ayr.

Slys-ayr are not social creatures, though they can coordinate and move in groups of two to two hundred sometimes forming loose-nit communities. The slys-ayr live in the leafy tops of jungle growth where they can find safety to weave their nests from their webbing and the surrounding vegetation; creating honeycombed structures from tree to tree when several form a band. These bowers can be very complex but always well concealed, even the great cable and intricate webs that connect separate platforms are hard to distinguish from the surrounding vines and branches.

The leaders are invariable female, as they are larger and more aggressive than the males of the species. The only way to distinguish females from the males outside of size is the female slys-ayr has a greater flare to their hips; this is just a vestigial trait from their human ancestry and no longer serves the purpose in aiding child birth. Reproduction among the arachnidan monstrosities is a thing of horror and any afflicted by it would be best served with a swift death. Slys-ayr reproduction involves impregnating a host with the egg. A female will implant as many eggs as there are hosts available. The male follows behind to complete fertilization. The living host is held suspended in a web cocoon as the larva grows and feeds until it emerges from the host as a miniature version of its parent, fully capable of fending for itself as it grows to full maturity within two years.

The slys-ayr are natural predators, with few enemies save men. Though the only creature that the slys-ayr seem to actually fear are klik, with their armored, mechanical bodies, they are immune to all but the most punishing of physical damage that the slys-ayr can cause. The klik do not have the human revulsion and fear of the spider-creatures, with the high-powered saw blade attachments that many klik possess they are little threatened by webbing, no matter how strong. Their logic engines that serve as brains do not become disoriented by the maze structures of the slys-ayr. Many human units that hunt the slys-ayr try to form alliances with klik for that very reason.

The silk webbing that the slys-ayr produce would have numerous practical uses, from the obvious cable and rope manufacture to the weaving of malleable armor from the strands, to the application of super adhesives. No one has thought of a way to harvest the substance at the present time.

The slys-ayr are deadly and cunning; vicious and merciless. Devoid of humanity they live to devour, destroy, and feed. What's far worse, however, is the fact that they are spreading...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Assegai: Pulp Africa

Assegai by Wilbur Smith is a part of his “Courtney” novels, a series of adventures in Africa and the environs that follow a family line through the centuries, very similar to L‘Amour’s “Sackett” series. Much like L’Amour’s heroes, Leon Courtney learns the skills that will aid him in his adventure and receives “gifts” such as a signature weapon, to aid him in that quest.

The novel is set in the early 1900’s in British East Africa, with Courtney as a young lieutenant in His Majesty’s service. Events are immediately set into motion that leads him and the reader on a grand adventure. Courtney becomes a big game hunter and guide in the bush for rich, bored, adventure seekers, but also a spy for the British military as the scent of war is on the air. With Germany sharing a border with the colony, if war comes it will be from that direction. The Boer War is fresh in the minds of those that would side with Germany and the British who fought in that conflict.

Assegai is something H.R Haggard would envy, with the details of Africa’s vast country, its people, and the plentiful game that men sought after to prove themselves. Courtney is involved with Teddy Roosevelt’s safari of 1909, forming a fast friendship with his son Kermit. His actions during the famous safari make him popular for others seeking grand adventure. With careful guidance from his patron uncle who is on the fringe of military intelligence, Leon takes on German clients, learning vital information; bringing him in contact with the lovely and enigmatic Eva and the main villain Graph Otto.

The story is the splendid weaving of character, action, intrigue, and world building that I have encountered before reading Smith’s Birds of Prey. This is a great novel and story, with plenty of pulpy goodness to be found between the covers. Cliff hanger action and daring do and the hints of mysticism from Leon’s adoptive mother make the novel the stuff of Saturday Matinees.

Smith’s writing is historically rich, his descriptions vivid and bright. Conservationists and animal lovers be warned! Hunting is a major component of the novel’s narrative, with the wanton slaughter of many beasts wrought in gruesome detail. The author’s eye does not blink from the accuracy of those hunts for trophies and ivory. Great animals shot and left to rot and feed the carrion birds so that hunters can have a pelt or tusk. It is hard for the modern mind (and the mind of the hunter) to wrap around the idea of killing whole herds for sport, not for meat, or survival but to satisfy blood lust or to prove oneself in manly pursuits. Smith’s story telling abilities puts you in the middle of it, sighting down the barrel, taking the shot, and finishing the kill.

If you are looking for a new author or just a good period adventure, Wilbur Smith is worth the look. Assegai is a novel that is multi-layered as the title actually suggests. Though an assegai is the short fighting spear of the Zulu warriors and is highly visible in the book, the word has multilayered purpose throughout.

Great adventure and story telling at its best!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

In Anticipation of Thor: Please Let the Movie RAWK!!!!

Since Spider-Man and The X-Men movies got the ball rolling, the super hero movies for Marvel have been big budget and met with varying success. But it seems that over the last decade the superhero movie has gained legitimacy in the main stream consciousness. Look at the most recent popularity of Iron Man and the massive boost to Robert Downey's career.

Now Thor is slated for a 2011 release, and I am awaiting it with a mixture of child-like giddiness that I have not felt since the 1988 release of Batman and trepidation not unlike that brought on by the Star Wars prequels. Thor is my absolute favorite superhero, hands down bar none. I have followed his comics since I was a kid in the 70s'. From stories of civil unrest in NYC to the gawds awful Secret Wars, his battles with Set of the Egyptians, to the ill fated Lord of Asgard story line, till now and the ruinous story lines that Marvel has spun in the wake of its crappy Civil War arcs.

Why would I stay with it? Because Thor and his allies have remained true to their lineage, as it were. Thor has always been the honorable, sometimes failing, leader of men and gods. The stalwart unfailing strength of the character in the face of insurmountable odds, and his constant striving to straddle the mortal world that he loves and protects to the immortal one where his duty lies as a prince of Asgard has been a constant and compelling story. Loki's machinations and the epic battles don’t hurt. I can go on about the various artists from the Immortal Jack Kirby and on to the writers like Straczynski but this is more about my anticipation of the movie.

The film stars Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, his mortal love interest, Anthony Hopkins as Odin , and Tom Hiddleston as Loki. The plot is as follows, according to

Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment present the epic adventure, "Thor," which spans the Marvel Universe from present day Earth to the realm of Asgard. At the center of the story is the mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth), a powerful but arrogant warrior whose reckless actions reignite an ancient war. Thor is cast down to Earth by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and is forced to live among humans. A beautiful, young scientist, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), has a profound effect on Thor, as she ultimately becomes his first love. It's while here on Earth that Thor learns what it takes to be a true hero when the most dangerous villain of his world sends the darkest forces of Asgard to invade Earth.

I like the synopsis; I think it touches on the original idea of Thor's banishment from Asgard for his sin of arrogance. The idea sounds epic enough to give the god a challenge, something sorely lacking in the Superman re-launch. The fact that Kenneth Branagh is directing fills with me hope, as I have loved his Shakespeare interpretations. My concerns come from the main actor, Chris Hemsworth, what little I have seen of him does not tell me how he would handle such a powerful role. Now a comic book character doesn't seem to be a challenging role, but this is an icon of epic proportions. He needs to be arrogant as the young Thor was, but still make him the leader he needs to be, the hero that he should be; to project majesty and command yet to set aside that arrogance. I think to do it right will take awesome direction, writing, and acting, so everyone has to hit on all cylinders. This film will have to walk the fine line between bombastic and epic without coming off campy. I can't wait to see the first trailers just for a taste of what is to come.

The first picture of Thor has hit the net, and the costume is faithful to the comic and Hemsworth looks good, but the outfit looks rubbery. I hope, like with Iron Man, that this is the "working" costume and there will be enhancements with CGI. If not, I hope it looks a little less cheesy in motion than in a still shot.

Thanks to Mangus for catching this for me. So I am optimistically hopeful, but mindful of past disappointments. I will be there for the midnight showing in breathless anticipation. I will return here to offer my thoughts, feelings, and hopefully, joyous elation over an awesome movie.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Ecology of the Vector

I had announced the launch of The Wandering Men's role playing game Untold, going live a couple weeks back, and I mentioned all the free content that they are offering to show folks what the Splintered Serenity setting is all about. One of the ways are ecologies; those quick blurbs that give players and game masters alike a chance to learn about the monsters that will be thrown at the heroes of a given story. As I have written some of these ecologies I thought as they appear on the Untold web site I would showcase them on my blog as well. Gamers might find an adventure seed or a new creature to throw at unsuspecting players. Take a look and if you are so inclined pop over to the site and check these guys out.

The wonderfully hideous at that accompanies my humble write up was created by Aviv Or

World: Earth

Environment: Any, ruins, city

Bats were driven to extinction during the Event. The delicate balance that was needed to maintain the ecosystem was tipped in the wrong direction and the vital role the order Chiroptera filled was left vacant.

Enter the Vector, a horrible apoc mutations of the Rattus rattus, the common rat. The vector has replaced the bat in a twisted way. Roughly weighing six kilos with a wing span of nearly two meters, the vector is a hideous amalgamation of bat and rat, with an emaciated frame of stark muscle and sinew. Webbed membranes stretch along its forearms to spread from elongated claw appendages down along its body’s length. From its feral maw of needle teeth to its naked, whip-like tail the vector is a nightmare rodent.

The vector is a perfect example of the axiom: Nature Abhors a Vacuum. Whether the vector rose in response to the need to fill an ecological niche or was some twisted pre-apoc experiment is a matter of some debate. What is not up for debate is the creatures' threat to other species.

The vector is a disease ridden creature that carries, seemingly, as a natural defense mechanism, all manner of infectious diseases. These diseases are plague inducing and one such plague is thought responsible for the abandonment and burning of a Churl out-post on the fringe of Novus Europa territory that saw the death of two thousand settlers in less than two weeks.

With such lethality High-bred governments such as NAU has sought to capture and contain the vector for study. Through study the government hopes to isolate and understand the creature and its immunities to the diseases it spreads. They hope to discover cures and antidotes to the rodent's ability to carry contagions as well as turn such toxins into weapons against the vector.

This flying rat is not only a threat because of the diseases that it carries, but it is omnivorous in the truest sense of the word. They will eat anything. The vector usually feeds on garbage and refuses cast off by humans and other sentient races. They will scavenge carcasses which add to their disease carrying capabilities. Vectors will decimate granaries, orchards, and animal pens if other food sources are not available, or the population out strips resources. These foul things are extremely intelligent and cunning, known to attack creatures larger than themselves, including humans, in concerted efforts that almost appear to be tactical in nature. The rodent is a pest species as well, chewing on power conduits, stripping the cable of its protective coating, creating outages and malfunctions. Nesting anywhere there is warmth and food, especially near human populations.

The vector, like terrestrial rats have a high birth rate and rapid reproduction. Their numbers can grow exponentially in a short amount of time. This is problematic for there are few predators that threaten the vector. Because of their toxic disposition they are fatal to most mammal species that might hunt them. Creatures such as the Vrr or even the puke worm are immune, but this does not control the vector population in many areas. Highbred communities that have infestations will poison their own midden heaps to attract and exterminate them. Such tactics meet with limited results as the colonies seem to sense the poisons and look else where for food.

The vector serves as a predator to other nuisance species such as immature puke worms, various apoc-insects which become huge and deadly in their own right; even raiding Vrr nests for young. The rodents have been observed cannibalizing their own as well as the young; regularly attack other colonies encroaching into their territories. Various sub-species serve the role of pollinator for dangerous plant species like the urush and Venus man-trap.

When feeding the vector is a solitary hunter, preying on creatures they can manage on their own. When such food is scarce or the colony is threatened the creatures adapt to take advantage of their cunning intelligence, their aerial maneuverability, and their seemingly inexhaustible numbers. When prey is determined, the colony will communicate through various clicks and squeaks. The colony attacks in a swarm-like frenzy of beating wings, slashing, clinging claws, and gnashing teeth. The vectors tear chunks of flesh from their victims and peel away to make room for the next attacker. This continues until the prey falls from blood loss and trauma, to allow the creatures to descend and dine at leisure. The disease carrying aspects of the vector have no combat application because of the time involved for the contagions to take affect. In instances where a victim is too heavily armored, or manages to escape, the diseases that the vectors carry may eventually cause the prey to succumb, leaving a corpse for scavenging vectors.

The vector, though small in the context of size among the apoc’s predators, has the potential to destroy everything else, leaving them the top species on Earth.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hunt: Beyond the Frozen Fire

I reviewed Gabriel Hunt in his adventure Through the Cradle of Fear back in September last year. I enjoyed the book and have followed all of Hunt's adventures up till now. I had hoped to revisit the series in review and have the opportunity to do so now, though without the fun and excitement in which I had the first time around.

Beyond the Frozen Fire begins with Hunt being employed by the daughter of Dr. Lawrence Silver. Her father disappeared in an Antarctic expedition and all that remains is a cryptic radio transmission from him stating that he was in a place that was warm and with trees.

Hunt reluctantly agrees and assembles a team to mount a hopeless rescue mission. What is thought to be to be a fool's errand reveals a subterranean world beneath the Antarctic ice kept vital by the red tinged ice above that gives the world below life and warmth and keeps the secret place from being discovered by satellite imaging. Once there a tribe of Amazonian woman are discovered and a lost Nazi doomsday weapon.

The book, penned by Christa Faust (each book is ghost written by various authors) had all the ear marks of a great pulp adventure, but fell flat for me. I had lamented the possibility of various writers changing the voice of the novels. With Beyond the Frozen Fire the story changed tone, pace, and suffered in the story telling.

I do not wish to take anything from Christa Faust as she is an accomplished writer, and an Edgar Award finalist, but this story failed for me on many levels. The story, while having the potential to be great pulp adventure in the vein of Burroughs or Doyle, falls very short, even when measured against those giants. I did not look for such lofty prose but something more than what I received. Instead of focusing on the adventure and the potential that a lost world, especially one where Nazis had gone before, the author looks to vividly described sexual encounters and mating rites to tell a tepid story.

I feel the adventure was short changed for prose that only a fourteen year old boy would find appealing. Which brings me to the other issue I had with Beyond the Frozen Fire; I originally recommended the Hunt series for younger readers. Readers of twelve or thirteen and on might enjoy the stories and maybe introduce them to the pulp style adventures as other series has done for fantasy. I can no longer make that recommendation. Beyond the Frozen Fire is liberally sprinkled with F-Bombs and suggestive and lewd language. The focus on sex as I mentioned dulled the tale. Now the story is definitely for a mature audience. The voice and tone of the books took a definite turn with the latest Hunt adventure.

I wish I could recommend the latest Hunt adventure Beyond the Frozen Fire. I was bored with it, not that the writing was horrible, or the story so bad, but it was not the adventure I had come to expect from reading the previous Hunt tales. I might be expecting too much from an afternoon's entertainment, but the bar had been previously raised by other stories from the Hunt Foundation.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Untold: It’s ALIIIIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The game is live and out there! I have been waiting two years to say that. I had posted previously about the game Untold from Wandering Men Studios here. I have been working with these guys since the play-test of the system. Since then I have seen it coalesce into the game that the designers had envisioned.

What is Untold? Well the blurb at the web site states it as thus: designed to combine all the best elements of Role Playing Games (RPG's) and Collectible Card Games (CCG's) and toss the rest. Untold is a CBRPG (™): Card-Based Role Playing Game. It is exactly the same as any other RPG, but the primary physical "tools" of the game are different. Instead of rulebooks and character sheets, the only "tools" you need in Untold are cards!

So Untold is a role playing game similar to Dungeons and Dragons and GURPS, with a toe in the card based world of Magic: The Gathering without the blind collectability, but is wholly its own creature with its modular mechanic and card based rule set.

Untold uses cards for building a character deck within is found the skills and statistics to allow the player to create a hero is the Splintered Serenity campaign setting created by the Wandering Men. All skill resolution is determined with the use of a twenty sided die, which has become a staple in many game systems based on the “d20” model. The cards themselves provide rule information and statistical information for resolution.

This not a d20 variant system like True 20 or Pathfinder, but rather its own unique concept. Untold allows for a unique story telling element as well as character customization process. Untold allows for changing character statistics by creating a story to effect that change. For example, a hero needs to have a greater Body stat. (Body, Mind, and Soul are the three “stats” of a character called Aspects) The player might weave a story at the table that by divesting themselves of useless equipment they become quicker and more sure on their feet. The point based building system and modular card mechanic allow for this shift on the fly, by the player removing equipment from their hand and turning the Body card around to show the new advanced number. (Some cards like the Aspect card, are divided into four quadrants allowing for more versatility in the game and few cards to keep track of) The cards are generally divided into three categories for the player. Story, Site, and Hot swap cards, which dictate when such cards can be substituted of “swapped out” during a game. Story swaps can only be switched out as the example above, by telling a role playing story, Site swaps are usually equipment and can only be switched out at certain locations determined by the game master, and an example would be a town or base. Hot swaps are the most versatile cards and usually represent powers or skills that the hero possesses. Allowing the character to have as many as there are available points for. These can be placed into the hand at the beginning of each action to allow access to the ability.

The game does play quick, with minimal start up time, or resolution of action once a player is familiar with the abilities their character possesses. Damage reduction, or hit point calculation is actually the deck points in the player's possession. As your character takes damage you lose cards, you physically watch your character get whittled down. This can be slightly frustrating as well as disconcerting as you take damage and your ability to respond to continued threats is diminished through attrition. The math challenged, like me, might have some difficulty determining what cards to discard to make up the damage they sustained or when healed or regain equipment adding back into their hand. But this is usually as minor inconvenience as using a scratch pad as in other RPGs to tick off damage sustained.

As I stated it plays quick, in one game I played we had twelve players in a multi-tiered adventure, with complete chaos. Different factions were working against one another, some players were novices, and others were wily veterans who could meta- game a system back to the stone age and still others were there to revel in the said chaos. Part of the success was the GM's skill at running, but it was also the ease of the mechanics in play.

Artistically the game is gorgeous, the cards are quality stock with great art from up and coming artists like Tom Babbey, John Gonzales, and Patri Balanovsky. The accompanying website offers free content in the way of adventures, plot hooks, and rules. There are ecologies and personalities to help a game master flesh out there own realities, not just Splintered Serenity. Fiction by Ben Lee, Nathan Ellsworth, and Corey Blakenship give the world of Splintered Serenity its own life.

The setting itself is a post-apocalyptic sword and planet version of Earth with other realities encroaching, with creatures and races of the Elder Dark planning humanities utter downfall. There is super science and sorcery, high adventure and gritty doom. Gotta love a package like that!

I recommend to gamers that are looking for something a little different, even if a card based mechanic does not thrill you, look at the setting, and the content. The world of Untold is worth the time.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sean Flynn: Forgotten Swashbuckler

Today while reading the news there was an article about the possible discovery of the remains of Sean Flynn, the son of Errol Flynn. Sean Flynn became a forgotten swashbuckler, albeit mostly by his own choice. He wanted to pursue his own path as a photojournalist and war correspondent: a choice and pursuit that cost him his life.

Born in 1941 to Errol Flynn and Lili Damita, Sean would start acting, appearing in bit parts and TV spots, until he starred in The Son of Captain Blood, in 1961. (His father died of a heart attack in October of '59). He then went on to do a total of eight films before giving up on acting pursuing his career as photo journalist.

Sean Flynn lived as interesting a life as his more famous and infamous father, trying his hand as a big game hunter, guide, and game warden in Africa. Then as a photo journalist he saw the Vietnam War along Special Forces troops, as well as reporting in the Middle East during the Arab-Israeli war. In 1970 he went into Cambodia where it was believed that he was taken by Vietnamese Communist forces and likely met his end soon after those events. His body was never recovered and the truth about his disappearance and death was never really known. He was declared legally dead in 1984.

Father and son seemed to live mirrored lives in many respects. Both did acting as a way to make money. Though Errol Flynn seemed to relish his movie stardom, he was never happier than when he was on his boat Zaca. He spent time in Spain as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War, and then later getting himself on the wrong side of the Castro revolution is Cuba.

Sean Flynn tired of movies or was bored. Or did he not want to follow in his father's path? As Errol broke from his own bookish father and eschewed academics did Sean wish to avoid following Errol? Avoid following the same scandal strewn path? Or did he not wish to stand in the Great Swashbuckler's shadow? These are just my speculations and musings. I personal think that all of the above might apply.

I hope the remains that were reported are indeed Sean Flynn. Though his parents are both long gone themselves, it may provide their spirits a bit more ease, his family that remains a little peace to have the mystery solved. Like so many that lost family in those jungles during those years of conflict who wondered what had become of those loved ones, maybe some semblance of closure can be found.

Perhaps Sean can also find that peace, and he and Errol are together on the deck of a spiritual Zaca, fishing poles waiting for a nibble or hands upon the wheel. A Caribbean breeze filling the sails, sending the schooner flying into the sunset, just like in the movies.