Fan passion for more Firefly stories led to the rare (unprecedented?) move of turning a failed television series into a feature length film, in the form of 2005 film Serenity (Amazon). As an attempt to bridge the narrative gap between the end of the series and the start of the film, Joss Whedon collaborated with Dark Horse comics to produce the three-issue comic limited series Serenity: Those Left Behind (Amazon). This review is based on the original hardcover collection of the series, published in 2007. (They’ve since published a 2nd edition.)
Here are the major jumps between the end of Firefly and the beginning of Serenity, which the comic series seeks to explain:
- Inara is no longer on the Serenity
- Shepherd Book is no longer on the Serenity
- Instead of the mysterious blue handed agents in the series, the film introduces the operative as the key person hunting down River Tam
Serenity: Those Left Behind covers all three of these elements, and also brings back a villain from the television series who would have been recurring had it continued. I won’t ruin it by saying which one. As a hint, though, it’s someone who feels that they were wronged in their last interaction with Malcolm Reynolds, so that should narrow it down. This individual joins forces with the blue handed operatives to move against the folks on Serenity. In addition to the mysterious recurring villain, there’s also a nice cameo by Mal’s contact Badger, who assigns them a job that doesn’t go exactly as intended. (Or at least not as intended by Mal and the crew.)
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Mark Frost made the news not too long ago with the announcement that he and David Lynch will be making a new Twin Peaks series for Showtime. Yay! Twin Peaks came to an abrupt end in 1991: just after its second season. Frost apparently wasn’t one to let grass grow under his feet, as only two years later, The List of 7 hit bookshelves.
John O’Neill wrote about (mostly the cover…) this book last year.
Frost is absolutely a fan of Sherlock Holmes. Not only is the novel’s protagonist none other than Arthur Conan Doyle and bits of his life are scattered throughout, but there are Holmes-isms aplenty. Thus, this book is a type of pastiche, though darker than any straight Holmes tale I’ve read.
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Ever want to just buy a ship and take off into the night sky, making your own rules and living a life that was truly free? Firefly: The Game (Amazon) gives you the chance to do just that, if you think you’re up for it.
On the off chance that you’ve been in a coma for the last decade: Firefly was a tragically short-lived television series created by Joss Whedon. After his success on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Angel, he turned to science fiction, creating a series that can best (but simplistically) be described as “cowboys in space.” The series centered around a spaceship crew living on the fringe of society, taking jobs of questionable legality while trying to stay off the radar of the government. It was cancelled before all 13 of the episodes even aired, but fan enthusiasm resulted in a feature film, Serenity, that gave some measure of closure for fans.
But, as so often happens in our little world of fandom, even that was not the end of the story. In a few short episodes, Joss Whedon had created a rich and dynamic universe of rugged heroes who traveled the expanse between worlds just trying to find a job, work the job, get paid, and keep flying. It has continued in a number of forms, from comic books to board games. As I’ve mentioned before, my shelves contain a number of these related materials. (More than I typically care to admit.)
It’s hard to overstate how great this short television series was … And it’s equally hard to overstate how well Firefly: The Game captures the feel of trying to make your way out in the black, even if that means you have to misbehave a bit.
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Two years ago, I wrote a brief New Treasures post about Clockwork and Cthulhu, an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired supplement for the 17th century alternate history fantasy setting Clockwork & Chivalry. A role playing game where giant clockwork war machines lumber across the land, witches whisper of the old gods and terrorize entire villages, and the Great Old Ones seek entry into our world while their corrupted servants covertly follow their eldritch agendas, was simply too much to resist.
I was enormously impressed with Cakebread and Walton’s creative backdrop for their game, an alternate 17th Century England where Royalists, led by Prince Rupert, attempt to restore an absolute monarch to the throne, and Parliamentarians, led by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, defy the kingship and support the rights of parliament. Imagine my surprise when I discovered there actually was an English Civil War from 1642–1651. Apparently, history is not my strong suit.
A few weeks after the first article appeared, co-author Peter Cakebread graciously accepted my invitation and wrote a fascinating follow-up piece for us, “The English Civil War with Clockwork War Machines: an Introduction to Clockwork & Chivalry,” in which he filled in the details on his fascinating setting:
Clockwork & Chivalry is a RPG set in the time of the English Civil War. The English Civil War was fought between the Royalists (the Cavaliers) and Parliament (the Roundheads). We haven’t veered away from most of the real history, it’s simply too interesting, but we have added a couple of rather big twists – in our setting the Royalists use magick, and the Parliamentarians have giant clockwork war machines.
Who says role playing can’t be educational? Over the last few years, I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment (and rewarding history lessons) out of Clockwork and Cthulhu, and in that time Cakebread and Walton have continued to produce top-notch supplements and games. Here’s a quick look at some of their related products.
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One Night Ultimate Werewolf cards
You’re just a villager, going about your daily villager-related business. What could possibly go wrong?
How about there being a werewolf secretly hiding in your village?
Ultimate Werewolf Deluxe Edition (Amazon)
That’s the premise of the popular game Ultimate Werewolf, designed by Ted Alspach and published by Bezier Games. There are two teams: villagers and werewolves. You get on a team by being randomly dealt cards at the beginning of the game. Everyone sleeps through the “night” and a moderator tells the werewolves to open their eyes. So the werewolves all know who each other are. Then the moderator has everyone open their eyes and wake up for the “day” … and the town debates who to kill. There’s a vote, and whoever gets the most votes dies. Then the village sleeps again, and the next day they vote on another person to kill.
Will the village kill a werewolf, or will the werewolves fool the villagers into killing an innocent? This continues until either all werewolves are dead, or enough villagers have been killed that they no longer outnumber the werewolves.
But the village can contain more than merely run-of-the-mill villagers. The Seer, for example, is able to point at one player during the night and be told by the moderator if that player is a werewolf. The Tanner hates his life and wants to die, so he wins if he can get you to kill him. (Screaming “I’m a werewolf!” is not usually a winning strategy for this role. You’ve got to be a little more subtle.)
The current edition of the game produced by Bezier games is actually Ultimate Werewolf Deluxe Edition, which contains dozens of extra roles beyond villagers. In total, the Deluxe Edition can support play with a group of up to 75 players … which is a bit extreme, even for an avid gamer like me, but makes for a great party game, and you can create a set of cards tailored toward the comfort level of the group, to avoid overloading those who might be intimidated by the idea of so many different roles.
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The other day, I was talking to a friend of mine who happens to be a pastor, and I took the opportunity to ask him a deep theological question: “If you had to choose one player to take one shot, with eight tenths of a second on the clock and the game on the line — to save your life – who would you choose?” (My friend, in addition to being an ordained minister, is also, like me, a devoted acolyte in the Church of the NBA.)
This is of course the sort of dangerous question that led to the Reformation and the Thirty Year’s War. Happily in this case no violence ensued, though his pick was Larry Bird and mine was Michael Jordan. Hey, if he wants to die while I live, that’s his business. (It helps a little that the first choice of each was the second choice of the other.)
What does this have to do with “Adventures in Fantasy Literature,” the avowed purview of Black Gate, you ask? Just this — it got me thinking about one of my favorite fantasists, one whom not enough lovers of the fantastic are acquainted with: Clark Ashton Smith. There are one hundred and fourteen stories in the five volumes of The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith. If I had a reader, willing but uninitiated, and had to pick one of those stories to introduce Smith with, (to save my life!) which one would it be?
Smith is a writer who can benefit from such an introduction; though he was one of the “Three Musketeers” of Weird Tales in its 1930′s heyday, he remains much less known than the other two-thirds of the trio. You could fill a phone book with the names of imitators of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, but, as Ray Bradbury said, Smith is “a special writer for special tastes; his fame was lonely.”
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If you’ve played fantasy roleplaying games for any length of time, you’ve no doubt fought your fair share of goblins, orcs, and trolls. They can certainly begin to blend together. If you’ve fought one, you’ve fought them all, right? One of the jobs of the Dungeon Master is to find ways to keep things interesting. As I said in a post last week, ”A fantasy roleplaying game is defined as much by the caliber of the villains and monsters as it is by the caliber of the players and heroes.”
One way to mix things up is to introduce more monsters, and certainly fantasy roleplaying games have no shortage of supplements that outline new and varied types of monsters.
But another way to keep things interesting is by varying up the existing pool of common monsters, giving them rich backstories and cultures, motivations and plots. In short, finding ways to really make what should be a common monster into something completely new. If you take a basic goblin template and add on 12 levels of barbarian, you have something decidedly more challenging to face!
Of course, creating all of this variability takes time and planning, which seems to be in ever-shorter supply these days. And this brings us to the Pathfinder RPG‘s newest solution: Monster Codex (Paizo, Amazon)
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In Ottawa, I get to talk to local game designers, local writers, local comic book publishers, local artists and novel publishers. I’m not trying to be a booster of Canada’s capital or anything, but we have some wickedly cool stuff going on around town.
This weekend, at Can-Con, Ottawa’s Literary Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Convention, I set up an interview in front of a live audience to talk to Jay Odjick, an Algonquin graphic novelist, to talk to him about being a writer and artist and about Kagagi (pronounced with two hard Gs).
Jay is a loud, hilarious, talented, self-deprecating, straight-talking comic creator who earlier in the week had been interviewed by CBC radio and afterwards tweeted “…managed to talk for twelve minutes on the radio without swearing.”
His immediate lead story about where and when he started to be a comic creator started when he was five years old and he was part of a two-man con aiming to unmask a celebrity Spider-Man to prove that it wasn’t the real Spider-Man.
Some years ago, like many comic creators, Jay made up his own superhero. But instead of being just another caped creation added to the immense pantheon of comicdom, he created the startlingly original Kagagi, based on the legend systems of the Algonquin tribe.
Central to this is the Wendigo curse (the supervillain) that is inflicting itself upon not only humanity, but those other parts of the Algonquin legend structures.
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I’ll mention this first about Michael Shea’s 1984 novel The Color Out of Time: the protagonists consume copious amounts of Wild Turkey. They fortify their coffee with it; they carry hip flasks full of it. This is a fact the narrator always notes casually in passing. Never are the potentially debilitating effects of alcohol mentioned; it simply occurs to the reader that these people might well be past the point of tipsy into “whiskey-river-take-my-mind” territory through much of the central action of the adventure. Perhaps that’s how they maintain their sanity. And make no mistake: sanity is but one of the possessions at stake for our heroes, because they have waded head-deep into Lovecraft territory. If they do manage to survive with their sanity intact, though, they might want to consider rehab.
The second thing I’ll mention is that because some of my own fictional excursions overlap with Shea’s foray into Lovecraftian horror — we tread similar unhallowed ground, digging up the bones of past masters of weird horror and coating them with fresh slime, if you will — I find myself contemplating the book not just as a critic, but as a writer: appreciating moves he makes while noting missteps and potential pitfalls. Ultimately, Shea’s sequel to H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 short story “The Colour Out of Space” is entertaining, but slightly off, a tad unsatisfying, and I’ll try to pinpoint why — to isolate the juncture at which it diverges from Lovecraft’s vision and to articulate how this impacts the effectiveness of the tale. (For a different take on the book, check out Douglas Draa’s review for Black Gate last year HERE.)
The premise is straightforward enough. Take the story that is generally regarded as Lovecraft’s first successful amalgam of science fiction and horror, a blend that became his unique trademark (“The Colour Out of Space” is one of Lovecraft’s most highly regarded and was always, according to Wikipedia, the author’s personal favorite. For the sake of full disclosure, it ranks high on my list of best horror stories and is one of my top two or three favorite works by Lovecraft). Start from the central event of that tale and then project its aftermath some sixty odd — very odd — years later.
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A fantasy roleplaying game is defined as much by the caliber of the villains and monsters as it is by the caliber of the players and heroes. Though Dungeons & Dragons has always been driven primarily by the imagination of the Dungeon Master and the players, the fact is that you can usually get only so far with just the Player’s Handbook (Amazon). It has the basic rules mechanics for playing the game, but lacks the array of exotic monsters necessary to populate – and threaten – the fantasy world that the characters are exploring.
With the arrival of the new 5th edition D&D Monster Manual (Amazon), that gap has now been alleviated. This book contains a beautifully-illustrated 350 pages of monsters, adversaries, and maybe even a few allies to introduce flawlessly into 5th edition games. The name really says it all; it is a manual full of monsters. There’s an appendix of “Miscellaneous Creatures” and one of “Nonplayer Characters” which are also useful, but there is one stand-out mechanic introduced that is worth mentioning in its own right, for those who might be wondering if the book is worth picking up.
The manual contains a class of “Legendary Creatures” which “can take special actions outside their turns, and a few can exert power over their environments, causing extraordinary magical effects to occur in their vicinity.” In addition to these “legendary actions,” legendary creatures also sometimes come along with a lair, which gives the legendary creature ability to take extra “lair actions” and may have ambient powers, representing how the legendary creature’s power has physically warped the terrain of the lair.
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