Knight at the Movies: The Battery (2012)

Monday, October 20th, 2014 | Posted by eeknight

GregBunburyTheBatteryMoviePosterAs Black Gate‘s resident oddball zombie movie reviewer (Honest! John O’Neill did it in style of Mad Men‘s Roger Sterling, he did a Jedi hand wave and anointed me thus) I have to say a little bit about the ultra-low budget 2012 movie The Battery.

The zombie movie has reached the arthouse at last. And the arthouse loved it, this micro-budget film won numerous awards.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love a traditional zombie movie as much as the next fan. I have a soft spot in my heart for 2008′s Day of the Dead, despite such howlers as the assertion that zombie Bud is safe because he was a vegetarian in life, as though that moral choice trumps thousands of years of cultural conditioning toward a similar moral choice against cannibalism.

But back to The Battery. Filmed on a budget of $6000, writer/director Jeremy Gardner put together a horror film that delivers the most entertainment per budget dollar since Blair Witch Project – though I expect The Battery, while not as original as that legendary effort, will prove more enjoyable on the re-watch.

Its strengths are the same as Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead: a limited budget means you have to spend your time on character and tension. Without money for a lot of extras in zombie makeup to be featured more than briefly, you have to make do with the sounds of zombies outside the windows, which is creepier anyway.

Read More »


Re-reading Michael Moorcock’s The History of The Runestaff: What I Missed the First Time Around

Saturday, October 18th, 2014 | Posted by Connor Gormley

The History of The Runestaff UK omnibus-smallI don’t do re-reads, not often anyway. I’m usually too busy fighting neo-Nazis in the far future and wrestling dinosaurs on Mars. (You know, normal, everyday sort of stuff.) I decided to make an exception for The History of the Runestaff, however, mostly because I realized I had been recommending the thing to friends for years, but hadn’t touched it since I was twelve, when one of my friends dug the omnibus edition out of some weird corner in our school’s library, plopped it into my hands and mumbled something about multiple universes.

I remember staring, wide-eyed, at the thing, fascinated; the Conan covers might have been brutal and bloody and prominently featured big burly men, but this was strange, this was something different entirely; its pulsing yellows and light greens were alien, steeped in the psychedelia of the sixties (which, as the inside of the book told me, was when the books were written), it completely dashed away my expectations, crushed them under an iron-clad boot, made my little eyes wide. It contrasted brilliantly with the pulsing purples and browns and blacks of the Conan covers, its swirling surrealism was as far away from Frazetta as I had been.

Despite all that, I didn’t get around to actually reading it until a few months later, when my friend convinced the librarian to delete the book from the school files and I, somehow, managed to get him to trade me it for a copy of some other book. So it wasn’t until a few months later that I discovered that it wasn’t actually that different from Conan, anyway.

The History of The Runestaff was what introduced me to sword and sorcery, what truly opened the gate to Fritz Leiber, Edgar Rice Burroughs, David Gemmel, Jack Vance, Karl Edward Wagner, and so many others; it was, ultimately, what led me here. If there’s anything I’m going to re-read, I thought, it should be this.

Read More »


Art of the Genre: A Review of the 5E Monster Manual and its Place in D&D Product History

Friday, October 17th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Pick your weapon, any weapon will do!

Pick your weapon, any weapon will do!

So a month ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing the new Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Players Handbook. At first, it seemed to me that I’d be doing a rather standard review, but the more I read the product, the more it began to light a fire in me about what the game had to offer.

New mechanics, or should I say neo-retro, because it seamlessly combines great features of both old and new D&D, had me wondering just how the game played on a table-top. By the end, I fully understood that this was not only a product to be respected, but also that I had to take the first chance I got to play it.

That said, I began to break down the mechanics and tried to extrapolate them into a small adventure that would help new players better understand the flow of the game. It was a truly fun and insightful process, but the double-edged sword of it was that I needed monsters!

Now sure, as an experienced DM with 30+ years behind the screen, I was able to extrapolate statistics from older versions of the game and translate them to 5th Edition, and it also helped to have a copy of the 5E Starter Kit, but if you’ve ever run a game of D&D, you know that it is always nice to have a copy of the Monster Manual close by! So, it is with great pleasure that I get to introduce players and fans alike to just what has changed in the 5E version of the game where monsters are concerned.

Read More »


The Hunt is On: Werewolf Game Review and Kickstarter Alert

Thursday, October 16th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

One Night Ultimate Werewolf cards

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.

Read More »


Red Queen, White Queen by Henry Treece

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

Red Queen White Queen Henry Treece-smallThe setting for Henry Treece’s Red Queen, White Queen (1958) is Britain in 60 AD during the bloody uprising of Queen Boudicca of the Iceni against the Romans. RQWQ is the third book in his Celtic Tetralogy. I reviewed the fourth book, The Great Captains, his down-to-earth vision of King Arthur, last year. The other two volumes are The Golden Strangers, about the Copper Age settlement of Britain, and The Dark Island, set during Caractacus’s war against Rome.

Gemellus Ennius, a young Roman junior officer, has been transferred to Britain after five years’ service in Germany, arriving just after the onset of Boudicca’s revolt. Already she has burned the towns of Camulodunum, Londinium, and Verulamium, killing over seventy thousand Romans and allied Britons.

When her husband died, he left his kingdom to Boudicca as well as to the emperor, in contravention of Roman laws. Not only did Rome refuse to recognize the will, but it sent soldiers to beat her and rape her daughters. Then the moneylenders called in the tremendous debts her husband had incurred and enslaved the Iceni. Boudicca became a ferocious creature forged by the cruel hands of Rome.

… Boudicca strode towards them a couple of paces and stood, her legs wide apart, staring down at them, from the wooden dais by the altar.

A short brown frieze jacket laced with thongs held her heavy breasts. From waist to ankle her legs were encased in tight-fitting trousers of deer hide. Her feet were bare and rather large. Gemellus noted that they were very red and calloused, not like the dainty feet of the Lady Lavinia, for example.

Read More »


Danger: Here There Be Dragons (and Clever Children!)

Monday, October 13th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

paperbagPossibly the most rambunctious children’s author out there is Robert Munsch, whose characters drive bus loads of pigs to school, vanish beneath layers of permanent markers, and scream in the bath with sufficient volume to summon the police.

All of his (uniformly excellent) picture books employ elements of fantasy, but only once, to my knowledge, did he and his regular collaborator, illustrator Michael Martchenko, depart entirely our real and rational world long enough to include that nemesis of humanity: the green-scaled, fire-breathing dragon.

Yes, it’s The Paper Bag Princess, one of the best kids’ books I know, rife with hilarious prose, ebullient artwork, and the pluckiest heroine this side of Dorothy Gale. Who says girls can’t have adventures?

The plot is a model of efficiency. Princess Elizabeth lives in a castle, and she’s got riches and a boyfriend, Roland, whom she expects to marry. Curly blonde Roland sports a crown and a tennis racket, and just to be sure we get the idea, Martchenko adds a butterfly cloud of hearts around Elizabeth’s smitten head.

Read More »


Frayling Tackles his own Yellow Peril

Friday, October 10th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Yellow PerilSerialFuManchuThe centennial of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu character is a topic I have covered both for the anniversary of the Devil Doctor’s first appearance in the story, “The Zayat Kiss,” in 1912 and the publication of the first novel (really a fix-up of stories), The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, in 1913.

While Rohmer and the character are largely forgotten outside of pulp circles today, the legacy of the criminal mastermind is alive and well in film and comics. The concept of the Yellow Peril from an era when the broad term Oriental grouped together people from parts of Eastern Europe with all of Asia and the Middle East may sound anachronistic, but given the continued delicate relations between the Middle East and the West, those same fears personified are still the stuff of fiction and paranoia well over a century on.

Sax Rohmer did not invent the criminal mastermind, nor was he the first to capitalize on the Yellow Peril for works of fiction. What he did do was create an archetype that managed to embody and transcend the fears of a “foreign other” to instead personify the fear of Western society falling to a superior intellect operating under a completely different set of values. Rohmer did this better than anyone before and while Fu Manchu as a name may seem ridiculous, the concept of the character is still with us from James Bond films to the media’s portrayal of terrorist leaders in the 21st Century.

Read More »


September Short Story Roundup

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_7733y1szQDK2September was a good month for swords & sorcery stories. While the next issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly is still several months away, Fantasy & Science Fiction (presently celebrating its sixty-fifth year of publication) has a trio of tales. Swords and Sorcery Magazine, as every month for the past two and a half years, presented two new stories.

I started subscribing to F&SF earlier this year, but until now there haven’t been any S&S stories. Now in the September/October 2014 Issue, they’ve presented three. The first is a novelette by Phyllis Eisenstein. “The Caravan to Nowhere” is a tale in her long-running saga of the minstrel Alaric. It’s actually a reprint, with the story first appearing in the recent anthology Rogues, edited by Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin. The first story in the series, “Born to Exile,” appeared in the same magazine all the way back in 1971.

Alaric is a far-traveling minstrel with magical powers. He can shift his location from one spot to another instantaneously. In a world where such sorcery is usually feared, he is always on the move, seeking fresh opportunities and material for new songs. At the story’s start, he joins a caravan into the desert hunting not just inspiration, but also legendary hidden treasure and a lost city. While the caravan master, Piros, dismisses the tales as only drunken fancy, Alaric decides it’s still worth joining the party.

Alaric discovers that in addition to its purpose of buying salt, the caravan is journeying into the heart of the desert to acquire a supply of the Powder of Desire. It gives its users visions of great wonders, but it’s ultimately dangerous and debilitating. Piros’s dissolute son is himself addicted to the substance. When they arrive at the source of the powder, things take a dangerous turn.

Read More »


Self-Published Book Review: Brush with Darkness by Jamie Maltman

Sunday, October 5th, 2014 | Posted by Donald Crankshaw

If you have a book you’d like me to review, please see the submission guidelines here. I’ve run short on books that I’ve received in the past year, so anything new has a good chance of being reviewed.

BrushWithDarkness-forWeb-reduced

Anyone who’s been reading my reviews for the past year and a half has gotten a pretty good idea of what I like and don’t like. I prefer my fantasy to be epic rather than urban. I was tired of vampires years ago. And I like dwarves and weird westerns. You might want to add one more “like” to that list: Romans. I’ve had a soft spot for these ancient imperialists ever since I took Latin in high school. My own fiction frequently features them, and I’m likely to read any epic fantasy which includes an homage to ancient Rome. It is, in fact, what my wife and I first bonded over. All of which brings us to this month’s self-published novel,  Brush with Darkness.

In  Brush with Darkness, the part of the Romans is played by the Pazians. The Pazians control much of the known world, including the analogs for the Greeks (the Izari) and the Jews (the Benjai). And just like the historical Romans, they are frequently at war with the barbarians living beyond their borders. The story opens with the 7th Legion chasing a group of Scentari raiders, who have just destroyed a Pazian town located in territory the Scentari were driven out of a generation ago. The chase does not go as planned, as the Scentari now have access to dark magic.

Read More »


The Monsters of Golarion: Monster Codex for Pathfinder

Sunday, October 5th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

MonsterCodex

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)

Read More »


  Earlier Entries »

This site © 2014 by New Epoch Press. All rights reserved.