Art of the Genre: Review of the Inner Sea World Guide

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012 | Posted by Scott Taylor

pzo9226_500My very first campaign setting, as probably the bulk of old time gamers would also claim, was The World of Greyhawk. I still have great nostalgia for that world, and the classic adventure modules set in it, but sometimes you just need to upgrade, you know? I mean, Greyhawk is over thirty years old, and has gone through a number of facelifts, but still it’s always nice to try on something new.

And speaking of new! How about Paizo’s Pathfinder Campaign Setting The Inner Sea World Guide. I mean the name alone is worth the price! I’m not sure when the first time I saw this book, but I know when I did I WANTED IT!

Pathfinder is already an outstanding supplemental system, with a massive amount of core books, adventure paths, and gazetteers, but if you’re looking for a new age setting or simply want to steal some quality ideas for your own world, this book is an incredible resource.

As I delved into the pages it was like opening a Pandora’s Box of fantasy grandeur. The book begins with a nice expansion of the races of The Inner Sea, and like Iron Kingdoms did some years back for their setting, Paizo defines twelve different human races before delivering a nice history on the usual suspects like elves, dwarves, and the like.

I was intrigued by this kind of detail, and as I flipped through the different races I couldn’t help by smile at those chosen and the great adventures that could be set in a country populated by these individuals.

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Vintage Treasures: SPI’s Swords and Sorcery

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

82 bucks later, all this was mine. Click for bigger version.

71 bucks later, all this was mine. Click for bigger version.

Well, technically it’s not a new treasure, since it was first published in the late Middle Ages of fantasy gaming (1978). But this copy is new to me, courtesy of eBay.

And just look at it. Isn’t it gorgeous?

Okay, so maybe you’re not into vintage fantasy games the way I am (that shout you hear is my long-suffering wife, saying “Like that’s even possible.”) Or maybe you find the flimsy paper maps and counters of older board games a little quaint, compared to the deluxe contemporary offerings from Fantasy Flight and Wizards of the Coast.

But really, you just have to open the Swords and Sorcery box to know it’s something special. 400 counters, 56 playing cards, a big 56-page rulebook, player aids, a tantalizingly complex Diplomacy Display… and best of all, that beautiful map.

Yeah, maybe it’s a little shallow to fall in love with a game because of a map. But really, isn’t a cool setting at the heart of all great fantasy?

And the setting for Swords and Sorcery isn’t just cool. It’s sumptuous.

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Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Mars, Part 5: The Chessmen of Mars

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

chessmen-of-mars-1st-edition1“The squares shall be contested to the death. Just are the laws of Manator! I have spoken.”

After Edgar Rice Burroughs pulled the Martian novels in a different direction with Thuvia, Maid of Mars, he retreated from Barsoom for a spell to concentrate on other projects. Eight years passed between the writing of Thuvia and the publication of the next adventure, The Chessmen of Mars, which switched to yet another hero and heroine to hurl into the unknown regions of Mars. In the process, Burroughs gave science fiction a new board game to play.

Our Saga: The adventures of earthman John Carter, his progeny, and sundry other natives and visitors, on the planet Mars, known to its inhabitants as Barsoom. A dry and slowly dying world, Barsoom contains four different human civilizations, one non-human one, a scattering of science among swashbuckling, and a plethora of religions, mystery cities, and strange beasts. The series spans 1912 to 1964 with nine novels, one volume of linked novellas, and two unrelated novellas.

Today’s Installment: The Chessmen of Mars (1922)

Previous Installments: A Princess of Mars (1912), The Gods of Mars (1913), The Warlord of Mars (1913-14), Thuvia, Maid of Mars (1916)

The Backstory

Thuvia, Maid of Mars was a success, and it made sense that when Burroughs returned to Mars he would repeat the same formula of third-person narration and a different hero and heroine pair in a one-off adventure. Although John Carter’s son Carthoris seemed a natural to continue as the hero, Burroughs chose to use a full-blood Martian as his lead for the first time. The decision to change protagonists once before made it easy to do it a second time, and with Carthoris already paired with Thuvia, picking a new character meant ERB could start over with a fresh love interest. (He rarely let his heroes switch heroines once they dedicated themselves. Tarzan could get away with it with La of Opar, but only because of amnesia.) Read More »

Join the Heroes of the Feywild

Monday, February 27th, 2012 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

heroesfeywildPlayer’s Option: Heroes of the Feywild (Amazon, B&N)
Dungeons & Dragons – Rodney Thompson, Claudio Pozas, Steve Townshend
Wizards of the Coast (160 pp, $29.95, Nov. 2011)

Fury of the Feywild Fortune Cards (Amazon)
Dungeons and Dragons
Wizards of the Coast ($3.99, Nov. 2011)

Reviewed by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

In roleplaying games, I’ve always been a fan of taking full advantage of each character’s unique traits. The statistics are a reflection of these unique traits, of course, but they aren’t the most important element. The differences between Dwarves and Elves goes far beyond just their Dexterity and Constitution bonuses, reflecting deep cultural differences that are far more interesting.

As such,I love supplements that help to differentiate even more between different types of characters. The Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Option book Heroes of the Feywild is superb at doing that for Feywild characters, providing both storytelling details about these engaging character types as well as new mechanics designed to support stories that feature the Feywild. If you want to enter into this world of raw magical power, this is definitely a must-have supplement.

To supplement the book, Wizards of the Coast also released an Fortune Cards expansion, Fury of the Feywild, which allows you to invoke feywild-linked events into your Dungeon & Dragons game in a more random fashion. You can download the rules for using Fortune Cards from Wizards directly.

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SEP: Business Vs. Hobby

Monday, February 27th, 2012 | Posted by FraserRonald

When my associate and I created Sword’s Edge Publishing, we had a very limited goal – we were going to publish a collection of military adventures for modern d20, and then another series of adventures for d20 fantasy. In there, I intended to write a supplement for playing covert, special operations characters in modern d20 and my associate wanted the series of fantasy adventures to lead to a setting. We expected a relatively tight timeline and then we’d likely sit back, see what happened and maybe see about publishing other people’s stuff.

We did complete the Albenistan series, just that we were eight months late. The fantasy adventure series never saw fruition. We totally departed from our plan. How did it all go off the rails? Can you guess? Real life and project drift took its toll in that first year.

However, while we were not doing exactly what we had planned, we had found a niche. Our production schedule followed the generally favorable reviews our modern d20 products received, and it was this critical praise rather than sales that informed my plans for SEP.

And it was very quickly my plans that mattered, as my partner could invest less and less time in SEP, and when his dream job came through, he was gone. Long before that, I had become solely responsible for SEP and I was not then, and am not now a businessman.

I’m sure there were methods I could have used to help me decide our way forward. I did consider our sales numbers, but they were small. Critical reception and personal interest informed my decisions rather than business considerations.

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Tolkien and Attila

Sunday, February 26th, 2012 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Fellowship of the RingWhat follows may well be total coincidence.

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings over the course of many years of his life, a life shaped in part by his experience as a young man fighting in the trenches of World War One against the Germans. Or, as they were sometimes called at the time, the Hun.

The Germans had been equated with Huns for over forty years by then. It had begun as a term of abuse in French newspapers, but some Germans adopted the comparison with pride. Kaiser Wilhelm II notoriously inspired his soldiers by linking them to the historical Huns and their great leader, Attila.

Now so far as I know Tolkien made few direct references to Attila in his writing. He refers in a letter to attending a lecture his son Christopher gave about Attila, and to being thrilled by a reference to the etymology of the name — from ‘Atta,’ ‘father,’ so meaning something like ‘little father.’ And I understand in The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, Attila makes an appearance, as he did in the original poems on which Tolkien based his story. But I’ve begun to wonder if the idea of the Huns didn’t have a bit more of an influence on Tolkien than that.

I want to be clear in what follows that I’m not talking about conscious influence. I don’t think that Tolkien had the history of the Huns actively on his mind at any point as he wrote. What I’m wondering is whether that history unconsciously suggested certain plot patterns to him that manifested in his writings.

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Jackson Kuhl Reviews Perfect Murders

Sunday, February 26th, 2012 | Posted by Bill Ward

perfect-murdersPerfect Murders
Horace L. Gold
Bison Books (360 pp, $19.95, May 2010)
Reviewed by Jackson Kuhl

Raymond Chandler once noted how bad directors filmed whole sequences of mundane actions that could be more simply communicated in a single shot. A man need not be shown climbing into a cab and going to the post office to receive a letter, for example – all the audience needed was an anonymous postman handing the man the letter. This kind of boring direction, Chandler believed, was a holdover from the time when film was new and watching everyday occurrences on celluloid was still thrilling.

And so it is with Horace Gold. He was, in turn, a World War II veteran, the highest paid comic-book writer in the world, and the editor of Galaxy Science Fiction for over a decade. He was also an accomplished pulp fictioneer. Perfect Murders: Pulp Fiction Classics collects six of Gold’s science-fiction detective mash-ups; a seventh, “I Know Suicide,” is a straight noir mystery. Unfortunately, most of these stories are artifacts of their time, thin plots so laden with long passages of dialogue and commonplace action that the eyes glaze and the mind drowses. Read More »

David Soyka Reviews Prince of Thorns

Saturday, February 25th, 2012 | Posted by Soyka

prince-of-thornsPrince of Thorns (Book One of The Broken Empire)
Mark Lawrence
Ace (324 pp, $29.95, Hardcover August 2011)
Reviewed by David Soyka

This is pretty brutal.  Relentlessly brutal, right from the opening paragraphs:

Ravens! Always the ravens. They settled in the gables of the church even before the injured became the dead. Even before Rike had finished taking fingers from hands, and rings from fingers. I leaned back against the gallows post and nodded to the birds, a dozen of them in a black line, wise-eyed and watching.

The town-square ran red. Blood in the gutters, bloom on the flagstones, blood in the fountain. The corpses posed as corpses do. Some comical, reaching for the sky with missing fingers, some peaceful, coiled about their wounds. Flies rose above the wounded as they struggled. This way and that, some blind, some sly, all betrayed by their buzzing entourage.

“Water! Water!” It’s always water with the dying. Strange, it’s killing that gives me thirst.

And this the ostensible hero talking in Prince of Thorns, the first in a (you guessed it) projected trilogy collectively called The Broken Empire.  So, we’re clearly in anti-hero land, in the “shit and blood” sub genre of sword and sorcery that aims to rub your face in what rusty blades, poor sanitation and disease actually do to people living under medieval conditions, in stark contrast to high fantasy depictions of noble quests in which divinely provident good triumphs over corrupt and therefore ultimately doomed to fail evil.

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Blogging Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Part Twenty-Two – “Marvela”

Friday, February 24th, 2012 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

marvelaraymond_flash“Marvela” was the twenty-second installment of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Sunday comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between August 20, 1944 and February 4, 1945, “Marvela” was the first of the Sunday strips completely illustrated by Austin Briggs. Don Moore scripted from a story he developed with the series’ creator, Alex Raymond. This was the final storyline to have any involvement from Raymond. The story picks up following the conclusion of the epic-length Tropica story arc with Flash and Dale traversing Mongo in the triphibian rocket car given to them by Queen Desira as a reward for helping restore her to the throne of Tropica.

“Marvela” marks a strange departure for the strip. Austin Briggs’ artwork, though never a match for Alex Raymond, at least is an improvement on his finishes for Raymond’s rushed pencils that marred much of the second half of the Tropica stories. The title refers to the kingdom that Flash and Dale visit when they see a rocket crash in the forest and a beautiful woman thrown from the cockpit. A giant scorpion appears and moves in for the kill. Flash dives down from the triphibian rocket car to distract the scorpion and he and Dale team up to destroy it. Oddly, Briggs never depicts the rocket falling from the sky nor does he show its wreckage. Its existence is only referred to in Moore’s script. This should be conclusive proof, if any were needed, that Alex Raymond never layed out any of the early panels for the strip.

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Goth Chick News: King Shines On

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012 | Posted by Sue Granquist

image001Telling you that The Shining ranks in my top five favorite horror movies of all time isn’t news here at Black Gate. Over the years I’ve found all sorts of ways to weasel it into my posts, even going so far as to cyber-stalk Danny Lloyd, the reclusive adult who played the emotionally damaged little kid with the “shine” all over him.

The Shining is my stormy, Sunday afternoon go-to movie, and the first one into the Blu-ray player as soon as the snowfall breaks the 12 inch mark here in Chicago.

No matter that I know the dialog by heart, it scares the crap out of me anyway. Because let’s be honest; those two creepy little girls will get you every time.

But as much as I love the adrenaline rush brought on by the film, ironically I’ve always been a little lukewarm on the book.

I say “ironically” because it is a rare thing indeed when a movie manages to simply not massacre the text upon which it is based — not to mention equal it or surpass it.

The Shining book is absolutely interesting in that it provides all the backstory about why the Overlook Hotel is such an attractive vacation spot for evil spirits, and why Jack Torence is such a fractured human being.

However, what makes the book less of a fav for me is that exact same backstory.

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