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Gaming Fodder From Snopes

I’ve been a fan of Snopes.com, the Urban Legends Reference Page, since they started in 1995. Thanks to them I’ve been able to allay many fears and rumors rolling around the internet. Occasionally I’ve been surprised to find out one of the stories cluttering my inbox happens to be true.

The last few days have turned up a couple new urban legends that caught the attention of my game master’s brain.

The first is something that reads like a player’s handout for Call of Cthulhu.

A team of archaeologists working for the Australian National University, who were proceeding to an excavation near the sandstone rock formation of Uluru, has unearthed the ruins of a large precolonial city dating back to more than 1500 years ago. The important number of tombs and artifacts already discovered on the site suggests that it could have been the capital of an ancient empire, completely unknown to historians until now.

Professor Walter Reese, in charge of the site, claims that the extent of the site and the superposition of various layers of constructions, suggests that it was occupied for 400 to 500 years, from approximately 470-80 AD, up until the 9th Century. He believes that the city could have held between 20000 and 30000 inhabitants, making it the most important center of civilization in the Southern Pacific at the time.

-Text from urban legend Ruin Nation

It turns out that this story comes from World News Daily Report, one in a long line of fake news sites trying to imitate The Onion. However any Lovecraft fan worth their salt recognizes this as a clue to the location of the lost library of the Great Race of Yith, as described in The Shadow out of Time. Sounds like it’s time to send in a Delta Green task force to deal with those pesky archaeologists before they release something truly unfortunate. Hopefully all the scientists are what they appear and that none of them are possessed by the Great Race, otherwise it could get complicated.

The second is related to my recent post on post-apocalyptic gaming. The urban legend claims:

SPIDERS HAVE BEEN RELEASED FROM A DNA LABORATORY LOCATED NEAR THE WOLF SANCTUARY ON ANTIRE RD !

Government testing on DNA has produced these spiders in a Laboratory in Missouri. Unfortunately they have been located off Lewis Rd just west of laboratory and seem to be breading in the wild much faster than when captive.

Government officials are doing all they can to try to eliminate these spiders but can offer no guarantees. They could be popping up in surrounding neighborhoods west of the siting (Eureka, Pacific, Union, and St. Clair) within weeks.

What we have in our favor is that winter is approaching and hope to slow down the migration no further than St. Clair before the cold hits.

If you see these stay indoors and call the local police. They have been informed on procedures of capture and contact of the local governing agency.

-Example text from urban legend Mutant Spiders in Missouri.

The story, with all it’s potential for adding to a Mutant Futures bestiary, is false. However the surprising thing is that the accompanying pictures are real.

We’re going to need a bigger shoe!

That’s not a photoshop job, it’s not a model, it’s not even forced perspective. Thankfully it’s also not an arachnid. These rather hefty bits of nightmare fuel are Coconut Crabs, the largest species of land-based arthropods in the world. They’re not aggressive, eat mostly fruits and nuts, and are closer relatives to the Horseshoe Crab than anything found in Tolkien’s Mirkwood Forest. Still, that shouldn’t hold you back from using this as a hook for your next Gamma World game.

It is comforting to know that these huge crabs aren’t really giant spiders. However they do remind me of something else, something not quite as non-threatening…

garthim

Garthim!

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2014 in Cool Stuff, Weirdness

 

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Review – Ultimate Spy

“I and many members of the former East German Foreign Intelligence Service, the HVA, were surprised to discover a book that included elegant photographs of syp equipment, from Keith Melton’s unique collection, and accurate descriptions of clandestine techniques that we had spent our careers keeping secret from Western intelligence agencies.”

-Markus Wolf, former head of the East German Foreign Intelligence Service

Introduction to Ultimate Spy, 2nd Edition

I love DK books. The illustrations are excellent and the information is well researched. Pick up any DK book and you’ll get a brief but solid introduction to whatever subject it covers. Such is the case for Ultimate Spy, DK’s book about espionage written by H. Keith Melton. My copy is the second edition, published in 2002 and updated to include post Cold War material.

Ultimate Spy is a fun book that touches on intelligence organizations dating back to the Middle Ages, but focusing mostly on the World War II and Cold War eras. It’s a book filled with facts, spy stories, and generously illustrated with enough photos of spy equipment to make Q-Branch envious.

The book begins with an overview of the types of people who become spies, what motivates them, and what activities they engage in. This section divides the different types of spies into roles such as The Courier, The Double Agent, The Mole, and The Assassin, including an overview of how these roles have been employed by eastern and western agencies. Any game master will find useful similarities between this section and the class descriptions in a role playing game.

The next section discusses the history of spying with chapters on operations up through World War I, World War II, the Cold War, and spying in the post Soviet era with a focus on counter-terrorism. These sections talk about how espionage evolved to suit the times and includes stories about events and important operations such as the founding of the OSS, the U2 incident, and the transformation of Russian intelligence from the Tzarist Okhrana to the legendary KGB of the Soviet Union. It also discusses famous, or infamous, intelligence figures such as Sidney Reilly, Alan Turin, Mata Hari, and the Walker spy ring, giving a concise description of their real world activities.

Not to mention the frequently unpleasant endings that come to many such stories.

“Mata Hari was arrested as a German spy on her return to Paris. She was tried in a French military court, found guilty, and executed by firing squad in 1918.”

“In 1925, a British intelligence operative named Sidney Reilly was lured to a meeting with Trust members in Moscow, where he was arrested and forced to write a confession revealing all his Moscow contacts. He was then executed.”

-Excerpts from Ultimate Spy, pages 25 & 27

From there the book moves into equipment and techniques used by spy agencies, and this is a must read section for any GM wanting to run a spy game. There are wonderful pictures throughout the book, but the equipment show in this section is particularly good. It all comes from the author’s personal collection of spy equipment, which is the best private collection in the world. There are pages filled with microphones hidden in shoes and pens, lockpicks, concealed weapons, radios, disguise kits, and lots of cameras. There are silver dollars and rings with hidden compartments for microdots, messages written on the back of postage stamps and sent through the mail, walnut shells hiding code lists, and assassination tools such as the Bulgarian Umbrella which injected a poison pellet into the target.

Of particular interest to me was seeing the size and types of the equipment. In an age where everything is digital, wireless, and built of solid state micro-circuitry it is fascinating to see how surprisingly large, or surprisingly small, the spymasters of yesterday could make things. It’s also a good reminder that many of the gadgets made famous by the James Bond movies are not as far fetched as they may seem.

In many cases they aren’t as impressive as their real counterparts.

Ultimate Spy is a great read and an excellent resource for anyone looking to run an espionage game, especially those set in the Cold War.

UltimateSpy

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2014 in Books and Comics, History, Reviews

 

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Baby Bestiary

The Infinite Machine Tumblr is one of my favorites for fantasy and science fiction artwork and one of the latest posts clued me in to a fun Kickstarter.

Andreas Walters is running the campaign to create The Baby Bestiary, a collection of artwork depicting various iconic Dungeons & Dragons monsters in their infancy.

“Every beast has an infancy stage, why not add some kittens, cubs and hatchlings to your game with these adorable monsters.”

-The Baby Bestiary Kickstarter

Items available include the book, post cards, calendars, and .PDFs. Less than two days remain for the campaign but they’ve already hit almost three times their goal. Good for them. It looks like a fun project.

My personal favorite is the baby Gelatinous Cube.

They grow up so fast!

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2014 in Cool Stuff, Fantasy

 

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Dwimmermount, Why Do You Torment Me?

At long last!

My copy of Dwimmermount has arrived! I hold in my hands an actual, physical, long dreamed of copy of Dwimmermount in all its hard-bound glory!

And…

Whoever packed the box for shipping screwed up. The adhesive meant to close the cardboard shipping box was instead put against the spine of the book, gluing the two together and ruining the spine.

KAHN!!!!!

DwimmerRip

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2014 in Fantasy, Gaming

 

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It’s the End of the World as We Know It

We really are living in a golden age for indie RPG’s. Between PDF, print on demand, and crowd funding it seems like I’m learning about a new game every week, each with its own dedicated following. This is a strain on my Gamer ADD, as I don’t have enough time to get the games I already own to the table and I keep wanting to check out new ones.

This is an affliction I know I share with many of you. If I could choose an afterlife it might just be a gamer Valhalla where we spend all day rolling dice, eating pizza, and drinking Mt. Dew from finely carved drinking horns.

One genre I’ve noticed that is benefiting from the trend is post-apocalyptic gaming. This has always been a niche genre, even back in the 80’s when fears of nuclear Armageddon were hanging over us. Three games from that era come to mind; Gamma World is probably the most notable, blending far future science with gonzo mutants and Road Warrior style cultures. Twilight 2000 has a fascinating concept, darker and more realistic in tone, and putting the players in the role of US soldiers cut off in Europe after a limited nuclear war. Palladium’s After the Bomb was a spin off from their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game and there were several supplements published for it.

Things changed as the Cold War ended. With the threat of apocalypse receding into the background its presence in role playing games also faded. However the gaming scene of today has made new space for games based on old fears. My armchair theory of why this is happening is a combination of the decade plus War on Terror mixed with Generation X’s renewed interest in gaming.

Of course my theory and a buck fifty might buy you a cup of coffee.

So lets look at a few of these new games. These are the ones I can think of off the top of my head and not a comprehensive list.

Mutant Future - As Gamma World was the progenitor of the first wave of post-apocalyptic games, its retro-clone Mutant Future seem to be pre-eminent among the new wave. At least from the perspective of the Old School Renaissance. Like its predecessor, Mutant Future is based on classic D&D (through the Labyrinth Lord retro-clone) and puts the players into a far future world, where the apocalypse happened after the world attained a much higher level of technology than we have today.

I never played Gamma World but ever since I discovered the OSR I’ve developed a fresh interest in the genre. Enough that I picked up my own copy of Mutant Future and it is high on my bucket list of games to play. It doesn’t hurt that The Savage AfterWorld blog has put out a free supplement called “The World of Thundarr” that throws Mutant Future into the realm of one of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons. Mutant Future is available from Goblinoid Games.

Mutant Chronicles – The history of Mutant Chronicles goes back to 1993 and is actually the cornerstone of a whole franchise that includes collectible card games, board games, and miniature wargaming. Again the setting is one where doomsday came to a future world and not present day. This game has a definite Warhammer-meets-Gamma World vibe going.

The original editions were published in 1993 and 1997 by Target Games. A new edition was planned for around 2009 but it never materialized. Still the game has many followers and there was enough interest for the British company Modiphius to acquire the property and run a successful Kickstarter campaign, reaching full funding in only three hours. The target release date is by the end of this year, so Mutant Chronicles fans have a joyful Christmas to look forward too. Mutant Chronicles is available for pre-order from the Modiphius website.

Mutant EpochRounding out the Mutant trifecta is Mutant Epoch by Outland Arts. This is a recent addition to the genre, published in 2011. The game is a percentile based system and has received good reviews. The website features a great deal of their artwork, which has a distinctive style from other games in the genre and gives me the same vibes as a lot of late 90’s and early millennial games. There are a nice amount of support books available, including several free or Pay What You Want titles. The creators of Mutant Epoch have a lot of passion for their game and that energy comes through.

I particularly like the Kids’ Section of their website, where you can print out your own post-apocalyptic coloring book.

Apocalypse World – Published in 2010 Apocalypse World is one of several games using the Apocalypse Engine. Players create characters using “playbooks”, which appear to combine the idea of character creation with world design. So as the characters are generated elements are added to the game’s setting, including the connections between the player characters. It sounds like an interesting mechanic and I’ll have to check out.

Despite being rules light, Apocalypse World seems to fall outside the OSR’s collective notice. Possibly because the rules that are there are more tied to character stories than we grognards usually go for. The game can be purchased in print or PDF from their website.

Broken World – This game just recently funded on Kickstarter and is not yet available for purchase. Like Apocalypse World, Broken World uses the Apocalypse Engine. However based on the description Broken World will have a more established world, lighter tone, and more gonzo feel than its grim predecessor. The artwork reminds me of movies like Wizards and books like Cobalt 60., which is definitely not a bad thing.

I’m sure there are more games that I’ve missed and feel free to mention them, or your experiences with these games, in the comments below. I’d love to hear how you enjoy the end of the world.

 

And I Feel Fine

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2014 in Gaming, Science Fiction

 

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Grimtooth’s Ultimate Trap Collection

Via the Realms of Chirak blog I learned that Goodman Games and Flying Buffalo have joined forces to release an omnibus hardcover edition of the Grimtooth’s Traps series.

“This 500-page book presents the material in its original, classic form. No updates, no rules revisions, no changes, and nothing to disrupt the entertaining formula that has led the Grimtooth’s line to sell more than 250,000 copies since 1981.”

Goodman Games Press Release

I especially like that they are presenting the books in their original system-agnostic format. Grimtooth’s books have always been about the concepts and adding game statistics just clutters up the book.

Truth be told, I almost never used the material in these books. I may be an evil DM but I do have my limits. The joy of these books is largely in the reading, though there are definitely ideas to be lifted from them.

Although I did use a few traps as-listed. Such as the fake giant spider trap, where the web is composed of fuses leading to powder kegs hidden in the walls. And the Greek fire enclosed in wax bladders attached to the ceiling, where torches can melt the wax and ignite the liquid.

No pricing information is available yet, but this is a book I look forward to seeing.

Also, make sure to watch the video at the Goodman Games page, where they talk about reprinting a lot of classic Judges’ Guild material.

 

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2014 in Gaming

 

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The Unfortunate Story of Car Wars 5th Ed.

For my birthday gaming blow out I made use of Car Wars 5th Edition.

Several people have commented that they didn’t know there had been a 5th Edition, which is understandable because it didn’t last very long. The game was released in 2002 to much anticipation, but it sold poorly and quickly vanished from the gaming scene. It’s an example of how you can do a good job revising a classic rules set and then kill the line with bad marketing.

The Good: The goal of 5th Edition was to streamline the Car Wars system so that it would be easier, play faster, and provide a more dynamic game. In these goals they were successful. Over the years Car Wars had built up significant rules bloat. New weapons and technology combined with tons of new rules had expanded the game from a simple system that fit in a small plastic box to a book the size of a full GURPS sourcebook. To its credit this allowed the serious autoduelist to handle a huge range of situations including semi-trucks, aircraft, boats, and even tanks. It also provided a dizzying array of construction options for customizing your vehicles. But at the same time it weighed the system down. It also changed the game from being easy to learn to intimidating for a new player.

5th Edition brought the game back to basics, presenting the players with a wide selection of pre-built cars that offered good variety while focusing on the core concept of racing cars and blowing each other up.

They also made significant changes to the movement system. In classic Car Wars a turn was divided into 10 phases, which later editions cut to five. Each phase players would check a matrix and it would tell you if you moved that phase based on your current speed. Movement was usually an inch per phase, though at high speeds two or three were possible.

5th Edition dropd the number of phases to three and cars move in every phase. The distance you move is increased to a flat 1″ per 10 miles per hour. This makes the calculations easy and cars move a lot farther each phase, making for a fast paced game. For me this is the single best change they made to the game, as it gives you a much better feel for roaring down the road than.

Another significant change is to the game’s scale. Classic Car Wars was designed using 1″ long counters for cars and 1/2″ counters for motorcycles. This allowed players to run large maps using a smaller game table, but it did limit the options for miniatures. 5th Edition was designed with 1/60th scale cars in mind, making it possible to use Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars without any rules conversions. This does put space limits on the playing field but you can get a lot of arena into a regular table space.

To sum up, 5th Edition succeeded in its goals to present a faster and more dynamic game that is more exciting and more accessible to new players.

The Bad: With a successful revamp of the rules done, how did they go wrong?

In a word, presentation.

In 2002 collectible games were still earning money hand-over-fist. Steve Jackson Games seems to have been trying to tap into that mindset with 5th Edition.

First off, you couldn’t buy a single book or boxed set. Instead you bought a series of game books. Each book came with a set of rules, a set of counters, and stats for two cars and a variant design for each (effectively four cars). Each book was inexpensive and gave enough material that you could play a one-on-one autoduel with a single book. The idea was that players would each buy a book, giving everyone a set of the rules and enough cars to play with. They published nine books, three for each size class of car.

However most fans wanted to own a complete set of cars and the majority of each book was identical. it was impossible to ignore that you were essentially buying the same thing over and over.

Second was the components. On the plus side, the artwork was good and kept with the classic Car Wars designs. They were also generous in the number of components they provided, giving you no lack of oil slicks, mines, spikes, rubble, and the like. However these counters were not punched and you had to cut them out yourself. This is especially annoying on the mines and spikes, which are circular counters.

You will notice that for my game I used quarters and pennies for spikes and mines.

Then there was the release schedule. The plan was to release only one division a month, going from the smallest cars to the largest. So for the big 5th Edition launch the only cars available were the Division 5 sub-compact cars. These cars, such as the iconic Killer Kart, are light vehicles usually with a single weapon.

In other words, boring.

Oh you can have fun with them for a bit, but the excitement of driving these eggshells with popguns burns out quickly. Car Wars is about vehicles bristling with weapons and armor, but to get that we had to wait another month.

Then we had to buy three more books. With three more sets of the same rules. And three more sets of counters to cut out. And then we had to wait another month to repeat the process for Division 15.

This crushed any momentum the game had built up.

There was one more major flaw with the 5th Edition release. One of the most popular aspects of Classic Car Wars is the ability to build, customize, and upgrade your car. Players would gleefully tinker with their designs to get the deadliest vehicle possible. Duels would be as much about design as driving skill and it was fun not knowing what surprises your opponents had installed since the last game.

5th Edition launched without a vehicle design system.

Promises were made that one was forthcoming but that it wouldn’t be released until all the other books had come out. For many autoduelists this meant that not only were you buying the same book repeatedly, you weren’t even getting a complete game. The last nail had been driven into the coffin.

The Ugly: Dissatisfaction among the fans cast a pall on the sales of 5th edition. In the end they published the nine core books, a compilation book of the Division 5 cars, and a single arena book.

And that was it.

The vehicle design system was never published. Rules for motorcycles never came out. Even updates on the website ceased in short order and nothing more was said. 5th Edition was done.

The Future: The failure of 5th Edition is a sad story, especially for long time Car Wars fans. However there are a few rays of hope for aspiring autoduelists.

The first is that all the 5th Edition books are available in .PDF format from Warehouse 23, Steve Jackson Games online web store. You can find them here and they’re reasonably priced. The individual books sell for $2.99, about half the cost of the original printed books, and the Division 5 compilation book costs $7.95. So for around $26 you can have them all in digital format. Desktop printers have come a long way since 2002, so printing all the cardstock counters you want is no longer a daunting task. Throw in a $5 pack of Matchbox cars and you’re ready to roll.

Also, an enterprising fan was able to reverse engineer the vehicle design system. The rules are posted in the Steve Jackson Games forum at this location. There are still no rules for motorcycles or large vehicles, such as vans and trucks. This is a shame, as these were popular in classic Car Wars, but it still gives you enough to play with.

Another ray of sunshine came from an unexpected source. Back in 2012 when the OGRE Designers Edition Kickstarter was breaking all kinds of records they set a stretch goal at the $700,000 mark. Hitting the goal would mean that Steve Jackson would launch a Kickstarter for Car Wars in 2013.

The stretch goal was hit but 2013 came and went without the Kickstarter happening. However there have been two related Car Wars announcements. The first was a re-release of the original Car Wars mini-game that came in a plastic baggy. The second was announcing the re-release of Classic Car Wars in the small plastic box. Mini-Car Wars released earlier this year and the second is listed as “In Production”. Both of these are supposed to be preludes to a new edition. There have also been periodic announcement about staff assigned to the project, indicating that Steve Jackson Games is still working on it.

So while the wheels are turning slowly, there is still hope that a 6th Edition of Car Wars may roll off the assembly line someday.

In the meantime, remember to Drive Offensively.

CarWars6

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2014 in Gaming

 

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