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Various and Sundry

A few quick notes:

  • Sad news. The excellent Cincinnati gaming store Yottaquest, which I only recently discovered, has announced that they are closing at the end of the summer. Not for any financial reasons, but because the owners are moving on to do other things. I wish them well, but with sadness. Gaming stores of such quality have become all too rare.
  • I got a sweet deal on a copy of the now out-of-print game Starblazer Adventures. I’m a sucker for sci-fi games and I love the art style that I’ve seen on every sample of Starblazer Adventures. I’ve also been curious about the Fate system going all the way back to the early Fudge days, but have never gotten around to checking it out. Now I’m faced with a new problem; my bucket list of games is already too long and now Starblazer Adventures has blasted its way onto the list. This is made worse because Fate looks like it may be the system I’ve been looking for to run a playable Lensmen or Doctor Who game.
  • While going through some old boxes I found my boxed set of the original Twilight: 2000. I picked this up when it first came out, though we never got around to playing it. In recent years I’ve been thinking about getting together with some other Cold War raised Gen-Xers to play it, but not knowing where my books were kept it way in the back of my mind. Now that I’ve uncovered my books it’s moved from idle musing to something I could actually do. Clearly I need a bigger bucket.
  • Thanks to my library system I have been reading Flash Gordon on the Planet Mongo, the first volume of the complete Flash Gordon library. These are lovingly restored prints of the Sunday Flash Gordon comic strip by Alex Raymond. This book is fantastic and I have devoured it. Three volumes have been published with a fourth on the way and I’ve decided that they need to be added to my personal library. I highly recommend any fans of pulp sci-fi to seek these books out and pick them up.

 

photoImage from the West End Games Star Wars RPG.

 

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2015 in Cool Stuff, Gaming, Science Fiction

 

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Framed!

Quite a while ago I blogged about the tech demo for an iPad game called Framed.

The game did release but it wasn’t until recently that I picked it up. I am pleased to say that it lives up to all my hopes from the tech demo.

Framed puts you in control of a series of comic panel frames, where you help a noir story play out by moving the panels around to help the spies evade the police. For example, the default panels will have the spy run into a guard, but by changing the order or orientation of things the spy instead comes up behind the guards and knocks him out.

The story is told through the action, as you help the male spy escape with a briefcase, until eventually the female spy steals it from him and you switch to her. This goes back and forth for a while and all the time you are pursued by the mysterious inspector. The artwork is done in an evocative shadow puppet style, which is something I always enjoy, and the animation is crisp. The music adds to the ambiance and the story is clever and witty.

Best of all the interface is innovative. One of my complaints with iOS games is how few of them are designed specifically to take advantage of a touch screen to do something unique, something you can’t do on a PC or game console. Framed does this in spades.

Framed is $4.99 on iTunes.

 

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Random Thoughts

My schedule continues to be bad for blogging, but has improved on other fronts.

Gaming: Our gaming group had a rare double-header, holding games two weekends in a row. Our GM is running a GURPS Supers/Horror game, where the adventures feel like a mix between Justice League and Hellboy, and set in 1960’s Florida. For this game I also get to run one of my long standing desires in supers gaming, a heroic duo. My friend and I created two brothers who were subjected to experiments by a mad scientist. This gave them the power to take on the abilities of different animals, much like DC’s Vixen or Animal Man, and like those characters they don’t change shape. However they do take on some physical characteristics as a special effect, such as growing feathers when channeling a bird, fur when channeling a canine, scales for fish, etc…

Their powers are activated or deactivated when the brothers touch, bringing in the inevitable Wonder Twins jokes. The two brothers are polar opposites on philosophy and argue incessantly, but are also protective of each other. Their code names are War and Peace and the animals they channel reflect their differing attitudes. War is a hot head and channels animals like wolf, kestrel, and shark. Peace is a pacifist (and a communist) and takes on animal powers like bloodhound, spider monkey, and dolphin. Their flexibility has made them very useful heroes and a lot of fun to play.

We’re looking forward to playing War and Peace again soon. Of course in a horror game there is the strong possibility of one of us dying. What will the other brother do if this happens?

Well… we did both take the Leatherworking skill…

Projects: My schedule has been bad for a number of things, but it has let me get started on a few projects. One of which is Car Wars related.

My love for Car Wars is well documented. I picked up a copy of the Classic Car Wars box set and a .PDF copy. One of the difficulties with the Car Wars arenas of old is that they came as folded maps and could be a bear to flatten out for game play. Using my PDF I’m printing an arena out in card stock and plan to assemble it on foam core, then play some games using the classic scale and rules. I want a fresh look at the old game to compare with 5th edition. I still have my classic Compendium, but the new box set takes the game back to a more basic form, before there was too much bloat in weapons and equipment. I’m quite pleased with the set and eager to try it out.

I’ve also finally started working on painting miniatures, something I haven’t done since my undergrad days. There are some miniatures I’ve been wanting to acquire and paint, but I know my limitations and I don’t want to invest the cash in something that might end up sitting in the closet undone for years. So I made a deal with myself; if I put a dent in some of the miniatures I already own I’ll go ahead and invest in the ones I want to work on.

To that end I’ve pulled out a couple boxes of Renegade Legion: Centurion anti-gravity tanks that I’ve had sitting in the closet for years. Centurion was another outstanding game from FASA that evokes the feeling of science fiction classics like Hammer’s Slammers. In my opinion it’s a far superior game to Battletech, with tighter and faster rules than it’s stompy-mecha big brother. Once I have enough tanks painted up I plan to pull the game out of mothballs and fire it up. It’s a good goal to work towards and I now have several Renegade medium APCs primed and waiting to go.

What about the miniatures that I want to acquire after I finish my tanks? For that I’ll be turning to the golden age Sci-Fi goodness that is War Rocket.

Adventure Seeds: One of the podcasts/blogs I follow is Skeptoid, a site where they take a critical look at various events and beliefs including cryptozolology, alternative medicine, and urban legends. Recently they ran an article entitled Lost Treasures of the 20th Century, and it’s full of great plot ideas for pulp adventures.

Some of the stories covered in the post are well known to me, such as the lost Nazi gold in Lake Toplitz and the lost Amber Room of the Russian empire (a subject worthy of its own post). Others I had never heard of, such as Yamashita’s Gold and the vanished crown jewels of Ireland. The post gives a nice short summary of these and other lost treasures, any of which would be a great candidate for writing an adventure.

Kung Fury!

Kung Fury is out! It’s free on YouTube in HD! Go! Go now!

Centurion1

Soon my plastic brethren! Soon we ride!

 

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Battle of the Bands

This is what happens when it’s late at night, I’ve been working on servers for eight hours, and I haven’t had enough caffeine.

I get this desire to run a game about inter-planetary war; one between people based on Boston album covers vs beings from Journey album covers. I see them doing battle over the landscape of an Asia album cover. Hey, it can’t be any stranger than the time Journey got their own Atari 2600 game.

But what system to run it with…

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2015 in Science Fiction, Weirdness

 

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More Adventures that Write Themselves

Greetings Programs!

(blows dust from the belfry)

This past weekend my amazing wife and I celebrated our anniversary in our usual way; we picked a state park and slipped away for a weekend of hiking and relaxation. We’ve been doing this for a number of years now and this is the first time we’ve gone back to a park we’ve previously visited. The camp is Carter Caves State Park in eastern Kentucky and it offers several lovely trails, plenty of flora and fauna, and a number of cave tours.

There are also plenty of stories to be found, and where you find stories you find adventure seeds.

This early in the season they only have two of their cave tours open. One of these is the Cascade Cave, which is also one of the longest tours and features large chambers and impressive geological features. Cascade Cave is several miles from the park’s lodge and was originally privately owned, with people touring the system since the late 1800’s. This is an active, living cave system with formations still growing and water in abundance.

In the early 20th century the owners of Cascade Cave sought to take full advantage of the system as a tourist destination. First they excavated the entrance, which previously required people to crawl to reach the larger chamber beyond. This larger domed chamber they dubbed “the ballroom”, and making good on the name they would hold dances in it. During prohibition the ballroom took on another role, becoming a subterranean speakeasy.

During this era there was fierce competition to put on the longest and most impressive cave tour. The owners of Cascade realized that the system extended far beyond the Ballroom, so they carried out further excavations. Their efforts succeeded in opening up a much longer system of tunnels that include many beautiful features, including a section where the river flows in and continues to carve out the rock to this day. Occasionally the competition would take a dark turn, with cave owners hiring toughs to break into their rivals’ caves and commit vandalism, carving graffiti into the walls and shattering millennia-old formations, and there is some evidence of this happening in Cascade.

The owners also built a lodge on the surface, directly above the caverns. They sunk a hole down to the cave to use as a ventilation system. By opening up the connection they could draw up the cool air from the cavern, providing natural air conditioning to the lodge. They also sunk a pipe down through the same hole, which they used to pump sewage from the lodge through the cave and straight into the river.

Eww.

They made one further attempt to expand the Cascade Cave tour, having realized that there were even more tunnels reaching deeper into the earth. However this time they used dynamite and the results were not what they’d hoped. Instead of opening the tunnels they caused a massive collapse, burying the deeper caverns for all time. It was a terrible mistake.

Or was it?

“they delved too greedily and too deep, and disturbed that from which they fled, Durin’s Bane.”

-Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring

To the gamer’s mind this all makes perfect sense; opportunistic people delving into closed caverns, holding drunken revels in subterranean chambers, building a hall above the underworld realms and making use of it in such a crass fashion. All they need to do is name the lodge “Heorot” and we have the setting for a modern-day Beowulf.

Were the vandals really sent into the caverns by a bitter rival? Were they cultists out to shatter ancient seals that kept something imprisoned? Or were they incautious adventurers who came to stop the terrors from being unleashed; adventurers who tried and failed, then disappeared leaving no trace except for a disturbingly suggestive set of flow stone formations that an old guide swears weren’t there before. Was the misadventure with the dynamite really an attempt to open the deeper caverns? Or to seal in some subterranean horror, woken from the depths by people venturing too far beyond the sun-lit world.

That’s for your players to find out.

CavernGate

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2015 in Cool Stuff, Fantasy, Gaming, Horror, Spooky Stuff

 

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More Naturalist Nightmares

Our local NPR station has a fun feature called “The 90 Second Naturalist“.

This is a short done by Thane Maynard, director of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens and each day he shares some fascinating info about the natural world. It’s a ritual in our family to listen to it right before the kids go to bed. Two recent episodes set my gamer’s brain to twitching.

The first was about cone snails, two species of which, “have turned insulin into an underwater weapon.” Cone snails are predators who hunt fish for prey. These snails release a cloud of “weaponized” insulin which the fish suck up through their gills causing their energy to plummet and effectively paralyzing them. Unable to swim away they become an easy meal for the slow moving killers.

Let’s think about that a little more deeply; These species have turned a chemical we all need to survive into a weapon. It doesn’t knock the victim out, it doesn’t render them senseless, and it doesn’t dull their nerves. It saps the energy out of them so they can’t flee from the killer they can see moving inexorably closer to them. Slowly. To devour them. At a snail’s pace.

I do not share such thoughts with my children before bedtime.

The second story that caught my attention was about black widow spiders. It turns out that the black widow’s venom has evolved rapidly and is much stronger than necessary for eating insects. The black widow is capable of killing larger prey, such as small mammals and reptiles. Scientists think that this powerful venom is natures way of expanding the spiders’ menu.

If this news isn’t unsettling enough the episode goes on to say, “scientists have discovered that the spiders are even crafting stronger webs to handle ever-bigger prey.”

We have this image of Mother Nature as some kind, benevolent caretaker of the Earth when in reality she’s a cackling mad scientist, constantly developing new horrors to unleash into the world.

The 90 Second Naturalist airs every weekday on WVXU/WMUB and can be heard on the web at this link.

 

 

 

 
 

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Bugs Are Cool

Behold, the Cyphonia clavata, otherwise known as the ant-mimicking treehopper.

Which, incidentally, is awfully fun to say.

Photo by Nicolas Gompel, linked from Livescience.com

Photo by Nicolas Gompel, linked from Livescience.com

 

What you are seeing is an insect that has evolved to look like an ant walking backwards. The treehopper’s eyes can be seen on the left of the picture, so to a predator it looks like the advancing treehopper is a retreating ant.

Being a gamer and prone to grisly ideas, when I first saw the image I thought the treehopper would kill an ant and wear its corpse as a shell, much like the disguised Mi-Go in H.P. Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in Darkness, but the reality is even more cool. The treehopper has evolved so that the same mechanisms that grow its wings create this amazing piece of camouflage, allowing it to grow the helmet-like ant mask as part of its natural body.

Science fiction and fantasy games are full of insect-based life forms, such as the Thri-kreen of Dungeons & Dragons or the Vrusk of Star Frontiers. Imagine the discomfort your players will have when they encounter a friendly race of insect people who grow shells that make them look vaguely human. Beings who believe that wearing this grotesque parody of our species is a tribute to us, a sign of friendship.

Then as soon as the characters become comfortable with this bizarre practice, have them encounter one of these creatures whose carapace vaguely resembles someone they know. Someone they haven’t seen for a while.

 

 

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