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Charles Darwin Pulls Off The Mask…

This is a cool image from Dungeon Inspirations, the walking stick of Charles Darwin!

 

There’s a cool short write-up about the walking stick at the Dungeon Inspirations site and I recommend going to take a look.

I’m a rather big fan of science and hold Charles Darwin in high esteem, all the more for him having such a cool walking stick. But I can’t help imagining a scenario where he holds this staff aloft, lightning strikes, and is revealed to be Orcus, Demon Lord of the Undead in disguise.

I’m sure the reasons for this masquerade will become clear after his new tome comes out, Undead, Demons, and Unnatural Selection.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2015 in Cool Stuff, History

 

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The Hills Rise Wild!

Happy International Tabletop Day!

Tim over at The Savage Afterworld has sponsored a Blog Hop as a chance for us to celebrate some of our favorite boardgames. For my entry I’ve picked an old favorite, a game of mayhem and madness, The Hills Rise Wild! Released in the year 2000 by Pagan Publishing, this is a light miniatures wargame pitting up to four Lovecraftian clans against each other in a violent battle for the sake of their favorite Elder God.

“It’s an inbreed, corpse-fed, blood-red bonanza! Old Wizard Whateley kicked the bucket! And his precious copy of the Necronomicon, a book of powerful magic, is up for grabs.”

“Pit your team of drooling horrors against your friends in an all-out battle of bullets, brawn and brains.”

-The Hills Rise Wild! Back cover

Full disclosure; I was a playtester for this game.

No, that’s not even close to full disclosure. Pull up a seat while I digress.

It was a golden age for our gaming group; a time when we were still gaming regularly. Not only did we have role playing games on the weekend but a group of us also played in a weekly board game night. For over a year this was a sacrosanct ritual, a break in the week’s doldrums not to be missed. One evening a friend said he’d signed us up to be playtesters for this crazy new game Pagan Publishing was working on. Being old hands at Call of Cthulhu and well acquainted with the company it wasn’t hard to get us to agree to test it out.

And test it we did. For several months this game took over our weekly gaming night, not simply due to a sense of obligation but because we were having so much fun with it. Writing up our after action reports was part of the fun and seeing anything we’d pointed out show up in the next set of rules filled us with more joy than a ghoul in a graveyard. There are in-jokes coined at our first gaming session that still live on with our group* and for years after the game was released it hit our tables with frequency. Somewhere my friend still has the original playtest packet.

In The Hills Rise Wild each player takes control of a familial clan devoted to one of the Elder Gods; The Whateley Clan, the Marsh Clan, the DeGhoule Clan, or the Cult of Ezekiel. The game board represents an old backwoods New England village with the locked Whateley Mansion in the center. The goal of each clan is to search the village for the magical Whateley Seal, use it to unlock the mansion, find the Necronomicon inside, and escape with it back to their summoning circle. With it they will try to summon their Elder God of choice into this world, ushering in an age of madness and death.

Meanwhile the other cults are trying to do the same thing and everyone is armed to the teeth with guns. And bombs. And spells. And… other things. The blood flows quickly and in great quantities.

I love this game.

The map is made up by several thick cardboard squares, lain out by the players at the beginning of the game and adding a level of variety to each session. The artwork was excellent for the time, winning the 2000 Origins Award for Best Graphic Presentation, and it still holds up well today. The characters are represented by cardstock standies with nice representations of the characters. There are also a lot of little chits to represent items or statuses like Stunned or Slammed. Let me say again, lots of little chits.

Do not sneeze on the chit pile. You’ll be finding them for days. Yes, I am speaking from experience.

The Hills Rise Wild is not a board game in the way we look at them today. It’s a fusion of board games and light miniatures combat, taking some of the best elements of both to give the players a fun game that moves fast and rewards tactical thinking. Some of these elements might give a modern gamer pause; Movement uses a tape measure? Clan sheets meant to be printed and written on? The game uses damage tables!

Specifically both a regular damage table and the iconic Brutal Damage Table with such popular results as “Say Goodnight!”, “Have a Heapin’ Helpin’ o’ Hurt!”, and the ever popular “Daddy’s Home!”

It’s also possible for nobody to win the game. On more than one occasion we’ve ended with everyone dead, or the only ones left alive being characters who cannot cast the summoning spell.

The game has been out of print for a long time, but copies still pop up on a regular basis so it shouldn’t be too hard to track one down. You can usually find them for close to the original price of around $40. That’s cheap by today’s standards though at the time it was one of the more expensive games available. An expansion was planned for the game called the Reanimated Clan, which would have added Herbert West and zombies to the game, but it never made it to publication. That’s a shame because we playtested it too and we really enjoyed it.

I would love to see a new edition of The Hills Rise Wild and I think the time is perfect for it. Board gaming is going through its greatest golden age right now and urban fantasy, zombies, and H.P. Lovecraft are all hugely popular. The price points and modern production values could allow for including some impressive miniatures and there are some places where modern design ideas could be incorporated into the game. Add to that the ability to leverage the Pagan Publishing name with Kickstarter and a new generation of Hills fans would be spawned.

But until that day comes I suggest you track down a copy, get a few friends, and start coating the field in blood. You won’t regret it.

HillsRiseWild

*Beware the curse of Slippy Finn!

———————————-

Special thanks to Tim from The Savage Afterworld for putting on this Board Game Blog Hop! Make sure to check out the other entries at the links below.

And by all means, have a great day of gaming!

The Savage AfterWorld — http://savageafterworld.blogspot.com/ — Escape: Zombie City by Queen Games

Channel Zero — http://www.channel-zero.net — Thunderstone by Alderac Entertainment

Fractalbat — https://fractalbat.wordpress.com/ — The Hills Rise Wild by Pagan Publishing

The Gibbering Gamer — http://www.gibberinggamer.com – Dragon Dice by SFR (formerly TSR)

Random Encounters (From Ohio) — http://randomencountersohio.blogspot.com – Nano Bot Battle Arena by Derpy Games

Troll in the Corner — http://trollitc.com/author/neilrobinson/ — Star Realms by White Wizard Games

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2015 in Game Design and Mechanics, Gaming, Horror

 

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Save vs Cute

I recently found this. Apparently my ten year old daughter decided to write a character sheet for her gerbil, Pudding.

PudStats

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2015 in Cool Stuff, Gaming

 

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Skullduggery

In 1919 the Allied Powers compelled the German Empire to sign the Treaty of Versailles, thus ending the Great War. The treaty itself is legendary for being a tool for harshly punishing Germany by placing heavy burdens on the defeated nation. These include the dismantling of Germany’s military forces, stripping them of their colonies, demanding the return of an African king’s skull, crippling financial reparations, the…

Wait… what was that?

“ARTICLE 246: Within six months from the coming into force of the present Treaty, Germany will hand over to His Britannic Majesty’s Government the skull of the Sultan Mkwawa which was removed from the Protectorate of German East Africa and taken to Germany.”

-The Treaty of Versailles

I first learned about this provision while reading the 1938 book Brigade of Spies by William J. Makin. This delightful book is a highly sensationalized collection of questionable anecdotes about spies, focused mainly on tradecraft from The Great War and on through the 20’s and 30’s. It’s a rare glimpse into the world of espionage through the lens of Europe after the Nazis have come to power and before the outbreak of World War II. While I have reason to question many of the details presented, I’ve been surprised to find an element of truth to the stories I’ve investigated further. If you can find a copy of this book I highly recommend it, it reads like one big collection of adventure seeds.

Case in point, the skull of the Sultan Mkwawa.

According to Wikipedia, a source less entertaining but more reliable than Brigade of Spies, the man referred to in the treaty was Chief Mkwavinyika Munyigumba Mwamuyinga, commonly known as Chief Mkwawa. He was the leader of the Hehe tribe in the former German East African colonial region, in what is now Tanzania. His name translates to “conqueror of many lands”. The title of “sultan” seems to be an error, as I couldn’t find any indication that the Hehe tribe were Muslims, and I’ll attribute that to the general European lack of understanding about the people of Africa and the Middle East.

In 1891 the German government sent a battalion of colonial troops under the command of German officers to suppress a rebellion by the Hehe tribe. Chief Mkwawa waited in ambush with a force of 3,000 warriors. German forces, under the command of Commissioner Emil von Zelewski, marched into the trap and were annihilated.

“The Germans imagined he could be easily conquered. A confident Captain Zeuike in charge of a number of askaris, set off for the interior. The Sultan was waiting for him – in ambush. The whole party was massacred and the Sultan returned triumphant to his kraal. Witch doctors danced in triumph and prophesied further victories.”

-Brigade of Spies, pg. 126

Three years later the Germans sent a stronger, and more cautious, force against the Hehe. They succeeded in defeating Mkwawa’s forces, but the chief escaped and continued to wage guerrilla warfare against German rule. It wasn’t until 1898 that the Germans finally cornered Mkwawa, who took his own life to avoid capture.

Most records say he shot himself, though the account in Brigade of Spies gives him a more romantic death by falling on his sword. What the accounts do agree on is that the Germans beheaded the corpse and sent the skull back to Berlin as a trophy.

During the Great War the Hehe people aided the British in fighting against German forces. With the conclusion of the war the story of Chief Mkwawa was retold and the idea arose of returning his skull to the Hehe people in thanks for their aid and as a symbol of Germany’s removal from power in Africa. Most accounts attribute this idea to Sir Edward Twining, then governor of Tanganyika, but again Makin’s book goes with a more romantic story of native delegates in tribal dress traveling to Paris and pleading their case to Lloyd George. What Makin did get correct is that the framers of the document did incorporate the demand into the treaty as Article 246, and once the German government had signed it they were compelled to turn over the skull.

There was only one problem, they had no idea where it was.

Makin’s book describes how over the years this provision would continue to bedevil both the Germans who had lost the skull and the British who had sworn to see it returned. Again there seems to be some truth to this and in 1953 (15 years after Makin’s book was published) Sir Twining once again pushed for Article 246 to be fulfilled. Finally in 1954, after searching a sizable collection of skulls kept at the Bremen Museum, and using questionable methods of deduction, the British government returned a skull to the Hehe people claiming it to be Mkwawa’s.

“The Museum had a collection of 2000 skulls, 84 of which originated from the former German East Africa. He short-listed the ones which showed measurements similar to surviving relatives of Chief Mkwawa; from this selection he picked the only skull with a bullet-hole as the skull of chief Mkwawa.”

-Wikipedia Entry for Chief Mkwawa, 4/7/2015

Chief Mkwawa is a hero to the Hehe people and to this day the skull is on display in Kalenga at the Mkwawa Memorial Museum. His life is already a tale worthy of legend, but when you add the unusual details about his skull and its inclusion in a document that had such an impact on the 20th Century it propels Chief Mkwawa’s story into the realm of mystery and pulp adventure.

Adventurers based on the skull could have British agents infiltrating Nazi Germany to locate the artifact, both to erase the embarrassment to Britain and to gain support in Africa. Meanwhile agents of the Gestapo would strive to keep the skull secret and eliminate the agents, while at the same time concealing the fact that they still possess it.

The importance of skulls is not limited to aboriginal people and inspiration can go into realms beyond Africa. Many religions venerate the bones of their saints, especially the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthadox churches. The skull of a saint would be a powerful MacGuffin for any pulp adventure. Or perhaps clues would be discovered for locating the skull of Brutus, the legendary first king of Britain. A race for such a relic could pit the player characters against all manner of opposition.

If you want something that appeals to those of us in the former colonies, consider this adventure seed; In the late 19th century there was no question that another war was coming in Europe. What wasn’t clear was who would be allied with whom and given the large German-American population there were people who thought the United States might side with Germany. Today we can’t imagine a time when the US and England were not the closest of allies, but before World War I it was not as certain. Especially when you consider that barely 100 years before the Great War the British Empire had invaded the US and burned our capital.

For this adventure the year is 1915. The Great War is well underway and while the German advance has been halted the allies are in a precarious position. England looks to the United States for aid but many of the people there are reluctant to get involved in a European war. Still aid comes in the form of money and supplies and there are those in the US Government who advocate for sending troops.

It is at this point that the player characters learn a well kept secret. During the War of 1812, when British forces were burning Washington DC to the ground, a small detachment was sent into Virginia to raid Mount Vernon. Their they broke into George Washington’s tomb and stole the head from the corpse. The skull was sent back to England as a trophy, but King George IV was appalled by their actions. By royal command all knowledge of the raid was made secret and the skull was hidden in the Tower of London. Meanwhile the Americans also kept news of the theft a secret to preserve morale in the face of invasion.

Now a crisis has arisen. German agents have broken into the Tower of London and stolen the skull. They plan to reveal the story to the world which would enrage the American populace, prevent the United States from entering the war, and possibly end their aid to England. It’s up to the player characters to find a way to stop this plot.

Skull_of_MkwawaSmall

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2015 in Cool Stuff, Gaming, History, Pulps

 

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It Has Arrived!

It has arrived!

And it is beautiful.

BMCompSoooooo Beautiful…

Barrowmaze Complete is finally mine!

MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Barrowmaze has long been on my want list. When they announced that a complete edition was on the way I decided to wait for it, but wasn’t able to jump on the crowdfunding campaign. So I have been patiently waiting for it to hit the retail market. I picked up the PDF/Print combo, which is currently a really good deal, and have been reading through it on my iPad. Now I have the physical copy in hand and it is glorious.

I need to do a proper review once I’ve finished the book, but right now I’ll say that I like what I’ve read. This megadungeon takes the classical dungeon crawl approach and injects innovative ideas that really brings the dungeon to life.

Or perhaps “unlife” is the better term.

It’s also a beautiful book, filled with illustrations that fire the imagination and bring home the OSR sensibilities.

Barrowmaze Complete now joins the ranks of my megadungeon arsenal.

MGD1

Truly a fearsome collection, printed using the tears of countless adventurers.

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2015 in Fantasy, Gaming, Reviews

 

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Justice League: Throne of Atlantis

I’m a big fan of the DC animated movies, so when I noticed that our library had a new one in I had to give it a try. The title sounded promising, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis.

Then I realized that this was a sequel to Justice League: War, a movie that I have little affection for. How did this new movie turn out?

I considered summing up the movie in one sentence but I couldn’t decide between, “Not as bad as War,” and, “The fields of Atlantis are burning.”

The characters are not quite as unlikable as they were in War, but I’m still left with the feeling that if these are the heroes defending my world I would not sleep well at night. It’s enough to make me think that Lex Luthor has a point. Unfortunately this is what DC thinks we want in our heroes.

Buried within this mess of sub-plots that go nowhere is a serviceable origin story for Aquaman. One that would be better served if they cut out all the parts with the Justice League and used that time to flesh out Aquaman, Mera, Ocean Master, and Black Manta. It’s a standard plot of treachery, usurpation of the throne, and the true heir fighting to claim his birthright, but there is little time left to connect with the Atlantian characters and the central plot feels rushed.

Among the more glaring plot problems with Throne of Atlantis are several smaller points that bother me:

When on the ocean floor Cyborg and Flash need masks. Hal does not, which makes sense, but neither Superman nor Wonder Woman need them to breath or talk normally. This is never explained.

Several league members are very liberal (one might say gratuitous) with the use of lethal force. This is never commented on.

Superman and Wonder Woman go out on a date in their secret identities. Lois Lane shows up and cattiness ensues, because of course it does. This has no bearing on the story.

When Ocean Master invades Metropolis he leads off with a massive tsunami, but then casts it aside before it hits the city. I’m okay with this because it’s a great evil villain move. “I’m so powerful I don’t need to flood your city! I have eeeeevil showmanship skills!” However he follows this up with an invasion force that isn’t very large and whose technology isn’t that much better than our own. I was left wondering why the Justice League was needed to repel the Atlantean forces.

Black Manta initiated the war by launching a torpedo attack on Atlantis and blaming it on the surface dwellers. In the process he wipes out many Atlanteans who were out tending their crops. The fields of Atlantis were burning.

The fields… of Atlantis… were burning…

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2015 in Movies & TV, Reviews

 

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Game Idea From The Bad Astronomer!

I’ve been a fan of Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog for a long time. It’s always full of cool science information and sometimes good articles on skepticism. Phil was even the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation for a while.

Today he posted a link to one of his other blogs. Unfortunately this one is behind a pay wall, but the title alone is enough to inspire gaming ideas.

What headline could be so evocative?

Ancient Radioactive Lunar Volcano!

 
 

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