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Category Archives: Books and Comics

Outside a dog, a book is a person’s best friend. Inside a dog it’s too dark to read. Unless you have a flashlight.

A Tale of Two City Books

Thanks to my public library, I’ve taken a good look at a pair of books with some interesting gaming potential, sharing almost identical titles and filled with information about abandoned and ruined places across the globe. They are, Atlas of Lost Cities by Aude De Tocqueville and The Atlas of Lost Cities by Brenda Rosen.

Published in 2007, the Rosen book is done in a classic history book format and focuses exclusively on ancient sites. It has an excellent selection, with a mix of famous and obscure cities. Plenty of wonderful photographs augment the historical content. The cities are grouped into classifications such as “Cities of the Sea” and “Sacred Cities”, opening each section with a discussion of the characteristics these cities have in common.

The De Tocqueville book was published in 2014 and is done in the style of a travel guide. Cities are grouped by continent and the organization makes the book easier to navigate. The entries are written with a more colloquial voice and it includes evocative, stylized maps that gamers should enjoy. Something I particularly like about the De Tocqueville book is that it doesn’t limit itself to ancient sites. There are plenty of modern cities included, which makes it a great resource for contemporary games looking for an eerie setting. They also provide good inspiration for post-apocalyptic games.

Both books are good reading, but from a gamer’s point of view I prefer the De Tocqueville book. The concise descriptions are easier to use for adventure inspiration and the inclusion of so many modern sites makes it a unique resource. It is notably lacking in photography, an area where the Rosen book excels, but I resolved that problem by keeping my iPad handy.

Both books are available on Amazon and are not particularly expensive. The De Tocqueville book also has a sister tome called Atlas of Cursed Places by Oliver Le Carrer, that is on my reading list.

Image from http://www.pdclipart.org/

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2016 in Books and Comics

 

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Grimtooth

Well, here’s my latest light reading.

As I’ve come to expect from Goodman Games, this is a beautiful book. The cover is lovely, the binding is excellent, and the contents are well restored. It’s a wonderful collection of all the old Grimtooth’s Traps books, including a variety of new material and interviews.

If you’re not familiar, back in the 80’s and early 90’s there was a series of books collecting some of the most diabolical and completely unfair traps ever designed. These were rules agnostic monstrosities that would make Tomb of Horrors traps look like amateur designs.

Truth be told, for the most part they aren’t anything I would use in my dungeon design. Most are too “funhouse” for me, but the pleasure is in the reading. These books are fun.

And if my players were afraid I might actually use them? Well, that was fun too.

Now the entire series is available in an outstanding Goodman Games omnibus edition. The Kickstarter backers are receiving their copies now, so they should be available for retail purchase soon. Keep an eye on the Goodman Games website.

Grimtooth1

You know, I could adapt these for a superhero game. Something involving Arcade’s Murderworld from Marvel Comics. Hmm…

 

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A List for Mugs and Molls

Here’s a classic web tool if ever there was one.

Twists, Slugs, and Roscoes: a Glossary of Hardboiled Slang has been on the Internet since 1993. As the name suggests, it’s a glorious collection of terms straight out of the noir pulps and movies, and comes complete with its own bibliography. It’s perfect to spice up any gangster-era game.

So glom that list you ginks, before I make you chew a gat.

MF-spy

 

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C.S. Lewis as a DM

For bedtime my family has been reading through the Chronicles of Narnia and we’re currently on Book 6, The Magician’s Nephew*. It’s been a lot of fun rediscovering these stories with my kids and this is one of the books I don’t remember very well.

Last night we came across a passage that made me realize what a great dungeon master C.S. Lewis would have been. The children, Digory and Polly, have come to a room filled with people, or excellent simulacrums of them, dressed as royalty and sitting in chairs. In the room is a low stone pillar with enchanted writing carved in it. Sitting on top is a small golden bell and hammer. The inscription reads:

“Make your choice, adventurous Stranger:

Strike the bell and bide the danger,

Or wonder, till it drives you mad,

What would have followed if you had.”

The Magician’s Nephew, Pg. 50

Beautifully insidious. Really, for any adventuring party worth its salt, you don’t even need an enchantment to compel and torment the players. Their imaginations will do all the work.

“‘Oh but don’t you see it’s no good!’ said Digory. ‘We can’t get out of it now. We shall always be wondering what would have happened if we had struck the bell. I’m not going home to be driven mad by always thinking of that. No fear!'”

The Magician’s Nephew, Pg. 50

The best part is that my children recognized the trap immediately, and loved it. Especially my daughter, who is now gaming with us in my Stonehell Dungeon campaign.

NarniaBook6

*We are of course reading it in the classic order, not the heretical “chronological” order that they’re published in today. Such blasphemy.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2016 in Books and Comics

 

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Divas, Dames, & Daredevils

A fun book hit my reading table recently, courtesy of my local public library, Divas, Dames, & Daredevils: Lost Heroines of Golden Age Comics. Written by Mike Madrid, the book is a collection of stories about heroines from the dawn of comics and includes a good deal of history about the characters and the industry.

Divas focuses in on books from the 30’s and 40’s, in a time when comics were still raw and their pulp foundations were still strong. It was a time before the Comics Code Authority sapped the life out of the books, blunting their edge and taming their characters. The heroines of these stories are hard fighting, tough characters, of a kind we don’t expect to see before the 70’s and 80’s.

“In these very early days of comic books, there weren’t as many established rules about how women characters should or shouldn’t act. As a result, many of these Golden Age heroines feel bold and modern as we read them today.”

Divas, Dames, & Daredevils – pg. 15

And bold they are.

I’ve been a comic book fan for most of my life. The pulp and super hero genres are favorites of my gaming group and one of the things we love to do is find obscure characters and introduce them into our games. This book presents us with a collection of adventurers and super heroes that covers quite a spectrum of styles.

“Modern day comic book readers might be surprised at the broad spectrum of heroines in Golden Age comics – daring masked vigilantes, queens of lost civilizations and intergalactic warriors, crafty reporters and master spies, witches and jungle princesses, goddesses and regular gals.”

Divas, Dames, & Daredevils – pg. 15

Madrid breaks the book up into sections based on different heroic styles, such as Women at War about heroines fighting in WWII, Mystery Women in the same style as The Shadow and The Spider, and Warriors & Queens whose adventures rival the likes of Flash Gordon. Each section includes a bit of history, and introduction to the featured characters, and a reprint of several adventures.

Because these characters come from anthology comics, their stories are short and tight. This does come at the cost of depth and the stories are simplistic compared to comics today, but this will be nothing new to readers familiar with golden age comics.

There are several characters who stood out in particular for me. One is Madame Strange, a vengeful woman of mystery who exterminates Axis spies without mercy. Among the Mystery Women, Mother Hubbard caught my attention for being a classic old witch complete with broomstick and potions, but who wields her black magic against crime. My favorite of the Daring Dames is Calamity Jane, a hard boiled noir detective who has more in common with Phillip Marlowe than the femme fatales he deals with.

Then there is Wildfire, a heroine with a magical power over flames. Wildfire stands out in this collection, as she is a character who would be at home in the Justice Society. Wildfire enjoys being a heroine and wields her abilities with wit and humor, showing the same “daring do” as Jay Garrick’s Flash or Johnny Storm’s Human Torch.

Another intriguing character is The Sorceress of Zoom, who possesses vast magical powers and travels the world via a city on a cloud. The Sorceress is interesting because she is not a hero, not intentionally. She is motivated by a selfish desire to expand her power and she is willing to kidnap and threaten innocent people to achieve her goals, but she does follow a personal code of honor. The Sorceress collects power for its own sake, but she comes into conflict with those who would use it for base villainy. In the end she defeats these petty mortals, rewards those who have served her well, and moves on to seek her next adventure.

It’s a delight to see these characters, heroines who have an edge and allowed to take the lead, and there is a sense of discovery as you read about these characters who have been lost to time. Madrid has a passion for these characters and it comes through in his writing. If you’re interested in the history of comic books, the role of women in early comics, or just want to read some fun adventures, I recommend getting your hands on Divas, Dames, & Daredevils.

DD&D

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2016 in Books and Comics, History, Pulps, Reviews

 

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Why I Will Never Get Caught Up

Hi, I’m the Fractalbat, and I’m a book-a-holic.

Hi Fractal.

The problem is that I don’t make enough time to read all the books, so I’m constantly backlogged. Or, as I like to think of it, never without something to read. Every now and then I promise myself that I won’t get any more books until I’ve checked off at least one or two that I already have.

But…

See, on Thursdays I go to SCA fight practice and I have a stretch of time between when I finish work and when practice starts. Enough that I’m at loose ends. Sometimes I take that time to try and put a dent in my backlog of books, but sometimes I just want to walk around and browse. Enter 2nd and Charles, a bookstore I’ve mentioned before.

Believe it or not I’m usually pretty good about browsing in bookstores, what with the cost of the printed word and all. However 2nd and Charles has one bookshelf in their sci-fi section devoted to old paperbacks, and they’re only a dollar each. It’s practically guilt-free book buying, and best of all these are not the kind of books you’ll find on the shelves at your local Half Price Books. No, these are things like old DAW paperbacks and issues of Starlog. Things that clearly came from somebody’s collection.

I like to keep a couple books in the car. I call them my “backup books” for when I get caught with time to kill and nothing to read, or I forget my book when I go to work. But if this keeps up I’m going to need a little bookshelf.

Hmm… Now there’s a thought. Instead of using cup-holders as a selling point, talk about how many paperbacks a car can hold. Maybe redesign the glove compartment. I mean, who actually keeps gloves in there anyway?

Books2ndCharlesSometimes they have good used gaming books too, though on this visit nothing caught my eye.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2015 in Books and Comics

 

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It’s Good to be Petty

My hardbound copy of Petty Gods has arrived!

And it is glorious.

Petty Gods is a collection of deities who are not your A-list beings. These aren’t your gods of Death or the Sun, instead you’ll find Glorfall the God of Academic Arguments, or Manguaca the Goddess of Alcoholic Stupor. But don’t discount these beings, because you never know when the blessings from such a deity will come in handy. I love this concept and it has a long tradition in history. Many societies are filled with minor divinities whose blessings are invoked to help in day-to-day life, and not just among polytheistic religions. I was raised as a Catholic and the church has a patron saint for just about everything.

This book is one of the real triumphs of the OSR movement. The idea began with James Maliszewski over on Grognardia and was later picked up and run with by Greg of Gorgonmilk fame. The concept was a professional quality sourcebook with content crowd-sourced by the OSR community and provided “at cost” to gamers. Every entry, every piece of artwork, donated by OSR fans and put together by Greg into a fantastic product as a way to give back to gaming.

The very concept is wonderful. The execution has been spectacular. The final product clocks in at 378 pages and is filled with high quality artwork, tons of deities, servitors, spells, and cults, and it’s all contained in a book worthy of sitting on the shelf next to anything put out by a major game company.

All done for the love of the game.

I’ve had a .pdf copy of the first, shorter release of Petty Gods for quite some time and it’s seen use at my table. These minor deities are just the thing to add flavor to your game, be it through shrines or when someone needs a colorful epitaph to shout. When I was looking for a deity for my cleric I reached for Petty Gods and found Rosartia, Goddess of Things Long Forgotten, whose cult tracks down magic items of great power and hides them until they are needed. She was the perfect choice for an adventuring cleric and has become a regular religion in my game world, even making the jump to becoming a secret society in my Stars Without Number game.

Petty Gods is a product that every gamer should get their hands on; it’s fun, it’s useful, it’s high quality, and it’s free or at cost. You can find it in several forms:

The original Petty Gods booklet is a free .pdf and its compact form is nice even if you also get the expanded version. You can download it here.

The Revised and Expanded .pdf can be downloaded from RPG Now. This is the full product with all the entries and artwork for free.

Lulu.com has the softcover and hardcover print copies, offered at cost. I own the hardcover version and you will not find a better deal.

And to Greg from Gorgonmilk and everyone who contributed and helped give this product to the community, thank you.

PettyGodsCover

 

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2015 in Books and Comics, Fantasy, Gaming

 

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