Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Outlive, after one play.

I backed a game on Kickstarter awhile back called Outlive from La Boite de Jeu, a small French boardgame publisher. I did back at a higher level because of some fancier pieces, but the retail pieces also came with my copy. While the fancy pieces are indeed gorgeous, the regular ones are definitely of a good quality. Here's the main board with the collector's and retail pieces:

Yeah, the wooden explorer meeples do look pretty cool, even if they are put to shame by the plastic bits.

As to the game, what's it about and how does it work? Well, in some ways it's a Fallout boardgame. Sure, there's only a little direct conflict, but it is there, and you're managing a vault, trying to build it up, fill it with survivors, find equipment, and resolve some persistent problems.

Now, it looks like a worker placement game, and it is, but it's tricky. During the campaign they called it worker displacement. Why? Well, at night your heroes camp out where they're at and move the next day. They have to move, can't go far, and can't stop where there's another of your heroes.  Each location has  a limited amount of stuff, so if you move to a place where there's a weaker hero(strength is indicated by number), you can basically beat some goods out of your opponent if they don't have ammo to make up the difference.

There's also the vault you build and fill. Survivors in the airlock keep out radiation, but filling built rooms both gets you points and some special abilities. Here's another spot where the collector's pieces will shine a lot more, the retail has some very nice cardboard bits(very thick and easy to punch).

There's quite a bit of resource management in the game, as EVERYTHING needs some resource. Food and water for your survivors, metal, wood, and chips for rooms and equipment. Resolving an event requires a lot of whatever it's asking for. The main board has spots to collect water, bullets, metal, and chips.

Food? Well, there's some(very small)amount of canned food on the wrecked ship, which stores well. OR you can go hunting(at one of 3 locations) and each time you kill that type of prey, you get more meat. If you can get to the ship, you can also get a survivor that may go straight to a built room.

This is a great mix of theme and mechanics, and the only thing that feels light is the direct conflict. The conflict is still more than most similar games have, and it does work. I don't know when the retail edition will hit shelves, but I'm guessing it might be in the running for next year's Dragon Awards.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Injustice Book Review: The Moon Pool by A. Merrit

Cower not, fierce reader! This fine day we visit with an example from Appendix N, and one of the ones reviewed by Jeffro Johnson in his book covering such(which I seem to be in at least mild disagreement with him here). Of course, most of the establishment wants this book long forgotten, as their narrative of newer works being both better and more enlightened MUST be upheld. This is reportedly his first book, and can be found in a cheap ebook here.  To the charges!

Well, firstly, there's more imagination within most chapters of this book than within the great bulk of tradpub sff. Even the use of a biologist as the narrator gives the story character that most would not think of these days. And while the frequency of the entrance opening may not be unique, the solution to gaining entrance otherwise certainly is, as is the description of the entrance.

Merrit's wordcraft, even with his first novel, was remarkable. This is absolutely an understatement. And while his descriptions of the godlike ancient beings may come off as very like Lovecraft's most ponderous writing, his sentence variation and structure helps keep the reader engaged far more easily than I expected. 

Is there any sense of "misogyny" charges here? If you don't like women being leaders, even spiritual leaders in cults of ancient and unspeakably  powerful beings, then sure. Because, while they hold these positions, they are still very much women and like men, or rather the same man. Yes, these women are both strong and feminine, and very much the second.

As to potential charges of racism, that depends more on the definition used. For while at an early point a character states he needs white men for the expedition, that comes across more as a need for men from whom superstition has largely been removed(It was the Year of Our Lord 1919, after all.). Great portions of the world still swam in a mixture of native religions, and this definitely applies to the islands of the Pacific at the time. Then there's the barriers created by language and cultural differences.

Now, as to any charges of xenophobia, given the terrors faced by our characters, I hold no blame over them. I would not care to face such things, even the allies our heroes meet.

As to the differences of opinion Jeffro and I seem to have over this book, I think it comes down to perspective and the reasons we read it. Jeffro was searching for the roots of D&D, and looking for what he terms "gameable material". I find no fault with this, though it does push more for a desire for the story to move faster, earlier. I came to it after hearing time and again from multiple sources how good Mr. Merrit's works were. This was the first one in the anthology, and I was looking for the story, for  my enjoyment and entertainment. The slow start is in some ways a Hero's Journey in and of itself, but as a setup to the real adventure.

Yes, I expect later work might be better, but this is one to spare some time for.  8 of 10 fell deeds.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Pulp Comics: Prince Valiant

I've been intending to discuss this comic for a long time, and there's a lot of reasons why. When creator Hal Foster presented the concept to William Randolph Hearst, Hearst was impressed enough that he gave Foster ownership of the strip. It ran in a full page format from early on until Hal Foster retired from it, and was taken over after weekly strip 1788, when it changed to the half page format it continues in today.

This is the Fantagraphics archival collection I'm discussing in particular, though the whole Hal Foster run is excellent. No, you don't NEED to start at the beginning of the whole thing, but it is a continuous story still. As a historical fantasy, it drifts a lot in time and place.

Prince Valiant is a great creation of its time, and should appeal to both the pulp and superversive crowds. There's action, virtue, romance, and Arthur and his knights. Yes, this is initially titled "Prince Valiant in the time of King Arthur", though Gawain plays far more a role than any other knight, as both his friend and, initially, the knight he's apprenticed to.

Even in this volume, though, Valiant takes to action alone as oft as not, tricking enemies to their own deaths and fleeing in fear. We see the skin of a goose turned a demon mask, a bundle of clothes stopping arrows, and a safety belt sending an overconfident foe to death on approach. 

At the start and end of the volume, we have some great supplemental material. First, there's an essay that's an introduction to Foster and Prince Valiant. Following this is an interview with Foster. At the end of the book is a discussion of the history of Valiant reprints and the fact that this is the first with the original color restored, though others have had quite good coloring as well.

You want comics to be fun again? Curl up with some Prince Valiant, there's no boredom or virtue signalling here. We've stories to tell, monsters and bad guys to beat, and romance to be sung of. The art is too lush, and the text spare enough that there's NO ROOM FOR THAT. No word balloons, the text is in places it doesn't intrude on the art. Just want to check out the current incarnation?  Comics Kingdom has it online(They've also got Flash Gordon and 2 Phantom strips!), and prints of the strip are available. The art is true to Foster's, and the writing appears to be in line with the old adventures.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Injustice Quick Reviews 2.7

Cower not, fierce reader! As usual, we have a selection of tomes sure to trigger the SocJus inclined.  One author is being revisited, and the rest are couple new to the blog, including the pulp author for this installment. To the book!

Knights of the End by J D Cowan - This is a bit of a coming of age story that's part superhero, part supernatural. I am reminded in many good ways of Swan Knight's Son, though this book never attains that soaring height and depth. As it stands this is still a fine tale of good vs. evil, with worlds at stake, and worlds already lost. Major crime: Redemption of one almost lost to the world. 8 of 10 fell deeds.

Sabercat by T L Knighton- I've been following Mr. Knighton on Facebook for awhile, and this is the first fiction I've read of his. And while there are many areas that are reminiscent of Firefly(on purpose), there are plenty of differences, and this looks to become something larger as far as the story goes. Major crime: Collusion of corrupt government officials(that NEVER happens!) 7 of 10 fell deeds.

Galactic Derelict by Andre Norton -  I had NO idea what I was in for when I started this. I know she's one of the Appendix N authors, but hadn't gotten to reading her work til now. I must hang my head in shame, this is an excellent tale of time and space travel. The ending feels a touch abrupt, but otherwise, I've no complaints. Major crime: People, not just civilizations fall. We do not progress infinitely. 9 of 10 fell deeds.

Cadain's Watch by Daniella Bova-  I have not read the previous books, nor do I think it necessary. This is a solid near-future tale, with skillful writing. SJW's have taken over the USA, and this is a tale of resistance.  I am not, however the target audience: I found there to be way too many conversations, and too many scenes. This may be in part due to my hanging out with the Appendix N crowd, but I felt the book was about a third too long. Major crime: Opposing the narrative, of course. 6 of 10 fell deeds.

Crazy Horses by David J. West- We have another Western from Mr. West, and this one drifts far more toward the Weird Western genre. Mr. West's dialog seems to be a bit more solid, and there was no problem with the creepy bits he introduced. We have a slaver, a demonic entity, an obsessed and useless lawman, and more play with the untamed areas of the West. Major crime: Standing by one's word when it is inconvenient.  8 of 10 fell deeds.

 When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Space Opera Week: Carson Napier of Venus

Well, it's Space Opera Week according to Tor.com, and gleefully coopted by Jon Del Arroz and the rest of the Pulp Revolution, and even a post by Benjamin Cheah, taking it away from Tor, relegating them to the hashtag #SafeSpaceOperaWeek, or some such thing.

Now, one area the tradpub establishment consistently gets almost entirely wrong is Edgar Rice Burroughs. Of course, part of that is their constant insistence on holding up the Narrative. This relies on the idea that the old popular authors of science fiction were poor writers, misogynists, and of course, Literally Hitler.

Now, while others might go the route of using Tarzan or John Carter to refute these claims, my most recent ERB books have been the Carson Napier stories, and they thoroughly refute the Narrative quite well.

First of all, let's look at the overt politics contained within these books. In the first book, we see some of the results of a communist revolt, with a society in exile from their home. I would posit that this first book alone puts the establishment against ERB.  The next major government we see is a "scientific" government, with tests dictating the existence or death of people, bloodsports being the only recreation, as there's no real conflict within society.  Another strike against ERB for the SocJus crowd, as he clearly doesn't f'n love science, but merely respects what it can find.  And there's one more overt political situation: the Nazis are overtly written about, complete with mocking the salute, education, and propaganda methods thereof.

Next, there's ERB's view of women, which of course they have entirely wrong. But that's in part due to the establishment's undermining of family. Every ERB  main character I've read has been a monogamist, which only happens when women are respected as different than men. The Carson Napier books even go so far as the initial society having a norm of monogamy, but rare instance of what amounts to divorce, though there's no actual marriage. Even the secondary characters of the series fall into this standard of monogamy, usually finding their mate within the story. While these women are at times in need of rescue, they are never entirely helpless, but merely limited in the effectiveness of their response.

There's only a couple of quick glances at ERB's views of race. This is the one area where the Narrative is somewhat accurate. The angan, or birdmen, are likened to blacks due to their singing and lower intelligence. However, Burroughs made a point to judge individuals first and give all men a chance, including one of the treacherous amphibians in Escape on Venus, though the fellow was viewed with suspicion. Later in the same book, Carson helps one of a feared race of yeti like men, which comes back to the benefit of his party.

As to being a bad writer, that is dispelled by the fact that he's one of the three major pulp authors that tradpub has never managed to get rid of, alongside Robert E Howard and H P Lovecraft. The fact that the characters and stories continue to have demand despite constant marginalization speaks to the opposite, that the writing was such to inspire.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Criminally Entertaining: Crime Story

Yeah, I know it's Space Opera week. I'll try to get there, but right now, I'm talking about Crime Story!

Crime story was on for only 2 seasons, and in that time was filmed entirely on location. Starting in Chicago, going to Las Vegas, and ending in Mexico(no clue where).

Ok, ok. You want to know why the crap I'm posting about a 2 bit crime show from the 80's that practically nobody remembers, right? This show oozes in crime pulp(that is, noir) sensibilities.

Del Shannon recorded a new cut of "Runaway" to be the theme song of this show, and all the rest of the music is both great and era appropriate(it's set in 1963 to start).  The public, cops, and gangsters are mostly in suits, though there are some early punk rock characters here and there.

The reason I call it a crime show and not a cop show is that it shows both sides of the fight: the Outfit is not unknown and pervasive, it's full of characters of  its own. The story is the feud between Chicago MCU head(at the start) Mike Torello (played by Denis Farina, a former Chicago cop) and Ray Luca, freelance crook who joins up with the outfit (played by Tony Denison). The rest of the regular cast is great, from Bill Smitrovich to Stephen Lang to Andrew Dice Clay. The guest stars were pretty phenomenal too, with Pam Grier, Stephen McHattie, Kevin Spacey and a whole lot more.

Yes, this show is dramatic, violent, and borders on obsessive for the two largest characters. (Not screen time, merely their role in the story). Some of my pulprevolution friends might say this isn't pulp, but crime pulps always had a tendency to be on the darker side of the tracks, and there is definitely a bit of romance with justice, as opposed to the law.

I have two minor bits of grief with the series: the ending it was given(Andrew Dice Clay reportedly said it was "on hiatus"), and the fact that, on the physical copies, 2 of the late episodes are in reverse order, so I recommend checking the order before watching. One speculation is that the show got too close to reality, and was shut down due to that. If you like gangsters, cops, and style, Crime Story has it in spades.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Well, there went the week.

This week has been a bit of a bust for me. I somehow injured my foot late last week(still unknown how), and have spent a good bit of time and energy recovering.  I unfortunately have also felt a bit of "meh" to reading for the week, which is really weird, though it might be turning around. 

Something that is going fairly well is that for the last three weeks, I've gotten some miniature painting done. I play Hordes from Privateer Press, specifically the Trollbloods.  I had gotten up to a reasonable army before the end of the last edition, but the edition changes have put me in a weird spot. Thankfully I have several models in backlog that I've been needing to paint, and one of my sticking points is that I won't play with an unpainted model. The paint job helps me ID what model/unit I'm looking at, and is a whole lot more entertaining to look at than bare metal/plastic.

Hopefully, I'll have a quick review set up sometime next week, and likely another comic book post(I'm thinking a crime pulp style this time). After that, once the Origins convention gets closer, I'll go through the geeklist on BoardgameGeek and discuss the games that I think might be notable.

I also need to read some Prince Valiant again, and just do a post on one volume, just to get started. This stuff is so overlooked it's shameful.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Injustice Book Review: Appendix N by Jeffro Johnson

Cower not, fierce reader! Today we cover a tome of rediscovery. As most of my readers likely know, Jeffro engaged himself with a quest to read through the Appendix N list in the original Dungeons and Dragon DM Guide. His original posts at Castalia House were good, and he garnered  a Hugo Nomination for Best Related Work for his efforts.  This book is hard to review, as it's so closely tied to its material, so I'll drift a bit in my points.

First, let me start by saying this was in many ways a HUGE project. Even reading close to the minimum for the project, he still covered 43 essays, with a focus on tabletop rpg content. What he found was, in many ways, startling to most of us not reading SFF before the purges of the 70's and 80's.

The essays have been edited some, though there are remnants of the origins as blogposts here and there, mostly in the occasional endote(per essay, thankfully). They have definitely improved by this time and care, as the passion has been more measured here. I do remember reading some of the original posts and thinking "this guy's too excited", and I still sometimes get that feeling reading his twitter feed, or hearing him on a podcast. I don't fault the man's passion, but for a broader audience I'd recommend it measured out a bit, as the topic nears esoteric for most people reading SFF.

Of course the main crime this book commits is to give even a chance to literature that has been read out of SFF culture, never mind finding it to be mostly better than most of the books out now. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and H.P. Lovecraft have never been removed completely by the SocJus forces in publishing, and the reason is the enduring appeal of these books. And from what I've read of Wellman, Anderson, and others of the Appendix, it applies to the rest of them as well.

Why didn't they endure as well, but instead have been consigned to bursts of popularity each time a group discovers these authors? There are various reasons that come to mind. Inventory tax laws are a big one, as they disincentivized keeping backstock and a growing catalog of authors.  As reviewers and news organs focus on the new, publicity almost demanded that publishers continue to push new books. (Yeah, I'm not to political moves yet.) These other authors largely didn't see their works adapted across multiple mediums, to the diminshing of popular imaginations that read less, but view plenty. And of course, there's the political motivations: we can only be progressing if our forebears were less enlightened than we are, so they have to pretty much disappear.

The list strikes great blows against the narrative. Many of these authors are slandered as misogynistic, and racist, though the reality is that most of them merely acknowledged the differences. Of course, they also don't want the public to know that there was a time when most SFF authors at least understood the Christian worldview, and appreciated the society that it created. Instead, the modern publisher wishes to openly engage in war with Christianity, and celebrates the undermining of society at every step.

From my readings, the greatest blow this book delivers is to the separation of the genres of science fiction and fantasy. It also puts the lie to much of what is considered "Hard SF".  During the era of the Pulps, there was no division, nor was there seen to be a need for such.  The fact is, that most of the science of ANY era will be outdated at some point. Acknowledge that, and the marketing, like most marketing, is easily visible as false.

Oops. Got somewhat off topic. Jeffro does excellent work of pointing out the elements that are usable for RPGs in these games, especially the ones that have been more integrated into the games. The fact that the original D&D set was not just for fantasy games, but also sff, and borrowing from anything you wanted was the original expectation of the authors. Limited magic, post apocalyptic wastelands, multiverses, gigantic fortresses or towers, thieves' guilds, cults bringing the inexplicable, things Man Was Not Meant to Know, and more all were the expectation for early RPG gaming. This broader view of game material and setting and the constant blurring of SFF were my biggest takeaways from Jeffro's writing.

All in all, this is also an excellent starting point if you wish to begin exploring the old material. Nobody is likely to enjoy all the authors covered, but many are even available from free to cheap for Kindle(can't speak to other formats right now).  9 of 10 fell deeds.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

GenCon 2017 Industry Insider Program

Well, it's May, and I just realized last May I had done one of my top posts for the year: the GenCon Industry Insider program, the guests and their work.  Once again, I'll be using RPGGeek and BoardgameGeek to examine their credentials as "industry insiders".

John Adamus- He's done some work with GumShoe, Fate Core, Night's Black Agents, and is one of the designers behind Noir World.

Jake Alley- His bio states he's worked on several board, card, RPGs, MUDs, and more. The only thing I can find on either 'Geek is The Massive vs. The Masses: Gamorzilla the Giant vs. the Army.

Aljernon Bolden- Apparently he's a video game designer, with interests in bridging the gap between digital and tabletop games. Um, WHAT GAMES?

Ed Bolme- Hey, we've got a real designer here. Castle Falkenstein, Cyberpunk 2013, D&D 3rd ed., Paranoia 2nd, Cybergeneration, MIB, Shatterzone, Legend of the Five Rings RPG, Masterbook, Star Trek: TNG (ICON), and Thnderstone Advance. There might be some more, but that's the bulk of his listings.

Joseph Carriker- Another real designer? Yep. Blue Rose, Mutants and Masterminds, Exalted, Changeling, Vampire, Scion, A Song of Ice and Fire RPG, , Pathfinder, Chronicle, Mage, Fantasy AGE, Promethean, D&D 3.5, Werewolf, Scarred Lands, and various OGL d20 projects.

Elizabeth Courts- She's done a LOT of work for Paizo, and doesn't have any non-Pathfinder credits. Not an insult, but she's insulated.

Katherine Cross- She's a gaming critic, who's supposedly got more work published, but the only credit on RPGG is for Pigsmoke. She writes for Wired, Polygon, Rolling Stone, and more. Take that for what you will; I'm dismissive of all those houses of journalism.

Tanya DePass- Um, no game credits listed. Even on the GenCon bio. Nope, she's a diversity advocate and politicizer of games as needing to be inclusive. I see no way in which she's an insider.

 Crystal Frasier- Labels herself a polymath(not impressed), but she actually has some credits: Pathfinder, GameMastery cards, Blue Rose, Mutants and Masterminds, Kobold Quarterly, The Rifter, and Wayfinder.

Jaym Gates- Producer credit on Blue Rose, designer on Firefly: Smuggler's Guide to the Rim are all that RPGG listed. There's other stuff, but not game related.

BJ Hensley- Apparently an advocate for family gaming, she has design credits that go along with this conviction. HeroKids, Pathfinder compatible, and Medusa's Guide for Gamer Girls: Gaming with Kids. There's not a lot of credits, but I'll grant she appears to back her bio for family gaming.

Kat Kuhl- A diversity podcaster that does have one credit for a Fiasco book, and something called Noisy Person Cards on BGG.

Lyz Liddell- A progressive activist who recently went to work full time for Paizo, on both Pathfinder and Starfinder. ProgActivism must not have been paying the bills.

James Lowder- A game designer and editor, with credits for Feng Shui, AD&D 2nd, GURPS, Deadlands d20,  Vampire, Call of Cthulu 7th, All Flesh Must be Eaten, and some general gaming books. In addition, he's done editing work at some level for several game fiction lines.

Anna Meade- She has two production credits for Fate Core, and supposedly cowrote an upcoming RPG based on The Resistance (from Indie Board and Cards).  Her bio claims more, but I've no  independent verification.

Carol Monahan- While she has no actual credits on BGG, she's been working with Cheapass Games in both incarnations. She also has done some work for WoTC in sales and information systems.

Paul Peterson- Somebody with BGG credits! Guillotine, Clout Fantasy, Harry Potter TCG,  The Ninth World, Apocrypha, Smash Up, Unexploded Cow, and a LOT of Pathfinder ACG.

Harrison Pink- Video game guy.

Marie Poole-Apparently an inclusive environmentalist running the business office at Lone Shark Games.

 Jessica Price- She has some few Pathfinder credits and supposedly worked for Microsoft on the Kinect launch portfolio.

Darcy Ross- She's a podcaster with four odd RPG creditis including a "transhuman dating show LARP".  While she likes snails and other such critters, doesn't believe chromosomes determine human gender, and has promoted "women-identified folks in gaming".

Amber E. Scott-Pathfinder 13th Age, d20, and Chronicles of Darkness. There's a lot of Pathfinder credits.

Liz Spain- Apocrypha, Incredible Expeditions, Pathfinder ACG, and lead on that SocJus trainwreck the Betrayal at the House on the Hill expansion.

Paul Stefko- Fate Core, Dungeon World, Full Moon, GumShoe, and Feng Shui 2.

C.A. Suleiman- Pathfinder, Mummy, I Am Zombie, Vampire, D&D 3.5, Blood and Honor, Dark Ages, Orpheus, Werewolf, and Changeling.

Elisa Teague- A return from last year, she's got credits for Apocrypha, the Betrayal expansion, and Geek Out!

James Wallis- Credits include Earthdawn, Dragon Warriors, Nobilis, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying, Call of Cthulu, The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, GoblinQuest, Palladium, Mythic Mortals, Puppetland, and Sonic the Hedgehog Adventure.

Industry Insider Guest of Honor- Margaret Weiss- Mostly she's known for the Dragonlance and Deathgate novels. Her game credits include her own production company, Firefly, D&D of lots of editions,  Serenity, and some d20/Pathfinder compatible material.

Notes: I know that Pathfinder is the second largest RPG, but this looks more like a Paizo insider than an industry insider track. Why not have more that are in the boardgame/wargame side? Where's the OSR, they've got some good stuff. There's more Paizo connections than WotC connections. This is disturbing in the lack of diversity of game philosophy.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Pulp Comics: Cowboy Ninja Viking

You're looking at the title and either thinking "What"? or How awesome is this going to be?".   I'll be happy to let you know just how awesome this is.

First, name your three favorite types of warrior archetype/class, if we were talking RPGs. Great. Now, apply them to someone with multiple personality disorder. YEAH.This is definitely a pulp style book.  The book was printed in a Golden Age size, rather than the modern size, and honestly, the art would likely feel constrained at a smaller size.

Those three guys doing the work? Yeah, they're all the guy talking in the bottom panel. This book made great choices with art and the depiction of the disorder. Yes, I know it's not realistic. It's FUN, and that's what makes the story.

Our main character is Duncan, a triplet. Yeah, he's got MPD, and his personalities have been transformed into very different killing machines. From the beginning, we've got action, multiple plots, and lots of setup done well before the action starts. There's no drawn out origin story, and the action and psychoses flow freely from the beginning, as do the conspiracies. Time for more art.

Yeah, the book is not afraid to poke fun at itself or other comics. The story twists and turns like a mountain road, while being drive backwards: you only get to see glimpses of the whole thing, and if you're lucky, you can piece together a whole picture. Oh, for those still interested, Chris Pratt is attached to a movie project in the works. They're looking for a director still.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.