Memorial Day and G.I. Joe

Here we are at the end of May – Memorial Day – looking back on brave men and women who have fought for America and looking forward to future generations of soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, guardians (hey, I prefer spacemen, but I’ll go along with the official name of our Space Force volunteers), God bless them and help them.

My father served in the US Air Force at the tail end of the Vietnam War, and my grandfather took care of the survivors of Hiroshima in the U.S. Army. I would have loved them no less if they hadn’t, but I’m proud of their service.

Apparently, more than a few young men and women were inspired to serve in the military, police and as firefighters and paramedics by the antics of America’s highly trained special missions force, G.I. Joe. I remember the first time I saw those action figures in the basement toy department at Sears – they were a combination of my two favorite things at that age, Star Wars and “army stuff”. They were at the top of my list for my birthday that year, and Christmas as well.

About a month ago,  I was helping my father clear out his garage, preparatory to selling his house. This wasn’t the house I grew up in, but there were still lots of childhood things in it – my mother saved everything. Lo and behold, there was the box with toys, sitting where we’d stored it 30 years ago. Honestly, I didn’t know what I’d find in it, it had been so long. I won’t reveal all of that boxes treasures now, but today seemed like a good time to show off the old G.I. Joes that survived childhood, garage sales and 30 Las Vegas summers in a hot garage.

And here’s the crew … well, most of it.

There are a few figures not present, as I know I had Stalker and Rock n Roll. None of the equipment appears to have survived except Doc’s stretcher, but I still have the troop carrier/carrying case, the motorcycle (without the sidecar-gun), the artillery piece and the jetpack and its platform.

All of the Joes there had just one owner – me – and they’re in pretty good shape for their age. You’ll note the twin Cobra Commanders; I know I got one of them by sending in my flag points and ordering him through the mail. I think there are two Grunts, in different colored uniforms. There are also a couple figures who I think came from the Sgt. Rock line.

I’m pretty sure the data cards are stuffed away elsewhere. Those cards were an inspiration to me when I wrote GRIT & VIGOR. One could probably stat out the Joes for G&V pretty easily using these cards. You’d have to fudge the ability scores a bit, but you could use rank as level (i.e. E-5 is 5th level, O-3 is 3rd level), or maybe double if you want the Joes to be more “badass”. Their training can determine their feats and skills – for example …

Found at 3D Joes – awesome site!

COMMANDO, CODE NAME: SNAKEYES

10th level commando

Abilities: Str 16, Int 13, Wis 15, Dex 16, Con 13, Cha 11

Proficiencies: Auto Pistol, Dagger, Knife (large), Knife (small), Machine Gun (light), Military Rifle, Pistol, Submachine Gun, Sword (Katana)

Skills: Bend Bars, Break Down Doors, Communicate, Demolitions, Endure, Hide in Shadows, Jump, Lift Gates, Move Silently, Ski, Sky Dive, Survive Outdoors, Treat Injury (knack)

Feats: Cleave, Expertise, Jujutsu Master, Karate Master, Power Attack, Pugilist, Trip

International House of Heroes

Hey true believers (he says in honor of Stan) – I caught a couple superhero flicks recently that I thought were worth a review and some Mystery Men! stats. The hook – neither of these epics came from the good old USA!

GUNDALA (2019)

So I recently installed the Roku TV channel on my Roku, and going through the channels on their live TV I came across Gundala. I think I’d read about the character some time in the past, but I didn’t know much about him and figured this was a great opportunity to learn more. Besides, I don’t think I’d ever watched an Indonesian-made film before.

First and foremost, the Gundala character was created in 1969 by Harya Suraminata. The movie features an updated version of the character – which, funny enough, means that if I’d grown up with the character I’d probably be annoyed at the movie. Fortunately, I didn’t, so it’s all new to me. The film is the first in a planned Bumilangit Cinematic Universe, and based on this movie, I hope they can follow through.

The film has a subdued, bleak aspect to it that didn’t bug me. It involves a hero coming to grips with his powers and responsibilities, as well as the corruption infecting Indonesian government, and, I suppose, society. I thought the acting was excellent, the special effects were fine for me – I’m not much into computer effects, and since they weren’t overused in this movie, I give them high marks. The main villain is a powerful gangster called Pengkor and his legion of orphan assassins. There’s plenty of martial arts action in the film, and I liked it. The movie ends with a more powerful villain coming to the fore, and the teaser after the credits introduces the next hero to be filmed – Sri Asih.

I really enjoyed this movie – honestly, I enjoyed more than many of the MCU films. It was fun seeing what Joko Anwar could do with the subject, which he clearly loves – and folks – he did it on a budget of just $2.1 million!

Here’s my MM! take on the film Gundala (with the triumphant return of my old stat format that I never should have abandoned) …

GUARDIANS (2017)

I remember seeing the trailer for this a few years ago, but never had the chance until recently to see the film. It showed up on Tubi (another streaming service) in the English-dubbed version, so I gave it a shot. Apparently, this film was panned by critics … and while I’ll admit it wasn’t a great film, it really wasn’t terrible. At worst, I’d say it didn’t meet its potential, and I’m sorry that it doesn’t sound as though they’ll get another shot at the movie.

The Guardians are a group of genetically-modified heroes from the old Soviet Union days, reassembled by a SHIELD-like organization called Patriot to meet a new threat – August Kuratov, an angry, traitorous scientist who is mutated when his laboratory is attacked. This gives him super strength to go with his genius. He’s back, he wants revenge on Russia, and the Guardians have to come together after years alone to fight them.

Let’s start with the bad – the plot isn’t ground breaking folks, though frankly, most superhero plots are not. I didn’t love the design on the villain. In fact, I hated it. Could have been much better. The ending was a bit forced, and the acting in the dubbed version was not always great.

The good – while the first half of the movie is a bit grey and bleak (very Russian, one might say), it brightens considerably in the second half and I liked the characters much more after this shift. The shift actually makes sense in the film, as the heroes go from hunted, hated misfits on their own to a family of sorts. I’ll also say that I enjoyed a bunch of Soviet-era superheroes that were not dressed in red with hammers and sickles all over them (which is coming from a guy who created a bunch exactly like that in a much older post …). I mean, yeah, they have a guy who turns into a bear … but he’s really pretty cool and he has a big machine gun and stuff … I won’t count that against them.

All in all, I’d give the movie a C, maybe C minus. I think it had potential, and I mostly enjoyed the second half of the film.

As for the Guardians …

Happy Anniversary to Nod

We have had a beautiful weekend here in Las Vegas. Perfect temperatures, sunny skies, singing birds – the works! We usually get a few weeks of this in Vegas until the Summer heat hits us full force.

Besides being a beautiful weekend, this weekend also marks – more or less – the 11th anniversary of the Land of Nod blog. Eleven years! I certainly didn’t forsee that when I started, and I guess I’ll have to aim at 20 years as the next milestone.

I’ve had a bunch of “looking back” going on over the last week, as I was recently going through some boxes from my dad’s garage that contain some artifacts of my past. I’ll share some of those soon enough. In the meantime, here are a few milestones of the blog, in case anyone is interested:

THE FIRST POST

The first post was actually made on the original Blogger blog, but it has been preserved here as well. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. If you go to that first post and start reading, you’ll find my initial forays into setting up the Nod campaign setting within the Swords & Wizardry rules, my decision to try collecting the blog posts into a downloadable magazine, and on to creating Pars Fortuna, Space Princess, Mystery Men! and so on.

THE FIRST BIG NUMBERS

So, what post got me my largest audience ever? I wish it was something insightful or creative that I wrote, but alas, it was not. You can find the post HERE. I’ll take it over recent fare in that series any day.

THE FIRST BIG DRAW

If that post got me lots of views, THIS POST used to be the champion for bringing people in from search engines. I used to do a weekly post showing off art from artists on DeviantArt – it was first called the Deviant Friday Five, and then just Deviant Friday. I’ve cleaned up many of those old posts to remove missing art, or in some cases removing posts when the artist is no longer on DeviantArt. Mahmud Asrar’s depiction of Dejah Thoris was a hit, so I always made sure to include a Dejah Thoris if an artist had done one. I’ll note that the images no longer come up properly in the post, but if you click on where they should be, they still link to the images at DeviantArt.

THE CURRENT FAVES

The two current favorite posts at the site are The World of Star Command, which I think got a link at Reddit, and an old favorite The Mother of All Size Charts.

And that’s it for the Land of Nod’s 11th birthday. I should have NOD 36 up for sale by the end of the day, and work continues on more goodies and more posts.

Have fun folks, enjoy your day, and please be kind to one another.

Weather Made Easy

If you’re running a wilderness campaign, you know that at some point you have to think about the weather. Weather can create interesting challenges for a party of explorers, or even just lend to the mood of a session. Referees can always just arbitrarily determine the weather based on their needs, but for long treks across the wilderness seem to call for randomized weather.

I’ve tried a few different schemes for randomly determining weather in my years of writing hexcrawls, but for the last couple of years have used a system that I think is relatively easy, and provides something usable, rather than trivial.

In each of my later hexcrawls, I begin my section on regional weather with this:

“You can use the following tables to determine the overall weather conditions during a hex crawl. The table is divided into the four seasons. Temperature is determined by rolling 1d6 and comparing the roll to the chances of temperature being freezing (below 30°), cold (31-60°), mild (61-85°), warm (86-95°) or hot (96° or higher). Freezing, cold and hot temperatures might require the adventurers to take steps to avoid negative consequences. Precipitation is a percentage chance. If the temperature is below freezing, the precipitation is snow (10% chance of hail). The TK can decide how much rain or snow falls during the day and its duration based on how much she wishes the weather to hinder the players.”

This is followed by a table like this:

Western Wood

Winter Spring Summer Fall
Freeze 1-2 1 1
Cold 3-5 2 1 2
Mild 6 3-5 2-3 3-5
Warm 6 4-5 6
Hot 6
Rain 55% 45% 45% 40%

The table provides a bare-bones account of the weather on any given day, which the TK can flesh out as much or as little as he likes.

The upper portion determines the general range of temperature based on the season, rolled on D6, while the last line is the percent chance of precipitation that day rolled on D%. If the weather is freezing, any precipitation that comes up is snow or maybe hail. Otherwise, precipitation is rain. How much rain? That’s up to the TK. If the TK wants the rain/snow to be a real problem for the PC’s, then it is heavy. Otherwise, it’s a moderate or light rain that provides mood and interest, without becoming a major pain in the butt.

Making the Tables

To make the tables, I could just make up the numbers willy-nilly. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but I usually like to keep things more realistic. To that end, I choose a city in an environment like the one I’m simulating, and look it up on Wikipedia.

If I’m lucky, the Wikipedia page has a table like this one for Rio de Janeiro:

To figure out the percent chance of precipitation, I just take the total of the average days of rain for the three months that make up a “season”, such as December, January and February for Summer (I almost wrote “winter” until I remembered I was working south of the equator), and divide by 90. In this example, Rio would have a 32% chance of rain during the summer season.

I then take the average high, daily mean and average low for each of those three months, and rate it using the scale mentioned above and repeated here: Freezing (below 30°), cold (31-60°), mild (61-85°), warm (86-95°) or hot (96° or higher).

That gives me 9 temperature readings for each season – I use those to determine the chance on a D6 of a day falling into one of those temperature ratings. Using Rio in the summer again, we get the following temperature ratings:

DEC JAN FEB
Average High Mild Warm Warm
Mean Mild Mild Mild
Average Low Mild Mild Mild

So, we have 7 milds and 2 warms. Seven divided by nine is 78%. Multiply that by 6 (i.e. D6) and you get 5. That means a 5 in 6 chance of mild weather. We don’t need to do the calculation for warm, in this case – it would be 1 in 6, but if we had more temperature ranges, we would use the same procedue for each. Naturally, the Referee can intervene a bit in these figures. Because Rio can get quite hot in the summer, I decide to go 1-4 = mild, 5 = warm and 6 = hot.

You do this same process for the other seasons, and you end up with a table like this:

Rio de Janeiro

Winter Spring Summer Fall
Freeze
Cold
Mild 1-6 1-5 1-4 1-5
Warm 6 5 6
Hot 6
Rain 17% 29% 32% 26%

So, if I’m running some adventurer in the region around Rio during the summer – maybe they’re searching for some ancient ruins or a satellite that crashed in the region – I roll 1d6 and d%, On the d6, I get a “6”, meaning it’s a hot day. On the % I get a 53, meaning no rain – just humidity.

Stunt Spectaculars

Wow, have I been busy the last couple weeks, at work and home – so I apologize for a lack of posting. Before I get to the meat of the post, a couple quick notes:

1. I jumped on MeWe about a month ago, and it hasn’t pissed me off yet, so you can find me over there if you look.

2. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the last week cleaning up and organizing this blog. I’ve worked on the categories and tags to make finding things easier, cleaned up some blog post titles, etc.

It’s a wonderful thing exploring the cinematic past. I think it is safe to say that, for most of us, there are far more movies that have been made that we haven’t heard of than we have heard of. More importantly, some of your favorite movies are ones you have never heard of. Not everything in the past was a gem, of course, but there are some goodies hiding out there.

Two movies I’ve seen in the past couple months qualify for me as “recent unknowns” that I ultimately enjoyed. Both of them are stunt heavy, and call to mind the days when non-CGI stunts dominated action movies. The crazy stunts started early in Hollywood, though they were far more often the purview of comedies than action films. One can draw a straight line from Buster Keaton’s astounding stunt-filled comedies of the 20’s and 30’s to Jackie Chan’s astounding stunt-filled comedies of the 80’s and 90’s (and beyond).

The Stunt Man (1980)

The Stunt Man is the story of a fugitive (Steve Railsback) who becomes a stunt man to escape the authorities. He becomes involved in a love triangle – well, sorta – involving the director he works with (Peter O’Toole) and his protege actress (Barbara Hershey, pre-lip expansion). The stunts are amazing, but the movie is really about the domineering director and the mystery of the man’s fugitive past. They do a good job of making you nervous about who this stunt man really is … aided considerably by the fact that Railsback had previously played Charlie Manson. His face is enough to make you think something terrible is lurking beneath the surface. No spoilers here – you’ll have to watch it to find out how it comes out.

The Junkman (1982)

This is a weird little movie that is extremely stunt heavy. It took H. B. Halicki two years to get it made, but boy did he get it made. There is a mega-car chase with explosions that is worth the ticket of admission. The Junkman is part of a trilogy with Gone in 60 Seconds and Deadline Auto Theft, two other b-movies worth watching if you dig car movies. The Junkman is not as complex as character study as The Stunt Man, and does not have the heavy hitter status of a Peter O’Toole, but it’s still a fun flick for a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

Dragon by Dragon – June 1982 (62)

Today we move into the Summer of 1982, in which from sheer boredom nerds everywhere looked forward to the new Dragon magazine. After all, it’s not like there were any good movies or shows in ’82 …

Of course I’m joking – Airplane II was released in 1982. It was nice to see Shatner in a movie – he was otherwise pretty quiet that year.

Still – summer is a great time to nestle under the air conditioning and read – what did Dragon have to offer other than a famous and fantastic cover image?

First things first – I just found out something about this ad

Apparently, among those D&D players are Alan Ruck and Jami Gertz. Just found this out from Old School FRP on Tumblr. Gertz was super nerd-cute back in the day, if that makes any sense at all. And Ruck … hey, you know Cameron and Ferris played D&D at some point.

First cool article in this issue is on Faerie Dragons. I don’t know why, but I always loved faerie dragons in D&D – it may have been the illustration in Monster Manual II. I think I owned MM2 before I had the original Monster Manual, and I know I had it before I owned the Fiend Folio, so the monsters there loomed large in my estimation of the game. I also remember an exact copy of the MM2 faerie dragon appeared in a video game that a buddy and I used to play at 7-Eleven. It was a fantasy game, very anime in its feel, and I wish I knew the name of it. Maybe a reader knows?

Anyhow -the faerie dragon was created by Brian Jaeger, and until reading the article, I forgot about how they changed color as they aged. I think its a fantastic monster – well doen Mr. Jaeger.

The special dragons section in the mag also presents Steel Dragons by Pat Reinken (with a really cool illustration) and Grey Dragons with another cool illustration. I’m not sure about the artist – I feel like I should know that symbol, but it’s not coming to me.

Roger Moore then presents “Evil Dragon Armors” in the “Bazaar of the Bizarre”. Plate armor made from dragon scales is as D&D as heck, and one of the things the game should highlight more than it does – you know, those things that tap right into the imagination, things that every 12 year old knows is cool whether they’ve heard of D&D or not.

For fans of standardization, Gary Gygax presents some info on spellbooks – the types (standard and traveling, the traveling spellbook containing a fourth of the spells of a standard book), the cost (standard spellbooks cost 1000 gp for materials + 100 gp per spell level of spells contained within, traveling spellbooks are 500 gp + the same), the size (standard are 16″ tall, 12″ wide and 6″ thick, traveling 12″ tall, 6″ wide, 1″ thick) and so on. Great article for those who like the details, completely unnecessary for those who like to keep it light and imaginative.

This is followed up by four long-lost magical manuals in Ed Greenwood’s “Pages from the Mages”. I’ve mentioned this before, but while Forgotten Realms did nothing for me as a setting, Greenwood’s articles about the Realms were massively inspirational for me. They are all worth reading.

But wait – there’s more … the NPC class “The Scribe”, by Ed Greenwood. I was always hooked on NPC classes as a kid, and it killed me that I could see the names of classes in the Dragon indexes they would publish, but had no access to the classes that came along before I was a reader/subscriber. The scribe could actually be a pretty awesome companion to an adventuring party. They can wear any armor and use any weapon, but always attack as a first level fighter. So – not useless in a fight. On top of that, they have some neat special abilities involving writing, and can cast some spells from scrolls.

Roger Moore has another article in this, on the point of view of half-orcs and on the gods of the orcs. Again – great for their inspirational value even if you don’t want to use Moore’s concepts in your particular game. Here’s a neat bit from the article on the gods of the orcs:

“The division of orcs into separate tribes (Evil Eye, Death Moon, Broken Bone, etc.) is usually made along cult lines. The tribal symbol is the holy symbol of the orcish god the tribe holds as its patron. Each patron god seeks to make his followers more powerful than those of the others, since their own power derives from the relative power and might of their worshipers.”

Orc tribes are pawns of their gods, who care little for their followers beyond what they can do for the god. Why are the orcs causing trouble? Their god or goddess told them to – that’s all they need to know.

The magazine contains a full adventure for Top Secret set in Chinatown written by Jerry Epperson. I know little about the game, so I can’t really review it.

Gordon Linzner has a bit of fiction in the issue, “The Feline Phantom”. As is usual for this review series, I present the first paragraph:

“The river of school children flowed past her hips, occasionally rising to her ribs, but Evelyn Slade was exceptionally tall and stood firm against the current. The stream engulfed the monorail she’d just stepped from, then split into a score of individuals motivated by only one thought: Grab the best seat. All viewing locations were, by design, equally good; but try telling that to a nine-year-old New Yorker! Fortunately,
one ride above the Wild Asia exhibit — where Bronx Zoo visitors watched from mobile “cages” as animals roamed in comparative freedom — had proved sufficient.”

Lenard Lakofka presents magic for merchants in “Leomund’s Tiny Hut”. The idea is that members of merchant guilds can gain access to some simple spells, mostly cantrips, but also a few “mysteries” like alarm, appreciate, bell, drowsiness, glue, grab, hound, lapse, lock, pacify, panic and spin. Master guild members can get some 1st and 2nd level magic-user spells. There’s a part of me that likes the idea of lots of spellcasters floating around a campaign world, and another part of me that likes to keep magic more rare. For the former part of me, this is a groovy article.

Phil Meyers and Steve Bill present “Zadron’s Pouch of Wonders”. If you are familiar with AD&D, you’ll get the idea. Reach into the pouch and pull out a randomly determined something. I actually love that kind of stuff – spices up a game and creates wonderful surprises.

After the reviews, we get some Wormy – the cyclops and his cyclops dog are playing D&D …

… plus some ideas on strength by Phil and Dixie, and a few cartoons in Dragon Mirth.

But before we leave – check out this beauty …

Only $40 on Ebay for the Atari 400!

Take a Hard Ride

As I am currently in the middle of writing a GRIT & VIGOR supplement for adventures in the “Old West”, I’ve been reviewing some favorite westerns. Today, the subject of Take a Hard Ride came up, and it occurred to me that working up some character stats for the film’s three heroes and main villain would make for a good post.

Take a Hard Ride was released in 1975, and starred Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, Jim Kelly and Lee Van Cleef. A “spaghetti western”, it was filmed on location in the Canary Islands, and had as its three heroes some names made well known in the “blaxploitation” films of the 70’s. The movie does not come off as a gimick to me, though – Jim Brown plays Pike, a classic western hero, Fred Williamson is awesome as a Maverick-esque anti-hero Tyree, and Jim Kelly brings something akin to Kung-Fu into the picture as Kashtok, a man raised by Native Americans.

The story involves Pike transporting $86,000 to his boss’ ranch – he made a promise on his boss’ deathbed to do it, and he aims to get it done. Hunting down Pike, his allies and the money is Lee Van Cleef as Keifer, a bounty hunter and Kane, a corrupt sheriff, played by Barry Sullivan.

It’s well worth a watch … and if you want to put those characters into action in a game of G&V, here’s my take on their stats:

(For those wondering how I determined levels – I just used the actor’s ages at the time the movie was made, minus 16 years as a guide)

Pike (Jim Brown)
Lawful Good Cowboy, 8th level

S 16 I 12 W 11 D 15 Cn 13 Ch 11
HP 40
AC 11
ATK +5
F8 R8 W11

Knacks: Handle Animal, Ride Mount

Skills: Appraise Value (Livestock), Endure, Gamble, Handle Animal*, Jump, Ride Mount*, Survive Outdoors, Track

Feats: Bum Rush, Exploit Weakness, Mounted Combat, Power Attack, Pugilist

Weapon Proficiency: Club, knife (large), knife (small), lasso, revolver, rifle, shotgun

Special: +2 save vs. fear and anxiety, temporarily increase two physical ability scores, delay damage (8 rd), rope and ride, choose exceptional horse, surprised (1 on 1d8, or normal while sleeping), no penalty grappling creatures one size larger than cowboy

Tyree (Fred Williamson)
Neutral Gunfighter, 7th level

S 13 I 10 W 11 D 16 Cn 12 Ch 13
HP 35
AC 11
ATK +6
F10 R10 W13

Knacks: Bend Bars, Gamble, Move Silently

Skills: Bend Bars, Break Down Doors, Endure, Gamble*, Lift Gates, Sleight of Hand

Feats: Ace Shot, Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot

Weapon Proficiency: Brass knuckles, club, dagger, knife (large), knife (small), lasso, revolver, rifle, shotgun

Special: Extra attack, specialist firearm (revolver), +4 AC fighting defensively, +2 initiative with firearm

Kashtok (Jim Kelly)
Chaotic Good Boxer, 6th level

S 15 I 12 W 13 D 16 Cn 14 Ch 9
HP 42
ATK +5
AC 16
F9 R8 W12

Knacks: Survive Outdoors, Track

Skills: Acrobatics, Bend Bars, Break Down Doors, Endure, Hide in Shadows, Jump, Lift Gates, Listen at Doors, Move Silently

Feats: Dodge, Elusive Target, Far Shot, Lightning Reflexes

Weapon Proficiency: Bo staff, club, compound bow, jo staff, knife (large), knife (small), lasso, spear, tomahawk

Special: Extra attack, unarmed damage 1d6+2, 70’ movement, stunning attack (5/fight), deflect arrows

Kiefer (Lee Van Cleef)
Neutral Evil Ranger, 9th level

S 11 I 12 W 13 D 16 Cn 14 Ch 10
HP 54
ATK +8
AC 12
F7 R11 W12

Knacks: Track

Skills: Bend Bars, Break Down Doors, Hide in Shadows, Lift Gates, Move Silently, Ride Mount, Survive Outdoors, Track*

Feats: Blind Fight, Brawler, Great Fortitude, Improvise, Intuition, Mounted Combat, Pugilist, Rough & Tumble

Weapon Proficiency: Club, dagger, knife (large), knife (small), lasso, revolver, rifle, shotgun +1

Special: Avoid surprise, specialist terrain (desert Southwest)

 

Looking Back – Space Princess

Do you know I’ve been doing this blogging / game writing nonsense for about 10 years? Wow. That was never the intent. In fact, there was no intent – just me goofing around. I certainly never intended to write and publish books when I started.

So here I am, all these years into whatever the heck I’m doing, and I figure maybe it would be fun to look back. Today, I decided to jot down a few thoughts about an early publication of mine, and probably a mostly forgotten one, called Tales of the Space Princess.

Space Princess started out as my response on a message board thread that asked why science-fiction rpg’s had not become as popular as fantasy rpg’s, specifically Dungeons & Dragons. I don’t remember the other responses to the thread, but they were all genre-specific. My theory was that it had nothing to do with sci-fi vs. fantasy. D&D worked because it was a game above all else. Players controlled characters who wandered around a maze in search of treasure. Monsters and traps hindered them. Simple. Anything could be grafted onto D&D, and with each fun thing you added to the mix, D&D became itself more popular. It just so happened that the game was born out of a fantasy supplement to a medieval wargame.

The problem with early sci-fi games, I figured, was that they set out to replicate sci-fi movies and stories. RPG’s aren’t very good at that. Stories have plots, with characters under the writer’s control. They have pre-determined outcomes, which is anathema to games. Checkers works because you don’t know who will win – black or red. Dungeons & Dragons, early on, was the same way. If the characters died delving for treasure, you made new characters. Their death didn’t disrupt a plot – the characters were not central to a story, they were just “avatars” of the players. As a game, this works beautifully. In a novel, it would suck.

I went on to surmise that a sci-fi D&D could have been as popular as the fantasy D&D with the same focus on being a game that borrowed the trappings of science fiction. I took Star Wars as an example. In Star Wars, Luke, Ben, Chewie, Threepio and Artoo venture into the Death Star to rescue Princess Leia from Darth Vader. If we make this more generic, we get a party of adventurers go into a space fortress to rescue the space princess from the dark lord.

Of course, this got my brain popping, so I decided to actually write the game I was describing. I had published a few NODs and Pars Fortuna (more on that in another post), so I figured why not try something else new. I didn’t exactly base the rules entirely on the SRD because I wanted to try some new things. The characters, for example, didn’t have levels. You could start them out as novices, veterans or old-timers – their skills improved with age, but they got fewer luck points to get you through scrapes. This was designed to deal with the fact that, in the source material, you had young Luke Skywalker, old Ben Kenobi and Han Solo somewhere in the middle. How do you make a game work so that different “levels” of characters could adventure together? I had a similar challenge in Mystery Men – the Superman/Batman conundrum. Did my idea work? I decided to use “luck” as a balancing mechanism. Did it work? Heck – that’s for others to decide.

Beyond the rules, I tried to pack the game with all sorts of sci-fi stuff just the way D&D packed in the fantasy tropes. The playable species included humans, of course … which included anything that was basically humanoid and didn’t have special powers … androids and gynoids and “aliens”. The alien species had rules to allow all sorts of alien species to be created, either in imitation of species from existing sci-fi properties – such as vulcan and wookies – or something completely invented by the player.

The classes in the game are psychic, scientist, scoundrel, space ranger and star warrior. Looking through the book for the first time in years, I realize that I had forgotten about my sample characters in the game – Athena Laserwolf, the human star warrior (and an obvious homage to Morgan Ironwolf), Scrimshaw McGurk, the human scoundrel, and Zazzix, the alien psychic. The original art in the project was done by Jason Sholtis, and it was fantastic. It’s fun to rediscover things you wrote long enough ago to have forgotten!

For monsters, I tried to hit the highlights of sci-fi. Space brothers from UFOlogy rub shoulders with the ro-man from Robot Monster and martians from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The olvugai from Pars Fortuna made it into the game – I love sticking things from one of my games into others, to keep them all in the same “universe” – as did H.G. Well’s martians as zarks, the vulcans and klingons as red and blue voltans and the vampire from TV’s Buck Rogers made it in as the space vampire. I stuck girallons in the game because they were inspired by the white apes of Burrough’s Mars, and flail snails because I love flail snails. The point was to mix and match all sorts of nonsense to build gonzo space fortresses (i.e. dungeons), and that was what I did. I also included a way to build random (or non-random) alien animals.

I kept the equipment pretty simple, with some basic gear like weapons and spaceships, and then super-science gear – essentially the same as magic items.

Gameplay was designed to be divided into two phases. The first was the exploration of the space fortress to find and rescue the “space princess”, which can be an actual captive princess or a captive prince, or super weapon, or space station plans, or whatever you want it to be. The second phase is where the adventurers escape in their spaceship. They need a few turns before they can jump into hyperspace, and in the meantime have to battle some enemy fighters, a la Star Wars. Just as old D&D didn’t really deal with life outside of dungeon delving and stronghold-building, Space Princess kept it simple.

Space Princess … it originated in a message board discussion, turned into a chance to try new things in a game, It was a fun little experiment for a new author. Looking through the game, I’m actually pretty impressed with how much stuff I packed into a 44 page game! I guess maybe I should pull Tales of the Space Princess back out and give it another go. My daughter had a blast testing it when she was 14, and I think we have the old character sheets tucked away somewhere …

Dungeons and Dragons in 3-D

And by 3-D, I don’t mean a movie, but those splendid D&D action figures made by LJN in the 1980’s.

Figure this one out. Dungeons & Dragons hits big with kids in the 1980’s. It hits so big that it gets a Saturday morning cartoon and an action figure line. But here’s the weird part – the cartoon and action figure line are separate, as in barely any overlap. Why?

TSR was almost an overnight success, and its leadership wasn’t necessarily ready for prime time. Anyone who knows the TSR story knows this, so there’s no need to cover it here. By the 1980’s, toy companies and cartoon makers had figured out how to join forces and sell crap to kids – G.I. Joe, Transformers, Go-Bots, Chuck Norris’ Karate Kommandoes, Rambo … they were all doing it. But not TSR.

Instead of Hank the Ranger and the gang, the action figure line featured a collection of characters of whom nobody had ever heard, with no real adventures or exploits to inspire childhood play. Some of the action figure line made an appearance in the Shady Dragon Inn (a book I love, by the way), and in a module called XL1 – Quest for the Heartstone, but that was about it.

And since I’m complaining – remember how the G.I. Joe figures had the cool file card on the back of the packaging with data on the character, and how Transformers came with stats that required the red translucent plastic to read. I mean – Transformers had ability scores! Did D&D figures have that? No. The game that’s all about ability scores and character sheets doesn’t use this on their packaging. Jeez!

OK – Complaining over – let’s take a look at the toys the younger siblings (yeah, right!) of D&D geeks were enjoying in the 1980’s, along with some handy links to buy these sweet babies …

There were apparently two waves of figures, which were divided into GOOD and EVIL sides. The top dog on the good side was Strongheart Good Paladin. I had this figure as a kid, and it was pretty groovy – nice cape, sword. I also dig that it looks something like a real knight. Strongheart showed up in the D&D cartoon, although there he was armed with a magic golden hammer.

Strongheart also got a bitchin’ mount – Destrier Mighty Battle Horse. He looks like he works the same way the Star Wars tauntaun did, where you stick the rider into a spring-loaded door atop the mount, with the rider’s legs molded onto the horse’s body.

Other mounts included a nightmare and bronze dragon.

Along with Strongheart, the forces of good included …

Elkhorn Good Dwarf

Melf/Peralay Good Elf

Mercion Good Cleric

Northlord Good Barbarian

Ringlerun Good Wizard

Bowmarc Good Crusader

Deeth Good Fighter

Hawkler Good Ranger

Northlord looks like he borrowed his helmet from Dark Helmet. Mercion is apparently super hard to find these days, in case you happen to be sitting on one and need a quick infusion of cash. Also, notice how the slightly realistic Strongheart gives way in the second wave to the somewhat silly-looking Bowmarc. ‘Tis the way of things, I’m afraid.

This brings us to the evil figures. I don’t know who the leader of EVIL is, per se, but Warduke EVIL Fighter (above) has to be their coolest figure – he’s like the Boba Fett of D&D action figures. His quest to do horrible things to people is aided and abetted by such jerkwads as …

Kelek EVIL Wizard

Zarak EVIL Half-Orc Assassin

Drex EVIL Fighter

Grimsword EVIL Knight

Mandoom EVIL Warrior

Zorgar EVIL Barbarian

You can’t say that the forces of evil were underrepresented here – plenty of foes for the good guys. It’s really a very good toy line that I think would have been pushed over the top with an accompanying cartoon. Zarak, the other figure I had, might have showed up in the cartoon. I definitely remember that Kelek and Warduke were in an episode of the cartoon series.

There were three “giant” figures in the line – Ogre King, Young Male Titan and Mettaflame the Fire Giant. I don’t know if the dragonne was a mount or just a monster. Ogre King is pictured below:

Along with the articulated figures, there were numerous molded figures in the line. As a kid, I assumed they weren’t really for playing alongside the other figures, but maybe I was wrong. I’m trying to remember how they measured up to Strongheart, but frankly – it’s been too dang long. I remember having the troglodyte and goblin and two men-at-arms, but there were also skeletons, a bugbear, troll, hook horror and some others. The hook horror is pictured below.

Finally, the existence of Castle Greyskull meant that every good toy line needed a playset to go with it. D&D got the Fortress of Fangs, which is admittedly not super awesome – at least, not as great as Greyskull.

Lazy Sunday on the Couch

Well, 2021 has begun and I’m out of gas, so here are a couple things I watched this week that I found notable for weird reasons.

Up first is an episode of Lights Out entitled “Beware This Woman”.

Frankly, the show didn’t do much for me. The story was okay, but then you have Veronica Lake without her classic 40’s hairdo – very upsetting! What amazed me was the fact that Phil Hartman apparently traveled back in time to appear in the episode. When I looked up the actual actor, I discovered that he was Glenn Denning, and that was about it. To my mind, the lack of biography and credits for Mr. Denning proves that my Phil Hartman theory is correct.

In all seriousness, given what happened to Hartman, I’d love to believe he escaped his fate and was still entertaining people somewhere out there.

Lights Out originated on radio, and the episodes are worth finding – moody and creepy and very well done.

I also watched Murder Is News this week, a 1937 mystery.

Again, not a tremendous storyline, but I love b-movie mysteries from the 40’s, and I dug that the lead character, reporter Jerry Tracy, worked for the Daily Planet. Tracy was flying high in 1937, but a year later that new guy Clark Kent and ace reporter Lois Lane would be getting all the attention and poor Jerry was out of luck!

Tracy was played by John Gallaudet, who was in a favorite old TV show of mine, Burke’s Law – it was like the Love Boat of detective shows (which makes sense, since it was produced by Aaron Spelling). Also appearing in the cast was John Hamilton, who would later play Perry White in The Adventures of Superman.

OK – a lazy post today I know, but maybe the rest of you are feeling lazy as well and could use a couple hours of mediocre black and white entertainment to round out the day. Be well, everyone – and I hoped you remembered to eat some black-eyed peas on January 1st – we’ll need all the help we can get to deal with 2020 II: Electric Boogaloo!