An English Vampire in Africa

Hey folks – it’s a three day weekend in these parts, so I’m still on schedule with a post every weekend.

I was going to do a Dragon-by-Dragon today, but instead decided to write about a little B-movie I finished watching last night, the 1945 “classic” The Vampire’s Ghost. While the movie does not involve a vampire’s ghost, it is a better movie than it has a right to be, possibly because it was written by Leigh Brackett. If you don’t know who Leigh Brackett is, well go find out. She was a classic sci-fi author, and did some fine screenwriting on The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo and The Long Goodbye. The film we’re talking about today was her first such effort, and in it she brings more talent to the picture than one would expect of a low-budget Republic film.

She’s joined in this by the the villain in the piece, John Abbott. Just to maintain the Star Trek theme I’ve been on for a while, he played the lead Organian in the episode “Errand of Mercy”. In this picture, he plays the vampire, and I think he’s one of my favorites. In classic Hollywood, the Vampire didn’t usually have much depth, and was often played for shock value. Bela Lugosi’s turn as Dracula is an exception, of course.

It also helps that the movie is based loosely on “The Vampyre” written by John William Polidori in 1816. Between Polidori, Brackett and Abbott, you get a hidden nugget from the studio days of Hollywood.

In The Vampire’s Ghost, Abbott plays Webb Fallon, an English vampire who has “lived” at least since the days of the Spanish Armada. He brings a really rate matter-of-factness to his vampire portrayal – he’s not happy about his condition, but he shows no remorse for his victims, and he mostly uses his ability to hypnotize and control people to get away with it. In the film, he is now running a drinking establishment in the African town of Bakunda. As in Dracula, the movie wastes little time in revealing that the mysterious killer around Bakunda is a vampire, and that Fallon is that vampire. The natives discover it first, and the “hero” of the picture, Roy Hendrick (Charles Gordon) is soon clued in, but is hypnotized by Fallon before he can do anything about it. Strange for many such movies, the supposed hero spends most of the movie unable to do anything against the villain. The vampire really is the protagonist in the film, making all the moves and committing his villainy unrestrained until … well, I won’t give everything away.

The main point here is that, in this largely forgotten B-movie, there’s a really cool vampire depiction thanks largely to two talented people, Leigh Brackett and John Abbott, and despite the low budget and relative apathy of Republic Pictures. To tie this in to roleplaying games, the Webb Fallon vampire should give a good game master some ideas about playing a vampire in a game in a way that might surprise the players.

Check it out, if you have a mind to …

Old School Energy

Over the past year, I’ve been doing an extended dive into the world of Star Trek, or “old school Star Trek” you might say. Boy, do I love the original show, and having discovered the first RPG for it, I started developing a Star Trek campaign that, frankly, nobody but me would ever see. Really, though, it was more than that. It was like my personal salute to the show, that groovy 60’s sci-fi, the look ad feel of the whole thing – all things I loved, but also things I had never really explored. Which brings me to fanzines ,,,

Initially, I discovered Geoffrey Mandel’s Star Fleet Handbook, much of which was reproduced as the U.S.S. Enterprise Officer’s Manual, which I owned. I say “much of which”, because there was plenty that didn’t see print in that compilation, and enthused with all things Old School Trek, I wanted to see what Mr. Mandel had created.

I managed to find a couple issues online and bought them and loved them. A fan filling in the details of something he loved, but not to the obsessive degree to which such things can be taken. None of the nonsense about “canon” and copyright and such – just creativity. In the process of finding the Star Fleet Handbooks, I also found the “Fanlore” website, and so the descent into madness began.

Folks, you might not know this about me, but when I start researching for a project, I go a bit nuts. I love research … heck, I do it for a living … and I tend to over-research things. With Grit & Vigor, for example, I needed to know more about guns and vehicles than I did so I could model them appropriately in the game. Before I was done, I’d built a database of thousands of firearms, cars, airplanes … heck, I even built a database of hundreds of animals to have something to which I could compare the vehicles. Overkill, yes, but once I start I just can’t stop.

My “Star Trek Databank” now includes over 1,500 stars (which I’ve mapped), since I wanted to tie all the planets to real world stars, over 2,600 named Starfleet vessels with their registry numbers, etc. You get the idea. And now I had dozens (hundreds?) of old fanzines to explore.

I was mostly looking for articles about the “Star Trek universe”, rather than short stories. I wanted to see what fans, with nothing more than the original show and the animated episodes to work with, could come up with about all that new life and new civilizations. Finding some articles about Tellarites and Andorians on Fanlore, I was soon the owner of all five issues of Sehlat’s Roar. Great articles, by the way – very creative and very useful for my purposes. I soon had a select collection of a few others, and naturally started reading some of the fan fiction that was in them. Heck, I even discovered some art by Vaughn Bode and Phil Foglio! From Star Trek fanzines to “Phil & Dixie” in Dragon Magazine. Cool stuff, and it hit me how similar all of this was to the early days of Dungeons & Dragons. The art, the presentation and, most importantly, the energy!

The energy is what I love about old school Trek, old school D&D – maybe old school everything. That brilliant, bubbly, awkward, crazy, wonderful energy released when somebody has birthed something new – something we’ve not quite seen before. It was there in the earliest animation, in early jazz, in early movies. In time, all of these things become more about money than ideas, but there’s usually a wonderful honeymoon that just thrills me to death. Now that I’m approaching 50, I’m discovering a real love for DIY – books, games, art, movies, music, restaurants, etc. Real people doing things – sometimes well, sometimes not so well – for the sheer love of it.

Folks – go find that energy. Bathe in it, participate in it, and love it for all you’re worth. Along with the human relationships – spouse, kids – that make your life worthwhile, the energy of frenzied fans doing something they love for almost nothing at all will keep you going.

Family Game Night Reviews

Because setting yourself up for failure is fun, I’m going to take a shot at getting a post up each weekend in 2020. They might not all be strictly gaming related … but what the heck – it’s my blog and I suppose I can do what I want with it!

To kick 2020 off, I’ll do some “timely” game reviews. I had some time off this Christmas season, so the family had time for a couple family game nights. We had a few games recently purchased and un-played, so we gave them a twirl.

First up is Charlie’s Angels, published in 1977 by Milton Bradley. I’m a total sucker for any board game involving a 1970’s or 1980’s TV property (well, almost all of them), so when we saw this baby priced $20 in an antique shop, it was a shoo-in.

I instantly called Sabrina when we got the game home, but we soon discovered that each player takes control of their own team of Angels for the game, so no fighting over the individual Angels is required. The game concept is kinda cool. You have a board that is a sort of a modified grid. Onto this grid you place the Villain. The Villain moves one space on each player’s turn, the direction of the move chosen by the player in question. The player then rolls two dice and can move one of his or her angels each with each dice. If you can’t move the entire number on the dice with an Angel, you give up your move.

The goal is to trap the Villain – sort of a Charlie’s Angels checkmate. Each Angel that is in on the trapping is worth one point for their player. You play three games, total the points, and determine the winner. There are some cards that can be helpful … or harmful … so you take a risk pulling one. You also have to think a bit about how you want to move the Villain – you don’t want to be left out of the capture, so sometimes you’re really on the Villain’s side in the game. We had a good time with Charlie’s Angels, with the game ending in a three-way tie – not a bad ending for a family game.

One issue – I noted that the rules did not specifically disallow moving back on your path on your turn. They probably should have, because this seemed to make the game too easy, and it just didn’t feel right.

Next up was a funny little dice game – really a packaged version of old dice rules – called Skunk. Simple concept – you have two dice to roll. The dice replace the “1” with a skunk. On their turn, a player takes the dice and can roll them as often as they like, totaling the points rolled. If they roll a skunk, they get no points for this turn and have to pay a penalty (1 chip, or 2 if you rolled a skunk and a “2”). If you roll two skunks, you lose all the points you’ve acquired and pay a 4 chip penalty. To win, a player must get his total above 100 – she can go as high above 100 as she dares. Once a player goes over 100, the other players have to try to beat them on their next turn. The chips in the pot do to the winner of each round.

The game is really all about risk – how daring are you, and how lucky?

In our first game, I managed to zero-out midway through. When my daughter went over 100, I needed something like 60 points to beat her. I started rolling, got hot, and actually won the game. On our third game, I decided to do exactly that each turn, figuring I might eventually get hot again … and wound up rolling a skunk every time on my first or second roll.

We had a fun time with Skunk, and since up to 8 people can play it would probably make a fun party game. To make it more “grown up” you could turn it into a drinking game, with a drink taken on every skunk or double skunk. I suppose you could also play Strip Skunk … but then again, maybe not.

Finally, we have Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Game, published in 2000, also by Milton Bradley. We bought this one for my daughter for Christmas, and she was raring to play it. It took a while to read the rules, but they weren’t too complicated and we had a good time playing it.

I took control of the bad guys, while my wife had to play Oz and Xander and my daughter got Buffy and Willow. The game is fun, pretty fast paced, and pretty easy to figure out. Evil sure looked like it was going to win this one – in short order, two of the goodies were out of the game and Evil had all the magic items. In the end, though, Buffy and Willow knocked off the evil minions and then teamed up on the Evil vampire and snuffed him out. Fortunately for them, the main villain doesn’t automatically get to move every turn. My guy spent three turns in a row not moving while they beat the crap out of him. C’est la vie.

So there you have it – three fun games for the family. All were purchased in antique stores for low prices and all were well worth it.