Back in My Day: HBO

Today I start a new series of reminisces about the times I grew up in. Because folks … they’re getting to be the “olden days”. There’s about as much time between now and those golden 1980’s in which I grew up as there was between the 1980’s and World War II when the ’80s were new. It’s a funny thing, the way things change slowly, gradually, so that you don’t even realize it until those changes pile up and you find yourself in a whole new world.

Our entry today is HBOThe Wonder of its Age (for boys who weren’t supposed to be watching it at our age!)

Before we get to HBO, though, I’d like to let folks know that Pen & Paper Baseball is now up for download on DriveThruRPG.com … and free to make up for the lack of Opening Day this year. It will stay free until the baseball season starts – so Play Ball!

Home Box Office! Movies at home … but newer than the movies of the week you got on normal TV … AND NO COMMERCIALS! You see, the awesome thing about cable TV was that since you had to pay for it, there were never going to be commercials! Can you believe it? Probably not, given how many damn commercials there are on cable TV now. That promise sure didn’t last very long.

Now, my family were never early adopters of new technologies. Be patient, let them produce better products at lower prices, and then jump in. I didn’t have HBO in my house as a kid, but my friend next door did. In fact, he was the only one of my circle who had it, so many an afternoon were spent at his house. He also had an Atari, so we’d waste some hours playing Pitfall and Pac-Man, and then catch a movie or two. Pretty sweet deal.

There are three movies in particular that I remember from those days, which I share with you now in no particular order …

1. Ice Pirates (1984)

This was one of those films we probably shouldn’t have been watching back then. I was 12 when it came out, so maybe 13 when it was on HBO. It stars Robert Urich, and the movie is about … well, ice pirates. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve seen it since I was a kid, so all I remember is that water is super valuable in the future, and there’s all this fighting over a big hunk of ice floating in space. Oh, and there was a joke about them being turned into eunuchs. Heck, it was mildly dirty and involved space ships, so it was a hit with my crowd. Honestly, I’m going to guess the movie is a LOT funnier when you’re 13 years old.

2. The Big Red One (1980)

Holy crap did we watch this movie a bunch. I was the World War II freak in my circle, and dragged the rest along with me into playing army. We all had plastic M-16s and grenades and would play war in the neighborhood like crazy. We even fought some kids who lived on the other side of the street once (and won!). They were led by another kid named Matt, and since he was big and we were as sensitive as you would expect as elementary school kids, he was known as Fat Matt. I was just Matt.

Anyhow, the movie follows the 1st Infantry Division in World War II, from North Africa, through Italy and into Germany. It stars Lee Marvin, who is just plain cool, and you even have some early post-Star Wars work by Mark Hammill. I don’t remember now, but I’m sure it freaked us out to see him be something other than Luke Skywalker.

Now, we dug the movie because it was a war movie, but also because it provided something that young fellas in those days were often in search of … bare boobs. Pre-internet, finding bare breasts was no easy task for a curious kid. In this movie, there is a split second – and I mean split second – of bare boobs that we could not believe we had seen when we first watched it. Super forbidden … and guaranteed to make the movie an instant classic for a bunch of 10 to 12 year old boys.

3. The Cannonball Run (1981)

Man, do I love this movie. Loved it when I was a kid, and I love it still. My daughter is a big fan as well. What more can you ask for in a film? Fast cars, beautiful women, Burt Reynolds, Dom Delouise, James Bond, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr and Jackie Chan! This was another movie that we knew we probably shouldn’t have been watching at our age, but there it was. I can still remember sitting in my friend’s living room, watching the movie while prepared to get scarce if his parents came home. I also remember us turning aerosol cans and lighters into makeshift flame throwers … God knows how we survived childhood. In our defense, we pretty quickly realized that playing was fire was a bad idea and cut it out. Even we weren’t that stupid. We did discover, though, that if you sprayed a fly with Lysol its wings would crystallize in mid-flight and it would fall from the sky.

So there’s a walk down memory lane from a kid who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, and then grew up some more in the 90’s, and then had a kid and grew up a lot more in the 2000’s.

I’m getting back to watching Charlie’s Angels and making hopping John … and Emergency is on at 3! … but if you have some favorite HBO memories from back in the day, go ahead and share them in the comments, and stay safe out there Nodians!

A Quick Dispatch from the Pandemic

Howdy folks – just a quick note today, since I’ve been pretty busy setting up work-from-home and not thinking a bunch about gaming stuff.

My wife and I did a jaunt to the nearby Sprouts grocery store to pick up a few things, and boy was it a normal, boring shopping trip. The place wasn’t super crowded, but there were plenty of shoppers, and everybody was calm. There were a few shelves picked over – mostly of staples and at the meat counter – but we got what were were after without too much trouble. If you’re having trouble finding things at the larger chains, you might check out smaller chains or shops, assuming they’re open.

Folks were eating at the Sonic (in their cars – they had removed the outdoor seating) when we went through the drive-thru for some fountain Cokes, and the roads weren’t empty. Looks like people in Vegas are getting through this pretty well. Now, during the week I’ve been driving into my office to get things done – most of the people who work near me are working from home (you didn’t have to ask them twice), so I’m pretty much all by my lonesome there. As a confirmed introvert, I’ve been training for this situation my entire life!

The morning commute to work has been reminiscent of what it was like 20 years ago. I have worked for the same company in the same general place for 25 years, so I have a basis for comparison on such things. Since the resorts on the Strip are shut down for the moment, and visitation is at a minimum, the central core of the city is pretty quiet. It’s weird, but not super-weird – it looked pretty similar the week or so after the 9-11 terrorist attack.

I hope this little missive finds people safe, reasonably happy, and not panicking. Spend some time with your family – we had a rousing game of Dungeon! the other night, which I lost pretty soundly. I recently found an intact copy of the one I used to own – love those graphics so dang much – and I’m really looking forward to the similar game being produced by Sean Aaberg in his Dungeon Degenerates line. My daughter is spending some of her lost Spring Break (she and her friends were going to go to Disneyland – her first trip like that without the parents) sewing on of his weird patches on my denim jacket. Actually a good patch for the times:

We’re doing some comfort-viewing of TV shows and movies we like (and what would the world do without cute/funny animal videos right now?), getting some reading done (just finished Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler and Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Michael Ward – both good books), and I’m still working on my own projects. Now’s a good time to renew ties with friends and family, and if there’s a brick-and-mortar store or restaurant that you dig, but cannot visit, think about getting a gift card from for a later date. A good measure of a person or a people is how they behave in tough times, so be kind, supportive and generally groovy to one another, folks, and we’ll hopefully emerge on the other side relatively intact!

I’ll leave folks with a bad movie that would have been better if you had replaced all the “real” people with characters from Robert E Howard’s Conan stories. Ann Blythe sure was pretty – such an interesting face.

For something quite different, maybe you’ll enjoy Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes.

FIGHT ON!

Godzilla, Hitchcock and Disaster Games

I was recently thinking about my love of good old-fashioned Godzilla movies, and that led me to thinking about using giant monsters in RPGs.

The most obvious way to incorporate giant monsters in a game is to make them a monster that the PCs are supposed to slay. I say obvious, but I think I mean “wrong”. It seems like a cool idea to fight Godzilla … but how interesting is combat in games really? Combat in games (and movies, really) should serve something bigger than itself.

Giant monsters are flesh-and-blood stand-ins for natural disasters, like the jotuns in Norse mythology or all those skeletons running around in old paintings of the Black Death years in Europe. This idea offers a way to run a disaster game – symbolically. The characters cannot fight a plague germ itself, for example, but they can swing swords at zombies (or wights, if you want an undead monster that can spawn, which would be a better representation of a disease). With the disease made symbolic, you also need to make the discovery of a cure symbolic – i.e. the PCs have to track down the demonic artifact or evil high priest that launched the plague and destroy it to stop the danger. You might consider going the route of many cartoons and have all those horrible undead monster turn back to normal if the originator of the plague is stopped – depending on whether you’re aiming for hopeful or hopeless in the tone of your game.

Still, a disaster made flesh-and-blood is really what I was writing about at the beginning of this post. Another way of incorporating disaster – be it from tsunami, virus or giant monster – in your game is to use it as a backdrop to the action. Think of it as a dress rehearsal for the post-apocalypse. The disaster sets the stage and creates some new obstacles/challenges to overcome as the PCs attempt to accomplish their goal. The PCs might be on the trail of a murderer in a pulp detective-style game, and have to deal with flooded streets and downed power lines due to a hurricane.

If you go this route, make the disaster or its aftermath a key aspect of the action. If Alfred Hitchcock was going to set a movie in Paris, you can be dang sure he was going to use the Eiffel Tower as a key set piece – probably the climactic set piece. After all, he reasoned – why bother setting a movie in Paris if you’re not going to use settings and things that are only found in Paris. Likewise, why set a game in a flooded city if those flood waters are not going to loom very large in the action and resolution of the game.

Make sure you also use the emotion that goes with a disaster scenario – fear, confusion, sorrow, hope. Introduce emotional choices for the players – hunt down the murderer OR help victims of the disaster; hunt down the murderer WHILE worrying about their own loved ones. This forces them to play their characters, and not their character sheets.

I can think of three ways to introduce a disaster into a game. The first is to begin the game with the conditions already in place. With the city under lock-down due to a pandemic, the detectives seek out a man who stole a formula that might stop it. The PCs go into the game knowing the hazards they’ll face, and can thus prepare for them.

A related scenario to the one above is the count-down to a known disaster. The weather service says that the hurricane is going to make landfall in 24 hours – 24 hours in which the PCs must find and apprehend a fugitive from justice. This scenario and the one before it are also useful for historic games and historic disasters – the Spanish flu, Hurricane Katrina, the sinking of the Titanic. The player know, so there’s no point in trying to surprise them. Use their knowledge against them to create tension – again, I bow my head to Hitchcock for this advice.

“Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene.”

This suggests a third scenario – the surprise disaster. The players know that their characters have to apprehend a fugitive from justice and begin the game with that foremost on their minds … and then an hour into the session Godzilla rises from the sea and the game changes dramatically. No time to prepare – just a fight to survive in a city suddenly turned upside down … and maybe a chance to accomplish their original mission that may put them in even more danger. Remember, games are interesting because of the choices we must make in them – figuring out how best to utilize limited resources.

Just a few ideas for incorporating disasters into games – and I hope my readers are staying safe from the current disaster sweeping the globe. I don’t know if people are over-reacting or wisely reacting at this point – but I do hope we all come through it suffering as little damage as possible.

Saints Come in All Sizes

Well, I finally missed a weekend post. In my defense, though … I thought I had remembered to post. Not much a defense, really, but what the heck!

Among other things I’m working on, NOD 36 is going to have a hexcrawl somewhat dominated by a country of halflings. These halflings have a faith modeled loosely on Medieval Christianity (very loosely), and thus they honor numerous saints as well as a supreme goddess. Here’s a sneak preview on this halfling faith:

Nertha
Mother Goddess

Nertha is the mother goddess of the halflings. She is believed to be the creator, teacher, and nourisher of the people. In this capacity, she is worshiped as a supreme deity by her cult. The cult is made up of an aristocratic priesthood who holds a great deal of secular power in the valley of the Yore. This is due to the relationships between the priesthood, which is drawn from the younger sons and daughters of the aristocracy, and the landed gentry of Yore, as well as from the vast land holdings of the cult.
The Yorrish liken the universe to a steaming vat of soup, stirred and tended by Nertha in her kitchen, aided by her kitchen saints. The other saints protect her kitchen, and the cosmic soup, from demons who wish to sample (and taint) the soup, or even spill it, destroying the universe and putting out Nertha’s eternal hearth, plunging all creation into blackness.

Saint Amalthy
Patron Saint of Learning and Childbirth

St. Amalthy was a teacher of the Lady who lived 200 years ago in the Southlands. Her cult is based in the Midlands, specifically at St. Amalthy’s Cathedral in Mook.
St. Amalthy was a midwife and strict disciplinarian who tend-ed her flock for fifty-eight summers. She was credited with several miracles associated with healings and divinations about children, and thus became a patron saint of childbirth and medicine. A learned woman, she wrote the much-copied Yorrish Herbal, the standard reference for Yorrish healers.

St. Amalthy’s feast day is Wind Month the 4th. It is observed with much singing and merriment, followed by a week spent in quiet devotion at her shrines. The faithful burn candles and leave newly harvested fruits, which are then dispersed to the hungry. Her followers are called Amalthyeans.

Saint Anka
Patron Saint of Resolve

St. Anka’s life is the source of an oft performed morality play. It is the story of a young girl, dedicated to the Lady, whose father was both a heretic and blasphemer. Although a respected farmer, he refused the Lady and continued in the worship of forest spirits. When he attempted to arrange a marriage between his daughter and an elf of the woodlands, Anka calmly refused. The elf carried her away, but she would neither consummate the marriage nor take food while so imprisoned. She kept the elf’s house and cooked his meals, but would in no way consent to his wooing. He tried music, fine foods, and delicate ballads, but nothing could change the girl’s mind. Eventually, the elf, who was much smitten by her beauty and dignity, pleaded with her father to convert to Mother Church and annul her marriage.

Wracked with guilt, Anka’s father consented. He rode straight away to the elf’s home in the woods, but was greeted with no sign of Anka. Instead, they discovered her bloodied garments, and the foot prints of a pack of wolves. Anka was canonized by Mother Church for her resolve and is considered a patron saint of resolve, especially against the temptations of sin.

The true story of Anka bears only a superficial resemblance to the passion plays and church teachings.

Anka was a beautiful and headstrong girl of the Northlands. Her father was a successful farmer, a country gentleman, who desired that his daughter take a husband. A terrible flirt, Anka had on many occasions consented to the pleadings of the country lads who formed her ever-present entourage.

Anka was taken with wooing and gift-giving, so she had no intention of taking a husband. Many candidates came forward, and always she refused their proposals, but accepted their gifts. One gift in particular, the giver she could never remember, was a silver chain into which were set a multitude of black gems. They seemed to swallow the light and at the same time shimmer gloriously. Anka would spend many hours lying in the meadows about her home, studying the strange (and cursed!) necklace in the sunlight and moonlight.

Eventually, a candidate for her hand came forward from the woodlands. An elf lord of great wit and wealth sought her hand in marriage. The marriage ceremony took place amidst much celebration, but Anka refused her husband’s wedding cake (the exchange of fairy-cakes is integral to the Yorrish wedding ceremony) on well-known religious grounds, and so began a hunger strike in his home in the woods.

Anka refused all food offered her, for how could she tell anyone that under her curse her only sustenance could be the fresh blood and flesh of humanoids; all other foodstuffs made her violently ill. She was visited by monks and nuns to lend her moral support, but the young men and women of her village knew of her dark side. Anka would lead them into the woods for wild reveries, initiating many of them into her intimacy and confidence. In truth, many of the monks and nuns who visited her were also initiated. It was on midsummer night that Anka, now a dedicated servant of evil, led her band into the forest for a final reverie in which a young and amorous halfling boy was sacrificed, his head kept as a shrunken token of his devotion.

Anka’s followers waited for her husband to arrive home from his hunting in the mountains. He was waylaid and sacrificed as well. Weeks later, Anka’s father also disappeared after a bloody struggle in his own home. Most people blamed brig-ands or wolves for the atrocities committed.

Anka and her band still lurk in the northern woods, where they lead black rites for the many monks and nuns who have fallen under her sway. Some clerics in the south are aware of the truth of Anka’s story and seek out her followers without rest, hoping to rid Mother Church of its most shameful secret.

Saint Benn
Patron Saint of Travel, Water and Bravery

St. Benn went to “sea” (the River Og) to convert the heathens that lived outside of Yore’s borders. Needless to say, it didn’t go well for a mouthy, preachy halfling with a habit of wagging his finger under people’s noses. Benn was martyred and has become a patron saint of travel, water and bravery.

Some sages believe that Benn is merely the Yorrish name for the River Og, and that rather than being a missionary he was really the presiding spirit of the river.
Bennites are known for their beautiful waterborne funerals, favored by southern merchants, and for their hospices, which cater to sailors and their families.

Saint Droppo
Patron Saint of Nervous Fidgeting

Droppo is the patron saint of nervous fidgeting, for it is said that whenever a false knave was in his presence he was unable to sit or stand still. The folk of his village attributed this to an inborn celestial character that made deceit anathema to him. He was duly sainted, a cathedral being built in the town of Skalagord where he lived and died. In religious iconography he is depicted in rough clothing and sandals holding a feather. His feast day is on the seventh day of Hay Month.

Church officials have since learned that Droppo was really a clod, often in on the schemes of charlatans who thought him a perfect stooge until he began accidentally giving away their schemes. They have chosen to believe he did this on purpose, and thus allow him to remain a recognized saint.

Saint Dunstan
Patron Saint of Goldsmiths

St. Dunstan is the patron saint of goldsmiths, he himself being a noted goldsmith in life. He is represented in clerical robes carrying a pair of pincers in his right hand. The robes refer to his office as Bishop of Nunc, and the pincers to the legend of his holding the Devil by the nose until he promised never to tempt him again.

Dunstan was a painter, jeweler and smith. Expelled from the royal court, he built a cell near Umpleby church, and there he worked at his handicrafts. It was in his cell that tradition says the Devil gossiped with the saint through the lattice window. Dunstan calmly talked until his tongs were red hot, when he turned round suddenly and caught the Devil by the nose.

Saint Dymphna
Patron Saint of the Stricken

St. Dymphna is the saint of those who are stricken in spirit. She was a native of the Midlands and a woman of high rank. It is said that she was murdered at Zeletor in the south by bandits because she resisted their advanced. Zeletor has long been a famous colony for the insane.

Saint Gabbar
Patron Saint of Tailors
Founder of the Gabbardine Order

St. Gabbar is revered in Yore for his defeat of a bevy of ogres that plagued the country long ago. While there is no doubt that he was a tailor, his race, whether a halfling from Yore or a half-elf from Mab, is disputed. Mother Church claims he was a halfling and will hear nothing more about it. The symbol of the Gabbardine Order is a needle and bobbin, and the monks engage in the garment trade. It has made the order wealthy, for they are the official tailors of the Mother Church, producing all official religious trappings therein. They are also noted as the preeminent giant killers of Yore.

Saint Grumm
Patron Saint of Warfare and Protection

St. Grumm is a popular Yorrish saint credited with the defense of the faithful in the Midlands against incursions of monsters and barbarian hordes. In Ikrod’s Lives of the Saints he is identified with Grumm Steadylegs, a warrior-monk who led a company of riders in the Wars of Redemption, in which Mother Church gradually converted the Midlands and Northlands. Grumm was a sedate and somber halfling, but given to passionate defenses of Nertha and her religious law.

Heretical halfling scholars claim that Grumm was an ancient deity of boundaries. He was consort to Nertha in some legends, and her son in others. Grumm was worshipped at the borders between holdings and between civilization and the wild.
Monasteries dedicated to St. Grumm are concentrated on the frontiers. They are outwardly militant. Monks especially dedi-cated to St. Grumm wear black robes with pointed hoods over their armor. They carry flanged maces in combat and are usually trained riders. They are called Grumblers. St Grumm’s churches have stout, stone walls and heavy doors. They are designed as places of refuge for the halflings in times of war. Almost all halfling hobbles have a small statue of St. Grumm near the door where he can guard against intruders.

St. Grumm’s feast day is Wild Month the 21st, celebrated as “Pie Week” amongst the Yorrish. During Pie Week, one day is set aside for St. Grumm and called Boys’ Day. All halfling boys and men are honored on Boys’ Day with gifts (usually martial in quality like slings and knives) and a parade.

The Boys’ Day parade concludes with a mock Battle against the Big Folk, wherein the parade leader must fight a duel with his enemy, the Big Man. The Big Man is represented in pantomime by two halflings, one sitting atop the other’s shoulders. The Big Man first runs into the street, disrupting the parade and scattering all the participants. He then steals a pie, knocks down a mock-hobble, and attempts to carry off a sheep. The parade leader chases the Big Man around the village square, sometimes losing his spear in the process. Finally, he either strikes the Big Man down with his spear or runs the Big Man out of town with the help of the militia by throwing pies at him. Once the Big Man is dead or driven off, the Battle ends and the halflings triumphantly carry the parade leader around the village on a shield or large platter, ending up at the Feast. Then they eat until they keel over.

Halfling clerics of St. Grumm are almost always Lawful. They always carry a buckler with St. Grumm’s badger symbol on the boss. The lay members of St. Grumm’s cult include gamekeepers, herdsman, militiaman, road wardens, soldiers, watch-men, and woodsmen.

The Order of St. Grumm is a branch of knighthood open to all free men and boys who can pass their tests with sling and bow. The Order’s membership boasts some of the greatest living halflings of Yore. The society is martial in name only, being more a hunting fraternity than anything else.

Saint Mathurin
Patron Saint of Fools

The patron saint of fools, St. Mathurin was in life a pedagogue who labored the whole of his life to preach to chil-dren, adults and even the animals. Yorrish legend says that it is St. Mathurin who first taught animals to speak, thus they are referred to as “Mathurin’s pupils”.

Saint Mommo
Patron Saint of Dance, Music and Poetry

St. Mommo is a very ancient halfling recollection of Tut, the kabir of natural rhythms, and thus of dance, music and poetry. The followers of St. Mommo are distinguished by their brightly colored clothes and their masks. They are portrayers of religious plays and singers of religious ballads. They are, essentially, the entertainers of Mother Church. They exist in their own troupes, and rarely mix with the uninitiated.

Saint Swithun
Patron Saint of Builders

The chroniclers say St. Swithun was a diligent builder of churches in places where there were none, and a repairer of churches destroyed or ruined. He also built a bridge on the east side of the city of Yorld. During the work, he made a practice of sitting there to watch the workmen so that his presence might stimulate their industry. One of his most edifying miracles is said to have been performed at this bridge when he restored an old woman’s basket of eggs which the workmen had maliciously broken.

The Kitchen Saints
Patron Saints of Home and Hearth

As any visitor to Yore knows, the kitchen is the center of halfling life and halfling worship. Three minor saints who enjoy considerable good will and devotion throughout Yore are Praseeda, Landrani and Bertha. Collectively, they are referred to as the Kitchen Saints. They lived long ago and are portrayed as ancient healers associated with both herbal healing and cookery. Heretical sages claim that they are remnants of the pre-Mother Church beliefs of Yore, which was based around a loose pantheon of nature divinities.

Each Kitchen Saint has her own feast day. St. Landrani, the patron saint of beer and cider, is feted on Wood Month the 5th. St. Praseeda, Our Lady of Herbs & Spices, is feted on Hay Month the 3rd. St. Bertha, patron saint of deserts, is celebrated on Pasture Month the 12th.

Mendicant halfling friars dedicate themselves to the Kitchen Saints. These wandering friars are renowned for their jollity and common sense preaching. They are like kindly gaffers and gammers, from whom the youth seek advice. More reserved members of the priesthood fault them for their inattention to canon law and church taboo, but really they resent them for being so much more popular than they.

St Landrani is immensely proud of the plethora of alcoholic beverages she has created for the halflings, and is always busy in the cellar creating (and extensively testing) her latest brew. She is always happy and usually a bit tipsy. St. Praseeda works with her on occasion to create spiced ciders. St. Landrani is depicted as a plump halfling woman with a wide grin and short blonde hair, holding a tankard and bottle of cider. Her symbol is a tankard.

St. Praseeda is the most rugged of her sisters, and spends hours hunting for rare herbs and mushrooms. As busy as this keeps her, she still finds time to potter around in the kitchen, helping her sisters spice up their creations. St. Praseeda is quiet, reserved and friendly. She is depicted as a slender halfling woman with long, tussled blonde hair, a green hood, and a sling bag. Her symbol is the sling-bag of herbs.

Have you ever wondered how halfling children can fall out of trees and walk away with only a little bruise, or why halfling relationships are nearly trouble free? St. Bertha is the answer.

St. Bertha is the most ‘homey’ of the Kitchen Saints, soothing hurt feelings and looking after halfing children while they play. In her spare time, she works in the kitchen with Nertha, cooking up the sweet treats of which halflings are so fond. St. Bertha is depicted as a plump halfling woman with curly blonde hair, freckled skin, and a concerned expression. She carries a spoon and lollipop, and her symbol is the lollipop.

The Kitchen Saints really are the last remnants of the halfling’s old religion. The three sisters remain the matrons of halfling druids – the aforementioned friars. These friars are few and far between, but they can be found wandering the countryside as teachers and guides. The friars are more colorful than most halfling priests, weaving flowers in their hair and wearing green robes. They gather in fields on nights of the full moon to worship the Kitchen Saints and Nertha. There, they throw seeds into the wind, watching them scatter and divining portents from the patterns they make.

Other than the friars, the Kitchen Saints have no official cults. Their worship is carried out by druids, brewers, cooks, nan-nies and peasants. While small shrines to the three sisters are maintained in most churches, most of their worship is con-ducted on small stone altars found in fields, kitchens, brewer-ies, and nurseries. Some of these altars are very ancient. At harvest time, first fruits are offered to the three sisters. Their followers are called either Kitcheners or Pantryeans.

Welcome to the Jungle

Hey folks, sorry I’m a little late with this post – I managed to finish writing a game yesterday and I’m about 80% through with another one, so I assure you I wasn’t goldbricking.

Tonight, I have a review for you of an adventure called Jungle Tomb of the Mummy Bride. It’s a cute little descent into a green hell crawling with the walking dead, written for 5th edition rules but nasty enough to work for all of us old schoolers out there.

The adventure is written by Levi Combs, with art by Adrian Landeros, Karl Stjemberg and John Russell. It is published by Planet X Games – you can find a copy HERE.

The adventure is designed for a party of 5th to 7th level characters, and includes the main adventure book, a book of treasure maps and a player pack. The art and presentation are great, the layout clean and readable and the book is well organized.

While I can’t comment on the adventure from the perspective of the 5th edition rules – as in the encounters being balanced, etc. – I can say that I think the adventure would work well with old school games. You have a nice set of rumors, a wandering monster list, and plenty of monsters and treasure. With a little conversion work, a few clerics and lots of holy water and flaming oil, the adventure should work just fine.

For $11.00, you get three levels of dungeon and a jungle village to explore and pillage. Monsters include bad ass devil frogs, big ole’ snakes, cannibals, giant vampire bats, gouge-eyes, idols of ill-omen, insidious jungle creepers, mushroom men, purple worm hatchlings, pygmy juju zombies, shambling parasitic SOB’s and, of course, Mazaliztli, the Mummy Bride! In the Player’s Pack you get “Twenty Forgotten Demi-Gods, Queer Quasi-Gods and Utterly Terrible Demons”, “7 Eternally Evil Chants and Diabolical Incantations Overheard at a Summoning” and a few other equally wonderful random charts. The character sheet that is included is absolutely wonderful – I wish I had one for OD&D!

Check it out folks … if you dare!

Space Cowboy Diplomacy

Retief and the Aga Kagan by Jack Gaughan

When you’re a pop culture archaeologist – ignoring the new to dig through the old – you often have that moment when you discover something that’s been around for decades, and which many others probably already know about. Still, it’s new to you, and thus a fun revelation you want to share. And so I present my latest old discovery – Jame Retief.

I was thumbing through some old issues of Worlds of IF on Project Gutenberg, and came across a story titled “The Madman from Earth” by Keith Laumer and decided to give it a read. Boy, was it fun. Then I looked at Wikipedia, and thought, “Well, I guess I’m late to this party.”

Mr. Laumer was a former officer in the U.S. Air Force and a diplomat in the American foreign service. Both of these jobs contributed to his satirical take on the exploits of Jame Retief, a rebellious diplomat in the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne (CDT), an organizations of bureaucrats and lick-spittles doing everything in their power to sponge off the galactic taxpayer while doing as little work as possible. Puffed up, arrogant and duplicitous, one gets the idea that Laumer wasn’t a huge fan of the diplomats he worked with, and thus invented “regular fella” Jame Retief to settle the score in dozens of short stories and novellas written in the 1960s and 1970s.

Jame Retief is cut from the same cloth as many heroes from the period and from pulp literature. He’s got a powerful punch, an appreciation for the finer things in life (a stiff drink, cigar and beautiful woman topping his list) and a sense of right and wrong that often puts him at odds with the CDT, his bosses therein never quite understanding why he threatens his chances for promotion by constantly going off the diplomatic script.

I’ve had tremendous fun reading about the “new life and new civilizations” that Retief and the CDT interact with, from the insect-ish Groaci who serve as the CDT’s most common competitors in the galaxy (as the Russians were to the Americans in the Cold War) to the expansionist and lobster-like Soetti, the fabulous Yillians and the ray-like Jaq. All of them come combine elements of human culture and something wonderfully alien. Aliens and humans in these stories are not just carbon-copies of a mono-cultural ideal, but given some individuality. An individual alien might be a good Joe or a scum bag in a Retief story, and the hero takes them as he finds them.

His sketches of alien planets are full of inspiration for sci-fi game masters as well. From “Cultural Exchange” (1962), here’s a sketch of the farming planet Lovenbroy, which holds a Terrie (human) colony:

“We’ve got long seasons back home. Five of ’em. Our year’s about eighteen Terry months. Cold as hell in winter; eccentric orbit, you know. Blue-black sky, stars visible all day. We do mostly painting and sculpture in the winter. Then Spring; still plenty cold. Lots of skiing, bob-sledding, ice skating; and it’s the season for woodworkers. Our furniture—All local timbers too. Lots of metals in our soil and those sulphates give the woods some color, I’ll tell you. Then comes the Monsoon. Rain—it comes down in sheets. But the sun’s getting closer. Shines all the time. Ever seen it pouring rain in the sunshine? That’s the music-writing season. Then summer. Summer’s hot. We stay inside in the daytime and have beach parties all night. Lots of beach on Lovenbroy; we’re mostly islands. That’s the drama and symphony time. The theatres are set up on the sand, or anchored off-shore. You have the music and the surf and the bonfires and stars—we’re close to the center of a globular cluster, you know Autumn’s our harvest season. Most years we have just the ordinary crops. Fruit, grain, that kind of thing; getting it in doesn’t take long. We spend most of the time on architecture, getting new places ready for the winter or remodeling the older ones. We spend a lot of time in our houses. We like to have them comfortable. But this year’s different. This is Wine Year.”

 

Retief and a quornt by Gaughan

I like the way Laumer uses hints and glimmers to build his make-believe world. Things hang together just fine, but without much detail. Rather than spelling out the rules of his creation, you get glimpses. You’re never sure when it is set, but it follows a couple hundred years after a human government called the Concordiat that also featured in a series of stories he wrote about artificially intelligent war machines called Bolos. There is space travel, and it’s faster-than-light, but spaceships still have to follow real physical laws in terms of entering planetary orbit. There’s nothing like the Star Trek transporter, computers presumably exist, but humans and aliens take center stage, people still smoke (cigars, dope-sticks), drink and eat (lots of great descriptions of alien booze and food) and kill each other with power pistols and 2mm needlers.

Now, I like to put something gameable in these posts, and my first inclination was to do some Grit & Vigor stats for Retief and some of these gear in these stories, but then I changed my mind. Making up stats for somebody who is strong, tough, quick, smart, etc. is no big deal, after all. Instead, I got an idea for addressing a common problem in translating fantasy, sci-fi and adventure literature into gaming, namely – a lack of team work.

Some of the best loved characters in fiction are loners – James Bond and Conan come immediately to mind. They sometimes have assistants, and even team-ups, but these characters are often little more than NPC’s. The stories written for them work best with a single protagonist, so translating their adventures into RPG’s meant for a party of three to six characters can be difficult. Thus my latest notion, Group Solo Play.

Group Solo Play

“Well, now what do I do?”

In GSP, a party of players control the actions of one larger-than-life hero. Every player is given the same number of chips – say 10 to start. When the character is presented with a big decision – a plot point, one might say – those players who have an idea of what they want him to do put any number of chips down on the table. For each chip played, the player rolls one dice, totaling them, with the player with the highest total taking over the control of the character. Once a chip is put on the table, win or lose, it is lost. The player in control stays in control until a new “big decision” comes up, when a new bidding war begins. This leaves many players on the sidelines, watching the story unfold as an audience, but with the chance to take the reins when the current controlling player is messing everything up.

The use of the chips means that no one player gets to dominate forever. One person might win a few bidding wars early, but eventually they run low on chips and the other players are going to win control. Ultimately, everyone has to work together to get the character through the adventure successfully, and in doing so competitively maybe gets a chance to appreciate the different methods of their fellow players. When everyone has run out of chips, and if the adventure is still ongoing, just hand out another 10 chips to everyone and keep going until you achieve ultimate success or failure.

The key role here is played by the Game Master, who needs to decide when a bidding war is to take place – you don’t want too many, or too few – and who needs to create a story telling atmosphere to keep the non-controlling players interested in the game while they’re waiting for a chance to take control.

Of Beans and Baggins

Sad news lately, as another three folks I dig shuffled off this mortal coil. Of course, I’m speaking of Kirk Douglas, Orson Bean and Robert Conrad. This post, if you couldn’t tell from the title, is inspired by Mr. Bean (okay, that’s funny – didn’t occur to me until I just wrote that).

For those who like geeky pop culture, Orson Bean is best known as the voice of Bilbo Baggins in the Rankin/Bass production of The Hobbit. That film has its detractors, but I’m not one of them – I love it. I love the voice work and the character design, and … well, maybe not all the singing, but that’s okay.

I discovered The Lord of the Rings when I was maybe 13 years old. I found a copy of The Two Towers at my grandma’s house – it was owned by my Aunt Karen, she of the Star Trek and Doctor Who fandom, who was only 16 when I was born, so she was the young, fun aunt in my life. I had just gotten into D&D in sixth grade, so Tolkien was a real revelation – I honestly had no idea that “fantasy” existed as a genre. It was all new and cool to me. After reading Two Towers, I went back and read Fellowship, and then Return, and it was all so adult and complicated and grown up and cool. Then I discovered the Hobbit, and well, obviously that was a kid’s book, and being a junior high school student, I was well past things like the Hobbit and fairy tales.

Of course, the reality is that I was past fairy tales, and also not yet ready for them.

In college, I was lurking around a used book sale at UNLV hosted by the library and the college radio station (KUNV). I picked up a cassette tape of the China Beach soundtrack (loved it), a vinyl record of Adam Ant’s Manners and Physique, and a really cheap hard-cover of Hobbit. I read it, and took a step towards wisdom. I mean the wisdom of simplicity, as in simple > complex.

It was after reading the book that I sought out the film. I was working at the Video Park (World’s Largest Video Store – no joke), so getting a copy was no problem. It knocked my socks off. The voice work, by such luminaries as Bean – just the perfect hobbit voice for my money – Otto Preminger (legendary director and my favorite Mr Freeze), Richard Boone (absolute legend from the days of radio, and as Paladin in Have Gun, Will Travel), John Huston (my favorite Gandalf voice), Hans Conried, Paul Frees, Thurl Ravenscroft, Don Messik and Brother Theodore. Just great voices. Voices like that are pretty much unknown in this day and age – I think it was the smoking that gave them that quality, so honestly, it’s better that we don’t have those voices anymore, but they’re really a beloved part of my childhood.

Then there’s the design. Great stuff all, but can I tell you how much I love the elves in that cartoon. So alien, so weird – much better than the pretty boys running around in most fantasy stories. So bloody cool.

Now for the game-able pay-off.

I was thinking about plotting out how many XP old 0-level halfling Bilbo Baggins managed to earn in the Hobbit. He manages to sort of defeat the trolls, so that’s worth a few XP, and he gets a magic ring off Gollum (ring of invisibility / major artifact), but what he mostly does is save the dopey dwarves from danger. How do you award XP for saving things? Something like that would be pretty useful for chivalric campaigns, too, since knights in shining armor are supposed to do lots of that work.

Let’s consider really old school D&D for a moment. I remember reading some interviews with the original players of D&D, and they made it clear that the point of the game, early on, was treasure. Treasure is where you earned the big XP. Monsters gave you XP, sure, but they also had a tendency to kill you. Smart player wanted to find a way to get the treasure without fighting the monsters – or without fighting them fairly.

Back to rescues. When you’re out rescuing dwarves or maidens or singing princes (NO – NO SINGING!), the rescued party is like the treasure you’re seeking. So what’s that treasure worth?

My first thought was to make rescuing a person worth as much XP as you’d get fighting them – which kind of works for a bunch of dwarven fighters, but not so much for innocent children and other 0-level types. What we need is an effective level (or HD) for rescued people without a bunch of class levels of their own. Here’s an idea:

We’ll start with 1 HD for everyone. We’ll add +1 HD for Lawful/Good creatures, +2 HD if they’re effectively helpless, like children, and +1 HD if they’re mostly helpess (i.e. no spells, no weapons training). If we’re doing chivalry, maybe we add something for the religious – like nuns, religious hermits, etc. – and maybe for being part of the noble classes. I guess folks can come up with other bonuses based on their own campaigns.

So, if a band of adventurers set out to rescue a Lawful princess who has given her life to God, she might be worth: 1 HD + 1 HD for Lawful + 1 HD for religious + 1 HD for noble + 1 HD for being mostly helpless (no spells, no fighting ability as such) = 5 HD.

So, RIP Orson Bean – God’s speed, sir.

Less Than Ideal

Here’s a little idea that just popped into my head that I thought folks might find useful when one needs to generate a NPC personality on the fly with very little to go on. It works on the idea of, for lack of a better term, stereotypes.

In D&D – heck, in so many things – there is a general conception of what an elf or dwarf or magic-user (etc.) should be. Maybe these ideas come from the game books or other pop culture, and maybe they change over time, but they do exist. Take elves, for example. Lots of RPG’ers have an idea in mind of how an elf behaves and what they look like. Consider this as, rather than a stereotype, an ideal. The ideal elf in old D&D was 5′ tall, Chaotic Good, came from the woodlands, etc.

How many elves, though, live up to this ideal? Perhaps, when an elven NPC shows up, we can roll a dice, perhaps a good old fashioned d6, to find out how close the NPC is to the ideal. Maybe a “6” means we have the perfect elf in front of us. But for every point lower than a “6”, we dial that elf one step from the ideal.

Here’s where we get free-form with this thing. The ways in which the NPC differs from the elven idea is up to the DM. Say we roll a “5”. We have an almost ideal elf, but he differs in one particular way. If we think of elves as having happy personalities, maybe our elf is morose. Maybe he doesn’t come from the woodlands, but instead the coasts. Maybe he’s a step away from Chaotic Good – Neutral Good or Chaotic Neutral. Maybe he’s stout instead of lean, dresses in scarlet instead of green – whatever your conception of an elf is, this guy doesn’t quite live up to it.

Roll a “3” for a dwarf, and he differs from he dwarven idea in 3 ways – he’s Lawful Neutral, lean instead of stout and is funny instead of dour … or he has auburn hair, prefers the woods to being underground and thinks elves are groovy.

A simple d6 roll, an idea of an ideal, and a little imagination to get a memorable NPC.

Dragon by Dragon – March 1982 (59)

Well, a day late and a dollar short, but late is better than not at all.

It was in March of 1982 that thousands of people all over the world were unwrapping Dragon #59, with that groovy cover by James Holloway.

So, here’s ten cool things about this issue:

1. The More Things Change …

In “Out on a Limb” we get two arguments/laments/complaints that will feature heavily in RPG discussions for … well, forever probably. First, on over powered PC’s

Ugh! And as if that weren’t enough, when I related this to a friend of mine, he merely sneered derisively and began telling me about what his 50th-level ranger (D:30, S:35) would do to such a wimp. I began to feel dizzy.

And

… I have found that evil characters not only have the most fun, but they add spice and intrigue to the campaign, which helps the other players enjoy it more.

Overpowered characters and evil characters. If you’re dealing with them in your own game, know that you’re not the first, won’t be the last and no, there’s no answer to your problem. Just roll with and try to have a good time.

2. Cantrips

Ah, the introduction of cantrips, or 0-level spells, to AD&D. Now, in 1982 they were something different than they would be later. The 0-level spells were really very simple and not powerful at all, unless somebody knew how to be creative with them. They let you add salt to food or shine up a shield. The bee cantrip was probably the closest you were going to get to an offensive spell, and it’s not detailed in this issue. Still, I remember as a wide-eyed kid thinking that cantrips, like everything else the brain trust at TSR did, were awesome.

3. Giants in the Earth

I always love this feature – stats for literary characters, which also served as a way of introducing little squirts like myself to fantasy literature. This issue has Poul Anderson’s Sir Roger De Tourneville (NG 10th level fighter), a 14th century English warrior who took over an alien spaceship that planned on conquering the Earth. I’ve never read The High Crusade, but I must say I’m intrigued.

It also has stats for L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s Harold Shea (CG 7th level fighter with special spell abilities). Depending on when you discovered fantasy literature, you might have heard that de Camp and Pratt were tantamount to devils for some of their pastiches of other authors’ works. Again, being an innocent at the time, I took such crimes for granted. Fortunately, I grew up, picked up some paper backs, and found I rather enjoyed some of their original works. Remember kids – don’t take anyone’s word for it when it comes to art – positive or negative – check it out and see what you think.

The article is rounded out with Alexei Panshin’s Anthony Villiers (NG 10th level ranger, 7th level thief) and Clifford D. Simak’s Mark Cornwall (LG 4th level fighter with full sage abilities) and Snively (LG 3rd level gnome fighter with special spell abilities).

Dig also the way things were defined back in the day. “X level something with special sauce”. I think they would have been better off statting up these characters as monsters – use class levels when you need a handy thumbnail sketch. If you have to color too far outside the lines, use freeform monster stats.

4. Gypsies

Even though by 1982 the game had been around for a while, there were still some archetypes left to explore. Gypsies have their place in fantasy stories for sure, but also in old school horror. What would Larry Talbot have done without them?

This article is pretty in-depth, and includes a gypsy fortune-telling chart, and a couple cool new spells. For the chart – read the magic. For one of the spells, look below:

The first is Summon Equine Beings, a “‘druid” spell which may be cast by nobles of third level (bard) or better, or by any of the magic viols. The spell is similar to call woodland beings but brings to the aid of the gypsies one type of the following equine or quasi-equine beings:

4-16 ponies, burros, or donkeys
4-16 horses or mules
4-8 centaurs
1-4 hippogriffs/pegasi/hippocampi
1-2 unicorns

The likelihood of attracting hippocampi is extremely rare, but if the spell is cast on the seashore or in a boat, they have as good a chance of being affected as any other equine being. The number of beings summoned is doubled when the spell is cast by the Great Viol of Pharaoh. All wild equine beings save at -5; domestic horses, mules, ponies, etc., at -4; warhorses and other trained steeds (pegasi, etc.) at -1. A paladin’s warhorse saves normally. Gypsies are always on good terms with any creatures summoned, so no loyalty check applies.

5. Monsters

This issue has Ed Greenwood’s bleeder, which looks like a beholder but has blood-sucking tentacles instead of eye stalks, Michael Parkinson’s Stymphalian birds and Roger Moore’s spriggan. I love spriggans, and have used Stymphalian birds in NOD, though not the version presented here.

6. Traveller

Full admission – never played it, but was always aware of it. I did mess around with character creation once, but that’s it. God knows that TRAVELLER has a big fan base out there, and this issue has two items for the game. The first are stats for a group of characters that appear in a short story in the magazine, “Skitterbuggers”. The second is a full fleshed out spaceport/adventure – “Exonidas Spaceport”. Now, not being a TRAVELLER aficionado, I can’t really review these items – but check them out if you love the system or just need some brain fuel for a sci-fi game. Heck, with all the Star Trek stuff I’ve been playing with lately, I’m sure I could make use of the space port plans if nothing else. The art is quite groovy as well.

 

7. Halflings

Dragon had a neat series of “Point of View” articles, which examined the different races (and I think maybe some monsters) in depth. Roger Moore writes here about the halflings. Now, of course, none of this has to be taken as gospel, but it’s surely one take on the subject, and useful for folks who were knew to fantasy gaming. It also includes a bunch of halfling deities which found their way into Legends & Lore. I can definitely remember when, as a kid, I did take this stuff for gospel … and loved it!

8. Poisons

Well, if you’ve decided to spice up a game with an evil PC, you’ll surely want some poison to play with. This issue has more poisons than you’ll know what to do with, and it’s a neat reminder of how the old game worked – everything hand-made, nothing standardized and simplified. Personally, I miss it … and don’t miss it. Depends. Here’s a sample poison:

GHOUL SWEAT: A scummy green gel, used like Chayapa. Smells like rotten meat. Its effect is to paralyze for 5-10 (d6 + 4) rounds. It acts immediately. Save for no effect, made at +1.

9. What’s New with Phil & Dixie

I mentioned Phil Foglio’s contribution to Star Trek fanzines a post or two ago, and now here he is as I was introduced to him, in Dragon. I always like the strip, and appreciated the humor … and yeah, had a total crush on Dixie.

Unfortunately, I can’t leave you with Wormy this time, because it didn’t appear. Drat the luck. All in all, a groovy issue with lots of good ideas.

Have fun boys and girls, and be kind to one another!

 

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 …