The McNod Group

Hey all you cats and kittens … just writing a grab bag today because hey, sometimes you can’t focus … especially not on the last nice week of weather Vegas will see until October!

I’ll be covering things today like they did on the McLaughlin Group, hence the stupid post title.

ISSUE ONE – Slipgate Chokepoint

Andrew Walter has a Kickstarter running for a pen & pencil re-creation of a 90’s era first-person shooter video game. If those games make you all goose-pimply, then check it out. The product is a supplement to the Stay Frosty RPG, and aims to turn the action in that game up a notch – faster and more deadly. Give it a look see, ladies and gentlement. There are still 22 days left on the campaign, so plenty of time to get in on the ground floor.

ISSUE TWO – MEMORIAL DAY

Another Memorial Day rolls around, and unfortunately we have even more American warriors to remember in 2020. My grandfather served in World War II as a doctor in a field hospital set up to take care of the survivors of the Hiroshima bombing. He didn’t tell stories about it, because I imagine the things he saw he didn’t want the rest of us to struggle with. A great-uncle of mine was a Seabee. I remember him talking about how eerie it was to be on an island, thick with jungle, and know that there were Japanese soldiers out there, just beyond the lights, watching.

I also have a couple uncles who served in the Korean War, one in the US Army, the other the Marine Corps. My father served in the US Air Force during the Vietnam War. What I’m saying is that I’ve been lucky enough to know many people who served their country, and I’m sure many of you readers have as well. If you don’t know anyone who served, I’d say get out there and get to know one – it enriches your perspectives about a great many things. There aren’t many World War II veterans left, nor veterans of the Korean War. It’s hard to believe that the Vietnam Veterans are now as old as the WW2 vets were when I was a little kid. I’m not saying you should try to drag war stories out of people – those tales can be very painful. I’m just saying it’s very worthwhile to get to know people who have survived the experience of war. And honor them, because they need the love.

ISSUE THREE – THINK SMALL

I suppose there are some readers out there who aren’t mired in Great Depression-era unemployment as a result of lockdowns from COVID-19 – count yourselves lucky. My own state of Nevada has hit 28% unemployment, the highest in the country and double what we had during the Great Recession. Folks, it’s tough out there, and especially for small businesses. If you have the ability to do so, throw as much of your business as possible their way. The giant megacorps will suffer, but not nearly as much, and frankly, if half the McDonalds or Starbucks had to close, there would still be lots of McDonalds and Starbucks … though I’d hate to see their employees lose their jobs.

Still, when little independently run businesses give up the ghost, they’re gone forever. In the last couple weeks we’ve gotten back out to Cash 4 Chaos, the punk/rock shop we dig – got a VHS copy of Ladyhawke we watched last night and a some bitchin’ shirts for my daughter and me. We hit our favorite antique mall on Saturday, all masked up, and then ordered dinner from our favorite mexican restaurant, Casa Don Juan, which re-opened this weekend. We’ve been hitting as many of our favorite spots as we can, including the awesome Omelet House 50’s Diner we’ve patronized for the last 25 years – it’s run by some really beautiful folks. It sounds like Zia Records is open again, so I’m itching to visit them, and to get back out to Boulder City and all their great restaurants and shosp. Remember, these folks are really hurting, and they need your help to stay open, so please consider throwing your coin their way.

ISSUE FOUR – LADYHAWKE ON VHS

Since I brought it up – how great is Ladyhawke? It’s such a cozy movie in many ways – up close and personal, not grand and overbearing like so many modern flicks. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but Broderick is great (and I wonder if this movie had any effect on him getting Ferris Bueller), Michelle Pfeiffer is wonderful and so lovely and Rutger Hauer just loosk perfect on that black charger, hawk on his arm, zweihander by his side. The curse of the lovers is tragic, keeping them apart, and I dig the ending, whereby it becomes more a “man vs. self” story than “man vs. man”. If you haven’t watched the film, give it a shot. The uber 80’s soundtrack lends the movie an air of weirdness, but if you grew up on that sound, it’s just nostalgic gravy.

Like I mentioned above, since I got a couple working VCR’s last year we’ve been enjoying grabbing some favorite movies on VHS. In the last month, we’ve done some old school viewings of Ladyhawke, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Legend (which I’d never seen straight through) and the three Star Wars films (there are only three of them, you know … Return of the Jedi was the last one they made … just leave me to my illusions) before that Lucas guy messed with them.

Watching the movies on VHS is partly nostagia, since I grew up not only watching those things, but working in the World’s Largest Video Store (and meeting my future wife there). The picture below is of the music video section at my store, the Video Park – it was a rereation of the Beetle’s Yellow Submarine. We had a real haunted house for the horror movies, a circus tent for the kid’s movies, and a brothel for the adult films. We also had some really awesome bosses in Dale & Lisa Clark and Harold Vosko. I notice that in the left-hand corner of the picture below you can just see a bit of the sports section, which looked like the Thomas & Mack center. God, I miss that job!

I also like VHS tapes because DVDs sort of piss me off. Too much nonsense before you get to the film, and too little control over what button you can press and when. A VHS tape is simple and friendly – put it in, hit play, maybe fast forward through some previews if you’re not in the mood – and you watch your movie.

Just remember – be kind, rewind!

ISSUE FIVE – DANCING TURKEYS

To end on a happy note, here is a video of Jimmy the Turkey dancing from the Kyle The Rooster channel. Stay strong folks, and try to keep that glint in your eye and grin on your kisser.

More game related fun coming soon!

Spy Smasher is Smashing! [Review]

Last night, I revved up the old Roku and watched Spy Smasher Returns on Netflix. Spy Smasher Returns is a film created by putting together pieces of the Spy Smasher serial from the 1940’s, and if you’re interested in running any kind of pulp-era adventure game, you need to watch this film.

It’s not for the story – a basic little thing about Nazi saboteurs and spies operating in the United States and getting their orders from a fellow called The Mask who operates from a submarine off the coast (the coast of what – who knows?).

The acting isn’t bad for a serial, but not Oscar caliber either. No – the two reasons you want to watch this film (or the serial) are the stunts and the settings.

Gaming is often about scenes – setting the stage, introducing the players and then shouting “Action!”, which makes movies and television shows excellent fodder for the imagination. Spy Smasher has some excellent settings to drop the players into – a clay factory with roaring ovens, a rickety-looking lumber yard building, a Nazi submarine, a houseboat, a train, a motor boat, etc. All provide interesting obstacles and opportunities for supporting the action.

The second reason has little to do with gaming – the stunts. Absolutely fabulous stunts (and the same goes for the old Captain America serial, which I’ve mentioned before) that remind you how fun movies were before CGI came into existence. These knuckleheads go all out in the fight scenes – leaping around, flipping each other, bludgeoning one another with balsa wood chairs), Spy Smasher roars around on a motorcycle like a madman, a wooden tower gets blown up and collapses, a motor boat takes on a submarine, etc.

So – my highest rating (892 stars) goes to Spy Smasher Returns / Spy Smasher. Check it out HERE folks.

Greatest Fantasy Cartoon of All Time?

No. Not really.

But, I will put the last 15 minutes of this old Japanese cartoon about iron age Scandinavians up against any fantasy cartoon on the market for pure, gonzo greatness. You have no idea how much I want to start statting things up for this, but I can’t. I’d ruin it for you. So, go out and find it – I watched it on Netflix as The Little Viking Prince.

Later, if you’re good (and if I find some time in between watching my pride and joy in her latest play and converting “one last file” for Rappan Athuk (note: not the last file, really) and writing NOD 15 and editing Blood & Treasure) I’ll post the rest of Mother Goose & Goblins. If not tonight, then Sunday (’cause Saturday is Dragon by Dragon day).

Oh – and I’ll swear that the person doing Horus/Hols voice in that cartoon also did Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer in the Rankin-Bass production of same.

Ruminations on Doctor Who and the Failings of the Imperial Office Corps

Over Christmas, the fam and I bought a router so I could be productive on my new laptop. As an added bonus, we discovered how ridiculously easy it was to hook the Wii up to the internet. I now have access to Netflix via the Wii on the TV, which brings me to Doctor Who.

A while back, I briefly got into watching the new Doctor Who series on BBC America, and I almost enjoyed them. They were okay, I guess, but didn’t totally click with me. This tends to be the case with me and new sci-fi – it’s not a matter of dislike (well, sometimes it is), but more often a case of “meh”. Strangely enough, I like sci-fi but I’m not that big on special effects, and I’m really bored with computer generate effects. Anyways … with the Netflix hook-up, I’ve started watching old Doctor Who episodes, specifically the ones starring Tom Baker. I’ve never seen them before, but I instantly fell in love with them – right up my alley. I just finished watching “City of Death” and that brings me to the Imperial Office Corps.

The villain in City of Death is Julian Glover, who played General Veers in Empire Strikes Back. As with most people my age who are into sci-fi and fantasy (and science-fantasy), I’ve probably spent a tad more time thinking about Star Wars than is healthy, and in those ruminations it occurred to me that Veers was really the only Imperial in all the movies who ever succeeded at, well, anything. Grand Moff Tarkin and all his little moffs failed to destroy the rebellion with their technological terror, the various admirals were like the Keystone Cops (clumsy and stupid) and even Vader was a big failure – never caught Luke, never turned Luke, eventually got his ass kicked by Luke. The Emperor also failed in his attempts to turn and kill Luke, undone by his earlier (and maybe only, for all we know) success of turning Vader and establishing the Empire. Veers alone, in true British bad-ass style, didn’t screw up – he took out the force field on Hoth and his forces over-ran the secret base.

Now, most students of military history will not be surprised about this. Totalitarian states tend to have crappy officer corps because the ruling elite fear putting competent people in charge of their military – that’s a recipe for a coup. Incompetence among the overlord’s minions isn’t just a Hollywood invention.

So here’s to Veers, the finest officer in the clown college of evil incompetence that was the Galactic Empire!

HUZZAH!

And Boba Fett doesn’t count, he was an independent contractor.

Two Bad Brothers That We Know So Well

One of my favorite game mechanicians of the d20 era was Erica Balsley. She was a monster gal – did some great stuff for the Tome of Horrors and Creature Catalog and did some neat conversions for Bard Games’ old Atlantis setting. Years ago, I came across a template she wrote for the “Mephit Lord”. The mephit lord template was applied to mephits to make high-powered elemental baddies like the Steam Lord, Lord Miser, Smoke Lord, etc. All mephit lords had an attack called a “clutch”, which tipped off their origins …

Now, I’ve long since lost track of that original template – it was on some message somewhere – but it eventually showed up in the Book of Templates Deluxe Edition. I still have the stats for Heat Lord and Snow Lord, though, and here they are in Swords & Wizardry format.

Fire Lord: HD 12; AC -3 [22]; Atk 2 claw (1d6+4) or 1 clutch (4d6); Move 15 (Fly 24); Save 3; CL/XP 18/3800; Special: Fire mephit abilities + breath weapon (4d4), clutch, regenerate 4 hp/round, only harmed by +2 or better magic weapons.

The clutch of the Heat Lord deals 4d6 points of fire damage to living opponents, and instantly melts or incinerates any non-living, non-magical matter of man-size or smaller. Magic items are allowed a saving throw to resist this effect.

Ice Lord: HD 12; AC -3 [22]; Atk 2 claw (1d6+4) or 1 clutch (4d6); Move 15 (Fly 24); Save 3; CL/XP 18/3800; Special: Ice mephit abilities + breath weapon (4d4), clutch, regenerate 4 hp/round, only harmed by +2 or better magic weapons.

The clutch of the Snow Lord deals 4d6 points of cold damage to living opponents and instantly freezes and shatters any non-living, non-magical matter of man-size or smaller. Magic items are allowed a saving throw to resist this effect.

Mephit Lords are always accompanied by 2d6 mephits of the appropriate type. They can summon 1d6 mephits with a 75% chance of success.

The relevant mephit stats are:

Fire Mephit

A fire mephit breathes a 15-foot cone of fire that deals 1d8 damage (saving throw for half). Once per hour it can cast burning hands, and once per day it can heat metal. A fire mephit regenerates if it is touching a flame at least as large as a torch.

• Fire Mephit: HD 3; AC 2 [17]; Atk 2 claw (1d6); Move 12 (Fly 21); Save 14; CL/XP 5/240; Special: Harmed by magic weapons, breath weapon, burning hands, heat metal, regenerate, summoning.

Ice Mephit

Ice mephits breathe a 10-foot cone of ice shards that deals 1d4 damage (saving throw for half) and imposes a -2 penalty to AC and attack rolls. Once per hour an ice mephit can cast magic missile and once per day they can chill metal. An ice mephit regenerates if touching a piece of ice of or if the ambient temperature is 32°F. or below.

• Ice Mephit: HD 3; AC 1 [18]; Atk 2 claw (1d6); Move 12 (Fly 21); Save 14; CL/XP 5/240; Special: Harmed by magic weapons, breath weapon, chill metal, magic missile, regenerate, summoning.

And if you use these guys against your players, make sure you have them do the song and dance first – it will make the TPK that much more satisfying. Nobody likes to get their butt kicked by a song and dance man.

Image from Patrick Owlsley – check out his blog if you love old cartoons!

Influences

Most folks have seen the 15 games in 15 minutes meme floating around. Up till now, I haven’t participated because, frankly, I don’t think I could list 15 games that were influential on me. I’ve played most of the editions of D&D and AD&D, and they obviously have had some influence on me, for better or worse. I played some Warhammer Fantasy Battle and enjoyed it, likewise with Marvel Superheroes. That about sums up my wargaming and roleplaying gaming history. As a kid, I loved Battleship, Stratego and Risk, which are nominally about wargaming. Chess was enjoyable, but never really caught my attention – it mostly made me feel smart to say I was “playing chess”.

I’ve tended to fall backward into what one might called Geekishness (though I was always social awkward). When I was younger, I watched Star Trek with my dad and enjoy it to this day, though the spin-offs and reboots don’t really interest me. I was there for the beginning of Star Wars – had the action figures, watched the movies, etc. I started playing D&D before I discovered Tolkien and fantasy literature, and I was introduced to comic books after a friend convinced me to run Marvel Superheroes for him – up till then my only contact with superheroes was TV.

So, what are my chief influences?

Batman
Still my favorite Batman, although Brave and the Bold comes close. I like fun superheroes more than dark and serious superheroes. So sue me.

Superfriends
We played lots of Superfriends on the playground in elementary school. Most popular hero – Green Lantern. He could make anything with that ring!

Wonder Woman
Watched this one every week on TV.

Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman
Another one we watched every week. The robot people who could remove their faces scared the crap out of me as a kid.

Incredible Hulk
Another one we watched regularly – and by “we” I mean my family. This was back in the days of one TV per house and watching it together more than apart.

Underdog
My first favorite superhero.

Battleship
Yeah, I had the electronic version. Took forever to set it up – and God forbid you screw up, because then you had to start entering your coordinates all over again.

Dungeons & Dragons
Started with Moldvay red box and in many ways it is still my favorite set of basic rules. The embed code has been disabled, so you’ll have to click to see.

Thundarr the Barbarian
Watched Thundarr before I encountered Gamma World, and in truth my first perception of Gamma World was “Wow, it’s like a Thundarr RPG”.

Jonny Quest
For my money, still the best adventure cartoon ever made. The high tech is make believe but feels real, the attention to detail is great – just love it.

Star Wars
As a kid, it was the alpha and omega.

Star Trek
I watch and enjoy them to this day, probably for the same reason I still love the 60’s Batman.

Oh – and a bonus video here (the embed has been disabled). For years I thought that I must have imagined that this existed because I could find no sign of it.