Actuaries in Outer Space

Holy smokes! Three months since the last post – not a record, but pretty bad. I now deploy some chaff in the form of excuses – tons of work to do around (inside and outside) the house, a one-year old puppy (we were just in the backyard – he was doing donuts around me like a maniac) and – and here’s more of a reason than an excuse – I was doing research for the blog. This is the first of three posts I was researching – and the first for which I finished my research – so stay tuned.

Who is Manning Draco?

I would have asked that question myself a couple months back. I was goofing off on the Internet Archive, doing some random searches for star names, and up popped a story about an outer space investigator for an insurance company. The first thing that struck me was a sense of deja vu – I knew I hadn’t read the story, but it was dang familiar. Turns out, I’d recently read another story by Kendell Foster Crossen which was written in a very similar manner to the Manning Draco tales.

After finishing the story, I went searching for more. The stories were humorous and creative – and the “world building” was wonderful. If you’re doing some light space opera or pulp sci-fi, you probably can’t do worse than read these stories for ideas. I knew I could get a fun blog our of the stories, so I started taking notes … and then it hit me. Some of the notes I was taking could really ruin the stories for first time readers. With that in mind, know that though I’ve tried to suppress spoilers, they probably have krept in just the same.

The Stories

Manning Draco was introduced by Crossen in “The Merakian Miracle” in Thrilling Wonder Stories Vol. 39 No. 1 published in 1951.This story was apparently popular, because it is followed by “The Regal Rigelian”, “The Polluxian Pretender” and the “Caphian Caper” in 1952, “Whistle Stop in Space”, “Mission to Mizar” in 1953 and “The Agile Algolian” in 1954.

The Setting

Manning Draco is a 35-year old man living in Nuyork on Earth in the 35th century. He is good-looking, quick-thinking, positively addicted to the ladies and makes a living as an insurance investigator for The Greater Solarian Insurance Company, Monopolated. Greater Solarian is run by J. Barnaby Cruikshank, age 41, who inherited a small insurance company from his father and turned it into a galactic monopoly. This isn’t too strange a thing – the Galactic Federation has more monopolies than competition.

All would be well for J. Barnaby (who is played by Lee J Cobb in my mind) if it weren’t for a galaxy full of people trying to cheat his company out of trillions of credits. The two worst offenders, early on, are two of his own insurance salesmen, the Rigelian Dzanku Dzanku, and his Terran sidekick Sam Warren. Rigelians come from a culture of corruption, and Sam is a perfect toady. The two give Manning plenty of trouble, but he has an ace in the hole. Manning Draco is the only human to have ever developed a secondary mind shield. In a universe of psionic species, it has saved his life more than once.

The Federation has 107 members. It is governed by a president and an assembly called the Assembly of the Stars. The Federation’s capital is Rigil Kentaurus. The dominant political party is the Republicrats (kind of like in the USA). The members of the Federation are not often on good terms – the Capellans hate the Polluxians, the Procyonese hate the Acturusians, the Vegans hate the Achernarians, etc.

The Federation Bureau of Investigation gets a mention, and appears to be as iffy as our own FBI. The Galactic Police wear black uniforms and are armed with large-barrelled guns from which fire force nets. The Federation Patrol wear yellow uniforms.

The first planetary union was founded at the end of the Seven Hundred Years War. The Festival of Planets, celebrating the foundation of the Federation, is held from the first Friday in May to the following Sunday.

The Technology

Spaceships run on magnidrive, which puts Starfleet’s warp drive to shame. Manning’s ship, the Alpha Actuary, can get from Earth to Rigil Kentaurus in about 10 minutes, and intergalactic travel is not unknown – Greater Solarian has some interests in Andromeda. Most of the trappings of pulp sci-fi are present – televisors, ray guns of various sorts, etc. The key thing to remember is that these stories are not hard sci-fi – the tech doesn’t really matter – it’s more window dressing.

Hypno-perfumes were banned in 2963.

Sub-atomic guns can bring down anything up to a Marfakian lair lizard, which weighs up to 70 tons.

A Guide to the Galaxy

If there are going to be spoilers in this post, this is where they’ll be.

Part of the fun of Manning Draco is the world-building (or more properly galaxy-building). When Manning gets an assignment, he listens to an encyclotape to learn a few things about the place he is visiting. The stories include footnotes to better explain off-hand references – it’s like the things were designed for gamers!

Achernar: The Achernarians are evolved from bees, and inherited their tempers. They are 2 feet long and have six appendages. The two front appendages have double-thumbed hands, while the others are used for walking upright. The drones are the politicians on Achernar. They have wings, but they are not strong enough to fly. Their eyes are weak, so most need glasses. Achernarians are very intelligent, but physically weak. They are always irritable. The Federation’s fiercest citizens, their soldiers wear atomic-powered armor and are nearly invincible in them. 

Acrux: Acrux and its satellites (the Acruxian Axis) have long opposed the Federation. Acruxians are related to the Rigelians. They stand 7 feet tall and are incredibly strong. They have cylindrical bodies on three sturdy legs, dark grey skin, red, round, knob-like heads perfectly smooth except for a mouth opening and inverted ears covered by fine, sensitive hairs. They have four tentacles, two at waist level and two at shoulder level, and two eye stalks. Acruxians have booming voices and difficulty pronouncing the letter ‘r’. Acruxians are expert lock-pickers. They attempt assassination at the smallest slight – failure means the gods do not wish them success, so they do not try again. They consider material goods more important than people, so harming their goods is the worst insult you can offer an Acruxian. Notable is the Acruxian leeba highball cocktail. Acruxian pets are basically living balloons – go read the stories to get the full picure.

Al Na’ir: This system produces a cool, green wine.

Al Suhail IV: The dominant race evolved from an animal similar to the Terran mouse. They have eight-fingered hands, and are, indeed, quite mousy in temperament.

Aldebaran III: The inhabitants are humanoid and very much like humans, but with silky blonde fur on their heads instead of hair. They have husky, sensual voices. Aldebaranians have natural telepathic shields. They are masters of seduction. Evolved from fruit bats, they are still exclusively fruit-eaters. They are often attracted to humans, and Terran-Aldebaranian marriages often work very well.

Aldebaran IV: The inhabitants of this planet are very similar to those of its sister planet … and I can say no more. 

Alnilam: Alnilam fire-ice is part Alnilam frozen rum, part pineapple-lime ice, and part pure explosion.

Alpha Centauri: The Alpha Centaurans are actual centaurs.

Alpha Cygni: A planet of this star has professional mind-probers.

Alphard VI: This is the only inhabited planet among ten in the system. It is a Class C planet, despite having a civilization which rates Class B because the Alphardians are incurably eccentric. The planet is almost a twin to Earth in terms of gravity, atmospheric pressure, size and shape. It has seven moons which are so close to be always visible, six of the seven revolve around the seventh so rapidly that they make people dizzy. Alphardians are evolved from the order scolopendromorpha, subclass epimorpha – i.e. centipedes. From the eaist down they are 6 foot long russet-brown centipedes. From the waist up they are extremely attractive humanoids. Their empire is in the 2000th year of the Ix Dynasty. The Emperor Romixon is the son of Dumixon. The City of Ix holds the Royal Alphardian Library.

Alpheratz: Populated by giants.

Andromeda Galaxy: At one point we meet Captain mmemmo of this galaxy, trying to recruit young men for the Pleasure Camps of Andromeda. Andromeda is a matriarchal galaxy, and they rely on slaves for their entertainment. mmemmo is humanoid, with metallic skin, a perfectly round head with a small, mouth-like opening (like a speaker on a robot) and above it a larger oval opening with an electric eye. 

Arcturus: Mention is made of the pleasure islands of Arcturus.

Algol: I can’t say much about the Algolians here – you need to read the stories. Under the Treaty of 3106, Terrans were forbidden from visiting Algol.

Atik: The dullest planet in the galaxy. They reproduce by fission, and thus their dullness is attributed by some to the fact that they have never discovered the joy of sex.

Canopus I: Mention is made of the City of Sentiment. Canopusia is their capital city. Canopusians have body and head as one piece, like an inverted gourd. They have two stubby legs, two tentacles placed midway on their body, a bud-like mouth, two eyes similar in shape to a human’s and a third eye on a thin, flexible 3-inch long stalk. There are two circular rows of stiff hairs on their heads – the outer row is hearing hairs, the inner row olfactory in nature. They stand 3 feet tall, and have lemon yellow skin.  

Caph: This system has two planets in the same orbit. They are Class G planets. Both planets exist in a time fracture. One year in the galaxy is 20 years on Caph II, while one year on Caph II is 5,200 years on Caph I. Caph II has a light side and dark side – the dark side is warmer than it should be due to volcanic activity, while the light side is uniformly 75-degrees F. The planet has no moon. Caph II has blue sands, towering purple trees and pink water that tastes faintly like champagne. The dominant species, evolved from bats, live in the dark side. They are humanoids with small faces, pointed noses, tiny eyes, huge ears, light brown hair on their faces and especially long webbed fingers. They stand about 5 feet tall. The main city is Optville, and I won’t say more to avoid spoilers, other than that the Caphians are non-telepaths with naturally impenetrable mind shields.

Castor: Castorian rummy is played with three decks of 95 cards each – seven suits of 13 cards and four super-jokers – orbit, comet, asteroid and nova. Each player gets 39 cards and plays three games simultaneously.

Deneb XIV: An outlaw planet. The Denebians are bird creatures, about three feet long, two feet tall, with wings evolved into arms with three-fingered hands. They have long beaks with double rows of teeth and brown and white feathers with a black stripe across the eyes. They are thieves and murderers.

Denebola: The dominant species is evolved from the ass (i.e. donkey).

Ganymede: Mention is made of a Ganymedian dancing girl.

Hamal: Hamal is home to Sin City, which has an area called the Twilight Zone.

Kholem: A planet in the Coma-Virgo Galaxy. The Kholemite met by Draco is roughly humanoid, with light purple skin. Its hands have five fingers and two thumbs. Its head is pyramidal, with slanted eyes, a v-shaped mouth and no apparent nose or ears. Kholemites can survive in the vacuum of space. They have no sexes or reproduction, but are actually the children of a species called the Dreaming Old Ones. These creatures project geometric shapes which turn into Kholemites – who are all geomatric in nature, but might be different shapes and colors. They have eidetic memories.

Kochab: Kochabian sex dervishes are mentioned. Kochabians have six arms.

Martians: The personal secretary of J. Barnaby Cruikshank is a Martian by the name of Lhano Xano. She has red head-fur, copper skin and three eyes. Most Martians are exceedingly thin, but Lhano has a bit of figure, and Manning spends a few stories trying to win her affection. Martians stand around 7 feet in height. They speak with a slight lisp. They are not known for their sense of humor, but they do have love poetry. Manning has a collection of tsigra art from the Zylka period. Martians are telepathic.

Merak II: This planet has recently been opened up to galactic trade. The natives call themselves Deetahs. They are not humanoid, but rather have globular bodies with no necks or heads. Their mouths, noses, eyes and ears appear as needed on the surface of their bodies. They usually have two arms and two legs, but they can change that as well, and they can stretch up to 20 feet. Deetahs can stand from 3 to 8 feet tall and live as long as 400 years. They have high-pitched voices. I’d say more, but I’d be giving too much away. They are culturally and socially Class D. The planet has a population of 75 million. Its capital city is Tor-Melpar. The architecture is all spherical lines. Charted 362 years ago by Galactic Commander Daniel Horlan, it has 0.9 Earth mass, 0.976 Earth volume, 0.97 Earth gravity, is 6900 miles in diameter and has a day that lasts 25 hours and 6 minutes.

Mizar I: A binary system. The only inhabited planet is Mizar I, but the other planets are rich in mineral wealth. The dominant species is Class B, but technologically behind the Federation. They dwell entirely underwater in cities protected by synthetic bubbles with fresh air extracted from the water. They coralscape their cities, and have extensive algae farms; whales are used as dairy livestock. The Mizarians evolved from the platypus, and it shows. They stand 6′ tall, lay eggs and have retained their poisonous heel spurs. They are cryptesthesists – they can predict a creature’s next action, but are not telepathic. Mizar is an empire ruled by His Royal Mostness Emperor Alis Volat. The planet has a small island holding a spaceport for visitors. 

Muphrid VIII: A Class A planet with a humanoid population, the Greater Solarian has only recently opened a branch office here. The Muphridians look almost completely human save for their head of feathers – steel gray and blue. Their minds cannot be read by telepaths. They evolved from parameciums, and thus reproduce by fission.

Pluto: This planet has a metal termite. It is a blind, subterranean insect, about 10 feet long and weighing 3,000 pounds. It devours ore and excretes pure metal, so it’s valuable to Terran mining companies.

Polaris: Produces spiced wines.

Pollux I: A Class D planet, and thus not a member of the Federation. There are only 25 families on the planet, each with one billion members. The planet’s environment is similar to Earth in the Jurassic period. The dominant species evolved from crocodiles, and look like bipedal crocodile with shorter snouts than their predecessors. They wear Earth-style clothing. Aatobi Uu, most beautiful Emperor of Pollux, wears a toga and crown. The first two letters of a name are silent, and denote only social position. Uuville, the capital, has a small spaceport. The Polluxians do not travel in space, and relatively few Federation ships come to call due to their troublesome laws. Pteradactyls are used as riding beasts. The local liquor, dtssea, tastes like fermented swamp water. Polluxians are oviparous; the females lay self-fertilizing eggs, and begin having children as soon as they mature. The planet has 1.2 Earth mass, 1.17 Earth volume, 1.02 Earth gravity, is 7200 miles in diameter and has a day that lasts 27 hours and 5 minutes.

Praesepe I: Manning tried a cocktail on this planet that caused him to lose his voice for two days.

Procyon: Procyon suede is mentioned.

Rasalague: These people are 4 feet tall and formed like perfect human women. They have light blue hair, golden tanned skin and bright orange eyes. They wear a long white scarf that hangs between their breasts to their waist, a jeweled thong around their waist, and from that another white scarf. The rest I’ll keep secret, other than that they are natural telekinetics.

Regulus II: A recent admission to the Federation, its joining was viciously opposed by the Achernatian planets. The planet’s surface appears to be uninhabited; the dominant species is evolved from the star-nosed mole, and thus lives entirely underground. Their spaceport features one above-ground building – the residence of the Terran ambassador, who seems to despise the Regulusians. Zeloha is the planet’s capital. Regulusians stand as tall as humans. They have long tails covered with silky hair. Their hands resemble paws. They have long noses tipped with 22 light pink tendrils; a Regulusian’s nose blushes when they are embarassed. They are psionically sensitive, but not telepathic, and have natural barriers to telepathic reading. Because they are insectivores, they are hated by the Achernarians, who are evolved from bees. There has never been a murder in the history of Regulus II.

Rigel IV: The Rigelians get a bit of attention due to the prominance of Dzanku Dzanku in the stories. Rigelians are as tall as humans, but weigh about 1 ton. They have square torsos, legs like tree trunks, six tentacles projecting from their upper bodies, and small, expressionless faces topped by three eyestalks. You can only trust a Rigelian if they swear on their gambler’s oath.

Rigil Kentaurus: This system has two inhabited planets. The natives were moved by the Federation, who completely took over the system. One planet is the seat of government, while the other produces all the energy and industrial needs of its sister. Rigil Kentaurus I is entirely covered with buildings and parks. There are elaborate defense installations on Rigil Kentaurus II.

Sabik II: The Sabikians are 4 feet tall. Their bodies are slender and round from top to bottom. The upper half of their bodies are covered with straight platinum hair – it grows from the top of the head and falls downward like a mop. A pair of tentacles pokes from under this hair, and their two feet are like flippers. Sabikians have loud, deep, bass voices and malevolent minds. They are sightless, and thus rely on echolocation. Their anti-social nature means that patrol ships always accompany Federation merchantmen that trade at Sabik II. The Sabikians produce prohna, an alcohol distilled from the wild proh. It is green, with amber streaks, pale smoke curling from the top of the tall glass in which it is usually served. It burns the throar terribly.

Sirius III: Sirians marry in threes.

Spica: Wild love fruit from Spica is mentioned, as are Spican termites.

Upper Seginus: The people here are not remotely humanoid.

Vega: Vegans have skin the color of old jade. They have chlorophyll in their systems. High caste Vegans wear woven plastic suits. The planet is notable for its pastry.

Venus: Mention is made of the Venusian tree dragon.

Lots of detail for a few short stories folks, and ripe for a fun sci-fi campaign. I especially like the mix of detail and ambiguity – the detail is great for a quick game, but the ambiguities leave tons of room for devising your own material.

I’ll be back soon with some thoughts on Space Angel and Rocky Jones, Space Ranger.

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 …

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!

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!

Dragon by Dragon – May 1982 (61)

Wow – May of 1982. I was on the verge of being 10 years old, so probably 2 years away from discovering D&D, three from Tolkien and may five from superhero comic books. My only nerd-cred at the time was probably reading encyclopedias. What I do remember being excited about in 1982 – and begging to get for my birthday – were these new army figures called G.I. Joe. Have you seen these things? They’re like Star Wars figures (which I loved), but military (which I loved)! Awesome! I don’t remember exactly what I got that birthday, but I know I got a few of them, and I think I got the jet pack launch pad thingee. Unfortunately, within just a couple years I was done playing with toys, so I never had more than the originals and Doc. Good times, though!

Two-D’lusion (illusion)

A of E: 4 sq.”

CT: 1/6 segment

This cantrip is virtually the same as a phantasmal forces spell in most respects. The caster creates a two-dimensional illusion of whatever he or she desires. If any viewer observes it from an angle of more than about 45° from its horizontal or vertical viewing axis, the nature of the illusion will become immediately apparent. It is dispelled by touch or magic (dispel illusion or dispel magic). The illusion is invisible from the side or the rear. It lasts as long as the caster concentrates upon it. To effectuate the cantrip, the caster must speak a phrase descriptive of the illusion while making a circular motion with his closed hand.

Just so you know, “A of E” is “area of effect” and “CT” is casting time. I think 1/6 a segment would be 1 second, but I might be wrong on that. It’s been a while since I played AD&D.

It wouldn’t be until high school that I discovered Warhammer, and thus White Dwarf magazine. 

I always dig Giants in the Earth, either because it covers characters I know, or introduces me to new characters. This issue we get C. J. Cutliffe Hyne’s Deucalion, John Norman’s Tarl Cabot and Charles R. Saunders’ Dossouye. While I am aware of Cabot and have read some Saunders, I have never experienced first hand the characters described in this issue. I have, however, read Hyne’s The Lost Continent: The Story of Atlantis, from whence Deucalion comes (well, not really – it’s from ancient mythology really), and I can recommend it. A ripping yarn that, in my opinion, was reminiscent of Conan and such barbarian literature long before REH got his sandaled hero off the ground.

I always wanted one of those Dragonbone electonic dice rollers as a kid. A quick search on ebay revealed none for sale. Oh well – maybe some day.

Next are “Without Any Weapons …” by Phil Meyers and then “… or with a … Weird One” by Rory Bowman. The first has new rules for pummeling in AD&D, the rules for which were never very satisfying and always overly complex. They could have been quite simple, but the gaming zeitgeist of the time was all about complexity – a far cry from the old days when the game was the thing. The later article introduces new weapons for AD&D such as atlatls, blow guns, chakrams, bullwhips, etc. I had no interest in complex fighting rules, but always liked new additions like the weapons article.

For the gnome-curious out there, Dragon 61 had some groovy articles by Roger E. Moore about the littlest adventurers in AD&D. “The Gnomish Point of View” fleshes out the gnome characters – of course, your campaign may vary from Moore’s ideas, but it was always helpful, especially when I was young, to see how these things could be fleshed out. It is followed up with “The Gods of the Gnomes” – Baervan, Urdlen, Segojan and Flandal. Of course, Garl Glittergold was introduced earlier. I can remember thinking Flandal Steelskin was cool.

“Quest for the Midas Orb” by Jennie Good is the included module in Dragon 61. It was the third place winner at IDDC III, and I’ll admit I don’t know what that is. Here’s the introduction:

“Long ago in the land of Gnarda lived the worshippers of Kalsones, the god of wealth and power. Kalsones was a fair god who treated his followers kindly. As proof of his fairness and kindness in an era long past, he had presented the people with an artifact called the Midas Orb. Legends say if the Orb is held in one hand and another object is touched with the index finger of the other hand, the object touched will turn to pure gold.”

The adventure is a groovy dungeon crawl with some cool ideas in it. Well worth the read and probably well worth the exploration.

The “Dragon’s Bestiary” includes the Firetail by Ed Greenwood, the Umbrae by Theresa Berger, the Light Worm by Willie Callison and the Tybor by Jeff Brandt. Here’s the Light Worm for Blood & Treasure:

Light Worm by Willie Callison
Type: Monster
Size: Large
Hit Dice: 4
Armor Class: 14
Attack: Bite (1d6 + Poison IV)
Movement: 20′
Save: 16
Intelligence: Animal/Low
Alignment: Neutral
No. Appearing: 1 (25% chance of 1d3)
XP/CL: 1,200/6

SD – MR 75%, Immune (charm, hold, illusions), vulnerable (cold, fire)

Light worms are dungeon denizens with poisonous bites. They look like giant snakes with black underbellies and violet and light blue bands on their backs. The monster’s have two small bumps above their eyes, and stubs on their underside – perhaps vestigal legs. Victims of the light worm’s bite must save vs. poison (at +1 from the first bite, and a cumulative -2 penalty for each additional bite) or die in 1d8 minutes.

There is a 35% chance each round that the worm creates a 20′-diameter sphere of colored lights around victims within 120′. All creatures within the sphere are made dizzy for the first three rounds of their entrapment (-2 to attack, cumulative). In rounds four and five, they are so dizzy as to be incapacitated, and in round six they fall unconscious for 1d10+1 minutes, during which time they are devoured by the monster if at all possible.

Creatures that save against the sphere of lights are only made dizzy for three rounds, shaking off the effect thereafter. Dispel magic, mind blank and true seeing cut through the sphere of lights, as does a helm of telepathy.

The sphere of lights can be generated once every 12 hours.

Light worms are stunned for 1d3 rounds by the sticks to snakes spell, and the spell cancels a sphere of light currently in play.

The Monster Cards described in this issue were really cool. Each one depicts a monster painting on the front, and the stats on the back. If you can find some out in the wild, grab them, cherish them, and use them to kill player characters.

There is an article about introducing aging into the Ringside game, of which I know nothing. It is followed up by the “Jo-Ga-Oh – Little People of the Iroquois” by Conrad Froehlich. These are stats for three “monsters” that are quite groovy.

Gary Gygax has a supplement to Top Secret. Again, I know next to nothing about this game, but I like the level titles for infiltrators – snitch / foist / inside man / plant / ringer / contact / insinuator / penetrator / subversive / infiltrator. Given the title for 8th level, I guess we can assume that’s James Bond’s level. The article also has info on different types of missions, the XP value of them, and other notes. 

Boy – What’s New? With Phil and Dixie was just the best when you were in junior high …

It was fun discovering Phil Foglio’s art in old Star Trek fanzines. Everybody has to start somewhere!

Tramp’s Wormy has some gorgeous artwork – he was just getting better and better!

That, folks, is a wrap! Have fun folks, and please be kind to one another. 

Chainmailing It In

A couple weeks back, my daughter and I were chatting about games, and I realized that she hadn’t played a wargame yet. I thought at first about brushing up on the old Warhammer Fantasy Battle rules, but then decided it would be fun to use Gygax’s Chainmail rules. I’d never used them before, so it was an opportunity for my daughter and I to both learn something new.

First step – read the rules. Second step – try to reorganize the rules so I could understand them. What the founders of the hobby had in creativity they made up for with a lack of organization! In the process of learning the rules, I discovered some things about old school D&D while I also gained an appreciation for those rules. What follows are a few takeaways for those who dig the old school, and those who have never read Chainmail. FYI – I’m using the third edition rules, which I found online.

Figures in the game are divided into two sorts, each using a different combat table. The lowliest of the figurines are the regular troops. These fellows use one of two combat tables. If each figurine counts as 10 or 20 warriors, you use the mass combat table. On this table, you roll 1d6 (one dice is easier when rolling lots of dice for lots of figures), and have one of six ratings for attack and defense – light foot, heavy foot, armored foot, light horse, medium horse and heavy horse.

The closest thing in later editions of D&D to these figures is the men-at-arms, bandit (brigands), etc. In the first edition of D&D, though, these fellows show up on the character class combat tables – Men, or Men +1.

If each figure represent a single warrior, you use the man-to-man combat table. On this table you roll 2d6, with your chance of hitting based on the attacker’s weapon and the defender’s armor. This isn’t completely different than the mass combat table, but is more fleshed out – lots of weapon types, lots of armor types.

Beyond these normal warriors, you have the monsters, heroes, super heroes and wizards from the fantasy supplement. Wizards get five “levels” – seer, magician, warlock, sorcerer and wizard. Heroes fight as well as four men, and thus in D&D they are fourth level fighters. Super heroes are eighth level fighters, because they fight as well as eight men. Wizards fight as well as two men. There are special heroes called rangers – who are essentially heroes +1 (which is why AD&D rangers have two hit dice at first level).

The hero-types can attack using the mass combat table or man-to-man table against normal troops, or they can use the fantasy combat table to fight other fantasy figures. Against normal troops, heroes take 4 kills to kill, and super heroes 8.

With hero-types, you also see the origin of saving throws. Several monsters have special abilities that the hero-types can ignore if they roll above a number on 2d6.

On the fantasy table, the chances to kill are based on the type of attacker and type of defender. If a balrog is attacking a dragon, it needs to roll an 11+ on 2d6 to kill it. The dragon needs a 6+ to kill the balrog. Elves and fairies use this table (sort of) if they have a magic sword. This suggests that the inability of some monsters to be damaged by anything other than magic weapons or monsters with lots of Hit Dice originates here.

You better leave this one to me guys

OD&D Chainmail Style

If we were to carry these rules over to D&D, we would find some interesting changes. Combat between humanoids would pit weapon versus armor, not attack bonus vs. Armor Class. PC’s above first level would dominate lesser foes by the number of hits it takes to kill them, and by the number of enemies they can attack. This is an important point that often gets  lost in later editions. Melee rounds are one minute long. The number of attacks a figure gets are not a representation of how many times he can swing a sword during the round, but rather an abstraction of the number of potential chances he has to inflict damage on an opponent.

In mass combat, hero-types and monsters can attack multiple targets, but not necessarily make multiple “attacks” against a single target. This is reinforced by the fact that in fantasy combat, pitting heroes and monsters against one another, the entire combat is resolved with a single attack roll by each combatant, and no multiple hits are required to kill – it’s just one and done.

Bringing this concept into D&D could be interesting. A monster with two claw attacks and one bit attack can use them to attack three foes, but can only use any one of these attacks against a single figure.

Levels

The fantasy combat table does include the concept of improved attack ability, even though the mass combat table does not. For example:

Figure Wight Giant Dragon Balrog
Hero 6 11 12 11
Super Hero 4 9 10 9
Wizard 6 11 9 7

This table shows the target number (equal to beat) on 2d6 a figure needs to destroy the listed foes. Comparing the hero to the super hero, you see the super hero effectively gets a +2 bonus on his attacks. This translates into different percentage increases due to the nature of rolling 2d6, as opposed to 1d20. It averages out to a +25% bonus across the board (including monsters not on the table above), or a +5 bonus to hit on 1d20. Interestingly, the wizard attacks wights and giants as well as a hero, but is better than a super hero at defeating dragons and balrogs.

Improvement in “level” is more obvious for wizards in Chainmail than for heroes/super heroes. There are the five levels of magic-user, from seer to wizard. In D&D, seer is a title for 2nd level magic-users, magician for 6th level, warlock for 8th level, sorcerer for 9th and wizard for 10th.

With each level, you gain more spells, a greater range for your spells, and your chance to successfully cast spells increases. Yes – chance to cast spells. Spells come in six compexities, with a target number that must be rolled on 2d6 for the spell to happen immediately. Failure by 1 means the spell goes off in the next round. Failure by more than 1 means the spell casting fails completely.

When Chainmail became Dungeons & Dragons, they combined the idea of improved attack ability from the fantasy combat table with the multiple attacks/kills concept in the form of Hit Dice/hit points. The weapon vs. armor idea survived in AD&D as the weapons vs. Armor Class table that most of us ignored as kids, and as the combat system used in Gamma World.

In retrospect, the introduction of levels (and experience points) was a very cool idea, bringing a facet to the game absent in Chainmail. Rather than just being a “hero” wandering around a dungeon looking for treasure, you got to play out the building of a legend, from humble origins as a man-at-arms to eventual super hero status. That innovation is probably what helped build Dungeons & Dragons itself into a legend.

Doctors and Spies

In the process of plotting out a post about TV and film spies, with stats for the old James Bond RPG, I got to thinking about the succession of actors who played James Bond, which in turn got me thinking about the succession of actors who played the Doctor. I wondered about the timing, so I put together a timeline of the two franchises and found that their classic periods match up almost perfectly.

Please enjoy this little retrospective of Bonds and Doctors, as they regenerated through the years … including a couple who snuck in from alternate timelines!

1962

The film journey of James Bond begins in 1962 … not counting the American Jimmy Bond of the C.I.A. that showed up in the mid-1950’s on American television. Rugged Sean Connery took the role of the super spy, who started life a little bit more grounded, but ended Connery’s reign with the crazy gadgets and super-cars (not to be confused with Super Car) firmly established in the Bond universe. Connery’s Bond is the ruthless assassin of the novels. He appreciates the material pleasures, and keeps an emotional distance from others, as one might expect from a person in his position. Fortunately for Bond, Connery had an undeniable charisma on the screen, so we like the secret agent more than we probably should.

1963

A year later, we get our first glimpse of the wonderful TARDIS and its pilot, the Doctor, played by William Hartnell. Hartnell had a career in crime movies, and so brings a little subtle menace with him to the role of the mysterious Doctor. I remember reading somewhere that the show was intended to teach children about history … and then I found out the Daleks showed up pretty early in the series and realized that any history education kids were going to get was probably incidental.

1965

It’s really early on our journey, but we’ve already reached a fork in the road. In 1965, a non-BBC movie version of the good doctor appeared in the form of Doctor Who and the Daleks, starring Peter Cushing as the Doctor. Well, actually, starring Peter Cushing as Doctor Who, for that is how he was addressed. The movie is not in continuity with the TV series, despite the name and the presence of the Daleks, but it is kinda fun. The sequel was not as good. Still, I love the idea of Peter Cushing as an alternative First Doctor … maybe we should invent an alternative timeline of Doctors regenerating from Cushing?

1966

Hartnell’s time as the Doctor was to last only three years. Here’s where the creative team did something extraordinary. Instead of just replacing the lead actor, they regenerated him into somebody new and also the same. What a concept. Patrick Troughton steps into the roll of the Doctor, and brings with it an irrascible energy and vigor that I personally love. I really wish more of his series survived the BBC’s cost-cutting measures. My daughter and I call him the Angry Doctor (or sometimes Doctor Moe), and we both love him.

1967

In 1967 we make our second detour from “canon” with Casino Royale, a weird little parody of the series starring Peter Sellers, Woody Allen and, as the real James Bond (I think – it’s an odd film), David Niven. Had the Bond film franchise started in the 1950’s, Niven may well have played the roll. The movie didn’t do much for me, though I always appreciate Niven, and it had both an awesome movie poster by Robert McGinnis and a great theme song.

 

1969

The Doctor’s first regeneration is followed three years later by Bond’s first regeneration, with George Lazenby taking over for one film to very mixed reviews. Lazenby’s bond was a departure from the formula. Where Connery’s Bond was a more emotionally distant, Lazenby’s Bond gets married in the film to Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, played by Diana Rigg. This was faithful to the novel, but would not be repeated in the series for many years. Lazenby’s tenure was followed two years later by one more outing for Connery.

1970

The Third Doctor appears three years before the Third Bond, with Jon Pertwee beginning his celebrated tenure as the Doctor. Pertwee’s Doctor struck me as a bit less irrascible than Troughton’s, but still testy. This is also our first Doctor in color … big, bright, beautiful color. There’s so much right about this run. It was the first run of Who that I saw after I started watching the Tom Baker years, and I wasn’t sure at first that I was going to like it, but I really did.

1973

Just as many people associate the classic Doctor with the actor who had the longest tenure in the roll (just wait a minute, he’ll be along any time now), I think my generation probably associates Bond with Roger Moore. Yeah, when we got older, Gen X took the tack that Connery was cooler because he was more serious yadda yadda yadda … but in our hearts we loved Roger Moore. Moore would spend 13 years as James Bond, and though he started off the cold, dashing assassin you would expect, his own more jovial personality ultimately took over. I love camp, so I have no problem with thus, though I totally understand those who don’t like it.

1974

As the longest Bond tenure was gettig started, the longest Doctor tenure arrived a year later. Tom Baker‘s run was similar to Moore’s run as Bond, starting out with a beautiful alien menace and growing more campy as they years went on. Again – no problem for me. I adore Baker’s Doctor, and he is without a doubt my favorite. He also had my favorite companion in the form of Lela. No, not because of her outfit, but because while the Doctor was figuring out a virtuous solution to a problem she was pulling a knife and saying the obvious – let’s just kill the bad guy. That was a great counterpiece for the Doctor.

1981

Roger Moore would survive into the 80’s as Bond, but Baker would hand over the role of the Doctor to Peter Davison. I’ll state it up front – I dig Davison in the role. He had a daunting challenge ahead of him taking over for the beloved Baker. I’ll also state, frankly, that I don’t like most of the serials he played in. The writers didn’t give him as likeable companions (again, this is no slight directed towards the actors, who were great), and the stories didn’t always thrill me. Still, there was some good stuff there, and I think Davison should get more credit than he does. I do think, though, that the franchise at this point was losing steam … the assumptions on which it was built were shifting under its feet; and honestly, the Bond franchise was in the same boat.

1984

The Roger Moore Bond era would be rounded out in the Doctor Who franchise by Colin Baker. Baker’s doctor was a return to the earlier menace of the Doctor’s alien mind, and maybe more so than any other doctor he has a severity that is shocking when compared to the wise fool played by Tom Baker. They say that Colin Baker wanted a more updated look for his Doctor – something not unlike that of the ninth incarnation, but instead the designers tried to catch lightning in a bottle with something more reminiscent of the fourth Doctor.

1987

Roger Moore was 58 years old when he made A View to a Kill, and was ready to retire. The rumors started swirling that Remington Steele’s Pierce Brosnan was going to be Bond. Cool! Loved Remington Steele, and who better to take over for Moore than Brosnan. This is going to be so great, I can’t wait until … Timothy Dalton? Huh?

Well, when Remington Steele’s producers decided on one more season, Brosnan was out, Dalton was in, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Still, I was the right age for going to the movies with friends, and that poster for The Living Daylight was certainly enticing, so why not. Folks – I loved The Living Daylights, and was totally down with more Dalton as Bond movies. It wasn’t a complete departure from Moore, but a younger Bond was nice, the movie had some great action sequences and it was a nice return to a bit more realism in the films.

The Fourth Bond was going to be okay, but what about the Seventh Doctor? The first time I watched a Sylvester McCoy serial I was still high on watching Tom Baker, and I wasn’t so sure about this guy. When I got the chance to watch more of them on Retro TV, I found that I really liked McCoy in the role. The angry edge was gone, the tone was sometimes lighter and perhaps more manic, and I really looked forward to more. I think McCoy’s run reminds me the most of Tom Baker’s, so I guess it’s no surprise that I like it. But alas, after three years, the magic was fading and there would be no regeneration for the Doctor. He just faded away …

1995/1996

Or did he?

Are the Eighth Doctor and Fifth Bond part of the classic era, or a bridge to the reboots? Hard to say. There was a five year gap between License to Kill and GoldenEye, and a six year gap between McCoy’s final outing as the Doctor and the short-lived attempt to revive the franchise with Paul McGann. New creative teams, a new 90’s attitude (I was there, it sorta sucked – I think I prefered my tenure in the 80’s). Still, there was excitement and hope for the new series, and that’s always good.

Personally, I was super-hyped for Brosnan’s Bond. I’d been waiting for him to take over the roll for a long time, and was really looking forward for a good, old fashioned James Bond spectacular … but I really didn’t care for the movie. It was like they were trying to recreate by committee something that was born organically in the 1960s. The movies were certainly popular, but for me, Bond shifted into something I loved in the past from something I was going to watch in the present.

My experience with Doctor Who was different. As an American kid of the 70s, I’d never heard of the franchise (though I had an aunt who cosplayed at a convention as Lela! – didn’t find that out until just last year). I was too late for the showings of Tom Baker’s Doctor on PBS. I remember seeing pictures of him in Dragon Magazine ads, and being kinda meh about it. It wasn’t until the 2010’s that I finally got to see the series, starting with Tom Baker, and fell in love with it. I still haven’t seen McGann’s Doctor, so I can’t really say how it holds up with the past. Others will have to weigh in on the Eighth Doctor’s place in the classic vs. new debate.

So we reach the end of our journey – 1962 to 1996, more than thirty years for two solid and fun franchises. We all have our favorites – feel free to share yours in the comments … and no, we don’t need to hear about who you hate.

The 90s Syndicate

It was 1987, and I was super excited in the cereal aisle at the grocery store. This was not uncommon in childhood, of course – it just took an awesome prize in a box of sugar goodness – but I was a teenager in ’87 and the excitement was due to an ad for something called Star Trek: The Next Generation on the back of a cereal box. This was my introduction to the show, and I remember telling my dad – the source of my Star Trek love – about how cool it looked, with a new ship, new crew … and that there was going to be a klingon on the Enterprise!

Back in the 80’s, syndicated TV was mostly the domain of game shows like Wheel of Fortune until Star Trek: The Next Generation showed up. I remember that it was a big story when The Next Generation managed to beat Wheel of Fortune’s ratings. Fast forward 30+ years, and though I’m sorry to say the show doesn’t do much for me these days, I am thankful for the syndicated TV goodness it helped spawn.

The syndicated shows of the 90’s almost never had as much budget as they needed, but they were all cool and creative. Because of the time in which they were made, they have a distinct look that I suspect really triggers good vibes for many Gen-X’ers.

Here are a few of my favorites – check them out if they’re new to you, or renew an old friendship if you remember them from way back when:

The Flash (1990-1991)

Not syndicated, but I sorta wish it had been after it was cancelled. We’ve been watching these lately, having scored a super cheap DVD set of the complete series at Zia Records, and I must say I’m enjoying them. The show was far from perfect, but it had some great moments and I genuinely like the people in it. The sad thing about Flash is that it only made it to TV because of the success of 1989’s Batman, and as a result ended up with a Danny Elfwood score and an awkward aesthetic borrowed from Batman and Dick Tracy. The style just seems out of place to me, and though it doesn’t ruin the shows, it doesn’t help them either. On the other hand, it’s full of absolutely beautiful mid-century cars, so that’s pretty cool. The Flash costume was a little jarring as well, but c’est la vie.

We were watching some of the new Flash episodes, but gradually got out of them when they did the stupid time travel bit for the umpteenth time. I really loved see Shipp reprise his role in the series, though.

Oh – and who doesn’t love Amanda Pays? So smart and cool – on Flash as well as Max Headroom. She did a fun guest appearance on Psych as a date for Corbin Bernsen’s character on the series, which is another family favorite.

I think my favorite Flash episode is “Beat the Clock”, which has a pre-What’s Love Got to Do With It Angela Bassett, and good performances by Ken Foree and Thomas Mikal Ford.

Highlander: The Series (1992-1997)

In my normal backwards way, I discovered this show way before I saw the movie … and if I’m honest, when I finally saw the movie I preferred Adrian Paul to Christopher Lambert as the immortal. I think it was that darn overcoat they had him wearing in the movie – looked like it belonged on Harpo Marx. I did enjoy introducing my daughter to the Kurgan, though, and then revealing he was the voice of Mr. Krabs.

Being a history-buff, I loved all the past lives of Duncan McLeod. I think I enjoyed the stuff set in the past more than that set in the modern day. I remember being super-jazzed to see Roland Gift from Fine Young Cannibals and Roger Daltry in some episodes. Highlander really had some legs, but I didn’t stick with it all the way to the end … by 1997 I was married and about a year away from having a kid, so life sort of got in the way. Still, the awesome opening will always stick with me. God bless Freddie Mercury!

Friday the 13th: The Series (1987-1990)

Okay – this series sort of screws up my premise that Next Generation led the way with cool syndicated shows, since it was also first-run syndication and showed up at about the same time. Oh well – it’s my story and I’m sticking to it, facts or no facts!

I don’t have a long-term relationship with the horror genre. I was never into the Friday the 13th movies, or really any contemporary horror movies in my youth. I didn’t grow up with that stuff, so all the blood and guts and shock horror really freaked me out. Classic Universal horror movies I could do … but Leatherface, Jason, Freddie, Michael Myers, flesh-eating zombies, etc. – no sir. Not my cup of tea.

That’s why I don’t know how I ended up watching Friday the 13th: The Series. It has almost nothing to do with the movies – I might remember there being some tiny thread connecting them, but I’m not sure. The premise – which would work beautifully for a horror RPG campaign, is as follows:

Lewis Vendredi made a deal with the devil to sell cursed antiques. But he broke the pact, and it cost him his soul. Now, his niece Micki, and her cousin Ryan have inherited the store… and with it, the curse. Now they must get everything back, and the real terror begins.

It now occurs to me why I started watching it – Louise Robey as Micki. She was pretty darn cute. Still, it was the show’s concept that got me to stick with the show. Each week, a new evil artifact was introduced and off the two leads went, trying to bring it back to the shop to end the curse. It was much more in the vein of Outer Limits than gory 80’s horror movies. I remember it fondly, and should really check back into it.

She-Wolf of London / Love & Curses (1990-1991)

Originally titled She Wolf of London, I caught one or two of the later episodes when it was renamed Love & Curses , and always wanted to see more. A bunch of them are posted on YouTube (how do they not get fined a billion bucks a year for aiding and abetting copyright violations?), but I’m happy to say I picked up the entire series on DVD last week for $12 – sweet price, even I end up not liking them much.

In this series, a woman named Randi Wallace (played by Kate Hodge) who travels to England to study the occult is attacked by a werewolf on the moors and becomes a lycanthrope. Her companion, Professor Ian Matheson (played by Neil Dickson), helps her deal with her curse while they run around encountering all sorts of supernatural evils and stuff. I love good, old fashioned episodic TV with fun characters.

Love & Curses could be a good set-up for a campaign as well, with one PC having a werewolf curse (or something similar) and the others having to survive dangerous adventures AND their dangerous friend.

And yeah, I had a thing for Kate Hodge as well …

So what 80’s/90’s syndicated stuff do you remember loving? Let me know in the comments – remember, sharing is caring!