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 – January 1982 (57)

Wow – 1982. I was ten years old (well, nine in January) and still a couple years away from learning about Dungeons & Dragons. Thirty-six years ago – much as changed, and much has not. I guess all these years later, we can be happy that people are still playing D&D and AD&D and other “old school” games. Let’s start the new year by looking at the new year in 1982 in gaming …

Let’s start with the cover, because it’s pretty different from the traditional fantasy fare. We have a woman, maybe modern, knitting dragons (or something like them) onto a blanket  and the dragons are becoming real and flying into the fireplace, all while a strange painting of a man or woman looks on. The tragedy is that I can’t quite make out the signature, and I didn’t see the artist’s name in the magazine.

Update: Nathan Irving writes me to let me know the artist is Dean Morrissey, who provided covers for 16, 18, 28, 60, 84 and 91.

The first big article is “Modern Monsters” by Ed Greenwood. It’s a great article, giving modern (in 1982) vehicles and firearms stats for D&D. The article also goes into some of the pitfalls of pitting “medieval” characters against modern characters. It really all goes to the point that jumping from one reality into another was assumed to be a regular feature by our elders in the hobby. Here’s one insight you might enjoy:

Magic will ultimately determine the fate of an AD&D party in a modern setting. It is the party’s “heavy artillery,” and must be expended with caution, for it is not wholly renewable. Magic users without spell books will be unable to regain their spells.

Lenard Lakofka presents some useful ideas and tables in “Shield and Weapon Skills”, including this insight about shields after he watched some folks from the SCA put on a demonstration of medieval fighting:

Fully 60% of the blows are caught by the shield. Second, a trained fighter who normally uses a broadsword is a much poorer fighter when using a battle axe for the first time. To place these facts in terms of AD&D™ rules, some minor rule changes are proposed. A shield will now give +2 to armor class instead of just +1.

He also presents some rules for determining how long shields last in combat. My favorite scheme is for shields to have to make an item save whenever an attack roll is a natural ’20’.

The tables I mentioned are for determining an NPC’s weapon proficiencies, but they could also be used to determine an NPC’s armaments.

In the “Sorcerer’s Scroll”, one E. Gary Gygax presents some more details about the Greyhawk setting – a good read for those who use that campaign setting.

In “In Search of a James Bond”, Mark Mulkins covers how in a TOP SECRET game one could work for three different operational bureaus at the same time without sacrificing experience points. What Mark covers in three pages I would just hand wave.

Up next is an article I kinda dig called “Random Magic Items” by Pete Mohney. It’s a collection of some groovy little random tables for generating magic items. I’ll generate three of them now:

1) A magic girdle, not cursed, that gives a +1 bonus to all saving throws.

2) An amulet shaped like a double-headed axe that allows the wearer to control animals once per week.

3) A hat that provides a +1 bonus to intelligence – we’ll call it a thinking cap.

If you’re a player of DragonQuest, this issue has an article about magicians by Jon Mattson. Since I’ve never played the game, I can’t comment on the merits of the article.

This issue’s Giants in the Earth covers a couple characters I don’t know – C. J. Cherryh’s Morgaine and Vanye (with art by Jim Holloway) from the books Gate of Ivrel, Well of Shiuan and Fires of Azeroth, Lynn Abbey’s Rifkind from Daughter of the Bright Moon and The Black Flame, and two characters created by Robert E. Howard – Belit and Dark Agnes. Howard. Belit is a Chaotic Evil 10th level fighter in this write-up, though I would probably go Neutral Evil given her devotion to Conan since I conceive of Chaotic Evil as being utterly self-interested.

The special feature of this issue is an AD&D adventure called “The Wandering Trees” by Michael Malone. It is intended for characters level 6th to 9th. The adventure begins thus:

Long ago, so far back that even the elves are not sure when, Termlane Forest was the home of a tribe of tree-worshipping men. These men built a great temple at the heart of The Forest, where they worshipped their mysterious tree-gods.

The adventure concerns a forest of moving trees with only two safe ways through, and a lost temple somewhere in between. It’s a hell of a dangerous forest, so beware. The adventure also includes stakes for the Phooka.

In “Up on a Soapbox”, there are two essays – one by Brian Blume on the problems with playing evil characters in games, and another by Roger E. Moore on the benefits of playing rpg’s with women.

Michael Kluever has an interesting look at “The History of the Shield”. It’s a good primer for those who like to get crunchy. It’s not a short article, and it is well researched with a useful bibliography.

There’s a great insight into 1982 geekdom in “The Electric Eye”, namely the results of a survey regarding to what high tech goodies readers of the magazine had to play with. The results:

  • 46% have an Apple II or Apple II+
  • 38% have a TRS-80
  • 20% have an Atari 400 or 800
  • 9% have a CBM
  • 6% have no computer
  • 6% have a S-100
  • 3% have a North Star
  • 3% have a VIC
  • and 20% have some other computer

The bottom line, apparently was:

Who is the average Electric Eye reader? He’s a 17-year-old male high school student. He has owned a 48K Apple-l I+ with a disk drive, a printer, and a joystick or a paddle set for about a year. He has spent a little over $100 on software, but he mainly either copies out of magazines or does it himself. He reads The Electric Eye for the program listings and reviews, but he is also interested in other facets of computer gaming.

As always, I leave you with Wormy

Save

Yo Joe!

If memory serves, I promised to do this post two weeks ago. How time flies! In between, the family has gone through a high school graduation and a college orientation, and I’ve written about 8 quarterly reports for my real job. But now it is time – some G.I. Joe vehicles for GRIT & VIGOR.

I’ve spent the last four weeks writing High Frontier, a setting toolbox for GRIT & VIGOR based on the “retro-future”, or the future that people in 1950 dreamed they and their children would enjoy from the 1960s to the futuristic year … 2000! We’re talking moon bases, space stations, space colonies, lots of cool airplanes and concept cars, etc.

Along the way, I ran across a Wikipedia article on a G.I. Joe fighter plane, and realized I could probably stat those up as well. Where possible, I used the specifications published for these vehicles, and I filled in the gaps with info on the real vehicles on which they were based.

Notes:

Jet aircraft are given a generation [G]. This is added to the aircraft’s maneuverability (and thus AC) and attack rolls during combat.

Damage followed by a single asterisk (*) is multiplied by 10. Two asterisks (**) means multiply by 100.

Conquest X-30 | G.I. Joe 1986

Type: Huge Fighter G4
Hit Dice: 30 (105 hp)
Armor Class: 21
Attacks: 2 x 25mm cannons (7d6), 4 x AIM-12 Light Sparrow AAM (1d10**), 7,000 lb of bombs
Speed: 1600 mph
Maneuver: +8
Climb: 8500 fpr
Ceiling: 55,000 feet
Crew/Passengers: 1/0

These G.I. Joe fighter planes are based on the real Grumman X-29 (which appears in High Frontier). It is notable for its forward swept wings.

Phantom X-19 | G.I. Joe 1988

Type: Gargantuan Attack G5
Hit Dice: 45 (158 hp)
Armor Class: 18
Attacks: 2 x anti-satellite lasers (10d6), 2 x BY-106 Little Guy (1d10**), 1 x Bullseye III cruise missile (xxx), 2 x 2000 lb bombs
Speed: 2400 mph
Maneuver: +6
Climb: 6000 fpr
Ceiling: 72,000 feet
Crew/Passengers: 1/0

The Phantom is inspired (loosely) on a model that purported to be the “stealth bomber” (the F-117 Nighthawk) that turned out to look nothing like it.

Night Raven S3P | Cobra Command 1985

Type: Gargantuan Fighter G4
Hit Dice: 47 (165 hp)
Armor Class: 19
Attacks: 2 x 20mm cannons (6d6), 4 x SRAAM AAM (1d10**)
Speed: 2200 mph
Maneuver: +8
Climb: 6800 fpr
Ceiling: 86,000 feet
Crew/Passengers: 2/0

The Cobra Night Raven was based loosely on the SR-71 Blackbird (which means Cobra was as good at hacking the Pentagon as the Chinese, Russians, etc.)

Rattler | Cobra Command 1984

Type: Huge Attack G3
Hit Dice: 30 (105 hp)
Armor Class: 18
Attacks: 2 x 20mm cannon (6d6), 1 x 30mm cannons (8d6), 2 x AAM (1d8**), 2 x Renegade ASM (6d6*)
Speed: 450 mph
Maneuver: +5
Climb: 1000 fpr
Ceiling: 45,000 feet
Crew/Passengers: 2/0

The go-to combat aircraft of Cobra in the cartoons.

Skystriker XP-14F | G.I. Joe 1983

Type: Gargantuan Fighter G4
Hit Dice: 42 (147 hp)
Armor Class: 23
Attacks: 1 x 20mm cannons (6d6), 2 x AIM-9 Sidewinder AAM (1d8**), 2 x AIM-54 Phoenix (6d6**), 2 x AIM-7 Sparrow (1d12**)
Speed: 1500 mph
Maneuver: +8
Climb: 7500 fpr
Ceiling: 51,000 feet
Crew/Passengers: 2/0

The Skystriker was G.I. Joe’s principal combat aircraft (and clearly superior to the Rattlers).

Grit & Treasure (Blood & Vigor?)

German warbird, or …

Work proceeds on Grit & Vigor. The last couple weeks have been spent gathering vehicle data, turning it into something useful, and brainstorming the rules for dogfights, car chases and inventions.

On the vehicle front, I now have data for about 1,400 tanks, cars and airplanes, and believe I have found a way to turn the raw data into game data. Just for fun, I thought I might throw out some comparisons between military vehicles from the olden days and Blood & Treasure monsters. Obviously, I need to look at some heavyweights.

THE MONSTERS

The Neothelid – 25 HD wrapped up in acid-dripping, tentacled horror. Imagine it going toe-to-toe with a Russian T-18 tank. The tank is easier to hit, but can absorb some damage and deal it pretty well.

T-18: Huge Construct (Tank), HD 25 (88 hp), AC 19 (DR 6), SPD 10 mph (140), ATK 1 tank gun (8d8) and light machine gun (1d8), MVR +0, CP 2/0, WT 13,000 lb.

… fantasy robot – who would win in a fight?

The Balor Demon – 20 HD of demonic fury, roughly equivalent to a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. The Warhawk can deal more damage with its six heavy machine guns, but the Balor isn’t affected by such mundane weaponry. Better load that Warhawk up with magic bullets.

Curtiss P-40 Warhawk: Huge Construct (Fighter), HD 20 (70 hp), AC 16, SPD 360 mph (5280), ATK 6 heavy machine guns (2d6) and bombs (1000 lb), MVR +2, CP 1/0, CEILING 29,000 ft., WT 8,400 lb.

The Iron Golem – 18 HD of heavy metal death, the equal of Messerschmitt Bf.109 – though let’s be honest, one good strafe or bomb drop, and the iron golem’s iron hide and its vaunted magic immunity is going to go up in smoke.

Messerschmitt Bf.109: Large-X Construct (Fighter), HD 18 (63 hp), AC 16, SPD 398 mph (5830), ATK 2 heavy machine guns (2d6) and 1 medium machine gun (1d8) and bombs (550 lb), MVR +3, CP 1/0, CEILING 39,000 ft., WT 6,940 lb.

A few notes on the vehicles:

Size is based on weight (and how interesting would that be to do with all the monsters?). I used the full d20 scale (I only used Small to Huge in B&T), and added half-steps in. Size determines Hit Dice.

CP refers to crew and passengers. The crew is going to be making the attacks for the vehicle, so it’s their attack bonus that counts when firing their weapons.

The weapons here are generic, and the final stats will include their ROF and range. ROF works into the gun rules, with each addition round you fire at a target either increasing your chance to hit by +1, or contributing to an additional 1d6 damage at a rate of 5 rounds to 1d6 damage – player’s choice and they can mix and match (e.g. an extra 20 rounds of ammo can translate into a +20 bonus to hit, or +4d6 damage or something in between, like +10 to hit and +2d6 damage). The bombs I still haven’t decided on, but probably going to be treated as something like a fireball spell – damage dice and radius based on the poundage, with people and items passing saving throws to halve the damage. The game is really designed more for man vs. man, rather than man vs. B-17 Flying Fortress.

Speed is the vehicles top speed, in miles per hour and, in parentheses, feet per round. For car chases, I’m working out a system that uses top speed as a determinant for the difficulty of stunts, to make it easy for referees and players to create stats for vehicles without having to know much about them other than their weight, their style and their top speed.

Armor Class is based on the material of the vehicle’s skin, as well as its thickness. Size plays a part as well. Damage reduction (DR) is based on the thickness of the armor, since I needed a way to screen the tanks from weapons that, by right, shouldn’t be able to penetrate their armor.

MVR is maneuverability, which is based on the vehicle’s type and its power to weight ratio.

Not a perfect system, I know, but I think it will work well enough for game purposes. My focus is on three systems – aerial combat (aircraft vs. aircraft), car chases and a nod towards aircraft attacking land vehicles. G&V isn’t designed as a wargame, but the combat rules should be able to handle something as basic as two tanks plugging away at one another.

Oh, and just for fun …

Burrough’s Barsoom Scout Flyer: Large Construct (Fighter), HD 11 (39 hp), AC 20, SPD 300 mph (1460), ATK none, MVR +3, CP 5/0, CEILING 11,000 ft., WT 1,500 lb.

Nemo’s Nautilus: Colossal x5 Construct (Submarine), HD 250 (875 hp), AC 22, SPD 40 mph (580), ATK 1 ram, MVR -1, CP ???, DEPTH 52,000 ft., WT 1,500 tons

Well’s Martian Tripod: Huge-X Construct (Tank), HD 31 (109 hp), AC 22, SPD 10 mph (140), ATK 1 heat ray (10d6 fire) and black smoke projector (as cloudkill?), MVR +1, CP 1/0, WT 20,000 lb.

Martian Tripod vs. Balor – now that’s a fight I would pay to see!

Women, Cars and Spaceships … A Retrospective

While driving to work this morning, I was listening to classical music and musing on the design of cars and spaceships. I don’t mean real spaceships, of course – I mean the kind you see in movies, comic books, pulp fiction and television – the good stuff. I also started thinking about mens’ taste in women, and how the styles of disparate things tend to conflate at different times. With that in mind, I decided I was going to put together some images from different years (or small spans of years) of the top spaceship of that time, the top car of that time and what were considered the top sex symbols of that time to see if they clicked.

Here we go …

We’ll begin with 1929 and Buck Rogers. The spaceship was still in the “could have been designed by lonely housewives” era. Fairly sleek and only a few doodads stuck to the outside of the ship. For our car, we have a 1929 Duesenberg – also pretty sleek, formal and yet also sporty. Whether Buck’s spaceship had leather seats, I don’t know. For our sci-fi beauty, we have Col. Wilma Deering, Buck’s erstwhile companion and drawn as a classic beauty of the era – rounded face and graceful lips.

By 1936, Flash Gordon has burst onto the scene in the first of his film adaptations. The spaceship isn’t much different than Buck Rogers’ craft, though perhaps a bit sportier (check out the chrome!). Dale Arden, as played by Jean Rogers, conforms pretty closely to the earlier beauty standard, and the car isn’t terribly different from the 1929 Duesenberg, though you’ll note the nose is slanted back a bit.

1950 brought the film classic (?) Destination Moon. Destination Moon at least played at being hard sci-fi, though the design was definitely of the moderne period, with the sleek spacecraft. The beauty of 1950, Erin O’Brien-Moore was pretty sleek herself, and shows how tastes were changing at the dawn of a new decade. The car is a bit more compact than in the 1930’s, but in this case it looks like the spaceship designs are beginning to presage developments in automobiles.

In 1956, Forbidden Planet put earthlings in a flying saucer (guess those captured German scientists were finally earning their keep). Beauty isn’t much changed from 6 years ago, and the car, a 1956 Chevy Bel Air, is not yet exhibiting the giant fins that will grace vehicles in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

By 1966, Star Trek has premiered. The Enterprise is unlike any spaceship audiences have seen before, and also notable is that the sole beauty of the cast (unless you include Sulu) is a black woman! Nichelle Nichols typified late ’60s beauty – curves and tall hair. The cars are becoming more slick as well – away from the tail-fins and into the muscle car era.

The next big leap, in this case back in some ways and forward in others, was 1977’s Star Wars (you might have heard of it). For the first time on film, we get a real sense of the “starfighter” – fighter aircraft in space. Yeah, the Star Destroyers were pretty iconic as well, but you really can’t beat the X-Wings and TIE Fighters for capturing the imagination of kids in that era. Our beauty is, of course, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), who really found herself thrust into unfamiliar territory in her slave girl costume. The 1977 Ferrari pictures seems to have a similar profile to those X-Wings.

One last stop, and a leap forward to one of my favorite sci-fi series – Red Dwarf. Not American, and played for laughs, it introduced a completely utilitarian (and grandiose) spacecraft in the eponymous Red Dwarf. By 1994, we had maybe my favorite of all the sci-fi beauties introduced on this post – Chloë Annett as Kristine Kochanski (I like my women smart, beautiful and with a wry sense of humor) and the fairly utilitarian Rover. Substance over style in 1994 sci-fi.

Okay, there’s many more I could do – various incarnations of Star Trek, Alien, etc. I’ll leave further explorations to others.