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Movie Review – First Man

November 11, 2018

FirstManI saw this movie a couple of weeks ago and am just now getting around to blogging about it. For those not in the know, First Man is basically the story of Neil Armstrong and the circumstances leading up to his historic landing on the Moon.

The Good
It’s about the Gemini and Apollo programs, what’s not to like!? As a history buff and a fan of NASA I tend to love this stuff. Ryan Gosling portrays Armstrong and does a really good job, imo.

The Bad
Not really a knock on the movie but more of a personal preference, I would have liked more space program, less focus on his family/civilian life. Others might feel differently.

The Ugly
So, about half way through the movie I start feeling nauseous. I’m thinking I’m coming down with something then realize that the movie is actually making me motion sick! The director Damien Chazelle made some interesting choices. He shows Armstrong’s Gemini launch from the perspective of the guys in the capsule, you never actually see the rocket – I actually thought it was pretty cool. But part of experiencing the launch was mimicking the shaking of the rocket. That’s when I think I started getting motion sick. Later, the capsule Armstrong is in starts rolling out of control – an actual incident that almost kills him and his crew mate – this is also shown from the astronauts’ perspective. Yeah, that didn’t help either. There’s a lot of ‘shaky jerky’ camera movement in the movie, including times when I didn’t think it was necessary. I do have issues with motion sickness, but damn!

Political BS
First Man is about American History and the Apollo space program so; of course, it becomes another flash point in the ongoing-never ending Culture War. Because why not?

From the Right, the complaint is that the movie does not show Armstrong planting the American flag, because of that it is somehow anti-American. I find the complaint absurd. The American flag is all over the movie including a scene where Armstrong’s son unfurls the flag on his front porch while his dad is on his Gemini flight. They do show the American flag on the moon at one point. The movie is in no way anti-American. It drives me crazy that people complained about this without actually seeing the movie.

From the Left, we’ve got the usual complaint that the movie is too focused on a bunch of white guys and that there are no faces of color. I find the complaint absurd. The movie is a historical look at the US space program in the 1960s through the eyes of the astronauts. They were all white, all male – their colleagues at NASA overwhelmingly the same. It wasn’t right, but that’s the way it was. What was Chazelle supposed to do, make Buzz Aldrin African-American?

When I left the theater, I’d have given the movie a 6 or 7 out of 10, mostly because I was expecting the Right Stuff and that’s not what I got. The movie has stuck with me though. I wasn’t sure about some of Chazelle’s directing decisions but I’ve decided I like his style.  I’d give it an 8 out of 10. Even with the ‘shaky jerky’ camera movement, I liked it a lot.

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The Shadow People

September 9, 2018

The Shadow People by Margaret St. Claire is a book listed by Gary Gygax in Appendix N. It should be noted that St. Claire is one of only 3 female authors listed in Appendix N, the others being Andre Norton and Leigh Brackett. I stumbled upon this book at a used bookstore (the Ohio Bookstore in downtown Cincinnati) and had to pick it up. One of the nice things about most of the books listed in Appendix N is that there are quick reads, this paperback checks in at 189 pages with very small print.TheShadowPeople

This is book is just… strange. It starts off fairly strong. Set in the modern world, (specifically Berkeley, California in 1968) the protagonist, Dick Aldridge, realizes his girlfriend, Carol, has been kidnapped and tries to find her. His quest leads him to a secret underworld inhabited by the Shadow People, evil elves who generally subsist on a narcotic grain called atter-corn, but supplement their diet with the occasional human victim. On the way, Aldridge finds a magical sword that helps and even guides him. This part of the book reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and Jim Butcher’s Dresden series which both feature fantasy realms hidden in the cracks and crevices of the modern world. Aldridge finds Carol, but while she is able to return to the modern world, he cannot as it turns out he has elven blood.

Then things really get weird.

For 3+ years Aldridge wanders around the underworld subsisting on the narcotic atter-corn which induces strange hallucinations. Through a series of odd circumstances he is able to leave the underworld and return to the modern world only to find that it is devolving into an increasingly repressive police state. He has to find and save Carol again while also trying to stay alive and avoid getting into trouble as society gets increasingly repressive. In the end, there’s hope for the both Aldridge and Carol, but the rest of the world is devolving into dystopia and revolution.

Overall, I find it hard to recommend The Shadow People. The story meanders quite a bit, while neither the hero nor the villains are very well fleshed out. In places it’s just odd. There are a lot of questions that go unanswered. Still, the Shadow People isn’t all bad. The book itself kept my interest and there were parts I really liked.

From a literary sci-fi standpoint, I found it interesting that an author writing in 1968 looked at the chaos and change going on around her (antiwar and race riots, assassination of Robert Kennedy and MLK, etc.) and thought the consequences might be the US devolving into a police state. From a D&D standpoint, I suppose The Shadow People’s underworld could have influenced Gygax’s own Underdark, though while the Shadow People are evil elves they are nothing like the Drow.

So on a scale 1-10 (10 being best), I would probably give The Shadow People a 5 which means it was not bad, I enjoyed parts of it, but I will never read again and would not recommend.

Pegana – Races

September 1, 2018

So I was looking over Pegana again as my next campaign world. In the pulp world of Pegana, traditional fantasy races simply seem out of place. I had thought about a human only world where differences are determined by culture – like Howard’s Hyborea – but I think players want more than that. With this in mind, here is a rough draft for a couple of sample races I’m currently working on for Pegana. Let me know what you think:

CHIMPS

+1 Agility, +1 Strength, -1 Intellect, -1 Presence

Description: Descended from chimpanzees (which no longer exist on Pegana), chimps are an intelligent race of monkey folk. Chimps are originally from southern part of the continent of Mu Thulan, but over time many have migrated to other parts of Pegana. They normally congregate in their own neighborhoods and villages and are organized into clans. Clan leaders are hereditary and are usually known as a ‘bosses’. Chimp family life is patriarchal with the eldest sons playing a dominant role. For this reason, it is quite common for younger members of the clan, both male and female, to go out into the world and find their fortune.

Chimps have a reputation as hard workers who are known as expert woodworkers and stonemasons. In some towns they also have an unsavory and generally undeserved reputation as burglars and thieves due to their superior climbing abilities.

One vice that almost all chimps indulge in are cigars. It is a rare chimp indeed who does not indulge in a good stogie from time to time. The best tobacco farmers are invariably chimps, and they are responsible for most of the ‘smoke leaf’ that is grown in the Five Realms.

For weapons, they tend to prefer a blunderbuss and a sort of heavy iron mace.

DEEP SPAWN

+1 Fortitude, +1 Intellect, -1 Agility, -2 Presence

Traits: Dark Dreams trait, Strange Look trait

Skills: Swim +3, Occult Knowledge +2

Description: Deep Spawn are what scholars have named Human-Deep One offspring. These creatures are bred to perpetuate the Deep One race, creating a race of servants and willing slaves. While most embrace their birthright, many reject it attempting to live a somewhat normal life. Still, a Deep Spawn cannot rid himself of the blood of his kin. Many have visions – often horrific – of life under the sea. Not a few go mad.

There are only a few villages of Deep Spawn in all of Pegana and few outsiders know of their existence. Most of these communities are in the thrall of the Deep Ones. Those Deep Spawn who have rejected their birthright live as exiles in towns and villages often far from the sea.

Most have minor physical deformities related to their birthright. These deformities tend to develop after puberty and become more pronounced as the Deep Spawn gets older. Eyes tend to goggle out, skin becomes scaly and flaky; eventually, slits appear on their throats.

The wizard Veldros Margesti poured a glass of wine and looked at his guest. Across from him sat the scholar Argu Meldross. They had been friends once, before Argu’s strange affliction drove him into hiding. Now he was coming to Veldros for help, confiding in his old friend his heritage as a Deep One half-breed. Veldros was fascinated. He had heard rumors of the Deep Ones and their Deep Spawn progeny but thought they were bogie stories made up by drunken sailors. That they were real and that he actually knew a Deep Spawn only served to awaken his natural curiosity. He said to Argu, “I must say, I am surprised that you do not follow your fishy forbearers under the sea. From what you’ve told me your kind is fed and cared for, your needs are attended to, you live for hundreds if not thousands of years…why do you stay in your mean hovel away from the sea.” Argu fixed Veldros with a goggled eye stare that made the wizard strangely uncomfortable, “It is true that we live for a long while under the waves, but we live as slaves at the beck and call of our progenitors. Often we wind up on the altar of sacrifice. And there are other ‘things’ that make living with our kin folk a terrible choice.” Argu looked away from Veldros and said in a whisper “Magician, have you ever seen a Shoggoth?”

Appendix N

August 23, 2018

The OSR movement in roleplaying has given rise to a lot of talk about Appendix N. For those not in the know, Appendix N was a bibliography in the original AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide that listed those authors and books that Gary Gygax claimed most influenced the creation of Dungeons and Dragons. As such, it was both a reference guide and reading list for those interested in fantasy in general, and Dungeons and Dragons in particular.

Personally, Appendix N was a major revelation back in 1979. Up to that point I had read mostly science fiction, with the exception of Tolkien and Burroughs. I simply was not aware of any other fantasy that might be available. Appendix N became my go to list for all things fantasy.  I quickly started looking up many of the authors on the list either in bookstores or at the local library. Back then, I was able to hunt down the excellent works of Fritz Leiber, Leigh Brackett, Michael Moorcock, Poul Anderson, Jack Vance, etc. That said, not everything from Appendix N was to my liking. I soured on Burroughs, while authors like Fox and Norton underwhelmed me. Still, most of the authors listed I liked – a lot.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll review some of the works from Appendix N. This includes books I never read and have only recently acquired, such as Margaret St. Clair’s “The Shadow People”.

Listed below is a copy of Gygax’s APPENDIX N entry from the Dungeon Master Guide (p 224).

APPENDIX N: INSPIRATIONAL AND EDUCATIONAL READING

“Inspiration for all the fantasy work I have done stems directly from the love my father showed when I was a tad, for he spent many hours telling me stories he made up as he went along, tales of cloaked old men who could grant wishes, of magic rings and enchanted swords, or wicked sorcerors [sic] and dauntless swordsmen.

Then too, countless hundreds of comic books went down, and the long-gone EC ones certainly had their effect. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror movies were a big influence. In fact, all of us tend to get ample helpings of fantasy when we are very young from fairy tales such as those written by the Brothers Grimm and Andrew Lang. This often leads to reading books of mythology, paging through bestiaries, and consultation of compilations of the myths of various lands and peoples.

Upon such a base I built my interest in fantasy, being an avid reader of all science fiction and fantasy literature since 1950.

The following authors were of particular inspiration to me. In some cases I cite specific works, in others, I simply recommend all of their fantasy writing to you. From such sources, as well as any other imaginative writing or screenplay, you will be able to pluck kernels from which will grow the fruits of exciting campaigns. Good reading!

Anderson, Poul: THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS; THE HIGH CRUSADE; THE BROKEN SWORD

Bellairs, John: THE FACE IN THE FROST

Brackett, Leigh

Brown, Frederic

Burroughs, Edgar Rice: “Pellucidar” series; Mars series; Venus series

Carter, Lin: “World’s End” series

de Camp, L. Sprague: LEST DARKNESS FALL; THE FALLIBLE FIEND; et al

de Camp & Pratt: “Harold Shea” series; THE CARNELIAN CUBE

Derleth, August

Dunsany, Lord

Farmer, P. J.: “The World of the Tiers” series; et al

Fox, Gardner: “Kothar” series; “Kyrik” series; et al

Howard, R. E.: “Conan” series

Lanier, Sterling: HIERO’S JOURNEY

Leiber, Fritz: “Fafhrd & Gray Mouser” series; et al

Lovecraft, H. P.

Merritt, A.: CREEP, SHADOW, CREEP; MOON POOL; DWELLERS IN THE MIRAGE; et al

Moorcock, Michael: STORMBRINGER; STEALER OF SOULS; “Hawkmoon” series (esp. the first three books)

Norton, Andre

Offutt, Andrew J.: editor of SWORDS AGAINST DARKNESS III

Pratt, Fletcher: BLUE STAR; et al

Saberhagen, Fred: CHANGELING EARTH; et al

St. Clair, Margaret: THE SHADOW PEOPLE; SIGN OF THE LABRYS

Tolkien, J. R. R.: THE HOBBIT; “Ring trilogy”

Vance, Jack: THE EYES OF THE OVERWORLD; THE DYING EARTH; et al

Weinbaum, Stanley

Wellman, Manley Wade

Williamson, Jack

Zelazny, Roger: JACK OF SHADOWS; “Amber” series; et al

The most immediate influences upon AD&D were probably de Camp & Pratt, R. E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, H. P. Lovecraft, and A. Merritt; but all of the above authors, as well as many not listed, certainly helped to shape the form of the game. For this reason, and for the hours of reading enjoyment, I heartily recommend the works of these fine authors to you.”

 

 

 

Gen Con 2018 – Vendor Hall

August 18, 2018

It’s been over a week since Gen Con, so this will be my last blog about it. Here are some highlights from the Vendor Hall.

Here are pictures from the Dwarven Forge booth. I LOVE this stuff but don’t use it mostly because of cost and storage (though I do own some pieces).

The new edition of Vampire the Masquerade made an appearance. Also pictured are two co-op games, the Reckoners and Folklore the Affliction. We actually played Reckoners at the Con and, though daunting at first, I wound up liking it. Folklore the Affliction has a great Warhammer/Ravenloft vibe. Definitely on my radar.

This brought a smile to my face. Electric Football at Gen Con! How awesome is this? If you were a kid in 1960s-1970s America you are almost certainly familiar with this game. I spent hours setting up my miniature football players (I had Bengals and Browns) then watching them move around a vibrating football field. Come to think of it, this was probably the first miniatures game I ever played. The current version has a free app to track scores and the option to purchase some very nicely painted miniatures. Also like the stadium that comes with it.

There’s really so much more I could write about. Gen Con is a great experience. Can’t wait for next year!

Gen Con 2018 – Demos Done Right

August 16, 2018

So I own GKR (Giant Killer Robots): Heavy Hitters from Weta Workshop. Unfortunately, I haven’t brought it to the game table yet and wanted to get an idea of how it played, so I stopped by Weta’s booth to get a demo.

The folks at Weta know what they are doing.

So you sign up for a demo at a certain time – they even take your phone # to send you a reminder. Based on my experience, when you show up the demos generally start on time. Certain aspects of the demo were setup so that a player could experience the games highlights without sweating the details (card selection, board setup). Victory conditions were scaled back for a quick demo – lasted about an hour. Game was fun and I got a good understanding of the rules and how the game was played. Why don’t other companies do this? I’ve been at demos that are borderline chaos; not at the Weta booth. It certainly helped that the other 3 guys I demoed the game with were friendly and fun to play with. Good job, Weta.

Oh, and the game, GKR: Heavy Hitters, is excellent. Really like that there are other ways to win than just blowing up your opponent. Clean rules with beautifully prepainted robots, this game needs to make it to my gaming table.

GKR Demo

Here is the GKR demo at the Weta Workshop booth.

 

 

Gen Con 2018 – Link and Costumes

August 15, 2018

Ever since Gen Con moved to Indianapolis back in 2003, my gaming group has attended the convention. (We also attended Gen Con twice when it was in Milwaukee, 1993 and 2002.) It has become a highlight of our year – at least for me – with browsing and demos in the Vendor Hall, eating out at the finer restaurants of Indianapolis, we even manage to get some gaming in. I always want to write about it, but never seem to find the time. However, my friend and fellow Gen Con attendee, Bruce, does an excellent compilation of our experiences every year and publishes it on RPGGeek. Here’s the link:

https://www.rpggeek.com/geeklist/244301/brumcgs-gen-con-2018-report-rpg-flavored

If you want a thorough report, click on the link. I will be expanding on some of the topics Bruce discusses over the next week or so. My first topic is on the costumes worn by attendees…

Costumes and Attendees

I have to admit I used to dismiss attendees who were in costume. I personally don’t wear costumes and, sorry to say, tended to look down on those attendees that did. However, a funny thing happened around 5 years ago. I suddenly realized that many of the costumes I was seeing were quite good, some were downright amazing. Even those costumes I might not care for still added color and interest to the overall Gen Con experience. I realized I was being narrow-minded and starting taking pictures of my favorite costumed attendees. This year I attended the costume parade and took quite a number of pictures. Once I got home from the Con I showed them to the family on TV. I may have started a new tradition.

Anyway, here are some of the top costumes that I saw at Gen Con 2018: