Saturday, October 24, 2015

My Personal Appendix N

In 1979, Gary Gygax listed a series of books and authors from which he drew inspiration when designing his Dungeons & Dragons game system(s). These were primarily works of fantasy or science fiction. For an excellent overview of how this appendix influenced tabletop role-playing gaming, I'd refer you to the "Appendix N: Inspirational Reading" section of the Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG rulebook on page 442.

Here, I include my sources of inspiration for fantasy role-playing, some of which will match mister Gygax's list, but much of which has been published since 1979. I am including in this list works of fiction and non-fiction, as some of these non-fictional works have been rather influential in my design of campaigns, adventures, etc. Some of these influences, whether fictional or not, may be slight, and I might have taken a very small thread from a work mentioned and woven from it something much larger or even invisible to my players. For example, why in the world would I have Herman Melville's ponderous Moby Dick herein? Not because I like whales or because I've run extensive maritime adventures (I have not), but because of the sheer maniacal drive of what could be the prototypical overzealous cleric, Captain Ahab, and the enigmatic QueeQueg, who I think would be a marvellous gonzo player character in any adventuring scenario and may or may not appear as a non-player character in anything I might right or run. Other books listed here show a pretty straightforward influence on my judging and playing style. For example, anyone playing in my campaigns who has read M. John Harrison's Viriconium stories will immediately see nods to these works.

Note that I have explicitly NOT included other media. At a later date, I will give my "Appendix M" for other media, such as movies, music, comics, graphic novels, works of art, etc. That may end up being a much longer list than this one!

Note also that some of these are works I have read very recently that I may not have mined just yet, but am working on supplements, adventures, and so forth that will, I promise, dip into these sources. The thing about my Appendix N is that it will always, always be growing!

So without further ado, I give you my list of authors and, sometimes, specific works, that have influenced my gaming: My personal Appendix N.

Dante Alighieri: Inferno
M.A.R. Barker, esp. the Tekumel books, Flamesong in particular
William Barrett: Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy
Jorge Luis Borges
Ray Bradbury, esp. The Martian Chronicles
Robert Burnham: Burnham's Celestial Handbook
Edgar Rice Burroughs, esp. Mars series
Italo Calvino, esp. Invisible Cities
James W.P. Campbell: The Library: A World History
Robert W. Chambers
Michael Cisco: The Divinity Student
Stephen J. Clark: In Delirium's Circle
Richard Cohen: By the Sword
Norman Cohn: Pursuit of the Millenium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages
Steven Erikson, Malazan series
Brian Evenson, esp. Dark Property, Fugue State, and The Wavering Knife
Jeffrey Ford, esp. the City Imperishable books
Brian Greene: The Hidden Reality
M. John Harrison, esp. the Viriconium stories and novels
Robert E. Howard, esp. the Conan stories
J.K. Huysmans: Against Nature
Franz Kafka
Paul Koudounaris: Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs
Fritz Leiber, Fafhrd and Gray Mouser books
Thomas Ligotti
H.P. Lovecraft
Brian May: Diableries: Stereoscopic Adventures in Hell
Herman Melville: Moby Dick
Gustave Meyrink
China Mieville: Perdido Street Station
Michael Moorcock, esp. the Elric of Melnibone books
Edgar Allen Poe
Mark Samuels, esp. The White Hands and Other Weird Tales
Clark Ashton Smith, esp. the Zothique stories
Arkady Strugatsky: Roadside Picnic
Jack Vance, esp. The Dying Earth
Jeff VanderMeer: City of Saints and Madmen
Gene Wolfe, esp. Book of the Long Sun and Book of the Short Sun novels

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Reunited and it Feels so Good

No apologies for quoting that sappy '70s song in my title. I am reunited with an old, old friend - one from the '70s, in fact. Yes, my loving son bought me a copy of a treasure I had lost long ago, The Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Coloring Album. Now, while I have outlined my feelings about this book in the past, I offer this mini-photo-and-caption essay on my feelings as I opened this most welcome old friend back into my home:

Such sinister lighting! Hey, I'm a gamer, not a photographer . . . anyway, yes, that is a gleeful face! I had a smile at least this large when I first discovered this at the B. Dalton's Bookseller at the mall in Saint Cloud, Minnesota, 1979.

At first, the Beholder (TM) struck me as something amazing. I had never seen anything like it before. It blew my mind enough that I thought about filing my teeth down and removing one eye so that I could be as cool as a Beholder (TM), but then thought better of it.

It's a good thing I kept that extra eye, or else I never would have beheld my first dungeon map. Yes, it's ridiculously overpowered, with e Remorhaz right down the hall from a Xorn and a Type IV Demon around the corner. The actual game system used for solo play here is more akin to OD&D than AD&D. It uses only d6, as in the earliest versions of D&D did (as I understand it). I was only to discover the joy of other polyhedrals later on. Incidentally, since I picked up a pack of DCC-compatible dice, I am rediscovering the joy and wonder of funky new dice.

The game, as presented here, is somewhere in-between the old fantasy wargames and a truel roleplaying game. Really, it tends toward the wargaming side as a result of being a solo-dungeon. But in the ongoing story that is told in the book, there are some examples of the kind of epic adventure storytelling that can occur in a roleplaying context. Here, I surreptitiously peek around the corner with the dwarven warrior Trelli Gray-Sides as he looks through the Pearl of Foreseeing to witness a turn the party should not take! Thankfully, he heeds the warning, saving the party from certain doom.

And there it is. Yes, the hair is grey now, but those are the eyes of a ten-year-old boy beaming with joy at having looked through this window into worlds of fantasy and adventure for the first time . . . all over again!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Little, the Giant Robot, at the Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence

Today I had the putrescent privilege of being introduced to Venger Satanis's Islands of Purple-Haunted Putresence and to Venger's slick and quick Crimson Dragon Slayer system. I played a robot wizard and had a fantastic time of it, despite having to be shut down for a time after being zapped by . . . well, by some of these:

How does such a thing happen, you ask? Well, lots of things happen in this tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek '80s-retro space fantasy role playing hexcrawl. Luckily, I was able to circumvent the blue screen of death and continue the adventure, displaying my "online" status on the Commodore 64 monitor retrofitted into my chest.

Now, I don't want to give too much away, since Venger will be doing a play report, but suffice it to say that there were lots of cavemen, cultists, imps, and a large caliber laser cannon along the way. There were exploding brains, a kill-happy dwarf who slaughtered heaps of people while tripping over his own beard, and a little peek into the best little whorehouse in space. In other words, heck yeah, we had a good time!

The system is stripped down to the bare essentials, quick to learn, but allows enough randomness to keep things anywhere from "interesting" to "absolutely gonzo".

The module is a little Lovecraft, a little Heavy Metal, with just a touch of '80s pop culture - well, a touch that nearly killed my character. Anyway, a great mix for me, a great adventure for my character.

Speaking of which, below are some shots of Little Plasma Bane (name randomly generated, incidentally), my robot alter-ego. You'll find that he's based heavily on this little guy who lives on the back of my denim jacket. Yeah, this session had me waxing nostalgic, I must admit. First thing I did afterward was to put Red Barchetta on the car stereo and blast it because . . . well, '80s kids will understand . . .

Little Plasma Bane, who is 8' tall

Robots use Intelligence, rather than Willpower, for spellcasting. Otherwise, Little would have been a poor wizard, indeed!

The goods!

Thanks to Venger for a great time! One of my buddies who came hadn't gamed in 20 years, and another hadn't gamed ever. Hopefully, this is the first of many such games for Julius and Tony! I'll post a link to Venger's play report once it's up!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Sword, Kadavar, All Them Witches at Majestic Theatre Madison 10.14.2015

While the Old Ones of the Metal Gods go to sleep one-by-one, a new pantheon emerges from infancy to an apotheosis in which they take their rightful place above the altar of the stage where their adherents bow in headbanging worship to the holy oracles of the amplifiers.

I made the pilgrimage last night, along with my adult daughter, to the temple known as Majestic Madison to become enlightened.

First up was All Them Witches, a band, to be honest, that I was not anticipating too much. I had listened to some of their stuff, but their blues-ridden stoner metal never quite resonated with me, for some reason. But a band in a studio and a band heard live can be two different animals, and this was the case here. ATW was a bit more restrained and staid than the other acts I was going to hear that night - they were downright slow, in fact - but they served as a great warmup act. They had their head-bobbing moments, as well. Obviously a musically talented band, their lead singer/bass player had great charisma and connected well with the crowd. Their style was reminiscent of early Led Zeppelin with some heavier interludes. I kept expecting them to break into T-bone Walker Blues at any moment. While my least favorite act of the night, they were still very good. I wouldn't go to see them as a headliner, but I would be glad to know that they were an opener at any metal concert I attended.

Next was a band that I was more excited to see, having been turned on to their hard-driving, hair-flailing metal at an earlier date. Kadavar, from Berlin, Germany, took the stage like three visigothic heroes, promising, and delivering, victims for Valhalla. They began by rip-roaring into "Lord of the Sky," presaging much headbanging to come. Things got really heavy when Kadavar tore into "Doomsday Machine" at a volume somewhere at 11+. Christoph "Lupus" Lindemann's high, scorpionesque vocals cut through the wall-of-sound bass licks of Simon "Dragon" Bouteloup and the frenetic drumming of Christoph "Tiger" Bartelt in a tone I can only relate as "Heavy Balance". This worked well for both straight ahead rockers like "Thousand Miles Away from Home" and more complex pieces like "Black Sun". Kadavar ended by tapping deep into their '70s metal roots with "Come Back Life," putting an exclamation point on an excellent set.

And the award for "Drummer that looks and drums most like the Muppets' Animal" goes to Christoph Bartelt, who I thought would tear a rotator cuff, dislocate a shoulder, or worse with his flailing drumming style. My daughter commented that "he's always in control, but he looks like he's out of control". I would not have been surprised to see his arms fly off into the crowd. The guy is nuts - and a great drummer. So much hair. So much energy. So much ANIMAL!!!

Also, their concert shirts were the best, but I'm saving up my money for Gamehole next month!

While the smokers were out doing there thing, my daughter and I went down closer, into the crowd on the floor in front of the stage. Ha, ha! Smokers suck! And we got your spots! (sorry, but I'm a rabid ex- and anti-smoker. As Bruce Dickinson says "stupid habit").

It seemed like forever that the roadies were getting things ready, but finally, The Sword took the stage. I was pleased that they started off with two of my favorites: "Tres Brujas" followed by "The Dreamthieves" (incidentally, I am *just* off to the right of the screen in this video, a few people up from the camera, but I think you only get a glimpse of a sliver of me there. I don't know who took the video, but they were standing not far behind me and to my left.). I had tweeted the band about playing these two songs at the show, so I'd like to think I had some influence there. Probably not, but hey, it was a nice coincidence, anyway.

Now, the thing about The Sword is that, as polished as they sound on their records, they are RAW live. Raw, not ragged or sloppy. To the contrary, they are one of the tightest bands I've ever seen. Their timing is absolutely impecable. As an example of what I'm talking about, "The Dreamthieves" sounds, on the studio version, like it could have appeared on the more mellow side of the Heavy Metal soundtrack. But live - geeze, I think I saw peoples' faces melting! They pulled out all the nice production, turned up the distortion, and blatantly exposed the crowd to a raw radioactive core of pure metal energy. In fact, all of the songs from their most recent album, High Country, were much heavier than the studio versions. Seeing that some have complained about The Sword's psychedelic turn on this album, I can only surmise that those who griped about High Country haven't yet seen the songs performed live. Go see the show - it will make you a believer. Have no fear, The Sword are as hard as ever!

Nowhere is this more evident than on the live performance of "The Bees of Spring," which starts out as a pretty standard blues-riff, ZZ-Top-ish song with not a lot of meat to it. But live . . . something else happened. The song started out, frankly, flat. It was during this song that I took my first few pictures of the band. But I soon had to put my phone away as they pulled out all the stops in what became one of my favorite songs of the evening and one that got the crowd hopping more than any other outside of . . .

"Cloak of Feathers" will, I think, become anthemic and is likely to be the song for which The Sword will be known for decades. And I think the band knows that they've struck gold with this one. Guitarist Kyle Shutt, who had been playing with great energy all night, ratched it up three gears on this one! The crowd went wild. Whereas there was plenty of rocking going on down on the floor where we were all show long, the place just sort of exploded in the balconies and up the back of the venue by the bar. I'm guessing the bartenders had to fight to keep the bottles from coming off the shelves. Such energy! Wow! This was followed by an encore of "Eyes of the Stormwitch". A great nightcap to a great night of music!

Needless to say, I took the next day off of work. Not because I'm hung over - I don't drink - but because I knew I would be half deaf and tired as a dog the next day. But, hey, knowing it's going to take two days to get your hearing back means it was a great concert, right? Right? WHAT?!?

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Manhattan Projects. Vol. 5: The Cold War

The Manhattan Projects, Vol. 5: The Cold WarThe Manhattan Projects, Vol. 5: The Cold War by Jonathan Hickman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just when I was worried that this series would go "off the rails" and become "supergenius scientists . . . in SPAAAAACE!", along comes Lyndon B. Johnson and JFK to ground things back in . . . well, reality isn't quite right. In fact, it's completely wrong. Like previous volumes of this outstanding series, we deal with extradimensional entities and even watch as Einstein, Einstein, and Feynman travel through the interstices of our dimensions. But what make this volume unique from the others is the strong emphasis on political events happening at home (meaning Earth, in this case) including the assassination of JFK and the . . . persuasion . . . of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara to . . . play along with the . . . erm . . . Soviets. Yeah. The Soviets. Um. As you might be able to tell from my hesitations, nothing is as it seems. But is it ever, in Hickman's and Pitarra's universe? The Cold War, which I lived through as a kid, is portrayed here as the most complicated interdimensional chess game you've ever contemplated. But don't contemplate too long, or your mind might be lost, your brain extracted from your skull and replaced by mind control devices, just like what happened to . . . well, nevermind. Imagine the Cold War gone totally gonzo, ratcheted up to "11", then drop a bunch of acid, and you might start to get the idea. Maybe.

This is, by far, the most enjoyable graphic novel series I've read in . . . well, ever. Which means that most "normal" people will absolutely hate it.

I'm totally content with this. Hate on, normal people, hate on.

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VornheimVornheim by Zak S.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every spare inch of this slim hardcover volume is covered in role-playing goodness. Though slightly reminiscent (I use the term anachronistically - Vornheim came first) of the excellent Yoon-Suin, with it's varied tables of random fun, this supplement does not repeat anything from Yoon-Suin. I suspect, in fact, that they might both be used together to great effect.

Vornheim, The Gray Maze, is a hypermassive city in which characters can spend an entire campaign. Actually, given the random way in which the city can be generated on the fly (no, I'm not kidding), one could feasibly run an infinite number of campaigns in Vornheim. Yes, there are several brilliant and Vornheim-specific locales, including the house of the medusa, Eshrigel, the Immortal Zoo of Ping Feng, and the Library of Zorlac, the three of which are worth the cost of the book alone. But the real genius of the book lies in the plethora of random charts that one can use for such diverse tasks as generating NPCs from merchants to aristocrats, determining what adventurers might find while searching a library or a dead body, and generating tavern names and games. The most innovative section is in the urbancrawl rules, which allows for the creation of chunks of city at a time with great ease right there at the gaming table, along with optional chase rules, should the party find itself running through new neighborhoods at breakneck speed because they . . . well, you and your players get to determine the whys and wherefores of those situations!

My only complaint (and I almost dropped this to a four star rating because of this) is that every spare inch of this slim hardcover volume is covered in role-playing goodness. The inside dust jacket and overleafs, both covers of the book, the end pages - EVERYTHING is covered in tables, maps, or charts. Which makes for some squinting to those of us who have outlived the 20/20 vision of our youths. But if you can scrye it all . . . wow, what a vision! The Lamentations of the Flame Princess has struck gold, yet again!

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