Friday, July 25, 2014

Comic Collecting - Space Ghost #1 (1987)



I used to have a pretty nice little comic book collection. Unfortunately, over the passing years and one failed marriage and many moves from place to place the majority of that collection was lost or abandoned. I've decided to rebuild some of the gems of my lost collection one book at a time. I have this post over at Super-Team Family: The Lost Issues to thank for my new ambition.
 
I remember fondly the Comico Space Ghost #1 written by Mark Evanier and Steve Rude, and illustrated by Steve Rude and Willie Blyberg with stunning color work by Ken Steacy from 1987. But, sadly I no longer owned a copy and had not set eyes on the book in years. Before today.

So, here it begins my personal mission to recapture some of my most memorable comic book treasures from years past. These won't necessarily be comics that are famous and fabulous collectors items to anyone other than me. These are comics that I remember. That have retained a fondness in my memory strong enough for me to seek them out again. Space Ghost #1 (1987) is one such comic.

This comic would make an awesome addition to anyone's collection. It's a premium format kind of book and a self-contained salute to the classic Hannah Barbera cartoon character of the 60's. This isn't a reimagining it is an homage. And as such, speaking as a fan of classic Space Ghost. This comic is perfect.

Evanier and Rude script a wonderfully complete story that brings together a rogues gallery of classic Space Ghost villains to battle the hero. Jan and Jace and Blip all have parts to play as well. And the art ... wow ... the art! Rude and Blyberg capture the likenesses of the characters to perfection and Steacy's colors elevate everything to 11. It's more like looking at animation cells than a comic book page. It's all just beautiful.

This was a really nice trip for me down memory lane, and a great place to start rebuilding my collection. My thanks to Ross over at http://braveandboldlost.blogspot.com/ for setting me on this path. I plan to go slow. Pick up maybe one book per month, or one book per payday. I'll share my new treasure with you as I get it.

Regards,


Jeff

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Spellcraft & Swordplay and Eldritch Witchery



Among the blogs that populate my reading list is Tim Brannan's - The Other Side Blog which has been nominated for an Ennie this year by the way, so be sure to stop by and share your enthusiasm for your favorite RPG blogs, products, and what-not. Voting is open now.

Anyway, I believe in supporting my fellow RPG designers whenever I can and I had long been eyeing Tim's Eldritch Witchery (the cover is quite vexing) source book for Spellcraft & Swordplay. But, alas ... I was not familiar with Spellcraft & Swordplay. I was pretty sure it was some kind of OSR retro product, but beyond that I had no idea. So, I decided to check it out.

Upon logging in at DriveThru RPG I found that I had already downloaded the free Basic version of Spellcraft and Swordplay. It must not have made a great first impression, because I had no recollection of it. I decided to take another look. First, I have got to say that upon cursory glance S&S does not make a great first impression. It is easily mistaken for just another retro-clone, and its manifestation as a publication isn't the most attractive. As someone who owns more attractive offerings like Labyrinth Lord, and Castles & Crusades, and Lamentations of the Flame Princess it's easy to see how I had shrugged this one off. But, I was determined to give this book a serious second look, so I settled in for a read. I am really glad that I did.

S&S has been around for awhile and there have been other reviews written about this product. But, despite my interest in retro OSR products, I had never read it, so I am going to share my impressions here, because if I hadn't read it, there are very likely a handful of others out there like me, and maybe I can reach one of them. First, S&S isn't your typical retro-clone. It's a "what if" kind of product. Like Dave Bezio's X-plorers which imagines what the game would have looked like if Gygax and Arneson had been inspired by science fiction instead of fantasy.

S&S imagines what AD&D might have looked like if its core mechanic had been based on the rules for Chainmail (miniature wargame rules that OD&D was originally meant to use) instead of the system that is now the d20 system, (and originally offered as an alternative for new players without access to Chainmail.)

Go back and read that paragraph again. Are you rushing over to DriveThru RPG right now to buy your copy? Hmmm ....

I'm sorry, but on the face of it, S&S seems like such a ... grognardy ... only the most hardcore of old school geeks would even care ... kind of premise, that I can't wonder if it wouldn't leave a large portion of its RPG gaming audience cold. The thing is ... S&S is kind of ... amazing.

By jumping all the way back to square one and then rebuilding OD&D from a "if we knew then what we know now" kind of perspective S&S manages to pull together a solid working old school D&Desque RPG that is better than it should be. The rules for S&S are clean, easy, familiar and yet new. The system uses a d6 (and my prediliction for d6 games is well known) and still manages to feel like D&D.

S&S also uses a magic system that while similar to OD&D is just different enough to be brilliant. The familiar spell tables are present, but skill rolls are used to cast spells. Roll high enough and the spell is cast in the next round. Roll really well and the spell is cast instantly. Roll poorly and the spell isn't cast at all. Only when a spell casting roll is failed like this is a spell forgotten. So, familiar spells can be cast frequently as long as you make the casting skill roll.

It's a genius spell system, and I see why Tim Brannan wanted to write a magic supplement for the game. If you are going to write a magic supplement, might as well start with the OSR game that has the best base magic system I've ever seen.

S&S is a solid retro-style offering. It may become my old-school game of choice. I fear that its grognardy sounding premise and painfully archaic presentation may limit it's audience to only the most hardcore OSR geek. And, as the game incorporates many modern ideas, I fear that audience might interpret S&S as something of a mixed bag.

I feel S&S could use a facelift to raise its visibility in the OSR marketplace. It's an awesome game deserving of a place on your bookshelf. It has print versions available which is a must for me, and I have purchased the core book, Tim's Eldritch Witchery, and the Monstrous Mayhem supplement (all print plus PDF for me.) And anxiously await their arrival.

The core book contains lots of cool options that you don't get to see in the free version and I fear the free version might do the game a bit of a disservice. As I said, I skimmed it and then kind of passed it on when I first got it. I urge people to take another look at this game, and read it. Then read it again. S&S is a diamond in the rough. A first class OSR masterpiece hiding in coach. It shouldn't be over looked.

Eldritch Witchery looks to be even more awesome and to escalate the game even further, especially if you are a fan of pagan witchcraft and wish that someone would take a serious look at that art and apply it to D&D. There is a lot to Eldritch Witchery and I have barely scratched its surface, but I plan to write a follow up later so stay tuned.


Jeff

Friday, July 18, 2014

She Kills Monsters



Today is my birthday and so I went out and saw a play. It was a local production of a show called, "She Kills Monsters." This production by Tulsa's American Theater Company was one of the best I have seen here in years. The production was solid and blessed with a few truly inspired moments.

ATC's new small theater space was comfortable and suited the production well. The fight choreography (yes, I said fight choreography) was brilliant and provided for some very entertaining (and amusing) scenes. The puppets (yep, puppets!) were absolutely beautiful, especially the bugbears. It makes me want to give up on miniatures for my D&D games and incorporate puppets instead. They were awesome. 

All of the acting was solid, the characters fun, and although the production might have felt a bit amateurish in spots it was a kind of comfortable and familiar amateurishness like a favorite home movie, that one could watch over and over again. It only served to make the characters more human and the production stronger for it. 

This is a story about finding safety in fantasy, and about hiding from yourself. It's about selfishness, and self loathing, and self discovery. There are some adult themes here about sexuality, and sexual identity, and some strong language. I would caution parents to be aware, but my 10 year old daughter saw the play with me, and I am very glad that she did.

Sloopy McCoy and Ashley Morecraft standout as the leads. McCoy plays Agnes, a young teacher whose sister Tilly (Morecraft) a 15 year old student, and 6 years Agnes's junior recently died in a car accident. Digging through some of Tilly's things, Agnes finds a D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) adventure module that Tilly had written. Agnes recruits one of Tilly's high school friends to DM (Dungeon Master, a sort of Referee/Theatrical Director-if you direct theater like Charlie Chaplin did.) the adventure and play the game with her so that she might understand the girl that her sister was a little better and maybe connect with her one last time. 

Yes, this is a play about a woman playing D&D. And if I am honest some of the revelations in the script are a bit clunky, but for the most part the script is so casual and genuinely funny, that its harsher deeper content hits like a sledge hammer. It may feel out of place, but no more so than our protagonist, Tilly was in her life, and so perhaps this too is fitting. 

I commend everyone involved with this production and am overjoyed to hear that their run has been extended to August 2nd. As an avid D&D gamer, I could not have spent my birthday in a more perfect way. And as this year is the 40th Anniversary of D&D, this production seems quite timely too. If you live in or around the Tulsa area, go to http://americantheatrecompany.org/now-playing/ to find out more. 

You won't be sorry.


Regards,


Jeff

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Happy Birthday to Me!


So today is my birthday and I got a pretty cool surprise! The 13th Age Bestiary that I advance pre-ordered I can't even tell you how many months ago. I wasn't expecting it, so this was a true birthday surprise! Sorry about the picture quality. My iPad2 takes truly atrocious pictures.

Jeff

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Godzilla 2014 Gets Everything Right!



I have been meaning to sit down and talk about this movie for a while now and here it is almost 2 months later and I guess this is old news now ... but, I would still like to toss in my two cents.

First, I am a Godzilla fan. I am an Ultra-Man fan. I love actors dressed as monsters and heroes battling it out in epic scale. Love it. I wrote a review of Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim and I talked about how much I wanted that movie to reach my inner child, but that somehow it had missed the mark. Then I continued to talk about why I thought that was. In reading the review back now, I realize that everything that I thought Pacific Rim got wrong ... Godzilla 2014 got right.

I loved this movie. It brought out the child that I have inside and had him cheering and crying. I was emotionally engaged by Godzilla in a way that Pacific Rim just wasn't able to manage. With Pacific Rim we were thrust into a world of monsters and it was a bit over whelming (I mentioned in my review that it felt like stepping into the third movie of a trilogy where I had missed the other two movies.) Godzilla doesn't make this mistake. We get to be there with the audience as the wonder and horror of what is happening is unveiled. We are part of that ride, and for me it made a world of difference.

The movie wasn't just a blockbuster of visual action, it was beautiful. It was pretty to look at and often welcoming. This made the horror of the monsters and the destruction they wrought more real and more tragic. The human connections were there for me. The characters didn't feel like caricatures like they did in Pacific Rim and this includes the monsters themselves. The monsters had motivations. We understood them and what they were doing and why. They had personalities.

A favorite bit of monster flavor occurs during a scene on a railroad tracks when a monster turns at the sound of a low long train whistle that is so much like a monster roar that the beast returns the call, roaring back towards the train. It was a nice little bit. These monsters are in their environment. They are a part of it. This adds so much to their legitimacy as characters, I can't begin to express it.

Gareth Edwards did a brilliant job with this film. He is not a director that I know at all, but he is on my radar now and I will be watching for him. The film is a visual masterpiece and a treat in every respect. When I read that the film had done well enough to merit a sequel that Edwards will also direct, I was overjoyed. There are so many inspired moments in this film, and Gareth does something with "door imagery" that I want to take another look at ... there's the door that separates Cranston's character from his wife ... the door that separates a little boy from his parents on the subway ... the door that saves a father and daughter from a flood ... all these peeks through doors. It was interesting. Choices in this film tickled my brain, but not in a bad way. I was never pulled from the film, simply sometimes intreged by it, and in all ways very pleasantly surprised.

I consider myself a true Godzilla fan, and as a Godzilla fan I couldn't be more pleased. This movie is smart, interesting, engaging, beautiful, magical, awesome, and stunning. It's true to it's subject matter and a genuinely worthy addition to the Godzilla family and it got my inner child out cheering! And Godzilla is the hero!

There is a very nice professional review of Godzilla here:
http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/godzilla-2014

It's worth the read. And by all means, if you haven't done so already, go see the movie. It's awesome!


Jeff