Monday, December 12, 2011


I'm drunk. out.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I've been too busy to post much lately with the approaching Holiday, work and some unfortunate family stuff, but I do wish a Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Confession of a Closet Gamer

I am a closet gamer. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I am. My professional career would consist of me being teased and tormented, if I were to admit openly that I like to get together with friends, make up some non-existent personae, roll-some dice, eat some snacks and have a few brews.

It's odd and sad when it is put into perspective. After all, I also like to get together with friends and watch football or hockey. In both cases, snacks and beer are involved. It is the non-existent personae and dice rolling that hangs people up.

I'm just curious, are there other closet gamers out there, like myself, that must keep one of their cherished past times a secret to avoid ridicule?

Playing on-line, Testing the Waters

Not that I have a large following, but I am looking to scratch my gaming itch. Face-to-face is no longer possible, so I am looking at doing something on-line. I'm thinking of using Google+hangout.

If anyone is interested, let me know, or if you have suggestions, please chime in. I would also love to hear from anyone that regularly, or at least has experience with, playing in an on-line fashion, as I am a newb.

The only experience I have had is as a player in a play-by-post Tunnels and Trolls game that, sadly, seems to be dead.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My Own Sword and Sorcery Game: Part 4, Re-thinking, Re-tooling

First off, I'm embarrassed to point out that some how I got my acronym for my game wrong. I was Hell bent on calling it SAGA, for Sword and Sorcery Game Algorithm. DUH. That acronym would be SASGA. Say it with me now, "SAS-GA". Not too much of ring to it is there? So for now, I'm going with MOSS-G (My Own Sword and Sorcery Game), but I'm considering simply My S&S Game. It's not very catching, but I don't care. This isn't something I'm selling, it's just for me. Maybe, if I can do so legally, I'd give it away for free, but I have no plans of making sales.

I'm also rethinking classes. Initially, I did not want to have a spell-caster class, but now I am weebling on that issue. I'm trying to keep a strict Sword & Sorcery flavor to the game, but there really is no reason why I can't allow players to be spell-casters and maintain the S&S feel for the game that I want; however, I don't believe magic as presented in standard D&D would work.

In order for magic to work, it must be dangerous with dire consequences for failure. The trade off for that must be that IF it does work, then the results should be just as spectacular as those of failure. I need to develop a system in which it is usable, but is a last resort. Players should shudder every time they roll the dice.

I'm still firm on no Clerics. The priest as it is represented in D&D is not in my vision.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Random Encounter #2: Village of the Damned

It has been a slow Halloween for me; unfortunately, I came down with Fluzilla last week and I am still in the midst of fighting it.

Normally on Halloween, I go trick-or-treating with a family friend, his two daughters and mine own daughter; however, this year my daughter decided she is too old to need her Daddy with her, and feeling under the weather, I didn't put up too much of a fight.

I do select a scary movie for Halloween weekend viewing. I try my best to make it a movie I have never seen. This year was no exception. I selected the 1960 science fiction film "Village of the Damned" by Wolf Rilla.

It is a faithful adaption, or so I read on Wikipedia, of a The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham. Cuckoos was published in 1957 and has been adapted to screen twice as The Village of the Damned, once in 1960 and again in 1995. I have never viewed the 1995 adaption, odd for me as it was directed by John Carpenter, one of my personal favorite directors. It is worth noting that the 1995 version stars Christopher Reeve in his last performance before becoming paralyzed.

The 1960 version is a creepy film. I was expecting some "cheeze", but there was none to be had. The film is dark in tone. It begins with a mystery and the sense of mystery continues until the shocking end. It is an invasion story in which society is subverted by the alien children. The horror creeps in as it becomes apparent that one of societies cherished treasures, her children, are the "other".

I'm attracted to films of this era that exploit the sense of "the other". With the Cold War raging, and only a bit over a decade past the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan, there were a slew of science fiction films, stories and novels from the era that exploited the fear.

I've decided to add a new element to the few reviews I actually do for this blog. That element is a Random Encounter that can easily be slid into a fantasy campaign. In this case, I offer one inspired by the film.

Random Encounter #2: Village of the Damned
While traveling the characters come upon a tiny village. An old faded sign bears the wood burned word "Midwich" branding it thus. They come upon the village in the middle of the day. Just past the sign, there is a farmer's cart, the horse is asleep as is the farmer and what may be his younger son or farm hand. Both are slumped in the cart.

Investigation finds the same scene through out the village. It is obvious that the villagers are only sleeping, but nothing will arouse them. It is easy enough to rob the village, for those so inclined, but it is a poor village and not much is found worth stealing.

What caused the villagers slumber? A powerful sleep spell? A cursed item (perhaps now in possession of thieving characters)? Perhaps the village borders too close to the Fae, and they are involved. Could it be a Goblin plot? If so, what do the goblins gain by putting an entire village to sleep?

The villagers could wake up while the characters are there, or they may have to find a way to awaken them. This could be a straight forward adaption of the film to game, in which case the DM will have to devise a reason for the characters to stick around for the birth of the alien children. It would be easy enough to devise a reason for them to return two years later, when the children are born and well advanced beyond their years.

Instead of a straightforward adaption, the children could be part Fae, or goblin, further inspiration on Fae children that appear human could be found in the novel The Broken Sword, by Poul Anderson.

Friday, October 21, 2011

My Own Sword and Sorcery Game: Part 3, Attributes

I will begin this post with the obligatory statement of I declare these items as part of the OGL.

I'm going to start the "crunchy" bits with player character and non-player character attributes, those attributes that every person in the game world would have.

In doing so, I've decided to use the Fudge engine as my basis, with a heavy influence from the world's most popular fantasy game, with a few items mixed in from other games that I like.

First a quick explanation of Fudge mechanics, for those that do not know. Attributes are left up to the game master in Fudge. There are no set attributes. Three broad catagories are given (Body, Mind and Soul), but it is up to the Game Master and players to decide as to what, if any attributes are to be used.

After each attribute is selected, an adjective is assigned to each ranging from Terrible to Superb, with Fair being the average. In "basic" Fudge, four six sided dice are rolled. Traditional Fudge dice have two blank faces that equal zero, two + faces that increase the result by 1 and two - faces that decrease results by one. Most skill rolls require a "Fair" or better result to succeed. So if a skill roll is needed at a "Fair" result for success and that skill is based upon an attribute that is set at "Fair", then four Fudge dice are rolled. If the results were +, -, blank, blank, then the + and - would cancel each other out, and the two "blank" results would have no impact. Since the skill started at Fair, it remains at Fair and succeeds.

I've never been a fan of the "adjective" method, so I prefer to assign numbers to the attributes. I also prefer random attribute generation. So in order to obtain both results, I will have the players roll 3d6 for each attribute. The number obtained will result in a modifier of -3 to +3. These modifiers, with the average being "0" will be added to skill rolls. The modifiers will be thus:

3 = -3
4-5 = -2
6-8 = -1
9-12 = 0
13-15 = +1
16-17 = +2
18 = +3

I will work out later, exactly how these results will factor into skill rolls.

For my attributes I've selected:

Strength: deals with all skills that are physical strength based such as attacking with a weapon and opening a jambed door. Also acts as a modifier to the amount of damage dealt.

Dexterity: deals with all skills that are based upon manual dexterity, such as dodging a blow and jumping from roof top to roof top. Also acts as a modifier to the character's Armor Class.

Constitution: deals with all skills related to health such as determining the effects of drinking poison, or determining how long a character can run with out stopping. This is also a character's "hit-point" score and is modified through character advancement and can go above the level of "18".

Intelligence: deals with all skills related to mental ability. For spell-casters, this directly effects their ability to channel magic.

Melee: Used to determine the effectiveness of a direct melee attack upon an opponent. Along with Constitution, this is an attribute that can increase with character advancement and can go above the level of "18".

Ballistics: Used to determine the effectiveness of ranged attacks upon an opponent. Along with Constitution and Melee, this is an attribute that can increase with character advancement and can go above the level of "18".

Luck: A catch all attribute used to determine various "Saving Rolls" when another attribute is not applicable. It's modifier, if positive, may be added to any roll of the player's choice up to the maximum modifier level per session. In other words, a Luck attribute score of 16 grants a total modifier of +2. That +2 could either be added to a single roll, or two separate rolls at +1 each, per session. A character's Luck score modifier also acts as the character's "Fate Points". Fate points can be cashed in to keep a character alive beyond the point when he would normally be dead. Each use of a "Fate" point is permanent and results in a permanent drain on the over all Luck Attribute Score of -1. Luck can be modified with character advancement.

My Own Sword and Sorcery Game: Part 2, Influences

I'm still in the note-taking process of mashing together my own role playing game, but it is fun just thinking about it.

Step one of this process is declaring "what" my game is going to be about. In three words: Sword and Sorcery.

The definition of Sword and Sorcery I prefer is by Philip Martin in his work The Writer's Guide to Fantasy Literature: From Dragon's Lair to Hero's Quest.

"Sword and Sorcery [is characterized] a strong bias towards fast-paced, action rich tales set within a quasi-mythical or fantastical framework. Unlike high or epic fantasy, the stakes tend to be personal, the danger confined to the moment of telling" (Martin 35).

I also like Karl Edward Wagner's definition: "[Sword and Sorcery is]...a fascinating synthesis of horror, adventure and imagination...displayed to best effect in a universe in-which magic works and an individual may kill according to his personal code". I like KEW's definition for it puts "horror" first. This is important for I feel that the proper father of Sword and Sorcery is Robert E. Howard.

The roots of Sword and Sorcery, just as those of Epic/High Fantasy, stem from the great epics (Gilgamesh, Beowulf, etc.) and the much later Lord Dunsany story, "The Fortress Unvanquishable Save for Sacnoth"; however, it was Howard's 1929 Kull story, "The Shadow Kingdom" which solidified what Sword and Sorcery would become, even if the phrase Sword and Sorcery would not be coined until 30 years later by Fritz Leiber. Howard, of course, was heavily influenced by his contemporary, H.P. Lovecraft, and horror, and/or a sense of dread, was often a large factor in the Sword and Sorcery writings of Howard, and those of Clark Ashton Smith.

Thus I've begun my project by deciding upon my own early Appendix N. I'm sure the list will change as I go along.

Another early decision I'm trying to arrive at is a good working title. The best I've come up with so far is: Sword and Sorcery Game Algorithm, or SAGA. It is a mouth full, and the use of the word "Algorithm" is forced as an synonym for "System", but works as an acronym in the spirit of Fudge and GURPS, and it serves as a tribute to both the North sagas and the 1960's Swordsmen and Sorcerer's Guild of America, whose membership included Lin Carter, Fritz Leiber and Jack Vance, just to name three.

My second option is MOSS-Game, My Own Sword and Sorcery-Game.

Advice, votes and suggestions are welcome.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Own Sword and Sorcery Game

In a recent post, I spoke of my wish to design my own version of D&D; however, not for general consumption, but only for my own use. I now realize that what I really want is my own Sword and Sorcery game.

I make this distinction because while a quick look at the Appendix N (from the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide) will show that D&D is strongly rooted in the traditional roots of Sword and Sorcery (i.e. Robert E. Howard, Fritz Lieber), it also tries to be rooted in the genre of High Fantasy (J.R.R Tolkien being the most obvious example listed in Appendix N). In fact, I believe this is D&D's greatest appeal; however, it is also it's greatest limitation.

While it is cool that players can "make their own game" by simply omitting aspects of the game they do not wish to include; I suspect that the willingness to do so is more apt to be found amongst those that enjoy the OSR. Furthermore, I believe, and this is merely opinion, I believe that with the publication of AD&D, TSR began moving its fan base away from the idea of "it's your game, do what you want", and more towards, "this is the official way you should play". This is, as I said opinion only, but consider the old house organ magazine of Dragon back in the day and the regular feature "Sage Advice" in which any questions of "what's the official rule here?" were answered. I don't mean to be repetitive, but there was a definite drive towards making things "official".

It is damn hard to be "official" and all encompassing with a game like D&D, for it involves the tropes of Sword and Sorcery, High Fantasy and at times even a splash of Historical Fantasy and Sword and Planet. I believe as the game progressed towards the late 80's there was a drive to be more High Fantasy then anything else.

All of this is fine, but it's not the game I want. So fine, I'm a firm believer in the OSR (even if I don't solidly play in the OSR sandbox), so I am free to do what I want. Don't like the Cleric class? Nix it. Don't want Players running magic-users? Don't let them. Don't want hordes of cannon fodder monsters running around? Fine, then throw out the Monster Manual and make your own creepy-crawlers. All of those decisions are easy.

It is even easy enough to make crunchy rules decisions. Don't like alignment? Don't use it. Think Wisdom is a silly attribute? Don't use it. etc. etc. etc..

It comes to a point though when you have to ask yourself: am I still playing D&D? It's okay if the answer is no. My answer is No. I find it liberating. I am now free to do whatever I want.

In another recent post, I listed my ten favorite rpg products.
Now that I am free to do whatever I want, why not combine all of the elements I like from those products and make my own game? The first non game changing rule I would make is my game will be grounded in Sword and Sorcery, minus all the high fantasy. It will be markedly low fantasy. I'm simply going to mash together everything I like and make it work.

This will be fun. Now if I only actually had time to game. *Sigh*

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Own Dungeons & Dragons

Gaming is keeping me awake tonight. Not the actual playing of a game; unfortunately, but the wishing that I were and more to the point, the idea of what my personal D&D game would be like.

One thing I appreciate about the OSR and the OGL is the opportunity that both grant fans to design and use their very own personal "perfect" version of the world's most popular role playing game.

I'm not planning on pushing forward yet another clone. There is nothing wrong with the substantial number of clones out there that are available to fans; however, I don't feel the need to offer up what would be my personal "perfect" game.

The "what" that game would be is keeping me awake. First, I would pair down the races to one: human. I think having so many, and in some case too many race options eliminates the weirdness of the alien or the other.

Second, I would restrict the classes available to Fighter and Thief. Magic-user would be a class reserved for NPC's, most often the villains. This would give it more of a traditional sword & sorcery flavor. Magic would be less common, and when encountered, it would most often be feared. Magic items would always be suspect.

Clerics have just never jived with me as a class. I'm not down playing the importance of religion in the game, but too often clerics are just a convenient traveling medic/turner of undead. Some clerical magic I would keep, but I would convert it as magic-user spells.

Having only two class options, I would adapt the concept of Character Kits from 2nd edition AD&D. I would use a simple skill system that allows each character to be different.

Third, I would not have a monster manual. Monsters would not be as common as they are in the typical D&D game and when they were encountered, they would be truly monstrous. I would not have too many repeat appearances of monsters. I would strive to make each monster unique. Alien. Other.

I have many more specific rules changes, but those are for another time. Now, I'm off to sleep.

Friday, October 14, 2011

John Carter Trailer 2012 -- Official Movie Trailer | HD

I am probably the 100,000,000th person to share this, but I am stoked about this movie. Here is hoping that this does for Burroughs, what the latest Conan movie did not do for Howard.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Random Encounter #1: The Door to Hell

With this post I am attempting to make this blog live up to its namesake of Random Encounters. With this series of posts, I will present persons/places/things that can randomly be inserted into games. This, being the first, I've decided to go with an encounter inspired by a natural phenomenon from the "real" world that has always intrigued me: The Door to Hell located in Turkmenistan.

The Door to Hell in Turkmenistan was created three decades ago initially by a mining accident that released dangerous gases. Thinking that those gases would burn off in a matter of days, fire was set to them. It has been burning for 35 years.

It would be interesting if as part of the back-story of the crater, it too had been burning for a similar number of years. With this in mind, the players could seek out old-timers that were there when it started burning. The genesis of the flame could be mundane or mysterious as the Dungeon Master sees fit.

The Door to Hell is a location based encounter. It is easily placed randomly, or as a planned location in a desert environment.

It is possible, and may be more effective, if the characters have heard rumors of it.

As the picture shows, it is a gaping maw of fire. It began burning years ago. There are various reasons: perhaps a craft of alien origins wrecked and ignited it, or it may have been caused by a magical mishap, it could be a direct opening to the elemental plane of fire, or, as its namesake suggests, it could very well be the Door to Hell.

Adventure Seeds:
The ideas below are just adventure seeds, the doorway could be used as local color as well.

As a low-level encounter, it is doubtful that the characters would have the means to directly enter the doorway, so adventures at this level would have it as background noise; however, having knowledge of its location, the characters could return when they have means sufficient to explore it further.

The characters could come across it and find a cult of desert dwelling clerics that firmly believe the crater to be either a door to Hell or a portal to the elemental plane of fire. The cultist could be right.

This cult has kidnapped some victims from a nearby oasis, and plans on sacrificing them by tossing them into the pit. Thus, this could be a simple "rescue the prisoners" encounter; however, what happens if the players are not successful in their rescue? Perhaps there is a an astronomical convergence and if the cultists are successful, then something "bad" will be released. The "bad" could be an elemental that is not happy about being on the prime material plane, or it could be a demon or devil that the players are not powerful enough to deal with. The being may or may not be controlled by the cultists.

As a mid-level adventure, the characters could have been sent by a higher level magic-user that wants something from the door that will enable him to make a powerful item.

The item could be a ruby that is deep within the crater that would be valuable for making the elemental item the mage has in mind.

The players could be granted temporary or, items with limited charges, or expendable items - such as potions- that will allow them to enter the doorway. Of course, there are bound to be denizens, elemental or nefarious in nature, that call the Doorway home.

Perhaps the doorway is nothing more than a mundane crater that continually flames from the gases that have been put to torch. It may still have attracted creatures from the elemental plane of fire that now claim it as home. It may have been set fire for a reason. Perhaps it is a doorway that leads to a "Lost World" in the spirit of Edgar Rice Burroughs Pellucidar. An advanced elder race calls this Hollow Earth home and set the crater to flame three decades ago when their Utopian realm was threatened with discovery by a band of adventurers. They are not happy to be "re-discovered". While their realm is Utopian for them, it is not for the race of primitive humans (or elves, or dwarves, or halflings) that they keep enslaved.

As a higher level adventure, it could be much the same as the mid-level adventure, but now the characters may all ready have magics of their own that allow them to enter the doorway.

It could be a level of a mega-elemental dungeon. There are other levels dedicated to each element and there are sub-levels dedicated to various lesser elements. As a level of a mega-dungeon, it could be a door way to the first of the Nine-Hells that just happens to connect directly with the Prime Material Plane. It may also be a smaller dungeon as the lair of an ancient Red Dragon that is as much Elemental as it is dragon. It may also be the home of an exiled Demi-God of Fire. The demi-god might also be a member of an elder race from beyond the stars that crashed here three decades ago and is yearning to return home.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ten Favourite RPG Products

If I had time to game, I would be using one of these, my all time favorite RPG products. Some are games, some are supplements:

10. Star Trek: The Next Generation Role Playing Game

Known as LUGTrek by those who played it (LUG short for Last Unicorn Games), this was a simple set of rules with a character creation system that I loved. A series of templates were used and were over laid upon the basic character to create the hero wanted for the game.

The system wasn't perfect. Somethings were glitchy; for instance starship battles were long and drawn out and just about anything was solvable with a creative use of skills and technobabble. However, I ran a year long campaign with this that everyone had a blast with.

I don't think I would ever run it again, although I have considered it, but when I did play this game, I had a blast.

9. GURPS Fantasy Folk (3rd edition rules)

This is a great book stuffed full of lots of cool factoids and adventure seeds. I owned many GURPS supplements, but this is the only one that I used as much as the main GURPS rulebook. My D&D races were and are heavily influenced by this book. I can't recommend it enough just as a source of good ideas.

8. Tunnels & Trolls (5th edition)

Tunnels & Trolls 5th edition is a game I love, but every time I try to get people to play it, there is always that "one guy" that sneers and bitches so much that it isn't worth the effort. Consequently, every time I am lucky enough to join in as a player in T&T, it never lasts.

Simply, I love this game. I choose 5th edition, for it is the edition I own. It is easy to learn, plays fast and the only solid rule is use common sense. It is the ultimate old-school game, in my not-so-humble-opinion.

7. GURPS (3rd edition)

I've played lots of roleplaying games in my day, and a lot of those games were played with the third edition of Steve Jackson's GURPS. I went through a phase in the late 80's and early 90's where I wouldn't play anything unless I could run it with GURPS. I was, in fact, a GURPS Snob.

I had lots of the world books and supplements, but used very few of them. Honestly, I found GURPS to be most useful when I was converting other games and supplements for use with it.

I fell out of love with GURPS, and can't honestly see myself using it again, but man I got a lot of mileage out of this baby. My copy is so beaten, it barely stays together.

6. Birthright
While I was never a fan of the 2nd edition AD&D rules, I spent a greater part of the 90's running my fantasy campaigns in TSR's Birthright setting. I initially picked it up in a bargain bin at a book store, and was so impressed with it, I couldn't wait to run it. For the next six years, all of my D&D campaigns were in the realm of Birthright. When WotC came out with 3rd edition, I converted my BR campaign to 3rd (only to later discover that there was a thriving on-line BR Community that had done the work for me). I even once ran BR with GURPS 3rd edition (again, GURPS Snob).

I still have a fond spot in my heart for BR and have been tinkering with a FUDGE version of the game off and on for years. Someday...


Speaking of Fudge, I've never actually played this system, but have been tempted to so many times. I've lost track of how many different Fudge campaigns I have planned and never played.

It is such a simple system. It is easy to learn and has my favorite price: FREE!

Someday I will play this game. I must. I promise myself.

4. Death on the Reik

Of all the pre-packaged adventures I have ever run, this is my all time favorite. Death on the Reik (DotR) was originally written for the first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

It is the ultimate sandbox adventure. Early into it, the characters come into possession of a trading ship and become traders. Along the way, they can go anywhere, but they are hounded by cultists, Skaven, vampires, and come across some pretty cool places to explore.

It is part of the mega-campaign called "The Enemy Within", but is my favorite part of the whole campaign. I've played many miles with this book and have many memorable campaign moments.

3. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide (1st ed.)

I love this book. While first edition may not be my "go-to" edition of the game that is dear to my heart, this guide is my "go-to" reference. I have referenced Gygax's big-book-of-everything even when I'm not playing D&D. For instance, are you playing a science fiction game and your players are stranded on an alien planet with only horse-like creatures for transportation and you need to know how long it will take them traveling overland to reach civilization? Look here. What if there is a monsoon? Look here. Need trappings for an abandoned temple they found? Look here.

This is such a use full book and even if a game master doesn't find it as use full as I do, it is hard to deny the influence this one tome has had on every edition of Dungeons & Dragons, and just about every other fantasy RPG that came after it.

I chose this cover, for this is the one I have in my collection. I also go against the grain of the norm, and find this cover to be my favorite.

2. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (1st edition)

The past ten years of my gaming life have been dedicated to both 1st edition WFRP and 2nd edition. I own the controversial 3rd edition, but have never played it.

This game is genius. What would you get if you took D&D, crossed it with Call of Chtulhu and really hyped up the violence level to the point that combat is deadly and should be avoided? What if that game had a really cool character advancement system where the characters advanced through different careers versus "leveling up"? What if that game had a solid Sword and Sorcery vibe versus a Tolkienish Fantasy realm? What game would it be? Answer: This guy.

I currently play 2nd edition, but the first edition is still one of my favorites; namely, it is my favorite because everything needed is in one book: character creation, game master material on running the game and a monster manual. I love gaming products where everything needed to play is in one volume.

WFRP is a game I will always return to.

1. Dungeons & Dragons
And when I say "Dee and Dee" I'm sayin' any version that came before 1989. This bad boy pictured to the left is the first version of D&D I owned, and was the first RPG I owned (but not the first I ever played - that distinction goes to The Fantasy Trip).

When I was playing in the early 80's, me and my buddies made no distinction between "Basic" D&D and "Advanced" D&D. We also didn't care what version of D&D "Basic" we played with either. Meaning, we gleefully used the Moldvay "five basic sets: Basic, Expert, Companion, Masters, Immortals" and combined them with AD&D.

Our games were a mash of all the available rules. We used Classes and Races, but ignored level limits, and race/class restrictions. We used the Immortal rules to advance our characters to godhood. We got our hands on The Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and had laser weapons alongside vorpal swords. It didn't matter to us, it was all D&D.

When I play the Grand Daddy now, I tend to use Chris Gonnerman's Basic Fantasy Role Playing Game (BFRPG), but in my heart, I'm still playing this game and I'm still 12 and in wonder.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Five Books I Couldn't Live Without

My geekness has been reduced to reading and watching movies as of late. As I mentioned in a previous post, gaming just isn't in the cards for me right now. So my perusal of all things geek has been limited this summer, mostly to reading.

Just for fun, I thought "what five books in my collection could I absolutely not live without?" This was not an easy selection to come to. I love books. The selections I made are not necessarily my all-time favorite reads, but they are books that I love to read, and over the years have returned to continually.

The list:

5. The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, edited by S.T. Joshi

Here is a book that I continually enjoy reading. Some Lovecraft enthusiasts are not in agreement with Mr. Joshi's criticism, but I always find his studies enjoyable and approachable. He can be opinionated, and I don't always agree with his opinions, but still, hands down, this is my favorite way to enjoy and study the works of H.P. Lovecraft. I only wish that one day I will acquire the book More Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, also edited by S.T. Joshi.

4. J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings, Illustrated by Alan Lee

In my opinion, the best way to read tLotR is a marathon session of all three volumes together, as one massive book. If you're going to do that, then again in my opinion, nothing sets the tone better then the gorgeous water colors and pencils of Mr. Alan Lee. This is a massive book that I have read twice (putting my times of reading tLotR at three - not high enough to put me in the ranks of "serious Tolkien fans". It does not fit easily in a back pack, and thus might not be the best book to take to the beach, but is awesome just to behold.

3. The Annotated Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Douglas A. Anderson

Tolkien makes my list twice. The Hobbit was my first introduction to his writing, and it is a book I have read more times then I can count. I enjoy it more than The Lord of the Rings, and this is my favorite edition of the work to read.

Douglas A. Anderson is a good editor. His notes are intriguing, and this is actually the book that put me on the path of discovering for myself the roots of fantasy. If the roots of fantasy is a subject you enjoy then I can not recommend this book more.

2. The Essential Ellison, a 35 - Year Retrospective

Harlan Ellison to me is one of the greats. His short stories hit the range of emotions for me from tantalizing to "I think I've been punched in the stomach and might be sick" with everything else in between. He has an amazing mind that I admire.

Ellison has challenged me, angered me and sickened me. While this book doesn't have all of his greatest stories, it has enough to serve as an introduction to him and the world of speculative fiction. I've read it cover to cover, and four or five times a year, I pull it off the shelf, turn to a random selection and read. Great stuff from stories to essays.

1. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card

Absolutely, hands down, if I were told I could have only one book to last me the rest of my life, it would be Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. I am not putting forward that it is the greatest book ever written, but for me, it is the book that fired my imagination and sent me spiraling into the world of science fiction. I was a science fiction fan before reading this, but this is the one book that I recommend to anyone who even remotely likes sci-fi. If they hate sci-fi, I even encourage them to read it, in hopes that it will change their minds. I've bought many copies of this over the years, as I tend to hand it off as a gift to people I've encountered that have not read it, but I always replace it with a copy from one of my favorite used book stores.

It is action packed, thought provoking and at times gut-wrenching. Yes, I love me some Ender's Game.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Conan or Clonan?

In this post, I am referring to the new Conan: The Barbarian movie. Let me state first that I have spent most of my summer reading, and in some cases re-reading, all things Robert E. Howard.

I've always been a fan of Conan, and I've been a peripheral fan of REH; however, it was within the past two years that I became a hard core REH fan.

My introduction to the character of Conan came from issues of Marvel Comic's The Savage Sword of Conan. These comics coupled with the "Arnan" movie drove me to a thirst for all things Conan that has lasted twenty years. As an adolescent, I devoured every Tor Conan paperback that I came across, gleefully innocent of the fact that most didn't match up to the real thing, and over the years, I have followed Conan in comic book form, traveling from Marvel to Dark Horse.

I'm not sure why it took me so long to become a REH fan, but it did. I read other things besides Conan, namely Kull and a few, odd Solomon Kane stories, but I never felt the need to dive into Howard's other creations. This changed with the recent Del Rey Robert E. Howard library series.

I bought them all as they came out, and read the Conan stories immediately. I must admit, I believe this is the first time I had ever read all of the Conan stories, I'm sure I had read most of them in one form or another - mostly various comics adaptions, but never all of them. My initial experience to the true Howard Conan stories was also through the Lancer editions edited by L. Sprague de Camp. Thus, I had never read un-edited Howard.

As I said, it was not until early this past spring that I began reading everything Howard that I could get my hands on. I bought all of the Del-Rey trade paper backs as they came out (minus The Horror Stories of REH, which I for some reason missed). It started because I was so impressed by the Solomon Kane stories that I immediately launched into the Kull stories, followed quickly by Bran Mak Morn, both "Best of" books, El Borak and sadly the last in the series "Historical Tales".

Wow. I am hooked. That being said, I finally found time to see the latest Conan movie at my local second-run-bargain theater. Even though I am now a solid REH enthusiast, I am not an REH Purist; meaning, there are REH fans that loath pastiche. It has been years since I've read any Conan pastiche (other than in comics, which I have read a mountain or two of), and while I am certain I most likely would not enjoy the Tor pastiche novels as much as pure REH, I do have fond memories of reading them. I will have to revisit them one day.

Even though I am not an REH Purist, I did not have high hopes for the new film. My feeling was that if it was better then Conan The Destroyer, or at least as good as "Arnan" The Barbarian (which I still enjoy watching to this day), I would be happy.

I left the theater happy with the $3 I spent on watching it. My son, who is neither an REH fan, nor a particularly big Conan fan, enjoyed it as well. Yes, I have problems with the overall plot, particularly, I had problems with the fact that for nearly two hours our heroes are dreading the bad guy completing and activating the mask. Spoiler Alert: Big Bad Guy does so, but the mask doesn't seem to do much of anything. It was akin to Sauron gaining the One Ring and after much dread, it just looks pretty on his finger.

There are other quibbles, Jason Mamoa has brown eyes, not blue, etc.. However, it was a fun movie. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough of a box office smash to warrant more Conan movies and that is sad. I can promise you this, it's better then, and truer to Howard's vision then the television show Conan the Adventurer, and the cartoon of the same name and don't even get me started on Conan and the Young Warriors.

Overall, three stars. It is not Conan, but is just more Clonan, but check your brain at the popcorn stand and enjoy.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Trying to Claw My Way Back from the Dead

It has been a hellishly busy summer that has left me no time for gaming or blogging. Things are starting to slow down for me, and with more free time, I'm going to blog more. I wish I would be gaming more, but that is still not in the cards for me.

To all of those that read this blog during my absence and made comments, thank you so very much. I appreciate the support.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

My Ignored Blog

Work has been hellishly busy for me the past few months, hence my silence on this blog. On a sadder note, I've finally admitted to myself that my work schedule just does not jive with being able to participate in a face-to-face group. I really dig the people in my group and hope to do the occasional board game with them; however, running or even taking part in a regular game just is not in the cards for me. I'm hoping for a career change in three years, but that is a ways away.

I am currently trying to put together an online game. I play in a Tunnels and Trolls play-by-post and enjoy it, but it is slow and I don't mean that as a criticism of the game, it is just the nature of play-by-post.

I'm not sure if I will run a play-by-post or not. I can't guarantee any regular posting. I would much rather try running something using Skype and/or Fantasy Grounds II. Until I get something going, my gaming is done for now. I will continue posting. I actually have some changes for this blog that I am anxious to get under way. More to come on that, hopefully soon.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Conan, Illustrated through the Ages

In anticipation of the new Conan movie being released in August of this year, my mind and free reading time has been occupied with the writings of Robert E. Howard. I have not been reading his Conan stories, per se; however, I did recently read his Kull stories and his Bran Mak Morn tales. Currently, I'm reading El Borak.

The character of Conan has always intrigued me, but (and here REH enthusiasts are free to hate me) my favorite media to enjoy Conan tales has always been in the medium of comics, be those stories directly REH inspired or not.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good Conan yarn written by the man himself, "Red Nails" and "The Tower of the Elephant" being two of
my favorites, but I'm quickly finding that REH's writing was more powerful with his other, lesser known characters versus with Conan. I believe this is because in Conan he found a marketable character that become more "bread and butter" for him rather then exploratory.

I did a quick search of Conan illustrations, and found it interesting to show case how the Barbarian has been depicted in illustrative interpretations throughout the years.

Pictured above is, as far as I know, the first professional attempt at illustrating the character of Conan. It is an interior illustration from the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. Consequently, "The Phoenix on the Sword" was Howard's first Conan tale successfully sold (and was of course a re-write of the Kull tale "By This Ax I Rule"). The illustration above is by Jayem Wilcox. I don't know much about Jayem Wilcox. A quick Google search didn't turn up a whole lot, but (as far as I know) he goes down in history as the first artist to render a drawing of Howard's Conan character.

Howard's Conan tales were granted "issue cover status" nine times in Weird Tales. All nine covers were by fan favorite Margaret Brundage. Brundage was known (and favored) for her images depicting bondage and flagellation of women, her women being soft, with a doe like innocence, their faces contorted with fear from the situations Brundage depicts them in. I find her illustrations charged with an undercurrent of repressed sexuality.

Of the nine Conan covers she painted, only three prominently featured the Cimmerian. Those were the May 1934 issue ("Queen of the Black Coast"), August 1934 ("The Devil in Iron") and December 1935 ("The Hour of the Dragon).

So from 1932 to 1935, these were the depictions of the Cimmerian.

The next time Conan would grace the cover of a magazine was in August 1948, issue 8 of Avon Fantasy Reader ("Queen of the Black Coast") then again in October 1949, issue 10 of the same ("A Witch Shall be Born").

Avon Fantasy Reader (hereby referred to as AFR) was published from 1946 to 1952 and ran for 18 issues in total.

AFR published (reprinted actually) works by REH, HPL, C.L. Moore and A. Merritt just to name a few.

I could find no information regarding who illustrated the covers for these two issues. While I find that I prefer the depictions of the damsels in Brundage's illustrations, I find the depiction of Conan on much the same mark as first Wilcox and later Brundage depicted him.

I find the cover of issue 10 interesting as it features a Conan without a "shaggy mane". Conan as depicted here has a decidedly Romanesque look to him, which I also noticed in Jayme Wilcox's interior illustration for "The Phoenix on the Sword". On another side note, I do dig the "target" bra worn by the damsel on the cover of issue 10. It is a bit, mesmerizing.

In 1950, Conan would move from magazine covers to his first collected book editions, the

hardback editions published by Gnome Press from 1950 to 1957.

GP would published seven volumes, collecting together not only those stories which first saw light in Weird Tales but also included previously unpublished tales. It was with Gnome Press that L. Sprague de Camp would begin his habit of rewriting Howard tales to "improve" upon them.

It was also in the final volume of these editions, The Return of Conan (1957) that the first Conan pastiche was born, written by Bjorn Nyberg.

Five of the seven volumes had Conan depicted upon their covers. 1950's Conan the Conquerer (AKA, The Hour of the Dragon) featured a simple drawing of another Romanesque Cimmerian by John Forte. Forte was primarily a comics artist best known for his work on Legion of Super Heroes.

The Coming of Conan, 1953, was for me the most interesting interpretation of Conan to date. The art is by Frank Kelley Freas. Freas was a Hugo award winning artist. He did illustrations for books, magazines, album covers and even NASA (more of his art can be found here).

It wasn't until Lancer Books published Conan the Adventurer in 1966, that Frank Frazetta would paint his character defining images that would influence every artist that depicted Conan after him.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Appendix N: Leigh Brackett's "The Halfling and Other Stories"

While I have immensely enjoyed Leigh Brackett, and will undoubtedly read more from her, this will be the last of my Leigh Brackett Appendix N entries for a while. I am feeling the need to move further down my reading list of Anderson to Zelazny.

I found my copy of this book in a used book store, and while I have seen it for sale on-line, I encourage you to haunt your local used book stores first, as I firmly believe in supporting local owned businesses.

As far as I know, this book and many of the stories contained within it are out of print.

My copy is dog eared, beaten up, stained with loose pages. Luckily, it is intact and I only paid $1. It is a paperback first Ace Books printing from 1973. I was unable to confirm who the cover art was by, any information on this would be appreciated. There was a second Ace printing done in 1983 which has cover art cited to Mel Odom.

It contains the following stories: "The Halfling", "The Dancing Girl of Ganymede", "The Citadel of Lost Ages", "All the Colors of the Rainbow", "The Shadows", "Enchantress of Venus", "The Lake of the Gone Forever" and "The Truants". Strangely, "The Truants" is not included in the table of contents, nor is any first printing information provided for it in the Acknowledgements section. I was able to find said information with minimal research.

"The Halfling" being the title story, was the first in the collection. It first appeared in Astonishing Stories, 1943. While it was not my favourite story in the collection, it showcased Brackett's ability to write across genres as it was a science fiction story, but had a definite hard boiled noire feel to it. Halflings in Brackett's universe are not the happy hobbits found in Tolkien's world. In Brackett's stories, a halfling is a creature that is half human and half something else. It is a concept seen in her novel The Sword of Rhiannon, and to a lesser extent, her Skaith novels as well. It is a concept that I find intriguing, and I am considering adopting it into my own D&D universe; perhaps retiring the happy hobbits of "Tolkienville".

"The Dancing Girl of Ganymede" first appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories, 1950. This story was a striking cross between C.L. Moore's "Shambleau" and Philip K. Dick's novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Interestingly enough, C.L. Moore's Northwest Smith story was published in Weird Tales in 1933, while Androids was not published until 1968. I wonder if Moore's story influenced Brackett, and consequently, Brackett influenced Dick? Honestly, I am not enough of a scholar on any of the three to say with any certainty. I draw connections between these three as a casual reader. I point out a connection to Catherine Moore as "Dancing Girl" shares a plot structure used to a large extent (perhaps too large of an extent) by Moore in her Northwest Smith stories; that being "Boy meets Girl, Girl turns out to be far more then Boy anticipated". I only use "Shambleau" as an example as it was the first to pop into my head by Moore; actually, any number of her Smith stories would work nicely. As to the connection to Philip K. Dick, there is a theme shared in both "Dancing Girl" and "Androids", "Man vs. Machine, and the rights of said machines".

"The Citadel of Lost Ages" first appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories, 1950. This story reminded me of a novel by Henry Kuttner, The Dark World, published 1946. Thematically both are similar, but my connection may be born of the fact that I read The Dark World not too long ago.

"All the Colors of the Rainbow", Venture Science Fiction, 1957. This story stood out for me the most in the entire collection. Here Brackett tackles racism as only a science fiction writer can. I found it, interesting, sad and still (sadly) relevant.

"The Shadows", Startling Stories, 1952. This was a straight up "bug-hunt"; although in this case the "bugs" were shadows. It contained the most interesting quote in the collection: "We aren't welcome in the universe. I don't know why. Maybe it's because we're not content to be the animals we are, but must always be pretending that we're something else, prying about and upsetting things, grasping after stars, making trouble and screaming because it hurts. I don't know. I only know that we are hated. Everywhere I've been, everywhere there was a man, they've been gotten rid of somehow". Substitute "world" for "universe" and "American" for "man" and it is still a phrase that rings true.

"The Enchantress of Venus", Planet Stories, 1949 (also published as "City of the Lost Ones"). This is an Eric John Stark tale; actually, it is the second Stark story written by Brackett, the first being "Queen of the Martian Catacombs". It is a solid Stark story, and a solid story regardless of the protagonist, and I wonder why it has not been re-printed by Paizo in their Planet Stories line?

"The Lake of the Gone Forever", Thrilling Wonder Stories, 1949. I found the reading of this as almost a warning story of those that try to take the magic of the world and keep it for themselves.

"The Truants", Startling Stories, 1950. Again, this story did not appear in the table of contents, so I was surprised and pleased upon reaching the end of "Lake" to find I had one more tale. It is a creepy tale, almost Stephen King like in style, with a rather, in my opinion, silly ending that still satisfied.

Overall, this is a great collection, and read along with the Stark/Skaith stories available from Paizo and The Sword of Rhiannon, serves as a great introduction to the writings of Leigh Brackett.

Friday, May 20, 2011

In Memory of Catherine Jeffrey Jones

An icon of fantasy art died yesterday. She was more commonly known as Jeffrey Jones. She had sexual reassignment surgery in the 90's.

Her art was inspiring and always intriguing. Plus, her art was always sexy.

Here are two covers by her that I have in my collection.

RIP. You were one of the greats.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

More Frank Frazetta Art Inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs

I found a few books that I had forgotten that I bought in San Diego on a recent family vacation. Among them was this gorgeous Frank Frazetta cover for Savage Pellucidar. My copy is a fourth priting by Ace Books circa 1973.

Again, I am struck by how sexy the women in Frazetta's art were. Heavy breasted, round butts, savage, yet innocent.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

More Frank Frazetta Appreciation, or My Wife Has A Frazetta Drawn Ass

I visited my local favorite used book store today and scored some very fine books. Amongst the score were numerous Edgar Rice Burroughs books to add to my collection. All together, I hauled in some booty of seventeen ERB books, plus a nice clean copy of E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros, and a nice copy of Fritz Leiber's Ill Met in Lankhmar Volume 1, which had some stories my Leiber collection was missing.

Some of the Burrough's books I all ready had, but five of them featured Frank Frazetta cover art, which I am a proudly and loudly a self proclaimed panting fan-boy of. I will always buy a second copy of a book I all ready have, if said copy features Frazetta art.

The image which I found myself gazing upon the most was the image above, the cover for The Moon Maid. Now please draw your eyes to the shapely bum of the maid herself. Go ahead, and take your time.

Back? Good. The women depicted in Frazetta's art have always...well, we'll just say I've always found them inspiring. Frazetta has forever burned into my head what female beauty is and could be. Call me a pig if you will, but Frank captured my imagination like no other artist ever has.

Here is where I brag. I have always been enraptured by my wife's rear assets. It was not until today that I realized why: my wife has a Frank Frazetta Drawn Ass. I would post a picture to prove it, but it would be the last picture I ever posted, for I would be dead.

However, for your viewing pleasure, two more fabulous ERB inspired Frank Frazetta Art, which show cases my favorite aspect of his dames, the rear view.

The Moon Men

Escape On Venus

Sunday, April 24, 2011

C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner - A Perfect Union

When Gary Gygax put together his Appendix N for the first edition AD&D DM Guide, there was no way he could have been all inclusive. However, there are some names that are shockingly not on it, such as Clark Ashton Smith. Two other names that often come up in discussions of missing authors are C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner.

Pictured to the left are Catherine Moore and Henry "Hank" Kuttner. It is nearly impossible to discuss one with out the other. The story has been passed down that the two started a relationship when Hank sent a fan letter to the gender ambiguous author C.L. Moore. Catherine Moore was using the gender-non-specific pen name in order to help her boost her sales in a then almost entirely male dominated pulp world.

A friendship began which turned into a marriage. Their marriage was more then just a civil union, it was the union of two talents as well. More then one person that knew the two would often remark that they worked so well together, that when one left the typewriter, the other would sit down, scan what was done then launch right back into the story. Thus it is often hard to say what stories are pure Moore or pure Kuttner or an amalgamation of the two.

I became enamored with their writing when I discovered them through my Planet Stories Subscription through Pazio Publishing. I read Moore's works offered from the Planet Stories line several months ago, and I read Kuttner's Elak of Atlantis around the same time. It was not until recently when I took account of how far behind I had fallen in reading my Planet Stories subscription that I finally read Kuttner's Dark World and Robots Have no Tails.

This offering by Pazio Publishing collects all of the Northwest Smith stories, most of which appeared in Weird Tales beginning in 1933. The biggest negative criticism I have towards the collection is that the character of Northwest Smith has been advertised as a precursor to Han Solo. This is what I expected when I read these stories, but that is not what was delivered. Now I should state that this is not a negative comment towards Moore and her creation; rather, it is a statement that the blurbs are misleading. I was expecting stories of space smugglers out running the law in space ships and a hero blasting away the bad guys. In short, I was expecting Space Opera.

In truth, the Northwest Smith stories are more in the key of H.P. Lovecraft then Star Wars style space opera. This makes sense as both Moore and Kuttner were part of the Lovecraft Circle of the pulp era. Moore offers up stories of creeping doom, often in the guise of alien women that hint towards being the catalyst of mythological creatures such as the Medusa (read Moore's short story "Shambleau" and you will know what I am talking about).

There are no battles in space, I think there may have been one space ship in the entire collection, and the appearance of "blasters" is slim and infrequent. Many of the stories take place on Mars, and this is the Mars of the pulp era that is assumed to have always been habitable. It is a future in an undetermined time in which space travel is frequent and common, even though there is a definite lack of said space travel.

In other reviews, I have read several accounts of readers being disappointed with the definite lack of "space opera-ness". Again, this is not a fault of Moore's but rather it is bad marketing. Moore's Northwest Smith stories are engaging and a worth while read; however, the reader should know what he is getting into.

It would be easy enough to place these same stories not on Mars, but instead on Earth or an earth like world. The space ships which are mentioned could be left out, and the few blasters that appear could be replaced with swords. If these things were done, then these would be Sword and Sorcery tales albeit somber ones with a great amount of creeping horror but short on sword swinging action.

If this were done, then I think some of the charm of the Northwest Smith stories would be lost. As they are written they are good stories, some great. They are not Space Opera. They are more Sword and Planet, without the "swords"; perhaps even the sub genre of Planetary Romance could apply.

Pictured to the left is an illustration of the alien from "Shambleau"(this illustration is not included in the Planet Stories volume, I should point out) . It is the first story in the Planet Stories collection and the first published Northwest Smith story. They appear in the volume by publication date, and nearly half of them appeared not in Weird Tales but in fanzines.

"Shambleau" is a strong story. Upon reading it, I was immediately sucked into the book as a whole; however, I quickly realized after reading three more stories in succession that Moore was writing this with an eye towards publication. She had a definite formula she was following and she did so stringently with the intent of publishing and putting food on the table. This was a common practice in the hey day of pulp weird/science/fantasy fiction. Many of the authors were full time writers and at only a few cents per word, they were forced to create regularly and publish as much as possible. This meant going with what sold. Moore knew she had a winner with Northwest Smith, so she stuck to the formula. Unfortunately, when the Northwest Smith stories are read in succession, this leads to predictability. They are worth reading, but do yourself a favor and do not read them all in succession. Take your time with this book. Read a story, set it down and read another the following week or month.

I did not have the same experience when I read Moore's Black God's Kiss. Perhaps this was due to the fact that there are only six of them. There was a formula to these stories as well, not too different from the formula used with her Northwest Smith stories.

These stories are strongly influenced by Lovecraftian style horror as well, but while the Northwest Smith stories may be difficult to place in a genre, her Jirel of Joiry stories are not. They are Sword  and Sorcery, and it is obvious that Moore was hoping to ride on the coat tails of the success of Robert E. Howard with these stories. That isn't to say she wrote Conan pastiche with a red-haired woman in place of the sullen eyed barbarian. No, the Jirel of Joiry stories are unique to themselves.

What I found enjoyable about them is while the Northwest Smith stories were episodic, the Jirel of Joiry tales taken as a whole read almost like a novel. Each successive story references the former and Jirel's actions in previous stories have consequences that she must face. This may be why I didn't notice the formulaic nature of them when read successively.

I believe most fans are attracted to Moore's Northwest Smith stories, but for me her Jirel of Joiry tales are what sucked me in. I found Jirel more of an early ancestor of Roy Thomas and Barry Windor-Smith's Marvel Comics character Red Sonja. The ancestor's normally attributed to Red Sonja are either Howard's Red Sonya of Rogatino ("The Shadow of the Vulture) and/or another Howard character Dark Agnes de Chastillon, a swords-woman of 16th century France.

It was Howard who inspired the creation of Jirel of Joiry for Moore was very taken with the first Dark Agnes story, "Sword Woman". I have not had the pleasure of reading "The Shadow of the Vulture" nor have I read any Dark Agnes stories (of which there are only two complete stories and a third draft) beyond last month's offering in Dark Horse's Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword #1, but instinct speaks to me and says that Moore was just as much responsible for the birth of Red Sonja as Howard himself was.

I shall move onto Henry Kuttner, but I would like to point out that the story "Quest of the Starstone" appears in both Northwest of Earth and Black God's Kiss. It is interesting to read because it was written with Henry Kuttner. It is a meeting of Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry, kind of an early "Marvel Team-up"; unfortunately, it is the weakest story of both volumes, and I felt cheated having it appear in both books.

I read Henry Kuttner's Elak of Atlantis prior to any of Moore's stories. I found this book in a used book store. I knew of the Planet Stories books, but had not bothered to investigate them. My decision to subscribe was based upon the strength of this book.

Consequently, I only picked it up for I am always interested in potential Clonan characters, and Elak seemed to fit the bill. I was wrong. Elak of Atlantis is not a Clonan. He and his sidekick Lycon have more in common with Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser then Conan.

Don't get me wrong, all of the tropes of Sword & Sorcery are there and it would be naive to say that Howard's success in the field didn't have anything to do with Hank Kuttner creating the Elak stories; however, they stand on their own, in the spirit of Howard, but not simple pastiche (and not to get off on a rant here, but even though I use the words "simple pastiche" I have no hang ups with Howard Pastiche stories -- many Howard fans do, I'm not one of them; not to mention, there has been some good pastiche written, particularly by Karl Edward Wagner).

It is a shame that there were only four Elak stories written. I read these over a year ago, and while I remember enjoying them, the particulars all ready fade from memory, but I enjoyed them enough that I know this book will warrant future re-readings to pass a lazy warm Sunday afternoon. Included in this volume are two Prince Raynor stories, inferior to the Elak stories, but still good stories on their own merit.

The Dark World was a great read and stands out as a reason that Ray Bradbury calls Kuttner a "neglected master". Just as I did with Leigh Brackett's Skaith books, I found my hungry DM mind filling up with great world building concepts born of this short novel.

Kuttner presents an intriguing world, a parallel universe to our own in which magic is real, but is perhaps the result of super-science unexplored within our own realm. Vampires, werewolves and gorgons exist, but they are mutations.

The Dark World is Sword & Sorcery, and it is very good Sword & Sorcery. Piers Anthony, in his introduction to the book, points out that Kuttner makes many rookie mistakes with writing, and it is true that he does, but as Anthony points out, the story is strong enough that you do not notice.

I have been toying with the idea for some time now of presenting to my players a fantasy world that they are sucked into from our own world, although, maybe not from our time period.

The initial idea was generated while reading Edgar Rice Burrough's "Pellucidar" stories, and sprouted while reading Brackett's Skaith books. The Dark World just might be the rain that cements it all together for me.

That is the best part of reading selections from Gygax's Appendix N (and authors that were not included, but should have been such as Moore and Kuttner). Each book I have read has given me something, at least a kernel of an idea. Ideas are germinating, and that is what Gary Gygax was hoping he could do for fellow gamers by offering them Appendix N. The experiment was successful.

Galloway Gallegher, the protagonist of the stories collected in Robots Have No Tails was familiar with successful experiments, but only when he was loaded.

The five stories collected in this book were too short, and I regret that there only will ever be five. They are not perfect and the science in the science fiction aspect is suspect. Kuttner may not have been big on research, but he was big on fun.

Fun is what is promised in this book and fun is what is delivered. Each story was short to read and was a joy. I didn't gleam many ideas from these; however, I can easily see a drunken genius gnome inventor named after Galloway Gallegher making an appearance in my Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game soon.

An introduction by C.L. Moore (written in 1952) is included in the Planet Stories edition. The author name given for these stories was originally "Lewis Padgett". Lewis Padgett is a pseudonym created from both their mothers' maiden names.

Moore insists in her introduction that these were Kuttner's stories, written by him with no help from her, but he use of the joint pseudonym (one of several that the two used) suggests that the opposite is true.

Personally, I like to think that Moore did help write these. I have no proof that such is the case, but I like the idea of it. I like imagining the two chuckling. One looking over the other's shoulder then saying "move over, I have an idea". That sounds perfect to me.

I will end this post with an enlargement from the cover art from the first printing of the book, for no other reason then I like it.