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.