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Why Contemporary Science Fiction and Fantasy is Godawful

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Fri, 03/30/2018 - 12:39

Now, my favorite explanation for why it is that science fiction and fantasy went bad can be summed up into just one word: Commies.

It’s especially hilarious because… it actually no kidding totally for real happened. But don’t take my word for it. Heck, go read Mutation or Death yourself. Even better, go read the completely off the wall letters that got written in to Planet Stories back in the day… and then ponder the implications of how it was that the premises of those complaints would culminate directly into the original Star Trek television series. (Cue Twilight Zone music…!)

You can’t say this in mixed company, of course. And talking about this will persuade no one of any of it. It’s just too danged crazy for people to be able to admit.

I’ll tell you what works though. You can try it yourself and then let me know what happens. Fair warning… it takes a lot of time. And it helps a great deal if you can engage people off the internet and in meatspace.

Find someone that is into science fiction and fantasy and ask them who they like to read and what they like best. Listen to them. Then ask them what they least like about the big fantasy novels of our day. If they read a lot, they will have several examples of fantasy epics that failed to go anywhere or that otherwise insulted the readers with their patently unepic conclusions.

(Note: The problems of contemporary fantasy are immediately obvious, even to non-ideologues and non-connoisseurs. What isn’t obvious to most people is that things were ever substantially different.)

At this point you mention that they should really check out the original Conan stories by Robert E. Howard. Whatever it is that they like or dislike, one of these stories is going to be a perfect fit for this person. Recommend one… talk about how you were surprised at how good they were and how they weren’t what you expected they would be. And then shut up.

(Note 2: On the internet, the argument never stops. In real life… you have to downshift to have an impact.)

A couple weeks later they should have more to talk about. They will be blown away by somethings, left cold by others. Cut them some slack: these sorts of people are taking their first steps into a larger literary world. And holy cow. Think about it. Nothing in this fantasy addict’s life is pointing this person towards the work of Robert E. Howard except you. Which means that you got to be the one to introduce them to Howard. That’s just crazy awesome in and of itself.

I think that’s weird, really. To get to be that guy to someone in this way. But here’s the thing: if you can do it once with an author as significant as Howard, you can do it a half dozen times.

Because here’s you two weeks later: “Oh, you thought Howard was good? Well you’re gonna love C. L. Moore!” But they’re going to tell you they’ve never heard of C. L. Moore. This is where you look baffled. “You never heard of C. L. Moore? How can you not have heard of C. L. Moore?!” Tell them to go read “Shambleau”… and they will come back later to thank you for it.

Wait a couple of weeks and you can run the exact same gag again. “You never heard of Leigh Brackett? That’s insane! She wrote the scripts for The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo, and [the first draft of] The Empire Strikes Back. How can you not have heard of Leigh Brackett?!” Tell them to go read The Sword of Rhiannon.

There are other authors and stories you can drop on them depending on how they handle this. Heck, no matter what thing in fantasy or science fiction that they like best… they have no idea who it was that pioneered its original tropes or just how danged good the old authors were and how well their works stand the test of time.

But these sorts of people… they see nothing amiss in any of this at this point. They have no idea what has transpired within the critical space and the overall commentariat over the past few decades. Right now you are just some guy that has some positively stellar book recommendations which no one else in their lives seems to know about. They can intuit that they are looking at the fantasy and science fiction canon for the first time. They can see the astonishing literary quality of the old stuff. They can see that contemporary authors do not fare well in comparison. This is all self-evident.

What they can’t see yet is that something happened. But these people are in a very precarious position here. What does it take to push them over the edge? Just mention that these books and authors are routinely excluded from top 100 book lists and accounts of science fiction and fantasy history. Even watershed books like A Princess of Mars. What happens next is surprising. They won’t believe you. You can gently reiterate that it’s the case… but they will push back on this. This just doesn’t make sense. As far as they’re concerned… this CANNOT BE.

Fortunately, cell phones are ubiquitous enough now that someone can bring up the NPR list. Watch them as they go book by book mocking the more ludicrous entries. If they slogged through Patrick Rothfuss’s stuff, I’m sure they’ll have some choice words when they get to that one. Then watch the reaction when they get to the end and it sinks in that there’s not one mention of Edgar Rice Burroughs anywhere.

That’s right. In a couple of months they’ve gone from never having heard of the classic authors to being outraged that nobody else has.

Ask them to explain justwhat the heck happened? Or more importantly…. what is still happening.

Ask them why this matters.

Ask them why something so seemingly insignificant and innocuous as adventure stories would be worth explicitly being erased from history and the collective conscious.

And listen to them.

The funny thing here is that any theory they might be inclined to offer up to explain all this is going to be anything but milder than what guys like me on the internet going to say at this point. Normal people are exasperated when they are confronted by this sort of thing, no different from how fans of the recent superhero movies react when told that you can’t get an Iron Man comic book right now starring insanely popular Tony Stark. Oh, it comes out in fits and starts. There’s all kinds of rationalizations that people will leap to before they finally give them up. But it all comes down to this: something happened to cause the science fiction and fantasy canon to just plain evaporate. A whole bunch of somethings, maybe. And there’s just no good justification for it.

Can you imagine large quantities of metal fans being unable to direct newcomers to the most significant reference points of their genre? I can’t. I can’t begin to imagine what sort of effort it would take to effect such a thing. But that’s exactly what’s happened in science fiction and fantasy.

Likewise, Jazz musicians don’t dismiss Louis Armstrong out of hand. Can you imagine trying to explain the origins and development of Bebop and The Cool while arbitrarily erasing every major jazz artist from before 1940? You can’t do it. But that’s exactly what happens when hack literary critics jump from the twin pillars of Verne and Wells and then directly on to the supposed “golden age” of exemplified by Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke. There’s a decades-sized hole where the real golden age was!

Over at Quillette there is a story on the development of Creative Writing programs and degrees and workshops and so forth that I think sheds some light on how this transition seeped into and ultimately crippled the field of science fiction and fantasy. Check it out:

Creative Writing was a product of the ‘progressive’ educational movement in the late 1920s, which emphasised self-expression rather than tradition, formal discipline, or the mastery of a fixed body of knowledge or skills.

It’s weird to hear someone just come out and say it, but it’s a truism, really: progressives are necessarily in revolt against tradition. But this bit about self expression over discipline and mastery here… it’s happening in the twenties and not during the cultural revolution of the sixties. Note that pulp was protected from these people as being too low brow and too immediately accessible to large numbers of people that just want to read for fun. As such, authors could develop their skills and reference real myth, real history, real science, and real literature as much as they liked without being bothered by some dipstick that would push them to instead do some sort of hippy dippy deep dive into themselves.

Pulp writers were the beneficiaries of a legitimate culture with inconceivably vast assets. Contemporary writers are insular and inward-facing. How do you transition from one to the other…? Well, progressives can do a lot of damage just by sneering a lot and pretending to have their monocles pop off. But for this stuff to really metastatize, they needed to be able to propagate their methods within the higher education system:

Institutional writing programs spread slowly at first. In 1975, there were 52 Creative Writing programs in American universities.  But by 1984 there were 150 postgraduate degree programs (MA, MFA, or PhD) in the United States; by 2004, 350 (with a further 370 offering only undergraduate degrees in Creative Writing). As of 2010, there were as many as 1,269 degree-granting programs in America alone. This explosive growth has not necessarily encouraged a diverse literary output, as is obvious to anyone who attempts to read one of the annual Creative Writing anthologies (The Best American Short StoriesThe Best American PoetryThe Best American Essays, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, etc.) which collect typical, apparently exemplary, samples of what these programs produce. The fundamentally uniform quality of contemporary American literature as represented in these anthologies is startling.

Contrast the astonishing regional and stylistic and ideological diversity among the pulp authors with the stultifying homogeneity of stories following the ascendancy of Creative Writing Inc. It’s not normal. It’s not natural. It’s a disaster.

But note how the ax is laid to the root in this wasteland:

A competing (or complementary) influence is popular culture. Contemporary American literature recognises no established ‘canon’: the reader’s knowledge of Shakespeare and the Bible (for example) will not be taken for granted. On the other hand, readers are assumed to be intimately familiar with the same films, television programs, and pop songs as the writer.

The obliteration of canon goes far beyond the key reference points of fantasy and science fiction. It goes deeper… down to the level of broader Western canon. Ironically, pulp authors are necessarily and fundamentally more literate than anyone within the Creative Writing school.

In contemporary American literature, self-expression takes precedence over invention.  A writer’s thoughts, memories, and experience will form the main bank of material for poets, essayists, and fiction writers alike. Invented narratives and characters are associated with scripts for television and film; whereas short stories and novels must have a firm basis in historical research or recent journalism, or else must be rooted in personal experience.

And that is how we got “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” and “If You Were a Dinosaur My Love.” And why pulp writers from Burroughs to Brackett could so effortlessly invent, create, thrill, and induce wonder. This is where that smarmy, unctuous personal tone comes from… as opposed to the many and varied writing styles that are intended to actually be read by normal people. For fun.

The people that imbibe the stuff in these programs and workshops…? Everything they say is uniformly stupid and detached from reality. This is where the patronizing remarks about Lovecraft being a poor wordsmith hail from. This is where losers are taught to make insipid remarks about people having “workmanlike prose.” It’s all voiced by people that are merely dabbling in writing… and that have been programmed to neither be fluent in nor to recognize the canonical figures that wield a broad and ongoing influence over the field.

No wonder they can’t create. And no wonder the pulp era is the revelation that it is.

h/t to Nathan Housley for providing the link to this article over on Google+.

Also: you can buy my survey of some of the most influential books in fantasy and science fiction here.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Azurth Eggs

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 03/30/2018 - 11:00

The Rabbit Folk of Azurth have a thing with eggs. Read about it here--and have a good weekend!

Omens of Murder, War, & Chaos In SC3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks By Gary Gygax

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 03/30/2018 - 06:04
"The Grand Duchy of Geoff has recently been plagued by a rash of unusually weird and terrible monsters of an unknown sort. This western area, particularly the mountain fastness which separates the Grand Duchy from the Dry Steppes, has long been renowned for the generation of the most fearsome beasts, and it has been shunned accordingly -- save a handful of hardy souls with exceptional Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Announcing the Wilderlands of High Fantasy Revised Editions

Bat in the Attic - Fri, 03/30/2018 - 03:36
Wilderlands of High Fantasy Announcement 
In November I promised to revisit the issue of the Wilderlands maps if nothing has been released by March for the Judges Guild's City State of the Invincible Overlord Kickstarter. I was able to work out a publishing agreement with Robert Blesdaw II to release the 18 maps I drew for the kickstarter project. In addition I am permitted to publish a series of revised guidebooks to accompany the maps.

Each guidebook will be around 20 to 32 pages and will contain the original listings edited for known errata and corrections. To avoid the issues of cost that accompanied other releases of Wilderlands of High Fantasy, I am following the pattern of the original releases.

The maps and guidebooks will be divided into four products, the Wilderlands of High Fantasy,
Fantastic Wilderlands Beyonde, Wilderlands of the Magic Realm, and the Wilderlands of the Fantastic Reaches. Unlike the original releases, Map 6 Viridistan will be included in Fantastic Wilderlands Beyonde although edited down to the format of the other four maps.

The retail cost is yet to be determined as I am testing the various print options. I am targeting $20 per bundle of printed map and guidebook. The maps will be printed as two 12” by 18” sheets. There will be five maps in Wilderlands of High Fantasy and Fantastic Wilderlands Beyonde, and four maps in Wilderlands of the Magic Realm, and Wilderlands of Fantastic Maps. The backer and retail costs will reflect the quantity of maps within a product.

The PDFs will be free to all kickstarter backers. The printed cost to backers for all 18 maps will be slightly less than $20. The printed cost of the guidebooks for backers should be around $3 to $4 depending on which print format works out the best. I am tacking on a one dollar charge so it will count as a sale on both OBS sites, RPGNow and DrivethruRPG. There will be shipping charges from One Bookshelf.

I am doing this because as a Judges Guild licensee, the problems of this kickstarter affect my sales of the Majestic Wilderlands along with other projects using the Judges Guild IP. The above is what I can do to help with the resources I possess. Robert Bledsaw II is aware of what is going on and has worked with me to come up with a solution to get a portion of the product you paid for into your hands.

I will have the package of the first five maps and guidebook released by mid April as the Wilderlands of High Fantasy. I am trying to have remaining maps and guidebooks done by the end of May so I can release them for North Texas Con, a convention focused on older edition gaming. But it may not be until June until I get Fantastic Reaches out. The PDFs will be done first and I will release preliminary copies as soon as I am able.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #11 - Vampire: The Masquerade

19th Level - Fri, 03/30/2018 - 01:21

I saw Vampire: The Masquerade a number of times at the local Waldenbooks in the early 1990s. As a poor college student without a lot of free time I didn't make that many gaming purchases back then - and without a regular book there didn't seem much point in purchasing it. But every time I was there I flipped through it and was amazed - it was different from any other RPG I'd ever seen. From the evocative art to the comic book style story within to its themes. Eventually I wound up purchasing it.

Truth to tell, I've not gotten that much play out of it - in that, it resembles Pendragon - a game I really like but have gotten very little opportunity to play. However, the few times I've played it were a blast - whether it was dark and moody or superheroes with fangs, it was a blast.

There's a number of things about Vampire that I found - and still find - appealing. I love politics and Vampire games can be all about politics - high stakes politics in the style of the Corleone and the Borgia families. I also love history and with Vampire you can play a character centuries old - and you can easily play a historical game, with supplements covering the Middle Ages and Victoria Era

The tone of the game screams 1990s to me. The 1990s was the decade that I came into adulthood. I was an 18-year old college freshman as the 1990s began. I was never a part of the goth subculture but I definitely appreciated it. I loved grunge music. My favorite color was black. Like many people of that period, Vampire spoke to me. Vampire and other White Wolf games came to dominate the gaming industry as the decade went on. Even that had parallels for me, for by the end of the decade I was married, doing well in my career, and would soon be purchasing a house, getting a dog, and having kids.

I see Vampire still speaks to people. My younger daughter is the geeky one, the one who loves comics, anime, manga, rpgs, etc., has expressed an interest in playing Vampire and loves the art of the game. I'd certainly take it for a spin again. And with more play, I imagine I'd be ranking it much higher.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Editing and Magic

The Splintered Realm - Thu, 03/29/2018 - 21:10
In making my way through the edits of Sentinels of Echo City, I've noticed a few things:

1. Changing the mechanic from adjusting the roll to adjusting the challenge is much, much cleaner. The language flows so much better. I have just made about 30 edits where the language went from 'taking a penalty equal to your PWR modifier' to 'target 20+ your PWR modifier'. It speeds the language up quite a bit, and feels more intuitive. Not sure why I ever went with the other way...

2. The use of the word 'target' was very nebulous. The target was the person/place/thing you were trying to affect, but it was also the number you needed to roll... now, the second instance has been replaced with Challenge Rating (CR). Instead of rolling a check target 20, you now roll a check CR 20.

3. I am surprised at the number of really small typos that had made it through. I did several edits before publishing, but I've still found at least a half-dozen little errors that bother me. I am under no delusion that I will catch them all this time, but I will be closer...


In thinking about how magic works, it seems like there should be three options, and those options would be tied to three different attributes:

Sorcery is similar to how it is portrayed in Absolute Powers. You can replicate other traits, and you use PWR as the filter for it. This would be the simplest and most flexible option for including magic in your games. If you just want a really broad magic system that is easy to use, sorcery is your jam.

Wizardry is going to be closer to Saga of the Splintered Realm magic, but also more in line with Harry Potter magic. You learn actual spells, and you cast those particular spells. Right now, I'm thinking of two things that distinguish it:
1. Wizardry is tied to INT, not to PWR. It is not your personal power you are drawing on; you are using your knowledge of occult lore to activate ancient powers. I might decide to tie this in some way to runes or something like that. I kind of like the magic system that I worked up for Cupcake Scouts, and might try to modify that a bit here.
2. I am thinking it's a spell point system, with a number of points per turn, and with spells rated by cost. As a wizard 5, you could cast spells of up to level 5 (spells go to level 6 like in SSR), and you'd have a base of 15 + INT modifier points per turn (5+4+3+2+1).  A spell costs a number of points equal to its level; as a wizard 5 with INT 14 (+4), you would have 19 spell points per turn, and could try to cast 1 spell of level 5, 4 spells of level 3, and 1 spell of level 2 (for instance).

Mysticism is more like natural magic or eastern magic... something a monk might use. This would be tied to CHA as the attribute. You force your will upon the natural world, communing with it. This would be more aligned with wicca or witchcraft (in the traditional sense). Druidic magic, almost. I don't know if this hews closer to sorcery or wizardry in its mechanics. Somewhere between the two... you know charms or incantations, and you roll checks to activate them.

I don't want the magic section to be too long (I'm thinking no more than 6-10 pages total), but it should be robust enough that it gives you significant flavor and variety. Again, I like that you can go with the simpler sorcery, or you can get fancy with wizardry or mysticism, as fits your play style. I am also thinking that the Wizardry component would reverse engineer nicely to Saga of the Splintered Realm, assuming that you'd be willing to cut the XP table there in half the way I'm doing for this version of Sentinels...

Depravity and Debauchery Las casas de putas de Satanás A New OSR Mega Dungeon Location & Setting

Dark Corners of RPGing - Thu, 03/29/2018 - 18:21
To me the winds that die and start,
And strive in wars that never cease,
Are dearer than the level peace
That lies unstirred at summer's heart.
More dear to me the shadowed world,
Where, with report of tempest rife,
The air intensifies with life,
Than quiet fields of summer's gold.
I am the winds' admitted friend:
I share those ancient mysteries
They whisper to the trembling trees
Or roar along the heavens' end.
And when my spirit listless stands
With folded wings that do not live,
Their own assuageless wings they give
To lift her from the stirless lands.
Within the place unmanifest
Where central Truth is immanent,
Lies there a vast, entire content
Of sound and movement one-in rest?
I Know not this: yet in my heart
I feel that where all truths concur,
The shrine is peaceless with the stir
Of winds that enter and depart.The Winds  (1912) by Clark Ashton Smith

On the edges of the Jornada del Muerto a number of boom town cities have grown up around the great alien green black buildings, plazas, & step pyramids that sizzle in the deep desert heat. These appeared over night & the world marveled the golden artifacts,strange technologies, & weird glowing auroras that appeared around the skies around the pyramids.
Mutants, adventurers, outlaws, gamblers, & aliens from 'elsewhere' all converge around villages, towns,etc. as fortunes are made and lost in the otherworldly locations surrounding these pyramids. The whole place is known as Las casas de putas de Satanás or Satan's whore houses because of the number of demons & monsters of myth & legend that have been seen & have killed people. Las casas de putas de Satanás is twenty five miles of some the most dangerous extra dimensional alien ruins, dungeons,  & weird landscapes that dominate  the desert floor.

The local army, authorities, & occasional CIA Vanguard teams  try to cope with the mutant horrors, giant irradiated monsters, and worse that comes out of the deep desert & the volcanic lost world jungles. Meanwhile fortunes are made on the weird artifacts coming from the  Las casas de putas de Satanás. Back in the Eastern United States  & in South America a technological revolution has been taking place from these artifacts. But some are saying that these artifacts are allowing 'dark forces' to have influence on reality. Hidden alien presences & so called gods have been sprinkling cults throughout the states & beyond. Several joint US/Mexican militery bases have sprung up around the area including St.McCready,
Plissken, & Hicks all named after various war heroes.

So I've been wanting my own mega dungeon for a long time now & I'm going to start tackling it with this new project that I've outlined in the last entry on this blog. Personally I think that I'm going to take the Lovecraft Circle approach to the dungeon location & use some of the ideas of Clark Ashton Smith.

I'm going to be using a lot of  Labyrinth Lord,Apes Victorious  & Mutant Future in this one along with a good solid core of Adventurer, Conqueror, King's line.

A lurid poster of the play Dr. Faustus being performed in one of the numerous dance hall theaters around El Marro.

More to come!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Irons in the Fire

Greyhawk Grognard - Thu, 03/29/2018 - 17:05
I just wanted to give a quick update on the various thingamabobs that I'm working on.

Musicland: The Kickstarter campaign was a huge success (and thanks to everyone who supported it!). The manuscript is off to the editor, the cover is done, the interior artist has given me sketches that have been approved. So all systems are go, and we're right on track for the summer release.

Bitterbark's Circus: As part of the Musicland Kickstarter (since it's technically another side-level for Castle of the Mad Archmage, albeit one which is eminently suitable for inserting into any campaign), we reached a stretch goal wherein I promised to prepare Bitterbark's Circus for print on demand. That is currently scheduled for April. Update (3/30/18): The files have been submitted for review. Once they're approved, I'll get a proof copy, and then it'll go live if all is okay with it.

DM's Guide to Greyhawk 576: Should be done this weekend; there are just a couple of monsters left to convert. Wizards of the Coast is still calling the shots as to if and when Greyhawk will be opened up on DM's Guild. Over that decision I have no control, of course. Update (3/29/18): Done! Last monsters are statted up, and this one is in the rear-view mirror.

Greyhawk's World: I'll probably finish out the last few installments of that venerable series of magazine articles by Gygax and Kuntz, since it was so much fun the first time. One correction I'll be making, though, is to remove the reference to the fall of Strandkeep Castle, which it turns out should probably be a few years down the line, given the time frame of the novel Artifact of Evil.

Armies of Greyhawk: I've been neglecting my miniatures painting for a long, long time. One of the things I've really wanted to do is put together some 15mm armies with livery from the Flanaess. I'm hoping to start doing just that this spring, and of course there will be plenty of pictures.

Moving the Blog: For years, has pointed to the Blogspot home of my blog. I'm thinking of moving it over to the domain completely, which would give me some flexibility to do some other things besides pure blogging under the GG moniker.

After that, there are a few things I've been toying with, but since I haven't taken the plunge on any of them yet, I'm loathe to make any announcements just yet. Stay tuned...

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


Gamer Goggles - Thu, 03/29/2018 - 16:56
AVAILABLE NOW: STARFINDER PACT WORLDS   REDMOND, WASHINGTON (March 28, 2018): Today Paizo Inc. released Starfinder Pact Worlds, the 216-page hardcover guide to the Starfinder Roleplaying Game’s core worlds and civilizations. Starfinder puts players in the role of bold science-fantasy explorers, investigating the mysteries of a weird and magical universe as part of a starship crew. Starfinder Pact Worlds is available for purchase at game retailers and now.

Starfinder Pact Worlds includes:

  • In-depth gazetteers of the system’s 14 major worlds, from high-tech Verces and the draconic empires of Triaxus to the necromantic wastelands of Eox or magical bubble cities floating on the surface of the sun. Each gazetteer features a detailed world map, residents and cultures, settlements and adventure locations, a unique theme to customize characters from that world, and more.
  • New playable alien races, from the undead borais to plantlike khizars.
  • New starships, from the living vessels of the Xenowardens to sinister Hellknight Citadels.
  • A codex of themed NPC stat blocks to help Game Masters create vivid encounters.
  • New archetypes for every class, including the Star Knight, Skyfire Centurion, and Divine Champion.
  • Tons of new weapons, armors, spells, feats, magic items, technological gadgets, and more to help outfit your adventurers.
  • Cover art by Remko Troost.

 “Starfinder Pact Worlds takes a deep dive into the worlds and cultures of the core Starfinder setting and details some of the most notable locations on these worlds,” said Robert G. McCreary, Paizo’s Starfinder Creative Director. “The book is full of exciting adventure hooks, and it has a ton of new rules content, too, like themes and archetypes associated with worlds and factions within the setting. There are also some beautiful new starships, like the Iomedaean Cathedralships and the living Gardenships of the Xenowardens. But I’m especially excited about the new playable races, including the bantrids, curious aliens who roll around on foot-orbs and are always in motion!”

Starfinder Pact Worlds is also available as part of the Starfinder Roleplaying Ongoing Game subscription and as a single-purchase PDF download at

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Cryptozoic Will Showcase Upcoming Trading Cards at 68th Philly Non-Sports Card Show

Cryptozoic - Thu, 03/29/2018 - 13:00

Cryptozoic Entertainment today announced it will showcase upcoming trading cards at the 68th Philly Non-Sports Card Show, the twice-annual event for dealers, manufacturers, and collectors of non-sports trading cards that will be held April 7-8 at Merchants Square Mall in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The company will give away Promo Cards for three forthcoming sets, including Outlander Trading Cards Season 3, and preview numerous cards from the soon-to-be-released Rick and Morty Trading Cards Season 1, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow Trading Cards Seasons 1 & 2, and Supergirl Trading Cards Season 1. In addition, attendees who participate in Cryptozoic’s box break promotion will be able to receive an additional Promo Card for the Outlander set.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the Lower Crypts

Hack & Slash - Thu, 03/29/2018 - 12:52
Work progresses on Megadungeon #3. Here are the lower crypts.
Upper crypts will be posted tomorrow!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Curveball Strategy in Space Empires Replicators

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Thu, 03/29/2018 - 12:18

Okay, I’d played this once, opting to take Destroyers with Attack-2 Defense-2 and Move-2 with my Giant Race empire. Those were some awesome ships… basically cruisers that cost next to nothing. I didn’t like having to stick with just one sort of ship the whole game… and it turned out that the extra tech I bolted onto them was tremendously helpful to the Replicator empire.

So I tried again with an attempt at a solitaire game. I opted for Raiders and Merchant Ship Pipelines… but that turned out to be fairly ineffective against the Replicator fleets. I may have been doing something wrong, but with the rule benders that are granted to the solitaire Replicators, I don’t think I stood a chance.

Fortunately I got another chance to play. I did several things to improve my game:

  • I skipped buying terraforming technology, instead opting to sack deep space alien worlds only for the technology. (I didn’t realize previously that you didn’t have to colonize them to get the stuff!)
  • I built a complete Merchant Ship pipeline which resulted in 18 extra CP a turn thanks to my drawing the Traders empire advantage.
  • I sent my scouts to explore deep space rather than saving them back racking up maintenance costs..
  • I outfitted by flagship with exploration tech and found a space wreck and 10-point minerals… and an alien world right next to my empire.
  • I chose to build fighters and carriers instead of destroyers and raiders. The operated very poorly in their first few battles, basically getting mostly blown away while doing the bare minimum.
  • Because of that… I adjusted by buying up two more levels of fighter technology. Not only did my fighters attack at 7, but the also got a much needed point of defense… without giving research points to the Replicators.
  • When I sacked the alien world, I lucked out and drew afterburners which gave my fighters another +1 bonus to attack. Perfect!
  • I’d also persuaded my opponent to play on the “normal” 2-player map… which gave him a LOT less minerals and space wrecks to harvest. (It’s a default for the solitaire game… which surprised me because we always played with as much deep space as possible before!)
  • Also, the doomsday machine really seemed to go out of its way to make things difficult for the Replicator player. (It even killed the planet for me when the Replicator colonized the barren world in deep space!)
  • Finally, when the Replicator fleet starting sending attack fleets at me, I also purchased some mines. I was able to use the merchant pipelines to position them for maximize their effect. More fighters might have been just as effective or better, but it was danged fun to throw the second curve ball there… especially when mines took down an entire attack force. (Of course, those mines could not be used to attack… and a cunning opponent will tempt you to fight away from them. On the other hand, there’s a limit to the counter mix, so you have diversify at some point!)

Now that I’ve played this out, it’s clear how the curveball strategy can really work. The fighters are your teeth. (B7 and B8 for attack is just plain awesome, especially when combined with their probable numbers. (But note you have to have advanced technology at level two before you can unlock Fighter-4 to get that B8 with defense 2.) Mines can take out your opponent’s biggest and most dangerous ships for next to nothing, but are a bit of a waste against the small ones. (More fighters are going to be a better investment than too many mines. However… given that the Replicators get research points for fleet size… mines instead of fighters can be a better buy in some cases!) If you expect your opponent to use point-defense against your fighters, you can use Raiders to counter them. Finally, if your opponent is spending effort planning and building ways to counter all three of these technologies…

You’ve got so many options for what combination of units to get with this and how to position them… it’s just an all around blast to play. Of course, which exact strategy you go with is going to ultimately hinge on what empire advantages and alien technologies are in play. I’ll tell you, though… I was sore afraid when we got to turn ten and it turned out that my opponent had “Green Replicators” and wouldn’t be depleting his planets until turn 13!

Anyway, great game here… so much you can do with it!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

DC at Marvel: Atom, The Nuclear Man!

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 03/29/2018 - 11:00
This is a follow-up to this post.

F                 RM   (30)
A                 GD  (10)
S                 EX  (20)
E                 IN   (40)
R                 IN (40)
I                   EX   (20)
P                  GD   (10)
Health:  110
Karma: 70
Resources: GD (10)

Real Name: Peter Palmer
Occupation: Physics professoer
Identity: Secret
Legal Status: Citizen of the United States with no criminal record.
Place of Birth: New York City
Marital Status: Single
Base of Operations: New York City
Group Affiliation: Avengers

Alter Ego. All of his powers manifest with a transformation to his Atom form, which is green-skinned.  As Peter Palmer his Strength and Endurance are only Typical.
Radiation Emission: His body generates radiation of up to Incredible intensity. He can direct it in a blast at one target up to Incredible rank, or release it to effect an area. When transformed, he emits Poor intensity radiation constantly. He wears a containment suit to protect others.
Resistance: In Atom form, he has Incredible resistance to energy and Remarkable resistance to physical attacks.
Growth: The Atom can channel his radiation to increase his size and mass with Good ability up to 24 feet tall. (his growth works like Atom-Smasher's here.)


Palmer is a brilliant scientist in the fields of physics and engineering.

History: Peter Palmer was a genius graduate student, but a proverbial “98-lbs. weakling.” He was working with his mentor, Dr. Curt Connors on perfecting the Atomic Transmuter than could transform materials into other forms. Palmer was in love with law student Mary Jane Loring but he believed her to be infatuated with the more traditionally manly Major Glenn Talbot who represented the military’s interest in Connors’ research. In reality, Loring was conflicted, alternately intrigued and put-off by the diffident Palmer.

Palmer brought a group of high school students to a demonstration of the Transmuter. When something went wrong and the Transmuter overloaded, he heroically attempted to shield student Rick Jones from the blast. Palmer’s cells were bombarded with radiation. He awakened a short time later in the hospital, remarkably unscathed, but within hours he began transforming into a green-skinned being, He grew ever larger and, confused and delirious, went on a mindless rampage until he dissipated enough radiation in combat with military tanks to return to normal.

For a time, it appeared that Palmer might have been cured, but within weeks, the energy began to build up in him again. Palmer built a containment suit that allowed him to control the power. He dubbed himself the Atom, and begins using his powers to fight alien menaces and Communist spies. Over the years, he has gained greater control over his powers, but also perfected his containment suit to a much less bulky form.

Using & Abusing Barrens of Carcosa Adventure Module Six By Geoffrey McKinney For Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 03/29/2018 - 06:07
Its been a long while since I cracked open Carcosa Module six Barrens of Carcosa By Geoffrey McKinney. The cover art by Luigi Castellani  depicts the Yellow Men of Dulaja worshiping a purple worm shoal. The cover artwork pretty much sets the tone for the module. Each of the Carcosa modules is a self contained module based not on Lamentations of the Flame Princess's retroclone Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Save for Half Episode 10: Holmes Basic D&D

Zenopus Archives - Wed, 03/28/2018 - 14:01

Episode 10 of the podcast Save for Half is dedicated to Holmes Basic D&D!

Here's the blurb: "It’s the grandaddy of Basic D&D, the blue book edited by Dr. J. Eric Holmes! This little gem from the late 1970s brings us the question of trying to sell RPGs in mass market stores. It also begs other questions, such as how many ogres you need to mug to level up, why unicorns blow, and what vampires are doing in a game that limits players’ characters to levels 1-3? All this and more will be answered on this episode of Save for Half! No ogres were harmed in the making of this episode, not even the ones with 500 gold pieces in their bags."

The links section kindly includes a link to this blog.

Listen here:

Save for Half Episode 10: Holmes Basic D&D

Two of the hosts, DMs Liz and Mike, were previously on the Save or Die podcast and I joined them on the 124th episode.

Click on the "Podcasts" label below for links to previous podcasts of interest to the Holmes Basic aficionado.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Hit Piece Machine Goes Into High Gear

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Wed, 03/28/2018 - 13:25

They really do give Wormtongue a run for his money.

Consider this bit from Vox: “The empathy that he displays for men and boys in his BBC interview and 12 Rules for Life is touching. The problem is that he can’t seem to extend it to anyone else.”

In Bizarro World, having any sympathy at all for fatherless boys is proof positive that  you ipso facto must somehow hate women. But given that Star Wars and comic books both being destroyed by far left losers, I have to say… it would take a seriously sorry individual to want to come in and take away bible commentaries filtered through a lens of Jungian psychology from little boys.

If you ever wondered why it is that we can’t have nice things… this is it!

Meanwhile, a writer at Mic has helpfully compiled a list of the dankest stuff they could get on the new Emmanuel Goldstein:

Since a notorious January interview with British broadcaster Cathy Newman, where he went toe-to-toe on the pay gap between men and women, there seems to be a new Peterson YouTube video or lecture every week putting him back in the public eye, and eliciting both mockery or increased devotion. There was the February interview with Vice where he said that women who wear makeup in the workplace are hypocrites for complaining about sexual harassment. And there was Monday’s Twitter meltdown, where he threatened to slap a writer who accused him of being a fascist. Then there’s his complaints that he can’t physically attack women in conversations the way he’s (apparently) socially permitted to with men. And let’s not forget his older videos where he discusses that certain Disney movies are neo-Marxist propaganda.

I guess it doesn’t matter that people can go see for themselves precisely what the Awful No Good Scary Man actually said in that Vice interview. And I guess it doesn’t matter that anyone that reads Pankaj Mishra’s piece on Jordan Peterson will come away wanting to slap that sanctimonious prick silly. What really does matter…? Oh yeah… this mindbendingly nice Canadian professor is supposed to be gnashing his teeth over the fact that he couldn’t ask Cathy Newmann to step outside… in an interview where she embarrassed herself so badly, she is now an internet meme synonymous with the vacuousness of the Left’s tedious rhetoric.

But let’s not forget… all of this is nothing compared to the man’s hate-filed comparison of Sleeping Beauty to Frozen. (I mean how dare he. HOW DARE HE!!!!)

Never mind the pay gap and the pronoun police. If you really want to rile these people up, just go leave a negative review up on Rotten Tomatoes. They can’t handle people criticizing their favorite films!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Pathfinder Playtest Preorder Launches

Gamer Goggles - Wed, 03/28/2018 - 13:25
Pathfinder Playtest Preorder Launches on

  REDMOND, WASHINGTON (March 27, 2018): Print editions of the Pathfinder Playtest RulebookPathfinder Playtest Adventure: Doomsday Dawn, and Pathfinder Playtest Flip-Mat Multi-Pack, all scheduled for release August 2, are available for preorder on now through 11:59 PM Pacific on May 1. 

Orders can be shipped worldwide, and Gen Con 2018 attendees can opt to pick up their preorders at the Paizo booth. Many retailers are also accepting preorders; players should contact their favorite retailer directly to ask about their preorder policies and deadlines. Paizo will use preorders to determine the number of copies that will be printed, so preordering is strongly recommended. 

The 400-page Pathfinder Playtest Rulebook contains everything players need to create characters and run Pathfinder adventures from levels 1–20. It will be available in three editions: softcover, hardcover, and deluxe hardcover with foil-debossed faux-leather cover and ribbon bookmark. The 96-page Pathfinder Playtest Adventure: Doomsday Dawn contains seven multi-encounter scenarios designed to introduce the new rules and put them to the test. The Pathfinder Playtest Flip-Mat Multi-Pack includes two double-sided, miniatures-scale, full-color, 24″ x 30″ Flip-Mats for use with the Playtest Adventure.

The massive multi-month free playtest begins August 2. Additional information about the playtest and related products can be found at

About Paizo
Paizo Inc. is one of the world’s leading hobby game publishers. Since 2002, millions of players have joined the goblin army by playing the Pathfinder® and Starfinder® roleplaying games across tabletops, at conventions, at their favorite local game store, and digitally on virtual tabletops. is an online retail hobby destination for millions of gamers that carries the latest products from top hobby game publishers. Players also find accessories, like dice and maps, miniatures, T-shirts, goblin plush toys, and the newest releases to quickly replenish those adventuring supplies for the next dungeon run.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OSR Commentary The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual & Dungeon Design Commentary

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 03/28/2018 - 12:07
I've been doing a lot of thought about B/X Dungeons & Dragons almost all of yesterday. By the time Moldvay Cook Dungeons & Dragons was in our area back in Seventy Nine the first Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual was hitting us players hard in the dungeons. My PC's  must have died about a hundred times back in the Seventies & early Eighties. It was a part of a learning curve Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Rando Stuff I bought three weeks ago

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 03/28/2018 - 11:13

There’s trouble right here in Bryce City my friend. Boring details aside, that means I ended up buying about $40 of stuff from my DriveThru wishlist. They don’t fit the adventure category, which is why some of them have been hanging out for awhile now on the list. Dungeon Lord and Wormskin were a part of that buy. Here’s the stuff that doesn’t qualify as an adventure. I promise to not do this very often and staff focused on adventures.

The Dungeon of Doom
This was promised to be a live action LARP set up as a dungeon delve. I guess it IS that. There are seventeen scenes. At one point The Dread Gazebo attacks. The party has to choose a character to die. Also, another character becomes wounded. Also, someone can get a treasure. I kind of get what they are going for, but the LARP’ing possibilities seem REALLY limited. “Choose someone to die” isn’t really my kind LARP’ing. (I think I have a write up of my kind of LARP’ing over at Fortress Ameritrash.) Anyway, most of the scenes are like the one above, choose someone to die, someone gets wounded, gain a treasure.

B/X Essentials – Core Rules
I grabbed the txt version of this for free. I think the formatted version is cheap, like $1 or so. I like B/X, it’s my favorite rules. This is ok, but not enough to make me switch from my copy of B/X and my Ruffians & Reprobates rules (on my google drive.) Beyond the formatting, I just don’t need the rules anymore. I don’t care about swimming or gale rules or boarding vessels. That’s what Rulings not Rules is for.

Fantastic Exciting Imaginative – Volume Two
I have no idea how two got on my list when I don’t have one. This is aimed at Holmes and it has a hardcore OD&D bend. And while I like the B/X rulebook I like the OD&D vibe. Unique spekks, magic items and monsters, which remind me a bit of the same sort of vibe that the items, spells,and monsters from Fight On! had. Fight On being one of the best magazines, ever, of course. Unique items with character. No Sword +1 to be found at all!

I recognize Desboroughs name, but I don’t recall what he’s done? He says he’s edgy and people don’t like him? Anyway, i this … adventure? You play as pigs in a slaughterhouse. You’ve got special abilities and are trying to escape. The map is random and made up of various slaughterhouse rooms and “monsters” from the people who work there. The room descriptions are quite evocative. The Freezer room is “Blinding white. Slick footing. Breath makes little, puffing clouds. It’s winter in a room. Icicles hanging down and frozen corpses swinging from hooks or sitting in blocks of ice all around.” A little grim for my tastes, but very well written and immersive!

Homeward Bound – Simple Rules for Player Owned Base
This is more of a “regional setting if you own a manor” than it is a guide for manors. Note the singular. It’s actually ONE base. 27 pages to describe the interior of one manor and the cost to upgrade it. Some shit that can happen/hooks. Methinks someone didn’t read HarnManor … the closest village is a two hour walk away. Lots of potential hooks and things going on nearby are the highlight here. So while HarnManor and the 1e DMG (and almost every other supplement dealing with domains) are better at the mechanics, this one has a decent regional setting and/or plots to then go forward with. That part could be a decent resource if you were interested in a “we own a manor” campaign. This grows on me a bit every time I read it.

The Eternal Rest
An inn in an old mortuary, staffed by skeletons. Creepy mortuary setting. Suitably macabre special dinks. You can even sell your body to him (when you die) for use as a servant in the inn for free drinks. Some plot devices are included for the DM to expand upon. But it takes 19 pages to decribe the place and you now know enough, from my review, to run it better than the book describes.

Town of Split Stone
50 pages to describe a town … with a name for all 600+ people in it. The descriptions concentrate on the people and their lives. What they are up to and so forth. Tat’s the correct approach, although it goes in to far greater detail than need be. Woven throughout the town are five little intrigues, detailed in the potential plots section in the back. It’s well written, in that it concentrates on the people a lot more than the buildings, but has so much detail it feels like a research book that a tv series is going to be built around. “The historical village of Blandmire.” WAY too much to be useful at a table.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Hounds of Marduk

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 03/28/2018 - 11:00
My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues with his adventures in the world of Pandarve. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Hounds of Marduk (1985) 
(Dutch: De Honden van Marduk) (part 5)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

The Hound man forces the craven rebel leader to take him to Storm, but when the door is opened, Storm and his friends have escaped by climbing out a whole in a dome unto the roof.

One of the rebels, incensed by his leaders betrayal, activates all the temple's ancient booby traps. In numerous fiendish ways, men are killed:

Meanwhile, Storm and friends have climbed down from the rooftop--and just in time, too. The motion of all the traps being sprung at once begins to shake apart the ancient temple, and the toxic gases meet flows of fire:

Storm, Nomad, and Ember stumble on to the field where the Hound and his men left their aircraft. Storm is confident he can fly it. The pilot, springing from hiding, gets the drop on him. He plans to turn Storm over the the Theocrat. The Hound has other ideas:

Marduk watching the scene is joyous. He thinks he has the Anomaly. The Hound, though, reveals that he is the dog Storm saved in the harbor. Despite what Marduk did to him, the Hound has not forgotten. The lets Storm go.

The enraged Marduk activates the collar and in a flash of energy the man hound is again just a hound. He bounds off just as Storm and friends fly away.


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