Showing posts with label 80s. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 80s. Show all posts

Saturday, August 24, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019: Triumph

Today's topic is Triumph.

Let's all cast our minds back to the early and mid-80s when D&D was getting REALLY popular.



There are more, if you want to find them.  Lots more really.

The biggest Triumph we have had as RPG players and geeks, in general, is that society has come to embrace us.

The biggest movies in the world now are all nerdy topics that never would have worked in the 80s.  Comic-books, stories about wizards, Lord of the Rings, movies about Aliens.

Let's have a look at the at the top box office earners according to Box Office Mojo.

1Star Wars: The Force AwakensBV$936,662,2252015
2Avengers: EndgameBV$858,188,4152019
3AvatarFox$760,507,6252009^
4Black PantherBV$700,059,5662018
5Avengers: Infinity WarBV$678,815,4822018
6TitanicPar.$659,363,9441997^
7Jurassic WorldUni.$652,270,6252015
8Marvel's The AvengersBV$623,357,9102012
9Star Wars: The Last JediBV$620,181,3822017
10Incredibles 2BV$608,581,7442018

The only "non-geek" movie in the bunch is Titanic.

Now celebrities tout their geek and D&D cred like it is a badge of honor and respect.
Vin Disel,  Stephen Colbert, Felicia Day, Dwayne Johnson, Joe Manganiello among many others routinely talk about D&D.  Will Wheaton walks around Gen Con like he BELONGS there (spoiler, he does!).

And then you have something like this.
Actress Dominique Tipper from "The Expanse", a British/Dominican actress of color so no where near the stereotype of a D&D player.



Her Twitter posts after this have been a delight.  She is falling in love with the game so many of us love and it is a wonderful thing.

The Triumph of D&D is how we went from being persecuted in the 80s to being in the limelight today.

They say the best revenge is living well and D&D is living well indeed.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

OMG: Cthulhu Mythos

I am fresh off of Gen Con 2019 where I got the chance to play a lot of Cthulhu; Call of Cthulhu and Cthulhu Tech. We even checked out Cthulhu Wars.  I figure it is a good time to talk about the Cthulhu Mythos as they appear in the Deities & Demigods.


Of course, there are a few points that need to be cleared up.  Or rather, should be clear already.

There is a lot of talk about how TSR didn't have the rights to the Cthulhu myths and that Chaosium threatened lawsuits.

Well, here are the words right from the author, Jim Ward.


Ok that out of the way. Let's talk about the mythos in D&D.

It is not an exaggeration to say that for many gamers their first exposure to the Cthulhu mythos were the entries in the Deities & Demigods, published in 1980.  The Call of Cthulhu RPG came out in 1981.  Zenopus Archives has a nice rundown of what was going in D&D and TSR at the time.

One of the main purposes of One Man's God is to fit the gods and monsters into the likes of AD&D style demons.  It would be easy to do this with the various Cthulhu monsters.

I absolutely do not plan to do this.

The biggest thing about the Cthulhu mythos and Lovecraft's purpose is diametrically opposed to this. "This" meaning to lump the Cthulhu Mythos into the likes of demons, devils, werewolves, and vampires. 

In fact, D&D would later change to accommodate the Mythos with the addition of the Far Realm.

The Far Realm was introduced in the pages of the 2nd Edtion adventure The Gates of Firestorm Peak and later expanded in 3rd Edition's Manual of the Planes.  It is a bit of a Lovecraftian pastiche, but it still works nicely. It was expanded even more under 4th Edition where it became part of the core cosmology and in-game history.

Outside of the Deities & Demigods and the books mentioned above, Cthulhu and Friends would go on to make more appearances in D&D.

If 3rd Edition is still your jam, then you have the Call of Cthulhu d20 rules, the Pathfinder Bestiary 4 for monster stats, and Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos - Pathfinder, plus the aforementioned Manual of the Planes.

For the OSR crowd, we have Realms of Crawling Chaos and Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea

This only a fraction of the 2300+ entries on DriveThruRPG and even more elsewhere.



Of Gods and Monsters
Back to the present discourse, what does the D&DG have for us in terms of Cthulhu mythos?

In D&D terms we have our Gods: Cthulhu, Azathoth, Cthuga, Hastur, Ithaqua, Nyarlathotep, Shub-Niggurath, and Yog-Sothoth. All of these gods are "Greater Gods" with the maximum 400 hp, save for Nyarlathotep who is a "Lesser God" at 200 hp and Ithaqua a "Demigod" at 250 hp.

The monsters include Byakhee, Cthuga's Flame Creature, Deep Ones, the Great Race, Mi-Go, Primordial Ones, and Shoggoths.

Most of these are not even what we could, or should, consider demonic.  Sure they are monstrous and even some are evil, but mostly they are another kind of life that is not really interested in humans.

With that, we will leave the Cthulhu myths and head on to other gods.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019: Obscure

Today's topic is Obscure.

Again I am going with a different version of the word because this made me think of Pink Floyd's "Obscured by Clouds".  A very, very underrated album and one semi-central to my D&D playing years.



Obscured by Clouds was released in 1972, a year before their landmark album Dark Side of the Moon.  Now I could write a dissertation on Dark Side, and many have.  But that is not today's post.

ObC was a softer album, but in it are the seeds of what the "new" Pink Floyd became planted in the very fertile ground of the older psychedelic Pink Floyd.

My first DM, the guy that ran me through so many adventures of D&D Expert combined with AD&D, turned me on to this album.  We were both huge Pink Floyd fans and Dark Side was my favorite album. I would go over to his house to play D&D but before we would play, like so many kids in the 80s, we went out on our bikes first.

He lived near the Capitol Records plant so we would rummage around the loading doc and always find a cassette or two that never made it on to the trucks.  Mostly things like Kenny Rogers, but every so often a gem like Iron Maiden or Kraftwerk (Capitol was EMI's American counterpart).  If we were REALLY lucky we would score a Pink Floyd cassette.  Especially since Floyd had left Capitol/EMI for Columbia/CBS Records in the mid 70s.

Obscured by Clouds was a soundtrack of sorts to the film La VallĂ©e (The Valley).  But to my young and unsophisticated ears, it was the soundtrack of an older adventurer.  Someone that had adventured,  loved, lost and now lay dying only with his regrets.

Nothing characterized that better for me than the song Free Four.  Sure it is about the recording industry and Roger Waters singing (again) about his dead dad.  But in the early 80s it was more than that to me.


Floyd would continue to be an inspiration to me when playing although I can't draw a direct line from them to anything I have created like I can with Stevie Nicks or the Police or Led Zeppelin.

Still. To this day, listening to Floyd makes me think of D&D games gone by.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

AD&D First Edition Collector's Books Print on Demand

Speaking of print on demand, I got something else in the mail this week.


The Holy Trinity of AD&D from DriveThruRPG Print on Demand.

These are of course the newer collector's edition covers and honestly, they look great.  As you can see from the pictures these are glossy covers and not the matte finish of the ones you could get in the stores.


Also, there is no ribbon bookmark, no embossed covers, and no gilded pages.




But these POD versions are also slightly bigger than the reprints and the paper is a bit thicker.


The price was great with the sale and I ended up paying about as much for these as I did for my originals back in the 80s.



I was getting these to give as a gift to a friend and I wanted to see how they would turn out.
In truth, I am very, very pleased with these and find I want to keep them! (but I won't).

You really have to hand it to WotC and DriveThru, it has never ever been easier to get books and materials for ANY version of D&D you like.

I would not mind seeing a softcover version of the Player's Handbook to be honest.  Something like the Fiend Folio softcover they have. A little bit cheaper to buy multiple copies of to have an AD&D 1st Ed Start-Up set.  A DMG, a Monster Manual and five PHBs for one price. 

For some reason, I forgot to get a copy of Unearthed Arcana, so I ordered it now.

You can get yours here:

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Holy Grail Item: Vampyre Mini Game from TSR

So to recap a long and sad story, I lost a lot of my old school D&D books in one of my moves between college and grad-school.  The only thing I had from my "early days" were my core 2nd Ed AD&D books and a few modules.    Fast forward a few years and the sweet combination of a great job and an understanding wife I have been able to replace all that I had lost and then some.

But there are still a few items that have remained ever elusive.
Today I can cross one more item off that list.

Thanks to an estate sale on eBay I was able to pick up a copy of the Vampyre: Game of the Hunt for Dracula for much less than it normally goes for.



The game is, as far as I can tell, complete if already punched.  The maps are in great shape, the book less so.






The book has highlighter all over it, which sucks, but hey I can't expect a perfect copy and I am sure mine had highlighter all over it too.

As big fan of the novel Dracula, I loved this game.  I remember enjoying the wilderness portion more than the castle. 

Very nostalgic seeing the same Souvenir/Soutane font and Erol Otus art as the B/X sets. I tried many times to run a Castle Dracula like game with Basic/Expert.  Maybe now is that time!

Anyway happy to have this.  Only a couple more items on my list.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

OMG: Greek (and maybe Roman) Mythos, Part 1

Ah. Now this feels like a homecoming of sorts.  All year I have been talking about how this is my 40th year of playing D&D.  In a very real sense, my early D&D experiences were originated and shaped by the Classic Greek myths.  By 1979 I was 9 years old and had already read all the books in my local library on myths and legends.  Since it was a small town it was the late 70s there were not a lot of choices; I had "American Tall Tales" and Greek and some Norse myths. But mostly Greek.  One of my favorites was D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths.  I read it many times as a child and even revisited it back in college and even as an adult. It was one time while reading this that a friend of mine let me borrow his AD&D Monster Manual to read.  I was hooked.
The rest is history or mythology!

I am not going to recount my tale of getting into D&D from that point. I have done it before and will be doing it again this year.  Today I want to talk about the Greek Myths and how they are portrayed in AD&D 1st ed and in particular focusing on what got me involved in the first place, the monsters.

Quick reminder. The stated goal of my One Man's God (OMG) posts are to try and relate the monsters of various myths as presented in the 1st Edition Deities & Demigods (and sometimes Gods, Demigods & Heroes) to the demons as presented in the AD&D Monster Manual.

I am also in the debt of my former Classics Professor, Joan V. O'Brien who would have been 92 this year.  Ten years after discovering the Greek Myths she lit a new fire under me and got me to read even more myths of our world.

This one will have multiple parts I can tell already.

Greek Myths and AD&D Monsters
While AD&D owes a sizable debt to "Lord of the Rings" and the tales of Howard, Lovecraft, and Smith, there is also a great portion of the "D&D Mythos" that comes from the tales of Greek Mythology.  Even before I crack open my D&DG there are monsters from the Greek Myths filling my Monster Manual.  There are the basilisk, catoblepas, centaur, chimera, cockatrice, dragons, dryad, elementals, erinyes, Geryon (monster or devil), giants, giant animals, Golems (at least the iron kind), gorgons, hags, harpy, hell hounds, hippocampus, hippogriff, invisible stalker, lamia, larva, lemure, lycanthropes, manticore, medusa, mermen, minotaur, nightmare, nixie, nymph, pegasus, salamander, satyr, giant scorpion, shadow, skeleton, sphinx, sylph, titan, and triton.

There are also a number of monsters in the Deities and Demigods book that could have been easily moved over to the Monster Manual. Not as demons, but as monsters.  In particular, the Lesser Cyclops comes to mind. Another giant (the Greeks loved giants), the Hecatoncheire or the Hundred-Handed one would be another good choice.  Titans are listed in the MM and you could build one of the "named" Titans in the DDG with the stats, though many are much, much larger.  This seems like a good time to bring up Titans.

Looks Greek to me!

Titans, Primordials and D&D Mythbuilding
Current versions of D&D go with a time before the gods when the Primordial ruled.  In D&D 4e the Primordials were explicitly tied to the various elemental titans still running around.

4e Giants and Titans
This should sound very familiar.  In fact, if we go back to the D&D 3.0 days Sword and Sorcery Studios released their "Scarred Lands" books for the d20 license. In the preface of their Relics and Rituals book, Gary Gygax had this to say:
Allow me to add just a few more words here. The Scarred Lands, of which I know insufficient details at this time, seems a most intriguing setting. Perhaps you will find it likewise. If so, consider how very adaptable its premise is, the war between gods and titans, and the resulting "world" thereafter. Does it not lend itself to adaptation into many different settings? From the mythological Greco-Roman and Norse (substitute "giant" for "titan" and there you are) to any authored world environment in which two or even several groups of deities contended and one triumphed.
Is this coded into our collective sub-consciousness because of the Greeks? Or is it a classic tale? Maybe it's both. Likely it is one because of the other.  Who knows.  The tales of the Greek Myths are so deeply woven into our collective history and storytelling it would be impossible to tease out the individual effects.

James Ward has this to say at the beginning of the Greek Mythos section of the D&DG.
The Greek assembly of gods is probably more familiar to most readers than others of the groups in this work, because they were woven into a literature that has lasted down through the ages. Many of our civil concepts can be traced from the assumed actions of the gods and their mates.
A lot of our concepts of...well most things come from the Greeks.

It then is no surprise that Titans/Primordial vs. Gods is universal and it also appears in our games.
Interestingly enough, almost every evil titan mentioned in the book is Chaotic Evil, although I am not sure they meet the "requirements" to actually be demons.
Let's look at some examples.

Geryon
Geryon is our first one to really stand out.  There is the devil Geryon and the Greek Giant Geryon have a link, but it would be really difficult to claim they are the same.  The Giant Geryon was the 10th Labor of Heracles.  He was described as a triple-bodied monster with human faces.  The Devil Geryon comes from Dante Alighieri's Inferno.   While my norm has been to try to fit things together, I think in this case there are far too many differences between these two creatures to try to reconcile.

The Primordials
The "gods" that came before the Titans are known as the Primordials.  Well. That works well. They represent larger concepts or even elemental properties in the universe.
There are no Primordials in the D&DG, but there are titans.  The Titans are Atlas, Coeus, Crius, Epimetheus, Kronos (Cronos), Oceanus, and Prometheus.

Among the Primordials, two are of interest here; Chaos and Tartarus.  Both of these creatures represent a "person" and a "thing".  Interestingly enough they also have a relationship to the word "Abyss".

In AD&D Tarterus is sandwiched nicely between the Abyss (Chaos) and Hades (the Underworld).


WHICH gets me to a point.  Hades should not really be Neutral Evil. Sure there is that whole "Rape of Persephone" thing but often Hades, the God, was shown as somber, ill-tempered and somewhat hateful of his role in the underworld, but not exactly evil.
Hades the underworld was the destination of ALL souls, not just the evil ones.  The REALLY evil ones and the Titans went to Tarterus/Tartarus.

The changing of the plane name "Hades" to the "Grey Wastes" was one of the few I approved of in the "Demonic Diaspora" of the 2nd Ed era.


That still gives us Tarterus/Tartarus for the monsters the gods have cast down.  Sounds like demons to me.

We know that Cronos imprisoned the cyclopes there along with other monsters.  When Zeus and the Olympians came to power Cronos and the Titans were thrown into Tartarus.  Though later Cronos won Zeus' favor and became the ruler of Elysium.

Looking through the D&DG there are not many creatures that qualify as an AD&D Demon. Lots of monsters yes, demons...not so much. There are few that might qualify.

There is Cerberus, the three-headed dog of the underworld. But he has always been portrayed as unique.  The Death Dogs of the Fiend Folio are considered to be his offspring.

Enceladus is described as a giant in the D&DG.  A giant with snake bodies and tails for legs and so horrifying that any who view him must save vs. spells or run in fear.  He can also grab spells out of the air.  So myths describe Enceladus as a giant and others as a giantess.   If we change Enceladus into a demon I would be tempted to make them a demon living in Tarterus.  The stats as listed are fine.

The Furies also were known as the Erinyes and are a special case.
They are included in the Monster Manual as the devil Erinyes which are based on the classical Furies. In a way they do exactly what I am doing here.  They are the case study to show that this can work.

Next time let's talk about Typhon, Echidna, the Hyperboreans, and "the dreaded name of Demogorgon".

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Home Sweet Home Summer 1985

The new Stranger Things trailer was released today!  I honestly can't wait for this.

"What did you think? We were going to sit in my basement and play games for the rest of our lives?"


Uh yeah. I did.  So I worked my ass off for several degrees so I could get a great job and then do exactly that!

Got my mix-tape play-list gathered up and going to plan some Dark Places & Demigorgons game for this summer.

I should gather up my Dragons from 85 and see which ones still need the This Old Dragon treatment.
It was also this Summer that I first remember my "Very Haunted House" dream that would later spawn "Under a Cajun Moon" and  "The Haunting of Oakcrest Manor" in the Guidebook to the Duchy of Valnwall Special Edition.

Hmm.  Maybe I need to re-combine them into a Dark Places & Demogorgons adventure!

If you read them both you will see the obvious relationship between Cottoncrest Manor in Cajun Moon and Oakcrest Manor in "Haunting".  That's because both places are based on a real place, Maplecrest Manor.

Yeah.  I should do that.  Have the playlist ready to go for inspiration.  Kids + abandoned spooky old mental asylum?  That's the recipe for a good time!

Thursday, January 31, 2019

This Old Dragon: Issue #78

Ok. I will admit. Today is a total cheat. I was not due to post this issue for a few more weeks., but given yesterday's discussion on Psionics and Deyrni I went to my collection and pulled this one out.  Glad I did. This is one of my favorite issues.  So let's mentally project ourselves back in time to October 1983 for issue #78 of This Old Dragon!

As usual, let's start with that cover.  Butterfly winged dragon-like creature feeds their young. Looks like a cool alien landscape too.  I always liked this cover a lot. It had a great Sci-fi and Fantasy feel to it.  Perfect for Dragon really.

The Editorial cover the 1983 (and not the 1988 typo) Gen Con.  Some nice reminiscing.

Letters mostly covers a list of complaints. About copyright issues, about spell rulings, about Sci-Fi being shuffled off to Ares.  Nothing Earth shattering or terribly interesting to us today.

Ah. Here is the main feature and why I grabbed this for today.
Mind Games deals with all sorts of psionics.

Arthur Collins is up first with Psionics is different. . . And that's putting it rather mildly.
First he details what I think was always assumed but never explicit in the rules. Magic comes from without, but psionics are powered from within; the power of the characters' own minds.  Collins also makes some comparisons between AD&D and OD&D psionics AND the issue of whether or not elves should be psionic (I say no).  He spends nine pages discussing all sorts of situations that come in psionics.  So psionic character creation, ability use and of course combat. It is very detailed and honestly, I would not play AD&D 1st Ed psionics without this guide.

Sage Advice deals with various psionic questions. Some seem to contradict advice given in Collins article (namely about psionic elves) but all in all a good read too.  Three full pages of this advice too.

GREAT ad for what would become one of my favorite adventures, Ravenloft.


Yeah. I ate that up.

Next is Overhauling the system. A three-part remedy for problems with psionics by Robert Schroeck.  This deals largely with the fact that you get all your psionic strength points at once. So a first level character with high mental scores (Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma) and good rolls can have a ton of points. I think 350 was the maximum, but that is a memory and I am likely wrong.  Schroeck solution? It's a good one really, start with 25 points at 1st level and then gain 15 points per level till they reach their max.  He also suggests a "use them or lose them" option, so psionic characters need to keep using their powers, even if that means that monsters will be attracted to them.   He also suggests some changes to psionic combat.  I like all three of his suggestions and would use this as well.  Astute readers will see that many of these ideas would later be adopted in some fashion or another in 2nd Edition.

Another treat from the past and my past in particular, an ad for Bard Games "Compleat" series.


Arthur Collins is back and this one is a big one, again both in terms of the issue and for me.
And now, the psionicist. A class that moves psionics into the mainstream gives us exactly what it sounds like.  It is based on Katherine Kurtz's Deryni books and it looks great.
The Psionicist is it's own class and it has a monk-like feel to it. The class has some ability score minimums, but nothing at all like I would expect.  It is avialable to humans and half-elves only, but I would say that half-orcs could as well.  No armor, no shields, minimal weapons and no spell use at all.  So no multi- or dual classed magic-user or cleric characters here.
The class progression reminds me of the Magic-User. The psionicst gets a d10 for first level hp and then a d8 till 4th, then a d6 till 7th and then a d4 at 7 and on.  This represents the psionicsts deepening devotion to mental pursuits and not physical ones.  It's an interesting progression.
As expected they get attack modes, defense modes, minor and major Disciplines,  as well as the new Grand Disciplines which they don't even get till 12th level.
Additionally, we get two new minor (devotions) disciplines, two new major (sciences) disciplines, and six all new grand (arts) disciplines.  In particular is the dreaded "healers" power of Severance or the ability to disconnect another's psychic powers.
Whether it looks like this is left to the individual DMs.


The article ends with a great section of psionic-related magic items from the DMG and a bunch of new "magic" items.

This article is followed, again by Collins, about the Deryni race.  It is adapted by Collins with the permission of Katherine Kurtz.  We get a Monster Manual like entry and some notes on Deryni as a race. They can be multi-classed psionists/magic-user or clerics.

We end this section with another one from Collins (seriously did anyone else write this month?) all about the Heroes & villains of the Deryni. This includes the famous Camber of Culdi.

Honestly, if I stopped here that would make this a great issue.  But we are less than halfway through.

Our big adventure is next.  Citadel by the Sea was designed by Sid Fisher.  I remember this one and had a lot of fun with it. But more importantly it was the adventure that convinced me that I could write my own adventures AND get them published.  I mean Sid Fisher, whomever that was, was just a regular guy. He wasn't named Gygax or Moldvay or Holmes and he got his adventure published.  I never got my earliest adventure published, the Knight of the Serpents, but i did get stuff done.
The adventure is a low-level sea-side mystery at a full 16 pages.  I do wish it had been more connected to the psionic stuff, especially since it is for 1st to 3rd level. Ah well, can't have everything.

A couple pages on miniatures from various manufacturers.
A page of the then hottest conventions.

Ah, now here is something.  I remember this article so, so well.
Be thy die ill-wrought? Only those that pass the chi-square test can play by D. G. Weeks asks the age-old question.  Do my dice suck?
This article gives the basics (huh huh) of the Chi-square (x2) goodness of fit test to see if your dice are biased in any way.  You get the basics of the Chi-square test and even a BASIC program to test them.  I remember typing in this program into my TRS-80 Color Computer 2 (I did not have my upgraded Color Computer 3 yet) but I never could get it to work.  I think now it is because I just didn't really understand how the Chi-square worked.  Today I would just drop my numbers into Excel.

The hits keep coming.  Roger Moore gives us a GREAT one.  The ecology of the mind flayer. Not just great information on the Mind Flayer, but also the githyanki and githzerai. This is also the first time I read the word illithid. Like the article The Sunset World that would appear six years later I read and reread this article many, many times. A huge part of my now current adventure campaign, Come Endless Darkness, comes from these articles.

Kim Mohan is getting in on the psychic action too with Spells can be psionic, too. How and why magic resembles mental powers. This lengthy article (6 pages) covers all sorts of Player's Handbook Spells that emulate psionic powers.  We took the opposite approach and looked at how powers could be like spells. I know we referenced this article many times for that.

I know I do this one a lot, but here another ad for my favorite local game store.  Of course at the time Games Plus was 200 miles away from me.  Now it is a very short dirve and I get tickled whenever I see one of these ads. Plus I don't mind giving them some free press. I ordered from them for years via mail.

They still have the same phone number, only the area code has changed around them. 312 to 708 to now 847.

Wow. 3/4ths of the way through and this issue has delivered more to me than 2 or 3 other issues combined.

Pop the clutch and roll! is a set of rules for car chases for Top Secret.  It's a good-sized article, 4 pages, but I can really say anything intelligent about it.

Paul Montgomery Crabaugh is up with a Dragonquest article on hunting in The thrill of the hunt.  DQ is one of those games I always wanted to try out but never did.  I now have a copy of the 1st edition and I am looking forward to trying it out.

Oh and don't look, but the answers to the later "What's New" quiz are listed here.

A few full-page ads. The Gamer Guide has a bunch of smaller ads. Including ads for War Games West and "The Floppy Disk" a store for wargame and RPG software.

Two pages of What's New features some logic problems, maze, and other silliness.
A page of Wormy, and three pages of Snarf Quest.

We end with big ads for HĂąrn and Middle Earth Roleplaying games.

So. Wow. What an issue. Not only was it full of great 1st Edition material for psionics there is material here that I am STILL using.

Just a great, great issue really.

Want to know what I said about White Dwarf from the same time? Check out White Dwarf Wednesday #46.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

In Remembrance: Stan Lee

Stanley Martin Lieber, known to us mere mortals as Stan Lee died yesterday at the age of 95.
I have often said that my own "Appendix N" would consist of 70s rock, Hammer Horror films, and comics.  Marvel Comics was a huge part of how my D&D world was shaping up.

I grew up being a DC fan, and I still consider myself to this very day a true DC fan.  But in the 70s and the 80s in what was coexistent with my formative D&D years. I dropped DC in favor of Marvel's Spider-Man, X-Men and of course their Horror and Mystic-themed comics like "Tomb of Dracula", Dr. Strange, Blade, and Ghost Rider.  Much of what went on in my D&D worlds was very Marvel influenced.

I had a character named "Rogue" after my favorite bad-girl (at the time she was not in the X-Men yet), and nearly all my character had an illustration that I cut or copied from the pages of Marvel.  While over in DC my first magical-love was still for Zatanna, I also loved reading about the exploits of Dr. Strange and Clea.   I read with a voracious appetite every Tomb of Dracula I could my hands on to.  I read Red Sonja, X-Men, hell...every X-everything in the Mutant 80s.  This leads me to read other comics. 

Stan gave us great characters and stories.  I LOVED Black Panther. Here was a guy who was brilliant, a physicist, a king, he all sorts of superpowers, and yet he still fretted over his people, his lands and doing the right thing.  Peter Parker was so neurotic he could have been a Woody Allen character. Stephen Strange was an arrogant prick, Stark was an alcoholic arrogant prick.  The X-Men had so much pathos it was almost Shakespearian.  These were relatable characters or at least approachable ones.  Jim Croce once sang "You don't tug on Superman's cape" and it is true. Superman, for everything he stands for, is still a god, unapproachable. Even Batman for that matter.  But Stan's characters and the ones he influenced were still more like us.

My introduction to Stan Lee, the man or rather his persona, was via the "Spider-man and his Amazing Friends" cartoons where Stan would narrate the intros. I first heard his "True Believers" here as I suspect most of us did. (Though the FIRST time I heard "True Believers" was on the Electric Company's "Spidey" on PBS in the 70s.) A generation later he would be known to a new audience via his Marvel Cinematic Universe cameos.  But I always felt it was us, the old fans, the ones that remember them smell of comics back in the 70s and 80s (and for others the 60s), that he was there for.

Stan Lee was a flawed, imperfect man.  Just like his characters.  He didn't always say the right thing or maybe he took credit for some ideas that were not his.  At some future date, we can go back and debate the issues of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby split.  But not today.

Today I want to remember the man that gave us all so much. A man that took his own words "with great power comes great responsibility" to heart.  Stan knew the power he wielded and he used it to create worlds for us to enjoy.

Several years ago, when Stan Lee was in his late 80s I asked a question on Facebook, "Who has had a larger impact on our culture, (Playboy founder) Hugh Hefner or Stan Lee?"  The results were fairly predictable, with Stan beating Hugh by nearly a 2 to 1 margin.

We will miss Stanley Lieber, the man.  But Stan Lee, the icon and the personality will live on forever.  Excelsior!


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

October Horror Movie Challenge: Don't Go to Sleep (1982)

Rhoda and McCloud have a murderous daughter in this 1982 made for TV Aaron Spelling movie that surprisingly holds up well.

The late 70s and early 80s were a great time for some really spooky made for TV movies. At least that is my memory of things.  Well if you grew up in the 80s and had brothers or sisters then this movie most certainly freaked you out.

Phillip and Laura just lost their daughter Jennifer and have moved to LA (because that is where Spelling is) with their remaining children Mary and Kevin.  Mary keeps hearing her dead sister but no one believes her.  That is till the killings start.

Now I watched this back in the day and at the time I loved the fact that the mystery could go one of two ways.  Either really a ghost or everything was a product of Mary's psychosis.  As a teen just discovering psychology I thought that was great.

Of course, now, the punch is a little less. Not just due to seeing it before but also time.  Though I was surprised by how well the movie holds up to now.  Re-film this in modern LA and not change a bit of dialog...ok there are some changes that would have to be done...but otherwise it would still work.


Watched: 10
New: 5


Sunday, October 14, 2018

October Horror Movie Challenge: Burned at the Stake (1982)

If there were as many witches in "real" Salem as the Salem in movies and TV, the trials would STILL be going on.

Salem really was an important moment in American History Not the trial itself but as a test of this new country.  Personally, I think we would have ended up exactly where we are today, but we would lack some great stories.

Burned at the Stake, also known as "The Comming", covers the Salem trials in the same way a lot of movies do; as background with a lot of mistakes.  First off, no one was burned at the stake in Salem. They were either hung or in one case pressed to death and another died in prison.

Ok. That all aside. People died and we can get ghosts that way. Ghosts are what gives us this flick.

The plot is simple. Witch dies in the Salem trials then comes back in the 1980s to take revenge of the descendants of the ones that accused her.

I gotta admit despite the subject matter, I found the movie a bit dull.

Watched: 9
New: 5


Thursday, October 11, 2018

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Incubus (1982)

Rapey demon goes on a rampage in TorontoGalen, MA.  This movie has ties to both Deadly Blessing (incubus as our monster) and Watcher in the Woods (directed by John Hough).  This movie was on my list a couple of years ago when I did "Movies I thought I had watched, but never did" for the challenge.

The acting is not bad. Not great mind you, but better than expected in many cases.

There is a twist in the end, and one that should have been expected to be honest, but still fun.  Though that is about all that is fun about the movie.  Though the movie is true the nature of the Incubus, so I can't fault them there.

Keep your eyes open, near the end Bruce Dickinson shows up (on film) with his then band Samson.  So that is fun.

Interestingly enough, both Incubi are depicted here as mostly incorporeal begins that can possess people. Typically succubi have a more physical manifestation.  I wonder why? (of course, we all know).


Watched: 8
New: 4


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

October Horror Movie Challenge: Forbidden World (1982)

Ah...not Forbidden Planet...but well you get the idea.
I was not going to do an 80's themed October Challenge without getting in a Roger Corman film.
Corman is up to his usual tricks here too, cheap sets, recycled footage, and beautiful women in various stages of undress.

The plot is one so old that even in 82 it felt old. Alien monster created by science gets loose in a lab and kills everyone.  But to Corman's credit, he still manages to make this old chestnut entertaining.
Our hero, Mike Colby, is a Federation Marshall sent to deal with the problem.  He manages to have sex with every woman on the base and still finds a way to allow everyone to get killed on the base.
Priorities I guess.

Still, if I ever get my Star Trek/White Star/Black Star game going again there will be a shape-shifting alien in the Jefferies Tubes killing people.

Forbidden World also features a Pre-V June Chadwick as Dr. Barbara Glaser, but she might be remembered best as David St. Hubbins' girlfriend Jeanine in "This is Spın̈al Tap".  Of course given that this a Corman flick the only way the two women on board can figure out how to communicate with the creature is during a scene where they shower together.

This movie has also been known as "Mutant".  The actual creature, as to be expected, looks nothing like the cover art.

Watched: 7
New: 3


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

October Horror Movie Challenge: Deadly Blessing (1981)

Ah,  Deadly Blessing. As kids my brothers and sisters LOVED this movie.  No kidding. The ads were so damn creepy.



A young Sharon Stone forced to eat a spider by an Incubus? Hell yeah! That's nightmare fuel for decades.   And a real spider was dropped into her mouth for this scene.  How's that for dedication?

Ok, where to start on this movie?  Well, it features a young Sharon Stone in one of her very first roles.  It also features Battlestar Galactica's Mara Jensen in her very last role before disappearing from public life.  Also appearing is 80s horror mainstay Michael Berryman, TV star Lisa Hartman, and the last film for Susan Buckner before she left public life as well.

The movie features a group of people called the "Hittites" (no relation to the ancient Mesopotamians) who are supposed to be some sort of ultra-Amish.
Our demon-de-hour is an Incubus, but one that decides to possess women.  I guess "incubus" sounds cooler than "succubus" in this case.

Anyway. Lots of creepy stuff. Murders happen. Mara Jensen takes a famous bath with a snake. And it a fashion that predicts A Nightmare on Elm Street, we think we have the murderer and everyone goes back home.  Except for Martha (Mara Jensen), who pulled into hell by the Incubus in his full demon form.

Ok. Let's be honest. The movie doesn't hold up.  In truth, it wasn't that good to start with, but my memories of it are tied up in watching it with my family.

Sharon Stone is great really.  You get a feeling for the sort of actress she will become later.  Maren Jensen is fine, but I think had she not be diagnosed with Epstein-Barr Syndrome she would have naturally left acting.  She was good, but didn't have a lot of range.


Maybe one of the most iconic horror movie posters of all time.  Well, at least in the top 10.

Watched: 6
New: 2



Monday, October 8, 2018

October Horror Movie Challenge: Sons of Satan (1981)

A bit under the weather here today and all weekend, but I watched to old favorites.
Working my way to 1981.

Fear No Evil (1981).  Loved this stupid little movie as a kid and even more on VHS when I got a copy.  Let's be honest, high school IS Hell.


I had that poster on my wall for years.

The Final Conflict (1981). Damien is back and this time he has his devilish eyes on nothing less than the office of the President!  Imagine that, a soulless son-of-a-bitch as the President.
Sam Neil was really fun in this movie.  The Omen trilogy itself is pretty bad, but this one was fun.


God might only have one son, but Satan's sons are all real underperformers.

Watched: 5
New: 2



Wednesday, October 3, 2018

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Nightmare Never Ends / Cataclysm (1980)

Its Atheist vs Satanist is this 1980 Troma...er...classic.

The movie details the struggle between an atheist (Martin Richard Moll in a very early role), his wife a psychic and surgeon, a police detective and the immortal satanic Nazi they are all hunting.

Personally, I think they tried to cram too much into one movie and none of it fared well.  Plus it is Troma and while they are still a couple years from their Golden Age of Toxic Avenger, they have not yet found their sweet spot.  Though I do recall there were a couple of Troma movies from the early 80s that were fine.

Plus the woman playing Moll's wife, Faith Clift, is not very good.  Though my favorite part in this is she goes to see a psychiatrist friend and he suggests she go to the Disco to get rid of these nightmares she is having.  It comes off as so pandering that he made me laugh. (Psychologists will often suggest a vigorous physical activity to aid with night terrors.)

Maybe if they had split this into two movies, with the detective following the case from both and then had you know a good script.  I like the idea of evil, immortal satanic Nazis as bad guys.

Did I mention though our Nazi sucked too?  No? Wel,l he did.  IF he is the best that the Nazi's and Satan can collectively come up with then the army of evil is nothing.

The movie was released as "The Nightmare Never Ends" but at some point was renamed "Cataclysm". No idea why.  Also, the movie has two release dates; 1980 for the US and 1983 for West Germany.

Watched: 2
New: 2


Monday, October 1, 2018

October Horror Movie Challenge: Beyond Evil (1980)

It's Halloween everyone!  Or October. Same thing.
This year I want to focus on movies made in the 1980s.  I have done a lot 70s and 60s movies, but never a dedicated tour of the horror movies on the 1980s.  I also want to focus on the Occult and things that made people really nervous in the age of the Satanic Panic.

So let's get started.

Up first is John Saxon in Beyond Evil (1980).  It's slightly less Blaxploitation than say Live and Let Die,  but the vide it there.  in fact this movie feels very 70s to be honest. No surprise of course, but it will be interesting to see when the shift happens.

The movie is a "Scooby-Doo" plot where John Saxon and wife Lynda Day George get a house in the Caribean.  Of course, it is haunted by a woman who was murdered by husband.  So we get a lot of Lynda Day George acting all possessed and weird.  A lot of John Saxon not believing in black magic and then of course wackieness ensues.

The movie is not bad it an attempt to update the old haunted house trope by sticking it into someplace really nice. But in the end, the cast is better than their script.

Watched: 1
New: 1


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Plays Wells With Others: Dark Places & Demogorgons and Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Reading over Dark Places & Demogorgons I could not help but make comparisons to another game of strange things going on with high school kids fighting monsters.   Of course, I am talking about the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG.


Both games deal with fighting the unknown, both games deal high school students and both games are steeped in 80s clichĂ©s and pop-culture.  Where Buffy attempted to subvert those clichĂ©s, Dark Places & Demogorgons embraces them.

I am just throwing this out here, I have a lot of issues with Joss Whedon.  I think he is an asshole.
But I am damn proud of the work I did on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG.

Reading through the core of DP&D and all the supplements it became very, very obvious what game I need to run.

Welcome to Sunny Valley, OH
"I am certain that whoever named this place Sunny Valley was having a joke on us. The winters are long, cold and dark. It rains in the spring and fall. I think they named the place in the three days of the summer we do get sun.  Not to mention the werewolves, the vampires and oh yeah the Hellmouth just outside of town.  Welcome to Sunny Valley Ohio California girl. Bet you can't wait to leave."
- Alexander "Alex" Harris to Elizabeth "Buffy" Summers.

I decided to take the entire "Buffy Package" and drop it wholesale to the Midwest and set it all in 1984.  There are some changes that need to be made.

In this new setting Elizabeth Anne "Buffy" Summers moved from sunny California to the ironically named Sunny Valley, Ohio.  As a nod to my friend and co-author on many of the Buffy books, Thom Marrion, who was going to do a series of Buffy books set in Cleveland, I wanted to do this in Ohio.  Cleveland is the "big city", but I never detail how far it is.

There is a Hellmouth, but is more indistinct.  No one is sure where it is, but they all know it's there.  There are two high schools, Sunny Valley Prep (the "good" school, where we start) and Sunny Valley Community High (the "bad" school).

Elizabeth Anne "Buffy" Summers
Class: Monster Hunter (vampires)  Level: 5
Alignment: Good
Languages: English, French
Age: 15

Attributes
STR: 18 +3
INT: 12 +0
WIS: 12 +0
DEX: 18 +3
CON: 18 +3
CHA: 16 +2
SUR: 18 +3

AC: 15     HP: 35    Attack Bonus +4 / +7 (vs. vampires)

Courage: 6 (additional +3 vs. vampires)
Critical: 5
Death: 6
Mental: 4
Poison: 5

Background
Mother is rarely at home.
Annoying little sister.

Class Abilities
+3 to hit, track, dmg to Vampires
+1 Toughness

Skills
Outdoorsmanship +4, Paranormal +5, Knowledge (Historical) +2, Brawling, Persuasion +2, Basic Athletics +3, Stealth +2

Possessions
Leather jacket, pants, stakes

Money: $30

This version of Buffy is actually named Elizabeth. She is a former California girl and now lives here with her mom and weird little sister. She is a Slayer, but she has no idea how or why.  There are no Watchers here in Sunny Valley, no Giles.  Elizabeth just knows she is strong, fast and she can sense vampires.
At the end of Series 1 she dies, but only for a little bit.  This gives us Faith Lehanne, a wild girl from Sunny Valley Community High.

Faith Lehanne
Class: Monster Hunter (vampires)  Level: 5
Alignment: Neutral
Languages: English
Age: 14

Attributes
STR: 17 +2
INT: 12 +0
WIS: 10 +0
DEX: 18 +3
CON: 18 +3
CHA: 17 +2
SUR: 18 +3

AC: 15     HP: 32    Attack Bonus +3 / +6 (vs. vampires)

Courage: 5 (additional +2 vs. Vampires)
Critical: 5
Death: 4
Mental: 3
Poison: 4

Background
Parents are dead, lives with Aunt
Dirt poor

Class Abilities
+2 to hit, track, dmg to Vampires
+1 Toughness

Skills
Outdoorsmanship +4, Paranormal +4, Knowledge (local ) +1, Brawling, Intimidation +4, Street Smarts +4, Stealth +2

Possessions
Leather jacket, pants, stakes

Money: $0

Faith shows up in Series 2 from SVCHS where she makes an impression by killing two vamps right away.  She introduces us to her friend Tara, and she and Willow start to spend a lot of time together.



Both Buffy and Faith are built using the Monster Hunter class from DP&D: Player Options & GM Guide.  In truth I could build a "Slayer" class, but I didn't really want to do that.  I wanted to try them out Rules As Written.

In general the cast would be much younger than the TV show.  Anywhere from 2 to 3 years younger. This fits perfectly with DP&D but changes the dynamic a little.   For starters, I would downplay the sexual tension to almost nothing, or at least a slow burn.  A 200+-year-old vampire prey on a 17-year-old sounds bad.  Preying on a 14-15-year-old sounds worse for some reason.  I am also going to give Faith the benefit of the doubt here.   During my Buffy game Season of the Witch, I pointed out that what the show writers had done to her essentially was so contradictory that the character was broken beyond repair.  So what if I took a potential "Bad Girl" and instead gave her a friend.  Maybe someone she saved from some bullies.  Enter Tara.  In this world Faith saved Tara from being picked on because of her poor family and the open secret that she is gay; something that was still very hard to deal with in the 80s.  Both girls help each other out till they meet the cast.

Dawn Summers
Class: Telekinetic  Level: 1
Alignment: Good
Languages: English
Age: 11

Attributes
STR: 10 +0
INT: 12 +0
WIS: 16 +2
DEX: 12 +0
CON: 14 +1
CHA: 12 +0
SUR: 16 +2

AC: 10     HP: 4    Attack Bonus +0

Courage: 3
Critical: 2
Death: 3
Mental: 4
Poison: 2

Background
Mother is rarely at home.

Class Abilities
Telekinesis, Psionic Attack, Psionic Push

Skills
Paranormal +1, Investigation +1, Knowledge (local) +1, Stealth +1, Video Games +1
Psionic Attack +1

Possessions
Bike, Backpack, Journal describing how she used her powers in secret.

Money: $10

In my games, Dawn developed psychic powers.  Maybe not Jean Grey levels, but certainly Carrie ones.  I thought it would be fun if the "Annoying Kid Sister" trope was subverted by making her Powered.  She was built with the optional Psionic classes in the Core Rule book.

I also did Cordelia Chase (basically an archetype "Princess"), Alexander "Alex" Harris (a "Geek" due to his Star Trek obsession), Oz (Metalhead turned Werewolf) and Angel (Teen Heartthrob turned Vampire).

What can DP&D Players get from Buffy?
The Buffy RPG is a great game that focuses a lot on the high school experience and how fighting monsters can be a metaphor for life in High School. Personally, I think EVERY player and GM of DP&D needs to read Chapter 7: Episodes, Seasons and Drama. It is hands down the best chapter written about running anytime of modern supernatural game or a game set around High School age kids.  The mechanics on Drama Points and their use would also be useful.
And of course all the monsters, vampires and demons the book has would be helpful to any DP&D GM.

What can Buffy Players get from DP&D?
The Buffy RPG is a mature game.  Not just in content, but shelf-life.  I know people that are still playing the game 15+ years later.   For me, DP&D has given me a breath of fresh air and has re-energized my Buffy-related experiences.  Hell, this is the first honest to goodness Buffy campaign idea since Season of the Witch and that was more than 12 years ago.
The "Back to Basics" feel of DP&D cannot be ignored or understated.  It really helped me think of this game in a different way.


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