Friday, April 18, 2014

OSWARP is looking for game masters!

Hey all! I wanted to throw out a reminder that registration for OSWARP (and DexCon, the parent convention) is now open. OSWARP is the Old School Wargame and Role Playing convention, to be held in Morristown New Jersey on July 4-5.

We're looking for you to run a game! If you volunteer to run enough games (64 player-hours' worth if you're getting the special OSWARP membership), you get comped into the convention altogether. Types of games we're looking for:

  • Old-school RPGs (Basic, AD&D, White Box, BECMI, Metamorphosis Alpha, Boot Hill, T&T, Runequest, Traveller, C&S, FASA Star Trek, etc. etc. etc.)
  • OSR retro-clones and associated games (OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, S&W, C&C, DCC, Barbarians of Lemuria, etc. etc. etc.)
  • Wargames (hex and counter types and others, like Afrika Korps, Third Reich, War in Europe, Campaign for North Africa, Kingmaker, Starfleet Battles, other AH/SPI/Victory Games/etc. - doesn't have to be from the 80's)
  • Miniatures (historical miniatures from any era, Chainmail (with or without the fantasy supplement), Battlesystem, etc.)
  • Anything else you think would be appropriate for an "old school" convention

You'll find the game master submission form right there on the DexCon registration page. (DexCon is happening July 2-6, and a DexCon membership doubles as your OSWARP membership.)

Make sure you select OSWARP in the "type of game" section in the form when you fill it out. And when you do send in a game proposal, let me know either in the comments here or by email, so I have some idea of what's coming. I'll be doing regular updates as games come in, so as to drum up interest, and have some ideas for stuff at the con that requires I know what's on the horizon.

And don't forget, when you pre-register for the convention, use the code OSRDX17PX30, and you'll get a $30 discount off a complete membership. To take advantage of this deal, you must sign up for 4 Oswarp-labeled events once the schedule is posted, or two OSWARP events and the OSR Team Dungeon Crawl. (Which, if you're reading this blog, you were probably going to be doing anyway, but just in case...)

That means you get into Dexcon, and can play as many RPGs, board games, video games, LARPs, miniatures games, and wargames as you can put into your schedule over 96 hours for just $40, including all the OSWARP games you can handle. That's pretty damn good. (If you're just planning on coming for the Friday/Saturday OSWARP programming, that's still the best option to choose, in terms of price.)

See you there, and spread the word!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

On the epidemiology of rumors

I've long advocated using the broad sweep of history in the Flanaess, with all the wars, revolutions, invasions, and other changes to the setting acting as a vast and sweeping backdrop against which the campaign and the PCs can operate (Mortellan over at Greyhawkery covered this very subject himself yesterday).

One thing that occurs to me, however, is that unless the PCs are in the immediate vicinity of events, their knowledge of what is happening hundreds or even thousands of miles away is going to be out of date, incorrect, or both. And for that matter, their knowledge of what's happening right around them might not be that accurate, either!

I envision some tables (of course it's tables!) that uses the distance from the actual event and the time elapsed to determine how accurate a given rumor will be. Distance will determine how soon rumors of a given event could reach a location, as well as distorting its accuracy (as the information is passed through multiple people as it moves from place to place). Time will distort the accuracy as well, as stories are embellished as they are retransmitted. Assume that rumors are traveling with merchant caravans, ships, and the like, so 15 miles per day as a very rough estimate.

Rumor Table 1: Accuracy

Die Roll (d%)

Wildly inaccurate. Numbers are distorted by as much as 100 times, names are completely wrong, basic facts are inverted.

Inaccurate. Numbers are distorted by as much as 10 times, names are inverted, basic facts are distorted.

Somewhat inaccurate. Numbers are distorted by as much as 3 times, names are distorted, basic facts are generally correct.

Accurate. Numbers are distorted by as much as 2 times, names are mostly correct, basic facts are correct.

Very accurate. Numbers are correct, names are correct, basic facts are correct, details are mostly correct.

Rumor Table 2: Distance Modifiers

Accuracy Modifier
0-1 mile
1-30 miles
31-90 miles
150-300 miles
301-1,000 miles
1,000+ miles

Rumor Table 3: Time Modifiers

Accuracy Modifier
Less than 1 week
Less than 1 month
More than 3 months
More than 6 months
More than 1 year

Now let's apply this and see how it works. As a test subject, let's say that our PCs are in the City of Greyhawk, and they're picking up rumors in a tavern. It's CY 583, and the "Greyhawk Wars" are just getting into full swing, so there's lots of information flying around.

The first event that will hit the PC's attention is the fall of the Duchy of Tenh the previous year. Since Tenh is around 800 miles away from Greyhawk, there's a -10 modifier for distance, and since the event happened more than six months ago, but not quite a year ago, there's an additional -10 modifier for age. The GM rolls a 53, modified down to a 33. Inaccurate. This is what the PCs hear:

A horde of a hundred thousand screaming barbarians from the Barrens swept through Tenh and is besieging Wintershriven in the Pale even now.

(In reality, the barbarians came from Stonehold and further east, numbered in the thousands, and never entered the Pale.)

The second event is the fall of the Horned Society just a month ago. Molag (capital of the Horned Society and pivotal in the rumor) is only 420 miles from Greyhawk, so no distance modifier applies (it would have taken about a month for the news to travel this far and reach the ears of common folk, although the Lord Mayor will certainly have known about it much sooner, as he will rely not on caravans to carry information, but will have networks of riders and spies). It happened around a month ago, so there would be no age modifier either. The GM rolls a 53 again. Somewhat innacurate. This is what the PCs hear:

Molag has fallen and the Hierarchs are slain! Only one of the leaders of the Horned Society made it out alive, and no one knows where he is now. Iuz came down from Dorakka with an army of demons and slew everyone in the city. His armies conquered the rest of the country in just days.

(In reality, more than one Hierarch escaped, the slaughter in the city was great but not total, some demons were involved, but there was no demon army, and it took two weeks to conquer the Horned Society.)

What I would love to do is to collect scores of rumors and put them in a vast matrix; if you're in this place at this time, you hear these rumors, and have them all spreading across the Flanaess like ripples in a pond, growing gradually more distorted as the rings get larger and larger, eventually becoming unrecognizable. That'd be a lot of work, though, and in the meantime these guidelines, and a good timeline of events, should be enough to get me through.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Let's Read: Greyhawk Adventures (Part 5)

Having left off last time with Incabulous, the book now turns to Istus, the Baklunish goddess of fate. She goes from being a 14th level cleric, 14th level druid, 24th level magic-user, and 14th level illusionist to being just a 16th level cleric and 16th level magic-user. She also plummets from having 377 h.p. to 75! In addition, her companion/servant (a sort of time elemental mentioned in the Guide) has disappeared entirely. Her clerics have a little more descriptive text about their personalities, and have a new 6th level spell, enmeshment, which transports those affected to an extra-dimensional labyrinth of dread where they could be attacked by other prisoners, until they make a successful saving throw vs. spells (they get to save each round). Clerics of Fharlanghn should feel a little ripped off in the new spell department...

Iuz, the evil demigod who rules his own eponymous realm, is next. Here we see an important distinction, which isn't really called out in the book so much as it is implied, as he doesn't have an avatar, but rather only his true form. He does, however, lose his 16th level assassin status that he enjoyed in the Glossography (although he is still a 16th level cleric). His clerics are presented as, essentially, headhunters, with the number of skulls they have displayed an indicator of their status within the priesthood. They do have a unique 1st level spell, spittle (a reference to one of Iuz's own powers), which can have some really serious consequences against enemies in combat (no attacks for 1d4+1 rounds, for instance).

Nerull is next. His avatar is oddly not so much lowered in power from the others; he only goes from 16th to 14th level as a magic-user and cleric, and loses his assassin levels. His hit points go from 400 to 90, though, which is certainly significant. His clerics get a new 5th level spell, ebony tendrils, which can hold enemies fast for 5 rounds unless they make an open doors check when first struck. Pretty nifty, but I might put it as 3rd level.

Obad-Hai ("The Shalm") and Olidammara are not covered in the book.

Pholtus is next, with his avatar losing 8 clerical levels and changing from an illusionist to a magic-user. His clerics go through something of a change; now it is specified that they must be lawful neutral in alignment, where before there was no distinction between the lawful (any) alignment of his worshipers and his priests. Their new 5th level spell, sunburst, which inflicts 6d6 h.p. of damage on undead and blinds other creatures. Quite the potent spell.

Ralishaz, the god of bad luck, has an avatar not that far removed from his own true form (we assume), losing only 2 levels as a cleric and switching from a 9th level illusionist to a 7th level magic-user. Everything else is pretty much the same, but clerics gain a new 2nd level spell, vicissitude, which will give the caster a +10%(or +2 on a d20 roll) chance to any roll, but which has a 5% chance per casting of backfiring and turning into a penalty. Nice, suitably powered, and it does fit the nature of the deity.

Ulaa rounds out the section on deities (which also omits Raxivort, Trithereon, and Wastri - one of my personal favorites - Xan Yae, and Zagyg). Her avatar is lacking 13th level fighter abilities, but is otherwise largely unchanged (except, of course, for hit points, which like all avatars seem to plummet to a third or less of the original). Her clerics' additional spell is the 6th level command earth, which can either hold earth elementals (and associated creatures) at bay or attempt to charm them. It works both in terms of power and with the nature of the deity, but an argument could be made for making it a 5th level spell.

That brings us to the end of the section on deities. The avatars, I think, are a change for the worse. They're severely under-powered and under-hit pointed, but yet they seem to have the weapons and powers of the actual deity in full strength. A more comprehensive explanation of the relationship between the real deities and their avatars would be most welcome - what we get is rather perfunctory and certainly doesn't spell out certain salient details. We lose a number of deities altogether, and in some cases lose or change details which add character to their clerics. The additional special spells for each deity's clerics are a good idea on the whole, but some of them seem ridiculously under-powered to the point where no one would reasonably choose to memorize them.

Up next: Monsters of Greyhawk.

WotC News Roundup

A couple of news items of interest today...

Dead in Thay, the next season of D&D Encounters, is launching on the weekend of May 10-11. Seems to be an old-fashioned dungeon crawl.

There's a revised version of the Dungeon board game coming out in June, with a sticker price under $20. No word on what changes are being made since the 2012 edition.

The usual submission window for Dragon and Dungeon magazines is not open as it would normally be in April. No word on the fate of either of the now-on-hiatus electronic magazines.

Lords of Light - The Thundarr the Barbarian Story

Check out this amazing short documentary on one of the great formative cartoons of my childhood.

h/t to +Noah Stevens

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Greyhawk through the ages

This post is inspired by something that +Eric Franklin posted on Google+, asking about From the Ashes, and it inspired me to take a quick jaunt through the various published incarnations of the setting (Gygax's home campaign was originally quite different, but morphed into something more like the published version as time went on). I'm going to focus here on the boxed sets and setting-wide sourcebooks, rather than the specific modules and regional sourcebooks that have been released over the years.

First, of course, we have the 1980 folio. This was the original incarnation of the published version of the setting, and packs a lot into its 32 page gazetteer. There is a broad overview of history, written in terms of migrations of peoples (reminiscent of the late Classical era migrations of the Germanic tribes), as well as capsule descriptions of all the nations and natural features (mountain ranges, forests, rivers, etc.) on those beautiful maps by Darlene. It is set in CY 576.

Many of its fans feel that one of its strengths is its brevity and lack of detail. There are no descriptions of deities or religions (beyond Iuz, because he rules a nation, and even then there are no stats in the conventional sense of the term), no adventure hooks, no NPCs (other than rulers, and all they're given is a class and level). I think modern audiences would probably find such omissions frustrating, whereas we OSR types see them for what they are - room to fill in ourselves.

The folio was followed shortly by the 1983 Gold Box, consisting of those same Darlene maps and two books. The Guide covers much of the same information, in terms of kingdoms and forests, but adds a lot of information on deities, random encounter tables for various regions and nations, quasi-deities, tables for appearance and national origin, and more. Much of the additional material had appeared in the pages of Dragon magazine, but some, such as the mini-adventure seeds, are new to the product.

Up to this point, the setting is what could be called a "classic" fantasy setting. It portrays the forces of evil and good in the world as being in relative equilibrium, has a quasi-medieval/Renaissance feel and level of technology, it can be called a high magic setting, and its relatively low amount of canonical information still makes it very easy for a DM to make it his own without worrying about contradicting something written in some novel or sourcebook (a problem which plagues the Forgotten Realms). There is a definite feel that evil is on the rise, but the situation isn't hopeless and the stalwart heroes can stem the tide through bold action.

1992's From the Ashes, produced after Gygax had left TSR, takes the setting into a different direction and sets a decidedly different tone. While the basics of the setting are still intact - it's still relatively high magic, the quasi-medieval/Renaissance organization is still there, and the canon is still relatively low compared to the Forgotten Realms (but growing, especially with the City of Greyhawk boxed set and the various regional sourcebooks that started to come out after this boxed set was published). The various nation descriptions are updated to reflect what's happened in the timeline between the time frame of the Gold Box and this set (which takes place in CY 585), but the real change is in the tone of the setting.

Evil is now clearly ascendant. Iuz has conquered most of the northern Flanaess, the Great Kingdom has collapsed into undead-fueled anarchy, giants besiege or have conquered the western Sheldomar Valley, demons and devils (tanar'ri and baatezu, ahem) stride the land, and the Scarlet Brotherhood is popping up everywhere taking out leaders and conquering territories. The feel now is that the forces of good are on the ropes, besieged on all sides as well as from within, and evil could triumph at any moment.

Once Wizards of the Coast acquired Greyhawk, they moved the timeline ahead yet again, this time to CY 591, and released the Players Guide and Greyhawk: The Adventure Begins, both in 1998. This time the pendulum swung back to the "evenly matched good and evil" side. Iuz is more-or-less contained, successor states are rising in the former Great Kingdom and establishing (relative) order, the Scarlet Brotherhood has suffered reversals, and the western Sheldomar Valley is being reclaimed from the giants. One gets a sense from this incarnation of the setting that everyone is catching their breath after the tumultuous years that preceded it.

There's also much more of a focus on the central Flanaess and the city of Greyhawk itself in these products, but not so much that they seem to be in isolation. By this time, however, the weight of the accumulated canon (in the assembled adventure modules, sourcebooks, novels, magazine articles, and miscellanies) is starting to tell - inconsistencies are creeping in much more frequently, which is inevitable when so many authors have written so much material for a single setting - but in terms of sheer volume it is still far behind the Forgotten Realms.

Finally, we come to 2000's Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, which was an incredibly thorough and comprehensive treatment of the setting, including an enormous depth of history on all of the territories and nations of the Flanaess, information on deities and religions, NPCs, and more. It is set in the same CY 591 timeframe as The Adventure Begins and the Players Guide, and served as the launching-off point for the Living Greyhawk campaign managed by the RPGA. Because of this, although it adds a wealth of detail (indeed, it might be said that it adds too much, straying the farthest from the original folio in terms of content vs. room for DM invention), the tone of the two earlier books is still maintained.

Friday, April 11, 2014

What happened to the DIY ethos?

I know that the title of this post is going to honk off some folks, especially within the OSR, who will (rightly) chime in that the DIY ethos is alive and well in the RPG hobby. After all, we've got a glut of RPG rules right now - desktop publishing software and print on demand have ushered in a veritable golden age of DIY gaming.

Well... yes and no.

While it is true that there are a ton of new RPG rules being written and published (thanks in large part to Amazon, Lulu, and RPGNow), the hobby does seem to have lost some of the DIY ethos nonetheless. I'm thinking particularly of the accouterments of gaming. There was a time that it was a hassle to find 25mm unpainted lead figures. Terrain? Dungeon walls? Good luck. I picked up a slew of dungeon walls made out of cheap plaster at GenCon in 1985 (I think), but that was it. It was that or grease pencils on acetate.

Now, though, we've got pre-painted plastic figures and Dwarven Forge dungeon walls. Artistically rendered dungeon tiles are a dime a dozen. Some games even require that one use their figures, and GW even requires that they be painted a certain way. It's one thing to be the only company making a D10 Klingon Battlecruiser, and having a game that you can't physically play without having purchased the right miniature. And yet another thing when, if you show up to a game with a non-authorized figure (GASP!) you will be turned away.

One of the reasons I like Ogre Minatures so much is that it still has this DIY ethos. Part of it is certainly not by design - Steve Jackson Games never produced any Israeli Golems or Nipponese Ninjas - but a great deal of it is simply that when the game was made, that's just what you did. You bought some figures, you kitbashed or created from whole cloth the ones you couldn't (or didn't) buy, and you played the game. And then you made your own terrain. Some of it was great, and some of it sucked. But it was homemade, and that gave it a certain authenticity from which we seem to be actively moving away. Not that it's dead by any stretch, but it is definitely going out of style.

Go read this post from Chirine's Workbench ye trendy and despair. There's gold in handmade terrain, and handmade figures, and even hand painted figures. Let's not let the "industrialization" of our hobby lose sight of that.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

D&D Club photo circa 1984

Dredged up from my high school yearbook without further comment, I present The Pingry School Dungeons and Dragons Club, 1984:

Anyone else have such artifacts and relics lying around in their yearbooks or other tomes of dread?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Castle of the Mad Archmage Pathfinder Edition Now Available

I am pleased to announce that the Pathfinder-compatible edition of the best-selling Castle of the Mad Archmage is now available, in pdf, softcover, and hardcover editions. Converted by veteran Michael McCarty, Castle of the Mad Archmage features more than 1,500 keyed encounters on more than 13 dungeon levels, and includes new monsters, magic items, and spells.

The Castle of the Mad Archmage is designed as an old-fashioned "funhouse" megadungeon, with tricks and traps, many different factions of monsters, and can provide literally years of mayhem, dismemberment, and other fun.

The adventure is comprised of three books; the Adventure Book, the Map Book, and an Illustration Book with pictures to show your players what they see at key and interesting points in the dungeon (due to a limitation of the RPGNow site, you must add all three of these books to your cart separately).

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Film Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (spoiler-free)

Short version: this is the best Marvel film to date. See it. Yes, it's better than The Avengers. I saw it without IMAX or 3D, in a theater about 90% full.

One thing I am loving about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is that they're not afraid to do films that stretch the boundaries of what you think a "comic book film" should be. As other reviewers have stated, this is a movie straight out of the 1970's political thriller genre, and you can see Three Days of the Condor, Black Sunday, and others in here. With the scifi-comedy that Guardians of the Galaxy seems to be setting itself as, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a "modern supernatural" film (such as Doctor Strange, who does get name-checked in this film) or even a straight contemporary romance film in the MCU at some point. They want to prove that the MCU is versatile, and they're successful.

To break down the obvious: the action scenes are extremely well done, although I am very tired of the "shaky cam". It's not nearly as bad here as it is in some films, but it's still there and it's annoying. I want to be able to make out details in the action scenes, and the shaky cam makes that more difficult.

The special effects are impeccable. CGI has truly come into its own, and this film demonstrates it. There's no visual indication that you're not seeing aircraft carriers rise into the air, or Sam Wilson (the Falcon) fly on metal wings.

This is very much a plot-driven film, although there are great moments of character development, such as Captain America still coming to grips with the fact that he's 70 years out of time, the playful banter between him and Black Widow, and his friendship with the Falcon that make this so much more than a shoot'em-up-and-explosions film. Speaking of Black Widow, she features enormously in this film, and people who have been saying she should have been given her own film might look on this and be sated. It could easily have been called "Captain America and Black Widow".

One thing I particularly liked was that the trailers seem to have been deliberately edited to put viewers off the scent of what was actually going on. If, like me, you thought you had sussed out the broad outlines of the plot from the trailers and released footage, you are dead wrong, and it was a delight to realize it as the film unfolded. I like to think that was deliberate, and if it was, they're operating on a meta-level that just increases my respect for the entire Marvel films team.

There are a ton of genuinely "what the HELL did he just say?" moments. There are plot twists that surprised the hell out of me, and apparently the entire audience, as there were audible gasps when certain characters said certain things. There is plenty of fan-service, and it's great, being loyal to the spirit of the comics as well as consistent with the MCU mythology they've laid out thusfar. If you're a fan of the MCU, and especially if you're a fan of the television show Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., you will know that it is no exaggeration that this film "changes everything you know about the Marvel Universe". It does, and in so doing it opens it up to much greater possibilities that will make die-hard comics fans very, very happy.

As an aside, regarding Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., this film plugs in perfectly with the show. There's a line in last Tuesday's episode, End of the Beginning, that directly ties into the film (as well as a shared character), and with the changes that this film wreaks in the MCU, I am beside myself wondering how it will impact the show. If you gave up on the show because the first half of the season was slow (and no denying it - it definitely was), the last couple of episodes really stepped up the pace, and the last six episodes promise to really explore the implications of everything that Winter Soldier set up. It's worth sitting through ten or eleven slow-burn episodes to get to the final eleven or twelve OMG THAT'S GREAT episodes. The first half of the season was a sort of bridge between Iron Man 3 and Winter Soldier. If that's to be the function of the show going forward (filling in the gaps between the various films), I think it's a dandy one.

One more thing - this film manages to avoid the stereotypical "fish out of water" gags. Yes, Cap keeps a list of things that people tell him he should look into, but he's adjusting. There's no staring dumbly into a phone with buttons instead of a rotary dial, no gap-jawed wonderment at the Internet. He's out of time, but he's picking it up, quickly. Just like you'd expect most people to do. He's much more dismayed by the moral changes in the world since 1944, rather than the technological ones.

They made *this* guy into a
credible villain
On the whole, in the context of the MCU, this is the best film that Marvel has come out with. It is better plotted, with better and genuinely I-didn't-see-that-coming plot twists, than The Avengers. It has better character moments, especially the interactions between Cap and Falcon and Black Widow. You actually get to see Nick Fury in action, more the bad-ass top agent that's been implied, than the bureaucrat that's been shown, in previous films. There are smart nods to the classic comic book canon, and inventive uses of C-list characters (Baltroc the Leaper is actually a pretty impressive and even realistic foe, rather than a joke) that demonstrate a real love of the source material, but a willingness to go beyond a slavish reiteration.

There are two helpings of shawarma in the credits. Make sure you stay until the house lights come up. One features a character that comic fans will recognize, and a prop that film fans will recognize, and both of them in the 20 seconds they're on screen could be the basis of a movie in and of themselves. And there's another that neatly ties into one of the recurring themes of one of the major characters.

This is a perfect Marvel movie. Go see it.

PS: Bonus points for the first person who can point out the Butch Cassidy/The Sting Easter egg in the film.

Friday, April 4, 2014

What are your worst nerd lacunae?

Do you have an odd gap in your nerd-cred? Something that "every nerd knows" that you've just never seen? Or maybe a game that "every gamer's tried that" that you never tried?

I've got a couple...

  • Red Dwarf - I know it sort of looks like Doctor Who, and it's a comedy, and that's about it.
  • E.T. The Extra-terrestrial - Never saw it, never cared.
  • The Fifth Element - Ditto.
  • BECMI - I've played and loved Holmes, but never played any of the other "Basic" D&D boxed sets.

How about you? What iconic nerd-thing have you just never gotten around to?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ogre Miniatures Back (for a while...)

Good news for fans of Ogre Miniatures; Warehouse 23 has them back in-stock for a very limited time. It's not the full line, and the prices are higher than they used to be, but if you have any holes in your collection and want to fill them with metal, now's the time to do it because apparently once they run through what they have up on the site, that's it, and they'll be taken off of W23 on April 11. After that, you'll need to hit eBay.

Still, if you need to have that Doppelsoldner or a MK-VI Ogre, and aren't afraid of a slightly hefty price, act now or hold your peace for a long time.

The announcement said the pre-orders weren't starting until Monday April 7, but I see them up on the site now and apparently you can put them in your cart (I haven't tried to complete an order yet), so it could be a mistake that they're visible now, but give it a try.

EDIT: Now with the correct link!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Monday, March 31, 2014

Thoughts on a shared Universal Monster Universe

So there's talk about Universal doing a reboot of 2004's Van Helsing, in the hopes of starting off a shared universe along the same lines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Apparently Bob Orci is starting off with a Mummy film (which could be a great place to start). Now, I might argue that Universal already did such a thing back in the 1930's and 40's, with their crossover films that connected classic monsters like Frankenstein's Monster, the Wolfman, and Dracula into a very loose and ad-hoc continuity. (Egads, does that put Abbott and Costello in the place of Agent Coulson as "the glue"???)

Two of the weaknesses in the 2004 Van Helsing, I thought, were the secret monster-hunting society and the attempt to cram a ton of monsters into the single film right off the bat. In fairness, the Marvel model hadn't yet been established, where a film focuses tightly on one character, which then leads into another, and another, with minor shared characters darting in and out of the continuity, and then you see the big team-up film that raises the stakes for the whole shared universe, which then leads into the next batch of single-character movies, etc., etc., etc.

I think it's a great model, but it takes time to lay the groundwork, and it can't be rushed into. That's exactly what I think Sony is doing with their Spider-man franchise (a Sinister Six movie next, but no Black Cat? Really?) and Warner Brothers is doing with the DC Universe (straight from a stand-alone Superman film to a huge mix-up with at least Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Aqua Man). If Universal has the confidence to play the long game, they could come out with a really well-established shared universe around their monster properties.

Let's take an inventory of what, exactly, we're talking about, in terms of "A List" monsters:

  • Dracula
  • Frankenstein's Monster
  • The Wolfman
  • The Invisible Man
  • The Phantom of the Opera
  • Doctor Jekyll/Mister Hyde
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • The Gill Man (aka the Creature from the Black Lagoon)

More than enough to sustain a whole slew of films, if they're plotted together properly. There are also a ton of "B List" monsters and characters that could be woven in and amongst them, like the Mole People, Maleva the gypsy from the Wolfman, Van Helsing, Doctor Frankenstein, Ygor, Else Frankenstein, the Cult of the Cobra, the Creeper, etc.

One issue that would have to be addressed is the question of what time-period the movies would take place. Dracula and the Monster are immortal, but the other characters certainly aren't. Dracula originally takes place in the early 19th century, while the Creature from the Black Lagoon was set in the 1950's. Some sort of compression of time-frame would be needed, and some sort of "glue" the way S.H.I.E.L.D. binds the MCU together.

It's also something of the inverse of the MCU, since the monsters are the central, and repeating, characters. Heroes can come and go, but the monsters endure.

I picture this without a single overarching "glue", but rather more direct movie-to-movie connections. So there would be van Helsing as protagonist in a couple of Dracula movies, and a Frankenstein origin film followed by a Bride of Frankenstein-inspired story with Dr. Praetorius as protagonist, then Dracula would move over to Frankenstein, trying to force Frankenstein's son to repeat the experiment, introducing Maleva, then a Wolfman origin story set in the same town as Frankenstein, with a lot of the same secondary characters, and then a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde film with a lab assistant who will later become the Invisible Man, and so forth.

I think if they don't try to rush things, Universal has the potential to really put together an effective shared universe, treating the material seriously and still recalling the heyday of Universal monster movies where mash-ups between monsters were commonplace. Today we call that a shared universe, and if it's done deliberately, setting things up in one film that payoff in another, it can really work.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Has fandom become too prudish and unoriginal? (NSFW)

I happened across some photo galleries of cosplaying (although there wasn't a word for it back then, it was just "wearing costumes") from science fiction conventions in the 1970's. It made me wonder, has fandom gotten too prudish and puritanical, too Politically Correct, and too slavishly imitative of mass media?

(NSFW below the fold)

Friday, March 28, 2014

RIP Dave Trampier

Another of the greats from the early days of the hobby has passed away. Dave Trampier, who lent his unique and wonderful artistic style to the early books and magazines by TSR, died on Monday at age 59. He turned his back on the RPG world many years ago, but we never turned our back on him.

Update: This news has been confirmed, and worst of all, comes just as it seems that Mr. Trampier was set to start a return to the gaming world, with a convention appearance. The tragedy, and loss to the gaming world, is doubled.

Some of my favorite pieces by the late, great, Tramp: