29 May 2013

Quick Update

This is just a quick post to let everyone know I have not fallen off the face of the earth. 
I've been preoccupied lately because my father is battling a very agressive form of cancer and my 97 y.o. grandmother was in poor health as well; she passed away last Sunday. I'll get back to posting soon, God willing and the river don't rise.

13 May 2013

Sci-Fi Monday: I'm a Glitter Boy!

Just so you know, I'm a glitter boy! Or, I guess to be more precise, my grandson will be. Back a few years ago when he was getting the revision of Rifts Sourcebook One together, Kevin Siembieda was going through the infamous "Crisis of Treachery." A longtime employee of Palladium Books had embezzled and stolen somewhere in the neighborhood of anywhere from a quarter to a half of a MILLION dollars in money and goods from the company. Palladium fans rallied around Kevin to help him out and, a longtime Palladium fan myself, I threw my support behind the company. apparently Kevin noticed because he sent me an email wanted to know what I though about SB1 when it was published.
Apparently a certain NEMA general had a division's worth of troops put in deep freeze, awaiting the day when they could be awoken and go on to rebuild North America. He gave a rallying speech which would give hope to untold generations to come. That general was Anthony Emmel. :) So, apparently my grandson will be a glitter boy pilot and a general. And named after me as well! I'm so proud!
And that, gentle readers , is my one clain to sci-fi fame.

10 May 2013

Fantasy Friday: Throne of the Crescent Moon (book review)

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, DAW Books, ISBN-10: 0756407788.
I picked this book up, well, not a whim, but I was going through a book store trying to find something that was interesting but not derivative of Tolkien or Moorcock or anything else. This one caught my eye. Even as a kid, I've loved "Arabic" fantasy such as the film  The 7 Voyages of Sinbad and in D&D the second gazetteer of the Known World, The Emirates of Ylarum. I was never nonplussed by the inclusion of Azeem in Kevin Costner's Robin Hood: The Prince of Thieves. As a budding historian, I read the Qu'ran in 1992 or so, well before 9-11 and gloried in Francisco Gabrielli's Arab Historians of the Crusades. In fact, when I went through my crisis of faith while in the Army during the winter of 1988-89, al-Islam was one religion I seriously considered; it even made the "short list" along with Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodoxy, and Judaism. So, when I saw this novel and read the cover and thumbed through it, it went in the basket.
A little background as well. The author is a native of Detroit which is always a plus for me; friends thinks it's strange that a 6th generation Texan such as myself would love Detroit so much, but there it is! Ahmed has written several well-received short stories, a collection of which is sitting in my Kindle, waiting for more leisure time. This is his first novel, but it is nominated for both the Nebula and Hugo awards. The author's website is located at: http://www.saladinahmed.com/wordpress/
Some more random thoughts before I delve into it, though. My campaign world of Erda/Kith-Kanan has (of course!) a semi-Middle Eastern area in it named "the Land of the Five Prophets." It is built around the ruins of the ancient Aegyptian Kingdom and religion, a false worship that centered around Shaitan in his aspects of Set and Anubis. The Five Prophets arose at the same time and led the way of the people back to the worship of the One, called the Merciful and Compassionate and never specifically named by them. The players that I've had in Erda over the past 26 years have never directly dealt with the area, but it is in my copious notes and backstory. So, yes, I will tend to look at this novel through "gamer" eyes.
Rasheed the Dervish appears to be a standard 1E monk that uses a double-forked sword. The young female shapeshifter, I can see as a DragonQuest shape-changer as a lion rather than a tiger. There is an alchemist and a healer. the ghul hunter's magics are low key and fit the setting; not sure how I would classify him; maybe as a DragonQuest Namer or possibly a Star Mage. The "Ancient Egypt" of the world is "Kemet." I chuckled because I've read Kmt, the journal of ancient Egyptian archaelogy since the late 1990's; Kmt is the ancient hieroglyphic name of Egypt. I must call mine K'm't now!
The novel centers on Doctor Abdoulla Makhslood, the last of the ghul hunters. Ghuls are apparently magical creations similar to golems made through necromancy that binds elements and death beetles (scarabs?) into a living form; they are slightly different from the haunted "vampires" that haunt charnel houses in Middle Eastern folklore. Accompanied by his protege, Rasheed the Dervish, Abdoulla uncovers a plot that threats the jewel of the lands, the great city Dhamsawaat, his home. Of course, the ghul hunters and his other practitioner friends are somewhere near the bottom of the social totem pole and are seen as charlatans and hedge wizards by the social elite. It's hard not to give any of the plot away, because it does some really neat twists and turns. The atmosphere is evocative and believable. It is also derived from tales such as Sinbad and the like. This is definitely not Tolkien-derived.
I give this book 5 polar bears. It is more than worth the time to read. It is the first of a trilogy and, to be perfectly honest, I've not had more anticipation for a series release since I read Harry Turtledove's Videssos Cycle in high school.

08 May 2013

Warhammer Wednesday: The Necromancer of Drakenmoor

My previous post for Warhammer Wednesday dealt with some of the background (non-canon) for Darkenmoor.  One of the rumors mentioned on the WFRP 2E Refugee G+ Group was that Drakenmoor was a necromancer.  How does this necromancer tie into the story of Siegfried the Damned? There were rumors that some of Siegfried's advisers were corrupted by the taint of Chaos, indeed, that they might have been active cultists. Unfortunately, those rumors were true, and the ringleader was Anton von Bruk.
Young Anton before leaving home
The young scion of an up and coming merchant house, young Anton initially travelled to Altdorf to study at the university, but while on his journey thither, he was approached by a wizard who felt the spark of magic within him. Therefore, rather than follow a course of study that would have terminated in young Anton becoming a lawyer as his father wished, Anton instead became a wizard's apprentice, his father and family be damned! Even as a young man, Anton had realized that merchants, despite their wealth and standing, were held in contempt by the nobility who wielded the true power of government in the Empire. Magic was a power only the gifted could wield and it was pure in his magnificence.
Anton progressed well in his studies and was a fledgling wizard when the call to colonize Drakenmoor went out. Seeing the chance for power and glory, he quickly made his way into Siegfried's inner circle. When they entered the wastes, the subtle, corrupting influence of Chaos slowly wormed its way into his psyche. The one master that all men fear is death; if Anton could control death, ah, then he would have the ultimate power. Working with an unscrupulous physician and a grave robber, Anton began performing secret experiments of his own on the corpses of the dead. By the time the final Chaotic assault on the castle came, Bernhardt was attuned to the plane of death and had fallen deep into the depths of insanity. Since Siegfried and his incompent noble friends could not save Drakenmoor, Anton declared himself the Master of the Wastes. Calling forth the corpses of both humans and goblin-kind, Anton created even more havoc in the fight to save "his" kingdom. This happened at almost exactly the same moment that Siegfried accepted the bonds of Malal.
It is said that the necromancer, even now haunts the blasted land of Drakenmoor, sometimes at the castle and at other times near the bodies of the newly slain. It is even possible that he is the one that keeps the degenerate inhabitants of the hamlet of Totentanz alive for his own warped ends and projects. It is also unexplained how Anton came by his necromantic knowledge without a mentor. It is possible that he was merely a gifted, if unstable, prodigy, or perhaps his mind was tounched by the Corruptor, Nurgle. It is also unknown if he truly survives to this present day. If so, he must be a Liche or an extremely persistent ghost. No one knows for sure.

06 May 2013

SciFi Monday: Dune, the Movies

The novel Dune by the late Frank Herbert has been an obsession with me for over three decades now. I first discovered it in my local library with the above cover. That was in 1981 at the age of 11. Since then, I have read Dune faithfully at least once a year. So, I have read it a minimum of 31 times and probably closer to 45-50. This is "The" SciFi novel. What i find truly amazing is that even after reading it for so long, every time I read it, I can find something new, some layer or nuance that I have not seen or considered before. And I am not alone in that.
With such a large following, public media treatment of it was inevitable. The Avalon Hill board game is tremendous fun. There were several different computer games over the years. There was an attempt at a tabletop RPG by Last Unicorn Games that fell flat when WotC acquired LUG in a vain attempt to seize the Star Trek RPG license for themselves (they had Star Wars at the time as well). Both Paramount and the Herbert Estate utilized a "safety clause" in their licensing agreements to deny WotC the transfer of license. Incidentally, if you can somehow find a copy of Dune: Chronicles of the Imperium RPG--Ahoy, me mateys! ;) Ahem.--do so. Of course, the number of limited print copies go for upwards of $250 last I checked. It was, of course, inevitable that Dune receive a film treatment.
And here is where fans split as often seems to be inevitable. I sometimes wonder if all fans are really Southern Baptists they fracture so often. There was the 1984 theatrical release realized by David Lynch and then there are two miniseries, Dune and Children of Dune released in miniseries format by the SciFi Network (2000 and 2003). I refuse to take sides. Both treatments have areas in them that match my mental image of the Dune Universe. I so wish I could mix and match!
I will say this about the fan-boys, though, before I delve into the two: it disturbs me when they say that the theatrical movie is completely horrible and has nothing to do with the universe as encapsulated in the novel. I invoke the magic word POPPYCOCK! Frank Herbert worked with David Lynch closely on the production of the 1984 film and, as he said at the time in an interview, of course it does not match the book precisely. In a visual medium, the metaphors one must use are different than the ones used in prose.
I could, of course, write an entire book on the two, but I shall suffice by examining one of the prime characters in the universe: the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.
Dune (1984), Kenneth McMillan
In the 1984 film, the Baron is portrayed by Kenneth McMillan as an obese man with some really nasty sores that one assumes are venereal in nature. He has a penchant for lovely young boys that he likes to kill and is enamored of his nephew Feyd-Rautha (portrayed by Sting). There is the addition of the heart plugs, definitely a departure from the novels. The baron himself is, to not mince words,bat-shit crazy. He's completely obsessed with power and its acquisition and is completely over the top in almost every aspect of his nature. How does this mesh with the novels?
First, his appearance. The baron in the novels is obesely overweight, probably even more than portrayed in the film. Both use an anti-gravity harness to move; the movie baron does it for fun and image; the novel baron has to have the repulsors to move. So, mark this one down to trying to stay within the limits of human physiology. As for the sores, while not mentioned in the novel, it is mentioned that the baron "sampled many pleasures in his youth" and is most assuredly a hedonist. Showing him with these disgusting sores is a simple way to portray it and to shows us that his vices know no limits. same with the "snuff" scene. The novel baron is infatuated with Feyd and conceives an elaborate plot to have him reclaim Dune as the Messiah of the Freman and he even sets his sight on the imperial throne as well.
Now on to the heart of the matter. The heart plugs. Major addition. However, remember what Frank Herbert said about the visual medium needing a different set of metaphors? As Plinkett points out in his excellent Episode I review, the opening scene in Star Wars: A New Hope tells the audience everything about the political situation between the Empire and the rebels visually. That's what the heartplug is. It's a visual symbol of the power that House Harkonnen holds over its members....even the baron. One's life can literally end with a simple tug. No one is immune. Looking at the soldiers and Feyd and Rabban's costumes, one can assume that active soldiers have theirs covered. As for the baron not covering his, that's a symbol of his hubris, his overwhelming pride. No one can touch him; he's not afraid at all. Overall, this baron is more psychotic than evil.
Frank Herbert's Dune (2000), Ian McNiece
Bring in Ian McNiece from the 2000 and 2003 treatments. I would say that this baron follows the book closer. still obese (but not more morbidly so) and still a "floating fat man." The forehead rub/gesture he uses is documented in the novels and used appropriately in the Children of Dune miniseries. He's more suave and silky, a nice, yet still ruthless, evil. His voice is oily and calming not the harsh, frantic bark of McMillan's baron. this baron does not use a sledgehammer to show his evil; he's more smooth than that.
Of the two, I have to lean slightly toward McNiece's portrayal. I enjoy the heck out of both but Ian is far more subtle. And, in the real world, isn't that how evil usually is?


03 May 2013

Fantasy Friday: Maze of Peril

The Maze of Peril, John E. Holmes, NY: Space and Time 1986, 147 pp., ISBN 0917053052.
This is a fun, little read by one of the legends of old-school gaming, 1LT John Eric Holmes, M.D. It is obviously a D&D novel with references like "You're just a second level wizard!" and the two protagonists Zereth the Dark Elf and Boinger the Halfling, both of whom just scream "race as class" in their presentation.
The plot is straightforward and simple. Bardan the Dwarf and Boinger the Halfling enlist the aid of Zereth the Dark Elf in an expedition into the Underworld proposed by Murray the Mage. While in the Underworld, the party finds a temple to Dagon and loot the golden idol of the deity while fighting weresharks! The dwarf is killed. He is buried on their return to town, but the body goes missing.
Stealing a scrying crystal from Ebeneezer the "the great and terrible," the party locate the dwarf, apparently now a zombie and, pursued by the aforementioned Ebeneezer and a flesh golem turned to stone, return to the Underworld to rescue the dwarf. This is not Tolkien by any means, but it is entertaining and fun to read.
Two things are of note. First, the town of Caladan is fairly metropolitan. In addition to the normal demi-humans and the fact that no one pays any mind to a dark elf, there are also centaurs, serpentmen, and satyrs in the city. The Green Dragon Inn's serving girl, Sunna, apparently has no problem romancing with the hobbit also. This is a nice breath of fresh air from places like Hommlett; can you tell me how many non-humans live in Hommlett, hmm?
Second, religion is not really defined either. That shouldn't be surprising, really, if one examines fantasy literature closely. However, we've become used to the idea of fantasy worlds having elaborate polytheistic religions. So, what are the religions? Well, the worshippers of Dagon are Deep Ones. The cleric and paladin (or cavalier) that appear in the second half are obviously Christian. Based on comments by them, there are also Satanists ("devil worshippers") that are feared. There is mention of the fact that the elf worships a "pagan moon goddess." The halfling swears several times by both Mitra and Crom, deities from Robert E. Howard's Conan stories.
So what does this mean? Well, Holmes obviously had no problem presupposing Christianity as the 'Lawful" Church/Religion. In a way, it makes sense. Most players should have a basic understanding of Christianity and can act good. There is a tradition of this in modern fantasy and swords and sorcery. While never explicitly mentioned as Christian, there are nuns in Hawk the Slayer and the entity that resurrects Voltan could well be the devil. In Dragonslayer, the village priest, Brother Jacopus, leads his congregation to confront the dragon, denouncing it as the Devil.
All in all, The Maze of Peril gives us some insight into the type of games that Holmes probably ran. We can also extrapolate other ideas from the content after correlating it to other data. For example, in OD&D, the equipment lists did not have holy symbols, but crosses. Information like that can be gleaned an utilized, even if it is supposition to some extent.
Finally, the novel is an excellent tribute to one of the early geniuses of our hobby. While long out of print, there was a reprint a couple of years ago. I recently purchased an original copy in NM/EXC condition for about $13 with shipping. As I said, not Shakespeare, but easily in on par with Howard or Lieber. Pick it up if you see it. 

01 May 2013

Warhammer Wednesday: The Desolation of Drakenmoor

From my Hogshead poster map of the Old World (1998)

The above picture from my poster map of the Old World shows the intriguingly named "Desolation of Drakenmoor." Checking last week on the WFRP 2E Refugee group indicates that there is no real canon information on it, other than the idea that Drakenmoor was a necromancer. Perfect; that gives me something to work with, doesn't it?
Drakenmoor was a bold experiment of a coalition of nobles who wanted room to expand. Primarily third and fourth sons who would not inherit any true position of power or authority in their families, they received tactic imperial approval (but no tangible support) for their plan to establish a new Margravate, Drakenmoor, on the eastern side of the World's Edge Mountains. This was around the year 2350 soon after the reign of Magnus the Pious. The Imperial thought was that Drakenmoor might serve as a forward base should Chaos encroach from the East. And, if a few troublesome "extra sons" were occupied, so much the better for the peace of the Empire.
Unfortunately, this was not the case. After the initial settlement of the area and the investiture of the first Margraf, Siegfried von Lubek, it was rapidly apparent that the scheme was doomed to failure. One of the principal features of a feudal state are peasants and even free holders to work the land and provide an essential support structure. Convincing peasants to move to a far frontier was an impossible task; most of the ones who did emigrate were shiftless and lazy or freeing from legal action of one type or another. The "Castle of Drakenmoor" was never more than a motte and bailey  keep with insufficient logistical support to survive long; there was only so long that noble families in the Empire would continue sending support to their wayward sons. The Margraf's own advisers quarrelled amongst themselves and there were rumours that some were secretly active Chaos worshippers.
And then there was Chaos. Living outside the protective boundaries of the Empire and lacking ecclesiastical support in any measure, the area was ripe for infiltration, even if the rumours about the Margraf's councillors were false. And it did happen. Goblin and orc raiders were constantly probing, raising tensions. The infighting and corruption spread, and the entire citizenry turned on itself. The Margraf appealed to the Imperial gods but his cries went unheard and unanswered until, toward the end, a small quiet voice offered him vengeance. Suffice to say that when was said and done, Drakenmoor Castle was a smoking ruin. The first (and last) Margraf, Siegfried the Damned is said to still wanders the area, a servant of the renegade Chaos lord Malal.
Siegfried the Damned
Please note that at this time, these are merely notes and ideas in my head to become more fleshed out later. Enjoy!