Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Another Unreview - Fat Goblin Games - Gnoll Artwork

As I mentioned before, I am working a OSR/AD&D character class for Gnolls. It's still a work in progress, I am slow has hell. I've never drawn a gnoll in my life, so it was time to get some artwork from someone else.

I made a DriveThruRPG purchase of Fat Goblin Games artwork. The publisher's name is rather longer than that: "Publisher's Choice Quality Stock Art Ⓒ Rick Hershey / Fat Goblin Games".

I hope I got the artist name correct, because this is fabulous artwork.

In my discovery process for using other people's work in my products, I read through the licensing agreement, something I haven't done in a very long time. The license is excellent, probably covering any thing you might want to do with the work. There are some restrictions, which are also well thought out and completely reasonable. You get exactly what appears in the preview and cover, at a much higher resolution and in .tiff file format. So, fear not when ordering. It's all good.

In looking at it the artwork, I realized something. It doesn't fit with my style at all. My work is rather low end, and to be honest, this artwork is way too good to be paired with my works. I won't be using as a style choice. I have no idea what I will do. However, I will be framing a copy of the Gnoll for my game area. It is a very nice piece, which will be very suitable for other, professional content producers. I'm a hobbyist, not a pro.

What I am really looking at is the subscription model. For less than $100, you can get a 100 images by Mr. Hershey. To be brutally honest, I have no need of such a stockpile of work, but I want it. I want it for no other reason that it looks great. Even if I only LOVED 1 in 10 image, that's a steal for a card sized mini-posters for the game room.

Even better than 100 images for less than 100 bucks, is his Patreon account. I totally missed this aspect of Fat Goblin Games and wouldn't have known about if Merciless Merchants over on MeWe hadn't pointed it out for me. Thank you, MeWe community!

I would request a minor update from Mr. Hershey. A second file with a signature. I know Fat Goblin Games is looking at a completely different model of business, but sometimes good artwork is simply to be appreciated and needs an artist's signature.

I'm not going to do my normal stat-block for this unreview, It's great stuff. I'll close with 5 of 5.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

STA Pigment Liner Pens Review

A set of ten pens for $10.95? Probably not a good buy, but I went for it. I had a coupon code, free shipping, blah-blah-blah. Amazon got them here in 2 days, which was a surprise. I used the slow method of shipping, so that was nice.

On opening the package, you can't help but notice that these pens are cheap. I gave them a try, and it was better than expected. The set comes with 2 brush pens, a 0.8, and 0.6 to 0.1.

I don't general use brush pens and they felt odd to me. Actually very bad. The nib or whatever was very soft. The 0.8 to 0.5 felt pretty good. The 0.4 felt like the nib was bent, but all visual inspections showed it to be straight. The smaller pens felt really good. I could see using these a lot.


I returned to the brush pens and felt that maybe with a little practice, they would be ok.

So how do they rank? I'd say a solid 3 of five stars. If they last a long time, I could see bumping them up one star.


I can't say it'd stop using my Faber Castell pens, but these would do in a pinch. If I had something experimental to work on, I would totally use these pens to save the good ones. Realistically, the F-C pens are $25.00 and these are $11. It isn't a horrible set.

Ads provided by Amazon help fund this website by remuneration. 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Book Review - Population of Loss

Title: Population of Loss
Author: Michael DiBaggio and  Shell "Presto" DiBaggio
Illustrator: Shell "Presto" DiBaggio
Year: 2014
Pages: 46
Rating: 5 of 5 stars. 

I hate big screen or small screen characters render in novel form. It's always horrible, little better than the second Star Wars book, Splinter in the Minds Eye. I want to tell future readers that this is a mashup of comic book characters set in the science fiction worlds of 1880s and 90s.

It is, but it really isn't. The prose reminds me of the classic adventure of The War of the Worlds, which it should because it is implicitly set with in that world. Each of the four short stories captures that time period perfectly, no accidental or intentional anachronistic parts at all. The Signalman does remind me of Iron Man, but he is not remotely a superhero in that vein. In fact, I know that he should be a comic book character because that is what he was designed to be, but somehow, he isn't. Nor are any of the other characters.

Its hard to describe what the Celestial Paladin is, but I can tell you where these characters came from. There are hints of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien fused with H. G. Wells. The story "In Hoc Signo" starts in Well's world of Tripod invaders and ends with a taste of Lewis's Out of a Silent Planet. The writing is more than strong, it is powerful. Reading older works is often difficult due to the changing of styles. But Mr. and Mrs. DiBaggio do not struggle with this. They capture the flavor of these works, but also give it a style all their own. The easy comparison is to the past, but the authors manage to infuse this style with a more modern frantic-ness, in the vein of Dagberto Glib ("Love in L.A.") or Louise Erdrich ("The Red Convertible"). Perhaps it is the vignette style of these 4 short pieces that capture a tiny bit of introspection by the authors, which echos through each piece.

Regarding the illustrations, they are from a very different artist from the Shell "Presto" DiBaggio, who engages with her audience on social media. They have tiny reflection of the work of Kahlil Gibran. What is most interesting about the images of the Signalman and The Cyclone Ranger, is that they show an evolution of style over 2 years. The second is more like Mrs. DiBaggio's current artwork, but still reflecting the style of that old era. Like the writing, the illustrations have a touch of modern, frantic energy, while still embodying the works of arts from the past. Instead of being caught in between eras, they are great enhancements to the stories told. They fit perfectly.

I was only vaguely aware that the book contained artwork, and I would suggest to the reader that they obtain a paper copy as paper will always render the artwork closest to what the artist intended. It is an inherent flaw in all ebook technology.

I will give this book one more read, maybe two before purchasing the next title. It was an excellent primer for the world of Ascension Epoch.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Miniature Treasures - The Moldy Unicorn

Title: The Moldy Unicorn
Code: N/A
Author: Nate Treme
Rule Set: Angostic
Year: 2019
Pages: 6
Number of characters: As needed
Levels: N/A
Rating: ★★★★★

If a book has a good cover, I'll probably take a look. If it has that haute 70's look, the smash of day old banana and lime colored paste, I'll do a double take. If it has both of the above, plus the childish, rounded look of a composition notebook, my brain shuts down and the money comes out, no questions asked.

Well, that's what happened with The Moldy Unicorn a few days ago. I purchased one of a few physical copies based on a single image on MeWe.com. And then I forgot about it.

It arrived today.

I opened the envelope and was all disappointed. It was tiny. Really tiny. "I paid money for this?"

Then I opened the booklet. And the frisson hit. Suddenly, I was 8 year old me, standing in Walden Books, smelling nasty carpet chemicals and mall pretzels, looking a copy of the Red Basic D&D rule book. Gary, Dave and Tom whispered, "Go ahead, turn the page."

The thing is six g-ddamn pages, packed with amazing stuff. Pages 1 and 2 describe The Moldy Unicorn with a colorful map. Page 3 lists encounters for the Inn. The next page describes how to design a Demon, with 3 tables, conveniently labeled 1-12 for easy die rolling. The last two pages are a mini dungeon, Grotburk Crypt.

The artwork is excellent. It isn't excellent in the sense of a masterpiece, but the odd, brightly colored outsider art that masters cannot duplicate. The text is tight, it has to be in a volume this small.

While its only 6 pages (8 if you count the covers, the thing that made me **WANT** this 'zine), those pages are highly concentrated. Being so tiny, it is delicate. I already know that I am going to buy a special picture frame for this. I am just moments away from heading to DriveThruRPG and purchasing an electronic copy, to jealously protect the physical copy like mage protects his spell book.

It's been decades since I have been this happy with a purchase. Of course, I've read it cover to cover. But I'm going to do it again tomorrow. And the next day. This is great buy. This is well worth the $6.00 for the physical copy, $5.00 for the PDF.

To put some perspective on the Star Rating above, I review a lot of things. Computer hardware and software, novels, games, historical books, etc. If I'm not going to give something 3 stars, I'm not giving any stars. If you're not going to give at least 3 stars, its like trash talking people. This is the first time I have been compelled to give 5 gold stars, underlined. I've reviewed several of my mom and dad's books. I don't hand out gold stars. It is very rare that I am so enchanted with any product to completely rethink my rating system.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Charles' New Podcast and Patreon

I have a couple of different outlets for communication. Facebook, MeWe, Ello, pluspora and a few others. The killer thing about promoting is that promotion is necessary, but by rote sharing doesn't work.

You need something more "organic", more "natural" to really get that impactful share to work for you.

I stole this image without permission, mostly because I used to have those dice.

Charles Thorin has a blog called "They Might Be Gazebos". I'm hoping that is a play on "They Might Be Giants", because I really like those guys. What do we have in common? Charles does reviews, he likes luck mechanics, creating interesting magic weapons and we both like to try different games.

What does Charles do that is different? He is a podcaster on Anchor, the host of Playing It Wrong. On the 'cast, he has a smooth voice but an exciting tone. This isn't the sort of 'cast that helps you to sleep at night. Playing It Wrong is an amplification of They Might Be Gazebos retooled for an audio format. He uses music and sound effects in enhance the show without being overbearing or obnoxious. Each podcast has a very newsy sound to it as Charles takes on currents in the blogosphere, topics that interest him, such as Swords and Wizardry.

Just a few episodes back he was talking about finding your voice, something that he has personally managed to do.

This week, to support his passion, he has launched a Patreon page to support his habit. I can't wait to see what new things he comes up with. Please take a moment to explore all the quality content on They Might Be Gazebos, the Playing Wrong Podcast and if you like, his Patreon Page.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Poll Results

I was shocked at the poll results. I was really expecting an old game like Star Frontiers to come in first, but also thought that a game like Catalyst's Introductory Box Set would do better due to the minis included. 

Winner with 10 Votes
8 votes

A tie at 3rd, with 5 votes
A tie at 3rd, with 5 votes
3 votes
2 votes
Good to my word, we have a review of Paranoia. 

Of course, I can't let these other games just sit. I'll be doing a review a week on the remaining sets. Stay tuned and again, thanks for your opinions.

Paranoia, Second Edition Review

Welcome to Alpha District, Citizen!

Let's start with the basics. Paranoia has been around for decades. This edition was produced by West End Games in 1987. It is a revamp of the first edition rules, which strips out much of the game mechanics in favor of pop-the-clutch-and-go fun. What was "removed" often ended up as an optional rule, which in the spirit of the game, could be ignored, introduced or changed willy-nilly during play. Players who claim to know the rules are deemed traitors and kills. So, computer, have at it. Whatever makes your players happy. And Happiness is Mandatory!

What does the game include?

  • 136 page "rule" book
  • 16 page booklet describing the life of a troubleshooter
  • 1 20 sided die for something or other
  • One box with colorful pictures 
  • Not listed on the box are supplemental items such as character sheets, charts, (dis)loyal tests, vehicle control schematics, NPC charts and reports.  
The rule book includes a mini adventure demo in the front and a longish scenario or module in the back. The artwork is wonderful, while not perfect or extraordinary, it captures the theme of the games mind-bending laughs with a touch of sarcastic paranoia. This edition was compatible with all first edition modules, which is nice. 

Game play is quick. Each player is entitled to 6 clones, one at a time to represent the player's character. Unless the computer decides otherwise. As one character dies, another clone appears to take his or her place. Sometimes, they remember what happened to the last clone and sometimes they do not. Unless the computer is optimistic about the lethality. In which case, a second, third or 20th clone can be played at the same time as the other 1, 2, or 19. This will increase the likelihood that the player will turn on themselves, leaving other players bemused, horrified or shocked. 

In one session, I had a player holding 20 character sheets like a hand of cards and when he dropped sheet, that clone died. The book is chocked full of insane tips for pushing the charac... er... playe... er... maybe character's? paranoia buttons. My personal favorite is reading room descriptions with a stryofoam cup over your mouth to simulate a broken speaker.  

For a game that revolves around comedic death, the character creation process is robust. As are the choice of weapons and suggestions as to when to use them on your friends.. There seems to be a section on combat, but it is sort of optional. Except the coveted rear position, Troubleshooter. The motive and ability to bushwack other players is fun. Fun leads to happiness and Happiness is Mandatory! 

The included 19 page module, "Into The Outdoors with Gun and Camera" is laugh out loud funny. It works in tandem with the rules, basically forcing the players and computer through most of the rules. 

One issue I see with this set is the concept that the computer is ruthlessly hunting for "Traitors", a concept that was awesome and understandable in The Cold War, but perhaps won't play well with younger people today. 

You can check out Paranoia at DriveThruRPG

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Boxed Set Reviews

I have two weeks off and ran ahead one week for 52 Weeks of Magic, I figured I would get some cleaning done. To that end, I have some box sets gathering dust. Time to do some reviews.


I'll be running a poll on MeWe to see which item goes first.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Title: Crash on Volturnus
Code: SF-0
Author: Mark Acres, Tom Moldvay with Doug Niles
Rule Set: Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn
Year: 1982
Pages: 30
Number of characters: 4-8
Levels: 1
Rating: ★★★★★

Crash on Volturnus is one of my favorite modules. The player start of as passengers on the Sierra Dawn, where they first encounter trouble en route to Volturnus. After an epic battle and escape, players move on to phase two, an incredible hex crawl on the planet of Volturnus culminating in a final(?) battle with the pirate forces on the planet. Aided by the local inhabitants of the planet, surely the players will win the day.

This module was released with the Alpha Dawn rules set and to my knowledge, was not released independently of that set. I received my set of Alpha Dawn rules peice meal and ended up with two copies of the module. The whole boxed set includes giant maps and wonderful counters, which makes SF-0 a snap to play.

Crash on Volturnus is the first module in the series and was followed up by SF-1 and SF-2. The other SF series modules are unrelated, but are valuable as they are set up for characters to continue their adventures in new settings. The series was also brought back to life by the Endless Quest book Villains of Volturnus in 1983. It was published in relatively short time frame making the series rock solid in game play and feel.

Having played SF-0 several times, there are few game breakers built in to the scenario. First, when the escape pod crashes, the characters only have time to get the survival packs. Several of my players started out with standard equipment packs and used the coveralls as a makeshift backpack tied across their chests before seating themselves. Since the equipment was attached to them, I couldn't justify taking it. The players also started with 4 medical kits, which made them neigh unstoppable in combat. They kept pulling back to heal. Of course, these were the same players who tied their equipment to their chests. I kept running them against random encounters to try to eat up resources, but that was unfulfilling. Eventually, I figured I'd let them run in god-mode and kill everything and everyone. Many of the challenges they faced were thinking scenarios and not fighting scenarios, so it really didn't change the outcome. 

All and all, I found this one module to be the best of the best for Star Frontiers. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

The whole shebang is available over on DriveThruRPG.

Alpha Dawn with SF-0
SF-1 Volturnus, Planet of Mystery
and SF-2 Starspawn of Volturnus

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Review of Duane Schultz’s Month of the Freezing Moon

Schultz, Duane. Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre, November 1864. New
York: Published by St. Martin’s Press. 1990. Print.

Duane Schultz meant to tell war stories. Month of the Freezing Moon was Duane Schultz’s first failure. The work was published in 1990, 20 years after it was written and was preceded by two novels and five historical titles (“Home”). Duane Schultz is a courtesy professor of psychology at the University of South Florida (“Home”) and his love of history and psychology shines in Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre.

The psychologist comes through in the first 2 pages of the narrative. The book contains no preface, introduction, or thesis. It starts with a map and the word “Testimony”. In a call and answer style, Professor Schultz uses the words provided by history to lay out his premise:

QUESTION: Were there any acts of barbarity perpetrated there that came under your own observation?
ANSWER: Yes, sir. I saw the bodies of those lying there all cut to pieces, worse mutilated than any I ever saw before—the women all cut to pieces (Schultz, p. 2).

Was there a betrayal perpetrated at Sand Creek? Were these native Americans under the assumption that they had the protection of the American Flag? Were there horrible consequences for this attack? The answer is “yes” to all of these questions.

Professor Schultz launches right into his narrative of the Sand Creek Massacre then rolls back to prior events to explain its context and the ramifications of the attack. Sand Creek was a horrific betrayal of those who were protected by the United State’s flag. How the Cheyenne came to have that flag and the aftermath of the barbaric attack led to the obvious counter attack at Greasy Grass, otherwise known as The Little Big Horn.

Schultz does more than describe the Massacre itself, he explains the milieu in which it occurred. While endless detail could be provided, Schultz’s coverage of Chivington’s life from childhood to his time in Colorado and beyond is apt enough.

As a child John Chivington was well cared for, educated and trusted by his loved ones. After the passing of his father, he stepped into the family lumber business. He found that he had a talent for marketing over woodcraft and shifted his role in the company to take advantage of his persuasiveness. Chivington continued to evolve and he found two passions, religion and abolitionism. This was followed by a firmity, a certainty of logic in these two principles.

In Missouri, during the guerrilla warfare that boiled over the border with Kansas, he gave a particularly harsh sermon against the institution of slavery. Chivington was threatened with tarring and feathering if he spoke from the pulpit again (Schulz, p. 49). The following Sunday, he entered the church to find several men with hot tar waiting for him. His answer was simple and clear. He opened his robe and pulled out two guns and placed them on either side of the bible. He announced, “By the grace of God and these two revolvers… I am going to preach here today” (Schulz, p. 49). Chivington handled everything thing he perceived as evil in the same forthright fashion. He entered the Civil War as a part of the Colorado Militia and conducted himself in the same fashion. Laws, regulations and orders were subjected to his own internal logic, which happened to be good for conducting warfare. Professor Schultz tells a good war story.

While Chivington was righteous, powerful and even very quotable, it becomes obvious how such attitudes can be less than noble and reasonable. If Chivington has journeyed east instead of west, if had not found a place in the Militia, or become interested in a “stable Colorado” (pg. 63), he would have been remembered as a different sort of man. Grandios, brave, heroic. But with his mind set on a Colorado as he desired it, this was not to be.

Very often, nations have desires as men do. And America under President Andrew Johnson had a very different idea of how Colorado and the treatment of native Americans should be conducted (Schulz, p. 163). It isn’t fair to say that Johnson’s administration has more enlightened ideas about native Americans, but the Office of the President was enlightened enough to know that it should be the sole power on this stage. Men like Chivington stirred the pot, gave Americans and natives alike pause for thought.

The Johnson administration made sure that Chivington and his allies were done. However, this was hardly the solution the country needed. Chivington and the other perpetrators, even men who refused to participate were thoroughly investigated. Not once, but three times (Schulz, p. 166). Chivington had his opportunity to address his accusers, Captain Soule in particular, who refused to attack. This led to further public disasters (Schulz, p. 167). Soule was assassinated after his testimony, which sobered many Chivington supporters (Schulz, p. 171).

As a backdrop to all of this, the actual aggrieved party, the native Americans, who were not considered Americans at this time by the Johnson administration were working to strike back. Throughout the narrative, Schulz touches on the Black Kettle and other leaders of the Sioux and Cherokee. Many of these were not footnoted and may be astute conjecture on Professor Schulz’s part. But they ring true. The last third of Schultz’s work becomes a who’s who of American history, Custer, Kit Carson, Sherman and may others come into play, attempting finish what Chivington started. And Custer is the last soldier mentioned by Schultz. He launched two important attacks on the array of native tribes and just as Chivington had flaw, so did Custer. During the Civil War he engaged an enemy without scouting first (Schulz, p. 205). Schultz describes how this flaw followed him to the end, and his luck ran out on the third time he struck without scouting.

Schultz book was an excellent delivery of both historical fact and reasonable conjecture. Where the record was accessible, he often quoted it directly with no interpretation. When describing the chiefs such as Black Kettle, Schultz did not have a written account to work from and instead filled in the blanks to stitch their history and lore into the fabric of his work. Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre, was a fast paced, informative work on a great tragedy in American history.


Citations:

Schultz, Duane. "Home." Duane Schultz. Accessed February 20, 2017. http://duaneschultz.com/.

Schultz, Duane. Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre, November 1864. New
York: Published by St. Martin’s Press. 1990. Print.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Be Careful What You Wish For...

My first offering on DriveThruRPG is Zero to Hero. In the past 5 days of sales, there have been 80+ downloads. Thank you so much for your support, but do you know what I really need? Reviews.


I am in the process of coming up with a second title by October. The reviews would certainly help me craft a quality product for you.

Again, thank you for downloading. But please let me know what you think.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Knight Hack Review with Reflections


 Title: Knight Hack
Author: Philip J. Viverito,
(1st edition by The Jogglers, which also included Ed Backer, Richard Kohlbacher)
Rule Set: Hack Series
Year: 2005
Pages: 52
Setting: Western Europe, North Africa, The Near East and Eastern Europe 1000 AD to 1400 AD
Number of players: 2+
Rating: ★★★★★

The original Hack series was born in 1991 and it was a reflection of the times. Knight Hack, Third Edition was born in the 21st century and is also a reflection of now. The game has a evolved so much, it is hard to see how 1st edition relates to third, except on first principles. This is a game for gamers, written and tested by gamers.

As the person responsible for supplying the art for original book, I have to say third edition is by far superior. Most of the clipart is gone, replaced by full color images of the game in actual play. The rules have been simplified with a new D-10 system, which reduces the rule length from 52 to just 19. This is accomplished by the removal of the concept of troop type and the premade Q.R.S. or Quck Reference Sheets for each era and type of army. The rules now have a proper table of contents and an index in addition to the required charts and 38 pages for the Q.R.S.

I hate to say it, but everything I knew about and all that I did for the first edition is gone. And the rules are better for it.

I've posted about my first Con in 1977. I still have the brochure. It was a formative time for me. I would have been all of 5 years old, and there I was watching WRG, Tractics and most importantly to me, D&D being played for the first time.  It left quiet the impression.

Fast forward a few years and I was in to all of these Games Designer's Workshop and Task Force products. I had Robots, Striker, Traveler and Federation Space. I still have them.

At the end of the day, knew that something like Knight Hack would be made. My parents made sure that I knew enough about games, the importance of play and of inspiration to know that things change and usually for the better.

Tonight, I stumbled across one of my first coloring books: Camelot.


The copyright is 1967, by the Whitman Publishing Company. You know, parents who make something like this one of the first coloring books is instilling a love a play, games and history. 

Drive Thru RPG carries the first edition rules here and Third Edition here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Game Review - Knight Hack

Title: Knight Hack
Author: The Jogglers, Philip J. Viverito, Ed Backer, Richard Kohlbacher
Spearpoint Article: Lynne Viverito
Cover Art: Me
Rule Set: Hack Series
Year: 1991
Pages: 52
Setting: Europe, 1000 AD to 1250 AD
Number of players: 2+
Rating: ★★★

And now for something completely biased.

Way back in the 1980s I was very privileged to belong to a gaming group called the Jogglers. I wasn't even an official member, I was more like a mascot and computer nerd. I can't tell you how many games I played between 1988 and 1992. I recall a couple of occasions where a local mall was rented out for play testing, but then turned into mini-conventions to play dozens of rule sets. The Joggler's love their games. When I wasn't play testing this or that, I was editing clip art for the book. My brush with fame came from being able to use this:


The layout of the book was exceptional for the time. We used a Thunderscan and Imagewriter II to process photos. Clipart from 3.5 floppies were the source of much of the line art. The text was written in MacWord, MacDraw and MacPaint were the tools for maps and diagrams.

Knight Hack was born a fast playing historical miniature game. Initially, each turn takes about 15 minutes. After a little play, adept players can get this down to just a few minutes or less. Whole games can be played out in as little as 2 hours. The rule set allows for 15 and 25 mm figures. It was game made by players for players.

So why do I give a game that I play-tested and contributed to only 3 stars? The game evolved and improved with age. Second edition obviously merits 4 stars and Third Edition receives 5.

Drive Thru RPG carries the first edition rules here and Third Edition here.


Book Review - A Brief Study of TSR Book Design

Title: A Brief Study of TSR Book Design
Code: N/A
Author: Kevin Crawford
Rule Set: D&D
Year: 2015
Pages: 26
Number of characters: N/A
Levels: N/A
Rating: ★★★★★

A Brief Study of TSR Book Design is one of those excellent finds for any game master or would be B/X author. In just 26 pages, Mr. Crawford covers the design element of decades of publications for Dungeons and Dragons books. He covers the ins and outs of fonts, margins and styles used in games from the 70s, 80s and 90s. Get your game on!

Mr. Crawford also gives sage advice on direct copying of styles for a variety of reasons such as technological updates, copyright issues and creativity. This is a surprising and useful find for the would be module author and at its price of free is unbeatable. Easily a five star rating.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Review of Lakota Noon by Gregory F. Michno

     Lakota Noon is the second book review in a series for Professor Carson's Class at the University of Buffalo. Typically, I edit these documents down into a suitable review for my website. In doing so, I remove much of my original paper's intent so as not to provide a vehicle for student plagiarism. However, I was so fascinated by this book and Dr. Carson's class, I felt that I should leave the entire document as a whole. The conversations that this reading sparked was amazing. I hope to revisit this class and take more courses with Dr. Carson.

      If you have the chance take one of Dr. Carson's classes, do it. I've taken at least 3 of them. Each one was better than the last. 



Lakota Noon

     This book covers old ground in the retelling of the Battle of Little Bighorn. The previous review, Month of the Freezing Moon by Duane Schultz was also about conflict with natives as settlers moved westward. Michno is cut from a completely different cloth than Schultz. The two men use data to interpret historical events. Where Schultz attempted to insert the thoughts of the natives into his work by vignettes (Schultz), Michno takes a different tact. Michno uses the standard historical narrative and inserts information gathered from the survivors, meaning only the Lakota, to clarify. Michno laments that previous authors on this subject discounted native testimony as they were an “alien race” (Michno, p. ix-xiv). He quotes William A. Graham as saying the native witnesses, “contradicted each other so much to an extent that I found them irreconcilable” (Michno, p. x). Michno rejects that attitude, writing “we must use both white and Indian sources; further, we must realize that the Indian sources are more important and should take precedence whenever any apparent conflict arises between the two.” (Michno, p. ix-xiv). Theoretically, pragmatic, because the voices of the winners and those who held the field at the end was the only primary source besides forensic details.
     Michno statement of intent was that he was not interested in the study of warfare, morality, or cause. He wrote from a discontent of the framework and structure of descriptions of the Battle of Little Bighorn by others. He wished to build his own study of the Battle and from there, reassess his own thoughts and preconceptions. Michno desired an educational outcome, one that he found satisfying. Michno found the prior work on this topic short on details about the native defenders. In case studies from their perspective, their testimony to events watered down with secondary sources not of native hands. To address this concern in his work, he breaks the battle down into 10 minute segments to present the historical account of the soldiers, plus the discounted statements by Indians and follows both with a detailed analysis of events to correlate or highlight discrepancy between accounts. In this way he shapes an excellent description of the chain of events in the battle. Time studies and motion studies have long been a practice when reviewing this segment of history as these were the only source of information not derived from the Indians. While many of these works are spectacularly clear and clean cut, there is a certain amount of fear when history loses it’s fog of time. Michno takes advantage of both the fog of the past and the rational tradition of time studies to reframe the events of the Battle of Little Bighorn.
     “A Word to the Wise” was the introductory chapter from William A. Graham’s book and is quoted by Michno. It is useful regarding this title, also. Michno and artist Jennifer Hamelman, have created a curious, almost avant-garde book to recount Custer’s last days. The word “book” instead of “title” is used purposefully here. Physically, the book is like no other. The table of contents are broken down by timestamp and page, 13 figures a presented on a table followed by 25 “time-segment” maps. The author wrote a one paragraph acknowledgements page before a two page centerfold map, with key features superimposed on the current site of modern day I-90 for reference. The next page holds a legend labeled “Individual and Tribal Symbol Key”. Cheyenne, Oglala, Minneconjou, Hunkpapa, BrulĂ©, Arapaho and Two Kettle tribes appear on the key, each with their own characteristic shape. Divided by tribe, 58 names of Indians appear, each individual shares the symbol of his tribe but also has a unique two letter identifier. What these symbols are for is not explained until page xiii. Each entry of the narrative has a timestamp, a name and an sequence indicator. For example: “5:50-6:00, White Bull [last 5:40, next 6:10]”. The author explains that this indicates the reader has reached 5:50 to 6:00 in time, in the narrative of White Bull, his prior entry was at 5:40 and the next is at 6. Ingenious, but Michno takes this approach a step further. On page 315 begins a tribe by tribe breakdown of historical personages and at what time they appear in the narrative. Because the author has assigned a symbol to each tribe and person, it is possible to flip through the book and read a single tribe or person’s role in the book sequentially. While this style of reading is always possible using an index, Michno includes none and the endeavour is a visual experience as opposed to a test of hand-eye dexterity. This level of creativity in presentation may be off-putting, but the structure works very well.
     In Michno’s first chapter, he addresses two historical conundrums: the vast array of tipis (or teepees) reconnoitered by Reno and Custer’s desire to attack such a large force. The author abandons historical arguments as illogical. Custer was an able commander and very aware his enemy, if confronted by a vast superior force as the history maintains, any logical person would withdraw. What Michno did was a spacial analysis of how the tipis could have filled the valley in a tight arrangement (Michno, p.3-20). Using Wooden Leg’s description of the camp, it hugged the river and was entirely east of the I-90 (Michno, p.17). Comparing that statement to Captain Moylan’s description of only being 200-300 yards wide, 1,900 lodges would have fit within the space of a quarter square mile (Michno, p.18). This 1,900 lodge number was on the high side of estimates. Some are as low as 1000 lodges, which require far less space or a more sparse arrangement. What this meant for Custer was he was not using Reno’s force as an anvil to his hammer, his movements were meant to draw Indians away from Reno’s force, reducing the threat, not riding headlong into it (Michno, p.19). Strangely, adding the Indian side of the story established Custer as well reasoned as opposed to someone suffering from either myopia or delusions. The first chapter is a solid work of puzzling and reasoning which was of great importance to the following chapters.
     There is the idea that Custer walked into an ambush, a terrible end for a well regarded tactician. From the details of the various defenders, it was Custer who was ambushing them. Ill prepared for combat, forces drew out for battle with Custer’s men on the north side of the village (Michno, p.33). In one hour, by 4 in the afternoon, the Battle was not going well for Major Reno’s men (Michno, p.87). They had taken refuge in a wood and in an attempt to withdraw, suffered horrible casualties. One Bull, having seen the men retreat, ordered his men to let them go to tell the tale (Michno, p.84). Citation is designed for order and comprehension, Michno’s work does a fair bit to disorder this as Reno’s part appears after One Bull’s in the narrative. However, the effect of this style was very effective.
In the last three chapters, Michno returns the tradition of style of discussion and analysis. His analysis pushes away the idea of a single last stand. While Custer’s forces held the hill, some men fled into the gully. Michno notes dryly that “dead men don’t run”. Historical accounts must give way to reason. Beard, a Minneconjou, recounts that he desired to capture Custer but ultimately found him dead, still holding the reins of his horse. The battle was over.
     Why had it ended with Custer dead and his enemies victorious? Custer had done the unthinkable by dividing his forces. Well, yes. But there is one set of rules for strategy and one for tactics. Strategy dictates one should never divide one’s strength. However, as a purely practical matter, tactics are dictated by the environment. Separation was a requirement of the engagement (Michno, p. 294). Custer lead a cavalry regiment, not a phalanx.
     Michno’s account of the battle ranges from mathematical to bone chilling in its details. This title was an offbeat, yet wonderfully readable recount of the battle with a strong focus on all of the voices from the various tribes and companies. This book was designed for study, reading and rereading. The wonderful documentation in the form of footnotes, the photographs, charts, maps and symbols make this title an excellent addition for any history bookshelf.

Citations:


Gregory F. Michno. Lakota Noon. Missoula: Mountain Press Publishing. 1997. Print.


Schultz, Duane. Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre, November 1864. New

York: Published by St. Martin’s Press. 1990. Print.


Review of Daniel K. Richter’s Ordeal of the Longhouse

     Daniel Richter did not set out to write a book about the Iroquois. In taking on the daunting task, he constructs a compelling history of people who “found themselves caught up by economic, political, and demographic forces over which they had little control”. Richter explains how the Iroquois met these challenges or ordeals, often with unique geographical and cultural advantages, with adaptation and changes unlike other people in the region. These were not unique advantages to the Iroquois. What set them apart from others was their ability to hold on to these advantages for so long.
     Richter treats the Iroquois as if they were newly come to North America, placing them on the same footing as Europeans. Additionally, he cautions the reader against reading the phrases “the Iroquois” or “the Five Nations” as a singular or uniform entity but as a leader or collective of leaders and persons working within their self-defined political authority. Richter’s premise was to re-envision the Iroquois’ creative adaptations to situations by highlighting what he calls “a double trio of geographical and cultural advantages”.
     By Richter’s own admission, the seventeenth and eighteenth century politics and policies of the Iroquois descended into a confusing array of system, people and points, all in flux. While he authored a survey of primary source materials, he sought to maintain the flavor of the thoughts and ideas of the Iroquois. Throughout, Richter stays true to making the voice of the Iroquois audible in his work.
To this end, this book is punctuated with 22 plates, 7 maps, methodological comments, 104 pages of notes and 26 pages of biographical information. At one point Richter labels his own work “slim” and “pedantic”. He could added “humble”. The Ordeal of the Longhouse is well paced, excellently reasoned and designed, while remaining accessible to the average reader.
     Richter's “slim” book is rich in detail, wonderful in exposition of the plight and firmness of the Iroquois culture against the wave of European forces arrayed against them. Richter weaves an excellent story of historical facts and apt observation and analysis.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

My Favorite - Greyhawk

My favorite campaign setting for D&D is the Greyhawk. I have the 1983 set and look to it for ideas for my current campaign. Nothing brings back memories like that old gazetteer of information.

Over the years, my campaign has set itself apart from the World of Greyhawk in many ways. However, the Isle of Dread is common to both. Someplace south of the Isle is a magical anomaly that provides transit between these worlds.

I would like to do a Glossography and Guide to my world, but I guess I need a name first. The little things.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Module Review - BSOLO Ghost of Lion Castle

Title: Ghost of Lion Castle
Code: BSOLO
Author: Merle M. Rasmussen
Rule Set: D&D
Year: 1984
Pages: 32
Number of characters: 1 - Solo Play
Levels: 1-3
Rating: ★★★★★

This is an impressive and iconic module, meant for one player. Crammed into just 32 pages is a solo adventure complete with special solo rules and sample characters. Lion Castle is a wonderful starter scenario for groups or an introductory game for just one.

The five star rating is for the expansive and creative writing and world-building that appears in this module. Lion Castle gives the player the ability to try out new things in a limited setting. The module pulls no punches, this place will kill you more often than not. Fear not, this module is also there every time you wish to play. In fact, it is suggested that you note where your last character died so that the next one can acquire his equipment.

This is one flaw in the game/scenario. If you run a series of character’s through the Castle and noted where the prior characters fell, you can break the game with equipment and magic items in quantities not ordinarily allowed by the rules.

All and all, this is an excellent module.

Where to Buy:
DrivethruRPG

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Module Review - S2 White Plume Mountain

Title: White Plume Mountain
Code: S2
Author: Lawrence Schick
Rule Set: D&D
Year: 1979
Pages: 16
Number of characters: 4-10
Levels: 5-10
Rating: ★★★★☆

White Plume Mountain is part of the Special series. It is meant for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and expects a large number of characters at relatively high level. Interestingly enough, the scenario spells out that many adventures into the dungeon will be required and may cause a rotation of adventurers through many sessions. That is a nice touch. I like the long term play and replay-ability.

This style of play is engrossing as early failures and setbacks to the player characters are muted by the ability to retreat to complete safety of the nearby town. This is very different than most dungeon crawls, where characters must horde limited resources. Instead, players find themselves on a quest to obtain 3 magical items: Wave, Blackrazor and Whelm, protected by powerful masters and inventive puzzles and challenges. Backtracking enables inspired progress, resupply and fairly realistic game play. This adventure takes the learning curve for games and makes it a positive. White Plume Mountain is more like The Moonshot than D-Day.

This module also features wonderful artwork. My personal favorite is the fighter on page 6. It isn’t the best, but captures the character's reaction so perfectly. The fighter’s “WTF” look is classic: “Who jumps platform to platform over hellishly hot mud? Everything in fighter school trained me not to do this.” The images for Blackrazor, the Mountain itself and Keraptis are iconic of classic Dungeons and Dragons.

Where to Buy:
DriveThru RPG:
As a part of a set, S1-4. or as a stand alone product. I really must by this. I really need to stop impulse buying. I'm am so gonna buy this.
DriveThru RPG also has Dungeon Tiles and a new version for 3.5 Adventures.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Module Review - B2 The Keep on the Borderlands

Title: The Keep on the Borderlands
Code: B2
Author: Gary Gygax
Rule Set: D&D
Year: 1979 and 1999
Pages:
Number of characters:
Levels: 1-3
Rating: ★★★★★


This is one of my favorites, the star rating says it all. The Keep hovers on the edge of sandbox wilderness, one that is your to explore. The Keep is the perfect place to kick off an adventure, the players can obtain all they need to fully explore the environs.


As a carryover from B1, the advice sections are present and highly valuable. There are also handy details such as gossip and the willingness of the lord of the Keep to provide the player characters with man-at-arms and magical items.


Where this module shines is in the tactics provided for each group the characters encounter. Some of them are embryonic or silly, but in keeping with the intelligence level (or madness) of the inhabitants of the Caves of the Unknown.


One of the better things about this adventure is the player mapping is logically constrained, allowing them to make mistakes, but not so bad as to create a mapping nightmare like In Search of the Unknown.  


Where to buy: DriveThru RPG