Cawnpore and Perseus are available in the Createspace eStore and on Amazon.com where, if you order a physical copy of the books, you get the ebook for free. They are also available as ebooks on every ereader out there.

iBooks apparently is requiring different cover resolutions, so here’s the new cover for Perseus:

PERSEUS

Coming in late summer/early fall: Hercules, the follow-up to Perseus.

HERCULES

I was pleasantly surprised by this one. On a whim I rented this on iTunes, and was treated to a good action film. No shaky camera ’cause I don’t know how to choreograph a fight scene BS; the fight scenes are beautifully done and feature a nice combination of jiujitsu and gun fu that is fluid, but looks real and plausible. The characters get hurt.

The basic premise: John Wick was a bad ass hitman, Baba Yaga or “the Bogeyman” for an up-and-coming Russian gang led by Vigo Tarasov. He met a woman, did an “impossible job” for Vigo, who let him retire. He married his love, but she apparently had cancer or some similar long-term fatal illness. He’s wrecked by the loss, but his wife sent him a last gift — a puppy for him to grieve with and survive the loss. We get all this is a beautifully done montage that on par with that first five minutes of Up! We get the backstory, we meet his friend Marcus — another hitter still in the game — and learn a lot about Wick by showing, not telling. It’s a brilliant bit of character definition, and its spare. Keanu Reeves even busts his ass in this one acting.

He runs into Vigo son, Iosef, who he doesn’t know (the one strange bit…he didn’t recognize him?) at a gas station and the creepy little gangster wants to buy his ’69 Mustang. Wick says no, Iosef takes umbrage, and later that night, he and his friends tune up Wick, steal his car, and kill his dog…that last gift from his wife.

It is, as they say, on.

Michael Nyquist, the superb actor from teh original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is Vigo, and he is the onyl “reasonable” man in the film. He’s a gangster, he’s violent, but he does attempt to head off the bloodbath, then to contain the damage. He obviously respects and fears Wick, and even resents his son for creating the situation.

What follows is the typical revenge flick except for the fantastic worldbuilding. All the criminal element he deals with are, for lack of a better term, the aristocrats of the assassin world. They pay for their hotels, services (like the “cleaner” played by David Patrick Kelley…you remember him, Arnie “let him go” in Commando.), their high-end speakeasy. There are rules — you don’t do business on the ground of “the Continental Hotel”, where the world’s elite hitmen and -women hang out. Everyone knows him; everyone wonders if “he’s back”.  There’s a nice bit of subculture created.

The movie is slick, looks great, the fight sequences are superbly done, and there’s a surprising bit of heart to the movie.

It’s not in the movies anymore, but it’s a definite buy or rent.

So, I hit the theaters Monday morning to see Mad Max: Fury Road. I was 14 when I saw The Road Warrior in the theater, and I had been entranced. Like many of the kids of this period that would go on to be artists, writers, gamers, I was inevitably influenced in my view of the future by The Road Warrior (much more, I would suggest, than Mad Max) and Blade Runner. Dystopian futures were industrial and rainy, with a noir flavor; the apocalypse were car in the desert.

Recently, I had already been looking at doing a more tradition post-apocalyptic game, I think partly due to my reading Greg Rucka’s Lazarus comic series. Technically, I’m already doing one, with the Battlestar Galactica game, but that campaign is increasingly wrapped into exploratory science fiction and grand mythology. No battered, modded cars in the desert. No guys in leather and PVC, with mohawks.

I could start something new, or I could simply add a side campaign to BSG that followed the survivors on the Twelve Colonies. Surely on 12 nuclear war-devastated worlds there’s some analogue of Australia’s Outback (or Namibia, where they shot a lot of Fury Road….), why not do cars in the desert and tie it to the current campaign. Doable, especially as we are going to be exploring what happened to Pegasus in our campaign. (The ship and Cain are still around, but with the Cylon civil war, it was deemed a good strategy for Pegasus to take the fight to the toasters, and they are returning to the Colonies…)

If I don’t do that, what other choices are there? The classic nuclear war/war for oil/water wars of the mad Max universe are a good start. You can have the survivors struggling to survive or rebuild in whatever setting on the world you want. It’s easy enough to pick a system to use, as well, as it is a modern setting…just pick the level of crunch you want. Do you want the players to have to keep track of every bullet, so they can see their supplies dripping away? Do you want to use fatigue and hunger rules? Or do you want to keep it narrative, as in Fate, and slap scene aspects on them and hand wave a bit?

I’ve been leaning toward a Lazarus-like dystopia where, for most people, it’s the apocalypse. Governments got more and more hollowed-out by their populations’ expectations and finally collapsed. The world is ruled by big families that run multinational corporations…who they sell to, that might be a good thing for Rucka to explore. They, in turn, employ a serf class — those with the skills these families need to keep order in their enclaves, surrounded by the dystopian/apocalyptic setting for the last class — the Waste. People who are not worth the families’ time, and who scrounge and survive in the interstices between the families’ control. I can still get my cars in the desert, then deal with dystopian industrial city-scapes, or pop up to Elysium-like high tech cloisters where the uber-rich live.

Either way, the apocal-itch has hit and must be scratched…

So how to run it? I tend to narrative, character-heavy games, and am increasingly fond of lighter-weight systems. The scrounging for survival quality of the setting, however, almost requires a close resource management by the characters…how many clips for that Beretta do you have? Do you have enough water? Food? How bout gas for that Ford Falcon XB..? And the timing on that V8 is sounding pretty dicey of late…

If I go with the extension of Battlestar Galactica, Cortex is the obvious choice; just stick with the same system and setting we’ve been developing. But Cortex is a nice, character and story-supportive rules set that can be heavy on the crunch, if we wanted. Fate, less so, but the use of scene aspects like “There’s nothing out here!”, or throwing a consequence on one’s car of “Running low on juice” can get around the bean counting while still keeping the flavor of the setting.

Strangely, the handle the crunchy cars in desert trope, James Bond is a good choice of mechanics, as well. Weapons have specific mods, ammo capacities and ranges; cars the same, and can be modified — blow a structure for a Rousch supercharger on that old Mustang you’re cruising the wasteland in.

Got the apocal-itch..? How are you thinking of addressing it? What rules system, what setting?

1981 was a good year for movies. I was a young teen, and movies were increasingly my escape from the real world, if only for a few hours. That summer saw some of the best movies of their genres hit — Raiders of the Lost Ark brought me to the theater eight or nine times; For Your Eyes Only gave us the best of the Moore-era Bond movies (holy shitsnacks, he’s acting!), Excalibur hit the D&D spot but I found the movie overly stylized and not particularly engaging, Escape from New York and Outland were solid sci-fi fun. But there was one movie that crept in under the radar that summer and thrilled me — The Road Warrior.

At the time, I hadn’t seen Mad Max, and I only got to see The Road Warrior one time that summer, but the cars-in-the-desert theme became my go-to idea of the apocalypse. F@#k that pushing a shopping cart crap of The Road, the end of the world is deserts, highly modded hulks of cars, leather and PVC, and hair care products (there must be some — look at that damned mohawk!) Later, Beyond Thunderdome — while inventive — lost that essential, core trope of a Mad Max movie…cars! Director George Miller had first crafted the original film as an examination of the Australian car culture, and was a response to his work as a traveling trauma doctor who saw the numerous ways that people get dead in vehicles. Without the cars, the apocalypse just doesn’t work.

Thirty years and some dancing penguin movies later, Miller returns to his creation with Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s a reboot, no matter what the director was claiming — the essentials are there: Max Rockitansky was a police officer who lost his family, and in this picture is frequently suffering PTSD flashbacks involving his daughter (not a son, this time) who he could not save. He’s blasting around the wasteland of maybe Australia/maybe someplace else in his Australian 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT so beloved from the first two movies. He’s a nomad looking for a reason to exist, and will, as in The Road Warrior, act more as a catalyst for the events.

The first act is curious — Max is captured about two minutes into the film and spends much of it caged or tied to the front of a warboy’s wagon. He’s a “blood bag” for the radiation sickness-suffering Nux, and is valuable only for his O+ blood. The world-builing is fast and crammed into the action well; a lot of action directors could learn from Miller on how to build characters and a world by showing, not telling. (For another superb example of this, see John Wick.)

There’s a grotto of green and water in the desert ruled by Immortan Joe, a horrific picture of ancient, radiation damaged man who is encased in clear plastic “armor” and wears a breath mask fashioned to give him a leering grin. He’s played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played Toecutter in the original 1979 Mad Max. He’s holding the survivors hostage by controlling access to water, and his army of warboys are a cult of sick and deluded young men who expect this “immortal” to bring them to Valhalla, if they are worthy. The subcultures Miller creates in this movie are inventive and believable — from the glory above all warboys, to the “we do what we have to” of the all-femael Vuvulan nomads we meet later. There’s load of grotesque character imagery — the Bullet Farmer who gets blinded in the movie and is randomly firing guns from his dune buggy while blindfolded; there’s the gas lord with his ornate metal nose replacement — Tycho Brahe would be jealous; Nux has ritual scarification on his chest and tumors he affectionately calls “his mates — Larry and Barry…they’ll kill me one day…”

The hero of the piece is not Max, and that seems to be a big point of contention for the reactionaries who don’t like seeing a woman displace their mighty Road Warrior…but even in that movie and Thunderdome he was a sidekick in many ways, the ronin that helps the Feral Kid and his tribe escape, or saves the kids from whateverthehell Tina Turner was playing. Here, it’s Impertor Furiosa, played brilliantly by Charlize Theron. Like the others, she has some level of disfigurement — she’s missing an arm and has a claw-handed prosthetic. She has kidnapped Immortan Joe’s prized “breeders” — a bevy of good-looking young girls that are his “wives” and whom he hopes will provide undamaged children — and is taking them to the home Furiosa was stolen from…”the green place.”

Queue two hours of cars chases and fight sequences. Miller never really lets up in these scenes, they’re well over the top, but in a world so grotesque and weird! as this, they never seem as ridiculous as they clearly are. The Road Warrior was a restrained piece, compared to this — the action sequences extreme, but well inside the realm of possible; some of the stunts (and Miller still did mostly practical stuntwork for this movie) should be laughable, but after a few minutes in, you’re in. One of the most defining images of the movie is Joe’s warband — a quartet of drummers on gigantic taiko drums on the back, and a blind guitarist in bright red jumpsuit bungee corded on the front, of a vehicle that is 90% a wall of speakers. The guitarist plays the beat of the action pieces on a double necked guitar that shoots f#$king flames ferchristsake!

There’s a lot of pixels being spilled about the feminist nature of the story, and it’s certainly got that in spades. Women are strong, capable characters that don’t need men like max to save them…just aid them. Furiosa and Max never get romantic; he’s also not in charge…it’s her journey, he’s just heling her get there. Women aren’t maternal, save the world characters. Furiosa and her tribe are violent, but they do it to save the breeders, who aren’t wilting flowers, themselves. Max and Nux represent masculinity in a way that is violent — it’s the end of the world and it’s a brutal setting; they have to be violent — but they do it in the service of defending people. Immortan Joe and his crew represent the acquisitive, coercive masculinity of bad guys, clergy, and politicians. But you can pack all that away for two hours and watch a great action pic, if you want to.

Visually, this movie is stunning in a way I haven’t seen since probably Avatar, and it’s better because this isn’t CGI. The action is occasionally ridiculous, but you’re unlikely to notice. The cars — they’re glorious mutants of metal. There’s one group where their vehicles are covered in porcupine-like quills…it’s  bloody brilliant! The warband — you will leave wanting to have a big ass truck with your soundtrack, played by a lunatic shooting fire from his guitar, following you everywhere you go.

The worldbuilding is wondrously inventive.

The acting is generally very good from the leads. This is Theron’s movie and she owns it. Nicholas Hoult (the Beast in the retro X-Men movies) steals almost every scene he’s in. Tom Hardy is solid, if underused, as Max; they never really let him off the leash, and that is a good point of contention some have with the movie. Max is almost a spectator in his own film. The brides are all developed well in bits of dialogue and action that give them all simple, but recognizable, personalities.

Go see it. It’s everything we wanted Thunderdome to be in 1985. It’s a movie I saw for a matinee price, but I wouldn’t have felt gypped at full price.

Over the years, my group has tried to do the distance gaming thing. We had a bunch of our gamers move away to Texas, or their schedules were such that getting to Albuquerque to play was inconvenient. We tried having people Skype, Google Hangouts, or Facetime in so that we could have the gamer on the iPad or computer, the group on the other side. This led to issues of sound quality, trying to arrange the play space so that the missing player could see everyone, and connection quality. In short, it never quite worked out. One option that popped up was Roll20, an online gaming tabletop.

A few nights ago, I was talking with a friend from my high school/college gaming days, who was lamenting his being out of the hobby for almost two decades. He just hadn’t been able to find a group, and finally gave up on it. We were discussing Roll20, and I finally had a good look at it. Previously, it wasn’t really an option. I’m on a Mac, and my old 2010 Air wouldn’t have handled the Flash-based video conferencing without the fan sounding like a jumbo jet taking off; the new 2015 Air, however, handles the site with no issues…so I decided it was time to revisit.

The website requires you to set up an account, and you can set yourself up as GM or player. As GM, you invite your players to a game-specific web address, then you can video conference. I suspect the best way to do this will be with gaming headsets for sound quality. It has a table “space” that you can draw or import maps, player icon/tokens, and annotate. You roll die in the space, as well, and the results are tallied on a running chat panel to the right of the play space. Dice types, combination rolls, Fate dice — they’re all possible. Players can also upload characters sheets (there are already many of these set up on the site), to make things easy.

I’ve only played around a bit with it and haven’t yet tried the conferencing feature, but I suspect this might be a good option for folks looking to play with friends around the world. It looks best set up to handle two-five players, each calling in  individually. I’m going to have a go with it at some point in the near future, and will report back once I have.

Finally got around to seeing Avengers 2 (Finally..? It’s only been open a week!) last night with the wife. I have to admit, I’d seen a few of the trailers and something about them made me think I was going to be disappointed by this one. I’d watched Avengers a few times after the theater experience and the one thing that kept bothering me — other than the “I got captured as part of my master plan thing”, and really Hollywood…stop it — was the need for better editing. The final battle in New York is almost 40 minutes long! That’s waaaay too long for a final action sequence; there is a point where the audience has been amped up for so long that they actually get bored in very long action sequences.

So when the film finally started, I was actively trying to keep an open mind. The pacing this time was much better than Avengers — Whedon gave the audience down time for character development, the most of which was aimed at Hawkeye, Banner, and Black Widow. We learn some things about Hawkeye that make him the most human of the bunch, and even he is having troubles fitting himself into a team of “gods.” There’s the Banner/Romanov romance subplot that is pissing off the crazy wing of the interwebz, and I found I didn’t mind it…I just didn’t think it added anything to the film. The wife thought it was lazy — “Why can’t  movie have a woman develop in a way that doesn’t involve romance or a baby?” Fair enough…but I didn’t find some of the criticism to be valid.

The first action scene is well done, have the Whedon humor to it, and has a nice Captain America: The Winter Soldier tie-in and carries that spy meets sci-fi tone that Cap 2 and the first movie hit. It seems the Avengers have been hitting Hydra since the events of Cap 2. We meet the new bad guys soon to turn good, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). The former I found annoying, but thought the performance was quite good…especially since I started to like the character by the end. And this is a Whedon movie, so you know what happens to the second string character you start to like… Olsen’s accent is atrocious and fades in and out throughout the show, otherwise she’s passable. As for the rest of the cast, they’ve been living these characters (save Ruffalo) for a half dozen movies each — they’ve got the characters down. They also let War Machine, Don Cheadle’s character, in on the action, and there’s a cameo of Falcon.

The bad guy is not an AI created by Stark, but rather some kind of AI that was living in one of the Infinity Stones in Loki’s scepter (it’s a “mind stone”, we are told later.) It’s released, doesn’t adapt too well to the program they try to impose on it, and you get James Spader voicing Ultron, an angry, genocidal machine that wants to evolve. This apparently involves destroying Mankind. Ultron is both interesting for not being the stereotypical megalomaniacal baddie — he’s got a great “Oh, I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you my master plan” moment…where he doesn’t. But he’s also not truly menacing, as he was in the trailers; if anything, he comes off as a petulant, confused child. It makes him interesting, but not frightening.

There’s some very nice spy movie action in this one — there’s the raid on a Hydra base in the start of the movie, some investigation stuff that leads to a South African arms dealer in beached ships (very cool) and rampaging through an unnamed town that looked like Johannesburg. (Just checked it…yup!) There’s more trying to stop Ultron’s master plan in Seoul, including some very cool vehicle chase sequences that feature the new Harley-Davidson electric motorcycle. It’s good stuff.

The final battle returns to the Hydra base of the beginning of the film and the heroes must battle hundreds of instantiations of Ultron, save the population of a ton, and ultimately stop Ultron from destroying all life on Earth. The battle sequence is most likely very close to half an hour long, but I didn’t think it lagged as much as the New York denouement. It might on later viewings. Notable was that while Thor got to kick a lot of ass, and got some of the good lines, he felt very flat and there was little real development for him, I thought.

The end has the team reforming with Scarlet Witch, Falcon, and War Machine as part of the team, and a few of the old guys bowing out…the end credits show Thanos busting out the Infinity Glove with a “Fine. I’ll do it myself…” So now we have the villain for Infinity War, I suspect.

Overall, it’s a good follow up to Avengers and in some ways it’s a superior film. It’s well paced and balanced, it has a solid tone, the characters all get time in the spotlight — even the B team — and the dialogue is up to Whedon standards. It’s definitely a “See it in the theater movie” and I didn’t feel gipped at full price with no 3D.

The third installment of our Atomic Robo game went off last night, and all of us seem much more comfortable with the rules set.

This “issue” was “Face of the Enemy” and saw our heroes chase a half-Japanese, half-English femme fatale from Philadelphia, where she had contracted some mobsters to steal the plans for a device the navy was testing that would render a ship invisible (yes, The Philadelphia Experiment.) The device was TeslaTech, recovered by the FBI after the inventor’s shop was destroyed in a fire, and the characters brainstormed that drew power from the Earth’s magnetic field and created an electromagnetic bubble that warped light…it also appeared to slow time. After losing the mobsters in a chase, save one they questioned, they managed to figure out the identity of the agent from her boarding room and ascertained she had hoped a TWA transcontinental flight for San Francisco.

I did a quick bit of research and, of course, they could have had the FBI or someone stop her at one of the points on the way to San Fran…but that wouldn’t make for a good story, now, would it? The characters manage to requisition an aircraft from Mustin Field to Crissy Field on the Presidio. The DC3, even with stops, was looking like a 15 hour flight, while the B-25 they hopped a ride in would get there, with a refuel stop in Kansas City, in 11 or so… With her head start, they arrive in San Fran roughly the same time she does.

There was a quick bit of exposition and scene setting: General DeWitt, the commander of the Western Military District is introduced as the paranoid, racist old man he was…but in this case, he’s right: there are Japanese spies up to no good! The FBI has a man on the case, but they could only spare one man between the clean up associated with Japanese internment and men lost to the war effort. The SFPD is in worse shape, operating mostly with retirees and 4Fs. So it’s no surprise when they get to the airport, that the enemy — Betsy Brant — has managed to escape by using some kind of knockout spray on one of the codgers that tried to arrest her. Fortunately, Agent Clive was able to get the license plate of the ’40 Oldsmobile 60 she hopped into and it is quickly located by a patrolman in the Tenderloin District.

Despite a war on, and a curfew in effect, the Tenderloin is lit up, active, and full of sailors and soldiers, civilian blacks and women. It was a place of swanky hotels and restaurants, surrounded by jazz clubs, strip joints, gambling halls, and they search the place and find Brant, now dressed to the nines, gambling in a hotel casino where she is winning heavily…the casino owner is paying her off, or facilitating her pay.

We had out first action sequence here and I really tried to use aspects on scenes well for this evening’s play. The casino was FILLED WITH HIGH ROLLERS that one PC used his Rhode Island Royalty aspect to help him fit in an not be noticed; while the Working Class Dame of the other PC I compelled against her. They find Brant, there’s a scuffle and foot chase in which Brant nearly escapes, but they capture her.

During her interrogation, the PCs used the COLD INTERROGATION ROOM aspect to their advantage, hit Brant with a WILLING TO COOPERATE aspect. While they were doing that, another PC cracked the code on her notebook, figuring out where the Japanese cell was operating…in the now abandoned Japantown off of Geary. They grab some MPs and hit the place one of a series of rowhomes (that no long exist…)

The house was broken into several “zones” — the living room, kitchen/dining area, hallway and stairs, and the upper bedrooms, each with aspects like DARKENED ROOM, CROWDED WITH FURNITURE, DARK STAIRWELL, etc… A fight sequence against a pair of Japanese agents with the aspects NINJA! and I Would Die For My Emperor ensued and saw all sorts of chop socky goodness: shuriken, katanas, fraternal fire (oops!), through which the characters persevered.

They find a photography lab with the Tesla plans, and figure out the spies made copies. Brant helps them decode the notebooks after their use of the US Army Intelligence Corps faction rolled spectacularly badly and had no Japanese speakers available to help them. They figure out the spies transferred the plans to a submarine, most likely, and that the destination is an island in the Bonin chain — Koro Jima — 1500 miles behind enemy lines!

DeWitt sends them out to the front lines…maybe, somehow, they can get ahead of this. They catch a military-chartered Boeing Clipper out to Hawaii, then from there fly with an old school chum of one of the PCs who is now piloting PBY Catalinas. At one point, the WAVE PC tunes up the Catalina with a new benie — LONG RANGE that allows the craft to have enough range for whatever the story requires. They island hop from Hawaii to Wake, where the Marines are still mopping up from their invasion.

And there ended the third installment.

Having played the game a few nights now, I feel we are starting to get the hang of the system, although we have a tendency to not use aspects and fate points as much as we should. This is most likely due to the nature of plot points in Cortex — the system we’ve been playing for so long. Plot points can be used to mitigate damage in combat and it’s natural that the players tend to hoard their fate points because of this. Also, fate points don’t get doled out as often for playing to your aspects, but also I might be concentrating on using other elements of the rules and could be giving the players short shrift on the fate points.

The game still seems to run fast, even with the longer fight sequence we had this night (A great, very cinematic one it was, too!) and I’m finding I need to slow it down a bit from time to time to allow for more player/character interaction and to fill time. Ordinarily, a game night for us is about three to 3.5 hours; we’re still running about 2.5 using Fate. It also could be I’ve been trying to break the action up more effectively into “issues” as the comic the game emulated does.

After talking with the players, we seem to be unanimous in thinking the mechanics of Fate are working very well for the pulp-style of the game, and also facilitate the multi-decade nature of the campaign I had envisioned. The five aspects, rather than 10, of normal Fate, and the more extensive use of Stunts and Mega-Stunts lends itself very well to multiple genres, we thought, and I suspect the Atomic Robo version of Fate will see more service for our gaming than we initially expected.

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