At long last we’ve got the proofs back for the print version of Sky Pirates of the Mediterranean and the book looks great! So as of August 30, our new pulp setting Sky Pirates of the Mediterranean is now available on DriveThruRPG and RPG Now in PRINT and as a PDF. The setting is available for the Ubiquity role playing engine and for FATE. The ebook is $9.99, and the print version is $19.99.

The Ubiquity version runs 144 pages long, the FATE version 148 pages. Included is an alternate history of the interwar Mediterranean, profiles on the various gangs and their leaders, new planes and airships to use, and new Dogfight and “Hop Up” rules for whichever system-specific book bought.

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Our new 50 page guide to airships from the interwar era has arrived. The book included the actual histories of the vessels, with suggestions for how to tweak history to use these giants of the air in your Ubiquity games. Rules suggestions to more realistically use these ships in combat, and game statistics for them are included.  Got to DriveThruRPG or RPGNow to find the ebook for $9.99.

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bannerI’ve been hammered this semester with a fair amount of work. The college I work at doubled up my classes (yay, money!), and my teaching certificate program (wait, haven’t you taught for years…yes, but not high school so that’s entirely different! But it’s not…), and the usual collection of life stuff, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busting out words on Gateway to the East, our upcoming guide for pulp-era Istanbul. As with the other Black Campbell books, it’ll be for use with Ubiquity and Fate. I’m estimating a final page count of about 80 pages — on par with our Shanghai book, Queen of the Orient. There will be two adventures included in the sourcebook.

Depending on work schedules next semester, I’m hoping to have this out by the beginning of the coming summer, as end of summer seems to be a popular time for the Kickstarter campaigns of other games to fire up and we got lost in the onslaught this year.

I received the new Galactica in the mail last week and this is the biggest departure from the old Diamond Select models. Previously, the Viper and Cylon Raider were about the same scale as the DS versions, but here the Eaglemoss ship is much smaller and lighter. The Diamond Select Galactica is resin, and came with a set of launch pontoons that could be configured to be out for operations, or retracted for FTL jump. The new Galactica is molded in plastic — a departure from the usual metal diecast with plastic of the rest of the series. The other major difference is the superb base for the DS version, which sports the BSG-75 emblem on a stand shaped like the dress gray uniform device.

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Despite the size, the detailing and coloration on the new Eaglemoss is light years better than the old model. Here’s an example of the nose section, Eaglemoss on the left.

And as usual, Eaglemoss bothered to do the underside, as well…

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As with the Viper, the only flaw that is obvious if you are looing for it is the seam between the upper and lower hull. they smartly have it tucked in the space behind the launch pylons, but it’s pretty obvious. That said, I’m really happy with this model of the Bucket, and I’m hoping they do a Pegasus — preferably to scale with this Galactica.

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It comes with a 14-page booklet, as with the rest of the series.

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So is it worth the $55? Yes.

The second ship from the Battlestar Galactica series arrived from Eaglemoss and I continue to be impressed with how well they do packing these models in smaller boxes and with no excess packing, when compared to the massive Diamond Select boxes for their BSG models.

As with the Viper Mk II, the new Cylon Raider is a diecast top piece, and plastic bottom piece. It’s heavy, on par with the resin DS version. The joins on this are much less obvious than they were on the Viper, and similarly, it’s not as dark a piece. The weathering and other details are better, although the DS version has more organic looking coloring. As with the Viper, the undercarriage detailing is better; the DS versions skimped on that.

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Scale is the same between the two, whereas the Viper from Eaglemoss was just a touch smaller than the old DS version. The base for this one is a bit awkward and doesn’t quite fit the nose section as well as the Viper base did (It’s very good and holds the model securely), and require a bit of adjustment to get the Raider to sit well.

As with the Viper, the Raider comes with a 14-page booklet detailing the vessel, talking about the design evolution, and ending with an interview with Ronald Moore.

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So how is it? Again, Eaglemoss’ use of the shooting CGI models makes for a more accurate  model. There is more surface detailing in the Eaglemoss version, although, in this case, I suspect the Eaglemoss version is from later in the show when the Cylons loose a bit of the organic look from the early seasons, which the DS model captures well. Is it worth the $55? If you’re a BSG fan, yes.

I saw a few ads popping up on Facebook a few months ago for a new line of science fiction spacecraft models from Eaglemoss, the guys famous for the small Star Trek ships.  (I’ve got one of their Akira class and it’s lovely.) This new addition to their Hero Collection would be a twelve ship set from Battlestar Galactica — both old and new shows. I’m a reboot Battlestar Galactica fan, as any long-time reader of the blog will know, and I have the four limited edition ships from Diamond Select’s run from back when the show was still airing. So, of course, I signed onto their subscription. You get a ship every other month for the Galactica collection. The first one was the Viper MK II.

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The original Diamond Select Viper is an excellent bit of modeling, done in resin and nicely detailed. The specific ship is Viper 2220NC, Apollo’s (and originally Commander Adama’s) ride in the early portion of the show. It’s well done, with a fair bit of accuracy to the markings and the weathering. The canopy comes off (even when you don’t want it to) to expose a detailed cockpit. the stand has the 3rd Squadron (Vigilantes) symbol on it, although the nose markings for the Viper are 1st Squadron (Primus.)

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The scale puts the Viper at about 11″ long, and the Eaglemoss Viper is almost the same scale. (It’s a touch smaller.) The packaging for the Eaglemoss Viper is much more compact and less wasteful. Inside, there’s a simple oval stand with clear arm to hold the model. The model was surprisingly hefty and weighs about the same as the resin DS model. The main hull is diecast metal, with wings and engines and lower hull assembly done in plastic. The seam lines on the Eaglemoss model are more pronounced where the undercarriage meets the rest of the nose, and around the engine assemblies, but it’s nothing tragic. Looking at the screen models online, the detailing of the Eaglemoss bird is much better, with some of the warning on the hull scaled more correctly. The weathering is not as extreme as the Diamond Select version and she is sporting the 8757NC markings for Starbuck’s Viper. The canopy is darkened plastic and there is no cockpit detailing visible.

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The first model is $20 on the subscription, then they are $55 after that. The first models are the Viper MkII, the new Cylon Raider, the new Galactica, and it looks like the next one up is the Viper MkI from the original show, followed by the new and old basestars. If you’re not interested in the old stuff, you can cancel at any time (and I’m assuming join back up for the ones you want.) This accounts for half of the twelve ships supposedly in the queue, so I think we can assume there will be an original Galactica and Cylon Raider, a Viper MK VI, a Raptor, leaving two others. I’m hoping for a Pegasus from the new show, and I suspect Colonial One will be the last in the group. (I’d much rather have a Zephyr…)

As with the Star Trek models, each ship comes with a 14-page booklet on the vessel and some background on its design for the show, and an interview — in this case — with Ronald Moore.

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So how is it? The build quality is better on the old Diamond Select, just because of the use of resin molding. For accuracy of markings, weathering, and overall appearance I’d go with the Eaglemoss. Is it worth the $20 for signing up? Yes. It would be worth the $55 for the main subscription fee, in my opinion.

I’ll follow this up with a review of the Cylon Raider and Galactica soon.

Last night I introduced a friend of mine to the 2008 movie Speed Racer. He’s about a half generation or so younger than me, in his early 40s, but similar enough in age that he remembers the old TV series fondly.

When I was a kid, I would run home every day from school because at 3:30 Speed Racer, the old Japanese anime, would come on. It was followed by another favorite, Star Blazers, these older shows having been dumped for cheap on local broadcasters out of Philadelphia. Speed Racer was a corny show about a young race car driver who got involved in all sorts of crime-fighting, all while trying to finish races. His car, the Mach 5, was a marvelous GT two-seater with jump jacks, sawblades to cut through obstacles, and other high-tech innovations. It was wonderfully stupid (and on a more recent view, glacially paced by today’s standards…)

I didn’t know a single kid who didn’t like the show. It was popular enough Hot Wheels kicked out their notoriously close to copyright infringement “Second Wind” car. (And yes…I’ve had this since I was a kid.)

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I was highly skeptical when I heard the then-Wachowski Brothers were doing a movie. I had liked The Matrix, but the sequels had been unimpressive, for me. Right before release, Warner Brothers dropped the first seventeen minutes online and was surprised to find that the directors just might have actually managed to capture the essence of the old show. I was in the theater that first show with maybe a dozen other people. For the next two hours, I was assaulted by a frenzy of color and sound, an amazing score by Michael Giacchino (this century’s John Williams…). This kaleidoscope of color and computer generated imagery was derided by a number of the critics. “Twelve-year-old boys should be wowed, but for the rest of us, it will depend on your appetite for eye candy…” was Tom Charity’s comment on CNN.com, and in that blurb he captures the challenge of the movie: Yes, the colors are cartoon bright, the world they build is both that of the 1960s and some alternate future, the technologies are ridiculous…but this is a movie about a guy with a car with f***ing sawblades that pop out the front! His dismissal of this as something for twelve year old boys was exactly the point when I had watched the preview online. This is the world when you were eight or ten or twelve, when everything was possible. This is the world of the Hot Wheels tracks you built, when you drove your Matchboxes up the side of that cliff (played by the arm of your mom’s couch); if you pay attention, you’ll see some of the race tracks are those toy racetracks from when you were a kid!

You have to watch the movie as that kid you have to be. If you do, you can look past the eye candy, and what you get is an earnest and beautiful movie about a young man coming of age, and his family’s difficulty in accepting this. But accept it they do, and they go on to help him achieve his goals, despite the pain and fear they suffer in doing so.

Speed Racer is the second of three sons to Pops Racer (brilliantly played by John Goodman). The whole family is racing obsessed, but not for money, for the pure joy of it. The eldest brother, Rex, is a superb driver who gets caught up in the criminal element of the racing world and fakes his own death to protect them. Rex’s seeming fate, for them, provided a lot of the drama for the movie when Speed cuts out on his own to “be the best”, but is confronted with the villains of the piece, a racing sponsor E.P. Arnold Royalton. Royalton looks to co-opt Speed and when he doesn’t play along, he seeks to ruin the Racer family.

During one of the meetings, Speed tries to explain this childlike world that the movie presents and the Racers represent. At the end of a heart-felt speech, Royalton laughs in his face and says, “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that sickening bit of schmaltz…are you ready to put away your toys and become a real race car driver?” The villain isn’t just a corporate bigwig who sponsors races and fixes them for his enrichment, he’s the real world, seeking to crush the joy and innocence out of us. The Wachowskis had anticipated exactly the tack many of the reviewers you can read on Rotten Tomatoes take: the movie isn’t serious. It’s cheesy. It’s too bright, colorful, energetic, simple-minded. That was the challenge of the movie, to accept this childish world as you did when you were running home to watch Speed take on some guy in an improbably fast race car that was bent on some kind of evil.

The fight isn’t just Speed against the corrupt machine behind racing. He’s the inner child fighting against a reality that wants to break up your family, crush your dreams, and consign you to mediocrity.

Textually, it is a masterpiece. Visually, the eye candy is designed to pull the viewer through the story, and even this is a tremendous feat. I’ll leave that to someone who covers this better than I will:

A little something that showed up in a recent game session of Hollow Earth Expedition.

Putilov “Stalin” Stal-2 

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This strange aircraft is based on plans stolen from the American project to reverse engineer a Vril flying saucer recovered by the Los Angeles mission to the Hollow Earth. Putilov group created the Stal-2 (Steel-2) — a small flying saucer that uses contra-rotating blades around the circumference to provide lift. The craft is extremely nimble but has problems with arresting fast descents. It takes lots of practice to learn how to fly well, and only a few of these have gotten out into the field. None, so far, have survived testing or use in the wild.

It is armed with a pair of 20mm cannons facing forward that are controlled by the co-pilot/gunner. The craft features a pressurized cabin and can achieve high altitudes.

SIZE: 4     DEF: 6     STR: 10     SPD: 150   CEIL: 21,000     RNG: 300     HAN: +2     CREW: 2     PASS: n/a; Twin 20mm cannons:  Sze: 0   Dam: 8L   Rng: 500’   Cap: 150   Rate; A

The third installment of our Hollow Earth Expedition campaign picked up right where we left off. Veitch and Erha rescued, the vril psychic in custody, and an expedition to Shambala planned. A small battalion of US Marines get ready to go through the Eye of Shambala. They know Morana, the former self-crowned Queen of Shambala has support there, so they go through in force, with motorcycles, a pair of M2 light tanks, 400 men with mortars, machineguns, and other weapons. Lastly, they’ve rigged an incredibly dangerous catapult system to throw the Dogfish minifighters through the Eye. To stay aloft, the pilots have to release the folding wings into position as soon as they are through or they’ll go into the ground like lawn darts.

Zelansky rides in one of the lead tanks, the marine colonel in the other. They find, on the other side, not just an entrenched force, but that the environment in the city is changed. Instead of a temperate climate with almost sea-level pressures, they are in a cold, snowy valley in the Himalayas — Shambala is here, but it has been damaged by bombings, and the once verdant valley is dying from cold. What happened!?!

But before they could investigate, they found themselves in a brutal fight with the people guarding the Great Gate — white-suited men with red stars on their caps: RUSSIANS! These are their elite reconnaissance paratroopers, some of the first in history. There are six Tupolev TB3s parked near the ancient spire that houses the Great Library of the city. The Russians have machinegun nests and mortar emplacements and soon the marines are in a pitched batter with the communists at 15’000′ in the most remote place on Earth. Moments later, the Dogfish come through and both O’Bannon and Veitch nailed their pilot tests, dropping their wings and taking to the skies. Fortunately, the minifighters are still tuned for Maritan air, and handle the shift to high altitude well.

The battle is pitched and Cointreau finds himself flashing back to WWI France. He and PIn-Li do their part, but try to stay out of the main fight…until Pin-Li gets blown up by a mortar. (Not killed, thanks to a massive plot point dump.) Cointreau loses it and takes up a gun — he first time since he was a lieutenant in the war — and starts mowing down any Russians he can find.

Zelansky leads his light tank in combat, punching through the Russian lines to hit the Tupolevs before the pilots can get them started. He succeeds in destroying several, including one that had a pair of I-16 fighters slung under the wings, but they don’t hit the two strange vehicles that come zipping out from behind the TB3s…weird saucer like craft that take to the skies to engage the Dogfish! Something like this…

xp5a693e0dThe Russians have flying saucers!?!  The craft seem to use contra-rotating fans along the outside of the aircraft, and it’s got a smoky exhaust, so not powered by Atlantean crystals or any exotic power source. It’s also got two pilots, one facing forward, one aft, and they each have a pair of 20mm cannons! The dogfight between the minifighters and saucers showed the Russian craft to be very nimble, but that they had trouble with slowing their descent rate. O’Bannon used this to crash one of the saucers, but he was shot down before he could splash the second. Veitch, however, got a great shot and damaged the second. It crashed while trying to line him up for a kill. For the scene, we ditched the dogfight rules from Secrets of the Surface World, and instead used the rules that we developed for Sky Pirates of the Mediterranean.

Eventually, they are able to win through. Between Cointreau going on a killing spree and an excellent use of diplomacy by Zelansky, they got the Soviets to surrender. Having secured the gate, they investigated the old tower and the city and found a few survivors from Shambala that had been kept for interrogation, and a single vril in the uniform of the Imperial Guard of Atlantis. This vril had come here with Morana to bring her followers to Atlantis, and to take what they needed from the Great Library. To Zelansky’s horror, the library is gone! Morana made off with about a third of the material, and burned the rest!

On their return to Los Angeles through the Great Gate, the decision was made to wire the gate in Shambala with enough explosives that, should it look like another force (including Morana) was going to take it, they could destroy it. They also hauled the wreckage of the Soviet saucers home for study only to find out, they are based on one of the Boston Project designs that Zek (Erha’s father) and she had been working on.

They’ve got a Soviet spy in their midst!

For the session after the invasion of Shambala, we switched it up. Instead of continuing with the current group of characters, we moved the action to the Second Earth, Atlania, where we opened on a Japanese torpedo boat, IJN Hayabusa, which had been lost here since 1933 when the inversion and emergence of the Second Earth happened. Only two of the original crew are left — one a PC named Hideki Reizo. An engineering lieutenant who had studied in the United States, he is from a good family of warriors and politicians. He, on the other hand, is a lair, cheat, and coward who was using the navy to get some cache to move into a more lucrative field, like landing a rich wife…and they he got stuck here.

Their ship was attacked by pirates months back and he agreed to help them with the boat in exchange for his safety. He and Ito, one of his machinist mates, are locked in a coal bunker turned into a brig along with the ship’s cook and “comfort woman”, a lizardwoman named Goldie. The ship has just taken a Thulian merchant ship and one of the captives is dumped in the hole with them. He is “the Doctor”, a man that supposedly wanders around helping all the creatures of the world. He knows all the weird chimera races, can fix anyone, it is said.

The Doctor is one of our players’ characters from the first Hollow Earth Expedition campaign in this universe, David Gould –a Spanish doctor who has Atlantean blood which made him our plot device to go to Tibet and find the Eye of Shambala the Americans currently have. He was also lover to Olga Markova — now Morana, the Empress of Atlantis and Queen of Shambala — who was responsible to releasing the Hollow Earth from its “dimensional bubble” inside the Earth. He helped create the Second Earth, and the disasters befalling the people, from the extreme climate changes, to the volcanoes and earthquakes, to the die off of the dinosaurs, to night, which still terrifies many on the world. This is all his fault, and he has been wnadering more to avoid people figuring this out and killing him.

Hideki is released for his shift in the engine room, and convinces the pirates Gould must aid Ito, who has been badly beaten for interfering with the crew when they sought to have Goldie cook her latest clutch of eggs for a crew’s meal. (Ito lost it because not only was this cruel…these men would be eating eggs they fathered on her!) Gould is released to try and heal him and at that moment, things go pear-shaped. Gould spots something in the water — dozens of merfolk, and riding one of them is Gustav Hassenfeldt, a big game hunter and the PC of another player and Gould’s companion in the old campaign.

With the aid of a lizardman (Blue Eye) and a hawkman (Icris) — both PCs — two dozen merfok, and Icris’ sons, Greay Feather and Swiftwing, they assault the ship and take it, while Gus’ beautiful 120′ trimaran comes into view. Gould and Gus meet for the first time since Gus saw Gould leave to track down Morana in the cavern of the Great Machine that had held the Hollow Earth inside of Earth. Gus is ecstatic to see his friend alive, but Gould is convinced they are simply waiting to kill him or worse. At some point he realizes that Gus has always been incapable of deceit; his friend is actually happy to see him.

They return to Gus’ base in the port town of Sagras just in time to catch a message runner coming from the west with a message for the Queen of Ultima Thule, whom Gus operates his trimaran as a privateer, hunting pirates and evil-doers. She has returned! it tells them. Morana, it seems, has returned to Atlantis. They fix and provision Hayabusa, which Hideki renames Soyokaze (“slow wind”) and they make to set off to Ultima Thule to warn the queen. Gus sneds word through the merfolk. Their songs can carry for hundreds of miles in the water, and they can move messages around the world faster than any ship or hawkman.

There was an interlude to do some character bits, including seeing Gus’ living conditions. He lives in a massive warehouse with his “wife”, the mermaid princess Osha, with whom he now has four children (and one on the way). We made out merfolk really alien, I used a mermaid design by Iain McCaig that is pretty, but really weird. For the longest time, it was their siren call that kept gus with her, but now…well, now it’s just his life.

When they get to Ultima Thule, they find the place has been slowly putting itself back together. There’s the beginnings of electrification, gun and powder manufacture, andthe rebuilding of section of the town destroyed by the inversion. Queen Inanna, a former general for the Emperor of Atlantis, is concerned about the news. Morana was dangerous before, but who knows what she’s been up to in the last three years. Gould is convinced they need to stop her, that there is something “inside her”, an entity or thing, he doesn’t know. Inanna’s new chief of the secret police, a Russian psychic that had been hunting Morana for years in the other campaign, agrees. She had no real talents outside of being able to act as a sort of “psychic battery” that other psychics could pull power from.

Gould gets the idea — Soyokaze has a radio. Could they call for help from Earth? The radio set is shortwave and they don’t have the power or antenna to pull it off, but Inanna has someone who might be able to help…

And that’s where we left off last week.

(Image credit: I snagged this Soviet flying saucer off of Pinterest a few weeks ago but don’t have original source info. My suspicion is Popular Mechanics or some such. If anyone happens to know where it’s from, let me know.)