Life Unconstructed

So this started out as a joke drink, thanks to all the online stupidity at the start of the current stupidity that has engulfed the planet. There were internet rumors that Tito’s vodka cured the ‘Vid, and i figured, “well, Vitamin C is good for the flu”, so here it is, the Quantini:

What you need:

2 measures of Tito’s Vodka (for the joke, really any vodka or gin), a measure of sweet vermouth (dry is fine but loses some of the citrus), 1/2 measure of lemon juice for Vitamin C, a few shakes of orange bitters (normal is good, too. Combine in a shaker over ice, and shake. You could stir, but that makes you a alcohol heathen.

What you’ll get a nice smooth libation with a nice citrusy, sweet flavor and a nice kick.


The editing work on the Fate version of The Sublime Porte is almost done, and the work on the Ubiquity version is complete. We’re just waiting on the art before assembling the book for publication.


Massive bout of the fly for the kiddo and wife at the same time. Student teaching at a local high school while teaching a new class I’ve never taught before at community college. Once of the hardest schedules I’ve had since the military life…

But I’ve gotten frocked as a secondary teacher and the job search in on. I’m slowly transitioning into the summer writing and editing season and art queries for Gateway to the East, the sourcebook to 1930s Istanbul for Fate and Ubiquity in in the offing. We’re hoping for our usual late summer release — here’s to hoping we don’t get buried by a massive number of coold Kickstarters this year. They murdered the launch of Sky Pirates of the Mediterranean, which is our first flop for Black Campbell Entertainmentand seriously made me rethink a bunch of our release schedule, as well as question why I was doing any of this. (While, strangely, the stuff we pulled turned into Airships of the Pulp Era, which sold well enough to almost cover the disaster that was Sky Pirates.

I’ve been widening our gaming group’s selection of play, and my wee daughter requested and has started playing Dungeons & Dragons with me GMing. My Eaglemoss addiction has spread from the Battlestar Galactica line to the stunningly beautiful John Eaves designs for the Federation starships of Star Trek: Discovery. So there will be a few reviews on those coming.

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.)


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, 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:

Not really gaming related, but a damned good life motto, you cam find our new tee shirt and mug designs on Zazzle.

When in doubt, turn up the wick!

The latest pulp adventure from Black Campbell Entertainment is out and marks our first in the second wave of adventures for 1930s pulp games.

Mexico, 1938: The discovery of a mythical tecuanes, a were-jaguar, on the grounds of a henequen plantation in the Yucatan leads a group of adventerers and scientists into the hazardous cave complexes under the jungle in search of its origins.

Secret of the Jaguar Temple is out for the Ubiquity Role Playing System (the system powering Hollow Earth Expedition) and Fate is now available on DriveThruRPG with cover art, once more, by the excellent Bill Forster.

Jaguar blurb

While I’m not especially interested in the pageantry and self-congratulatory nonsense of the Academy Awards, particularly as they’ve become a never-ending platform for vapid people’s political opinions, I do truly enjoy movies and the artistry and workmanship that go into them. The last year was a pretty good year, as well, for films and I’ve gotten to see a lot of the them.

So here’s the list, who I suspect will win and who should, and who should have been nominated but wasn’t.

Best Picture:

“Call Me by Your Name” (This is the one I suspect will win, without even seeing it. The subject matter will make it dear to the acting community’s hearts.)
“Darkest Hour”
“Dunkirk” (This was an excellent film for the strange way time was used and the exceptional sound design.)
“Get Out” (This is the one I want to win. It’s a great debut for Jordan Peele, with a solid script, and a nice creepy Hitchcock-flavored bit of suspense. It won’t win, but should.)
“Lady Bird” (Did anyone actually finish this movie..?)
“Phantom Thread” (Daniel Day Lewis in another period piece.)
“The Post” (Reporters courageously being creative in the face of Nixonian evil. If Call Me doesn’t win, this might just because of the political climate. Resist and all that…)
“The Shape of Water” (It’s pretty, the acting is good, but it’s Starman…but with carboard vilains. What, the ’50s weren’t a stellar time for civil rights? That’s a brave stance, Guillermo! I wanted to like it, but it’s overrated in the extreme.)
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Haven’t seen it. Supposedly the performances are tremendously good, and it’s Martin McDonagh writing.)

What should have been nominated (but not win) was Blade Runner 2049. It took the source material and used the themes better and more subtly, blended the look and music seamlessly to make it seem a natural extension of the original, had performances on par with anything in the list above, and was a good detective story on top of that.

Lead Actor:

Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread” (Dan, seriously…leave someone else to win an Oscar.)
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out” (This guy should win. Period. His work in this movie is superb.)
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour” (If they don’t give it to Day-Lewis, this will probably be Oldman’s year, just on the strength of his long career of good work.)
Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” (It’s Denzel. He’s always solid. He’s no Kaluuya.)

Who should have been nominated (but not win): Hugh Jackman for Logan. If you haven’t seen it, you should. Jackman does some of his best work. The other good performance overlooked was James MacAvoy in Split — he’s playing multiple characters and his posture and the way he shifts he face, you know which character you’re looking at before he speaks. Brilliant.

Lead Actress:

Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water” (She won’t get it, but should.)
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (She’ll get it.)
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”

Hawkins is simply amazing in Shape. She and Jenkins are the things that elevate this film, outside of Del Toro’s always-amazing eye. I think Sylvia Hoeks deserved a nomination (but not a win) for her work as Luv in Blade Runner 2049. BR was a movie with good performances by all of the female cast, but Hoeks really stood out. The other actress that got shafted because it was a genre film was Dafne Keen in Logan. A first timer knocking it out of the park while starring with Jackman and Stewart, both doing some of (if not the) best work of their careers? Come on…

Supporting Actor:

Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water” (Great performance. Probably won’t win.)
Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World” (He might, based on a fantastic performance turned in during last minute shoots and a lifetime of good work.)
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Where the f*** is Patrick Stewart for Logan? I had a father with Alzheimers and he nailed it…he deserved a nomination but not a win. (“Hey, Scott, do you think Logan was one of the better movies of the year or something?” YES, and not because it was a superhero movie — it was a Western noir/road trip/family in crisis movie…that also had superheroes.) Between the contenders, I think Jenkins should probably win.

Supporting Actress:

Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water” (Probably going to win.)

Strangely, I can’t think of a female supporting role that really stood out this year. There were a lot of solid performances and roles, but nothing that made me say “Ooo!”, unlike the lead actresses (Hawkins and Hoeks, especially.)


“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan (It really should be between this and Get Out.)
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele (For a directorial debut to be this good, he deserves it.)
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro (I think Del Toro wins this one, if only on the strength of the visuals and technical aspects of the film.)

Denis Villeneuve should have been up for Blade Runner 2049. Maybe not a win-worthy movie, but it’s a brilliant technical achievement that blends an original story to the iconic source material, and manages to do it better. That’s not nothing.

Animated Feature:

“The Boss Baby,” Tom McGrath, Ramsey Ann Naito (No. Read the book.)
“The Breadwinner,” Nora Twomey, Anthony Leo
“Coco,” Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson
“Ferdinand,” Carlos Saldanha
“Loving Vincent,” Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt, Ivan Mactaggart, Hugh Welchman (I suspect this one wins.)

Can we just start nominating the CGI-heavy Marvel movies for this category? They’re damned close…and what, no Monster Trucks!?! (Who thought that was even a good title, much less an idea?) The obvious one missing here is The Lego Batman Movie, which did all of the Batman themes better than the live action movies . It shouldn’t win, but it should have been nominated, especially over Boss Baby.

Animated Short:

“Dear Basketball,” Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant
“Garden Party,” Victor Caire, Gabriel Grapperon
“Lou,” Dave Mullins, Dana Murray
“Negative Space,” Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata
“Revolting Rhymes,” Jakob Schuh, Jan Lachauer

I have not seen any of these, so I can’t opine.

Adapted Screenplay:

“Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory (Another win, just because of the material.)
“The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
“Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green (This should win. It won’t.)
“Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin
“Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

What should have been nominated: Geof Johns and Allan Heinberg for Wonder Woman. That men wrote women that well — they should get a nomination but not a win.

Original Screenplay:

“The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele (He should win. Period.)
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor (The story is awful, the villain is cliche, so no — he shouldn’t win.)
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh (McDonagh’s a great writer with a fantastic ear for language. It should probably be between him and Peele this year.)

The other screenplay should be here is Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River. Seriously, see it. And Hell or High Water, which is even better.


“Blade Runner 2049,” Roger Deakins (This should win, hands down. It won’t.)
“Darkest Hour,” Bruno Delbonnel
“Dunkirk,” Hoyte van Hoytema
“Mudbound,” Rachel Morrison
“The Shape of Water,” Dan Laustsen (This is the winner.)

Best Documentary Feature:

Best Documentary Short Subject:

“Edith+Eddie,” Laura Checkoway, Thomas Lee Wright
“Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405,” Frank Stiefel
“Heroin(e),” Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Kerrin Sheldon
“Knife Skills,” Thomas Lennon
“Traffic Stop,” Kate Davis, David Heilbroner

Haven’t seen any of these, so no opinion.

Best Live Action Short Film:

“DeKalb Elementary,” Reed Van Dyk
“The Eleven O’Clock,” Derin Seale, Josh Lawson
“My Nephew Emmett,” Kevin Wilson, Jr.
“The Silent Child,” Chris Overton, Rachel Shenton
“Watu Wote/All of Us,” Katja Benrath, Tobias Rosen

Haven’t seen any, no opinion.

Best Foreign Language Film:

“A Fantastic Woman” (Chile)
“The Insult” (Lebanon)
“Loveless” (Russia)
“On Body and Soul (Hungary)
“The Square” (Sweden)

Haven’t seen any of these, no opinion. I have a friend who suggests Dunkirk should have been in this category for the impenetrable (to him) English and Scottish accents.

Film Editing:

“Baby Driver,” Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss (This should win, but won’t.)
“Dunkirk,” Lee Smith (I think this is a possible win.)
“I, Tonya,” Tatiana S. Riegel
“The Shape of Water,” Sidney Wolinsky (I suspect this wins.)
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Jon Gregory

Sound Editing:

“Baby Driver,” Julian Slater
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mark Mangini, Theo Green (It should be between this and Dunkrik.)
“Dunkirk,” Alex Gibson, Richard King (This should be the winner.)
“The Shape of Water,” Nathan Robitaille, Nelson Ferreira
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Ren Klyce, Matthew Wood

This is actually one I have a strong opinion on. Dunkirk makes brilliant use of sound. The gunfire is piercingly loud and realistic (except for the scene in the boat, where it’s too loud; the gunshots would be muffled, with the sound of the bullets coming through the metal being more pronounced.) The music and sound all work together to continually ratchet up the tension. This movie is a masterpiece of how to use sound and music.

Sound Mixing:

“Baby Driver,” Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hephill
“Dunkirk,” Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo (I suspect this wins…and should.)
“The Shape of Water,” Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick

Production Design:

“Beauty and the Beast,” Sarah Greenwood; Katie Spencer
“Blade Runner 2049,” Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola (This should be far and away the winner. It won’t be.)
“Darkest Hour,” Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
“Dunkirk,” Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis
“The Shape of Water,” Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau (Wins.)

One that got shafted here was Ghost in the Shell, which might not have been a success, but had amazing design work on par with Blade Runner 2049.

Original Score:

“Dunkirk,” Hans Zimmer (This should win, if you take it in context with how it propels the movie. Removed from that, it won’t win.)
“Phantom Thread,” Jonny Greenwood
“The Shape of Water,” Alexandre Desplat (I think this wins.)
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” John Williams (This is a good contender for obvious reasons.)
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Carter Burwell

Original Song:

“Mighty River” from “Mudbound,” Mary J. Blige
“Mystery of Love” from “Call Me by Your Name,” Sufjan Stevens
“Remember Me” from “Coco,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
“Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall,” Diane Warren, Common
“This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman,” Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

Don’t actually care on this one.

Makeup and Hair:

“Darkest Hour,” Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick
“Victoria and Abdul,” Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard
“Wonder,” Arjen Tuiten


Costume Design:

“Beauty and the Beast,” Jacqueline Durran
“Darkest Hour,” Jacqueline Durran
“Phantom Thread,” Mark Bridges (It’s a movie about a fashion designer. Win.)
“The Shape of Water,” Luis Sequeira
“Victoria and Abdul,” Consolata Boyle (Win if they don’t give it to Phantom Thread.)

Visual Effects:

When I first heard they were doing a sequel to Blade Runner, one of my favorite movies, I was appalled. I saw the original theatrical release on opening day, and once the director’s cut came out — correcting the damage done by the producers with the original — I was even more enthralled. There’s a “final cut”, as well, which is essentially a cleaned up version of Ridley Scott’s original workprint (and a gigantic f@#$ you to say producers…)

Did we really need a sequel? NO!!! Then I heard the original writer, Hampton Fancher, was back. The director was the excellent Denis Villeneuve of SicarioPrisoners, and The Arrival fame. Intrigued, I still wasn’t going to see it. Clips and trailers followed….so yeah, I went and saw it.

Blade Runner 2049 takes place 30 years after the first movie, and other than the connection to Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard character, is it’s own story and stands on its own without viewing the original. The essential plot points: a “blade runner”, police assassins who “retire” replicants — genetically engineered suprahumans — stumbled onto a box of bones at the site of an execution retirement of a replicant played by Dave Bautista (who steals the scene handily from Ryan Gosling.) The bones suggest that it was a woman who died in childbirth…and that she was a replicant, something supposedly impossible. His police captain (Robin Wright continuing to build her resume of tough female leaders) sets him loose, looking for the child she gave birth to.

There’s a lot more intriguing exploration of what intelligence and humanity is in this latest movie, and it handles it much more deftly than the original film — partly because science fiction has matured dramatically in the last 35 years. There’s a hologram girlfriend that may or may not be sentient…or it that just a really smart expert system giving you what you want to hear? K, the lead character, played with a nice hollowness by Gosling (whom I never particularly liked, but after The Nice Guys, I think he’s improving) is a replicant, his responses bounded by regular checks of his personality and emotional matrices, but he starts to identify with the child he’s hunting. The villain is Luv, right hand “angel” to Niander Wallace — the man behind the latest iterations of replicants who wants the secret to replicants breeding; he simply cannot make them fast enough to continue humanity’s exploration of the galaxy. Sylvia Hoeks plays her, and she’s fantastic. In fact all the female players in this movie are at the top of their games.

Harrison Ford is back. Deckard is old and tired, and has been hiding out in the ruins of Las Vegas. Ford is obviously enjoying himself in this picture and it shows. There’s a nice bit of the is he or isn’t he a replicant?, but they don’t spoil it with an answer.

There’s a lot going on in the movie, and it contains a better plotted detective story and more big-set action pieces than the original. This leads to a long run time of 2:44, but I didn’t notice it at all. I suspect, however, on repeat viewings this will be more apparent.

The visuals are stunning, and a nice extrapolation from the original picture. It feels like the same world, just more run down. Villeneuve used a lot of practical sets and effects, with CGI to enhance — something a lot of the new filmmakers have been doing. There is a lot going in the background, as there was in Scott’s movie, and nicely the film makers decided not to try and “correct” the world for today — it is an alternate world where the Soviet Union is apparently still around, where the mega-buildings of the original film extend to a gaudy Las Vegas that looks like the ruins of the city from Artificial Intelligence, with massive female statues in suggestive positions. And apparently, Peugeot eventually builds aircars and is back in the US market.

The sound is loud, and the Hans Zimmer seems to be on a mission to create the most ear-splitting musical noise he can. However, he weaves nearly all of the musical motifs from Vangelis’ excellent Blade Runner score throughout the movie, and this creates an emotional and narrative throughline with the new film.

So is it worth it? Yes! Not kinda yes, but a resounding one. I think this movie takes all the ideas from the first one, does it better and with more emotional core, and it has a more compelling story. On my rent to full price scale, I’d give this a “go see it in IMAX, if you can.”

Our friend Runeslinger has done a review of the Ubiquity version of our sourcebook to 1930s Shanghai The Queen of the South. Check it out!

The Ubiquity proofs are in and it looks great! So without further ado, The Queen of the Orient, a sourcebook for 1930s Shanghai, is now live as an ebook and (for Ubiquity) print on demand book from DriveThruRPG! The physical book is $19.99 and includes the ebook and accompanying map downloads; the ebook and map are $9.99.

The Fate proofs should be here tomorrow, and unless there is a serious issue, we should see the Fate version up for print tomorrow night.

cover small

A note on the map — there’s no print version right now because the size of the thing is not supported by DriveThruRPG’s POD service — it’s a whopping 86×55″! You could possibly find a local shop that could print the thing as a poster.

The Queen of the Orient features information on the history of the city and the three municipal entities — the International Settlement, the French Concession, and the native City Government of Greater Shanghai. There is information on the infamous Green Gang (Qing Bang) that ran much of the crime in “the most dangerous city in the world”, as well as their opponents: the yakuza, the Triads, and  the Shanghai Municipal Police.

Crime is a close cousin of espionage, and Shanghai was a hot-bed of that. Chinese communists and Soviet allies, the Nationalist government of the Republic of China, British intelligence, the Japanese kempaitai were all active in the city. Everything you need to create a living, breathing Shanghai for your 1903 pulp game is here.

Here are the links for the Fate version and the Ubiquity version.



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