Saturday, October 27, 2018

Dice Delve: Skulls!

In honor of the Spooky Season, I thought I'd dispense with the formal review and instead showcase one of the subsets in my ridiculously odd collection, and that's my affection for Skull Dice. That's right, those D6 polyhedrals with a skull in place of the 1 (or sometimes the 6). This may be the oldest novelty dice, first produced in the 1980s, as an inked drawing on a blank face, and later carved into the dice as part of the molding process.

Lots of manufacturers have made and continue to make Skull Dice; Koplow, Chessex, Q-Workshop, and many others have them in their line-up even today. What are they good for, anyway? I eventually worked a couple of systems out to make use of them, because what's cooler than throwing bones and coming up with skulls? Doom for you! Check out some of my favorite Doombringers below.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Dice Delve: Chessex Marbelized Ivory Polyhedral Set

I used to work for Chessex, and I am an unapologetic fan of their EuroDice, both the opaque and the Speckled varieties. I think that they are among the best dice available for RPG and tabletop gaming--maximum quality with minimum cash outlay. Even when I don't like something about a color combination, it's a tough love kind of thing, since I used to work for the company and presumably am in some kind of position to know better.

Chessex, like other dice sellers, also buys dice to resale from other dice makers--presumably not the same people who make their Speckled dice for them, but you never know, because it's kind of a trade secret. Speaking only for myself, as soon as you move away from Urea as a manufacturing component, it becomes a lot easier to see the flaws in a dice color or a plastic combination. This is not always a good thing, especially if you're the kind of person who has opinions about stuff. What am I talking about? Read on and see for yourself.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Movies of Dungeons and Dragons, Part 5: The End of an Era


Sword and Sorcery became an exploitation genre, rife with quickie production schedules, recycled sets, props and costumes, and written-on-the-fly scripts that checked boxes for mandatory story elements. The only bronze-thewed barbarian that managed to escape such a fate was, inexplicably, Beastmaster, which made not one, but two sequels and then morphed into a syndicated television series that lasted more than one season. Unbelievable. 

Meanwhile, over at the first-run theaters, where the floors were slightly less sticky, an attempt was being made to both cash in on the epic fantasy genre and also elevate it somewhat. The results were decidedly mixed, to say the least. That’s not to say that these movies weren’t good, or that they weren’t an integral part of growing up in the 1980s, but these movie swing far and away from the Robert E. Howardian gothic horror sensibility that informed Conan (and E. Gary Gygax), and the Vancian magic of the Dying Earth stories, and even the darker corners of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. We’re now in some version of the real world, more fairy tale—but not fey—than Epic Fantasy or High Fantasy.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

In Defense of Bad Movies Part 2: FLAAAASSSHH!

Check out the muscles
on Blonde Conan!
In Part 1 of  In Defense of Bad Movies, I outlined the disconnect between film critics and the general public. If you want to read it, you can certainly do that. Now that I have made this particular bed, I’m going to lie in it by taking a pipe wrench to the skull of a film most beloved and personal to the Geek Nation. Let’s all watch some people’s heads explode. Fun!

Since I mentioned Flash Gordon (1980) in Part 1 as an example of a bad movie, I thought it would be worthwhile to explain why I think this is so. Before you start typing your hate mail, there's some objective criteria below that you ought to look at. I put pictures in the post, so you wouldn't have to just take my word for it. If you make it all the way to the end and still feel triggered, just follow this link over to my Facebook page and let fly with your invective. I'm bracing myself for impact. Okay, enough of that; let's go tip some sacred cows!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Dice Delve: Chessex Pound-O-Dice

I am going to break the format slightly for the purposes of this bulk dice review. A lot of people are buying mass quantities of dice, either for new players or to bolster existing collections. As a game master, I like to have a lot of options available for me to match my admittedly capricious moods, and I also like to hand out new dice to beginning players, since it's easier to simply give them what they need than expect them to know what they need. 

These days, thanks to lax international shipping and a variety of online shopping sites, starter dice sets are very cheap. Cool dice that you really want to play with cost a little more and are a really personal choice for each person, but for new players, all you really need are the correct sizes and shapes and you're good to go.

Still, these bulk buys are not without their charm, especially when you have a company like Chessex, who are known for their awesome speckled dice, offering a big-ass bag of them for a relatively low price. Sounds great, right? 

Friday, October 12, 2018

In Defense of Bad Movies Part 1: Somewhere Between High Art and Cult Classic

I’m writing a lot about old movies at the moment on both of my current blogs. Finn’s Top 5 is happening over at the Finn’s Wake blog, and my biased look back at the fantasy films of the 1980s that informed our Dungeons and Dragons games is happening over at Confessions of a Reformed RPGer. I like writing about film; I have been a professional reviewer and critic for many years now, and I’ve been named one of the top movie reviewers in Texas by the Associated Press Managing Editors several times. You may also know that I am co-owner of a movie theater in North Texas that plays first-run movies on two screens, which is kind of like a unicorn in today’s market.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Movies of Dungeons & Dragons, Part 4: The Best of the Rest

There were, in the middle of all this epic swordplay, a handful of near misses and one-offs, as well as a couple of Science-Fantasy “epics” that seemed more like an attempt to pander to the Star Wars crowd as well as offer up mediocre swordplay and derring-do (or bad jump kicks). Hollywood wasn’t interested in making the next fantasy blockbuster; they were obsessed with remaking that last fantasy blockbuster, only much cheaper than before. We ended up renting these at the video stores because, come on, no one saw this in the theater. How on Earth could we have? They were rated R for nudity, and/or they were shown at the drive-in (we had no car at the time), and so we had to wait until they made it to VHS or HBO. Or both.

Thankfully, my parents owned and operated a video rental store throughout my high school years, which was great for me, since I was allowed to advise as to the movies we stocked in the horror and science fiction sections. This made me the go-to guy for staying caught up on the latest nerd-films, from cult classics like The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai to the magnum opuses listed below. What they provided for us gamers, more than anything, was laughs—hoots of derision or just knowing, rueful chuckles. After all, we had seen better films, hadn’t we? Maybe we weren’t the most discerning of audiences, but we did have some taste, right?

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Dice Delve: Chain-Chain-Chaaaaaaain...Chain of Diiiiice...

Impact! Miniatures has made a great contribution to the OSR community by manufacturing a full line of odd-and-unusual dice specifically for games like Dungeon Crawl Classics, Mutant Crawl Classics, and their upcoming release, Lankhmar that utilizes a “dice chain” mechanic that goes from 1d3 to 1d30. You can one-stop shop and get exactly what you need, which is a good thing, because searching hither and thither for a d16 is, in my opinion, a bunch of bullshit. If you make a game that relies on weird-ass dice, you are obligated to provide those dice to your customers. Which they do. But Impact does a better job of it, in my opinion



Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Movies of Dungeons & Dragons, Part 3: Secondary Sources

As the 1980s trundled on, fueled by Miami Vice, swatches, and Duran Duran videos, the fantasy films should have gotten better, but they didn’t. After such a promising start, the rush to make more of the same spawned a host of shittier and shitter sword and sorcery movies, each one worse that the last. The genre had split into two tracks: cheap-o boob-grab exploitation nonsense, or big budget ham-fisted embarrassments, and both of these new movie styles served to give Sword and Sorcery a bad name.

Granted, we still watched them, because we were young and our tastes had yet to fully develop, and also because even the mediocre movies had cool swords, sometimes pretty cool effects, and maybe a neat battle sequence or some wizardly shenanigans or a monster. At least, that's what we hoped. We were quickly getting used to disappointment.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Girls! In Our Games?!

I have to confess that I have no idea whatsoever where this whole “Girls aren’t real gamers” bullshit is coming from. I have theories, and I have suppositions, which I may well share at the end of this, but for now, I just want to offer up a corrective against the small but strident natterings of some of these chuckleheads online who love to speak in Trollish and yearn for the downfall of society so that John Norman’s vision of the planet Gor can finally come to pass. Side note to the chuckleheads: all of those multitude of fantasy paperbacks from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, you pick those books to inform your sub-culture? Part of your problem right there is that you have no taste.

Reviewing Art & Arcana

You have probably seen or heard about this massive tome on The Internets or maybe seen a review on The YouTubes. Art & Arcana is a gi...