Wednesday, September 30, 2009


After a day spent cataloging them, I can now say that I own 424 Call of Cthulhu scenarios. Taking away PDFs (many of which are very short one-shots) and my own original scenarios (which may be still in-development), I still have 278 fully-written scenarios. Were I to run these scenarios back-to-back every week (and they were each completed in a single session, which ain't going to happen as a number of them are campaigns), I would be finished with them in over 5 years.

I really need to get an ongoing Call of Cthulhu group going.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why I Don't Buy More Comics

Tonight I was reading through my latest issue of Previews, a catalog I get from my local comic book store to order my weekly dose of books, and came across the most obvious example of why I am buying less and less comics these days. Behold, Batman/Doc Savage Special #1:

Doc Savage returns to DC Comics…and comes face-to-fist with the Batman! Superstar scribe Brian Azzarello (100 BULLETS, JOKER) and the breathtaking art of Phil Noto combine to shine the first light on a shadowy new version of the DC Universe, where the thugs run rampant, corruption runs deep, and even heroes can't be trusted!

The "shadowy new version of the DC Universe" that this issue inaugurates is what most fascinates me, as this seems to be setting up a new pulp setting for the DC superheroes. I love this stuff, both the author and the artists look solid, and I would be quick to gobble this issue up, except for one niggling little detail...

On sale November 11 - 56pg, FC, $4.99 US

$4.99. Four dollars and ninety-nine cents. $4.99 for a "prologue" (so not a self-contained story) that also includes a sketchbook that the publishers think is a plus but is actually just filler when you charge over FIVE DOLLARS with tax for fifty measly pages of story!

I don't care if it's the greatest comic on the planet, I'm not paying five bucks for an issue of anything sight unseen, especially when I don't even know if it will be total and complete ass. Maybe I'll wait for the trade, when, in the unlikely event that it doesn't disappoint, I can pick up the complete story on Amazon at a 20-30% discount off the cover price in a format that looks good on my bookshelf.

Over the past year, I've dropped more than a few comics that I was enjoying (Booster Gold comes immediately to mind) and never picked up others (the Lovecraft pulp one of the independents put out) because I refuse to pay more than $2.99 for a comic book. I wonder if the publishers really understand what I could do with $5... I can buy a used paperback of most novels, a used copy of many current-generation video games, a DVD of even recently-released movies, or go on Ebay and get a trade paperback of their own comics. I've heard rumors that the Disney buy-out of Marvel might result in a price drop to as low as $1.99 to rebuild the casual market that's been lost over the past two decades. Based on this kind of nonsense, I can only hope it's true or I might end up not buying any comics outside of trades on Amazon and Ebay.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Strain

The Strain, by filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and novelist Chuck Hogan, is the first book in a trilogy about an outbreak of vampirism in modern-day New York. A jet lands at JFK airport with its entire crew and passengers seemingly dead (a la the Demeter), with a mysterious coffin-like cabinet aboard. This first sequence is taut, and the free preview available on is what lead me to check the book out, but it's misleading. Whereas those first 28 pages are full of foreboding, that quickly fades as the book then goes on for literally hundreds of pages before anything interesting happens. The book is padded with repetitive sequences of uninteresting characters stumbling to their doom (usually at the hands of vampirized family members), and whatever is mildly interesting (the ancient vampire clans, the corporate conspiracy behind the outbreak) is left implied, presumably to be fleshed out in the next two volumes.

All that said, the real cardinal sin of The Strain is that it's just not scary. The vampires, an uneasy mix of traditional folklore and biological pathogen, are too mindless to work as the "monstrous human" of traditional vampires, while remaining too silly (the Master vampire still runs around in a cape) to work as scientific horror. It also doesn't help that none of the characters are engaging enough to fear for their safety. The protagonist is a recovering alcoholic workaholic who blames his ex-wife and her new boyfriend for the dissolution of his marriage, so you can guess how the authors lazily have this whiny jerk get his satisfaction. The rest of the supporting cast are cardboard cutouts, except for the absurdly over-the-top Van Helsing-esque vampire hunting ex-professor pawn broker, an 80+ year old with a heart condition and crippled hands who still swashbuckles around decapitating vampires with his silver cane-sword while belching his ridiculous catchphrase: "My sword sings of silver!"

Yeah, it's that bad. In the end, the book reads more like the pilot script for a television series, with more effort spent on creating antagonists and situation than resolving conflicts, setting us up for the next episode (book two) but not offering anything like a good read. Mercifully, it was a quick read, although I admit that by the end, I just shuffled through the tedious action scenes. The Strain was shit, and del Toro should still to movies.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

April 6, 2055

According to Wolfram Alpha, April 6, 2055 will be a Tuesday. The sun will rise in the San Francisco Bay Area at 6:49am in the morning and set at 7:40pm in the evening. It will be a waxing gibbous moon that night. And according to this website, that's about as far as I can expect to live.

45 years, 6 months, 28 days...

Monday, September 7, 2009

PacifiCon 2009

Evidently ConQuest is dead and it's long live PacifiCon now. It was all Cthulhu all the con as I ran a game of Call of Cthulhu (Toteninsel), and played in games of Call of Cthulhu (A Black Brothers Production, Here There Be Tygers, and Once Men) and CthulhuTech (Nemesis). SPOILER WARNING for those that might play those games at future Bay Area conventions.

Toteninsel (Call of Cthulhu/Delta Green)
1943: On a remote German island in the North Sea, the Nazi “resuscitated casualties” program has broken the barrier between life and death. Your team of Allied commandos must infiltrate the island and discover the true purpose of Projekt DRAUGR, or much more than the war may be lost.
I first ran Toteninsel (at a convention) at ConQuest 2007, back before they changed the name to PacifiCon. The game is a Nazi zombie sequel to Herbert West: Reanimator, with plenty of Where Eagles Dare action involving characters like an OSS/Delta Green spy, a descendant of Herbert West's first victim, a Bavarian ex-bergfilme actor, and a PISCES necrophagistic interrogator, among others. The game has seemed to work for almost every player I've run it for, and this time was no different as everyone said they had fun. Almost all of the players were very solid roleplayers, and the only slightly hairy moment came up when it looked like the characters weren't going to get a key bit of information to easily proceed forward with the scenario. They still got it and I could've winged it otherwise, but it proved another example that such instances usually have more to do with scenario design than game mechanics. Even if I'd been running Gumshoe, I can't give the players a clue if they don't go to the scene where the clue is located; although, that system's greatest strength is, had I been using Gumshoe, it would've forced me to pay closer attention to the clue tree when designing the scenario and take these questions into consideration.

A couple of changes I made was to add some house rules, most importantly the use of the Professional Competence rule, where the players could flip a percentile roll (change 84 to 48) once per scene on an occupational skill. I'll have to try it again as I forgot to ask the players whether it worked or failed, but it didn't seem to have a negative impact. I also changed impales from 20% of a skill chance to rolling doubles (44, 77, etc.), which made the rolls less math-intensive and thus quicker but did reduce the chance to 9%. Next time I run CoC, I'm just going to come up with character sheets that include the impale chance % with the skill.

A Black Brothers Productions (Call of Cthulhu)
Like their fathers before them, film producer/writer/directors Wally and George Black plan to make "adult" movies until they can break into legit film. Their latest big-budget production "Deep Behind the Iron Curtain" is shooting in an ancient unrestored castle in Estonia. A pre-production crew was sent to the location a week ago to make it livable. A sat-phone call from the Production Manager 2 days ago let everyone know they're ready to begin Principal Photography tomorrow. The cast and crew head into the mountains...
Saturday morning I played in my friend Matt Steele's game, and it rocked HARD. Everyone was either a porn star or a member of the film crew, and I played "Shank", who was the lead co-star before the Ron Jeremy character joined the production and took it over as his comeback film. Shank, an egomaniacal idiot who always spoke of himself in the third person, was less than pleased. This is the first time I've ever roleplayed out an orgy scene (as part of some "Lord of the Rings" parody porn), where my retard character mispelled the ritual summoning in his script ("H'ahys e rro eeh'll ghta hgn-nhu's...") as "Here's a real phat gnu", causing him to wonder if antelope bestiality would be part of the movie. The naked Shank almost helped by going insane and trying to "shank" the giant tentacled plant-monster like it's never been shanked before (which would also have fed him to the beast and made the necessary human sacrifice), but one of the PC's fell unconscious from above and landed on his back, bringing up Shank's memories of his pre-feature bear work as he fell into oblivion. Fantastic game, every player at the table instantly got into the spirit of things, and a telling example of why DunDraCon's family friendly RPG policy is misguided.

Here There By Tygers (Call of Cthulhu/Delta Green)
An old pullman car, a surly lawyer, a gung-ho reporter and four relatives who have never met. What could possibly go wrong? Other than the fact that you seem to be somewhere... unexpected.
This game was made for me. A Call of Cthulhu game involving Delta Green, the Karotechia, and the Fate, set during World War II, filled with insanely-detailed prop handouts, run by a well-paced GM that was a trained actor (so he role-played the hell out the NPCs) and was also rock-solid with the rules.. this was the kind of experience I always hope to find at cons. It also helped that all but one of the players at the table was a friend of mine, so the game was more like a home group and was tons of fun as we got into proceedings while cracking wise at each other.

We started out in the modern-day (I played an ex-Peace Corps doctor), got catapulted back to 1943, and were quickly recruited by our great-grandfather Delta Green agent to find our missing great-grandmother, taken by what first seems like Nazi spies but slowly develops into something even more sinister. There was a LOT of stuff in this game, moving swiftly from scenes set across the country, and we eventually had to compress some investigation at the end due to the late hour, but the GM brought us to a very satisfying ending. Besides all the WWII DG vs. Karotechia goodness, I also got to enjoy the scene where one of the players, who had just remarked that his B.A.R. seemed so powerful on burst fire that it broke the game, then immediately come face-to-face with an Outer God in the next round. Good times.

Once Men (Call of Cthulhu)
Here you are trying to make a honest (?) living driving spirits into USA from Canada when someone is taking a cut.
Sunday morning, I was signed up to play a Call of Cthulhu involving bootleggers in the 1920s, but the GM couldn't print the character sheets, so we ended up playing a scenario in the "CoC in space" monograph Once Men. We were members of a rescue vessel in the late 21st century, sent to investigate a derelict spaceship lost 6 years ago while testing an experimental Gate system. The other players including my con roomie Basil, and trio of young guys who had all either played Toteninsel the night before or at previous cons and were very good players to a man. What I most took from the game was that, after games like Eclipse Phase and even Shadowrun 4th Edition that put a lot of effort into exploring future tech, this kind of "sci fi" with the standard Alien-esque setting (we live in the future exactly like now but inside a spaceship) seems as old-school as the ray-gun pulps of the thirties must've seemed to Alien itself. Any futuristic game that doesn't take into consideration the ramifications of commonly projected advances like nanotechnology and genetic engineering just doesn't float my boat anymore, unless they fully embrace themselves as the "classic" (tired) space opera they've become.

Nemesis (CthulhuTech)
As the Aeon War rages around the world; a darker, more secretive battle is fought in the shadows. As the chosen of the Eldritch Society, you are among the elite who have given yourselves to Rite of Transfiguration, bonding yourself with a “higher being” to protect mankind from your former comrades, The Children of Chaos. But are you ready to face what could be your most harrowing challenge, yet?
This was a happy surprise. The pickings were slim on Sunday evening, so I chose this game as I knew the GM was good and was kind of interested to see if CthulhuTech would be as cheesy as I thought it would be. Though there may be a tradition of Lovecraftian elements in anime, I haven't seen anything that really captured a Lovecraftian mood, and the idea of Evangelion-esque mecha blasting Deep Ones has no real appeal for me, as I'm not an anime fan... but then I actually played the game, and it is good. While it's not a horror game and (without reading the book, which has some gorgeous art btw) the Mythos entities are used in such a general fashion that there's nothing particularly Lovecraftian about them, the basic premise of young humans and their alien allies using inhuman technology to destroy even more inhuman enemies is just full of fun. CthulhuTech is Evangelion-vs-Cthulhu, but once I actually started playing that, I really got into it. The game mechanics themselves felt close to White Wolf with added-on Drama Point mechanics, and, though the rules were intuitive and functional enough that I'd have no hesitation playing CthulhuTech as is, I think I might want to use a simpler system if I (being a rules-retard) ever tried to run it. I was pretty sleepy come Sunday evening, so I didn't get into the game like I wish I had, but it was a great taste of the system and a solid roleplaying experience.

That was PacifiCon for me. I didn't attend Monday as my funds are too tight right now to waste another night on the hotel room. The con itself was run pretty much exactly as last year, so it's still a little less polished than DunDraCon and KublaCon, and there still seem to be less games available than at those other Bay Area cons. That said, I got into the first choice of every game I signed up for, and all of my games were either filled up with players or close to capacity. I can see no reason not to attend PacifiCon next year, although for godsakes I need to find something else to run other than Toteninsel.