Here, have a statblock: [F1, HD1, AC 7(13), Att: 1 1d6, Mv. 90′(30′), M: 8]
Go forth and craft po-faced Middle Earths no more!
I finished The Egyptian by Mika Waltari, and while it was a beautiful journey, it was an emotionally draining one. It should be noted that the book itself is a product of WWII, so delves into some pretty dark territory.
While the 1954 Hollywood epic made the story of Akhnaton and his god Aton into a proto-Christian morality play in which Akhnaton was perhaps a prophet of the one true god before his time, Akhnaton and the monotheism he attempts to impose on Egypt are portrayed in a much less black and white fashion in the book. Akhnaton is a benevolent tyrant who seeks to impose his utopia on Egypt for the good of its people though he himself is shielded from any consequences of his policies. The love of peace and hatred of war makes Egypt weak before its devious enemies, seriously compromising its national security through appeasement and belief in the goodness of one’s foreign foes. The equality preached by Akhnaton in Aton’s name becomes the rallying cry of class warfare, as the poor and the slaves rise up to punish the rich and bring every man down to their level, and Egypt is turned into a land of thieves and ruffians. The Pharaoh’s plan to redistribute the wealth of Egypt is a miserable failure, for akin to the seizures of farmland in 20th century Africa, the productive farmers are driven off their lands and replaced by ignorant neophytes whose early crop failures plunge Egypt into famine. Worship of Aton and the war between the gods Aton and Ammon seem less of a metaphor for any sort of proto-Christianity but a conflict between the corruption of state capitalism and national socialism or Bolshevism.
Sinuhe loves Akhnaton and loves the vision he offers of a world of love, peace and equality, but Akhnaton’s way is awash in blood and costs Sinuhe all he holds dear. The recurring motif is the failure of the human character which dooms (or at least taints) great enterprise. It also leaves one with the bleak impression that there is nothing for man but what he leaves behind and that is far from guaranteed, whether it is Akhnaton, who is struck from history, Aziru the Amorite King, who is executed with his family and fed to wild beasts, or Sinuhe, who believes his account will be destroyed upon his death in his house of exile. Though it’s a beautifully told story, imagine if Ben-Hur ended with his family still presumed dead and they never met Jesus. While I did mention that the themes of the Egyptian are more political than religious, there lurks in Sinuhe’s longing something of a note of tragedy about a pre-Christian world in which all the gods are false and corrupt, demanding endless blood and sacrifice; Sinuhe does cling to hope for the Aton that is a god with and within all men and before whom all are equal.
Of interesting note, the one Karma Houdini ended up being Nefernefernefer, the courtesan to whom Sinuhe gave all of his (and his parents) property leading to his original exile. Despite ending the book with wealth beyond measure, even Kaptah, Sinuhe’s loyal servant and comic side-kick has gone through his fair share of torment and anguish. In the film, Nefernefernefer returns afflicted with a disfiguring disease (strongly implied to be syphilis) and Sinuhe mercifully treats and forgives her in a grand redemptive gesture. In the book, during the riots in Thebes where the supporters of Aton are destroying the temples of Ammon, Sinuhe hands her over to the embalmers in the House of Death to have their way with her, only for her to charm all of them and con all of them out of their ill-gotten treasures stolen from the wealthy dead, and that’s the last we hear of her.
As much as I enjoyed The Egyptian, I’m looking forward to decompressing with something a bit lighter.
Circumstances have prevented the Dungeon Crawl Classics group I’m in from having enough folks to run anything, so we’ve been playing various other games during our regularly scheduled nights. Last time we got together, I decided to bring over “The Challenge”, an obscure card game whose perforated cardstock I’d not even gotten around to separating yet.
“The Challenge” is a game of quasi-D&D-like PVP action. Players take turns having their party members fight it out with weapons and magic until one party is eliminated and the player with the most remaining HP + Magic item value + HP of enemy characters killed is the winner. Instead of the BS backstabbing and indirect conflict of Munchkin, The Challenge is all about straight head to head combat. As its name implies, a challenge is issued and characters slug it out until one is killed or both players have exhausted their actions.
Each player starts with 5 characters that can be sorted into one or two ranks. The races of the character (Orc, Human, Dwarf, Elf, Halfling) aren’t particularly relevant unless you choose to let players pick parties by race rather than randomly to get a more balanced party. More important are the classes and their abilities. Each character card has three abilities, meaning those are the cards that can be played when they are in combat: Fighters will have three of the four weapon types, Clerics and Wizards will generally have one weapon and two spells or no weapons & three spells, and Thieves will have two weapons + Backstab.
So, you draw a fist full of cards from the Melee and Mystic Action decks. The Melee Action deck is mostly full of weapon cards, Daggers, Staffs, Axes, Bows, and Swords, but also has a few “Parry” and “Dodge” cards. The Mystic Actions deck has spells, equipable magic items, some special thief actions (Spy and Hide in Shadow), and some general defensive items/actions. These cards can be played based on what abilities are listed on the character card. If you have a fist-full of Axes, chances are, you don’t want to attack with a wizard that turn, but if you’ve got that shiny human paladin, you’re good to go.
One of the neat aspects is the “ranks”; most characters can only attack one rank away (i.e. a fighter on the first rank can only challenge a fighter on another player’s first rank), but characters with bows can attack two ranks away, wizards can attack any rank(or two ranks, I forget), and if you play a “hide in shadows” card on a thief, they exist in special thiefspace and cannot be attacked but can attack either rank (though doing so will cause them to leave thiefspace). Once we actually figured out how the thief worked, we realized they were pretty badass. Since hide in shadows can be played as a response, it meant that they could attack with impunity so long as you had an extra hide in shadows card.
We had a lot of fun with it, but we will definitely need to create our own set of explicit rules and clarifications. For one thing, the rules pertaining to cards were neither entirely on the card nor in the rules’ description of the card, so you had to read both the card and the rules to figure out how something worked, and even then it could be vague. Dispel Magic was a point of contention because it was so varied in what it did: on a defensive turn, Dispel Magic could be played to neutralize a negative effect, such as Hold Person, on your own party, but on an attack turn, it could be used to destroy an enemy’s magic item (initiating a challenge against that character), remove a Charm Person (initiating and then instantly ending the challenge if the dispel resolves and you regain control of your character), or counter a spell targeting your caster. The jury is still out as to whether it can negate an Orb of Protection (because Orb of Protection is party-wide and normally targeting an enchantment/equipment initiates a challenge against whomever is enchanted/equipped), but we agreed that it could not negate the Shield Wall action. And here is where things are confusing: there are things which are actions which common sense tells you is an item. Healing Potion is not an item; it’s an action that can be played in response to taking damage or to remove accumulated damage. Similarly, an Orb of Protection is a “Special Defensive Action” which can only be played during a defensive turn. Note that the categorization of Mystic Action Cards is listed not on the cards themselves, but in the manual’s description of each card.
This is a game that if you have the patience to figure it out and don’t mind having to piece together your own errata will make a great addition to your gaming parties. It would feel right at home among something like Bang! or King of Tokyo for folks who like their party games a bit more cut-throat but don’t like the more passive aggressive styles of play. Though the box’s disclaimer “Warning: Don’t Play This Game With Your Friends” is silly and childish, it could just as well read “Warning: Don’t Play This Game With Eurogamers.” The only way you’re going to win at this is to be unafraid to throw an axe in someone’s face. Just make sure you’ve feigned with a Sword-3 or something to draw out that Parry before you drop the Axe-7 on them.
I found this game cheap several years ago and regret waiting so long to play it. Old as it is, this one is still going for under $20 in a lot of places, and I highly recommend it.
Everyone has a tendency to take eye-pleasing and appealing fonts for granted until you need them. And while Calibri, Arial, Courier and Times New Roman may hack it for every day stuff, sometimes you need a little bit more.
So, while looking for fonts to use, I figured out what interior text font used by Planet Stories. Well, maybe not the exact font, but pretty darn close.
As you can see, Planet Stories appears to use the Bodoni font family.
For comparison, I’ve included (in descending order) Bodoni MT, Bodoni MT Black, Bodoni MT Condensed, Bodoni MT Poster Compressed, and Bodoni FLF. Bodoni MT Black is the closest approximation so far I’ve found to the title-text font. Note that these are in bold.
Bodoni MT is the closest I’ve found for regular text; the “w” is noticeably wider, and I haven’t yet found a version with that handsome “Q”. The differences in character height makes the FLF version somewhat unappealing.
The difference in both the MT versions and FLF is more pronounced in the drop caps.
I’m pretty happy with using MT, but if I can find a version with that Q, it would be pretty neat!
The Allied push into France may be starting to slow. I tried to make the most of my early break-outs in Brittany, but now that the shock and awe has passed, the Nazis are beginning to re-trench behind rivers and in numbers that can’t quite so easily deal with. Odds in Fortress Europa heavily favor the defender, so once the Nazis are able to stack 3 deep in hexes behind a river, it usually takes all of your available air-power (better hope that the weather is nice) to displace them. This is especially a problem where adjacent zones of control will force you to attack multiple piles, splitting your attack power, at unfavorable odds. So, I’m surprised that my dad surrendered the Seine. Still, he’s managed to form an impressive line to slow me down, and, as he pointed out, there’s a lot of ground between Paris and the Rhine he has to work with.
While the Brits keep slowly pushing east across the north of France, the Americans have struck deep into the heartlands; my toughest armored units cut all the way south to the Mediterranean and are coming back up the Rhone/Saone valley. Hopefully, those guys will be able to disrupt the south flank of the German line. I’m probably going to just leave a token force behind to keep the Italians from going anywhere. There’s no point in wasting time on Genoa or Torino, since even though Innsbruck is on the map, you can’t cut through the combat results table* to get to it. It’s actually a pretty annoying design oversight, as it forces allied troops through funnels and renders nearly ¼ of the map useless. I’d much prefer to be able to modify my strategy and sneak some elite mountaineer units across the Alps. I guess I could send an HQ into that little nook and paradrop a couple divisions on the other side of Switzerland, but I don’t know if it would be worth it.
So far, I think the most obnoxious element of the game is the “Defender Retreat” result on the combat table. In theory, it is a preferable result (achieved by a better roll) than an Exchange (attacker and defender each lose one strength step, defender retreats) or Exchange 2 (attacker loses two strength steps, defender loses one and retreats), but in practice is the “Nazis get away free card”. Several times, I would have gladly knocked two infantry divisions down to half-strength to knock an SS Panzer division to half strength or to eliminate a fleeing Wehrmacht. Though the retreat forces the enemy to cede ground, it allows the Nazis to gradually retrench behind advantageous terrain. The worst thing that can happen is when your once-per-month carpet bombing mission (add +2 to attack roll on one attack at no better than 2-1 odds) yields a “Defender Retreat” result.
Honestly, though, most of the mechanical issues I have (such as ZOC extending across rivers, forcing ‘soak-off’** attack troops to retreat even when stacked with units who “win” their attack, or DR combat results having virtually no downside for the Nazis) are balancing elements to help the German player, who needs all the help he can get. Early game play is the most interesting, as the Allies have the most options as to where they can invade and what strategy they can pursue. Midgame ends up being kind of samey, since the Germans can really only pursue the one strategy of forming a line between Normandy/the Low Countries and Switzerland and the Allies don’t have the options to do anything but a frontal assault against said line. The strategy of trying to land paratroopers in Austria from northern Italy is akin to trying to glitch through a wall. But it’s interesting, so maybe I’ll mix things up and try it.
Overall, it’s a much quicker paced game than some of the others we’ve played recently, but I think I need to start writing my troop strengths down on scratch paper. I’ll be having to count upwards of 20 chits in a turn in 3-4 separate engagements to figure odds, and by the time I get around to resolving battles, I’ve forgotten the troop strengths and have to count them each again. I’m embarrassingly bad at head-math. Not that I don’t know the math, but while I’m trying to figure out odds in my head for one battle, I’m trying to remember how many guys I have in all of my other piles at the same time. A part of me almost wants to come up with little cover-counters so you don’t have to recount piles every time. Lord knows the biggest downside of these games is picking up the pieces every time to count and then accidentally bumping other piles and the next thing you know you have no idea where Army Group West was before you started knocking things over.
**If a stack is in two enemy stacks’ ZOC, at least one other unit must make a screening attack against one enemy stack to attack the other enemy stack.
I’m continuing to be impressed by what I’ve read from Thomas Burnett Swann. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a fan of mythological stories from antiquity. While Swann’s stories and techniques are the familiar fare that one will find in his contemporary writers of fantasy, he draws from the wells of Ovid and Herodotus to create his tales. I can say with some confidence that Swann has probably written more stories about the Etruscans than any other modern fantasist. I mentioned once that he reminded me of Frank G. Slaughter, but the only other 20th century fantasy writer that I could compare him to is Dunsany.
The Weirwoods is, at its core, a fairy-tale. An Etruscan lord captures a water-sprite because he thinks it would make a nice slave for his daughter; the daughter wants to free the sprite and return him to his lake and his people; she does so with the help of a travelling minstrel and a water-sprite sorceress. Of course to describe it as such seriously undersells what Swann is doing with this story.
Swann explicitly uses the uncanny nature of Fey as part of his “realism”; while the cover depicts the sorceress Vegoia as blue-green and obviously some kind of inhuman fish-person, the sprites in the weirwoods look more or less human except for the look in their eyes, fins at their temples, and their webbed feet which slosh and squish whenever they walk. This, of course, in contrast with all of the historical (and pseudohistorical) details Swann fills his world with.
Though they’re not “bad”, Fey are certainly inhuman, particularly in their reasoning and in their passions. Notions of love and gratitude as we understand them are alien. Their behavior cannot be predicted by the standards that one would apply to their fellow man, and that makes them dangerous.
Being busy with the zine and staying on top of my other reading has pushed this off longer than I’d intended and my comments on it are far more shallow than I’d planned, but I still wanted to highlight this, even if I didn’t end up talking about the juxtaposition between Urban vs. the Rustic, Vel the sprite-boy vs. Arnth the minstrel, Tanaquil the good Etruscan girl vs. Vegoia the fey sorceress, love vs. pleasure, freedom vs. bondage, so on and so forth. I’ll just leave it at saying Swann has me hooked.
Just wanted to let everyone know, Cirsova is still taking and reading submission for the semi-pro Sword & Planet/Heroic Fantasy zine.
There’s still no “hard deadline” but I am anticipating having enough materials (fingers crossed!) to go forward to phase 2 by the end of October.
I’m going to take a brief break on making offers to give folks who have expressed interest time to get submissions in. This should give people who are still working on their stories a better shot than if I were just taking stories as they come. (Sorry for not having a better process in place to begin with. Hi! I’m new at this!)
The Little Pets of Arkkhan by Vaseleos Garson appears in the Summer 1947 issue of Planet Stories (Vol 3, No 7).
Banished from Earth for various petty crimes, the crew of a ship has landed on an asteroid inhabited by cute cuddly looking furballs… who are actually a race of diabolic telepathic monsters intent on leaving their dying world to conquer another! The creatures can give unlimited illusory pleasure or inflict unimaginable pain to the humans whose minds they control.
This is a pretty troperiffic story, so it’s hard to say whether it actually inspired certain later sci-fi works or if it was just a clichéd product of its time which mirrored other contemporary and ongoing clichés. You have the drunk who is constantly drunk and constantly drinking; unsurprisingly he and his alcoholism prove to be the key to overcoming the aliens’ mind control. The hero has his own cheesy subplot going on about the perfect dame that he left back on earth cuz he didn’t think she was hot for him and liked some other guy instead; being a swell and noble dude, he was all “I won’t interfere with your happiness” and became a spacer. Naturally, the aliens use his feelings for her as leverage against him, just as they use the desires of the rest of the crew to bring the ship toward earth.
Of course the only way the hero can stall the aliens from taking over the patrol ship that intercepts them and reaching earth is getting into a fist fight with the guy who stole his girl (conveniently the captain of the patrol ship)! This buys the hero enough time to figure out that they need to hit up the drunk’s stash of scotch to overpower the aliens’ mind control. Once the alien menace is dealt with, the hero and patrolman sit down to hash things out; turns out the dame was smitten by the hero’s big romantic gesture (of leaving her and going off into space; maybe he said “here’s looking at you, kid”?) and decided to wait for him to return.
I won’t say this is a bad story. It’s a silly and fun story that goes exactly where you expect it. Admittedly, it was one of the weaker stories in the issue, if not the weakest, but considering this issue had stories like “Moon of Danger” and “The Martian Circe”, that’s not too harsh a condemnation. Like several of the lesser known stories in this issue, it is not available online, however it can be found in facsimile reprints of this issue.
I can’t help myself. I know I buy books at about a 5 to 1 ratio of how quickly I can read them, but I see stuff and am all “I’m going to read that eventually!” Well, this weekend was no different, except in that it may be one of my most impressive hauls yet.
I finally found a copy of Nine Princes of Amber; for the longest time, I’d given up on grabbing various Zelazny books I’d find at thrift stores, because I had ended up with a random assortment of mid-to late Amber books that I didn’t want to read until I’d read the first one. Well, now I’ve got the first one. Not only did I find NPoA, I got The Visual Guide to Castle Amber which is sort of like a system-agnostic setting supplement module disguised as a handsome hardbound book. But to take things a step further down the Amber rabbit hole, I found one of those solo RPG Choose Your Own Adventure books that takes place in the Amber setting. And a similar book from the same line that is a Starship Troopers solo RPG CYOA with a foreword written by Gary Gygax. Illustrated Changeling looks like it’ll be pretty awesome, and despite its alleged flaws, I couldn’t pass up a hardback of Jack of Shadows for $3.
It doesn’t stop there: I actually had to pass up a few books that I really wanted, because I was already getting hardbacks of Araminta Station and Ecce & Old Earth by Jack Vance, as well as a floppy 35cent pulp print of The Space Pirate.
Because they’re short and were only $1, I got the 1st and 3rd Dreamlord books to supplement the 2nd (which was never printed with a number in either of its editions apparently).
You’d think that was an impressive haul, but wait, there’s more! I got an issue of Top in SF with the Bradbury/Brackett collaboration Lorelei. Sure, it’s a reprint (the PS with Lorelei is one of the Holy Grails of SF pulp), but it’s something! I also got the Fantastic with Leiber’s “Dr Adam’s Garden of Evil” as the cover story, and the all-star F&SF with Flowers for Algernon.
In fact, the place I went had a TON of issues of F&SF from the 50s. I’m kind of impressed by how boring the average F&SF cover has always been.
Before I can even think about diving into the new haul, or even whittling down the stacks from previous hauls, I need to finish The Egyptian, which had been sitting on my shelf for far too long. The Egyptian was probably one of my favorite movies of all time. It might also be shaping up to be one of my favorite books.
I’ve always got a kick out of the fact that the most well-known lines of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” were plucked and paraphrased from Sinhue’s epic speech at the end of the movie:
“I will wear the clothes of a slave and kick the sandals from my feet and speak to the wives as they fry their fish before their mud huts before the river, to the porters on the docks, to the smiths by the bellows, to the slaves under their yokes, and I will say ‘A man cannot be judged by the color of his skin, by his clothes, his jewels, or his triumphs, but only by his heart. A good man is better than a bad man. Justice is better than injustice. He who uses mercy is superior to him who uses violence, though the latter call himself Pharaoh and make himself master of the earth. We have but one master: the God who made us all. Only His truth is immortal, and in His truth all men are equal!”
I’m not criticizing King, I’m saying he knew epic when he saw it and had great taste.
Later this week, Fortress Europa, maybe a Short Review, and almost certainly an update/reminder on the zine project.