Leigh Brackett Mini Roundup

What are people saying about Leigh Brackett with her birthday coming up?  Very little, actually, aside from a few token mentions here and there in articles about the new Star Wars.  But here are some worthwhile highlights.Lin Carter Was a Mistake

The Pulp Swordsmen: Eric John Stark (Castalia House) – L. Sprague de Camp in his usually bi-monthly letter in REHupa bemoaned that he did not approach Leigh Brackett first to co-write Conan stories instead of Lin Carter. de Camp had realized in hind sight that Brackett had a much better grasp on barbaric characters than Carter (or himself).

Steve Carper: The Women of Gnome Press (New York Review of Science Fiction) – She was known for writing hard, “masculine” prose.

New Leigh Brackett Story Announced (Adventures Fantastic) – This year is the centennial of Leigh Brackett’s birth. I’m ashamed to say I missed that.  Fortunately, Stephen Haffner is on the ball and has prepared a book to mark the occasion. It contains an unpublished story as well her nonfiction and interviews with a number of friends.

Celebrating Leigh Brackett (Howard Andrew Jones) – She wrote screenplays with Faulkner AND mentored Ray Bradbury AND wrote the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back. She was writing about heroes who would have been comfortable plying the space lanes beside Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds decades before those characters were ever conceived. Most importantly, though, she was simply an incredibly gifted adventure writer who wrote with fantastic atmosphere, wonderful pacing, and dynamic characters. She’s one of my very favorite writers, and she’s had a tremendous influence that (unfortunately) has often gone unsung.

13 Movies to Watch After You See The Empire Strikes Back (Filmschool Rejects) – Leigh Brackett, who wrote much of The Empire Strikes Back until her death in 1978, had a fascinating career. Despite being an acclaimed prolific sci-fi author, the Star Wars sequel was her only movie of that genre. Instead, she collaborated with Howard Hawks on the film noir standard The Big Sleep and a number of Westerns. She was consistently great, but her first film, a different sort of pulpy genre picture, isn’t quite on the level of the others. The Vampire’s Ghost is hardly a bad movie, though. It’s about a vampire who owns a bar and casino in an African port town.

 

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Weekend Micro-Haul

The long weekend allowed me to make some headway in my reading and a harmonious convergence of a thrift-store half-off sale and a bored teenager not wanting to break my twenty meant I grabbed Otis Adelbert Kline’s Maza of the Moon and Earth’s Last Citadel by C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner for free this weekend.

I finished Sceptre of Morgulan.  The worst thing that can be said about it is that it’s book 2 of 4 (or 3 of 5, depending on how you want to count Drasmyr).  Even though the scope of the book in terms of characters and plot threads is a bit more new-school, the flavor is very retro.  While Children of Lubrochius shows the rise of the titular criminal/necromantic organization (Gimme Shelter playing in the background), Sceptre shows the turning point where the villain’s enterprises begin crumbling.  So, the organized crime venture is falling through with the thieves guild on the rebound, internal squabbles getting out of hand, a botched demon summoning, and the head of the Children coming in to shut Korina’s operation down because of the turf wars she’s started.  Still, the lady has demons, goblins, a couple mages, an ancient vampire and maybe even the Sceptre, if she can track Gaelen to Morgulan’s pocket dimension.

Because I had to drop everything and read Sceptre of Morgulan, I still had about 100 pages left in Hardtack and Coffee.  Overall, it was a great book and full of fun invaluable minutiae for Civil War buff regarding the day to day life of Union soldiers, but I wish that Billings had thought to put in an afterword to bring it all back around.  The book is a bit front-loaded, with most of the best stuff in the early to middle of the book (everything from what daily rations consist of to the various means soldiers would use to try to get out of doing work), and ends rather abruptly with the chapter on signal flagging.

Earth’s Last Citadel was a bit of a disappointment.  An American, a Scot and two American Nazis in Africa happen upon a spaceship that is the vanguard of an alien invasion. They get stuck in time stasis for a million years or something, so that when they come out, the aliens had come, conquered, built and declined so that all that was left on the planet was one lone alien citadel, Carcasilla, inhabited by a race of immortal humans and a crazy giant telepathic wizard face.  The 4 WW2 era humans are caught between the crazy wizard, the immortal quasi-humans in the fortress, the barbarian humans in the caves and the energy alien that will starve if it can’t feed on the remaining humans’ life force.  In something of a script-flip, the morlock-like cave dwellers are the descendants of the humans who fought against the alien overlords and team up with the humans to fight the eloi-like Carcasillians who had been engineered by the aliens as toys and vessels and can therefore be controlled by the alien.  Eventually, the past-humans defeat the wizard (a human controlling a robot face), the alien, get the source of Carcasilla’s power and the Carcasillian’s immortality, use it to power up the ship and restart humanity on Venus.  Sounds awesome, right?  Unfortunately, the weak descriptive language made it difficult to picture any scenes or action at play, leaving one with only a vague sense of what had happened or was going on.  It was like trying to watch something through murky water or a fog.  Or like that time when Elmer Fudd was unicycling down a highwire into a lion’s mouth while wearing dark glasses:

The Time Machine meets Wizard of Oz with hyper-intelligent parasitic alien energy beings should’ve been so much better!

Anyway, I’m reading Leigh Brackett’s Sword of Rhiannon to cleanse the palate a bit.  It is more than sufficiently awesome.

Liana K, Characters, Their Stats and Female RPG Characters

There are a lot of good and interesting points in this, including some justification for base stat differences between male and female characters in RPGs.  For those without time to watch the video, the major point she brings up is that the female character, despite having a completely different non-martial background from the male character, has all sorts of inexplicable combat skills and physicality without any justification beyond delivering a 1-for-1 play experience.  That and the female character might even be lactating throughout the game…

In VG RPGs that let you customize the default protagonist, I tend to go for a 3:1 ratio of playing female to male characters, in part because physical stats are easier to grind up than social stats.  DCC , however, is the first time in tabletop I’ve played ‘a little girl’ (or even a female PC at all), and that was entirely the luck of the roll (random gender, random alignment, 3d6 straight down). So I play to that character’s strengths, which mostly entail her being small and inconspicuous. Would it make sense for me to play a large ripped muscle-bound fighty man with those 7s, 8s and 9s in all of my stats? Absolutely not!

In tabletop RPGs, I think characters emerge from their stats much moreso than with VG RPGs. With VG RPGs, the stats often don’t reflect (or aren’t reflected in) the physical appearance of the characters, so you CAN end up with lithe bruisers and ripped frail mages. In a lot of games with default protagonists without fixed race and gender, phenomena like Liana described can sort of jar you out of your suspension of disbelief, but games are expected to deliver the same sort of experience regardless of your ‘cosmetic’ character choices even when those choices should NOT be cosmetic. Despite being an incredibly unfun mess of a game, I think the first Killzone actually pulled this off to an extent (big ripped muscle dude carried giant chain guns, while lithe assassin girl carried scoped pistols, etc.), but that wasn’t a game with a default protagonist.

Something that would be interesting to see would be an attempt to make characters in a game better reflect their stats. Ironically, one of the few games I’ve played that really attempted to do this (and in a way that gamified fitness no less!) was Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. CJ could get fat and pudgy if he ate junk food, didn’t work out and only drove places, and it would translate into reduced stamina; conversely, if he got into shape, his physical stats would improve along with his character model. Perhaps rather than having a character look like whatever regardless of starting stats, those starting stats would be determinant of possible appearance and characteristics. You wouldn’t be locked in, of course, but it would be the difference between playing a small thiefy street urchin and a weak out of shape dude. Or hell, a tough broad and a square-jawed man.

The thing is, what might be average for one person could be exceptional for another. Let’s throw out some random, but average stats:
Str  9
Dex 11
Con 8
Per 12

Reasonably strong, reasonably fast, reasonably likable, maybe can’t quite take a hit as hard as some people. Kind of ‘meh’, right? Now apply them to a 5-foot nothing girl who weighs just over 100 lbs.

Saori-Ishioka
This character just got a bit more interesting, right?

Your ‘average’ stats for one character could just amount to ‘some guy’ or a Saori Ishioka (Japan’s #7 ranked strawweight woman fighter) depending on the human frame you’re applying them to.  Of course there’s no reason why you couldn’t have a female character with 18s in Strength and Con; just keep in mind that it would make sense for her to look more like She-Hulk than your typical professional woman fighter.  Even in the world of professional boxing, 18 STR and CON would be more along the lines of a Klitschko than a Mayweather.  Weight Class is a very real thing, which is why fighting uses pound-for-pound ranking.  So remember, you can play a character with so-so stats that could easily be a pound for pound champ, and in the end I think that’s more interesting and has more possibilities that playing a maxed out monster.

Anyway, have a good Thanksgiving weekend.

Reading List and Planning for CARCOSA

Tales to Astound discovers the 20th century’s near-lost Shakespearean character King Kull. I think of him as more of an Othello wrapped in a Lear, rather than a MacBeth, however.

Tales to Astound!

delrey-kull

The Player Characters of my Lamentations of the Flame Princess game might well be going to doomed Carcosa(Of their own volition, mind you, to find a magical McGuffin to retrieve some of their companions from an extra dimensional trap. I’d never force such a thing on them!)

I’m very excited about this, as I find the setting compelling and crazy. And unlike many who find the material morally repulsive and too dark, I see it as a chance for PCs to step up to the plate with moral certainty. The thought of a bunch of 17th Century Europeans leaving a time of religious and political confusion and ending up on an alien world where Sorcerers cast rituals involving human sacrifice seems to me the perfect setup for a pulse-pounding pulp novel.

If they go, I expect they’ll stay a while. I can withhold the McGuffin as long as I’d…

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DCC 4th printing funded!

I suck because I didn’t have time to shill for the Kickstarter, but I did shell out for a faux leather copy of 4th printing and some wonky DCC dice in case I ever want to try running it myself.

Congrats, DCC dudes.  You have an amazing product, and I’m happy to have the chance to support you and get a crap-ton of swag by doing so.

One request, though.  The next time you do a Kickstarter, please consider making an almost-art-free saddle-stitched 72 page booklet containing all of the core rules one of your stretch goals!

Bull Run Pt. 2

The first part of our playthrough of Avalon Hill’s Bull Run can be found here.

My dad & my first play through of Bull Run is turning into a big flanking battle: we’re each delivering a strong punch from our right as our lefts collapse.  The question is who will deliver the knockout blow first?

We’ve made it into early afternoon and don’t anticipate the battle reaching evening.  Bee and Bartow’s brigades were surrounded and routed from hillock just northeast of New Market, but they managed to slow the Union advance just enough to allow a number of highly beneficial pieces to fall in place for the Rebs.  EK Smith arrived by train in time to ensure that my camp in Manassas won’t be a gimme.  Stuart along with some of Smith’s rear-guard regiments have been able to pick off the union men who got too far ahead of their column.  Meanwhile, Longstreet and “Rolling Thunder”(as he will be known hereafter in this alternate universe) Jackson have been making a coordinated push through the woods towards Centerville as Beauregard has ridden out with Ewell to attack the Union HQ from the East.

Early game, Command Path rules did not seem like a huge deal, especially when regiments were being automatically activated by proximity to enemy units.  Mid game, this turned into a real game changer.  With Confederate troops suddenly eliminated from Henry Hill to Flat Run, the Union commanders suddenly found themselves at a loss for what to do.  McDowell had ridden out back across the river down Warrenton Pike to shepherd a desperately needed relief brigade towards Centerville that had four brigades bearing down on it, leaving the bulk of the Union Army without orders.  McDowell literally spent two hours riding back and forth while three and a half divisions of Union troops sat with virtually nothing between them and Manassas!

My own issues with Command Path seem rather minor in comparison.  With both Jo Johnston and Pete Beauregard respectively leading the charge and flank through the woods south of Centerville, my batteries overlooking Blackburn’s and McLean’s Fords, as well as the infantry guarding the Union Mills Ford, have been left without orders.

1024px-First_Bull_Run_July21am

“First Bull Run July 21 am” by Hal Jespersen, cwmaps.com CC by 3.0 via Commons

Bull run map

Troop movements from morning until early afternoon.  Crosses where Confederate Brigades have been routed.  (original image from BGG).

My dad thinks I’ve won.  I think he may still have a chance to dislodge Smith if plays a hurry-up offence.  I’ve gone for an all or nothing gambit, as there’s no way I can hold that little church (red starred hex, lower portion of 2nd map board from left) for another 10 or so turns.  I’m hoping I have enough numbers I can overcome even the relief forces reaching Centerville, but a series of bad rolls could stall me out.  We’re already talking about setting up Malta next time we get together, so this game will hinge on the next few turns around Centerville I’m guessing.

One last note, It turns out that there’s very little “rallying” going on.  It could just be the way we’ve been playing, but by noon, all of my commanders were too busy driving towards the enemy or too busy being dead/captured/fleeing for their lives to spend a turn rallying a regiment.  The great mid-day stall-out of the Union advance gave my dad a chance to pull a few guys from the Rally-box, but the overwhelming majority of guys who go there are probably gone for good.

Weekend Haul + Updates (Appendix N Book and Wargame Wednesdays)

I’d been getting better about my book buying, but being in the same town as one of the best flea market book-stores in the state over the weekend meant another stack of paperbacks to add to my To-Read pile.  I’m being a bit more judicious about what I grab, simply because I have so much already, but I did not want to pass some of these up:  Sword of Rhiannon (Brackett), Hiero’s Journey (Lanier), Berserker (Saberhagen), a crumbly Incompleat Enchanter (deCamp) that was thrown in for free on account of being crumbly, as well as a book each by Norman Spinrad and Philip Jose Farmer (I don’t remember the titles offhand).  I passed up a pretty sweet looking Gardner F. Fox book in part because I’ve already got a huge stack of him in unread magazines (including the next story I have to read in the Fall 1945 Planet Stories!), but I may pick it up some other time if I make more headway in my stacks.

One guy at one of the place who has all sorts of cool toys and magazines and stuff (who I got some Astounding from before) continued to posture about how rare and expensive and hard to find Planet Stories was when I asked if he’d seen them (“Oh, some of them go for over a hundred bucks!” “most of the ones I’ve found, I’ve got for $8-$12, and I’ve got about a dozen of them” “Oh, well they must not’a known what they had!”), so if I’m going to keep collecting them, I’m probably going to need to turn to eBay (where they still mostly cost around $8-$12).  Then again, I really need to read all (or some) of what I have first.  These magazines have waited 70 years for me, they can wait until I’ve at least finished half of the stack I’ve got.

I’m about halfway through Sceptre of Morgulan, and I have so many thoughts about it, especially in light of Matthew Ryan’s guest post in which he cites Tolkien as one of his biggest influences.  His own tale is very un-Tolkienien, and while the D&D influence is obvious, the output is much more in line with pre-Shannara fantasy than it is with the sort of ‘pink-slime’ fantasy that normally comes out of D&D + Tolkien.  I am not kidding when I say it’s like “vampire-hunting in Lankhmar”.  Can the process be reversed?  Can Appendix N-like stories be extracted from D&D + Tolkien by someone who has paid careful enough attention to the implicit setting and mechanical minutia of demonology even without the benefit of directly having been influenced by those things literary forebears?  Am I giving Ryan too much or too little credit?  I don’t know, but his books are amazing and a breath of fresh air!

Jeffro’s at one of those stages of “done” with his Appendix N book that is somewhere between “completed” and “finished”, but when it is done done, you can bet I’ll be buying copies for my friends and try to bully local book clubs into reading it.  I’m hoping he will go for multiple formats, including a coffee-table edition with Doug Kovacs or Erol Otis dust jacket for myself and a student’s paperback edition I can snap up a few of for everyone else.

I was going to announce this earlier, but Wednesday came and went and a few hiccups resulted in delays, but everything’s good now.  I’ll be writing an occasional piece at Castalia House for Wargame Wednesdays.  I will not be moving my entire posting series over there, since there is a rotating weekly group of writers, but generally speaking, I’ll be featuring the first of whatever series I’m covering over there and the rest over here.  So, uh.  Avalon Hill’s Bull Run pt. 1 is up!  Part two will go up here tomorrow or Wednesday.