End of the Year: the State of Cirsova HF&SF Magazine

So, I’m closing the books on 2016.

Cirsova paid out roughly $6.5 K for content in 2016. This includes art for four issues and content for six issues (7 issues worth of content).

We had about $6.2 K in gross income. Sounds great and all, but given our small profit margins (we want to keep costs to our readers as low as we can), the disparity is much greater than it would appear at first glance.

Good news, with the exception of artwork, 2017 is paid for in that big $6.5 K (to the tune of $1300) and we anticipate recouping at least a decent chunk from our pre-orders which we will be taking next month. Plus, we’re reaching a point where Amazon sales of assorted issues are amounting to a not insignificant $100-ish per month, and this will hopefully grow as we get more issues out. Also, it’s still in its infancy, but our merch store should grow our revenues without increasing our overhead.

We did receive enough submissions of quality that we could have put out 3 full-sized issues in 2017; I folders of manuscripts for issue 5, manuscripts for issue 6, and manuscripts to cry about because we couldn’t afford to make offers on them. Instead, we’re planning on two slightly-thicker-than-usual issues (128 pages each instead of 108).

We’re golden for 2017, and should have art for both issues early next year. 2018 is a bit hazier. I’ve said before that as important as the zine is to me, I’m willing to sacrifice it to see the Stark project come to fruition. I don’t want it to come to that; I may even get lucky, and the Stark project may not only pay for itself but give us extra resources for the zine.

If you want Cirsova to keep on keeping on beyond 2017, there are a lot of things you can do to help us:

  • Write Reviews – this is easy and free. If you like what you’ve read, leave a review on Amazon. If you have a blog, write one there. Plus, we take some choice pull quotes from our favorite reviews and stick them in the hardcovers’ dust jackets. But seriously, Simple Amazon reviews will help a LOT.
  • Check Out Our Merch Store – While we don’t have much up yet, we are planning to grow this, featuring all cover art going forward, plus a few cool odds and ends we are able to scrape together. We are using TeePublic, because they are substantially cheaper for customers than CafePress, and I’m told they offer significantly better quality prints.
  • Support our advertisers – Selling adspace is best way we can defray costs and keep the lights on. To sell ads, though, advertisers have to find us a worthwhile investment of their money.
  • Buy Advertisement – All advertising dollars go straight into our acquisitions & operating budget as opposed to the small slice of each sale. For instance, a single $35 quarter page ad sold does the equivalent of selling a dozen copies on Amazon for our bottom line.

We hope to be announcing the Kickstarter for 2017 soon. We WILL be offering adspace through Kickstarter again, as well as through the site.

Rogue One Review (With Spoilers)

Star Wars Rogue One did something I did not think was possible: it made me feel excited about Star Wars again. Like, “I want to go out and grab a Star Destroyer model to build after I finish my next Gundam” excited.

I actually enjoyed Rogue One more than the last four Star Wars movies I’ve watched, at let me tell you, I’ve skipped a couple.images

Okay, yeah, it was not really pulpy, and as dumb as it sounded when those sites said “this is the first Star Wars movie about war”, they kind of had a point. This was not the Star Wars of the original trilogy, or the plastic and cartoony prequels and their spin-offs – this was expanded universe Star Wars: the Star Wars of TIE Fighter, X-Wing, Rebel Assault, and Dark Forces. In fact, it dawned on me when the blind Force Monk showed up: Rogue One is “Some Guy’s Star Wars d6 RPG Campaign: The Movie”, and I mean that in the best way possible.

There are no super powered characters here – folks rolled their stats 3d6 in order, and the casting choices reflect this. One of the striking things about Rogue One is how rough everyone looks; I mean, it really says something when Forest Whitaker is not the ugliest dude in your movie. Unlike TFA with all of the pretty but bland people, Rogue One’s cast is, while not traditionally beautiful, striking. Jeffro mentioned Jyn Erso having a fish-face, and once someone points that out, you can’t not notice it. I don’t know how to say this in a way that doesn’t sound mean to Felicity Jones, but the huge eyes, trout-pout and buck-teeth that together give her a touch of the Innsmouth look, give Jyn Erso a really distinctive appearance that’s in stark contrast to Daisy Ridley’s more generic Hollywood features. Jyn’s not a sexy, ass-kicking conventionally attractive Mary Sue who can do anything better than everyone else; she’s a weird, awkward girl who tries really hard and doesn’t give up, and you end up liking her for it.

It was kind of awesome having a Spaniard playing the male lead; every time he spoke, I kept thinking “My name is Inigo Montoya; I am looking for the plans to the Death Star!” The chemistry between Cassian and Jyn was subtle, never ham-fisted, but there were plenty of little moments, little glances that made me smile. I’ll admit, I was moved as Inigo and fish-girl held hands and embraced, watching the mushroom cloud of destruction roll towards them.

The rest of the characters filled the party nicely, again harkening back to the movie’s strong tabletop feel: Pilot, Heavy Weapons Specialist, Guy-Who-Likes-to-Play-the-Robot, and Guy-Who-Wants-to-Play-Eastern-Martial-Artist-in-Every-Game-Regardless-of-Genre. Seriously, the Force Monk is something I’d only ever really seen back in the 90s at the FLGS with people playing d6 Star Wars. His character worked, though, and frankly is far more like what one expected of the Jedi and wanted to see than what the prequels gave us.

Rogue One handled Vader much better than I could’ve expected. We got to see Darth Vader’s castle from Leigh Brackett’s Empire script, which was neat. We also get enough bits to reinforce the impression from New Hope that Vader thinks the Death Star is a dumb idea and Tarkin is an idiot who’s going to screw everything up. When Vader actually fights, he looks cool – he’s not jumping around flying all over the place like the prequels, and he’s not using the Force to throw hunks of trash at people like Empire. Vader was well done.

There were a few really bad spots, but most are easily forgiven with an eye roll (the criminals from the cantina running into Jyn and Cassian in the alley, R2 and C3PO’s cameo). Tarkin was not one of them. They really needed to find a better way to include Tarkin than having a body double with a creepy Peter Cushing Gollum face CGed onto him. While CG has reached a point where it can create photorealistic faces, it has not reached a point where movements and expressions are not noticeably and horribly out of place. CGI-face Leia was weird, but thankfully only one scene. Speaking of Leia, having her at the battle and having her Corvette be an escape ship smacks of continuity snarl (the next cut of New Hope will have Vader saying “You expect me to believe you’re on a diplomatic mission?! I was on your ship at the Battle of Scarif not 20 minutes ago!”) Also, would’ve been nice to have some bit about the rebels evacuating Dantooine and moving their base to Yavin 4, but that’s not as bad as the somewhat rushed denouement that leads straight into New Hope.

I can’t remember which blogger I follow who said it first, but I would much rather watch more movies about the characters from Rogue One than any of those from the originals, prequels or new trilogy. Which is a shame, because like so many RPG stories, this one ended in a TPK. In a way, I’m sad, because while this movie made me excited for Star Wars again, I don’t know what else there is to look forward to. I really don’t care about Episode VIII, and I find the promises that subsequent stand-alone films will focus on Han Solo and Boba Fett less than intriguing.* Now, if they announced a Marek Steele movie, I’d be all about that. For now, though, I’ll just have to wait and wonder. And check out how cheaply I can find a decent Star Destroyer model…

*:One interesting tidbit was the hint that there was another jedi out there and that jedi was a woman (and therefore could not have been Obi Wan Actually the Main Villain of Star Wars Kenobi). This could be interesting or terrible. Given how most of the movies have treated Jedi, I’m leaning terrible, but Rogue One was good enough that I may cross my fingers.

Brief Addendum:

Why I liked it better than Empire:

  • Seriously, the Battle of Hoth was the only good part of Empire, and Rogue One had its Battle of Hoth as the climactic ending instead of the first act.
  • Empire’s pacing is a damn mess and its timeline makes next to no sense
  • Despite all the love for the romance between Han and Leia, it drips with a lot of bad cheese and still has a lot of cringe; Jyn and Cassian were nowhere near as cringy
  • Star Wars becoming terrible can be pinpointed to the moment when Darth Vader started to use the force to throw giant hunks of trash Luke. From that moment forward, the Force stopped being mystical and became about moving garbage by pressing down-to-forward + punch. Blind Force monk felt way more true to the mystical rather than mechanical concept of the Force

Why I liked it better than Jedi:

  • C’mon, bro, we all know Jedi was trash!
  • Just Kidding
  • (Not Kidding)

X-Men: Apocalypse

So, during all of the hoopla over how the billboard of Apocalypse choking Mystique was sexist, nobody was talking about what a terrible and boring movie X-Men Apocalypse was. All of the innumerable continuity snarls could have been forgiven if Singer had given us a movie worth watching, but this fell into the trap of so many failed B and C tier superhero movies, spending far too much time ‘building the team’ instead of showing the team doing anything. In this case, it’s worse, because both sides have to build their teams on screen and there’s neither character development nor action. And frankly, I’m surprised that there was not more outrage over the decision to make Storm an Arab street urchin instead of a Sub-Saharan tribal living-goddess.

I went into this expecting some awesome fights, cuz, c’mon! It’s Apocalypse! The main things I remember about him from when I was a kid was that he was 10 feet tall, could change size & shape, and pretty much wrecked the shit of anyone who tried to fight him. Instead of cool fights, we got endless ‘building the team’, leading up to one fight that, by the time it happened, I couldn’t bring myself to care about cuz I was so damned bored. It should not have been hard to make an awesome and exciting Apocalypse movie: Apocalypse wakes up with his 4 riders – he destroys a city, and the X-Men try to stop him and get stomped. The X-Men have to devise some way they can actually hurt him. Heck, maybe they could develop a version of “the cure” that can be administered by using Quicksilver as a human railgun. Xavier could be all “Oh, I don’t think this is a good idea, what if it falls into the wrong hands!”, Magneto all “Who are we to deprive anyone of their gifts, especially a god?” and Mystique all “Screw that noise, we really need to stop this guy at all costs”.

But nope, in the end, Apocalypse gets beaten by a fairly mundane, plan-free “by our powers combined” flash that teased at what will most assuredly and lamentably be a sequel featuring po-faced Jean Grey in another Dark Phoenix saga.

I think that X-Men Apocalypse is a tacit admission that all of the best X-Men stories happened 30ish years ago and the semi-historical grounding of the X-Men they were given following their 1975 relaunch that was once an asset is now a liability.

Don’t be fooled by the jive about X-Men’s relevance to historical struggles; during Civil Rights, X-Men was just another supers comic—that didn’t get added until much later. Just like how Magneto didn’t start out as a Holocaust Survivor; he was given that backstory to give him nuance and some justification for his horrible actions in the 80s.

A lot of X-Men’s cultural relevance was that which it took upon itself during the 70s and 80s, and it coasted on that during the 90s. But now that it’s reaching the mid 10s, stories about that group of oppressed mutant individuals (who were not oppressed during their run through the 60s) struggling with Civil Rights and the moral quandary of a troubled individual who survived the Holocaust and whose strawman may have a point can’t be told in the present day. The ancient and withered husks of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart fighting at the end of the world in Days of Future Past may have truly been the Last Hurrah of the X-Men of my childhood. Either the X-Men will be all old as dirt, immortal like Wolverine, or they will have to be completely new X-men, because retreading the same three decade patch of culture over and over again with the same characters just isn’t going to work anymore. And having the most recent X-Men movie, which can no longer be considered a prequel, as Days of Future Past obliterated the old continuity, take place in the 80s concedes that.

 

X-Men Apocalypse is a good sign that it is not only time to stop making X-Men movies for a while but that the entire X-Men franchise needs to be significantly rethought if it can’t be uncoupled from the time-period of its 70s relaunch through its 80s comic and 90s cartoon heydays. X-Men will have to undergo some very serious, soul-searching changes, rebooting their continuity, abandoning the false ties to 60s Civil Rights movement, and, perhaps most shocking of all, have a Magneto who doesn’t cling to the Holocaust as a justification for his evil deeds because he can’t; it’ll reach the point where he’ll either have to be a hundred years old or he wasn’t there.  X-Men is finally being crippled by the identity politics that had been its strength over the years since its relaunch – right before our eyes, we’re watching a franchise transition from speculative fiction to period fiction.

Review: Assault on the Review of Nations

Assault on the Review of Nations is a 1st level adventure for the OSR system Shitlord: the Triggering. It is the first 3rd party product for the system and is available for free here from the Mixed GM.

Assault on the Review of Nations has the appearance of a fairly straight-forward dungeon crawl, though does have a few interesting opportunities for roleplay and negotiations which leave the module open ended.

The map, created by Gozzy’s “Random Dungeon Map Creator” is fairly generic, and comes more from the Holmes school of dungeon design than the Gygaxian. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, however it would’ve been cool to see something that captured the flavor of the Review of Nations, maybe something that looked like an eagle or somesuch. Still, it’s serviceable and, as this is a 1st level adventure, will not be too difficult for a neophyte mapper to get a handle on.

Judging by the wandering monster encounters, this would probably be best for a smaller group; with the exception of the giant beetles, whose 2d6 numbers could easily end up as a TPK at first level, most random encounters would be a pushover for a standard 6-man B/X party. I’d recommend adjusting the number of monsters by an additional die or die size for each additional Player beyond the 3rd.

Though showing the page number where the monsters may be found in the Shit:T core book is helpful, including a simple statblock would be nice.

One interesting direction taken with the Cheese Puff Golem and Lou Richly are the bonus hit points. Typically, with monsters that are X HD + Y, the Y will most often be 1 and almost never greater than X. The plus generally functions as a way to prevent 1HP monsters, make monsters just a touch more powerful, and negate an obscure Fighter bonus. The Cheese Puff Golem and Lou Richly are 2HD + 10 and 3HD + 9 respectively. That’s something you almost never see, but has a few interesting mechanical implications. Monster attacks in B/X are primarily based on their hit dice – the more hit dice they have, the better the chance they have to hit. With these bonuses, you have monsters with roughly 5 Hit Dice worth of HP only attacking with +2 and +3. This makes encountering them much more survivable by 1st level characters with decent armor while allowing them to take a bit of a walloping.

Overall, this is an amusing little adventure that will help you bring the joke to your table if that’s something you really want to do. Perfect for a one-off gag. Not meaty enough if you’re wanting to run a ‘serious’ adventure, but there’s only so much seriousness to begin with if you’re playing Shitlord. Let’s face it, while someone COULD put together something of the scope of Death & Taxes for S:tT, at that point it’s almost missing the joke.

Game Name Ideas

My friend is trying to put a name to his game.

It’s more difficult to come up with an alliterative pairing that captures the feel and nuance of a system than one would think.

It needs to capture –

  • an urban feel
  • really gross and gritty “why is everything covered in wet coffee grounds?” perpetual low-level adventuring
  • job-based class system, focusing on a mix of martial and non-martial urban professions, largely in the lower class of society
  • very low magic, but what magic there is is absolutely terrifying
  • almost complete absence of vanilla fantasy stock monsters in favor of mutated horrors
  • A vaguely Dickensian feel, what with all the chimney sweeps and rat-catchers.

Here are a few posts about the game and system:

https://cirsova.wordpress.com/2016/12/15/a-case-for-perpetual-low-level-adventuring/

https://cirsova.wordpress.com/2016/12/13/when-a-plot-related-pc-dies/

https://cirsova.wordpress.com/2016/10/17/im-probably-in-the-best-dd-campaign-ever/

http://thebonehoard.blogspot.com/2016/10/strigastadt-play-report-vii.html