Update on Submissions Window

While I didn’t quite make the headway over the weekend that I would have liked, I DID make acceptable progress…  I got my stack down to just a dozen stories (though I received 10 more over the weekend).

At this point, no more barbarian swordsman or fantasy adventure stories unless you’ve already been published by us. We’re more than good on those.

Also, at some point, I need to figure out a way to articulately define the fantasy subgenre of fairytalesque stories of “there was once a girl who lived in the woods and strange magical things happened to her” so I can “no more of these, please”. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some really good and enjoyable examples of those, but they are not what I’m looking for.

I’ve contacted about half of the folks whose submissions I’ve read; I’ll be trying to get in touch with a few more people every day so I don’t keep anyone waiting too long.

Death Becomes D&D

The Alt-Right DM

Yeah, I’m not done banging on this drum just yet.

You want to know how pernicious this nonsense of “protect the character at all costs” is?  In an effort to remind myself that tabletop RPGs are not a hobby exclusively full of delicate flowers and gaping lady-parts, I was listening to the Roll For Initiative podcast’s episode on Death Magic Saves in the hopes of finding like-minded travelers.  This is a whole podcast that accepts that death is on the table.  It hangs like a specter over everything even to the point that there are specific instances where even the mightiest character can die from just one bad roll.

Untitled If you do this, you are playing D&D wrong wrong.

Alas, even this crew of first edition D&D players have succumbed to the notion of protecting the characters to protect the story.  They offer countless examples of ways they “kept the…

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Half-way through the current stack…

Though that doesn’t mean much… I could get a deluge at any moment, but as of this posting, I have fewer than 30 stories to get through.

I’ll HOPEFULLY be able to be getting back with folks and making offers by early to mid July.

If you want to support Cirsova Magazine and ensure that we can pull off 2018 without finding our pockets turned out, now is the time to purchase advertising in our Fall 2017 issue. You can find our rates here.

I’m trying to get ahead on my Castalia House column, so if some personal disaster or exhaustion strikes, I won’t fall behind. I DO plan on making my “Sturgeon’s Law Pulp List” its own page, regularly updating it as I review stories, so folks can point to it anytime someone tries to say “the pulps are only bad because 90% everything is bad!” I’ve got two doozies coming up this week and next; if you bothered to download the March 1939 issue of Weird Tales I linked to, you’ll know what I’m talking about!

Lastly, I had to break down and buy a dollar store bag of army men. I got tired of wandering through the aisles of big box stores pondering the cultural implications of a dearth of selection when it came to miniature soldiery, but I have a raid on a Nazi base to run this Friday and don’t have time for a decent $20 bucket of WWII figures to arrive from Amazon.

More Pellucidar

So, my Pellucidar game is running smoothly and playing better than I could’ve expected. My initial theories on how combat would play out have all proven correct so far, but the next session will test how well firearms vs. firearms battles will work.

Friday, the party did some more mapping, with orders to recon the area immediately adjacent to their new base camp. While they pussy-footed a bit more than i would’ve liked, I can’t blame them for wanting to return directly to their camp after each encounter (though they were somewhat punished for it with the first hex).

The first hex they explored, they found some Draco Lizards; rather than leave well enough alone, they took the opportunity to use the giant lizards for some target practice, not knowing that they were up against 8 of them and had only spotted 2. Some of the other lizards came at them through and from the trees. While they killed and hurt a couple, they still got a few big bites taken out of them before they managed to drive the beasts off. A perverse desire to haul the carcasses back to camp meant they were slowed down enough to warrant an extra random encounter roll, which led to a pack of mountain lions ambushing those carrying the two carcasses. It cost the life of the medic, but a few rifle shots killed or drove off the big cats.

Fireteam got some fresh blood and kept exploring, managing to ambush an allosaurus on a game trail. If the allosaurus had not rolled a 1 on its perception roll and the players hadn’t got a free round to fire on them, at least one guy woulda been ate before the beast went down.

Last hex, I rolled for a Nazi base in a forest on my random terrain generator, so I asked if we could call it while I came up with some content for it.

I’m making a sub-hexmap for a relevant portion of the hex, where I’m putting in a small Nazi forward base. Along the game trails will be a couple of strong-points, and there will be a few patrols. The main base will be set in a clearing where they’ve pushed back the treeline and set up a few machine gun teams in front of a couple crude observation towers (scoped Mausers!).

This will be a damn tough fight if my players try to attack the base head-on. The first strong-point should be a warning, but if they just come out of the treeline, especially if they’ve alerted the base with a fire-fight, they’ll almost certainly be mowed down by MG42 fire.

I HOPE that they will remember that there’s a pack howitzer setup on a mountain top in the adjacent hex and that they have mortar teams at their disposal. Otherwise, the 30-50 Nazis hanging out in this hex will not only repulse the attack but almost certainly jeopardize the Allied base camp (which is apparently just a 12 miles south of another tribe of lizardmen! ::I rolled up to see what happened to the other NPC scout teams, and those guys didn’t come back…::).

I’m actually to the point where I may need to figure out how many guys are in the US company; they’ve lost one entire team, and probably about 15 or so other soldiers (so maybe 25-30 KIA/MIA). Some of them went back with the dirigible to pick up more supplies once the mountain base was established. Some of them will HAVE to stay back at camp to keep it secure. So, I guess if I want to really ramp up the scale, I could have as many as 100 soldiers dedicated to this particular OP. I’ll probably use some handwaiving for the NPC fireteams who will be a) reconning other parts of the hex, b) possibly flanking to get a better position for the assault on the base, c) getting into fire-fights with Nazi scouting teams, d) acting as “off-board” artillery as mortar teams.

This will be the first real test of the Star Frontiers Advanced Combat Order I’ve been using for initiative by side. Up until now, initiative hasn’t mattered too much, because whether the players win or lose initiative, you’d better believe they’re going to hang tight, guns ready, and shoot at whatever’s coming towards them. A couple times against the lizard men, the lizard men got some javelins in, but guns are always going to go off first against enemies who don’t have a ranged attack. With the Nazis, though, the players will be facing substantial fire themselves for the first time.

Still Reading!

We’re making headway into our submission stack. I got over halfway through our submissions list. Then I checked my email today, and I am now significantly less than halfway through our submission list.

If you want to submit, submit soon. If we get to a point where it’s clear that the cup overfloweth, we may cut off submissions a bit early.

Lastly, now is a great time to support the magazine by buying back issues, merch or taking out an ad with us. Online sales revenue this month will be available next month to be put towards acquisitions. Ads will help right away and will go into our fall issue coming out in a couple months.

So, uh…

Crypt of the Ultralich Index Card D&D Booster Pack

I haven’t actually written up these cards or used them in a game, but I was toying around with this idea. This is an example of the sort of “set” I tend to write up if I’m in a game of Index Card D&D.

I’m a big fan of ridiculous spells and random effects. Several of my past spells have had bizarre effects ranging from “regain a few HP” to “take 30 damage and deal 60 damage divided any way you choose”.

So, uh… here are a few ideas I had while trying to stay awake Sunday on the drive back from Dallas.

Indestructible Dweomer of the Ultralich – Spell

DC: 0

Lose all HP. Become undead. Gain one spell die for each HP lost. Damage reduces spell dice instead of HP. Character dies when spell dice pool reaches 0. Gain following DC-4 spell ability: prevent damage from one source.

Lifecurse of the Ultralich – Trap

DC: 14

All PCs in a room regain all missing HP. All undead in a room must save against DC 14 or be destroyed.

Bloodsword of the Ultralich – Treasure

1d8 damage

+2 to attacks

For each 4 damage done using this sword, gain 1 spell die.

Urion the Ultralich – Monster

4HD x # of players

AC 13

  1. Casts random PC spell; if no PC spells, draw top card & use as spell, item or “summon”
  2. Turn random PC Undead
  3. Random Undead in room takes 10 damage
  4. Living heal 10, Urion takes 10 dmg, undead PCs take 20 dmg
  5. Summon 1d6 1HP AC 10 skeleton guards; PCs must att SGs
  6. Use or Attack w/random item

Sturgeon’s Law and the Pulps?

I see this over and over and over again. That the pulps only have a bad name because only 90% of them are bad, because Sturgeon’s Law says 90% of everything is bad, so don’t hold that against the pulps!

Euro-style games R something like the SF/F pulps. Most R trash, a minority R good, a small fraction transcend the formulas to become great. – Lewis Pulsipher (@lewpuls) 

Out of the many stories I’ve reviewed, I’ve yet to hit what I’m now calling “Sturgeon’s Pocket”, that rich, thick vein of 90% crap lying just below the surface crust. I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, Sturgeon’s Law isn’t the best thing to use to defend (yes, defend) the pulps, because it’s just not true. This line of thinking is generally used to try to defend the “good pulp” from the reputation of the “bad pulp”, except most of the “bad pulp” is pretty good, just not amazing, and the “really bad pulp” has been rather sparse. Hell, I’ll even break it down by the names and numbers:

Exceptionally Good: 14

  • The Moon that Vanished, Leigh Brackett
  • Black Amazon of Mars, Leigh Brackett
  • Stalemate in Space, Charles L Harness
  • Queen of the Martian Catacombs, Leigh Brackett
  • Priestess of the Flame, Sewell Peaslee Wright
  • Raid on the Termites, Paul Ernst
  • Enchantress of Venus, Leigh Brackett
  • Coming of the Gods, Chester Whitehorn
  • Raiders of the Second Moon, Basil Wells
  • Red Witch of Mercury, Emmett McDowell
  • The Bubble Dwellers, Ross Rocklynne
  • Lorelei of the Red Mist, Leigh Brackett & Ray Bradbury
  • The Martian Circe, Raymond F. Jones
  • Moon of Danger, Albert de Pina

 

Very Good: 18

  • Miracle Town, William F. Temple
  • I Like You, Too, Joe Gibson
  • Asteroid of Fear, Raymond Z Gallun
  • Garden of Evil, Margaret St. Clair
  • SOS Aphrodite, Stanley Mullen
  • Hellhounds of the Cosmos, Clifford D. Simak
  • Vulcan’s Workshop, Harl Vincent
  • Captain Midas, Alfred Coppel Jr
  • Cosmic Yo-Yo, Ross Rocklynne
  • Mists of Mars, George A. Whittington
  • The Spider Men of Gharr, Wilbur Scott Peacock
  • Grifters’ Asteroid, HL Gold
  • The Sword of Johnny Damokles, Hugh Frazier Parker
  • The Last Monster, Gardner F. Fox
  • Juggernaut of Space, Ray Cummings
  • Quest on Phoebe, James R. Adams
  • Mo-Sanshon!, Bryce Walton
  • And Then There Were None, Eric Frank Russell

Pretty Good/Okay: 17

  • Softie, by Noel Loomis
  • Reverse English, John S. Carroll
  • Date Line, Noel Loomis
  • Cosmic Jackpot, George O. Smith
  • Yesterday’s Doors, Arthur J. Burks
  • Duel on Syrtis, Poul Anderson
  • Peril Orbit, C.J. Wedlake
  • Action on Azura, Robertson Osborne
  • Signal Red, Henry Guth
  • Ordeal in Space, Ralph Sloan
  • The Giants Return, Robert Abernathy
  • Battlefield in Black, George A. Whittington
  • And the Gods Laughed, Fredric Brown
  • Beer Trust Busters, AR Stuart
  • Mutiny, Larry Offenbecker
  • The Venus Evil, Chester S. Geier
  • Vassals of the Lode-Star, Gardner F. Fox

Okay/Not So Good: 10

  • The Referent, Ray Bradbury
  • Galactic Heritage, Frank Belknap Long
  • The Diversifal, Ross Rocklynne
  • The Envoy, Her, H.B. Fyfe
  • The Star Saint, A.E. Van Vogt
  • The Starbusters, Alfred Coppel Jr
  • Madcap Metalloids, WV Athanas
  • Prodigal Weapon, Vaseleos Garson
  • Formula for Conquest, James R. Adams
  • The Little Pets of Arkkhan, Vaseleos Garson

Terrible: 4

  • No Winter, No Summer, Damon Knight & James Blish
  • Square Pegs, by Ray Bradbury
  • That Mess Last Year, John D McDonald
  • The Wheel is Death, Roger Dee

 

Note that this ONLY includes pulp stories I’ve read and reviewed from the 50s and earlier. If I included stuff from the 70s Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction that I’d read and reviewed, the numbers would skew significantly towards terrible. For post pulp-era stories I’ve reviewed (*: or read to review but wound up not actually reviewing it), here’s the breakdown, which includes some F&SF, Flashing Swords, and one Vance story from an old Universe. (parenthesis is F&SF-only)

Exceptionally Good: 4(3)

  • The Bagful of Dreams, Jack Vance
  • Doctor Rivet and Supercon Sal, Gary K Wolf
  • The Horse Lord, Lisa Tuttle
  • The Mars Ship, Robert Thurston

Very Good: 4 (2)

  • The Tupilak, Poul Anderson
  • Storm in a Bottle, John Jakes
  • Not With a Bang But A Bleep, Gary Jennings
  • Nina, Robert Bloch

Pretty Good/Okay: 9 (7)

  • The Mountains of Sunset, the Mountains of Dawn, Vonda McIntyre
  • Time is Money, Haskell Barkin
  • The Lands Beyond the World, Michael Moorcock
  • Assault on a City, Jack Vance
  • The Exiled, The Hunted, George Guthridge
  • The Final Close, J.P. Dixon
  • The Holdouts, Kit Reed
  • The Star Eel, Robert F. Young
  • A Star is Born, Joseph Green*

Okay/Not so good: 4 (3)

  • Shoes, Raylyn Moore
  • In Rubble, Pleading, Michael Bishop
  • Swords Against the Marluk, Katherine Kurtz
  • Horror Movie, Stuart Dybek

Terrible: 7 (7)

  • A Delightful Comic Premise, Barry Malzberg
  • Mouthpiece, Edward Wellen*
  • The Attack of the Giant Baby, Kit Reed
  • Those Good Old Days of Liquid Fuel, Michael G Coney
  • Friday the Thirteenth, Isaac Asimov
  • My Boat, Joanna Russ
  • Graveyard Blues, Dennis Etchison*
  • A Game of Vlet, Joanna Russ*

NTRPGCon: A Tale of Three DMs

This is not a full con report, and I don’t know if I’ll have time to give one, but I’d like to share my experience of the games I signed up for. I won’t use any names, but suffice it to say that these are all well-known and famous DMs.

DM the First –

This DM was running OD&D, 3 volumes only. We were all pre-gen 2nd level characters, Fighters, Clerics, and MUs. The party had a list of general adventuring equipment that we were assumed to have, and before we went to the dungeon, we were told we could get one or two reasonable miscellaneous items. The dungeon was a simple and straight-forward (though non-linear) old school dungeon, with each room as a set-piece puzzle or encounter. The encounters/puzzles were well hinted at, and while not particularly inspired, enjoyable and not unfair. Obvious ogre lair was obvious enough to not mess with, for instance. Fake vampire room was an easy enough puzzle and someone only died because we couldn’t leave well enough alone. The fights we had, we both got lucky AND made correct tactical choices, so we won them. The final set-piece encounter was a cheesy Fleetwood Mac joke. It was not a mind-blowing experience, but the DM was a nice guy, fun to be around, friendly, and I had a pretty good time. I would not mind gaming with him again, though I’d prefer more of an experience of ‘this is what it’s like to game at my table’ than ‘this is a simulation of what it’s like to game at my table’.

DM the Second –

This DM was running OD&D + Greyhawk. We were playing 9th level pre-gen characters with some pretty tough and high level equipment. This DM was an asshole. He would berate players and treat them like they were stupid for not asking enough questions and would berate players and treat them like they were stupid for asking too many questions. One door that sealed in a couple of undead trolls was apparently covered with sigils and warnings about the trolls, but, oh, we didn’t see the sigils and warnings because we didn’t specifically look at the door for them. I got yelled at for overthinking when I asked if a pair of silver manacles in a dungeon cell included both pieces for hands and for legs and was told to use it as hack-silver and divide it among the party because ‘old school’. An AOE sleep hit my character at one point, and the lady next to me said “I try to wake him up” – DM says “okay, you hit him to wake him up, and he punches you in the face”; she did one damage to me and I apparently punched her for 8. At one point, he berated the party for not mapping, the whole “mapping is a dying art” bit, despite the fact that one player HAD been mapping for the first half of the session before giving up. Turns out, the entire “adventure” was a playtest of a series of TPK monsters famous DM had been hired to design based on an early monster he’d designed. He was very proud of the fact that even the friendly-ish neutral good variant managed to kill and eat us. I was scheduled for another game with this DM on Sunday, but he was such an abrasive dick that I skipped out and we left the con a few hours early.

DM the Third –

This DM was running BECMI with 5th level pre-gen characters that also had some pretty cool equipment and unique abilities. The setting was awesome and I was really excited about it at first, especially playing a mid-level magic user with a couple really sweet scrying abilities on top of my base spells. The flying circus was in town and we were hired by the ringmaster to investigate a murder and by an asshole mayor to retrieve his hot daughter who’d run away to join the circus. Things started to unravel for me a couple hours in when it became clear that it was going to be a purely investigative game with almost nothing but talking to NPCs and asking them questions. The DM was actually VERY good at running an investigation game, and I feel bad about being so bored, but investigation games, in my experience, work best with 4 players, 6 max, and we had 9. Also, the setting was so neat that it seemed like a damned waste to be spending all of our time asking questions about the murder. I’m like “I don’t care about who murdered the dwarf bearded lady; there is a haunted train ride on an airship! Why aren’t we riding it?!” The carnie games, the roller coasters, the Ferris wheel, the menagerie of monsters were all things I desperately wanted to be able to interact with in some way, meaningfully or not, but I couldn’t. So, about 3 and a half hours in, I lost my ability to functionally interact with the rest of the group. 5 hours in, some carnie finally threw a punch at a fighter. 45 minutes after that, by the time the one encounter the game had been building towards, I had no idea what was going on, who we were fighting or why, because I’d zoned out so bad. Half-way through the encounter, several folks begged out because their next game was starting. I didn’t have another game, but used the excuse to leave the table as well.