New Review, Hugo Packets, and Tarzan Stuff

Jon Mollison of Seagull Rising has a new review up of Cirsova #5. You can read it here.

I’ve made a lot of people writing reviews, in part because it’s one of the easiest ways to promote and support us, but that’s not the only reason. Reviews let us know what works and what doesn’t. One advantage of our double issue was it let us throw a lot against the wall to see what would stick and what didn’t. In some cases, it was seen as one of our weaker issues because it was much less focused that our others, but some folks seemed to enjoy it ‘with the exception of a few stinkers’.

While I enjoyed all of the stories (else I wouldn’t have bought them), that sort of feedback lets us know what you, the readers, are enjoying and what you’re not. So, to help us maintain and improve the quality of the magazine, be sure to leave your feedback!

Hugo Voting Packets are finally available. With only two months to go before voting is final, I don’t have a lot of expectation that readers will make it that far into their packets if they’ve waited this long to start, but it will be what it will be.

Also, I have not forgotten about my need to write a review of Frayed Knights! I really loved it, so I really ought to hunker down and get the write up on that done. I’ve just been so ADD and OCD these last two months, I’ve been a complete mess (can autism have flare-ups?)

I finished Tarzan at the Earth’s Core last night, and I’d stand by my previous question:

If Edgar Rice Burroughs can tell a bad story but still make it balls-out awesome, is it still a bad story?!

TatEC spends so much time on its journey towards the otherwise unimportant reason for throwing Tarzan into Pellucidar that when it finally gets there, there’s very little book left and the story kind of peters out. Except the reason that it peters out is perfectly believable and doesn’t detract much from the story: once Tarzan, Jason, and Tarzan’s rifle squadron of African tribesmen are finally reunited with the airship and its crew, there’s not a lot that primitive pirate port is going to do except answer the ultimatum that they’ll bomb the city into oblivion by turning Emperor David I over to his friends. Plus, Jana snaps out of her Tsundere fugue and declares her love for Jason, so we get the important ending we’re all waiting for.

With our G3 game taking a short hiatus, I may take an opportunity to flesh out my WW-2 rules-lite and run a Pellucidar mini campaign.

As I wrap, I’ll leave you with this one great exchange that perfectly illustrates the sort of tough pulp dames Burroughs wrote as well as his sense of humor:

“We will accompany you, then,” said Thoar [Jana’s brother], and then his brow clouded as some thought seemed suddenly to seize upon his mind. He looked for a moment at Jason, and then he turned to Jana. “I had almost forgotten,” he said. “Before we can go with these people as friends, I must know if this man offered you any injury or harm while you were with him. If he did, I must kill him.”

Jana did not look at Jason as she replied. “You need not kill him,” she said. “Had that been necessary The Red Flower of Zoram would have done it herself.”

“Very well,” said Thoar, “I am glad because he is my friend. Now we may all go together.”

Guest Post by J. Comer: On Playing Altars & Archetypes

Graham Jackson’s roleplaying game Altars & Archetypes (mentioned here on Cirsova) first came to my attention on a list of other rules-light free RPG downloads.  Its rules file, six to eight pages at best, was encouragingly short, and I eventually got my local game group to try it in 2012-3. As I’ve recently run the game a second time, and as there is very little online about playing it, this essay seemed like a good idea.  The game itself is available here:

http://livingfree.wikidot.com/altars-archetypes

The game’s simplicity shows in character creation.  Characters are a series of ‘archetypes’: Highwayman, Beastmaster, Alchemist, Hunter, etc.  Each is a broadly read set of skills: a Thief can pick locks and fence gems but isn’t able to fight or cast spells; a Soldier can fight or fortify a spot, but doesn’t know how to make potions, etc.  Each archetype a character has is one die: d6, d8, d10, d12.  Anything not represented by an archetype defaults to d4.  One die for each character is initiative, so fighters need a high initiative die.  In other words, this is the same idea that’s behind Savage Worlds or Throwing Stones.

https://rpggeek.com/geeklist/71238/item/1790871#item1790871

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Savage_Worlds

The rest of the rules are easy to follow. Roll for combat. Higher number wins and the difference is the damage inflicted. The GM sets the difficulty for any task, and players roll an appropriate die: use your Acrobat archetype to leap from stone to stone in the river, but your Diplomat to negotiate safe passage.  Experience points allow you to add new dice archetypes, or improve the ones you do have.

How did this work out in practice when I ran two multi-session games of A&A on my sword-and-planet setting, called Pendleton’s World? Some things were obvious.  The armor system of the game (double damage unless you wear armor!) was easy to replace by stating that armor absorbs damage. The Action Point system (add a d4 by spending an action point) wasn’t useful and players ignored it. Combat is deadly, since players start with 10 health points and can lose 4-5 in one blow. The assumption of the game is that healing is easy to find, and that it works fast. I had to allow this, even though ‘real’ medicine doesn’t heal wounds so quickly.  Other rules (half damage from improvised weapons) seemed to work well.  When allowing characters to buy up from d12 to d20, however, the GM needs to impose intermediate steps.  Two characters with d20 archetypes nearly broke the game.  For the curious, d14, d16, and d18 can be found at Gamescience:

Adding crunch is pretty easy: if you want a psi stat, or magic points, just add them.  Encumbrance? Lists of monsters?  Chances of encounters?  This is the Mr/s Potato Head of RPGs, and the price is right.  For a beer-and-pretzels game, the system is hard to beat.

The game itself was also simple enough, though the setting took some getting used to. Two players were so creeped out by the horse-analog species being a huge human-like primate that their characters ended up walking almost the whole game.  The four player characters (three humans: a wizard, a hunter, a shaman, and a warrior-princess of the mole-folk) were sent on a quest to find an ancient ‘knowstone’, a relic engraved with scientific knowledge by a long-gone civilization.  

I had made changes to the adventure, following the advice of a friend.  There was more semi-magic (remote seeing, added strength, etc) for the Rhuthuok shaman PC. I slipped in a Burrower (mole-rat hominid) male as a potential mate for the Burrower princess player character.  And I made the bandits who were scheduled to attack the party a hit squad, headed by a monk jealous of the PCs, who wanted the secrets of the knowstone for himself.  While this did not produce ‘character-driven’ adventures, as Powered By The Apocalypse tends to do, it did make the adventure much less of a ‘tour of Jim’s made-up world’ and more of a story whose characters had motives beyond ‘kill the ugly people and take their stuff’.

The story began with the departure from Vokherkhe, the huge monastery university where so much happens in my vision of Pendleton’s.  The PCs were attacked by predators, then entertained by a drunken, lecherous nobleman. The princess’ air of command enabled her to prevent a massacre when the noble’s subjects revolted.  The players then climbed into a mountain range with the help of a map stolen from the noble’s library, and found another party of adventurers dying from a ‘cursed’ tomb (which had deadly mold growing all over everything).  After a long argument about how to dispose of the bodies, the party climbed to the tomb, decided not to go in, and climbed down (This group had problems, but decisiveness wasn’t one!). They found the cave of the knowstone as a Neanderthal food-gathering party approached over a glacier. By making offerings to the wolf-spirit, the players appeased the Neanderthals, and then fled.  They were attacked by bandits, whom they defeated (those d20s again!) and returned to the monastery with drawings of the ancient stone.  

What would I do differently next time? One problem was players stretching the archetypes. Enforcing them too strictly results in lots of d4 rolls, so compromise.  The idea of a fumble or critical success resulting from one player rolling the highest number and the other the lowest is an appealing one, and I think I’ll keep it.  And, as I said above, no more d20 superheroes!

I asked the players about how things had gone, after the game was done.  Two of them said that they had enjoyed the setting. One said that Altars & Archetypes’ system was too simple. He found that narrating an action so as to cause the GM to roll a lower difficulty die was more important than other strategies. (This narrativist approach pleases me.)  He also complained that characters progressed too slowly.  I found this odd, as shifting from a d8 to a d10 is a much larger power shift than progressing from being, for example, a 32-pt TFT character to being a 34-pt, or adding a level as a Ranger in AD&D.  Nevertheless, a short game such as the one I ran might choose to include more character progression.  

Recommended for lovers of simple, rules-light fun.  

Another A&A game is detailed here.

 

A Friendly Reminder On Manuscripts

With lots of markets opening up for submissions, not just Cirsova, and lots of new writers trying their hand and getting short fiction published, I think it’s worthwhile to do a short post on how a Manuscript should be formatted.

There are lots of sites out there that give guidelines on how to format your manuscript, but here are a few things that are biggies and why you should do them.

  • Include your name and contact info on the first page – This helps an editor put together an address book. If they need to send you anything or get in touch with you, they can just check the submission manuscript, and there it is!
  • Approximate Word Count – I’m not as much of a stickler on this, since Office does a word count for you, but it’s still not a bad idea to include this to the nearest 100.
  • Page number/author name/story title in the header – I don’t have a preference on any particular format on this, but numbering your pages and making it easy to get them back into order should they get out of order is super helpful.
  • Do use double spacing – This makes it easier to mark-up your manuscript.
  • Do not use paragraph breaks to manually create double spacing – I don’t know how this even happens or if it’s due to opening the wrong type of file format in word, but having to remove all of those paragraph breaks manually later on is a pain.
  • Don’t use Tab to create indentation – These have to be manually removed anyway, so instead set the paragraph indentation using the paragraph formatting.
  • Don’t use hyphenation for words at the edge of the page – It’s a rarely occurring problem, but sometimes if a word gets broken up by a hyphenation at the edge of the page, it can be hard to tell if the word is just broken because it’s at the edge of the page or if it’s meant to be hyphenated. So, play it safe and turn off auto-hyphenation.

Spotlight: Cirsova: Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine

Mighty Thor JRS - Fantasy Book News & Reviews

Every once in a while I like to do a spotlight post to shine a light on an author, or book, or series that I think is awesome and more people should know about.

Today that light is shinning bright on Cirsova Magazine!

I have been in a bit of a reading and blogging slump for a while now. I took a step back, trying to figure out what I was missing, what I needed to turn this slump around. So I decided to go back to my fantasy roots. What got me into fantasy in the first place?

The answer to that was Sword and Sorcery and other pulpy spec. fic. goodness. I love REH, ERB, Lieber, Lovecraft, Moorcock, Wagner, and Clark Ashton Smith. So sure I can get out all my old copies of these authors, and I did. But I began to wonder, is anyone still…

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Guardians of the Galaxy 2: Yondu vs. Obi-Wan (Major Spoilers)

So, saw Guardians 2 last night, and I gotta say. As a franchise, people who like pulp SF should maybe start looking to Guardians of the Galaxy instead of Star Wars. Star Wars has averaged out to be trash, coasting more on the theoretical potential of the property as it has been explored by other creative types rather than the films themselves. But more importantly, Guardians of the Galaxy has a much stronger moral core than Star Wars.

Let’s take a look at Obi Wan vs Yondu for a second. Yondu is superior by far as the older father figure mentor character.

This isn’t something I’m going to put a lot of energy into explaining or even defending, but I just want to toss it out there. Let’s even completely forget my theory that Obi-Wan is the main villain of Star Wars for a sec.

In Star Wars, Obi-Wan has been secretly watching out for Luke, and eventually he takes him under his wing. He tries to explain the situation in a way that will not hurt the young Skywalker, because while he believes in him, he does not believe in him enough to trust him with the truth. And ultimately, that’s his bad. Only when it comes down to it, he doesn’t really accept responsibility for what he has done and tries to justify rather than coming fully clean and apologizing, even when it wouldn’t have cost him anything to do so. And when knowledge that Leia is Luke’s sister would jeopardize the fate of the Rebel strike on Endor, Obi-Wan’s ghost rather casually confirms it.

In Guardians of the Galaxy, Yondu pretty much raises Star Lord after his mom dies. He’s a tough father figure, and does a lot wrong by the kid growing up, but he genuinely does care about him. Yondu is also protecting Star Lord from his father with a lie, but when the chips are down, Yondu comes clean and is honest about his reasons “I knew your daddy was bad and killed those kids, and I couldn’t stand to see that happen to you.” After all is laid bare, Yondu makes the ultimate sacrifice so that his “son” will live.

Both franchise are owned by Disney, and both are cogs in multi-billion-dollar merchandising apparatuses, so I’m not going to factor that in when comparing the two. Even with all of its flaws and cringe-points, I’m gonna have to give this one to Guardians.

Reviews of Stuff (Which Probably Aren’t Gonna Happen) – Ethics in Pulp Journalism

I’ve added a lot of contemporary stuff to my reading pile lately, but for a handful of reasons, I probably won’t be actually reviewing a lot of it.

I’ve reached a point where conflicts of interest are going to put a damper on a lot of the content I could write about the newer stuff on my reading list. If I feel particularly strongly about a work that i want to share, I may end up singing it from the rooftops with the appropriate disclaimer, but…

Pulp Revolution Folks

I really can’t review stuff coming out of the Pulp Revolution crowd honestly and dispassionately. I’m too close with many of the writers and in some cases have even offered services to see stuff get to market.  If there’s something I like, my review will doubtlessly be colored by my personal relationship with folks involved. If there’s something I don’t like, I’ll be tempted to restrain criticism on account of those personal relationships. A lot of these people have written reviews for Cirsova, and I don’t want to get into review swapping. Not just that, they’ve spent money on us, buying copies and sometimes advertisements, and no negative review can be trusted, because no matter what, I’ll be writing in ways that don’t chase fans away.

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I will likely avoid reviewing works by writers or editors who have advertised with us or done ad-swaps. At least within a recent time-frame. I’ll be sure to try to highlight those works and creators who have tried to support us, but I won’t be reviewing, because a positive review will look like I’m sucking up to capital and a negative review would be self-consciously written to not drive away future capital.

I’ve ad-swapped with Red Sun and with Storyhack, and I’m happy to talk those guys up; I’ve referred authors to the former when I haven’t had money or space, and I’ll likely do the same with the latter in the future. But I probably won’t review specific stories or issues of those publications.

Other Stuff

Some folks have sent me stuff for review. If I have it in print, I’ll try to get to it in a reasonable amount of time, I really can’t add anything else to my queue for a bit. Open submissions are coming up, and that’s going to be taking up A LOT of my time.

I already feel like the quality of my content is slipping because I have too many things going on.  I’d like to be able to maintain my daily M-F schedule, but if I need to dial it back in June and July, I might have to.