Sneak Peek at Tripods and Triplanes – Ares Games New Kickstarter

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The Martians land smack-dab in the Great War!  Awesomeness to follow.

The folks over at Ares Games are currently running a Kickstarter for Tripods and Triplanes and sent me a review copy.  Being a huge fan of their Wings of Glory and Sails of Glory, this was a welcome arrival on my part.  I was one of those folks that bought into All Quiet on the Martian Front when it was a Kickstarter as well.  WWI mixed with Martians is a good game concept and it is clear Ares has another winner here. 

Key proviso here:  I received a prototype copy of the game so my comments are based on that, not the final production copy.  Guys at Ares, you should feel free to send me the final product (wink wink, nod nod).  

The background for this game is simple.  In March of 1918 Martian tripods (ala War of the Worlds) land in Alsace.  The warring powers sign a truce and start going after these heat-ray-toting war machines.  Simplicity is important or you start asking too many questions; like why not go after them with tanks and artillery?  Just stick to the premise – Martian tripod walkers against WWI aircraft. 

One of my initial concerns about the game system was that it would not be fully compatible with Wings of Glory.  Thankfully it is!   So I don’t have to run out and buy new decks or new aircraft.  The systems mesh perfectly.  In other words, you have a whole new reason to buy Wings of Glory airplanes.  Now you can use them against the bloody-damned Martian invaders!

If you are on the human side, you’re essentially playing Wings of Glory.  There are not any substantive changes to the rules here.  You draw three cards for your maneuvers, you move, shoot, move, shoot…you get the idea.  Altitude is not much of a factor here since your targets are ground based.  If you are not familiar with Wings of Glory, it takes upwards of ten minutes or so to master the game system. 

What Ares Games has done though is to introduce a number of new concepts with the Martians that make the gameplay very challenging, for both players.  There are four groupings of these changes.  First, is the movement of the tripods.  The Martian player’s tripods move just like planes in Wings of Glory.  There are cards with the movements on them, you move them based on the patterns/lines on the cards.  Tripods, however, can stand still, pivot in place, and move backwards.  This may not sound that different, but for a seasoned Wings of Glory player, it can change your maneuvers when you get in close to target. 

The second group of changes is that the Martians also have action tokens.  These are things like fire your heat ray,  discharge smoke (in the Standard Game), recharge your batteries, change facing (pivot).  These get played in addition to the maneuvers.  So there is some planning that needs to take place on the part of the Martians.

The third thing is that the Martian player has to manage power with his tripods.  You don’t get to fire or use your shields if you don’t have power tokens.  So you need to use your token to recharge your batteries as you go or your tripod becomes a big moving target.  It’s easy to do, but if you are pressed in a heated battle (pun intended) you may be hard-pressed to keep the power levels up. 

Finally, the fourth new thing is that the tripods can have shields and new weapons.  Shields reduce the damage but often may not cover an entire tripod, often leaving the rear exposed.  The new weapons are nasty.  In the basic game you have the heat ray.  The rules about the firing arcs require some careful reading, but what is most important is that the heat ray is devastating in terms of range and damage to biplanes and triplanes.  While it is a smaller arc of fire than a machinegun on most Wings of Glory aircraft, it has a long reach that gives the tripods some advantage.  Also the heat ray fires through side projectors as well on the tripods I played.  

In the Standard Game, the Martians also get smoke projectors.  Think of these are clouds that dissolve aircraft and pilots.  These clouds remain on the map and make a zone that most pilots will want to avoid.  Of course the humans pick up rockets as weapons, which certainly helps against the tripods. 

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This nasty tripod has discharged smoke onto my rocket armed Nieuport.

Let me say that if these are the miniatures that will be offered, they rock.  The detail on them is fantastic, especially the larger tripods.  Ares Games always does a lot of fine detail work in their aircraft for Wings of Glory, and we see that here with the tripods too. 

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The detail on these prototypes is amazing.
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This bugger fires a lot of smoke.  I can’t wait to give him a try.

The draft rules I received were okay.  You have to read some sections very carefully, such as the Action Tokens and toppling tripods.  In playing, I made a few mistakes in movement that resulted in my tripod toppling.  Where Wings of Glory tends to be forgiving with mistakes, Tripods and Triplanes is not.  If you make a mistake as a Martian (and are caught) you will topple over and take damage. 

The ultimate question everyone has is: “How does it play?”  I tried a few different scenarios on my own.  First, I took up Von Richthofen flying straight in against a Locust tripod.  In other words, no real tactics, just fly in guns a-blazing.  

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Kids – don’t try this at home – I’m a professional

It didn’t end well for the Red Baron.  He went down in flames as he reached close range to the Locust.  That means that tactics are important in the game.

Next I did some maneuvers to see if the outcome was different.  Getting around behind the tripod is trickier than you might think because the tripod player can use a change face token to pivot.  The tripods are more nimble than you might think.  To do real damage, I had to keep the aircraft in close.  That was no problem.  Between the aircraft and tripod movements, ranges closed fast.  The narrow heat ray beam arc helped the Red Baron score a victory, though it was a close match.  My summary – tactics count in this game. 

 

I played one round with a medium tripod with the standard rules.  Those smoke clouds are nasty…the Martians can place them anywhere at the end of the firing arc and the clouds remain on the map.  Flying and Nieuport with rockets really didn’t seem to change the balance of play up as much as I hoped. 

 

The next test run I used a two-seater (an old Wings of Glory plane).  Alright, now we are talking.  Having two firing arcs on the airplane allowed me to do a fly-by of the tripod, shooting as I passed and hitting the non-shield side with the rear gunner.  “Take that Martian scum!”  My take on this is your choice of aircraft is very important in the game. 

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With a two-seater with rear firing machineguns, you can take a flyby, hit the tripod from the front, then from the rear.

My summation.  Ares has another hit on their hands.  They have successfully (and artfully) taken an established historical game system and have repurposed it into a science fiction game.  I struggle to find another company to successfully pull that off.  I recommend you check out their Kickstarter to get in on the fun and carnage. 

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A Mid Season Review of The Hunt for the Zodiac Killer on the History Channel

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I came into this with a lot of apprehension.  I mean, this IS the History Channel.  How they have covered true crime in the past has been fair to good, but they also back projects like Hunting for Hitler which was a bizarre waste of viewing time.  What compelled me to watch was that fellow true crime author Ken Mains was involved.  We write for the same publisher (Wild Blue Press) and I loved his book on cold cases, Unsolved No More.  His involvement meant there might be hope for this series.

I was not disappointed.

Mains and retired LAPD homicide detective, Sal LaBarbera host the show and have come at Zodiac from a completely different angle than I expected.  They are targeting those crimes that Zodiac claimed credit for beyond the ones he was confirmed to have been involved with.  This is proving an awesome approach.  It means we are getting perspectives and names of suspects not commonly tied to the Zodiac case.  Some of these are downright creepy persons of interest that might very well have ties to the more well-known Zodiac cases.

Added to this is the use of the CARMEL supercomputer which is being used to attempt to break Zodiac’s previously unbroken codes.  As an IT guy, I was intrigued by this new angle and approach.  Yes it is geeky, but it is cool.  When the computer began to write Zodiac inspired poetry – I have to admit, the creep factor went up to 9.6.

The combination of seasoned veteran investigators, a new perspective on Zodiac, and the use of a supercomputer has forged a new true crime show that is must-watch TV.  The investigators are engaging, the pace is good, and they are going where the evidence takes them.  I have to admit, I look forward to the new episode every week.

If you haven’t been following The Hunt for the Zodiac Killer, I suggest you drink in these first episodes and get up to speed.  New perspectives on cold cases are always welcome additions to what we think we know about these infamous crimes.

#truecrime

#Zodiac

Review of the Netflix Series – Mindhunter – Season One

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It is all about getting into the minds of serial killers 

Being a true crime author, I’m ashamed that I haven’t gotten around to reading the book that this series is based on yet.  It is a matter of time and priority, juggling my own investigations on top of requests for reading.

I sat down to drink in Mindhunter on Netflix when I was recently sick, doing a rare binge-watch of the series.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  This is the story of how the FBI got into the behavioral science of researching the patterns of serial killers. While that topic sounds potentially slow, they find ways of telling this story that grip and captivate the viewer.

This is the story of three characters on their journey into the dark, twisted minds of the murderers.  One is an arrogant and defiant young agent who is willing to break to rules in a rather Machiavellian manner.  Another is a more seasoned agent, more “by-the-book.”  The other is a psychologist that is an outsider to the FBI, who understand the full potential of this kind of research.  It is a good dynamic of characters working towards the same goal, but coming at it from very different angles and perspectives.

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Opposing them is the FBI itself, the resistance of law enforcement agencies to this new way of thinking, and the serial killers they must confront and mentally dissect. It makes for good, solid, and entertaining TV.

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Perhaps the most creepy portrayal in the series.  Just looking at him ooks me out.  

It was fun to see the origins of words and phrases that I take for granted as an author such as “organized,” and “disorganized,” in relation to serial killers.  The portrayal of the FBI as a big bureaucratic organization, fixed in its mindset and approach, seemed fairly accurate to my own limited experience.

Set in the 1970’s the sets and cars are spot on accurate.  I only found one real flaw.  In the first episode they show Agent Ford’s apartment as a tall building in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Sorry Netflix, you’d be hard pressed to find something over four stories tall there, even today.

Fair warning, the first episode was a tad slow for me, but after that it had moments that were pure mental terror to watch.  This is the kind of show you have to commit to…and it is a commitment worth making.

My only critique is the whole storyline of Holden Ford and his girlfriend.  It just feels forced to me.  The sex scenes (approximately one an episode) often feel like they are just tossed in.

I cannot speak as to whether it is accurate to the book – but it doesn’t matter – it stands on its own.

#truecrime

#mindhunter

#netflix

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: To the Gellesian Fields Part 19

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Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters.  For me, it lets me do a little creative writing between more serious projects.  Links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this one.  Enjoy!

Arius…

The Splattering… Ritual of Kurasak…left my soul and body weary but joyful.  I had delivered true holy retribution by turning over Captain Wildsong to Prince Wheaton as his slave. My faith calls for maintaining a balance under the eyes of God.  Giving up the Captain was a more honorable justice than I wanted to give that scoundrel.

Images of the fireball that had consumed brave Galinndan were seared into my closed eyelids as I prayed for him.  He fought well, he fought gallantly, and it cost him his life. Worst yet, his death had come at the hands of one of our own.

I wiped the sweat from my brow and Althalus spoke up, shattering my peace, “We did a lot of good things this day. We have lifted their hunt for Blackshear.”

“I will get you for this!” Wildsong managed to yell as the Minotaur’s bound him.

I opened my eyes and look at him.  As we locked gazes, I blew him a kiss and smiled.

The remaining royal guards stared at us in shock and amazement. Althalus stood before them. “You men have a choice.  Stay here, or come with us to the Gash.”

One of the men, a skinny fighter with a blackened beard stepped forward. “I will fulfill the last set of orders we had to go onto the Gash.”  Most of the others were stunned still.  “We have known Wildsong for years…and you sold him into slavery.”

“I didn’t sell him.  And, for the record, he we going to kill my friends and me.”

All but one of the dozen men seemed to begrudgingly agree.  They had all witnessed what had taken place and none were willing to risk out blade and ire to test us.  They were, in that one moment, wise.  The one defiant one glared at us.  “I will not be a party to this betrayal.  I will go back to Karn and tell them what I witnessed here this day.”  I know my comrades wanted to kill him but my piety held my hand. “Let him go.”

“It is dangerous to let him leave,” Althalus muttered.

“You are not going to kill him.”

Wheaton heard our debate and seemed to understand.  “We will take him with us for a few days.”

“Allow me to offer you 25 silver coins for the trouble your highness.”

He waved his hand.  “I would not think of taking money from members of my tribe who have fought so bravely.”

I gave him a nod, acknowledgement between warriors.  We began to march off and saw the Minotaurs bow their heads to us, one by one.  Wheaton came forward a few steps with a small wooden box.  “One more thing.  I offer these tokens to you to honor your fight today and the friend you have lost.”

They were small polished silver rings.  One of his men stepped forward with a piercing iron.  They tugged at my armor and exposed my nipple.  The iron stung like being hit by an arrow.  When I looked down I saw one of the small silver rings hanging there, dripping with my blood.  They were just like those that the other Minotaurs wore.  One by one each of us endured the painful ritual, none making a sound at the piercing.

We headed north along the road for two hours before finding a place suitable for camping.  When we awoke, we discovered that another of our troop had fled during his watch in the night.  A coward that could not hold to his word.  We trudged on, my arms and back aching from the battle still.

By the shadowless hour we saw the border and a tower there.  This one was under construction.  Stone blocks had been hoisted by tackle up to the top and a rickety wooden scaffolding surrounded the structure. They saw us approaching and waved from the tall half-completed battlements.

One of the guards there approached and called, “Hail!”  We responded with far less enthusiasm.

“Who is in command here?”

“I am,” Althalus responded confidently.

“Where is Captain Wildsong?”

The warlock seemed to revel with the question.  “Captain Wildsong was lost the Minotaurs that were roaming in the area.  We have lost two other men since we encountered them.”

“Oh.  They must still be on their quest to look for Blackshear then,” the guard said, shaking his head.

“I suppose,” Althalus said.  “But I get the feeling that their quest may be winding down.”  He smirked.  I saw it, I’m sure of it.

“That can only be good for the realm,” the guard replied.

“We are undertaking the mission that the Captain started,” the warlock replied.

“And that is?”

“Going to the Gash to reinforce the troops there.”

The guardsman seemed nonplussed at the task.  “It is two days ride north of here, you cannot miss it.  You’re welcome to stay here for the night.  We’ll provide you food and shelter before you get on your way.  We donna’ have much room but you are welcome to what space we do have.  We were going to have rabbit stew tonight.  Not much, but a hot meal.”

“We greatly appreciate your hospitality,” Althalus replied.

We began to walk towards the small stone barracks adjacent to the tower.  “So how did, of all people, Wildsong become lost to the Minotaurs?”

I was fully prepared to lay out the case as to how the Captain had betrayed us at the orders of the Vizir, but our warlock cut me off.  “They were on a quest for revenge for Blackshear killing their former ruler.  Their prince, Wheaton, was with them. He decided to exact his revenge on the Captain.”  The twisting of the truth out of my friend’s mouth was a sin that I would never get him to confess to.

“Yet you survived?”

“Not all of us made it out unscathed,” the warlock continued.

The Guard seemed to understand.  “Well, my father fought with Blackshear.  He’s a big man, quite brave.  It is too bad about the Captain.  Was he killed in battle?”

The lie got thicker.  “He seemed gravely wounded it and seemed we would not be able to save him,” Althalus said casting me a glance that sternly told me to not speak up at this moment.  “If he is not dead, I don’t see him coming out this way anytime soon.”  It bothered me that he was enjoying weaving this story to the innocent man…but not enough to stop him.

“Well, he always was a bit of an ass I always felt but I bear him no ill-will.  Make sure you get fodder for your horses.  You know it is a holy order that guards the Gash, so you will need to mind what is said and done there.  They can be prickly.”

I was not concerned.  Fellow paladins would be a nice relief from my comrades.  We dined with the small guard contingent, exchanged pleasantries, and bedded down.  Bor asked me as he lay on his straw, “What should we do to commemorate Galinndan?”

I reflected for a moment.  “We will get a plaque made in his honor…and tell Blackshear what he did.”

Althalus spoke in a low tone.  “We should carve on it, ‘He died for the love of Blackshear’s daughter.’”  I winced slightly at the warlock’s twisted sense of humor, yet oddly, I think the thief would have liked that.  He had rambled on about the girl for miles during our journey.

The next day a light rain fell and we saddled up for the final leg of our journey.  We moved north along the muddy road and spoke little, our wounds from the ritual still mending.  The next day we came up a low rise and below us in the distance was the Gash.  At the end of the vast crack in the earth stood a castle – and jutting out from that some 50 yards was a half-arch of stone with a dais at the end of it, hovering over the vast emptiness of the Great Gash.

I had heard of this place only in stories…of how during the last great war, the Banner of Gold drove the armies of the Black Banner and the evil Serhath Dorn out onto the long flat plains there.  The fighting in the Gellesian Fields drove the enemies of the world to this spot. Then the last king of men, Ansil Albinson the Swift summoned the greatest wizards – the Elder Council of Magics and the Lord Victar to a rocky prominence and they unleashed a powerful incantation.  The ground opened beneath the armies of darkness, devouring them as the great chasm was formed.  It was said that the crack plunged into the soul of the world, but I did not know that.  The fortress had been built there to stand guard over the evil dead – dubbed the Fangs of Kraylor.  Their Legion of paladins were sword to protect the world from anything that might have survived the plunge into the eternal black of the Gash.  Now here I was, looking at this place of legend and wished my father had lived to see such a place.  The stories you told me were true father.  In my mind I can almost see King Albinson there, standing at that dais.

As we approached the fortress, we were hailed from the battlements.  We told them we had been sent to reinforce the Gash…that we had heard there was something that had come out of the Gash and they were in need of assistance.  They opened the massive ironbound oak-stone doors.

Two knights approached us.  One was old, with thinning gray hair and beard, and a look of consternation and pure anger painted his face.  The other was walking three steps apace behind the angry knight.  The elder man stood before us. “Who is in charge here?”

“I am – my name is Althalus,” the warlock responded. He made quick introductions of us as well.

“I am Sir Karrick of the Order of the Silver Blade, Acting First Shield and Commander of this Order.”

Althalus explained how a Gray Rider had come to our village and how we had undertaken the journey to complete his ride. He told him, in very vague terms, how we had recovered the message that had called for aid, and how Lord Sklaver had sent us to honor that request.

“I sent for no Gray Rider…no message for aid was sent,” Karrick replied sternly.

The second knight stepped forward.  “Commander.  I called the Gray Rider and sent the message.”  There was a hint of penance in his voice.

Karrick reeled on him.  “Ferrin, why would you do this? Our order has always dealt with these matters on our own – it is our charge to do so.”

“We had to do something commander.  We needed reinforcements,” the shorter knight named Ferrin replied.

Althalus interceded in their debate.  “I have no idea what is going on here but it is serious enough for someone to have intercepted your message to prevent it from being delivered.  Someone was willing to risk slaying a Gray Rider.”

Sir Karrick glared at the warlock and said nothing for a moment, then ordered the gates closed.  “Very well, come into my office.  We have much to speak of.”

Althalus ordered the other guards to find quarters.  Our original party followed Sir Karrick into the inner keep.  The inside of the Fangs of Kraylor were pristine, with magnificent green grass and the Sept of the Silver Blade, the church of the order, was of ancient design, with vines creeping up along its sides. White marble pavers marked the walkways. It was as if the interior of the fortress was a world of its own, a contrast to the black rip in the soul of the world it protected.

Inside his Spartan office he invited us in and closed the door.  “Ferrin, what have you done?”

“While you were in the north searching, I did what I thought was best.  Lord Sklaver was the closest place for us to get reinforcements.  We are alone here against the night.”

Karrick shook his bowed head in thought, then turned to us.  “Forgive me, these are trying times for us.”

“Lord Sklaver was unwilling to send an army until he confirmed your need,” Althalus replied. “Since the rider had been ambushed and he never got the message directly from the rider’s pouch, he didn’t entirely trust it.”

Or us…

He asked for the message and I produced my copy for him to read.  He put the paper on his desk after reading the words.  Sir Ferrin glanced at it.  “Those are my words commander, yet not my handwriting.”

The older knight seemed to know that already.  “It is difficult to admit our need for aid, we have never called for it before.  First Shield Sir Theris Bentblade had gone to the Wail, an observation post along the Gash.  Something rose out of the Gash…a shadow…yet something more.  The First Shield set out after this shadow with 400 paladins of the legion heading north to the Pass at Sever.  There their trail disappeared.  Our defenses have been stripped.  We cannot let the foes of all that is good know that we are almost defenseless.  There are many that would take advantage of our state.”

For a few moments we said nothing.  Sir Karrick continued, “We accept your men as reinforcements.  Our rules are simple.  Only an ordained paladin may enter the Sept of the Silver Blade or step out onto the Pinnacle of Light.”

“We should send someone back to Lord Sklaver…to get more reinforcements,” Althalus offered and Karrick solemnly agreed.

Then Althalus said something that seemed to escalate the emotions in the room.  “We have reason to believe that the Sisterhood of the Sword may be involved in this somehow.”  He told him that we had encountered one of them, that she had intercepted the message.  The mention of the Sisterhood made Karrick stand erect, taller than even Bor.  His eyes fixed on the warlock.  “Her name was Lexa Lyoncroft.”

Karrick turned to Ferrin, then back to us.  “Lexa Lyoncroft. She is involved with this?”

“Yes,” I answered firmly. “She was the one that attacked the Gray Rider and took Ferrin’s call for aid. She has the original message.  We obtained a copy of it from her.”

“This does not bode well.  It is like a nightmare that has come back from my youth.”

“You know her?” I queried.

“Yes – I do.  I fear I played a part in her plight.  The Sisterhood of the Sword was at one time as powerful a military order as our own.  Lexa was one of their most fearless sisters, a holy warrior beyond repute.  Her skills with the blade were greater than any other. She burned with a holy passion that made her glow in the dark.

“She told me that she discovered a corruption in the church, a plague that devoured all that was good in the church.  She and her mother superior were going to confront the Council of Cardinals about their misdeeds.

“The church turned on them.  My order was one of three sent in to purge them.  It is my fault that she lived.  Our battle was one for the ages.  I cornered her while her temple burned around her, but I could not bring myself to kill her.  There was something about her, something that I cannot describe. I could not bring myself to take her life.  It was wrong then…and wrong now.

“She fled, along with four others of the sisterhood.  The church labeled them the Five Witches…done to prevent them from ever gaining help from locals.  Over the years two of the five have been caught and have faced the church’s justice.

“Lexa wants revenge.  I fear she may ally herself with something dark and soulless to extract that vengeance.”

Althalus spoke up.  “She didn’t seem to be motivated by vengeance when we met her.  She acted as if there was something else in play, some greater evil she wanted to stop.”

Sir Ferrin spoke up.  “Commander, how would she have known what was in my message?  How would she have known to intercept it?  I wonder – is it possible that we have a spy in our midst?”

Sir Karrick’s face shifted from old remorse to a hint of anger.  “This does not bode well for us if that is the case.  Lexa Lyoncroft…she should have been dead a thousand times.  I refused to let myself believe that she was somehow still alive. She will not have her revenge until the corruption in the church is purged.”  It was almost as if the elder knight was speaking to himself, not to us.

Karrick gathered himself and turned to me.  “We are facing other problems as well here.  We keep a man up on the Pinnacle of Light to keep watch over the Gash.  We have always done that.  Just like sending men to the Wail, it is our duty to look over the evil imprisoned below.  Of late, we have found we cannot keep men out there long. Several brother-knights have gone mad staring out into the darkness. They used to stand watch there for ten days as a time.  Now it is no more than three days.  There is something out there, something that is attacking them in their thoughts.

“We had purged the undead from the world except for places like the Gellesian Fields…now I fear that those that refuse to die may once more walk the world.

“That was where we found Lexa,” Althalus said.

“A perfect place for her to hide.”

I could see the pain in his soul every time that Lexa was mentioned.  I came to appreciate that we had been lucky to survive our encounter with her.  There was clearly more to her character than any of us appreciated.  There was more to her story than we understood.

Sir Karrick gathered his emotions and stuffed them down deep into his massive frame.  “What I could use from you is information.  We lost the trail of the men under the First Shield’s command that headed north.  While we await Lord Sklaver’s response, I suggest that you and your small party try and follow the trail north to the Pass at Sever and the Vale of White – the Vale of Bones.  It is said that there an entrance to Tempora there, but no one has found it in years.  We must know the fate of those holy warriors.”

“There is still the matter of the traitor…” I said.  “But that is a matter that you are best suited to solve.  It takes a week to summon a rider…so somehow she must have received word as to your intent.”  I felt bad adding to the burden to Sir Karrick, but I could see that he was a man that could handle it.

 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

#DandD

Review of Justice League – Spoiler Alert

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I will attempt to keep the spoilers to a minimum but consider this fair warning.

I came into this film with two frames of mind.  First, I have waited my entire life (five decades-plus) to see a good Justice League film.  I am a child of the Silver Age of comics and everyone has wanted to see all of the DC heroes on the screen at once.  It was going to be hard for any film to live up to a lifetime of internal hype and hope.

My second mindset was that I dislike the whole Zack Synder take on the DC universe. I didn’t love Man of Steel and it took a few viewings of Batman vs Superman to fully appreciate it.

So that I had perspective, I viewed the film with my daughter and grandson who also had a lifetime of waiting to see these characters on the screen.  Three generations of us, mentally braced with the acceptance that we may not like it.

We loved it.  We really did.  I know that will make some fanboys whine, but all that matters is that we enjoyed the film.  Heck, I might go again.

The things that made this movie good was a relatively simple plot (one of the many failings in Batman vs Superman).  The story was simple. The heroes were true to form and everyone got good airtime.  I think that Ben Affleck is outstanding as Batman – perhaps one of the best casting decisions ever. Gal Gadot IS Wonder Woman.

Things I enjoyed:

  • They made Aquaman cool.  It’s hard to believe, but true.
  • The movie didn’t dwell on origin stories so that the pacing was good.
  • The interplay between Batman and Wonder Woman was good, very true to their characters.
  • There were moments of humor that were unexpected and good – like Aquaman sitting on the lasso of truth.
  • Nothing beat that moment when the Flash was running past Superman and the Supes turned and tracked him.  Yeah, he’s that fast Barry.
  • The post credit scenes honored us Silver Age/Silver Hair crowd and took us in a new direction other than some grim Darkseid plotline which seemed to be the previous course. The first post-credits scene made the movie for me, the icing on the cake.
  • Superman smiled and even laughed.  Gone was Syderian-era of the grim and brooding Man of Steel.

Things I’m on the fence about:

  • Steppenwolf.  I’ve been reading comics for a long time and I didn’t recognize this villain – which was embarrassing. You would have thought that with the pantheon of characters, they could have come up with someone more recognizable to the masses.
  • This was not the Barry Allen or the Flash I knew or wanted to see in film.  Don’t get me wrong, he worked perfectly as a comic relief in the film, fitting into the ensemble well, but he wasn’t quite the Flash I had been hoping for.  I was torn between my expectations for the character and how well he was portrayed in the film. I didn’t hate this Flash, but I didn’t love him.
  • The producers seem unconcerned with the fact that most of these characters have their secret identities compromised.  Even Lois yelling, “Clark!” to Superman with the police on the ground seemed a little weird. Perhaps that is all intentional…hmm…

So, is it worth seeing?  Yes!  Who would have thought that 2017 would have given us two great DC films?  Perhaps this is a sign of things to come.

The Bizarre Manson Legacies…

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This was my gateway into the true crime genre.  How many of you share that? 

Charles Manson is dead.  I hope it provides solace for those survivors related to his victims.  As a true crime author I found myself not wanting his death, but oddly comfortable with it. Manson should have died years ago but California rejected the death penalty.  He was a product of the prison system where he lived most of his life.  Strange as it may sound, his life sentence was merely sending him back to his home.

Manson’s trial was the first since the Lindbergh kidnapping/murder that captivated the entire country.  I remember it being on the evening news almost nightly.  TV was a catalyst for Charile’s brand of crazy.  Even President Nixon weighed in on his guilt.  It was the first trial that was part of the mainstream media.  It was hard to follow as a kid watching the nightly news. Manson’s motive made no sense to me.  How could such a worthless waif of a human convince kids from middle-class America to go out and slaughter innocent people?  That alone drove attention and insatiable curiosity into the crimes.

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Manson was masterful at giving the media what it wanted, a story and an image every night.  Each one designed to shock and awe America’s sensibilities.  

Charles Manson left a few strange legacies in has evil wake.  Manson and his followers drove a stake in the hippie movement.  Drugs and sex may have opened many minds, but in Manson’s bizarrely capable hands he turned hippies to raw and savage violence. From the time of his arrest, the era of hippies was viewed with suspicion and was forever tainted.  Manson killed the very movement he waded into.

Another strange legacy he had was in the true crime genre.  I would contend that Manson spawned the contemporary true crime genre which is near its pinnacle right now.  His crime, and the books and films that followed convinced the world that there were evil people out there and they could strike, seemingly at random.  He blurred the line between horror and true crime simply by existing.

For myself and many others, Helter Skelter was our first contemporary true crime book.  The 1976 TV docudrama was chilling and disturbing on multiple levels.  If Manson and his Family had not waged their twisted war on Los Angeles, the true crime genre would have been set back decades.  Vincent Bugliosi’s masterful book paved the way for countless other books.

You may argue that Capote’s work, In Cold Blood, had laid this foundation first.  The murders he chose however were not front page news.  Manson went after film stars and prominent members of the LA community.  Capote’s work, while groundbreaking, did not have the full media coverage that the Tate-Labianca trial had.  Manson played the press and the world ate it up.  He was a creature of film and the press.  They hated him and put him in every living room nightly.  It wasn’t until the OJ Simpson trial that we saw media cover murders with such zeal and interest.

True crime was here to stay.

While I loathe Charles Manson and everything that he stood for; he did forge the start of the contemporary true crime genre by being a horribly evil man with no regard to human life.  The world is a better place without him in it.  The nightmares he has spawned however, continue on to this day.

Original Inner Sphere Maps

I have been a BattleTech writer since the first Tech Readout (3025).  I saw the unseen before they were, well, unseen.  Some of my FASA-era background material over the years has just plain been lost or discarded decades ago when I deemed it hopelessly obsolete.

Some, not all.

I have unearthed a treasure trove of old material.  I doubt seriously these are covered under NDA since the material has been published ages ago.  I dug a lot of this out because of some super-top-secret work I am doing in BattleTech right now.

The first release from my archives – the original maps of the Inner Sphere.  These were photocopies provided to me by Ross Babcock back in the day.  FASA was pinching pennies so much that they were copied on the back of copies of Traveller ship deckplans they used to sell.  You can see on the one set of maps where Ross drew with a red ink pen the boundaries in 3025 – which is pretty neat.

I am sure some of you will spend hours looking at these seeking hidden worlds, and hell, who knows, they may be there.  To my knowledge this is the only set of these hand drawn maps from that era still kicking around.  Anyway, I hope you enjoy perusing them.

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The Free World’s League.  You can see the starship blueprint lines bleeding through
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House Steiner
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Unfortunately some of the toner is starting to come off.  I’m glad I took digital images before they fall apart. 
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My favorite.  Ross Babcock drew the lines of this showing the house borders.  I never compared these to the finally published images, so who knows what little quirks may appear.