Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Category Archives: Amazon

Pulp Revolution Spinner Rack III

Something happened.

Those days when you’d go look for some science fiction and fantasy and struggle to find something good or different or old school… they’re over. Those days when you’d sift through a shelf of books always with the same dozen or so authors that are in all the big chain stores everywhere…? Those are gone too.

Between the hoopla surrounding the Sad Puppies campaigns, the debut of Cirsova magazine this year, and the proliferation of top notch book blogs in recent months, something of a critical mass has been reached. There are more authors turning up now than any of us can keep up with. And these are not the sort of people that would have risen to the top under the old regime. Far from it.

There is a wave coming. And it’s going to change everything. The authors that created the works below are the ones that are going to make it happen.

Stuff I’m Actually Playing

Space Rumsfeld threw down the gauntlet today with this:

Sorry, Rummie. That’s not how we do things around here! I mean… who has the time or even the shelf space for stuff they’re never even going to play?!

Here are five games that I’ve worn out this year, in order of total time at the tabletop!

1. Illuminati with the Y2K expansion set from Steve Jackson Games — My son and I play this one to death. It’s not even designed to work well with two players, but we don’t care. Playing an Illuminati organization using guile and subterfuge to take over group after group? It never gets old! Pushing piles of cash along the pipelines of your tentacles of power? Pure bliss! Action that comes straight from the pages of The Weekly World News? Still hilarious even thirty years later. Those rare occasions that we do get a third or fourth player into the mix…? There’s always some first-rate backstabbing involved. (“Hey, if you do this thing that looks like it would benefit you more than me, I’d totally help you do it!”) Steve Jackson calls this one of their “evergreen” titles because it has never dropped from the top seller lists. Fifteen years ago it would have been on the higher end of the complexity scale, but with the advent of heavy Euros and Living Card Games, it’s now dropped down to being relatively straightforward in comparison. Finally, the inclusion of blank cards allow you to keep the game up to date by adding in Gamergate, Sad Puppies, File 770, and DiGRA to the gameplay. A classic.

2. Wizard Kings with two Heroes & Treasures expansions — Columbia Games is known for the exquisitely well-crafted block wargames. This is not one of their designs that pulls down rave reviews while soaking up tournament slots at the big game conventions. If you’re looking for a quick playing fantasy-themed battle game, though, this is the one you want! The Stratego-style fog of war means you have to make gutsy moves to win. The geo-morphic maps and the seven factions means no two games ever have to be alike. And the game design mojo of the Columbia crew means that there are paths to victory that require you to be very, very evil. Yep, this game is insane for applying “collectibility” to an old school wargame. And you won’t get a substantial amount of play out of this one unless you go ahead and buy a couple of expansions. But I think you’ll find that the excitement involved in planning out how to dole out the stickers to each faction is exactly the sort of insane fun that’s been missing from your life. (Note that I have more notes along with a complete scenario here, here, and here.)

3. 7 Ages — This is the monster game to end all monster games. I played this one with six other people for seven sessions straight and let me tell you… it was epic. Each player typically plays two empires at once. They spring up all over the world and grow and fight and collapse and break apart. All sorts of technology is in play at once. There are special leaders, special units– and the cards are all used for a half dozen things. Players build the seven wonders of the world, trigger acts of god, raid, pillage, burn, usurp, and invent. It’s insane. This game is more like a role-playing game in some ways because players end up coming up with their own personal objectives rather than simply playing for a straight ahead win. Some people do things just because they might be incredibly awesome. Other people spend the game punishing anyone that crosses them. The complexity level is high and it will be a rare group that decides to actually bust this one out, but those that do are in for an unparalleled gaming experience. (Note you can find extensive documentation of my 7 Ages game over on the Castalia House photo stream.)

4. Adventurer Conqueror King System and The Sinister Stone of Sakkara — A lot of people ask me what version of D&D I recommend, and yeah… I feel pretty strongly about the classic Moldvay Basic sets with the Erol Otus covers. ACKS takes those D&D rules that are the arguably most played of all time and develops them further. Here you’ll find extensive rules for the domain game that was only given cursory treatment in AD&D. You’ll also find a diverse range of character classes that accommodate modern sensibilities without sacrificing the old school aesthetic. And with the Sakkara adventure module, the line now has something to fill the niche that Gary Gygax’s Keep on the Borderlands established. The variety of beasties populating this dungeon makes sense and there is a wild situation brewing that has some awesome weird horror angles. Finally, there are a couple of encounters here that don’t tend to end up in most peoples’ introductory modules but that really ought to be done. There is the potential for true gaming glory within these pages. (For more in this see my posts here, here, and here.)

5. Sea Kings by Lewis Pulsipher — This one is a light board game that’s easy to teach, easy to set up, and quick to play. I had no problem getting my son (age 13) and his friends to play it. I even got a six player game together with some kids that were even younger. Unlike a lot of euros, there is an element of direct conflict in the advanced rules. The inclusion of rules that allow players to settle without using a card in order to take over over players settlements makes the gameplay much more dynamic. There’s also just enough history baked into the game to inspire young people to do some further reading about the world the Viking raiders lived in.

And there you have it! There are some lovely games that have come out this year, but none of them quite had the staying power of these five. Check ’em out! (And if you pick up a copy of your own, please purchase them through the links on this post in order to support my blogging efforts.)

The Pulp Revolution Spinner Rack

The latest issue of Cirsova is out, and yep… it’s got my name on the cover. Let me tell you, I am very very excited about this. And not just because my contributor copy is on the way, either!

I don’t know what’s inside, but if it’s all as good as my piece on C. L. Moore in there, well… I think you’re going to get your money’s worth!!

Now… any time the subject of fantasy and science fiction short stories comes up, it’s seems like there’s always an independent author that steps up to say that they tried doing short works, but it just doesn’t work for them financially. Seriously, I wince every time I hear that. See, it’s just not normal. Before 1980, short stories and novellas were the bread and butter of science fiction and fantasy. The mind bending variety is just plain astounding…!

I want that energetic spirit of creativity to make a comeback. And I’m not alone! Guy’s like Schuyler Hernstrom are making it happen right now. Seriously, if you’ve ever looked back on the pulps and thought, “nobody’s ever gonna write like that again,” you need to check out the title story from Thune’s Vision. It is everything that the establishment creators can’t imagine… and it’s awesome!

And you know, sometimes I think the pulp revolution was just itching to happen well before anyone thought to coin the term. What gets me is the number of people involved that were hanging around these parts even when 90% of the posts were about Car Wars…! Karl K. Gallagher is one of those people, and if you want to hear more about him, check out this review and this interview, not to mention this post about him receiving the Planetary Award for his first novel!

Yes, Karl has returned with a sequel now. If you want old school science fiction in the tradition of Traveller and Starfire, this is it!

On the back cover of the latest issue of Cirsova, you’ll find an ad for Brian Niemeier’s stuff. Who is he and why is he here…? Well, let me tell you. Brian is one of those independent author types that isn’t necessarily in all this for the revolution. (And I mean this in the most swaggeringly Han Soloish way possible.) No, he’s not looking to make some kind of Weird Tales or Planet Stories revival along the lines of what P. Alexander is doing.

But freed from the constraints of the big box book store… and working on the basis of whatever seems awesome from the standpoint of stuff like tabletop gaming and anime, there is in fact a bit of parallel evolution going on here. Brian’s stuff blurs the lines between genres in way that could have been taken for granted more before 1940 or so….!

I try to pin down precisely what he’s doing here, but the main thing is… this guy’s causing a stir. He pulled down a Dragon Award with his sequel and is even now closing in on completing a third installment to this series.

Last but not least here, I have to put in a word for John C. Wright. Many times in the past year I have lamented the fact that nobody seems to write like Lord Dunsany, C. L. Moore, and Poul Anderson anymore. Looking at the wasteland that is the modern day mass market book store, it was all too easy to despair.

I’ve got news for you, though. The man that is arguably the best living fantasy and science fiction author…? He writes as if the Appendix N days never stopped. It’s awesome… and he is getting better all the time!

If you are looking for a novel written on the premise of old style elfs– elfs without the overwhelming sameness of today’s watered down Tolkien pastiche– then you have to see Swan Knight’s Son. I’ve heard people say that it’s the best book they’ve read this year… and now that I’ve read it myself, I have to agree with them!

I’ve never been more excited about fantasy and science fiction than right now. It really does feel like we are at the start of a new golden age. I’m telling you, I can’t wait to see what these guys come up with next.

Note: I am thick as thieves with these guys, no doubt. I want to see more fiction like this and I want these guys to be able to make money doing it. When you buy these guys’ books, you are helping make the pulp revolution continue to grow at an astonishing rate. If you buy through the links on the book images here, then you also help by getting Amazon to throw me a kickback for getting the word out. To everyone that does so… thank you for your support!

Buying Appendix N on Amazon

Okay, tracking down a full survey’s worth of Appendix N is kind of a chore. I’ve had several people tell me I’m crazy for thinking that these books are lapsing into obscurity. But the fact is, even in used book stores in a major city, I rarely come across the books that I reviewed. I’ll see miscellaneous books from these authors fairly often, sure. But if you’re looking for the first book of a series, for example, you’re generally going to be out of luck.

Unless you’ve got a Half Price books down the road from you, Amazon is pretty much the place to go for this stuff. Some Appendix N books you can get for a penny– all you have to do is pay the four bucks for shipping! A few of these books are relatively rare and can run you somewhere in the ten to twenty dollar range. But I think it’s worth it given that by default I do not trust the ebook versions of a lot of these– I have no way to tell if they’re crooks or if they are peddling a lousy OCR job with no editing.

Just a general buying tip here: go for the Ballantine paperback for any of the “Best of” volumes and/or books from the Adult Fantasy Series. It’s a pleasure having the real thing! If you are reading Elric or Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser, then there is some debate among fans as to which books to read and what order to read them. For The Moon Pool, you may want to go with H. P. Lovecraft’s advice and stick to just the original novella if you can find it. If you like evil priestesses, though, then definitely go with the fix-up! Finally, the version of The Broken Sword that I read was changed by the author from its original release. It you’re the type to obsess over this sort of thing, you may want to look into whether or not it’s worth your while to track down the older version!

Note that purchasing through these links give me a small cut of the sale via the Amazon Associates program. Nevertheless, I tried to find the best buys for the most legitimate looking editions. This is the cheapskate‘s guide to getting good reading copies. If you think you’ve found a better source on Amazon for getting these, please share it in the comments so that others can save money and/or get the ideal edition of the books!

  1. The Dying Earth by Jack Vance
  2. Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson
  3. The High Crusade by Poul Anderson
  4. The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance
  5. The Martian Tales Trilogy: A Princess of Mars / The Gods of Mars / The Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  6. Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny
  7. At the Earth’s Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  8. The Pirates of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  9. Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny
  10. The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard
  11. Creep, Shadow! by A. Merritt
  12. The Moon Pool by A. Merritt
  13. Kothar– Barbarian Swordsman by Gardner Fox
  14. Changeling Earth by Fred Saberhagen
  15. The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs
  16. Dwellers in the Mirage by A. Merritt
  17. Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp
  18. The Blue Star by Fletcher Pratt
  19. Kyrik: Warlock Warrior by Garner Fox
  20. The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany
  21. Hiero’s Journy by Sterling Lanier
  22. Star Man’s Son by Andre Norton (a. k. a. “Daybreak — 2250 A.D.”)
  23. Ill Met in Lankhmar by Fritz Leiber
  24. The Complete Cthulhu Mythos Tales by H. P. Lovecraft
  25. The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson
  26. The Maker of Universes by Philip José Farmer
  27. The Sword of Rhiannon by Leigh Brackett
  28. The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum
  29. The Jewel in the Skull by Michael Moorcock
  30. The Trail of Cthulhu by August Derleth
  31. Swords Against Darkness III edited by Andrew. J. Offutt
  32. The Carnelian Cube by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt
  33. The Warrior of World’s End by Lin Carter
  34. The Shadow People by Margaret St. Clair
  35. The Fallible Fiend by L. Sprague de Camp
  36. The Stealer of Souls by Michael Moorcock
  37. The Legion of Space by Jack Williamson
  38. Sign of the Labrys by Margaret St. Clair
  39. The Best of Fredric Brown edited by Robert Bloch
  40. Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock
  41. Battle in the Dawn by Manly Wade Wellman
  42. The Complete Compleat Enchanter by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt
  43. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

What should you read when you finish with all that…?

If you are looking for more information about the history and origins of role-playing games, then you’ll definitely want to check out Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World. (Note that the Kindle version is recommended due to all the hotlinked end notes.) If you would like to see a good description of pulp fantasy history and some things to look out for in adapting it to tabletop role-playing, I can recommend Ron Edwards‘s Sorcerer Supplement, “Sorcerer and Sword” which is available at the Adept Press web site. For a D&D style game that “that cross-breeds Appendix N with a streamlined version of 3E”, see Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. Finally, for interviews with game designers from the seventies plus TONS of great old school gaming content, Fight On! magazine is an unmatched resource.


Secret Doors and False Religions in The Gods of Mars

While you’re probably not going to get anything more famous than the “back door” to Lonely Mountain, there’s certainly no shortage of potential antecedents for the ubiquitous secret doors of Dungeons & Dragons. Among my favorite would be the ones that Velma finds by accident whenever she loses her glasses on episodes of Scooby Doo.

I don’t recall coming across too many when I did my survey of Appendix N, so I was struck tonight as I read chapter four of The Gods of Mars to my son. Oh, there’s plenty in that chapter that’s striking, all right. There is the completely naked warrior babe that shoots her captor/tormentor without even thinking about it, for instance. If you thought the fainting of the women immediately following episodes of violence was just plain too much in Tarzan of the Apes, well… it’s plenty clear that Edgar Rice Burroughs was capable of imagining it working out in a different fashion!

But about those secret doors:

With a cry of encouragement I threw my weight against the secret door, but as well have assayed the down-hurling of the cliffs themselves. Then I sought feverishly for the secret of the revolving panel, but my search was fruitless, and I was about to raise my longsword against the sullen gold when the young woman prisoner called out to me.

“Save thy sword, O Mighty Warrior, for thou shalt need it more where it will avail to some purpose—shatter it not against senseless metal which yields better to the lightest finger touch of one who knows its secret.”

I have to say that they are used to good effect in a crazy all out combat scenario. But it’s the term itself I really wonder about. Is it possible that the phrase “secret door” was lifted from this book in order to be immortalized in a weird game invented in the seventies…? I don’t think that’s too outlandish an idea given that the original D&D term “fighting man” is without question a reference and/or an homage to John Carter. Similarly, the “thief” is not called burglar or rogue because of Roger Zelazny’s Jack of Shadows, which also explains why thieves have a “hide in shadows” skill and not stealth!

I checked the Google Ngram viewer— which again, is not conclusive proof of anything, really– but I find it interesting that the incidence of the phrase “secret door” peaks at the turn of the twentieth century and then begins climbing back into more frequent usage again starting with the advent of D&D. There’s maybe nothing to this, but there it is.

The other big thing from the same chapter is its treatment of both cosmology and religion:

“The therns are mortal,” she replied. “They die from the same causes as you or I might: those who do not live their allotted span of life, one thousand years, when by the authority of custom they may take their way in happiness through the long tunnel that leads to Issus.

“Those who die before are supposed to spend the balance of their allotted time in the image of a plant man, and it is for this reason that the plant men are held sacred by the therns, since they believe that each of these hideous creatures was formerly a thern.”

“And should a plant man die?” I asked.

“Should he die before the expiration of the thousand years from the birth of the thern whose immortality abides within him then the soul passes into a great white ape, but should the ape die short of the exact hour that terminates the thousand years the soul is for ever lost and passes for all eternity into the carcass of the slimy and fearsome silians whose wriggling thousands seethe the silent sea beneath the hurtling moons when the sun has gone and strange shapes walk through the Valley Dor.”

Okay, that’s just… wild to me. Is it really that crazy…? I think it is. There’s just an unbounded creativity to it.

Of course, it’s side by side with Plant Men that somehow sprang from the Tree of Life. (Straight outta Genesis, yo!) The whole scenario, too, is for the adventurers to escape from a sham afterlife in order to return to society and let them know that their religion is basically false.

And let me just say that “the religion that is totally false” is definitely the norm for science fiction and fantasy in general. Though, yeah, the “old folk superstition that actually turns out to be true” is a fairly common trope as well, yeah. But take something huge like the Lovecraft Mythos: if it’s real, then it annihilates pretty much all human religions. Or look at Robert E. Howard’s Conan where religion is integral to culture. Or take that crazy original series Star Trek episode “The Apple”, the one with the snake temple and the natives that end up discovering how awesome kissing is. Or consider the over the top handling of idolatry, blasphemy, and megalomaniac godling-priests in Lin Carter’s The Warrior of World’s End. Or consider the ludicrous idols of Lord Dunsany’s short stories. Or the depiction of druids engaging in human sacrifice in A. Merritt’s Creep, Shadow!

Look at all of that! And then look at religion in recent editions of D&D. Do you get the impression that you’re dealing with something multi-faceted? Nuanced? Dangerous? Something that’s of deadly importance…? Or do you– like the image there I came across on Twitter– have something that’s more innocuous, safe, and inoffensive than anything else?

I’m just asking….