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Archive for December, 2008

five_fistsI just finished The Five Fists of Science. by Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders. It’s an entertaining story, like  a Steampunk Ghost Busters by E.L. Doctorow. It’s a comic adventure about Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla stopping J. P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie from summoning a Cthulhu-thing to destroy New York City. Personally, I prefer historical fiction to leave the actual figures in the background and invent fictional main characters. Like in this book, Thomas Edison goes on a hunt for the Yeti in Tibet, which has nothing to do with either the story or the historical Edison. If it hadn’t been Edison, I would have thought it was just an interesting sidebar. The Batman book Detective No. 27 was more my style, with an old-timey Bruce Wayne as the main figure and Teddy Roosevelt and others making appearances lasting just a few panels.

The writing and art are pretty good, and it’s a quick read. Actually, now that I count it, it’s actually 100 pages long! — it just wasn’t very memorable. It’s mainly inspired me to find more pulp science fiction.

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Graphic Novel Wishlist

hellboyI’ve probably read about 4 comic books in my entire life, so I don’t get that excited about superhero stories. But these books have enough historical fiction and/or pulp horror that I’m intrigued and have requested some of these books at the library:

Hellboy/BPRD

Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

Superman’s Metropolis/Batman: Nosferatu/Wonder Woman: the Blue Amazon

Superman: Red Son

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Another Pulp RPG

2ft_revI haven’t reviewed it yet, but my post from a few days ago about “motivation systems” could have included this new system called Two-Fisted Tales: The Pulp RPG that uses “schticks” and “defects” to influence roleplaying. For instance the addiction defect makes an alcoholic character who hasn’t had a drink get shaky hands and can’t shoot as well. But his schtick could be that  he’s incredibly convincing when telling lies.

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The Grinch as Conan

grinch_santaI just discovered the excellent The Cimmerian, apparently the blog about pulp king Robert E. Howard. For Christmas, they have rewritten Dr. Suess’s Grinch in the style of a Conan the Barbarian tale. It’s pitch perfect.

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king_in_yellowAccording to Robert W. Chambers in his disturbing, decadent The King in Yellow: The Repairer of Reputations (Amazon, Librivox), in 1920, a marble and gold “lethal chamber”, or suicide booth, was installed on the south side of Washington Square “between Wooster Street and 5th Avenue”. The streets have changed since the story was published in 1895, but I believe this is today West 4th St. between University Pl. and Laguardia Pl., which is now the site of  NYU’s Elmer Holmes Bobst Library. The madness in the story takes place a few blocks away at what would today be Thompson St. and Bleecker St.

This story is definitely of its time; the Gilded Age, the Belle Epoque. Washington Park was the home of Manahattan’s elite and was the original home of those other expat authors who investigated decadence, Edith Wharton and Henry James.

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indiana_jones1I saw Indian Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull this week, and now I REALLY want to buy the Hollow Earth Expedition pulp RPG.

I love the motivation system in HEX — something I feel is missing from Call of Cthulhu. A preset motivation system turns your character into a stereotype, which is a good thing, especially for beginning role-players. By exagerating characters’ personalities, players can better focus on how the character would react instead of how they would react.

About a month ago, unaware of motivation systems, I asked all my CoC players to describe their characters’ personal philosophies and their hopes and fears so we could use them for better story-telling, but I didn’t know how to actually integrate it into the game. This is where motivation systems help. They incentivize roleplaying by rewarding players with points for acting out two or so positive and negative traits for their character.  These traits can be fatal flaws that always trip up the characters or irresistable urges that guide the characters’ actions in a story. Active role-players are rewarded by the Keeper with “drama points” that can be used later to improve die roll results (allowing impossible but thrilling events) or even to allow a player to briefly redirect the story. For example, a player might volunteer to have his stereotypically clumsy character trip and drop the golden idol at a key moment in exchange for ‘drama points’ he could use later in the game to jump a motorcycle over a canyon. Both events add plenty of drama!

Motivation systems seem to be the current pulp RPG zeitgeist, because the pulpy Trail of Cthulhu and the upcoming Pulp Cthulhu both use motivation systems to improve role-playing and pulp-style action. Based on reading about the three games, I think HEX captures pulp action the best. Besides using a clear motivation system, it also replaces precentage die rolls with a series of coin tosses that keep the math low and the action high.

The main reason I won’t buy HEX right away is I don’t want to make my players switch game systems. I have high hopes for Pulp Cthulhu, but if needs be, I plan to graft a motivation system into our game for better role-playing.

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eruvmap1A secret (or little-known) boundary line runs around my apartment and surrounds the neighborhoods around Prospect Park. It is the boundary of the Park Slope Eruv, which allows Jews limited travel on the Sabbath, as long as they stay within the eruv. The boundaries for eruvs were traditionally the physical fences surrounding all the courtyards in a Jewish neighborhood, but they are now commonly demarcated by wires suspended from utility poles and lightposts, which means you’d never know you were in an eruv unless you knew what to look for. The Congregation B’nai Jacob on 9th street maintains the Park Slope Eruv and members of the congregation check each week before the Sabbath to see that the boundary is intact and that Jews can travel.

I love the idea of a gigantic pentagram drawn under my town protecting me from evil. That’s not what an eruv is, but I still like the idea.

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