Reality is the playground of the unimaginative
Home Of Superheroes, the Supernatural, Swords, Sorcery, and Star Stuff

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

The Week In Geek...

A round-up of geeky stories you might have missed...

(1) Are You Evil Enough? The Evil League of Evil (from Joss Whedon's excellent Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog) is accepting video applications for membership up until October 11. So what are you waiting for? A personal invitation from Bad Horse?

(2) North America 's Smallest Dinosaur: A researcher in Alberta, Canada has discovered the bones of a 70-million-year-old, chicken-sized dinosaur, believed to be North America's smallest, that existed on a diet of insects.

(3) The Next Doctor: The 2008 Doctor Who Christmas special will be called 'The Next Doctor'. This was revealed by the BBC at the same time as it unveiled it's Children In Need competition to win a 'behind-the-scenes' tour of the studios where Doctor Who, The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood are filmed.

(4) More Smeggin' Red Dwarf: Four new half-hour Red Dwarf specials are to be shown next year on British comedy channel Dave - two will be new episodes, one will be a 'making of' documentary and one will be a 'clip show with a twist'.

(5) Would You Like A Chop With Your Tea? Custom wargame scenery maker, Nikolai Ruskin, is publishing a daily record of his attempt to recreate the famous tea house from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 28mm scale.

(6) What The Future Holds For Doctor Who Action Figures: Read an interesting article with Alasdair Dewar, Product Development Director of Character Group, manufacturer of the Doctor Who action figures line on Doctor Who Toys. Net. Discover which lines are continuing and which have been dropped and get an insight into what makes a good action figure.

(7) Now THAT'S A Big Bang: Wanna find out what happens when two planets the size of Earth crash into each other? Then read this story from Science Daily.

(8) I Spy: Mark Copplestone and Nick Lund will be at the Victoria & Albert Museum on October 31, as part of its Cold War Modern Exhibition, to show off their Kiss Kiss Bang Bang range of James Bond-inspired miniatures in a series of demonstration wargames.

(9) Daleks Conquer All: The pre-election Radio Times cover from May 2005 featuring a Dalek has been voted Britain's favourite magazine cover of all time, netting over 25 per cent of the votes.

Miss September: Ellie Chidzey

Ellie Chidzey (from Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath Of The Dragon God)

Lounge Watch: Day Six...

After Rachel slaved away most of the weekend painting three of the walls and the ceiling, Shane the accountant and decorator (he does the books for Maxim, where Rachel works) came in today to hang the wallpaper on our 'feature wall'.

He got the job done nicely, in about an hour and a half, which means we have until Friday to finish the walls and doors before the carpet fitters arrive with our new carpet.

Monday, 29 September 2008

The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Last Sontaran

Reports of strange lights in the sky over the creepily named village of Goblin's Copse - the site of a radio telescope scanning the skies for friendly aliens - draw Sarah Jane Smith and her team of young helpers away from the security of Bannerman Road.

At the same time, Maria (Yasmin Paige) has discovered that her dad, Alan (Joseph Millson) has been offered a job in America and she is trying to summon up the courage to tell the others.

They quickly discover that the lights were caused by Commander Kaagh (altogether now: "KAAAAAAAAAAGGGHHHH!"), the last survivor of the 10th Sontaran Battlefleet's unsuccessful attempt to invade Earth in The Poison Sky.

Kaagh's pod was just leaving the mothership when it was destroyed by The Doctor and so he crashed down to Earth and has, since then, been scheming of a way to seek vengeance for the defeat of the Sontaran battlefleet.

His fiendish scheme involves using the radio telescope to take-over the hundreds of satellites in Earth orbit and bring them down on Earth's nuclear arsenal - thus obliterating all life on the planet and guaranteeing himself immortality in the annals of Sontaran history.

The only thing is, he didn't reckon on the meddling of Sarah Jane and her band of merry "half-forms".

Luckily for our heroes, the commander (Anthony O'Donnell) is as accurate a shot as an Imperial Stormtrooper, so despite being a senior soldier of one of the galaxy's most militaristic races he is still given the runaround by a bunch of kids as he chases them around tunnels under the observatory and through the woods.

The Last Sontaran was a fantastic start to the new season of The Sarah Jane Adventures, with a cracking turn from an established old school Doctor Who alien race.

It's a shame that this story marked the departure of Maria and her father from Bannerman Road - just as her dad had come to terms with the exotic and dangerous lifestyle she was involved with, thanks to Sarah Jane - but if the series runs for many more years the door was left well and truly open for the return of the Jacksons.

DVD Of The Week: Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem (2007)

For years fans were crying out for a match-up between the Aliens and the Predators, but they were less than impressed with the 2004 addition to the mythos of both these creatures: Aliens Vs Predator.

At least that had Lance Henriksen in it as Charles Bishop Weyland (the 'inspiration' for the Bishop android in Aliens 2) to tenuously tie it in to the earlier films.

Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem picks up right from the end of the first continuity-befuddling AvP film, with the birth of the 'PredAlien' (a hybrid Alien born out of the chest of a Predator).

It attacks the Predators on the ship and forces a crash-landing back on Earth, near the small, isolated Colorado town of Gunnerson, releasing not only the PredAlien, but hordes of little face-huggers, in the wilds.

This is a town of bland, non-entities (the only slightly famous face I spotted was Reiko Aylesworth aka Michelle Dessler from 24) meaning that anyone could die at anytime (including children and pregnant women), as none have the protection of star quality.

We are quickly introduced to an array of stereotypes - from the returning soldier who has lost her 'special bond' with her daughter, to the disenfranchised local sheriff and the recently released convict returning to his home, and delinquent brother, to make a new life - before the action rapidly escalates.

You can't fault the directors Colin and Greg Strause for the speed with which they make the carnage snowball, as the alien horde grows exponentially and the humans quickly discover that there is nothing they can do to avoid becoming monster chow.

The Predators have dispatched one of their own to Earth, presumably to clean up the mess they've helped create, and he starts butchering humans and Aliens alike in his zeal.

Before you can say "but what's the story?" the film has spiralled into a plotless gorefest of Aliens munching on humans, humans running around screaming and the Predator killing anyone he can lay his hands on.

Much of the action takes place at night, and with the town's power out, so it's often difficult to even get a sense of going on, but ultimately it's difficult to grow tired to watching two of cinema's greatest killing machines doing what they do best.

There are some half-decent moments - such as the ambush of the national guard, which is a low-budget re-enactment of the marine massacre early in Aliens 2 - but don't expect to remember many, or any of the performances, about 10 minutes after you've stopped watching.

In the end, it is left to the US Army's radical "evac" plan, and a cameo by Françoise Yip as Ms. Yutani, to claw the franchise back into some vague semblance of the continuity established in the first three Alien movies.

Gone are the gritty, outer space environments, the 'lived in' space ships and alien planets, replaced by everyday, contemporary Earth; reducing the Aliens to just more monsters that go bump in the night.

In theory, it's actually not a bad idea - to remind us all just how bad ass Aliens and Predators are - but it could have done with a bit more story to back it up. For lengthy sequences, this movie ranks on a par with watching someone else play a particularly violent video game.

Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem is really one for die-hard Alien/Predator completionist fans only or if you're just looking for some moving wallpaper while you do something else; don't go into this expecting anything new or inspirational and you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Six (More) Of The Best With ROB ROGERS...

With his debut novel, Devil's Cape, named HeroPress 'Book Of The Month' for September, I thought it was time to catch up with superhero novelist Rob Rogers for a second 'Six Of The Best' interview.

(1) How do you feel about the critical and fan response to Devil's Cape?

Great! I've been thrilled to see positive reviews and to get letters from readers who enjoyed the book and were kind enough to let me know about it. Of course, I'd love to get the word out about Devil's Cape to even more people (if you liked the book, please tell people about it!). But I've been very happy with the response I've had so far.

(2) What are your plans for the future of the Devil's Cape setting and characters (e.g. sequels, role-playing game supplement etc)?

Right now, I'm busily plugging away at a sequel to Devil's Cape. It will be set in the same city, with many of the same characters. I could easily see myself writing a number of books set in Devil's Cape, and have got plans for at least the next two in mind.

I'd also like to explore some other settings in the same world. Vanguard City, in particular, has a lighter, more Silver Age vibe to it that I'd like to play around with.

No plans right now for role-playing game supplements or comic book adaptation, but I'd certainly be delighted to work on them if a publisher is interested.

(3) Looking back on the book now, after it has been out for some time, are there any parts you would like to revisit and change?

I'm pretty satisfied with the way it turned out. The published book progressed quite a long way from the first draft (during which it was called The City of St. Diable, by the way). I'm sure that I could come up with a number of tweaks if I let myself think about it too much, but it's done and in print now, and most of my attention there is focused on the sequel.

(4) The book has a very televisual or cinematic feel to it. If you were given carte blanche to cast a Devil's Cape movie, who would you like to see in the lead roles of Doctor Camelot, Bedlam, Argonaut, Scion, The Robber Baron etc?

Oh, wow, that would be fun. I've thought about it from time to time, but the only actor I really visualized when I was writing the book was Edward James Olmos (for the character of Salazar Lorca).

At different times I'd answer this question different ways, but for now, how about:

Doctor Camelot: A dark-haired Kristen Bell (she's one of my favorite actresses and her intelligence really comes across in her roles). I've also pictured Ashley Judd in this role from time to time.

Bedlam: The age isn't quite right, and the accent might be a challenge, but I could easily see Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (probably best known as Mr. Eko from Lost) in this role. Someone with that kind of charisma and physical presence.

Argonaut/Scion: These should be played by the same actor, and I'd cast Nicholas Brendon (best known as Xander from Buffy The Vampire Slayer). He's an underrated actor with a lot of range and intelligence. He's also an identical twin in real life, which would be a cool influence on the characters; his brother acts, too, so that would make it easier to deal with the scenes where Jason and Julian interact (they used his brother, Kelly Donovan, to great effect in the Buffy episode "The Replacement," the first Buffy episode I ever watched and one of my favorites).

The Robber Baron: This one is tough. Even when dream casting, I'd want to go with someone other than the usual go-to guys for the older, sinister characters (so no Patrick Stewart, Anthony Hopkins, Malcolm McDowell, Dennis Hopper, etc., although of course in real life I'd jump at the chance to work with one of those people). I'd be tempted to go back to the Buffy well with Anthony Head, or do something a bit odd like go with John Larroquette. Hmm. Well, for today, I think I'll go with Victor Garber (Jack Bristow on Alias). He's awesome.

(5) Since we last spoke in February, have you discovered any new comic book gems that you would recommend to others?

I loved the first issue of Secret Six. I'm really excited about reading more of that. Gail Simone is very, very good (I'm enjoying her Wonder Woman run, too).

I'm enjoying Peter Tomasi's Nightwing run. Sometimes it's the little grace notes that sell a comic for me, and there was an issue early in his run where Nightwing and Superman met up at a park, and a security guard approached them, and, well, it's just a beautifully written little scene. You can read a bit about it here: http://blogs.starwars.com/danwallace/103.

I've just started reading James Robinson's Superman run and I'm loving that, too.

Oh, and everyone who loves superheroes should check out Love and Capes. It's a superhero situation comedy in a comic book by Thom Zahler. Great, funny stuff.

(6) Away from superheroes, what's next for Rob Rogers the author?

Hmm, that's a tough one. Right now I seem to be pretty attached to the superhero world for my writing, if you set aside the corporate writing and stuff that I do.

But I might have some interesting news to report on a different kind of project soon, something with mythic proportions. Stay tuned and cross your fingers...

Sunday Funny: This One's For Feng Ying...

Dedicated to Nick's character in our Tekralh Castles & Crusades game, the martial arts gnome Feng Ying.

Lounge Watch: Day Four...

Having coated the newly plastered ceiling in sealant last night, Rachel began the heroic task of painting the ceiling and the walls today - breaking only to watch the qualifying sessions for tomorrow's Singapore Grand Prix and then again for dinner, followed by a brief nap before returning to the task at hand.

I'm a very lucky man to have such an industrious wife!

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Merlin: Valiant

It's Merlin's first day as Arthur's servant and he's helping the prince prepare for a melee tournament at Camelot that will ultimately see him pitched against the wicked Knight Valiant (Will Mellor).

Valiant has just come into possession of a magic shield, with three snakes painted on it that can come to life and strike with a venomous bite.

Magic being outlawed in Camelot, Valiant has to be subtle about using the shield in the tournament, but when it looks like another knight might defeat him, he knocks him to the ground and uses the snakes, out of sight of the crowd.

The knight, however, is taken to the castle physician, Gaius (Richard Wilson) and he and Merlin realise that a snake bite is a strange wound to pick up in a sword fight!

Merlin (Colin Morgan) tries to convince Arthur (Bradley James) not to fight, but ends up just embarrassing the future king in front of the whole court when he is unable to back-up his allegations.

This episode potters along in its own gentle way, being neither dull or particularly exciting; the tournament fights are okay, but mutant magic-user Merlin's mystical moments border on the Walt Disney as he is still learning the full extent of his powers.

The pecking order of Camelot's social structure is reinforced nicely, creating a potentially interesting "upstairs/downstairs" dynamic between the knights and nobility lording it over the servant classes, and not really paying attention to what they are doing or saying.

The large supporting cast all have their moment in the spotlight - Anthony Head is great as the magic-hating tyrant King Uther, while Katie McGrath continues to smoulder as Morgana (and even has a prophetic dream at one point, hopefully foreshadowing her descent to the dark side), but Angel Coulby, as Gwen, remains rather a non-entity and it seems, at the moment, incredulous that she will one day steal Arthur's heart and set in motion the downfall of Camelot!

It looks like this series is going to be a slow-burner, but let's hope it, at least, builds to a strong first season finale and doesn't just fizzle out.

Next week (look out for former EastEnder and Bionic Woman, Michelle Ryan):

(video clip only available in the UK)

Don't Leave Your Space/Time Continuum Without It...

One of the first things that strikes you about the latest Doctor Who-themed eye-candy from BBC Books, The Time Traveller's Almanac (The Ultimate Intergalactic Fact-Finder), is that - superficially - it shares much in common with Lance Parkin's near definitive AHistory (An Unauthorised History Of The Doctor Who Universe).

Both books set out to give an account of the history of 'our' universe, from beginning to end, as seen through the lens of Doctor Who.

AHistory attempts to embrace every mainstream media in its text-only chronology, taking in not just every episode of Doctor Who (from the Classics up until Last Of The Timelords), the Big Finish audios (up to Frozen Time) , all the original novels (up to Wooden Heart) but also Torchwood Season One.

A wonderful work of fan-fuelled enthusiasm, the book does an elegant job of suggesting convoluted resolutions to various contradictions and paradoxes in the series' nearly 50 year history, as well as extensive footnotes setting the stories in context with backstage information.

The Time Traveller's Almanac, on the other hand, just concentrates on the new Doctor Who (the era of Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant) and covers up to Journey's End.

This is a full-colour affair, designed in similar aesthetically-pleasing style to Doctor Who: The Encyclopedia. As well as a 'must read' for all trivia fans of the current iteration of Doctor Who (with less to cover that AHistory it goes into more depth), I'm sure it will also serve as a useful resource for those wishing to run the Doctor Who roleplaying game (due out early next year from Cubicle 7 Entertainment).

It is packed with useful (and presumably canon) background information on many of the events, characters and objects featured in the last four years of Doctor Who (but not Torchwood or The Sarah Jane Adventures) as well as gorgeous screen shots and production art.
How useful is it to have a two-page breakdown of the UK's "first contact" protocols; to know what was on Lady Cassandra's "iPod" during The End of The World; or a breakdown of UNIT alien file codes and callsigns?

It's this sort of trivial, throwaway detail that can really enhance either a roleplaying game experience, or simply watching your favourite TV show, because it helps you feel as though you know 'more' about what's going on than other people!

Both books are highly recommended, although AHistory is probably more for the 'old skool' fans, and can be dipped into on a regular basis to exhume random pieces of Who trivia that will make you a hit down the pub or at all the best parties.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Demon Hunters - Laughing In The Face Of Death!

On an Earth very much like our own, monsters really do haunt the shadows and gnaw on the bones of innocents and it is the job of The Brotherhood Of The Celestial Torch (aka Demon Hunters) to protect mankind while keeping the mass of humanity blissfully unaware of the supernatural threats all around them.

It's not so much a World of Darkness as a World of Dimness...

Such is the set-up for Demon Hunters, from Margaret Weis Productions, a light-hearted role-playing game of contemporary monster hunting based on the 1999 film, from Dead Gentleman Productions, Demon Hunters and its 2005 sequel Demon Hunters: Dead Camper Lake.

The game was written by Jamie Chambers with members of the Dead Gentlemen, who are, of course, also responsible for the highly entertaining The Gamers: Dorkness Rising.

Before I look at the game itself, the one element that makes this attractive, hardback set of rules stand out from anything else I've come across is that it comes with a DVD, neatly tucked inside the back cover!

On this disc are three pdf downloads - a character sheet, some example characters and an introductory adventure - as well as a half-hour 'Orientation Video' that can be used to explain the history and purpose of The Brotherhood Of The Celestial Torch to players.

Sadly, this isn't quite as funny as I think the Dead Gentlemen would like - but then again that might just be cultural differences between the US and UK. But that doesn't matter, this is still such a brilliant concept that I wish more games companies would do something as innovative as this.

Now I've seen the 'Orientation Video', I'm really surpised that White Wolf has never done something like this for their World of Darkness range or Mongoose for the revamped Traveller and so on and so forth.

It's this sorted of 'added value' that makes a game stand out to me these days. And it's not a cheesy gimmick, it's actually part of the game and features characters the players will probably run into in the course of their adventures.

Another quirky and rather clever idea of the game is that the role-playing games the players will be playing are actually part of the Brotherhood's training regime - "Tabletop Combat Simulations" - which allows for all sorts of weird metagaming if the players really want to get into that... possibly, even, spilling over into LARP potential!

The game itself operates on The Cortex System, which drives other Margaret Weis games such as Serenity and Battlestar Galactica, and the forthcoming Supernatural game.

And this is where I have my real problems with Demon Hunters. I like the background and the style of writing, even if it is a bit too zany in places for my sense of humour, but I have slight issues with the Cortex System.

With it's die types for statistics and skills, it is basically Savage Worlds on steroids, adding in the crunch that that system strives to eliminate, and with the addition of graded 'traits' and 'complications' (also measured in die types), the idea of stacking dice to beat a target score is elegantly simple enough.

But then I find the combat system becomes overly - perhaps unnecessarily complicated - by the introduction of two wound tracks for everyone (physical wounds and stun damage), with some weapons doing one sort, some doing another and some doing a combination of both.

Perhaps, as I haven't actually played this, it's not as difficult to grasp in play as it seems it would be, but, for me, this is an additional level of book keeping at a time in a game when things should be running fast and furious.

If I had discovered it 15 or 20 years ago, I'd have probably snapped this system up, but in my 40s I don't have the spare mental capacity to cope with all this paperwork (which is precisely what put me off Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition when I first cracked open a copy of the Player's Handbook).

Continuing the established trend of comedy games masking brilliant systems - from Ghostbusters, Toon and Hackmaster through to Diana: Warrior Princess - Demon Hunters is a well-balanced blend of quality RPG writing and 'funny stuff'.

But be warned, as the back cover tells us: "this product features irreverent humour and references to real-world religion, and is intended for mature readers".

This probably isn't a game for everyone, and I don't think its comedic tone lends itself to long-term campaign play, but if you are already playing a Cortex System game and want a change of mood without a change of system, then this would be the perfect pick-up game.

However, for those looking for a more 'serious' take on contemporary urban fantasy and monster hunting, it might be worth holding out for the Supernatural RPG or The Dresden Files RPG (from Evil Hat) or sticking with established favourites like World of Darkness, Cthulhu Now!, Chill, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel etc

Thursday, 25 September 2008

A Tale of Two Kings...

The partnership of horror supremo Stephen King with Marvel Comics is one of the best thing to happen to the House Of Ideas for a long time.

It takes them out of their capes and costumes comfort zone and forces them to bring their best game to the table because King has a massive, established fan-base who will expect nothing less then brilliance from the comics.

On the other side of the equation, it eliminates the voluminous character set-ups and scene descriptions from King's doorstop-sized novels and replaces them with quality artwork ("a picture is worth a thousand words"... and all that) and succinct speech bubbles.

Marvel have also taken the wise decision of not trying to serialise King's works directly, but are publishing their take on his two most famous epics, The Dark Tower and The Stand, in a series of easily digestible mini-series, each covering a story arc, which will then function both independently or as part of the greater whole.

The strange, almost surreal fantasy/western/horror The Dark Tower series has reached its third story arc with the mini-series Treachery, which sees our hero Roland returned from his adventures, with his companions Cuthbert and Alain, but still troubled by the insidious seeing sphere Maerlyn's Grape and the mental assaults by the evil Crimson King.

Of the two, The Dark Tower is probably the least accessible to readers unfamiliar with the original works, as the lore and language of the lands in which the adventures take place is deeply intertwined with the story and its setting in a "world that has moved on".

Stephen King's sprawling Lord of The Rings style quest saga, set in post-apocalyptic America, The Stand kicks off with the five-part mini-series Captain Trips which concentrates on establishing his main characters and the accidental release of a killer virus, which will sweep the globe.

The Stand, while epic in scope, is the Stephen King that more people, away from his hardcore fans, will be able to immediately relate to - with its core focus on normal people in small town America, suddenly thrust into a horrific situation.

Both series have attracted top flight creators: Peter David writing The Dark Tower, with King's personal research assistant Robin Furth plotting, and Richard Isanove painting over Jae Lee's pencils; while The Stand is written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who penned the recent Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four mini-series, with art from Captain America's Mike Perkins.

These are fantastic adaptations of King's work, adding a depth that films and television perhaps cannot and a distinctive visual interpretation that presents a stunning and unique view of two of Stephen King's most imaginative stories.

Lounge Watch: Day Two...

Eddie the plasterer arrived at 8am and had finished the coving by 10am.

We'll now leave the room until the weekend when Rachel will unleash her artistic prowess on the walls and ceiling.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Top Of The Pile: Legion Of 3 Worlds

No one can draw big team books quite like George Perez and the biggest team in comics land is The Legion of Super-heroes.

Somehow Legion of 3 Worlds, written by Geoff Johns and illustrated with detailed brilliance by George Perez, ties in with DC's mega-event title, Grant Morrison's magnum opus Final Crisis that he has been building up to for years.

To be honest, I don't know how and I'm only just grasping what's going on in Final Crisis - not having an encyclopedic knowledge of the DC Universe - but I don't care. Legion of 3 Worlds, so far, stands on its own as an amazing, thrilling, Legion story of the kind I grew up reading and loving.

Classic Legion villain Time Trapper plans to destroy the Legion by sending Superboy-Prime back from the end of time to the age of the Legion. He arrives at the Superman Museum in 31st Century Smallville and goes beserk when he finds he has been dismissed as a 'minor nuisance' in Superman's history.

Meanwhile, the United Planets have decided that in light of all its recent troubles (as charted in recent issues of The Legion of Super-heroes), that it no longer needs the Legion as they represent an unobtainable - almost 'childish' or naïve - ideal.

However, just at the moment when it looks like everything is falling apart, enigmatic businessman RJ Brande (who convinced Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl to form the Legion in the first place) steps out of the shadows and explains why the Legion is still needed.

While this is going on, Superboy-Prime, using knowledge he gained from the Superman Museum, heads to the dread prison planet of Takron-Galtos to spring the most powerful members of the Legion of Super-villains: Lightning Lord, Saturn Queen and Cosmic King - the evil counterparts of the three first Legionnaires.

This is genuinely exciting stuff; beautiful, flawless, epic superheroics writ large on a grand canvas. Simply brilliant!

Lounge Watch: Day One...

A scintillating (in)action shot of our new ceiling. It was reboarded and plastered by about 2pm and will now dry overnight.

The plasterer can return tomorrow to put coving around the edges.

It will be fully dry by the weekend, ready for us to redecorate. Well, that's the theory...

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

The Week In Geek...

A round-up of geeky stories you might have missed...

(1) Improve Your HEX Life: Exile Games Studio, publishers of the brilliant Hollow earth Expedition (HEX) roleplaying game, have just made their 2008 Free RPG Day product - a 'quickstart introduction and adventure for HEX' - available to everyone in the 'downloads' section of their website. Now there's no excuse for not having some HEX in your life!

(2) No Big Bang This Month: An electrical fault in CERN's $10 billion Large Hadron Collider means it will be out of action for two months, just weeks after it began operating.

(3) Whedon In The Woods: Filming on Joss Whedon's $30 million horror comedy Cabin In The Woods is due to commence in Febuary for an October 2009 release.

(4) Nooooooooooooooo! Watchmen isn't even out yet and there's talk of a sequel. Thankfully, it doesn't seem to be serious talk... but if it's left to the 'suits' then 'money talks' and we could eventually get the most unnecessary sequel of all time.

(5) New Guide For Hitchhikers: Popular children's author Eoin Colfer has been chosen to write the sixth installment of the late Douglas Adams' magnum opus, The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. It will be called And Another Thing...

(6) RTD Suggests New Doctor: Outgoing Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies has suggested Russell Tovey (Midshipman Frame from the dreadful Voyage Of The Damned) as a possible replacement for The Doctor.

(7) Free Doc Savage: Nostalgia Town is so convinced you will be won over by the pulpy charms of Clark Savage Junior that they will give you a (random) free Doc Savage (or The Shadow) novel... if you ask nicely!

(8) Britain's Slowest Car Chase: Although not technically geeky, as an occasional mobility scooter user I felt I had to share this with you... dig the funky reconstruction!

(9) There's Orcs In The Webbe: The comprehensive fansite for "black powder fantasy" wargames, Orcs In The Webbe, is back with a new look. The site focuses on such games as Alternative Armies' Flintloque, Slaughterloo and Frontear.

Fancy New Character Sheets For Your Campaign...

The talented graphic designer and illustrator Reis O'Brien, of the Geek Orthodox website, has designed a couple of beautiful (and free) character sheets for use with Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

The human male and female sheets, and a universal back page, are available to download from his website here and here.



Future releases are promised with 'ghost figures' of a dwarf, halfling, elf, etc, so you can tailor your sheet to your character whatever yourever your race.

Genuine works of art - if this is your system of choice, you'd be churlish not to use these sheets!

Although they are free to download, Reis does have a "donate" button on his site - so why not leave "a little something for his troubles" in the tip jar on the way out?

Lounge Watch: Today's The Day...

The room has been cleared (except for the old television, which is hiding under the sheet) and the plasterer is due at 8.30am to start work.

Monday, 22 September 2008

The Tuesday Knights Redux!

Left to right: Gregor (half-orc druid) with Billy The Badger; Feng Ying (gnome monk); Red (human ranger); and Clodius (human fighter) with Faith the Donkey.

With two sessions of my Tekralh campaign under our belts, it's time to meet The Tuesday Knights' characters 'officially' and see where we can go from here.

Gregor: played by Pete, a tatooed half-orc druid with a true neutral outlook on life. Abandoned as an infant with a human tribe and raised as one of their own. He is the group's map maker (I don't allow the player's squared paper, so Pete is mapping 'by eye' on plain paper - my original idea was just to allow them a stick of charcoal to draw with, but I think that would have been a step too far). As well as a limited portfolio of spells at first level, Gregor is a bit of a combat-monster with his two-handed scimitar.

Feng Ying: played by Nick, the gnomish monk. Handed over to the dwarven monks of the Deng Fang Mountains as an infant by his parents, to be trained. He is now on a quest to find his missing mentor who vanished from the mountains some years ago on his own adventure. Feng Ying is the master of the unexpected combat maneuver (such as flipping the giant crab on its back and making a nerve strike on a giant snake with his teeth).

Red: played by Steve, the human ranger. Handed over to the elite combat unit known as The 30 (or The Mound Rangers) as an infant by his parents, to be trained. He is now on a quest to prove his worthiness to belong to this organisation. Another combat-monster, armed with a long spear, a throwing spear and a dagger. In a recent fight with a gang of pirates, he took out three with three, quick jabs of his spear, then chased down another and fought him to a standstill in a bloody wrestling match in the confines of a beached jolly boat.

Clodius: played by Clare, the human fighter. An escaped slave from the matriarchal island of Zenn, he is not the sharpest tool in the box. Driven by a lust for mead and treasure, he tends to act first... then act again. Thinking isn't really in Clodius' repertoire. During the fight with the pirates, he was so keen to get involved he barged Feng Ying out of the way, flattening the poor gnome against the wall. He also - having been almost surprised by a giant crab arising out the sand behind him - smashed his lantern (the party's only light source) over its back.

Now we just need to get them to (a) survive this first dungeon crawl (The Portown Tunnels) and (b) get them to agree a party name.

I love the fact that after several of The Tuesday Knights were quite insistent that this be an old school, hack'n'slash, dungeon crawling campaign, three of the four have created characters that are better designed to function outdoors - a druid, a ranger and a nature spirit (gnome)!

Our monthly games are only about three hours long (Pete is a new father and needs to be home by about 10.30pm), so it's going to take longer to finish this first dungeon than I had originally planned (next month's Halloween-themed scrap will have to be held over to next October, I guess), but who cares? We're finally playing Dungeons & Dragons again, like we did when we were teenagers and it's just as much fun.

I might venture the suggestion (at our Christmas party) of fortnightly games, but as Steve (already a very busy man, as a youth worker and father) has to drive down from Surrey and the rest have many demands on their time (such as real jobs... unlike me), I think this is just a pipe dream.

At least it means I already have material for probably several years' worth of campaigning on my gamesroom shelves... if not several decades.

Long live The Tuesday Knights!

Everything's (Still) Better With Monkeys...

A minor Spider-man comedic foil, The Gibbon (a 'mutant' with the appearance of a... well... a gibbon and the abilities of a... well... a gibbon) gets accidentally transported, along with a sexy scientist, to a parallel world. A world of apes... or a Planet Of The Apes, if you will.

Complete with its own superpowered characters.

With wonderful comic book subtlety, the superheroes of the Marvel Apes title all have simian-style codenames (where possible), such as Spider-Monkey and his multi-armed nemesis Doctor Otto Ooktavius, or Iron Mandrill of The Ape-vengers.

Stylishly illustrated by Ramon Bachs, Karl Kesel's light-hearted script takes a surprising turn to the dark side at the close of the first issue of this four-issue mini-series.

A back-up feature, by Tom Peyer and Barry Kitson, charts the 'Official History Of The Marvel Apes Universe' in the company of a giant, simian Watcher.

Part One: When Simians Clash races from the dawn of time up to the start of the Marvel Age of Apes, featuring ape cowboys (Two-Gun Chimp and the Rawhide Chimp), monkey-faced Eternals and an ape Captain America knocking seven shades of monkey-poo out of an ape Adolf Hitler.

If this sounds like your sort of comic, then welcome to the club.

Lounge Watch: One Day To Go...

Suddenly things are moving fast on Phase II of our redecoration masterplan for the house. After a couple of converstaions with the plasterer on Sunday, he's coming on Tuesday and Wednesday to replace the ceiling and patch up some holes in the walls, left by the previous owners' wall-mounted speakers.

That means Rachel and I have called upon the services of Nick and Clare to come round this evening (lured by the offer of free food, no doubt) to help us move all the furniture out. We're hoping it will fit in the dining room, otherwise it's destined to fill up the kitchen and force us to survive on takeaway food again until everything is complete.

The plan for this room is: paint three of the walls, wallpaper the other, new wiring under the floor for the television, new carpet, new wall units and a new big flatscreen telly.

This isn't going to be as "straight forward" as the kitchen though, because it will be done piecemeal, as time allows.

Another great adventure begins in the Flea family household!

Sunday, 21 September 2008

DVD Of The Week: The Gamers - Dorkness Rising (2008)

On the whole, gamers are an intelligent bunch and recognise that what we do can appear - to an outsider - a bit dorky.

However, with that awareness comes a wicked sense of humour and a finely honed knack of self-deprecation that has spawned such 'cinematic' classics as Fear Of Girls and The Gamers and comics like The Knights Of The Dinner Table and Dork Tower.

The Gamers: Dorkness Rising continues that noble tradition, as a sequel to The Gamers (although only one character from the original appears in this, and then not for long), following the lives of a group of role-players - both in and outside of a 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign being run by aspiring author Kevin Lodge (Nathan Price).

Imagine an early Kevin Smith, but without the graphic sexual references and foul language, and you'll have a pretty good idea of the level of geekiness in Dorkness Rising.

You don't have to be a gamer to enjoy this film, but if you're not into the role-playing scene then some of the material will pass you by and if you're not a geek at all I can't imagine you'd be watching this DVD in the first place.

Made with the support of some of the big names in the industry (Wizards of The Coast, Goodman Games etc), there are plenty of Easter Eggs and in-jokes for those on the same wavelength as the filmmakers (Dead Gentleman Productions) - there are nods to The Knights Of The Dinner Table and the party's oft-forgotten henchman is none other than Nodwick from the strip of the same name by Aaron Williams.

Outside of the game world, Lodge is struggling against writer's block trying to convert the adventure he is running into a published module for Dungeons & Dragons, while dealing with rebellious players and an odd unresolved romantic sub-plot with the group's newest addition - Joanna (Carol Roscoe).

However, most of the humour comes from what happens in the game world. Using the same visual trick as used in The Gamers of showing the adventurers as the player's "in costume" in Lodge's fantasy world, things naturally go awry and that's when the real fun starts.

For instance, when the characters aren't seducing every female non-player character they come across or blowing up random peasants, one (the bard) is repeatedly killed because his player can't really get to grips with not playing a fighter while another (the sorceress) is being played by a dude who keeps forgetting he's playing a woman and hitting on Joanna's female fighter.

When Gary (Christian Doyle) remembers his character - Luster - is female she is portrayed by his hot maths professor (Jennifer Page), but the rest of the time, she's Gary in drag!

Written and directed by Matt Vancil, who was also responsibly for The Gamers and Demon Hunters (which has recently been turned into an actual RPG by Margaret Weis Productions), Dorkness Rising may not be a laugh-a-minute, but with its higher production values and more assured acting it is leagues above The Gamers (the original left me rather non-plussed, with its surreal ending smacking of a film that had run out of ideas) and is a pretty accurate representation of gamer stereotypes.

Vancil has created an interesting group of characters here and, unlike the original, I'd be keen to spend some more time with them in the (hopefully) inevitable sequel that the movie deserves.

The Gamers: Dorkness Rising would be a worthy addition to any gaming group's library.

Kitchen Watch: The Conclusion...

As promised last month, here is our much-talked about new kitchen in all its glory (fully kitted out with notice boards, blender, Rachel's pink kettle etc), with a picture below, from earlier this year, that of the kitchen as it was before we had the work done.

We have yet to get started on the lounge (our next big project) because I haven't telephoned the plasterer yet!

Getting the ceiling done will allow us to redecorate that room and get some shelving in to hold our planned entertainment system (as well as a selection of family-friendly DVDs and books).

Sunday Funny: Quick, Hide Your Stash!

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Merlin: The Dragon's Call

Inheriting the Doctor Who slot in Saturday night television means Merlin has some pretty big shoes to fill and on the strength of this first episode, The Dragon's Call, it might prove a worthy successor.

Sent by his mother, young Merlin (Colin Morgan) rolls up at Camelot where he is to be apprentice to the court physician Gaius (Richard "I don't believe it" Wilson).

In no time at all, while running errands for Gaius, Merlin clashes with Prince Arthur (Bradley James), a swaggering bully.

Meanwhile a vengeful witch, seeking justice for her son who was executed for using magic, takes the form of Lady Helen (Eve 'Torchwood' Myles), the finest singer in the land, who is coming to Camelot to perform at a 20th anniversary celebration of King Uther Pendragon's removal of magic from the kingdom.

Uther (the excellent Anthony Head, from Buffy The Vampire Slayer) rules the land with an iron fist and his ward, the rather scrumptious Morgana (Katie McGrath) warns him that he could push the people too far.

Love triangles quickly form - as the show fast begins to resemble Hollyoaks with magic - as both Merlin and Arthur take a shine to Morgana and Guinevere aka Gwen (Angel Coulby), Morgana's servant, clearly has her eye on Merlin.

Of course, Merlin has a secret. It's not just that he can do magic, it's that rather than waving a wand or reading vast spells from a musty old tome like Harry Potter, he can control things and move objects with his mind (like a mutant from The X-Men). He starts hearing voices and is drawn down to the caves under the castle where Uther, after outlawing sorcery, imprisoned the last great dragon (voiced by John Hurt).

The dragon (a pretty decent CGI beastie) tells Merlin it is his destiny to help Arthur become the Once And Future King who unites all of Albion. Merlin isn't convinced.

Turns out the interiors of Camelot were filmed just down the road from me at Penshurst Place (I spend all my time watching 'make-believe worlds' and international news, I guess I miss the interesting stuff going on right under my nose), so I guess I'll have to go and check that out soon.

Camelot is a master stroke by the show's designers in that it looks new - not fake - but as though it has just been built. We are so used to seeing castles in fantasy films that are run down and decrepit, it makes a change to actually see a castle in its heyday.

There's a large slice of cheese in The Dragon's Call and nothing comes as much of a surprise, but I guess this episode is just getting all the pieces into position for the big story of Merlin and Arthur's friendship, and Arthur's rise to power.

The dialogue is a bit shaky, sounding rather anachronistic in places, and the cast all have that Hollyoaks glamour around them, without the Monty Python And The Holy Grail level of muck and grime you might expect, but this is show with definitive potential - as long as it runs with the Merlin and Arthur story, rather than resorting to a Smallvillesque 'monster-of-the-week' routine.

Next week...


(Film clip not available outside the UK)

Coming Soon For Hollow Earth Expedition...

Just round the corner for my favourite roleplaying system - Hollow Earth Expedition - is the eagerly awaited Mysteries of The Hollow Earth supplement.

The Exile Game Studio blurb for the book says: "This sourcebook expands Hollow Earth Expedition with even more details about the mysterious and dangerous Hollow Earth, filled with hungry dinosaurs, ferocious savages, and lost civilizations!

"Protect your land from invaders, or guide explorers through dangerous territory as an Amazon warrior, hawkman raider, or noble beastmaster. Experience the Hollow Earth from a new perspective — from the inside looking out!

"Inside [the book] you will find everything you need to run action-packed Hollow Earth adventures or to give your surface world games more bite: guidelines for creating native and beastmen player characters; details on alchemy and shamanism; an expanded bestiary with rules for making your own creatures; and additional information on notable Hollow Earth locations."

And if that's got you excited, wait and see what's next down the pipe! Due to launch in the autumn of 2009 is the enigmatic Revelations of Mars.

All we know about this so far is what HEX supremo Jeff "Freakin'" Combos has revealed on the Exile Game Studio forums: "Revelations of Mars is going to be a Hollow Earth Expedition book. It is a sourcebook much like Secrets of the Surface World or Mysteries of the Hollow Earth.

"It will deal with planetary romance and yes, there will be rocketships. It is set in the 1930's, naturally, and will be evocative of the pulp novels of the genre the same way HEX is. The Mars we present will be appropriate to the HEX universe."

Oh wow!

And don't forget, for those of us born without the patience gene, we can how get our regular HEX (and other Ubiquity system games) fix via the mega-cool pdf fanzine Danger Magnet.

Friday, 19 September 2008

I've Got That Friday Feeling...

Friday 13th: The Series finally hits DVD on Tuesday (September 23) and I couldn't be happier.

This is one of the (increasingly short) list of TV shows from my formative years (okay, I was probably in my mid-20s when it popped up on late night British television in a time when we only had access to four channels!) that I thought would never be released on DVD or shown on television again.

Bearing no relation at all to the Friday 13th franchise of movies, this series followed the adventures of two cousins, Ryan Dallion (John D. LeMay) and Micki Foster (Louise Robey), who inherit an antique shop, Curious Goods, from their uncle Vendredi.

In the first episode the cousin's discover their uncle made a deal with the Devil to sell cursed antiques. At the last minute he changed his mind and tried to recover the antiques, but still got carted off to Hell.

Ryan and Micki, aided by old family friend and occult expert Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins), use the store's manifest to track down the cursed antiques, each of which fell into the hands of someone who inevitably used them for evil.

It ran for three seasons and, so far, only the first has been confirmed for DVD release.

Friday 13th: The Series was a simply brilliant method of stringing together random horror stories, by tying them in with the assortment of cursed artifacts, and I remember loving it at the time because it was "TV safe" horror, but still quite inventive with a different antique each week leading to a different type of horror story.

I wonder how the series has aged though? Will the 80s fashions be more horrific than the special effects?

Supernatural: Devil's Trap

With these last few episodes, Supernatural has really begun to shake off its mantle as the red-headed stepson of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and The X-Files and create its own mythology and world view.

Picking up where Salvation left off, Sam is all for charging in, guns blazin', to try and rescue their dad, but Dean wants to take a more measured approach and turns to their old family friend, Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver aka Ellsworth from Deadwood) who helps them set a trap for Meg.

With Meg held in a 'protective circle', the boys start to perform an exorcism - to drive out the demon possessing her - until Bobby points out that without the demon inside her the damage she sustained from her seven-storey window dive in Shadow would kill the innocent Meg whose body has been taken over.

Discovering where their father is being held, the boys go to rescue him and end up in an isolated cabin, uncertain of where the Big Bad yellow-eyed demon has got to. Then he makes his play...

Hints are dropped as to his motivation, and his reasons for targeting the loved ones of children with 'special powers' (see Nightmare), but he is defeated before he can explain further.

Bobby had also hinted at a massive rise in the amount of demonic activity in the last year and warned of an "approaching storm" (always an old favourite on the Apocalyptic metaphor front).

So more seeds have been planted for Season Two of Supernatural, if - after the sudden, and shocking, denouement of Devil's Trap - there is anyone left alive to do any monster hunting...

Through this first season, Supernatural has quickly set itself up as the definitive resource for modern, urban fantasy roleplaying game inspiration.

With its proactive (rather than wholly reactive, as seen in so many shows) heroes, Supernatural has created a mythology with its own spin on cliched monsters (e.g. the vampires in Dead Man's Blood) and introduced us to a variety of little-known folklore beasties and demons.

The show has also been an object lesson in character development and the use of clever sub-plots (e.g. the "one that got away" in Something Wicked, the return of first loves in Route 666 etc) and shown the benfit of an ever-expanding support network of contacts and sundry 'non-player characters' (NPCs).

Even without the Margaret Weis Productions official Supernatural RPG, should it ever actually see the light of day, the series is a gold mine for games from the World of Darkness to Call of Cthulhu and all stops inbetween, not just for new bad guys to hunt but also for its ideas on plot twists and character development.

I can't believe it has taken me almost four years to catch up with this show (it tends to get hidden away on late night ITV2 here in the UK), but it's definitely on my 'must watch' list now.

Starting This Saturday On BBC1...


A magical formula for Saturday night success? Smallville + Dungeons & Dragons = Merlin. (Film clip only not viewable outside the UK)

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Faking Family History...

Short of the amazing props made by people like the HP Lovecraft Historical Society and artist Alex CF, old photographs are among the best tools to add an air of verisimilitude to role-playing games set sometime during the last century or so.

However, not everyone has a family history full of explorers, gunfighters and soldiers and this is where those rare photographic studios that offer 'olde time' pictures come in handy.

With a range of period props and costumes, you can create a slice of history - in sepia - that your family never knew it had... and then use the pictures as the basis for role-playing characters!

Whenever I come across one of these studios, I like to take the opportunity to get dressed up and pose for an old time picture. Not only do these make for interesting 'conversation' pieces when displayed around the home (I'm beginning to sound like an advert!), but they are unique role-playing props.

It's not cheap (the last one Rachel and I had done cost £32 at the National History Museum of Wales), but then again you don't find these specialist studios in every High Street or on street corners.

We're not talking about those awful booths where your head gets badly Photoshopped into a fake film poster; this is the full works, as you can see from my examples above, and each one conjures up a string of stories and possible scenarios.

There used to be in the Trocadero Centre in London, which was stocked with Wild West and gangster costumes (Pete has a picture of him and some friends as 1920's Chicago gangsters in his stairwell), but that closed many years ago.

If you happen to stumble upon one of these places, and are looking for that special prop for your role-playing game, an 'old time' picture is a worthy investment of cash (obviously it doubles as an actual souvenir as well!)... and who doesn't like dressing up every now and again?

Supernatural: Salvation

Meg (Nicki Aycox) is back - the psycho cutie cultist/demonette from Shadow and Scarecrow - and she wants the Winchester's new artifact (Samuel Colt's magic gun and its four remaining bullets, from Dead Man's Blood) before they can use it to slay her master.

Having decided, finally, at the end of the last episode that they work better as a trio, John Winchester (the wonderfully gruff and grizzled Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his boys compare notes and look for signs of particular demonic activity.

As the Winchester's close in on a strong lead to the demon (and Sam's prophetic nightmare migraine's return), Meg begins bumping off John Winchester's contacts - starting with Pastor Jim (name checked, but never seen before in the flesh) - and threatens to murder many more unless John hands over the Colt.

John goes to face Meg - with a 'replacement' Colt - while the brothers move to save a young family from attack, armed with the real Colt, by the yellow-eyed demon, whose face we see for the first time in this episode.

Not surprisingly, John's insane plan to bluff the junior league demon goes pear shaped and the episode ends with a terrifying "to be continued..." cliffhanger.

Salvation is a real breathless, edge-of-the-seat script, as the Season builts to its conclusion in the next episode and the final showdown between the Winchesters and the demon they have been tracking all their lives.

Will the three last 'magic' bullets be enough? Who will live? Who will die? Find out tomorrow in Devil's Trap, the Season One finale of Supernatural.

Supernatural: Dead Man's Blood

Toto, we're not in Sunnydale anymore...

Supernatural's take on vampires is a long way from the familiar Buffy-style. These vamps have no real issues with daylight (a mild sting, but no sudden eruption into flames) or crosses, are poisoned by "dead man's blood", can only be killed by decapitation and once they have your scent they're on your trail for life.

As fellow hunter - and mentor to Winchester Senior - Daniel Elkins (Terence Kelly) finds out when a pack of Near Dark-style killers arrive at his shack one night.

The Winchester boys read of Elkins' death, but when they investigate they are met by their father, emerging from the shadows not for revenge but to retrieve a certain Colt revolver that was in Elkins' possession and has now been taken by the vampires.

This 'magic' gun, forged by Samuel Colt himself for a gunslinging hunter in 1835, came with 13 bullets (only five of which now remain); each one able to kill ANYTHING!

Naturally Papa Winchester wants it to slay the demon who killed his wife (the boys' mother) and Sam's girlfriend, Jessica.

There's some powerful stuff between the boys and their estranged father, especially Sam butting heads with his old man over his treatment of them over the years, but the real joy of this episode is the seeds of 'hunter lore' that are sown: the Winchesters are not the first to pursue this bleak career, there is a history to the calling and I look forward to further revelations on this front.

Also, on the continuity front, Sarah at least gets a name check from the last episode, before the boys move on to the job at hand.

Dead Man's Blood makes no attempt to romanticise the bloodsuckers - as per Buffy or the works of Anne Rice; these are superstrong, cold-hearted killers that deserve only one fate: a machete to the neck.

This story isn't about wiping out the nest of vampires, but recovering the gun so the Winchesters can carry on towards their main goal of killing the Big Bad demon that has been lurking in the background since the Pilot episode.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Doctor Who: Four To Doomsday (1982)

You have to feel sorry for the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) 'trapped' in the TARDIS with two of the universe's biggest whiners: Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) and Tegan (Janet Fielding). At least he had the smart and lovely Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) for some intelligent conversation!

Following on from the disappointing Castrovalva, The Doctor is trying to get Tegan back to Heathrow airport in 1981 so she can resume her job as an air hostess.

Arriving at the right time, but in the wrong place, The TARDIS and her crew find themselves on a massive spaceship four days away from Earth.

The ship is home to a trio of strange, super-powerful humanoids led by the polite, soft-spoken autocrat Monarch (a wonderful turn by Stratford Johns). Also on board are four seemingly immortal humans - from various points in Earth's anicent history - each with a retinue of silent helpers from their same period of time.

Four To Doomsday is one of Doctor Who's more cerebral tales, with limited bursts of violence reserved for the final episode of this four-part, 100-minute story. There is a lot of talking and pontificating, punctuated by some really annoying moaning, griping and complaining from Tegan and Adric.

It is only really through the actions of Ancient Greek philosopher Bigon (Philip Locke) that The Doctor really finds out what's going on and realises that Monarch's intentions for Earth are not as benevolent as he may have suggested.

Sadly, Adric - as his way - is more gullible and sides with Monarch, while Tegan strikes off on her own eventually and somehow manages to dematerialise the TARDIS and move it out of Monarch's ship, so that it is left hanging in the vacuum of space.

Nyssa is the only one of The Doctor's companions who keeps her head... and almost gets turned into an android for her troubles!

An entirely studio-bound story with some cracking dialogue and minimal, wonky 80's special effects, Four To Doomsday is an interesting story because it's very different from an average Doctor Who story. Perhaps it's major weakspot is the rather sudden - and possibly brutal - way that The Doctor ultimately disposes of Monarch.

There seems to be no reason for Monarch's continued travels between Earth and his home planet and Tegan converses fluently with a millenia-old aborigine, but this is really nit-picking in an absorbing, dialogue-led, quirky - if slightly forgetable - story.

Supernatural: Provenance

Monster hunting is a dangerous pastime, not just for the Winchester brothers but for those they form attachments to (e.g. Sam's late girlfriend Jessica, whose death spurred him into returning to the 'family business').

Dean deals with this through a string of one night stands as the boys move around the country (except, of course, for Cassie), while Sam shuts himself off from women all together... until he meets Sarah Blake.

Sarah (Taylor Cole, beyond doubt the hottest babe to have appeared in the series to date) runs an auction house with her father and gets involved with the Winchester's through the sale of a murderous, haunted painting.

The picture, itself, while supposed to be a turn-of-the-century painting is clearly a photograph with a bit of Photoshopping to put some fake brush strokes over it. It's a pity the production department didn't put a bit more effort in to create an actual painting to be used as the central prop in this story.

You just need to look at Ghostbusters 2 or Tegel Manor, the infamous, early Judge's Guild module for Dungeons & Dragons, to realise that haunted paintings are nothing new, but Provenance manages to put a clever Supernatural twist in the tale.

Unfortunately, the 'big reveal' was rather undermined - for me - by a picture on the DVD case which gave away the surprise, but nevertheless it's still handled with the stylish class I've come to expect from the show.

It's good to have the Winchester's back in their comfort zone of 'dig up the bones, salt them and then burn them'; and, as usual, their fool proof plan doesn't quite work out as they'd hoped.

The big disappointment with the episode though is that while Sarah and Sam's chaste romance sizzles up the screen - and she willingly risks her life by joining the brothers on their ghost hunt - Sarah gets left behind at the end, never to be seen again.

While I realise - speaking in the "real world" - this is probably to do with actress availability, in the mythos of the series I'm surprised that - even if she doesn't become a permanent travelling companion to the brothers - some demon or other doesn't target her as a way to get at Sam at a later date.

Any excuse really to see more of Taylor Cole in the show...

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Pirates, Crabs And Giant Snakes...

The Tuesday Knights rocked the house once more! This evening's game (the second of our Castles & Crusades' Tekralh campaign) was possibly even more awesome than our first session.

Steve and I had created his character - via email exchanges - before the game, so all he needed to do was buy his equipment and get a brief rundown of the situations and we were off (after a vast array of pizzas, dips and garlic bread, provided by my brilliant wife, Rachel).

Although Clare is still finding her feet with the system (I tend to forget that she is still a relative newcomer to tabletop gaming and has only played Hollow Earth Expedition previously), everyone really brought their top game to the table tonight.

The players got into the habit of throwing in their poker chips, as needed, for "hero points" allowing to reroll duff rolls, do extra damage, rapid heal wounds etc

While the adventure was very hack'n'slash (this time round: a giant crab and a large snake), the best brawl came at the end of the evening when the four-strong party took on eight pirates on the beach of an underground cavern. Everything came down to a final, bloody scuffle between Red (Steve's character) and the last pirate - until Clodius (Clare's impetuous fighter) stepped in and cut the pirates head from his shoulders.

The evening ended with the party finding two chests of treasure in one of the pirates' jolly boats and a young, attractive, blonde captive tied up in the other.

Everyone seemed very pleased with the way things had gone; combat was more flowing and mobile this time round and the only thing I think I forgot - as last month - was the 'atmospheric' music, which again sat unplayed in the stereo!

A more detailed 'in character' account of events can be found at The Chronicles of Tekralh site, while photographs of the evening are here.

Once I come down off of Cloud Nine, I'll tally up experience points for everyone and email them out.

The next meeting of The Tuesday Knights is scheduled for October 14, and you never know the party might actually finish the dungeon...

The Week In Geek...

A round-up of geek news you might have missed in the past week...

(1) Peanuts Animator Passes Away: Bill Melendez, the only animator allowed by Charles M. Schulz to bring the Peanuts characters to life, has died, aged 91.

(2) Ah, Mr Bond...: The new trailer for the next James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, is now available on the official James Bond website.

(3) Monkey Swings Over To O2: Damon Albarn's opera Monkey: Journey To The West will be performed at Monkey’s World, a specially designed theatre built exclusively to host the opera at the O2. The bespoke tent, will feature its’ own restaurant, bar and even a Chinese foot massage parlour.

(4) Who Ya Gonna Call? Ghostbusters 3 is in the works thanks to the writer-producers of the American version of The Office, although the extent of the original casts' involvement in the project is - as yet - unknown.

(5) Spider-Man 4 (and 5?) On The Way: Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire are returning to the Spider-Man franchise and may shoot episodes 4 and 5 simultaneously.

(6) A Podule Is Born: An innovative podcast serial-module for 4e Dungeons & Dragons Gamesmasters (Return to Northmoor) has been launched. The idea being that every fortnight a new segment of the adventure will be detailed and during the intervening week the presenters will describe how it played out with their own group, what went wrong, what worked well etc

(7) Tuesday Knights Ride Again: The second session of our Castles & Crusades campaign is scheduled for this evening and should see the debut of Steve's character Red, the lawful good human ranger.

Monday, 15 September 2008

DVD Of The Week: Outpost (2008)

A small group of multi-national mercenaries - led by Ray Stevenson (of Rome and Punisher: War Zone) - are hired to provide security for a 'surveyor' (Julian Wadham) heading out to war-torn Eastern Europe to inspect some land his bosses have recently acquired.

Arriving at their target, they discover an old Nazi bunker and while some of the group are exploring underground, those left on the surface come under attack from an unseen sniper.

The mercenaries quickly discover there is more to the bunker than meets the eye, especially when they find a 'breather' amongst a pile of mutilated corpses and evidence of strange Nazi scientific experiments.

Outpost doesn't hang around, with the bunker being introduced within the first ten minutes of the film and the freakishness beginning soon after that.

It also doesn't take long to realise that this isn't going to be the by-the-numbers Nazi zombie flick trailers had suggested, when the plot takes an unexpected diversion into Lost territory with its talk of weird science and Einstein's Unified Field Theory.

A brave attempt to do something different, Outpost is ultimately a glorious triumph of style over content.

Its beautiful washed-out colours (the only real vivid colour in the whole film is the red of the Nazi flag the soldiers discover in the bunker) and creepy atmosphere provide eye-candy distraction from the plot inconsistencies (the supernatural forces the soldiers disturb start off as omnipotent apparitions that can come and go as they please, but - by the final showdown - have become more traditional, lumbering zombies for some reason).

Importantly, the characters never feel false. As with the excellent Dog Soldiers, you never doubt that these men are genuine foul-mouthed squaddies dealing with forces they can't understand - the problem comes from the fact that the audience can't understand the forces either because their powers seem to change as the story requires rather than working to a set of believable rules or guidelines.

Rather disappointingly the ending doesn't really go anywhere either, not delivering the twist that you feel the tale deserves, but the journey there is intriguing enough to make Outpost a very enjoyable 80-minutes of cinema nonetheless.
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