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

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

That's It, I'm Outta Here...

I'll be brief, for fear of repeating myself, but today is the last day of regular HeroPress publishing for the summer.

HeroPress
is not closing down or going away. Some articles will continue to pop up like clockwork (tomorrow's Geek Pin-Up being a good example) and I might read or see something that I think is worth sharing.


I'm just taking a break to catch up on things, such as:
  • Cleaning and organising the gamesroom and Shedward;

  • Making a dent in my reading list (I had already planned a super-summer of superhero novel reading - see picture above - before the relaunch of Villains & Vigilantes was announced. I'm taking this as a sign);

  • Finally get round to sorting out (and slimming down) my DVD collection (after two years in the house there's really no excuse for it to still be so disorganised);

  • Start serious work on my 'great novel' (I have a basic idea - actually for a trilogy - but I need to put some effort into it to see if it has legs);

  • Put some work into my latest great idea for the 'ultimate' roleplaying game campaign (which is currently leaning strongly towards some old school Villains & Vigilantes magic)
And so I leave you - for two or three of months - with just enough time to join me in a rousing chorus of...

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The Final Countdown...

As the end of this season's HeroPress regular blog posts draws nearer, I thought we'd just have time to review my good, old Enjoyment Ratings Average (ERA) scores for a couple of programmes which reached their finales recently (namely Doctor Who and Supernatural)

Matt Smith's first season as The Doctor ended in spectacular style and with an ERA of 3.81 (rather sabotaged by the tedium that was The Beast Below and a couple of other quite mediocre episodes).

Let's see how that stands up to the previous four seasons of 'new' Who:

  • Season 27: ERA 3.65 (Ninth Doctor + Rose)
  • Season 28: ERA 4.03 (Tenth Doctor + Rose)
  • Season 29: ERA 3.97 (Tenth Doctor + Martha)
  • Season 30: ERA 4.2 (Tenth Doctor + Donna)

Given that I'm beginning to think I was drinking the corporate Kool-Aid during much of Russell T Davies' showrunning years (especially in the later years of David Tennant's time in The TARDIS, when I cut the show way more slack than I now feel it deserved), I'm confident that the show is in safe hands with the team of Matt Smith and Steven Moffat, and can only improve as both settle into their roles.

On the Supernatural front, season five scored an apocalyptic ERA 4.20.

The first four years racked up as follows:

  • Season One - ERA 4.27
  • Season Two - ERA 4.43
  • Season Three - ERA 4.13
  • Season Four - 4.34

Season Five was a great year, even though it's ERA dropped from below that of Season's One and Four, for the simple reason that that Supernatural was always sold to us as a five-year arc and the sudden announcement that the show had earned itself a sixth season threw the pacing of this fifth season off.

Knowing the show would be entering a sixth season undercut a lot of the "all-or-nothing" tension of Season Five as it headed towards its final confrontation between the Winchester brothers and Lucifer.

As I said in my review of the finale, it will be interesting to see where the show goes now after this grandest of all grand finales. I hope it doesn't just fizzle out with a succession of tired, old stories that don't amount to much - but the show's got an awful lot of live up to now!

I'd hoped to also bring you the final ERA score for K9's first season at this juncture, but thanks to DisneyXD's erratic broadcast schedule, I have no idea when that series is going to finish now - or even if the channel is going to screen all the episodes!

As it stands, the show is tracking at an ERA of 2.03, but in the last couple of episodes was showing signs of genuine improvement.

It's very unlikely it will ever rival The Sarah Jane Adventures (the closest Whoniverse show with a similar target audience), but there were a few instances where it was genuinely entertaining and showed tiny sparkles of possibility.

How Lost Should Have Ended...

He Is The Law...

In one of those wonderful quirks of fate that happen every now and then, I was given a load of old HeroPress material by an old friend yesterday (from 'back in the day') and right at the top was an envelope containing Nick's old Villains & Vigilantes character sheet for "Nick Law" - our universe's answer to Doc Savage.

As I've said many times before, the tooled-up, billionaire adventurer was my favourite character in the game because Nick, who was never as 'into' comic book superheroes as the rest of us, came at the game from a more 'pulpy' perspective.

I always liked the idea of our group having a rich benefactor who actually took as active role in our adventures as The Acrobatic Flea, Silverfist or Hurricane & Brutus.

I hope that once their child is born, Nick and Clare will still feel able to make the time to game with us once a month because I'd love to see what this pair of radical thinkers would come up with for a new V&V campaign.

Monday, 28 June 2010

The Week In Geek (supper serving with extra sauce)...

A final helping of geeky news you might have otherwise missed (for the time being)...

(1) First Look At New Primeval Cast: The first official photograph of the new cast of Primeval, season four (see above) - which still includes Andrew-Lee Potts and the meagcute Hannah Spearritt.

(2) Calling All Judges: Makers of the British Judge Dredd fan film Judge Minty are looking for extras to play Judges, Mega-City Citizens and mutants next month.

(3) Vampire Burn Out: Twilight author Stephenie Meyer admits she's "burned out on vampires."

(4) Girl-On-Girl Action: 80s pop princesses Tiffany and Debbie Gibson are to fight it out as rival environmentalists in SyFy original monster movie Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, which will debut next year.

(5) Free Sex: As part of the promotion for his new book The Dead & Dying author William Todd Rose has released a free 124-page ebook entitled Sex in The Time of Zombies.

(6) Love You Long Time: Looking for attractive Japanese ladies to tell you the time? Then look no further than this bizarre - but inspired - website Bijin Tokei (Hot Girls Clock). You can even get it as an iPhone app!

The Week In Geek - musical interlude...



1) Doctor Goes Orbital: The Doctor's 11th incarnation, Matt Smith, joins Orbital on stage at the Glastonbury Festival last Sunday to play the Doctor Who theme.

The Week In Geek...

A round-up of geeky news you might have otherwise missed...

(1) The B Is Back: My favourite miniature figures company, Killer B Games, producers of the legendary Galactic Adventures In The Fourth Dimension Of The Forbidden Zone (GAFDOZ) range, is up and running again after an extended hiatus caused by computer problems.

(2) Prepare To Be Cybered: Download Blood Of The Cybermen, the new, free Doctor Who game from the BBC, featuring the 11th Doctor and Amy Pond.

(3) Sarah Jane's Adventuring Again: Story titles for season four of The Sarah Jane Adventures have been confirmed.

(4) Geek Chic For The Ladies: Cool women's Star Wars clothes from Ashley Eckstein, actress and voice of Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

(5) Hastings Joins The Battle For Your Comic Cash: Entertainment chain Hastings is opening 127 direct marketing comic stores across the US.

(6) Drink This In: True Blood gets a fourth season, starting Summer 2011.

(7) Stranger Danger: Filming commences on Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides starring Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow.

(8) Fright Night Gets Date: The Fright Night remake (in 3D) debuts on October 7, 2011.

(9) Strange Days: Marvel Studios assigns writers to Dr Strange movie project.

(10) Robot Taekwondo... Need I Say More? South Korea will be hosting robot taekwondo bouts this October at the Korea International Robot Technology Exhibition - with over $147,000-worth of prizes up for grabs.

(11) Third Nipple Not Included: A limited run of 1,000 duplicates of Francisco Scaramanga's 'Golden Gun' from the James Bond movie, Man With The Golden Gun, will be available in September.

(12) Get The Gen On Meg's Dream Role: Megan Fox clearly can't get enough comic book goodness on her CV and wants to play superhero Sarah Rainmaker from the Gen 13 series.

(13) Any Last Words: Topless Robots' winning 'Tweets From The Death Star'.

(14) Exclusive Action: Paul Cornell talks about his exclusive contract with DC and his plans for Action Comics as the title heads towards issue 900.

(15) Setting The Record Straight: Bruce Timm responds to misinformation about the future of DC's animated superhero movies - he has projects for the next two years at the very least already!

(16) Ghosts In The Street: Britain's long-running soap Coronation Street may be about to feature its first supernatural storyline - with the rumoured return of Vera Duckworth, who died two years ago, to haunt her husband, Jack!

(17) Superman Could Be Visiting Your Town: Having been absent from his own titles for a year, Superman is now to spend a year 'walking across America' in Grounded... and he could be visiting your town, thanks to this bizarre promotional idea! Is this the best way to celebrate DC Comics' 75th anniversary? I have mixed feeling about this storyline, but it is being written by J Michael Straczynski, which has to be good, right?

(18) Lost Isn't Over: A couple more details of the 11-minute Lost epilogue which will be appearing on the DVD release.

(19) More Superhero For Your Money: Apparently Marvel is considering filming short superhero flicks (about 10 minutes duration) to go in front of their regular movies to introduce new characters to the film-going public. I sincerely hope this comes to pass!

(20) So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish: Humans are going to be extinct within 100 years, according to eminent Australian scientist Professor Frank Fenner.

HeroPress Picture Parade (June)

Sunday, 27 June 2010

DVD Of The Week: Solomon Kane (2009)

After Conan, Solomon Kane is probably pulp writer Robert E Howard's most famous creation and yet he doesn't have the same brand recognition that the Cimmerian barbarian does.

Even I've only read a single Solomon Kane story (which shared some themes with this movie), but on the strength of this DVD I could see myself correcting that short-coming.

However, this does mean I'm not in a position to really comment on how true Michael J Bassett's Solomon Kane movie is to the source material - although I suspect it's only superficial.

Nevertheless, this is a cracking, swords and sorcery, pseudo-historical action movie with James Purefoy playing a blinder as the grizzled West Country sea captain who turns his back on violence after learning that the Devil has a claim on his soul.

From the pre-credits sequence, Solomon Kane shows it colours as a fantasy film with fascinating monsters aplenty, creepy castles and a freakish magical mirrors sequence that could have come straight off the page of a Gary Gygax Dungeons & Dragons adventure.

The year is 1601 and Kane sets out, from the monastery he has been staying in, to seek redemption. Along the way he is attacked and, as he refuses to fight back, is severely beaten, only surviving because of the good graces of a gentle family heading to the coast to seek passage to the New World.

England, however, is overrun with semi-human raiders - possessed souls serving the sorcerer Malachi (Jason Flemyng) and his sinister masked assistant, a mute faceless rider with the power to 'possess' people with his touch and then 'speak' through them.

Solomon and the Crowthorn family (which includes excellent character actors Pete Postlethwaite as the father and Alice Krige as the mother) run afoul of these raiders. The family is slaughtered, except for daughter Meredith (Rachel Hurd-Wood) who is taken as a slave.

Before her father dies, Solomon swears he will rescue Meredith, as he believes through that act he can salvation.

And Solomon Kane is a man of his word.

The 90-minute film is very much an episodic road movie for the bulk of its story, as Kane moves from one Dungeons & Dragons-style encounter to the next, carving his way through a wonderfully realised faux 17th Century Britain where it is always either snowing or raining (the Czech republic deserves an award for its bleak, but stunning, portrayal of my mother country).

Solomon Kane also boasts a magnificent supporting cast with Max von Sydow as Solomon's father and Mackenzie Crook as a rather deranged priest that Kane meets during a fantastic little vignette with some truly Lovecraftian flesh-eating ghouls.

As befits this style of 'origin story' drama, Solomon's final confrontation with the evil Malachi takes place in the Kane family castle, which the foul wizard has been using as his base of operations.

And this was possibly the weakest part of the story for me; not only do we not get to see enough of Malachi in action, but the final showdown feels slightly stunted and swamped under a surfeit of special effects.

Gripping and engaging for the most part, Solomon Kane was clearly designed as an entry way to a possible franchise and I, for one, would love to see more grim and gritty outings from James Purefoy as Kane.

In fact, while watching this, I thought what a marvelous, Legend Of The Seeker-style television series this could make as well (but considerably darker in tone than LoTS).

Sadly, like so many better-than-average genre films, I fear it was lost in the general hullabaloo of Hollywood as studios fall over themselves to make the next popularist romcom or tawdry sequel to such high-brow fare as American Pie or Saw.

Villains & Vigilantes Is Back... And Ready To Roll...

The venerable superhero roleplaying game Villains & Vigilantes is back in print, after 20 years!

Game creators Jack Herman and Jeff Dee have, today, released a pdf of V&Vv2.1, through their new company, Monkey House Games, which is available from RPGnow for the very reasonable price of £4.98 ($7.50).

“We are calling this version 2.1 because it is only an incremental step from the 1982 Revised Edition. In this version we fix some tragically ill-placed typos, repair a few problems from the 1982 edition and include just a couple of rules additions,” Jeff Dee said.

When asked about the art, Dee revealed: “It features a cover I drew back in 1985 that I had always intended to put on a future edition of Villains and Vigilantes. Apart from that, the art is all new, created specifically for this version. All of it features pre-established characters from the V&V Universe. If you had a favorite character I drew in V&V, you’ll probably see them in here. The art gives you a clearer and deeper look into our world then you have ever seen before.”

Jack Herman added: “For our company’s first release, we wanted to deliver the same kind of experience players remember from the original game. It is basically still the same make and model, but it has been tuned up, just a little tricked out, and has a smokin’ new paint job. It’s everything you enjoyed about Villains and Vigilantes, only more so.”

A print-on-demand version will be available in due course, with game's first official adventure due out in a week's time, on July 4.

So what are you waiting for? Get downloading already...

PS. Jeff has listed HeroPress in Monkey House Games new 'Hall Of Friends' links page!

UPDATE (June 27, 21:00): You can hear Jeff and Jack talking about the return of Villains & Vigilantes at the start of the new episode of the Zenith Comics Presents podcast.

UPDATE 2 (June 27, Midnight): Villains & Vigilantes is currently #1 on RPGNow's Hottest Items list!

Introducing: The Whisper...

With the release of Villains & Vigilantes 2.1 today, I took this opportunity to create my first new V&V character in more than 20 years.

I have an idea for a new campaign percolating in my brain that would feature characters on a par with The Justice League or The Avengers - I always felt, as much as I loved them, our old characters (including the Flea, himself) were more Teen Titans (who they actually met in one 'crossover' adventure, but I digress).

I'm still totally hooked on the core V&V concept of playing 'yourself' as a superhero, but I also feel that - on the grounds of taste and decency, and as I'd like to bring in 'out-of-costume' sub-plots etc - I wasn't so keen on role-playing player's RL wives and families in 'jeopardy'.

So I'm proposing that while the character is physically based on you, he can have an elevated, fictionalised background.

I'd also possibly relocate Knight City (formerly Royal Wells) from the UK to New England, USA, simply because most of the prewritten material for the game (and other supers RPGS) is set in the States.

Also, because I tend to immerse myself in American TV, movies and comics - rather than real life - I think I'd feel more comfortable with a game set in an imaginary America than a pseudo-real Great Britain.

CREATION OF THE WHISPER...

First things first, I felt I couldn't - and shouldn't - ignore my disability and would reflect this in my statistics (but probably 'super'-it-up when it came to drafting the origin story). I was expecting to come out of this with a Professor X-type character who could work in the background, feeding the characters plot hooks etc.

But thanks to the wonderful wacky randomness of the V&V character creation system, I got something far better...

So, starting stats -

Strength: 8
Endurance: 8
Agility: 10
Intelligence: 13
Charisma: 11

If these didn't change that would mean a character with two hit points and minimal carrying capacity.

Creation began in earnest with a roll on Tim Hartin's Origins & Backgrounds Table. Turns out I was a 'victim of crime'. Okay I can work with that. Gives me an extra roll on either devices or skills.

Including my bonus, I get seven powers/skills and one weakness. I have to drop one power automatically, but to get rid of the weakness I have to drop a second.

I rolled: willpower; heightened strength A; natural weaponry; body power; darkness control; heightened expertise; and power blast. My weakness was reduced endurance - which I couldn't risk because of my already low stats, so I'd need to drop two powers.

I get rid of heightened strength and body power, sculpt the willpower into "exotic Eastern training" (which gives +10 to all physical stats, but needs regular practice to keep body in shape), tie the natural weaponry and heightened expertise into martial arts, and finally figure that the power blast is an extension of the darkness control and that I fire "dark energy", possibly some form of 'dark chi' or something.

I also roll lucky and get a 'bonus' power on my natural weaponry. I'm thinking some sort of 'stun' attack, but that feels a bit 'blah' at present and will be revisited later.

The name The Whisper immediately leaps into my head and first I see him as a modern-day incarnation of The Shadow, but as I flesh out an idea for an origin I get a better handle on the character.

ORIGIN STORY...

(this is brief version of a work-in-progress that still needs fleshing out with more detail)

Successful New England horror author T. Edward Knight had everything, a good career, an attractive wife, a Gothic mansion to call his own... until he was suddenly struck down by a mystery illness. Western medicine could do nothing for him, no matter how much money he threw at the problem, and eventually he began to delve into the shady world of alternative therapies.

It was there that he met up with the charming 'Doctor [FILL IN NAME]', who was in reality the shapeshifting supervillain [FILL IN NAME]. She tricked him out of his remaining funds and left him destitute and still facing death from his unknown ailment.

It was at this point, he heard about a revolutionary treatment in China and, borrowing funds from his friends, he flew East and started to make inquiries. His travels eventually led him to a mysterious, isolated monastery (don't they always?), where he was taken in and cared for by the monks.

The monks told him his illness was supernatural and they would have to train him to purge the 'demons' from within himself.

What they didn't point out was that this intensive training would take five years and they didn't have mobile phone coverage...

By the time Edward returned home though, [SHAPE-CHANGING VILLAIN] had taken over his life, moved in with his wife, and even fathered a daughter - all while wearing Edward's face.

Fearing for the safety of his wife, Edward assumed the masked persona of The Whisper and uses his new found martial arts abilities and power to channel dark chi to fight crime, as he tries to figure out a way to rescue his beloved (without freaking her out totally!).

Because of this set-up, he is forced to live as the character of The Whisper 24/7 and put up with seeing 'his face' on television, talking about his retirement from writing, his battle against illness, his miracle recovery, his rediscovery of his wealth etc etc

I'm kicking around the idea that the shapeshifter - as Edward - actually kills his wife (who isn't my lovely Rachel in this universe, naturally! Another reason I'm in favour of 'alternate reality') and therefore frames the real Edward for the crime, which is probably an even stronger motivation for staying 'The Whisper' full-time.

FILLING IN THE HOLES...

One of the main aspects of the backstory I have yet to decide is the identity of the shapeshifter. I wanted to use established, 'official' Villains & Vigilantes villains where possible and my first thought was Shapeshifter (from the Death Duel With The Destroyers adventure and The Elementals comics), but V&V co-creator Jeff Dee had some other suggestions for me (on the Monkey House Games forum):

"In the official V&V universe, the only major shape-shifting villain (so far) is Shadowjack (from Most Wanted 1). Unfortunately, he may be more of a ruthless killer than you’re looking for. Does it literally have to be shapeshifting, or could it just be illusion? If so, you might want to consider Mirage (also from MW1) or the Hauntress of the Crushers (formerly known as the Shrew, stats in issue 3 of the V&V comic miniseries)."

Now, I'm quite tempted by Hauntress - mainly because I have the V&V comics (and don't have Most Wanted Volume 1) and she has darkness control powers like The Whisper, that could suggest some kind of connection.

The problem is she's a ghost and it costs her energy to stay corporeal. I'm seeing her like an avatar of The First from the seventh season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and having a hard time convincing myself that she'd be able to fool my character's wife for the better part of five years... let alone 'father' a child!

If, of course, I take the "framing for murder" direction with the origin story though, it might make Shadowjack a more viable candidate for the role. I'll have to track down that character's writer-up and see if it fits the story better.

STAT BLOCK...

The Whisper
Level 1

Powers:
  • Exotic Eastern Training - +10 to physical stats, but must train regularly to maintain.
  • Heightened Expertise - + 4 to hit with martial arts
  • Natural Weaponry - +2 to hit/+4 damge with martial arts
  • Darkness Control - create area of darkness in size up to a sphere of 17.25" across, up to 60" away, at a cost of PR 2
  • Power Blast (dark energy) - 18" range, PR1, 1d20 damage
Wt: 187lb
Basic Hits: 4
STR: 18 END: 18
AGI: 20 INT: 13
CHA: 11

Hit Points: 30
Damage Mod: +2/+6 martial arts
Accuracy: +3/+9 martial arts
Carry Cap: 713.6lb
Basic HTH Damage: 1d8
Movement: 56
Det. Hidden: 10%
Det. Danger: 14%

COSTUME
:
Again, still a work in progress, but I'm thinking Chinese martial artist meets ninja meets Batman, but without the cape. Probably a dark blue/black body suit - no logo. Can't quite picture the face mask yet, but will keep working on it.

Of course, if anyone wants to draw me a costume for The Whisper they would have my eternal gratitude...

This Is How Cool My Parents Were...

We had - and used - this Hulk toilet paper when I was a kid...



I'd totally forgotten about it until it was featured on io9 the other day. Thanks, guys!

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Doctor Who: The Big Bang

The Big Bang truly was the finale to end all finales - and restore my faith in Doctor Who.

Continuing from last week's inescapable conclusion, The Doctor buzzed backwards and forwards in time (using the vortex manipulator) weaving a fantastic, audacious tapestry that led to him 'rebooting the universe', saving Amy in the process, and even bringing back key personalities from her past.

A rich and complex tale that, even though it was playing with the very fabric of time in its telling, was reasonably simple to follow thanks to some deft writing from showrunner Steven Moffat.

For the first time since The Doctor returned to our screens we actually got a finale that will stand the test of time; unlike Russell T Davies' tendency to rely on sound and fury, overwhelming our senses with gigantic spectacle that distracted us into thinking they were better than they were, The Big Bang actually delivered.

There was no need to "cut the show some slack" or "just let things ride" because you love Doctor Who so much, this was the season finale the show had always deserved.

Cleverly integrating itself into past episodes as the cracks in time healed (including the 'future Doctor' appearance in The Time Of Angels that many people picked up on), yet still leaving enough threads hanging for future adventures, we leave this season with a new sense of confidence that The Doctor is in very safe hands.

For a while I thought the mystery of River Song was going to wrapped up as well. I'm still 90 per cent behind the theory that she is, somehow, The TARDIS, but I also, for a moment, wondered if was, again somehow, Amy Pond from the future.

It's one of those mysteries that I almost don't want to know the answer to, because the guess work is more than half the fun.

Looking back over this season - season 31 - I'll confess that to start with I wasn't sure. I never had any doubts over Matt Smith as The Doctor (and with this episode he has cemented his place as my favourite incarnation) but while I adored Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, I was never particularly wowed by anything the character was given to do. For a long time, her main purpose seemed to be 'eye candy', but her character definitely developed in leaps and bounds in these final episodes.

The big surprise, among the central characters, was Rory (Arthur Darvill), who has grown to be a fantastic companion for the Doctor and a great foil for Amy. Initially I was expecting a Mickey-clone, but Rory rapidly became his own character, with his own energy and own motivation - helped enormously by the fact that Moffat has knocked on the head the whole, uncomfortable, idea of "companion/Doctor" relationships - even to the extent of making a passing comment on that point during the great wedding sequence in The Big Bang.

It was never the characters that made me doubt this new regime in Doctor Who, but the shaky early episodes as these marvelous characters found their legs.

I realise that some elements were planted by Moffat as elaborate foreshadowing for resolution in this intricate finale, but I still have a lot of issues with those early episodes and can't even think about The Beast Below without feeling tendrils of utter despair and boredom snaking into my brain (I couldn't say if it was the worst episode of new Who because I was so bored I lost interest).

But most of those fears and doubts have now been put to one side. What this season of Doctor Who has served to do for me is put the show in perspective. Swept up as I was during the RTD years (well, during David Tennant's run in the TARDIS anyway) that I'd often sit down to watch the show with my rose-tinted glasses on, I can now watch the Moffat era with a more rational and objective head.

The show is certainly more robust under Moffat's guidance that it no longer needs to be "cut some slack", because when it works - as it did more certainly in these last two episodes - it can be the best thing on television. I guess I always knew that, but there were times (The End Of Time - part two - I'm looking at you) when I felt myself stifling my disappointment because I thought the show was bigger than just a television programme and deserved more credit than it actually did.

This season has left me more confident about the show's future than I've genuinely felt in years, but simultaneously, I'm actually pleased that I've been able to rein my enthusiasm for it to a more sensible - less fanboyish - level, so I can really appreciate it when it's good and accept it for what it is when it isn't.

Download Your Own Horde Of Aliens Today...

Although production of the physical box set has been slightly delayed, the latest supplement for Doctor Who: Adventures In Time & Space - Aliens And Creatures is now available in pdf form from DriveThruRPG.

It currently costs $24.99 (£16.78) and like Cubicle 7's previous Doctor Who works is a thing of beauty.

The collection of files include the 138-page main book, creature cards (each one with a character's statistics on), some more gadget cards, an adventure and some more story point chits.

Of the physical iteration of this set, Angus Abranson of Cubicle 7 said: "We are expecting the physical copies to be in the warehouse in August and will start shipping out all pre-ordered copies as soon as they've arrived and been checked in."

Captain America... The Serial... Part Thirteen...

Ladies & Gentlemen, You Are Too Kind...

And still they come, despite my looming summer holiday, I'm pleased to welcome the latest recruit to the HeroPress superteam:

* Megato of Immaculately Scatterbrained (a new art-themed blog from a talented artist)

Friday, 25 June 2010

Just Another Reason Why We Love The Big Bang Theory...

Penny: So what do you say, Sheldon — are we your X-Men?

Sheldon: No, the X-Men were named for the “X” in “Charles Xavier.” Since I am Sheldon Cooper, you will be my “C-Men.”

The Big Bang Theory: The Pants Alternative (episode 18, season three)

And, yes, I know the X in X-men doesn't actually stand for Xavier, but rather "x-factor", but I was laughing so much I didn't - and still don't - care.

Anyway, it just goes to prove that Sheldon doesn't know everything... and it's simply very funny, dude!

There's even a Facebook page based on this just quote.

Mindprobe: My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006)

I was a film geek before I even discovered roleplaying games and so it's only natural that I would seek inspiration for one from the other.

Mindprobe is going to be a sporadic section on HeroPress where I mine movies for inspiration and throw out some elements that I think might be useful for roleplaying campaigns.

As it's Villains & Vigilantes week here on the 'Press I'm starting with My Super Ex-Girlfriend, which I saw on TV earlier this week.

This isn't a particularly good superhero flick; in fact it's not even a particularly good romcom, but it did have some ideas that I think could be worth exploring in superhero RPGs.

Obviously, first up, we have the idea of romantic liaisons between superpowered characters and non-superpowered characters - the typical Lois Lane and Superman scenario.

But what happens when things go pear-shaped? When the shine goes off the relationship and the couple break-up?

How much does the non-player character know about your character's secret identity? Does your arch-nemesis know about your relationship - could he/she use your ex to exploit your character (as happens in this movie)?

Of course the situation in My Super Ex-Girlfriend was the non-powered person (Luke Wilson) breaking up with G-Girl (Uma Thurman) because she was over-possessive and jealous, and her getting her revenge (the throwing the shark through the window is possibly the highlight of the film, although the superpowered cat-fight at the end is pretty cool as well).

Now, it seems unlikely that any player-character is going to go that route if dumped by an NPC - but if they do then you are a very lucky Gamesmaster and I wish you all the best (and I want to read about what happens!)

Where My Super Ex-Girlfriend scores well in the inspiration stakes though, outside of the traditional romantic ups and downs we see in comics every month, is the character of Professor Bedlam (Eddie Izzard), G-Girl's one supervillain opponent.

Ignoring the fact that we never actually see - or hear of - any actual supervillainy from Bedlam, the quirk that makes this low-rent Lex Luthor interesting (and it isn't that original really, but it struck me as a good gaming gimmick) is that he has been secretly, madly in love with G-Girl since they were best friends at school.

However, she started to ignore him when she got superpowers.

He even has a room in his house filled with pictures and trophies connected to her. His entire motivation for getting into the world of supervillainy was his belief that if he was seen to have powers like her, then she wouldn't ignore him anymore.

I'm a big fan of tying antagonists into the protagonist's backstory (and vice versa), which is why it's crucial to encourage the players to create detailed 'origin stories' for their characters.

The Professor Bedlam set-up was simple, but I like the idea of a villain actually having a major crush on one of the heroes and mainly committing his crimes as a way of getting the heroes' attention (although not in a masochistic way like the guy, Captain Carnage, that Rorschach dropped down a lift shaft)!

We never really got into the whole "romantic sub-plot" aspects of superhero adventures in our original V&V campaigns - I guess because we were all teenaged boys more interested in the "crazy superbattles". Perhaps it's something I'll be able to sneak in if I get a new V&V game going...

Doctor Who: Planet Of Fire (1984)

For me - and probably many young men of around my age - Planet Of Fire will always be remembered as the Doctor Who story that gave us Perpugilliam 'Peri' Brown (Nicola Bryant) in a bikini.

For others it was probably the sight of Vislor Turlough (Mark Strickson) in swimming trunks!

Because, let's be honest, for all that does happen in Planet Of Fire, there isn't really much going on.

The Fifth Doctor's unseen, shape-shifting android companion, Kamelion (voiced again by Gerald Flood) squeals back into life after being taken over by The Master (Anthony Ainley), as he tries to hijack the TARDIS.

The TARDIS has responded to a distress call from an alien device inexplicably recovered from the sea bed off Lanzarote by Professor Howard Foster (Dallas Adams), Peri's stepfather.

Peri's mother is off sight-seeing and Peri is bored and on the verge of heading to Morocco with some backpackers she's met when she's saved from drowning by Turlough and brought on board the TARDIS.

Peri has the alien artifact on her and it bears the same mark as the brand on Turlough's arm, a triangle shape also seen on the volcanic planet Sarn where the TARDIS heads next. Once there, Turlough discovers that the planet is an old colony of his home world, Trion.

Using Lanzarote for exterior locations, Sarn is a well realised, bleak planet that, for once, isn't simply a quarry.

There's a bit of a kerfuffle with the natives as their religious leader, aided briefly by The Master, and the 'non-believers' tussle over what's going on and here's even shades of Erich von Däniken's aliens in spacesuits being mistaken for gods, but the real drama comes from the conflict between The Master (Anthony Ainley) and The Doctor.

The Master is seeking to tap into Sarn's supply of numismaton gas to make use of its restorative powers for reasons which aren't immediately apparent, but make for a nice twist.

This results in a potentially brutal ending that could have had a lasting impact on The Doctor's psyche, had The Master not then turned up in The Mark Of The Rani, without any discussion of his fate here.

In spite of the vast tracts of flesh Peri has on display early on in the story, she is quickly established as a strong character - her willpower being enough, initially, to wrest control of Kamelion from The Master, albeit briefly, and her quick acceptance of The Doctor and the TARDIS.

And also, once again in the Classic Era, an Earth woman goes off with The Doctor (admittedly her parents thought she was heading to Morocco for three months) and there was no need for all the soap opera hoopla of her keep running back to Earth to drop in on friends and family that would bog down much of the Russell T Davies era of the regenerated 21st Century Doctor Who.

Celebrate Your Independence With First V&V Adventure...

PRESS RELEASE: INTERCRIME: HOSTILE TAKEOVER™ is written and illustrated by JEFF DEE and adapted for VILLAINS AND VIGILANTES™ by JACK HERMAN.

The release of INTERCRIME: HOSTILE TAKEOVER™ will follow the launch of VILLAINS AND VIGILANTES™ 2.1 by one week, arriving on July 4, 2010.

“Everyone we have on record that purchased the original Intercrime: Hostile Takeover for Living Legends will receive a complimentary copy of the Villains and Vigilantes version from Monkey House Games,” co-founder Jeff Dee said.

“Right now we are fighting against some time intensive technical problems in making that happen. So if you bought the original edition it may take a month or so to get you your new copy. Please be patient. We will not forget you.”

“Our intention going forward is to release only new material. But Intercrime: Hostile Takeover makes such a perfect entry point into the V&V universe that it was too good to pass up.” co-founder Jack Herman added.

“Intercrime is a major criminal organization in V&V. It is filled with mysterious, intriguing characters and, if anything, Jeff’s story resonates more strongly nowadays than it did just a few short years ago. It is a solid foundation upon which we will build and an excellent start to your Villains and Vigilantes campaign.”

The release date for VILLAINS AND VIGILANTES™ 2.1 is June 27, 2010. The release date for INTERCRIME: HOSTILE TAKEOVER™ is July 4, 2010. They will both be available through RPGnow.com.

Visit the MONKEY HOUSE GAMES™ Store at RPGnow: http://www.rpgnow.com/index.php?manufacturers_id=3246

For further information, please visit www.monkeyhousegames.com or just type into your browser www.villainsandvigilantes.com

Stay connected with VILLAINS AND VIGILANTES™ and MONKEY HOUSE GAMES™ on Facebook.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

The Ultimate Villains & Vigilantes Resource...

Continuing the countdown until the release of Villains & Vigilantes version 2.1 this weekend, I'm reprinting this article below from 18 months ago about Tim Hartin's incredible V&V site (as promoted at the top of my blog for as long as I can recall).

Since I found it back at the end of 2008, The V&V Emporium has been a great site to dip in and out of for a bit of 'nostalgia' (as I say in the piece below), but should I now get a new campaign going with this new edition of the game this will become my 'go-to' Bible for houserule ideas, non-player characters,
Cthulhian creatures, zombies, aliens etc

Reposted from December 14, 2008:


Sucker as I am for a dose of nostalgia, I've been hankering for a bit of Villains & Vigilantes action since I came across The Villains And Vigilantes Emporium by chance the other month.

I was searching on Google for certain Lovecraftian images to supply Neil (my figure painter) as a guide for some figures I was thinking of sending him, when I noticed one of the images came from a site with "V and V" in its web address.

I thought I'd better investigate as, has been stated many times on HeroPress, Villains & Vigilantes is one of my favourite roleplaying systems from my youth and was the game that led to the creation of not only my Acrobatic Flea persona but HeroPress as a whole.

The Villains And Vigilantes Emporium, maintained by Tim Hartin, is a wealth of house rules, homages to the great Jeff Dee (the game's artist supreme), useful links and character conversions.

It is this latter section that blew my mind. There's not just one or two comic book characters painstakingly statted out for V&V, but a cornucopia. And not just obvious sources - such as Marvel and DC characters - but also such genre favourites as monster movies, Battle of The Planets (aka Gatchaman), the worlds of HP Lovecraft, Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy, and - best of all - Doctor Who!

One of the things I always used to enjoy doing when we were playing Villains & Vigilantes almost 24/7 was convert comic and film characters into V&V characters, but Tim has made it into an artform over at the Emporium.

Major props also to the man for not only giving us stats for Night Of The Living Dead zombies in V&V (every game needs zombies), but also a mini-campaign, complete with guidelines on creating low-powered heroes to confront the hordes of undead.

And what makes this site - for a game that hasn't been published since 1987 (and some would argue has been overtaken by Mutants And Masterminds) - extra special is that it is still live and being updated.

I think it's time the Acrobatic Flea got off his butt and started to fight some crime, I'm itching for a superpowered smackdown.

Supernatural: Two Minutes To Midnight/Swan Song

And so Supernatural comes to an end with a double bill of incredible action and angst-filled episodes.

If this had been the actual ending of the show, as it was originally intended, then this might have gone down in television history as one of the all-time great series-wrapping finales.

As things stand, though, no matter how brilliant these two episodes were, knowing the show is coming back (in some form) next year slightly undermines the impact.

After the brothers rather hurriedly confront Pestilence (Matt Frewer) and get his ring, Two Minutes To Midnight sees Sam and Dean splitting their gang up.

Sam, Castiel (now human) and Bobby head off to thwart The Horseman's plans to spread the Croatoan virus while Dean and Crowley go to Chicago to confront the final Horseman: Death (Julian Richings).

The Horsemen have been played by some pretty great actors in this series, but Julian Richings steals the show with his terrifying, underplayed, soft-spoken portrayal of an entity "older than God". It's primarily a single scene, with Death and Dean sharing a pizza, and yet it's one of the most brilliant, and unnerving, in all the years of Supernatural.

The slight disappointment with this episode actually doesn't manifest itself until Swan Song, where suddenly the great character of Crowley (Mark Sheppard) disappears from the story without a word; no mention is made of him again or Bobby's trade with him (that got his legs restored).

I realise we're supposed to take him as a man of his word (that he was just holding Bobby's soul as security against the Winchesters killing him), but he's a demon, for Pete's sake - and when have demons ever stuck to their promises? Are we to assume then that Bobby got his soul back? I just think that should have been mentioned - even in passing - as it's quite a big deal.

Swan Song has Sam and Dean facing down the Devil in Detroit (as he always predicted they would), but unfortunately he (Mark Pellegrino) knows all about their scheme to use the Horsemen's rings to lock him back in his cage once he has taken over Sam's body.

Naturally, things don't go according to plan, and it looks like the Devil has won the day.

The script, by show creator Eric Kripke, makes great play of the fact that the Yellow-Eyed Demon's minions have been guiding Sam all his life - even his prom date was a demon!

Once again we are treated to a stunning performance, this time by Jared Padalecki as 'possessed Sam'. There's a sequence where he is talking to himself in a cracked mirror, when it takes a moment for it to sink in he is playing both Lucifer and Sam - rather than it being too different actors!

The strength of both Two Minutes To Midnight and Swan Song has certainly come from the character interaction and acting chops of the main cast; the direction of the action plot, although exciting and subject to the occasional hic-cup, had a certain feeling of pre-destination to it and no matter how Sam and Dean have tried to fight it, things have eventually worked out as we always suspected they would.

Matters come to a head in a graveyard outside Lawrence, Kansas - bringing things back to where they started - with a three-way tussle between Lucifer, in Sam's body, Michael, in the body of Sam and Dean's half-brother, Adam (Jake Abel), and Dean (flying by the seat of his pants).

I'm not sure what was more shocking: the casual way Lucifer dispensed with two well-loved characters with the flick of his wrist or the brutal beat-down he gave Dean before Sam was able to wrestle control back of his body.

The episode was broken up with a great voice-over by the prophet Chuck (Rob Benedict) recounting the story of the Impala, Dean's car, and, as poetic as it was, I had to wonder where this was going until everything came together in that final conflict.

As I said at the beginning of this review, if this had been the end of Supernatural, I would have been very satisfied and labeled it as 'brave' and an 'instant classic'.

As it stands Swan Song is simply a strong ending to a season and we'll have to wait until Season Six rolls along to see if any of this sticks or the show is going to fall back on its comic book style "revolving door" policy on death and trips to Hell.

Even bringing the action back to Lawrence for this showdown had a satisfyingly epic feel of finality about it, as did making such clever use of the Impala (which has always been like a significant extra character in the show) and its history.

Dean's coda, as well, of his perfect life with the woman of his dreams actually felt like it could work and be the happy ending and reward he deserved.

All these elements spelled a perfect wrap-up to the rich mythology and intricate backstory of Supernatural.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want Supernatural to end, but the overall story of the five years was masterfully crafted to lead to this moment - Sam and Dean's entire lives were building to this - and you have to wonder where the show can go now.

And what was with that final shot? Did that even make sense? Or is it an omen of things to come next year?

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

ICONS-tastic!

What a week for support for Steve Kenson's ICONS!

Earlier this week we get the first adventure release (The Skeletron Key, by Mr Kenson, himself) and today the ICONS character folio arrives.

This natty piece of software is the official character generation program for ICONS: Superheroic Roleplaying.

This Java Application runs on Windows, Mac and Unix systems (Java 1.6 required), and features:

  • Random character creation with a click of a button!
  • Points-buy character creation!
  • Character sheet printing!
  • Character art silhouettes by ICONS Line Artist Dan Houser!
  • Save your creations, load them again later!
  • Full tech support from Gallant Knight Enterprises, including a dedicated forum!
Meanwhile, Steve's adventure is introduced as: "A demonstration of Avatar Industries' new SPARTAN (SPecial ARmored TANk) battlesuit for the military goes horribly wrong, leading the heroes into an adventure involving mercenaries, missing scientists, a dying corporate magnate, and a top-secret neural network research project that is far, far more than it was ever intended to be..."

Both of these products are from Adamant Entertainment and available from RPGNow.com. Adamant is promising more adventures throughout the summer.

  • The Skeletron Key is priced £3.38 ($5.00), while the Character Folio is £6.73 ($9.95).

Top Of The Pile: Charmed #0

I was a bit wary about the possibly of a Charmed comic, especially from a company I wasn't particularly au fait with (Zenescope).

Charmed was always the 'acceptable face' of genre television, it was pop magic for the masses, Buffy-lite if you will, a programme I knew I could safely watch with my parents.

In fact, my parents were quite big fans of the show and we were known to pass large portions of a lazy Sunday afternoon watching Charmed marathons on Living TV.

But would it translate to comics? Buffy The Vampire Slayer had, reasonably successfully, but its edgier nature and pop culture hipness guaranteed there was already a comic reading market there waiting for it.

After this single issue, Charmed Issue Zero: The Book Of Shadows it's still really too early to tell, but the signs are looking very promising.

Billed as a 'sourcebook for the series', the book is set out as handwritten entries in The Book Of Shadows, the magic book that stored all the spells used by the Charmed Ones (the Halliwell sisters), handed down to them, and updated, through the generations.

It starts off by having the three sisters (Paige, Piper and Phoebe) each taking a page to introduce themselves, then has entries on recurring characters for the forces of good and the forces of evil, a selection of witchy spells and finally a year-by-year breakdown of the events in the television show's eight year run - all written in character.

The comic only breaks its faux magic book illusion for the final four pages which are a sneak preview of the first issue. Obviously it's hard to tell from just four pages, but it seems to be echoing the show's light touch - with shades of The Witch Girls Adventures comics (but without the typos).

Clearly it's not going to be as hard-hitting - and 'graphic' - as Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight, but then that hasn't an entirely satisfactory run anyway, although I reckon there'll be a reasonable overlap of readership.

Issue Zero: The Book Of Shadows is a fantastic introduction to the series, and its reasonably involved backstory, as an aide-mémoire for old or casual fans of the television show or a solid jumping-on point for newcomers.

If Zenescope can keep up the attention to detail they delivered in this issue, and combine it with some interesting storytelling, with genuine character development and a sense of verisimilitude, they could have a hit on their hands to rival Dark Horse's urban fantasy title.

HeroPress Art Gallery...

Continuing our countdown until the release of Villains & Vigilantes v2.1 this weekend, here's a - very small - selection of some of the fantastic art that Steve and Pete did, first for our Villains & Vigilantes campaigns and then for the HeroPress play-by-post game that grew out of them.

The strange, rough, appearance of some of this art is because it comes from an age when 'cut and paste' actually meant physically cutting the pictures out and gluing them on another sheet of paper to create the pages for photocopying, to create the issues of the HeroPress fanzine.

Silverfist (Steve) sparring with The Acrobatic Flea

The Atomic Bull (also Steve)

Hurricane (Pete) and Brutus

Nick Law (Nick)

Acrobatic Flea (me)

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Fight On! Issue Nine In Print...

When you're down to your last hit point, your last spell, the last charge on your laser pistol - what now?

Fight On! Issue #9 is here, stampeding out of the gate with adventures big and small, a city-state, races, classes, monsters, spells, tricks, traps, tables, rules options, random encounters, NPCs, and a motherlode of mighty miscellaneous mysteries to give your game a boost!

Dedicated to Paul Jaquays, this issue features contributions from Jeff Rients, Sang Lee, Tavis Allison, Kelvin Green, Geoffrey McKinney, Patrick Farley, Zak S., Erik Battle, James Quigley, Mark Allen, Jennifer Weigel, Gabor Lux, Peter Schmidt Jensen, Ed Heil, Paul Fini, Raven Daegmorgan, Eric Minton, Allen Varney, Baz Blatt, Geoffrey O. Dale, Jerry Stratton, Chris Robert, Calithena, Jeff Talanian, and many, many more!

Don't get caught without the old school's newest resources - check it out at http://www.lulu.com/product/11474062! From now until the end of June, Issue #9 will be available at a discount price of just $9!

But that's not all - our entire back inventory is on sale as well! Fill out your collection or pick up that special article you've been wondering about, at rock-bottom prices:

Issue 1 is $6.50, down from $6.99.
Issues 2, 5, 7, and 8 are $8.50, down from $9.99
Issues 3, 4, and 6 are $9.50, down from $9.99

Finally, and ONLY for this month, our unique June 2010 editions of the two Fight On! compendia are available in hardback. $40 apiece, each of these covers a full year of Fight On! (issues 1-4 and 5-8) under a single cover.

Unique collector's items clocking in at around 400 pages each, these are great buys for those who prefer the format, wish to start from the beginning, or just want to have a cool and unique thing that nobody else does. You can see them here:

http://www.lulu.com/product//11171576

http://www.lulu.com/product//11172773

The sale only lasts until June 30, so pick 'em up while you can!

The TOC for issue 9 is as follows:

Top of the Class (various)…………….…………………3
Bird-Men of Hyperborea (Jeffrey P. Talanian)………...…8
Knights & Knaves (SilverFish)…………………………..9
Spellslingers for Hire (James A. Smith)…………………11
The City-State of Khosura, Part I (Gabor Lux)....………12
Inter-Session Events (J.E. Badelaire)……………….…..24
Purchasing Potions (Eric Minton)……………………...25
The Hobgoblin God's Crown (James Quigley)…………27
In My World… (Calithena)…………………………….40
Den of Villainy (Antii Hulkonnen)……………………..43
Education of a Magic User (Douglas Cox)……………...44
GBH (Peter Schmidt Jensen)…………………………...45
The Singing Cave (Mark J. Allen)………………………46
The Contemptible Cube of Quazar (Johnson & Lynk)…47
New Jersey After The "Big Whoops" (Adam Thornton).48
Creepies & Crawlies (Zak S.)…………………………...49
Ten Dooms of the Icy Wastes (Chris Robert)………….52
The Yellow Forest (Jerry Stratton)……………………...58
Tables for Fables (Age of Fable)……………………….63
Post-Apocalyptic Crafting (Lawson Reilly)……………..64
Dungeon Modules: Riverwalk (Geoffrey O. Dale)……...65
Two Tribes (Kelvin Green)…………………………….69
The Temple of Thek (Baz Blatt)………………………..73
Random's Assortment (Random, Jensen, and Ant)……..77
Caves of the Beast Mistress (Tavis Allison)…………….79
Interview w/ Paul Jaquays (Ciro Sacco & Allen Varney)..90
The Darkness Beneath (Jeff Rients)……………………96
Merlyn's Mystical Mirror (McKinney & Pookie)………104
The End of the World (Del Beaudry)…………………109
Witches of N'Kai (Caleb Jensen)……………………...113
Grognard's Grimoire (Eric Minton)…………………...114
Artifacts, Adjuncts, & Oddments (Reed & Barber)……115

Front Cover by Raven Daegmorgan. Back cover by Mark Allen. Fight On! logo by Jeff Rients. Interior art by Paul Fini (3), Black Blade Publishing (black-blade-publishing. com: 5,35), Troll and Toad (trollandtoad.com: 6), Ian Baggley (8), Ed Heil (9,65), Peter Schmidt Jensen (10,33,45,103), Bronze Age Miniatuers (bronzeagemin.com, 11), Gabor Lux (12,13,15,17,19), Jennifer Weigel (25,26), Mark Allen (marjasall.com, 27,32,37,46,49,50,51), Alex Schröder (27,29,66), Robert S. Conley (batintheattic.com: 31,96), Steve Robertson (36), James Quigley (37), Erik C. Battle (38,41,68,75,97,101), Stefan Poag (39), Antii Hulkonnen (43), Douglas Cox (44), Jimm Johnson & Jeff Lynk (47), Adam Thornton (48), Zak S. (51), Patrick Farley (53), Kesher (55), Geoffrey McKinney (56), DEI Games (deigames.com: 57), Kelvin Green (59,70,71,72,102), Wikimedia Commons (60), William Buckland (62), Steve aka Bat (62), Age of Fable (63), Lawson Reilly (64,65), Spellbook Games (spellbookgames.com: 67), Anthony Stiller (77, 78), Tavis & Javi Allison (81), Sang Lee (82,83,84,85), Sean Elliott (89), Otherworld Miniatures (otherworld.me. uk: 91), Jeff Rients (99), Kevin Mayle (100), Rjad (104), Christopher Cale & Co. (107), karenswhimsy.com (108), William Miller (111), Robert D. Reed (115), Lee Barber (116, Knights & Knaves logo, Creepies & Crawlies logo).


Fight on!
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