Welcome Back to the Labyrinth

"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."

"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."

"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"

"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"

Monday, August 20, 2012

Bones Kickstarter Update

The Reaper Bones kickstarter is going great guns, and backers have pledged over a million dollars, which easily funds their initial goal of $30,000.  The kickstarter project will run for another five days, and if you haven't done so recently, check out their kickstarter page.  As the stretch goals have been met, Reaper has been adding more and more perks, which are jaw-droppingly fantastic and the rewards at the Vampire Level ($100 pledge) is unbelievable.  If there was any way I could afford it I would be in at this level and have enough miniatures to keep me painting for years to come.  As it is, I've ponied up $15 for the Ghast Level, which still gets me 36 miniatures.

They've also got a number of really cool add-on options available to all contributor levels:

I put in another $25 for the carrying case, which will hold over 100 miniatures, but the paint sets are a great deal, too.

So, if you've been on the fence about contributing, now is a great time to jump in while you still can.

Friday, August 17, 2012

City of the Beast - Against the Giants

Among the trove of Planet Stories books that I recently purchased was Michael Moorcock's City of the Beast.  Originally published in 1965 as Warriors of Mars, under the pen name Edward P. Bradbury, City of the Beast is a tribute to Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom stories.

The premise of the story will be familiar to anyone who has read the adventures of John Carter: the protagonist Michael Kane, physicist, champion fencer, and Viet Nam veteran, tests an experimental matter transporter on himself and finds that instead of being transmitted to a receiver on the other side of his lab, he is sent through time and space to Mars in the distant past.  Almost immediately after his arrival, Kane espies the incomparable Dej... I mean the exquisite Shizala, princess of Varnala, who is clad in nothing but a wispy cloak and a broad leather belt around her waist and, of course, falls instantly in love with her.

Kane accompanies Shizala back to the city of Varnala where he receives a Matrix-style native language upload along with a healthy dose of exposition, including the backstory of how Shizala's father, the leader of Varnala disappeared while chasing off  an invading war band of blue-skinned giants called the Argzoon.

Later, while out riding alone, Kane spies an enormous horde of Argzoon headed toward the city, and he rushes back to warn the Varnalans so that they might prepare for the impending seige.  The city manages to hold off the first wave of attackers - just barely.  The discipline and tactics demonstrated by the Argzoon is uncharacteristic of the normally dim-witted and savage giants and it becomes apparent that they are being directed by some unknown leader.

Does any of this sound vaguely familiar to a D&D adventure you might once have played?

Kane proposes to assassinate this leader, assuming that the Argzoon horde will melt away without this great leader to drive them, and so Shizala pilots an aircraft over the Argzoon command tent and deposits Kane, who slays the war captain within, but disregards any complicity of a beautiful dark-haired woman named Horguhl who was also in the tent.  Because every one knows that beautiful women can't possibly be evil, or lead savage warbands in bids for global conquest.

Somehow, in all the confusion, Kane gets knocked unconcious and Shizala is taken captive and absconded with when the defeated Argzoon army retreats.  So Kane, along with Shizala's brother, Darnad, embark upon a rescue mission, ultimately tracking Shizala to the lair of the Argzoon, a subterranean mountain complex known as The Caves of Darkness.

Kane then sends Darnad for help and proceeds alone into the dungeons of the Argzoon.  Of course he is captured and taken before Horguhl who, unsurprisingly, is revealed to be the unknown mastermind.  It turns out that she is a former slave of the Argzoon who used her latent powers of compulsion to tame the dreaded N'aal Beast that dwelt within the Caves of Darkness, and intimidate the giants into following her.  She also professes to love Kane, and offers herself and kingship to him if he will join her, spiking the offer with some of those gnarly compulsion powers of hers.  Of course Kane, hero that he is, shrugs off the compulsion and spurns Horguhl's offer.  Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and so Horguhl has Kane tossed into the pit as a sacrifice for the N'aal Beast.  Kane slays the beast, whom the Argzoon believed was an avatar of their god, and when they see it die by his hands many of them question Horguhl's leadership.  Kane, meanwhile incites a revolt of the slaves who are led by none other than Shizala's missing father Carnak.  Horguhl's whole conquest plot starts to fall apart and she takes advantage of the confusion to get while the getting is good.

The maiden is rescued, Varnala is saved and Kane and Shizala are to become betrothed.  Just as Kane is about to live happily ever after, his lab assistants figure out how to get him back and he is suddenly whisked back to twentieth century Earth.

While City of the Beast covers no new ground, it is a fun and fast-paced action story that will appeal to fans of Burroughs as a sort extension of the John Carter stories.  What I found most intriguing was the notion of bands of giants harassing the land, led by a sinister overlord, which is much the same premise as we see in the popular G-series of AD&D modules, Against The Giants.

As Warriors of Mars was published in 1965, Gary may very well have read it and might have been influenced by it when writing the Giants adventures.  I also can't help but think that his imagination might have been peaked by the Argzoon's subterranean city in The Caves of Darkness.  It might also be a coincidence, but given Gary's voracious reading habits I find it entirely possible that he read this book and was, at least unconsciously, inspired by it.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Postman's Hernia

I mentioned last week, that Paizo is selling off most of their Planet Stories books for $3.  Well, my shipment arrived in the mail yesterday! This ought to keep me going for a while.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Is the OSR Running Out of Steam?

If you are a regular OSR blog-follower, you've probably noticed a marked decline in posting frequency throughout the community.  During my first year or so of blogging I had so much to say it was hard to find time to write it all, and I and my peak I was posting a lengthy essay about every two days.  Now that I'm into year three, however, I'm finding it a struggle to make one post per week and only about half of those have any substantial content.  The others are lazy fluff pieces (e.g. my last two posts).

It's easy to make excuses: I'm busy, it's summer time and July's extreme heat sapped my will to live, and so on, but the real reason is that I'm finding it harder and harder to come up with anything interesting to say.  The curious thing is that it isn't just me burning out, this trend is pretty much pandemic across the OSR blogging community.  Once, not so long ago, I had to strictly limit the blogs that I followed and even then, such was the furious pace of posting, I had a hard time keeping up with them and if I didn't check my blog roll at least a couple of times a day, I missed posts.  Now I can skip a couple of days and find only a few new posts.

Even James Maliszewski, the Energizer Bunny of OSR blogging, is slowing down.  Of course, this is a relative observation; he's now 'only' posting at a frequency that equals or exceeds what I achieved at my peak instead of the unbelievably prolific two to three essay-length posts per day that we used to see on Grognardia.  James is also writing about gaming less these days and is more focused on reviews, and discussions of pulp fiction, suggesting that he, too, is running out of steam.  This is hardly surprising, and by no means a criticism.  I am amazed that he was able to sustain his posting rate for as long as he did.

Nonetheless, this community-wide slow-down is an interesting phenomenon.  Have we run out of things to say?  Is our great Renaissance losing momentum?  Or are we merely shifting our creative output to other fora?

My suspicion is that we are shifting our focus away from blogs and onto other media.  First message boards and then blogs were the principle venues of communication in the early years of the OSR, during the 'getting to know you' phase of the relationship, when we were passionately discussing old school gaming, sharing house-rules and posting myriad random tables.  But now we seem to have moved on to more sophisticated projects and blogs really aren't the best format for sharing them.  The honey-moon is over and it's time for this relationship to grow and mature.

There has been a lot of great material posted on people's blogs over the years, but it was read only by people who were following that blog at the time a particular article was posted.  Blogs are great for the immediate dissemination of information, but not for preserving and making material available over the long term.

So, I think - I hope - that much of the energy that the community used to put into blogging is now being directed at bigger projects that are being published as PDF or print products that won't languish in the obscurity of a blog archive.  New 'zines are springing up left and right, such as Tim Short's recent start-up, The Manor, and they contain much of what used to be posted on people's blogs.  This is probably a good thing, because back-issues will be available for a good long time, ensuring that past issues are readily available.  While I certainly miss the exciting hey-day of old school blogging, there is no way that level of output and energy could be sustained indefinitely.

So where does that leave blogs?  In my case it means doing what I originally intended when I first started this blog: posting session reports to create an ongoing history of my campaigns for player reference, posting house rules and, of course, letting off steam with occasional rants and musings, like this one.

I may be wrong, but I think that what we are seeing is not so much a decline or slow-down in the OSR, but rather a shift in how we do things as we mature and grow as a community.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Couple Items of Interest

I meant to post this earlier, but the heat has made me apathetic and listless.  Anyway, if you haven't already heard, Reaper Miniatures has launched a Kickstarter to increase its line of Bones miniatures.  Because of the expense and time involved in sculpting and casting, miniatures lines tend to grow very slowly.  So they are trying out Kickstarter to well...kickstart bones into high gear.  The contributor perks are very nice, and you get an impressive number of miniatures at the $15 level; 36 goblins, kobolds, and rats - who doesn't need more of those?

I don't normally contribute to crowd-source campaigns, but I'm sorely tempted by this one.

 Also, you may have already heard that Paizo has put its Planet Stories line on hiatus due to poor sales.  This is truly unfortunate since the series has made many of the works of classic pulp authors available in print again.  However, the silver lining of this very dark cloud is that they are selling off their stock at bargain-basement prices.  Most of the books are going for $3.  I just ordered a dozen for a mere $36, which should keeping me in reading material for the rest of the summer and well into autumn.

You can check out the sale by clicking the link above, and stock up on great books.  I don't imagine supplies will last long at this price.