Wednesday, April 30, 2008

We'll eat you up, we love you so

Ending of the unpublished sequel to Where the Wild Things Are, in which a teenage Max, having sailed once again to visit the monsters who were once his friends and subjects, meets a grisly end -- hormonal changes brought on by puberty drive the beasts wild with hunger and he is swiftly dismembered and greedily devoured:

...the blood ran out over earth
and in and out of stones
and through the grass
and into the pile of his very own bones
where they had made a supper of him

and it was still hot.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

"...lust-mad men and lawless women in a vicious and sensuous orgy of slaughter and stupendous dance spectacles..."

Now that is an attention grabbing post title! Here's another, "Drugs, thugs and freaked-out starlets, pent up punks on a penthouse binge, daring to live, daring to love, flirting with death." Or how about, "Their god is speed and they came from beyond the stars to spawn in the sea."

All of the above and so much more "shock suspense sensation" is from Brian Joseph Davis' amazing text cut-up Voice Over [PDF]. It's a trash culture ragtag, the slogans from hundreds of B-movie posters and trailers strung together and out, turned on, turned up and turned around. It's a psychedelic day-glo trash flick rainbow, biker pics and reefer madness and rubber-suit monsters chasing sock hop dancers. It's like watching every season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 on fast forward with the sound down, or reading Joe Bob Briggs' diary by the light of a Herschell Gordon Lewis drive-in double feature.

It gets better yet! The written version's a hoot, but the spoken version? Oh My Effing Dammit! Stop reading! Go, listen! If you don't come back shaking your head, with the wild glint of surprise and laughter in your eye, well, I don't know what to say to you.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Dice as Destiny!

Today's excellent post over Grognardia way, On the Oracular Power of Dice, reminded me of this bit of True Scientific Realism from Encounter Critical:
It is unrealistic to require characters to qualify for a character class; many people are very bad at what they do. Certainly, nobody asked us if we were qualified to design this game. Every class has one or more qualifying statistics ... You must have a score of 9 or better in the qualifying statistics or your Experience Point bonus odds are halved....Apart from this anyone can qualify for any class. If a Frankenstein-Klengon wants to be a doxy we aren't going to be the ones to tell her she isn't pretty.
Sometimes playing strictly by the dice gets frustrating, but it can also force you to think creatively. You can even trick your brain down paths you would never have gotten to otherwise. Messing around rolling up EC characters one night I decided to embrace this doctrine at every level of character generation: stats 3d6 in order, naturally, but I also diced for character race, evolution level, mutant and hybrid status, and even class.

I confess, at first the Amazon warrior I rolled up left me a little underwhelmed. Obviously, the very fact that Amazon warrior is a player character option is Exhibit A for Awesome, it's true. Even so, I wasn't grooving with it. Then, a roll or two of the dice -- hybrid: planetary ape -- and in a flash, Barborilla, Amazon-Ape Arrow-Maid, was born!

Portrait created with HeroMachine
ESP 10

Hit Points: 10
Melee: 70% damage +0
Missile: 96% damage +8
Saving Throw: (with armor bonus) 56%

cannibal urges, edible excretions (sweats a nutritious sap), self-consuming brain
GEAR: Compound bow, bardiche, cutlass, buckler. Utility belt, 60' rope, canteen, camping gear, first aid kit, potion of strength

HISTORY: Barborilla was the love child of the Amazon Spearwardess Anje and the ape N'Traza. Anje's love of battle far exceeded her maternal drive, so Barborilla was raised by her father, a hard-working teak miner of the Ape Sultanate. A runty child, only her father's high status in the Silverbacks Local 55 kept her from being cast out of the troop. Despite lacking the strength of her forebears, she grew into a fiercely proud woman, using her cunning and her deadly aim to earn the respect of the apes. Now she seeks to test her mettle in the wider world.

QUIRK: Nearly dead to magic, Barborilla has trouble perceiving sorcerous effects, often doubting the presence of magic even close at hand. She is reluctant to rely on magic of any sort, and may have to be tricked to take advantage of magical tools and spells. She is under the impression that her potion of strength is an extremely potent vitamin soup.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Metaphorced: Jimi Hendrix

Searching the phrase "Jimi Hendrix of." An arbitrary and by no means exhaustive list.

Kimmo Pohjonen, the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion
Esteban 'Steve' Jordan, the Jimi Hendrix of the Tejano accordion
Antonio Forcione, the Jimi Hendrix of the acoustic guitar CONTESTED
Vicki Genfan, the Jimi Hendrix of the acoustic guitar CONTESTED
Ricardo Bofill, the Jimi Hendrix of architecture CONTESTED
Frank O. Gehry, the Jimi Hendrix of architecture CONTESTED
Carlos Núñez, the Jimi Hendrix of the bagpipes
Luther Allison, the Jimi Hendrix of the blues
T-Bone Walker, the Jimi Hendrix of electric blues1
Lonnie Johnson, the Jimi Hendrix of pre-WWII blues
Bill Sparrow, the self-proclaimed Jimi Hendrix of Boston
Jeff Daymont, the Jimi Hendrix of box jugglers
Giovanni Sollima, the "snarling, grieving" Jimi Hendrix of the cello
Wong Kar-wai, the Jimi Hendrix of cinema
Will Calhoun, the Jimi Hendrix of drumming CONTESTED
Tony Williams, the Jimi Hendrix of the drums CONTESTED
Ian Anderson, the self-styled Jimi Hendrix of the flute
Jaco Pastorius, the Jimi Hendrix of the fretless bass guitar
Keith Emerson, he Jimi Hendrix of the Hammond organ
Sugar Blue, the Jimi Hendrix of the harmonica
Fred Caban, the Jimi Hendrix of the Jesus Movement
Girl Talk, the Jimi Hendrix of laptops
Mawangu Makuntima, "inarguably, the Jimi Hendrix of the likembe" CONTESTED
Mawangu Mingiedi, his father, also the Jimi Hendrix of the likembe CONTESTED
Ilene Stahl, the Jimi Hendrix of klezmer clarinet
Prince Diabaté, the Jimi Hendrix of the kora
Willie P. Bennett, the Jimi Hendrix of the mandolin
Richard Lewis, the Jimi Hendrix of monologists
DiViNCi, the Jimi Hendrix of the MPC drum machine
Carlos Giffoni, the Jimi Hendrix of noise
Zainidin Imanaliev, the Jimi Hendrix of Nomadic Kyrgyzstan
Speedy West, the Jimi Hendrix of pedal steel guitar
Richard Feynman, the Jimi Hendrix of physics
Todd Moore, the Jimi Hendrix of poetry2
Nikolaj Ronimus, the Jimi Hendrix of the recorder
Ted Falconi of Flipper, the Jimi Hendrix of rhythm guitar
Seijin Noborikawa, the Jimi Hendrix of the sanshin
Clara Rockmore, the Jimi Hendrix of the theremin CONTESTED
Rob Schwimmer, the Jimi Hendrix of the theremin CONTESTED
Oren Marshall, the Jimi Hendrix of the tuba
Jake Shimabukuro, the Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele
Sergey Vashchenko, the Jimi Hendrix of Russian Balalaika
Pandit Habib Khan, the Jimi Hendrix of the sitar
Rodney Mullen, the Jimi Hendrix of skateboarding
Robert 'Doc' Mthalane, the Jimi Hendrix of South Africa
Rick Davis, the Jimi Hendrix of the synthesizer
James Carter, the Jimi Hendrix of the tenor saxophone
Larry Levan, Jimi Hendrix of the turntables
Paddy Keenan, the Jimi Hendrix of the uilleann pipes
Joe Deninzon, the Jimi Hendrix of the violin CONTESTED
Lili Haydn, the Jimi Hendrix of the violin CONTESTED
Eileen Ivers, the Jimi Hendrix of the violin CONTESTED
Christian Howes, the Jimi Hendrix of jazz violin
Andre Thierry, the Jimi Hendrix of zydeco

1. T-Bone Walker was also the Elvis Presley of the electric blues
2. Todd Moore is also the Sam Peckinpah of poetry and the John Dillinger of poetry.

MP3: James Carter, JC On the Set
MP3: Steve Jordan, El Corrido de Jhonny El Pachucho
MP3: Konono No.1, featuring Mawangu Makuntima, T.P. Couleur Cafe
MP3: Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant, Speedin' West

See also:
The Wes Montgomery of Particle Physics, an article inspired by Chris Chike, the Jimi Hendrix of the plastic ax (i.e. Guitar Hero game controller)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Fiendish Quartet #4

batter up!(Concluding a series of D&D campaign brainstorming based on the 1e Fiend Folio.)

Gamma Weird

One of the charming things about the 1st Edition Fiend Folio is the way that truly fearsome monsters like the iconic githyanki on the cover, or the horrid grell (a hovering, octopoid brain) share pages with misfit critters like the flail snail or the adherer (a mummy wrapped in flypaper, more or less). The 1e monster books are all much closer to the homebrewed roots of the hobby; they are less professional, less 'art-directed' both in the literal sense and in the figurative sense that they resist any overall tone or coherent vision. None more so than the Fiend Folio, much of which was drawn from fan submissions to British gaming magazine White Dwarf. The fiends within often don't make any kind of sense together, but there is a lot of freedom in the juxtaposition of the goofy and the gruesome.

Even the goofiest critters have their place in a Gamma Weird campaign: Flail away, flail snail! Glue mummies, stick around! Poisonous beetles camouflaged as treasure? Check. Mangy cadaverous skunk-weasels? Got 'em, natch. Giant mosquito lobsters? The more, and the more ridiculous, the merrier! Gamma Weird is post-apocalyptic D&D, and from where I sit the only way to play the apocalypse is for laughs.

Now, I don't mean a combination of D&D and Gamma World, a science-meets-fanstasy mix-up. I mean, that is awesome, no question. But what I have in mind is more like D&D rewritten as Gamma World:

A high fantasy realm is thrown utterly into chaos by a world-spanning magical catastrophe. Cities are destroyed by arcane forces, and the knowledge of ten thousand years is buried in the wreckage. The minds and flesh of men and beasts are warped by polymorphic energies. There are no large states, no kingdoms -- at best the land is a feudal patchwork, and most people subsist in scattered unconnected villages. Low-level spells and some simple magic weapons and devices survive, but unpredictable magical effects can make them chancy to use.

Those adventurers who seek more powerful magic will have to quest for it. Lacking a shared history and culture, social structure and mores vary wildly from town to town, so travellers may find the ways of even their neighboring villages strange. In the untracked leagues between settlements the land itself has grown eldritch and strange, rocks, rivers and hills twisted by the magical apocalypse. Creatures both comical and deadly hunt the countryside and haunt the ruined cities of the ancients, but the greatest danger the adventurers face may be the very sorceries they hope to master.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Rhymes with Katana

As a rap lyricist I lack breadth but not depth. Continuing a series:

drunk on bourbon whiskey,
it's disturbin and risky
how you try and dis me
you really don't wanna
i'm quick like katana, slick like satana
aka satan it's fate son here's a lesson:
you try and teach me
you'll never reach me
blind swordsman: Zatoichi

Thursday, April 10, 2008

In a Metal Mood

Eminent comics writer and blogger Kevin Church has posted a list of 10 songs he'd pay good money to hear performed in a black metal style. As noted in the comments to his post, Celtic Frost has done Mexican Radio. It's actually a very reverent cover right down to the funny voices. But I don't know if anyone would have anticipated Dead Raven Choir's demolition of Leonard Cohen. I sure didn't.

A black metal cover of "American Pie" is the one I'm waiting to hear. Maybe Darkthrone would do it. Those guys are pretty funny.

MP3: Celtic Frost, Mexican Radio
MP3: Dead Raven Choir, First We Take Manhattan (check your volume; this is blown-out and loud as hell)

See also:
Gavin Spearhead's Coversongs List. Exhaustive and exhausting; howsabout a search feature, Gavin?

Turnabout is fair play for Pat Boone

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A few hundred words on 300

I saw 300 on DVD the other night. I'm not particularly a fan of the book, nor much else of Frank Miller for that matter. I certainly wasn't hoping for the movie to be a timeless classic, or even a decent historical actioner. Exactly the opposite in fact: it slots neatly into my Netflix queue between Hawk the Slayer and, oh sweet reason, Ator, the Fighting Eagle. I expected violent, I expected dumb, I expected sword-hacking, shield-bashing and streams of gore. And sure, 300's got all that. With sandals and a fringe on top.

300 is at its heart a story about valiant warriors fighting to win glory or die with honor against deadly odds. I'm a complete sap for scenes of heroism and sacrifice. Everything from Boromir redeeming himself at Parth Galen down to a damn show on Animal Planet about a chihuahua saving a little girl from a rattlesnake will choke me right up. They're tears, but they're brave tears, don't dog me. But 300 left me dry-eyed and searching for the Visine.

The movie goes to absurd lengths to separate the good Spartans not only from the decadent Persians and their faaabulous King, but from the "boy-lovers of Athens" and even the brave volunteers who fight with the Spartans. The Spartans are tumescent; all others limp. The Spartans are statuesque, sculpted, proud-blooded and erect; their foes not merely dark-skinned but grotesque, bestial, lamed. Among the Persian forces I noted orcs, Frankenstein, and a Cenobite apparently wandered off the set of a Hellraiser sequel. And between all the fighting is a lot of bellowing and brow-beating about the free men of Sparta defending freedom which, we daren't forget, isn't free.

But what of the freedom of Sparta? What of this city of free men and strong women? That's the question that movie and book alike fail to answer. The city is barely sketched, a few columns and fountains, plain stone walls. There are no scenes of everyday Spartan life, no merchants or musicians. The chief freedom afforded Spartan boys, we're shown, is the freedom to study the arts of battle and war:

"At age 7, as is customary in Sparta, [a] boy [is] taken from his mother and plunged into a world of violence, manufactured by 300 years of Spartan warrior society to create the finest soldiers the world has ever known. The agoge, as it's called, forces the boy to fight, starves him, forces him to steal... and if necessary, to kill."
Slaves unnumbered are cut down like grass, and Spartan blood is the price of each inch of the Persian advance, for this? A city whose only arts are the phalanx, the whetstone and, on the film's evidence, the ab crunch? The place hardly seems worth saving. I was unmoved, and not much entertained.

See also: Dave White takes this much less seriously.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Dino Punks Are Go!

Yesterday browsing the new book cart at my local library I came across DINOSAURS: The Most Complete, Up-to-Date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages by Dr Thomas R Holtz, Jr. I never could resist a dinosaur book, and this looks like a good one. What really sets it apart though, are the illustrations by Luis V Rey. They are far. out.

I wrote a whole paragraph here about recent fossil discoveries of feathered dinosaurs, and comparisons of nasal openings in the skulls of dinosaurs and living animals, and the display hypothesis. I did a websearch on protofeathers. It was turning into a book report.

But what I really want to talk about it how all of the above has inspired Mr Rey to cut loose. The latest paleontological hypothesis + wild imagination = Dino Punks! Zebra stripes, flashy crests, brilliant cloaks and ruffs of feathers! Iridescent scales, wicked spines, drooping fleshy wattles! It's wondrous and joyful. You can find more at the artist's website, here.

MP3: Mittens on Strings, Most Complete Skeleton Ever Found

Friday, April 4, 2008

On the Beach and At the Table

A post the other day on Dr Rotwang's I Waste The Buddha With My Crossbow, about Rush, a kitchen table and his "personal nerd nirvana" has me thinking all the way back to 1984, and one of my own gaming epiphanies.

Summer vacation, and I'd talked my folks into buying me the 2nd Edition of Gamma World on a day trip to Saugatuck--back in the day you could get your sci-fi apocalypse down at the five-and-dime. For what remained of our two weeks away, I spent most of each afternoon in a small bedroom facing Lake Michigan, windows on three sides, with lake breezes and afternoon sun lazing through the curtains, reading through the rulebook, rolling up characters, and daydreaming about the badass mutants on the cover. I stretched out on the floor and listened to the radio hoping for my favorite songs of the time--Billy Idol, "Eyes Without a Face" or Prince, or Wang Chung, or Eurythmics.

Those notes are long gone now, of course. Fool for nostalgia that I am that makes me a little sad. But here's the thing: I've got a dining room table. I've got plenty of dice and lots of room to spread out. And I've got stacks of music. Perfect moments are fleeting. In this life you're on your own.

MP3: Prince, Let's Go Crazy (Live, 1985)
See also: Top Hits of 1984; Michigan in Pictures: South Haven

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Conan, Cugel, and others

At Grognardia, James Maliszewski's begun a project tracing the roots of Dungeons & Dragons, and has started it off writing about the game's roots in pulp fantasy -- Howard, Lovecraft, Leiber, Vance and others whose influence Gary Gygax made clear in a reading list in the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide.

One of Mr Maliszewski's posts quotes Robert E Howard's introduction of Conan, a single sentence that captures the whole epic and bloody swath of the Barbarian's life and doings:
Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.
In reply one of the commenters quotes Leiber's introduction of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser:
"I see we're expected," the small man said, continuing to stroll toward the large open gate in the long, high, ancient wall. As if by chance, his hand brushed the hilt of his long, slim rapier."

"At over a bowshot distance how can you-" the big man began. "I get it. Bashabeck's orange headcloth. Stands out like a whore in church. And where Bashabeck is, his bullies are. You should have kept your dues to the Thieves Guild paid up."

"It's not so much the dues," the small man said. "It slipped my mind to split with them after the last job, when I lifted those eight diamonds from the Spider God's temple."

The big man sucked his tongue in disapproval. "I sometimes wonder why I associate with a faithless rogue like you."

The small man shrugged. "I was in a hurry. The Spider God was after me..."

It's interesting to compare the two passages. Howard's is deliberately grand and mythic, an epigraph taken from a chronicle of mighty deeds. In his first story Conan is already King of Aquilonia; his long road to the throne comes later, tale by tale. By contrast Leiber is more matter of fact, giving us Fafhrd and the Mouser in media res and at street level, two rogues run afoul of the Thieves' Guild wittingly walking into an ambush.

Here's the introduction of yet another rogue from Gary's reading list, Cugel the Clever, from Jack Vance's The Eyes of the Overworld.
Cugel was a man of many capabilities, with a disposition at once flexible and pertinacious. He was long of leg, deft of hand, light of finger, soft of tongue. His hair was the blackest of black fur, growing low down on his forehead, coving sharply back above his eyebrows. His darting eye, long inquisitive nose and droll mouth gave his lean and bony face an expression of vivacity, candor, and affability. He had known many vicissitudes, gaining therefrom a suppleness, a fine discretion, a mastery of both bravado and stealth. Coming into the possesion of an ancient lead coffin--after discarding the contents--he had formed a number of lead lozenges. These, stamped with appropriate seals and runes, he offered for sale at the Azenomei Fair.
It's a far cry from Howard's heroic tone, and while Leiber's heroes have vicissitudes of their own, Cugel's tale is downright picaresque. Accordingly Vance introduces him in a way that is both inflating and mocking--Cugel is deft and clever, but also rat-like with his furry widow's peak and twitching nose, and we meet him fresh from a grave-robbing, selling fake magic tokens. His expression is of "vivacity, candor, and affability," but he proves instead to be brisk, guileful, and pugnacious.

How he fits into the character archetypes of early D&D is less obvious than Conan, Fafhrd and the Mouser. Cugel more often ekes by on his wits than by sorcery or sword. However I do think there's something of him in many of Gygax's adventure modules -- with his many mishaps and missed chances, narrow escapes and reversals of fate, and with his implacable overconfidence despite all setbacks, Cugel is the very model of the hapless PC set loose amidst the traps and tricks of a Gygaxian dungeon.