Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Norway's Minister of International Development plays D&D

D&D and Norway's new Minister of International Development...

Norway's new Minister of International Development is a D&D champ who thinks LARPs can change the worlds

Here's an abridged translation of a Imagonem interview with Heikki Holmås, Norway's new minister of International Development. Holmås is a lifelong D&D player and LARPer who won the Norwegian D&D championships in 1989 and was sent to GenCon in Milwaukee. Holmås recounts his favorite campaigns and describes how he things RPGs and LARPs can be used for political ends, including settling longstanding, militarized disputes.
- RPGs can be extremely relevant in putting people in situations they’re unfamiliar with. Save the Children have their refugee games. I have friends in Bergen who’ve run human rights-RPGs. But you have to be professional. You create real emotions when you play role playing games, real emotions that stick, he says.
- That’s kind of the slightly scary aspect of role playing games, which has to be considered. At the same time, it’s what makes it possible for RPGs to change the world. LARP can change the world, because it lets people understand that humans under pressure may act differently than in the normal life, when you’re safe.
The minister of Development has taken note of a Norwegian LARP-project in Palestine later this year.
- I don’t know all the details, but there’s no doubt that you can put Israelis into the situation of the Palestinians and vice versa in a way that fosters understanding and builds bridges. Those things are an important aspect of role playing games which makes it possible to use them politically to create change.
(Thanks, @apehaer!)
(Photo: Imagonem/Ole Peder Giæver)

Mortal Engines fan film

This is a micro fan film / animation project debut by Julia Zhuravleva who studies at the Russian State Institute of Cinematography. It is not part of an official Mortal Engines film (at least not yet) nor does it have anything to do with Weta and Peter Jackson's supposed adaptation of the Philip Reeve post-apocalyptic series. It is, however, wonderfully influenced by Tin Tin and Studio Ghibli.

Thanks to I'd Rather Be Killing Monsters for the heads up on the clip.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Savage World of Dr. Grordbort

Dr. Grordbort is the creation of Greg Broadmore, artist and concept designer of Peter Jackson's Weta Workshop.

This looks like a perfect setting for Savage Worlds or Triple Ace Games' upcoming Leagues of Adventure for the HEX system.

The Savage World of Doctor Grordbort

In a pulpy alternate universe, a great inventor named Doctor Grordbort is selling ray guns and rockets to colonize the solar system. We went to New Zealand and interviewed the artist who created Grordbort's world.

Greg Broadmore, pictured below with one of his creations, is an artist and concept designer at Peter Jackson's Weta Workshop. A few days ago, I visited him in the unassuming warehouses outside Wellington, New Zealand where Weta is located. With a new Grordbort comic book on the way, along with web shorts about to launch in a few weeks, Broadmore was excited to talk about the strange, anachronistic world he's created in between designing some of the coolest effects in modern scifi film.
While he was creating the dinosaurs for King Kong ("I love dinosaurs," Broadmore enthuses) and the weaponry for forthcoming scifi flick District 9, he painted a series of retro-futuristic ray guns in his spare time. Fantastically detailed, covered in copper coils and radio antennae, the guns had names like "infinity beam projector" and "man melter." On a lark, Broadmore showed some of them to Weta Workshop Effects Supervisor Richard Taylor, who immediately saw them as a line of collectibles.
Working with model-makers like Dave Tremont and Paul Wickham in the Weta shop, Broadmore produced a series of now much-sought-after model ray guns – some life-sized and some in miniature. "They're weathered," he said of the guns. "They're supposed to be antiques that have survived from another era when Grordbort was selling them."
The Savage World of Doctor GrordbortBut then something strange happened. The guns began to take on lives of their own in Broadmore's imagination. "I started to fill in the back story of the world where these guns came from," he explained. "And it started with advertising. I wanted to explore the social world of Grordbort via the ads he created for his guns." The result was the first graphic novel about Doctor Grordbort's world, Doctor Grordbort's Contrapulatory Dingus Directory, released last year from Dark Horse. It's a kind of demented Sears Catalog from an alternate early-twentieth century, gorgeously illustrated, and full of ads for the guns, robots, rockets, and electrical servants a colonial conquerer like his anti-hero Cockswain uses.
The collection ends with a short tale about Cockswain, an adventurer whom Broadmore says is "like Homer Simpson – he's not aspirational. He's an object of ridicule. He's the great white hunter, the white male superhero who can conquer the world. It's a love/hate thing. He represents everything awesome about being a man, and everything that's retarded as well." When Cockswain goes to Venus, for instance, it's just to kill the local wildlife. "He has a very human-centric view of the universe," Broadmore laughed. "He's a classic colonizer." When Cockswain meets a native Venusian, he refuses to call him by his real name and gives him an insulting nickname. Broadmore added, "Venus for Cockswain is what Africa was for the English" in the classic pulp era.
"I wanted to satirize pulp fiction that spans the era from the 1890s to the 1940s," he said. "People call this steampunk, but that's not what it is. Nothing is steam-powered here. It's all radio and atomics." It's not that Broadmore is splitting hairs – as long as people like his work, he doesn't care what they call it. But he doesn't consider himself to be in a steampunk tradition. "I just call it retro scifi," he said.
So what's next for Doctor Grordbort? The new graphic novel, he explained, will be "an adventure annual, basically propaganda aimed at children in Grordbort's world." And Weta has just relaunched its website, partly in preparation for releasing a series of mini animations set in the Grordbort universe.
Right now, Broadmore is working full time on the Grordbort world, and he couldn't be more thrilled about that. But that doesn't prevent him from dreaming of other, weirder projects that mash history up with the future. "I really want to do a series showing New Zealand sort of reclaimed by nature, and in among the jungle foliage, you'd see dinosaurs wandering around next to old World War I equipment that's rusting away. And maybe I'd put some Atari computers in there too. All of those seem like ancient things to me that sort of belong together." Dinosaurs, tanks, and Ataris in the New Zealand jungle? Sign me up for one of those paintings, please.
To find out more about Doctor Grordbort, or to get one of his ray guns, visit the Grordbort website.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Jenna-Louise Coleman

The Doctor's next companion, it has been revealed, will be played by Jenna-Louise Coleman. She seems very charming and is excited about the casting choice.

She will debut in the series in the 2012 Christmas Special.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Gosh, Spies!

In the ongoing search for that one game to run with my teen step-daughter one appeared on the radar seemingly custom made for my needs. Postmortem Studio's Agents of S.W.I.N.G. has a supplement called Gosh, Spies! that expands the '60s spy-fi genre of it's core book into the world of younger agents and adventurers.

Like it's companion book that contains the core rules, this one features a cast of NPCs. Its fun to try to figure out who they really represent (just with the serial numbers thinly filed off). Can't figure all of them out...

We have:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Larry Hama's G.I. Joe

John Parker wrote a wonderful article for Comic Alliance about Larry Hama and his G.I. Joe. I loved it and want to share it...

G.I.Joe Comics: The Amazing World and Life of Larry Hama

G.I.Joe: Retaliation makes it theatrical debut on June 29th, with plenty of licensed G.I.Joe comics on the way from IDW Publishing to greet it. Though the first movie wasn't that well-reviewed, it was still highly watched, and the excitement over the sequel has grown steadily since the undeniably awesome Superbowl trailer. Before the fervor builds to a level that goes on to devour the earth and stars, let's take a moment to appreciate the work of the man who made the whole G.I. Joe phenomenon possible: artist and writer Larry Hama.

Go to enough "How to Write Comics" panel discussions and you're sure to hear several pieces of advice over and over again: how to build a plot, create complete characters, dramatic rise and blah blah blah everything else you should realistically already know. The most important piece of advice is the one that only comes up at the best panels: go live a life. Go out into the world and learn and experience things, so you'll actually have something to write about. For living proof, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better example in comics than Larry Hama.

Reading Hama's Wikipedia page will make you feel pitiful and unimportant, and not just for relying on Wikipedia. Here's a man who has been a writer, artist, editor, veteran, actor, musician, political activist, and martial artist who studied judo, Japanese archery and swordmanship.

Hama attended the prestigious Manhattan High School of Art and Design, where he had the opportunity to learn under one of comic art's first true masters, Bernie Krigstein, he served a tour in Vietnam as an explosive ordinance expert for the Army Corps of Engineers.After discharge, he worked as a graphic artist, actively participated in New York's burgeoning Asian artistic community, and joined EC legend Wally Wood's studio, assisting on strips like Cannon and Sally Forth.

After a stint as an inker in Neal Adams' famed Continuity Associates studio, Hama went on to succeed Gil Kane as penciler on Marvel Premiere's "Iron Fist" feature, beginning his long association with martial arts-related characters. And in between all of that, he appeared on Saturday Night LiveM*A*S*H, and the original Broadway production of a Stephen Sondheim musical. I can't even drive stick.

Eventually, Hama seemed to find his true calling as a writer/editor. After spending the late '70s with DC Comics, he jumped to Marvel in 1980. When Hasbro sought to relaunch the G.I. Joe franchise in 1981-82, they partnered with Marvel for a licensing strategy that included toys, cartoons, and comics. Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter recalled a Nick Fury project Hama had pitched that drew heavily on his own military background... after everyone else Shooter offered the project to had passed on it. Which is insane. These days, it's practically aneurysm-inducing to imagine anyone but Hama steering the ship, as he was the absolute perfect choice.

Working closely with Hasbro in character creation, Hama injected his own life experience and diverse interests into the franchise, a gave it a life, humor, and purpose that transcended the military appeal. A very unique congregation of influences went into Hama's work on G.I.Joe. Hama possessed an extensive military knowledge and one tour as a bomb expert in Vietnam. He was also raised Buddhist. He seemed to embrace that dichotomy in the creation of several characters and the yin-yang architecture of Joe and Cobra. (Cobra and Cobra Commander were the legendary Archie Goodwin's ideas, but Hama did the rest.)

He named characters after men he served with, some of whom died in service. He gave the Joes rich backstories and vibrant personalities to go along with their specialties and service records - several characters had even served in Vietnam. Hasbro's 3 3/4" wartoys were transformed into fascinating people with complex biographies, all through their compelling file cards, most of which were written by Hama. In a relatively short time, G.I. Joe became one of the most successful toy lines of all time.

Hasbro's G.I. Joe resurrection went beyond the toys, of course. The Marvel/Sunbow-produced animated series elicited near-religious afterschool followings. Though there were some decent stories, the compromise that was necessary to make a children's show dulled the potential that the action figures and file cards offered. Though the toys came with guns modeled after actual weapons, in the cartoons they fired antiseptic lasers that just seemed to knock Vipers from their vehicles. No one ever died, they just got a few scrapes and occasionally fell into comas, which they always came out of. Hama's comic books bore little similarities.

Marvel's G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero, pretty much entirely written by Hama for 155 issues and occasionally drawn by him, went much, much farther than the animated series. It was life and death combat in the comic books. Guns fired bullets. Characters that readers had emotional ties to like Quick-Kick and Doc were blown to Hell, because Joes were soldiers and often, soldiers die. Cobra Commander, portrayed as a buffoon in the animation, was a frightening aggregation of radical fundamentalist and corporate terrorist.

Hama's G.I. Joe run brought a depth and realism to the concept that the cartoons could never hope to achieve. Even with that seriousness, it still managed to be funny, soulful, and emotionally complex. Characters felt the tension of combat and broke it with humor, got into squabbles and romantic entanglements and interacted just as entertainingly as the Chris Claremont-written X-Men.

His run developed the rough sketches of the file cards into sculptures, complete characters who continued to grow and change throughout the series. Joes like Roadblock, Dusty, and Scarlet were sent through emotional wringers; even Cobras like Destro and Zartan were given depth and internal conflict, even positive traits like courage and loyalty. Devastating plot twists and shocking reveals awaited around every corner. Like all those boys and girls throughout the 1980s staging megafights with their action figures, Hama played with his toys, but in a way that made them fight and love and hate and die.

The most iconic character in G.I.Joe is without a doubt Snake Eyes. The soldier with blood on his hands and ghosts in his head, the white ninja with a past draped in shadows, the man without a face or a voice, Snake Eyes was the central character in many of the comic book's classic stories, including issue 21, "Silent Interlude." Touted on the cover as "The Most Unusual G.I.Joe Story Ever!!" (it was 1984), it featured Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, and Scarlet in a totally wordless story written and drawn by Hama that is both exciting and serene. A pop ballet that was later recognized as the best issue of the series, this sterling example of visual rhythm and pacing influenced its own genre, and helped make silent issue superhero comics a fairly regular occurrence.

The series was forward-thinking and ahead of its time in so many ways. Hama fearlessly explored militias and misplaced American outrage, the psychology of the soldier and the cracked worldview of the fundamentalist for twelve years. The toy franchise's popularity peaked and crested in the eighties, and waned into the nineties. Hasbro seemed to think that ridiculous day-glo costumes fake weapons were the wave of the future, and they definitely were not. The toys got dumb, the cartoons got even worse, hurt by a startling loss of military authenticity. But the comic books were still good up to the end in 1994, when Marvel canceled the title and the Joes were decommissioned. Marvel let the license lapse.

Over the next few years, the rights to produce G.I.Joe comics bounced from Dark Horse to a company called Benchpress Comics, who planned to relaunch the whole franchise with Larry Hama writing once again. Good plan, but you have to not go bankrupt to publish comics, which proved more problematic. In 2001, Devil's Due acquired the rights and began publishing, first through Image, stories that picked up the G.I.Joe story in real time, seven years after decommission. Though Hama was not initially involved with Devil's Due's reinstatement, he was lured back into the fray for G.I.Joe: FrontlineG.I.Joe: Declassified, and seven issues of Storm Shadow.

When the license jumped once again, this time to IDW in 2009, it seemed almost a foregone conclusion that Hama needed to be involved. Hama writes the ongoing G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero, which picks up in numbering, continuity and in spirit right where the first series left off, and has contributed arcs to other series in IDW's G.I.Joe line. Meanwhile, IDW continues to publish reprints of the original Marvel series.

Larry Hama put so much of himself into G.I.Joe, it seems ridiculous to think of them existing independently from one another. Like Tomax without Xamot (which actually happened, didn't it?). Other imaginations went into G.I.Joe's formation, and other writers have done good work in the universe. But all those bits and pieces of Hama's life and philosophy and personality are what binds the whole damn thing together. Now that his creations are venturing to the big screen and being revamped, his work is poised to influence a new generation, to temper their sense of right and wrong, and foster their imagination. It's a remarkable creative achievement.

And if Hama brings Bucky O'Hare back, I'm just going to s*** my pants.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Soviet Hobbit

In 1976 The Hobbit was published in the USSR. This edition contained illustrations by M. Belomlinskij.

Monday, March 12, 2012


The Royal Ontario Museum has an interesting day camp available for kids ages 11-14. Dungeons & Dragons Camp!

Unfortunately, it appears to already be sold out. Which is a good sign- there still is an interest out there for our old hobby. Hopefully we'll see more of this kind of stuff.

Here's the information from the museum's website:
Dungeons and Dragons (Ages 11-14) Full Day
Monday, March 12 - Friday, March 16, 2012, 9:00 am - 4:00 pm 

Learn about legends, monsters, scrolls, and weapons from the actual cultures and artifacts upon which Dungeons & Dragons-style games are based. Use your imagination to bring it all to life while playing an on-going campaign in a ROM-inspired D&D world. Create characters, build models, and try to stay on the Dungeon Master’s good side!
Location:Royal Ontario Museum, Education Classrooms, Level 1

Entrance:President's Choice School Entrance  map
Cost:Public $310.00, Member $280.00

Contact Information:

Tel.: 416.586.5797
Date/Time:Sessions (5)

Dungeon's Master blog has some aftermath reports about the camp:

This is very cool.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Challengers of the Unknown

The Challengers of the Unknown is usually credited to Jack Kirby's. There are some sources that claim Dave Wood to be co-creator. They first appeared in DC Comics- Showcase issue number 6 in January 1957.

The Challengers of the Unknown are very similar to their Marvel counterpart, the Fantastic Four. Much of the foundation of the FF seems to come directly from the Challenges. While the FF are four astronauts that gain super powers as a result of a space exploration mishap, the Challengers mysteriously survive a plane crash in which they all should have died. As a result they dedicate their lives to fighting supernatural menaces since they view themselves living on borrowed time. They become a team of high tech adventurers, but unlike the FF, they never gain super powers.

The Challengers of the Unknown were the same and the opposite of the Fantastic Four. The Fantastic Four were super heroes trying to be regular people. The Challengers of the Unknown were regular people trying to be super heroes.

There have been many variations of the team over the years. The original team was Ace Morgan, Prof Haley, Red Ryan, and Rocky Davis. The comic enjoyed an on and off run of 87 issues, from 1958 to 1978.

The next title were never as long lasting as the original. In 1991 - 8 issues, called The Challengers of the Unknown Must Die!

The other two version of the Challengers were from alternate continuities:

  • in 1996 an 18 issue series was set in something called DC's Weirdoverse.
  • in 2004 a 6 issue limited series by Howard Chaykin ran a futuristic/conspiratorial series that had little to do with anything Challengers related. Name only. This series was pretty good, actually. 

Visit the fan site -

The Challengers are back in the New 52 continuity. They've made an appearance in DC Universe Presents issue #6. The title is theirs for two more issues before DC Universe Presents moves on to some other characters.
Showcase #6
Showcase #7
Showcase #8

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Star

Jean "Moebius" Giraud
1938 - 2012

Agents of S.W.I.N.G

Agents of S.W.I.N.G. has been a good guide to the ways of the FATE RPG. Having been a gamer for more of my life than not being one I've studied many different RPG systems. Some of them are very calculated, extremely logical and some even very realistic (GURPS, I'm looking in your direction). So trying to wrap one's head around the FATE system can be difficult at first. There is a degree of unlearning that has to be done. The best way to do this is to actually play the game. When one isn't able to do that you read the rulebook and seek out the online communities. Fortunately, the FATE fanbase has some particularly helpful contributors out there.

When it comes to the rulebook (FATE books tend to be large for some reason and this one is no exception), Agents of S.W.I.N.G. is very good in that it has a plethora of examples. One whole chapter is dedicated to NPCs that illustrate various ways characters could be made and Aspects that could be assigned. These NPCs are also a lot of fun, they're all characters from the movies, shows, books, and comics that inspired Agents of S.W.I.N.G. Some of the characters are pretty obvious- just barely changed, the serial numbers thinly filed off, many where not so obvious to me.

On the RPG Geeks database, some very astute geeks have made the effort to compiled a list of which NPCs are based on who:

Friday, March 9, 2012


this is the edition I had
Taliesin is a book by Stephen R. Lawhead. I received a copy not long after it was first published in 1987. I never read it then. It was recommended to my mother as described as something comparable to C.S. Lewis and she gave me the book. I got several pages into it several times, but never could really get into it.

From somewhere I found the urge to discover the Arthurian Legend which I'm only vaguely familiar with. I suspect this urge originated with rave reviews of the old Chaosium RPG, Pendragon and the BBC series, Merlin. When looking up fictional series that might be on audio book, Lawhead's series appeared on a few lists. I was reminded and figured it was time I fnished the book and start the series.

I found that this does compare with C.S. Lewis well in certain ways. His Space Trilogy had a very clever way of examining the Gospel of Christ from a literally alien point of view. The Gospel was described in layman's terms or in a sort of secular way. This is how Taliesin was similar to Lewis' Space Trilogy, in my opinion. We experience druids in the 6th century rapidly discovering Christ.

What I appreciate about Lawhead's writing (at least this one book) is there is a wholesome quality about it. This is medieval fantasy, swords and knights (or soon to be knights I presume), druids and bards. But there is a great deal of dialog about God and Christ.

After four books in the Song of Ice and Fire series, it finally occurred to me that I didn't really care about anyone in those books. They were very depressing. I've dismissed them. They're well written and exciting, but they're not wholesome. Whatever it really was that I was missing in George R.R. Martin's series, I've found in here. Lawhead's characters display real and true love for each other. I'll have no worries about Lawhead's Pendragon series sitting on the shelf when my kids poke around them with curiosity. In fact, I look forward to that day (this wasn't the case with Martin's books).

A good book with a lot of emotion. There is a lot of positive about this one.

One more thing, Nadia May does a wondrous job narrating the story for the audio book. Her accents fit the characters extremely well making great characters even more lovable. Notably Taliesin as a child and Charis, masterfully handled.

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