Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Land of the Lost (lostlostlostlost…)

This weekend I happened to spend a lot of time at home with the BBQ going on the back patio, and a Sam Adams in my hand. Enjoying some rays, drinking a few ales, and burning some meat and veg on the grill is the perfect Memorial Day for me.

But a certain marathon on the Sci Fi channel kept me running into the back workshop to tune in the TV. What had me so interested? A little show I grew up with called Land of the Lost. In honor of the movie the network had a non-stop marathon of the old show on, and it brought back some great memories.

I grew up with this show. In fact, outside of comic books this was the first piece of “speculative fiction” that I geeked out on. I was only about 10 years old, and I read comics for the wild super-combat, not for any philosophy or rationalizing about time travel and alternate universes. Those concepts would come to obsess the comic book geek teen I would later become. But LOTL instilled in me the first love of weird places, creatures, and worlds. It was for sure my very first pocket universe.

Watching with adult eyes, I was struck at the adult nature things in the show. I didn’t know this as a child, but a variety of great science fiction writers, including Star Trek’s David Gerrold, and Sci Fi icon Larry Niven, brought along some real weight and meaning to the magical goings-on of the chaotic land filled with dinosaurs, aliens, and powerful cosmic, inter-dimensional energies.

This show was no doubt a great influence on the gaming I would get into in the couple of years to come. It really prepared me for my early “anything goes” nature of my game environs (only Dave Hargrave would be a bigger influence of the weird and out of place). I do remember using pylons as gateways and time travel devices in some of my earliest scenarios (I placed a couple on the Isle of Dread). I haven’t used them in decades, but after getting inspired by the show…

I was also struck by the intense drama of the show. Sid and Mary Kroft’s earlier shows, HR Puffenstuff and Lidsville would feature young kids lost in a mad pocket world, but LOTL really pumped it up a notch with constant danger. I mean, every time the kids went out to get water or firewood they had to contend with a pissed-off T. Rex lovingly nicknamed “Grumpy.” And I still kind of get chills when I see the boulder near the Lost City with “Beware of Sleestak” painted on it. Those friggin’ lizards won’t just eat you, but will even go so far as to lure kids into traps with visions of their dead mothers. Bastards.

And I’ll admit it, Holly was my first TV crush. She was just a little older than me, and carried a knife. She lived in a world filled with dinosaurs and various monsters, and got out of every situation alive and well. You know that if she never got out, that girl grew up into an Amazonian badass with dino-armor and a huge sword.

For the third and fourth season they had dad make it home and his brother show up to help the kids. Pretty convoluted. Plus I remember being sad thinking about the dad at home worrying about his kids still being in that closed-off nightmare realm. You know he must have turned to drink, staggering around the grand canyon looking for an entrance to that world so he could find his kids.

So they made a big budget movie out of it. Sounds like a no-brainer. A capable, ranger-like dad, and a brother and sister who constantly bicker, but are always at each other’s side with the save when danger looms. But no, sadly, they have raped the material (sometimes I hate you, Hollywood) for the sake of Will Farrell’s cheap humor. Holly has been made into an older, non-related research assistant for the sake of sexual humor (har har), and Will has been turned into a fat, crude trail guide ( ha ha). And Rick Marshall, as played by Farrell, is an incompetent Paleontologist (har dee har har). It’s hard not to think of what a great movie it could have been if done with some seriousness, but I guess I should not dwell on what might have been in Hollywood. That could drive ya crazy.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A little boardgame called Rivets

As a teen I played most of the microgames put out by Metagaming in the late 70’s. Chitin, Ogre, and of course Melee and Wizard.

These games were touted as being playable during a school lunch break and damned if they weren’t right. I was by no means a great rules interpreter (those skills would not be hard-forged until I started running Champions in the 80’s), but these microgames were so easy. The rules were aimed towards fast and furious action. You moved your little chits on the hex map, and you attacked, either with a weapon or missile of some kind. There you had it.

I played Rivets, Ogre, and Chitin religiously, but Rivets got the most play of all.

Rather than turn me off, the slightly cartoony robots of the Rivets were strangely appealing to me. In some weird way I thought of little robot tanks with big eyes as being kind of scary.

Armed with various guns and the occasional melee weapon (I think it was the Bopper class tank that featured a huge can-opener as a weapon, along with its freaky robotic war cry of “Pop-A-Top!”) the little mini-tanks scooted around the post apocalyptic landscape, fighting and scavenging for their respective factory CPU.

Besides some fun little game sessions, Rivets also made it’s way into a couple of my campaigns of the 80’s. In my first homebrew game, based on The Road Warrior, I had players dealing with the robots from Rivets as fellow scavengers on the field. As long as you didn’t attack them, or pick up choice pieces of salvage, they would leave you alone. I also used them in a much more violent encounter in an early Gamma World game, which eventually saw the characters having to assault the Robot Factory CPU.

I may actually have my old copy of Rivets somewhere deep in one of my game boxes, but I really only thought of the game again this last weekend as I was coming up with encounters for my Mutant Future campaign I have planned. I thought that it would be a hell of a shame not to feature the little metal scavengers as warriors in one of those upcoming games.

And I may just have to throw that monster tank for Ogre at theme at some point as well…

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

MY “APPENDEX N” (hold the applause)


OK, the rage this last week was listing books that inspired your D&D ( or other gaming), so here is mine in a nutshell.

Comic Books – probably the most influential media in terms of my love of gaming, and not just my long-running Champions games from the 90’s. I have always tried to inject the drama and descriptiveness of comics into my games, D&D or otherwise. I think it is one of my greatest points as a GM. Without going too much overboard, my humanoid villains often came off a lot like Marvel Comics villains. I do try to go light on the corny dialogue, however. Offbeat, genre-slapping comics like Watchmen, Dark Knight returns, and Marshal Law also taught me to turn clich├ęs and expectations on their ear a bit in game terms.

The Hobbit/LOTR – Natch. Nuff Said. Oh man, my mind is still on comics. Tolkien was my greatest gaming influence in the earliest days, just as it was for D&D in general.

Conan – I was in my early teens when I started devouring the first several Conan paperbacks. REH’s mood, passion, and swift and blinding violence transported me to that dark prehistoric place where Conan tread in his sandaled feet. Marvel’s Conan comics, especially Red Sonja, helped color my world as well.

Tarzan/John Carter of Mars – My dad read me the first Tarzan book when I was a kid. Years later I would jump on the rest and be transported to those awesome jungle places. And the sweeping adventure of JC of Mars really set my gaming blood on fire. I so wanted to have dashing sword fights like those in my games. Edgar Rice B. has such a terrific sense of adventure, and such a great sense of love and honor.

H.P. Lovecraft – Ok, I didn’t read HP before I got into D&D, but when I started in the early 80’s, it lead me to one of my favorite D&D alternatives: Call of Cthulhu. It was hard to talk my D&D players into trying it when I went for a full campaign in the early 90’s, but they soon fell in love with it, even the girls. It was always a great break from D&D.

Lankhmar – of course of course of course. The big guy and the little guy and their crazy city came in second only to Tolkien for my game inspirations. I could not get the most out of Judges Guild products like City State of the Invincible Overlord or Hargraves’ Arduin until I got into Leiber's great (and ahead of their time) books. This was one of those rare series that let you know how limitless the possibilities were in a fantasy world, as opposed to how limited. Somehow, the world of Fritz seems an amalgam of all the reading material I have listed above.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Too Many Curses

I’d love to review this funny little fantasy novel, but truth be told I did not finish it. I actually got into it for less than fifty pages. It was a little too whimsical to me, and constant silliness is ok for awhile, but not for 300 pages.

But there is a fantastic dungeon idea to be gleaned from within the pages of this book. Basically, it takes place in an evil wizard’s castle. In his career the wizard has had many enemies, and he had vanquished them all. But rather than kill his foes, he preferred to trap them in different forms and lock them up in his dungeons. So this multitude of rival wizards, knights, and adventurers off all kinds exist as monsters, phantoms, and even inanimate objects such as walls, paintings, and suits of armor. One unlucky victim even exists as a mechanical pulley unit that drags meat for the monsters from larders deeper in the dungeon.

The wizards’ slave, who actually is a young female kobold, runs around cleaning and feeding and generally doing upkeep on the castle and environs.

The D&D roots of the story are clear, and so it would be natural to take ideas from it for games. This sort of mega-dungeon, populated entirely by purpose rather than some sort of Gygaxian Naturalism would practically write itself once you got working on it. First, have some small parts of the dungeon complex be polymorphed victims, such as corridors, walls, and bridges. Even entire rooms could have once been a living being. Maybe the castle itself. Let them talk a bit, and either hamper or help adventurers with info. Have some victims be magical statues or mirrors that do helpful or harmful affects on those that dare to deal with them. And of course stock the dungeon with typical monster fare, but each and every one of these monsters was once a person, and they still have their original intelligence and can often still talk. Maybe some want to hurt the party to please the wizard and maybe get a reprieve from their curse; or maybe they will help if the party promises to kill the wizard, therefore relieving them of their predicament (of course, even if the wizard dies they still might be there).

Even some treasure items could be former foes of the wizard, such as talking jewelry, or intelligent swords and armor. And of course, don’t forget to have a helper/apprentice who runs around taking care of the place.

And perhaps the wizard has a massive spell cast on the castle itself, so that if anyone dies within it’s walls while opposing him, they automatically reincarnate in a different form rather than perish. Just another victim in the castle, rooting for the party to stop the foul sorcerer.

Awesome stuff, and probably the first time I got really good ideas from a book I could not finish.