Stuffed Crocodile

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Category Archives: Stuff

Review: Sharyn McCrumb – Bimbos of the Death Sun

Bimbos of the Death Sun (Jay Omega, #1)Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don’t know any other mystery novel that uses a D&D game as a parlor scene.
This one does.
Unfortunately the parlor scene sucks. It actually does manage to capture the atmosphere of a badly run exhibition game quite nicely. At the the end of the game players and audience are frustrated, and the bored reader is glad that this waste of time is over. It’s just as well the exposed murderer commits suicide, because this mess would haver never held up in court.
In fact the whole mystery part of the book seems like an afterthought, a mere excuse to be able to sell it as some, any genre at least. After all it’s a book about SF fandom, but it hardly is science fiction in itself. So after half the book the asshole victim is killed, nobody really is bothered so much by that, and the only reason the main character finds who killed him is because he is marginally more computer savvy than the police.
But that’s not the reason why this book is readable. It is readable because it’s set on a small science fiction con in the late 80s, written by someone who knew what she was writing about.
There’s trekkies trying to organize a Star Trek wedding, roleplayers having meltdowns over their characters, postal gamers using the con for political scheming in a made up world, cosplayers (before cosplay was called cosplay), etc.
The guest stars are Appin Dungannon, an ass of an author who hates his main character and his fans (guess who ends up dead?), and the main character, a local engineering professor called Jay Omega. Jay is, to his chagrin, the author of a hard science fiction novel that somehow contracted the title “Bimbos of the Death Sun” and a near-pornographic cover during editing. Jay and his fellow professor and girlfriend Marion spend most of the novel being bemused by what is happening. Jay is new to fandom, Marion is an old SF fan who’s seen it all.
The fascinating thing about this book is how it manages to capture SF fandom so well, without resorting to the usual trite clichés. Sure, there are some spots that seem mean-spirited, but even these read like someone wrote from experience.
Altogether: readable, but don’t expect an actual mystery.

View all my reviews

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David Robertson: Brick by Brick

Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy IndustryBrick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry by David Robertson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the mid-2000s Lego was the bestselling toy manufacturer in the world.
It also was on the verge of bankruptcy.
This was a surprise to everyone, most of all Lego’s management.
It took the work of a group of talented analysts to convince them that while some of their recent business decisions were quite successful to say the least (Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Bionicle), altogether the company was losing money on developing and even selling their products.

In the ’90s, when action figures and computers became all the rage in the toy industry, a few bad numbers had convinced Lego’s management to take a new direction. Old people with insitutional knowlege were let go, new people with the best, but often unrelated, qualifications were brought in. Multiple new development units had been created that were not providing any benefit to the company. New toys were created that did not really fit with the Lego brand.
Some created that were successes, like the buildable actionfigure line Bionicle, or the robotics supplement Mindstorms, but others fizzled out unloved and unlamented. A media tie with a TV series and action figures that could not interface with the usual Lego bricks was a non-starter. Classic Duplo bricks were replaced with non-brick toys. And sets started to become filled with specialized parts unusable for other models, but costing enormous amounts of money to produce.
In the end the company arrived at a point where many sets cost more to manufacture than they retailed for, while management was unaware of any issues, not talking to each other.

Spoiler: it helped that they went back to their roots and started creating high-quality, well-designed brick toys again.
Who’d have a-thunk?

This book is about the history of Lego and how they first became famous and successful, but it mostly is about the business decisions that lead to their near-collapse, and what the company did to turn itself around. This means this book has a lot of interesting parts about the company itself and the philosophy that drives it. It also has some long and astute observations about business decisions that are analyzed in how they can affect a company, and how they actually worked out for the company in question.

Unfortunately this is also where the book loses its impact. Maybe it is the fact that I am not an economist, but some of the analysis seems long-winded, overly-laudatory, and oddly contradictory in places. Some of the elements seem to come out of the blue with no explanation (e.g the first time we hear about the success of Bionicle is in the chapter about Bionicle). Sometimes economic jargon is used with no explanation whatsoever. This doesn’t make the book unreadable, but it lost my interest about 3/4s in, when nothing really seemed to happen anymore, and I had to force myself to go on reading. I think the main problem is that while the topic of the book could be framed as an interesting story, after about the half-way point the author just seems to fill it with descriptions of how all those new and awesome product lines were developed.
Definitely interesting in parts, but drags.

Ancient Star Trek/D&D crossover

Have I mentioned that I love the Wilderlands of High Fantasy? Especially when they are odd and weird and full of errors? From Tegel Manor:

Room M7: Voluptous maiden is wereworf...

 

Does the fact that the module came out in 1977 preclude a literal interpretation of this entry?

Also, what the hell is that maiden doing with that huge forked tongue? Where did that even come from? How big is it that a were…being needs aid slicing it?

Glorious Free Stuff

 

The last few days I somehow ended up delving into the free and pay what you want sections on rpgnow and drivethrurpg (what exactly is the difference between those two actually?). And there were some treasures to be found.

newsies-and-bootblacks-roleplaying-gameNewsies and Bootblacks

In which players play children having adventures in a world not unlike ours at the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century.

230 pages, rather simple mechanics, and free. Link

 

 

 

 

 

quillQuill: a letter-writing roleplaying game for a single player

This one takes the whole play-by-mail idea to the top. You aren’t even supposed to have another player, you are just supposed to write letters and see how well you do with them.

Created by Trollish Delver, 16 pages, multiple supplements, can be had for free (well, Pay What You Want) on drivethrurpg

 

 

 

190792Romance of the Perilous Land

And another one from Trollish Delver. This one is basically a stripped down OSR system, with the Britain as the setting of choice. Magic is rare, as are monsters. If you were looking for a low-fantasy/chivalric RPG…

52 pages, for free on drivethrurpg

 

 

 

 

 

crusader-statesCrusader States – Hex Grid Map

Exactly what it says on the tin. A map of the crusader states circa 1135AD. And some additional color plates with the coats of arms of the states in question.

4 pages, but detailed map. Pay What You Want on drivethrurpg.

 

 

 

 

 

convictsConvicts & Cthulhu

Roleplaying cthulhoid horror in the Australian penal colonies of the 18th century. As if dealing with cthulhoid monstrosities is not bad enough, you gotta deal with Australian wildlife as well…

98 gorgeous pages by Cthulhu Reborn, either as Pay What You Want, or as a softcover book, drivethrurpg.

Bonus: a fillable pdf character sheet for the setting, for CoC 7th ed.

ダンジョン飯 (Dungeon Meshi) -or- Delicious in Dungeon

dungeon_meshi_coverダンジョン飯 (Dungeon Meshi) is one of these cute little gimmick manga that are just a joy to read, but whose ideas might be a bit too far out for everyone involved

Our heroes are a group of typical D&D-style adventurers who make a living descending into a giant dungeon that someone found a while back. This dungeon is so big that it contains whole cities and forests, all underground, and it attracted a veritable support infrastructure for all adventuring purposes just outside of it (including a resurrection service).

While our protagonists are already pretty experienced and far along  they run into a red dragon who promptly eats Farin, one of their spellcasters, just after she managed to teleport the rest of the group to safety.

The group (headed by Farin’s brother Laios) decides to head downwards again, to rescue and revive Farin before she is digested by the dragon. In this venture they hit one of the typical snags of adventure life: they have neither food nor resources after the failed run in with the dragon, and they don’t have time to gather more if they want to be in time. So Laios concocts a rather harebrained scheme: they will eat their way downwards. There are monsters in the dungeon after all, and a lot of them are edible. Or at least they should be.

Soon enough they are joined by Senshi, a dwarfish warrior chef with great knowledge of the dungeon and its inhabitants, and they start making headway through all the delicacies of the dungeon.

On their way down to the dragon the heroes meet multiple typical dungeon monsters, and somehow they find their ways to make them into rather delicious looking meals. The manga even provides us with recipes for these dishes, although it might be kind of hard to find basilisk or living armor in our world.

But here’s an interesting idea that I would love to see in a game: cooking the monster.

I don’t think this ever got done properly, but I bet someone somewhere created some classes for dungeon cooks. What if the player characters would venture down into the dungeon specifically to find some rare delicacy that otherwise could not be found anywhere else? Or what if we focus a roleplaying game not only on the survival aspect of it all, but also on how exactly one would make those things they kill or purchase in the dungeon edible. This of course would demand not only that the DM would know what the hell he/she is talking about, but also that the players know how to cook to be able to make sense of the scenario.

What I learned making a list of RPG companies

I put together a list of currently active RPG companies a while ago. The reason for that was mostly to check how the hobby actually looks like right now.

I don’t think I know even now. I have the feeling that some things still elude me, even though I found some crazy/interesting stuff while searching for new companies. But you know what? Despite all the doom and gloom the hobby is still freakishly wide and varied.

Sometimes I have to wonder about these companies. I mean, ok, we have a rather niche hobby, but some of these games should have been better known just for the concept alone. Instead quite a few seem to be one-man shops with 90s websites, and products that could only have been published back then. Some even still have websites that haven’t been updated in two decades.

Still, they soldier on, and that is admirable.

Some interesting things:

  • Judge’s Guild exists, again. This is which incarnation by now? In any case, they still have stuff from back in the day for sale
  • Flying Buffalo on the other hand STILL exists, and still sell Tunnels and Trolls, since 1975. I haven’t checked, but I think this would be the only company on the list that lasted in exactly the same configuration for such a long time (41 years!)
  • the runner-up would be Chaosium. But I am not quite sure how exactly they now are organized. There’s some shuffling-around with Moon Design Publications going on
  • the prize for the title with the most gratuitous fan-service/alliteration I would have to give to Tri Tac Games Beach Bunny Bimbos With Blasters
  • quite a few companies have stopped publishing RPGs over time. The one I noticed the most was FanPro, once the powerhouse of German RPG scene. By this point they are reduced to a one-author publishing house with attached 2nd hand bookstore
  • despite the proverbial antipathy of Christians towards RPGs there are two dedicated Christian publishing houses that have RPGs in their program. One has a German-language Narnia RPG, the other is the infamous DragonRaid, which was created as a non-satanic alternative to D&D. Yes, DragonRaid still is being published.
  • the most convoluted story I found so far is the one of Paradox, Cabinet, White Wolf, and Onyx Path. Swedish company Paradox Entertainment which published Kult and Mutant Chronicles was sold to the Hollywood-based Cabinet Entertainment, but there still is Paradox Interactive, which recently bought White Wolf. So now the website of White Wolf doesn’t have anything but some fluff on it, but Onyx Path which used to develop White Wolf stuff is now selling stuff. I assume there is some drama in the background that I am missing out on.

The Curse of Being a Responsible Adult

It has been a year since we played any RPG. I was just talking about this with one of my players. The last RPG we played was the second session of Shadowrun a year ago, and then some Arkham Horror later on.

In between our group did meet, but stuff kind of shifted away from role-playing over time. I still prepared scenarios, but we haven’t played any. We played boardgames, went to film festivals and movies, met for half a dozen other things. Just the role-playing didn’t work out.

The curse of being a responsible adult, you still might like the same things as before, but you don’t have the time and energy to do it all.

It’s the small things…

Success!

My work’s proxy is now blocking this blog because “Games”.

Not WordPress though, just the actual blog. So I can post but cannot read what I posted.

The Wilderlands are a strange place

Ready Ref Sheets, page 49:

Somehow Anchovies are fruits in the Wilderlands

Ready Ref Sheets, pg. 49

By the way, apples show up only as rare crab apples and as the unique Golden Apple. This means that in any given hex you have a 1/400 chance of finding coffee or rubber, but only a 1/8000 chance of finding sour apples. And a 1/16000 chance of finding a non-sour apple that gives immortality.

Have I mentioned I love the old JG stuff?

25. Lodz International Festival of Comics and Games

So yesterday my wife[1] and me went to the International Festival of Comics and Games in Lodz (Międzynarodowy Festiwal Komiksu w Łodzi).

Yes, there is an international comics and games con in Lodz, but don’t get your hopes up, it wasn’t really that international. Actually, the most international thing about it was that Alan Grant was there, and he was the only guest who wasn’t from Poland itself. Oh, and I myself was skulking through the trade floor, so I guess I count as well.

I was in one of the earlier editions of the con a few years ago (2009?) and actually liked it back then. Since then they moved to a new, bigger location and got themselves an additional focus on games. It used to be only a comic con. The focus on games? Mostly video games. It was rather impressive actually. It now is held in the Atlas Arena in Lodz and the whole floor was full with computers and consoles, while the panels were in conference rooms underneath.

There was more than just comics and video games there though, Lego had displays, and there were a few board game companies that had their stalls. Most of the traders dealt in comics though, both used and new, and of course in the usual fan paraphernalia.

One particular shop had really good rates on American comics, basically giving them away for 2/3rds of what they normally cost (they had a 1$=2pln exchange rate). Unfortunately it was, as so often, kind of hard to still find something after the whole of Lodzian comic fans already went through their stock.

I did not actually get to any of the panels, but some of my friends who did were not really that impressed. Although they did get free comics out of that, so there is that. (this one among others actually, which is a mix-up of The Shadow with Lovecraft’s The Shadow over Innsmouth; cheeky).

One thing that surprised me was the amount of Polish comic publishers. There were a lot of them there, selling their stuff, and sometimes rather obscure stuff as well. My wife found herself some mangas and some Polish indie comic, while I managed to get what was most likely the only German RPG product in the whole building. I actually wonder how that particular book made it there considering that the product line isn’t even so popular in Germany (it’s a monster book for the high fantasy setting for Das Schwarze Auge, written as a travelogue). Now of course I have to find the rest of the more recent Myranor stuff somewhere. My collection is lagging behind.

All in all a nice change of scenery, but it lacked focus. It would have been better if it was just comics, or just games, but like that it was a bit bland.

[1] if you were wondering why I didn’t post in ages: I got married, and Jesus Christ the amount of stuff and things to do and documents to get for an international couple is just crazy. I felt like going mad sometimes. It actually reminded me of this classic movie scene.