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An ordinary guy’s movie review of Blade Runner 2049

Disclaimer: This review contains no spoilers. It does contain minor plot elements and thematic discussions.

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I’m fresh off a viewing of Blade Runner 2049.

And I’m buzzing.

Director Denis Villenueve’s latest film tackles the not-so-easy task of reviving one of the more classic cult films of the early 80’s – the original Blade Runner. And boy, does he do it in style. For those not familiar with the bleak, mega-dystopian feel of the first film, Blade Runner 2049 recaptures it…and it does so in grand fashion.

Ever present rain drips from a never-sunny sky.

No birds. No leaves. No softness.

Just hard angles, harder hearts, and possibly the most brooding atmosphere since…well…pretty much ever.

Blade Runner 2049 isn’t a remake, in case you wondered. It’s a sequel, occurring decades (in movie time and real time) after the events of the original. In it, ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling) gets down to the dirty business of hunting the last of the old model ‘replicants.’ Replicants are programmed humans – faster, smarter, and stronger than regular people – but also mostly enslaved to humanity’s will.

As you can imagine, things don’t go particularly well for K. Every time his boss (Robin Wright) rings him up on his next-gen cell phone, you know s**t is about to go down.

And it does.

‘Luv’ – played to perfection by Sylvia Hoeks. When you see her, run.

Now then, if you were to waltz into the theater expecting a bang-bang action flick, you might as well tuck tail and head right back out the door. B.R. 2049 isn’t really an action film. That’s not to say action doesn’t happen or that the fights aren’t razor sharp. It’s just that Blade Runner 2049 is a thinking film-lover’s movie. At its core, it’s about atmosphere, emotion, and tension. It’s about feeling like you’re actually walking through the stark, cold wasteland of Los Angeles 2049. It’s a look at what our world might someday become.

It’s exhilarating. And terrifying.

I felt it. I think you will, too.

Ok. So let’s go ahead eliminate one concern you might have. No, you don’t have to worry about Harrison Ford. Unlike in The Force Awakens, he doesn’t just show up as wallpaper guy rehashing a thirty-year old shtick. He’s as vivid as everything else in the movie. And yeah, he can still fight.

And speaking of vivid performances, I’m allowing myself a moment to gush about one of the movie’s most intriguing characters. Joi (K’s pseudo-lover, played by the absurdly beautiful Ana de Armas) just about won my heart over in every scene she appears in. Poor Joi’s just a hologram-girl meets Stepford wife, and she nails her performance. Hers might’ve been an easy role for movie-goers to brush off as window dressing, but in my mind, she gives us a glimpse at what the future of human relationships might look like.

Bleak. Yet fascinating.

And it doesn’t hurt that Ana de Armas is simply stunning to behold.

Blade Runner 2049 is a long movie. Let’s be honest. Some of the scenes take a good while to develop, and others take their sweet time in coming to a close. This will assuredly provoke boredom in some movie-goers. At times, I admit I found myself begging for the next scene to start. And yet…the longer the film went on, the longer I wanted it to be. The quiet moments aren’t boring; they’re allowing us – the audience – to think. To ponder. To wonder what’s next.

In this respect, Denis Villenueve does very well. Just like he did in Arrival, he doesn’t leap casually from scene to scene. There’s a thoughtfulness in his pacing uncommon to most modern film directors. Some won’t appreciate it. Others might suffer bouts of impatience. But as for me…I learned to love it.

I wanted time to think.

During a movie like this, I needed it.

Plenty of spaces like this appear in the movie. Big. Sparse. Sterile. Beautiful.

Let’s talk antagonists. The bad guy is played capably (if weirdly) by Jared Leto. He’s cool, for a blind dude. The bad girl, however, is one of the best parts of the film. Her name is Luv. And no, she doesn’t luv anything except kicking ass. Evil ass-kicking women with no remorse…well…that just floats my film-lovin’ boat. I think everyone will ‘luv’ Sylvia Hoeks’ performance.

Musically, the film score (by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch) sounds a ton like the score from Arrival. It pairs well with the atmosphere, though sometimes feels a little loud. I’m a Hans Zimmer nut, and I’ll admit this isn’t his best ever effort. It’s too derivative. Even so, it’s better than most.

In the end, Blade Runner 2049 creates one of the finest dystopian atmospheres you’ll ever see. It’s populated  with fascinating characters, most of whom continually surprise movie-goers. Even I, the king of know-it-alls, got hit with a few plot twists I didn’t see coming. In a world full of predictable movies, that’s a good thing.

Once again, B.R. 2049 is long. Maybe too long for some. Early on, things take a while to develop. And not everyone will buy into the ending. There’s questions left unanswered, to be certain.

But…

For the patient fan, for the fan who likes to wander into worlds far different than our own, and for those who wonder what humanity’s fate might someday be, this movie is for you.

Go see it twice. I know I will.

And someone please get me Ana de Armas’ phone number.

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Read my other movie reviews here.

J Edward Neill

IT movie review

(Disclaimer: no major spoilers appear in this article. Minor thematic and a few vague plot details are discussed.)

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I knew what I was getting myself into when I settled into my seat on a chilly Friday evening.

Twenty-seven years ago, on an eve not so different, I watched the original IT. Starring Tim Curry, it promised vast horror, and yet it only partly delivered. Tim Curry’s performance was of course flawless, but the disjointed flashbacks and clunky pacing didn’t deliver in the ways they could’ve.

After all, we’re talking about IT here.

Evil shape-changing Cthulu-esque clown invades small American city to devour children and consume oceans of human fear?

This kind of plot needs a better movie.

And perhaps IT 2017 is it.

As any good movie-goer knows, the key to setting a horror movie’s tone is to make us care about the characters. Anything less, and the most one can hope for is B-grade cheap scares and campy, gory death scenes. Fortunately, character-wise, IT 2017 delivers in a way most horror films just don’t. From the opening scene onward, we care about young (and stuttering) Bill (played by Jaeden Lieberher.) He’s vulnerable, yet strong in ways we can’t yet see. And so it goes for nearly all of the young, mostly unknown cast of ‘kids.’ Bev (Sophia Lillis) and Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) stand out in the gang of seven Losers. We meet the young gang in their early teens, and they behave exactly like teenagers. They’re funny, sarcastic, and not yet sure of themselves.

Just like we all were.

And not only are the kids believable, they’re nuanced. No cookie-cutter fears here, folks. Each young’un deals with terror in a different way…and each one has a separate reason for fearing death at the hands of Pennywise, the Dancing Clown. Best of luck to the adults who have to follow this young cast up in IT – Chapter Two (rumored to hit theaters in 2019.) These kids will be a tough act to follow.

Speaking of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) he’s as creepy as we can hope for. I won’t compare him to Tim Curry (not really a fair fight) but Skarsgard delivers a solid performance. Modern special effects help Pennywise go over-the-top in ways 1990’s IT couldn’t. He’s not the most subtle villain, but likely one of the most powerful…and diabolical ever to hit the big screen.

Side-note: being a movie-geek and a lover of HP Lovecraft, I recommend this wiki explaining the Cthulu-esque origins of Pennywise. (Hint – IT isn’t just a clown.) Beware of spoilers.

Who wants to float?

Now…let’s be honest. The adults in IT are afterthoughts. Bev’s father (Stephen Bogaert) is appropriately creepy, while young hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) has a mom (Mollie Atkinson) who’s pretty much the most overbearing helicopter parent ever. And then there’s bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) whose dad (Stuart Hughes) shows up just long enough to make us hate him. But that’s it in terms of adult, non-Pennywise roles.

And that’s just fine.

This movie isn’t about the adults, but instead the impacts they’ve had on their children.

Now then…

It’s safe to say that an hour in, I cared plenty about all seven kids, but wanted more monster. IT runs pretty long (more than two hours) and I’ll admit at times I craved a slightly faster pace. But that’s just the thing. To really build anticipation, and to avoid some pretty common horror tropes, IT needed space to breathe. Meaning, if you’re looking for an in-and-out gorefest or a quick slasher horror flick, this isn’t your film. The expectation here is that movie-goers will be patient. After all, this film is just part one of two. It’s basically the Lord of the Rings of horror flicks.

IT is what Dark Tower was supposed to be, but failed to live up to.

Other notes:

The special effects? They’re good, but not obnoxious.

The music? Subtle, but not intrusive.

Jump scares? Only a handful, thanks to director Andy Muschietti. If you’re looking to be completely terrified, this isn’t necessarily the movie for you.

Adherence to Stephen King’s novel? Well….not exactly. I didn’t mind the deviations. Although, to really appreciate the bottomless depth of IT’s evil, one really needs to read the book (or at least hope the second movie dives headlong into the monster’s true nature.)

Ultimately, IT is a solid film. It’s not just a horror flick, but a character piece and reflective of several of humanity’s real-life fears. It’s sometimes slow, sometimes perfectly-paced, but mostly very good.

For me (and for most of you, I’m betting) the measures of a good film are:

A. Would I see IT again? The answer is yes…pun intended.

B. Am I itching to see the sequel? Yes. IT can’t come out fast enough. Pun intended again.

In other words, go see IT.

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For my other movie reviews, go here.

To get into something just as scary (but not nearly as long) go here.

J Edward Neill

Rogue One – A non-fanboy Movie Review

* Disclaimer: This review is spoiler-lite. No plot specifics, deaths, easter eggs, or other direct moments from the movie will appear. However, themes and atmosphere will be discussed.

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Before we begin, I have a confession. I want to let you know I’m going to deliver a particularly unbiased, un-fanboyish review…because I can. You see, I’ve never been a big Star Wars guy. While the first movie intrigued me and The Empire Strikes Back fascinated me, the rest of the movies (except mayyyyybe the final Darth Maul fight in Phantom Menace) bored me to tears. It’s for this reason I feel I’m able to give an extra-fair review. Because while some went into the theater with high or low expectations, I was in the unique situation of going in with neutral expectations. Rogue One is just one more movie to me, not another in a canonical series.

And so it began. On a frigid December night, I wandered alone into a packed theater. Modest cheers erupted when the opening credits rolled, and then everyone fell into reverent silence.

…as is to be expected at a new Star Wars film.

Mads Mikkelsen, the excellent actor of Casino Royale fame, opens up the action as Galen Erso, a character I’d never heard of. There’s a certain stillness to his opening scenes, and right from the start it became apparent this wasn’t like the other Star Wars films. The music cues were slightly familiar, but also somewhat new (and almost jarring.) The conversations were less stiff, and the atmosphere more mature. After all these years of watching (and reading…and discussing) Star Wars, one of my complaints has always been that the Empire felt rather unimposing. The stormtroopers couldn’t hit anything, the bad guys overacted, and my dread was never really inspired.

But in Rogue One, I finally found the fear I’ve been looking for.

The Empire doesn’t pull any punches. The stormtroopers’ aim is 1,000% improved. The rebels find a few foes (other than Vader) worth being terrified of.

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These guys especially…

Early on, we’re introduced to Jyn Erso (played very capably by Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (played just as well by Diego Luna.) These aren’t the Lukes, Hans, and C3PO’s of the early, almost goofball Star Wars realm. These characters are deeper. They give us a taste of the true suffering endured under the Emperor’s Imperial reign. Their dialogue is a cut above the other Star Wars’ films, and while each scene pays loving homage to George Lucas’s vision, there’s no plagiarism here. There’s no ‘we’ve got to fit this cornball one-liner’ in. Sure, we see several familiar faces, but only one scene (I won’t even mention it) felt forced on the audience.

After the early scenes, the action starts moving fast. Things jump from planet to planet. You’ve got to be sharp to keep up with it.

We’re treated to an excellent performance of the reviled Grand Moff Tarkin (played superbly by Guy Henry.) His is a standout role, and deliciously evil. While the main antagonist is somewhat obnoxious, Tarkin is better.

We get a taste of some truly vicious space battles. No cornball Hayden Chistensen & Ewan McGregor banter while slaughtering TIE fighters. Just dudes and chicks fighting to the death with some awesome space hardware.

And we finally get a sidekick (he’s a droid) who’s actually funny. He helps us forget Jar-Jar Binks ever existed. Thanks especially for that, Gareth Edwards (the director.)

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Our nemesis. He whines a bit, but works a solid amount of evil.

Now let’s talk atmosphere. Whereas previous Star Wars (and action films in general) force action scenes that tend to be juuuuust a bit too long, Rogue One gets it right. In the quiet spaces between the action, we get a little more than just a dusty desert scene or bars filled with aliens. There’s rain, beaches, canyons, and beauty. The music gets even better as the movie progresses, and in the latter half, the familiar John Williams score fires up in earnest. More importantly, we get to see the Death Star like never before. No more garbage chutes and incompetent stormtroopers here, ladies and gents. When the D Star rolls over the horizon, the effect is more powerful than all its previous viewings.

So let’s summarize. Does Rogue One have a good plot? Yes, it’s solid. Are the villains the most terrifying (and talented) we’ve seen in a Star Wars’ film? Yes, without a doubt. Do we get to glimpse our favorite historical characters without them being an obnoxious throw-in? Definitely. And is the ending good? Yes….the best I’ve ever seen out of Star Wars. I’ll be a little cryptic so as not to spoil it, but let’s just say fairy-tale endings are dull, and I wish more films had the guts to end like Rogue One.

So…did I love it? Maybe. I’m not sure yet. I will admit it had a few ‘oh come on…that’s unrealistic’ moments. And of course it has the typical Star Wars non-science science.

But…

I really, really liked it. And I will go see it again.

And I haven’t been able to say that about a Star Wars movie since a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

If this it what Star Wars will bring the table in the future, count me in.

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Read more of my movie reviews here.

And get into some seriously deep sci-fi action right here.

J Edward Neill

Arrival movie review

* Disclaimer – this review is largely spoiler free. A few small plot points and themes are revealed.

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On a cold night in early December, I saw Arrival in a nearly empty theater. Now, the theater being almost vacant isn’t a commentary on Arrival’s quality. The hour was late, the weather was frigid, and everyone (besides me) was probably huddled inside their homes, still stuffed with Thanksgiving leftovers.

I’ll confess; the only reasons I went to see this movie is that I’m writing a sci-fi novel and I’m hungry for inspiration…and I heard from a friend of a friend of a friend that the movie was right up my alley.

I’ll start by saying this: it didn’t disappoint.

From the first moment Amy Adams (as Louise, an expert linguist) appears, it’ s obvious Arrival is a character piece. The title suggests maybe an Independence Day-ish alien invasion or a Bodysnatchers-esque creep-fest. Nope. While the opening scenes share a sense of “what are these huge ships doing in our sky?” dread, every moment thereafter is unique to Arrival.

Mostly.

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What’s the heck is that?? …I’m not telling.

Turns out, Arrival is a thinking-person’s movie. Maybe a splash of Jodie Foster’s Contact mixed with a tiny dash of Interstellar, but with even less action. Let me repeat that: Arrival has almost no action scenes. That’s not to say nothing’s happening, but if you walk in expecting cities full of people to die and xenomorphs strutting around with murder on the mind, this movie probably isn’t for you. Like I said, I went in purely to do a little sci-fi research, and I got exactly what I expected. A mind game. A voyage of intellect and emotion, not of violence.

Amy Adams’ Louise is the key to the movie. And when I say she’s the key, I mean she’s the only character of substance. Sure, you’ve got competent performances by Forest Whitaker and Jeremy Renner, but Arrival is one of those films in which you get to know one person and one person only. Louise is a linguist, and her job is to find a way to communicate with some pretty cool looking extraterrestrials. Her conversations with humans are short and to the point. It’s really all about what’s going on between her and the aliens, and what’s happening in her head.

Which, as it happens, is a lot.

In pretty much every aliens-on-Earth movie ever made, the real question is: Why are they here? And in pretty much every aliens-on-Earth movie not named Arrival, movie-goers know within 45 minutes whether they’re going to be killed (Independence Day) hunted (Predator) or hugged (E.T.) But Arrival makes a point of stretching the question of why until the very end. In fact, having only seen it once (so far) I’m not entirely sure director Denis Villeneuve ever actually reveals the aliens’ true intent. Which is fine if you can appreciate subtlety, but perhaps less than ideal if you prefer nice, tidy endings.

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But…does it have guns?

I will say this: if Arrival’s intent was to show the meaning of hope and the power of human perseverance, both messages ultimately faded for me. And that’s not meant as a criticism, but more a commentary on the strange turn of events near the film’s end. If you’ve seen the excellent sci-fi flick, Ex Machina, maybe you’ll understand my meaning. Things get a little dark and morally murky at Arrival’s terminus. It’s something I personally enjoyed, but not something all movie-goers will appreciate. Or even notice.

So what you’ve got is a movie that moves at a measured pace, a movie that’s sprinkled with small reveals, and a movie whose ending might leave some scratching their heads…and others a little perplexed. The themes go way beyond meeting aliens. Some moviegoers might think it’s too slow, and that’s not a point I can really contest. It is slow at times. And that’s just fine with me.

Final verdict: I didn’t love Arrival, but I really liked it. And for my part, the science behind the aliens’ reason for coming to Earth and the weird/dark situation Amy Adams grapples with at the end made it a worthwhile film. If you like thinking movies, go see it. If not, download Edge of Tomorrow to squeeze in your action fix.

It’s worth mentioning the Jóhann Jóhannsson music score (mostly strings and piano) is haunting and excellent. I’ll be adding it to my soundtrack collection.

Oh, and it’s also worth mentioning (again) the aliens in Arrival are pretty awesome. I’d take them in a fight against pretty much any other movie xenomorph…ever.

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My other movie reviews are here.

And for a book I want to make a movie out of, go here.

J Edward Neill

The Revenant Movie Review

(Disclaimer: No major spoilers. Includes small plot revelations.)

 

Revenant: One who returns after death or a long absence

An apt name indeed.

The Revenant was a movie I knew I had to see from the first time I glimpsed its preview. A frozen wasteland. A grizzly Leo DiCaprio. An even grizzlier Tom F’n Hardy. And not to mention an actual grizzly bear. Terrible things were about to happen. Even watching the trailer, I could just feel it.

First, let me hit you with some truth. The Revenant is NOT for everyone. It’s not for kids. It’s not for teenagers. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not for fans of Michael Bay, Kevin Hart, superhero movies, or happy endings. It’s dark. And when I say dark, I don’t mean in a visual sense. Or a gothic, ‘look how angst-ridden the hero is’ sense. What I mean is that the subject matter gets down to the very bottom of what it is to be desperate. And human. And hungry.

The Revenant may very well be the darkest movie I’ve ever seen.

And the longer I lie here and dwell on it, the more I like it.

What we’ve got here is Leo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, an enigmatic tracker/hunter in the service of Captain Andrew Henry (Played sharply by Domhnall Gleeson.) Also in their group are the brutal John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and the young Hawk, who happens to be half-Native American (and Hugh Glass’s son.) These men find themselves on an expedition to collect and prepare hundreds of animal skins for sale, presumably to the American army.

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John Fitzgerald – Not a dude you want to F with

Without giving anything away, the whole sell-animal-skins plan goes downhill…and fast. The Native American Arikara, hostile with every right to be, get involved. A grizzly bear shows up. Tom Hardy is pissed. And death starts happening.

Let me summarize the next two and a half hours: Beautiful Violence

Because The Revenant is violent. So very violent. It’s not stylized. It’s not pretty. It’s not epic. It’s harsh. And it’s realistic. By realistic I mean it’s so visceral and unwashed that it feels like this is how real life was. It’s the opposite of The Matrix’s pretty skirmishes, Lord of the Rings’ bloodless warfare, and even Saving Private Ryan’s booming, catastrophic clashes. If I had to pick a movie to step through a door and experience in real-life, The Revenant would be last on the list. I’d be dead in seconds. And so would you.

But it’s also beautiful. So very beautiful. I fully expect this movie to take home the easiest Oscar for best cinematography ever. Not that awards matter. They don’t. What I mean is; every frame of The Revenant is poetry in motion. From the cold, sharp, deadly mountains to the frosted rivers to the snow-blanketed plains, the landscapes are stunning. I sat in my seat and felt the wind blowing over me. I saw the characters wandering beneath moonlit skies, and I was held rapt. The shots were all real. Very little CGI. The Revenant’s terrifying world is the truth. These places exist.

So what’s the point? What are these hard, hard men doing out in the middle in winter? It’s clear from frame one that some brave and foolish white men are moving through the wilderness during the last stages of the war against the Native American tribes of the American Northwest. They’re risking their asses, and they know it. But in the midst of this, Hugh Glass appears different. His son is half-Native American. He endures constant flashbacks (some of them a bit disconcerting) of his Native American wife and of the terrible things that happened to her tribe. His son, Hawk, is as noble as he is, and therein lies a problem. Fifteen minutes in, you know things are gonna go very wrong for Glass. And you know why. And how. It’s not just about racism. It’s about how some people know what honor is, and everyone else does not.

Kinda sounds like modern-day reality, right?

I suppose some people might say that the majority of the movie is a revenge/redemption trip similar to Braveheart. Or maybe a survival tale a la The Grey. I get it. And there are definitely moments in the movie that will confuse some folks. There’s not a ton of dialog. There are no one-liners. All the movie’s glory is given over to nature, not to man. Once it comes down to one dude slogging his way through the brutal wilderness, there is a slowness that will drive some movie-goers away. That’s all well and good.

But if you love movies, and you have a soul, and you’re willing to stop worrying about just simply being entertained, you’ll find something in The Revenant. It’s not just about white people fighting natives. The bad guys don’t wear capes to make themselves easy to hate. Every deed that happens here feels like it really could go down. It’s all so bloody human. When you finish watching it, sit down and ask yourself if you’d never do the things the bad guys do in this movie. If you’re honest with yourself, really honest, you’ll be conflicted.

And that’s beautiful. Because the best movies should make you think.

Look…I’m not sure whether or not The Revenant is my favorite flick over the last year. It had a few strange moments, to be sure. And sometimes it walked a tightrope of not knowing whether to be hard and cold or a little abstract in meaning. But ultimately, if you like movies about realistic human conflict, this is up there with the best of them. I recommend you go see it early in the day. Preferably on a cold, rainy day. And then, after it’s over, maybe even several hours later, I think you’ll start to like it more and more.

Just like I did.

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Like this review? Hit up my reviews of Mad Max – Fury Road, Whiplash, and my personal favorite, Ex Machina.

Or, since we’re talking about seriously dark fiction, drown in my short story, Let the Bodies.

J Edward Neill

Whiplash Movie Review

JK2Disclaimer: This review is largely spoiler-free

A few weeks ago I reviewed George Miller’s screamingly loud and bone-crushingly good Mad Max – Fury Road.

This week’s movie, Whiplash, breaks only a few bones, but is almost as loud, and is definitely as good.

I’ll start with an admission: I’m late to the party. Very late. 2014’s Whiplash, directed by Damien Chazelle, has already earned three Oscar wins and numerous other accolades. That said, it’s my opinion that not enough people have been exposed to it. So if this review convinces even one person to check Whiplash out, I’ll claim success.

So…

Like Jazz music much? Maybe? Maybe not so much? It’s ok. While planted on my couch during a 1AM Redbox DVD screening of Whiplash, my first worries were: ‘This is a jazz movie. What was I thinking?? I should’ve picked something else. Or maybe just watched some porn.” And yet, two minutes in, any fears of drowning in discordant jazz and wonky music vanished. Into. Thin. Air.

Early on, we see a different J.K. Simmons than we’re used to. Gone is the friendly guy from the Farmers Insurance commercials. Gone is the affable, calm dude from J.K.’s previous films. Instead we get a badass. And I’m serious. As Fletcher, the leanest, meanest jazz instructor ever, J.K. is shredded. He’s an all-black-wearing, door-slamming, fist-shaking maniac. He’s a force of f’ing nature.

And it’s apparent he’s made it his mission in life to mold Andrew (played to perfection by young and talented Miles Teller) into the planet’s best drummer…or kill him in the process.

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“Faster!”

As an interesting aside, it should be noted that Miles Teller played ALL his drum pieces. He had a head start, being born of a musical family, but even so. His dedication to learning some of Whiplash’s more extreme rhythms is admirable, and adds tons to the movie’s realism.

So what’s it really about?

Whiplash is primarily a struggle between two men. Fletcher’s win-at-all-costs mentality are at permanent odds with AndrewFletcher wants perfection, nothing less, from his musicians. And perhaps no instrument requires perfection more than drums. Andrew’s willing to bleed to become the best, but still manages to be overwhelmed by Fletcher’s never-ending stream of F bombs and insults. As the movie drums on, literally, the questions become: “Is greatness only achievable under enormous pressure?” and “Is there a such thing as going too far to win?” I know what MY answer is. If you watch or have already watched Whiplash, I want to know YOURS. Because therein lies Whiplash’s soul. It’s Pain versus Reward. Sacrifice versus Greatness. Living a full life versus Having a Singular Dedication. The movie puts us in the proxy position of asking how far we’d go to be the best at something.

Would you bleed? Would you suffer? Would you give up every comfort? Most of us wouldn’t. But perhaps Andrew might.

The supporting cast is small, but more than capable. Veteran Paul Reiser plays Andrew’s concerned but ultimately powerless father. Beautiful Melissa Benoist charms as Andrew’s unfortunate love interest, Nicole. Austin Stowell and Nate Lang are formidable rivals in the studio for Andrew to wage war against. They’re all very good, but reduced to mere pawns in the Fletcher v Andrew struggle. And that’s ok. This isn’t their film. It’s J.K.’s and Miles’.

As another aside, if you like drums of any kind, you’ll love Whiplash’s talent, if nothing else. The speed and excellence demanded in the film transcend genres. It’s obvious this isn’t a movie about jazz at all. It’s about power, skill, and using means to justify the ends. But even if you don’t care about all of that, the drums…are…epic.

Let’s be clear. I Redboxed Whiplash on a hunch. I’d never heard of it prior to plugging it into my DVD player, and I’d no idea what to expect.

…which made it all the better when it turned out to be fucking awesome.

Rent it. Watch it. In the dark. Preferably alone.

And when you’re done, check out my latest philosophy title here.

Love,

J Edward Neill

Mad Max – Fury Road Movie Review

ImmortanJoeDisclaimer: This review is mostly spoiler-free.

Last week I reviewed understated sci-fi marvel Ex Machina. This week I saw another sci-fi movie, Mad Max, Fury Road.

It’s a sci-fi movie. Sort of.

And George Miller’s battle-tastic epic is the opposite of Ex Machina in almost every way.

It’s likely the original Mel Gibson Mad Max was among the pioneers for how we treat post-apocalyptic stories in the modern age. Earth population: drastically reduced. Nuclear fallout: yes. Crazy people fighting for survival in a crazy world: check.

Fury Road honors that tradition…and jacks up the awesome by 400%.

So you say you like action films? And that you don’t have much patience for movies slowing down in the middle? And that you crave movies which pull zero punches? Yeah? Yeah. Fury Road is for you.

Tom Hardy’s Max Rockatansky, blood-bag to a cult of fallout-diseased but utterly badass oil and water hoarders, really gets the shaft. I mean really. Every situation he’s in is bad. I mean, not that there’s much good in living in a irradiated desert wasteland dominated by spiky-car driving warlords, but Max might have it worst than most. He’s a universal blood donor, meaning he’s viewed as nothing more than a fuel-sack for the baddies, who suck his veins nearly dry just to extend their short, violent lives. Good luck, Max. Good luck.

Even when Max meets a truckload of the most beautiful women left on Earth, he still gets no play. Sucks for him.

Enter Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, badass among all badasses. While her motivations aren’t really known until the end, her willingness to crunch bones is evident from the beginning. I suppose if I were driving a truck brimming with such hotties as CapableThe Dag, and Toast the Knowing, I’d have a completely different goal in mind. Luckily Furiosa is all business, all woman, all tough, all the time. And I confess, while the stunts she pulls are over-the-top, it’s all entirely believable. Fury Road wears no kid gloves. When people die, good or bad, it’s visceral. Just the way it should be. I’ve heard complaints that this is more Furiosa’s film than Max’s. Bullshit. It’s everyone’s movie. There is no one superstar. Everyone does awesome shit. No one’s left behind.

Now let’s talk about the bad guys. Hugh Keays-Byrne plays the skull mask-wearing, willing-to-do-anything-to-get-his-beautiful-concubines-back Immortan Joe. In a way I can’t blame Joe. He’s got water. He’s got a loyal-to-the-death cult. He’s got several stunning concubines. And he’s got a monster truck with a freakin’ cannon on the top. If someone stole your hotties, you’d probably go bat-shit crazy, too. And if you had a skull mask, you’d probably wear it.

Don’t forget Nicolas Hoult’s Nux. This guy is proof that matter how much white body paint you wear, how many times you spray your mouth with silver paint in preparation for the afterlife, you can still find redemption. And honestly, it’s in Nux we find the movie’s true soul. It’s there. I promise. You might have to squint to see between all the carnage, but you’ll see it, and when you do, you’ll love it.

Max

Max ridin’ shotgun on the hood of Nux’s battle wagon.

Where Mad Max, Fury Road really scores its win is in its pace, its ruthlessness, and its sense of purpose. It’s relentless. It’s the loudest movie I’ve ever seen, so loud that even if you’ve got jerks in your theater talking or whatever, you will not hear them. You’ll tune them out…easily. Junkie XL’s superb soundtrack backs the sometimes absurd, always entertaining feast of destruction. I’m listening to it right now, and it’s boomtastic. And when Fury Road does manage to ease up on the gas pedal, the moments between the world’s most epic chase manage to be meaningful, tense, and believable. You may find that hard to swallow. You may think, “Action movie = no plot worth caring about.”

You’d be wrong.

There’s both glory and substance here.

But even if you don’t care about that stuff, you’ll get all you asked for and more in what’s sure to be the best action movie of the year.

Go now. Drive fast. Put explosives on your hood and spikes on your fenders.

J Edward Neill

If you like violent, epic stuff, check out my Tyrants of the Dead series here.

Ex Machina Movie Review

Ex-machina-uk-posterDisclaimer: This is a mostly spoiler-free review

In the modern realm of wide-release films, it’s rare to see science-fiction movies that are:

A. Unabashedly intellectual

and

B. Not reliant on hyper-violent technological advances

Ex Machina is both of these.

I saw this movie in a cozy, nearly empty theater.  I felt torn about the empty part, because I worried it might mean not enough people were interested in the kind of movie I’d like to see a whole lot more of. Apparently that’s not the case, since to date it’s netted a cool $18.7M. That’s good news. Great news, actually. Meanwhile, the experience was almost ruined by a few stereotypical loud-ass movie talkers. But the offending parties managed to shut up long enough for the rest of us to focus.

Thank goodness for that.

At first, Ex Machina comes off as boy-meets-girl completely flipped on its head. Caleb (played to nerd-fection by Domhnall Gleeson) is an apparent coding whiz for a huge computer search engine company. When he’s selected to travel to a mysterious, almost CIA-like black box facility, he does so with glee. And who wouldn’t? For an opportunity to meet Ava, the world’s most advanced android, most of us would leap in headfirst. And the setting in Ex Machina is so realistic, one begins to believe something like this can…and will…happen someday soon. Go Caleb. Get some.

If Arnold Schwarzenegger was the perfect person to play the original Terminator, Alicia Vikander (who plays the aforementioned android) is perfect-er. She’s eerie. She’s beautiful. And she nails every little tic you’d expect from a woman-robot. It’s clear from the beginning who owns the dialogue between Ava and Caleb. And it ain’t Caleb. I have to believe Lady Vikander will score big based on her performance here. She echoes the strength of Game of Thrones’ super-heroine (Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen) and frosts it with the sort of intelligence you’d like to see Hollywood give more of its female roles.

Very quickly, the boy-meets-girl vibe melts away.

For those who aren’t aware of what the Turing Test is, I recommend you study the concept. It’s the frontline premise of Ex Machina, and quite possibly (in part due to this year’s epic The Imitation Game) a new piece of vernacular everyone will soon become familiar with. Essentially, the Turing Test is the methodology for determining whether or not an A.I. can behave human enough to trick us into no longer knowing it’s a computer. If the computer fools the human, it passes.

Turns out the one inviting Caleb to perform the world’s most important Turing Test (on Ava) is the buff yet emotionally FUBAR Nathan (played to frat-brother genius levels by Oscar Isaac.) Nathan is like a chessmaster working both sides of the board. He’s got tech game like no one’s business, and a penchant for working off his hangovers by pumping iron and intimidating the slim, non-alpha Caleb. Nathan’s motivation is the question of the hour. It’s clear he wants more than just a Turing Test. And it’s obvious he gets his rocks off by head-fucking people. But the lines between antagonist and protagonist are blurred, just as they should be.

Where Ex Machina really succeeds is in its pace, its dialogue, and its atmosphere. Caleb’s encounters with Ava are blocked off into seven sessions, each of them growing in intensity. Conversations between Caleb and Ava have a permanent shadow lying overhead, a subtle reminder that she’s smarter, quicker in her learning curve, and possibly deadlier. And the hyper-realistic, we-could-picture-these-moments-actually-happening, verbal sparring between Caleb and Nathan leave one needing to know what comes next. Even once our suspicions of dread become tense enough to snap.

Not to be underestimated is the melodic yet somewhat dark soundtrack. Composers Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow blend their music so well into the film I knew halfway through I needed to buy it and play it…over and over again. Which I did end up doing.

untitledAnd then there’s the end sequence. It’ll be hard to watch without wanting to see it again and then immediately becoming a part of the growing online discussion. I’ve read many takes on the path of evolution Ava takes. Some speak of sweetness, others of liberation, but I saw something darker. Watch it twice, I say. And tell me you don’t sense one possibility for how the world might end.

 

So if you crave MORE than robots with laser guns, spaceships doing things that are impossible in space, and over-the-top future battles, go see Ex Machina.  It’s a solid A, and the best sci-fi movie to hit theaters in a long, long time. And if I have a special love for it, it’s also because the director, Alex Garland, is also an author and screenwriter. Would that I were so talented.

From time to time, I’ll review more movies.

Sorry ’bout that.

Get into my coffee table philosophy series here.

J Edward Neill

 

Not A Review – A Quiet Place

Spoilers will not follow…

Because I have not seen this movie yet.

Yes, it is a strange thing to write about a movie without having seen it. But I have a reason for doing so… you see, this movie has already invaded my dreams.

This past weekend I had one dream from the time I closed my eyes until the time I woke up where I was in the world of A Quiet Place.

Now, without seeing the movie, the only thing my subconscious would have been able to glean was from what we see in the trailers themselves. And there is clearly something about it. I’m not sure if it is the premise: being hunted by things that rely on sound to find you. It might have been the spooky score they play during the trailer. Or it could even be the narrator, his low, gravelly voice breaking through my tv screen in order to make the hairs on my arms stand up. I wish I could know exactly what it was that set this dream in motion.

I think I’m lucky that I have pretty vivid dreams in full color. And most of the time even if I’m the main character of a dream, I’m somehow watching myself from behind the camera.

My dream version of the movie was pretty good (with a bit of strange dream logic, but I’ll let that slide). Very post-apocalyptic. In this, I was a part of a smallish group (maybe 12 people total) moving through the outskirts of where the suburbs end and the farmlands of Georgia begin. Where you get the occasional subdivision but can also not see a house for miles. We were the last ones in the area, somehow finding our way through the initial attack.

It was long stretches of walking, of waiting, of deeply disturbing moments when the sun had set and the little bit of whispering would happen. Everyone needing a small amount of connection with those they were surviving with, but not daring to go too far without there being any other thing that could possibly keep the monsters from hearing us, from tracking us to our lair. There were planned ambushes and being forced to leave people behind due to injuries, but…

It was the feeling that I remembered more than anything else. Thinking about it in the morning, it was clearly the feel I got watching the trailer. That no matter what, basic human nature dictates that we need to interact with others. That we need to be able to communicate. That sheer fear as one of them stalks you.

Normally these types of dreams would happen after I’d seen the movie, but this came before that. It became a movie that was obviously already on my radar before that night and now I’m just wondering if it will actually be too scary for my wife to want to see it or not.

Sometimes I let my dreams help me work out a story problem. Sometimes I go along for a ride I might never actually be able to do. I’ve jotted down ideas from dreams – fresh from waking up – but that feeling while they actually are happening can’t be duplicated. That dream logic will kick in and suddenly everyone is on scooters when we are traveling down a busy interstate. That feeling just can’t be recaptured in the same way because I don’t have the right foundation. So I wonder how it is going to be to actually watch the movie. Will it live up to my version? From everything I’m seeing on Facebook and from friends who went to see it – I think mine is going to be a very pale imitation.

Maybe in my head canon I can claim my idea takes place before the movie itself?

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His prose appears in The Dark That FollowsTheft & TherapyThere’s Something About MacHollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

My Review of 75 Random Things – Part 2

My Review of 75 Random Things – Part 2

(Every item on this list was suggested by friends and strangers on the internet.)


Season 1 of the TV series ‘Fortitude’ Great acting. Super interesting buildup. Vastly disappointing ending.

Jack Daniel Honey – Not bad for a party drink. It’s mildly palatable and inexpensive. But once you try higher end whiskey, you’ll never want to drink Jack Daniel anything again.

The city of Chicago – I miss living there, but only during non-winter seasons, which means pretty much only half the year. I have a feeling I’ll end up returning there one day.

The Song ‘Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor’ by Flight of the Conchords – Hilariously sums up trying to land a date by going clubbing.

Washing Dishes by Hand Instead of using a Dishwasher – Dishes get cleaner. Not much more work. Saves money. Ends arguments about how to stack dirty dishes. Sign me up.

Peeps – As a child, I loved Easter for the sole reason of devouring entire boxes of sugar-coated marshmallows. As an adult, same.

Putting Peeps into Burritos – No. Just no. Stop.

The TV Nature Series, Blue Planet – You think outer space is fascinating? Wait ’til you watch this series and see what lives on the ocean floor. Awesome, awesome show.

Russia’s Influence over the U.S. Election – I don’t know what they did. I don’t care. The kind of people influenced by stuff they read on Facebook? They were going to vote the same way regardless.

Dreadlocks – They look cool, but smell kinda like mildew.

Seat Warmers in Cars – For the ladies, I hear they’re great. But for guys, they burn warm all the wrong parts.

My New Cat ‘Bacon’ – Athletic. Mean. Bitey. Adorable.

Bacon, the bitey cat

My Recently Departed Cat, Sticky – Athletic. Scratchy. Sweet. Blind. And now she’s planted beneath a Japanese Maple tree.

Sticky laser eyes, fire!!

Text Messaging w/ Old People – Pretty much the most painful thing ever. Hurts my eyes to read the awkward things my dad types into his phone.

The Movie ‘Game Night’ starring Jason Bateman & Rachel McAdams – Pretty damn funny. I’ve come to realize anything with Jason Bateman will be good. Ditto Rachel McAdams.

Twizzlers – Yes. The perfect candy for…everything.

Aussie Licorice – It’s sticky like honey and tastes like engine oil. No thanks.

Sting (the musician) and his latest tour – Did you know tickets are $600? Nope.

Small Talk – Does anyone really want to talk about the weather? Or the latest TV show? Or how your cousin’s mom’s former roommate is doing? No. Let’s skip to something deeper, kay?

The Book ‘The Wise Man’s Fear’ by Patrick Rothfuss – I loved book one in the series ‘The Name of the Wind.’ But book two? Dreadfully slow. Wanders to strange places while making the main character utterly unlikeable.

DYI Plumbing – You might save thousands. Or you might end up doing your laundry in the backyard and taking showers using a teaspoon.

Robert Mueller – FBI Special Counsel – Sounds like the most difficult job in America. Dude gets slandered on a daily basis.

Ménage a Trois Wine – The California Red is good. The Rose is even better. The Silk and Dark varieties are pretty bad, kind of like drinking wine-drenched cotton balls.

The Introvert vs. Extrovert Discussion – It sometimes feels like an excuse for people to talk about themselves at length on the internet. It’s ok to be either or even both. Most people really don’t seem to care.

Cracker Barrel Pancakes – Too dry. Also, they’re super stingy with the syrup. Bring the whole bottle, baby.

The video series ‘The Lion’s Blaze’ – I will never be as flexible as the skinny dude. Never.

What. The. Fuck?

The Kids’ Movie ‘Early Man’ – Pretty funny. A bit sentimental, but refreshingly devoid of cynicism.

Drinking Organic Milk in place of Ordinary Milk – Prepare to spend a TON more on milk. But the flavor difference is worth every penny.

The Restaurant ‘Outback Steakhouse’ – Terrible, dry cuts of beef. You’d eat better steaks and save money just by pan-searing them at home.

James Veitch’s ‘This is what happens when you reply to spam’ comedy sketch – Freaking hilarious. We all want to do this, right?

Men Peeing While Sitting Down – Why would anyone want to sit on a toilet unless they absolutely had to?

The Art of Allen Williams – Dark and beautiful. He’s a wizard with graphite and a master of artistic anatomy. Just go here.

Fake Fingernails – Ladies, I have just one question. Why?

Beards – Love ’em. But had to shave mine off for the summer. Too warm for muggy days in the Georgia heat.

The Movie ‘Sicario’ starring Emily Blunt & Benicio del Toro – Probably the most intense movie I’ve ever seen. That ending…wow. You owe it to yourself to watch this late at night with zero distractions.

Angry Orchard Hard Cider – Good when on draft. Not particularly tasty out of a bottle.

The #_____LivesMatter Movements – My position is that no lives matter. Yes, really. None of us have any real value to the universe, so technically we should all treat each other equally. (But we never will.)

The Album ‘Kingdoms Disdained’ by Morbid Angel – Thumpy, ferocious, and superior to most metal albums of the modern era. Even so, not much variety within the album. Basically eleven very similar tracks.

The Theremin, a musical instrument – Weird and haunting. Search for ‘Armen Ra Theremin’ on Spotify and see where it takes you.

Clara Rockmore playing the theremin, publicity shot c. 1930

Finding Stray Girlfriend Hairs all over the House – Women shed more than cats. Or dogs. Or any mammal on Earth. I need a scientist to explain this phenomenon.

The Movie ‘Cloverfield Paradox’ – Not bad at all. Interesting premise, good actors, sharply suspenseful. But somehow in the end a bit unsatisfying. The whole experience feels like one big cliffhanger.

The Album ‘Sleep’ by Max Richter – Soft, serene music meant to help people relax and sleep. The tracks are repetitive and atmospheric, and yet soothing. I use this album for writing epic fantasy and sci-fi books, but if you’re an insomniac, you might want to try it for yourself.

Bras – If I were a woman, I’d like to let my ‘girls’ fly free. Ladies, you have my sympathies.

Aberlour Scotch – One of the smoothest, brightest, and flavorful scotches you’ll ever drink. Try the 16-year and live happily ever after. Here’s my complete rundown of the best scotches on the market.

The Movie ‘Swiss Army Man’ w/ Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe – It goes strange places right from the beginning and never truly comes back to something meaningful. That said, it has some pretty hilarious moments.

7-String Guitars – I don’t like playing on any other kind. Saves me the trouble of re-tuning my strings.

Bing (the search engine) – Sometimes I end up on Bing accidentally. I shudder and click right back to Google.

Homewood Suites Hotels – You’d be surprised by the number of active prostitute rings thriving in various Homewood Suites’ rooms. Yes, really.

Being an AuthorDon’t do it. Seriously. It’s not a path to happiness.

The Video Game ‘Super Mario Odyssey’ for the Nintendo Switch – My kid was alllll kinds of hyped up to play this. But after an hour or two, he came to the same conclusion I did while watching him play. Boring. Same old, same old. Everyone else loves this game. We don’t get it.

Yep. More of these guys.

The Renaissance Festival – Good, cheesy fun. Nightmarish parking. If you go, go when it’s cool outside.

Match.com – Boring

Plenty of Fish – Same as Match, but even duller

Bumble – Pretty damn good

Tinder – Gross

The Album ‘Thinking in Textures’ by Chet Faker – Smooth. Relaxing. Although not particularly inspiring.

Magic, the Gathering – The best game ever created. Great art. Great rules. Constantly evolving. Better to play face-to-face than over the internet, however.

Ketchup – Hey, if you like it, that’s ok. Some people get too uptight about other people’s condiments.

Teachers Carrying Guns in Schools – Do it if you want. Turn every school into the Wild West. My kid won’t be attending.

The Video Game ‘Ghost Recon Wildlands’ – Quietly one of the best shooting games ever made. Realistic, balanced, and addictive.

Bartenders Who Know Everything About Their Customers – A wise policy on the bartenders’ behalf to maximize tips. But I once knew a woman who told her bartender too much (she was cheating) while not realizing the bartender was BFF’s with her husband. Be careful what you talk about, people.

Anal Bleaching (Special thanks to the person who suggested this) – I get it for porn stars…sort of. I just want to know who came up with the idea in the first place. Sasha Grey?

The City of Deerfield Beach, Florida – If you like volleyball, sand, drinking, and pretty girls, you’ll love this neat little beach community.  If not, try Naples.

Deerfield Beach – See you on the sand!

Bangs – Easy hairstyle to maintain. But at what cost? 🙂

The Restaurant ‘PF Chang’s’ – The food is really good. The drinks are amazing. The wait-staff is bad. Really bad. And I’m the most merciful diner ever. The lesson? Don’t hire and underpay teenagers if you want to appear upscale.

School Shootings – They will continue ad infinitum. It’s who we are as Americans now. Knowing this, I won’t be sending my kid to public school. I suggest you rethink your kids’ education, as well.

Nude Body-Painting – It can be pretty cool, maybe even sexy. But definitely not in overheated rooms. And an age limit is advisable.

The #MeToo Movement – Every single woman I know has a horror story of sexual abuse. Every. Single. One. Which means a huge number of guys are involved. Scary, right?

The Album ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ by Slayer – The best heavy metal album ever made. Try not to bob your head during ‘Skeletons of Society.’

Melania Trump – She signed up to ride the Tilt-a-Whirl and ended up on the mother of all roller coasters.

Bagpipes – Well-played, they make beautiful, mournful music. Poorly-played, they seriously injure eardrums.

Kids Using Foul Language at Home – I’m cool with it. Sometimes. Words are just words. They’re harmless if you want them to be.

Ren & Stimpy – I’d like to personally thank this show’s creator John K. for guiding me through my early childhood. Here’s the complete collection. Worth every penny.

Cream of Wheat – Totally devoid of nutrition. Totally amazing when served with milk and honey.

Next Door Neighbors Who Walk Around Topless – If he can do it, so can I.

 



For the original ‘My Review of 75 Different Things,’ go here.

For my review of life and humanity in general, try this.

J Edward Neill

My Review of 75 Different Things

This week, lacking any genius ideas, I’ve decided to review exactly seventy-five things.

These things aren’t related. They’re completely random.

They could be movies, television shows, art, cultural phenomena, beer, or maybe even my neighbor’s dog…

Please enjoy…

*

My Review of 75 Different Things

 


The movie ‘Annihilation’ w/ Natalie Portman – Pretty good, but kinda slow in parts. Also, Oscar Isaac has a different haircut in every movie he’s in.

James Vietch is a Terrible Roommate Sketch – Thanks for making me buy my kid a huge box of wholesale rubber duckies.

The Netflix original film ‘The Ritual’ – Liked it. Questions: Can the monster not leave the woods due to the sun? Or is the big beastie forever confined to the forest?

The Gun Control Argument (Everywhere in the US) – Even if you pass sweeping gun laws nationwide, we’re still fucked. This country is absolutely saturated with weapons. You’re 40 years too late to make a difference.

Pornhub – If all the best porn is free and readily available on a giant, hugely popular website, how do porn actors make money??

Plastic Forks, Straws, Cups, Bags, and Takeout Containers – Ban that shit. Immediately.

The Book ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ by Haruki Murakami – This is how memoirs should be written. Relatable. Honest. Quick. Elegant.

Crawlspaces – Never, ever, ever buy a house with a crawlspace. Go basement or go slab.

Turning 41 Years Old – My knees hurt. Stupid flag football league…

The movie ‘Ex Machina’ starring Alicia Vikander – I actually reviewed this for real. Go here.

Divorce – Best decision ever. Why do people get married twice?? Someone please explain.

Flight of the Conchords – Season 1 & 2 – ‘Business Time’ is the funniest song I’ve ever heard.

Veganism – You eat your greens. I’ll eat a bunch of livestock. We’ll get along just fine.

Apothic Red Wine – It’s really only ‘meh’ good. But at $7.99 per bottle, count me in.

Single Fatherhood – Goodbye, social life. Hello, Legos!

The latest two Star Wars movies (Episodes VII & VIII) – Not even remotely entertaining. Maybe I’m just old. Or cynical. Whatever.

The ‘Rogue One’ Star Wars movie – Easily the best Star Wars film ever. Disagree? Fight me. 🙂

Mellow Mushroom Pizza – F’ing amazeballs. Why don’t they deliver??

The Children’s Book ‘The Rainbow Goblins’ illustrated by Ul Del Rico – If you have kids, read this book to them. Over and over again.

Heavy Metal band ‘Slayer’ Announcing their Farewell Tour – All great things must come to an end. …sniffle…

Politics – If you support one party wholeheartedly, you’re kidding yourself.

The Netflix series ‘Round Planet’ – The funniest take on a nature show ever.

‘Witcher 3’ the Video Game – Still the best game I’ve ever played. (And I’ve played too many.)

Balvenie Scotch – If you’ve always wanted to try scotch, but you weren’t sure where to start, Balvenie is where you want to be.

Balvenie 17 Doublewood – smooth as silk

Mad Max – Fury Road – The best action movie ever made. Sorry, Die Hard.

The website Etsy – I thought it was only for girls. But I joined it and it changed my life. Ignorance wasn’t bliss.

Selfies, GIFS, and Snapchat – Are we really this bored with our existence?

Feminism – I support it sometimes. Sometimes not. Trouble is; if you ask 100 people what it means, you’ll get 99 different answers.

Elon Musk proposing a voyage to Mars – If I weren’t a dad, I’d volunteer for the first expedition. Not that I think it’s noble or anything. I just want to drink scotch on another planet.

The Glut of Superhero and Comic Book Movies – Please stop.

Daylight Savings Time – Please stop.

The Album ‘How the Gods Kill’ by Danzig – The best blues/metal album ever made.

Vladimir Putin – Dude has the whole world wrapped around his finger.

Facebook – Use it for entertainment only.

Twitter – Same as Facebook, but prepare for more anger.

Instagram – Use it only if you have more interesting photos than selfies. (Selfies are ok if you’re stunningly good-looking.)

LinkedIn – Don’t bother using it.

The Movie ‘IT’ – So when’s part two coming out again? I’m not sure I can handle the wait.

Amazon Planning a new ‘Lord of the Rings’ Series –  Intriguing. But can they top Peter Jackson’s LOTR movies? Probably not, right?

‘Wat? Who be Amazon??’

Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit’ Trilogy? – The decision to use almost exclusively CGI monsters over real actors killed all three movies for me. Disappointing.

Pandora and Spotify asking me to ‘Click the Image’ during ads – Ha! As if I’m anywhere near my phone while the music’s playing.

Chick Fil-A Waffle Fries – Still the planet’s best.

Chick Fil-A Lemonade – I think I just got diabetes.

DragonCon – Fun, but only if you can find a spot away from the throbbing masses of people. Good luck.

The Art of Terese Nielsen – Awe-inspiring. Just go look at it here.

Kentucky Fried Chicken – I found a chicken’s head in my 3-piece meal last year.

Bill Steer, Guitarist for Heavy Metal Band ‘Carcass’ – The best guitarist you’ve never heard of.

Conan O’Brian Driving Mad Max style to Comic Con – I want to cook my hot dogs like he does.

President Trump – People making fun of him on the internet won’t make him go away.

NFL Football – At some point, it became more of a product than a game. And now I can’t watch it anymore.

The Wrecking Bar, Atlanta – The best craft cocktails you’ll ever have.

Wrecking Bar

Self-Driving Cars – Please let these be everywhere by the time my son turns 16.

The Video Game ‘Zelda – Breath of the Wild’ – Great, great game. Abrupt, unsatisfying ending.

The Soundtrack to ‘Interstellar‘ by Hans Zimmer – I listen to this whenever I’m painting.

The Soundtrack to ‘The Prestige’ by David Julyan – I listen to this whenever I’m writing.

Domino’s Pizza – Better. But still not as good as Pizza Hut or Papa John’s. Which admittedly isn’t saying much.

Kneeling During the National Anthem – Unless you stand every time you hear the anthem (including on the radio or TV) your anger doesn’t matter.

Cracker Barrel – Thanks for turning me into a Stewart’s Orange Soda junkie.

Being a White Guy in Modern-Day America – I sunburn too easily.

‘Cosmos’, a series hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson – You owe it to yourself (and your kids, if you have any) to sit down and watch it.

The Movie ‘Grandma’s Boy’ – Somehow, it’s still my go-to ‘I don’t know what I want to watch tonight’ movie.

The City of Atlanta – Great food. Good people. Plenty of stuff to do. But the traffic is completely unbearable.

Hobby Lobby – A great store to get bargain art supplies. But the store’s vibe never fails to creeps me out.

The Nintendo Switch Video Game System – Love Zelda. Love the concept. Pretty much nothing else noteworthy. Hopeful for the future. Maybe.

Hi there. I’m a system with ONE good game. Buy me.

The Electoral College – I don’t care who won or lost the election. The E.C. is archaic. America can do better.

The Movie ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ – My kid and I had no idea what we were getting into when we hit the theater to see this. We were blown away.

The Word ‘Goetia’ – Bear with me on this one. I needed a word to describe some of my art. And somehow I found one. No, I don’t summon demons…usually.

Granny Smith Apples – Does anyone else think they’re too sour?

The Book ‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert – I read it as a young man. And then again as a college student. And still again in my 30’s. I just re-read it a few weeks ago, and I’ve come to realize that while I love the book, it’s not the epic work of great fiction I once believed. It’s slow. It’s often tedious. And Paul comes off as fairly implausible. Whatever. It’s still good.

The Movie ‘Blade Runner’ starring Ryan Gosling – Everything a sci-fi movie should be. Dark. Gritty. Serious. Also, Ana de Armas.

Ron White – The funniest comedian alive today. Better than Tosh.0. Better ever than Richard Lewis.

Electric Cars – Can they please be affordable without looking like ugly shoeboxes?

The Big Green Egg Grill – Give me a $50 Weber charcoal grill, and I’ll cook you the steak you deserve without spending $800.

The Lego Ninjago Green Dragon set – Four hours of my life…gone. But at least my son hasn’t destroyed it yet. Oh wait…yes he has. 🙂

Waffle House – Without a doubt, they have the friendliest (and sadly, the lowest paid) staff of any restaurant in town. I always tip them 25%…sometimes more.


If this list annoyed you, maybe this will annoy you even more.

For 75 MORE randomly reviewed things, go here.

Love,

J Edward Neill

Black Mirror, Season 4 Review

My previous reviews can be found here: Seasons 1&2 and 3.

As I wrote last time, “For those not in the know, Black Mirror is an anthology show. Each episode stands alone to tell a story about how our technology or something perhaps not too far from our grasp affects people.”

If I have any problem with Black Mirror is that Charlie Brooker doesn’t come out with the fast enough. Even the ones that are not my favorite episodes are far better than many of the other things available on my tv. But I suppose I can live with only getting 6 episodes if the seasons have a couple of true gems each time.

EP 1 – USS Callister

When you are “into” something, the last thing you want to happen is for someone to take a pot-shot at your favorite thing. Star Trek fans (I’m talking the hardcore ones) are probably well past tired of being mocked over the years. So this episode could very well be the last straw for them.

And I think that would be a shame. This is my second favorite episode of the season.

It really seems odd that an episode about a virtual version of a crew could show the most realistic version of how people act when no one is watching. If you’ve ever played ANY game online, odds are you’ve dealt with some of the worst people. They are gods of their own little desktop/laptop/etc world and you must show them the respect they’ve clearly earned. For you to question how they see the world would be blasphemous. Who are you to question them or how they spend their downtime?

Peel back the Star Trek skin and what you are really dealing with is someone on an ego trip through the stars.

Plus, how appropriate that virtual characters were better developed than their real-life counterparts…

EP 2 – Arkangel

I can only imagine the horror of trying to keep your child safe from all the potential dangers in the world. The idea that they must figure out some way to navigate the dangerous waters all by themselves armed only with the few golden rules and some other words of wisdom.

Terrifying.

And if there was a way to help them with that. You know, on those days you can’t be there beside them to hold their hand as they cross the street or when the mean dog begins barking at them or when the bully at school starts to torment them. What if you could protect them for a little longer?

Would that be so wrong?

And how long is too long?

Is there such a thing?

EP 3 – Crocodile

Crocodile is one of those stories which might have been a movie idea at one time. It feels like a series of stories unconnected to each other. You bounce between each as the threads begin to draw them together more and more. And when those threads cross and tangle, and when the woman has gone too far down one path to stop.

That’s when the real horror presents itself.

EP 4 – Hang the DJ

My favorite episode of the season. Somehow I think I knew as I watched this one second. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know the episode was about couples being matched up with random people until they stumble across their real soul mate via a computer algorithm. Taking away the awkward bit of trying to figure it out for yourself and really let the computer system determine it for you. I can’t quite tell if this is a metaphor for online dating, arranged marriages, or just a fun story about how true love conquers all.

And I don’t know that I need the question answered.

EP 5 – Metalhead

Sadly every season has favorites and those episodes I didn’t enjoy as much. Maybe it is because this is the most straightforward episode of nearly all of them. In a post-apocalyptic future, a woman is being chased by robotic hounds bent on wiping all humanity.

A woman trying to survive against some unstoppable creature has been all the rage for a while. Going back to the 70s slasher films through the zombie movie craze. This is about survival. And then it is about the will to live.

But it is mostly about robotic dogs trying to kill a woman.

EP 6 – Black Museum

This season’s version of the White Christmas episode from season 2.5. We have a number of little stories enveloped by another story. The fun in these types is that you can enjoy the smaller stories without the larger story, but when the final curtain is revealed and you get to see not only how everything fits into one another. How, with each story, the story-teller is merely setting you up for the big reveal… only to have the viewers in on a different FINAL reveal.

My only real question would be whether or not any of these mini-stories would have originally been planned for a full-length episode on their own, but then something happened to convince Brooker otherwise or if they are exactly as he originally set out to present them.

***

Another 6 episodes down and now the waiting begins anew for a hopeful season 5!

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His prose appears in The Dark That FollowsTheft & TherapyThere’s Something About MacHollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

Black Mirror, Season 3 Review

Last year I sat down and watched this show that’d I’d somehow read about on some random blog somewhere (that internet rabbit hole again). The key phrase for me mentioned “Modern Day Twilight Zone” – at which point I said “I’ll be the judge of that blasphemy.”

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So I watched and reviewed the first 2 seasons here.

For those not in the know, Black Mirror is an anthology show. Each episode stands alone to tell a story about how our technology or something perhaps not too far from our grasp affects people.

That phrase Modern Day Twilight Zone was closer to the truth than not. In fact, I only had 2 problems with the show: Episode One wasn’t a favorite & that there was only SEVEN total episodes to even partake. You see, those lovable Brits sometimes do “seasons” where you only get a couple of episodes of the THING you love. They get in and get out before you even know what hit you.

As an American, only having SEVEN episodes was a bit maddening. Were there going to be anymore? Why not do more? Is everyone across the pond lazy when it comes to their TV!?!

Netflix then is my savor. They got Charlie Booker to reach into the dark recesses of his mind to provide us with SIX more trips beyond the Mirror.

EP 1 – Nosedive

How many Facebook friends do you have? Twitter followers? Instagram? Tumblr?

What if your entire world was based on not only who your “Friends” might be, but how everyone rated you? This is the question before us in Nosedive. You see, if your rating (from 1 to 5) is high enough, then there are no doors not open to you. Let it slip and it might mean not qualifying for that loan, not getting into the best restaurants, and possibly not allowing you to even work a job.

The best part about the concept behind this episode is how it applies in virtually all aspects of your life. When you were High School the “pecking order” certainly existed. Who you hung out with, who you talked to, and maybe who you made fun of would slot you into your clique. For better or worse.

And like all of us who want to be liked, who want to have a better life… maybe we have to put on a face which isn’t exactly the one our true self would recognize. What would you do in order to get in with the “cool kids”.

EP 2 – Playtest

Black Mirror hasn’t really done horror… it might be horrific situations the characters get shoved into, but not the typical scary movie style. Well, at least they haven’t until this episode.

Playtest is about virtual reality. It’s about a game that digs into your brain to find the exact things which scare YOU. Hate spiders? Then you’re going to deal with spiders. Don’t like being alone? Get used to it.

And if that was all this episode had going for it, that would have worked. But you have to dig a little deeper than that. Past the arachnophobia or acrophobia and into the depths of your soul. What is that thing you won’t tell anyone else? What is the one bit you don’t want to dwell on.

What are you REALLY scared of?

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EP 3 – Shut Up and Dance

The fact that this episode follows Playtest is appropriate as it, too, deals in fear. Yet, this is about being exposed for something very real. We’ve read the articles about people hacking into our laptops and gaining control of our cameras there in order to watch us when we’re vulnerable.

Let’s say that happened to you, and being a teenaged boy, you might have been using the internet to… expand your knowledge of the female form… well, that might be something you wouldn’t want everyone in school seeing. And unlike American Pie, this isn’t a comedy where everyone is just going to think it is funny.

Given the chance to ensure the genie stays in the bottle, how far would you be willing to go?

EP 4 – San Junipero

You’re going to guess at this one and only be partially right. Set in the 1980s, our lead character seems to be out of place, visiting… on vacation in a different time. She’s getting married in a few weeks and needs to experience something (anything) before that day comes.

Unlike so many of the other episodes, even the somewhat sweet “Be Right Back” from the 2nd season, this really is more about what we could do with technology to help those people who need release the most. But really strip away all of that and it is about a girl who falls for another girl.

It is sweet. But the performances by the two leads (Gugu Mbatha-Raw & Mackenzie Davis) will have you believing and hoping for them to find a way to be together.

EP 5 – Men Against Fire

Warfare pushes technology forward more than almost anything else. And when there is a new technology developed outside of the war machine, they try to find a military use for it. Heads Up Display isn’t a new idea. Watch Iron Man to see it put to some of the best use. However, if it was a neural link? If the display was in your head? How much more effective of a soldier might you be if you could use tech to see where your enemies were inside a house with infrared vision?

What could possibly go wrong with such technology when you are fighting a war for the very future of the human race?

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EP 6 – Hated in the Nation

A perfect bookend to this season. After “Nosedive” dealt with attempting to garner popularity, this episode looks at the other end of things. And given how the internet loves to hate things almost as much as it loves Cat videos, what happens when a serial killer suddenly is using the “most hated person” on the internet to determine who their next victim is.

If you go to the comments section of ANY article on the web, odds are high you will find some level of hate bestowed on either the original writing or perhaps the manner in which someone has said they liked the original thing. It’s not a simple “You’re wrong”, but more of a “Burn in hell, nazi!”

How do you stop people from hating? Can we be nicer online? Or does the invisibility of the process make any ideas of being better people a pipe dream?

Are there any punishments for the haters?

 

Black Mirror, Season 3… in our rush to conquer the future, we might be providing the very method of our downfall.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

 

Ten Eccentric Movies Everyone Should See

There are Hollywood smash hits.

And there are bombs.

There are formulaic rom-coms, predictable horror cheese-fare, and various deadly serious films starring Matt Damon.

But as most of us know…

There are films that defy convention, break from the mold, and flip movie-goers’ expectations upside down. Many of these, you might not have watched or even heard of. They’re not quite mainstream, but not quite indie either.

Please enjoy my list of ten eccentric movies, all of which are worth viewing:

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perfume-the-story-of-a-murderer

Perfume – Story of a Murderer

It’s possible I’m starting this list with the best movie of the ten. Perfume – Story of a Murderer is among the most eccentric, most gripping movies ever to hit the screen. It goes like this: a young man with a gifted sense of smell decides he wants to capture the scent of all things. Only…that’s impossible. So rather than continue trying to capture the odors of copper, glass, and dead cats, he steps up his game and makes it his life mission to make the most powerful perfume the world has ever known.

I won’t spoil it more than that.

Featuring Ben Whishaw, the late, great Alan Rickman, Dustin Hoffman, and narrated by John Hurt, Perfume is a powerful tale of the dark places obsessions can go.

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Moon

One must be careful when describing Moon, lest one reveal spoilers.

So I’ll say only this:

A lonely, lonely man named Sam (played by Sam Rockwell) exists on the far side of the Moon with the sole purpose of mining Helium-3. Sam’s only companion is an AI named GERTY. His journey is haunting, sometimes grim, and always mysterious.

Moon’s atmosphere (no pun intended) is different than any movie I’ve ever seen, while the soundtrack is flat out beautiful and chilling.

Just see it.

*

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My Blue Heaven

Let’s go old school for a minute.

My Blue Heaven is my personal favorite Rick Moranis movie (other than mayyyyyyyyybe Ghostbusters.) And Steve Martin definitely has the best hairdo of any dude ever.

So…when Vinnie (Steve Martin) falls into a semi-ridiculous witness protection program, it becomes Barney’s (Rick Moranis) job to protect him. As expected, Steve Martin’s performance is over-the-top absurd, and Moranis plays it pretty deadpan throughout.

Plenty of critics will say My Blue Heaven’s premise is way better than its execution. To them I say, “Pfffffffft.” My Blue Heaven is good, silly fun.

*

shadows

What We Do in the Shadows

Speaking of fun movies, What We Do in the Shadows is among the best of them.

The setup: four vampires living in New Zealand must cope with the everyday challenges of the modern world. This includes: wrangling new victims via a third-party, dealing with dirty dishes, bickering over whose turn it is to clean the house, etc. Each of the vampires is from a different era of history, meaning their interactions are flat-out bizarre and hilarious. It’s shot in a reality TV/documentary format, and it’s insane.

See it now.

*

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Ex Machina

Everything you need to know about this movie appears in my thorough review – right here.

But seriously, most people I know still haven’t seen this instant sci-fi classic, which baffles me. It’s probably among the best sci-fi movies ever made. It’s that good.

The quick and dirty premise: a megalomaniac scientist creates a powerful AI, which he lures an unwitting young man to perform a Turing Test on.

Big mistake.

*

rocknrolla

RockNRolla

Ever seen Snatch? What about Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels? Or…ever seen any Guy Ritchie movie ever?

If so, you’ll love RockNRolla. The plot is too complex to explain in just a few sentences, but I’ll try anyway:

When a Russian real estate magnate pursues big-time property in London, the worst of the city’s criminals close in for a piece of the pie. Meanwhile, the mobster’s son, a drugged-out rocker named Johnny Quid, is the key to the whole deal working out or completely unraveling. And meanwhile, meanwhile, a gang of thieves (played by Gerard Butler, Idris Elba, and Tom Hardy, to name a few) gets in wayyyy too deep.

I’ll just leave it at this – RockNRolla is top-notch Brit crime comedy.

*

pan

Pan’s Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro, fantasy and horror genius, sets the stage for something truly beautiful in Pan’s Labyrinth.

In it, a little girl seeking refuge from a horrific civil war stumbles into a web of dark secrets surrounding her (sadistic) stepfather’s mansion. In typical del Toro fashion, we’re sucked out of the usual Hollywood fantasy tropes and thrust into something eerier, crawlier, and more visceral.

It’s not really a fantasy movie in the typical sense. Nor is it quite horror. It’s about a little girl trying to escape her awful reality, meaning it’s a step above most of the fiction fare you’ll ever see on the big screen.

*

the-big-lebowski

The Big Lebowski

You’ve maybe/probably heard of The Dude. At least, I hope you have.

Mashing up Jeff Bridges (mellow) John Goodman (insane) and Steve Buscemi (obnoxious) to star in a movie about a missing rug, a cheating wife, mistaken identity, and bowling, was pure genius from the start. And to call it a cult classic is easily an understatement.

My favorite parts: when John Goodman goes off on John Turturro’s (playing Jesus the bowler) teammate. And then of course the big fight with the nihilists (one of them is played by Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea) at the end.

It’s a total mess. It’s weird. It’s almost without a tangible plot. And it’s awesome.

2-the-prestige

The Prestige

“Are you watching closely?”

The Prestige (Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine) is among my all-time favorites.

The plot: when a stage magician’s wife (Piper Perabo) is accidentally killed during a dangerous trick, a cold war begins between her husband (Jackman) and the man (Bale) who may or may not have been responsible for her death.

Everything about The Prestige is a bit dark, a bit tragic, and shadowed by questions about what’s really going on. It’s not really about the stage tricks the two warring magicians pull off. It’s about the rivalry between them, and how much damage the whole concept of revenge can do to everyone involved.

*

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Kubo and the Two Strings

I figured I’d tie in a kids movie, because…well…so many of us have kids, and kids love movies, too.

Kubo was one of those films I didn’t know anything about when I sat down in the theater to watch with my son. We’d seen exactly half of one preview, and we didn’t really know what we were getting into.

What we didn’t know – Kubo and the Two Strings is an elegant tale about a little boy, a monkey, a giant beetle, and a tiny paper man…and all their adventures as they try to escape the boy’s dreaded (and all-powerful) grandfather. The fight scenes are somehow bloodless AND intense. The subject matter is full of quiet wisdom. And the movie itself is beautiful. My son was riveted during the action, and full of sharp questions about life, death, and love afterward.

What more can you ask for in a kids’ movie?

* * *

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Honorable mentions:

Dragonslayer – The coolest old school fantasy film you’ve never heard of

Strange Brew – Max von Sydow versus Rick Moranis? Count me in

Memento – A classic head f**k

The Machinist – Christian Bale lost a million lbs. for the lead role

*

If I were to make one of my novels into a movie, I’d choose this one.

…and this one, too.

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

Why I don’t write negative reviews.

People who know me will say I’m cynical.

They’ll note my lack of optimism, my occasional indifference, and my somewhat dark view of humanity’s intentions. These observations are completely my fault. I’ve worked a bit too hard to earn a ‘cold’ reputation, and now I’ve got to live with it.

But…

Despite this image I’ve cultivated, there are traits neither my friends nor foes will ever observe in me. Things like anger, entitlement, a sense of vengeance, or a tendency to be judgmental. I’ve my share of failings, but these are not among them. I lack the genetic disposition to hate, to scorn, and to demand retribution. I just can’t do it. It’s not in me.

amazon-consumer-reviews

I will never be this guy.

So…

Like any American, I buy my share of stuff. Some of it is awesome stuff, like my writing chair, my epic-level pancake griddle, and the billion books I’ve collected for my son. Likewise, some of my stuff sucks. Like the patio umbrella I bought that rotted within a month or the DVD copy of Devil’s Advocate which turned out to be a blank CD (serves me right for getting excited about a $0.99 DVD.) In each of these cases, I spent money. Hard-earned money. And in each case I took my new possession home and installed it into my life.

But…

No matter whether my purchase turned out amazing or shitty, I didn’t let it affect my emotional state. Meaning; my pancakes were amazing, but not life-altering. My writing chair is so very comfy, but I don’t plan on living in it. And my Devil’s Advocate DVD is…well…still blank. I figure, no matter how great or terrible my purchases are, it’s not worth getting ecstatic or depressed about stuff. Because it’s just stuff, right? So even when my umbrella fell to pieces and my Xbox told me to F off when I slid Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron inside, I didn’t get pissed. I didn’t rush to the complaint dept. And I definitely did not write any scathing reviews.

Ok.

There was one exception.

It’s story time.

Very recently, I moved. It wasn’t a fun move. I had to leave a dream home I loved for a third-story apartment in a complex with about two-square feet total of green-space. It took two weeks to complete the move. It sucked. Hell, it still sucks. But the worst part was my experience with a not-to-be-named moving company. Two guys showed up to help me carry all my aforementioned stuff out of my beloved house and into a cramped, third-story shoebox. And to be honest, these guys sucked worse than leaving my dream home. One of them quit in the middle of his shift. I’m serious. He looked at me and said, “I’m done.” The other guy was slow. As in slooowwwwwwwww. In the end, I ended up carrying way more of my stuff than both guys combined. It was amusing…in a way. If you think paying someone else money while you perform hard labor is funny.

A few days later, the moving company sent me a review request.

Oh, was I ever tempted. I could’ve crushed these guys. In the big blank thousand-character space requesting ‘customer comments,’ I could’ve named names and drilled these guys seventeen new holes in their asses. I could’ve told them everything they did wrong, and I could’ve clicked ‘No’ in the big fat box labeled ‘Would You Recommend Our Service?’

And so I did. I killed them. I slew them. The fires of their failure are still smoldering. Their manager has called me…oh…a dozen times to apologize. And I’ve ignored him. Utterly.

a-bad-craigslist-mover

It felt a little bit like this.

bad-moving-company280

…and a LOT like this.

But there’s two differences between reviewing a moving company and reviewing art, books, and movies.

1. I reviewed the moving company privately. For their benefit alone. No public slander. No single-star rating on Yelp.

2. There’s no opinion involved in reviewing someone’s skill at box-lifting. There’s tons of opinions involved in reviewing film, paint, and words.

Which brings me here…to Tessera Guild…and to my personal website, Down the Dark Path.

From time to time I write reviews. Movie reviews especially, like this one and this one, and a recent review of Neil deGrasse Tyson throwing down some science in Atlanta. If you’ve ever read my reviews, and you should; trust me :), you’ll notice one thing they have in common: they’re ALL positive. Not positive in a blow-sunshine-up-your-ass way. Positive in a I-want-to-share-something-amazing kind of way. I review stuff I love because to me that’s the only stuff worth reviewing. Sure, I pick at a few small failures, but overall my comments on other people’s creative work are glowing. Because I want to spread the love, not stifle it. Because my opinions are better served helping people than shitting on other artists’ efforts. And because, let’s face it, the world and everything in it has plenty of bad reviews already.

A few observations:

A great review of an awesome piece of creative work will do hundred times more cultural good than a horrific review of something shitty.

When I see extremely negative reviews of movies, art, or books, I find it hard not to yawn.

I have better things to do (and so do you, probably) than sling stones at other artists and writers.

Opinions of art, movies, and books are rarely objective.

* * *

Look, I get it. If you spent $12 to watch a movie you hated, you’re entitled to vent about it. If you paid $9.99 for a crap novel on Amazon, you’ve every right to give it negative 47 stars. And if your umbrella rots while your lazy movers are carrying it, go nuts and complain to everyone. Scream into the heavens. Slap the cashier in the mouth. Burn down your local Wal-Mart. You’re allowed to do all of this.

But not me. I’m not allowed. I’ve banned myself from bitching. I’ve closed off the part of my mind that wants to nerd-rage about how such-and-such movie is awesome, but another one is trash. If I want bad reviews on stuff, I’ll just visit Rotten Tomatoes or post my selfies to Tinder. Sure, it’s fun to read a good rant, but it really doesn’t entertain me as much as it used to.

So if you see a movie review, a book review, or a commentary on a piece of art, and if you see I’m the one who wrote it, maybe you don’t have to read the review at all. You’ll know it’s positive when you see my name.

Unless you work for the moving company.

Then you’re screwed.

J Edward Neill

Author of A Door Never Dreamed Of

Creator of the Coffee Table Philosophy series

Black Mirror Review

I’m always looking for the Twilight Zone. Not the actual place, no, I wouldn’t survive there for very long. I’m talking about a show which captures my imagination in a way the original show did the first time I saw it on my tv when I was a kid. The idea there was someone who could ask these weird and strange questions, or present dilemmas I couldn’t have imagined, or even just watch the characters try to figure out how to save themselves from the nightmare worlds they were trapped in…

And while not every episode was a home run, the ones that were (and they had more than their fair share)… classic is the only word which does them justice.

So, I’m always hoping. Always on the lookout. Whether it is the Outer Limits, Monsters, Tales from the Darkside, the updated versions of the Twilight Zone… I’m going to give them a try.

Black-Mirror-DVD-black-mirror

Black Mirror is one of those I gave a try… and I almost didn’t get to realize what a good show it was/is… but since it is only 7 episodes at this point (though more are on the way according to Netflix). Now, this will be a mixed review. Mostly I wanted to give the impression I had while watching or the impression I was left with. I’m going to do my very best not to spoil anything, as I’d like you to experience it the way I do.

EP 1- The National Anthem

As I’ve told everyone who I talk about this show with… skip this episode (or at the very least, wait until you’ve watched the other 6 episodes). I’ve looked around online and it has its fans, but I do not count myself as one of them. And the reason is quite simple:

It isn’t realistic.

And this is coming from someone who will buy into a lot if you convince me your world requires/needs/whatever it. And this just didn’t do it.

The very basic plot is that the Princess of the Royal Family (this is England after all) has been kidnapped and won’t be returned unless the Prime Minister does something… unseemly with an animal. And the question throughout the episode becomes one of how do they get the Princess back, and also, what happens if they don’t.

I live in the U.S. Maybe that’s why I didn’t buy the conversations, but I remember watching the episode thinking – “This just would never happen.”

EP 2 – Fifteen Million Merits

So after such a thrilling start to things, I might have given up. But something told me to press on. Surely a show that I’d heard such good things about would redeem itself. And we get to a good start with the 2nd episode. Take all our (well not mine, but yours perhaps) love for the reality tv shows, the American Idols and Kardashians and all manner of Real Housewives, and then make that the only thing anyone ever aspires to. Set it in a future where you gain funds by exercising (it seems like a man-made power with money being the reward). When you get enough, you can pay to try out for those shows.

And maybe, just maybe your life of being a living battery might end and you could be famous!

Why not? We’re all doing it. We’re all wanting things to be a little (a lot) better. It’s just all in how you define “better”.

EP 3 – The Entire History of You

This is the reason to watch the show. It is my favorite episode, and it is based on the most basic idea:

What if everything we saw was recorded? And then we could review those recordings whenever we wanted? And then we could let other people see our memories. What if there was never a forgotten moment again?

It’s one of those ideas I wish I’d written. So simple in how it works, but then so dark how things can be twisted. How two people can watch the exact same thing and come away with two very different impressions of a moment. That happens every day. It’s no fun to go to a movie or concert by yourself, you need someone else to share in your experience… in your excitement. And even then we disagree on various things about those events.

Or maybe it is interactions with others. I can only imagine replaying moments with friends while in high school. Did that girl like me? Really? Let’s check the tape.

EP 4 – Be Right Back

Loss. The best stories are defined by growth and loss. Can you survive something bad happening to you? How does it change things (i.e. YOU) in the aftermath? And can you pick up the pieces later… become a better version of you?

My second favorite episode is one where LOSS is at the very center of everything. Can you be ok when someone has to leave you? Can the hole be filled by someone else?

And should it?

tunnel - dark

EP 5 – White Bear

Terror. That feeling of the unknown. Where am I? Who am I? What’s happening?

That’s this episode in the first 5 minutes.

It’s something out of our nightmares. Some mixture of the Running Man mixed with a heavy dose of deja vu.

But FEAR. Who can you trust? How did you get there? Where are you going to run to? Where are you supposed to hide?

And why won’t anyone help?

EP 6 – The Waldo Moment

Every election season we are, in the immortal words of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, choosing between a Giant Douche and a Shit Sandwich. And we long for a real choice. Or at the very least someone to shake up the status quo for even the briefest of moments. This thing we do is supposed to be VERY IMPORTANT (notice the capitals?), but instead more people end up caring about American Idol’s victor than who won the real world election.

So shake it up with the most absurd idea ever: let a cartoon character into the debate. If it really is as silly and stupid as we say it is, then won’t such a character merely raise the level of discourse?

This episode is all of those things: absurd, strange, intriguing, stupid, and somehow more realistic to me than EP 1 (see, I really didn’t like that 1st episode).

sun set - tower

EP 7 – White Christmas

Two men, the edge of the world, snowstorm coming down outside their window. And Christmas morning. Nothing to do but talk about the moments and ideas which led you to being in this little piece of Hell.

In some ways, this one feels like the most Twilight Zone of the entire group. Yes, the technology still plays a large part in the twists and turns, but this one deals so much with loneliness. Being alone even while surrounded by so many people. And if you go back and watch those old Twilight Zones, you’ll see that same theme time and time again.

Am I alone?

I’m unsure of myself.

I’m unsure of my place in the world.

Help me.

 

Black Mirror… a dark reflection of yourself? Or maybe just the same old reflection you’ve been avoiding eye contact over all these years…

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Dragon Con Review

Last week I talked about heading down to Dragon Con over Labor Day weekend. This weekend I tried to make some new memories.

The first thing that always occurs to me is how big the con has gotten since I first went down to it so many years ago. I will say that I believe Atlanta has scheduled a few too many things for Labor Day weekend (maybe). Since we weren’t staying on site (something we’ll hopefully remedy next year), it meant that trying to get into that 10 AM panel presented not only some highway issues…

atlanta traffic

But also actually making our way to that early panel in light of the parade. The sidewalks packed with people, we struggled to reach the Whedonverse panel over at the Westin, only to find it packed.

Boooo!

No problem, we’ll just go to our back-up TruBlood panel… across the street… across a sea of bodies in costumes.

Hmmm.

Which brings us to our first real story. We’re pushing through the mob, but are unsure how we’ll actually get to the Hyatt when behind us we hear a guy asking to get through… carrying a young woman in his arms, passed out from overheating. Of course we make room, as do many of the others lined up on the sidewalk. As they pass, she lifts her head and smiles before resuming her previous “unconscious” state.

Though, Karma is a thing, because the parade was over less than a minute later, so all their deceit got them nothing.

Terminus Media had a panel on Saturday night at 10 PM to discuss the motion comics we’d been working on for the CDC, and to talk about the motion comics side of things in general. Myself and Robert Jeffrey II (a contributor to Tessera) were a part of the panel. About 15 people showed up, and even though there was no real rehearsal, I think we acquitted ourselves pretty well.

It is always weird to see something you had a hand in creating being shown on a screen for others to see (in a good way). Hopefully we did a decent enough job that Dragon Con will invite us to do more next year.

Ran into (literally in couple of cases) a few friends I had not seen in a while. As I touched on last week, that’s one of the biggest and best things about the con – reconnecting. Finding out how everyone is doing. This year I also got to show a complete con newbie around. And she enjoyed it enough that she went ahead and got her 4 day pass for next year.

Aside from not being able to get into the Whedonverse panel (luckily we did get into the Agents of Shield panel on Sunday which had plenty of Whedon love) and not being able to see Cary Elwes (another capped line), there was one big “problem”. The Dealers room is a bit of a nightmare to deal with. I know they are expanding again next year, but there were multiple times that people couldn’t get into the building or into a room because it had reached capacity. If Dragon Con is going to keep getting bigger, they need to figure out a way to handle that.

stock-footage-loopable-seamless-cyclic-animated-sequence-with-expanding-circles-usual-for-presentations-movies

Expand, DCon, expand.

Second story of the con – We are ready to leave for the night. It is about 11:45 Saturday evening. I am finished with the Terminus panel and am looking forward to getting home, to bed, and then back again the next day for more fun. We only have to get down the outside stairs of the Hyatt, which for some reason the DCON staff decided to block (with their bodies) so as to allow a line for one of the late night panels to move through.

Now, I don’t have a problem with this if it takes a minute or two. When it takes 10 minutes then maybe you need to pause that line and let the queue of people on the stairs out to where they might be able to get to meeting spots, late dinners, gaming, or home (in our case). What kills me is that they finally did have to pause that line because I think we were about to storm through them. Not the best way to end the night.

Oh, and I did have one huge regret.

C. Thomas Howell had a panel (along with Cary Elwes) and not only did I not know about it, I didn’t know he was there at all. Those that know me know of my fierce love of 80s movies that include C-Tom (as I like to call him).

Yes, they know about it even if they don’t understand it!

Anyway, I just wanted to let him know that he still holds the distinction of being in the greatest volleyball movie of ALL TIME – SideOut.

Sideout

Summer did, in fact, get hotter!

A bold statement, for sure, but one I stand by. Regardless of the fact that I’m not sure there are other volleyball movies!

So that was a bit of my Dragon Con for the year. I can’t wait to see what next year brings!

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program. He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Dark That Follows is now available in print here or on Amazon!

 

My Top Six Darkest Movie Moments Ever…

Recently I watched and reviewed The Revenant. Which got me to thinking; what are the gravest moments in cinema? During what scenes does it appear all hope is lost and the bad guys about to win? What’re the deepest, darkest places movies have dragged me? Hmmmm…

Yeah. You guessed it. Here comes a list. I’m gonna wander some pretty random places with this. If you hate spoilers, you may want to move along. If not, let’s roll:

Gluttony

 

 #6. Gluttony – Se7en

Honestly I could’ve mentioned almost any of the rainy, dark, grisly scenes in Se7en. The Sloth scene especially comes to mind, but I didn’t want to post the ick-tastic image of the dude dying in his bed, lest I gross everyone out. The Gluttony scene does just fine. It sets the tone for the entire movie. It’s scary and disgusting. It’s everything most of us never want to be: alone, corpulent, filthy, and dead. Yikes. If this scene doesn’t put you in a grim mood, nothing will.

 

 

KillLucy

#5. Killing Lucy – Bram Stoker’s Dracula

When I say killing Lucy, I more or less refer to the entire 45 minutes during which Lucy descends from being Mina’s pretty BFF into a depraved, child-eating, blood-barfing vampire. Cary Elwes lopping off her head is only gravy on the grimness. Lucy begins the movie as a cheerful soul swimming in an ocean of dour, unhappy Brits. And by the end, she’s ruined. Every part of this movie is enough to put me in the mood to write horror, but Lucy’s fall from grace is just plain…delicious.

 

 

PrestigeUse

#4. Hugh Jackman killing his clone (repeatedly) – The Prestige

It’s no secret. The Prestige’s atmosphere always puts me in the mood. It’s my personal fluffer girl. It’s the ‘uh’ to my ‘huh’. The slow sense of despair that builds throughout the movie sets a tone like no other. That said, the darkness really starts when the Great Danton starts murdering all his doubles. He shoots himself. He drowns himself. He leaves his clones in huge vats of grey water. And then, at the end, as he breaths his last few breaths in an alley of clone-corpses, we wonder which Danton really died during all his magic tricks. The clones? Or the real Danton? Are you watching closely?

 

 

No Country for old men

#3. Anton Chigurh ‘visits’ Llewelyn’s wife – No Country for Old Men

The first time I watched this movie, I never saw this scene coming. I figured we’d already broke every rule, every expectation. What was left to do, right? Chigurh had already killed the good guy (and pretty much everyone else). So what else can I say about this scene? It’s chilling on so many levels.

After Llewelyn’s wife (Carla Jean) says, “You don’t have to do this.” Chigurh smiles and says, “People always say the same thing.”

Does he kill her? Does he let her live? I mean…damn…

 

the counselor

 #2. The Counselor gets a DVD in the mail – The Counselor

 Most people I know haven’t seen this movie, so I won’t spoil it here. Let’s just say that there are no good guys, only grey, fuzzy shades of morality all too prevalent in the real world. As the Counselor sits in a grungy hotel room, praying for good news, we get a payoff that’s much darker than we expect. The theater I watched this movie in emptied in stunned silence at the end. Meanwhile my brain buzzed with all sorts of new ideas for messing with readers’ minds.

PerfumeUse

 #1. Grenouille accidentally kills the apple girl – Perfume, Story of a Murderer

 I’m convinced I’m the only person ever to watch this movie. If you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. I had no idea what I was in for when I sat down to swallow this little gem. When Grenouille, the creepiest, crawliest, skinniest villain ever, snuffs the apple girl early on, I only just began to grasp where Perfume was taking me. The scene wasn’t particularly graphic or gut-twisting, but sometimes a glimpse of darkness is all a mind needs before the gears start turning. I think perhaps after my kid falls asleep tonight, I’ll pop this one in, watch a little bit, and then get to work.

It’s probably worth mentioning I write some pretty dark scenes of my own.

Until next week

J Edward Neill

Clearwater Chronicle

Clearwater 2013 View from WindowI recently made the long drive to Clearwater, Fl.  And no, it doesn’t mean I love George Zimmerman.

I made this little journey with two goals in mind. The first: to see an old friend who’d arrived in the States from Denmark. The second: to carve a few days out of my routine life and recapture some mojo for writing. Both, I think, proved successful.

Beach at twilight

I wish the water looked just like this for far longer than three minutes each night…

While walking the beach each morning, day, and night, I tried to pay better attention than during previous vacations. I picked my gaze up out of the water (which was too cold for swimming anyhow) and observed my surroundings. And wow, the things I saw:

  • On the first day, after a grueling round of sand 2v2 volleyball, I watched as a British family near the water argued. Ah, the Brits. Their colorful language attracted the attention of everyone within a half-mile. But the real action started when the mother walked right up to her foul-mouthed daughter and punched (not slapped) her right in the chops! No one could believe what had happened. The daughter howled. The dad…laughed. The mom unleashed a stream of profanities I haven’t heard since the last time I watched Snatch. It…was…awesome… More importantly, I can’t get enough of the way the Brits drop the F bomb
  • That night, I saw The Counselor. Now, without getting too deep in spoilers, I’ll just say I love it when the bad guys win. It’s rare in movies, but utterly realistic. The monologues delivered by several characters were deeply philosophical. No one would ever talk like that in real life, but it didn’t matter. Truth is truth, especially grim, hard truth. Movie Review – A
  • On the first night in my hotel, I arrived in my room on the top floor. I had an ocean view, just as requested. The dark water was spread out beneath my window, roiling beneath the stars. I thought to myself, “This is perfect. I’ll get tons of writing done tonight.” But…just as I sat down by the window, the hotel’s elephantine AC system kicked on atop the roof, making my room shake as though a helicopter were landing three feet above my head. I’m all for white noise, but this was absurd. “My night’s ruined,” I feared. “And besides, the concierge is a dead man.” And yet, as it turned out, I was able to tune out the sound of my room shaking and write an entire chapter for Hollow Empire, my joint venture with John McGuire. Strange indeed
Dark Water

The ocean. At night. What else do you need?

Falling Star over ClearwaterOther random events I observed while walking the city:

  • A homeless guy pretending to be a broke tourist. I’d seen him try his little game the previous day, so when he walked up to a young woman and said, “My wife and I are in town for the weekend, but we lost our credit cards. Do you think you could spare me some cash? She really needs her coffee,” I laughed a little bit inside. Sorry, homeless guy, you need to work on your approach. Begging for coffee money isn’t going to cut it
  • A woman with a giant (I mean enormous) tramp stamp of a volleyball. I’ve seen bad tattoos, and then I saw this. It was huge, as in actual-size huge. Just…no…
  • A dude at a Halloween (Best non-holiday holiday ever, btw) party dressed as Christian Grey. His costume: 50 grey-shaded sample paint cards from Home Depot duct-taped to an otherwise unremarkable shirt. While he didn’t win the best costume prize, he won the admiration of every woman at the party
  • Jesus playing Sweet Home Alabama on guitar…with an actual crown of thorns worn over a head full of dreadlocks…drinking Fruit Loop flavored vodka. Yes, really

What does any of this have to do with regaining  mojo for writing? In a nutshell: people-watching. Observe the interesting things people do, listen to the crazy things they say, and add the experience to the card catalogue in your brain. Or, if people-watching doesn’t inspire you, try walking along the ocean at night. If that doesn’t bring you peace, you may want to try vicodin.

Next week I get serious, delivering an excerpt from Dark Moon Daughter, Book II in the Tyrants of the Dead trilogy.

Much love,

J Edward Neill

 

4 Cyberpunk RPG Kickstarters You Should Back – Velvet Generation, Dark Times, The Host, and Blackwind Project

Officially, these are not four cyberpunk RPGs on Kickstarter… I mean, three of them are, but the fourth is a looser connection to that genre. That said, here’s four cyberpunk RPGs using everything from Fate to original systems to share their tales of future rebellion.

 

The Host – A cybernetic setting guide for Warsong by Higher Ground Publishing
Ends on .

“A detailed sourcebook for artificial life in Warsong: Second Edition!

It started with an idea.

“What are the consequences of our actions?”

The idea that fate was malleable was the founding concept of Warsong 2nd Edition. The idea that our actions really do matter. It was a concept that I felt was neglected in other role-playing games. Fate was something I wanted to explore thoroughly in Warsong. And as the setting grew into its own unique life form, another creature began to emerge.

Artificial Sentient Life.

They are the products of man-made ingenuity and madness. Years of knowledge and sorcery culminating into a tool to be used. What happens, then, when that tool becomes aware of its purpose? What happens when the tools we use to make our lives easier become aware that they are slaves to their creators?

Warsong 2nd Edition explores the infamous Machine War that followed in the wake of The Source, an interconnected web of technology throughout Lemuria, becoming self-aware.

Warsong: The Host explores Lemuria from the artificial eyes of living machines.

The Host includes:
• 
Rules for creating and playing artificial life such as Awakened machinesliving programs and advanced Synths.
 New rules, powers and abilities for the machines and cybernetic implants in humans.
 New setting information and revelations regarding the Emperor and the Treaty of Parnassus.
 Setting information for the City of Kojo – a machine settlement governed by The Source.
• New information regarding The Host, a group of living machines born directly from The Source when it tried to calculate morality.

What Are The Host?

The best way to answer that question is to ask another: “What would happen when a machine tries to calculate human morality?”

The Host are a very small portion of the machine population, but are arguably the most widely known, and rightly feared among their species. They are the seraphim and devils of Lemuria. They can be winged saviors of humanity, or horned corruptors who seek only the desolation and destruction of everything around them.

They are, in a sense, every facet in the spectrum of human morality given life and form.

Why The Host?

The Host represents a turning point in the setting of Warsong Second Edition and this book will help bring to life an entirely new species of creature within the setting. It will give players a new and valuable outlook of the world from the view of the machines and even give players new revelations directly from The Source itself.

The book will include more detailed information on the Treaty Of Parnassus and what exactly happened when the Emperor and The Source forged peace at the end of a seven year long Machine War. It will also give Game Masters valuable tools to use if they wish to include The Emperor’s whereabouts in their own games.

The book is called The Host because, while The Host themselves comprise only a small part of the machine population, they are arguably the most well-known and feared.”

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

I completed a review of Warsong 2e that will be published soon. This RPG is an ambitious Fate-based game built around a unique idea/setting – Sengoku Punk. Sengoku Punk combines the ideals (and technology and wardrobe) of cyberpunk with an ancient Asian world. The setting is very stylistic and worth checking out – try out the quickstart rules here if you need some encouragement – and, once you are a convert, you’ll want to add this expansion to increase the world’s depth.

 

You can see examples of their work at DriveThruRPG here.

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here.

 

* * * * * *

 

Blackwind Project: A new plot-driven tabletop RPG by Elisa Mignemi
Ends on .

“Blackwind brings the plot back in the spotlight with modern rules, dynamic mechanics and unmatched creative freedom.

The Blackwind Core Manual is the foundation of our project: it is a new core system that improves on many aspects of tabletop roleplay, designed to make the game easier to understand, fun to play, and full of exciting adventures. The Blackwind system works with any setting, from classic tabletop to the worlds of games, movies and novels, and allows you to play any concept that fits the tone of the story.

The two main features are plot-making tools and dynamic mechanics. Game Masters (called Directors) assemble the story like a jigsaw, allowing to create complex plots with ease and to keep the story flexible. The strength of characters may vary, sometimes dramatically, depending on their contribution to immersion, general amusement, narrative, beating in-built challenges and interaction with key plot points, keeping their statistics fluid.

Cover Mockup and Layout
Cover Mockup and Layout

Regardless, even the weakest characters will be able to attempt incredible feats, and will be rewarded in case of success. On the other hand not even the strongest characters will be completely immune to failure. Likewise, no character death will be misplaced or pointless as plot armour will apply early in the game, but not even the main protagonists will be completely safe during showdowns.

We balanced out the roles of Directors and Players: the latter will have a greater impact in casting the foundations of the story, as well as shaping it. Players will decide what kind of adventure will be played, the adventure genre, context, theme, plot type, story structure, story ticket, casting list, may introduce their own subplots and NPCs and generally have more narrative wriggle room.

Spread with Illustration
Spread with Illustration

Difficulty checks take into account a few additional things: who is attempting what? What kind of story are you playing? What is the context? Hurling a person-sized boulder across a room will be impossible in a realistic thriller, and ordinary routine in a superhero adventure.

For more information visit https://blackwindrpg.wordpress.com/. You may find out more about the game, articles and additional information: keep checking for updates, articles and previews!

Arena, a Space Opera adventure
Arena, a Space Opera adventure

Additionally, you may find the link to download our FREE starter adventure on the main page of our website. Arena is good example of the simplest, most straightforward way to play Blackwind.

The game is ready, the rules are tested, and the largest modules are under development. Then, what do we need your help with? Simple: we want to offer the best modules, expansion rulebooks and quality add-ons we can, as often as possible. Your support would allow us to upgrade our equipment, publish content faster, and to polish the final product to a mirror sheen.

The Treasure of Maracaibo, our first pirate-themed module, is complete. We are working on editing and polishing around 100 pages of scurvy adventures. We planned seven additional modules (Noir, Steampunk, Fantasy, Post Atomic, Thriller, Western, Cyberpunk) and the only reason we decided to remove voting is that some of them are already in an advanced stage of development.”

Euromorph, upcoming Cyberpunk module
Euromorph, upcoming Cyberpunk module

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

While this is not just cyberpunk, Blackwind Project is a core rulebook that will include modules that cover Pirates, Noir, Steampunk, Fantasy, Post Atomic, Thriller, Western, and Cyberpunk. This system is meant to be incredibly versatile allowing for a variety of settings and options. With art that is stylistically similar enough to give the entire package a uniform feel that allows you to envision a campaign in one setting that jumps to another genre. If you’re looking for more details, check out Dan Davenport’s Q&A with the creators here. If you’re ready for more cyberpunk (and most genre) options, go on and back it!

 

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here.

 

* * * * * *

 

Velvet Generation by XIG Games
Ends on .

“The Starchildren came looking for the home of rock music, only to find it outlawed. Fight back in the RPG of rock & roll revolution!

A century ago, radio transmissions from Earth passed through a strange ripple in space, causing rock music to fall upon the mystified ears of an alien world. For five glorious years, the aliens grew to love the magical planet they believed to be on the other end of that beautiful signal. When the music cut off as mysteriously as it began, the aliens embarked on a generational pilgrimage to discover the source of that music.

Nearly a century later, the aliens have arrived, but Earth is not what they expected. Humanity has taken a dark turn, silencing music, the arts, literature…any kind of expression they believed could inspire “dangerous” thoughts. The Ministry of Music looms large over the entire world, stamping out rebellious culture with steel-sheathed jackboots.

With nowhere to go but forward, the Starchildren descended, joining the few Earthlings still carrying a spark of rock and roll. They catalyzed a new rock & roll revolution that will break the Ministry’s chains on the soul of humanity.

This is the Velvet Generation.

“One of the most quietly influential card-based RPGs ever…Starchildren: Velvet Generation, is back 1.6 decades after its original publication. And… um, it doesn’t have cards any more, but that’s okay. Regardless, in an age with concentration camps on US soil, it could not be more topical. Check it out.” – Mike Selinker

“I was very impressed with the first edition way back when and it’s only gotten better since then.” – Kenneth Hite

Velvet Generation is the new iteration of 2002’s Starchildren: Velvet Generation, a role-playing game unlike any other. The original 2002 creative team is back with a fresh look at the music-starved dystopia in which the Starchildren find themselves stranded. The new custom rules engine is tightly focused on group collaboration, intra-band relationships and musical performances that will take your band from the garage to global superstardom. The campaign rules let your band use their fame against the oppressive Ministry of Music, while those same authoritarian forces hunt them down for the crime of expression.

The Starchildren came on the scene in the form of dreamlike rock idols: luminescent, androgynous and mysterious beings that seem to float in an electric haze of glamour. They do their best to blend in with the drab creatures Earthlings have become since they lost the gift of music. Their very presence on the planet sent a shockwave through the collective subconscious, awakening something long since buried, and neither species will ever be the the same again.

Players portray the renegade rockers of the Velvet Generation, whether they be the alien Starchildren or the Earthlings pining for their lost rock & roll. Start your campaign out as unknown outlaw rockers, seeking out space to rehearse and play while evading the watchful electric eye of the Ministry of Music and spinning lies to get time off from your day job. Join the revolution by allying with the idealistic visionaries of Velvet or the violent hardliners of the Blue Army. Ascend to the leadership of regional and national cells as your band becomes a household name, finally toppling the Ministry of Music with the power of rock & roll.

This iteration uses a completely new rules engine from the 2002 original. The rules allow your group to riff off of one another onstage and off, and the revolutionary campaign system lets you build from game session to game session to fight back against the Ministry of Music to carry out a global rock and roll revolution.

A Little Help From Your Friends

In Velvet Generation, whenever your band is together, they’re collaborating on their goals, whether that’s to play a solid show, to sneak past a security guard or fighting off a gang of anti-rock yahoos. Each player rolls a pool of six-sided dice for themselves, trying to find matched sets (two, three or more dice with the same number showing). But every time you go, you either get to leave one of your dice on the table for your comrades, or you get to pick up dice that match the ones you’re playing to do even better. If that’s not enough, the social relations between band members help more. Give a die to your lover or your friend; steal a die from your rival…develop these relationships within your group to work together even better.

Hazy Cosmic Jive

The real action in Velvet Generation happens in front of crowds of underground fans, getting their rock fix wherever they can hide away from the Ministry’s prying eyes. Your band taking the stage is the focus here as much as fighting or kicking down doors is in a lot of other games. Use the full range of your talents to create the show: vocals and instruments of course, but also dance, stage presence and the roadie’s skills at setting up and running the tech. Everyone in the group has a part to play in the show; while the crowd may go home remembering the lead singer’s wail or a shredding guitar solo, your rhythm section makes that possible by giving the leads something to build off of, and the techs are there to cover the occasional screw-up. Every show gives you a shot at hitting the next level of fame, until you really take off.

It’s a dangerous game, though. There’s always the temptation to grab a little more of that glory for yourself by upstaging your bandmates. While you’re all working together onstage, someone is always the Star of the Show, even if different characters spend their own time in the spotlight. Rep-hungry rockers might build themselves up at the expense of the group itself. That can breed jealousy among the group, and that’s a force that can tear apart the greatest of bands.

Rock the Planet

The Ministry of Music has plenty of ways to keep you down. They alienate you from the safe and sterile society of everyday life. They push propaganda against rockers and marginalized people. They use the full surveillance state to keep a close watch on dissidents. They try to subvert your allies and contacts. And there is always the threat of violence at the hands of the regime. But as your band grows in fame and recognition, you can strike back against the Ministry of Music with the new revolutionary campaign system.

The fight against the Ministry happens between game sessions over the course of your entire Velvet Generation campaign. As you grow in fame, the authorities target you with more extreme tactics of oppression, but you use your fame against them in revolutionary praxis of your own. Distribute illicit samizdat works of art and music. Build solidarity with allies in other marginalized communities. Create subsistence networks to provide aid and comfort for those outside polite society. Poison the regime’s intelligence networks with disinformation. Or dazzle the public with a brazen spectacle so they can’t ignore you anymore. Every blow you strike against the Ministry leaves the regime a little bit weaker, until the entire thing comes crashing down to the wail of electric guitars.”

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

Music is dead and aliens have come to Earth to save it! If that pitch doesn’t get you, then read the campaign or check out the PWYW first edition or the free ashcan for this game.

Sometimes the reason I check out an RPG on Kickstarter is a creator recommendation. At AndoCon, I played Pugmire with DriveThruRPG’s Chris Tang and his character work was master class level. Chris rarely pushes a specific RPG online (his job with DTRPG likely requires he be more impartial), so when he gave something of a testimonial for Velvet Underground, I stood up and took notice. I’m glad I did. Add the art to the game’s idea – it’s like a wave of music artwork that never was, stylized, fun, and musical – it speaks to the possibilities of this world.

 

You can see examples of their work at DriveThruRPG here.

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here.

 

* * * * * *

 

Dark Times- Cyberpunk/Supers RPG by The Polyhedral Knights
Ends on .

“A Role-Playing game in a Cyberpunk setting where corporations have created Superhumans and see them as company property.

The trains don’t run through this part of town anymore. Not since someone stood on the tracks and tried to rob one.

Thirteen years ago, he would’ve just ended up in the obituaries, but instead he melted the engine with an energy blast from his hand and thirty seven people were injured. 

 Downtown, they have “Peacekeepers” to prevent that. Dressed in their corporate power armor, they stand on every street corner, looming over the pedestrians. Waiting for an excuse. 

 Here, things work a little differently. People pay their protection money to crooked supers. Folks grumble about it, but when a man who can shoot lighting from his fingers floats down from the sky and demands you call him king, you call him king. 

 The corporations say they are doing their best to round up the renegade creations they made, but there are a few good Enhanced out there too, caught between the corps and their own kin.

Blaster Archetype
Blaster Archetype

This is the world of Dark Times: a tabletop roleplaying game about superheroes in the corporate slum that has swallowed up most of the United States.

Twenty six years ago a man named Dr. Anton Valasakis changed everything with the discovery of a gene that unlocked superhuman powers. He started his experiments at pharmaceutical supergiant Prometheus Medical, working first on “willing volunteers”, and soon he was sanctioned by the government.

By this time Prometheus Medical was already a powerful corporation and had its hooks deep in controlling many politicians. Many of the first test subjects were prisoner who were on death row. This was a chance for them to gain a chance at life. Many died, and not much is known about this few who survived.

The experiments continued and soon a rash of industrial espionage broke out. Many large corporations, seeing the potential in customized superhuman technology, were now in a race to have their own Enhanced on their payroll. These laboratory creations were treated as slaves and many fled their masters, hiding in the slums. Some of the ones that got away even had kids.

Now there exists a second generation of Enhanced and still the corporations view them as company property. By now the laws had been warped to protect the rights of the corporations and their “investments” and not the people.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Hunted Mutant
Hunted Mutant

In Dark Times, players work together with their powers, protect their people, and build their community, all under the shadow of a corporation that has replaced the government and seeks to enslave them since they are viewed as “company property”.

With a little bit of cyberpunk, a little bit of noir, and a whole lot of superpowers, Dark Times mixes old-school and new-school design to create a game that is fast, pulpy, immersive, and fun to play.

PDF Expansions

In addition to the core book for Dark Times, we will also produce the following PDF expansions. These expansions will be available to any backer level that receives them as part of their rewards.

Merc Work – This book is made of up fully detailed scenarios, designed to introduce a gaming group to the world of Dark Times.

Villains, Allies, and Corporate Files – This book will include a variety of people that could be good, bad, or neutral as well as corporation write ups. These characters will have stats, plot hooks, and other ways to use them in your campaign.

Steele City Sourcebook – This book will open up and detail more of Steele City. A valuable resource for many adventures and filled with a lot of information.

Solar System Book – The corporations understood they already have drained a lot of earth’s resources and look to conquer the solar system. This book talks about the colonization and industry that exists in our own solar system.”

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

I covered Wicked Pacts here (and have a review of it coming up in a future issue of Knights of the Dinner Table) so I’m predisposed to like this. Superheroes and cyberpunk sounds like an interesting combination – the ultimate group that cares about society juxtaposed to the group that cares the least for the status quo. It should be an interesting game as you work within and outside of the system.

 

You can see examples of their work at DriveThruRPG here.

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here.

 

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Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or on Facebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links to DriveThruRPG.com and Amazon.com.

Savage Worlds: Fast, Furious, and Fun! - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

 

* * * * * *

 

Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer™

Wanna-lancer™ Checklist T-shirt available at Cafepress

Interested in being a wanna-lancer? Start with the official Wanna-lancer Checklist t-shirt or wall clock or ice tea glass!

* * * * * *

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by a variety of companies:

Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or onFacebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

4 RPG Kickstarters Ending This Week – Quest, Champions Now, 5th Evolution, and Secret Agents of CROSS

There are a number of excellent RPG Kickstarters that end this week but I want to focus on four of them. From superheroes to fantasy, original systems to Savage Worlds, these four campaigns are worth your time.

 

Champions Now by Hero Games
Ends on .

“Recovery and re-imagining of first-generation Champions role-playing.

The first wave of role-playing design was its own Renaissance, marked by greatness of all kinds. If you were playing then, you’ll remember. And if you weren’t, you’d be amazed at what that wave held. One of them was Champions, the Super Role-Playing Game.

Hero Games is proud to present Champions Now, to be created by pioneering game designer Ron Edwards, author of Sorcerer and co-founder of The Forge. Ron will revisit the original three editions of first-generation Champions (1981 to 1988), recovering the power of this foundational era of superhero roleplaying.

We know that time and tides went elsewhere. Fourth edition Champions and the Hero System have their own storied history beginning 1987-1989. Steve Long revised and expanded this body of work into the Hero System Fifth Edition in 2001, and then revised and expanded it again in 2009. There were lots of good books, lots of great games, and lots and lots of superheroing.

And that’s fine. Things change. Only… there is one little point, one observation, one wholecreative superhero subculture left back there in the past. One that just happened to rock the hobby to its foundations and train a whole generation of play and design, including a bunch of Big Ass Names who wrote the Big Ass Games you know well.

So our goal for Champions Now? To show you why the original Champions created by George MacDonald and Steve Peterson was actually just that good. To celebrate and recover that explosive quality. The final work will include best practices for the original rules and a new rules-set to bring their strengths forward, as well as practical essays about superhero comics and gaming.

It will also include you. See these people playing this game?

Right here is a very sketchy yet usable playtest document. We’re playing this thing right now and so can you. We want to know what you do with it! Pledging playtesters get serious props right there in the text, saying what they said and what it means.

Halfway there breaking news! Hero Games is providing the PDFs for Champions 3rd edition and for the supplements Champions II and Champions III to all backers at named tiers at the completion of the campaign. The playtest document was written assuming you’d have these in hand, and now you totally will, as of July 1.

That’s why you see that long delivery period – so you can play. This isn’t a pre-order for a prefabricated product that would have been pumped out anyway. The point of crowdfunding is inclusion, and this is how that happens.

Another example are Ron’s short videos, like this one, which initially appear as updates and are archived into a public resource at Adept Play. What you tell us about how you play and what happened – that’s what upcoming videos are made to address. If you want, you might even get to be in one!

Ron Edwards is a wanderin’ Californian who has wound up in Sweden. He is the co-founder of the legendary website The Forge, a creator-owned-game publisher site, and the author of some notions about role-playing. His previous works include Sorcerer, Trollbabe, Spione, and Circle of Hands. He won the second Diana Jones Award for “excellence in gaming” in 2002, and is the author and creator of this project.

Steven S. Long is a role-playing game author and one of the owners of Hero Games. He has written for numerous companies, including White Wolf Publishing, Pinnacle Entertainment Group, Steve Jackson Games, Last Unicorn Games, and Chameleon Eclectic. He has written, co-authored, edited, or developed over 200 RPG products. Steve will be assisting in the development and playtesting phase of this project.

Jason S. Walters is an author, essayist, and publisher best known for running Indie Press Revolution (IPR), a distributor of micro-published roleplaying games. He is also one of a small group of investors that purchased Hero Games in 2001, and serves as its CEO. He is the developer of numerous roleplaying games, including Champions Complete, Fantasy Hero Complete, and At The Hands of An Angry God. Jason is the publisher for this project.

Ruben Smith-Zempel was made in Oregon. He showed his creativity at an early age, charging his 3rd grade classmates 25 cents for paper and cardboard army vehicles (for the G.I. Joe’s, of course). Thus was born an artist who would never shy away from creating things important to his hobbies. Ruben has served as head graphic designer on dozens of RPG projects and will be handling layout and graphic design for this project.”

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

 

As a kid, the ads for the historic versions of these games always captured my attention creating a nostalgia for this campaign as much as the game itself. I want to see how this game plays today (and how this campaign plays out).

 

You can see examples of their work at DriveThruRPG here or at the OpenGamingStore here.

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here.

 

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Quest: the roleplaying adventure game for everyone by The Adventure Guild
Ends on Sat, June 30 2018 12:00 AM EDT.

“Everything you need to begin an exciting adventure with your friends that you won’t forget

Quest is the roleplaying game for everyone.

If you’re completely new to this type of game, we’ll have a friendly conversation with you about how to play. Quest is fast, fun, and easy to learn. We hope to show you how intuitive and immersive storytelling games can and should be. And if you’re already an experienced player, you’ll find a surprisingly deep game with a refreshing set of modern rules.

This is a game about becoming an extraordinary person in a dangerous world. You’ll explore wondrous places, meet fascinating and mysterious people, witness magical events, and answer the call to go on an exciting adventure. What happens in this world is based on the choices you and your friends make.

Curious? Excited? Ready?  

Let’s begin.

Quest is a way to tell an exciting story with your friends. You don’t have to be an improv actor or a mathematician to be good at it – you just need to open your mind and use a little imagination. The rules of the game are intuitive and help you imagine where the story might go.

These are just some of the ways Quest will help you quickly begin your adventure, and potentially carry it with you for years to come.

The Friendly Guide. Everyone deserves to feel like a hero with their friends at the table, so we wrote a book that feels inviting. It’s not a textbook – it’s a conversation. Along the way, you’ll see a running dialog from a fictional group of players, to help you see how the rules of the game are used to tell the story.

The way it works is simple. Read the left side of the player’s guide to learn the basics, and if you want to learn a little more, see the right side of the book. Here’s what it looks like:

A page spread from the Quest Game Book
A page spread from the Quest Game Book

The Essential Deck. Quest features a deck of cards with all of the game’s special moves, so that you can reference them at the table without having to flip through a book. The Essential Deck makes it easy and fun to grow as a character. When you begin the game, you’ll start with a few moves that make your character special. As you grow during your adventure, you’ll get to collect more cards that tell you how to do amazing things.

Essential Deck cards showing Quest's 8 hero roles
Essential Deck cards showing Quest’s 8 hero roles

The Story Engine. Quest only uses a single (but powerful) die – the twenty-sided die, or “d20.” When the stakes are high in your adventure, rolling the die will help you imagine what happens. Sometimes you’ll use it to walk a tightrope, make a sweet move, or witness the results of an unpredictable spell.

You only need to roll once to see what happens. And if you’re really good at something, you’ll get a bonus. Then, you’ll check to see what the consequences are from an easy-to-remember set of outcomes.

The story engine keeps the game moving fast by letting you succeed a lot. But when you fail, the consequences will be meaningful. Every choice you make matters.

If you’re an experienced player and want to know more about Quest’s rules, check out our Kickstarter FAQ. Or visit our website for even more advanced details about our rules. 

“Quest breaks from the war gaming history of more classic tabletop RPGs to bring a more narrative driven approach both in and out of combat. I love D&D, but it is structurally, by the design and history of war gaming that it comes out of, a game that encourages players into the murderhobo mindset. Quest feels like a game that is trying push back on that inclination systemically. A lot of the spells and skills tend to be a bit more narrative driven which gives a lot more room for encounters that aren’t about just about killing monsters.”

– Andrew Simone, game tester

Spells that tell tales. We think everything you can do in a tabletop roleplaying game should be surprising and delightful. So we created skills and abilities with a focus on narrative and fun. Quest’s skills and spells – the special things your adventurer gets to do – are meant to inspire your own silly, dramatic and unexpected ideas. Here are a few examples:

There are over 300 spells and skills in Quest that you can learn and use. Follow us on Twitter to see more examples, where we’ll be posting more previews of Quest’s spells, abilities, and items every day.

Play a little, or a lot. You can play Quest just once, or a few times, with groups of any size. You don’t have to make a long-term commitment to play, and with our first adventure format, you’re not obligated to play every time your group meets; you can easily rejoin the story down the road, if you want. But for groups that want to tell an epic story over months or years, Quest is deep enough to let your character learn and grow over time.”

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

 

An easy, inclusive fantasy RPG that has, as of this writing, around 1,200 backers. I think they’ve found the secret sauce and that level of excitement alone is reason enough to check this out. Want more details? Dan Davenport hosted a Q&A with T.C. Sottek about Quest and has a copy here: https://gmshoe.wordpress.com

 

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here.

 

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5th Evolution: New Genres for Your 5E Game! by Limitless Adventures
Ends on Sat, June 30 2018 12:59 AM EDT.

“5th Evolution (5Evo) takes the wildly popular 5E game mechanics and applies them to new genres: super heroes, WW2, and 80s horror.

What is 5th Evolution?

5th Evolution (5Evo) takes the wildly popular 5e game mechanics and applies them to new genres. 5Evo products are a marriage of comics and roleplaying.

Learn more about 5Evo with this explainer comic!

Why 5E?

5th Evolution is intended for gamers who enjoy the 5E game engine and would like to use it in other genres. 5E is wildly popular, has been extensively play-tested, and is easy for new players to learn. Many players familiar with 5E are hesitant to learn a new system, and 5Evo allows them to explore new worlds and genres of play seamlessly.

What does this Kickstarter Contain?

This project is made up of three separate graphic novel-sized softcover books in three different genres: WW2, Super Heroes, and 80’s Horror. Each book contains three parts:

  • Part 1: the comic. Each 5Evo book opens with a comic that GMs will share digitally with their players prior to the gaming session. These comics serve to introduce the genre and setting, as well as to get players invested in the coming adventure.
  • Part 2: the adventure. The second section of each 5Evo book is a one-shot adventure, complete with pregenerated characters, that picks up where the comic left off.
  • Part 3: the source guide. Finally, the third section of each 5Evo book is a source guide that gives the GM the monsters, equipment, and characters to create their own adventures in that particular genre.

The Books

World War II – Set in North Africa in 1942, you’ll crew an M5A1 Stuart tank on a special mission during Operation Torch. This book contains the adversaries, equipment, characters, and vehicles to run a WW2 North Africa campaign with or without supernatural elements.

Source guide includes:

  • 4 American WW2 solider archetypes
  • Period specific tanks and trucks
  • Meticulously researched, period specific firearms
  • Customizable enemy combatants

Super Heroes – Set in Carbide City in the present day, you are part of a team of the super heroes trying to stop a gang of super villains wreaking havoc downtown. This book contains the super villains, equipment, and player archetypes to run a supers campaign.

Source guide includes:

  • 13 of Carbide City’s worst super villains
  • Customizable non-super enemies
  • Future tech equipment
  • 10 character archetypes

80s Horror Films – Set in the small town of Woodhaven  in 1985, you and your friends get in over your heads and uncover a dark plot while seeking a party. This book contains the monsters, equipment, and teen hero archetypes needed to run a horror campaign set in the 1980s.

Source guide includes:

  • 10 1980s horror movie monsters
  • Customizable non-monster threats
  • 6 teen hero archetypes & 6 variants
  • Variant rules for younger characters

Sample(s)

Download “No Going Back”, our free sample comic and adventure PDF.
Download "No Going Back" - a sample comic and adventure PDF
Download “No Going Back” – a sample comic and adventure PDF
View Boost full size by clicking the image below:
Meet "Boost" - A 5Evo NPC!
Meet “Boost” – A 5Evo NPC!

Note: This is not a stand alone game, these books still require DnD5e core books or rules from the SRD. We recommend 5thSRD.org.”

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

 

The 5e mechanics you [likely] already know applied to superheroes, soldiers, and 80s horror. If you’re a 5e fan, this will expand your table options!

 

You can see examples of their work at DriveThruRPG here.

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here.

 

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Secret Agents of CROSS for Savage Worlds by Blessed Machine 
Ends on Sun, July 1 2018 12:59 AM EDT.

“Secret Agents of CROSS is a tabletop RPG where Catholic agents protect the flock from supernatural horrors, demons, and terrorists.

CROSS is a clandestine spy agency also known as the Catholic Response Organization to Strategize and Strike. CROSS was created by rogue Cardinal James McDonnell to take the Pope’s prayers and convert them into actions.  He and his command staff create missions to protect the flock from evil using cutting-edge technology coupled with saintly magic honed over 2000 years of history.

The CROSS organization was originally created as part of a Champions game years ago.   When I decided to create a setting around it, I wanted to capture my vision of an organization that only includes agents that are the best of the best.  They are the only people suited for the types of adversaries that they will face.  I wanted the players to feel like they were playing competent characters from the start.  When I discovered Savage Worlds, I felt that the exploding dice aspect of Savage Worlds along with the bennies system modeled that feeling. After a few sessions at Garycon, I knew this was the system for Secret Agents of CROSS.

Please note, you will need a copy of Savage Worlds to play Secret Agents of CROSS. You can find out more about Savage Worlds here.

You will receive the Secret Agents of CROSS book, a Savage Worlds setting in full color with approximately 170 pages of never-before-seen content.  This book is your guide on how the world of CROSS operates, how to make player characters, and how to run CROSS missions that are steeped in secret spy stuff, religious history, modern terrorism, and the supernatural.

For Players and GMs:

  • A brief history of Biblical events that affect the modern world of CROSS.
  • A detailed history of the creation of CROSS and the entire command staff.
  • 10 Roles for players to choose from to promote CROSS’s setting feel.  Optional rules to expand, create, or change Roles.
  • New Edges and Hindrances to help capture the setting feel of Catholic secret agents.
  • Over 40 unique weapons created by the engineers of CROSS.

For GMs:

  • Suggestions for how to handle the nature of supernatural things and how they are affected by normal and supernatural powers.
  • Suggestions for the use of CROSS in various genres including Fantasy, Horror, and Superhero settings.
  • Suggestions on how to provide the best gaming experience for each archetype.
  • Double-secret-GM’s-eyes-only section of secrets not revealed in the other chapters.
  • Over 30 powerful relics and artifacts to place into missions.
  • Over 30 adversaries to interact with your agents.  Some good, some bad, some hard to tell.
  • 3 complete missions for your agents to begin defending the flock.
  • A detailed mission generator.
  • High-quality color pdf and printing fulfilled with DriveThruRPG in standard 8.5″ x 11″ size.”

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

 

Pete Ruttman of Blessed Machine reached out over a month before this campaign began to share his enthusiasm for his game. The concept – literal warriors of Christ – is an obvious idea (D&D Paladins brought to today), yet it has only been lightly explored in the [largely secular] gaming industry. Since the engine is Savage Worlds, the question of deciding whether to back this or not becomes if you like that system and this setting for it.

 

You can see examples of their work at DriveThruRPG here.

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here.

 

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Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or on Facebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links to DriveThruRPG.com and Amazon.com.

Savage Worlds: Fast, Furious, and Fun! - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

 

* * * * * *

 

Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer™

Wanna-lancer™ Checklist T-shirt available at Cafepress

Interested in being a wanna-lancer? Start with the official Wanna-lancer Checklist t-shirt or wall clock or ice tea glass!

* * * * * *

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by a variety of companies:

Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or onFacebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

4 OSR Kickstarters – NSFW – The Black Hack 2e, No One Warps for Free!, Advanced Labyrinth Lord, and The Peasants’ Fell Bargain

I just returned from Origins 2018. It was a blast meeting the folks that I write about, joining in the community, and gaming! One of the many games I played there was Eric Bloat’s OSR, Survive This!! Zombies! That inspired me to look at what OSRs are currently on Kickstarter where I found a few winners.

 

NSFW – This article is Not Safe For Work. OSRs are fun but they’re not without controversy and NSFW art so, dive in at your own risk.

 

The Peasants’ Fell Bargain: DCC™-Compatible RPG Adventure by Gaming Honors
Ends on .

“Role-Playing Game (RPG) Adventure Module Inspired by Classic Tales of Horror. Dungeon Crawl Classics(TM)-Compatible Zero-Level Funnel.

The Peasants’ Fell Bargain is a zero-level adventure compatible with the Dungeon Crawl Classics™ Role-Playing Game. Available in print or PDF and featuring twenty-eight action-packed pages, this fully-illustrated adventure inspired by classic horror tales will put your peasants to the ultimate test as they search for the Lord Stenorian’s missing son.

A Bargain of Fire and Blood

For generations your village has lived and worked in the shadow of the Stenorian estate, which sits perched like an ancient bird of prey on a promontory at the edge of the mountains. You eked out a hard living through logging, mining, or planting the rocky Stenorian lands. Each year you made the three-mile trip up the mountain to pay rent and tribute to the men-at-arms standing watch at the keep’s gate….The years went by, and nothing changed.

Now the Lord Stenorian himself has come, begging for your help. “My men are slain, my father is missing, and I have nowhere else to turn. My son! My son Michael is still hiding somewhere in the keep. Find him! Save him! Do this for me, and I will reward you beyond your wildest imaginings.” His eyes burn with a frightening intensity. “Hear me. Return my boy to me, and ask what you will. I promise you, if it is in my power, I will grant it.” These last words seem to echo inside your minds as visions of a new future for you and your family float before you.

Meaningful Choices and Motivations

The Peasants’ Fell Bargain invites you to be a hero—you are ten-year-old Michael’s only hope—or a mercenary. After all, Lord Stenorian promises you rewards beyond your imaginings: all you have to do is find the boy. No matter the motive, agreeing to serve Stenorian will bring you power you’ve never known.

But as the stories tell us, power always comes at a price, promises can be impossible to keep, and even the purest motives can lead to unspeakable evil…

An Adventure of Mayhem and Mystery

In the best tradition of Dungeon Crawl Classics™, Goodman Games’ incomparable system of classic RPG adventure, The Peasants’ Fell Bargain pits hapless gongfarmers and blacksmiths against monsters from their worst nightmares. You will test your pitchforks and slings against new and deadly adversaries.

At the same time, you will need to examine clues in the Stenorian manor to uncover the horror hiding behind the keep’s high stone walls. The mystery of the Stenorian family unfolds as your party explores the scene and pieces together the evidence. Handouts allow you to discover the story as you go—and what you learn may very well force you to reconsider your assumptions, your plans…

And perhaps even your promises.

Deals with the Devil: A New Game Mechanic

Like many classic tales, The Peasants’ Fell Bargain turns on a pact made between the PCs and a figure of awesome power. Adventurers who choose to strike a bargain with Lord Stenorian will be rewarded with powers determined by a d20 roll on the custom “Fell Bargain Table.”

This funnel also provides an alternate “Monkey’s Paw Table” for use in other adventures and campaigns. Like the story from which it gets its name, the “Monkey’s Paw Table” can extract a high price for the boons granted.

It is not for the faint of heart.

(Art in progress)

A Module Crammed with Content

The Peasants’ Fell Bargain is packed with 28 pages of adventure, illustrations, and game supplements, including “Encounter Cards” that judges can photocopy, cut out, and use to run combats.

Back our Kickstarter, and see what surprises await. With your help, The Peasants’ Fell Bargain will be a funnel you and your party will never forget.

So what do you say?

Do we have a bargain?

Say, what is this Dungeon Crawl Classics™ of which you speak?

Dungeon Crawl Classics™ is the amazing role-playing game from Goodman Games that takes you back to those all-night odysseys in your parents’ basement, when all a good adventurer needed was a map, a sword, and some guts, and all a player needed was paper and pencil, some dice, and imagination. Magic is mysterious and powerful, monsters are menacing and unpredictable, and Luck matters—A LOT more than min-maxing and statistical analysis. DCC takes the best parts of the game you remember and combines it with the wisdom gained from over fifty years of role-playing to create the one-of-a-kind experience that got you rolling dice in the first place.  If you haven’t checked out the rulebook, what are you waiting for?”

 

Egg’s Thoughts: 

 

At MomoCon 2018, I picked up Dungeon Crawl Classics from the Goodman Games boothDCC is an OSR that is gonzo awesomeness! Getting to start at zero-level with this adventure is worth checking out because it lets you really stretch your creative legs and build something fun.

 

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here.

 

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No One Warps For Free! by Kort’thalis Publishing 
Ends on .

“Yet another adventure for the Alpha Blue roleplaying game! Sleazy space opera that parodies many existing scifi franchises.

Hi.  I’m Venger As’Nas Satanis, author of classics such as The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence, How to Game Master like a Fucking Boss, and Adventure Writing like a Fucking Boss.  What’s up?

I’m Kickstarting the Alpha Blue supplement Alien Ass, Hydrogen Gas, or Cosmic Grass… No One Warps For Free!  

Yes, it’s a silly title (a prominent member of the Kort’thalis Publishing g+ community, MoonSylver, came up with it), but it’s the kind of inappropriate, over-the-top, ridiculously awesome kind of thing that Alpha Blue excels at.

This book will be full-color and feature fantastic artwork.  I got the taste for color with Blood Dark Thirst and Battle Star: Trek Wars… now, there’s no going back!

Here’s a look at the interior layout for both the PDF and (CreateSpace / Amazon) softcover by Glynn Seal of MonkeyBlood Design.  He does awesome work and Kort’thalis Publishing is fortunate to have his services at our slimy pink and blue disposal.

What is Alpha Blue?  As I look around me, it seems the vast majority of RPG rules/mechanics are being swallowed up by either old standbys or the new hotness.  Well, this particular game is one of the few holdouts that hasn’t become a D&D clone, Fate thing, Apocalypse Powered, or Savage World.  And yet, Alpha Blue is vaguely similar to D&D, has a few story-game elements, and wild dice-swinging action.

Alpha Blue has been my most successful RPG line (that includes Crimson Dragon Slayerand The Outer Presence) – numerous supplements have been created over the last 3 years.  It’s rules-light (traditional and contemporary hybrid with d6 dice pools), juvenile, and a lot of fun.

Still curious?  Play a little choose your own adventure:   http://www.sleazyscifi.com/#/

For the most part, it’ll be adventures that parody established scifi franchises.  The amount of raunchy, gonzo comedy depends on individual tastes.  Not everyone is going to want to playAlpha Blue like a Star Wars porn parody – and that’s ok.  Many gamers only want a hint of 70’s era exploitation.  And not that you need it, but you’re given “permission” to mix and match less-hard scifi, such as Ice Pirates, Flash Gordon, and Heavy Metal with familiar pop-cultural icons.

Besides several scenarios (see the next few paragraphs), there will be tons of random tables – ice cream, menstruation, tattoos, and so much more!  Random tables are kind of my thang and nobody does them better (plus, I get crowd-sourcing help from dozens of contributors who love Alpha Blue and everything it stands for).  These tables can be used in multiple adventures, campaigns, and the comedic / gonzo / sleazy RPG of your choice.

  • Among others, the zenobites will be back in a Hellraiser tribute scenario called “Skinless and Horny.”
  • It’s spring break somewhere in the Federation, and college kids need transport from Margaritaville to Pina Coladaburg.  Wouldn’t it be a shame if convicts from a women’s prison broke out and tried to commandeer the PCs’ ship?  That’s a sexy mission if ever there was one.
  • Terrorists within the Interstellar Caliphate are strapping themselves with suicide vest explosives on their way to the space station of love – Alpha Blue.  Admiral Ackbar!  Let’s go kill those freedom hating, bastards!!!

There will be pre-generated characters for quick-start games like introductory demos, virtual tabletop, conventions, etc.

Optional rules, helpful suggestions, and neat mechanical bits and pieces will be interspersed throughout the text in sidebars.

Plus, new “classes.”  Really, these are just character concepts that will give you some idea of where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Here’s a quick overview…

Primitive Screw-head – you’re a savage barbarian and dumb as a box of space rocks.  But you can smash real good, intimidate those low-muscle cerebral types to the point of “pee fright,” and get in the way of delicate high-tech operations like nobody’s business.

Quantum Sorcerer – you travel the universe, casting spells for fun and profit.  Yep, you’re a magic-user among the stars.  Several new spells will be offered, though the system is so light-weight and malleable that official “spell lists” are unnecessary.

Bard – yes, that’s right.  The most useless adventuring profession in the universe – and you can play one!  Learn an instrument… or a thousand instruments (doesn’t matter, you’re still going to die horribly) and join the Guild of Performing Arts.  The GoPA will assign your bard to a special crew of hand-selected spacers who probably won’t eat you if the food runs out andmight not consider your instrument a portable latrine.

Space Ranger – you’re part of an elite team of highly unorganized cops protecting the innocent and hunting down the worst of the worst.  At one time, the space rangers were affiliated with the Federation – not any more.  The Federation has grown too corrupt to police itself, let alone the entire universe. You’re a vigilante with a badge!

This book will be 30 pages at a minimum.  See the stretch goals for possible extras…”

 

Egg’s Thoughts: 

 

Looking for a sleazy sci-fi RPG? Something simple system-wise, but full of sex tropes from the 70s and 80s? Venger Satanis, as always, has you covered. Since the Trinity of Awesome Returns, I’ve covered Venger’s Kickstarters. While he’s a font of RPG business wisdom and he’s published some of my first RPG work, he’s also said things I cannot co-sign, so promoting his OSR work – which is an unashamed system-light RPG love letter to the 70s/80s era of low-budget, sleazy sexploitation fantasy and sci-fi movies – goes from let’s-do-it to am-I-going-to-lose-friends-for-this. [For whatever it’s worth, Venger writes me pretty often to see if I’m still upright and drawing breath.] With that, let me share this RPG and let you make your own decision about his subset of OSR – he’s dubbed it “O5R” – that’s “[s]leazy space opera that parodies many existing scifi franchises”.

 

You can see examples of their work at DriveThruRPG here.

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here.

 

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The Black Hack RPG Second Edition by Gold Piece Publications
Ends on .

“The award winning, super-streamlined, oldschool fanstasy roleplaying game returns with its expanded, content packed second edition.

The Kickstarter for the original edition of The Black Hack funded in just 5 days, raising over 1000% of its goal amount – more importantly however, it marked the moment a small set of house rules evolved into a fully-fledged DIY rpg movement. Today, I’m proud to launch this new Kickstarter as another evolution in the life of The Black Hack — turning it into the most comprehensive and lightweight old school system available — with all the gorgeous layout, artwork and trappings that it deserves.

The engine and design behind The Black Hack (TBH) is a simple, straightforward game written in a logical conversational tone. It provides all the experiences you’d expect a traditional fantasy RPG to deliver without clunky rules getting in the way of the action and the emerging character stories.

TBH doesn’t force a trite grand fantasy setting upon the players either. Instead it comes accompanied by a full-suite of tools flavoured with old school fantasy sensibilities – culminating in a game that provides a foundation of preparation or improvisation for the imaginations of the GM and the players.

Peter Regan of Squarehex/Gold Piece Publications has assembled a legendary team to support the writing and design of the game. Artists Karl Sternjberg, Sean Poppe and Jeff Call will be providing detailed, evocative, old school art to fuel the readers’ imaginations and Pookie will be providing editing duties to ensure the writing and rules are water tight.

The beta document has been written, laid out and is going through final playtesting sessions – now all we need to do is have it looked over by an editor, commission the final pieces of monster artwork and print it, which we aim to have done by October. If you pledge at a level that comes with print version of the main rulebook you will gain access to the production ‘beta’ document as soon as the project funds are transferred (normally 2 weeks after the project funding period ends). Thank you for taking the time to read this, but most of all thank you for sharing and supporting this campaign and the DIY RPG movement.

– David Black

The Black Booklet – ‘Quickstart rules for players’ 300gsm matt laminated cover, 170gsm silk art pages.

The Black Hack – ‘All the rules, all the things’ Hardback matt laminated cover, 120gsm internal pages, black end papers.

The Black Hack – ‘All the rules, all the things’ Hardback with cloth/silver foiled cover, 120gsm internal pages, black end papers. Kickstarter Exclusive.

GM’s Screen – ‘Inspiration and GM tools’ 3xA5 panels 300gsm matt laminated card.

Illustrated Character Sheets – Double sided a4 OSR style playbooks, one for each class.

The Black Box – ‘Goodies’ Matt black 1.5mm board with a silver foil printed lid. Dimensions are: 230x165x50mm. Dice are opaque black with white numbering. The dice pouches are black velvet. The pencils are matt black with black wood and black erasers printed in white.”

 

Egg’s Thoughts: 

 

I reviewed the Basic Hack, which is born from the Black Hack. My editor at EN World, Chris Helton, reviewed the first edition of the Black Hack and praised it. I’ve read endless good things about it and talked to Eric Bloat about it during Origins where he said he is backing the new edition. When a successful OSR publisher backs your product, it speaks volumes.

 

You can see examples of their work at DriveThruRPG here.

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here.

 

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Advanced Labyrinth Lord by Goblinoid Games
Ends on .

 

“Fans have been demanding a combined Labyrinth Lord/Advanced Edition Companion book for a long time…here it is!

Advanced Labyrinth Lord

Labyrinth Lord was first published in 2007, and for over 10 years has been one of the premier old-school “retro-clone” games. Its wildly popular supplement, the Advanced Edition Companion, adds all of the “advanced” first edition options for Labyrinth Lord, all while keeping compatibility with the B/X basic fantasy game.

For the first time, Labyrinth Lord and the Advanced Edition Companion will be seamlessly combined into one volume! Fans have been asking for this for several years, and it is my pleasure to make it happen! All of the basic and advanced options, magic items, and monsters will be brought together under one cover for easy reference.

Here are some facts about the combined book:

  • This is not a new game.
  • This is simply a combined book.
  • You will still be able to separate “basic” from “advanced” game options.
  • Much interior art will carry over from the original books, but new interior art will be featured in addition.
  • This combined book does not replace the current separate books. Those books will remain in print.

 

Egg’s Thoughts: 

 

This book is a combination of two OSR books, not a new edition of LL or a new game. Clearly, there is a market for this as fans are pledging. Never heard of Labyrinth Lord and want to try before you buy? Find free versions of Labyrinth Lord: Revised Edition (no-art version) and Advanced Edition Companion (Labyrinth Lord, no-art version) here so you can decide for yourself.

 

You can see examples of their work at DriveThruRPG here.

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here.

 

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Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or on Facebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links to DriveThruRPG.com and Amazon.com.

Savage Worlds: Fast, Furious, and Fun! - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

 

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Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer™

Wanna-lancer™ Checklist T-shirt available at Cafepress

Interested in being a wanna-lancer? Start with the official Wanna-lancer Checklist t-shirt or wall clock or ice tea glass!

* * * * * *

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by a variety of companies:

Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or onFacebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

Origins Game Fair Spotlight – Halls of the Nephilim

There’s a game creator and <gasp> blogger out there, playing RPGs with Eric Bloat at Origins Game Fair 2018 and writing posts about using Bloat Games Survive This!! Zombies! with the movie The Stake Land, or stat’ing at the monster from the short film, The Birch. Be on the lookout for Justin Ryan Isaac of the PunVerse blogspot and Halls of the Nephilim as he’s got some clever ideas for games for fans and can be a solid promoter for game creators.

 

 

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Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or on Facebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links to DriveThruRPG.com and Amazon.com.

Savage Worlds: Fast, Furious, and Fun! - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

 

* * * * * *

 

Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer™

Wanna-lancer™ Checklist T-shirt available at Cafepress

Interested in being a wanna-lancer? Start with the official Wanna-lancer Checklist t-shirt or wall clock or ice tea glass!

 

* * * * * *

 

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by a variety of companies:

Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or onFacebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

Origins Game Fair Spotlight – Fearlight Games

Want to be Sherlock or Robin Hood or try a new game at Origins Game Fair 2018? Read on. In October, 2017, I covered the Baker Street: Strange Cases and Hood: Beyond the Forest by Fearlight Games‘ Kickstarter. Through that and a mutual friend, I met Bryce Whitacre who shared the fruits of his Kickstarter with me. Baker Street and Hood are fun tabletop RPGs and, during Origins Game Fair 2018, Fearlight Games Bryce Whitacre will be at booth 240 selling them. As well, if you want to play Baker Street or Hood or demo their soon-to-be-Kickstarted social deduction card game, they’re waiting at b230.

From Bryce – “[I]f you have a spare 20 minutes to try the [new social deduction card] game, just stop by between 8 and 11 PM in the game room b230.” I hope to see you there.

 

Baker Street: Strange Cases by Fearlight Games 

“Sherlock Holmes is Missing and Presumed Dead!

Intrepid investigators are asked by the stoic Dr. Watson to take cases out of Baker Street in Holmes’s absence. Victorian streets, foggy nights, and crime most foul await. Will the nefarious plans of crafty villains come to fruition or can the champions of justice from Baker Street save the day?

Baker Street is a Role Playing Game in which the players attempt to solve some of the most baffling crimes in history. Featuring over 30 careers, 25 unique criminal extras, and rules for making your own nefarious villains, Baker Street features a robust investigation mechanic, easy character generation, and rules for making your own mystery.”


 

Hood: Beyond the Forest by Fearlight Games 

“Sherwood Forest:

The small band of outlaws gathers around the trysting tree. Prince John and the Sherriff of Nottingham are making life impossible for the villagers of Sherwood and Barnsdale. Only these outlaws can fight back and preserve the English way of life until good King Richard returns. Don the Lincoln green, grab your arrows, and join the Merry Men!

This book contains:

  • Adventuring mechanics that feature a narrative style of storytelling and derring-do.
  • NPCs and legendary characters you can add to any campaign.
  • Historical information on locations and events in Robin’s life.
  • A “Clash of Blades” system that brings back the tension and drama of classic movie sword duels.
  • Rules for Pluck, Swashbuckling Momentum, and a stunt system that unleashes the swashbuckler in you!”


 

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Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or on Facebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links to DriveThruRPG.com and Amazon.com.

Savage Worlds: Fast, Furious, and Fun! - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

 

* * * * * *

 

Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer™

Wanna-lancer™ Checklist T-shirt available at Cafepress

Interested in being a wanna-lancer? Start with the official Wanna-lancer Checklist t-shirt or wall clock or ice tea glass!

 

* * * * * *

 

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by a variety of companies:

Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or onFacebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

Origins Game Fair Spotlight – Survive This!! Zombies! from Bloat Games

It’s the first day of Origins Game Fair 2018 and the first game I’m scheduled to play is Eric Bloat’s Survive This!! Zombies! from Bloat Games at 2PM. OSR plus near-future zombie-ocalypse. I covered the SURVIVE THIS!! Dark Places & Demogorgons RPG Core Rulebook Kickstarter in October 2017. I’ve been eager to try a SURVIVE THIS!! game since then! If you’re interested in more from Bloat Games, Eric has a Kickstarter coming up on June 26th. If you’re interested in updates, you can follow him on Kickstarter here.

 

SURVIVE THIS!! – Zombies! by Bloat Games

“They’re coming to get you Barbara . . .”

That’s the line that started it all.  Sure, there were other zombies in movies and literature prior to the delivery of that iconic quote but George A. Romero’s Night of The Living Dead kicked off the modern zombie craze for sure.  From Day of the Dead to Return of the Living Dead to Dawn of the Dead to Shaun of the Dead to The Walking Dead, people can’t get enough of The Dead!  Zombies can be found in abundance in film, TV, comic books, literature, video games, board games, card games, dice games and yes, of course, roleplaying games.  That is where we come in.

SURVIVE THIS!! – Zombies! is the first in the line of SURVIVE THIS!! Roleplaying Games to be released by indy publisher, Bloat Games.  SURVIVE THIS!! is a retroclone of the world’s most popular fantasy roleplaying game.  Mixing the familiar rules of the Old School Renaissance and a near future zombie apocalypse, SURVIVE THIS!! – Zombies! aims to please giving any zombie lover a fast, fun and wild ride, that’s easy to pick up but hard to put down.

In SURVIVE THIS!! – Zombies! players take on the roles of survivors in a zombie apocalypse.  This Collected Edition is the complete game and contains all 4 booklets (Introduction, Survivor’s Handbook, Zombie Master’s Guide & Zombie Manual).  Don’t miss out!  Pick up all four books today and try to SURVIVE THIS!!”


 

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Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or on Facebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links to DriveThruRPG.com and Amazon.com.

Savage Worlds: Fast, Furious, and Fun! - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

 

* * * * * *

 

Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer™

Wanna-lancer™ Checklist T-shirt available at Cafepress

Interested in being a wanna-lancer? Start with the official Wanna-lancer Checklist t-shirt or wall clock or ice tea glass!

 

* * * * * *

 

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by a variety of companies:

Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or onFacebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

Kindle Worlds – Looking Forward Back

“I’ve come to bury Kindle Worlds, not to praise it.”

***

In Indy publishing, the big worry is What is Amazon going to do? For so many independent writers, Amazon has provided them with a steady income to turn their hobby of creating fiction into a true job. They see that constant stream coming in, month by month and believe it will never end. So they up and quit their day jobs only to see their returns begin to dry up. And why does this happen? Many times it is due to Amazon changing their algorithms in how your books get presented to the book-buying public. If your title gets some extra love from Amazon, maybe it takes off into the Top lists for your category or even for the whole of the store itself. That one thing can be the difference between pizza money and a house payment.

But the whispers are always there:

What if Amazon changes something?

What if Amazon decides to overhaul their programs?

What if they decide to get rid of some aspect of the program?

Some people worry and diversify their writings to other sellers (Smashwords, Draft2Digital, Barnes and Noble, etc.) and others say they’ll cross that bridge when they come to it.

For those people making more than pizza money on their Kindle Worlds stories, the end is nigh (see the email here). And much like those oracles had predicted… you never know when or if it is going to happen (and my follow-up).

***

For the two Veronica Mars Kindle Worlds Courtney and I wrote (still available here and here!), it was always on the pizza money side of things. Four years ago I wrote a post talking about writing in that universe and the birth of a story (here). Last year we finally followed up that one with another book, which I wrote about (here).

Prior to Kindle Worlds existing, I didn’t get Fan Fiction. I certainly didn’t understand that there were tons of places on the internet where you could go and read about your favorite tv show or movie characters further adventures. Did you want to know what would happen if Show X crossed over with Show Y? There’s probably a whole subgroup for that. And, if there isn’t, you could always invent the genre!

But writing Fan Fiction isn’t that different from many things I’ve done over the years playing RPGs or coming up with my comic book pitches that will never be read by anyone over at Marvel or DC (but seriously, I have a 60 issue pitch for Moon Knight that you wouldn’t believe!). I’m still not sure how I feel about the whole Fifty Shades origins, but clearly, it worked, so who am I to judge?

So the announcement last week that this was all going away hit me well and good. Not because they were selling thousands of copies, but because it helped me convince my wife to write with me. Or maybe it was her telling me that we WERE going to write something together once it was known that Veronica Mars was going to be a destination spot within the program.

The nice thing about the program is/was that there really wasn’t any pressure. I’m not saying we didn’t put our best work out there… I think we did a great job working within the world of the TV show. I just mean that this was something on the shorter side (just over 10,000 words in each of the two novellas) that we could put out for consumption pretty quick. A full-length novel takes me months/years to write a draft, then do another draft, then set it aside for a while, then hire an editor…

These were different.

In addition, I wanted to make sure all those hours of her watching and rewatching the show could suddenly be called RESEARCH! 🙂

There was always good and bad with creating these stories though. We knew that if Veronica Mars removed herself from the program, the books wouldn’t really have a home anymore other than on the Kindles who’d already bought them and our hard drive. We also knew these weren’t our toys; they would need to be returned to the toy box. I’ve only had a couple of occasions in my writing projects where I wasn’t the one creating the story and characters and worlds. These two projects allowed me to stretch a different kind of writing muscle. Hopefully, it made me a better collaborator and writer for it.

***

I want to thank everyone who has downloaded them over the years and appreciate the reviews that have been left. These two stories are going to become this thing we did. Maybe some other program will come along allowing us to display our works once again.

***

John McGuire has co-written, along with his wife, two Kindle Worlds novellas set in the world of Veronica Mars: Theft & Therapy and There’s Something About Mac.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

8 Questions About Art of War: Bushido/Wuxia Setting for Savage Worlds & 5e With Greg LaRose (Amora Game)

Greg LaRose (TentacleGreg on Open Gaming Network, where I write some articles) of Amora Game is running a Kickstarter for his latest creation, Art of War: Bushido/Wuxia Setting for Savage Worlds and 5e.

EGG EMBRY – Thanks for taking the time to talk about your project – What is Art of War?

GREG LAROSE – Hey, thanks for having me. Art of War is a dream project I have always had in my head brewing for years. Art of War is an epic storytelling action focused campaign setting inspired by the influences of Chia-Liang Liu martial arts films (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin & Heroes of the East), Akira Kurosawa samurai films (Seven Samurai & Yojimbo), Dynasty Warriors video game series, and a various anime (Basilisk, Naruto, etc).

It is a setting where the people of the San Empire are pulling themselves out of the chaos of a civil war, an invasion of flesh eating Oni, and a return of the restoration of the original royal bloodline. One role the players can take on as heroes is trying to restore hope back to the population. There are plenty of opportunities to play the hometown hero, indulge in a political landscape of deception, or to stand on the Wall and slay some monsters.

It is my love affair with Chinese and Japanese cultures, histories, and mythology.

 

EGG – This project is for two different systems, Savage Worlds and 5e. How are you interpreting the setting to get the most out of each of those systems?

GREG LAROSE – As a whole, the setting is a rich tapestry that easily be played with any system out there. It has access points for any type of story a group would want to play.

System mechanics wise, we adapted the setting to several systems over the past two years with Savage Worlds and 5e acting as solid frameworks to use. Moreover, what I mean is that both are flexible and “rules light” so that you can shape them. This gives us the ability to interject a power point-like system that can added to each rule set. You can scale it up or down to help determine how grounded or fantastical you want the game and characters to be. We call it the Chi System.

These power points fuel different additional rules that give the action movie feel we wanted to achieve. The system also supports Chi Techniques that give the character a specialization of power. Think of the youxia that can run up a bamboo tree and balance on a tiny branch without falling off or having it give to heavy weight. Or the samurai standing on bridge by himself against a squad of archers and he gives a deafening yell. Chi Techniques are those types of powers translated to simple and easy game mechanics.

Besides those being in common with these systems, the Savage Worlds version introduces Tropes that act as frameworks for the creation of heroes. For those familiar with Savage Worlds, think of them as beefed up archetypes or concepts. We also include new Edges and Hindrances. We adapted the classic nosebleed scenario found in anime as a Hindrance to add some comedic relief. I’m also excited to introduce two new Skills to the Savage Worlds ruleset, Acrobatics and Meditation.

Tropes in the 5th edition version, act as character paths for various classes. The Shinobi trope is a path for the rogue class. The fighter receives the Path of the Samurai as a viable option. The Youxia trope is available to both rogues, rangers and fighters, each one taking on a variation of the concept. We are also supporting numerous new Backgrounds, Inspirations, Feats, and equipment.

 

EGG – A number of Amora Game‘s products are for Pathfinder, why not offer a PF version of Art of War?

GREG LAROSE – Great question. We started to use Pathfinder as one of the systems to publish in and the project was called “Hands-Over-Fisticuffs”, but it quickly became overwhelming. There is a lot of amazing source material to pull from to get the mechanics right. But that was also the problem; we needed to pull rules for the revised action economy from this book, convert rules from that book, use OGL from this company. Develop a new class or archetype to handle this, spend more time playtesting to check the math on that. It became heavy, bulky, clunky and imbalanced.

We wanted something that wasn’t cumbersome for new players to jump in and play without multiple rules and errata. Light and flexible is what we wanted to focus on.

In addition, timing played a major factor. With the announcement of Pathfinder 2.0, we would rather see how the new system plays out then produce for an old system where support might fall to the wayside. While we have 200 pages worth material for a Pathfinder edition, it just doesn’t hold the feel we wanted for the setting.

 

EGG – You did not skimp on the previews. How have they been received, and which system is getting more interest from Art of War fans, Savage Worlds or 5e?

GREG LAROSE – Surprisingly they have almost equal numbers. Art of War teaser for Savage Worlds is racing ahead of Kemonomimi Race preview for 5th Edition. But I have been shocked that the 5th edition of South of the Wall has pulled down a few more numbers than the Savage Worlds version. In contrast, we have more backers on the Kickstarter buying in for the Savage Worlds. Ahead of that, is the backer level where you get both versions of Art of War. I’ve been happy with the turnout.

 

EGG – When I first approached you about doing an interview, I didn’t connect you were TentacleGreg on Open Gaming Network. For those who don’t know, what types of articles do you do on Open Gaming Network?

GREG LAROSE – So far I have focused on Starfinder articles. Showing off future archetypes and playing with Faction idea write-ups. Open Gaming Articles are a fun sandbox to play in at the moment. In one of the first articles, I rant about what I feel a Third Party Publisher Organized play society would allow and not allow. After the Kickstarter, I have a few 5e articles for character paths, more factions for Starfinder, and my lost notes for Pathfinder articles.

 

EGG – What was the game that made you into a gamer?

GREG LAROSE – Techno Wizard in the Rifts setting for the Palladium system was the first character I ever created. My Tremere for Vampire: The Masquerade was the first character I ever played in a game. West End Games d6 Star Wars was the first system I ever fell in love with. Shadowrun was my introduction into the world of cyberpunk and magic. Big Eyes, Small Mouth Third Edition was the birth of Art of War. I have fond memories of L5R and Magic the Gathering card games. But the game that made me a gamer? Well there are two of them: Mage the Ascension & Eberron campaign setting for 3.5 D&D rules.

My love for these two settings and rulesets are unparalleled to anything else. Mage being the handful of d10 Storyteller System and the other using the precursor to Pathfinder. I still have my original books on the shelves and go back to read through them. You can see an early inspiration for the Pathfinder Society concept in Eberron, when it was called the Wayfinder Foundation. Interesting name isn’t it?

You can see that is the name of a compass in Pathfinder. Coincidence? Maybe. Conspiracy theory of that being a key source of influence for a certain big company? Probably, yes.

EGG – Why did you start Amora Game?

GREG LAROSE – I started Amora Game in 2012 as an actual TTRPG publishing company, but we were a playtest company well before then. My gaming group was always home-brewing rules, classes, and all sorts of things. We liked using fan created material and pushing the limits see if they were broken or if we could break them. Over time we reached out to a few publishers and game designers looking for playtesters. One thing led to another and then we were holding playtesting sessions once or twice a month for several hours a session. Word got around and people started seeking us out to playtest, and paying us.

After a year or so after of messing around and playing with other people’s toys, I decided I would do my own. At the time I was playing Pathfinder after a gaming group converted over from 3.5 and just sort of went with it. I started publishing, hiring freelancers and artist. Here we are today.

EGG – For those interested in learning more about you, your upcoming projects, and Amora Game, where can they go?

GREG LAROSE – Currently we are focusing on two product lines. One is our monthly/bimonthly science fiction e-mag called Xeno Files. This is laying the foundation for our Xeno’Verse campaign setting. It focuses on Starjammer, Starfinder, and Savage Worlds rulesets. Exotic space places and exotic space races. Our second, of course is the Art of War line, which we are going to continue to push for a release date, even if the Kickstarter is unsuccessful. It will just take a little more time.

Where can you find us? Our facebook page is the most active spot. You can get there by typing in our website: AmoreGame.com, and it will direct you to it. After the kickstarter, I’m going try and put an article up twice a month in the Open Gaming Network site. You will also be able to catch those articles and anime ramblings on my blog under the same pen name: TentacleGreg.com

 

Amora Game has products available on DriveThruRPG and Open Gaming Store.

 

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Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or onFacebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links to DriveThruRPG.com and Amazon.com.

Savage Worlds: Fast, Furious, and Fun! - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

 

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Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer™

Wanna-lancer™ Checklist T-shirt available at Cafepress

Interested in being a wanna-lancer? Start with the official Wanna-lancer Checklist t-shirt orwall clock or ice tea glass!

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Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:

Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or onFacebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

Steampunk Friday – Interview with the creators of The Invention of E.J. Whitaker

In scouring the web for Steampunk comics sometimes you hit upon one that you are interested in, but have completely missed the Kickstarter for. Even so, I felt compelled to give it a Kickstart the Comic treatment. At the same time, I reached out to the women behind the comic for an interview and with the official release of the comic today, it seems like a great time to catch up with Shawnee´Gibbs and Shawnelle Gibbs.

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How long have you been creating/working in comics?

SHAWNEE´: Shawnelle and I have been working in comics since 2011 when we started writing our comedic sci-fi series “Fashion Forward.” We’d been working in independent animation before that and comic books just felt like a natural step, since we loved telling stories through art. In addition to the “Fashion Forward” series, we’ve written short stories for anthologies, including several for Graham Cracker Comic’s Ladies Night Anthology, a great women in comics organization based out of Chicago. 

At what point did you sit down to become writers? Do you remember the first thing you wrote?

SHAWNEE´: When we were kids in elementary school, we’d staple together lined paper and create our own little homemade comics to sell to kids for a quarter. I remember those stories being about cartoon characters, not unlike the animated shows we were seeing on tv at the time. Imagining fictional worlds and writing about them was something that began early for us. It was an awesome way of entertaining ourselves and our friends and a surprisingly great way to make candy money. 

Who inspires you? Or do you have a favorite artist or creator?

SHAWNELLE: We are inspired heavily by our mother, who set us on this path with her eternal love of illustration and stories and our strong desire not to bring shame upon her head (laughs). Octavia Butler who we discovered in our youth, and whose stories spoke to our souls, and the work and careers of a host of writers and artists such as Vera Brogosol, Nnedi Okorafor, Sonny Liew, Vashti Harrison, and the list goes on and on. In terms of our own work, Shawnee and I are forever inspired by life itself, history and the human condition. We’re constantly getting hit with shocks of inspiration, our notes applications in our phones are a laundry list of thoughts and ideas for stories and projects.

How do you manage your daily/family life with your creative work? Is this your 9 to 5 or is this your 10 to 2?

SHAWNELLE: We’re still working on it, actually. I think it’s a lifelong process. Shawnee and I don’t have families of our own at the moment, but it’s something we constantly think about, carving out time to stop and smell the roses and spend time with our partners, friends, and families. We both make our living in creative and demanding jobs, and write and produce our own content independent of that. It helps to have the resources to take trips and take breaks when we can, it’s just a matter of taking breaks. We both have incorporated sacred time for meditation and stillness that has been really helpful to how we approach the days and weeks. Having a partner to help get the check-off list of things to do helps tremendously as well. So that when we need to tap out for a day or two, there’s someone there to carry the torch.

Working with your sister has to be both amazing and bring an entirely different set of challenges. What’s your process look like when you’re writing? Do you go with the full outline? Or are you a fly by the seat of your pants type?

SHAWNELLE: Having some level of organization and a plan when it comes to writing has always been a big part of our process. But when we first started writing together, we’d outline together and then try and sit down at one computer and write together as a team….and….it was difficult, to say the least, and SLOW. We’d spend more time debating about dialogue than actually getting it on the page (laughs). But over the years, we definitely have found our groove in respect to writing and most things. These days we’ve learned to work more remotely, and we’ll come up with an outline that we both are excited about, split it in a way that makes sense, and have at it separately. That way we can swap pages, make scene and dialogue punches without getting into long western-movie-style stare-downs (laughs).

What inspired you to create The Invention of E.J. Whitaker?

SHAWNEE´: While working on the story for “Fashion Forward,” which is a time travel adventure that jumps time between present day New York and a New York twenty five years in the future. We were also writing a screenplay about an African American entertainer who lived during the early 1900s. 

So we were simultaneously looking at historic photos of African Americans from the early part of the 20th century, while also perusing designs and concept art of what the world would look like in the near future. And an idea started to emerge about a young black woman of the Victorian Era who had dreams of becoming an inventor. Once we started fleshing out the details and knew there’d be flying machines and robots and fanciful gadgets involved, we thought comics would be the perfect medium for it. 

Was this a case of coming up with the story first and then the setting or vice versa?

SHAWNEE´: I think as the story started to take shape, the setting pretty quickly followed. As a historical fiction piece, we wanted to anchor The Invention of E.J. Whitaker in an America that actually really existed. Since our heroine, Ada, is an inventing phenom, we thought placing her on the campus of Tuskegee University, where legendary inventor George Washington Carver taught and lived would be the perfect place for her. 

We also knew that one of the most challenging places to be black and a woman at the time was the Deep South. So having our adventure get underway in both Alabama and Texas gave the story real palpable tension and danger. 

What’s been the reaction to the book?

SHAWNELLE: We’re really thrilled that our readers are enjoying the beginning of the series, and the steampunk community has also embraced it as well. In our early reviews, they’ve been really positive and it helps as we’re digging into the second book to have that level of reaction. It’s very validating.

Are there themes and/or subjects you find yourself drawn to again and again in your work?

SHAWNELLE: Science Fiction, Adventure, and History are recurring themes in our work, and there’s always some level of comedy sprinkled in somehow, someway. For some reason, orphans are a recurring part of our narrative universe, probably because we grew up in a single-parent family and were “half-orphans” (as we’ve phrased it) ourselves. We’d need to get a psychologist in to help answer this one (laughs). Women overcoming obstacles to find their way/place in the world is always part of the undertone to our stories, I believe, because essentially that is a big part of our own journeys.

After running a successful Kickstarter for The Invention of E.J. Whitaker, what have you learned about the process of Kickstarter? What do you think has contributed to hitting your goals on The Invention of E.J. Whitaker? Do you view the platform as a testing ground for the concepts?

SHAWNEE´:  It is an incredible tool for testing concepts and finding people who may be interested in what you do. But I’ve gotta admit, Kickstarter can be a terrifying platform—I think both our knees were probably trembling a little as we hit that “Launch” buttonBeing as organized and as prepared as you can for crowdfunding, and researching firsthand accounts of both successes (and failures) was key for us. There will be unexpected bumps in the road on your journey, but staying committed and never being deterred by hiccups will help you reach your goals and cross the finish line.

We are super thankful to our Kickstarter supporters for believing in an unconventional story about one young woman’s courage to dream big despite the cultural and societal limitations surrounding her. We were floored that so many people believed in our little steampunk tale enough to help over fund it by $10,000.

Comics is an amazing collaborative medium, and it looks like you’ve managed to gather a talented team of co-creators around you. Tell me a little about working with the pencillers, inkers, colorists, and designers.

SHAWNELLE: Independent comics allow us to realize the worlds and stories of our dreams with a small team of people. On The Invention of E.J. Whitaker, we were able to call upon a couple of incredible artist/friends we’ve worked with in the past. That’s Mark Hernandez (Penciller) Hasani McIntosh (Colors), Earl Womack (short story) that we knew and worked with beforehand. Mark and Hasani we worked with on a beautiful, animated project some years ago, and we met Earl “amazing artist/kindred spirit” Womack at Long Beach Comic Con about five years ago, and have been looking for ways to work together since.  We met Shanna Lim (Inker) June Park (Graphics) and were lucky to work with ladies from the LNA anthology series we’ve contributed to in the past —Lauren Burke (Copy Editor) and Emi Rosen (Letterer). We truly became a small comics publishing house with this one.

The process went pretty much like this — After finishing up all of our concept art and character sheets with Mark and Hasani, it continued with the script that we workshopped with Mark to get ready for Shanna for inks, and finally Hasani for colors. Over several months, we had a rotation of pages of art with each artist/“department” if you will, until it was finally ready. And we love our team, because like us, everyone was working full time jobs, heading families, having life happen, etc., and their time, commitment, and care with it continues to warm our hearts. It took a little longer than we initially anticipated to finish it, but the team rallied (shoutout to Mark and Hasani who divided the lions share of it!). We are so proud of what we were able to to do together and what’s possible for the future.

Where’s the best place to find out more about The Invention of E.J. Whitaker and the rest of your works?

SHAWNEE´: You can find out more about The Invention of E.J. Whitaker at http://www.ejwhitaker.com and find the rest of our work at http://www.gibbsisters.com

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The Gibbs Sisters are an award-winning hybrid team with credits in writing, producing, and animation. The twin sisters and collaborators have created a brand of quirky, fun projects that have entertained audiences across the globe. They are the creators of the popular online animated series’ Adopted by Aliens and Old Ladies Driving, and the YA time-travel comic book series, Fashion Forward. Their comic book adventure series, The Invention of E.J. Whitaker, a diverse re-imagining of the early 20th century, makes its comic book debut March 30th, 2018 published by BopSee Books. 

 The Gibbs Sisters are members of Writers Guild of America, West, The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and the Organization of Black Screenwriters. Their combined credits included Producing for Emmy-Award winning series’ Top Chef and Project Runway, and popular television series’ X-FactorThe Ultimate Fighter, Food Network’s  Holiday Baking ChampionshipCupcake Wars, Discovery Network’s Shark Week and National Geographic’s Wicked Tuna, as well as contributions to Disney’s Emmy winning sitcom, Wizards of Waverly Place.

 The pair are also alumni of the renowned USC Guy Hanks & Marvin Miller Screenwriters Fellowship.

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The Invention of E.J. Whitaker: Issue #1

Written By: Shawnee´Gibbs, Shawnelle Gibbs

Pencils by: Mark Hernandez

Colors by: Hasani McIntosh

Inks by: Shanna Lim

Short Story Art by: Earl Womack

Letters by: Emi Roze

Cover Art by: Mark Hernandez, June Park, Sharifa Patrick

Copy Editor: Lauren Burke

Published by: BopSee Books

Release Date: Friday, March 30th, 2018

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I want to thank Shawnee’ and Shawnelle Gibbs for their time in answering these questions. Be sure to check out the first issue of The Invention of E.J. Whitaker today!

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His prose appears in The Dark That FollowsTheft & TherapyThere’s Something About MacHollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

3 Savage Worlds RPG Kickstarters You Should Back – Freedom Squadron, Savage Tokusatsu, and The Dinosaur Protocol

Kickstarter has several Savage Worlds settings funding at the moment. Want to do your own 1980s-style GI Joe vs COBRA? Thinking you’d like to see giant robots versus monsters? What about post-apocalyptic dinosaurs? Right now on Kickstarter, Savage Worlds await you!

Freedom Squadron – A Savage Worlds Setting by SpyGlass Games
Ends on .

“Freedom Squadron is a high-octane “Love Letter to 80’s Cartoon Action Heroes,” featuring new rules and new options for Savage Worlds.

It is the year 2051. After the startling discovery of VENOM—a paramilitary organization and global conspiracy that’s been interfering in world events since the end of the 19th century—the United Nations and leaders of the free world have been shaken to their core. In the aftermath of World War III, which they started, VENOM’s clear goal is world domination, and they will stop at nothing to achieve it.

The world’s response? Choose the greatest hero of the war, General Abraham Steel, and charge him to recruit an elite fighting force to oppose VENOM and protect liberty for all. That force, comprised of the best-of-the-best from all over the globe, is Freedom Squadron!

Players take on the role of those who’ve heeded the call to action. They are new Recruits who must first earn their stripes to become Commandos. Eventually, if they live up to the expectations of trainers like Sandbar, Corporal Carnage, Preedatore, and Blindsight, they may earn their Code Names and carry the fight to VENOM anywhere in the world… and beyond!

“Savage Worlds was created to handle the kinds of games I often like to play and run, where you can be a badass fighter or wizard or whatever, but you can also be a leader. A planner. I’m proud of how the game accommodates that, and my friend Sean Patrick Fannon has added even more to it in Freedom Squadron.

I had a blast in the Plans & Operations phase riffing off the other players, figuring out how best to use our individual characters’ skills, and then watching it all come together in the adventures that followed. Sean isn’t afraid of big games and big ideas, and this may be his best yet. I can’t wait to back, buy, and run it myself!”

Shane Lacy Hensley (Code Name: BUBBLES), veteran author and game designer, creator of Savage Worlds®, CEO Pinnacle Entertainment Group

Freedom Squadron has many new features for Savage Worlds® fans. Written and designed by Sean Patrick Fannon (ShaintarSavage Rifts®), these are special rules both inspired by his previous work and brand new for this setting. These include:

    • Plans & Operations: A unique combination of core Savage Worlds® game play elements that allows players to engage in multiple missions and actions in an “action cinema montage” style. Intelligence gathering, tactical positioning, investigations, covert insertions, computer hacking—anything and everything special ops Commandos might do between their epic battles with VENOM and other enemies. Fast-paced, inclusive, and designed to feature all of a hero’s skills, the Plans & Operations rules are sure to enhance any Savage Worlds® game.

 

  • Vocation Frameworks and Specializations: Inspired and adapted from the character creation rules of Savage Rifts®, these allow the player to choose a starting package of skills and abilities that reflect their primary role in the team, while also gaining cool extra abilities rolled randomly from various interesting charts. This is all on top of the usual core Savage Worlds® character building process.
  • New Edges: like Fighting Style, Operational Planning, Qi Focus, Strange DNA, and the innovative Zone Specialist (allowing heroes to truly shine in various environments like Arctic, Mountain, or Sea Zones).
  • Skill Focuses, Gear Points, and much, much more!
Psi War Big Epic Game at Ghengis Con
Psi War Big Epic Game at Ghengis Con

Freedom Squadron for Savage Worlds®, is based on VENOM Assault®, the board game created by SpyGlass Games. Evil Beagle Games has worked with World Designer Michael Knight to not only bring the world to life, but to expand on it as well.

Supplemental gaming accessories not included. Final design subject to change.
Supplemental gaming accessories not included. Final design subject to change.

While VENOM Assault® is not required at all in order to immerse yourself in the world of Freedom Squadron, you can check out SpyGlass Games’ website to view many character bios and even purchase the game!

Pinnacle Entertainment Group has created one of the most popular game systems in the world with Savage Worlds®, specifically oriented towards pulp and cinema action experiences. Sean Patrick Fannon of Evil Beagle Games has worked with them for years, and is the mastermind behind Savage Rifts®. Creating Freedom Squadron for Savage Worlds® was never a question.

With Pinnacle’s new release of Flash Gordon™ the Roleplaying Game, featuring many new rules updates, Freedom Squadron® is completely up-to-date and represents the state-of-the-art for Savage Worlds® fans.

New To Savage Worlds?

If you’re new to the Savage Worlds® rules system, Freedom Squadron® does require the core rulebook to play. You can get it in print and PDF from Pinnacle’s website. Pinnacle Entertainment Group publishes and manufactures the Savage Worlds® rules book, and maintains this website.

“Freedom Squadron offers an RPG experience like no other. This game is bursting with nostalgic tropes and themes, added to the rock-solid gameplay of the Savage Worlds system. The Plans & Operations rules are an innovative mechanic that focuses the action right where it belongs: on your characters facing down VENOM. Freedom Squadron is the perfect way to take on the roles of an elite, highly-trained special mission force and go on exciting adventures in this fully-realized setting!” – Ross Watson (Code Name: SKIPPER), Product Line Manager Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Wrath & Glory; Lead Developer, Savage Rifts; Lead Writer/Designer, Accursed

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

Let’s call this what it is – 1980s GI Joe! The setup, the execution, the names, the file card feel of the bios, the art that’s reminiscent of Tim Seeley’s GI Joe comic work from a decade ago, it’s the feel of my youth and one of my favorite toy lines/cartoons. But, there’s one difference, this is going to be the best version of that era of GI Joe, it’s going to be your version and your stories. This is not to say this is an officially licensed GI Joe product, it’s not; instead, this RPG is based on the board game, VENOM Assault. Regardless of that, the concept will put you back in your childhood and wondering if you should crack open eBay and buy some figures.

But will it be a good Savage Worlds setting? Well, I think the answer to that question is Sean Patrick Fannon. I had the pleasure of roleplaying with Sean at AndoCon 2018 (read about it here). He’s excellent at his craft and he’s the lead designer and brand manager for Pinnacle Entertainment’s Savage Rifts and I’d say he’s the perfect project lead for Freedom Squadron, an individual who loves the craft and the content. His presence as lead designer gives this a big stamp of approval. [By the by, Sean’ll be on this list twice.]

 

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here.

 

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The Dinosaur Protocol (for Savage Worlds) by Battlefield Press International
Ends on .

[Disclosure: One of this project’s stretch goals is “$3850 – Stretch Goal #2 – One Sheet Adventure by Egg Embry“.]

“A post-apocalyptic table top role playing game of adventure and discovery in the jungles and plains of a world grown wild and strange.

65 million years have separated the ages of man and dinosaur. Until now.

“Some time in the 21st Century, something broke the world. No one knows for sure what happened. Solar flares, war, global warming, pollution and environmental collapse, or perhaps a combination of all of them. Perhaps it was something much stranger. All we know is that mankind fled the surface, retreating into vast underground shelters where they could wait out the centuries until the earth was habitable once more. But when we emerged from the darkness and prepared to retake our world, it was not as we remembered it. Something had happened to the world that once was. In the centuries without man, nature wound back the clock, returning the planet to an earlier, cleaner, more primal age. An age of dinosaurs.

Now humanity must choose – do we fight to reclaim our past, or do we make peace with the present and embrace a simpler future? Armed with the skills and technologies of our ancestors, do we struggle to recreate former glories, or will we use the second chance we have been given to avoid the mistakes of the past? Will human nature even give us the choice? Will we exterminate the reborn dinosaurs, enslave them, or something else? What will be our Dinosaur Protocol?” – From the journals of Archivist Roebuck

Written for the award-winning Savage Worlds game engine by Chris Halliday and Jonathan M. Thompson, The Dinosaur Protocol is a game of mystery, exploration, discovery and adventure. Players take the role of explorers, scientists, scavengers, hunters and traders, trying to survive a world whose first masters have returned. Will they stay at home and build their settlement, or blaze new trails through the saurian jungles of a World Reborn? Will they extend the hand of friendship to other settlements, or war for valuable resources? Will they hunt the dinosaurs, or study them? Where did the dinosaurs come from, and what other mysteries lie hidden in the ruined cities, dense jungles and empty deserts? Just who – or what – else is out there?

The Dinosaur Protocol presents a bestiary of prehistoric life, rules for encountering, battling and wrangling dinosaurs, details on how to carve your own settlement from the primeval jungle, rules for scavenging ruined cities and ancient installations, and a guide to the World Reborn… everything you need to create your own Dinosaur Protocol campaign.

A post-apocalyptic table top role playing game of adventure and discovery in the jungles and plains of a world grown wild and strange for the Savage Worlds Game Engine.

Alternate campaign frameworks will include:

Blast to the Past: Something went wrong the day they tested the weapon, and the sky tore open. Now your hometown is millions of years in the past, and you and your neighbours must survive a world you never thought you’d encounter.

The Broken World: Time has shattered. Imperial Rome has mingled with modern Europe. Blood runs down the step pyramids of Mexico, and at the bottom of your street is a jungle that wasn’t there yesterday. A jungle from which thunderous footsteps and distant roaring can be heard…

On Safari: Time travel has allowed humanity to retrieve extinct species from the past, and correct some of our worst mistakes, but it’s expensive. Chronos Corp allows universities and research institutes access to their Deep Time stations, while paying customers and their guides hunt the most savage and successful creatures in history. But something has gone wrong at the station. They’ve lost contact with home, the power is failing, and there’s a horde of hungry raptors gathering beyond the security fence…

Inside the Triangle: It was supposed to be a holiday, time off in the sun to recover from the stresses and strains of modern life. Only something hit the plane and now you’ve come down near an island that doesn’t show up on any map, populated by creatures that should have been dead for millions of years. Can you survive, let alone find a way home?

The New World: When scientists discover a crack in time leading to the distant past of a nearby timeline, it seemed like a gift from the gods, a means to escape an overcrowded world strangling to death on pollution. Now you and your family are pilgrims exploring a frontier like no other, building a new life in a primal land. But the factions and pressures of the old world may just have followed you here, and you no longer know who you can trust.

Cover Image is “Laelaps” by Charles Knight”

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

[Disclosure: One of this project’s stretch goals is “$3850 – Stretch Goal #2 – One Sheet Adventure by Egg Embry“. You have been warned twice now. 😉 ]

Per the disclaimer, this project inspires me. For this action RPG, let’s strip out the need for superpowers, mutants, supernatural monsters, aliens, gods, magic, and made-up weapons, and get back to the reason we build homes in communities – Humanity vs Nature [in this scenario, Dinosaurs]. The idea of co-existing with the Earth’s apex predators is going to be the fuel for great battles at the gaming table! With the focus on the thunder lizards, expect all of the tools you’ll need to make your table Jurassic role-play as you tell stories of living in a world where humanity is an appetizer!

Oh, and Jonathan M. Thompson, co-creator on this project, loves him some dinosaurs and Savage Worlds! This is your chance to partake in his dinosaur love and see how well it will fit with the Savage Worlds rule set!

 

You can see examples of their work at DriveThruRPG here.

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here.

 

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Savage Tokusatsu: Kaiju, Mechs, and Heroes for Savage Worlds by BPB Games
Ends on Fri, April 13 2018 11:59 AM EDT.

“Transforming heroes, kaiju running amok, giant robots versus the monster of the week, and more built for the Savage Worlds rule set.

Tokusatsu is the Japanese word for any live action movie or television show that makes heavy use of special effects. The word’s literal translation is “Special Filming.”

Even if you aren’t familiar with the word itself, you are familiar with the works that fall under its umbrella. Giant, lizard-like kaiju that breathe atomic energy, quirky teens that transform into superheroes to fight against aliens from the moon, and giant robots going blow for blow with one another are all fundamental works within the genre of tokusatsu.

Savage Tokusatsu is a game built from the ground up specifically for the Savage Worldsroleplaying game. Within the pages of this softcover book are new rules and character options to help you capture the feel of any tokusatsu story in the collaborative storytelling experience that is tabletop roleplaying.

You can be the transforming team of heroes working together to control a giant mech simultaneously. You can play the desperate humans trying to halt the advance of an unstoppable monster that towers above skyscrapers. All this and more is possible with Savage Tokusatsu.

Savage Tokusatsu is a Savage Worlds supplement with approximately 100 pages of new content to help you take your game from mundane to kaiju-sized.

It contains:

  • Frameworks to represent the diversity of the many transforming heroes genres of tokusatsu.
  • New Edges that encourage an even greater degree of cooperation and teamwork amongst teammates.
  • New Hindrances that capture the feel of youthful characters trying to find their way in the world.
  • Multiple new Optional Rules to help you capture the specific feel of whatever genre of tokusatsu you seek to emulate. Lighthearted action and grim, pessimistic horror are all just as welcome as the next.
  • An in-depth but highly intuitive system for designing iconic weaponry and suits of armorfor transforming heroes and special agents alike.
  • An in-depth but not intrusive system for designing challenging monsters for our more mechanically-inclined friends.
  • A simple Hero Tier system to help groups wishing to avoid Toughness Bloat work giant robots, kaiju, and normal-sized people into the same sessions.
  • A streamlined way to approach high Toughness creatures for groups looking to capture the durability and desperation of facing down skyscraper-sized beasts with a column of tanks.
  • Over 40 new statblocks including heroes, kaiju, monsters of the week, and big bads that give detailed examples for each type of playstyle.
  • full Plot Point Campaign for a light-hearted, transforming hero themed tokusatsu adventure with several Savage Tales.
  • High quality printing fulfilled with DriveThruRPG. The book will fit right in with your other 6.625″ x 10.25″ Savage Worlds books on the bookshelf!
  •  A collaborative system for creating and controlling a shared pilot mech.”

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

Giant robots vs giant monsters using Savage Worlds! This is going to be big, dumb, action fun and I can’t wait for it! Want to test it out? They have a free test drive here. Add to that Sean Patrick Fannon’s second appearance on this list, this time as a guest writer for the project… which makes sense since he’s the lead designer for Pinnacle Entertainment’s Savage Rifts and he will bring the giant personalities this game needs to compete with its mechs and leviathans!

 

You can see examples of their work at DriveThruRPG here.

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here.

 

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Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or onFacebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links to DriveThruRPG.com and Amazon.com.

Savage Worlds: Fast, Furious, and Fun! - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

 

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Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer™

Wanna-lancer™ Checklist T-shirt available at Cafepress

Interested in being a wanna-lancer? Start with the official Wanna-lancer Checklist t-shirt orwall clock or ice tea glass!

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Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:

Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or onFacebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

10 Questions about the Capers RPG with Craig Campbell (NerdBurger Games)

During AndoCon 2018 in Atlanta, I had the pleasure of playing Craig Campbell’s GM-less RPG, Die Laughing. Craig supervised (and Tweeted) some of the best moments from this horror-comedy-movie romp in which the point is to die onscreen hilariously and come back as… a movie producer! It’s a fun party game on the lighter side of RPG. During the con he also discussed another RPG gem (for which he’s running a Kickstarter), CAPERS.

EGG EMBRY – Craig, thanks for talking CAPERS RPG here. What’s it about?

CRAIG CAMPBELLCAPERS is a superpowered game of gangsters in the Roaring Twenties. You play gangsters and bootleggers looking to make your fortunes. Alternatively, you can portray members of law enforcement looking to bring these criminals to justice. Either way, you have superpowers!

 

EGG – What inspired the idea of superpowered gangsters?

CRAIG CAMPBELL – It started as wanting to make a supers game but not one set in the modern day. There are plenty of RPGs that do that. So I want looking into history. After trying a few ideas on, I settled into the 1920s, a period I find fascinating. As I worked on the game, it became apparent to me that I wasn’t designing a supers game, not really. And it certainly wasn’t a superHEROES game. I was designing a gangster game where the gangsters happen to have powers. That realization informed every design decision I made moving forward.

EGG – I talked about your GM-less, comedy RPG, Die Laughing, in the opening of this article. How different will CAPERS RPG be from that experience?

CRAIG CAMPBELL – Well, they’re both RPGs. Beyond that, they’re pretty different. CAPERS is a more traditional RPG. A bunch of players portraying characters with a GM guiding everything. You can play one shots or a campaign. There’s character advancement and rewards. Recurring antagonists and exploration of themes and tropes over a period of time. Die Laughing is a GM-less, short-play story game that’s designed to be run as a one-shot. It’s also much funnier and laced through with exaggeration, hyperbole, and a self-awareness of horror movie tropes.

 

EGG – Do you think The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults would have been better with booby-traps?

CRAIG CAMPBELL – For sure. That said, it would have been better if there had been ANYTHING in the vault. Anything at all.

EGG – Ha! True, true, true!

Moving on, as the publisher, can you highlight one pledge level/backer reward from that campaign that you think is the standout for CAPERS RPG?

CRAIG CAMPBELL – I love all my babies equally. That said, the Jacks and Jills level is the “super-fan” level. All the PDFs. A book and CAPERS themed deck of playing cards shipped to you. You get to create an NPC who fills an important role in the game. And the illustration for this NPC is your likeness, appearing both in the book and on one of the jacks in the playing card deck.

 

EGG – I love getting to participate in the game with a NPC. Very cool reward!

Tell us a little about you, what was the game that changed you into a gamer?

CRAIG CAMPBELL – D&D was my first RPG experience, specifically a Ravenloft game (which is poetic since I’m a horror movie fan). I played a bunch of RPGs throughout college, not just D&D. I think it was that experience as a whole that transformed me into a gamer, knowing that there were so many different games and getting a chance to play a bunch of them.

EGG – What prompted you to create NerdBurger Games?

CRAIG CAMPBELL – I had been freelancing for D&D (along with a little Pathfinder, Gamma World, and Iron Kingdoms) for several years. As Wizards of the Coast ramped down D&D 4E and started playtesting 5E, my freelancing started to dry up. So like a sucker, I decided to try to make my own RPG. That became Murders & Acquisitions and the beginning of NerdBurger Games.

 

EGG – As a Kickstarter veteran, what have you learned from your prior gaming Kickstarters?

CRAIG CAMPBELL – Kickstarters are a lot of work. People told me that before the first one. I said, “yeah, yeah, mine is a little game and I probably won’t even get that many backers.” Eight months later, after the Kickstarter and the publishing/fulfillment stages took up a significant amount of my free time, I understand. Now I understand.

EGG – What other projects are you currently developing?

CRAIG CAMPBELL – Die Laughing is the big one. It’s likely to be the next RPG from NerdBurger Games. I’m also tinkering with a very simple RPG that parents and kids can play together. And I have an idea for a sort of, kind of science fiction-ish game that takes place during an apocalypse that features an interesting twist.

EGG – Any parting thoughts? Where can we find out more about CAPERS RPG and NerdBurger Games?

CRAIG CAMPBELL – Thanks so much for having me do this interview. And thanks to all the people who have backed CAPERS so far. I hope to be able to say that to many more people in the coming days. You can learn more about my game stuff at NerdBurgerGames.com. On Twitter, I’m @NerdBurgerCraig. You can buy stuff at DriveThruRPG.com, but check the CAPERS Kickstarter first. M&A is an add-on there. So if you like both games, you can get a sweet deal.

 

You can find out more about the campaign here – CAPERS.

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Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or on Facebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links to DriveThruRPG.com and Amazon.com.

Savage Worlds: Fast, Furious, and Fun! - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

 

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Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer™

Wanna-lancer™ Checklist T-shirt available at Cafepress

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Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:

Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or on Facebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).