2014
04.11

The Matrix: Haters still Hate?

By @Todd Secord

My history with The Matrix has always been a weird one. Back in 1999 I didn’t find the original particularly inspiring. I even remember being mad when it took best special effects at the Oscars. That year was also the Phantom Menace, and although you had a very shitty movie, the 2000 special effects shots it mustered, at the time, was an outstanding feat of movie making.

matrix vs star wars

Right after this moment is when the hope for an awesome Star Wars Prequel began to fade…

I mean, The Matrix’s slow-mo thingy was interesting, and later paved the way for Zach Snyder to use it and never give it back, but the Wachowskis’ film left me wondering what all the fuss was about.  Later, when the sequels came out I was indifferent to see them, somehow dismissing their merits because all of sudden so was everyone else. In fact, so complete was my disdain that I was verbally writing the films off to other people without actually having seen them. A big no-no for my personal nerd code, or maybe that was a dark time for me…maybe not a great year personally…and thus I was sufficiently distracted and pissy as to forget the wonder of nerdery for a time…

Matrix, Morpheus, Sword

Who needs a light saber when you have a katana? So friggin’ badass.

 Then, at the beginning of summer 2006 the clouds were lifting and I decided to spend my vacation catching up on a few things. The first of them was Blackhawk Down. Oh boy did that movie hit me hard. I actually found myself, a self-described movie guru, breathing hard during the parts where I supposed to breathe hard. It had been a long time that I had experienced total film immersion – maybe not since Saving Private Ryan? Probably. But it’s always neat when that kind of thing happens.

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Then, just two days later, I was sitting in front of Matrix Revolutions, yes, the 3rd film in the series and inexplicably feeling that same film immersion thing happening again. Of course, seeing as I hadn’t seen Reloaded yet I had to fill in the blanks as to what was going on, but it didn’t matter. Revolutions was so superbly thrifty that it freed me up to enjoy it for what it was – good ol’ Science Fantasy in the tradition of the original Star Wars films. I was mesmerized. So much great stuff that had been visually accomplished before in comics was suddenly swirling around seamlessly in some very detailed special effects – worthy of Oscar level accolades – and making me laugh out loud. It took me back to my very young days of playing with my Micronauts, x-wing fighters and Lego robo-men. It was a trip.

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Reloaded was watched almost immediately after, and then the 1st Matrix for good measure, and thus completed a reverse trilogy watch, which was a first for me.

The Matrix films had become a secret pleasure, seeing as I bad mouthed them to friends so often before, again, without reason.  Now, I really had no reason but it wasn’t worth the shark like fastidiousness that becomes a tank full of nerds that smell blood. Yes, like most predators, nerds hunt in packs as well.

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…this is what it generally looks like. Don’t get on their bad side.

So, ever so quietly, on a monthly basis I would watch one, if not all of the Matrix films, and each time I did I would learn some new detail, some neat point that I hadn’t caught before. In time, I had concluded that within the trilogy resided some pretty awesome, well executed ideas. And let me tell you, I hate manga/anime.

Imagine my idiotic surprise when I slowly began to discover that there were a sizable percentage of sci-fi nerds that were still not big fans of the sequels, in much the same way that they weren’t jazzed by the Star Wars prequels. It shocks me to think that with so much not so great sci-fi stuff out there, the Star Wars prequels being the extreme side of that scale, that somehow The Matrix trilogy would find itself left out in the cold reaches of nerd space garbage.  Needless to say, the following will be on the opposite side of that “garbage” argument…

Of course, listed in no particular order, are likely the most iconic complaints about the trilogy…why do “fans” hate it so?

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The Matrix is Everybody’s Favourite: Let’s just get this out of the way fast and say, for the sake of argument, that everyone loves the first one. Ok, let’s move on.

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morpheusApparently, Reloaded and Revolutions Have No Plot:  I love this one. ‘Cause anyone who would say this clearly doesn’t know either A) the definition of what plot actually is, or B) stared at nothing but Trinity’s leather soaked body for the entirety of both movies…

Trinity, Matrix

So what is the plot? Simple. Somewhere good and early into Reloaded there is a meeting between the crews of 3 ships. At this meeting it is made known that the big bad machines are beginning to burrow their way to the human home city of Zion in order to destroy it. The ship’s crews don’t like this. They initiate a plan to stop it from happening…and for the rest of both movies that’s exactly what happens. The ships, their crews, the people of Zion, their leaders, and the specific personalities they call heroes all work towards the goal of human preservation. Consequently, The Machines don’t like this. They spend the rest of both movies trying to destroy humanity. Along the way we learn of things like faith, and love, and causality. We also watch character growth, in Neo, Morpheus, and just about everyone else in the movie. These are all signs of plot.

Maybe where the confusion lies is that although Reloaded and Revolutions are separate movies, following all the normal plot patterns that individual movies are prone to do, they are actually one big movie cut into two parts – similar to Richard Lester’s Three and Four Musketeer’s, or the Kill Bill films. Moreover, The Matrix is about Neo, the coming of a Messiah like figure. Reloaded is about love and faith. Revolutions is about accepting one’s fate in the face of self-sacrifice. Remind you of anything? Hint: It involves “real wrath of God type stuff.” Trust me, all the movies have plots.

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Of course, this mild revelation isn’t enough to convince those that would still choose to dislike the movies, because it isn’t the plot that they actually have a problem with. The problem has to do with some of the “devices” that move the plot along…

Upgrades: Maybe it’s because there are certain conclusions that the first movie reaches that Reloaded takes, and then, y’know…reloads. Primarily, that Neo finishes the first film as a God within The Matrix. Literally at the beginning of Reloaded Agents attack Neo, and based on what we’re led to believe at the end of the first movie, Neo should have made them all explode by just looking at them. Kinda like what Naome Campbell does with hotel maids. But this is not what happened. Neo finds himself fighting them like usual, much better at it mind you, but when an Agent actually defends against his attack, he dismisses it as “upgrades”.  Choosing not to finish the fight,  Neo flies away.

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Strange…you knew that I was trying to punch you…

This whole sequence has angered fans. I guess because the idea of a sequel angers them altogether. The first movie ended without any loose ends and that Neo was a god, humanity’s protector. To see him not being able to destroy things with but a twinkle of his nose is no fun, and anything less is beneath the character. Therefore, the idea of everything getting stronger, or upgrading, is just a stoooopid device to give Neo a reason to punch again. Ergo, the movie sucks.

Orrr, we can also realize that The Matrix itself isn’t really the focal point of the movie. The destruction of Zion is. The destruction of Zion is a “real” possibility, while the Matrix is a device, literally. The Matrix is essentially a video game where anything can happen, so the god-like Neo is as only as god-like as it allows. The Matrix dictates the rules, Neo, Morpheus and the Agents are just really good at bending them. Upgrades, scmudgrages you say? If that’s the case Todd, what then sets Neo apart?…

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“Down here, I make the rules.” Inner logic folks. Apparently there are parts of the Matrix that Neo has no domain…

 Neo as Christ/Superman: Maybe it’s because he actually IS a god – or at least a mortal with super powers (more likely). This is evident when he starts destroying machines in the real world with his mind…ANOTHER point that seems to piss people off. Once again, this criticism is ridiculous when you consider that the movie itself is fantasy based and that one would think that nerds, who love super beings that can destroy everything else with their minds (telekinetics such as Jean Grey, Carrie and Scott Baio) can’t seem to wrap their brain around a guy who can destroy machines with his mind.  It’s not that far off really and the movies do a pretty good job of setting it up. The whole crux of the problem for the humans in The Matrix is that they perfected making machines so well that those very same machines became self-aware. Since they became self-aware, they suddenly developed the drive for self-preservation. In this “will” to live, the machines rose up against the humans and reversed the situation almost verbatim. When the dust had settled nothing had changed really – only that now the humans were the slaves and the machines were the masters.

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If a machine can take on human emotions and affect the human world, than why can’t a human think like a machine and affect the machine world?  I guess you can call this “causality” which the movie goes out of its way to explain. Humans develop machines, depend on machines, and make machines their “slaves”. In reaction to this, machines by way of this oppression do what they were destined to do and self-actualize. Since nobody enjoys being a slave, they rise up and turn the tables on Humans. In time, they oppress humans and make them the slaves.  Neo is the result of a continuation of the pattern. That being, a human self-actualizing as a machine and rising up against their machine oppressor. So yeah, at some point, as a human, he should be able to blow up machines by just thinking about it. But he can’t do it in The Matrix anymore, because that’s Smith’s territory now. In the actual Matrix, by the end of Revolutions, he has to do it Jedi style with Smith and go to the light sabers so-to-speak. To really drive the point home on the whole yin-yang thang, Smith actually possesses a human as a machine vs. Neo who can possess machines as a human. Cause and Effect.

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Nerd Rage dictates that it was silly to call me “Bane”, like, there’s never been a villain named “Bane” before…

Dance Cave Parties: Hammered by most nerd commentary, the dance cave scene seems to almost spoil the movie out right for them. Love it or leave it, the dance cave scene simply establishes that there is life loving humanity in Zion – which is why Zion must be saved. Before the big party, Morpheus, like any spiritual leader, stands before the people and delivers a message of strength and hope. Then, they celebrate, in a cave because they’re underground, by dancing – which is what people generally do when they celebrate. The whole sequence is devoted to strengthening character relationships, either through Morpheus and Niobe, Link and Kali, Neo and Trinity, and/or just about everyone else in Zion. With the exception of the girl in the red dress, and Trinity in a muscle shirt, this is the first time there is sex introduced into the Matrix story. Oh yeah, and candles. Caves, sweat, music, dancing, sex and candles. Yes nerds, they all go together.

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Clearly, by comparison, Nerds have the party thing under control.

Betrayed with a Kiss: …In the same vein, there’s a lot of uproar over Persephone’s betrayal, or at least her reasoning for it. First off, how could what is essentially a computer program, feel and act on a thing such as jealousy? Or, for that matter, even feel betrayed by her “husband’s” infidelity? These are great questions. The answer is a simple one. They’re not computer programs, or at least not in the traditional sense. What is trying to be said here is that since they’ve been in charge for so long, the machines themselves have adopted the same traits as humans. They have become just as petty and insecure, secretive and arrogant. This is reflected in the relationship of Persephone and the Merovingian.

Can't tell you how many times this has happened to me

There shall be no icky kissing in Science Fiction. Ever. Except for Logan’s Run. And Brazil. And The Terminator. And…

Once more, the movie does a pretty good job of explaining this. At the beginning of Revolutions, when Neo is stuck in the subway he is kept company by Rama Khandra and his family. There are a couple of times where Neo questions Rama’s devotion to concepts like love and karma – seeing as a machine is likely not getting the most bang for its buck in these departments. Khandra, as a program seems to understand Neo’s confusion over their loyalty to such notions but basically he explains that even to a machine love is what you make it. Call cheese if you will, but what’s happening here is that in the process of self-actualization, and self-preservation, machines have to learn to cherish as well – they are giving themselves a reason to live. Although this may not directly translate to the power of love that Neo feels for Trinity, to a machine, their idea of love is good enough.

rama kandra

Programs, who need programs, are the luckiest programs…

And this takes us back to Persephone’s kiss. Whereas we see a dependable connection between Khandra and his wife, we do not see this in Persephone and the Merovingian. A way of saying that machines suck at relationships as much as humans do. And furthermore, something like “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” is apparently a machine trait as well. So, in conclusion, behavior, action…it’s all relative, whether from a machine craving something as simple as a kiss, or an equally jealous human willing to kill because of it.  More importantly, I think what the real message in all of this is that love is so important to being human that even something as unfeeling as a machine learns to need it as much as anything else.

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It does look like they made up tho’.

The Architect: Oh, the Architect! Made fun of time and time and time again. Yes, I did like this scene. I’m writing a blog on why the Matrix Trilogy is totally awesome…of course I did. Here’s Neo and the gang working so hard to get to the “source”, peeling back layer after layer of the Matirx, risking life and limb and the Key Master to get to it, and it turns out that it’s really Coronel Saunders brother – without the bucket of chicken no less. Many, many nerds thought this a huge disappointment. I on the other hand immediately thought of the Wizard of Oz. No foolin’. I thought of the Wizard of Oz and the part when Dorothy and the gang get to meet the wise and powerful Wizard of Oz and it turns out that it’s just some old guy behind a curtain working a bunch of buttons and leavers. Sounds just like the Architect doesn’t it? And just like the Wizard, the Architect has a lot of answers to questions that Neo hasn’t even thought to ask yet…

Wizard-of-Oz,-Matrix

Like, “Neo, did you know that there have been 6 different versions of the Matrix, previously hinted at by the Merovingian and Persephone, and that you, Neo, are the sum all things that are wrong about the Matrix…that is, you’re the inevitable glitch that eventually tries to fuck everything up for us. We know this, because it’s basically happened 6 times before, which means, Neo, you ain’t as special as you think. Now, be a good boy and go back to Zion with a small population so we can start this shit all over again, like we have 6 times before, because I ain’t gonna lie to you, we need humans to survive.”

Master-Control-is-Shy,-Matrix,-Tron

“Six times before”. Think about that for a few seconds. I mean, admittedly, it’s not as juicy as the Architect telling Neo that he’s his father, or that Trinity is his sister. No, but what the Architect is saying is that getting to him is supposed to be the end to the story. When Neo tells him to go screw, that Neo is not willing to sacrifice his loved ones, we now have a reason for the rest of the story to continue, and that this is highly unusual because Neo would be the first in after 6 other outcomes to say “You can keep you’re stinking offer, I’m going to selfishly sacrifice everything for love.” And then he high tails it out of there just in time to save Trinity.

This is actually a pretty cool plot point because now, without all the obvious, we finally get to see just how special Neo is. That he is willing to call the machine’s bluff even if the stakes are against the human race.

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What the Hell Happened At the End?: Admittedly, at first I wasn’t quite sure either. In fact, I got worried that the ending was only going to let me down when it seemed to kind of, y’know, go on, and on, and on…like, they were afraid to end it. And like I mentioned before, I hate anime with an unbridled passion, so since The Matrix had this heavy anime influence, it almost seemed like it was heading right into one of those silly, super contrived, impossible to understand spiritually infused quantum physics style endings that only anime gets a kick out of.

But then it didn’t.

matrix expulsion

There was an explosion that rippled through The Matrix, and then the Oracle was lying in a puddle where Smith used to be – no Neo at all. And thus I figured it had to do with viruses. That is, Smith was essentially a computer virus that was assimilating The Matrix and that Neo was the cure. But in order for the cure to activate, it needs to work from within, and that was only going to happen if Smith assimilated Neo as well. Neo is a virus for the virus. He fully understands his purpose in the last moments when he hears Smith utter the words of the Oracle, “Everything that has a beginning, has an end”. Not only is this a signal to Neo as to what to do next, but it is also letting Neo know that the Oracle is still within in The Matrix, bidding her time, waiting for him to make the final sacrifice. It is a calculated gamble, using Smith, the super virus to threaten the destruction The Matrix, and thus the machine’s main source of power, which concludes as a means to leverage a deal for peace. Factor in the repetitive nature of “The One”, a human’s resolve to die for everything, and the machine’s willingness to agree to the Oracle’s terms had to be, understandably, pretty agreeable.

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Philosophical Gobbledee-Goop: Yet another frustrating criticism when you consider that both Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back – especially Empire Strikes Back – is filled with as much of the same kind of dialogue.  Star Wars has to do with fate, destiny and a willingness for self-sacrifice.  The Matrix is completely guilty of adopting the same themes. Even more so when you figure how heavily influential Eastern culture is already on The Matrix story as a whole. You have a major character called the Oracle. You have another character that is messiah-like and nick named “The One”. There’s martial arts. I guess what I’m saying is, OF COURSE there’s a constant stream of “You won’t truly know someone until you fight them”. The movies are also unashamedly chalk full of never-say-die, love-conquers-all, life-is-a-series-of-choices themes that repeat themselves over and over again. Again, no different than Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, or just about every other morality tale set in desperate times. The Matrix isn’t just trying to make you say “Wow, cool!” a bunch of times, it’s also trying to empower you with the same “isms” that make us socially stronger in our day-to-day. It’s trying to equip us with the ability to not always assume the worst. But most of all, it’s simply trying to get us to think outside the box about how time and fate are supposed to work. It ain’t scholarly about it, that would be true, but what it is trying to do is to peak your interest in such things.

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Do, or do not, there is not try…Also, beer.

 “Granted, the Sequels are Full of Heart Stopping Set Pieces and Unbelievable Visuals but They Still Suck” argument: This is the most tiresome of all the things said about the sequels. Reloaded contains an exceptionally complicated car chase, likely one of the best hand-to-hand wire work combat scenes you’ll ever see, some really cool characterizations and last but not least, one of the best soundtracks a movie can muster, and yet this is not enough.

Agent_ReloadedRevolutions is widely regarded as having a never ending stream of iconic cyber-punk images and special effects which included, a titanic battle that involved mech-style exoskeleton battle suits (a mini-Pacific Rim if you will), a blood rushing ship from squid chase through an impossibly narrow tube network, and a super hero style battle over a cityscape in the rain. I mean, c’mon! AND, if I may be so bold, a fact which nobody seems to pick up on is that there are a bevy of female characters – an aspect that is usually passed over in most sci-fi action films – that are constantly saving the day as much as any other character in the movies. Niobe is an essential part of the Matrix sequels, almost as much as Trinity or The Oracle. She’s totally Han Solo.

Han-Solo-and-Niobe,-Matrix

 Nerds Can Be Pretty Picky: To sum it all up, Nerds can be pretty picky, if not inconsistent in what they choose as being cool. As I’ve said from the beginning, there is a long list of movies that commit crimes against their inner logic a lot more often with greater WTF? factor than any of the Matrix movies but they end up getting waaaay more love

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Remind you of anything..?

How this happened is likely up to timing. I mean, how many films that were once box office bombs are now considered classics? Like, a lot. Goonies was not a big deal when it first came out, but don’t say that to a twenty-something. They’ll have you believing it’s the greatest thing since the Wizard of Oz. But the best comparison for the Matrix is Blade Runner. It’s another one that was totally dissed when it came out. Now? Now it’s regarded as one of the most influential movies of all time, and frankly, even though it’s been roughly 30 years, still looks good compared to the films of today.

bladerunner

I guess the problem for me is that even 10 years after the fact, the hate is still brimming for the Matrix movies. If you use Rotten Tomatoes as a source, The Matrix is 87%, Reloaded is 73%, Revolutions is 36%. Comparatively, Blade Runner is 91%, and happens to be in the National Film Registry. Yet, Revolutions is not a 36%, certainly not in comparison to other films of its genre.

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I’ve said this before in previous blogs, and I’ll say it again…I think what’s happened here is what I like to call the “Star Wars Effect”. In other words, let’s blame the prequels. Nerd audiences were going through a strange time when the rest of the trilogy came out – we were in the midst of dealing with the idea that the Star Wars prequels were totally sucking.  Although tempered by the success of the Lord of the Rings, because Peter Jackson was succeeding with his movies, it just made us even angrier with George. Attack of the Clones was released summer of 2002, giving us a year to let our nerd rage boil to just the right temperature once Reloaded came out in 2003. Revolutions followed suit that same year, opening in November.  This was unusual for movie sequels, opening in the same year, and the lack of time between the films likely didn’t help the wave of “unpopular” opinion. Blade Runner experienced something similar, being released in a year where there were a lot of now classic sci-fi movies – E.T., The Thing, and Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn. Coincidentally, it probably didn’t help that it came out during the original Star Wars era where people’s take on science fiction was high adventure, not futuristic film noir.  However, both Blade Runner and the Matrix Trilogy are of the cyberpunk genre. The earlier one is originally persecuted for being essentially cyber-punk and not space opera enough, and the other is being persecuted for being too space opera and not cyber-punk enough. Funny, how times have changed.

matrix, APU

I’ll admit, the above theory may sound convoluted at first, but remember, I was so angry after the plight of the prequels that I wasn’t even paying attention to The Matrix movies, let alone going to the theater to purposely talk myself into being disappointed by them. I left them alone, stewing in my nerd rage until the time was just right to sit down and give them a chance. And like I said, they did not disappoint, because, they’re that awesome.

photo Needless to say, if you haven’t watched the films in a while then watch your favourite sci-fi flick of the last 10 years and then give the Matrix Trilogy another try. I’m willing to bet you might actually be surprised.

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Related Links:

http://blog.mindfull.co/2011/02/youre-wrong-when-you-say-the-matrix-sequels-sucked/

http://mysticalchrist.org/movies/the-matrix/

http://reflectionsonfilmandtelevision.blogspot.ca/2011_09_04_archive.html

2014
03.30

David Trampier: A little bit of ‘dis and DAT…

By @ToddSecord

Fantasy Illustrator, David A. Trampier 1954-2014

I have been playing Dungeons & Dragons for over 35 years now and it would be an understatement to say that every facet of the game has influenced my life in some way shape or form. Of this, the chief influence would likely be the fantasy art and artists that, in the early days of D&D, did much in the way of establishing the phenomenon of role-playing games as a whole.  So, given the recent passing of David A. Trampier (DAT, Tramp, “Wormy”), I can’t help but feel saddened and nostalgic.

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To many, Trampier would be considered the grandfather of RPG illustration, a definitive starting point for the visual brand of Dungeons & Dragons in much the same way that artist Jack Kirby is revered for being so in the field of comic books. With his work on the Monster Manual, DMG, and Player’s Handbook, not to mention his long standing run with his comic strip “Wormy”, DAT’s illustrations were, for me, the diamonds found in books laden with a treasure trove of fantasy art.

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Greatest Dungeon Master’s Screen ever.

I had already been drawing and painting before I discovered Dungeons & Dragons, and my favourite subject matter from the very beginning was, coincidentally enough, medieval fantasy.  David Trampier, as well as the rest of TSR’s stable of artists, did much to throw fuel on the proverbial fire of my growing love of telling stories visually, as well as quite simply, drawing cool monsters.  Many years later, in the wake of his passing, it is easy to say that Trampier’s visionary illustrations, at a time where fantasy imagery was nowhere near as accessible as it is today, is still king.  Me being the fan that I am put a list together of the Top 10 Illustrations of 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons some time ago, a list that I should preface by saying is dominated by David Trampier, and rightly so.

I guess, as I write this, I can’t help but feel that a little more hero worship is in order; the following deriving from the inspirations that Trampier’s illustrations gave me, as a young artist and gamer, and now, as someone who had the opportunity to turn his love for a hobby into something a bit more…

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Arthur Rakham on the first two, NC Wyeth on the next two.

I’m a big fan of the work of NC Wyeth and Arthur Rackham, and that is likely because they reminded me of Trampier, or more likely, Trampier was a big fan of them and I just saw it through his work. As you can see, it is hard to look at one without thinking of the other. At least from their ability to infer a narrative, choice of composition, and character design. As for DATs classic pen and ink style? Well, there are tons of sources for it, but there’s one thing I think would be safe to say, he was a follower of Henry J Ford

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Which, should remind you of this…

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Yes, and because the internet is pretty cool for this kind of thing, in case you were not aware, the setting for Trampier’s iconic “Emirikol the Chaotic” is in real world Rhodes…with an extra bit of research on the possibilities thrown in for good measure here.

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I’m no Dan Brown, but if you look at the illustration you will see a Mason symbol under the Emirikol monikor, and I believe there is another on Emirikol’s pendant (under higher resolution). Don’t know what the “S” coat of arms might entail, and why “Griffen” uses an “O” (the spelling suggests a breed of dog), and really, the street is connected with the Knights Hospitaller, which had nothing to do with the Masons…so, there.

Lastly, while we’re making connections, Howard the Duck has always felt like an inspiration for Wormy, at least from my point of view…

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The talking duck didn’t really impress me, but the talking dragon was pretty damn cool.

When I was younger, Wormy for me was always about the art, the humour having a darker tone despite the ironic whimsy and big eyed, cartoon style goblins and trolls. When I got a bit older, and started making the connection to Gerber/Mayerik’s Howard the Duck, I also felt that there was a rather innocent “Fritz the Cat” vibe running through Wormy as well – albeit, minus all the things that made Robert Crumb’s counter-culture strip so controversial. When I finally started to genuinely “get” Wormy, it shifted on me to become more “psychedelic”, creating the opportunity for Trampier to really flex his visual and artistic muscles. And boy did he ever.

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As Wormy continued, and Trampier had steered my eyes to other classic fantasy artists (because, I was perfectly content on just focusing on DAT, Erol Otus and Jeff Dee), I found his employment of different kinds of methods also intriguing. Everything he did I would study up close, attempting to figure out how he created the illusion of luminosity, or mood, or generated the patterns that helped to create his forms.  One technique he used that I would later go on to try throughout my art school days was the use of scratchboard. Scratchboard is an illustrative technique using sharp knives and tools for etching into a thin layer of white China clay that is coated with black India ink.  Basically, you are taking a negative field and pulling the blacks out to reveal the whites underneath. It is a very cool method, and if used in the right manner, is very effective:

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If you’ve seen Mark Summers’ style of scratchboard, a similar technique is used in the below illustrations. However, I don’t believe that they are specifically scratchboard (most likely brush and ink), but by varying the thickness throughout the linear pattern it helps to create the impression of blurred light.

Linear-technique-trampier

It is this ability to manipulate “light” that gives DAT his special quality. By balancing positive and negative space, he achieves a sense of atmosphere, and it is this atmosphere that helps to punctuate the inferred story in each of his illustrations.  In some cases, with just minimal detail, they can evoke time, depth or just how claustrophobic a subterranean passageway can be.

Tramier-light-and-dark

Even with the ability to instill the fantastic, it did appear that DAT enjoyed depicting the mundane as much as anything. I remember reading somewhere a quote from the amazing Keith Parkinson, something to the effect that “one must paint the backgrounds as if they are in the real world, that way that which is fantastic in the foreground can seem rooted in its own reality.” Trampier appeared to have his own philosophy in this respect, choosing to show the fantastic at its most normal. Instead of portraying the great hall of the Hill Giant Chief, he would rather put the activities of its kitchen on display. A man working a sharpening wheel for an Enchant an Item spell is just a man, not some great wizard imbibing a noble weapon with power. Even the heroes of the legendary cover to the Player’s Handbook are devoid of anything exotic or unique.   This was a very interesting approach, one that was never lost on me – that sometimes the fantastic is not really that fantastic at all.

Trampier-Mundane

My friend and artist, Claudio Pozas gave me an idea – that I should end this tribute with some examples of my own work, pieces for which at the time of their inception were drawn with the ever present DAT in mind. Here are a few, but to be honest, his influence can be found throughout all my work. Regardless, it’s a terrible shame that David’s time is over.  Still, even with an extended hiatus, his art is alive and well, and judging by the outpouring of reaction to his passing by fan and artist alike, this couldn’t be more true. Thank you Mr. Trampier, for everything.

Fast-Winter-Town-ink Dwarf-Gris-Glade-(2) Test-cover-IH

2013
12.19

Happy Holidays from the Fiery Dragon Family – 2013 Edition

WOW! Is it that time already? So be it…

xmas2009

SALUTATIONS FRIENDS, from all of us at Fiery Dragon – JK, James and Todd.  At this special time of year we always enjoy extending a Happy Holidays to all our friends, family and fans – which, all 3 don’t really need to be categorized but this is the internet and the internet enjoys lists, so read on!

Top 12 Christmas Thoughts Fiery Dragon is Having Right Now!

12. “Season 1 of Justified is awesome.”

11.  “ Joyeux Noel to our extended FDP family of Scott, John, and Claudio!” Cheers to your families and friends!

10. “Does Santa play X-Wing minis? And if so, how many Tie Advanced is unreasonable to ask for?”

9. “Prost to Steve, Rich, Stewart, Aaron and the rest of the gang.”  We see you once a year, but we think of you throughout. All the best to you and yours.

8. “Naughty Miss Santa Costume?…*click*…Christmas cosplay confirmed.”

7. “You have reservations at Ruth Chris and you’re buying? No can do I’m afraid! I’m too busy working on Freeport!” And a Seasons greetings to Chris and Nik and the talented group that is working with us via Green Ronin!

6. “All you have to do is hobbit it up!”

5. “Podcastin’ baby, podcastin’!” Lots of fun this year with our alter ego @NerdTangent!

 

Don't forget our buddy rob Elliot's game Grow Garden Grow on your Christmas Wish Lists!

Don’t forget our buddy Rob Elliot’s game Grow Garden Grow on your Christmas wish lists!

4. “Feliz Navidad to Monte and Shanna!” And all the peeps at Monte Cook Games!

3. “Does any of my presents have the word “PS4″ in  it?”

2. “Watch a Peanuts Christmas.” Can’t have a year without something Peanuts…

…and the #1 thought this 2013 by Fiery Dragon?

1. “Pass the Christmas Tequila.”

2013
08.22

Fiery Dragon: Gen Con Update!

By Todd Secord

Hello everyone!

Fiery Dragon has survived another Gen Con! As is always the case, it was great to see all the amazing people that we have the honour to call friends every year. A special thank you for an awesome time from our buds at Green Ronin Publishing, Drive ThruRpg, Onyx Path Publishing, and Monte Cook Games, as well as to each and every other friend that we shared a handshake and a laugh with. You all never let us crazy gaming Canucks down! First off, it was great to see Chris, Nicole and Hal from Green Ronin to discuss the progress of Freeport: City of Adventure for the Pathfinder RPG. It’s pretty exciting to be working with them to be sure. And just as exciting was to see the cover art for the project at Wayne Reynolds‘ booth. It’s hard not to be a fan of Wayne. His dynamic style and tremendous sense of detail has become the face of fantasy art as we presently know it. Just a fantastic image and very inspiring. Cheers to Green Ronin and Wayne!

Sushi, me hearties?

  So inspiring in fact, that I basically did the same thing to our DM, Scott Holden whilst gaming one late Saturday evening/morning….although, Scott’s fins are likely not as sharp…

Lost in the world of...Bakshi Rotoscope?

Another highlight was Monte Cook Games’ release of Numenera. As you may or may not know, our own Fiery James was an Alpha Playtester for the project (says so right in the credits!) and ran a game for the MCG crew at the Con with great success!  The book is beautiful and the system and setting are great! Of course, all the best to Monte, Shanna, Ray, Charles and now Bruce Cordell!

Time to get yer cypher on!

 Oh yes, there was a lot of gaming. We did our D&D fix, but we also worked in a X-Wing Minis game, Cards Against Humanity, Love Letter, and a con favourite Flashpoint. All get high marks for fun and intensity, but it must be said that we have yet to beat Flash Point on the super heroic never ending hazmat explosions level after many, many tries at GenCon. Thanks to Rich, Scott, Steve, Matt and all the gang at Onyx and DriveThru RPG. Tons o’ Fun!

Also, drinking...

 Last but certainly not least, it was fantastic to see our good buddy Rob Elliott bring his family themed game, Grow Garden Grow to the Con. On Friday night he showcased his prototype at the ”Publisher Speed Dating” seminar which was an excellent experience to witness. Rob did great and we think he’s got a winner here!

Family dice game for 2 to 6 players!

Want to post a comment? Then go here.

Don’t forget about John Wilson! Here.

2013
03.30

Well, it’s funded! The Green Ronin Kickstarter: Freeport for the Pathfinder RPG has been officially backed! This is great news to be sure, both at Green Ronin and for us here at Fiery Dragon.  We would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to all the fans out there that participated in the funding. Furthermore, we would like to give a shout out to all the great designers and products that have come aboard since the beginning of the campaign. Cheers to all!

Now comes the hard work and determination to bring the best that we can to this project! Again, if you wish to give any feedback or have any suggestions, it’s not too late! Please feel free to post them here! Or, contact us through Twitter: James Bell @1jamesbell or Todd Secord @ToddSecord

2013
03.04

Fiery Dragon to help with Green Ronin Kickstarter: Freeport for the Pathfinder RPG!

We here at Fiery Dragon Productions are very pleased to announce that we will be working, in part, with Green Ronin’s latest Kickstarter project “Freeport: City of Adventure for the Pathfinder RPG”:

It would be fair to say that Fiery Dagon have enjoyed a long standing friendship with the fine people at Green Ronin. As with anyone who was there at the start of D20 OGL we’ve grown up with Freeport, not only in the sense of it being a series of very popular RPG products, but as fans and gamers alike. In this endeavour, we couldn’t be more excited and honoured to be given a chance to work within the famous City of Freeport and help Green Ronin bring it to the world of Pathfinder. You could say that we have drank and fought our way through the streets of Freeport like so many others and we will strive to bring the best possible scenarios and flavour that we can to our favourite city of pirates.

As you can see, Fiery Dragon will also be contributing in other ways as well. At both pledges of $50 and $100, along with all the other great incentives, we will also be offering our Summoned Monsters and Gold Collection PDF counter sets respectively. So, start yer pledging ya scurvy dogs! A special thanks in advance to eveyone who participates, and a thanks again to Chris, Nicole and the gang at Green Ronin. Yarr me maties! ‘Av at thee!

Cheers and let’s make this happen!

Want to give some advice? Input? A keelhaulin’? Post here! And/or…follow us on Twitter:

James Bell @1jamesbell

Todd Secord @ToddSecord

2013
01.27

Movie Inspiration #3: Skyfall, Mission Derivative

by Todd Secord.   Follow me on Twitter @ToddSecord

2012 was a really odd year for movies for me. Potentially, it should have been a bumper crop of never ending cinematic organisms but luckily I’ve trained myself not to get my expectations up tooooo high. For instance, Dark Knight Rises. Though flawed, it is still very entertaining, and could be forgiven since it was following arguably the best comic book movie thus far in its predecessor, Batman: Let’s remind Burton and Schumacher how much they can suck 2. I also loved the Avengers.

Unfortunately, after those two, Hollywood started to make it real easy to be cynical…

This is not a Wizard. Nor a dwarf. It's a big rubber head.

Prometheus…beautiful, stylish and an absolute mess. Not a great year for Ridley so I’ll stop there. Then there was the Hobbit…wanted to love it, hoped to love it, but got really annoyed with it…and expectedly so. And lastly, and just as frustratingly, there was Skyfall.

This film, like Batman, was entertaining for the most part, but it did have some serious, serious plot holes. Huge, gaping, sucking chest wound plot holes, and yet, I found myself recommending it… not because I thought it was good, but entertaining, which I said I thought it already was. However, unlike the other epics where the reviews are deservedly mixed, Skyfall is garnering an unusual level of praise…in fact, words like “masterpiece” are being used, or more commonly, “Best Bond Movie Ever.” This is annoying to me, because it’s clearly lacking and even more so, certainly not the best Bond movie…yes, I feel that it is my duty as a geek to go there…

Casino Royal: Putting the Awesome back into Bond. Finally.

For many, many years the Bond films dominated the genre of spy movies, the same as what The Lord of the Rings is to the fantasy genre, or what Bob Marley is to Reggae. Each era of Bond film was simply competing against the last. Then, the Bourne films arrived and re-defined what modern age espionage should be. Not only that, other offerings like Ronin, Spy Game, and Mission Impossible were starting to steal Bond’s thunder. Given the unfortunately poor reception to Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig was viewed as a re-boot, and an answer to Damon’s Bourne.  I love the Bourne films so completely that for me to say that Casino Royal matches wits and style with Bourne is a personal win as a fan.  From the very believable, yet over the top Parkour chase at the beginning to the bizarre torture scene at the end, with an honest to god dénouement involving a romance/betrayal, Casino Royal strove to be original in its presentation.  Its climax involves a card game, not the usual Cowboys and Indians style shoot out one has come to expect.  I mean, Bond is not even responsible for his own rescue.  All this culminates into a lot of movie, that is shockingly only 2 hours and 24 minutes long, but you wouldn’t know it given how intriguing the subject matter is handled.  All in all, Casino Royal is a very unique movie that if it were to suffer any kind of criticism, it would have been how hard it tried NOT to be the usual Bond fair.

Skyfall on the other hand appears to be a collection of other movies stitched together so abundantly that one begins to wonder if it’s actually a dedicatioin to all of the director’s favourite films -  a derivative homage that is cautiously subliminal in the wake of so many great movies before it?

I'm so bad ass I could crap in a cup and people would still love it. Now, Gotham, bring me that cup...

It’s well documented already that the director, Sam Mendes, has admitted that The Dark Knight was a big influence on Skyfall; “That did help give me the confidence to take this movie in directions that, without The Dark Knight, might not have been possible.”  I believe what Mendes was getting at is that if Christopher Nolan can do it, so can I.  What I don’t think he was necessarily admitting to was, in order to get there, he’s just going to copy his movie.  For me, a self-described movie guru, watching Skyfall was like listening to a P-Diddy record; I spent less time listening to the “music”, and more time pin-pointing all the movies Mendes was  sampling from.

Some obvious derivatives:

-          Jarvier Bardem’s “Silva” IS Heath Ledger’s Joker.  This is not even up for discussion.

-          When the baddies are gathering just outside the Skyfall estate, readying their weaponry from the trunks of their cars, this is totally a reference to the Peter Weir movie Witness.  There’s even the long shot of the evil henchmen walking down the country road towards the lonely house…

...just like this one...waitaminute.

-          Now, as crazy as this sounds, I don’t think it would be fair to pick on Skyfall for what is described as the “Home Alone” ending.  There are far too many movies that end in this kind of stand-off, and to be frank, it’s a tense filled situation that’s fun to see resolved.  What I was hoping for was just how clever Skyfall was going to get in playing it out.  Just for the record, Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs is likely the real inspiration here given Bond’s use of a shot gun, the similiarity of the house and all the MacGyver style booby traps.  However, the above movie Witness basically uses the same conventions as well, albeit on a smaller scale. It even ends with a standoff similar to Skyfall’s church scene, but with much happier results.

Think of the Aston Martin as Bond's ode to the Enterprise.

-          While we’re on the subject of the church scene, these kinds of moments are repeated all the time, but for me, there was a heavy sense of Wrath of Khan.  M/Spock didn’t die defending Bond/Kirk directly, but rather made a choice to face their respective deaths heroically.  I almost wished M was going to say something to the effect of “The needs of the many outweigh the needs – you get the picture.

Can you tell which one is NOT Albert Finney?

-          Did it HAVE to be Albert Finney at the end?  You would think that Bond producers would do everything they could to distance themselves from the Bourne franchise – be their own cool – but they turn around and cast the guy who plays the villain from Bourne’s past to be the friend of Bond’s past.  Why? Why would you do that?  And yes, although the use of a double barreled shotgun was mentioned from Straw Dogs, don’t forget that Bourne adopted one for the final confrontation on the farm at the end of Bourne Identity, which ALSO had a similar cat-and-mouse vibe.  And the whole practice shooting (let’s waste ammo for some reason) with the shotgun in the third act of Skyfall was just a little too The Unforgiven for me. Why would a professional killer like Bond need to practice with a shotgun anyway?

This is the response I would expect if quail decided to shoot back.

-          More Bourne.  Why they would allow for so much proximity to the Bourne films is just silly to me, however, the idea of Bond falling off a bridge, hitting the water only to let people assume he is dead is exactly how Bourne Supremacy starts.  In fact, Bourne hitting water is something that happens in all the Bourne movies, so why bother for Bond?  Having Bond laying low in a tropical paradise isn’t exactly a Bourne dissociation either.

Yeeeeaaaah, well, the 3rd picture is from Jaws. Couldn't resist.

-          More The Dark Knight.  We find out that Bond is an orphan, left with a large estate and mansion, and a butler.  By the way, the mansion has caves underneath it.

-          Silva’s whole “I’m going to get captured purposely, pull a switcheroo and then activate my plan while I’m on the inside” is wholly and completely The Dark Knight.  But, to be fair, a variance of this ploy can be found in several films including Silence of the Lambs and even Octopussy, but seems to be the device au jour amongst screen writers of late – Loki in The Avengers, etc.

People in glass prisons could really use a stone.

-          It’s the right of any franchise to re-hash and reference its own movies, but Skyfall does it more than you think.  The return of the Aston Martin shouldn’t be that big of a deal to any Bond fan seeing as they’ve been doing this for a while a now.  Most recently, the car appears in Casino Royal, but don’t forget it shows up in Goldeneye too.  Goldeneye also features a “00” agent gone sour in Sean Bean (just like Silva).

-          And then there’s all the old tropes and cliché that the movie is riddled with. Fights on top of moving vehicles (trains), “old” fogies being shown up by young upstarts, freakishly complicated master plans being executed flawlessly, impregnable government computer networks being hacked with predictable ease…all of this has been done countless times before, and Skyfall is a monument to it. In spite of this, there is no need to hold it against the movie.  After all, getting mad at a spy movie for containing all of the above is like getting mad at a cop movie for having its protagonists stripped of their badges after being set up for committing the crime that they were in the process of investigating in the first place. It’s par the course…

Alright. The top is from The Untouchables where Billy Drago, who is the evil Frank Nitti dresses as a cop to infiltrate a court house to wack a witness out of existence. Surprisingly, the bottom is not, but close enough...

Really though, all stories are derivative of one another, it’s how they handle this “coincidence” of ideas that make the plot unique or not.  This, as well as who’s watching.  I’m not the best candidate to debate on what the “average” movie lover might like or expect, especially now-a-days.  BUT, what is peculiar is professional film critics labeling this “the best Bond ever” because as you can see, if originality is a mark of great art, and I would like to think that it totally and completely is, than Skyfall drops from that mark.  I wouldn’t expect most viewers to grab the Straw Dogs or MacGyver references, but I could see Home Alone being used as a comparison, which I would imagine is even more deflating.  Regardless, when you factor in the connections of Nolan’s Batman films and Bourne, two recent franchises that would most certainly intimidate any franchise to come after, the need to associate almost becomes motive.

This isn’t about Casino Royal being the best Bond movie (which it is) or Skyfall being about as good as The Spy Who Loved Me, but more likely, since Skyfall the Bourne franchise is still the last word in present day spy films. Even with The Bourne Legacy now on the docket.  However, for what it’s worth, Legacy could be Bourne‘s Quantum of Solace. Just sayin’.

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2013
01.03

Deja Vu Gaming Review: Top Secret Adventure Lady in Distress

By Todd Secord      Follow me on Twitter @ToddSecord

In case you weren’t aware, The Crew’s very own James has a website called Nerd Tangent. Lately, aside from the regular posts about all things Nerd, James has us guest hosting on what we would like to think as the greatest recordings since the Peel Sessions. That is, we’re helping to contribute to James’ very own Podcast, aptly named the Nerd Tangent, which you can try out here (which presently consists of us talking to our buddy Monte Cook).

A podcast that was recently recorded with James, John, and I got me thinking about a particular Christmas memory that is about as nerd gaming as you can get…and culminated into this gaming review…

 

Top Secret RPG Adventure:  Lady in Distress by Mike Carr & Corey Koebernick

A good adventure is like a good song – in time, memories are attached to them. Lady in Distress is my Christmas adventure. As you can probably guess, when I was 12 I got it for Christmas, but there’s other reasons too. First of all, the cover is red, so there’s that. And it was a Top Secret adventure and there weren’t too many of those published either, at least at the time. More importantly, the adventure came with a number of innovations that were new to TSR’s adventure modules in general. Like, it took place on a cruise liner. A very interesting environment when you consider that the two previous Top Secret adventures were essentially modern day dungeon adventures – TSR not straying too far from the D&D formula…remember this introductory adventure…?

Operation: Sprechenhaltestelle or as it should be called: “How to hide a body…like, a lot."

The real spoiler alert is that the entire beginning of the adventure is false. The agents are lead to prepare for a mission that involves them penetrating a villa compound by paraglide. A full mission dossier is provided as players equip their agents for an assault in the foothills of Spain. As their plane reaches their intended target, they suddenly receive an intervening mission directive. The cruise liner “M/S Corona” has been overrun by terrorists out in the Mediterranean Sea.  Speed is of the essence for an effective response. The agents need to immediately reroute, paraglide onto the liner, and take out the terrorists before they can organize. I guess the devilish part about all this is that you have a number of agents equipped for a land based mission, not one out to sea. The player’s ability to improvise is the real shtick of the adventure.

Just to clarify: We’re talking about the thing on the left, not on the right, but the thing on the right is still dyn-o-mite!

To further compound the agent’s difficulties it appears that the terrorists’ real target is a Dr. Salcedo; a passenger who they are aware has samples of a biological weapon that he has decided to irresponsibly transport on the ship.  With the cruise liner being rerouted by the terrorists, if the agents don’t neutralize the situation in the allotted time it’s a good bet that the city of Monte Carlo won’t be shaking dice cups for much longer.  Luckily, for the players practically all the passengers have already been set adrift in the life boats – presumably to make the terrorist’s focus easier, however it wouldn’t truly be a terror scenario if they didn’t keep some of the crew and passengers hostage.

Like the majority of published modules of the time it cut its teeth as a tournament adventure at Gen Con. It makes no bones about it, dedicating space on how to run and score it as a tournament. I always enjoyed the inclusion of the tournament scoring, especially for Top Secret. For me, I liked to run Top Secret as one shot episodes and the Tournament scoring was a nice way of judging performance after the dust cleared.

Art chores were carried out by Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley, with I believe Jim Halloway as the cover artist (the module is devoid of credits for some reason). Odd to see these classic D&D artists doing subject matter that is not fantasy but it’s some great stuff regardless.

Eerily, being published in 1982, Lady in Distress would go on to demonstrate how real its danger was because a few years later the unfortunate incident with the Achilli Larol would happen.  I remember when the news hit what a scary coincidence it was and yet it did demonstrate just how close RPG gaming could come to imitating real life.

In spite of this though, the authors of Lady in Distress give no specific motivation as to why the terrorists are doing what they’re doing – just that their leader has been scorned by a hidden injustice. Nor do they reflect on what will exactly happen if the players fail. A wise move on their part being that such information was likely left open for the Game Master to develop. It’s this lack of specificity that could have held back the impact of the adventure, but intuitively they still managed to give the terrorists motivations and idiosyncrasies beyond what could have been the obvious. Whether it’s a doctor being held at gunpoint to stabilize a gravely injured comrade or a killer that specializes in throwing knives, there’s just enough flavour to add to the tension.  To its credit, it does give instructions on how the terrorists will react once the player commandos have been discovered and an alarm is raised.  For the GM, in order to keep the adventure from being static, there is a lot to consider on the fly.

This is not a bad thing. It just means that not only is it a challenging adventure for the players, but for the Game Master as well. Its ambiguity insists that the Game Master invest time in putting their own personal touches into the scenario, making it that much more rewarding to run. That, and taking pleasure in the players reaction when they get the call for the emergency re-route.  In actuality, there’s even more to look forward too.  One must be able to see in the pre-reading of the adventure that there are a number of possibilities for real adventure gaming – hostage situations that will likely require negotiating, the agents attempting “Metal Gear Solid” style stealth for as long as possible, and the ever present ticking of the clock all help to give the table top experience a fair amount of texture and fun.

Lady in Distress exemplifies what a modular, pre-set adventure should be:  An interesting and unique scenario that is generic enough to take on the personality of the GM and/or the campaign it will be set in. Lady in Distress was just one in a small list of published adventures for Top Secret that were all excellent in their own right – some of which we may feature later!

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2012
12.23

Happy Holidays from the Fiery Dragon Family!

Salutations from JK, James, and Todd! A special nod to John, Claudio, Scott, and all our phenomenal friends that we have been blessed to know and share a laugh with in our time as FDP. You have overwhelmed us with your generosity and good will.  Also, we cannot forget our families and loved ones, not only for their support but for their well timed rolling of eyes every time we say or do something nerdy. In this we know we’re doing something right. None of this would be any fun without you!

We’re going to leave you with a little bit of holiday cheer that not only makes us here at Fiery Dragon feel good, we’re hoping it does the same for you too…

2012
12.07

Movie Inspiration:  Are you excited to see The Hobbit? Why not? The Star Wars Effect and other Stuff.

By @ToddSecord

The Hobbit soon come.  It’s bizarre to me to think that within the week a film is opening, called The Hobbit, about The Hobbit, that really I know very little about.  Given all the fanfare and anticipation of the Lord of the Rings in the time leading up to that film, in comparison to The Hobbit you couldn’t tear me away from anything that had a picture or blurb on the subject.  And even after the initial relief of its success, the mania continued into the hope of the next two films.  For 4 to 5 years it was LotR awesomeness.  Time has passed since then, roughly 9 years in fact, and now The Hobbit is about to release and my attitude is pretty subdued, almost apathetic. Why then, in God’s green middle earth, is this?

Who the hell cares? is my first thought.  And then, upon further reflection, I guess it does matter as to why I could be so jaded as to not really be that interested.  I mean, for me.  You can continue reading if you like, but really, I need to sort this out here and now. But I don’t think I’m alone in this either.  Seriously, aside from the occasional TV commercial, there doesn’t seem to be that almost frightening level of intrusive buzz that is normally associated with this kind of thing.  Around Christmas even!  Some reasons as to why?

Behold!

The Star Wars Effect:

Let’s blame Star Wars!  It’s an interesting coincidence that the various releases of likely the most anticipated movies of the last 25 years (to that point) were peppered in and around the years of likely the most anticipated movies of the last 40 years.  Great time for geeks it was for sure, but since May of 1999 it became more of a fantastical ping pong game between soul crushing disappointment, and uplifting enjoyment.  Hypotheticals that rarely get discussed:  what if both Star Wars and Lord of the Rings sucked?  Ugly fcukn’ thought that is…In a do over, if you had the choice, which would you choose not to suck?  Interesting thought for me.  However, what is done is done, and time heals, and many of us have dealt with the confusing pain of the crappy prequels. And there’s the problem.  Y’see The Hobbit is a prequel, and we’re all suffering from prequel hangovers. I mean, “prequel” is starting to sound like a cheap tequila to me, especially now that every movie franchise out there seems to be investing in the prequel silliness with similar nauseated results (Prometheus, The Thing 2011, Hannibal Rising, etc.).

No more shots of prequel please.

ohh, allllll right. One more round...

Really though, The Star Wars Effect is about geeks – especially elder geeks – having to come to grips with the pull of nostalgia and its effect on why we might love the things we do. I remember the reading of The Hobbit quite fondly. I would love for this film to dazzle me. There’s a strong possibility it might not. I’m ok with that. Consequently, my low level of indifference has contributed to me not investing in The Hobbit the same way I did for Lord of the Rings.  Lucy ain’t gonna pull that ball away a second time…

 

 

It’s not ‘cause I’m older, but the Internet sure is:

You hear the following phrase a lot, and I believe it:

Now-a-days it’s hard to imagine the world without the internet. I don’t actually remember accepting the internet as routine until somewhere around 97’.  I wasn’t actually full blown using it until ’99, and it took the launch of Fiery Dragon that same year to finally envelope me in its world.  It exposed me to <obligatory porn reference here>, among other things, including www.theonering.net. It was an exciting time.  This new avenue of information and commerce coming to fruition was just as cool as suddenly being able to read and see real time reports and pictures about the Lord of the Rings.  All of a sudden I didn’t have to buy a magazine to get my fix on all the rumour surrounding it, and there were like-minded people available, although in a digital presence kind of way, to talk and debate with as well.  Essentially, the phenomenon of the internet helped to feed into the phenomenon of the movies. AND, we would later discover that this new internet community would have a hefty influence on the making of the films in all areas of production and design.  Well, that’s all old hat now.

Those were simplier times...

 

There’s Nothing at stake:

You ever notice that every time there’s a documentary on Star Wars, Peter Jackson is in it to eagerly comment and support, but when there’s a thing on Lord of the Rings, George Lucas is nowhere to be found? At least we know they’ve met…

Vader and Luke, together again...

As I intimated earlier, there does seem to be a synergy between the two franchises. Like the hassle it took Peter to actually get The Hobbit made.  The streak of development hell stories that seemed to be constantly hitting the ticker concerning The Hobbit was getting weak. The circumstances surrounding it sounded a lot like what George had to go through with Empire. Another example of Hollywood history repeating itself. That’s all worth a cute little Yoda yawn by my reckoning, because you just knew that if it came to it Scrooge McDuck himself was going to make this thing, so what was the fcuking hold up already?

In fact, the real tension for me was that for some inexplicable reason Peter announced that Guillermo del Toro was going to direct. I was cringing at the thought of puppets running rampant across the screen; like somehow a heavy dose of Hellboy II: The Golden Army was the final piece to The Lord of the Rings design criteria. Thankfully, someone reminded Guillermo of all the other contractual obligations he had to a trillion other projects (that he’s somehow involved in) that he will likely never make either. So he moved back to LA. Phew! Peter, how close you came to George’n’ it!

Ok, Now I get it!

Once the animatronic Smaug was wheeled away, Peter could finally allow himself to be solely in charge again, and make us all feel a bit better about where this was supposed to go, and that is, more of the same. When you basically have Cate Blanchett…sorry, I mean to say Carte Blanche…everything is at stake, and yet, because you have Carte Blanche, nothing is at stake…as long as it’s more of the same. The preview appears to be more Lord of the Rings. No more, no less. Well, that’s not entirely true. There does appear to be some pretty goofy looking ewoks in it.

Hubba - Hubba. Carte Blanche is right!

 

Um, Maybe Peter’s movies aren’t as cool as one would think?:

Just sayin’.  I love the movies, I really do, but hear me out…

Again, it’s easier to use Star Wars as the past precedent as we’ve all watched the movies a skillion times. So, with Star Wars, repeated viewing seemed to heighten the experience, fuel our imaginations, raise our expectations, and teach us what we like…with regard to the first two, certainly, the third was garbage even back then, but I hope you see where I’m going here. Weirdly, Lord of the Rings did not do this for me. In fact, the more I watched, the more my opinion changed on a few things. For instance, I’ve gone on record as to how much the music pisses me off. Howie Shore ain’t no John Williams and I’m sure he’s continuing the Celtic Fiddles of Boredom with The Hobbit (more of the same, more of the same). But there are other things too – Gandalf tells them when he’s returning to Helm’s Deep, which roughly translated, means “in the nick of time”; the crazy green zombie cloud in Return of the King; Gimli, elf friend, and purveyor of comic relief, and the modern language colloquialisms found throughout the dialogue. These are just a few.  I can come up with a sizable list.  I bet you can too.  In a lot of ways, the films were so well done that these annoyances feel more like George’s Special Edition annoyances seeing as they both come from sturdy source material that is loved by fans a hundred times over. Maybe that’s not a fair comparison because unlike George, Peter was very sensitive to the fan’s feelings on how he was going to make these movies.  His biggest obstacle was what to subtract, rather than what to add (although when he did decide to add, it was always kinda weak).  The Hobbit on the other hand turned out to be the opposite.  This is a one movie story.  Ok, ok, probably two. Sure.  But three movies?!  Now Peter’s problem is what to add rather than subtract.  Doesn’t seem like much of a problem.  That third movie is a $300 million dollar up-sell if you ask me. Anyone taking bets on extended versions?  At least the blu-ray should be available the same time as the DVD.

Just to clarify: What ewoks really look like

 

It’s The Hobbit:

This movie is NOT Lord of the Rings.  This movie is The Hobbit.  Not as sexy.  As I’ve said, I remember the reading of The Hobbit quite fondly.  From the perspective of a child.  As in, The Hobbit is a story written for children.  Let us not forget that fact when we happily rush to the theater to see it.  It’s the equivalent of all those adults reading their child’s copy of Harry Potter*, and then getting a must see on for the movie as well.  At least it is in theory.

I think the other point to quickly tack in here is that Lord of the Rings fans had the Bakshi film to unfairly beat on prior to Peter’s release.  The Rankin and Bass version of The Hobbit is remembered well for nostalgia purposes.  Does it still hold up?  We’ll see.  For me, I couldn’t help but compare the Bakshi film to Peter’s films.  I personally remember the Rankin and Bass film warmly.  I loved it, still do. Will Peter take the same tone with his film(s)?  Yeah, yeah no singing.  I get it.

Still smokin' dope like a playa tho'!

We already assume it’s going to be good:

In the beginning, Peter Jackson was a maker of cult horror films, and The Frighteners.  Collectively, in North America, we didn’t know who he was.  Now we do, and he has gained our trust…well, sort of.  King Kong was…not very entertaining in a lot of areas – kissy poo ice skating scenes and such.  However, he has done the geek mantle proud by winning a bunch of Oscars for a genre that’s never even gotten within a whiff of Oscar.  He showed Hollywood that you can have established material and strive to please its fans while taking their money and still have their respect.  You can have the cake and eat it too.

We’ve seen the previews, it’s more of the same, and everybody knows he’s awesome with this stuff.  No sense of urgency to jump on the hate wagon, or be dazzled otherwise.  I can hardly wait!

And now, the cake!

 

*We’re well aware that a sizable percentage of Harry Potter’s readership are adults without children as well. Personally.  If you know what I mean. ed.

2012
11.22

Gaming Night in Canada #6:  No Hockey? WTF! Table top sports games – baseball, hockey.

By @ToddSecord

I’m going to assume that the world outside of the True North is completely unaware of the fact that Canada has been living without its most cherished thing in the whole wide world right now. That is, we are presently without the NHL, or to the uninitiated, the National Hockey League, and to the severely uninitiated what that means is no hockey. In Canada. No hockey in Canada.

Perspective: No morning sex; no shopping for shoes; no gaming with friends; no milk with your cookies; no salt or pepper; no shots with beer; no mustard with your hotdog; no hotdogs; no baseball in the summer; no anything good, etc. and so forth.

I’m fully aware that this list is completely 1st world savvy and does not reflect the whole of a glass being half full. Nor is it particular in what makes one happy. Just know that in Canada, this is one massively disappointing start to a period of our yearly calendar where we are reminded why it’s awesome to be Canadian. And without the comfort of hockey for us to rally around, supply us with the default plan on a Saturday night, and bolster all the business and industry that benefits from the passion of our most beloved sport, and that fcuking apocalyptic Mayan calendar thing might as well be real. This sucks.

The comparison is a little too scary...

I guess the next stage of this blog is the question of why? Why no hockey? Ya’see there is a labour dispute and it’s all about money. The really, really, really stupid thing is, they already had a lock out in 2004, lost the entire season, and alienated fans to the point where attendance was down considerably the next year. Except in Toronto. In this city, we love our Maple Leafs so unconditionally that we’d pay $300 front row bathroom stall just to watch them take a shit. The Leafs haven’t done anything significant in what feels like a century, and yet the Air Canada Centre, the arena in which the Leafs play, is always sold out, crappy season or not.

"Hey Kessel! Don't forget to wipe!"

Now, overall, it is my understanding that most geeks don’t enjoy sports unless it involves a TV screen and a whole lotta button mashing. So be it. At this point, that would be your loss, and the whole geek vs. sport thing deserves another look see anyway, but at a later date*.  No, all that matters to us right now is getting hockey back before the skillionaires allow history to repeat itself and condemn us to another 5 months of winter without hockey – at least the really awesome elite professional kind.

Wielder of Anduril my ass.

Luckily, even though there is no Hockey Night in Canada, there is Gaming Night in Canada to help ease the pain – you’re welcome – and our thoughts take us to sports games in general…the table top, dice rolling kind.  If you have beer, please crack one open now.

Somewhere around 1984 the burgeoning members of Fiery Dragon and our friends, joined the high school “Games Club”. Maybe the significance of such a club would not be important now-a-days; I don’t know,  I imagine that there are still other related clubs that one can be a part of…like a chess club?  Really, the need seems redundant given what on-line gaming does for ya. Yet another thing up for further discussion**.

Ahhhh, Games Club. Close to how I remember it...

Our games club that first year offered the games that were in vogue at the time – everything from D&D to Civilization to Gammarauders. However, there was a faction of the club that was really into something called Strat-o-Matic Baseball. Later, we would just refer to it as “Strat”, but it was the first example I was aware of where there was an attempt to take the mechanics and physicality of a sport and simulate it through dice rolls and player statistics.

The true Mother of all Battles

There’s something about baseball, its structure, its pace, its love to track and quantify performance in every aspect, that’s so adaptable to other gaming platforms; whether on a pool table, or a pinball machine, digital games, video games, board games, or table-top dice games like Strat.

As an aside, Baseball is a hell of a sport. I love it. It’s on par with hockey in my book and like my Dad, you won’t find a bigger Blue Jay fan around since they came to town in ’77. Needless to say, back to back World Series in ’92/’93 – super exciting, and all my favourite sports figures are not hockey players; a list that would include Tom “The Terminator” Henke, Tony Fernandez, Jesse Barfield, Ryne Sandberg and Tony Gwynn…before I’d start gushing about Grant Fuher, Wayne Gretzky, Wendell Clark and Mark Messier…

Welcome to the Thunder Dome. click

…The next year of games club was when the Strat addiction started for everyone. The basics of Strat is a lot like D&D.  Characters are assembled in a marching order and dice are rolled against their statistics to determine an outcome within the parameters of the game’s set rules. But with Strat, instead of a wizard casting a lightning bolt spell to strike down a despicably evil jackass sacrificing a maiden, you had Jesse Barfield throwing one of his lightning bolts to gun down Rickey Henderson at home plate. You see, it’s all relative.

Meanwhile, back at the games club, it was one of those perfect storms that everyone talks about. Young, competitive minds looking for the immediacy of head-to-head fcuk you trash talking over the simulated statistics of Baseball.  Factor in a young Toronto Blue Jays organization winning the American League in’85 and then continuing to kick-ass for the next 8 years and we were hooked. It was still Games Club, but Strat was the game…

Cardboard gold!

Strat-o-Matic is licensed with real Major League teams, consisting of real Major League Players. A player’s performance for that year is calculated out, against right and left handed players, into Strat’s unique system of probabilities. Pitcher and hitter are paired up and dice are rolled against those probabilities producing an outcome.

Then, the full on trolling starts and the competition is at hand.  The running game, defensive stances, playing for the 3 run homer – all of baseball’s situations and strategies are represented and employed. It’s about as close to managing a real baseball team as it gets – as long as you have a sizeable group of likeminded players to do it with. Drafts, trades, seasons, playoffs, and World Series -we did it all.

TSR knew this would happen.

And the simulation translates well in its gameplay. Pretty close. However, IT IS a simulation and IT IS just a reflection of performance, so every now and then some batshit crazy will happen.  ”The Wizard”‘, Ozzie Smith was on my team, a team which I took to the World Series. First game Ozzie hit for the “Cycle” (single, double, triple, and home run), the home run being a Grand Slam, AND he stole home base. Broken, but still glorious. However, this was very rare and let’s face it, it was the dice’s fault. But also, Ozzie was that good.

Thanks for another Wizard reference OZ...zie.

In time Strat steered us into asking a very simple question, “What else can we roll dice too?” Strat-o-matic the company attempted every other sport available – football, basketball, and hockey…but our attempts to try them was foiled…Avalon Hill Games had put out a Statis-Pro series that covered everything, and I mean everything, but hockey. Regardless, we had acquired their baseball and football versions. The baseball was ok, but the football was actually very intriguing. It helped, I imagine, that the season we tried was the year of the ’85 Chicago Bears. Still, not enough to sway us from Strat.  And then there was another baseball card game called Pursue the Pennant.  It was very slick and comparable to Strat in many, many ways – lots of bells and whistles too.  It had this thing where you could convert its box into any one of the Major League ball parks. A fun gimmick, but really, that’s all that it was.  Strat’s ability to be played as easily as a game of dominos was part of the game’s appeal.  ‘Cause, we’d play that game in a closet if needed.

And then, out of nowhere we discovered something that could give Strat a run for its money: National Pro Hockey.

A hockey dice and card game no less, it came out in ’85 and it was a lot of fun.  I guess what really impressed us was that hockey is a fast paced free flowing aggressive sport that has stops and starts, penalties, and line changes – and yet somewhere in all the dice rolling it accounts for it all.  Each player has its own card, and tracks his play in each of the 3 zones of hockey; defensive, neutral, and offensive.  By segmenting the hockey rink in this fashion it “slows” the action down enough so the game mechanics can take over and let the simulation take shape.  Traditional hockey strategies matter and do affect outcomes.  The only criticism I had was that scores had a tendency to be a little high, that is, there seemed to be a lot of goals going back and forth.  But then, it’s the 1984/85 season which contained a lot of great players – from a young rookie named Mario Lemieux to Wayne Gretzky in his prime – goals were pretty abundant.  Fantastic game considering all the expectations it needed to satisfy, however it skated off into obscurity despite the fact that none of it ever went on strike. Shame.

Actually, its more of a lock-out than a strike.

High school ended but the desire to play Strat-o-Matic Baseball carried on.  Mini-tournaments with a little cash prize continued into the 90’s, everyone from the old games club happy to see one another and catch up.  Eventually, even those tournaments became hard to organize and “regular” Strat play became a pleasant memory.  This won’t be the last time I mention that games club I’m sure, but I always thought it was a special thing that a good number of its members still made the time to get together after the fact…just to cram another loss down some sucker’s throat one more time.

Methinks that this would be the part where I would say something on how today’s video games eclipse whatever dice games were ever available, and I guess they would be right.  I mean, yes, there would be a lot of truth to that.  Our love of Strat tournaments would later give way to PlayStation FIFA tournaments, and they would get just as heated.  And yes, in all these games they give you the option to play and manage your team, and that’s great, but there’s still something about Strat-o-Matic.  The game is more organic, and you’re generating the result, not the system’s A.I., and hand-eye coordination doesn’t even enter into it.  You could completely eliminate game play and just manage by joining a fantasy league, but that’s based on real time performance.  Strat-o-Matic relives the performance, with the premise of what may had been, rather than what is.

A couple of years ago, for a birthday, The Crew gifted me a recent set of Strat-o-Matic.  I had a smile on my face about it for days. I started writing this entry because of my frustration with the hockey strike and then, all of sudden, my beloved Blue Jays decided to get back to their old school ways and pull off a one hell of a trade.  A few days later they sign a quality outfielder and now we’re talking serious contention***.  Finally, miraculously, THANKFULLY, baseball is back in town if at least hockey isn’t, and maybe, just maybe, it’s time to break out that new set of Strat-o-Matic my friends so generously thought of…and whoop their asses at it.

Bring back the NHL! Let’s Go Blue Jays!          

Next: Hobbits and Star Wars…and maybe James Bond. 

*Likely right here on Gaming Night in Canada! ed.

** Again, likely right here on Gaming Night in Canada! ed.

***Check the news sports fans…the Jays are back! ed.

2012
11.08

Gaming Night in Canada #5:  Bringing Back Dorky – Dice Towers; Game Review “Conquest of Nerath”

By @ToddSecord

Where to begin, where to begin…

Don't worry, it'll make sense in a sec...

To start, I think that it’s fair to say that the hobby of table top gaming needs new blood.  Not that it doesn’t have new players getting interested at a decent rate already, but it could always use more, and we at Fiery Dragon do our best to influence those around us to either start table top gaming, or game even more. “Our influence” in so far as that we, as The Crew, exude a level of coolness that is so overwhelming that those that wish to be like us have a tough time deciding whether it’s us that make the games we play cool, or, and more likely, that we are cool because of the games we play.

Shiny!

The rest of this blog will likely do little, if anything, to improve that thought.

However, our love for all things geek shall forge on in spite of itself and so, just a few years ago, a fella named Rob appeared on our geek radar.  Rob was a gamer waaaaay back in the day, and our cool guy influence clashed with Rob’s cool guy influence, and Rob lost…the geek side of Rob suddenly expanding rapidly, like a pick-up truck full of Mentos desperately driven off a dock into a lake of soda.  In a matter of months, Rob had gone from purchasing and playing board games, to painting miniatures, to playing Magic, to playing role-playing games, to building dice towers, to designing his own games, to going to Gen Con, to playing Skyrim, to…waitaminute.  Back up there…

Building dice towers?  Rob was making dice towers?  Wtf?…

Click for Enlargement

When it came to Rob’s drinking of the geek serum, I was the proud villain, like Jimmy Jones or Dr. Frankenstein, and if there ever was a perfect analogy to describe Rob’s acceleration of geekdom, “Frankenstein monster” is it.  But building dice towers with irreverent themes…well, that’s just obscene.

In case you don’t know what a dice tower is, it’s a Rube Goldberg style “machine” that will successfully roll dice for you when you drop them in one end (usually at the top), negotiate some tumbler mechanism, and pop out the other end, similar to Taco Bell, but with a numerical result.  This of course replaces any need to use more traditional tools to roll dice, like your hands.  I guess the primary benefit of using a dice tower is that they generally control the die at the end of its path, stopping it abruptly in some kind of herding pen.  The implication being that it protects from those assholes that roll dice like drunken ping pong players – especially during board games that involve a shitload of pieces – who discharge the dice with a missile like force in order to disrupt as many of those pieces as possible and ‘cause everyone to think about where everything was…as well as losing the dice themselves under the table, or under the couch in the other room, or under the neighbour’s car.  I know this breed of inhuman well because I’ve played with them, but really, I’m one of them.  Trust me, many a losing game of Risk felt the atomic dice throwing fate of a fistful of carpet bombing 6 sideds in my day I can tell you.

Now, that’s a dice tower!

So, our gaming world was now awash with themed dice towers.  Cute, little – if Martha Stewart was a raging geek – knick-knacks that were, frankly, adorable.  I believe that inspiration comes in waves and wherever Rob got the inspiration to build a line of dice towers only survivors of UFO abduction would know.

BEHOLD!     

For enlargement, you must click!

We all got one.  My love for Thor got me a Mjolnir themed dice tower.  James got a Batman, Rob was Frankenstein, etc.  During this time I got it in my head to quit smoking cold turkey.  Combine that fact with a willingness to play Conquest of Nerath, and a desire to use said dice towers, and what you have is a Todd who is happy, effervescent, and content.

The Conquest Challenge

Conquest of Nerath is good if you’ve never played any of the Milton Bradley Game Master games like Axis and Allies, Shogun, Fortress America, Conquest of the Empire or Broadsides and Boarding Parties. Most notable from that series, obviously, was Axis and Allies, which has likely replaced Risk as the introductory war game that now-a-days most kids would play.  Regardless, Conquest of Nerath does very little to disassociate itself from that classic collection of board games, and so, it turned out to be a pretty ho-hum experience from our perspective.  Not that the game is bad in a specific sense, it’s not, but having already spent a lot of time pouring over those games at the kitchen table for many, many years, Conquest of Nerath is really just more of the same; more of the same when you can sum it up by saying that it’s basically Conquest of the Empire* but with Dragons, Wizards, and popular D&D Monsters.

Click me!

Outside of the fact that they couldn’t even change the thing’s name – Conquest of the Empire, Conquest of Nerath – types of pieces are similar, the board configuration is similar (Nerath is a lot like the Mediterranean, but that’s not Nerath’s fault), and the mechanics are similar.  Been there done that.  Of course, there ARE differences, but I don’t like them.  Methinks that with all new products of late, Wizards seems to be making an attempt to connect these products with nods to the lore of D&D (i.e. Castle Ravenloft, etc.).  In the case of Nerath, not only can you play up the epic fantasy war, but you can try side missions into various classic D&D “dungeons” such as Tomb of Horrors, Vault of the Drow and The Trollhaunt Warrens (Wha…?) scattered about the board.  I guess what they were hoping for was that old school gamers such as us would sit down at the table to play this new and exciting game and get all jazzed by seeing White Plume Mountain getting a mention.  Well, the problem here is that my White Plume Mountain isn’t located in Nerath, it’s in Greyhawk.  And somewhere in the tension of me not having a smoke, I was pretty pissed at the Frankenstein dice tower for producing such shitty results against the randomly drawn denizens of White Plume Mountain as to kill off my Wizard and Hero so easily.  And Keraptis can kiss my ass because I can map his dungeon from memory! And where the fcuk is The Ghost Tower of Inverness?

You know what to do...

Conquest of Nerath doesn’t skimp on the pieces.  It’s the perfect game for dice towers, and it’s a great game for an entry level gamer who would still find the subject matter refreshing.  Like I said, the hobby could always use some new blood. Thanks to Rob and the rest of The New Crew!

Next:  Star Wars, Hobbits and Hockey

*It would be fair to label Conquest of the Empire (now Eagle Games) as Axis and Allies, but with Romans.  However, Axis and Allies is now owned by Wizards, so you make the connection. Ed.

 

2012
11.07

Top 10 Illustrations of 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons

By @ToddSecord

#10: Erol Otus’ Basic D&D Box Set Cover

There was a time when two different editions of the same game were out at the same time. In the beginning, Basic D&D was not basic at all, but plenty advanced to those of us embracing this new and strangely addictive pen-and-paper “role-playing” game. A short time later the three core rule books were published, and suddenly, the version we had been playing with the last year or two was basic. While my friends and I were quickly mastering the advanced game, TSR re-packaged and re-published a much more organized version of Basic D&D. This edition — the red box with the now classic Erol Otus cover — was the set that hundreds of thousands found themselves playing for the first time.

Those were simpler times (video games were just emerging), and Erol’s style, although reminiscent of the old pulp adventure comics, carried an exciting and almost modern take on a subject that was supposed to evoke a medieval flavour. Even though I had my old set and was combining the rules of the advanced game as they were available, I just had to have this newer version fueled by the power of the cover illustration. It does a great job of combining dragon, dungeon, and adventure — with a little sex to boot. However, the real strength of this painting is its dramatic colour scheme.

#9: D.C. Sutherland’s “A Paladin In Hell”

Flipping through the original Player’s Handbook, you couldn’t help but stop and stare at this full page illustration of a paladin — on the brink — fighting valiantly with his holy avenger against this party of devils. There are many different stories one could attach to this image, but I always figured that he was a on a suicidal crusade attempting to vanquish as much evil as possible before he himself met his maker. Notice his aura of protection from evil and the comparable scale of each of the devils.

#8: D.A. Trampier’s Intellect Devourer

Of all the monsters and illustrations in the original Monster Manual, it is Trampier’s Intellect Devourer that is by far the creepiest. So strong is this image, that there has yet to be a rendition of this monster since that even comes close to the strength of its original drawing.

#7: Jeff Dee’s “Paladin”

Found in the 1st edition Rogues Gallery, Jeff Dee’s “Paladin,” like Sutherland’s offering, does a tremendous job of capturing the essence of honor and adventure that can be found in the world of D&D. Proud and victorious, our hero casts his gaze skyward in recognition of his lawful god — the defeated dragon of chaos (a Black Dragon, to be exact) serves as proof of his devotion and bravery. Too cool for school.

#6: Clyde Caldwell’s
“Dragons of Despair” Cover

The painting that launched a franchise, Caldwell’s cover to the first adventure of the Dragonlance Saga had signaled a new shift in TSR’s design. Love or hate Dragonlance, the cover was a refreshing change compared to the many other offerings at that point. As much as the cover art of Erol Otus, Jeff Dee, Roslof, Bill Willingham, and others was great, no one was as true a painter as Caldwell. While the others were almost “comic-booky” in their approach, it was Caldwell who ushered in the look that one expects to see today. I remember when I saw it on the shelf for the first time and being absolutely blown away by its beauty.

#5: Keith Parkinson’s
Forgotten Realms Box Set Cover

Actually entitled “Horseman Near Lake,” there is a powerfully exotic yet subtle feel to this Parkinson painting that truly sets itself apart. Its impact was so great in fact, that one must consider that this image was ushering in a first time rival to the very popular World of Greyhawk, but was devoid of any dragons, action, or sex. Just like Caldwell’s Dragonlance painting, “Horseman Near Lake” began yet another exciting shift in the game and the Forgotten Realms was suddenly something that every DM and player wanted to explore.

#4: D.A. Trampier’s Illustration #3
of the Tomb of Horrors

Regarded as one of the best adventures of all time, part of this acclaim has to come from the illustration booklet that accompanied the product. Considered extremely innovative at that point, the booklet depicted scenes and encounters found throughout the adventure and definitely enhanced the overall experience. Illustration #3 had an awe-inspiring effect on those who were entering the tomb for the first time given the adventure’s reputation — the feeling of dread and doom is immediately conveyed by the subject matter of the frescos, the winding tile path into the darkness, and the curious box to the right of the drawing that “pops” out once the picture is studied carefully. The tomb is known for its tricks and traps, and the hallway itself is arguably one of the most difficult to negotiate in adventuring history — in part to this amazing piece of art work.

#3: D.A. Trampier’s “The Treasure Hunters”

Needless to say, this list is dominated by D.A. Trampier — a testament to his skill and power as an illustrator. Trampier defined the early look of the game and inspired one’s imagination to the possibilities that the world of D&D had to offer. In the beginning, when you factor in the original core books, the first wave of adventures, and the early offerings of Dragon Magazine, Trampier was very prolific and very effective. His stuff on the “Wormy” comic strip alone was enough to make him near and dear to fans of the time. This particular piece, found in the Monster Manual, embodies one of the staples of adventuring: the discovery of the treasure hoard. Gathered around a chest of treasure in the darkness of some forgotten dungeon is a moment that has been played out time and time again by adventurers, and this particular illustration captured it beautifully.

#2: D.A. Trampier’s “Emirikol the Chaotic”

Truly, one of the classic illustrations of the time, “Emirikol the Chaotic” would likely be at the top of anyone’s list. From a technical standpoint, this drawing is fabulous, but really, like with most Trampier drawings, it is the implied story that really draws the viewer in. A late afternoon battle in the city streets between a known criminal wizard and city guardsmen? An assassination outside of the Green Griffon? Or a rampage of evil that threatens the city? Whatever the true story is, it is certainly a masterpiece of D&D illustration that one can find in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

#1: D.A. Trampier’s “Magic Mouth”

I think that it would be safe to assume that Emirikol could have just as easily filled the number one position, but there’s something about this illustration (found in the Player’s Handbook) that, in my opinion, out classes it. First off, there are effects that are taking place in it that are outstanding (the floor texture is amazingly handled, achieving a beautiful 3D quality). Secondly, and most importantly, this drawing sums up adventuring at its best: delving down in the darkness, the company encountering a magic mouth (one can only imagine what it is saying), and further down the stairs, the eyes of an awaiting denizen. Awesome.

2012
10.31

Gaming Night in Canada:  Halloween Game Night!

By Todd Secord

So, on my birthday in September, after a few bevies, apparently I suggested that we should do a Halloween themed game night.  Y’know, like when we were plenty younger and doing that kind of thing was way cooler than, let’s say, being at Halloween parties with girls.  As it would work out, we always reserved Halloween night for a game night.  If it wasn’t a horror filled theme of D&D, than we would let our buddy Lee take us through some Call of Cthulhu.  Sitting around his family’s dining room table, in a house built specifically to play Cthulhu in, with fully stocked bookshelves all around us (his father was a professor) and lit candles adding to the creepy atmosphere, we did our best not to go insane, which, other than death, is the game’s primary no-no. On the radio in the background was CFNY’s Chris Sheppard’s Club 102, hitting up the likes of Skinny Puppy’s “Smothered Hope”, Ministry’s “Every Day is Halloween”, and of course, the Halloween classic of all Halloween classics, the Bauhaus tune “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”.

Snapping out of that trip down memory lane, and a group e-mail later, and James agreed to run D&D this Halloween.  As the e-mails shot back and forth, the ante began to up as the idea of having a costume party was thrown in, and then my nephew called me up and finally gave the word that he wanted to learn to play D&D.

The plans had been set.  Bring on the hunt for Halloween costumes…

I knew just the place; Amazing Party and Costume, “Canada’s Largest Party Store”.  Funny thing is, I’ve driven by it for what feels like my entire adult life, and yet I’ve never gone in.  Well, this Halloween was going to be different. And sweet wrongfully persecuted witches of Salem, it did not disappoint.   This place is easily the last word in all things costume.  Like, film industry people must come here because this warehouse of glorious dream making has something for everyone.

BEHOLD!

Click Me to Enlarge!

Just rolling up on the place was inspiring.  What Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth* is to Christmas, Amazing has to be to Halloween.  I’ve been to Frankenmuth by the way, albeit when I was a kid, and yes, we went around Christmas time and let me tell you, Santa lives.  However, this is Halloween, so let the fake blood runneth over.   Oh, wait a minute! There’s Santa now!

Bob is a big fan of Wolverine.  No matter how elaborate the costumes were going to get, Bob had to be Wolverine.  Of course there was the full costume, which Bob was not a fan of, but after trying on a mask or two, and looking at the selection of claws they offered (OMG, bone versions too!) Bob was set.

Click Me to Enlarge!

After wondering around delirious for an hour or so, we scooped up our purchases and waited in the long line to the checkout…to a full animatronic zombie diner scene.  Eat your heart out Disneyworld, literally.

Click Me to Enlarge!

The game night itself was kick ass.  Some of us had kept our costumes secret, and trust me, we took pictures of every body, but unfortunately most were just too blurry.  My fault, but the costumes were great.  Last entry, we talked of Mario and his new-fangled Steampunk fascination.  At Amazing they actually had a Steampunk section.  Of course they did.

James had promised everyone that he was going to wear a hat like Mario’s.  We got all excited that he was going Steampunk as well, that way Mario would have someone to talk to, but instead James showed up in a Super Mario hat.  Classic misdirection. Yes sir!

Click Me to Enlarge!

After a few drinks, some Goat Cheese Brie with olive loaf from Cobb Bread (Hey Tracey and Mike!), pizza, and of course, Halloween chocolate we sat down to Ignite our Imaginations**.  It was a scary affair as our intrepid group of heroes found themselves matching wits and swords with a diabolically evil mage who was awesome in commanding minions of a Halloween theme – namely werewolves and a flesh golem/Frankenstein.

Click Me to Enlarge!

Actually, things got pretty intense as it began to look like we weren’t going to survive this thing.  Rob was put out of action 4 times(!!!) because teamwork.  I was the sticky defender dude who always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Kelly was doing the striker thing and hitting everything with advantage, but rolling ones for damage. Meanwhile, Bob actually entered the thick of the fight for once, and only missed once, which eventually helped to turn the tide of battle.  It was a close one!

Click Me to Enlarge!

Everyone had a great time, including my better half who is a rookie, but discovered that she is a true slayer, and my nephew who was so impressed with his first game that he is going to start running sessions with the Pathfinder Beginner’s box that I got him for his birthday.

Lastly, I don’t think it would be much of a Halloween for JK if I didn’t post this…

Cheers and a Happy Halloween everyone!  And a heartfelt blessing to friends and family of Fiery Dragon who faced storm Sandy these past few days.  Hope all is as well as it can be – our prayers are with you and all those that are having a tough time in the east.

Next: Must Have Dice Towers. Yes, customized dice towers!

*That’s Frankenmuth, Michigan.  We actually drive by it when we head down to Gen Con.  And yes, in keeping with the Halloween vibe, Frankenmuth means “Courage of the Franconians”, while Frankenstein apparently means “Stronghold of the Freeman”.  Just for the record. ed.

**A play of words on an original by-line of Fiery Dragon, Trade Marked by us. ed.

2012
10.26

The Top 5 Horror Films That Have a Nasty Case of the Creeps

By Todd Secord

There’s no doubt, there does appear to be a glut of truly horrific horror films out there.  Personally, I don’t think horror films are really horrific anyway. Their subject matter can be very disturbing and every now and then the imagery they invoke can be very compelling however, is one truly scared by watching SAW?  Or do they just feel squeamish, the same way it’s tough to watch a linebacker’s leg go the other way when it shatters from an awkward tackle, or the results of a very nasty trampoline accident?

Of course there is plenty to be scared about. What is truly scary though, is a very subjective thing, personal to every individual and in the context of their experiences.  I still don’t get the “clown” thing, but if a clown came after me with a knife, that I would classify as a scary event.  I’m totally frightened of flesh eating creatures roaming around the ocean – unlike my girlfriend who’ll jump at a picture of a spider – I always look forward to watching Shark Week.  “Know thy enemy, destroy thy enemy” and Shark Week is a festival of information to arm myself with should I indeed end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Still, in the case of dealing with a homicidal maniac, it’s a tough call, but to guarantee success it’s probably best not to have sex in a cemetery during the 13th anniversary of his very public execution for which it took several throws of the switch just as his mother suddenly stands up and frantically admits that it was really his illegitimate step bother that did all the torture killings.  Or, just don’t have sex in a cemetery because it’s super creepy…I imagine.

It’s the creepy part that usually impresses me with horror films; more psychological than hell bent.  And this list reflects all the times that I sorta stopped myself and realized that it was suddenly way more comfortable to have the lights on than off, and it was best to make sure that there was nothing menacingly swimming around in the toilet before I sat on it.

I would also like to say that there are several films that I purposely left off this list, like the Exorcist (the Star Wars of horror films in my opinion), because if you haven’t seen those movies yet, chances are you wouldn’t be interested in this bunch…

5. Haxan:  Witchcraft through the Ages

Way back in my past, when I was 21ish, my buddy James and I worked in something called a “video store”.  And this particular video store, as we look back on our extensive knowledge of movies now, was no ordinary video store.  Sure, we had Dirty Dancing but even against the standards of the day, we also had a treasure trove of unique and special titles, including the likes of Fritz the Cat, Le Denier Combat, Duel and Eraserhead just to name a few.  Trust me, this place had everything, and floating in and amongst all the other B-movie and cult hits sitting on the shelves was this strange little foreign film called Witchcraft through the Ages.  In those days, our massively awesome video store liked to put its horror films in a separate “room” that was specifically decorated to get you in the “mood”.  Every time I had to put the videos back on the shelves, I would always glance down at the box and notice that it would never get rented.  That wasn’t surprising, because it was so fringe that not even the staff bothered to watch it, which of course, just heightened the intrigue in my eyes.  Little did I know that the circumstances surrounding James and I finally watching the thing eerily resembled the plot to The Ring, but thankfully I’m still typing this, so God Bless.  At any rate, I would watch any documentary I could on the history of vampires, witches, or the occult, or whatever else was scary to know the history of up to, but not including, Rosanne Barr.  Usually, these documentaries included black and white stock footage of demons and devils running around the woods, leaping from behind some villager’s bed as the narration voiced over its super historical fact checking on how vampires came to be known as iconic pop culture.  Suddenly, while viewing yet another documentary on werewolves, I realized that all this really cool imagery they were using was likely coming from Witchcraft through the Ages!  It made total sense!  A phone call later, and James and I decided that it would be completely acceptable to watch it in his basement, late at night, in total darkness.  Well, I don’t know what it was in the summer air that night, but this movie fucked me up.  By the time we had enough, our brains were so overloaded with satanic imagery, in glorious black and white no less, that I found it hard enough to get  into my car without checking the back seat let alone getting my brain to shut everything down so I could sleep.

Ironically, it’s a documentary, shot in silent 1922 about witchcraft, except the make-up effects are impressive, and the design even more so.  Subject matter wise, it is what it is, but with respect to classic interpretations of evil stuff, it’s right up there with Heironeous Bosch, Nosferatu or the Illustrated Children’s version of the Necronomicon.

4.  The Night of the Hunter

I don’t care what anyone says, this movie is a horror film.  Somehow, through people’s need to categorize things to micro-specificity, they would likely argue that because it’s devoid of such things like ghosts, ghouls and a possessed chick named Regan, that it is classified as a thriller.  Well, to that I would say is Alien science fiction or horror?  Is Silence of the Lambs not a horror in a lot of ways, like SAW, or the original Friday the 13th, or other intense movies with numbers in their titles, like “7”? No ghosts in those bad boys but horrific none the less?  And thus, could bleed into the horror genre? As usual, pun fully intended.

This is one of those “Oh, this movie is a 1950’s black and white film, how could it possibly be sca…is he trying to kill those kids with a switch blade?!” movies.  Robert Mitchum plays a psychotic serial killing con-man who is a preacher with the words “love” and “hate” tattooed on his knuckles.  Something tells me that you’ve seen this convention used in something since this movie, and you would be right, because this film has influenced enough stuff in its time.  Anyway, Mitchum is evil, like, killing everything he sees in the Name of the Lord evil.  Lots of ghostly or biblical metaphors, or as we say in moviephile land “expressionistic”, that will do enough to give you a sufficient amount of creep factor.  The underlying tone is the use of something that is supposed to champion the virtues of love, like the Christian Religion, but instead it is being used as a cloak for something wholly evil – a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  At times, Night of the Hunter is just that, a grotesque fairy tale where the lesson to learn is a tough one – good will triumph, at a cost.

3. The Haunting (1963 film)

It’s popcorn time!  Well, not really.  The Haunting, the original anyway, is likely the most innocent on this list in its attempt to not only be scary, but entertaining as well.  You see, that’s an important distinction between horror film heavy weights and those that are soon to be forgotten; the heavy weights can’t really be considered entertainment in the traditional sense.  They’re more like intensely focused airstrikes on your personal moral.  You don’t finish watching The Exorcist thinking “What an exhilarating thrill ride of chills and spills!” No, you think “What the fuck did I just do to myself there?”   Nobody feels like baking cookies after watching The Mist the same way they might after watching, let’s say, The Avengers.  Truly good horror, if it’s doing its job right has a more depressing effect, like alcohol,  but instead of wanting to pass out on your buddy’s couch you want to hug your children a little bit longer that night.

The Haunting starts off as a mission movie – the characters are assembled under the pre-tense of a common goal – in this case, surviving a haunted house.  It’s another black and white film, this time from the 60’s, for which I have no intentions of apologizing for.   Let’s face some facts; the same way that camcorder footage of supposed ghosts looks way creepier in night vision mode, the same can be said about what black and white film does for horror movies.  Going back to The Mist again, the black and white version is way, way cooler.  Kudos to whoever made that decision.  Seriously.

Although, what I think is really at the root of why The Haunting is a special little movie is that it’s ferocious with its texture.  Yes, like all haunted house movies, it does a lot of the “something just moved unexpectedly out of the corner of my eye” film making; it’s also amazingly good at choosing when to totally hit you over the head.  And it does it with a breathing wall scene that still holds up today. But not only that, noise, loud pounding, and an eerie soundtrack help with all the fear mongering goodness.  The Haunting is a good ol’ fashioned haunted house story…

2. The Changeling  (1980 Film)

…Is a good ol’ fashioned haunted house story.  I have to admit, I haven’t seen it in years, but I think that’s one of the beauties of loving horror films – they’re likely way scarier in your memories.  This has a great plot and a great actor in George C. Scott, and it’s full of creepy ghostly vignettes each of which could be told on its own.  And believe me, that’s how the movie was initially told to me when I was 12 by my older cousin Chris.  “Hey Todd, not that you would actually care to see the movie for yourself, but I saw this awesome horror movie that has this happen in it, and this happen in it, and this happen in it.  Isn’t it just super clever and scary?”  And my answer to all this spoiler, ages before there were such things as spoiler alerts was “Man, I need to see this movie”.  Chris was always a good story teller, but when I actually did manage to see the movie, I was impressed and creep’d out in spite of the firsthand knowledge. This is a fully realized movie and likely the most complicated on the list because it sorta develops into a missing person/ murder mystery.  Furthermore, it likely has one of the coolest séance sequences ever, and amazingly they aren’t trying to talk to Elvis.  And like The Haunting it makes great use of sound and/or silence to help add to the spine-chilling evil.

1. Rosemary’s Baby

I ain’t gonna lie, there are stretches in Rosemary’s Baby where it appears that the most exciting thing that is going on is Mia Farrow making tea.  It’s a Roman Polanski film, so the movie isn’t actually going to move at any reasonable pace anyway but c’mon, tea making?  However, Rosemary’s Baby is one of the great “punch-line” movies.  What’s a punch-line movie you say?  When the entire plot swings full circle and everything suddenly makes sense in the very last moments of the movie.  Like Psycho, or The Sixth Sense, or Being There, except with Rosemary’s Baby, it’s concievable that you may not fully understand what the hell is going on till the very, very, very last moment of the movie.  However, as each minute ticks off the tension slowly builds, and the weirdness grows, and you’re pretty sure that Rosemary may be in some sort of serious shit, and then she begins to realize it herself but it becomes difficult to find someone to trust, and it’s sorta like she’s being held captive, but not, and really, is she just being paranoid?  I don’t know, maybe the old lady is putting something in the tea…and that is Rosemary’s Baby, but a whole lot creepier.  It’s like its one giant nightmare with no apparent way out, and even waking doesn’t seem to help.  There’s way more one could say here, but because the beauty of the film hinges on you knowing nothing about it, I’ve said too much already.

Just make sure that you watch it in the basement, at night, in total darkness.

2012
10.20

Gaming Night in Canada: The Gen Con Thing

By Todd Secord

Ah, Gen Con!  Fabulous time of the year for all things gaming and geeky, my friends.  In past years, Gen Con was a working vacation for all of us here at Fiery Dragon.  Not long ago we’d truck down from Canada with smiles on our faces and a song in our hearts, as evident from the picture below…

From the start of the D20 OGL, and our first product NeMoren’s Vault, we’ve been using Gen Con as an excuse to have a good time.   Whether in those final years in Milwaukee, or the last 10 years in Indianapolis, we’ve broken bread, ate, drank, laughed, and drunkenly stumbled into some pretty cool stuff.  BUT more importantly, somewhere between the Hyatt, the convention hall,  jumbo shrimp dipped in crazy sinus-raping horseradish, and a whole lotta Tequila and Gin, we somehow made some pretty cool friends as well.

As you first look at the following picture, the label “Elite Fighting Force” likely comes to mind…

Although they may look like trained killers, what we’re really doing here is gearing up for some Rock Bottom, Chicken Fried Chicken.  At the far left is our main man, Claudio Pozas,  artist extraordinaire for our counter products, and on the other end, our other main man, and an actual trained killer, black belt and game design guru, Scott.  Back in the day this would be an example of us making friends.

Now-a-days, with the American economy being what it is…or was (we hope), our trips to Gen Con are more civilian-like, more touristy, more GAMER! There’s no booth, but we’ve been bringing The Crew instead to share in all the crazy fun…

Last year, we discovered something about American History that modern culture is only really delving into now – that Abe Lincoln is a wicked awesome ass-kicking icon of geekdom.  Maybe around Maryland he’s a Vampire Hunter, but in Indiana he’s worshiped as a Hobbit.  Seriously, how many societies can this guy not free?

Two of our favourite strongholds while in Indy are the Rock Bottom for food, and for drink, Nicky Blaine’s.  Nicky’s has become so near and dear to us that sometimes we forget that we’re in Indy for a gaming convention at all, focusing rather on the great, great atmosphere that the coolest bar we know offers.  It is there that much of our Gen Con lore has been forged, a Canadian vanguard that revels in the soft glow of American liquor laws.

Meanwhile, at the Convention…

The Dealer’s Hall for us has become an arena where the opponent is self-restraint.  It becomes a battle of attrition that is waged between our powers of observation and the accessibility of whatever form of currency is in our wallets.  Only a champion knows to spend beyond his means.  In this sense we are Earth’s Mightiest Heroes; yes, we are The Avengers, this reference being eerily accurate if not timely.  And I do have the Blu-ray.

I think one of my favourite moments happened on the last day.  We were in the dealer’s hall as usual, scanning the situation for any last minute deals and bits of coolness that may have escaped us. Suddenly, we snapped out of our daze long enough to realize that we had lost Mario.  Although he was missed, we continued with our shopping.  It’s a good thing too because moments later Rob had purchased a game called FLASHPOINT, and, as usual, the guy who sold it to Rob saw the leaking drool from his mouth and deftly pounced, selling him 2 other games as well.

Then Rob’s phone rang and it was Mario.  Ironically, despite the fact that the rest of us had been throwing money around like monkey stock brokers on a coke binge, Mario had yet to spend a dainty little cent on anything.  Well, apparently, that had changed drastically while we weren’t looking and now Mario had removed himself from the convention hall.  Cold and shivering in the street, unsure as to what to do next, Mario had clearly gone bye-bye, desperately calling Rob for the reassurance that spending a ridiculous amount of money on Steam Punk attire was, indeed, ok.  Both Rob and I fielded the call, showing restraint in the face of our friend’s apprehension, and preceded to do what any good friend would do – we convinced him to come back to the hall and spend more money.  Little did we suspect that Mario was harboring a “thing” for Steam Punk stuff.  Little did we realize just how expensive that stuff is.  And yet, leading him from Steam Punk booth to Steam Punk booth, suggesting a pair of customizable goggles to go with his newly purchased top hat, or trying to convince him that if he buys the replica hold-out musket pistols, he can have them shipped back to Canada rather than risk the twitchy border, we embraced Mario’s new found super fucked-up hobby in the spirit of geekness found around the world – that no one shall be judged because, who the hell are we to judge?

Heck, it even suits him.

As for gaming, we really didn’t hit the gaming halls this year.  In fact, we thought it would be way cooler to find a comfortable little nook in a hotel lobby and game there.  Sounds fabulously hot, I know, but this is Gaming Night in Canada, and we go where we fucking please.  This particular night, Scott had a couple of buddies, Chris and Gord, join us from Canada who were drinking buddies of ours from one of our first Gen Cons that we had attended as Fiery Dragon many, many, many moons ago.  It was great to see them!  Seeing as James was off play testing Numenera with Monte, it was a lot of fun to hook up The Crew with the aforementioned Canadian buddies, and our good time friend Rich, and play some Crazy ass 4th Edition madness.  Check it.

I found myself breaking out a fresh set of pink dice that I had just purchased as a gift for my girlfriend that day.  Aside from the fact that I was playing pink dice, I knew that she was going to get upset that I opened her gift ahead of time.  I get her point, but they killed a boat load of goblins that night, so, go pink!!

All in all, a very enjoyable game, and a cozy warm-up before we headed over to Nicky Blaine’s and tore shit up.

The very last night of the weekend was spent quiet time with yet another one of our most excellent friends, Steve.  This was the night that we first broke out FLASHPOINT.  If you’re not familiar, it’s a co-operative board game where you play fire fighters tackling a fire.  Each player is a specialist within your team of firefighters as you all put your heads together to get the most out of each player’s turn.  Efficiency is a factor because the rules for fire spreading can be downright bitchy – right when you think you have it under control, you could suffer a chemical explosion and have the fire race through the entire building.

This is a great game.  We played it 3 times that night for its addictive quality.  Because we’re all big shot game designers and publishers, we insisted on playing FLASHPOINT on its hardest “setting” and repeatedly found ourselves going up in flames despite our collective greatness.  But we didn’t feel cheated.  We really liked the rules on how the fire could ignite and worsen.  We liked what each of the specialists could do, and we liked that smart team play was rewarded.  I personally love games where you’re playing against the board, and for FLASHPOINT you can flip the board over in order to play a second scenario.  That and all the various difficulty settings makes replay value high.  All in all, we thought it was very cool.  A week later in Canada, we played it again with all our wives and girlfriends who also found it a lot of fun.  So, a Cheers to FLASHPOINT.

I should also proudly plug our own SMOKEJUMPERS game found on this very website.  It’s similar to FLASHPOINT in that you play against the board, but where FLASHPOINT focuses on structural fires, SMOKEJUMPERS is about fighting forest fires.  Yeah, it’s awesome too.

Once we got back to Canada, it was off to Fan Expo the next weekend, and it was just as crazy big and packed like it’s grown to be over the years.  Being a guest of the convention, our buddy Monte Cook followed us back to Canada to trade in his Starbucks for a good ol’ Tim Horton’s (but we’ve got Starbucks too). FanExpo caters to everything nerd; horror, gaming, comics, movies, and anime.   My only advice concerning FanExpo would be this:  Don’t think you’re being all Johnny Cool by buying your girlfriend a pink Catwoman T-shirt as a surprise geek gift only to have a little too much to drink at the Hard Rock, then lose its bag on Yonge Street, spend a half an hour re-tracing your steps coming up empty handed, just to be late for diner reservations.  In that scenario, nobody, and I mean nobody, wins.

Needless to say, the whole experience was overwhelmingly geek, way too much time to play with, and downright cool.   I would like to say thanks again to Monte, Shanna, Rich, Steve, Scott, Claudio, Aaron, Chris, Gord, all the significant ladies in our lives, members of The Crew that stayed back in Toronto, and the guy who played the Cleric during True Dungeon.  See you next year y’all!

Next:  Dorky Must Have Dice Towers and Halloween approaches!

2012
09.17

By Todd Secord

Holy smokes!  What a couple of weeks!  Easily the most GEEKED out vacation we’ve had in a very long time.  First, The Crew headed down to Indianapolis to hit Gen Con, and then back to Toronto for FanExpo the following weekend.  We drank too much, gamed too much and spent gobs and gobs of cash in the pursuit of having good times with good friends*.

Have you ever been to Gen Con my gaming fellows?  If not, than you may place your freshly beating heart on a plate and consume it accordingly, because it is, as the kids may say, “the shit.”  We got a lot of games, all of which will be featured in future entries in one way, shape or form.   In the meantime, as our hangovers fade into the last days of summer and the reality of life comes crashing through like Grond on a bad day, we find ourselves prepping for some of our favourite times of the year – and the really great excuses they give to get together and game.

Unfortunately, we’re adults.  We have obligations, and families and bills to pay.  And because we’re such responsible people – yes, likely ‘cause we’re geeks – gaming does take a back seat.  And because gaming starts to take a back seat, the tension of not gaming begins to build, like a demonic boil, or a little tea-pot, short and stout.  But really, closer to the demon boil idea.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, for us, the gaming thing happens in seasons.  And as of right now, ‘Tis the Season…

Behold!

Every addict has a gateway drug, and I think for The Crew we would say it all began with Talisman.  Anyways, at least for all the members of this present group.  Here’s Rob’s pride and joy, keeping the staff of FFG in BMWs with a relentless determination to collect all of its trillion expansion sets, and yes, those are painted minis.  He and Kelly painted the minis for it.  And all the trillion expansion minis as well.  God Bless ‘em.

Although, I believe it was Rob that bought the Tequila that night, so, cheers Rob!  I love it when someone describes a game as “beer and pretzels.”  When Rob and I are in the mood it can get redefined as a, “beer, tequila, pizza, pretzels, scotch, Doritos, and then us slow dancing to Take My Breath Away to the hilarity of Kelly ‘s camera phone” game.

Lastly, they wouldn’t let us on the internet if we didn’t include a picture of a cat.  In this case, playing Talisman.

Ok then, right this way if you will…

Standard gaming table for us:

So, like, we love battle mats, tiles, miniatures, 3d walls, condition markers, and things that you can write erasable markers on.  We love GM screens, and using our phones and iPads, and funky dice, and dice towers.  And, without a doubt, we totally and unequivocally love counters.  What you’re seeing on this particular game table is us play testing the new 5th edition D&D Next thing.  But, we sorta forgot that it’s supposed to be all theater of the mind because, as you might have noted, we like stuff.

This means that we’ve been playing a lot of 4e – Essentials specifically.  The Fourth Edition really, really loves battle mats and counters.  But we like it for other reasons.  We had a few rooks join our group a while back and Essentials 4e was a nice intro to it all.  It got my Girlfriend playing, so yeah, cheers 4e.  Recently, I put the Pathfinder Starter’s Box in the hands of one of those “rooks.”  Rob’s so juiced to run it that we’ll likely be doing that soon.  We’re looking forward to getting back to 3e (3.5e, whatever, I’m getting lost in all this), and I’m sure that it’s a just a matter of time when James will announce that he wants to hit up some freaking AD&D.  Personally, I think it would be cool to try the rooks on some of the classics, like Tomb of Horrors, or White Plume Mountain.  Whatta think James?

I guess though, in the end, we just enjoy the game for what it is.  As a group, I think it’s safe to say we’re way more critical of movies and music, but games seem to escape this over the top scrutiny.  Even if we think that the game is not so great, we’re not angered by this the same way we might have after being suckered into watching a crappy movie.  Most games are what you make them…excluding video games.  They’re a lot like movies unfortunately.  More importantly, can you do this with a video game?…

Amazingly, I discovered not long ago that good ol’ George Harrison was into the same thing…

Who knew?!

Next:  The Gen Con Experience as we’ve come to know it.  And, our buddy, Frodo Lincoln.

 

*This statement is a massive over-simplification that involves hundreds of stories, big and small, the majority of which the author is not necessarily at liberty talk about , but definitely a few will be worth noting in the next entry because we actually think that we’re that fucking interesting.  Ed.

2012
09.03

The latest products from Fiery Dragon Productions can be found in our new Medallion line.  A step-up from our cardstock counters, the medallions are versatile game tokens that help out with tactical tabletop play.


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2012
09.03

HURRY – FINAL STOCK SALE!

FINAL STOCK SALE: COUNTER COLLECTION HEROIC 1 & BATTLEBOX 4TH EDITION
FREE SHIPPING FOR END OF STOCK SALE!
We are down to our final case of these top-selling products, offered together in one affordable bundle WHILE SUPPLIES LAST. Get Counter Collection: Heroic 1, containing full-color die-cut cardstock counters for every creature in the Heroic Tier from the 1st core monster book, PLUS the 4th Edition of our award-winning BattleBox, which is every Game Master’s best friend. Bring your tabletop fantasy battles to life with these two great products.
$60.00 + FREE SHIPPING to Canada/USA. Sorry, we do not ship overseas.

15 pages of cardstock monster counters, hundreds of cardstock character counters, dungeon dressing, action tokens, transparent spell effect overlays, power tracking pads, 24 plastic bases and condition markers, two 17″ x 22″ dry-erase battlemats, and MORE!

WHILE SUPPLIES LAST!  FINAL STOCK!  HURRY!

2012
08.09

By Todd Secord

Oh, fun times on Game Night.  Here, in the Great White North, “Game Night” could have a number of different meanings and associations.  First and foremost, it means hockey.  We Canadians have our sacred and culturally defining “Hockey Night in Canada,” televised on Saturdays, and generally the highlight of many a cold weekend night.  It’s a pretty rare thing indeed if you go through a Saturday night in Canada without coming across Hockey Night in Canada in some way, shape or form.  After the holiest of holies, believe it or not, at least in Toronto, the next big thing would be American Football.  Football is a Game Night (or day), usually meaning Sundays but also the occasional Monday night – because sometimes the Leafs games are televised Monday nights and there is a metronome-like action of flipping back and forth between sports.   After that, “Game Night” could mean a case of beer and video games, or a case of beer and a poker game,  OR, and rather happily so, a family gathering to play a board game of some kind, like Scrabble, or Monopoly, or hopefully something a little more interesting like Ticket to Ride. When you have a country that spends 6 to 8 months of the year in cool to downright bitchy cold weather, the concept of spending the night in with a game and friends becomes pretty important.

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2012
03.29
MONSTER MEDALLIONS: GOBLIN ATTACK!
A tube full of terror!
Tired of playing with pennies or paper name tags? Frustrated with fellow players eating the candy that represented your orc hordes? Ready to stop using a miniature that’s “close enough?”The evolution of Fiery Dragon counters takes us to the next level in Deluxe Gaming Accessories – Monster Medallions. Plastic tabletop tokens designed to bring your characters to life.This set includes 60 monster medallions featuring a gang of goblins and their allies.  All at a 1-inch = 5-foot scale.  These 1″ medallions are also compatible with dry-erase markers (so you can track conditions, mark which ones are wounded, add names and notes) and also attractive to magnets (so you can use colored magnetic bases or use a magnet to pick them up and move them around the map).
$19.95 + shipping to Canada/USA. Sorry, we do not ship overseas.

60 Monsterr Medallions in one 8-inch plastic tube
Art by Claudio Pozas

Click here for more information on the Medallions, along with some art examples!

 

 

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2012
02.09

The Jeff Freels Transfer Fund

The Jeff Freels Transfer Fund

When the Fiery Dragon crew gets together to play a fantasy or sci-fi or post-apocalyptic rpg, we pretend we’re amazing individuals with crazy histories and mystical abilities. We use our imagination and pretend the impossible is possible.

And then you deal with someone like Jeff Freels, the blind artist, and you quickly redefine what amazing abilities are.  Jeff is a guy who came to us through the Tunnels & Trolls community, and his art captures the feel and magic of that game perfectly.

Now, whatever challenges our characters may face in our fantasy roleplaying games, Jeff is certainly dealing with issues that are just as difficult and facing them as bravely as any warrior.  Jeff needs a kidney transplant.

He’s created a page on his website that gives the details of his situation and his plan: http://www.jeffwerx.com/tf.html.  Inspired by Jeff’s courage, we’d like to help him raise money for this worthy cause.

Fiery Dragon will be donating a portion of the proceeds from every digital and direct sale (from our website) of all Tunnels & Trolls products sold in 2012.  We’ve just released CASTLE OF THE DEAD, a T&T Solo Adventure that features Jeff’s artwork, and we’ll be re-releasing the latest version of the Tunnels & Trolls Roleplaying Game rules and additional adventures throughout the year.

Together we can enjoy a great game and help a great cause.  Thanks for your support.

2012
02.09

CASTLE OF THE DEAD

CASTLE OF THE DEAD
A T&T Solo Adventure
A Solo Adventure for Tunnels & Trolls, open to player-characters up to 6th-level of experience with no more than 160 personal adds.  Any character type may enter the Castle of the Dead, but the use of magic is limited and warriors are best suited to this adventure.  Castle of the Dead represents a strong challenge, and you must be aware before entering that it is a very tough solo scenario, but it is balanced with great rewards for those who emerge alive.
$15.95 + shipping to Canada/USA. Sorry, we do not ship overseas.

Written by Andy Holmes.
Art by Jeff Freels

A portion of the profits from all Tunnels & Trolls products sold in 2012 will be donated to the Jeff Freels Transfer Fund.  Visit http://www.jeffwerx.com/tf.html for more info.

SPECIAL OFFER: Order a 2-pack bundle (2 copies of this adventure) and get FREE SHIPPING!

2011
12.11

testing

BUNDLEA

 

BUNDLEC

2011
12.10

WINTER BUNDLE A

 

 

 

WINTER BUNDLE “A”: COUNTER COLLECTION HEROIC 1, MONSTER MEDALLIONS & CHARACTER MEDALLIONS
FREE SHIPPING FOR WINTER BUNDLE SALE!
The top-selling product from Fiery Dragon now bundled with the newest products – the Medallion sets. Get Counter Collection: Heroic 1, containing full-color die-cut cardstock counters for every creature in the Heroic Tier from the 1st core monster book, PLUS Character Mediallions and Monster Medallions. Bring your tabletop fantasy battles to life with these two great products.
$70.00 + FREE SHIPPING to Canada/USA. Sorry, we do not ship overseas.

 

Three boxes of Character and monster goodness!

 

 

2011
08.16

Monster Medallions

MONSTER MEDALLIONS: SET 1
Bring your monsters to life at the table.
Tired of playing with pennies or paper name tags? Frustrated with fellow players eating the candy that represented your orc hordes? Ready to stop using a miniature that’s “close enough?”The evolution of Fiery Dragon counters takes us to the next level in Deluxe Gaming Accessories - Monster Medallions. Plastic tabletop tokens designed to bring your characters to life.This set includes 75 monster medallions featuring a collection of threatening foes- orcs, goblins, kenku assassins, and more. All at a 1-inch = 5-foot scale. Also included, larger 2-inch and 3-inch fearsome foes to shake the gaming table.More than just random opponents, these Medallions are the perfect tool for a Game Master to bring important villains, citizens, and hirelings to the tabletop.

More than just tokens – these Medallions are also dry-erase representations of your minions – use the included dry-erase marker to note conditions like bloodied, blinded, weakened, etc.

All 80 Medallions, a red dry-erase marker, and a fabric storage bag in one deluxe package. Bring even more to the table with Fiery Dragon Medallions!

$24.95 + shipping to Canada/USA. Sorry, we do not ship overseas.

75 Monsterr Medallions
Includes a dry-erase marker (red)
Bonus: Fabric storage bag
Art by Claudio Pozas

 Click here for more information on the Medallions, along with some art examples!

Read More >>

2011
03.27

Character Medallions

CHARACTER MEDALLIONS: SET 1
Bring your characters to life at the table.
Tired of playing with pennies or paper name tags?  Frustrated with fellow players eating the candy that represented your barbarian warrior?  Ready to stop using a miniature that’s “close enough?”The evolution of Fiery Dragon counters takes us to the next level in Deluxe Gaming Accessories - Character Medallions.  Plastic tabletop tokens designed to bring your characters to life.This set includes 75 character medallions featuring all of the essential fantasy races – human, halfling, elf, dwarf, and more.  All at a 1-inch = 5-foot scale.  Also included, 4 2-inch horses to carry your band of adventurers from dungeon to tavern and back again.

More than just adventurers, these Medallions are the perfect tool for a Game Master to bring important villains, citizens, and hirelings to the tabletop.

More than just tokens – these Medallions are also dry-erase reprenstations of your character – use the included dry-erase marker to note conditions like bloodied, blinded, weakened, etc.

All 80 Medallions, a red dry-erase marker, and a fabric storage bag in one deluxe package.  Bring even more to the table with Fiery Dragon Medallions!

$24.95 + shipping to Canada/USA. Sorry, we do not ship overseas.

75 Character Medallions
5 Horse Medallions
Includes a dry-erase marker (red)
Bonus: Fabric storage bag
Art by Claudio Pozas
Click here for more information on the Medallions, along with some art examples!

Read More >>

2011
03.11

Starship Tiles

STARSHIP TILES
Compatible with Miniatures, Counters and Medallions!
You don’t have to be a space captain or alien overlord to design your own starship!  Now you can build one in seconds with these Starship Tiles.  With more than 30 five-inch full-color cardstock tiles, you can layout a floorplan for your tabletop game.  With a 1-inch grid, you can set up the perfect environment for your sci-fi minis or future-themed rpg scenario.Includes 4 pages of pre-designed floorplans that you can build or use as inspiration to create hundreds of additional designs.  Each tile is geomorphic and can fit together multiple ways.

And, as a bonus, we’ve included two fold-out space-themed battlemats AND a set of plastic starship medallions to continue the action with some ship-to-ship combat.

$24.95 + shipping to Canada/USA. Sorry, we do not ship overseas.

Includes two fold-out 17″ x 22″ battlemats.
Starship medallions
More than 30 5-inch square geomorphic tiles

Art by Ed Bourelle
 

2010
12.09

Me Geek, You Geek, Y’all Geek
By Todd Secord

OK, so I still read the occasional comic book, play video games, watch cartoons, love Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, huge fan of movies and music, and to top it all off, I’m a part owner of gaming company (for which I prepared for by gaming since the age of 6). Does this make me a geek?

Yes.

Read More >>

2010
11.14

ULTIMATE COUNTER COLLECTION BUNDLE

GM’S DAY SALE – Save an additional $25 AND FREE SHIPPING!
The ultimate collection of tabletop token terrors!
The ultimate tabletop accessory products from Fiery Dragon, now together in one affordable bundle. Get Counter Collection: Heroic 1, Paragon 1, and Epic 1, containing full-color die-cut cardstock counters for every creature from the 1st core monster book…AND Counter Collection: Heroic 2, Paragon 2 and Epic 2 containing every creature from the 2nd core monster book…BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE:You’ll also receive Counter Collection: Heroic 3 and Paragon 3 containing every heroic- and paragon-tier monster from the third core monster book.

Make no mistake, this is a cardstock army!
Bring your tabletop fantasy battles to life with these EIGHT great products, and SAVE!

$150 + FREE SHIPPING! (normal price is $175.00 +  SHIPPING to Canada/USA.) Sorry, we do not ship overseas.

More than 80-pages of double-sided cardstock monster counters!
Includes multiple
 17″ x 22″  battlemats.
All art by Claudio Pozas