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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

CCG's Follow-up

I am reminded of something that happened at the Portland Comic Book Show several years ago. This was the last time I had a table there to sell, and I had a 20 gallon storage container full of various size boxes with common cards from various CCG's I've collected over the years. Instead of recycling them, my wife at the time suggested I try to sell them by the box. I put a sign that read "CCG commons. $1 per box."

I didn't receive that must interest in them until a young, Asian boy came over and began to look through a box that was clearly marked "Yu-Gi-Oh". I didn't pay much attention to him, but noticed his father standing next to him. The boy began pulling various cards out of the box and setting them aside. My wife, who was kind enough to stay at the table with me, looked at the boy's father and said "Does he know that he get's the whole box for $1?" At this point, the boy's face lit-up like a kid at Christmas. He was so overjoyed. He did indeed buy the box of Yu-Gi-Oh, thanked us, and he and his father continued to look around the rest of the show.

I remember that moment very fondly, even if I may have gotten some of the specifics wrong. Even though I don't think I made much money that day, the moment I just related made it all worth while.

Live Action Role Playing (LARP)

I'm sure that most who are reading this are either familiar with the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) or are actually members of the organization. This is the first organization that I was aware of as being a LARP group. I know there more to the SCA than LARPing, but you can't deny the SCA LARPs. Even if they don't have storylines like what we might expect from a LARP, the SCA is live action and they do role play the characters that each person has painstakingly developed.

My first actual experience with a LARP organization was in the Summer of 1996 when a group of people decided to bring The Camarilla to town. I tried it out for a couple of games, but since I was out of work and couldn't afford the annual membership, I didn't return until the Fall of that same year when the proprietor of the local game shop convinced me to come back and that he would help me with the membership fee. I agreed and this is where my LARP "career" officially began.

For those who do not know, The Camarilla was the original and official vampire fan association for White Wolf's World of Darkness LARP setting. Imagine... in the days before massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG)... your tabletop game expanded to include more people, more cities, more states and more nations. This was a global game where the actions taken by somebody in Salem, Oregon could have an effect on someone else in London, England. Above the game, The Camarilla was also about charity and community service. This aspect helped to bring your average roleplayer to the light of day and make them a useful, productive member of the community... or so that was the theory.

As with everything in life, there are those that will lead and those that will follow. There are also those that will help and those that won't. Getting some people interested in helping the community was difficult, even though there was a reward within the organization called "prestige". The more "prestige" you earn, the higher you Member Class (MC); a ranked system by which you receive benefits when making your characters. The higher your MC, the more benefits you received. This was to entice those who would normally not help their community to step out or expand their comfort zone. This system has been a topic for many debates since I first joined, and it continues to this very day.

I was convinced to play a Tremere for my return game. Tremere are a warlock clan of vampires who are very secretive about their magic. There's a more detailed backstory to them, and I highly recommend looking it up. And on my first night back, I took certain missteps that caused my character to lose favor within the clan. My character was put into torpor and a friend was able to get me away from those that would see my character dead rather than educated. That is when I was brought to Thomas Gunn; the pimus/head of the Brujah clan. The Brujah are stereotyped as gang members and anarchists. Thomas Gunn had lived longer than anyone at that evenings game, and he took pity on my character after hearing the plea's of my friend. From that moment on, my character was no longer Tremere... he was a Brujah. I kept that up for about 5 months before I met with an untimely accident. Not many people knew my character's secret and I had been accepted by the Brujah without question because of Mr. Gunn.

Back in those days, it was not uncommon for a group of us to travel to various other Domains to play game. In a single week, we would go to Oregon City, Salem, Vancouver, Portland, Corvallis and Eugene for games. I made a great deal of friends from all over. I wish those days would return. I feel that the current state of the economy make this wish very cost prohibitive. I will look on those days with fondness.

After becoming a member of the organization, I was thrust into the need to increase my MC. My Chapter Coordinator took me under her wing and made me her assistant. This started the process that has helped to mold me who I am today in the new organization; Mind's Eye Society. Not sure if that first step was a good idea or a bad one. In my time within the organization's known as The Camarilla and Mind's Eye Society, I have held many hat's:

  • Assistant Chapter Coodinator

  • Domain Storyteller

  • Chapter Coordinator

  • Assistant Domain Storyteller

  • Assistant Chapter Storyteller

  • Assistant to the Assistant Regional Storyteller

  • Assistant Global Storyteller

  • Domain Coordinator

  • Assistant to the Assistant Regional Coordinator

  • Venue Storyteller

In 2004, I decided to leave the organization because I was just not having any fun. I didn't see a reason to pay for something that I should be having fun doing when I'm not enjoying it. In 2011, I was convinced to come back by some friends who were looking to resurrect the old Domain. That's when I found out that the Domain of Salem had gone away due to lack of interest soon after I left. There was a resurgence back in 2008, but it was short lived. So, in August of 2011, we began the process of reviving the Domain under a new name: the House of Redemption. As of this writing, I am currently the Domain Coordinator as well as the Venue Storyteller for Sabbat.

I want to delve into the darker times that I encountered while in this organization, but I'll leave that for a future posting.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Walking Dead Volume 14: No Way Out

Title: The Walking Dead Volume
14: No Way Out

ISBN: 9781607063926

Price: $14.99

Publisher/Year: Image, 2011

Artist: Charlie Adlard

Writer: Robert Kirkman

Collects: The Walking Dead

Rating: 4/5

The safety of the community comes under the worst kind of threat when
shots are fired which attract a herd of zombies up against wall that suddenly
don’t seem as sturdy as everyone thought. When a section of wall collapses the
outside world makes its presence known in the way that only a herd of zombies possibly
can. Something has to be done, and someone must take charge, but how can this
happen when stepping outside your front door means certain death? Rick must
step up to the plate but when the bullets start flying again will he have what
it takes...?

If things felt a little flat in Volume 12, and Volume Thirteen was all
about setting things up for the main event, ‘No Way Out’ balances everything in
some style. Kirkman promised us something big and he delivers on a scale like
you won’t have seen since the big showdown in the prison.

The buildup is evenly paced and balanced nicely so that the payoff hits
just the right note of adrenalin and fear. No-one is safe and this is a lesson
you find yourself learning along with the rest of the cast. Things are fast
paced and frantic as always and you can’t help but get caught up in what could
be the death of one man’s dream. Death by zombie appears to be a fate reserved
for the lower key members of both Rick’s group, and the community at large, and
you could argue that Kirkman is afraid to go that extra mile here (despite the
fact that he’s done it before) and really stick the knife into a character that
you’ve grown to care about. I can see why you’d think that, I was thinking the
same kind of thing myself in the earlier stages of the book. And then...

Robert Kirkman has had several volumes now to get us all used to the
idea that he is the man to come to when you’re after really getting to know a
character and then seeing them eaten alive in front of your eyes. He takes a
slightly different tack here; there’s still plenty of bloodshed to contend with
but this time he takes you right inside Rick’s head and gives you a ringside
seat while he proceeds to really mess things up.

Rick has a really hard choice to make and only a matter of seconds to
make it in. You’ve got to feel for the guy but the bottom line is that you know
it’s a decision that Rick will make in a heartbeat. What happens just after
that though...? I can’t give it away as you really have to see this one for
yourself and experience not only your feelings but what Rick goes through in
the aftermath. I sat there and just stared at the pages for what seemed like
hours; I literally couldn’t look away and all credit to Kirkman and Adlard for
delivering one scene that makes the entire book. In my last review I wondered
if Adlard was growing complacent with this gig; I totally take that back now.

Lessons are learned but you can’t help but wonder if these have been
learned too late on a number of levels. That uncertainty is only part of what
will have me back for Volume 15 and beyond. What Kirkman and Adlard do in ‘No
Way Out’ isn’t far off masterful, words fail me at what this book did to me
while I was reading it.

Monday, November 19, 2012


From my junior year in high school to several years later, I was inspired to become a writer. I felt that my time in role playing had given me the keys to open the creative juices for writing fiction. I took a creative writing course my junior year. Worst mistake ever! The instructor had a serious distaste for Stephen King, and since I had had him for sophomore English the year prior and wrote a report on King, I’m sure he had low expectations for me.

I put my heart and soul into my writing for this class. I wrote short stories, came up with concepts, kept a journal of potential stories to write about, and even devoted an entire spiral notebook to character names. My goal at the time was to become a writer like Stephen King. He was my idol, I wanted to follow in his footsteps and I felt that I had the talent. My instructor made sure that these feelings were quashed. I felt he gave my papers a very critical view because of my interest in the horror genre and Stephen King. He had expressed in the sophomore class that he found horror to be a “distasteful genre” and that he would prefer our writings to be of a more “literary” style. I ignored his requests. I received poor grades in his classes. I probably would’ve received even poorer grades had I not aced every single test in gave us. Even though I didn’t like doing the work he had asked of us, it didn’t mean that I didn’t understand what he was teaching. I feel that his influence may have led to the inevitable decline of my writing interest.

After high school, I kept the notebooks for a while. I even entertained the idea of creating a comic book with Ernie, since he was a very talented artist, based off of a couple of characters we had created for one of the Heroes Unlimited games we played. It was called Shadows of Justice and I had scripted the first issue, came up with a synopsis for a 5-issue mini-series to start, and Ernie had penciled/inked/lettered the first 6 or 7 pages. I sent our proposal to Dark Horse comics, who I had corresponded with to find out the guidelines for submitting the proposal, and after 3 or 4 stressful months, they sent us a form letter of rejection. Yet another crushing blow to my dream of becoming a published writer. I believe that it was shortly after this time that I finally threw-out my notebooks from high school. I can only remember one of the plots that I had in there. Perhaps I will finally write it when I find my inspiration for it again.

This transition also came to a head when I walked into the local Waldenbooks to find new role playing game books on the shelf. Titles of Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse from a company called White Wolf Games. I had always been interested in the supernatural, so these games caught my attention. I bought the first editions of these books, even though the cover of the Werewolf book was badly torn. This book is infamous for having a claw mark on the front cover. The first edition was a paperback, and the claw mark was through the front cover instead of an illustrated claw mark; which they did in the revised edition of the book.

The games were a part of the system collectively known as the World of Darkness along with games like Mage: The Ascension, Wraith: The Oblivion and Changeling: The Dreaming, they would be the core of the system that would take over my life for the next 16+ years.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

Title: Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

ISBN: 9781936685165

Price: $19.99

Publisher/Year: Margaret Weis Productions, 2012

When I first started this site/blog, I didn't intend to write reviews for RPG's and I especially didn't feel that I was going to write reviews for specific books. And then I started to read the "Basic Game" book for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying from Margaret Weis. Though I don't intend to give a rating (usually X out of 5), but I felt compelled to express my thoughts, feelings and opinions on this as I read it.

As I've noted in the past, I spent most of my life playing role playing games and I feel that I have a good idea of what's a good system and what should be scrapped or may be too horribly complicated to be considered "basic". I've played games from the original basic "Red Box" edition of Dungeons & Dragons to the less basic classic World of Darkness. There have been many good games along the way, and fortunately I have not come across anything I would consider too complicated for a beginning player.

Than I began to read this book.

I usually don't mind a system that is dice intensive (such as the Hero system) or have need for multiple dice (such as Dungeons & Dragons or just about any other RPG). This system, however, is too dice intensive and not very player sensitive as you need to have multiple sets of dice D4 to D12. I think this decision may have been an intentional slight towards the D20 fad. The rules for what dice you use for rolls are easy to understand, but then you have different factors that allow you to add dice and increase dice. Depending on how you roll, the Watcher (the ST/DM/GM for this particular system) adds dice to their pool. If you want to spend Plot Points, you can increase the outcome, dice pool or push one of your dice to the next step (i.e. D4 to D6, D6 to D8, etc).

In this first chapter alone, I found myself getting a headache trying to process all the various rules for dice and dice pools. I can only imagine what a new role player who likes the idea of playing one of the favorite Marvel superheroes would go through coming into this system. This book would have left a bad taste in my mouth if it had been my first game system. It would have possibly kept me away from collecting comic books and playing RPG's. <shudder>

As you can imagine, I would not recommend this game for a new player, and I'm hard pressed to even suggest that veteran roleplayers even throw their money at it. I wish I had kept my old Marvel Super Hero RPG that TSR published back in the 80's. I'm sure there are ways to easily create the newer characters that have spawned from the 90's to today, and even adapt the older characters (such as the X-Men) to their modern versions.

G.I. Joe: Future Noir

Title: G.I. Joe: Future Noir

ISBN: 9781600108655

Price: $12.99

Publisher/Year: IDW, 2011

Artist: Giacomo Bevilacqua

Writer: Andy Schmidt

Collects: G.I. Joe: Future Noir  #1-2

Rating: 2.5/5

If you follow comics or even just G.I. Joe, you’re likely aware that
IDW Publishing has been holding the comic license for Hasbro's long-standing
toy-line for a few years now. In that time, they have not only published
several new Joe titles of their own, but they also continued where the Marvel's
fan-favorite series left off. Future Noir is represents the former as it is
Hasbro and IDW’s effort to introduce the highly trained special mission force
into the realm of manga.

The Joe team for this tale has Duke leading Roadblock, Scarlett,
Sci-Fi, and Helix while General Hawk is hanging out at headquarters. The silent
ninja, Snake Eyes, is not a member of this Joe team. However, he does leave his
mark in several panels. He is accompanied by the Hard Master and the rest of
the Arashikage Clan.

Some of the more interesting changes deal with Sci-Fi. His natural legs
are gone, although he does possess a set of legs to attach to his lower torso.
At one point, he attaches to wheel to move around on. He also seems to possess
some sort of visual transformation that allows him to examine a specimen he
finds. The details of this are not explained, so the reader is left to believe
that he was a victim of Cobra’s malevolent plan.

The story takes place in Japan as our small unit of Joes takes on the
Cobra organization headed by King Cobra. Cobra had been killing then abducting
people and sacrificing them to serpent gods. The plot sort of drags as the team
investigates Cobra’s evil plans. Fans will recognize a small subplot as
Serpentor shows up later and takes over as leader. However, this takes place
much too late in the book to have any effect and appears to only tease readers
for another story that won’t be happening.

If you are looking for some of that Joe vs. Cobra action we’ve all
loved over the years, you won’t find it here. After the initial shoot-out with
“insurgents” as they were called, most of the action from there involves the
team battling some of Cobra’s monstrous creations. One of those fights has them
engaging a giant snake in the middle of the city.

King Cobra, or Cobra Commander if you choose, is not without his
followers as he has a loyal legion of Vipers. They all have a uniform look (as
they should) consisting of bald heads and long jackets. The evil entity isn’t
short on star power either with Baroness and Dr. Mindbender getting in on the
action. Nemesis Enforcer, who made his debut in the 1987 Joe movie, makes a
surprising appearance here.

The G.I. Joe franchise has maintained its large fan-base over the years
due to several reasons, one of which is the extensive roster the team has
built. But, as many readers would likely prefer, a smaller group of characters
prevents a story from becoming too packed and unfocused. With a smaller group,
you can explore their personalities better than with a larger squad. However,
you really won’t get that too much here. But we do get a glimpse at several
connections between members of the team.

This edition of Future Noir collects the two volumes, previously
published individually, into one book. Andy Schmidt handled the writing duties
and Giacomo Bevilacqua took care of the art. Robbie Robbins and Dave Sharpe
lettered this Joe tale. Upon handling the book, you’ll notice it doesn't read
as manga typically do. It reads in the more Eastern fashion of left to right.
My guess would be the creators decided against the standard presentation to
entice Joe fans to read manga, but maintained the visual style in hope that
manga fans would try an American property. The latter group will be right at
home as Bevilacqua’s style matches that which manga fans have appreciated.

I picked this up because I have been a longtime G.I. Joe fan and was
curious about it receiving the manga touch. I wasn’t feeling the story at all
and would not recommend this book. I am quite sure my love for the franchise is
what carried me through this story.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Collectible Card Games

Collectible Card Games (or CCG's) are a part of my RPG repertoire. If I had been more focused on games and less focused on getting laid, I probably would have started my on-again/off-again obsession with Magic: The Gathering starting at either the Beta or Unlimited set;but because I was more inclined to find a girlfriend, my real introduction into the world of CCG's began around The Dark. More information about the various sets and expansions of Magic: The Gathering can be found here:

I say on-again/off-again because I have (at the time of this writing, at least) bought into and sold out of Magic 3 times each. I currently have a couple of per-constructed decks that I bought on a whim but I only actually play Magic on my XBox 360. Due to some of the players in my local area, I never really enjoyed playing Magic outside of my group of friends. I tried playing in a couple of tournaments, but washed-out really quickly in each attempt. The attitudes of the other people at the tournaments really left me unimpressed with maintaining a long lasting relationship.

Over the years, I have played many different CCG's such as:

  • Star Trek (Decipher)

  • Star Wars (Decipher)

  • Arcadia (White Wolf)

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Score)

  • Galactic Empires (Companion Games)

  • Illuminati: New World Order (Steve Jackson Games)

  • Jyhad/Vampire: The Eternal Struggle (White Wolf)

  • Legend of the Five Rings (Five Rings Publishing Group/Wizards of the Coast/AEG)

  • Middle-earth Collectible Card Game (Iron Crown Enterprises)

  • Netrunner (Wizards of the Coast)

  • OverPower (Fleer)

  • Pokémon Trading Card Game (Wizards of the Coast/Nintendo)

  • Rage (White Wolf)

  • The Lord of the Rings (Decipher)

  • The X-Files (Voyager Promotions)

  • XXXenophile (Slag-Blah Entertainment/Studio Foglio)

I have recently rekindled my obsession with both Star Wars and Star Trek. I'd also like to get back into playing Vampire: The Eternal Struggle. What draws me more than the game is the art and pop culture fondness I have for these games. They are all out-of-print now and the companies that produced them are either out of business or no longer deal in cards. I have been fortunate enough to find Star Trek and Star Wars collections for sale locally. Vampire, I have been able to acquire a few per-constructed decks.

Sometimes I wonder why I actually keep buying the cards if I don't actually play the games. There's probably a psychological condition that afflicts me, or perhaps it greed that lures me to continue to acquire these cards. I'm sure someone could have a heyday studying me.

When Star Trek first came out, I was luck (or unlucky as the case may be) to be working at a sports card shop that was looking to diversify by getting into CCG's. I remember that I bought a few boxes of Star Trek and several of Fallen Empires expansion of Magic. With an easily obsessive personality as my own (never gone stalker on a person, to keep your mind's at ease), having regular access to boxes of CCG's and an employee discount was a terrible mix.

As an avid Star Wars fan, this drew my interest instantly. It was when Star Wars was first released that I started delving into the secondary market of CCG's. Each card has a specific rarity (common, uncommon and rare) due to the number of that specific card that was actually printed. Because of this, there was value in many of these cards. I recall selling my first binder of uncommons and rares for only $100. I immediately spent that money to purchase more Star Wars cards. It wasn't until later that I realized I had sold several hundred dollars worth of cards for just $100. I know better now.

In the mid 90's, I wondered about a new game called Overpower. It was a CCG based from Marvel comic book characters, and that seemed to call my name. I was at a comic book show in Portland, Oregon and I was trying to sell some of my comics. I came across a guy who had some Overpower cards and I asked if he would be willing to make a trade. He ended-up trading me a full box of booster packs for my copy of Amazing Spider-Man #300. Those that know comic book probably felt your stomach drop upon reading that statement. To those readers who do not understand what this issue represents, it is the first appearance of Venom. When the 3rd Spider-Man movie was released, the value for this book was at an all-time high... much more than the value of that box of Overpower. The worst part about it was that none of my friends played and I never met anyone who did. I can't remember if I actually sold those cards or if they were recycled during one of my moves.

I still have some Legend of the 5 Rings, Jyhad/Vampire: The Eternal Struggle and Rage cards stashed away somewhere. I pulled characters from these games that I thought I could use as NPC's for future games. So far, I don't remember ever actually using them. We'll see.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Some time in my life I'm not so proud of...

We were not your archetypical "gamers". We did play basketball, football, climb trees, ride bikes, go fishing and other outdoor activities. As we grew-up, those activities took a back shelf to our role playing. In middle school, I tried joining the football and wrestling teams, but neither worked out.

The day after the first practice for the football team, I had gotten into an argument with a fellow classmate in gym glass. This argument abruptly ended when the kicked me right in the kneecap. I went to the doctor and he told me that I had torn my meniscus. (Meniscus, plural: menisci, from the Greek for "crescent", is a curve in the surface of a liquid and is produced in response to the surface of the container or another object. It can be either concave or convex. A convex meniscus occurs when the molecules have a stronger attraction to each other than to the container. This may be seen between mercury and glass in barometers. Conversely, a concave meniscus occurs when the molecules of the liquid attract those of the container. This can be seen between water and glass. Capillary action acts on concave menisci to pull the liquid up, and on convex menisci to pull the liquid down. This phenomenon is important in transpirational pull in plants. [Definition courtesy of Wikipedia.]) This ended my football career before it even started.

Later that same year, with my knee injury a faded memory, I tried to join the wrestling team. I lasted only a single day because I was teamed with the most effeminate guy in our class. Being in my pre-teen years and not yet fully developing my sexual persona, this made me uncomfortable and I decided that I would not return to the team. Thinking back, I also think that I was disappointed that the wrestling in school was not like the wrestling I would watch on television. I really just wanted to body slam someone.

Once in high school, the rules began to change. Our little group of gamers grew, and so did our interests with other games. This was the period of time where I experimented with any type of role playing game that I could find. It was also during these 4 years that my group became more aware of the local game store; Creative Pastimes.

Creative Pastimes was the only store in our city where you could purchase various RPG books. Sure, we had a B. Dalton and a Waldenbooks, but their selection was very poor. (More about these bookstores later.) This store not only had the books and boxed sets, but also had an incredible selection of dice! This is when we were introduced to superfluous dice such as the 30-sided and 100-sided dice. You really didn't need these dice, but they were like a status symbol because of their oddity and price. I recall that I spent $5 on my first 100-sided die. This was a time before the creative dice that we have now, such as steel dice, gem dice and other odd-sided dice.

This store also carried various other hobby and collectible items, such as dolls, trains, models and other toys. This made for divided attention on the part of the store clerk on duty. Please let me note this for the record: I do not condone the actions that I am about to describe that I and my group performed, and I do not feel good about what I have done. Do not take this as a suggestion that it is alright. The actions that I am about to describe here are illegal and immoral, and I have been living with these action on my conscious for years. I do not feel good for what I have done, but to tell my story properly, I must tell it right without omission.

Because Creative Pastimes was a fairly busy store, they generally only had a single clerk on duty, and the role playing section was in the back of the store, it was a prime target for shoplifting. We took advantage of this obvious flaw. We gained much of our Palladium system book collection from this method. I remember the first book I ever stole from them; Rifts. I loved that game for years, and the book became well worn. In an interesting twist of fate, after my high school years were behind me, this book would be stolen from me. I guess some might consider this a bit of Karma.

In 1993, Creative Pastimes closed its doors for ever. I felt horrible, and still do. Several years later, I would make friends with a man named Star. It turns out that he was the son of the couple who originally owned Creative Pastimes. The knife in my stomach that was the guilt began to slowly turn. I found out another several years later that Star died. The information I was given is that he took his own life, but I have never been able to confirm that. Nevertheless, I continue to feel the guilt of what I had done to Creative Pastimes and the family that owned it.

While in high school, I became friends with more people who would end up becoming my core gaming group. One of these friends, Ernie, had even developed his own role playing game that everyone enjoyed playing. I became so addicted to playing the game that I would call Ernie nearly every day after he returned home from working at a gas station so we could do some role playing over the phone. His shift ended at 9pm, he would get home around 10p, and my call would usually come at around 10:30p and we would end up gaming until 2a or later.

Needless to say, my parents weren't all that happy that I was on the phone for so long during the hours that I should be asleep. It got so bad that my father actually disconnected my phone jack from the main phone line. Some days later, while my parents were gone to work and I had time to myself, I opened the phone jack and figured out how to reconnect my phone.

In high school, when we weren't playing Ernie's game, we would play various games from the Palladium megaverse. Ernie was primarily interested in Robotech, my interested varied throughout the entire megaverse, and others in our circle were more interested in Rifts and Heroes Unlimited. The solution was simple... we play a game that included elements from all the various games.

I recall my favorite character that began in Beyond the Supernatural as a Parapsychologist (I believe), came over to Rifts and learned how to create and item that would allow him to use a power called Mechanolink. (At least, I think that is what it was called and how it was spelled.) This allowed him to learn everything about a devices, including how to repair it, how to make it work, and how to use it. This became very interesting when he came into contact with the various "mecha" in the world of Rifts, but became more useful once we ended up in the Heroes Unlimited world with other characters from Robotech. The character I had started out as a scientist now became someone who would pilot any vehicle or mecha he came in contact with. I wish I still had his character sheet so I could relate his actual evolution, but it has been lost to me for years. I believe that I may have thrown it away during one of the various moves I've made over the years.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

X-Force/Cable: Messiah War

Title: X-Force/Cable: Messiah War

ISBN: 9780785131571

Price: $39.99

Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2009

Artist: Mike Choi, Sonia Oback, Ariel Olivetti, Clayton Crain

Writer: Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost, Duane Swierczynski

Collects: The Times and Life of
Lucas Bishop
#1-3, X-Force/Cable:
Messiah War one-shot,
Cable #13-15, X-Force #14-16, X-Men: Future History - The Messiah War Sourcebook

Rating: 3.5/5

The first question is always “what happens?” Maybe this is where
Messiah War is lacking, because it can be summed up too easily. Bishop teams up
with Stryfe to kill Cable and Hope. That’s kind of it. Of course, Bishop
doesn’t tell Stryfe about Hope or how important she is—good or evil. To gain
Stryfe’s allegiance, Bishop tracks down a weakened Apocalypse and helps Stryfe
kill his father…or maker. Meanwhile, Cyclops is freaking out and has Beast make
time machines for X-Force so that they can go the future, retrieve Cable, and
bury Bishop six feet under. When X-Force arrive in the future, they find
themselves trapped in a time net…thing. There seems to be a lot going on for a
seven issue story, but the one criticism I do have on the series is that it’s
about one issue too long. There’s a bit of padding early in the story,
especially dealing with Deadpool.

Which brings us to the writers. This goes for all three—their writing
in the second half of the crossover is much stronger than the first. The
consistency that was so strong in Messiah Complex got off to a rough start in
War (yet there will still be a worse example) as Swierczysnki didn’t seem to
understand Kyle and Yost’s style, and vice versa. By the fourth chapter,
however, they begin to move as one, and for the rest of the story, that unity
of storytelling is much stronger. We also get into the heads of the characters
a lot more than we did in Complex or we will in Second Coming. Our three
scribes move between Cable, Bishop, Stryfe, Archangel, and finally Apocalypse
(though only Kyle and Yost write from his point of view, sadly) in a way that
doesn’t feel unnatural. What hurts the writing most, early on, was the need to
recap the events of Messiah Complex and Cable for the reader. And Kyle and
Yost, who wrote the first chapter, actually take a while to do this—again,
stretching time. It makes sense that they would, considering that a lot of the
readers coming on would be new ones wanting the sequel to Complex, but it was a
bit much.

On art, we have three of my personal favorites. Choi and Oback give us
the first chapter.  There are literally a
dozen examples of how great their art is, but for me, the spot that does it
most is after Laura, X23, meets Hope and takes off her mask. Hope, at this
point, is about 9 or 10 years old and seeing these people running around in
grey and black, with masks that have red eyes. Yet when Laura takes off her
mask, Hope—and the reader—see just how young Laura is. Choi and Oback capture
this in such a magnificent way. X23 is really just a child who was never
allowed youth or innocence. As much as Cable protects her and provides for her,
is Hope that much different? By the age of ten, she had already had to survive
one apocalypse (the roach people…one of the more bizarre stories to have come
out of Cable),  she has about the same
odds of turning into a normal teenage girl as Laura had—maybe slightly better
since Laura did have all that mind control stuff. But it’s a marginal line. And
yes, all of this brought on from one panel. Crain (X-Force) and Olivetti
(Cable) provide art for the rest of the series. Their two very different styles
can sometimes clash, but the uniqueness of each actually help. Being a shorter
crossover, there is more room for variation in art than in a 13 or 14 issue
crossover that hinges on being able to connect each chapter. Both artists have
some amazing work in this series, especially when it comes to Apocalypse. They
draw the character in much different styles, but both provide the most menacing
interpretations of the character (when he gets his strength back. The downside
is that Crain was certainly rushed to finish, and some of his art in the last
issue and a half show it. Yet when it counts, he brings it well. In the last
chapter, the full page of Apocalypse and Archangel is without a doubt one of
the most breathtaking images in the entire series.

So, back to the story. Messiah War can easily be compared to The Lord
of the Rings: The Two Towers. In the grand scheme of things, was the story of Saruman
and the Uruk-Hai actually needed to tell the story of Frodo and the Ring?
Sauron was already an extremely powerful foe, why throw in Rohan and Ents and
all of that? Meat. Sweet, succulent story meat. That’s a lot of what Messiah
War is—meat to the trilogy. But besides meat, there are actually more
subtle—but important—aspects to this story, especially for how it works in the
trilogy. Get ready for a lot of symbolism and literary criticism, folks,
because that’s what Messiah War is truly asking for.

Let’s get the obvious thing out of the way. Hope, that baby from
Messiah Complex hiding out in the future with Cable, is heavily tied to
biblical themes. As Deadpool says, she’s the “little annoying Messiah Child.”
When you’re throwing around phrases like “Messiah” and “Second Coming,” it’s a
necessity to dig more into that connection. Because of this, the inclusion of Apocalypse,
one of the most Christian mythology inspired characters, is essential to the
story of Hope, the Messiah. Hope is literally growing up in the end times, but
to actually face the embodiment of Apocalypse is quite another thing. Yet, she
is ten years old, after all, and she doesn’t actually fight the big bad
(though, now that Hope is an adult and Apocalypse is the main villain in
Uncanny X-Force, a Hope vs Apocalypse story is a possibility and would
certainly be a badass moment in X-Men history if done right).  In fact, Apocalypse is somewhat a good guy in
this story…which says something about Bishop. When the most evil mutant to have
ever existed is less evil than you, Bishop, you’ve lost your mind. Hell, even
Stryfe was shocked by Bishop’s craziness. Anyway, back to Hope and A-Poc. What
does it say that in the end, neither Cable nor X-Force could save Hope, but
Apocalypse and his horseman of death had to instead?

Loss of innocence.  In the fourth
chapter of Messiah War, Swierczynski shows Hope’s innocence right before it’s
crushed. Hope is trapped in a force field by Stryfe and looking up at the guy
who just beat the crap out of Cable and X-Force. Bishop uses the opportunity to
finally kill her, and releases a nanite cloud to distract Stryfe. When the
force field breaks and Stryfe keels over, the first thing Hope does is reach
out to him and ask if he’s okay. This is last time we will see an innocent
Hope.  Messiah War is the story where
Hope loses that belief that Cable will always be there for her, that there is
clear good and clear evil, and that the X-Men are some angelic force watching
over her. Her first meeting with the X-Men should have been a joyous occasion,
or she would have probably believed. 
Instead she is greeted by all six of Wolverine’s claws. Instead of
seeing her father relieved to see X-Force, he’s troubled and a little more than
pissed off.  Even worse, with an entire
team there to “protect” her, she still gets captured by Stryfe, watches as
Warpath is tortured, and witnesses Stryfe completely kick X-Force’s collective
ass three times. Suddenly that notion of “these people will keep me safe” isn’t
ringing as true anymore. There’s also the inclusion of Stryfe himself, a clone
of Cable. Stryfe tries to use Hope as a host body, and as noted before,
tortures Warpath with a lot of joy in from of the little girl. When Hope
finally sees Stryfe’s face, she is rightfully confused. She’s thinks it’s her
father coming to save her and pretending to be the bad guy. Of course, it isn’t
long until she figures out that Stryfe is most definitely not Cable, but the
psychological damage has been done. She has now seen an evil version of her
father, and much of Cable after this series shows Hope at odds with Cable.
Teenage rebellion is bad enough, but having to look at the same face as the guy
who was going to kill and possess you? Well, it might add a bit of fuel to that

Yet, while her meeting with the X-Men—even though X23 tells her they
are not X-Men—wasn’t the best she could have hoped for, it still made them real
people and not stories Cable would tell her to keep her spirits up. This was
her reference point to the X-Men. Now she knows that yes, there are a lot of
people who want to keep her safe and are willing to die for her. She might be
nine years old, but she understands that now. This will be even more important
in Second Coming, when quite a few people die for her. It also showed her that
there is another time, another place, where they could go where they don’t have
to eat fried rats or boil their water to drink it. And it’s a place where she
could have friends (sure, she finds her first love in the next Cable arc, but
she’s still in hiding and can only talk to him) like Laura and Elixir, the two
youngest X-Force members whom, along with James, she calls out for right before
pushing away from Cable mid time-jump (that was unwise). The meeting with
X-Force created a fantasy world for her of what the present day would be like,
another important aspect that comes up in Second Coming.

And then there’s the ending. Cable and Hope become separated in time,
and the X-Force are left having to complete the mission that Cyclops literally
ripped them from. In the beginning of the crossover, when they arrive in the
future, X23 marks a big X on a scrap piece of metal, marking where they landed.
At the end, the entire team—exposed to the future for too long (Beast and the
X-club had to make these time machines in a short amount of time, and they were
imperfect, giving X-Force only 20-something hours to complete their
mission…they go over this limit by a lot) are dying. It ends with X23 crawling
to that mark, to return to the present at exactly the right spot to complete the
mission. Endangered Species ended with the burial of a mutant-kind; Messiah
Complex ended with the death of a dream; Messiah War ends with the fact that
the X-Men must continue to struggle, but more importantly, to fight on. This is
the closest thing to hope that they’re going to get for now.

A few more notes before I wrap up. First is the set itself. The
hardcover is 39.99…and the crossover is only 7 issues. Granted, it also
includes The Times and Life of Lucas Bishop as well as Wasteland Blues, the two
issues of Cable that took place before Messiah War. Those two issues are worth
having. It’s a good story and this is a great place for it. It’s the first time
we actually get into Hope’s head, as Cable is passed out from dehydration.
Times and Life…sure, this might justify the price, but it’s nothing but a three
issue mini to recap Bishop’s life and, worst of all, it’s some of the most
appalling art I have ever seen in comics. Ever. Every character looks more like
an amorphous blob and it’s not the first time I’ve used that criticism for this
artist. He did the same thing in Peter David’s X-Factor for a couple of issues.
I don’t even want to name him, it’s so bad.

And despite that I like Swiercynski’s work (he seems to be a writer
people appreciate in retrospect), I think he missed a big opportunity. The last
we see of Apocalypse and Styfe is Apocalypse turning his “mistake,” as he calls
Stryfe, into his new host body. The only place we could have followed up on
this is in Cable, being that it was in this specific timeline. Yet two years
into the future, there is no mention of Apocalypse at all. He could have been a
new major villain in Cable, besides Bishop. Apocalypse did tell Cable that he
would one day return for Hope. If only we actually got that story.

But that’s just a small complaint. Messiah War, though not as good as
Messiah Complex, is still a great crossover 
for all of its character and crisis development. And next week is the
end of the trilogy, Second Coming. Will it live up to Messiah Complex, simply
be on par with Messiah War, or will it crash and burn? We’ll find out soon!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Continuing my humble beginnings...

(This text actually taken from my original attempt at the RPG4EVR blog, unedited.)

In the cold month of October in 1984, my journey into the realm of role playing games began after several months of anticipation. In those days, games like Dungeons & Dragons had a label stating "Ages 10 to adult". For some reason my friends and I adhered to that. Once I turned 10 years old, I was officially inducted into role playing.

I started like many role players, with TSR's Dungeons & Dragons. I remember the first book I received from my parent's one Christmas after becoming a role player: Fiend Folio - which was a monster book for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. I had a book no one else in my friend group could claim or find, and I was very proud.

It took a while, but I became so accustomed to the rules that I started Dungeon Mastering. I allowed my imagination to take me to lands I had never seen or even dreamt of before. My biggest problem was that my imagination only went so far. I admit that in those early times… and even sometimes today… I take plots and storylines from movies, TV and books and warp them to my design. I forget how many different versions of Conan or Merlin I had created as characters or how many times I've used the plotline from movies like The Professional or the Indiana Jones films. I never took the entirety of the story, though; just key elements of the story to get the feel of the adventure.

When the George Lucas movie Willow came out, my attentions were focused. I had stories revolving around it, designed characters based off of it, and began my interest in drawing melee weapons. Swords were my favorite, since they were the easiest to draw. I had a spiral notebooks devoted to these ideas and drawings. I had double-bladed, triple-bladed, double-ended, wavy, bent, long, short and various other types of swords. It was never about the functionality of the sword, only the way it looked to me.

During my phase of sword drawing, I came-up with an idea for a set of 5 swords that corresponded to the 5 major evil dragons in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Each sword had powers reflecting the dragon it was based from. The red sword would give protection from fire and have other fire-based powers. White would have cold protection and powers. And so on. I initially designed these because of my interest in dragons... much like any young boy. But then my interest came around to Her. She took my breath away every time I looked at Her. I was smitten. This wasn't my first love, but it had a deeper impact than the childhood crushes before. The She/Her I refer to is none other than the Queen of Dragonkind - Tiamat!

She first came to me in the Dungeons & Dragons Saturday morning cartoon. She was the perfect combination of all the dragons I had already grown to admire. I didn't really think about that fact that She was evil. It never really entered my mind. I understand the difference between Good and Evil, but it didn't really mean that much to me at the time.

In the early months of my role playing "career", it was just my friend Scott and I. We would get together several times a week to play Dungeons & Dragons. At this time, we only had a few books. Thankfully, our local library carried several of the books we didn't have and we checked the out on a regular basis. As time went by, these books would be the target of theft from the library and they would discontinue carrying them or similar books. The last time I was able to check-out a copy of Wilderness Survival Guide for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was back in 1988, I believe. That was the last role playing book I had ever checked-out from the library.

We soon discovered that Scott and I were not the only boys in our neighborhood that enjoyed the occasional game of Dungeons & Dragons. We soon made friends with another role-player on the next street over. His name was James and he was a year older than I, just like Scott. James brought our interest into games other than Dungeons & Dragons, such as Champions.

Dungeons & Dragons involved having an entire set of dice; d4, d6, d8, 2d10, d12 & d20. Champions only needed the tradition six-sided die. When I first started playing Champions, I raided every board game we had in the house for extra dice. Yahtzee, Monopoly, Aggravation, Kizmet and so on. At one point, I had a collection of about 32 six-sided dice. At one point during a session of Champions, I think I only ever used 20 at the most.

While we focused ourselves on Champions, we made friends with another role playing soul; Shawn. He had recently moved up from California, and had been playing about as long as any one of us. He became the friend we always wanted to game with because he was innovative and exciting. He also introduced us to new games such as Marvel Super Heroes, Top Secret and the Palladium role playing system which includes games like Robotech and Heroes Unlimited. We were gradually increasing our realm of interest of games we would play. This would later turn into trouble for many of us… myself included.

The next-door neighbor to James had purchased a mobile home trailer that he had parked near James' house. One summer, we asked if we could use it for a Memorial Day weekend, and he agreed to our request. We didn't take it anywhere, as none of us were old enough to have a driver's license at that time. We lived in it for the next 3 days just role playing. I remember that we started with a session of Champions, but we spent the bulk of the weekend playing TMNT (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). It was James, Shawn and I and it was one of the best weekends I had spent in a long time. (This was also well before puberty, so none of us had those interests, yet.)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Shorthand and other definitions

There will be many shorthand and terms used throughout this blog. I will explain them here as best I can:

DM: Dungeon Master – Common term associated with the  individual actually in charge of the game in progress: also called GM (Game Master) or ST (Storyteller). The term Dungeon Master was originally derived from TSR's Dungeons & Dragons.

IC: In Character – Actual things that happened in the chronicle's events or interaction taking place within the game format. Not to be confused with Out Of Character. This is when we are role playing and using our imaginations. A time where we are merely impromptu actors portraying character's that we alone have conceived in our very own minds.

OOC: Out Of Character – What could very well be called "the real world". This is where we are our real selves rather than our characters. We are not Vampires, Werewolves or anything supernatural. We are simply human beings. This is to represent thing that happen in our real lives and don't happen in the fictional world. Not to be confused with In Character.

TT: Tabletop – Term for what can also be called "Pencil & Paper" type role playing games. These include titles such as Vampire: The Masquerade™, Werewolf: The Apocalypse™, Dungeons & Dragons™, GURPS™ and Palladium™. These are what can also be called "traditional" role playing games.

LARP: Live Action Role-Playing – Term for games that happen as a performance and acted out rather than discussed and described to a group gathered around a table. This is what organizations like the Camarilla, Mind’s Eye Society and One World By Night are created for.

WW: White Wolf – This is the name of the company that  created games such as Vampire: The  Masquerade™ and who currently own the Camarilla organization.

WotC: Wizards of the Coast – This is the name of the company  best know for bringing the collectable card game (CCG) to life with games like Magic: The Gathering™ and Pokémon™. WotC also currently holds the rights to role playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons™ and Star Wars™.

CCG: Collectable Card Game – Games whose card have rarity and value. Titles include Magic: The Gathering™, Vampire: The Eternal Struggle™, Yu-Gi-Oh™ and Pokémon™.

CC: Chapter Coordinator – This is the title given to the person elected to keep the organizational side of things working at a Chapter level within the Camarilla/Mind’s Eye Society. These coordinators also have assistants who are entitled as ACC, or Assistant Chapter Coordinator.

CST: Chapter Storyteller – This is the title given to the person elected to keep the gaming side of things working at a Chapter level within the Camarilla/Mind’s Eye Society. These storytellers also have assistants who are entitled as ACST, or Assistant Chapter Storyteller.

VST: Venue Storyteller – The storyteller for a specific venue within a Domain for the Mind’s Eye Society.

Venue: Meaning the genre of the game. i.e. Cam/Anarch, Sabbat, Requiem, etc.

DC: Domain Coordinator – This is the title given to the person elected to keep the organizational side of things working at a Domain level within the Camarilla/Mind’s Eye Society. These coordinators also have assistants who are entitled as ADC, or Assistant Domain Coordinator.

DST: Domain Storyteller – This is the title given to the person elected to keep the gaming side of things working at a Domain level within the Camarilla/ Mind’s Eye Society. These storytellers also have assistants who are entitled as ADST, or Assistant Domain Storyteller.

RC: Regional Coordinator – This is the title given to the person elected to keep the organizational side of things working at a Regional level within the Camarilla/ Mind’s Eye Society. These coordinators also have assistants who are entitled as ARC, or Assistant Regional Coordinator.

RST: Regional Storyteller – This is the title given to the person elected to keep the gaming side of things working at a Regional level within the Camarilla/ Mind’s Eye Society. These storytellers also have assistants who are entitled as ARST, or Assistant Regional Storyteller.

Chapter – Local group of members within the Camarilla/ Mind’s Eye Society. Several Chapters create a Domain.

Domain – Generally several Chapters within the Camarilla/ Mind’s Eye Society. Several Domains create a Region.

More to be added as necessary.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Walking Dead Volume 13: Too Far Gone

Title: The Walking Dead Volume 13: Too Far Gone

ISBN: 9781607063292

Price: $14.99

Publisher/Year: Image, 2010

Artist: Charlie Adlard

Writer: Robert Kirkman

Collects: The Walking Dead #73-78

Rating: 4/5

Rick and his band of survivors have settled into community life but
some things still don’t feel quite right, whether it’s the fear of going back
outside the walls (there’s work to do out there) or the fact that certain
residents either have dark secrets or are helping others to keep theirs.

Rick sees the community as perhaps the best chance anyone has to live a
halfway normal life in this new world; the question is what he is prepared to
do in order to maintain things... Rick used to keep the law as a police
officer, now it looks like he might be taking it into his own hands, will
anyone stand against him?

Yet again, Kirkman had me thinking in one direction only to turn things
round and really hit me with stuff straight out of left field. Rick has been
slowly going off the rails for a little while now (and who could blame him
really?) , and I thought this was going to culminate in his becoming the one
man who has caused him the most pain up to now. Who knows, this could still
happen but not just yet. Kirkman’s ‘man on the edge’ is still clinging on
despite a growing tendency to lose it in the most violent ways and it’s going
to be very interesting to see if he still keeps trying to do the right thing as
the series progresses further. It could still go either way but what we have in
the meantime is a well fleshed out character whose decisions cannot help but
reverberate in the community around him.

It’s not just Rick either, it’s very interesting to see how the others
react to life in relative safety and Kirkman cleverly swaps things around so
that there’s a fresh slant on people that you think you know well by now. You
really get the impression that people had to dig deep and be people other than
who they really were during their time in the wilderness and this becomes a
fresh way of looking at established characters. People whom you thought would
be cool with stepping outside those gates would suddenly much rather be safe
behind closed doors...

If this wasn’t enough, we finally get to find out what’s been going on
behind some of the closed doors in the community. The big confrontation was
perhaps signposted a little too clearly, in Volume 12, to be a surprise but you
can’t deny the power that goes with it. Kirkman does moments like these only
too well and he’s on form again here with a couple of moments that made me gasp
at what was happening. Special mention has to go to Charlie Adlard for showcasing
the sheer intensity of physical confrontation with using any color in the
artwork at all. That lack of color seems to push the aggression to the surface
even more.

While Rick is finding his place in the community, events are happening
outside that  will not only solidify his
position but also hint at something huge happening in Volume 14. It’s going to
be just like the prison all over again but this time with an entire city full
of zombies...Kirkman knows when to leave people hanging and now I cannot wait
to crack on with the story; this could be the moment when Rick falls one way or
the other.

I deliberately haven’t said a lot about Charlie Adlard’s art because;
well... what can I say that hasn’t been said already. Adlard has made art
duties, for ‘The Walking Dead’, completely his own and you just can’t see that
changing. That could be why some of the larger panels are missing a little
detail, complacency or is that just common practice? I don’t know...

‘Too Far Gone’ bumps things back onto track nicely just when I was
wondering what would come next and has whetted my appetite nicely for Volume
14. The long wait begins again but at least it begins on a better note than
last time round...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

3rd year!

Another year has gone by, and I have yet to run out of reviews. In 2012, I found a cache of old trades that I had stored in my parent's attic, changed-up the look and feel of the site, and we now have a dedicated domain; ZANZIBER.COM. Oh, and let's not forget that I've finally joined Twitter this year. You can follow me at @ZanziberPOV.

As I've posted before, there is a simple way to support this blog. I have an affiliate membership through Lone Star Comics. If you click on the link (located below) and make a purchase, I will receive a % of your purchase as store credit. This is the closest thing I have to a sponsor right now. A special shout-out to my LCS, Tony's Kingdom of Comics, Tony is the best "comic book guy" in the local area.

I recently became aware of a list of banned comics. I think that this year I will make it a priority to read and review as many from this list as I can. Oddly enough, I have already read and reviewed some on the list. I invite you to do the same.

I appreciate those of you who follow my reviews and those who have helped by making purchases through my affiliate link. I hope that the coming year provides as much fruit as the past years offered.

Here's to another year of reviews. Enjoy and thank you for your continued support.

Cerebus Vol 3: Church & State Volume I

 Title: Cerebus Vol 3: Church & State Volume I ISBN: 0919359094 Price: $ Publisher/Year: Aardvark-Vanheim, 1987 Artist: Gerhard Writer: ...