Sunday, January 31, 2010

Random Space Finds #2

Floating flotsam and jetsam, tumbling slowly in the void (1d10):
  1. Human hand, in handcuffs, finger prints partially discernable
  2. Adjustable leather belt, unidentified contraption attached
  3. Six syringe-sized vials of sodium thiopental
  4. Hock of meat (whale sized) on a very long line disappearing into distance
  5. Military issue ID "dog tags," exact name as one of your crew, different picture
  6. Miniaturized city encased in clear, domed shielding
  7. His and hers matching animal skin loin cloths/tops
  8. Giant chess piece of your choosing
  9. Escape pod for one, empty, covered in greenish-yellow stains
  10. Ringlet of keys or key cards

    Saturday, January 30, 2010

    Design aesthetics, Mandalorians, and my love for the look of old-school Star Wars

    No, it's not impossible. Search your feelings and you'll realize it's true, I'm a Star Wars geek (as you may have noticed). NO, this will not turn into a Star Wars blog--however there are definately aspects of that universe that I think are great inspiration. The concepts I appreciate most stem from the wealth of design aesthetic applied to the development of the films and now the Clone Wars television series.

    I'm not sure if any of you are regular watchers or have seen episodes of the show, but it's actually a great deal better than the prequels (writing wise). Yes, it's geared more towards kids (generally simpler plots and the dialog has more comedic overtones) but it's in many ways much closer to the classic trilogy we all remember.Which reminds me, I'm going to assume that you're all familiar with the "used universe" idea behind the scenes, so I won't bother blathering on about that.
    Anyway, there's a article covering the design behind the Mandalorian soldiers on the show, which is of course an homage to Boba Fett/Jango Fett armor and helmet. Specifically, it covers the default Mandalorian template and what was "customized" for by the Fetts. Very interesting, considering Boba Fett, who was arguably customized his outfit the most, was obviously the first incarnation to appear in any Star Wars property before we even heard the word "mandalorian". True to form, the artists' output is often relegated to the background, as this behind-the-scenes clip explains.

    Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston* are the artists credited with designing Fett's original armor--in gleaming white no less. And while they did use their work as a reference, the show's design team went all the way back to Boba's first appearance in the Star Wars Holiday Special for their inspiration. So much has already been said about how atrocious that program was so I won't cover it here, but the one bright spot was the gonzo--almost Bakshi-esqe quality it had and the timely appearance of Fett in muted, multi-colored armor.
    There's more on his design in an earlier article. One thing I've always appreciated about the Star Wars look is the skill and craftsmanship in the design, especially those early days between A New Hope and Empire. In many way it's easier to subtrack the Star Wars feel out of those illustrations and see it in a more ("generic isn't quite the right word) universal way. I think those early drawings have so much spark and intrigue to them. Almost a mysterious quality because we can't immediately tell what direction the illustrators were leaning in. Of course NOW you can see exactly what became of their work. But it's fun to imagine what could have been had they not made certain decisions or gone another way.

    I think a good deal of my design-y thoughts are spent in McQuarrie's Star Wars, more than George Lucas'. I think it's almost easier to daydream about an illustration--which is more open-ended in some respects--compared to a film. 
    As I've become a more aged Star Wars nerd I think my brain has begun to separate the two versions more profoundly. Part of that is also due to the fact that with the prequels came a whole new crop of artists and designers who had their own take on Star Wars, and it was like seeing another whole version of Star Wars that could have (should have damnit!) come to pass. Don't even get me started on the Obi-Wan concept drawing (below) that would have solved the whole "one with the Force" thing in a much more elegant fashion than what Lucas hamfistedly shoehorned into the end of Revenge of the Sith. [shakes fist in air!]
    Anyway, artists like Doug Chiang and  Ryan Church brought an entirely new look to the Star Wars universe both on, and pre-screen. And while they, and many of their colleagues are extremely talented my fondness for McQuarrie and Johnston's work has grown immensely. I own many of the Art of Star Wars books and they're easily among my favorite story-based books. The only sad part is that in the Empire and Jedi the concept paintings were more like Lucas' vision and less raw or reconcilable to the artist's.

    A few final thoughts on the Star Wars of old: Christoper Mills blog space1970 has a great new post on the 70s Star Wars comics which were pop-off the page delicious and managed to squeeze a swashbuckling saber ZZZT! into nearly every dot of halftoned ink. It's exactly 180 degrees from McQuarrie, et. al. and I absolutely adore it. It amazes me how something so opposite from the clean, manicured look of Ralph's work can inspire, essentially, the same level of excitement (in a different way of course). 

    Simultaneously, Reis O'Brien over at Geek Orthodox has been posting the Pizzazz Star Wars comics, and they're every bit as wonderful, if not a little over-the-top zany! Honestly, every story arc seems to begin with Luke's ship crashing. He must have had beginner's luck with that whole blowing up the Death Star trick. Reis also covered the Marvel comics last year.

    RetroJunk has a great archived post on Fett's early comic incarnation as well, which played off of the ambiguous "is he a villain or isn't he" dynamic before it was confirmed in Empire. 

    Finally, There's a great gallery of Marvel comics covers on Word is these are being re-released in trade paperback form by Dark Horse sometime this year. I have a few torn up copies, but I'd like to get my hands on these in a compiled format. Just try not to spend too much time on that site or Lucasfilm's tendrils will wrap around your wallet and never let go! ;)

    Now, if you're all lucky, I can shake this Star Wars kick for now and we can all return to our regularly-scheduled program of pulpy, OSR, nondescript, retro-clone, space universe explorations. *sigh*

    *McQuarrie and Johnston also worked on the concepts for the original Battlestar Galactica series, and as I understand it, BSG came under fire from Fox/Lucas for having an aesthetic too closely resembling Star Wars' look.

    Friday, January 29, 2010

    Interivew: Michael Chabon, screenwriter for upcoming John Carter of Mars film

    A great tip from OEF, so consider this "retweating"! Here's an interview with award-winning author Michael Chabon with a little background on how he was selected to be the screenwriter (he's perfect for it), have a look!

    Interstellar Inspiration

    Click to enlarge images

    Thursday, January 28, 2010

    Wizards of the Coast: Say Goodbye to Star Wars

    Now this is crappy news. I just bought a bunch of Star Wars minis and then this happens. WotC is dropping the Star Wars miniatures and role playing games, due to the "economic downturn". I get that sales may not have been what they hoped--but I know of quite a few collectors/gamers out there who love the game. I'm more of a collector than player at this point, but I'd just purchased about a dozen singles and was looking at some booster sets of more nondescript characters that would fit well with a Star Frontiers/X-plorers game setting. (An image gallery of those purchases was to appear on this blog.)

    It's like West End Games all over again!
    I'll say that I feel more like there were nearly TOO many books, supplements, and booster sets and not enough accessories to help support the game. There was only one Galaxy Tile set (i.e., Dungeon Tiles for Star Wars) released and frankly I'm not sure that Wizards did enough to link the minis to the RPG version of the game--which may have helped keep them both more prescient with the role players.

    Wizards also didn't do anything to revise the mini booster sets as far as quantity and price like they did with the D&D minis. One would think they should have tried to redo their merchandising before cutting an entire license. There's speculation at the moment that another company would pick up the license, but that's likely never going to happen as there isn't another mini company with the resources that Hasbro/WotC has in place to handle a license this size. Also, Hasbro has a history of going after perceived competitors, like when it sued the Lego company over their mini figures a few years back. 

    With all this said, my personal preference would have been to suspend the line, or pull back to just core books and one or two mini sets a year. But I guess, once you've pigged out at the buffet, it's hard to go on a diet.

    Time will tell if the license will rebound to support a game system again. Until then, I'll be buying up the ones I need off ebay, et. al.

    Update: The trading/collectible card games are also on the chopping block, as the license extends to all Star Wars properties produced by Wizards of the Coast.

    Update: Hasbro (of which Wizards is a subsidiary, as we all know) is coming out with stat cards and dice for their 3.75" action figures. As the picture below from this weeks' Toy Fair in NYC illustrates, it looks as though they're turning the toys into a game. A neat concept--no where near an RPG--but still cool if you're a kid or a toy collector. Call it "the Yu-Gi-Oh-fying of Star Wars" but all in all it's an interesting way to play with the toys, even if it's a total bummer for the RPG and minis game.
    Huge props to Rebelscum for their hard work at Toy Fair to get images and send in reports!

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010

    The Future...From Another Time....

    Have you ever visited You should. It's a gold mine of peculiarities and artifacts from "a future that never was," meaning what we used to think the future would be like: flying cars, jet packs, household robots. Okay that last one is kinda true, but you get the picture.

    Anyway, a ways back I was on the site and saw this:

    Click on images to enlarge
    I had this book as a kid and LOVED it. It's a treasure trove of content and pictures that foretold what the future would be like in the year 2000 and beyond. It was published in 1982. In any case, I was able to snag a copy of it on ebay soon after. I was delighted to relive a classic from my youth, but even better were the wacky predictions, covering topics like space colonies; robots in everyday life; the future of education, farmng, and communications--and let's not forget flying cars!

    The book is peppered with images of airships, Torus wheel colonies, and other wonderfulness. There's just too much gold in there NOT to post, so I'll be dropping a few scans in now and then. I can't promise the best scan quality (it's basically newspaper quality paper--almost 30-year-old newspaper). The cover is color but the interior imagery is in glorious b/w. Here's a taste of The Kids Whole Future Catalog by Paula Taylor:

    More to come....

    Monday, January 25, 2010

    Random Space Finds #1

    Floating flotsam and jetsam, tumbling slowly in the void (1d10)
    1. Sealed, intact champagne bottle, vintage
    2. Scuttled ship (50% heavy damage, 30% moderate damage, 10% light damage, 5% no damage with regular wear, 5% pristine with no wear)
    3. Child's left shoe, scorched
    4. Steamer trunk, in heavy chains and locks
    5. Package of astronaut ice cream
    6. An Oort cloud of human skulls and skeletal remains
    7. Shaving kit, intact
    8. A ring, still worn by finger
    9. VHS tape, in radiation shielded case, name and address still legible on label
    10. Giant robot (100 meters or taller), no head

    X-plorers vs. Star Frontiers

    So here's a quick update on my search for a ruleset. I'm looking closely (exclusively) at two systems X-plorers and Star Frontiers. X-plorers, for those not familiar, is a recent "imagining" of 0E RPGs had they been sci-fi based instead of fantasy. Star Frontiers is more like a first cousin to D&D since it came directly from TSR. Most of this is on setting and character creation, I'm still working my way up to game mechanics on both sets (I'm reading them simultaneously so it's taking a bit longer).Click the images to visit each game's website.

    First impressions about X-plorers...

    Quick and easy character creation rules, so far better than Star Frontiers (see below). It's 3d6 based which is intuitive if you're a D&D person and the main attributes are boiled down to just four simple stats. I'm not too crazy about some of the setting stuff in X-plorers, but the book even says that everything is malleable. A big corporation acts as the sole organization for exploring, which kinda turns me off. Likewise for the heavily armored soldiers which seem like "kinghts in space". They're set up as kind of the default for the setting, and I don't see that panning out for a campaign I'd want to do. If I choose this one I'll likely discard some of those trappings. I could use a little more description in the way of equipment and aliens, but I can pick that up from other sources too I guess. I think sci-fi works much differently in that you want a certain degree of description. Magic is magic--it doesn't require explanation's magical! Sci-fi needs that explanation of how stuff works--even if it's minimal.

    First impressions about Star Frontiers...

    I really dig the atmosphere (I think it's the artwork to be honest!), and maybe I just like that there are a few more details (not too many) in these manuals. There's still a big corporate influence in this one too, again, this can be mitigated or re-worked. The big discovery was that I'm not a fan of the PC creation rules which employs this weird re-scaling chart after rolling d10s. I don't mind d10s per se, but I'm confused why SF has players rolling d10s then using that number to determine an entirely different one on a 1-70 range to find an attribute score. It's all just too convoluted.

    UPDATE: Here's an image of the weird chart in question:


    More to come, but feel free to share your observations as well. I'm learning about these two examples rules for the first time really, having played WEG Star Wars back in the day. I'd like to try something new, which is why I'm investing time with these two sets, but I'm also not opposed to borrow heavily from my roots.

    Friday, January 22, 2010

    New X-plorers Fanzine!

    Mike D. over at Sword+1 is starting an X-plorers fanzine he's named "Boarding Action". This is sort of the publishable part of his mega-dungeon-in-space project.

    I imagine this will be to X-plorers what Fight On! is to Swords and Wizardry. He's taking submissions through March 1, so if you've got some sci-fi goodness in the hopper, send it on in!

    Sword+1 is a great blog in and of itself. Mike's the author of Ruins and Ronin a Swords and Wizardry ruleset based on Asian-styled adventuring.

    Thursday, January 21, 2010

    You would prefer another target? A military target? Then name the SYSTEM!

    If only I could! The problem is there's more Sci-Fi RPGs out there than you can shake a stick at. To be honest, I'm in a similar situation as Doug over at Athanor. But I figure, this is as good as any exercise to develop some ideas and we'll see where it goes from there.

    Anyway, on to the good stuff! I've recently invested in an old box set of Star Frontiers I purchased from ebay. I'd previously downloaded all the PDFs available at, a sort of super fan site that has "remastered" all of the old material into nice, clean PDFs. The Frontiersman also offers its own magazine supplement (also in PDF format) which provides loads of gaming material. But I'm not sure SF is THE system yet. Currently I'm also looking at Star Blazers, X-plorers (on it's way from LuLu), and James Maliszewski's Thousand Suns. All would provide the proper amount of "pulpy" sci-fi I'm looking for.

    Back in High School I played the original Star Wars RPG by West End Games. I really loved that system and there's no reason to think I couldn't strip out the Star Wars branded stuff and start from scratch. (I love SW, but I'm not interested in playing a straight SW-themed game right now).

    And I haven't even hacked into Gamma World, or it's OSR equivellant, Mutant Future for that matter!  At this point I'm overwhelmed, but I think I'll settle on something soon. At the moment I've opted to stay away from GURPS and I've not looked at Traveller (for the moment). From what I've read Thousand Suns is sort of Traveller stripped down, so perhaps that's a better alternative anyway. That's not to say I won't borrow source material. There's just lots to choose from, including several I've not even mentioned.

    So where does that leave us? Which system? Well, let's say that it's in research and development at this stage....

    Oh, and suggestions, insights, and criticism are welcome (as always)!

    Monday, January 11, 2010


    Discovery Eternal! Or something like that. It sounds good, right? Originally I wanted to go with something like "Ad Astra, Ad Infinitum" which I think all die-hard sci-fi fans could figure out, but it was a really bad, half-assed attempt at latin syntax. Instead I went whole-assed for alliteration!

    Yes, I've begun yet another blog, this time with a sci-fi slant. I know, I know, I should really find a central spot for all my ideas. But Spell Card! didn't seem like the appropriate place since it's main focus is more fantasy and Threads of Adventure is about true stories as fodder for adventure. And while I love fantasy genres, I LOVE SCIENCE FICTION. No, really, I do.

    So what's this about and what exactly are Exonauts? 
    Well, the way I see it they're explorers of anything "out there," whether it be the deep blue, the wild blue yonder, or the last frontier. They could be  Atlantean precursors to an ancient empire, the last race of a ruined civilization under a dying sun, or  star-hopping swashbucklers near the galactic core. Or maybe they're time-space traveling between all of the above. They're anyone looking for adventure.

    I thought about starting world building project like Athanor, Algol, Urutsk, or Thool, encapsulating entire realms (some of my favorite blogs as a matter of fact!). In fact, why couldn't they land in ancient Hyboria and slay demons alongside Conan? I like to think that Exonauts could visit and explore any of those worlds should they choose to enter the coordinates. I'm just providing the means to get there and the plasma charge to survive.

    The way my brain works, I vacillate between sci-fi genres greatly, whether it's science fiction, science fantasy, or just plain science, so you should expect healthy helpings of all of the above. Along the way I hope to touch on ideas for stories, games, and whatever else we can dream up. And I wouldn't count out a little cross-over from my other blogs.

    There will be the obvious influences: Flash, Buck, Buckaroo, and more--but there will also be plenty of surprises along the way. Watch for new posts and regular features soon!

    Until then, let's hear it for bad Latin with great alliteration: