Overlord

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Overlord is a pulpy, terrifying thrill ride of a B-movie. It feels like an over-the-top World War 2 Delta Green scenario, and an homage to a genre I learned to love through John Carpenter’s films. Having read more about the movie, and learned more about the practical effects used, I’m even more impressed.

As a B-movie it’s quite good, though it rang a bit hollow for me. I think there might have been a little more to the character development arc for Jovan Adepo’s Boyce that didn’t survive to the theatrical cut I saw, and I would have loved to see that. But it’s probably okay: high tension Nazi-killing historical science fiction B-movies aren’t best known for their character development.

I initially wasn’t sure whether to feel happy or miffed about the movie’s portrayal of the 101st Airborne as an integrated force when it was not. Here’s Wikipedia’s article on racial segregation in the US armed forces.

The happy side has won. It’s very easy to explain.

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Zombies in the Vineyard: a DitV hack

Dogs in the Vineyard is an indie RPG created by Vincent Baker; it has an unusual set of dice mechanics for its conflict resolution, and as part of that it encourages players to take turns shaping the game’s narrative.  While it certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I have had a lot of fun with it.

It’s also highly moddable, much like other Vincent Baker games (Apocalypse World being a prime example).  While the DitV sourcebook describes a Wild West setting full of civil and religious strife, I’ve heard or seen others using the system to play in mafia-based story lines, Star Wars settings, feudal Japan, or even The Matrix.  And Baker hacked his own system to tell horror stories, in Afraid in the Vineyard.

So of course someone decided to modify things a little further to turn it into a storytelling system that would allow you to play in a classic zombie movie.  Sadly, while they’ve playtested their zombie hack, the ruleset that I was able to find online is nowhere near final.

I’m going to cobble something together from those notes as best as I can, and when I’ve done that I’ll share the result with you.  If you’re already familiar with DitV and Afraid, maybe you’ll enjoy taking a look too?

Feed, by Mira Grant

Feed‘s appeal is a dangerous, slow, and creeping infection: you likely won’t recognize that it has its hooks in you until it’s too late, and at that point you’ll be too far gone to care.  In its early stages you’ll pick up the book every so often to read the next chapter, intrigued by the ease with which Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire) has created these characters and given you a look at what it might mean to live with a real zombie apocalypse.  The midpoint of the infection is your last chance to cut your losses, as the curtain lifts on the real story of the book and intrigue and conspiracy begin to unfold before you.

There’s an exceedingly brief threshold in which you might be able to put down the book, and then the late-stage symptoms set in.  You will put off other work and be made upset by anything that comes between you and finishing.  Your only goal, at that point, is to make sure that you’re able to follow the rest of the story to its conclusion.  The last hundred pages are a rush, an excellent demonstration of a dramatic climax at its finest, and they’re irresistible.  Almost as soon as I had put down the book, I was already putting the next two on hold at the library.

Heck, I even did something else I haven’t done in ages and started reading the sample opening from the beginning of the next book, where it hid in the after-material.  I strongly suggest that you indulge yourself and give the book a try.  For those of you who want to hear more about the book, read on below…

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Movie Review: World War Z

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I recently saw World War Z at a local Carmike theater, and while it was fun I ended up feeling like I had just watched a generic zombie film, and not a World War Z film.  Where the book is one of the greatest pieces of zombie media ever made, the film instead missed the mark on what makes the whole zombie genre interesting.  In a way this will be a double review as I will discuss what features made the book special, and how the loss of those features made the film feel generic.

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Fleshing out the Details

So now that we have a setting, let’s add in some details! One thing that can derail a campaign most are details. Why? Well, because details are at once meaningful and arbitrary. That is, details have to be consistent with your universe, and they shouldn’t establish any themes which your  universe/story isn’t tackling, but they also aren’t always important. I once had to name a tavern at random. So I decided on a color and an animal/cooking object. After all, Black Bull, and the White Swan, or the Red Ladle, are all perfectly good tavern names. And this is how I ended up with the Red Bull Tavern, something Henry was so nice as to tease me about it here, and I’ll probably never hear the end of how I named the Mayor ‘Hamer’, which was intended to be pronounced “ha-Mare”, but ended up being called “Mayor ha-Mayor”. So it is important to make sure to make sure that your random details are unobstructive. But how do you craft important details that are meaningful?

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Azorius: A Teaser

This is the blurb/teaser to a universe I’ve been developing for use in a series of short stories (and soon to be an RPG):

Long ago, history tells of a great war between all the kingdoms, of magic that tore up the earth and sundered the sky, of demons and gods that walked the land, casting down hundreds where they glanced and calling down lightning from the heavens and fire from hell. These wars raged for decades, consuming all the races of the world. And when the dust parted and the blood cleared away, war was the least of anybody’s problems. The dead had risen. Few weapons could be used efficiently against the undead; mortal blows hardly even slowed them. In months, fully a third of the world’s cities were unlivable.

It was then that a major breakthrough was made: magic could damage, and destroy the undead. But while divine magic could repel the undead, arcane magic attracted them, worse, it could create them! Thus began the Great Purge. Any magic that wasn’t sanctioned by the church was hunted down, quickly and brutally.

Now, years later, the world is at an equilibrium. Maybe a quarter or a fifth of the cities and town from after the war survive, but they do survive. Each town is protected by a few priests; the larger the town, the more priests. And that protection remains under a few conditions: any magic users are turned over to the church, the church’s rituals are kept sacred, and the church can take anybody under the age of 18 into the clergy, at any time. If those rules are broken, the town risks losing its protection. And with these rules, rebuilding has begun, of cities and of roads. Of society.

But rumors linger, of rogue magic users who control hordes of undead, or of guilds of magic who seek to use the undead for their own nefarious research and goals, and worst, of corruption inside the church itself. But not all rumors are bad. Some tell of guilds of magic who seek to end the undead problem, of rogue magic-users who roam the countryside, seeking pockets of survivors or of magical artifacts that ward off the dead, and even of cities that escaped the devastation.

This is the realm of Azorius, and these are the tales of its people.