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|Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017|
|Listen To The Shadow People
While waiting for the fever to burn out, I read Margaret St. Clair's The Shadow People
(1969), one of the shadowy underlights of Appendix N that I'd unaccountably neglected until now. Not that
unaccountably: St. Clair has been almost completely out of print for decades, although it's good to see that Ramsey Campbell is editing a "best of" collection from Dover due later this year.
This book is wild, beginning with elves kidnapping a young woman from 1968 Berkeley California and getting weirder from there. The elves and the Underearth combine Shaver's Deros with Robert Kirk's "Commonwealth of Fairies" (namechecked!) for a real tour-de-force of clammy horror and fairy tale structure. And then there's a nascent computerized fascist state in the last half for some reason, which works mostly because St. Clair's Underearth has jolted the reader out of their perceptual tunnel already. She also shows a real willingness to leave plot threads hanging and underexplain things, which might annoy some but for me remains part of the real frisson of fantasy and horror fiction, which this is.
If urban fantasy had followed Margaret St. Clair into the Berkeley Underearth rather than trailing after Emma Bull into the Minneapolis park system, I'd like it about three hundred percent more.
|Friday, February 24th, 2017|
|First Best Ten Best Film List of 2016
Once more, O loyal readership, I vouchsafe unto thee the ten films I saw that were the 10 best 2016 films I saw. As so often happens these days, I have revealed the answers in the lovely and accessible podcast format, interleaved with those of my confrere robindlaws
on our very own podcast Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff,
specifically this episode here.
But for those not listening or who don't mind re-reading lists of things to which they've listened, here are the Top Ten 2016 Films I Saw:
1. Soul on a String
3. Hail, Caesar!
4. Everybody Wants Some!!
5. Hell or High Water
6. The Age of Shadows
7. Women Who Kill
8. The Nice Guys
10. The Handmaiden
And the second ten, for your individual delectation: Train to Busan, Silence, Love and Friendship, Imperfections, Neruda, Shin Godzilla, Jackie, Neon Demon, Captain America: Civil War,
and The Witch.
Although the A+ category probably fades around Number 7 (although one can make arguments down to Jackie
), the As keep going all the way down to #22 and Dead Tongues.
The worst 2016 movie I saw would be the Mexican trash-heap The Darkness
(#62); of stuff released in theaters domestically, #60 Batman: the Killing Joke
managed to eke out the title ahead of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
(#59) and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Top Ten 2016 Movies I Didn't (Yet) See? Hmmm, in a year with two Terence Malick releases we probably know two of them (Knight of Cups, Voyage of Time
) but the other eight in no particular order likely include most of Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Kubo and the Two Strings, Hacksaw Ridge, High Rise, Swiss Army Man, The Mermaid,
and Into the Inferno.
As always past performance yadda yadda yadda.
|Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017|
|The Most Dangerous Gamicon
As you can perhaps deduce from the misleading header above, I shall be a Guest of Honor at Gamicon Fe
this weekend in scenic Cedar Rapids, Iowa alongside famed designer Nathan Paoletta and minis painter Steven Groom.
And even before you have recovered from that breath-taking news, here's my Gamicon schedule as I know it:FRIDAY Feb 248pm - 10pm: Worldbuilding and Setting Design
The setting - be it a whole galaxy or a single palace - helps define your game. Setting constrains plot and defines character; it's what the designer or the GM brings to the table before anyone else sits down. How do you build a setting that's robust and interesting? Do you alter history or design a whole new world?Event Location: ElmSATURDAY Feb 2510am - 12 noon: Getting into the Industry/Business of Gaming
Presentation and Q&A with Ken Hite & Nathan Paoletta on getting into the RPG businessEvent Location: Elm2pm - 4pm: Podcasting 101
Podcasting is a lot of work, & a lot of fun. Kenneth Hite and Nathan Paoletta will help you minimize the former & maximize the latter, in everything from picking a topic to audio editing. Put your beautiful voice out there!Event Location: Elm8pm - 10pm: Game Mastering Master Class
The Game Master's craft is a tricky one. What are the tips and tricks you find most useful when it comes to making your games come alive? And how do you handle... That guy? The answer may surprise you!Event Location: ElmSUNDAY Feb 269am - 11am: Cthulhu in Gaming (What's the Attraction?)
There are now several board and role-playing games featuring HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. What is essential to getting the mythos right? What are some common pitfalls when attempting to emulate Lovecraft's eldritch horror?Event Location: Elm
You can pre-register for the convention and pre-sign up for these and all the other events here,
but I suspect the kindness and openness of Iowegians means there will be plenty of welcome left for walk-ups and last-minute deciders. So come on out to Cedar Rapids this weekend and get your Gamicon on!
|Monday, February 13th, 2017|
|O DunDraCon My DunDraCon
Because it is February and because it is my heart, I once more flee the gray if not particularly inclement (this year) climes of Chicago for the apparently drenched confines of the Bay Area for DunDraCon
in semi-sunny San Ramon this Presidents' Day weekend (Feb 17-20).
And once more I provide unto thee my schedule that thou mayest attend unto my words and consider them in thy heart, but not ask me if they shall be streamed for I know not.Saturday Feb 18
1:00 PM - 2:00 PM: What's new at Pelgrane PressPresenter: Kenneth Hite
Pelgrane Press designer Ken Hite gives you the lowdown on everything from 13th Age
to The Dracula Dossier.
[Tri Valley 2]
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM: City Building: Post ApocalypsePresenters: Michael Blum, Kenneth Hite, Anders Swenson
The long-running seminar about the nuts and bolts of building and using cities in RPGs. This year we’ll discuss post-apocalyptic communities, and develop one on our whiteboard. [Tri Valley 2]
6:00 PM - 7:30 PM: Alternate HistoriesPresenters: Kenneth Hite, Chris Klug, and Dana Lombardy
The very popular War College panel discussion continues! Authors and game designers Dana Lombardy and Ken Hite are joined by DDC 41 Guest of Honor Chris Klug to examine possible alternate histories and what their impact might have been. Audience participation is encouraged. [Salon C]Sunday Feb 19
Sunday, 10:30 AM - 11:30 AM: What's CoolPresenters: Chris Klug, Kenneth Hite, Bruce Harlick
Three Icons of the gaming industry from 3 different viewpoints combine to present to you the best in current game products. [Tri Valley 2]
|Sunday, January 22nd, 2017|
|Big Eyes, Archaic Smile
And finally the fourth of my nominees for our next campaign, as submitted to my players for their delectation and decision. This one began life as a Suppressed Transmission column way back when; my player jovianconsensus
has a bee in his bonnet about pre-Punic Wars Sicily, which is to say the Hellenistic Mediterranean, and here this option was waiting for us. Archimedes has been allowed to drift out of his proper Punic War, and Hieron has assumed the throne three years early, but otherwise it's all pretty much straight history. Except for the flying ships.
BIG EYES, ARCHAIC SMILE"Aristarchos of Samos produced a book based on certain hypotheses, in which it follows from the premises that the universe is many times greater than the universe now so called."
-- Archimedes, The Sand-Reckoner
(ca. 225 B.C.)
Sing, O Muse, of the four colors splashed across the world in the wake of the Divine Alexander! Sing of the cyan screens of the mausolikons! Sing of the magenta sails of the aetheremes! Sing of the yellow-bronze armor of the kolossi! Sing of the black dreams of kings and wonder-makers, who hold the key to power over all the world! It’s the year 39 (273 BC – ed.) and Seven Wonders tower over the known world: anything is possible! Neo-Aegypt rules the seas with the unsinkable battleship Iamatos
and the deadly red Eye of the Pharos; the Seleucids launch griffin cavalry and aetheremes from their aerial base in the Hanging Gardens above Babylon; the kolossi-warriors of Rhodes guard their island republic; the Amazons grow monstrous and beautiful new life in Diana’s shrine in Ephesus; the artificer Philo guards his city-state Byzantion with clashing rocks while Archimedes builds the Solar Mirror for his own master Hieron II of Syracuse. Still stranger powers grow on the rim of the Hellenistic world: Ashoka of Maurya spins reality-shifting wheels; the suffetes of Carthage heat their desert sands in the burning heart of Moloch to pen daimones into silicon frames; and Saturnus, the overthrown Icon, readies a new army in Rome. If we are to believe Metrodoros of Lampsakos, there are even men on Mars, who carried his teacher Epicurus off with them and now examine us with intellects vast and cool and ironic. But perhaps that doesn’t matter to you – you just have to live fast, love well, and leave a good-looking mosaic.
System: Most likely 13th Age,
with the Olympians as the Icons, because hey guess what Alexander the Great won. (Although I would entertain a motion to try HeroQuest
again.) This is fantasy history with a properly Hellenistic technic touch and maybe a bit of anime feel.
|Saturday, January 21st, 2017|
|Agents of S.A.B.E.R.
This third nomination for my next campaign is also a rerun, but not one you folks have seen. I first proposed it in 2003 under the title "Jack Kirby's War on Terror!" but the players went a different direction. (Into outer space, if I recall correctly.) But here we are back again, not least because we haven't done supers since the immortals game (Truth & Justice
AGENTS OF S.A.B.E.R.
Sure, there were big problems in 1967 -- Vietnam, and Communism, and all that. And Captain America did his part, keeping death rays out of Chinese hands and rescuing buddies from Viet Cong sumo wrestlers. But Captain America had bigger fish to fry, too – Star Sapphire, and A.I.M., and giant robots, and MODOK, and Blofeld. It’s fifty years later, and the world hasn’t gotten any less dangerous – or any less menaced by giant robots. In that spirit, you, the super-agents of S.A.B.E.R. (Special Army Bureau for Extraordinary Research) have to take on not just ISIS were-hyenas and Zeta cartel swamp creatures but buried Nazi sentient tanks in Syria, cloned psychic supermen in North Korea, and the shadowy legions of The Claw!
System: Icons: Assembled Edition,
which should give us plenty of Silver Age scope without bogging us down in rules minutiae. (It’s not impossible that we might sneak one or three DramaSystem
sessions in as well, for proper super-soap.) The world is one full of Alan Moore’s “the beautiful and the pointless,” seen through a Captain America
movie lens and painted a gorgeous Planetary.
|Friday, January 20th, 2017|
|The Gryphons of Calyferne Redux
Here's the second of the four proposed campaigns for my next game, for my players to choose from among. Long-time fans may remember this proposal from 2008.
Recycling, kids, it's good for GMs, for writers, and for the Earth.
THE GRYPHONS OF CALYFERNE
Cadamosto returned to Portugal in 1456 with staggering news: He had discovered the island of Antilia, far to the west across the Atlantic Ocean. Better yet, he had heard of other islands, rich in spices, gold, and cities -- Hy-Brasil, Cibola, Estotiland, Norumbega – and greatest of all, the legendary Calyferne, ruled by Amazons and guarded by gryphons! A chain of Indies stretches to the Kingdom of Prester John himself, and to the lands of the Great Cham of Asia, and you have a copy of Cadamosto's map and a ship that will take you west to find them. You are adventurers of the Order of the Golden Fleece; some learned in the wizardly arts, some practiced sailors or sell-swords, all willing to explore these new isles for Prince Henry the Navigator, and for treasures magical and mundane.
Do not be fooled by the cunning historical persiflage above! By old-school fantasy request, this game will feature: beautiful princesses, villainous pirates, aloof elves, clouds of black powder smoke, fearsome dragons, swarthy dwarves, enigmatic glowing gems, leering mandarin-viziers, heaps of gold, alabaster cities, hyena-headed gnolls, subterranean passages, sword-fighting, missing idols, magic rings, cruel giants, and the Mighty Kraken. Plus griffins and California, just like the title says.
System: 13th Age,
with the specific Icons left (in part) to be worked out by us depending on who your characters are in tight with: Our Lady, Hermes Thrice-Great, the Buzzard, and the Green Dragon (royal supporter of the arms of Portugal, and possible patron of the Grand Cham) pop instantly to mind, given the setting. If you want to start out as members of a fantasy race, we can probably make that work – you’re Antilian natives come back with Cadamosto, if we can’t figure something else out. But consider the setting more human-centric, more Leiber than Tolkien … at least at first.
|Thursday, January 19th, 2017|
|The Librarians of Babel
A mere two-and-a-half years ago, my game group started playing "The Rex of the Old 97," an Unknown Armies
campaign set in the old West. Well, having just used John Stith Pemberton's brass cauldron to complete the Triskaidexaltation Working on July 4, 1886, the players believe they can go out on that high note. So, as I did last time,
I'm posting the four possibilities for the next game that my players are currently deciding among. As I believe I've mentioned, our group's method for coming up with games is for them all to suggest the sorts of things they'd like to see, and for me to boil everything down into four or five possible campaigns. Then they vote on which one sounds best, and off we go.
This, then, is the first of those four nominees. I'll post the rest over the next three days, just for everyone's entertainment, although one of them
is a rerun.
THE LIBRARIANS OF BABEL“Like all men of the Library, I have traveled in my youth; I have wandered in search of a book, perhaps the catalogue of catalogues …”
-- Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel”
The Great Library, it is said, contains all the books that ever were and all the books that never were. You work there – or rather, you work from there. You work for Chapter 45, the one Jefferson left off his list on purpose, or as some catalogues refer to it: Category X. Your job is to go out into the worlds and find the books the Library doesn’t contain, and bring them back. Of course, while you’re recovering books you may also have to thwart Swedish necromancers, solve the mystery of the Seven Sleepers, infiltrate Confederate airship havens, sweet-talk Archimedes, steal the Spear of Destiny, test an improved (really!) Shea-Chalmers syllogismobile, kill Queen Tera of Egypt again, keep an eye out for any of the Fourteen Categories of Beasts, or rescue the Lost Heir to the throne of Timbuctoo. The Assistant Librarian can’t tell you what, exactly, you might face out there in the wild worlds. After all, if your challenges were written down somewhere, you’d already have a copy in the Library.
System: Savage Worlds.
This is, as you can perhaps guess, a multiple-worlds game, with variety and adventure very much in the subject headers. Thus, a game system optimized for just such things, with a vast variety of things to stab and weird ways to do the stabbing.
|Wednesday, January 4th, 2017|
|Hardly Ever EverCon
It's right, I do hardly ever EverCon, but this year I'm doing the Guest of Honor thing at central Wisconsin's booming new dice-capades, that's right, EverCon,
in Wausau WI this weekend!
And here, as it happens, is my schedule for just that thing!Friday Jan 6
8:00 pm: Game Mastering Tips
The Game Master's craft is a tricky one. What are the tips and tricks you find most useful when it comes to making your games come alive? And how do you handle... That guy? The answer may surprise you! (Seminar Room Salon A Suite 1)Saturday Jan 7
2:00 pm: Cthulhu in Gaming
There are now several board and role-playing games featuring HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. What is essential to getting the mythos right? What are some common pitfalls when attempting to emulate Lovecraft's eldritch horror? (Seminar Room Salon A Suite 1)
6:00 pm: Untitled Kenneth Hite Game
I'm running a Trail of Cthulhu
session. There are tickets left. (State Ballroom Room B6)Sunday Jan 8
10:00 am: Alternate Histories in Gaming
Nazi zeppelins above the Tigris, Roman colonies on the Mississippi, Chinese mandarins ruling from Versailles, the possibilities are literally endless. The where, what, who and why -- and most of all, the how and when! -- of making compelling alternate history game backgrounds. (Seminar Room Salon A Suite 1)
|Thursday, November 10th, 2016|
|Great Dayton in the Morning: My AcadeCon 2016 Schedule
If you will be in or around Dayton, OH this weekend, you might want to drift on by AcadeCon,
a growing game convention that has invited me down to feed it or water it or whatever the proper metaphoric activity would be here. Either way, space may be limited in the panel rooms so check to see what's sold out and whether overgrowth is possible.Worldbuilding and Setting Design
Fri 1:00 PM - Fri 2:00 PM at Panel Room 1
The setting - be it a whole galaxy or a single palace - helps define your game. Setting constrains plot and defines character; it's what the designer or the GM brings to the table before anyone else sits down. How do you build a setting that's robust and interesting? Do you alter history or design a whole new world?Game Mastering Master Class (Panel)
Darcy Ross, Kenneth Hite, James D'Amato
Sat 10:00 AM - Sat 11:45 AM at Panel Room 1
The Game Master's craft is a tricky one. What are the tips and tricks you find most useful when it comes to making your games come alive. How do you keep players engaged in a game? How do you manage different kinds of role‐players and types of play? And how do you handle... That guy? The answers may surprise you! Share your secret techniques and best practices for running role‐playing games that keep players coming back for more.Horror in Gaming
Sat 1:00 PM - Sat 2:00 PM at Panel Room 2
Explore scaring your players, scaring ourselves, and the art of horror stories on the table top. How do you overcome player knowledge, genre limitations, and other challenges to create a truly suspenseful experience? How do you create a sense of fear? How can you “wear out the edge of a chair” and use unexpected results to achieve plot twists?
|Thursday, October 27th, 2016|
|I Metatopia in My Pajamas: My Metatopia 2016 Schedule
Actually, Vinnie Metatopias in his pajamas. I mooch around in the same jeans and Hawaiian shirt I mooch around everywhere in.
But that's not why you called -- you wanted to know my schedule for Metatopia 2016, the greatest little artistic retreat-professional development weekend-game design convention-empanada delivery device ever conceived. Well, if you will be in or around Morristown, NJ between November 3 and November 6, maybe drop in and see me not in my pajamas at any or all of the following panels or seminaria:Friday, Nov 4
D019: "Finding the Fit" presented by Kenneth Hite, Rob Donoghue, Bill White, Darren Watts. How do you adapt a pre-existing rules set - Fate, PbtA, HERO, BRP, OSR, etc. - to your game? When do you decide to do it, and how do you know which to use? What are the guidelines you can apply, and should you mix and match mechanics? Friday, 2:00PM - 3:00PM; Serious, All Ages.
D031: "The Iceberg Method" presented by Kenneth Hite. In this year's iteration of "Ken Rambles About Stuff", Ken argues for the 'Iceberg Method' of game research. He is also likely to touch on how (and how much) to do research for setting design purposes, and may even divagate into the how and why of researching other game mechanics. Friday, 6:00PM - 7:00PM; Serious, All Ages.Saturday, Nov 5
D056: "Cartography for Games" presented by Mark Richardson, Will Hindmarch, Kenneth Hite. Learn from a panel of veteran cartographers and game designers the techniques they use to make maps of fictional worlds. Saturday, 12:00PM - 1:00PM; Serious, All Ages.
D078: "It Won't Fit" presented by Kenneth Hite, Jason Pitre, Marissa Kelly, Fred Hicks. When designing a game, the temptation is to use another tested rules set: Fate, PbtA, HERO, BRP, OSR, or what have you. When shouldn't you do that? What demands special treatment, and when should you make it yourself? Saturday, 8:00PM - 9:00PM; Serious, All Ages.Sunday, Nov 6
D089: "Worldbuilding Towards Story" presented by Kenneth Hite, Bill White. The principles of worldbuilding for games are not the principles of worldbuilding for novels (depth of field) and certainly not the principles of worldbuilding for physics (plate tectonics). What are they? How can you apply them to a pre-existing world, real or fictional? Sunday, 10:00AM - 11:00AM; Serious, All Ages.
Some of them may or may not be recorded, if so, links to same will likely show up in my Facebook feed, so watch that space.
|Buddhist Quests and Magic Realism: Chicago International Film Festival 2016 Roundup
Much to our chagrin, the festival canceled our showing of Headshot,
and I had counted on to end our viewing fortnight with a bang instead of a snooze, which is normally how we end up playing ourselves out. But still, we did 20 movies all told (plus I saw Shin Godzilla
in there too), which is pretty good for us especially when you consider we had to avoid weekday matinees (except Shin Godzilla
) because, you know, work. Also, all hail young Colin for stepping up and companioning along to a few of the fest's best; hopefully we've set the hook for future fests in future years.
Since we've started keeping score in this space, the very mildest of kudos to the Festival for programming one (1) South Korean film. Be better, CIFF.
But, as you can see by the final rankings below in Ken and Robin Consume Media
format, CIFF was indeed pretty good, and I have at least one new director to watch out for, Brooklyn neurotic Ingrid Jungermann.The Pinnacle
These are really tied, but if it's a Western vs. not a Western, you know which one gets listed first, right.Soul on a String
(China, Zhang Yang) Brought back from the bardo by a lama for the purpose, killer and ne’er-do-well Tabei (Mongol actor Kimba) must return a sacred Dzi stone to the mystical Palm Print Land. Of course, there are mysterious companions and persecutors along the path, which leads through the supersaturated scenery of the Kunlun Mountains. The Buddhist tenets of return and recursion anchor this panoramic Leone-esque epic Western that might well be called Once Upon A Time in Tibet.Paterson
(US/EU, Jim Jarmusch) Paterson, NJ bus driver Paterson (Adam Driver) writes poetry during his daily routine while his free-spirited wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) follows her variegated bliss in another perfectly crafted Jarmuschian celebration of the quotidian and the past. (“It’s like we’re living in the 20th century!” says Laura in delight at one point.) Can a film in which nothing big changes, or even happens, be a celebration? Jarmusch says “yes!” ... but he says it quietly.RecommendedWomen Who Kill
(US, Ingrid Jungermann) Morgan (Jungermann) seeks distance from her cohost of the titular podcast and ex-girlfriend Jean (Ann Carr) in the arms of Simone (Sheila Vand, the titular vampire from A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
), who may
be a serial killer. The blackly humorous blend of Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For
and Fritz Lang’s The Secret Beyond the Door
works as noir, as metaphor for relationships, and as delicious dialogue-driven comedy. Jungermann (who also wrote the script as well as starring and directing) is the Brooklyn lesbian Whit Stillman you didn’t know you needed.Un + Une
(France, Claude Lelouch) In India to score an Indian art-house film, Lothario and composer Antoine (Jean Dujardin) falls for Anna (Elsa Zylberstein), the wife of the French ambassador (Christopher Lambert). Lelouch plays with his own formulas, sprinkling just a touch of postmodern meta-commentary (and a ladle of exoticism) over the oldest story in the world; but still every shot is perfection, and in love with the lovers. By the end, we were nearly drowned in beauty, every rod and cone sated; a perfect contrast with the airy, refreshing script.The Handmaiden
(South Korea, Park Chan-wook) In 1932, a Korean forger impersonating “Count Fujiwara” (Ha Jung-woo) plants thief’s daughter Sookee (Kim Tae-ri) in the employ of Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), the Japanese niece of a bibliophile Korean collaborator with the occupiers. And then lust takes over and things go sideways in this erotic gothic revenge bodice-ripping con-man thriller loosely based on the novel Fingersmith
by Sarah Waters. A little long for its plot, not least thanks to the sex scenes, but Park’s sheer brio and craftsmanship nonetheless demand close attention.Neruda
(Chile/Argentina/France/Spain, Pablo Larraín) Dogged secret policeman Peluchonneau (Gael Garcia Bernal) pursues fugitive Communist poet-senator Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) across 1948 Chile and into postmodern fabulism. Like the work of its subject, staggeringly ambitious, keenly beautiful, and politically charged, although it refreshingly depicts Neruda as (in Borges’ words) a “mean man.” Its palette of washed-out, over-lit purples and browns from faded color film sets the tone for its magical (or meta?) realist story.Imperfections
(Chicago, David Singer) Struggling actress and new-fledged diamond courier Cassidy Harper (Virginia Kull) enters a world of crime, duplicity, and tangled romantic lines. Charming acting (including a great turn by Ed Begley, Jr. as a scrabbling diamond merchant) and Singer’s solid script buttress this breezy caper-con-romcom. Other highlights include Singer’s jazzy, David Holmes-ish score and (of course) great Chicago locations.Kati Kati
(Kenya/Germany, Mbithi Masya) Bereft of her memory and (as it tuns out) dead, Kaleche (Nyokabi Gethaiga) arrives in Kati Kati, a resort lodge in the empty savanna that plays a bit like the Village from The Prisoner
and (weirdly) a bit like the constrained white social world of Isak Dinesen-era Kenya. The film uses 75 efficient minutes of oblique narrative and character depth to feel rich, not sparse: like a fairy tale or a parable.Amok
(Macedonia, Vardan Tozija) Macedonia continues to punch well above its weight in this low-smoldering Balkan blend of 400 Blows
and City of God.
Abuse both official and unofficial turns introverted orphan Filip (amateur actor Martin Gjorgoski in a powerfully internalized performance) into the violent leader of a nihilist gang of fellow orphans. The first act takes almost half the movie, so the ending is a bit uneven. The slow build (along with the location shots in Skopje’s most brutalist and crumbling districts) adds naturalism to this combo gangster and social-problem film.Karl Marx City
(US/Germany, Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker) Documentary follows East German-born Epperlein as she investigates her father’s suicide and accusations that he was a Stasi informer. Shot in black and white to mimic the Stasi surveillance footage (and recordings) Epperlein and Tucker intercut consummately throughout, this very personal exploration of the weight of tyranny is in the final analysis more dumbfounding than paranoid.GoodThe Autopsy of Jane Doe
(US, Andre Øvredal) Father-and-son morticians Tommy (Brian Cox) and Austin (Emile Hirsch) Tilden uncover ever more eerie mysteries -- and suffer ever more horrifying phenomena -- while autopsying a near-immaculate corpse (Olwen Kelly) found half-buried at a crime scene. Listen, fourth acts in horror movies are hard,
I get it, but the monstrous tension and rigorous puzzle built up in the first three acts deserve a better payoff than they get here.The Confessions
(France/Italy, Roberto Ando) A Carthusian monk (Toni Servillo) at a secret G8 financial summit hears the last confession of Daniel Roche (Daniel Auteuil), the head of the IMF, before Roche is found dead with his head in the plastic bag the monk’s digital recorder came in. All the powers of the earth pressure the monk to break silence, while he unsettles their arrangements. Beautifully shot and delightfully reactionary, but too low-tempo for a proper thriller and too grounded for a metaphysical fable.Kills on Wheels
(Hungary, Attila Till) Wheelchair-bound kids Zolika (Zoltán Fenyvesi) and Barba (Ádám Fekete) find a way to escape their assisted lives when crippled fireman Rupaszov (Szabolcs Thuróczy) recruits them as assistant hit men. The last act needlessly hits the brakes on this heretofore manic, liberatory joy ride of a film.The Teacher
(Czech Republic/Slovakia, Jan Hrebejk) In 1983, unscrupulous Bratislava middle-school teacher Comrade Drazdechova (Zuzana Maurery) milks her pupils and their parents for chores and favors. Excellent acting and a braided narrative (flashing between a Kafkaesque parent-teacher meeting and Drazdechova’s depredations) elevate this relatively standard “Communism sucks and power corrupts” movie.Crosscurrent
(China, Yang Chao) Young barge captain Chun (Qin Hao) pilots his ship up the Yangtze, setting course by a book of poetry he finds in the engine room, meeting the mysterious girl An Lu (Xin Zhilei) at every port. I say “setting course” rather than “plotting course” because I don’t want to give the impression that any plotting happens in the film. But speaking of the setting, the industrial, drowned, and finally primordial Yangtze is the real star, lensed by Mark Lee Ping-Bing (Wong Kar-Wei’s cinematographer) in the style of Song Dynasty black-ink scroll paintings. An Wei’s dark cello-driven score ideally complements the journey, but drink coffee before you start or you’ll nod off and miss another perfect shot or five.Prevenge
(UK, Alice Lowe) Eight months pregnant after the death of her lover in a climbing accident, Ruth (Alice Lowe) hears her unborn daughter urge her on to revenge killings. Lowe doesn’t really commit to the premise in any of her three roles (actor, writer, or director), making it a much harder sell than it should be for the viewer.9 Rides
(US, Matthew A. Cherry) In this worthy entrant into the smallish “taxi driver” subgenre that Jim and I now track for some reason, we follow a nameless Uber driver (Dorian Missick) on New Year’s Eve. Worth watching for Missick’s acting (he has to do a lot while doing basically the same nothing over and over) and for technical reasons (a feature film shot entirely on an iPhone 6 that doesn’t look awful) but ultimately one or two rides short of a destination. OkayThe Eyes of My Mother
(US, Nicolas Pesce) This fable of a young girl who grows up to be a monster (Kika Magalhaes) is so wonderfully lensed by cinematographer Zach Kuperstein and scored by Ariel Loh that you forget how little there is in the way of story, contrast, or payoff.The Dreamer
(Peru/France, Adrian Saba) Lockpicker Chaplin (Gustavo Borjas) flickers between dream and reality as he plans to escape with Eleni (Elisa Tunaud) but has to pull one last job to do it. Half-spin on Romeo and Juliet and a half-look at petty crime in Lima don’t quite gel, and the dream sequences are pretty tepid brew for the land of Vargas Llosa.Not RecommendedThe Darkness
(Mexico, Daniel Castro Zimbron) In a mysterious post-apocalypse of eternal twilight, patriarch Gustavo (Brontis Jodorowsky) tries to keep his two children in line after their older brother vanishes. This empty, circular allegory brings nothing new to the game, and does so with uninteresting visuals and flat direction. Also, I may have to stop describing this growing subset of art-house pictures as “oddly” reactionary.
|Wednesday, October 12th, 2016|
|CIFF of the Dragon: My 2016 Chicago International Film Fest Schedule
Hey, ho! It's time once again for the triumph of hope over middlebrow Francophilia that is my plan to take the Chicago International Film Festival by storm, or at least by a stiff breeze. All shows are at the AMC River East 21 conveniently downtown, so join me and his_regard
if you dare, cinephiles!Friday, October 14
6:00: The Confessions
(France/Italy, Roberto Ando) Skullduggery and hugger-mugger surround a murder mystery set at a secretive G8 summit. Moreso than usual, I mean.
8:15: Un + Une
(France, Claude Lelouch) Lelouch revisits his own A Man + A Woman
in this romance starring Jean Dujardin as a film composer on a Bollywood set falling for the wife of the French ambassador to India. Should be lovely and oh so CIFFable.
10:30: The Eyes of My Mother
(USA, Nicolas Pesce) A surgeon's daughter, a horrific act, a black-and-white body-horror fairytale. Saturday, October 15
5:45: Kills on Wheels
(Hungary, Attila Till) Two handicapped kids become wheelchair assassins in the sort of bizarre movie that probably seems completely normal if you pitch it in Hungarian. "Don't worry, also there will be cartoon!"
(US, Jim Jarmusch) Look, I just said Jim Jarmusch.
What more do you want to know? Oh and it stars Kylo Ren.
10:45: The Autopsy of Jane Doe
(US/UK, Andre Ovredal) Father and son coroner team dig into the titular corpse and uncover ever greater horrors. Brian Cox! Medical horror! What's not to love?Sunday, October 16
12:00: The Darkness
(Mexico, Daniel Castro Zimbron) Post-apocalyptic fable set in a wood where it is always dusk. Creepy!
3:00: The Teacher
(Czech Rep/Slovakia, Jan Hrebejk) A petty tyrant of a schoolteacher fits all too well into the larger tyranny of Communist Czechoslovakia.
5:15: The Dreamer
(France/Peru, Adrian Saba) Young Lima lockpicker dreams of escape but must make one last score. Could be great, could be languid.
(Chile, Pablo Larrain) A Robin Recommendation!
Magical realist manhunt for suddenly-dissident poet Pablo Neruda filmed in pre-faded photographic tones.Tuesday, October 18
8:45: Women Who Kill
(US, Ingrid Jungermann) Brooklyn true-crime podcasters may or may not be drawn into a female killer's spider web, which may also not be locally sourced!Thursday, October 20
6:00: Karl Marx City
(Germany/US, Petra Epperlein & Michael Tucker) Documentary thriller about Epperlein's father the possible Stasi agent.
(Macedonia, Vardan Tozija) Plucky Macedonia has done right by us in crime films so far. This one follows two boys in foster care: one a dreamer, one Scarface.Friday, October 21
8:00: 9 Rides
(US, Matthew Cherry) For whatever reason, "taxi movies" have become a sometimes thing for Jim and me. This one is about an Uber driver and his, um, 9 rides.
(UK, Alice Lowe) Pregnant woman's fetus tells her to kill! Made when Lowe was herself pregnant, this one got the less-coveted Robin rating of Good. Saturday, October 22
3:15: Kati Kati
(Germany/Kenya, Mbithi Masya) Weird Kenyan brigadoon town of Kati Kati appears, magical realism ensues.
8:30: Then head to Steppenwolf's 1700 Theatre for the Best of Deathscribe,
five prize-winning radio plays put on by Chicago's own WildClaw Theatre!Sunday, October 23
(Chicago, David Singer) Jeweler's Row heist goes wrong as twists and betrayals mount.
5:00: Soul on a String
(China, Zhang Yang) Tibetan cowboy must return a sacred stone to a remote temple in this Chinese Western that out-Leones Leone. A Robin Pinnacle Pick!
8:15: The Handmaiden
(South Korea, Park Chan-wook) Impersonating a handmaiden to rob a rich old Japanese woman seemed like the perfect plan, until it turned out this was a movie by the director of Oldboy.Wednesday, October 26
(China, Yang Chao) Sailing up the Yangtze and back into history, this should be a gorgeous film even if it promises a certain languor in its unreeling.
(Indonesia, Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel) Super-soldiers battle each other in a martial arts extravaganza starring the one and only Iko Uwais. This Robin Recommendation
closes out my CIFF CIFF with a Bang Bang!
|Monday, July 18th, 2016|
|Listen to Them the Children of the 'Cast What Sweet Gaming They Make
Normally when I ask for the precious gift of your vote in the ENnie Awards
I provide you with a lovely linky gift in return as an amuse-bouche. Well, as it so happens I can provide you with the inestimable gift of hearing me talk, in the form of two sessions of an adventure in The Dracula Dossier
that I ran something like 21 months apart with (mostly) the same player group, as captured and presented on Chicago's own wonderful One Shot Podcast
Here's me explaining the rules for Night's Black Agents
in about ten or fifteen minutes to the assembled group:
Night's Black Agents Rules Expo
Here is Session One, run in September 2014 or thereabouts for James D'Amato, Zach Webber, Grant "General Ironicus" Greene, and Nathan D. Paoletta:Session One Part One: Welcome to BelgradeSession One Part Two: Never Get On the Boat Session One Part Three: And Quiet Flows the DanubeSession One Part Four: Fear Death By Water
And here is Session Two of the same adventure, run in June 2016 for James D'Amato, Grant "General Ironicus" Greene, and Nathan D. Paoletta with Darcy Ross swapped in for Zach, who couldn't make it and so neither did his grievously wounded character:Session Two Part One: New Friends For OldSession Two Part Two: Art in the Blood or Vice VersaSession Two Part Three: White City, Black Castle, Red Death
I think there's something in here for new and old fans alike of the Dracula Dossier
universe, and for fans of me, and for fans of any or all of the excellent players in their own personae.
Listen to the shows for the players' own pluggery; as for me, do please consider voting for The Dracula Dossier
and other Ken-related goodness in the ENnie Awards
while you listen.
|Friday, July 15th, 2016|
|GenCon and Tonic: My GenCon Schedule 2016
Title speaks for itself. Alternate title: This May Have Been Too Many Seminars and Too Few Lunches.THURSDAY, AUGUST 411:00 am - Noon
A discussion of techniques that can be used to build new, interesting, & exciting game worlds. Do you alter history or do you redesign a whole new world? Learn how to get the most out of your world building.
Ajit George (Moderator), Amanda Hamon Kunz, Kenneth Hite, Anna Kreider, Wes Schneider1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Stealing From the Movies
Campaign ideas & awesome RPG action are as close as the multiplex. Pelgrane Press designers help you adapt, adopt, & improve the plots & characters of Hollywood, Hong Kong, & Hammer Films.
Crowne Plaza : Victoria Stn C/D3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Research & Game Writing
How much research is too much? How much is too little, or too sloppy? How can you present the best & most interesting results to gamers without drowning them in detail?
Matt Forbeck, Kenneth Hite
ICC : 241FRIDAY, AUGUST 5
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Live!
Robin D. Laws & Kenneth Hite talk roleplaying, history, conspiracy, occultism, writing, food, movies & whatever you ask them about in this live edition of their award-winning podcast.
Westin : Council3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Love The Sound Of Your Own Voice: Podcasting 101
Podcasting is a lot of work, & a lot of fun. We'll help you minimize the former & maximize the latter, in everything from picking a topic to audio editing. Put your beautiful voice out there!
Kenneth Hite, Alex Roberts
ICC : 2417:00 pm - 9:00 pm?
ENnie Awards Ceremony
Don't forget to vote for me!
Crown Plaza Union StationSATURDAY, AUGUST 611:00 am - Noon
Theme & Mechanics: Context Is Everything
How do game companies match game mechanics to a fitting theme? The Dos & Don'ts & why it's important!
Matt Forbeck, Kenneth Hite, Harrison Pink, Elisa Teague
ICC : 2401:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Swords, Spies & Shoggoths: The Pelgrane Press Panel
Join Simon Rogers, Cat Tobin & others from the Pelgrane team for a behind-the-scenes look at what the award-winning UK publisher's been up to this year, & what they've planned for the coming year.3:00 pm - 4:30 pm
Need to Know: Inside the Delta Green Role-Playing Game
Meet the authors of the new incarnation of the award-winning setting of Lovecraftian horror and modern conspiracy. With Dennis Detwiller, Adam Scott Glancy, Kenneth Hite, Shane Ivey, & Greg Stolze.
Crowne Plaza : Grand Central Ballroom B
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Investigative Roleplaying Master Class
Mystery scenario masters Kenneth Hite, Robin D. Laws, & Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan train their magnifying glasses on clue-gathering adventures to reveal the unlikely suspects behind your tabletop woes.
Westin : Capitol II8:00 pm - 9:30 pm
Eyes Only: Delta Green GM's Workshop
Mystery. Dread. Appalling sacrifice. Cosmic terror. Join us for a master class in running Delta Green. With Dennis Detwiller, Adam Scott Glancy, Kenneth Hite, Shane Ivey, & Greg Stolze.
Crowne Plaza : ConrailSUNDAY, AUGUST 711:00 am - Noon
Cthulhu in Gaming
What's the attraction to cosmic-nihilist seafood? Is there something to do with Cthulhu besides horror or humor? Can a card game express utter madness, or a boardgame terrify humanity?
ICC : 241
|Monday, July 11th, 2016|
|At Last, A Chance To Cast A Vote With Pride
Although we will perhaps return to the topic in the next ten days ("perhaps," he says, with a straight face yet) here's a brief primer on Ken's ENnie Nominations
Best Adventure: Dracula Dossier Director's Handbook
Best Podcast: Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff
Best RPG Related Product: Ken Writes About Stuff, Vol. 3
Best Supplement: Dracula Dossier Hawkins Papers
Best Website: See P. XX: The Pelgrane Press Webzine
Best Writing: Dracula Dossier Director's Handbook
Product of the Year: Dracula Dossier Director's Handbook
And by a delightful coincidence the ENnies voting opens today
. Please do vote, and please do encourage your spouses and loved ones to do the same from their own IP addresses. Perhaps trade votes for me for those Pokemons that people love so much, should you have them on your property.
|Thursday, June 16th, 2016|
|Nancy Drew vs. Cthulhu in The Mystery of the Two-Book Plug
A quick note here to provide handy dandy pointers to two new books by me available for purchase at your finer local game stores everywhere, or directly from the publishers, or in a series of ones and zeroes that if you squint at them real hard become books of some kind. Look, I was a humanities nerd and it's too late for me to change now.
Anyhoo, the books:Bubblegumshoe
is a teen detective story game using the GUMSHOE engine designed by myself, Emily Care Boss, and Lisa Steele. It aims the focus on interpersonal relationships instead of punchemups, and includes a number of drifts for playing various subsets of the genre from Scooby-Doo
style "wacky traps and weird sidekicks" to John Bellairs-esque stories of doom and obsession. But mostly it's a way to play Veronica Mars: the RPG
although since we didn't get that license, you just have to Google-art-direct it yourself. Bubblegumshoe
is on sale at Origins at the IPR booth, and hits your store shelves June 20.The Cthulhu Wars: The United States' Battles Against the Mythos
is my second Osprey Adventures book, written with the able assistance of Kennon Bauman. This one is a military secret history of, well, just what it says on the tin: the battles Americans have fought against the Cthulhu Mythos from the Rhode Island militia raid on Joseph Curwen's farm in 1771 to the Global War on Horror of today. Readers of my previous Osprey book The Nazi Occult
will rejoice to see more beautiful full-color art by the talented Darren Tan, and more ridiculous captions by me of seemingly serious stock historical photos. Plus some weird stuff about Ambrose Bierce that I blame on Kennon. It's on sale now wherever you buy all your other fine Osprey books, so hie ye thence.
|Monday, May 30th, 2016|
Robert Munroe (Ensign, Lexington militia, KIA 19 April 1775, Lexington Green)
Charles H. Keating IV (SO 1st Class, Naval Special Warfare Group 1, KIA 3 May 2016, Tall Usquf, Iraq)
And all 559,124 in between.
|Monday, May 9th, 2016|
|War of the Chronology of War of the Worlds
Let me teal-deer it for you: it is not strictly possible to establish a consistent internal chronology for H.G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds,
but the best guess is: the invasion occurs in 1907.
To begin with, it's set in the future. Written in 1896 (mostly) and published in 1898 (in novel form; it had been serialized a year earlier), its opening sets the action in the twentieth century:
"And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment."
The narrator recounts events that happened six years in the past, during an opposition of Mars:
"The storm burst upon us six years ago now. As Mars approached opposition, Lavelle of Java set the wires of the astronomical exchange palpitating with the amazing intelligence of a huge outbreak of incandescent gas upon the planet."
Although the novel doesn't explicitly say the gas flares occur the same month and year as the Martian landings, the flares happen "toward midnight of the 12th" during a warm season, the landings happen in "that terrible June," (and the Thunder Child
sacrifices itself "that June morning" on day six of the invasion) and the narrator doesn't provide any indication of time passing but instead strongly implies that the ten flares almost immediately precede the landings.
The narrator speculates the cylinders travel "many thousands of miles" in a minute -- 1,000 miles per minute covers the distance from Earth to Mars (40 million miles) in about a month. If "many" = 10, in less than three days. The Martians launch one cylinder per day for ten days, and all ten launch before the first one lands, so we can assume the cylinders take at least ten days to travel from Mars to Earth. (10 days travel implies 2,770 miles per minute. 2.7 isn't my idea of "many.")
So during which opposition did the Martians launch?
"During the opposition of 1894 a great light was seen on the illuminated part of the disk, first at the Lick Observatory, then by Perrotin of Nice, and then by other observers. English readers heard of it first in the issue of Nature dated August 2. I am inclined to think that this blaze may have been the casting of the huge gun, in the vast pit sunk into their planet, from which their shots were fired at us. Peculiar markings, as yet unexplained, were seen near the site of that outbreak during the next two oppositions."
The "next two oppositions" after 1894 came in 1896 and 1899. We know the landing happens "early in the twentieth century."
There is no opposition in June until 1922, although there's a May opposition in 1905, and a July opposition in 1907. Either one might work for our purposes.
The first cylinder lands on a Thursday night, probably at midnight as the later cylinders do. The Martian invasion lasts a little over three weeks. It's obviously impossible for a three-week invasion to all occur in the same month if it begins ten days after "the 12th." So the "terrible June" has to extend at least a little ways into July.
And what have we here? In 1905, ten days after "the 12th" of June, June 22, falls on a ... Thursday. Of course, remember that quote? The flare comes "as Mars approached opposition," so a May 1905 opposition is still wrong for a June 12 sighting. (The opposition was on May 8, so even if we move the landings to May, the sighting is still after the opposition.)
Also mitigating against it: the Weybridge curate says they rebuilt the church "only three years ago." There are two Anglican churches in Weybridge, neither of them rebuilt anywhere near our period. But St. Mary Oatlands, Weybridge, did in fact build a new tower in 1905 after a general period of refurbishing and restoration.
Sadly, there is no opposition in 1908, and the 1909 opposition is in September.
So what about that July 1907 opposition? If the sighting is "toward midnight of the 12th" you can put the sighting on the evening of June 11th ("as Mars approached opposition") since midnight for an astronomer marks the beginning of the next day (23:59 is June 11, midnight is June 12) but the landing has to happen more than ten days later, as the next available Thursday is June 27th. It seems unlikely that the tenth flare happens on the same night (at the same time!) as the first cylinder-fall. Yes, we'd like to pretend the Narrator doesn't explicitly say "After the tenth shot they fired no more -- at least, until the first cylinder came." But he does.
He's more likely to have been mistaken about the curate's ramblings about the new church, so we can at least put the curate's testimony down to the Narrator's foggy memory ("we built the tower only two years ago") and let the Narrator's lack of explicit time indicators from observation to landing set a sorta satisfactory date for the Martian invasion: June 28-July 20, 1907.
[Edited thanks to keen-eyed Mark Graybill, who noticed that I'd misread the 07/06/1907 opposition as a 1906 opposition, which of course threw the whole calendar thing into a cocked hat.]
|Wednesday, May 4th, 2016|
|Big League ChupacabraCon
Holy cats, it's May already, which means I'm due in Austin, Texas for the rousing good time that promises to be ChupacabraCon III!
That specific time being May 13-15, I should probably post my schedule for those in the greater Austin area -- and really, how many areas are greater than Austin? Really, just one or two, and I'm leaving one of them, so imagine how great ChupacabraCon will be!
Or better yet, don't just imagine, and join me for the con. In the meantime, feast your eyes on these two sweet eventicles!Saturday May 14
Making Modern Horror, or, Making Horror ModernKenneth Hite, Shane Ivey, Ed Wetterman, Kevin Nunn, and Greg Stolze
So many great horror products set in the 1920s, but some authors have really brought the genre into the modern world with their games. Make the leap into the current day and world events and how it's all Cthulhu's fault. Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn! Ph'nglui mglw'nfah Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!Sunday May 15
Campaign Supplement DesignKenneth Hite, Ross Watson
You've got the big old main world and quest and setting of your dreams. but what else is there. How do you go about adding without twisting up the existing thing that you already like? Handy for not only your own worlds, but how about something that already exists in official form or just as a movie or book? There are tons of places that say "Write for Delta Green" or "Dungeons and Dragons" if you're looking to do something professional. Let's talk to some experts who do this very thing!
For the people who always ask -- no, I don't have any idea if the panels will be streamed or recorded or semaphored or acted out by telepathic monkeys in your eyeline. Last year at least some of them wound up on the Web,