Thursday, May 24, 2018

Vincent Price reads Chu-Bu and Sheemish by Lord Dunsany




I've just posted a recording of one of my favourite stories, Chu-Bu and Sheemish, read by one of my favourite actors, Vincent Price. The story is originally from Lord Dunsany's 1912 collection of short stories, The Book of Wonder. Thankfully for lovers of witty imaginative fiction, this collection widely available both online and in print. But the audio-recording by Vincent Price is a different matter. It exists only in a rare LP record released in 1982 which (to my knowledge) has never been reprinted or posted on the web. 

A few months ago I managed to lay my hands on a copy, and I didn't want to keep all the fun to myself. So here it is on YouTube:



And if you want to download it, here is a link to an MP3. (Many thanks to my friend Nathan for helping me digitize the recording from the LP).

If you're wondering who Lord Dunsany was, I can do no better than quote the liner notes of the LP. They were written by the fantasy author and biographer Sprague de Camp:
Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Eighteenth Baron Dunsany (1878-1958; rhymes with "rainy") was the kind of lord that many people would like to be if they had a chance. He was six feet four inches tall and sometimes called the worst-dressed man in Ireland... When not roaming the world, hunting foxes in the British Isles or wild goats in the Sahara, serving as a British Officer in the Boer and First World wars, being wounded in the Easter Rebellion in Ireland, and making an abortive entry into politics, Dunsany found time to write sixty-odd books of stories, plays, essays, verse and autobiography. How he accomplished all this with a quill pen we shall never know; he never revised or rewrote.
Dunsany (pictured below) was a great influence on H.P. Lovecraft, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin and Michael Moorcock. In his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927), Lovecraft wrote, "no amount of mere description can convey more than a fraction of Lord Dunsany’s pervasive charm. His prismatic cities and unheard-of rites are touched with a sureness which only mastery can engender, and we thrill with a sense of actual participation in his secret mysteries." The power of Dunsany to make the reader feel that he's participating in ancient rites is one of the things I love about Chu-Bu and Sheemish. And indeed, the performance of Vincent Price -- more an incantation than a narration -- only adds to this sense of ritual magic.

And yet at the same time, Dunsany has a light touch. For all his monumental fantasy and epic myth-making, you only have to read a few of his stories before you know that this is a man incapable of taking himself too seriously. The very first words of Chu-Bu and Sheemish encapsulate this sense of self-mockery: "It was the custom on Tuesdays in the temple of Chu-bu for the priests to enter at evening and chant, 'There is none but Chu-bu.'" (I also have a custom on Tuesdays: I eat a bowl of spaghetti.)

T
he other thing that I love about Dunsany's short fiction is that he is a master of endings. Nearly all his stories conclude not with a twist or surprise, but with a judo-flip -- a complete inversion of all expectations and conventions. His works are like brightly coloured snakes that bite their own tails and then keep eating until everything disappears in a puff of paradox. Without spoiling anything about the story,  Chu-Bu and Sheemish nicely illustrates his talents in this regard.

Well, I hope you enjoy the story and perhaps listen to it while painting some miniatures. And if you do like it, I suspect you will want to look into some of Dunsany's other words. I particularly favour The Gods of Pegana. In any case, may Chu-Bu and his secret priesthood bless you and keep you...






Thursday, May 17, 2018

Painted Miniatures for Mice and Mystics II


Winston Churchill once said, "Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat."* I felt that I was doing a lot of re-ratting as I repeatedly painted all the vermin for Mice and Mystics. Last week we looked at the six mouse heroes from the game. This week, I bring you their enemies...




One of the things that I like about Mice and Mystics is that it's got a strong sense of theme. The theme is that mice are so tiny that even household pests are deadly opponents. Cockroaches are scary, but a centipede or a spider is downright terrifying. Likewise, special ingenuity is required merely to climb up on a table or avoid drowning in a gutter. The small scale makes the stakes seem all the bigger.





Above we see the basic monster of the game: the roach. They're like kobolds or goblins in D&D but all the more disgusting because they're real.




Then comes the servants of the evil Queen Vanestra: the rats. They're not quite Jes Goodwin's Skaven, but they are pretty satisfying sculpts in a cartoony sort of way. Chad Hoverter, the sculptor, was wise to place great emphasis on the creepiest part of the rat: their long, fleshy tails.




Here we see the Spider. It's not one of my better paintjobs... a little dim in my opinion, notwithstanding my attempt to spice it up with some orange accents.




And then my favourite miniature of the lot: the centipede. It's mindless, aggressive and hard to kill, reminding me of some of my ex-girlfriends.




Above is the whole lot of vermin together. 

I hope I've piqued your interest in Mice and Mystics. It's an excellent game that offers a lot for both children and adults, as well as for solo players and larger groups. It also returns you to a sense of wonder, where a spider is a major adversary and a button found discarded under a bed may be the only thing standing between life and death.







* The occasion was when Churchill re-joined the Conservative Party after he had abandoned it to join the Liberals almost 20 years before. It's not 100% certain that Churchill actually uttered these exact words, but if it's good enough for the International Churchill Society, it's good enough for me.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

A Public Service Announcement about Sex Cults and Bad Latin


Mind control, human slavery and brainwashing are all bad of course, but do you know what really aggravates me? Bad Latin. Recently, I've been reading a lot about the alleged sex cult DOS. It's in the news because its two leaders (Keith Raniere and the actress Allison Mack, aka "Chloe Sullivan" from Smallville) have been arrested in New York on a variety of horrendous charges including sex trafficking. In nearly every story on the case, we are told that DOS stands for "Dominus Obsequious Sororium", and that this translates as "Master of the Slave Women".




I'm issuing a public service announcement. For the record, “dominus obsequious sororium” is not Latin for “master over the slave women”. It’s pseudo-Latin (substantially worse than Monty Python's “Romanes eunt domus”). Let's break it down like a Centurion would...

“Dominus” is the correct word for “master”. We can give them that.

“Obsequious” is not a Latin word at all – it is perhaps a sadly misconceived variant of the deponent verb “obsequor” (to be pliant). Even granting this bastardization, the adjective agrees (in the grammatical sense) with “dominus”, which indicates that it is the *dominus* and not the *sororium* that is the pliant one.

“Sororium” is a misspelling of the genitive plural of “soror” (sister). The proper spelling is “sororum” without the “i”. Sororum means “of the sisters”.

So, putting it all together, if you had to render “dominus obsequious sororium” into English, it would be...
“plianticulous master of the sisterrrss”

I hope these people were better at running a cult than they were at Latin grammar.


Quo usque tandem abutere, Allison Mack, patientia nostra?

POSTSCRIPT: I'm annoyed that no one in the media took a few moments to consult with a classicist in order to nail down what this Latin actually meant. After all, it was a source within the cult who came up with both the Latin and the translation. Why would you take a cult's word on anything, let alone paleolinguistics? Shouldn't you be fact-checking that? 

In my zeal to find the origin for the mis-translation, I tracked down the Affidavit of FBI Special Agent Michael Lever, which supported the arrest of Raniere. This seems to be the first publicly available statement that DOS = dominus obsequious sororium = master of the slave women.  But, interestingly to me, Agent Lever includes a footnote to this passage which reads as follows:
According to various sources of information, DOS stands for "Dominus Obsequious Sororium", which at least one DOS slave was told by her master translates to "Master Over the Slave Women." According to a Latin expert I consulted, this phrase is broken Latin ("obsequious" is an English word and the Latin would properly be "obscquicsarum" and "sororium" would properly be "sororum"), but roughly translates to "Lord/Master of the Obedient Female Companions".
Well, I'm glad the FBI cares about getting the details right, even if the media can't be arsed. In any case, stay tuned for more cranky sex-cult/Latin-grammar updates as affairs develop and circumstances may require. 





Friday, May 4, 2018

Painted Miniatures for Mice and Mystics




I'm having a good couple days. I just had my birthday, and a few days before that, I clocked 500,000 hits on Oldenhammer-in-Toronto. This old blerg has come a long way since my first tentative posts about the Golden Age of Citadel Miniatures and acne. Thanks to all you readers and friends (many of whom have been with me for years now). And thanks also to the mysterious bots from Israel and Russia, who seem to become possessed of a frenzied desire to tap on my site in the thousands every few months or so.

This week's project is the heroes from Mice and Mystics by Plaid Hat Games. For those of you who have not encountered this delightful game, it's a cooperative dungeon-crawl where 1-4 players control a band of mice heroes. The play combines a rich story, an absorbing setting and a simple but challenging set of rules. Over the course of the campaign, your characters accrue new skills and struggle to obtain (and hold on to!) valuable artifacts (like a sewing needle rapier or a shield made from a button). Although there's a homey fairy-tale quality to the game, it's spiced up with exciting combat and real peril... for example, when I played the full campaign, all my mice drowned in the final climactic catastrophe. 

For those of you who are looking for something simpler than Descent and with better solo-play than Advanced Heroquest, I can't recommend this game highly enough. Of course, the figures are merely board-game quality, being made out of bendy plastic. As a result, my paint-job was pretty fast loose. Well... they could be worse... they could be my speed-painted miniatures from Mansions of Madness (shudder).

Well, without further ado, here are the six heroes...


Prince Collin painted miniature for Mice and Mystics
Prince Collin the Leader


Filch painted miniature for Mice and Mystics
Filch the Scamp


Nez painted miniature for Mice and Mystics
Nez the Tinkerer


Tilda painted miniature for Mice and Mystics
Tilda the Healer

Maginos painted miniature for Mice and Mystics
Maginos the Mystic


Lily painted miniature for Mice and Mystics
Lily the Archer


I suppose animal heroes will soon be all the fashion, now that Osprey has just published a promising skirmish game called Burrows and Badgers. It's like The Wind in the Willows, but with spiked clubs.

Well, in any case, next week we'll take a look at some of the monsters from Mice and Mystics. Thanks for stopping by!


Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
        --  "To a Mouse" by Robert Burns (1785)


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Lost Artifacts of D&D: a failed saving throw against nostalgia





To the consternation of some of my close friends, I lost interest in playing D&D. My enthusiasm for role-playing was cannibalized by miniature painting and board games. But the one thing I deeply miss about D&D is the artifacts. Not the "Artifacts" (like the Eye of Vecna) that lurked in the back of the 1st edition Dungeons Masters Guide (although I guess I miss those too), but the artifacts that we the players created: the maps, the notebooks, sketches and letters that we used to illustrate and embroider the game.


Last week, I was going through some of my papers and found one such document: a hand-bound book that my friend Beth made for me and that I used to record the adventures of my longest lived character, a Samurai named Jiun. I played him from about 2003 to 2007. A great deal of my enjoyment of this character flowed from this notebook: as the character's diary, it gave me a venue to explore his idiosyncratic world-view, inspired by Japanese warriors and poets like Ikkyu, Uesugi Kenshin and especially Tesshu, who developed a whole philosophy of violence around "the sword of no-sword". 

You can see Jiun's self-portrait from this notebook in the picture above. This sketch is clearly influenced by the model for the Samurai from the Talisman Adventure (sculpted by Aly Morrison, 1986):



Perhaps my favourite part of Jiun was that he had a Bertie-and-Jeeves type of relationship with his elderly manservant, Master Ryokan (a character influenced by the real-life Zen monk of the same name). I imagined Ryokan as more than an retainer who followed Jiun into exile into the western lands: he was a surrogate father who had trained Jiun in swordplay, poetry and meditation since earliest childhood. Below, is a sketch of Ryokan from Jiun's notebook. Coincidentally, he bears a close resemblance to my own Zen teacher, Yangil Sunim, with whom I have my own Bertie-and-Jeeves type relationship (although it's unclear to me who is who in our comic routine).





The notebook gave me a chance to record out group's adventures as Jiun would have seen them. This chiefly involved a lot of poetry, and sometimes little dialogues between Jiun and Master Ryokan...




Jiun's sketches and poetry loosely refer to some of the interests that I had at the time (and still have): calligraphy, Zen literature and Chinese painting. While rolling dice in our game, I would also be flipping through books like the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting (1679).




The notebook also gave me an excuse to engage in one of my favourite activities: cartography. Of the many gifts that J.R.R. Tokien has given to us, the joy of fantasy map-making is not the least.




My group and I had an eclectic campaign: although we were playing D&D 3.5, many of the adventures incorporated elements from Michael Moorcock, Mervyn Peake, Star Wars and H.P. Lovecraft. It was a big jolly mess. For instance, here's a page from our rendition of A Rough Night at the Three Feathers, the greatest Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay scenario every written:




There is a real magic to artifacts like Jiun's notebook. I've spent so many good hours role-playing with my friends. And yet, with the passing of the years, almost all of that time has slipped away: the dramatic battles, the petty arguments, the unlikely escapes, the painful losses. You just sort of forget all of these unforgettable moments. Or at least, you forget them until you find one of these artifacts, and you feel the magic return to life.






Friday, March 23, 2018

The Good, the Bad and the Stubbly


Last weekend I ran my first wargame for the public. I was attending Hot Lead (Canada's finest miniature wargame convention), and decided at the last minute to put on a game because I heard that they were a little thin on the first night of festivities. The game on Friday went so well that I was asked to put on the "staff game" for Saturday evening. This is an off-menu game that the guys who run Hot Lead play together once the heavy lifting of the conference is over. By custom, it's a pretty raucous affair, with plenty of drink, trash-talk and drink. For me, this was a big honour.




The game I ran was a heavily modified game of Dead Man's Hand using the small battle-board I created to represent the Old West town of Cremation. I called the scenario "The Good, the Bad and the Stubbly." I had to simplify  the rules of Dead Man's Hand so that it would be easier to learn and more suitable for 5 or 6 players. The way I designed the game, each player would control a gang of five miniatures, including one boss and one sharp-shooting lieutenant. 


Criminal mastermind Rector Riggles
The rules modification that I'm most proud of was the system I devised for activation. The original version of DMH uses playing cards to activate individual miniatures, with higher ranking cards activating miniatures first. I liked this system because the playing cards accentuate the Wild West flavour. But I wanted to take it even further. So, I created a new system where the players don't get dealt a random hand of cards with which to activate all of their miniatures. Rather, in my version, the players have to earn their activation cards. They do this by playing a quick game of Blackjack at the start of each turn. Each card they are dealt in the Blackjack game is then used to activate one figure. If a player goes bust in the Blackjack round (i.e. goes over 21), then they lose the card that busted them, plus their lowest other card. If a player hits Blackjack itself (i.e. hits exactly 21) then as a reward they gain an extra card in addition to all the ones that helped them win.

This Blackjack modification worked splendidly. It was quick, and added a spicy element of risk to the simple matter of initiative. A player was assured of activating two of his five miniatures if he played conservatively. But if a player was dealt (let's say) a King-of-Diamonds and a Two-of-Spades, he could gamble for a third activation at risk of busting out. Another advantage of this initiative system is that it contains internal balancing mechanisms. A player might get all five activations if he was dealt a large number of low cards. Although that's good in terms of mobilizing your men, it's bad because all these men are moving late in the round, and DMH is a game where a low initiative is a deadly disadvantage (aka, you're slow on the draw). On the other hand, characters with just two cards will usually be going earlier in the round.

The other element that I added to the game was to create a scenario that involved role-playing elements, with over 20 civilians that the players could interact with in order to obtain victory points or other benefits. I drew up an elabourate spread-sheet, so that every time a player's miniature encountered a civilian, he was given two choices, each with very different consequences. For instance, here's my entry for the town doctor, Dr. Friendly:



The basic scenario is that the sheriff of Cremation, Daniel "Dapper Dan" Alabama has captured the infamous crime-lord Rector Riggles, and is holding him in a cell in his office. One player manages Dapper Dan and his deputies. The other four players control the four outlaw bands who used to work for Rector. They converge on the town but have a lot of options for what to do when they get there: free Rector? kill him? Rob the bank? Terrorize the citizenry? Visit the cat-house? Shoot each other? 


Dr. Friendly meets the outlaw Eli Coffen

In order to get the players used to the idea of interacting with the townsfolk, I wrote up a bunch of random rumours about the town and passed them out at the beginning of the game. This one was my favourite:
I don't want to sound crazy, but I've heard tell that there's a mule in town who can talk. A real live talking mule, just like they have in Yerup! Otis' boy told me that the mule was real smart. 

The staff game on Saturday night was a riot. The outlaws largely ignored Dapper Dan and his captive, instead opting for senseless internecine feuding. Nuns were shot, mules were interrogated, banks robbed and buried treasure discovered. One deputy made a daring run across a corpse-strewn street in order to get Dapper Dan a can of that hair pomade that he likes so much. Even Dr. Friendly got a corpse for his medical experiments. When the dust settled, the winner was James, who is the proprietor of the wargaming blog Rabbits in my Basement and the Chairman of Hot Lead.

Well enough jawing. Here are some pictures taken by Matthew O., my friend and play-tester...



The Game Master hams it up for the players.


Cremation before the carnage starts.

Dapper Dan and his deputies outside the county jail



A table full of activation cards!



Bad Bart tries to kill some goats (?) because a talking mule (??) promised him 3 wishes (???).



The winning team: Diego's Desperados!



A big thanks to the Hot Lead team!



My appreciation goes to all the players, and especially to my play-testers (Stephen, Matthew O., David, Peter, and Travis) who greatly helped me to refine the game for public consumption, and Konrad for moral support.

And check out some of the other write-ups about Hot Lead from some friends of Oldenhammer-in-Toronto, including posts by James and Hot Dice Miniatures.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Painted miniatures for the Fallout board game



Hello fellow Vault Dwellers! I've finished painting the five characters for the Fallout board game. We have the Mutant, the Ghoul, the Vault Dweller, the Scavenger and the Brotherhood Exile. Each survivor is roughly 30mm in scale and modeled out of the semi-satisfactory plastic that thrives in board games published by Fantasy Flight Games.

Like anyone who was old enough to left-click on a mouse in 1997, I fell in love with the original Fallout computer game. There was the splendid isometric (or trimetric?) graphics, the wide sand-box of a world, the deep character development. This was all splendid but if that was all was offering, it would perhaps have been overshadowed just one year later by Black Isle Studio's other flagship game, Baldur's Gate (1998). But what made Fallout truly special was its sense of humor.

For a post-apocalyptic world, it wasn't merely Mad-Max or The Omega Man. It was (in the surprisingly accurate words of Wikipedia)  an "atompunk retrofuturistic setting and artwork are influenced by the post-war culture of 1950s America". Like the best work of David Lynch, Fallout makes you see two images at the same time: the picture perfect American dream of wholesome progress, and the self-destructive amorality seething beneath the Norman Rockwell facade. But unlike David Lynch (or Norman Rockwell), Fallout has gatling lasers.

If you haven't played fallout and don't know exactly what I mean, all of this is encapsulated into the excellent little introduction video to the original Fallout (or, for that matter, the introduction video to Fallout 2). It's all there: the sappy music (Ink Spots, Satchmo, Bing Crosby), the cheery visage of the "Vault Boy", the consumerism, and -- of course -- the desolation. I never got around to playing the more recent versions of the computer games, but when I heard that there was a board game coming, I jumped to buy it.

I'm happy to report that the game is a worthy scion of its mighty ancestors. It might not quite have as mordant a sense of humor, but it makes up for it by creating a story-driven game with cascading moral choices, criss-crossing plots and a real sense of setting. As an added bonus, it plays just as well solo as it does with three or four players. And it's the only game I know of where you're character gets addicted to drugs. So let's look at the five survivors...

Painted miniature of the Vault Dweller, Fallout Board Game


First up is the Vault Dweller... one of the lucky few who survived the nuclear holocaust unscathed by hiding in a self-sustaining bomb shelter. Thus he wears the distinctive blue and yellow Vault Suit. However, it appears he's been wandering above ground for a little while, because over his jumpsuit are fragments of more primitive armour: metal plates, leather straps and rivets. I also like his beaten up rifle (or is it a Red Ryder BB Gun?).

Painted miniature of the Ghoul, Fallout Board Game


Next we have the Ghoul. In the world of Fallout, Ghouls are not so much undead as they are undying. They're humans that were so ravaged by radiation that even though their skin and flesh was flayed away, their metabolism mutated in such a way as to not only keep them alive but to greatly extend their lifespan. This miniature nicely encapsulates the tragedy of Ghouldom. The natty suit indicates a concern for civilized niceties, but the nightmarish face is sure to be shunned by all.


Painted miniature of the Mutant, Fallout Board Game


And then there's the Mutant. I wanted to make him look truly freakish, so I painted his skin the colour of a blue Freezie.

Painted miniature of the Brotherhood Exile, Fallout Board Game


Above is the Brotherhood Exile. He wears the distinctive power armour of the Brotherhood of Steel, a sort of religio-technical community of templar wannabes. I tried to give his armour a slightly worn feeling without going rust crazy.

Painted miniature of the Scavenger, Fallout Board Game


And finally, we have the Scavenger. She is, by far, my favourite: I like her insouciant pose, the expression on her face, and the details in her model. I wanted to really bring out the motley in her outfit, so the first thing I did was give her a pink poodle skirt of the kind that was popular in the 1950's. To this I added woolen work socks, a denim vest and a camouflage head-scarf. I'm happy with how it turned out. It's a strange day when a man says to himself, "Yes! I finally nailed that poodle skirt!"


Painted miniatures for Fallout Board Game FFG


Thanks for dropping by!