Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Treasure Trove of Traveller Material

(Image:  Cover art for the JTAS, Vol. 6)

Last week, I travelled to the east coast to visit family.  But the day before I left, I did a quick stop into Half Price Books, near the Tacoma Mall.  While browsing, I stumbled across several early copies of JTAS (Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society) on the very top shelf.  These were pamphlet-style booklets published in the 1980s by Game Designers Workshop (GDW), to support the role playing game (RPG), Traveller

I don't think the staff at Half Price knew what they had on their hands, because they were offering these booklets, along with adventure & supplement booklets, for $1 each.  (On-line game sites are offering them for $5-$25 each).  So I grabbed them all JTAS issues which included:  Volumes 2-6, 8 & 9, 17 and 23.  I already own JTAS Vol 11, along with the GDW adventure booklets, so I passed up those copies.

What I also passed up was the couple couple dozen, or so, issues of Travellers' Digest magazine--which I didn't have--that they were selling for $2 each.  However, I was pressed for time and wanted to save some money for my trip.  So figured I could buy these when I returned.

Big mistake.

When I went to Half Price Books yesterday, all the Travellers' Digest magazines were gone, along with all the supplement books. 

Talk about "Epic Fail."

But all is not lost.  Traveller has been reprinted by Mongoose Publishing, so a lot of original material is available once more:

Also, PDF versions of JTAS issues are available for download from Drive Thru RPG:

Although, no matter what edition of Traveller you have--adventure never goes out of style:

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

First Impression: Warrior Knights, Crown and Glory Expansion

To find out if it is, indeed, "good to be the king," you have to seize the crown first.

Crown and Glory, Fantasy Flight Games' (FFG) expansion of Warrior Knights, gives players the tools they need to gain the throne--if used wisely.

This supplement comes with a one-page rules brochure, over 200 additional cards and 39 tokens representing everything from the king's army, mercenaries, garrisons and levies, all the way down to the revolting peseants. The cards are marked with an 'expansion icon' so they can be easily seperated from the original deck.

Boardgamegeek rates Crown and Glory 7.78 out of 10:

Monday, June 20, 2011

New Feature Added to the Studio

Blogger added a 'Follow by E-Mail' function, which I placed between 'About Me' and 'Search the Studio.'

So sign up and get Stern Rake Studio posts delivered to your e-mailbox today!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Book & Movie Review: RED

RED, as in "Retired-Extremely Dangerous," is a graphic novel by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Cully Hamner was released by Windstorm in 2009.  It's a story about Paul Moses, a retired CIA assassin, reactivated when the new Director decides to terminate Moses because he knows too much.  Moses seeks revenge, mayhem ensues and the bodies pile up as he makes his way to CIA Headquarters for a showdown.

In other words, RED puts the "graphic" in graphic novels. 

There are eleven reviews of RED on  Only two reviewers consider this a 5-star story, while four reviewers give the book a 4-star rating.  Of the remaining five reviews, RED garners two 3-star ratings but is hit with three 1-star ratings.  Overall, RED averages 3-stars.  Which is about where I rate this stark tale. ratings:

I noticed the 1-star reviewers saw the movie first and then read the graphic novel, thinking the book would have a similar tone.  If it weren't for the title and the lead character, they'd almost be two different stories.

Last year, Summit Entertainment released RED, the movie, starring Bruce Willis.  A coworker of mine called the movie 'charming,' which isn't a term I usually apply to action-adventure movies.  However, after watching it, I have to agree with her.  The premise of the movie is similar to the graphic novel:  A hit squad tries to kill retired CIA assassin Frank Moses, played by Bruce Willis, along with anyone he knows, or even has contact with.  So Moses re-unites his team in an effort to determine who wants them dead and why.  However, while the plot line is similar the tone of the movie is completely different.  The folks at Summit put a different spin on the story, turning it into an engaging action-comedy, with a splash of romance.

These lethal characters move with the wit and grace of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers on the dance floor.  It is also an endearing story of how people considered 'past their prime,' in this youth-obsessed culture, still have what it takes to get the job done and can show the youngsters a thing or two.

As far as the comedy portion goes, I didn't ROTFLMAO, or even LOL, but I found myself smiling throughout the movie.

A lot more people have seen the movie, than read the graphic novel.  The reviews on are all over the map, but are generally favorable:  157x5-star ratings, 63x4-star ratings, 18x3 & 2-star ratings and 28x1-star ratings.  The primary complaint the 1-star raters have, is with the audio quality of the Blu-Ray edition.  Overall, the movie averages a 4-star rating, which is where I rate this entertaining popcorn flick. ratings:

Interned Movie Database (IMDb) ratings:

The coworker who lent me his copies of the movie and the graphic novel, he urged me to read the novel before watching the movie.  I'm glad I followed his advice.  This is the first time I've enjoyed a movie more than a book.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Star Wars Prequels--Lacking in The Force

Many of us Star Wars fans have been scratching our heads over Episodes 1-3, since they debuted a long time ago in a multiplex far, far away.  The reaction to these prequels, ever since, range from "Meh" to "WTF?"

Kristen Lamb, author of the book We Are Not Alone:  The Writer's Guide to Social Media, discusses several major flaws in the movies on her blog:

Kristen's post set off a firestorm of comments, 130 so far, with nearly all of them condemning the movies.  (My 0.02 Republic Credits can be found in comment #130).

Kristen's blog post on Star Wars caught my eye, like one of these movie posters.  I've been working on my Star Wars, Redshift Chronicles Campaign game for several months and plan to post graphic novelizations of our role playing and wargaming adventures.  So I don't want to make the same mistake George Lucas did.

According to some fans, there's another 'explaination' why the prequels are so bad.  Slick Gigolo has the 'answer' and what 'someone' might do to redeem themselves:

SW Redshift Chronicles Intelligence Brief #4: Presidential Profile

Stardate: Thirday, 067-130 ABY/Tarsan Intelligence Service (TIS)

Subsector: Shannekam

Personality Profile on Bunda Akhtar

With the possibility of the Bongolaanian-Tarsan Trade Dispute heating up, TIS has compiled data on Bongolaan's current president-for-life, Bunda Akhtar.

Most of the material gathered for this report was obtained through TIS's contacts with the group known as the Bongolaanian Armed Resistance Cadre, or BARC.  Since very little is known about this new-found resistance movement, the information in this report may be sketchy at best.

Bunda, son of gabaki vendor Kunda Akhtar, was born during The Great Food Riot that ravaged the capital city, Ratankiri in ABY-090.  Nothing is known of Bunda's mother and her current wherabouts are unknown.  She may have been a prostitute employed by his uncle Zunda Akhtar.  Regardless of his mother's fate or occupation, Bunda has shown no desire to locate her.

Bunda was apprenticed to his uncle, the family's patriarch, to work in the Mynock Roost, the family-owned cantina and brothel, near Ratankiri's waterfront disctrict.  Despite their business dealings--legitimate and otherwise--life among the Akhtar men was not a harmonious one.  Kunda had two fingers severed as punishment for 'crimes against the family,' when it was discovered he was skimming off the profits from gabaki shipments.  Some say it was Bunda who tipped off his uncle and was forced--or volunteered--to cut off his father's fingers.

Due to his above-average size, Bunda was promoted from bus-boy to bouncer and soon became involved his uncle's numerous illegal activities. He took over the Mynock Roost immediately after his uncle and father were killed under mysterious circumstances in ABY-11.  Once again, stories differ:  The sibling rivalry between his father and uncle re-ignited, Bunda had them assassinated, they were killed during one of Bongolaan's frequent coups, or died in a vehicular accident--possibly arranged by rival family, or by Bunda himself.

Bunda's exact appearance is unknown and may be a result of his violent upbringing. His face is always shrouded by a keffiyeh. Stories vary as to the reason for this: He was disfigured from a childhood illness, a vehicular accident, an assassination attempt, or is the result of one of his uncle's disciplinary measures. It could merely be that the headdress renders his appearance mysterious and intimidating.

(Image: Bunda Akhtar and bodyguard droids enter a command post, somewhere on Bongolaan)

Based on the above information, Bunda Akhtar has exhibited a lust for power throughout his turbulent life.  In personal dealings he is described as aloof, self-centered and vengeful.  Now he is president of a hostile planet, with a legion of battledroids, along with several squadrons of warships and starfighters at his disposal.  And this doesn't take into account any financial direct military support Bongolaan may receive from the Fel Empire. 

This almost garuantees he will be difficult, if not impossible to negotiate with.  Therefore, the possibility of a peaceful resolution to the current trade dispute, or "Bantha-Gabaki War," as the media calls it, is highly unlikely.

(Images: Provided by the BARC)

Star Wars Roleplaying Gamemaster's Notes: 

Bunda Akhtar's background was generated using Central Casting: Heroes for Tomorrow, by Paul Jaquays (1989).

Bunda Akhtar is a modified crime lord, found on page 25 of Star Wars Roleplaying Game:  Threats of the Galaxy. 

His specific stats are:

Medium noble 7/scoundrel 2/crime lord 3

Force 2; Dark Side 14
Init +7; Senses Perception +18
Languages Basic, High Galactic, Rodese, 6 others (specifically for Bunda these will be:  Bothese, Durese, Gamorrean, Huttese, Ryl, Sullustese)

Defenses Ref 26 (flat-footed 25), Fort 22, Will 29
Hit Points: 47; Threshold 29

Speed 6 squares
Melee vibroblade +9 (2d6+6)
Ranged blaster pistol +9 (3d6+6)--for a "normal" crime lord, this would be a sporting blaster
Base Atk +8; Grp +9
Atk Options Improved Disarm, Melee Defense, Point Blank Shot, Sneak Attack +1d6
Special Actions Born Leader

Abilities Str 10, Dex 12, Con 12, Int 15, Wis 13, Cha 16
(normal crime lord stats:  S-10, D-12, C-8, I-16, W-14, Cha-18)
Special Qualities command cover
Talents Attract Minion, Born Leader, Connections, Distant Command, Educated Inspire Fear I, Notorious, Sneak Attack +1d6
Feats Improved Defenses, Improved Disarm, Linguist, Melee Defense, Point Blank Shot, Skill Focus:  Deception, Skill Focus, Weapon Focus (advanced melee weapons), Weapon Proficiency (advanced melee weapons, pistols, simple weapons)
Skills Deception +20, Gather Information +20, Knowledge (bureaucracy) +14, Knowledge (Galactic Lore) +14, Perception +18, Pilot +12, Persuasion +20 (can reroll when intimidating, must take second result),
Ride +12, Use Computer +14
Possessions blaster pistol, vibroblade, datapad, encrypted comlink, enforcers (including several thugs and an 8th-level minion).

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fictional Graduation

Well I finally graduated from Popular Fiction I, sponsored by the University of Washington's (UW) Professional & Continuing Education Program.  The course, which started back in October, was broken up into three, 10-week quarters, each corresponding to the number of acts found in a story:  The beginning, middle and end. 

This was a workshop-orientated class, where students worked on writing scenes of their proposed novels.  My own work-in-progress (WIP) was, Breakout from Bongolaan: Book One of the Star War Redshift Chronicles. This will be an on-line graphic novel that I'll begin posting on this blog and is based on a Star Wars RPG (role-playing game) adventure.

Our instructor was none other than Pam Binder, president of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA).  She was a very supportive and encouraging instructor, but also quick to point out where our stories needed improvement.  More often than not, "Expand on this," was written in several places on each of my assignments.  I have over two dozen, three-page scenes with these and other editorial comments, along with; in-class notes, classroom handouts and an asundry of comments I collected from our critique sessions. 

Pam brought out the best in her students.  One classmate is a finalist in the upcoming PNWA writers competition, while another won a competition at a conference in Texas.  Pam will be teaching Popular Fiction II, starting this fall quarter, so I'm sure there'll be more competition finalists and winners next year.

But before I plunge back in to my YouTube movie and graphic novel projects, it's time for a little summer celebration music.

Take it away, Alice...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

First Impressions: Warrior Knights

This game caught my eye back in the late '80s when it was produced by Games Workshop, LTD., but I didn't buy it.  Then the game went out of print.  Five years ago, Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) released an updated version.  The two things about the original and revised version of this game was the artwork and the title.  A game called 'Warrior Knights' sounded too cool to pass up.  But a quarter century ago, I did just that.  So when I found a copy on sale, I jumped at the opportunity I let slip away. 

A World Without String provides a thorough breakdown of the game's components and an examination of the rules:

I cut and trimmed the cardboard counters and organized the cards, so my knights are standing ready to do battle.  Although, from the reviews I've read, Warrior Knights is more than just a game of medieval bloodletting.  Each player must take economics, politics and even religion into consideration in order to win.

I'm impressed with the high quality of the playing pieces and artwork on the cards, especially the mercanary troop cards, which really evoke a sense of impending battle.  The map is mounted on durable cardboard and represents a fictitious region of France, that for me, can be used as a campaign map for some of my miniature wargames.

My only minor complaints are the cards are smaller than normal and some of the colors on the map and counters, lean towards the pastel range. 

BoardgameGeek gives Warrior Knights a 6.98 rating out of 10 and provides a lot of cool pictures of the game in action, playing aids, forum links and an on-line market place:

FFG did a great job renovating a classic and I'm glad I got a second chance to purchase it before becoming a 'collector's item.'

What out-of-print items are you on a quest for?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Writing Blog--Why It Can Be Bad

A few days ago, Kristen Lamb, author of the book, We Are Not Alone: The Writer's Guide to Social Media, discussed why having a writing blog is bad for writers:

The main point Kristen makes is this:  Blogs strictly devoted to the how-tos of writing gain and maintain a limited audience.  So reach out to folks who share your interests, by blogging on subjects all of you care about--and then toss-in some posts about the trials & tribulations about writing life.

Speaking of trials & tribulations:  I'm half why through Kristen's book, "WANA," as she abbreviates it and am learning a lot.  Like the mistakes I've made, from a writer's point of view, setting up this blog.  But that's the subject of another blog post...

WANA is available on

Kristen's new book, Are You There Blog?  It's Me Writer, was released last month and is also available on Amazon:

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Briefing with an Agent

(Image:  Diana Rigg as Mrs. Peel in The Avengers)

For the past nine months I've been taking Popular Fiction I, taught by Pam Binder, president of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA).  Last week, our session involved a briefing from an agent.  No, not the secret agent kind of agent, but a literary agent, which writers often find more "a-Peel-ing."

Our guest speaker's not-so-secret identity was Vickie Motter, one of four associates working for Andrea Hurst, president of her own literary agency.  Pam invited Vickie to discuss the best ways for writers to introduce themselves to agents and to submit work that will get their attention--preferably in a good way.

After a personal introduction, Vickie talked about query letters, which is often a writer's first contact with an agent.  To make a good first impression, query letters should--

--Be one page and 2-3 paragraphs long.
--Get right to who the main character is, the setting, the conflict and what's at stake.
--However, don't dump in too much information.  This is not a plot synopsis, so stick to the main character, the love interest and the antagonist.
--Include the genre, book title, word count and maybe something about yourself.
--Do a Google-search of your proposed book title to see what comes up.
--Use the back covers of books as a stylistic example when describing your story.

Some folks though, like to deviate from this script.  In doing so, a writer often gains notoriety, rather than notice.  To avoid such negative attention, follow the Agent's List O' Don'ts: 

--Don't use cliches.
--Don't say "this is the next best seller," or any other such derivative.
--Don't say you "just completed a novel."  This gives the impression that you haven't done any editing or revising.
--Don't insult anyone in the literary/publishing biz.  They all know each other.  Word will get around--fast.
--Don't use out-of-the-ordinary fonts, colored paper, nor add any pictures, or scents.  Just submit your writing.
--Don't reply to a rejection letter, unless you already have a relationship with them, or met them at a conference.  If you do reply, keep it professional (see the above don'ts).

Multiple submissions to numerous agents are okay.  It's actually considered the norm nowadays.  However, be sure to personalize each submission.  No "Dear Agent" letters.  And be sure to spell the agent's name correctly.  In fact, one should thoroughly research an agent's website prior to submitting a query letter. 

Vickie suggested researching an agent by visiting their website prior to attending a conference, when pitching a story idea to them, or meeting them in other venues--say, for instance--when they're a guest speaker.  She asked if anyone logged on to her site prior to class and a couple people raised their hands.  (I wanted to raise my hand, but my--um--tendinitis was acting up that night--yeah, that's it).

If your query letter generates enough interest, then you may be invited to submit the first 50 pages of your manuscript.  Why 50?  This is the initial "gateway" into your novel.  By the 50th page, an agent, who's an avid reader, can determine whether or not, your story has merit.  However, an agent often tosses the manuscript aside after reading the first page.  To ensure your manuscript avoids this fate, make your first page as interesting and exciting as possible.  However, don't get bogged down with back-story, or do a data dump.  The reader should care about the main character right away.

The discussion moved from corresponding with agents to personal contact with them.  Conferences are a great way to meet agents in person.  (After the conference, mention that you've met them in your query letter).  However, don't limit yourself to schmoozing agents and editors.  Use your time at the conference as an opportunity to get to know your fellow writers. These people will be your support network during the lonely hours you'll spend toiling away at your manuscript. And speaking of time, if you're' attending a pitch session and finish early, ask for feedback on aspects beyond your writing, such as your presentation, poise, etc.

Since time at a conference is of the essence, you may be limited to the 'Elevator Pitch,' named after chance encounters in--well--elevators.  You'll only have a few moments to state:  Your name, the book title, the genre and audience, along with the word count and a two-sentence 'plot grabber' and maybe a one-line bio.  You'll only get one shot, so make it a good one.

Despite the excitement of being in a large group of creative people, it is important to maintain you professionalism.  While at the conference, don't stalk the agents, (or anyone else, for that matter), ambush them in the bathroom, or slip your manuscript under their hotel room door/bathroom stall.  In other words, try to act like you're a somewhat sane and relatively stable person.

Another way for writers to gain the attention of agents is to maintain an on-line presence via a website or blog.  Social media has altered personal interaction in a revolutionary way.  Writers with an online presence stand a better chance at generating buzz for their work. 

Before you start querying agents, it's best to know what genres they specialize in.  For information on the genres that Vickie finds interesting, check out her website:

She also captains the blog, Navigating the Slush Pile, where she posts a weekly book review, based on an agent's perspective:

If your work doesn't fit any genre Vickie represents, then take a look at her fellow agents at Andrea Hurst & Associates:

Agents are bombarded with queries and manuscripts on a daily basis.  To illustrate the best and the worst of querying agents, Vickie recommended two websites, writers can turn to for advice--or if they need a laugh.  (Often these sites provide both).

Query Shark eviscerates..I mean...provides feedback on submitted query letters:

Meanwhile, Slushpile Hell, unearths select gems from submitted query letters for public ridicule...I mean...constructive criticism:

Monday, June 6, 2011

Enfilade Convention Recaps

Due to my work schedule, I couldn't attend this year's Enfilade! convention.  However, many of my friends did and some of them even blogged about their experiences.  Thanks to these folks and others I'm sure, I've been able to "game vicariously" via their blogposts.

Dean chimes in from his WAB Corner--

Not only did he do a convention walkabout, but ran a Warhammer Ancient Battles game with Adrian:

NHMGS's president, Kevin, shows us the convention's 'Big Picture' in his Northwest Gamer blog:

He then conducted his own presidential tour:

In addition to his award-winning Sluys game, he also ran Hobkirk's Hill:

Meanwhile, Naval Gazing scoped-out the attractions and posted a two-part After Action Review (AAR):

Part 1: 

Part 2:

Overall, it sounds like Enfilade 2011 was a success.  I'm hoping next year's convention won't be a virtual tour for me.  I'll be sure to schedule vacation time early--as soon as the annual schedule is published.