Friday, September 30, 2016

Book Review: Pirates of the Spanish Main RPG

Several years ago, I inadvertently started collecting playing pieces from the Pirates Constructible Strategy Game (CCG) produced by WizKids.

Normally, I don't care for games with the word "collectable" in the title.  This means each package contains random playing pieces, some being extremely rare, and therefore expensive.  As a wargamer, I want to know exactly what's in the package.  So when the first set of this game, Pirates of the Spanish Main (PotSM), was released, I ignored the hoopla.

A few years later though, while visiting my mom in my hometown, I ventured into the local game store, Fat Cat Comics.  While at the checkout counter I flipped through a binder containing individual pieces of PotSM organized in baseball card holders.  I liked the flat pieces representing terrain, such as islands, reefs, sargasso, and fog banks.  So I bought every bit of terrain Fat Cat had to offer.

I figured these pieces could be used for the Age-of-Sail boardgames I already owned.  Then I started scouring the local game shops in my area, and eBay, for:  Pieces of Eight coins as play money for the pirate role-playing games (RPGs) already owned, along with character cards for quick non-player character (NPC) sketches. 

My addiction tapered off when Wizkids started releasing Pirates of the Mysterious Islands (steampunk) and Pirates of the Frozen North (Vikings).

But since I still held on to my unassembled  collection, I decided to go just one step further and buy Pirates of the Spanish Main RPG (shortened to "Pirates RPG" to avoid confusion with the CCG).

This RPG, was produced by Pinnacle Entertainment Group and based on their Savage Worlds rules.

The book weighs-in at 255 pages, and is divided into a dozen chapters:

1.  Getting Started
2.  Characters
3.  Gear
4.  Age of Piracy (setting overview)
5.  Game Rules
6.  Flashing Blades (a listing of fencing schools)
7.  Life at Sea
8.  Gamemaster Section--Gazeteer
9.  Running the Game
10. The Lady's Favor (an introductory adventure)
11. Encounters (NPCs and Bestiary)
12. Index

Among the illustrations similar in style to the original CCG, you'll find:

Character Sheet and Ship Chart
Blast and Turning Templates
Map of the Spanish Main (on the inside front and back covers)
Two grid maps of the Caribbean (one showing the prevailing winds)

(Image:  Map found on page 2 of the rulebook)
The book does a good job of incorporating the CCG material into the Savage Worlds rules.  In keeping with the CCG, this is not an historical game, but a constructed world "...loosely set in the late 17th Century or early 18th Century" (page 62).  There's even some magic and supernatural hazards players may encounter.

While I can enjoy a romp through alternate history, I wish the folks at Pinnacle, and Wizkids for that matter, put a bit more effort into being more accurate about ships and naval artillery.

For example:  "Frigates carry goods around the Main and back to Europe"  (page 118).

This isn't even close to the true definition of this well-known ship type.

Then there's the ship weapons, listed on page 123 as :  Bowchaser, 4-pounder (pdr) cannon, 8-pdr, and 16-pdr.

Not only are these gun ratings off-base, but this also means the ships in both games are seriously under-powered.

Despite these nautical inaccuracies, I liked what I read in the Pirates RPG, which received a 4.4-star rating on, and a 4-star rating on RPG.Net.  I'd rate the game about the same, but one 3-star rater's comment on Amazon is worth mentioning:  That no other support material, supplements or active user community, except for a handful of downloadable material.

So if you want to make use of all those CCG ships for swashbuckling adventures of derring do, then grab a hold of an available copy of the book, or download it from Drive Thru RPG.

(Image:  Pirates RPG publication announcement)

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Visit to the EMP's Star Trek Exhibit

(Image from the EMP Museum website)
A couple of weeks ago, I waxed poetic about Star Trek's Golden Anniversary.

Even though I still haven't seen Star Trek Beyond yet, I did manage to go to the Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds exhibit at Seattle's EMP Museum (Experience Music Project).

I was hoping to venture up to the Emerald City on Star Trek's exact anniversary day, but my wife and I were too busy.  However, we both had last weekend off while her sister and brother-in-law were visiting us.  This turned out to be the perfect outing for all of us since we grew grew up watching the show.

The museum allowed visitors to take photographs, but did not allow the use of camera flashes.  I don't like using the flash anyway, so this didn't bother me initially.

However, the exhibit hall was very dark.  As a result, I had to max out nearly every editing function on my computer to make the subjects of each picture discernible.  This process took over a dozen hours of sifting through 149 photos.  Even with 89 usable pictures, it was difficult to obtain a good image without some video reflection, or lens-flare from an overhead light.

What follows is a sample montage of our adventure.

Entering the strange new world...

(...and taking many small steps for "Fankind")
The Starships

(The USS Enterprise)
(USS Voyager and Galaxy Class Enterprise)
(USS Voyager)
(Deep Space Nine)
The "History" of Star Trek

(Where the various shows fit in to our "future history")
(There's quite a gap between the Original Series (TOS) and the Next Generation)
The Museum's Artifacts

(The exhibit's main floor)
The Original Series:

(The Enterprise's bridge with Kirk and McCoy's uniforms)
(Starfleet women's uniform, worn by Lt. Nyota_Uhura)
(Helm and navigation control)
(A blurry picture of a control panel)
The Next Generation:

(Geordi La Forge's uniform)
(Captain Jean-Luc Picard's uniform)
(Counselor Deanna Troi's uniform)
(Lt. Commander Data's uniform and display)

Deep Space Nine:

(Captain Benjamin Sisko's uniform and DS-9 display)

(Seven of Nine's and Captain Kathryn Janeway's uniforms)

(T'Pol's and Captain Jonathan Archer's uniforms and display)

Adversaries in Star Trek

The Federation's opponents ranged from worth Cold War Era stand-ins...

(The Klingon Display)
(Klingon weapons and battlecruiser model) a terrifying "Horde of Alien Locusts"...

(An occupied Borg Alcove)

...along with the misunderstood...

(The Gorn costume) the darn-right cute & cuddly.

(The Tribble display)
Sometimes our enemies are our darker selves.

(Kirk's Mirror Universe uniform)
But the best Star Trek nemesis by far is...

(The Khan Noonien Singh Display)
(Ricardo_Montalban's costume in The Wrath of Khan)
...well, at least the original.
(Benedict Cumberbatch's Khan-reboot costume)

Star Trek Props

What I found most remarkable about the props used in Star Trek was--how unremarkable they are.

(Some familiar items used in the Original Series)

After half-a-century, they even look shoddy compared to more updated props.

However, this is what makes them so amazing.  That a pop culture phenomena was launched on such an small budget, making due with whatever the prop manager could cobble together.

Oddly enough, the exhibit I, my family and even a coworker liked the most was this diorama showing how the Enterprise Set was arranged.

(The real Starship Enterprise)

Star Trek Creator and Patron

(Gene Roddenberry's bio)
Here's another reason to "love Lucy:"

(Lucille Ball is attributed to saving Star Trek before it began)

Star Trek's Impact on Today's Culture

(Star Trek themed merchandise)
(More 'Trek merchandise)
(Even our president was a fan:  Obama and Nichelle Nichols renders the Vulcan Salute)

Interactive Displays

(The famous crawl spaces named after designer Matt Jefferies)
(Yours Truly in a Jefferies Tube)
In addition to scampering through a futuristic crawlspace one can even star in their own "movie," which consists of virtually beaming down to some hostile environment and resolve a critical situation that only main characters can accomplish.

("Away Team Instructions")
 In this story, I drew the short straw heroically volunteered to beam aboard a damaged freighter about to crash into an inhabited planet.  My assignment was to destroy the ship's Phlebotinum Core--with a hand phaser--before it reached the planet's atmosphere.

 (A one-man Away Team preparing to beam aboard a stricken vessel)
My mission was a success, probably because I wasn't wearing a Red Shirt for this operation. (I tried uploading the video my wife took, but I couldn't get it to play here on Blogger).

Speaking of attire, I didn't see any cosplayers at the exhibit, but back in May there was an opening day costume party.

The Star Trek:  Exploring New Worlds exhibit will continue at the EMP through 17 February 2017.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Honoring the 15th Anniversary of 9/11

(Image from:  On Milwaukee)
A few days ago, I wrote a post about the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek.

Today marks an anniversary, I and many Americans wish never happened--the September 11 Attack.

I'm not the only one taking time out from my creative endeavors to honor this day.  A couple of my favorite creators of daily comic strips stepped out of their usual story arcs for this moment to touch our hearts.

(Image from:  Luann by Greg Evans)

(Image from:  The Wizard of Id, by Parker and Hart)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Star Trek's Golden Anniversary

(Star Trek 50th Anniversary Video One)
Star Trek is "...boldly celebrating 50 years of...television, movies and more." 

I think I watched the very first episode, The Man Trap, when it premiered 50 years ago today, but I didn't know the name of the show back then.  All I recall from that vague, and half-century-old traumatic memory was that the salt vampire scared the bejeezus out of me.

(The Salt Vampire--giving Trekkie kids nightmares since 1966)
It wasn't until I was in junior high school, that I started watching Star Trek regularly, a few years after the series went into syndication, thanks to my friend Stephen who told me about the show.  I was hooked after watching the first episode, which I'm sure wasn't about the Salt Vampire.  Stephen and I would talk about the show during our walks home from school.  After we parted company for the day, I practically ran home in order get my homework done, and not miss the opening credits of that evening's episode.

Yes, I was--still am--that nerdy.

I even watched the The Animated Series when it aired on Saturday mornings, though I considered myself "too old" to watch cartoons.  Fortunately, I got over the teen-angst attitude, and got back into watching animated shows--with a vengeance.

Anyway, the Star Trek "revival" started to achieve orbit as the 70s came to a close.  First, with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and for us wargamers--Star Fleet Battles (SFB).

(The latest version/successor to SFB:  Federation Commander)
Since those days, the Star Trek franchise has been cruising along at warp speed, with four spin-off TV shows, and another one due out next year; along with a dozen more feature films.

Some of these were sensational hits, like The Wrath of Khan...

 ...while others, such as The Final Frontier were near-franchise killers.

Fortunately, The Final Frontier wasn't the final frontier for Star Trek, as The Next Generation movies attempted to go boldly were no movie production had gone before--until Star Trek: Nemesis.

Now we're in the era of the "Reboot Films" which have have been well-received, for the most part.

Here, I'll pause to admit two things:

First, I'm one of those in the minority who wasn't crazy about 'Trek Into Darkness--the Wrath of Khan Redux.  I thought it was too early in the rebooted story arc to have a "Ship Out of Danger" scene.  Kirk and Spock didn't have anywhere near as much time together as the "prime" characters did to form this kind of bond.

Second, I haven't gone beyond my own normal routine to see Star Trek Beyond.  Fortunately, it's still playing in theaters, so there's still time to save my "Trek Cred."

The Star Trek 'verse doesn't merely consist of TV shows and movies.  The Expanded Universe (EU) is chock-full of books, games, webisodes, and music (We Just Make Some Sh*t Up).

Star Fleet Battles (SFB) was an extremely popular when it first came out, and Amarillo Design Bureau (ADB) is still producing SFB-related products.  I'm so heavily invested in SFB, that I don't have any shelf-space for the newer Attack Wing game.

Most of the Star Trek novels are pretty good, but I haven't read one in over a decade, mostly because I want to read stories about characters other than the bridge crew of the USS Enterprise.
I also have a few Star Trek computer games, I'm too prone to motion sickness to actually play them.  But I haven't gotten rid of them either.

Star Trek gaming isn't limited to ship-to-ship combat.  The first Star Trek tabletop role-playing game (RPG) was produced by FASA until the early 80s.

Subsequent RPGs seemed to pop up every decade or so, first by Last Unicorn in the 90s and then Decipher in the early 00s.   My favorite, which I haven't played yet, is another ADB product...

(Starfleet Games, Prime Directive Index)

Despite these publication efforts, along with the legion of Star Trek cosplayers...

(Cosplayers wearing non-standard uniforms, exploring a familiar "strange new world" in The PRF, TOS Star Trek Corset)

...and crossplayers...

(Image:  Analysis Mrs. Spock? by Bellcrius)

...I'm under the impression that the "...galaxy far, far away..." is a more popular setting than "...the final frontier..." for tabletop RPGs.

Maybe the companies that produced/are producing Star Wars RPGs have a better marketing strategy.

Or maybe gamers prefer to imagine themselves as Jedi Knights, or scoundrels with a "...good blaster..." at their side, rather than a playing a doomed Red Shirt.

Regardless of the competition from Star Wars, Star Trek has been more than entertainment--it's been a cultural phenomena.

Of course, not everyone likes Star Trek.  My second ex-wife thought the show was sexist.  I'm not sure what gave her that impression...

...okay, maybe the original series went overboard on the fanservice, especially with the stripperiffic women's costumes.

Despite being the "Mad Men of sci-fi," Star Trek was ground-breaking.  The episode, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield for example, was a black-and-white allegory about racism.


Meanwhile, back on 20th Century Earth, the show hit racism head-on.  The episode Plato's Stepchildren featured TV's first inter-racial kiss:

First, however, there had to be women on board the Enterprise for Kirk to make out session with one of them.  Oh sure, the skimpy uniforms worn by female crew members make them seem like the first in a long line of Bridge Bunnies.  But portraying women serving in critical areas of a military vessel was unseen in pre-'Trek movies and TV shows.

Then there's the plethora of gadgets we use today that can trace their origins, and inspiration to the devices used on the show.

Doesn't this look all-too familiar now?

(Image found on the Communicator's entry in: Wikipedia)
Thanks to Bluetooth technology, WORKING cellphone communicators are now available.

Star Trek hasn't been, nor currently is, perfect.  Even us fans love poking fun at the tropes spawned by the show.  That's why every Star Trek fan I know, including myself, love the movie
Galaxy Quest.

(Galaxy Quest in TV Tropes)

The film is an Affectionate Parody of Star Trek, making it one reason why it's on Screen Crush's 25 Best Sci-Fi Movies of the Past 25 Years List.  Some fans even consider Galaxy Quest a bona fide Star Trek film.

Affectionate parodies aside, Star Trek hasn't shown any signs of slowing down to sublight speed anytime soon.

Even my second ex-wife was nice enough to buy me one of my favorite colognes for Christmas...

(The cologne can still be found on, but sadly with a different bottle)

...I laughed every time I looked at the bottle, (yes, I actually splashed this stuff on), and still smile looking at the image of it.

For those who want to get involved in the 50 Year Anniversary festivities, check out the Star Trek Events that are taking place world-wide.

(Image from:  The Trek Collective, Comic Previews)

Live Long and Prosper.