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Five Goblins Walk Into A Bar…And Die: A Review Of “Goblin Quest”

June 26th, 2015 No comments

DISCLOSURE: A copy of the PDF was provided by the author for the purpose of this review.

Over the past several years, I’ve been intrigued by the assortment of modern pen-and-paper role-playing games which favor speed and storytelling over hundreds of pages of rules. I thoroughly enjoyed Dungeon World and would happily return to it if I ever found a regular group to play it with me. Others I’ve explored have been the revised edition of Fate, and the charming, kid-friendly Dungeonteller and Adventure Maximus.

Goblin Quest, written by Grant Howitt, is a recently-published rules-lite RPG that casts its players as the hapless fodder of an army of evil. Its level of complexity places it closer to Risus or Kobolds Ate My Baby than it does Fate or Dungeon World. However, its approach to character longevity brings to mind another classic: Paranoia.

As in that game, Goblin Quest players control not a single character, but a clutch of  five, functionally-identical duplicates that appear in sequence as their broodmates quickly meet with humorously gruesome death. According to the game’s fiction, the goblins are the lowest caste of warriors in a Great Battle Camp that certainly isn’t the Land of Mordor. They spawn rapidly because they must; their average life-span is a mere week. But in that short window, those goblins seek glory and foolishness, not necessarily in that order.

Goblin characters have a handful of attributes, which include an Honorific (or surname) for their brood, an Expertise (e.g. “Ganging Up on Things”) and a Quirk (“Covered in Stolen Hair”). Each clutch of duplicates has a shared Dream, and fortunately for them, their short life’s ambition is relatively simple. They also get an Ancestral Heirloom which has been passed down for generations…meaning that their great-great-grandgoblin probably found it a few weeks ago.

Oh, and two hit points.

Task resolution comes down to a simple roll of a six-sided die. A result of 1-2 is an Injury (mark off a hit point!); 3 is Something Bad (the next goblin to act gets -1 on its roll); 4 is Something Good (which grants a +1 instead); and 5-6 is a Victory. If one of your attributes might help in the situation, you can roll an extra die…but both dice count, meaning that victorious death is a not-unlikely outcome.

baerThe storyline–which is intended to run its course in a single game session–is cooperatively defined by the players by asking each other what they want to do and what they’ll need to do it. Each quest is broken up into three tasks of increasing difficulty, each further broken into three stages. To complicate things, a party of dead-goblins-walking will face three pre-generated misfortunes while in pursuit of their goal.

And…that’s really the gist of it. Your intrepid goblin will die, to be instantly replaced by one of its fellows lurking just off-screen. With just enough cleverness and luck, you might see the quest through before you run out of fodder.

This scarcity of rules is mitigated by plenty of fun-to-read background fluff and lots of full-color art, but the real value of the PDF is still to come.

For one, the game includes contributions from a murderer’s row of RPG designers, including Rob Heinsoo, Ken Hite and Robin D. Laws. They provide story ideas, character concepts and “alternate misfortunes.”

The biggest bang for the buck is the second (and slightly-longer) half of the book, which features six rules hacks and one stand-alone minigame. They include:

  • Kobold Quest – similar to the core game, but with kobolds combining forces to build a wacky contraption in hopes of fulfilling the decree of the Mighty Dragon King.
  • My Name is Inigo Montoya, Jr. – a swashbuckling game of revenge, inspired by you-know-what.
  • Sean Bean Quest – a wonderfully bizarre premise in which all of the players are actor Sean Bean attempting to survive one of his films and thus break a curse of infinite death.
  • The Cthulhu Files – a serious, campaign-oriented spin which simulates the encroaching madness of the traditional Lovecraft game.
  • Neither Super Nor Heroic – a group of inept supers brought together as a last resort against evil, whom generally make things even worse.
  • Space Interns – think Redshirts.
  • Regency Ladies – unrelated to the core rules, this is a bonus minigame of courtship in Jane Austen land.

This toolbox of ideas alone makes Goblin Quest well worth investigating, and the core rules themselves will please gamers who take perverse delight in playing easily-dispatched avatars.

You can purchase the PDF of Goblin Quest directly from the author a minimum price of $15.00, and you can also find it at RPGNow and DriveThruRPG.


Categories: Games Tags: ,

So Long To A Late Night World Of Love

May 21st, 2015 No comments


By the time this article is posted, David Letterman’s final Late Show broadcast will have already occurred, but as I write this, it’s still a couple of days off. There have been approximately one godzillion tributes to Letterman in the weeks leading up to his retirement, but I couldn’t let the event pass without offering a few words of my own.

I’m old enough that my first exposure to David Letterman wasn’t CBS’ Late Show or NBC’s Late Night, but his late ’70s stint as a semi-regular replacemet host on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. I was such a fan that I was one of the few loyal viewers of his ill-advised gig as a morning show host in the summer of 1980.

Dave’s ironic detachment and self-aware mockery of television itself came to influence a generation of comedians and late night talk show hosts during his 11-year run on Late Night. He changed the tenor of witching hour TV with surreal comedy bits such as Chris Elliott’s appearances as a vaguely menacing guy living under the audience seats. Most people will bring up Dave’s Velcro suit or the Late Night Monkey Cam, but my favorites were theme episodes such as the annual “International Night” (with Kamarr, the “discount magician”) and the infamous “360 Degree Image Rotation” stunt in which the picture slowly spun over the course of the hour.

While I don’t believe that it influenced my decision to attend Ball State University, I certainly was delighted when I learned that Letterman had gone to school there. He and I even had one of the same broadcasting professors. During my junior year, Dave established a scholarship program and funded a radio studio with a plaque dedicating it to “all C students before and after me.”

As much as I would like to think that I picked up some residual Letterman mojo during my Ball State days, I have to say that his true influence on me was in demonstrating the fun of working in the medium of television, of getting on camera in front of thousands and doing something you can’t believe you’re getting away with. For good and ill, more than a few of my pledge drive moments have been informed by that “I’m the only thing on Channel 12 right now” attitude.

Happily, my wife and I had the opportunity to see Letterman’s Late Show in person a few years ago during a trip to New York. It was one of those “right place/right time” things. And while the Dave we saw was more settled-in than the one who staged elevator races or pitted a humidifier against a dehumidifier, I’m grateful to have witnessed a few minutes of Letterman’s late night legacy.

Categories: TV Tags:

Back With A Flash

May 18th, 2015 No comments

The Flash has long been one of my favorite superheroes. He’s got a cool costume and an amazingly versatile superpower that allows him to pass through walls, run across water, and even travel through time. His colorful gallery of foes is unusual in that they behave as a sort of tradesmen’s association of villainy. (They even share a tailor!)

I was a fan of the short-lived live-action TV series from 1990 starring John Wesley Shipp as the speedster and the delicious Amanda Pays as his scientific sidekick Tina McGee.


While it was clearly influenced by Tim Burton’s Batman–as well as Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy–CBS executives were skittish about going full comic-book. That’s why in early episodes the Flash found himself in decidedly one-sided conflicts against garden-variety gangsters. Eventually the network came around and the show began to introduce the Flash’s “rogues,” including a pretty decent Captain Cold and a rather dire Mirror Master played by…David Cassidy?

Then there was Mark Hamill’s career-reviving pair of appearances as the maniacal Trickster, which served as a dry run for his iconic turn as the voice of the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series.

Flash-forward a quarter century, and there’s a new Scarlet Speedster in Central City. From the producers of Arrow, the CW’s take on fellow DC hero Green Arrow, this rebooted Flash TV show is an enormously satisfying slice of Silver Age comics heroics.


Obviously, the creative team were also fans of the John Wesley Shipp series. Not only have they taken the inevitable step of hiring Shipp to play the Flash’s dad, they’ve brought back Amanda Pays as Tina McGee and Mark Hamill as the Trickster.

And yet, there are two big differences between the shows. One is that the special effects are–not unexpectedly–far superior. The original did well with 1990 effects technology, though the switch to a green screen background made it easy to tell when the Flash was about to shift into superspeed. The current incarnation takes full advantage of modern FX tech, enabling the Flash to run up walls, create vortices of air, and vibrate through solid objects.

The other difference is that the producers have fully embraced the comic-bookness of the concept. Not only have there been the usual shoutouts to obscure DC comics characters (Ralph Dibney, Simon Stagg, etc.), but over the course of this first season they’ve introduced recognizable versions of most of the classic “rogues,” including Captain Cold, Heat Wave, Weather Wizard, Rainbow Raider, Golden Glider, Pied Piper…and freakin’ Gorilla Grodd. In 1990, we got David Cassidy and some mirrors; in 2015 there’s a giant, telepathic gorilla on network TV.


And of course, there’s also the season-long story arc featuring Tom Cavanaugh as futuristic nemesis Eobard Thawne, aka the Reverse-Flash. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to hear the name Eobard Thawne on a live-action TV show, much less spoken by the guy who used to play a bowling alley lawyer.

Tomorrow night is the season finale, in which the Flash races through time to save his mother and, quite possibly, to muck up his own reality.

Next year promises even more superhero fan service, with a Supergirl series starring the adorable Melissa Benoist, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, in which “time master” Rip Hunter recruits a team of heroes and villains to combat immortal archfoe Vandal Savage.

Categories: TV Tags:

1982 Redux

January 1st, 2015 No comments

It has been said that 1982 was the greatest year ever for sci-fi and fantasy films. It saw the release of E.T. the Extraterrestrial; Blade Runner; Tron; Conan the Barbarian; The Dark Crystal; The Thing; Poltergeist; The Road Warrior; and, of course, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. (And that’s just the top tier. There were also such lesser lights as Creepshow; The Beastmaster; The Sword and the Sorcerer; Cat People; Firefox; The Secret of NIMH…)

I’d argue that genre fans enjoyed a 2014 that rivaled that fabled year. The biggest box office hit was also the best Star Wars chapter since 1983: Guardians of the Galaxy. Full of humor, heart and imagination, it demonstrated the malleability of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and made stars out of a talking tree and a bazooka-toting raccoon.

Marvel was 2-for-2 this year, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier offering a superb blend of superhero action and political thriller, not to mention the singular sight of Robert Redford hailing Hydra.

“Graphic novels” inspired two more of this year’s best. Snowpiercer literalized the class struggle between the 1% and the 99% in a firefight raging across a futuristic train endlessly circling a frozen, post-apocalyptic planet. The criminally overlooked Edge of Tomorrow may have had one of the worst titles* in recent memory, but it was an exciting and often hilarious tale of time-looping warfare against invading aliens, with fine performances by Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt.

Two reboots shared the setting of a ruined San Francisco. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes expanded on the critical and commercial success of the venerable franchise’s recent reinvention with a tragically unavoidable conflict between humans and simians. And while the latest Godzilla fell short of greatness thanks to its bland human characters, it did a more than adequate job of erasing the previous American remake from our collective memory.

And, of course, The Lego Movie shocked everyone by transforming a crass marketing exercise into a tribute to creativity with a wonderfully meta third-act twist.

This was a year in which even the second-tier films were pretty darned good. Among them were the time-tripping X-Men: Days of Future Past; the enjoyably ludicrous Lucy; and The Battle of the Five Armies, the inevitable finale of The Hobbit trilogy. And while neither Interstellar nor Under the Skin did it for me, both were a good bit more memorable than average genre entries.

I suspect that the reason that this remarkable string of cinematic releases went uncelebrated is that nowadays we’re accustomed to tentpole sci-fi and fantasy flicks. Back in 1982, we were only a few years out from Star Wars. Other notable films had followed in its wake, among them Superman and Alien, but the summer of 1982 saw the first sustained run of mega-money, influential titles.

The year to come (which actually came as I was typing that last paragraph) looks promising, though most of the big releases are franchise follow-ups: Star Wars, Terminator, The Avengers, Mad Max and Jurassic World. Hopefully there’ll be a few surprises. I’m still holding out hope that Jupiter Ascending will turn out okay.

* Though the alternative titles were no better. The original novel was nonsensically named  All You Need is Kill. For home video, the film was retitled with its theatrical marketing tagline Live Die Repeat. They might as well have called it Groundhog Day Meets Starship Troopers; at least that would’ve informed the audience what to expect.


Categories: Sci-Fi Tags:

The First Step Is Admitting The Problem

December 31st, 2014 No comments

I never intended to take a blogging sabbatical, yet it’s been some two-and-a-half months since my last substantive entry. It hasn’t been due to a lack of things to write about. And while I’ve certainly had a lot going on in my personal life, it hasn’t been about that either. It’s really been all about how I’ve chosen to waste spend my time.

To those who regularly see me in person, it should be obvious that I have an iPad addiction. I’m rarely seen without the thing, even at work. And while I can truthfully claim its usefulness in pulling up important documents or doing a quick bit of research, it would be disingenuous of me not to admit that its true purpose is filling in all of those little moments of downtime. Standing in line? Waiting for a meeting to begin? Pull out the pad for a bit of browsing or a quick game.

Hardly unique behavior, I know. We are all dwellers in the The App Age. But what I’ve found to be insidious about my own usage is how it has devoured the time that might have been spent on other pursuits. Books and magazines are piling up. Got twenty minutes? I could read a chapter…or I could get in a few matches of Hearthstone.

I’m not promising to kick the habit. I know that my compulsions inevitably get the better of me. But I will at least try to make time for other things…right after I log into Doctor Who Legacy to claim today’s bonus.

Categories: General Tags:

31 Monsters Between The Screams #31

October 31st, 2014 No comments


Now that’s a real shame when folks be throwin’ away a perfectly good Godzilla like that.

31 Monsters Between The Screams #30

October 30th, 2014 No comments


Not sure whether this is the Teenage Werewolf or Elvis in desperate need of a shave.

31 Monsters Between The Screams #29

October 29th, 2014 No comments


The Thing participates in Father-Son Day.

31 Monsters Between The Screams #28

October 28th, 2014 No comments


Fun Fact: Instead of a duel of wizardry, Roger Corman’s The Raven originally ended with a s’more-making contest.

31 Monsters Between The Screams #27

October 27th, 2014 No comments


“It’s this clause right here that I have a problem with: ‘We have the right to recast your part with Johnny Depp.'”