Friday, June 26, 2009

Greatest Album Covers, Pt.5

The Swedish power metal band, HammerFall, has a sound reminiscent of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) movement of the late 70s, early 80s, although their lyrics tend toward more militant themes than the rock-n-roll and motocycles that dominated the NWOBHM. Like Iron Maiden, HammerFall appears to have a cover art mascot. A hammer-wielding, heavily-armoured warrior appears on all of their studio album covers. I present two of my favourites, the 1997 debut album, Glory to the Brave and the 2005 release, Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken. The odd title of the latter album refers to it being their fifth studio album, although none of their other albums were named in such a way.


As an aside, there sure are a lot of European heavy metal bands that sing almost exclusively in English. Considering the sorry state of metal in the United States of Hip-Hop-ica, I wonder why they bother.

The new Star Trek movie, at last.

It took awhile, but I finally saw the new Star Trek movie last night. I'm sure most everyone that wants to see it has seen it, so I won't waste my time with a long-winded review. It was a decent reboot of the franchise and I look forward to future releases. However, I have to say, what's up with all the pipes and airshafts and....turbines?! Engineering looked more like the boiler room of a WWI dreadnought than a starship. I almost expected to see some guy shoveling coal in the background.

Also, red matter...holy crap! This stuff makes the Genesis device look like a water pistol. Let's hope Christopher Lloyd doesn't find out about it. Kirk is running out of family members.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wizards of the Coast? Never heard of 'em.

As I engaged in my usual lunchhour perusal of my favourite RPG-related websites today, it occurred to me that it has been weeks since I dropped in on the Wizards of the Coast webpage. This used to be a daily requirement, even as recently as last fall. The braintrust at WotC has been working overtime trying to come up with new ways to lose me as a customer. At one time, I religiously purchased everything they produced for D&D 3.5, D&D Minis, Star Wars Saga Ed., Star Wars Minis, d20 Modern and Axis&Allies Minis. Now 3.5 and d20 Modern are dead and buried, while the quality of their D&D and SW miniatures lines has declined precipitously. So, I wait for the next SW Saga book, expected next month and the next A&A minis release, expected sometime before the end of the Mayan calendar, while the rest of WotC's production moves along completely beneath my notice. I guess I'm no longer part of their demographic, which apparently consists of anyone who will swallow whatever crap they slap their logo on. C'est la vie!


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Vanishing Nerd

I was reading an article on the website the other day and it got me to thinking about the deplorable state of 21st century nerddom. The article was entitled 7 Man-Made Substances that Laugh in the Face of Physics, just the sort of thing that would attract an old-school nerd like me. While several of the miracle materials were really not all that novel; carbon nanotubes, aerogels, perfluorocarbons, one that did catch my eye was transparent alumina. I'm a regular reader of, so I know sometimes these guys feign stupid for its comedic value, but it was clear to me that they genuinely didn't know the difference between alumina and aluminum. That's when I realized these guys are geeks, not nerds. Geeks like all the same stuff we nerds like; D&D, Star Wars action figures, Monty Python movies. The difference is, nerds know about other subjects as well. There are two topics in particular, that are near and dear to the nerd heart, science and military history. A geek teenager may have a poster of Optimus Prime on his wall, but a nerd is just as likely to have one of Albert Einstein.

Now, once upon a time, nerds were the dominant species. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I and my friends were the school nerd club. We were the only people at home on Saturday night playing D&D. We didn't have to worry about wannabes stealing our subculture. Nobody wanted it. We would hang out in the school cafeteria debating the implications of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle for Star Trek transporter technology and everyone else would look at us like we were aliens, and we liked it that way. Nowadays, it's cool to be a nerd. Everyone from Vin Diesel to Shaq is now down with the culture. But it's obvious to me, they are all geeks, not nerds.

At this point, I should be clear. I'm not trying to bash on geeks. They're pretty cool and most women at gaming conventions are likely to be geeks, rather than nerds. However, I do have to say that the lack of knowledge most geeks display of topics of such vital importance can be disconcerting and even a bit aggravating. So, to all you geeks out there who yearn to be nerds, you need to do some homework. Read some non-fiction once in awhile. As a public service, I provide below, a list of 10 people you should know something about. It's a good start.

Simo Häyhä
Yuri Gagarin
Edward Teller
Sun Tzu
Nikola Tesla
Niccoló Machiavelli
Hernando Cortés
Maxwell Planck
Heinrich Himmler


By the way, you get bonus nerd points for being able to produce all those accented characters in that list using just the "Alt" button and the number pad on your keyboard.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Greatest Album Covers, Pt.4

Some guys try way too hard to click with the cool kids. I get a similar vibe from the band Rhapsody of Fire (formerly known as Rhapsody). I have only heard a few riffs from this group, which is described as a high fantasy-inspired, Italian symphonic metal band. They release albums like fantasy novels, maintaining a narrartive across several albums with names like The Emerald Sword Saga or The Dark Secret Saga. But, despite what their wikipedia entry might say about them, Ozzy Osbourne craps out more metal in his stool every morning than Rhapsody of Fire has in its entire playlist. Their sound is more appropriate for soundtracks of teen fantasy flicks like Eragon, but I will concede their album cover art is first-rate. They even went so far as to hire famed D&D artist, Jeff Easley, to provide the art for their latest album, Triumph or Agony (2006).


Monday, June 15, 2009

Character Generator - Pathfinder

I've played with this before and thought it was great and the guy has been tweaking it and keeping it up to date. Definitely something to keep your eye on.


Greatest Album Covers, Pt.3

Ronnie James Dio has had a history of awesome album covers, although I have noticed that the degree of awesomeness in inversely proportional to the success of the album in question. The coolest cover art has appeared on his two most recent studio albums, Killing the Dragon (2002), which depicts a mob of angry people bringing down a dragon, and Master of the Moon (2004) showing a demonic creature grasping a glowing orb, presumably a manifestation of moon magic.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

My top 5 tabletop RPGs

I have been playing tabletop rpgs for decades and I've seen many games come and go. I've played an awful lot of them and I definitely enjoyed some more than others. In listing my favourites, I must account for different editions of D&D which is the one game line I have played throughout my entire gaming life. In that vein, I see D&D as three games. There is so-called "old school" D&D which is often described as including Original D&D, AD&D and Basic D&D. I would argue that AD&D and 2nd ed. AD&D are sufficiently similar to be essentially the same game. Therefore, I would define old school D&D as any version that predates 3rd edition. The other two D&D games would, of course, be 3/3.5/Pathfinder and 4e. So, having explained all that, my list of my top 5 rpgs.

5. Rifts - I'm the first to admit, the Palladium system is broken in many ways. Half the character classes in any supplement are unplayable and the Mega-Damage system makes character equipment far more important than character abilities. However, the campaign setting for Rifts is just so damned cool.

4. Star Wars/Space d6 - The West End Games d6 system is a long time favourite. I was first exposed to it with the original Star Wars rpg and I have rediscovered it as an elegant, generic sci-fi game system.

3. Call of Cthulhu - Classic game mechanic, awesome campaign setting, though I must admit, I like it more as a DM than a player.

2. d20 Modern/d20 Future - Possibly the most perfect rpg game system ever published. If it had a decent campaign setting to accompany it, it would be in the no.1 spot.

1. D&D 3/3.5/Pathfinder - Despite its flaws, this is my game of choice. It's fun, it's elegant, it has a huge number of options for players and DMs. Best of all, idiots can't figure out the rules and quickly switch to something less mentally taxing.


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Greatest Album Covers, Pt.2

Iron Maiden has had some of the coolest album covers around, but they really outdid themselves with their 2006 release A Matter of Life and Death, featuring an undead army unit making its way across a battered landscape. Famed Iron Maiden mascot Eddy is featured less prominently than in most previous album covers, but that is him standing atop the tank. Simply awesome.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Greatest Album Covers, Pt.1

In a new series documenting the greatest fantasy album covers of all time, I start with one of the most incongruous band/album cover combinations ever. Molly Hatchet was a forgettable Southern rock band from the 70s and 80s which, for reasons completely out of step with their musical influences, had a major attraction for the art of Frank Frazetta, the best known Conan the Barbarian artist not named Boris. Although several of their album covers featured Frazetta's work, the self-titled debut from 1978 is my personal favourite.


David Eddings, R.I.P.

The period from 1977 to 1985 was the most influential of my life. Role-playing games, heavy metal music and sci-fi/fantasy literature and film all reached their zenith (at least in my humble opinion) during that time. I discovered several fantasy writers during those years, including Tolkein, Howard, Brooks, Donaldson and David Eddings. Eddings was not really on par with those other writers, but The Belgariad was still a good read. Later, I would also read The Mallorean, but by that time, my tastes had matured and I found the series a bit tedious (like every D&D novel not written by Salvatore and many that were). Nonetheless, his early writings were important to me in my adolescence. He will be missed.