A Twofer Review: ACKS & The Teratic Tome

So yesterday was doubleplusgood for Gorgonmilk -- I received my physical copies of both The Adventurer Conqueror King System and Rafael Chandler's manual of monsters, The Teratic Tome. Both books are beautifully designed. 

I wasn't sure what to expect from Lulu -- most of my purchases from them have been in softcover versions -- but The Teratic Tome (hereafter referred to as TTT) was a pleasant surprise. The gloss of the cover is a bit higher than TSR's 1st Ed Monster Manuals (or maybe that's just because mine are a tad scuffy) but Chandler has done a fantastic job of mimicking the style of the original MMs, from the fonts to the layout to that nice gradient on the back.

The contents of TTT are an unusually infectious array of nightmare creatures. "Body horror" is a prevalent theme throughout the book's 100+ pages. Many of these beasties would like nothing more than to climb inside your guts and set up shop in your meat. If that sounds too gross for your home game, then TTT may not be for you. And while I'm being helpful: If the sight of lots of pendulous breasts and the occasional monstro-gina fills your heart with dread, then you may want to pass on TTT. Cus it's lavishly illustrated with some great b/w renderings.

I should point out that this book is OSRIC/1E compatible and has all the handy tables that you might expect in the back.

Would I use many of these creatures at my table? I'm usually a pretty hard sell on monster books. Too often they're a rehash or retouch of the classic beast-types that make up D&D's (monst)rogues gallery. But it's difficult to aim that criticism at TTT -- most of the monsters here are just fucking weird in that creepy Stair Stalker kinda way, if you catch my drift. At times there's a dream-like substance to Chandler's descriptions that seem to suggest that some of these monsters may have crept out of his unconscious. And comparisons to Lovecraft are not without cause (take a gander at the Vomitorian on pages 108-109).

TTT is a fun book, best enjoyed by those with a taste for fantasy-horror a la Carcosa. I look forward to more such things from Mr Chandler and the old school community in general.

Would you believe that my gf and I have actually had heated debates over descending AC? Me, on one side, insisting that descending AC is "not that hard to grock." Her, on the other side, insisting that descending AC is "counter-intuitive." Not only this! But! She hates THAC0. Aye. And she finds to-hit tables to be tedious. Tedious.

It took me a while to mentally digest all this. I like gaming with the gf, you see. She's a lot of fun. And I realized that I had no loyalty to any particular game mechanic as long as the whole machine could do what I want it to do.

I looked into ACKS and was pleasantly surprised by the game's clarity and comprehensive approach to the adventurer-as-careerist. In short, I dig it. And it's a nice compromise with the gf -- ascending AC and an extremely intuitive bit they call the Attack Throw.

The design/layout of ACKS is also quite exceptional and reader-friendly. System-wise we're in the borderlands between B/X, the Rules Cyclopedia, and more modern iterations of the D&D (but with none of that "character-building" meta- meta- time-sink that makes Gorgonmilk's brain blister with nerd-rage). I would go so far as to say that ACKS is the finest example of rules simulacra generated by the OSR thus far. It does everything I want my D&D to do.

Negatives: I wasn't all that hot on the Auran Empire stuff that is ACKS' de facto setting. It doesn't mar the book one iota, but it doesn't really add anything for me. Thankfully the space devoted to it is pretty minimal. And like all that Greyhawkery that's crept into core D&D books over the years, I am free to ignore it without feeling that I've missed something vital.


Cartographical Fantasy Remix

Take one map from a French edition of Vance's Dying Earth. Flip it horizontally. Scratch off names. Add a bunch of nomenclature from Lord Dunsany's "Idle Days on the Yann" (and other assorted works). Et voila! A campaign map for the new ACKS game I'm working up.

City-States of Ektherana


Gygax Magazine #1 now on sale

I just ordered mine and I am stoked! Stoked!! Click on the image above to go the mag's website.


New "Ghost in the Shell" series coming in 2013

It looks like Production I.G. will be providing us with another chapter in this high-tech cyberpunk shoot-em-up saga, and creator Shirow Masamune will be directly involved. Here's the news blurb from I.G.'s site.



Ggmlk’s OSR Loot of Late

Three goodies have been occupying my desktop lately and will likely finds some use in games to come.

Blueholme cover1. Blueholme Prentice Rules. A retro-clone based on the late Dr. Holmes’ re-write of the OD&D rules. I really like the presentation and design of this PDF. It’s simple and attractive and very readable. Oh, and it’s free.

Hercynian Grimoire cover2. Hercynian Grimoire #1. James Mishler is a consistently awesome source of ideas, and this first ish of his new zine is 40+ pages of Mishler goodness. Well worth the 8 clams.

Joundan cover3. Town of Joundan. An oldie from Dimension Six necromantically revived by Mesmerized By Sirens (we love that blog!) You get a pretty sweet town and castle and some dungeons. Now I need more Dimension Six stuff to piece their house setting together!


I grew up in the Dark Age of Superhero Comics

My formative years as a comic book reader came during the early 1990s, when I was at the verge of awkward junior high schooler and still a few years off from big pimply high schooler.

Youngblood1Unfortunately this was an era when mainstream comics (i.e. superhero books) had dropped off from the creative heights of the 80s and fallen into a state of hyper-muscular style and weak storylines, probably best exemplified in the art of Rob Liefeld.

I was a dedicated reader of Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, New  Mutants and bits of other Marvel titles. DC – with the exception of Batman – was considered untouchable by my friend-circle, and so I can’t speak much about the state of their books other than to say that their covers were often laughably cheesy. In fact they seemed to cultivate a brand of cheesy-ness that ran against the grain of what I thought Marvel had achieved during the 70s and early 80s. Namely, a coherent and internally consistent universe where super-powers were usually (but not always) technological or naturalistic.

Composition of backgrounds and the dynamism and drama of Kirbian Marvel’s graphic standards had given way to flat-looking panels, an (IMHO) over-emphasis on musculature that was often anatomically questionable, and characters with perpetually scowly expressions.

Storylines had always waxed and waned in terms of inventiveness and originality. Jim Shooter’s Secret Wars – sadly the format for many future mega-crossover events – had somehow sucked the wind out of Marvel’s sails, creatively speaking. The sea was changing, getting ready for the arrival of guys like Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee and Liefeld and other new blood to Marvel’s artistic crew.

Soon the art and “look” of superheroes became the focus and story became secondary or non-existent. Frank Miller’s take on the Dark Knight, 80s Wolverine and the Punisher – all dark and mentally unstable anti-heroes – became the flavor-to-emulate because their books sold like hotcakes.

Add to this the new obsession with “collector’s item” die-cut covers and holograms and trading cards – often containing bland and formulaic material – and it becomes pretty clear that the 90s were a crap age for super books.

I stopped collecting a few years after Image and its creator-owned titles began to cut into Marvel’s lion’s share of the comic book market. I was bored with the way the genre was developing. Comics had really started to look like the “kid’s stuff” they had consistently been accused of being.

These days a lot of interesting material is being published. We seem to have crossed a chasm-like rut. The Big 2 continue to put out a lot of dreck, but they seem less important to the genre and the trends that push it along.


Help Me Find It: Beyond the Black Rainbow soundtrack

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) was panned by many a movie critic as an incoherent, self-indulgent mess. Which is more or less a fair assessment, but what a beautiful mess. Alongside the Kubrick-esque dream imagery is a brilliant soundtrack by Jeremy Schmidt. Anyone know where this music can be obtained? MP3 or FLAC format, preferably.