Knight Chills – Roleplaying with a Vengeance DVD

DVD cover of Knight Chills Roleplaying with a Vengeance with a knight's great helm in the foregroundIn 2000 at CineVegas I saw the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Its director was also its only star, playing over 40 roles as the screen cut from one camcorder shot to another. Sometimes he conversed with himself and other times he “acted” with a dummy. He also wore a gorilla suit. One by one viewers left the theater. Some swore in disgust. One newcomer came in and got up and left in less than a minute. It became an endurance contest as those of us who remained enjoyed a sort of camaraderie, occasionally looking over at one another with disbelieving looks, grateful to have something else to look at besides that dreadful, dreadful movie. Knight Chills from 2001 may not be as bad, but it is plain awful and ranks among the worst movies I have ever seen. In fact, on IMDB I give it 1 out of 10 stars.

The film centers around a group of roleplayers so unlike one another that my suspension of disbelief snapped within the first five minutes. We have one or two jocks who like to bully a fellow player when not getting drunk, a stoner and his girlfriend, another girl who is overweight and snarky, and the group’s GM, a high school teacher whose wife occasionally plays too. Then there is John, who is pretty intense. It takes over 40 minutes of painful exposition on screen before unlikeable nerd John finally gives in and crashes his car into a tree in an emo fit of rage, sorrow, and rejection. Naturally John mutters a spell-curse as any roleplayer would before he kills himself, “To the land of the shadow I will ride, turning from the cold earth, deep my love, my vengeance. Squire and steed, the quest will be fulfilled by the solstice of Yule; I cross the Veil.” Then his car explodes and he roars demonically in the flames.


If I seem a little apathetic about the nerd tragedy that is John, let me explain that I’m probably not being harsh enough. At the beginning of Knight Chills, when his mother or aunt mentions that Uncle Sal is dying, John storms out of the house and mutters “Sea hag!” under his breath. It comes out that he has lied to her about attending gaming for the night, since she’s religious and against his roleplaying. Maybe she’s still bothered too about John allegedly killing his younger brother (a rumor the GM’s wife is delighted to share). Besides this matter of murder, John constantly hits on the stoner/slacker Zac’s girlfriend, both calling her number 14 times without leaving a message and making overtures to her in person, creeping her out by kneeling and begging, “Please don’t leave, Jahandra. Let me warm you with my pledge of undying affection.” Her boyfriend, the stoner Zac, is played by DJ Perry. And it’s DJ Perry we have to thank for this piece of garbage, since he produced and helped write it. Its production values for normal scenes are actually not that bad (reminiscent of an X-Files episode) but the acting, along with the horrid script, is probably one of the reasons that Knight Chills belongs in the horror section.

That and the whole revenge theme and coming back from the Beyond. John unfortunately doesn’t stay dead and instead returns as the semi-mysterious Black Knight. Does he right wrongs in this new form? No, he continues the lame existence he already had and leaves red roses as an ominous foreshadowing before killing his fellow roleplayers who mocked him in life. Maybe they deserve it too; they also mock him at his own funeral, clowning around until they are shushed. Despite his purported knightly ideals in life, the Black Knight also kills off a random, innocent bystander girl. For a fuller plot summary with many more laughs than the actual Knight Chills, read Something Awful’s review.

Gaming in Knight Chills: “This is a game.”

For all of its many evils, Knight Chills does manage to capture some typical gaming moments in the two gaming sessions at the start of the film, however poorly lit they are. The group plays by candlelight, of course, as all true role-players do, in a basement with cobblestones painted onto the cinderblocks. Wooden shelves loaded with miniatures beckon over the GM’s shoulder. The GM even wears a special Renaissance hat in the second session. The players break down as follows:

  • John – Sir Jonathan Kallio, a Knight of the Rose, High Executioner, Protector of the Golden Flame of the Ancients, who wields a Sword of Righteousness
  • Zac – Morgan who wields a sword (and has the least amount of roleplaying time on screen)
  • Brooke – The enchantress Jahandra who uses “Dagger of Fire” and “Angelic Blast” spell abilities
  • Nancy – The ranger Shanara who uses enchanted arrows
  • Hanee – Teek, who has a Brooch of Illusion which grants invisibility. He also has a Crystal of Penetration.
  • Russell – Aristo the bard, who curiously wields a battle axe (unless he is referring to his guitar as his axe)
  • Laura – Catherine, a priestess, who stands ready with her herbs and magic, serving her “Ultimate God”

The players encounter goblins in the first session before confronting an ice demon with an “icy scourge” on a mountainside. Jack the GM (or Lord of Lore in the film’s fictional RPG) narrates with passion, but the real conflict at the table happens between players John and Hanee, whose characters come to blows after Hanee has Teek attempt to spook Sir Kallio’s horse. The action spills over into real life, despite warnings that “This is a game.” Hanee fumes outside the GM’s house, “I’m going to choke the piss out of that little geek.”

In the second session the characters are in a maze and take turns describing their characters’ actions. The GM pulls Hanee aside into a different room to describe what Teek sees as he scouts ahead. This is a nice touch and perhaps the first and only cinematic capture of roleplaying on the side of a group. The camera circles around the room as the group fights a demon. Throughout both gaming sessions there are sound effects and music, added to heighten the viewer’s tension. I’m on the fence about their inclusion, but since Knight Chills is so bad, it doesn’t really matter anyway. More interestingly, while they play with miniatures, there are also random Woodland Scenics trees on the tabletop in both scenes. I have to imagine that director Katherine Hicks or one of the set directors suggested adding them to create a more visually interesting tabletop, but they are odd and out of place.

While it’s never shown on camera, John also works as a hobby shop clerk where a popular game called Pandemonium is played. When the GM confides that he can’t let his wife know about his spending habits, John is in disbelief, “No way! You can never spend too much on gaming stuff!” John has a point there.

The Redemption Found in Knight Chills

For a brief moment Knight Chills actually gets good. John has died and his funeral’s over. Jack the GM calls to his wife to come downstairs, asking if she’s touched anything. Miniatures have mysteriously been set up on the basement table on a “dungeon floor plan”, which the wife recognizes as the layout of their house! They go to check on their son and his rocking horse is rocking eerily, but he’s “fast asleep” in bed. Creepy! Sadly this doesn’t continue and rather than the survivors needing to roleplay or analyze miniatures to solve the mystery, the Black Knight slowly stalks and kills off his victims. The miniatures scene also features the best actor in the film, Tim Jeffrey, as the GM. His on-screen partner Laura, played by Laura Alexander, is the pits though. Ultimately roleplaying does play a part in dealing with the Black Knight at the climax of the film with the GM using his Ultimate GM Authority, “I command you to hold, for I, and I alone, am the Lord of the Lore. You have done well on your quest. All your enemies are vanquished and you’ve won the love of fair Jahandra with your courage and your bravery. I declare this campaign over. You may cross over now, into the Hall of Heroes where you may eat and drink and sing song until ye be summoned to action once again.” If only I got to make such speeches at the end of every adventure or campaign!

All Those Other Gaming Movies: Not So Bad

Apart from those few scenes, another redeeming quality that Knight Chills has is that it makes other bad movies about roleplaying look brilliant by comparison. I would gladly watch the bizarre Skullduggery over and over again rather than ever lay eyes on Knight Chills again. Geekin’ can be painful to watch, but at least it has some comedic moments. The fairly straight-laced Mazes and Monsters seems better and better every time I’ve watched Knight Chills. Maybe that guy Tom Hanks should have gotten an Oscar for his part.

And What Knight Chills Reveals About IMDB

Knight Chills also revealed something else. It has a number of accurate reviews on IMDB.com for a movie that is on the level of Transylvania 5000, Ishtar, and Batman & Robin; most reviewers try to warn other viewers about what a horrible movie it is and to avoid it at all costs. Their warnings:

  • “the dumbest movie ever made” – angelandthebeast
  • “the worst piece of crap I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot of horrible B-movies)” – moovie_expert
  • “Whatever you do, do not waste your time or money on this one!!!!!” – bluebloodraven
  • “I had honestly thought I had seen the worst movies had to offer, until I saw Knight Chills I was wrong.” – JFerenczy

So it stands out when users give it 6, 7, 8 and even 10 stars. I’ll be the first to admit that my Perception can be quite low, but it has taken me all these years to recognize that IMDB can be a great haven for internet trolls, who can rate a bad movie positively just to enjoy their victims’ imagined anguish and grief. Further investigation also reveals that many of the positive reviews were done by reviewers who only have reviewed Knight Chills and no other movies. Knight Shills anyone? In all fairness, most of the negative reviewers from above had also only reviewed Knight Chills and no other movie on IMDB, but I tend to credit that to their humanity and overwhelming desire to save others’ time from the horror that is Knight Chills.

Consider, if you care to, the following review and note the reviewer’s IMDB username. Either it’s a perfect internet trolling or a bit of self-promotion from the film’s producer/writer/stoner.

imdb review with name djperry at top and 10 stars for film Knight Chills

DVD Bonus Features: The Dungeon

If you actually bother to watch Knight Chills despite warnings about how bad it is, at least reward yourself with the Dungeon Tour bonus feature. In it, one of the writers, Jeff Kennedy, takes the viewer on a tour of the basement room or “dungeon” used for the roleplaying sessions. Kennedy also explains that some of the film’s bizarre RPG persecution scenes were based on his own life as a teacher. Besides the aforementioned shelves of miniatures, there are also trophies that Kennedy’s gaming club collected from years of attending Gen Con and a giant Shivan Dragon M:TG card. Kennedy started the dungeon in 1989, but began gaming as a wargamer in the 1970s, and built his own custom, maplewood gaming table as well as an initiative tracker using wooden discs on a rod. Kennedy ends his tour by saying “Gaming inspired my partner DJ Perry and I to write and produce Knight Chills – and possibly Knight Chills – Part 2, we’ll see – and I hope it inspires you to do a bit more gaming. Some of the best times I’ve ever had have been around this table gaming.”

The Incredibly Useful Hugo’s Amazing Tape

Clear rolls of Hugo's Amazing Tape with words Patent ApprovedWhile Hugo’s Amazing Tape bills itself as “the most VERSATILE, DURABLE and STRONGEST HOLDING tape in the WORLD!“, I have found that it at least lives up to its name and is really quite amazing and incredibly useful. Packaging for it shows the tape wrapped around a wrist “to help relieve arthritis pain”, keeping pipes held together, wrapped around luggage, and keeping a book opened to a specific page, but it is the tape’s organizational use (and not these “miraculous” uses) that has most impressed me. The patented secret to the tape is that it lacks adhesive and only adheres to itself.


The tape is amazing for any application where rubber bands (or string) might normally be used, namely keeping cards and game components together. Unlike string, yarn, ribbons, or rubber bands, Hugo’s Amazing Tape shouldn’t bite into your bundled material, because it has a larger surface area. In the case of rubber bands, which become brittle over time and are sensitive to the cold, the tape is again a winner. Hugo’s Amazing Tape is transparent and comes in Clear, Blue, and Purple varieties. It is sold in 2 inch, 1 inch, and 0.5 inch width rolls measuring 50 yards long, but for most gamer purposes I strongly suggest the moderate 1 inch roll. Getting the tape is a little tricky, because despite its many craft uses, I have not seen the tape sold locally at Joann’s or Wal-Mart. Instead, you can buy a roll directly from Hugo’s, or find it in stock at boardsandbits.com or at Amazon.com, of course.

A few pieces of advice for when you get your own: Do write on the tape with a Permanent Marker if you want to. Sometimes finding the end can be hard and a dot, arrow, or star can help you find it. The company advises that items should be wrapped “at least twice” in the tape, but for playing cards, 1.5 to 2 inches of excess tape snugly wraps most decks in my experience. When I dropped a 45-card Game of Thrones LCG Lannister deck from a height of over 25 feet, it didn’t split the deck open (or harm any Joffreys) with only two extra inches. For owners of Summoner Wars or Omen and for further insight into Hugo’s Amazing Tape from boardgamegeek.com users, please read this warning about potential damage to cards from the tape. In my own limited experience with the tape, I have yet to see any hazards.

Card, Board, RPGs, and Miniature Games


Gamers caught between using rubber bands and dedicated card boxes to keep cards organized, should take a long look at Hugo’s Amazing Tape. Because the tape is broad and does not contract or constrict like elastic, it lacks the bite of a rubber band which can mar card edges. Thus the tape is useful for managing small and moderately-sized collections of cards. The choice for the CCG/LCG player then becomes whether to use Hugo’s Amazing Tape to keep a group of cards together or whether to store them in a cardboard or plastic deck box. Admittedly simply having cards taped together won’t protect them from a soda leak or other environmental hazards like a deck box might, but the tape has the advantage of not being confined to a set amount of cards, provided you were generous when you cut the tape the first time.

Board Gaming Uses

It’s this versatility of the tape that has seen it pressed into use by many board gamers who may only have sets of 5-10 cards to keep organized. Tired of your Guillotine decks getting mixed up? Do you hate how the Game of Thrones LCG Core Set has a tendency to spill the top cards of its four decks around? Hugo’s Amazing Tape is for you!

Almost invisible Hugo's Amazing Tape has been wrapped around Guillotine card deck to keep it organized. Colored arrow marks where tape ends

The Noble Deck and Action Deck for Guillotine Stay Separate with Hugo’s Amazing Tape

Games like Smash Up have dedicated card trays for their decks and Hugo’s Amazing Tape would be overkill on them, but even classics like Risk or Monopoly would benefit by having neat stacks of money, deeds, or army cards in the case of Risk. If you know any obsessive-compulsive types or anal-retentive neat freaks, you can probably get on their good side with a gift of the tape.

Stack of Game of Thrones LCG cards held together with Hugo's Amazing Tape

Game of Thrones LCG Cards Stay Neatly in Place Thanks to Hugo’s Amazing Tape

RPGs and Miniature Games

Of course, any other type of tabletop game that uses cards can benefit from the amazing tape. RPGs that use Fate decks like the TORG System or modern games like Pathfinder which has issued item decks can benefit from the use of Hugo’s Amazing Tape to keep cards organized. Likewise, you can keep your Warmachine and Hordes cards together and grouped into individual faction-specific bundles with the tape. While many prefer nine-card plastic binder sleeves for storage and to review unit capabilities, making a travel “deck” using Hugo’s Tape may be the way to go, especially for older systems like Confrontation or AT-43 that actually use the cards to determine unit activation order. Lastly Hugo’s Amazing Tape is invaluable if you’re a gamer with a broad collection of miniatures which came with ability cards. Now Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures (and Chainmail), Star Wars Miniatures, Heroclix, and Pirates of the Spanish Main Crew and Ship cards can all be easily separated for storage.

LARPing

Spools of thread with Hugo's Amazing Tape wrapped around them keeping threads confined

Thread is Neatly Wrapped Under a Layer of Hugo’s Amazing Tape

The most advertised use of Hugo’s Amazing Tape, as the back of the packing says, is “to prevent raveling and to keep dust and dirt off of” spools of embroidery thread. While I’ve not had too much experience with dirt and dust in my own brief attempts at stitching and sewing, I have had many spools unwind and get caught in or on something, which is always annoying, but never quite as bad as old audio cassettes. With this amazing tape however, I can easily put an end to any runaway threads. The tape could also be of use when assembling and gluing foam weapons to get an accurate dry fit without the possible tears to the foam from trying to temporarily use duct tape or any other adhesive tape. However for dry fitting weapons, I would probably just use rubber bands.

Most LARPs wouldn’t be complete without food and Hugo’s Amazing Tape could have a few culinary applications. I tested the claim that the tape is “Heat and Cold Resistant” by putting Guillotine cards wrapped in the tape in the freezer and several hours later the tape still functioned normally. To test its heat capacities, I wrapped some spaghetti in the tape and boiled it. Failing my Wisdom check, I ate a few bites of the spaghetti which came out perfectly. It was undercooked though closer to the center, where the stands had been forced together by the tape. Despite initially having a whitish residue from the whole wheat pasta, the tape retained its self-adhering properties and regained most of its clarity.

Leftmost picture of spaghetti with Hugo's Amazing Tape wrapped around, next picture raw spaghetti where tape was used, then Game of Thrones cards held together by the tape

The Tape Survived Boiling and Is Still Usable But Left Covered Areas of Spaghetti Raw

Modeling Uses

Hugo’s Amazing Tape may also be of minor use for some miniature modeling purposes. If a project requires extreme delicacy, involves broad surfaces, and the need for keeping multiple parts pressed together while glue or epoxy sets, Hugo’s Amazing Tape may be the perfect solution. For certain soft modeling materials like balsa wood, bass wood, or foam, Hugo’s Amazing Tape could be used to prevent telltale rubber band impressions.

Summary of Hugo’s Amazing Tape for Gamers

Obviously I have become a huge fan of this amazing product. To recap, Hugo’s Amazing Tape is reusable, non-adhesive, and offers great utility and has a strong grip with little to no bite. While I would always prefer a lower cost, 50 yards for around $11.99 won’t break any banks. Now to test some of those bolder packaging claims!

Vegas Game Day – January 19

On January 19 Vegas Game Day began its new schedule now falling on the third Saturday of every month and running from 9:00 AM until 7:00 PM at the /usr/tech library in the Emergency Arts building. Jerrod “Savage Daddy” Gunning ran a packed table of Savage Worlds My Little Pony in the morning slot while games of Shadowrun and Settlers of Catan took place. Jerry Grayson brought out his Hirst Arts sci-fi set for his game of Colonial Marines using Fuzion rules, but I didn’t get to experience the 3D terrain directly as I had signed up for Pathfinder Society and Starcraft on Warhorn.net.

GM Jerry Grayson with 3D Hirst Arts plaster science fiction corridors at Vegas Game Day for a game of Colonial Marines

The Elaborate 3D Hirst Arts Sci-Fi Corridors of Colonial Marines GM Jerry Grayson

Pathfinder Society: PSS 04-01 Rise of the Goblin Guild

Properly supported by a cleric, I was like a god myself as I strode through the passageways under the city of Magnimar. Each hit of my great sword splattered goblin guts and heads. Pathfinder isn’t like World of Warcraft or D&D 4E where fighters get a taunt mechanic; instead I always have to verbally taunt the creatures into trying to attack me. While I wasn’t exactly tanking, I did attract the enemies’ attention. I shrugged off blow after blow and the damage I did take was healed by the wand of cure light wounds I had loaned to our party’s cleric. The five of us overcame all the obstacles that GM Ethan Cline threw at us with only one character ever down and dying, in part because we had chosen to play down on Rise of the Goblin Guild.

Pathfinder Society Players Cluster Around a GM at Vegas Game Day

The Downfall of the Goblin Guild: Indignant Pathfinder Society Members

Playing Up or Down

Many Pathfinder Society modules are multi-tiered, capable of being played up or down. Rise of the Goblin Guild is for adventurers 1-2 in level and 4-5. Our group spent a good chunk of time debating playing up or down at the start of the game. If we played it for levels 4-5, there would be more treasure at the end of the adventure, but the opponents would also be much tougher. Since I only have my second level fighter Asir Al-Nimr, I voted to play down. Consequently, besides the Level 3 Wizard or Sorcerer, even at 2nd Level I was much stronger than the Level 1 PCs of the other players. Veteran players inform me that ideally a Pathfinder Society player should have a different character every four levels to make the most of PFS advancement and leveling. With a level 12, 8, 4, and 1 a player can play any PFS adventure.

Leaping into the “Hidden” Trap

The game also accidentally became an example of role-players deliberately ignoring out of game knowledge during a player’s movement on the square grid. As a player’s miniature was moved up by a different player, the GM announced that he had triggered a trap in a particular square. The player pointed out that he was not moving up that far and instead completed his action in a different square, which the GM accepted. Now we all knew where the trap was and I planned on entering it once my turn came up.

I had already mentally planned my route through that particular square to get up close to the enemy, I reasoned. Also as a GM, I would hate for the trap to be ignored or negated. However I made this decision at a full 20 Hit Points. If the game were very close or I was down to 4 HP with no healing available would I be so cavalier? Not only could I lose my character to permanent death, but I could arouse the real life ire of my fellow players by spoiling the mission or causing a Total Party Kill. I don’t know that I would enter the square in those circumstances.

As it was, the decision was taken out of my hands by the actions of our party’s rogue, who maneuvered into the square, falling victim to the trap. Had he forgotten that it was there or was he falling on the sword as I had planned to do? I really don’t know, but there was at least one angry sigh at the table at the rogue’s actions. It ended up not mattering much, but he acted with integrity, meeting with both approbation and disapproval.

Pathfinder Miniatures, Pawns, and other miniatures on gridded map with dry erase borders for game of Pathfinder Society

A Mixture of Pathfinder Miniatures and Pawns Take To the Gridded Sewers of Magnimar

Same Pathfinder Society, Different Day

In PSS 00-01 Silent Tide I encountered the wet slippery world of the Puddles, an evocatively-named slum of Absalom, the central city of the Pathfinder Society where so many Pathfinder Society adventures take place. But aside from the Puddles, the world setting of Golarion begins to blend together in PFS modules. We were in the kingdom of Varisia for this module, but it didn’t feel any different than Absalom. One of the rewards I’ve received in my five adventures thus far is a boon from the Chelish Embassy of Absalom granting me “one free use of the divination spell from a Cleric of Asmodeus.” The catch is that I have to be in Cheliax’s capital Egorian to use it. It’s a great concept and incentive to go on PFS modules that will take me to Egorian, but will Egorian really be all that different? But back to Varisia. What is Varisia? How is it different than any other setting? Rise of the Goblin Guild provides little idea so I turned to the Pathfinder Campaign Setting World Guide: The Inner Sea which is one of many Pathfinder books available at the /usr/tech library thanks to Paizo’s donation. It turns out that Varisia is more of a frontier sort of region, but even the Varisian entries in the guide were the stuff of generic fantasy.

The Temple of Empyreal Enlightenment offered a great deal of flavor owing more to its setting in a temple of the peace-loving god Korada than anything Tian-related. The Tian seem to be Chinese analogues in the world of Golarion, but in the five adventures I’ve played in so far, Paizo has stopped short of creating any meaningful differences between ethnicities and nationalities around the Inner Sea. Aside from the S&M-practitioning Cheliax faction, Pathfinder plays it safe and boring with a conglomeration world akin to many areas in D&D’s Forgotten Realms and World of Warcraft’s Azeroth.

The joy of cultural differences and subtle thematic nuances fade when compared to the sheer glory of a master-worked great sword though. I dispatched goblin after goblin with the clock ticking down and finally managed the killing blow on the weakened big boss. With the end of the mission, Asir Al-Nimr is just one adventure away from Level 3.

Starcraft: Lost Detail, Once More

The last time I played the Starcraft video game was maybe back in 1998, but many of the game’s details are hard to forget. I knew I didn’t want to play a scummy Protoss or Zerg. In the RPG there are also Mutates, which I quickly dismissed. I’m Terran all the way. I repeated “Fire it up!” to myself a number of times during the quick character generation, but instead of a flamethrower-wielding Firebat, rolled a basic Marine, Private Mark Robbins.The Alternity rules from 2000 were quick, dirty, and random. I diced for some basic stats, got three skills (Rifle, Intimidate, and Brawl), and then even diced for weapons and gear! I wound up with a nasty radiation weapon, the Fusion Rifle, plus a Stun Ray Pistol, CNC Power Armor, and a Combat Shield.

GM Kris Anderson filled me in on my background story. I was a conscript who had been twice-imprisoned if not more. I had escaped human prison and been on the run when recaptured by Protoss bounty hunters, escaped again, and then been captured yet again by a different Protoss. I awoke with my gear shackled in the hold of a drop ship and was furious as the other PCs and my captor telepathically messaged me. The purpose of my captivity became clear: the assassination of the prisoner General Wayne Havelin within the walls of the prison on the frosty planet below. Think of Hoth from Empire Strikes Back and you have Daloth.

Stacraft RPG GM behind GM's screen at Vegas Game Day with two RPG players

Starcraft GM Kris Anderson Checks His Notes Before Things Get Brutal

Unlike most other RPGs at Vegas Game Days, the Starcraft game had continuity and was picking up the action for the two other players in the party, a Terran Spectre and a Protoss Dark Templar. As we were about to begin we were joined by a fourth player who quickly rolled a four-armed Mutate who looked more like a Zerg than anything remotely human. Like the other two PCs, he also had major psionic abilities including telepathy and we eventually encountered him in his native habitat, burrowing in the snow.

Quadrupedal mechanical Starcraft Protoss suit for Dragoon

A Deadly Protoss Dragoon

We also quickly met a Protoss guard patrol and my Fusion Rifle was soon irradiating the crap out of them. Having taken my combat drugs, my Dexterity shot up to 20, which in turn boosted my Rifle skill to 21. I needed to roll less than this on a d20 to hit. Scratch one Protoss Zealot. The Fusion Rifle was less effective on the quadrupedal Dragoons and our GM had me making Intelligence check after Intelligence check each time I continued to shoot at one with my Fusion Rifle. The rest of the party all had crazy psychic powers including tornado creation, clouds of darkness, and maybe something like a red insect swarm of rage that would devour the Protoss units. The Protoss had their revenge when a second patrol showed up and got the drop on us. Armored suits exploded. I went flying through the air when a ball of plasma struck me from behind. PCs were killed, including Pvt. Robbins The two original PCs had alien artifacts though, rare amulets that could restore a person to life, but those too were soon exhausted in the furious firefight. Finally our Dark Templar actually used a Reverse Time ability to jump back a minute or two and we fought the battle again, this time with everyone surviving.

The second melee was no cakewalk though. Private Robbins had lost his armor, his Fusion Rifle rounds, and his sanity. I decided he’d had enough and was freaking out. I cowered under the smoldering remnants of one of the armored suits for several turns and then made a break for it, channeling Bill Paxton from Aliens. It was freezing and he’d had enough. My party members thought otherwise and successfully attacked me, knocking me out for quite a while.

Starcraft RPG player rolls dice with graph paper map of prison world in foreground

Stay Frosty: GM’s Map of the Prison’s Locale with Plateaus and Frozen Lake

After coming to, we headed towards the base, climbing a plateau and spotting more guard patrols and the base’s considerable defenses. We would need a clever plan of attack to get inside the prison.

The Ignored Voice of Pvt. Robbins

I thought I had some clever plans of attack, even if one was a major cliche:

  • When I suggested our Dark Protoss and other Terran pose as bounty hunters and turn me, the escaped prisoner, in to the prison all I got were blank looks, before the other party members went back to talking about how hard it would be to get into the prison. It worked in Star Wars, but maybe it wasn’t being creative enough.
  • What if, I proposed, our Dark Protoss dressed up in the Zealot’s yellow power armor, pretending to be one of the Zealots returning from patrol? This was shot down.
  • I had another suggestion. Maybe the Dark Protoss could use his Mind Control power to take control of a Zealot and then have the Zealot punch in the code to enter the underground prison. Yes, his Mind Control would lapse once the Zealot was out of sight in the entrance tunnel below us, but the stealthy Spectre could drop in behind him and dispatch him with a quick strike. No, this too was ruled out.
  • There was a huge orbital turret near the prison landing pad. Maybe the Dark Templar could teleport into or onto it and we could use it to target and destroy the Protoss units guarding the prison. Of my suggestions, this one actually was infeasible because such turrets are unmanned and automatic.

Now as I was suggesting these, I did find success with one listener: the GM. The GM actually had the other players make an Intelligence check or a Perception check or some other sort of check to listen to my ideas. There was even a bounty hunter ship on the landing pad tarmac! As trite as it would be, posing as bounty hunters probably would work. But I failed my real life Charisma check and the other players went back to their own discussion.

Ignoring Out of Game Knowledge Again

There was another plan that I had to simply ignore because it was based on out of game knowledge. While the four-armed Mutate was being rolled, I noticed that he had gotten a Feign Death ability. We could also infiltrate the prison by having the bounty hunters turn in the mutate’s corpse. Or the mutant could be left with the dead Protoss patrols and possibly be brought into the prison to be dissected and studied. Of course, while I knew this, my character did not, but it didn’t stop me from awkwardly hypothesizing about one of us playing dead. Sadly even this went ignored and unheeded.

In the end we had to leave the mission hanging because it was time to vacate the building in real life. The GM invited us new players to continue the adventure in the group’s regular campaign. While I was frustrated at not being able to assassinate the general or convince the party to go along with my plans, I had a blast playing a new game and meeting other gamers.

A Lot to Enjoy: 3D6’s Space Fapping

Album cover for Space Fapping with letters 3D6 heading towards moonSpace Fapping is 3D6’s follow-up to 2011’s Damage and it’s almost out of this world. If Damage were an 18 on 3d6, then Space Fapping is a 17. The trio of Las Vegas gamers continue to satisfy with their brand of humorous, dirty, nerd punk throughout the album’s ten tracks. While the focus tends towards science fiction, 3D6 remains firmly rooted in fantasy RPGs, beginning the album with “Save Does Not End”, lifting the term from D&D. The saving throw is for the “18 ongoing rocking damage” as 3D6 promises to “fuck your ears with our nerd punk dicks.” It’s fair warning and a strong opener for the album, with the party facing spider-summoning drow in a dungeon in search of an axe. My favorite track on Space Fapping is the gamer anthem “I Killed a Dragon”, which at first listen could apply to any fantasy RPG. The narrator’s dragon-slaying goes unappreciated out of game as he repeatedly sings “I killed a dragon / and you don’t even care” and only later does it become clear that he’s not singing about a tabletop game, but instead about a video game (Skyrim), ultimately losing his wife to his gaming addiction. “I’d Rather Live in an R.P.G.” rounds out their gamer songs and is yet another sing-along gamer anthem. It’s for all the gamers tired of reality, who’d “rather live in an RPG / Creating who I want and how I want to be / There’d be no rent or power bills / I’d just go out and hone my skills / Defeating enemies for gold and XP”.

Stellar Songs: I Love Star Wars Anyway, The Whore of Enterprise D

Despite labeling George Lucas as the enemy and threatening to punch him in the face, “I Love Star Wars Anyways” is 3D6’s love song to the universe Lucas created, both tenderly nostalgic and humorous at the same time. Think of a more critical version of the film Fanboys as a song and you get “I Love Star Wars Anyways”. The main villains are the prequels and new editions with 3D6 rhyming, “When we were kids we used to watch those movies every day / Leia was the first girl that I thought about that way / And all the Gungans in the world cannot take that away”. The next track,”The Whore of Enterprise D”, is downright dirty. The song highlights 3D6’s lyrical genius with lines like “I just saw her leave Ten Forward with Deanna Troi / Carrying some synth-ale and a double-sided toy”. It’s probably 3D6’s raunchiest song and the most likely to offend as the whore makes her way through the Next Generation’s crew (with Picard notably absent). Wesley also doesn’t get any, but she’s not xenophobic; “Even after Klingons it’s not long before she’s healed / She can take a pounding like the ship’s deflector shields”. 3D6 offers up a pretty even contribution to the classic Star Wars vs. Star Trek debate because both “I Love Star Wars Anyway” and “The Whore of Enterprise D” are so awesomely good.


Of the space songs, the album’s closer “Red Shirt Requiem” is my third favorite. It’s a filk dirge that slowly builds with orchestral strains that I could see hardcore Trekkers wanting played at their funerals. The chorus is moving: “You were killed in service of Starfleet like so many brave women and men / And although you are are gone / You will always live on / In our Red Shirt Requiem.” The title is about the only humorous part, though I can imagine Trekkies lifting up cups of Romulan Ale and swaying with phasers out to it. “Satellite of Self Love” provides the album’s title with its chorus of “Space Fapping! Space Fapping!” and references Mystery Science Theater classics Eegah! and Manos! Hands of Fate. The song also features the sound of space fapping, a liquidy, squishy sound. When performed live at the Space Fapping release party, singer Dave replicated it by moving his cheek back and forth rapidly into the microphone. I prefer “Jerkin’ Off” myself.

Return to Parvo and Others

Space Fapping also regurgitates the topic of parvo in “Parvo Deuce” and the theme of not eating poop, with a mention of “don’t eat poop” in “Save Does Not End” earlier as well. The band sells T-shirts with the phrase, but the chorus of “Parvo Deuce” is dark and lacks the light charm of “That Parvo’s a Real Killer”. However the stanzas featuring Mario Brothers, Smurfs, and bantha poodoo are hilarious. “Stonerd” is possibly a bona fide stoner nerd anthem, but not being one, I can’t relate. “Part of me is Stephen Hawking / Part of me is Cheech and Chong,” is how the band explains the mixed love of weed and painting miniatures. “Why Do I Go Out in Public” is more compelling musically with attention divided between shopping, going out to the movies, and going to shows with the accompanying “dicks and morons, bitches, jerks, and assholes” found there.

“You love this band, call yourself a fan, want to see a show”

While I would steer new listeners to Damage over Space Fapping, 3D6 has successfully passed that important Sophomore Album saving throw that cripples many bands. In “Save Does Not End”, drow and dungeons dominate the first stanza, but there’s no fantasy in the second stanza as the band accurately predict that a listener will “love this band, call yourself a fan, and want to see a show”. To see them for yourself, check out 3d6band.com. Get Space Fapping on Amazon or iTunes.

The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer

Book cover with medieval illumination for TIme Traveller's Guide to Medieval EnglandI’d like to think that I’ve gotten a lot out of my world travels, but in my visit to Japan, Shinto shrine blended into Shinto shrine. European castles vary, but only so much. Is one walled town so different from the next? Don’t get me started on Baroque and Rococo palaces. There is always a sense of place, but not necessarily of those who lived and died there. How did these people actually live? In The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, Ian Mortimer provides a captivating answer for the English living from 1300 to 1400. Mortimer writes of Geoffrey Chaucer, that “he can make the people come alive, with all their desires, fears, deceitfulness, lustfulness, and cheating.” But Mortimer’s description is just as apt for his own writing and because he does breathe life into 14th century England, I recommend his guide to any English teacher aiming for a better understanding of Chaucer, student of history, or fan of Braveheart, as well as to any tabletop gamer or LARPer.

Beginning with his description of Shitbrook, the refuse-laden stream on the outskirts of Exeter, Mortimer unlocks the door to a treasure trove of medieval body functions. How one goes to the bathroom in a different place or time is really one of the most common questions we all have. In the case of medieval lords, Mortimer remarks, “wherever you go, a neat pile of wool or linen will be provided for you to “wipe your nether end.” Some great lords insist on cotton but it is not always available.” Life is different aboard a ship with Mortimer outlining diversions at sea, but he returns to the subject of relieving oneself and concludes that below decks on a ship, “Every storm has seen men and women emptying their stomachs, souls, and bowels down here in darkness and fear.” Occasionally Mortimer gets a little dry, such as when cataloguing merchants’ town house goods, but he gets juicy when describing surgeons, such as John of Alberne who pioneered surgical cleanliness as well as a method of “curing anal fistula, a nasty affliction following abscesses in the colon which particularly affects men who have spent too long riding in wet saddles…” Another medical highlight is provided in a quote from the physician John Mirfield on a remedy for tuberculosis: “take blind puppies, remove the viscera and cut off the extremities, then boil them in water, and bathe the patient in this water…” On the whole, Mortimer’s writing retains a conversational and informative flow with some occasional humor. In his chapter on medieval medicine he writes:

So, as long as you can get enough to eat, and can avoid all the various lethal infections, the dangers of childbirth, lead poisoning, and the extreme violence you should live a long time.
All you have to worry about are the doctors.

Role-Playing and Gaming Connections

Besides a brief mention of popular medieval games, Mortimer’s book has little to do directly with gaming itself. But since medieval Europe – England in particular – is the basis for most of Western fantasy, The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England is a great study in improving the earthiness and sense of reality for role-playing games. Even within the first paragraph of Ian Mortimer’s introduction he poses questions familiar to any role-player after first setting the scene of a dusty London street:

The wooden beams of houses project out over the street. Painted signs above the doors show what is on sale in the shops beneath. Suddenly a thief grabs a merchant’s purse near the traders’ stalls, and the merchant runs after him, shouting. Everyone turns to watch. And you, in the middle of all this, where are you going to stay tonight? What are you wearing? What are you going to eat?

As for those medieval games and pastimes Mortimer details campball (football/soccer), tennis, archery, and wrestling. More intriguingly he categorizes cockfighting as an interest of boys and girls and describes cockbaiting as “throwing sticks and stones at a tethered chicken.” This is the child’s version of bearbaiting and bullbaiting, in which adults attack those animals with sticks and sic dogs on them. As for dice games, Mortimer states that they, “are are enormously popular”, which is also indicative of his present-tense style used throughout the guide to present the facts of medieval England to the reader as if he or she were really present. The last games described are board games including an early form of backgammon called tables, nine men’s morris, and checkers. Mortimer points out to his modern audience that the rules of chess differ between then and now with queens only moving one square and bishops moving only two squares at a time. These pieces were also known by different names, prime ministers and elephants respectively.

World Building for Fantasy Authors and GMs

Back in 1989 TSR released Cities of Mystery for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, featuring several dozen card stock buildings and double-sided city street maps. The box also came with a great city guide written by Jean Rabe for GMs to design their own fantasy towns and cities. How did the town come to be? How has it grown? Who guards it? The Time Traveller’s Guide is a great compliment to Rabe’s hard work. Both cover much of the same ground, but in different veins with Rabe quantifying and randomizing a town’s dimensions and occupants in true D&D percentile fashion. Mortimer is much more personal and personable, putting a human face on many medieval problems. Rabe’s prohibition on the smellier occupations, like tanning, are best explained by Mortimer. His Borough Ordinances of Worcester list includes “The entrails of butchered beasts and pails of blood are not to be carried away by day but only by night.” and “No saddler, butcher, baker, or glover, nor any other person, may cast entrails, “filth of beasts’ dung”, or dust over Severn Bridge. Also no one may shave flesh, skins, or hides but above the bridge…” In our sanitized world it is easy to forget how leather gets created or how steak gets to the plate, but in medieval society neighbors affected by the processes of tanning and butchering had to deal with their side effects on a daily basis. That the medieval English were concerned about hygiene, sanitation, and cleanliness despite ignorance of germ theory is shown by their laws and ordinances. It’s also one of Mortimer’s few reoccurring themes: the similarities between past and present and withholding judgement on our ancestors. As he puts it, “Of course they are not all filthy. Many are proud of the clean state of their houses – like their modern counterparts – regardless of the judgments of people in six hundred years’ time.” After reading through Mortimer, a GM will probably question and improve on many of the basic realities of his fantasy setting. To put it more bluntly, he or she will have to decide where the high elves crap. Do prostitutes denote themselves with a special color (yellow hoods, in the case of the historical English)? Fantasy rules for peace-bound weapons abound, but what about gate and bridge tolls?

The Time Traveller’s Guide has a more specific use for GMs as well. Those dry tables of 14th century values collected from tax reports listing folding tables, brass pots, and basins are reminiscent of the equipment sections of any Player’s Handbook. While there are only a handful of weapons and armor priced out, Mortimer has the appraised values covering many other areas. A GM (or even a fantasy author) could compile the values in a spreadsheet and compare the prices to arrive at a ratio-based understanding of how a sword’s price (1-2 shillings) compares to a roast goose (7 pennies) compared to a packhorse’s price (5-10 shillings). Mortimer also details wages, inn stays, and quite importantly, fines. Don’t worry, the odd monetary system of the English is covered in Mortimer’s chapter on measurement so you can convert between pounds, shillings, pennies, and stranger denominations with a little effort. Keeping in mind the economic turmoil created by the Black Plague and many other factors, an industrious Game Master can create a table of ratios for use in any fantasy RPG with a setting like medieval England.

Food and Clothing: Medieval England for LARPs, the SCA, and Re-Enactors

While tabletop GMs will reward their players with close attention to Mortimer’s chapters on clothing and food, the two chapters are essential reading for Society of Creative Anachronism members and LARPers. Besides the costuming, most good SCA/LARP events feature food. Great events feature drink of the alcoholic variety! Throughout his guide, Mortimer presents information on the three estates of England, the peasantry, townsfolk and gentry, and the nobility. The nobility are further divided into the clergy and the secular, with occasional special mention of royalty. Just like your clothing or domicile, what you would eat or drink in 14th century England is based on your estate. Wine and spirits were limited to the well-off while the prices of ale and bread, as staples of townsfolk, were heavily regulated. Rural peasants made their own. Mortimer focuses a lot of attention on the rarity of meat, which was normally limited to four days a week due to church edicts, and the corresponding association of meat as a status symbol. While his descriptions might make a chef drool at the variety of spices and fruits on offer, what was actually included in the category of fish caught my attention. Besides whales, “seals, porpoises, dolphins, barnacle geese, puffins, and beavers are all classed as fish as their lives begin in the sea or in a river.” The prohibition on eating meat was taken quite seriously, Mortimer notes, so these sources of protein were “eaten gleefully” on the 194 or 195 days of the year when only fish were allowed.

Mortimer’s 19 pages on medieval clothing are the most engaging that I’ve read on the subject, having thumbed through a dozen or so costume books. Using the same structure of the three estates, Mortimer notes the contrasts between the dress of paupers, yeomen, and noblemen. More importantly, he lists the clothing regulations established by the Sumptuary Laws of 1363 which actually restricted the lowly-born from dressing above their station. Mortimer also traces the considerable changes in both men’s and women’s fashions in 14th century England. Ever wondered about those odd pointy shoes so similar to those worn by court jesters? Read The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England and Mortimer will satisfy your curiosity and introduce you to the ridiculous twenty-inch Crackow, which was the footwear equivalent of a Humvee in its day.

Vegas Game Day December 8

The final Vegas Game Day of 2012 drew a slightly smaller crowd than normal to the Emergency Arts Building near Fremont Street Experience on December 8. Starting in the new year, Vegas Game Day will be moving to the third Saturday of every month and will also be starting earlier, running from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM. As a morning person, I welcome the change. The area isn’t the best either, so it will make for a safer walk to my car.

Savage Worlds: Flight of the Living Dead

Back in November, Jerrod Gunning ran a session of Savage Worlds: Jem that saw the iconic cartoon band from the 1980s bringing a defector in from the cold using their deep cover as a rock band to perform the CIA’s dirty work. Or so I gathered, because I was playing Hellas at the time. Since playing in his My Little Pony and Scooby Doo Savage Worlds games, Gunning has started his own website, sincitysavages.org where he provides other Savage Worlds fans insights into his own devious mash-ups, adventures, and rules concoctions.

Gunning promised to kill us all in Flight of the Living Dead, his zombie apocalypse adventure set high in the skies on Savage Air Flight 69 from Chicago to Las Vegas. Once we had run through his six prepared PCs we could take on the roles of the flight crew and experience their dismemberment. As usual Jerrod Gunning does insane prep for his adventures and I browsed through Sly Stallone’s picture and Morgan Freeman’s, before choosing the character of Anthony White, Chicago Metropolitan PD. White had the Disadvantage of being Arrogant which suited me just fine. His illustration is actor Anthony Anderson from Law and Order. Fortunately I have been slowly making my way through the police procedural series and am stuck somewhere in 2002 and so hadn’t encountered Anderson yet. Playing Morgan Freeman would have been like playing God, but playing the heavy Anderson seemed within my reach, especially since I have no idea of how he sounds or what he acts like.

RPG character card for PC Anthony White for Savage Worlds zombie game

Gunning Provides Players with Airline Ticket Character Sheet, Plastic Bullet Bennies, Dice, & More

Joining me on SA69 were Air Marshal John Brickman (Sylvester Stallone) and the cowardly architect Timothy Treymore (Jason Statham playing against type). Brickman, who had the advantage of being armed with a Glock, almost immediately got himself into some Mile High Club shenanigans with a stewardess with a very high Aced Flirt or Seduction roll. In Savage Worlds, if you max a die roll you keep rolling until you stopped and Brickman rolled very well. For those of us keeping our body parts to ourselves (for the time being), things got complicated during our in-flight viewing of The Dark Knight Rises. An old lady started to have a seizure or fit and soon was biting into another passenger. While the architect booked it because of his Yellow disadvantage, I asserted some command presence, or at least tried to. I also tried to work in a Snakes on a Plane reference, but for the life of me, couldn’t manage it.

Three gamers playing Savage Worlds at Vegas Game Day with signs

Flight of the Living Dead: Gunning Entertains Perry Snow and Casey Spicer

The old lady and I tussled. Brickman showed up and I returned to my seat. Then things got chaotic as others started to turn. The architect knew that they were zombies, but Brickman and I played it dumb at first. He ended that when he pistol whipped one to death. I was like “Whoa, whoa! Not me, that wasn’t me! That was the Air Marshal,” before whispering to him “Haven’t you ever heard of a civil suit?” Introductions were made and the situation continued to deteriorate until it was hard to disbelieve the evidence before my eyes. I wasted a couple zombies, starting with the one who clawed me.

R.I.P. Anthony White

My weapon of choice was a fire extinguisher. I never sprayed it at the zombies, instead caving their heads and torsos in with it. I must have killed two or three as I made Vigor roll after Vigor roll. We didn’t talk about it at the table, but we all knew it was only a matter of time before Anthony White turned. Perry Snow as Brickman began referring to me as “Chicago” as we did battle with the undead. A zombie’s head exploded, in Gunning’s words, “like a bag of salsa in a microwave.” As I became Fatigued I started feeling it in real life, letting my role play grow more and more exhausted, trying to find a drink in the upstairs lounge to cool off as the fever wracked my body while Brickman conferred with our pilot. We hit turbulence and somehow White clung to life and a seat. Brickman shot more. I found some inner strength and took another two out. There were references to Diamond Shaft and Tango and Cash as we fought on. I spoke my last words to Brickman as he took aim at a zombie with his Glock, “Make every one count.” Then I succumbed, dying.

Two PCs and GM for Savage Worlds playing role-playing game at Vegas Game Day

Jerrod Gunning Throttles a Phantom Zombie

In undeath, Anthony White truly was a monster. The architect Treymore came out of the cargo hold, where he’d been hiding and fighting off a zombie by himself for most of the game. Somehow there was a pitchfork aboard the plane and the architect wielded it against White as Brickman shot at his former short term partner, having abandoned his first method of execution. Originally Brickman was trying to go for the “ironic mercy killing” by clubbing me with my own fire extinguisher saying, “White, you were a good man. I wouldn’t want you coming back.” Instead, the other PCs fought against my character, now an NPC, round after round, but still White refused to go down. Brickman was missing easy shots. Plastic bullets used as Bennies were flying off the table. Eventually it happened and there was possibly another bag of salsa description as White fell.

Carrying On in White’s Footsteps

With Morgan Freeman still out for me as a possible PC choice, I had to select from between the Scarlett Johansson bail bondswoman and the social media happy blogger Jason Vaughn played by Ashton Kutcher. Since I like to play assholes the choice was pretty easy.

Ashton Kutcher as Jason Vaughn in Savage Worlds

Replacement PC, Coward, and All Around Douche: Jason Vaughn

Vaughn spent most of the flight cowering in the bathroom tweeting to his followers about the unfolding drama and getting the scoop on the architect by posting his Nikon Coolpix footage while the architect’s smart phone content was still uploading. Treymore tweeted at me. I tweeted @treymore. I cowered. I failed Fear checks to get out of there. I decided my SIM card was getting full and dashed for it. Just then, with tears in his eyes, a flight attendant rushed to the emergency exit and opened it. WHOOSH! We all made a series of checks to avoid getting sucked out as zombies and hapless passengers flew past and joined the despondent attendant in his plummet. Then unbelievably we were landing at McCarran. We had survived! Well, most of us anyways.

Pathfinder Society Silken Caravan No Go

For the evening session I was scheduled on Warhorn to play PSS 00-03 Murder on the Silken Caravan. While waiting for the afternoon Pathfinder Society session to end and get our third and fourth players, I started to pick Venture Captain Chris Clay’s brain on what sort of equipment I might buy and how to otherwise improve my fighter Asir. I ended up getting a Wayfinder and a good deal of advice from Clay and the other player. The Wayfinder provides magical light, serves as a non-magical compass, and can also house ioun stone, provided I live long enough to acquire one. I learned that my skills were off by a good deal (much to my benefit) and went back through and reconfigured them. After an hour of this and BSing, Clay apologized and called the game off because Murder on the Silken Caravan is a long and involved adventure and we wouldn’t be able to finish it in the remaining three hours before the hard deadline of midnight at the Emergency Arts Building.

Nonstop Flights from Chicago to Las Vegas

Meanwhile Jerrod Gunning had been running the second session of Flight of the Living Dead with the same basic structure and events. Brickman was taken as a PC again and blasting away at zombies as well as hitting the Morgan Freeman character, a retired Vietnam vet and airline pilot with a prosthetic leg. The passengers seemed to be just as dangerous as the zombies as I sat in on the session and listened as Gunning described their stampede. I left with a feeling of hope that Las Vegas would be protected from the brainless zombie menace thanks to the PCs’ heroics and made my way safely home through the drunk tourists on Fremont Street.