Armagideon Time

A message from the Kid

May 4th, 2020



May 3rd, 2020

You didn’t think a trivial hassle like a global pandemic would stop me from commemorating the fourteenth anniversary of this site, did you?

To be honest, it almost did. It has been just over a month since my last update, and I haven’t really missed posting here. Ideas for posts haven’t stopped coming to me, but the motivation to actualize them has been lacking.

I started to wonder if I should just officially shutter the site, but then I remembered that I still haven’t gotten around to writing my longform takes on Crisis on Infinite Earths or John Byrne’s Superman relaunch and I’ve done too much research to let those drop.

Even if the content has been thin on the ground, it’s easier to keep this venue open than to kill it and start fresh should my itch to write flare up down the line.

Anyway, I hope all of you are doing as well as can be expected in the current circumstances. Take care, stay safe, and don’t forget to check the first comment on this post.

Journal of the plague month

April 2nd, 2020

Just a small update to let you know how things are going, for the handful of you who still check in on this site.

They are going as well as can be expected, given the current circumstances. I’m working remotely from home, staying put, and trying to bee busy.

The last bit hasn’t been easy. Despite the ample free time, it has been difficult to maintain concentration or anything resembling executive function. I can barely motivate myself to indulge in the timewasters I’ve traditionally used as an excuse for not writing, much less worked up any motivation to actually write.

It’s a full 180-turn from the couple of weeks I took off last summer to get the house ready for the Kid’s arrival. I didn’t just rise to the occasion, I rose above it and knocked out dozens of long-delayed house projects, as well.

Now I find myself surrounded by a backlog of “fun” stuff I’d been putting off for a moment such as this, and finding myself vegetating in place instead.

And that’s fine, honestly. These are interesting times and the anxious dread they induce can’t be efficiently drowned out by burying myself in a grindy videogame or binge-watching some retro trash. I’ll can except a little ennui in exchange for keeping me and my own safe.

And that’s about it, really. The Kid is leaning on me to play another game of Uno with her, which involves some custom cards she wrote up whose purpose is to ensure “Pop loses.” Again, it’s a hit I’ll gladly take.

Being an almost comprehensive list (at the time of posting) of the records I’ve played on this day of COVID-19 furlough.

Air – Moon Safari (both sides)
The Cars – The Cars (both sides)
Throwing Muses – House Tornado (both sides)
X-Ray Spex – Germfree Adolescents (both sides)
Blondie – The Best of Blondie (both sides)
The Pogues – If I Should Fall From Grace With God (both sides)
Siouxsie & The Banshees – Juju (side one)


March 13th, 2020

Let it be known that I spent my 48th birthday on pandemic-induced furlough, eating junk food and watching the world burn.

Also, a happy birthday for fellow 313’er Mike Sterling, who owns the best dang comic shop on the planet. In fact, you should go buy something from him right now.

Recommended listening: There won’t be a birthday mix this year, because I’ve been too busy to curate one. You’ll just have to settle for this punk pop/mid revival obscurity.

Playlist of the plague days

March 12th, 2020

Being an almost comprehensive list (at the time of posting) of the records I’ve played on my first day of COVID-19 furlough.

Air – Moon Safari (both sides)
Apollo 440 – “Can’t Stop the Rock” (12″ extended 440 mix)
Chemical Brothers – Exit Planet Dust (side one)
Chemical Brothers – Born in the Echoes (side four)
Various Artists – Indie Top 20: Volume IX (side one, the “Madchester side”)
Mazzy Star – So Tonight I Might See (side one)
The Pogues – Red Roses for Me (both sides)
Various Artists – Radio Active (1982 K-Tel compilation, both sides)
Tubeway Army – Replicas (both sides)
The Clash – The Clash (US version, both sides)

All my AROOOO-dy friends

March 5th, 2020

And before you jump into the comments and ask, Johnny Cash is canonically a vampire.

Blood from a stone

March 4th, 2020

As I mentioned in a previous post, The Mines of Bloodstone AD&D module was a big deal when it dropped in 1986.

Dragon Magazine hyped the heck out of its high-level level play parameters, which went beyond even the demigod-slaying action of the classic The Queen of the Demonweb Pits. My geeky teen self was not immune to this hard sell, which is why Mines was one of the few official adventure supplements I bought for full retail price back when spending money was scarce.

The badass novelty of the product was reason enough, the same way crappy-ass horror movies on VHS or laughably “transgressive” heavy metal music could bypass my flimsy adolescent male quality filters. I didn’t even have a regular group of players at the time of purchase, much less ones with suitably powerful characters. It was something to “ooh” and “ahh” over and use as an inspiration for some derivative homebrew adventures.

The marketing angle of a high-level AD&D scenario (or promised campaign) obscured the deeper question of whether such a thing was actually feasible or what shape it ought to take. Coming from outside the TSR bubble, John Saunders didn’t mince words on the matter in his White Dwarf review of Mines of Bloodstone.

If I’d read his takedown at the time, I’d have dismissed it as some boring old fart being nasty. These days, I’m inclined to think he didn’t go far enough.

High-level play doesn’t lend itself to official RPG scenarios. Unless you’re doing a one-off using “came with the frame” characters, the number of variable to consider is staggering. Once character levels start encroaching on the lower teens, the official rules start taking a backseat to the specific group’s internal narrative. The combination of gear, spells, abilities, history, relationships (to other players, NPC, the DM, the game world in general) takes on a life of its own where number-crunching and tables become secondary to interactive storytelling. The rules are still there to provide structure when required, but the campaign’s momentum is the real engine driving events.

Effective scenarios for such groups require more than simply upscaling traditional module fare into absurd levels or dropping plot device beasties such as demon princes or the tarrasques into the mix. (Statistically speaking, I’m sure that some party has legitimately bested a tarrasque in line with the official rules, but that would be the astronomical exception to the norm…and, no, I don’t want to hear how your party once pulled it off.) By the same token, a module writer can’t account for countless permutations of “my wizard won a pocket universe from the Green God and the group’s fighter had a troll arm grafted on by a necromancer after her original arm was lost to a vorpal blade and have I mentioned our time-travelling magic carpet?”

My sole playthru of Mines of Bloodstone was the closing act of an epic session staged across a weekend of all-nighters during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years. My pal Scott and Lil Bro had finished hacking their way through the Temple of Elemental Evil with their over-leveled paladin and cavalier buddy duo and were eager to kick even more ass. I pulled out Mines and let them run riot through it, with little regard for the rules or basic plot logic.

It was ludicrous exercise in adolescent male power fantasies, but that’s really all the module is really decent for.

And they loved it…although it burned the three of us out on AD&D for a while, and we spent the rest of the summer playing Champions instead.

We can try to understand

February 27th, 2020

The Kid loves boardgames, but it’s a love tempered by a short attention span and dislike of complicated rules. Once an explanation pushes past a single paragraph or half-minute of explanation, her eyes glaze over and she abruptly changes the subject. Part of it is typical teen bullshit and part of it stems from her childhood experiences. We have now doubt she’ll get past it given the time and encouragement, but it does mean that my plans for family D&D nights or weekend sessions of Talisman aren’t really feasible at the present time.

On the other hand, her love of Monopoly is something that tests the limits of my paternal devotion. If push came to shove, I would suffer through those long dreary hours of a game sessions with her, but I’d really prefer to avoid things ever coming to that.

As a result, I’ve been seeking out and acquiring games which fit both her style of visual thinking and my lack of patience. Because I’m a sad soul who spends too much time marinating in Gen X nostalgia, I started things off with a third-hand copy of Milton Bradley’s Stay Alive.

While I can remember the 1978 commercial for the game and “I’m the sole survivor” becoming an ephemeral bit of playground lingo, I can’t remember owning a copy of the game when I was a kid. It — alongside Mouse Trap and most other plastic-heavy ludological artifacts of those times — was usually encountered among the better-off members of my childhood peer group. These were the kids who went to Disneyworld every February vacation, had dedicated rumpus rooms, and owned Intellivision consoles instead of the more plebeian (yet still treasured) Atari 2600.

If I did possess a Stay Alive game, it would’ve been some unboxed and incomplete set scored for a quarter from some church sale. It would’ve been “played” the way most such games were played in my house — with Lil Bro and me futzing around with the moving parts with zero regard for the actual rules. You wouldn’t believe the amount of entertainment two kids could get out of dropping a mismatched assortment of marbles through holes in the days before Gameboys and smartphones.

The Kid was a little wary of the game at first, perhaps sensing the “anything but Monopoly” intent behind my purchase of it. She warmed up to it quickly, however, grasping the mechanics and methodology with ease. I allowed her to work things out on her own instead of armchair quarterbacking her every move, which led to a few moments of “why the hell did she move that slider” followed by her simultaneously sinking two of marbles on her next turn.

A couple of weeks later, and we’ve started to enter the meta-stalemate phase of the game, no matter how we try to randomize the starting positions of the sliders. I’m not sure how that bodes for the game’s longevity as a father-daughter diversion, but it has already paid invaluable dividends in terms of father-daughter bonding.

(And I’ve got a few more simple, prop-heavy games of my childhood arriving to change up the rotation.)

I’ve been working my way through a digital archive of White Dwarf, the British gaming mag that went from fanzine to GW’s house propaganda organ over the course of the 1980s. The bulk of its early run tended to center around D&D, Runequest, and Traveller material supplemented by GW’s stabs at homegrown gaming product and a few-flash-in-the-pan outliers. While there’s no shortage of interesting moments in there, it has made for less interesting experience than my similar journey through the archives of Dragon Magazine, White Dwarf‘s more staid and buttoned-down American cousin.

Even the ads were fairly uninspiring, focusing on material within GW’s local distribution portfolio, with the usual smattering of “my cousin does art real good” plugs for regional game retailers and supplement providers. By the time I started creeping up into the immediate pre-corporate era of the ‘zine, I’d settled into a state of page-flipping numbness…

…which came to an abrupt halt when my eyes drifted over the above item in the back end of White Dwarf #76 (April 1986)

I have so many questions, but the only answers I’ve unearthed were some playbook excerpts from a actor’s page.

Can you imagine auditions? Can you imagine opening night? Can you image the audience? Of course you can, yet somehow I suspect the reality beggars whatever visions one might conjure.

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