Archive | July, 2009

Strike Force 7 (Savaged Edition) Review

Posted on July 31, 2009 by

Super Genius Games unveils a little G. I. Joe spirit with Strike Force 7. This brief supplement (71 pages) introduces the game’s namesake as an international anti-terrorist organization. They combat terrorists both real (Al-Quida) and imagined (Skorpion). While it may seem like an odd choice for a Flames Rising review, you’ll find my speculation stretching beyond the confines of the book. First, let’s take a look at the material itself.

The layout of Strike Force 7 fits its genre as each interior page’s design mimics a dossier. Each exterior top or bottom corner has a cropped photo of three Strike Force 7 agents. I felt like this image could have been reserved for the chapter introductions as it becomes a little tiresome.


Trail of Cthulhu RPG Review

Posted on July 30, 2009 by

The Introduction dives straight in to the basic premise, that ancient and insane deities exist and are still trying to invade Earth and that someone has to stop them, whatever the cost to life and sanity. It then moves on to the burning question: there’s already a Call of Cthulhu RPG dealing with just that, so why a new game? The answer lies in the Gumshoe ruleset, developed by Pelgrane Press for the purpose of running games based around investigation and discovery, and built so that any adventure depending on certain clues being found will have those clues found! It’s designed for people – Keepers and players alike – who want to concentrate on figuring out what the clues mean, rather than having to wonder if they actually have all the clues. This game also aims to enable two styles of play – the Purist style of intellectual analysis which enjoys watching the horror unfold knowing that it will end in madness; and the Pulp style which allows for a more physical approach, value the actual struggle against evil… and pays a bit more regard to character survival. The best games mix a bit of both – certainly Lovecraft’s writing did! – but as parts of the rules favour one or the other style, they are marked so players can choose the bias they prefer, if any.


Little Fears Nightmare Edition Preview Door #2: Kids These Days

Posted on July 29, 2009 by

lfnebutterflyWe continue the 13 Doors series today. 13 Doors is an exclusive look behind the door at the upcoming Little Fears Nightmare Edition – The Game of Childhood Terror.

Door #2: Kids These Days

Let’s face it: the thing that sets Little Fears apart from other horror games isn’t the setting. Or the Bogeyman or the monster under the bed. Sure, the fiction of Little Fears helps differentiate it from other games but the main difference, what really makes it unique, are the characters.


The Magicians Fiction Review

Posted on July 28, 2009 by

In fantasy, there are books that have high adventure and engaging characters; there are others that focus on the journey of one character through his (or her) trials and tribulations. The Magicians written by Lev Grossman, author of Codex, is a little bit of both.

When I received The Magicians, the first thing I noticed was the back cover. Why? Well, there were no less than six recommendations by authors including George R.R. Martin and Kelly Link. Normally I’m a bit skeptical about books (or movies) that are so highly praised, because immediately my expectations as a reader are a bit elevated. “Wow,” I had thought to myself. “This book better be that good.”


Defining Genre: Paranormal Romance

Posted on July 27, 2009 by

Matt and I have been talking for a long time about me doing a column here at Flames Rising about different forms of urban fantasy. How can you tell if something is a paranormal romance vs. a true urban fantasy novel (and when it’s just vampire smut)? When is urban fantasy contemporary instead of urban (or is that term out the window)? Are superhero novels actually UF, or are they a different category all together?

The more I read other people writing about defining the subgenres, the more I think that no one actually knows a real, clear cut answer. Until we get more academic papers about the history of urban fantasy and all of its bits and pieces, it’s going to stay amorphous. (And even then, how many UF fans will read the papers on the subject? I’m not sure I will.) But sometimes the subgenre terms can be useful — or, at least, thinking about genre in specific ways can help navigate the genre terrain.


Thicker than Water: The Vampire Diaries Part 1 Review

Posted on July 27, 2009 by

Life-hating Goth girl Lara Baxter just turned 16. Her birthday party mojo never materializes after her more popular sister, Helen, steals her thunder. Shunned by her secret crush and neglected by her own mother, Lara retreats to the sanctuary of her altar to Ann Rice where she casts a spell on Helen. The next day Helen wakes up bleeding profusely from her nose and dies a short time later.

Just as the family begins to mourn, Helen comes back from the morgue delirious and with an insatiable thirst for blood. Older brother Raymond, a cross between Re-Animator’s Dr. Herbert West and Milwaukee’s own Jeff Dahmer, performs some tests on Helen’s blood in his bedroom/laboratory and determines that she’s a vampire.


Undead in Chicago, First Meeting

Posted on July 26, 2009 by

We recently started a new game of Vampire: the Requiem set in Chicago. Interestingly the players decided early on that they would all be members of the same Covenant in the setting, allowing for some common interests and history for the group at the start of play.

As the Storyteller for the game I’ve been reading and making use of the published material in World of Darkness: Chicago and the Invictus Covenant book.

Of course, I will be adding a few twists and turns to keep things interesting and more fitting to our personal style of play. I’ve built up a list of interesting NPCs and ongoing plot threads throughout the city. The player characters’ goals are the main stage of this story, but nothing happens in a vacuum either. The other Covenants have plots going on in Chicago (not to forget about other members of the Invictus as well).


2009 ENnie Awards – Matt’s Picks

Posted on July 24, 2009 by

Voting for the 2009 ENnie Awards is about to begin. Lots of excellent titles this year so choosing among them is going to be very difficult in some categories. Let’s take a look at the Nominees one more time…wow, what a list.

You can click the “details” link on each one for more information about the particular products. I’m going to go through and pick one (or two) from each list that I think deserves a little extra attention. A lot of these categories have several titles I enjoy so this certainly is not going to be an easy task…


Hot War RPG Review

Posted on July 23, 2009 by

Malcolm Craig is a lunatic who loves his games. That single fact establishes him as one of my favorite game designers. I had the pleasure of meeting the kinetic Craig at my first GenCon where I picked up the then-fresh a|state. A few years down the road Craig brings us a new game he calls “something of a follow-up” to Cold City. He may not put much faith in urban dwellings (cities in all his games are filthy, vile things), but his ability to weave a story isn’t to be ignored. Just to prove this, Hot War was recently nominated for two Ennie Awards (Best Writing and Best Setting). Let’s take a look at the respectably large (204 pages) game.

Paul Bourne’s illustration, photography, and graphic design makes the full version of the book shine. Aged pages not only depict the rules, but some of the halted stages in London’s demised during the game’s time period (the early 1960s). Familiar British sites like Big Ben and Parliament take on a new look as they are rendered into decimated versions by the artist’s expert hands.


13 Doors: An Exclusive Preview of Little Fears Nightmare Edition

Posted on July 22, 2009 by

Northwest of Earth Fiction Review

Posted on July 21, 2009 by

Every so often, you will see Catherine “C.L.” Moore’s hero Northwest Smith referred to as the model for Han Solo. This would only be strictly true in a world in which Josef von Sternberg directed Star Wars.

Yes, Northwest Smith is a wanted criminal and occasional smuggler; yes, Northwest Smith wears space leathers on his lean frame and a ray-gun on his hip; yes, Northwest Smith has a dangerous killing alien as a sidekick. But in the thirteen recorded Northwest Smith stories by C.L. Moore (all collected for the first time in this excellent Planet Stories omnibus), we only see the inside of one spaceship — and Smith is a passenger, not the pilot.

No, Smith may inhabit a solar system of Martian canals and Venusian swamps, but his adventures are less SF than a kind of lush, operatically colored noir.


Horror Cinema’s New Frontier

Posted on July 20, 2009 by

In recent years America’s horror cinema has been much like its cuisine: bland interpretations of foreign delights and mass produced fast food, serving the same burger over and over again. The watered down and over-produced plethora of Americanized Japanese ghost movies has actually managed to render the originals as unwatchable clichés, while last year’s Quarantine was an inferior redo of the Spanish chiller, [REC]. And to add insult to injury these movies were essentially released simultaneously (thankfully, [REC] is now available on DVD).


Buried Tales of Pinebox, Texas Review

Posted on July 20, 2009 by

12 to Midnight presents its first horror anthology, a twelve author collection centered around their well-established Pinebox, Texas setting. Buried Tales of Pinebox, Texas contains an impressively wide scope of stories (and horrors) while still maintaining certain key threads and locales throughout. There are even repeated nods back to various 12 to Midnight adventures like Skinwalker.

It won’t take long for me to talk about the artwork for the anthology. Jeff Varnes cover depicts what must be an image from within the Big Thicket, one of those recurring locales in the book. It’s simplicity makes it work. Any temptation to depict a horror of some sort would have probably stalled. Also, the artwork evokes common and well-ingrained childhood fears of being alone in the woods. Inside, there are two pages of cartography by T.C. Largent.


Mouse Guard RPG Earns Three ENnie Nominations!

Posted on July 19, 2009 by

Adding to its growing list of accolades, acclaims and honors, Archaia’s Mouse Guard Roleplaying Game has been recognized by the 2009 Gen Con EN World RPG Awards (“the ENnies”) in three categories. The awards recognize excellence in tabletop roleplaying gaming, and winners are determined by the peoples’ choice, with the final winners voted upon online by gamers across the world.

The Mouse Guard Roleplaying Game has been nominated for Best Interior Art, Best Production Values and Product of the Year. It was created by Luke Crane (Burning Wheel) and David Petersen, the creator of the comic series on which the RPG is based.


Amazon Ink Fiction Review

Posted on July 17, 2009 by

Primarily set in the city of Madison, Wisconsin, Amazon Ink is an urban fantasy novel where the fabled race of Amazonian women exist. Part of Amazon Ink‘s appeal, for me, was the way Lori Devoti handled the legend of the Amazon warrior women in today’s society.

The main character is named Melanippe Saka, who lives with her mother, grandmother and daughter. Although her daughter hasn’t been acclimated into the Amazonian tribe with its curious-yet-permanent encampments, both her mother and priestess grandmother have different roles that conflict with Melanippe’s ousted status. From the first chapter, you can tell that Melanippe is something of a rebel, which adds quite a bit of conflict when a dead, college-aged girl shows up on her doorstep.


A Deal with the Dead, taking a look at Geist: the Sin-Eaters

Posted on July 17, 2009 by

Everyone that knows me knows how much I love a good ghost story. When the living meet the dead things get all kinds of interesting. What does a ghost want? Why are they haunting this place (or person)? There are tons of possibilities to explore…

Geist, the latest addition to the World of Darkness, gives us a chance to answer those questions. I’ve been waiting, rather impatiently, for a new ghost game from White Wolf for some time. World of Darkness: Ghost Stories was an excellent book that I’ve made good use out of already. Yet, it wasn’t quite enough and did not offer the chance to play a character connected to the world of the dead. Geist certainly offers that and more.


The Great 12 to Midnight Buried Tales Treasure Contest!

Posted on July 15, 2009 by

12 to Midnight is having a treasure hunt contest to celebrate the new book, Buried Tales of Pinebox, Texas. This book contains 12 tales of Modern Horror by Shane Hensley, Jason Blair, Derek Gunn, Jess Hartley, Charles Rice, Monica Valentinelli, David Wellington, Filamena Young, JD Wiker and others. You can purchase Buried Tales (dead tree version) from many sites, or you can get the pdf or the kindle edition.

Rules: Scour the websites:

Scour the Buried Tales Stories to dig up the answers to earn the treasure.

Answer the questions found at and look for weekly clues posted on our website to help you with your search.


World of Darkness: Tales from the 13th Precinct RPG Review

Posted on July 14, 2009 by

The basic premise of this book is to provide a setting for ordinary mortal investigation of the supernatural as presented in the World of Darkness line. As sworn police officers, characters are in an ideal position to investigate odd goings-on, and – let’s face it – a lot of the things that your average werewolf, vampire or even mage might get up to are likely to break a few laws along the way. It would also make a good resource for the Storyteller who wants his vampire, etc., players face up to the consequences of their actions in the real world, as well as in the refined atmosphere of their own kind’s society.

The ‘flavor’ opening sequence takes the form of a newspaper interview of a veteran crime reporter, telling a new recruit to his profession the low-down on how policing works in Midway, the fictional city in which the 13th Precinct is located. The city itself, by the way, is left loose enough that it is very easy to transfer the entire setting into another city – real or imaginary – of your choice, to fit the rest of your chronicle.


Blackthorn Asylum CD Review

Posted on July 13, 2009 by

In what I would consider to be the creepiest selection of music to date, Nox Arcana offers a new thematic CD for Blackthorn Asylum. Inspired by the horrors of a gothic, abandoned asylum, the songs are about over-the-top personal horrors coupled with dark, scientific experimentation inspired by the occult.

Having listened to several of Nox Arcana’s CDs in the past, this collection of songs is a marked difference between their other music. First, there are more piano-based melodies in songs like Blackthorn Asylum and When Darkness Falls. You’ll still hear the wail of the soprano and a harpischord, like in the song Tapestry of Decay, as well as the deep resonating tolling bells that are often present in Nox Arcana’s music. Although there are stormy sound effects and chants present in some of the songs, the primary emphasis of this horror collection is on writing a particular song as opposed to writing a score. With each CD, Nox Arcana gets more and more sophisticated with the way they leverage theatrical scoring with memorable phrasing and melodies.


Ready Made What?

Posted on July 11, 2009 by

So, White Wolf has been releasing a series of “Ready-Made Player Characters” for each game line in the World of Darkness. Todd Cash already reviewed the Vampire: the Requiem set called Slaughterhouse Five here at Flames Rising and had some interesting things to say about why he likes the concept.

I’m going to do a little more of that, especially now that I’ve had the chance to check out a few more of them. It seems that some folks are wondering why anyone would buy such a thing. I’ve seen a couple of posts on the White Wolf Forums to this effect and had at least one IM conversation about it. To me the idea seems like an excellent one. Not all gaming groups have lots of free time to devote just to character creation. Some groups only get together once in a while and would much rather dive into playing the game, rather than working up a backstory and stating out individual characters. These products are exactly what they say, “Ready-Made” and are good to go out of the box (so to speak).


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