Showing posts with label Blackgate. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Blackgate. Show all posts

Monday, December 09, 2019

Geekerati Monday Geekosphere Snapshot 12/9

Back when I started this blog, the trend among bloggers was to share interesting stories that other people had written on their websites. Over time, with the rise of social media, this seems to have faded into the background with few bloggers doing "blogcircles" or "blogrolls." Since I'm a big fan of #FF (Follow Friday) on Twitter and think that one of the purposes blogs exist is to create community, I've decided to launch a weekly (I hope) "Geekerati Geekosphere Snapshot." It will contain blog posts and news stories I've found interesting over the past week. There will be a small excerpt of the other post and a link. I hope you enjoy.

Geekosphere Snapshot for the Week of 12/9/2019

Infinity RPG (Bundle of Holding): Agent! This Infinity RPG Bundle features the Modiphius Entertainment tabletop roleplaying game of spacefaring adventure in the Human Sphere and beyond. Based on Corvus Belli's popular Infinity miniatures skirmish game, the Infinity RPG casts you as Bureau Noir law enforcement agents undertaking missions on a dozen worlds. Track pirates amid the shattered planetoids of Human Edge; delve the oceans of Varuna; duck gunfire in the twisted emerald jungles of Paradiso; pursue rogue AIs through Nomad motherships. Meanwhile, from beyond the Human Sphere, the alien Combined Army has invaded, threatening to destroy humanity

One Page Dungeon Generator (watabou):

Watabou's One Page Dungeon Generator is a wonderful free resource for DMs of all experience levels. It can be used for any fantasy role playing game and generates some wonderful maps.

Why We Write: Rogue Blades Foundation and the Future of Heroic Literature (Black Gate):

Fantasy readers, like those who dwell together here at Black Gate, are long familiar with notions of heroes and the heroic. Each of us might have our own ideas about what makes a hero, but we would likely find common ground in a discussion of the matter.

That being said, is there any doubt our world today is in need of heroes? Heroes do continue to exist in our entertainment, but often enough they are flawed or irrelevant or humorous to the point of being more pastiche than worthy of admiration. Obviously there are examples of the upstanding hero, yet they seem few and far between compared to our increasing occupation with the deranged or the out-and-out vile. It seems we are more often rooting for the fellow behind the hockey mask or clown makeup than we are for the character who boldly steps forward to set things right in a dark world. Too often our heroes seem to stand alone, if they stand at all.

Adventures in Fiction: Leigh Brackett (Goodman Games):

The sad truth is that Appendix N is overwhelmingly a boys’ club. Much of the blame can be assigned to the fact that science-fiction and fantasy writers prior to 1960s were by and large white men. It was a tough club for a woman to break into, resulting in many female authors with an interest in writing science-fiction and fantasy to work under either pen names (such as Andre Norton) or their initials (like C.L. Moore). A few managed to find success and publication without obscuring their femininity, proving that gender is meaningless when it comes to writing rollicking good sci-fi and fantasy. Leigh Brackett was one of these women who earned her place in the club without needing to hide her identity.

Ghostbusters Afterlife Trailer (Sony Pictures):


That's just a glimpse of what's out there this week. What have you seen lately that has you Geeking Out?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Gaming History: The Space Gamer and Black Gate Magazine, TSR Buys SPI

On February 28th, the publisher of Black Gate Magazine, wrote a blog post celebrating an old SPI game called Swords and Sorcery.  He praised the game in his semi-regular "new treasures" column.  The game itself was published in 1978, but O'Neill had just acquired an edition from eBay.  If the edition he purchased is the edition photographed in the blog post, he and I own the same edition of the game.  The game may have been old, but it was new to him. 

The post is quite positive, and I largely agree with O'Neill's review.  As is common in discussion of old SPI games, a discussion of TSR's acquisition of SPI -- and their subsequent "killing" of SPI game lines -- was brought up in the comments section.  Among the grognards of the gaming hobby, of which I am certainly one, there is often a good deal of ire aimed at TSR for their behavior.  This ire is often directed at Lorraine Williams, but not always.  One of those cases where it isn't directed at Lorraine Williams is in the TSR purchase of SPI in 1982.  At that time, the company was very much in the control of Gygax and the Blumes -- though they were having plenty of internal strife at the time.

In this particular post, Black Gate's managing editor (and talented author Howard Andrew Jones) was the individual who brought up TSR's "killing" of SPI product lines.  In my typical "provocateur" fashion, I mentioned that I thought that the TSR acquisition and killing of SPI was more complicated than most grognards think and even included some slight praise for Lorraine Williams -- as a fan I am actually amazed at the products that came out during her tenure, even if she hated gamers.  Here is what I wrote:

While it is easy to blame TSR for what they did to SPI — and they deserve a lot of blame — one should keep two things in mind
First, when they purchased SPI it was in dire financial straights and would likely not have survived.
Second, they had hoped to keep SPI’s staff, but those staff members refused to work for TSR — for varied reasons — and left to form the Victory Games studio over at Avalon Hill.

Third, and this is where I get near heretical, it was the Blumes who devalued SPI’s contributions. A massive resurgence of publishing of SPI games happened under Lorraine Williams. We would never have seen the SPI monster TSR World War II game, or Wellington’s Victory, SNIPER (including BugHunters), let alone the 3rd edition of DragonQuest.

I believe she did the publishing of SPI stuff out of desperation, not any love for the product or the fans, as TSR was starting to have financial troubles which could only be met by an ever expanding publication schedule and continual revenue flow.

It was the Blumes who refused to acknowledge lifetime subscriptions to SPI magazines.
There is an excellent issue of Fire and Movement, printed by Steve Jackson Games, that goes over the purchase of SPI.

I have since hunted down the issue of Fire & Movement I mentioned, and it is issue 27 (May/June 1982).  In that issue Nick Schuessler writes a remarkably detailed article about TSR's acquisition of SPI and provides some context for the purchase.  Some highlights of the article are:

  • On March 31, 1981 TSR announced they were initiating a chain of events to purchase SPI.
  • On April 7th, eight key SPI staffers tendered their resignations and announced they were forming a new company called Victory Games that would work under the auspices of Avalon Hill.
  • TSR acquirexd the trademarks and copyrights of the entire SPI inventory.
  • Mark Herman, the leader of the eight defectors, had been negotiating with Avalon Hill to purchase SPI.
  • The TSR conglomerate owned a science fiction magazine (Amazing), and a needlepoint company, in addition to D&D and in 1981 they had $17 million in sales revenue.
  • SPI was a $2 million a year company.
Schuessler's article is heavy on facts, and only has one bit of speculation.  That bit of speculation is whether the brain drain, the loss of Mark Herman and crew, will have a long term negative effect on the acquisition.  I would argue, from a historical perspective, that this was the single most devastating part of the acquisition.  SPI's strength was in its designers.  Mark Herman, Jerry Klug, John and Trish Butterfield, and Greg Gorden were some of the most talented designers of their era.

But the May/June issue of Fire and Movement only gives us a part of the story.  It doesn't truly show how desperate TSR was to diversify their brand, and how much internal strife existed at the company.  Those elements can be seen in old issues of The Space Gamer.   In issue 60 of TSG, John Rankin writes an article about a visit by TSR employees to Dallas where TSR Vice-President Duke Seifried were to meet with Heritage-USA and where there were possibly discussions for TSR to purchase Heritage or to enter into a joint venture with them.  John Rankin's article states:

  • Heritage USA still owed Duke Seifried money from his time with the company, and that Duke was a stockholder in the company.
  • TSR was very much in need of a miniatures company if they wanted to diversify. 
  •  No meeting between TSR and Heritage actually occurred, though Duke did likely get information from them as a stockholder.
  • TSR "left no broken hearts in Dallas.  But they didn't make any new friends either."
  • There is a sense of some instability at TSR, and they are seen as not wanting to lead the industry rather just to "control it."  

This all seems like a relatively mundane deal gone bad...until one looks at other issues discussing TSR.  By issue 65 of The Space Gamer, the internal strife at TSR comes to the fore.  In that issue, the following facts are reported.

  • TSR released 40 of its employees in June of 1983.  Among these employees was Duke Seifried.
  • TSR was reorganized into 4 companies.
  • TSR Public Relations director Dietur Sturm described TSR finances as, "More or less, what you're looking at is money coming into the company from sales and not focused properly...Sales are there as far as the distributors and retailers and stores (are concerned); they have nothing to worry about."
This news demonstrates a number of problems within TSR.  There is obviously internal strife.  The firing of Seifried and the "banishing" of Gygax to Los Angeles hint at that.  The company also clearly had no idea how to maintain and expand their product lines.  They purchased a needlepoint company for goodness' sake!  Why?  What synergy could that provide?

They purchased SPI, a company that had a rich catalog of war games but that also had a Fantasy Roleplaying Game called Dragon Quest.  Supporting the SPI rpg would have possibly meant cannibalizing their own product lines.  They had no plans to retain the talents acquired in the SPI purchase, and in fact eventually fired everyone they hired from SPI and refused to support life time subscriptions to SPI's magazine Strategy & Tactics.  TSR did everything they could to alienate the customer base of the company they had just acquired, and they were "reorganizing" to end an outpouring of money.  They were in constant need of revenue to stay afloat. They were selling a ton of product, but they also weren't developing products with any logical consistency.  These are trends that wouldn't end any time soon.  You can read Ryan Dancey's financial audit of TSR when Wizards of the Coast purchased them to see just how much this remained a problem in 1997.

I think that Rankin's comment regarding not wanting to lead, rather to control is a perfect description of the company.  They boycotted GAMA and demanded D&D not be played at Origins.  They had no plans for talent retention.  They didn't publish the products they acquired.  They don't seem to have been logical in the determination of the size of print runs.  They cannibalized product lines -- even in the Blume/Gygax era though this became disastrous in the Williams era.  As much as I love TSR's many settings having the Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Mystara, Hollow World, Birthright, and Dark Sun all as simultaneous fantasy setting product lines is a case study definition of cannibalizing product lines.  Having "Basic," "Expert," "Companion," and "Master" D&D as well as Advanced D&D -- let alone a 2nd edition -- is also a case study definition.

The company produced great games, but they were not managed well at all.  Bad management is endemic throughout the rpg industry.  It is an industry primarily run by hobbyists and not business people.  This is a creative boon, but a business curse.

On an interesting note, as I was looking through old The Space Gamer issues I found a letter by a John O'Neill of Ottawa, Canada in issue 66.  I'm going to take a huge leap here and say that the John O'Neill in that 1983 letter is the publisher of Black Gate Magazine.  Why would I make such an assumption?  Just look at the first two paragraphs of that letter:

In an age of man now only distantly remembered, there existed a magazine which the good people in the land of Fandom did enjoy.  But lo, there came a day unlike any other day, when the Powers That Be sent a lightning bolt to rend asunder that magazine.

From the fragments of the one there emerged two magazines, and the Powers That Be told the people of Fandom to partake of them.
Who, but the future editor of a Sword and Sorcery magazine, could write such a letter? 

Image Copyright 2012 Jody Lindke


Thursday, May 19, 2011

New "John Carter of Mars" Anthology to Be Released in 2012

It would not be an understatement to say that Edgar Rice Burroughs is the reason I read as voraciously as I do today. My introduction to SF/F were the Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Anderson. My first glimpse into modern Fantasy was Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. The author who came to define the genre for me was Michael Moorcock. But it was Edgar Rice Burroughs who showed me all that SF/F can be. His fiction had everything. If I wanted to read "lost worlds" fiction, Burroughs was there. Historical fiction that bordered on Fantasy? Burroughs was there. Wild visions of other worlds that combined soap operatic romance with pulse pounding action? Burroughs was there. Westerns? Cave men? Dinosaurs? Bizarre Aliens? Post Apocalyptic adventure?

Burrough's imagination has always seemed limitless to me. His writing style was workmanlike and efficient in delivering its tale, and finding poetic beauty in one of his tales isn't always an easy task, but the story telling and the ideas are truly remarkable. He arguably created the genre of Planetary Romance with his John Carter stories (though they become formulaic at times), a genre that Leigh Brackett then mastered, but Burroughs returned to the genre in his Venus adventures and did a little post-modern deconstruction of the genre.

Burroughs showed me that written stories were the best tool to open up the imagination. He showed me in ways that a less prolific author, or a better writer, never could have. My mind filled in the details of the gaps in his writing, and it wondered what new genre Burroughs would be introducing me to in the next book I picked up.

What made Burroughs great, and why he inspired me to be a voracious reader, was that he wrote essentially every genre. My love for one author made me a lover of stories. Not a lover of stories of a particular genre, but of stories in the broader sense. It's the reason I'll read anything, and it's also the reason I'm able to talk with people about Gossip Girl, Hellcats, and uncountable Romantic Comedies. I love story, and I have Burroughs to thank for that.

I mention that Burroughs created my love of story because it was just announced that Simon and Schuster books will be releasing a new anthology of John Carter stories written by many of today's leading authors. The book is being edited by one of my favorite anthology editors, John Joseph Adams, and is scheduled to be released just before the new John Carter movie next year.

But it wasn't just the announcement that made me think about why I love Burroughs was the list of authors who will be contributing to the tome. If you were to ask me to create a list of authors "I would select" who would write in a publication featuring new tales of John Carter, it might look like the following:

1) Michael Moorcock
2) Lois McMaster Bujold
3) James Enge
4) Chris Roberson
5) Howard Andrew Jones
6) Ursula K. LeGuin
7) George R. R. Martin
8) Mike Resnick
9) C.J. Cherryh
10) Michael Chabon

Those would be the "big names" I would include off the top of my head. Some of these authors would be chosen for their own confessed love of Burroughs, and others to see what they would do with Burroughs' characters. I'm particularly interested in what Bujold would do.

Surprisingly, not one of those authors is listed as a writer in the upcoming publication. I actually find the lack of Moorcock and Roberson shocking...shocking I tell you.

Instead, this is the list of authors:

1) Joe R. Lansdale
2) Jonathan Maberry
3) David Barr Kirtley
4) Peter S. Beagle
5) Tobias S. Buckell
6) Robin Wasserman
7) Theodora Goss
8) Genevieve Valentine
9) L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
10) Garth Nix
11) Chris Claremont
12) S. M. Stirling
13) Catherynne M. Valente
14) Austin Grossman

There are many talented authors on the list, as well as a few I've never read. What sets this list apart from the list I wrote earlier, is that I wonder what exactly a John Carter story would look like from each of these authors. I have a good idea of what a Moorcock one would look like -- he did do his own Mars planetary romance series after all -- but I have no idea what Theodora Goss' version of planetary romance is. These authors come from across the speculative fiction spectrum. The list includes authors who write Young Adult Fiction, Horror, Short Fiction, Comic Books, "Literary" SF/F, and Classic Fantasy.

I excitedly await the volume and will be investigating the fiction of some of its authors -- the ones I haven't read yet -- to get a glimpse of what Adams has in store for us as Burroughs fans.