Thursday, July 31, 2014

RPG Resources: The Arcana Wiki

My friend Jürgen Hubert, Author of Doomed Slayers, has been running a project for a while now which he describes as "The Wikipedia, for gamers by gamers!"  His goal was to produce an encyclopedic resource for role-playing games that would distill useful factoids from the real world that can be used as plot ideas for Game Masters.

It's an ambitious project, and after six years is still far from the encyclopedic resource Jürgen hopes for, but there is a lot of fun, weird and eclectic stuff on it.

(And, fair disclosure, yes, I am one of the contributors to it).

Here he gives a good explanation and introduction to the Arcana Wiki:  My Gaming Projects Part III:  The Arcana Wiki ; and here is the site itself:  The Arcana Wiki

It's a fun site; although you have to be careful about clicking on the Red Links (which don't go anywhere yet and will just frustrate you).  I recommend reading Jürgen's introduction first.

Oh, and check out Doomed Slayers.  It's an interesting look at the traditional clichés of Dungeon Delving that manages to put them in a reasonable social context.  And I hear the artwork is keen.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

ECLIPSE remembered

(This is a piece written in 2004 that was well received at the time by readers and friends.  Unfortunately the site it came  from was hacked.  We lost innumerable articles.  But a site online kept this in its archive, and I am reprinting it to avoid losing it a second time. )

When I announced the results of the signed comics contest and the favorite comic publisher informal poll I said I liked ECLIPSE comics. To my relative horror I received many emails from people saying who dat? And someone who PUBLISHES comics wrote to say did I mean to say Enigma from Vertigo. No I did not mean Enigma. I mean a publisher who created comics and cards and all sorts of wonderful stuff.

The Company and their books

Eclipse Enterprises, was a company that published comics, graphic albums, and trading cards from 1977 to 1994. Eclipse went out of business in 1994 but their legacy lives on in most successful
marketing ideas in comics. The publishers Dean Mullaney and cat yronwode were self described hippies but the product they put out appealed to everyone. They did horror, such as M and TAPPING THE VEIN under Steve Niles’s Arcane imprint. They did action, such as SCOUT or AIRBOY or WINTER WORLD usually featuring writing by Chuck Dixon or Tim Truman or drawn by Tim. They did super heroes, MIRACLEMAN by Alan Moore and other great talents. They did humor as in Larry Marder’s BEANWORLD. They did Manga, KAMUI and APPLESEED. They were among the first to release a Graphic Novel, SABRE. Later they helped popularize collected editions of serialized comics, along with ultra special hardcover editions with sketches. They paid royalties and allowed creative talents to keep their properties.

So why did they go bankrupt? I cannot speak for their fiscal policies but first the craze and hype for multiple covers and other gimmicks at IMAGE, MARVEL and DC who all were competing for a shrinking market made ECLIPSE less viable. At the same time the double bust of comics and cards in the 90s probably had something to do with the demise.

I asked former Eclipse talents this question:

"What was it about the comic book Publisher Eclipse that made its output so excellent for its time, somewhat dated for the 90s and now strangely resurgent in relevance? What publisher today is most like Eclipse in its outlook and output?"

Chuck Dixon answered:

"Dean Mullaney is what made Eclipse Comics what it was. The ultimate
guerilla marketer. Absolutely ruthless and one of those guys you were glad to have on your side. The guy has forgotten more about selling, printing and publishing comic books than most people in the business today.

His hit and run philosophy of publishing was to put out the greatest
variety of material and help it find its audience. Mainstream super
heroes, funny animals, political commentary, avant garde, crime,
horror and the uncatagorizable. Every trend was exploited and new
trends created along the way. Eclipse's output was the most eclectic, and at times outrageous, of its era. It matched Dean's restless nature and his willingness to take crazy chances. Eclipse didn't have the muscle of the big boys but stayed in the ring with a series of lightning fast jabs and dizzying footwork. Eclipse was the first in with manga. The first to exploit the comics/trading card connection.  The first graphic novel. Never played safe. Never went the easy route. Never rested.

There is no comic book company like Eclipse today. But there's also no company that doesn't owe a debt to the wacky, bohemian, abrasive little company created by Jan and Dean with two grand borrowed from their mom."

A couple of the talented people of Eclipse.

Timothy Truman, armed with gold short sword and pistol wrote the magnificent work SCOUT and is rumored to be working on a variety of secret projects. Chuck Dixon who wrote many books at ECLIPSE such as AIRBOY and WINTER WORLD is armed with two pistols and firing into the camera, is a mainstay at CrossGen, returns to DC with Richard Dragon and has a couple projects about to be announced being held in his hip pocket until the time is right.

(These references are amazingly dated by now, but I wanted to keep them in just for the date of the article being in context).

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Perhaps you don't care but I do

At Poplitiko we never ask you to fund our site.  1) you wouldn't, and 2) we don't use this site for our main livelihoods.

However some people deserve your money...


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Comics and Atom Bombs

The world, not just the United States or Japan, changed when the two atomic bombs were dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The war's end was simply one change, the world changed in many different ways than that sole end.

The world became aware of the bomb to end all wars.  This mighty power of destruction that previously was considered to be futurist and science fiction or fantasy, was for now in the hands of just one or two countries in the Allied powers.

The end of the war allowed the fashioning of a new world, with new alliances, and between the two most powerful allies, new enmity and distrust.  The acknowledgement that the system of war and recovery was changed was evident, in the fall out from the war.  The resort to big open wars would no longer work, as eventually both super powers and later the great powers would acquire nuclear weapons as well. 

This does present a change in plans for Ares, God of War.  When both parties making war have the ability to end it with a few dropped bombs on both civilian and military targets, the wars we fight are no longer clean and easy to sort out.  And this ignores even the fact that the world might well take sides, but, is it out of loyalty, or is it for the benefits that your umbrella of nuclear arms might provide?

The new world as found in the post nuclear era was considered by many in comic book form.  Whether the new, polluted world, as found in Nausicaa, or the urban anarchy and street gangs of Akira, Japanese talents considered the new world from a profoundly individual perspective.  Whereas other artists and writers might understand the horror of nuclear weapons, the Japanese had in fact suffered their use.  Rightly or wrongly, they suffered the use, as many still debate that issue.  Some people might consider the use of a nuclear background for stories to be wallowing in the moment and the suffering, but if it is done with care, I disagree.  It is a valid avenue of thought to consider a world with more destruction, and more fear, as a result of more bombs.

But the Cold War of the 1950s to late 1970s offered a powerful reminder to the world what could happen if both sides were to feel challenged enough to lose the war.  In those considerations many comic books were published showing a world shattered by unlimited use, and suggest that there is no winner should the world face such wars.

There was a wave, in the 1980s of comic books that showed the worlds found after the bombs, and considered what kind of forms of government might rise up after the destruction.  V For Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd suggested that in response to world catastrophe a fascist state would rise.  From that rise a response to the concentration of power within the hands of the state would give birth to anarchism and anti-government violence.  The book was solemn and dark, but was not without hope.  But nuclear war does present quite a challenge for survival.

In the present, while dystopia based stories exist, the gnawing fears of the Cold War offer fewer options.  Catastrophes still exist, but more now come from fears of environmental disasters, and the loss of control of the fabrics of society due to the internet and anti-state movements.  It seems hard for me, a 50 year old man, to imagine a world without a fear of nuclear war, but few people think of it now as the cause of the future disasters.  But it does still exist.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Price of Entertainment in paintings and more

Since very early times humans have paid to watch sports/spectacles for entertainment.  That the athletic people might be injured or killed was not the concern of the viewer, in fact, it was part of the attraction for the sport.  In ancient Rome gladiatorial events drew thousands of fans, spectacles and events drew people from across the empire, to see the bravest, best, and most gory.  There is no reason to think this was the first expression of spectacle as entertainment, but it is well documented and remembered, because the empire kept records.

In modernity we still see sports as entertainment and much entertainment through spectacle.  However, the attitudes about safety are changing the games people watch, and the fear of a spectacle of a tragedy or tragic injury is changing those sports.  The cost of injuries are making people reconsider participation.  And there is part of the rub.  In ancient Rome the participants in most of the gladiatorial combats were not free men.  They were slaves, trained and some quite able, but the lack of freedom meant they had no choice to compete.

Concussions are the main source of fear, but there are also game related issues that cause worry.  Use of human performance enhancing drugs means more spectacular sports, but also at a cost of human physical damage and dna changes in some.

A fair question too, is, what role does economic class play in the choice of people who see sports as the only way to escape poverty.  If an athlete has no option, it might not be slavery, but it is very possible that the athlete will ignore injury concerns in the hope for a great payday.

There are other sports as well that are often as much spectacle as they are competition.  Auto racing fans often challenge the notion that they like a sport for the crashes, and that is by no means false.  But the possible crashes add to the edge of the seat excitement that the sports fan is hoping to view.  So crashes aren't desired, perhaps are even hoped not to happen, but the danger of such is part of the draw.  In ancient Rome the chariots were not always driven by slaves, so, the aspect of that sport being a choice is more relevant, but, it is a spectacle due to the possible fatal crashes.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Solitary confinement, with games and books


Because I write poetry and a lot more fiction than non-fiction it might come as a surprise that I have two degrees in History and Political Science.  As a creative writer I try to make history and the unwritten deeper past come to life.  I might fail, I am not suggesting I am a great writer, but I've always loved history, and this entry to Poplitiko is about solitaire games (either made specifically to be played alone, or those that can be played as solitaire) that reflect and game play battles and campaigns in World War Two.  Alongside the games, I offer you a focused book, that displays and describes great details on the subject.  None of these were provided by the publishers, they came from my home hidden stash of awesomeness.


One thing I love about military history is that you are able to imagine the results as they happened, but, also, you can create the what if scenarios.
History itself is not malleable, but by understanding the event by facts, analysis, and images, you can imagine the entire of the scene.  Even if you are not on the ground in reality, you can see the events again through the facts presented, or playing games that reflect the troops, geography, and layout of the scene.  There are many valid reasons, of course, that one can like military history, but for me being able to try to change the result and thereby the course of history gives me a visual understanding of what happened far better than just books alone. 

Osprey's St. Nazaire 1942 shows the reader the course of the event, the people who fought, on both sides, and more.  Through maps and photos the reader is able to gain a perspective of the event, that most books fail in doing.  But not this.  Osprey works are famous for the depth of detail and the lack of errors of generality over focus. 

My favorite military board game was a solo game, RAID ON ST. NAZAIRE by Avalon Hill.  The elements of time, luck, and strategy all play out and you are able to see just how incredibly difficult the mission was, and you learn how incredible the Commandos were.   I almost never won.  I am not an idiot, maybe the dice were against me, but I truly learned respect for those who actually did it, and for those who planned it.


Flying B-17s over Germany in World War 2 was not easy.  Many bomber crews never returned, some were captured, and the chance that one would reach the magic number of missions to be sent home was very low.  Bombing had grown from the lessons of war in World War 1, and most recently before WW2, in the Spanish Civil War.  Air power was more than fighter dogfights, the ability to effect change in the enemy through bombing was believed to be a crucial part of an overall strategy of winning the war.

Osprey's B-17 Flying Fortress Units of the Eighth Air Force takes a deeper look at the machines of war, and those who manned the controls, navigated, targeted and dropped the bombs, and those who looked through the cross hairs to shoot incoming enemy craft.  The struggle to reach 25 missions  was grueling, and Osprey captures real events and life in the units, while adding to our knowledge of the subject.

Unfortunately, it is rather hard to capture bombing raids and the dangers within by game.  B-17 Queen of the Skies was by no means a bad game, it just didn't feel like you were flying or sending out the missions. However, if one wishes to measure the difficulty of continuing missions, with depleted forces, this game does show you how difficult the mission purpose was to achieve.


When you think of the Nazi war machine in WW2 you definitely think tanks, close air support by the Luftwaffe, and immediate counter attacks to any assault upon their lines.  The strategy was given its most serious test when Nazi Germany invaded with a surprise attack across the entire border of the Soviet Union, and the vast amount of formerly non Soviet territory the Soviets held.  As in the invasion of Poland the first resistance against the Nazi war machine was futile.  Entire armies disintegrated from the coordinated actions of a modern army versus a poorly led army, unready for war.  But eventually, after many losses, the Soviets fought back, and turned the tide.

The book Kursk 1943 by Osprey talks about the battle that saw the tide inexorably turn against Germany.  Thorough in the list of armies and equipment, leaders and tactics, Osprey leaves no stone unturned to find reasons for all it considers.

The game Eastern Front Solitaire by Omega Games is a fast moving, thoughtful game that allows you to simulate the events in the Soviet Union during the many battles and campaigns following the invasion.  It is a very good game, but got even better with the 3rd edition and I found it wonderfully demonstrative of the difficulty even the elite troops of the Wehrmacht would experience, conquering so much territory, so many troops, and facing shortages, and hostile partisans.


The final battles to end the war in Europe in 1945 were brutal, bestial, and deadly.  They came as close to the unraveling of the bonds of humanity as possible, and the results are still visible in select areas of the battles.  The Soviet troops forced their way through Poland into Germany with great casualties, but undeniably great momentum.  By the time the various forces stood facing each other outside of Berlin, no one having imagined the end of the world could say, this was not Ragnarok.

Soviet troops were encouraged to pay the Nazis back for the savage cruelties done to their homeland.  Fear in the retreating Germans was real, and rape, torture, and simply dying were what lay ahead for many in the end that was Berlin 1945.

Battle for Germany now available from Decision games is a revamp of an SPI game of the mid 1970s.  It is fast, furious and easy to engage and understand. When played by veteran wargamers, the game might end in less than 5 hours.  This is considerably better than so many of the great games that took at least that long just to set up properly.

Berlin 1945 from Osprey is a book that could well have been written and illustrated without any sort of degree of compassion.  The tragedies of war by the end, with the death camps being liberated, the massive movements of native populations, and struggle for the claim to be the victors of the greatest conflict ever, all could have made the work one that felt like propaganda or filler.  But the professional writing and meticulous detail shows that this battle, like all before it, was in itself an interesting, important and exciting event.  Why should anyone think anything but that, with Osprey? 

Osprey Publishing
Decision Games

Friday, July 11, 2014


I confess... I am addicted... to ... H.P. Lovecraft books.  I have very little money and yet, whenever I see a cover of one of his books I am sorely tempted to buy it, and if I have money, it likely goes out the pocket for that book. H.P. Lovecraft's work is largely in the Public Domain, so, people are able to grab my wallet, by publishing the same stories, in new shiny shiny covers.  Oh how I adore them... I am a desolate man.  Here are a great number of covers to books, and you'll notice, many different covers, many same titles.  All of them are, to me, beautiful. Oh how ruined I am from this addiction.

Those lovely books were my first glimpse of Lovecraft, and I was too young to understand their greatness.  However, as I grew up I did recognize how much I liked the stories and writing, despite certain modernity issues I brought into it as a reader.

Michael Whelan covers make any book beautiful and worth having.  I love his work. I bought all of them, bought them over and over again giving copies away, and still do if I can.

I have since found more awesome covers of Lovecraft works, and they leave me pennyless.

The company Prohyptikon seems to not have updated their page anywhere online, but I like their cover designs...

And lastly, with new covers and new collections out, a person drawn to the covers might go mad, just as Mr. Lovecraft might have liked it.