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  • A Shopping Notice from the N.T.A.B. Department of Trade and Commerce: 2022 Christmas Edition

    The administration would like to again strenuously object to any form of venturing out into public squares, marketplaces, big box stores, or malls on this or any other weekend. If you want to take your life into your own hands, we are hosting a series of gladiator-style contests here at the bunker, focusing on fighting style, brute strength, and the ability to dodge a thrown hand axe.

    I realize that in some certain cases, you may be forced to make the trip due to lack of access to available raw materials to carve and shape your own Monopoly board. The NTAB Department of Trade and Commerce would like to remind all of you to shop as close to your home as possible, either from local retailers, local artists, other small manufacturing concerns in your city or county, or within the state of your residence, or within the United States—in that order—whenever you can. This ensures that money spent there will re-circulate in the area in which is was spent, up to 2.5-3 times as 67 cents per dollar spent sticks around and benefits your community in some way. Money to other states, countries, or into the maw of Eldritch corporations with amorphous structures and no accountability do not recirculate as much, and only about 31 cents per dollar benefits your community.

    Cyber-Monday Options For Your Uber-geeks

    I’m going to come right out and say it: buy stuff from the creative people in your life. You heard me. I know (and you know, too, by way of transitive property) some really talented people. The bunker is chock-full of clever and inventive associates, all of whom would love to supply you with just the thing for the oddball cousin or sibling in your life…or maybe you’re that oddball, for whom everyone just expects wild and weird presents. Either way.

    1. Small Press Games and Zines!

    There are a ton of small press game and content creators who are making some inexpensive publications that are just gems—beautifully written, illustrated, fun and easy to play, and like nothing else out there right now. This of course includes My Zines like Tools of the Trade: A GM’s Guide to Creating & Running Fantasy Heists (but you knew that already, right?) One of the big online repositories of some of these zinesters is Exalted Funeral.  They sell and help distribute small press games and zines and you will Their site is but the tip of the iceberg.

    Another thing I want to recommend is Tim Hutchings’ Thousand Year-Old Vampire. It’s a solo game, where you journal the life of a, well, you get it, using a series of writing prompts—no two games are alike—and when you get finished, you have this interesting story that you can do something cool with, like turn it into a graphic novel. That’s the nuts and bolts, but what my pithy little description fails to convey is the beautiful, fascinating, utterly engrossing layout and art design that won Tim so many awards and accolades. It looks exactly like the thing it’s supposed to be: someone’s old travel journal. You gotta check out some of the pages at his website, above. If you have a vampire nut in your life, they will love this game, guaranteed.

    2.  RPG Boxed Starter Sets

    You know what’s making a comeback? Your favorite game from 40 years ago. No, not that one, the other one! Thanks to the success of Dungeon & Dragon’s Starter Set and Essentials Set, this is a new-old-new again trend, making an introduction to a bigger, more complicated game, that includes everything a new player or group needs, including some dice. Now all you need is pencils, paper, and your imagination—just like back in the good old days.

    If you’ve got someone who wants to play games, but can’t be bothered to put down the controller, there’s a Fallout tabletop RPG Starter Set from Modiphius to ease them away from talking to screens to talking to people. It’s completely on-brand, including some Vault-Tec inspired dice. And you can buy actual Nuka-Cola caps on Etsy for even more immersion (try it out first, though!).

    Free League Publishing makes beautiful games, both big and small, and they will tempt you with affordable boxed starter sets for Alien (as in “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream”) and The One Ring (AKA “The Lord of the Rings”) role-playing games. The Alien game includes a stress mechanic that is not unlike the Sanity checks in Call of Cthulhu, and it’s designed to take you from cool as a cucumber all the way to “Game Over, Man!” It’s one of the best-designed games I’ve seen in a long time. And speaking of Sanity Los…

    Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu Seventh Edition boxed starter set is nearly-just perfect, walking you through creating a character step-by-step as you play through a solo adventure. This storied game system is easy to learn, incredibly expansive, and boasts the most amazing collection of support props and documents from their massive creative community. If you’ve never played before, or if you’re a veteran wanting to come back, this is your jam.

    3.  Dice and Dice Bags

    Maybe you know some gamers but don’t know what they are into (I find this very unlikely as most gamers are only too happy to talk to you about their character and the latest adventure they went on), but even flying blind, there’s always something you can buy gamers that they will appreciate: Dice and Dice Bags. Black Oak Workshop is my go-to for those things; their newest dice bags showed up just in time for the Christmas season and they don’t ever disappoint.  Here’s me, with the one I got.

    Yes, that IS Thulsa Doom’s symbol. On my dice bag. With a d20 in the middle. See, this is what I’m talking about. There are some really cool dice bag designs over at the website, above, and you will not be disappointed, either. Their dice are big and chunky and incredibly well-designed. Last year, I posted pictures of the dice I was pulling every day out of their Advent-ure Calendar. It’s become one of their best-selling products, and with good reason. You get a lot of dice, and they are all themed up, too.

    4. Geek Chic Art!  

    Tim Doyle is a fantastic artist and a stand-up guy, to boot, and his art prints are both stylish and affordable. Bolster your Geek Cred with these amazing prints pulled from popular culture. Maybe you know someone who likes things a little darker? Check out the limited run Bernie Wrightson prints he’s selling (with the full blessing and endorsement of Michelle, Wrightson’s widow). He’s got a sale going on right now at Nakatomi Inc. I own several of Tim’s prints and his art book, and I’m never disappointed with the quality or the professionalism of his studio’s output.

    5. Books!

    I’m on the record as being pro-book. In fact, I’ve written a few. You should have all of them in your personal library already, so let me just suggest a few recent publications that you may not have on your shelves that you can buy for someone else, or better yet, buy it for you, wrap it, put it under the tree labeled to Yourself, from Santa, and then look very surprised and confused when you open it on Christmas Day.

    Persephone Station by Stina Leicht

    This book is the gender-flipped Sci-Fi version of The Seven Samurai that you didn’t know you needed. Stina is a fantastic writer and this book may well be her best one yet. The book really made me want to start up a Traveller game and I may yet do it.

    Love, Death + Robots: the Official Anthology (vol 1, and vol. 2 and 3)

    If you haven’t been watching the series on Netflix (but, that’s ridiculous, of course you have, right?) you may have wondered where you could read all of the wonderful. Short stories that the series seemed to be basing its episodes on. Well, good news: someone did that for you! There’s two books, one for volume 1 of the show, and another for volumes 2 and 3 together.

    A Book of Blades: A Sword and Sorcery Anthology from the Rogues in the House Podcast

    I’ve got the privilege of knowing most of the people involved with this project, but even if I didn’t know them, I’d want this fantastic collection of new-era Sword and Sorcery stories that have all of the wild derring-do and batshit crazy magic that the genre is known for, without all of the chauvinistic and bigoted tendencies that older sword and sorcery sometimes gets saddled with.

    Astute readers will notice that there is no Amazon link above. You don’t need a link to Amazon. You know where it is already. Try to find these in the wild, first, if you can. If your friendly local book store or game store doesn’t have these titles, they can order them. If they can’t order them, there are lots of locally owned and/or independent booksellers online, from Powell’s on down. Please take a few extra minutes and buy from someone who will appreciate your business.

  • From the Vault: Keep Your Nuts to Yourself

    From the Vault: Keep Your Nuts to Yourself

    As Thanksgiving descends upon us like the advance vanguard of an invading green and red armada of suck, and as the kitchens of America all go into high gear, and all of you talented amateur (and professional) cooks, chefs, and weekend caterers all dive into your treasured stack of recipes, and start posting pictures on Facebook, and even as some of you are considering sending along plates of sweets and Christmas tins full of home-made treats, allow me to offer one direct request:

    Keep your nuts to yourself.

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  • Field Report: GameHole Con, Madison, WI

    Field Report: GameHole Con, Madison, WI

    We are back from a road trip that may have been several days in the making, but was still over a thousand dollars cheaper than simply flying from Texas to Wisconsin. GameHole Con, one of the most unfortunately-named gaming conventions in the country (started by a tavern called the Gamehole, so…) has amassed a dedicated following in the last decade. As gaming conventions go, this one is very well run, well organized, and features a wide spectrum of new and old rpgs, board games, and the like. There’s a strong paneling track, too, and even some hands-on workshops for stuff like prop making and miniature painting. All in all, it’s a full service convention.

    The particulars of the trip can be seen on the weekly update, over on Substack. If you’re interested in the travel itself, go here and enjoy the photos. You can sign up for the weekly missive–it’s free, and it always will be. For those of you with more hardcore sensibilities, here’s the day by day breakdown.

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  • Top 5 Stephen King Movies

    Top 5 Stephen King Movies

    It really says a lot about a person when they are their own genre of storytelling. Think about that: Stephen King is one of those very rare—as in, maybe four or five authors, tops—who have such consistent draw that they are household names. Not just any household, either, but every household.

    I think the reason for that is King’s ability to write normal, ordinary people. He’s very good at writing in the cadence of a persons language, and when you combine that with tendency to write from within his characters’ skulls, it seems as though he shows us ourselves in his writing. Whether or not that is intentional or just a quirk of his prose style, King’s characters get in your head. You root for them, even if you don’t particularly like them. And so when the Apocalypse happens or the big dog goes nuts or a newcomer in town stirs up all of the vampires, well, now you’ve got some skin in the game.

    King’s prodigious output also accounts for a list of movies nearly as long, and while the quality of the aforementioned movies and books varies greatly, both subjectively and objectively, there are a number of great Stephen King movies that have been accidentally made out of their literary counterparts. Granted, there are also some god-awful ones, too, but we’re not here to talk about Maximum Overdrive…or Firestarter…or The Tommyknockers…or…you get the idea. For the purposes of this list, we’ll focus on the ones that cleaved most closely to the books and were also scary or horrific in some way. That’s why you won’t see Stand By Me or The Shawshank Redemption on this list, as great as they are.

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  • Top 5 Science Run Amok

    Growing up in the 1970s, I had a healthy skepticism about the awesome power of science. I lived in a city in Texas that was, at the time, developing the B-1 stealth bomber at the nearby air force base. It’s common knowledge now, but obviously, no one knew anything about it at the time. They just had all of the elementary schools practice “disaster drills,” which was a polite euphemism for “in case of nuclear bombing.”

    So, thanks to The Cold War and my fear of a Nuclear Holocaust, watching old monster movies from the fifties with mad scientists made perfect sense. Here’s what happens when you fully fund a guy for his research without doing your due diligence. Pretty soon, they are teleporting their own head onto insects and unleashing chaos on an unsuspecting public. And for what, I ask you? Science is still scary to people, moreso now than ever. Instead of irradiated mutants, we’re concerned about genetically-modified organisms, man-made viruses, and worse. Science keeps trying (at least, in our fevered imaginations) to improve upon nature, and in doing so, usually bungs it up so badly that dinosaurs get loose in San Diego, or people come back to life as whack job zombies, or any number of Worst Case Scenarios.

    I tend to watch mad science movies with my disbelief mostly already suspended. It’s because these films tend to invoke a lot of science fiction conceits to begin with, and years of bad Star Trek one-offs and worse Doctor Who one-ons have taught me to just swallow the Kool-Aid and go along with it; after all, the trip is not nearly as important as the destination. Also, these stories frequently deal with the personal consequences of Mad Science’s actions, rather than public ones. In attempting to control something beyond their grasp, these tortured geniuses lose control over their lives, their bodies, their sanity. Thus, the moral of these stories is always something along the lines of “Dare to Dream, but for God’s Sake, Quit Toying With Things Man Was Not Meant to Know.”

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  • Top 5 Witch Movies

    Top 5 Witch Movies

    One of civilization’s oldest fears is that of the unknown. Whatever lurks in the darkness pales in comparison to what we think might lurk in the darkness. And when Europeans came to this country, God-Fearing, the lot of them, they were confronted by a people they didn’t understand, and a forest, the likes of which they’d never seen before—dark and shrouded as it was. Is it any wonder that within a generation of these pilgrims touching down, there emerged the first stories of “the witch of the woods?” We showed up scared and have been in a state of fear ever since. But scared of what? Of women? Of nature? Of the devil? If you were in Salem, back in the day, they were all one and the same.

    Movies about witches and witchcraft are perennially popular, but that’s mostly because they are the same story, often played for laughs, as these women with magical powers help the men in their lives either thwart evil or perpetrate it, by degrees. It’s peculiar to me how many witchcraft movies are some iteration of that basic premise. Lots of things happen in schools, by the way. I’m sure there’s a message in there, somewhere.

    When movies about witchcraft are scary, they are terrifying. The alternative is something usually south of Bewitched and North of The Witches of Eastwick. Fun movies all, by the way, and certainly, witches usually fall under the “Most Fun Classic Monster” category, thanks to Halloween. However, I like my witches mysterious and weird and scary and “Oh, that’s not Right.”

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  • Top 5 Frankenstein Movies

    Top 5 Frankenstein Movies

    Mary Shelly got the shaft, historically speaking. A smart, literate, talented writer and editor, on top of being the only woman in her peer group, and what is she best remembered for? Only the first science fiction novel, ever, and when it’s mentioned, trust me, it’s with much grousing and grumbling and caveats from the science fiction community. Of course, I’m talking about Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus, a decent piece of Victorian melodrama, written in 1818, that inadvertently grapples with the concept of the soul, what makes us human, and asks the question of whether or not science should meddle with the forces of nature. Heavy stuff for back in those days. But those hard SF guys, the graybeards, over in the corner, always shake their heads, and say, “Well, sure, some of the ideas are there, but really…”

    How do you top that kind of back-handed compliment, I wonder? Oh, I’ve got it! Make a movie out of an extremely successful stage play and overwrite all of the conceits and concepts of the novel into its most reductive form, and turn a brilliant allegory into a grotesque caricature that is parodied and copied ad infinitum, well into the 21st century. Talk about “No Respect.”

    As with Dracula, it’s probably ideal to look at Frankenstein (or, technically, Frankenstein’s Monster) from the baseline question, “how close to the book do they get?” To do otherwise gives an unfair advantage to modern interpretations, and I’d rather talk about what these movies get right than throw Jack Pierce under the bus for not being a better make-up artist. To say that there’s some great portrayals of Pop Culture Frankenstein—that lumbering creature based on Boris Karloff’s most famous role—is a given. After all, we’re talking about one of the most recognizable figures of the 20th century. And whether we’re watching Herman Munster or reading a comic book version of Frankenstein as drawn by Mike Ploog or Dick Briefer, or looking at any of the hundreds of other versions—they are all great, for what they are: Pop Culture Frankenstein. Not literary Frankenstein.

    With that in mind, here are my top five favorite Frankenstein movies. It’s a motley assortment, to be sure. What I’d really like to do one day is take my favorite parts from each movie and sort of, I don’t know, stitch them all together to make one giant, killer movie. Not sure what to call it, though…

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  • Top 5 Dracula Movies

    Top 5 Dracula Movies

    There’s a big difference between Dracula movies and vampire movies. Dracula is always a vampire movie, but not every vampire movie is Dracula, which is a bit of an understatement. Ever since Nosferatu was made in 1922, people have been perennially fascinated with bringing Bram Stoker’s historic and histrionic novel to cinematic life, with wildly varying results. I’m not going to summarize the plot of the novel; you probably should have read it already, and if you haven’t, I’m not going to spoil it for you. And anyway, the story is now a part of the larger pop culture zeitgeist, so you probably already kinda know if, even if you haven’t read it. Jonathan Harker, Mina, his fiancée, Quincy the Texan, and Van Helsing are the original monster hunters and their exploits are not unfamiliar to us, thanks to movies, TV, comics, radio, stage plays, and of course, the novel itself. Written in the form of epistolary correspondence from person to person, the novel is accused of being overly romantic, and is most famously analyzed in the context of Stoker’s reaction to the influx of immigrants to Great Britain at the Fin de siècle and a cautionary tale of the dangers of these dark, mysterious, swarthy men ravaging the fair maidens of England.

    Xenophobia and Imperialism aside, the novel is a great read, and the movies are…well, a mixed bag. There are reasons for this, of course, but the single biggest one, in my opinion, is that our concept of Dracula—the story, the characters, etc, are all based on the 1927 stage play adaptation of the novel by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. The English and later American versions of the play greatly compressed setting, plot, and character for all of the reasons why a stage production might do such things—time, budget, number of actors cast, and so forth. It seems weird to think that the play itself was absent the book’s first and third acts and presents only the second act with a greatly truncated third act resolution for an ending to the play, but that’s exactly what happened, and audiences ate the show up.

    The other significant contribution that the stage play gave us was not one but two actors who became known for their cinematic turn as the doomed count. Bela Lugosi was the actor who played Dracula during the American run of the play in 1927, and when the play was revived in the mid-seventies (with production design by Edward Gorey, no less), Frank Langella played the title role.

    I don’t think Dracula movies are scary; not anymore. I know the story too well. And Dracula as a character has achieved a kind of ubiquity that transcends the source material. The Count, on Sesame Street? Count Chocula breakfast cereal? Duckula? Good Lord… however, Pop Culture Dracula is its own thing now. Like Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Conan, and other character that are a part of the pop cultural landscape, what they represent at large belies the intention and intensity of the source material. And as it would be a criminal oversight to leave these movies off any horror movie list worth its salt, I’m instead basing this Top 5 list on how much of the original novel makes it onto the screen. That metric puts all of these movies on a relatively level playing field. Mind you, none of them get it totally right, but maybe if we mashed them all up together, we’d get a Frankenstein version of Dracula that would hit every relevant beat.

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  • Top 5 Vincent Price movies

    Top 5 Vincent Price movies

    Vincent Leonard Price Jr. (1911-1993) was an American actor who made over a hundred feature films in a variety of genres, including historical drama, mystery, film noir, and even comedy, but he is best known for his roles in horror films. A graduate of Yale with a degree in art history, he later studied abroad in London, where he kindled his love of theater and later performed onstage opposed Helen Hayes in Victoria Regina. This led to a five-play contract with Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre. Eventually he was put on contract at Universal as a character actor, playing romantic leads and scoundrels in equal measure. But he never abandoned the stage, returning to it every chance he got.

    In fact, it was during his performance in the 1941 play Angel Street (the American version of Gaslight) playing the cruel Jack Manningham, pushing his wife Helen into madness, that he found his true calling playing villains. Speaking about that role, Price told one interviewer “I came out for my curtain call and the audience just hissed. I knew I’d found my niche.” He secured a few more villain roles and turns in minor horror movies. Later, in the early 1950s, Price would become wildly successful in the genre, leading to some of his most memorable roles and performances for the next twenty-odd years.

    A world traveler, art connoisseur, and gourmet chef, Price was famous for his warmth, sophistication, and charm when he wasn’t chilling the blood or inducing shivers with his saturnine features and distinctive velvet-smooth voice in the movies, on television, or on the radio. He remains one of the most popular masters of horror, thanks to largely to his ability to play sympathetic villains, or as he put it, “I don’t play monsters. I play men besieged by fate and out for revenge.” The five movies listed below are testaments to that. If you only know Price from the spooky voice-over in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” you are missing out on an entire career of ghoulish performances that brought Price to that liminal place in pop culture history in the first place. These movies are, in my opinion, the Vincent Price-y-ist of all and cannot be missed if you call yourself a fan.

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  • Top 5 William Castle movies

    Top 5 William Castle movies

    William Castle (April 24, 1914 – May 31, 1977) was one of those Renaissance men from the studio system that doesn’t really exist anymore. He’s known for writing, directing, and producing a string of B-pictures, and his storied career in Hollywood takes on a Forrest Gump-like tone, as he lucked into job after job on nothing more than gumption and bullshit. And yet, his legacy is felt throughout the 20th century.

    Castle worked with Bela Lugosi and Orson Welles (he shot second unit footage for The Lady From Shanghai), and he got a reputation for bringing in films on time and under budget. He was a big fan of Hitchcock and even appeared in trailers and in framing sequences of his films to address the crowd directly. Hitchcock, in turn, noticed the success of Castle’s shock-thrillers and apocryphally decided to do one of his own—a project which became the movie Psycho.

    Castle is best known for his outrageous and inventive promotional stunts; he dreamed up a number of gimmicks to help bolster the movies he financed, and it’s fair to say his gimmicks (and the mythology surrounding them) are better remembered than the movies he made.

    He never quite cracked the big time, but his penchant for theatricality and the people he inspired, and the projects that got made because of him, have earned him a seat at the table of great horror personalities, and, I think, transcending the genre completely. Joe Dante’s film Matinee (1993) is based entirely on the legacy of William Castle and his movies, and is worth seeing for John Goodman’s inspired performance as “Lawrence Woolsey, the Master of Movie Horror!” The films below have been graded somewhat on a curve. While it’s true that their appearance on the list is in deference to the inventiveness of the gimmick, it must be the movie itself that determines whether or not they make the grade. Therefore, the rankings below reflect the movies’ stature with regards to thrills and chills.

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