Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying "System Reference Document"

4 months or more since announcement; for old Chaosium that would have been super fast, for "Moon Design sans Greg Stafford now doing business as the walking corpse of Chaosium" we don't know, they haven't shipped anything on a schedule before.

So, it's 23 pages, with 2 pages of license and an artless cover page. And no interior art except two colors of the conformance logo, which must be plastered on your book. The license isn't too different from the D20 SRD, except the massive list of "prohibited content".

The book is moderately useful mechanically, it's a quickstart version of BRP. They've eliminated characteristic/skill bonuses, and very few skills use characteristic bases. One of the nicer features of most D100 variants is either a skill category bonus from characteristics (say +1% to all Manipulation skills per CHA over 12), or direct characteristic base (Influence starts at CHAx2); in BRP SRD, Persuade starts at 15% whether you're a hideous slime beast or George Clooney.

There's a bunch of professions ranging from Cowboy to Warrior, with no theme or note about culture and era, none of which have magic. Equipment is mentioned, but there's no shopping lists for any period; very generic lists of weapons and armor ("Sword, Broad", "Pistol", "Pistol, Laser", etc; I thought I was terse!) are later given with no costs, and the armor uses the same craptastic fixed-defense mechanic as later-era Call of Cthulhu and RuneQuest, rather than the die rolls that made Stormbringer, etc. combat dangerous.

BRP-SRD still has 4 almost totally disconnected task systems: Characteristic rolls, which are score x 5%, pass/fail; Skill Rolls with Critical, Special, Success, Fail, Fumble levels of success (Critical/Special used to be Impale/Critical? Or the other way around?); Skill vs Skill where levels of success are compared; and Resistance Rolls on a big table where characteristics are compared to get a % roll, which boils down to (Attack-Defense+10)x5%, pass/fail. Modern D100 games have simplified that down to just skill rolls and four levels of success, with specific resistance/characteristic test skills.

The classic skill-roll experience system is here, but it barely addresses over-100 skills, and has the classic "golf bag of weapons" flaw: No limit on how many skills can be improved, so everyone is encouraged to try every skill until they succeed once, then never do it again that session. Legend's Improvement Points mechanic somewhat fixes that, and certainly has much more serious over-100 skill rules, as well as paid training, time training, and improving characteristics. This is barely, minimally adequate to play a few sessions in, a campaign will be severely hamstrung.

Combat is minimalistic, with 2 pages of spot rules, heavily whitespace-padded. You don't technically need many rules to run D100 combat, you can make your own spot rules for most things. But there's no off-hand or dual-wield weapon use, for instance, and I like to fight Florentine or with a cloak in any medieval game. Everyone will have their own set of needs and the much longer section from most D100 games standardizes them.

There is no magic system at all, and they've forbidden use of any of the standard BRP systems of the last 45 years. OK, making a new magic system isn't that hard, but if you want it to be like Stormbringer, or Mythic Earth, or Magic World/Big Green Book BRP, you can't. You can't just pick this SRD up and have a usable game for any genre except mundane reality.

There's one animal stat block, and they've forbidden use of essentially any monster ever written because they forbid use of:

All trademarks, registered trademarks, proper names (characters, deities, place names, etc.), plots, story elements, locations, characters, artwork, or trade dress from any of the following: any releases from the product lines of Call of Cthulhu, Dragon Lords of Melniboné, ElfQuest, Elric!, Hawkmoon, HeroQuest, Hero Wars, King Arthur Pendragon, Magic World, Nephilim, Prince Valiant, Ringworld, RuneQuest, 7th Sea, Stormbringer, Superworld, Thieves’ World, Worlds of Wonder, and any related sublines; the world and mythology of Glorantha; all works related to the Cthulhu Mythos, including those that are otherwise public domain; and all works related to Le Morte d’Arthur.

Well, that leaves… subtract nothin' from nothin', uh, nothin'. You could publish a game of normal people, possibly medieval peasants to 19th C, who never encounter any monsters except a Bear. They can't go insane, because that's owned by Call of Cthulhu. They can't fight demons or elementals, because those are owned by Stormbringer. They can't be knights errant because that steps on Pendragon and Prince Valiant. I'm not actually sure "Humans" are allowed by this license. Possibly change them to Care Bears Koala Friends to be safe from "DBA Chaosium"'s vampiric lawyers.

★☆☆☆☆ Too little, a decade too late. Not worth the cover price of "free".

OpenCthulhu (see my comments ), Legend, OpenQuest, Mythras, Delta Green, and other D100-systems are much more open, and provide much more material to start working from.

What I'm Watching: Kingdom S2

After a brief flashback to the first use of the resurrection flower against the invading Japanese, S2 picks right back up with the zombies out in daylight, and a fantastic retreating battle, and heroic sacrifices winnowing the cast a bit.

There's more straightforward conflict this season, since we know who the villains are (anyone named Cho). A little of what they'd previously done fills in backstory, and desperate measures against the Japanese make sense, but not so much why they're still doing it; ambition, sure, but hitching yourself to the Queen's clan or using the plague as a weapon are not things sane people do.

A cop with an impressive feather hat tries to investigate the Queen, and gets further than I'd expect from feudal investigators, but politics makes that entire subplot pointless. She isn't especially cunning, her plots and tricks are very blunt and obvious, but nobody can call her on it, and her impossibly loyal guards and court ladies go along with it.

The Crown Prince does more swordfighting this season, though mostly it's hacking up zombies instead of duels. The "Tiger Hunter" peasant with a gun amuses me, and he finally gets one backstory flashback, but he's low on dialogue.

Nurse Seo-Bi in any other era would be a boss, with the most valuable medical/murder tool ever and the cure for the zombie plague, but in feudal Korea she's just pushed around as a pawn, and treats entirely the wrong person. Half the plot could be avoided if she just told the Crown Prince what she knows earlier, and doesn't help the villains.

By E3 & E4, I'm really missing the zombies; there's too much Human backstabbing and just chasing around the countryside which is zombie-free except at the surrounded fortress. And some of the death scenes last a very long time, many minutes of weeping and flashbacks.

Finally by E5, we get some zombie action again, but it's taken forever. Zombies vs guy in toilet is always a great set piece. The "camera following unseen action behind a wall" scenes get annoying quick; I prefer to see the combats.

"People aren't screaming. The screams have stopped."
"What's going on?"

The plan in E6 relies on zombies not being able to climb, which eventually they do, an ice lake breaking in a way that it doesn't (ice is bouyant, so breaking it in one place doesn't shatter the entire lake).

The "7 years later" setup for the next season is a little heavy on tell-not-showing, but we have a new villain teaser at least.

I did get bored mid-season. Zombies, ever since Night of the Living Dead, have existed to put pressure on people, and keep a plot advancing fast. Without the zombies, you just have people whining at each other, making too-elaborate plots, and they don't even have to stay in the house/castle. With zombies, you get desperation and quick, bad decisions in enclosed spaces.


Last Stand of the California Browncoats

Amusing that the start of the apocalypse is now in the past (the main books are set 20 years later), but I really want to point back at these, and in particular the prequel story, when people could have stayed home, avoided the plague, but instead wanted to go cosplay Firefly for a weekend.

Feed's a great epidemiology story, and a fairly good vlogging/social media (they say "blog" but only appear to do video) story, with zombies as almost a totally irrelevant side effect.

The main two caveats I have are technical: The blood testing system is basically what Theranos was pushing, and it probably can't be made to work, the sample sizes are too small. And later has a tiresomely impossible (at least with their tech) medical technology. There's a creepy personal thing, too, but you know, people gotta get their bone on with someone/thing.

I think I haven't read a bunch of the short stories, only the above and "How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea", which is a little silly because it's about Strines vs zombie kangaroos.

"Mira Grant" has a few other horror books, the Parasite series is very zombie-like as well; she's grim and serious but has just a little genre fanservice goofiness to lighten the mood. But the author under her real name, Seanan McGuire, also writes urban fantasy books, and they're dire. Easily some of the trashiest "I'm Wonder Woman and I wanna fuck a monster" books since Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake went off the rails straight into bondage-mutilation-porn-land.


If you think you have contracted the Vampire virus:

  1. Isolate yourself in a safe, dark place. Basement apartments, laundry rooms, service tunnels, and abandoned movie theatres are often ideal.
  2. By night, prepare a coffin or crate full of the dirt of your homeland.
  3. By day, sleep in your box.
  4. Make lists of enemies and annoyances. Each night, visit them and drain their blood.
  5. Make lists of friends and family who may join you. Each night, visit them and share the virus.
  6. Go to a sporting goods store and acquire legal firearms for self-defense against cross-wielding lunatics. Do not rely on magic powers.
  7. Even if you do not have the Vampire virus, this is a perfectly fine way to live.

Sleep All Day Party All Night Sunday Music

Never grow old. Never die. It's fun to be a vampire.

What I'm Watching: Dracula (2020)

Three 90-minute episode/movies on Netflix, each in a very different style.

The undead makeup is pretty good, there's not a lot of crazy special effects or fights, but lots of latex gags. There's a wolf transformation scene using some latex and raspberry jam, and some mannequin head gags. Fun practical effects, not too much CGI bullshit. The sets are great, the castle's a maze of twisty passages, like the Winchester house built in stone.

E1 is much like the first part of the novel, with interrogation instead of letters. Johnny Harker (John Heffernan) awakes in a convent, looking like the walking dead. Sister Agatha Van Helsing (Dolly Wells) interrogates him about his improbable escape from Dracula's (Claes Bang) castle. Dracula's a charming middle-aged monster, Van Helsing's a bad nun, but an excellent monster hunter, Johnny's the same wanker he is in the book. This gets progressively more horrifying, with one of the best vampire confrontations I've ever seen.

E2, Dracula goes on a boat ride, with a murder mystery aboard the Demeter. Fun, drawn out in a way I've never seen in a vampire film, but the other actors and characters aren't great; the one-handed quartermaster(?) and the captain are just stereotypes but competent. They were clearly trying to make Dr Sharma into a new protagonist, but we don't get enough of his backstory except unpleasant flashbacks, and he doesn't accomplish as much as Van Helsing. Agatha is conspicuously missing for most of it, which is a shame. The end of E2 genuinely surprised me a couple of times, which happens rarely enough in anything I need to call it out. I get all the "twists" in everything, I know every genre convention, and this one was smarter than I am.

Alas, E3 was an incredible disappointment, don't watch it. SPOILERS ahead:

It's not a vampire Agatha who greets Dracula on a modern beach, but a descendent working for a Johnathan Harker Foundation. Then a lawyer Renfield gets the mass murderer released, and immediately helps plan more murders; the Foundation could at least have fried Dracula then and there. Then there's a lot of Kids Today™️ including this Lucy Westenra (100 years apart from her girlfriend Mina), night-clubbing and fucking around. Dracula immediately adapts to Tinder/Grindr/Postmates delivering victims to him, but the writers are unaware that police could track missing persons thru contacts in the apps. Lucy's fate should be a warning, if you're engaged, don't let someone who's not your fiancé suck you.

In the first ep, and somewhat in the second, there's a deeper question about the undead, vampires, and what Dracula is. Why do so many of the myths seem to work on him?

Are they going metaphysical? Reveal a shocking truth behind Christianity, such as Jesus was a vampire (I've used that along with the Merovingian conspiracy in RPGs before)? Or do science & reason win and it's a virus, like Ultraviolet? No such luck. E3 has the most vapid excuse for an answer I've ever heard, everyone involved in writing that irrational twaddle should die of shame.

The first 2 eps are two of the best vampire movies in years. Absolutely nothing of value happens in E3.

★★★★½ for E1-2, ☆☆☆☆☆ for E3.

What I'm Watching: The Dunwich Horror

I found a cheap Bluray two-pack of The Dunwich Horror (1970), and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971), great classic weird horror movies. I'll see Murders later.

The Dunwich Horror looks great, that vibrant '70s color, sets with disorienting angles and weird lighting. Sound's not fantastic, music has a few repeated stingers but not a long soundtrack. Long stretches are silent, waiting for someone to speak.

Dean Stockwell's a charming but weird motherfucker at any time, but here as Wilbur Whateley (the presentable Whateley brother) he was at his peak. He's smooth but kind of square, with raving weirdo shit a millimeter beneath the surface. Just perfect casting and acting for the role. I don't care for his corduroy jacket style, but it was the '70s.

Sandra Dee as the naïve Nancy is certainly vapid enough, but maybe a little plump and matronly at 28 to be a college girl. She wears maybe the weirdest slit overcoat/cape thing I've ever seen, not explicable even by the '70s. Later when she's drugged out and just writhing around in a nightgown, there's no "acting" but she's a useful prop, and her vag doubles as a bookrest. The film does not pass the Bechdel Test, either with her or her girlfriend.

Ed Begley as Professor Armitage, mortal enemy of the Whateleys, uncomprehending owner of the Necronomicon, is as stuffy, closed-minded, and foolish as he should be. What I don't know is what kind of lecture he could possibly give; he doesn't understand the Mythos, and the book would destroy all of his precious Christian delusions.

It's an age-old story, boy looks for the Necronomicon, meets girl, seduces girl, steals Necronomicon, summons Yog-Sothoth with girl as sacrifice.

Unfortunately there's a very long stretch of no Wilbur and Nancy, just Armitage questioning people in his slow, "let me put it like this" "you may find this hard to believe" fussing around, with equally old, doddering fools who waste a scene filling a pipe. The girlfriend who wanders around is pointless. Unbearable and most of his scenes should have been cut completely.

The "good Christian folk" of Dunwich are the same bigoted, murderous mob that killed Wilbur's great-grandfather; justified perhaps but no less loathesome. They really do make you sympathize with Wilbur's desire to bring back the Old Ones and replace Humanity.

The Old Ones here are not Cthulhu and kin, but mere body-painted pagans who dance and orgy in the meadows, but Yog-Sothoth and the other Whateley brother are Lovecraftian enough. Most scenes of him are just weird camera angles, light & sound effects, and a wind machine, but a couple good shots of the being.

And then the shittiest rap battle in history ends with the sanctimonious idiots winning. But there is another…

There's a lot of room for improvement, and the middle stretch is dull, but it's a good film that's also a good Lovecraft adaptation, rarest of things.


Godzilla Shows Again and Again

Considered while watching Godzilla Final Wars again:

The Godzilla Cinematic Universe is massively more high-quality science fiction/space fantasy than Star Wars, Marvel, and DC combined.

Sure, there's a few stinkers across 65 years like the Roland Emmerich movie GINO, Son of Godzilla, All Monsters Attack, and arguably Godzilla 2014, not every film has a great plot or fights. But by and large, they're respectable work.

If I'm going to show someone just three Godzilla films, they'd be Godzilla (1954), GMK: Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), and Godzilla Final Wars (2004); alternately for the last Destroy All Monsters (1968), similar basic movie but more serious, less awesome.

"One who depends on power will be destroyed by it."
—Xilian leader, Godzilla Final Wars

Tokusatsu is better than CGI, but Gen Orobuchi's Godzilla anime, Final Wars (a mix of Tokusatsu and CGI), & Godzilla: King of the Monsters show you can animate good Godzilla movies.

Compare to Star Wars: Two and a half good movies in the original trilogy, nearly a dozen garbage films since, a bunch of bad cartoons. Marvel: Maybe 5 good movies (Iron Man, Thor, Avengers, Deadpool, Guardians of the Galaxy) and a bunch of recycled junk sequels. DC: The Dark Knight, Wonder Woman somewhat?, rest is Zack Snyderism at its worst.

What's the moral of Star Wars, post-original-Trilogy? "This is pod-racing!" or "kill your father and burn anything you should respect" or some shit. What's the moral of Marvel & DC? Punch "bad guys" and they'll be back next week; a lot of civilians die as collateral damage.

The moral of Godzilla, the truth you should've learned, is always that nature is bigger than mankind, that war brings only misery, that science without forethought and sacrifice brings only monsters.