My Other Blog

History should be fun
History should be fun

Perhaps not too many people know that over the last several years I have another blog.  It is not about science fiction, fantasy, games, or being a geek.  It is about my other true love: History.  I try three times a week to post historical anniversaries on the blog.  Its very fun to think that on this day in history of all the events that took place.

Teaspoon of History

I got the name for the blog one day while eating lunch.  One of the big detractions to history is often the length and verbosity of its articles. So I decided to try and put history into teaspoon size bites.

Try coming every couple days to the blog and read up on all the odd and fascinating historical anniversaries that are taking place.

I welcome you to take a look.

September Comic book Awards

New Avengers.jpg

~Nandor Fox

Welcome back everyone for the third installment of my monthly annual COMIC BOOK AWARDS! If this is your very first time taking a glance at what this is all about, I’ll give you a brief rundown to catch you up just in case. This is the column where every month , out of the ten-plus comic books I personally purchase, I choose which individual comic book issue deserves the award out of the four categories: Cover of the Month, Art of the Month, Story of the Month, and Issue of the Month. It’s been a bit of a hobby I’ve done for a while mainly just for myself for the fun of it, but now I have the pleasure of sharing it, hopefully, to a wider audience like yourself. My Comic Book Awards are meant to simply entertain, inform, and maybe even possibly help you see what comics you might be missing out on that you might otherwise enjoy. Anyways, without further ado, here are my Comic Book Awards for the month of September!

The month of September proved to be an overall good as well as competitive month for comics. I honestly had a somewhat difficult time figuring which comic book issue was most worthy of an award over another and why due to the fact that many issues were, comparatively, on-par with each other. But that’s what makes this fun, right? September saw many extra-sized issues as they garnered a $4.99 price tag, special tie-in’s for DC Comics’ Future’s End event, and also the unfortunate end to Jason Aaron’s commendable Thor: God of Thunder series with #25 (which will be returning in October with Thor #1 featuring the controversial new female Thor). Avengers and New Avengers took a bold and mysterious turn as their current epic storylines take place eight months from now in the future, the 11th Doctor arrives with his latest companion Alice on a planet with whose citizens are all-too curiously happy, and the Red Skull’s menacing plan comes to a head in Captain America and Uncanny Avengers as Marvel’s Avengers & X-Men: AXIS fall comics event is upon us.

But out of these and other nominees, which were the best? The results surprised me.

Cover of the Month Award: Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #2


Cover Artist: Alice X. Zhang

Wonder. Imagination. Joy. Whenever I think about the amazing sci-fi BBC Doctor Who TV series, these are the foundational emotions that I feel. When I look at this cover for the second issue of Titan Comics’ Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, some of those same emotions hit me. This gorgeous, almost transcendent, painted cover by Alice X. Zhang is an extravagant rendering of the 11th Doctor played by the unparalleled Matt Smith. The Doctor’s pose as he looks in amused delight at the shining lights above him, and that happiness expressed in its life-like fullness, carries this lovely work of art to warrant Cover of the Month in a heartbeat.

Art of the Month Award: Uncanny X-Men #25


Penciler and Colorist: Chris Bachalo

Inkers: Tim Townsend, Mark Irwin, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba & Al Vey

I’d have to admit I’ve never really liked Chris Bachalo’s art. That’s not to say I think his art is bad; not at all. His diverse, true comic book style presentation is impressive and even needed in the comic book world today, but it’s not necessarily what I’m looking for in terms of art when I pick up a comic. However, when I finished Uncanny X-Men #25, I was taken aback. From the first two pages, there was a part of me unexpectedly drawn to this issue. Nothing about Bachalo’s work was different or altered — I just found myself being strikingly pulled in by it. The pages are filled to the max with unique panel formatting, and his storytelling is at its best, resulting in a packed, satisfying issue. Maybe it’s the great teamwork present involving writer Brian Michael Bendis and Mr. Bachalo, but, nevertheless, it is a fine example of a rewarding comic book.

Story of the Month Award: Avengers #34.1 (“The World In His Hands”)


Writer: Al Ewing

Avengers #34.1 is a standalone tale spotlighting the character, and current Avenger, Hyperion. He’s not a well known Marvel character, but that doesn’t diminish how cool or powerful he is (think Superman powerful). The plot revolves around a child being abducted and Hyperion takes it upon himself to locate the child and kidnapper. What might sound like a straight-forward story becomes, actually, a touching one. Al Ewing expertly explores Hyperion’s psyche throughout the issue and, doing so, manages to make him a very likeable, thought-provoking hero. In the issue Hyperion questions who he is and why he does what he does, which all relates to his fascinating back-story. When you flip the last page, Avengers #34.1 ends up as a rich, character driven superhero story that captures something great about hope and how we can help people. Usually I pass over “.1’s”, but I’m so glad this particular issue was an exception.

Issue of the Month Award: New Avengers #24 (“The Cabal”)
New Avengers.jpg

Writer: Jonathan Hickman

Artist: Valerio Schiti

Cover Artist: Gabrielle Dell ‘Otto

New Avengers #24 is not your conventional “next issue”. Why is that? The story takes place eight whole months after the last issue and is also a part of Jonathan Hickman’s grand Avengers masterpiece crossing over with his ongoing regular Avengers title. You’re put into the middle of dire times and circumstances in New Avengers #24 where there are more questions than answers, making for much intrigue. The Illuminati are in hiding, the Cabal is killing worlds left and right, and Doctor Doom is up to something…all this and more give way for a brilliant first building block in Hickman’s next step for this book. Valerio Schiti in addition returns for this thirty-page issue offering up his rising talent. With such cinematic grace, Schiti’s facial and action scenes are remarkable here. If you want a consecutively incredible comic book series, New Avengers is totally the way to go.

Thanks for checking out my awards out and check back sometime next month for October’s Comic Book Awards! Until then, I, and hopefully you, will continue to be reading comics!

Original Review of Advanced Phantasm Adventures

112-page Players Handbook,
96-page Gamemaster’s Handbook

According to the Bloodchant game, as of 1988, the Phantasm Adventures game was the biggest fantasy game in Japan. Apparently, the Phantasm Adventures game is the revised, English-language publication of those rules.

Physically, the game consists of two books with heavy-paper covers, punched and bound with plastic strips, as done in many photocopy stores. The interior text is fairly large and easy to read, typically divided into two columns, sometimes with a narrow sidebar of auxiliary text. Occasionally, the type becomes much denser, in places where the writer obviously wanted to get a lot of material for one topic onto a few pages. In general, large headings break the text into manageable pieces, with a fair number of illustrations for variety and illumination. Overall, the illustrations are unusual but respectable. (At first, I thought many of them were pieces garnered from a century ago, they have that sort of engraved-line quality and dense shading, but I find them too specific to the text and too fantastic in subject for that to be the case.) A multitude of tables supplement the text, typically collected into sections of their own.

The introduction in the Players Handbook states that the game is designed for incredible developmental possibilities, yet is simple enough to be easily played and expanded. I would agree that the game is very flexible at least in terms of the sheer number of types of characters that can be generated but it is hardly simple or easy. Rather, this is a number intensive product, particularly in terms of character generation, and one that requires quite a bit of rules reference during play.

At first, I found the game to be rather exciting. The idea of rating characters stats both by racial base and by personal variation is interesting. This allows a great degree of personal variance within a race, and when stats are to be compared between members of two different races as in an arm-wrestling match, for instance multiplying the racial stat by the personal stat makes the difference between even the strongest goblin and the weakest giant immediately evident. And some undoubtedly will be glad to know that you can choose characters from fifty-five different races (though as GM, I prefer to keep my bugbears and trolls as monsters rather than player characters).

The general approach to magic is also exciting, with designers of spell-casters deciding what realms ”their characters casting powers come from such things as a deity, spoken phrases, gestures, special instruments, symbols, components, and the like. In other words, you decide whether your character speaks and gestures to cast a spell, or holds an object while invoking a deity, or gestures with an DRAGON 27 object, to name just a few of the many possibilities. Furthermore, you even choose among options to determine how wieldly or unwieldy the method is, how fast it regenerates energy, how much energy it yields, and what effect it has on casting time and chance of success. Then you decide what circles of magic to specialize in, which determines what spells are available to your character. Note that this all means that while two players might end up with the same spell for their characters, the dramatic effects of casting that spell are quite different nice storytelling element. In terms of flexibility, spells can be modified as they’re thrown, to speed one up at the cost of accuracy, for example, and characters can spend experience on the spot for emergency power points.

This freedom of choice is also evident in terms of the skill system. Players are given beginning experience points with which to purchase desired skills, with guidelines given by a characters chosen clan— e.g., a professional club, such as military, religious, crime, trade, etc. Certain skills are required purchases for members of a particular clan, and some list multipliers for the cost of learning magical spells. Magical ability is also dictated somewhat by the race decided upon.

Actually generating a character reveals, however, just how number-, table-, and rules-intensive the game really is. (It doesn’t help that the promised character sheet is not included.) First, you choose a race and write down nine racial stats plus a height base and move rating. Then you begin collecting personal stat modifiers for nationality, town size, clan type, and clan rank. Now you roll 2d10 for each of those personal stats and add the modifiers you’ve noted. Then you refer that number to a table, to determine the actual personal stat value. Don’t throw away the original number, though, because you’ll be spending your experience on it during play, and coming back to the conversion table to convert the new number to a new stat value. Then you determine a god worshiped, if any. There are special restrictions and abilities to be gained from doing so. Now determine exact clan background and resulting age. From clan, you decide upon skills. Just as the numbers you rolled for personal stats are converted to a value using a conversion table, you spend experience to buy levels of skill, which are converted using a table to a numerical value, based upon the skills related stat, the number of levels purchased, and the cost per level as dictated by the character s guild. Decimal values are retained for a “slim chance” rule: e.g., if you have a success chance of 12.6 and roll a 13 (the game uses 1d20 for skill tests), there is a 6 in 10 chance that the skill actually succeeds.

If your character is to cast magic, age will be affected by that as well, and you’ll need to make the decisions mentioned earlier, concerning realm and the like. (Unfortunately, I still haven’t figured out how to determine the effect levels for the various aspects of those realms.) Then you’ll have to decide which circles to use and roll to see what spells are available to the character.

In any case, you’ll also need to generate starting money and buy initial equipment. Then you choose three personal goals for the character, from a list of samples, which affect how the character gains experience points during play.

Combat is a bit number intensive as well. For initiative, each character has three different PSNs (Phase Sequence Numbers): one for melee combat, one for missile combat, and one for spell-casting. At the beginning of the turn, you decide which type of action your character will take, then roll 1dl0 and add it to the appropriate PSN. Totals higher than 20 allow actions in more than one phase of the turn. The actual course of activity your character performs may consist of one or more action types (draw weapon, go berserk, fall prone, etc.), each of which counts as anything from half an action to three actions, in terms of elapsed time. (Actually, this sounds more confusing than it really is, but it does require a lot of reference to the book during play.) Any attacks are rolled on 1d20, with numerous possible modifiers (again requiring frequent reference to the book). There are also rules for how many attackers of what size may attack a target of a particular size, how to find spent ammunition after combat, chance of missile breakage, equations for damage from falling and throwing, movement and coordination effects of armor, and suchlike, plus a fairly lengthy table of special tactics such as throwing sand in the eyes, etc., adding a bit of storytelling to combat.

Finally, every skill in the game has its own critical success and fumble chart, again adding a bit of storytelling to play but also requiring even more reference to the rulebook. Given the preceding reviews, it should be noted that the Phantasm Adventures game is somewhat more carefully worded than the Bloodbath and Bloodchant games. Nonetheless, it is just as prone to spelling and grammatical errors. Also, while it strives for realism in such things as how much water a character needs per day in a desert, it has significant lapses in logic at other places, such as in its description of the game world’s solar system. For example, while the world nearest the sun is quite reasonably a tiny, barren rock, and the second is a large hot world, the third has a frozen atmosphere, and the fourth is the Earth-like one. I have to wonder how that frozen planet exists in that slot, especially given that the sixth planet, much farther away, is an ocean world. And as for the fifth, it is described as an airless moon. No mention is made of it orbiting any world, however. Again, I’m glad to have had a chance to peruse this game. And I imagine I’ll keep playing with its magic system in particular. But I can’t really recommend it as a finished product.

~Lester Smith

Ancient Dragon [Magazine]

In my continuing research on detailing my historical impact on games, I discovered that three of my creations were reviewed in issue number 193 of the Dragon magazine.  This issue was published in May of 1993 by TSR and contained the reviews for Advanced Phantasm Adventures (two books), Bloodbath, and Bloodchant.

I feel so honored that my three games made it into the monthly roundtable of new and up coming rpgs of the 1990s.


Troy Christensen

Comic Book Awards for August

~Nandor Shaffer

Hello all! It’s quite nice of you to be taking the time out of your probably busy day to look at what I like to call my personal *drum roll, please* COMIC BOOK AWARDS (or CBA’s, if you prefer)! This is a monthly project I put together, and a thing I’ve done for a while now where, out of the ten-plus individual comic book titles I purchase every month, I assign an award to the comic I deem worthy of it. There are four award slots: Cover of the Month, Art of the Month, Story of the Month, and finally the most coveted, Issue of the Month. You’ll happen to see a couple of introductory sentences preceding the award ceremony noting what’s been taking place in a good amount of my titles for that month and then following each award winner I’ll do my best to explain my reasons for why that comic book issue deserved that particular award above all other competing contenders (and I apologize in neglecting to share my explanations for why the winners received an award in last month’s installment).

I’m aware I am not coming from a truly objective stance, as I can’t afford to read or buy all the many, many comic books that hit retailers each consecutive month, but I hope my Comic Book Awards still inform, entertain, and maybe even help you decide which comic you should give a shot. Additionally, I’d like to let you know that when December comes around, be ready for my annual COMIC BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARDS (that’s something else, I assure you). Finally, I want to thank Mr. Troy Christensen for being kind enough to give me a column on his website to post these. And so, here are the Comic Book Awards for the month of August…

As with any month of comics, a lot occurred in August regarding our favorite characters, but nothing too remarkable – with a few exceptions. After a one month hiatus, Hulk returned this month with a new writer taking over after Mark Waid’s short-lived run by the name of Gerry Duggan. Whether Duggan or someone at Marvel Comics deliberately chose to make Hulk sport a Mohawk hair dew, I don’t know (whoever did needs to leave the book), but it’s regrettable that’s not the only thing not good about the issue. The Uncanny Avengers are recovering after last issue’s climactic finale, teenage Cyclops is stranded with his dying father on a perilous planet, Aquaman takes a stand against the Chimera monster, and the 10th Doctor (from the fantastic TV show Doctor Who) in own his comic figures out what or who might be threatening planet Earth, just to let you in on a few things without spoiling it for you. Captain America #23 contained major revelations as well.

But out of these and other nominees, which were the best?

Cover of the Month Award: Hulk #5


Cover Artist: Alex Ross

It’s not every month you have the privilege of owning a painting by superstar artist Alex Ross of the Hulk. Ross is a current comic book legend, and the cover of Hulk #5 is one out of countless examples backing that statement up (if you need more proof, type in DC Comics’ Kingdom Come or his covers for Marvel Comics’ Earth X epic in Google Search). His cover does the green goliath justice by having him positioned to where he literally looks like he’s going to smash through the page. It is a lifelike piece of unparalleled art that is great to examine. Too bad the cover for Hulk #5 is the only thing incredible about the issue.

Art of the Month Award: Avengers #34


Penciler: Leinil Francis Yu

Inker: Gerry Alanguilan

Colorists: Sunny Gho & Matt Milla

When you flip the pages of Avengers #34, your eyes see what superhero comic book art is really supposed to look like. Leinil Francis Yu’s pristine handiwork is hard to pass over without acknowledging the care and detail present in each panel. He pencils characters in this issue with strength, and everything else with a crisp quality. His facial and body motions convey honesty, showing emotionally what the writer intended to get across to the reader. Yu’s brilliant art is further amplified by the inker and colorists’ admirable assists.

Story of the Month Award: New Avengers #23 (“All The Angels Have Fallen”)


Writer: Jonathan Hickman

If it was your last day to live, what would you do? Where would you go? Visionary and scribe extraordinaire Jonathan Hickman asks the Illuminati, a clandestine band of heroes, that very question. But it’s not a metaphorical or day-dreaming query; this is, sadly, for real. I could say more, though you need to read New Avengers #23 for yourself to experience the drama it musters. In fact, if you don’t care about comics at all, you still don’t have any excuse for missing out on possibly the greatest comic book story in all of history (I’m not kidding). Since #1, this book has left me in awe after almost each issue and #23 is a turning point for the title that’ll leave you startled. “All The Angels Have Fallen” is a quiet, sobering tale that will not let you go; some heroes regret, some heroes lose hope, and a king weeps.

Issue of the Month Award: Avengers #34 (“The Last Avenger”)


Writer: Jonathan Hickman

Penciler: Leinil Francis Yu

Cover Art: Leinil Yu and Sunny Gho

This issue of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers witnesses the satisfying conclusion to a thrilling time-traveling plot that started a few months ago in Avengers #29. Captain America has been thrust into an unknown future, and in Avengers #34 he makes a decision, as well as an inspiring speech worth saluting to, that relays why he is who he is and what he stands for in a terrific, fascinating approach. You can’t deny Hickman’s profound, clever authorship or Yu’s excellent cover and interior artwork in this issue. Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers/New Avengers grand story is ever-growing, and by the looks of the cliffhanger ending of Avengers #34, he shows no signs of slowing down. It’s just going to get more awesome, if that’s even possible with how awesome it’s already been, from here on out.

Thanks for checking out my awards out and check back sometime next month for September’s Comic Book Awards! Until then, I, and hopefully you, will continue to be reading comics!

Check out Phantasm Adventures IV

Welcome to the world of Phantasm Adventures IV! This is the first of many books that will help you play this fantasy role-playing game. Use this book to generate a character for the game. It contains:
• 10 Player Races
• 75+ Background Picks
• 6 Factions, each with 100 levels
• 6 Professions
• 200+ skills
• 25+ Experience Goals
. . . And all the rules you need to play the game!

All the rules necessary to create endless combinations of fantastic characters: