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November 7, 2013

TMoRP Day 14 – Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Podcast

Yesterday’s entry got really long and rambly. Sorry. This will be shorter.

Ken and Robin Talk about Stuff (KaRTaS) is a weekly podcast by tabletop game design luminaries Kenneth Hite and Robin D Laws. Each show is divided into four segments of roughly 15 minutes, with a general remit of discussing tabletop roleplaying games – designing, running or playing them. In practise, the subjects expand in every direction – they discuss real-world geopolitical events like Syria, Libya and the NSA spying scandal, political issues like the internal wrangling of the Republican Party and the lunatic escapades of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, more bizarre ideas from the realms of conspiracy theories, odd subcultures and the occult, and numerous topics from across the whole stretch of human history. All these are at least nominally grist for the mill of the gaming table and/or fiction, with the presenters mining their subjects for inspiration, using them as launching points for campaigns and stories. You get the idea.

The hosts are funny, erudite and endlessly curious. Even if you don’t have a particular interest in gaming or writing fiction, the sheer scope of their subjects is reason enough to tune in to the show. In one section they might be talking about water rights in the Middle East, and in the next they will cover little-known figures from the lunatic occult fringe of the Nazi Party (apparently there were elements of pre-war Germany that were too crazy even for the Third Reich, the revelations of which are somewhat eye-opening). I don’t recall an episode where I didn’t learn something about which I had previously never heard.

Ken and Robin are charming, amusing hosts who present their material like a cheerful discussion over a tasty cheese platter and a couple of good bottles of red wine. Their conversational style, their easy wit and the sheer breadth of their knowledge (or at least the quality of their research) makes for fun listening, very worthy of an hour out of your week. There’s no particular continuity (other than their occasionally revisiting an earlier subject of discussion) so you can easily start with the latest episode and see what you think. Give it a listen.

June 10, 2013

Review – Shotguns v. Cthulhu (Edited by Robin D Laws)

An excellent anthology of stories injecting thrilling action into H.P. Lovecraft’s often rather staid cosmic horror cycle (though the editor, Robin D Laws, takes care to point out that there was a fair amount of potboiling action in the source stories themselves). With one clunking and risible exception that sounds a lot like after-play report from a particularly overwrought convention scenario, by a writer who has been around more than long enough to know better, these are all fine stories. The writers tend to keep the focus down at the individual level, showing how remarkable characters survive (or don’t) their brushes with the unnatural and various apocalyptic horrors.

A few of the best are Kyla Ward’s “Who Looks Back?” in which adventure-seeking tourists run into something nasty on a New Zealand volcano; “Old Wave” by Rob Heinsoo, about the cultural cost of encountering the Mythos in the Pacific; and Kenneth Hite’s erudite and clever archaeological case study “Infernal Devices”. Most of the rest of the collection are good; those three are great.

Stone Skin Press have put together a few of these themed anthologies over the past year. Based on this and the Aesop-updating ‘The Lion and The Aardvark’, they are a small publisher well worth watching.

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