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Jim Cambias
I am a writer, game designer, New Orleanian, cook, parent, and cat-slapper.
Recent Activity
(Sorry for the hiatus. Events happened.) No, it has nothing to do with Star Wars. Droids is a fascinating and unique little roleplaying game which came out in 1982 from a company called Integral Games, in Arlington, Texas. The lead designer was Neil Patrick Moore, and according to the RPGGeek... Continue reading
Posted Jul 3, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
Universe was a science fiction roleplaying game published in 1982 by the well-known wargame company SPI, in partnership with the mass-market paperback house Bantam Books. That meant the game got fairly wide distribution in bookstores rather than just the hobby shop ghetto. Despite that, I don't think it sold many... Continue reading
Posted Jun 14, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
We recently got more bookshelves installed, which meant that my roleplaying game collection emerged from the closet where it had been piled up for more than a decade, and now stands again in proud alphabetical-by-title ranks, easily accessible. I found some forgotten treasures in there: my original Call of Cthulhu... Continue reading
Posted May 31, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
There has been a certain amount of muted hoopla this week because it marks the 40th anniversary of the original Star Wars. One thing which I haven't seen anywhere else is a discussion of how different Star Wars was from most science fiction films up to that year. Quite simply,... Continue reading
Posted May 26, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
Combat in roleplaying games has a lot of variation, but most game systems break it up into two main components: how hard it is to hit someone, and how much damage that person can withstand. So in Dungeons & Dragons, everything has an Armor Class, which determines what one must... Continue reading
Posted May 22, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
It's sometimes very difficult to tell the difference between a genius and a crackpot. Both can be geeky, eccentric, abrasive, or just plain annoying. There is, however, one foolproof "tell" for the crackpot: they don't share ideas. If someone comes up to me at a convention or a book signing... Continue reading
Posted May 19, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
At last we've come to the final stories in Famous Science-Fiction Stories: Adventures in Time and Space. Time to wrap up and make a general assessment. By His Bootstraps, by Anson MacDonald/Robert Heinlein: This is a well-known story, but I hesitate to call it a classic. It has a lot... Continue reading
Posted May 2, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
We're about two-thirds of the way through the book. Did the editors front-load the good stuff, or save the best for a boffo finish? Let's find out. Asylum, by A.E. Van Vogt: Space vampires! One of the first discussions of what SETI researchers call the "Zoo hypothesis!" Identity games worthy... Continue reading
Posted Apr 28, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
This post continues my look at the ground-breaking 1946 anthology Famous Science-Fiction Stories: Adventures in Time and Space, edited by Raymond Healy and John McComas. It's probably going to take at least four entries to cover the whole book. Last time I got through the first seven stories, and so... Continue reading
Posted Apr 25, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
American literature doesn't have an official "Canon." There's no equivalent of the Academie Francaise to decide what is and what is not Literature with a capital L. But we do have some approximations: high-school or first-year college course reading lists, better-late-than-never Pulitzers, adaptations in Classics Illustrated Comics or Oscar-bait films... Continue reading
Posted Apr 23, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
Last time I asked if experience points in roleplaying games are necessary, and more or less talked myself into believing they are. But I can't say I'm happy about that conclusion. How come? Because I think experience points and character advancement have a corroding effect on roleplaying campaigns. Here's why:... Continue reading
Posted Apr 20, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
For any fan of roleplaying games, the answer to the question in the title of this post is "Of course!" or maybe "As many as possible!" But I'm not sure that experience points are necessary for roleplaying games — and I've started to wonder if they're actually harmful. If you're... Continue reading
Posted Apr 9, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
(". . . Featuring ME!") I drove west through sleet, rain, and fog — but no snow, which was a huge relief as I was in a car without snow tires — to Albany, which looks as if someone decided to drop the 1960s capital city of a large post-colonial... Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
On Friday and Saturday, March 31-April 1 I'll be a guest at Albacon 2017, the long-running convention in New York's capital city. There's a really impressive lineup of people attending: Charles E. Gannon, Stephen Hickman, Lawrence M. Schoen, Ken Altabef, Ken Burnside, Debra Doyle, Jim MacDonald, Chuck Rothman, Ryk E.... Continue reading
Posted Mar 28, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
Having finished the story several chapters earlier, Mr. Baum piles anticlimax on anticlimax by cutting away from the adventurers in the Nome Kingdom to the magical fairyland of Oz, where Ozma has been watching the whole thing on her Magic Picture. I have to say Ozma is a little uncomfortably... Continue reading
Posted Mar 19, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
When last we left Our Heroes, the villainous Nome King had just transformed the Shaggy Man into a dove, transformed the Rose Princess Ozga into a fiddle (not that anyone really cares), chained up Quox the dragon, and was preparing to force Polychrome to marry him and stay in the... Continue reading
Posted Mar 13, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
Queen Ann Soforth's invasion of the Nome Kingdom gets off to a rocky start. (Get it? Rocky? It's funny because the Nome King rules a kingdom of minerals. That's kind of like rocks, see? Laugh, damn you!) The Nome King tries to capture the Army of Oogaboo in a pit... Continue reading
Posted Mar 5, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
Betsy Bobbin et al appear before Tititi-Hoochoo the next morning to hear his decision. Fortunately for them, the Jinjin is a Reasonable Authority Figure and thus is willing to overlook their involuntary passage through the forbidden Hollow Tube. (Why an all-powerful Jinjin never thought of simply closing the Tube, or... Continue reading
Posted Mar 1, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
And now we meet the great arch-villain of the Oz books once again: Ruggedo the Nome King — alias Roquat, as he was originally known. I don't know why L. Frank Baum changed the Nome King's name; the in-story explanation is that Roquat forgo his original name upon drinking the... Continue reading
Posted Feb 23, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
Chapter Seven begins with a nice bit of Baum's own particular fairy mythology. The Rain King gets too much water in his basin and it spills over, causing rain on Earth. Then the Rainbow arrives, and the Rainbow's Daughters dance on the bow, daring each other to touch the ground.... Continue reading
Posted Feb 21, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
In Chapter Four the scene shifts to a ship caught in a terrible storm. Betsy Bobbin is introduced and falls overboard in one sentence, followed by a thin, sad-faced mule named Hank. Then the ship explodes and sinks (well, it is 1914 . . . ). Betsy and Hank climb... Continue reading
Posted Feb 17, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
It has been nearly four years since my last Ozblogging effort, but since Oz is a timeless fairyland we can pick up where we left off as if nothing had happened. Tik-Tok of Oz (first published in 1914) has a rather complicated history: it's an Oz book based on a... Continue reading
Posted Feb 15, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
This is slightly more serious-and-thoughtful than my usual posts, but it's something that has been bothering me more and more of late. It has become a rather tired joke, since 2000 came and went, to ask "Where's my flying car?" Or, more generally, to wonder why this or that gee-whiz... Continue reading
Posted Feb 9, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
I recently spent an informative day sitting around a big table discussing medical robotics with a bunch of people who knew a lot more about medical robotics than I did. Since we were talking about modern cutting-edge technology or next-ten-years developments, the technical experts were all very clear that the... Continue reading
Posted Feb 2, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
It wasn't just 2016. It's not a "bad patch" we're going through. Your beloved childhood media icons are going to keep dying. FOREVER. Here's why. It's about television. Movies have been around for a century. Movie stars have been dying almost as long. But I submit that movie actors, even... Continue reading
Posted Jan 28, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking