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Jim Cambias
I am a writer, game designer, New Orleanian, cook, parent, and cat-slapper.
Recent Activity
This may rival Droids as the most obscure game on the Island of Lost Games. Tales of Gargentihr was published in 1994 by Sanctuary Games, a startup game company based in Scotland. Unfortunately, that meant that Tales of Gargentihr hit the market precisely when the initial success of Magic: the... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at Just The Caffeine Talking
Most roleplaying games display a curious paradox. The player-characters, the ones controlled by the players, are literally the only people in the game setting with free will, yet they tend to show a crippling lack of agency. Player-characters are forever getting hired by bossy patrons, handed orders by their commanders,... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Just The Caffeine Talking
I know, I know: I'm about ten years late to the party on this one. Sous vide cooking techniques have become universal in the restaurant business, and probably half of the "foodies" in North America have a sous vide gadget sitting in a kitchen drawer somewhere. I'm a late adopter:... Continue reading
Posted Sep 12, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
Nephilim, published by Chaosium in 1994, is one of the handful of French roleplaying games which have been translated or adapted into English-language editions — Steve Jackson Games's In Nomine is the only other one I'm familiar with. Compared to Anglophone games, the French ones all seem more cerebral, more... Continue reading
Posted Sep 8, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
Once the main event was over, we spent another couple of days on vacation in Charleston before the long drive back up the East Coast to Mole Hill. There's a lot to see and do in the Low Country, and we could easily have spent another week. The day after... Continue reading
Posted Sep 6, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
I've got a second ebook out for Amazon Kindle: Monster Island Tales! It collects two of my short stories, "Return to Skull Island" and "The Dinosaur Train." Both of them are gonzo pop-culture alternate history stories orbiting around the idea of a lost island in the East Indies where monsters... Continue reading
Posted Sep 3, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
Finally, the whole reason for our trip to Charleston arrived: the great eclipse of 2017! And it was . . . cloudy that morning. The forecast called for overcast skies and a chance of thunderstorms. Uh-oh. We had picked our rental cottage precisely because it was in the path of... Continue reading
Posted Aug 30, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
Charleston is a fascinating city to visit, but in August its most insistently noticeable feature is the heat. I have ancestors who lived in Charleston before relocating to New Orleans, and now I understand they were looking for a place that wasn't quite so hot and muggy. The high temperatures... Continue reading
Posted Aug 28, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
Until last week I had only ever seen one eclipse before: the annular eclipse of June 1984, which had a path of totality which passed just north of New Orleans, my hometown. That one was pretty neat, so a few years ago when my wife and I learned about the... Continue reading
Posted Aug 26, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
One could write a whole series of blog posts on the theme of "unlikely licensed roleplaying games," and somewhere near the top of that list (but below GURPS Planet Krishna) you would undoubtedly find Mike Pondsmith's Dream Park: The Roleplaying Game, from R. Talsorian Games. The 1981 novel Dream Park,... Continue reading
Posted Aug 15, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
What is the climactic moment of the movie Star Wars? Is it the point where the Death Star explodes just as it's about to vaporize the Rebel base? Is it a couple of minutes earlier, when Han Solo swoops in to knock Darth Vader into deep space so that Luke... Continue reading
Posted Aug 11, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
For years people have been recommending Thomas Pynchon's 1973 novel Gravity's Rainbow. So, when I saw a copy on sale at the bookstore a few months ago, I decided to pick it up and see what all the fuss is about. I was prepared to like this book a lot.... Continue reading
Posted Aug 7, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
Last time I explained why I don't lie awake nights worrying that contact with extraterrestrial civilizations will lead to humanity getting conquered by invading alien armies. It's just too hard to be worth the effort. But what if the aliens don't want to conquer the Earth? What if they just... Continue reading
Posted Jul 31, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
Last month, this New York Times article by Steven Johnson raised the alarming question: what if our efforts to find and communicate with other intelligent life in the Universe brings us to the attention of intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic who want to wipe us out? The author quoted... Continue reading
Posted Jul 28, 2017 at Just The Caffeine Talking
(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