Oct 212011
 

This week we look at classic RPG staples: the zombie apocalypse, time travel, and the ever important question: what if? If this is your first read of an Undergopher book review Friday post I generally post a few RPG¬†centric¬†thoughts after a book’s review. these aren’t meant to be in-depth discussions, more just something light to get the Friday off to a fun start.
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What If? Classic Vol. 1 (Marvel Heroes)What If? Classic Vol. 1 by Roy Thomas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve always been a fan of the question “What if?” It’s inspired me in writing, it’s inspired me in gaming, and it’s inspired countless others as well. Marvel comics was also inspired by the question and for several years produced a series to answer it. What If was a book that looked at a moment in a story and showed what would have happened had history taken the left turn instead of the right, had zigged when we remember it zagging and ordered vanilla instead of chocolate.

Fans of modern comics might not enjoy the collection, but I would recommend it for anyone why finds themselves pining for the days when superheroes didn’t wage war with each other, when continuity wasn’t a thing to be reviled and when issues contained stories and not the other way around..
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What if the Nazis had won the war? What if the Roswell incident had been aliens? What if Lincoln had been a time traveling ninja? The “what if” has led to more awesome times around gaming tables than any other question since “What if the troops got better as the campaign carried on?”
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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's CourtA Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“What would you do if you found yourself suddenly back in time?” I think there are only two real answers to the question: “We have to preserve the time line!” and “Timeline-Schmimeline I’m in it to win it!” I think it can be safely said that the protagonist of this story is firmly of the later opinion. After finding himself in the days of King Arthur he quickly uses his superior knowledge of science and history to debunk Merlin and start his rise to power.

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Whenever I read time travel stories where the hero decides to become the king of everything thanks to his knowledge from the future I’m reminded of the episode of Futurama Roswell that Ends Well. “Suddenly Mr. I’m My Own Grandpa is worried about the timeline!” Written before the major tropes of time travel were established there’s no real concern about the timeline, no butterfly effect, no worry about erasing oneself from the past, just good harmless fun subjugating history for your own end.

I’ve sometimes been tempted to run a time travel game where the players had that sort of free reign, but knowing most of them, it’s turn out more evil that an anti-paladin puppy kicking competition.
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World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie WarWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For some reason the zombie apocalypse has been a particularly popular subject in post-apocalyptic fiction. I think it’s because it lets us imagine how we would react in such a scenario. It also helps that it’s one of the few end of the world scenarios that can be survived. There’s not much planning involved if the world ends with a rock from space cracking the planet in half.

In WWZ Max Brooks shows us the horrors and heroes of the world wide zombie outbreak through the stories of the survivors. From the initial outbreak to the worst of it and finally the triumph of humanity overcoming and retaking the world. I enjoyed the stories and how the author gave us different viewpoints from around the conflict.

I disagree with some other reviewers that say there is no tension in the book because you already know that they’ll survive. Few and far between are the books written where the protagonist doesn’t survive the story. I recommend this one for fans of zombies and general end of the world type stories.
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The zombie apocalypse seems like something that could be great for gaming, and in my opinion it is, provided it’s for a limited campaign and not something intend to be long running. In my opinion there just isn’t a lot to it once the players manage to gather enough resources and hunker down is a relatively safe area. Perhaps it’s just the groups that I’ve played with, but there’s only so much game you could ring from the tension of the constant threat before the players just start “Greyhawking” things, preparing for every eventuality.
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The Anubis GatesThe Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. While the big twist (that’s not a spoiler, ALL good time travel stories have a twist) was a touch obvious, it was foreshadowed well, all of the main characters were fleshed out nicely, and the author did manage to surprise me a time or two. I felt the book was well paced and the author did a fantastic job bringing the setting to life IMO.

View all my reviews
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Not a lot to say about this one because I don’t want to give too much away. It’s a much better time travel tale than Connecticut Yankee but that may have more to do with being more solidly written. No offense to Mark Twain, but Tim Powers has a much higher word count to bring his characters to life with and he uses them to a much greater effect.

Jun 142010
 

This week That Damn Punk joins us in discussion one of our favorite games that either WDR or I had the pleasure of running. In this case, the game was one we were running together. We discuss the game as well as some of the lesssons we learned from running a game together.

Here’s the link to our iTunes feed.

Here’s the link to the UnderDiscussion RSS Feed.

Wizz by Bob Wizman