Keepers of the Flame: The vintage RPGs that still survive and thrive

I’ve been on a bit of a nostalgia kick lately, investigating (and buying) copies and components of those classic pen-and-paper role-playing games that I played or always wanted to play. Along the way, I’ve learned that quite a few of these early RPGs still have dedicated communities and fan followings that keep them alive — “keeping the flame burning,” so to speak.  I thought it would be fun to talk about a few of these in a short post!

Dawn Patrol, aka Fight in the Skies (TSR, 1975).  Fight in the Skies did not start as a role-playing game, and spent years being distributed by its designer, Mike Carr.  Inspired by the 1966 movie The Blue Max, Fight in the Skies is a World War I air combat boardgame, in which players dogfight over the European countryside.  The first professionally published version — the 4th edition already! — game out in a limited run in 1972. But the game had caught the attention of Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, and when he founded his gaming company TSR, he reached a publishing agreement with Carr. This 5th edition came out in 1976.


I was born in 1971, and missed the early history of the game; I personally didn’t come across it until the 7th edition came out in 1982, when it had been renamed Dawn Patrol.  I still have my copy, in excellent condition, with the cover pictured above.

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1965: Rabbits versus relativity

One of a number of posts that I’ll be sharing based on things discovered during research into my book on cat physics, coming next year!  The previous post on the Chandler wobble is another post in this series.

The ability of cats to land on their feet when they fall from a height, no matter how they fall, is almost legendary.  It has been explored by scientists and engineers for a variety of reasons for at least 150 years (though I have found that scientific interest actually dates back 300 years).

Cats are not the only animals to have a so-called “righting reflex,” however.   Étienne-Jules Marey, the French physiologist who produced the first high-speed photographs of a falling cat righting itself, also demonstrated that rabbits have the same ability, as seen below.

A series of falling rabbit photographs by Marey, c. 1894.

The initial interest in falling cats and rabbits focused on the physics of the problem: what sort of motions does an animal need to make in order to properly flip itself over?  Later research, however, starting in the early 1900s, asked a different question: how does the animal know which way it needs to turn in order to land on its feet, i.e. how does it know which way is down?

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Posted in ... the Hell?, Animals, History of science, Physics | 4 Comments

1891: Chandler finds a wobble

Sometimes, in science, it turns out that the best way to find something is to not be looking for it at all.

This is more or less what happened in 1891, when an amateur astronomer and full-time insurance actuary observed and correctly interpreted a small anomalous motion of the Earth that other astronomers had been looking for decades, a motion now known at the Chandler wobble.

No, not this sort of Chandler wobble.

This is a fun story of serendipitous scientific discovery, and highlights a little-known movement of the Earth! Let’s take a look at the science and the history of the Chandler wobble.

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Posted in History of science, Physics | 3 Comments

Never Bet the Devil and Other Warnings, by Orrin Grey

The first time I encountered Orrin Grey’s work, it wasn’t even his fiction! He wrote the introduction to the Valancourt edition of J.B. Priestley’s 1927 novel Benighted, and I was struck then with his knowledge and insight into classic horror.  Since then, I’ve been following his work with interest and enjoyment, and was delighted to support the Kickstarter for a reprint and expansion of his original short story collection, Never Bet the Devil and Other Warnings (2012).  Last night, on a flight back from Minneapolis, I devoured the entire collection in one go!

This is really such a lovely book, both in contents and presentation! It features a cover and illustrations by artist M.S. Corley, who Grey also collaborated with on the charming haunted house chapbook Gardinel’s Real Estate (2014).  The book overall has an atmosphere that really makes it a great little book of creepy stories to read at night, in bed, with a fire in the fireplace and a chill wind whistling outside.

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The Endless Fall, by Jeffrey Thomas

Though I’ve been in a bit of a reading funk the past few months due to life, work and stress, I managed to find one thing that helped me break out of it: long airline flights. Between recent trips to Seattle and Los Angeles (which I should probably blog about), I ended up reading a lot of lovely books, including research for my upcoming cat physics book as well as some excellent fiction.  I tend to stock up my kindle with a lot of books by authors I’m unfamiliar with, and one of those I tackled was Jeffrey Thomas’ The Endless Fall and Other Weird Fictions (2017), which came out in January.

The cover actually gives an accurate sense of what to expect from the stories within, as it is based on the titular story “The Endless Fall.”  The book collects fourteen of Thomas’ recent short fiction, a lovely collection of weird, sometimes sentimental, and horrific tales. Continue reading

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The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories, Volume 2

Just in time to enjoy for Halloween, Valancourt Books has recently released their second volume of horror stories, in The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories, Volume 2!

The volume contains 14 stories of terror and the supernatural in VBHSv2, encompassing nearly 200 years of horror history.  It includes a number of stunningly rare and never reprinted tales, including two that have never been published anywhere else.

Once again, as I said for VBHSv1, I am impressed with the cleverness of the book’s concept: it only includes stories by authors that Valancourt publishes, which makes the collection an advertisement for those authors’ novel-length works!  Because there is no other unifying theme, it also resulted in a very diverse set of tales, all of which are of extremely high quality.

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Halloween Treats 2017

It is getting really challenging not to repeat myself with these annual samples of classic horror stories for Halloween, as I’ve been doing this for ten years! You can read the old editions here:   20072008200920112012201320142015, 2016 and my 2010 post on the true story of the “Lady of the Lake“. It is likely that not all of the links in those old posts work, but the lists are there.

Some Other Animal’s Meat, Emily Carroll (2016).  We begin with another illustrated horror classic by the masterful Emily Carroll.  In this one, a new wonder product for one’s skin has more side effects than advertised…

The Pale Man, Julius Long (1934). A professor convalescing at a country hotel is lonely and looking for company. One of the only other guests he might talk to, however, is a curious pale man who switches rooms every day.

The Double Shadow, Clark Ashton Smith (1933).  A sorcerer and his apprentice delve deep into ancient and forbidden secrets, and rashly decide to summon an ancient power whose name and nature is unknown.  Neither the living nor the dead will be safe from the horror that comes for them.

In the Vault, Howard Philips Lovecraft (1925). I haven’t shared any Lovecraft in the past couple of years! In this story, which is pre-cosmic horror, an unscrupulous undertaker accidentally locks himself in a tomb overnight, which allows for an old score to be settled…

The Wind in the Portico, John Buchan (1928). A scholar, hunting down information in a rare text, finds that a copy is owned by an eccentric man in the English countryside. The man lives in a curious house, recently restored with the remains of a temple to a pagan/Roman god.  The temple fills the scholar with a sense of dread, which extends in short order to the house’s owner.  They plan to reconsecrate it to Christianity, but the temple may have other ideas.

The Spider, Hanns Heinz Ewers (1915).  A young student of medicine opts to move into room #7 of a small hotel, intent on solving the mystery of why the three previous occupants in a row committed suicide.  He is prepared for any danger, but this leaves him blind to a web of deception that ensnares him more securely the longer he remains.

The Damned Thing, Ambrose Bierce (1893).  Arguably Bierce’s most effective horror story. When the mangled body of Hugh Morgan is discovered, an inquest is launched to determine the cause of death.  The evidence mounts that something beyond the perception of humankind is lurking in the wilds.

The Hog, William Hope Hodgson (1929). A tale of Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder, as he risks his own life and very soul to help a man who is being haunted by a supernatural presence that is beyond space and time — and nowhere near human.

The Listeners, Walter de la Mare (1912). A short and eerie poem in which a man arrives at a lonely house to fulfill a promise… but who is keeping watch to see that he does?

Skulls in the Stars, Robert E. Howard (1929). The story that inspired my blog title!  Puritan warrior Solomon Kane is warned not to take the haunted road across the moors at night, but he does so anyway, as he fears no man, beast or demon. But what he finds will force him to make a decision that he is unprepared for.

The Seven Sigils, James Platt (1894). A tale of a deal with the devil, and the betrayal, consequences, and horrors that follow. This story is unique in this genre in the number of surreal twists and turns it takes before reaching its appalling conclusion.  Link goes to a pdf of the original book version of the story!

This should be enough to give readers a chill for the season — have a happy Halloween!

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