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  Pathfinder Tales: Prince of Wolves – Dave Gross
Posted by: admin - 04-06-2017, 10:39 AM - Forum: Book Reviews - Replies (2)

Paizo Books £7.50
Review by David Stonehouse
Dave Gross’ Prince of Wolves is the first in a series of Pathfinder Tales, tie-in novels to accompany the fantasy role playing game. It’s a bit of a challenge to take on, attempting to create something that will satisfy a legion of fans so dedicated, knowledgeable and passionate about their favourite pastime, but fortunately Dave Gross doesn’t disappoint.


The story follows the adventures of two characters, the elf pathfinder Count Varian Jeggare and his devil-blooded bodyguard Radovan, who may or may not be the Prince of Wolves of the title. They have travelled into the land of Ustalav in search of another pathfinder who has gone missing after being sent on a mission by Jaggare. Ustalav is a suitably gothic environment, a sort of alternative Transylvania, full of dark and magical forests, sinister castles and creepy isolated villages. To begin with our two heroes travel together, encountering a band of gypsy types called the Sczarni, but shortly after this incident their carriage is ambushed at a bridge over a ravine and they are separated, each believing the other to be dead. The narrative switches between the two characters’ stories and it is Radovan’s exploits that open the book with a fantastic prologue where he wakes to find himself bound, in a coffin, and in very real danger of being cremated alive.

In fact, Gross’ unusual narrative style is one of the great strengths of this adventure. Chapters are written in the first person and alternate between Jeggare and Radovan which gives two very different perspectives on the action. Jeggare is a scholar and a gentleman, aloof, wordy and philosophical, while Radovan is much more of a rough and down-to-earth scoundrel. After the ambush Jeggare finds himself a guest in the house of another nobleman, but it isn’t long before he realises that, behind the smiles and hospitality, he is little more than a prisoner. It is a castle of secrets and something evil lurks in the shadows. Another nasty surprise is that his memory seems to have been tampered with and he begins to find evidence of things he has done there but which he has no recollection of at all. Radovan, on the other hand, finds himself out in the black forest back with the Sczarni who turn out to be werewolves. There’s a cryptic prophecy from a beautiful fortune teller, a power struggle between the males of the pack and a wandering mute hedge-witch called Azra who can only communicate through signing.

To a reader who is unfamiliar with the Pathfinder role-playing game, and the reviewer is one of those (sorry guys!) the opening section is a bit of a slog. Jeggare’s first chapter, where he outlines the backstory from the Royal Palace of Caliphas is, to the newcomer, a bewildering list of place names, characters, religions, gods and plenty more besides which really taxes the concentration as the reader tries to get to grips with it all. Despite this it is well worth persevering, because all this information which seems so bewildering to begin with is actually evidence of a fully realised and thoroughly convincing fictional environment. And what a world it is, every location comes with a rich sense of history. Factions have their own politics with subtleties for our heroes to negotiate. There are nations who worship separate gods and follow a variety of religions all with their own ceremonies, symbols and beliefs. A wide range of creatures populates this world, there are men, orcs, elves, werewolves, demons, devils, sorcerers, witches, ghouls and the gods know what else, to be encountered on the journey. There’s magic too, ranging from healing and protecting spells all the way up to the sort of powerful dark magic that threatens the whole world. In fact Jeggare and Radovan are in pursuit of just such an evil spell-book, the Lacuna Codex, which, in wicked hands could cause untold suffering and chaos.

In structural terms Prince of Wolves mimics the mechanics of gameplay well. The two narrators switch turns regularly which allows Gross to use the two perspectives to skilfully control plot detail, with each narrative complementing and adding detail and depth to the other. The quest driven storyline is also typical with journey sections regularly punctuated by dramatic discoveries, battles and other unexpected obstacles. The journey sections provide lulls from the action which allow engaging character moments to develop as well as comic interludes and more sinister political scheming and wrangling. When the action moments arrive Gross handles them very well, ratcheting up the tension skilfully and delivering a variety of exciting set pieces. When things get gruesome, and they certainly do in places, Gross manages to make these incidents both shocking and disturbing. One, early on in Jeggare’s tale is particularly grim and unexpected.
The many locations add much to the fun. Gross never holds the story in one place long enough for it to become stale. There are creepy gothic castles, haunted mausoleums, fire-lit forest camps, mutant villages, ancient temples and a sinister monastery along the way. Each new location has its secrets and is populated by ambiguous characters who could be either friends or foes but certainly have hidden agendas of their own. Gross takes us on a grand tour of the weird and strange and guarantees some damn good fun along the way.

All in all, Prince of Wolves bodes very well for the future of the Pathfinder Tales. It is a very well written and thoroughly enjoyable slice of fantasy fiction. Pathfinder gamers will feel at home straight away but this should not be written off as something only players will enjoy. In fact, this is a top quality novel in its own right and any reader who has ever enjoyed high end fantasy fiction should give it a go. If the rest of the Pathfinder Tales can match Dave Gross’ high benchmark then they’ll be very welcome, and the more the merrier.


  Uncharted: The Fourth Labyrinth
Posted by: admin - 04-06-2017, 10:38 AM - Forum: Book Reviews - No Replies

Christopher Golden    Titan Books:£6.99       Out now
Review by David Stonehouse

PS3 gamers will be very familiar with the name Nathan Drake from Naughty Dog’s acclaimed Uncharted games. For those not in the know (where have you been?) Drake is a globetrotting adventurer and treasure hunter in the style of a modern day Indiana Jones with a healthy dose of Lara Croft’s tomb raiding and puzzle solving thrown in for good measure. The games have been a massive success on PS3 and the third instalment, Uncharted 3 – Drake’s Deception, has just been released to rave reviews so it is not surprising that fans are hungry for new adventures for their hero.

Some game tie-ins aren’t very successful because it is difficult to translate the episodic structures of the gaming world in a way that is satisfying in other media. Fortunately that is not the case here and Christopher Golden has succeeded in capturing the spirit of roller-coaster action into an exciting and pacy adventure novel that compliments the source games very nicely.

The book kicks off by throwing the reader into an appropriately adrenalin fuelled action sequence set in the jungles of Ecuador. Nate has stolen something or other from some ne’er-do-well villain and is escaping through the jungle in a jeep. There is a beautiful girl he just rescued complaining in the passenger seat and a load of machine-gun toting bad guys hot on his heels. Having got himself out of that scrape with the help of some angry tribesmen Drake is soon on a plane back to the USA where the real adventure starts.

On landing Drake is contacted by his old friend and mentor Victor ‘Sully’ Sullivan, a familiar face to anyone who has played the games, and asked to meet him in New York. From there we’re into the mystery proper. There’s the body of Sully’s friend Luka Hzujak, dismembered and abandoned in a trunk on a platform of an underground station, and the certainty that he was killed to keep an ancient secret from coming to light. The victim’s daughter Jada joins the ride looking for justice and their investigations quickly lead them to another dead body and a better idea of what they’ve stumbled into.

Before very long Drake, Sully and Jada are jetting off to Egypt looking for ancient labyrinths shrouded in the myths and mystery of the legends of ancient Greece about the Minotaur and King Midas’ hoard of gold. To add to the fun there are competing treasure hunters on the same trail and ambiguous characters who could be friends or foes, not to mention an army of hooded ninja-like assassins who make a habit of turning up out of nowhere and wreaking unexpected havoc.

There is a lot of action and Golden manages it all skilfully. There’s also plenty of variety and the pace rarely drops, making for an exhilarating page-turner of a book that replicates the non-stop incidents and encounters of the games very effectively. The mythological element is fun too, all based on myths and legends that most people will be vaguely familiar with. It’s enough to hang a satisfying and plausible plot on and provides an excuse for our heroes to go on a whistle-stop tour of many of the ancient world’s most famous locations. It all gets a bit far fetched towards the end but by that point you’ll be so caught up in the adventure that it won’t matter too much.

On the whole it all works very well, although there are one or two misfire moments such as the incident early in the book where Drake, Sully and Jada steal a boat for no apparent narrative purpose other than to create another big action set piece. Such a digression works well in a game, where plausible explanations aren’t really necessary as long as the gamer is having fun, but in a novel it feels a bit clunky and forced.

As far as characterisation is concerned, Uncharted fans won’t be disappointed with the depiction of Drake and Sully who are both consistent with their counterparts in the games. There’s plenty of the wisecracking and good natured banter familiar from the cut scenes and the two are fleshed out into three dimensional characters with a believable friendship. Jada provides both a feisty heroine and the love interest and the sparky flirting gives some welcome breaks from all the testosterone.

Golden has wisely chosen not to add to Drake’s back story. He’s descended from Sir Francis Drake and looks to Sully as a sort of surrogate father but beyond that he remains suitably mysterious and there’s very little reference even to his adventures and relationships in the games. This ‘clean slate’ approach allows Golden to spin a new story without getting bogged down with references to the plots of the games but, even so, it would have been nice to have a little more connection to the other adventures. Elena for example, a central character in the games, is notably absent here, which seems a bit of a shame.

This is a book to please the already converted. This novel probably won’t tempt many people who haven’t heard of Nathan Drake already, but fans of the games won’t feel short-changed by The Fourth Labyrinth, it captures the spirit of adventure of the games very successfully and remains faithful to the hero we all know and love. With a two year gap between game releases Drake addicts need any fix they can get, and while a novel is never going to be able to offer the immersive interaction of a really well-crafted computer game it will certainly help to keep Uncharted fans satisfied and entertained during the long wait until the next instalment hits the shelves.


  Batman Arkham City by Paul Dini and Carlos D’anda
Posted by: admin - 04-06-2017, 10:37 AM - Forum: Book Reviews - No Replies

By Paul Dini and Carlos D’anda
Review by Nicola Whyman

Titan Books £16.99

Batman Arkham city has been released as a short graphic novel as a prequel to the new video game of the same name. The book sets the scene as Gotham is recovering from the aftermath of the Joker lead riots, which saw the city left in chaos and Arkham asylum destroyed. With the Arkham asylum residents either running amok in the city or captured and imprisoned awaiting news on their future. The new Mayor Quincy Sharp has some tough decisions to make. Mayor Sharp decides to split the city in two with the ordinary law abiding citizens of Gotham on one side, on the other, all of Gotham’s criminal elements and deranged ex residents of Arkham asylum. Thus is born the new Arkham city.

Batman, as you can imagine, has his hands full as he follows, with interest, Mayor Sharp, you quickly realise that all is not as it seems with the new mayor, it becomes clear that someone in the shadows is in control and that they are playing an elaborate game of chess with Batman, using the inhabitants of Arkham and Mayor Sharp as pawns.

As the plot twists and turns, going through the stories of the main super villains such as the Joker and Harley Quinn, who you first see imprisoned having been captured following the riots. You see the Joker at rock bottom realising he has still yet to defeat Batman but after his and Harley’s escape to Arkham city you soon see him back to his old twisted self, setting up a H.Q. at Arkham’s old metal works and hiring some goons.
Also you see the return of Two Face, The Penguin and The Riddler who are all vying for power in the struggle to gain control over Arkham. With Two Face seeing the introduction of the Titan formula, which quite impressively will turn ordinary people into muscle bound maniacs similar to Bane.

Batman is backed as ever by Robin and Alfred helping with advice from the bat cave as he tries to figure out what is going on. It has been a while since I read any Batman graphic novels so I was very impressed with the artwork that has bought the hero’s and super villains screaming and kicking into this century. Batman is very much in the style of the Dark Knight and is somehow a lot darker than I remember. The Joker looks truly menacing even with his thin emaciated frame. Harley Quinn looks set for the fight in her new outfit which sees a departure from the usual harlequin get up, going for instead the biker chick look. The Riddler looks great in his slightly updated suit and bowler hat.

Two face has a great deal of detail making his scars look a lot more disturbing. Poison Ivy looks amazing. She has always been my favourite female villain. The colours are fantastic. In conclusion; I would love to go on and play the game. If it’s even half as good as this graphic novel, it will be money well spent. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading this and been amazed at the colour and detail of the art work. Arkham city is defiantly not a place for the faint hearted. The Joker said it best and I quote “Our dear old Arkham asylum was the pits, but Arkham city? Well, now that’s a madhouse of a different colour!”


  Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
Posted by: admin - 04-06-2017, 10:37 AM - Forum: Book Reviews - No Replies

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is an upcoming book by Oliver Bowden based on the game from Ubisoft. It is slated for release on November 24, 2011.


Enter a world of mysticism, machinations, and murder in which the mighty and noble do whatever is necessary to protect their supremacy, where rebellion grows in the darkest streets and alleys, and where those with the power to kill have the power to change the world. When a man has won all his battles and defeated his enemies, what is left for him to achieve?

Ezio Auditore must leave his life behind in search of answers, in search of the truth. In Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, master assassin Ezio Auditore walks in the footsteps of the legendary mentor Altair Ibn-La’Ahad, on a journey of discovery and revelation. It is a perilous path – one that will take Ezio to Constantinople, the heart of the Ottoman Empire, where a growing army of Templars threatens to destabilise the region.


  THE HAMMER VAULT
Posted by: admin - 04-06-2017, 10:36 AM - Forum: Book Reviews - No Replies

What a great big gorgeous thing this book is!

Marcus Hearn has trawled through the Hammer film archives and produced a collection of images and documents to accompany Hammer’s output from their very first movie right up to the present day.

Included are almost all of the studio’s major releases. It all begins at the beginning in 1954 with ‘The Quatermass Xperiment’, a remake of the classic BBC drama. Anthony Hinds and James Carreras of Exclusive films bought the rights and demanded an X certificate (hence the altered title). They promised more shocks and horror than TV could provide and they certainly delivered. The film proved a success at the box office but damaged the reputation of Exclusive leading to the permanent adoption of Hammer as a separate trade name for the more controversial movies.

After that the book catalogues all the studio’s major releases right the way through to 1978s ‘The Lady Vanishes’. 79 original Hammer movies are included and each production gets a double page spread, a brief commentary on context, director, stars and any other points of interest. The accompanying artwork and images are excellent. Original posters sit beside on set stills, publicity shots and images of props, sets and costumes. Also included are press clippings, reviews, excerpts from interviews, pages of script and letters and it really is an eye opening treasure trove and a fascinating insight into the process of getting these movies to the screen. This blanket approach works well and allows even the most obscure movies to be represented. However, it would have been nice to have a little more detail and insight into some of the acknowledged classics.

Some of the most interesting items come from the early years when it was standard practice to accompany a new release with a publicity manual and press book. These were closely rationed and contained information flyers, cinema cards and foyer images. Many of these are faithfully reproduced and really are a nostalgic treat. I’m very envious of anyone lucky enough to own an original of one of these wonderful souvenirs.

Presenting the films in chronological order also gives an interesting overview of different eras in Hammer’s work. The early years, for example, show that Hammer were keen to experiment with a range of very varied films but eventually the success of gore and monsters and the critical mauling of some of their more experimental films led them to become much more focused on horror. The sixties saw consolidation, banking with well made and popular sequels to established brands and fewer risks on the side. The seventies saw the company in decline, long term directors and loyal stars such as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing were getting bored and the quality became much more variable. This period also saw a relaxation of the film certification rules which allowed far more nudity and explicitly sexual content. This period is marked by the combination of mild eroticism, camp horror and over the top gore, often with unintentionally hilarious results. The artwork of this period reflects a policy best described as ‘tits with everything’, but unfortunately great posters didn’t necessarily equal great films and the financial returns dwindled. Money was always a headache for Hammer’s producers. Throughout the company’s long history there is always the feeling that budgets were tight and the producers were continually chasing the crucial backing of a big US distributor. Hammer always walked a tightrope, trying to do a lot with not very much and always hoping to use recent successes to guarantee the funds to keep the next project alive.

Unexpectedly, the most enjoyable section isn’t about the films that Hammer actually managed to make and release. Instead, a chapter dedicated to ‘unmade’ Hammer which includes tantalising details about loads of films that never made it to the screen proves to be the highlight of the package. Some of these are little more than a title and some provocative artwork without any kind of script or even story attached. It turns out that the company quite often mocked up taster material in the hope that it would attract some financial backing. Other concepts made it as far as completed scripts while a handful were well into pre-production before the project was dropped. These pages make the reader yearn for what might have been. Who wouldn’t want to see such potential gems as ‘The Reluctant Virgin’, ‘Mistress of the Seas’ and, this reviewer’s personal favourite, ‘Zeppelin v Pterodactyls’?

After the late seventies and the end of the ‘Hammer House of Horror’ TV series it seemed that Hammer was dead and buried with a stake through its heart and garlic round its neck but the inclusion of information about the new Hammer team led by Simon Oaks makes an uplifting end to the book. With a fresh new team releasing  21st Century productions which include 2009s excellent ‘Let Me In’ and the upcoming ‘The Woman In Black’ starring a post-Potter Daniel Radcliffe, the future for the legendary Hammer name looks very rosy once again.

At first glance the price tag may seem a bit steep at £29.99 but you really do get a lot for your money. The book is large, sturdily bound in hardback with gorgeous Dracula cover art, and contains 176 beautiful glossy pages full of publicity shots, script pages, letters, reviews and artwork much of which has never been seen before and is not available anywhere else.

The Hammer Vault is certainly a must for fans of the studio and a brilliant companion piece to a Hammer DVD collection but it is also a fascinating insight into British film making that would be of interest to anyone with a passion for cinema and British movie history.

Review by: David Stonehouse


  Transformers: Exiles
Posted by: admin - 04-06-2017, 10:36 AM - Forum: Book Reviews - No Replies

By Alex Irvine
Review by David Stonehouse

Titan Books £6.99

Alex Irvine’s new novels expand the Transformers universe by telling the story of what happened before the robots in disguise arrived on Earth. The Transformers’ homeworld, Cybertron, is torn by civil war and evil Megatron and his villainous Decepticons are winning. Optimus Prime has been selected as the new Prime and given the Matrix of Leadership. To prevent the Allspark falling into Megatron’s hands Optimus has sent it far out into space and we all know where that ends up. At the end of Irvine’s first novel, ‘Transformers: Exodus’, Optimus Prime and his team of loyal Autobots have left Cybertron after freeing the ancient ship The Ark from the Well of the Allspark. The plan is to find and retrieve the Allspark and return to Cybertron to defeat Megatron once and for all. Unfortunately, Megatron is hot on the Autobots’ heels and the Matrix of Leadership has a few secret plans of its own for Optimus to get to grips with.

The Space Bridges around Cybertron are all damaged, isolating the planet, and the last working one was destroyed as the Ark set out on its journey. Megatron is following the Autobots in his faster-than-light warship Nemesis and it is only a matter of time before he catches up. This is a good set up as it automatically adds tension to the adventure. Wherever the Autobots turn up they have to work fast and move on because Megatron is always closing in on them.

It turns out that beyond Cybertron’s system quite a few of the Space bridges are still usable and the novel becomes a sort of whistlestop tour of some of the ancient Transformer colony planets. First up is Velocitron, a planet where the natives, separated for too long from Cybertron and the Allspark, have evolved into a specialised race with a society entirely built on the concept of speed. Here even politics is driven by velocity on the track power goes to the bots who are the most successful in an endless cycle of races. This strange decadent society has factions of its own and it soon becomes apparent that when the Cybertron civil war reaches them the Velocitronians will be completely unprepared.

The visit to Velocitron also exposes new problems for Optimus Prime. There is a traitor in the Autobots’ midst trying to undermine them at every turn and the mission is in jeopardy until the traitor is unmasked. On top of this the Matrix of Leadership is guiding Optimus Prime’s steps towards fragments of an ancient artefact which may or may not be crucial in the hunt for the Allspark.

The characters are well created by Irvine who keeps them consistent to their silver screen counterparts and adds welcome character details that give them depth and help to make them more believable. This is important – the bots haven’t reached Earth yet and so there are no human characters to ground the story for the reader. Fortunately, this ‘fleshing out the bones’ works well and our heroes prove that they can carry the adventure on their own. Plenty of fan favourites are present and correct; Optimus, Jazz and Bumblebee for the Autobots square off against Megatron, Slipstream and co for the Decepticons, as well as a host of fun supporting characters, some new and some familiar faces. There’s certainly a range of brand new bots that fans would love to see in their standard and altform shapes.

For fans of Transformer mythology Irvine doesn’t disappoint either. The story is in five parts, each with sections narrated by the ancient Alpha Trion, one of the legendary original thirteen. He fills in bits of Cybertron ancient history and adds a weight and gravitas to the proceedings. It is clear that most bots, including most of OptimusPrime’s team, think the stories of their past are nothing more than myths and legends and that finding out that some of those ancient names and artifacts are real is the Transformer equivalent of us stumbling on Excalibur in the back garden.

There are niggles though. Tie-in books often have a feel of being rushed out to cash in on the popularity of movie or DVD releases. Giving the fans what they want is by no means a bad thing but in this case some careful editing would not have been amiss. Some passages could do with a judicious trim to keep the pace up but that isn’t the biggest problem. There is a section in the middle of the book where Megatron appears to arrive on a new planet in all his glory but then, in another chapter about twenty pages later, the Nemesis arrives in the same star system for the first time and Megatron chooses his landing party for his first visit. The confusion is caused by a subplot which is so poorly developed that the reader barely registers it, but on which, annoyingly, the whole finale of the book hangs. This structural flaw isn’t enough to ruin the book as a whole but it does confuse the story and temporarily break the narrative spell for the reader.

Ultimately this is a book for serious Transformers fans. It also plays more to the incarnation of Transformers from the Michael Bay movies than the classic cartoons. This isn’t a bad thing and the two versions aren’t a million miles apart anyway. There’s lots to enjoy here, with plenty of invention and imagination on show and action set pieces that are genuinely exciting, and, if you’re already a fan of Optimus Prime, Megatron, Bumblebee and the rest you aren’t going to be disappointed reading about them battling through a set of brand new adventures. The only real gripe is that it’s all a bit too serious and po-faced and while the expansion of the history and mythology is interesting it lacks that key ingredient of slightly tongue-in-cheek fun that makes the classic series and the new movies so damn entertaining. When all’s said and done what it all comes down to is a bunch of great big, loveable hero robots smashing the bells out of great big, evil villain robots, and that’s never ever going to be a bad thing.


  The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman
Posted by: admin - 04-06-2017, 10:34 AM - Forum: Book Reviews - No Replies

Review by Iain
Titan Books RRP £18.99 available now

Reviewing an autobiography is quite tricky. There’s no plot to talk about, no imagination of characters, no cliff hangers or ‘what next’ moments, just an account of someone’s life. How that life is portrayed is of course the hardest part of writing such a book, something that several ‘authors’ have done a particularly bad job of in recent years. The biggest worry I had before reading Vic Armstrong’s effort was the amount of name dropping that could have crowded everything, and how it could quite easily take the route that Simon Pegg’s autobiography did and end up sounding a bit smug in places. Armstrong, one of the most successful and well known stuntmen in the business, has worked on films with the likes of Sean Connery, Harrison Ford and George Lucas and was probably at the centre of any cool film stunt you’ve seen in the past 40 years.

And yet, despite the huge numbers of insanely famous people that Armstrong has worked with since his time as a stuntman and stunt co-ordinator, he never – not even once – makes out that he deserved his success and everything happened because of how great he was. Instead, we get an account of a huge career that grew through a series of hugely lucky coincidences and happy accidents which just so happened to compliment massive amounts of skill on his part. It’s very clear that the skill he had with horses contributed substantially to his success, but so much of his early work came as a result of being in the right place at the right time, or another stuntman injuring himself and needing a quick replacement. It also quickly became clear that a good looking CV was every bit as important, probably more so, than the stunts themselves and getting the good films was (and still is) the key to opening up more decent work.

Evidence of this comes in an early recount of his work on a little known film called Figures where he had to fall out of a helicopter onto the side of a mountain with no padding, safety equipment or padding. It went as well as could be expected but was insanely dangerous, yet as the film flopped at the box office nobody really cared about the stunt itself. The fact he’d done such a mental piece of work and did something nobody else at the time would’ve done counted for nothing as the film wasn’t much of a success.

Each of the stories Armstrong tells – and there are plenty of them over the course of the 300-odd pages – are peppered with colourful characters, painful injuries and eye-widening accounts of the stunts that either he himself or someone on his team had to perform. Reading about how he virtually saved the filming of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and made Return of the Jedi far easier to film by easing the burden of Harrison Ford’s wonky back (and carrying out some of the more awkward moments that Ford was unable to complete) is undeniably fascinating and contributes to a series of almost unbelievable events which make you realise just how vital the role of a stuntman really is.

There’s also a series of rare and interesting photos through the book (the photo that accompanies the previously mentioned helicopter stunt emphasises perfectly just how mental it was) which are well selected and used at suitable points. They’re not space fillers, nor are they over-used and intrusive, just in the right places at the right times. Just like Vic’s early career in fact.

Naming the book “The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman” sounds like Vic Armstrong is a bit up himself, a bit self-loving and keen to big himself up a bit. But reading through it makes you realise that’s as far from the truth as you could be. Armstrong is humble and grateful for his career, and the titles is clearly what others have said about him as opposed to his own words. His accounts of what he’s been through, the careful and respectful memories of those who have died on the job, the focus on friendship and family all combine to one of the most surprising and well written autobiographies I’ve had the pleasure to read.

You needn’t fall off a horse at top speed, break your ribs or leap down a deep ravine to recognise the impact Vic Armstrong has had on the film industry, you just need to get a copy of this book and enjoy it as much as I did. You’ll be missing out if you don’t.


  Bloodshot – Cherie Priest
Posted by: admin - 04-06-2017, 10:28 AM - Forum: Book Reviews - No Replies

Review by David Stonehouse
Titan Books £7.99 available now

Bloodshot is the debut adventure for Cherie Priest’s vampire thief heroine Raylene Pendle. The basic premise is a great idea; Raylene is a century old vampire complete with the full range of undead abilities; heightened senses, super strength and speed, psychic powers and enormous physical resilience. She makes her home in Seattle and keeps herself independent of the vampire nests or ‘Houses’ that exist in all the major cities. She’s a secretive thing who tries to fly under the radar and avoid unwanted attention, and well she might because she makes her living as a cat burglar. Raylene specialises in finding rare and unusual items for clients who pay a lot of money and want to leave no traces. As a result her thefts have become notorious and earned her the nickname ‘Cheshire Red’. The authorities have no idea who they’re really looking for and she’s keen to keep it that way.
It comes as a shock, therefore, when a message arrives from someone who seems to know far too much about her. This turns out to be another vampire, Ian Stott, who wants to hire the sort of specialist expertise that only Raylene can provide. He was once the head of a powerful vampire House but now he is on the run and very vulnerable. A top secret military agency kidnapped him and a bunch of other supernaturals to conduct medical experiments on them in their ‘eyes only’ facility. Ian had been left blind and, although he had escaped from the facility he remains an easy target for any ambitious vampire who wanted to take control of his house. Ian asks Raylene to get hold of the secret documents that can shed light on what happened to him and might also provide the key to restoring his sight.

From this point the rollercoaster really gets moving. What looks like a straightforward enough contract quickly spirals out of control. The instant she starts following leads her activities draw the attention of some hypersensitive government agencies who have absolutely no sense of humour or patience for anyone getting nosy. Within minutes faceless suits in long black cars are closing in and Raylene is forced to go on the run. There is a constant feeling of threat throughout the novel. The suits are never far behind and there are some brilliant high-adrenaline moments as she frantically tries to piece together the puzzle before the net closes in.
Managing the many action sequences is one of Cherie Priest’s greatest strengths. As Raylene crashes from one set piece to another Priest never lets the pace and tension drop. She balances the quiet character moments perfectly with the narrow escapes, chases and fights and the result is a brand of storytelling which is addictive and breathless entertainment, right from the outset.

There are plenty of quirky characters thrown in to the fun too. There are a couple of homeless kids called Domino and Pepper who watch one of Raylene’s lock-ups and are central to one of the novel’s tensest moments. There’s the blind vampire Ian with his helpful human servant or ‘ghoul’ Cal in tow holding up the supernatural end and, best of all, is Adrian deJesus, an ex Navy SEAL drag queen (yep, you did read that right) who is also mixed up in the mystery looking for a missing sister who may well have been a victim of the same medical experimenting military villains who took Ian’s sight.

It is all good heady fun, held together by the excellent characterisation of Raylene Pendle. She narrates the story in old-fashioned noir style, full of wisecracks and quirky dark humour. She’s vulnerable and paranoid with a healthy selection of OCD behaviours. She’s brave and heroic, taking seemingly impossible situations in her stride. At times she seems very human, full of quirks and doubts and her interactions with the other characters often show a very warm and human, sensitive side. In fact it is often easy to forget what she really is and it always comes as a shock when a sudden flash of shocking violence or a tomb-black observation reminds us that vampires are really, really hard, that they kill people and drink their blood and they worry about dead humans as much as normal people worry about the bugs squashed on their windscreen.

Priest also does a good job of creating depth and history for Raylene. Anyone who has existed as a vampire for a century is going to have a rich and colourful past and this is always present in Raylene’s narrative. The conversational first person storytelling is perfect for this as it allows little nuggets of information and snippets of other stories to sneak in making her character all the more rounded and three dimensional. The seeds of the sequel are also sown unobtrusively into the background of this adventure with an irritating wheeler-dealer called Horace mithering Raylene about some valuable mystical objects he wants Raylene to acquire for him.

Bloodshot is addictive, exciting and breathtaking fun from the first page. You won’t be able to finish this book without wanting another dose of Raylene Pendle adventuring, which is handy because the sequel Hellbent is also available now and every bit as brilliant as its predecessor. Take my advice and snap them both up – you certainly won’t regret it.


  Apocalypse Prevention Inc (API)
Posted by: admin - 04-05-2017, 05:30 PM - Forum: Roleplay Reviews - No Replies

Publisher: Third Eye Games
Written by: Eloy Lasanta
Review by:  Chris



As part of a seasoned role-play group I am always on the hunt to extend the amount of gaming systems that we play rather than reverting back to the systems we know and love. So when API or apocalypse prevention Inc turned up I jumped at the chance to read through and learn it and am happy to say I am very impressed the system is quick and easy to pick up a single D20 being the only dice used, players get a wide range of races and powers to choose from, even the combat system which despite looking complex to start with, should provide fluidic combats keeping the players on their toes.

Overview
Apocalypse Prevention Inc (API) is a shadow company which has been protecting humanity and from supernatural threats since the black plague, straight off the bat you get a “men in black” vibe from the game, and it’s not a bad comparison to make the game markets itself as an “action horror game with a touch of humour”.
The pages are structured and allow for easy reading even on a computer screen (I had the PDF version) the art work is eye catching and even the running blood splatter behind the text just seems to fit. Players get the choice of 7 “legal” races and 3 “illegal” races while the system happily mixes Magic and cybernetics without either one overpowering a character in the group that he belongs too.


Character Creation.
Character creation is broken down into 5 steps and uses a points based creation system for statistics and skills and has inbuilt rules for starting a higher powered game.
Step one is choose concept, passion and race for your character Concept is fairly self explanatory it’s a fairly standard starting point for any role-play game, next is passion, this is the characters motivation what drives them to do what they do, there are 17 of these to choose from and each one has the possibility of granting bonus experience, lastly its choice of races as mentioned there are 7 “legal” races and 3 “illegal” races that players can choose from however having a mixed party of these should be entirely possible.
Legal races
Humans no explanation needed here
Burners – Fire demon refugees from another realm
Changelings – Shape shifters living beside humans
Lochs – Fish demons who have been dethroned from their kingdom
Spectre – Ghosts who haven’t crossed over
Taylari – Vampires (not quite the legends but at least they don’t sparkle)
Wolf people – Werewolves not much more to say

Each of the races other than humans have their own perks burners for instance have an affinity for fire, wolf people are werewolves with all the fur, Taylari being vampires have a taste for blood and also gain their own line of magic revolving around it, Changelings can shape shift not only into other people but also objects, Lochs as large fish demons are aquatic and huge in size this leave the Spectre playing a ghost has obvious benefits the obvious one being you cant be killed and can walk through walls, These races however also have their downsides for example Spectres are ghosts so have to spend points into skills allowing them to manifest and communicate with their team mates, Taylari suffer from certain vulnerabilities, the list goes on for each of the races. Overall the balance between the Races is excellent and the concepts behind them well thought out.

Illegal races
Carriers – Disease eating demons
Oracles – demons who can tell the future
Tarks – unstoppable baby stealing juggernauts

While these races are “illegal” in terms of the games mechanics they are still available to play, they confer relevant bonuses and drawbacks that the legal do however with the added problem of every API agent out there will probably try to arrest and deport them off planet if they are caught, however this could lead to an interesting plot hook for players and GM’s who are willing to play with such a group. 
Step two attributes, Players spend points into the 6 main attributes which range from 1 – 10
Player must have at least one point in every attribute with 4-5 being average scores
Power – Raw physical strength
Agility – Dexterity quickness and grace
Vigor – Stamina and endurance
Intellect – Power and quickness of thought
Insight – Willpower intuition and awareness
Charm – Social graces

Nothing overly new here, points are spent on a one for one basis up to level 8 where as 9 and 10 cost 2 points each. Step three skill points Again not a new concept to most role-players you spend points into the 20 standard skills and the 12 fighting skills, Skills are ranked from 0-10 and as with attributes level 1-8 are on a one for one basis while levels 9 and 10 cost 2 points each, skills ranked at 4 7 and 10 gain specialities. Step four bonus points This is where the flair comes in humans gain extra bonus points to spend starting with 16 where as all other races have only 10, bonus points can be used to enhance characters skills, attributes and purchasing of gifts which includes magic and cybernetics, bonus points can also be gained by taking drawbacks. Step five sub-attributes This is where you characters health, initiative, stamina and movement are worked out using you main attributes as building blocks also combat bonuses are calculated here 
too.

Combat
Combat in the game is split into 3 subdivisions of time, counts, round and minutes Combat starts with initiative rolls, standard fair so far, the highest initiative acts on count one with everyone else acting a number of counts after, then the actions really starts characters have 2 actions per round as basic this can be increased with relevant fighting styles, Actions have a stamina and speed cost to them, Stamina is used to fuel the actions and penalties get involved once your character hits half, quarter and one eighth his original stamina total simulating strain and exhaustion, Speed determines when you character next action can take place so if a character acts on count 1 performs an action with a speed of 4 his next action can take place on count 5. This all sounds very confusing however after reading it a few times it does make a lot more sense than I can ever fit into the review needless to say combat promises to be fast paced action packed and fluid which unlike some systems should keep the pace of the game going.

Magic
Magic is split into 3 inner circles which represent how trained the character is with magic player can start with all 3 circles of magic open with GMs permission, Magic in the API universe is neutral there is no evil and good magic just the will of the character/player wielding it, it is also split into 18 separate paths each path again being divided into the relevant circles of magic. To cast spells players first need to decide how they use this gift, as magic can cover many a form in the system from physic powers through to divine blessings, so the player decides on how the focus the magic is there mind the focus or a holy symbol, the second thing they need is mana, Mana is source from the players stamina again showing the physical and mental strain the channelling such power takes on the body. Casting spells in combat works the same as any other actions the spell carries with it a speed rating and a recovery time, however unlike combat actions the spell doesn’t complete until the new count is reached and then the character cannot act for a number of counts after that equal to the recovery time for example you cast a spell on count 1 with a speed of 4 and a recovery of 2 the spell doesn’t complete till count 5 and the character cannot act again until count 7, again this all becomes so much clearer once you actually read the system just trying to give a very brief insight into the mechanics.

Summary
In short API, The world has been invaded by demons some may have been here for a while other are recent additions to the planet, A single company has stepped up and meets all the newcomers requiring registration so that they can protect humanity from the big bad truth which is they are not alone on there own planet, as I said at the start it carries some “Men in Black” overtones but offers so much more and that’s part of the reason why I have not covered the background of the game, as role-players we generally get caught up in our own little comfort zones of systems and while we occasionally stray out of them its not for long, however I beg of you if you do decide to stray, please stray into the world of API it should provide you with a dose of action horror that hopefully will keep you coming back for more.


  Roleplay Music Ideas
Posted by: admin - 04-05-2017, 05:27 PM - Forum: Roleplay Reviews - No Replies

Hi, welcome to the music section of Lair Of The Geek, this is where I (killminus) will offer suggestions of music to listen to while roleplaying in certain genres/backgrounds.

To begin with we’ll cover the world of darkness in general, and then I’ll offer some more specific suggestions dependant on games.


Ok, here goes..i find that reading through any of the WOD main rulebooks (werewolf,vampire etc) that white wolf suggest their specific “World of darkness” is a Gothic-Punk background, which in itself conjours up a multitude of soundscapes ranging from intense violent in-your-face punk/hardcore to introspective Gothic ballads, but a little thought must go into choosing your background music to reflect the in game action, well chosen music can bring a game to a higher level and help players to feel more involved by drawing them in and helping to block out external sounds which may cause distraction. Be careful with the volume of music, too loud and players will not be able to hear each other (although if your characters are in a nightclub this may add to the atmosphere somewhat) while if the music is too quiet it may draw away your players attention and allow external sounds to become distracting.Right..i may well delve into the more technical aspects of ideal speaker placement and suchlike at a later date, but right now lets focus on the music.It must be noted at this point that my roleplay group as i suspect is the case with many groups out there, have a fairly varied taste in music, so i can’t guarantee that these recommendations will be everyones cup of tea, but hopefully there will be a couple of groups you can agree on between yourselves.

Dead can Dance – A very varied group, their music ranges from standard sisters of mercyesque goth through to majestic full on orchestral arrangements, i highly recommend DCD as roleplaying music in general as their back catalogue is so incredibly varied.The work of Rhys Fulber and Bill Leeb – Fulber and Leeb are a phenomenally productive duo, responsible for more projects than you can shake a stick at. Here is a list of a few, along with a brief descriptionBig Grinelerium – Reminiscent of a slightly dancier Enigma, making good use of various ethnic samples and rythmns as a backdrop to soaring female vocals.Frontline Assembly – Abrasive dancey industrial, mixing edgy synth sounds with metallic guitars, extremely apocalyptic.Cyberaktif – The mutant offspring of Frontline assembly and Skinny puppy, cyberaktif can be fairly disjointed at times, lending a nicely chaotic atmosphere.Noise Unit – Futuristic sounding ambient electronica.Pro-Tech – Similar to Noise unit, yet more polished and epic.Mortiis – Described by the man himself as dark dungeon metal, the music of mortiis is actually very atmospheric, ranging from sweeping grandiose orchestral instrumental pieces all the way to Industrial/goth tunes.Sisters of Mercy – One of the founding bands in the Goth genre, finely penned songs of lost love and social discontent, perfect for any world of darkness game.Bauhaus – Writers of the original “Goth” song (Bela lugosi’s dead, an absolute must for Vampire players).Anathema – Fantastically depressing melodic Goth/rock From the grim north of england.Depeche Mode – Excellent 80’s Synth pop with a gothic twist. Heartfelt vocals combine with inventive sampling/synths to form one of the best bands to come out of the 80’s.Nine Inch Nails – My personal favourite band, the work of NIN is very varied, from guitar laden angsty industrial metal, through synth pop right the way to beautifully twisted ballads, there is something to match almost any mood you could want to creat within WOD.Cypress Hill – The early works of Rap crew Cypress Hill were dark, brooding and claustrophobic, perfect for if your party take a trip into the “hood”.Tool – Hypnotic and emotive rock/metal, tools epic sprawling songwriting can provide a very good backdrop to a more volatile plot.Right…there’s some reccomendations to keep you going. Next time i’ll aim for a more in depth look at specific WOD games, and possibly i’ll do a tracklist for a compilation CD for each Game..’Til next time…