East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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News from the Mana Bros Skunkworks Shed

italia-doppelgangerSo, we were kicking around a few ideas for a roleplaying game or our own, or maybe four.
The real instigator was my friend Alex,that is having a nice success with his Italia Doppelganger RPG, based on the universe of a popular series of horror stories of his.
And I’ve been talking about an Aculeo & Amunet RPG for ages, now. And then there’s the idea of the RPG spin-off of AMARNA1.
And a lot of other stuff – some projects I pitched and fizzed, some things I said “one of these nights I’ll do it” and we’re still here and waiting.
But not anymore!
So, let’s get to work.

Continue reading


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Cheer Like an Egyptian

This post was shared with my Patrons, but it’s too good a story to keep for a chosen few. Also, this is the genre of anachronism thing that my friend Claire loves to hate, and I hope she passes hereabouts and enjoys the disaster.

Fact is, a friend forwarded me, three days ago, the preview of a book – I will not mention the author nor the title. The reason the pages were forwarded is simple, and three-fold:
. It’s a story set in Egypt, and therefore intersects my interests
. It’s a good example of bad worldbuilding (and I am currently teaching a course on the subject, so I need show-and-tell material)
. “See, you fool? You spend too much time doing research…”

Well, I do not.
I love doing research, and if it does not make my writing better, at least it helps with my Impostor’s Syndrome.


Anyway, the extract is rather amusing, sort of like putting a rabid cat in a box and then sitting over it, and it will certainly make for a great handout for my course.
The names are at best wrong, at worst ridiculous, the action is wooden and stilted, and then the Egyptians shout


Really? Continue reading


Mister and Miss Belzoni

I was absolutely sure I had done a post about The Great Belzoni, but I was unable to find it.
It’s becoming unnerving, this thing that I get an idea for a post, plan it and write it in my mind, and then forget about actually writing it. I am damn scared of Alzheiner, you know…

Portrait_of_Giovanni_Belzoni_by_Jan_Adam_Kruseman,_1824Anyway, here’s the guy, portrayed in all his barbaric style and Oriental mystery.
Giovanni Battista Belzoni was born in Padua in 1778, but his family was from Rome, and in Rome he studied hydraulics. He flirted with the idea of joining a monastery, fled when Napoleon conquered the city and ended up as a barber in the Netherlands.
From there he moved to London, met and married a woman named Sarah Bane, and they both joined a circus – Belzoni was 6 foot 7 inches, and got a gig as a strongman, but he later got into phantasmagorias and light shows.
During a tour of southern Europe in the early 1810s, Belzoni became acquainted with Muhammad Ali, and went to Egypt to demonstrate a hydraulic machine of his own devising, that would be used to pump water from the Nile.
The machine worked but he was not hired, and therefore he found himself in Egypt, and without a job.
Someone suggested he should look into the local antiques. Continue reading



Late supper with the Librarian

57d8f1a684ae92c76eea3fb7-1474283883713I spent last night watching the second of the three TV-movies in The Librarian franchise.
It’s like riding a seesaw – and if I actually enjoyed the first Librarian movie, the second was a terrible let down.
The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s Mines is an African adventure aimed at a younger audience that fails to capture the simple goofishness of the first movie. And yet, the cast is more or less the same, the plot is a simple piece of chewing-gum and everything should go for the best.
Only it does not.
A pity, really – but no matter how much I wanted to like it, I sank into a bottomless barrel of boredom. Continue reading


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Lunch with the Librarian

IMG_0402Today I followed my friend Domenico’s suggestion, and I watched The Librarian, Quest for the Spear during lunch break, instead of having lunch.
This is a sort of instant review or what.

For the uninitiated, the Librarian franchise is a sort of sneaky, possibly overlooked property that includes three TV movies, a TV series, a book and two comic book series. And it is still going, as far as I am told, which is quite impressive considering how little known it is hereabouts – I don’t know, maybe in the rest of the universe it is a smash hit and on top of everyone’s fave list, but I’m under the impression it’s not.

And that’s a pity, because the first movie has the suave, lightweight tone of an old matinee cartoon or an old cliffhanger. Continue reading


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Two relics from a forgotten era

Pulp_Cthulhu_Cover_for_Adcopy__99219.1464808396.500.659Today I’ve been lucky – a friend sent me two games that I was missing from my collection.
In the last few years I started collecting roleplaying games with a pulp theme. Now, the definition is pretty loose – after all, a game set in Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian age would be technically pulp, because Conan debuted on a pulp magazine. The same goes obviously for Call of Cthulhu (that now has its own “pulp” subset of rules), considering Lovecraft’s presence in the pulps. And of course, a Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers influenced game like Slipstream would also be “pulp* in theme if not in substance.

So, to clarify the classification, I am collecting roleplaying games, and in particular those that are either inspired by pulp authors (like the Conan roleplaying games) or properties (like the old Masterbook Indiana Jones game), and those that are designed to play in a pulp universe, a pulp version of the 1920s and 1930s. Continue reading



The Amazon Queen and misplaced nostalgia

Flight_of_the_Amazon_Queen_box_artI think I got a handle on this whole nostalgia thing that’s going at the moment.
You see, a few nights ago I was going through one of my usual bouts of insomnia, and so I decided to waste my time playing Flight of the Amazon Queen.

In case you missed it, it’s an old point-and-click game that was released in 1995 for the Amiga and MS-DOS systems, and it’s been going around as a free game forever.
In the game you play Joe King, a bush pilot that in 1949 is chartered to fly a movie star to the Amazon jungle for a publicity shoot, but crash lands in the middle of nowhere instead.
Featuring a mad scientist called Frank Ironstein that plans to conquer the world with an army of dinosaur women, Flight of the Amazon Queen is a game in the same style of Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis and The Secret of Monkey Island.
And I found it as boring as hell. Continue reading