East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Francesco A. Pizzo – the Take Away Interview

As announced, here is the first Take Away Interview. I will use this new series to meet authors and other creatives and interesting people in general, and let them provide contents for my blog. Because I am lazy, but I am also curious. I hope you are, too.
Curious, not lazy.

I have a nice list of prospect interviewees, and for starters, I have asked a few questions to Francesco Antonio Pizzo, the artist whose Patreon I pointed out to you a few days back. Because he’s a fellow Italian, and because I like the idea of Italians making a name for themselves outside of our local market.

So, without further ado, here’s the interview.

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First steps towards the AMARNA roleplaying game

I’m designing some material for the roleplaying game side of AMARNA and I thought I’ll start with a set of character sheets for the main characters.
Go for high-quality PDFs,to be distributed for free as a gadget.

I was highly impressed by the recently discovered Achtung!Cthulhu handbooks, in terms of overall quality and look, and I’d love to do something similar, creating a file folder or memorandum-style booklet for the good guys and one for the bad guys.
Or do a “fake documents” trying to copy the style of the French Call of Cthulhu handbook.
And I’ll also steal the idea of “statting” the characters for a variety of systems.

Screenshot from 2018-02-27 17-22-53

I’ll certainly go for Call of Cthulhu/Basic RolePlaying (with provisions made for Pulp Cthulhu), and for Savage Worlds, but I’d also try and add other systems – Ubiquity, for instance, to be used with Hollow Earth Expeditions, and maybe the old reliable D6 system. I’ll have to cram a lot of numbers and tables in those files.

Something for the weekend, but also an important first step in putting together the AMARNA campaign.
It will be fun.
And it will also be a good opportunity to revisit a few old systems, in view of my (slowly growing) catalog of pulp roleplaying games.

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Starting up again

And so, having delivered my manuscript to the editor, and having spent a long weekend basically reading, eating and sleeping – not necessarily in that order – I am ready to start working on the next project.

Or am I?


Right now, there’s a full plate of stuff to do for my game writing job – books to author or co-author, stuff to be researched, plans to be made.
This is not much a matter of inspiration – the projects are more or less solid – but of scheduling the work to be done and then stick to the timeline. Continue reading


Translating the (Savage) Worlds

Some great news.
As of today, I’m one of the translators for the Italian Edition of the Savage Worlds roleplaying game system.
As a long-time fan and player of Savage Worlds, I’m proud and excited about the job ahead – and a bit scared, as times are tight, and the work to be done is huge.
But the fun of the project more than compensates the hardships to come.

And I will be translating the main rulesbook!


In the next thirty days, I will be eating, drinking and breathing this book.
But considering I already did it, as a game keeper, and for many years, it will not be such a hard thing to do.

And there’s some more exciting, Savage Worlds-related stuff coming.
It will be great.

My other projects will have to fall back on spare time and stolen moments.
Who needs to sleep anyway?

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Himmler’s Geologists

It all began talking with some friends about pulp gaming and pulp literature.

Q: Great pulp villains?
A: Nazis!

Layout 2In fact the Nazi as bad guy is not sch a given in pulp fiction – Nazis arrived late to be central villains during the Golden Age of pulps.
Sure, there were a lot of quasi-Nazis, of more-or-less thinly disguised Reich references, in the pulps; such as the fascistic and evil (obviously) Black Police which seizes power in New York in the Norvell Page “Black Police” trilogy, featuring The Spider.
The series dates back to 1938 – and indeed, in ’37, brown shirts and other unsavory tipes were making their appearence on pulp mag covers.
But it was only when the USA entered the Second World War that Nazis made it big in the pulps- and in movie matinee serials.
I havethe suspect that in Britain things were different – I’ve got this hunch that Biggles tackled the Reich earlier than his Yankee counterparts.

But anyway, you know how it happens with pulp fans – you start talking Nazis and Indiana Jones, and two hours later you are discussing the Hollow earth and lost tribes of Vikings fighting against dinosaurs.
Or stuff like that.

And, talking about pulp Nazis and the Hollow Earth, I remembered the infamous SS-Wehrgeologen Bataillon 500 – a German unit which was involved in a series of atrocities in northeastern Itali in 1944 and 1945.

My interest for this unit arises from the fact they were actually colleagues of mine – the SS-WGB 500 was a unit composed almost entirely of geologists, with a few archaeologists thrown in for good measure.
Many of them had a splendid CV, and a long list of learned publications.
Then, they joined the SS.

The unit was founded in 1941 by Himmler himself – already a sign of pulp goodness – and featured a multinational membership: there were German, Scandinavian, Dutch and Italian geologists involved.
The geologists were primarily specialist in underground mining and mining engineering.
SS-WGB 500 operated only in Europe, and had strong connections with the Ahnenerbe (the Nazi-sponsored institution dealing with the past and the Aryan heritage). They were in Holland and inNormandy just before the D-Day, and then they were moved east, to the Italian Alps – apparently to design and set up a line of defecnce to hold the Russians from spilling in the plains of Northern Italy.
Or something.

One of the main connections with the Ahnenerbe was the unit leader, Rolf Höhne, an archaeologist.
Before he became the leader of the mysterious Geologist Battalion, he was one of the men responsible for the excavations in search of the body of Heinrich the First (the German king Himmler considered himself a reincarnation of), as part of a huge propaganda campaign that was afterwards strangely silenced.
Höhne’s articles on archaeology (and psaeudo-archaeology) appeared regularly on Schwartze Korps, the SS official magazine.
Höhne was the direct link between the Geologist Battallion and the Ahnenerbe, and was a notorious crackpot and a supporter of a lot of weird fringe theories including, you guessed it, the Hollow Earth Hypothesis.
Höhne was also in contact with Bruno Beger and Hernst Schafer, the two anthropologists and SS poster boys that led the infamous SS Himalayan expedition – they were searching for traces of the Aryan ancestors.
Or maybe of the gate to subterrannean Agartha.
Or they were there to steal the Kanghyur (however that’s spelled) – a supposedly powerful tome of Atlantean knowledge.

Great source material for stories and games.

41j88edMsKL._SL500_AA300_Then, there is the historical detail – whatever their pulp mission could have been, the geologists and archaeologists of SS WGB 500 were involved in two terrible reprisal operations in the Italian Alps – in one case, executing the men in a village, and then shelling the houses from a distance, killing by firebomb women and children.
Luca Valente’s highly detailed I Geologi di Himmler is only available in Italian, but covers the events with precision, and a great documentary apparatus.

And of course, both Bager and Schafer ended up doing human experimentation on prisoners in concentration camps.

Alas, history is a lot crueler than the pulps.


Celebrating the Shadows, 2013

Fact is, reality always takes you by surprise... that's why we need fantasy. To be prepared.

Fact is, reality always takes you by surprise… that’s why we need fantasy.
To be prepared.

(no, not the band that did Apache)

As I mentioned a while back, in this weekend – which marks the birthday of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price – the idea is to do something to stress and underscore the relevance and dignity of imaginative fction.
Being chiefly a writer, I’ll write.

I call it Imaginative Fiction (using the old catch-all tag coined by Lyon Sprague de Camp).
You can call it horror, fantasy, weird, science fiction, pulp adventure…
You can call it faery tale, myth, folklore…

It is not kid’s stuff.
Oh, granted, kids love it – because kids are curious, and normally don’t give a damn about being perceived as serious, mature or respectable.
They want ideas – they hunger for ideas.
And if you are looking for ideas, fantasy fiction, imaginative tales, are the best spot in which to dig…

With this I do not mean to diss “serious fiction” – as usual my problem is not with mainstream or serious fiction, is with the fools that use it as a token of tribal belonging.

I read <put the author’s name in here>, therefore I’m acceptable.

That’s how “serious books” get sold but never read.

Now, good imaginative fiction is not normally read to fit in.
In school you are mocked and overlooked.
They call you a geek.
Desirable members of the opposite sex won’t date you.
Teachers appreciate the fact that you’re a reader but might point out to your parents that “the kid has too much imagination.”
As if it were a problem – real, serious, dangerous troublemakers are those without imagination, because they normally can think of just one solution to any problem.

And even if you, being a geek, finally find a suitable community – comic book readers, fantasy fans, roleplayers – that’s supposed to be a phase you’ll leave behind when you”grow up” and start thinking about “important things”.
Important thins seem to involve being unhappy because you want them, and then being unhappy because once you get them they are not so hot after all.

But for a fact, imaginative fiction makes us better.

In its deviations from reality, imaginative fiction questions concepts like those “important things”.
Truly, we read these stories, watch these movies, not to escape reality, but to look at it closer from a new, fresh perspective.
We need these narratives not to escape reality, but to fight the need to escape reality.

So, during this weekend I’ll celebrate watching an old movie with dinosaurs in it, and then I’ll read some weird book full of monsters.
Not because it’s cheap escapism – but because there’s a point in surrealism, there’s a strong moral drive in adventure stories, because contemplating the strange it’s easier to understand the mundane, later.

IMMAGINE-1_g4x88jsmSo let’s raise a glass to our three patron saints – men of culture and intellect, that never despided imaginative fiction, and contributed making it popular, and acceptable.
Go read a book.
Go watch some movie.
Dust off the old comics collection.
And teach the younger generations that’s where ideas come from.



Keep working

Getting old I’m getting lazy*.
So I need all the help I can to keep on track with my work.

So, right now I’m working on a game-related project, putting together a thing tentatively called The Claws of the Purple Cat.

Writing a game scenario is quite fun, but it is not like writing a story.
It’s more like putting together a construction kit for a story.

I’m writing in blocks – chunks of information that the game keeper will be able (hopefully) to assemble in the way and inthe order that fits his game.

It’s quite interesting, but as I said – I’m lazy.
So, to keep on the straight and narrow, I’m using you – my readers.

There’s a word countere here on the right – courtesy of Writertopia.
It shows my progress.
The-Penguins-of-Madagascar-Season-2-Episode-2-It-s-About-TimeThis way, I can’t let go and waste time napping or watching old Penguins of Madagascar reruns without publicly losing face.
Nice and smooth.
I’m blackmailing myself into working with a serious schedule.

And now, back to work.

*Not that when I was younger I was any different, but my health was better, and I had more energy.