One of my favorite things is nerding out with my friends about our hobbies. We’ll periodically get together either face to face or online and have Nerd Show-n-Tell. But, until my current deliveries (Kickstarter is a hell of a drug) get here, I’ve already shown my IRL friends all the stuff they’re missing out on. So now I’m going to show it to you, Internet friends.
Now I recognize that when it comes to gaming stores, I’ve struck the mother lode. The FLGS in my town is a gigantic two-story affair that has a ton of nerdy and nerd-adjacent material, but if the stores in your town are more focused on traditional RPG/comic/board game stock there are still plenty of ways to find the things I’m talking about here.
1 Mondo’s Marvel Netflix soundtracks
What it is: Mondo has released the musical score for each of the Marvel Netflix shows on 180gm vinyl. If you aren’t a vinyl nerd like I am, “180gm vinyl” just means they’re heavyweight and durable pressings. These albums might not be as bulletproof as Luke Cage, but they’ll stand up to more punishment than Foggy Nelson ever could.
Why you might like it: One of my favorite parts of the Marvel shows on Netflix has been the scores. Each show focuses on a different musical genre, but they all manage to keep a hint of that gritty, noir feel for each of The Defenders. From the jazz horns in Jessica Jones that evoke smoky bars and seedy detective cases to the menacing strings in Daredevil letting us hear that danger is everywhere to the hip hop by way of Ennio Morricone in Luke Cage that tells us the Hero for Hire is ready for action. They’re all great albums that I can listen to over and over again.
Where you can get your hands on it: Several of the albums are available on Amazon or on Mondo’s website. However, some of the albums were limited editions so you might have to go crate diving at your local record store to get them. Or you could just check your local store for all of them!
2 Hex Kit
What it is: Like the name implies, Hex Kit is a desktop application that lets you create hex maps for your RPGs. It’s multi-platform and has several packs of hand painted tiles for a variety of genres. You can even create and import your own tiles if you get ambitious.
Why you might like it: For being such an easy to use piece of software Hex Kit has a surprising number of features. You can make custom sized maps, generate random terrain, and manipulate the tile sets in a variety of ways. And speaking of those sets! The creator, Cecil Howe, has hand painted thousands of tiles and the old school nature of those tiles really adds a level of charm. Hex Kit only comes with one set initially, but you can buy the others separately.
One of my favorite sets is The Black Spot which lets you create hand-drawn maps that point to pirate treasure. It reminds me of the dozens of maps my friends and I drew when we were in school (except Cecil is much better at it than we were). Hex Kit can also be used in virtual tabletop programs like Roll20 and even has an option for covering your maps in a fog of war so that you can have a player facing version. It’s no surprise Hex Kit won the Best Aid/Accessory Award at the 2018 ENnies.
Where you can get your hands on it: Check out Cecil’s website, Cone of Negative Energy for links to buy it and for a few free tiles.
3 Robin of Sherwood
What it is: In the mid-80s the BBC made a new iteration of the legend of Robin Hood that was darker than any of the versions that had been released before. Robin of Sherwood included supernatural elements and a lot more violence and danger than Errol Flynn ever had to face.
Why you might like it: Robin of Sherwood took the familiar parts of the Robin Hood legend and gave them a new spin. The silver arrow that was the prize for the archery contest? That was a magical artifact of Herne the Hunter and he tasked his servant Robin in the Hood to get it back at any cost! And those Men in the Forest aren’t very Merry, they’re unrepentant bandits and highwaymen. The show also created several of the story elements that are now common parts of new retellings. Witchcraft and sorcery! Saracen warriors! A Marian who isn’t going to just sit around and wait to be rescued!
The theme song and score were created by Clannad and the show had a cast of really great actors including Ray (Beowulf) Winstone and Jeremy (freakin’ Boba Fett!) Bulloch. Also, since it was shot outdoors on film instead of tape, the whole thing is available in high-definition unlike almost every other show from the time.
Where you can get your hands on it: The complete series has been released on DVD and Blu-Ray. But if you can’t hunt that down, it’s also available on Hulu and Amazon Prime.
4 Myths for the Modern Age
What it is: Win Scott Eckert and a host of other writers expand on Philip Jose Farmer’s “Wold Newton Families” shared universe. A storyline that imagines various heroes and villains as extended members of two super-powered families.
Why you might like it: Are you all in on the MCU? Still holding out hope that Universal’s “Dark Universe” might succeed? Waiting for more Aliens/Predators crossovers? Then check out this old school project! In the early 70s Philip Jose Farmer wrote a pair of books which imagined that the pulp, comic, and other literary heroes all gained their genius-level intellects, powers to cloud men’s minds, and their strength far beyond that of mortal men when a giant meteor crashed in Wold Newton (the site of a real-world meteor crash!). Irradiated by the cosmic rays from the meteor (like you are), the occupants of two passing carriages went on to create super-powered dynasties around the globe.
Farmer, Win Scott Eckert, and other friends wrote several essays and novels which tied all the characters together and explained their relationships while revealing some of their “forgotten” adventures. Sure Batman and Superman both have mothers named Martha, but wouldn’t it be cooler if Lois Lane from Superman and Margo Lane from The Shadow were sisters?
Where you can get your hands on it: Myths for the Modern Age is published by Monkeybrain Books, but it goes in and out of print. You can also find copies on Amazon. Or maybe you’ll luck out like I did and find it when one of the people behind the counter at your FLGS is mining it for ideas for their RPG group.
5 Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game (West End Games 30th Anniversary reprint)
What it is: Come on. It’s Star Wars. You already know what I’m talking about here.
Why you might like it: It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when Star Wars was just “that movie from a few years back where guys in space suits fought a bunch of teddy bears“. Starting in 1987 West End Games kept that galaxy far, far away going until the release of the prequels through its series of RPG rulebooks.
The folks at WEG added more to the Star Wars lore than anyone other than George himself. Names and cultures of various races like Twi’leks, Rodians, and Quarrens all got their start here. So did a host of planets, spaceships, and Force users. In fact, WEG created so much backstory for the Star Wars universe that Timothy Zahn was handed a stack of source books to prep him to write the Thrawn novels. Lucasfilm themselves have even said the RPG was a major influence on the writers’ bible they currently use to develop new movies.
Cut to today and Star Wars has become the fully armed and operational moneymaker that you see now. As a nod to its roots, Fantasy Flight Games (current holder of the Star Wars RPG license) released the 30th anniversary reprint of that original game. Sure, parts of the rules seem a little clunky today, but the system holds up better than most games of its age and it’s still fun to grab a bucket of d6s and play an elegant system for a more civilized age. A system from before the dark times. Before the Saga Edition.
Where you can get your hands on it: The reprint is a limited edition at Amazon, but you can still find copies in your FLGS if you hustle.
6 The Kugali Anthology (Raki edition) and The Kugali Anthology
What it is: The Kugali Anthologies are collections of stories from authors and artists from around Africa.
Why you might like it: If you’re like me, then your biggest exposure to comics has been reading superhero stories written by a bunch of people in NYC. Maaaaybe followed by some people from the UK writing mopey character studies. Well here’s a chance to expand your horizons! The creators of the comics in the Kugali anthologies (The regular and Raki editions are two totally different comics. Don’t make my initial mistake and think one is the edited version of the other) come from Zimbabwe, Morocco, Nigeria, and various other countries and the stories span multiple genres.
They’re all really good, but the stand out for me is Juni Ba’s “Kayin and Abeni”. “Kayin and Abeni” is a story of two cousins who are storming across a bizarre galaxy in a roaring tale of bloody revenge. Think Kill Bill meets Farscape with an Afrofuturistic aesthetic.
Where you can get your hands on it: You can pick up both anthologies from the Kugali website. The books come in either a digital or a physical edition, so take your pick!
What it is: Symbaroum is an RPG from the Swedish company, Jarnringen. It’s a low magic, dark fantasy setting that uses a fairly rules light system.
Why you might like it: Looking for a campaign setting that isn’t as bright and colorful as the Forgotten Realms or Golarion? Oh buddy… is this the book for you! The world of Symbaroum is not a happy one and the game reflects that. Combat is fast and brutal. Magic will corrupt your character, it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’. There are no charming hobbits or singing dwarves in this book. This is a world full of humans, changelings, ogres, and goblins.
The Forest of Davokar (the initial campaign setting) is teeming with blighted animals, strange fae, and foul undead. Since Symbaroum’s core rule book focuses on the Forest of Davokar and the surrounding area Jarnringen has really been able to dive deeply into the conflicts and lore of the region, so if you want to know why the Elves of the Iron Pact hate the Kingdom of Ambria the answer is in there.
The rules section of the core book is pretty small and the system itself is not a particularly complicated one. The lion’s share of the book is taken up by setting lore, absolutely gorgeous and creepy artwork, and an adventure that really helps a GM get a feeling for the tone this world is going for.
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