Geeks Explicitly – Entering Ear Canals Soon

Do you remember me asking if you would listen to a Troll in the Corner podcast? No, I didn’t think so. I did, though. Pinky swear.

That post was my not so secretive way of telling all of you that Troll in the Corner is taking podcasting more seriously. We’re drilling into your ears with shows on a myriad of topics that you simply must listen.

The first of these new shows is Geeks Explicitly. Geeks Explicitly, oh yes I did just use the podcast’s name to both end one and start another sentence, is a 15-20 minute long show co-hosted by my buddy Drew McCarthy and myself. We chat about geek life in general. Anything from movies, gaming, TV, music, comics, toys, our jobs, our lives and MORE exists under the umbrella of Geeks Explicitly.

Continue reading “Geeks Explicitly – Entering Ear Canals Soon”

SLA Industries-A visit to the World of Progress


As it says on the back cover, SLA Industries is the game of futuristic urban horror.  I fell in love with this game, when I saw the first book at the Origins Game Convention back in 1995.  I picked up the first book and read it from cover to cover.  I then picked up 3 more of the 7 products they have out, as I wanted to run a game using this this system.  I still have the 4 books and the product has changed hands several times since 1995, but it is still a good product to pick up and either run or use as a resource to fit into your existing futuristic sci-fi campaign.

SLA Industries (pronounced “slay”) is a role-playing game first published in 1993 by Nightfall Games in Glasgow, Scotland. The game is set in a far-flung future in which the majority of the known universe is either owned or indirectly controlled by the corporation “SLA Industries”.


SLA Industries itself is a fictional corporation run by a mysterious and seemingly immortal creature called “Mr. Slayer”, whose upper management team includes two other creatures like him, named “Intruder” and “Senti”. The corporation is headquartered in “Mort”, a densely populated city surrounded by the urban ruins of the “Cannibal Sectors”, all on a planet (also called “Mort”) that had been stripped of its natural resources. SLA Industries controlled a vast number of planets, collectively referred to as the World of Progress, and governed them in accordance with Mr. Slayer’s Big Picture.

In the game, you take on the role of freelance employees of SLA Industries, called Operatives, living in Mort and taking care of odd jobs assigned to them by the corporation. These jobs usually involve chasing serial killers, hunting monsters in the sewers, quashing riots, stopping terrorist plots, and silencing dissidents. Appearance, style and branding are emphasized just as much as combat ability, due to the presence of television; for ambitious Operatives public persona and TV ratings are often as important as professional abilities.  The game leans more towards splatter punk horror, noir, dark satire, and/or gun bunny high action. But, the politics of the setting also allow for more slower-paced campaigns based around subversion, inter-departmental rivalry, and cut-throat power struggles within the company.

The playable races include humans, the drug-addicted mutant humans called “Frothers”, the stealthy feline “Wraith Raiders”, the formidably violent saurian “Shaktar”, and the two ‘Ebb’ / pseudo-magic using races: the emotionally sensitive and charismatic Ebon, and their more sadistic and violent genetic offshoot, the “Brain Wasters”. There are also a variety of biogenetic vat-grown warrior races called Stormers, produced by SLA to fight in their endless wars.

The game was first published independently in 1993. The game was later bought by Wizards of the Coast late in 1994, after their success with Magic: The Gathering. It was later republished by Nightfall Games Ltd and distributed by Hogshead Publishing, until Hogshead was sold to its current owners, and since 2003 Cubicle 7 Entertainment has been working on producing new material along with Nightfall Games

Adding extra sensations to your game

Used under Creative Commons license, from Wikipedia user Emmbean

There’s an important rule in GMing: show, don’t tell.

Now, when you put a setting together, you of course tell the players various things, but once the game is in full swing, it’s obviously much more important to involve the players in as many ways as possible.
So, here’s a few fun things I’ve been toying with, and that are talked about sometimes by various designers (John Wick springs to mind from Blood and Honor).

Pulling your players in by giving them extra stimuli for their fun makes them more involved, more eager to learn more about the setting, and usually means we all get to try something new.

Adding in aged maps as props is easily done, and a very effective tool, as are using miniatures for action scenes so everyone can easily see the actions.
Outside of action, advice begins to falter, but we can always take good cues from print fiction.
I’m told George R. R. Martin makes a big show writing about the food in his books. A confession: I haven’t read them (yet!), so I can’t really talk too much on that other than what I understand. But then why not have a feast happen in your game, and really celebrate it. Describe it in lurid detail. Pigeon and partridge pie, persimmon and bearberry jam, roast swan. Or even roast owlbear, Elderwitch wine and triceratops egg omelettes. Or spoo. Mention sizzlings and dripping and guzzling and bubbling and steaming. Vivid and effective.
My favourite example of this neat description comes from Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch series. Two characters are sat around during a rare moment of downtime between magical blasts of madness. They are drinking vodka, eating pickled cucumbers and sauerkraut. A simple little meal, but the way the food is described as crisp and fresh and complimenting the vodka made my mouth water when I first read it and now.
Sometimes, that effect is paramount to really motivating players.

The next step of course is the real sensations.
If you have a friend with armour and swords, see if you can get them involved in your game (if they aren’t already). Failing that, go stand in their back yard with your group and get everyone to hold a sword at arms length. Or go to an archery range if there’s a beginners event. Or a renaissance faire (I assume, we don’t have those where I’m from).
Burn incense in temple scenes, or when the players are soon to encounter a dark ritual, or when they have to resurrect a friend. Or attend their funeral. Make a big deal of it.
Add food to the gaming table. Avoid pizza as the group source of sustenance, and make a choice between setting or situation. In a setting like Wolfgang Baur’s Free City of Zobeck, maybe you’d favour goulash or borscht. In a game based on Arabian Nights, sugared dates and baklava. A samurai adventure gives the players sushi and wasabi and sake.
Now consider the situational changes to foodstuffs. The group has to hike through the mountains with only basic rations? Dried fruits, bread, cheeses and cured meats. The group finds itself in a despicable hive of scum and villainy? Break out the blue food colouring. The Elves/Dwarves/Goblins have a delicacy that few humans have ever tasted? Pineberries, or bacon chocolate, or sweet and sour mushrooms, or pitta breads filled with jerked goat. There’s a deli around the corner from me that sells olives stuffed with gherkins, and the taste and texture are suitably odd you could drop them in any setting easily as ‘something out of the ordinary’.

Immersion breeds exploration and involvement. So why not immerse your players with every sense at their disposal?

Welcome To The Empire State

Adam Christopher’s debut novel, Empire State, is billed as a mix of science fiction, noir and super heroes. It’s actually quite light in the super hero department and heavy on the noir elements. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The SciFi is limited to explaining how the Empire State, a dreary copy of Prohibition era Manhattan, exists in its pocket universe.  The pocket universe is, in a sense, another way to work with alternate history—so even when I try to branch out from my recent alternate history infatuation, I still end up reading it! The super heroes (or more appropriately, one super hero and one super villain) are the Skyguard and the Science Pirate and they’re introduced near the beginning of the book while in mid battle over the construction site of the Empire State Building. Their battle is what causes the creation of the pocket universe and once created, the story switches to the lives of those living in the Empire State.  In the Empire State it’s always Wartime and always raining. There is nothing outside of the Empire State, nothing except the Enemy. The book mainly follows Rad Bradley, a classic hard boiled, hard drinking, fedora wringing private investigator as he investigates what he thinks is a simple case of a missing woman. As with mysteries and noir, it’s never that simple though. The missing woman leads to murder, conspiracy and a threat to the very existence of the Empire State itself. It also leads back to the Skyguard and the Science Pirate. Suddenly Rad realizes that there are a lot of things about his world that don’t make sense and once you realize that there’s no going back for him.

Although it wasn’t as heavy in the super hero billing as I expected it to be, the novel was a great read. I’ve always been a big noir fan, so that might be why I didn’t mind the cut back on the super hero aspect. The book doesn’t quite fit into the noir mold either, the elements are all there (including the femme fatale) but the ending doesn’t quite mesh with traditional noir. It’s definitely a hard boiled mystery with science fiction elements. There’s even a little dieselpunk thrown in for good measure. What might make it a little hard to follow would be the jump between Manhattan and the Empire State, which involves distortion of time. The time distortion at first didn’t seem necessary to me and I wondered why go through all the trouble of introducing it, but as the end approached and I started thinking about all the people who had the various bits of information necessary to plot resolution, it started making more sense. This is one of those novels where you think you have things figured out and then Mr. Christopher throws a twist in there to let you know it’s not that easy to figure things out in the Empire State.


 If you’re looking for a good fun romp that mixes gangsters, super heroes and private eyes give Empire State a try. If you’re a writer who enjoys the setting of the Empire State you might want to check out the World Builder project. Or if you’re looking for a new game setting, Angry Robot has a handy FREE  RPG created by David “Doc Blue” Wendt.

Here’s Jonathan

Unflattering picture of me wearing the HuzzahCon 2011 t-shirt

You may be scratching your head and saying to yourself “not another new guy!” Hopefully you’re instead asking yourself, with eager anticipation, who is this Jonathan person? Maybe, just maybe, you’re ready to unleash 20 questions for me to answer.

To save the awkwardness of spending time creating and filling out questionnaires please allow me to introduce myself. I’ve gone by many names. Viktrious the Kingslayer. Nathaniel Hawksworth. ^Raven^. Arick Rolanputural III. Benjamin Kil’dred Nam’a’taht. Rajzar Raoub. Most people, however, call me Jonathan.

I’m a 30 year old retired local politician working in a public library that loves to game. Gaming, talking about gaming, and preparing to game are some of my favorite activities. They’re so beloved that I run my own gaming blog, CWF Game Cast, and bi-weekly gaming podcast titled Wargaming Recon. Naturally, I do those when I’m not on TrollITC posting about gaming.

As a kid I played the stereotypical children’s games. My grandfather and father taught me how to play chess. Checkers, Guess Who, Stratego, and Sorry were some of my favorite board games. Over the years I graduated into playing classic Milton Bradley games like Axis & Allies, Broadsides and Boarding Parties, Conquest of the Empire, and Shogun (now known as Samurai Swords).

My gaming experience drastically changed when I graduated high school and bought into Warhammer 40k, Warhammer Fantasy, and Battlefleet Gothic. That transformed me into, primarily, a miniatures wargamer. I still play a healthy dose of board and card games. But, my focus was forever shifted onto miniatures.

The one oddity in all of this is my love of roleplaying games. I say that RPGs are the oddity, for me, because I didn’t play a pen and paper RPG until Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition came out. I had seen earlier versions of the game, such as AD&D, but never actually played them. It seemed too confusing to create a character, learn the game mechanics, find a party to adventure with, and get a great dungeon master. Fourth edition made most of that absurdly easy.

By now you get the picture. I love games and have played a variety of them. The question remains, “what can you expect me to post on TrollITC?” You can bet to see the usual content that one shares on a gaming blog. I will review gaming products, share my thoughts on games, and discuss my gaming life. Currently I’m enraptured with Warlord Games’ Black Powder rules. Or, as I prefer to call them “Suggested Guidelines for Gentlemanly Wargaming.” Those rules are the system for an American Civil War scenario, Daybreak at Hangman’s Creek, that a couple of my friends are running with me at the Total Confusion game convention this February. I am sure to discuss my process of bringing this game to a convention reality.

Before I end this piece I want to thank you for sticking around this long. I am long-winded, which is a bad thing for a journalist and a blogger. We’re supposed to write tight as my high school and college journalism teacher used to say. That’s hard to do when there’s so much to talk about. It is a good thing that Ben is around to keep me in line each week when I share a new post with you.

If there are games, topics, or anything gaming related you want me to share, then please don’t hesitate to be heard. You can leave comments on this post or e-mail me privately at

What Is Alternate History Fiction?

Have you ever looked back at history and wondered what would have happened had some event or period in time gone differently? What if the Germans won World War II or what if Lincoln hadn’t been assassinated? Major events that, had they gone differently, would have altered the course of history. For writers of Alternate History fiction it’s all in a day’s work. They rewrite World War II, give Kennedy and Lincoln longer presidencies, let the South win the Civil War, or make sure the Roman Empire never fell. It’s an impressive feat and a daunting task to be able to rewrite history—one that writers have been doing for far longer than I had imagined.

According to Robert Schmunk, the creator of, Alternate History fiction has existed since as far back as 1845 with the publication of Nathaniel Hawthrone’s “P’s Correspondence”. And although there were works written prior to 1845, they aren’t completely alternate histories, but they “contain allohistorical digressions within” the story. All of these works were written before Alternate History was thought of as a genre, or sub genre of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Mr. Schmunk’s site has chosen 1939 as the year that Alternate History really became a genre—citing the publication of Science Fiction author L. Sprague de Camp’s “Lest Darkness Fall” as the first modern Alternate History novel.

Alternate History is an interesting genre in terms of the range it has. You can go as far as changing the entire world, or focus in on one person and give that character a chance to redo his life all over again. You can take your personal “what if I had done this instead of that?” and give a character a chance to not only wonder the same thing, but have the opportunity present itself to allow them to change that one thing. Any period of time is fair game for some creative “revisionist” history, although depending on where you’re located in the world some subjects might not be as appealing as others. Revising World War II would likely be something that would be read around the world, but pick the Civil War and you most likely won’t find anyone outside North America interested in the subject. In the European market, Napoleon is a popular subject for alternate history but here is in the Unites States it’s not. And Alternate History may be considered a part of Science Fiction or Fantasy, but that doesn’t mean you’re limited to those genres. Michael Chabon, author of the comic industry themed “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”, has also written “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union”, a straight up police procedural and mystery which happens to be set in a modern world where events in World War II took a different path.

Learning about this genre has been a lot of fun, and there’s so much more to cover. The opportunities it offers writers, as well as readers, are never ending. The ideas for table top gaming are there too. The Mutants and Masterminds setting can be called Alternate History in some sense, since you’re adding Supers to our world. But what if on top of that you have a world where Germany dominated World War II. Or set your World of Darkness campaign in a world where the Roman Empire never fell. Everything’s fair game in Alternate History.

[tags]alternate history, science fiction, fantasy, scifi, literature[/tags]

Marcon 46 Convention Review

Over the Memorial Day weekend I had the chance to attend my first Marcon convention in Columbus, Ohio. Marcon is the oldest science fiction and fantasy convention in Ohio and is operated by SOLEA (the Science Oriented Literature, Art, and Education Foundation). The first Marcon was held in Toledo, OH back in 1966. They moved to Columbus for the third convention in 1968 and have been there ever since.

Marcon offers what you expect to find at a convention; a dealer’s room and an art show, as well as panels and workshops. There is a definite party atmosphere to this Con that we missed out on since we were only able to attend for the day. A serious party atmosphere—when you book you hotel room through the Con, they ask if you want to be on a “party” or “non party” floor of the hotel! There’s also a Con wide game of collecting “stamps” by attending various functions, buying from different vendors, or just running in to the right people and talking to them while mingling. The stamps are actually ribbons with catchy little sayings (“Plays Well With Others” or “I Got My Rocks At The Silver Fox” as examples) that you start sticking to your badge (passport) holder. Collect as many as you can and stop by information to get prizes. You can also find various costumed attendees from various aspects of fantasy and science fiction. On a personal note, it was refreshing to NOT run in to a woman heavier than I am who thought she looked fabulous in the Princess Leia slave costume. But, sadly, there were several people wearing the cat ears and tails with otherwise normal clothing (I still don’t understand why that’s popular). Befitting a science fiction and fantasy convention there were the prerequisite Stormtroopers of various makes, models (and sizes), as well as quite a few people who have embraced their inner steampunk to varying degrees of success.

Each year the convention turns its attention to a different theme or sub-genre of fantasy and science fiction. For Marcon 46 the convention committee chose Alternate History fiction. Alternate History is sometimes classified as a sub genre of literary fiction or historical fiction, as well as science fiction. These stories are set in worlds where at some critical point in the past an event went differently than our history remembers it and that resulted in a whole new timeline. The convention featured several panels that discussed Alternate History Fiction trends, timelines and subjects that haven’t been explored and how to build your own alternate history universe. Those panels included Alternative History authors Eric Flint and Harry Turtledove among others. I was fortunate enough to sit in on one of those panels, which I hope to discuss in my next entry on Alternate History Fiction.

Marcon is a fun regional Con. If you enjoy science fiction and fantasy and are looking for a nice weekend trip next year, it would be a great place to explore. Their theme next year will be “Galactic Beach Party”.

[tags]conventions,fantasy,science fiction,scifi,review,alternate history[/tags]

Cover of Marcon 46 program guide

And Then What Happened? A Short Look at Stories, and a Preview.

Stories coverIn the introduction to Stories, the anthology Neil Gaiman edited with Al Sarrantonio, Gaiman notes that he “finds [himself] increasingly frustrated with the boundaries of genre: the idea that categories which existed only to guide people around bookshops now seemed to be dictating the kind of stories that were being written.”

He then talks about the magic of stories, and remarks that he is convinced that the most important question about a story has nothing to do with genre, and often comes from children. A writer knows that his or her story has succeeded when they hear this: “…and then what happened?”

Part of the joy of reading for me is that almost any book can be read on multiple levels. I read for escapism; I read for work; I read for play. I found out not long ago that a close family member was expecting his first child in August. I understand other people buy practical things for this sort of event – diapers, clothes, all the things that single people with no children have no idea about. My immediate thought was, “Books! I can buy more books!”

Among the selections in Stories, Gaiman and Sarrantonio each have one of their own stories. Gaiman’s is “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains.”

In it, a dwarf who is never named approaches the house of Calum MacInnes, and it is quickly established that the dwarf requires MacInnes’s services a guide for reasons he does not care to detail. Know that this is not a review so much as a short commentary. On their journey, the dwarf and MacInnes establish that they have widely divergent views on what the truth is. Because of this, only one of them will go home from this trip to the Misty Isle.

These are facts. You can read the story on a more analytical level, and no doubt find more. You can read it for entertainment, and possibly find less. The joy of reading, as I think Gaiman and Sarrantonio capture in their anthology, is whatever you read in their stories – you will find that desire to know what comes next: “and then what happened?”

On Wednesday, May 25, The Guardian (UK) ran the following story on prisoners and gaming in China.
The scary thing is that I’ve read this novel. It’s called For the Win, and it’s by Cory Doctorow. I’ll review it here next week.

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