Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Super-Duper

Yesterday I had the day off work AND off “baby duty,” and consequently had a chance to get down and finish proofing (first proofing) the new game, CDF. This is an important step in my process (dumb or simplistic as my approach is to this “writing thang”)…I need to let the text "cool off” and then I go over it making notes that will become changes, after which I’ll give it to a disinterested 3rd party (my wife) to see if it makes sense to her non-gamer brain. I’ve just been so busy lately I haven’t been able to get to it, and consequently I’ve had some nagging anxiety about the damn thing that was hampering my enjoyment (and thus dampening my interest in it).

Ah…weird psychology.

Anyhoo, getting that First Proof done was a load off my mind, and actually got me fired up to run my Tuesday night play-test. I forgot how much I enjoyed some of my “setting specific” material (forgotten because I’ve been converting old dumb-dumb Shadowrun adventures for play-testing…sorry, but the things haven’t aged well, and my game is better). I even had a chance to revisit some of the parts I was thinking of chucking from the book (like ammo tracking) and found that I LIKE the rules as is…I just haven’t had a chance to put ‘em to good use…something I aimed to rectify in the evening’s play-test.

Unfortunately, only one of my players showed up to the bar.

One thing about a game like D&D (or CDF, which is just ‘D&D with guns’), it doesn’t scale well to solo play unless adventures are specifically designed for a specific solo adventurer. I mean, a high level character (perhaps with a henchman or two) has the ability to solo dungeons of even mid-level with the right equipment…my old AD&D (power gamey) bard was able to do this on many occasions, and the tales of Robilar and the Temple of Elemental Evil make it clear that I’m not an isolated incident. However, for a 1st level character a solo adventurer (even with NPC buddies) probably needs a more “scripted” scenario…like giving a cleric a bunch of skeletons or thief a bunch of drunks to sneak by.

And my play-test scenario was NOT scripted. The description “death trap” would be more appropriate (i.e. “a challenging adventure requiring cooperative effort to succeed”), and while I would’ve been happy to send TWO players in to be cut-down by bullets (it would have given me a chance to play-test the auto-fire rules), sending Will by himself into the jaws of doom would have been too much of a turkey shoot.

So I made him play-test something else.

I’ve been working on a superhero game for the last couple-three weeks. Well, actually I’ve been poking around at a superhero RPG for a few years, but I’ve only been working seriously on it for the last few weeks. The point is, I’ve been fleshing it out and really liking where it was going in a VERY “old school” kind of way (classes, levels, HPs, etc.)…but it’s certainly not completed. I have, for example, the complete power list (96 powers divided into eight categories of 12), but I haven’t even started writing the text describing how those powers interact with the game mechanics. One could safely assume it ain’t ready for testing.

However, while weed-eating yesterday I was drawn again to the idea (not for the first time) that maybe I should try adapting the hero-genre to my DMI system…you know, the chassis I’m using for my post-apoc, space opera, and time-travel-dinosaur games? And I had a mini-epiphany about how it might be done. And DMI is pretty much complete (if not written up)…play-testing DMI with “super powers added” didn’t seem too big a stretch. So we did that instead of play-testing CDF.

It worked pretty well.

I mean it definitely needs some tweaking/adjustment, but DMI is just turning out to be a fun little system. Will enjoyed it and seemed to have fun. It’s funny, we talked beforehand about the superhero genre and how it was NOT one for which he had much interest. He was never much of a “comic book guy” and his main exposure to superheroes are through cartoons and (recent) films. We talked about the difficulty with embracing the superhero genre due to the immense body of work (when you have dozens of titles with multi-hundreds of issues) that make it difficult to learn/appreciate, not to mention the inconsistency depending on writer assigned to a title, plus the constant “re-boots” and updated origin stories…ADDED TO the fairly simplistic nature of the hero genre compared to other pulp styles (horror, fantasy, western, sci-fi, etc.). It just wasn’t a style of game he was really big on.

But after playing, the man appeared to be humming a bit of a different tune. He did keep his character and expressed what appeared to be genuine interest in re-visiting the guy (and the game) in our next “episode.”

Here’s the thing (and this is what I tried to explain, regarding my own feelings on the matter): fantasy role-playing, on some level, is about escapism and wish fulfillment. And the superhero genre is the ultimate in wish fulfillment escapism.

[yes, I discussed this before]

The thing you have to do is forget about the comics and cartoons and films…the specific intellectual property…and simply worry about the tropes of the genre: 21st century people gifted with extraordinary powers, put in a position by those abilities to make a difference in the lives of their fellows.

Who doesn’t want to be a superhero?

Anyway, the “adventure scenario” boiled down to a simple super-powered slugfest that informed a lot about how the DMI system needs to be varied for use with this particular genre. The nice thing about DMI is that it’s quick to set up (as in, with zero notice), and resolves neatly in an evening’s session (we spent maybe 90 minutes on the game including chargen and rules explanation). “Shatterfist” (Will’s L.A. based superhero) was able to defeat the super-sized mutant “Goliath” by the skin of his teeth. And he did so with flourish, side-stepping the villain’s last-ditch punch and dropping him with a mighty gauntlet, despite being out of cards. And to his fortune (?) a film crew showed up at the last moment and caught the whole thing for the 11 o’clock news, providing the hero with an instant bump in celebrity status. Ahh…complication dice…it’ll be fun to see how that pans out for him.

Um…assuming we play again. My original thought was that this would be a one-off play-test so that we can get back to machine gun-toting trolls and whatnot next week. We’ll see what happens. I’ve got a trip to our nation’s capital scheduled this week, so perhaps I’ll have a chance to do a little DMI tinkering on the plane…right after I finish making my edits/corrections to the CDF text, of course.
: )

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Random Fate

Watching the home team get swept in a three game series is actually pretty anticlimactic after watching them get shut-out in the first game, and completely self-destruct in the 9th inning of the second. Even so, after last night's fiasco, I skipped game three (which, as I said, they lost) and instead spent the day at the Northwest Folklife Festival. The weather was beautiful, the fiddle music and sea chanteys were great, and the smell of corn dogs and cannabis mingled to give a carnival atmosphere to an event that, in recent years, has become an absolute crush of thousands of people. The family had fun, especially the boy, who was only four month old at last year's Folklife...he spent his entire bath routine babbling about what a great time he had (or so we assume from his pantomime and answer to our own queries).

As I was saying, it sure beats the hell out of watching your ball club lose its third straight in as many days. But you know, I will watch more Mariners games this year (at least if they're on in the pub at the same time I'm eating dinner). And it's not because I'm a big baseball fan, either (I'm not). The M's have been terrible for years, being incredibly deficient in the way of hitting (something kind of important for winning games). But even though they don't always win...hell, even though they have a propensity for losing games...it's still fun to watch. Because there's always the chance they'll win. They do win sometimes...sometimes blowing up even good teams (they swept Detroit and beat the hell out of Texas this year, for example). There's always a chance, and it's fun to see how that chance plays out. I'm not talking about betting or odds-making (I'm not into gambling)...I'm just talking about the entertainment value of watching events unfold; events over which you have little (if any) personal control.

Sooo...have I talked about dice before?

Probably not any more than in passing. Which is fine...they're truly a very small part of the role-playing experience (some RPGs don't even bother with 'em), despite the pages and pages of text often devoted to various (dice-driven) mechanics in an RPG.

In case you haven't noticed the badge I wear on this blog, I'm one of those gamers who are content to let the dice fall where they may. I don't "fudge" dice rolls. That is to say, if I'm running a game (as a DM or GM) and the situation calls for a die roll, then the result of the die roll stands...it doesn't get adjusted by my fiat to result in something more "appropriate."

Is this about fairness and impartiality? It is not. I'm going to paraphrase the game designer Greg Stolze from his essay in Wild Talents: the dice may be impartial, but their application and interpretation sure isn't. And part of the GM's responsibility (and the reason he/she's often stuck with the job of interpreting those dice) is to provide a structure to the game that enforces the logic of your particular game's setting.

Stolze is a pretty smart guy. He points out (in the same essay) that if what you really cared about was "fairness" and "impartiality" you could simply flip a coin whenever there's a dispute that needs resolution to come up with a simple yes/no, succeed/fail answer. Of course, no one wants to give Lois Lane even odds of knocking out Superman with one sucker punch, so we have rules and randomization to determine (what Stolze calls) "degrees of likelihood." After all, it should be tougher to take down Jimmy Olsen than Superman, right?

And as Mr. Stolze also points out, gauging these "degrees of likelihood" and working the odds (and playing these odds) is a fun and entertaining pastime.

Now, please allow me to expand a bit on Mr. Stolze point of view:

The use of dice as a "randomizer" is only appropriate when all possible outcomes are interesting and acceptable.

Got that? The same applies to other methods of fortune generation (drawing cards, flipping coins, whatever). If the possible result of the randomizer doesn't produce an interesting and acceptable result, then you shouldn't bother with the randomizer. Period.

I'll give a quick example: let's say you're playing a game like, say, Mutants & Masterminds. Ol' Captain Protonik is fighting a number of street thugs because, well, they were doing something thuggish. Say, Protonik's player is having a really bad day rolling dice...he loses initiative to the street thugs. All three manage to hit him, and despite only needing to roll a 4 or better to save versus damage (the thugs are using pipe wrenches), he rolls a 1, 2, and 3 and gets all bruised up. Then he misses with his super punch, by rolling a really low roll. Say the next round goes similarly bad and now when he rolls a 1 or 2 on his damage save he is stunned, losing his actions for the round. What if things just get progressively worse with Protonik being bludgeoned unconscious in the alley? This is the equivalent of seeing some street toughs kick the crap out of Superman. Except that you'd never see that happen in a Superman comic unless kryptonite is involved.

But in M&M it IS possible. Sure, it's unlikely...like it's unlikely the Mariners will go on a tear and win the pennant this year. But unlikely doesn't mean impossible. I've seen player characters go whole sessions, with multiple multi-round combats and challenges, and fail every single die roll they attempted (attacks, saves, initiative, skills, etc.). That happens. It's bad luck or an off day. Heck, the PC might still be an effective, contributing member of the party...assuming they are proactive with their other (non-rolling) input and ideas.

But is it acceptable and interesting for Superman to get thumped by the likes of Turk and Grotto? (old school Marvel players will catch that reference) No, not really. I mean, yeah it's entertaining (personally, I'd get a kick out of it) but it's certainly not appropriate in terms of logic of the game setting. And if I, the player, wanted my character to BE the equivalent of Superman, I'd be pissed off at being humiliated in this way. That's not what I signed up for!

But that's part of the M&M game; that's the way the system is designed. You can ignore (i.e. "fudge") the die roll...but then why bother rolling the dice at all? If failure and humiliation are not possibilities, then why make those things possibilities of the randomizing force? Don't bother making the player roll a die if you already know what the end result is.

Of course, some might ask why you bother playing the game at all, when you could just be writing a short story detailing what happens to the characters.

Ugh...it's nearly 2:30am. I started this post a little late, and my brain is shutting down. I'll catch it up tomorrow after I've had some sleep.

Friday, May 25, 2012

"D&D Next" - My Take

So I downloaded the D&D Next play-test rules last night.

Now I read on some blogger’s site that WotC dropped the non-disclosure agreement on their latest package, but that’s not how I read the “terms and agreement” legal stuff. In this particular case, I’m going to err on the side of caution (I always do, actually, though some feel my B/X Companion skirts the edge with its lack of legal mumbo-jumbo), and not get into too many specifics. Instead, I’ll just write about my thoughts and feelings on the rules that have been released.

Besides, you can always go download ‘em yourself if you’re interested.

The play-test package consists of a folder containing several documents, including pre-gen characters (there are no chargen rules) and recycled/converted Old School adventure module (which one…let’s just say one of my personal favorites…and one Mike Mearls has decried in the past as “pointless,” “endearingly bad,” and a “crime against logic”). You get the rules you need to run a play-test (duh), some GM guidelines, and a partial bestiary (enough to run the monsters in the adventure). There is one piece of recycled art in the entire package…it really is simply play-start rules.

After reviewing all the documents, here’s my take:

Well, actually, BEFORE I give my thoughts let me preface it a bit. Yesterday, I wrote about how I had a chance to watch the new Conan movie and that (in my eyes) it compares unfavorably to the “original” film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. I mentioned briefly some thoughts on change and progress and I want to expound on that a bit.

CHANGE is a part of life…it’s just something we must accept and respect. I mean, we can choose NOT to accept and respect it, but then we’ll get beat about the head and shoulders with it. LIFE, in part, is about change…it’s about growing and developing and transforming, hopefully for the better. Sure, for most of us it is more comfortable when things change slowly (or don’t change at all), and NOT just because we (humans) are lazy or slaves to inertia. It takes time and effort to master any aspect of life, and it can be terribly frustrating to put time and effort into mastery of something only to have the game (so to speak) suddenly changed on you.

But we’re not put on this planet to stand pat. We are here to evolve spiritually, as much in response to our own physical and mental growth as to the changes that occur in our environment. Many times I have held my son and felt sad knowing that he will not stay this tiny, helpless baby forever, and that he will eventually grow into an independent human with his own thoughts and dreams and flaws, just as I myself did. And while that’s sad (because I like holding him and caring for him and protecting him) it’s wonderful, too, because it’s good for his soul development, it’s good for my soul development (as I learn to let go of my attachments), and it’s (hopefully) good for the world…so long as my wife and I do a good job in helping to raise a positive, constructive member of society.

Of course, with change one inherits a whole slew of new challenges, right? These days, people can complain about air pollution from traffic congestion, but when cars were first put on the road people were thrilled that it would mean the end of roads covered thick with horse manure. Cars were going to be GREAT for the environment!

That’s a simplistic example. How about the fact that our 21st century technology has helped to make our lives a wonder of comfort and luxury compared to that of our forebears…but has created a dependency on that technology, a lack of self-sufficiency, and helped to alienate folks from the shared community we once had? Have computers helped “save trees” when printing at the touch of a button has created such a demand for bulk paper?

But we ARE learning and developing. Feudalism wasn’t very helpful to the elevation of people as self-actualized individuals, and perhaps one day we’ll reach a consensus regarding the similar deficiencies of capitalism. Change is inevitable and it’s GOOD for us. When acting un-selfishly (which humans do more often than cynics might consider), we help REFINE our world, bringing it closer to an idealistic place for all us residents of the planet. Change is a refining process…I prefer that term to “perfecting” as to be “perfect” simply means to be “complete and utterly itself, undiminished.” Which the world already IS, at any particular moment in time. But perfect as it is, our world can always stand a bit more refinement.

The idea of change as PROGRESS often feels (to me) based on the presumption that something is NOT perfect, or is somehow flawed in a way that requires “fixing.” It’s a murky line, I realize. The USA in the 1960s was in need of Civil Rights movement, because it needed to refine its laws, bringing the country closer to an idealistic place that was pleasant for ALL its citizens. Prior to the Civil Rights movement, the USA was still a “perfect USA;” it’s just that the definition of USA at that time included the paradigm that some folks received less consideration than others within the society. The Civil Rights movement didn’t move the USA closer to “perfection;” instead it helped refine our definition of what this society was supposed to be about, i.e. a little bit of equality for everyone. The term “progress” seems to indicate inevitability (as in, we are “progressing” down a road to a foreseen end), and I don’t see that to be the case. Change is inevitable, but it’s not always UPWARDS towards a BETTER future, as recent political movements aptly illustrate.

So, okay, back to RPGs, and D&D Next specifically:

Let’s forget for the moment the business concept associated with bringing out new editions every few years. You know car companies help keep their business going through three things: new customers (who really just replace old customers), replacement (cars eventually break-down), and juicing (pumping people up with the latest-greatest must-have vehicle design). The RPG industry can rely on the new customer thing (assuming the hobby can stay relevant in the fact of Wii’s and XBOX Kinects), but very little on replacement (even though you can put books together with shitty binding glue, the wear and tear is not nearly as bad as the wear and tear on an automobile). Juicing (which is what new editions amount to) really is the main way to keep a game company in the biz of putting out games.

But ignoring the business reason of a new edition, what’s the stated reason for the new edition? IS there a stated reason?

Maybe my Google Fu is just rusty, but trying to find a WHY is an extremely obscure (or irrelevant) question as far as the internet is concerned. It’s like trying to find out why Nike decided to redesign NFL uniforms: lots of discussion on WHAT those uniforms look like and HOW people like (or hate) ‘em but no real reasons as to WHY. Who cares, right? The WHY apparently is not news-worthy, nor worthy of much thought. It’s HAPPENING dammit! Get over it!

Well, I like to know the why. Why is it necessary to devote so many man-hours to the creation of a new D&D? Why have the open play-testing, the NDAs, the feedback surveys? What’s the NON-business reason? Simple “progress?” That’s an illusion. Something broke and needs to be fixed? As far as I can tell, if anything was broken it was broken by WotC…and on purpose.

Right or wrong? Because if this is just an effort to unite all the different edition warriors under one roof, or bring the Pathfinder kids back into the fold, whose fault is it for the alienation in the first place? Why not simply apologize and reverse your position?

Ha…that’s just a joke folks. Pandora’s Box was opened waaaay too long ago to ever get everyone on the same page. If THAT’s their stated, non-business reason for creating a New Edition, then what they’re hoping to do is nothing more (or less) than simply creating a NEW fantasy RPG that uses the name “Dungeons & Dragons,” apes certain tropes found within earlier editions, and yet provides a rule set SO AWESOME that all those people playing defunct editions or retro-clones will jump back on the D&D train and ride that hobby line.


Reviewing the play-test rules I see a mishmash of a lot of things: I see something that resembles that Microlite20. I see stuff resembling DCC and HackMaster Basic. I see stuff that I can only assume are from 4th Edition (like, magic-users can cast unlimited numbers of cantrips including "cantrips" like magic missile and ray of frost). I see milking Old School Gygax for actual adventure scenarios. I see the “new school” idea (previously only seen by me in post-90s, non-D&D RPGs) advising “fudging” (i.e. ignoring dice rolls that don’t provide “dramatically appropriate” results). I see death being taken off the table, for the most part, with some specific rules to draw out the survivability of characters. I see skills and individual initiative, two of my personal pet peeves.

There are two different thoughts that strike me after reviewing the play-test material:

#1: This is not a REFINEMENT of D&D. This is not a distillation of D&D down to its essential foundation in a stream-lined game that allows maximum modularity of choice. Maybe that was the initial idea (I think I read that somewhere), but this is much more “kitchen sink-y” in a “let’s-try-to-keep-this-streamlined” package. If it’s trying to “refine” anything, it’s attempting to refine all the things that have been held up as “great innovations” in recent years. Of course, this is just the play-test version…perhaps the final version will be a very different format and this version simply includes the modularity for the sake of testing.

#2: My original thought on D&D Next…that D&D players should just go and create their OWN versions of D&D called “D&D Mine”…still stands. I see nothing here that I or someone else couldn’t have done with a little thought, a word processor, and some house rules. I was a little surprised to see some of the language in the play-test materials is eerily close to my own writing in a couple recent projects (specifically my superhero game!). It just reiterates to me that rather than play-testing or (God forbid!) purchasing their product, my time would be better spent writing-up my own version of D&D for personal use and enjoyment. It’s not necessary to spend the time learning the nuances of a new edition of the game…especially if I just plan on house-ruling it with my own nuances. I’d be better served simply putting together my own game.

And maybe that’s something I need to return to, myself. One thing I forgot to mention in previous posts: these sword-swinging movies and TV shows, regardless of their artistic merits, are quite inspiring as far as a sword-swinging RPG is concerned. Not necessarily for their plots or characters, but for their art design and setting: things like the “iron throne” or the “great ice wall” or the “skeleton mask” or ruined cities and hidden monasteries and invading hordes and Swiss mercenaries, etc. All that stuff is cool and fodder for the imagination. Maybe I need to be getting back into the D&D swing o things.


As soon as I've wrapped up my own play-testing, of course.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Some Film Reviews

One of the ‘perks’ (if you want to call it such) of the wife being out of town is the opportunity to watch trashy films that she would never want to see…well, after the baby’s asleep anyway.

Not that they’re ALL trashy, of course…sometimes you find a little gem in these straight-to-streaming Netflix videos. Had the chance to watch the film Ironclad that does kind of the Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven thing with 12th century England (using the context of the Magna Carta and the First Baronial Wars as the basis of conflict). It was pretty good, though I dozed through a couple parts (exhaustion, remember?) and had some great actors in unusual casting: Paul Giamatti as Prince John? That’s like casting Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the Sheriff of Nottingham…and yet Giamatti gave probably the most interesting (and fiery intense) portrayals of John I’ve ever seen in film.

Plus, I just love watching a chainmailed templar going to town with a war hammer (on foot, no less). I get sooo sick of sword swinging in period films; it’s nice to see a demonstration of a REAL armor-piercer. Plus, Swiss mercenaries! You can see where Ben Roethlisberger gets his genetic heritage (though the double-bitted axe is the kind of historical inaccuracy that’s REALLY irritating, even in a guilty pleasure like this).

And speaking of guilty pleasures, no trash-film fest would be complete without a recent entry into the “fantasy film” genre. And so I broke down and rented the latest Conan movie, despite the generally poor reviews from people who know and love Howard. I, too, am a Howard fan…and a big enough one to have curiosity win out over common sense.

I also nodded off watching this one, but unlike Ironclad, I didn’t bother waking myself up. I did re-watch it the next day just in case it was sheer exhaustion and not real boredom that had put me to sleep.

Nope.

For those who haven’t seen it, please allow me to offer my opinion. The thing has great production values. It is well cast (the lead dude is soooo much closer to the look of the title character then Schwarzenegger) and the acting was much more consistent than the original Conan film. Even the story, on the face of it, seemed more interesting than the original film’s “revenge-origin” story…something about necromantic sorcery and a living “skeleton mask” with some warlord…blah, blah, blah…

Blah, blah, blah…just trying to describe it makes me suddenly bored.

Here’s the thing: if you hold up the new Conan the Barbarian film next to the old Schwarzenegger movie, Arnold’s film beats the “update,” hands down. Like the proverbial red-headed step-child. I mean, it’s not even close. Despite the new-style fight choreography and the additional blood-letting (which, I admit, is one of the reasons I watch these movies) and the special effects and the attention to Hyborian location and the Morgan Freeman (?) narration, and the smoky-eyed protagonist…despite ALL that, the original version sucker punches the new version like Arnold sucker punches that camel.

I’ll give some specifics on why and how the new film gets trumped:

[and just by the way, WHY you may ask would I even bring this up? Or why would I bother to discuss it or analyze it or pursue this even as a mental exercise? Because I see a parallel correlation with Old School versus New School D&D. It’s not just a matter of “I play old school games ‘cause if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That’s NOT what I’m saying…I’m not so na├»ve as to believe progress and change isn’t inevitable nor that it doesn’t happen for good reason. However, there are VIRTUES of Old School games…and Old School films…that sometimes get lost, forgotten, or shunted aside under the assumption that NEWER is ALWAYS BETTER because it builds on the old foundation with all the latest-greatest updated material. And sometimes that assumption is DEAD WRONG and actually the “progress added” goes a way towards destroying the thing itself: whether we’re talking about the Conan movie franchise or the RPG hobby being flagshipped by a putzy edition of the game]

*whew* Glad to get THAT off my chest!

SO…here’s why Arnie’s Conan the Barbarian kicks the ass of the new version:

- The classical music score contributes much more to the epic feel

- Performances by James Earl Jones and Max Von Sydow and even Sandahl Bergman in her heartfelt monologue (she won a Golden Globe for her role…did you know that?) are individually better and conveyed more range of emotional intensity than the collective acting found in the new film. Though that may have been writing. Hell, I even prefer William Smith to Ron Pearlman as the barbarian’s father, and I LIKE Pearlman.

- And for all his faults, Schwarzenegger’s ability to communicate/emote withOUT speaking leaves visual images that long out-linger the wolfish grin of Jason Momoa. Some of the best glaring you’ll find in cinema.

- The dark humor inherent throughout the first film is much more “Howard-ian” than the joy-less 2011 movie. Howard’s stories are filled with dark humor and this is evident both in the writing and direction of the original movie.

- I personally prefer the fight scenes of the original film. Though they aren’t flashy, acrobatic affairs found in modern action films, they have a short, punch-in-the-nose feel that (for me) emphasizes the grimness of slaying, rather than glamorizing it. When Arnold kills James Earl Jones (*spoiler altert!*) it’s with a single hack of a sword against an unarmed man, not a 15-minute melee-and-chase sequence through an ancient catacombs. The first image is powerful and satisfying (in context of the story)…the latter just feels drawn-out in an effort to make things “exciting.” Hell, for that matter, the denouement of the original film is so much more poignant/cathartic and cinematic.

- I appreciate the grimness of the original film. No, the girl/love interest does not survive. No, the peaceful commune is really a hotbed of evil (unlike the idealistic monastery of the 2011 movie). In the end of the original movie, the protagonist stands alone (as he often does in Howard’s stories)…he does not ride off into the sunset with a merry band of buddies.

- The locations shot feels like a more consistent WORLD. The new film shows a variety of environments (sea, desert, woods, etc.) which is consistent with Howard’s eclectic variety of settings…HOWEVER, within each of Howard's individual ‘yarns’ there is a single consistent setting; he doesn’t cram them ALL into one story.

I could go on I suppose, but I think I’ve already communicated my feeling: the newest film in the Conan saga is pedestrian at best, and pretty darn forgettable, often having the feel of an “original SciFy Channel movie.” People can beat up Schwarzenegger’s film and its flaws as much as they want (and it has plenty of flaws, by the way) but as far as I'm concerned, it’s still the reigning “gold standard” in Conan films.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wipe Out

My wife is back in town. Sweet, blessed relief.

Actually, she was back YESTERDAY, but I was too exhausted from the prior five days to do much more than drag my sorry ass down to the bar for the weekly play-test. And then when I got home (fairly drunky) it was my turn to put the baby to sleep. Apparently, he was so happy to have mama back (after an extended business trip to South America) that he just didn't want to sleep. It took an hour, but I got him down and was able to catch three hours before the beagles woke me up for their breakfast.

Life as normal, in other words.

And NOW...well, I'm enjoying a beer on the couch while the wife takes over the Bath & Bedtime Ritual. I'm even wearing my slippers. The work day was a wreck today and all the sports talk radio wanted to discuss was taking in the walls at Safeco (and then our man hits a Grand Salami to take down the Rangers the same afternoon...talk about a waste of airtime). But whatever...the day is done (except for the dishes...) and it's only 9pm and it sure is nice to not be doing the single parent thing. How people actually manage to raise children without a help-mate is fairly mind-blowing to me...at least I was 17 when my parents divorced, and while it was no picnic, at least my mom didn't have to worry about me eating dog food or sticking my finger in the electrical outlet or blundering face-first into something sharp/hard/dangerous.

Well, fortunately it was only temporary (I type as I stretch out and flex my toes). Heck, I was even able to fix the sound on the Blue Ray player, which means I'll be able to watch Game of Thrones with the wife after the baby's down for the count. Yes, I got the first two episodes care of Netflix, and after watching I see why the thing is so popular: it's Tolkien with porn. That George R. R. Martin cat is brilliant. There are "elves over the sea" (the fey blonde siblings), a lusty little dwarf (or hobbit...I mean, he's got no beard), and of course Boromir. Whatever...incest and rape and beheadings and brothels...it reminds me a lot of the old AD&D campaigns I played in as a youth. And I do mean that quite literally.

[we had lecherous, drunken hobbits, too...though none were quite as intelligent or well acted as the little Lassiter]

Of course, it's hard to manage a D&D campaign that resembles Game of Thrones using the D&D rules (especially the later editions)...unless one drifts far away from the game's base premise. I did happen to check out the Quick Start PDF for Green Ronin's A Song of Ice and Fire RPG, which includes not only combat rules, but intrigue and influence rules, and some inspiring language about using the rules to emulate the dramatic conflicts and power struggles found in Martin's books. Personally, I find it a bit much-too-much...but I think the development of specific mechanics aimed at facilitating this type of role-playing is still in its infancy. Green Ronin isn't the first outfit to try it out, but I think it's exceeding hard to do in a broad way...a sharp focus and specific objectives are needed to make such 'personality mechanics' work smoothly.

Or are they? Last night's play-test involved absolutely no combat, instead being about footwork and negotiation and intel and plotting. The only 'game mechanic' I needed was the good ol' B/X Reaction table and the players were able to get the job done and the mission accomplished, through a combo of cleverness and persuasion (not to mention some Ego expenditures). It worked well, and I think the players were satisfied...even though neither had a chance to get their gun(s) off.

Okay, okay...that's enough blogging for the moment. My eyelids are getting heavy and that pile of dishes is still calling. Later, Gators.
: )

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sunny Weather and Injury

Last night I started composing a fairly looong post about the Mother's Day, The Avengers, sunny days and bicycle riding (and purchases). I fell asleep halfway through the thing...literally. I've been spending a lot of time outdoors lately due to the excellent Seattle weather the last few days, and the busyness during the daylight hours have precluded me keeping my eyes open at night for posting.

That and the pain.

DeQuervain's tendonitis is the diagnosis, according to witch doctor #1, and I'm pretty sure it's the correct one, as he was able to bend my thumb and apply pressure in exactly the right spot to make me howl in pain. A couple tendons in my (left) hand are totally f'd...most likely as a result of schlepping too many suitcases in California with a bum right arm...and now I'm trying to type with a thumb brace without hitting too many of the wrong keys. Ah, well...at least now I know what's been causing me the pain the last couple weeks. And a thumb brace with some anti-inflammatories for a week/ten days is a damn sight better than cortisone injections directly into my hand. Not that I'm afraid of needles...I'm a regular donator of type A+...I just don't like the idea of injecting "stuff" directly into my tendons. Kind of a "principle" thing.

ANYway...I'm trying to work out a little design problem with which I've been agonizing the last few days, and I'm just not sure how to put the issue into words. I mean, really it's one of those things where figuring out the question will go along way to determining the solution. The Douglas Addams kind of thing, ya' know?

Unfortunately, it's way past my bed time at the moment (I paused in the middle of posting to watch Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady...only fair, since I've devoted so much time recently to Iron Man. Haha, yes that's a terribly lame attempt at humor. I've been in pain, lately, didn't I say that?)...so I'll have to broach the subject tomorrow.

Nighty night.
: )

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Or Not

I'm bagging my play-test for the evening...three of my four players are unable to make it tonight and I haven't heard from any other interested parties. We shall be resuming next Tuesday.

Monday, May 7, 2012

News Flash:Play-Testing Makes You Feel Good

Doubtself doubt…is a terrible thing.

Two Wednesdays ago, I woke up feeling great. Well, kind of. Certainly I’d gotten too little sleep (and too much beer) the night before, resulting in an upset stomach and severe headache the entire day. This didn’t do much for the chronic neck and back pain I’ve been suffering. It was grey and drizzly all day after several days of sunshine, and my phone at work was ringing off the hook all day (which, as I’m not in a sales profession, is NOT a good thing).

But regardless, I was feeling good. There was a lightness…hell, a bounce…to my step, even as I was dragging my sorry ass into work a little late. And it was due entirely to the good play-testing the night before.

Now good gaming is its own reward for the most part. I’ve certainly blogged before about the elation and deep satisfaction I feel after a good gaming session, whether I’m running the game or playing in someone else’s. I’ve also written how disappointed or even ANGRY I get when a game session doesn’t go well…it’s like I wasted several hours of time, including the build-up and anticipation beforehand. I LOVE to game. Who knows why? For some folks, it’s an enjoyable, occasional pastime. For me…I don’t know. It’s just something more. A needed escape, I guess; a means of creative expression. Maybe just a chance to stretch my “imagination muscle.”

Astrologically, I would probably point to the emphasized Mars in the 5th house…a person with Pluto in the 5th house would be one of those people who have a hard-time “growing up.” With Mars in that location…well, it indicates this is where I gain or lose energy (and where I’m prone to upset when thwarted). There’s also a lot of ego surrounding an Aries Mars in the 5th house…which is par for the course with a 10th house Pluto and Capricorn 2nd containing Venus, I might add.

Whatever; the why doesn’t really matter all that much. The mental result does. And I get off on good gaming and get pissed about games that go poorly.

But it’s taking it to a whole ‘nother level when you’re dealing with your own game, one that you’ve designed and written yourself. So when a play-test goes well…especially with a game that you’ve been tinkering with for more than a year due to the flaws and frustrations it’s caused…well, it’s enough to make you forget (mostly) about a raging hangover.

Because CDF (the game we’ve beep play-testing) has caused me frustration. And that frustration can lead to self-doubt: doubt about whether you have completely wasted your time. Doubt about whether or not anyone would even enjoy such a game. Doubt about whether or not you should even spend your energy on “design.” I mean, you still have B/X (or LL or AD&D or Pathfinder or whatever)…just house rule it and run with it forever, Amen, right? Throw in a game of Traveller or Boot Hill every now and then for a change-up but just stick to what works and forget the idea of writing anything besides flowery character backgrounds or adventure scenarios for your existing game. Forget your compulsion to do anything more…’cause dammit, you’re just not good enough.

See that? Follow that line of thinking you end up hiding your light under a bush.

I’m not saying every gamer is a designer waiting to bloom. I’m saying that every human has a means (or two) of creative expression and when you find it (and usually you’ll know what it is, deep down, ‘cause it excites your passion) you have to find a way to pursue it in spite of any reservations that might stifle you…things like not being good enough, or smart enough, or educated enough. No, you may not “succeed” and make oodles of money or acquire fame, but you’ll be a helluva’ lot more satisfied with your life…much moreso than if you allow your own nay-saying doubts stop you from pursuing something you enjoy.

I recently had the opportunity to re-read Thomas Sugrue’s biography of Edgar Cayce, There is a River (I highly recommend it to anyone…a good, quick read and both fascinating and enjoyable). Reading about Cayce’s self-doubts about his own unconventional work…despite the great good and help he did for so many people…really helps put your own BS in perspective and (to me anyway) demonstrates how important the MEANS is, not just the END. We’re all going to end our present lives eventually anyway; how do you want to look back at the way you lived it?

I’m going to stand for courageous creativity.

So, regarding the play-test: it went great. As with my previous play-test, I’ve been running an old Shadowrun adventure, converted over to my own system. This particular adventure is Demon in a Bottle, which is kind-of-bad-but-not-terrible. It’s very flavorful due mainly to Tim Bradstreet’s artwork (the story narrative sounds both poorly written and banal to my ear), and an interesting not-quite-McGuffin combined with the usual SR triple-cross-SNAFU isn’t quite demolished by some ham-fisted railroading.

Or maybe it is. After all, in the original adventure it’s up to an NPC to come in and be the “hero” in the end.

But, as said, that’s the original adventure. I ran the opening scenes twice (over two game sessions with different players) in order to test some things, and have decided the rest of the mission will be completely “off-book” (i.e. I’ll be spinning the rest from whole cloth). Hopefully, when we meet next

[Note to Players: TOMMOROW (Tuesday) at the BARANOF, 8PM or thereabouts]

…hopefully, they’ll enjoy the session at least as much as I enjoyed our last one. Highlights from the last session (for me) included the following:



  • Players really embracing the Alignment rules (and earning the bennies of playing in character).

  • Vehicle evasion/skill rules working the way I wanted…quick, loose, and fun while still defined.

  • Having a boost ganger perform a boarding action on a moving vehicle and subsequently getting blown away by a hail of bullets.

  • Good (and creative) use of the witchcraft rules by the witch play-tester

  • Surprise and Initiative rules

  • NPC rules

  • Illusion spells and flux working the way I intended

  • Learning what other “fat” needs to be cut out of the rules

Regarding the latter, I’ve now found over multiple play-tests that I never use the shock/stun rules…which tells me, um, why should I even bother including ‘em? Cut. Keeping track of ammo/bullets expended also seems to be something we neglect in the heat of the moment…I’m thinking of knocking that out, too (or just stream-lining it). I’m going to play around with that tomorrow, I think.

While I was in California last week, K had the opportunity to run another play-test session of CDF with her group, and reported they, too, had a very enjoyable time. They have also skipped the shock rules and stopped counting bullets, which leads me to think I’m on the right track dropping and updating the rules. She says they had a lot of fun with grenades (who doesn’t?) and that the sorcerer was able to knock himself out with flux for most of the session while still contributing mightily to the success of the mission. She also says the two players with prior Shadowrun experience enjoy the rules and are having a blast…which, of course, makes me uber-feliz.

They’re going to continue playing for at least the next couple weeks, which should give ‘em a good chance to work with the development/advancement and mission creation rules. I’m going to need to get on the ball to catch up!
: )


So, yeah: play-testing will re-commence tomorrow at the usual time. Folks in the Seattle area who are interested should email me...I still have a couple-three spots open for players.

Monday Morning Jousting Blues

Ugh...I was going to blog last night, but it was a looong day of "doin' stuff" and then I ended up alternating between watching episodes of Mad Men and putting the baby to sleep to after 1am. This is my first real chance to wrote, and I've only got a few minutes.

I miss Full Metal Jousting. Well, I don't miss it terribly, but it sure was a lot of fun to watch. And I think it makes a fantastic sport: combining the individual achievement (a la baseball) with brutal full contact...and NOT dragging the thing out for 12 or 15 rounds of pay-per-view. Plus, those horses are f'ing majestic.

On the other hand, I don't know if it's something I could really follow...I mean, I do much better with team sports organized into standard leagues. I like to root for a team that represents me and my city (yes, even when it's as pathetic as the Mariners...hey, they won yesterday!). I can't cheer for a single, individual athlete. It's why I don't watch golf or tennis. Maybe if I played the sport it would be different (the people I know who are really into golf and tennis seem to be avid golfers and tennis players, unlike myself)...but unfortunately, I'm no horseman. I'm just a guy who likes to watch two people crashing cars into each other (which would be the equivalent of FMJ).

*sigh* Got to run to work right now...I'll post more later today (and, yes, regarding something other than television shows...jeez!).

Saturday, May 5, 2012

May 5th - Nothing Super

I celebrated Cinco de Mayo today by eating crappy Tex-Mex food and having giant-ass margarita. The funny part? It wasn't any worse than the "authentic" Mexican food I kept trying out on our recent trip to southern California. Apparently, you really do have to go to Mexico if you want the good stuff...or perhaps a certain Rick Bayless restaurant in Chicago.

But then, May 5th isn't much of a holiday in Mexico. September 16th is their big one (the equivalent of 4th of July in the USA, including gunfire and fireworks and drunken toasts), but for some reason it gets short shrift up here. Maybe the ex-pats don't feel all that patriotic? I don't know...do U.S. ex-pats celebrate July 4th?

Well, whatever. Actually, despite the food it was a good time, though I had hoped to see The Avengers today. Unfortunately, there were scheduling conflicts due to naps and swimming lessons. Perhaps tomorrow the wife and I will get to take in a matinee...the forecast is optimistic. And that's cool, 'cause I've been in a superhero state of mind lately.

I should probably save any superhero discussion till after I've seen the movie, of course. If it turns out disappointing, I'll probably junk the whole thing and go back to crafting my war game (in between proofing CDF and brow-beating my artists for TCBXA project). There's no use getting all hyped up before the inspiration hits. I avoided that pitfall with the most recent Mission Impossible film (prior to seeing it, I was already starting to edge back into the ol' Top Secret waters; afterwards I was, like, meh).

But, hey...what else am I going to post? I've got an eight-page, meandering diatribe that I'll need to post in chunks but which doesn't really seem to have a point, and I've got a short essay full of glowing remarks about my play-test from two weeks ago. Yeah, I've been slack in the blogging arena...I've been on vacation, yo. Plus I've been in immense pain for awhile (the back is better, but I sprained my left wrist a couple days ago and I can't do shit with it...ugh!).

All right, all right...I'll keep this short. Here are just a few of my thoughts on the whole superhero genre:
  • It's hard to define any type of supers (i.e. people with superhero powers) without referencing comic books and the usual hero vs. villain/alien menace/crook mentality. And I mean, it's tough regardless of the medium, whether film (see Jumpers) or RPGs (look at Aberrant). So far, I don't think anyone's been successful except when sticking to the traditional "caped crusader" concept.
  • And yet, caped crusaders seem incredibly dated...have seemed incredibly dated...for some time as, I think, Alan Moore's Watchman series shows. I know a lot of gamers who say they're just not into the superhero genre, period. Sometimes, it seems like the successful films are only making money based on 1) special effects, 2) nostalgia, 3) kids. None of these are really going to help sell a NEW supers RPG aimed at a mature audience.
  • Which is so damn frustrating to ME because isn't the supers genre kind of the epitome of the role-playing ideal? I mean, to have "super powers" in "our modern world" is kind of the premise of the genre, right? Superman didn't live in ancient Atlantis; Spiderman doesn't reside in a city on Mars. And since fantasy role-playing allows folks to experience living a wildly different life (slaying dragons, casting spells, etc.) you'd think that a game of wish fulfillment like the supers genre is would have mass appeal. But it doesn't.
Not only is it frustrating, it's a bit strange. Maybe folks feel their RPG habit is "nerdy enough" without mixing in a comic book angle. Personally, I don't see how that can be more embarrassing than telling someone you pretend to be an elven whatever on the weekends, but that's just me. Is it just that the challenge is too repetitive? How many times must we fist-fight the new, weekly arch-villain before the genre gets old? Maybe that's the deal...I know that some of the criticism of the second Iron Man movie was the similarity of the villain (in motives and methods) to the one in the first movie.

Mmm...there's a lot of different things to say here, and really no guarantee that the discussion will bear any fruit (since, if I don't make or play a supers RPG, what's the point of bringing it up?). I'm going to shut-up for now, maybe do some dishes and throw on a DVD. Should I watch Iron Man or Captain America?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

From Desert to Downpour

Welp we're back, safe & sound from the dry heat of southern California. The temperature where we were this morning is 91 degrees...the current Seattle temperature is 49. Cold enough we could see our breath outside the airport. Oh, yeah..and it's pouring rain. Yay...Spring!

Still, it's good to be home...after a nightmare two hour commute (in the rain, with baby and luggage). The beagles are always very affectionate after even a short absence. "Man's best friend," you know? They're both curled up to me as I type, warming these poor, rain-soaked bones of mine. And, of course, I have my own bed waiting for me, which is nice. Too bad I have to vacate it for my regular work day in the morning.

But there I go, complaining again. Junior Seau died today, and here I didn't even notice till I was ordering Thai take-out from a local Greenwood establishment. I'm sure if we'd spent a few more hours in San Diego today we would have heard the news. That's...well, I'm not sure what adjective to use to describe it. Certainly it's not good news. I guess "sad" is the most appropriate term. Any other word I might use would carry some possible judgmental attachment. And I want to save up my judgment for other things.

I hope you all have had a good week. Looking forward to getting back to normal on my end.