Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dave Bezio's X-Plorers


A couple weeks back I managed to pick up a copy of Dave Bezio’s X-Plorers down at Gary’s Games in Greenwood. A lot of people over the last couple years have suggested I pick this one up due to my A) dissatisfaction with most space opera RPGs on the market and B) my love of things “old school” and somewhat “rules light.” However, until recently the thing wasn’t available in a print form that I could pick up and hold and flip-through and read…at least not that I’d seen down at my FLGS.

See, I’m a weird dude. I read email and comments (here and on certain forums) fairly regularly from folks complaining that I don’t offer my books in an electronic or PDF format (though, yes, I do offer my B/XCompanion in such a format these days)…but for me, it is extremely rare that I will EVER fork out hard-earned cash for anything less than a solid, tangible product. I can’t be sure, but I think the only time I’ve made such a purchase (at least in recent memory) was Raggi’s Death Frost Doom, and I was terribly disappointed (not because it was a bad adventure, but because I ended up blowing a bunch of ink and paper to print the damn thing…I just don’t like reading books off a screen!).

[oh, wait…I also purchased a copy of 3:16 in electronic format, too]

So anyhoo…I’m an anachronistic kind of guy and unless something is readily available for me to buy in a physical format I generally won’t…such was the case with X-Plorers. I had previously browsed the free version on-line, but truth-be-told I didn’t pay all that much attention to it, being put off by the large swatches of blank space (compared to, say, the downloadable Terminal Space)…it gave the whole text a feeling of…well, a fairly amateur effort I guess.

[to understand my bias, you have to grok that I’ll write up 30 pages of game rules and charts myself that, save for the nifty spaceship diagrams, look about as good and yet are nothing I’d consider publishing…]

So fast forward to me shelling out hard currency and holding the glossy soft-cover in my hands…Bezio’s book is great, and I was VERY impressed when I saw the printed book. Previously, I’ve written a brief piece on my thoughts of Terminal Space and a rather lengthy bit on my feelings for SWN but I’ve got to say that between these three Old School offerings of space opera fantasy, X-Plorers has got to be my favorite of the bunch…something I was not ready to say prior to holding the solid work in my grubby grasp. Here’s why:

X-Plorers isn’t “dungeon-delving in space.” It’s not “space opera on a B/X chassis.” Heck, I wouldn’t even call it a “what if RPG that examines an alternate reality where the designers of D&D instead chose to focus their efforts on pulp Sci-Fi” (which is, pretty much, the objective laid out by the author).

Nope, what we have here is a mash-up of Star Frontiers and Swords & Wizardry (the OD&D retroclone) with a tiny bit of D20 sensibility thrown in to boot. And Star Frontiers (which I’ve lambasted system-wise on more than one occasion) has never looked so good.

The fact it can do this in under 40 pages is truly remarkable.

Now my own “B/X space opera” game (on-hold lo these many moons as I’ve pursued the development of my DMI-based system) shares a number of similarities with X-Plorers, which probably goes a long way towards endearing it to me, especially as Bezio has managed to articulate some things better than I ever did. His spaceship combat system is very close to my own, but better done, and his classes and level structure…and especially his class-related skill checks…are very similar to my original ideas and I especially like the particular archetypes he’s chosen, and their corresponding overlap of skills. Interesting that I can see the integration of Star Frontiers skills into the classes in a very logical and intuitive way…as someone who played a lot of SF back-in-the-day I find this ingenious, even if it is a no-brainer in retrospect.

Allow me a moment to gush over some of the additional highlights (*ahem*):

-          Compacted Star Frontiers equipment list; keeping the flavor without going over-board (to we really need rules for a recoilless rifle? No…and Bezio leaves it out, while still including sonic swords and lasers and SEUs). Kudos especially to adequately adapting the system to its OD&D base.
-          Very workable starship combat.
-          Good rules for crafting alien monsters…better than Star Frontiers ever did, IMO.
-          Nice, workable psychic rules.
-          Good ability scores/modifiers (doesn’t overwhelm the game).
-          Good, adapted personal combat system (hard to tell without running a few rounds, but seems just fine).
-          Nice, tight, streamlined package allowing plenty of space for imagination and hours of adventure possibility with little extra effort.

Now it’s not a perfect game. Some of the “low lights” are pretty critical ones. Without getting TOO nitpicky I’ll say the multi-classing doesn’t work, or else doesn’t make much sense…I understand what his objective was, but it just doesn’t translate in execution (quick! Your character starts as a level one warrior and advances five levels in scientist…how many XPs does it take you to achieve 7th level?). It’s just not quite as slick as it could have been…but I understand that it’s tough to make the “warrior-botanist,” etc. without it, since most specific procedures (i.e. “skills”) are tied directly to class.

The other main issue is the lack of guidance on how much XP to award for successful “missions.” Well, the guidelines for mission creation in general is pretty sparse, but especially with regard to reward/advancement there’s little guidance aside from “whatever feels right” (I guess). Which, to me, is a fairly big cop-out of game design, though I suppose it beats the alternative of trying to make sense of a nonsensical advancement system (which is something I’ve struggled with for years now in attempting to write an intelligent space opera game).

Those are the main gripes, though of course X-Plorers isn’t really built to do Star Wars (which is kind of the point…for me…of writing/playing a space opera game). If I wanted to do Star Frontiers with players working for the PGC against the evil Sathar and space pirates, etc. this would be the system to use…I don’t think it would be too hard to come up with rules for dralasites and vrusk and yazirians (either making them their own classes or else having an XP up-tick in exchange for a few species related bennies).

Actually, X-Plorers is slick enough (and sleek enough) that it should be a real piece o easy to adapt a LOT of classic space opera ideas to it…including Star Wars. Hell, like I said it’s already pretty similar to the B/X Star Wars I was working on prior to DMI. I am sorely tempted to create a compatible supplement using the terms of their X-Plorers Trademark License using the rules and notes I’ve already got archived on the old zip drive.

Sorely tempted.

; )

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Lucas Sells Star Disney!

I don't post a lot of news on my blog, but as I was considering yet another Star Wars-type post today anyway (actually, I was going to discuss Bezio's X-Plorers), I might as preempt my normal musings with this bit of topical whatnot.

George Lucas has sold Lucasfilm Ltd. (including, presumably, all rights to the Star Wars franchise) to Disney, for more than $4 billion dollars in cash and stock. Wow.

Not only that, they've announced they're doing a seventh movie. Double-wow-holy-shit.

You folks have to consider that for most of the weekend I spent every free moment reading Kaminski's Secret History of Star Wars to get an idea of the loop-de-loop my brain is doing at the moment. But I'll get into that more later (hopefully).

Right now, I need to get back to work. And mental decompression.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

All About the Benjamins (Part 2)

[sorry this has taken so long to get back to this post…you can read part 1 here. I started writing the follow-up post about five weeks ago. I’m finishing it up today]

Fall in Seattle…definitely my favorite time of year. Still sunny, but the air is getting cool and crisp…long sleeves and jeans (my preferred mode of dress) but jackets not yet required. Flannel shirt weather. Lumberjack weather. Football weather.

And school’s back in session…which for me means having access to the internet once again. At least during the day, as my normal workload permits. Wouldn’t want to get in hot water with the regular job, job-type job.

‘Cause that’s what it’s all about, right? Keeping that gig, earning that paycheck, making that mortgage payment, and keeping the running beagles in kibble. If you can’t do that (and can’t keep the fridge stocked with beer) then it’s hard to enjoy your evening narcotic of television. Hard to care about the woes of the local sports team when you’re having a tough time putting food on the table.

It’s all about the Benjamins.

That’s the epiphany I had the other day with regard to game design…or rather, with regard to fantasy adventure game design. It’s the state of affairs that really drives the Old School style of role-playing; the thing that makes D&D (at least as originally conceived) so damn successful. MONEY…it’s the ultimate carrot, the thing that makes the world go ‘round.

At least from a GAME perspective, it’s the ultimate motivator. But, here…let me back up the train for a moment and give everyone a chance to get on-board with my usual meandering thought process:

[and just before I begin, please realize I know and understand that REAL LIFE humans are motivated by far more things than simply money. Love, family, work, art, nation, God, etc. all can and do drive people in real life at least as much, if not more so, than simple piles of cash]

A few weeks ago I asked folks to submit to me their desire as to which project they’d like me to work on. I, in my normal whimsical fashion, completely disregarded these suggestions and started writing a brand new freaking game (actually, “completely disregard” is a little too strong…I feel very guilty and have the list of suggestions…with tally marks…still logged into my phone. One day…). The idea for the game came (as they sometimes do) pretty much fully formed into my brain after an afternoon nap with the beagles. I woke up with an idea and started scribbling furiously until I had something with some semblance of playability, semi-ready for testing.

Well, as I mentioned in my earlier post I DID have a chance to test it and there was a lot of good stuff and fun things to take away from it, but there were also issues regarding the motivation of the characters and the game mechanics associated with them. See, I’ve gotten more and more into this idea of “no useless mechanics” over the years (who doesn’t like that idea?) and yet to this end I’ve repurposed some traditionally useless mechanics (like “alignment”) to make it useful…by incorporating it into a reward system that encourages a particular play-style and behavior in game. To put it more simply, I want to encourage role-playing mechanically though in more real, concrete, specific ways.

Why? Because it’s fun and it’s one of the main, cool advantages a tabletop RPG has over a computer RPG.

[now this post isn’t about role-playing, so if you need to grok my particular philosophy on role-playing, what it is and isn’t, etc., you’ll probably want to check out SOME OF THESE OTHER POSTS, because I’m not going to bother to explain it here]

Anyway, in creating this new fantasy adventure game (or “FAG;” let’s just get that unfortunate acronym out in the open, shall we?) I tried to incorporate some of my thoughts, reflections, and theories into the design, particularly with regard to:

a)      Personality mechanics that had tangible in-game effects,

b)      Reward mechanics that ran based of behavior,

c)       All working together within the logic of the game and its setting.

This is something I’ve done to a lesser extent with CDF and my B/X space opera projects, but I really wanted to get it wired in and refined for this new Lost World game. And the end result (in testing) was mixed at best: it worked…and it didn’t.

What I TRIED to do was think of all the possible motivations an adventurer in the setting would have for going out on an adventure in the first place…

[this ends the section I was writing in September…here’s the completion of the thought]

The MECHANICS of the Lost World game worked fairly good…we ended up creating surprisingly rich and interesting characters, with motivations and backgrounds “built-in” in a very short amount of time, simply based on the chargen process (i.e. the rules do not require a huge amount of player input in the same way as, say, a White Wolf RPG). But then, we got to the adventure (a re-purposed X1: Isle of Dread…hey, the game has a B/X base and it’s about dinosaur lost worlds!) and everything fizzled.

That is to say, the PLAYER motivation fizzled. Or, rather, the player SELF-motivation fizzled. 

How many GMs have experienced this before: players show up, interested and raring to go, but with absolutely no idea what they’re supposed to do? Their characters are like race cars stuck in neutral…they look great, they can rev their engines by stepping on the gas, but they don’t actually GO anywhere. And if they (individually) step on the gas too hard, they blow their engine.

Ugh…maybe that’s a poor analogy; let’s try something different. I guess I’m going to have to start a totally new post after all!

[part 3 of this post will go up after I manage to offend some sensibilities with my segue post...sorry for the delay...]

Monday, October 22, 2012

And Speaking of Secret Histories...

...had the chance to watch Anonymous the other night. Wow. Quite an interesting tale for folks who are into Shakespeare and Elizabethan England, etc. But I'm not going to write about that. It IS a good film for folks who like, um, good film.

Instead, just wanted to say I"m still waiting for my book (damn mail order), AND to bide my time I've been reading all the articles on Mr. Kasmink's web site. And I am just more and more intrigued about the "stuff" that has gone into the making of the Star Wars franchise, especially the input (credited or not) of strong female creative types, specifically Marcia Lucas (GL's first wife) and Leigh Brackett.

Unfortunately (or not) I am not someone who is particularly well-versed in science fiction literature. Oh, I've read a bit more than perhaps the average person (I've probably read a few more books than the average American anyway), but I am by no means a "SciFi buff" unlike, say, my buddy Steve. And especially unlike ol Steve-O, I could care less about most of the semblance of "hard science" (whether well done/researched or not)...I care far less for the "real possibilities" of "what could be." As with nearly all my fiction reading, I am drawn far more to "fantasy adventure" (whether in space or not). Stirling's recent retreads of Burrough's planetary romances are much more my speed than anything involving nanoware or AI or plasma rocket powered space travel.

And, man, doesn't it sometimes feel like women authors/artists are the ones creating the best fantasy adventure stories?

I know I spoke about this before (if briefly) least my attachment to female authors of the fantasy genre, not specifically the SciFi genre. Although, last year about this time I was mulling over the role of family in science fiction (with regard to game design), and it seems like I'm once again contemplating it...especially in light of Marcia Lucas's admonishment for George to pay more attention to the human element in his films (from THX on...). Maybe that's what's missing from the Star Wars prequels...maybe that's what's missing from my own space opera game. The "human interest" element of the speace opera genre.

Because unlike, say, the indie RPG Shock I'm not really interested in the "what if" of science fiction...I don't really care much about the affects of future technology on our recalcitrant human race's inability to deal with change and on-going evolution (I have a hard enough time trying to figure out my damn "smart" phone in real life...why do I want to deal with these issues in an RPG?). What I AM interested in is (duh) fantasy adventure and laser swords and blasters and androids and space ship dog fights...and maybe all that means I need to have something very intimate and human as part of the mix, so as not to be a coldly mechanical (think GURPS) role-playing game.

After all, it's not like the PCs are looking to find gold coins in outer space. I need SOMEthing to encourage the players to take action in the game.

[by the way, I have much more to say about player character motivation based on recent play-tests and conversations with other gamers; I just don't have the time for it at the moment. Soon, I hope]

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Secret Histories

My toast was terrible this morning. All the more so because I’m the one responsible for making it.

I’ve raved before about England’s toast; as far as I’m concerned the people of Great Britain seem to have perfected the art of toasting bread. I found most of England’s cuisine to be scrumptious actually…some people might think that odd but I’m from Seattle where we seem to have a passion for breakfast food, pub food, and beer, three things England does better than most. Every culture has its specialties after all.

On the other hand, the consistently worst country for breakfast (in my opinion) was Italy. I’m not sure Italians actually eat “breakfast;” it may just be something they whip together for the tourists. I will never forget staying at an (otherwise) very nice “bed & breakfast” in Venice and being served “toast” that was packaged in a stamped cellophane pouch, similar to freeze-dried astronaut food. I kid thee not.

My toast this morning was very much like that Venician toast…in both consistency and flavor. And mine, I know, started out as bread. That is a verifiable fact. Truly terrible.

But fortunately (and this is the reason I bring it up), I was serving said toast ONLY to myself. Terrible as it was, I was the only person experiencing it…I wasn’t serving it up to anyone or forcing it down someone’s throat. It was MY bad breakfast, and I chose to eat it (‘cause I was pressed for time and it was what I had and I’m really trying not to waste food these days) and that was my “little piece o suffering.” But I wasn’t buttering it up for the masses and trying to call it gourmet or something.

Yesterday, I did something I almost never ever do: I paid money for a book at Barnes & Noble that wasn’t actually in stock; a book that will actually have to be mailed to me because it’s print-on-demand. And I did that because after being off work since last Wednesday, I spent the first half of my work day reading the book’s first hundred pages on-line (for free) instead of getting to my backlog…and if I’d had the entire book available, I probably wouldn’t have gotten ANYthing done yesterday. The book in question?

Just fascinating, fascinating reading. It’s something I’ve been interested in reading since I heard about it a year or two ago (it was on last year’s Christmas list but I didn’t get it), and I finally had a chance to read some excerpts from Kaminski’s web site. Love it…I’m into histories/biographies, especially those of struggling artists/writers (as Lucas once was), I love “behind-the-scenes” insights and info (“the dirt”) on subjects that already have known or accepted histories. I enjoy seeing the human side of larger-than-life icons. And, of course, I am a pretty big Star Wars fanatic.

I was reading back through my Star Wars posts on this blog, and I was surprised to find ‘em some of my better posts. Now I may well be biased, but I did think they were a bit different and surprisingly insightful (or at least “interesting”)…at least, compared to what my memory remembered them being. But what I really liked was the (mostly) consistent thread running through them: an appreciation for the films as entertainment, for Lucas as a filmmaker, and for the EU (“expanded universe”) as a creative effort…and a dissatisfaction with pandering and pastiche, even in Lucas’s own work.  My feelings on these things haven’t changed, and may have even been emphasized by what I’ve read so far in Kaminski’s book. But, man…I’m kind of fed up with “ret-conned” history. I’m kind of bugged by disingenuousness (wow, spell-check is saying that’s a word!).

Now I get it…really, I get it. The whole thing is complicated. The push-and-pull of fame and fortune and legacy and insecurity and people telling you you’re a genius and finding you ARE a genius and allowing a little creative embellishment here and there get out of hand, plus giving your fans what they want, plus being a filmmaker and needing to ply the filmmaker’s trade (including edits of one’s baby) and then trying to find a cohesive filmmaker’s way of putting those cutting room scraps back into theaters in a different fashion…I GET IT. Really. The fact is: the truth is (often) complicated. Or rather, the truth isn’t complicated but the WHOLE truth, understanding it all, is a lot more complicated than the meat, or rather the KERNEL of the truth.

Which is part of why I find Kaminski’s book such a must-read…I personally am fascinated with the “complication” AND I want to know what the kernel of the “truth” is. For those not interested in reading it themselves, I’ll provide the Cliff Notes version:

The Truth: George Lucas wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie the same way, say, that I want to write a Star Wars RPG. It’s not what he dreamed about doing as a child (when he wanted, perhaps, to be a race car driver), but a bunch of stuff combined to lead him to setting that goal.

The Complicated Truth (Cliff Notes): While one can argue the success or failure of his goal (i.e. “The Truth”), his work (or should I say his Work) morphed into something that transcended anything even Lucas could have imagined, and he has both “rolled with it,” profited by it, and attempted to manage and direct it (with varying degrees of success) ever since. And I’m not just talking about the “post-first-trilogy” or even “post-first-film” expansion of the Star Wars universe/franchise/mythology/legacy. I’m talking about even before PRE-production of the first film, the thing (his original goal) started morphing…and has snowballed (my, has it snowballed!) ever since.


Anyway, the really interesting thing (well, actually, I find it all “really interesting” but the really, REALLY interesting thing) for me is the earliest drafts of his space film treatments, which I find at least as compelling as the story he eventually told, if not more compelling. Oh, I’m not talking about the “space version” of Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, I’m talking about “The Journal of the Whills” (actually sounds like a pretty good book) and the second and/or third treatments of “The Star Wars.”

I should probably explain (at this point, finally) my whole reason for once again having Star Wars on the brain. My son, my 20-month-old toddler has discovered Star Wars…and loves it. Now, it would be truly disingenuous of me to declare I’m a “terrible” father; I know I’m pretty loving and attentive, with a fair amount of sternness that leads my child to be both A) happy most of the time, and B) well behaved (in public and private) most of the time. And by most of the time, I mean around 98%...he really is a jewel of a kid. But recently, it seems like more than half of his vocabulary seems to consist of “Seahawks,” “touchdown,” and “boom” or else Star Wars references…with the SW words definitely having the upper hand the last couple weeks. And this leads me to think I may be doing bad, bad things to my boy’s childhood development process.

The fact that he can perfectly mimic Darth Vader’s breathing on command, despite lacking the ability to pronounce the character’s name (he calls him “DuVo”) is both entertaining and somewhat disturbing.

So there’s been a lot of Star Wars in my house lately. A lot of books and comics, a lot of scene watching, a lot of jawa requests. And being inundated with even more Star Wars than usual (which really is saying something), is making me revisit my earlier introspections on the subject, not to mention confront (once again) the shortfalls and mental hurdles of my own “little space thing” (to use Lucas’s phrase)…i.e. my space opera RPG.

Last Thursday I was really excited to get out to my Thursday night game session and try another play-test session with my space opera RPG. Unfortunately, I got sick Thursday morning and was worse by the evening and wasn’t able to get out. THIS week, the dilemma’s a little different: I’m in perfect health, but the Seattle Seahawks are playing the San Francisco 49ers for control of the division and 5:20pm (PST). I mean…what the hell am I supposed to do with THAT? Despite being an underdog, Seattle has a real opportunity to punch the 49ers in the mouth the same as the Giants did on Sunday…and I’d hate to miss that.

[for whatever reason, I’ve really grown to loathe Frisco over the last few years. They seem to now occupy that special bile duct that used to be reserved for the Denver Broncos and John Elway back when the Seahawks were in the AFC West. It’s not just that I want to see the ‘Hawks at the top of the heap every year; I want to see them stomp the Niners on the way there. Last season’s double-loss to San Fran really hurt the ol’ pride]

ANYway, let me get back to those “rough drafts” of the Star Wars script. From Kaminski’s book (excerpt available for free for perusal):

…an entire year after he finished his first treatment, Lucas emerged with a rough draft screenplay. It was called “The Star Wars” and was dated May 1974…Jan Helander summarized the rough draft:

Kane Starkiller, a Jedi-Bendu master, is in hiding on the Fourth Moon of Utapau with his two sons Annikin and Deak, when a Sith warrior finds them and Deak is killed. The surviving Starkillers head to the Aquilae system, where they are met by Kane’s old Jedi friend, General Luke Skywalker. Kane, whose war-battered body is a concoction of artificial limbs, knows that he is dying, and persuades Luke to become Annikin’s Jedi teacher. He then travels to the city of Gordon, leaving his son with Skywalker and the King of Aquilae. Clieg Whitsun, a rebel spy on the emperor’s planet of Alderaan, has learned that an Imperial fleet, led by General Darth Vader and Governor Crispin Hoedaack, is about to conquer Aquilae with a “death star” space fortress. Rebel fighters are sent out to stop the attack, but the Aquilaen king is killed, and instead of Princess Leia (the rightful heir), a corrupt senator takes over, surrendering the planet to the Empire.

Annikin, Luke, and Whitsum, joined by Artwo Detwo and See Threepio (two bickering robots who have escaped from the space fortress), bring Leia and her two younger brothers to the spaceport at Gordon, from where they can reach safety. After a fight at a cantina, where Skywalker uses his “lasersword” to kill his antagonists, the group meet up with Kane and his alien friend Han Solo who have arranged transport to a friendly planet. They need a power unit for suspended animation in order to get past Imperial scanners, and Kane heroically rips one from his body, causing his death. After avoiding a trap set by Vader and Prince Valorum (the black Knight of the Sith), the rebels are pursued into space, where the arguing Leia and Annikin realize that they love each other. Their craft is damaged in an asteroid field and Whitsum dies as it explodes, but the others abandon ship in time and land on the jungle planet of Yavin, where Leia is captured by alien trappers. Annikin tries to rescue her, but only succeeds in freeing five “Wookees” (huge, grey and furry beasts), and Leia eventually ends up in the hands of the Empire.

After a tip from two anthropologists, the rebels and the Wookee tribe (including Prince Chewbacca) attack an Imperial outpost, and a forest chase ensues. When he learns that Leia is held captive aboard the space fortress, General Skywalker starts traiing Wookees to fly fighter ships in order to conquer the death star. Annikin is skeptical of the plan and gets onto the fortress (together with Artwo) on a mission of his own, dressed as an Imperial “skyraider,” but he is soon captured and tortured by General Vader. Valorum sees this and realizes that the Imperials are completely without honor and codes, and that he has more in common with the young Jedi than with the emperor. Turning his back on the Empire, he frees both Annikin and Leia, and they escape down a garbage chute. After almost being crushed in the garbage receptacle, Valorum, Leia, Annikin, and Artwo manage to abandon the station just before the Wookee destroy it, killing both Vader and Governor Hoedaack. Back in her throne room, Queen Leia honours the heroes (including Valorum), and Annikin is appointed new Lord Protector of Aquilae.

Now as Kaminski points out A) this is the script Lucas refers to in his later interviews as being too big for a single movie requiring a paring down until he could later afford to make sequels containing “the whole story,” yet B) the story included in this draft is little more than a larger, “extended version” of the original (first) Star Wars movie. Certain characters are combined, names are changed around, and certain scenes/sequences are recycled into later movies (like the “asteroid belt/love scene” in Empire or the “forest world capture/buddying up with native creatures” in RotJ). Lucas’s later declaration that his ability to make the “rest of the movie” meant an ability to continue a saga that included all that “stuff” he left on the cutting room floor in his need to create a FILM…"films" being stories told with pictures that have to follow certain parameters due to the restrictions imposed by the medium.

What Lucas had PRIOR to his (most consider) masterful final draft is a rambling, rollicking Sci-Fi adventure film, almost like a conglomeration of a serial matinee (c.f. Flash Gordon). Film gave Lucas the big budget to do the kind of F/X epic he wanted, but not the SCOPE he wanted. And while the clamor for “more” gave him the latitude to glom onto the scope (through a serial, sequel format…see The Lord of the Rings films), the medium STILL constrained him to a degree. There is SOME “cliffhanger” to the end of The Empire Strikes Back, but there is some denouement as well. It still has a beginning, middle, an end, it still has most of its plot points wrapped-up, it is still “self-contained.”

HOWEVER, I am not a film maker. I am (marginally) a “game designer” interested in long-term game play that includes character development over time and game play, and for me the “rambling serial format” is what I want. I don’t want or need “self-contained stories” because I’m not working in a film medium and (in my experience) that’s not how RPG sessions generally unfold…at least, not without very specific ("Story Now") rules sets, or a lot of heavy-handed GM force. Neither of which I like to use (because self-contained stories aren’t all that important to me when role-playing).

Consequently, I find these kinds of rambling, “schlock-inspired” treatments to be incredibly inspiring for my purposes. The quote above leaves out a lot of other “intriguing differences” in Lucas’s original story from the final film (said differences being described in Kaminski's book) including the competing Jedi and Sith groups (basically, two orders of rival warriors, more honor-driven a la samurai than driven by the mystic morality of Light and Dark side). Which is why, of course, I ordered the book…I want MORE of this stuff. To me, the mind of George Lucas is a fertile gold mine of Sci-Fi fantasy; if he falls down at all, it’s in trying to put it into some sort of rational, thoughtful format instead of just going with the gonzo wa-hoo.

Well, and also in trying to ret-con his own history, a victim of his own success. That’s just trying to serve us “toast” in a vacuum-sealed bag. That’s not toast, man.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bring on the Dark Elves

The New England Patriots roll into Seattle today; the second time the Waa-aagh will be hosting a dark elf team this season (the first, of course, was against the, Dallas Cowboys, and we all now how that went...). But Belichick is a might sneakier than Jason Garrett...we'll see if Gronkowski and Welker can tear up the middle with their slants and slots against the weakest part of our D.

I say "weakest" part, but there isn't a whole lot of weakness on a team with the #1 ranked defense after five weeks of regular season play. On the other hand, the Pats have the #1 ranked offense in the NFL for the same period...truly a match-up of the "unstoppable force versus the immovable object." For those fortunate enough to have TV coverage, it promises to be a good game.

Though I wouldn't bet on anyone facing the Seattle Wa-agh for the first time. Being in different conferences, the Patriots only visit Seattle once every eight years...and the last time they did so, Tom Brady was injured (Matt Cassell started that day, for those who are curious). Brady has never thrown a single pass at Da Clink. And if the rain falls as promised, this could be a rough outing for him.

Personally, though, I think the real battle will be won or lost on the other side of the ball. All the damn Russell Wilson apologists who complain about us nay-sayers not giving the rookie a fair shake for "keeping us in every game" are friggin' deluded. The defense has kept us in every game...and the running attack has been strong in every match-up (Lynch leads all backs and the Seattle run offense is #3 in the NFL). It is the passing game that has continually fallen short. This week, the orks don't face a porous Carolina defense, but the nightmare schemes of one of the darkest minds to craft a defense...a twisted and cunning intellect, unafraid of stooping to vile tricks and opportunist tactics. And you've got to think Dark Lord Bill is going to have quite a package dreamed up for our short-stuff rookie.

I'm still picking the Seahawks to win, of course (they ARE playing at home, after all), and I will be putting my support behind our QB...wholeheartedly, let me add (I just hope I'm not yelling "Wilson!!" in dismay too many I have in every game thus far). I  am hopeful Russ can rise to the level of the competition this week...and the dark elves are indeed powerful competition.

Glad it's on my TV.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

More NFL / Blood Bowl

Was watching the ESPN "Sports Center" with my non-gamer wife the other evening to hear the football highlights (I managed to convert my lovely spouse to a loyal Seahawks follower some years back, despite her childhood love affair with Joe Montana and Steve Young), and she had this to say:

"Why can't OUR quarterback play like that?"

Referring, of course, to our crappy-crappy rookie QB who is bringing down the whole value of an otherwise championship caliber team. Yes, Wilson has shown improvement...but "improvement" isn't good enough when you paid $20 million for Matt Flynn and never gave him a chance to start. That's bullshit.

THEN she said:

"We need to get a vampire for our team."

Referring of course to Blood Bowl (my wife having played more than a few games in Ye Old Blackrazor's Blood Bowl league).

Now she then did go onto say that Count Luthor was a far better ball-handler than quarterback/passer, but I still think her point is a valid one...we need to put a high-priced star player in to lead this team, not a 3rd round rook. Obviously, though, Pete Carroll has never played Blood Bowl.


I have now formally removed myself from WotC's "D&D Next" play-test because:

a) I haven't had the time or inclination to read any of their stuff since week 1 or 2, let alone do any actual play-testing and,
b) I really have no intererst in supporting them.

In other news, I seem to be losing blog followers would probably help if I posted something every once in a while. Sorry,'s been busy.

However, I said I would be too busy to post shortly after my son was born, and in the last 20 months I've still managed to get SOME content up on the blog. (*sigh*) It's just been tough...what with work and parenting and all the stresses that come with both, my energy (and imagination) for blogging has been limited. In fact, my "writing brain" itself has been a bit curtailed of late, though I do still have the occasional idea popping into my head...if not the actual gumption or time to get it down on paper.

Ah, well. Just wanted to put up a quick note. By the way, I HATE the new blogger makes me want to punch the computer in the mouth.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Reviews & Typos

So I was recently flooded with a rash of orders for my most recent book The Complete B/X Adventurer which immediately made me figure Mr. Maliszewski over at Grognardia must have gotten around to doing a review (he purchased a copy a few weeks back, but I generally don't solicit reviews and I know he's got an already busy blogging schedule so I haven't been bugging him). Lo and behold, there it is...not nearly as favorable as his review for my earlier B/X Companion, but still fairly complimentary and I am extremely appreciative of his kind words.

One thing though that he pointed out...and that I have had others point out as well, both in on-line reviews and pointed the issue of damage for firearms (rules for which are included in the book). True, I generally use the "all weapons do D6 damage" standard rule in my own B/X games, but I did have a variable damage option in my original firearms blog post (from which the section in the book is derived). Unfortunately, the single sentence got "eaten" by an illustration of a flintlock that I threw into the text, and none of my proof readers caught the omission (and why would they? They were mainly checking for grammar and spelling errors).

So here it is, for those who'd like it...sorry about the delay (it will be corrected in future printings, I promise!):

If using the optional Variable Weapon Damage rule, all weapons listed here do 1D8 damage.
 All right, hope that answers that. Of course, not having such a sentence, people who buy the book can freely pencil in whatever damage they feel is appropriate for their own game, and certainly one might consider D6 or D10 to be a fair range of damage potential. I mean, whatever floats your goat, right?

; )