Friday, July 24, 2015

The Kitchen Sink

AKA Taking a Hard Look at the State of a Project

Just as a quick aside...can I just mention how much I hate the current version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise? I'd guess that it is now more popular than ever and that it's creators (or whomever they sold out to) is making money hand-over-fist, gross compared its charming/dark/satirical origins. Just reading through the current version of the origin story and...Splinter was once human? And he mutated into some sort of wererat? How is that an improvement (or even more sensical) than the original story? April is caucasian now (and seems to get younger with every iteration of the franchise). The turtles themselves are incredibly hammy in personality while...

You know what? It really doesn't matter. Really. The only reason I'm even thinking about it is that there's a TMNT coloring book next to me and the tagline along the bottom says: "Mutants Rule!"

[does  such a phrase even make sense to a child of the 21st century? Do kids these days still say things like "that rules!" like my friends and I did in the mid-80s? It seems like the kind of colloquialism that would have gone out of style 20 years ago...but then, I suppose this is something the turtles might say in their faux-surfer/skater slang, like "kowabunga." Does that mean anything to children these days besides "something a turtle says?" Just...gross]

[of course, given a chance my child likes to talk in something resembling "Minion-speak" (see Despicable Me films for reference)...but then he's four and I cut him some slack...even though he knows that three of a kind is better than two pair]

Now, I'd guess that the "Mutants Rule!" line is a throwback reference to the colloquialism of the 80's...even if the children don't grok the meaning (I just asked my son what he thinks that line means...he said he doesn't know because the Turtles don't "rule" anything. Maybe pizza, he suggested...) *ahem* Even If the consumer child doesn't grok the meaning, the current writer/creator of the coloring book/marketing is probably some dude in his late 30's-40's who is referencing it as typical "Turtle Slang." Then again, maybe it's clever tongue-in-cheek...maybe the franchise owners are saying that these particular "Mutants" have "rulership" over the current marketplace for its demographic. 

Just as D&D, regardless of its current flaws continues to "rule" over the RPG marketplace (via name/brand recognition). Regardless of whether or not a particular edition is outsold by Pathfinder, I'd guess most folks playing PF still consider themselves to be "D&D players." I mean, Pathfinder is just D&D 3.5, right? Hasbro could certainly feel a little justified in writing "D&D Rules!" across the bottom of their weighty tomes.

[yes, I realize this "quick aside" is running long...again...sorry]

But what if we cut off "Mutants Rule!" tag-line and divorced it from all this context? What if we just used it for the basis of an RPG, without reference to turtles or toy-lines or snarky marketers? Sounds like a tasty little premise for some post-apocalyptic action, no? It could certainly be worked to fit (with a little effort) into the most recent premise/changes of Cry Dark Future.

[dunh-dunh-dunh...see? I circled back!]

CDF is in a bit of a dark place at the moment. I don't mean that in the sense of tone, but rather like "in the dark." The real future of the game Cry Dark Future is dark, as in obscured. I don't know if this thing is ever going to see the light of day (i.e. "publication").

It doesn't help that I simply can't bring myself to re-open the document.

The thing is, once I started re-vamping it, I realized just how much damn work it needs. No, I'm not talking layout or editing or artwork, though all that is needed, too (and will be a bitch to do, especially the artwork part). No, I'm talking about wholesale revisions and rewrites and pruning of extraneous crap while finding NON-extraneous, "fluff" plug in the holes. The problem is that, right now, the thing is a bit too "kitchen sinky"...but if you pull that sink out, you're going to find ourself standing knee-deep in a flooded cocina

[just to take an analogy a bit too far]

The original idea with CDF (for those not in the know) was that it was an attempt to do the Shadowrun game with a B/X chassis. Such a task is a lot easier than one might think...despite its point-buy, skill-based, D6 dice pool system, Shadowrun is just D&D with guns. You're still playing scurrilous rogues operating in parties sporting a mixed bag of different character types that operate outside the local law/authority structure. You're still invading dungeons/installations with objectives to rob/loot and/or make a buck from some shady contact person (wizard in a tavern). You're still fighting "monsters" with weapons, magic, and (hopefully) some sort of cleverness, and upgrading your characters with new gear/equipment. Gunbunnies meet folks who like elves.

Thematically, it's not a very big jump from D&D to Shadowrun...and so tweaking the D&D system to allow the kind of madness found in the cyber-punkish setting of Shadowrun is a piece of easy. It took longer to write it all up then it took to work out the specific system issues (a Shadowrun-style magic system instead of Vance; rules for "decking" and vehicle combat, etc.). In all honesty, the most difficult part was coming up with new names for SR setting-specific features ("filing the numbers off" things like cyberdecks, for example). Even the point-buy system of the 3rd edition was easy to model...after all, D&D's done "point-buy" chargen in the past (see Advanced Player Options for 2nd Edition).

However, play-testing showed CDF still suffered from several problems:
  • no really cares much about tracking ammunition ("bullet counting")...and even if they did, that's the kind of thing quickly lost in a fast-paced combat system.
  • several character types felt a bit over-powered. The physical adept for sure (actually had to remove this option from the game; didn't make much sense cosmologically either), but any kind of character with "enhanced reflexes" tended to upstage those without in a way that was not-fun for most of the folks at the table.
  • even cut down to B/X (cutting almost all skills, for example, and adding random attributes), chargen is slooooow and looooong. When you're dealing with point-buys and (especially) purchasing cyberware (and recording modifications) and 'running gear from a number of lists, making a character can take a session in and of itself. And you really don't want slow chargen when characters are prone to getting killed by hails of bullets and manabolts. Even writing up pre-gen "equipment packages" was little help (takes a long time to copy all that stuff, plus figure out what it means for your PC). Tooooo sloooooow...
  • the magic system is a bit of a mess combining elements of Shadowrun and 1st edition Stormbringer while thematically stealing heavily from David Chandler's Ancient Blades Trilogy. And it's too abstract in the spell department.
  • the actual setting of the Shadowrun game is just...ugh. Suffice is to say, a person's tastes as an adult of 30-40+ years is different from his tastes as a kid of 13-15 (when I first played the game). And no matter how "mature" you make the content of a game session it's hard to justify a lot of the 'punkisms that, quite frankly, our world has grown beyond.
[which isn't to say that playing an RPG in a dystopian future ain't possible, or even fun. I look at the recent Robocop reboot and Dread films...just to name two...and see how the idea of a terrible future Earth, full of adventure, still holds water. I guess it's just the dwarves and orcs...]

Anyhoo...I've managed to revamp/update...what? four?...yeah, four out of these five issues (the magic one is the main canker still Lord, another "new" magic system needed). But doing so has opened a bunch of other worm cans, as the game has moved farther and farther away from its SR-meets-B/X roots. Much more post-apocalyptic now for one thing, but without the mutant superpowers so often found in PA role playing games. 

Still has mutants, though. 'Cause mutants rule, right?

But dread is what I feel every time I think about working on the game. I don't know why. Maybe because I like it (the idea of it) a lot? And I want it to be better? And because better takes a lot of time and work and effort? Maybe. 

Maybe it's because I'm stuck for ideas. Maybe I just don't want to make lazy design choices to expedite the thing's completion (like throwing in a Vancian magic system with an appropriately themed spell list).

Or maybe it's just that the game has so many things now (the kitchen sink, too) and the real issue is that manuscript needs extensive pruning and I don't want to lose so many of my "favorite things" that I worked up, even though they no longer fit in a game that's a bit more than B/X Shadowrun

Dread...and distraction. These are my main stumbling blocks at the moment. When I can find the time to do anything (currently after 2:30 in the AM here). All right...enough for now.


  1. If you need help pruning, I'm a professional editor and would love to look over the project and offer up some suggestions for gratis. I'm sure it'd be good to put a new pair of eyes on it since you've looked at it so much

    1. @ Tanner:

      Thanks, man...I'll keep it in mind. The first manuscript was proofed/edited already, but with the wholesale changes I've made since then, it could definitely use another once-over.

    2. Like I said, I mostly just want to look over the thing, so I'd do a look for free. Just keep me updated!

  2. You should share the CDF document with me. I had a burning academic curiosity about it. (Of course, I think you knew that.

    1. @ DMW:

      I know, I know, but I think you might have preferred the original version (which is still available somewhere...I think). Like I wrote, right now I'm kind of dreading poking through the various files, but I might just hit you with a copy in the near future.
      ; )

  3. "Splinter was once human? And he mutated into some sort of wererat? How is that an improvement (or even more sensical) than the original story? April is caucasian now (and seems to get younger with every iteration of the franchise). The turtles themselves are incredibly hammy in personality"

    Dude, I think you're about 28 years late to the party re: those particular complaints, because all those things were the case in the 1987 cartoon, and except for Splinter being formerly human, they were also the case in the original movie.

    (as to Splinter I kind of think that's a better change-- it makes more sense that he'd know martial arts from being an actual martial artist than it does from being a pet rat who watched a martial artist practice sometimes and was able to adapt it to his radically different physiology despite his lack of sapience. Always struck me as a little silly even for something that's literally called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.)

    1. @ Rachel:

      Huh. I completely missed the cartoon (as I wrote earlier this month, I pretty much stopped watching Saturday morning shows in '85). The 1990 film (which I did see) was much closer to the original story).

      " to Splinter I kind of think that's a better change--it makes more sense..."

      Okay, stop for a moment. Consider the original version: toxic goo spill mutates animals (rat and turtle), making them anthropomorphic (walking upright, digital manipulation, human thought and speech, plus larger size). Weird but consistent (and very Rats of NIMH-y, which is probably a direct inspiration).

      Now consider the reboot: human gets turned into (human-sized) rat-man, turtles get turned into (gigantic for them) turtle-men. Where is the rhyme or reason there? Why aren't they turned into "turtle-rats" the way the man was turned into a "man-rat?" Sorry, no, it makes LESS sense...and that's saying something given the nonsensical premise.

      But then, the original comic was irreverent and slyly humorous in a lot of ways. I suppose now, though, it is "beloved" as part of the nostalgia of many folks' childhood. Like BECMI or AD&D2, it got watered-down and neutered for public consumption.

      (sorry...I'm in a foul mood right now and am in no condition to be posting)

    2. If I recall, the logic of the cartoon was that the ooze mutated you into a hybrid of the animal you had most recently been in long term contact with. In the case of the turtles, they had previously been pets and thus mutated into hybrid turtle humans, while Splinter had been living in the sewers already for some time and had spent most of his days in the company of rats. This was also how we got Beebop and Rocksteady.