Showing posts with label television. Show all posts
Showing posts with label television. Show all posts

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Wizards and Warriors

Sometimes, it is about nostalgia.

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved any kind of "fantasy" stuff I could find, and it seemed like what I could find was pretty scarce. Movies that had magic or dragons or whatnot in it were "must see" films for me (provided I was old enough that my parents would let me see it). Star Wars was a big deal back then (and I was, of course, a fan), but I would much rather have seen a dude in armor wielding a real sword than a spaceship or laser gun.

On TV, such stuff was even more rare, and a television show like Wizards and Warriors was a fantastic find for my nine-year old brain. I remember very little of the show (though in later years I ended up modeling several RPG characters on Dirk Blackpool), but I do remember the following:

  • I considered it to be "my favorite show on TV."
  • I knew enough to know the channel and time slot and was diligent in having my ass in from of our (7"? 9"?) color TV in time to watch.
  • The show constantly being preempted for shit like ice skating.

[no, ice skating isn't really "shit" ...but find your own damn timeslot, huh?]

Anyway, as with many "lost treasures of my youth" I've kept half an eye/ear open for any word of availability for this show. Partly for the sake of nostalgia, partly for closure (let me see the episodes I missed!), partly out of curiosity (the things I've read about the show on-line have piqued my interest). Regardless of how dated it might seem today (I realize many of my "faves" as a youth don't hold up in the light of adulthood), I'm interested. Plus, my own children might be interested in watching it when they're old enough.

[I was watching a video clip today of the intro to the old cartoon Thundarr the Barbarian and my boy came along and started watching. He made me replay it, and then told me, "Papa, let's buy that movie!" A kid after my own heart]

Only took 30 f'ing years!
Last night, I was taking a look around the 'net for clips of the old W&W and Lo & Behold, I found that Warner Brothers just released a DVD of the complete series July 29th (a "burn on demand" deal). Right the heck on! While I am, of course, still in Paraguay, I plan on putting in my order ASAP to get a copy of this lost piece from my childhood; I'll pick it up when I'm back in town November. I am soooo totally stoked!

Next up: Tales of the Gold Monkey and when the hell are they going to re-release the animated Hobbit on DVD? Ooo-oo...maybe Matthew Star or The Phoenix!

: )

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


That’s the word that’s been on my mind of late: grotesque.

Not because of that travesty of a performance for the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football a couple days ago (though “grotesque” would certainly go a long way towards describing the play of our offensive line). Nor was the word on my mind because of my sympathy for the St. Louis sports fans that same evening…sure, they might have been expecting a loss for the Rams, but as America’s Greatest Baseball Town (self-proclaimed), I feel for them watching the Cards lose on the same night.

[and let’s be honest, here…as a Seattle-ite, I really can’t bring myself to root for Boston. Yes, they have great beards and bats, but cheering for the Red Sox in the World Series would be almost as bad as cheering for the Yankees or the Rangers. Almost.]

Still, the word is embedded into my mind due to recent television broadcasts, even if they’re not sport-related: I’ve been watching the FX TV series American Horror Story: Coven.

Grotesque. It’s the best word I can use to describe it.

And yet, great television. I say this as a person who does not particularly like horror stories…at least not of the cinema variety (I’ve read a lot of H.P. Lovecraft but I’ve yet to watch a single “Saw” movie). Hell, I think I’ve only watched three zombie films in my life – Night of the Living Dead, The Re-Animator, and 28 Days Later – well, unless you want to count that Friday the 13th movie with the Alice Cooper soundtrack. Oh, yeah, and The Omega Man with Charlie Heston (though that’s because of my post-apocalypse fetish). I’m just not that much into “scary” type movies, let alone those designed to disgust or shock folks.

The American Horror Story franchise (can it be called such after three seasons? I guess) seems to have been created at least partially with that in mind. Made by the same folks who created Glee, the writers wanted to do something…um…a little darker. Yeah, I’ll say.

I didn’t watch any of the earlier seasons of AHS…hadn’t even heard of the show before a couple days (despite constantly referencing television programs on this blog, I don’t watch that much TV…just more than I should and a lot more than I used to). I found it while surfing around the On Demand section of the TV guide one night after I’d gotten my sick child to sleep and was suffering from coffee-induced insomnia.

[oh, yeah…hi there, people. Sorry about not blogging the last couple weeks. Life’s been crazy-hectic as usual]

ANYway…great show.  Yes, twisted and grotesque, but still great. I suppose it falls into that “dark comedy” category that I am (generally) a fan of, at least in moderate amounts. And it has great writing and performances and a horrific manic-ness highly reminiscent of some of the darker Story Now indie-games. It’s like watching a show that was based on play reports from a few sessions of Ron Edward’s Sorcerer RPG. And I really do mean that in a good way.

It’s positively inspiring. It’s given me a huge swath of ideas for a new gaming project.

Yeah, even though I haven’t been blogging (or writing at all) the last couple-three weeks, I’ve actually been immersed in gaming. I’ve been reading (and rereading) a lot of games, both old and new. Some I’ve owned for a while: Sorcerer and its supplement Sex & Sorcery, 3:16 Carnage Beyond the Stars, InSpecters, Holmes D&D…just to name the ones in my backpack at the moment.

But mostly I’ve been reading new stuff that I’ve purchased or borrowed: Polaris, Trollbabe, Mouse Guard, the short-yet-sweet Bad Attitudes, and the 7.5 edition of Tunnels & Trolls (which I’ve never before owned in any edition). Heck, just picked up a copy of Jorg Dunne’s Western City yesterday while looking for a used copy of EverWay. I’ve been looking at how games “do what they do” especially with regard to explaining/molding game play, paying special attention to rules and writing for “scene framing” (a term that I’m coming to hate, actually, though I understand the reason behind the term’s use). I’ve been reading a LOT lately…more than I have in a long time.

I’ve also been reading other blogs, outside my couple dozen that I normally scan (though I admit at this point I’m just “lurking”). I’m still hopeless when it comes to this whole “G+” thing, but I’m getting sucked in to some of the conversations going on in that realm of Ye Old Internet. It’s a tad disappointing how much I still need to learn about 21st century technology.


Did I mention I’ve been gaming with a pair of complete newbies? I had four players at the bar the last time I got out (two Thursdays ago), two of which had never played an RPG ever. Ever. Hell, they’ve had barely any exposure to computer RPGs…the barest basics were absolute mysteries to them. Fortunately, my latest rework of D&D (designed at new people) seemed to draw them right in and “worked.” But man-o-man, it sure has given me a lot of food for thought on how to meet my objectives of game design (i.e. designing for the non-gamer). I’ve spent so many years playing with people who had at least SOME background in gaming (at least the slightest of inklings) that I just have a huge blindside when it comes to the total novice. Hell, even when I was introducing B/X D&D to my teenage nephews for the 1st time, they had some ideas of class and level and “ability scores” from video games they’d played.

The new RPG gamer needs something better than Pathfinder. I’m sorry, they do. Grotesque.

All right, I’ve got to go…lots of breaking news stuff on the home-front which I’ll blog about later (in the next couple days). Have a good evening, folks.

Oh, yeah…good luck St. Louis!
: )
Need more beard?

Monday, August 26, 2013

One Hit Die (web-series)

Sorry, folks…took the weekend off for “family time” as my wife just got back in town after being on the road for a couple weeks. Also had to deal with the tail end of the crazy houseguests (they left today after nearly three weeks), a flat tire (because my twelve year old car doesn’t have enough issues), the Mariners dropping three in a row (at home), and the general excitement of NFL preseason. Hmm…now that I think about it, do I really need to apologize for my slow posting?

Well, a few quick notes:

I’m heading out of town Wednesday myself (well, Thursday, but I’m sure Wednesday will be crazy in preparation) and won’t be back till the following Wednesday. A quick/short vacation, but a necessary one. What this means is that Tuesday (maybe Wednesday) will be the last day I’m able to mail out copies of Five Ancient Kingdoms this week…if you place your order after Tuesday, the books probably won’t go out in the mail until next week sometime.

In addition, people should be aware that there’re only a couple more than a dozen packages left for mail. I’ve got more books, but I’m currently waiting on the new dice order (which I’m expecting by next week if not this week) so I can do another shrink-wrapping session. If you don’t get one of the next fourteen packages, your order might not be mailed for a week-ten days anyway.

Still waiting on Book 3 and the adventure to be approved over at DriveThruRPG. Not sure what the hold-up is. This is a little frustrating, in part because I haven’t seen much said about Book 3 on the blogs…and Book 3 is (I feel) where I’ve made some of the more drastic departures from other “old school” clones and heartbreakers. If you’re interested in what people are saying, here’re are a couple of the reviews I’ve seen (if you’ve written one I haven’t seen, please feel free to email me a link or post in the comments section).

Okay, that the housekeeping stuff (other than I’m hoping to get my fighter stuff written and scheduled for post in the next couple days). Here’s the “fun stuff.”

Spencer Estabrooks writer-director of the “web-series” One Hit Die, emailed me about a week ago suggesting his new show as something my readers might be interested in, and saying they would be interested in having reviews or doing interviews or “whatever” to publicize the project. Much as I like having that kind of blank check to hold over someone’s head, I’ve never been much of an interviewer, and my reviewing ability is notoriously slack unless a moment’s passionate inspiration happens to coincide with a block of free time. I’m actually backlogged on writing reviews of the free shit people have already sent me (which probably doesn’t endear me to said publishers/writers/creators)…but, well, what can I do? I’d love to spend all day reading, watching, and writing reviews but the gig doesn’t pay enough.

Which is probably just as well, as it allows me to be a little more honest when I do write a review.

Fortunately or unfortunately for Mr. Estabrooks, I have a bit of a dramatic background and I tend to watch more TV than I probably should. I’m not much for “web-series” drama, but after seeing the success of shows like Adventure Time (which is all over Mexico now…backpacks, lunch boxes, etc.) making the jump from web to television, and after devouring the straight-to-Netflix House of Cards, I’m not about to underestimate the power of “what’s possible.” Back when I was in college, a group of actor friends were trying to put together something for public access television with the idea of morphing it into something bigger. However, that pipe dream died due to the strict regulation of PA and its prohibition against commercial gain. The internet is the freaking Wild West for people with the right amounts of ambition, audacity, and organizational ability.

So, yeah, maybe One Hit Die is a hard sell, but it’s not altogether a pipe dream.

OHD is a weird little animal. The one sentence description (provided by Mr. Estabrooks) is “like D&D but shot like The Office.” For those familiar with The Office, this means it’s in that pseudo-documentary style that uses hand held cameras and one-on-one cast interviews, to give it a casual, reality show feeling despite being a scripted comedy. The difference is that shows like The Office and Parks and Rec which it apes all take place in the (more or less) “real world” while the setting for One Hit Die is a fantasy environment/setting. The protagonists are not people playing Dungeons & Dragons…instead, they are actual characters (as in player characters): a fighter, a thief, a wizard, and a healer/cleric.

Or are they? The characters constantly make reference to game mechanics…like “gaining experience points” and “leveling up” or attack bonuses and the effects of surprise…which makes it feel like they are LARPers wandering around in the brush. And yet the world is also “real” with actual monsters (nicely done goblins), and killing and bloodspill and magic. This makes for a jarring effect at times. It’s an additional breaking of the 4th wall (already broken by the style of the production); a break in the (razor-thin) suspension of disbelief that shows like The Office have helped to build with regard to this type of show.

[what I mean by this: regular viewers of the pseudo-doc-comedy are used to the style of this filming and have no problem believing that we are simply watching a documentary of real folks who happen to be buffoons, when the reality is the show is completely scripted and acted by professionals…even the “documentarians” who occasionally appear in later episodes are still actors pretending to be members of the production crew. However, people used to a more traditional television production like, say, How I Met Your Mother or whatever can find the style incredibly distracting. People of my parent’s generation and older, for example, don’t always like or appreciate this type of show and find it “hard to watch,” as I’ve been told on more than one occasion]

I’m used to watching this style of show but…perhaps because I hadn’t known what to expect…it felt disjointed to me. I guess, the way to make sense of the program is to think of the characters living in an alternate dimension called “D&D World” where the people are self-aware of the mechanics that underpin their universe. In our universe, someone “counts calories” because they’re trying to watch their weight; in D&D World, characters count XP to track their sense of self-worth.

Or something like that.

Once you can reconcile that (such that the characters self-awareness doesn’t bug you), it’s not a bad watch. The show currently exists as a four-part “prologue” on YouTube (I’ll posts the links below), each video running around 6-8 minutes. Production values are low as is usual for this kind of grassroots project. Attention is paid to costuming and make-up effects but the armory budget was pretty cheap; none of the characters are wearing the armor one would find in a low level adventuring party, for example. Acting is generally good, but either the script-writing could be improved or (if there’s a lot of improvisation occurring) there needs to be a stronger hand with the editing in order to tighten the soliloquies and dialogue, at least in some instances. Other than that

It’s pretty amusing. I found myself chuckling at several parts, and laughing out loud (something I rarely do) at least a couple times. If you have thirty minutes to spare for cheap entertainment, I don’t think you’ll be too disappointed.

It also pays to watch all four episodes, as the series gets better with each. I don’t know if it’s because I got used to the “D&D World” setting, or simply that the production became better as the show developed. I only snickered once or twice in the first episode, and if I hadn’t bothered to watch the later episodes (I almost didn’t), I probably wouldn’t recommend the thing. Webisodes #2 through #4 (which are set-up by #1) makes the whole thing worth watching, in my opinion.

I really don’t want to talk too much about what actually happens, because I think the characters (their levels, their abilities, etc.) are (humorously) revealed over the course of the prologue series. I’d just say: watch the show with a B/X eye for what is occurring. Really…put on your Tom Moldvay goggles and ignore the non-D&Disms (like any references to “mana regeneration”).

Oh, yeah…and I really liked the opening credits with its mash-up of table-top gaming and “Game of Thrones” style graphics; that also made me chuckle. I don’t know how long the people doing One Hit Die can sustain (or even want to sustain) this project, but with a little more budget and a little tighter scripting, it could be a pretty entertaining series…though at this point it’s probably more fun for table-top gamers than for the average viewer. Maybe they can get picked up by the G4 network.

You can check it out at:

I'm happy to discuss the web series (including spoilers) in the comments section of this post.

Monday, August 5, 2013


A few weeks (months?) back, one of my readers commented or emailed me that I should check out the new "Sinbad" television show on the SciFi (or, rather, "SyFy") network. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to do so until this last week, when I caught about four episodes (the only ones "On Demand"). I'm a little sorry now that I missed the show but it's not too improbable. For one thing, I watch too much TV anyway (with what little free time I have). For another, I almost never watch series shows that are "fantasy" or "science fiction" in nature...for my fictional viewing pleasure, I'm usually watching stuff like Downton Abbey, MadMen, or (more recently) House of Cards. Even Vikings (which I wrote about a while back) is at least semi-historic in scope (it is on the History channel, after all)...but as I'm a sucker for anything with axe-wielding Norsemen, that's hardly indicative of my usual tastes.

Sinbad is not an original SyFy series...instead it was an English television show produced circa 2011. The cast is mainly young, but quite good considering their age (the lead actor, Elliot Knight, had not yet graduated drama school when he was cast to star in the show). Unfortunately, per the internet it was cancelled after it's first season, which is too bad for a number of reasons...however, it wasn't what I'd call Emmy-award winning television, and many of the cast members have already been picked up for other projects (it's always nice to see young actors getting work in their trade).

As said, I wouldn't call the show exceptional, at least with regard to quality of its writing...probably somewhere around the same quality of CW shows like Arrow or Supernatural. There's an ensemble group of misfit characters, an over-arching plot arc, and a series of weekly "adventures" usually serving to reveal a little something of one or more character's backgrounds...pretty formulaic stuff, though with quite adequate special effects and set dressing. What was interesting to me was the fact that the series and the protagonist characters could easily be lifted straight from a campaign/saga using my 5AK rules. There are a couple exceptions, sure (I don't have a "noble" or "academic" class that would be suitable for the characters Nala or Anwar) but everyone else? Yeah, pretty much.
A rather motley crew.

It's funny: a lot of the press I've seen on this show has to do with the diverse ethnicity of the cast, including the non-caucasian Mr. Knight in the title role. To me, though, this is totally reasonable for the setting...Basra of the 8th century had many people of different ethnicities and quite a few folks of mixed heritage due in no small part to the Arab slave trade (said slaves being mainly foreigners conquered by the armies of Islam, and many of whom earned or were granted freedom within their lifetime). A Sinbad of mixed heritage (as the show's character is: both his grandmother and mother appear to be caucasian), would not have been unusual, nor would it have been unusual for a member of the ruling class to be of dark skin and a street urchin-thief to be caucasian. For the setting and time in question, the real class lines were drawn along religious ones (Islam was the ruling party, and non-Muslims tolerated if still 2nd class).

Which leads me to my one gripe about the show: the complete lack of religion or spiritual worship on display. At least in the episodes I watched I didn't see anything...hell, I don't remember hearing the name "Allah" uttered by any of the characters (there may have been some reference to God when the Naveen Andrews character was getting sworn in as the new Emir, but I don't remember this being the case). And that's pretty utterly ridiculous. In the Sindbad translations I've read, they're pretty much in agreement that Sindbad started his adventures from the city of Basra (only later, after many voyages and accumulation of wealth did he eventually move to Baghdad). And this particular "re-boot" of the Sinbad legend likewise cites Basra as his city of origin (and in this particular the case, the origin of most of his troubles).

Well, Basra was established by the Muslims in the 7th was a originally a military garrison that grew into a thriving port city due to its proximity to the sea (and the trade from the Baghdad up-river, which was itself founded by the reigning Caliph only a hundred years later). This was not an Arab or Persian metropolis that later converted to was founded by Islam with the express purpose of defending Islam and its interests. Yes, there were individuals of other faiths (and those lacking any faith) walking its streets, but mosques and minarets and calls to prayer and the teachings of Koran should have been at least been somewhat on display for a city permeated by religion during the height of Islam's Golden Age. The conspicuous lack of religious undercurrent bugs me; compare that to the Vikings television show and the attention it pays to this important aspect of medieval life and you can a big reason why one comes off as a rich "slice of (historic) life" and the other as a somewhat bland (if exotic) adventure show.

And it's too bad because it's not a terrible adventure show by any means. Again, it's highly reminiscent of my 5AK play-tests, and not just because of the setting. For the most part, the character's aren't particularly "fight-worthy." Which is to say, they don't all emulate RPG characters designed to "kick ass" in their own particular niche. Instead, the foes they face - both supernatural and mundane - have to be circumvented in other ways: through evasion, or deception, or negotiation. A trained soldier in full mail armor, mook or not, is no one to be trifled with...and a pack of such soldiers are something to be avoided at all costs, not faced down with a sword and a bandolier of throwing knives and a ready fireball spell.

Of course, there is no "fireball" spell in 5AK nor (apparently) in Sinbad; at least, not in the episodes I watched. Magic and the supernatural (in many forms) is present in every show I watched, but definitely of a more understated, sorcerous variety...the same kind that I tried to incorporate into 5AK. But then, I also tried to link magic with the Jinn mythology of the Middle East and this, too, seems to be lacking from the Sinbad show.

Anyway, I'm not really trying to nitpick the thing...really. It's an interesting show, and it IS cool to have such an ethnically diverse cast of characters starring in a show where the issue is neither forced nor contrived (just like it's nice to see young actors getting work, it's nice to see non-white actors getting quality roles that aren't dependent on stereotypes. I mean, the only character that's really "stereotyped" in Sinbad is the blonde, ex-Viking...but what can you do about that?). And it's especially neat to see an adventure serial that doesn't have every episode wrap up with a sword fight or gun fight or other type of encounter requiring violence and force for the protagonists to win the day.

At least I think so...but what do I know? The show was cancelled after all.

Sailing off into the sunset...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Church of the Axe

As many of my readers know, much to my shame, I’m a bit of a TV watcher. Why “to my shame?” Because, like video games, television can be an unforgivable time suck that isolates one from the world and people around you, and yet does not allow the mind or body to rest. Of course video games can be actually ACTIVE and ENGAGING…the television just force feeds your brain whatever the producers deem appropriate.

I realize that’s a bit harsh, and that watching some television shows can actually stimulate conversation or become a “group-bonding” activity…like sporting events or the Academy Awards…and that other shows on television can be educational, inspiring, and teach us things about life, ourselves, and others. But that’s not usually the case. Fact is, there’s a lot of crap on TV…and watching a guy shoot arrows into bad guys while his sister bangs the local meth head (that’s the basic plot of Arrow) isn’t doing a lot for MY brain except providing some fun, superhero-style entertainment.

It is what it is, folks.

Yet, intellectual snob that I am, I can usually hold myself down to just a handful of “regular” shows (thank God we got rid of HBO! Prior to the birth of our child we were watching pretty much everything they were putting out)...and the occasional (terrible, terrible) Mariners game. And (besides Arrow) I try to limit myself to shows of the “quality” variety…Downton Abbey and Mad Men, for example, or Parks and Rec (for funny). Such “sitcom crack” as Friends and Sex and the City have fallen by the wayside.

But now I’ve got Vikings.

Gosh, what a great show! I was up till 2am the other night catching up on the most recent episodes…and to put that it in perspective, my dogs get me up anywhere between 4:30 and 5:30am every morning, rain or shine, weekends or work days (on week days I usually go back to bed until 6ish, when I get up to ready myself for a 7am start time). Sleep is at a premium in my home (it’s not often I get to bed before midnight most days), and my main luxury these days is taking a two or three hour “power nap” on the weekends when my son is having his daily siesta…assuming I don’t need to run errands or blog or write books or something.

But for Vikings…well, it’s “axe crack” people. And I’ve blogged before of my love of axes.

Vikings is a new show airing on the History Channel, and is pretty much better and more interesting than any single television drama currently airing on TV, with the exception of Mad Men. It has great acting, great writing, and beautiful production value…and damn if it isn’t pretty damn historically accurate (I say this as an amateur armchair historian of Norse culture, so take that with a grain of salt). And it’s different…O so different…from any Viking show or film I’ve ever seen. I mean, it takes pains to really try to portray the mindset of 8th century Norse culture.

[BTW: I know the show has received some criticism for being historically INACCURATE with regard to clothing and the Danes lack of knowledge of “the West”…that’s not what I’m referring to. Just hang with me for a bit, okay?]

The show depicts the life and exploits of Ragnar Lodbrok, one of the most famous heroes of the (real life) Norse sagas, including everything from his family life to his raiding expeditions to his political rivalries. For myself, the series is most fascinating because of its portrayal of the Norse personality. Often, Vikings in film are simply cardboard berserkers or violent thugs or parodies…individuals with modern, western values that just happen to do the barbarian thing for a job (think of the Capitol One commercials, or the characters portrayed in the film Erik the Viking). It’s like Scottish highlanders…the concept has been so romanticized and caricatured over the years that it’s difficult to find a historically accurate depiction of their brain. Vikings, I feel, does a better job of this than anything I’ve ever seen.

Not a nice man.
Ragnar, for example, is the hero of the show. Ragnar has all the classic virtues of the Norse people: he is courageous, he is clever, he is honorable, he is dutiful to his family. He is also a complete raging asshole and murderous bastard by our present standards. Let there be no discussion about it…the Norsemen had a real “us/them” mentality, and sailing into someone’s country and butchering unarmed folks (not to mention raping and pillaging) was all considered “fair play.” Ragnar is not a very nice person, at all and in his culture there really is a premium value placed on strength…Ragnar and his crew have nothing but contempt for the weaklings they raid, and Ragnar holds the loyalty of his men first and foremost due to having proven himself a strong warrior. His ambition and cunning combine to elevate him above his station of birth, but his brethren would not follow him for these reasons alone (his ability to get them rich plunder is a definite plus towards earning their loyalty and respect as well). At times, he exhibits a degree of compassion and curiosity that marks him different from his fellows…it’s obvious that he is unusual and marked for greatness…but neither one of these traits trump his “Norse nature;” when it’s time to fight there’s no hesitation.

At the same time, the Norse are more than just axe-wielding maniacs. They have a great sense of humor, a great sense of pride, that practicality and peculiar melancholy that marks Scandinavians even today…and an intense reverence for their own gods and religion. Man, it is so refreshing to see, when so much of today’s “historical fiction” films and shows tend to gloss over or ignore religion.  For most of our history, humans have lived in worshipful fear and awe of our God or gods…something conveniently forgotten in our production of otherwise high quality, historical films.

[as an aside, this is why I find the recent Clash of the Titans remake so incredibly stupid. The idea some Greek, even a hero like Perseus, would dare stand in defiance of the gods? Utterly asinine in a film full of asinine bullshit]

Vikings (the show) doesn’t ignore the fact that humans have ambition, nor that they are as prone to foibles and frailty as we ever have been, but the underpinning of the earth and reality is the divine, and it’s something that needs to be respected at all costs. Prayer…whether to Odin or to Christ (Christians are well represented on the other side)…is often-used, both in supplication and thanksgiving, and while the heathens may question the validity of the Christian God as much as the Christians condemn Odin, neither side dares profane their OWN religion.

There’s a great bit in the most recent episode wherein one of Ragnar’s men agrees to be baptized so that the English feel more comfortable bargaining with the heathens (the English are trying to pay off the Norsemen to leave them alone). Rollo, Ragnar’s brother agrees to do so, mostly for expedience…he doesn’t actually believe in the Christian God and considers the whole thing a joke. However, when it’s pointed out that his “joke” is probably an affront to Odin (if not outright blasphemy), he quakes in mortal terror…and Rollo is a big guy and pretty bright and ambitious besides. Here's the thing: for a culture that believed in heaven as “Valhalla,” snubbing Odin is a good way to get yourself left behind…plus, the concepts of “divine blessing” in the old Norse culture really boiled down to “being lucky” and he might have felt he’d just signed up for a big heaping helping of bad luck.

To make up for it, Rollo goes apeshit the next time he has a chance to kill some Christians.

Much of the action of Vikings takes place in the old English kingdom of Northumbria, where they happily pillage and raid, and unlike other Viking-centric shows, the people of England are given plenty of time in the program as well…these aren’t faceless victims, cardboard extras existing only to be axe-fodder for the program's protagonists. Neither are they set-up as simple “antagonists” to “heroic Ragnar” nor “poor me Christians” falling to the Viking swords. Again, the series attempts to treat them in the same neutral light…they have their Christian humility and piety, but they also have their selfishness and arrogance. The king of Northumbria offs a guard captain that failed him (in Darth Vader-like style), but tries to rescue his brother from the clutches of the Vikings, and he exhibits his own cunning and ruthlessness (only fitting, since the sagas say he's the one that eventually kills Ragnar). Religion again comes to the forefront: King Aelle is not Henry the VIII to throw off the dominion of Rome and start up the Anglican Church…back in the 8th century there was only ONE “holy, Catholic, and apostolic church” and you were going to HELL if you didn’t do your time on Sunday (a fact rudely exploited by Ragnar in one of his early raids).

There’s another good bit where the English lords are debating whether or not the Vikings have been sent by God as punishment, or by the devil as a trial, or are simply barbarous men, and the ANSWER to that question is IMPORTANT to how they deal with and respond to the threat (this is part of the reason for the baptism deal). When they invite the  Norsemen to dine, they are affronted that the Vikings dig-in to the victuals without waiting for grace to be said, and the contrast is stark between the two cultures. And yet the English king praying at his chapel for strength and guidance is no different from the Vikings' earl praying at a shrine to his gods in an earlier episode. These are not just religious “touches” like the scant attention paid to the gods in Ridley Scott’s film Gladiator…this is a statement of the way these people were: devout, reverent, concerned with the fates God (or the gods) had set in store for them, doing what they could (through their bishops or shamans) to determine what their deities’ Divine Will was.

Because that was important. If you come from a culture that believes God is All-Powerful, than you better try to figure out what He wants for you…otherwise, you’re likely to misstep and get yourself and/or your family/tribe all bloodied and butchered. It was yet another hurdle in a life already fraught with uncertainty and danger…a hard life of war and suffering and starvation. A shared spirituality was part of the foundation of a community (in addition to language and cuisine).

I’ve been reading up on Joan of Arc (again) with an eye towards continuing my series on subclasses and filters (I think ol’ Saint Joan makes a good model for the paladin class…along with Roland and Galahad). The fact that she was entrusted with leading the French army in battle as a PEASANT GIRL is amazing, no matter how eloquent or charismatic a speaker she might have been. Even winning a few battles, or being brave enough to lead the charge from the forefront, isn’t incentive enough (IMO) to say, 'okay, the Maid of Orleans can be our general.' It speaks volumes to A) the inherent spirituality and faith of the culture coupled with B) Joan's ability to convince that culture (including the worldly king, lords, and fighting men) that she was an actual instrument of that God and faith. And that was the 15th century…several centuries removed from the ("less sophisticated") time period of Ragnar and Co.

Do folks see where I’m going with this? This is, of course, a gaming blog…not a religious blog, nor a television blog, nor a Viking blog (though people might be forgiven for mistaking it for the latter). And in fantasy role-playing games, especially D&D, there is a tendency to secularize even our pseudo-medieval fantasy worlds. “Oh, yeah, there are gods…that’s where the cleric gets his powers. But I don’t have to worry about that aspect of the game world.” You don’t? Why not? What “divine right” gives your fantasy world ruler the authority to be king? You better find out if you want your character to be king someday, otherwise you’ll never be more than a pretender. What power do you think it is chooses whether or not your adventure ends in success or terrible, terrible death?

Even if you, personally, don’t believe in creationism, what better setting for a radical, supernatural means of world creation than the setting of a fantasy RPG? Even if you, yourself, don’t believe in the power of God and fate, why wouldn’t your character? Part of role-playing is playing a role, right? If Ragnar the axe murderer can say the occasional prayer or make appropriate sacrifice or find reverence for the rituals of his culture, why can’t Bork the Barbarian or Roderick the Fighter or Zimsum the Magic-User?

There are, of course, other things to be taken from the Vikings television show for use in a role-playing game: examples of adventuring, of how people with high moral character/integrity can still be villainous rogues in action, examples of "what we're doing this all for anyway" (family, personal ambition, romance, etc.), as well as how to handle political intrigue and inter-party conflict...interestingly, the latter are both handled the same.

With an axe.
: )

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Joy of TV

Anyone who thinks I'm some sort of high falutin' intellectual doesn't really know me. Sure, I'm an elitist snob about a lot of shit, but I'm as shlubby about some things as anyone...especially when it comes to television.

As a child I didn't watch a lot of television...except when I did. My family never had "cable TV" when I was growing up which means (in the 70s and 80s) that we were limited to a grand total of five channels (which eventually increased to six with the advent of FOX). And my parents didn't allow a lot of television watching, even on the weekends. Now, during the summer when we kids were older (and left at home alone while the parents were both at work) the "TV gloves" came off and my brother and I would spend long hours catching up on the daytime TV watching...namely, old shows in syndication (many of which were black and Perry Mason, the Beaver, My Favorite Martian, and Have Gun Will Travel...and all of which, even the color shows, had originally aired before we were born).

[well, those days of innocence are long gone, I'm afraid. When my child grows to an age where he knows how to use a remote control with impunity, I suppose I'll have to figure out how to lock the damn TV completely. Not just to keep him from watching violent shows and "Rated R" movies, but even daytime talk show hosts that are just...O Lord...just terrible and filled with the worst dregs society can dredge up. Maybe I just need to smash the cable box while I still have a chance!]

Anyhoo, while I got by in my early adulthood (till about age 26 or so) without actually owning a television, my lovely wife has turned me into a pretty serious TV watcher. Seeing as how we don't share any other hobbies (besides an enjoyment of other cultures when we can find the time and income to travel), it's the only relaxing pastime we can really share. Which is pretty f'ing sorry if you ask me (she's tried to play RPGs, she has, but I think that they scare her a little bit, to be quite honest), but there it is.

So I do watch a lot of TV...much more than I did in my 20s, or even my youth...and I even have shows that I like to watch that the wife doesn't. What I'd call "guilty pleasures," like Arrow, which is really not my wife's style at all. Usually, I watch it after she's already fallen asleep (On Demand)...but since I've discovered it I haven't missed a single episode. I just watched an episode and a half tonight.

But there are guilty pleasures, and then there are REAL guilty pleasures. The last couple weeks, I've started checking out this show called Supernatural that airs right after Arrow (and to which I got hipped by the trailers on the other show). Whereas I know the gist of Arrow (having been a Green Arrow fan) and have seen almost every episode (enough so that I can follow its convoluted, if somewhat simplistic plot), after three weeks I still really have no idea what Supernatural is about. There are two guys who are brothers or cousins or something that go around kind of investigating or hunting supernatural types (kind of like that show Grimm or something...I don't know), usually involving some sort of magic? in our present day and age. Maybe they're some kind of 21st century witch hunters or something? Except that they're kind of clueless half the time.

I really don't know...and I really don't care enough to bother finding out (by watching earlier shows On Demand or even reading the wikipedia entry on the show). I mean, it's not what I'd call "quality television" and it's not based on a particular IP in which I'm especially vested (like Arrow). I just refuse to waste that much time on it...but I've still been tuning in and checking it out. Why? Because...well, I don't know if I'm the real target audience for the show, but if I was a television writer, this is pretty much the show I would write.

I mean, it just seems to include a lot of the same quirky fantasy things I've been interested in, and it treats them in much the same way as I'd probably treat them, and it uses pretty much the same style of humor that I would use. Now a show like Psych (which I used to watch a bit and which I still think is damn funny) is right in my wheelhouse as far as hitting all the right notes and referencing all the same experiences and pop culture references I grew up with; i.e. I am the target audience of that show. But that's NOT the kind of television I would be writing myself. I'm not really clever enough, nor so interested in my own pop culture history that I'd put in the time and effort to write such clever scripts.

Supernatural isn't nearly as clever, but it's got clever enough bits...and the kind that I would think of adding if I was writing for TV...that it makes me feel like...well, I don't know really. A bit like I'm watching something I produced, maybe.

Anyway, it reminds me of a game I was working on awhile back (like last year)...a period game about witches and witchcraft set in the 1980s. It was a real, non-politically correct kind of game...basically one in which witches were fighting an underground battle against the evil forces of Reagan-era Republicans (yeah, it was really non-politically correct). It was also much more "indie" than anything else I've worked on in about five years (with the exception perhaps of DMI) being much more story-centric and much less B/X-style in crunch and mechanic. But as with many game projects, its currently gathering dust on a zip drive somewhere...and with TV shows like Supernatural, I don't really feel the need to dust it off anytime soon. It's like sometimes I think games like Trail of Cthulhu and The Esoterrorists have been created specifically because The X-Files is no longer airing on TV. I know that's a pretty random thought, but that's what I've been reflecting on this evening.

All right, all right...enough of this nonsense. Time to hit the hay...another busy day tomorrow.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Missing the Mark

I’m feeling the need for a new micro-game.

[we’ll come back to that in a second]

How O How did I miss the new television show featuring one of my all-time favorite superheroes? That would be Green Arrow, about whomI've blogged before. The new TV program is called ARROW (duh) and is running on the CW (I thought that was the Country-Western channel?), but I couldn’t tell you when it normally airs because I am the parent of a small child…unless shows are running late at night, I’m generally only watching them “On Demand.”

So having newly discovered Arrow, I’ve been trying to catch up on all the shows I’ve missed. It’s not awful (which I feared) and certainly a step up from The Cape…has kind of a J.J. Abram’s feel to it (what with the flashbacks and the mysterious past/hidden agendas and the castaway-island-weirdness stuff) which is generally a good thing, if not terribly original. On the other hand, the casting for Oliver Queen just seems so YOUNG. Though I suppose the idea of the older gentleman, play-boy (read: creepy chauvinist-womanizer) doesn’t work as well in the 21st century as it might have in the 1960s (see Mad Men). The reinvented Queen is a young Hollywood in the tabloid style of today’s n’er-do-wells (see Paris Hilton, Jack Osborne, etc. for examples).

My how the world turns.

I also like the Longbow Hunters-style archery (of course) and the reinvented “Speedy” (Queen’s crank-snorting younger sister in this show…ha!)…and the hood, too. Warms my heart, it does. I’m not too keen on the green leather jumpsuit and the romantic interest looks like she belongs on one of those WB shows…but otherwise, it’s enjoyable throwaway action-TV and really has some potential to go to some of the dark places worthy of Green Arrow (as opposed to simplistic PSA-style, “One To Grow On” moralizing).

[“Speedy” = crank addict. Ha! Every time I think of it, makes me chuckle]

You know, it’s funny (interesting)…I know there’s a lot about Green Arrow that echoes the Batman character, which isn’t all that surprising as they’re both knock-offs of Zorro (invented 20 years before Batman, thank you very much)…wealthy socialites during the day and grim masked men of justice at night. The secret hide-outs, the gadgets, the M.O., the sidekick, the character-themed vehicles, the acrobatics, etc. all make them seem like mirror image characters, other than the color of their costumes.

However, it’s the minute differences of personality that (for me) makes all the difference in the world, catapulting one onto my Top 5 or Top 3 all-time list. And no, it’s not just the fact that GA has the beard and uses a bow instead of a Batarang. I mean, let’s just draw the clear distinction right here and now:

[and, yes, this will get back to gaming in a moment, really…]

Batman IS an interesting character…as a child I read his comics, watched the old Adam West show, saw the cartoons, saw that first Michael Keaton movie a dozen times or so, and own all the Christian Bale films (for whatever reason, I never got around to watching the in-between films). I owned the whole Jason Todd/Death in the Family series at one point, as well as the Frank Miller post-apoc Dark Knight Returns graphic novel. I like Batman, but after mashing all these sources together, here’s how I see Batman (minus the ninja training):

-          A man with a keen, detective mind; armed with gadgetry purchased by wealth; driven by a childhood trauma, but with an unshakeable resolve regarding preservation of life even with his relentless pursuit of justice.

Compared to Green Arrow who is:

-          A man with the hunting skills developed from his castaway experience; driven by a desire for social justice forged in the years of isolation and contemplation; owing more to the Law of the Wild than the Kantian philosophy of Batman (the issue of wealth and gadgetry varies depending on the GA series/portrayal).

Leave aside the fighting ability both characters possess: “Who’s a better fighter” is a pretty moot point in comic books (and their ilk) when nearly all (male) characters are scrappy and fight-worthy and have as much brawling power as is necessary for the story/plot at hand. Instead look at three things:

  1. What motivates the character (origin of their heroic impetus)
  2. What is the character’s method (power that sets character apart)
  3. What is the line the character won’t cross (self-imposed limitation)

The last is perhaps the MOST important part of a superhero…at least one that is well developed…because while folks are always quoting the “with Great Power comes Great Responsibility” line from Spiderman, the unsaid part about being greater than other mortals is “with Great Power comes Great Temptation.” The question is important because without a line, nothing stops the character from using their abilities for selfish and self-aggrandizing purposes. Doing THAT drops the character from the ranks of what we call “heroes.”

For example: Nothing physically stops the She-Hulk from intimidating the hell out of normal people (she might do so on occasion for a laugh, or because she’s annoyed with someone, but generally she attempts to put people at ease despite her strength and power). Nothing stops Steve Rogers from pursuing a lucrative career as an underwear model and living a life of debauchery with fame and fortune. Nothing prevents Spiderman from becoming the world’s greatest cat-burglar or from Reed Richards using his scratch-built spacecraft to ferry the rich and famous into orbit for a hefty fee.

But the threshold of self-imposed limitation varies from character to character. She-Hulk MIGHT intimidate someone for amusement, but Superman would not despite having the same (or greater) power…at least not while in uniform. Spiderman will happily knock the teeth out of some mugger in a dark alley, but he generally stops short of psychologically scarring and inflicting mental torture on an individual like the Batman will. The line a hero won’t cross comes to define the character as much or more so than anything else…compare Wolverine to his fellow X-Men in the 1980s as a stand-out example.

And while Batman is all about inflicting fear and terror and rough justice on the street criminal, his own code of ethics stops him short of bleeding someone with an edged weapon…unlike Green Arrow. Sure, it’s a fine line but it IS a line: the Bat is perfectly capable of giving some guy a concussion or sending ‘em to the hospital with a rupture, but piercing someone’s femoral artery or spleen runs the risk of putting someone in the MORGUE. That’s a decided difference between the two. GA doesn’t rank in the same category of the Punisher (who sets out to murder criminals in the name of “justice”) but he is one of the more flagrant and reckless of masked vigilantes, judged solely on his methods, at least since the Longbow Hunters.

[compare Green Arrow to non-Ultimate Hawkeye who continues to use non-lethal “trick arrows”]

So while there are superficial similarities between the GA and Batman, for me they are extremely distinct based on the answers to those three questions: motive, method, and limit. And the Arrow’s answers to those questions make him one of my favorite characters while Batman’s answers (respectable though they are) do not.

Okay, so what does all this rigmarole have to do with gaming?

Welp, last night I was back in play-testing mode with the wife back in town from business and BECAUSE of the all the Arrow TV watching and comic book contemplation, I decided to run my Supers game rather than the new Space Opera setting. Longtime readers know how easily my mind wanders from one subject to another with only the vaguest inspiration, so I realize none of you are all that surprised.

The most recent iteration of DMI Supers has quite a few differences from the last version (play-tested with Will a few months back), and this time I even had a pretty serious adventure mapped out for the thing (cribbed from a prior adventure I’d written for Heroes Unlimited). Unfortunately for Greg (the sole player to show up…more on THAT in a separate post), I discovered the fast-and-loose style of DMI does not lend itself well or easily to the “scripted adventure” and we never got past “Chapter 1” nor did the game have the chance to show off its strengths.

ALSO, as with my Lost World game there were serious issues of motivation that just ended up “falling short.” The DMI system provides a versatile, visceral, and expressive system that is not only fun to play, but helps define your character within the play itself…I haven’t found the thing that JUMPSTARTS play. What gets you INTO it…what creates an impetus in players to be PRO-active as opposed to RE-active?

[in case I forgot to mention this in an earlier posting, this proactive player stance is important for a richer role-playing experience, but I don’t want to get off topic just at the moment]

Old school D&D is excellent at this, for example: character advancement is tied to treasure acquisition and the characters are (by definition) treasure hunters by trade. Consequently, players have an impetus to self-motivate in looking for treasure (and being creative in how they recover it), immediately immersing themselves in the game at hand.

The best version of DMI so far (by which I mean, the most EFFECTIVE version) has been my post-apoc-mutant-style game MDR. In MDR, character are presented with an immediate situation and goal (by design and by character definition) and thus have an immediate impetus to “get on it.” But the Lost World game and the Space Opera game and Supers game all have a more “open format” that is supposed to be built and based on the characters’ personal motivations, which is nice in THEORY…but then the players end up sitting back and waiting to REACT (using their proper motivation) to whatever the GM throws at you.

As opposed to being proactive.

SO NOW (going back to the original sentence) I’m starting to think I need to write a new micro-game. It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these one-sheeters and maybe I need to go back to that format, at least briefly, in order to fix some of these issues. The micro- format forces me to be short, sweet, and elegant and really distill down the basic elements of a game…giving me a parsed version that can be elaborated on as necessary (and/or appropriate) if the stripped-down, basic version is at least FUNCTIONAL. I think the last one I completed was, in fact, the first version of DMI (for the Out-Of-Time game)…but that worked well enough that it led to the two-page version of MDR which worked so well that I started incorporating the basic DMI engine into other genre games. But the difference between OOT and MDR and the later versions of DMI is that those earlier games had set, specific victory conditions (so to speak)…and the later versions do not.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve got to return to the basic parameters of DMI first if I want to develop it into a full-blown game engine…and I’ve got a feeling/inkling that (with regard to the Supers game) the key might be to revisit those three distinctions I’ve listed above: the motive, method, and limitation that really differentiates one street-born vigilante from another. That might actually be more important for such a game than the power list I so diligently slaved up.

*whew!* That was pretty random.

; )

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Finality of the Play-Offs

Raiders of the Lost Ark may be the best action/adventure movie of all time. Even with the passage of time (30 years?!) the film is superb, with great sequences, well developed characters, and special effects that have lost none of their luster (perhaps because they didn’t rely on old-tech green screen techniques nor require stop-motion monsters). I was up till two or 2:20 in the morning last night watching the ol’ DVD and was astounded by the beauty of the thing: the cinematography, the writing/directing, the acting. There’s a lot to take away from a movie like Raiders…I’m sure that much of my interest in “pulp” fiction has to do with my exposure to this film at a young age.

Why was I watching Raiders at two in the morning? ’Cause it was going to be a long, sleepless night after yesterday’s Seahawks loss regardless. Plus I wasn’t done drinking.

I have often thought (and stated to people who cared) that it’s too bad someone has to lose these games…though generally only when it comes to games that didn’t involve my team. I mean, I would have had a little sympathy for Tony Gonzalez had the Seahawks sent him packing with yet another play-off loss on his resume...but certainly not enough that I would have traded a Seahawk win and a continuation of the team’s fairy tale season. Unlike a lot of locals who today were walking around spouting optimism about how great our team is going to be “next year,” I have no such delusions. Not anymore: I felt the same thing at the beginning of 2006 (after our Super Bowl loss) only to watch the team crumble year after year without ever making it back to the NFC Championship game again, let alone the Big Dance. Optimism for the future is bullshit when it comes to the NFL…ask Dan Marino about optimism. Or Donovan McNabb. Or even Peyton Manning. This year was special…surprisingly special due to a conspicuous lack of injuries and unexpected big plays and quite possibly some underestimation of our ability on the part of some opponents. Personally, I believe we were set-up well to run the table at the end…but we couldn’t close the deal in Atlanta. And while the Falcons might beat the Niners (who are favored by Vegas odds) I don’t think they can beat either of the teams left in the AFC. Not that they shouldn’t be given the opportunity to try, mind you…

Ugh. It’s just the unnerving FINALITY of the game that bites. The game ends and you wish it ended just a little differently. And they play the highlights on the news and ESPN and you’re watching, knowing what will happen, but hoping this time the re-play will show something different…and of course, it doesn’t. And no amount of wishing or venting or second-guessing or wild eyed gnashing of teeth is going to alter the outcome in the slightest. You’re just left with a result that comes up just a little short. Like the Titans missing the end zone by a yard in the Super Bowl.

Oh, and I know there are fans of other teams that will tell me to quit my bitching, that Seattle has little to complain about compared to, say, a Chicago Bears fan who watched their team start 7-1 and miss the play-offs despite ending with double-digit wins. I’m sure Buffalo Bills fans would trade their lot for ours, having missed the play-offs every year since realignment in 2002 whereas the Seahawks have been to the post-season seven times in the last eleven years; a veritable embarrassment of riches compared to most NFL teams.

And, hey, it’s only a sporting event…with all the real tragedy and death that’s happened in this country over the last few months, the loss of a football game and the end of a season is NOTHING by comparison. Let’s have a little perspective, here.

But for Yours Truly, who tends to get emotionally entangled in his passions with embarrassingly little effort, it’s still a tough one to swallow. I was having a hard time focusing on anything besides football the last couple weeks…well, apart from my boy, but certainly I was worthless for anything work-related. Heck, I made it a point to go see The Hobbit Saturday (more on that later) specifically to turn my football brain OFF for three hours the other day…and it was a much needed break.

So in a way (though it’s challenging to find a silver lining) I suppose it’s for the best that the ‘Hawks are going into the off-season. I will almost certainly be more productive with less investment in the outcome of the next couple weeks’ games. But it’s tough. I’m kind of a putz about these things.

[and one last Blood Bowl related side note: I ran a mock match Friday night between the Orkish ‘Hawks team and Skaven Falcons to see who would win and the game was TIED at the end of regulation…due in part to the rats scoring a last second TD on the final turn of the match that made it 2-2. The orks actually went into half-time with a 2-0 lead after a dominant first period (in a strange mirror opposite of the actual game) and kept the skaven from scoring until the final quarter (last four turns) of the game. However, I didn’t bother playing out the over-time period to a final end result because

A)     It was super-duper late (and I needed to get SOME sleep before a 24 hour stint of single-parenthood on Saturday), and
B)     I was a bit disgusted by the skavens’ ability to get behind the Seahawks secondary and tie it up in three turns and, frankly, was (superstitiously) afraid that an OT win in my Blood Bowl match might have some correspondence-voodoo effect on the actual outcome of the game. And I wasn’t confident in the orks ability to stop the rats if they won the coin toss and received the ball first.

Okay, that enough of that. I’m sure there’ll be more Blood Bowl silliness in the future, but right now I’m going to take a break from all football-related ANYthing. All apologies for my self-indulgence.]

Now, if you'll excuse me I see there's a new episode of Downton Abbey awaiting my attention.
; )

Friday, September 7, 2012

All About the Benjamins (Part 1)

Damn, it's hot again.

Sitting in the bar, in a t-shirt and my phone reads its about 77 degrees and it feels quite a bit hotter. No, Seattle is not Montana but it's still sweat-worthy (town hasn't had rain in more than a month...ugh). I'm sure it will cool down by the Seahawks first home game (a week from Sunday) and I should probably be enjoying it now...but I get thirsty when it's hot and strong drink makes my head swimmy and my spelling messy. Well, messier than normal anyway.

[okay...short interlude while I grab another drinky...hold on...]

All right...all good.

So, quick update before I begin. No apologies this time: my family (wife and child) got back in town Sunday before last after being gone a week-and-a-half and I've spent the time since mainly enjoying the pleasure of their company. Took a long weekend over Labor Day and travelled to Montana to visit the relatives and unwind a bit and much ZERO writing when I was out there (though the wife and I did manage to power through most of Downton Abbey, season 2, on DVD. Best show I've seen from TV land since, perhaps, Firefly for sheer damn quality: acting, writing, emotion, art direction...good stuff and top notch). Now, well...the wife leaves for Paraguay again on Saturday and I am preparing to once again be a single parent for a week. What with the NFL season breaking into full force on Sunday, you can expect little blogging out of me in the foreseeable future.

Well, maybe. Thing is, it's just been a bitch getting on the internet weekdays the last couple weeks because of my job location. The only place I can hit up to post is a school campus library (don't ask) and it's been mostly closed during the last couple weeks for the school break. Since nights aren't free...well...

All right, like I said I just wanted to do a QUICK update. Now, prior to my family coming home folks might remember me doing a scratch poll asking what folks would like me to work on, writing-wise, while my fam was out of town. The Top 5 requests were fairly surprising to me:

#1 D&D Mine (?!)
#2 Land of Ice
#3 CDF
#4 B/X Space Opera
#5 Clockwork (?!)

[oh, and just by the appears there is a current crowd-funding project going on to raise money for a new Clockworks RPG (note the "s") using the Savage Worlds system for a web-comic by the same name. Personally, the numerology isn't good enough to fight someone over the name, so I will probably rename my cyborg-Boot Hill mash-up. However, I will note that MY Clockwork micro-game was first published (on this blog) 9-8-2009. On the other hand, the webcomic is older (having begun June 2009) though the settings bear little resemblance to each other...whatever]

Well, anyway, I'm sure folks are anxious to know what I spent my 10 free days working on. Right? Sure you are.

None of the above. I wrote a new game.

Even had a chance to playtest it a couple weeks ago. Basically I took a lot of the ideas I've been working with in D&D Mine, wrapped it around a turn-o-the-century (1900, not 2000) setting and added all the old school Lost World tropes found in Verne and Haggard and Doyle, etc. Dinosaurs, people. I don't know why but these days I have an unhealthy obsession with hunting dinosaurs with elephant guns.

The great thing is, using a B/X starting point allowed me to simply adapt X1: The Isle of Dread as a near-perfect introductory adventure.

I say "near perfect" because I grow more and more tired with "generic adventure modules." Not because they aren't useful or well-done but because the systems I've been writing lately all make the player characters (slimly out-lined though they are) more richly such a way that they call for tailored adventures specially made for their own particular foibles and extravagances.

For example, our Lost World characters (in the play-test) consisted of a debonair (if debauched and corrupt) Portuguese criminal, a disgraced and exiled Moscovian scientist-professor, and an American ex-pat, Davy Crockett-type living in Panama (these all created by the players...I don't like to play-test with pre-gens as part of the testing involves testing the chargen rules). While it was fairly easy to shoehorn the three together after a little discussion/consensus-building by the time they got to the "mysterious south Pacific island" I was wishing I'd set the whole adventure in the Amazon, preferably with ties to each character's background. It just would have made so much more sense.

As it was, it was still fun and many of the rules worked (though I acknowledge the info I provided to the players was pretty damn scant: "roll this." "roll that." "take damage." etc.). However, there were definitely things that didn't work, especially with regard to motivation and the push-pull dichotomy I intended to set-up with PCs between ethics (Victorian or otherwise) and temptations to be bad. And while players (and designers) of indie-games will say "duh, you need to sculpt a game with those things in mind, not based on a wargame chassis, doofus," I know what I'm aiming for and one-off, premise addressing narrative game design is NOT it.

And after some contemplation, I realized a very fundamental concept of fantasy adventure games which is what I'm more and more becoming interested in and that is...

Wait. Wait. "Fantasy adventure games?"

Yeah. I'm getting tired of "story games" and "role-playing games" (the term...really) and I'm not very good at "war games" due to my somewhat over-competitive nature (my buddy Mike used to tell me 'it's not that you're a sore loser, you're just such a bad winner'). And, of course, the whole boxed-board game-thang of 4th edition really isn't my cup-o-tea.

I want fantasy adventure. No, I'm not being dumb. Try to catch my drift from this point o view: it's not about being an interesting character. It's not. It's about doing interesting things. You can use your imagination to daydream about about being...well, pick your well-cut action hero celebrity of choice. But I can do that withOUT a game. What I can't do is have an imaginary adventure...where the plot is unknown and the ending is unknown and my reaction to events is unknown until they're presented. I want to have a fantastic, imaginary adventure...something outside the normal adventure of average life.

Not that there ISN'T adventure...perils and intrigue and romance and daily life. There is (it really is a matter of perspective)...but still, you can't fly through space or fight trolls or wear a six-shooter on your hip in daily life (at least, you probably shouldn't). The fantastic experience, coupled with the (melodramatic perhaps) adventure is what I'm looking for.

And shit...I got distracted by DNC highlights and now my computer's almost out of juice and I haven't even gotten to the tagline. (*sigh*)

To be continued...

Monday, May 7, 2012

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!).