Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Savage Land

Sorry, internet at the house has been down the last couple-few days, leaving me unable to post and/or rant in my usual fashion. No idea when this will be resolved...this is part of the challenge of living in a "savage land" like Paraguay.

[since January, I have been strongly considering starting a blog specifically about being an American living residing in Paraguay, but my wife has asked that I do NOT, unless it is under an assumed name. She knows there's a lot of negative things I could and would say and she doesn't want it getting back to the folks we know here and offending anyone. I know some of my readers have expressed interest in the subject...sorry, but you won't find any links from this blog anytime soon]

So here I am sitting in what passes for a coffee shop (a hotel restaurant that serves coffee in the morning...people really don't do "breakfast" in Paraguay; and this from a culture that puts egg on everything! Even Washington D.C. has places that do breakfast till 9:30ish...but I'm digressing...again), writing apologetic emails to folks who've ordered books that haven't got 'em yet.


Anyhoo, I HAVE been working quite a bit on the "new book," though dammit, it really is almost entirely "new," both content-wise and design-wise. All you people who demanded space opera...fine. I'm doing space opera.

But it ain't B/X space opera...or even Traveller. Which means it's going to need testing...testing that cannot be accomplished in Paraguay unfortunately, as I'm purposefully designing a game that cannot be played "on-line." Which is stupidly obtuse of me, I suppose (given the technological climate of today's RPG crowd)...but acting recalcitrant isn't anything new over at Ye Old B/X Blackrazor blog.

Baron Karza...much scarier than Vader.
*ahem* So, will be wanted. Not yet, probably not soon. I've got a bunch of random tables to devise still. But it's coming along. No, it's not Star Wars and it's waaaaay far away from Trek, but it should still have cybernetic replacement know...borgs. If I could find a way to make the Micronauts' "body banks" work with the setting I would. THAT shit is f'd UP...and I love it.

[I'll have to do a post on Ye Old Body Banks sometime. The Micronauts comics went to a lot of "dark places," back in the day. Where's the HBO series based on THAT intellectual property?]

Okay, I'm outa' here for now. Yak at you more soon (hope hope).

Friday, February 20, 2015

Playing With Traveller

Or rather, "Playing Around With Traveller."

The last couple-three days I've been ditzing around with Classic Traveller (i.e. the original Little Black Books), a game I haven't played since...hmm, high school? Probably. This is one of those games I played with my buddy, Rob, who really wasn't into AD&D.

[ugh...Blogger's acting wonky today...hopefully, this post will stick]

I picked up the original three books (as PDFs) off Drive-Thru RPG as well as Book 4 Mercenary because A) I wanted to own these classic books, B) I wanted to take a look at how they were put together (their design and format and whatnot), C) I wanted to "explore the nostalgia," and D) I wanted to see if I could make them work for me...either on their own or as the basis for another project of mine. The "ditzing" (which I'll come back to in a moment) has actually been in lieu of working on the design for the new game...I just had to take a break and a breather.

[yes, it's a "space" game; no, I'm not ready to talk about it yet; yes, I like how it's developing and will hopefully get down to some serious work on it starting next week. Except that I might be doing this United Nations presentation thang (in English) for the Paraguayan government...we'll see if that happens and how much time THAT ends up taking] sometimes happens when I need a breather, my mind starts wandering to the Space Wolves.

For those who aren't familiar with the game WH40K, the Space Wolves are one of the traditional space marine chapters that have been a part of the game "fluff" since its inception. They're kind of "space vikings" in power armor (you can see how that kind of thing would appeal to Yours Truly). While my own 40K armies have, for the most part, been on the side of Chaos (usually Khorne, sometimes Nurgle), in recent years my stance on the Wolves has softened. They're a lot less prone to cheesiness (army-wise) than they were back in the 2nd edition days.

Anyway, even though I stopped playing 40K back around 4th (3rd?) edition, I still have a couple codices for the Space Wolves lying around, both of which I took to Paraguay in the thought that there may be a fun little game to make out of a squad of "battle brethren." But I've been busy, and while my mind has often turned to the idea, it was only the last couple days I started considering possible systems as a starting point for a scratch side-project. And Classic Traveller was one of them.

[this really would be a lark, folks. I've written before that it would be difficult to do this kind of thing as a long-term RPG. More on the subject later]

I personally love the LBB format.
Hence the reason for picking up Mercenary (which includes systems for large-scale ground battles and such).

Welp, I spent a couple days reading the rules in Book 1 and Book 3 (not yet terribly interested in the starship thing) and was really liking what I saw. Seemed pretty clear, pretty well thought-out, pretty easy to use. Sometimes, first edition games are designed better and work better than later editions (I say this as someone who own Mongoose Traveller and thinks its pretty well done). So today, I started ditzing around with the random tables creating characters and systems/planets.

What an exercise in frustration!

Wow. I don't know how I managed to get such a competent character with Mongoose when the systems are so similar. That guy didn't exactly match my "concept" expectations, but he didn't suck rocks either. The dudes I've been creating using CT...even the ones with the expanded chargen system of Book 4...just aren't even in the same realm. It's not even like they're dying (well, my scout died...but that's the scout service for you)...they're just getting kicked from service long before they've developed into anything resembling competence.

I don't actually have a copy of Mongoose with me (back in Seattle), but if memory serves, the wild discrepancy between the chargen systems comes down to two main points:

#1 if you fail to reenlist in Mongoose you have the option of going into a different career (and possibly reinventing yourself. Kind of like real life (at least in the 21st century). Fifty years ago (perhaps), people might have changed jobs during their lives, but perhaps not careers (at least, not as frequently). To be fair, CT career paths are limited to "adventuring" types: armed forces, scouts, space merchants, and "other" (which seems to be the catch-all for criminal elements). I would hardly expect the marines to accept my enlistment at the ripe young age of 41 either! But in a universe of anti-aging drugs and technological enhancements, shouldn't there be a little less age discrimination?

[on the other hand, in a universe with trillions of inhabitants, perhaps Classic Traveller envisions a more disposable society where warm bodies are exceptionally easy to replace]

#2 in Mongoose, your character receives a number of bonus skills from a variety of sources. PCs receive skills from both their home world and from the GM depending on the style of campaign they intend to play. Also, random "life events" hep develop characters in a number of different ways (I believe both good and bad, but my memory is a bit hazy).

The half dozen characters I rolled up this morning could have benefitted greatly from either of these Mongoose additions. My "criminal" character (from the Other category) ended up with two terms of service, most of UPP under 7, and a single skill (Bribery 1) to show for his career. Blah! That was the point I decided to stop, after half a dozen likewise disappointing PCs.

The planets (I created a random "home world" for each of my PC attempts) were equally disappointing. For whatever reason, I ended up with a lot of low tech water worlds sporting small populations and a conspicuous lack of star ports, and where a population of hundreds ends up with "rival competing governments" (the neighborhood watch groups are drawing up sides!). I don't know...there's some sort of weird, cascading effect when creating planets where a particular number rolled for one planetary stat skews the roll for the next...and yet the modifiers for tech levels are strangely affected.

[my criminal's planet? It was yet another water world with a dense, tainted atmosphere. Its population was smaller than Asuncion, had a law level of 0 ("no prohibitions"), a government level of 0 ("no government structures; family bonds predominate") and a tech level of 13. Grav craft, powered battle armor, maxed out computers, etc. -- all on a tiny barbarian planet of floating "tribes." Not sure which hut-raft they're using to manufacture the star drives]

If you can't tell from the tenor of the post, I'm disappointed. The system...which seems perfectly set-up to help players/GMs and even facilitate "solo play" (something you really don't see much of anymore)...leaves more than a bit to be desired. It's own randomness, while intriguing, seems to beg for "fudging," both to help develop characters for play and to develop a setting worth playing in.

Yes, yes...some folks will say I'm terribly unimaginative regarding the setting stuff, and others will point out that Miller points out Referees are free to use these tables as an aid, retaining the freedom to  invent one's own worlds as desired. Got it. That still doesn't help with the lousy character creation. I can understand that it may certainly fit with the setting that my 22 year old marine was kicked to the curb with nothing but skill level 1 in gun combat and "recruiting." Fine. Let's start our adventuring career character is young, ambitious, and full of fire. Unfortunately, there are no rules in CT for my 22 year old to acquire any more skills or abilities. I maxed out my career at 22? Okay...but I maxed out my LIFE, too? Give me a break!

[maybe this is the reason for the prevalence of psionics in CT's human population?]

I was quite at ease with Mongoose Traveller's lack of progression/advancement for characters (it has a couple spot rules about studying or something with a bunch of time and money), mainly because the ease of staying in the chargen process made it easy to develop a competent character. The real restriction was age limits (how old and decrepit do you want to allow yourself to get before striking off in your Free Trader?). But Classic Traveller is a hard one. It really is. Playing it "as written" would be at least on par with some of those Old School games that are classically considered to be "tough" on new players: like 1st edition Stormbringer and Holmes Basic D&D or (Revised) Heroes Unlimited with random power type determination. It's interesting, and challenging (which is good) but has the potential to be really frustrating, too.

I was frustrated just playing around with it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Few More Superhero Words...

...though it's not as if I'll probably ever end the occasional (or more than occasional) supers posts. Sorry.

[BTW, school has not QUITE started for D: it was an hour Monday and an hour Tuesday and will be ramped up to 3+ today. Spent the last couple days building pirate ships and sushi restaurants out of legos (no, these aren't existing sets...we're cannibalizing the shit-ton of Duplos he owns). The sushi restaurant was especially nice as it was based on the Medieval Nights franchise and had a large acquatic pool surrounded by two tiers of tables...after the seafood (plastic sea life toys) had been fished out, there was then a "show" that featured a show between Aquaman and Black Manta for the pleasure of the clientele. The pirate ship is gigantic and managed to use all the pieces save a handful that was left to construct a dock with a gas station/inn we named "The Admiral Benbow." Ugh...I was never this creative as a child...]

First off, did a lot of research on Marvel's Cinematic Universe the other day: what it is, how it came about, why it's been successful, etc. No, I'm not going to post about it...I just wanted to take a look at the phenomenon that I mentioned in my last post (regarding the proliferation of super-hero flicks) and its impact on other film studios (and why or why not comic franchises like DC have had such a hard time catching up). And even though I wrote that I am unlikely to watch EVERY hero film that's coming out these days, I do find myself really looking forward to seeing the two new MCU flicks scheduled for the summer: Avengers: Age of Ultron and the Ant-Man. The former only because I like James Spader and I dig on Ultron and I want to see how both translate to the screen, the latter because...well, because I always liked Ant-Man.

Not the original Ant-Man mind you (Hank Pym was always Yellowjacket for me), but the Scott Lang, ex-criminal version. That was my introduction to the character and, for whatever reason, I always thought it was a cool character, despite what most would probably admit is a rather lame suite of super powers. The great conceit of supers comics, of course, is that the writers can make ANY character central to the story and devise plots whereby the particular application of power (like shrinking and talking to insects) is necessary to "save the day." But part of enjoying the genre is voluntarily forgetting this conceit on a regular basis.

[part of what makes it difficult for a supers RPG to work in a true "sandbox-y" fashion is that ignoring this conceit makes it tough for such "minor league heroes" to have an adequate impact. Hence, you find games like Mutants & Masterminds where a level 17 Ant-Man should be able to take down a level 12 Silver Surfer (f'ing ridiculous) or games requiring heavy Heroes make the game work. Don't bring a stage magician to a cyborg super-soldier fight!]

"Superhero? Hell, yeah! Anything but Aquaman..."
Anyway, love the idea of Paul Rudd as Lang, love Michael Douglas as former Ant-Man Pym, even dig the concept of Evangeline Lilly's character. All in all, I may be looking forward to Ant-Man more than either Ultron or Dawn of Justice. But then, I've always liked "quirky" huper hero flicks (I've watched Mystery Men multiple times).

Now, as for Wonder Woman...

If I had bothered to do any research on-line before semi-ranting the other day, I would have seen I'm not the first person to bring up the question of why it's taken so long for this particular hero to get her own live-action film (many of whom are much more amusing than myself). It IS fairly ridiculous, considering how film studios will throw any type of idea against the wall, especially ideas that have a built-in, cash-paying fan base...but I'm really not all that qualified to sit down and start banging out a screenplay for the Wondrous one. The fact is, I really don't know squat about Wonder Woman.

Aquaman's lucky she lets him hitch a ride.
I mean, I know (most?) of the basics of her character, her powers and original origin and whatnot. But my information is almost entirely informed by television, specifically the old Superfriends series of the late 70's, early 80's (drawn by Alex Toth) voiced by Shannon Farnon. Despite her skimpy outfit, Farnon lends her a no-nonsense delivery that includes humor while never skimping on command; it's pretty much the archetypal "warrior-queen" that never goes soft, even when calling for help from some Legion o Doom trap (i.e. like her male counterparts, she's sometimes outmaneuvered but we never hear the voice-cracking panic of a distressed damsel).

[funny can actually pay Ms. Farnon to leave personalized voicemail messages as Wonder Woman through her web site. Great Hera!]

Lynda Carter's live-action portrayal is, of course, the other main "source" of my WW knowledge, but it was so long ago since I've watched it, I really have difficulty with the recall. I have watched youtube clips lately, of course (my boy is a big fan of Wonder Woman, as he is with most all DC heroes), and while the product seems a little light on quality (as does a lot of dated programming aimed at younger folks), there's quite a bit of ass-kicking that takes place. I mean, setting a person with the strength to stop a small plane or German tank up against non-powered goons is grossly unfair...but it can sure be fun to watch. I especially enjoyed the scene where she steals a motorcycle and uses it to run down a bunch of bad guys. In a way, it's the same type of campy ridiculousness as the 60's Batman without the "Pow!" and "Zowie!" effects...which considering the source material and the time in which it was created isn't too bad.

My first (and last) WW comic.
But that "source material" has a lot more to it than what's in the television show: over 900 self-titled issues, to be exact. And of those, I've purchased/owned exactly one issue. I never did purchase many DC titles (I did enjoy those Blue Devil comics back in the day...quirky, you know?), but it was more than just "DC superheroes are dull" (which IS what I thought when I was a kid with my first allowance and purview to purchase comic books). The inclusion of mythology in comic books was a definite source of irritation, because so often I didn't agree with the liberties the writers would take. It's probably safe to say I was (and am) a bit of a snob when it comes to ancient tales and myths, and while I was fine with origin stories based on those myths, building stories on those myths or that contradicted things in those legends was...well, irritating.

[take Thor, for example. The idea that Loki and Thor would continue to have ongoing conflicts in the Marvel universe is acceptable to me because, according to Norse mythology, Thor and Loki would have ongoing conflicts with each other until the end of days (i.e. Ragnorak). What's NOT acceptable is the recent Thor movie where neither Loki nor Thor are aware of the former's frost giant roots (only discovered in the film), despite this being a part of the traditional Norse lore for centuries. That kind of poor writing really chaps my hide]

Anyway, much of Wonder Woman's conflicts appear to involve the Big Names of Greek Myth in a way that...well, let me put it this way: Wonder Woman is a 20th century invention. Making the incarnate war god Ares a fisticuffs opponent seems a little beneath his dignity (as if a god doesn't have better things to do than pick fights with 20th century superheroes). *sigh* Can't she just have a giant robot or alien tyrant or random demon prince or something. I mean, once upon a time Ares was sacred to someone.

But...whatever. The point is: I'm NOT an expert on WW's body of work by any stretch of the imagination. My understanding of the character is based on a couple (perhaps faulty) translations to the television screen and whatever characterization is described in Wikipedia. I thought she was supposed to be kind of an embodiment of female power in its most positive form...but these days it seems she's more like some demigod of war, complete with swords and spears and a willingness to take life which kind of contradicts the original precepts of the character.

[oh, wait...I just read she actually BECAME the God of War by killing Ares. Um...]

I mean, even Batman with his messed up childhood and messed up life and penchant for violence and whatnot seems to be able to avoid killing dudes like, say, the Joker after the villain murdered Robin. You know, holding himself to a higher standard or something? Why make Wonder Woman so weak? Of course, if she's been trained to be a war god (as opposed to a heroic ambassador of peace and love to the people of the outside world) than I suppose you've gotta' give her the whole battle-born shtick, or else the reboot doesn't make, does it make sense? Wasn't the reason for Ares being in Wonder Woman's rogues gallery is because she was always crossing-up his schemes to bring the world into war (like, starting in WWII?). Um...

Perhaps the folks who would like to make a kick-ass Wonder Woman movie find themselves in the same quandary that WotC found itself in when trying to design a fifth edition of D&D: there are lots of folks who are fond of the "old school" version of Wonder Woman and plenty of people who like the "new school" version and trying to reconcile these things in a single film (or single game) is a nigh impossible task. Are you going to give her the invisible plane? Or are you going to allow her to soar the skies like Superman? Are we going to see the magic lasso or the magic sword?

Or, rather than pick a side, are you going to attempt to create some mash-up of both that ends up feeling like weak-sauce compromise to most everyone who really cares (i.e. the true fans of the character)?

I doubt there really is a perfect solution, but the great thing about the superhero genre (especially when dealing with iconic superheroes) is that you don't have to wait for a perfect solution. You just need to do it, and if it doesn't work then you do it again in a different way. How many times has Spider-Man been rebooted? Looking only at live-action (he's been rebooted multiple times in both the comics and in animation) I count three, including his old television show. Cinematically, Superman's been rebooted four times. Batman's scheduled to be rebooted for the fourth time (since his appearance in Dawn of Justice will be unrelated to Nolan's franchise). Daredevil was released to dismal reviews, rereleased as a better "director's cut" (that explored different angles of the character), and will be showing up in a Netflix series in April this year. And then there's the whole X-Men deal...

The thing is, existing IP like Wonder Woman have a built-in fan-base that is going to see a film regardless...because they're super-fan completists, or because the character's their favorite, or simply because they're curious as to what will be presented and which one of the character's enemies will appear and how the special effects will look. I've never been an Electro fan, and I'm not terribly thrilled with the story direction the latest Spider-Man franchise is taking, but I watched the latest film anyway (one of my options on the last plane flight) just because I know the characters and I wanted to see how they were handled this time. And the Spider guy's not even a Top Ten supers draw for me. There's really no excuse to sit on Wonder Woman for so long...she should have been making money for DC and Warner Brothers for the last two decades. With the possible exception of Superman IV (I don't have its international numbers) there has never been a major superhero film created that has not made money at the box office...that's before rentals and toys and whatnot.

[wow, wouldn't it be cool to have a WW action figure based on the Lynda Carter TV show that had a bunch of different outfits and vehicles and...]

Cash money, my capitalist-swine amigos. How have you been turning that down for so many years?

All right, I've got to go work on some design-writing stuff. I told D that we'd build him a lego submarine when he gets home from school today, so I better knock some stuff out now.

The pirate, sadly, in Davy Jones Locker.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Actually Excited...

...about the upcoming film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Which is surprising for a number of reasons.

[apologies on the lack of starts up again for the boy on Monday, and like many parents of young children I have mixed emotions on the matter. Happy that I'll again have (more) time for myself; sad that my boy's growing up and I'll have less time with him. Haven't been writing, but I have been researching and designing. More on that later]

I'm sure I'm not alone in my general apathy towards superhero films these days. Once upon a time (not too long ago) it was a little different, but my desire to see absolutely every such film that hits the theater has faded with the ubiquitousness (is that a word?) of the genre. Since entering the 21st century, we've been fairly inundated with these super-suited theater releases...the last five years we've seen roughly half a dozen, comic-culled blockbusters annually. Probably more than are truly needed, considering the similarities inherent in most of them.

But this wasn't always the case. Take away made-for-TV films (I can still remember the final scene of 1979's Captain America II: Death Too Soon), and your films of "popular" comic book heroes was pretty darn limited prior to 2000. You had the Superman franchise which lasted from 1978 to 1983, and which was pretty much required viewing for every kid in America, right up there with the Rocky films and Star Wars.

The only game in town for 10+ years.
[O yes, I'm aware of the 1987 Superman IV, which I've never watched and, from what I understand, was a failure in every regard]

Then you have the Batman franchise started by Tim Burton in 1989 that lasted nearly a decade with a sequel being released every two to three years until it devolved into the same campy ridiculousness of its 1966 precursor...or so  I've read. I only ever saw the first one (which I remember thinking was pretty good, considering I wasn't a "Batman guy"), because my 90's film budget was going to either "darker" hero films (I enjoyed both The Crow and Darkman) or something indie or Tarentino-esque.

And that was pretty much all she wrote until X-Men appeared in 2000, by which time I was married and not nearly as dark and indie as I once was. X-Men was a hit and then Spider-Man in 2002 was an $800 million smash success that launched the entire Marvel film far as I'm concerned. Hell, it might have launched the whole "ubiquitous genre;" Lord knows we've been up to our eyeteeth in Marvel comic films ever since.

Meanwhile, it took DC nearly a decade to even get back into the game (Catwoman doesn't count)...and when they did, it was rebooting the venerable Batman franchise (again) with Nolan's semi-aptly named Batman Begins. I mean, at least the title told us we were going back to Bruce Wayne's (rebooted) origin story, even if it absolutely was not the beginning of Batman in theatrical release.

Isn't it a little sad, by the way, that the only franchises DC has really been willing to invest in are Batman and Superman? I've met so many comic aficionados over the years who insist that the DC universe is "sooooo much better" than what Marvel's got going on, and yet there's never been a Wonder Woman or Aquaman or Flash or Justice League on the big screen. Just Ye Old Caped Crusader and Ye Old Man of Steel.

But then, maybe DC is something of a mess when it comes to films. Green Lantern went into production in 1997, was released in 2011 (14 years!) and - due to "underperformance" - had all related projects (sequels, shared film universe a la Marvel) scrapped. Thank goodness everyone loves that Dark Knight cash cow, huh? The three Nolan Batman films combined to take in $2.4 billion in the theaters. All other DC films since 2004 (beginning with Catwoman)? Less than $2 billion...and that's for nine films including two Superman movies.

"Cash Cow"
By contrast, Iron Man 3 and The Avengers alone took in a combined $2.7 billion. And Marvel's got a whole slew of successful franchises going strong (Thor, Captain America, Wolverine, Young X-Men or whatever that one's called). It's pretty disgusting how Marvel's films have completely lapped DC's, when DC has (arguably) the most recognizable comic book characters on the planet. I know my introduction to comic book superheroes was through The Superfriends on Saturday mornings...and I watched plenty of Adam West Batman and George Reeves Superman reruns as a child (not to mention the iconic Linda Carter as Wonder Woman).

[and while I haven't seen them, I know there have been plenty of animated DC serials over the last couple decades featuring Batman, the Justice League, and the Teen are still growing up recognizing DC's stable of superheroes]

Too bad girls don't go to movies, huh?
I don't know what it is...maybe DC prefers to operate in the small-budget arena of television with all their live-action serials (Arrow and Gotham and Flash and whatnot). But Christopher Reeves made one helluva' a big screen impression, back in the day, and I think the success of Batman over the decades (regardless of the quality of the films) shows that there is money to be milked from folks...even those (like me) who are more "casual" fans of the DC universe. Hell, can I just get a damn Wonder Woman film to take my kids to? It's only been 70+ years since the character was created...

[yes, I'm aware that there is a Wonder Woman film in development with a scheduled release date of 2017. But of course, DC has to put out a Suicide Squad film first (2016) And being in development is no guarantee of being completed]

"Holy halibut, Batman!"
SO... Dawn of Justice. Yeah, I'd never heard about this project until today, and I'm pretty excited for it. Not because it's got "Superman" and "Batman" in the title, but because it's supposed to have appearances by Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Cyborg (though as an old geezer, I'm more interested in the portrayal of the first two than the old "Teen Titan" dude). I find the casting of all these characters to be very intriguing (Jason Momoa as the King of the Sea? Where's that solo film?). Especially the principals...I've had the opportunity to watch Man of Steel three or four times, and while I've dozed off every time, I do like Henry Cavill as Clark Kent.

Forget the costume. It's the jaw and the hair.
And I really, really, really dig the idea of Ben Affleck as Batman. Underwhelming as Daredevil was, I still enjoyed it a lot (probably helps that DD's one of my faves...though the same didn't save Ghost Rider for me), and Affleck's portrayal was a big part of the reason why. I'd like to see his Advil-crunching take on crime-fighting brought to the Dark Knight's the guy actually looks like Bruce Wayne for a change (at least, the way he always looked in my old Detective comics) and he's got that kind of cynicism about him that I think Bruce Wayne requires (even for a guy as idealistic as Bats, you have to be a damn cynic about the justice system to devote your life to becoming a masked vigilante...sorry). Keaton, Kilmer, and Clooney all have too much humor, Bale has too much...I don't know...drama? (I never believed him as a billionaire and he never had enough jaw).

Anyway, yeah. Looking forward to this one coming out. And I'm really hoping it's good.

[though I'm wondering why the hell Wonder Woman has a sword in the promo posters. Is she going to stab someone? Isn't she already "strong as Hercules?" Why does she need to stab people? Sigh...I guess I really am getting too old...]

Friday, February 6, 2015

New Book

I want to write a new book.

Despite the lack of time I have, despite the lack of actual gaming available, despite the sheer inertia of slack that living in this damn country seems to instill in me (well, to be fair, I'm kind of busy being a father to my children), I feel the need to complete something.

More than that, I have a completely unreasonable challenge of wanting to get something done here, in Paraguay. I don't know how much it would cost to do a print-run down here or what the quality of the product might look like, but I feel almost obligated to try...just to have the experience. I have visions of making the trip up to the U.S. with one suitcase full of Paraguayan printed books. How wild would that be?

I've been thinking about this a lot, even as I dither around with projects. I find myself frustrated when I look at the works on my hard drive that are 50% or 70% or 95% completed (CDF was completely finished, save for the art, and I scrapped and started a complete rewrite due to my dissatisfaction with the final product). I get an idea in my head and I go gang-busters on it for a few days or weeks or months, and then...ugh. It's not that I run out of gas, so much as I run out of inspiration. Or fire. Or something. I want to give something to the community that...well, that's worthwhile. And while such a thing is certainly in the eye of the beholder (like the chicken-shit reviewer that gave one of my books "1 star" without a single comment...fuck you, dude), it has to seem worthwhile to Yours Truly. It's all well and good to say, hey, let's make a cool "space RPG," but if Classic Traveller is good enough for such a concept, why do I need to write a new book?

[not that retools of past concepts are never worthwhile, just by the way. Batman '66 is, quite frankly, awesome sauce]

A friend down here recently gifted me with a very nice, hard cover journal of the blank page variety. It would make a cool sketchbook, save that the paper is a little thin for drawing. I've yet to write word one in it; I just keep turning it over in my hands and wondering what I can and will do with it...if anything. And I just keep thinking, "I need to write another book." Something concrete, something finished, something that can be handled and held and both myself and others.

The hard copies of Five Ancient Kingdoms is dwindling (just checked with my mailer via email the other day)...probably about a dozen-twenty copies remaining...but it hasn't really sold well enough (in my mind) to warrant another print run. And yet I was just informed via email of a long-time gamer about to start a 5AK campaign with her gaming group. That's very cool. I want to do that again...I want to create something useful and fun and entertaining. I'm not a novelist. I don't write screenplays.  My "rockstar days" are long behind me. This is what I do...the "game thing." Blogging just ain't enough.

OOOOOkay...glad I could get all that off my chest. It's been stewing a lot lately (along with everything playoffs and holiday travel and whatnot) and I really needed to put it in writing, spew it out into the universe so it stares back at me. Instead of just having it bouncing around my brain in an endless loop.

Give me the weekend to figure out the specifics of the project. Thanks.

Missing Science Fiction

Folks who think Paraguay must be "something like Mexico," really have no idea. Forget the fact that there's no tortillas here and that people have an aversion to spicy food (truly...the slightest amount of spice throws folks over the edge). They don't even eat beans! There's a saying in Mexico: 'a house without beans is like a house without a roof.' Most homes down here would be open to the sky.

What they do addition to a love of red meat and an incredible, incurable sweet tooth. Dulce de leche oozes out of just about everything and boy-o-boy do people love candy. It's not even about tasty pastries (they're fairly good bakers)'s just about making it sweet.

Ice cold without ice is best.
I recently ordered a gin martini (unlike Mexico, Paraguay has and uses gin) and nearly choked on the damn thing. Haven't ordered one since, but had the chance to talk to a bartender yestereve to figure out if this was a one-time anomaly or not. Turns out: not. In the United States, a dry martini is usually four parts gin (five parts when I'm pouring 'em) to one part vermouth (a sweetish, white wine used mainly for cocktails). Pure deliciousness, especially with Bombay Saphire gin (save the Tanqueray for your gin and tonics).

Welp, in Paraguay, the ratio is a little different: two parts gin to three parts vermouth. That is, frankly, obscene. But the bartender (who works at the Sheraton in Asuncion and is aware Americans have a different take on this) explained that it just fits what Paraguayans prefer: something to match their sweet tooth. I suppose it's the price you pay for ordering a cocktail in the first place: "real men" in Paraguay seem to thrive on straight whiskey (Johnny Walker only) if they have money and beer (various) if they don't.

[everyone drinks wine of course but that's just, you know, "water;" it's not a DRINK drink]

[on the other hand, they never serve wine to the people during the Catholic Mass which is...well, whatever]

Cultural differences are interesting: sometimes intriguing, sometimes frustrating. Experiencing them is one of the highlights of travel outside my native culture. Not because I'm especially adventurous in temperament (I'd probably say I'm the opposite), but because I have a curiosity about how humans can live so differently from each other. And when visiting a new culture (as opposed to living there and occasionally wanting non-gag-worthy beverage) it can be fun to steep yourself in the differences.

In a way, it's one of the things I miss about science fiction.

I used to like science fiction quite a bit, and not just of the Star Wars variety. Truth is, I might still like it...I'm just not a huge fan of what I see in the SciFi realm these days. In film, it's so spectacle-driven these days, and probably with good reason (it drives patrons into theaters to see the latest-greatest FX and puts money in the pockets of the film industry). But...ugh, how to articulate this?

[I've been having a real problem finding words these days...partly because I'm constantly trying to communicate in Spanish, and partly because most of my human interaction in English is with my now-four year old...sigh]

Cool weapons and explosions and spaceship battles and strange aliens aren't the things that make science fiction "good" for me. Instead, it's a sense of wonderment...something so subjective, I realize it's impossible (or ridiculous) to try to define. I suppose it's one of those things that "I know it when I see it."

And sci-fi literature is even less appealing for me, as authors seem driven to stick with "hard science" and the realm of what is "conceivably possible," rather than risk becoming a laughingstock within their own genre. My buddy Steve-O is a sic-fi aficionado, and he's constantly giving me novels that postulate terraforming or space travel or whatnot based on real applied science and telling me I need to write an RPG that incorporates things like plasma rockets and hollowed asteroids and whatnot. But I just can't bring myself to do it. It's not that I want Burroughs-type "sword & planet" romances or more Flash Gordon-style "rebels against the evil space empire" stories. I don't. But I guess I don't want my fiction to be smarter (or much smarter) than me...and perhaps I'm not terribly smart to begin with,

In some ways, it seems like sci-fi is afraid to become "dated." It either passes into the realm of speculative, "this-is-a-logical-thing-that-could-happen-based-on-our-current-state-and-trends-of-development" or else it's just a bizarre, over-the-top free-for-all of laser blasting, world wrecking, giant robot, blah-blah-blah. The stories might be good, the writing/film-making excellent, but it might as well be set in a different genre than "sci-fi" for all the wonderment it provides. File off the sci-fi trappings and it's just "a story."

Maybe I'm just jaded. Or old. Or both.

As a kid, I played the original Traveller game (the "little black books") with my buddy Rob as the GM and I remember having an immensely good time doing it. It had a similar feeling to the "Rogue Trader" aspect of 1st edition Warhammer 40,000 (before the story lines were codified and inter-woven with the whole Chaos fantasy thang). It lacked so much of what, say, Star Frontiers had in a codified setting...and yet that mystery of "how things/the Universe fit together" contributed to a sense of "wonderment." You never knew what you might find when you stepped off your scout ship to explore some random alien planet.

[I realize there are many ways to play Traveller and that not everyone was simply "blasting off into the unknown," so experiences in that regard might be very different]

Anyway, today I find myself missing the space-faring science fiction of my youth...both in gaming and entertainment. I'm not sure where this longing will lead me (if anywhere), but I just feel like hanging onto it for a while and turning it over in my mind. Probably has something to do with my own current status of being something of "a stranger in a strange land."

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Changing Stations

First thing's first: congrats to the New England Patriots for their win in the Super Bowl. The dark elves took advantage of our injury-laden defense to take the lead in the 4th quarter, but it was the great play by undrafted rookie, Malcolm Butler that really snatched victory from the Seahawks. MVP Tom Brady (who was out-dueled by Russell Wilson for most of the day...even with the last minute pick, Wilson finished with a higher QBR and passer rating) was nice enough to give his free pick-up truck (the MVP prize) to Butler for his part in helping Tom achieve another championship ring.

[I know a lot of Seahawks fans...including myself...were distressed at the passing play called on 2nd down at the end of the game that led to Butler's interception. However, it wasn't a terrible call to pass due to the time remaining in the game. The more egregious issues was the burning of time outs leading up to that play, the specific play-call itself, AND the execution of the play by the players. In this regard, it was much more of a "team fail" than the fault of a single offensive coordinator]

Dark elves: smart, if sometimes underhanded. to the gaming stuff. Kind of.

I've been thinking a lot about princes and princesses the last few days. Princesses especially. As the father of a small girl-child (she's nine months old), the amount of clothing and toys and books and whatnot aimed as little girls that is "princess-themed" is just...ugh. Ugh.

[Lego actually has a line of "girl-oriented" sets that are NOT princess themed and that explore a lot of cool female characters, but A) they're a bit old for either of my children at this point, and B) I've never been big into Lego. But I might go that way if the market looks the same five years from now. Those Monster High dolls are still "princesses," just ones of the horror variety]

In a way, I suppose, it's a triumph of creativity that people can continue to find ways to rehash the princess theme...Disney's made their bread and butter on variations of the princess film for decades.

[by the way, I know we all love Pixar, but out of their fourteen feature films we have exactly one with a female protagonist? That would be Merida of the film Brave...and, yes, she's a princess]

ANYway...while princesses and princes and their travails are well-known in fantasy fiction (fairy tales, film, literature), they don't appear all that much in least not as playable character types. Being a member of royalty? Not really an option in D&D. It kind of defeats the whole purpose of the "adventuring thing:" your characters are supposed to be poor folk (well, poorer folk) out seeking their fortunes in the wide, dangerous world. The player characters may aspire to join the ranks of nobility by achieving great wealth (and being granted lands and titles upon reaching sufficient level) but the chances they'll ever become royalty themselves are pretty slim.

Which, when you think about it, is pretty strange considering the wealth of fantasy and folklore involving this exact subject which (presumably) D&D and its ilk is somewhat drawn from. Whether you're talking about Perseus or Cinderella or King Arthur or Aragorn or Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper or Shrek, there's always someone changing their station from commoner/outsider to royal ruler. Changing one's station (for the better) is often the objective of the story or a driving force of the plot, generally through a combination of their own actions/decision-making and the (authorial) Hand of Destiny. More than half of the stories that make up the "Disney Princess" franchise incorporate one person (either the princess herself or her male love interest) being elevated to the ranks of royalty through marriage.

But that was the fairy tale. In the pre-modern era, there wasn't a whole lot one could do to change one's birth mobility was a lot more difficult and the amount of movement (up or down) much smaller. And to be in the echelons of the wealthy and pampered (I think nearly all humans, at one time or another have wished for the comfort that comes with money) being royalty...or at least nobility...was really the only way to go. Most wealth was derived from being a land-owner, something restricted to the upper ranks, and while one could (and did) go pillage a richer town or nation for an extra cash infusion, such actions were generally under the purview of those who could afford to hire a fighting force, i.e. the same royal/noble folks deriving money from their lands.

The premise of D&D certainly falls on the more "magical" end of the story spectrum (rather than the "historical"), providing a means of achieving wealth other than soaking the peasants and tenants for taxes: treasure-finding. But this idea...of finding and securing secret or hidden pretty anachronistic. It is a 19th century concept, based in stories like Treasure Island and The Count of Monte Christo...stories in which characters were able to elevate their station by digging up sufficient hidden wealth (through their courage and ingenuity) that others were unable to do. In a way, it is allegorical of the increase in social mobility (or what we might call today "The American Dream") through "hard work." But that's not the standard fantasy fare associated with magic and fairies and dragons.

[even though one might find a pot of gold or golden goose or dragon hoard in an old fairy tale, it was usually only a means to an using it to buy into the royal family (i.e. marrying the princess) and becoming royalty]

People might believe that "treasure-hunting" is as old as the colonization...that 16th century conquistadors were looting lost tombs and ancient temples for treasure. Such was not the case...what the Spanish engaged in was the same type of war and conquest that Europeans had waged against each other since before Roman times. The treasure being pulled from the New World was not "lost" or "secret" but booty and plunder of the same type the Templars brought back from the Middle East. It was wealth taken from living nations and living people, not gold secreted in hidden caves and subterranean passages.

No, the idea of discovering "non-owned treasure" like that from a buried pirate chest or being held by an illegitimate owner (dragons and monsters and brigands) is a 19th (and early 20th) century's Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, not Beowulf. It's a modern fairy tale placed in a pseudo-medieval setting, a strange juxtaposition upon reflection, and perhaps the reason I find the premise of D&D so at odds with my idea of what fantasy (in the fairy tale-esque sense) "should" be.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to catch-up on the most recent Downton Abbey episodes.
; )

[sorry this took a couple days to starts again on the 16th and I should have more time for blogging then]