Monday, October 16, 2017

Our Last Best Hope

One thing I'd like to get back to one of these days is the dozen-or-so, half-finished drafts sitting in my blog's memory. I mean some of them are still pertinent. However, for the sake of "just doing something" (baby steps, right?) I'll write about something more current:

The last month or so, I've been dipping my toes back into the Magic: The Gathering world. The reason for this is pretty simple: my son has discovered Magic cards. Back in June, he be can collecting and trading Pokemon cards, and was gifted with a huge stack of the things from an older kid (11? 12 years old?) who'd moved onto MtG. While we played these earlier in the year, what's become a big part of the fun for my first grader is trading cards on the playground (before and after school), and Magic cards became the currency of choice sometime around the 2nd week of September.

I have a fairly substantial collection of MtG cards, most of which were purchased off an old roommate back in 1999 or 2000. We...myself and my housemates of the time, including my spouse (before we were married)...found the cards enjoyable for casual play, especially down at the Baranof, over breakfast, while nursing our tremendous hangovers (ah...wasted youth). But casual play was all we ever did with them. While it was fun to build decks and tweak them with the nickel cards you could pick up at Gary's (back in the day), none of us wanted to invest substantial amounts of money in them. For us, it was just a cool substitute for Rummy or Cribbage...something fun to play while relaxing with a beer (or whatever) in the evening.

While I did end up amassing a couple thousand cards, they got boxed up and (mostly) forgotten sometime around 2000 or 2001...after my wife and I moved out of that house and "grew up;" getting married, buying cars, and houses, etc. But as with many of my gaming products, I kept the cards (still in shoeboxes), figuring some day they'd get brought out again. And now they have.

[just in case anyone's wondering: I am a packrat, but I wouldn't call myself a hoarder. I have been known to part with things, even things of substantial nostalgic or symbolic value (my old electric guitar, for example). And some my 2nd Edition AD&D books...I found exceedingly easy to discard. I don't hang onto EVERYthing, folks!]

However, after a couple-four weeks of deck building and playing and attending one local, MtG competition (at a local shop with a substantially younger crowd), I find myself kind of sour on Magic, again. The cards are still neat and I really dig on the newest series (it's all inspired by South American-flavored pulp: lost world dinosaurs, Aztec-ish vampires and conquistadors, plus various South Seas pirates)...but I don't want to invest in a paper product that disintegrates in water, and certainly not to the extent that I could compete in a competitive environment. And just beating up on my six year old is kind of a dumb exercise in gaming. At least when we play Rummy he can win a hand or two.

But the boy still likes the cards and I picked him up a booster pack for him this weekend, as well as a new RPG for yours truly: Our Last Best Hope, a GM-less story-game by Mark Diaz Truman, inspired by the disaster movies of recent years that focus on world-threatening melodrama. Films like Armageddon, InterstellarThe Core, The Day After Tomorrow, and any of various zombie-apocalypse films that have graced the screen...stories where a small band of heroes must work together and overcome various obstacles to save the human race from extinction.

It's a well-known trope these days, and I'm kind of surprised at how familiar I am with it, considering these types of films bore the shit out of me. I mean, the formula's pretty tired, the drama pretty contrived...and yet these stories remain popular and (probably because there are so many of them) I've seen more than my fair share of them. Heck, some of 'em (like Armageddon) are a lot of fun, even...or especially...when they are at their most ridiculous. Regardless, the game is exceptionally well-crafted, and playing within such a recognizable genre gives players a real chance to ham things and have a great time.

Underrated classic
Hell, you could use it to model a lot of high stakes, crisis-type situations. Something like the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage...which I just re-watched with my kids a couple weeks ago (despite its age, I still find it a great film)...would be perfect for Our Last Best Hope. Even though humanity isn't on the brink of destruction, The Fate of the Free World is!
: )

I won't get into the specifics of the rules here except to say that compared to other "Story-Now" indie-games, it's very concise and focused with excellent practical in-game resources and a lot of new-tech support (including QR codes throughout the book that you can scan with a phone app for video examples of specific rules). But for me, it shows that there ARE real reasons for playing other RPGs, and other systems. You could not use (for example) the D20/Pathfinder system to emulate the large-scale disaster drama with the same kind of laser-focus that Truman brings with Our Last Best Hope.

It really warms my heart. Damn, there are some designers doing good work out there.

Anyway, Diego's not old enough to play (he's still a little young, even for D&D), so it'll probably be a while before I get a chance to try Our Last Best Hope. But it's definitely worth keeping on the shelf for some future, rainy day. Unlike the Magic cards, I doubt it'll take sixteen years for me to find an excuse to play it.
; )

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Soul Searching

I don't pray very often.

I just don't much anymore. Not because I don't believe in the power of prayer, but simply because I've gotten out of the habit of actually petitioning God for anything other than to do God's will. While I go to church more often these days than anytime since I was a child (I try to get my kids there every Sunday), and I do meditate and thank the good Lord for my many blessings and ask for aid to all the folks who need it, etc. there WAS a time when I could...and would...pray at the drop of a hat. For aid in all sorts of things. Things that, objectively, one might consider selfish. To do well on a test. To not get caught doing something I wasn't supposed to do. For the local team to win a big game. Things like that: the normal petitions of a young Catholic who believes in the intercession of the Trinity (and perhaps a saint or three).

I watch my son pray, and I find it amusing. He'll pray that he wins a hand of cards (we play a lot of cards in my house). Or that the Seahawks make a field goal. Or that we make it to [wherever] on time. He closes his eyes and clasps his hands and prays silently, unashamed of who may be watching. I admire him for it...even envy him a bit (I was never so demonstrative, nor...I fervent, except perhaps when praying for God to save us all from nuclear war and Mount St. Helens). He prays with equal fervor for folks affected by hurricanes and earthquakes and mass shootings. He's a good little kid.

Why am I writing about this? I've been thinking about soul searching lately, self-meditation, praying for guidance. The subject keeps coming up for me the universe telling me it's something I should be doing. Because lately I feel like I've been ignoring my "inner voice" (what some might consider the whispering of the divine) in favor of simply treading water: going through the daily routine, doing my day drinking, grinding out some semblance of substance in a life where I often feel like some slacker fraud.

I am reminded of an incident from my childhood, where my father gave me the worst tongue-lashing I can remember (and deservedly so), when he discovered I had his words..."pulling the wool over his eyes." Pretending that I was the model student when I was, in fact, really letting shit slide. It was horrifying on many levels, and probably gave me all sorts of negative conditioning that still haunts my psyche to this day. In the moment it was occurring, I really thought he was going to take me out.

I wonder how much of this has been passed on to me and become part of my own "parenting style."

[terrible thought]

I picked up a copy of Michael Thomas's BLUEHOLME Journeymanne Rules today, and had a chance to read through it. I am a big fan of Thomas's original BLUEHOLME (the "Prentice" rules), and wanted to see what his concept of an expanded ruleset would like. I was...well...underwhelmed. The book itself is beautiful (the artwork and layout is fantastic), the scale (less than 120 pages) is about perfect, but the content isn't much more than the original, save that it "goes up to 11" (or 20...level this case).

And perhaps that's enough...perhaps that was Mr. Thomas's objective in writing it. If I didn't have the Prentice rules (or a copy of Holmes Basic), this would be a "must-have" book for this edition...this style...of Dungeons & Dragons. That's what Holmes is, after all: the world famous D&D game in a slightly different flavor. And while he offers a couple of new innovations (for instance, I like his variant weapon damage that makes sense within the style and scope of the original), on the whole it feels like it could have been more.

But how can I fault him? Really...who am I to pass judgment? He has created a very nice retro-mash of Holmes and the OD&D supplements, packaged it in the most pleasing form (art and layout) of ANY OSR clone yet (honestly, I can't think of a nicer looking OSR clone that I've seen), and provided all the rules he feels necessary for his preferred flavor of D&D. And me? What the hell have I done lately?

The truth is, I've been on an extended hiatus, due less to the busy-ness of my life and far more to straight-up lethargy, inertia, and my various addictions. I'm just saying this to "come clean" I sit here at the German pub, drinking beer and ignoring my other obligations. Hell, I just ordered a second half liter as I was writing that last sentence. The fact is, if I didn't have my family to anchor me (and really, it's just my kids) I would probably have no reason to go home at night. Or shower and shave (occasionally). Or clean my house. Or grocery shop. Or anything productive at all.

And being "productive" isn't the same as being "constructive." Productive is simply treading water at this point in my life, and that feels like a damn cop out. About 18 months back, I was writing about how I never learned to "hustle," and worrying about my damn legacy and a bunch of other bullshit. Part of the problem I'm seeing now is that I actually have an idea, an inkling, of what I should be doing with my life...and yet I'm not doing it. It's so easy to rest on one's laurels, to celebrate the small victories instead of seeking out the new challenge, the next mountain to summit.

Fuck. I'm really NOT trying to be poetic here.

It makes me want to (mentally) beat myself up, but I understand and realize that's truly a counterproductive waste of time. If someone came to me with this same, sad sack bullshit I'm writing here, I know what I'd say to him/her. But I've discovered in recent months how useless words can be to changing someone's behavior, let alone their life. Only self-action (i.e. actions taken by oneself) can change the road you're on, not helpful...or compassionate...or shouted...or constructive advice.

Time to put down the fucking beer and get on with it.

I started this post writing about prayer. I can't explain why I find it so difficult to pray (outside of church, when I'm modeling behavior for my children), except that I'm fucking out of practice. God doesn't care if you pray for selfish things, and as long as you understand God's answer to your prayers might well be "no," there's no harm (or foul) in doing so. I think I might benefit from doing some prayer...especially the deep, soul-searching kind. The last couple months I've been doing a little of this during Mass, and I've been receiving some inspiring ideas...ideas that I haven't done much about. Too tired, you know? Or too "busy." Or too lazy. Or something. Whatever it is, the inspiration fades after a couple donuts and a big, Sunday brunch followed by the football game on TV...just your typical, habitual Sunday ritual.

I think I need to start praying on days other than Sunday.

I'm going to leave it at that for now. I want to talk more about BLUEHOLME in a separate post (after I give it a second read and collate some of my more random-ish thoughts), but at the moment I've got some other stuff I have to get to.

Later, gators.

[EDIT: just re-reading this, my writing...and sentences...appear very short and "clipped." I want folks to know that, mentally, there were a lot of loooong pauses in my brain when I was typing this up]