Podcast Adventures (aka My Life As a Meme)

My post about optimism and action, pulp heroes, and the roleplaying game Spirit of the Century has proven to be one of the most popular posts I’ve ever written. It seems to have become a small-scale meme, bouncing around from reader to reader, echoing in other blogs, other places…

One place it echoed was on the gaming podcast Canon Puncture (if you don’t want to listen to the whole thing, the pertinent segment begins right around time-mark 24:34):

Canon Puncture Podcast

I really enjoyed these guys’ comments.

Optimism, Action, and How To Be The Neighborhood Pulp Hero

You never know where you’re going to find a nugget of crystalline wisdom, something that gives you pause because of its brightness and clarity, that makes you think about how you’re living your life, and how you should be living it.

I found one of these nuggets recently. The unlikely place I found it? Continue reading

Savage Tales

red_sonja_by_nebezial

Back in the day, I worked in the roleplaying game industry.

I’m not talking rpg video games, like World of Warcraft or Oblivion (more’s the pity, because the money would have been way better). No, I’m talking good old fashioned face-to-face, throwin’ dice, drinkin’ root beer and eatin’ Doritos roleplaying games. I got into them when I was a young teen, starting with the original Dungeons & Dragons and moving on to many others like Champions, Traveller, and Daredevils. In my twenties, here and there I’d manage to get some short-lived game together, a little James Bond or Ghostbusters here, a little Paranoia or Justice Inc there.

Then I happened across White Wolf’s Werewolf: The Apocalypse one day (in which players assume the roles of lycanthropic ecoterrorists fighting demonic corporate forces to save the wilderness and the Earth itself). Werewolves have always been my favorite monster, I’m a devoted environmentalist, and the game is steeped in animistic spirituality which is my soul’s cup of tea…conceptually, it was a perfect storm for me. That led to scattered White Wolf gaming, which in time led to me actually working at the company. Which led to a bit of other rpg work, most notably for Feng Shui and its stillborn spinoff Pulp! (none of that work saw print, unfortunately, as Daedelus Games collapsed, though I did put some of it online…by the way, any Feng Shui players out there still have copies of my stuff? I lost it all in a hard drive crash).

These games get a bad rap from some people, and D & D is often cultural code for loser. But the fact of the matter is that many people who sneer at roleplayers spend their time watching crap like Desperate Housewives or American Idol, deadening their brains while the gamers hang out together and engage in an activity that has its roots in campfire storytelling and improv theater, an activity that’s inherently social and that exercises the mind.

But I digress. A few years ago, I managed to run a game for a group of friends who managed, more often than not, for a while, to actually get together regularly to play. The game was Shane Hensley’s great Savage Worlds. Ultimately, unfortunately, it’s really tough to keep a game going over time because people are, in groups, pretty unreliable, and entropy sets in till things just unravel.

One of the things I did, as things were unraveling, was to try to establish “pick up games” outside the continuing narrative of the main game, that we could play if someone in the group didn’t show up. That way, we’d still be playing something, the group would hold steady in its routine, and we could restart the main game “next” time…

For the pickup games, I decided to run short sword & sorcery adventures, focusing mainly on mood and action (as opposed to an involved narrative and character development), and in the spirit of Savage Worlds  I called them “Savage Tales.” And I wrote a short handbook describing the setting and telling the players how to design their characters for it.

Before the game evaporated for good, I think we actually played one such pickup game. Or maybe we just had an evening where we hung out and did the character creation. I can’t remember for sure. But I always liked the little handbook I put together, and the commentary within on the difference between epic fantasy (like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings) and sword & sorcery (like Robert E. Howard’s Conan or Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser):

If everyone can’t make it, we go to Europia. There, things are gonna be less epic saga, more survival skirmish. Conan could become a king in Europia, but Tolkien’d have his pipe crushed under some furred boot and be set to work the rest of his short life digging stones from cold earth.

There are no hobbity folk in Europia because they were eaten by snake-men aeons ago. The elves are mysterious and dark, and if you see one, it usually changes your life forever. The dwarves may exist or not, but grandpa says they eat human flesh. And the closest thing to an orc you’ve ever seen is that big ugly fucker down the bar you saw sodomizing an unconscious guardsman the other night…

Here’s the booklet. You might get a kick out of it. If you’re a gamer, you might even find something useful in it. But here it is.

SAVAGE TALES

CARNAGE!

What’s the term?

Oh yeah.

OMFG.

The reports are popping up from Sony’s exhibition for journalists of God of War 3, coming sometime for the Playstation 3, and it sounds incredible. Michael McWhertor at Kotaku says it’s “like a threesome for your eyes.”

For the uninitiated, the God of War series follows the adventures of a belligerent Spartan antihero named Kratos as he cleaves his way through ancient Greek mythology. Kratos is one of the best fantasy characters in any medium to appear in many years, the reworking of and visual design for the places and creatures of myth in the games is amazing, and the stories are truly epic both in scope and scale. Though the games are all about savage action, there is even true pathos in Kratos’s tale…particularly when you finally discover what happened to his family, and where his skin attained the ash-white color that led to his being called the “Ghost of Sparta.” Kratos doesn’t have a bad attitude, he is bad attitude incarnate, but he has reason.

kratos1

I love God of War. The first two games were on the Playstation 2, and they were gorgeous, pushing that console’s tech to its limits. The actual third game, God of War: Chains of Olympus, was made for the PSP handheld, and captured the GOW experience perfectly even on a totable screen. God of War 3, on the Playstation 3, promises to be exponentially more impressive; the character model for Kratos alone this time around (with actual muscle flexing and skin that has pores) takes up four times the amount of memory that the PS2 had in full.  Apparently much of the game actually has Kratos traveling across levels that are literally the bodies of the mythical Titans, moving around while he’s battling on them like animate mountains; Sony says that the Medusa level from GOW 2 (the largest level in the existing games) would fit in the palm of the Titan Gaia’s hand in GOW 3.

I’m really excited about this game, and I’m ready, because we have a PS3. We already had an Xbox 360, but I finally bit the wallet and got the Playstation a few months back, once the Blu-Ray/HD DVD war ended in Blu-Ray’s favor. But I’d decided months prior that I’d be getting a PS3, the day I saw the announcement that God of War 3 was in development.

Here’s the new trailer. Note that it’s not just a CGI cinematic, it’s fully rendered in the game engine, so you’re seeing the game itself (and not even in its final, fully developed form)…

Better Red Dead? Here’s Hopin’.

rdrI’ve seen some reports that Rockstar Games (the maker of the Grand Theft Auto series) is bringing out a sequel to their Western shooter Red Dead Revolver. Unlike the original game, which was very arcadish in structure and limited in the scope of its gamespace, Red Dead Redemption will be an open world sandbox-style game, like Gun (which I loved, and was in most ways far better than RDRevolver), but hopefully with far more to do.

On the off-chance that the developers ever stumble across this entry, I’ll post the Amazon review I wrote of the original game, and maybe it’ll help steer them away from some of its weaknesses in the new game: Continue reading

Good Memories of 2008

Some things I enjoyed last year, in no particular order…

The Dark Knight. I could say, with great conviction, that this was the best movie of 2008, but I actually didn’t see anywhere close to all the movies released, so that’d be pretty presumptuous of me. It was definitely the best new film I saw, and the Batman movie I’ve wanted to see since my age was in single digits. Batman Begins was damn near perfect (Katie Holmes notwithstanding), and The Dark Knight took everything that worked in Begins and improved upon it. It’s not just a great superhero movie, it’s a damn good film, a high caliber crime thriller, beautifully made, masterfully written, full of great performances, politically topical, just amazing. And the Joker’s bit with a pencil is the best bit of sleight of hand I’ve seen in years.

For the record, I also loved Iron Man and Hellboy 2, and Bolt was wonderful.

Barack Obama. Morning in America, Superman leading the Justice League to victory against the Injustice League, a black man taking the highest office in the land, an antidote to the small-minded, soulless corruption of the past decade in American life. Here’s hoping he lives up to his promise.

Mad Men. TV by and for smart people. This show is ridiculously entertaining, and operates on so many levels that it actually triggers synaptic action in the brain, a rarity on television.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Joss Whedon adds another classic to his resume, and becomes an internet pioneer at the same time. Songs good enough I get them stuck in my head for days and don’t mind. Hilarious wit laced with deep darkness and pathos. The lovely Felicia Day. And Bad Horse, of course, of course.

Doc Wilde. I received the galleys (advance reading copies) of my book, Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom, and after years of dragging my ass on my dream, it felt great to be able to hold a novel I wrote in my hands, flip through its pages seeing all these paragraphs I crafted, and stare at the cover and see the faces of my characters as they will meet their audience in bookstores. Not to mention reading over and over the great blurbs from Daniel Pinkwater and Quentin Dodd. They like me! They really like me!

Um…excuse my Sally Field moment there.

3o Rock. And Tina Fey in general. I’d never watched this show, though I was interested, because I try to keep my TV viewing down, and often avoid shows I suspect I’ll love. I finally broke down and watched the pilot episode, which resulted in days of binge-watching my way through seasons one and two and three. I’m caught up, and eagerly awaiting the show’s return. This show’s funny as hell, Tina Fey’s a marvel, Alec Baldwin gets to showcase his incredible comic skills, and Tracy Morgan’s a delirious delight.

Facebook. I wasn’t interested in Facebook. I was very cynical about it, saw no use for it. But wiser folks encouraged me to use it at the very least as a tool to make myself available to people interested in my writing, so I signed on. That wasn’t that long ago, but I’m already in steady contact with people I lost over the years, people in the writing and publishing community to learn from, new friends, old enemies (amazing how time and a viable net interface can make old grudges seem beneath notice), and people with similar interests with whom to share ideas and discoveries…

Pulp fiction. I’ve been reading a lot of classic pulp, and thoroughly enjoying it. I have enough to say about this that I’ll be tackling it in another post.

Joss Whedon. In retrospect, I should have just put Dr Horrible here. Leave it to Joss to earn a category all his own on my list of joy. In addition to the musical magic of the Sing-Along Blog, Joss gave the world season 8 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in comic book form, continuing Buffy’s adventures with panache and wit and emotional depth (the issues are collected in paperback, starting with The Long Way Home).

Also in comics, Joss wrote 25 issues of Astonishing X-Men, with amazing art by John Cassaday, which have also been collected. I got the second hardback collection recently and literally had tears in my eyes when I finished.

And, of course, Joss’s earlier work continues to provide enjoyment. I got to watch both Buffy and Angel from start to finish with my son this year, which I’d looked forward to doing for years, and it was awesome. Which brings me to:

My son. Nathaniel has adapted to the sundering of his family and the resulting radical changes in his life with great cheer and flexibility, and I admire and respect him for that. He remains, as always, the brightest star in my firmament, the only unceasing source of joy and meaning in my life.

The Fine Art of the Gamemaster

Damn I wish I could reference the author of this quote…

Gamesmastering is something like trying to write & direct a screenplay while the cameras are rolling, for half a dozen prima donnas who are all demanding they’re the star of the movie, and you’ve also got to do the special effects and play *all* the bit parts yourself.

Savages

Just got back from the latest chapter in the Savage Worlds game I’m running. It’s straight fantasy, knights and orcs and dwarves and elves and such, and we’re having a lot of fun with it.

Savage Worlds is a generic system that can be used for “any” genre, but is best for those of cinematic or high adventure style. It’s a roleplaying game (rpg), which means each player (except the game-master/referee) creates an imaginary hero and plays it the way an actor would play a character in an improv. When a character attempts something, whether it be shooting someone or picking a lock or piloting a plane through the gap between two redwoods, the player rolls dice to determine success or failure. The gamemaster (GM) creates the situations the players’ characters face, and acts out the roles of enemies and other characters the players’ characters might encounter.

And yes, it’s like Dungeons & Dragons, but better.

D&D and roleplaying games in general are often thought of as geeky pursuits, like learning Klingon or dressing like Chewbacca to hit on pasty-faced chicks in way-too-little chainmail. And there is some crossover in such activities, because roleplaying games are a form of escape, like may activities considered geeky.

It’s not a huge deal, but it is odd that you can paint yourself blue and holler half-naked in the cold at a football game, or obsess about stamps or coins, or follow reality TV shows religiously, or read every Jackie Collins novel, and a certain level of normality is still assumed. Play an rpg, though, and you’re an unwashed loser without social skills. Even though it’s more of a creative, intellectual, social activity than most things people do to pass their spare time…

Their loss. For me, this game is a much-needed social outlet, a hedge against the hours of solo time I spend, and thus against depression and loneliness. And it’s great fun.

I’m planning to run the fantasy game a few months, then when the over-arching plotline is resolved, I’ll start a new game. That one will be pirates. Really lookin’ forward to that.

Anyway, I’ll discuss the gaming here and there, in among the political bitching and whatnot.

Everyone’s Asking: What Sort of GURPS is Tim???

Sean Fannonseanpatfannon pointed to this quiz (http://quizilla.com/users/cynaguan/quizzes/Which%20GURPS%20book%20are%20you%3F/) in his own LiveJournal. This is the result of my answers; it explains a lot, I think…

You’re GURPS Cliffhangers. You’re amazingly
concise and fun. You’re into everything from
Nazis to African Safaris, but you manage to
keep your own unique personality.