Sunday, July 3, 2022

NPC's because Reasons

 Including NPC's in campaigns has always kind of been my jam. Because one of my main joys I get out of running games is watching PC's interact with my setting, NPC's need to be a part of that backdrop. 

They are usually created and injected into the games with particular purpose. And I'm not talking about generic shopkeeps and villagers. Its NPC's that stand out in one way or another. In many games over the decades I would have an NPC be part of the party. Either out of necessity (no cleric, not enough fighter types, etc) to fill a niche, or because I thought they might lend themselves to emergent game play. In the case of the party member, they were there to pad things out. But in other cases it was usually just a nice sprinkling of personalities that would be around for PC's to interact with as they wish. Sometimes they are briefly delt with and fall to the wayside as characters move on. But there are times that the NPC might get swept up into the ongoing doings of the characters. That's where things get all emergent. There have been times when an NPC I thought would just be minor gets involved one way or another with a PC, and in many cases have had major effect on the emerging story that is the campaign and stuck around forever. In a couple of cases relationships were born and marriages eventually happened. 

In the early days of the OSR I remember visiting one daft neckbeard forum or another where I would see arguements, people actually getting heated, over whether DM's should have NPC's around other than as cardboard backdrops. "DM NPC" was a dirty phrase. How dare the DM inject some precious NPC into the doings of the characters, taking away their god given time in the spotlight. Yeesh. I certainly never saw it that way. No matter how cool an NPC seems, they are ultimately there in service to the PC's tale. Patrons, royalty, mentors, apprentices. They can play an important part in the emergent play. 

OK, so in my current main campaign on Roll20, I introduced a couple of NPC's in the first session. They actually did not interact much with the party, other than a smiling glance across a tavern room. The party did not know it yet, but they had a keen interest in at least a couple of the characters, and would follow them, mostly at a distance, over the course of several sessions. Stalkers really. 



I did not exactly come up with these two, the "odd couple" as the party calls them. Their inclusion is sort of an inside joke with myself. I have done these little inside jokes most of my DMing life. Here is how this one started.

After a successful 12 or so session initial campaign on Roll20, I wanted more. And I strived to find that perfect little group to run for. At the same time, thanks to adopting 5th edition, I had a couple of face to face groups over the last couple years or so. But another satisfying campaign on Roll20 was elusive. I had a couple of session zeros. 

For one I was in contact with this artist, a transgender woman, who had a couple of guys she knew from other games, and along with my long-time player "T" we tried a session out. I kind of knew it was going to be trouble from the get go. This lady, "J," was into playing characters that ran around barefoot with their breasts out. And I mean, ALL her characters were like this. So she wanted settings where that was normal. Well, my setting was not that. But I kind of hand-waved it. One of her guys, a Texan, had a normal name, but insisted on being referrred to IRL as "Morpheus." I found that kind of ackward. Nicknames are great, most of my friends call me "Mac," but Morpheus? I found it kind of lame. 

Then we get into the session and things move along for a bit. Then some combat with an Ankheg goes down. The non-Morpheus guy, who supposedly had some experience, suddenly was clueless. Like "move up to 5 squares and attack if you like" was over his head. No amount of coaching could get him to act. For 20 minutes I was like "just move up to it and roll a die." It was ridiculous. Then I skipped him and it was Morpheus turn. He had a bard character and gave a 5-minute dialogue at the start of the game about his background. Well, it was his turn and he declared "I don't have a character sheet done up." Um, what? You had this elaborate story. You have D&D experience. How could you not have a 1st level character prepared? I didn't even say that out loud; as usual in a difficult moment in a game I try to push past it and wing it as best as I can. "T" would later tell me that she turned off her mike for a few minutes because she was cussing out loud in frustration at these idiots. Meanwhile "J" was still worried about having her tits visible. 

We got through the session, but that was enough for me. "Morpheus" actually had the nerve to lecture me in an email about proper running of a game (me with over 40 years of successful campaign experience and waiting lists for my games based on local word of mouth alone). Yes, the guy who didn't even show up with a character prepared lectured me. Disappointing. I apologized to "T" and told her I would vet a little better next time. 

And I did. A couple of months later I heard from a couple of "gals" through the Roll20 forums. Both had some gender pronouns I would have to be aware of; them/they or her/har or whatever the fuck. I didn't care. I'll run for anybody, though the Roll20 forums seemed to be suddenly awash in "game must be LGTB- ABC" or whatever friendly. Fine. My best friend when I moved from LA was my transgender neighbor, and she was the first person to call and see how I was doing when I got into my new town. I'm hip. Let's just have a game, and I apologize in advance if I use the wrong pronoun/verb/person place or thing verbiage. They had very little experience with D&D and wanted to learn. Great, I love noobs. 

We had two sessions and I thought they went great. They seemed real into it. They had two characters, bards. Here are the images they provided:

Look familiar? Yes, these or the NPC's 
involved in the current campaign.


I did not invite T to the first or even second session. Before I took up her time I wanted to be sure this might last. So I ran two sort of learning games for the ladies. It went well. So for the third session T entered the game, and the set up was there for them to join the merchant caravan that would be the first half of the campaign. 

I sent a message right after the game saying it was fun and they did great. The reply a couple minutes later was "it was fun, you run a good game. But we need to admit we just wanted a couple of games to learn how to do it so we could run for each other. Thanks. "

Fuck. OK, they were fun little sessions, but it was a lot of work to hand hold noobs during them. I wanted a campaign. Disappointing, and I felt I wasted T's time with these two attempts at getting something going. 

I said "screw Roll20" and ended up running for a second face to face group in town. It went well for several sessions, but then the hosts having a family illness nixed that. And I was sort of getting fed up with going to a house and running in person. After a bit, I decided to try Roll20 again. Long story short, I met this great gal "M" in the forum who is very skilled with 5th ed and Roll20 and has been a bit of a mentor for me. Found a few more players, and the campaign is now going into session 7. It's the best group I have had since the 90's. Great role players with interesting characters. 

And here's where Relanis and Demul come in. 

As I said before, I love to do inside jokes with myself in games. Spoofing myself, my settings, and various pop culture things. Fitting in The Godfather references ("take the crossbow, leave the mince pie") or modern music nods. 

So the inside joke here was I would not let the last attempt at campaign be a total waste. I would use elements from it. Relanis and Demul had a game with T's dwarf and said they would work the caravan. So in large part for T's dwarf's sake, I would not retcon that last session. It happened for T's dwarf, and Relanis and Demul would now become NPC's for me to use. As they almost joined the caravan, they would be lurking around watching the other characters who did take the job. And with some changes I could make them possible antagonists of some kind or another. I mean, they were sort of offbeat characters. I would make them offbeat NPC's. 

Changes were in order. Both characters were good aligned bards before. First thing was I would change them to neutrality on the darker side. Relanis was a Scourge Aasimar bard. I would keep her a bard, but make her a "Broken Aasimar" (see my last post for more details). Demul would be changed to a rogue (though still a musician), with the ability to create undead with a flute. And based on her image provided she would make a perfect "Voor" dwarf (also see last post). They would follow the party throughout the campaign, Relanis having an interest in Callie the (unknown to the party and Callie herself) Protector Aasimar based on a hunch, and Demul causing problems here and there with her addiction to creating undead. 

I had another inside joke throughback to the original games with the LGTB girls. The Inn map I used had a stuffed bear in a corner of it. In the game last year the Demul player talked to the bartender and insisted on hearing an interesting story about why the bear is there. "Uh, its a stuffed bear. Somebody killed a bear and stuffed it. It came with the place." She was insistent. Give me a damn story about the bear. I did not have one to give, and we wasted like 5 minutes on this. 

So for the first session in an inn with these new characters, I used the same inn and same map. The one with the stuffed bear.  I was obsessed with incorporating that bear in this first session. You want a fucking story about the bear? I'll create a great story around it. This is when during pre-campaign prep I decided to give one of the girls the ability to bring a corpse to live. Even if it was just fur and wood framing. I would use that fucking bear. And I did. It came to life and was the first combat of the campaign. That's often how concepts to include in a campaign come to me. "Wouldn't it be cool if..."  Now that ability to create skeletons or whatever became a major part of the campaign and part of what the characters are dealing with. 

You can read my last post for more details and how I have used Relanis and Demul, but the point here is I wanted to get some use out of a previous failed attempt at a campaign, and I did. I found it satisfying. 

I suppose a case could be made that I should not use their ideas. But screw 'em. They will never know. I don't get the impression this was their original artwork. And it's not like I'm making money on any of this. But using those concepts for my own sinister purposes is not just satisfying in a closure sort of way, but what the heck. It's my world and I can use anything that came before. And it certainly is not the first time I tapped into characters of previous players who I'll likely never run for again. 

And I doubt it will be the last. YMMV, as the grogs like to say. 


Saturday, July 2, 2022

Two New subclasses - The Voor dwarf, and The Broken Aasimar


In my latest campaign (run weekly on Roll20), I introduced two NPC's. One is an albino dwarf long known in my game world as a "Voor," and the other a 5th edition specific race known as Aasimar. In this case, a sub-class I created of Fallen type I'm calling a "Broken Aasimar."

OK, first the Voor. Its less complex than the other and is actually a dwarf race that I came up with for my setting around 30 years ago or so. 

I honestly don't remember the specifics of introducing them into my world. I just remember a party from the city visiting a lone mountain sitting 3 or so days north. Once a small kingdom of friendly dwarves, some time centuries past a strange gas was released by mining there that engulfed the dwarves of Voor mountain and mutated them. They were bleached albino, and their bodies became a bit more emaciated in contrast to the usual stout dwarvish form. They lost passion for most things that bring joy to dwarves, and in fact lost a sense of emotion. Not becoming truly evil, just kind of sociopathic. 

I don't really recall why I didn't use Duegar or any number of fallen dwarvish races that came along with the Fiend Folio and Monster Manual 2. For whatever reason I did not delve into these alternate dwarf races until decades later. 

The Voor NPC in my current campaign, part of a duo the characters have come to call "The Odd Couple," is a young girl named "Demul." 

Demul and her friend Relanis are travelling musicians. But in Demul's case not a bard, but in actuality a Rogue. So far I have enjoyed her being underestimated. Quiet and always following Relanis lead, Demul discovered she had a strange power prior to the campaign while practicing playing a flute. When she plays a sinister tune on it (I've been humming the old Dark Shadows theme when she does it), a certain amount of undead come to unlife and begin attacking whatever living things are nearby. So far she has no control over them. Indeed, she seems to have a certain lack of control about using her power in general. She is obsessed with this ability, and dead things in general. And because, for certain reasons, the "Odd Couple" is following the party at a safe distance, Demul has brought dead things to life that the party has had to deal with. In the first session at an inn in town there was a stuffed bear in the bar. From a dark corner Demul player her tune, and the stuffed bear was the first fight of the campaign for the group. 

In the second game the party fought a troll on the road, eventually burning him up in fire. From the treeline, Demul played her tune and hey presto, the party were fighting a zombie troll. 

Her travelling partner, and mentor, is the 26 year old bard Relanis. Dressed very straight laced, and wearing half a face mask and walking with a cane due to childhood injuries, Relanis is secretly a "Broken Aasimar." One that became "fallen" due to her transformation happening during severe childhood injury.

Strait-laced townie Relanis

Hair down, out in the field 
travelling Relanis

A traditional Fallen Aasimar is an Aasimar that experienced some kind of emotional trauma that caused their Aasimar form to take on a more demonic appearance. Especially so in the case of a Broken Aasimar. Perhaps a bit cruelly, the Aasimar form of a Broken has no such injuries or disfigurement. 

Relanis' Broken Aasimar form

So Relanis and Demul follow the party around, slowly gaining suspicion. It actually took the party awhile to realize that they were responsible for the dead coming back to life after they killed it. And also that Relanis has an obsession with the Paladin (also secretly a Protector Aasimar) Callie, a lovely unassuming, cookie baking village girl who doesn't even seem like a paladin (she often uses a rolling pin in battle).

I think all the male characters are
around because of Callie.

One of the traits of my Broken Aasimar class is that they are in large part driven by nightmares as well as dreams, and also have a minor sense that somebody might be an Aasimar of some kind themselves.  Though in Relanis' case the nightmares tend to be about her childhood injuries, caused by her house burning down with her in it. But as soon as she saw Callie in the first game, she sensed something, that she may be Aasimar as well. Hence, she and Demul follow the party, usually at a distance, because Relanis wants to be around when Callie makes "The Change." 

This caused all sorts of suspicion, right up to this last session where Relanis asked the party to come along on a short adventure nearby ("we are musicians, not fighters"). In the goblin caves things started coming to a head. While Callie is a bit freaked out by "the Odd Couple's" attentions, its the parties grimdark Shadow Elf that treats them like crap, and since he hates undead, he has come close to drawing down on them when he learned Demul is responsible for all the foes coming back after a fight. There was a lot of tension in this session, especially after Relanis and Demul (hanging in the back) were ambushed by goblins and Relanis made the change to her Aasimar form. Relanis broke into sobs after changing back (the Aasimar form is not disabled and has no face burns, and Relanis wishes she could stay in that form), and instead of sympathy, the Shadow Elf still wanted to kill them. But the fighter Zip, who grew up in a small village with Callie, has a certain fondness for Relanis after she bought him a tavern dinner in a previous session. 

The inclusion of these two unique NPC's in the campaign has paid off as a nice side-interest thing, and I so look forward to where it is going. The party just turned 3rd level, so Callie should make and Aasimar transformation before too long. It will be Suprise for her seeing as the player has her clueless about that celestial blood, and maybe at that point she will understand why Relanis has such interest in her.  The party is none the wiser about her secret race. And my misdirection of having Relanis show a morbid interest in the Shadow Elf ranger has helped them remain clueless. I was a bit worried originally that I might blow it for Mary, the Callie player, by drawing all that attention then her stalker turning out to be an Aasimar. But it remains secret. 

I think I will make a quick post on the origins of "The Odd Couple" in this campaign. I actually have specific reason for why I included them. But for now, it's just fun to get some experience with Aasimir in my games, and to finally after all these years get to touch upon the Voor dwarf race with the inclusion of Demul. 

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Sirens: Battle of the Bards (the rise and fall?)


A few days after the whole elf ear cosplayer Satine Phoenix and gym freak Jamison Stone (together maybe call them "Satine Flexnix?") thing blew up, my fascination slowly wanes. After watching a couple hours of this Foster guy's (a dude who did an after show for Critical Role or something) stream where he interview the people who paid Satine and Stone something like 20 grand to hype their cyber security company at Pax I was a little bit spent. But it was kind of gripping. This guy and gal staked heir future with the company they pitched this idea too, and ended up having to play personal assistant to the two knuckleheads. Carrying extra bags with their shit, fetching coffee..

 ...being lectured on professionalism, and even being criticized for their body types and relationships, all the while Satine and Stone did everything to further their bank accounts and fame while ignoring what they were getting paid for. A lot of it on camera. Big pimpin, yo..

There are a ton of other stories of course. All the unpaid or underpaid contractors who were stiffed and insulted. And I'm guessing there will indeed be more to come. I would not at all be surprised that sexual impropriety will come up at some point. 

Who could resist? But if you plan on
getting physical, I recommend bringing
 along some pain thinner. And don't tug 
on Stone's bicep strings. If they come off
his arms start to deflate. 

Satine, a former porn star, got her small pond fame started as part of the Zak Smith porney chick crew, doing the live play I Hit it with My Axe and other projects. When the Zak controversy hit, she turned her back on him about as fast as she threw her hubby Jamison Stone unto the train tracks. So a nice history of doing a Judas number on skeevy (IMO), abusive (allegedly) dudes she formerly defended the bad behavior of.

Back in her porn days she often was
 drowning in something other than D20's

Jamison Stone, well, I dunno his background. Rich family. Propensity to martial arts and cult memberships. How these two hooked up I have no info about. But there seemed to be some kind of road to a new cult going on:

Though its presumptuous to assume his 
modern Pharoah look points to cult leader

So yeah, its likely a lot more will come. I'm guessing there will be more throwing under the bus by Satine of her weirdo hubby. And maybe he will have some accusations of his own. 

But during this little lull in the pain and shame, I've been checking out their latest project. 

This Kickstarter reached like 300,000. There were tiers of upwards of 3 grand, where stretch goals included things like going to Colorado to play D&D at their house for 6 hours. When the time is up I kind of imagine a trap door opening under your chair and you shooting down into a tube system that pops you up at the local airport.  You can get your character fleshed out with artwork, and a short adventure about them. Gee, that sounds like its worth 3 grand. 

But all kidding aside, outside of the overflashy art and Satine's heavily made-up mug being all over the stuff, the actual setting sounds interesting. If not a bit over the top. The setting focus' on the city of Sativa or some such, a magical tiered city chock full of colorful bards type. They came up with 20 new bard sub-classes, I guess so the entire setting doesn't reek of same-same. Though I'm not sure how far you can pull the taffy to get over 20 distinct bard varieties. This is what I am the most curious about. 

But a bard war (or whatever) sounds like an interesting concept. 

The setting itself seems kind of Sci Fi to me. The city would for sure not fit into my setting. 

And some imagery suggests a more modern setting, such as the one with a saxophone player. The listing of locations in the city includes "comedy clubs." Zuh?

Yeah, I...huh?

But OK, sure. Maybe high fantasy these days is all about the higher, less restrictive concepts. Fantasy world with a sax? What the hell. There are worse things going on in D&D games. 

If I was a player I would 
totally run Twinkle Riot. 

For this game you are probably going to have most of your players running bards. But can they be different enough to not seem odd? I guess they could. I once ran a 1st ed. thieves guild thing were besides a plain theif you could do a thief fighter, thief MU, thief cleric, or whatever, and it worked well. Those kinds of campaigns are common, so I guess this is maybe a modern extension of that. 

On top of it all, I guess you get a god like character based off of flexi Jamison himself..

Yeah, nothing speaks to cult
leader aspirations here..

After seeing her make-up and rubber elf ear-free apology, despite what seems like some Amber Heard level acting, I feel bad for her. The tears weren't copious, but there was about a gallon of snot. With no tissues making an appearance. Just finger wiping. She should have at least removed the nose ring, but for all I know its keeping the plastic surgery together. But seriously, I can't help but feel bad. She was living high on the hog in the small gaming space. She may have been bound for bigger things. But in this day and age of social media, its just best to come off as a great person. To treat people as well as you can. Overwhelm them with kindness. That seemed to be the surface, but so much is coming out it just seems she was a a huge ego that kept growing bigger. Losing wisdom with age instead of gaining it. It really is in the end a tragic tale. 

Anyway as for Battle of the Bards, I'm honestly thinking of yoinking some of these concepts, on a smaller scale less filled with hubris. I've long wanted to do a thieves guild thing again, but a bards guild campaign might be a fun twist.

You gotta wonder what will happen with this project. Just like Zak Smith's 4 year late Demon City Kickstarter, the comments pages are full to the brim with negative comments and refund requests, though I'm sure there is plenty of Simp support in there. I didn't read very far. 

But as for Satine and Jamison Stone, I sort of hope the whole peacock cosplay D&D player thing is close to an end. I'm not a fuddy old neckbeard, but I kind of prefer the more down to earth classic players of old. YMMV.

This was a D&D stud when I was a kid.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

D&D and the Rise (and fall?) of the Beautiful People

OK, it may be more truthful to call them "Peacocks." 

But whatever it is, behind my back, a bunch of D&D players have become D&D celebrities. High profile, entourage-towing, "hey look at me" types. Back in my early gaming life the most beautiful D&D player I knew was my high school sweetheart. Me and my friends were lucky enough that our gals were into pop culture things, and D&D was not off the table. All the other groups we knew in those days were sausage fests. Tables full of long hairs in heavy metal band T shirt bands, or young George Costanza's. That's not to say we had it better than anybody else (or maybe we did). But it's always nice to have fun in a mixed group. You know, like a beer commercial. And whether I had a GF involved or not, into the 2000's I was always able to get a decently mixed gender gaming group. 

I guess it was D&D with Porn Stars where a bunch of women gaming came to the fore. Not that I was aware of everything going on in the OSR. I read a few blogs, did my own little blog, made some friends, got in some beefs, then got into other things. When it came to D&D I decided to just focus on running. I've been mostly out of the loop for years now. But I decided to write a little bit in current times when somebody told me a blog is a great place to write for yourself. And that is what I am doing. But my gaming life has gone through changes, and I feel like there are some personal tales to tell. And let's face it, pop culture nerds like to talk pop culture. Even if hardly anybody is listening. But jeez, looking deeper into the game culture scene makes me wish I hadn't sometimes. But trainwrecks are hard to look away from. 

That wasn't so for Zak Smith and his blog some years ago. It was gaming with a whiff of dirty sex; porn girls playing D&D How was that NOT a win? It was popular as hell. Maybe in part from Zaks writing, maybe in part from the presence of the gals. 

Zak and company during much, much, much,
much, much, much more happier times.

 I can't speak on the talent of Smith. To me a lot of what the "edgelords" were doing did not seem much more clever than what those heavy metal dudes in high school were doing. Poop and cocks and unbeatable scenarios. But whatever. When I stopped blogging I paid little attention. When I turned my back on the whole OSR scene I guess the biggest controversy was James at Grognardia walking away from his "legendary dungeon" (that had only been invented a couple of years before) Kickstarter. And with nary a word. He did that going out for smokes and never coming back thing He did recently come back, but I could not say to what reception. He still has (reduced) comments in his comment section, and seems to have been invited to a couple of podcasts (that I never heard of). But I've been out of the loop, and still am. 

Though the Zak Smith/Mandy Morbid controversy was a hell of a thing that happened. A broken relationship and some serious allegations, followed by a big time cancellation of the dude. I never knew how popular the guy had been in the gaming scene, although I can say with a fact that anybody I met and gamed with in the last three years in my new town had ever heard of Zak, and most not of the OSR There is money to be made there, but its still a small pond. And most Kickstarters in the scene seem to go to hell. 

But Satine Phoenix? Some knew about her, mostly I guess from the recent rise in streaming popularity. And spending hours watching that shit. Watching other people have fun. 

I knew of her mostly because she was a major personality at a famous comic book shop in my home town. There was a Meetup. For 10 bucks you could come play D&D with a porn "star" and have pancakes. Well, they did not lean into the porn thing, but Satine was also one of Zak Smith's players, and a part of his video projects (not porn, but D&D with porn stars. And oh, I guess there was some porn too). 

More recently Satine is parted from Zak. Right after the allegations she spoke up in support of his accuser, and went on to her own things. She started living a life in rubber elf ears. Going to conventions and trying to gain a high profile. She was a D&D community leader (that seems to give more bragging rights than anything else). She appeared in a Rick and Morty comic. She clearly was on a path of more fame in the usual small pond of D&D. Special guest stuff. 

But that pond got bigger once 5th edition settled in and got more popular, and started skewing younger. And this was the age of streaming. And even I became a fan of some streamers. Such as the Vtube Egirls using motion capture tech to appear as living anime girls on Twitch and Youtube. 

That's what I'm talkin' bout..

Not so much tabletop. Watching others play D&D is about as much fun for me as watching two flies fucking. No matter how much they dress it up. Not the community theater of Critical Role. None of it.

I like watching streamers play video games...especially when they look like this...

Valkyrae. I have fun watching her have fun.

Pokimane. She's from Monaco! Also appeared 
briefly in the movie Free Guy.

 I think I did watch a lot of Foreververse when I moved into my new town and didn't have a full TV channel lineup for a few weeks. Jason Miller and Amy Vorpahl were on that. 

Who are they? I dunno. Outside of that show I didn't know where they were from or what they did. Though in the pic Jason is wearing a shirt from a famous music store in my home town. But they did seem like very cool and casual people on that show. I sort of liked it for that. Everybody seemed like regular folk. Zero vamping. And Jason ran some Basic D&D with In Search of The Unknown and his style was very endearing.  Miller and Vorpahl seemed to have become part of the Satine entourage lately, minor gaming celebs making up a wall of protection around Satine and her colorful husband, Stone Jamison. Maybe they weren't so nice when with these "beautiful people?"

C'mon, he looks like a nice guy. Who would totally
not tell you to get a haircut and lose some weight..

This guy is somebody I only learned about in regard to the Satine controversy. Yep, of course. Another big controversy in a small pond. I guess Satine hooked up with this guy, a tattooed gym rat with heavily gelled rainbow brite hair who seemed to be making a bicep muscle pose in every other photo I see. I mean, I go to the gym and have decent guns, but I'm not always posing them. Or even wearing short sleeve shirts. 

Oh yeah, there's the flex

And apparently every character is..him. Not too douchy a move.

Satine tends to be rendered in lots of art, and she is featured on the Kickstarted art...big time..

So I don't know about their businesses. I was aware of Satine's Destination Fantastique kickstarter that seemed to be a money making dodge as best I can tell. Hey, when you are getting popular you need to milk your simps, right? But was that a sign of less than genuine intent for Satine? Because just in my reading the last couple days, she appears as a person, when the cameras are off, puts a lot of effort into seeming nice and gaining a following to monetize. Her and the Light Brite hubby running D&D in castles and on cruise ships. Nothing wrong with that. But the main point seems to be they were not really nice people, especially if they owed you money. Becoming hostile and belittling when asked for updates on pay, and a shit ton of gaslighting.  In the latest updates Satine seems to be making a play at throwing the husband under the bus to save that brand. She talks of supporting his abusive behavior, though apparently she was not as nice as her smiles or rubber ears would lead you to think. He can go sulk in the bondage room while Satine goes on to the conventions in the ears and tries to get some good will back. And she does have those industry friends. Who will go and who will stay? Jason Miller and Amy Vorpahl were guests at the velvet rope wedding they had a Gencon (though sources say they had already gotten married...but you need that attention, right? Repeat it at a con where you are already treated as a star). 

I dunno. For me it's much ado about nothing. For my life I mean. Its an interesting story, sure. Its why I'm talking about it. Like any of the controversies. But it is a tale about lives being destroyed, for better or worse. I can't say if Zak Smith got what was coming to him. There seems to be a case of an embittered ex. But I don't know these people. Satine and company as well, but multiple complaints seem to be adding up. And this is just a few days old. There is likely to be more to come. I smell cancellations, but maybe Satine and her ears can at least get her out of it. 

(I want to add that Battle of the Bards, though kind of overly flashy, seems kind of cool to me).

I'll just be gaming. Tonight is game night! I don't know how beautiful my players are. I don't use video on Roll20. Well, "T" is a former actress. I know what she looks like. But the others are fairly young. And that skews much better for me than when I did 1st ed in later years.

YMMV. Cheers. 

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Negative Continuity in Gaming

 "As you may recall, our last episode had nothing to do with the previous episode. Or this one either."

The Pigs in Space announcerThe Muppet Show

Last year I wrote a post about rebooting certain adventure locals in my games. 

I discussed my decades of trying to remain true to a certain continuity in my world. Such as when the Isle of Dread was explored for the first time, that locale would no longer by as in the book. The island was now a know commodity, and ships would sail to it from time to time looking to trade with the local tribes that had been placated by the original visitors. When it gets visited now there is a mainlander company outpost among the native huts to serve visitors after the long and dangerous journey. 

But in the most recent decades I stopped worrying about it so much. I mean, since around 2010 I've used the Lichway twice, making for a total of at least 3 times I've used it. And when later characters got there, no, there were no legions of undead roaming its halls. I simply reset the location. I've done the same with my long used adaptation of Runequest's Apple Lane. I've used it close to a half dozen times as is. And why not? My player roster changes fully every few years (with the notable exception of my oft-mentioned long time player "T"), so who was I fooling? Just reuse the shit, nobody cares. Most importantly me. 

So I was using the term "reboot" or "reset" for this concept, but I recently learned a new term that sounds much better to me, and most people won't even know what it means in the way the automatically do when you say "reboot."

That term/concept is "Negative Continuity."

We've seen it for years in things we enjoy in the media. We saw it in the Simpsons for decades. And my earliest experience with it was probably the evil dead movies. The second one was big time a full on reboot, but if you squinted your brain a little you could find ways to tie in the first. And the ending of 2 lead into Army of Darkness, although that was tweaked big time (Ash became a hero to the English knights he encountered at the end of 2, and at the start of 3 he's actually beaten and enslaved by them).

But my first exposure to the term was in my Lupin the Third fandom. In a previous post I talked about having discovered Lupin, and my full-bore love of the series. There have been 6 series of the show, the first in the early 70's and the most recent from last year. And though most elements stay the same (Lupins gang members Jigen and Goemon, and the betrayals and obsessions related to femme fatale Fujiko Mine), the series are very different, and often offer different origins of the characters and how they came to meet. While you cannot directly tie in each series, based primarily on the time periods set, newer episodes have given some fan service to episodes decades prior (such as Goemon and Lupin being enemies at first and scenes of their old fights). But they are different animals altogether. Each series kind of living in its own little dimension. 

And of course as a comics fan you grew up very aware of the concept, but that was kind of baked into both Marvel and DC. Fans called it "Retcon." That lead directly the popularity of the "Multiverse" both Marvel and DC movies are tapping into. Its no new idea to us old comic book wonks. 

So the Lichway, Apple Lane, its all negative continuity. Reset. Reboot. Whatever. Though with Apple Lane, I'm keeping a certain amount of continuity from past games. Years ago, in my last use of Apple Lane's Rainbow Mounds portion of the adventure, I had an enchantress become involved with the characters, and she herself entered The Mounds, to eventually be killed by the players, along with White Eye and the other inhabitants. So of course White Eye and company will be there, and the enchantress will be resurrected as well. But as she was a newer addition to the setting, I'm going to have her be vaguely aware of her situation and previous experiences, but her sort of cursed to not be able to leave the place unless she survives and White Eye and his forces are all killed. If the characters want to converse with her, I'm going to have her perhaps talk to them about her situation, and the timeless nature of Apple Lane and The Rainbow Mounds. The repeating nature of it all. It seems like it might be fun to kind of parody what I've been doing with the location over the decades. And if a character should die in there, well, he can be a part of my next use of the location (although the next game might be the penultimate and final use of the location, unless I ever run Runequest again). 

But "negative continuity." It has a nice ring to it. 


Thursday, June 2, 2022

G4's Return, sexism rants, and D&D's Invitation to Party


Over a decade ago I discovered G4 TV. It was on one cable channel or another, and as a format dedicated to video games and other pop culture I was on board. It didn't hurt that I was an almost immediate fan of the top two male personalities of the channel. Kevin Pereira, a former producer at the channel, and Adam Sessler, a video game genre journalist. 

Pereira was installed as host of flagship program Attack of The Show!, focusing on all things geek culture, and Sessler hosted XPLAY, a video game review show. Morgan Webb co-hosted with Sessler, while the soon to be famous Olivia Munn (known best for her role in one of the worst X-Men films, and as a hootchie who Robert Downey Jr. taps in Iron Man 3 - a part that was ultimately actually cut from the film). 

Kevin and Olivia

Adam and Morgan

For a 24 hour channel, these shows for sure did not fill up the schedule. So various syndicated series were shown at night, such as Cops and Cheaters (as depressing a duo as you can find). 

I found the male hosts funny, and their co-hosts were capable, so I was a daily viewer until a year or two later when the channel became tied to Esquire Magazine, and the personalities were let go. Ah well, you get over it. 

But then Pluto TV, a collection of specific genre streaming channels, suddenly had a G4 channel! I was gob smacked. I mean, it seemed improbable. It turns out that G4 was relaunched in late 2021, and Sessler and Periera were once again hosts of their respective classic shows. 

There was no more Webb and Munn, and I assume they decided to pass for various reasons. In their place was a host of unknowns (to me) who seemed to be youtube and Twitch streamers of dubious popularity. Such as The Completionist, who apparently had a Youtube channel where he... Completed video games. Others included Kassim G, a streamer and stand up, D&D streamer Gina Darling, The Black Hokage (Hokage is apparently a Naruto character), Austin Creed, an upbeat wrestler for WWE (who I assume is involved in video games somehow), Will Neff, and others. A veritable "Who's That" of video game culture. Equally divided by male and female genders, and heavy on the non-Caucasian casting that was largely absent from the original G4, the wokeism seems extremely forced. But whatever. These younger folk were probably brought on for that streamer appeal. The original G4 was undone in part do to the type of content they were involved in starting to pop up on Youtube more and more. So hey, get some fresh faces and some streamers on camera. 

In doing some online research on behind the scenes, there are some controversies with the new G4. Having been installed in an expensive studio campus in Burbank, a lot of faith was put into the new channel, especially since the return of Attack and XPLAY was largely in demand by old fans. But in doing that research, it seems it was not doing as well as planned. Though it has this TV element (not sure what cable systems its available on besides Pluto, which essentially shows a lot of the same repeats of shows), all content is also released on Youtube, where apparently it doesn't get outstanding viewership compared to other popular streamers. 

It might not help that, to me anyway, the hosts outside of Pereira and Sessler (why don't seem to have missed a stride in a decade) aren't especially compelling or funny. The writing seems solid, but the delivery is usually forced in a way that screams "Hey! We're funny! Love us! Subscribe!" 

Will Neff, athletic and almost an anti-geek, has a Groundling background so he comes off amusing in most cases, often shaking his head at the attempts at antics by the rest of the cast. Black Hokage seems to try and come off too "gangsta" for a guy who streams video game plays. But the worst of them, to me, is Indiana "Frosk" Black, known for Esports commentary prior to joining this crew. . When she and Hokage are trying to be funny in a mini-segment, its like a clinic in forced personality. They could use a little Groundlings spiffing up. Everything seems awkward, though maybe that's how the young folk roll these days. 

And then there is the biggest controversy of the modern G4. Now in a famous clip you can easily find online, Frosk hijacks a review segment with several of her mates and Sessler (who lives in San Francisco and appears on a screen. Apparently part of his deal is to not have to travel to LA) to take the chat feed to task for treating her as "unbangable" compared to former hosts Munn and Webb. Her fellow hosts who are present seem to catch on and try to come off supportive with clapping and head nodding, as she declares "Me, Munn, and Webb aren't here to be attractive for you yada yada." Typical toxic femininity vs. perceived toxic masculinity that we are all getting used to, and sure, you go girl. Personally, I wasn't really drooling for the hosts of the old channel. Morgan Webb is pretty, but I was a bit of a fan back in the day because she was a legit childhood gamer whose parents forbid her to watch TV, so she grew up playing games enough to lead to a career in them. And yeah, Munn was eye candy, and she happily played it up in segments such as when she put on a french maid outfit and dove into a tub of pudding. But honestly, my true crush was Kristin Holt, the underutilized host of lesser shows who had a knock out smile that does not seem to be possible outside of heaven. 

NOT there to be considered
"bangable" by me or anyone else

Frosk's fellow hosts were supportive in that moment. Sessler, a well-documented super liberal , could be seen on his TV screen doing an odd, hyper applause towards the camera that comes off almost like an exaggerated golf clap. Its a weird moment. Black Hokage's support seems especially odd and insincere when you go look at some of his old streams before joining G4, where many of his comments about women are sexist and tasteless to a large degree. And I mean to a "women say they don't swallow but I always make them swallow" degree. A wanna be "pimp daddy" who, you know, is actually a video game geek. Has Frosk seen some of his former posts? Is it all good because he is a person of color? 

Anyway, Frosk lays the smack down and takes we male fans to task. Interestingly enough, some of my research has shown some people looking back at the chat threads Frosk claims there is all this sexism in, and can't seem to find what she is talking about.  I'm sure some is there, but do you really want to alienate your viewers who have buying power over what may well mostly be 14 year old boys? The collateral damage of those like me who are just "um, I just wanna see Adam review Dark Souls, OK?" seems a bit extreme, considering how angry she seems. 

Another point of contentions is aimed at what seems to be a level of cluelessness by Frosk in some group segments about game news and culture. She has made a certain amount of downright wrong comments such as the PlayStation being unpopular currently (its actually very huge right now), while her more knowledgeable cohosts seem to be visibly holding themselves back from correcting her (anybody with a TV career fears being cancelled these days). 

And as far as Munn goes, well, she has had plenty of post G4 appearances she seems to find it important to be nice on the eyes for the weird dudes Frosk is calling out. 

Then there is the time Munn did this on camera..

Yeah, bangable is a word that suddenly pops up,
among other things. 

And you can find plenty of content on youtube where Frosk is taken to task as more or less an attention hound and using sexism to propel herself. Although that is not what happened. From what I gather, the views of G4 content plummeted after this rant. I can't tell for sure if Frosk has been cancelled as many youtube posts suggest, but its interesting to note that in following weeks the channel upped the ante on hot chicks. In Austinshow's amusing Name Your Price gameshow segment, where the streamer gathers fellow popular streamers to compete in a 70's themed game show, twitch streamer Amouranth, known for purposefully under dressing and chubbing up her viewership, appears in a high profile segment doing very sexy stuff. Almost as if to give the finger to the accusatory Frosk. 

OK, big whoop. We live in a time where we gotta let the sisters speak out on how horrible we men are. Even though, um, Johnny Depp just won his trial and Amber goes down in history as a literal bed shitter. But what does this have to do with D&D.

Well, a majorly promoted show on G4 is D&D's invitation to party. And Frosk features heavily in it. 

In the show, its mostly G4 "B squad" hosts (ie NOT Kevin or Adam) playing D&D. I mean, I guess you can call it that. At times they are all at work stations rolling dice and such, but most often than not they come out to the "acting" area to do some community theater level "role play" with DM B. Dave Walters.

Walters actually does a good job portraying various characters, and is the one person on the show who seems to have an acting background. It seems a given he has probably portrayed Othello in a thousand Shakespeare in the park productions. 

Everybody gets into it and tries their best. The only time I ever saw a lack of verisimilitude was when Kassim G, who seems the least likely to have every played the game in real life, is seen walking around in the background in character pretending to talk on his cellphone.

Interestingly, once B grade but now C grade actor Freddie Prinze shows up as a pirate prince, physically and thematically channeling Negan from The Walking Dead. As he smokes a stogie and hams it up with Walters, the cast looks on in forced wonder at the proceedings. This was one of the times I found the show actually cringeworthy. 

I have always found watching D&D be played to be quite boring, but as this is a fairly well produced acting exercised it is entertaining enough. I'm not sure if it will ever be Critical Role in popularity level, its fine enough. Buuuuut...

This show went on during the height of the Frosk controversy. As I'm sure G4 isn't all that happy with the loss of viewers she cost them, they may have downplayed this show, where she seems to be a major star, on their channels. I dunno. The Pluto TV channel shows the hell out of it, but they show content that is not exactly up to date. But that they seem to be upping the sexiness with the inclusion of ladies like Amouranth making jokes about how they got rich from the "blue balls of fans," they for sure aren't exactly being there for Frosk and her peccadillos. There is so much info out there that I can't be sure if her participation has been decreased in things. But she keeps doubling down on her comments in her streams, and that can't be making the powers that be happy if they are indeed losing viewership due to her. 

Hey, these days I'm fairly live and let live. I'm not offended by Frosk calling us male viewers wank-happy sexists. I may or may not be. And hell, again, despite her attempts to downplay her looks I find her fairly attractive even with the piercings and terrible hair. But really, I'm a G4 fan because I am a pop culture nut and I love game reviews, not for the girlies. 

Though damn, Amouranth can really put a spring in a mans stride.

Bangable or not bangable. 
YOU make the call..