Friday, December 23, 2011

Harley & Ivy's Xmas Shopping Spree

Here's an Xmas themed clip from one of my favorite episodes of The Batman Animated Series. Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy brainwash and kidnap Bruce Wayne and force him to pay for a high end departement store shopping spree. Goddamn these sick, evil chicks are so cute together. Girls really put us men through the ringer during the holidays, right guys? Right, guys? Guys...? C'mon, you can speak up. She doesn't know this blog exists...

Have a fun, happy holiday all!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Paul Jaquays - Wow!

This news will probably be all over the OSR in the next day or two, but just thought I'd do a quick post on it. Paul Jaquays, one of my favorite JG designers from back in the day, has had gender reassignment this weekend. Apparently he has been unhappy for a long time, and this is bringing him happiness, according to his Facebook page.

Last year he answered a couple of my silly questions in the comments section of his Grognardia interview (I think regarding Fred the Amulet and his old Star Trek parody in The Dungeoneer). He came off as a pretty cool guy, who is now I guess a pretty cool gal.

Anyway, as a nod to PJ here's a post of mine from a year or so ago talking about wanting to get back into some of his old material I loved in my gaming olden days. Good luck with your new life, my friend.

Night of the Walking Wet

Even though it is maybe months away, I keep thinking about what I would like to do for the early part of my next campaign, so I have been going through my older game stuff for ideas. Over the weekend I took another look at my old and beaten copy of The Dungeoneer Compendium.

The first 6 issues of The Dungeoneer from back in the day each had a featured dungeon. Each of these were great examples of Judges Guild’s wild and wooly take on Dungeons and Dragons. For one thing, the entries for rooms and areas were just like I did mine in my game notebooks, specifically, poor spelling, grammer, and amusing misuse of words. A lot of the time, you could barely grasp what the author (usually the great Paul Jaquays) was getting at in some of the entries, just like one of my players might find my notebook jots to be if they snuck a glimpse. This stuff was so very amateurish, and for sure that was a good thing. It was one of the charms of the stuff; it was written the way I wrote for my games, and how could that not appeal to me? It was homey and warm, and you automatically felt like the author was your buddy, a regular guy in a way Sir Gary never could came off in his flowery prose.

At one time or another, I ran each of the dungeons featured. Borshak’s Lair, The Pharoah’s Tomb, Merlin’s Garden, etc. Actually, I ran most after the Dungeoneer Compendium came out and collected the dungeons of the first six issues. That great book not only contained all those dungeons, but also placed them all on the land map of Jaquays’ great Night of the Walking Wet setting. All those places, and more, were right there in the Castle Krake area, and I used that to my advantage.

I made a decent mid-level campaign out of it. My teenage sweethearts’ Elf character Noradama “Nord” Calingref won Castle Krake in a card game, and took her adventurer pals along with her to clear out the Slime God, and the Type 4 Demon and ghoul army of Krakesbourough. That Walking Wet scenario is hella cool, and is pure Judges Guild.
I have great memories of all those dungeons set near Krake. In The Pharoah’s Tomb, one player had a desert ranger, and he was able to scramble over all those sand-trap rooms while other characters struggled and got trapped. He loved using an ability I gave his character that he thought he would never use. He was so jazzed, his character skittering over the sand floods and ululating “ayiayiayaiyaiyai!”

Within Borshak’s Lair, a magic tomb invaded by orcs, one character found the hilarious “Fred the Magic Amulet.” The sentient, +1 protection amulet had awesome illusion powers, and I would have it transform into a giant, inanimate shark that still spoke in Fred’s high pitched Mickey Mouse voice. Dark Tower was great, but this shit was Paul Jaquays best work as far as I was concerned. Was he as stoned as I sometimes get when he was writing these scenarios?

All these dungeons featured old school D&D staples, i.e. plenty of magic affect statuary, and traps that were usually more weird and scary than deadly. I had so much fun with this stuff as a teen. Sadly, I eventually got more serious with my adventures, heading more into “High Fantasy” despite sticking with 1st edition.

But I think it is time to revisit some of this classic cheese of time past, so I may just be making the dungeon-heavy Castle Krake area and it’s interesting sandbox surroundings the setting for the next campaign.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sci Fi fashion goes full circle

If there is one truly weird fact I have learned from Science Fiction films and books is that fashion eventually comes full circle. That is to say, it gets to a certain point beyond military or blue collar worker jumpsuits into semi-space punk latex jumpsuits and astronaut armor, and then starts heading back to ancient garb. Tunics, togas, and robes. Cases in point: Logan’s Run, Star Wars, The Time Machine, original Star Trek, and the book version of the Dune Universe and others. Whatever it is, we eventually digress into the fashion of ancient Rome.

Somewhere in there is the turtleneck sweater phase of the future as well.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

One campaign wraps, some others begin

Well, last night we did what will be the last KOTOR session for awhile . After having done Night Below with 1st edition for two years (with little breaks for Metamorphosis Alpha and Champions) I was a little burnt out, so I knew from then on I would keep to 6 month campaigns of whatever I ran. We started KOTOR in July I think, so the holidays seem to be a good time to end it. I think we had between 12-14 sessions, and it has actually been pretty fun. For people who are only marginally into Star Wars, we got into it and everybody seemed to like their characters and there were some pretty good interactions.

I found the Star Wars Saga system a bit of a challenge in that there is very little wriggle room with the rules. If you house rule one thing, you risk messing up some other thing related to it. My first instinct as a GM is to houserule any little thing I don’t like. But in a way this was a good discipline exercise for me. I could focus less on rules I wanted to change and more on the actual gameplay.

So with a session of dicking around Coruscant, with three pretty good combat actions sequences, including Rokran and Lushia the Jedi getting to lightsaber duel two other Padawans under power suppressors in the Jedi Temple (with the block ability, these fights can take a long time with no force powers involved), we set things to rest and will do the second half of the campaign later next year. But for now…

Both Call of Cthulhu and Runequest are what I want to do next. Big Ben’s 1st edition games will help keep us a D&D group, but after all that Night Below it’s going to be awhile before I want to run extended D&D. Just for fun we are going to do some one-offs here and there with the now high level Night Below guys, but my focus will be CoC and RQ.

But which to start first? I had long, successful Cthulhu campaigns in the 80’s and 90’s (some of those 90’s runs were so much fun as to seem unreal). But I have also been itching to do some classic Glorantha again for almost 30 years. As for the players, some seem the most into Cthulhu, some seem to be very curious about RQ. Terry having been a big part of those 90’s Cthulhu games (her mobbed-up torch singers Lila survived two campaigns where most others died or went nuts) is inspiration to get going on that, and the fact is that with Dan Dan the Power Game man™ being back in South Africa seeing family for a couple of months, it’s a great time to do some subtle, low combat Cthulhu.

Anyway, with both games being based off Basic Role-Playing, I think I’ll interchange sessions; run both games at once. Maybe do Cthulhu when we only have 4 or less players, seeing as six is kind of a crowd in an investigator group, and RQ the rest of the time.

As my last Cthulhu game ended set around 1923, I think I’ll jump ahead a few years to 1927 or 28. Lots going on towards the end of the decade in America and beyond. I’m going to take the adventures from Times Square in New York, to New England (brief visits to Innsmouth and Arkham might be called for), and eventually to California, the setting of my previous campaign.

For Runequest, the big question is do I want to have characters start in the stormy hill country of Dragon’s Pass, or in the arid and sometimes barbaric land of Prax to the east. Actually that decision is my biggest struggle with it at the moment. What is the best way to introduce players to Runequest and Glorantha who have zero knowledge and experience about it? That is actually part of the excitement for me. Complete Glorantha noobs. Blank slates.

But anyway, here we go. New year, new genres, new campaigns.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Star Wars Universe is like a Toaster

In this recent post about the Star Wars city planet Coruscant, Chaz makes this comment:

“…On a further aside - what's with the technological stagnation in the star wars universe? My grandmother was born in 1916 and today she uses a kindle with ease! It always seemed weird to me that KOTOR tech was in line with Episode IV etc…”

It’s true that we still think more about the cool tech, and enduring “lived in” look of Star Wars than why this 25,000 year old galaxy-spanning civilization does not advance much in terms of the functionality of the equipment available. Over the thousands of year of the Republic, little changes outside of, perhaps, the architecture and style-design of weapons and gear. Pod Racers might be popular towards the end of the Galactic Republic, while Swoop Bikes are the choice for racing 4,000 years prior, but very little goes forward in the technology that drives and powers things. The biggest technological difference that comes to mind to me time and time again is that the protocol droids are far less mincing than their Empire era counterparts (but still a little light in the loafers) although that is sketchy research matter at best. Bottom line; if C3PO was proficient in over 6 million languages, odds are that was the same amount a Knights of The Old Republic droid would be proficient in.

Comlinks are the cell phones of the Star Wars Universe, and Datapads seem to be the Laptops/Netbooks of folks. You would think that just like the real world these things would change fastest and the most, but between the KOTOR period and the Trilogy period, the tech has not changed. In fact, in the classic Star Wars periods you do not see many Datapads at all, usually only in the hands of tech dudes on the Hoth base or whatever. But as little as 30 years prior in the Clone War era Anakin is seen goofing around with one on the couch. So did they just get too expensive in the Empire era? Was everybody just too busy shitting their pants to even think about such frivolous items?

In Dune, the universe had a pretty good excuse for keeping tech from advancing. They had bad prior experiences with robots, so they banned all computers any more advanced than an abacus. There’s yer technological retardation right there. Not even the Golden Path could overcome that fear.

But Star Wars has no such excuses. What’s the deal?

One could say that the galaxy and Republic is constantly being faced by devastating wars again and again, usually involving the Sith and the Jedi. This not only costs huge numbers in lives and sucks up resources, but puts many thriving planets, again and again over the millennia, into periods of urban decay and semi-post apocalypses. When this happens to major industrial areas, technological growth gets retarded. OK, but you soon have to hand-wave theories like this, because wars tend to bring forth greater and great technologies that eventually trickle down to the masses. That does not seem to be happening (outside of the occasional Death Star or Star Forge).

So could the very presence of Jedi as constant allies in the Republic over the millennia have something to do with technological retardation? Probably not, because after most Jedi are gone regular folk seem to fuck things up pretty good on the high tech front. Everybody heads for the hills when The Empire takes over, and most of their ships and vehicles don’t seem to be able to even get a paint job, much less an upgrade. Hey, when the highest tech items on Tatooine are either used to vaporate moisture or bullseye Womp Rats, you know you are in a universe in decline.

But I think my “Toaster Theory” is the most logical fit. You see, toasters have barely changed in almost 100 years. They must be the least changed technology in our real world. Sure, they have come in countless designs and styles on the shelves of Sears stores over the decades, but when the day is done they all still heat your toast and your Pop tarts by heating up metal coils. That’s it. Why? I think it must have something to do with functionality meets cost-benefit analysis meets the point of diminishing returns. Could we come up with better ways to toast our multi-grain grub-outs if we threw a lot of money at it? Sure. We could probably also set little laser beam blast traps to disintegrate the mice infesting the garage, only 2.1 million dollars per trap down at Rite-Aid! But will it kill mice better than a spring-loaded roll bar that breaks it’s neck for 3 bucks? Nope. Don’t need a better mouse trap. Come to think of it, in Star Wars they would probably have it be a low tech Rube Goldberg-like device with gears and poles and descending cages like the old board game.

So maybe in the Star Wars universe, blasters work as good as you need them too and still be able to afford them. How much faster does a starship need to go once it’s in hyperspace? Would it make that huge a difference to spend three times the money to get somewhere a day sooner? And when your police force numbers in the millions and your armed forces number in the billions, can you afford to give them all blasters that do double damage, and give them all hand held super-computers? Could you divert needed funds towards teleportation technology? Who would set-up all these resources? And could such advances actually ignite wars over them, fracturing the Republic even more than the endless beatings it takes over the thousands of years of it’s existence?

In all Star Wars eras computers not changing is the real head scratcher. They seem to be in the early to mid-80’s Earth level of tech millennia-in, millennia-out. So…there are no Steve Jobs types in the SW universe? Perhaps there are some planets in the universe with super-tech that has actually advanced beyond those you see in general population use in Darth Vader’s time or Darth Revan’s time. But what works and is cost-effective on a planetary scale probably is not on a galactic scale.

OK, obviously I have no answers, and the Toaster Theory™ only goes so far. But apparently The Republic after the Empire era sufferes for it’s lack of tech advancement and too much reliance on The Force when the Yuuzhan Vong invade the galaxy. With their own bizarre organic hi-tech weaponry and immunity to The Force, they are enough to make the sentients of the galaxy wish they had put more nose to the grindstone in the technology department, and less in ancient weapons and hokey religions.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sith Lord Lich and the Three-Headed Apprentice

This weeks KOTOR session was an action-packed blast. The group has been trapped in a derelict, haunted space station along the Hyperspace routes. Some decades ago during the Sith War the Dark Lord known as Darth Sinaes and his apprentices took over a Republic ship repair station and committed mass murder and horrible atrocities there, to the point of the Dark Lords apprentices themselves being appalled and turning on the master. Although they managed to kill him, his evil lingered in his body and allowed him to be a Dark Side Lich. Sinaes used his unholy power to meld the apprentices into one single body (three faces and three sets of arms, but just one pair of legs and a torso) that could use three regular lightsabers and one double lightsaber simultaneously. Oh, the horror! Along with his three-in-one apprentice, zombified bodies of old victims, and some other monstrosities, Darth Sinaes has lurked in the station an occasionally used it to lure unwary spacefarers to their doom, to become part of his growing undead army. Also trapped on the station was the ghost of a Jedi victim, Amelia, who had come along years ago. Amelia had her spirit locked here because of all the corruption, but she came in handy as a warning to players. She was able to tell the party the history Sinaes and his corruption of the place.

I originally meant this to be more or less a space dungeon for the characters to crawl around in, and it was, but in the end I mostly focused on combat encounters. The party had fun in the previous game fighting zombie hordes and a couple mutated monsters, but in this session it was time to face Sinaes and his hideious apprentices. Good thing we had a full group that session.

The apprentice managed to put a lot of fear and damage into the party, before he was ultimately defeated by a combination of good rolls and the infamous Force Grip of Pauls Khil (tentacle faced humanoid) force user. During this battle Terry’s Cathar (cat lady) Jedi Lucia was taken down with a killing blast (not so deadly due to the use of her last force point) of force lighting, but the spirit of Amelia used the force to bond with Lucia and not just bring her back to full health, but increase her stats and abilities for the encounter, allowing her to jump right back into the fray.

The party was now able to put the screws to Darth Sinaes, who I had planned to have run away but I hesitated so he could gloat and get an attack in. Bad move, because they were all over him. After some fierce melee and force use, Darth Sinaes set off explosions in the hull of the station that immediately started explosive decompression and loss of life support. Even though Andy’s Mandalorian soldier had Mando armor with life support, the party on a whole only got a couple more licks in on the beat-up Sith Lord before they had to make it for the ship (in cinematic fashion barely escaping).

This was the most exciting session yet, and I really got a kick out of it (and the players seemed to as well). Although faced with the possibility of a powerful enemy escaping from them, they mixed it up with a real challenge for a change and came out with flying colors. And Terry’s Jedi Lucia gets a colorful addition to her bio – namely, the soul of another Jedi whom now sort of haunts her (in a non-evil way), but also gives her a little bonus to a couple of stats and hit points when she is in contact with her. This will make for some interesting role-play down the line, methinks. I think Terry may have been struggling with what exactly the personality of Lucia was, but now she for sure has an interesting angle to work from. I originally though Amelia might do this bonding thing with the male Jedi (I thought he would get the focus of damage and be the first knocked out of the fight), and also thought it would be funny if her spirit bonded with the Wookiee, but in the end I am glad Terry will be the one dealing with it. Her character seemed the least fleshed out.

Next week we play in Dan’s palace up in Bel Air above Mulholland Blvd, and the party will finally arrive at the Galactic Core and the planet Coruscant for more mayhem. Man, I think I have finally decided that I like this game! (the prequel movies, not so much).

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

City Planet

There is something very cool and awe inspiring about a city that spans an entire planet. The concept actually goes way back in Sci Fi literature, so George Lucas’ Coruscant was nothing new. He had actually planned to have Alderaan (a certain brother-loving Princess’ home world) be the setting for much of the action of the first Star Wars film, but budgetary constraints prevented what he envisioned. But he was finally able to include it in his prequel films. Unfortunaly, much of the time it is only visible through an apartment window as we listened to the cringe-worthy dialogue of Anakin and Padme. Outside those windows was bumper to bumper traffic of flying cars filled with yammering muppets (you would think it would be a simple matter to widen those traffic lanes, there being plenty of room in the sky) . We did get some good views of the planet surface during the opening minutes of Revenge of the Sith.

Anyway, tonight we do another session of KOTOR at Andys, and before the night is over the party should have escaped the space station haunted by a Sith Lord Lich and his minions, and be arriving at their next destination, Coruscant, the seat of the Galactic Republic.

On the day of many KOTOR game nights, I have sent little info-blurbs to the group about something in the Star Wars universe related to the nights adventure, so today I put together and sent the Coruscant stuff below. You’ll see that Coruscant has many features that make a city planet cool, especially one that has been such a city planet for over 30,000 years. There are miles and miles of true underground ruins, factor and industrial areas, and lower levels that cater to the lower rungs of society in contrast to the higher levels inhabited by high society (shades of Lang’s Metropolis).

Even though I only plan to have characters there for a couple of sessions, you could do an entire campaign set on this planet, and the only environment you would be missing is that of a wilderness. But with the underground areas being huge enough to have evolved their own ecosystems and unique creatures, I guess you could have that as well.

"Seen from orbit, it is a blaze of light and sparkling colors, reminding some spacers of corusca stones, after which this planet was named long ago."

"An incandescent organ of life, visibly vibrating with the pulses of billions."


Coruscant was a planet located in the Core Worlds. Its hyperspace coordinates were
(0,0,0) which in effect made it the center of the galaxy. The actual galactic center, was located in the Deep Core. As the center of the galaxy, Coruscant was generally agreed to be the most important planet through most of galactic history. It served as the capital for the Galactic Republic, Galactic Empire, New Republic, Yuuzhan Vong Empire, Galactic Alliance, and the New Galactic Empire. Coruscant also served at various times as the home of the Jedi Order and the Jedi Temple. Coruscant was not only the political center of the galaxy. Most of the hyperlanes at some point would travel through Coruscant making the planet one of the richest in the galaxy.

Geologically, the planet was composed of a molten core with a rocky mantle and a silicate rock crust. At its poles were huge ice caps that were popular spots for tourists. The entire surface of Coruscant was covered by sprawling kilometers-high ecumenopolis, and boasted a population of over a hundred billion to several trillion, depending on the era. Following the end of the Clone Wars, an official census noted 1 trillion official permanent residents. The statistics did not include transients, temporary workers, unregistered populace nor residents of orbital facilities. Because of these omissions, the "real" population of Coruscant was estimated to be three times the official amount.

Coruscanti skyscrapers dwarfed all the original natural features, including mountains, as well as floors of oceans which once covered a large portion of Coruscant's surface. Areas of Galactic City were broken up into levels, megablocks, blocks, and subblocks.[14] Coruscant itself was divided into quadrants, which were divided into zones.[7] Below the skyscrapers was Coruscant's undercity, where sunlight never reached. Artificial lighting illuminated these lower levels and advertisement holograms could be seen everywhere. There were numerous establishments for entertainment, catering to a myriad of alien species. The residents were collectively referred to as Twilighters.

Coruscant was once a world mostly covered in oceans.[15] However, all natural bodies of water were drained and stored in vast caverns beneath the city as a result of years of overpopulation. The only body of water visible was the artificial Western Sea, with many artificially-created islands floating on it, used by tourists on holidays.

With no other bodies of water available to feed and water its trillion inhabitants, Coruscant's architects, along with many others from around the galaxy, worked together to build a self-contained eco-system in the massive buildings set all over the planet. Polar cap stations also melted ice and distributed water throughout the planet-wide city through a complex series of pipes.

Galactic City was divided into quadrants, "several thousand" in number, with each quadrant further split into sectors.[7] Each sector was numbered on official maps, but sectors often had nicknames, such as Sah'c Town (sector H-46, named for a prominent family that owned a large portion of its land) and The Works, the largest of Coruscant's designated industrial zones. (Coruscant practiced zoning, which is the designation of specific areas of land for particular purposes, such as governmental and senatorial, financial (including banking zones), residential, commercial, industrial, and manufacturing. Manufacturing and industrial zones were typically the largest designated areas of the planet.) The Works was once one of the galaxy's major manufacturing areas, where spacecraft parts, droids, and building materials were heavily produced during centuries, but as construction and industry became more efficient and cheaper away from Coruscant, The Works fell into disrepair.

It gained a reputation as a hub of criminal activity and many locals stayed away from it. A similar, but more dangerous area, was the Factory District, which was once the industrial heart of Coruscant until it too lost out to competition from producers in other Core Worlds. By the time of the Great Jedi Purge it lay in ruins and was almost completely deserted of sentients, because of the feral droids that prowled its streets. It was located on the opposite side of the planet, and was much more dangerous than the Southern Underground, Invisible Sector, which were infamous in their own right.[12] Another area of Coruscant was CoCo Town (short for "collective commerce"). Many diverse species lived there and worked in manufacturing. A partially enclosed open-air plaza near the Senate building, the Column Commons, was so-called because it housed most of the HoloNet and news media corporations.

The planet produced trillions of tons of waste an hour. Though almost everything on the planet, from clothes to packaging and machinery, was recyclable, some waste was too dangerous to recycle. Such items included worn-out hyperdrive cores which were delivered to one of the planet's five thousand garbage pits, where they were put into canisters and fired into a tight orbit around Coruscant. Garbage ships would then collect them and transport them to nearby moons for storage. Some of the more dangerous materials were shot into the nearby sun for complete incineration. Garbage not exported or destroyed was mixed into a slurry of silicone oils and processed by garbage worms which chewed it into pellets while removing any remaining organics, plastic, or recoverable metals. They turned millions of tons of pellets into carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases. Another problem for a world like Coruscant was the unimaginable amount of carbon dioxide and heat energy that its trillion-being population generated each day. Thousands of carbon dioxide-reactive atmospheric dampeners were put into place in the upper atmosphere to prevent atmospheric degeneration. The first set of these planet-wide dampeners, developed by the Galactic Republic, was known as the Coruscant Atmospheric Reclamation Project.[18]
Near the planet's core were a number of massive power relay stations. The lowest levels were abandoned to mutants and scavengers, such as the cannibalistic, mythical Cthons. The foundations of many of the buildings, some of which weighed billions of tons, also extended deep into the planet's crust.


"The recorded history of Coruscant stretches back so far that it becomes indistinguishable from legend…"
―Pollux Hax

The very early history of Coruscant is a bit sketchy and is not well known. Coruscant was considered by many to be the Human homeworld; early in its history, it was referred to as Notron, the "cradle of human civilization". Its name was changed at an unspecified date. At a certain point, the Celestials could have removed Humans from Coruscant to populate Corellia and other human societies on different planets throughout the galaxy.

It is known that at some point in ancient history, the near-Human Taungs attempted to conquer the 13 baseline Human nations of the Battalions of Zhell. A volcano decimated the Zhell, the ash filling the skies for two years, so the Taungs adopted the name Dha Werda Verda (Warriors of Shadow) for themselves. The Human Zhell eventually recovered and drove the Taungs offworld.

One hundred millennia later, Coruscant was surveyed by the Columi, who dismissed the planet as a primitive disappointment, despite the already planet-spanning ecumenopolis of Galactic City. New buildings were built on the old. As a result, there was virtually no exposed land. In the forgotten underlevels of the city, there was darkness, pollution and crime. Higher up, there were government offices and penthouses owned by the elite. The lower fifty levels of the ecumenopolis is said to have last seen sunlight tens of thousands of millennia ago.

Coruscant was one of many worlds conquered by the Infinite Empire of the Rakata, who used Human slaves to build the Star Forge in 30,000 BBY. Under Rakatan domination, the Humans of Coruscant's colonization attempts were limited to sleeper ships, which ended up on Alderaan, in the Tion Cluster, Seoul 5, Kuat, Alsakan, Axum, Anaxes, Atrisia, Metellos, Corulag, and many other worlds. The Rakata were eventually decimated by a massive plague, leading to slave revolutions on Coruscant and other subjugated worlds.

Over the next two centuries, Coruscant was linked to other Core Worlds, including Corellia, Alderaan, New Plympto and Duro, by hyperspace cannons, via the Herglic Trade Empire. It was during this time that the Coruscant government peacefully absorbed the nearby Azure Imperium. During these pre-Republic years, the languages of Coruscant and its neighbors meshed to become Old Galactic Standard.

Galactic Republic
"That's the seat of Galactic government!'"

The Sacking of Coruscant in 3,653 BBY. In 25,053 BBY, when the Galactic Constitution was signed, the Corellians and Duros invented the hyperdrive proper, allowing Coruscant to become the capital of a democratic union: the Galactic Republic. 53 years later the planet became the galactic center, and remained the Republic's capital for 24,981 more years. Shortly after the formation of the Republic, the Perlemian Trade Route was mapped, linking Coruscant to Ossus and bringing the Jedi Knights into the Republic. Over the next millennium, the Corellian Run was mapped, linking Coruscant to Corellia and beyond. Blasters were also invented on Coruscant around this time, and the famous Galactic Museum was constructed in 12,000 BBY.

From the very beginning, Coruscant, as the Republic's capital, was the primary objective in several wars. The earliest among these was the Tionese War with the Honorable Union of Desevro and Tion in 24,000 BBY, in which Coruscant was bombarded with Tionese pressure bombs. Other early battles included the Alsakan Conflicts, the Duinuogwuin Contention, the Great Hyperspace War, the Third Great Schism, the Great Droid Revolution, and the Great Sith War. At the end of the Great Sith War in 3,996 BBY, the Senate Building was built to replace the old Senate Hall.

Following the devastation of Ossus, the Jedi Council took up residence in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, to which many Jedi relics from Ossus were taken. The Temple was greatly expanded, including the building of the original Jedi Council Chamber. The Temple was repeatedly expanded including in 3,519 BBY, 2,519 BBY (when the Jedi Archives were built) and 1,019 BBY (when the Temple spires were finally fully rebuilt).

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Got a good group? Be grateful for what ya got

(pictured above: some gamer dudes trying to look cool and casual in the presence of a purty grrl)

My posting has been a little sporadic the last couple of months, feast and famine, due to being busy with work and other good life stuff. As it has been fun (mostly) having even a tiny voice in the online gaming community, the time I devote to game shit lately has actually been devoted more to actual gaming and less about droning on and on in a blog about the geeky side of my fairly non-geeky life. I have no aspirations to write games or adventures, fanzines, or to share charts and maps from my own games. And hell, there’s just too big a glut of all that anyway, just like gaming blogs. You either make that a big part of your life or you don’t. I don’t read more blogs, join more blogs, or seek to increase my following more because I just don’t have time to do it. Plus it is not as exciting to me as it was when I discovered there was an OSR around three years ago. Honeymoon period over, you know? And in recent months I’ve realized the truth of it; the actual gaming is far more important than talking about it or reading about it. Playing the game is always more fun than hearing about it.

It seems to me that so many blogging GM’s out there aren’t so into playing the game as they are writing about it. Getting more followers on their blogs (usually by joining each and every blog out there), having people read their game material, printing personal fanzines, or just plain having a voice in the OSR. If they get actual gaming going on, it seems just a thing to do so they can continue to do the ancillary things based on it with some amount of gravitas. But shit, if you have a group and it’s good, that should be the focus, right? But it is often not, it seems.

As we approach the holidays, a time when I am never sure how much time I am going to have on my hands to indulge in the secondary and tertiary life things, I wanted to take the opportunity to post about something I probably don’t do enough of; gratitude for the people I have the pleasure of being around a game table rolling dice with, bullshitting with, arguing with, and for the love of Mike getting actual quality gaming in with. This post is for the people at my sessions who put up with me and my wingding style, and keep coming year-in, year-out. This bud’s for you, bitches (who mostly don't even read this blog, so I feel safe calling them "bitches").

The more and more I look at the local gaming scene in So Cal, the more I realize how grateful I should be that I have a regular group that has been going strong for over three years now. And thanking God they are (fairly) normal people who happen to be gamers. But what I think really makes this group special is, despite a couple of “unique” personalities, is that not a one is what you would call a geek, dork, or spaz; At least in my moderately critical and judgmental eyes. Everyone is fairly interesting and fun without being extreme personalities. They are genuinely special without being wanna-be game designers, pretentious “artists,” or "retired" sex workers, edgy or otherwise.

I’m basically speaking of my own selfish joy here. I took around 8 years off from gaming (see my last post for an exception) because I didn’t have enough people around me to play during that time who would have been a right fit for a game group. I spent a bit of time in the 90’s recruiting gamers from non-believers that I knew who I thought would enjoy it. And they usually did. But it came to a point when I got older and didn’t have that kind of crowd around me, at least that lived locally. I’ve never been ashamed of gaming, but I certainly never told everybody I knew I was into it. As if. If I wanted to approach somebody to play in a game, I had to feel secure they would not just smile, look down, shake their head, and go back to talking about The X-Files or Seinfeld or whatever.

And I sure was not going to go hang around game shops or cons to try and sift through the flotsam and jetsom to find people I could stand being around the table for several hours with on a regular basis. I mean, if I did not have this group and was willing to do anything to get some gaming going, I’d have to go to more cons, gimmicky pay-to-play sessions held at stores and comic book shops, or monthly Orange County gamedays full of aging gamer dad’s trying to get their bored kids interested in the hobby they grew up loving by making them sit through sessions, mostly done by eager but strangely subdued DM’s, who run games that consist of reading aloud from the box text of old TSR modules or Pathfinder adventures in monotone voices (yeah, I visited and saw all that)– when they have D&D going on at all. And getting involved with private groups in the area is usually unsatisfactory and often verging on the disturbing.

So while other local groups come and go like the proverbial wind, or consistent groups made up of an open door “temporary players” situation seem to struggle to carry on from one week to the next, here I sit somehow blessed with a great group made up of four of us who have been there the entire three years, and three of us who are now on their (more or less) two year anniversary of play, well, what can I say? Sure, I bitched about some of the power/meta-gaming here and there (mostly because I was not used to being around it, these were mostly seasoned gamers compared to my 90's groups), but now we are used to each other and our particular peccadillo's. We know what we can get away with, and what we probably should not try to get away with unless you are Dan Dan The Power Game Man(tm). And it there is a certain security in the fact that we have to turn down at least one person a month who wants in the group because we are at maximum occupancy.

Do I deserve this good fortune, gamewise? I dunno. I’m basically a decent person who generally focuses his over emphasis on passion and outgoingness in good and positive directions, including into the games he devotes time to. Hey, anybody who has devoted a certain side section of their life since childhood to a hobby of pretend deserves a group like this, and it’s unfortunate not more get to experience that. I’m blessed, I tells ya! How long will it last?

So do you have a strong group you are glad to have? Or are you just happy sporadically playing out there in the gaming jungle?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Oriental Adventures & The Legend of Green Snake

I was going through a box of my older DVD’s last night, and came across my copy of the 1993 Hong Kong film Green Snake. I really love this movie, which I think I originally saw at the WLA revival theater The Nuart in the mid-late 90’s. I don’t know if there is a voice-over English version, but I hope not. The movie is so beautiful to look at (when the sadly terrible special effects are not on screen) and combined with the sing song native language it is almost mesmerizing, and part of the films charm (at least for a Yankee).

Wikipedia describes the film thusly:

Two snake spirits have been training for many centuries to take human form and experience the love, freedom and wisdom that is supposedly only available to humans. White Snake (Joey Wong) is the more experienced one and proceeds to get engaged with local scholar Hsui Xien (Wu Hsing-Kuo), with whom she plans to have a child which would complete her passage into the mortal realm. Green Snake (Maggie Cheung) is the younger and more impulsive of the two sisters and she is not yet quite sure about the benefits of the human world. The two snakes move into their magically created house and start a successful medical practice in the town.

Their enemies are a buffoonish Taoist and an overzealous Buddhist monk Fa Hoi (Vincent Zhao) who make various attempts to banish them from the human world. The monk thinks of himself as a keeper of the natural order of the world and is very prejudiced against spiritual beings seeking to improve themselves. He brings things to a head when he abducts White's husband from the human/spirit mixed marriage into his religious reeducation camp–styled temple.

Anyway, whenever I think of this film I think of Oriental Adventures (applying things that I like to gaming terms was a habit I never managed to fully lose after attaining it in childhood). Around 2003 I was into the second or third year of my gaming semi-retirement when I ran into an old player of mine at a suite party at Loscon in Los Angeles (a very rare sci fi con appearance by me) at around 2am. Lisa was from that period in the mid-90’s when almost all of my players were female and we were mostly doing Call of Cthulhu and Champions. Lisa, pretty high on joy juice, talked about how much she loved the old games, and raved to her fairly new husband about my DM’ing prowess (of course a party at a convention is the perfect place to hear that). It was decided right there that I would be doing up some games for these guys and whoever in the near future. At the husband Jeff’s request I would be doing some Oriental Adventures (something I hadn’t run since around 1990). Current player in my group Terry, who had played with Lisa in most of those 90’s games and was Lisa’s roommate back then, was up for it as well so there we were doing OA on a semi-monthly basis on weekends for awhile.

The movie Green Snake had a heavy influence on many of those games for me. For one thing, Lisa ran a Hengeyokai, and I tweaked that race just a little to match the changelings of Green Snake (animal spirits who spend many years of training and meditation to change into the higher human form). Then there was the super-powered, self-righteous monk of the film who both admires and distrusts the White and Green Snakes, Fa Hoi. I totally ripped-him off to create Tai Seng, a monk who I used as and NPC to guide the players towards various adventures and activities (he was not a prick like the movie version…for the most part).

Anyway, take a look at my favorite scene from the film, where the snakes White and Green make their transformation to beautiful human form on the roof of a tavern during a rainstorm, while a wedding/orgy goes on inside (little nudity so be careful at work). Maybe you’ll get the chance to watch in it’s entirely at some point. If you are going to run OA in the future, I demand you watch it! It might give you some great ideas as well.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Heartbreak of November 1st

Aw, the unhappy ending of a beloved holiday. A Jager hangover in the office is never an enjoyable thing. And all the candy in the mailroom Is leftover crap nobody wants. Sweettarts, lollipops, and some kind of weirdo Mexican candy. There are still some cupcakes leftover in the large kitchen, but they look like somebody smooshed them with the palm of their hand. That’s ok though, because they are a sad reminder of the poor turnout and uninspiring costumes from yesterday’s office Halloween party anyway. The new blonde bookkeeper in the black cat costume was pretty hot though.

Last night I wanted to do the second year of a grand tradition. See, last year I happened to be at home heading towards midnight on Halloween, with the “Sounds of the Season” channel on. At exactly midnight they were playing “Monster Mash” or something, and *bam* suddenly it went right into cheerful holiday music. You know that stuff they play before Thanksgiving that aren’t really Christmas tunes or carols but evoke the Holiday Winter spirit anyway? So the image goes from a grinning pumpkin to a pilgrim handing a Native American a horn-o-plenty (the Native blissfully having not a clue about what would soon be happening to him and his people). Anyway, I was so jarred by that transition that I wanted to be there for it last night. Why not? All my holiday out and about partying was over the weekend (Sat night up till 5am, and there were some great costume concepts out there), so at home on Halloween Monday night it’s me and some Jagermiester at midnight with my new little tradition waiting for the musical transition…but nothing. No change-over. As of this morning, they are still playing goddamn Halloween music on that channel. I wonder how long that will go on? Halloween is over, dude! I’m thinking Time Warner Cable maybe don’t exactly have a crack team of professionals keeping an eye on those music channels.

Aw well, time to take down the cheap Rite-Aid decorations and get back to work. At least on the next holiday in a few weeks I’ll get a long weekend off. Vegas, baby!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Luther and The D20 Murders

I discovered Luther on the BBC America channel, a network I started watching mostly because I like hearing Gordon Ramsey’s constant swearing get bleeped.

Eventually I saw a commercial for Luther, a UK series made up of 4 episode seasons, that is currently on it’s 3rd season. What drew me in was that a couple of particular episodes seemed to be about killers who used D20’s and D8’s to decide on who and how to commit their crimes.

So I did watch these episodes On Demand, and besides the gaming gimmick I fell in love with this show. Luther, a big, black London serial killer profiler, is this almost paladin-like force of good, catching killers and unwittingly letting the evil he encounters get all up in his head. Sort of like a Sin-Eater. Although in personal pain over his work, and failed marriage, he obsessively goes about helping people threatened by evil, even though he himself seems in need of help. One of those hurt, lost personalities.

Anyway, the two killers in question are in competition. They roll randomly for their targets off of tables in their journals, and gain points that let them use better weapons on the next kill. They sort of level-up. These two-parters are the third and fourth episodes of season two, but I would recommend you start with season one off of Netflix and work your way up. The show is that good, based mostly on the great characters. When you watch episode one, with it’s genius physicist female serial killer who kills her parents just to show she can get away with it (pictured with Luthor above), I think you’ll be hooked. She is one of the most fascinating bad-guys I’ve seen on TV in years. Check it out.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Do I even want to be considered “Old School” anymore?

That is what I have been thinking this week after seeing reactions to the Dwimmermount project over at Grognardia the last few months (and a wide variety of other old school blogs and web pages), and especially this week.

I did not seek out much in the way of online info about gaming until recent years. In the 90’s during a heavy gaming period, I checked-out some forums briefly on AOL, but by around 1999 or so I had gone into a retirement period from gaming that would last several years. I was getting so involved in the world music community in California, and was spending much more time with people to whom gaming was not even on the radar of, I pretty much quit (I always had a busy life outside games, but at that point I knew nobody who gamed or wanted to. And when I would be dating a girl around then I certainly never brought up gaming to them). It was getting hard to get people together on a weekend (then the preferred time to play) for several hours on a Saturday or Sunday, and it did not seem worth it anymore. I for sure was not going to start gaming as an adult at game shops and cons. I was done. I thought for good.

Then three years ago I got contacted by current group host Andy off of where I had sort of off-handedly started a profile, and *bam!* we had a group together and have been gaming regularly since. On a weeknight actually, because regular weekend gaming again was still a pipe dream and would probably always be so with rare exceptions. So this OSR thing was at full steam as I discovered. I saw an advert for some D&D podcast that appealed to me so I listened and James from Grognardia was the guest (they described him as a blogger who did not always have the most fascinating posts, but by sheer virtue of the amount of posts he had a big following). After that I checked out James blog, and was ultimately inspired to start my own, as I had my own old school stories to tell.

After three years of checking out the OSR, I’m getting pretty tired of old school-style artwork when it had previously been nice and nostalgic (, I will always revere Trampier and others from the past for pure nostalgia value) currently being produced. Same-old same-old adventurers cautiously approaching a dungeon doorway. So little of it inspires me now. Case in point, James and his proudly displayed art samples for Dwimmermount.

The artist is excellent, but I’m sorry, the standard knight dude and the old broad who runs the leather mug booth at the Ren Faire somehow schlepping into a mountain top dungeon in the wilderness not only is uninspiring to me, but seems to me not to be very far from the realm of a parody drawing of old school D&D. I’m fine with people liking it, but Jesus Christ, words like “Outstanding” and “amazing” on the comment thread is giving me a serious douche-chill. Most of James readers are at the point where they are pre-sold on anything he does, it seems.

Now, James as usual is a little touchy when it comes to his work and fan club. Differing opinions on his work is often met with a “you can go read other blogs” type of stuff. Fair enough. But although I have rarely kissed his ass (I think James feels mostly burned by me in the past for my hearty defending of the 80's Conan film that he bashes constantly and obssesively), I feel I have chimed in with plenty of thumbs-up on ideas and reviews over the years, and try to offer my own experiences of the old school that is perhaps a bit more visceral and from the viewpoint of an outgoing personality (i.e. I was on the football team in high school as opposed to the chess club).

So far on that thread the only other dissenting opinion is of young gamer grrrl Rachel of Rach’s Reflections (the only girl on the thread agrees with me. A win is a win), who is for sure a smart cookie. She had some very contemplative comments on how changes to the old, silly styles can be cool and keep what was good while having a bit more umph!:

“... It may just be my late entry into the hobby, but the whole "ren-faire" look that seems to be in vogue to the old-school community just looks... silly to me, particularly in conjunction with the idea that old-school play is a little grittier and more mercenary. A certain amount of stylization to make adventurers look cool is a good thing. I'm not saying full dungeonpunk, but...

“…Well... look at Johnny Weismuller in a pair of brown trunks, Errol Flynn in a green unitard and felt jerkin, or Burt Ward in elf booties and green underwear.
Now look at Tarzan as drawn by Disney, Jonas Armstrong with a cowl and leather armor, or Robin as drawn throughout the 90s and oughts.
Which one looks more like a reject from a panto, and which one looks like someone that knows how to throw down? Keep in mind I'm not asking what's more accurate to the text (Tarzan) or the period (Robin Hood), I'm just saying that they look more like they might be taken seriously, without being excessive at that…”

I like this lass. Smart is so sexy. Anyway, there is bad updating (dungeonpunk with bald heads, tattoos, and giant hoop earrings; black leather in X-Men film costumes, Spider-Man in a costume that would cost 100 times his freelance salary, etc), then there is good updating like the stuff Rachel mentioned. Truly, Disney Tarzan (I think the best Tarzan so far, and the closest to the books outside of DC comics 1970’s series) and 90's Robin looked like they could realistically kick ass, but were still Tarzan and still Robin.

But going too far into the past to search out fuzzy feelings really only goes so far to me (anymore). I think you can tap into that past without same-old same-old. Not that I'm the guy to do it (real job, interests besides gaming, mid-life crisis, etc etc etc), but I will tell you this; I was not immediately taken with James R’s LOTFP, or Goeff’s Carcosa, but the more I see of what old school Grog’s who are trying to maintain the old school look and feel are doing, the more I am attracted to those truly unique works that actually think outside the box while still being basically, at heart, old school fantasy gaming. Shit, they certainly are not boring.

Bottom line, and please excuse my French, but how the fuck many more basic, old school dungeons and drawings of knights at the dungeon doorway do we still need to see at this point? Is there a bottomless need and desire for this stuff out there?

When it comes to me and “old school,” I think I am at a crossroads, folks. While I think I will still run me some ol’ school D&D here and there, I think I’m done looking at new scenarios, settings, art, and writing for it unless it has something new to say and something that inspires me more than just looking like art from back in the day (or looking like a parody of it).

What say you?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Paul Crabaugh and Me

The other day no less than two well known blogs (Grognardia and Jeff’s Game Blog) posted about a gentleman named Paul Crabaugh, who wrote some interesting articles for Dragon Magazine (and some others) in the early 80’s. I knew Paul a little from my youth playing games at Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica, so I thought I would do a post about him myself since the name is getting bandied about.

Oh, and the title of this post is a play on Michael Moore’s famous first documentary. I actually did not know Paul well, and can only speak on experiences surrounding gaming with him at a dingy, smelly little game shop.

I bought most of my first D&D stuff as a kid at a place in West LA called Chess and Games. Way in the back they had a medium size rack that contained the LLB’s, Greyhawk, and Blackmoor. I snapped them up with what little allowance money I had.

But my real gaming started at Aero Hobbies. For my first year or so gaming there it was mostly kids my age I think, plus a couple of much older former leftover wargamer beardo’s who probably should not have been around kids.

But not long after I started going there it stopped being so much about young folk, as a passel of 20 and 30 something guys, including some friends of owner Gary, started playing a lot at the store a lot more. Most of them were not so nice to the younger teenagers, acting like their presence was a liability, and were typical of snarky D&D geeks.

But one guy who was actually pretty nice to the younger folk there was Paul Crabaugh himself. Not that he particularly wanted to play with kids, but he didn’t seem to resent their presence so much as the other older guys did. He never put the younger people down, ever, which seemed to be the stock in trade of his peers.

The first thing you would notice about Paul was how huge he was. He was a massive man. Not especially tall, but he very much looked like Michael Moore after doing three months worth of a Morgan Spurlock routine super-sizing at Mickey D’s. No-Chair-Can-Hold-Me big (and I say that being no Jack Sprat myself lately). But he was a gentleman in every way to everybody. He spoke to a 15 year old very much the same way he talked to adults, with respect and interest for what they had to say. Very rare among gamers. That is one thing that even though I didn’t think of it at the time, made me really like the guy. A gentleman in a sea of owner Gary’s asshole peers and cronies.

I didn’t know until quite some time after meeting and playing in games with Paul that he had written D&D articles for Dragon. Since Paul only really seemed to like Traveller and other science fiction games at the time, I’m guessing that his heaviest D&D period had been in college. He was writing about stuff he didn’t seem to play anymore (though I think he wrote some Traveller items as well) unless he was doing it away from the shop. The interesting thing was he never talked about those articles. He had zero ego about it. Owner Gary had pointed them out to me. I thought it was pretty cool.

Gaming at Aero was pretty bland and more often than not boring for me. Whether GM'd by a sleazy, druggo Vietnam vet, or a college educated computer programmer, it was not so much as story-making or painting a picture for players. It was monotone descriptions of things, usually some pun or two thrown into (like older geek from all walks of life seemed to love back then – more often than not based on Monty Python), then something attacks and you fight it (owner Gary's games had a bit more peronality to them than the others). I’m grateful for my Aero exposure to Runequest and Traveller and other games I may have never played otherwise back then, but even as a kid I knew games were better when you could inject a little personality, passion, and wonder into them.

Paul’s Traveller games were moderately interesting, nothing really special in retrospect, and like most younger guys at Aero I didn’t get too involved in them. Games by older guys like Paul, owner Gary, and other regulars seemed to be aimed at one or two other older guy’s characters no matter how many people sat at the table. One or two characters doing everything and everybody else were just side characters; side-kicks at best. Just sitting and watching. Looking back, that was a real shame. One time, towards the end of my going to Aero on a regular basis (sports, girls, and my own gaming groups were too attractive compared to the dust, moldy smells and the heinous attitudes of the Aero sausage-fest) my sweetheart of the time, who lived an hour north in Ventura, was in town for the weekend and I took her to Aero to play in one of Paul’s Traveller games. I spent all this time getting her a character set-up to play (if you know Traveller you know what that takes), but when we were ready it was once again an ignore fest as Paul pretty much ran the game aimed directly at owner Gary and left us and everybody else to sit, fidget and stare. I really get the impression that Paul would have been most happy just running for Gary alone with nobody there.

You’d think that a tall, beautiful girl at the game table for a change would generate some interest, but these guys were just too into how they did it at Aero (or maybe they didn’t know how to deal with a female gamer who didn’t look like Janet Reno) so In retrospect I guess it wasn’t Paul’s fault, although we never once got so much as a “so what are you’re characters doing?”. Young people, who these games were ostensibly aimed at, got no props at Aero. It was adults playing games and the young’uns be damned, unless you were one of owner Gary’s little blond cabin boys he got to watch the register now and again (I think one of those grew up and eventually bought Aero from Gary before he passed a few years ago). Thankfully, a couple hours of being ignored at the table ended when one of my high school friends showed up and asked us to hit the mall with him and we got gratefully the hell out of there to go have fun. That was the last time I actually sat in on a game at Aero I think. I was outgrowing it. Moving on to my own groups, and to non-gaming related activities. This was one of my experiences at Aero that shaped me as a GM. In this case, I would always make sure and give lots of time to other players no matter what character was shining at the moment. Actually, now that I think of it, most of my good qualities as a GM comes from doing the opposite of things I experienced in those old games at Aero.

I guess Paul passed away a couple or three years after I stopped hanging out at the shop. Sometime after abandoning the place for more fulfilling pastimes, I saw Paul walking in downtown Santa Monica. He was unmistakable, what with his size and the ever-present long-sleeve office job shirt with pocket protector he wore all the time. I just kept on moving for whatever reason, probably because I had so many unsavory experiences at that dingy game shop that were still fairly fresh (including Paul's Traveller game), but I wish I had stopped to talk to him a bit away from the negative environment that was Aero. He was one of the very, very few older people I came away from the place having any respect or admiration for. I’m glad his name still gets mentioned in the gamer community all this time later.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Deadliest Night of My Life

I’m no stranger to shamelessly ripping off ideas from other mediums to use in game scenarios (I use the somewhat harsh term “ripping-off” because I didn’t always reveal where I got my ideas from to my players).

One example is when I was at the height of my Champions campaigns around 1990. One of my regular players, Gaz, liked to do a little “powder” on a Friday night at his pad in Santa Monica. Gaz was not a drug dude by any means, nor particularly skeevy (just a plain ol’ geek). He just had some friend who gave him blow now and again, and he liked to hang out on a Friday, no party or gathering or anything, and watch MTV and do a few lines. Cocaine was never my thing, but Gaz would invite me over for a few beers, and since I was a ten minute walk away I would cruise over to watch videos and sink a few, and wish I had something else going on in my Friday nights. During that period I was working full time at both the Southern and Northern Renaissance Faires , each lasting more than two months’ worth of weekends, the Northern Faire involving weekend drives each way all the way to Mendocino County that took almost 8 hours (nowadays the I-5 highway has a 70 mph speed limit and the drive would be around 6 hours, but back then, as Sammy Hagar lamented, the limit was 55 anywhere in California). So especially right after Faire season it would take a bit of time for me to get back in the swing of normal socializing outside of the recreated Elizabethan country village. So a relaxing night at Gaz’s drinking beers then staggering back home was a decent, causal Friday to me (Saturday nights I still tried to do things un-geeky, like trying to date non-Faire chicks and hang out with non-Faire people. Going out to local bars and such).

So anyway, with us having so much fun with my Champions settings with my regular group, Gaz suggested we do some solo stuff on the Fridays seeing as we were getting looped anyway. Nowadays I’d rather take a kick in the nads than try to do solo gaming with somebody, but at the time it didn’t seem like a bad idea. So he created a character, Jessie Steel, who was a non-costumed hero, sort of a genetic super soldier who worked as a hero for hire. So what I did, in between many trips to the bathroom (the blow Gaz got from his friends was heavily cut with baby laxative, it seemed), I ran couple of hour sessions for him. And his character was perfect for what I had in mind. What I did was basically put his Jessie characters through little detective adventures based entirely on old episodes of The Rockford Files. It was my favorite show as a kid, and I had many of the best episodes memorized. Rockford, looking for some rich guys missing wife, gets knocked unconscious, framed for murder, and chased by the Mafia, so I just did it all to Jessie Steel, but pumped up with a bit more harrowing combat and martial arts (Gaz was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, so most detecting elements he solved had to be handed to him on a silver platter by NPC’s). Gaz was not a real Rockford fan, and I don’t think I told him about my inspirations for those little Friday night games that winter/spring until the mid-90’s or so. He didn’t seem to mind.

Although I came up with tons of original stuff for my games for the most part, there were pleny of examples of homage in my games. There is one example that is my favorite “rip-off.” That’s the Daredevil comic book shown above. It was written by Sci Fi guy Harlan Ellison when current scripter Denny O’Neil was sick in hospital and asked his pal Harlan to fill in for a few issues. These were great comics.

“The Deadliest Night of My Life” had Daredevil following a suspicious little girl who was running around the city streets alone late at night, and she led him to a large mansion in a walled off estate. Turns out the father of one of DD’s old foes who died built the place, and automated it to draw DD in and kill him with any number of traps. Snake pits, shark tanks, electrocution chambers, flame thrower hallways, etc. It was all pretty cool. Daredevil ends up in a room with a big TV, and the deceased enemy “monologues” to him and says why he is doing all this. DD manages to escape at the last second when he figures out the whole place is set to blow as soon as the guy on tape stops talking. Excellent issue.

So I adapted it for a D&D game I was running for my group in the later 90’s. In my game, the mansion owner was a high level mage whose family had been brutally murdered by thieves while he was away. Now hating all thieves, he lured in the characters who were set on looting the place (I was doing a Thieves Guild campaign) and put them through the Daredevil stuff, but all run by magic instead of automation. I think a character died that game, and the rest got out before it blew to hell.

The players loved that game. None of my players were big comic book fans, at least of Daredevil, so I got away with my “homage” scott free. My D&D games tended to be sort of weird (yes, “weird fantasy”) and offbeat, so it seemed like a scenario I would come up with. Some time later I told at least a couple of players in casual conversation about that game, and one of them even asked to borrow that comic (she said something about the game being better than the comic, which while I don’t personally think was true, felt pretty good).

So taking ideas like these, while not my stock in trade or anything, usually turned out quite well. I mean, most old school D&D’ers go to many sources for their inspiration, or outright adaptations. The game itself started as sort of a mash-up of mythology, Tolkien, Leiber, and Vance fantasy, and ancient history. So why the hell not?

I kind of get the feeling I’m not alone in this either. So many great ideas out there to steal!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

DC Comics and The new 52

The new 52 is yet another DC relaunch, somewhat like the 80’s great Crisis on Infinite Earths, but without the set-up and durm and strang of that multiversal gangbang. What seems to be going on is updating 52 of the companies’ titles to the world we live in now (all fucked up). In the 60’s and much of the 70’s comics seemed to be time-locked into a sort of 1940’s/early 50’s vibe. That is mostly because the creators where all older dudes who were not adept at change. Even in the late 70’s many female side characters (Daredevil’s Karen Page, Fantastic Four’s Invisible Girl, Iron Man’s Pepper Potts, etc) still seemed to have hairstyles and often even clothing from over a decade prior. At least Archie Comics were on the cutting edge of women’s fashion.

But today the young creators in comics seem to be busy trying to make up for the old fogies conservative values. The men are more angsty and assholish, and the women are super-sexualized (apparently one of the controversies is the whoring-up of characters like Starfire, previously sort of frigid characters, to complete and utter hoochie momma status), or relegated to “girlfriend of male hero” status. From what I can tell, Catwoman has been turned into a total neo-Goth hose monster.

OK, so I don’t really buy comics anymore. At around 5 bucks a pop now, I can’t afford to buy a pile of comics every month and keep them next to the bed or in the bathroom magazine rack, and eventually into a big white box in the garage. So I can only really muse from afar at what is going on in comics. The true life story is usually more interesting than what is happening on those gaudy pages anyway.

These re-launches are often cool. Crisis back in the 80’s blew me away. The Anti-Monitor was a truly scary villain. A whole passel of various-age Supermen were running around, and even obscure characters like Jonah Hex and Sgt. Rock were right there in the mix. I could not believe what they were doing.

But the aftermath of that was not good. DC writers struggled for years with the conundrums that came out of that particular re-launch. Things that happened in the comics of the 1950’s and 60’s were important canon to many characters. Some writers even had characters that no longer knew each other act towards each other as if they had adventured together for decades. Turns out it was not as simple as just Killing Supergirl, erasing Supermen from Earths Two through Two Million, or Wonder Woman from the Justice Society of the 40’s.

And let’s face it, much of the talent brought on board to reboot characters back then, like Marvels big fat paycheck man John Byrne, fell flatter than Mr. Fantastic stuck in a Baxter Building elevator with one of The Thing’s farts (man, I should be writing for comics). The new DC’s first team-up of Superman and Batman had them facing a punk rock chick in big glasses and a Mohawk named “Magpie.” She liked birds and stealing stuff. She was nothing special, pretty much a Penguin rip-off. This was the new DC universe of the rest of the 80’s? Man, this millionaire was really phoning it in. Those John Byrne issues of Superman were some of the last comics I bought new in the store (I really only pick up the occasional used copy at swap meets since the 90’s). Yes, they turned me off that much.

So here we go, another massive re-launch. A bunch of 1st issues will be sold. But what then? Will writers encounter a maze of problems created by renewing the universe? I already see some. In this new universe Bruce Wayne has only been Batman around 5 years. But appearing in his new ish is an older Robin (Dick Grayson) who is now long since become Nightwing, the current young Robin, and at least a couple of the other previous Robin’s of various ages from the last 30 years. They can be hammered into new continuity I guess, but really, Grayson has gone from a little kid joining Batman in his early adventures, to a cynical and seasoned Nightwing in less than 5 years?

OK, like I said, I don’t really put any money into the pockets of comic book companies and creators anymore. I have no real stake in what they do with this. But as an old school comic book fanboy from back in better times, I guess I’m rooting for this to be a success for the sake of comic goodness to come. Monthly comic magazines are already an endangered species. No sense in helping them limp into the history books.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Spider Baby Bombs

The last few weekends I have been camping out and working at a California Renaissance Faire, where friends and I do several music shows a day at one of the stages. I’ve done this on and off for a couple of decades, and it is still big fun. Running around in baggy peasant clothing all day, and getting cleaned up and into street cloths for nights of partying out in the woods and under the stars in this amazing village that gets recreated. It’s sort of my mini-burning man. One of the ale stands opens up around 8PM Sat night, and I often hit the bar scene, sucking down 3 dollar Bass Ales fresh from the tap, which is what I like to do when there is no particular party going on that I want to be at, or some girl I am trying to hook up with.

Last Saturday night I staggered back to camp with a few folk right after midnight, and we were sitting around the fairly quiet camping area having a beer and shooting the shit. Suddenly up comes an old friend of mine, shining his flashlight into his pewter Ale mug. Inside was a monstrosity exactly like shown in the picture above. A wolf spider, apparently, with its little baby monsters clinging lovingly to its back. It was around the size of your thumb.

Needless to say, I freaked. I normally like spiders, but this thing is especially brutal looking, and the babies were icing on the cake of fear. I’ve lived in California my whole life, and although not an avid camper I have had countless such weekends in the woods. As others around us freaked when they looked in the disgusto-mug, I thought about how I was going to go to sleep that night thinking about these bad mamajammas toting there tots around beneath my covers, or dangling on the tent ceiling 4 feet above me. In fetal position, that’s how.

So naturally one day I am going to have to have a giant version of this thing show up in a D&D game. But what would set it apart from other giant spiders? The ability to use the babies on its back as missiles, that’s how. Every round the mama could lunch one or two of these things, baseball sized spiders that could latch on to you and inject some nasty poison. Or hell, why could they not explode in a mist of deadly gas? Perhaps act as a firebomb on contact? I dunno, it’s D&D man. But in the game, those babies gotta do something besides look for a free ride from mama.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Jedi Suck

It’s the busiest time of the year for me, what with driving almost 5 hours every weekend to work at a Ren Faire, working late most nights during the week, and trying to keep up with a very hard, labor intensive math class. But I did manage to get a Knights of the Old Republic game in last week.

The biggest challenge of this game is twofold for me. Firstly, I am bound and determined for this to NOT be a Star Wars game. The KOTOR setting, and my experience with that excellent video game that made me actually fall in love with a certain version of the SW universe (set 4000 years prior to that douche Anakin Skywalker coming along and getting a woman more beautiful than he deserves), and secondly I’m trying to take it in different directions than a typical SW game might go. That did not work out so well for my infamous experience with a group of grumpy, mostly middle-age Star Wars nuts the other year, but it seems to be going over pretty well with my thankfully un-Star Wars geek group (early on a Star Wars game was a hard sell for some of them).

But most challenging is finding a way to keep Jedi characters from ruling the universe. They are just so fucking powerful, even at low levels. Telepathy, sensing of other force users, and galactic scanning abilities are served up before they even choose particular powers. And when they do those powers are almost always no-miss. Force powers have different, more potent task resolution than normal day to day stuff of other PC’s. They barely even need light sabers to rule the battlefield. As a matter of fact, the iconic light saber seems to be the weakest part about them (blasters do more damage).

The player of the female Cathar (cat people) Jedi isn’t really taking full advantage of these facts. She’s never been one to go for the power game. But the male Jedi player has studied the rules, sussed out the strengths and weaknesses of the abilities, and gets the maximum juice out of them. I’ve already discussed that the GM and the Jedi players need to be in agreement about how much the powers get used, and how potent they are. I thought there was an understanding, but when the player somehow thought he could stealthily use the Jedi Mind Trick on a Mandalorian who was surrounded by Mando pals who were wise to Jedi tricks, and I told him this was not really possible, it was outburst of anger time. “Go ahead and nerf the Jedi!” So at least this one Jedi player has already been conditioned by this game to not fear failure. Yeesh.

Well, I suppose if I had a little more experience with the game, I could have made it an all Jedi game so everybody could be insanely powerful badasses at low level, or I could have just forbid Jedi from the campaign (this would have been the wisest choice, I think).

But what is done is done. I’m trying to go by the rules as much as possible, so I can’t be too nerfy like I would with Dan Dan the Power Game man running a female drow in a D&D game. But the very presence of Jedi makes it very difficult to match the power of NPC’s with the PC’s. Too weak, and the Jedi in the party will help the group win out way easily. Pump them up a notch, and the party could find themselves stretched out on the tarmac (but at least alive. It is a bit difficult to get killed in this game.).

The mid-levels are being reached in the game now, so a new dynamic could be setting in. maybe it’ll get easier (even if the Jedi players don’t want to “play fair”). But one thing sort of nags at my mind. This is fun, but I’m very much looking forward to running a game again where the balance of power and the status quo is a little easier to maintain.

(Note: I should at least mention that not one player has moaned about the power imbalance. And even “gimmi gimmi” Andy seems to be against any kind of nerfing of Jedi funk even though he is not running a force user. Also, there is one character that is a force user and not a Jedi – so like I said, the dynamic might change as the game goes along)

Monday, September 12, 2011

The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival

There should be more of these. LOTS more.

A goddamn Lovecraft fest going on practically in my own back yard (Redondo Beach). Guesting Roger Corman no less. And guess what? It's the weekend I start my several week run at the Northern Ren Faire, downing ales and playing world music. The only Old One's I'll be around are a lot of old hippies. Oh, and young hippy chicks. Yeah, that and the boozing in an Elizabethan village in the woods are why I'm going...

But if I was going to be in town, I'd be trying to get tickets to this thing.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Big Hair of Twilight 2000

As depicted on the ad, this is straight out of a direct to video, 1980's post apoco film starring Rowdy Roddy Piper. "Hell comes to Frogtown" had a couple of decent women soldiers. But even Sandahl Bergman's hair didn't have this late 70's Playboy After Dark Playmate style. One of them looks like Farrah Fawcett. So is this so called "realistic" aftermath type game set in the original Charlie's Angels universe?

No soldier who wanted to live through battle would go into combat alongside chicks with big hair. If they were the type of women who wanted that kind of hair, then they were the type of women you had hidden in the bunker for "Comfort time." If the men go into battle with any women at all in the aftermath, they'll likely be more like the harsh, fugly women guards at Abu Graib prison were in those wonderful photos released a few years ago.

Maybe the women on the cover are actually men in drag. Soul "sisters" of Buffalo Bill dancing naked in front of the mirror waiting for Agent Starling to show up.

I know typical nerds often have a fetish for beautiful women who can kick ass like Laura Croft or one of the blond chicks from Xena. But anyone who thinks there is anything realistic about this needs to just play in the fantasy worlds and not live in them.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Oops, I con gamed again

I made another one of my rare public appearances DM’ing yesterday at Socal Smackdown in Anaheim. Last year’s session was a big success, and the organizers (wanting more RPG events, especially old school) had asked me to run a game again. I was back and forth about it for the last couple of weeks, but having not a whole ton of other priorities for the long weekend I was leaning towards it. Earlier in the week a player from my regular group was interested, so I said “what the hell” and went for it. Last year I stayed at a cheap hotel near the con, but this time just travelled down there for the session

I did not have a lot prepared, and had not done OD&D since the pub game earlier in this year, but I dove in the last few days whenever I had a few minutes and tried to hammer out a scenario. I pretty much used my Tegel Manor Dynasty setting I did in the pub game; basically a prequel to full blown haunted Tegel Manor. This setting is sort of turning out to be my Ravenloft, a recurring locale with undead, demonic forces, family intrigue, and atmosphere. In a lot of ways I’m inspired by the old Dark Shadows program to give a living family angle to the cursed mansion.

Even though the con blurb did not mention me specifically, there were three people from my pub and Smackdown 2010 groups, so including regular player Terry it was not a total batch of strangers, which was nice.

It was really kind of a wild and wooly session, the 4 or so hours going by pretty quick. There was a bit of over the top dorkery from a couple players, but it was more funny than annoying. My sessions tend to be boisterous and filled with wild laughter. As a matter of fact, one guy who played another game at a table near mine last year and was playing in mine this year commented that he remembered how loud and fun my game looked, and how he wished he was in that session. And again, it was a success and very worthwhile.

I do have to say that campaign play is always going to be my main fun and focus. I just love having time for characters and situations to be developed through ongoing gameplay. For these more or less one shots (although this is the second time running the same character for both Terry and another guy, so I try to collect the character sheets at the end to keep them in case somebody plays again in the future), I just think in terms of several encounter situations and loosely tie them together. There isn’t a ton of time for sandboxing.

Anyway, I’m in my busiest time of the year now, so I doubt I’ll do another public session anytime soon. But it turned out to be another great way to spend one day of a long weekend.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

“Don’t Drink and Game”

Obviously if you’ve read a few of my posts from a year or so ago, you know that I am no stranger to “mind altering substances” at game time. With my love of brewed liquids (and I ain’t talking coffee and tea), the title of this post is obviously a ruse. These days I enjoy several ales during the games I run, with Bass Ale, Fat Tire Ale, and Blue Moon being current favorites (all usually on sale in 12 packs at your local Rite Aid store). I know this sounds like a lot to you, but I am over 6’2”, currently built like a Samoan, and for sure ain’t no momma’s boy Sunday drive drinker. Although I have cut down lately so I can chop down that Samoan build 5 or 50 lbs, my years of practice give me a certain amount of tolerance. And for sure when driving from a session I’ll knock it off around an hour and a half before ending the game (I privately refer to this as “Engine Cooldown Period”), and often take a walk a few blocks to shake the mist out of my melon. Maybe grab a vitamin water at the local market before heading back to the car.

Almost everybody in the group but Big Ben (total tea totaler – although now that I think of it I don’t think he even drinks tea) enjoys a few drinks. Dan Dan the Power Game Man almost always has a sixer of Rolling Rock he’ll suck down 5 of. Andy, fairly slight of build, like 2 or 3 ales. And little Ben often has a tall can of something. Paul is not much of a drinker, but a couple of times has brought along a few Jack Daniels Lemonades. Our lady player Terry likes a couple of ales as well.

And as you may know from past posts some of us like to smoke a bit of the pipeweed before the game and maybe during a break. The fact is I would probably do this more, but during the game sometimes if I step out on the patio for a quick inhale Dan will come running out thinking it’s a chance for a cigarette break, and this can cause all the other little penguins to come waddling out to see what the fuss is and take part in whatever substance they prefer. But for the most part I would not say that anything is getting used in excess. If I am getting a ride, I might drink an ale or two more, but nothing crazy or shameful.

So sometimes I think about gaming, and how for the most part my experiences outside of the group have been fairly sober. When I was running KOTOR sessions for an established group of middle aged Star Wars dorks in Hollywood the other year, it seemed like at least one of them was a beer drinker but did not do it at the table. So I ran those sessions, that were already treated like I was working for these guys, stone cold sober. And that was one place I really felt I could use a few drinkypoos, being surrounded by what amounted to very weird and ultimately unfriendly creeps. At another session I went to last year, the host made it very clear to anybody that was playing that no substances, alcohol included, would be tolerated. And hell, in that case, being a fairly mellow and happy drinker (much nicer guy than sober me) things might have worked out differently if I had had a couple of belts when something unpleasant and unfriendly ended up going down. I just might not have walked out of that game less than an hour into it, which I don’t think any DM worth his salt wants a player to do.

I’ve had a couple of nice drinky games outside the main group the last year or so though. At last year’s Socal Smackdown con I had brought a little cooler with some beers in to get me through the session, and Cyclopeatron who was in attendance even hit me up with a nice rum and coke from the hotel bar. And earlier this year Cyclo organized a little pub game in Anaheim (or was it Fullerton?) with me and Trent Foster running our early sessions, and I had quite a few pints in that one (full tab for me and my driver Terry’s drinks? 90 bucks).

But one of my attendees at the Smackdown Session, Gary his name was I think, asked me to run some sessions at his place for some people in the future, but that no drinking of any kind would be tolerated. Needless to say, those games never panned out.

What is it with the drinking hate among many gamers? This is not a new phenomenon. In the 90’s, when I was running games for a group of mostly women in the latter part of it, those were some smoke and tequila soaked gaming. But each and every person there parties. And not falling down drinking. They were several hour weekend sessions, and we would do a shot and a toast from time to time. Well ok, I was putting beer in that mix too, but I lived a 15 minute stagger away so no big woop if I was feeling pretty wet on the brain by the end of the session. Hell, I was a much younger man then. But I also remember going to some games in the area on a Friday night some guy was hosting in the late 90’s. . These were terrible games, with a GM who kept no notebooks and totally made things up, badly as he went along. But I stuck with it because I think I was low on players at that time and was sort of trolling one player he had who I felt was a right fit for my group. But by game two I was bringing a six pack along to dull the pain and boredom. A couple of games later I was alone with the host working on some GURPS character for another game, and when talking about drawbacks for a character, disabilities or whatever they called them in that system, he made a big point of telling me alcoholism would be considered a weakness, and that he personally was creeped out by it. Ah, I see. My sixer on a Friday night habit was freaking the boring little douche out. I think I was done with that group at that point.

What do this people think is going to happen? Am I, or anybody else who wants a few refreshing adult beverages, some kind of old west Indian savages who will go nuts and kill the whole family if we get our hands on firewater? What’s the deal with that?

You only have to read a few threads on Dragonsfoot or to see that there are drinkers out there in the game community. But that seems to be not the norm, and for the most part gamers are some kind of dorkish prudes who see it as evil. They probably would even see drinking half a Near Beer as some kind of pathetic persons personal struggle with Satan. I don’t get it. If you have kids, then I understand not wanting smoking to go on around your property. But a few beers? What is the real harm? Would these people see prohibition come back to save all the poor sick souls who enjoy a handful of suds during a several hour sit down were pretending and mind expanding seem to go hand in hand?

I myself would not want to run a game on mushrooms or acid or have players doing so, but I think that is a far cry from a little alcohol. Nobody is going to come to your game, have a few drinks, and wreck the place. They aren’t going to offer any to your kids (if you have kids why are you having weird strangers over to your place anyway?). What the hell is the real harm here? Stick up the ass may be the best explanation I can come up with for each and every time I have encountered anti-drinkers in the gaming scene.