Monday, May 16, 2011

Tintin and Me

Since childhood my folks would buy stacks of comics for me at various garage sales and swap meets. One day, sometime in the mid-80’s, they came home with a pile of large format Tintin books, and therein I discovered the Zen joy of the adventures of this diminutive French reporter and his rum-chugging sailor buddy Captain Haddock (Haddock actually didn’t come along until the later, best stories. He started out as a sort of villain). They were great adventure stories, spanning the globe and even going to the moon (while most of the stories were firmly grounded in a certain realism, the moon adventure was far more a flight of fancy).

A sort of sly, winking Euro-humor within the stories really added to the subtle flavor of the tales. The antics of the heroes were always rousing adventure, with the occasional violence sudden and brief. The very feel of the stories lent themselves very well to a Call of Cthulhu vibe. I mined ideas for my COC games pretty heavily in the 90’s. For example, there was a scene where Tintin and Haddock were trapped on a train in the Mountains (a footnote at the bottom of the page let you know it was the highest rail in the world at that time) of Peru that was out of control and rolling back down the mountain at increasing speeds to eventually end up careening off a bride hundreds of feet up. My ripping off of that entire sequence (and also later the attempted sacrifice of the heroes by cultists and their being saved by knowing an eclipse was coming) made for one of the most exciting Cthulhu games I had ever ran.

Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson have produced a 3D animated movie of Tintin for Fall of this year, with an all star cast of voices including Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (of Shaun of the Dead fame). Although an animated version has the best chance of being true to the source material, I am a bit sad this will preclude a live action version any time real soon. The film will for sure be huge in Europe where Tintin is still beloved, but who knows how it will pan out in the states. I actually think there is a big fan base out there in the USA, plus references to Tintin are all over pop culture here for decades. The popular 80’s cheese band Thompson Twins are named after Tintin’s policeman pals, and every now and again you see the little dude and his dog “Snowy” on T-shirts. So we’ll see. A big hit or not, I’ll be seeing the film. If for nothing else, Tintin inspired some great gaming from me, and just all around gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Blistering barnacles!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Runequest: Why a duck?

If Glorantha-based Runequest was as big as D&D these days, you for sure would be having the guys at Dragonsfoot and other forums smack talking each other about the idea of anthropomorphic ducks in the game.

I don’t recall my exact reaction as a young teen towards intelligent ducks in a role playing game. But I do know that the second character I rolled up and ran in the old games at Aero Hobbies was a duck (my first and most beloved was a Dragonewt with a name so retarded I won’t mention it here). I might have been inspired by having a duck mini that was playing bagpipes. I think I only got to play him in maybe one or two games though. It wasn’t long into the first game before store owner Gary’s character took a dagger and deflated the pipes. Not that I didn’t deserve that; my duck was playing them as we explored the dungeon.

Back then, I guess ducks in Glorantha didn’t strike me as especially awkward. It was already a land that held great mystery and unknowns for me (that I am only getting the backstory on now, decades later), so ducks, dragon-men who came back stronger when they died, Trolls that didn’t automatically attack people nor get automatically attacked, and rapacious, diseased goat-men seemed as worthy as anything else in games. Plus I loved Judges Guild D&D adventure packs, especially those by Paul Jaquays, and those products got you used to lots of cheese and weirdness.

As to why they got included as a race, we may never know. I can’t find any info on specifics. I do know that Howard the Duck was very popular for a brief period in the late 70’s. On the cover of his first issue he was wearing Conan gear. This sounds as good of an inspiration as any, it being a part of the zeitgeist of the times. And they seemed a good replacements for hobbits in the way trolls and broos took the place of orcs and goblins from more standard fantasy settings.

I just know that in my eventual RQ games, Ducks will be a part of it (despite a serious lack of duck mini’s these days). Since I’ve got copies of Duck Pond and Duck Tower, that’s a given.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Runequest Obsession

Runequest was the second game I ever played after D&D. When I started hanging out at the local hobby shop as a kid, I had only around a year’s worth of experience with D&D. But the older crowd there were sort of past D&D, and heavily into other games. Traveller and Runequest was what were getting the most play at that time. Owner Gary had campaigns of RQ going on, and he had one big wall of the play area covered in situational maps for his games. Gary loved that game so much. Gary died a few years ago, but you can still find some writings of his online outlining various Runequest themes. He had obviously continued on with the Runequest love from the late 70’s and onward through the following decades.

When I stopped hanging out in the store after the early 80’s, Runequest pretty much left my life. The gaming side of my life would carry on for many years with only three favorites; AD&D, Call of Cthulhu, and Champions (games like Toon, Bunnies & Burrows, and Empire of The Petal Throne never got on my playlist, unfortunately). But I left my RQ at Aero Hobbies and never really looked back. I think my preference for AD&D, besides true “Sorcery” magic, was that I had a game world I loved and the rules of RQ would never have translated into it. By the late 80’s, RQ would have been just another game that my regular players were unfamiliar with, and would have taken up precious Champs and Call of Cthulhu time if I introduced it to them.

But man, those early games at the shop. They were this huge mystery to me. The world of Glorantha was based on historical places that were very much unlike what Tolkien, Terry Brooks, and other “classic fantasy” writers were presenting in their worlds. It seemed alien to me. Of course, I had yet to have any interest in ancient Mesopotamia, so I didn’t grok that influence. Adventures took my guys (my favorite was a Dragonnewt and second favorite was a duck. I called him “Scotty MacQuack” because I found a duck figure playing a bagpipe!) from the rough plains and temples of Prax, all the way to the greener hills and grasslands of Lunar Tarsh and Dragon Pass (I think I have that right). This was a patchwork world that was being put together and expanded, in-game, by the game designers at a time when I was having my earliest adventures with it. Cheapo modules like Apple Lane and Barristor’s Barracks gave me the medium to eventually start running some Runequest adventures for my friends. But those games soon got swept away by other things we wanted to play.

Well, I got my hands on a copy of second edition, 1970’s Runequest, and some other items on PDF like Cults of Prax, Pavis & Big Rubble, and Snakepipe Hollow. I never had these before, and my imagination is being fired up again by reading more about Glorantha than I ever did back in the day. Then I was just confusedly being a character running around in these modules and sourcebooks being run by the older pricks at Aero. Now, with all this reading I’m doing, I finally am starting to feel like and “insider” in regards to Runequest. I’m unlocking it’s mysteries for myself, man!

So I guess you could say I am a bit obsessed by old RQ right now. With a (probably short) Knights of The Old Republic campaign in full swing right now, I won’t be running any Runequest any time real soon, but when I do get to introduce its mysteries to my regular players I’ll be ready. It’s a long road to Rune Lords status. Better to get on that road sooner rather than later!