Saturday, July 23, 2011

Because I will never miss a chance to throw in an obscure Goonies referenece.

I get that most of the Saturday morning cartoons I watched as a kid were nothing more than extended commercials wrapped around sugary cereal adverts, and I would not expect any modern incarnation to have the layers of plot and symbolism of Citizen Kane, or even the average Abbot and Costello movie, but OMG! Transformers 3: Dark Side of the Moon was BAD!

And the thing is, I consider it the best of the trilogy.

I am not a huge Transformers fan. I watched the show as a kid, collected the comics, had a few toys, thought they were pretty cool but didn’t delve into them the way some did. For instance, ask my wife about her theory that Transformers represent a completely modern mythos complete with a Pantheon and Christ/Orpheus figure.
One of my high school/gaming buddies is also a Transformers freak and can ramble on for hours about the relationship between Beast Wars and G1. With him in the GM’s seat we even ran a campaign of Mechamorphosis set in the Transformers universe.
I played 9-Iron, who transformed into a golf cart and spoke like Mr.Howel from Gilligan’s Island, and I was the one playing things the most straight. Needless the say, the campaign imploded due to extreme silliness.

While watching this disjointed, incoherent, mess of an eyesore sprawl across the screen last night, it finally hit me WHY I hated it so much.This is not, nor ever has been a movie franchise about Transformers. It is about Witwhicky doing idiotic, distracting things while Big Robots stomp around in the background.

In much more refreshing movie news; watch this!

It is a glorious splatterfest that makes absolutely no apologies for what it is. And I'm not just saying it because it was shot in and around the city in which I currently live. I'd like to say that they made it look bad in the film, but with the way things are going around here, they didn't have to do much!
The part with the octopus was really scary!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

For My Wife

My wife is a huge Jack Nickleson fan and an even bigger Batman fan. I think I just found her Xmus present!


Lego Marvel and DC Characters! My Geek Meter o'Happiness has offically jumped off the scale.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I think I started out trying to make a point…

Out of curiosity, I picked up the sampler of "Beasts, Men and Gods" by Bill Underwood. It read like a pretty solid D&D variant, the kind that seems to have been pumped out in the late seventies, early eighties. Anyone interested in the current Old School Revival movement should really check it out.
If my google search is correct, the objective in this game is to try and escape the purges of revolutionary Russia and into Mongolia... sounds pretty awesome.

What struck me funny was the introduction where "realism" was stressed. This has been argued to death and I'm really NOT out to refight any old battles … but we are talking about a hobby where we sit around and pretend to battle dragons and aliens and zombies, right? Actually, the intro talks more about "plausibility" than "realism" and that is fair, though I would argue for internal consistency over plausibility.

Okay, and the paragraph where it says to watch old Errol Flynn movies to learn about swordplay was also good. Not that watching Errol Flynn movies to learn about a certain STYLE of swordplay isn't a good idea, but it does have its limitations.

En Garde!

For the record, there was no such thing as "historical recreationists" or a "Society for Creative Anachronism" back in the 1930s, so when the movie needed someone to teach the actors how to use a sword, they usually turned to the only thing available … fencers; which is a hell of a cool sport, but a long, long way from the days when you were actually trying to kill someone.

This is a very good book on the subject

Is "realism' even possible in a roleplaying game? Is it even wanted? I would imagine that most players are drawn to the hobby for its very unreality. Do we really want to play a game where our hero goes down to the first gunshot wound, spends three weeks in hospital and then three years in rehab to regain partial use of their shoulder with a forty-eight percent chance of becoming addicted to the painkillers ? Or would they rather be Luke, Neo, Frodo, John McLane or…


Thinking about this a little more, the very rules of most games do not permit 'reality'. Given the inherent discordance in most systems (by that I mean, roll a certain set of dice for combat, roll a different set of dice for saving throws etc) there would be no way to accurately reflect the probabilities needed for real life. This would mean you would have to switch to a completely d100 system, and given the subtle complexities of human existence … you'd spend most of the session rolling to see that your character gets dressed in the morning without tripping down the stairs, slipping in the shower or getting anything snagged in their fly.

I've already tumbled down this rabbit hole much farther than I had intended, so I'm going to cut myself off before I start talking in circles. Sufficed to say, whether you want to play a system that requires an advanced degree in probability mathematics or only a single d10, there is going to be something out there for you. The best thing about this hobby is its diversity.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I Suck at Roleplaying Games

When it comes to the rules, I’m usually more lost than a Baptist at Dragon Con. I would honestly LOVE to crack into a game like FASA’s Mechwarrior or Renegade Legion and start rolling dice. I’ve read over the books and lovingly caressed the complex diagrams and stats a dozen times, but I still do not have the first clue on how the game is actually played. My brain is just not built that way.
Might as well be written in ancient Swahili as far as I'm concerned

When I was a kid, I’d read articles in Dragon Magazine containing detailed charts for falling or drowning damage, or weapon speed/length/weight. I can even remember a semi-serious article containing some fairly intricate rules on telling jokes for the Jester class.
I would seriously play this character.

And I found every bit of it fascinating even if, like my ill fated attempt at a Latin class, it left me utterly befuddled. As a result, my interest began to wane as AD&D continued to pile on the rules and we began to drift to other systems. We played RIFTS for the world, not the rules and we tended to ignore everything but the combat system anyway. It was rare that anyone wanted to play a straight magic-user or psi since there was a reason the game called regular humans, “squishies”. What Palladium ultimately left me with is a deep distaste for character sheets with long lists of skills and overall incongruous game mechanics.

I also found other systems like WEGs Star Wars which I found to be gloriously simple and marvellously easy to play. Then there was TWERPS, one of the grand-daddies of rules-lite which I never actually got to play, but revelled in its ability to boil things down to one stat and one dice. I still have a complete set of TWERPS supplements on my game shelf.
Does anyone else remember this game?

But the one that really opened my eyes was Talislanta. I’m certain that I will gush about Tal a lot in this blog and I’ll save the raving fandom for another time, but sufficed to say seeing everything boiled down into a simple chart was nothing short of a double-rainbow moment for me in terms of how simply a game could be played.
Judge this book by its cover.

No matter what you play, how long you have been playing, or who you play with, something or someone is going to throw you a curveball. The player is going to suggest something completely out of left-field or the game is going to go in a unexpected direction exactly like some other baseball analogy.

In order to compensate for this, the game must have a specific rule for every scenario, or an overall system that any scenario can be plugged into. Talislanta did this with a chart outlining success rolls for Combat, Magic and Skills/Everything else. Want to know how long your character can tread water in full armour before the other PCs realize he fell down the well? You can either find that specific article in Dragon Magazine, or simply make a Swimming skill roll with modifiers for the armour, strength and time on one easy chart. Maybe the rules don’t specifically cover falling in a well in full armour, but the overall system is flexible enough for the GM to improvise a solution that the player will accept.

I can certainly see the appeal of having a rule for every scenario, and every scenario its rule. For tech-heavy games, this is almost a must. But my natural inclination will always be towards simpler systems and has deeply influenced me both as a GM, and as a game designer. While the rules are the framework of the game and should be adhearded to, they should never get in the way of good game.My Sword Glows Blue in the Presence of Rules Lawyers

Saturday, July 16, 2011

13 Assassins

I am a Samurai junkie. I could watch movies like this forever.

Solomon Kane

That this is having trouble finding a North American release cheeses me off no end. I am nothing but a raving fanboy when it comes to Conan and even Almuric, but when it comes to Robert E. Howard ... give me my Solomon Kane!

John Carter OF MARS

I'm a huge Edgar Rice Burroughs fan a(if I ever do a Pulp rpg suppliment, it is going to be called "Fort Dinosaur") and I have to say, I'm quite excited.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Through the RIFTS

My first experiences with roleplaying games were at a buddy's house where he would DM completely on the fly, making up NPCs as needed on the spot and flipping through the Monster Manual at random. Sometimes he would combine these, leading to one memorable encounter with a Titan sheriff.

There was never a plot or a dungeon per say, but it kept the dice rolling and the kids entertained for a few hours. Then someone scored a copy of the RIFTS rulebook and things took a turn for the awesomely weird.

This was nothing we'd ever seen before: a weird blend of science, magic and post apocalyptic mayhem. At some point, we'd played a few rounds of Gamma World, but the enthusiastic GM had moved away taking all the books with him. But what set RIFTS apart for us, was the sense of Scale. It was a game where the rule of thumb quite literally was, Anything Goes.

Believe it or not, one of these guys became one of our most feared characters.

Plus, new books appeared were constantly popping up with new critters, new equipment and new lands to explore.

Over the years, we played through an army of characters, explored not only the earth, but other planets and other planes of existence. We stole eagerly and shamelessly from movies, TV and books, even our own campaigns from different games. There was rarely any extended plot arc, but it was glorious while it lasted.

We even devised a spin off game we simpley called "Arena", where we took on the roles of gladiator owners. We each selected a creature or OCC (Occupational Character Class, ie a race or profession, sometimes both) and had a set amount of cash to spend on anything we found in the books. Then we pitted them against each other using a HEX sheet and counters to determine distance.

What killed the campaign in the end was, and this seems to be a common refrain for RIFTS and Palladium, were the rules. I can even remember the specific encounter where we all had a sort of collective WTF moment. One PC, a full-conversion cyborg, was standing six feet from a particularly large mecha and they were simply firing full-bore at each other. There was no finesse, no tactics, simply he who had the better armour and biggest damage roles, would win. Now under other circumstances this might not have been so bad, even made for an interesting gamer story, except that what we all realized was that almost ALL our battles had come to this. All the PCs had the best weapons and armour, and the GMs kept having to put them up against tougher and tougher enemies. Even rebooting the campaign with low level characters did not work as the players already knew all the tricks. It was like replaying a videogame with the cheat codes on.

After a few earnest attempts to revive the enthusiasm we'd had for the game in our earlier days, including a massive, but ultimately abandoned project to convert the whole mess into WEG's d6 system, we let it slip away and the massive library of RIFTS books I'd accumulated were soon collecting dust under my bed. When I moved cross-country, they did not even make the cut and were sold en-masse to a second hand book shop.

Having since gone on to read dozens, if not hundreds of other games, I have to concede that the Palladium rules system is truly dismal. I think when we were younger the rules did not matter so much, we were much more interested in the world and its possibilities. Once we'd played that out to the length of its considerably long tether, the crunch of the system began to intrude and eventually we would be eagerly looking over new books, not for story ideas, but for the biggest gun and most MDC armour.

Next to Star Wars, RIFTS has probably has been the game I've played the most and I still have a great deal of affection for it, but I doubt I'll ever get the urge to play it again.

Which is kind of a shame, really, because some of this stuff was hella cool.

Getting the Band Back Together

So after weeks of back and forth emails, we are finally planning on doing a skype'd RPG session at the end of the month. Once we decided to play, it was up to me to decide whatWHAT we wanted to play.

Playing one of our old campaigns from the glory days seemed, sacrilegious somehow. The only one that holds much interest anyway is our old d6 Star Wars campaign and we've long since taken the characters from New Hope through Return of the Jedi and are now venturing into the murky realms of the expanded universe. Personally, I prefer to stick to the old Marvel Comics timeline, but that is another topic for another time.

I've been collecting and collecting a lot of games lately (older games, old school revivals and new systems). There are a few that stood out, so I gave few suggestions to my players and the hands down winner for what they wanted to play was the game I picked up at a garage sale a few years ago and became THE reason for my renewed interest in roleplaying.

I am honestly surprised that this did not become a bigger hit. Reading through it, then watching the movies and as many of the old cartoons as I could find, plus playing through the recent video game, it would seem to me that this is a perfect set up for a game; a group of misfits teamed up to combat a supernatural threat. Not to mention all the gadgets and monsters!

Which sparked an idea off another game I have taken to collecting, but never really expected to be able to play. What other game has a group of misfits investigating paranormal activites...?

This is going to be awesome…

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Prose Run Mad

Which brings me to the purpose of this blog: to be honest, I'm not really sure that I have one. I guess I simply wanted a place where I could throw my thoughts against the wall and see what will stick. The inspiration for starting this blog was my renewed interest in Roleplaying games, but I'm sure it will occasionally branch off into my interests pop-culture, science, martial arts, scuba diving and even the occasional personal antecote. Hey, its my blog, right?


It was my father who dubbed us Geeks. He was a librarian by trade and I can never remember a time when the house was not full of books. The first 'chapterbook' that I can remember reading was 'Jacob Two-Two and the Hooded Fang' in grade one and while I'm certain that my father would have loved me to continue in that vein, I didn't regain a taste for Richler again until well into adulthood. Instead it was my mother who got me into fantasy and sci-fi, giving me her well thumbed copy of 'The Hobbit', picking up bag-fulls of yellowed Assimov and Clarke paperbacks at garage sales and indulging my love of comics by bringing me home anything she thought looked interesting. (This being from a time when comics were still quite cheep and easily found the card-store where she worked part-time.

Still, my father was happy to see me reading, even if it usually had a dragon on the cover or the word 'sword' in the title. He also did his part, by introducing me to Monty Python and bri-coms on PBS and TVO. He also took me to movies and the drive-in to see the 'Star Wars' movies, 'Indiana Jones' and on one memorable occasion, carting a bewildered fourth-grader along to see Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil'.

Somewhere along the line, my mother bought me the 'Red Box' D&D set, and while I didn't have any friends at the time who were interested in playing, I read the whole thing cover to cover a dozen times and had a duotang full of rolled up characters ready to go.

It wasn't until high school that I found some like-minded kids who enjoyed playing D&D and with the help of second-hand copies of Dragon Magazine, we soon branched out into the Talisman board-game, RIFTS, and the Star Wars RPG. Every Sunday night, my parent's basement would turn into an alien space-port, a mysterious dungeon or a magical kingdom and I loved every minute of it. Players came and went, but years went by and we boiled down to a core of about four or five players. We moved out, went to college and university, got jobs, girlfriends, wives and kids ... but whenever I spoke to my father, he would always ask, 'The Geeks still come over?"

A few years ago I moved halfway across the country, leaving the Geeks behind. Most of the RPG books got packed away or sold off and real life took over for a while. But that old copy of 'The Hobbit' and my 'Red Box' still sit proudly on my bookself and not too long ago, I found myself flipping through the old pages and wondering where my old dice-bag was. I'm also pretty sure there is an old duotang around somewhere...