Amazon is having a huge sale on tabletop games

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I don’t usually pay attention to the sales that Amazon puts on, but this one is interesting: a big sale on tabletop board and card games.

“Up to 50%”, they say. I always love that “up to”. Obviously, it’s better to buy them at a local gaming shop (assuming you have access to one) because most have a library of games and let you try them out in the store.

Still, Ticket to Ride and Labyrinth are fantastic games, and I’ve become kinda obsessed with the iPad version of Sentinels of the Multiverse, since the fam doesn’t really like superheroes and I prefer to let the software track everything (SotM can be complicated to track).

And if you like RPGs, Fate Core is on the second page. Have I mentioned that I’m working on a Fate Core rpg supplement for The Great Way and Key/Egg? They’re Kickstarter rewards, and I should be typing in those documents rather than this one.

In fact, I think I’ll go do that now. In the meantime, check out my books.

Spoiler-free: Marvel’s Daredevil

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I wasn’t originally planning to stay up overnight to watch DAREDEVIL, but frustration with my current WIP and a 20% off deal on beer at my local supermarket seemed to suggest that the world was conspiring to make me blow off a little steam. Which I did.

There won’t be any serious spoilers in this post, but I do want to talk about it in a general way. The show does several things very well:

In the first few episodes, Foggy is charismatic as hell. His relationship with Matt is funny and real, and the delight they take in their interplay contrasts powerfully with the pain in disillusionment they feel as the story progresses. And he’s not the only one. This show is really well cast.

Obviously, D’Onofrio has the flashiest role as Wilson Fisk, the crimelord villain of the piece, and he plays it against type. Instead of the smooth and commanding figure of the comics (and the previous movie), he plays Fisk as perpetually awkward and uncomfortable, without any of the presence and charisma of movie crime bosses. It’s a weird choice; it undercuts the power and efficacy of the show’s antagonists, making them seem less threatening.

But this isn’t really about the power fantasy of overcoming a seemingly unbeatable foe. There are power fantasy elements, obviously, but the show wisely undercuts them. For instance, after a (blessedly brief) origin scene which lasts less than two minutes, the show cuts to Matt Murdoch in the confessional, talking for at least three times the length of that “origin” scene about his dad, his father’s boxing career, and the violence he had inside him. The show is much more concerned with the characters’ histories, their damage, and their vulnerabilities than they are in feats of power.

Not that there aren’t plenty of fight scenes. There are, and they’re also well done. Guys who choreograph ARROW, take note.

Early trailers had a lot of viewers complaining that Daredevil was sporting all black with a Dread Pirate Roberts mask rather than the costume from the comics, but once the costume shows up, it doesn’t look nearly as cool as that black suit did. Sorry, I’m a DD fan, too, of a sort, but the simple black costume was way more effective than the devil suit.

But what really makes this show work is the paranoia and helpless despair the characters have to endure in the face of wealth and power in a thoroughly corrupt system. No one can be trusted. No one is safe. The hero can venture out in a mask and kick the crap out of bad guys, but he takes a helluva beating doing it.

Frankly, this is the first superhero show/movie to capture a winning noir tone since BATMAN BEGINS. Everyone, heroes and villains alike, are in tenuous positions. Everyone has loved ones they fear for. Everyone has powers working against them. Everyone thinks of themselves as the hero.

It’s a good show. I recommend it.

Daredevil and Binge Watching

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The Daredevil Netflix series premieres today. If you see me online, it’s because it’s boring and I’m looking for something else to do.

Or that I’m taking a break or something.

Anyway, I’ve never binge-watched a TV series before. I’ve done a few episodes at a time, but a whole season? First attempt. I hope I hate it, for the sake of my productivity.

Randomness for 4/9

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1) A map of all the places mentioned in Tom Waits songs.

2) An autobiographical webcomic imagining Conan the Barbarian as a spirit guide.

3) Reader, I LOL-ed. Reaction Table: High Level Cleric of Law Asked to Raise Dead Associate(s).

4) Every Frame a Painting on film editing, video essays, and creating narrative. Video.

5) When Nerf Modding goes too far.

6) Understanding Art: The Death of Socrates. Video. Interesting to see a tool as simple as masking in Photoshop used to such good effect.

7) Risky Date: a lesson in a webcomic.

Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson invented an art form, and it’s awful

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For a long while now, I’ve believed that tabletop rpgs were an art form in its infancy, and that there’s a potential for gaming sessions to be a kind of performance art based around collaborative improvisational narrative.

I also think that, as art, rpgs are mostly terrible and have been since their beginning. Recently, that’s begun to change.

Last Sunday night, my game group wrapped up a campaign in a fun and satisfying way (don’t worry, I won’t tell you about it[1]). How amazingly different it was from the games I played as a teenager.

I’m old enough to have played D&D before it became AD&D, and while I had fun[3], the game itself was a crude simulation of the books I loved. It was all numbers, hex paper, and moving little figures around. My friends and I moved to a new, simpler system[4] that struck us as more realistic, but we still played dungeon crawl after dungeon crawl.

After many years and a shitload of other systems, we moved to superhero games, which gave us narratives beyond “Kick down the door and murder everyone inside, then take their stuff” although it was hard to break the characters from their lawless power-gaming habits. We had fun, but a spectator would have been bored out of their minds.

And thanks to YouTube, people are playing games for spectators. I’m not going to link the ones I’ve seen, but most are as interesting as a dude telling you about a workout routine he’s thinking of doing later[5]. In short, it’s the worst art imaginable: lifeless, irrelevant, and utterly lacking in enjoyment for people outside the circle of players.

Before games become actual art, they’re going to have to become pop art[6]. They’re going to have to become as fun as pulp adventure, and at the moment, (typically) they’re not. But! Games have changed. They’re much more collaborative and focused on narrative than they were when I got into games, and I’m sure there’s someone out there, somewhere, making collaborative improvisational narrative art with the verve of the old pulps.

Which brings us to this:

Will this be the kind of pulp adventure fun that can grow into something more serious? Well, it’s combining something I really enjoyed (Thundarr) with something I hated except for the boobs (Heavy Metal), and it’s Wil Wheaton. Also: Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana. So maybe.

Of course, Wheaton has already aired a two-part gaming session, and there are lessons to be learned from that show. Have they been? I guess we’ll see[7].

What about my gaming session from last Sunday? It was art, and I sure as hell enjoyed it. However, it also was not designed to be a performance the way that Wheaton’s is, or those guys who record their sessions and post them on YouTube.

I guess the question is: What would have to change in role-playing games for them to become art that could be enjoyed by people who aren’t playing? I do have some ideas.

[1] Probably.[2]
[2] And isn’t that part of the problem? If you describe a great movie, you can make it sound wonderful. Describing a game session? OMG, get this weirdo away from me.
[3] Like most activities you do, the fun comes mostly from the people you do it with not the activity itself.
[4] The Fantasy Trip, by Metagaming, if you care
[5] “First I’m going to do five push ups, then flip over and do five crunches, then roll over for more pushups, without any pause, and I’m going to keep doing that wait where are you going…”
[6] Video games don’t count. I’m talking about tabletop now.
[7] And by “we’ll see” I mean “someone else will have to watch it and tell me how it goes.”

This is the way football ends

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It’s been a few weeks since this news report came out, and I’ve been wanting to comment on it, but life keeps getting in the way. But here it is: NFL player’s retirement at 24 prompts new debate about football concussions.

Borland was the fourth NFL player age 30 or younger to retire in a week… the article states, and while age 30 is pretty old for a game where players have careers that average 3.2 years (although the NFL disputes that number) that’s a lot of people dropping out in a short time.

And this is the way that football could actually fade away: not by legislative ban, and not by organized activism. It’s by young men who decide that the damage is serious and can’t be ignored, viewers who change the channel, and parents who refuse to let their kids play.

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman, #15in2015

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The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax  (Mrs. Pollifax #1)The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book 8 of #15in2015.

I’m honestly torn about this one, because there are so many good things but the negatives are colossal.

Setup: Mrs. Polifax is an elderly widow so bored with her life of volunteering and middle class charity work that she’s on the verge of suicide, until she decides to revive her childhood dream of becoming a spy. So she slips out of her home in New Brunswick, NJ and takes a train to CIA headquarters in Langley to volunteer.

Of course, due to a mixup, an administrator actually meets her, is intrigued by her story, and just so happens to have a perfect job for her. A milk run. All she has to go is visit Mexico City as a tourist for a week, then buy a book in a particular shop (using proper code words) and bring it home. Easy, right?

Obviously, everything goes wrong and she ends up in deep shit, and just as obviously, her common sense, practicality, and basic decency helps her to save the day.

I heard about this book, which is the first of a popular series, from commenters on the io9 article about my own elderly protagonist, and I thought it would be only fair to give it a try. When I started this one, I really wanted to like it.

Yeah, some of the writing can be rough. It’s annoying that the protagonist’s thoughts are put in quotations, just like her dialog. But that’s minor stuff. The character work is terrific, and there are several lovely little grace notes in the narrative that I enjoyed very much.

Unfortunately, the book was written and is set in the early sixties, when readers might seriously see the CIA as heroic freedom fighters and the rest of the world as a little slower, a little more primitive or ridiculous. I can look past casual racism in older books (I have to do it in modern books, too) but when the supposed heroes reveal [SPOILER] that the man they saved from prison was a food scientist the Red Chinese government had kidnapped because they hoped his discoveries would help relieve famine in their country.

Character: “Can you imagine what the Chinese government could have done with him?”

Me: “Feed a bunch of starving people?”

But I guess those people don’t count, because fuck ‘em. Saving their lives would stabilize a communist government, and that’s not a price these characters are willing to pay.

Here I am fresh off a fantasy trilogy all about the seductive ideas of conquest and empire, and I just can’t go there.

So, good book, but dated in a way I just can’t abide.



Buy a copy.

I’m taking a short internet fast, sort of.

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Posting this today, on 3/31, because if it goes up tomorrow people might think it’s a dumb prank: I’m going to get offline as much as possible for the remainder of the week.

This has always been a tough time of year for me. Spring in Seattle is the winding down of impossibly long nights and dim, gray days, and it’s always made me feel out of sorts and unhappy. Combine that with traditional post-book blues (x4), burnout from writing 30K words of blog posts, and general life/health stress, I find I’m not engaging very much online.

And what’s the point of spending that time on Twitter (or whatever) if I’m not going to respond to people?

Is it wise to be offline so soon after releasing a bunch of books? Maybe not. Maybe I should still be out in the mix, trying to soft shoe on my blog about… something I care about, I guess. Trouble is, at the moment I don’t have the energy to care, not about Clean Reader, not about Hugo Puppies, not about tv shows or their hosts.

Probably, I will check my emails and social media notifications once a day and otherwise avoid the web until Sunday. That will give me more time for writing (still working on that Great Way supplement for Fate Core), reading, walking, and generally interacting in the real world[1]. By Sunday, I should feel better. Besides, that’s when my next G+ hangout rpg session will be.

Wish me… Huh. I don’t know. Wish me productivity.

[1]Interacting with the real world not guaranteed.