Randomness for 5/4

Standard

1) An Analysis of the Shift in Color Palettes Used in More Than 50 Years of ‘Avengers’ Comic Book Covers.

2) Pancakebot will print your pancakes in any shape you can draw.

3) Norway is planning to ditch FM radio.

4) Why are board game boxes so big? I assume the transport issue is the difference in weight between 10 games and 16; the fewer games stacked on a palette, the less likely the ones at the bottom will be crushed.

5) The website for the “landscape hotel” where they shot most of the movie EX MACHINA is gorgeous design porn.

6) “My daughter spent this whole week preparing to GM her first D&D game.

7) Every question in every Q&A session ever.

Wow! Now I’m in a completely different place! or grinding in fantasy games

Standard

From PC Gamer: Why too much combat hurts rpgs.

I couldn’t agree more. If I’m playing a game, I’m interested in the world, the supporting characters and the overall story. Fight? Sure. Let’s have some fighting.

But grinding away, room after room, where almost every fight means nothing in terms of the larger story? Boring! The conversations are more interesting.

Admittedly, I have more patience with a first-person shooter than a third-person like Pillars of Eternity, but even so, get to the plot. Get to the plot!

Anyway, interesting article.

Randomness for 4/23

Standard

1) The day Hank Aaron’s bodyguard didn’t shoot.

2) Onlookers mistake fallen construction crane at Dallas Museum of Art as an art installation.

3) Yelp reviews of new-born babies.

4) A person is creating 3d printing templates for every creature in the Monster Manual.

5) The simple brilliance of David Aja. This dude is half of the reason that the Hawkeye comic has been so amazing. I really love the design sense that artists bring to comics now. They’re so much more interesting than they used to be.

6) Why don’t our brains explode when we see movie cuts? (What a sensible way to phrase that question.)

7) Pictures of food that very little kids “can’t eat” and why.

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

Standard

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.”

Let me tell you about something cool

Standard

Back in 2012, Fred Hicks, the big wig over at Evil Hat game company (and I can’t type “Evil Hat” without adding an “e” to the end), and Chuck Wendig, author and editor, invited me to write for an anthology based on one of EH’s games. The game was called Don’t Rest Your Head, and it was an rpg about insomniacs who suddenly find themselves trapped in Mad City, a nightmarish dreamscape full of evil shit that wants to eat you. Plus side: the characters also get lucid-dreaming-like powers, and the whole thing is very weird and cool.

The story I wrote, called “Don’t Chew Your Food” was reprinted in my short fiction collection, but there are a whole bunch of terrific writers in the table of contents: Mur Lafferty, CE Murphy, Laura Anne Gilman, Stephen Blackmoore, and more. Check it out, seriously.

Which brings us to today. Evil Hat is putting out a “Don’t Rest Your Head” card-building game, and a creature that I invented, the Shameful, is on one of the cards. (!!!)

Image behind the cut.

Continue reading

Randomness for 12/10

Standard

1) Man mounts paper coffee cup on his car, tweets people’s responses.

2) How does a 150 ft oil drilling rig disappear into a lake that’s only ten feet deep? h/t @CEMurphy

3) Is everything good about Minecraft gone? This piece echoes my earlier post about buying my son an Xbox, and I agree that Minecraft has changed as third parties set up their own servers. My son plays a game that’s a lot like The Hunger Games, and doesn’t build nearly as much as he used to. He still builds, but there’s a lot of PvP, too.

4) Typeset in the Future: ALIEN edition.

5) Dutch real estate broker installs mini-rollercoaster into home to give prospective buyers a tour. Video. As stunts go, this one is terrific.

6) Ugly Christmas sweaters are the new thing, so why not turn them into men’s suits? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

7) Ben Edelman, Harvard Business School Professor, Goes to War Over $4 Worth of Chinese Food. You can be very very wrong while being right.

“In our next episode…” Using horror to explore real tragedy

Standard

A recent school shooting in Marysville, WA is all over the news this week. If I owned a car, I could say it happened only an hour north of where I live in Seattle (if you could drive on I-5 instead of creep along on it like a parking lot). Marysville isn’t a place I’ve ever visited, and before this tragedy all I could have said about it is that it’s somewhere nearby.

My point is that none of this feels personal to me… at least, it’s no more personal than a shooting in Georgia, Connecticut, or Colorado. That’s why, when I read the NYT article describing the Marysville shooter–which I won’t link to because of their paywall–which is echoed in this article, my first thought is This sounds like a terrible episode of a supernatural horror show.

Because at the moment, the killings are inexplicable. The shooter was widely regarded as a popular, successful, and engaged kid. He played on the football team. He was homecoming prince. He was widely liked. As for his victims, they were his friends and family, not people who bullied him.

Bullying and resentment are the default narratives for school shootings now, ever since the media settled on a Jocks v Outcasts frame for the Columbine shootings (never mind that it turned out to be wrong). When a new shooting happens, the first questions people ask are: Is the shooter mentally ill? What petty social slights were they trying to rectify? Did they have a troubled home life?

In the Marysville incident, none of these seem to hold. From the outside, he seems like he was a popular kid with a loving home life who attacked people who liked him. Police have been trying to find a clue to his behavior since last Friday, and whatever they’ve found, they haven’t released it. It’s possible they won’t find anything.

Which immediately makes me think of a horror storyline, where inexplicable violence is attributed to demonic possession or some shit, and the whole thing comes down to Basically Decent People Who Would Never Do Such A Thing.

I mean, consider this io9 post about the upcoming CHILL third edition. The game is organized around a secret society that battles the supernatural, and for this edition they’re regrouping and reorganizing around a capable new leader, as detailed in the article. Pluses for making this new leader a woman, a Muslim, and a soldier in the Syrian Free Army, but minuses for suggesting that al-Assad’s cruel regime is somehow the result of supernatural evil. Sure, the article suggests that maybe creatures are drawn to human evil, but leaving it up in the air isn’t good enough.

Because I’m tired of stories that portray perfectly normal human “evil” as if there must be some sort of non-human explanation. Yes, as a narrative device, the supernatural helps us address difficult or inexplicable aspects of our own lives, but it’s not there to explain them or to reduce culpability. That’s shitty fiction.

As for the real world, I want to offer my sincere condolences to everyone affected by this tragedy.

I backed the third edition of CHILL (and so should you)

Standard

When Pacesetter put out the first CHILL edition way back in the ’80’s, I snapped up a copy. For those of you who watched my Kickstarter video from last year (oh, shit, a year? must finish books) you might have noticed that box on the shelf behind me. It’s been 30 years since it came out, but while I have never played in a genuinely good Chill game, I still remember it fondly.

When Mayfair put out a second edition in the early nineties, I started snapping those books up. They were fun to read, for the most part[1], and suggested a great many story ideas, most of which I never got to use[2]. Someday, maybe. Someday.

Still, this was the ’90s, when The X-Files was all anyone talked about. It should have been the perfect moment for the game to break out. Unfortunately, the fear checks never really worked, and the horrors in CALL OF CTHULHU bigfooted all over the traditional monsters in Chill. People were more interested in Deep Ones than haunted houses, apparently. The game never sold as well as it should, and when Mayfair had a break-out hit in SETTLERS OF CATAN, they dumped rpgs in favor of board games and have never looked back.

There was an attempt some years back to put together a third edition; I was part of the crowd reading through the rules and discussing them. Sadly, people suck, and the nasty sarcasm I got when I dared admit that I sometimes ignored a die-roll to make the narrative work, convinced me it was more stress than it was worth. Much later they tried to raise $45k to print the rulebook, but it never happened.

Part of the reason I never quite had a successful game is my own weakness as a GM (excuse me… “CM”). Part was that the game required a certain willingness for players to face an enemy that was more powerful than they were[3] which had to be investigated before it could be fought. Part of it was that the players were unused to NPC interactions that didn’t mimic the might-uber-alles bullying that came with lawless murder hobo fantasy campaigns. Part was just an unwillingness to get in the spirit of things.

An example of that last:

Me: “The last thing you need to do for character creation is think up the first time you came into contact with the Unknown. It can be a haunting, a vampire attack, whatever.”

Player: “Uh, well, okay. I was walking down the street and I saw a werewolf driving a pizza-delivery truck.”

Me: “Dude.”

Player: “What?”

Sophisticated role-players, we were not. Suffice to say, I made several attempts over the years with different groups, but it never really came off.

However, I quite liked the way the rules handled creatures’ powers as though they were spells. I liked that you roll percentile dice for skill checks. I liked the idea of SAVE[4], the organization dedicated to fighting the supernatural[5]. I liked the genuinely scary creatures in the main rulebook. I even liked the weird psychic powers the PCs could access.

It was also nice to see that they broke the “rules” with regard to the creatures. I was raised to color inside the lines, and that attitude extended to pretty much everything, including the “rules” of monster movies: vampires can’t cross running water, ghosts have a task they needed to accomplish, werewolves could be killed with silver. There were boundaries! It was all laid out!

Then came Chill, which offered that sort of monster, along with other kinds. You could have werewolves that didn’t give a shit about silver or vampires that could walk in the sun. It didn’t matter, as long as it was interesting. For me, who had always broken rules on the sly because breaking rules meant trouble, the game was a bit of a paradigm shift, creatively.

Plus, for a guy who loves spooky horror but hated the sadistic pain movies and books of the 80’s (and who still hates modern grimy torture porn), Chill gave me some control. It let me imagine the stories I wanted.

That’s why, yesterday, I backed the third edition of their Kickstarter even though I can’t really afford it. The playtest materials are gorgeous; this is really the best art the game has ever had, and a quick glance at the rules is very promising.

It also looks like they’ve fixed the issue with fear checks.

Anyway, the materials they’ve already made available have me excited for the project. I hope they blow the doors off their goal and start funding a bunch of supplements or whatever.

Hell, I might dig out the adventures I was working on twenty years ago to see if there’s anything salvageable in them.

So, if traditional horror rpgs sound good to you, back them. You’ll at least have a chance to look at the playtest, with plenty of time to change your mind (you won’t change your mind).

[1] I was sorely disappointed by the “monster manual” for the game, called Things, but I’ve read enough horror game supplements to know how difficult it can be to make up a long list of horror creatures that are a) inventive, b) scary, and c) set the right tone.

[2] On Twitter, someone suggested that the playtest sampler for the 3e Kickstarter had a bit of Child of Fire in it, but in truth the influence goes the other way. The idea of a family (a whole community) that can’t remember one of its own comes straight out of the main rulebook for 2e. I read about that creature almost fifteen years before I started CoF. If you back the Kickstarter, you’ll get to see for yourself.

[3] In fact, I converted one of the creatures for 2e Chill (a mist mummy, which is a creature that spreads pestilence) directly into Champions so a five PC superhero team could fight it, and damn if it didn’t have blisteringly high points.

[4] aka Societas Argenti Viae Eternitata or The Eternal Society of the Silver Way, which was explicitly changed from “White Way” in the Pacesetter version because it sounded like an offshoot of the Klan. See also: The Dresden Files TV show changing the “White Council” into the “High Council”.

[5] In first edition, it was an actual functioning society that sent people out to investigate shit. The second, naturally, turned things all grim and dark, because 90’s. The new edition seems to have a rebuilding theme, which is welcome.

Randomness for 9/11

Standard

1) X-men mashed up with The Smiths.

2)
Five Classic Authors Who Hated Their Book Covers (and One Who Got His Ass Kicked as a Result)

3) Scrublands: photographs of people who live off the grid.

4) Rupert Giles plans coursework for an MLS.

5) Everything you need to know about 5th ed D&D.

6) Beautiful animated gifs. h/t @keithcalder

7) “Every year, Americans spend nearly three times as much on candy as they do on public libraries.”

Randomness for 8/11

Standard

1) Gambit’s costume is completely ridiculous, so this guy made one. h/t James Nicoll.

2) If David Lynch directed Dirty Dancing. Video.

3) Black leather dragon backpack. I’d get this, but it would make the toddlers in the Starbucks cry.

4) What your favorite 80s band says about you. This is better than it has a right to be.

5) More dice shaming!

6) Guardians of the Galaxy and The Lego Movie: the same movie.

7) Was HP Lovecraft a good writer? Nick Mamatas makes the argument that he was.