Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Versus Istar

Neat little picture.

This article says nonsense.

Religion is a funny thing. It has to adopt to the times to survive.

I remember when I was in a particular religious study, they were discussing that Jesus was not accepted by the Jewish at the time because they were waiting for two kings; one a religious figure, which Jesus fit, and the other, a warrior king to throw the imperial rule of the Romans off them. It wasn't something I had heard before then, but they had a wide body of literature and theories to back their belief.

Since then I've seen a lot of studies that discuss how saints and angels are actually the incorporated gods and goddesses of the various countries that the Christian Church has occupied.

Time has a way of changing things in order to be more appealing to the people that practice it. Slavery for example, isn't something we have as a legal entity. Sure, we could argue the semantics of it back and forth in terms of having to have a job, and having to have enough money to survive and not work 80 hours a week, but hopefully no one has to worry about being whipped or beaten to death at work. Although boxers and people who work in the S&M may have something else to say about that.

Anyway, in terms of slavery, unless I"m really misremembering my bible, it's in there. There's even a whole section in there about how to treat your slaves.

Not something that comes up in every day conversation about the bible I'm sure.

It is one of the reasons why those who don't necessarily follow the bible, often want more than just "the bible says so" in terms of convincing arguments. The bible says a LOT of things. It's a very old book. It tried to cover a lot of ground for its time and still has a lot of relevance to many millions of people.

But as you can see above, in the whole Ishtar and Easter bit, we've still got a lot of theories on how things all work out.

In role playing games, it can be more difficult to do this. Many games have modern sensibilities despite their technological backward settings.  Any race or religion or culture that endorses slavery? Probably not going to be on the good guys side. Drow, orcs, and hobgoblins aren't traditionally the good guys and this is reflected in the evil things they do like have slaves.

But in terms of having symbolism and deities have all of these different culture elements incorporated into them, it can be more difficult in a setting like the Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk say, where the deities are actual entities. Would you put up with the dilution of your church in terms of someone changing your portfolios, symbols, and other elements? It's pretty much an bypass in terms of games that do this. It's not dungeon crawl enough.

When setting up your own campaigns, think about the impact that the deities and the social norms have on the setting not only in terms of adventure, but how they interact with the rules. Dungeons and Dragons, despite being the backbone of the industry (or Pathfinder), has its simplicity knobs in alignment and when acts are evil, like slavery, despite their widespread use in the ancient world, and parts of the world today, the two do not mix unless you have a lot of buy in from the players.

Someone playing a paladin for example in a culture where slavery is normal? Is that really a lawful good person? It's best to discuss what the appropriate roles and opinions of such elements are and how they can impact the players enjoyment of the setting and how they interact with it.

For those who celebrate the holiday, enjoy it! For those who don't, enjoy, what is turning out in Chicago at least, to be a beautiful day.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Movie 2013)

I've been hanging out with my amigos being a mildly disruptive presence with both beer and rum. This week however, a few of the regulars couldn't make it and a very irregular did. So with that rare crew in tow, we went and saw G.J. Joe Retaliation in Imax 3-D.

The evening started off with some fast food at Dear Franks. It used to be, I believe, You Lucky Dog You but... times change. It's a good place for burgers though and their seasoned cheddar fries are fantastic. After we dogged down that food, we ran over to the Half-Price Books. I had a box of used paperbacks and cooking magazines to get rid of. While they don't pay you anything for them, well, hardly anything, I figure it's better than tossing them out right? Plus a 10% off coupon! I wound up picking up about ten $1.00 CD's. I figure it's cheaper than buying the single MP3 song I want right? Like Peter Gabriel Security for $1? Oh yeah.

My amigos headed off to Best Buy. Honestly, I rarely have any use for Best Buy. It's not that it's not a neat store but with a possible move in the future, the only thing I'd be interested in, a computer, laptop to be more specific, isn't on the menu. I'd already hit up the music so I was good there and well, movies are taken care of by Nexflix. So instead I went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond and picked up some material for the kitchen and some snacks. Very manly eh?

They called from the theater. Apparently Best Buy wasn't for them either. Who would have known that a place known for selling DVDs and CDs wouldn't be entertaining to a group of 40 year olds? Anyone? Bueller? The Imax tickets are a bit more expensive than the regular ones but I was glad to see the glasses were very light. Hell, I was more surprised that the theater was only modestly filled. It wasn't empty by any means, but there were seats in every row. I don't know if that's because word got out about what type of movie it was, the extra price of the glasses, or what have you but hey, I'm a fan of the only partially crowded theater.

The Show was supposed to start at 7:00 PM. It started, after reviews and special peaks and lord knows what other type of mind control, about 7:20 PM it finally started.

I'll be discussing some specific spoilers so if you don't want any of that, read no further. If you want a thumbs up or down, for me, the 3-D experience, my first, was a bit strange. The movie wasn't bad. The costumes were good. Many of the fight sequences and action sequences made good use of the environment but a few of the scenes were too CLOSE to the characters. If all I can see on that massive Imax screen is a dude's elbow swinging, you're doing it wrong. Difficult to enjoy the cartography of the fight if you know, you're just seeing some blurry crap. Some of it does require a massive brain shut off, but it's G.I. Joe and if you didn't know that going in...


1. The Outfit Makes The Man: A huge part of the appeal of a movie like G.I. Joe is how the characters look. In the first movie, we didn't really get to appreciate Cobra Commander or Destro's unique features. In Retaliation, Cobra Commander is here looking like a semi-modern day Darth Vader with the heavy breathing and all. Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes also make their appearances and look impressive. One of the new characters, Jinx I think her name is, initially looks like a complete Electra rip off.

Oh well, it's not like it's a bad look or anything right? Still, the visuals can be an important part. I have several friends who bring illustrations of popular characters to get across the point of what their characters look like. Games Workshop and back in the day, the guys doing Confrontation, put a lot of time, effort, and money in the visuals which have had huge payoffs. As a GM, don't be afraid to scrounge around for such tools.
2. The Characters: This may sound strange, but to me, the first movie had a much larger 'feel' to it. Don't misunderstand me, the stakes here are equally high if not more so, but by cutting down the cast to a smaller level, there is a bit more focus on the specifics of the characters. In many ways, a role playing game is set up like this to begin with as the characters being the main focus of the 'story' if you will.
3. The Toys. Stormshadow, Snake Eyes, Jinx, and Roadblock, all have very distinctive weapons. You know when they're in the room. King Arthur and Elric, among others, also have very famous weapons. Giving characters distinctive weapons, sayings, and other bits that cement them, like the Thing's catch phrase, "It's Clobberin' Time", can give characters quick recognition both for the players and when specific NPC's are in play. Some of Batman's most famous villains have specific 'calling cards' that they use to torment Batman. When the players see such a calling card, they may be aware of what the problem is while others don't initially know.
4. Killing Them Softly... Well, okay, not softly. I mentioned that they were able to focus on a smaller cast here, and they do that by essentially killing off all the other characters in the start of the film. If you're campaign is getting so clogged with characters and back stores and other bits that its no longer fun for you or the players, never forget the Godzilla option. A big shake up can provide the characters reason and motivation to keep adventuring when things may seem to be at a point where that's no longer necessary.
5. Action Sequences: There are a wide variety of action sequences that occur here. One of them involves Snake Eyes and Jinx kidnapping Stormshadow in a snow covered treacherous mountain region while being chased by the Hand, I mean, Cobra Ninjas or something. They use numerous zip lines across various mountain ranges, bouncing back and forth with swords clashing not only at each other, but the equipment allowing them to navigate these paths. It gets into one of the things I think 4e tried to do more than most editions of Dungeons and Dragons, and that's make the environment a part of the combat. If there are opportunities to bring the background into the game, use them.
6. Introducing New Characters: When I was running the Shackled City in my 3.5 days, well, fatalities were not unknown. It can be difficult to bring in new characters ahead of time. In theory, the G.I. Joe setting is rich with history. In this case, they bring in  General Joseph Colton (aka Bruce Willis) one of the original Joe's so to speak. In a campaign that's long in the tooth, the characters may have many allies and friends, and those allies and friends may have patrons or associates who can be used to do a logical fill in when necessary.
G.I. Joe Retaliation is a no-brainer at best, but it's one filled with enough explosions and glamour to provide entertainment for its run.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Freeport Versus Kickstarter

Green Ronin has been around for over a decade at this point. Their initial module setting, Freeport, was one of the first adventurers for the SRD back in the day. Now they're working on a massive update to the book on Kickstarter.

One might think that with their longevity in the game and their plethora of products, that funding would have been easily hit and made right? Apparently not. I'm not saying that it won't fund. There is still time. But let's look at some reasons why they might be having difficulty.

1. No Pathfinder brand loyalty. This may sound like heresy as Green Ronin, as I mentioned, was one of the first companies to get on the SRD bandwagon in a HUGE way. They made settings, class books, race books, and a ton of other goods including cross promotions with Paradigm Press and others. But when 3.5 died, they didn't jump on the Pathfinder band wagon. They had something like d20 age or d20 forever branding so that they wouldn't have to update their catalog. Sounds a lot like Necromancer Games before they came around ala Frog God Games. Having said that, you have no build in Pathfinder base.

Oh sure, we can get into the whole, "It's all the same!" arguments that happened with 3.0 and 3.5 and with 3.5 to Pathfinder, but if you didn't go and do the branding, getting the Pathfinder crowd to automatically leap into the frey isn't something that's going to happen easily or overnight. Am I saying that Green Ronin has zero Pathfinder products? Don't know to be honest. When I think of Green Ronin, d20 gaming isn't what I think of. Instead, we have Game of Thrones, Dragon Age, Mutants and Masterminds, and the DC comic game.

2. Goal is Too High. For a company that hasn't been backing Pathfinder since the start, and isn't using one of its licensed settings, the minimal goal here seems high. I'm not saying it's not needed for what they want to do. But when you're setting a higher bar than one of the most popular OSR projects, Dwimmermount, managed to achieve at the start of the Kickstarter craze, you might be overstepping realistic expectations.

3. Eastern Front Miniatures. This one is just a casual observation. Eastern Front as a few successful Kickstarters under their belt. But those projects are late and some of the backers are vocal about it. This may not have been the best partner for Green Ronin.

4. Pirates are played out. Well, can pirates ever really be played out? Probably not. However, there hasn't been a really popular pirate movie like the old pirates of a certain Caribbean for a while AND more importantly, people just shelled out a lot of cash for a Frog God Games pirate, in part, based project. That one had trouble funding too. Also for a similar sized product. Also for premium product. And that was by a company that has been doing Pathfinder fans right for a while now.

5. Kickstarter Sucks. Well, not really. But a lot of people are getting weary of the continued lateness of Kickstarter projects and are taking their money to actual stores and buying things. Or just downloading illegal PDFs. You know those damn kids today and their internets. When I do my next Kickstarter update, I'll actually have a few that have fallen off the list but most will not. As Kickstarter continues to evolve, people will continue to decide where their money goes in a manner that reflects not only companies, but product types as well.

I hope Green Ronin is able to pull this one off not necessarily for Freeport, but I would love to see them do compilations of their various Races, Classes, and other material that never got compiled thanks to the d20 meltdown, into hardcovers for Pathfinder.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Dungeon Crawl Classics: The Art

Dungeon Crawl Classics gets a lot of 'play' from the old Internets. It's already gone through a printing and two special edition covers. While offered a PDF for review purposes, I opted to wait until there was a sale as my reviewing patterns, thanks to my old job consisting of working seven days a week an an ill mother have converted to a new job that I'm still learning and a still as yet ill mother.

But a sale?  I figured that it probably wasn't going to get any less expensive than the GM's Day Sale. Ah, then I can just poke around when I want to and not have to worry about it. One of the things I did first was 'page' through the PDF.

Let me say that art is highly subjective. Some are going to love one specific type of artist over another, one specific type of style over another, and so on. Overall, the whole book feels like a 'retro' effort with some emphasis placed on modern design. I say some mind you.

In terms of art, the company wasn't afraid to use full page spreads which to me, is a good thing. The bad thing is that in going to 'capture' that old school feeling, it's all internally black and white. Not necessarily a bad thing but this isn't an inexpensive book. On the third hand, for a PDF, I wouldn't want a full color book. It's so armature when companies put out these PDF's that are saturated with color and would look great as a professionally printed book, but as a PDF take forever to open, flip between pages and even thinking about printing it makes you shudder and lose 1d6 SAN. If only there were a way to include multiple types of files so that you could have one for printing and one for on screen reading... hopefully one day... one day...

Anyway, I like the cover. It's a simple piece in that it's the lone adventurer getting ready to enter the unknown. Good use of color. The similarity between the cape and outline of the door makes some nice symmetry.

The first interior full color piece is also like a trip on acid but a pretty one. Full out dungeon crawl madness there brothers!The gods, one from law, chaos, and neutrality, waiting in the upper left hand corner as a group passes through some strange dungeon with massive worms devouring and attacking the party. Great stuff. I had to point out to one of my friends the neutral deity had a tentacle coming from his mouth. He thought maybe it represented something from the sea, while I was thinking of the Twain's mentors and the weird things they often had hidden under their cloaked hoods.

When it comes to those full page pieces, Mullen does several I enjoyed right off the bat. His style is of the 'old school' vibe. For example, there is a picture of a dragon that appears to be possessed by a demon burning a group of adventurers not with his fiery breath, but with fire shooting forth from his hand even as some strange type of winged minions wait for orders while a fighter type is commanding more soldiers into the fray.

Another great Mullen piece is a wizard among his patrons, or what I assume is a wizard among his patrons, those who grant him his dark powers. It's a great piece as all these strange and alien things of anathema wait on the cloaked stranger's words.

Another nice nodd to the old school bits are the various joke comics. Some feel that newer editions of Dungeons and Dragons take themselves too seriously. I can see it but I'm not quite so sure every book needs a Bigby's Back Scratcher bit in it. Here it works well because it's part of the genre they're trying to capture so when you see such jokes, they work.

Some bits though? Well, on one page talking about languages, you have this dark picture on top taking up about a quarter of the page and it's an intense looking situation but then on the bottom right hand corner you have a clear line illustration of some dude that looks like he's be the morning page delivering the news before getting a tomato in the face. It's distracting and cuts into the flow of the text even thought it's not a bad picture, it just doesn't 'jive' with the rest of the page in my opinion.

Another example is the table with the cleric information. We get a break down of the cleric names from first through fifth level, one for law, chaos, and neutral, and another one of these clear lined illustrations. It's already in a box separate from the rest of the text. There's already a table there. Would too much white space be a problem? Possibly. Maybe some more cleric names as opposed to random cleric?

But hey, speaking of old school art, one of the artists is Jim Holloway, a real old school artist whose works range all over the industry but include TSR. Jim does some great stuff here but, and this is going to sound weird, his art isn't necessarily 'old school' outside of it being well, original old school. If you compare him and Mullen for example, completely different styles and while both solid, I'd still say Mullen's is far more old school to my eye. Mind you for me it's not an issue but I can see someone whose knowledge of OSR is from forums wondering what's up with all the different styles of art.

Lastly, when discussing nods to old art, ranging from style and you know, actual artists of the time, there are also several homage images to the original book and its a nice nod to the AD&D you might have played once upon a time.

Now I just need to start reading the book eh?

And that's another impressive thing. There is a lot of art here. While I think the book could actually use some purging and removal of art to make it a cleaner looking book, especially on the old PDF side, if you don't like one particular style of art, there should be more than enough variety to keep you going through the book.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Game Masters Versus Technology

So life continues to beat me soundly across the face while sneering, "You like that." My mother, who after having her foot amputated and spending months in physical rehab, because she also had leg bypass surgery at the time in order to do the amputation, has a kidney infection and was running 103 fever and is back in the hospital. My job was supposed to change in January and is only now starting to take effect and while I'm grateful for the opportunity, there are so many things that are off in the way the reports are run and so much to learn in terms of the data sources, that I'm a little over whelmed.

Having said all that, I decided to go hang out with my friends who were playing Mage the Awakening. I myself didn't play, I just wanted to hang out with some of my peers and crack some terrible jokes, drink some Svedka , enjoy some tostados and some Cuban style bean dip. The Svedka was interesting as it was their new pina colda version and the bean dip was all sorts of excellent.

As I was just there as a noisy guest though and not playing, I noticed that everyone had a laptop or a tablet. These devices were being used to house character sheets and the core book and supplements. They were also being used to play music and other bits.

Now I'm not saying Game Masters need to put a ban on technology at the table, but the lure of technology is strong. On a blog about writers I follow, the author was discussing one of the potential reasons for e-book sales being flat, is that as full range tablets, not readers, continue to grow, people have better things to do with those tablets than buy a $14.99 e-book. For that price, have many variants of Angry Birds can you get eh? Well, for a PDF reader, how many other aps might a player be using when they should be paying attention to the game itself. And how many times if you need to reference the book during game play, should they have read it ahead of time?

There are no short cuts. Reading has to be done at some point. Doing it at the game table because you don't know how your abilities work, how the game system works, or other issues, can be a potential heat death of the game as every time it comes to your action, you now have to look it up. It's a bit of a clutch in that aspect. Mind you, I understand that people are busy. I understand that games tend to be larger in volume and more complex than they were thirty years ago.

But read the book all the way through at least once and make your notes from there because at the end of the day, you're still going to have to read it, but now you're doing it on other people's time.

Which, if everyone has a tablet, can be a bad thing because now those other bored people are... yes, surfing the net, reading a book, playing music, using IM, watching a movie or playing a game.

That was in part my experience yesterday and hell, I thought I'd be the disruptive one, but I can't hold a torch to technology gone wild!

How about other people? What have you experiences with tech at the table been?