Saturday, July 31, 2010

Counting Down - A Teaser


It's almost here...

Friday, July 30, 2010

Workout Supplements and Writing

Every now and again, I get on a workout kick. I just get tired of being out of shape and embark on about 90 days of hard workouts to get myself built back up again, after which I let things slide for a while (I would be on one now, if I had a job that allowed me to afford air conditioning).

What frustrated my wife about the kicks I would get on, though, was that I would invariably spend 50 bucks or more on protein powders and other supplements that she figured I didn't need.

And she was right. You can find plenty of articles attesting to the facts that...

  • Supplement effects are overrated
  • They can't compensate for a bad diet
  • Their effect is likely to be minimal unless you're participating in very hard workouts
  • There is no guarantee that the research behind them is solid or of the purity of their ingredients

I know these things. And yet, every time I enter a workout cycle, I go out and buy the stuff. Why? And what does this have to do with writing?

The reason why reveals perhaps my own weakness, and yet it's a weakness I'm at least aware I have and know how to exploit for my own benefit (at least short-term). The new object in my life gives me a talisman, a physical object that serves as a reminder of my goal and what I need to do to achieve that goal. And because it's new, I get the added motivation of learning something new and figuring out how to make it work for me. I get to play, and that helps keep me motivated.

I do that with books as well. I seem to approach every new book differently. Blue Falcon (as well as some of my earlier screenplays) was written mostly in longhand at bars, to the point where it got hard for me to write any other way, with a very basic outline outline written in Word. Angel Baby, aborted after 100 pages, was written in an office I rented. I think I also tried using a product called yWriter during this time, but didn't get very far with it.

Hero Go Home was outlined on note cards and mostly written at the same office, partly during Nanowrimo;. For the second draft, I noted the story's different locations on Google Earth. For a proposed sequel to Hero Go Home (which was to become Digger's Big Con, the aborted webcomic story that I need to finish someday) I made a lot of brainstorming notes on a website called KayudaMaps, which subsequently shut down, losing all the notes in the process.

Death Wave was outlined with a product called Anthemion Writer's Cafe. It was demo software, though, so I wasn't able to use its full capabilities.

So here we are on a third (and I hope, final) draft of Hero Go Home, and what have I done? Besides the chance to play with the layout of my website, I've downloaded two products to help me do what I have never done well before--outline the story. There's a product called Freemind, which is mind-mapping software that I'm using like the old KayudaMaps, only I don't have to worry about the website shutting down and dumping my data. And I'm using yWriter 5 to put meat on the bones.

I didn't like Freemind at first, but now I'm starting to get the hang of it and it's actually helping me figure out the flow of my story. It works with objects called nodes, which is a piece of text. Each node can have siblings and children. So I make a node for a scene, then sub-nodes for each beat of the scene, and if I have a specific piece of information I need to fit in, or if I have an idea for a great line of dialogue I want to have there, I can give it a sub-sub-node, and so on.

And each family of nodes is collapsible, so I can look at the overall flow of a story at a glance, but if I want more detail on a given scene (say, the one I'm writing at the moment, or one I want to foreshadow, or one I want to flash back to), I just open that node and the tree of sub-nodes under it pops open.

yWriter also, I didn't much like the last time I tried to use it. It was an earlier version, though, and it intimidated me with all the fields of information it wanted about characters and such. You build the book in chapters and scenes, and there are database-style fields for you to keep track of characters and locations and such, with space for detailed descriptions. You can even run reports that tell you how many scenes each character is in, or show it visually as a storyboard with a card for each scene on a timeline. The important thing is, I'm more comfortable with leaving as many fields blank as I want, only adding stuff as I go along and discover new things about the characters.

For some reason, I thought I was doing it wrong when I didn't know my characters inside and out when I started to write. But all of the standard methods of filling in backstory and doing character work ahead of time just make my eyes glaze over. It seemed as if I was doing a lot of extra work that I might never use and had little to do with the story I wanted to tell.

And while I am more comfortable now with doing character prep than I was, I am also learning to accept that I will never know my characters perfectly before I start writing. At some point in the writing process, I stop telling them what they're like, and they start telling me instead. It sounds like an artsy-fartsy cop-out, but it's true. Lisa--one of the main characters in Death Wave--was supposed to be a throwaway background character, but emerged to become a driving force in the story.

So will these products be the magic bullets that somehow fix what was wrong with the story in previous drafts? Doubtful. There's no guarantee that I'll have the patience to use them to their full capabilities, or that I will be able to somehow unlock new mental abilities thanks to their help.

But right now, they're helping me focus what were previously really unfocused efforts at revising the plotline, and I'm encouraged at the results. To be painfully honest here, a few days ago, I was really excited with the look of the new website, but very scared that I would have no idea where to go with the story once I got past the first couple of chapters that had already been written. I had serious flopsweat going, and I don't now.

I mean, I still don't know if the book will find an audience, but I'm much more confident that there will at least be a book. And a better book than before.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Progress Report 4 - The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

So yeah, now I'm pretty much just waiting for August 1 to roll around. It doesn't mean that I'm idle, goodness no.

I've got the first chapter uploaded already and scheduled to drop on Sunday morning. I've completed a couple of Extras, have another one or two in progress (which means I haven't yet decided to post it as one or two pieces). And I'm debating one big step which prudence tells me I should take, but fear tells me I should not.

I've gone through a lot of stress over the past couple of years, hit some real mental low points, and during that time, I put myself into a kind of self-imposed exile from a big part of my community of friends on-line, mainly the folks from hte Codex Writers Group. I've thought several times that I should end it and get back in touch; I miss those folks.

But fear stops me every time. For instance, when I found out that Ted Kosmatka was nominated for a Nebula, I wanted to congratulate him, but I haven't said a word to him in around two years and it just seemed weird. I ended up not saying anything. I did get the nerve up to contact Nancy Fulda and James Maxey (and by contact, I mean leave brief comments on their blogs), but it was hard, and I certainly don't have the balls to ask them to link to my site, especially sight unseen as far as the book goes.

Because let's face it, what I'm doing, it's risky. I've tried to write this book twice before and done a bad job of it. I have no guarantees that this attempt will turn out any better. The difference is, very few people saw how bad those previous attempts were. Now I'm doing it in front of the world, so to speak.

So I'm fearful and yet excited. Because I'm doing something new for me, and the work and creativity is fun. I sincerely hope people like it, and that it turns into more than just another site that's visited by about three friends. I hope I can do a good enough job of it that people will be anxious to visit and see the updates. I hope that it turns out good and stays fun.

Corinne Bohrer can't wait.


I didn't mean like that. No, um, you know what? Carry on, Corinne.

New on Examiner--All Over Town

New review up on examiner.com today: "All Over Town," a curiosity piece featuring the vaudeville comedy duo of Olsen and Johnson. And an Oklahoma seal (sea lion, actually) named Sally. Click the link to read it and toss a cent my way.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Not Much to Say Except...


It was not Smeaton's time.

Big Game Wednesday - The Hand That Was a Face


I'm going to put off discussing you-know-what until next week, in honor of Relaunch Week, and instead would like to mention another facet of Champions that is long gone and never mentioned: Mark Williams.

Who's Mark Williams? Well, he was the guy who drew about 80% of the illustrations for Hero Games from the time they started until mid-1984, including that cover you're seeing on the right there. Just like the illustrations of Dave Sutherland III and Dave Trampier gave AD&D its particular flavor, Mark Williams's illustrations gave Champions a lot of its particular personality.

I'll be honest. I hated Williams's artwork at first. I thought it was clumsy and amateurish, and it was a big part of why I didn't buy Champions the first few times I looked at the books in the game store.

And it really was clumsy and amateurish. His figures were stiff, his anatomy was all over the place, and his inking was really uneven--sometimes solid, but other times depending on liberal amounts of zip-a-tone to cover for deficiencies in the drawing. Part of it was limitations to his abilities and part of it may simply have been the workload. In the 2nd Edition Champions rulebook above, he had 25 illustrations. For books like Enemies, he illustrated every single villain.

But over time, I grew to like his art. I don't know whether he really got that much better or I just got used to his quirks and became more forgiving as I grew to like the game his illustrations accompanied.

Part of it was that he never took himself too seriously. Many of his illustrations displayed a kooky sense of humor, like this illustration from Champions II.


And frankly, he did improve a lot. His work certainly became a lot more ambitious. For Champions II, released in 1982, not only did he do most of the interior illustrations, but he also did a full color wraparound cover. That same year, he painted the color cover for Espionage, a Champions spin-off game that became the first step toward establishing Hero as a universal system.


Yes, the figures are still stiff and clumsy, and the layout could use some work, but the execution of this cover showed an artist growing by leaps and bounds over his previous work. Not only was he improving technically, but he seemed fearless in attempting to illustrate anything he was asked to.

And then in 1983, Hero came out with a magazine, the Adventurer's Club.


That's a solid piece of work. It's not perfect, by any means, but the blacks define the figure well, and I really like the iconic nature of the costume design. Not only was Williams the artistic face of the company, but the Super-Hype article in that first issue also mentioned that Williams was writing the first supplement to the upcoming Justice, Inc. game, an adventure featuring Nazis and zeppelins titled Horror in the Sky. I was really looking forward to that one.

But something happened between this issue and mid-1984. Hero was bringing in other artists to help with the workload, and Williams's work slowly disappeared from the products. He did some more work for Adventurer's Club. He drew the cover to Champions III in early 1984, and split the interior illustrations with Mike Witherby.

But in mid-1984, his work suddenly disappeared. He had a few illustrations in Justice Inc., including a hilarious cover to the Campaign Book featuring cameos from a bunch of different characters from movies and pulps. He pencilled the cover to the third edition of Champions, which Witherby inked, but aside from a couple of reprinted illustrations from the original Champions rulebook, the interior art was all by Mike Witherby and Denis Loubet (this is not a complaint--I love Loubet's work).

And after that, nothing. The first supplement to Justice Inc. was released, and it was Trail of the Gold Spike by Aaron Allston. Williams's Horror in the Sky never saw the light of day.

I always wondered what happened to him, but never seemed to have good enough search-fu to find anything definitive. Turns out (according to this page), he moved to L.A. (right after I left) and got into special effects. Worked on "Aliens," among other things. Sadly, he died in 1998, but I'm glad to see that his move away from Hero was a move up, not just a move out.

But I still wish they had released Horror in the Sky.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What to Expect

(This is cross-posting to both They Stole Frazier's Brain and Hero Go Home):

So just what can you expect now that I'm relaunching Hero Go Home?

Well, as long as I'm unemployed, expect a lot of content. I'm holding back right now, building up a reserve of things (and switching between projects means I've got a bunch of unfinished stuff floating around right now). And depending on what kind of job I get, that flow of content might not be greatly reduced (I applied for something very nice today that involves a lot of web work and a lot of content production, though not much creativity--it remains to be seen whether it will leave me too drained of enthusiasm to keep up with my own work, or leave me raring to go on stuff once I get home...assuming I get the job, of course, which is a long shot, but I really want this one).

So a typical week will look like this:

Tuesday: Classic Movie Review on examiner.com and a Hero Go Home Extra!
Wednesday: Big Game Wednesday on They Stole Frazier's Brain
Thursday: Classic Movie Review on examiner.com
Friday: A new Hero Go Home chapter
Saturday: Out of the Vault on They Stole Frazier's Brain (yes, it's coming back)

plus a trickle of smaller posts and links to stuff I like, which will probably appear on Hero Go Home. I don't do a lot of that here, because I've had this superstition about posting more than once per day, but I want people to visit Hero Go Home early and often, and one way to do that is to give them a steady flow of new stuff to see.

You may notice that Movie Monday is missing from this list. I actually want to start it up again as well, but I put a hell of a lot of time and work into those, and I don't know if this new schedule would allow me to do it justice. If I have the time and start gaining traffic, I may take the plunge. I have all the Superman films gathering dust, just waiting for a mega-series.

New on Examiner--So This is Washington

Continuing the series of Lum & Abner reviews, this time covering the pair's fourth film, "So This Is Washington." They are inexplicably popular in Tulsa. The Sunday Radio Theater on KFAQ played them twice this past Sunday.

Anyway, this one was actually nominated for an Oscar. Visit the link for details.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Progress Report 3 - Attention to Detail

The forum is set up. Not completely customized yet, but my attention is spread too thin to get too far into the weeds on learning the fine points of phpBB. But you can read and register and post, and if anybody does, then I'll worry about learning the finer points of the bulletin board software and board moderation.

I've got the sidebar set up with the Donate button, the RSS feed, and the ads for Daikaiju! 3 and the Cafepress shop. I need to come up with some more shirt designs. I have one based on "Double-Secret Weapon" that's about 90% done, and I have some vague ideas for some Hero Go Home ones.

One thing that happens every time I go through a relaunch or a redesign is I learn more about putting together websites. Often it's more a matter of catching up to technology that has passed me by. My first Geocities sites, I coded completely by hand, typing up HTML in Notepad. I used the cheap giveaway software that came with our camera to edit photos.

For Hero Go Home, I'm using Wordpress for the basic site, phpBB for the forum, FileZilla for uploading, GIMP and Inkscape to do graphics and photo editing, Open Office Writer to write the novel itself. I've got Google Analytics set up for traffic monitoring, Amazon Affiliate Program and Cafepress accounts, and a Paypal business account for the Donate button.

And the crazy thing is, this is a relatively simple, DIY site. I think it looks pretty good, but I could not go to a company tomorrow and say, "Hire me to be your webmaster. Look at my site to see what I can do." Fifteen years ago, I probably could have. The standards hadn't been set, and companies first getting into the web had very little understanding of what they wanted to get out of it, beyond "more business."

Not today. The bar is high, and I don't know a fraction of what I would need to know to be a corporate web admin today. It's yet one more skill set that I know just well enough to be a talented amateur.

Want

Totally impractical and amazingly expensive (around $50 for Stainless Steel, though what else would you use?), and we hardly ever even use the D20 for our weekly game, and yet...


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Progress Report 2 - It's Official

So last night, after visiting Sargon and Naamah-Darling for yet another Bad Movie Night ("The Conqueror," if you're wondering), I came home and worked through the night on the Hero Go Home redesign. Naamah gave me some good input, and talking to her led me to put some of my other ideas into more focus. I created and reordered pages and finally got up the nerve to set up a forum as well.

I still have some polishing to do--redoing the blogroll, adding links to my CafePress shop and Amazon, and maybe slotting in some Google ads or something. But my main concern now is getting content lined up and ready to go for the official launch, which will be on Sunday, Aug 1.

Caroline Munro is excited.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Progress Report 1 - The New Hero Go Home Site

No concrete progress actually, although as a certain brilliant commentator once said, "We have one of our best men in there right now, stirring the pot!"

Which means that before I could do any actual updating of the site, I had to hunt up the logins and passwords, clean out the backlog of old spam comments that needed moderating, figure out what I want the site to look like, what features I want to implement, what programs I want to use to best implement them. And update the information on my paypal account for the Donation button. Which is what I've been doing. I think I can basically make do with Wordpress for almost everything, but I'll probably also add a forum page with phpbb in the naively optimistic belief that folks might show up to discuss things on it.

Meanwhile, I haven't yet done any writing on the book, but I have done some plotting. I have the first three chapters or so pretty much written already which gives me three weeks of content in the can, so I can conceivably leave any more actual writing on the back burner while I get everything else up and running.

The big stumbling block is graphic design. I like doing it, but there are some pages of additional content that I don't see myself having the time or energy to do myself between now and launch date (which is tentatively in about two weeks). And while I like the logo I've got now, I think for the novel (as opposed to a webcomic) the logo might be too comic-booky.

I know, a superhero novel, and I'm concerned that the logo is too comic-booky.

Oh yeah, and I can't find my camera, which I sort of need for some of the things I want to do.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

New on Examiner--Suddenly, starring Frank Sinatra

Today on examiner.com, a quick look at "Suddenly," starring Frank Sinatra as a crazy hit man who's been hired to kill the President.

Another Smeaton Update

Yeah, I know, I'm writing about Smeaton perhaps more than I should. After all, the only people really interested in Smeaton are the ones around the table. But I need time to digest and synthesize or something, so here I am, recapping.

So last time, I talked about Smeaton getting involved with a princess, but not trusting her motivations, and also feeling that things might somehow be fated due to a poem he read that seemed to echo his situation. In the meantime, he was involved in a big subterranean battle that involved his being swallowed by a giant sea serpent and subsequently cutting his way back out, like a cross between Jonah and Conan. Jonan.

When he returned home from that mess, he found a note from the princess, obviously a request for him to come visit. After the exhaustion of the night, there was nothing she could say that would get him out the door. But he read the note anyway.

And then promptly left and visited her in the tower (she can play him like a Stradivarius, apparently).

She had quoted from the poem, you see. Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach," the poem that Smeaton superstitiously believed was an omen for their relationship. A poem she would have had no reason to read--she being Atlantean and it being a British poem--and which he had never told her about.

She told him that she had been having visions of him since her young teens, that she had heard him recite that poem in one of her visions, and that in another he saved her life sometime in the future.

And she was convincing enough that Dougal has begun to believe that maybe her affection is true, and that maybe this is not some cruel trick of hell or fate to simply bring him more misery. And meanwhile, there's still a sub to be built, which he spent the next day doing. And for once, between the progress on the sub and the very important clues they discovered during the previous day's battle, it seems as if they're finally making progress toward their goal after far too many digressions and distractions.

But unbeknownst to Dougal, the princess has summoned his friends to her tower to tell them that Dougal doesn't merely save her life in her visions. He dies in the attempt. So she begged his friends to keep him away from the tower for the next few nights, for her end is surely approaching quickly and she wants him to be spared.

Talk about a no-win situation. We're talking epic tragedy there. There are so many interesting directions it can go. What will the friends do? Will they tell Dougal, or will he find out some other way?

Part of me hopes that they don't tell me, because I don't want to lose Dougal. Part of me wants to fight the good fight, trusting to the dice and a clever plan to beat my doom, knowing that Dougal is indispensable as the only guy in the group who can get the sub built. I figure that's the only reason he's been snatched from the jaws of death every time so far.

But then part of me realizes that Dougal is no longer indispensable. An NPC has taken over the building of the sub and can finish it without Dougal's help. And frankly, it might be Dougal's time. As I just mentioned, Dougal has cheated death a couple of times only through the use of DM fudging and emergency get-out-of-death free points. That can't go on forever.

But without Dougal, what would I do? Before we started the campaign, I gave Sargon two character concepts, and we agreed Dougal would be the better choice. The other concept could certainly work, although it would require some serious twisting to get me into play quickly. And the problem is, this character would not fill the same niche that Dougal does, which might not work as well for the group. Or I could come up with another character entirely.

And like I say, I might be completely jumping the gun. Just because some princess in a tower says I'm fated to die doesn't mean it'll happen. After all, if she's so smart, how'd she end up in the tower in the first place? Ha!

See? Everything's going to be fine. Totally.

...god, I can't believe I have to wait a week.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Big Game Wednesday - Enter the Matrix


Some time went by after that disastrous first Champions game. We were probably playing Bushido, though it's hard to remember so far back now (how far back? oh, you'll see most vividly soon enough).

Gary was still talking about running Champions, but maybe starting over with a new campaign now that we'd had an introduction to the system. And maybe not starting off brand new characters by taking on Dr. Destroyer (who was basically the Doctor Doom of the Champions world, a ludicrously powerful villain who just gets more ludicrously powerful with every new edition of the books).

So I started thinking about what kind of character I might want to build and came up with a crazy concept. Both Gary and I were pretty avid Uncanny X-Men readers, so I came up with this character called Matrix. The idea was the classic Marvel snake eating its own tail.

See, in the early 80's, Chris Claremont and John Byrne had put out an X-Men storyline called the "Dark Phoenix" saga, in which Jean Grey, Marvel Girl, had died and been resurrected as Phoenix, a much more powerful hero. And at one point she got brainwashed by a bad guy, which had the end effect of turning Phoenix into Dark Phoenix, an immensely powerful and destructive force who flew off and destroyed a planet before coming back to battle the X-Men.

There's much more to that story, but it doesn't really apply here. My idea was, what if that planet full of aliens that Dark Phoenix killed came looking for her? I mean, take the idea of ghosts being souls that have unresolved anger, who are unable to move on until their issues are resolved. Now multiply it by a few billion and have all those ghosts move en masse to Earth, searching for revenge against Phoenix. They find a pretty young woman at random, someone they can possess and empower to facilitate their vengeance.

That was Matrix, a young woman who possessed by the souls of x million D'Bari (or "asparagus people" as John Byrne described them) looking for some payback against Phoenix, who destroyed their planet. Most of the time, she's just plain Sandra Dobyns, an aspiring dancer. But she hears voices in her head, lots of them, and when she's under stress, the voices get louder until she loses control and explodes into Matrix, who can fly and shoot power beams and read minds and wants nothing more than to kill Phoenix, if she can ever find her (of course, what she didn't know was that Phoenix had already been killed off by this time--irony!).

This is her pencilled in over the character silhouette from my old character sheet, with a hastily-inked version underneath to give a better idea of what her costume looked like.



How 80's is that? Big ol' feathered hair (huge hair, like Starfire from the Teen Titans, but even bigger, anticipating the whole Power Makes Your Hair Grow thing from DBZ by over ten years), glowing eyes, Kirby dots, and freaking leg warmers! What the hell was I thinking?

Anyway, Gary was torn over the idea. On the one hand, he was like, "Finally, somebody puts some thought into a character concept instead of just throwing together a bunch of random powers or else making a straight clone of a Marvel guy." But on the other hand, the fact that my character concept came straight out of Marvel canon didn't thrill him, since he wasn't really running a Marvel universe. But he allowed it and we started to play.

Problem was, Matrix turned out to be a pain in the ass once the game started. The idea was that she would start out not knowing about Matrix, and once she did, she'd be kind of like Bruce Banner, afraid of her other self and reluctant to change. Which made getting her into the action a big hassle. I only played her for a few weeks before Gary came to me to talk about retiring Matrix and bringing in somebody else.

His suggestion: Matrix gets a big heroic death scene, sacrifices herself to save the rest of the group, and then I could use what little experience she'd gained in building a new character, one who would fit the group dynamic better. So that was what we did. And all things considered, it was for the best. And it was a demonstration of good GM'ing on Gary's part, a valuable lesson to me.

My third try at a Champions character would finally be the one that stuck. You know who I'm talking about. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lum and Abner with a Body Count

New review up on examiner.com. It's Lum and Abner's first movie, less straight comedy and more melodramatic. Give it a click. It's very short.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The New Plan

No calls on any of the jobs I've applied for. Not one.

Not one call. Not one interview.

So I'm thinking it's time to go ahead and throw myself into a Hero Go Home redesign. I've paid for the domain for a few more months at least, so let's put it to work.

I'm looking at making all the published Digger stories so far available for download; don't know whether to try charging for them or go the "free, but please donate" route. Got to freshen up the graphics and page design. It's set up as a ComicPress page right now, but I may dump that for straight WordPress. I've got some other ideas for some entertaining content.

And then there's Hero Go Home, the novel. The first two drafts were good in places, but didn't hold together overall. I've seen other people do the serial novel concept, and I'm thinking I might give that a try. I'm putting all the game stuff on hold while I take one last plunge at plotting it out and seeing if I can make a run at it.

The reason I'm switching to this at such a late date is two-fold. Number one, I own the domain, so I better use it before I lose it. Number two, Digger is still my only real seller. There may be an audience for the Dieselpunk stuff I've been playing with lately, but I don't know that for sure. I know Digger can sell, at least some. And number three, of course, I need cash, at least enough to keep my utilities turned on. Desperation may spur the creative oomph that escaped me on the previous HGH drafts.

I'll still post here. This will never go completely away, I don't think. For instance, tomorrow I'll be posting up another examiner.com story, and then will come Big Game Wednesday. I'm into the Champions era now, and you may be able to tell that I look back fondly on my Champions days.

And in a couple of weeks, Big Game Wednesday is going to reach the origins of Digger in the game. Assuming I've got some stuff ready to roll out, that may coincide with the Hero Go Home relaunch. We'll see.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

In The Weeds - Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics


Champions has 14 core characteristics, or stats. OpenD6 tends to float between six and seven (most characters have six, but characters with extranormal abilities, like psionics or magic, have an extra one). The Icon Engine (working title) more or less splits the difference with 12.

The first block of characteristics, the physical block, has stayed the same, with Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, and Body. The second block, the Intellectual/Social, has been cut down by one total. I kept Intelligence and Presence, got rid of Ego and Comeliness, and added Chi (as I mentioned last time).

I can see why Ego was included as its own stat, but I've never really liked the way Ego works in Champions. I figure the game will run just as well if mental abilities roll off of INT or CHI as a core stat, or even CON in some instances (seeing as how part of CON is your toughness, your ability to gut it out through physical adversity which could be argued to be as much as function of willpower as physical conditioning).

COM looks as if it was simply added as a counterpart to Presence. One of the core Champions concepts seems to have been to add granularity to just about every stat. STR and CON go together as a pair, as do DEX/SPD, INT/EGO, STUN/BODY, PD/ED. In D&D, the CHA stat served for both force of personality and physical attractiveness; in Champions, of course they split those apart into Presence and Comeliness.

The problem is, COM doesn't serve any kind of game value. It's a dump stat, and a vanity stat, which is to say, you can put points into it just to be able to say how good-looking you are, but it has no effect on the game whatsoever. It's a waste of points.

So I dumped COM and instead added Traits (which I'll explain further in another post) and Disadvantages for being extraordinarily good-looking or ugly, tall or short, skinny or obese, with actual in-game consequences. You don't have to take any of those, of course; in the absence of specific Traits or Disadvantages, the character is assumed to look as good or not as the player wishes, just not good-looking enough to accrue tangible benefits or ugly enough to encounter actual hindrances.

The Speed Chart is morphing into a Speed Clock with only 6 segments per turn. I'm hoping this will simplify the process a little to speed play, while still keeping the unique flavor of Hero Speed.

Physical Defense and Energy Defense have been combined into one simple Defense stat. If a character wants to have a particular vulnerability to one or the other, he can take that as a Disadvantage. Recovery, Endurance and Stun are just the same as before.

So the final count right now:

STR
DEX
CON
INT
PRE
CHI
SPD
DEF
REC
END
STUN
BODY

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Final Smeaton and Another Old Photo

So I did a little tweaking to the Smeaton portrait, and here's the final result.



I had reduced the size of the eyes previously, because the original photo was a little doe-eyed, but I decided I reduced them a little too drastically. He was too beady-eyed, like a lizard or John Wesley Hardin. So I have brought the eyes back up, just a little, and added some very subtle wrinkles around the nose and forehead. I don't want to do too much of that, because Smeaton isn't even 30 yet, so I don't want him too wrinkled. Just a little weathering and character was needed.

Basically, I'm worried that if I continue to dink around with it, I'll start to make it worse instead of better, so I'm leaving it alone.

As I was going through my virus problems last week, I searched through my discs looking for a boot recovery disc a former co-worker had given me. And in the process, I found a disc with a bunch of old family photos I had gotten from a family reunion several years ago.

It was weird looking through the photos now, because I've been on a retro nostalgia kick for a while now. Here's a photo of my dad and his family.


Ross the family partriarch is in the center rear. He always seems to have his head cocked with this half-smile on his face, like he can't believe anyone is taking this picture stuff seriously. The two women are his wife Eunice (my grandmother, who died before I was born) and my Aunt Thelma. The rest are Ross's five sons and one daughter.

Dad is the one on the left with the glasses and the crutch. He was struck by polio as a kid and has walked on one crutch almost all of his life. And I don't know what it is in a lot of these pictures, his slender face or his dark hair with the rakish combover or the way he's usually doing the Clooney (head down, eyes up), but I seem to see Loki in those pictures, something dark and sly underneath the surface (or maybe it's just the nose; Kirby always drew Loki with a very distinctive nose).


It's weird to see these pictures, because the faces are familiar but the people are strangers. I hadn't met any of them yet, and in a sense, perhaps I still haven't, because the people I grew up seeing on holidays are not the people in these pictures. They were the people these folks became, and there's a difference. My dad is a cool guy, but I wonder what it would be like to meet him then, when he was younger than me. Would he seem like the same guy? Would I like him?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

New on Examiner--Love Laughs at Andy Hardy

New article up on examiner. com - "Love Laughs at Andy Hardy" from 1946, the fifteenth film in the series (and the last). A good example of creative exhaustion with a couple of scenes that show the spark of earlier films. Click the examiner.com link on the right for a quick read.

Making Smeaton

One of our other gamers, the inimitable naamah-darling, posted an awesome mock tintype she made up of Tom Gentry, her character from our Atlantis game.

And after she made her character, she made up some of a couple of other characters, which wasn't hard because the female characters are apparently based on two vintage lovelies, Maude Fealy...


And Gabrielle Ray.


(Those aren't the pics she actually used, BTW)

So then, of course, the challenge was up to me to make up a portrait of Smeaton for my own tintype. Which is harder than it sounds, because I can't point to any one person and say, "That's Smeaton." I can find pictures that come pretty close in one aspect or another, like the Hibernian FC player from 1889 whose face I used for my first Smeaton photo. But the source pic was in horrible shape and the face was tiny and lacking any detail, not good for a portrait.

The historical Sundance Kid comes pretty close as well...


though a little too good looking.

Tangent time: a guy in my very first screenplay class at USC almost 30 years ago wrote a short script about a graphic artist being asked to draw a hot dog for an advertisement "like that orange you did before."

"You want a hot dog that looks like an orange?"

"No, but that orange had the quality I'm looking for. So draw another hot dog, but make it more like the orange."

Which sounds ridiculous, but in searching for a model for Smeaton, I can totally relate. Because when I think of the qualities I want Smeaton's face to have, the guy who comes to mind is the big, bald German who fights Indiana Jones in the Flying Wing sequence of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (played by the late Pat Roach).

Roach is not Smeaton, but that character has the weathered, rough-around-the-edges, old campaigner vibe I'm looking for. So take the Sundance Kid and make him look like Roach-as-bald-Nazi, and you're in the ballpark. But like the kid said in "Live Free or Die Hard,"

"I mean, more like a plan, like, a way to do that."


So finally I found a pic that looked like it would be a good starting point, an old tintype of a guy from about the right period with a bushy mustache.


And after a lot of GIMPing around, I came up with this.


Now, I don't know if I'm actually done or not, but this pic comes close. Bushy mustache, long sideburns, a dour-verging-on-angry expression, high forehead to indicate intelligence (though I think I may have gone a little too Frankensteinian here), just a little gaunt with a nose that looks like it has seen some hard times. The hair is not as unkempt as I picture it, but it wouldn't be in a formal portrait.

I won't bore you with the process unless someone asks for some step by step pics. And if any of the Atlantis crew have any comments on whether this look like the Smeaton you know, please let me know.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Big Game Wednesday - We Are the Champions


So as I said last week, there were two main new gamemasters I was playing with a lot after moving beyond D&D. I talked about Brian last week. The other was Gary.

Gary was a skinny nerd who was not nearly as cool as our old core group, but I actually turned out to have more in common with him than with some of the other guys, because he collected comics, and so was about the only guy in the group I could really talk comics to.

Somehow he had gotten into the Air Force ROTC program, although there was nothing about him, from his slight frame to his geeky snort-laugh, that said "military." In a bit of game to real-life irony, he had played through my Hammersmith nuclear missile base V&V scenario and scoffed loudly at how unrealistic it was; a few years later, he graduated, became an officer and was assigned to a real-life nuclear missile base. He was one of the guys who would have pushed the button had any button been pushed, and looking back, I can't think of anyone I would rather have had with that job. Gary was trustworthy.

So one day, he says he wants to run Champions.

We were a little bit doubtful. Number one, none of us had any experience with the game, but I'd looked at it in the store, and it looked cheap and complicated. The production design on the game sucked. The typesetting was in this sad san serif font that looked almost typewritten, and the illustrations by Mark Williams were stiff and clunky, not nearly as cool as the Jeff Dee and Bill Willingham art that had graced the Villians and Vigilantes products.

Adding to my dubiousness was just the idea of Gary as GM. He didn't seem to have the imagination it would take to keep the game fun.

But Gary asked us to please trust that the system really worked well. It wasn't as complicated as it looked, and it was really fun once you started playing. So we gave in and picked up our dice to roll characters.

But no. You don't roll characters in Champions. You build them from points. This way, Gary said, you could have exactly the character you wanted, with no randomly rolled powers to shoehorn into your concept.

So we spent probably two hours or more building characters, and it was a pain in the ass. I thought I would maybe play a Human Torch-type character, but I couldn't find Flame Powers.

Gary said that the powers weren't categorized that way. You defined what effect you wanted your powers to have, then bought the powers that did those things, then assigned "special effects" to them. So if I wanted to blast flame, I would buy Energy Blast and call it "Fire."

I ended up designing a male version of Starfire from the Teen Titans whom I named Blaze, with medium high strength, flight, force field and energy blast. I also bought him Martial Arts (not knowing that Martial Arts was usually reserved for low-strength characters).

Gary had told us to keep our characters at around 8-10 dice for attacks. Blaze came in on the low end of that, with 8 dice of strength and an 8d6 Energy Blast (which, still not really twigging to the "special effects" concept, I defined as a blast of "energy" - okay, "solar energy"). It didn't take long to come up with the basic outline of the powers I wanted, but getting everything bought and paid for with disadvantages, along with the advantages and limitations on powers which forced you to consult tables like this...


Was a real time sink and made my head hurt. Just for further illustration, here's the Champions character sheet and the Villians and Vigilantes character sheet.



See how much more open the V&V sheet is? How much whiter? Although the one really cool thing that the Champions character sheets had going for them were those character silhouettes, so you didn't have to be an artist to design your character's costume. Just draw in some boots, gloves, belt and mask, and you're ready to go.

You know, after 2-3 hours of math.

So we finally got our characters built and the next thing we knew, we were winging off to this island to confront somebody named Doctor Destroyer. We ended up fighting some robot guardians, who were virtually impervious to my weak energy blasts. So I flew up to one and used my Martial Arts to kick him, which doubled the dice of damage. Gary nearly spit Coke all over the table when he realized I had bought Martial Arts on a 40 STR, so was going to do 16 dice of damage.

I pulverized the one robot, but the other characters were dropping one by one, and then I ran out of Endurance, my Force Field dropped, and I was easy prey. Game over.

Man, I thought, Champions sucks. I'm never playing that again.

Ha.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

New on Examiner--Lum and Abner's Second Film

New review up on examiner.com. It's Lum & Abner's second film, "The Bashful Bachelor." It's not a great film, but interesting, if only because the story is constructed along the same lines as most modern TV shows, with an A plot and a B plot. It's fascinating in a strange sort of way to see some fairly intricate plotting fall completely apart due to horrible execution. Click the link on the right for a quick read.

Monday, July 12, 2010

In the Weeds - At the Earth's Core


So as I said, after considering both the old-school Champions system and the OpenD6 system, I decided to go with Champions, then in the interests of making things easier for newer players to build characters, I decided to make a new system that drastically simplifies Champions-style character creation while retaining the core mechanics.

What core mechanics? Champions basically has two: you spend 5 points to purchase 1d6 of effect, and you resolve actions with a single roll on three dice that usually defaults to around 11 or less. Virtually all the game's mechanics revolve around variations on these two things.

At the same time, I'm trying to consolidate and simplify as much as I can. So as much as I have grown to like the 14 stats that make up the core of a Champions character, I cut it down to ten. Nice and round. I came up with a couple of ideas for streamlining the skills, talents and perks a little bit, as well.

But those aren't the chief source of complexity in the game design. The big problem is powers.

Champions came up with a brilliant solution to the problem of coming up with superpowers in a game, which was to buy powers as game effects. I've already talked about Villains and Vigilantes' system for rolling up random superpowers. In V&V, you could get Flame Powers, for instance, and then the listing for that power would tell you what you could do.

But look at two characters like The Human Torch and Pyro. The Human Torch literally bursts into flame, flies, shoots flame blasts and has a special Nova Blast. On the other hand, Pyro can't fly or burst into flame and needs a source of open flame that he can manipulate. V&V handled this by creating two different versions of Flame Power. But what happens if you decide to create a character more like Stephen King's Firestarter?

Champions said, "Screw what it looks like at the end. If you want the character to fly, shoot blasts, and explode, then buy Flight, Energy Blast, and say, Ranged Killing Attack Explosion with no range. Then just call it fire."

Which is a concept that takes a while to get your head around (as I'll explain further on Big Game Wednesday), but once you do, it's incredibly flexible. And a big pain in the ass, especially with some of the more complex combinations of advantages and limitations to make the power do exactly what you want it to do.

So as I was trying to figure out a way to simplify the power designs, along with making them work more the way I envision them to work in my game world, I came up with a radical solution.

Just have characters pay a flat cost for powers, instead of making them follow the 1d6 per 5 points concept. Then rather than being multipliers, advantages and limitations can simply add and subtract cost. Much easier.

But then how to account for differences in ability? What if I want one character to be really powerful in something, while another is barely adequate?

My solution? Add another stat which is basically a measure of how powerful the character is. Make powers work in conjunction with that stat, which I'm calling Chi.

But then what about a character who has one very powerful ability, while others are weak? Answer: make powers purchasable in ranks, which make a character able to use their Chi more effectively for higher-ranked powers.

I thought this would be a flawed, but reasonably simple approach to radically simplifying the character creation process. And as a bonus, since my conception of the game was to have the characters start out as normal humans with the possibility of developing some unusual abilities later, they don't even have to worry about using that system until later in the game, making initial character creation even simpler and easier.

Then, a few days after coming up with my brainstorm (but before actually putting any numbers down on paper), I was looking over the D6 Adventure rules again, and realized that their system for buying extra-sensory powers and other special abilities is basically the same system--flat rates for ranks of ability, keyed off a special stat. So I'm even less brilliant than I thought. I'm using Champions stats and dice mechanics with OpenD6 power purchase options (as well as a couple of other mechanics I adapted).

Basically it seems that, given the choice between Champions and OpenD6, I chose both.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Market Ecology

Sargon put up an interesting post about the way the music market has segmented and there is no way for the big record labels to return to their old business model. Which reminded me of a theory I've long had and rarely explained, so I might as well throw it out there now.

It's Reagan's fault.

See, when Reagan was elected in 1980, the American economy had tanked. Years of bad economic policies had gotten worse under Carter and an entrenched Democratic majority in Congress. The combination of high taxes and stifling regulation had forced American businesses either out of the country or out of competition and struggling to catch up.

Then along came Reagan. Under his administration, taxes were slashed and regulations were reduced. Money began to flow again, and the economy started to take off. By the mid-80's business degrees were cool again.

So now it's 1987, 1988, and colleges are churning out thousands of new business grads, eager to make their fortunes in this new growing economy. And the new grad has a choice: go to work for one of the stagnant giants like GM, or else try to compete with one of the giants (not a smart idea unless you have really deep pockets), or else, ta da! find a market segment that is currently untapped!

Next thing you know, there are specialty shops everywhere, for skateboards and comic books and gourmet coffees. And with those growing market segments and new distribution chains for magazines, as well as the desktop publishing revolution sparked by the Apple Macintosh, there are specialty magazines for those specialized segments. And with the burgeoning of home video (which means home video stores desperate for product to fill shelves) and cable television (desperate for content to fill channels), that segmentation continued with entertainment being targeted at narrower and narrower audiences, and therefore advertising being targeted at narrower, more precise demographic groups as well.

But it started (I can't prove, but do believe) with that huge influx of new business grads desperately looking for niches to fill in a growing market ecology.

In the Weeds - Modularity and Ripping Off Ideas


So instead of starting a new blog about game design, I'm just going to post the boring-to-probably-everyone-but-me discussions about game design under this topic, so you can skip it if you wish. It's not a new weekly feature, just a big warning sign for those not interested in the topic. This one might not be as bad a later ones, just because I'm not talking numbers yet, just some general design goals.

Progress continues along two tracks: the game rules (which I'm tentatively calling the Icon Engine until I can think of a better name) and the campaign (which is tentatively titled The Secret Masters). And though I had come to a blockage on both a couple of days ago, today I had breakthroughs on realizing which pieces I need to work on next.

And that's something new for me. I've never been an organized person, so big projects often stump me with their bigness. I start at the beginning and head for the end, but after I've gotten through the easy beginning bit, I don't know what chunk to do next. My ambition is so big and overwhelming, and every piece seems to connect to every other piece, that I panic, and my brain shuts down. I have no idea what to do first, so ultimately I just drop the whole thing.

But now I know exactly which bit of the rules system I want to design next, and roughly how I want it to look, and how it connects to the other pieces. I've already started the rules manual, which looks more like a Quick Start document than a full-blown game system, which is fine, because I'm thinking of splitting it out into modular documents. A small Quick Start guide for players with the basics of character generation and the combat system, an Advanced Guide with more detailed lists of skills and such, plus more detailed combat rules with examples and explanations, plus a Phase Two Player Guide for character development.

What's the what with that last bit? you're asking. Here's the deal. The Champions rules are detailed and logical, but they are a hugely time-consuming and complicated pain-in-the-ass when you're actually trying to design and balance a character. So I'm stripping that system down and simplifying it in a big way. But the concept of the campaign world is such that I won't even need that part of the rules for initial player character design.

So essentially, when the players first build their characters, they're using only a portion of the design rules, and the simpler portion at that. Later on, if they wish to add more complex abilities, they can, and it's a modular process that doesn't require them to rebuild their characters from the ground up.

Likewise, I've figured out which bit of the campaign world I want to work on next, and how it will relate to everything else, and in figuring that out, I felt a big click in my head that took the campaign from "cool overarching idea that I have no idea how to turn into weekly adventures" to "awesome (I hope) modular campaign design that combines player freedom with a neat overall story." And I'm designing it in a modular fashion as well, ripping off the excellent concepts that Sargon used in our Atlantis campaign (and I'm starting to think that campaign needs some sort of title--Cults of Atlantis, or Mad Gods and Englishmen, or Steam Alchemists or something).

Right at the start of the game, Sargon gave everyone background handouts covering general history and background knowledge. And later, when we'd spent more time in the city in which the game took place, he handed out city guides with maps, once he'd decided we'd been there long enough to have learned our way around, along with more detailed campaign background information. It was a nice way to simulate a learning curve, with not too much information to overwhelm us at first, but enough information later to stimulate the deeper political game that is developing.

So for campaign materials, I'm totally ripping off that concept. The world backgrounder will consist of a handout that players can study or not, along with a brief verbal recap of the information in the backgrounder before the first game session. Once the players have settled into the game environment and learned their way around, a second handout will be forthcoming detailing the town they are living in.

The campaign itself will be designed around three tracks at first: micro, midi and maxi (sounds like feminine hygiene products, doesn't it?). The micro track is an immediate personal situation the players need to resolve over the first several game sessions. The midi track is a separate storyline that concerns doings around the town the players are staying in. The maxi track is a long-term campaign track concerning big players in the game world; it obviously can't be as detailed as the others, because it can go in so many directions, depending on what the players decide to do, but the major players, their overall goals, and some plot seed ideas for each one will be included, something like what 5 ed. Champions did with their Conquerors, Killers and Crooks supplement.

The multiple track idea may sound ambitious, but splitting up the concept in this way makes it a lot easier to get a practical handle on than my original idea, which was the maxi track only, without any good micro ideas to help get the players going for the first few games.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Another Meeting Finally

Being unemployed sucks, but it does have small compensations. Like finally being able to attend a writers group meeting after six months of not. I actually wrote a story for this one. It wasn't a substantial story, by any means. It was kind of a shaggy dog thing with the heft of a bit of dryer lint. But it was a) a story, which I haven't written one in a year probably, and b) a Digger story, which means once I clean it up, it's one more piece for the proposed anthology.

Also, forgot to mention, but I did get that story up on examiner.com Thursday. This one was actually a good movie, "Nothing Sacred," starring Carole Lombard (who also starred in one of my favorite screwball comedies of all time, "My Man Godfrey"). Click the link on the right to find it.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Wasting Time

So I've started typing up the game design notes on my Champions stripdown. And here's the thing: the more I adapt the parts I'm simplifying, the more the parts that are still left virtually untouched from Champions stand out. And there aren't many of those left. And I'm thinking maybe I should really file the numbers off of those as well, make everything more or less my own.

The thing is, it's a total waste of time at this point, working on this project. I'm not running anything anytime soon, and I've got other projects I need to work on. I've got another examiner.com story to post today, and a short story to write up for tomorrow night, and oh yeah, a job I need to be hunting. I shouldn't be wasting my time writing up notes for a game system I may never finish and am even less likely to make any money from, in a few years' time.

But as I intend to do other things, this thing pushes itself into my mind. I don't know how long it'll last. The usual lifespan for this type of minor obsession is three months. I spend all my waking moments concentrating on one thing for about three months, and then it burns out of my system. Not always; I finished Death Wave in less than one month, and I managed to hold on for about six on Hero Go Home, the webcomic

I've even considered starting another blog, exclusively about designing the game, so I can get as deep in the weeds about damage dice and skill resolution as I want without clogging up this blog. I'm not as bad as those guys over at The Forge, who have come up with an entire vocabulary to discuss deep theory about RPG's (warning about the link--it's Safe For Work, but most of the articles are seriously dry), but let me get started and I can go on a while.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Big Game Wednesday - Revenge of the Ninja


To pick up from where I last left off, we got some fresh Gamemastering blood as the last remnants of our high-level Dungeons and Dragons group graduated and left. Other than myself and a couple of one-off DM's, the main two Gamemasters were Gary and Brian.

Gary was Air Force ROTC guy about whose games I'll start discussing next week. Brian was a half-Asian dude who ran Fantasy Games Unlimited's Bushido.

At the time, I was really starting to get into Japanese culture. The ninja craze of the 80's was just taking off, with movies like 1981's "Enter the Ninja." I was watching as much anime as I could find (which wasn't much in the early 80's). And there was a local station in L.A. that played Spanish language programming during the daytime and Japanese shows at night, so I watched a drama about Miyamoto Musashi, and sumo wrestling, and this weird show with stand-up comedians in traditional garb, kneeling on tatami mats and telling jokes based on topics introduced by a moderator. If one guy told a bad joke, some dude would run in from off-stage and paint a mark on his face with a big calligraphy brush.

So Bushido sounded like a cool game, and of course, I had to be a ninja. Two problems with that:

Number one, the game didn't really make ninja the supermen I hoped they would be.

Number two, the game dealt with Japan's caste system, and ninja were eta, the lowest caste. So my character was hampered by his social standing and not compensated with uber-cool abilities. And not helped at all by the mediocre stats I rolled up.

Meanwhile, my friend Jose decided to be a samurai and rolled up a pretty high-ranking noble with good stats. Gary was also a ninja at about my level.

So the basic storyline for the campaign was, Jose's character was a young noble headed out to make a name for himself, and we were two ninja hired to shadow him and make sure he didn't get himself killed. We went through several adventures together. Brian was a good Gamemaster, especially good at using campaign fluff to make things vivid and interesting.

But as the campaign continued, I got really frustrated. Number one, and this was my own damn fault really, I decided to specialize in hand-to-hand combat, augmenting my strength with shuko claws. I was going to be Ninja Wolverine, baby. But shuko did piss-poor damage next to swords, so I wasn't nearly as effective in combat as everyone else.

Second, Bushido had a suck-ass experience point system, where you were only awarded points for creatures you killed. As in, not creatures you helped to kill, but creatures you awarded the final blow to. So we get in a fight with a demon and some wolves, and Jose's samurai is mowing through things with his katana, and Gary's ninja drops a couple of wolves with shuriken and his sword, and meanwhile I'm spending the entire time trying to claw this one wolf to death. And in the end, Jose finishes off his last guy and comes running over to finish off my wolf. End result: Jose gets the xp for all the things he killed, plus the one pathetic wolf I spent all my time on, and I get nothing.

So Jose, who had already started out ahead of us thanks to lucky die rolls, continued to advance thanks to kill-stealing and a game that encouraged it.

So one week, Jose didn't show up. Gary and I, on our own, decided to murder the Shogun's mother and frame Jose's character for it. It was a brilliant game-session, in which we had to kill some city guards in order to get faked traveling papers, then posed as Buddhist monks to infiltrate the noble lady's compound (she was a devout Buddhist herself and very generous to those who shared her religion), then had to stealthily roam the estate at night and commit the murder, planting forged evidence to frame Jose. It was maybe one of the best single game sessions I have ever played, partly because it was entirely our own idea with no GM scripting at all. Brian improvised it brilliantly.

Jose's character showed up next week and learned he was ordered to kill himself, which he did. And finally, Jose's dice abandoned him. He botched his seppuku rolls horribly, and the guy acting as his second similarly botched his head-chopping roll. Jose's character died a horrible lingering death. He rolled up another character, but really, his samurai had been the center of the group, and without him, the game died.

Brian also ran a Runequest game for awhile. I wasn't a big fan of Runequest when we first started playing. There was a lot of background material that Brian knew, but none of the rest of us were familiar with. And combat was complicated and deadly, more so because you didn't increase in hit points the way you did in D&D.

But as I got used to it, I began to appreciate the different flavor Runequest had. The skill and spells system was unique, and I came to like it much better than D&D's restrictive classes. I don't remember why we quit playing, unless it was just that Brian quit showing up. Probably got a girlfriend or something.

It just so happens that the game we're playing now uses a rule system adapted from Runequest. Or I should say, it uses rules adapted from Chaosium's Basic Role-Playing system, which was adapted from Runequest in 1980. And on that segue, a brief note about Smeaton.

Smeaton is beginning to display a hidden romantic side, thanks to a couple of things I tossed into his character background. When I was buying his skills initially, I had some points left over and couldn't think what I wanted to use them for. So on the spur of the moment, I decided to toss in something random.

Why not give him a musical skill? I mean, at the time, there were certain things that were expected to be a part of any young man's education, and I was sure Smeaton's mother--devoted to the social niceties--would have insisted on it. He would never need it, but what the hell? Engineer, artilleryman, knife expert, clarinet player.

And then, at some point, I was playing him as drunk and decided to have him recite Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade," which became something of a catch-phrase for him. So, killer, clarinet player, poetry reciter.

And when the recent political game occurred, there was a random bit of business involving the code word, "Dover." So I thought of having Smeaton hum the song, "The White Cliffs of Dover," only it was written far too late to be a part of our game. So I looked up poems about Dover, and found one titled "Dover Beach," which includes this stanza:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.


Which was awesome, because not only had the code-word incident introduced Smeaton to a possible love interest, but it's also in the context of a political struggle which will obviously involve much double-dealing, misery and bloodshed. "Ignorant armies clash by night," indeed.

So, having already introduced Smeaton as a guy who learned the clarinet mainly at the insistence of his mother, I decided that she had also been a poetry buff who had insisted her sons learn to recite at least one poem by heart (it's a bit of a retcon, but a feasible one that advances the story, so I figured the GM wouldn't object). For Dougal, it had been Longfellow's "The Village Blacksmith," which in some ways describes Dougal himself, or at least the way Dougal wants to see himself.

But he had also heard his mother recite something about Dover Beach, and when he looked it up, he found that, indeed, the poem did seem to have some ominous meaning for his life, as if it were a sign from the heavens. So "Dover Beach" has become Smeaton's new catch-poem, and every intrigue and complication and violent incident convinces him still further that they are reaching the point where there will be no joy, no love, no peace, only ignorant armies clashing by night.

And the "love, let us be true to one another" part? He's not sure about that. The woman he met is a princess. Not a ruler (she's in prison for the rest of her life), but still a noble, and he's just a commoner with callused hands. There has been romance, but he still doesn't trust that such a woman would be interested in a man like him, and so he suspects another agenda at work.

God, this is so many light years beyond, "Okay, you're in a 10 foot wide corridor, and a party of kobolds wanders by, what do you do?" that it's not even funny.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

New on Examiner--Lum and Abner

New review up on Examiner.com. It's not a great movie by any means, but it's got a Tulsa connection, if only because KFAQ's Sunday night Radio Theater plays Lum and Abner all the time.

Stayed up virtually all night the other night making design notes on a system that was supposed to be a streamlined Champions and has morphed into almost a different game. Basically, stats, skills and combat are all virtually the same, the speed chart has been cut in half, and the way powers are bought and played has changed almost completely.

I have a writers group meeting coming up on Friday, and I need to write a story for it. It's the perfect opportunity to write that Digger story I've been noodling around a while, get it out of my head and onto paper and coincidentally, provide one more story for the anthology I'm coming closer to publishing.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Back to Life, Still Debating Game

The virus thing seems to be overcome, for now. Thanks go out to Sargon, who talked me through some stuff. I may be dumping Chrome pretty soon. I love it as a browser, but there's one thing it doesn't do. It doesn't work with TiddlyWiki, like at all.

So when I decided to use TiddlyWiki to help me organize and design this game world idea I'm playing with, I had to load up another browser. Problem: Firefox wasn't playing real well with TiddlyWiki either. So I decided to do what I never do, and load up Internet Explorer just to edit the wiki.

That appears to have been the mistake. And the reason I say that is that the fake virus-scan Trojan that completely fucked my system keeps trying to open up IE windows. As far as I know, I've cleaned out the major portions of it (virus scans have stopped coming up with Trojans, anyway), but IE still keeps trying to open on its own, and every now and then, my speakers blurt out "Congratulations. You won!" for no reason.

And since it looks as if Firefox has more robust and flexible security options, along with the ability to handle the updated TiddlyWiki, I'm seriously thinking of switching back to Firefox as my default browser.

Meanwhile, during the time my system was down, I did a lot of work on the game world. I have basically abandoned OpenD6, basically because without previous experience with it, I'm still not getting a warm and fuzzy feeling about designing an extensive game world around mechanics that I'm not comfortable with.

Which means I've jumped into Champions with both feet. I've designed several NPC's using the 4th Edition book, which isn't quite as simple as I was hoping to go, but at the same time, it's all in one book and not 5th Edition, which made several changes I wasn't comfortable with (and also had approximately 100 pages of errata on the Hero website, so I feel as if I can't really trust anything in the book).

But as I've worked through the process, I've gone through a shift in attitude. At first, it was wonderful to get back into the Champions mindset, like slipping on comfy old clothes you haven't worn in a long time. I know how things work, I have the points costs memorized for a lot of stuff, and I've designed so many characters with exotic powers that the design process has become really intuitive.

On the other hand, as I've worked through several characters in a row, I'm starting to chafe again at how complicated everything is. So I'm looking more seriously at the "design my own system" idea.

There is a whole movement of people who are playing Old-School Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, or retro-clones like Labyrinth Lord and Pathfinder. What I'm thinking of doing is basically taking Champions and cutting it down to a simpler core, retaining the things I like--the simple, scalable building blocks of 5 pts. per d6 and the one-roll, mostly chartless attack/skill resolution, the variety, flexibility and unique flavor of the speed chart--while getting rid of the things I don't--the complex math for advantages and limitations, the necessity of building everything with points, the large number of stats and the fiddly breakpoints, the complicated nature of a twelve-segment speed chart.

I don't know if I will actually go through with it. Hard enough to create a game world from scratch, but then to try to run it with an essentially un-playtested set of rules? The good part is that the people I play with are a pretty fun and flexible bunch, smart and articulate. So it wouldn't be like some of my previous GM'ing experiences, where I'm fighting with both the system and the players.

I hope.

And really, I've got a lot of time to mess with this. I don't anticipate trying to run this until the Atlantis game has run its course, and it seems to have a lot of fuel left in its tank. We're all having a blast, and there looks to be a lot of story left to play out.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Ouch

Caught a nasty virus on my home computer, so posting will be light while I get that sorted out. There is a new review up at examiner.com on the right, though it's of "The Milky Way," which was covered here on Movie Monday a couple of months ago. Click it anyway. I could use the traffic.