Thursday, July 24, 2014

Computer Magic

I don't talk about music much on my blog anymore, but I just discovered this gem of three year old electronica (thank you Lexus commercial!) that I think it absolutely fantastic.

Maybe a touch too long, but I'm not complaining.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Religion in Dark Heritage

Well, the World Cup has come and gone.  The US did relatively well, which was fun to watch.  I'm not a huge fan of Brazil, so I admit to a bit of schadenfreude watching them completely fall apart near the end in a humiliating display of tears and incompetence.  And more tears.

While, of course, I would have loved to see the US win, I never really considered it to be particularly likely, so my favorite to win was Argentina.  I picked them to come in second, which they did.  I picked Brazil to come in first, which they did not.  I picked Germany to come in third, and they did much better than expected (by me, anyway) although I was not at all surprised to see them as extremely competent and dangerous.  Lionel Messi was a bit disappointing.  He played very well, certainly, but he had very little of the type of incredible displays of athleticism that I was hoping to see.  And with Dimaria injured and out, and Higuain and Aguero at less than 100% because of past injuries, the Argentines hopes were a little too dependent on him alone.

I also discovered (yet again) that I can't watch too much soccer at a time (I utterly reject this notion that seems to be gaining some steam that we should call it futbol in America.  That's absurd.  Futbol is obviously not an English word, at least with that spelling.  It's obviously, also, an English word transliterated into Spanish.  The English word is football.  We have another sport here that already bears that name.  So we have a perfectly adequate and appropriate name for the sport already: soccer--and I think it's absurd that we should take an English loanword into Spanish back out of Spanish with the Spanish spelling to replace our own perfectly fine word for the sport.)  It's simply too boring if you watch too much of it.  I mostly only get into the sport during World Cup, and for the same reason I get into the Olympics--i.e., not because I love the actual sport, but because I like the idea of friendly patriotism vis a vis sporting events.  By the time the entire spectacle is over, I've seen enough soccer to last me for quite a long time, and I'm finding that watching games bores me.  They're too long and not enough happens to really keep my interest, in general.  Even in a game like the final, where one of my favorites (arguably, my actual favorite since I never had any hope whatsoever that the US would be in the game) is playing for the biggest prize in the sport.  At least, in a final with Argentina vs. Germany, the instances of drama and flopping were considerably minimized in favor of simply playing the game.  I've got to give both teams credit for that.  Another reason why I wasn't terribly put-out watching Brazil get so dramatically humiliated.

So... I won't say any more about the World Cup, even though a post-game commentary on the final wouldn't be unexpected.  Instead, like I said, it reiterated to me why, exactly, soccer has never really taken off in America and never will unless the demographic changes sufficiently such that socialist soccer fans start to outnumber actual Americans.  Of course, we see the Obama administration doing all that it can on our southern border to facilitate exactly that change, so... I dunno.  Maybe in my lifetime.  I hope not.

Instead, I'll talk a bit more about my long-neglected setting, DARK•HERITAGE, which is putatively the actual purpose of this blog.

For much of its existence, the setting has been, to borrow an overly trite term from TV Tropes (they're all overly trite, but they've created a lot of labels for things that needed labels.  Whatcha gonna do?) basically a crapsack world.  I've gradually, over some time, lost my enthusiasm for that mode of thinking.  I guess I've read a little too much of it, and now find the intellectual underpinnings of the notion unappealing, to say the least.  Or maybe I've just hit a few too many who are a few too free with their crapsackiness.  When Glen Cook pioneered the notion in The Black Company, and with a bit of Lovecraftian flair to it, it sounded attractive.  After reading a bit too much George Martin and Joe Abercrombie (and it's not actually like I read that much of either) I find the crapsack world nihilistic, dreary, and frankly... kinda whiny.

Now granted, horror fiction is still a major influence on DARK•HERITAGE and I suspect always will be.  But the notion that being heroic, of doing what's right is always the wrong choice... I can't support that kind of paradigm anymore.  Not sure that I ever really could, without playing it off for laughs eventually.

This isn't necessarily a major change; more of a minor one that has significant implications.  However... as a very visible symbol of this change, I need to have an element of some hope inherent in the setting itself.  I've decided that the pantheon as a crapsack pantheon with nobody good to look at is, perhaps, problematic.

Rather than change it outright, however, I'm going to posit a religious movement--more grassroots rather than organized--that recognizes a Creator over the pantheon, who recognizes a hope for an afterlife for those who live well.  In addition, I'm going to completely abstain from the temptation to make this religious movement in any way an analog for a corrupt and political Catholic church.  Rather, I'll have it more like Protestantism in the early 1800s in the US... very grassroots, very decentralized, with traveling pastors or teachers who aren't sure exactly of their authority or their doctrine... but who feel called to try and make the world a better place by teaching of the rewards of Heaven.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Watcher

There is a spirit that comes from before the foundation of the world of DARK•HERITAGE, but which lingers still nonetheless.  This spirit is sometimes called Grigori, the Watcher, and it is primarily known as being a spirit of hunger.  No one knows for sure how Grigori came to be such a near-personification of appetite, but it is so today.

Grigori is often disembodied.  Some ancient rumors amongst the Tarushan gypsies say that Grigori was once a powerful servitor of the Old Ones who rule in Kadath, long before mortal man lived in the area.  He watched and observed the arrival of men, with characteristic lack of emotion, and cataloged their many comings, goings and doings.  For reasons that are unknown, Grigori lost his spiritual, otherworldly disinterested facade and came down among men, passing his time in riotous living with their fair daughters and wives.  For this Grigori was cursed and forever cast out of Kadath.  But also cursed with insubstantiality, so that the appetites and temptations which beset him would be forever denied him as well.  Driven insane by being constantly exposed to mortal temptations and unable to act on them, Grigori gradually devolved into little more than a cannibal spirit.

Now, Grigori comes shrieking and howling from the highlands in the mountains when winter thunderstorms rage throughout the peaks.  If he finds a person, alone and unprotected, he can possess that person, and reshape his body into a fearsome form, full of muscles, sinews, teeth and claws.  He's often been described as centaur-like, and with gigantic antlers, although other descriptions have, at times, been given as well.

When this happens, all who live in the area need beware, for Grigori, now embodied, goes on an orgy of rape, violence and hunger, killing all in the area before his host body dies from the strain (this usually only takes a few days, luckily.)  It is possible, although extremely difficult, to kill Grigori's host body, which expels the spirit and banishes it back to its frozen mountain haunts again for a time, but Grigori is immortal and immune to any weapon or magic that men can wield--only his possessed body is vulnerable, and even then, not very.  While possessed, a mortal body becomes terrifyingly potent--strong, nearly invincible and horrible.  An entire squadron of tough mercenaries was known to have been killed by The Watcher, their desecrated and violated bodies and body parts strewn across a snow-covered landscape to be found several days later by another patrol.  This took place in the Caurs Mountains during the reign of King Guilhem Huc des Peyrasmortas, during one of the interminable border squabbles between nobles in the area.  The incident raised awareness of the Watcher amongst the members of the King's Inquisition--which was a slightly different organization than the one formed later by Huc des Peyrasmortas descendant following the scandal of the only public performance of "The King in Yellow" and the King's only brother revealed as a demoniac heretic.  Secretive scholars have tracked incidents that match the modus operandi of Grigori, and cataloged them, although such records are kept under lock and key at the Academies at Razina and Terassa.  Rumored copies in the hands of private collectors, and floating around somewhere in Porto Liure also abound.

Reports of Grigori's activities range rather widely in the circum-Mezzovian region, but always come from high in the mountains, and fierce thunderstorms and the advent of cold weather seem to be a common correlating theme.   Professor Alfons Gombal of Razina believes that Grigori goes into long periods of torpor where he attempts to rejoin his brothers in the mountains, or at least replicate the conditions that he enjoyed in Kadath before his exile.  He cannot return to Kadath, or even come near it, so he languishes in what mountains he can climb.

Although not meant to be a reflection of such, Grigori can best be represented in d20 by the Lord of the Feast, a creature detailed in Privateer Press's Monsternomicon II.  For other systems, such as m20, you will have to convert as best you can, based on the detail given here--although, of course, one of the main attractions of m20 is that you can use d20 material more or less as is.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

World Cup Follow Up

Well, I'm thinking Brazil doesn't look as strong as I had thought.  They are visibly flustered if they don't score quickly, and that can be manipulated against them.  Mexico played fairly well (heck, the goalie needs to be knighted when he gets home, or whatever they do for national heroes in Mexico.  Make a statue of him in his home town?)

They're good still, but the best in the Cup?  I don't think so.  I'm leaning more and more towards Germany now.  Not that I've seen every national side play yet, but still.

Americans are encouraged by the win over Ghana, but we still have Portugal and Germany to deal with.  Let's not get ahead of ourselves.  Of the three, Ghana was the only one we had a good shot at beating.  I agree that Portugal's terrible trashing by Germany makes them look a little weaker than they did previously, but I would be surprised if the USA can eke out a tie against them, much less a win.  Our chances of making second place in the group and advancing are better than they were... but they're still not all that good.  My prediction had Portugal winning the group and Germany in second.  I think I need to reverse that now, but it doesn't really change who advances and who doesn't--just who they will play in the next rounds.

I'd like to see a big upset of the US over Portugal.  I just don't think it's likely.  And almost as much, I'd like to see Portugal and Argentina get matched up against each other later down the line.

Also; did anyone notice this bizarre crowd-shot of the witch doctor?  Right before Ghana's equalizer goal?  It almost looks photoshopped.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Horror themes in gaming

I think I'm going to order up a digital A/V adaptor and another, longer HDMI cable so I can plug the iPad into the big TV.  But in the meantime, I spent a little bit of time the other day playing Slender Rising and Slender Rising 2 on the iPad down in the basement with all of the lights off and a good set of earbuds in.  The experience was... surprisingly kind of creepy.

I don't know that the Slender Rising series is the best iteration of the Slenderman game or not, but I quite like it.  I think it's very atmospheric, I like the controls and the graphics, and the details of what you can do worked better for me than the original Slender: The Eight Pages did on the PC, at least.  More options, more atmosphere, and better playability.

I'm not sure how many readers may be familiar with the Slenderman games and the Slender Rising series in particular.  To start, you pick a landscape (from four).  The "classic" Slenderman landscape is a forest, but there's some great ghost towns, abandoned houses, and others as well.  You pick an ambiance--a really foggy daytime, night, night-vision, and a thunderstorm in the dark (my favorite.)  You might also have the opportunity to pick a type of light (flashlight with unlimited battery; flashlight with a risk of battery loss, or lantern, etc.)  Then you wander around the landscape looking for seven pages with cryptic and sinister clues written on them in blood.  Once you find all seven, you unlock the escape, and--if you can find it--you can escape the level.  The whole time, Slenderman, a teleporting ghost or some other such other supernatural entity, tries to hunt you.

This is where a comparison--or perhaps contrast--to RPGs as they are usually played, came to my mind.  In D&D, for instance, you could have a scenario where you wander around a haunted forest looking for MacGuffins, while pursued by a supernatural creature or creatures.  This could even be a successful D&D scenario, with a real touch-and-go feel to it, and the obvious nods to the horror genre would be evident.  But... you'd be fighting the monsters.  It would be more thrilling rather than terrifying.

In Slender Rising, you can't fight Slenderman.  You don't even have any weapons at all (well in number 2, you might get a shotgun, which you can fire once to chase him off for a moment.  But it's not likely that you will find it, really, anyway.)  You're only recourse when Slenderman appears is to run away as quick as you can in the opposite direction.  If you go into a blind alley and find yourself blocked in, you're screwed.  If you can't run away fast enough, you're screwed.  The game ends, and you die.

Actually, the case of the shotgun in Slender Rising 2 is kind of interesting.  You can get a weapon (that would be deadly in most cases) but it's only effect is to chase Slenderman off for a moment.  You can't actually defeat Slenderman at all.  The only thing you can hope to accomplish is to escape.

While not all horror stories end this way (in Dracula, for instance, Van Helsing, Jonathan Harker and Lucy's three suitors manage to chase the Undead down in the mountains of Transylvannia and kill him.  Sure, Lucy and Quincy pay with their lives, and Mina and Jonathan are scarred as well, but that's not really a bad ending, all things considered.  But in many, there is no real victory, and at best only escape.  In The Ring, for instance, in the end [SPOILER ALERTS] the main characters escape but leaving the menace lurking in the dark for others to find still.  In fact, if anything, the menace is somewhat enhanced by the method that the main actors used to escape.  In the movie from a year or two ago, Woman in Black, the protagonist and his son are killed by the titular ghost.  In The Grudge, similarly, the protagonist makes--maybe--a temporary escape at best, but is left at the end still haunted.

In Slender Rising you can, if you're lucky, escape the ghost (I'll be honest; I've never done so.  It's too hard.  And I don't play all that often to get better at it either.) But you can't defeat it.

Is that an acceptable outcome for RPGs, I wonder?  I think many players would say so, especially if they buy into the concept of playing a horror game in the first place.  But I think many players would feel frustrated by this paradigm, too--the notion that you can only escape, not defeat, the Bad Guys™ or whatever.  As always, knowing your "audience" is key to a successful game experience.  But I'm curious if anyone has adopted this paradigm before; a very overtly horror paradigm, in your gaming?  In my experience, most overtly horror games don't even do so frequently, but sometimes it works out that way.  I've had good experience using this for a Dread game, for instance.  I know it can work with the right players, and it can work very well and be a very powerful experience, even.  But trying to pull it off when the players show up with a typical D&D paradigm in mind is likely to be frustrating for everyone.

I originally included a trailer for Slender Rising, but decided that a slightly longer gameplay video would be better instead.  You don't need to watch the entire thing to see that even in the daylight, the atmosphere is just incredibly creepy and ominous.  The first attempt the player makes is in the Lost Souls mode, where instead of finding seven signs posted on the walls, you need to find seven ghosts and set them free.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

World Cup predictions

What the heck.  I'll make some brackets.  There are eight groups of four teams each.  Two from each group advance.

Group A: Brazil and Mexico
Group B: Spain and the Netherlands
Group C: Columbia and... Greece, I guess (this is a tough one to pick a winner)
Group D: Italy and... England or Uruguay?  I'll go with England.
Group E: Switzerland and France
Group F: Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina
Group G: Germany and Portugal.  I'd like to see the US advance, but this is a tough bracket.
Group H: Belgium and Russia

I'll go out on a limb and predict the next round too.  The brackets, if I'm correct (and I've put winner first and runner up second in each of these proposals) would be as follows:

  • Brazil vs. the Netherlands.  Winner, Brazil.
  • Columbia vs. England.  Winner, Columbia
  • Switzerland vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Winner Switzerland (because it's easier to keep typing.)
  • Germany vs. Russia.  Winner, Germany
  • Spain vs. Mexico.  Winner, Spain
  • Italy vs. Greece.  Winner, Italy.
  • Argentina vs. France.  Winner, Argentina
  • Belgium vs. Portugal.  Winner, Portugal
Quarter finals?

  • Brazil vs. Columbia.  Winner, Brazil
  • Switzerland vs. Germany.  Winner, Germany
  • Spain vs. Italy.  Winner, Italy
  • Argentina vs. Portugal.  Winner, Argentina

  • Brazil vs. Germany.  Winner, Brazil.
  • Argentina vs. Italy.  Winner, Argentina.
Finals: Brazil vs. Argentina.  Winner, Brazil.
Third place game: Germany vs. Italy, winter Italy.

How's that?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mile... mile and a half

Web page for The Muir Project, a crowd-funded (at least partially) documentary of a few artistic folks who hiked the John Muir trail, and made a documentary about it.  The "core" hiking team were a married couple one of whom is a professional photographer (although she admits that she mostly does portrait work and stuff like that, so this landscape and still life work was a major change of pace), and a videographer/film guy.  Along with another good friend who's also into film and a fourth who's a sound guy, they hit the John Muir trail, moving slowly, and documenting the experience.

It's a fun movie.  In general, I'm always a little skeptical of hiking movies, because they're made by an art-house crowd who tend to focus on the strange, bohemian aspect of the hiking lifestyle rather than something that a regular guy like me who likes backpacking could relate to.  This one--perhaps somewhat surprisingly, given the film-makers--does not do so.  It's just plain old good film-making, part reality show, part documentary, about what it's like to hike in the North American mountains.  (Specifically the Sierra Nevada.  If they'd done it in the Rockies, I think they wouldn't have made such a big deal about the very little rain that they got.)

I saw a trailer for this movie a long time ago; back when it was a recently funded kickstarter, actually, and I've been keeping my eye on it for some time.  I thought about buying the DVD, but never quite got around to it.  Now, it's available to stream on Netflix (in HD, even!) so I suppose I'm glad that I didn't, but it's too bad that I didn't see this a year or two ago when it was newer.  It's a fun movie, and the principles are fun and charismatic, and generally interesting to see.  Plus, they really know their stuff when it comes to highlighting the spectacular scenery, and they do a good job of highlighting some of the experience of a long backpacking trip--the hard days when you climb thousands of feet over a pass only to lose it all again on the other side, blisters, sometimes loneliness (the married couple does mention missing their daughter a few times, who was staying with her grandmother while they were hiking), pack weight issues (granted; exacerbated by the heavy film and sound equipment that they had to bring with them), and a challenge that they may not have anticipated and you won't see every year--hiking the trail on a July on a year when the snowfall was 200% of average.  Kick-stepping, glissading, route-finding, and just the plain extra exertion of walking through snowpack when you expect to be walking on a well-groomed trail, crossing extremely swollen "creeks", etc.  This made it interesting and scenic in a way that it isn't always, by definition.

Here's the trailer that I saw two years or so ago, which piqued my interest, and which I still like.  Love the music, love the movie, highly recommend it for anyone who likes the outdoors at all, and I still recommend it to anyone else who likes a nice, reality-show format movie without all the drama.