Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Cthulhusaurus rex?

I'm not quite sure what to do with this image, but it's so cool, that I oughtta be able to think of something!

The old "pseudonatural template" applied to a T. rex seems a little pedestrian.  Then again, that's pretty much what it is, I suppose.  I've gotten away from the fiddly details of d20 creatures and templates, but mining the data there is probably fruitful even if applied to a stripped down m20 paradigm.


#RPGaDay, cont.

#13: Most Memorable character death.  Lash and Ricardo.  My favorite PCs (in a game that I GMed.)  Both died when they threw a fit around a major daemon lord.  Because it was a scene of significant carnage, their souls were kind of mixed in with a number of other dead--there had recently been a battle (in which the PCs participated) between intelligent gorillas and the amazons of the City of Naked Hotties who Ride Dinosaurs Into Battle.

To be fair, it wasn't so much the death itself that was memorable as the later consequences.  The daemon lord had a certain fondness for Ricardo in particular, so it grabbed the souls of the two PCs and stuffed them back into bodies, however it did so a little bit indiscriminately.  Womanizing playboy Ricardo was stuffed into the body of a Fast Times era Phoebe Cates amazon warrior girl, while Lash was stuck in the body of a gorilla.  That whole body-switching Freaky Friday routine ended up being tons of fun, and we ran with it for quite a while until it got a little played out and I decided to find a way to reverse it for them.  Although the players agreed that he joke was a little played out, I think they also found it just a bit disappointing to have it undone.

#14: Best Convention Purchase.  I don't really go to conventions very often, and I don't buy stuff very often when I do.  I bought the systemless Freeport book when I was at GenCon last though (it was new at the time; that's how long it's been since I've been.)  It's still one of my favorite RPG books even today.

#15: Favorite Convention Game.  That's got to be a toss-up; both were--by coincidence, True20 games, but it was the setting, the GM and the players that made them great.  A planetary romance game set on a space opera version of Saturn with a motley collection of losers as the crew of a crashed space ship, or a DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND game with... again, a motley collection of losers as the main characters.

My favorite games tend to be ensemble pieces that resemble Guardians of the Galaxy in a lot of ways.  Adjusted for genre, of course, but with pretty much the same tone anyway.

#16: Game You Wish You Owned.  There isn't really a game I wish I owned, I don't think.  If I want a game, I usually just go buy it.

That said, there are a few games that have kinda piqued my interest, but which I haven't gotten around to picking up here and there.  These would include Hollow Earth Expedition probably, and maybe also the new Star Wars game.

#17: Funniest Game You Played.  Had to have been a convention game of Kobolds Ate My Baby.  But it was really late, and a few of the players were kinda drunk, and it was years ago now.  I don't remember a lot of the details other than that one character died due to the amorous attentions of a dog.  Another character was in a church--at the baptism of a baby no less--and tried to swap out the baby in front of everybody with a paper mache baby, sort of like Indiana Jones with the idol at the beginning of Raiders.  Obviously it didn't work, but what a great image.  And it was hilarious.

#18: Favorite Game System.  I'm still always on the look-out for the Holy Grail of game systems that does exactly what I want exactly how I want it.  I haven't found it yet.  Currently, my favorite is Microlite20, and probably will be for some time to come.  Then again, it's a largely theoretical favorite, because I haven't actually been able to use it as much as I'd like either.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

More #RPGaDay questions

7th: Most "intellectual" RPG owned.  I'm not even 100% sure what this is meant to mean.  Cerebral in terms of high concept?  If so, that's not a paradigm that I'm interested in.  Or does it, maybe, mean truly innovative in terms of mechanics?  I doubt that's what it means, but that at least gives me somewhere with which to answer the question.  I'm a big fan of the intellectual underpinnings of Dread.  The mechanics and the concept and the match to genre are truly extraordinary and quite brilliant.

8th: Favorite character.  I've answered this before on the 30 Day Challenge.  My answer is still the same: Lash and Ricardo.

9th: Favorite Die/Dice Set.  I don't get overly attached to dice, for the most part, but I do have a non-matching d20 that I bought years ago that I prefer to roll to any other that I have.  It's just a little larger than standard, and has a strange symbol in place of the 20.  It doesn't necessarily give me great results (although it doesn't necessarily give me poor ones either) but I just prefer the heft of it in my hand to slightly smaller, lighter, standard-sized dice.

10th: Favorite Tie-in Novel/Game Fiction.  This is a little hard, because most of it isn't really very good.  I've enjoyed some Black Library fiction, although I have to admit that much of it is kind of forgettable, at least it's not actively bad.  The original Dragonlance series was the proof of concept that made tie-in game fiction viable.  The Arkham Horror fiction is probably the best I've read recently.  But, I'm going to say something just a little unusual and go with the Riftwar Series.  It isn't technically tie-in or game fiction, although it unofficially is; it's kind of the fictional back story to some guy's home game; the author, one Raymond Feist.  It feels very D&D too, in many respects, although it clearly has a different magic system, which plays out significantly during the course of the novels.

11th: Weirdest RPG Owned.  I don't actually enjoy owning weird RPGs.  But, if you consider a number of the free minigames that came in Polyhedron magazine back in the day, then I think Hijinx is definitely the winner.  Playing a 70s groovy band of teenagers a la Josey & the Pussycats, Speed Buggy or Scooby-doo and the gang is as weird as any concept I've played.  Although I don't own them, honorable mention of games I've played have to include Kobolds Ate My Baby and Paranoia.  But like I said; I don't really care for overt weirdness, except for novelty value on one-off conventional style games.

12th: Old RPG you still play/read.  I don't really.  And what does "old" mean?  Does d20 count?  I still play that fairly regularly.  Otherwise, I recently bought and read much of the Moldvay game on pdf.  I still occasionally break out my MegaTraveller sourcebooks.  But in general, I'm not really into older games nearly as much as some, and I don't consider myself an OSR connoisseur by any means.

Monday, August 04, 2014

#RPGaDay

I can't do this.  I'm already four days behind, and I'm going to spend the better part of two and a half weeks away this month, completely inaccessible to any device that would allow me to update my blog.

However, I'm going to do it anyway.  If I straggle in over the finish line sometime in late September, that's OK.  If I end up bundling a bunch of posts together and not necessarily saying a lot about my answers, that's OK too.  After all, some of these questions don't really lend themselves to a lot of discussion; you just answer them and that's that.  And some of them are the same (or at least very similar) to my 30 DAY CHALLENGE questions that I answered a while ago anyway.


Today's the 4th, but I'm going to get a little big ahead and answer the first six questions today.

1st: First RPG Played.  Technically, I have to say brown box OD&D.  However, I was a somewhat unwilling participant in that game, so I often don't count it and instead point to my 5th grade Moldvay BD&D excursions as my first real game.

2nd: First RPG Gamemastered.  Wow, I don't actually remember.  I didn't do a lot of GMing back in the day, so I'm going to say Top Secret S.I. in college was the first one that I did so for a reasonable length of time and actually knew what I was doing.  I doubt it was truly the first I ever game-mastered, but any GMing excursions prior to that were one-offs that I simply don't remember any details of anymore.

3rd: First RPG Purchased.  I'm notoriously cheap, and didn't actually buy a lot of the games that I played in the past.  At one point in middle school, however, I was kind of interested in the TolkienQuest gamebooks, which had conversion notes to MERP.  I think I have to call MERP my first game purchased.  Curiously, I've never played it.

4th: Most recent RPG purchase.  If downloads of freely available online source material counts, I probably have to go with some of that.  If it doesn't--hmm... I haven't bought anything in the last several months.  My last purchase was either a Pathfinder sourcebook or other, or my Moldvay digital purchase from DriveThruRPG.  I don't remember for sure that chronology, but I think the latter is literally my last purchase.  I bought the Basic set, the Expert set, B2 Keep on the Borderlands and X1 Isle of Dread.

5th: Most Old School RPG owned.  I'm not really a fan of old school in general, but clearly the most old school game I own is the Moldvay game, which are not just old school, but actually old.  Other than that, more modern games that have some old school vibe to them include Microlite 74, Labyrinth Lord (a retroclone of Moldvay) and Swords & Wizardry.  I don't actually play much of them, though.

6th: Favorite RPG that you never get to play.  Microlite, naturally.  I love this game and have only ever run a few one-shots and never actually played it myself at all.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Romanticism as an essential element of fantasy

Let me start with a few quotes from Wikipedia:
"Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic and magical creatures are common. Fantasy is generally distinguished from the genres of science fiction and horror by the expectation that it steers clear of scientific and macabre themes, respectively, though there is a great deal of overlap between the three, all of which are subgenres of speculative fiction.
In popular culture, the fantasy genre is predominantly of the medievalist form, especially since the worldwide success of The Lord of the Rings and related books by J. R. R. Tolkien.
"The identifying traits of fantasy are the inclusion of fantastic elements in a self-coherent (internally consistent) setting, where inspiration from mythology and folklore remains a consistent theme."
Here's something from Andy Greenwald, in reference to The Game of Thrones TV show.  I think it's broader in its scope than just that show, however.
"So I listened closely as Tyrion told his tale of Orson, the simple Lannister cousin who spent his time not planning out wars or paying off debts but sitting in a garden smashing bugs. Day after day, Orson would pick up a stone and settle into his grim task, splattering beetles by the thousand. There appeared to be no rhyme or reason to Orson’s slaughter, no motive or purpose. Just the endless “kung kung kung” of a big man murdering something smaller, again and again and again.
But Tyrion, we learn, wasn’t satisfied. Though he was born to a powerful family, he couldn’t help but empathize with the littler creatures. And so his interest in his cousin morphed from mockery to curiosity to something bordering on obsession. What was the reason for this constant extermination? It was inconceivable to Tyrion that butchery on Orson’s scale could simply be the way of the world. A life was a life, whether it was protected by a suit of armor or a carapace. Surely, it deserved better. If that wasn’t possible, then at least it deserved an explanation. What, after all, was the point?"
Recapping a specific episode, he said the following:
"It was all quite thrilling, for a time, with the Red Viper leaping balletically through the summery air and Alex Graves’s camera swooping vertiginously to catch him. Game of Thrones has often punched me in the heart, but it’s rarely had it fluttering so mightily in my throat. But then, just as Tyrion was getting his hopes up and Cersei was reaching for her Big Gulp of merlot, Oberyn spiked the ball at the 1-yard line. Rather than finish off the Mountain, Oberyn was just getting warmed up, demanding much more than an improbable victory. Instead, like Tyrion in the garden all those years ago, Oberyn demanded logic and an answer. And we all know what happened next. Kung. Kung. Kung.
Actually, the sound of Oberyn’s head exploding was much more terrible than that. The defanging — and defacing — of the Red Viper was among the worst things I’ve ever seen on a screen, but it was definitely the worst thing I’ve ever heard: It somehow managed to remind me both of my own mortality and of Gallagher. (Trust me when I say I’m not sure which was more unbearable.) And in that gruesome, hideous moment I realized that the real takeaway from Tyrion’s story isn’t that he’s a fool for wanting order when there is only chaos. It’s that we just might be for greedily tuning in to the Orson Hour every week and expecting the same thing.
Look, contra Ramsay Snow, I have been paying attention. I harbor no illusions of a happy ending. But even in the midst of an epic, excellent season that has provided more wit, resonance, and emotion than I had previously thought possible, I am growing slightly weary of being taught the same merciless lesson again and again. I’d like to think that Charlie Brown had some grudging respect for Lucy the first time she pulled away the football. But the fifth? What happened to dashing Prince Oberyn was gripping, horrifying television. But, unlike his skull, it was also rather hollow. Few authors could introduce such a fantastic character with such economy and skill (and fewer showrunners could do the same on television, with even more of both). But only George R.R. Martin would so sadistically run that character into the buzz saw of disappointment and plot that is Game of Thrones just to prove a point — and, I suppose, to tighten the noose a bit more around Tyrion’s neck. Like a beetle, Oberyn was born to die, and in the most gruesome, splattery way possible. And to what end? Shocking us isn’t the same thing as challenging us. A simpleton with a rock might not need to explain himself, but a writer usually does. At this point, the most radical thing Game of Thrones could do is to make the audience exhale in relief."

This is in stark contrast to what Tolkien himself felt about fantasy, which was fundamentally--and profoundly--mythic and even romantic (not in the Romance genre sense of the word, however.)
"Eucatastrophe is a term coined by J. R. R. Tolkien which refers to the sudden turn of events at the end of a story which ensures that the protagonist does not meet some terrible, impending, and very plausible doom. As such, it is a kind of deus ex machina common in fantasy literature. Tolkien formed the word by affixing the Greek prefix eu, meaning good, to catastrophe, the word traditionally used in classically inspired literary criticism to refer to the "unraveling" or conclusion of a drama's plot. For Tolkien, the term appears to have had a thematic meaning that went beyond its literal etymological meaning in terms of form.[how?] In his definition as outlined in his 1947 essay "On Fairy-Stories", eucatastrophe is a fundamental part of his conception of mythopoeia. Though Tolkien's interest is in myth, it is also connected to the gospels; Tolkien calls the Incarnation the eucatastrophe of "human history" and the Resurrection the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation."
In this sense, which the more I think about, the more I believe strongly that there's something to this.  The bleak, nihilistic sense of much of the modern fantasy genre is completely opposed to fantasy that I (and many like me) grew up on, and which made us love the genre in the first place.  As John C. Wright said (this is my last quote in this post; I promise!)
"An artist can draw a picture of the rotting skull of a dead dog on a dungheap with maggots and blind worms crawling on its exposed brains with perfect perspective, shading, composition, and balance of light and dark, and yet it is still a picture of a dead dog."
And yes, I'm actually mimicking somebody else's post about a similar topic; quoting some of the same material (and some other material) because he made the point first and he made it well, and well, why not ride his coat-tails in that case?  But if this bleak, nihilistic, "crapsack" world fantasy is in opposition to "real" fantasy as we have known it, as we grew up on, and as we think of the genre, why is it relatively prevalent?  And why is (at least some of) it relatively popular?  And what does that have to do with DARK•HERITAGE anyway?

1) I think it's perceived by some to be more sophisticated, more mature, etc.  I think this perception is false, however.  Bleakness, nihilism, hopelessness, despair--these are not mature emotions.  This is not the perspective of an adult, it's the perspective of a whiny, angsty, bratty adolescent.  It's not sophisticated and deep, it's merely empty and soul-less.  2) Is it really that popular?  Sure, GRRM is a pretty big deal, and guys like Joe Abercrombie and a few others.  But how much room for more is there?  Is there any nihilistic work that is still read 100 years after being written?  And how much of it can you stand, even if you can stand it, without needing to break for something more light, anyway?

Keep in mind, I'm referring specifically to nihilism, not tragedy.  Although they may resemble each other superficially in many respects, they are not the same.  There's no catharsis at the end of a nihilistic work.  The same is also true of most works of horror fiction--they're not nihilistic (well, some of them are) although certainly they are dark and the end is not usually happy for the protagonists.

3)  DARK•HERITAGE is fantasy and horror, not nihilism.  The world is bleak, there are certainly issues that resemble that of a horror fiction story, but characters meet them like horror fiction protagonists. They may not triumph, they certainly don't "win" in a traditional sense, but their heroism can be seen and it has meaning.  Like the bleak fatalism of the Norse sagas, which Tolkien reflected in many ways, it's not purposeless.  It's not senseless.  It's not nihilistic.  This is part of the reason why fantasy is so fundamentally rooted in a romanticized Medievalism.  My own setting has looked in many ways to other romanticized adventurous periods; pirates and Westerns, in particular, but the end result is the same--without that romanticized adventure story baseline, the horror is just bleak nihilism.  It doesn't ring as profound as that of Norse sagas, Shakespearean tragedies, or even more modern works like Dracula or Lord of the Rings.  It would just feel like a tawdry snuff piece.

Anyway, between this and the earlier post on a similar topic, I think I've talked enough about the tone of my setting for the time being.  Unless I run a game or actually write a novel in the setting soon, it doesn't really matter much.

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.