Thursday, December 06, 2007

Fatal Fury backgrounds

Fatal Fury was better on it's backgrounds than Street Fighter. Of course, it also came out a few years later, so they had the benefit of better technology and more experience. Even so, Fatal Fury's backgrounds---like every other aspect of the game today---are crude and primitive compared to what was to follow. SNK really liked to have crowd scenes; folks sitting around watching the fight.

Unfortunately, they used the exact same people in every background, and they only had about six of them. If you scrolled a little bit to the left or right they started repeating themselves. The people also looked really strange and cartoony. Still, there was room to improve on that front in years to come.

However, even in this picture of South Beach at sunset, you can see the pretty nifty Toyota Jeep, the detailed palm trees, and the very pretty view fo the city across the harbor.

Another notable feature of SNK backgrounds is that they often changed as you completed more rounds. The typical progression was that they had a version that took place during the day, one at sunset and one after dark. This was originally simply accomplished by switching up the palette of colors used in the image, but in later games, this often became more sophisticated; my favorite such background progression is the Park from King of Fighters '99. The first image is a beautiful day in the park and all kinds of people are out. The second image removes most of the people, turns it into a dark cloudy sky with a few animated bits of lightning and a few patters of rain in the foreground. Finally, it's pouring down rain, the entire background turns washed out and blurry.

Great progression. But still many years to come. For now, we've got my personal favorites from Fatal Fury: Tung Fu Rue's stage, and the final stage of Geese himself:

Tung Fu Rue's stage gets rain in the second round too, but it looks terrible.
The Fatal Fury soundtrack doesn't really stand out to me, but I have a lot to say about Fatal Fury 2 and Fatal Fury Special. But before I do that, I'll have a look at the Street Fighter 2 backgrounds and BGM tracks.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Street Fighter backgrounds

As promised, I'm going to start my backgrounds and music section. I figgered why not go all the way back to 1987 when the first Street Fighter game came out and really kinda kicked the genre off.


Well, once reason why not is that I'm having a hard time finding good screenshots (and I certainly can't take any of my own; I have the game on an Xbox Capcom Classics Collection 2 disk) and another reason is that the music is kinda forgetable and none of it stands out to me.


Yes, I have actually gone to the menu and played the various music tracks. They really don't stand out.


The backgrounds themselves were great for their time, but like everything else associated with the original Street Fighter game have aged poorly. Only a couple of them hold up well compared to even SF2 backgrounds, much less SFA and later backgrounds.


That said, a few of them are quite nice. I couldn't find a good screenshot of Adon's place, but it's my favorite, in Tailand (SIC, but that's what the game says.) It takes place at sunset and there's a large (although not fat) squatting Buddha in the background surrounded by several pillars. In front of the statue is a pool of water, reflecting a bit of the pillars, statue and orange sky. There's also a lot of vegetation around; palm trees, horsetails and grass, and in the distance is a forest/jungle. Behind that is a row of low distant hills.


Beautiful background. Would look adequate if not good in a modern game. Looked amazing in 1987. On the other hand, we have Gen's nighttime in Shanghai scene, which was an early attempt at making an urban backdrop. It looks really fake. Everything is too regular in dimension. Much better version of this have since made appearances---see Gen's SFA2 stage for a great update on this idea.


Honorable mention goes to several others, including Joe's trainyard in NYC (apparently) Mike's fight in South Dakota right in front of Mt. Rushmore, and the two Japanese stages.


Tomorrow: Fatal Fury.


Here's a few images I was able to find online, at least. Not Adon's and not Gen's, but Mike's and Retsu's. You get a flavor for the artistry of this game here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Tomorrow, or tonight, or whenever I have some time, I want to spend just a little bit of time discussing an oft-overlooked, yet very important aspect of fighting games---the ambiance.

Yeah, gameplay is really important. Interesting characters are a must. At the same time, a dissonant or unpleasing setting can make even a game with great gameplay and characters a challenge to really enjoy.

So, by ambiance, what I really mean are the stages on which the fights take place, and the music that accompanies them. There have been some really beautiful works of music and art as stages in the genre, but there's also been some real clunkers. For some games, it's literally enough to break the game for me when gameplay and characters are fine (Marvel vs. Capcom 2 being the most notable example here; bland, boring stages and horribly inappopriate music make the game take a serious nosedive in the rankings as far as I'm concerned.)

What I'd like to do is take some of the most important games in the genre and talk about my favorite pieces of music and stages... as well as the ones that really need to go. This new series of posts will start... tonight? tomorrow? later this week?

Soon, anyway. Complete with screenshots that I'm going to crib from various online sources, if possible.

Fatal Fury

I've been going through another phase of really liking my Japanese anime fighting games. For some reason, though, King of Fighters has been letting me down and I've been really excited about Fatal Fury. Maybe the series just feels "cozier" or something to me; maybe it's the fact that it stands up so well as a head-to-head competitor with Street Fighter---I don't know.

Fatal Fury is entering a phase of unprecedented availability at home in the US. Right now, Fatal Fury Special is available for $5 on Xbox Live. Fatal Fury itself was just announced for the Wii arcade. The PS2 just got the Fatal Fury Battle Archive 1 released, which has Fatal Fury, Fatal Fury 2, Fatal Fury Special and Fatal Fury 3 included. This spring we'll see Fatal Fury Battle Archive 2 which will have the three Real Bout titles on it.

All of the Fatal Fury titles are also available on http://www.gametap.com/ although you have to have a "Gold" membership to play them (for that matter, so are all of the King of Fighters titles up through 2003.)

If you want to play a Fatal Fury game, for the first time, it's actually fairly easy to do so.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Favorite song ever

I think my favorite song ever is "Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order.

That is all.

Well, that's never all, is it? I'm way too opinionated and long-winded to simply leave it at that. There's always a bunch of songs floating around and on any given day, any of them could claim the title. Strong contenders include "Enjoy the Silence" by Depeche Mode, "A Little Respect" by Erasure, "Dreaming" and "If You Leave" by OMD, even New Order's other huge single "Blue Monday", and... oh, I dunno, plenty of others.

But today, my favorite song is "Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Patience (or cheapness!) wins again

Well, as long-time readers (of which I may well be the only one) know, I'm a big fan of Japanese 2-D fighting games. I can't really explain the fascination; I'm not otherwise overly fascinated with Japanese culture and I'm not really a fan of anime either. For some reason, though, I've always been a huge fan of 2-D fighting games, particularly the Street Fighter series, and I've been following them for a long time. I have quite a collection of games, on various systems, including Street Fighter, Street Fighter 2, Street Fighter 2: Hyper Fighting, Super Street Fighter 2, Super Street Fighter 2: Hyper Fighting, Street Fighter Alpha 2, Street Fighter Alpha 3, and Street Fighter 3: Third Strike.

And that's just the Street Fighter series; I won't bore you with my listing of King of Fighers titles, or any of the other series, but trust me when I say that they're nearly as extensive. One problem with this genre in the past has been the fact the games, while somewhat older themselves, tended to be released when home systems were not capable of porting them well, especially for the later titles. This is particularly true for the Neo*Geo or SNK titles, which ported well to their own proprietary home systems, but not to others. However, in recent years, the company's have realized that there's quite a bit of "free" revenue available on the compilation market. Capcom's Capcom Classics Collection and Capcom Classics Collection 2 gave me my first really modern updates of the early Street Fighter titles. SNK has finally done the same for the Playstation 2, and have finally even started the ball rolling on US releases.

So, I don't have a Playstation 2, but they've come down to a relatively cheap price. And, with several of the US releases out now, and the last one that I really, really want scheduled for sometime in 2008, I can actually have almost all of the titles I really want in arcade perfect, or even better than arcade ports on a modern console, for the US market.

The PS2 titles that I'll want to buy when I get the chance, then, include King of Fighters XI, King of Fighters 2000/2001, Fatal Fury Battle Archive, and Fatal Fury Battle Archive 2. Those titles will give me pretty much all of the Fatal Fury titles, many of which I don't have, or only have on inferior outdated systems, and rounds out my King of Fighters selection. King of Fighters XI is almost worth it just on it's own. I'll also need to hurry and pick up the Street Fighter Alpha Anthology from Capcom while I'm at it.

Between that, my Xbox, my Dreamcast and a small handful of pretty good PS1 ports, I'll be set for life on the genre.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Too invested for 4e

I've been thinking a fair amount about the fourth edition of D&D, which is "imminent", or at least announced, no doubt to the very sudden detriment of sales of 3e and 3.5 products.

And although almost everything I hear about it sounds positive to me, at the same time I'm more exasperated rather than interested in the concept. I guess I'm just not ready to switch. I've been wondering why that is, and I guess I'm just too invested in the current edition. I feel like I have too much material still that I haven't used enough, and frankly, there's tons of material that I still want to pick up!

This is kinda new for me; although I've been floating around the RPG hobby for quite some time, I've never really seriously invested in a game before the release of 3e back in 2000. I picked up tons of 3e product. I was exasperated and unhappy with the release of 3.5, but since the compatibility between the two versions was very high (most products can be used as is in either ruleset) and because the core books were mostly online in the form of the SRD, I got over that. More or less.

But now, we've got 4e coming out, and from the looks of it, backwards compatibility isn't going to be all that high. So I'm left in kinda a bizarre situation; I like what I hear, but I still have no interest in adopting it.

Luckily, my main gaming group seems to feel more or less exactly the same, or they're even less interested in 4e than I am for other reasons. So it looks like I won't be stuck either having to upgrade or having to stop gaming with my group.

But still; I'm not ready. Maybe if 3.5 had never happened... but honestly, even then I think I'd be saying more or less the same thing. I haven't played the heck out of 3e or 3.5 yet, and I still feel like it's a really robust system, now with tons of options, and I'm not that thrilled about starting over from scratch with a new system, having PHB races and classes and not much else to go on for quite some time. Screw that. Give me my illumian duskblade or whatever other esoteric new concept that a mature system can produce, not yet another dwarf fighter just with new edition rules.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

New campaign setting noodlings

Well, the Freeport Pbp is off and running. Both groups went through an introductory combat to work out some kinks and set the tone. Then they ended up in the same inn, chatting with each other in the common room. A few other things are going on, but all in all, still very much early days. "Team Monkey" has an assignment and the vaguest outlines of a plan, but "Team Gorilla" still doesn't even have a patron or an adventure hook to follow yet.

I had another idea. In fact, I've had it before, but it came back to me and I want to think about it a bit. What if you played D&D---but with no magic? Seriously; instead of magic, you'd have psionics in the same role. Every class that has a spell progression gets the axe. Every race that seems too overtly tied to "classic" fantasy goes. Instead we get: what?

Classes:

Fighter, rogue, barbarian and monk from the PHB. Although I could do without the monk.

Psion, psychic warrior, soulknife and wilder from the XPH.

Lurk, ardent and divine mind from Complete Psionic.

Races:

Keep human from the PHB. Add in elan, maenad, xeph, half-giant, and dromite from the XPH. Synad from Complete Psionic? I dunno. Plenty of racial options, though. I mean, at least a few classic races work. If you're going to have blues, you need goblinoids, and I like goblin and hobgoblin being choices. I'd do away with blues as a separate monster manual entry, and just say that goblins with a psionic class level gradually turn blue.

Hmmm... maybe do something with the gith or duergar, but there's no reason to. I mean, seriously---how many races are there in D&D to choose from now? 50-60, no doubt. I can find more if I need them. The only thing I need to do is work up some fluff about how they all fit together.

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Anyway, that's the core of a new setting. Maybe I'll "Ray Winninger" it up with a few entries to see where it goes.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Of Men

This is a webpage that I wrote in 1998 or so discussing the inquiry into the prehistoric wanderings and origins of Men in Middle-earth. For some reason, I came across this recently, and I thought I'd update it slightly and repost it here.

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There are many clans, tribes, nations and kindreds of men spoken of in the works of Tolkien. However, a little research into their backgrounds shows that most of them diverged from only a few basic prehistoric groups of people. The movements and relationships of these groups of people, and the divisions into which they subsequently fell, can be reconstructed, for the most part, especially with the material included in the volumes of the History of Middle-Earth (HoME) series, which contains Tolkien's notes, rough drafts, outlines, and many unpublished and expanded essays. Most useful for discussing the origins of the different types of men in Middle-earth is the chapter in The Silmarillion titled "Of Men" and the essay in The Peoples of Middle-Earth titled "Of Dwarves and Men" although other tidbits of history pop up in various other places as well. These also make clear that hobbits are a branch of men, but as they are sufficiently different from other men, I will not discuss their origins here.

During the First Age, the land of Middle-earth was quite a bit different. There were the lands of Eriador and the lands east of the Misty Mountains as far as the map shows in positions much like they were in the Third Age, but to the west of the Blue Mountains (Ered Luin) was a vast land called Beleriand, where most of the action was, so to speak. Here was the realm of the Sindarin Elves with their king Elu Thingol (Elwë Singollo before the Sindarin language diverged) as well as the various kingdoms of the High Elves (Noldor) and the evil realm of Angband, ruled by Morgoth, a master of such evil that even Sauron was merely a servant, albeit his highest and most powerful. East of Beleriand, everything that happened during the first age, and much of what happened during the second age (especially to men) and even much of what happened during the third age (to men) is particularly shady, while the events in Beleriand are well documented.

The literate elves of Beleriand first became aware of men when the Edain crossed the Blue Mountains. They came in three waves; the people later known as Bëorians were first. They were a small group of people, and were of varied physical stock, since they had mixed during their journeys from the east, but they were mostly broad, brown of hair and eyes (although another source claims they had grey eyes), yet fair of skin. There were exceptions, as Beren was of this house, and he was near seven feet tall, had golden hair and fair eyes. This is considered to be the ancestral condition for the Bëorians, but it had been, to a great extent, bred out of them through mixing with other peoples, which also showed in their speech. It's said that they lived on the other side of a great inland sea from the rest of their kin, probably the Sea of Rhûn. More on their kin later. Tolkien also said that the Bëorians (and the other Edainic tribes) were merely the westernmost vanguard of much larger population movements east of the Blue Mountains, and apparently much of northern Eriador was originally settled by people related to the Bëorians.

The second group of people were actually two completely unrelated peoples, and one of the most interesting. These were the Haladin, or people of Haleth as they were later called. Linguistically, culturally and ethnically, they were unrelated to the Bëorians, although they were united against Morgoth. They were also somewhat swarthy, though more slight than the stocky Bëorians, and came over the mountains in small groups. They were interesting in that their women were known to fight alongside the men, much like the Sarmatians of the steppes in Russia. During the first age, and Haladin were driven nearly to extinction as a distinct group of people as they were eventually absorbed into the other Edainic groups, or killed. However, it later became obvious that the relatives of the Haladin that remained in Eriador spread very far and wide in the south, although this disolution disguised the fact that they were related.

In fact, some of the relatives of the Haladin were pretty poorly treated during the Second Age by the Númenoreans themselves, and therefore became their enemies as a result. Among the more easterly relatives of the Haladin include the men of Dunharrow, most of the native population of Enedwaith and Minhiriath (and indeed, most of the "native" population of Gondor as a whole), the Dunlendings and the men of Bree. Possibly other men mentioned in the north were related too (the hillmen of Rhudaur, perhaps or the men of Angmar and the Grey Mountains, who's origin is mysterious.) I don't think that's the best solution for all of them, especially as we move further north, but it's impossible to rule out an originally Edainic relationship for some of these more mysterious peoples of Eriador and even the Wild.

With the Haladin came a strange people called, variously, the Drûgs (in the language of the Haladin, apparently, which they spoke somewhat strangely), the Drúedain (Sindarin for "wild-men") or the Woses (which is an adaption of an Anglo-saxon word, if it had survived into modern english.) These strange people were primitive; they lived without shelter (except for children, women, aged and infirm who lived in lean-tos built under trees, at least during bad weather), were extremely secretive (even their close friends among the Haladin were unwelcome among their shelters), were only four to five feet tall, and were fairly ugly. In some ways they seemed like hobbits (short, ate mushrooms regularly, able to move very quietly, etc) but in many ways, they were the antithesis of the hobbits, as they were very wild, grim and secretive. It has been supposed by the historians of Gondor that they came from the lands south of Mordor in the First Age and were actually the first men to cross the Anduin. There they lived in and around the White Mountains, which is probably where they met proto-Haladin men and some of them went with them all the way to Beleriand, and ultimately to Numenor. This is quite probable as there are very ancient statues of men resembling the Drûgs built there (the Pûkel-men) and a remnant of their kind still lives in the wild woods near the mountains. However, descendants of the ancestors of the Haladin live adjacently (the Dunlendings once lived as far east as the Woses), so it is possible, at least, that they had been with the proto-Haladin before they migrated into Eriador even, although these friendly relationships must have broken down, for it is said that the inhabitants of Minhiriath and the Enedwaith were afraid to go into the regions where the Pûkel-men still lived. All of the Woses left before the Downfall of Westernesse, because of their innate instincts, which led them to believe Numenor's days were numbered. It is supposed that these refugees returned to live among their people on the southern coasts of what was later to become Gondor. The Woses are interesting in that their descriptions and habits fairly closely match that of Neanderthal men, except that Neanderthals are generally assumed to be hirsute, which the Woses were not.

Besides the movements into the White Mountains and the forests just north of their Easternmost extremities, they also lingered in the long cape of Andrast, which was also known as the Drúwaith Iaur, or Druedain Forest.

The third (really the fourth if the Woses are counted, which they often aren't) are the people of Hador. Again, this is a late name applied to the people in honor of one of the chiefs who led the people after they were already in Beleriand. The Hadorians were tall, fair-haired and light-eyed, and very, very numerous compared to the other kindreds of the Edain. They made up the majority of what was later the people of Numenor, and as we learned later, their ancestors, the proto-Hadorians, made up the majority of the peoples east of the Misty Mountains as well, i.e. people of Dale, the Rohirrim, the Beornings, etc. Linguistically and culturally, they were very similar to the Bëorians, and it is obvious that the proto-Bëorians had split from the proto-Hadorians further in the east, and had become slightly different in speech and appearance. This is said to have happened when they were separated by a large inland sea that did not have tides, but which had strong storms. Lacking any other alternative, we can speculate that this is probably the Sea of Rhûn. Both the Hadorians and the Bëorians had come together that far west from some point even further to the East, which therefore would be off the map entirely. Presumably they left behind descendents along the march, as they did in the lands that we do know, so we can again speculate that the men of Dorwinion may be ancient and distant cousins of the earliest proto-Bëorians and proto-Hadorians. Possibly even some of the Easterling people that later plagued Gondor were---ironically---originally akin to the Gondorians themselves many thousands of years earlier.

In Númenor itself, the peoples of Haladin and the Drûgs were completely assimilated linguistically and culturally unless they simply left of died, but the Bëorian and Hadorian stock did remain somewhat seperate during the second age, although the distinctions between them were much blurred. Most of the Kingmen were of the Hadorian stock, and were thus destroyed in the downfall of Numenor. However, some of the more provincial people, including many of the elf-friends and the ancestors of the later kings of Gondor and Arnor, were Bëorian and still spoke a Bëorian dialect, although the Bëorians had largely abandoned their Mannish tongue in favor of Sindarin during the First Age.

Meanwhile, the men who remained in Middle-earth in the part mapped by Tolkien were mostly descendents of the same groups of people, as the Numenoreans themselves discovered when they came back to Middle-earth in the Second Age. The proto-Hadorian people especially spread, and were found east of the Misty Mountains in the lands that later became Gondor, as well as in the North (the Wood-men of Mirkwood, the men of the Anduin vales, the men of Dale, the kingdom of Rhovannion, which later evolved into the Rohirrim) and could be easily recognized because their speech and appearance were still similar to the Númenorean's own. In fact, it was from here that the Edain came in the First Age, leaving behind many of their kinsmen. Also in this area, the proto-Hadorians came across dwarves of Durin's line, and entered into a peacable relationship with them. The Hadorians in particular were considered expert horsemen, and provided useful scouts, hunters and farmers for the dwarves, who in turn, provided them with wrought material and fine smithwork, such as the men were previously ignorant of. At this time, the proto-Hadorin tongue, an early form of Adûnaic, came under the influence of Khuzdul and borrowed some of it's structure and vocabulary, if indeed it hadn't already done so in the East. The early Númenoreans also recognized a kinship with the men of Eriador, but following the devastating wars of the Second Age, Eriador was largely unpopulated, except for a handful of sparse population centers such as Lake Evendim or Bree.

The Numenoreans called these men "Middle Men" just as they called themselves "High Men." It was supposed that because of their shared ancestry that these men were superior to other men of Middle-Earth, who didn't reject Morgoth so early in the east and flee to the west. This assumption seems, at best, totally unfounded. As a matter of fact, many of the men, especially of Eriador, were called "Dark Men" when they, too, were ancestral to some of the Edain, namely the Haladin. The proto-Haladin spread far and wide through southern Eriador, and were the first to found Bree, for instance, and are the ancestors of the Dunlendings as well as the men of Dunharrow and Minhiriath just to the south of Bree, who fought against the Numenoreans because of the treatment they received from the heavy-handed Sea-kings. Because the Haladin spoke a language that was unrelated to the Haldorian's, the Numenoreans failed to recognize the ancient alliance of their peoples. By the third age, their language had retreated steadily until it was only represented by the Dunlendings themselves, and by a few odd names at Bree (including the name of Bree itself.) The movements of these people are fairly involved in Beleriand. As I mentioned, the reckless harvesting of timber in Minhiriath and the Enedwaith did not endear the the Númenoreans to these people, and they turned hostile. Many in fact were seduced by Sauron and fought with him, or worshipped him as a god during the "Black Years" of the Second Age. Others, such as the men of Dunharrow, swore allegiance to Isildur, but later feared Sauron and refused to fght at all. The Dunlendings position in all this is difficult to tell (although Dunlend may have been populated later by refugees from Enedwaith, Minhiriath and other places where these people had lived previously.

Of men other than the Edainic peoples already mentioned, we know little. There are various Easterlings that turn up from time to time (the Easterlings of the first age, the Balchoth, the Wainriders, the Easterlings of the War of the Ring, and the Variags of Khand) but little or nothing is known of their affinities. It is indeed slightly possible that some, or even most of these groups, are descended from the same peoples that spawned the proto-Hadorians, some kind of proto-Edainic groups that split of from the westward movement before they come into history at all, east of Rhûn. Such possibilities have to remain completely speculative, however, as we have no way of knowing one way or another. It is probably more likely that they are completely unrelated to any proto-Edainic group, or perhaps even to each other.

More interesting, perhaps, are the Easterlings of the First Age. They had made their way all the way to Beleriand, crossing, in many cases, north of the Ered Luin, which means they must have crossed through the lands of proto-Bëorian, proto-Hadorian and proto-Haladin peoples, if they didn't originate among them. Tolkien calls them "swarthy men" and says that they descended from the northernmost peoples of Eriador. This gives us a few possibilites.

The first is that the Easterlings of the first age were descended from the proto-Haladin. Swarthy simply means dark, and the Haladin themselves were a fairly dark people. We know that the proto-Haladin spread as far north as Bree, where legend has them as the first men to settle the area. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to assume that some of them could have gone a little bit further north and west around the Ered Luin and into Eriador to emerge as the Easterlings of the First Age. However, it seems strange to think that they wouldn't have recognized their kin from the similar languages, if nothing else. The same argument goes if the Easterlings are to be identified with the proto-Bëorians that settled Eriador. Not only that, the Easterlings are described as being physically different from the other Edain; more swarthy, perhaps, and stocky as well, which the Haladin were not.

Another possibility is that these Easterlings were descended from some more northern group of men, probably Forodwaith, which were completely unrelated to the Edainic peoples. In fact, a footnote in The War of the Jewels specifically confirms that this is the case for at least some of their tribes. However, The Silmarillion seems to imply that the Easterlings of the First Age were separated by more than simply political allegiance and actually made up more than a single ethnic group. Their lands are marked on the map just north of the Grey Mountains and they became the Lossoth, some of the Easterlings in Beleriand, and probably the men who later emerged as allies and citizens of Angmar in the third age. Possibly even the mysterious Hillmen of Rhudaur and other men of unknown origin in the north come from this same stock. If so, these men must have come east from Hildorien in very ancient times, yet after the coming of the proto-Edainic groups (who were really two unrelated groups, if you remember, the proto-Haladin and the proto-Hadorians) because the proto-Edainic people were said to be the first men to flee the darkness of the east. It seems difficult to imagine these proto-Forodwaith as arriving in their historical seats without having to at least cross through the lands of Edainic peoples since it is said that the Awakening of Men occured in the southeast. More likely they would have been barred from crossing, and so would have had to move west through an even more northerly route, which seems unlikely, though not impossible. From the movements of the Éothéod in Appendix A, it seems that some of these men may have been in the Grey Mountains before the Edainic peoples thought of moving so far north. Therefore we are left with the somewhat unlikely idea that the proto-Lossoth and proto-Angmarians migrated from the east in some remarkable parallel to the Edain, yet much higher north and with no contact at all with the early Edainic groups. Despite it's apparent unlikeliness, it still seems more likely than any alternative.

One possible and interesting, although speculative, solution is that the Forodwaith were a "lost Edainic" tribe of people, unrelated to either the proto-Haladin, or the proto-Haldorians, yet who had rejected Morgoth and travelled west at more or less the same time as the other tribes, if not indeed in front of them. In this scenario, they could be the mysterious blood that was mingled with the proto-Haldorians to emerge later as the proto-Bëorians, with most of the language retained from the latter, but much of the physical appearance dependant on the former. Unfortunately for them as a people, they travelled too far north before crossing Ered Lindon, and came under the influence of Morgoth in his northern seat of power. Indeed, some of these men that later emerged as First Age Easterlings were faithless and betrayed the Eldar and the Edain for the chance to have power over them, given by Morgoth. In fact, it is said that they were already under the thrall of Morgoth before they were ever met by the Edain or Eldar. However, others were faithful, and the Lossoth were not under the shadow when they are mentioned later. However, if they are indeed the same people, the men of Carn Dûm and Angmar were very much under the Shadow, and subject to Sauron and his agent, the Witch-king.

The Easterlings of the Third Age are, as already mentioned, even more problematic, and we have no real clues as to what their ancestry may be. It is certainly possible that many of them are descended from the same stock as early Edainic peoples, who abandoned the westward march before the other groups arrived into the histories at the far eastern edge of what is known of Middle-Earth, but we have no way of knowing. We do know that the Wainriders and the Balchoth were primarily the same groups of people who originated from just beyond the Sea of Rhûn, and in the case of the Balchoth, they had combined with Variags of Khand after first fighting with them, who are another group of people we know nothing about, except that they maintained some type of cohesion to be mentioned by name again in the War of the Ring. Khand, in fact, gives a location, to the southeast of Mordor. However, other than the name, that portion of the map is blank and we know nothing about it. These early Easterlings plagued the Northmen of Rhovannion for many generations, and are probably the same groups of people that made up the Easterlings of the War of the Rings, and they may have been also related to the earliest "wild men out of the East" to invade Gondor, although neither the earliest Easterlings nor the Easterlings of the War of the Ring are described as using wains or chariots. They also plagued Gondor itself, and caused it considerable distress, although the final defeat of these Easterlings was the event in which the remnant of the Northmen came to Gondor's aid, and Gondor ceded Calenardhon to them, thus paving the way for the foundation of Rohan. The last groups of easterlings are described as bearded men wielding axes, and the men of Gondor believed them a "new" type of Easterling. It is unclear which (if any) real world population the Easterlings are supposed to represent. Although Tolkien specifically denied any direct representation, it is also clear that the "Middle Men" of Middle-earth are very similar to the Germanic peoples and since he was trying to create a "mythology for England" it is difficult to see them as not ancestral in some way. The vast hordes of the Easterlings, therefore, probably represent many peoples, as our own hordes of peoples who moved westward from the steppes of Central Asia into Eastern Europe and beyond. To me, the Wainriders always seemed similar to the Scythians, rather than to Turkic peoples. If this correllation is true, and the "Middle Men" are supposed to be westward striking "Indo-Europeans" like the Germanic peoples, then this gives me a very tenuous line of logic to relate these Easterlings to the Edainic peoples themselves, since the Scythians are another branch of the Indo-Europeans.

Some have also looked at the term "Variags of Khand," noted that the word Variag is an alternate form of Varangian, and assumed the Khand is also populated by "Nordic" peoples. Both of these lines of evidence, while intriguing, are two speculative to be advanced very far, however.

The last major group of men that Tolkien mentions are the Southrons, or Haradrim. Little is known of them other than the general location of their country south of Gondor both along the coasts and in the interior, although even there we don't have a name save Near Harad and Far Harad (near south and far south, really.) However, unlike the situation with the third age Easterlings, we do have fairly good descriptions of the men of Harad from Sam's encounter with one in Ithilien. It appears that the Haradrim are very dark, darker at least than any other race of men in middle-earth that we know of (except the men of Far Harad, who are described as being black of skin and looking like half-trolls) and resemble in many ways the Near and Middle Easterners of our world, who's geographic position they occupy in Middle-earth as well. Their language gives us only a single word, mûmak which is not enough to use one way or another to pinpoint possible relations with any Edainic tongue. [Note: The name of Gandalf in the South, Incanus was derived from two Haradrim words, Inka+nush, which meant 'north-spy.' but evidently Tolkien changed his mind, gave the name a Quenya etymology and decided that Gandalf had never gone to the Southrons, concerning himself with the Edain and other peoples who were traditional foes of Sauron.] Even if it did, however, there are at least three avenues through which is could have come as a loan, and there are at least two definate cases of Númenoreans or Gondorians settling and mingling with the Haradrim. The first are the Black Númenoreans, kingmen of the second age who worshipped Sauron and used the old Númenorean harbors as their bases of operations. It is not certain to what extent these Black Númenoreans contributed to the ethnic or linguistic identity of the Haradrim, but we do know that they quickly became as commen men. Also, after the Kin-strife, Castamir and his rebels also moved southwards, founding the Corsairs of Umbar and mingling significantly with the Haradrim. However, it is most likely that the majority of the Haradrim descent comes from completely different groups of men than the Edainic.

It's not impossible to raise the claim that they might have a strong element of proto-Haladinish blood in them too, since it seems that proto-Haladinish people were settled along the coast just to the north of present day Harad (the Men of Dunharrow, for instance.) The proto-Haladin were also dark, though not as dark as Haradrim seem to be, so even if this highly speculative scenario were true, there would almost certainly have to have been another group of men that contributed to the Haradrim's blood.

Faramir states at one point that all the speeches of men are ultimately descended from elves, and while it is certain that borrowings from various Avarin and Eldarin languages have heavily influenced Mannish tongues, it is not certain that Faramir is right in this regard. The most accomplished Noldorin linguist, Pengolodh (who's name is simply Sindarin for 'speaking Noldo') said once that Adûnaic seems to resemble in many ways the ancient Valarin language as well. Despite the policies of the Valar after the coming of the children of Ilúvatar, it is obvious that they loved the second children as much as the first. While the elves invented their own languages, it is possible that some, at least, of the men, were taught language directly from Ulmo or some other Vala who had enough interest to check on Middle-Earth still, rather than first learning language from the elves. It is also said that the language of the Edain (that is, Adûnaic) resembled Dwarvish in many sounds and forms, and that it had several loan words from that language as well. Since Aulë the Valar created the Dwarvish tongue for them, it is certainly likely that it would have resembled the Valarin language as well, providing yet another avenue for this Valarin influence. Most likely, in my opinion from the various readings in HoME, is that both of these conditions are probably true, and the languages of men are influenced by the Elves, the Dwarves and the Valar, as well as the inventiveness of men themselves.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

E6 Freeport News #1

Well, the campaign has been kicked off. One group, doing the "Murders in Scurvytown" adventure are currently finding that their ship is stuck on a reef and they're under attack by orc pirates.

So no Scurvytown yet, but we'll get there soon.

The other group, the "Blasphemy in Bloodsalt" started their game on the pier as fresh-faced arrivals in town, and were almost immediately accosted by a gang looking to shake them down. So yeah; not much plot yet, but both groups are engaged in combat. I always find that "Roll for initiative" is not a bad way to start any campaign, and if sets up the idea from the get-go that this isn't going to be a plodding, existential exploration of morality and characters, but a wild ride with adventure, horror, death and the threat thereof pretty much constant.

I'll keep you posted as the fight's wind down and the roleplaying begins.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Freeport Shipping News

Huh. That sounds like a good temporary title for my blog.

In any case, I've somehow found myself committed to running a Play-by-post game set in Freeport for 12 players. Yes, twelve. I'm going to have two concurrent storylines and try to wind them together somehow.

Anyway, it sounds really fun and exciting, but also fraught with potential to fall apart if it doesn't work. I'll keep everyone posted here on how it's working out. We're due to have all characters in and ready to go and start on Monday.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Roots

I've been fascinated with the beginnings of the tetrapod invasion of various terrestrial ecosystems, and of course, you can't talk about that without talking about Ichthyeostega, famous throughout most of the 20th century as the "first amphibian", found in Fammenian rocks in eastern Greenland. For fun, here's a picture of "Ole Ichthy."


Ichthyostega isn't actually an amphibian, as it turns out, although he's a "pre-amphibian tetrapod." He was discovered in the 1930s in a famous paleontological expedition.
Some fragmentary Acanthostega material was also found, although it wasn't until the late 1980s that really good material was found on this cousin and contemporary of "Ole Ichthy." There's also some pictures of him attached:




















With this new material, though, it doesn't look like "Ole Acanthy" was actually very adept at getting out of the water, and it's not believed that he did. The same is often said about Ichthyostega too. In fact, even slightly younger basal tetrapods (still not amphibians) like Hynerpeton and Tulerpeton seem to be adapted to swimming around in shallow, clogged swampways more than coming up on land. I guess that's to be expected; they've gotta handle that environment first, after all.

A couple of little guys that I wasn't aware of were discovered in the 90s that are actually even older and more primitive basal tetrapods than this crew, though, found in the Upper Frasnian in Scotland. These are Elginerpeton and the closely related Obruchevichthys. I can't find any images of the latter (and he's known from some pretty spotty skeletal remains anyway) but here's Elginerpeton for your perusal.










As you can probably see quite well just from these illustrations, these basal tetrapods are extremely primitive, and only barely removed from the sarcopterigian (lobe-finned) fishes from which they descended.

In fact, here's a sarcopterygian fish very similar to the first tetrapods for you to look at, if you're interested, weird little Tiktaalik, which frankly is as much notable for it's bizarre name as for it's position close to the ancestry of all Tetrapoda. In fact, it's so close, that cladistically, it's in a group falled Tetrapodamorpha, in which Tetrapoda is closely nested.

From these images, hopefully it's obvious how fishlike the first "amphibians"; the basal tetrapods truly are.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is roots. The root of all land vertebrates in the entire world, which showed up in the late Devonian, 380 million years ago for the earliest examples pictured above.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Some stuff...

Changed the title again. Blood on the Asphalt is actually the name of a free online "CD" you can download that takes the melodies of the familiar Street Fighter 2 songs and "remixes" them. Remakes them, honestly. It's a tribute album. Some of them are pretty weird. Many of them are excellent. Anyway, I'm going to temporarily steal their name because it's cool. http://sf2.ocremix.org/

Other than that, I've been keeping on keeping on. Not much to report. For fun, I've been creating a spreadsheet of all the earth's ages, their names, subdivisions, date that it started (in millions of years ago) and ended, total length, and a few comments. Unlike most such lists, mine doesn't start at the top and go backwards, which I've never found intuitive; it starts at the beginning and goes forward. Imagine that. That's the main reason I did it; to have it all in one place in an intuitive format, but it's also fun to see the time frames. One interesting side effect of looking at all this has been surprising to me.

I'm used to looking at dinosaur ages, and I guess it never occurred to me just how remarkable it is that dinosaurs were on the earth for 160 million years, and that they dominated the fauna for a good 140 or more of those 160 million years. Mammals have been around a good 200 million years and dominated the world for about 65 million---but the terrestrial megafauna dynasties prior to the dinosaurs are surprisingly short. In fact, I never really thought about it, but it was less than 150 million years before the first dinosaur that Ichthyostega and Acanthostega were the first tetrapods to lumber their way out of the water on occasion. At the K-T extinction event, when the non-avian dinosaurs went extinct, they had dominated the terrestrial megafauna for more than half of the time that there had even been a terrestrial megafauna to dominate!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Really old grass

This is actually somewhat old news (reported almost two years ago) but since I don't get the opportunity of working as a specialist, I often miss stuff like this.

I was watching the documentary disc 2 section of Walking With Prehistoric Beasts last night, and the scientist they were interviewing made the common claim that even the earlier parts of the Age of Mammals were incorrect to show grass, which didn't arrive on the scene until 30-40 million years ago.

Oddly enough, phytoliths; cells that are specific to grasses, have been found in dinosaur coprolites from about 70 million years ago. This was startling, not only that grass was obviously around that long ago (and part of a titanosaur diet) but that they found five varieties of phytoliths, which is a good marker for types of grass. This indicates that grass had already undergone a fair amount of diversification and speciation; enough so that estimates for the arrival of grass were instantly extended to 100 million years ago or more!

Now truly is a great time to be alive and a fan of dinosaur paleontology. Almost everything we thought we knew about dinosaurs when I was a child has been overturned and we have an entirely different view now of both dinosaurs and their environment both. Not only that, more dinosaurs have been discovered in the last decade than had been discovered in all the time that dinosaurs were known to modern, Western science prior to that. And many of them are truly bizarre. We have the Antarctic fauna, for example. We have the incredible wealth of the Yixian feathered dinosaurs. We've discovered small, feathered and very early tyrannosaurs like Dilong paradoxus, Guanlong wucaii and Eotyrannus lengi. We've discovered the entire radiation of abelisaurs after declaring that Ceratosaurus nasicornis was a late surviving "living fossil" and a dead end. Whoops. We've discovered the amazing diversity and success globally of titanosaurs after saying that the sauropod heydey ended at the end of the Jurassic. Whoops.

Dinosaurs have never been sexier.

Friday, September 07, 2007

E6

Well, I've hit upon another idea for running Dark•Heritage even better. This is the E6 suite of houserules, originally designed for D&D, but applicable I'd think for any d20 game.

Essentially, the idea is that if 95% (or more) of the people in the world only have a level or two of commoner, expert, or some other NPC class, then someone who's about 6th level or so will seem epic. The 6th level fighter can take down a dozen 1st level warriors without going down himself. A 6th level wizard can blast your home into oblivion.

The idea is that since the sweet spot of any d20 game seems to be after you've got a few levels in, but starts to degrade seriously by the time you hit 10th level, this houserule extends the sweet spot indefinately. Essentially no matter how long you play the character, you can still get upgrades without ever moving out of the sweet spot.

Since my prior solution has just been to stop the game and reset with new character by the time you hit 10th level or so, I think this is a wonderful solution. I think I'm going to apply the concept to my d20 Modern and d20 Past ruleset, which means that I'll essentially have to write an all new rules document applying the E6 concept to them.

Oh, well. So much for simplicity.

Flash Gordon

Just a quick heads-up; the campy 1980 or 1981 or so movie Flash Gordon just got a DVD release a few weeks ago. When I went to go add that to our Blockbuster Online queue, I also found that the old Filmation cartoons for Flash Gordon have apparently also been released.

w00t! I mean, they're probably terrible, but I have very fond memories of them nonetheless.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

NOT running

At least not yet. We voted to continue our current campaign, which could take up to ten more sessions, although our DM thinks maybe he can pare it down to less.

So we deferred the decision on what we'll do next until we're closer to finishing this one. In any case, I'll still officially throw my hat in the ring when it comes to it.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Dr. Strange

I watched the new Dr. Strange movie from Lionsgate Studios and the same animation team that brought us the two Ultimate Avengers movies and the Iron Man movie.

Not bad. In fact, probably my favorite of the Marvel animated movies to date. Didn't feel particularly comic bookish; more urban fantasy combined with wuxia or something, but that's OK.

I've also picked up Walking With Dinosaurs, Walking With Prehistoric Beasts and Prehistoric America. I've also recently seen When Dinosaurs Roamed America, Before the Dinosaurs and of course Chased By Dinosaurs which I actually bought.

All of them are very interesting, but at the same time, all of them are disappointing. In most cases, it's because either the CGI, the artistry (or lack thereof) of the CGI models. It's extremely disappointing, for example, to see the Allosaurus fragilis in Walking With Dinosaurs because the skull would have to be grossly swollen and deformed and the jaw would have to be dislocated for that to look accurate. On the other hand, When Dinosaurs Roamed America has fabulous looking allosaurs, but the writing and voice-over narration is almost painfully terrible.

On the other hand, we've got movies like Jurassic Park and King Kong which care little for biological accuracy, yet which have absolutely fabulous looking dinosaurs and other "prehistoric"---or better yet, fanciful---creatures. I guess that's the difference between a blockbuster budget and a BBC/PBS special budget. If I were independently wealthy, I'd love to finance and have some oversight over a really good documentary series chronicling the history of life on earth from the Pre-Cambrian all the way to the extinctions that took place a few thousands years ago with the end of the last glacial maximum.

So, if anyone wants to give me money so I can be independently wealthy and accomplish that... ;)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Running again?

Well, there's a possibility that I'll be running a game here in the very near future.

I don't know how good a possibility it is, but I'm going to throw my hat in the ring, anyway.

Given the group, I think I better stick with D&D (although I'd rather not) and since I've somewhat recently acquired The Pirates' Guide to Freeport (which I better hurry and finish, it seems) I'm thinking of pitching the game as Pirates of the Caribbean done in D&D. I mean real D&D, with dwarves, elves, orcs, wizards, etc. But the setting is very definately pirates.

Anyway, I'm excited. I hope it pans out. I miss running.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Alternate history

Well, I found the list I made of changes. This is still fairly summary form, but it's enough to put together a game, I think. I don't know if I'd still stick with everything here (the moreau's, for instance---do I still care about them?) but otherwise it's still something that intrigues me greatly.
  1. Japan was the first WWII nation to develop the atomic bomb. Their plan was to put it on submarines that would run suicide missions into US harbors. However, the first one developed cracked a leak and detonated in Yokohama harbor, where it was berthed, preparing for the first nuclear attack in the history of the war.
  2. After the launch of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler died in 1943. The new leader of Germany – General Erich von Manstein, a military man and fervent party member, pulled back from the war with Russia and didn’t expend nearly as much resources in the Holocaust as Hitler did in real life. Von Manstein was a shrewd politician with an eye for the long-term survival of the Nazi party, and his decisions, while often criticized by war hawks within Germany, have stood the test of time as decisions that put and kept Germany at the forefront of the world geopolitical map throughout the 20th century.
  3. Following the pullback from Russia, Germany concentrated on the invasion of Great Britain, but found that their blitzkrieg stalled under much stiffer resistance from the Brits (bolstered by Americans) than they had in France. When the Germans had access to the Bomb, they fired one on a V2 which exploded near London in an effort to move forward their stalled blitzkrieg.
  4. By this time, the Americans, with the help of defectors from Germany and their own scientists had successfully tested nuclear bombs and had developed a different delivery method: B1 bombers. Dropping bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki didn’t have quite the same effect, since Japan had already shown that they had bomb capability, and Germany had also already used them. However, the devastation caused by these bombs was so immensely shocking even to those that developed them, that the state of open war came to a de facto end, and treaties limiting the use of atomic weapons (called the Stockholm Accords, because they were signed in neutral Sweden) were drafted by Germany, the US and Japan.
  5. Shortly thereafter, the Soviets were able to develop nuclear technology and became the fourth atomic superpower. Because the Soviets had not signed the Stockholm Accords, this precipitated the arms race which was not terribly different from that which actually happened in our world – each of the four superpowers continuously raised the ante on atomic weapons for the sake of deterrence.
  6. During the late 40s and early 50s, somewhat “hot” action occurred in the Middle East, which became the “Vietnam” styled debacle of Germany, the US and the Soviets as guerrilla warriors kept any superpower from controlling the oil reserves.
  7. Finally, Ahmed Al Rahid, an Arab king, was able to unite many of the Arab tribes under his banner. In a political move, both the US and Japan recognized him as the legitimate ruler of the “Arab Empire,” and Germany and Russia pulled back after seeing the favorable trading agreements that they were able to maintain because of this recognition. The Arab Empire has thus maintained the status quo for nearly sixty years due to their economic shrewdness and dominance of the largest oil reserves on the planet.
  8. With Russian pressure in the west and north and Japanese occupation of much of eastern China, Mao Tse-tung is not able to unite all of China under his banner. In fact, two Chinas eventually form, the Peoples’ Democratic Republic of China in the northeast and Nationalist China. Tibet and possibly even seccesionist Xinjiang remain separate entities unconnected with China in this scenario.
  9. Some other features of the cold war include prolonged tension between Germany and the West over South Africa, German and Russian conflict over Scandinavia, Japanese and Western conflict in Singapore and many South Pacific islands, and Russian and Japanese conflict over Communist China. Despite several attempts by many, especially the Germans, to weaken their position, the US retains tight control over the politics of Latin America.
  10. Both the Germans and the Japanese lead the charge on eugenics programs which leads to the development of – among other things – the moreaus.
  11. Following the incident at Roswell in 1947, the US becomes aware of the gray aliens and that the Germans have been experimenting with extra-terrestrial technology for a few years. Germany is the first to launch satellites in the early 50s, although Japan, Russia and the US all have satellites up before the end of the decade.
  12. In the early sixties, communist Cuba is overthrown after the assassination of Fidel Castro. Although the CIA is suspected, it is never proven. This prompts a crisis with the Soviet Union that very nearly leads to the launch of atomic strikes.
  13. In the 1967 the Germans launch the first successful manned flight to the moon. Oddly, though, none of the superpowers make any attempt to do much of anything with the moon, although US astronauts also land there.
  14. In the very late sixties, the Soviets develop the first psychic agents for the KGB. The Germans also develop occult agents.
  15. In the early years of the 21st century, intelligence suggests that the state of the world is as follows: the Soviets are stretched financially tighter than they can afford, the Japanese are also stretched too thin over overtly hostile territory in the Philippines, Korea and Manchuria. The US is facing restlessness from much of Latin America and the Germans are facing increasing opposition from non-Nazis. There is also some kind of occult threat – the details of which are not known at the present, which seems to be occupying the Germans and threatening to spill out over the rest of the world.
  16. A security agency that is jointly chaired and operated by the CIA, the FBI and the NSA is formed in the 70s called the Paranormal Defense Agency (PDA) specifically to deal with occult and psychic threats. The PCs are all members of this agency having come from law enforcement, intelligence or military backgrounds of some sort, although they may have been analysts, programmers, or any number of more mundane “career paths” and still come under the auspices of the PDA.

Tannhäuser, yo!

I played the boardgame Tannhäuser at GenCon. While the game itself certainly isn't bad (I had a good time) I honestly think that the real strength of that game is the setting and the artwork.

For the uninitiated, the idea essentially is that it's 1949 in an alternate timestream. The Great War (WWI to us) never ended, but dragged on into a semi-Cold war state. The Alliance (US and Brits, I presume) have reverse-engineered crashed alien technology (from Roswell?) to get cool weapons, while the Kaiser's troops have taken to demonology to get their special weapons. Future expansions look to expand into what the Soviets are doing as well.

Freakin' awesome. However, what it really prompted in me was a desire to utilize the material for an RPG. That brought me around to my old attempt at developing an alternate history; in mine, the aesthetic was similar, but I got there a little bit differently. Hitler died earlier, and the Nazi party was taken over by the Wehrmacht, and actual competent leaders. The Germans got the bomb first. Anyway, I'll spill all the details later, but the short version is that the cold war happened with four superpowers rather than two; the US, the Soviets, the Nazis and the Japanese. I also thought about layering in some Hellboy and X-files type occult/alien secret history, so it really does end up being nearly the same.

Anyway, I'll try to post the details of that later today, but in the meantime, here's some images cribbed and cropped from the Tannhäuser site so you can see what I'm talking about.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Monday, August 27, 2007

Ask me about 4e!

For many, the big news of GenCon 2007 was the announcement that Wizards of the Coast will be releasing the 4th edition of their flagship RPG Dungeons & Dragons during the summer of 2008. And yet more than a week has gone by, I've made a good half a dozen posts and I really haven't said anything about it other that a reference in passing.

What gives?

Mostly what gives is that I'm not a huge fan of D&D. Way back when I started this blog and I tossed a few placeholder topics up, one of them was D&D editions through the ages and I never did that, so maybe now is the time.

I first played D&D, like many others, in the late '70s, using the old Basic Rules that came in the red box. It actually didn't take for me right away (I do have a memory of an old friend of mine named Clark who was trying to run a game for me, but all I cared about was playing with his massive collection of Kenner Star Wars action figures.) I did kinda catch on and had my eye on the hobby a little bit later; in the early 80s, still with the Red Boxes and eventually also with the AD&D books. I also discovered things like the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks and even Rolemaster and MERP, Top Secret, Star Frontiers and a ton of older games, mostly by TSR, during these years. However, I left D&D behind before the 80s were over and before the second edition came out. Primarily this was because D&D did not do what I wanted a roleplaying game to do.

Later on, a friend of mine in college and I used to play some old Top Secret S.I. and MegaTraveller, so I kinda got back in the groove with RPGs. I had always kinda sorta had my eye on them even when I wasn't playing, but for some reason I got big into it in college, when I had no time and no money. I still managed to scrape together a fairly decent collection of Werewolf: The Apocalypse books. At the time, the Storyteller conceit appealed to me; that games were more than just going in dungeons and killing things for XP and GP. Looking back at White Wolf now, it all seems so pretentious, but honestly I was probably a pretty pretentious prick back then as well. Not sure that's changed.

In fact, I became almost an anti-D&D advocate. I was a latte set gamer who couldn't be bothered with such low-brow entertainment. All that changed during the summer of 2000 when I quit school, started working, and discovered that a third edition of D&D was about to come out. It did, I bought it, I liked it. It had enough flexibility that I could conceivably take it away from it's roots and play whatever game I liked with it. Wizards then released a Star Wars and a Wheel of Time game using the same basic mechanics, and they were fairly well done. But wait! I said. After all, Star Wars and Wheel of Time use fairly similar conceits to D&D, so it's no surprise that d20 works well for them too. Then WotC produced d20 Call of Cthulhu. I was sold.

From that moment on, I decided that d20 was mutable and modular enough that I could do anything I wanted with d20, and there was no reason for me to look at other systems anymore. My interest in D&D itself actually waned considerably, as the inmistakable "D&Disms" started to annoy me more than ever, but I still maintained (and maintain today) that d20 itself is a flexible enough mechanic that I prefer it to any other still. It's not perfect, but barring the release of a Holy Grail system, which I can't see happening, it does the job. Not only that, it's got so much source material, especially via the OGL and d20 license, that I feel there are tools out there for anything I could imagine.

The only snag here was the release of 3.5. This fell very flat with me; it changed stuff for the sake of change and to get people to upgrade their books when IMO there was no real need. While it did make some improvements, some things it did were worse, and tons of changes were just different for no net benefit or loss, but suddenly stuff we thought we knew we didn't really anymore. All in all, the update was poorly timed, IMO, it came way too early, it wasn't a good upgrade that made it seem exciting, and it felt like a money-grab opportunity to sell more core books. I was not impressed, I only bought the Monster Manual and simply used SRD print offs for other upgrades, and it's part of the reason I turned away from D&D again.

Of course, that brings us to the 4e announcement. As of right now, I don't know how much 4e will differ from 3e. Hints are that there are some fairly massive changes, and hopefully most of them will ease playability, especially at higher level. Things that were clunky or frustrating from d20 as it currently stands will be replaced by streamlined systems. The "sweet spot" will be extended. So all this means, I don't know if 4e will really be compatible with my current d20 stuff or not. Honestly, I'm not terribly intrigued by D&D itself anymore, so I could take it or leave it, but I'm intrigued by these putative improvements to the system. If I can take some ideas that work really well, reverse engineer them into d20 Modern, and release a "hacked" d20 Modern pdf to my players that gives me the best of both worlds, while still maintaining enough compatibility that I can use all my material that I currently have with a minimum of fuss, than that's great.

If I can't, chances are I'm not going to do much beyond picking up the 4e core rulebooks and occasionally playing a game with my group when they're in a D&D mood. Because otherwise, I'm pretty happy with d20 where it is now. Not D&D d20, but d20 as a complete suite of modules that can be layered to create the effect that I want.

So I haven't really talked much about 4e because I'm not that excited about it. I don't think it's the end of the world, because I'm already not playing D&D anymore anyway, so I don't care if it makes putting together a 3e group hard or not. I don't care if it's a massive improvement, because I'd still prefer to play something other than D&D. I'm hopeful that it's got some nifty ideas I can mine to improve my game, but if not, I'm not really at that big of a loss.

Dark•Heritage tidbit

Part of the reason I created this blog was to talk about my ongoing campaign setting that I'm always tinkering with. One of the things that I always wanted to have in Dark•Heritage was zeppelins. Big ole honking dirigibles crossing the desert. I had initially imagined them sorta like the Hindenburg only perhaps covered in a thick coat of light-weight lacquered scales to provide a sort of armor to the ballon portion. But then I saw this picture.



And honestly; isn't that a much better image right there? I kind of Spruce Goose suspended from a gigantic balloon; that's awesome. So there you have it. And to the artist, Steve Thomas; you da man! I didn't see him myself, but apparently he was at GenCon, and reading a GenCon-goers blog, I was pointed to his website. That kind of pulpish old-fashioned sci-fi travel poster is brilliant. And he's got more. At least four in all in that style.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Flower list

Sweet! I was monkeying around in the code for this blog template and found (among other things) the way to take away those ridiculous flowers that the template used for lists. Now my ordered list looks like an ordered list with numbers and stuff, just like it should.

Next post... actual content. I promise!

Construction

Well, I'm playing around with some new templates and stuff. Don't mind things if the blog looks different when you check in. I'm trying to find a template that's closest to what I want, then I'll probably see about hand-customizing it in the html code or something.

Anyway, I've got more post GenCon blathering to do still. I haven't even mentioned the big 4th edition announcement yet!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Yet again: More GenCon ramblings

I had an odd thought. I played in Gabe's Saturn game. Planetary Romance. I played in a Mars d20 game written by lizard, which was almost exactly Barsoom really. I played in Sky Galleons of Mars, and although the source material there is technically scientific romance a la Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, that's only at most a hop, skip and a jump from planetary romance, and the game itself really was more plantetary romance than scientific romance anyway. I also spent a reasonably fair amount of the con hanging out with a guy who's username features Barsoom.

Is this an actual trend, or is it just me? I also noticed that lots of pulp inspired stuff is floating around. This is incredibly exciting to me, because frankly I think that vaguely Tolkien-like fantasy is somewhat boring, and worse; since nobody else does it as well as Tolkien, and it compares very poorly as a result.

In any case, although I'm probably not really looking too hard at planetary romance per se, except for one-shots and stuff, my own setting, which I use for both fiction and games both, definately points toward Barsoom as one of the most significant influences and the conceits of Barsoom are the same as what I've used. Layer in some Charles Dickens, H. P. Lovecraft and even Sergio Leone, and have plots that read like modern thrillers a la some of the earlier Robert Ludlum books (back when he was still good) and that's what I call my ideal fantasy setting now. Clearly I'm a huge fan of what planetary romance has brought to the table of fantasy as a whole.

In any case: Gabe, Scott and Alan, who ran my planetary romance games at GenCon--thanks, guys! Great games! Exactly what I was in the mood for, too.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Another post-GenCon ramble 2

Liz's Dangergirl game was awesome. Sadly, I was stuck playing Abbey Chase herself, and not have a good read on what the character was like, I wasn't able to come up with a better schtick other than jumping on enemies and trying to squeeze them to death with her thighs. Kirin totally pwned that game.

Gabe's Saturn game is already legendary. Tony's totally inept Captain was a blast and Travis's "Communications officer" coined the wink and double gun "Hola" routine that's still haunting my dreams to this day.

My Dark•Matter game was largely saved by my incredible cast of characters, because the ending sadly turned anticlimactic when they didn't do what I thought they would. But it was fun because everyone in it was so awesome. Anyway, by the time I ran the second instance of it, I had thought of a better ending that wasn't so dependent on what the players would do, so I think it ran better. Sadly, nobody played Bruce Gamble, out of work B-movie star that time, because I had six instead of seven players. Bruce will be greatly missed.

Sky Galleons of Mars is also legendary. We had freakin' Kevin Kulp for cryin' out loud. Any game he's in is bound to r0xx0rz. And it did. But we also had Matt(hew), Davest, Scott, Jeff, Eridanis (who's real name I forget)---I mean, this was an all-star production. I have no idea what I was doing in that game, because everyone there was so much cooler than me.

Alan's Mars d20 was a blast. I got to be the naked red Martian slave princess. I got to traumatize Corey with my terrible portrayal of Derah Thojis. Sweet. Fun system. lizard is da bomb, once again. Next time I go to GenCon, I think I want to run an Iron Lords of Jupiter game, by the way.

Did I forget to mention Kirin's Kobolds Ate My Baby game? I think I did. Holy crap. Kirin is made of win. That game is another legendary one that people will be referring to for years. barsoomcore's anal bestiality rape death scene is one that'll be remembered for a long time. And it wasn't even the funniest thing that happened.

DINO PIRATES is already legendary even before I get to it. There's a reason it was one of the fastest filling slots around when it opened up. And it lives up to the hype. If nothing else, the absolutely brilliant lava rules will live forever as a work of genius. And I have to admit the description of the main BBEG as "an evil Dejah Thoris" was super hot. Maybe that's why I couldn't actually hit her, failed my will save against her domination attack, and ended up spending the rest of the game as a gigantic gorilla (sans biplane, sadly) trying to kill Rystil Arden's character.

The last game of the Con for me (besides the second instance of Dark•Matter I ran) was the Halfling Musketeer game. Holy crap. Again. Already legendary before I get here, and again; totally lives up to the hype. Fighting gigantic wine bottles was a work of genius, and prompted one of the funnier lines I heard all week: "I am French and you are my natural prey." Or something like that. It was probably better when Matthew said it than me paraphrasing it later.

So yeah; I could totally play and run CM games exclusively. I pretty much did, and I was not in the least disappointed. I would do so again in a heartbeat.

The only thing that was sadly lacking for me was some Cthulhu. I had my d20 Cthulhu book in my bag all week and never even broke it out.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Another post-GenCon ramble

So... I made that ordered list a post or two ago, and it came out as flowers?! I like this skin, because it looks like an old time scroll or something, but that's pretty whack.

I was thinking about writing up a bit more detail about all the games I got to be in, but I'm not going to put that much effort into it, because I'm trying to keep up with post-GenCon craziness at Circvs Maximvs and get caught up with all the stuff that happened at work while I was away. Typing really long involved blog-posts would interfere with either of those goals.

Instead, I'll point you towards the HEX website. I didn't get this book, but I spent a fair amount of time (an hour or two?) looking at Corey's copy, and I went over with Corey to talk to Jeff Combos (President of Exile Games) for about ten minutes, and I'm very thoroughly impressed both by Combos and by the book. They deserve a look-see, and after winning the ENnie for best cover art, they seem to be getting a surge of some much-deserved attention from the RPG market at large.

Congrats, Jeff!

Monday, August 20, 2007

More GenCon ramblings

So, yeah... as I said last time, I just got back from GenCon. There were probably a good two or three dozen or so people that I spent most of my time with while there. Many of them I had been excited about meeting in real life for a long time, and honestly... they lived up to the hype. They were awesome.

Others I hadn't really thought too much about and wouldn't have worried too much about going out of my way to meet, but I see now that I would have totally been missing out. They were awesome.

There were two guys that distinctly didn't like, but yeah... well, we won't go there. I didn't spend too much time with either.

There are two guys of the first group mentioned above that bear singling out and mentioned particularly. One of them is Stuart. Honestly, I think that for several years we irritated each other online more than anything else, but two watershed conversations really changed all that dramatically. The first was about campaign setting design philosophy, where we realized that in some major respects we had the same conceits that are NOT shared by the majority of GMs. The other was about religion, where I found out that his major area of research was Mormon folklore. In any case, after those conversations, the two of us became VERY friendly, I think we developed an incredible amount of respect for each other, and although we still differ about many major issues, I think we recognize at least a bit of a kindred spirit in each other. So I was very happy and gratified to meet and talk to Stuart. We only talked briefly until after the Ennies when I went to his room for an hour or two and we just talked and talked until neither of us could stay awake, and then Sunday he picked up an open slot at the last minute and slipped into my Dark•Matter game. Fun times. Very glad I met him, and even more glad that he wasn't one of the many, many people that I had been really excited to meet, but only ended up greeting and chatting with very briefly before not seeing them again.

The other is Corey. Corey and I have known each other online for a long time now. I'm not even sure how long, although it can't possibly be less than five years and is probably closer to seven or maybe even eight. Unlike with Stuart, Corey and I are in a really bizarre situation in that we apparently have 95% of our brain completely in common. We have the exact same taste about almost everything, and the funny thing is that it's not like we exactly have common tastes that a lot of other people share. So we already knew we were kindred spirits from the get-go. I was really excited to meet him; and especially to just chat about stuff and even more especially to GAME with him. Sadly, I did too little of both, but we did chat a fair amount, we did both play in the Kobolds game, the Mars d20 game, and I was also in one of his DINO-PIRATES games (he assures me that it must always be capitalized.) Part of the 5% in which we differ is that he is much more charming, polite and friendly than I am, though. He was a true delight to hang around with. I'm disappointed that of all the chatting we did do, we didn't get to talk more about gaming itself, though, which given the venue in which we met is kinda strange now that I think about it.

The funny thing about Stuart and Corey is that both are former Vancouverites who have both decamped to Toronto in just that last few years or so. The other funny thing about that is that I live only about 4-5 hours from Toronto. The other funny thing about that is that apparently I'm too stupid to have arranged some way to meet them before GenCon when it should have been relatively easy to do so.

GenCon 2007

Well, I'll have more to say about this in subsequent postings, no doubt, but for now, let me just recap the games I was in. All 11 of them.

  1. Powergrid
  2. Mutants & Masterminds Dangergirl's save DisneyWorld
  3. Under Saturns Rings--planetary romance with True20
  4. Dark•Matter d20 "Exit 23" (I ran this one)
  5. Kobolds Ate My Baby with like 15 people
  6. Sky Galleons of Mars (not the old tactical minis game, but a d20 Modern RPG using the same setting)
  7. Mars d20---lizard's magnum opus
  8. DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND, which we learned must always be written in all caps
  9. Tannhäuser--a bit frustrating as a tactical game at times (I really don't like the random turn order) but what a beautiful game and what a great setting!
  10. Halfling Musketeers
  11. Dark•Matter d20 "Exit 23" #2

Monday, August 13, 2007

Steampunk

As anyone who's paid even a remote degree of attention to my campaign setting knows, I incorporate a fair bit of "advanced" technology, at least from a fantasy norm standpoint, and much of that is steam-powered. In addition, I do have a rather dark, dystopian view of society in this setting. This raises the question amongst many that my setting is a "steampunk" setting.

What is steampunk, exactly? I ask this, because I just got in an argument with some guy who claims that Eberron is steampunk. When I asked him to tell me even one element of the setting that was steampunk, he couldn't do it, and instead just did a quick Google search to show that he wasn't the only one who thought so, and that he was in fact just parroting back what he had heard somewhere. So while I came to the conclusion that he either simply didn't know what he was talking about, or is using a definition for steampunk that is completely meaningless to me, he did raise the question in my mind: what exactly is steampunk, and what are some examples of it?

I think that's more problematic than it sounds, on the face of it. Coming up with a definition isn't difficult; it's clearly an outgrowth of cyberpunk, and like cyberpunk, it has to deal with a certain theme of rebellion against impersonal dystopian societies. That's the -punk equation in steampunk; the first part of the word is of course that it uses steam-based technology.

However, I think the word has accreted additional usage to the point where few people even recognize this confined definition anymore. Basically, the -punk addage is forgotten. If it has steam-powered technology, particularly bizarre steam-powered technology a la the scientific romances of Jules Vernes or H. G. Wells, then it's steampunk.

In the case of Eberron it has neither steam nor punk, and the elements that some folks use mark Eberron has "having some steampunk flavor" whatever that means, could just as easily be used to claim that Peter Pan or Pinocchio are steampunk stories. I remain thoroughly unconvinced. However, true, "pure" steampunk remains an elusive entity. A few works, such as The Difference Engine or Steamboy are obviously clear, but others like Perdido Street Station or Iron Kingdoms use some trappings of steampunk but incorporate other elements just as much.

My own setting uses "steampunk" elements, but no more so than it uses Sergio Leone elements, Edgar Rice Burroughs elements, H. P. Lovecraft elements or Robert Ludlum elements. And I think that's what steampunk has become; a patina or template that can be applied to any other work and give it a "steampunk aesthetic" without actually fundamentally altering the work from whatever subgenre it already belongs to.

Not that I worry too much about subgenres--for my setting, I'm perfectly happy to reclaim the old umbrella term "Weird Tale" and have done with it.

In any case, not that I've been a faithful blogger, but I will be at GenCon most of the rest of this week, so I won't be making posts. But hopefully I'll have quite a bit to report on when I'm back. I've got at least seven games fairly well confirmed, including three planetary romance games, two Dark•Matter games (that I'm rumming), a Dino-Pirates of Ninja Island game, and another swashbuckling D&D game too. I'm hoping to also work some Blood Bowl into the week somewhere, and maybe one or two other pick-up impromptu games here and there.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

http://ww2.wizards.com/books/Wizards/default.aspx?doc=main_classicsdreamquest

From the review above:

"The only fantasy novel from an author not known for his subtlety, this bizarre, witty, elegant little gem is an odd tale with an odd history. That we have the story at all is amazing, since Lovecraft wrote it for his own amusement and never submitted it to any publisher, refused to circulate it among his friends (contrary to his normal practice), and did not even bother to type it; it was not published until years after his death. Written in deliberate imitation of another author (the inimitable Lord Dunsany), it is nonetheless distinctly, even quintessentially Lovecraftian. It never mentions Cthulhu, yet paradoxically it's fair to say it's the best Cthulhu Mythos novel ever published.

Lovecraft himself -- a pulp horror writer who ironically earned his living as a ghost writer -- is mainly remembered today for his creation of the Cthulhu Mythos, an idea for an open-ended shared universe which continues in popularity today, a good seventy-five years and more since it first took form. As a horror writer, he suffered the major handicap that none of his stories are actually frightening. However promising an idea might sound in the abstract, any tension is sabotaged by his deliberately quaint style (marked by overuse of a few favorite words, such as "foetor" and "eldritch" and a tendency to end the last line of his story in italics),[3] an assumption the readers share his phobias (about foreigners and anything that lives in the sea), and the ease with which his all-powerful fiends are defeated (Wilbur Whateley, the precocious half-human half-alien who plans to open the way for his alien kin to swarm into the world and eliminate mankind, is killed by a dog while sneaking into a library; Great Cthulhu himself, a godlike being whose advent will usher in the End Times, is sent packing by being rammed with a yacht). But read as fantasy, his stories have more appeal, especially the idea of a secret history (which strikes a cord in these paranoid, conspiracy-theory-ridden times) and another world that underlies our own and occasionally threatens to flood over into it -- in his horror or science-fiction/horror stories, always with tragic consequences; in his fantasies, with moving poignance. ... [H]e wrote a series of otherworldly fantasy stories that mark the unappreciated high point of his literary achievement. Fans of his horror tend to disparage his fantasy because it is so very different from his other work; fans of fantasy rarely discover it because they only know of him through his reputation as an eccentric hack. Only relatively few have discovered its merits on their own, making the Dream-Quest paradoxically a seldom-read classic by a much-read author."


http://terror.snm-hgkz.ch/lovecraft/html/kadath.htm

If you haven't read the Dream-Quest, and you consider yourself a fan of fantasy, you are missing out. It truly is one of the best---and one of my favorite---fantasy stories of all time. And I quoted that section from the review above because I agree with it completely and it reflects my own views perfectly.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Planet of Peril

I just finished reading Otis Adelbert Kline's Planet of Peril. Some few of you readers (if any) may possibly remember me talking about Otis and his work some two years ago, when I read his two Mars books. Essentially, he was a contemporary and less-skilled imitator of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and his Venus series (to which this book belongs) was his first foray into planetary romance.

It was OK. Like I said, OAK was not as skilled a writer as ERB. Plots seem to unroll with remarkable swiftness in OAK books, and his characters seem occasionally to be bizarre.

Nonetheless, it was fun to read this. I've got access through Project Gutenberg to the other two Venus books by OAK, so I'll probably go ahead and finish them while I'm at it.

And I might even dig around in my basement and find my Lin Carter Callisto books. Honestly, as much as I thought Lin Carter was a talentless hack, I have to admit that his planetary romance in the form of the Callisto books seem to be the best expression of the subgenre other than ERB himself.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

More Potter Post Epilogue

More: here's a section of text I cut and paste from an article describing an interview with Rowling and a few fans. A PR stunt, really, but one that gives us a bit more information.

We know that Harry marries Ginny and has three kids, essentially, as Rowling explains, creating the family and the peace and calm he never had as a child.

As for his occupation, Harry, along with Ron, is working at the Auror Department at the Ministry of Magic. After all these years, Harry is now the department head.

“Harry and Ron utterly revolutionized the Auror Department,” Rowling said. “They are now the experts. It doesn’t matter how old they are or what else they’ve done.”

Meanwhile, Hermione, Ron’s wife, is “pretty high up” in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, despite laughing at the idea of becoming a lawyer in “Deathly Hallows.”

“I would imagine that her brainpower and her knowledge of how the Dark Arts operate would really give her a sound grounding,” Rowling said.

Harry, Ron and Hermione don’t join the same Ministry of Magic they had been at odds with for years; they revolutionize it and the ministry evolves into a “really good place to be.”

“They made a new world,” Rowling said.

The wizarding naturalist
Luna Lovegood, the eccentric Ravenclaw who was fascinated with Crumple-Horned Snorkacks and Umgubular Slashkilters, continues to march to the beat of her own drum.

“I think that Luna is now traveling the world looking for various mad creatures,” Rowling said. “She’s a naturalist, whatever the wizarding equivalent of that is.”

Luna comes to see the truth about her father, eventually acknowledging there are some creatures that don’t exist.

“But I do think that she’s so open-minded and just an incredible person that she probably would be uncovering things that no one’s ever seen before,” Rowling said.

Luna and Neville Longbottom?
It’s possible Luna has also found love with another member of the D.A.

When she was first asked about the possibility of Luna hooking up with Neville Longbottom several years ago, Rowling’s response was “Definitely not.” But as time passed and she watched her characters mature, Rowling started to “feel a bit of a pull” between the unlikely pair.

Ultimately, Rowling left the question of their relationship open at the end of the book because doing otherwise “felt too neat.”

Mr. and Mrs. Longbottom: “The damage is done.”

There is no chance, however, that Neville’s parents, who were tortured into madness by Bellatrix Lestrange, ever left St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies.

“I know people really wanted some hope for that, and I can quite see why because, in a way, what happens to Neville’s parents is even worse than what happened to Harry’s parents,” Rowling said. “The damage that is done, in some cases with very dark magic, is done permanently.”

Rowling said Neville finds happiness in his grandmother’s acceptance of him as a gifted wizard and as the new herbology professor at Hogwarts.

The fate of Hogwarts
Nineteen years after the Battle of Hogwarts, the school for witchcraft and wizardry is led by an entirely new headmaster (“McGonagall was really getting on a bit”) as well as a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. That position is now as safe as the other teaching posts at Hogwarts, since Voldemort’s death broke the jinx that kept a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor from remaining for more than a year.

While Rowling didn’t clarify whether Harry, Ron and Hermione ever return to school to finish their seventh year, she did say she could see Harry popping up every now and again to give the “odd talk” on Defense Against the Dark Arts.


http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19959323/

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (with SPOILERS)

This post will contain spoilers, so if you don't want to know what's going to happen in the book, don't read it!






OK, that out of the way...

I quite liked the book. It was pretty grim compared to the earlier ones; much less humor and lots of death and other nasty fates. Lots of moral ambiguity (Harry uses the Cruciatus curse without thinking twice, for example, and even Dumbledore's shining reputation is called into question.) It was a fitting finale to all the investment we readers have in the series. HOWEVER, of course I have a few minor complaints.

1. The epilogue was really pretty bad. Not only that, it skipped over a ton of stuff that we really ought to have seen. Seeing the Harry/Ginny romantic subplot was resolved, but not seeing the resolution because it takes place off camera is quite a blow. Not finding out anything about what the main characters do after school (other than get married and have kids) was disappointing.

2. J. K. Rowling seems to have mentioned many times in the past that she wanted to end the book in such a way that no obvious follow-ups, sequels or licensed stories would be obvious. However, the way she ended so thoroughly closed the door on further adventures for Harry that it felt really forced and the "4th wall" fell to pieces as I could see her manipulating things to cut off any such talk. Blegh.

3. Not nearly enough Ginny. She's been getting more important as a character the last few books and almost dropped off the planet in this one, other than a few scenes near the beginning and a token cameo at the end.