Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Star Wars Heritage

I've been doing so many Star Wars posts that it has been (temporarily, at least) completely over-running my blog.  I'm thinking of coming up with a temporary banner that reflects it.  But, honestly... I probably won't.  Following my recent refocus, after all, Star Wars related posts are completely on-topic, along with DARK•HERITAGE posts; of which I don't have a lot of "new" material in the works anyway; it's more repackaging existing material.  So today is... more Star Wars.  More Old Republic specifically.

I haven't played it much lately, but I've watched a lot of a fairly detailed Smuggler play-through.  I'm starting to find the plotting, the writing, and the interminable stupid NPCs and their stupid quests to be tedious beyond belief.  It's almost impossible for me to believe, at this point, that I'd actually play this thing all the way through.  The game simply isn't very good.  What a shame; it's a great concept; and it's a great take on the setting (mostly.)  There's some great visual design associated with the game.  It looks pretty good (although it doesn't really look terribly better than over ten years old Knights of the Old Republic now that I mention it) but it's simply too tedious and cringe-worthy to justify playing it through.  The writing is worthy of the prequels, both in terms of roll-eyes plot holes and nonsense and in terms of face-palm bad dialogue.

As an aside, it apparently won Game of the Year by MSNBC back in 2011 or 2012 when it was newer.  That probably tells you quite a bit about it right there.  MSNBC.  Ugh.

But if I had Kathleen Kennedy or Tony To's job, what would I do to salvage the concept of the Old Republic?  Assuming that licensing rights allowed me to?

Create an animated ensemble cast TV show, probably!  Not unlike Star Wars: Rebels or the earlier Clone Wars show except with at least one big difference: I'd take an archetypal character from the game: one for each of the eight main character classes, actually: and kinda sorta rewrite their plots from the game, mingle them together somewhat, and spread them out over several seasons worth of action.  Some of the constraints of the game: most notably the need to keep players busy so they keep coming back, hence the inclusion of so many asinine and banal quests for completely unlikable and unsympathetic NPCs, will be eliminated.  In fact, all kinds of writing and pacing constraints can be replaced with some that actually work for the new medium.

You can't do anything about SJW except not hire them to write or supervise your product, I suppose.  In general, although they're not completely immune from it, the Marvel and LucasFilm divisions of Disney seem to have managed to avoid the worst of SJW excesses ruining their fun in their entertainment products, however.  I'm hopeful that they can still pull it off.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Star Wars: The Old Republic


My son has started a Bounty Hunter game, and I'm about to ditch my aged (to the point where I've forgotten most of what I've done) bounty hunter game (after coming within a hair's breadth of finishing the second planet, Dromund Kaas.)  I've watched about six hours now--in small chunks at a time--of a Smuggler play-through.  Although the recorder/player did include some flashpoints (Hammer Station, for instance) and space battles, it's a mostly heavily edited playthrough--much of the running around and fighting of respawning stock bad-guys and whatnot is not shown; it focuses much more on the dialogue, the quests, and the boss fights.  Although I'm itching to play the game a bit myself, I'm not at all blind to many of its faults.  The article linked right there, unfortunately, mentions one of the biggest ones--the free-to-play option is almost spitefully punitive compared to the subscriber option; to the point that it's occasionally frustrating to even bother with.  That said; it's still Star Wars, and it's still a reasonably fun game, or at least my past experience with it was fun.  But it's disappointing to see that it didn't live up to its potential.  The biggest problem, which is mentioned almost off-hand in the "re-review" above is that it wants to be an RPG, not an MMO, and it would be decent if it focused on being one, instead of tacking on MMO and pay-to-play options out the wazoo.

Here's my (not necessarily exhaustive) list of things that it should have done better, or not done at all:

  • Options for character creation are extremely limited.  I still remember playing the demo with all of the race options.  Cutting it back to basically human, cyborg and zabrak feels like a slap in the face.  If it were an off-line RPG, a "super-RPG" if you will (it's really almost like 8 RPGs in one; one for each character class, which each have a story of equivalent size and magnitude to the earlier Knights of the Old Republic game) with all of the options available up front, I'd be a lot happier with the result.
  • Along those lines, I'm not quite sure what in the world they were thinking with offering four body types and only making one of them (maybe two if you're generous) an attractive one to pick.  Who wants to be the scrawny little runt, or Tubby the Jedi Knight?  It's great to offer options, but if realistically you don't have good options, then what's the point?  All of the fat people in the Old Republic galaxy is a really odd choice.  I suspect weird SJW "inclusiveness" being a factor there; the designers wanted to allow fat people to feel heroic, or something equally banal and inane.  For male characters, the big beefy option isn't terrible, but I can't really see ever picking anything other than option 2 for body type.  Ever.
  • Among the MMO specific (and necessary) items that's really kind of bloody annoying is the fact that enemies respawn fairly quickly so that they can be there available for the next guy to come along.  Occasionally this isn't a bad thing; you can count on respawning bad guys to be a source of potentially unlimited (albeit tedious) XP, for instance, and when you don't feel like fighting them, you can hang back and ride on the coat tails of someone else who just cleared the area for you, I suppose.  Mostly, though--I'd just kind of prefer that I could kill the enemies and then they stay dead so I can count on the area being cleared again when I pass through a second time.
  • Another one is the multi-player missions, flashpoints, and the like.  Now, I like the idea of side quests, but I'm supremely annoyed, honestly, about having to recruit someone else to go along with me, and then hope that that works out.  What I'd rather do is be able to bring along two companions (as in Knights) and have the difficulty geared so that they could be won in single-player with two companions along.  I find all of the endless "run around killing tons of bad guys so you can fetch something" quests very tedious after a while, and it's nice that they're optional (to a point) but they could easily be less tedious if we could just do them in solo player mode offline.
  • Speaking of which, I know that the personal side-quests are part and parcel of the genre and they give players something to do without having to always be focused on the main task and all, but this actively dilutes from the Star Wars feel, frankly.  Not only that, many of the side treks are silly and petty.  From relatively early on in the smuggler story, for instance, you've got that poor nautolan guy on Coruscant who's looking for his girl friend or wife or whatever, who left him to go join a dancing troupe.  The whole thing is just awkward and embarrassing.  I can't believe anyone thought that was a good idea to write.  The brother and sister guys on Taris who are yelling at a soldier because their farm was under attack by rakghouls, and yet the soldier explaining to them over and over again that the area wasn't cleared for settlement yet, came across as extremely whiny and entitled.  We're supposed to sympathize with these guys?  I was more inclined to let them rot.  On the plus side, it is a great object lesson on some of the details of r/K-selection theory.  The writers clearly literally can't understand a scenario in which resources are too limited to allow everyone to have everything that they want.  There's actually a lot of whiny, entitled dialogue.  It's really tedious listening to the sob story of every stupid schmuck in the galaxy.  Most of whom, quite literally, are extremely stupid.
  • That said, another non-Star Wars feeling detail--the Republic aren't really the good guys.  I'm not quite sure what they were going for, but constantly showing Republic officials as either inept or corrupt (often both at once) might be realistic when it comes to real federalized government bureaucracies, but it sure doesn't feel very much like Star Wars.  It'd be a lot better if the Republic weren't portrayed as a bunch of flawed and therefore angsty do-gooders, but were instead a very light government presence who was more about ensuring freedom rather than providing a bunch of other odd and unexpected services to a gaggle of whiny, demanding, spoiled brats who claim citizenship.  The Rebellion in the original Star Wars saga wasn't a big bureaucracy, it was a flat meritocracy of can-do independent types; not unlike the settlers of the Old West or the patriots of the American revolution (which no doubt was done to some degree on purpose.)  BioWare has lost track of what Star Wars means, and that's a bad thing.  Then again, BioWare is a bit notorious for becoming a sink of SJW political correctness, so in retrospect, maybe that shouldn't be too surprising.  Sigh.  And for that matter, George Lucas himself these days sounds an awful lot like an SJW, so I think that's a battle that's been lost, for whatever it's worth.  It's not like ownership by Disney is likely to return it to anything else.
Ultimately, nothing compares to the open-ness of an actual face-to-face pen and paper RPG, such as my Star Wars m20 system, or the Edge of the Empire game by Fantasy Flight (or d20 Star Wars by Wizards of the Coast, or d6 Star Wars by West End Games, or whatever other home-brew you've come up with using GURPS, or Unisystem, or Savage Worlds or whatever in the world you use.)

Of course, this doesn't compare with the sensory experience of Star Wars, which--in spite of George Lucas' dissatisfaction with it in later years--was a huge part of the draw from the very beginning; the special effects of the Star Destroyer filling the screen for the better part of thirty seconds, the screaming of the TIE fighters overhead, the snapping and crackling of the lightsabers as they clash, the surprisingly emotive sound effects of characters like R2-D2 or Chewbacca; no matter how much one tries to describe them (and I've read a lot of Star Wars novels where writers have tried) it's an unsatisfying substitute.

I hope, still, to get the Star Wars gaming experience that I really want someday, but I don't necessarily expect it.  My expectations are rather finicky, and unlikely to be met by anyone.

EDIT: And as I go through more of the Smuggler storyline details on Youtube, I'm amazed and amused (although not in a good way) that the "Smuggler" character has a moral objection to the smuggling operation of Tyrodall.  Just idiotic.  The smuggler who dislikes smuggling.  That particular plot hole, while not monumental (it's really just kind of a side-quest type thing) is worse than any in the movies.  Then again, maybe it was the choices that the player made that you don't necessarily have to make... although you do if you want to get light side points.  Ridiculous.

EDIT 2: I should give credit where credit is due, however, to the brilliant visual design and soundtrack for the game, as well as the setting set-up, at least.  Absolutely no complaints there.  I've been listening to the soundtrack for quite a long time, actually.  The original 17 tracks are available on a CD that is... well, mostly unavailable nowadays, although I snagged a copy when they were still on sale at a reasonable price on Amazon.  And then, BioWare released most of the rest of the tracks as free mp3s which are still available on their website.  The best stuff borrows themes and cues from the original score of the movies, of course, but there's good stuff all around.  I find many of the the various cantina songs to be remarkably and surprisingly charming.  "Average Brown Wookie" is probably my favorite of these (in part because of the name) and "Run Kessel Run" has the most iconic musical references to the Cantina Band song of the first movie.

Here's a youtube playlist of the entire 45 track collection.  https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLC06B7C9CF80A3731 which includes the original soundtrack plus all of the extras.  Get yourself a good youtube to mp3 converter if you can't find the original CD anymore, and you could be listening to the entire Old Republic music during your own Star Wars RPG sessions.

EDIT 3: I should point out that the game itself uses not only its own original music, but also re-uses a lot of music from Knights of the Old Republic, which is also a BioWare game.  If you really want your own gaming session to sound like you're playing Old Republic then you probably need to find that soundtrack somewhere too... if you're really particular.  In my experience, the KotOR soundtrack isn't really all that memorable, or even listenable except as innocuous background music, but that's OK.  One might ask, why not go straight to the source; the movie soundtracks are readily enough available, and are... well, are the original?  My answer there is that individual tracks in the movies tend to change mood and tone quite a bit, often in ways that might be jarring during a game session.  Also, the music is so familiar to fans of the movies (at least to me) that I can often picture in my mind exactly what's happening at any point in the movie just by hearing the music.  This is, needless to say, a bit distracting.  The Old Republic music, on the other hand, avoids this by sounding like Star Wars without sounding like a specific Star Wars moment from the motion picture soundtracks.  To give one example: the opening cues of the track "Deception, the Sith Warrior" uses the musical cues of the Emperor from Return of the Jedi, but gives them a powerful, fast-tempo march feel that, in effect, makes it sound like "The Imperial March"; otherwise known as Vader's Theme.  This concept of taking one musical cue but making it sound like it belongs in a totally different Star Wars song gives the track resonance; it certainly sounds like it belongs with Star Wars; just not from any particular movie exactly.

EDIT 4: The absolutely crazy apologetics for rakghouls and nexu is just bizarre, not to mention the "space PETA" group that you have to deal with to get Drooga the Hutt interested in dealing with you again.  The "morality" of the game is becoming a major hindrance for my enjoyment, quite frankly.  That said; I think the storylines have elements that are worth raiding for my own potential games, mostly by completely ignoring the completely imbecilic side quests and focusing on the main stuff to use as raw building blocks with which to construct the framework of a game for me to run on my own.

EDIT 5: And now with both Alderaan and Cademimu, we're getting tons of appeasement as the "good" choice.  Neville Chamberlain would be proud of this narrative.

Star Wars m20 v. 1.1

As threatened in my last post, I made some updates to the Star Wars m20 setting document and character sheet.  For some reason, I don't have the small character sheet original source file, so it's not updated for the time being (although if I can get to it this evening, I'll do it at home where I have the ability to easily modify the pdf file directly.  Plus, I think I have the original source file stored there anyway.)

Anyway, here is the modified rules file:  http://jdyal.webs.com/StarWarsM20.pdf

And here is the modified character sheet:  http://jdyal.webs.com/StarWarsCS.pdf

The character sheet is best used if printed "duplex" style with the character information on one side of the sheet, and the starship/vehicle information on the other side.  The small character sheet includes both on one side of one page, but since it includes outdated information about classes, you'll have to fudge it just a little bit to make it work, until I can get around to fixing it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Old Republic classes as m20 Star Wars archetypes: The Smuggler

After dropping out near the end of the second planet on my bounty hunter playthrough, I've been motivated to try it again (haven't had time, but I've had motivation.  Looking to figure that out soon...)

However, I've completely lost my place with my bounty hunter.  I'm thinking of starting all over again, as a male human smuggler, I think (to be turning into a Gunslinger.)  Back in the day before The Old Republic became free to play, I played 15 levels (the demo maximum) with a female human smuggler character, and thought it was fun--and in many ways very comparable to the bounty hunter slash powertech anyway.  I've also been watching an edited playthrough with the smuggler class (mostly just the conversations and cut scenes, but with some "boss fights".  It's long--156 linked 15 minute youtube videos--but about four hours in, I'm not tired of it yet.  The same guy who posted this did one of each of the eight classes, it looks like.  I can't imagine I won't feel Old Republic youtube fatigue long before I get there, but at least in the meantime, I'm enjoying it.

With my own m20 Star Wars game (including the seeds of a 1,000 years post-Jedi setting), I have four classes, soldier, scoundrel, expert and knight.  This doesn't map exactly to the totally different type of system that Star Wars: The Old Republic uses, but rather, I see the Old Republic classes as archetypes that can be created using m20 classes in a variety of ways.  They're really more role-playing hooks rather than mechanics hooks, but I still see them as interesting interpretations of Star Warsiana that can be useful to me in my own m20 Star Wars game.

Let's start with the Smuggler, since I'm watching a playthrough of that class right now.  The Smuggler is, of course, the Han Solo archetype--heroic, but kind of reluctantly, with a patina of bad-boy attitude and Alpha male cockiness.  I see him also as a combination of the good-guy swashbuckler; a kind of British privateer like Captain Peter Blood combined with the Old West gunfighter thrown in.  A small amount of political French Résistance or American Revolutionary War partisan fighters, although they're not overly concerned with politics for the most part.

Quoting The Old Republic gaming material, the smuggler is meant to be cunning.  Smooth-talking, sneaky, and outside of the formal authority structure, they move easily through either the legitimate or underground worlds--although keep in mind that the legitimate world, as shown on places like Coruscant, is pretty Underworld-like.  Although the bounty hunter is meant to be a "bad guy" class allied (at least nominally) with the Sith Empire, the smuggler is his counterpart in most respects, and a smuggler could actually be a bounty hunter (lower case) by trade.

The Smuggler divides into two advanced classes, either the Gunslinger of the Scoundrel.  The Gunslinger focuses even more on becoming a cowboy in a space western, and adds to that demolitions, sharpshooting and dirty tricks, while the scoundrel focuses on dirty tricks, his scattergun, and--oddly--some healing abilities.  That last is almost certainly a feature required for MMO "balanced party" play and it seems curiously out of place with regards to the archetype itself.  Since I don't have advanced classes, they can be collapsed down into some firearms specialties, demolitions, and dirty tricks.

Because the Smuggler class in SW:ToR and the Scoundrel class of m20 Star Wars are both loosely based on the same archetypical character, Han Solo and his "ilk", it seems that the Smuggler archetype would best be represented by a character with the Scoundrel class with some cool guns, some customized light armor, and--of course--a hot rod space ship.  However, a character who focuses more on being a gunslinger than a scoundrel could credibly recreate this archetype with the Soldier class as well.  If your GM allows a little house-ruling, you could hybridize the two classes to get a nearly perfect Gunslinger; a soldier who, instead of a +3 to Physical takes it to his Subterfuge as the Scoundrel does.  Another option would be to take neither and take an affinity as an Expert; that way you can Demolitions or Vehicle Piloting.

Heck, it just occurs to me that I don't have Demolitions listed as an affinity, and each of the three non-Knight classes have two abilities; I can officially modify the document (version 1.1?) to allow these "hybrid" classes.  Maybe I'll even name them!  I like the concept of making a la carte classes the way I've already done with races.  Until I get the files updated, here's the skinny on this concept:
Class special abilities:

  • Combat bonus: +1 to Damage and attack at 1st level.  +2 at 4th, and +3 at 8th.
  • +3 to a skill
  •  Sneak attack: add Subterfuge modifier to damage roll when sneak attacking.  May require successful subterfuge + Dex check to sneak up on the character in the first place.
  • An Affinity: the ability to reroll a check if desired if it falls within the spectrum of a specialized area.  This includes (but may not necessarily be limited to): Vehicle Piloting, Vehicle Repair, Droid Repair, Computers, Medicine, Investigation, Nobility, Deception, Stealth, Wilderness Survival, Acrobatics, and Demolitions.
  • Lightsaber Training: can use combat bonus, but only when using a lightsaber (the ability grants the use of the weapon as well, including the ability to make a new one during downtime if the original is ever lost.)  Also, any unarmored character with this ability can add ½ his character level (rounded down) to AC, and can, instead of attacking, deflect missed blaster fire back at anyone shooting at him (rolls as if making a blaster attack, can only apply to missed shots; hits still do damage as normal and cannot be deflected.)  If the character doesn’t move or take any other action, he can use his lightsaber to “fight defensively) by adding +4 to his AC against blaster attacks.  Missed attacks when “fighting defensively” can be deflected.
  •  Soldier: Combat Bonus and +3 to Physical skill
  • Scoundrel: Sneak Attack and +3 to Subterfuge skill
  • Expert: One affinity and +3 to Knowledge Skill
  • Knight: Lightsaber Training and +3 to Force skill
However, since all classes as a combination of two abilities, you could conceivably create other classes as well.  Here’s some alternate class configurations:
  • Gunslinger: Combat bonus and affinity Demolitions
  • Bounty Hunter: Combat bonus and Sneak Attack
  • Agent: Sneak attack and affinity Stealth
  • Sith Witch: +3 Force and Force affinity

The “standard” classes are as follows:
If you don’t take the +3 to Force skill at character creation (normally only available to Knights) then you can’t use the Force skill at all, except occasionally defensively, on the occasions when you make an opposed Force skill, as in to resist a Jedi mind trick.
There isn’t really any way to create any type of Knight other than using the Knight class, since the lightsaber and Force use take up the two class abilities, leaving no room for anything else.  Tough.  Knights are supposed to be rare and unusual, not commonplace with a variety of styles.  This, of course, is contrary to the class selection in Old Republic, which has no fewer than half of the options as varieties of Knights.

New m20 Iconics: Ottvar Aeldstan

Ottvar is a hard man, and a very large one as well.  Unless drunk, he's a man of fairly few words and a sour demeanor.  Ottvar served as a young man with the Variagoi Guard in Terassa itself, but after making a fair bit of money, he tired of the regimented life, and struck out on his own.  He returned to his homeland in the north, where he found himself increasingly in conflict with bandits of Terassan stock and wandering Untash tribesmen, so he tired again, and headed back into more settled Terassan lands, where there were fewer of his race, but many semi-Terassanized people who saw him as a long-lost kindred spirit.

Although he dislikes violence, he is good at it, and has usually found work as a hired guard, soldier, mercenary or other field in which the potential for violence was paramount.  But what he really ached for was more settled work, and he used his savings from his time as a Variagoi to buy a farm, settle down, get married, and work in a small village.  He enjoyed this work for only a short time, however.

A wandering clan of Tarushan gypsies passed through.  It's not clear if they were traveling with an incognito vampire or ghoul cult, or if they simply had a vicious bokor among them, but Ottvar's wife--and many others of the village--were kidnapped, and most were killed.  Ottvar led the villagers, mostly hardy farmers of scramasaex and nordero heritage, in an effort to recover them.  Ottvar's own wife, turned into a rather nasty zombie, was put down by his own hand.

After this, his heart was no longer in farming.  He gave custody of his plot of land to a good local friend and went to Porto Liure.  Falling in with the group those who hunt supernatural threats and protect innocents from their depredations has given him some meaning, and he takes pride in what he does and what he has become.

Ottvar is large and extremely strong.  With barbarically styled blond hair, piercing pale eyes, a fabulous moustache, and deeply tanned and freckled skin, he's easy to spot among the mostly olive-skinned and dark-haired ethnic Terassans who make up the majority of the folks of Porto Liure, and his name and a pale shadow of what he actually does is known to many in the city.  Few, even among the criminals, are willing to get in his way--not only because he is very large, strong, potentially violent and intimidating, but because his service to the city is known and respected by most.

Character sheet:
Name: Ottvar Aeldstan
Class/Level: Fighter 3
Race: Human (scramasaex)
Sex: Male
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 240 lbs.
Hair Color: Blond
Eye Color: Gray
Skin Color: Tanned
STR: 18 (+4)
DEX: 12 (+1)
MND: 12 (+1)
Hit Points: 33
Armor Class: 18 (medium armor)
Athletics: +7
Communication: +4
Knowledge: +4
Subterfuge: +4
Survival: +4
Melee To Hit: +8
Ranged To Hit: +5
Magic To Hit: +5
Wealth on Hand: 24 gp, 16 sp, 57 cp
Weapons: Claymore 1d10 + 5 damage
Rifle 2d8 + 1 damage 300 ft.
Other Equipment: Chain shirt (medium), backpack, bedroll, winter blanket, traveler's outfit, fish hook, flint and steel, lamp, waterskin, pack horse, saddlebags
Spells: None

Monday, December 08, 2014

Gaming in the new year

One might notice my general lack of gaming topics lately (which in turn, has caused this blog to slow down considerably, since gaming topics is its primary raison d'être, while other topics of which I'm a fan and occasionally like to blog have largely been removed to other blogs of mine.

Which are also moving slowly, I might add.  Part of this is simple; I've just been really busy, and I feel little intellectual capital remains to blog about things.  This can also be seen by anyone who's noticed that the books I'm reading haven't been updated in a long time either.  But with regards to this particular blog, and it's particular niche, I thought maybe a little more was in order.

Our gaming group has gone largely fallow lately.  We're at the point where we play, if we're lucky, once every two or three months or so.  And even then, I haven't been to the last two sessions that we've had, because they ended up falling on days where I had a conflict, but since everyone else was available, they decided it wasn't worth it to hold up the session on my account (a determination that I completely agree with, by the way, for what it's worth, etc.)  This means that gaming has kind of fallen into a state of disrepair when it comes to hobbies that are getting active attention and interest from me.  I've also been feeling that, while it needs a brusque restructuring and reorganization, my own DARK•HERITAGE setting is largely pretty complete--it doesn't really need a lot of new material in order to be useful to me.  Rather, it needs a project to put it to use.  This could be a game I run, although clearly I don't have anything in the hopper that's likely to happen in the near future.

Because I'm busy (and tired) when blogging, I'm not able to get excited about blogging about a hobby that I'm doing very little with, currently.  So, in a nutshell, that's why it's slowed way down and gotten very quiet.

What do I intend to do, then?  A few things:

  • Probably mothball some of my esoteric setting development exercises, specifically SOLNOR, ODD D&D, REALMS TRAVELER, AD ASTRA, and HYBRID DREAMLANDS.  I'm not cancelling them exactly, but they are going into "development hell" as they say in the movie biz, to be pulled off the shelf and discussed maybe some more when conditions are more favorable again.
  • Continue (or start, really) the restructuring and reorganizing of the flagship DARK•HERITAGE setting that was precipitated by the dying of free wikispaces wikis, and migration to Google Sites.  One thing that I've been very interested in doing for a long time is literally redrawing the map, renaming a few sites, and having it all established as a digital file that I can link to.  Discussing my setting in the abstract without showing a map has been difficult for me, as I'm a bit of a cartographic kinda guy; I've always loved a good fantasy setting map.  Give updates here as this progresses, including cutting and pasting some of the content that I think is interesting enough to warrant it here.
  • Continue with my development of a 1,000-years Post Jedi Star Wars setting.  Maybe even attempt to run something in this space for my younger boys.
  • Continue to update my other blogs, including my hiking and backpacking blog in particular (my paleontology, electronic music fan-dom and fighting game blogs don't have much going on, and probably will remain so for the foreseeable future.)
  • Figure out some way to jump-start my long lingering fiction attempts in my flagship DARK•HERITAGE setting.  Finding time and mental energy to devote to to writing fiction has proven difficult at the end of long and busy days, but I'm going to come up with something, because if I don't, I'll be extremely disappointed.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Some Star Wars potential spoilers

Don't read this if you're averse to spoilers.  Although these are more truthfully claimed as rumors, not spoilers.


The Rule of Two was bypassed with the foundation of the Inquisitors.  Viewers of Star Wars: Rebels are not surprised.  No New Republic, though?  Cool.


Didn't he see the International Trailer?  Rumors: new series on the way for TV; presumably not to replace Rebels, but to run alongside it.  Cool.

Monday, December 01, 2014

New Star Wars trailers

Yeah, yeah... you've already seen it.  And what's the deal with my lack of activity?  Well, the second is harder to answer, so I'll leave it for now and just link up to the two new trailers.  Two? Sure, you saw the international version too, right?  It's totally different than the US trailer.

Friday, November 07, 2014

New m20 Iconics: Ibbisin Nannar

Ibbisin Nannar is a hamazin kemling expatriate.  Born in glittering Simashki to a concubine of a leading light of the Cherskii Mafia, she was at a young age viewed as potentially useless and nearly put out on the street.  However, a friendly trainer for the Mafia saw in her a spark of potential; a ruthlessness and deviousness, willingness to take risks, and talent as a thief, and she was allowed to remain, and even trained by the assassins guild within the Mafia.  In this, she excelled far beyond her trainer's expectations, yet still she was passed over in favor of stronger and even more ruthless men in her class.  Correctly perceiving, at the young age of 16, that she was a liability to the Mafia if they weren't going to use her, she escaped Simashki and traveled south, eventually arriving in Porto Liure.

Ibbisin has an intimate acquaintance with The Shadow.  In Simashki, she was raised in a cell that still clung to the Old Ways; the original charter of the Cherskii Mafia that is largely forgotten by most who remain in the organization today, especially those who live expatriate lives.  She was tutored and educated in arcane arts, although she herself is no spellcaster, and fears The Shadow tremendously.  

On arriving in Porto Liure, she had little to her name other than her skills, so she quickly put them to work as a cat burglar, and before long she had amassed a fairly significant bit of wealth.  She soon found, however, that she had brought upon herself unwanted attention not only by the Watch in Porto Liure, but also from other criminals and organized crime, including that of the local Cherskii Mafia.  Of course, she had no reason to suspect that the local Mafia would be aware of her connection to that of Simashki, but this scared her into keeping a lower profile.  After fencing her goods, she found that she had enough to set herself up as a student at the Academy, and at the age of 17, was an independent young girl living in the dormitories.

She was fated to find herself still in trouble, however--her room-mate, a Terrasan girl named Natalia Miroz was caught in the Fall of the Church of Starry Wisdom.  Somewhat reluctantly, Ibbisin helped her room mate escape trial and sure sentencing to execution by firing squad (witchs are traditionally shot and their bodies burned in Porto Liure, by law).  Natalia is still out there in Porto Liure somewhere, in hiding, and using her growing arcane power to bring woe to the city that condemned her and her colleagues to death.

Ibbisin fell in with Vaz do Camões a year ago--now four years after the Fall of the Church.  While still young, she is experienced and hardened, and her fear and respect for the supernatural has grown.  She immediately saw the value in working with a group that is pledged to combat its baleful influence in the city, and agreed to join the small group (at the time, it was only Vaz do Camões himself, and his "bodyguard" Ottvar Golovskin.

Ibbisin does not live on the Rua like most of the rest of the group (for one thing, it's proximity to the Church of Starry Wisdom makes her uneasy)--rather, she maintains a presence at the Academy, posing as nothing more than a student.  Now that she no longer has to pay for her own tuition, room and board, she intends to continue studying for as long as she's allowed; not only does she enjoy learning for its own sake, but she is well aware that the temptation many students have to delve into knowledge that should be left alone brings many threats to the Academy itself.  She has positioned herself with a minor staff role in the Biblioteque at the Academy, and keeps an eye open at all times.  Although she is retired as a cat burglar, and her training as an assassin never actually culminated in working as one, she is still extremely stealthy, and uses her skills to further the aims of the iconics' group.

Character sheet:
Name: Ibbisin Nannar
Class/Level: Rogue 3
Race: Kemling (hamazin)
Sex: Female
Height: 5'5"
Weight: 125 lbs.
Hair Color: Black
Eye Color: Yellow
Skin Color: Sooty dark gray
STR: 13 (+1)
DEX: 16 (+3)
MND: 14 (+2)
Hit Points: 26
Armor Class: 16 (light armor)
Athletics: +3
Communication: +3
Knowledge: +3
Subterfuge: +6
Survival: +3
Melee To Hit: +4
Ranged To Hit: +6
Magic To Hit: +5
Wealth on Hand: 21 gp, 13 sp, 4 cp
Weapons: Machete 1d6 + 1 damage
Bow 1d8 damage 500 ft.
Pistol 2d6 damage 100 ft.
Other Equipment: Leather armor (light), Bedroll, Bell, Candle, Chalk, Courtier's outfit, Explorer's outfit, Crowbar, Flint and steel, Grappling hook, Hooded lantern, Lock, Mirror, Rope, Signet ring
Spells: None
Notes: Sneak attack, Night vision

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Game books as a gateway into gaming

Although I technically played D&D (once) before, or at least about the same time as I stumbled across the concept of the interactive book, I think it's fair to say that the interactive book had a much stronger impact on me and helped grease the skids so that I would later be attracted to the notion of gaming in the first place.  In the late 70s and throughout much of the 80s, there were a whole host of these kinds of books, most of them spawned by success of the very first series, Choose Your Own Adventure.  I discovered them in an English class in probably 3rd grade or so?  Possibly 2nd?  I ended up buying about three dozen of them over the years, many of which I still have (although not all.)  I believe the first one I read was actually the first one period: Cave of Time, although it later turned out that a book I read later, Sugarcane Island in the Which Way Books series was actually the true first book in the series, published in a small imprint.  The ones I knew were the ones published by Bantam and widely available almost everywhere after they had been in print in limited form for some time.  One of my favorites was the first Which Way book, The Castle of No Return, which was a fair bit darker than most of the actual CYOA's, and which featured a haunted house theme, basically--but which might also instead have turned into a spy or thriller type theme, depending on what choices you made.

Of course, I also liked a lot of the actual, original CYOA series; Third Planet from Altair, The Cave of Time, The Race Forever, By Balloon to the Sahara, Space Patrol, Escape, and others still remain fixed in my memory as fond remembrances of my childhood.  I actually tried to look some of them up at the library, and I found that while back in print again, they have all new art and modified text.  Reading The Race Forever without the old Paul Grainger art and being able to pick my Toyota Jeep was just plain wrong.  It didn't take.  Sadly, that's not one that I managed to keep.  One of these days, I'll probably seek out a used copy.

It didn't take long before people with ties to the gaming industry decided to make use of the concept.  There were actually official D&D CYOA books, called Endless Quest, although I don't remember actually liking them much.  Rather, I liked the ones that actually had a few character sheets, some rules, and expected you to roll dice and enact combats by yourself against monsters.  One thing that these did, also, was greatly increase the number of sections by not limiting themselves to one section per page.  The first I discovered of these were the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, which are still probably the best and most iconic.  Luckily, however, I didn't discover the first in the series first, because Warlock of Firetop Mountain, while considered an iconic classic by some, was really frustrating and frankly kind of ugly.  Instead, I ended up with Forest of Doom and City of Thieves first (although I later bought maybe half a dozen others.)  As you can imagine if you've read my old posts on my setting, the latter was right up my alley especially.  Although I didn't retain either of my copies of those over the years, I have since bought a used copy of City of Thieves again.  What great artwork that book had!  The cover art, on the other hand, was a bit sketchy.  On the other hand, the cover art for The Forest of Doom caught my eye immediately.  It's not a bad book, but it wasn't as good as some of the others that I read.  City of Thieves is still a good read, but the "system" in the books is laughably inadequate.  You're better off ignoring it completely and just reading through.

In the other hand, the Lone Wolf books had a decent system, and that was part of the fun.  You could actually equip your character, and have a few noticeable differences in how the book unfolded depending on how you did so.  The Lone Wolf books also had a thread, or "meta story" that unfolded across the titles, and its own setting, which was enumerated in a separate book (which I own.)  I no longer have any of the old Lone Wolf books (other than the setting book), but hey, guess what?  You can read them for free online, thanks to the generosity of the creator and copyright holder!  Check it out!  I had, at one point, more than half a dozen Lone Wolf books, but only the setting book, or The Magnamund Companion still remains in my possession.  I especially recall really enjoying this bit of cover art here, although altogether the series was quite good.

Lastly, the final (and my favorite) series was Tolkien Quest, which only had a few entries before being renamed Middle Earth Quest (this shouldn't be terribly surprising given my decades long love affair with the work of Tolkien.)  This was then later cancelled before the majority of the entries once listed were actually published.  It was produced by I.C.E., the publishers (and developers) of Middle Earth Roleplaying (MERP), a reasonably popular game of the 80s that was semi-compatible with their generic roleplaying system, Rolemaster.

Although I've never actually played any MERP, I do have a copy of one of the editions of it that I bought years ago and can't bring myself to throw away (even though I literally haven't pulled it out to look at it in years, and I've become somewhat disenchanted with the execution over time.)  The Tolkien Quest books actually allowed for you to play using MERP characters, although it also came with its own system.  The Tolkien Quest system was somewhat lightweight compared to MERP (which was somewhat lightweight compared to its parent system Rolemaster; but let's face it, the entire I.C.E. output was notorious for its compexity) but it was still significantly more complicated than anything that another gamebook provided.  Rather, I think where Tolkien Quest really shined was its ability to emulate a hex crawl of sorts.

There was a map on glossy cardstock included with the book that had numbered hexes on it.  The text of the book itself was broken up into two main sections (not counting the rules; I guess I should make that three sections.)  One of them was very typical for gamebooks, and had numbered sections that you read, you'd make selections and choices and then be instructed to go to another section based on your choices and selections.  But another vast section was keyed to the map.  To actually progress through the book, you would start out in hex, and once you did everything you could in that hex, and read all of the sections that you might have had to read for that hex, you simply moved to a new hex--any new hex that was adjacent to the one you just left.

The first (and in my brief experience, the best) of these books was Night of the Nazgûl, which had your character starting off in Bree shortly prior to Frodo's exit from Hobbiton.  You were tasked by Gandalf (if I recall) with making your way to Hobbiton to warn Frodo to leave at once.  The map gave you a fairly straight road to cross, but if you went to the bridge that crossed the Brandywine, you'd eventually come across a Black Rider and be in trouble, which would encourage you to explore the cross country hexes a bit.  This allows you to, for example, explore the Barrow-downs or the Old Forest.  Or perhaps visit some parts of the Shire or Bree-land that are mentioned briefly but not really seen in the text of The Lord of the Rings such as Tuckburough, Scary, Stock, Frogmorton, Archet, etc.  This hex crawl exploration was truly brilliant, I thought, but it didn't work quite as well for areas that were smaller (such as the other of the two books in the series that I originally bought, which took place on Weathertop, and also had "dungeons" below the fallen tower.  Of course.  :/)  It also didn't work quite as well on the third book that I picked up later, which took place in Mirkwood, featured a visit with Radagast, and had a rather bland overland map without much in the way of interesting or useful features to explore, really.

Just for the heckuvit, and because it wasn't hard to find them online, here's a link to the west and east sides of the Night of the Nazgûl map, just so you can see what it looks like.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

My favorite holiday.  And my favorite "Halloween carol..."


I really love a good Jeep.  Ever since I was a little kid, I've coveted one of these, and it hasn't ever made sense for me to have one yet.  The year fast approaches, however, where it will.  I'll be past the point of supporting kids (or at least some of them), I won't need to haul them around, and I'll be indifferent to the price of gas (to a certain extent) and the practicality of my vehicle.  Plus, as I've made hiking and backpacking a major hobby again, I've found that the ability to drive on some of these really bad roads to get to remote trailheads is actually a practical concern after all.

That said, I see Jeep as a type of vehicle moreso than as a brand.  Ironically, most Jeeps are not jeeps (just as Libertarians are not necessarily libertarians.)  I don't know how a Grand Cherokee can qualify when it's really just a soccer mom SUV with only minimal off-road capability (or styling, for that matter) to call itself a true Jeep, an actual descendant with similar capabilities as the old GP's or Jeep-class light utility vehicle.  And there are a number of others that I'd love to drive, but since we don't live in a free country anymore... I can't.  They've been legislated out of legality here in the US, usually due to spurious association with "global warming"--a non-scientific theory which has just recently made the news again after it was rather prominently denounced and debunked by a wide variety of experts who are finally going public--a little late, since the general public has seen for years that "global warming"--whether under that name, or the more nebulous new labels it's been getting like climate change or climate disruption--is intellectually bankrupt.

Ahem.  Anyway, Jeeps.  My first love is probably, of course, the actual Jeep Wranger, which luckily are readily available in the US.  But I wouldn't mind getting my hands on any of these perfectly acceptable surrogates, if I could.
The original, with lift kit and big super-swamper tires.  Beautiful, even in Caterpillar orange.

The Land Rover Defender, or "Landy"--the best and most widespread ersatz Jeep, inspired by the MBs seen in Europe during WW2.  Sadly, this icon will cease production at the end of 2015, and it's never been for sale in the US--even though you can get them almost everywhere else.
The Chevy Niva, for the Russian market.  Although it has the look of a "sport cute" as much as an honest-to-goodness light utility vehicle, it's still been engineering to be relatively capable.  I'd take one.
Troller T4, a Brazilian vehicle which has been part of the Ford family for a few years now.  This is the upcoming redesign, and holy cow is it hot.  I really wish Ford would bring these guys over.  Isn't there a market among the old Bronco buyers for something like this?  My favorite of the current crop of ersatz Jeeps.  Plus, I like that it's with Ford, which isn't owned by Italians, and which wasn't given millions of dollars by the federal government just to go ahead and declare bankruptcy anyway.
Some new Land Rover concepts.  Whatever ends up replacing the Defender will probably look something like this.  Sport cute?  Yeah, kinda.  But also very sporty and probably reasonably capable.  As long as I can get them with a lift kit and big tires; these particular ones with the low profile tires and fairly non-aggressive approach angles aren't going to be rock-crawling anytime soon.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

New Marvel announcement

I've been way too busy to focus on the development of my new DARK•HERITAGE site (possibly exacerbated by the fact that it's not going to be terribly different from the old one, really, which means it's less exciting to work on.)  I've also been too busy to give too much thought to my campaign noodling projects, such as AD ASTRA, SOLNOR, HYBRID DREAMLANDS, ODD D&D, or heck, I might as well throw REALMS TRAVELER and EBERRON REMIXED into that while I'm at it, right?

Frankly, I haven't had much time to even game, much less develop games.  Work has swamped me, personal life has been very busy.  I'm not even reading very fast anymore.  This means that my normal suite of topics has been kinda dry for several months, and I've been struggling to think of meaningful things to post about.  I did, however, make a trip report post on my hiking blog.  Check it out, if you're at all interested in that kind of thing.  I've got one more yet to do on that trip before I'm done; it was big enough that I split the trip report into three posts.

In keeping with the season, I've watched a few scary things here and there, but I'd like to do more.  I got Mama and The Grudge for my daughter, who wanted to watch one of the two of them for a Halloween party with the rest of her teenager friends.  I've seen the latter but not the former, and thought it was quite good.  I've also been wanting to watch the remake of The Wolfman in October for quite some time now, but haven't done it in the last few years.  Maybe this will be my year.  I did, however, watch the second half of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, specifically the part where Mr. Toad ends and Ichabod begins.  The Disney Headless Horseman retelling has always been one of my absolute favorite Halloween stories and I've had a tradition for many years of watching it.  It's short; can't be more than about half an hour, and it's fun.  A true classic.  Although the tone is mostly silly, the Headless Horseman itself is a reasonably frightening entity as portrayed here.  Not bad, Disney.  Plus, you can never go wrong with Bing Crosby.

However, what I think is the biggest and most interesting news is the announcement of a full slate of Phase III Marvel movies yesterday.  Some of them were surprising, but many were not.  In any case, there's a lot more news available than there had been for some time.  Marvel is, of course, done for 2014, and we will have the final two Phase II films next summer; Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man, which surprisingly, has been under development for a long time, and which so excited Marvel's production company that they bent over backwards to accommodate it.

Phase III then kicks off with Captain America: Civil War in 2016 that will feature Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man (thus validating a number of rumors that he managed to insert himself into the Marvel management's consciousness as necessary to move forward.)  This also gives us some hints as to how Avengers 2 may end.  Dr. Strange is next, which isn't terribly surprising either, given that his character was notably mentioned in Captain America: Winter Soldier, fueling speculation that there was a strong desire to get him on the schedule.  Although filming hasn't yet started, apparently Benedict Cumberbatch is strongly favored for the role and is in negotiations for it as we speak.

In 2017, we get three movies: Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (about which we know very little), Thor: Ragnarok (which hopefully doesn't have the stupid "Asgard in Oklahoma" finale that it did in the comic books--I'd be happier if it was more similar to how Thor #400 ended up as an expression of the Ragnarok myth.  The third is Black Panther, who as a character will debut in Captain America 3 first, actually.  The next year, he gets his solo film.

2018 also gives us three films: Avengers: Infinity War Part 1, in which the Thanos threat (presumably) makes its appearance, Captain Marvel (with Carol Danvers; it's rumored that Emily Blunt is favored for the part, but that's just a rumor) and.... Inhumans.  Yeah, that's a weird one.  Then again, that's what I thought about Guardians of the Galaxy too, and the Inhumans could work out interestingly.  The second two movies also suggest that the Kree are somehow associated with the Infinity War in some way or another, and that Inhumans and Captain Marvel would be spin-offs of a sort from that.

The last Phase III film is slated for 2019 and is Avengers: Infinity War Part 2, which given the close release dates will probably share much of its principle photography with Part 1, a process pioneered with the Back to the Future series and cemented as viable with the Lord of the Rings films.

There are also persistent rumors of work being done on a Black Widow project, a Nick Fury project, and an Iron Fist project, although clearly none of them have made the release announcement yet.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Top 5 80s songs

The other day, I was talking to some of my kids about 80s songs (I was probably listening to Pandora on the stereo smart TV too.)  My kids always want to rank things.  I have a harder time actually doing it.  I like stuff.  I like some stuff even more.  I don't like other stuff.  But forced rankings?  Those are hard for me.  That said, we had a discussion about our top 5 80s songs, and I thought for the heckuvit, I'd post them here.

Given my predilections, it shouldn't be surprising that for the most part, I'm going to lean towards post punk New Wave, especially stuff that has a drum machine and a synthesizer as the main instruments.  But not exclusively.

In no particular order (and if you ask me again next month, there may be some significant differences in my choices.  Maybe.)

"Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order.

I've included the official music video version, but for years, the version (and only version) that I had was the 12" one that's included on Substance.  In the meantime, I've come to also really love the Richard X remix.  It's a little tough to leave off "Blue Monday" but I think I should only have one song per band or artist when I'm only picking five songs anyway, and I do like "Bizarre Love Triangle" better.  And, as an aside, when I first met my wife, we danced to "True Faith."  I like both of the other mentioned songs better than that one, though.  Sorry, hon.

"If You Leave" by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

You can probably see why I tend to just write OMD; that British spelling of maneuvers is killing me.  Every single time I write it.

I don't actually really like the movie Pretty in Pink all that much, but for whatever reason, OMD's "If You Leave" definitely makes the cut of one of the top songs of the decade at me.  Never featured on any album other than the soundtrack for the movie and OMD's various greatest hits compilations is kind of a real shame; you have to go a little bit out of your way to pick this one up (along with their other great song, "Dreaming".)  For what it's worth, this song also makes my teen-aged daughter's list, but she is a big fan of Pretty in Pink.  In fact, she watches the movie on Netflix every couple of months or so.

"Behind the Wheel" by Depeche Mode

It's hard to pick a single Depeche Mode song.  I think that Music for the Masses is my favorite album of theirs, though (although that's a hard pick), and of the songs on that album, certainly "Behind the Wheel" is my favorite.  I think "Enjoy the Silence" is the single most iconic DM song ever, and probably their single best single, but it was not released in the 80s (5 February 1990) and more properly belongs, of course, along with the rest of Violator with the transition into 90s post-New Wave Alternative music.

I've included the album version rather than the single version, which was remixed and which misses out on a lot of the dark droning menace of the album version, honestly.  There's also a very interesting Vince Clark remix of the song that came out much more recently.

"A Little Respect" by Erasure

To show that I'm not all dark and edgy with my synthesizer New Wave music, I should probably put something like Erasure on the list too (although I'm also tempted by Book of Love and Pet Shop Boys for this slot.)  And among Erasure's songs, is it "A Little Respect" or "Oh, L'amour" that gets the nod?  I'm going with the former just because The Innocents was the first Erasure CD I picked up and I have some nostalgic attachments to it above and beyond the others for that reason alone.  There's a great 12" for "A Little Respect" including an Extended Mix and a Big Train Remix.  The 12" Vocal and Dub remixes, on the other hand, are not worth the trouble.

"Animal" by Def Leppard

Not everything that I listen to and like is synthesizer New Wave from the second half of the decade, though.  As we get to the "bottom" of the top five, I'm finding more and more that there is a ton of material competing to be on the list.  But, hard choices have to be made!  Duran Duran gets edged out, as does a-ha, Real Life, and a bunch of other similar artists.  In fact, I think that I definitely need representation from at least one of the "hair rock" bands of the 80s.  For this selection, I went with my favorite track from Hysteria, which is truly one of the greatest albums of all time.  Competition for the glam metal bands was pretty fierce, though--strong output from guys like Quiet Riot, Whitesnake, Mötley Crüe, Van Halen, Ratt and more merited consideration.  At the end of the day, there could only be one, however, and "Animal" gets the nod.