Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Warlock's Review: Cowboys and Aliens

Being a geek has its ups and downs.  For every Iron Man, The Dark Knight, or Captain America: The First Avenger that comes out, we also get a Green Lantern, a Batman and Robin or Elektra.  Excitement and enthusiasm can carry you so far, but at the end of the day, a filmmaker has to make a good film.

Let's get this straight from the outset:  Cowboys and Aliens is not a good film.

Cowboys and Aliens
Utterly generic, with massive flaws.
I had really high hopes for this one, tied primarily to my irrational Deadlands obsession in recent months.  But, even outside of my fanboy-ism, I had reason to be excited.  Daniel Craig's career has been on the rise, and he single-handedly rejuvenated the James Bond franchise with a stellar performance in Casino Royale.  Harrison Ford is...well, he's Harrison Ford!  If you don't know who he is, crawl out from under your rock!  Director Jon Favreau took Iron Man and made it into the gold-standard for comic-book movies.  Olivia Wilde provided eye candy for the otherwise-uninspired Tron: Legacy and made it watchable.  Where could we go wrong?

Oh, so many ways, as it turned out.

First off, let's talk about the plot.  It's razor-thin, and the characters ramble through it like they're lost.  Aliens are attempting to infiltrate the earth, looking for gold (we never do find out why, though).  They're abducting human specimens to find out our weaknesses, in preparation for a full invasion.  Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) is an amnesiac survivor of an abduction, with a metal death-ray shooting bracelet attached to his wrist.

As we find out within the first ten minutes--some amnesia, huh?--Lonergan is the leader of a gang of banditos who have robbed the local cattle baron Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford).  Both Lonergan and Dolarhyde's son get arrested after a brawl in town, but when the titular aliens raid the town, Lonergan is released to lead the town's survivors against the aliens.  For the next hour and a half, Lonergan, Dolarhyde and their motley crew of survivors wrangle Lonergan's banditos, some local Apache warriors, and anyone else they can find in a last-ditch battle against the invaders.

Character development is at an utter premium in Cowboys and Aliens.  No.  Scratch that.  Character development is a liability in this movie.  The most interesting character, by far, is the preacher who patches up Lonergan at the start of the movie, then joins the posse....but he dies less then a third of the way into the movie.  After his death, we meet Dolarhyde's ward--an Apache trail-guide and translator who looks at Dolarhyde as a father, even has Dolarhyde pushes him away.  He, too--the only major ethnic character, of course--dies. 

Olivia Wilde's only expression in "Cowboys and Aliens"
Also note the utter lack of lighting--the majority of the movie
is that dim, the entire way through.
Lonergan himself is meant to be an homage to Clint Eastwood's immortal Man With No Name, but his Craig's natural charisma is entirely wasted.  The PlatinumChick came away from the movie asking seriously whether Craig had more than 20 lines in the whole movie.  Harrison Ford--one of the greatest action stars of the modern era, seems more like an old man as he dodders through his scenes.  Olivia Wilde exudes no personality as the mystery woman, Ella, and she could have just as easily been playing her computer-program alter-ego from Tron: Legacy.  A small bright spot is found in the saloon-owner, played by Sam Rockwell, but his development arc is cut short when the aforementioned preacher is killed. 

Cinematography, in addition, suffers greatly.  For all of the time spent on CGI and the interesting design on the aliens, we see very little of them.  The lighting in Cowboys and Aliens and the speed at which the aliens' scenes are shot make them all but impossible to get a good look at.  Hell, most of the film is difficult to see, as the lighting is dimmed to the point of illegibility.  I understand that the movie is meant to be a "period authentic" piece, but if the audience can't see what's going on, what's the point?

As if all of this wasn't bad enough, the movie reeks of lazy, poorly designed storytelling.  As I mentioned earlier, nearly every character that evolved or developed through the course of the story ended up dead before their arc could be completed.  But, instead of developing these characters (or even keeping them around!), the writers replace any sense of genuine emotion or fondness for the characters with...a kid and a dog.

Congress just got blown up, but who cares... long as the puppy survives!
This is lazy, sloppy writing.  We don't care about the kid or the dog as characters--we're utterly uninvested in them, outside of the fact that they're a kid or a dog.  This is the same poor writing that was bad 15 years ago, in Independence Day.  Rather than focusing on actual characters, the writers ride the simple fact that no one wants to watch the fluffy puppy die. 

Stepping out of the car last night--we saw Cowboys and Aliens at a drive-in, with some of the other WittKids--the only movie that I could compare Cowboys and Aliens to was Green Lantern.  Both were highly hyped, highly budgeted movies with star power, which both collapsed under their own pathetic writing, poor cinematography, and lack of character development.  Save your money, fellow gamers.  Don't even bother renting Cowboys and Aliens.  Watch the trailer two or three times, and you've seen all you need to see.  The Warrior's Way was a better offbeat Western movie than this.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

In Which The Warlock Muses on Mechanics...

Since returning from our trip to Pennsylvania two weeks ago, I've been plugging away at Cold Steel Wardens to the tune of 3,000 words a day, on average.  Occasionally, I'll take a day off--usually to play in Will the ManMan's Deadlands game or to take in one of the summer blockbusters--but my 5,000-6,000 word-per-day spikes more than make up for those. 

Writing all of this from scratch has actually made me a little more respectful for the role-playing game authors who have come before.  The vast majority of modern games--D&D, for instance--has entire teams of writers on staff, which allows individuals to focus on individual sections, then exchange those sections for revision and editing.  That's precisely how things worked, with my fellow Cubicle 7 freelancers--after one of us finished a piece, it was uploaded to a private GoogleDocs group, for others to read and offer suggestions.

However, I don't have a team for Cold Steel Wardens.  It's just me.  And that's led to me to realize quite a few things:

  • Writing equipment sucks.  In all seriousness, it's a giant table.  You'd figure that it'd be easy, right?  Wrong.  It's tedious, doesn't fit well in a Word document, and there's always some aspect of it that you're forgetting.  You want to offer enough options to keep "hardcore" gamers happy, but be streamlined enough to avoid the problems of a game like Stargate SG-1 d20, which has pages upon pages of equipment rules.
  • Options create complexity.  The more options you have, the more complex the game becomes.  Makes sense, right?  Problem is, gamers want options.  Even in seemingly simple games like ICONS or even Call of Cthulhu, players crave the ability to have different abilities and different focuses.  After all, no one wants to play the same character time after time, right?  However, for every additional option that I input--for every Mastery that alters a Skill's use or Optional Effect for a base Power--things get more complex.  That makes writing difficult, to say the least.
  • If I pull this off, I'm going to expand the rules-set into a "generic" system for investigation.  The MAFIANAP mechanics that I've created are really streamlined and hand-built to focus on low-powered, street-level supers, and criminal investigations.  A sourcebook, similar to the Savage Worlds--Explorers' Edition, would be spectacular in this regard--something to put out the mechanics, minus the setting info and the like, in a way that would be useful for games meant to emulate shows like 24, Burn Notice, and Leverage as well as comics like Sin City
  • The biggest test for me is going to be a matter of replicating the characters that were an inspiration for this game:  Green Arrow and Black Canary, The Question, Huntress, Batman, Daredevil, Marv and Dwight from Sin City, Captain America, and several others.  If I can build them accurately with this system, I know I'll have done a great job.
  • Balance is an illusion, until it hits play.  I've done my best, so far, to keep options balanced.  A Hero in CSW with no powers will have more points to spend on Vitals, Skills, and Masteries than a Hero with quite a few Powers.  However, I know that the real test of balance comes in playtesting.  I'm hoping to have the rules-set playable by the end of August, in time for an alpha-test campaign at Witt this semester...
But, it's all coming together, and that's what important!  Here's for hoping that someone wants to publish my little brainchild once it's done...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

In Which The Warlock Nukes Catan!

So, at our New Year's party, I came upon the idea of a variant for a certain game that I typically can't stand--Settlers of Catan--to make it a little more "active" in terms of competition.  That's my biggest problem with Catan...there's very little active competition with other players.  Rather, you simply race to beat your competitors, occasionally hindering them by inflicting "The Robber" on them.

As such, I came up with the "Nuclear Option" for Catan.  Simply put, a character could spend 2 Stone and 2 Clay to build a Nuclear Missile, which would be launched immediately.  Launching a Nuclear Missile would perform one of three tasks:
  • Destroy an opposing Settlement.
  • Reduce an opposing City to a Settlement.
  • Destroy any two adjoining Roads.
Advance the Doomsday Clock!
We also used a few limiting factors.  Players could not use a Nuclear Missile against a foe with only 2 Victory Points, and usage of a Nuclear Missile would add to the "Doomsday Clock".  Starting at 1:00, the Doomsday Clock increased by 1 hour with each Nuclear Missile launch.  If the clock struck Midnight, then Catan would officially become unliveable, covered in fallout and nuclear radiation.

With FridayNightWill, Chris II, and the PlatinumChick alongside me, we broke out this variant for the first time last night, and the results were...pretty impressive, really!

By and large, gameplay was unchanged.  Clay was a premium in our game, due to our utter inability to roll an 8 or a 10 on 2d6, but that didn't stop Chris II from unleashing a nuclear salvo at my roads!  After crippling my motion for several turns, he was able to jump out to an early lead, grabbing the Longest Road and tying with FridayNightWill for the lead.

However, I had some plutonium of my own to share!  After nuking some of Chris II's roads back to the Stone Age, I managed to slip in, and connect my two original settlements, thereby splitting the map and giving me both the Longest Road, and the victory.

Was it worth it?!
Now, while I said earlier that gameplay was "unchanged," I don't mean that totally.  Rather, an interesting conundrum was introduced.  You see, with Clay at a premium due to scarcity, an opportunity cost was required in order to build that Nuclear Missile--the ability to build either a Road, a City or even both, depending on the contents of the player's hands.  Was it worth it to tear down an opponent, or to spend those resources to catch up to them? 

Overall, I was very pleased with the results of this variant, and would be eager to play it again.  I can see some problems already, in terms of the various Catan expansions, but for the base game, it's a unique, PvP-centered expansion that adds a much more pleasing dimension to the game.  Try it!  You'll like it!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

In Which The Warlock Stirs the Proverbial Campfire...

I've made no real secret of the fact that I've become a massive fan of Deadlands. But, what you may not know is the fact that I'm in not one, but two separate Deadlands campaign right now.

Our final destination?
Time will tell!

As I'd mentioned a few entries ago, Will the ManMan--also known as The Journeyman GM --has started running an updated version of the classic Deadlands trilogy known as "The Devil's Tower".  However, I've actually begun a second game on Friday nights, replacing our on-again, off-again Eberron game.  With ChaoticFrederick in California for a few months and CincinAdam still on the Appalachian Trail, I found it much easier to run a game like Deadlands over D&D 4e, which all but requires group balance, whereas Deadlands does not. 

Okay--full confession time.  Quite a while ago, the immortal game designer Robin Laws came up with a categorization for player motivations.  You might be familiar with some of these:  Power Gamer, Tactician, Storyteller, and the like.

As much as I like to think I'm a Tactician and Storyteller.  I'm not.  I'm absolutely an Instigator.  I thrive on conflict, and would much rather put my character at a significant disadvantage or the like, for the sake of dramatic development, than to "play it safe" and avoid such a conflict.  Sometimes things don't turn out as I plan, but that's not a problem in my book--that's just opportunity!

When generating characters for the ManMan's "Devil's Tower" game, then, my first question was "Are you going to allow Veteran of the Weird West?"  Veteran..., for those of you non-DL players out there, is an edge that can be taken, which grants the character "free" experience...with some unseen consequences.  Sometimes those consequences are negligible.  Other times, they can be all but crippling--maimed limbs, severe injuries or diseases, psychoses, or an utter betrayal by fate! 

Lose the mask and one arm,
add some magic, and you've got
Ramon Perez Francisco Villa-Nueva!
In building my swashbuckling Huckster, Ramon Perez Francisco Villa-Nueva, I was absolutely ready to roll the bones, even with Will warning us about his "new and improved" chart of doom...which ended up with Ramon having only one arm!  While this didn't change my character concept too much--one part Zorro, one part Highlander, and one part Inigo Montoya--it's definitely made Ramon's adventures a little more interesting, and difficult.  I've had to be exceptionally careful in monitoring what weapon is in my hands at any given time, as switching between Ramon's whip and his relic saber--the Cutlass of Estevanico--is a little harder than I'd like!

The PlatinumChick, similarly, decided to take Veteran..., but ended up with an entirely different set of problems!  Her steam-augmented "scrapper", Ruby 'Thunderbird' Spencer ended up with an infamous doppelganger, which provided some confusion for the rest of the party, while the PlatinumChick and I were out of town.

So, where does this leave us now?  Well, with my Friday night group about to start making their way across the Sierra Nevadas, in preparation for The Flood, it just so happens that Chris II decided to take Veteran of the Weird West for his hexslinger, Angus Cole.  I'd warned him that I was using Will the ManMan's special chart, but that extra experience was simply too tempting for him.  Twenty free experience points?  Who wouldn't be tempted?!

But, the devil's in the details...and I found a great irony in cards I pulled for Angus's "unforseeen circumstances".  One Black Ace, and one Red Eight. 

Veteran of the Weird West!
While I'm not at liberty to tell exactly what those cards actually do yet--though, never fear!  I'll divulge the dirty details after Chris II's hexslinger finds out the hard way!--I've got to say, the results are pretty fitting...We'll just see how accurate the "Dead Man's Hand" really is!

It all goes to show that a little reward is all it takes to turn a normal player into another conflict-loving Instigator like me.  There's always a price to be paid, as Will the ManMan said in his own assessment of the situation, but when that price leads to some great moments of role-playing...that's a big win, right there!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

In Which The Warlock Reveals the Fruits of His (and other's) Labor!

So, as I mentioned a few months ago, I'd been picked up by Cubicle 7 to work on an upcoming book for The Laundry--C7's rpg based on the novels and short stories of Charles Stross, which is something of a mash-up of traditional Call of Cthulhu, James Bond-style espionage, with just a touch of The Office for good measure.  I've been holding off on talking about my work there, because I wasn't sure when (or if!) the product would actually hit shelves. 

But then, one of my co-conspirators on the project revealed this:  newly installed at the Cubicle 7 store for pre-order!

The Laundry RPG--The Mythos Dossiers
the PlatinumWarlock's first-ever real RPG writing gig!
As I'd mentioned earlier, I was alerted to an open call for writers by C7 through Dread Pirate Tim, who dropped me a link on Facebook.  The 'audition' material was to write an in-character document, describing one of the "Great Race of Yith"--the conical beings from H.P. Lovecraft's The Shadow out of Time.  A few days after submitting, I received word from Gareth--the project lead and staffer from C7--that I was on board.

The Mythos Dossiers is a really unique sort of book.  While one could call it the "Monster Manual" of the Laundry-verse, it's...not quite that simple.  Rather, all of the material in TMD is written up as a series of files sent to the head of the Laundry organization, compiled by various field agents.  As such, instead of just a series of stats or a generic description, the files include first-person sightings, autopsy reports, interviews, scientific reports and more.

Each of the authors--there were about 8 of us, all told!--were in charge of a specific monster (called Primaries), and would submit secondary documents for others' primaries.  Yours truly was made Primary for a classic Lovecraftian monster--the burrowing Cthonian!  I also submitted secondaries on serpent-people, ghouls, and shoggoths.  But, I managed to finish out my personal work early, and was even afforded the chance to work in an additional Primary:  Flying Polyps!

While I can't divulge too much about the book itself, outside of what I already have, it'll definitely be exciting to see it hit print!  Some of the ideas that made it in really take some of the Lovecraftian classics and turn them on their head.  I'm especially proud of the Flying Polyps...the mad scientist Dr. Juurian Groeningen will make for a fantastic NPC adversary for an entire campaign of his own!

Have a nice weekend, cats and kittens!  :D

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

In Which The Warlock Posts Some Random Thoughts in Bullet Point Form...

With all of the writing I've been doing (and the live-blogging from Origins!), I've been kind of remiss in some of my geekly duties.  But, since the PlatinumChick and I are headed out for my old stomping grounds for a few days, I figure that now is a pretty good time to catch up on some of those summertime thoughts that I haven't exactly gotten around to writing about yet!

  • Green Lantern.  Boy, this one was a train wreck, wasn't it?  After such hype and so much cash spent on CGI effects, this movie really just fell apart due to poor writing and direction, an uninspired performance by lead Ryan Reynolds, and massive plot holes.  One of my non-gamer friends out here is a massive GL fanboy, and I've spent quite a bit of time trying to show him exactly why this movie failed so miserably, but he...disagrees.  *shakes head*  I keep hearing that the producers are trying to get a sequel green-lit, but I doubt that will ever happen.  This might have been DC's best shot to start a Marvel-esque "shared film universe" but that's gone out the window...
  • Thor. did I miss this one earlier?  While it's not quite as good as Iron Man, Kenneth Branagh brought a great amount of gravitas and depth to a movie that many--yours truly included--were worried about.  I mean, really, how do you make a hammer-wielding god-alien fit in with the super-science of Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Steve Rogers?  Somehow, Branagh made it believable, with SHIELD playing a significant role, complete with a cameo from a certain bow-wielding solo agent...
  • Captain America.  Speaking of Steve, I'm really jazzed about this one.  The latest trailers have shown something that I suspected since the beginning--that the "icebound" reveal will actually take place during the film itself, and not during the traditional post-credits Marvel Skeletor.  I'm not as worried about this one as I was Thor, primarily because of the grounding that Cap has in super-science and Marvel lore.  It's a lot easier to tie Cap to Iron Man and the Hulk than it is to Thor, for aforementioned space-god reasons.  Plus, Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull?  Inspired casting...
  • The DC Reboot!  Ugh.  The PlatinumChick was being pissed when she heard about this travesty.  For those of you non-comics fans, DC Comics made an overarching decision to restart many of their comics, complete with an art overhaul that eliminates some classic costumes and changes to major characters (like Barbara Gordon, in particular) that destroy some classic character development.  While I fall on the Marvel side of the fence in this, I can see exactly what the PlatinumChick is mad about--ignoring or trying to wipe away some of the greatest stories in comics, when that's what draws people in, is folly.  Plus, it means that somewhere in Britain, Alan Moore will be putting on his face-fucking boots...
  • Other Comics!  Matt Fraction, while writing fantastically on "Invincible Iron Man" has really frustrated me with Bucky-Cap (Spoilers!).  At least the new Deadlands comic line appears to be selling well, and was really entertaining.  Hopefully the creators will be able to keep it up.  Plus,  Ghost Rider is finally back!  The last series, while trading hands several times, managed to maintain a neat feel that alternated between Biblical apocalypse and grindhouse movie, which was a blast to read.  It still doesn't hold a candle to Garth Ennis' run...
  • More Movies!  Okay, so Pirates of the Caribbean 4 was kind of a disappointment.  While amusing, it felt like most of the characters were just going through the motions.  Frustrating, considering the source material they used was an actual novel this time, but with Gore Verbinski jumping ship (teehee...ship!), what could we really expect?  Next up on our slate is Cowboys vs. Aliens, which has been hyped up beyond belief.  I'm hoping that Jon Favreau does us right on this one...he hasn't steered us wrong before

I think that's about all for now.  Stay posted for some updates on our now two weekly Deadlands games this Saturday!  Cheers!

Saturday, July 09, 2011

In Which The Warlock Ponders Parallelism...

It's no secret that I'm a writer.  I'm up to nearly 300 entries on this blog, to say nothing of my writing and editing within the gaming world.  But, even beyond that...I'm an English teacher full-time, with a full Bachelors' degree in English Literature.  What you may not know is that I got my start at revision while in undergraduate at Wittenberg.  As a member of the Wittenberg Writing Center, I worked part-time assisting other undergrads with their academic papers and the like.

As such, I had to be on top of my game.  One of the biggest offenses in most of their writing was something referred to as parallelism

Parallelism in math...
Parallelism in writing...
Any kid who's taken algebra or geometry should know what parallel lines are--two lines that continue on indefinitely through a two-dimensional plane, in such a way that they will never cross.  Parallelism in writing is similar, yet not quite so finite.

Under usual circumstances, parallelism comes on the individual sentence level.  To use the example from the Purdue Online Writing Lab,--one of the more pre-eminent writing centers in academia: 

My degree, my work experience, and ability to complete complicated projects qualify me for the job.
My degree, my work experience, and my ability to complete complicated projects qualify me for the job.

The 'correct' example uses the same structure throughout the sentence, which is more correct from a grammatical standpoint and is more appealing when read aloud.

Now, what does this have to do with gaming, you may ask?  Well, you see, while most RPG manuals are fairly well-edited, parallelism doesn't just stop at the sentence level.  Rather, it can (and should!) be continued on a paragraph and even on a piece-length scale.

But what about parallelism within actual game structure? 

4e D&D was unique for its verisimilitude between classes.  While each individual class received its own class abilities at level 1--Fighters got a Weapon Talent and Combat Challenge, Warlocks got Shadow Walk and Warlock's Curse--every class worked in the same manner:  2 At-Wills, Encounters on levels that ended with 3 and 7, Dailies on levels that ended on 5 or 9. 

Many gamers critized for 4e for this maneuver, saying that classes were "too similar", but from a written standpoint, the design was flawless.  But, it made me wonder whether parallelism in design could provide a driving force behind a game mechanic....which explains some of the reasoning behind my work on Cold Steel Wardens

Part of the "MAFIANAP" mechanic--the fundamental system that I'm writing to drive CSW is built on parallelism--players have 8 Vitals, four of which govern Mental faculties and four of which govern Physical ability.  The 25 skills are arranged into five groups of five--Physical, Investigative, Social, Knowledge, and Technical. 

But, what I'd like to consider the most crucial bit of parallelism to CSW is the "Strain" system.  Every hero can take a specific abount of Strain, before bad things begin happening to them.  This occurs in both the Physical realm (through fights, wounds, and physical exertioin), but also in the Mental realm (through stress, fear, and mental trauma). 

Don't reach your Breaking Point,
or you'll be taking a MAFIANAP!
In either case, every CSW Hero has a "Breaking Point" on each Strain track.  The Breaking Point represents a threshold, at which the Hero's resilience has finally broken down.  At the Physical Breaking Point, the Strain no longer represents"bumps and bruises", but rather broken bones, shattered ribs, and grievous bodily harm.  At the Mental Breaking Point, the Strain no longer represents everyday stress that can be wiped away with a good night's sleep, but rather damage to the Hero's psyche, resulting in psychoses or other mental disorders.

If CSW comes out as planned, the game should be streamlined and easy for newbies to understand, with mechanics that fade into the background during investigation and social encounters.  We'll see, though!  Next up:  Powers!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

In Which The Warlock Muses on a New Project...Again...

One of the biggest residual benefits that I tend to pull from Origins is the "post-convention inspiration".  I find that, after our trips to major gaming conventions, I come back with a brain-ful of inspiration, ready to start writing.

This year, I was determined to channel that inspiration into my already-existing projects, and hopefully finish out either SunnyVale Acres or Dungeon Slam!, and possibly even get a playtestable version of Lumberjack Wars up and running.  Don't get me wrong, I'm still working on those, but they've taken a bit of a back burner to a new project...

Fantastic Four #1:
In the heart of the Silver Age
Running ICONS at Origins (and talking with Gareth-Michael Skarka, one of the creators!), I was really high on the ability for a simple game-system to emulate the Silver Age of Comics.  While light on the rules--really, one of the draws for me--the biggest benefit of ICONS is the way in which it fosters the "over the top" actions as a default.  Heroes are encouraged to take risks, try new power combinations, and lay the one-liners on thick and heavy, as they take down alliteratively named villains.

Many superheroes systems have done their best to provide a "generic" view of comics.  Mutants and Masterminds, particularly, does its best to appeal to all the eras of comics, providing a "kitchen sink" approach to design--from street-level to cosmic, you can potentially build any Hero in such a system...the system isn't particularly geared for any particular type of gaming.  They suffer from "d20 syndrome" in the fact that the system mechanics aren't geared towards supporting the setting.  As such, the mechanics become bland and the onus of telling the story resides only with the players and Game-Master, not the game as well.

But, then it struck me. While the Silver Age of Comics has its representation...what about the pinnacle of comics storytelling: the Iron Age?

Rorschach, a seminal
Iron Age anti-hero...
Not familiar with the Iron Age of Comics?  Yes, you are.  You just might not know it yet.  Seen Watchmen?  Alan Moore's magnum opus was the seminal work of the Iron Age.  Enjoyed The Dark Knight?  Yeah, based thematically on Iron Age comics series The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, and The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb.  Don't get me started on the lordly might of comics legend Denny O'Neil, and his character-defining runs on Iron Man, Green Arrow, and The Question

As such, I set a new goal for myself:  write a game based in the Iron Age--my favorite era of comics, and what may well be the greatest era of comics as a storytelling medium.  The Iron Age took superheroes away from dealing with fantastical threats, towards a more grounded, realistic series of conflicts.  Not satisfied with "villains of the week", Iron Age writers and artists sought to bring depth, experience, and poignancy to a medium often relegated to children.  And no role-playing game has dared to try to bring those stories to the forefront, despite the fact that they are perennial favorites of both comics-fans and laymen alike.

That leaves me where I am now:  about 20,000 words into what I'm calling Cold Steel Wardens:  Adventures in the Iron Age of Comics.  Working a typical "work-week"....oh, who am I kidding....working from about 7pm till about 4 am, I manage about 2,500 words a day, with occasional spikes into much higher word counts.  Hell, the first day I sat down to write, I pumped out about 9,000 words alone!  Plus, I've been able to maintain a feel suitable to the Iron Age--martial arts combat styles, a focus on investigation and human foes, and a visceral damage mechanic...I think I'm onto something here!

With a bit of luck and continued work, I should have a completed rules-set by the end of August, with a completed manuscript, ready for editing, by the end of the year!  I'll keep you posted, friends and neighbors!  There's more to come!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Warlock's Origins 2011 (No Longer) Live Blog!--Post-Convention Wrap-Up!

Okay, I was remiss in my swag report!  As I was unpacking my backpack and other gaming materials, trying to get the game-room back in order, I stumbled upon the my bargain of the convention!  And, I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't tell you about:

Innsmouth Escape!  While roaming through the Dealer Hall with the PlatinumChick on Sunday, we stumbled across the Twilight Creations booth, tucked away in the back right corner of the Hall.  I only really noticed them because they had copies of Dante's Inferno, a game that I picked up at Half Price Books (and still haven't played), and I hadn't seen it anywhere else.  Walking over, I was astounded to see that quite a few of their games--including Innsmouth Escape--were on clearance!  $5 a pop!

Hell's bells, what a deal!  Adventure Retail, who runs the Steve Jackson Games booth, was retailing Innsmouth Escape for $40!  I'll gladly take the game for 1/8th of retail price!  The minis alone are worth it:  Innsmouth Escape comes with 100 Deep One miniatures, in addition to everything else in the game...$5 for 100 minis!  Yes, let's!

A few other thoughts on this year's show, though:

  • Running 6 rpg slots is tiring!  I realize that many other gamers ran and volunteered much more time than I did, but wow...six sessions of RPGs are quite a bit.  By the end of the convention, I was dragging!  Sunday afternoon, while waiting for ChaoticKarl to finish up his last Star Wars game--which ran an hour and a half over--I nearly passed out sitting up in the conference room!  While I enjoyed showing off my games and running for some really great gamers, I don't think I'll run this much again any time soon.
  • Evaluation of the schedule is needed.  So, when L-Train put in the schedule for our games, the original intention was for the vast majority of our games to go off at 7pm, so that our games would all be in the same location.  However, we ended up scattered throughout the RPGs hallway, which made set-up and tear-down difficult.  Looking at the schedule from our good friends at Rogue Cthulhu, we may want to go with something more staggered, to ensure that we have a room to ourselves.  If we can manage 5 gamers in a slot, we'd have more than enough to ensure that we'd never have to tear down the banners, and could have a Witt-Guild "headquarters" all convention long.
  • Gamers' generosity is really high.  I was personally astounded at the generosity of the numerous gamers who donated for the Hutchinson boys, as they prepare for the upcoming bone marrow transplant.  I'll be sending off two boxes of donations from both companies and individual gamers here in the next few weeks.  Spectacular!
  • Attendance is up?  Where is everyone?  I'll readily admit that I wasn't around the main halls of the convention center for most of Origins, but while I was out, the halls felt particularly sparse.  Even on Friday and Saturday--the most crowded days of Origins--things felt empty.  However, the overall attendance (according to GAMA) was nearly 1,000 people over last year's!  I'm all right with--more people is good--but it seems a little odd that the convention seemed so sparse, even with more people.
  • What to do next year?  I know already that I will not be attending Origins for the full-show next year.  I can't.  Plain and simple--can't do it.  Because of the impending date change, I'll be in my last week of work which, as a teacher, is finals week.  There's no way I could call off whatsoever.  As such, I'm not running games last year, which is a real shame, as my review cards were all overwhelmingly positive and I had several repeat players from prior years.  As of now, I'm probably going to get a full badge anyway--we get half-price badges through the Witt-Guild--then attend Friday night through Sunday.  We'll see, I suppose.
  • The Date Change Looms...  The date change isn't just going to affect me.  Dayton Public and Cincinnati City Schools both are in finals week during Origins next year, as are most of their surrounding districts.  The Ohio State University and Columbus Public Schools will be in session until mid-June.  Looney Labs--one of the biggest event draws at Origins--has officially announced their inability to come next year, as the two heads of the group are both teachers.  It's been pretty well documented that public reaction to this date change has either been neutral ("Doesn't matter--I'll go to Origins whenever it is.") or extremely negative ("I cannot go now.  Thanks, guys...).  GAMA has gotten the message from our petition, though, and has set up a poll on their site regarding the date change:

Scroll down to the bottom of the page and vote to keep Origins' dates in late-June!