Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In Which The Warlock Posts Another Freebie...

It's been a while since I've updated my Free Open Gaming Materials, so it's high time that I give you guys another treat.  And, since I'm running this one over at Wittenberg this weekend, it seemed fitting to toss up this one:

Killer Clowns 2:  Return to Dempsey Islands--an adventure for Hell on Earth Reloaded.

The original Killer Clowns module--a Hell on Earth "Dime Novel" romp by the spectacular John Goff--made for a great trip through a haunted amusement park, complete with the titular killer clown automatons.  However, the adventure was fairly short (as most Dime Novels were) and didn't go deeply into the amusement park theme.  And, considering that yours truly used to work in an amusement park...I couldn't help but take a shot at this one!

The above link has all the elements you'd need to run this adventure:  a full outline of the scenario, stats for all kinds of nasty automatons in the park (including variants for the base killer clown, based on which "area" of the park your wasters are in), a time-charting table, a park map, and even a new table for scavenging items in the park.

This scenario works great with the "Reno Six-Pack" of pre-gens I've already posted in Open Gaming Materials folder.
And, of course, if you're in the Springfield area this Friday, you're welcome to stop on by!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In Which The Warlock Expands Upon an Unloved Position...

Friends and neighbors, if you're a frequent reader of this blog, you know something about me that puts me in a distinct minority of gamers. I don't like Eurogames.

Lots and lots of fiddly bits in Archipelago.
I bring this up because a weekend or two ago, the PlatinumChick and I spent some time up with some friends in Columbus playing games.  I introduced them to Sentinels of the Multiverse, while they returned the favor with a complex Eurogame called Archipelago.  I had a reasonable time, primarily because I was among friends that I rarely see, though I was swiftly reminded of all the things that I can't sand about Eurogames.

Unfortunately for me, Eurogames occupy a pretty pervasive position in gaming culture.  Mayfair Games, creator of the mother of all Eurogames, Settlers of Catan, is easily one of the biggest gaming companies worldwide.  Asmodee, as well, has made an empire on Eurogames, with thousands of players pushing small cubes and meeples to and fro with abandon.

So what don't I like about these games?  Let me set the record straight and count the ways...

1) The ability to play for hours, doing nothing.  Sonya got to experience this firsthand after being put in a precarious position at the various start of the game.  By chance, her starting location ended up being one rich in ore, one of the randomly-determined victory conditions.  Naturally, this caused a rush on her location, driving her out of the area before her turn even started.  For the rest of the game, Sonya was playing from behind, unable to contend in any reasonable way.

Precisely this.
2) Passive-aggressive conflict.  In Archipelago, players are supposed to be rival colonists exploring the New World, in an attempt to build successful towns, markets, and the like.  However, there's next to no ability to actively confront a rival colonist!  You can't sink ships, you can't declare war and conquer your enemies.  The worst you can do is the aforementioned "move into their territory", kicking them out.  Without the threat of actual, head-to-head conflict, not only does the theme suffer, but it limits significant options that would be otherwise interesting or entertaining.  Catan falls in this same trap with the Robber; the game becomes a match of bouncing him back and forth, with the character who can manage him best usually winning.

3) Theme.  With little fail, Eurogames tend to rely on the same theme over and over:  build civilization.  Either you're building a farm, building a castle, building a state, building a space empire.  In all cases, your entire point is to grow bigger and bigger, with victory points as secondary objectives at best.  There's no variance, there's no change.  While your resource cubes might represent ore in one game, chickens in another, and dilithium crystals in a third, in the end they're all the same:  X wood plus Y clay makes a city/woodshed/starship, while Y clay plus Z uranium makes a city/farmhouse/capital fleet.

Great theme, great PvP gameplay, with none
of the problems of a Eurogame!
There's simply nothing unique.  Arkham Horror and Mansions of Madness use primarily the same foes and even theme, but their mechanical differences make them unique animals, even as both are cooperative games.  And, in both cases, they're rich in the 1920s Lovecraftian theme.  A game like Chaos in the Old World utilizes unique mechanics and direct conflict to establish different victory conditions for each player...without resorting to X+Y=victory points. And, when playing, you feel like a Chaos God, spreading your tendrils throughout the Warhammer universe. 

4) Standing on the fence.  This one's a matter of taste entirely.  You see, I love Player vs Player games.  I have a reputation in Munchkin, simply because of my cut-throat tactics.  Ninja Burger is a perennial favorite, simply because of the balance between personal motivation and sheer dickery.  But, concurrently, I love cooperative games.  As I've mentioned, Arkham Horror and Sentinels of the Multiverse are fixtures at my game table.  But, Eurogames tend to ride an uncomfortable fence between the two that makes playing them unpleasant.  Settlers of Catan is a killer here, where the trade economy involves a passive-aggressive balance of self-improvement and prevention of others from doing the same.  That balance is rarely executed well and I find that devotion to one or the other provides a better game experience overall.

Obviously, I'm not the be-all and end-all of gaming.  People have different things that they enjoy.  I simply haven't come across any Eurogame that really scratches any itch for me, while most have the same flaws over and over, which tend to get my goat.  But, to each their own!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In Which The Warlock Objects to a Lack of Marriage...

It figures.

No sooner do I offer some praise to DC comics (in my immediately previous post, a look back at the timeless Justice League/Justice League Unlimited), they go ahead and do something profoundly stupid.

Despite my love of superhero comics and superhero gaming, I've been fairly critical of DC Comics' design choices since their inception of the "New 52" initiative, which rebooted their entire universe and discarded decades of classic comics storylines.  However, the minds behind the New 52 made a poor choice worse through sexist depictions of female characters, its ill treatment of legendary comics writers, and its retraction of numerous important comics events, not the least of which were the events of Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, in which Barbara Gordon was paralyzed by the Joker, leading her to later re-invent herself as Oracle.

I've expounded on my feelings on the New 52 before.  My opinions since that post really haven't changed; even the PlatinumChick--a DC girl through-and-through--has all but given up hope that DC might turn things around.  Our pull file just keeps growing smaller and smaller.

But, this time around?  There are bigger issues to deal with, this time with Batwoman.

No, not Batgirl (Barbara Gordon).  Batwoman--Kate Kane.

Batwoman was given the spotlight by stored scribe Greg Rucka during the fantastic 52 event, where she was introduced as a potential love interest for Renee Montoya, a former Gotham city police detective who took up the mantle of The Question following the death of Vic Sage.  Yes, Batwoman is a lesbian.  She's also a kick-ass crimefighter with tons of great symbolic ties throughout Gotham City.  After the New 52 reboot, Montoya was nowhere to be seen, though Batwoman remained.

Rucka parted ways with DC over creative differences (notice a pattern here?), after which the book was assigned to the writer/artist combo of JH Williams and W. Haden Blackman.  Williams and Blackman's work on Batwoman was stellar, winning several Harvey awards and even the GLAAD award for Outstanding Comic Book.  Batwoman represented a jump forward for LGBT representation in comics...and has now been cut off at the knees.

From Batwoman #17:
Kathy Kane's proposal to Maggie Sawyer.
Long story short?  Williams and Blackman's plot involved Kane proposing to current girlfriend Maggie Sawyer with the intent of having the pair marry.  DC editorial outright forbade this, despite allowing Williams and Blackman to build to this point over the past year's worth of issues.  Williams and Blackman were "crushed", ultimately deciding to leave DC Comics due to the editorial interference.

DC Comics claims that homophobia has no place in this decision, stating that "the editorial differences with the writers of Batwoman had nothing to do with the sexual orientation of the character."  Rather, Dan Didio explained that the anti-marriage edict extended to all their characters--not just the solitary lesbian hero with her own book--and that marriage simply has no place in the lives of a masked vigilante:

"They shouldn't have happy personal lives…They put on a cape and a cowl for a reason, They’re committed to being that person, they’re committed to defending others—at the sacrifice of all their own personal instincts….That’s something we reinforce. If you look at every one of the characters in the Batman family, their personal lives kind of suck." --Dan Didio
As you well know if you've read this blog at all, I love dark, tortured anti-heroes.  All the best heroes require motivation and pathos, to say nothing of a great villain to fight against.  But here?  There's a problem.

First, there's the issue of perception.  While you may state that forbidding the only lesbian heroine's marriage isn't homophobic, it still looks homophobic.  And, as a member of the LGBT community myself?  It sure feels homophobic!  When you an issue a statement like this, you forfeit the ability to tell the reader/listener how they feel about it.  That's our decision, individually, as readers.  You might not have intended to be a bigot, but you sure did it anyway, Mr. Didio.

There aren't exactly a lot of LGBT heroes in comics today.  Batwoman was certainly the most celebrated, most visible of those heroes.  Preventing her from engaging in a healthy, monogamous relationship makes for a slap in the face of the LGBT community who fight every day for the right to marry, even if it's not what you intended.  When you're on the stage, you don't just get to step back because you think "its not right for any character".

Secondly, there's the issue of the creators.  Williams and Blackman are among the most celebrated writers in comics today.  Batwoman, under these two, has been among the most celebrated books on an underwhelming DC slate.  Mr. Didio, can you really afford to anger these two?  Bruce Timm and Paul Dini are now at Marvel Animation, alongside Jeph Loeb.  Mark Waid is writing on Daredevil and Greg Rucka just wrapped up a run on Punisher.  Can you really afford to keep handing storied writers and artists to your competition?  They're leaving in droves, because of your continual interference.

Finally, let's talk a little about tragedy.  Let's take you at your word and assume that there's no anti-LGBT bias in this decision; that, instead, you really believe that marriage has no place in comics.  I decry that point utterly.  The best sorts of characterization come from interpersonal drama, not the least of which comes directly from marriage, which we've seen in comics over and over again for the past 50 years.  To say that "marriage has no place in comics" ignores countless decades of committed relationships throughout comics!

Reed Richards and Sue Storm:
married for all these years, and there's
still tension!  That's good storytelling.
Reed Richards and Sue Storm represent the pinnacle of this point, weathering not just cosmic invaders but also the stresses of family life.  Namor, for instance, becomes much less interesting as a Fantastic Four foe without the sexual tension between himself and Sue.  Peter Parker's entire characterization centers around his ability to juggle the responsibilities of being Spider-Man with the obligations of his family and social life, not the least of which is his faltering relationships with Mary Jane Watson, Felicia Hardy, Gwen Stacy, and others.

Brooding, dark, tormented heroes are all well and good, but they only get that way if they have something to torment them!  While I'm not advocating the "fridging" of characters simply for the sake of drama, a compelling superhero--especially of the low-powered, vigilante style--struggles with the issues of maintaining a double life.  Part of that double life has to be a realistic, nuanced view of romantic relationships.  Marriage raises the stakes in those relationships, representing a monogamous commitment that carries difficulty, ardor, and struggles all its own.

Are you really so naive, Mr. Didio, as to assume that when a hero gets married that their problems end?  That their life is forever happy and carefree?  Marriage takes work, compromise, and continual communication.  In all actuality, a married hero likely faces more trial and tribulation than their single counterparts!  That hero could face the struggles of maintaining their "secret life" behind the mask, while their partner grows closer to the truth.  Or, a hero might share their secret with their partner, leading to even more tension.  To discard all of this literally throws away entire story arcs worth of possibilities!

You know what speaks most highly to this phenomenon?  The below image:

That's Northstar--a C-list X-Men character, getting married to his boyfriend.  Ever since Chris Claremont, the X-Men series has thrived on character drama, not the least of which has come from romantic relationships:  the Cyclops-Jean Grey-Wolverine love triangle alone filled tons of books!  And now, Marvel took pride in letting two LGBT characters marry, on a front cover even.

And DC?  They'd sooner let two fantastic authors walk than let those authors write a lesbian heroine in a realistic manner.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

In Which The Warlock Re-Watches a Classic Series...and Names a Winner!

As I've been gearing up for Cold Steel Wardens' official debut, I've found myself going back through and reading through many of the comics and graphic novels that inspired me to write the game in the first place:  Watchmen, obviously, but also Denny O'Neil's run on The Question, Alan Moore's Batman: The Killing Joke, and tons of the other compilations on our bowing bookshelves.

A must-own for any comics fan!
Truly, as much as these comics have influenced me, there's a huge influence out there that's absolutely influenced nearly every comics game since its inception.  I speak, of course, of the DC Comics Animated series Justice League, and its successor, Justice League Unlimited.  I've been watching the series again in my spare time and find that it really holds up spectacularly.

For those who haven't seen it, Justice League started as a spiritual successor to two series:  Batman: The Animated Series (later known as (The New Adventures of Batman and Robin) and Superman: The Animated Series, both of which were helmed by executive producer Paul Dini and animator Bruce Timm.  The pair also collaborated on the underrated (but excellent!) Batman Beyond, which catapulted into the future of a cyberpunk-styled Gotham City.  The pair's signature style permeated the series, with Justice League serving as an extension of Superman and Batman's story, extending out into the wider DC animated world.  Characters from Superman: TAS such as Emil Hamilton and events such as Darkseid's invasion of Earth had effects lasting well into Justice League Unlimited.

While the storylines presented in Justice League/JLU were often riffs on classic storylines, the interplay between characters often overshadows even the most interesting plotlines.  Phil LaMarr's Green Lantern (John Stewart) and Maria Canals' Hawkgirl bear special mention here, as their on-again, off-again romantic interest carries through the whole of the series.  The characters feel authentic, not relying on "easy" answers or the typical "damsel in distress" tropes so common to comic book romances.
JLU was actually my first introduction to The Question.
Jeffrey Combs' interplay with Amy Ackers'
Huntress was exceptional!
It's those sorts of relationships that make JL/JLU's action seem so captivating.  Much of JLU's first (26 episode) season dealt with the shadowy organization known as Project Cadmus spearheading a governmental counter to the ever-expanding Justice League roster.  When Jeffrey Combs' The Question confronts Superman about details found in a Cadmus database, his rage and frustration are palpable.  Kin Shriner's portrayal of Green Arrow particularly stands out as an "everyman" trapped between his liberal sensibilities, his burgeoning relationship with Black Canary, and his duties to the League itself.

Those interpersonal relationships come from spectacular writing from creators who truly know and care about these characters.  I was astounded to see exactly how many current comics writers actually wrote on episodes of JL/JLU.  While the spectacular Dwayne McDuffie helmed a majority of the episodes--especially on JLU--comics luminaries like Warren Ellis, Gail Simone, and Geoff Johns grace several episodes' credits.  These creators made viewers feel and empathize with B- and C-list characters, most of whom wouldn't have gotten a second glance, much less top billing in animation.

If you have a chance, I heartily recommend picking these up or catching them online.  The writing's spectacular, the art holds up beautifully, and the characterizations of these classic DC characters is simply unmatched.  If you like superheroes, you owe it to yourself to watch this classic series.

Oh!  One last thing!  We have a contest winner!

We received quite a few entries for our 400th Entry contest, but the (randomly determined) winner of the PDF prize pack is...

Ben Merrill--our first respondent!  Ben, I'll be in touch in the coming days with your first PDF, with a copy of Cold Steel Wardens for you waiting in the wings.  Congratulations!