Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"He Say You Brade Runnah."

I was idly paging through my old copy of the Aliens Technical Manual, which I had originally bought as reference material for my 2300 AD RPG, when I started reading about how the Colonial Marines are organized. If you remember the movie "Aliens," you'll recall that an android is assigned to each group of Marines (I'm too drowsy to go look up the specific organizational title).

I started thinking about the possibilities of the setting of "Aliens" - the book really fleshes that universe out - and thinking about how "Predator" got a crossover, putting them in the same universe in about as official a way as one can (and thus providing Dark Horse with a nice cash cow). And there's a lot of talk in the Manual about the colonies that humanity had settled...

And then it occurred to me: Lifelike, organic Androids. Off-world colonies. Megacorporations. Where have I heard these things before? Ding!

Sure, it says in the beginning of the movie that it's Los Angeles, 2019, but seriously, do you think L.A. will look anything that large by then? That's only 11 years from now. Ignore that title placard and pretend that "Blade Runner" takes place about two hundred years from now, and it may as well be the same universe as "Aliens" and "Predator."

So, naturally, I started thinking about adventures that could be set in Deckard's corner of the Earth...

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Cunning Plan...

Aaron Williams has a brilliant idea that may just save American culture, presented in his comic strip Full Frontal Nerdity.

I'll invest in that plan.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

My Ultimate D&D Game

I was trawling around the forums on RPGnet and happened across the following question: "What would be your "ultimate" D&D style? Forget the rules system... what elements of plot, character & style do you hold as your ultimate D&D experience?"

Because I was eating breakfast and putting off my homework, I came up with the following answer:

Epic, in the sense of LotR and Dragonlance. A big, sweeping campaign with the fate of the world in the balance. Good versus Evil, with those thinking themselves in the middle eventually having to choose a side. Triumphs and betrayals, victories and tragic deaths. Flawed heroes, not anti-heroes. Melodrama, not angst. Romance and romanticism. Friendship, honor, compassion and bravery, pitted against treachery, selfishness, and fear.

Formidable and frightening monsters, ancient titanic ruins whose histories are lost in time (but of which fragments of lore survive), heroic battles against uncertain odds. Magic items and artifacts with stories to them - it's not a +3 Broadsword, it's The Flame of the West; it's not a Potion of Healing, it's the Waters of Ilumina, springs blessed by the goddess of the forests.

Hobbit-style halflings. Tinker-merchant Gnomes. Beautiful, arrogant, tragic Elves. Stubborn, honor-bound, tragic Dwarves. Monster races that aren't just Evil for Evil's sake - some of them are honorable, and some of them are twisted. But not all monster races are misunderstood foreigners - some of them were birthed by Evil to usher in the End of the World. Desperate appeals for alliance in the face of extinction. Religious orders. Sorcerous orders. Knightly orders. Angels and Demons, and their pacts with mortals.

The artwork of Larry Elmore and Wayne Reynolds. Tony di Terlizzi and Russ Nicholson.

Levels 1-6. A mixture of wilderness and urban adventures.

Yeah, that pretty much sums it up for me.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Robotech: The Movie?

...and I don't mean "Megazone 23" with a different script.

This is from September of last year:

I understand that rumors are rumors, and not everything that gets optioned ever makes it to the theater.

But "Transformers" got turned into a movie. And unlike "Transformers," this would make me all giddy inside.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Star Wars

Ernie ran a Star Wars game last weekend. The invitation came out of the blue, and at the last minute; Budzik called and invited me to join them. I grabbed a few books from my Star Wars library - the Visual Dictionary, the Omnibus, WEG/D6 Star Wars roleplaying rulebook - and drove up to Ernie and Pam's swanky apartment in Norwalk. Present were Budzik, Aaron, and Rob Hearn.

Ernie was trying out a new system of his own creation. It was very simple, which I greatly appreciated, allowing us to focus more on what our characters were like than trying to allocate points and reference charts. Apparently, someone else had run a game for him using a similarly-improvised system, and he liked it so much he decided to make his own version of it. He warned us a couple of times not to get our hopes up too much, but since this was the first time I've had the opportunity to do some tabletop gaming with the old Campaign crowd, I was more than pleased.

The setting was the Old Republic, roughly twenty years before the beginning of "Episode One." We were all playing Jedi - something I've never gotten to do before, outside of playing "Knights of the Old Republic" - of varying experience. I made a Knight named Nura Nuada who, by Budzik's suggestion/insistence, would have been played by Jennifer Garner. She had been found by the Jedi Master Kye Peyna on Nox, a garbage moon of Kuat, begging in what passed for the starport there. He recognized her self-reliant spirit and physical toughness even at her very young age, and negotiated with the head of her scavver clan to purchase her from them. She was the combat-oriented Jedi in our party, extremely skilled with a lightsaber and telekinetic Force powers. Budzik made a catlike alien Padawan named Tolas, whose specialty was piloting and starships; we decided that Nura's master had also sponsored Tolas's entry into the Jedi Order. Tolas thought of Nura as his "big sister," which is, in fact, what he often called her. She, in turn, referred to him as "little brother." Aaron made another Padawan learner, a peaceful healer from an agrarian society named Foster (Aaron's strength is not necessarily in naming characters, but the background information and society he came up with compensated for that). Finally, Rob made an older Jedi Master named Zandis Mirr, who had been involved in dealing with spice cartels on Kessel for the past few years.

The system was pretty simple: each of our characters had five slots for abilities, ranked at 20% intervals (100%, 80%, 60%, 40%, and 20%). Ernie had a list of abilities which seemed to consist of both Force powers and skills like Interface (which could be applied to dealing machines or animals); we chose which abilities we would rank at which ratings. When making skill or Force power checks, we would roll percentile dice, trying to roll under our rating, and he would apply modifiers to the rating depending upon difficulty. Our health was rated in dice; each character had ten d10s. These d10s could be spent on skill rolls to boost our chances of success - each d10 used this way could be rolled and the result added to our skill rating that we had to roll under. However, since the d10s were also like hit points, there was a risk to using them. They would only be replenished when our characters rested (or after each session - I can't remember which now).

We were brought together on Coruscant at the Jedi Temple. Nura had been returning from a mission amongst the Wookiees on Kashyyykk, hoping to arrive in time to congratulate Tolas on completing his final ordeals before being named a full Jedi. Upon arrival, she was met by representatives of the Council and summoned to appear before them. All four of us were brought together there and told that we were being sent on a mission to discover the fate of one Jedi Master Merlosis who had gone missing. Merlosis had been investigating a disturbing case: a Padawan had been slain, cut in half with a lightsaber, and his Master, Jendo Kree, had disappeared. Merlosis was hunting for Kree when he mysteriously vanished near Naboo, on his way to Corellia. In his last transmission to the Council, Merlosis had warned, "Jendo Kree is gone. The Sith are coming." Of course, the Sith had been gone for so long that it was almost like being told that a fairy tale had come true...

Our band flew out to the Expansion Region, to the Tyna system, which was embroiled in a civil war that the Republic was keeping its hands out of. After narrowly avoiding being shot down by natives, we found the wreckage of Merlosis's single-man ship, its hyperspace booster still attached. As we searched, a band of warriors appeared on a nearby ridge and began shooting at us. Some of them appeared to be setting something up. The others took cover. I decided that, in true bad-ass Jedi fashion, Nura would start running toward the soldiers, flipping and somersaulting to avoid their shots. The Force - or the dice - were with me, and I got my cool cinematic scene I was hoping for, deflecting their blaster shots with my lightsaber and flipping over the rocks they hid behind to land menacingly in their midst. As some of them ran, Nura saw that they were setting up a cannon, so she deflected their blaster shots into it and destroyed it. When the smoke cleared, one of them was left, holding his blaster in his trembling hand. Nura gave him an ultimatum: "You can shoot me, and perhaps die, or you can leave now and live." He chose to try both, shooting at me as he ran away. It proved to be a bad idea on his part.

Now, for those who have not had the pleasure of gaming with Ernie, he is a GM who is fond of props. When Nura returned to the rest of the party by the ship wreckage, she learned that they had found amidst the detritus a map. Deciding it was not enough to just tell us this, Ernie had at some point sat down and painted a star chart on a large black piece of paper in gold and silver. Along with it was a transparent blue plastic strip with a pattern of stars painted on it. We had to figure out, sliding the strip around on the star map to match up their constellations/systems, what Merlosis's planned route had been. Eventually we figured out that there was a system on the strip which was not marked on the map, and determined that this was where he had been headed.

So, note to self - props are awesome. I'm looking forward to the next time we can meet and play, which should be pretty soon, as Ernie is going to be flying off to Panama later this month. After that, Budzik has plans to get his old D&D game started up again. He started it shortly before I moved away, and apparently they got pretty far with that campaign in the time I was in Minneapolis. Best of all, he's asked me to resume playing the character I had originally made for that game, a Half-Orc Cleric of Vorak, God of War...

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Last Grenadier, Burbank

Tonight I wanted to get out of the apartment for a little while, both to clear my head and to give Marilyn some alone-time (since I'm always home when she is, so I get alone-time but she doesn't - alone-time being very important for introverts like the two of us). I decided to drive over to The Last Grenadier, which is one of L.A.'s oldest roleplaying game stores, as well as being personally endorsed by famous geek Wil Wheaton. I have two addresses for The Last Grenadier, so I went to the one I haven't seen. Whether this means there are two branches, or that one is an old address (which I visited often the first time I lived in L.A. back in 2000-2001), I don't know. This commentary is regarding the branch at 820 Hollywood Way.

I think I've been spoiled by The Source Comics and Games in Minnesota. For those who have never been there, The Source is what every game and comics shop should be - friendly, knowledgeable clerks (who aren't snotty in that Simpsons Comic Book Guy way); well-organized shelves offering the latest books and drawers filled with old standbys, classics, and obscure small-runs; a large gaming area with a week full of scheduled events; sales and special events; and - I cannot emphasize this enough - cleanliness.

The Last Grenadier has a lot of stock. There are boxes and boxes of gamebooks, some of which I've heard of but never seen in print (such as Tunnels & Trolls). Their collection of Osprey Military books is impressive, and if I wanted miniatures (what we used to refer to as "lead figures"), I now know where I could get just about anything I wanted.

Having said these things, I can't help but make comparisons to The Source, and The Last Grenadier loses pretty much every point.

TLG is seriously in need of two things: organization and a thorough dusting. There's no carpet; the floor is bare concrete, marked with numerous mysterious stains, skidmarks, and other markings. The staff kept the front door open the entire time I was there, and while it isn't frigid down here, it is cold enough outside that the store had the feeling of a drafty, unheated warehouse. This feeling was added to by the stacks of boxes lining the walls, the unexplained blankets covering some of the stock on the RPG tables (is it not for sale? Is it water-damaged?), and the copious dust filling the bottom of every shelf and box. Many of the gamebooks I looked at I would expect to get some kind of discount on were I to purchase them because they were dirty, warped, and obviously not in new condition. I'm all for supporting local businesses - especially when they're comics or games stores - but I do expect the product I'm purchasing to be treated like product that's meant to be sold.

The store was roughly divided into Osprey Books and assorted military/reference books took up the front of the store, RPGs were in the middle (mostly in cardboard boxes on folding tables, with some on a couple of bookshelves), and boxed games and miniatures lining the walls. The RPG books on the shelves were mostly organized by system, but while the books in the boxes (2/3 of which were d20 System books) looked as though they had been organized at one point in the distant past, but after many generations of gamers had picked through them, were mixed haphazardly. If I was looking for a specific gamebook, I'd have a rough idea where to look, but I'd almost certainly have to ask for help in finding it. I'll give the clerks the benefit of the doubt here, but while I was greeted as I came in, I was never asked if I needed help. The clerks never gave me a second glance after I came in, as far as I could tell. Again, after the helpful-yet-not-overbearing presence of friendly clerks at The Source, I know that this is not too much to ask, and it does make a difference in atmosphere.

Another point lost is the fact that The Last Grenadier doesn't seem to have a website. Now, in all fairness, I didn't ask the clerks about this; I'm basing this conclusion on a simple Google check. The Source's website isn't anything to write home about, but it is easily found, and they maintain an e-mail list that regularly appraises customers of sales, new products, and events.

I'm probably making this sound pretty awful. Again, let me reiterate that it wasn't the worst gaming store I've ever been to. TLG has a lot of stock, even if it takes a little time to find it, and much of the time all I want to do is walk the aisles and browse. I don't know how much profit TLG actually makes and whether they make enough to improve the look of the store. But I will say that, for the casual shopping gamer, it appears to be run more like someone's hobby basement rather than a place of business. While they don't sell comics (not that I saw - though I was pleasantly surprised to see a copy of Zander Cannon's The Replacement God trade paperback for sale), Scott McCloud's argument in Reinventing Comics still holds true: if your store looks like a poorly-lit clubhouse backroom rather than a warm, well-lit, friendly and open store, your potential clientele - women, children, those other than hardcore hobbyists - is much likelier to simply go online for what they want.