Thursday, March 29, 2012

I Am A Robot (My Geek Daughter)

So, I promise not to turn my blog into a whole collection of "Isn't my daughter the cutest thing ever" posts, but the title is "DADDY Rolled a 1" and I've only really written about her once, so hopefully I can be forgiven a bit.

Earlier this week, I was having a bad day - I woke up to an email from a potential client that I've been wooing for months trying to get their business (things had progressed so far that we'd already negotiated my fees and I'd sent him a full contract to have his legal counsel review) that basically said, "Thanks, but we've decided to go in another direction."  This is about the 10th email like this that I've been in the past few months, but this one hit me pretty hard because I really thought it was in the bag.

Anyway, I was a little down during breakfast with my daughter, Joy, and she asked why I was sad (she's very good at picking up on emotions, even though she's only 2 1/2) and my mom, who was also there to babysit Joy that day told Joy that I was having a bad day.

Card by Joy. (Stickers Provided by Grandma). 
That night, after work, Joy handed me the following card that she'd made with grandma.  Joy loves marching around the house with stiff arms and legs and using a monotone voice to announce, "I am a robot."  She thinks it's hilarious.  So, this card would've been right up her alley.  She's also really into the idea of "rocket ships" right now (apparently they play rocket ships at her daycare) and Joy understands that she could climb into one to fly to faraway places, like the Moon or Disneyland.  Usually she picks Disneyland.

Earlier this week at breakfast one morning, I showed her how we could make a flying saucer by turning one of her little plates upside down, and she thought that was super cool, so we've been playing that a lot lately as well.

I swear I'm not deliberately trying to turn her into a full-fledged geek like me.

Well... maybe a little bit. 
Card Interior

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Tap water
Listening: "The Pan Piper" by Miles Davis, from "Sketches of Spain"

Monday, March 26, 2012

TV From the 80's: Tales of the Gold Monkey

Anybody remember this one?  It only ran for one season on ABC here in the U.S., back in 1982.  It was set in the South Pacific in 1938 and involved an ex-Flying Tigers pilot (although that's a gaffe - the Flying Tigers didn't start in operation until 1941) named Jake Cutter (played by Stephen Collins).

In the series, Jake is an air cargo delivery service man based on the fictional island of Bora Gora.  His sidekicks include his usually-drunk mechanic, Corky, and a one-eyed Jack Russell terrier named, appropriately enough, Jack.  Caitlin O'Heaney plays Jake's love interest, a U.S. spy named Sarah Stickney White, whose cover is as a lounge singer at the Monkey Bar.

Roddy McDowall, John Calvin, and Marta Dubois all have recurring roles in the series, which lasted a total of 21 episodes but was not renewed for a second season due to low ratings.

Although many thought of the series as just cashing in on the popularity of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which had come out the year prior in theaters (and this is what I thought at the time), in reality the show had been in development since the late 70s, but studio executives at the time didn't think audiences would be interested in watching a "period piece." The success of Raiders is what finally convinced the executives that perhaps they had been wrong.

[Isn't it funny how entertainment and studio executives consistently underestimate the intelligence of the audiences they are creating content for?  Maybe part of the reason that audiences are viewed as being so dumb is because nobody ever gives them the benefit of the doubt that they might want to watch something more intelligent.]

I remember being super excited when this show debuted, and I made sure that I was home every Wednesday to watch the show (since, of course, we didn't have any way of recording it aside from a VCR which was super expensive back in those days).  I remember the showed debuted the day after my 12th birthday and shortly around the same time that I was introduced to D&D, Conan, Monty Python.

The series was definitely very "pulpy" and utilized some of the same familiar tropes as Raiders and pretty much any other fictional pulp story that takes place in the 1930s - evil Nazis just coming into power, a dashing male hero who is somewhat rough around the edges, a beautiful dame, and a femme fatale. There was also the treasure-hunting aspect in the form of the statue from the show's title, the infamous golden monkey.

The entire series is available on DVD as a boxed set, and can also be rented via Netflix (although it's not available for streaming as of the date of this post).  Based on my memory of the show, it would make good idea fodder for any games that take place during that time period.  I feel like the Savage Worlds system would work perfectly with this show, although the d20 Modern Forbidden Kingdoms system would work also.

What are your memories of this show?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Savage Worlds Cthulhu and Pre-Generated Characters

Having just written about one of my least favorite role-playing experiences, I thought I'd turn the tables to talk about one of the most fun experiences I've had lately. 

A few weeks ago, in place of the normal Friday Night "Andalusia II" game, DM'd by my friend Brian, that I'm playing in, we ended up with a couple of players who couldn't make it, so my friend Sean stepped in and offered to run a Cthulhu one-shot for us.  It's really important to me to keep the momentum of the Friday night game going, because I really look forward to it.  Yeah, I'm tired and it's at the end of a long week of work, at night.  But, that's precisely why I need that time - to hang out with my friends and relax, have a few beers and hopefully some Scotch (although the Scotch purveyor has been slacking lately - you know who you are), talk about the week, and kill pretend zombies/orcs/dragons/cultists. 

So, when Sean stepped up, I was ecstatic.  It was the second time in the past few months when another player in the Friday night game had offered to run a one-shot as a replacement for our regular game falling through. 

Now, as a courtesy to those who haven't played this particular module I'm going to talk about, there are not any spoiler alerts ahead.  This adventure was so much fun that I would hate to ruin it for anyone who might want to play through it some day. 

Sean opted to use the Savage Worlds rules, which we had used successfully a few months ago with a one-shot game run by my friend, Cal (which was probably the second-most fun I've had role-playing in recent memory).  Sean picked an adventure called "In Media Res", which I've never heard of and didn't know what to expect.  I believe it's available in the Unspeakable Oath #10.

Right away, we were immersed in the world when Sean provided us with actual name tags that he had made listing the names of our pre-generated characters on them, as well as their "current location" (where they resided).  Sean is always making props for his games, and they are good props - he went the extra mile and bought little plastic card holders with clips on them that we wore, and then told us afterwards that we could keep them as kind of like a little game momento.  In the past, he's made matchbooks, postcards, business cards, newspaper articles (printed on actual newsprint), and handbills for different events.

Anyway, the game started by Sean taking each player outside one at a time and telling us about our characters.  The rest of the information we needed to know was written on our character sheets, including the "Hindrances" of the Savage Worlds system.  One of mine was "mumbles a lot", so I spent the game doing my impression of Rain Man and mumbling under my breath, doing my best to comment on every situation.  There were only three players, and the adventure called for four pre-generated characters, so Sean played the fourth himself. 

During the course of the game, which takes place in a more modern time period (1980s), our characters did some really interesting things that I would normally not do in a course of a role-playing game, including rifling through a refrigerator looking for steaks to cook and then splitting the party so that some of the characters could eat dinner, having our characters put on clothes that weren't theirs, rummaging through someone's underwear drawer, and watching TV.  It was just totally crazy and weird and tons of fun.  But, this is a Cthulhu game, so there was some maximum creepiness/weirdness thrown in that really changed the tenor of the game as well. As I mentioned, I don't want to say too much more in order to avoid spoiling it for those who haven't experienced it.

The next day, my wife asked me, "How was the game last night?" and I couldn't stop talking about how cool it was and how much fun I had, and she said, "That sounds fun! I totally would've played that game!"  My wife has played RPGs before, but only in my World of Samoth game and pretty much only to humor me because she was curious about the world that I'd spent the past 20+ years developing.  But she was totally excited at how cool the Savage Worlds Cthulhu game was, and I think if we do another one-shot in the future I could convince her to come with me.

I think the key for this type of game was the pre-generated character. I love creating my own characters, but I've found that, especially for shorter game (one-shots or just one module over the course of a few games), having the GM give you a pre-generated character makes it so much easier to actually role-play, because the GM usually gives you little bits of information about your character. 

As an example, in my friend Cal's one-shot Savage Worlds game, we all played American paratroopers during World War II who were being dropped behind enemy lines to investigate a secret Nazi experimental base.  Well, everyone but me, that is. I played Lieutenant-Colonel Lord Nigel Hawthorne from the British Office of Special Intelligence. I was actually in charge of the entire mission, but my superiors and I had realized that the Americans had the best paratroopers on the side of the Allies, so we opted to use them for the mission. I was told on my sheet to try to speak as much as possible in an English accent, to pronounce "Lieutenant" as though there were an "F" in the first syllable, and to start pretty much every sentence with the phrase "I Say", to insert the word "then" into my speech even when unnecessary and to end each sentence with a rhetorical question. So, I might comment on the weather by saying, "I say, old chap, lovely spot of weather we're having then, isn't it?"  I had three Hindrances. The top one was simply, "English."  My sheet also told me how I felt about all of the other characters, and of course theirs did the same for me. It was hilarious, and combined with the other characters in the group, it made for an awesomely fun night of role-playing because I was able to instantly get into my character. 

What are your experiences with pre-generated characters? Do you think they help, or do you think they're just a crutch for people?

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Tap water
Listening: "The Last Good Day of the Year" by Cousteau

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

D&D vs X-Men's Storm

TM & © 2012 Marvel & Subs.

Shortly after I started playing D&D, I became friends with a guy at my school named Steve. Steve was one of those hopeless cases - sadly, no social skills and bad hygiene being his two primary "faults" that resulted in him having few friends. But, he was a nice enough guy and not being super popular myself, we kind of hit it off.

I don't remember how I met Steve, but I remember that he was into D&D and he had a LOT of stuff - rulebooks,boxed sets, magazines, and tons of modules. He was that guy who would take a set of bright permanent markers and color the black and white line drawings on the inside cover of the modules, but he seemed to fixate on only coloring in the female characters. It was a little creepy.

Steve was also the host of one of the worst "role-playing" experiences I have ever had.

Steve had invited me over to play a game if AD&D with his friend, who was an "awesome DM." He said I could bring my own character, so I brought my 9th level half-elf ranger-knight, Alemi, whom I had had for a couple of years. Putting aside the fact that, after only a couple of years I actual game play, he shouldn't have been 9th level, his stats are a little "padded" (to be generous), and also that he had amassed a pretty big array of magical items (beyond the item limit for rangers listed in the Player's Handbook), he was my favorite character - my first AD&D character and my first non-human character.

Alemi's Character Sheet circa 1983
(As an aside, I've enclosed a scan of the front of Alemi's character sheet in all of its 1983 dot-matrix glory.  I didn't design the sheet, because I didn't have a computer - my friend Russ Mickler design this one, I think.  I like the nice touches, like the mispelling of "PETAFACATION" and how none of my DMs up to that point had every explained the concept of of their campaign worlds to me, so under religion I put "Protestant."  It seemed to me that a game that included stuff like Clerics and Paladins fighting demons must be Christian-based. I apologize that it's difficult to read, but I didn't want to try to darken the pencil lines just to scan it in.) 

Steve was the only other player there at his house, and we headed down to the basement, because, as I've mentioned before, I was living in Salt Lake City (Sandy, to be precise) at the time, and D&D there was always played in the basement. The DM was older than us, by at least a couple of years, and in strict contradiction to the conservative Utah fashion norm of the day, had very long, thick, wavy hair - marking him as what we all called a "Hessian" and therefore a fan of heavy metal music and probably not a Mormon (of course, the mere fact that he was playing D&D could have given that away as well).

I don't remember anything about Steve's character, and I have no memory of the setup of the game - the background, the world, what we were supposed to be doing...

I do remember that the DM had no maps, no dice, and no notes. And I remember very distinctly when he told us that we were being attacked by Storm.

I had a lot if trouble with this, because this was before I had started reading superhero comics and I had no idea who Storm, let alone any of the other X-Men, was. I was clueless. The DM berated me for being an idiot and not reading X-Men and then tried to describe her. He was using her as his main villain, and I remember we were supposed to attack her.

Unfortunately, our attacks didn't work out so well, because we weren't allowed to do anything. None of my attacks were effective. I couldn't even hit her AC, and as the day wore on, I got progressively more and more annoyed, and finally just started making stuff up.

"That didn't hit? Okay, for my next attack, and believe me, I didn't want to do this, but I'll have to pull out this artifact that I won in another game. It's a hammer of the gods that always hits and does maximum damage. No attack roll necessary."

"It misses her."

I was really cheesed off at this point. "Storm" kept flying around, never landing, and shooting bolts of lightning at us from the sky. Nothing we could do had any impact.

Finally, reduced to about -2 hit points, I was told that my character was dead and to tear up my sheet. I refused, and half-angry, half-hurt at the thought of my character dying, I shouted, "What the Heck! [edit: Yes, I said "Heck" not "Hell.". This was Utah and it was the way everybody talked] What were we supposed to be doing? How come she was all powerful and we couldn't do anything to attack her?"

"Because she's STORM! She's cool!"

Steve joined in with, "Yeah, Storm is really awesome, dude."

I never played D&D with Steve again, and sadly that was one of the last actual game sessions I played in until more than a decade later when I joined my friend Cal's Middle Earth game.

What are some of your bad experiences? Have you ever had a DM who was so in love with his world or his NPCs that you felt you were just along for the ride?

Hanging: Home office, laptop
Listening: "Istanbul, Not Constantinople" by They Might Be Giants
Drinking: Tap water

"Storm" image Source: The Uncanny X-Men #166 (February 1983), "Live Free or Die!", page 11; Marvel Comics Group: New York City; written by Chris Claremont, pencilled by Paul Smith, inked by Bob Wiacek.
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