Monday, December 23, 2013

Of Music, Family, and the Holidays

This past month or so has been a bit tough on me. As I mentioned back in April, my mom passed away very unexpectedly in February of this year, so my family and I have been dealing with her absence during what has traditionally been my favorite time of year - Autumn and all of its holidays, including Halloween, St. Martin's Day, and of course Thanksgiving, and also Christmas.

My mom was a huge fan of the entire Christmas season and would decorate her house every year with a dizzying array of lighted porcelain villages, nutcrackers, homemade cross-stitched pillows and framed pictures, candles, tablecloths, holiday dishes, stuffed animals, garlands, wreaths, and three freshly cut Christmas trees each decorated with a different color and theme. She began baking over 14 dozen Christmas cookies in mid-October and wrapped each cookie individually in piece of plastic wrap, then double-bagged them in Zip-lock baggies and stored them in her freezer to keep them fresh. They were taken out, unwrapped, and arranged on huge platters on the day of the annual Thomas Family Christmas Open House, where they sat beside a variety of other food items and a basket that held home-made ornaments that my mom made every year to give to her guests at the party.

Now, I know that to a lot of you reading this, that probably sounds like your idea of Hell - a house decked all out in a kitschy mixture of homemade decorations, old Christmas pieces from the 1950s-1980s, newer decorations with styles that don't match the older ones, and, well, just "Christmas" everywhere you turn around in the house. As my sister, who is not a fan of Christmas once described it, Christmas-time at my parents' house was like "living in a department store."

I bring this up because I actually loved all that stuff. Of course I grew up with it, but mom didn't really start going overboard with Christmas decorations until the past decade and a half or so. I had already moved out of the house by this time, but I always liked going over to the house to help my mom decorate and see what a good mood it put her in. I always tried to find her some new decorations throughout the year, and I always was giving her new Christmas music to listen to while she decorated.

As readers of my blog know, I usually end each blog post by indicating where I wrote that particular post, and what I was drinking and listening to while I wrote it. I'm not really sure why I started doing that, but it's something I like to share along with whatever I'm chatting about in the actual post itself.

I listen to music all day while I'm working, and while I'm driving, usually either on Pandora where I've created about 3 dozen different stations, or on iTunes, where I've got 10,102 songs loaded and 165 playlists. Of those songs, 1,966 of them are Christmas songs.

Again, I know that a lot of you are probably groaning right now and at this point you've already hit your saturation of Christmas music for the year and are ready to claw your eyeballs out if you have to listen to "Jingle Bells" one more time.

The thing is... I love Christmas music. I'm super picky about music (something my wife can attest to), and there are certain genres of music I stay completely away from (I hate Country and pretty much most stuff considered "pop"). I don't really relate well to people who say they "don't like" music, and I really can't understand people who don't care what song is playing or don't ever get in the mood to listen to a certain song or album.

So, Christmas-time to me is a time to re-visit all of this music that I love but that I only listen to between the Friday after Thanksgiving and January 6th (Epiphany). The rest of the year, I have the music segregated on my iTunes and I don't listen to it. So, for me, I'm not one of those people who "gets tired" of Christmas music and gets annoyed or angry when it's playing on the radio. I actually have so many Christmas songs that I can't listen to them all during the season, so I've created a smart playlist (that updates dynamically) in iTunes for Christmas songs that I haven't played for the past two years, so I can try to remember to listen to them.

A few years ago, I was at my in-laws' house for Christmas and was playing some of my Christmas tunes when my mother-in-law sighed loudly and said that she was "done" with Christmas music and "couldn't we listen to something else?" I really just couldn't understand that kind of thinking, because basically to me what she was saying was "all Christmas music sounds the same" - that is, it's almost as though to her and to many other people, Christmas music is a "genre" all itself, no matter the style or subject-matter of the song. My wife is very similar in this regard. She'll say that she's sick of Christmas music and instead wants to listen to pop or alternative. My response has always been, "Why don't you listen to Christmas music in the pop or alternative style?"

Just like all songs about heart-break, friendship, long lost loves, romance, or adventure are not done in the same style, the same thing is true with Christmas music. I think most people "get tired" of Christmas music because so much of it that gets played on the radio and in-stores is the same old songs recorded back in the 1940s and 1950s - classics like "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" by Bing Crosby, or "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays" by Perry Como. Again, I actually like those songs a lot, but even I do get a little tired of them from time-to-time. However, I recognize that just because I'm tired of a particular song, doesn't mean that I'm tired of all "Christmas music."

Where is this leading? Well, in an effort to help you make it through the rest of the holiday season and also perhaps to expand your definition of "Christmas Music," I've put together a little list below of some songs you may want to check out. I hope you do, and that they help increase your enjoyment of the holidays and that you discover some tunes that you weren't aware of. I'd love it if the list inspires some of you to re-examine your Christmas music collection and start adding some new tunes. And, please do share in the comments below your favorites.

You can find all of these songs on iTunes, and they all should be in Pandora as well, so you can create a station around a particular tune, which is a great way to discover even more songs you didn't know about.

  • "Soulful Christmas" by James Brown. There's almost no way you can hear this song and keep your feet from tapping. It's a fast, energetic song by the Godfather of Soul, with classic lines such as "You bought my records... you come to see my show... that's why James Brown love you so." This is probably my favorite tune from Brown's excellent "Funky Christmas" album, which also includes many great tunes like "Go Power at Christmas Time" and "Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto." 
  • "Charlie Brown Cut-Up" by Colossus. The "Charlie Brown Christmas" special is hands-down my favorite Christmas special and also in my top 10 animated shows of all time. The soundtrack to the special is also one of my favorite Christmas albums. It's a jazz combo of piano, bass, and drums, and is the perfect music to play while trying to relax after a long hectic day of Christmas shopping. This fun tune is a mash-up that puts a hip-hop back-beat and a lot of scratching over the children's choir humming the tune "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Trust me, it works. 
  • "Christmas Vacation" by Mavis Staples. Okay, this particular song isn't actually available on iTunes and the soundtrack is long out of print, but if you know how to use Google you can find a copy somewhere online. This is the theme song to the classic 1989 "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," which was required Christmas-eve viewing in the Thomas household for many years. While the movie is a combination of slap-stick humor and heartwarming moments, the theme song is a fun, catchy, energetic holiday tune that will keep you smiling as your remember your favorite moments from the film. 
  • "Christmas Is a Joyful Day" by Lord Executor. Head down to the Caribbean with this calypso tune about a cantaway, a "knock-out" rum drinking served during the holidays. 
  • "A Party for Santa Claus" by Lord Nelson. This is another Caribbean style song, explaining why we should give gifts to Santa Claus to thank him for all he does for us, so he'll come back more than once a year. Ideas include "trade in the old sleigh and the reindeer for a big car with a chauffeur, get a helicopter...," "an apartment with modern equipment" and my favorite, "take him out to a nightclub or a movie, get some fine chicks and have a party." 
  • "Be-Bop Santa Claus" by Sweet Daddy Lowe. This isn't really a song, but a spoken-word piece done in the style of the old hipster poets, in a re-telling of "Twas the Night Before Christmas." Great stuff in here, especially if you listen carefully and have a working knowledge of the jazz greats. At one point, the Be-Bop Santa delivers a gift, "a record cut by Diz when he was two." 
  • "Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern)" by Miles Davis and Bob Dorough. This is not a feel-good song, but rather a look at the commercialization of Christmas, a "time when the greedy give a dime to the needy," and "plain old bad taste." This is the only real holiday song by jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, and if you're a fan of his (as I am), you should have this in your collection. Also, listen carefully to the voice of the guy singing the song, Bob Dorough. That's also the same voice of most of the old "Schoolhouse Rocks" songs, including "I'm Just a Bill."
  • "Back Door Santa" by Clarence Carter. This is a blues-style rocker, and the main riff is what Run D.M.C. used for their classic "Christmas in Hollis" tune. Carter sings about "I keep some change in my pocket, in case the children are at home; I give them a few pennies so we can be alone..."

Also, I've published a few holiday playlists on Spotify for my ad agency, Always On Communications (AOC), as "Christmas gifts" each year for my clients and followers:

  • AOC Holiday Soul Playlist
    • Donny Hathaway, Otis Redding, Charles Brown, Brook Benton, the Drifters, and more
  • AOC Holiday Remixed Playlist
    • Remixes of classic songs like "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" by Kay Starr, "Christmas Time Is Here" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, and "Happy Holiday" by Bing Crosby
  • AOC Holiday Uncommon Playlist
    • Interesting tunes like "Holiday on Skis," "Santa Claus' Party," and "Vauncing Chimes"
  • AOC Holiday Mellow Jazz Playlist
    • Relaxing (but never "smooth") jazz, such as Herbie Hancock, Red Garland, and Chet Baker
  • AOC Holiday Contemporary Playlist
    • Everything from Paul McCartney ("Wonderful Christmastime") and the Beach Boys ("Little Saint Nick") to Sting ("Gabriel's Message") and the Waitresses ("Christmas Wrapping")


That's just a very short list - there's Christmas music in every style, from classic jazz (such as Dexter Gordon and even a 13+ minute rendition of "My Favorite Things" by John Coltrane), swing, blues, reggae, rock, soul and R&B, classical, and more. So, the next time you starting thinking, "Man, I'm really tired of Christmas music..." pause for a second and see if it's just a particular song or a specific style that you're really tired of, and then mix it up a bit.

And above all else, enjoy your holidays. 


Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Stone Ruination IPA
Listening: "We Wanna See Santa Do the Mambo" by Big John Greer

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

New Comics Wednesday: Black Beetle and Captain Midnight

Today is Wednesday, and that means it's New Comic Book Day - the day all of this week's comics hit the store shelves (both physically and digitally). Typically on Wednesdays, I feature a comic here on Daddy Rolled a 1 that I'll personally be picking up later this evening when I go to my local shop with my daughter after I pick her up from preschool.

Today is a little different, as I'm going to draw your attention to two reviews of trade collections that I recently did over at ComicAttack.net. I think both of these collections will be of interest to all the Dames and Daddy-Os who read my blog.

Also, please note also that every Wednesday, I tweet out which issues I picked up that week, and then over the course of the week I send out individual tweets with 140-character reviews of each issue. You can follow me on Twitter here.

Lastly, if you want to read more of my reviews over at ComicAttack, just search my name-tag to see what I've reviewed lately.

BLACK BEETLE VOLUME I: NO WAY OUT
I've written about Black Beetle before for one of my "Pulp Noir Monday" posts, way back when in April when issue #3 of the four-issue limited series was published.

A few weeks ago, Dark Horse Comics provided me a review copy of the trade collection of this four issue limited series, "No Way Out" as well as the 0-issue prequel called "Night Shift."

You can learn more about "What's It About?" as well as "Who Is the Creative Team" and "Who Will Like It?" by reading my review at ComicAttack (link below).

Any Good Ideas For My Role-Playing Games?
Black Beetle is full of really great adventure, character, and adversary ideas for any kind of spy/thriller/pulp action type game, and many of the ideas could translate to other genres as well. The art is extremely evocative of the era is portrays, and it could be a huge help to a GM to just show his players some of the images rather than trying to describe a villain hideout or what a "helicopter backpack" looks like. The author, Francesco Francavilla, also clearly has a love for this time period of the 1940s, and remembers little details that will be of immense help to GMs trying to "set the stage", such as the role of jazz music, smoking, and cocktails.

Is It Good For Kids?
As I mentioned before, it's not rated by the Comics Code Authority. Dark Horse's website says it's for Ages 12+, but of course it's best to read it for yourself first before deciding if it's right for your kids.

Here's the first section of my review for ComicAttack:

Francesco Francavilla’s mini-series of the first Black Beetle adventures was one of my favorite comic stories this year, and it’s great to have this wonderful hard cover that collects the first story arc of this unique pulp hero.

I first discovered Francavilla through his blog where he posted regular updates of his various art designs, and then I went back and found some of his earlier work, including one of my favorite Batman stories ever, The Black Mirror. His art style evokes a different era – it’s sort of post-war Italian pop art mixed with earlier art deco and pulp influences...

You can read the rest of the review here.

CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT VOLUME I: CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT BATTLES THE NAZIS
This review of mine was just posted yesterday. Once again, the good folks over at Dark Horse kindly provided me with a review copy of this 253 page collection of stories about Captain Midnight, a military superhero that dates back to 1941. First published by Dell, Captain Midnight was later published by Fawcett Comics right as America entered World War II, and the stories in this collection all involve Captain Midnight battling the Axis powers.

Again, please read the full review at ComicAttack (link below) to get a better idea of "What's It About?" and "Who Is the Creative Team?"

Who Will Like It?
I deal with this a bit in my review, but wanted to point out that the strong point of this collection, to me, is not necessarily the stories themselves, but rather the historical perspective they provide. It's a true treat to be able to have a collection like this, of a "non-A List" Golden Age super hero from the dawn of comics - remember that the first story in this collection is from 1941, which is only three years after Superman was created and two years after Batman. While the early issues of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are still in constant publication in trade format, it's rare to find other heroes from other companies also given the same treatment.

If you like Golden Age comics, military comics, superheroes, or World War II-era comics, then you'll definitely enjoy this collection. It would make a great gift for someone who is into comics, or fancies themselves a "comic historian."

Any Good Ideas for My Role-Playing Games?
This is a perfect way to gain inspiration for running a World War II-era supers game, especially if you want to evoke the attitudes of the Americans toward the Axis Powers (but see my note below under "Is It Good for Kids?"). It also has tons of just outrageous, goofy, but very period-appropriate adventure seeds, locales, gadgets, and other stuff that will be very helpful to busy players and GMs who are looking to evoke that specific 1940s comic era in their games.

Is It Good For Kids?
I'm going to give this a very qualified "yes," which is a nice change for most of the comics I review here. These are stories of a different age - I hesitate to say more "innocent," but these stories lack the darkness and the gray morality of most modern comics. The Nazis are bad guys. Everybody knows that. It's pretty much impossible to defend them, so it's okay that Captain Midnight takes turns punching, kicking, and shooting them.

Yes, there's shooting in here, so if you don't want your kids exposed to both bad guys and good guys shooting guns, then this isn't for you.

However, a bigger issue, but one which I highly commend Dark Horse for, is that they have chosen to leave the original comics un-edited, meaning that many of the terms and portrayals of certain other races are way out-of-step with modern sensibilities. Both the Nazis and the Japanese are presented in an extremely stereotypical and very unflattering manner, and the names that they are called, particularly the Japanese, are these days considered very offensive. As an historical record of the time, I think it's important to leave the stories as they were written, but parents should be warned before letting their kids read them.

Here's the first section of my review for ComicAttack:

Every few years, a long forgotten character from the Golden Age of Comics makes a re-appearance. Some are going through a mini-renaissance right now, such as the old pulp-era heroes over at Dynamite Entertainment, like the Green Hornet and the Shadow. Others have actually never really gone away, including the Trinity of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman over at DC.

In between those two extremes, however, are literally scores, if not hundreds, of characters which have gone forgotten. Fortunately, one of those characters, Captain Midnight, has been resurrected by Dark Horse Comics with both a new monthly title as well as this first volume collecting the original stories dating back to 1941 – 1948.

Originally a radio serial character created in 1938 by, of all things, an advertising agency in Chicago...
You can read the rest of the review here.

Cheers, all, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: AleSmith X Extra Pale Ale
Listening: "North and South of the River" by U2

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Game Stores: The Compleat Strategist (New York, NY)

The front of the store. What treasures await inside? 
I'm going to be a bit crazy today by, firstly, bucking today's normal topic, which is "TV Shows from the 80s" and instead resurrecting an older topic from here at Daddy Rolled a 1 by talking about game stores I've visited in my role-playing "career."

Secondly, once again being wild and crazy, I'm going a bit out-of-order. I had intended to talk about my game store visits in roughly the order they occurred, starting with the first game store I visited back when I started role-playing in Sandy, Utah when my mom drove me to a place called the Cosmic Aeroplane in Salt Lake City, then talking about the various stores I visited after I moved to California, and along the way mentioning any shops that I could remember while on vacation in other states - I distinctly remember visiting one in Denver in the mid-1980s but I sadly don't remember the name.

However, I recently made a trip to Westchester County in New York for business reasons, and while I was all the way out there, I took an extra day to go to Manhattan to do a little site-seeing. I've been to Manhattan a few times before, so I've seem most of the "big stuff." For this trip, since I was by myself, I planned specifically to go visit one of the old-school grand-daddies of game shops, the semi-mythical Compleat Strategist.

This was back a few weeks ago, on October 16th. I'd had meetings that morning in a place called
Halloween Decorations
in the Window
Tarrytown, and then I took a cab from there into Manhattan to my hotel that I'd specifically picked based on how close it was to the Compleat Strategist (it was a walk just around the corner). It helped that this was a really central area of New York so there was a lot to do in this small area, such as the Empire State Building and the Macy's from the movie "Miracle on 34th Street" which happens to be one of my favorite movies (the original black-and-white version, that is).

I had planned to visit the Compleat Strategist on Thursday, but as the cab slowly made its crawl along the New York freeway, I realized that I'd be getting to my hotel around 4pm and the store didn't close until 6pm, so I could go that very evening after checking-in. I stared out the window into the gray, cloudy October sky and began daydreaming about my old issues of Dragon magazine I'd been given as a gift those long years ago back in Junior High School, and the little black-and-white ads in the back where game stores advertised all of the products they carried. They all seemed to be concentrated in the Midwest and East Coast, but as a little kid growing up in Sandy, Utah, they may as well have been in the Soviet Union (that place still existed back then).

I didn't get to visit my first "real" game store until the early-to-mid 1990s, which was the Last Grenadier in Burbank, and by then, the store was a little past its prime. I've always had this romantic vision of those early game stores, stocked full with games by Games Designers Workshop and Fantasy Games Unlimited and all of the other companies that made games that I'd heard of but never seen because they weren't carried at Gemco or Hammond's Toys.

As the cab got closer to my hotel, I started to get pretty excited. This store, the Compleat Strategist, had been around since the early days of the hobby. What kind of treasures might I find there, tucked under a pile of books long-neglected in a forgotten corner of the store? My mind raced at the possibilities.

The cab finally arrived near my hotel but he overshot it and we were on a one-way street. I threw some money at him, ran back the way he had come to get to my hotel, checked-in quickly and then ran up to my room to change out of my "oppressive monkey suit" as my friend Cal would call it (I actually had to wear a button-down shirt and a sport-coat with my jeans!) into a t-shirt and hoodie, and then I walked over to the Compleat Strategist.

Well, with all of that build-up, you can probably guess how my visit was. I couldn't help but be disappointed, but that's really not the fault of the store. That's partially my fault for having built the Compleat Strategist up in my mind into this perfect end-all, be-all type of retail game location that no store could ever live up to. I'm also pretty spoiled in that I have a very large, and fairly well-stocked game store (with a huge "second-hand" used game section) that's about three blocks from my house.

Some of the store shelves.
The Compleat Strategist is deceptively small from the outside, but they make up for inside by stacking games from floor-to-ceiling, and I mean that literally. Take a look at the photos I snapped - there are games up so high on the wall at ceiling level that you can barely make out what their titles are, and it would take quite a feat of balance to climb up there to pull one down for a customer.

Like most old-school game stores, at first glance there appears to be a pattern of how the games are organized, but as you squeeze through the aisles, you quickly realize that's a mere ruse, and any type of game or accessory could really be found anywhere in the store.

I spied some old-school stickers and advertisements plastering the walls toward the back of the store, which made me smile. There was a pretty large section of old d20 stuff (which is sad when I'm thinking of that as "old" now), lots of Pathfinder and 4E stuff, and other typical games like Warhammer, Iron Kingdoms, a smattering of Savage Worlds and other RPGs. The store seems to focus mainly on strategic board games and some card games, however. I was actually expecting a larger ratio of role-playing games but I suspect these days that board games carry better margins and also probably sell better. With only one other exception besides me (a young woman who said she was from Montana, it might have been Wyoming), everybody else there was focused on board games. A mom came in with her young son to look at some trading cards for some game (I wasn't really listening). The girl from Montana said that every time she finds a game store while she's traveling, she tries to pick up something unique for her gamer friends back home. Last time she'd gotten some distinctive dice. This time she was looking for some miniature figures that were easy to travel with. She spent a lot of time browsing through the old 3.5 stuff.

I did see one section which puts my local store to shame, and that was of non-standard RPGs, with a
Games, Games, as far as
the eye can see.
lot of OSR titles that I've read about in the blogosphere here but never actually seen at retail, such as Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Carcosa. There were also tons of games that I'd never heard of but that looked really cool, some neat Savage Worlds settings including one that took inspiration from the old "Sword & Planet" genre, and whole shelves of Cthulhu-type games and supplements. My local shop doesn't carry any of this kind of stuff - he carries a ton of Pathfinder stuff (which it took him forever to carry) and WotC and some WH40K RPG stuff and that's about it. So, from that standpoint, the Compleat Strategist delivered on that front: stocking stuff that I'd never seen before.

Where the Compleat Strategist fell short of my over-expectations (and again, this isn't a fault of theirs) was in older material. I really expected I might find stack of some old Dragon magazines here that I could pick up to fill in the gaps of my collection, or even some older modules or 1st Edition books (I have most of them but am still missing a few of the later 1E books). I was also hoping to see some 2nd Edition settings or things like the green Historical Reference Guides, which were some of my favorites. It would have been cool to also find some older games by other companies, like the FGU and GDW I mentioned above. Obviously the store has been around long enough that all of those items would have been picked over and purchased a long time ago. I guess I was just hoping against hope that something might still be lingering around somewhere.

In terms of help at the store... well, to be fair, I didn't engage with anyone directly. I just overheard things.

A few favorites involved:

One of the shelves of Cthulhu. I snapped this for my friend,
Sean, who GMs our Friday night came when we often play
through Masks of Nyarlothotep.
Guy at the front desk, answering phone: "Compleat Strategist. 6pm. Yep. Nope. Yep. Bye."

I guess that's not bad, but it was that kind of typical attitude of "Don't call the store while I'm working. You're bothering me."

Another guy toward the front of the store continually screamed for help from someone at the back of the store, because people would ask him about various games, and with one exception, he had no knowledge of any of the games they were selling. Everything went like this:

"HEY! CAN YOU COME OUT HERE AND HELP THIS PERSON? SHE HAS A QUESTION ABOUT [insert name of game]!!!!!"

Now, the guy at the back of the store seemed pretty knowledgeable and helpful, so that was cool. If I had a question, I hope he'd be the one who would help me out.

In the end, I didn't buy anything. I had wanted to pick something up, and I almost bought something "just because" but I ended up talking myself out of it mainly because at this point I just don't need another RPG accessory that's never going to see use in an actual game. I used to buy things just to read, and considered it for the plane trip back, but I'd brought 13th Age with me to read and wasn't even halfway through, so I took a pass.

I also think I've learned my lesson that no game store is going to live up to whatever expectations I've built up in my mind over the years, going back to those heady days when I first started playing D&D and tried to find and devour as many games and modules as I could. It's impossible that any store could match my wishes...

Or, is it? Stay tuned for future entries in my game store series, particularly when I get to my first visit to Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica, CA...


Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: 2010 Holus Bolus Syrah
Listening: "Gone Fishin" by Louis Armstrong & Bing Crosby


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

New Comics Wednesday: Forever Evil (DC)

The Cover of Forever Evil #1
Today is Wednesday, and that means it's New Comic Book Day - the day all of this week's comics hit the store shelves (both physically and digitally). Every comic I feature here on Daddy Rolled a 1 is one that I'l personally be picking up later this evening when I go to my local shop with my daughter after I pick her up from pre-school.

Please note also that every Wednesday, I tweet out which issues I picked up that week, and then over the course of the week I send out individual tweets with 140-character reviews of each issue. You can follow me on Twitter here.

Lastly, if you're really interested in more comic reviews, I do "professional" reviews for the comic book site, ComicAttack where I posted my reviews under the name "Martin." You can search my tag to see what I've reviewed lately.

As with all of my comic book overviews, I will attempt to explain what makes this comic interesting without giving away any spoilers. However, this review does assume that you have read (or don't care about) the DC event called "The Trinity War" which immediately preceded, and led directly into, the comic book I'm going to review below.

This week it was really tough for me to pick just one issue to talk about - I'm getting a lot of cool things today including East of West, God Is Dead (which is not what you think it is based on the title), Green Arrow, Batman/Superman, Batman: Black & White... but I chose for today an issue of a six-issue limited series event for DC, called "Forever Evil," that they've been building toward ever since they started the "New 52" back in September of 2011. That said, you can of course read this series without any prior knowledge of what's happened and you'll be able to follow it just fine. These days if you want or need extra info, you can always use the Google or the Wikipedia to find out more.

___________________________________________________________________________

What's It About?
There's going to be a bit of background here, but hopefully it will help illustrate why I like this particular title in terms of the story.

When the New 52 debuted, there was a character seen lurking somewhere in the background of the first issue of each of the 52 comics that were released. Nobody knew who this character was, but over time it was revealed that her name was Pandora, and she formed one-third of what became referred to as the "Trinity of Sin" along with the Question and the Phantom Stranger. In DC's Free Comic Book Day issue for 2012, they revealed a bit about the origins of these three individuals, and we learned that Pandora was considered one of the original sinners for having taken, and opened, a box that unleashed evil on our world in the form of the Seven Sins. For this crime, she has been cursed to never die and to wander the earth trying to atone for her sin. Pandora has since taken up a mission of trying to figure out how to put the Seven Sins back into the box and seal it away forever, thus removing evil from the world. Her solo comic book title deals with this mission.

With this background, DC then built toward an event called the "Trinity War" which no one was quite sure how to take. "The Trinity" in DC usually refers to Batman - Superman - Wonder Woman, and many thought that somehow these three heroes would come into conflict with each other. However, DC had also established the "Trinity of Sin" as described above, and it seemed that they could also be the focus of the story. There was also another possibility - there are three Justice Leagues, each with different agendas. I've reviewed Justice League Dark before. There's also the "regular" Justice League, populated by the main heroes like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman, and Green Lantern. But there's also a third team, which is a government sponsored group called Justice League of America, comprised of people like Hawkman, Martian Manhunter, Stargirl, Green Arrow, and others, led by government agent Steve Trevor (yeah - the guy who used to date Wonder Woman) and created specifically as a counter to the regular Justice League in case those heroes ever somehow get out of line.

However, one option that was never fully considered for the Trinity War was of that between various Earths. DC had established up until this point that there were two Earths - the "main" one and one called "Earth 2" which was a parallel Earth of other heroes with similar names (aka, "The Flash," "Green Lantern" etc.) as the main Earth, but with different costumes, different aliases, and slightly different powers. Of course it stood to reason that there could be more than just the two Earths...

The end of "Trinity War" showed that this was the case, when a group of super-powered individuals emerged from a gate created by Pandora's box and revealed themselves to be evil doppelgangers of the heroes of the main Earth, but from Earth 3 There are villains like Ultraman, Wonder Woman, Nite Owl, Johnny Quick, and others. They are known as the Crime Syndicate, and have been planning for years to somehow find a way to leave their Earth and come conquer ours.

Forever Evil is the story of what happens on our Earth once the Crime Syndicate gets here and destroys all three Justice Leagues, leaving the Earth without its main super-powered heroes to defend it, and how the remaining super-powered people (minor heroes and super-villains alike, along with non-powered heroes like Steve Trevor and Amanda Waller) have to pick sides and figure out what to do. Should they join with the Crime Syndicate and act as lackeys, taking orders from them and causing havoc and essentially destroying everything that makes our Earth the way it is, or should they band together under the leadership of, say, Lex Luthor, and try to fight back to reclaim our Earth from the yolk of the Crime Syndicate?


Who Are the Creative Team?
Geoff Johns is the writer of the main storyline, and he's doing a spectacular job with this. DC has had a few other events for the New 52, but they were relatively minor affairs usually contained to just a handful of titles ("Throne of Atlantis" for Aquaman and Justice League, or "Night of the Owls" and "Death of the Family" for the Batman titles, for example) but this is their first true event that affects the entire DC universe, and the multiple Earth angle really gives this an old "Silver Age" vibe that I'm really digging. Johns always does a great job writing engaging storylines that put everything on the line and really make you believe that things are really, really bad. He also is a master of characterization, especially when dealing with evil character. Forever Evil is right in his wheelhouse, with surprises around every corner, tips-of-the-hat to old-school comics from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and great intrigue and in-fighting between the characters. It's really interesting to see Lex Luthor's reaction to everything and how and why he makes the decisions that he does regarding the Crime Syndicate.

Pencils are provided by David Finch, an artist who has previously been know for his work at Marvel, on a variety of titles including the Avengers (and later the New Avengers), Ultimate X-Men and Moon Knight, before coming to DC in 2010 where he's done work on Batman: The Dark Knight and the new Justice League of America. Finch is a detail-oriented artist, and he's a great match for the darkness of this story by Johns. His pencil work on this is among the strongest he's done for DC.


Who Will Like It?
This is a fun, but dark, event that should appeal to people who like to read about the motivations behind villains. In particular, the main storyline looks to be building toward a confrontation between groups of villains and what motivates them - the villains of Earth 3, the Crime Syndicate, fighting out of greed and hungry for power, versus the super-villains of the main Earth, who are either going along with the Crime Syndicate or perhaps preparing to counter-attack to save their Earth from destruction. I like these types of "shades of grey" where you can see a character in a different light from their normal portrayal and see how they have to change their philosophical outlook based on the circumstances.

Also, the references to the multiple Earths is a real treat for people who like the old-school Silver Age stories about parallel Earths and seeing different versions of their favorite characters. 

Lastly, there are a bunch of really cool tie-in stories that you don't have to read to follow the main story, but which are fun and engaging and add to the overall experience. One focuses on an "Arkham War" as Bane takes over and prepares to use the inmates of Arkham to destroy Gotham City, and also fight against the inmates of Blackgate Prison, another super high-security prison in the DC Universe. Then there's "Rogues Rebellion" which involves my favorite DC Villains - Flash's "Rogues Gallery" (Captain Cold, Weather Wizard, Mirror Master, and more) as they return to their home of Central City and have to figure out what to do now that the Crime Syndicate is asking for them to fall in line and destroy their home. The last one is "A.R.G.U.S." which stands for "Advanced Research Group United Superhumans" which is a government-sponsored group led by Amanda Waller and main field agent Steve Trevor. These are basically non-powered good-guys (kind of like Marvel's "S.H.I.E.L.D.").

Other individual titles are also tying into the main story, including Teen Titans, Suicide Squad, Constantine, and Pandora.

Any Good Ideas For My Role-Playing Game?
This series provides great idea fodder for running an "evil" game, even just as a one-shot or a short mini-campaign. Oftentimes, villains in comic books (and role-playing games) can be a bit one-dimensional, but the Forever Evil storyline showcases a unique look of villain against villain, and also what happens to the so-called "good" people who are left behind once the main heroes of the world are gone.


Is It Good for Kids? 
Not at all. This is a scary storyline that deals with disappearance of the various Justice League heroes (they are presumed dead at the beginning of this story, but I wouldn't call that a spoiler because this is DC and we know they're not going to permanently kill off Superman, for example), and also shows what the super-villains who are left on Earth do given free-reign. There are lots of killings, robberies, and other dark, twisted stuff that you wouldn't want your young ones exposed to. The comic carries a rating of "T" for Teen.

FOREVER EVIL
  • Format: Monthly 32-page full-color limited series (6 issues)
  • Where To Buy: As always, try to buy it at your local comic shop. You can find one by visiting the Comic Shop Locator. If you don't have one, try a bookstore, or you can buy the digital version to read on your PC, tablet, or smartphone by going to Comixology. That link takes you to the page to buy issue #3, which came out today, but you should start with issue #1 if you want to read the series. You'll find links on the page. 
  • Price: $3.99 per issue. 
  • Rated: Teen
  • More Information: The official DC Comics page for Forever Evil.


Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Black coffee
Listening: "Freeway" by Chet Baker

Monday, November 4, 2013

Victorian Era Monday: Steam Wars

Shocktrooper
Image ©2013 Sillof
As you may recall, back in January of this year, I decided to devote Mondays to blogging about pulp-noir: games, comics, TV shows, movies, and books with a 1930s pulp theme that can be used as inspirations for your games. In that first post, I talked about why I love that era so much, and how I often gravitate toward media in any form that uses the era as inspiration.

In an effort to expand a bit on some other influences that I enjoy, I'm going to open up Mondays to bit to also focus on material from other eras, including the Victorian era which is the subject of today's post. I really like the Victorian era (or you could call it the Industrial era) based in part on some of the early books I read by H.G. Wells and also the horror stories of Poe, Dracula by Braham Stoker, Shelley's Frankenstein... that era is one that fascinates me because on the one hand you have the advancement of logic and scientific reason over superstition, and on the other hand you have the fear of that science and what it means for mankind creating all of these crazy twisted horror stories. That superstition that we try to hard to shed is still lurking pretty prominently in the background. And, although you've got things like gunpowder, steam trains, and maybe telegraphs, life wasn't all that unlike it was a hundred or two hundred years prior, making it not far removed from the typical fantasy era in which a lot of role-playing games take place.

Since I began playing D&D, I've always liked the idea of "advancing the timeline" so to speak - the
Sir Benedict Kellion
Image ©2013 Sillof
idea of playing a D&D game that does involve some of the technological trappings of latter society but which is not fully "modern." The Victorian Era fits the bill for that type of thing.

My last Pulp Noir Monday post was on a series of customized action figures created by artist Sillof based off of a Star Wars theme that he called "Noir Wars." I thought it only fitting to show you yet another example of Sillof's artistry with a figure collection he calls "Steam Wars."

As a quick aside, you may be wondering a few things, so I'll try to answer them briefly:
  • Why are you showing pictures of action figures as an inspiration for role-playing games? Well, as I've mentioned before, inspiration can come from a variety of places. I also think it's interesting to break down the basic elements of a story, especially a well-known one such as Star Wars, and think about how it could be implemented in a different setting. 
  • I only play fantasy-themed RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons. How is this useful to me? See above... just because you're playing a fantasy game with elves and magic doesn't mean that you can't grab some inspiration from another source. Both the pulp era and the Victorian era are full of great examples and inspirations that can easily be tweaked for a fantasy setting. For an extreme example, there's the Iron Kingdoms setting, which bills itself as "Full Metal Fantasy." It's an excellent example of how to integrate some clockwork type creations, like their Steam Jacks, into a "standard" fantasy setting without turning it into the Steampunk genre. 
  • I'm looking for rules on how I can continually tweak an OD&D Cleric so it's "just so" or a post about whether we should have thieves in D&D. Sorry, you've got the wrong blog. I read those posts by other bloggers, too, and I sometimes enjoy them, but I'm really more about ideas and settings than I am about rules. I figure you can handle the rules on your own. If I had to boil it down, I guess I'd say that one of the main focuses of my blog is showing where my gaming inspirations come from and ideally helping give you ideas on how you can look for inspirations from a variety of non-traditional sources and incorporate them into your role-playing games.
Ignatius. Sillof does
all the Bounty Hunters.
Image ©2013 Sillof
With that out of the way... let's get on with it.

What Is It?
In the same vein as the Noir Wars figure series linked-to above, this is another set of beautifully detailed customized action figures based on the Star Wars movies (specifically, the real Star Wars movies from the late 1970s and early 1980s), taking all of the characters we know really well but imagining them in a different setting. In this case, we're treated to a glimpse at Luke, Han, Leia, and the rest as Victorian-era characters with a steampunk edge to them.

The creator, Sillof, mentions that his inspiration for this line came from Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Terry Gilliam, and Guillermo Del Toro, as well as as few others. These inspirations clearly come through in the resulting figures, and it's not hard to start creating your own stories in your head as you see the figures and think about how they would interact with each other.

Any Good Ideas Here for my Role-Playing Games?
Of course there are. If you take nothing else away from seeing these figures, you'd at the very least be able to look at them and then start wondering, "How could I make an archetype like this Star Wars character in my favorite non-space opera RPG?"

Of course, that's just the very bare bones of an idea. The really cool thing that I'm always inspired by when looking at Sillof's transformation of Star Wars is thinking how to adapt the characters to the setting. That is, you've got the very basic archetypes of Stars Wars (the farm boy, the pirate, the princess, the wizard/old man) but in each type of setting, they behave differently based on the "rules" (that is, the environment and the physical rules of the world) of the setting. It's fun to think about dropping a force-sensitive Luke Skywalker or Ben Kenobi type into a magic-based setting, but what about a straight-up Victorian setting with no magic? How would those characters behave in relation to non-force characters like Han Solo? What about C3PO and R2D2?

Unlike the Noir Wars characters, Sillof doesn't provide any little hooks here behind the characters, so you're on your own to figure out their motivations and how to ground them properly into the setting, but we're all creative types here so that shouldn't be a problem.

Who Will Like It?
As I said in my last post on Sillof's figures, "If you can't appreciate the artistry of these figures or look at them and think of ways that you'd want to use these characters in your games, I don't know how to help you..."

This is a combination of spectacularly artistry in terms of the physical product of the figures themselves combined with the imagination that went into creating the setting and figuring out how to change the costumes of the characters appropriately while keeping them recognizable. Plus you've got the added bonus of then taking Sillof's ideas and figuring out how to reinterpret them to fit your game world.

Is It Good For Kids?
Admiral Augustus
Image ©2013 Sillof
Your kids will love seeing their favorite characters re-imagined as Victorian era steampunk heroes and villains.

One thing Sillof does in this particular series that I really enjoyed was that he went deep with the characters.Many of his Star Wars series just focus on the main characters - Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, the Droids, Darth Vader, the Stormtroopers, and of course fan-favorite Boba Fett. However, in this series, he also did designs for all of the bounty hunters from Empire Strikes Back, an Ewok, Yoda, Lando Calrissian, a Snow Trooper, TIE Fighter Pilot, the Emperor, the Emperor's Royal Guard, that little rat-monkey guy that hangs around Jabba the Hutt (Salacious Crumb), Jabba himself and his major-domo (Bib Fortuna), and probably my personal favorite, Admiral Ackbar ("It's a trap!").

Again, as with the Noir Wars, and most of Sillof's figures, these aren't for sale, so you won't be buying these to put under the tree at Christmas for your kids. But, you can still enjoy the pictures with your kids, and a fun activity might be to create a collaborative story with your kids where you re-tell the Star Wars story in a Victorian setting like London using these characters.

Click here to see the entire collection of figures on Sillof's site. 

Hanging: home office (laptop)
Drinking: Just tap water today
Listening: "Milestones" by Miles Davis

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Review: The First Kingdom Volume I: The Birth of Tundran

As most of you know, in addition to writing my own posts and reviews here at Daddy Rolled a 1, I also write comic reviews for ComicAttack.net. About a week ago they published my review of an old underground comic from the mid 1970s called The First Kingdom, which has recently been released in a really well-done hard-cover trade format by Titan Comics (who also very kindly provided me with a free review copy).

This comic will be of interest to any of my readers who like the post-apocalyptic genre, as that's the setting for the story. We get a small glimpse of pre-cataclysm Earth in the first few pages with fighter jets and bombs, and then are whisked away on a centuries-spanning history as civilization descends into prehistoric levels, and bringing us up to the time period in which the story takes place. It's a world of barbarians fighting for survival against gigantic mutant beasts, constant fear of starvation, and marauding neighboring tribes. There's also a really interesting element of godlike characters living in palaces up in the sky and who observe but rarely interact with the tribes of Earth, not unlike the legends of the Greek gods of old.

If you're interested in post-apocalyptic settings, the history of underground comics, or the philosophical ideas of the human imperative of migration, then you'll want to check out The First Kingdom. The first part of my review is below.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Jack Katz’s The First Kingdom is an intense work that deserves, or really demands, concentration and devotion from the reader. This isn’t a book to be read as a quick break from the stresses of daily life, nor one that can be skimmed, set down, and come back to over the course of several readings.

Those are meant to be positives for Katz’s work, but make no mistake: Katz’s story is dense, in more ways than one. The pages are absolutely jam-packed with art and story, and every single panel contains levels of artistic detail...

Read the entire review over at ComicAttack.net, here

Friday, November 1, 2013

Important Message on Men's Health

Me, my Freshly Shaven Mug as of 11/1,
and my new Star Wars T-Shirt.
Yes, once again I will be participating in this year's Movember event, just like last year.

In case you're not aware, Movember is an annual event where participants agree to grow a mustache (only, no beards or goatees or soul-patches or anything else allowed) every day for the entire month of November, and along the way gather donations from friends as encouragement. 100% of those donations go toward organizations that support men's health issues, with a particular focus on prostrate and testicular cancer. You can read more about Movember here.

So, once again, I'm asking my followers to firstly get educated on raising awareness of men's health issues.

Secondly, I'd really appreciate any donations you'd like to give my way. My donation page is located at mobro.co/martinrthomas.

Thirdly, why not join a team yourself, or start one of your own? It's not too late to start (unless you're one of my followers over there in the "Old World" but I guess you could try to sneak in a day late).

And, lastly, this might be a good time to make an appointment with your doctor for a check-up.:)

Check out my post about Movember from last year to see how hideously bad I am at growing a mustache - I got a lot of "pity donations" from friends who felt bad that I had to walk around a whole month with what amounted to a sickly caterpillar above my lip. But, any donation helps!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

New Comics Wednesday: Bushido #5 (of 5; Top Cow)

Intro: As many of you know, Wednesday is New Comic Book Day, the day when new comics go on-sale at comics shops around the country, and also the day when most publishers also release the digital versions of their comics to platforms like Comixology or their own internal digital platforms. Each comic featured on Daddy Rolled a 1's New Comic Wednesday posts is one that I personally get at my local shop.

Please note also that every Wednesday, I tweet out which issues I picked up that week, and then over the course of the week I send out individual tweets with 140-character reviews of each issue. You can follow me on Twitter here.





Lastly, if you're really interested in more comic reviews, I do "professional" reviews for the comic book site, ComicAttack where I posted my reviews under the name "Martin." You can search my tag to see what I've reviewed lately.

As with all of my comic book overviews, I will attempt to explain what makes this comic interesting without giving away any spoilers.
_______________________________________________________________________________

In the spirit of Halloween being tomorrow, I thought I'd review a horror-themed book.

"Wait!" you're thinking. "You must be mistaken. You're reviewing a feudal Japanese-themed comic about samurai."

Read on...

MINOR SPOILER ALERT: There's really no way to talk about this without revealing a small thing that anybody who actually picks up this title would probably already know about based on the cover art. But, just in case you want to know absolutely nothing about this before reading it, you should stop reading my post now.

What's It About?
Bushido is a five-part mini-series that was published weekly, and the last issue publishes today. The story is based on a screenplay called "Rising Sun" by Shahin Chandrasoma.

The action takes place in feudal Japan and involves an orphaned boy, Kichiro, whose family is murdered by pirates who are definitely more than just regular men. They seem to have super-strength and a taste for blood...

Kichiro escapes and washes up on the shores of Japan where he is rescued by a samurai and trained in Bushido (the code of the warrior). However, as an outsider, Kichiro can never be samurai, even though that's his most fervent dream.

We meet Kichiro's adopted father, and his "brother," Orochi, as well as Mitsuko, the daughter of the Shogun.

Things quickly go very badly when the same pirates who attacked Kichiro's family at sea all those years ago turn up in the village of the Shogun and start killing indiscriminately. Over time, we find that some of the villagers who are seemingly killed start to rise up as the same sort of monsters who killed them.

There's also a murder that places one of the main characters in an awkward spot, an unresolved love triangle, father-son issues, and more. And at the heart of the story, we get a peak into what happens to a person who grows up having never been given free will to make his own choices, and then is finally confronted as an adult with the ability to make his own choice for the first time in his life.


Who Are the Creative Team?
Rob Levin pens the story, again, based on a screenplay. Levin is actually also an editor for Top Cow comics and has written a wide variety of independent comic titles including Witchblade, Mind the Gap, City of Heroes, and even a Cyberforce/X-Men cross-over.

In Bushido, I like how Levin handles the characters - they have depth and personalities that make it easy to determine the motivations of the individual characters. It would have been easy to paint each samurai as a stoic warrior type that's so often the cliche shown in movies. The four main "samurai" types (Kichiro, Orochi, their father, and the Shogun) in Bushido are each handled in a manner where there's no confusing them with each other.

Levin also clearly has a love of feudal Japan and its various trappings, which are well-handled in the story itself as well as in short essays at the back of the comics that delve into subjects such as the daisho ("the long and the short", the samurai's katana and wakizashi) and their history, construction, and cultural significance.

What is a bit off in the Bushido comics, though, is the pacing of the writing. On certain pages, it seems almost as though scenes are skipped or rushed past to get to the next scene. It all reads a bit choppy at times, rather than a smoothly flowing story that unfolds naturally over the course of the various issues. There's also an interesting arc for one character specifically who essentially makes a complete 180 in his outlook on "life" over the course of the first four issues. While I'm all about character growth and love to see what motivates a character to change how he views the world, it actually feels very rushed in that it happens over the course of only four issues. We barely know the guy so the change seems a bit forced.

On art duties is Jessada Sutthi and from what research I've conducted, this appears to be his first work in the comics medium. After obtaining his degree in Art Design in 2007 he worked as a freelance artist for a small game company and also did some book cover designs before eventually working on animation designs before becoming the senior concept artist for Studio Hive in 2012. Sutthi's character work on Bushido is really well-done and has an almost painter-like quality. The figures are beautiful and the shading and textures are all top-notch. Unfortunately what's missing from the work are detailed backgrounds - in fact, backgrounds of any kind are at times completely non-existent, which makes it difficult to judge the flow of the story, especially in action-oriented scenes with little or no dialogue or narration.

Who Will Like It?
Do you like samurai? Do you like vampires? Do you want to see samurai fighting vampires? Then you'll like this.

Any Good Fodder Here for my Role-Playing Games?
Most definitely. This is a great, fun example of genre-mashing and mixing up various tropes. This could give you plenty of ideas for intermixing some horror concepts into your standard Asian or Japanese-themed fantasy game.

The character of Kichiro also provides a pretty decent model of an outsider-type character and what it would be like to live in as ordered and structured a society as feudal Japan but never actually be allowed to be part of the society. The "outside looking in" type of perspective is always a helpful tool for illustrating what makes a society different. If you're playing in a Japanese (or pseudo fantasy Japan) type of game and yet it feels like standard D&D with katanas, then reading Bushido could help give you a few ideas for how to make your non-Western cultures come alive a bit more.

Is It Good for Kids?
You've got samurai cutting of vampire's heads with sharp katanas, and lots of blood flowing. Several of the characters get turned into vampires and start feeding on their former friends and colleagues, so I'd say "no." It's probably fine for teens and up.

BUSHIDO
  • Format: Weekly 28-page full-color 5-issue limited series.
  • Where to Buy: Try to buy it at your local comics shop. If you don't have one, try a bookstore or convenience store. You can also buy the digital version on Comixology. That link leads to the page on the series; issue #5 comes out today. Given that the last issue of the 5-part series comes out today, no doubt a collected trade edition will be coming out soon. However, it should be very easy to find all of the back-issues at your local shop.
  • Price: $2.99 per issue
  • Rated: Non-rated but I would say Teen
  • More Information: The series page for Bushido on Image Comics.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Medley: Autumn in New York / Embraceable You / What's New" by the Chet Baker and Stan Getz

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Daddy Rolled a 1's RPG Profile

Tuesdays here at Daddy Rolled a 1 are typically reserved for my Design Decisions related to how I built my current long-running World of Samoth campaign (e.g., decisions I made about Magic, Monsters, Races, etc.). I had a two-part post on my decisions regarding Classes, and I'll be following up on that soon after having read some really interesting and insightful posts over at Ramblings From Beyond the Pale Gate.

However, today I'm going to post my RPG Profile, which should be particularly helpful for anybody new to my blog. It was started by Zak over at Playing D&D with Porn Stars.

Since this is related entirely to playing RPGs I'm also eventually going to copy it over to my "Currently Playing" page. As per Zak's instructions, I eliminated the questions that weren't relevant to me, and I also slightly edited the wording on a couple of other ones.

  • I'm currently running (in person): All these are currently active games
    • Pathfinder (World of Samoth, GM)
    • Labyrinth Lord (old-school AD&D hack, DM)

  • Tabletop RPGs I'm currently playing (in person): All these are currently active games
    • Pathfinder (Andalusia II, player)
    • Savage Worlds (Realms of Cthulhu, player)
    • Savage Worlds (modified Weird War II, player) 
  • I'm currently running (online):
    • None
  • Tabletop RPGs I'm currently playing (online) include:
    • None
  • I would especially like to play/run:
    • I'm really interested in playing and also running a 13th Age Game in my own home-brew campaign world
  • ...but would also try:
    • Mutant World (depending on the setting)
    • A pulp action adventure game (ala Indiana Jones type)
    • Any genre mash-up game (Cthulhu Rome and Cthulhu WW2 sound interesting, some old-school swords & planets stuff would be fun, and a semi-steam punky Victorian space-age game like Space 1899)
  • I live in:
    • Pasadena, CA
  • 2 or 3 well-known RPG products other people made that I like:
    • 1st Edition AD&D DMG just for reading fun
    • The Iron Kingdoms Campaign Setting, for reading and inspiration
    • The old 2nd Edition AD&D Historical Campaign Supplements (the old green paperback books)
    • Voyages of the Princess Ark by Bruce Heard
  • 2 or 3 novels I like:
    • To Kill a Mockingbird
    • The Hobbit
    • The Princess Bride
  • 2 or 3 movies I like:
    • Blade Runner
    • The Empire Strikes Back
    • The Fellowship of the Ring
  • Best place to find me on-line:
  • I will read almost anything on tabletop RPGs if it's:
    • Historical (about the history of RPGs)
    • More about cool setting ideas and less about rules
    • Has some new rules that are innovative and don't require a ton of book-keeping
  • I really do not want to hear about: 
    • Yet another post on tweaking a class from OD&D to be "just so" or musing what it would be like if Clerics could use edged weapons, etc.
  • I think dead orc babies are ( circle one: funny / problematic / ....well, ok, it's complicated because....)
    • Pointless? Every game and ever setting is different. In some games, it's possible that all orcs are simply born evil and will never change (like undead or demons or whatever). In other games, they may be nuanced and have the ability to become good if given the right opportunities and upbringing. Neither is right and both can be fun to play. 
  • Free RPG Content I made for Mutant Future is available here:
  • Free RPG Content I made for Pathfinder is available here:
    • The Noble (there's a link to where the class is hosted on my campaign world website)
  • You can buy RPG stuff I made about Aristocrats for D&D 3.5 here:
  • I talk about RPGs on the following social media sites:
    • Twitter: Daddy Rolled a 1 (also talk about comics and other geek stuff)
    • Facebook: Daddy Rolled a 1 (also talk about comics and other geek stuff)
    • I've occasionally posted on forums like ENWorld, Monte's old forums, WotC's D&D Forums, Paizo's forums, etc., typically using the name "samothdm"

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Design Decision Tuesday: Classes (Part II)

The Beast Master
One of the first D&D classes I tried to create,
circa 1984 or so. Check out those level titles.
This is a continuation of a post I made back in July regarding my use of character classes in D&D and how they impacted some of the design decisions I made in crafting my campaign world.

[By the way, I started this last night but fell asleep before finishing, so I'm still calling it "Design Decision Tuesday" even though it's Wednesday now when I'm posting it.]

In Part I of the post, I mainly tried to get across the idea that for a Class & Level (hereafter, C&L) game, one can look at different character classes as part of world building. Have unique, customized character classes beyond the "core four" can help to define a culture or a race if, as a GM, you don't get caught up in the mindset of thinking, "There are too many classes!" and instead think, "How would this particular class, given how it's defined, shape my world?"

As an example, let's take the Druid class, which first appeared as a playable character class way back in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry. Druids as a character class were defined in the earlier editions of the game as neutral priests of nature, who revere mistletoe, and who less involved with humans and more involved with protecting animals and plant-life. They specialize in magic of fire, natural forces, and living things, only use a small suite of peculiar non-standard weapons, and eschew metal armor.

"You Don't Need a Druid Class"
There are many out there who would say that you don't need a Druid class. Talysman over at the Nine and 30 Kingdoms has written pretty extensively on the idea that the game only needs Fighters, Magic-Users, and what he calls "Talents" (aka, Thieves and other skill-based classes such as the ones he's created like the Miner, Smith, and Tinkerer). Talysman sees the Cleric as a hybrid of the Fighter and Magic-User and posits that with the basic three (Fighter, Magic-User, Talent), you could then create a hybrid combination for each - Fighter/Talent, Magic-User/Talent, etc.

In Talysman's opinion, a Druid wouldn't be a separate class, but instead just be a Magic-User that's played differently. You'd call him a Druid, make a few tweaks to his spell-list (I guess), and be good to go.

Class & Level Systems Are Partly About Having Classes
I think that kind of misses the point of the nature (pardon the pun) of C&L type games. By having a Druid class (or a Monk, or a Bard, etc.) as a playable character class, the game system is essentially providing the GM with the tools to figure out how (or even if, which is just as telling a question) those types of characters exist in his world. If the GM decides that Druids exist, then he needs to figure out which races are allowed to play that character, which parts of his world those characters operate in, if there are organizations of Druids that protect certain wooded areas of the world, and more. It also means that the GM is saying that forests and natural areas are important in this campaign, and that most likely there's not going to be a lot of urban exploration.

Sure, you don't need a specific class to address these types of things in your campaign world. You could do it without. However, as I mentioned in my first post on classes, that's really only something that an experienced GM would probably even think of, and only an experienced player who knows what a Druid is would ever come up with the idea of saying, "I'm going to be a Magic-User, but I want to play him as a Druid." These aren't the types of things that come naturally to new players, who most likely would never have even heard the word Druid before, let alone know what it actually is.

If You Have to Tweak More than 1-2 Things, It Should Be a Separate Class
For me, another point in favor of having a separate class like a Druid is that it's more than just one or two tweaks on a basic class. Yes, in the original game they were called a "sub-class" of Clerics, but that's mainly because they used the same attack and saving throw matrices, as I recall. In every other way, they were completely different from Clerics. They couldn't wear metal armor, yet wearing the heaviest Plate Mail you could find was a hallmark of the Cleric class. They couldn't turn Undead nor cast as many healing spells, two other iconic powers of Clerics. The Druid spell-list is completely different, and they also have class-based abilities that are completely different from Clerics. That's a lot of things to "tweak" just for the sake of not having a separate class.

Again, you could go the easy route and just skip all that stuff, and simplify it to rely on the player to only pick appropriate spells from the Cleric list, and to forgo wearing heavy metal armor and turning undead and just hope that your player is cool with that. But, really, what's wrong with having a separate class for this? If you're playing a Class & Level game, why not embrace the idea of classes and have more than just a small handful?

Including Certain Classes Says Something About Your Game World

In a way, I look at character classes in a somewhat similar way as 3rd Edition D&D looked at Prestige Classes - Prestige Classes in 3E were originally intended to say something about the campaign setting in which they appeared. The idea was that you wouldn't necessarily have a generic Prestige Class, but rather something specific, such as the Forgotten Realms' "Red Wizard of Thay" which came with a whole description and background of what that organization was, and in turn helped the GM to flesh out that section of his world. I'm not advocating for Prestige Classes in all editions of D&D, but the idea of having some classes that are unique to the setting and different enough from the standard "core four" classes is one that has merit.

Let's go back to our Druid example again. If the Druid is a separate class, then a GM who doesn't include it is also saying something about his campaign setting - there could be a dozen different reasons why, but he's saying that playing a wilderness-oriented nature-priest is either not important (maybe it's a city-based type of game) or just not available (maybe he has plans to use Druids as NPC adversaries). It's almost instant-world building from just one simple decision.

Archetypes Bridge the Gap
While I like the idea of having a wider array of classes to choose from beyond the core four, I also agree that there are many separate classes that have been created over the years that don't need to be separate classes, and which lead to "class bloat." I'm really not a fan of having a bunch of classes that essentially just replicate 90% of a core four class with only a few tweaks. In that case, I really like the idea of using "archetypes" as Trey Causey mentioned in the previous post on Classes, and which is something that the Pathfinder RPG has adopted. You don't need a separate "Geisha" class for an Asian-themed game. Just make that a Bard archetype and swap around a few things. A GM with a list of archetypes for player characters can help his players get a feel for the setting, and again, it acts as world-building. If a GM says that "Samurai" is a fighter archetype and "Ninja" is a Thief archetype, he's defining his setting, just as easily as if he said that "Knight" was a fighter archetype and "Court Mage" was a Magic-User archetype.

Applications in My Campaign Setting
I did this quite a bit in my own World of Samoth setting, where I provided an idea of an archetype for each character class for each race in my campaign, including humans (which were country/culture specific). For example, I mentioned how many Dwarven Bards had come into fashion as "Composer Historians" for human princes, dukes, and counts. The dwarves in this campaign are a bit down on their luck and tend to be treated a second-class citizens, so preserve their disappearing heritage, they weave subtle information about their own Dwarven history into the songs that they perform for their human patrons, with the humans none-the-wiser. Dwarven Paladins were mainly "Ancestor Champions," who kept detailed family trees of their clans and used their healing powers to tend to the sick and destitute dwarves who live in Dwarven ghettoes in human cities.

I could've created all of that information without having a Bard or Paladin class, but in this case I was looking to define how a Dwarf would approach each of the classes listed in the Players Handbook. If I were working with just the core four, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have come up with any of that information above, because I wouldn't have had a need to figure out why a Dwarf would become a Bard or a Paladin and what being one of those classes meant to a Dwarf. The core four classes, while broadly drawn on purpose, are sometimes too broad to generate this type of thinking I'm talking about.

Class vs. Archetype: An Initial List
Based my thoughts above, here's a quick summary of some classes that often appear in D&D and related games, and which ones I think should be separate classes versus handled as an archetype. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject. I actually tried to keep this edition-neutral, so the comments should theoretically apply to whatever edition of D&D (or retro-clone) you're playing. 

  • Alchemist: Many would just say this is a Magic-User. I think it's a bit too different to be played that way. Sure you could just say that all of his spells are really potions, but that's just too plain for my tastes. I think you can use the Magic-User as a starting point but then make enough changes that it goes far enough to warrant being its own class. 
  • Assassin: This is probably just a Thief or perhaps a Fighter, with some kind of code about killing people for money (a role-playing choice) who might be good at disguise (a background which is most likely not mechanical). Maybe you give him a Ranger's tracking ability to account for him tailing his victims, and take away some Thief skills or Fighter weapons/armor.
  • Barbarian: This is a Fighter with a different background (not based on game mechanics) and a penchant for wearing light or no armor, and perhaps an aversion to magic (a role-playing choice, not a mechanical one). Perhaps you bump up his hit dice a bit or give him a bonus on his saves or AC to account for wearing light armor, since having access to heavy armor is one of the fighter's main class abilities. 
  • Bard: I'm not saying you need to have bards in your game, but if you want to include them, they should be handled as a separate class. There are too many differences and abilities behind this class to make it an easy one to play as a tweak or archetype of either a Thief or a Magic-User.
  • Cavalier: This is a fighter who is part of the nobility and good at horseback riding (this is a background, not game mechanics), who also follows a code of honor (a role-playing choice, not game mechanics). You could also call him a Knight.
  • Druid: As mentioned above, I think this should be a separate class. Once again, there are too many abilities and restrictions that can't easily be handle with one or two tweaks to an existing class. 
  • Illusionist: This is just a Magic-User whose player should limit himself to only picking specific illusion/shadow/sleigh-of-hand spells. Maybe give the player a bonus on those spells to offset him not taking the standard magic missile and fireball spells that most magic-users are expected to take. This example works for all types of magic (e.g., a "Summoner").
  • Inventor: I've seen many people try to make a class like this, and it's one that in certain more "advanced" settings could make sense. The Clockwork Mage kit for the Sha'ir class from 2nd Edition D&D for the Al Qadim setting comes to mind, but I think in this case it's substantially different enough to warrant being a separate class rather than trying to shoe-horn it as an archetype for an existing class. 
  • Monk: This should be a separate class. I really don't see anyway to handle unarmed fighting with the existing rules of pretty much any edition and give the monk a fair shake. You could try to play him as an archetype of Fighter without weapons or armor, but you're taking away the two things that the Fighter is good at and exchanging that for some really bad unarmed damage and cumbersome pummeling and/or grappling rules. I'd keep it a separate class. 
  • Ninja: This is a Thief (or "Rogue" in 3E+ parlance) who belongs to a clan or family (a role-playing choice). The Thief's back stab ability (or the Rogue's sneak attack) account for the ninja being good in combat under the right conditions.
  • Paladin: This is a tough one, but given the way they are portrayed with all of the different things they can do, I'd probably keep this a separate class. 
  • Ranger: Another tough one because I really like rangers from the early editions of the game, but I think they can be handled as an archetype of Fighter. They are Woodsmen (a background) who are good at tracking (keep this mechanical ability and swap out the ability to use some of the heavier Fighter armor). Having woodland animal followers is fine but probably doesn't need all those rules. Just say he has a pet [whatever] and let it go at that. The more recent additions of two-weapon fighting, as well as the whole "bonuses to kill giant-class creatures" goes away. 
  • Samurai: This is a Fighter with a code of honor (a role-playing choice) who is good at horseback riding (a background with no game mechanics) who is in the service of a noble (a role-playing choice). He's probably also educated in a few different fields like calligraphy or painting or writing poetry (backgrounds with no game mechanics). 
  • Witch: This is probably just an archetype of either a Druid or a Magic-User, depending on whether you see a witch as a nature-oriented pagan (Druid) or as an evil servant of the dark one (an evil Magic-User). Maybe give them a bonus to use scrying magic-items or tweak the spell lists for the player accordingly so that the spells make sense within the fantasy/fictional version of what witches as thought to be good at. 

Obviously the list could go on and on, but hopefully you get the idea.

As a fun little background while I was writing this post, I went into my files and found a bunch of classes that I had created shortly after I began playing. The list included:

  • Beast Master: An "NPC" class (following Dragon magazine's format that any class not created by Gary Gygax was unofficial and only intended for NPCs), that could train any animal given one week, ride a horse without a saddle, Bless friendly animals, train and ride a Unicorn (if a female Elf), gain animal followers like Rangers, cast Druid spells... the list went on and on. I included a copy of the first page of the character write-up from my old notebook above.
  • Assassin-Acrobats: Obviously this was a really stupid idea, but it seemed logical that if Thieves could have a "split" class with Acrobats, then Assassins could, too, since in AD&D an Assassin was essentially just a Thief (two levels lower) who killed people and used poison. 
  • Forest Runners: These were like "super Rangers" who ran really fast. They could track as Rangers (but better), had the Thief abilities of Move Silently, Hear Noise, Hide in Shadows, and Climb Walls, Surprise 75% of the time, pass through overgrown areas like Druids, and were resistant to Charm, Sleep, or Slow spells. 
What can I say? I was like 13 or 14 when I made these. 

Hanging: Partly home office (laptop) and partly living room cough (iPad)
Drinking: El Segundo Brewing Company's Two-5 Left Double IPA
Listening: "Moonlight in Vermont" by Stan Getz

Monday, September 23, 2013

Pulp Noir Monday: Noir Wars

"Detective Dante Victor"
Image ©2013 Sillof
Continuing in my posts of pulp-era themed games, books, comics, movies, and TV shows, today's post covers a bit of a different source - customized action figures by a true artist, Sillof, from Siloff's Workshop. This particular line of customized action figures is called "Noir Wars" - Pulp Star Wars. For more pulp era posts, including "Tales of the Gold Monkey," RPG supplements like Weird Adventures and Heroes of Rura-Tonga, and comic books like Masks, Half Past Danger, and Black Beetle, check out my Pulp Noir tag.


What Is It?
Sillof (not his real name) creates customized action figures that are based on well-known properties like Star Wars, DC Comics, or Marvel Super Heroes, and then puts a twist on them by putting them into a different era, such as Feudal Japan, Victorian England, the Wild West, or World War II.

This particular line of figures showcases all of the main Star Wars characters such as CP30, R2D2, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, Obi Wan Kenobi, Boba Fett, and the Stormtroopers, and re-designs them as though they were characters in an old Film Noir type movie taking place in 1930s or 1940s San Francisco.

Unlike every other Pulp Noir resource I've posted about to date, this one is pretty much just visual. Each character has a line or two on the website that describes that character's personality in the setting (e.e.g, CP30 becomes "Chip Pepperdino" - a reporter the local newspaper who wants to be close to the action without actually being part of it). But, looking at the visuals and knowing the source inspiration for the characters just opens up a ton of imaginative ideas.
Femme Fatale, Lola O'Gannon
Image ©2013 Sillof


Cool Bits
Seriously, this whole thing is just cool. I have posted about Sillof's work before, and that post has consistently been my #1 or #2 post of all time in terms of page views. So, clearly I'm not the only one who gets how great his work is.

It's an extremely creative endeavor to come up with the idea in the first place - how various characters from the media would act and look in a different setting. But then to actually have the artistic chops to pull that off by custom-making actual action figures to represent those thoughts -  especially when you consider that Silllof is not a professional artist but a teacher by day who creates action figures as an artist outlet - is nothing short of amazing.

Sillof also creates a unique setting-appropriate persona for each character, giving an instant role-playing hook for using these as PCs or NPCs in a pulp-era RPG.

Any Good Ideas Here for My Role-Playing Games?
As with all of the sources in this series of posts, the answer is of course "yes." You may be thinking it's odd to use a series of action figures as inspiration for a tabletop RPG, but as noted above, the real beauty here is that Sillof has re-imagined popular well-known characters and placed them in a different setting. He doesn't just say "This is what Darth Vader would look like in a pulp setting." Even if he did, that might actually be enough because his sculptures are so well done artistically and very evocative of the eras he portrays. But, Sillof goes a step further by writing little backgrounds for the characters and how they integrate into the setting. Darth Vader becomes Detective Dante Victor - a "classic dirty cop. Paid to clean up the crime but actually taking payoffs and making sure the mob has protection."

As Sillof notes in the introduction to the series, "The line is meant to be a pure film noir with no elements of fantasy or sci fi.  You have all the archetypes of classic noir:  old disillusioned cops, reporters, dirty cops, the mob, the femme fatale, the private detective, etc."

There are tons of ideas here to use as characters, either as a GM looking to expand his repertoire of NPCs, or as a player looking for an idea for a new PC in a pulp game. 

Who Will Like It?
If you can't appreciate the artistry of these figures or look at them and think of ways that you'd want to use these characters in your games, I don't know how to help you. Seriously... there's no reason that everyone shouldn't like these.

Is It Good for Kids?
Absolutely. Your kids will get a kick out of seeing Sillof's reinterpretation of classic characters re-imagined in new and inventive ways. You're sure to end up poking around the entire site and seeing all of the various sets of figures, and it's something you can definitely sit and enjoy with your little ones. Unfortunately most of the figures aren't available for sale, and the ones that are have a very high price-tag as they're all custom one-of-a-kind creations, so your kids won't be playing with these toys. But they'll enjoy the pictures just the same.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: The Dudes' Double Trunk IPA
Listening: "Ramblin" by Ornette Coleman

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