Wednesday, January 28, 2015

New Rules for Tabletop RPGs

(I started this yesterday but wasn't able to finish it due to work, so I'm posting it today in lieu of my normal "New Comics Wednseday" post). 

Tuesdays were formerly reserved for my "Design Decisions" - things I decided to include or not include my on-going World of Samoth campaign, and why. I talked about various races, "bad guys," religion, magic, and classes (three posts just on classes). While there are obviously a lot of other things that go into building a campaign world, those were the main things I wanted to talk about.

So I'm going to be turning Tuesdays over now to discussing rules or ideas from a variety of different game systems that are actually really easy to incorporate into any game system, whether you're playing an OSR type game or something more "crunchy" like Pathfinder. The idea here is to share with you some ideas that you might not have seen or considered, mainly because you might consider yourself a die-hard Savage Worlds player or maybe you're more of a Grognard-type AD&D player. In any event, these are ideas that aren't intended to make players better with "cool new powers" or to add extra book-keeping or unnecessary rules. They're more about adding things that ultimately help with world-building and character development, which is what my original "Design Decisions" were about.

Today I'll be focusing on a relatively new game, 13th Age. Before all of your diehard OSR types disappear on me, have a look and see. Maybe you'll hate all of these ideas, but you won't really know if you don't at least skim through them, right?

13th Age was written by Jonathan Tweet and Rob Heinsoo, who were some of the primary creators of 3rd Edition and 4th Edition D&D, respectively. As such, 13th Age is their answer to taking the best of both systems, streamlining it, and adding in a very heavy dose of "story first" type of mentality. Lots of OSR type people seem sometimes have a negative view of a "story-based" campaign because they equate it with railroading or DM's being too invested in their worlds. I don't necessarily agree with that line of thinking, but in any case, I think the ideas below could be incorporated into a more traditional 0E or 1E type game while still keeping it focused on the "murdering hobo" type of context.

While 13th Age has a bunch of new ideas that are easy to incorporate into any game (such as the Escalation Die, which I get but I'm not 100% sold on it), I'm going to focus on three other ideas that are easy to take, involve very little rules, and therefore can be applied to pretty much any system of your choice.

"ONE UNIQUE THING." This is a pretty simple idea to get - when each player creates their character, they write down one unique thing about their character that they share with the DM. Then it's up to the DM to figure out how to work that aspect of the player's character into the overall game. The idea here is that the DM shouldn't really say "no" to anybody's idea, within reason. One example they give in the book is a player who told the DM that his halfling character was the only halfling acrobat to ever perform himself out of the Diabolists's Circus of Hell. The DM was caught a bit off-guard because he thought, "I didn't even know there was a Circus of Hell." But, he realized, "Of course there is!" and just went with the idea. Another example is a player who said that his character is the only person in the world to brew an ale that everyone enjoys - elves, dwarves, humans, goblins, and orcs alike. It's the only ale that's equally enjoyed by anyone regardless of race. That's another example of a fun thing that can lead to lots of interesting adventuring and role-playing ideas but that doesn't give a character a mechanical rules-based benefit, which is the whole concept behind this idea.

In my game, a few of my players did this way back in 2001 when we started the game, without calling it a "one unique thing" or anything like that. My friend Brian had a multi-class Cleric-Sorcerer who was a priest in the equivalent of the Medieval Roman Church. In my world, that particular faith had outlawed any form of arcane magic as being "evil" because they said it only came from demonic powers. However, Brian's character had learned early on that he had some innate arcane powers from his mother's side of the family, but he couldn't really control them that well (he was a sorcerer, so the powers came naturally, versus the way wizards learn their spells via book learning and memorization). So, Brian wrote that down and said that his character kept his arcane powers a secret (he did a lot of things like trying to pass off arcane powers as divine, because most commoners didn't know the difference anyway). But, he was always conflicted. It was a neat idea and he sort of build it up that he was the only character in the world like this (he wasn't, but as far as his faith and part of the world was concerned, he probably was). So, he was "unique" in that aspect. I worked that into the game by eventually having his superior in the church appoint Brian's character to be a member of the church's "Inquisition" and specifically tasked with hunting down heretics and bringing them to justice. "Heretics" in this case meant anyone who didn't follow the rules of the church, such as... arcane spellcasters. Lots of very interesting adventures followed from that one little thing Brian wrote on his character sheet.

"FAIL FORWARD." This is bound to cause some controversy, especially with players and DMs who prefer a more "player-skill vs. character skill" type of game. However, with careful application, I think this can even be used in a more player-skill oriented game. The idea here is that when a player's character performs an action in a relatively non-stressful context (e.g., not in the middle of battle), then a "failure" should really just be seen as a "things go wrong" rather than "it didn't work." As an example, maybe there's a locked door that a thief character is trying to pick. The situation isn't that stressful - there's no time limit and it's not in the middle of combat or other distractions. Yet, the thief fails the roll. Rather than say "the door won't open," as the DM you allow the door to open but because the roll failed that means there's a consequence. Maybe the door makes an extraordinary amount of noise when opening, signalling some monsters (that the DM hadn't originally planned on). Maybe there are now extra traps in the room beyond that weren't originally intended. Maybe now, whatever the characters find in the room beyond were also being searched for by a powerful NPC who is aware that the PCs have the items in their possession. It could be anything. The idea is, go ahead and let the thief player enter the room and use the "things go wrong" rule to create new and spontaneous adventure seeds that wouldn't have happened had the thief player succeeded on the roll.

You don't have to do this every time, of course. Sometimes a failure really is just a failure. But it can be a fun idea-generating tool. And it can also be used in "player-skill" type games. Let's say your players are searching and a room and describing how they are searching the room (there are no mechanics on rolls for this - it's all based on the players needing to somehow know how to explain exactly in detail every inch of the room they are searching and what exactly they are searching for), and they miss something. Maybe it's a clue that you as the DM put in that room, like a bad guy's diary or a letter from a foreign dignitary or something. Rather than tell the players "you didn't find anything, " you go ahead and let them find it, but as above, that comes with some unintended consequences. Perhaps they find the bad guy's diary but in so doing, maybe the bad guy knows that the characters found the diary and therefore adjusts his plans accordingly, setting a trap for them, which is something that would not have happened had they been able to find the diary without "failing forward."

"ICON RELATIONSHIPS." This one is a bit harder to explain but the gist of it is, when players create their characters for a game in 13th Age, they choose the relationship that they character has with somewhere between one and three different "Icons" who are sort of like powerful NPCs (near gods) that the characters will pretty much only interact with via the Icons' agents. Each character has three "relationship points" that they are allowed to spend on either a positive, a conflicted, or a negative relationship with the Icons. Each relationship point allows a character to roll a d6 when called about by the DM for that relationship; e.g., if a character put all three relationship points into a positive relationship with, say, "The Emperor," then the player would roll 3d6. You're hoping to roll a 6, which means that you get some meaningful advantage (in the form, typically, of help being offered by agents of that Icon, who might provide items, information, or other stuff to help with the current quest). If you get any 5s, then you "succeed" just like a 6, but with some kind of unexpected complication (almost like "failing forward," discussed above).

Each player rolls his or her relationship dice at the beginning of each session, and the onus is on the DM to somehow try to work in any 5s or 6s into that session. That could mean that a DM might have thought that a story was going a certain way based on actions that the players were having their characters take, but a roll of 5 or 6 introduces a new story element based around a particular Icon and that Icon's desires and philosophies?

Sound confusing? I'll give a more concrete example based on my own campaign world, the World of Samoth. When I went about creating my campaign world, I created a lot of organizations that had world-spanning implications - primarily different religions and cults, but also a few "orders" (kind of like a Masonic Lodge with chapters throughout the world) and some based along racial lines, etc. It was a lot to wrap your head around and in hindsight was probably a bit too much to ask my players to read through and decide how their characters fit in. But, if I were to start my campaign from scratch today, I would pattern my organizations along the same idea as the "Icons" in 13th Age and have the players put relationship dice into their relationships with the various organizations. It would be a great way to help my players have a "hook" for integrating their characters more into the world, and also would help to generate some interesting in-game ideas and also introduce some fun "wrenches" when things don't go as planned, and introducing elements from organizations that didn't seem to be involved in the particular adventure and figuring out how to insert them and still have things make sense. I personally wouldn't roll relationship dice every single session, but more just when it naturally seemed to make sense. Still, I think it's a really clever idea.

The thing I like about all three of the ideas above is that they really involve no mechanical benefits whatsoever - they aren't "rules-based" and so they can easily be inserted into any type of game, and none of them give the players any kind of unfair, game-changing powers or abilities. They're just little mini story-generating ideas, each of which manifests in a different way. Aside from the "One Unique Thing" which evolved kind of naturally for a few of my players, I haven't actually tried any of the above ideas yet, so I'm curious to hear from people who have. Post your thoughts in the comments below.

Hanging: Home office (loaner MAC laptop)
Drinking: Club soda with lime
Listening: "Back at Dawn" by Fenomenon

Monday, January 26, 2015

Victorian Era Monday: Gotham by Gaslight

Mondays I try to keep open for inspirational ideas in either the Pulp Noir or Victorian Era for your tabletop role-playing games. Both genres have a pretty big following (within our small hobby, that is), especially if you add "Steampunk" as a sub-genre of the Victoria Era.

One of the reasons I love the Victorian Era for role-playing games is how it can be relatively easily integrated into a more standard Fantasy Setting just by advancing the more typical D&D medieval timeline. The Victoria Era is right on the cusp of all of the inventions of the Industrial Revolution but there's still a sense of wonder and mystery left. There are large unexplored areas of the world still left, but with travel becoming easier, people of all cultures were starting to get exposed to new ideas, some of which included things like "magic" and the supernatural, which many people believed in.

For today's Victorian Era post, I'll be taking a slightly different, slightly more realistic approach by looking at the concept of superheroes in the late 1880s. In this case, we're talking about Batman, which I'm assuming is the first hero that would come to mind if someone asked, "What superhero might be skulking around in the late 1880?"

Gotham by Gaslight was DC's first "Elseworld" title, before that term even existed (DC Comics has gone back and adjusted future printings of the book to include the Elseworld's tag). It's really more of a murder mystery than the standard superhero fare, and that's fitting due to Batman's mantle of "The World's Greatest Detective." This book is just oozing with atmosphere and all of the trappings that go with a late 1880s Victorian setting (including a very famous murderer of the time period), but also very seamlessly weaves in all of the usual and favorite characters and settings from Batman, including Jim Gordon, Arkham Asylum, the Joker, Alfred, and more.

Art-wise, this is a fantastic-looking book with the art provided by Mike Mignola, whom you may know as the creator of the comic Hellboy (on which the movies were based). Mignola's character design, architectural renderings, and even panel layouts are all just a perfect match for writer Brian Augustyn's script, and properly set the mood and atmosphere of a late 19th Century Gotham City. It really captures the time period so perfectly and will give you plenty of visual inspiration for a Victorian Era game, whether or not it includes supers.

The current version of the story that's for sale also includes a follow-up story called Batman: Master of the Future. It's intended to be the same Batman in the same 1880s Gotham City, but the similarities of the two stories are like watching the Tim Burton Batman Films and then the Joel Schumacher ones that immediately follow them and trying to reconcile that they're all supposed to be one continuous four-movie story. Where Gotham by Gaslight is subtle in its design and depicts a grimy, greedy, Gotham that's been touched by the Industrial Revolution and grown dirtier and grittier as a result, the art by Eduardo Barreto in Batman: Master of the Future is brighter, cleaner, and more "gee-whiz" with steampunky gadgets, robots, and sky pirates. It's not a bad story and some of the steampunk stuff can be fun (and is a treasure trove for those of you who really dig playing Steampunk games) but as a follow-up to Gotham by Gaslight, it's kind of just a huge disconnect.

"The Fleetist" (Gaslight Flash)
©2013 Sillof

In November 2013, I linked to one of my favorite sites,, who had created a bunch of custom Steampunk Era Star Wars Figures. The same artist has also created Victoria/Steampunk Era DC Heroes using Gotham by Gaslight as his inspiration, as well as a Wonder Woman story called Wonder Woman: Amazonia which is also a Victorian-era setting but otherwise is completely unrelated to Gotham by Gaslight. He calls is the Gaslight League, and you've just got to go check it out. It's a perfect way to give you ideas of how to integrate the genres of superheroes and Steampunk/Victoria era while keeping it fun but not silly. I'm posting a couple of his figures below just to encourage you to go to his site to see the full line.

Gotham by Gaslight has received critical praise and is frequently ranked in the top Batman stories ever written. It's a perfect example of what the comics medium can do, especially when the writer and artist are working in sync like Augustyn and Mignola do. This is a self-contained story that doesn't rely on any "continuity baggage" or anything like that, so it's a perfect story to pick-up for first-time readers or people who have been away from comics for a while. It's a "one-and-done." It's also a great source of inspiration for people running or playing in Victorian or Steampunk games, and is an excellent example of integrating supers into a non-modern setting without making the aesthetics of the setting get too goofy.

"The Emerald Lamper"
(Gaslight Green Lantern)
©2013 Sillof
  • Format: 112 page full-color paperback
  • Where to Buy: If you can, try to buy this at your local comics shop. You might see some other things that you like while you're there! Use the comic shop locator to find one near you. You can also buy the digital version on Comixology, where just the original Gotham by Gaslight is available for $2.99 (you can buy Batman: Master of the Future separately). Lastly, it's available on Amazon, of course.
  • Price: The list price is $12.99.
  • Rated: Comixology has this rated at Ages 12+, but as always, you should at least skim it for yourself before decided if it's right for your kid. Your child might be able to handle it at a younger age, or it maybe be too intense for some kids.
  • More Information: Here's the official DC Comics page for the title, although honestly Wikipedia has a much deeper overview.

Hanging: Home office (loaner MAC laptop - still!)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Like I Want To" by Lisa Shaw

Friday, January 23, 2015

Inspirations Friday: RPG Campaigning in Colonial America

Fridays are typically reserved for posting some "Inspirations" you can use to drop into your existing RPG campaigns or even to create new ones.  Many of these are things that helped inspired portions of my ongoing World of Samoth campaign. I'm expanding that now to try to give some ideas for new campaigns, mostly in somewhat non-traditional settings.  Long-time readers will notice that I've kind of done this already on various occasions, most notably on Wednesdays during which I've taken some recent comic book titles like Black Science, Lazarus, and Royals: Masters of War, and pointed out the parts that could make an awesome campaign setting.

For today's post, I'll be talking about fantasy role-playing in a world reminiscent of Colonial America, which is a time period often overlooked in fantasy RPGs. Way back in 2005, a cool book called Northern Crown: New World Adventures was published by Atlas Games. It's a fantasy campaign setting based on ideas like "What if Cotton Mather's paranoid fantasies about the Salem witches were all true?" or "What if Ben Franklin was a natural philosopher whose inventions blurred the border between science and magic?"

There's a lot of really great ideas in a Colonial America type setting if you think about the variety of cultures involved that helped to settle, and integrate into, the "New World." Add in 1700s era technology and science along with the creatures and magic from fairytales actually being real in this world, and you've really got the basis of a great setting.

The idea must be catching on - there's actually a great historical fantasy-horror themed comic book out right now of a slightly later time period called Manifest Destiny by Image Comics that follows the Lewis & Clark Expedition but from the standpoint that the West was actually full of crazy and dangerous fantastical creatures that need to be cleared away before American pioneers can settle there. And, the government doesn't want anybody to know that those things are out there for fear that people won't try to settle those areas and therefore the fledgling United States will lose that territory to other more adventurous colonists from other European powers. It's an awesome book if you love historical fiction interlaced with horror-fantasy elements. That comic, in conjunction with a lot of stuff from the Northern Crown RPG book would make a really cool, and different, campaign setting.

The first short section of the Northern Crown book is all about the history of the world along with a description of the continent and a short bit about its inhabitants (it goes into depth later in the book). It also gives a very short overview of things like the animals, vegetation, minerals, monsters, religion, cosmology, magic, and technology of the world. This is all great stuff because it's not overly detailed, but gives enough to be really great idea starters. In the technology section, for example, the book breaks down how the various different cultures of the continent approach technology.

Some of the most fun and the best section for campaign building in this book is the section on Cultures. The author of this book, Doug Anderson, did a really cool thing by taking familiar real-world cultures and then putting a "fantasy glaze" on top to make them really unique and interesting.

The cultures featured are:

  • Albians: Servants of the Faerie Queen
    • People who used to live in what was once called England but now called Albion as it is ruled by the Faerie Queen and her Court
  • Buccaneers: Brethren of the High Seas
    • Basically like the pirates of the Caribbean
  • Carolingians: Exquisite Cavaliers
    • These people consider themselves to be the "true heirs" to England, unlike their Albian cousins
  • Cherokee: People of the Mountains
    • The most populous of the "First Ones" cultures of the New World
  • Cimarrons: Nyamban Liberators
    • This was a neat touch: Anderson used a culture from another Atlas Fantasy Campaign Setting called Nyambe: African Adventures and added those people as settlers of the New World as the descendants of captives who were brought there but eventually fought back and won their freedom
  • Common-Wealthers: Soldiers of God
    • Basically, think Puritans
  • Courerus: Forest Runners
    • A wilderness people who are descendants of French and First Ones cultures intermingling
  • Espaniards: Servants of the Empire
    • These are the Spanish equivalent of the world, and the center of the Hapsburg Empire
  • Francais: Courtiers of the Sun King
    • The French, obviously. Described as "the most quintessentially Uropan [European] of all the powers in Northern Crown..."
  • Kelts: People of the Fey
    • "... a fey-touched people, like the people of Albion, but are even more profoundly tied to the fey world." Basically this group represents the Scots who settled in the mountains to the West of North and South Carolina.
  • Mohawk: Guardians of the Eastern Door
    • I love that evocative sub-title of their name. Described as the easternmost members of the Five Nations Confederacy. 
  • Nederlanders: Free Traders
    • The mercantile masters of Northern Crown. Basically, the Dutch. 
  • Ojibwa: People of the Lakes
    • Another of the First Ones peoples, described as one of the largest and most powerful nations in Northern Crown. 
  • Shawnee: Forest Guardians
    • Another of the First Ones peoples, found primarily in the Ohio Vale. 
  • Sophians: Freethinkers and Rebels
    • This is a fun unique culture based primarily on the idea that a Freemason-like culture developed their own society, the Republic of Sophia. 
  • Vinlanders: Sea Rovers and War Wolves
    • The descendants of ancient marines who crossed the sea from "Uropa" many centuries ago. Basically, these are like the descendents of Vikings who settled in Greenland and Newfoundland. 
  • Witchlings: People of Magic and Shadows
    • The survivors of an ancient faith who take arcane power from evil beings and use it to do good works. 
All of these cultures are described in great detail. In the game rules of this book (which are very light actually, but based on a d20 OGL type variant), they each get a few cultural bonuses, mainly to a few skills and perhaps some weapon proficiencies. The thing I really like about it is the depth of the cultures in the book, and how Anderson did some good research to develop a few different Indian Nations instead of just lumping them all together, and then also brought in ideas of the rebellious Freemasons who were instrumental in founding the United States, and even something as depressing and touchy a subject as slavery and turned it into something unique and, dare I say, "positive" without ignoring how completely awful that era of real-world history was (in the book, the time when the Uropans come to the New World and use disease to control the native population as well as relying on the slave trade is referred to as "The Dark Years").

The next chapter discusses the culture of the various Uropan peoples in Northern Crown. 
Social rank plays a big deal in the world of Northern Crown, and the various ranks are described (royal, noble, knightly, gentry, and the common classes of burgess, tradesman, yeoman, laborers, and "marginal"). There's also a short section on using social rank in game play. The common ideals of the day are given treatment (honor, sangfroid, good humor, courtesy), and then a section on Daily Life which covers topics as diverse as medicine, travel and leisure, retainers and servants, various religions, arcane magic, and much more.

Following that is a chapter with a very similar layout to the chapter above, but this time discussing the First Ones cultures.

After that is a section which is a bit hit-or-miss for me, which is on Core Classes. As I discussed in my posts on Classes, I actually really like new and different classes for game systems that are Class-and-Level based. However, in this case, the author created new classes that really didn't seem to have a need. For example, rather than use the standard "Rogue" class from the core rules and just tweak it here and there to make the necessary changes to fit the setting, he instead split it into two different classes - the Agent and the Rake. The Barbarian is replaced with the Raider, but they're almost identical in terms of class abilities. Rangers are replaced with Scouts which at least have enough differences to them, but those differences aren't really needed for the setting (for example, the Scout gets sneak attack damage in addition to combat styles, tracking, and animal companions).  Fighters are recast as Soldiers, with the main difference being that at first level the player chooses a "troop type" due to his or her military training, such as Dragoon, Grenadier, Halbedier, Muskateer, Royal Guard, etc. This troop type dictates the bonus feat that a Soldier earns at fist level.

There are a couple of new classes that make a lot of sense. The most unique and fun is the Natural Philosopher - basically a science-based Wizard. These scientific thinkers in this world have essentially replaced wizards as the archetypal "learned person" of the age. They have the ability to craft inventions and know "phenomena" rather than spells (although the phenomena replicate some of the better known Wizard spells, but they are non-magical in nature so are not subject to spell resistance. It's a fun twist on the familiar spellcaster role and very appropriate for this time period and setting.

The other new class that probably deserved to be its own separate class rather than just a mere re-skinning of an existing class is the Witch.

The book also includes the old 3rd Edition era concept of Prestige Classes, such as the Falstaff (who elevate bad behavior and unhealthy living to a truly heroic level), the Fencing Master, the Firebrand (a living symbol of a struggle to achieve a noble ideal), the Frontier Legend, the Officer, the Sea Captain, the Sower (think Johnny Appleseed here, but the seeds contain divine power), the Tall Tale Hero, and the Wild Brawler. None of these are really necessary, but some of the accompanying text to the class descriptions does help to paint a more thorough picture of the world and setting, especially the Falstaff, Firebrand, Sower, and Tall Tale Hero classes.

The next section describes new skills and feats, if you're into that kind of stuff. Even if you don't use rules for these things in your game, just casually perusing the section can again help you wrap your head around the setting and provide world-building ideas. The lengthy lists of new Craft and Profession skills provide ample ideas for what types of non-adventuring type people to populate the world with, and knowing that there are feats like "Evil Eye" and "Bear Ancestry" again help from a world-building perspective even if you don't use the actual mechanics in play.

There's a short, but good, section on firearm combat, as well as some new ideas for fending, greatsword, and polearm combat, which is followed by another short section on weapons, armor, and equipment.

The magic section describes not only new spells (which actually breaks them up into Supplemental First Ones spells and Supplemental Uropan Spells, so the different cultures won't be copy-cats of each other, which is a neat idea), but it also describes something called "Natural Power Levels and Effects" - essentially, parts of a land that effect druid spell-casting, the health of animals in the area, and Survival skill checks. It's another interesting way of building the world and showcasing that the natural world does have mysterious and unexplainable effects. The power levels are Very Strong, Strong, Normal, Weak, Absent, and Corrupted.

The book rounds out with a short section on new Psionic Knacks, and brief rules for Item Creation that will help the Natural Philosopher player character. There's also a bibliography for further reading on the era.

This is really a great book that's chock-full of ideas for running a Colonial-themed campaign, or even just for running a campaign that's set in that type of era with magic, mysticism, and folklore still very much part of everyday life but which was starting to give way to the Age of Science and Exploration. All of the cultures in this book can be re-named and used in a variety of different settings even if you don't want to do a pseudo-Colonial America type setting. 

Anybody else out there every run or play in a campaign setting in this time period? Have you used any of the "trappings" of a fantasy version of Colonial America in a more "standard" fantasy game?

Hanging: Home office (loaner laptop)
Drinking: Stone Arrogant Bastard
Listening: "Alice in Wonderland (Take 2)" by Bill Evans


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Your First Comic?

Post your comments below - let me know about the first comic you read. Did it inspire you to want to read more? How long ago did you read your first comic? Do you still read that comic title today?

I've written a bit before about how my first comic book was Marvel's original Star Wars comic back in 1977.  Up until that point, my memory is a little hazy (I was only about 6 1/2 years old at the time), so I don't really recall if I had any understanding of what a comic book was. But one day after school, here was my mom with a few "three-packs" of Star Wars comics that she'd picked up at the drug store. There were two packs each of Issues #1-3 (one for my sister and one for me, because I guess my mom knew that we'd want our own copies) and then two more packs of Issues #4-6. I remember how excited I was to read those comics over and over again - they contained quite a few scenes that were based on the original script of Star Wars but that didn't make it into the actual movie, particularly those involving Luke's friends on Tatooine, and some involving Jabba the Hutt which was really fun because in the original movie version of Star Wars he was never shown so we fans had no idea what he might look like.

Eventually I got issues #7-15 of Marvel's Star Wars run, in which the creative teams took the characters and plots in new directions completely separate from the film. But, for some reason, my comic book reading stopped with those first 15 issues of Star Wars. I read and re-read them over and over again and then stacked them away on my bookshelf, eventually to be covered up with a variety of fiction and non-fiction books.

Around 1985 or so, however, I dug my Star Wars comics back out and started reading them again, and rediscovered all of those old goofy stories featuring characters like Jaxxon the large green humanoid rabbit creature with a space jumpsuit and blaster at his side. However, in addition to enjoying those stories again, I also began looking at the ads in the comics that advertised other Marvel titles like the Avengers, the Defenders, and the Invaders. As I mentioned before (in a post about Batman but which mainly discusses comics in general), I wanted to get the new Marvel Superheroes Role-Playing Game by TSR and I felt that I was sorely lacking on my Marvel knowledge at the time. I knew of Spider-Man from the classic 1960s cartoon as well as the more current "Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends" animated series featuring Ice Man and Firestar. I knew of the Hulk from the 1970s TV show (even though I never really watched it). And I knew who Captain America was, kind of. A guy in a blue suit with a shield. Past that, most of my "comics knowledge" came from watching Superfriends cartoons, and those were all DC characters. So, I studied those ads very intently in my old Star Wars comics, and as I noted in that other post, eventually went to a bookstore with my mom and picked up X-Men #197 and from there, I was hooked on comics for quite a while, around 6-7 years or so.

I particularly liked the X-Men at that time (this was around 1985 or so). So, in a way, X-Men #197 became my "first comic" of a new age for me, after a long drought of having read nothing. I eventually started reading a ton of Marvel stuff, mainly Avengers, X-Men, Iron Man, X-Factor, Daredevil, New Mutants, West Coast Avengers, and occasionally the Defenders, Fantastic Four, Captain America, Alpha Flight, and Spider-Man. I also got a bit into DC at this time, mainly with Batman, Flash, Justice League, and Green Lantern. However, this whole "new period" of comics for me ended pretty much cold-turkey when X-Force was released in 1991. My young(ish), still in college, no-income self for some reason just decided "Enough is enough!" with yet another X-related title, this one with multiple covers designed to get fans to buy more than one copy of the same issue. It really bugged me for some reason, and I pretty much stopped buying comics at that point.

Flash forward to around 1994 or so. I was working at an ad agency here in the Los Angeles area and since ad agencies traditionally didn't pay very well for junior level employees, I still lived at home with my parents. But this meant that as a consequence, I actually had a lot more disposable income than a lot of other people my age who were scraping by with apartment rent and car leases. I don't remember exactly why or how I heard of this place, but one day during my lunch break at work, I drove over to the famous Golden Apple comics on Melrose Avenue (the old location that was closer to Fairfax) and was amazed by the thousands of different titles, back-issues, shirts, posters, and toys. And among the racks I saw some Star Wars comics by a company called Dark Horse. I had read Timothy Zahn's "Admiral Thrawn" trilogy of Star Wars novels that took place after the events of Return of the Jedi, and here at the comic shop I found a comic book series called Dark Empire that basically picked up right after the end of those novels and continued the story. I bought the first issue and began to return to the shop regularly to pick up more Star Wars comics. There were a lot of different titles back then, and I experienced a sort of "Star Wars Renaissance" for myself, picking up lots of new (and sadly, not very good) Star Wars novels and comics over the next few years. So, in a way, Star Wars was responsible for my third "get into comics" period. 

Then in 1996, while at the shop picking up more Star Wars comics, I came across the painted cover to Mark Waid's and Alex Ross' Kingdom Come and this was truly a case of buying a book due to its cover (plus I looked at the interior art as well). That four-issue series got me really interested in learning more about DC's history of its characters so I started picking up a lot of trade paperbacks of classic DC stories and then decided to try to "get current" with both DC and Marvel and asked the shop owner what to pick up in trade so that I would know "what's going on." This is a pattern I repeated on and off for the next few years until I became a regular weekly visitor to my local shop which is something I started doing with my daughter starting around three years ago or so.

As a funny end to this story, Marvel recently regained the license to Star Wars given the relationship between Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars that exists now. After around 20 years having the license, Dark Horse published its last Star Wars comics late in 2014. Last week, a new era of Star Wars comics began with a new Star Wars #1 at Marvel, which once again is telling brand new stories of Luke, Leia, Han, and the rest, immediately following the destruction of the Death Star at the end of Star Wars: Episode IV. The old "Expanded Universe" of video games, RPGs, comics, and novels has been swept away by Disney. The new comic all takes place pre-Empire Strikes Back, so many of the character relationships are unknown at this point (to the characters themselves, at least). It's a fun era in which to tell Star Wars stories, and the comic is really well-done. You can actually read my full review of the title over at here. The comic itself is rated "T" for Teen, but this is Star Wars... if you let you kids watch the movie then you
should feel comfortable letting them read the comic. 

That's an abbreviated version of my history with comics, from the space-fantasy of Star Wars to the age of mutant heroes and back again. I'd really love to hear your stories.

Hanging: Home office (loaner laptop - a Mac! My old one... might have gotten beer accidentally spilled on the keyboard)
Drinking: Water (far away from the keyboard)
Listening: "Soul Station" by Hank Mobley

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Comics Wednesday: Film Noir, Supers Horror, Vigilante Justice, and Alternate Futures

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'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.

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 post 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. 

For today, rather than focusing on one specific comic, I'm going to focus on the titles I'm planning ot pick up at my local shop later tonight. I'll also give you a few short sentences on why I like it and how it might give you some cool inspirations for your role-playing games, and not just Supers RPGs, either. 

Film Noir: The Fade Out #4
I wrote about this comic recently in my "Daddy's Geek Top 10 of 2014 (Part 1)" post. The Fade Out is definitely one of my favorite debuts of 2014.  Comic Book Resources also named is #26 out of the "Top 100" comics of 2014, and it's made many other lists as well, so I'm not alone in this one.

What Is It? This is a period piece comic of late 1940s Hollywood about the murder of a starlet on a movie set, and what happens behind the scenes between the script writer, the studio executives, the leading male star, and many other people who are scrambling to "save" the movie while also being investigated by the police to figure out who committed the murder.

What Makes It Good? The amount of period research that goes into each issue is amazing. It's almost like reading a nonfiction history book of post-war Los Angeles and the movie industry. The issues are simply gorgeous to look at; it's some of the best art on the market. The story is deeply engaging and the characters are incredibly interesting, even the ones that you don't like all that much. And then to top it off, the back of each issue (if you buy a physical copy) includes a little article about a particular event or piece of historical significance that happened around the same time as The Fade Out takes place. A few issues ago, for example, there's an article about Fatty Arbuckle and the real story of what happened with him and the crime he was accused of. Each one is a fascinating look at true history and it's a cool bonus for people who still read physical monthly comics instead of digital or trades.

Is It Good for Kids? Unfortunately, not at all. There's a lot of violence, sex, and swearing. But don't let that turn you off, of course. This is a really well-crafted book. It's one of the best examples of what comics can be about.

Supers Horror: Action Comics #38
What Is It? This is the "successor," if you will, to the comic that started all Superhero Comics. Superman debuted in Action Comics #1 back in 1938. Currently, in the wake of DC's "New 52" initiative, we're on Volume 2 of Action Comics, but it still features Superman and the current run by Greg Pak (writer) and Aaron Kuder (artist) is one of the best on Superman since the New 52 started about 3 1/2 years ago.

What Makes It Good? Pak really knows how to draw on a certain Silver Age sensibility for Superman without making him goofy or out-of-date. Superman is a difficult character to get "right" - in the wrong hands, he can be boring due to his immense power suite or just because he always acts like a Boy Scout. In the current story line, following a long protracted fight with Doomsday that tested Superman to the very limits of his powers and his sanity, the city of Smallville is now enveloped in a strange, impenetrable mist. Superman himself is caught inside, along with Lana Lang and John Henry Irons (aka "Steel") and the rest of the townsfolk who aren't quite acting like themselves... there's something weird and creepy going on. We've seen glimpses of... something... that's grabbed one of Superman's allies, Hiro (aka "Toyman") using some weird tentacle-like appendages. Horror is not a genre that one normally associates with Superman, and that's what makes this story so gripping. Superman can't just punch the mist away or use his heat vision or super-breath.

Is It Good for Kids? It's probably okay for older kids (it's rated "T" for Teen but I suspect that even a 10-year-old would be fine with it).

Vigilante Justice: Detective Comics #38 and Batman Eternal #40
What Is It? Just as Superman debuted in Action Comics #1 back in 1938, about a year later, Batman was introduced to the world in Detective Comics #27 in 1939. This incarnation is currently Volume 2 of the title, but it still focuses on Batman as the main character.

Batman Eternal is a weekly comic book by DC that's following a year-long story of a big conspiracy to take down Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and ultimately the whole infrastructure of Gotham itself.

What Makes It Good? Detective Comics, as indicated by the title, really focuses on Batman's skills as the "world's greatest detective." While there are some occasional fights with super villains, the main core of the story is illustrating how Batman is able to analyze the smallest clues to put together a theory of the bigger picture. It's fun to see Batman in this manner rather than just the "Bat-god" as he's often portrayed in other media, who wins every fight and punches his way out of most obstacles.

For Batman Eternal, part of what makes this story so good is it's format as a weekly comic. This
same story wouldn't work, I suspect, as a monthly. But, with the weekly format, things change quickly and often, and there's been an opportunity to introduce a wider cast of characters with the story because you can go an issue or two without focusing on them but then come back to them and it's only been a couple of weeks that have past so you don't lose the momentum. Story-wise, the conspiracy angle behind the guy who is working to take down Batman has been really interesting and mysterious and I'm still not sure who the ultimate string-puller is. Most recently, all of Batman's secret weapon caches throughout the city were destroyed by the main bad guy, causing panic throughout the streets, and then the weapons have been redistributed to all of Batman's enemies.

I wouldn't jump into Batman Eternal right now with issue #40, but you can pick up the trade collection of the first 17 issues for a lower price if you're interested.

Is It Good For Kids? As with Action Comics, you could probably give these to an older kid, say around 10, or a young teen, and they'd be fine. As always, though, you should check it out yourself before you have your kids right it.

Alternate Futures: New 52 Futures End #36
What Is It? This is the second of DC's currently three weekly titles. 35 years in the future, "Brother Eye," an artificial intelligence originally created by the heroes and used for surveillance, has gone rogue and manage to hunt down the world's superhero population and turn them into soulless and mindless cyborg insects that then hunt down the remaining pockets of superhero resistance. The Bruce Wayne of that timeline works with Terry McGinnis (who might be familiar to you as the future Batman of the animated series and comic book "Batman Beyond") to send Terry back in time to shortly before Brother Eye is created, to prevent it from happening. However, due to a series of  miscalculations, Terry's time jump strands him in our world but five years in our future. Brother Eye has already been created at this point but is only in the newest stages of its development. Terry must try to figure out how to stop Brother Eye from growing any more powerful and also determine a way to return home to his timeline, all without hopefully being discovered by any of the other heroes of the day, particularly Batman. Against this whole backdrop is an interesting story regarding the migration of the heroes from Earth 2 (see below) to the main Earth. In this timeline Earth 2 was destroyed in a battle with Darkseid of Apokalips, and the population (including the heroes) of Earth 2 transported to the "regular" DC Earth. However, they have to carry I.D. cards that identify them as E2's and people don't trust them.

What Makes It Good? I'm a sucker for alternate future stories and always like getting a peak into what characters' lives might be like a few years in the future. Added to that time travel element is the whole idea of identifying and tagging the population of Earth 2 that's trying to integrate into their new home but aren't fully trusted by the native population. There are a lot of parallels there to things that have happened on our world, both in the past but also right now.

As with Batman Eternal, I wouldn't just jump into this issue but instead pick up a trade collection of the first group of issues. 

Is It Good for Kids? This one might be more appropriate for a slightly older kid than some of the other DC titles I've talked about above. In particular, some of the scenes of the insectoid cyborg heroes from the future could maybe be a little intense of younger kids.

Parallel Worlds: Earth 2 #30 and Earth 2: World's End #14
I've actually written about these titles before, here and here (where I give a very in-depth look at the main Earth 2 title), so you can check there for more information. Note that Earth 2: World's End is a weekly title.

I'd love to hear in the comments from anybody who is reading any of these titles, or if you're planning to pick up something else today. Let me know below.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Iced tea
Listening: "O-O-H Child" by the Five Stairsteps (yep, I totally took advantage of the "free Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack download" on Google Play around Thanksgiving time)

Monday, January 5, 2015

Movie Review: The Hobbit - Battle of the Five Armies

Last week my wife and I got a sitter and headed over to our local iPic theater to have a cocktail and snack and watch the last of the three Hobbit movies, The Battle of the Five Armies (BotFA).

While I really enjoyed Jackson's Lord of the Rings films, and really like the Hobbit book, I disliked the first two Hobbit films. I felt that An Unexpected Journey completely got the characterization of Bilbo Baggins and (to a lesser extent) Radagast, incorrect, and ended on a climax that sort of missed the whole point of the story. For the sake of a "modern" audience, Jackson turned Bilbo into an action hero, jumping in front of that orc to defend Thorin, and with that one scene completely changed how Bilbo is portrayed in the movies. The Desolation of Smaug was an even worse offender in terms of characterization, losing the simple nobility of Bard by turning him into a gruff smuggler type of character, and then completely ruining the dwarves by turning them into comic relief, especially during the completely made-up scene where they infiltrate Erebor and are chased around by Smaug in a manner reminiscent of old Scooby Doo cartoons where the Scooby gang would run through one door, being chased by a ghost, only to reappear down a hallway through a completely different door. It was unnecessary, childish, and ultimately served to portray the dwarves as idiotic morons rather than the strong, stoic, and brave warriors they are.

Jackson did this to the dwarves before, particularly in the second and third LOTR films, wherein he turned Gimli into a comedy relief stereotype that completely missed an opportunity to illustrate how the dwarves, like the elves, were a dying race that soon would be gone from Middle Earth. I'm really not sure why Jackson finds this need to forcibly insert comedy into these stories where it doesn't belong and yet skip over moments of mirth that are in the source material.

With that background and context of my feelings of the past movies in this series, let's dive into Battle of the Five Armies.

I didn't like it, although it was better than the second movie of the overly long Hobbit trilogy. That's the short version.

Jackson jumps right into the action of the story by showing Smaug's attack on Laketown, which is incredibly devastating. Visually, this part of the movie looks pretty good. The CGI isn't too obvious and the way the movie portrays the destruction of the city is very real. The viewer really gets a sense of just how powerful Smaug is, which is something we didn't see in the previous movie. There are also some pretty decent invented scenes of Smaug conversing with Bard. But, Bard ultimately slays the dragon without the help of Bilbo's talking bird friend, which was a disappointment. It's been established earlier that there are talking animals in this world, and it would have been easy to include this fun scene from the book. Jackson has gone so far away from the essence of the Hobbit story, which is more fairytale like in its approach to fantasy, and it's a true shame. These movies could have served as a way to get younger kids excited about Tolkien's epic fantasy milieu so that when they were a bit older they could dive into the LOTR movies. Instead, by trying to force LOTR's darker, more violent and "mature" sensibilities onto the Hobbit, he's completely killed the essence of what makes the Hobbit story so good.

From there, things get worse with only a few bright spots throughout. I won't comment on the love affair between the created-for-the-movies character Tauriel and Kili the dwarf other than to say if you didn't like that aspect in the previous movies, you will dread it here because it takes up even more screen time.

Other than that, there is quite a bit of material not from the book and that was not even part of the appendices. Much of this is hit-and-miss. There is a fun scene with members of the White Council coming to save Gandalf from the Necromancer which does elicit a bit of geek fan-boy cheering but one does have to question exactly how Gandalf was so easily captured and beaten in the first place. They also make it quite clear after this scene that the White Council is fully aware that Sauron is in the process of returning, which makes many scenes in the Fellowship of the Ring movie, in which Gandalf and the rest of the White Council seem oblivious to Sauron's return, not make any sense.

Jackson dwells far too long on Azog and the orc armies, as well as introducing yet another orc big-bad, Bolg and the orcs from Gundabar, in this installment, and the movie suffers for it. We already understand that Azog is bad and has a grudge against Thorin and the rest of his family, but we don't need to spend so much time with the strategies of the orc army, or even introduce the character of Bolg, who was superfluous to this movie. Jackson also pulls a Dune moment on us and completely out of the blue, introduces some weird huge sandworm creatures that are part of the orc army, but they show up for about 20 seconds of screen time and have absolutely no impact on the actual final battle themselves.

The true enemy of the Hobbit book, in my mind, has always been Thorin himself. When he is gripped by his greed for gold, he makes a lot of very bad decisions that have dire consequences for himself and his crew. Bilbo sees these happening and the story becomes one of the reluctant peasant hero, Bilbo, trying to save a noble king, Thorin, from becoming his own worst enemy. While some of this story does come through in the movie, it's buried so deep under all of the CGI battles and the invented or adapted material that wasn't part of the original story that the viewer has to struggle to really understand who the main characters are and whom he or she should be identifying with. My own wife, who has read the Hobbit and understands the basic structure of the story, left the theater and told me upon leaving, "I wasn't sure who I was supposed to be paying attention to." Bilbo and Thorin, the two most important characters in this story, are given short shrift in this third installment so that Jackson can spend more screen time with Tauriel and Kili, Bard and his children, the "Deputy Master" of Laketown, and Legolas and his father, King Thranduil. All of these characters are superfluous to the main story between Bilbo and Thorin and yet in this movie they take on an artificial importance that destroys the momentum and, ultimately, the point of the film.

Jackson and his screenwriters also see fit to change two of the most powerfully written passages of the book, first with Bard's speech to his black arrow that he uses to slay Smaug, and then even more egregiously, by re-writing Thorin's farewell speech to Bilbo. That last speech is the most powerful moment of the book and while Richard Armitage, playing Thorin in the movie, does a good job with the dialogue written for him by the screenwriters and it is somewhat close to Tolkien's words, it's not as elegant or powerful and I struggle to find reasoning for why it was changed.

Visually, BotFA is a bit of a mixed bag. While much of the actual scenery is beautiful and the set designs are artfully created, the actual battle scenes are very obviously CGI and it takes the viewer out of the movie. It's been more than 10 years since the Return of the King, and yet the Battle of Pellenor fields in that movie actually looks better than many of the battle scenes in this movie.

As my readers know, a few years ago I read The Hobbit to my (then) three-year-old daughter. At one point, when we were about 3/4 of the way through the book, I heard her after dinner explaining to her mom what the book was about. "Mommy... it's about this hobbit named Bilbo Baggins and he goes off on an adventure with these dwarves but all he really wants to do is go back to his home."

My three-year-old daughter distilled down the essence of the Hobbit using one sentence and her very limited knowledge of life. Somehow, Peter Jackson got too wrapped up in trying to make the Hobbit something bigger than it is, and as a result, he missed the point entirely.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: water
Listening: "Double Decker (Deck the Halls)" by Christian McBride

Friday, January 2, 2015

Daddy's Geek Top 10 of 2014 (Part 2)

A couple of days ago on New Year's Eve, I wrote a post about my Geek Top 10 for 2014. I only got through the first half of my list, so below is the second half.

Have a look at my Top 10 and let me know where you agree or disagree. I'd love to hear your comments below. Thanks!

I wrote about one game in Part 1 of my Top 10. Here's another one that I'm sure will be controversial: Dwimmermount. People seem to have a love/hate relationship with this product: the content, the author(s), the Kickstarter process, etc. I myself was, early on, a bit miffed that I thought this product would never see the light of day after I'd contributed to the Kickstarter, but over time I let that go and saw it go through a series of different people to try to make it happen.

I originally supported this Kickstarter as a way to show my appreciation for James Maliszewski's blog, which helped me rediscover my love of old-school games. Plus, his Dwimmerount posts on his blog were some of my favorites and were always idea-inspiring. I very early-on had supported James when he asked if people would be interested in a print version of his product. So, yes, I was a bit disappointed when the Kickstarter funded and then I didn't hear anything about it until later. But, the Autarch Team did a very admirable job of committing to getting the book published, despite that fact that I assume they made very little, if anything, off the project. It's a massive book, chock-full of ideas, old-school style art, a whole fantasy city, maps, new spells, new magic items... the list goes on-and-on. It includes much of James' original ideas, so from what I can tell, the core of the book still has his original stamp on it, even though it was finished by a different team. I haven't played through it yet but it really looks like it would be a fun campaign. I've already taken some ideas from it and used them in other games I'm running, ranging from Labyrinth Lord to Savage Worlds.

MOVIES (minor spoiler alerts below)
This is a tough one to narrow down because there were actually quite a few really good "geek" movies that came out in 2014. I'm narrowing mine down to just three, below.

Captain America: Winter Soldier.  I already praised the comics work of Ed Brubaker in my Part 1 post, where I picked The Fade Out as one of my favorite new comics of 2014. Ed wrote the ground-breaking "Winter Soldier" arc for Captain America a few years ago and was actually called in by Marvel Studios to consult on the movie adaptation which incorporates that part of the original story but changes and adapts it to focus on HYDRA instead of the Soviet Union. The film also introduces the Falcon into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in a role that's played extremely well by Anthony Mackie. The movie manages to transcend the typical superhero slugfest and instead becomes a spy-thriller of sorts, including a brilliant piece of casting with Robert Redford playing a senior S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who is secretly also one of the leaders of HYDRA.

In another brilliant move by Marvel Executives, the release of the movie timed up perfectly between two episodes of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series, so those folks who watched both movie and TV show were treated to extra background and story that made both properties combined better than each one individually.

Guardians of Galaxy. This is another somewhat polarizing movie, with many people right out the gate opting not to see it because of the inclusion of anthropomorphic animals and talking trees. One very prominent RPG blogger wrote a whole post about how it was a "dumb" movie based on comments he'd seen from people defending the movie as being fun specifically because it was "dumb". I don't agree that it was necessarily "dumb" but I do think it was a "fun" movie made specifically for the sake of being "fun." Over time, my initial reaction to the film has mellowed a bit (meaning I like it a bit less than I did upon first seeing it), but I do give credit to Marvel for taking a gamble on a team of mostly unknown characters from their stable and making a fun science-fantasy film that tweaks the traditional superhero genre by moving into more of a science-fiction category. The use of old 1970's music was an interesting choice that really paid off in the context of the film's story, and the lead character, Star Lord, is a relatable, happy-go-lucky rogue type that appeals to most people in the same way that Han Solo does. That's probably my biggest complaint about the movie - much of what makes Guardians good has already been done (and arguably, done better) in other movies from the past. While that might be true, I look at Guardians as almost an homage to those movies rather than a pale imitation, and also a way to introduce new generations of people to these types of concepts rather than just saying, "You should just go watch Star Wars."

Big Hero 6. This was another big gamble from the House of Mouse - taking an obscure Marvel-owned anime property and turning into one of their big animated films of the year, especially following in the footsteps of the mega-hit Frozen. But it worked spectacularly. This film has so much going for it, especially its portrayal of "smart math kids" as the protagonists without turning them into parodies in the way that Big Bang Theory does. As the father of a young 5 year-old girl, I loved that two of the main hero characters were "girl scientists" that use their smarts to create superhero powers based on their inventions instead of "princesses." The main kid hero is a bit troubled - he stumbles along the way and makes quite a few mistakes but ultimately does the right thing. And this movie's got heart - my 5 year-old was crying at the end of the movie, over a robot. Sure, she's only five, but that says something for how well the story and characterization is put together in this film.

Movie Honorable Mentions: Interstellar, the Lego Movie

This gets its own category, but 2014 was really a great year for Star Wars fans (although 2015 looks like it will hopefully be even better).

Firstly, fans of Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV series got a chance to see an additional season on Netflix. The series was canceled prematurely after Disney bought Lucasfilm, so Cartoon Network ended up ending the series after Season 5 even though it was said that Seasons 6, 7, and 8 had already been scripted out and Season 6 was pretty much finished. In a great move showing the power of "new media," Netflix acquired Season 6 and added it to their list of available programs along with the first five seasons. While fans didn't quite get to see the end of Ahsoka Tano's character arc as we would have liked, it was still great to get one more season out of this show that fans really liked (it's actually much better than any of the prequel films, which I guess isn't saying a lot, but any Star Wars fan should really enjoy this series).

We were then treated to a new animated Star Wars series - Star Wars: Rebels, which airs on Disney XD. This series, unlike The Clone Wars, focus on a smaller, tighter set of characters and takes place in the story-rich era following Episode III and Episode IV. Although I'm usually not a fan of animated properties that focus on a kid as the main character (as it prolongs the stereotype that "cartoons are just for kids"), Ezra is a bit older than most and the other characters on the show are all older and feature prominently in the show. I'm also not a huge fan of the comic antics of Chopper the droid (starting with... its name is Chopper), overall this show works pretty well and has a lot of fun Easter eggs for fans, such as the inclusion of a really deep reference - a Stormtrooper Transport that looks identical to a Star Wars toy Kenner released way back in 1978 right after the movie came out, but which was never actually seen in any of the films. And again, as the dad of a young, impressionable 5 year-old girl, I like that the pilot of the rebels' ship is a confident and capable leader type who happens to be a female.

Lastly, there's the Star Wars: Episode VII movie trailer. I am really not a trailer junkie. I don't seek them out online like a lot of my friends do. This one just happened to come across one of my blogger feeds so I watched it. There's a lot to like in this trailer, and I of course avoid all the stupid idiocy of the media-invented "controversy" about a certain character seen in the trailer (I won't even bother to mention here what it is). There's a lot in here for old fans like me to like while still appealing to a new audience. While it's just a trailer and there's really very minimal dialogue or even story conveyed in it, I'm already holding out hope that this movie is going infinitely better than any of the prequel films. The only thing I can't get behind is that soccer-ball droid. I just don't get it and no defense of it I see online does anything to change my mind. To me, it just looks stupid. But if that's the only thing that's wrong with the movie, I guess I can let that go.

Designers & Dragons. This is a massive four-volume update of a volume written a few years ago about the roots and history of the RPG hobby. I sadly never was able to acquire the original volume - it sold out very quickly and copies I saw on Ebay and Amazon were selling for over $300. But, a few years of patience paid off, and the original author worked with Evil Hat Productions on a Kickstarter for a new, expanded decade-by-decade account of the history of RPGs from the 1970's through the 2000's. My set of books showed up shortly before Christmas so I haven't really dived into them yet, but I'm really looking forward to reading through these. It took a tremendous amount of research to create this series and fans of RPGs or gaming history should really check this out.  

All right - this concludes my Geek Top 10 of 2014 (plus an honorable mention). What are yours?

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: coffee
Listening: "Merry, Merry, Merry, Merry Xmas" by Ruby Wright with Cliff Lash and his Orchestra

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