Thursday, April 30, 2015

Catching Up on Avengers History

Tomorrow, May 1st, the newest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, will be released. The new film will explore more of the Avengers rich history as new characters like the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and the Vision join the established team of Captain America, Thor, Iron-Man, the Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye.

As a kid, I loved reading the Avengers and while I usually became attached to certain team lineups, I always enjoyed when new members would join the team, just to see some of my favorite heroes team-up with Earth's Mightiest Heroes. I remember issue #137 in particular when X-Men's Beast joined the team and how fun it was seeing him in a different context as a member of the team.

For those of you planning to see the new movie, now might be a good time to catch up on your Avengers history. There's a new book out called The Avengers Vault, which is a great way to do that. While serious comics buffs might not necessarily learn much that's new, it's a great refresher and is also a perfect introduction for youngsters who are just learning about comics and their heroes.

I still have this issue from when I was a
kid, when the Beast joined the team.
I was giving a free comic of the book for review purposes, and wrote a review over at Comic Attack. One of the coolest things about this book is the inclusion of old "artifact" pieces, like pencil sketches, color guides, posters, and a reproduction of a vintage membership card for the Sentinels of Liberty, a Captain America fan club from 1941. These are all really cool, well-produced pieces that help to give an historical backdrop to the Avengers, and Marvel Comics in general.

I highly recommend this book - below is the first part of my review, including a link at the end where you can click-through to read the full review.

Also, don't forget that this Saturday, May 2nd, is Free Comic Book Day! Head on over to your local comic book shop and grab some free comics to explore some new characters or companies you've not heard of or read before. And, while you're there, don't forget that your shop actually does have to pay for those books - while they're free to you, they do cost the shop money. So, why not pay for a couple of other comics, a graphic novel, trade paperback, or other items while you're at your shop as a way of saying "thanks" for the effort they go to for Free Comic Book Day? One highly anticipated free comic book this year is Divergence by DC Comics, which will unveil new looks for DC's three main characters, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. In particular, given the events of what happened in Batman #40, which just came out yesterday, the Batman news should be pretty interesting.

Here's the opening part of my review of The Avengers Vault:

This spring sees the release of one of the biggest and most anticipated movies of the year, Avengers: Age of Ultron. The first movie was gigantic in terms of its box office receipts and no doubt created some new fans of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in all forms of media, from comics to animation to the silver screen.
 Just in time for the release of the movie, and to help both new and old fans to wade through the more than 50-year history of the team, is The Avengers Vault, a huge, beautifully constructed hardback book with more than 170 pages of history, biographies, art, and reproductions of posters and other items from the Avengers’ past. This is a hefty book, but it’s very approachable and is written in a conversational, but educated and informed, tone that really will appeal to new fans of the franchise without alienating those who have been following the team’s exploits for awhile.
Peter A. David, the author, really knows his stuff. Unlike some comic collection historians, David is actually primarily a fiction and comics writer, having written a long 12-run on the Incredible Hulk...  (click here to read the rest of the review)

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Saturday Night" by Ned's Atomic Dustbin


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Tabletop RPG Show & a Science-Fantasy Campaign Setting

For those of you who follow the show Tabletop, or RPG news in general, or who still have your Tiger Beat poster of Wil Wheaton hanging in your bedroom, you may have heard that Wil's very popular online show, Tabletop, has a spin-off RPG show that will premiering on the Geek & Sundry YouTube Channel on June 2nd.

Just last week, Wil announced the "cast" for the show - basically a bunch of friends of his that are in the entertainment business who also happen to be big fans of role-playing. In the same video announcement, Wil let everyone know what system they'd be using (which is a version of Green Ronin's A.G.E. System but without all of the Dragon Age trappings), and also he talked a bit about the campaign setting and world that he and some friends created for the show.

Wil's been talking about getting this RPG show up and running for a long time, and it's kind of an interesting peak into the world of entertainment and content creation how long it takes for something like this to come together. The public perception is probably something akin to, "How hard can it be? Get someone to film you playing an RPG and put it on YouTube." Lots of people do that.

Unfortunately, most of those are actually not all that fun to watch. The trick with something with a show like this is to find a group that gels together well and can be entertaining for an audience to watch when they aren't actually participating in the game itself. You have to be careful to avoid the inside jokes that are part of every tight-knit RPG group, because those don't translate well to a larger audience. You also have to be careful about the game system you use so that it doesn't have a lot of "secret" pieces that can't be filmed well (as an aside, that's why you'll almost never see a card-based game on an episode of Tabletop, unless the cards are shown for everyone to see). Other considerations are how rules-heavy the game is - for a show like this, getting bogged down in game mechanics like skills, feats, powers, and all that kind of stuff is going to slow the game down and make for a poor viewer experience.

Aside from all of that, there's also the production aspects to take into consideration, including the funding of the show itself. The idea behind these shows, partly, is a business decision from Geek & Sundry. By having popular shows like this, it brings more viewers to Geek & Sundry's other offerings on their channel, and some of those including advertising. YouTube wins because clients buy ads in the hopes that they'll be shown on Geek & Sundry's channel to capture that exact type of people they're looking to reach ("geeks" basically). That's a very simple way of explaining how it all works, but ultimately there are a lot of financial decisions behind-the-scenes that need to be worked out.

I started talking to Wil about his RPG show more than two years ago. And almost exactly two years ago, I met up with Wil and his producer-friend, Boyan, and my friend Cal, and I ran the group through a game of Savage Worlds with a home-brewed campaign setting, as a sort of "test" for Wil and Boyan to see if the game system was one that could work for the show. So, Wil and the crew were primarily focused on the game mechanics and the "viewability" of a show that would use that system. It was a lot of fun - Wil has been very cool over the years to occasionally invite Cal and me over to test potential games that might make a future appearance on Tabletop to make sure that they'll work well on the show. It also helps that Cal and I like to drink craft beer, as does Wil, and we love to inflate Wil's ego by telling him that he makes the absolute best craft beer in the entire history of the world. We mainly do this because it gets us more beer. And now Wil has also been barrel-aging cocktails so I've benefited from samples of those as well (I have yet to reciprocate to Wil because my wife and I end up drinking all the barrel-aged ones I make before I can share them). 

Wil blogged about our game from about two years ago, and I also mentioned it on my Google Plus page, citing the fiction and entertainment inspirations I had used to create the custom campaign setting I used for our short game. In a funny coincidence, it turns out that Wil also is using Thundarr the Barbarian as one of his inspirations for his game world, but it sounds like he's taking it in a completely different direction, whereas my world had a lot more influences from early post-apocalyptic fiction as well, primarily the Horseclans series and Hiero's Journey and its sequel, Unforsaken Hiero.

Ever since that game, I've slowly but surely been working on writing a campaign setting guide for the world I used for that test game, which the three people involved seemed to enjoy. One of the things I noticed a long time ago is that, while there are a ton of campaign settings for fantasy-based games like D&D, there are only a small handful of settings for post-apocalyptic games. I'd actually started working on this setting before I met with Wil and the gang that night, using the rules-light Mutant Future rules for any game mechanics I need. I'll get around to finishing it up one of these days, and then ideally can get some cool art to go along with it.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Gary's Notebook" by Lee Morgan




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