Thursday, March 31, 2011

Anterrabae's Armor Class

I haven't seen Zack Snyder's new movie Sucker Punch -- though I'll probably try to catch it on DVD eventually. The reviews seem to be universally negative, but that's never stopped me before. My wife and I have soft spots in our hearts for some pretty terrible movies! :-) I generally didn't hate Snyder's take on Watchmen (bad music choices aside), so it will be interesting to see how he develops his own ideas.

When I first heard about the plot to Sucker Punch, it reminded me immediately of Joanne Greenberg's 1964 novel I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, which I'm not sure is read that much these days. The one-sentence version of the plot is very similar: An abused girl retreats into an action-packed fantasy world. (Heck, with a few tweaks, I guess that could also be the plot of the novel that RPG fans love to hate: Rona Jaffe's Mazes and Monsters!)

The reason I bring up Rose Garden is that, as a young teenager (who was assigned to read the book in school), I perceived the goings-on in the main character's fantasy world of Yr to be much more compelling than the surrounding story of psychological trauma and eventual recovery. Coming at the same time as my new love affair with D&D, I made lists of the Yr deities, creatures, and words in the Yr language. I don't know if I ever thought about adapting this as a fantasy RPG setting, but if I did, the only thing stopping me at the time would have been the ribbing I would have received from my friends for making so much of a book that had the double whammy of being: (1) school-assigned, and (2) the perception of being somewhat "girly." The fact that it would have been 180 degrees opposed to the author's intent wasn't an issue, though!

Now, I'm not truly advocating developing Yr as a campaign setting. There's probably not that much real content there to mine... and it's more of an eerie "outer plane" concept than anything like a physical location in a character's home world. I'd also be conflicted about adapting something connected with a real person's mental illness (the book was semi-autobiographical).

But... but... in my memory, that universe was packed with some fascinating images and symbols. In the end, if someone really wanted to dive into it, eyes open to all the above caveats, I think it could be quite interesting. In some ways, this situation reminds me of the development of playable Glass Bead Games. The foreword to most modern English translations of Hesse's book, by Theodore Ziolkowski, gives a rather stern warning that it would be stupid to pursue a playable GBG, and that Hesse intended this concept to be a metaphor and nothing more. The goal of dozens of talented GBG designers is to prove that warning wrong!

The lesson here, I suppose, is that if you've got a dream to evolve a concept in new ways, don't let the original intents of the authors -- or even the bounds of propriety -- stop you!  :-)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

DIY Dungeon!

My posting will probably be light for a little while, since most of my RPG time is being devoted towards creating a nice printable version of TSR's (wonderfully clunky) 1975 board game "Dungeon!" (Yes, the exclamation point is part of the name.)

I lost track of my own 1979 printing of this game long ago, but it was the perfect "gateway drug" into D&D and other RPGs back in the day.  After explaining the game to my 9-year-old son, he got very excited to play it himself.  Thus, I've been tracking down rules, card lists, scans of the board, and so on, and starting to put together my own D.I.Y. version.  (Oh, who am I kidding?  I'm just as excited as my son is!)

The plan is to re-create the components in Powerpoint (with Googled images for the monsters and treasures), then print it in color at Kinkos. The 9-part board will be mounted on pieces of foamcore (kind of like geomorphs!), and the small cards will be cut out and laminated.

By the way, there's some cool hidden history of D&D tied up with this board game, since it was actually written in 1972, two years before the first publication of D&D.  Its creator, David Megarry, knew Gygax and Arneson and had access to their early Chainmail and Blackmoor rules. The whole story is probably yet to be written....  :-)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

High Hopes and Broken Hearts

No, the title of this post isn't the name of a new romance-themed RPG...

James Raggi is nearing completion of a new edition of his awesome old-school game, and he recently posted a blog entry titled "I Want You to Make LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Your Regular Game." He acknowledges that one doesn't see that level of self-promotion in our (D.I.Y., often anti-corporate) hobby all that often, and I admit to raising an eyebrow when I first saw the title. But his products are very high-quality, and this post has generated lots of feedback about how he can improve his product. If anyone deserves to have a product shoot to the top of popular consciousness, it's Raggi.

However, this post isn't really about Raggi or LotFP. It's about a light bulb that went off above my head when I read that blog entry. My thought: "Oh, maybe this is what people who use the term 'fantasy heartbreaker' think we all want to have happen with our DIY games!"

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hot Elf Chicks?

So, yes, if one person in the blogosphere jumps off a bridge, do we all have to follow suit? Apparently so...  If you came here after googling for a hot elf chick, I hate to disappoint, but here are some hot human chicks that may have been D&D player characters in another life...

3rd level thief:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sailing the whale-road

I was gratified to see a link to this blog in the bookmarks of Ron Hale-Evans, an old-school Glass Bead Game grognard if there ever was one. :-)

In the late 1990s, Ron began developing a new "game form" for the GBG called Kennexions. All GBGs are about creating links between ideas, and this form uses the ancient Nordic poetic device called the kenning, a way of compounding words together to expand upon their interconnections (inter-kennextions, yeah, a little hokey). Kennings can be used to build up complex networks of associations between ideas, but they start with relatively simple analogies.  For example, you can start with:

" sun : sky :: candle : home "

i.e., the sun lights the sky in the same way that a candle lights a home. Then you can use this quartet of terms to create new expressions.  The sun is a "sky-candle."  The sky is the "sun-home." Then the key is to expand out the chain of ideas by using other kennings that share terms. Another old Norse kenning for "sky" is "moon-road," and another one for "house" is "hearth-ship."  There's a whole poetry of ideas that can flow from a simple beginning.

Of course, if it's just about the sky and candles, it could get boring. Some of the other examples that Ron discussed included mythology, alchemy, voodoo, and psychedelic drugs. You want deep meaning?  How about this four-part analogy:

" Hume's notion that humans consist merely of bundles of perceptions : Kant's purported refutation of Hume by his concept of innate categories of perception :: the English Civil War : the Restoration "

Expanding out that sucker is the work of a Ph.D dissertation!

Kennexions is still a work in progress. Ron Hale-Evans is a fan of constructed languages like Lojban, so that looks like it will have a place in this system. He also has a number of ideas for representing kennings and their networks by graphical symbols and glyphs. The actual rules of play, and the roles of cooperation vs. competition, don't yet seem to be nailed down, either. But someone looking to see how Hesse's Glass Bead Game could be built in the real world could do a lot worse than to delve deeply into Ron's Kennexions.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Beam me up....

It's geek cliche, but I've always loved Star Trek. The stories, the aliens, the ships, the whole deal. In the early 1980s, I yearned for a way to immerse myself further in that universe through gaming. At that time, there were really only two readily available options: the FASA Star Trek RPG, and Task Force Games' Star Fleet Battles. For some reason, my friends and I gravitated toward the latter, and we had lots of fun with Stephen V. Cole's alternate take on a much more war-torn "star fleet universe."

However, if we had access to a time machine and found Mike Berkey's 2009 free RPG Where No Man Has Gone Before, I think we would have tossed aside SFB like a Denebian blood worm! It has a very light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek approach that is a great fit to the original series. It's also the first time that I've felt that a skill-heavy d20 (3rd edition D&D type) rules system makes sense to play around with.

If I ever have time (ha ha), I may try to convert a few of the more interesting SFB ships into the simpler and more intuitive WNMHGB format. I couldn't imagine Star Trek gaming without the super-duper power ships like the Klingon B-10 or the Federation Napoleon-class fighter carrier! (Example pic after the jump...)  Live long and prosper!