Wednesday, September 20, 2017

AMERICAN ASSASSIN (Film Review): Is AMERICAN ASSASSIN a Film Franchise in the Making?

Creating a new action franchise is a difficult process. It requires some combination of strong IP, star power, compelling narrative, and innovative action sequences. As was demonstrated ably by John Wick in 2014, it does not require a giant budget. CBS Films' recently released American Assassin featuring Vince Flynn's CIA "consultant" Mitch Rapp, has many of the requisite components, but are they enough?

In 1999, Vince Flynn's first Mitch Rapp novel Transfer of Power hit the bookshelves and rose to number 13 on the New York Times best-seller list. While Transfer of Power was subject to some mixed critical reviews, it was strong enough to build an audience big enough to support fifteen more novels and a movie deal. Though Mitch Rapp has a dedicated following are many reasons that Transfer of Power was not the book selected by Hollywood to introduce the character to a wider audience. The first and foremost reason is that Transfer of Power is about terrorists hijacking the White House and that storyline has been played out with Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down. The second is that the critics were right to complain that Transfer of Power takes a long time to get to the action. Films are a visual medium and they need stories that are suited to visual storytelling. Long scenes of Mitch Rapp and a retired Secret Service Agent discussing how they are going to slowly scout out where the terrorists have hidden bombs and booby traps makes for a plausible narrative, but it's not the stuff of a great action film. In the end, producers selected the 2010 novel American Assassin, which details Mitch Rapp's origin, as their franchise entry.

One of the things that makes Mitch Rapp a good literary character is that he is what author/screenwriter Steven Barnes described as "a nerdy guy who suffers a tragedy and turns himself into Jason Bourne to get revenge against 'the terrorists.'" While Mitch Rapp is a very physically capable character, NCAA Lacrosse player in the books, he is first and foremost a thinker. In the books, he speaks French like a native and a number of other languages. In the film, he's taught himself Arabic. He's an autodidact of the highest order. It's a quality that makes him difficult to cast though because the actor must be both athletic and "geeky." Dylan O'Brien fits the bill perfectly. The charm that he displayed in Teen Wolf is still evident, but it's suppressed a little as the filmic Mitch Rapp is suffering from a severe case of PTSD.

Michael Keaton portrays Mitch Rapp's mentor/tormentor Stan Hurley in typical Keatonesque fashion. Which in this case means that Keaton turns a relatively unlikable character in the books into a character that is kinder and gentler than the literary version while somehow managing to retain the cold lethality that Stan Hurley embodies in the books. Sanaa Lathan does an effective job of portraying Irene Kennedy, Mitch Rapp's handler and the person who recruited Rapp into a secretive off the books CIA program. Taylor Kitsch chews just enough scenery as "Ghost" that audiences will believe that he's blinded by a need for revenge, but not so much that he spirals into farce as a villain. Much more could have been done with the back story between Hurley and Ghost, but there is enough presented in the film to make Ghost's motivations clear.

Where the film begins to falter is in it's selected narrative. The underlying premise of the film is that some Iranian hardliners are unhappy with the nuclear deal between the United States and Iran. These hardliners have come into contact with a former US operative (Ghost) who has agreed to deliver nuclear material to them that they can use to make a nuclear device. What the hardliners don't know is that Ghost plans on using the device himself and in doing so get revenge on the country that abandoned him behind enemy lines. There are some twists in the plot that aren't given as much time to sink in with audiences as they deserve. Chief among these is that the Iranian government itself has been monitoring these hardliners and has sent their own agent to infiltrate the CIA's investigation. This is played off in a "OMG we have a traitor...oh, wait...not a traitor, but valuable resource" sequence that lasts all of five minutes.

Typical of many modern films, American Assassin isn't satisfied with smaller stakes. It takes what could have been an effective kidnap revenge story, which is one of the narratives in the book (though not with Ghost), and dials it to 11 with the addition of a nuclear device. Instead of learning from John Wick, Casino Royale, and The Bourne Identity that personal stakes can drive an action movie, the film relies on the staid ticking clock to maintain dramatic tension. This particular ticking clock falls flat and the story has other events that could have been used. One is reminded of how effectively Guarding Tess utilized one during the final kidnap and rescue sequence. In better action narratives, the personal drives the drama. In American Assassin, there are personal reasons for all the drama, but they play second fiddle to McGuffins.

Similarly, many of the action sequences of American Assassin lack aesthetic and emotional punch. Fans of martial arts films know that martial arts battles are beautiful dance sequences and they require similar attention. The fight, like the dance, must tell a story and viewers must be able to see what's going on. John Wick incorporated grappling techniques into the film in order to minimize the number of cuts in an editing sequence, a choice that resulted in some very elegant fight sequences. Mitch Rapp, in both the books and in the film, is a practitioner of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu which has been featured in John Wick and Red Belt in some wonderful action sequences but is underused in American Assassin. Michael Cuesta's direction of the fight scenes fails to convey the dance the stunt team is providing. These scenes are over edited and confused and this more than anything is the film's biggest failing. An action film can be cliched and derivative, but the action it portrays must be compelling.

American Assassin has many of the components for a solid mid-budget franchise, but future writers and directors would do well to remember that the best action stories are personal and that fight scenes should be treated like beautiful dance numbers around which the rest of the film is structured.

Images: CBS Films

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

AMERICAN ASSASSIN and Hollywood's Frequent Spectacle Problem

When I first saw the trailer for American Assassin a couple of months ago, I was blown away. Here was a spy film starring Michael Keaton, Dylan O'Brien, and Taylor Kitsch. Michael Keaton has long been one of my favorite actors because of his ability to provide convincing performances in films like Clean and Sober even as he worked on classic comedies like Mr. Mom . Taylor Kitsch's career has been more mixed than Keaton's, but his strong performances in Friday Night Lights and Lone Survivor and many other projects more than make up for his less successful work. Dylan O'Brien is a star on the rise who is well known enough to younger audiences that he might just be able to launch an action franchise.

The earliest teaser trailers focused on the origins of the "American Assassin" Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien), giving audiences a glimpse of his ruthless capabilities and the tragedy that inspired him to become a killer. It was these early teasers that convinced me to begin reading the Mitch Rapp books by Vince Flynn. I'm a fan of spy films and novels, but given the breadth of my pop culture tastes I usually need some catalyst to get me to start up yet another long running series. I was grateful to those trailers, because the Mitch Rapp books I've read - Transfer of Power, American Assassin, and Kill Shot - are engaging and plausible stories. Mitch hasn't knocked John Wells out of first place for my favorite modern spy, but he's starting to get close.

What impressed me most about these three books was how they never presented Mitch as superhuman.  In the first book written in the series, Transfer of Power, the White House is taken over by terrorists and it's up to our hero Mitch to "save the day." Except it isn't up to him at all. Transfer of Power was published in 1999, before Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down, so the premise was fresh at the time but that book could not be used as the franchise launching film. It was also very different from those other White House has been taken over films. Instead of being a "single man against the small army" tale inspired by Die Hard that Olympus Has Fallen portrayed, Mitch spent most of Transfer of Power sitting in a closet with a retired Secret Service agent trying to figure out how to turn off a communications jamming device and locate explosives the terrorists set throughout the building. Mitch is doing this so that Delta and Seal Team Six can come and save the day. The book focused more on surveillance and planning than on action and dealt with Beltway Politics more than witty one liners after kill shots. There were no "Ho, Ho, Ho, now I have a machine gun" or "You've had your six" moments. It was as plausible as this implausible story could be.

This veneer of plausibility continued through the next two books I read. In American Assassin (the book), the main story line after Mitch's training is about an op gone bad and how Mitch adapts to the situation. Mitch's team is supposed to attempt to free a CIA agent who has been captured by terrorists and things go awry. Much of the book details the effects of emptying bank accounts and the paranoia this causes within the espionage community. There is action in the book, but there are also "follow Mitch as he pretends to jog in order to do surveillance" sections. The highest the stakes get is that the "bad guys" capture Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton's character in the film) and the danger of what will happen if they are able to interrogate him and find out everything the US has done. Very plausible stakes.

These plausible stories, minus Transfer of Power because Hollywood has done explosive versions of that movie, are the kinds of stories that make the best spy films. The best Bond film is Casino Royale and it's one of the most down to Earth of the series. My second favorite On Her Majesty's Secret Service is similarly plausible in its stakes. No giant space battles or massive underwater cities in those two films. When the Bourne films work best, it is because the stakes are personal. Similarly, Body of Lies works because it is realistic to the layperson and Hunt for Red October is so good because even with very high stakes the story doesn't go for too much spectacle.

American Assassin is directed by Michael Cuesta and his work on Kill the Messenger (which is exactly this kind of story) and Homeland seem a perfect fit for a plausible actioner similar to the books. Add to that a modest budget of $33 million, and we should be getting a "street level" spy story right?


Apparently not. It seems that CBS Films wants American Assassin to have SPECTACLE, so they incorporate a nuclear device. A nuclear device that by all appearances they blow up at sea in a manner that causes mayhem during a hand to hand battle. At least that's what the most recent trailers seem to be showing me. I haven't seen the film yet, and reviews by the Hollywood Reporter and Indiewire are good enough that I still will, but I really wish that the producers hadn't gone for the big bang. Hollywood has been overly trapped by the big bang in recent years. Almost every superhero movie is a big ticking clock protect the castle from the big bad movie lately, and let's not even start on how Transformers movies have become all spectacle and no narrative. Every Star Wars movie seems to be about blowing up yet another Death Star or mega huge spacecraft/shield generator. This year was the worst summer for box office in a long time. Maybe it's because producers don't trust audiences with smaller action stories. That's too bad, because what made the first John Wick movie work was how personal it was. Not every story needs to be a ticking clock to save the world. Sometimes it's enough to have the clock be to save one's self or even a friend.

That's what the books are about, and what I was hoping the movie will be about. We'll see if it delivers. I hope it does, but fear that Hollywood is going through one of its "Bigger is Always Better" phases.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Tom Lommel's #Ironkeep Chronicles and Disorganized Play Are a Masterclass in Game Mastering.

I've been a fan of the team at the Saving Throw Show for quite some time. I didn't jump on the Saving Throw Show bandwagon as early as their Kickstarter, but I did become an ardent fan soon afterward. One of the key reasons I jumped on the Saving Throw Show bandwagon was that they brought on The Dungeon Bastard and Lady Vorpal, Tom Lommel and Amy Vorpahl, as two of their recurring castmembers. This appreciation has only increased over the past few months as I've been watching Tom Lommel run the #Ironkeep Chronicles on Wednesday nights. On that show, Tom has managed to do something that isn't replicated by any other online streaming role playing game show. He's managed to both replicate the home game play experience and fused that with a series of interactive tutorials on Game Mastering where the audience helps shape the campaign.

What Makes #Ironkeep Chonicles Work

While there are many great live play rpg streams on the internet, the primary thing that sets #Ironkeep Chronicles apart is that it replicates the average home play experience. Many of the professional rpg-streams feel more like you are watching a television show or listening to a radio audio drama than they feel like the game play around your tables at home. While Tom has fantastic players, which like many rpg-streams includes actors/Twitch streamers/YouTubers, the show never loses the home game feeling. One great example of this phenomenon is the character creation episode of #Ironkeep Chronicles when Tom incorporated elements of John Harper's proto-rpg The Wildlings into the character design session to facilitate character creation.

 Unlike Wil Wheaton's excellent Fantasy Age run on Tabletop, which used a very scripted adventure and where the character creation was focused on elements native to Fantasy Age, Tom did what many Game Masters do and mashed up game mechanics from multiple games right from the start. This trend of bringing in elements from outside of D&D, and not as original game design content, demonstrates to players and Game Masters how they can incorporate their large gaming libraries even when they don't get the chance to play anything other than D&D. Tom runs #Ironkeep like a home campaign and not as an IP generator. He's not trying to create new rules from scratch that will be sold by Saving Throw Show at a later date, though he probably should be, instead he is showing what busy but good GMs do. Busy but good GMs incorporate and improvise.

Speaking of improvisation, that's another part of what Tom does that mirrors the home gaming experience. Like many online shows, #Ironkeep Chronicles uses pre-published materials as its gaming foundation. In this case, the players are playing through Tales of the Yawning Portal, but due to time constraints and player tastes the actual adventure content wanders away from the written page. Take a change he made to White Plume Mountain as an example. In some ways, the classic deathtraps of the adventure don't make narrative sense. So Tom makes a significant change to the environment and turns it into a sort of amusement park prison that has Blackrazor as its key.

This is a significant change to the narrative of this classic dungeon, but it is the kind of change that one frequently sees in a home game. I've used The Veiled Society as the starting point for my D&D campaigns several times. I love the urban setting and the politics of Specularum society. It has yet to run the same way twice. Not just because the players make different decisions each time, but also because I change who the real villains are each time in response to the players' actions and preferred style of play. Are my players "democrats" who want to see the end of feudalism and see Duke Stefan as a threat to free peoples? If so, then one of the old families might be heroic. Is the Veiled Society the actual threat? These things and more change in my game and by the time I'm done, the many changes I've made are often so significant that even rerunning the adventure for the same group, the players don't notice. They only notice they are in the same setting. This is the kind of thing that happens in all of our games, and that is what Tom shows the world.

The Secret Engine Behind #Ironkeep Chronicles is Disorganized Play

As good as #Ironkeep Chronicles is, the real secret to its charm and benefit to Game Masters is Tom's supplementary show Disorganized Play. This show is filled with tips on how to prepare for role playing game sessions with minimal prep time. Tom goes over all aspect of preparation including: crafting of NPCs and combat encounters, designing battlemaps that provide interesting challenges for players, and how to use Kanban style Plot Radar charts to improve your ability to script a campaign . It's a simple method of note taking that will help keep your games on track, especially if you are like me and only play once a month. Additionally, Disorganized Play is also a place where you can interact with Tom in real time as he brainstorms the campaign and answers questions from viewers. You have to be watching the Live Stream on Twitch to get the full benefit, but I highly recommend it. It's a perfect place for experienced and novice GMs to go to learn. In fact, his episode with Vana preparing her to run her first session is a great example of how fantastic an advocate for our hobby Tom is.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Printable Minis are an Underappreciated RPG Resource. #RPGaDay 23, 24, and 25

Another day, another couple of days missed #RPGaDay and a catch up post.

Day 23 -- Which RPG has the Most Jaw Dropping Layout?

I know that this is going to be a really controversial opinion, especially with how beautiful the new Starfinder book looks and how amazing every book Monte Cook has been putting out lately looks, but in my opinion the D&D Essentials Player's Books had the most jaw dropping layout.

No, they weren't as artistically beautiful as the books I just mentioned or Symbaroum, DC Adventures, or Tales from the Loop. Those books are all stunningly beautiful works of art, but jaw dropping layout isn't about the illustrations (though they matter). For me, what matters most about layout is how it leads the user through the information. It's a matter of design and not art and when it comes to design, the D&D Essentials duo are stunning.

These two books break the rules down into consumable chunks that are clear and concise, must like the Moldvay/Cook B/X D&D rules, but their real beauty is in how they guide players through the character advancement process. If you open up to the Fighter: Slayer section, it is broken up by level and tells you what choices you need to make at every level. You don't have to flip between sections of the book, the options are clearly articulated there and presented in a manner that aids the learner through the process.

Day 24 -- Share a PWYW Publisher Who Should be Charging More.

There are a lot of great publishers offering Pay What You Want (PWYW) products on RPGNow/DriveThruRPG and I have more than taken advantage of the products available. Sometimes I pay more than the "recommended price," and other times I'll pay as low as $0. I usually feel very guilty when I don't pay any money because the truth is that what I want to pay is more than that. We all have limited funds and it's great that some publishers are able to offer some of their products as PWYW as loss leaders for their other products. A lot of other people have promoted pro-groups like Evil Hat Productions, and they are a big PWYW publisher with professional quality books, but I'm going to focus on a small segment of the hobby that can make all of our games better at very low cost. That segment is the printable miniatures segment and it features some great PWYW publishers.

One of the publishers I really like is Kev's Lounge which has a really nice balance of PWYW and pay a small fee for miniatures bundles. There are some very strong illustrations in the series and they print out very nicely. Marshall Short, who runs the excellent Patreon Printable Heroes, uses patronage to fund some fantastic miniatures. I'll add one last publisher, who's work isn't free but is wonderful, with Jess Jennings. Jess' line of Trash Mob Minis are perfect for gaming with grownups and kids. The cartoony style is fantastic and the characterizations are really fun.

Day 25 -- What is the Best Way to Thank Your DM?

Single malt scotch.

Okay, as great as single malt scotch is, there is one better way to thank your DM. It's actually pretty simple. Come to your sessions on a regular basis, come prepared to play and without looking at your phone every five minutes, and be respectful of your DM's time and energy. We put a lot of work into DM-ing and some of us really like to do it. We can only do it if you show up, and we want you to show up because we really like having you as players.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Marvel SAGA RPG is the Easiest Game in the World to Run and Play! #RPGaDay 22

Image Source Wayne's Books

I love super hero role playing games. There was a time, before the digital explosion, that I could claim that I owned every super hero rpg that had been published. They run the gamut from highly complex games like Champions to abstract and indie games like With Great Power. You might think that my love of these games stems from the fact that I'm a HUGE comic book geek, and that's true, but I also love them for another reason. It's a reason that also answers today's #RPGaDay question.

Day 22 -- Which RPGs are the Easiest for You to Run?

Super hero role playing games are the easiest of any role playing game for me to run for a wide variety of reasons. First and foremost among these reasons is that they are the most accessible games for people to play. "Accessible," you say, "but aren't Champions and Mutants and Masterminds tremendously complex when it comes to character creation?" Yes, they can be mechanically complex, but all superhero games are more accessible than fantasy role playing games because they have more shared qualities.

When I run a fantasy role playing game set in a fantasy world, there is always a learning curve regarding the nature of the setting. If I play in an Eberron campaign I need to know certain things about the setting that are completely different than if I'm in Dark Sun, Oerth, Mystara, Westeros, or a million other worlds. But it most superhero campaigns, all I need to say is "you will be playing a superhero team based in Los Angeles" and everyone is in a similar imaginary landscape. While I need to worry that the "magic system" of a fantasy setting fits the setting, comic books don't care about such things. Doctor Fate's cosmic scale mysticism stands side by side with John Constantine's arcane rituals, Amethyst's crystal magic, and Arion's Atlantean magic.

The stories also fall into place. How do the characters get together as a team? I'll just borrow the classic get the team together through misunderstanding and melee that made me fall in love with Marvel's The Champions or the first issue of The Avengers. This misunderstanding melee meetup provides a perfect opportunity to teach the players the rules of the game, build personalities, and introduce villains who will be used throughout the campaign.

One of the absolute best super hero games is TSR's Marvel Superheroes Adventure Game. It's simple card-driven system and game balance allow for every player in a combat to matter. Captain America is always an important contributor, and unlike in the new Defenders TV series, so is Iron Fist. The character sheets are easy to read. And my favorite part? The cards have enough information on them that by drawing about 5 from the deck, you can come up with an adventure on the fly with location, motivation, and villain determined at a quick glance.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Wildlings Does a Lot with Very Little, but Could Do More. #RPGaDay2017 Day 21

Day 20 -- What RPG Does the Most with the Least Words?

I've played a lot of role playing games over the years and am always on the lookout for a game that can combine setting, rules, and accessibility in a manner that can be picked up and played within 10 minutes of starting to read the game. It's one of the great curses of some excellent role playing games that they require hours of homework, if not weeks, before one can fully understand the setting and rules sufficiently to play a game.

Take Runequest for example. The game's basic mechanic is very intuitive. Ray Turney and Steve Perrin were quite smart to have basic skill and combat rolls be based on percentile rolls. While it may take a moment to describe how to read percentile dice, most people understand the sentence "You have a 78% chance to hit it." It means what it means and it's very clear. The Battle Magic, Rune Magic, Rank/Intiative system, and the Glorantha setting, take a little bit longer to understand. Add to that the fact that your 78% chance to hit isn't really a 78% chance to hit, it's a 78% to hit them if they fail their parry or dodge roll, and you add some non-intuitive elements to the system. Though those elements can add to the realism of game play.

On the other end of the spectrum is Champions. While it uses six-sided dice for its randomizer, the system isn't intuitive. To hit someone, you have to know your Offensive Combat Value (determined by dividing your DEX by 3 and adding modifiers for maneuvers and "combat levels") and add that number to 11. You then subtract your opponent's Defensive Combat Value (determined by their DEX divided by 3 and modified by past combat maneuvers and "combat levels"). You then need to roll this number or less on a roll of 3 six-sided dice. Never mind the complicated system, though it elegantly incorporates the "parry" and "dodge" rolls of a Runequest style game into one roll, what's not intuitive here is that most people don't know what the odds of rolling a 14 or less are off the top of their head (it's about 90.72%). Add to this a character creation system that is a tremendous amount of fun, but takes a lot of homework and practice to get familiar with, and you don't have a pick up and play game.

jim pinto (he uses lower case) has designed a number of games intended to be pick up and play in his GMZero and Protocol series of games. There are some great entries in this series, and I almost picked them as my selection for today's post. I highly recommend The Death of Ulfstater and Home. These games provide enough background detail to launch a rich and interesting game and have a pretty quick to learn system that is easy enough that it expects everyone to take a "director" moment in game play.

But my pick for this week is John Harper's very interesting proto-game The Wildlings. In very few words John Harper perfectly captures the setting:

You Have Been Chosen
The men and women warriors of your clan are far away
across the dark sea, raiding. You are a young warrior—a
Wildling—not yet tested in the Trials.
Two nights ago, a foul thing crept from the ruins beyond
the old forest into the village and carried away two sheep,
a barrel of lard, and a small child: Rylka, daughter of Yuri
Red Hand.
The wise women have met in council and decreed that
something must be done. The People of the Stone Spire are
not to be preyed upon. Though the child might be eaten
by now, a rescue must nevertheless be undertaken.
You have been chosen for this task. Take up your arms and
steel your courage. The time has come to do your duty.
You know exactly what is going on and what your supposed to do. It's three short paragraphs, but it frames a society and and adventure. Very elegant. The rules are also equally easy to learn and adapt and are narrative in form. The more successful you are, the more positive adjectives you get to add to your action.

But...there is one problem. Without StupidGremlin's expansion of the rules, it isn't quite playable out of the box. An experienced GM can run it out of Harper's player's kit pdf, but an inexperienced one is left with no aid on how to resolve conflicts other than the adjectives. How much must a player succeed by to "win" at a conflict. With the tightness of the earlier prose, I'm pretty sure that John could have done it in two pages or less, and with great graphic design.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Tom Moldvay Basic: Why It's Great and Where to Find it. #RPGaDay 2017

It's time to catch up on my #RPGaDay writing again. This time the questions seemed initially unrelated, but once I found my answer to the first question it became clear that they should be combined into one post. The role playing game that I believe features the best writing in long out of print and therefore someone interested in finding it might need advice on a good source for out-of-print RPGs.

Day 19 -- Which RPG Features the Best Writing?

I can imagine a lot of bloggers answering this question by waxing poetic on how this or that meta-narrative game has the best writing. I can almost see them typing away to praise Vampire the Masquerade for its evocative text, or Pendragon for its ability to capture the tone of courtly love. Both these statements are true, but neither of these games captures the best writing I've read in a role playing game. That honor falls squarely on Tom Moldvay's Basic Dungeons and Dragons.

Never before, and never since, has there been a role playing game rule book as well written as this edition of D&D. It was the first edition of the rules that the average person could pick up, read in an hour or two, and play the game. Holmes' first Basic set was a huge step in this direction, and was the first edition of D&D that was actually written with playable rules that didn't require too much interpretation, but it didn't quite capture it. Steve Perrin and Ray Turney's Runequest is very well written and clear, but isn't quite as approachable to the new gamer as Tom Moldvay's work.

Tom Moldvay did something quite challenging. He addressed not only how to play D&D mechanically, but how to play it socially as well. By including an "example of play" and answering questions as simple as how to read a four-sided die when you roll it, he made role playing more accessible than it had been up until that time. Later writers focused on getting more evocative in their world descriptions and providing interstitial prose that seemed straight out of a novel or short story, often very well written, but they forgot that they were writing a game too. Or at least they seemed to forget they were writing a game. Many "storytelling" and "less crunchy" games have rules far more sophisticated than D&D, and when they have even simpler rules - as is the case with Cortex+, FATE, or Apocalypse World - they often get too caught up in their jargon and end up obscuring what are wonderful gems.

Well written role playing game rule book doesn't require you to "see it played to learn it." A well written role playing game is playable out of the box, and Moldvay's is a perfect example of how do to it.

Day 20 -- What is the best source for out-of-print RPGs?

No long answer here. The best places to find out-of-print RPGs Noble Knight Games, Board Game Geek, and eBay. That's it. The important thing isn't the "source," it's your level of patience. You have to be willing to pass by offers that are too expensive on eBay or Noble Knight and wait for the right offering. You also need to decide whether you are collecting to collect as artifacts, or whether you are collecting to play. I collect to play, so I don't buy the most expensive copies. I am not collecting to resell as an investment. I want to play and to have future generations play. To that end, I peruse these sites for deals.