Friday, August 28, 2015

My Proposed Rules Changes for Future WorldCon

Prior to this year, I had never voted for a Hugo Award. To tell the truth, I didn't know that I could. I had believed that the Hugos were selected by professionals acknowledging excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy writing. Due to the recent controversies around the event, I learned that participation was open to all of fandom. In this way, it is similar to the way that the Origins Awards were run in their early days when fans nominated (often by turning in ballots they photocopied/mimeographed in Space Gamer Magazine). They differ from the early Origins in that only people actually attending the Origins Convention get to vote for the winner. I imagine that the similarities between the two are not accidental and that the Hugos informed the way that the Origins Awards were run early on. The Origins Awards have evolved over time, but mostly in the nomination process. It's still attendees at the Origins Convention who get to vote on the award winner. This is not without its controversy, but I'm not here to criticize that process which I think is fine for what it is.



Awards have no value in themselves, unless they come with a cash prize, and as one of my favorite authors (David Gerrold) describes it, "The credential of an award -- any award -- is not the award itself, nor even who bestows it. The credential of the award is a cumulative one, created by the quality of the previous nominees and winners." In the case of the Origins Award, a lot of wonderful and groundbreaking games have won the award. Savage Worlds won in 2003, Dungeons and Dragons won in 1977, and many more have won over time. When someone wins the award, they are winning the same award as these excellent predecessors and the prestige of the honor is in those prior winners. This is one of the reasons that the rules of the Origins Award are constantly debated and discussed and why the Award evolves over time.

The same is true of the Hugo Awards. The prestige of the Hugo is in prior winners, and that is why there was such an uproar this year. Those who regularly participate in the Conference that determines the Hugo pushed back against those they believed had advocated a process that could lessen that historical prestige. Let us set aside arguments about whether the contributions on this year's various slates were actually Hugo worthy. That is a distraction from what the real underlying question is. That question is whether slates, qua slates, especially when combined with voting blocs threaten the prestige of the Award. Over time, in repeated games, the answer is likely "yes." Not in who wins. Repeated games will mean that there will be an equilibrium of sorts around the winners that approximates what the community as a whole really values, but it will mean that the prestige of being nominated will likely diminish - at least for a protracted period of time. To be honest, that period of time need not be long to do damage to the prestige of being nominated. I would argue that the mere taint of the existence of slates damaged the prestige of being nominated this year. This is too bad, because some worthy nominees were punished by this process.

Who's "right" is it to determine the rules and the how the Hugo is distributed? This is a simple answer, one that is once again provided by David Gerrold. The Hugo Awards "are a gift from the membership of the World Science Fiction Convention." You have to be a paying member, supporting or attending, to vote on the Hugo. I was a supporting member this year and I voted. I will continue to vote and support the Hugo because I really liked getting the nomination packet. I think that the World Science Fiction Convention community was well within their rights to protect their award. I don't think they handled it perfectly, but I have read accounts of interactions between Puppies and Presenters that occurred outside the Awards Ceremony that lead me to have a great deal of hope for the future of the WorldCon community. As tendentious as this year's Hugo Awards were, I think that some new friends were made and some great material for bridging the gap to a community that felt excluded has been produced. This will require work on both sides of the gap, but I see enough people making efforts. I also see people attempting to blow up the bridges as they are being built, but that is some people's nature. If we can learn to ignore the sowers of chaos and focus on our shared love of the genres, we will all be better for it.

Given the conflict, there has been a lot of talk about a need to reform the rules of how things are nominated and voted on. I'm one who is skeptical of most efforts of this kind in general as they tend to lead to unintended consequences. Take California's implementation of Term Limits after the 1990 passage of Proposition 140. The results of that law have been to create a new kind of career politician who constantly aims to jump from job to job, a lack of issue experience among legislators, an empowering of the lobbyist class due to the lack of issue experience and institutional memory in the legislature. Some people predicted these outcomes, but not many. These were all unintended consequences of a law intended to stop "career" politicians that only rerouted that career and made it less accountable to the people because we don't elect lobbyists and that's what many former legislators become after they have earned expertise.

So...I'm resistant to changing institutions for the sake of changing institutions. That said, I do think that one category - actually two but I'm going to focus on one - demonstrates that there is some need for a change in the process. This is a change that I believe should be implemented across the award categories and will enable fans to have significant input, take advantage of recent growth in the pool, and lead to better nominations in some categories.

I believe that the Hugo Awards should take "Open List" open nominations from fans as they do now. That these long lists should then be transformed into 15 item "Long Lists" by committees made up of people who have expertise within a category. These Long Lists are then voted on by members who register as supporting/nominating/attending members and turned into 5 item short lists that are the final nominees. This model is a combination of the current way of doing things with the way that the Oscars handle Sound Mixing and Sound Editing (Design) Oscars.

Quick, tell me the difference between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing? I'm going to bet that most of the Academy couldn't answer that question in any meaningful way. Let's just say that films like Whiplash tend to win the Mixing Award (and get nominated) and films like Top Gun tend to get Editing Awards. As I bluntly described it to my wife Jody today. Sound Editing Oscars reward people who create innovative and immersive experiences that allow us to hear explosions as unique occurrences. Sound Mixing allows us to hear the score and the actors while the world is exploding. That's a glib way of saying that one is about sculpting individual sounds and the other is about creating an aesthetic whole or "euphonic" experience. I'm sure that David Bondelevich could do a much better job at explaining the differences, but that's because he works in Sound and teaches Sound for a living. He has expertise. That's why the Oscars, in their great wisdom, allow David and people like Don Hall to vote on the final nominees who will be submitted to the Academy at large...and that's after their committee has selected what they believe to be the best. Sound Editors have a wonderful event called the "Bake Off" where they view highlights of the competition. These editors understand the value of the Award and there have been years without a nominee in the category, and that's without politics entering the picture.

That's a lot of background leading into one of the two areas I've noticed that have led me to think that this is a change that is NEEDED by the Hugos. Those areas are the Best Dramatic Production (both Short and Long Form) categories. The nominations of the past few years have been non-representative of the genre as it is being Dramatically Presented. It is as if WorldCon nominators and voters don't watch movies and shows at the same clip that they read. This is likely a true observation, and isn't even a "critical" one in as much as reading is likely a better activity to stimulate the mind than the passive viewing of another's creation.





What prompted my sentiment in this area was that as a new Hugo voter, I decided to look at past nominees in this area. When the Hugo nominees were compared to the Saturn nominees (the Saturn being the Hollywood Hugo) there was too little overlap in my opinion. When the 2014 Hugo Nominees didn't include About Time in the Long Form category I was baffled. I was even more baffled when I shared my befuddlement in the SF/F reading fandom I knew and none had heard of the film. This demonstrated to me that there was a disconnect between the Dramatic Form genre and the World Con exposure to it. That and the fact that BBC titles are so dominant as to make it possible to create a parody list that fairly emulates the actual list. Let me give you a couple of examples.

In 2014, the following new SF/F television shows aired.

New Science Fiction and Fantasy Series for 2014 

  1. Ascension
  2. Constantine
  3. Flash
  4. Gotham
  5. Z-Nation
  6. Outlander
  7. The Strain
  8. Extant
  9. The Last Ship
  10. Dominion
  11. Salem
  12. The 100
  13. Believe
  14. Resurrection
  15. Bitten
  16. Helix
  17. Intelligence
All of these shows meet the criteria to be considered as nominees for the Short Form Hugo. After the 938 nominating ballots were counted  the nominees were:

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form (4705 final ballots, 938 nominating ballots, 470 entries, range 71-170)
  • Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”, ” written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)
  • Doctor Who: “Listen”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Douglas Mackinnon (BBC Television)
  • Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper”, written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, directed by Alex Graves ((HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
  • The Flash: “Pilot”, teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, story by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, directed by David Nutter (The CW) (Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television)
  • Grimm: “Once We Were Gods”, written by Alan DiFiore, directed by Steven DePaul (NBC) (GK Productions, Hazy Mills Productions, Universal TV)
The thought of Grimm (of which I am a big fan) receiving nominations, for an episode that was pretty cool, over The 100 or The Strain or Sleepy Hollow is kind of baffling to me. Let's have a look at the Saturn Award Nominees for 2014.

 
Best Network Television Series:

The Blacklist
The Following
Grimm
Hannibal  (winner)
Person of Interest
Sleepy Hollow

Best Syndicated / Cable Television Series:

12 Monkeys
American Horror Story: Freak Show
Continuum
Falling Skies
Salem
The Strain
The Walking Dead  (winner)

Best Limited Run Television Series:

Bates Motel
From Dusk Till Dawn
Game of Thrones  (winner)
The Last Ship
The Librarians
Outlander

Best Superhero Adaptation Television Series:

Agent Carter
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Arrow
Constantine
The Flash  (winner)
Gotham

Best Youth-Oriented Television Series:

The 100  (winner)
Doctor Who
Pretty Little Liars
Supernatural
Teen Wolf
The Vampire Diaries

There are more categories, to be sure and to be expected from an award dedicated to the media, but there is also a wider representation of the genre. The 2014 Hugos have three shows of what I would call the "arty" SF variety and 2 from the "pulpy" variety, signalling that the struggle of the year was echoed in even the TV nominations. So...let's look back one more year. The year where the Hugos failed to nominate the very "literate" About Time in the Long Form category. What new shows were released in 2013? 

New Science Fiction and Fantasy Series for 2013


  1. Almost Human
  2. Dracula
  3. The Tomorrow People
  4. Witches of East End
  5. The Originals
  6. Atlantis
  7. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
  8. Sleepy Hollow
  9. Under the Dome
  10. Defiance
  11. Orphan Black
  12. Utopia
What was nominated?

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form (760 nominating ballots)
  • Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere”, written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
  • Doctor Who: “The Day of the Doctor”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Television)
  • Orphan Black: “Variations under Domestication” written by Will Pascoe, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions; Space/BBC America)
  • An Adventure in Space and Time, written by Mark Gatiss, directed by Terry McDonough (BBC Television)
  • The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, written & directed by Peter Davison (BBC Television)
  • Doctor Who: “The Name of the Doctor”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC Televison)
 Let's see...Game of Thrones because social phenomenon, BBC, BBC, BBC, BBC. Wow! Almost Human had some flawed episodes, but it had episodes that are among the best ever made in SF TV. "The Day of the Doctor" was pretty badass, but "The Name of the Doctor" is the weakest of the 2013 nominees. What did the Saturn Awards Nominate?

Best Network Television Series Best Syndicated/Cable Television Series
Best Television Presentation Best Youth-Oriented Television Series
Well...shit...American Horror Story and Hannibal kick ass. We can write off some as not fitting the Hugos, like Hannibal, but American Horror Story is some of the best Fantasy on TV and Falling Skies is a solid show that is worthy of consideration for a category that awarded Gollum's Acceptance Speech during a year that the Saturn was considering Dead Like Me and Carnivale. Let's just say that a "literary" award got out "literaried" in the nominee category in 2004.

I understand that the Dramatic Presentation being two awards is new, and I understand that World Con is first and foremost a celebration of print. Having said that, I think that the Hugo would benefit by creating Juries that winnow the infinite to the Long, then having voters narrow the long to the nominees, and have those nominees voted on. I think that this would expose the SF/F community to a lot of great genre entertainment they might be overlooking.

I also think they might be well served by opening up the categories a bit like the Saturn and asking if there aren't some subgenre's that should have their own awards.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

[Disney's Frostlanders] Converting Disney Infinity's Captain America to a Kid Friendly Mini-Game Format

Since the day I first saw +James August Walls's Kid Friendly mashup of Disney Infinity and Skylanders for the Savage Worlds role playing game, I have been inspired to work on more content that I can share with my twin daughters History and Mystery. No longer am I satisfied with sessions of Candyland or Pokemon Jr. Adventure Game, though I very much still enjoy playing those with the girls, now I want to design adventures that will turn them into full fledged game enthusiasts.


The other day, I posted the beginnings of a Frostgrave inspired rules set that I plan on playing with the girls. The rules are simple, and different from Frostgrave, and I think that they will make for a good basis for game play. Over the next few weeks, when I'm not posting about other things, reading for my qualifying exams, or working, I'll be posting articles in the Disney's Frostlanders series. Initially, these articles will feature character conversions for my kid friendly miniatures rules and James' simplified Savage Worlds rules.

One key thing to keep in mind for these conversions is that they are going to be conversions of the characters in the game and not in other source material. I sort of broke this rule with the Captain America that I published yesterday, giving him leadership powers that fit the comic character, but these adaptation articles will tend to avoid that trap. I'm not trying to make the "perfect" conversion of the characters, I'm trying to make a fun to play conversion of how the character plays in the emulated video game.

For today's conversion, I'd like to focus on the Disney Infinity 2.0 version of Captain America.



This version of Captain America has upgrades in three main areas Melee, Ranged, and Health/Speed.

Movement

Captain America has no special movement powers, so his movement will be at the default level for each game system.

StatisticFrostLandersSavage Skylanders
66

Melee

Watching the video, it looks like Captain America is a highly skilled combatant in Disney Infinity and so in the Frostlanders system I will be giving him a Melee Attack value that is close to the maximum of +4 (keeping in mind that "powers" can add to damage later for other characters). There are few characters more skilled in combat than Cap, but I am going to leave room for the possibility and for there to be room for players of Cap to have the character "grow" with experience. Keeping these things in mind, I'm giving Captain America a +3 in Melee in Disney's Frostlanders. In +James August Walls ' Savage Skylander Skirmish, it looks like he uses "Agility" as the Melee and Ranged Stat and has given Merida a d12 in that Stat. I'm going to be a little more critical in my assessment, and give Cap a d10 Melee stat. This gives us the following.


StatisticFrostLandersSavage Skylanders
+3d10/Parry: 7

Ranged

Given how skilled Captain America is with throwing his shield, and how well that is represented in the video, we will need to give him a decent ranged attack. He's no Hawkeye, and thus no Merida, and I'd like to leave him room for character growth later, so I'll give him a +2 in FrostLanders and a d8 in Savage Skylanders.


StatisticFrostLandersSavage Skylanders
+2d8


Armor/Toughness

Captain America is wearing what looks like leather armor and is bearing a shield. In FrostGrave, leather armor adds +1 to Toughness and a Shield adds another +1 but Caps shield is special so we'll give him an additional +1 for a total of 8 Armor. Given our lower damage swing, d12 based damage instead of d20 in FrostGrave, this is a pretty good value. In Savage Worlds a Toughness of 8 is pretty substantial, more so in this adaptation since our simplified version of the game will default to the Melee stat with a bonus for weapon/strength. The "Hulk" in our simplified system would have a power reflecting higher strength and not a stat. Cap's shield will add to damage (1d6), so he'd be able to hurt someone with a similar Toughness. We'll give him 8 in both systems, especially since most ranged attacks will be 1d6 added to the Ranged attack value. We aren't going to be as granular as even James' simplified system. All Energy Blasts/Ranged Attacks will do (Ranged Stat) + 1d6 damage. Cap's tough, but hurtable.


StatisticFrostLandersSavage Skylanders
88

Willpower
 
We are given no evidence that Captain America has above normal Willpower in Disney Infinity, but he does seem brave. We'll give him a +1 and a d8 Spirit in Savage Skylanders.

StatisticFrostLandersSavage Skylanders
+1d8

Health

He should also have a mid-range Health value somewhere between 12 and 16. Cap is a tough combatant, but he's no Hulk. Vigor is used to test for recovering from being Shaken in Savage Worlds and Captain America doesn't appear to get stunned very easily. James gave Stitch and Baymax d8 Vigor ratings and I think those are fine, this seems even more accurate after the recent change to the Shaken rules in official Savage Worlds products.


StatisticFrostLandersSavage Skylanders
14d8

Parry?

I've listed the "Parry" Statistic under Melee since that attribute only matters in Savage Skylanders. Captain America has a 7.

Powers

This is where things get a little interesting. Captain America seems to have a couple of key powers in the Disney Infinity game. He has the ability to "charge" his attack, he has a regular ranged attack, and he has an area shield "explosion" attack.

We will represent these in the following way.

Shield -- Damage +1d6 (d10+1d6 Damage)
Powerful Shield Attack -- Subtract 2 to hit and add 2 to damage.
Ranged Attack -- (d8+d6 Damage)
Shield Explosion -- Attack every creature in 6" Circle with a +2/1d8 Melee Attack (d8+d6 Damage)

I think that pretty much covers this adaptation of Captain America based solely on the video. I've added a couple of other powers to my skirmish game "non-Infinity" Cap, but that one lacks the Shield Explosion power.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Coming to a Tablet Near You

When Paizo Publishing released Rise of the Runelords, the first base set for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, in 2013 they re-invigorated the "Card Based Dungeon Crawl" genre. Mike Selinker's design work on the game combined elements of the classic Dungeoneer card game with innovative mechanics from games like Dominion, We the People, Ascension, and Thunderstone and maybe just a dash of Savage Worlds and Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition.



The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is an entertaining card based simulation of role playing game campaigns. It is engaging to play and can be played in a relatively short period of time.



Now thanks to Obsidian Entertainment, developer of Fallout: New Vegas, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and the Kickstarter phenomenon Pillars of Eternity, we will be seeing a version of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game on our tablets. The game has been developed for Apple iOS and Android Tablets, will make its PAX Prime debut in Seattle, August 28 – August 31, 2015.
 
The Obsidian version of game takes advantage of the benefits of computer based play to enhance the player experience by allowing for immediate gameplay, multiple games running simultaneously, and additional downloadable adventures.



As in the table top game, each player will have a unique character composed of a customizable deck of cards and stats, and character classes such as fighter, rogue, wizard, and cleric.

Features exclusive to the digital version of the first release include:
 
  • Reactive cut-scenes featuring Pathfinder’s iconic characters
  • The ability to explore the towns, cities, dungeons, and landscapes of the Rise of the Runelords campaign, including the fiercely independent Sandpoint, and the goblin-infested isle of Thistletop
  • Beautifully enhanced and animated backdrops of every locale
  • Multiple adventure profiles to enable players to experience the campaign using every character
  • Tutorial that distills the rulebook into a mini-adventure
  • Single-player and pass-and-play multiplayer gameplay mode

Obsidian’s Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is scheduled for a fall 2015 release.

About Pathfinder
In the world of Pathfinder, players take on the role of brave adventurers fighting to survive in a world beset by magic and evil. The Pathfinder RPG is currently translated into multiple languages, with hundreds of thousands of players worldwide. The Pathfinder brand has also been licensed for comic book series, graphic novels, miniatures, plush toys, and apparel. For additional information, visit Paizo.

About Obsidian Entertainment


Founded in 2003, Obsidian Entertainment is an entertainment software development company based in Irvine, California, passionately dedicated to the creation of high quality role playing games for all personal computer and console platforms. Obsidian is best known for the products Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords, Neverwinter Nights 2, Fallout: New Vegas, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and the record breaking crowdfunding through Kickstarter for Pillars of Eternity. Visit Obsidian Entertainment for more information.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Behold! Disney's FrostLanders: A Disney vs. Skylanders Game Inspired by Frostgrave

On July 20th of this year, Osprey Publishing released Frostgrave their most recent set of miniature wargame rules. Starting with Field of Glory in 2008, and continuing with the excellent Bolt Action in 2012 Osprey has published a number of high quality rules for use with miniatures. In 2012, they started a series of paperback digest books that explore a number of interesting wargaming options. This series started with Dux Bellorum and has included a number of excellent games like In Her Majesty's Name and A Fistful of Kung Fu



Like many of Osprey's offerings, Frostgrave has an easy to learn system that is highly flexible and moves quickly. The focus of the rules are on casual fun and not on tournament play. In some ways, this is a similar approach to the one that Games Workshop claims is the basis of their recent decision to abandon Warhammer Fantasy. There is one major difference though. Unlike the new Warhammer: Age of Sigmar game, Frostgrave is firmly entrenched in traditional fantasy tropes. Frostgrave shares some thematic elements with Games Workshop's classic Mordheim game, but is much easier to learn is more focused on story than Mordheim was when it was first released. Frostgrave is so easy to learn that it inspired me to begin creating a derivative game that I can use to play with my 7 year old twin daughters History and Mystery. Inspired by +James August Walls, my game is a mashup of Disney Infinity and Skylanders.



As easy as the rules for Frostgrave are to learn, they do have a couple of "fiddley-bits" that might make things a little complex for playing with my daughters. For example, in the Frostgrave rules as written it is possible to hit an opponent and not injure them and most rolls are contested rolls. I want to move away from having contested rules as much as possible and use a Monte Cook and Numenera inspired mechanic where the players to all the rolling. Additionally, Osprey has not published a fan license that states what we as fans are and are not allowed to do with their rules, so I've decided to use a rules set inspired by the actual Frostgrave rules.

So here are my simple rules.
1) All die rolls are made with a d12.
2) Turns follow the following pattern.
            a) Roll for Initiative.
            b) Hero Phase
            c) Ally Phase
            d) Villain Phase
3) Player Characters are rated in the following areas:
MOVEMENT -- Min (4)/Max(10)
MELEE -- Min(-2)/Max(+4)
RANGED -- Min(-2)/Max(+4)
RESISTANCE -- Min(0)/Max(5)
MENTAL RESISTANCE - Min(0)/Max(+4)

 
HEALTH -- Min(8)/Max(20)
4) Villains are rated in the same statistics, but their numbers are 5 higher for all values 
     other than Health and serve as difficulty numbers the players must roll better than.
5) On a player's turn, the player may move and take 1 action. That action may be an
    attack, a power activation, or another movement action.
6) When a player attacks a Villain, the player rolls 1d12 and adds their relevant statistic
    (melee in hand to hand and ranged for ranged attacks). They then add their statistic to
    that value. If that value is greater than the Villain's equivalent statistic, the Villain has
    been hit.
7) On a successful hit, subtract a Villain's Resistance from the total and what remains is
    the amount of Health lost.
8) If a character is "prone" then it takes half of their movement to get up.
9) To activate a power, the player rolls 1d12 and compares it to the activation score of
     the power. If it is higher than the score, the power is activated.
10) When a Villain attacks a Hero or Ally, the Player rolls a Melee or Ranged test. If the
       roll is higher than the Villain's value in that area the attack misses.
11) Villain powers activate in the same manner as Player powers. This is one of the few
      rolls the Game Master will make.
I've only done stats for a couple of characters, but I have a feeling that this will be fun.




All icons used in this post were made by Lorc. Available on http://game-icons.net