Monday, October 20, 2014

THE LAST PARSEC is Fast, Furious, Fun and...Family Friendly?


I want you to try a little mental experiment for me. I want you to imagine the typical setting for the Savage Worlds role playing game. Have you got it set in your mind? Good. I want you to picture a scale of 1 to 10 and decide how "family friendly" you think the setting is -- and by family friendly I mean "ages 8 and up." Did you come up with somewhere between a 4 and a 6? That's what I initially came up with myself. After all, this is the game that has a number of high concept horror inspired game settings and is from the same minds that created the Horror Western RPG Deadlands.

But that's not really a fair assessment of the Savage Worlds game and the settings it has to offer. While the Deadlands game, and setting, may have been inspired by a painting of an undead Confederate Soldier, Pinnacle Entertainment Group has created a number of settings that are just right for ages 8 and up family fun. Set aside Rippers, Weird Wars, Evernight and Necropolis for a moment. Those would get at least a PG-13 from the MPAA for "thematic elements." We can even set aside Necessary Evil as a "12 and up" Comic's Code Approved version of Supervillains that is just outside the kid friendly zone. Even doing that, we have some great settings available for kids to play with their parents. Slipstream is a perfect combination of Flash Gordon style action and Planetary Romance. Then we have 50 Fathoms a mash up of Pirates of the Caribbean and Pirates of Darkwater that should make any Gen X (or older Gen Y) parent's heart swell with nostalgia. It's clear that Savage Worlds has some settings that are perfect for the family game night.

Add to family friendly settings a rules set that is flexible, promotes storytelling interaction, and is easy to learn and you have one of the best introductory role playing games on the market today.

As a parent of 6 year old twin daughters, I am always on the lookout for games that I can play with them that have enough "genre geekdom" to keep me interested but aren't so grimtastic that the twins have trouble sleeping at night. The two Savage Settings I've already mentioned certainly meet the mark, but it looks like we can add another to the list with Pinnacle's upcoming setting The Last Parsec. The Last Parsec is Pinnacle's latest science fiction setting and it draws from a deep well of science fiction stories to present a straight forward SF setting that doesn't reach to horror for high concept additions. I had a chance for a quick Q & A with Jodi Black of Pinnacle as well as some of the designers of The Last Parsec to see just how well this setting would fit in with my scheduled "dad and the twins Saturday afternoon tabletop session."



When I think about the kinds of settings that Pinnacle and Savage Worlds are famous for, I tend to think of high concept "horror +" games like Deadlands, Necropolis, and Evernight. How is The Last Parsec different?


 I'd say The Last Parsec is more focused on exploration and discovery than on "fighting back the darkness," which is the general theme attached to settings like Deadlands and the Weird Wars line. And even though the setting assumes player characters are affiliated with JumpCorp, within that framework just about any character type can flourish. So games can revolve around exploring the unknown, military action, or even commerce.” – Matt Cutter, author of Eris Beta-V for The Last Parsec

The more I read about The Last Parsec, the more it seems it might be a good fit for family gaming. This seems to me to be especially true in a post-Guardians of the Galaxy environment. GotG fans should be able to find a lot to like in TLP. Was this intentional, or happy coincidence?


“Coincidence, I'm afraid. But I have three kids -- my 10-year-old son cajoled me into taking him to see Guardians of the Galaxy -- and if they were to play in my setting, Eris Beta-V, I'd want my kids to take away the message that it's not productive to judge people on their appearances. JumpCorp can be the bad guys and a seemingly sinister, rediscovered alien species can be good guys.” – Cutter

Shane has stated in the design diary for The Last Parsec that Pirates of Dark Water and the animated Sinbad movie inspired him to create the 50 Fathoms setting. What are some of the "kid friendly" stories that inspired The Last Parsec?


“There's definitely some of Heinlein's Starman Jones in there, where even a simple lass or lad can study hard, take a job with a space corporation, and blast off for the stars.” – Tim Brown, author of Scientorium for The Last Parsec

Shane briefly mentioned John Carter in the design diary for TLP, will there be rules for Planetary Romance in the setting?


“There are rules for romance? Where can I find these?” – Brown


Jodi Black had some words of her own about the setting:


Romance is really about building relationships in game, and most experienced GMs weave interesting tales with the NPCs she offers to the characters. Recurring "romance" themes like the bad guy with a heart of gold, or the good gal with a dark secret...you'll find those in The Last Parsec (heck, any setting). But they're secondary to exploration and adventure. 

The GMs in my home group know they need to include some romance to make me happy as a player. Not one-shots so much, but for a memorable campaign that's usually a theme for everyone's characters. And it's not as much about the characters getting married at the end of the story, but of the process: ask him out for coffee, enjoy dinner out together. Actually, dinner out is a dangerous thing in our home games. Usually it get interrupted by an adventure!

Disney's Treasure Planet is one of the Black family favorites. It has aliens, discovery, and reuses the plot from Stevenson's Treasure Island in a new and interesting way. It's a shame the movie didn't do well, because I'd love to see more classic literature imagined as a space adventure...but then again, since those *aren't* in the public eye, any GM worth her salt can use those plots and themes for their kids and it's completely new!

Finally, not to be part of your story naturally...but we're releasing a One-Sheet for The Last Parsec today (hopefully) or tomorrow: Untimely Discovery by John Goff. There's a moral quandary in there that I think would be excellent for a kids game: What would it be like to be arrested for what you thought about? do "bad" kids deserve a second chance? One of the best things about roleplaying is the conversations after, and tying the fantasy into the real world. :)
I'm very excited about this setting and the thought of a game that has echoes of Treasure Planet or even The Black Hole (not mentioned but clearly another inspiration for TLP) gets my endorsement. 

Take a moment to back this great project and join me in the ranks of Savage Fandom. Savage Worlds is fast, furious, fun, and family friendly.



Thursday, October 16, 2014

Scott Taylor's THE FOLIO Looks Like the Best Fantasy Module Series in a Long Time

Move over Pathfinder Adventure Path. Move over Kobold's Midgard based adventures. There is a new kid entering the D&D compatible adventure market and this kid looks to knock it out of the park on the first pitch.



Mixed metaphors aside, I cannot be more excited than I currently am about R Scott Taylor's current THE FOLIO Kickstarter campaign. Over the years, I've backed a lot of Kickstarters and I've purchased a lot of Old School "feel" adventures for D&D...going back to Necromancer Games' CRUCIBLE OF FREYA. For those who read that and say, "oh yeah...that's not 'old school' because I own a first edition of Tegel Manor," let me say that FREYA was the first of the "old school feel" adventures. TEGEL MANOR is actual old school and there is a difference. One pulls the strings of nostalgia and the other establishes nostalgia.

R Scott Taylor's THE FOLIO looks like it might just do the impossible. It might simultaneously pull the strings of nostalgia while creating nostalgia. Scott's work as an art director really shows on the early design of the project, and I don't think I've been as excited about a new D&D product in a long time. I was excited about 5e, REALLY excited, but my excitement for this project makes my 5e anticipation look like passing interest.




 

I hope that THE FOLIO lives up to what it looks to be offering.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Only Memory


Those of you who have been long time readers will have to forgive me for a "repeat" post, but today is a day that on an annual basis I don't feel like posting about popular culture. Today is the sixteenth anniversary of my mother's death, and I am compelled to share on this day. I thought about writing something entirely original, but then I reread what I wrote in 2004 and it captures most of what I want to say. So instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, I am posting an updated version of that entry.


This is a picture of my mom decades ago, that blob on her lap is me.

A Day to Listen to the Velvet Underground

Today marks the end of my first sixteen years without a mom. That is an awkward sentence, but it best captures my sentiments. I am not an orphan, I still have a father. Yet a part of me is still very much missing, a large part. October 7th, 1998...10,7,98...those numbers loom large and ominous in my heart and it is only recently that I am no longer completely overwhelmed by them.

My wife and I have intimate conversations often, it is one of the joys of marriage, and she and I were discussing death the other day. Her grandmother died at the age of 92. My wife explained it this way, "When someone dies, the world feels a little less complete. Bird songs aren't as joyful, and sunrises are slightly less beautiful." Displaying, as she often does, her magnificent talent for unedited, awkward, and spontaneous verbal poetry. She was also correct. C.S. Lewis opens his book A Grief Observed with another observation about death:


No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.


I still feel this way. Not everyday...today.

There are two things that are still difficult for me to do sixteen years after my mom died.

I have a hard time remembering truly happy moments with her...on command. Happy moments enter my consciousness at random moments and seldom on the anniversary of her death. Glimpses of her nymph-like smile...brief auditory illusions of her laughter enter my mind. But the majority of my memories are neither happy nor sad, they are the memories of everyday activities, evening dinners and the question which ever looms over the head of a teenager, "Have you finished your homework?" I remember watching videotapes with her on many occasions, though none as awkward as the time we watched The Hunger, just the two of us and an erotic vampire film. I remember feeling both uncomfortable being aroused by the film, in my mom's presence, while at the same time finding the situation hilarious. This moment just came to mind. There are many more like it, I just can't remember them on demand. In all honesty, I remember my mom as a happy person, a person who added joy to the world. Every time I watch a romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan, the character Meg portrays echoes how I remember my mom. Which is why I have my other difficulty.

I can't understand my mom's addiction, and eventual death due to how it ravaged her body, to heroin. I try, by reading/watching/listening to and about other addicts. I know the narrative of my mom's addictive cycle, I can see each step of her hopeless journey. That's not what I can't understand. I know the things that led to her addiction. What I can't understand is the overwhelming power of it, how addiction stole my mom from me...day by day. Oddly, some really shallow things help. They are a poor substitute for true knowledge, and seem trite when I think hard on them, but they help. These things include the music of the Velvet Underground (in particular, you guessed it, Heroin) and Iggy Pop, the films Permanent Midnight (which I saw just after her death) and Trainspotting, the book and film versions of Razor's Edge, and the writings of C.S. Lewis among other things.

I am the only member of my immediate family I know of who attends church regularly. I was raised secularly. Strange as it sounds my mom found comfort, though she was baffled by it, in my belief. She once asked if I believed, expecting me (the first college student in my family) to laugh at the absurdity of the question. I told her I did and her response lingers with me to this day, "Really?" Her eyes looked at me...proud, confused, unbelieving, yet hopeful. I never was able to tell her that hope was what faith was all about ("Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen" Hebrews 11:1). It isn't about "knowledge," little of life is about actual knowledge. This is why Socrates asked us to know ourselves, that is a difficult enough task. Let alone the ability to acquire actual knowledge of something else.

I was notified of my mom's death by answering machine. I was in classes all day and since it was the 90s I didn't have a cell phone. A series of messages of an ever-worsening condition. Seizures...followed by emergency medical action, my wife and I later read the medical records to piece together a timeline, to see if there was an heroic effort to save my mom. There was. It is not the best way to be notified of death, answering machine, I think it is the worst. I also wish that my mom had been buried not cremated, I would have liked to have had the chance to speak, to say my own words. Having been to the funerals of friends taken too soon, there is comfort and closure to be found in them. There is also the knowledge that you can go to a quiet place to reflect and honor the memory of your loved one. When I drive by Mount Sinai Memorial Park across the freeway from Disney Studios, I can remember my dear friend Cathy and shout "Twins Cathy!" It is different when you have a portion of someone's ashes. You are constantly looking for ways to honor the dead, like by leaving ashes at random places you visit so that your mom is also visiting them, but there is also the desire to keep some to keep the memories close.

This blog post is my annual eulogy, but I'd also like to share the two poems I think best capture the way I feel. One is gender confused (for my situation not its own) and the other is written from an older generation to a younger one, but they will have to do. In addition I would like to add a part of Philip K. Dick's author's note from A Scanner Darkly.

The first poem is by W.H. Auden (and yes it's the poem from Four Weddings and a Funeral but that is such a lovely scene.


Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.



The second poem is by Wordsworth:


SURPRISED by joy--impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport--Oh! with whom
But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind--
But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss?--That thought's return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart's best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.


Wordsworth wrote Suprised by Joy (C.S. Lewis titled one of his autobiographies after this poem), for his daughter Catherine who had died at the age of four. This poem masterfully captures the grief I feel over the loss of my mom. Every time I have wonderful event in my life, I want to call her and share the news. That can never happen and it brings the event of her death immediately to mind and my sorrow and feeling of loss are renewed. Every time...without fail. My mom missed my graduation, my wife's master's, my acceptance to graduate school, my wife completing her MFA in film at USC. She was not there to see her twin grandchildren born, and she will not experience any of the joy that the twins will bring into the world.

As I stated before, I have continually looked to fiction and biographical narrative to understand my mom's addiction and that is why I am including the following by Philip K. Dick.

This has been a novel about some people who were punished entirely too much for what they did. They wanted to have a good time, but they were like children playing in the street; they could see one another of them being killed --run over, maimed, destroyed -- but they continued to play anyhow...

Drug misuse is not a disease, it is a decision, like the decision to step out in front of a moving care. You would call that not a disease but an error in judgement. When a bunch of people begin to do it, it is a social error, a life-style. In this particular life-style the motto is "Be happy now because tomorrow you are dying," but the dying begins almost at once, and the happiness is a memory..."Take the cash and let the credit go," as Villon said in 1460. But that is a mistake ifthe cash is a penny and the credit is a whole lifetime...

If there was any "sin" t was that these people wanted to keep on having a good time forever, and were punished for that, but, as I say, I feel that, if so, the punishment was far to great...




When my mom first told me of her addiction to heroin she expected me to be angry. A lot of my family was, I think the thought of my mother using heroin was too alien to them to even imagine. I think they viewed her use as somehow a failure on their part. I didn't, I only wanted to know if she was okay. By which I meant was she okay at the time she told me. My mom thought that heroin could make life more pleasant, for her it wasn't a selfish desire for more fun than anyone else was having, because she felt empty and sad on a regular basis. Heroin made her feel happy, like she could live life. But in making her think she could live life, heroin took life from her.

I don't "forgive" my mom for dying, I have never thought there was anything to forgive. I miss my mom and wish she were here. I love her and knowing that makes the missing part not so bad, because (as Lewis might say) the pain we feel now is a part of the love we have.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Classic Horror RPG CHILL Rises from the Dead with New Kickstarter



Before I get into the details of what my ideal new edition of the CHILL role playing game is, I'd like to take a moment to thank Matthew McFarland and Michelle Lyons-McFarland for taking the time to acquire the license to this classic game and put together what looks to be a very solid horror role playing game. 

If you are a fan of horror role playing games and want to help small press publishers succeed, then you should back the brand new Chill 3rd Edition Kickstarter. I'm a backer and I will be blogging about the game's playtest rules very soon.
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Now that I've cleared the air and made it clear that I am excited about the game that Matthew and Michelle are putting together, I'm going to gripe. That's what we obsessives do when things aren't perfect, we gripe. But I'm not going to gripe in an non-constructive manner. This isn't about what I think Matthew and Michelle are doing wrong, it's about what I wish they would ALSO do.



If you were to ask me what my favorite genres of film are, I would without hesitation tell you that they are romantic comedies and horror movies. You are probably wondering what When Harry Met Sally and Hostel have in common that I would rank the genres of these two films so highly. I would tell you that I don't think Hostel is a "horror" movie. Being pedantic, I'd try to convince you that it was splatterpunk or back track and change the word horror to weird. When it comes to weird and fantastic tales, my heart has two great loves Ray Harryhausen and Hammer Studios. It is the horror of the kind that Hammer Studios made, and now makes again, that I love. Give me stuffy Victorian/Edwardian era investigators encountering terrors from the unknown with a skepticism that is fueled by emerging scientific discoveries, and you have warmed my heart to know end. If you add to that a romantic element - which can either be of the courtship or familial variety - and I'm all in. Films like Horror of Dracula, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, and The Woman in Black are rich in mood and capture the imagination and are perfect for adaptation to role playing. The original Chill role playing game attempted to emulate this kind of storytelling, and I loved it because of it.



The rules for the original Chill role playing game were easy to learn and perfectly designed for new gamers. It was the combination of ease of play and Hammer Horror that I believe led to Rick Swan's negative review in The Complete Guide to Role-Playing Games. Other publications like Space Gamer and Different Worlds gave the game much higher praise - I'll share those reviews in a future blog post - and seemed to understand that Chill was the introductory game in a series of games that became increasingly complex as their genre required. The Goblinoid Games blog has a great description of the original Pacesetter system and they are the publisher of some of the other Pacesetter System games. Goblinoid Games has also designed their own horror game inspired by the horror movies of the 80s which I blogged about at Blackgate Magazine.

When I read the description for the new edition of Chill, it was immediately clear that the game would not be my idealized version of the game. The description referenced the Mayfair edition of the game, a game that tried to be "edgier" in order to compete with Call of Cthulhu. I've also seen Matthew's Facebook discussion of the game and he mentions how his version will treat mental illness. I'll be the first to admit that Call of Cthulhu doesn't do a good job representing actual mental illness, but neither does the fiction it is emulating. Lovecraft's fiction is about a descent into a particular kind of madness as understood at a particular time. Having said that, my idealized version of Chill would have no rules for insanity. It would only have rules for fear and shock. Hammer stories aren't about protagonists who are slowly driven insane as their world view is shattered. Instead, they are about the success and failure of the rational to engage with the supernatural.

The new Chill's artwork hints that it is inspired by many of the horror films currently on the market, with no small touch of American Horror Story. This is not a bad thing. In fact, if one ignores the shifting of time period that's pretty close to the Hammer tone...and films like Mama have demonstrated that the classic Ghost Story has legs. That's my longish way of saying that I'd like Matthew and Michelle to release a Victorian/Hammer supplement for Chill and that I hope their game system is quick easy and intuitive. My first read through the quick start rules gives me reason to believe at least half of that will happen...the rules part.