Thursday, 24 May 2012

The Watch House - now in Lego

LEGO Monster Fighters

Playing the classic horror crossover for laughs, as well as for toys.

I particularly like that the villainous plot was actually attempted in Vampire: The Masquerade back in the day. And Lord Vampyre's clearly annoyed bride.

Monday, 21 May 2012

The Future Ain't What It Used To Be

A Chart That Reveals How Science Fiction Futures Changed Over Time. Often roughly level, with big spikes for near-future during times of rapid scientific and technological change (it says here) and what really makes me wonder is why the far future almost vanished in the 90s except for Futurama... and that Star Trek gets a whole point of the future to itself.

The comments below, in a change from my usual "I read the comments..." wail of existential despair, are also quite interesting, about how different SF ideas come in and out of favour. When did you last see a serious SF version of telepathy, for example? Hmm, well, how serious is serious? Trinity is serious SF here and space opera there and post-apocalypse horror over yonder, does it count?

Friday, 18 May 2012

Serious People With Lightsabers

While prepping for Star Wars Episode XIX I've looked through art books and sites, read comics, and watched fan films. The latter are particularly interesting to me because I have some experience with guerrilla short filmmaking. The main result of this binge, however, is that I want to avoid too much stuff featuring Serious People With Lightsabers.

SPWL seems to be the largest single genre of Star Wars fan film, after "lightsaber fight with or without a plot introducing it", characterised by still having lightsaber fights, but also a fair bit of dialogue from people in robes discussing the nature of the Force, and little or no evidence that anyone involved has a sense of humour.

Sure, it models the last actual movie fairly accurately, but still...

I actually put a few bucks into a "lightsaber fight with or without a plot introducing it" fan film, Ryan Vs Dorkman 2, because it was a sequel to one that (a) was a really cool lightsaber fight with a lot of inventive ideas and moves and (b) had jokes.

If I were to write a Star Wars fan film, as I basically am in scribbled-actual-play-notes form, I'd want different kinds of action, a mix of heroic and villainous types, and I would definitely want some laughs.


Asked about the trailer for Elementary, Steven Moffat observed:

"What we did with our Sherlock was just take it from Victorian times into modern day. They’ve got three big changes: it’s Sherlock Holmes in America, it’s Sherlock Holmes updated and it’s Sherlock Holmes with a female Watson. I wonder if he’s Sherlock Holmes in any sense other than he’s called Sherlock Holmes. It’s almost like they should have made Watson a woman but kept the show in Victorian times. Actually... that would actually be quite interesting."

How much is too much? I've spoken about this before, but yes, a change-one-thing spin is likely to be closer than changing three or more things.

And now I'm imagining him making a bunch of different Sherlock Holmes shows instead of just one.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012


We belatedly got round to seeing The Hunger Games. It presents quite ordinary low-key characters stuck in a seriously moustache-twirlingly evil dystopia, Commodus's Rome by way of SLA Industries.

How on-the-nose should a setting be? It probably depends on the length of time we'll spend there. I think The Hunger Games could have toned it down a bit, even considering the young-adult audience, particularly with two more books/movies to go. All the complexity comes from the sympathetic characters, step back and they're either working for or at least going along with the Hunger Games - and the hunger they take their name from, the poverty of the districts, is clearly as unnecessary and cruel as the Games themselves. It's cranked up for satire, but maybe a bit too far.

How long would PCs go in such a setting without getting all Spartacus on it? Maybe a whole session?

Of course, the protagonists arising from the setting have been ground down by it, but they find their own ways to rebel.

Games with single dystopian settings generally still give PCs room to breathe, forces to fight against and ways to do it. Cyberpunk nightmares like SLA have enemies who deserve taking down. Call Of Cthulhu is essentially about fighting against nihilism, not giving in to it. Even post-apocalypse series have the inevitable "free the slaves" adventure. Paranoia is the exception, but playing it straight is very rare and was never much discussed before the Mongoose edition.

And if the PCs are just visiting a dystopia for a session or two, they'll probably have the wherewithal to bring the whole edifice crashing down in hours. As noted elsewhere, someone like the Doctor or Captain Kirk could fix Warhammer 40000 in a single episode.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

"Where do you get your ideas?" "People with better ideas!"

I've included characters and scenes based on art in RPGs before, borrowed ideas from song lyrics, but I think Sunday's Star Wars might be the first time I ever created an NPC so a particular piece of orchestral music could be his theme.

It's by John Williams, naturally.

And no, he isn't a vampire.

And I can't even play music in the gaming venue...

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

How special is your snowflake?

“Special snowflake” is a term paraphrased from Fight Club about PCs, and their players, who have to be unique and the centre of attention.

Of course, PCs absolutely should be the stars of the show, and wanting your PC to stand out from the crowd is a common desire. But how unique is too unique? I suspect it’s a knee-jerk response from the GM and other players.

What got me thinking today was seeing the plot-revealing cutscenes for the cancelled Werewolf: The Apocalypse computer game. In it, the PC is a pure White Howler, a member of the werewolf Tribe that became the evil Black Spiral Dancers and no longer exists. That’s possibly the number one classic Werewolf: The Apocalypse snowflake. I can imagine a Storyteller rolling his eyes as a player suggests it. It works fine in a one-player game, but becomes a problem if there’s anyone else at the table. A White Howler and four regular Garou is a recipe for a chronicle about a White Howler and some other guys.

(A friend running Werewolf once used a White Howler cub as an NPC MacGuffin, and we got to be Big Damn Heroes by rescuing him from the Spirals, but he didn’t take over the chronicle.)

Why is this an issue? It looks like a shortcut to hogging the spotlight, upstaging the other PCs by being more unusual than they are and expecting more of the plot to focus on the snowflake.

It often connects to other problems like ignoring the feel of the game as well as the other PCs (If told that the game was set in 15th Century Florence would their first question be “can I play a ninja?” - a gamer joke which predates Assassin’s Creed by years) and trying to actively wreck a game by playing counter to it or less actively trying to warp it to be the game the player wants to play, regardless of what the GM and other players want.

There are times when oddball PCs are fine, and there are games where particular PCs can be much more strange and important than others - I have a whole ’nother blog about a game where the default playstyle has an ordinary person travelling in time with a two-hearted alien - but it’s not a PC problem, really, it’s a player problem.

The key appeal of something you're adapting

After the success of Sherlock, the BBC are apparently looking at modernising... The Three Musketeers.

Now, the basics of the plot work fine - military men get mixed up in the power plays of the ruling elite - but I worry it might lose something in the translation... something about... how to include swordfights?

Because I think those are kind of key.

Sherlock works (a) because it’s done really well overall and (b) because the modernisation doesn’t affect the core of the stories, which is a slightly mad detective solving mysteries. There's plenty of room for “slightly mad detective solving mysteries” shows, as anyone can see by looking at Channel 5 in the UK any evening.

But if you’re adapting The Three Musketeers I want swordfights!

Unless they go really alternate-world there won’t be much chance of many of them. And if they start looking for excuses that will get even more grating.

(Edit for those reading a year or more later - The Musketeers has swordfights and a period setting.)

Something to consider when adapting a plot, or running a game based on something. A current RPGnet thread asks what’s a good game for The Avengers and while the new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying is the obvious suggestion for the action, would it encourage the interplay between the characters?

I’m looking at this at the moment as well with my future Star Wars game. No Empire, no Sith, no Stormtroopers - I can understand why The Old Republic made its setting so samey but I think it’s too easy. Hopefully the new bad guys I create will be engaging enough, as long as I keep things like blaster fights, space battles, lightsaber duels, chases, monsters, and arguing in the middle of combat. Fingers crossed.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Kim Newman versus just about every vampire movie in the last twenty-five years.

"Of course, none of these are hard-and-fast rules, and you can do good work even if you willingly plunge into all of these traps."

Star Wars: Then And There

So I'm GMing this for the next few Sunday evenings, following on from this post, it got more enthusiasm in greater numbers (three to one, with one "I don't mind" abstention) than a more "standard" setting.

So, things it'll have:

Some "the more things change, the more they stay the same" but hopefully not as much as The Old Republic. The armoured goons you can fight off in droves will not look quite as much like Stormtroopers.

Not many Jedi, but a few here and there (including a PC). Not many Dark Side types either, and they'll be a bit different again. Not as many or as AWESOME! as the prequels. Enough for lightsaber fights in each movie, naturally.

Several good-ish sides and several villainous sides. New heroes, new villains, and new gigantic impractical superweapons.

A few cameos but not many. After all, it's a couple hundred years later. Hopefully the first one will raise a smile.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

The impossible and the easy

Cracked's The 6 Greatest Video Games We'll Never Get to Play is interesting because (a) half of them sound great and (b) tabletop gamers could play most of them tomorrow.

The Roger Rabbit game would lose the USP of cartoon and realistic characters together on screen, and the Kinect Wizard Duel wouldn't really work, but that zombie game needs AFMBE and One Of The Living and you're off, the subtle horror game isn't that hard either with the right group (although it would work best as an ARG - although it might lead to traumatised players) and Han Solo is a gimme. Although I always wondered why LucasArts never did a Han Solo (or anyone else in Star Wars) adventure during the golden age of that computer genre.