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May 29, 2005

Starship Troopers and Fascism

A few of you probably know that I'm looking forward to the release of Mongoose Publishing's Starship Troopers Roleplaying Game in a month or so. As much as I've been digging all these indie games that I've purchased lately, the idea of playing in or running a campaign in the setting of the Roughnecks TV series is highly appealing. (Even if we have no one to play it with just yet.)

There's a thread over on the RPGnet forum talking about the game's upcoming release and naturally, there's some discussion over the three pre-existing iterations of the theme: the original novel by Robert A. Heinlein, the blockbuster movie directed by Paul Verhoeven and its straight-to-DVD sequel, and the Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles computer-animated series.

In that thread, a gent by the name of Participant-Observer wrote:

    I wouldn't say that I enjoyed the movie more than the book, but I certainly enjoyed it. And, frankly, Verhoeven and Neumeier were recognizably sending up the fascist state, whereas ... well, I've always thought that Heinlein might've thought it was a good idea.

    [NB. Long time since I've read the book]

Having read the book fairly recently, I felt the need to respond. I thought I'd put the response up here as, perhaps, a general thinking-checking exercise:

    Fair enough, PO. On first read-through, it does rather seem that way; at least, it did to me.

    But what I realised on subsequent read-throughs (admittedly, aided by a couple of notes in Heinlein's later Expanded Universe collection) was that, while military service is federal service, federal service is not necessarily military service. The Federation has a long list of dirty-jobs-that-need-to-be-done-for-the-better-good, and not all are military or even related to it. Because the novel's title is what it's about, it doesn't dwell on the alternatives too much, but they are there.

[Added in Edit:] Actually, there's an essay written on this subject here, and on a quick re-read I can't find anything that contradicts its assertions on what the book actually says or does not say about Federal Service.

    Admittedly, the volunteer doesn't get a choice - it is very much a case of "we send you where you're needed to do what our tests say you're best at, and if it's one of your preferences, fine for you".

    (I've always wondered what it was about the Merchant Marine that meant it wasn't classed as federal service, but that my be simply because I don't know enough about it.)

    Of course, I didn't really know what fascism meant, but I had a quick look at Wikipedia, and the society Heinlein created for the novel seems to meet only one of their basic criteria - exalting the nation, to a certain extent, above the individual - and even then, not quite.

    Going by the basic bullet-points in the Wikipedia entry on Fascism:

    • The only evidence of propaganda I saw might have been the History & Moral Philosophy class.
    • The system of citizenship seems to exclude corporatism by simply operating as read - if you're busy running a company, you can't get franchise (you can, of course, bribe those who do have a vote, but those who have their franchise have earned it by putting the good of all over their immediate good, so theoretically, they'd be less inclined to take your bribe).
    • There wasn't any evidence of economic or social regimentation, and I couldn't see any government control over any aspect of personal or economic life (of course, one could argue that the restriction of franchise to those who had done federal service could be taken as such, and I'll leave that to a political forum - but again, see the above point that federal service is not necessarily military service).
    • No totalitarian restrictions on civilians - at least twice, the book showed that civilians were free to bitch about the system whenever and to whomever they chose; hell, one of the examining doctors has a good gripe about the idiocy he perceives in the franchise system to Rico right there in the federal enlistment building!

    So yes, the movie definitely sends up fascism (although I personally felt that it was trying a little too hard to smack viewers over the nose with the idea; if there's one thing Verhoeven isn't, it's subtle). But if Robert A. Heinlein had been alive, he probably would have said words to the effect of "There wasn't any fascism in the book in the first place to be sent up." (Heck, the Verhoeven version of the film probably couldn't have been made while Robert A. Heinlein was alive...)

    Ultimately, I think Heinlein would have readily agreed fascism is a bad idea. What he thought might've been a good idea was, to quote the afterword to "Who are the Heirs of Patrick Henry?" in Expanded Universe, that "a voice in governing the state should be earned instead of being handed to anyone who is 18 years old and has a body temperature near 37 degrees C."

So what do you make of all that? If you've read the novel, do you think what I've written makes sense? What are your thoughts on Heinlein's basic idea?

May 25, 2005

i'm alive!

Ladies and gentlemen, let me be honest here: I don't know how the hell I survived today. I am talking about survival in the literal, physical sense here. You are reading the words of a person who has found a new appreciation for the sheer experience of being alive.

You see, this morning, I pulled a work shirt out of the wardrobe without really looking at it. It was short-sleeved, it was crease-free: good enough. I got dressed, did the rest of my final pre-departure preparations, got into the car and drove to work.

Half way there, I was listening to the morning crews on the local radio stations talking about tonight's Origin match, and I realised what I had done to risk my life so:

My work shirt was blue.

So I get to work, and there's not only a preponderance of maroon tops, but also one of the teams is actually inflating maroon balloons as well.

But somehow - ask me not how, for a clue have I not - I got through the day unharassed and unmolested.

It could have been the fact that the woman I let in ahead of me was not only wearing a blue top, but an actual New South Wales rugby jersey.

I don't remember seeing her on the way out. Admittedly, I wasn't exactly looking for her, but still...

I tell you what, though: If New South Wales gets the first two and I front up at work in a blue shirt on the day of match three, it will be painful and horribly slow.

(Those overseas readers who have no idea of what I write should click here.)

May 23, 2005

His name's Dozer.

And his owner picked him up not half an hour ago. Turns out Dozer lives a few houses behind the Caltex, with his owner, Mark, the wife and two young girls who've been missing him terribly.

Mark reckons the Doze has a tendency to go walking, so we've given him our number (and taken his) should that dopey mutt ever go walkies again.

We've also told Mark that if he ever needs a place to put Dozer for a while, he's welcome here.

So that story has a happy ending, thankfully! :-D

(As a side note, our original weight estimate seems off by a few kilos. Vickie called the vet's this morning, and Lourgina who works there had also seen him wandering around. She estimated his mass by eye at between seventy and eighty kilos.)

(Considering how the suspension on Mark's 4WD/ute dropped when the big lunk got into the caged flatbed, I'd believe it...)

May 22, 2005

Our First Houseguest?

So Vickie and I were on the front driveway at around two, talking with some friends who'd just dropped some lemons and limes over to us (Vickie wants to start making jars of preserved fruit), when this big guy:


... comes strolling up along the footpath and says hello. And when I say big, I mean huge. We don't have any photos of him with one of us so you can get an idea of size, but we reckon he's forty-five, fifty kilos easy. And to top it all off, friendly as you please.

So we all give him a bit of cosseting, and check him for council or personal ID tags: none whatsoever. After our friends leave, Vickie and I head back along the footpath in the direction he'd come from, hoping to find his house (he followed along quite happily). Although the front gate of the neighbouring house on the corner of the Highway was open, nobody was about, and there wasn't anyone further up the road looking like they were suddenly missing a big lug of a dog.

We brought him back to our place and trotted straight into the dog run once Vickie opened the gate for him, happy as Larry. Zelda was quite excited, having someone of her species to finally talk with, and he liked the attention. When we've had them together, they've been horsing around like mad. At the moment, we have Zelda in the backyard and him in the dog run, so he can have a bit of a break from Little Miss Energy. (She's barking at him like she wants his undivided attention, though.)

We've stuck a sign up out the front and in the Caltex servo. We've also called the Council after-hours line, the local Young Animal Protection Society and the RSPCA, and so far no one has reported him missing. If no one claims him by tomorrow, Vickie will take him to the local vet and see whether he's on their books or been microchipped. And if he does stay overnight, that'll make him our very first houseguest! (His manners are great, aside from all the slobber.)

Vickie and I figure someone will be along to pick him up soon; even though he's untagged, he's very well taken care of. No one could not love a dog like him.

But if no one picks him up, we're thinking of calling him Bruno...

[UPDATE: 8.50PM] Well, Bruno (as we've taken to calling him) is still here. No calls from the Council, the RSPCA, YAPS or anyone who got our number from them. I'm starting to think Bruno's owner lets him roam because he always comes back of an evening. I also think he's starting to get agitated, it being (presumably) the first night he's spent away from home.

We have a rough idea of the direction he came from, though. After we took Bruno and Zelda for a walk this evening (a trial in and of itself), we walked with him in the general direction he came from, and at least twice he tried to head toward the Bruce Highway as though he wanted to cross.

Based on that, our best guess right now is that he's from somewhere on the Whyreema Estates where Vickie's son Karl lives. Karl dropped over earlier, though, and said he'd never seen the dog before (and Karl is a dog lover). It's still a fairly large housing area up there, so tomorrow evening we'll try walking the great galoot around there and see if anyone recognises him. I'll put a couple of signs up beforehand as well.

May 17, 2005

Horizon: Virtual WikiProject is Live

Check it out here!

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Film)

The very bad day of Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is just starting. A group of council workers have turned up in bulldozers and excavators, with the intent of knocking his house down to make way for a bypass. Arthurs lie-down protest is interrupted by the appearance of his friend Ford (Mos Def), whos in a hurry to get him down the pub and get some beer into him.

At the pub, Arthur relates the tale of a party he was at, where a bright young girl he was making progress with (Zooey Deschanel) was swept off by some smug jerk (Sam Rockwell) with a pickup line about being from a different planet. Then Ford tells him that Ford himself is from a different planet, and wants Arthur to depart Earth with him ASAP.

Ford is interrupted by the council workers demolishing Arthurs house who are in turn interrupted by the arrival of the Vogon Constructor Fleet, who have come to demolish Earth itself to make way for an interstellar expressway. Ford grabs Arthur and, sticking out his thumb, hitches a ride on board a Vogon ship mere seconds before the Earth is destroyed...

Its a rare reader whos not at least marginally aware of the novel The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy and its sequels, written by the late Douglas Adams (sadly lost to us in 2001). Rarer still is the Britisher who grew up in the seventies or eighties who isnt aware of the BBC radio play that spawned the books and the TV series that came after them. Much like the recent Lord of the Rings trilogy (and Harry Potter films), the film adaptation will be scrutinised by a legion of fans Fervently Hoping that Hollywood Doesnt Fuck This One Up.

Of course, the biggest challenge facing any film adaptation of is the fact that the source material stretches across not just a book, but three hours (each) of radio and TV, each with its own unique quirks and idiosyncrasies (which the aforementioned legion of fans have loved for at least twenty years). How do you distil all of the above into one-and-a-half to two hours of celluloid entertainment?

It helps that Douglas, who wrote and helped oversee the production of the above renditions of his idea as well as a computer game, wrote the treatment and first draft of the script himself, with rewrites handled post-mortem (as far as we know) by one man, Karey Kirkpatrick. Douglas is also given posthumous credit as executive producer. The script does juggle with the elements of the novel, even to the extent of adding in the nigh-obligatory "boy-meets-girl, etc." and character development plots, but it juggles with such skill and verve that only longtime fans would find the changes jarring. A new character (Humma Kavula, created by Adams for the film and played with relish by film madman John Malkovich) and sub-plot are added in order to set up a finale that, while still in broad-strokes identical to the end of the novel, is much less cynical and pessimistic.

The Vogons also get much more screen time than before and become not just a threat but also an obstacle, and are rarely un-funny. Theyre brought to spectacular life and rendered in amazing detail by Jim Hensons Creature Shop, a refreshing change while recent SF movies embrace CGI aliens. In fact, there seems to be a refreshing absence of blue screen work in this film; I dont think I spotted a single virtual set when the camera was close on the characters. But let that not be seen as damning the special effects, which are always capable at the least and never overdone, saving the jaw-dropping "Wow!" moments for when they're appropriate.

And last, but by no means least, comes the performance of the actors. First-time director Garth Jennings has both a British birth and a reported fans love for the material, which are two points in his favour. Thankfully, his direction and the editing dont miss a beat when the new material arrives. He also gives his actors flexibility to find their own pace and explore slightly different takes on the beloved characters for the film, even if Mos Defs Ford Prefect and Sam Rockwells Zaphod Beeblebrox (yes, that smug jerk) mightnt feel quite as developed as their previous incarnations (although one could argue that Ford is perhaps more consistently in character). Martin Freeman ably carries the film as a slightly more energetic and less stiff-necked Arthur Dent, with Zooey Deschanel doing a very capable job as Trillian, whose role is most expanded from the originals (gone from window dressing to serious love interest).

And of course, lets not forget the dead-perfect casting of both comedian Stephen Fry as the voice of The Guide (in fact, the spunky Guide animations, with Frys voice work, could almost carry a whole comedy film of their own) and Alan Rickman in top maudlin form as the voice of the diminutive, bobble-headed Marvin the Paranoid Android (with Warwick Willow Davis in the suit) in my opinion, the best Marvin voice Ive ever heard.

All in all, this adaptation successfully includes the dry sense of humour and overall fun of the original material at the expense of some of its darker moments and easily manages to be an entertainingly good movie on its own merits. Go and see it before it leaves the big screen hell, its probably the first film in ages Ive felt like paying for another ticket to see again!

May 15, 2005

RPGnet Wiki: The World of Virtual

As those IMAGinewSers who browse the RPGnet forums are probably aware, the managers of RPGnet have set up a Wiki for public use. Now, before certain of you rush over there to start a Lexicon game, you should know that the RPGnet Wiki has been created with a purpose: to allow community development of RPG-related projects, such as new systems and sourcebooks for existing games. So to paraphrase Seinfeld, No Lexicon for you!

However, I am thinking of setting up a section of my own in there. Ever since I purchased Fantasy Flight Games Horizon: Virtual mini-RPG, Ive wanted to develop the ideas, rules and setting and contained therein a bit more. You see, what Virtual does is take the D20 system as presented in the Dungeons & Dragons version 3.5 books (and the D20 System Reference Document) and, to borrow a term from Winamp and computer gaming, re-skins it with new classes and feats it so that it can run a game set inside your computer (in other words, Horizon: Virtual draws much of its inspiration from the Disney movie TRON and the animated series ReBoot).

The only problem is that Virtual can only do so much in sixty-four pages, and although it tries to not be Another Fantasy Setting, its very reliance on the D20 SRD winds up being rather constraining. As a virtual world can look like anything, it starts to look like a fantasy wilderness so it can use the regular environments and beasts rules.

And although the classes known as Programmers and Thinkers have been able to gain some level of universal Admin privileges due to their intuitive understanding of programming languages, use of said privileges is accomplished by using the standard D&D magic spells (with some of the names changed). Now dont get me wrong, I think its a very natty idea, not to mention one of the best explanations for magic in any given setting. But I think the re-skinning needs to go a bit deeper, so that immersion in the game isnt wrecked by having to leaf through the spells lists in the Magic section
of the Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook v3.5 and trying to remember that Magic Missile is called "Code Bolt" in Virtual.

Thankfully, the D20 Open Game License allows one to do just that, so long as no money is charged for the results. In other words, I can take chunks of the System Reference Documents (such as the Skills, Feats and Magic Spells lists), re-work them to fit in more with the world of Horizon: Virtual, and post them on the Web or as the case would be here, post the Feats and Magic Spells lists on the Web to be re-worked by myself and others (which a Wiki allows you to do with ease, once you get used to its markup).

I've already done a fair bit of the groundwork. Mid-last year, I downloaded the d20 System Reference Documents, noted the various ways of using the Virtual nomenclature (Waker, rewriter, counterwriting etc.) and went on a massive find-and-replace binge on the Spells and Feats Lists using Microsoft Word. The individual listings need some reading and adjustment, especially after the components and alignments issues are hashed out.

The only constraint I would face would be the inability to post any closed content or product identity from Horizon: Virtual; while I can include the names and game statistics of the new spells and feats introduced in the game, I cant include their descriptions or any other text from the book itself. Staying within the bounds of that restriction should be easy, though. A simple note reading, The description of this rewrite/feat is closed content. Please see page XX of Horizon: Virtual. would do.

So, Ive made a posting about the idea on the horizonvirtual Yahoo! Group and the Fantasy Flight Games forum. Ill put a post up over on the RPGnet Forum sometime today.

Lets see if anyones interested

May 10, 2005

Yeah, but... Why?

Cribbed from the SciFi Wire news website:

Alien Vs. Predator II Is A Go

The sequel to Alien vs. Predator is happening... 20th Century Fox Film Co-Chairman Tom Rothman told SCI FI Wire at the Saturn Awards in Los Angeles.

"We will do another one of those for sure. It was a big success," Rothman said in an interview before he received a Life Career Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films.

"In the new Alien vs. Predator they will finally actually really come to our world," said Rothman. The previous Alien and Predatormovies took place in the future, and Alien vs. Predator took place in a remote Antarctic location, though in modern times. The new film could bridge the gap between all the movies and the two horror film franchises, Rothman said.

Aside from the geek-factor quibbles (Both franchises set in the future? Excuse me? Did someone not watch Predator? Hell, Predator 2 was set only five, maybe six years in the future from the year it was released. Was this the Co-Chairman or SFW getting it arse about face?), I am seriously wondering how AvP merits a sequel. Did it really do that well? I mean, from my perspective, it wasn't horrid, just unrelentingly mediocre.

Then again, I thoroughly enjoyed Predator 2, an admission tht seems to earn me weird looks no matter where I say it. Probably becuase I actually saw it before I saw Predator.

May 07, 2005

About Bloody Time, Jeff!

On, a whim, I decided just now to see whether that damned annoying placeholder over on Jeff Wayne's The War of the Worlds site had been taken off and an actual website been put up in its place. The bastard has had us hanging for at least half a year.

The good news is that an all-new Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds website is now up. It even includes some test footage of CGI Martian Fighting and Flying Machines for the touted fully-CGI film they're working on - which, it seems, won't actually be ready until 2008, not 2005 after all. (Not necessarily a bad thing, I suppose, as Spielberg's version will be out of the way by then.)

They're also re-releasing the CDs in a big way this year, both the 2-disc setand a collector's edition seven-disc set. (Vickie and I both wonder what the hell they can pack on seven discs? The computer game as well?)

(The answer, as it turns out, is here.)

(Yes, I've let Vickie know what I'd like for my birthday. :-D )

Wonder if my Dad will be able to flog his original vinyls for a few quid?

May 05, 2005

Wiki on the Way

Well, after the semi-success of the Lexicon game I ran on my Wiki before the server move, I've had some players badgering me (you know who you are) on a regular basis for another game. In turn, I've been badgering Marcus to re-establish the Wiki software on the server.

We briefly discussed whether to re-use the MoinMoin engine (which powered Allen Varney's Paranoia Lexicon, but Marcus has stumbled across another engine called WikiWig, which, while not as well documented, apperas a bit more user-friendly than MoinMoin.

I'm fiddling with it at the moment to get a better handle on it, and will make it publicly available soon.

[UPDATE 7 May 2005:] Well, I had a fiddle, and unfortunately came away very unimpressed. About the only features in WikiWig are the user login feature and the page editor. That's all. There is absolutely no user-documentation available; none of the modules available within MoinMoin (templates, macros, searches) which are almost vital when running a Lexicon game are present. Not only that, the default text formatting comes out misaligned for no apparent reson when viewed using Firefox.

So, even though it might not be quite as user-friendly as WikiWig, I've asked Marcus to uninstall it and set MoinMoin back up. I'll let you know as soon as I have more info.

May 01, 2005

Lasersharking and the Honestly Extraordinary

I mentioned about a week ago that I�d been reading a post over on The 20� By 20� Room on the general subject of �lasersharking� in roleplaying games, specifically, whether a game can work and/or sell without it.

As this term can�t be found in any respectable dictionary, a little history and definition is in order. �Lasersharking� has been floating about the RPG community for the past couple of years. Its origin, as most vaguely au fait with pop culture would be able to tell you, is that wonderful scene in the movie Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery where evil genius Dr. Evil (Mike Myers) is spelling out the doom he will inflict upon super spy Austin Powers (Mike Myers) and his partner Vanessa Kensington (Elizabeth Hurley) by dropping them slowly into a tank filed with Great White sharks with laser beams attached to their heads. It�s at this moment when Dr. Evil�s offsider, Number Two (Robert Wagner) informs him that they couldn�t get any Great Whites as they�re a protected species. This and Dr. Evil�s resultant tantrum are one of the most memorable comic moments of the film.

Thus came the term �lasersharking�. The term itself seems to have two general meanings, both of which have relevance for this discussion. The first is the taking of something already powerful, competent, efficient and/or deadly (the shark) and theoretically improving on it by combining it with another item of similar perceived deadliness (a laser). In gaming, said additional element is most often either SF-grade high tech or some other sort of fantastic item.

The second is the combination of two disparate genres that at first glance don�t belong together, a fairly recent phenomenon in roleplaying game worlds (e.g. Deadlands: The Weird West, Pinnacle Entertainment (now Great White Games)�s Wild West/Steampunk/Magic game, or Gear Krieg, Dream Pod 9�s World War II/Mecha game).

Both meanings have an undercurrent of improving something mundane or ordinary (if only in terms of its appeal or �coolness�) by combining it with something else either slightly out of the ordinary (a shark with a laser beam attached to its head) or drastically out of the ordinary (a Western set in space, or a police squad show featuring powerful psychic abilities).

There�s a general perception that the actual effectiveness of the original item post-improvement (a Great White shark with a laser beam attached to its head) is arguable when compared to the pre-improved item�s capabilities (a Great White shark being a highly efficient killing machine as it is). The perception is then used to draw a conclusion that �lasersharking� often exists in roleplaying game products primarily to draw potential buyers, who would otherwise pass up a game based solely around a �mundane� premise, to the product.

This perceived necessity to improve on the mundane in order to attract roleplayers is what, I think, Ron Edwards (in this post on The Forge), and Matt Snyder (in these posts on his own weblog and in The 20� By 20� Room) are reacting to, or at least questioning. Matt and Ron (especially Matt) have posited that character drama is enough to make a roleplaying game go; to paraphrase one of Matt�s points, the metaphorical skeleton in the closet can drive a game as much as the literal skeleton in the basement or the magical walking skeleton in the dungeon. Based on this idea, they�re planning to create roleplaying games with premises grounded solely in modern �real life�, with no supernatural, paranormal, advanced or exaggerated elements. They aren�t under any illusions as to the eventual success of their products, but I do get the sense that they�re honestly curious as to how they�ll go.

It�s also worth noting that Matt Wilson�s popular indie RPG, Primetime Adventures, has put this idea into action already; its rules address character conflict instead of �actual� combat. However, while the rules don�t address any given genre (they don�t need to), the rest of the text couches the rules in regular references to shows like Buffy and Farscape. Also, all but two of the ten PtA games that people have posted about on forums and websites have either been SF- or supernatural-themed. The remaining two, Moose in the City and Early Church Awakens, are relatively mundane, but the former is a kids� cartoon show and the latter is set in the days after Christ�s death; neither are truly �real life� premises.

The resultant back-and-forth from the gaming community, especially in response to Snyder�s postings, has been, by and large, politely sceptical. Personally, having rolled my eyes at some of the stretches recent roleplaying games have put forward (see again Deadlands), I found Ron and Matt�s position rather refreshing. However, on reflection, I�ve rather come around to the point of view of such respondents as Andrew Shultz, that so-called lasersharking is an integral part of the hobby for a reason. The centre of my argument is the idea that I, in my arrogance, have dubbed �the Honestly Extraordinary�.

Existing media that follow the �human interest� angle require human drama to be sustained on a weekly, or even weeknightly, basis. The problem with this is not that there aren�t skeletons in closets, but that there seems to be a new skeleton every week. A regular viewer of a five-episodes-a-week soap opera can expect at least two to three of the main characters to either be making potentially-life-changing decisions or having Dark Secrets Revealed with alarming regularity. Once the shocking consequences die down, things get boringly ordinary, so the producers and writers need to throw Something Else into the mix; another character gets a Dark Secret, or the Nice Guy suddenly becomes the Rebel Without a Cause, or the Mysterious Stranger turns up in Melodrama Street. While that my be cool in Summer Bay or Orange County, I think it�s fair to say that most of the rest of us just don�t have closets that full.

As a side note, this is the reason that half of the characters in these shows are teens or young adults; their inexperience and all that post-pubescent hormonal juggling and emotional adjustment serves as a neat character-realism explanation for the Stupid Mistakes the characters need to make so the drama (and the viewer ratings) keep ratcheting up, the ones that ensure things go from Bad to Worse.

I�ve pretty much clarified what I think is the Average Gamer�s Main Problem with Everyday Drama. We don�t want to be told that we don�t have enough Interesting Stuff going on in our life, but could if we fucked ourselves up enough or turned ourselves into utter pricks. Throwing Space Fleets, Big Mechs, Fantasy Universes or Grand Conspiracies into the mix actually makes the drama more honest, by saying, �You know what? Most people don�t have lives this interesting. So why not be honest about how extraordinary these people�s lives are? Why not take the extraordinary to its logically illogical conclusion?� That�s the Honestly Extraordinary. It doesn�t try to fudge around the issue of more-than-everyday storylines by making ordinary people create extraordinary situations in ordinary settings on a regular basis; it creates extraordinary settings and/or situations and puts ordinary people into them.

Honestly Extraordinary fiction, whether TV shows, movies, books and RPG settings, works on two levels:

  • It�s inbuilt justification for any Stupid Mistakes. Because the characters are half the time dealing with the Unknown, if not in terms of the actual opposition, then in terms of a degree of unfamiliarity between the main characters and their players/the viewers, we don�t know whether any decisions the characters make are stupid or not until later (and, most of the time, neither do the main characters).
  • It gives the characters Something To Do. From the pulp tradition and the Saturday matinees to today�s Star Wars, Star Trek and Babylon 5, writers have been filling in the gaps resultant when you take your foot off the melodrama pedal a bit with strange new worlds, new or ancient civilisations, and interesting ways to kick their asses. It�s not unreasonable to expect the mainly geek-oriented RPG audience to expect similar.

Even if it�s just Everyday Plus (normal cops/FBI agents/working stiffs tracking down Ghosts/Secret Conspiracies/Great Old Ones), an Honestly Extraordinary setting or situation feels more honest � and therefore more attractive for a hobby where you�re Only Pretending anyway � than Another Teen Pregnancy Where The Boyfriend With The Dark Secret Is Cheating On His Girlfriend (Who�s Really The Summer Bay Stalker) Whilst Dying From Cancer.

Of course, some of the other most popular shows on TV fall into the meta-genre most commonly called �lawyers, doctors and cops�. These characters are given a comparatively ordinary Something Else To Do every episode, often (for the cops and doctors, anyway) involving physical risk and (especially for the cops) action. The Law & Order TV series are great examples; they vary between Solving The Crime and Guilt Or Innocence Versus The Law with little examination on the impact such work has on the people who do it; the leads are broad-stroke characters who can be relied upon to not change or even deepen beyond their original spec much.

Maybe we need a Law & Order RPG; something more along Ron�s idea of Spione, a Cold War spy game, over Matt�s Americana game, which seems a little less clearly defined (or perhaps, less easy to sum up in three words). M. Joseph Young did a rather natty column over on RPGnet that boiled the procedure of trial and law down to its basics for the purposes of an RPG session. Maybe someone could turn that into a mini-RPG and see if it floats?