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September 30, 2006

The Big Trick to Game Mastering

I remember a while ago I was broadly championing Primetime Adventures as a nice, simple game that would help generate heaps of fun; so simple that fun could still be had even when played over Skype. I tried twice to put a game together, and what happened? Each attempt petered out after a couple of sessions; scheduling conflicts got in the way, which is fair enough, life sucks sometimes; the real problem was that the group as a whole wasn’t in any hurry to work around our schedules and continue the game.

So much for "The most reliably fun roleplaying game in the history of fun." (Apologies, Vince.) So what went wrong?

Most accounts I’ve read about successful Primetime Adventures games make mention of the Click! This is the moment when the whole group suddenly goes from bouncing around show ideas to engaging with one specific show idea. It’s telling that I’ve yet to experience that moment in one of my games, and I don’t think I’m far wrong in my presumption that none of my players had experienced it either. I blamed it on the nature of playing across Skype at first, but after some time and reflection, not to mention listening to the session recordings I made using PowerGramo, I frankly think the problem can be laid at my feet.

One thing I don’t think I’d really taken on board when I took on the role of Producer for my Primetime Adventures games was that the Producer really needs to drive the Pitch session, the first session when the players assemble and create the “show” (a.k.a. campaign) and their protagonists. The Producer must keep show ideas moving and be willing to shelve an idea that not everyone is keen on and recommend the group brainstorms some more. To borrow from the How to Run: Primetime Adventures entry on the RPGnet Wiki (which I partway wrote before actually doing my first game), a neat trick that Judd of the Sons of Kryos podcast uses when Producing a Pitch session is to roleplay that he's "(A)n obnoxious producer from Hollywood, except not stupid... and these imaginative people are getting together to make something out of my money." His objective is to keep things moving.

I wasn’t really doing that. Listening to those Skype session recordings, I noticed how much um-ing and ah-ing I was doing instead of prodding the brainstorming along. I didn’t once mention the Click! Moment. I let half the group get away with introducing core show concepts that the other half of the group had stated up front that they weren’t interested in, let alone familiar with. I should have shelved the whole thing and kept the group moving. And if we didn’t come up with anything? I should have just taken that as an indicator that, well, Primetime Adventures simply mightn’t have been the right game for that particular group (and there’s nothing wrong with that; it just means that, like show concepts, we can shelve it and move on rather than wasting more of each other’s time with a game that no one’s enjoying).

Instead, by the time I recommended we started looking at characters (around an hour into the process), we had two separate show ideas masquerading as a single, unified pitch. During the pilot session, I struggled to come up with interesting conflicts for the PCs and at least one player wasn’t happy about my trying to coax people into the game. Fun it certainly wasn’t. Like the first game, scheduling conflicts have cropped up and few of us are in any particular hurry to re-organise for Episode Two.

If I’m learning anything, slowly and agonisingly, it’s that, ultimately, the overriding goal of any game master (frankly, it ought to be the goal of everyone around the gaming table, but we’re talking about the GM here) must be to make sure that everyone around the table, the game master him- or herself included, is interested, engaged and having fun such that they will make time in their schedules for the next session. And it can’t just be a lofty mission statement; the GM must work at it, be a little aggressive if necessary, but not shirk leading the group (after all, the GM can only do it wrong, which is how everyone learns).

Frankly, I think that at the next game I run, I’ll state that goal up front. If I run PtA again, I’ll discuss the objective of the Pitch in terms of creating a show concept, and then discuss the Click! Moment, how it’s worth striving for and how I intend to push for it. If I get a Burning Empires game going, I’ll talk about the central, “fighting off invasion” concept and how, by the end of the World Burning process, we’ll have a planet that each person at the table has had a hand in creating and will want to return to, even if that means watching it fall to the enemy.

It’s kind of scary…

Goals vs. Burning Empires

Remember a few months ago I posted about what I want out of my gaming and analysed my gaming catalogue based on those criteria? I want to examine my current RPG of the Moment, Burning Empires, using the same criteria and see where it fits. My opinions will also be shaped by some recent attempts at gaming, which I’ll probably go into some more.

Those few months ago, I came up with the following goal that I could evaluate games against:

The goal of the campaign is a set of interwoven stories (with beginnings and endings) created as the campaign progresses, not beforehand, by all of the participants at the table. During the process of creation (i.e. the campaign), each participant will be engaged in not only creating his or her character’s story - the character, the challenges it faces and what the methods it uses to overcome those challenges mean to it - but also assisting the other participants in creating the stories of their characters.

There are also a few real life concerns that weren’t expressed in that goal, which I explain a bit more here.

On to the evaluation:

  • Burning Empires
    • Pros: Each Burning Empires campaign is based around a strong, clearly identified central concept: The defence of a single far-future planet from an invading alien enemy. The conflict of interest is also clearly identified: sacrificing what you hold dear for the greater good vs. remaining true to yourself and probably losing everything to the enemy. Burning Empires has a very neatly organised structure, from the whole campaign right down to individual sessions, the latter of which are measured out in scenes (which also organise spotlight time and define framing) and manoeuvres (one to two per session). This means that everyone knows how long a session and a campaign will go for and can plan accordingly. The game expects no between-session prep from the GM (or anyone else); interaction of PCs and the world's Figures of Note will guide the GM in coming up with a situation for the new session just before starting. The rule-set is rules-medium; detailed, but based around a strong central mechanic and not overly complex. The text avoids chapters of setting info by building it into character creation and even the rules of play; you’re nearly guaranteed to run an Iron Empires-esque game even if you’ve never read the Iron Empires source material. Each planet is fairly open slather, and players and GM alike are encouraged by both rules and text to add detail and make the game their own; everyone can invest in the setting by creating parts of it, which in turn leads to investment in PCs as they're shaped by the setting. Burning Empires works best with three to four players (plus GM), so a small- to medium-size group is good.
    • Cons: Not quite a pick-up-and-play game; first session needs to be devoted to group prep and character creation. The game has a strong competitive streak, with players pitted against GM. While this ties directly in the central concept and reinforces the last-stand nature of the fight against invasion, it might be a bit too much for some. The competitiveness means that, while being a player down won’t kill the session, it’ll put the PC group at a significant disadvantage.

If it’s not already obvious, I’d like to run some Burning Empires soon. I think, though, a lighter backup game – say, InSpectres – would be handy for those moments when not everyone can make it.

September 28, 2006

Holy Shit - Halo: The Console-Only RTS!

Just found out about this today: Microsoft and Ensemble Studios (Age of Empires) are working on a real-time strategy game set in in the Halo universe, and it's only coming out on the Xbox 360!

But that's not all, it seems: Peter Jackson is getting into the games business. He's started a company called Wingnut Interactive and has announced a project with Bungie that will create "another chapter in the Halo universe".

Intersting times for Halo...

September 25, 2006

We Have Our Living Room Back!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen; thanks to some dilligent and hard work by Karl (with assistance from yours truly), we now have our main room back and looking far better than it did a couple of months ago! Our furniture is all back from Karl's and we're slowly re-assembling the entertainment appliances; I'll be spending this evening re-organising the cables behind the TV in order to prevent another rat's nest. Once we've put some decorations up on the walls, I'll take some photos for you folks.

The deadline pressure is off, although we wish it weren't. I got a call from Dad on the weekend; Heather had called him and told him that she'd just been in to see the doctor with eye problems, which turned out to be a burst blood vessel. She's in the public health service waiting queue to have it seen to, and until that happens she can't fly. It's a bugger, as we were all looking forward to Heather being here, but at least it ddn't happen midair. I've been meaning to give Heather a call; she's too old to go to pubs and tell the football supporters that they're all Southern pansies.

So the week of leave I was taking before she arrived, whch we were planning to spend frantically dusting and clearing up, will still be spent frantically dusting and clearing up, but in addition, we'll de-wallpaper and paint the kitchen and dining room (another long-overdue job).

Now that the biggest part of the reno work is out of the way, I can start planning some gaming stuff - also, as we'll have our entertainment areas back soon, we'll be able to actually host some gaming, too! Anyway, first on the agenda is another attempt to organise a get-together of all the gamers I know (and like) in Cairns. I've set a date of Saturday, October 14th and sent invitations out last night via e-mail (I spoke with Vickie just now; it looks as though I have at least one person coming along already). I plan to go to a few places during my next few lunch breaks, look at menus and ask whether they'd be willing to let us play a couple of games of Chez Geek after the main meal, provided we keep ordering drinks and nibbles.

My broader gaming-related plans are to GM games of Burning Empires and Dogs in the Vineyard (the latter of which Vickie is dying to play) and play in whatever looks interesting. I recently signed up to a Yahoo! Group, indie-netgaming, and some of its members are trying to organise some over-Skype gaming, which I, of course, stuck my hand up for. Capes was the preferred game, but the organiser also suggested Primetime Adventures, Dogs in the Vineyard and Sorcerer. The organiser is currently juggling the availabilities submittted to him. Shadowrun is still going, although we had to cancel last weekend's session due to the renovations kicking into high gear; between our GM Tracey nipping off to Canberra this week and Vickie's birthday on Friday week, our first full session probably won't be any earlier than Friday the 13th of October.

Wait a sec, Friday the what?

Uh oh...

September 23, 2006

He's Still Alive.

This Just In: Top Gear's Richard Hammond has reportedly been moved out of intensive care and is making good progress.

Phew! Right when I was just starting to worry about a hat-trick, too. Not that Richard is an Australian celebrity, but - oh, you know what I mean.

Still, I can't help but wonder what sort of deal he cut with The Devil Of Motoring...

September 21, 2006

Yo Homeboy.

The Bronze Chef dug this up on YouTube, and I'd claim it as my theme song had he not already claimed it as his:

"Weird Al" Yankovic's "White and Nerdy"

UPDATE: On Weird Al's MySpace, I have discovered another theme song, one for Karl and Vickie both: "Hardware Store"!

UPDATE AGAIN (2 Oct 06): Okay, so maybe it's not my theme song:

Richard Hammond Injured In Car Crash

You British viewers will likely know exactly whom I'm talking about: Richard Hammond, co-host of the BBC's Top Gear motoring programme, was seriously injured yesterday whilst filming for the show.

Vickie and I love the current incarnation of Top Gear and its three hosts; we watch the show (7:30PM Monday nights, SBS) almost as religiously as I watch Doctor Who. Hammond is great, and I hope he comes out of this all right.

UPDATE: Hammond has reportedly suffered a brain injury due to the crash, but a good recovery is still "reasonably optimistic".

Also: A brief history of Top Gear, and if you ever wondered what happened to the old Top Gear, check out Fifth Gear.

September 19, 2006

Renovation Progress Report: Living Room and Laundry

Well, after the last RPG-heavy post, it’s high time I got back to more practical matters. We have been going heavy on the renovations this weekend gone. As Karl didn’t have to work he spent most of Saturday and Sunday at our place.

The project of focus is still the living room. As our reno budget is close to exhausted, we’re leaving the kitchen/dining room and bedrooms for a little while. I want to get stuck into those after Heather’s visit and Vickie’s birthday in early October (Heather arrives on Vickie’s birthday and flies down to Sydney a couple of days afterward). That reminds me – time I started seeing about some birthday presents for assorted family!

Okay. The living room. I talked about it briefly in a post a few months ago, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually explained what we’re doing down there and why. There were two main problems with the living room as it was. It’s an extension on the original home, and that’s where the first problem comes in: the extension was built using cinderblock, large concrete bricks that aren’t entirely bad for building houses with (I’m pretty sure they’re what everyone’s building “the Modern Queenslander” with nowadays), but the interior often gets left with just a lick of paint; the overall effect in many modern houses is reminiscent of a prison. As for us, we were getting a bit sick of looking at pink brick all the time. Also, the cinder blocks in part of the back wall were turned on their sides, so the pattern of gaps faced into the room and out into the garden; the interior face of this section was covered by a loosely-fixed sheet of wood ply, to which were attached glass shelves (eep!).

The second problem was the laundry. The good bit about the extension was that the house actually got a laundry. The bad bit is, it wasn’t divided off from the living room. Vickie had an ad hoc separator in the form of some display cabinets (I think the whole setup was called a “bourré” or “burret”, something like that) and after they swelled up when our tenants took a hose to the living room interior before they left (made of chip board, you see) we replaced them with the two big pine bookshelves that I’d taken with me when I moved out of Mum & Dad’s. We always wanted something more permanent there, though. Plus, there’s a shallow hole in the laundry floor where the old water heater used to be (it was replaced with a rooftop solar setup a few months ago).

There are other, lesser problems. The aforementioned hosing off of the living room by our tenants not only damaged the display cabinets, they also left brown hose marks on the ceiling. Our surround sound setup required cables to be run along the walls to the rear speakers. We didn’t have enough plug-points for our various home entertainment appliances, and there was a rather ugly power plug fixture – complete with visible pipe housing – on the rear wall. Finally, we wanted a decent curtain setup.

The first step was the laundry. Karl put in a sturdy wood framework, including a doorway, for a new wall. He also put one in between the master bedroom’s walk-in wardrobe/dressing room and our computer room, replacing the flimsy ply sheeting behind the old chipboard wardrobes. From there, Karl moved to the living room, pulled the ply sheet off the back wall and placed a couple of lengths of the wood he’d used for the laundry frame into the back wall (the cinder blocks that had been turned on their side were set into the wall) and adjusted the position of the power points, then sheeted over the laundry frame and all four living room walls with Villaboard, fastening those sheets going directly onto the cinder block with concrete nails.

All this was done over a period of several weeks. We were hoping to have it knocked over more quickly – Karl actually had a couple of weeks of annual leave that he was using to help renovate our place (plus another week that he wanted to sue to do his own house) – but we were also depending on Vickie’s grandson Rhys to help out, not only because he knows how to make a neat cut in Villaboard with an angle grinder but also because lifting Villaboard is a two-person job and I was at work while Karl had his leave. The problem was that Rhys somehow seemed to find himself better things to do, although he wasn’t working. The annoying thing was that half the time he swore blind he’d be at our place on time as requested, but would switch his mobile off, oversleep and/or already be on his way elsewhere by the time we reached him.

It’s got worse of late; the rare times he makes an appearance are to ask his mother or Vickie or myself (or even Karl) for cash so he can take his girlfriend out. As he pays back on the never-never, we’ve been asking him for favours in return for payment, but he still owes us a few mowings of our lawn. Rhys has also been in no hurry to help either himself or Deena, his mum, move into her new place on the weekend (I pitched in after Saturday’s marathon paint-prep session); when Deena once asked Rhys whether he wanted to move in with her when she found somewhere new, he said he’d move in with her or his best mate, whoever found a place first. At least Deena’s townhouse in Kewarra Beach is very nice. It’s a little odd not having her around after the couple of months she was here; Vickie reckons she misses the company.

Anyway, so we’re overtime and over budget, but things are cracking along again; we’ve put skirting board and new trim over the new walls and spent last weekend cleaning, sanding, silicone-ing gaps, puttying holes and masking windows and doors. On Sunday evening Karl was finally able to crank up the paint sprayer and lay an undercoat down on our walls, and the room is looking much better already! Last night he and I went back over the living room and fixed up any obvious problems that we’d missed, and we should be able to lay a second undercoat down this evening. I will have to get Vickie to photo us in painting getup; although Karl looks like a professional tradesman in his overalls, I’m stuck with tracky-daks, t-shirt and old work shirt with all its buttons missing; add to those the breathing mask, goggles and shower-cap hair protector, and I look especially silly!

We’re still a little worried about those hose marks on the ceiling; Karl did a test-spray onto it on Sunday night but the marks had come through the dried paint pretty clearly by yesterday. Karl reckons oil-based paint will be required. Nonetheless, we finally look on track to have our living room back before Heather gets here! Just in case, and because we’ll need to clear the dust from assorted cuttings, sandings and sprayings, I’m going on annual leave for the first week in October.

September 15, 2006

Setting Info and Playing Without Playing

Okay, folks, I've been naughty; I just spent some cash on Yet Another RPG. This one's Burning Empires, written by Luke Crane and using his Burning Wheel system. It's based on the Iron Empires comics by Christopher Moeller, known for his Star Wars comic book cover art and illustrations for Magic: The Gathering cards. A few years ago, Moeller was in discussions with Avalanche Press to do an RPG and setting guide for Iron Empires; it was even mentioned at the back of one of the Iron Empires issues. That didn't work out, allowing Crane, a fan of the comics, to pitch his own system to Moller. Several months of blood, sweat and tears later, Crane and Co. at Burning Wheel HQ put out an amazing product.

One of RPGnet's members was recently reading an old Iron Empires issue, read the note about the then-forthcoming Avalanche Press effort and started a thread asking for more info. A respondent wrote:

As much as I like BE, I wish there was a metric ton more setting info.

Interestingly enough, the sentiment was echoed by a few other posters. Then Luke Crane himself weighed in:

There is none. None what so ever -- aside from what exists in Chris' mind from day to day.

Did you really want me to make up endless lists of garbage stats for population, planet size, gravity, sun color, capital cities, etc? It wouldn't be from the setting that Chris developed. It'd be my hacked together garbage. And it would be meaningless in play.

Oh, it'd help you flesh your games, right? Bull. You can do that on your own on the fly. The only thing it'd stand for is to pad page count as questionable reading material. Setting of that type serves only to give the reader the sensation that he has played the game without ever having to risk actual play. It's nice, it's a tasty snack, but ultimately junk food.

Instead, in BE, I shifted paradigms. That entire book is a setting book. Every picture bursts with Chris' imagination and his vision. The lifepaths paint the society and culture. Traits offer hints and details to the baroque societies. Technology adds cool details -- of your own devising.

The hitch is you can't just read this book. You've got to play it. You've got to invest yourself in it. In this fashion, it is truly an old school RPG. My fucking Expert Set didn't come with a map and lists of cities and populations. It was a way to play really cool Tolkienesque fantasy games. The rest was up to me. But that's a poor comparison. BE's ancestors are much more in the vein of Call of Cthulhu or Paranoia. Those games set you up with a setting and situation and then said "Go!" To truly understand and appreciate those masterworks of game design, you had to play them.

Same goes for Burning Empires. It's all about playing the game.

And you know something? I have to agree. I remember thinking not so long ago, while considering quitting the hobby, that the experience of me running Heavy Gear couldn't compete with the adventures that played out in my head when I read the setting info. (I don't really think that the rules of the game were a great help either.) Most of Heavy Gear's line I was able to read and enjoy on their own because they were self-contained fiction, sometimes with cool pictures. The Gears And Striders books were the best (the Leaguebooks got a bit too dry and encyclopaedic), as each page was a neat little piece of self-contained historical fiction accompanied by a picture of a cool-looking machine. You Battletech geeks probably know what I'm talking about; the Tech Readouts are similar. You can't help but create your own personal, non-Shared Imaginary Space and do some Solo Play when you read them, even when you're prepping for a game (which makes it even worse half the time).

And that's one of the problems with those games; half the time, the stuff the game company comes up with is so neat and organised and interwoven and cool, you feel (a) very protective of that coolness - ahem, sorry, "canon" (see my description of my mindset while GMing Heavy Gear) and (b) as though what you and your gaming group come up with pales in comparison with your own personal game that you played while reading all that gorgeous setting info (or the game that the game company was playing in order to come up with it).

In a way, that's one of the scary things about the games on my shelf at the moment, games like Dogs in the Vineyard, The Shadow of Yesterday, Primetime Adventures and (soon) Burning Empires. You can't read them and have your own little solo game in your head with them; you read them and are driven to get some friends together and play the crap out of them, because the play that the games shape and advocate, rules to setting, balls to bones, is where the cool shit comes from.

As a side-note, I'm coming to the opinion that a licensed game can be kind of dangerous if you're playing with a pack of setting-geeks; everyone has their own investment in the coolness of the source material that they have to work to overcome in order to have a good game. Gav: Being a big-time Star Wars nut, have you ever had this trouble when prepping or playing a game, especially if/when you've had Star Wars wonks at your table?

September 11, 2006

King of the Mountain

It’s been a busy few days:

Friday and Saturday was the Cairns Amateurs, a horse racing carnival treated with all the pomp and pageantry of the Melbourne Cup (on a local scale, of course). Naturally, The Cairns Post has a big representation there, and as every business who’s any business is also present all of the Post’s ad reps spent Friday there, with a rotating schedule for Saturday. Yours truly was left to man the phones; thankfully I had a backlog of bookings to keep me busy. I was asked whether I could help out on Saturday, but with a weekend of renovation work on the cards, I had to decline. So everyone else went and got pissed without me.

Thus it was that I was at the office when Vickie called in the afternoon to tell me of the second tragedy to hit Australia in one week: National motor racing legend Peter Brock was killed when his Daytona coupe left the road and struck a tree during the Targa West rally near Perth. I doubt many outside Australia would know of Peter Brock; he wasn’t a Formula One driver and the competitions he entered were mainly raced by national drivers. However, locally he was famed for a record nine wins of the popular Bathurst 1000 endurance race, driven annually on the Mount Panorama track, earning him the nickname King of the Mountain. Because of his driving record, appearance and good manners in public, many people also called him “Peter Perfect”, a moniker he was never happy with. Even though he no longer maintained his hectic career of the seventies and eighties, Peter Brock was the figurehead of Australian motor racing right up until his death. He was 61.

Tracey, our Shadowrun GM, was over again on Friday night. She’d had a rough afternoon and was in no fit state to game master, so Vickie and I pulled Chez Geek out of one of our packing boxes and played three games with her. Although I won the first two, the most fun I had was in the third (which went to Vickie, I believe). The stand-out moment was after, as the Corporate Drone (who must amass 22 Slack to win), I’d played some good Booze cards and Hash Brownies (Weed card, 5 Slack). Naturally, I looked well on track to win - when Tracey pulled the Whenever card Visit From Parents out of her hand and played it on me. I had to discard the all my Booze and Weed cards, losing me something like 9 Slack in one fell swoop, and I laughed my arse off!

Tracey, Vickie and I have come to the opinion that if we ever organise a get-together of local gamers, Chez Geek will be the game of choice, simply because it’s such lighthearted fun, even when you're playing like a bastard!

Saturday and Sunday were both busy days. Karl was able to spend some time over our place finishing the ceiling trim in our living room and I spent most of Saturday sanding the villaboard we put up on the walls. Sunday was mainly putting spakfilla on the drill and nail holes in the villaboard and skirting, then sanding it down. I’ll be attacking the ceiling with sandpaper tonight and probably filling holes tomorrow evening. We’re keen to get the painting knocked over as soon as possible, as we now have less than a month before Heather arrives from the UK.

It also looks as though Deena will be moving out soon; she’s on top of the list for a townhouse in Kewarra Beach, which will be nice and close to her place of work. However, being a townhouse, she won’t be able to have Ziggy with her, so he’ll be rooming with us until such time as Deena buys another place; with property prices in Cairns skyrocketing, though, that’s unlikely to be any time soon.

The Da Vinci Code? Pah! Here's Journey To The East!

From the BBC News Service:

To reach the Grave of Christ or Kristo no Hakka as it is known locally, you need to head deep into the northern countryside of Japan, a place of paddy fields and apple orchards. Halfway up a remote mountain surrounded by a thicket of bamboo lies a mound of bare earth marked with a large wooden cross... according to the local legend, Jesus did not die at Calvary.

His place was taken by one of his brothers, who for some reason is now buried by his side in Japan.

The story goes that after escaping Jerusalem, Jesus made his way across Russia and Siberia to Aomori in the far north of Japan where he became a rice farmer, married, had a family and died peacefully at the age of 114.

Read more.

September 04, 2006

RIP Steve Irwin

I thought this was just idle office rumour, until a Brisbane Courier Mail article confirmed it: International celebrity Steve "The Crocodile Hunter" Irwin died earlier today at Batt Reef, Port Douglas (about an hour and a half's drive from where we live).

I was never a fan of Steve's but I doubt anyone had seen a celebrity of his energy and passion in a long while; the fact that he devoted it to the world about him made him even rarer.

I'm still hoping that a mistake's been made somewhere.

September 01, 2006

Where The Hell Do I Know Him From?

Here's a question for you lovely readers, especially those of you who enjoy TV crime fiction: Tonight on ABC screened the last episode in the latest series of the British psychological crime drama, Wire in the Blood. In this episode, the subject of lead character Dr. Tony Hill's first case is released from prison and questions are asked about Tony's interrogation of the man. Now, this character, Jason Eglee, is played by a man whose name (I think, from the glimpse I got of the cast list) was Gerry Conway. And I swear I've seen him on TV before, but I cannot remember where.

Vickie and I are doing a web search, but so far, we have had zero luck finding anything out about this guy, let alone finding a complete bleeding cast list for that episode (even ITV's website is utterly bleeding useless). So I'm hoping you fine folk out ther reading this posting can tell me precisely what this guy's done in the past so I can figure out where the fuck I know him from.

Anyone? At all?

(NOTE: We're both now pretty sure "Gerry Conway" isn't right; he's either a comic book artist or the drummer for the Grateful Dead.)