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June 25, 2008

I Think John Wick Said It Best...

Further to my rant about what I want out of an RPG yesterday, I'd like to draw your attention to a YouTube video posted by a man whom I think is heading down a road I'd like to follow on.

I've known about John Wick for a while, more by reputation than anything else - for a damn long while, he's been "that John Wick" over on the RPGnet Forums. Then, recently, I discovered that "that John Wick" is a game designer and one of the guiding hands behind Legend of the Five Rings and 7th Sea. I've never actually played either game, although I know L5R has a strong following and at least one or two people of my acquaintance have proclaimed their love for 7th Sea, probably because it's a piratey game.

Then all of a sudden he's hanging out with Jared A. Sorensen, forming an indie game company and putting out all sorts of little treats like Cat and Dragon, the latter of which I bought as a present for one of my step-granddaughters.

But I only started seriously paying him attention when I finally heard him speak; it was on the Sons of Kryos podcast, I think, and he was talking about the game he's just about to release into the wild, Houses of the Blooded. And I'm really liking the way he thinks, so much so that I'm torn between using whatever readies I get from selling my D&D 3.5 books on D&D 4th Ed. Player's Handbook or on Houses.

I'm a Game Reviewer!

When I was growing up, one of the answers I gave to that perennial question, "So what do you want to do when you grow up?" was "Work at a newspaper." This was, of course, a cover for my real answer which was (and still is) "For crying out loud, I have no idea!"

But wouldn't you know it? I move out of the Big City at the beginning of 2005 and within six months I'm working at a newspaper. And in yesterday's edition of The Cairns Post: My review of Speed Racer: The Videogame for the Nintendo Wii.

Click on the image below for a PDF of the full page.

The Cairns Post 24 Jun 08, Page 16

Huge thanks to Vaughan Mayberry at The Cairns Post for the game!

June 24, 2008

Standing Up for My Tastes in RPGs

I believe every set of rules is intended to support a particular flavour of awesome, even though it mightn’t necessarily succeed. D&D supports a different kind of awesome than Dogs in the Vineyard. Feng Shui is pretty clear on its awesome, though. Its awesome comes about in the fight scenes, when the players are firing off each other and the GM to create memorable, fast-paced, stunt-laden action. It virtually requires players to be not only primed to fire when the fights roll around, but also be economical with between-fight scenes. In order to keep the snap of the session going, each scene that occurs between fights must either tie directly into one or more PCs’ melodramatic hooks or feature some really cool interplay (a’la the Vince & Jules “Big Macs in France” scene at the start of Pulp Fiction); otherwise, they should be excised swiftly and cleanly.

Saturday gone, the Feng Shui group not only didn’t go straight to the next fight, we fell into one of the hobby’s traps: Taking time to plan. And I don't mean staging one of those uber-cool scenes where the heroes roll out the blueprints of the enemy base and talk tough-yet-tense (think Star Wars: A New Hope, Aliens and the like). Oh, no. Within ten minutes of the session starting, when it was clear we needed to be at place X by time Y, my fellow players went into turtle mode, trying to figure out what weapons they might need and how early they should get to the scene of the next fight. The mindset is understandable; they’re trying to maximise the odds of their PCs surviving. It’s a mindset that’s been reinforced by highly tactical, “realistic” systems and RPG war stories of “killer GMs”. The problem is that this mindset drains any kind of dramatic tension from the game, and in a game of Feng Shui, this is a fate worse than death – I spent most of the four-hour session bored out of my mind.

To me, the answers to my fellow players’ questions were simple. What weapons might you need? The ones on your character sheet (and don't get me started on the tear gas). How early should we get to the scene of the next fight? At precisely the worst possible time for the bad guys to show up – in our case, two minutes before the magical Gate to the Netherworld was due to open for but a brief interval. Feng Shui allows, nay, caters for the best kind of action movie scene, the kind where our heroes are caught off guard, outgunned and outnumbered. Starting characters are highly competent and tough (not to mention that they completely heal between fights), and the dice mechanic is off-the-wall enough that even the craziest plans can work. Instead, we had a protracted planning session with a GM who hates maps at the best of times, and it didn’t really give us an advantage when the inevitable fight actually occurred.

In defence of the group, though, I think that Feng Shui wasn’t their game, even though we were all keen on it. Talking to our GM afterward revealed that he’s getting pretty bored with it, and the other players didn’t seem particularly bothered by the planning work. I’d already asked whether the pacing of the Feng Shui game could be stepped up. That’s not happened in either of the sessions since, so after four hours of boredom I begged off, saying had somewhere had to be – which was true, but I had at least half an hour’s wiggle room. Still, another half an hour of that session was more than I could stand right then.

There was talk about organising a D&D 4th Ed. campaign (the Player’s Handbook was being passed about before the game proper began, and I will admit it looks snazzy), which might be more to their tastes. Still, the pitched campaign didn’t sound particularly intriguing, so when asked whether I wanted to stay and talk character concepts, I insisted I had to be going.

As written before, I spoke to the GM about the session; in fact, I called him specifically to say that I’d decided to step out of the Feng Shui game. It’s interesting that Vickie was pretty insistent that I went out to game on Saturday; she pretty much told me when I got in and started bitching about the session that I needed to go in order to finally decide not to settle for less than what I want out of my gaming.

The trick, though, is finding out whether I can actually reach that goal myself. The last few times I’ve tried rule-sets intended to supply drama-driven gaming on the fly (Dogs in the Vineyard, Primetime Adventures), the results have been less than stellar, so I feel like I need more practice. I asked Vickie whether I could try GMing some Dogs with just her, which she’s sort of agreed to, but I might even have another player interested.

June 21, 2008

Pr0 at B0wl1ng

Just this evening, I went to a work social club function at the Cairns Goldpin Lanes. It was the last chance I'd have to get to hang out with a mate who's heading off to Brisbane, so I thought I'd better bring something special.

What did I bring?

Pwnage, baby. Pure Pwnage.

You feeling that? You feeling those five strikes in a row in the final three frames of the second match? That's pwn. That's raw, unfiltered, unfettered pwn FTW.

June 19, 2008

My Three Blogs

Since I got involved with the PMS Clan, I’ve been thinking about my web presence again; I’ve started getting a bit more active in various places and before Vickie hides my PC’s power cord because I’m spending too much time with it, I’d like to put some thought around my various web-presences and organise my various efforts.

So what are these web presences?

  • The very blog you're reading now. I call this web log my notepad and idea-journal, so it’s home to my thinkings, rants and the rare bout of fiction.

  • The Grin With Legs, my MySpace. I originally intended it as my “social calendar” blog, but after indoor soccer finished I pretty much left it alone. When I started courting the local divisions of the PMS / H2O Clan, I discovered that the clans and their members had MySpaces, so I started sending Friend requests, andmy blogging over there.

  • The PMS / H2O Clan blog. When the PMS Clan implemented its site redesign this week, one of the new features they added was member blogs, and I’d like to set one up for myself.

Before anyone starts worrying, IMAGinES sure as heck isn’t going anywhere. I think, though, that I’d benefit from working out what sort of posts I want to write for it. General news updates are good, but if I want to use the MySpace as more of a social hub, then I want to make sue I have something else, distinct from updates, to post, and I need to make sure it’s got a bit more, I dunno, meat than brain-dump wankery.

I’ve been tempted to close The Grin With Legs down and either start a new MySpace profile or switch to Facebook, the idea being to create a gaming-dedicated profile with a URL that matches my eventual H2O Clan ID/gamertag. On the other hand, though, I don’t want to cut the general social aspect out, and although I’ve heard that Facebook is busier, it’s apparently less social; it occupies your time with quizzes and apps instead of calendars, comments and blog posts. In the end, there’s nothing wrong with keeping my grinwithlegs URL; the background graphic I’ve designed will, I think, give the MySpace page all the gaming flavour I want to give it.

Which brings me to the PMS / H2O Clan blog. Many clan members have leapt upon this feature since it was set up, and I figure it’s a great way, in combination with the forums, to get involved with the clan (plus, they occasionally run contests based on blog posts). While I’ll probably harp on about games and gaming generally on IMAGinES and announce matches and tournaments on the MySpace, the clan blog will be the home for directly clan-related material – training notes, organisation, upcoming games, comments on cool clanners I’ve played with and the like. This might result in the odd cross-post from IMAGinES, but I have the feeling that the audiences of each blog aren’t likely to cross over too much. (I’m more than happy to be wrong about that, folks!)

June 14, 2008

Good Things Come...

In the midst of rising interest rates, skyrocketing petrol prices and gross grocery bills, it’s nice when live gives you something to smile about. For starters, publishers have glutted the office with comp copies of new novels, so I’ve been helping out by reading and reviewing some of them. Through this I’ve been introduced to the brilliant work of Scott Lynch; I’ve read both of his novels (so far) in the Gentleman Bastard Sequence, which is fantasy like I’ve never read it – street level, with a Tarantino-esque flair. Not even Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar stories have as much wit as The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies. Okay, maybe I’m slanging off a master just to get attention, but I really do prefer Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen to Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser.

Last week, though, I ploughed through The Host, a novel by Stephenie Meyer, whose Twilight young adult novels are being made into movies. The Host is her first adult novel, and I’d be tempted to call it an SF romance, except that title could put you folks in mind of McCaffrey or Lackey; this novel has tons more honest-to-God tension. If you can, buy it or borrow it from the library. I’m very glad I get to keep the books I review, because I really don’t want to let this one go.

At the moment, I’m reading City of Thieves by David Benioff, which, in a refreshing change of pace, is an utterly non-SF or fantasy novel set during the siege of Leningrad. So far so very gripping.

But going back to last week, the entertainment editor at the office pulled me aside one day and asked me whether he was right in remembering I had a Nintendo Wii. I said yes, and he asked me whether I’d be willing to review a comp copy of Speed Racer: The Videogame. I said yes, and it’s been sitting on the entertainment unit for a week waiting for me to take a break from clan training on Halo 3 to give it a whirl, which I did this morning. I definitely need to spend more time with it, including getting some multiplayer action in, to form some proper impressions, but at this early stage it’s reminding me of Wipeout, except with more chatter. Driving with the Wiimote is also a new and slightly weird experience.

So, good free novels and a chance to play a new videogame – which caused me to dust off the Wii, something I’ve not done in months (I was starting to think about selling it again).

Oh, and the PMS/H2O Clan have so far been a great bunch to play Halo 3 with; logging four hours a week has been a pleasure. The younger fellow I was assigned to mentor was kicked out for being too unruly, but they’re still keen on exploiting my non-gaming talents; once the clan forums are restored (the site is getting a complete overhaul of both back and front ends, with a sleek new look and a host of new features going online early this coming week) I’ve been asked to organise a monthly clan newsletter.

June 09, 2008

Forsaking the Forsaken for Water

Well, in a bit of an about face from my last big clan-related posting, I decided to quit The Forsaken Ones after all. Karlos got in touch on Saturday; he’d decided to quit the clan for his own reasons. As that meant our ladder team was down to four people, two of whom I couldn’t communicate with due to network conflicts, I decided to pull out as well.

I figured I’d go clanless for a little while – until I started playing some games with a few folks on my XBL Friends list. I’d been keeping an eye on the development of their clan for a little while, and they were friendly, communicated well and didn’t swear – probably because a good portion of them were female.

The PMS Clan (PMS is short for Pandora’s Mighty Soldiers, and before you roll your eyes, you might want to know that they once called themselves the Psychotic Man Slayerz) is actually an international league of female gamers who like to play the more “hardcore” types of game usually considered the exclusive province of blokes, mainly first-person shooters like the Halo, Rainbow Six and Call of Duty series, but also brawlers like Smash Bros. Brawl and the Street Fighter and Tekken series as well as the odd real-time strategy game.

You’d figure this clan would attract a lot of testosterone-poisoned gamers who see it as their gender's duty to demonstrate their supposed superiority to any gamer in a skirt, but I’ve noticed it also tends to attract a friendlier, more polite, less-inclined-to-trash-talk male gamer – and the PMS girls must have noticed too, because they’ve set up an additional clan for this type of fellow. It’s called the H2O Clan, and I’ve applied to join.

Now, you’ve read me bitching about how hard it was to organise the members of The Forsaken Ones. To my immense relief, even though the local PMS/H2O divisions are just getting on their feet, they’re already highly organised. The local PMS Clan already has a leadership structure in place, and these ladies are overseeing both divisions as a single “co-ed” clan until the H2O side gets on its feet. I spoke with the recruitment
manager on Saturday over Xbox Live, who’s granted me recruit status within the H2O Clan. This means I have a one-month probationary period during which I’ll be expected to log four hours per week with fellow H2O members. At the end of it, I attend a session where the recruitment manager explains the PMS/H2O code of conduct, and then I can (actually, the PMS/H2O code requires me to) add “H2O” to my Xbox Live Gamertag.

Normally, probation involves a buddy system where recruits are partnered with experienced hands who guide them in netiquette and the like, but I impressed the recruitment manager so much that another recruit has been assigned to me to mentor!

I’ll keep you posted, but suffice to say I’m looking forward to the end of probation on July 7th!