Thursday, November 30, 2006

I Lost A Pal Today.

Today at work, they pulled us aside in little groups to tell us the bad news -- my friend and co-worker Ben White died last night. He was 25.

We still don't know how. He wasn't ailing; there was no accident; aside from smoking he was in relatively good health. He just went to the bathroom and didn't come back.

Ben was a fellow geek; here at the office, he was One Of Us. He played Magic, used to play Dark Sun and had just gotten himself hooked on "Firefly". He was always a stand-up guy, mild-mannered and smart and great for sharing a laugh or a conversation about politics or just talking about stupid crap. He was fair and kind.

He was One Of Us.

I've known him for quite a while, as he used to buy his cards at my FLGS, when I worked there. I just had breakfast with him at the quarterly meeting on Tuesday -- all of us office nerds sat together and ate those awful instant scrambled eggs.

A damn shame. It was out of nowhere, man, just -- gone.

Ben, Manaboy...I'll miss you, me heartie.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pulp Mexico

NOTE: I'm sick today, so this post may be a little rambling and indirect. Sorry.

If you watch The Zahi Hawass Cha-- uh, The History Channel, you're likely to forget that there was ever an ancient pyramid-building civilization anywhere besides Egypt.

Look, no offense to Egypt and its rich culture, but...okay, okay, we get it. Nice pyramids. Mummies, gold artifacts, kings, tribute, engineering, advances.

All of these things happened in Central America, and they, too, are ripe fodder for adventure gaming.

A while back, Steve Jackson Games published GURPS Aztecs. It was written by Aurelio Locsin III, a gamer and Aztec culture buff. It's very well-researched and has a neat tool for simulating the Aztec calendar, which is the only time-keeping device I've ever heard of which has a blood-thirsty sun god on it. It's a neat book, but it's out of print -- you can buy a .pdf, though.

It reveals Aztec culture, civilization, beliefs, science, religion, magic and even food, talks about the Spanish conquest, and covers a lot of essential ground.

But we're gamers, and here's what we want to hear about: Weird-ass deities, lost temples, cannibals and gold. Aztecs? Check, check, check and checkcheckcheck. (Let me add in the words "Jaguar Warriors", and if you stop reading here because you've suddenly got an adventure to write, I'll totally understand.) But definitely, they had a lot of gold.

In fact...let me tell you a cool story about Aztec gold. It's an adventure seed, too!

Back in 1986 or 1987, a friend of my Dad's invited us to his house in the state of Puebla. Nice guy, and though I forget his name, I remember that he was very welcoming, fed us a lot, had a lot of kids and let me look at all his old Duda ("Doubt") Magazines -- think Mexican Fortean Times. He was into that kind of thing, and he had a motorcycle. (He also had a daughter whom, I think, he and my Dad were trying to steer my attention towards, but I'm not sure.)

Anyway, he took us for a picnic atop a volcano, the name of which I naturally forget (twenty years ago, man!). The volcano's long since dead, and the caldera's full of cold water. We went up there anyway, because we were crazy. I took this picture, so it's blurry, sorry.

While we were up there, our host related to us a cool anecdote. You see, every Mexican schoolchild knows that the Aztec emperor Cuauhtémoc had a team of runners -- literally, guys who ran all over the empire, delivering messages or sometimes just getting him fresh fish for dinner, from the coast (it's good to be the huey tlatoani!). They also know that when the Spanish came into the city of Tenochtitlan (we call it Mexico City now), they were itchin' for some of the sweet, sweet Aztec gold that was lying around. Also well known is that the Spanish captured and tortured Cuauhtemoc, burning his feet, demanding to know where his treasury was. Famously, The Big C kept mum and the Spanish...well...took everything anyway. (Thank goodness for pirates! Yarrr!)

Anyway. What most people don't know, said our host, was that Cuauhtemoc figured the Spanish were going to want just that as they marched on Tenochtitlan, and so he gathered up his runners and instructed them to get as much gold as they could out of the treasury, run it up the very volcano upon which we then stood, and dump it in the lake. Sploosh! Ice-cold and dangerous, it'd guard the gold forever.

The topper? Supposedly, a small expedition followed up on that story in the 20th century, and divers went into the lake. It was too deep, cold, and dangerous to plumb safely, so they abandoned the search...

...but not before finding a piece or two of Aztec gold.

Truth? Rumor? Outright lie? I'm not sure I care. All I see is an opportunity for adventure.

How 'bout you?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Mexico: The Cyberpunk City

Okay, so I used to live in Mexico City. Some of you knew, some of you just found out. Interesting story, but long. Maybe later.

Now, here's the thing. I lived there between 1981 and 1987, and visited again in 1995. This does not make me an expert on the place, by far, but I know enough and remember enough and have experienced enough to say this, with confidence, beyond doubt:

Nuts to Night City. This is your cyberpunk town.

The place is a pressure cooker, a powder keg, a freaking study of culture- and technoshock full of darkness and beauty. My stepmom, who is Mexican and visits regularly, puts it this way: "I am awed that a city with so many people and so many problems functions from day to day".

So why cyberpunk? Well, if this Wikipedia entry on the infamous marketplace of Tepito doesn't get your cylinders firing, let me tell you my favorite story about Mexico City, which occurred in August of 1995.

Relax, it has pictures.

I was on my own that day, in downtown Mexico City, and had just had lunch at the famous House of the Tiles. It's an historical building, left over from the colonial era, when Spain conquered and occupied the city (which, itself, was a marvel of engineering and city planning even then, in the 1500s, when it was built on top of a freaking lake).

Today, it houses a restaurant and store which caters to international travellers. That's right -- you can sit inside of history, eat tacos, and read a copy of today's New York Times. Oh, and buy an AC/DC converter for your shaver, if you're from Europe.

Are you keeping track of the cultural influences?


Well, having finished lunch, I went for a walk (after checking out copies of Der Spiegel and TIME Magazine). Just a few blocks down, I got to the Palace of the Fine Arts -- a neoclaccisist building of such ridiculous hugeness that it is sinking, measurably, into the ground. It hosts both traditional and modern music, dance, folk art, and everything in between.

Keep counting.

I was across the street from the place; just to my left, on my side of the street, was one of the only American-style bookstores in town -- The Ghandi Bookstore. Just down the street was a VIPS -- clearly, it is Mexican Denny's. It caters to middle-class families, young adults, the like. Nice place.

But the real draw was the little old woman.

Iron-grey hair. Hand-made shawl. When I say the words "little old Mexican Woman", the image you get is what she looked like.

She was on the sidewalk, on her haunches, and she had a tarp in front of her -- bright blue plastic, like a Summer sky.

She had merchandise for sale. Carefully arranged, in little rows.

Guess what she was selling?

That, my friends, is why Mexico City is The Cyberpunk Setting That Gamers Forgot.

TOMORROW: Pulp Mexico!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

You Have One, Right...?

If you're reading this blog, chances are that you know what book this is, even if you don't own one now.

The question is – if you don't own one now, why don't you own one now?

I myself never owned the 1st Ed. DMG until about 2001, when my girlfriend (whom I married, for reasons which will soon become glaringly obvious) dug up her old one and gave it to me (see?). I was playing 3.0 at the time, but as soon as I met Gary Gygax's nigh-overwrought gamemaster's wonderland, it was love at first sight.

Sure, I got by without for the first 13 years of my gaming life, but
having had ample time to examine and explore this tome since I acquired it, I am confident in making this statement:

Dude, you gotta get you one of these.

Look, it was state of the art in 1978, back when Leo Sayer roamed the Earth. But it's also a gem of the Dawn of Role-Playing, a veritable engine of creation which, like it or not, helped to shape the hobby as we know it. After all, it was the first real how-to manual for Dungeon Masters.

So is the book's value purely historical? Is it just a curio, an antique, an anthropological record?

No my friends. It's chock full of charts and tables, yo.

As I have mentioned before, I am increasingly enchanted by the suggestive powers of random charts. The 1st Ed. DMG turns 'em out to make the money, and you can use its resources to generate castles, people's personalities (hell, even their interests), piles of treasure, NPC goes on.

In case you're wondering what good this all is to the FRPG gamemaster of 2006, let me tell you about Lord Obregon, the increasingly-cranky paladin lord of Castle Foxmoor, whose obsessive interest in legends, coupled with his increasing fanaticism and intolerance, is getting him all itchy to unleash any manner of crusade or pogrom any minute now. Obregon, by the way, holds a small territory and oversees a pair of vassals – a fighter and a rogue, probably former adventuring partners or maybe just chosen underlings, who will doubtless be bent to his whim. Say, which one of them might choose to betray the old man, and hook up with some adventurers and warn them -or enlist them- against the crazy paladin's overzealous schemes?

All the makings of a memorable fantasy villain, spawned of my imagination...spurred on by the DMG's castle generation and charcater Trait tables.

[Okay, I used the extended castle tables from Dragon #145, too, but Obregon himself came out of rolls on the DMG's own tables.]

Perhaps more importantly, it's a great textbook. The 1st Ed. DMG, being the first text of its kind, is an excellent primer for the established GM. It's a look at how to do it with no preconceptions, no history, no experience; it's a kick in the pants to shake out the dust.

No, no, my brutha – you got to get your own.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Look, Ma! No Brakes!

The other day my wife, my daughter and I went shopping. I try to take some reading material for those moments when The Bumples (that's my kid) takes a nap and I stay in the car with her, or for when my wife hits up the fabric store and I most decidedly do not*.

Upon this day I elected to take with me a binder of game notes.

Within it, I found part of a D&D 3.0 adventure of my own devise, titled "The Lake Of Woe". It had Nelwyns in it, 'cause I was totally in a Willow mood.

It also detailed the NPC council members of a little town, the sole purpose of which was to lead the PCs to the secretive Nelwyn village. Seriously. It was just a stop on the road, good for two or three encounters meant for exposition and exposition alone. And yet I had written down names, classes and levels for NPCs that I'd use, like, once. Tops.

And I started to remember the giddy pleasure I took in the act of creating all this minute, ridiculous detail. Man, was that ever fun. Useless, ultimately (especially since I never actually ran the damned thing) but defnitely fun. Looking back on it, however, I can recall that I started doing it...and didn't seem to know when to stop.

That's a struggle of mine; getting carried away with my creations. There are times when I want to, say, explore the minute, mundane details about a place, or a person, or a device; it makes for interesting backstory but rarely good drama. Micromanaging is fascinating but ultimately only fun for one person, and that's why The Sims sold so well, I guess.

The good thing, though, is that I can now look at "The Lake Of Woe" (unfinished as it is) and see it as something wholly different:

A scrapyard.

Dude, I've got two towns, several NPCs, a couple of plot hooks and at least two interesting encounters sitting there, ready to be yoinked and re-used. Next time I need a boisterous, ill-mannered gnome who hates Nelwyns (or anybody else for that matter), the hard work is done and it's called Butterhock Stickertoes.

And he has a pageboy haircut. Because, yes, I wrote that in my notes.

[Quick Aside: I must be a Willow fan or something because I keep mentioning it in this blog. What's up with that? That said, Allen Varney's Willow Sourcebook (Tor Books, 1988, ISBN 0312930836) rocks, and if you can land a copy, do so. Well-written, full of interesting plot hooks and NPCs, and it has ersatz AD&D 1st Ed. stats to boot.]

*Frankly, our local Jo-Ann Fabrics wouldn't be so bad if it had art supplies, too, but it doesn't. Ergo, it loses.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Brief Digression: She's Not So Good At "Jeopardy!"

-- but Bebe Neuwirth is a full-on, hot jets babe.


A Big Fat Apology


I don't know what I'm doing.

Look, I...I was trying to set the Comments section of the blog to such a status that I could delete comments after they were made, because I had some spam and crap.


If someone would be so kind as to illuminate me as to how to set it up so that comments go up ASAP BUT I can retroactively kack the ones that go "I was looking at your blog and I think you should buy this singing dildo", please -- please do so.

Sorry, to all of you. And here I was, like, "Ummm...why no one make comment on my blog? *sniff sniff* It stinky blog?"

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Who'd'a Thunk It? Mike Pondsmith, Apparently

Not long ago, the subject of TSR's old Buck Rogers in the 25th Century RPG (1990) came up on TheRPGSite. As it happens, I have the game and never did much with it, so I decided to haul it out of its crate and have a look at it.

I immediately remembered why I never did anything with it, but that's a topic for a forthcoming review on the aforementioned site. That said, the game's not bad at all, really. In fact, it's written pretty well, and by Mike "Cyberpunk" Pondsmith, too.

Well, Mike's got a pretty handy (albeit brief) section on GM advice, including a shockingly good technique for adventure generation.

You might know it as my own Adventure Funnel.

Well, it's pretty close, anyway; he suggests that you start out by defining a goal, then list all the obstacles in the PCs' path, then brainstorm ways to weave those obstacles together into a narrative, providing propulsion and momentum for the adventure as you do so.



I took my process from Robin's Laws of Good Gamemastering, but Pondsmith came up with it in 1990 at the latest. I've had the Buck Rogers game since about 1994 or so. As I said, I never read too much of it.

I guess I should have!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

That Scrambled Word Game!

US readers are likely familiar with "Jumble", a long-running newspaper puzzle feature. In "Jumble", you are given a set of 5 ordinary words whose letters have been scrambled; then, you unscramble them. They rarely make legible anagrams, as one might expect.

But sometimes, you get some interesting things that look like words. Or maybe...

...maybe they look like SF and fantasy character names.

It's a neat trick; try it sometime. First time I did it was kind of by accident, and not very drastic; I named a D&D NPC "Drogan" because I mispelled "dragon" while making notes. Recently, though, I used it actively, turning someone's long-ago Star Wars character's name ("Greyson") into an NPC for the aforemenioned Free Company game ("Roygens").

An easy way to generate content, eh? Eh? Eh?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Brief Digression: I Question My Race's Judgement...

...when VH-1 says, "Hey, guys! Rank the top 100 songs of the 1980s!"

And Humanity, my race, my people, my kin, put Bon Jovi's "Livin' On A Prayer" at number one and "Don't You Want Me?", the best song EVER FREAKING RECORDED BY SOMETHING WITH A BRAIN, is stranded at...what? Fifty-something?

That's it. I'm turning robot.

The Unmistakable Taste Of The Bullet I noted before, I just don't get to game much. My wife and I agree on this, and since we both love this stupid hobby to death, we've decided to do something about it.

Actually we're doing something about a few things, but this is a blog about games and not my personal life, and that's why you're here. One of those things is going to be a game run at my Local.

The idea is for me to get out of the house now and then, and run a game with folks outside of my usual group. Here's the thing, though: the most popular games at the FLGS are called "D" and "D".

I'm not interested in playing D&D, at least not with the current rules, because I'm not really a fan. They bug me. No harm, no foul, but no spooning on a cold winter night, either.

Luckily the manager is one of my best friends, and he clued me in to the local gamers' tastes: they'd like a SF game, but they want to bust heads and make broken characters, so I should be ready for that. A nice game of Traveller might appeal to them -- eventually.

They need to grow up a bit, these guys. Need to learn to play roles, not just stats.

Obviously running something that the store actually sells, but their non-d20 selection is slender.

Fine, fine. Okay. I'll play ball.

I have the D20 Mondern and D20 Future SRDs, and since I like D20M a little more than I like 3.x...and it's closer to what the yoots dig... D20 Future it is.

And I'm applying some of the new flava I've talked about here -- hell, I'm stealing names, locations and even situations with the shamelessness of a horny monkey. Thus the inception of Free Company, a D20 Future campaign based nigh-plagiraistically on Iain M. Banks' novel "Consider Phlebas" as well as the original anime Sol Bianca and with a little dash of R. E. Howard's Conan stories. Interstellar mercenary mayhem, lasers, starships, GFS and desert moons inhabited by reclusive monks with supercomputers. They'll get to bust asses hither and yon, get into and back out of big trouble, and generally tear it up.

The catch?

Every player must present his character to me, first, in the form of a one-line character concept.

Hmn. Lead doesn't taste so bad...

My Kid Is Cuter Than My Blog

In an effort to re-distribute my time allocations, I Waste The Buddha With My Crossbow became a temporary victim of, uh, I was away for a while.

And now, back to the game chatter.

My kid is absolutely adorable, by the way.