Saturday, April 29, 2017

New Geek Gab! New Razorfist! More Fun For EVERYONE!

Today was meant to be the day when Geek Gab hosted a return of both John C. Wright and Razorfist, and this time adding Jeffro Johnson. Unfortunately, Razorfist had a family emergency and had to drop out; hopefully he'll be on next week or so. Therefore, he won't be in this episode. To compensate, I'm embedding below his hot new review of Revenge of the Ninja. Enjoy, folks!

Friday, April 28, 2017

My Life as a Gamer: The Feedback Loop That Drives RPG Gameplay

A good game design features fundamental play procedures that create self-reinforcing feedback loops. In tabletop RPGs, the first one is the one around which the entire genre of game revolves: "What Do You Do?" For those that missed it previously, the loop is this simple:

  • Game Master describes current situation.
  • Players decide what to do.
  • Game Master adjudicates results and announces consequences.
  • Situation updates; return to start and repeat until resolved.

That's not just combat. That's everything, at every scale and encompassing every scope. This is the fundamental feedback loop to which everything else attaches.

If there is some activity that comes up routinely, it's not wrong to systematize it into just such a mechanic. Various editions of Dungeons & Dragons do this with exploration- both overland and underground. This is where the "crawl" comes from, as it is this gameplay-driving feedback loop in action.

  • Advance a given space over a unit of time.
  • Execute discovery operation in the new space.
  • Deal with encountered creatures or devices, update situation and repeat until concluded.
  • Update situation; return to start and repeat until concluded.

Now that you see how this feedback loop drives gameplay, you can easily adapt the loop to systematize on the spot any other activity that is routine in your specific campaign. The specifics will vary, and so therefore will be the specific rulings that you must issue to do so. Yes, this can be done in terms of the OODA Loop, and while that's not a conscious design decision by Gygax or Arneson it applies because tabletop RPGs are wargame derivatives- that's how and why it's applicable.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Geek Gab Gaiden: The Old School Renaissance in Tabletop RPGs!

A very special episode of the Geek Gab went down tonight. As I write this post, it just ended so the embedded podcast archive is hot off the presses.

This was the first of Geek Gab's specials that depart from the usual weekend afternoon show, and we had a hell of a good time talking about tabletop RPGs, how they used to be, how they went so very very wrong, and how the Old School Renaissance is finally bringing back the good stuff we were so foolish to throw away in the first place- the things that make this medium great!

And speaking of great specials, tune in Saturday for the second coming of Wright & Razorfist! Pulp aplenty shall be had, and more crazy conversations than at an Antifa meeting (and certainly more entertaining by far). Saturday, folks! Subscribe to the Gab and get your notifications!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

My Life as a Gamer: Lancer's Rockers

Anime fans today don't appreciate how easy they've got it. Back in the 80s and early 90s, "anime" means you watched and like Voltron, Robotech, older shows like Speed Racer, and super-robot shows like Tranzor Z- all of which were often cutups taken from Japanese shows that merged two or more unrelated series together to meet the standards for syndication. If you wanted the originals, you (a) had to know that they existed and (b) had to be tied into the club network to get fan-made subtled VHS copies. That wasn't me.

I resorted to tabletop RPGs to satisfy what the shows themselves could not. Since I wasn't in a place where Champions was a thing, using the HERO System wasn't an option. R. Talsorian's Mekton was only in its second edition, and wouldn't properly be able to do its stated job until the second edition's Technical Manual (which published the first version of the full build system). When I was in high school, that didn't exist. Therefore, there was only one viable option: Palladium's official licensed Robotech RPG.

The best of Palladium's adventure support for the original edition (and, to date, for both editions) is another work that Jeff Gomez did: Lancer's Rockers. The premise is simple: years after the conclusion of the "New Generation" era in the series, the war against the Invid remnant on Earth continues. The heroes of that era split up after Scott Bernard left Earth, and a new threat now rises aiming to destroy the nascent human resurgence. The key to its defeat is to return the hero Lancer to the fight, and that's where the PCs come in.

If there is any place where "sanctioned fanfic" is acceptable, it's in tabletop RPGs, and that's what this adventure is. You're there to seek out one of the most notable heroes of the series, and then do a Save The Hero From Despair plot. Being that this is an adventure premised on the rock star of the series, the plot revolves around music and sonic technology- known as "instrumecha". Yes, they are are earnestly absurd as it sounds, and it's part of the charm: overcoming the enemy with the power of Rock & Roll.

Where this adventure shows its age is in its villain: a former Soviet Army officer. Yes, that's right, in the far future of 2045 the Soviet Union somehow still exists. Much like Bubblegum Crisis mentioning West Germany as still a thing in the 2030s, this clearly shows when it got made. To be fare, I had no clue that the Soviet Union was about to collapse then; it came out of nowhere, much as German reunification did. So this didn't seem out of place at the time.

But I ran this adventure, and I ran it straight, and it worked. 80s-style rock-and-roll rebels on motorcycles fighting the (alien) man, dreaming of a better tomorrow, and playing the hot licks after hours to keep morale up. The guys and I didn't see it at the time, but this might as well have been a Megazone 23 series.

Yes, all of the plot beats you expect from a music-heavy SF story are present: sonic weapons, big sonic weapons, dueling sonic weapons, battle-of-the-bands, trash talk aplenty, earnest romantics as your heroes, and demoralized folks as obstacles the heroes need to overcome with the courage born from music. You can hear the RUSH soundtrack already, can't you?

The villain collaborates with the aliens, of course, and the evil humans have comparable (though plain) copies of the heroes' arms and vehicles. Get The Band Back Together (somewhat). Alien-Human robots! (One of which wields a robot-sized hammer and sickle pair, in one of those too-silly moments that works in context.) Evil is actually EVIL! Good is actually GOOD! If the dice are with the players, victory has a real satisfaction to it. I had to extrapolate a lot, as the module itself lacks things like maps and other necessary scenario information, but I made it work- something I later found out was NOT a common experience.

Looking back now, the issues I had running this adventure module was that it was a linear plot; it should have been developed as a comic or novel and not an adventure module. Had I not had the players roll with the premise, this would've gone down like the Hindenberg; were I to run it now, it would only be an element in a much larger (and properly structured) campaign of this sort. If Palladium had a clue, they'd cut a deal for a videogame adaptation in partnership with Harmony Gold because this module is perfect for that medium.

Maybe I'll get into this in more detail down the road, but if you really want to get the zeitgeist of Robotech and its three component series, in tabletop RPG form track down a copy of this module and read that sliver-thin thing. It's amazing how it did as well as it did in its day, and I credit that to Jeff Gomez and John Frater- especially knowing now how Siembieda operates as an editor and publisher. (I don't even entertain writing for him for a reason.)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

My Life as a Gamer: The Forest of Broken Wings

In the 1990s, Palladium Books hadn't quite yet gone all-in on RIFTS. The company's fantasy RPG, The Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game, never got past its origin as being a heartbreaker retread of Dungeons & Dragons, but it acquired and retained its fanbase and at this point it got much-desired supplementary material released regularly.

I enjoyed the game at the time, being in high school then, as it played to a rather common desire for more involved mechanical gameplay. I already played Robotech and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness by then, so this was a natural lateral move. (Especially since traditional monsters were default-playable character options, and magic did not make mundane characters pointless.)

Getting folks into this not-D&D wasn't easy until Adventures in the Northern Wilderness hit the stands and that's because most of that supplement was adventures- something otherwise sorely lacking, and necessary at the time.

While others are worthy of comment, for reasons both fair and foul, one stuck with me over the years and that's the one in the title: "The Forest of Broken Wings". This adventure was a true blending of horror and adventure, the sort that you would find in Howard's "Worms of the Earth", without once mentioning Cthulhu tropes. One isolated village deep in the wilderness, one dragon of a sort not seen in Pink Slime fantasy, and the PCs have a choice: risk their lives, under very real threat of failure and death, for the sake of a single child and the villagers wherein said child lives in a battle that will not be remembered by any but those who survive it- no glory, no treasure, no power, nothing but a clean conscious as your reward.

That struck me hard as a young man in high school. It stuck with me all through the years since. That's the sort of experience I'd been after in tabletop RPGs, and rarely did I find it; it turns out that most people are out for glory, treasure, and power for their own sake, and I've learned to cope with disappointment. I marked the man behind it--Jeff Gomez--and for the rest of his time with the company I found that he made the adventures I wanted out of my gaming experiences. (I'll talk about the other big adventure module he did for Palladium tomorrow.)

I still have my copy of Adventures, and that adventure module is why. Even though Jeff has since gone on to far, far greater things I still remember his time with Palladium Books fondly. Down the road I'll get more into this adventure module and break down the hows and whys behind it.

Monday, April 24, 2017

On Writing: The Habit That's Leading to Success

The last two week have been interesting. My daily blogging got noticed by first the folks over at Castalia House, and regular appearances in the Sensor Sweep have lead to new opportunities. The first, which I mentioned at the Study, is that I'm now part of a fiction anthology project put together by Jesse Lucas. The second is that I am now a contributing blogger at the SuperversiveSF blog. I'll post there a few times a week, and you'll see that post come up on the Blog Roll to the right here.

That's all good news, and I expect that if I can keep this up it will bring me more down the road, but I want to take a moment here to confirm something Scott Adams said a while back when talking about why Trump gets where he wants to go in like: he makes success a habit, not a goal, and he does it by cultivating and curating a stack of useful talents as the core of this habit.

The core habit a writer, regardless of what they want to write, is to write. Backside in the chair, either typing or hand-writing, every single day. That's why I took up blogging, and why I do it every day. It's there to get me writing, and keep me writing, so that not only is posting a habit but all of the things that goes into being a successful writer get daily reinforcement as a result of blogging daily.

It's not different, in essence, from being a daily columnist for a newspaper. The key differences are that I choose the topic and have no editors other than myself to satisfy. The other writers that I know now visit this blog in particular (if not the other two I maintain) can confirm the importance of making this a habit and not a goal in the comments below. Moving from this to writing stories is then a matter of making a lateral move and then extending existing practices to incorporate a few new elements; trainers, I think you can speak to how you develop someone's capabilities, so you too are welcome to comment on such below.

10,000 pots. That's what this path is: 10,000 pots to mastery, but before then you're going to get noticed and that is what's going on now. I've got plenty left to learn, so I'm making that a habit now too, as I did when I was in university.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

My Life in Fandom: Alternatives to Star Wars - Honorable Mentions

I spent most of last week giving alternatives to Star Wars for those wanting Space Opera that isn't pozzed, and I stuck to the examples I gave due to either their fundamental importance (Lensman) or their consistent high profile (all the anime), but there's more out there and before I move on to another topic I'm going to give some other mentions (some of which I've posted about previously) that merit inclusion.

  • Legend of the Galactic Heroes: This is as Space Opera as it gets without being literally a Science Fiction Opera, and it's one of the best to come out of Japan that I haven't already mentioned. Truly interstellar in scale and scope, with heroes and villains on both sides, manly men and womanly women in both major and minor roles. Now that the light novels are available easily in English, I hope that we'll finally get that official home video release (and that it will be better than all of the fansubs that float around the grey streaming sites) that many of we fans long for.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: This is mostly in and around Earth, but that's still Space Opera just as much as the original Macross franchise is, and this gets more apparent in later entries into the franchise. Thanks to GundamInfo, getting legal access to the franchise's anime is increasingly easy-peasy (and, of course, links to the massive merchandise available). No pozzing in the original, and the more recent stuff shows what happens when pozzing occurs. (It doesn't go well.)
  • Battlestar Galactica: In particular, I'm looking at the original series from the late 1970s and not the remake from last decade, which definitely chased the zeitgest of Star Wars. It's deeply flawed, and the 1980 series is abominable, but you can see why this took off when it did. (I loved it as a kid, recycled footage and all.) Compare and contrast with the Buck Rogers series that came in this same era.
  • Babylon 5: This is one of the best Western popular media examples to come out of television, and as a narrative it still holds up now. (You can see the executive meddling easily, which is where the series is weak.) Still easily found online, and DVDs aren't hard to get. Watch this if you haven't; you'll see that Lensman influence clearly.

I'm focusing on popular fiction, and as anyone following this blog can notice that doesn't include post-1980s SF books or comics (and not that many pre-1980 either) due to all the pozzing that's gone on in the traditional publishing field. The reach of that medium retreated, becoming a route after Star Wars, and as such few works have the influence that their predecessors possess- and those that did, aren't having what they want in influence.

As for the works abroad, good God are there a lot of Japanese Space Operas and a lot of them are watchable/readable if not excellent. If I named them all I'd break the post editor, so don't take exclusion as disapproval. (I'll note that Banner of the Stars and its sequel are worth watching.) Furthermore, I can't know everything, so if you've got something that should be considered put it in the comments below (and show your work; explain why).