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).

Saturday, April 22, 2017

My Life as a Gamer: Tabletop RPGs on SuperversiveSF

The folks at SuperversiveSF held one of their regular roundtables today, and this one was on tabletop RPGs, so of course I was there in the chat. But, before I get ahead of myself let me embed the archive of the livestream so you can enjoy this glorious gathering of writing gamers and gaming writers for yourself.

This was a lot of fun, and if you caught it live then you had the added bonus of the chat being just as lively as the actual livestream. I did get called out by name thanks to Jeffro Johnson bringing up my post on Piloting the Mech, which lead to me getting into contact with SuperversiveSF for stuff down the road. That's fantastic, as I may well be invited for future livestreams or do guest posts at the blog.

As for the podcast itself, this was rollicking good time, a rambling conversation that talked a lot on the intersection of gaming and literature and how various permutations came to be. Skip the crap TV and put this on instead.

Friday, April 21, 2017

My Life in Fandom: Alternatives to Star Wars - The Leijiverse

Leiji Matsumoto is one of the great anime legends of Japan. In addition to his role in contribute to Space Battleship Yamato, he went on to create other classics of Space Opera that (like Yamato) exerted great influence across the world ever since. Rather than give each work its own entry, I'm grouping them together under their fan-created collective name: the Leijiverse.

Captain Harlock is the most well-known entry in this shared universe. (And I say "universe" because the man doesn't give a damn about continuity, so don't even bother trying to keep it all straight- it ain't.) Here's a manly hero, often accompanied by other manly heroes, fighting many a wicked villain out of Romantic notions of duty, obligation, and a clear sense that This Has To Stop. The women in his life are willowly, feminine ladies- some combat-capable, some not, none to be taken lightly. The "opera" is almost literal at times, and there's star-faring for days.

Galaxy Express 999 is the second-best known and it borders on Fairy Tale at times, but this is very much a Boy's Own Adventure done as a Space Opera.

The hero is a boy out to turn himself into a full-conversion cyborg, but to do that he needs to ride on the titular space train to go to the planet where that happens. A mysterious woman hooks him up, on the condition that they travel together, and Adventure Ensues.

This is far more about the moral level of conflict than anything else, and what our boy hero goes through dramatically changes him. You see this clearly in the sequel, where our boy edges into adolescence, and he goes on another star-faring adventure that (again) changes how he sees himself and the universe. Later entries build upon this foundation, and we often have appearances by Harlock and Esmeraldas at critical points in the narrative.

Queen Esmeraldas focuses on one of the recurring heroines of the Leijiverse, Harlock's peer and counterpart, and as close to a tomboy as Matsumoto gets in most of his works. As with 999 this is a Boy's Own Adventure with the title character playing the mysterious woman role. The relationship is not the same, but similar enough; this is meant to follow 999 and its sequels so it falters a bit as a stand-alone story, but if you're watching this then you're likely already a fan.

The Leijiverse here has its share of action, adventure, and romance. No lightsabers as such, but you'll get your swashbuckling itches scratched here. The heroes are heroic, sometimes even when serving villainous masters, and the heroines are (even when they're Esmeraldas) feminine and make no excuses for it. If anime isn't your thing, try tracking down the manga versions instead.

Either way, this a treat and you should indulge in some of the best Space Operas to come out of Japan. They're not that hard to find at Amazon, but the prices vary by the product due to licensing issues; the streaming sites usually have the essentials, but I have yet to find one that has everything ever animated. Nonetheless, the Leijiverse is fantastic- just ask Daft Punk, who are a part of it now:

Thursday, April 20, 2017

My Life in Fandom: Alternatives to Star Wars - Macross

Japan not only has a long practice of making their own Space Operas, they're also very practiced as franchising the hell out of them, such that Lucas's building up such a business with Star Wars can look shabby by comparison. There is no better example of a long-running Japanese Space Opera franchise than the Macross franchise, and it all begins with the '80s classic that remains a great work to itself: Super-Dimensional Fortress Macross.

It's huge, with entries going well into the present (Macross Delta is the most recent), but you don't have to take all of that in at once. The heart of the series, and the franchise, remains the original early-80s series. Start here if you have no familiarity with the franchise. You swap lightsabers and explicit superpowers for fighters that transform into giant robots in order to fight giant aliens in giant robots, and the importance of culture towards victory.

Our hero is the typical Japanese protagonist: a young, earnest man out to prove himself. The villains are not all unredeemable, but the ones that are most certainly are properly villainous and come to satisfying ends. The heroines are feminine, and the villainesses by their lack of it. Victory comes bittersweet, very much so (in typical Japanese style), but it is a victory in both the military and the moral sense.

"But wait! This isn't interstellar!" you say. Nonsense; it's "Space Opera", not "Star Opera", and man are the relationships in this series both true to life and tense at times. The heroes face challenges that they don't always overcome, and when they fail you can see how their flaws made those failures possible. The music that this series is famous for is not just a soundtrack; it's a key element in many stories in the franchise, often plot-defining ones, and the relationships are signified by the music featured.

If you love action, you won't be disappointed. While there isn't much in the way of fleet battles, this series is famous for its dogfights and man-to-man action scenes. You'll get that in spades here, and you'll get them with heart, tension, and occasional tragedy. While other entries may do this or that better, the original series has it all; you won't be disappointed.

A note about the rest of the franchise: Other entries are not strictly Space Opera. Macross Zero is entirely on Earth, as it's a Prequel to the original series, and more of Weird War with the usual Romance. Macross Plus is far heavier on the Opera than the Space, as it's about dueling test pilots and the woman in common between them. Macross 7 gets a bit wacky at times, mocking its own tropes at times. Do You Remember Love and Macross II are in-setting feature films. Frontier and Delta are (like 7) proper sequels in the spirit of the original.

As such, many of the issues we talk about with Star Wars have come up here, but never has this franchise suffered from the same problems that the Mouse did to Lucasfilm. Nonethless, it's worthwhile to see where they misstepped, and how they dealt with it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

My Life in Fandom: Alternatives to Star Wars - Space Battleship Yamato

While we who are willing and able work on forking Star Wars, do note that Japan did that decades ago. One of the most well-known examples of Japan making their own Space Operas is Space Battleship Yamato, a series that first ran in the 1970s riding a wave of science fiction TV animation that still has major worldwide influence to this day. (Including a recent remake, Space Battleship Yamato 2199, shown here.)

Again, the Infogalactic links will give you all that you require in terms of factual information, so let me tell you why you should watch this (either the original or the remake) as an alternative to Star Wars, and how this series exerts its influence decades later in its own right.

The stakes are big. Mankind is on the bring of extinction, losing badly in a war against an interstellar empire, and if not for the intervention of a friendly alien civilization there would be no hope at all. This is an existential threat that demands heroes rise to the occasion, and our protagonist does just that- along with everyone else. If you're not seeing the parallel to Japan's position post-Midway in World War II, you're not paying attention.

The villains are evil, hands down. The remake narrows down the true villains to the ruling caste of the alien empire, but they remain villains; the tragedy comes from the increased presence of the villains exploiting their own heroes for evil ends. (If you read Anonymous Conservative, you'll recognize that for what it is: r-type elites getting their own K-types killed to eliminate the competition.) As such, they are routinely undone by their own flaws before the heroes finish the job.

The heroes are not driven by nihilistic pragmatism; especially in the remake, those who go that route always end badly. The heroes (on both sides) are Romantic at heart, driving by passions for hearth, home, and family. When they encounter their alien counterparts, and can actually talk to them, this common sensibility is what allows Earth to make allies in the alien empire. Good knows its own.

While proper fleet actions are few (due to the Yamato being a Hero Ship on its own much of the time), we do see (especially in the remake) some respect for space as a 3D environment, but the wet navy metaphor remains apparent. (Clearly so when the sub-space submarine shows up.) The space combat easily is better than all but a few scenes in any Star Wars media to date, and the dogfights are awesome.

Our hero, as is typical, is a young man out to prove himself. He's earnest, honest, brave, and honorable- and his love is dignified, graceful, attentive, loyal, and compassionate. The master villain is a conceited, arrogant prick who's also a genius at manipulation and charismatic to dangerous degrees; his subordinates vary in their vices, but some are more effective than others- and they stab each other in the back readily. Heroes you can love and care about. Villains you can hate and despise.

As, as is typical with Japanese Space Opera, we get a bittersweet ending- but a hopeful one. Everyone gets what they deserve. This is well worth the viewing; many Japanese series after the original's first airing clearly show its influence, especially in the Hero Ship being a trope to itself, but even in the West we've got reactions of sorts. (The titular ship in Battlestar Galactica is a Hero Ship, and many of its characters in the original version map to the original Yamato; we can already see an influence across the ocean within a decade.)

The catch is that official releases are not cheap or easy to find, and livestreams take you into the grey zone online, but they are out there and often of as good a quality as you can get. However, the soundtrack and some clips are easily available so let me show you one from early in the series- this is from the remake, when the Yamato attacks alien-held Pluto:

You won't go wrong with this ones, folks. Sure, you're lacking the lightsabers, but you won't miss them.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

My Life in Fandom: Alternatives to Star Wars - Lensman

So, while you want for we who are willing and able to make our own Star Wars, I think it's time to look at alternatives that scratch that itch. We're talking Space Opera, so let's go back to the series that invented it: The Lensman series, by E.E. "Doc" Smith.

The Infogalactic link above aptly summarizes the series and its place in history, so I'm going to focus on why you should read this. First, and foremost, every Space Opera going forward draws upon the foundation Smith laid here.

Love the lightsaber action of Star Wars, or the mysticism of the Force? Done better here, and far earlier, with Lensman and the Lens. Love giant robots or powered armor? He did powered armor first, not Robert Heinlein, and Smith's conception is still as tough or tougher than many later conceptions. Fleet battles and superweapons? Biggest, better, bolder, and properly three-dimensional. (To the point of directly inspiring the modern Command-and-Control Center.) Faster Than Light travel? Better than all of his successors, and far more consistent- to the point of weaponization and miniaturization.

Heroic, manly heroes. Dignified, feminine heroines. Absolute Integrity! Big stakes--bigger than many successors ever dared--done on a big scope and scale (ditto). Action, adventure, romance, and superweapons so incredible that they have yet to be attempted in contemporary popular genre fiction in any medium. (Using dead planets as ammo for an inter-galactic railgun, for example, something Star Wars only weakly approximated.)

I have the six books that comprise the series in paperback, and they are slim volumes that read wicked-fast. You can skip the first two books, but I started with Triplanetary and benefited from doing so. (You'll be fine starting with Galactic Patrol.) They're a pain in the ass to find in print, but click the image above and it should take you to a dirt-cheap Kindle version. (Triplanentary can be had for free on Kindle.)

Note: There is an anime adaptation. It's hot garbage, despite the decent character and mechanical designs. Skip it. I can't say anything about the manga adaptation, as I've never read it because it's so long out of print that scans are likely all you'll find without serious effort.

The influence of the Lensman series is huge and cannot be overstated. Space Opera, as such, began here and many of the other works I will recommend are--ultimately--reactions to and in conversation with that stellar masterpiece by Doc Smith. I have no problem stating that I am inspired by these books, and proudly take that influence forward into my own fiction. Alongside Edgar Rice Burroughs, E.E. Smith is one of the great treasures of American culture and literature; that he is forgotten by most people (and actively memory-holed by Academia) is a crime against Civilization.

Lensman Read that, or out yourself as a zwilnik.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Post-Mortem on a Bookstore's Closing

The only retail bookstore within reasonable walking distance of my house was a Half-Price Books. It opened with the strip mall it was in opened several years ago. I've bought and sold many things through that store, not just books. Today, I got an e-mail telling me it closed for good (and telling me where the nearest stores now were; both are at least 20 minutes or more away by car).

The e-mail explained that the store did not enjoy sufficient traffic to stay open. That I can believe; the demographics of my part of the Twin Cities shifted downward over recent years, as many non-European peoples (never known to be great readers) moved in, and the long-standing whites are moving away. Couple this with the continued domination of Amazon, and the same retail collapse that destroyed Borders (and eats away at Barnes & Noble) won't spare used bookstore chains either. (Nevermind small independent stores.) Given that, of all the stores in Minnesota, only my local store closed, I can safely claim that demographics from peoples that read to peoples that don't is a big factor- but one unstated by the District Mananger in his PR release.

And then I looked at the remaining bookstores in my neighborhood. Somehow a comic shop and a general second-hand store got roped into "bookstore", along with a private antique dealer operating out of his home. The only proper bookstore is a family-owned and run printing business that serves the local churches in the area, so they don't sell anything I'm interested in. I am now in an unserved neighborhood, like North Minneapolis.

See, that's the flipside of the panic over Amazon. It's not just Amazon sucking up the business from those who would otherwise go to retail stores, but also the change in the makeup of a local market from people who care for what you offer to those that do not. You can adapt to the former, but the latter? Reliably kills. Even when the changes don't result in violence, they do result in other changes that aren't good for those affected, and this is one of them: the shift in businesses present.

At least my local library is in no trouble, yet.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Narrative Warfare: Once You Start Down The Poz Path, Forever Will It Dominate Your Destiny.

One more big red flag keeps coming up in the new stuff for Star Wars: Moral Relativism.

This keeps appearing. It started with all that "Grey Jedi" bullshit during the Expanded Universe, and now in the new canon you see it in the comics and novels first before it comes to television and the films. Rogue One was the first big show of it in action, as usual done with plausible dependability, but now with the Bendu in Rebels and all the fan-blather that the new trailer prompted we're getting more of that Fan-Dumb that I find bothersome and stupid.

Again, for those that missed it the last time I posted it, this is George laying out what the Force is about. Note the date; this was a writers' meeting for Season 3 of The Clone Wars, which is in the new canon unchanged so this IS the official position (i.e. "Yes, the Jedi are correct.")

Go on, try to lie to me and say that you can mix Good and Evil like that. That "balance", that "grey", is just an excuse for moral degeneracy. It's not like we don't see, in graphic detail, MULTIPLE TIMES where this goes and how this ends- both in multiple stories and in real life. He said nothing that wiser, smarter, and far more holy men haven't said many times before (and got martyred for it); he just put on new trappings and sold it well. Star Wars is Superversive.

Which is why I find the official stuff out of the official love-in throwing up so many red flags for this--again, remember who's running the show now: Ascended Fans, no less prone to Fan-Dumb than the rest--that I cannot ignore it. Nothing would destroy the value of the franchise faster than diving into that known fraud of Moral Relativism.

I hope that Rian didn't go that way, and that the tease we get is just that- and instead we're getting a Save Old Man From Despair arc for Rey and Luke (with she doing for him what he did for Anakin). (The rest of the arc being the restoration of the Jedi from its ethical corruption as a tool of the Senate to being a pure expression of fulfilling a mission to the Galaxy to fulfill the Will of the Force- i.e. Qui-Gon Was Right; Season Six of The Clone Wars lays that out plainly.)

Nothing will get me committed to making a fork faster than proof positive that this form of pozzing is now policy- and yes, even something so beloved as that can be forked, successfully, and made to surpass it far sooner than you'd think.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Narrative Warfare: You Don't Know The Power of the Poz Side!

Okay, we've had the big reveals for Episode 8, Season 4 of Rebels, and Battlefront II. The majority of the official love-in is over, so it's time to talk about what's consistently occurring in the panels- made explicit in this little thing put out just before Celebration.

There it is, folks. There is the SocJus Death Cult memetic disease, doing their "Strong Female Character" scam again, and you can hear it in the weasel word of Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy. It's identity politics being soft-shilled, using that ever-popular "We need more girls in (X)!" not-argument.

The panels for the films, the series, the games, etc. all had varying degrees of Muh Strong Wimmins going on, with "Strong" as code for "masculine" and femininity downplayed and depreciated. This wretched excuse for Muh Progressivism--the castigation for proper heroes, of manly men and womanly women--got called out being the fraud that it was on today's Geek Gab episode which covered related topics such as how pozzed companies can keep this up as they do. (Hint: Parent companies let them, and will go on until the parent feels the pain- severely.)

George Lucas has his issues, but at least he got that manly heroes and womanly heroines are things that audiences respond to and long for- especially his target audience of children approaching adolescence and the accompanying transformation into the emerging generation of men and women. (And yes, for all his flaws, Leia was feminine and so was Padme; Rey, by comparison, isn't so and its presence is only due to the actress who very much a girly girl.)

The poz is still soft, for now; there are plausible excuses for a lot of the elements in the media. The most blatant examples (Rey, Jyn) get a hell of a lot of pushback usually because the characters rely too much on their identity and thus fail to get the proper characterization needed to make audiences care. (The plan is to rely on the targeted audience of girls to invest in these characters as proxies for themselves; again, we have Sanctioned Fanfic going on, and Self-Inserts are tells for such- especially for Mary Sue trainwrecks of boredom and suck.)

At least "princess culture" still has girls being told that being feminine is good for them, and promotes masculinity in boys, but this gets into "I don't need no man" territory- and we all know how that works out by now, don't we?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Here's the Teaser for "The Last Jedi"

The love-in down in Orlando is on Day Two, and the expected teaser for Episode 8 dropped today. Kudos to the trailer team on putting out something that doesn't give away the entire movie, obviating any desire to actually go to the theater to see it.

(Yes, that's from the official Star Wars YouTube channel.)

After the cotton-candy experience of The Force Awakens, I hoped that Rian Johnson would (a) be allowed to bring the awesome and (b) deliver. I haven't seen any related panels or other stuff (aside from that stunt of Rian showing up in the sleepover queue and spending three hours hanging out with fans), so I'm holding off on speculation. If you want that, the Star Wars Explained channel can hold you over for the time being.

I like that this teaser focuses on Luke, Rey, and the Force. Yes, we see--briefly--other characters doing their thing (and I expect that they'll be the focus of later trailers and ad spots), but the big mystery has to do with the Force users first and foremost; the mundane conflict of the First Order vs. the Resistance is the shadow, not the substance, of the Force conflict. If this film goes a long way to rectify the former film's serious narrative deficits, that will be enough to make it a hit with the fanbase and elevate the Sequel Trilogy out of being sanctioned fanfic.

So, like many others, I'm hoping that The Last Jedi doesn't suck. If Rian lives up to his reputation, then that won't happen.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

My Life in Fandom: The Official Star Wars Love-In Begins in Orlando

The Mouse and Lucasfilm are putting on Star Wars Celebration in Orlando, Florida this weekend. It started today, and whatever else you can say about the convention organizers you cannot say that they don't know how to deliver on the hype. What I'm embedding below is the big 40th Anniversary panel, which has all sorts of folks who usually don't show up at Celebration doing so, and yes this does have a Carrier Fisher moment at the end. It's very hard not to feel that love for all things Star Wars after watching something like this.

(Note: The channel I took this from has plenty more panel videos to watch. Click through and enjoy.)

It's very easy to fall into the lazy habit of being cynical about everything a corporation that owns a big and beloved thing like Star Wars does, and it is unfortunate that some of that comes from the own-goals that said corporations do far too often, but let us not forget that the core of the business that these corporations operate to maximize their profits stems from the maintenance of goodwill with their proven audience.

(Yes, there's a follow-up to that last bit, but I'm reserving that for another post because it's a buzzkill after that feelgood panel. If you want a clue, here's a hint: it's about that audience, and a plan to change it.)

Right now, the generation that grew up with the prequels are now entering their big earning years. The generation that came in with the Original Trilogy are now settled with kids, and they're running the business now. (Which drives a lot of stuff building on the Original Trilogy right now, and future plans have more ties to the prequels; no one said the Mouse wasn't capable of long-term planning.) They want to take what they love and build on it. They may not know exactly what they are doing (Cargo Cult mindset), but they remember the feels and that's what's driving development.

If we can do anything good for Star Wars, it's to help these folks get the knowledge that Lucas bestowed to Filoni back firmly into the institutional knowledge of the company- and then base all future development on that knowledge going forward. Yes, they need to know the pulps that Lucas drew from. Yes, they need to know the mythology that Lucas drew from. These are the pillars that allowed Lucas to tell old stories a new setting and create a modern mythology; he told the truth, and that truth is what resonates across the decades. If we can foster that devotion to truth, and building things out of love for the truth, knowing that it is that which drives the feels that the fans are so devoted to, then we can make Star Wars great again despite the SJWs doing their worst to converge it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

My Life as a Gamer: Y'know, Braunstein Damn Near Nailed All You Need In Tabletop RPGs

My previous post on tabletop RPGs and mechanical complexity got a post at the Castalia House blog after Jeffro Johnson posted a link to it at Google Plus. I hadn't even noticed until late on Tuesday that this happened, so I'm a bit late to the party here, but this got a reaction from Alexander Macris (of Adventurer, Conqueror, King).

The line of logic in Alexander's comment runs on the assumption that the rules of the game have to be recorded in order to be known, and they have to be known so players can make informed decisions in the game, with the combination being a feedback loop that leads to inevitable mechanical complexity bloat over time.

These assumptions are false. The players don't need to know a god-damned thing, ever, in terms of rules- and the rules don't need to be written down either. These days, I run games with notes, dice, and that's it. What players need to know I tell them when they need to know it, and that's rarely more than "Roll (X), get above/below (Y)." It works, and it's very newbie-friendly. Magicians know nothing about their spells other than what they observe during play, priests know only that their powers are endowments from the divine (and can be lost if disfavored), and so on. No rulebooks are even present anymore, because they are not necessary to play the game- and the game is the campaign.

Why?

Because the medium of the tabletop RPG requires participants to focus on their words. Having some wargame elements works from time to time, and by that I mean tokens to indicate position and distance, but otherwise focusing entirely on the use of natural language to handle things as they occur is the way to go. You need only a rubric for measurements (which allows comparisons), and the rest can be left to having Infogalactic or whatever information sources you need handy- and only the Game Master needs anything like that written down (and that is optional; I don't).

It's not storytelling as such. Instead, it's closer to Braunstein than anything else. Relying on real-world referents whenever they are not superseded by a fantastic one makes running the game much easier, such that I don't even need Hit Points anymore, thanks (once again) to the Internet and the bounty of information on damn near everything I might need to know at a given moment during a game. Orcs are now scary monsters again because you can't go "I have 90 Hit Points. Whatever.", and you're not always wearing your Power Armor even in the toliet.

"But isn't that tedious?" Nope, because you're going to be too busy dealing with the moment to care. Remember what I said above about using your words? That's how you make a virtue--an asset--of ambiguity and the liminal space such creates. A little back-and-forth goes a long way during play, just to ensure everyone's on the same page. Such as:

Game Master: You're maintaining pursuit on the Imperial Ace in the red robot. What do you do?

Player 1: Can I get a lock on him?

GM: You intend to fire, right? Using what?

Player 2: Use the beam rifle. He'll just pull an Itano on you if you fire the missiles.

GM: Roll 8 or better on two dice.

(Rolls, succeeds)

GM: You have a target lock.

P1: I fire the beam rifle.

GM: Your lock ensures that your shot moves into the space he attempted to dodge into, hitting him square in the back. You see a heretofore invisible screen flash and explode.

P2: That's the shield I told you about.

GM: Okay, now what?

P2: I have line of sight to him, correct?

GM: To the robot, yes. To the pilot, no.

P1: That screen blocked your magic too, didn't it?

P2: Not anymore. I call upon the Archangel of Fire of Fire (Note: That's not a typo; that's Enochian magic) to incinerate the robot out from under the pilot.

GM: Quite confident of your charisma, aren't we? Okay then, Roll two dice and get a 10 or higher.

(Rolls. Nope.)

GM: Your call is heard. It is not to your liking. You sense a meteor shower about to hit.

That's the core of tabletop RPG gameplay. The back-and-forth between the participants, revolving around the fundamental feedback loop of "What do you do?" No player, ever, needs to know a goddamned thing other than that. The Game Master doesn't need to know much more anymore, which will make those of you wondering what the role of RPG designers are ask "Well, what do I do?"

You train people how to do this, and you connect participants together. That's your business model now: you are service providers. Mechanical complexity is for videogames, where they need piles of code higher than the Himalayas to do what tabletop RPGs can do emergently with natural language, knowledge of any source material required, and a page on probability bookmarked.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

My Life in Fandom: Disney, Why No Mashup of Marvel & Star Wars?

The teaser trailer for Thor: Ragnarok is out, and good God I hope the final film is as fun as this teaser makes it look.

Seeing how, especially in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the mishmash of genres that happens starting with Thor films I couldn't help revisiting an idea I had when The Dark World came out- something that really should be explored now that Disney owns both Marvel and Lucasfilm. What is that? How well your standard Jedi/Sith sort of character would blend into this milieu. In short, a mashup. Don't tell me it wouldn't work; Bandai's been doing it for years, successfully.

Don't tell me that you couldn't mashup Marvel and Star Wars. It wouldn't even be that hard. Sure, a bit of editing on the part of the Marvel canon may be needed, but "A long time ago in a galaxy far far away." handles most of this. It's simply that the Star Wars Galaxy has the stuff that recombines into different forms to become our Marvel Universe over time, and we embrace the fun of that possiblity to do things like have holocrons on Earth crop up to revive the Jedi way- complete with lightsabers. Most of the tech is already present; it's just making that connection that has to happen, and thanks to Doctor Strange that's easily done now.

And it's not like Marvel hasn't done mashups before--Marvel vs. Capcom anyone?--so the hardsell is Lucasfilm, which comes down to Disney saying "It's happening. Suck it up." and then working out how not to let EA fuck it up or DICE to get away with being lazy shits.

But on the tabletop? That's why games like Champions and its HERO System acquired and maintain its faithful base of users to this day. (Ditto GURPS.) Hell, that's why those point-buy generic systems got going: to provide some objective rubric of measurement specifically to compare characters from different properties and settle "Who'd win in a fight?" sorts of Stupid Fanboy Arguments.

Make it happen Disney. Get your two hot properties to make with the mashups, and don't be shy about it- you're aren't shy about fan service otherwise, so why stop now?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Six Months of Metro City Boys!

Yesterday, the Metro City Boys marked six months to the day since they launched this podcast. They got hyped and went a little longer than they usually do to mark the occasion, all of which you can enjoy at your leisure by putting on the archived podcast for you to enjoy.

It's been quite the ride so far, and I am thrilled that at last the boys took the next step to build up this little podcast that could with its own YouTube and Twitch channel. A site, with a blog, is next to get more than cursory attention to building it up; if this continues, soon there will be shirts and other merch for people to buy and wear to show the colors out in meatspace so as to spread the word.

And man, it turns out that it's a small world. Oro, as I found out, knows some of my guildmates in World of Warcraft and raided with my guild back in the heyday of Wrath of the Lich King. If my world gets much smaller, I'll need a microscope to see it.

Now, to see if I can somehow get the Metro City Boys to crossover with the Geek Gab crew for a mega-podcast of geekdom and gaming. At the very least, get some guest appearances going back and forth, such as Oliver Campbell on the Gab and Daddy Warpig on with the Boys.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

My Life in Fandom: Rogue One, Fandom, Violence, & The Films

Now that Rogue One is out on Blu-Ray, those of us that saw it can return to it to enjoy what we enjoy most without tolerating the crap we found boring. No, not just those of us who bought the disc (or file). On places like YouTube, clips from the film (and the entire film) are now showing up in glorious HD (up to 1080p resolution), and that means that things we missed last December in the theater can and do get noticed now.

It also means that we can study the film to see how the production did what it did, and if it worked as they intended. That, for me, is a big opportunity; learning how to tell effective stories--competent narrative craftsmanship--in more than one medium is a good pursuit to have these days, as it has multiple applications, all of which can only help you in this life.

While I'll come back to revisit the film in this respect again down the road, today I want to focus upon Act 3 and the Battle of Scarif.

The films proper do not show us what a full-scale military action looks like in the Star Wars Galaxy very often. The prequel trilogy did this the most, with Geonosis in Attack of the Clones, and multiple times in Revenge of the Sith. In the Original Trilogy, we had Endor in Return of the Jedi as a full-scale action; Yavin IV was a desperate objective raid, and Hoth was a fighting retreat. (Starkiller Base, likewise, is an objective raid.) Scarif is the second-full scale battle in the Galactic Civil War on film, a battle with both space and ground action over competing strategic objectives by comparable parties possessing significant military assets.

Why am I pointing this out?

The depiction of warfare and its violence in Rogue One received a serious reception from the audience, from the fandom, that is lacking from most of the others. (Prior to Scarif, Endor--for all its Ewoks--was the film that had this response; some got the reason for the juxtaposition of the violence with the Ewoks, some didn't.)

The fandom, as a body, has this curious behavior wherein what's shown on screen with a literal quality akin to a child's struggle to grasp the concept of object permanence. In practice, this means that the warfare isn't taken with the gravity that it should (aside from adults concerned over showing children violence on screen) be, and this depreciation cascades throughout the fandom's perception of a given film's narrative and its quality as a product.

Listen to the praise given to Rogue One. It's "more mature" due to being "gritty" and "realistic". That's the very same Literary Realism bullshit that's sucked the fun and life out of SF/F in print to date. It hasn't devolved into the insistence on the ordinary and the condemnation of the heroic, yet, but the signs are there in the fan reactions as well as in the official press hype.

Compare the original story (a straight up heist or raid, ala Where Eagles Dare, played so) with what we got and you'll see that this depreciation of the heroic is the source of the whiplash in tone throughout the film- until this final act, where suddenly the protagonist does her best Achilles impression and gets all heroic to spite the cowards who wouldn't back her play and inspires the other principles and a bunch of extras to go with her on a suicide mission.

For some reason, this resonated with the fandom- especially the older generation, the same one that comprised the production team for Rogue One, and I think it has to do with a long-held desire to show what the Original Trilogy's action would look like without any Force-users present in the battle. (Which, until the very end, Scarif achieved; the juxtaposition to events before and after Vader's arrival is huge.)

Following that literality aforementioned, look at the fleet action; the action was one of the busiest depictions that wasn't a Clone Wars episode or Ender's dogfight scenes. On the ground in the air above, it felt like Endor but bigger and nastier, with allusion to all of the American wars from the second World War forward mixed together. It's a depiction that, at times, seemed to exist for its own sake- to satisfy a demand going back 30 years or more. That is served the stated narrative goal in doing so feels secondary, and I can't shake that feeling in reviewing this final act.

There's good parts in this Act, technical accomplishments that deserve recognition and such, but even within a tragedy a good narrative avoid despair and nihilism and for all that the final moments feed directly into the original film's opening moments it is hard to shake the sense that the filmmakers really--thematically--ended it with Vader's annihilation of the Rebel marines fleeing Radus's flagship for the Tantive IV, with despair and nihilism, and not the hope sold to us.

This doesn't give me confidence with the Mouse's reign over Lucasfilm going forward, but--again--I pin this on the Ascended Fans now running the business, and yes that allusion to the inmates running the asylum is deliberate. Eating your own tail is a symbolic synonym for insanity for a reason.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Metro City Boys Are Making It Happen!

The Metro City Boys are expanding their operations! First, at last, they finally got their own YouTube channel. The second is that the Metro City Boys opened a their Twitch channel, where the boys share streaming duties over the week (so check out the channel and throw the boys a Follow; if you have Notifications turned off you'll get a heads-up when one of them goes live there).

To get a sense of what to expect, here's a video featuring Oro's play-through of .

And don't forget to catch the show live tomorrow!

Geek Gab 93: Talking Storytelling & Why Iron Man 2 Disappointed

The Geek Gab crew had another good episode today. They talk about learning how to be better storytellers by watching and reading disappointing ones, in short learning from other people's mistakes, using Iron Man 2 as an example (and comparing with Iron Man 3). They also announced some other exciting Things To Come at the end of the show.

If you are at all concerned about your acumen at narrative, this is a good episode for you. I'm looking forward to trying the new Things To Come that they talk about at the end of this episode.

Friday, April 7, 2017

My Life as a Gamer: Why Excessive Mechanics Are Bad in Tabletop RPGs

I've long been frustrated with the inability of game designers to accept the reality of gamer psychology. (Really, it's fan psychology, but I'm talking about gaming--specifically tabletop RPGs right now--so that's the context.) Whether it's the blunder-wonders running World of Warcraft, the cargo cultists in charge of Dungeons & Dragons or its off-brand counterpart Pathfinder, or the myriad of morons in tabletop and videogames of all sorts who stubbornly refuse to see what's before their eyes the willful blindness born of arrogance never ceases to astound and exacerbate me.

If you've been following the gaming posts here at the Retreat, you'll recall that I've gone over the curious conundrum of tabletop RPGs being so mechanically complex that you spend more time working the mechanics than engaging the virtual situation. I call this "piloting the mech" because that's what it feels like when you're at the table.

That means there's a psychological element here at work, something that you have to observe at a step or so removed to really see it in action. What it comes down to is that focusing on mechanical operations acts like the focus on a lens; everything not the focus of your attention blurs out and ceases to seem real. (Compare to old Hana-Barbara cartoons, where the background seemed dull and lifeless compared to the one widget the characters could interact with; most visible in chase scenes.) The game's jargon takes on the virtual substance because that's what matters in play, and natural language interaction becomes akin to cutscenes in a videogame RPG (the thing that gets skipped early and often by so many players because they don't think anything matters there).

It becomes more obvious with "build culture", coming over from CCGs and similar games where proper construction of your primary play unit (your deck, your 'Mech, your arena car, etc.) is a sub-game itself and competency there directly contributes to success in the primary game. Just point your browsers to The Gaming Den to see it approaching its extremes of autistic screeching. Sure, you could build that Fighter to not be a melee monster, but you're gimping the team and you'll get no heals if you do- Alignment be damned.

Which leads to the second problem, the "Lore Means NOTHING!" problem. Because only the mechanics matter to these people, there is no secondary character; the player's character is nothing more than a robot that they remotely control, no different than playing MechWarrior Online, and with such an attitude comes (a) the depreciation of the Game Master's role into a robot of its own sort, (b) the depreciation of non-jargon/non-mechanical gameplay interaction as nothing more than fishing for keywords to plug into the machine and then resume mechanical operations.

The result is that you get actual play results that, if these were real situations, everyone observing would conclude that the characters were insane and their behavior unacceptable. Why? Because culture doesn't matter. History doesn't matter. Not faith, not philosophy, not anything that doesn't plug into the mechanics or come as output from the mechanics. Tonal dissonance, cognitive dissonance, and the utter insistence that the rules--the mechanics--are the game and nothing else are normal in such environments. Few are so open as The Gaming Den, but you'll see the tells in many other TRPG discussions; the most common is the wholesale transposition of console/PC RPG norms (due to technical and medium limitations) to tabletop RPGs (which lack them) because the TRPG's mechanics provoke the same thinking purely out of reflex.

And, as this phenomenon accelerated, more and more people abandoned TRPGs for videogame counterparts because videogames did all of the mechanical operations better, faster, and with better visualization. (Go on, try replicating The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim with a recent D&D edition or Pathfinder; you'll see why I say such things swiftly.) Meanwhile, the real strength and flexibility of the tabletop RPG medium gets lost because more and more gamers find mech-operation to be the norm and so acclimate to it- a thing old-timers like Mike "Old Geezer" Monard has complained about now and again. Playing with a human referee, making spot-rulings as necessary, and relying on natural language over game jargon and mechanics is increasingly an alien thing. (And no, the SJWs in the scene are not helping any, but their absence wouldn't make it disappear either.)

"I make a Charge move and attack the Over-Specific Monster Mob #1 with a full Power Attack." is mechanical operation. "Homsar charges the Black Knight with his sword in hand." is natural language interaction. "I've got a +30 to my Persuade Check, and I rolled a 15. That's a 45. Even at his best resist, I still got a Worship result." is mechanical operation. "I introduce myself as 'Homsar Delgana, Hero of the Screeching Spire Saga. How might this humble hero help Your Grace in this matter?'" is the use of natural language interaction. Starting to catch the difference? One relies on rules mastery; the other does not.

For a medium of entertainment meant to be one where you can just show up, be given a 3x5 card and a summary like "You've read the Mars books? He's like John Carter.", and be playing as effectively as the long-timers this is not just an erection of a clear barrier to entry socially, but also ludologically- you can't enjoy play until you master the damned mechanics, and (as I said previously) most people will not work for their entertainment.

Mechanical complexity in tabletop RPGs is the Literary Realism of Gaming. It must stop for the same reason: it KILLS the fun that the common man seeks.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Narrative Warfare: Exposing the Syria Gas Attack Hoax

Mike Cernovich is on the Fake Syria Gas Attack beat, and right now (as of this post) he's doing a marathon livestream session talking about it. Watch the man that shook 60 Minutes work it harder, faster, stronger than the hoaxing Establishment ever did. I can't add anything further with commentary.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Narrative Warfare: Cernovich's "60 Minutes" Appearance is a Power Play

Mike Cernovich broke the Susan Rice story regarding her use of the powers of her former office to discover intelligence useful to obstructing the God-Emperor. In short, she spied on Trump and is bald-faced lying about it. Meanwhile, the hoaxing Establishment is alternating between denial, deflection, and defamation in their response to it. (The "gas attack" hoax out of Syria could not be more suspicious in its timing.)

But that no one amongst the Establishment (other than Limbaugh) named Cernovich when reporting on it proves that his thesis going into that 60 Minutes interview--especially his using it to turn that Fake News narrative back on them--is correct. Further, it shows them as weak, afraid, and cowardly; this proves the second level of Cernovich's assertion which is that they want back supreme narrative control- something they know they lost.

That means that Cernovich is, once more, in a position to drive media cycles single-handedly. He knows he's got them shook, and he's going to keep demonstrating his capacity to do just that until they do the obvious thing and overtly censor him with too-convenient failures and other passive-aggressive measures using amenable SocJus cultists in ISPs and other end-user tech positions. That will backfire; he's expecting it how, so when it comes he'll document and expose them- turning it back on them again to his profit and their loss.

This is a game of optics and perception, and we should be watching Cernovich now because he's putting on a masterful display on how to play--and win--this game many of us are not inclined to foster competence. If you're at all concerned about Narrative Warfare, and you want to fight back, learning from an allied emerging master as his powers grow is a golden opportunity that should not be missed.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Razorfist's Second Hugo Nomination

Today, Razorfist received his second Hugo Award nomination for Best Fancast. You want to know why? Here's a good example for why he's getting this recognition: Razorfists's review of Styx: Shards of Darkness.

And I can already tell that far more people care far more about (and have heard of) Razorfist than the organization whose award he's up for (again). When I can look down the list of nominees for what is said to be a prestigious award, and I either never heard of the nominees or I know that they're present for reasons that have far more to do with whom they sucked off than actual merit I know that "prestigious" award is nothing of the sort.

There I see that the Supreme Dark Lord's plans are progressing. Not only did he make a mockery of the rules changes to ensure that, indeed, many categories got one of his picks put into the final ballot (where it's expected that they will, again, be brigaded) despite their attempts to tilt the table, he's put the entire award into containment by demonstrating just how corrupt and useless they are.

Corrupt by compelling the SocJus Death Cultists therein to openly show their contempt for the SF/F audience via open displays of the very wrongs they're accused of committing, and useless by showing how little the award does for the winners prospects thereafter. (Hint: If winning a Hugo does NOT directly result in major increases in winners' income, business prospects, etc. outside the cult then it is meaningless and pointless due to being unfit for purpose.)

Meanwhile, what Razorfist does is far more relevant to the culture of SF/F fandom than anything the Secret Masters of Fandom and Traditional SF/F Publishing can even attempt. He's paying attention to the products of SF/F that actually matter, reach a far larger audience (both product and reviewer), and therefore possesses far greater influence. Razorfist getting Hugo nominations is not the act of a worthy rising star seeking acceptance from a lawful authority; it's a Fuck You to a weak, impotent, and irrelevant clique of degenerate, decadent, and downright dumb dullards pretending that they're 20-something and fabulous.

It's a big ol' Metal Up Your Ass way of saying "Fuck. You." because the Hugos need Razorfist; Razorfist doesn't need the Hugos, at all, ever.

As with other categories where the Supreme Dark Lord got his way, the smartest thing the Cult of Tor could do would be to just let Razorfist (et. al.) have a win, but we all know that this won't happen. The whisper campaigns are already underway, meaning that the narrative warfare is already underway, and the result is Hollywood Accounting to ensure "fair" wins for the Cult of Tor and their fellow travelers- further demonstrating how corrupt the Hugos are. There is no scenario where the SocJus Death Cult wins, as all "victories" are Pyrrhic.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Stop Building Mech Factories, Game Designers

There is a limit to the complexity a tabletop RPG can reach before it becomes a demonstration for why videogames are better at handling complexity of mechanics, and it's a rather low threshold.

The threshold is this: if you're spending more time working mechanics than engaging in the situation using natural language, then your game is too complex for the tabletop medium.

The operation of game mechanics turns players into pilots, and their characters into robots- mecha, if you will. You can see why I find this undesirable now that videogame RPGs are well past 30 years of age themselves, and do that sort of mechanical complexity so much better than tabletop RPGs that it is wise to outright let the videogame makers have it to themselves and instead refocus tabletop RPGs back to the simplicity of natural language that the original Dungeons & Dragons (and other games of that launch era) did so well.

I have World of Warcraft for the sort of complexity you find in Pathfinder, and that includes all of the culture of play that goes with it. It is not surprising that a game defined by the operation of mechanics and the performance in a team promotes a "Best-or-Benched" mentality with min-maxing, number-crunching, and blah-blah-blah that sucks the fun out of RPGs for me and many others. Tabletop RPGs start sucking when they go that route.

In addition to other vitally-necessary changes that tabletop RPG makers much do to survive, this reversion has to happen; when you bring back the original play paradigm, you recreate the original play culture along with it- a far more friendly, sensible, and casual-friendly culture of play that working adults with children cannot help but find attractive. Your design must focus on using natural language, foster trust in the Game Master to issue rulings as necessary (because you CANNOT cover it all with rules), and get away from keywords, jargon, interactions between X and Y rules, etc.

We don't need more mech factories. We need games about playing characters.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Narrative Warfare: Cernovich on 60 Minutes

My father, likely echoing many others before him, once told me "In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is. Never choose theory over practice."

A week ago, I--and others--observed this in action. The occasion was Mike Cernovich's appearance on 60 Minutes, something that he admits is a violation of his own "No Media" rule, but I figured that Mike had an angle going in and no sooner than the episode aired on the East Coast feed did I get confirmation of it.

In short, Mike set a trap. The show fell into it, and not until they were well into the pit did they figure out what was going on and had to haul ass after the fact to avoid being obliterated by it. Further, Mike set up a no-lose situation for himself; he went in assuming hostility and fraud on the part of the show, and stood by ready to expose it to his massively superior media reach if they went through with it. If they didn't do wrong by him (and according to Mike, they didn't), then he comes off looking good and he easily exploits the show to expand his reach- proving by that route that he is superior to the show and to Establishment media by superior mastery of their game.

That much was apparent to me by this past Wednesday, but it was about then that Mike did a livestream where he talked about that whole experience and revealed how he prepared the battlefield to compel his opponent to conform to one of two prepared options. How? Simple, in fact: the game is about optics, because optics are how the Hoaxing Media performs Narrative Warfare. By taking control over determination of the optics at the stage of dealing with the show's producers, Cernovich framed the narrative as he desired- enforced by the threat of public exposure of their deceit if they dared step out of line. He shook them, hard, and they weren't expecting that so they went along with it.

They're used to being in charge. To seize it like that fucked with their brain, in terms of an amygdala hijack, so to relieve that stress they played nice with him.

That's how he did it. In theory, you don't need to do that sort of aggressive framing or pay that much attention to how others perceive you when dealing with Narrative Warfare. In practice, you do, which is why so many on the business end of it get wrecked by it; they take theory over practice. You do what works until you're in the shot-caller's seat; then you call the shots to remake things to work how you want. That's the Perception game, which is the culture game to a large extent; it's a game of illusion, enchantment, and management of perception- it's a magician's game. A game Cernovich showed that he can play better than those who say they're the Lords of Perception, because he's adept at play three or more levels at once, just like President Trump.

Me? I'm not that good at playing; like Scott Adams, I'm far better at seeing it from the sidelines than being on the field. I'll brook no gainsaying on this one; Mike's move proved himself a master, and he picked the right moment to play the power position for the tactical and strategic win using the enemy's resources against them. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Once the enemy figures out just how badly he played them, they're going to come after him- and I bet he's waiting for them.

Folks, if you want to know what successful counter-attacks in Narrative Warfare look like, study this move. One man, on his own, upset an imperial powerhouse in Narrative Warfare- and he's teaching you what he did, how he did it, why he did what he did, and so on freely in his media outreach. You won't lose by hearing him out; you'll start winning if you heed him. This man knows Narrative Warfare.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Geek Gab Gives You Life, Death, and D&D!

Tired of all those not-funny people pulling their not-funny pranks and telling those not-funny jokes? Want a little something that's actually fun and entertaining to wash that feeling away? Then have a seat, because Daddy Warpig's got you covered. He and the gang have new episode of Geek Gab hot and ready for you today, featuring Old-School Renaissance gamer and blogger Rick Stump of Don't Split The Party.. (You'll now find his blog in the Blog Roll on the right.)

If you liked this, try to catch the next one live. Being there in the chat makes it all much better.

Friday, March 31, 2017

The New Talislanta is a Dead Game Walking

If the stupidity I've previously outlined using Rolemaster and D&D's Forgotten Realms continues, then the tabletop RPG business deserves to die screaming under massed Dalek death ray volleys.

There's a new Talislanta edition looking for money on Kickstarter. Never heard of it? That's because it's a D&D competitor whose appeal and marketing all boils down to "Don't like this about D&D? Play our game!" (e.g. "No Elves!") Everything I said about the importance of lore to actual play applies here, and that includes the appeal to this new version set as a prequel to the established era and its rising successor states to the former God-Like Mageocracies that rules. Instead, you get 60 Minutes After The Bomb: it's the barbaric post-apocalypse, meant to be more Conan than Elminster.

And I cannot be bothered to care, for the same reasons I laid out previously: they're doing sweet fuck-all to connect their customers together. It's the same mistake, because they still don't get that it's not the 1980s anymore; they'll say otherwise but they're actions prove it. Ryan Dancey nailed this over 15 years ago: what matters is the network of users, not the physical product. That is your business; you're in the business of connecting people together. Just as McDonald's is not in the business of making burgers (it's real estate), so are tabletop RPGs are not in the business of selling games (it's user network facilitation).

The value of the game is to attract users who want to connect with others over a shared interest. Your revenue comes from tools you provide to make that happen, happen easily, and happen conveniently. The rules? Give them away; you shouldn't devote significant capital to them anyway (use an open source engine or GTFO). The lore? Worthless without a transmedia strategy where a setting bible matters; if so, put it up into a Wiki and be done with it.

No one currently a major player has a fucking clue what the reality of this niche market is now. (The RPG Pundit is a minor player, and he's showing some understanding that the game's changed.) That includes the current Talislanta crew, so this edition won't do any better than the previous ones (which had far more friendly conditions for competition). No sympathy; all of you ought to know better by now to stop doing the same thing and expecting different results!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Arrogance Will Be Your Undoing

You may not be able to avoid failure forever, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't avoid all that you can. The idea that you're so above it all that you can't possibly screw it up is hubris, and the most common form of hubris is arrogance. Avoid this flaw for it will destroy you if left unchecked.

Yesterday I did a bit of ranting on one of the errors the development team for World of Warcraft made when launching the new patch, v7.2, which was to further their scheme of content scaling. Beyond scaling all outdoor content for your character's level, it now scales according to your character's equipment (measured by Item Level). At launch, this scaling for gear buffed the Hit Points and Damage of all outdoor NPCs in all of the Legion zones; as of this post, the HP scaling is reduced and the damage element is eliminated, but that the scaling exists at all--and that the devs are doubling-down on it--demonstrates that their years-long arrogance remains the reason for many of their own failures.

Arrogance is blinding; you stop thinking reasonably, stop being open to data that contradicts your positions, and assume without proof or even preponderance of evidence that you know more than others in a manner akin to Lucifer gainsaying God before the former's Fall. You refuse to comprehend that what you think is so about the thing isn't true, and you refuse to listen to those who actually use the thing. Wisdom, reason, evidence- all dismissed because you're deluded. Accordingly, you refuse to take precautions that could--and often would--prevent a failure from occurring at all. When called on it, the ego kicks in and--like a SocJus Death Cultist--you're going to lie, double-down, and project instead of fixing the error. Why? To preserve your ego-born heresy of superiority.

This is not the first time the dev team's arrogance created a preventable problem; last expansion their arrogance lead to the entire debacle involving player-control flight and the half-assed concession that was the Draenor Pathfinder achievement. (Which they doubled-down upon for Legion by breaking it into two parts.) Now they're refusing to do the smart thing and just kill the scaling mechanic entirely in favor of a half-assed compromise that will just be the camel's nose in the tent yet again to further stupidity.

Other arrogance-born stupidity includes: messing up the gearing system entirely(When a lower-level piece of loot is better for your character because it has ideal stats and the higher-level one does not, you goofed so hard Jar-Jar thinks you're stupid.); RNG-based procs for looted/awarded gear that can push its level to the cap, making loot a crap shoot (undermining endgame progression entirely); gear power progression NOT making endgame content significantly easier (e.g. gear dropping in the Nighthold not making it easier to DO the Nighthold) which ALSO undermines the endgame entirely; and tying power progression to a consumable item used to power up your weapons (Artifact Power, used to power up Artifact weapons; everything drops it, and more AP is more power, so farming it to stay competitive is required).

These examples of self-inflicted errors show how arrogance can significantly harm your own efforts, errors that never had to happen had the devs just listened to the feedback that players testing the systems provided well before they went live- and had they never even bothered pushing things that were neither clamored for (as the gear scaling thing was NOT) nor mission-critical to fix (this is the flight error; nothing wrong here, other than some bruised dev egos being petty) then World of Warcraft would be in a far superior position today than it is now.

And, for all that they've improved since the disaster (pun intended) of Cataclysm, their institutional arrogance continues to hamper their business and give their competitors (Few and weak as they are; Final Fantasy XIV is the only real option now.) room to maneuver that they otherwise would not have. Since they don't listen to their users, then it becomes necessary for users to find the voices that they will heed and get them to intercede for them- or watch their arrogance consume them utterly, taking the game (and maybe the company) with it.

Again, observe and learn from others' experiences. What is the lesson here? Stay humble!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Succeed Until You Fail

You're going to fuck it up sooner or later. Even after you make it, and get someplace with your ambitions, sooner or later you will make the mistake that gets you back into trouble. Even if your discipline is spotless, and your analysis is flawless, there's always that Black Swan event that comes out of nowhere and blows your situation into pieces. Failure is inevitable, but it need not be final.

Remember that patch release for World of Warcraft from yestereday? Already they're taking a list of things that they fucked up and are fixing them as fast as they can, in order of content priority (so the raids get fixed first, etc.). Sure, there's some fuckups that I'm pissed about (Scaling NPCs to your character's gear level is the dumbest thing they could do; it actively punishes you for playing the fundamental point of endgame content- gaining power by gearing up.) but that feedback they're getting (and getting good and hard) will push them to fix their failures right quick.

For all the shit the dev team for WOW gets, they are getting better at fixing their fuckups. Already hotfixes went out on the top priority fuckups, and more are on their way in the days to come. (But that gear scaling thing? It needs to die, screaming, like it got used as a target dummy by Daleks. That's a fucking retarded idea.) There's enough people on and near the team to get action going right away, and that's a good thing.

They knew they screwed up, caught it early, and immediately began fixing their errors. That's (a) knowing that they're going to screw up somehow, (b) having methodologies in place for error occurances that they're experienced with (but haven't actually solved yet), and (c) know as an institution that Fail Faster is the smart way to go. You should observe this and learn from it. No matter what you do, seeing this skillset and talent stack in action is a good demonstration on why having a talent stack (in this case, in the team as a whole) and a system in place to use it (known procedures for these occasions) can only help you recover when you do stumble but also lead to wiser courses of action going forward.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Fail Until You Succeed

It's Patch Day for World of Warcraft. Patch 7.2 is now live, so I'm going to spend some time this evening enjoying all the new stuff on offer. Yes, there's bound to be bugs and other errors that make this less than perfect, but that's far better than the old days of not being able to play at all on Patch Day.

Blizzard's dev team for WOW gets a lot of shit, much deserved, but the fact is that the game today is much better than it was 10 years ago. Some of that is due to personnel turnover, some due to technological improvements, but the bulk of it comes from learning the hard way what works and what doesn't- and then maintaining that collective knowledge across shifts in the team's composition.

It's not perfect, but it doesn't have to be to be effective or relevant. Sucking less is both a means and an end, and doubly-desirable accordingly. The WOW team sucks less now than it did during the days of The Burning Crusade, and while they've been having significant problems since Cataclysm the current state of the game is looking to be an overall improvement and hopeful of an upward trend in quality (and thus player population) that can restore the heights seen during Wrath of the Lich King.

You are no different. You too can benefit from the self-reflection upon your mistakes required to learn from them; this is why "Fail Faster" works once you (a) can recognize when you dun goofed soon enough to bail when it's not that painful and (b) you are able to survive the consequences of failure. (Being humble enough to know that this happens to even the best, so it's no blemish on you, helps a lot.) You'll have ups and downs, as each lesson disrupts the state of your knowledge so far, but if you hold to it the overall trend is upward. The catch? Where you arrive may not be anywhere that you thought it would be.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Geek Gab & Metro City Boys - These Are The Hotness!

My two favorite podcasts were on FIRE this weekend.

Geek Gab's latest episode was a great one. First a recap of the petty drama surrounding the launch of The Corroding Empire, and then an excellent rant by Daddy Warpig regarding Marvel's Iron Fist on Netflix. It's better when it's live, as half the fun is being in the chat and interacting that way. You want to be there live for this one if you can. Saturdays, 2pm Central Time (usually).

And then there's the Metro City Boys, whose episode last night had the return of Wayne June (the Narrator for Darkest Dungeon, among other things) and this time brought on the Creative Director for the game- Chris Bourassa. This was two and a half hours of goof, fun, and laughter and like the Gab you're best off being there live for this. Sundays, around 6-6:30 Central Time (barring gremlins), usually. Sometimes the notification Tweet even goes out in English!

These two podcasts are all that's good in fandom: passionate people, engaging with what they love--sometimes critically, sometimes not--and sharing that love with anyone wanting to enjoy it themselves. If you can't be there live, subscribe to one of their feeds and catch it after the fact. You won't regret it, and it's only going to get better for both of them from here.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Rolemaster - How It Could Prosper Today

Rolemaster is one of the tabletop RPGs of the 1980s made originally as bolt-on rule system replacements for Dungeons & Dragons, and would later get used as the basis for Middle-Earth Role-Playing (still the only published Tolkien TRPG worth a damn). It's often mocked as "Chartmaster", due to its reliance upon cross-referencing the results of dice rolls against this or that chart to determine the outcome of a mechanic.

The image in this post is from the most well-known edition of the game, its second edition ("RM2"), which is the basis for the aforementioned Middle-Earth game ("MERP"). Later editions iterate upon this version, attempting to resolve known issues while not addressing fundamental concerns, but the game never sustained the fanbase that it had during its peak of popularity in the 1980s and 90s- and never shall enjoy again, in its original medium.

Crack open the rulebooks and you'll see why instantly. That ruleset, once you grok how it works, is impressive as an artifact of game design. However, it's also far too complex for common people to make proper use of at the table because operating the mechanics gets in the way of playing the game. It's not just the difference between an automatic and a manual transmission; it's the difference between a high-performance air-superiority fighter such as a F/A-18 and a single-engine plane used by Alaska bush pilots.

In short, it's the sort of tabletop RPG that should've been made as a videogame. Today, if the folks publishing Rolemaster were competent and serious, they would turn their property into an application compatible with (or, at the least, not conflicting with) other applications like Discord, Roll20, Fantasy Grounds, or Tabletop Simulator. All of the mechanics and detail that makes this game unwieldy with a high learning curve as a series of printed books in a boxed set--the biggest factor killing interest in it--not only disappear, but become assets when shifting media from print product to software application.

The minimum is that the application contain the character sheet, handle character creation and development, and run all of the dice rolls. The actual rulebooks should be turned into a company-run wiki, with the application linking to relevant wiki pages (opening a browser window) for players to read when they want to refer to them. Take all of the bitchwork of running the mechanics out of human hands, and allow human players to focus on making decisions and remaining focused on the situation at hand- that's the goal of making Rolemaster an application backed by a wiki.

Your business model then becomes selling the application, because you now have a database of users looking to find other players; your application is the means by which you sell the tool that facilitates users connecting and playing the game. It does not matter if they play online or in-person, and you even go further to encourage eu-civic behavior and engagement by promoting the best user contributions through the app and wiki.

Remember this, game designers and gamers: The Internet changed everything. Turn that to your advantage, and you can not only prosper, you can make fundamental changes to how the business works- and we've not had one in tabletop RPGs since the year 2000, when the open source concept got adapted for D&D's third edition. We're long overdue for another; the opportunity is there, so seize it.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Read Outside The Brand!

Over at Rawle Nyazi's blog he had a good post on why Game Masters should be, and need to be, well-read. That post followed on from a post at the Castalia House blog on how short fiction can completely eliminate the need for supplementary materials in a tabletop RPG.

This harmonizes with my insistence that all you'll want from the publisher is a ruleset, and quite frankly you don't need to buy that either anymore- you have since the year 2000 (and you can find other free option, similar to and divergent from the d20 System baseline). That assumes that you want to bother with someone's else design at all, and I don't as often as not anymore.

So, what should you--as a fan, as a gamer, whatever--do to Git Gud at this thing you love? Well, I've been harping on it over this week: READ! Read the sources the creators draw from. Read the philosophers they rest their assumptions upon. Read the histories, biographies, mythologies that they're taking from. Read widely, read deeply, read for comprehension- not speed. Oh, and a note: there are different modes of reading for different purposes, so learn and master them.

Think this isn't relevant to Your Thing? Remember what I said yesterday about Thrawn being Sun Tuz? That's proof of relevance; once you've read The Art of War a few times and know about the Warring States period in China's history you can see where Thrawn's coming from in his approach because you read that in Sun Tzu. (You can add Clauswitz and Machiavelli to that category of reading.)

Remember my complaints about the Monomyth being all over Hollywood? Well, Joseph Campbell didn't operate in a vacuum; reading, at the least, The Hero With a Thousand Faces will get you into a place in your brainmeats that will (a) ruin your ability to read/watch crap and (b) appreciate the brilliant stuff even more when you encounter it.

Love your mecha? Go read Starship Troopers. Like that? Go read the Lensman books; that's where Powered Armor (and mecha) come from. Ditto your Jedi, Green Lantern Corps, and similar Supercop organizations in popular fiction. Adore the fleet battles of Legend of the Galactic Heroes? Go read the accounts of ancient warfare through to the Napoleonic era, which is where a lot of the memetic references come from- not so much with actual naval history (though that's worth reading in its own right). Fascinated with the Autocracy-v-Democracy theme? Oh man, there's a whole world of philosophy and theology to follow there; that's worth a post to itself, and there are entire blogs devoted to it.

Do you see where I'm coming from yet? Do you see how, and why, reading/watching/playing more than Your Favorite SF/F Brand can only make your enjoyment of it better? Well, how about making you better able to participate in the world at-large, and at higher levels of complexity and sophistication, than otherwise is the case- things that can make your working life better, in many cases.

Read, dammit! So much of what I'm talking about is in the library, or published for free as public domain books, that you can do this for nothing more than the cost of the time required to get a library card or have an e-reader handy. It's nothing but good for you, and the more you do it the more fun it becomes.