A lot of my posts have been critical of games and settings, specific parts of broader communities, $*** Gamers Say—that sort of stuff. It might be nice to talk about the game and setting that got me into RPGs, and especially fantasy role-playing games, in the first place.
Working my way through your backlog I noticed you saying that you probably wouldn't enjoy a World of Darkness game due to the horror movie themes of the setting. I can certainly understand that perspective, but I wanted to say that I find the trying to be a hero in such a setting that much more appealing for the challenge. There's a lot to be said for surviving a night of the living dead because you convinced the party to work together and make smart choices.
I’m glad you enjoy the blog!
I can’t imagine all of the ridiculous things you’re subjecting yourself scrolling through my history. I’m really committed to tagging posts well for organization’s sake, so if you’re primarily interested in just the roleplaying-related posts, you can focus on my RPGS tag. Instead of 3500+ posts to scroll through, there’s just 1000+ roleplaying-related posts.
As you have no doubt noticed my World of Darkness tag is much smaller, and really contains everything I feel like I have to say about WoD.
Welcome Aboard, and hopefully the backlog doesn’t drive you crazy!
I think what you’re looking for is a Class. I’ve done a few custom prestige classes for my players, but they always get upset when there are any prerequisites at all. To which I just say, “Do you want a PRESTIGE class, or just a multiclass?” If you want cool things you’ve got to pay the piper.
So the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer was sweet. We all love Rocket Raccoon. He’s a raccoon that shoots a gun, after all! Who could say no to that?
But he didn’t spring, fully formed, from the ether, despite what people may think happens with artwork on Tumblr. He was created by a legendarily prolific Marvel Comics creator, and the story of Bill Mantlo does not have a happy ending.
Until his regression in Georgia, there was hope that with enough rehabilitation, Bill might one day return to his home, living with assistance but actually having something approaching a normal life. Now, that seems impossible.
“At this stage, there really isn’t much that he gets out of life,” Mike says. “He doesn’t like to eat. He doesn’t like to listen to music. He doesn’t like to watch TV. He doesn’t like to read. He doesn’t want to do anything. It’s very difficult.”
If a way could be found to get Bill in front of a computer, perhaps with dictation software, Mike feels that Bill could probably write a story. But that depends entirely on whether Bill could maintain his concentration long enough to form a creative thought. These days, it does not happen often.
Mike does not have a large collection of Bill’s writing. But he does have a printout of the computer journal Bill kept while he was at Meadowbrook. Many of the entries contain loose details that appear to be connected to his Martian invasion story. But there are personal notes interspersed that reflect Bill’s own anguish, and his resistance to the very treatments that were slowly returning him to normal.
Bill Mantlo is in hospice care and his family approaches destitution due in part to the flamboyant failures of the American health care system, but frankly, the fact that he doesn’t see much in the way of royalties for his work cannot possibly be helping. Marvel is about to release a movie that will probably pull in half a billion dollars at the minimum, and Mantlo’s family won’t see anything from it.
If comics taught me anything, it taught me that that isn’t right.
So I urge people who are looking forward to that movie to donate what you can, when you can, to the Hero Initiative - a charity dedicated to being the safety net that too many comics creators lack - and specifically to Bill Mantlo’s care. When Guardians of the Galaxy comes out, I’ll see it, but to do so in good conscience I’ll donate an amount equal to the cost of my ticket to the Hero Initiative. I did this last year with Man of Steel and the year before with Avengers.
With the upcoming fourth season of A Game of Thrones about to hit TV screens, you will soon see ‘If you like reading GRR Martin, why not try these authors?’ displays going up in bookshops. I will give a book of mine, of their choice, to the first person who can send me a photo of such a display that isn’t entirely composed of male authors. Because I’ve yet to see one. I have challenged staff in bookshops about this, to be told ‘women don’t write epic fantasy’ Ahem, with 15 novels published, I beg to differ. And we read it too.
But that’s not what the onlooker sees in the media, in reviews, in the supposedly book-trade-professional articles in The Guardian which repeatedly discuss epic fantasy without ever once mentioning a female author. That onlooker who’s working in a bookshop and making key decisions about what’s for sale, sees a male readership for grimdark books about blokes in cloaks written by authors like Macho McHackenslay. So that’s what goes in display, often at discount, at the front of the store. So that’s what people see first and so that’s what sells most copies.
In March 2012, while browsing in my then-local Waterstones in St Andrews, Scotland, I encountered a laminated booklet in the SFF section - produced entirely by Waterstones - that listed various recommended authors. I was so appalled by the almost total lack of women and POC that I photographed it as evidence. Behold:
So, to be clear: of the one hundred and thirteen authors listed in the genre-specific sections, there are a grand total of ninewomen and, as far as I can tell, zero POC. In the final two pages - the “If you like this, you’ll love-” section, things are little better: of the ten authors with suggestions after their names, two are women; but of the 101 authors recommended as comparisons, only twelve are women - and, tellingly, of those twelve, a whopping eight are listed as being similar to another female author. As far as this list is concerned, women have essentially become a speciality category, almost exclusively recommended because their work resembles that of another female author, and not because of their contributions to various other genres. As for POC authors, as far I can tell, there’s not a single one on any of the lists.
And, of course, as Juliet McKenna predicted, the authors recommended for fans of George R. R. Martin? All men.
When I saw the booklet, I suggested to a staff member that perhaps they might like to reconsider the contents, given how unrepresentative they were, and how many fabulous authors were missing from them. The sales person, a young man, looked vaguely sheepish, but said the matter was out of his hands. I don’t know if this same booklet is still in use by any other Waterstones stores, but if it is, it badly needs upgrading and replacing - because if I were a new genre reader looking for advice and guidance, literally the only conclusion I could draw from its contents is that SFF is a white man’s game.
I had a door trapped with a hallucinogenic spray. 17 con save to not be affected. I had a box full of slips of paper with hallucinations on them. All but one of my players failed their save. 20 real world minutes before the second easier save. Skin melting off, convinced everyone’s been replaced by doubles, and the best one, “You think you’re being attacked by small woodland creatures.”
The player who got that one decided to really get into it, and by the end of her 20 minutes she was standing on her chair, as in the real chair in my dining room, screaming about chipmunks trying to eat her.
When Steve Kloves (who wrote the majority of the Potter screenplays) met J.K. Rowling for the first time, he told her straight up that Hermione was his favorite character. Rowling admitted to being relieved, and who could blame her? It was more likely for Hermione to end up disrespected on screen—she wouldn’t be the first female hero to get butchered in the reels.
But this resulted in an undercutting of Ron’s entire character from the first movie. Don’t believe it? When the trio go after the Philosopher’s Stone, they face a series of tests that demand each of their skills in turn. Time likely demanded that this sequence be cut down, and so Hermione’s test—solving Professor Snape’s potion riddle—was removed entirely. To make up for this, she gets them out of the Devil’s Snare, Professor Sprout’s deadly plant. Hermione shouts to Harry and Ron to relax so the foliage will release them—but Ron continues to panic and moan (in campiest fashion possible because he’s played by a child actor and these things are always requested of them), requiring Hermione to blast the thing with a sunlight spell.
In the book, Hermione is the one who panics. She remembers what her lessons taught her—that the Devil’s Snare will recoil at fire—but balks at their lack of matches while they are being strangled to death. Ron immediately shrieks to the rescue YOU ARE A WITCH YOU HAVE A WAND YOU KNOW SPELLS WHAT ARE MATCHES.
It’s a simple change, but it makes such a marked difference in how both characters come off to an audience. Rather than a near-infant, incapable of following the clearest directions, Ron is the even-keeled nitty-gritty one. He’s a tactician, the one who will find the simplest answer to a problem provided that the situation is dire enough to ensure his clear head. Ron is good under pressure and brave to boot. He’s also hilarious.
It is easy to write this off as an actor problem; Emma Watson matured and improved much faster than her costars in terms of talent—and Steve Kloves liked her portrayal so much that he started giving her many of Ron’s important lines. During The Prisoner of Azkaban, Sirius Black is trying to get to Peter Pettigrew (currently disguised as Scabbers the Rat), but Ron and Hermione are convinced he’s after Harry. In the book, Ron stares up defiantly from his mangled, broken leg and tells Sirius Black that if he wants Harry, he’ll have to get through his friends first.
Yeah, my leg hurts way too much, Hermione. You take this one. But say it’s from me. And in the film, it’s Hermione who boldly steps in the line of fire while Ron sobs in pain and babbles incoherently.
These rewrites not only depict Ron as an idiot coward—they also make him an outright jerk. When Professor Snape snaps at Hermione yet again for being an insufferable know-it-all, movie-Ron gives her a look and drawls, “He’s right, you know.” Wait, what?! Harry, why are you friends with this prick? Well, maybe because the Ron Weasley that J.K. Rowling put on paper was in that exact same situation, and immediately leapt to Hermione’s defense when she was being abused by a teacher—“You asked us a question and she knows the answer! Why ask if you don’t want to be told?”
My own! I don’t update it as often as I’d like, but that’s mainly due to a lack of posts depicting positive DC relationships. If that’s what you’re into, come on over to http://dccouplestherapy.tumblr.com
5.) Which system did you grow up with? I didn’t really “grow up” with any system. I didn’t get into roleplaying games until college, and then Star Wars d20 (RCR) was my first game.
6.) Which system do you play now? I run a Star Wars RCR game, and I currently play in a Nova Praxis campaign as well as an Earthdawn campaign.
7.) Longest campaign you’ve run or played in? All the games I’ve played usually seem to wind down after about a year and a half, maybe two years. After that, I get a bit bored, as do many of the players I play with. On the down side, I’ve had lots of characters that I’d like to see grow or change that never went anywhere.
24.) Your most successful game. I would say that my current Star Wars game is probably my most successful one. I’ve had lots of positive feedback, I’ve got tons of people interested in playing, and it’s been going on for over a year and a half. I got to tell a full and complete storyline, help the characters grow, and defeat the BBEG.
30.) What makes GMing fun for you. Influencing people & characters is what I enjoy the most about GMing. My first challenge is change how the players view & interact with the world (generally trying to move any “neutral” characters up to “good”). At the same time, I also work on impacting how they view & interact with each other, tying any “lone wolves,” outliers, or feuds into friends. I always enjoy cooperative play more than competitive play, so what makes GMing fun for me is creating situation which encourage the players to cooperate with each other.
18.) Something that went hilariously awry. So I had just played Shadowrun for the first time at a convention and I really liked it. My friends in my regular gaming group had never played it so I told them I would run a 1-shot adventure just to let them try it out. I picked up the same printed module that I had played at the convention since I was already familiar with it. In the adventure, the characters meet their fixer who gives them a job. To do the job they need a piece of information that the local yakuza had. The implication is that if they do a favor for the yakuza, the yakuza will do a favor for them. At the con we just went to the restaurant (a cover for the yakuza), told them what we needed, and they sent us on a straightforward delivery run in exchange for the info. No big deal.
I had tried to emphasize to the players the Shadowrun wasn’t D&D, that they needed to be more cautious, do more legwork and planning beforehand, and not jump to combat as the first solution to their problems. When they got to the restaurant, instead of just walking in the group split into two “teams:” the hacker & face went in the front door, and the combat mage & street samurai went around back into the alley. The hacker & face sat at a booth while the hacker attempted to just hack into the restaurant’s network to steal the info they needed. Of course, it wasn’t there. When the restaurant’s “owner” had his bodyguards approach the pair, the players decided to pull their guns and “intimidate” their way to success.
Thirty minutes and three dead player characters later, all my friends decided Shadowrun is lame. I know at the time they didn’t think it was hilarious, but the fact that they decided to die in a gun fight instead of just delivering a brown paper sack is still endlessly amusing to me. The game didn’t even last 2 hours. It was months before I could get them to give Shadowrun another try, but since then they’ve definitely appreciated the differences between Shadowrun and most other RPGs.
28.) Your creative process when you plan a game. I actually just made a longer post with the steps I personally go through for this.
9.) Strategic combat or dramatic plotlines? Oh definitely dramatic plotlines. I’m pretty mediocre at combat strategy. I mean, I can make a particular encounter challenging, but largely that’s because we’re playing Star Wars right now and Storm Troopers are cheaper by the dozen. If a particular combat seems to be getting too one-sided I can just throw more Storm Troopers at them. And forget aerial combat. I’m awful at that, and one of my players primarily plays Star Wars BECAUSE of aerial combat, so he knows all the options, rules, tricks, and minutiae around it. For that I just have to hope that two more tie fighters won’t cause them to be blown out of the sky.
But dramatic plotlines? Oh I’m all over that… taking the character’s motivations and using that to assess what is really important to the player… then taking that and challenging them over it. Building up NPCs that they like and trust, then revealing them to be a traitor, or taking the PCs’ assumptions and biases, and forcing them to overcome those to be able to accomplish the group’s goals. Yeah that I can do.
29.) The best / worst character concept you’ve ever heard. Worst: Without a doubt, when I was running my 17-player Marvel Universe Roleplaying Game (MURPG) campaign, I had one guy that wanted to play an “elementalist.” In MURPG there was a family of powers that would make you the master of some particular element…. fire, ice, water, wind, etc. Except, he really really reallyreally wanted to play as a … Hair Elementalist. And at the time I was considering it because I was thinking prehensile hair that he could control like Madusa of the Inhumans.
No, that wasn’t it. He wanted to be able to manipulate OTHER people’s hair. He wanted to cause their eyebrows to get so bushy they couldn’t see, or call forth beards onto their faces to make it hard to breathe…. weird stuff like that. I know GMs aren’t supposed to say “no” but… I didn’t want a “Great Lakes Avengers” vibe to the campaign, so I asked him to come up with another character. I can’t remember the specifics of the character he did end up playing (again, there were 17 people in that campaign), but I do remember that his combat specialty, rather than kung-fu or boxing or something like that, was roshambo.
Best: I’m going be super egotistical and mention to of mine, because I still think they’re brilliant. Either Tanq, the Shadowrun Troll that I’ve previously mentioned, or Key another Shadowrun character I played that was a hacker. Key was a human that was obsessed with playing video games. He played any/all video games, racing games, first-person shooters, MMOs, whatever. He actually learned how to hack so he could get access to unreleased video games & alpha testing. He was so good at it however, and his addiction was so bad, that he could no longer tell what was reality and was a video game.
So he would sit in meetings with fixers and Johnsons telling the other players how he hated block text, whether he thought the voice actor for this NPC was lousy, he would ask if anyone knew what the XP rewards were like for this quest chain, etc. It was totally meta and super fun (especially because the GM and I knew what was going on, but the other players just thought I couldn’t stay in character. Eventually they figured it out). He also absolutely no sense of self-preservation since he thought everything was a video game. He actually had to take a considerable amount of damage before figuring out that he wasn’t just playing an FPS, but was ACTUALLY getting shot at. It was super fun.