Posts Tagged ‘nerdPride’
Thursday, December 30th, 2010
Continuing the series I started on Monday, I’m wrapping up the things I enjoyed most from the past year. It’s been an eventful year for pen-and-paper rpgs, with the resurrection of not one, but two beloved franchises. There’s been a lot of chaff too, but let’s concentrate on the good stuff.
Dark Sun once again graces the table of people who like their fantasy post-apocalyptic and dark. I’ve praised this before in these electronic pages, and it should be no surprise to see it in my list for top picks this year. It is, simply, the best use of the 4e engine so far, modifying the set-up to create a world that feels on the verge of total collapse.
On the Post Apocalyptic front, I finally had a chance to play the new version of Gamma World. It’s just as over the top and crazy as it has always been, and possibly even more so. Mutations rise and fall in the heroes, while technology is dangerous and unreliable. Character generation is random and quick, and players aren’t expected to live long. It’s a blast.
My winner for great games this year though has to be Fiasco. It’s a loose, narrativist rpg designed to set up the kinds of nightmarish failed heist stories that make for some of my favorite movies (Big Lebowski, Snatch, Fargo and the like.) Invariably, it spirals out of control and everything falls apart, and in the breaking becomes even more entertaining. Highly recommended.
Of course, any recap of the year in RPGs would be empty if I didn’t mention Paizo’s Pathfinder, for which I’ve written a bit of fiction. If you like your D&D more pulpy and a little old school, (but not retro-clone levels of old-school). It’s a good time, with some great settings.
Friday, December 17th, 2010
Three weeks in a row. I think I may finally be back in the swing of things with this whole blog posting thing. Of course, now it’s the holiday season, when things promise to be much harder. Regardless, it’s another Friday, and that means it’s time for the glories of Potpourri link-dumps.
- First, as I pointed out, it’s the holiday season. Still not sure what to get your loved ones? How about some awesome Sci-Fi Romance? Impulse Power (featuring moi) is out in Print, just in time for the Feast of Alvis.
- So it turns out Fruit Flies show a biological type of Free Will (as opposed to philosophical Free Will, or Freewill off Rush’s seminal album Permanent Waves). Given identical sets of stimuli they tend to respond in predictable, but different, patterns.
- Pregnancy blog Pregnant Chicken did an entry on Awkward pregnancy photos – it’s… awkward actually sums it up pretty well. Let us say that the WTF is fast and furious. (Warning – one artsy NSFW photo at the bottom of the page)
- (With thanks to writing partner C.A. Young) I learned this week that, once again, the Glastonbury Thorn has been vandalized. People who do this sort of thing sadden me beyond words.
- While speaking to epic legends, the first real trailer for Thor is out. I’m guardedly optimistic about this one. Certainly, if you want to capture the Shakespearean melodrama of the old Thor comics, you could get a worse director than Brannagh. And certainly, our norse hero looks suitably impressive in the armor. And out. Rowr.
Wednesday, September 8th, 2010
I’ll admit something about gaming – as much as I plan my novels to obsessive detail (down to POV for each scene) before I write them, I can be a bit of a pantser when it comes to running my games. Actually, I’m a lot of a pantser.
I have a couple of reasons for this. Primarily I have had the privilege of gaming with and running for some really great groups in my day. These are folks who define the concept of making their own gravy. I could quite literally sit down at the table and say “It’s a post-apocalyptic game, you’re all survivors from a hospital, go!” and we would have four or five good hours of game-play. But having great players who get into character and have lots of interplay at the table has its downsides too – specifically, they tend to go off on tangents, chase leads I never intended as significant, and generally go any direction that I hadn’t particularly planned for them to go.
So I started looking at things differently. I started making a list of things I wanted to happen, both over the course of the campaign and from game session to game session. For a Pulp Adventure game, this might look like:
- Players get attacked by dinosaurs.
- Players find crashed plane (German equipment?)
- Players find primitive tribe. (Enslaved? Need help?)
- Nazis Riding Dinosaurs!
In the book Save the Cat (which is about script-writing and a great resource) – Blake Snyder calls these the “Set Pieces” – the beats that drive the story forward. For me it’s more like a grocery list of things I have to include. I don’t worry about how to get from one to the other; I just keep track of what’s next and let the players give the direction of the story. If it’s a game that requires more organized encounter planning (like 4th edition D&D) I put down some possible encounters on cards and mix-n-match to make an appropriate encounter for the situation as it arises.
Obviously, this runs counter to everything I do in novel writing, but at the same time, it takes advantage of the creative power I have around my table. If the players try to get the plane working again I’m just as ready for what happens next as if they decide to ride the dinosaurs a la Valley of Gwangi. So, Gamer-writers (and writer-gamers) any differences between how you work on your fiction versus how you craft a game session?
Monday, September 6th, 2010
I’ve been thinking a lot about romance in science fiction lately, in case you couldn’t tell by the flavor of my writing posts. One of the things I’ve found myself doing is justifying to people the rightful place of romance as a part of science fiction. To that end, I’ve had a few films that I fall back on to say ‘Hah, there’s even a romance there!”
I’m not using the obvious films, though. That would be too easy. It’s tough to miss the romance in Avatar, for example (It’s the main plot after all), and Time after Time is easily one of the best time-travel romances out there (If you’ve not seen it? Do yourself a favor and go watch it, now.) Instead I’ve tried to pick films that people don’t think about as romances. So without further ado:
#3 – Wall-E (2008)
I can say a lot of things about Wall-E, and frankly I debated including it in my list because the romance is so blatant. At the same time, there is something absolutely heartwarming about two characters expressing their love for each other while only being able to express themselves by saying each others’ names. I get choked up in two places every time – the beautifully choreographed flying sequence (which is Miyazaki-esque in its gorgeousness) and another scene towards the end which I will not discuss for fear of spoiling it. Regardless, as SF and Romance go, I can’t say enough good about this.
#2 – The Empire Strike Back (1980)
The best of the Star Wars films (despite what Randal Graves thinks). It’s made even better by the shift from antagonism to romance between Han and Leia. There are a number of great scenes, but one of the high points is the two of them working together to fix the Millennium Falcon. I’m not too proud to say I didn’t riff that idea for my own scene in Hearts and Minds; it’s brilliant, and a classic. For all the great scenes together, and the excellent demonstration of their growing relationship, nothing tops the sardonic exchange of:
Leia: I love you!
Han: I know.
#1 – Aliens (1986)
James Cameron has a thing for tough-as-nails women who fall in love with Michael Biehn (see also 1984’s The Terminator) but I love how Ripley develops her relationship with Hicks, so Aliens won out. I love the scene where he’s teaching her how to use the pulse rifle, and the scene with the locator beacon (it’s the next best thing to an engagement ring). I could say a lot about the underlying motherhood themes that permeate this movie (especially the extended cut) but I’m going to keep to script and just deal with the romance. It’s a great one, with two characters who are perfectly fine on their own finding something in each other that gives them a reason to fight even harder.
Wednesday, August 25th, 2010
Recently, Wizards of the Coast released the newest incarnation of their Dark Sun campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons. I should preface this by saying – I am old. I was in college when Dark Sun first came out. I played a lot of other RPGs at the time, and D&D (then in its 2nd edition, for those keeping track) was ‘that other game’ that only a handful of die-hards played anymore.
When the first Dark Sun came out, the art (by Brom) drew me in almost immediately. This looked nothing like the Tolkein-esque generic fantasy realms to which I had become accustomed. Indeed, it looked like nothing else on the market. So I bought the box set, checked it out, and changed my world.
Dark Sun, more properly the world of Athas, was my first real exposure to the concept of post-apocalyptic fantasy. Magic has destroyed the land and rendered much of it to lifeless desert. A handful of city-states eke out an existence, ruled over by all-powerful sorcerer kings. The Gods themselves had turned their back on the world and no longer answered prayers. I had never thought of Fantasy in terms like these, and it shaped the way I would view fantasy and storytelling in the future – there are places in my stories to this day that I could point at and say “Without Dark Sun, I would never have thought of this”
Seeing Dark Sun on the shelves again brought back a great wave of nostalgia, and immediately set my mind churning for new ideas. I still love the setting, and am more excited than ever at the prospect of running a game set against its bleak, oppressive backdrop. I’ve talked to my group, and most of them are excited by the possibility. I only hope I can do it justice.
Wednesday, August 11th, 2010
In the wake of a long month, for those who couldn’t tell when they didn’t see me there, I could not make it to GenCon. The Post RWA crud combined with a few other factors and knocked it out of the realm of the possible for me this year. This makes me sad, as I always look forward to reconnecting with my nerd roots and GenCon provides a great opportunity to do so. On the other hand, I was able to knuckle down and make serious progress on my WiP, so I suppose I can’t complain too much.
A reasonable assumption would be that, having missed the ‘Best Four Days in Gaming’, I would be unable to review the events there. Fortunately, thanks to the magic of the Internet and my willingness to pass judgment on things I haven’t seen (ask me about Jonah Hex) I can still sum up the events even though I was completely divorced from them in real life. Without further ado, my Gen Con wrap-up:
- Wizards of the Coast revealed the new D&D setting for 2011. Sadly, it’s Ravenloft. Mind you, I don’t hate Ravenloft as a concept, but it is effectively impossible to convey a horror setting when one of your players can hurl lightning bolts. The standard D&D solution is to make the monsters tougher, which only has the effect of dragging out combat, and forcing a GM interested in Storytelling to manipulate an encounter (since in my experience, players effectively never run from an enemy).
- Green Ronin unveiled DC Adventures – the newest incarnation of the DC Comics universe as a game setting. This time around it’s using an updated version of the award-winning Mutants and Masterminds rules, and frankly, I couldn’t be more excited. I’m a terrible whore for DC – I’ll take the JSA over the X-Men, any day of the week, and don’t get me started on the awesomeness of Hellblazer. I’ll happily dive back into a new game that lets me mine the years my brain has dedicated to keeping those stories straight. Disclaimer – I pre-ordered this, and am reading through the PDF currently. I expect a review will pop up here sometime.
- Fantasy Flight unveiled the latest iteration of their Warhammer 40k rpg – at long last fulfilling the desire of players everywhere to run cybernetic killing machines for their characters with the Space Marine-centric “Deathwatch”. I played more than my fair share of 40k as a miniatures game, and I can see the appeal of this on one hand, on the other given how hard it is to shoot something in their ruleset, I expect they had to do some work to effectively replicate the Astartes’ ability to mow through opponents with bolter fire.
That’s my big three – I know that tons of other stuff happened in / around GenCon, but I figured I ‘d hit the ones I had genuine opinions about. In related news, this is the last week for my Pathfinder Web fiction out at Paizo’s website. The story will stay out there in perpetuity, and there are links in my bibliography, so feel free to check it out.
Friday, August 6th, 2010
I’ve got an odd assortment of links this week – even more so than usual, since I can already hear the protests and people paging back to previous installments. I blame my post-RWA illness. My brain is possessed by awesome.
- How I maintained my (obsessive) love for Power / Symphonic Metal this long without hearing of the band Van Canto, I have no idea. They’re an A Cappella power metal group out of Germany – 5 singers, 1 drummer – and I found them for their covers of other songs. There’s something oddly awesome about hearing a guy replicate a shredding guitar solo with Strong Bad-esque ‘weedlie-deedlie’ sounds. Have a listen:
- Van Canto covers Iron Maiden’s Fear of the Dark: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vyHcIHssdHA
- Van Canto covers Nightwish’s Wishmaster: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCGQiGEYl4Y
- I can’t decide if this is funny or makes me cry. The Morning News has collected a cream-of-the-crop set of 1-star Amazon Reviews for books that appear on the Time’s Top 100 list of novels. Laugh or cry, it certainly puts the occasional bad review in perspective: http://www.themorningnews.org/archives/reviews/lone_star_statements.php
- I make very little secret of the fact that I think The Venture Brothers is one of the best shows on television. It’s constant mockery of the ‘boy adventurer archetype’ never fails to make me smile. In September, we’re finally getting the second half of season 4 (or whatever they’re calling it), and in the wake of SDCC, we finally have a trailer. An io9 link, simply because they’ve got the best quality I’ve been able to find: http://io9.com/5604340/the-venture-bros-the-trailer-for-the-new-blissfully-insane-season
- While talking about trailers, I would e remiss if I didn’t mention the new interactive trailer for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I’m insanely chuffed for this film, and it seems like I’m not alone in it. If this is a sign of how much detail will be included in any sort of extra features we might see: http://io9.com/5605181/scott-pilgrims-interactive-trailer-is-better-than-most-dvd-bonus-features
- And now the promise of the premise, with rock stars for everyone. I love cool papercraft, especially people who work up designs from scratch. To that end, here’s the coolest version of Freddie Mercury and the gang – scroll down through the construction images to see Queen in action. http://www.behance.net/gallery/We-Are-the-Champions/494706
Thursday, August 5th, 2010
It’s a third week, and a third chapter for Blood Crimes out at the Pathfinder Tales web fiction site. If you’ve been enjoying the story so far, then be sure to check out the next installment, as everything starts to fall apart for Omaire and her friends.
Wednesday, July 14th, 2010
This is part two of an Essay I started on Monday, dealing with the fun and frustration of writing fiction for franchise tie-ins, specifically as it relates to the work I’ve done for the Pathfinder RPG.
As I said in the previous essay, there’s a lot of fun in being allowed to play with other people’s toys, provided that you show care and respect. This holds doubly true where gaming fiction is concerned, because you end up walking a delicate tightrope between including effects that reader-players recognize and can understand with trying to keep them from thinking “Somebody just botched their Stealth check”.
With Pathfinder, I had certain elements that had to be included. Knowing that one of the characters was a spellcaster, I had to constantly think of ways that magic could be used to short circuit the plot I’d laid out. Having readers think “Why didn’t he turn invisible/teleport/levitate” out of that situation only added more complexity. I ended up keeping a list of all the spells available to that character tacked to the bulletin board next to my desk, and would look at for every scene to ask which spells might throw a wrench into the works.
The biggest issue for me, however, was presenting a thrilling story that felt like a tabletop session with it reading like one. My approach to that was to focus on a single point of view and tell the tale from as tightly restricted a POV as I could. This does lead to some interesting times – the central character in Feast of Fools is self-centered and somewhat lacking in the brains category, and he tends to interpret the events around him in the most favorable light towards himself. Still, there are moments (the Featherfall stands out) where what’s happening is obvious to the reader even if it’s not to Ollix.
In all, I had a blast writing for Pathfinder – it’s a great world, with a rich pulpy feel and can tell all kinds of stories just by moving from region to region. With luck they’ll let me shave the nib on my pen and revisit.
Monday, July 12th, 2010
I’ve had the opportunity to do some writing in other people’s worlds – something that presents a unique set of issues for most writers. As a result, I thought I’d present my thoughts in a pair of essays looking at the challenges and rewards of this unique calling.
First, some background – in addition to my own writing, I have had the good fortune to write stories set in the Pathfinder fantasy setting (from Paizo Publishing), work in George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire setting with Green Ronin, and did service as a contract writer for Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic. There are plenty of people with more Tie-in work than I have, but hey, it’s my blog. I also contributed to the New Ceres shared-world setting, for the anthology New Ceres Nights – while not tie-in per se, the similarities between Shared World and Tie-in loom large.
Why, with all the possible words and worlds that every writer has kicking around in his or her head, would anyone chose to do Tie-In Work? A lot of big names have answered that question before me, most recently in an essay over on IO9. For me, it had a lot to do with love. I have a real affection for the properties with which I worked, and I hope that carries through in the stuff I did for them. I can’t imagine writing for a setting I didn’t like – the research and quibbling over details would become a lot less like geeking out and a lot more like hard work.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of work involved. Just like writing a Historical novel, you have to do your fair share of research (probably more than you think you need). You’re working with material that people love and respect, and which in many cases has a lot of standing history. You’ll want to remember when “X” was introduced to the canon, or how a particular setting handles the everyday elements of life, like food and cleansing.
There is a real feeling of being part of something larger than myself when I work with a tie-in property. I get to add to the mythology of the vast scopes, and invest them with a small piece of myself. In return, I have to promise not to break the toys I’ve been privileged to deal with – I can’t destroy things out of hand, or upset the balance too much (without permission). I can’t level cities or upend empires, but that means I can concentrate on the kinds of stories I prefer – small tales of people who make do in the world and hope for the best.
On Wednesday, I’ll talk a little bit about the specific coolness and challenges of writing fiction for a game setting without making it sound like a recap of my Sunday night D&D session.
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