Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Huntsman: Winter's War


I'd seen the previews.  It looked like another live-action Disney fairy tale spin-off for teen girls and moms.

My wife bought us tickets weeks ago.  As soon as I found out, I suggested she take her mom, my mom, or one of her friends.  Nope, she wanted to go with me.  (Sigh), ok...

Well, I was totally wrong!  The Huntsman: Winter's War actually kicked a substantial amount of ass.  In the Venger Satanis tradition, it borrowed from the great films that came before, melted it down into raw elements, and built something new, yet old, and timeless.

I recognized elements of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Conan the Barbarian, Dungeons & Dragons, and of course Snow White and Frozen.

Halfway through the film, I leaned over to Danielle and whispered, "This is like a D&D game."  It was not only that good, but it emulated an above average session of fantasy roleplaying.

Yes, the film's point of view is primarily female-centric.  That's not a bad thing, just be aware going in.  And yes, it has a decidedly fairy tale feel.  But it's got a great story, too.  And interesting characters.

If you're a fan (or even a casual reader) of this blog, then chances are you'll find a number of things to enjoy.  Go see The Huntsman: Winter's War.  Before you ask... no, I haven't seen the first Huntsman movie.  So, really can't comment on what that one's like.

VS

p.s.  The S'rulyan Vault kickstarter is still going.  Check it out and back this project if you like what you see!


Friday, April 22, 2016

Purple Reign


In honor of the music icon Prince, I've decided to have a sale on The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence for the next few days (both PDF and print).  If you'd like it on a slightly heavier, cream-colored paper, then I've also reduced the price over at CreateSpace (that's Amazon's print-on-demand service).

If you have a personal story or anecdote involving The Purple Islands, please feel free to share it in a comment below.

Let us celebrate the man, the myth, the legend... and the color purple!

VS

p.s.  I was going to end the sale on both Alpha Blue (CreateSpace) and Girls Gone Rogue (CreateSpace) yesterday, but under the circumstances, it seems fitting to keep the reduced price going.  Keep it weird and sexy, y'all.



Tuesday, April 19, 2016

House of Lies, D&D


I stopped watching the show at the beginning of last year but my wife continues to check out the premium cable series about corporate consultants and their caustic, self-destructive, masters of the universe bullshit + occasional nudity and sex.

However, she only had to say one little thing to get me to watch season 5, episode 2's "Game Theory".  And that was Dungeons & Dragons!

Yes, a good portion of this half-hour Showtime episode revolves around a 5e D&D game.  Doug (one of the main characters) is the Dungeon Master and a prospective new client is one of his players.  There's already a lot of ripping people a new one on House of Lies.  Pretty much everyone's a dick to each other all the time.  So, the teasing that Doug experiences for admitting (for the first time, I'm going to assume) that he not only plays D&D regularly but leads his own group, is actually fairly mild comparatively.

Doug's boss is brought into the game in order to snatch up the would-be client.

Overall, I feel that House of Lies did D&D justice.  It didn't look down on fantasy roleplaying games, nor did it make the game (or us) look stupid.  In fact, there was just the hint of gamer superiority subtly shown.  For instance, Doug scolded Marty (his boss) for rolling dice like it was a craps table, rather than a roleplaying game.

Some of the encounters were summarized, as in "Last week we encountered a tribe of orcs", but some of the gaming happens at the table, in real-time.

Both the 5e D&D Player's Handbook and Monster Manual were shown in Doug's hands, as well as, a large white dragon miniature.  Oh yeah, some Dwarven Forge stuff was shown, too.

I'm also going to assume that D&D won't be brought up again in later episodes.  Usually, when a series delves into fantasy roleplaying, it's an isolated capsule episode that doesn't spill over into the rest of the season or later in the series.  Although, Community did a second D&D episode a year or two after their first.  Actually, I think Big Bang Theory did, also (begging the question, why isn't there an entire season-wide arc based on RPGs?)

In my humble opinion, getting RPGs the recognition they deserve is an endeavor 7 times as worthwhile as complaining about this thing or that thing.  Support your gaming community while improving it.

Work on introducing one or more people to the paper & pencil RPG hobby... soon!  Set up a game for co-workers, friends, neighbors, geek-friendly people in your city, or start a pop-up game somewhere in public and invite people to play who get close enough to see what you're doing.

It should go without saying, if you're going to do it, do it to the best of your ability.  Visual aids like this help (at a fraction of the cost of something like Dwarven Forge), but nothing attracts people to the game and keeps them playing like a skilled Game Master.

Maybe it's been awhile since you've GMed anything and you'd like a refresher.  Perhaps you've always considered your GMing to be lackluster...  For tips, tricks, and techniques that blends old school with millennial artistry, check out my own How to Game Master like a Fucking Boss on sale right now!

My wife still thinks that when guys my age die that games like D&D will die with us.  Let's prove her wrong by making the hobby of tabletop RPGs go viral.

Thanks,

VS


Monday, April 18, 2016

Dungeon Crawl like it's 1983!


Last night, whilst coming up with more random table fodder, Glynn Seal of +MonkeyBlood Design sent me some snapshots, or "oblique angle visuals" as he called them, to help promote The S'rulyan Vault.

Pretty damn cool, if I say so myself.  The blue and white old school look of this deluxe dungeon is classic.  Glynn is adding some of his personal touches like cracked tiles and a variety of little symbols for statues, altars, curtains, pools, stalagmites, fungi, tentacles, etc.  Plus, some of Glynn's custom icons for god-knows-what!  It's going to be a lot of fun to look at, let alone explore with your adventuring party.

Originally, the lighter parchment with black ink and darker parchment with black ink were going to be separate files.  I liked them both and asked Glynn if it was possible to do the lighter parchment for interior areas like rooms and corridors with the darker parchment hue for all exterior spaces.  Lo and behold, it's possible!

Also, the 5 - 7 (at minimum) page PDF will have a full color cover and interior black and white illustration by Kort'thalis Publishing's house artist Bojan Sucevic.  You can see a work-in-progress image of the cover on the right.

The PDF file will be updated periodically via DriveThruRPG when I come up with additional GM material for running a dungeon of this magnitude.  Who knows how extensive the final document will eventually become?

For those who haven't read the mega-dungeon's history, here it is.

Once The S'rulyan Vault kickstarter has reached its first stretch goal of $1,000, the parchment version of the mega-dungeon will be unlocked and available to all backers on June 1st.

That's it.  Have a great week!  Don't be shy about commenting, sharing, blogging, re-posting, and mentioning The S'rulyan Vault on social media.  That's how we'll get to 1K and beyond.  ;)

VS


Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Girl Who Would Be Assassinated


Last Saturday, I was running Alpha Blue at the OddCon convention in Madison, WI.  We had a backroom suite all to ourselves, free from noise and distraction - it was a fantastic experience and one I hope to see over and over again.

A few people did wander into our area, wondering what we were playing.  Invariably, I'd say "Alpha Blue".  They'd respond with, "Never heard of it."  Then I'd reply, "That's because I wrote it.  It's a sci-fi RPG mixed with 70's porn."  Mixed reactions, as expected.

One time I mentioned Ice Pirates, but the young dude hadn't heard of that.  Ice Pirates meets Flash Gordon might be a better description, if one were to dial down the sleaze.

As usual, I had a few ideas in my back pocket.  But mostly, I let character creation, player wanderlust, and luck decide how the scenario was going to go.  Luckily, Alpha Blue and Girls Gone Rogue are filled to the brim with all manner of random tables.

I've said this before, but it bears repeating - GMs should listen to what their players say when not actively playing the game, out of character and usually leading up to the adventure proper.  An attentive GM will pick up all manner of clues: what players want to do with their characters, who they want to talk to, where they want to go, what they want to kill, what's special about their character's backstory, why they need the money, etc.  Because we're all sitting, verbal cues are much more important than body language.  Just by listening to the tone in a player's voice, you can usually tell what's resonating with him.

For instance, the players were interested in things to buy.  +sean mcconkey, who's played Alpha Blue almost as much as I've run it, was talking about various purchasable goods when an idea hit.  Clones!  For a thousand credits, you could buy a clone.  Of course!

That made so much sense to me regarding available technology, avoiding unnecessary PC death, providing money pits for PCs to spend their hard earned credits on, and various shenanigans that can occur during the cloning process, etc.

Plus, what about the ins and outs of obtaining a clone of someone else?  Can one buy the rights (or steal the DNA) to clone the space girl next door?  What about a hardened super-criminal?  Or quantum physics genius?  Is that slavery?  What if you inserted some or all of your consciousness/will into the "not you" clone?  Mmm... possibilities.

So, what are these clones like?  As I envision it, a clone is an identical copy that could be held in reserve as backup or activated immediately - instant twin!  Want more than one clone?  Sure, it's 1,000 credits per clone... you can buy as many as you can afford.  My advice: definitely make that an option in our Alpha Blue game!

Getting back to the character creation process, one of the players was really excited about his space priest / assassin career opportunities and rolled on the debt owed tables in order to purchase his own starship.  He mentioned how "up for anything" he was if and when his creditors asked.

Boom!  That became the hook.  Within minutes of play, that PC received a transmission from the bounty hunters who lent him the credits to buy Tiny Dancer.  On they went to New Alderaan 2.  We all know that something bad happened to the original Alderaan, but apparently both New Alderaan and Alderaan 2 also took turns for the worse.

With my Samsung Galaxy 4, I found a picture of the target, Loganna.  Since New Alderaan 2 was home to domed cities full of beautiful androids draped in brightly colored, see-through fabrics, everyone at the table took a gander at the girl who would be assassinated.

Of course, that wasn't set in stone.  The PC who owed the debt didn't have to track her down and kill her - in fact, I was hoping the party would take an alternative route - but I've found that old habits die hard.  Longtime gamers who've assassinated hundreds of individuals in-game probably don't even question their orders anymore.  If their mission is to take someone out, they take them out... no matter how hot they are!

I've never encountered so many male players choosing to play female characters as when I'm running this RPG.  I like to think that Alpha Blue helps re-program gamers.  Another example is the technician / pirate PC (left my notes at home and have to do all this from memory and I'm terrible with names) who was alone on the ship with several space prostitutes.  As the Space Dungeon Master, I practically had to rip off his clothes (in-game) and grind her vagina on him before he got the hint.  As gamers, we've been so used to avoiding casual and serious, emotional and sexual relationships, attachments, and drama that it seems weird to intentionally involve ourselves in such moments, to embrace them rather than acknowledge them briefly before getting to "the real adventure": breaking in, slaying, and looting.

Another observation I had was a player who kept gambling.  His character was a gambler with an edge (he was invisible, except for clothing, items carried, etc.) and that's pretty much what he did throughout the game, except when forced into combat or situations between card games.  That seemed strange to me, but I went with it.  He actually made several hundred credits, though it didn't seem very exciting, heroic, villainous, adventurous, or sleazy.  To each his own.

Speaking of sleazy, after the assassination and leisure center shoot-out with a competing bounty hunter crew, Sean's pimp character had his girls work the session's concluding party back at the space station brothel we all know and love.  He rolled the best of anyone that game - 3d6, all sixes!  So, I let him re-roll for exploding dice because it was a situation of making money on his star whores.  All told, the party's pimp made 3,300 blue bucks in about two hours.  Who said pimpin' wasn't easy?

One last thing, in an effort to remind players that once per session they could double their dice pools, as well as, creating some additional visual aid, I brought a blue glow stick to the game.  The object was to double a PC's dice pool and then pass the glow stick to someone else who could use it and then he would pass it again.  That actually led to a couple of minor problems.  The passing back and forth was distracting while allowing it to be passed back and forth continually gave everyone 3 or 4 double-ups during the session.

Next time, I'll probably just splurge on a 10-pack of blue glow sticks for about $5.  Then everyone will have one and once they've used it, they can hand it back to me and it's done.

Everyone had a good time, were impressed with the maps, laughed at the tables, got to feel a little dirty, and I can't wait for next time!

VS


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Social Justice Lynch Mob


As I've said in numerous responses to comments about yesterday's post, my satirical jabs were meant for the lynch mob forming in the wake of this article and several blog posts and forum threads exacerbating the inquisition going after traces of thought-crime and new-speech, not victims of rape, abuse, and harassment.

Only weeks ago, my sleazy sci-fi RPG, Alpha Blue, was targeted for censorship on DriveThruRPG, taken off the virtual shelves for being possibly too much for customers to handle who opted-in regarding mature/adult content.  People have claimed my books are sexist, misogynistic, immature, gross, offensive, profane and everything under the sun.  That's just one of the reasons that I'm making this my business.  I'm not only fighting for the underdog (yes, white males can be underdogs, too), but for myself, as well.  I don't see this battle as totally divorced from censorship.

Whether the aforementioned incidents of harassment actually happened to her or were exaggerated or possibly assembled as a composite from the stories of multiple victims, I don't know for sure.  No one does.

What I am sure about is that calling a portion of the gaming community terrorists - not all, true, but clearly some - is not only offensive but counter-productive.  Even if I'm "one of the good ones" as a white male gamer, that phrase tarnishes the entire community.  In fact, it reminds me of the horrible things that Donald Trump recently said about Mexicans.  That the majority of them coming into our country are drug pushers, murderers, and rapists... but, some of them are, he assumes, good people.

The phrase "white male terrorism" is also racist, sexist, and worst of all, makes light of actual terrorism.  A few commenters don't see what the big deal is.  So what if you, me, or the gamer next to us is branded a "terrorist"?  To call someone - or anyone who isn't an actual terrorist - a terrorist is, in my opinion, disrespectful to those who lost their lives in 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and every act of terror before or after our national tragedy.

It's the equivalent of calling people Nazis during WWII or communists during the McCarthy era or Satanists during the 1980's.  It's not ok and I hope people can understand my intentionally provocative reaction.  Being called a terrorist is not silly, stupid, harmless, accurate, or appropriate - it's dangerous, hateful, and disgusting.

I didn't stand idly by, a few years ago, when a certain self-described Left Hand Path organization claimed to be and espoused the rhetoric of a terrorist group.  Rather, I fought against them.  I spoke out and received warnings and threats for doing so.  Many people think they know me just because they've read one of my books, met me briefly at a convention, or we discussed D&D online.  Well, there's more to me than most people think.

For a short period of my life, in 1996, I was living in New Mexico.  One night, some guys driving a truck threw donuts at me while yelling something because I was walking down the sidewalk in a liberal area of Albuquerque wearing a black cape and black makeup.  Presumably, they thought I was gay and didn't know the first thing about the goth subculture.  I'm not claiming that I know what it's like to be homosexual in America because of my exposure to a few isolated incidents.  But I do know that those guys were assholes, not terrorists.  And I didn't organize a witch-hunt in retaliation.  Instead, I kept doing my thing with one eye open.

You don't build a community or a consensus by calling people terrorists.  If that's your go-to platform, any chance for raising awareness will inevitably crash and burn.  A social justice lynch mob isn't the answer.

If you see behavior that upsets you, I hope you do or say something about it.  But I'm not going to demonize an entire race and gender within a community in order to influence behavior to my liking.  Therein lies the difference, and I happen to believe it's an important one.

VS


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

White Male Terrorism... and what you can do about it!


Speaking as a "white male terrorist", I feel that it's finally time to do the appropriate thing.

After all, my race, gender, and sexual orientation has had it pretty good so far - too good, obviously.  Our tasteless jokes, personal preferences, immature taunts, name calling, and totalitarian rape culture have gone far enough.  Now, we must be stopped!  I mean, come on.  All of us "white male terrorists" seem to be doing day in / day out is harass, ridicule, assault, and disenfranchise those who are not also "white male terrorists".

This is my current Kickstarter campaign.  However, I'm determined to create something that will force all the Caucasian straight men assholes who are fucking the entire world up for everyone else to sit down and shut up.  I'm currently in talks with several German gaming engineers to help with the design for a revolutionary new miniature guillotine that slices off the masculine genitalia.

For those of you, like me, who realize that "white male terrorists" can't be trusted with our junk intact, I give you the Chop-o-matic (patent pending)!

Eventually, after testing the prototype on myself and every local white male piece of shit who has the gall to not immediately kill themselves in the presence of evidence (yes, evidence!) that some individuals are insensitive jerks(!!!), I fully intend to mass produce the Chop-o-matic for implementation throughout the USA and Europe.  Don't worry, we'll find the RPGpundit... wherever he's hiding.

Though the Chop-o-matic KS won't appear for several weeks, I'd like all of the "white male terrorists" reading this blog post to pledge their disgusting and cowardly rape-balls to the Chop-o-matic's testosterone-cleansing blade.  I see no other course of action open to us, since we are the world's biggest problem and always have been!

So, start lining up, guys.  That nutsack isn't going to guillotine itself.

Sincerely,

Venger As'Nas Satanis
High Priest of Kort'thalis Publishing

p.s.  For those who don't know what the Hell I'm talking about, the above post was in response to this.

p.p.s. This post was satire (obviously); however, this post clarifies my position and offers constructive criticism.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The S'rulyan Vault


Here is my latest Kickstarter campaign.

I want to create a huge, old school "blue" map like all those late 70's and early 80's modules I ran or played as a kid.  Big enough to dominate my gaming table, where all the players (and myself) can quickly and easily understand where the party is and what's going on.

It'll also include a slew of random tables for spontaneously appointing and populating your new mega-dungeon.  Basically, that's it.

Check out the stretch goals for bonus stuff I'd love to add.  Also, be sure to spread the word around.  The more funding this project gets, the bigger and better The S'rulyan Vault is for everyone!

Thanks,

VS

p.s.  The picture on the right is a sketch by Glynn Seal of +MonkeyBlood Design.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Dawn of Awesome: Justified


I went into last night's movie with low expectations.  Seemingly, everyone and their superhero-loving brother had an unfavorable opinion about Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.  So, I expected something mediocre.

And yet... there was definitely a spark of optimism inside me.  I hoped the critics were wrong and who knows, maybe they were?

As the lights went down, I watched everything unfold.  By the half-hour mark, I was saying to myself, "Wow, this isn't that bad so far."  After the first hour, I said, "Damn, this is pretty good."  Two hours in, there was no turning back.  Batman vs Superman was extremely dark, sure, but unrelentingly awesome, as well!

Here's the part where I examine what the critics had to say and respond with my own - relatively spoiler-free - interpretations...

Low stakes:  WTF?  The fate of Superman, Batman, and the entire world?  Yeah, low stakes, indeed, buddy.  Keep walking.

Lack of motivation:  Half the movie is devoted to setting up the premise - Batman doesn't trust Superman and there's plenty of good, solid reasons for that.  Did these reviewers forget about Lex Luthor?

The movie is misogynistic, paternalistic, and even fascist:  Just because every woman in the movie isn't the strong, competitive, self-realized ideal of femininity, doesn't mean it hates women.  Sure, there are damsels in distress, but those damsels are also what drive the protagonists.  If the audience sees characters as father-figures, that's on them.  Men in their 40's and 50's can't help but have those comparisons drawn for them.  As for the movie being "fascist", I haven't found a reviewer explain what's fascist about it.

Too many characters:  What did they expect, some kind of one-man show?  I can see that kind of ignorant comment being lobbed at The Avengers, but this film had two protagonists who were against each other for the majority of the movie, a third superhero who was only in a few scenes and one principle super-villain.  Alfred?  Was he the straw that broke the camel's back?  Such a ridiculous claim.

Too grim and intense:  Yes, it's quite dark, as I mentioned.  We live in a fucked up world of terrorists, corporate/political overlords, the powerful preying on the powerless, and deep distrust bordering on mutual hatred.  That's our world.  It sucks, but how stupid would it have been for the script/director to present a sunshiny Earth where everyone is smiling, the colors are bright, and people are cracking jokes every other minute?  As for the intensity?  Do we not want an intense viewing experience from a movie billed as a fight between Batman and Superman?

Confused narrative:  If someone had never seen a movie before in their lives, I could understand this complaint.  Sure, the film jumps around a bit - taking us from previous events to modern day to flash backs to dreams to different characters with their own perspectives and agendas.  To me, it feels like life... full-bodied realism masquerading as stream-of-consciousness, rather than a predictably linear (and boring) story going from point A to B to C to...zzzz.

Superman isn't human enough:  Yeah, he's an alien.  Of course, he's not going to be as human as the guy walking down the street.  Do we have to have a character act just like us in order to identify with him, to empathize, to understand what he's going through?  Why can't Superman's portrayal embrace his otherness?  That just seems like such a dumb criticism: He's too different.

Lex Luthor is a regurgitation of Eisenberg's performance in The Social Network:  Again, I don't agree with that at all.  They're similar in that both are outside-the-box thinkers who are really good at computers and other genius-type stuff, but that's where the similarities end.  Lex is weirder, driven by other factors (like his hatred of Superman), and extremely charismatic, albeit in an awkward, twitchy kind of way.  I thought Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Lex Luthor was menacing, fascinating, and all around great.

The showdown between Batman and Superman was boring:  That fight was downright epic!  It was true to the combatants, inventive, dramatic, and emotionally draining.  Basically, a roller-coaster ride of mano y mano.

No one to route for:  Well, then you're dead.  If you can't feel anything for the characters on screen, I can't help you... because you're either a corpse or a sociopath.  On the other hand, if you can't decide which you'd rather route for - because you want to route for both - then join me in congratulating the writers, actors, and director for creating a sense of ambiguity.  The choice is, indeed, difficult.  And that's part of what makes this movie so awesome!

Counterpoint to the "too evenly liked" heroes:  Once we realize that Batman has been cleverly manipulated by Lex Luthor, I, for one, couldn't justify siding with Batman.  Clearly, by the time the battle takes place, we're hoping that Superman doesn't get killed... but also that Superman doesn't kill Batman.

Too much backstory:  I was shocked as anybody - my wife, who was sitting next to me in the theater, hadn't seen any of the older Superman movies and couldn't remember the Batman films that she had seen.  The little bit of background info was just enough to remind us of what came before... and to fill in the gaps for those who have no idea.

Superman is viewed by some as a god:  Well, he is fairly godlike.  Plus, I thought the religious overtones and symbolism were not only justified but part of what makes up the Superman mythology.  It also underscores the gravity of the situation - this alien being is basically given the keys to the planet... is that a good idea?

Wonder Woman was underutilized:  The movie isn't called Batman v Superman and Wonder Woman, too... is it?  No, this is about Batman and Superman.  We're all glad to see Wonder Woman do her thing, but any more presence and she would have stolen the show.

Too many dream sequences:  Life isn't just what's in front of us.  A lot of it is remembering the stuff that happened in our past, the stuff that might happen in the next few seconds, and what future stuff might be like.  The fact that all those little moments took me by surprise and briefly transported me to another world kept my attention.  And let me add, a post-apocalypse superhero movie?  That looked so beyond awesome that I might have to write something up for that RPG-wise.

Something feels missing:  It was nice to be spoon-fed my meals... when I was nine months old!  I'm an adult now and don't need every little thing explained to me.  A little mystery is good.  The audience can read between the lines, we're not dummies.

Too much going on:  The entire plot can be summed up in a sentence: In the aftermath of Metropolis' devastation when Superman was fighting Zod, both Batman and Lex Luthor got the notion that Superman was more liability than savior, but how they go about fixing the problem is entirely different... or is it?  Is there more to the film than just that?  Of course.  It's a two and a half hour movie!

The film is monotone:  Just because an artist limits his color palette and aesthetic, doesn't mean the work or artist is "monotone".  We all make choices.  Those who created this film made theirs.  Dislike it all you want, but don't penalize it for not embracing the entire spectrum.

The reason that Batman and Superman stop fighting each other:  [Spoilers ahead]  Well, it's not just their mothers having the same first name.  That was the tip of the iceberg.  It gave Batman enough pause to think harder about what he was about to do, what he intended to do.  Amy Adams, Lex Luthor, and good old fashioned common sense also play their parts.  For critics to say that the whole film hinges on a coincidence exploited by the screenwriters is not doing them justice.

We know how it ends before it even starts:  Yeah, well, millions of audience members went to see that movie about Jesus knowing what was going to happen.  Did it ruin the film for them when they saw him crucified (oops, spoiler alert)?  Not one bit.  I've watched the original Star Wars about a hundred times.  I know how it ends.  Finding out if the Death Star blows up is not why I'm going to see it one hundred and one.

___

Those that want to see this movie as hopelessly flawed are choosing to see it that way.  For the rest of us, Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice is a beacon of cinematic superhero hope.

Thanks for reading,

VS