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,


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Alpha Blue on the "White List"

I have the distinct pleasure of announcing that One Book Shelf (DriveThruRPG, RPGnow, and a bunch of others) deemed Alpha Blue not quite offensive enough to ban from their virtual shelves.

During a lengthy conversation with Steve Wieck, he shared the concerns that some people had with my sleazy, vintage sci-fi RPG.  We both came to the same conclusion - Alpha Blue may be culturally insensitive at times and offensive to a few outspoken individuals, but it doesn't deserve to be blacklisted.

Long story short - Alpha Blue is back, baby!

I've just included a warning before its listing and that of Girls Gone Rogue, the one and only supplement for Alpha Blue.  Best of all, they're both on sale (for a limited time)... PDFs and softcovers!!!

Before I forget, reviews!  Erik from Tenkar's Tavern posted this and James Desborough blogged that.

Thanks to all those who supported me throughout this ordeal.  Glad you have my back.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Alpha Blue temporarily suspended

I won't go into a rant, lecture, or tirade on censorship, artistic freedom, etc.  Just wanted everyone to know that Alpha Blue got a temporary suspension from DriveThruRPG.

You can read the copy/pasted email below...

A customer has reported your title as potentially containing offensive content. We have had a quick look at the title and decided to temporarily suspend the title (i.e., turn it Private, not Public) on pending a thorough staff review of its content. We aim to review all titles within two business weeks.

Most titles we review are found not to contain offensive content and are reinstated for sale in short order. If that is the case here, the title will then be whitelisted so other customers can not report it again. For new release titles suspended during their initial release period, we will reset the title’s release on our marketplace so that it is once again treated as a new release.

If our review determines there is content in the product that we may not want for sale on, then we will be in touch with you again to discuss the matter in more detail.

We appreciate your patience while we conduct the review. Please do not turn the product back to Public until we’ve concluded our review. You will hear from us again as soon as our review is completed.



FYI, softcover copies of Alpha Blue are available on and CreateSpace (where I get a slightly higher percentage of the profit).

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Girls Gone Rogue PDF

The PDF of Girls Gone Rogue is here.  It's 80 pages (I only promised about 50)!  A print-on-demand version is coming very soon.

Before furnishing the free maps created by Glynn Seal of +MonkeyBlood Design for Alpha Blue and Girls Gone Rogue, I'd like to thank all the Kickstarter backers.  Thanks, guys!  Couldn't have done this without you.

One last thing... creating the (softcore) porn version of a 1970's style science-fiction RPG was kind of a risk.  I didn't know if anyone would "get it", like it, want to play it, or even purchase the damn thing.  It was a total gamble - but it paid off.  Alpha Blue has found an audience, despite a few vocal naysayers.

With Girls Gone Rogue, I doubled down.  Not just more of the same.  I tried to stretch myself, to boldly go in new and filthier directions.  Sure, the text is a bit more "blue" at times, but it's the artwork that takes the cake.  A few images go above and beyond risque.  Alpha Blue tested the waters... Girls Gone Rogue dives right in.  The water's fine.  Enjoy!

Ok, below are the Dropbox links...

Alpha Blue space station

Blue Flamingo

Sunfish starship

The Cantina

Memphis Beast

Tiny Dancer

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Post Gary Con Analysis (part 2 of 2)

Just as I was finished eating dinner (BTW, here's part 1), I got a g+ community group text hangout message thing - technology, not my bag, baby.  Someone asked, "What do you do when it's been a half-hour and the GM hasn't shown up?"

"Riot," I replied.  And then in a more serious tone, offered my services as Game Master for that table, not really knowing who was there, what they were playing, or any specifics at all.  All I knew was that I didn't have a game scheduled and GMing is what I was born to do.

The person texting gave me their table # so I could find them.  I paid the check and made my way there.  As it turns out, everyone except the guy texting and his wife had vacated the premises a couple minutes before my arrival.  I can't blame them for leaving.  They were probably frustrated and didn't want to roll the dice.  After all, no one knew who I was and I could have been awful.

So, I wandered around and used the google hangout machine to ask if anyone was interested in an unscheduled session of Alpha Blue.  One guy said yes.  His name was +Tim Loughrist.  He and I were hanging out at a free-for-all table between gaming rooms, waiting for the previous tenants to vacate.

Tim was asking me questions about Alpha Blue because he had heard some things about it.  As I was explaining, the dude who had just playtested his Model U.N. but with pirates game joined in the conversation.  I recognized him from Game Hole Con, but can't remember his name.  Somehow, another dude sat down and by some miracle we had a game!

The three players created characters.  All were scoundrels, one a mutant.  The random tables provided the rest.

There's something about the sci-fi genre.  Especially, action-pulp space opera sci-fi.  More than once, the very first encounter I rolled at the start of the game became the centerpiece (centerfold?) of the session.  Spacers just seem to know what to do, I guess.

Tim's character was in debt to a bounty hunter so that he could begin the game with his own ship.  I told him it looked like a cross between an X-Wing and the Millennium Falcon.  The reason being my car was parked about a mile away from the convention entrance.  And it was cold, windy, and snowing.  So, I didn't want to spend 15 minutes walking (again!) back to my car to get all my Alpha Blue and Girls Gone Rogue maps.  Probably should have, but oh well.

Anyways, Tim drew his interpretation of that ship and named it the Iron Pigeon.  His interpretation was quite literal, which I thought was hilarious and took a picture of the thing.

After exchanging some of their credits for blue bucks and purchasing a trucker hat and some risque snow-globes, the action started.  A hologram appeared in their section of the space station.  Some diminutive alien threatened to blow Alpha Blue up unless a Blue Flamingo starship was delivered to him.  Behind him was a full-scale orgy.

So, the PCs grabbed their blasters and dove right in.  They landed their starship on a strange planet and infiltrated an enemy starship and nearby compound.  There was wheeling and dealing, negotiating a deal that played both sides against the other.  It reminded us of Clint Eastwood from The Man With No Name trilogy - aha, yes!  His name was +Clint Bohaty.  No clue who the third guy was, though.

A sexy, leather bodysuit-clad NPC tagged along.  Being the professional bounty hunger, mercenary, and assassin each of them was, they saved pleasure for the end, after their mission had been completed.  The mutant assassin had sex with a mature prostitute originally picked up by the merc, who also planted a thermal detonator inside of her, but I won't get too deep into that.  You just had to be there.

It was a good game and I thanked everyone for playing.  Unfortunately, GMs have to submit games far in advance of the actual conventions.  Planning 4 months ahead of time isn't my style.  I didn't know how Alpha Blue was going to go until after my games had been submitted, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to run my latest book.

No idea how, but I got lost from the Grand Geneva to my Comfort Suites hotel.  It was a straight shot and only a half-mile away, but somehow it eluded me and I was lost in a blizzard for about 40 terrifying minutes in an unknown town.  Thankfully, the woman behind the desk at Comfort Suites guided me in via phone.

Saturday mid-morning was my last session, The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence.  Two years ago I playtested Purple at Gary Con VI, so it was fun bringing The Purple back to Lake Geneva.

Just like Friday's Crimson Dragon Slayer game, I had 5 players.  A single guy played in both my scheduled games.  One woman this time.  She has the honor of being the only female I GMed that weekend.  Every time I said something, like "Yeah, you can start out with machine guns," she replied with "That's cool," or "So awesome," or something like that.  She wanted to play a minotaur cyborg.  "Sure," was my response and she was happy about that, as well.

I've run Purple about a dozen times and no session has been exactly like any other.  It's so sprawling and random that each game seems like a unique experience.  I'm running out of time, so I'll quickly mention the highlights...

  • Started as slaves.
  • Stumbled onto a security system.
  • Encountered a silly gnome driving a high-tech tank with laser canon.
  • Hid from The Thing That Rots From The Sky in a black pylon.
  • Wandered into a dimension that looked like an Erol Otus painting.
  • Helped a cult summon Yogsoggoth!
  • A few participated in an orgy with strange magenta-hued women.
  • Broke into an underground base.
  • Received a starship in exchange for not killing any more of Mannix's men.
  • Flew the ship to a shattered dome city that had seen better days.
  • Fought some Lovecraftian aberration and won.
  • Went to another galaxy or something.

All in a full day's work.

Everyone seemed pleased at the end.  I surprised myself with the Yogsoggoth encounter - it got even more indulgently weird, gross, and erotic than even I expected!

Not sure who the player to my immediate left was.  He was playing a snake-man wizard and kept improvising these cool spells involving his ancient reptilian ancestors and glands to the point where it was both awesome and ridiculous.  Anyway, I really enjoyed his roleplaying.  And he brought purple dice to the game!  Next time, maybe you can prevent those meteors from bringing down the Jurassic period.

So, that was it.  Hope you enjoyed reading my report on Gary Con VIII.  If you have any questions, please ask.  Thanks to the friends and family of Gary Gygax, as well as, all the great people I met during my all-too-brief stay.  

Unless a new baby is born just before or after Gary Con IX, I'll be there.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Post Gary Con Analysis (part 1 of 2)

There are pros and cons to almost everything.

Rarely do we ever experience a cloud without some kind of silver lining (no matter how hidden, it's usually lurking somewhere) or a silver lining without a cloud - human nature being what it is, I think the vast majority of us would readily agree with that.

The good think about living so close to Lake Geneva, home of the Gary Con roleplaying game convention and birthplace of TSR's Dungeons & Dragons, is that I can drive there in about 90 minutes.  The bad thing is that it was easier for me to justify only going for a day and a half.  But then, it's better to go for a short time than none at all.

Likewise, attending by myself was also a mixed bag.  I was unattached, unencumbered as it were, able to do what I wanted, when I wanted... however, it would have been nice to share the experience with a friend or two (even my wife).  Though, I did get a chance to talk with a few gaming buddies and acquaintances throughout the convention.  But +Tim Virnig better come with me next year!

For some reason, and I'm not entirely sure why, I opted to only run games instead of signing up ahead of time to both run and play them.  Maybe I wanted to focus on Game Mastering for my limited stay.  Perhaps I was hoping to GM an unscheduled session or two.  Possibly I figured there would be several unscheduled games I could drop into without having to decide months in advance.  Whatever the reasoning behind it, my destiny was to orchestrate the chaos.

It took me a little while to get my bearings.  I had almost two hours before running my first game.  So, I wandered the dealer's room.  Oddly, nothing jumped out at me that I had to have.  Exchanged pleasantries with someone manning the Black Blade Publishing booth who was interested in selling my books at the next con (probably Game Hole Con).  Also stopped by and said hi to +Jeff Talanian who created Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.

Just after locating the table where I'd be running both my scheduled games (Saturday's game was actually the table next to Friday's), I ran into +Jason Bossert and +Meredith Spearman.  They played in my Purple Islands game at last years's Game Hole Con.  Jason is too funny, and they're both really nice.

The first session I ran on Friday afternoon was "The Scarlet Sorcerer's Sanctuary," a one-page zine that I intended to flesh out into a full scenario months ago.  Well, Alpha Blue and Girls Gone Rogue got in the way of that.  So, I had half an adventure and my other RPG books to help me improvise the rest.

I think it went well.  There wasn't as much Crimson Dragon Slayer type 80's references and humor because that wasn't written into the zine and that stuff is harder to improvise.  So, it seemed less like the Crimson Dragon Slayer I know and more like a fast and furious old school D&D game... which was fine.  Still, it's obvious that I should have prepped more.

I believe this is also where I unequivocally decided that no damage should be left behind!

Some of the things I write are open to interpretation.  Instead of being chock-full of description, advice, and things going on, occasionally there are tunnels or "passage ways" that allow (or force, depending on your view) the GM to come up with his own ideas, answers, explanations, etc. on the fly.  Well, I've never written anything with the number of passages contained in "The Scarlet Sorcerer's Sanctuary".  It was indeed a challenge.

The following is an anecdote from that session I relayed to +Julian Bernick over breakfast Saturday morning.  Thanks again, hoss!  I can't wait to game with you and everyone else at Game Hole Con this fall.

Anyways, there was this secret room containing three statues.  All three resembled elves turning into demons.  That was it.  In fact, I made up the elf/demon thing on the spot.  All the zine had was a secret room and three statues.

The players tried to interact with the statues by moving them and looking for secret compartments.  They didn't find any.  One player said aloud, "This is the most boring secret room we've ever found."  He said it in-character to another PC, but I still felt like the shittiest GM in the world at that moment.  Because he was right.  It seemed boring, stupid, and pointless.

My mind was spinning, trying to conjure a way to salvage that weak ass encounter and/or the remaining adventure.  Then another player had an idea.  You see, the room before the secret chamber contained a pool of blessed water.  "I'm going to carry some of the holy water in my helmet and pour it on one of the statues," he said.

"The statue begins to melt," I replied.  Soon enough, all three demonic statues were puddles, revealing spiral staircases down into the darkness.  I felt much better about it then and things continued.

The scenario ended with the scarlet sorcerer's treasure room.  For saving him, the scarlet-robed gnome granted the PCs two-thirds of his treasure.  He showed them his vault of goodies - three pedestals, each holding a large, fist-sized sphere, like a pearl.  One black, one white, and the last scarlet in hue.

As the PCs talked amongst themselves about which ones they should grab, I wrote-up a super quick d6 table to handle the outcome(s)...

What Happens When They Touch A Sphere?
  1. Death
  2. Return to the real world
  3. Summons a creature
  4. Thrown into a weird dimension
  5. Magic item (such as a ring of flying)
  6. 10,000 gold pieces

The beauty of coming up with a table is that it didn't matter which of the three spheres they touched.  If they took the black pearl, it would be just as random and fair as if they handled the other two.  

I actually don't remember how it all played out, except I know that a character played by +David Bresson touched one of the spheres (I think it was black) and rolled a "1".  That was the only character death of that game and my entire gaming weekend.  At least, it happened in the closing minutes of the session, so he didn't have to sit there and watch the rest of the party play without him or scramble to make a new character from scratch.

David Bresson was a good sport about it.  He approached me as I entered the Grand Geneva resort (which was very impressive, by the way).  David recognized me (having backed all my Kickstarter projects) and we talked for awhile about this and that.  I'm glad he had been there to welcome me.  BTW, I chatted with +Forrest Aguirre shortly after.

I'll conclude part 1 by saying that Friday night's dinner was unbelievably awesome.  The convention center contained three restaurants: a really fancy steak house, a fairly fancy buffet, and a super fancy pizza and pasta restaurant.  

I finally decided on the middle one because it seemed the most casual.  I lost count, but think I had four plates of prime rib, shrimp with cocktail sauce, garlic butter mashed potatoes, and chicken along with a mountain dew.  It was fantastic!  Felt a bit weird eating this big meal all alone, but it was nice to chill out and collect my thoughts, too.  See?  Pros and cons everywhere.

Part 2 is here.  Thanks for reading!


p.s.  Gary Gygax shall be remembered as the co-creator of the first fantasy roleplaying game way back in 1974.  This was a great way to honor his memory!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Gary Con and Beyond

Tomorrow morning, I'll be making my way to Lake Geneva for Gary Con.  Should get some great pictures and a few entertaining stories.  Looking forward to being there and running games!

Meanwhile, I created a new RPG Meetup for Sun Prairie.  Last Saturday was session two of a new once a month D&D 5th edition campaign.  I'm mixing Liberation of the Demon Slayer and The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence because my creative energy is exhausted from finishing up Girls Gone Rogue.  But now that that's 99% complete, I'll be able to put more of myself into adventure writing.

Before I go, just wanted to give a dice-praising shout-out to a translucent d20 that was in a set of polyhedrons left over from my Alpha Blue kickstarter.  It honest-to-Cthulhu scored no less than 9 critical hits in last week's game.  Yes, nine times!  The party's cleric died and a couple other PCs almost tasted the big purple tentacle in the sky.

All hail Akahl, ye make players think twice before engaging in combat.  Akahl!  Akahl!  Akahl!