There are a lot of lessons one might take away from the D-Day landings 70 years ago today. In a time when ugly nationalism is once again on the rise, the one I’d like to bring home is that the defeat of Fascism was a team effort. We know well the roles of British and American soldiers, sailors, and airmen. In recent years the Canadians have finally been getting their due for Juno Beach. It goes beyond that though. There were Dutch, Belgian, Polish, and Norwegian sailors in the Channel; Czech, Polish and Norwegian pilots flying support missions; and French commandos and partisans on the ground. Two months later, when the German army was on the run, it was tankers of the Polish 1st Armoured Division who closed the Falaise Gap. And of course none of this would have been possible if the Soviets had not torn the guts out of German armed forces in three years of savage fighting on the Eastern Front. We would do well this day not to honor just the dead of our own nation, but all those who died to end fascism.
One of the few local places that sold gaming stuff circa 1980 was a mall bookstore called Lauriat’s. They had D&D and Traveller books, and a small selection of Grenadier and Heritage miniatures. I had started playing D&D at age 10 and I would go browse that section whenever my family went to the mall. I had little money, so I mostly just looked. After my birthday or Xmas, I could usually splurge and get something. Deciding what to buyu was difficult. I could not pop on Google and find reviews. If there were gaming fanzines in Massachusetts at the time, I never saw one. I was left to judge by flipping through the books…and looking at the art. And one cover piece always drew my eye: module T1 The Village of Hommlet.
I came back to this image time and again. It was such a great evocation of D&D: a crazy monster to fight, an evil cult to smash, and the mysterious ruined moathouse to explore. When I finally scraped together $5, I bought that module and it was largely because of the cover art.
It was the first time I noticed the initials DAT on a piece of D&D art but certainly not the last. DAT was Dave A Trampier, one of the great artists of D&D publisher TSR. You may not have known his name but if you played the game in the early 80s, you knew his work: the iconic cover of the AD&D Player’s Handbook, the beautiful GM Screen panorama, the classic monster illustrations like the lizardman and fire giant, and of course Emirikol the Chaotic in the DMG.
Tramp’s story was a strange one. After doing all that amazing work, he disappeared from the game industry and from the world of illustration in the late 80s. No one knew what had become of him for years. About a decade ago he was discovered driving a cab. Yesterday, he passed away.
I don’t know why such a great artist left a promising career behind. Rumor has it he was bitter about the way TSR treated him. It’s a shame he stopped doing art altogether. It’s tragic that he never had his second act, as many of us hoped he would. I do hope that before his passing, he had some understanding of the impact of his work on a generation of gamers and dreamers. For many of us, our careers as creators began with D&D and the inspiration we drew from it. The game, the ideas, and the art set our imaginations on fire. Dave Trampier was a big part of that and gaming is poorer for his lost.
Thanks for everything you did, Dave. You will not be forgotten.
January is not usually a big convention month for me, but in 2014 I’ll be a guest at two.
First is ChupacabraCon on January 17-19. This is a new convention in Austin and Green Ronin will be well-represented, with Steve Kenson and Donna Prior also in attendance. I have not been back to Austin since leaving Vigil Games (which subsequently ceased to exist when THQ went bankrupt). It’ll be nice to see friends, eat good BBQ (!), play games, and do seminars.
The following weekend, January 24-26, I’m traveling all the way to Cork, Ireland for WarpCon! I’ve heard John Kovalic and other industry pals wax enthusiastically about Irish conventions for ages and now I’m getting the chance to see for myself. This will also be my first trip to Ireland and I’m excited to visit.
My step-daughter Kate just turned 18 and she was keen to come along, so it’s going to be a family affair. Kate asked friends and family for money to fund the trip for her birthday and Xmas this year and she’s just about paid for her ticket so far. This will be her first trip to Europe and I’m glad Nicole and I can share it with her. She was quick to point out that she’s old enough to go to pubs. Funny thing is, she is not interested in drinking (she got the straight edge). She’s just happy she can come out with us (something she can’t do at bars during GenCon, for example).
If you are local to Austin or Ireland, maybe I’ll see you next month!
When Dr. Who came back on the air in 2005, I was as excited as anyone who had grown up watching the show. Tom Baker on WGBH in Boston–that was where it started for me as a kid in the 70s. I liked Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor a lot and was a ticked off when he quit after one season (seriously, don’t take the role if you can’t commit to a few years; you know what you are in for). What I instantly hated though was the idea of the Time War. As that was the subject of the 50th Anniversary show, I’m going to unpack that a bit.
Spoilers for new Who and Day of the Doctor follow.
When new Who started, we learn that the Doctor is the only remaining Time Lord. Not only are all the others dead, he killed them (along with their mortal enemies, the Daleks). This was always a terrible idea and here’s why.
- First and foremost, it is totally out of character for the Doctor to resort to violence like that. In episode after episode, he always tries to find another way. It’s one of the core things that make the Doctor the Doctor. Yet we are told that not only did he use violence on a massive scale, he also committed genocide. Worse, he murdered his own people. This would be like a reboot of Willy Wonka in which we learn the eccentric chocolatier had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
- Even leaving aside the moral side of this, it was a poor choice from a story point of view. It removed an entire type of Dr. Who story–the Doctor gets involved in the politics of Gallifrey. I liked those episodes in the Davison era and it was a shame they were lost in new Who. I guess we had to make room for more episodes in which the Doctor investigates the mysteries of 20 something year old women.
- It was also a bad idea to get rid of the Daleks, as they were the classic Dr. Who villain. But of course they didn’t, did they? It wasn’t even one season before Daleks were back in the series. This was even worse, because it meant the Doctor committed genocide for no reason at all! The Daleks survived, but billions of his own people were dead by his own hand.
As you might guess, I was happy with the giant retcon that happened in Day of the Doctor. I’m glad–8 years later–they had the Doctor act like the Doctor in the defining moment of the character in new Who. It’s just too bad Day of the Doctor wasn’t better overall. The performances were good and there were some nice character bits, but the plot fell short for me. The saves-the-day idea was something out of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. At least they ended up in the right place though, with the idiotic conclusion of the Time War erased from history.
Last year I co-curated a show at Krab Jab Studio (my “office”) here in Seattle called The Art of RPGs. It featured a lot of great art and was our most popular show of 2012. This year we are doing it again. The basic info is below. We do an opening reception as part of the Georgetown Art Attack and artists are encouraged to attend if they are in the area. If you are an artist and you’d like to participate, drop me a line at pramas [at] gmail [diggity dot] com.
November 2013: The Art of Roleplaying Games
Description: Salon style exhibition of art from RPGs. Art must have been published in a game or a game periodical (such as Dragon magazine). Interiors and black/white work is acceptable. Digital work (in the form of giclee) is acceptable.
Confirmation Deadline: September 30th
Art Dropoff/Ship Deadline: November 4th
Curators: Julie Baroh and Chris Pramas
Dates: Opens November 9th, thru December 5th
Commission rate: 20%
Let me know if you have any questions. And feel free to share this info with any artists you know who might be interested.
It’s that magical time of year again: GenCon! This is my 25th GenCon in a row and I still get excited every year. If you are looking to talk to me, my public schedule is below.
The easiest place to find me is the Green Ronin booth, #1703. We are right by a front entrance this year, which is great. Mornings are a good bet, but I’ll be around in the afternoon too unless I’ve got meetings or a seminar.
5 pm: A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying and the Chronicle System
Convention Center, Room 242
Based on George R.R. Martin’s Westeros, A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying allows you to play out the intrigues of this rich setting. We’ll also discuss the Chronicle System materials, which expand the scope of the rule set.
8:00 pm: ENnie Awards
Union Station Hotel, Grand Hall
Green Ronin is up for several awards and our crew will of course be there for the ceremony!
Noon: Dragon Age Roleplaying and the Future of the AGE System
Crowne Plaza Hotel : Victoria Stn A/B
Bioware’s world of Thedas is the setting for our Dragon Age tabletop roleplaying game. Learn devs Chris Pramas’ and Jack Norris’ plans for the setting and the development of more AGE system games.
2 pm: Emerald Spire All-Stars Seminar
Convention Center: Room 231
Join a panel of the game design superstars behind the Pathfinder Emerald Spire Superdungeon. Panelists will discuss their original dungeon levels, followed by a Q&A and signing. Join a jaw-dropping panel of the game design superstars behind Paizo’s Emerald Spire Superdungeon. Panelists will discuss their original dungeon levels and share dungeon-themed anecdotes from their career in gaming, followed by a Q&A and signing. Panelists: Ed Greenwood, Frank Mentzer, Richard Baker, Wolfgang Baur, Mike Stackpole, Jordan Weisman, Chris Pramas, Lisa Stevens, Erik Mona, F. Wesley Schneider, James Jacobs, Jason Bulmahn, Sean K Reynolds.
See you all in Indianapolis!
So…Black Flag. It was a good show but not a great show. Ron Reyes was a fierce frontman and the song selection was heavily weighted toward’s their first 5 years (ie the good stuff). A couple of things dragged it down though. First, the new drummer could not hold a candle to Robo. He didn’t even attempt stuff like the fills on “Depression” and just was a weak link all around. Second, Greg Ginn could not help from throwing in several long, tedious songs towards the end of the set, during which he abused a theramin. One of them (“Can’t Decide” from My War) is even a song I like, but they did a 3 or 4 minute intro with theramin to what was already a 5 minute song and then threw in an extra long guitar solo to boot. Then closed with a 5+ minute version of Louie Louie. As I commented to Nicole afterwards, it was like two-thirds of a great show and one third self-indulgent nonsense.
The last couple of months I have been slow in responding to emails and late in getting things done. If this has affected you, I’m sorry about that. My deepest apologies go to the Dragon Age fans, who have been waiting for Set 3 long enough already.
The trouble began at the end of April when I woke up with a sore shoulder. I thought I just slept on it badly and it would right itself in a few days. A week later I went to get a massage because it had not gotten better and I was sleeping badly. That did not help, so I went in to see my doctor. She thought it might be my rotator cuff and referred me to a physical therapist. She also had me take 12 Ibuprofen a day for one week to see if that’d relax the muscles.
The therapy and exercises seemed to help for a couple of weeks. I still had to sleep on the couch though, as I could not lie flat in bed without pain. Then one Sunday the pain came roaring back. That week I could find no position–standing, sitting, or lying down–that was without pain. My thumb went numb and I started to get shooting pains up and down my arm. I could not sit at a computer for longer than 15 minutes. Sleep was horrible and I began to dread each night.
I went to see my doctor again and she made what turned out to be the correct diagnosis: I had a pinched nerve in my neck. She gave a 5 day course of steroids and a small amount of Vicodin for the pain. I also continued to see my PT. The steroids ended the worst of the pain but then things just plateaued. She told me to do another week of 12 Ibuprofen a day, and I hoarded the Vicodin so I could take one pill before bed (well, couch).
My physical therapist told me to alert her if things didn’t get any better and she would escalate my case. By this Monday I was still in pain all the time, so I sent up the Bat Signal. I went to the Spinal Clinic on Monday and was diagnosed again by a different PT and a new doctor. They agreed that the culprit was a pinched nerve. We scheduled a MRI for the next day and then a steroid injection by my spine for Monday. He gave me more Vicodin (hooray!) and some Valium to help me get through the MRI.
So yesterday morning I went in for the MRI. Since I had been unable to lie flat without pain for two months now, the idea of having to do that in a narrow tube did not thrill me. I followed the doctor’s instructions and took a Valium and Vicodin when I woke up. Then I took two more Valium before the MRI. Nonetheless, when they strapped me in, there was searing, stabby pain. When they are giving you a MRI, you can’t move or you ruin the imaging, so all I could do was lie there and suck it up for 15 long minutes. Goddamn, that was hurt but I did it. The tech said I was “awesome at laying still.” I hope the images are worth it.
Monday I go in for the steroid shot. With a needle near my spine, I don’t expect it to be pleasant, but if it works I will gladly suffer through it. By bathing that area with steroids, hopefully the muscles will finally relax and unpinch my spine. Then a little more PT should take care of it. With GenCon coming up next month, I really want to get back into fighting shape. I also have a ton of work to do, on Dragon Age, Freeport, and more. I’ve lost enough time already.
And hey, Spine? After this let’s never fight again.
We’ve got five days left in the Freeport Kickstarter and we are still over $16,000 short of our goal. Throughout these last weeks, I’ve been reading your feedback and adding to or changing the campaign in response. People said they wanted more new content, so I added the Return to Freeport adventure series. I’ve also done things like offer a book-only reward level, and a way for Canadian backers to get more affordable shipping. The most common reason given for not backing the Kickstarter, however, is that the physical book is too expensive. I’d like to take some time to explain why I chose this format for the project and why our initial goal was $50,000.
Freeport is important to me because Death in Freeport is what put Green Ronin on the RPG map back in 2000. It sold like crazy and won an Origins Award and the very first ENnie Award (given to me by Gary Gygax, no less). I had originally conceived of GR as a fun side project and I didn’t expect it to be my full time job, but due to the success of Freeport and other d20 lines it became just that in March of 2002. Freeport was also the first commercial setting I created that was always fully under my control. No business wonk or brand manager could tell me what to do with it. You can understand, I hope, why Freeport means a lot to me.
During Freeport’s fallow period, it was always my intention to go back to it. The questions were when and how? Once Kickstarter began to change the face of RPG publishing, I of course thought of the City of Adventure. The way we used to publish, I would not have tried to do a 512-page full color hardback. It would be too risky and if it failed, could really hurt Green Ronin. That sort of calculus went into how we did the original Freeport hardback and its successor, The Pirate’s Guide to Freeport. The former was 160 pages with a black and white interior. The latter was nearly 100 pages longer but only 16 of its 256 pages were in color. Kickstarter thus seemed like a way to do the Freeport book I always wanted to do: big, sexy, and full color throughout.
I considered doing the new book without any game specific info, as we did with The Pirate’s Guide to Freeport, but sales data suggested that wasn’t the best approach. From what we could tell, the biggest segment of our d20 fanbase was now playing Pathfinder so using those rules seemed to make the most sense. We had previously published a Pathfinder Freeport Companion of 160 pages. Combine that with The Pirate’s Guide and our starting point was 416 pages. We certainly did not want to just slap them together and call it a day though; there had to be new material. That’s how the book ended up at 512 pages in our pitch. We wanted at least 100 pages of new material (and at this point it’s looking like at least 150 pages). We also wanted to revise and expand the material in the Pathfinder Companion to make sure the rules material was as up-to-date as possible.
When picking the goal for the Kickstarter then, I had to bear in mind the following costs:
- Art Budget: a conservative estimate for quality interior art and a new cover is $15,000.
- Print Budget: we are looking at least $25,000 here, since full color hardbacks are expensive to print.
- Content Budget: writing, revising, developing, and editing a book of this size—even starting with previously written material—is going to cost us upwards of $10,000.
So that’s $50,000 right there and that leaves us no profit at all. That just makes the book. Our plan is to do larger print run than the Kickstarter requires and then sell the rest of it through distributors, retailers, and our online store. That’s where our profit would actually come from if we only reach $50,000 with the Kickstarter.
I’ve been asked how much the book will cost at stores after the Kickstarter. Our estimate right now is $75. That makes the Scurvytown Special, in which you get the finished PDF and the book shipped to you, a pretty good deal at $80. At $100, of course, you get a whole lot more (like the Return to Freeport adventure series and the serpentman promo miniature).
Some people have suggested that we should have started smaller and built it up with stretch goals. Maybe so. Frankly though, I didn’t want to play that game. I wanted to clearly lay out my dream Freeport book and try to make a reality, and Kickstarter makes that possible. It tells you how much interest there really is in your project before you spend a lot of money on it. If this campaign fails, it will still have served a purpose. I will know this was not the right project at the right time. I will also have tried to give the Freeport fans something new, which they’ve been patiently waiting for these past few years.
But we aren’t done yet. We have five days to get Freeport: The City of Adventure funded and I think we can do it. We’ve already gotten some great promotion from our friends at Paizo and Steve Jackson Games, as well as game sites, podcasts, and fans the world over. Thanks to each and every one of you. We just need a final push to get the word out, to find old Freeport fans and make new ones. So tell your friends, tell the internet, and tell your old gaming pals that Freeport is looking for a new generation of buccaneers! Let’s hoist the skull and bones, spread the word, and find this booty for Freeport!
I took Nicole and Kate to see The Hobbit last night. I had been looking forward to it for a long time, and had attempted to learn as little as possible about the production beforehand. Only when we saw Skyfall last month did I even see a trailer. I wanted to go in fresh without preconceptions. I also made sure to re-read the novel beforehand.
My verdict: it was…good. I wish it had been great though.
Spoilers for Book and Movie Ahead!
I should say right away that I do understand the problems faced by Jackson and his writers. The Hobbit is very different in tone than the Lord of the Rings. It was a children’s book after all. If they did The Hobbit as written, it would have been a lot more light-hearted and well, goofy than the previous three films. Tolkien was a serious world builder though, and the story of The Hobbit has an important place in the history of the Third Age of Middle Earth. What Jackson and crew were trying to do was put the story in its proper context by bringing in a lot of material from Tolkien’s other writings. Obviously, they want these three new movies to serve as a lead-in to the original three to form a larger epic. I don’t have a problem with this approach. In fact, as a Tolkien nerd, I applaud it but it did have some consequences in the way they changed things.
As you watch The Hobbit, it’s hard not to notice the way the film is similar to Fellowship of the Ring. Thorin is in the Aragorn role. The actor they picked and the hairstyle they gave him reinforce the point; he looks like mini-Strider. In the Fellowship, Jackson and his writers created a new villain specifically for the film: Lurtz, the Uruk-Hai leader. His purpose was to give the climax of that movie a villain that could be overcome. The audience could thus have a little satisfaction at the end of the movie, even though the Fellowship was broken and the heroes’ fates uncertain.
In The Hobbit, they use Azog in this role. He is not in the novel, and for very good reason: he’s dead. Azog, you see, was the King of Moria and he did lead the orcs against the dwarves in the Battle of Dimrill Dale as depicted in the film. However, Thorin’s cousin, Dain Ironfoot, beheaded Azog in that battle. It’s Azog’s son Bolg who appears in the novel and leads the orc forces in the Battle of Five armies.
I find it strange that in order to give the broader backstory of The Hobbit, Jackson changed the story simply so he could have his Lurtz for the movie. Lurtz himself was a made up character and few people minded because adding another Uruk war leader didn’t seem like a stretch. It would have been wiser to follow that lead here than muck things up so badly with the lore. Bolg is King of Moria in the novel. Will he just be shoved aside by Azog in the next movie? If not, why is he king when his father still lives? And why let Thorin steal Dain’s thunder when he’s likely to be an important character in the next two movies?
We see more echoes of Fellowship in the Rivendell sequence. In the novel here’s what happens there. Thorin’s company arrives and the elves feed them and their ponies. Elrond identifies the swords from the troll lair and reads the moon runes on the map. The elves give them fresh provisions and wish them farewell and good luck on their quest. That’s all. In the movie, however, there’s a whole subplot about how Thorin doesn’t want to go there and doesn’t trust the elves. Elrond doesn’t think their quest is a good idea, just as he had doubts about Aragorn in Fellowship. I did not mind the impromptu meeting of the White Council (as this helps set up the action in Dol Guldur that’s presumably happening in movie three), but changing the original story again to echo Fellowship seemed unnecessary.
My other major problem with the movie the inclusion of many scenes of big things crashing into other big things while people leap like gazelles through the wreckage. This was the sort of stuff that made King Kong tedious. He takes one paragraph from the book in which stone giants are throwing rocks at each other as a game and turns it into a 10 minutes action scene with mountain peaks swaying this way and that. Then it’s “crazy bridges” in Goblin-town, whereas in the book Gandalf simply slays the Great Goblin and all his minions freak the hell out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a good fight scene and some of the bits were cool, but those sorts of scenes are to Peter Jackson what white doves are to John Woo.
All my annoyances came together in the climactic battle. The scene that takes place in a forest in the novel is re-positioned on a crag so now trees can crash into each other until one (populated, of course, by all the protagonists who have just leaped from tree to tree!) hangs over the edge. Azog the already dead arrives to kill Thorin and then we don’t even get the satisfaction of having the mini-villain killed. The whole climax was a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. At least there were giant eagles though.
I suppose this all makes it sound like I hated the film but I didn’t. Much of it was enjoyable and if you are not a lifelong Tolkien nerd like me, you won’t really give a shit whether it’s Azog or Bolg in the Battle of Five Armies. I will say I thought the riddle sequence with Bilbo and Gollum was terrific. And man, Gollum technology has advanced a lot in 10 years. I must note though that Jackson and his writers do in fact make Bilbo a thief. In the novel, he finds the ring by accident while stumbling around in the dark. In the movie, he sees Gollum drop it and then picks it up. This actually gives Gollum a moral leg to stand on, which he certainly did not have in the books.
In the end The Hobbit is a good fantasy film, certainly better than the shit we endured in the 80s. I just think the choice, conscious or not, to pattern it on Fellowship of the Ring was a mistake. Now granted, I haven’t seen parts two and three. Seeing the trilogy in its totality may change my mind. Right now, I can’t see why certain things were done to the story but maybe that’ll be made clearer in the next two.
That’s my basic review. Now I’m just going to toss out a few nitpicks that only the hardcore Tolkien fans will have any interest in. You can stop reading now if you want; I won’t be offended!
- From the moment Balin came I screen I thought he looked too old. This is the dwarf who’s going to lead the Moria expedition decades later. In the novel Thorin is actually older than him. You would not guess that in the film.
- Elrond going on an orc hunting expedition? Sorry, but no. That’s the sort of thing his sons Elladan and Elrohir do.
- Glamdring and Orcrist also glow blue blue when orcs are near but did not in the movie.
- Radagast is not described in great detail by Tolkien, so the film’s depiction of him isn’t wrong per se. The wacky factor was amped way up though.