Gladiator vs. the French

Nik, Kate, and I saw Master and Commander tonight. As it turned out, not the best movie for an 8 year old. The ads played up the action sequences and made it seem more “yo ho” than it actually was. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I found it an excellent film and much more than the action movie it’s advertised as.

Being a big fan of stuff like Sharpe and Hornblower, this was right up my alley. In 1805 Captain Aubrey (Crowe) of the Royal Navy is tasked with hunting down a French privateer. Off the coast of Brazil, the privateer ambushes him and it’s only through luck and determination that Aubrey and crew escape. The rest of the movie centers on the Brits chasing down the French ship. The problem: said French ship outguns and outcrews the “HMS Surprise” two to one.

What surprised me was that most of the movie is given over to plot and character development. There are battle sequences at the beginning and end, but the rest of the movie centers on the crew of the Surprise and their assorted trials. Paul Bettany (who Nicole recognized right away as Chaucer from A Knight’s Tale; I didn’t place him) was very good as the doctor and naturalist. He also played William of Orange in the film of Sharpe’s Waterloo, so this is not his first outing in the era. An actor named Max Pirkis put in a good performance as a young midshipman who loses his arm in the first engagement. His character was what the Star Trek writers always wanted Wesley Crusher to be like: earnest, smart, kind, loyal, and brave (whereas Wesley always just came across as annoying; apologies to my wife and Mr. Wheaton!). Crowe is also good. He has a knack for playing a leader of men. It worked in Gladiator and it works here too.

The history nerd in me was also satisfied. Period detail was very good. They got the weapons right and the hand to hand combats were suitably chaotic and bloody. The film also did a good job of evoking the camaraderie and superstitions of shipboard life.

In short, good stuff. Makes me wish I had had more success two years ago when I tried to get the RPG license for the Sharpe’s series. Or maybe I’m the only one who would have liked to see a d20 game of Napoleonic adventure.

I Wanna Be Sedated

Or maybe I already am. It’s the end of a long day and I feel numb. I had every intention of spending the afternoon proofing and developing the next book on the docket. Then I started tallying up what we owe contractors this month, which led to check writing and envelope addressing. Owed some of the same folks contracts for new projects, so then it was on to contract writing. Other freelancers needed books for reference or were owed comps, so soon I was taping up packages. In between there was an avalanche of e-mail: project questions from freelancers, interview requests from websites, continuing contract negotiations, new material for the website, proposals for new books, questions about old books, approval requests for M&M; Superlink books, and inane bullshit from several different game industry mailing lists. Went to the post office briefly with Nicole. That’s the only time I got out today. At dinner time, I had a meeting about this month’s problem child project. After 8 I finally got a bite to eat. Then spent the later part of the evening analyzing spreadsheets Nicole had worked up.

Tomorrow I’ll get to that book. And after that, the next one.

Things You Learn From Memoirs

Oftentimes, when you read about WW2, a sharp distinction is drawn between the Eastern and Western Fronts. In the East both the Germans and the Soviets executed prisoners outright, or worked/starved them to death. The Western Front is portrayed as a more “civilized war”, where events like the Malmedy Massacre were the exception not the rule. Americans especially don’t like to think of “our boys” acting like murderers but war is dirty business. While the Eastern Front in general was more brutal in many respects, that doesn’t mean that Western Front was without its horrors.

Recently, I’ve been reading several memoirs of American paratroopers and what I’m finding most interesting is not the particulars of what battles they fought in, but the attitudes that shine through the text. Both books, David Kenyon Webster’s Parachute Infantry and Donald R. Burgett’s Currahee: A Screaming Eagle at Normandy, are fascinating in different ways. Webster was a member of the famous Easy Company of the 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Division, and is a character in the Band of Brothers mini series. He was a Harvard educated Democrat who joined the paratroops so he could experience the war as a grunt. Burgett, in Able Company of the same regiment, was of humbler origins and he had an eagerness for combat that Webster seems to have lacked. Each has an anecdote that bears repeating.

Webster relates an incident from the Normandy battles. He and his unit were advancing when a German jeep came barreling down the road. It was painted with red crosses and had two stretchers strapped on it with wounded men. Webster’s squad were taken by surprise and just stared at it as it drove by. Down the road, an American officer flagged it down. Turns out the German medic took a wrong turn while trying to get these severely wounded men to an aid station. Webster matter-of-factly notes that the medic was shot on the spot because he had a pistol in his belt (technically, a no-no for medics, but an often ignored rule). Then the American officer had the two stretchers taken off the jeep, which he commandeered for his own use. The two wounded Germans were left to die by the side of the road.

Burgett’s story also comes from the Normandy battles. He and a 30 or so other paratroopers succeeded in capturing a fortified French town from several hundred German troops. In the process, they captured around 75 prisoners. At first, the prisoners were locked in a church. Later, as more American troops showed up and they began pushing up the road, they ran into stiffer German resistance. Someone then had the bright idea of getting all the prisoners and marching them up the road in front of the Americans. They hoped the Germans wouldn’t fire on their own soldiers. They were wrong. Once bullets started flying, the prisoners began diving off the road. Burgett then relates how he and the other paratroops weren’t about to let any of them escape, so they began firing into the prisoners from behind. Caught in a vicious crossfire, all the prisoners were killed.

While it is perhaps no surprise that awful things happen in war, what I found most interesting is that both of these incidents pass without comment from the authors. They don’t seem to think that this kind of behavior was unusual at all, or anything worth feeling regretful about. That is at odds with the picture frequently painted about the Western Front in WW2.

Since it’s Veteran’s Day and all, let me close with an appropriate quote from Robert E. Lee.

“It is well that war is so terrible or we would grow too fond of it.”

Work’s Over, Time for Work

I just got back from a weekend in the Bay Area. I was down there as part of a promotion for GenCon Southern California (which is next month). Basically, Peter Adkison, who owns GenCon now, has been going to a different city each weekend and making promo stops at assorted game stores. Green Ronin was invited to participate and I chose the San Francisco/Sacramento leg of the tour. I stayed with my old comrade Aaron Loeb, who in addition to being a dear old friend is also the author of Book of the Righteous. Aaron was kind enough to drive me to the stores and help me promote Green Ronin. We visited four stores, one Friday, two Saturday, and one Sunday. We spent 2-3 hours at each store, meeting people, answering questions, handing out catalogs and the like. It’s also always interesting to talk to the store owners and managers and get their perspective on things, especially the folks that run outstanding stores (and two of those visited qualify). While the start was a bit rocky (turns out the first store was 99% minis, 1% RPGs), it got better at each stop and I’m glad I went.

The store we were at today, Great Escape Games in Sacramento, had a selection of Osprey books in addition to game stuff. Needing some reading for the plane ride, I selected World War I Trench Warfare, 1916-1918. Read the whole thing on the way home and it was quite interesting. The more I read about WWI, the more I think that the accepted truths about it are complete horseshit. I would elaborate, but it’s late and I’m tired.

Tomorrow, on to the next GR book (finished the previous one Friday before I left). No R&R; this week I guess.

100 Bullets, No Waiting

I grew up in a suburb of Boston, Peabody to be precise. While guns were something I saw on TV and in movies, they were never part of my real life. The closest I got to an actual gun growing up was an old BB pistol my dad had in his desk drawer and it didn’t work anyway. Nonetheless, I’ve had an abiding interest in military history, and WW2 history in particular, since I was a lad. This is a bit unusual for someone as lefty as I am, which has led to some fairly amusing situations. For example, I’ve been a member of the Military Book Club for years and the MBC has obviously sold my mailing address to a variety of right wing organizations. I get mailings all the time from the likes of the NRA, and occasionally real wacko newsletters from groups that are one step away from blaming ZOG for all America’s troubles. I look at them, chuckle, and dump them in the recycling bin.

Last year I was designing a World War 2 roleplaying game for Polyhedron Magazine, originally titled Dogface but eventually named V For Victory. I was, as is my habit, doing lots of research. I think I easily spent $300 buying books during that period. One of the chapters was all about guns, so I got pretty familiar with the ins and outs of period weapons. When I was in Las Vegas in March, 2002, I heard about a place that had WW2 guns you could rent out and fire on their shooting range. I didn’t have much interest in shooting modern weapons, but this was intriguing. That September I was back in Vegas, with Nicole and our friends Jess and Kathryn. I had told Jess about the gun place and he was curious as well. The two of us decided to head out there one afternoon and check it out. And hey, I could write it off as research.

I had met Jess when I was working at Wizards of the Coast. He worked in the book publishing department, where he was in charge of the Magic: the Gathering novel line. Like me, Jess was (and is) of a lefty bent and we got on famously. As fate would have it, we both got laid off on the same day (along with scores of other folks). We began to joke that we were “layoff brothers.” Could “machinegun brothers” be far behind?

On a hot, bright Vegas day, we took a cab out to the gun shop. It was some way off the Strip, which was no surprise. It was pretty small inside, but nonetheless there were a good six staff members behind the counters. All of them were wearing bulletproof vests and carrying sidearms. One guy had on cowboy boots, an Old West style holster, and was packing a revolver. Interesting.

The deal was pretty simple. After signing a waiver asserting that you aren’t insane (yes, really), you pick a weapon and choose either 50 or 100 shots. They had a nice variety of WW2 era guns, like the British Sten, the American Thompson, the German MP40, and the American M3 Grease Gun. If you’ve ever seen a WW2 movie, you’ve seen an MP40. They are the German submachineguns that are usually (erroneously) called Schmeissers. Any Nazi villain worth his jackboots carries one in war movies. I decided it was so iconic I had to try it.

Jess hemmed and hawed a bit. He was drawn to the M16, which was big and black. I tried to convince him to try the Thompson (we were already planning on swapping weapons, so we could try two each). “Come on,” I said, “This is a classic. Designed as a trench sweeper for WWI, it arrived too late to see combat. Gangsters loved it, and it went on to serve in WW2.” Jess was not convinced. “There’s something about that M16,” he said.

“So you want the big, black cock of death then,” I said.

Jess smiled. “Yes I do.”

Our helper rang us up, and gave us each 4 magazines of ammo for our guns. Then he pointed to some targets and asked us each to pick one. On most days, you could choose from a tombstone, Saddam Hussein, or Osama bin Laden. Seems there had been a run on bin Laden, so they were fresh out. I opted for the more neutral tombstone, and Jess tried to get in the spirit of the place by choosing Saddam Hussein.

Then we got safety goggles and glasses and were led back to the shooting range. It was a spare affair, a small room with three stalls for shooting. When we entered, there were several young Asian guys with pistols finishing up. They were firing them sideways, “gangsta” style. It looked more like Lorezno Lamas on his lame old show Renegade but I kept that observation to myself.

At this point, Jess seemed a bit on edge. He confessed to our drawling assistant that he had never fired a gun before.

“Whut?!” he said, shocked. “Are you from California?”

“Uh, no,” Jess replied. “I’m from Seattle.”

“Oh, well that’s alright.”

The guy turns to me. He had heard me rattling off about the Thompson earlier, so he assumed I was a gun guy. “You’ve fired a gun before, right?” he asked confidently.

“Actually, no,” I said. “This is my first time.”

“Whut?! Are YOU from California?”

“Nope, I’m also from Seattle.”

This seemed to satisfy him, though I’m not sure why. He ran through the basics. Pretty simple really. Then he sent Jess’s target down to the end of the range and handed him the M16.

Jess took it a bit gingerly, put it up to his shoulder, and sighted it down the range. He fired off a tentative first burst.

“You hear that?” our assistant said, pointing down to Saddam, “He’s calling you a sissy boy!”

Jess laid into it and got more comfortable. In no time at all, he had fired off his two magazines and shot up Saddam real good. Our assistant reloaded the M16 and handed it to me. I started with a short burst, to get a feel for it. Had more kick than I expected. Loud too, even with the ear protection. The target was all of 30 feet away, so it was easy even for a rank amateur to hit. I’m sure that was no coincidence.

After I finished with that, it was on the MP40. Compared to the M16, this was like butter. Barely any kick, easy to control for short bursts. I could see why these guns were so handy in street fighting. However, this one was having some trouble with the trigger sticking. While firing my second magazine, the gun just rattled on and on, shooting out sparks near my head. When Jess tried it, he had the same difficulty. Guess that’s what happens to 50 year old guns.

Afterwards, they gave us our targets, and stamped each one with the gun we had fired at it. The shooting hadn’t taken longer than 10 minutes, even with controlled bursts and 200 shots between us. I spent a few minutes looking around the store, checking out their book section in particular. Jess was antsy and clearly wanted to go. Later, over drinks, he told me that he felt like we were imposters in a strange and foreign land. He worried that at any minute, they’d discover that we were pinko, anti-war bastards that had voted against Bush. Maybe he thought they had a special graveyard in the basement for the likes of us!

We got back to the absurdity of the Strip an hour later. The whole thing was a bit surreal, though it made for a good story. So much so that come the next GAMA Trade Show, I ended up back there with Nicole and Hal, who wanted to give it a try. Our version of company bonding, I guess. This time I got to shoot that Thompson and a Sten gun (though they ruined this vintage weapon by sticking a laser scope on it for some strange reason). The Thompson turned out to be the best of the bunch. Sometimes, you’ve got to go with the classics.

Die! Die! You Thieving Bastards

Last week I checked my bank balance and found it at negative $5, which wasn’t right at all. I called the bank and they ran through some recent charges and several came from online operations that I had no dealings with. Suspicious. Then I got my bank statement, and discovered these same two companies had charged me mulitple times over the past six weeks. There was also an iffy charge from Yahoo (me not having a Yahoo account or anything).

Today I called the bank back and found charges from these same companies going back to the end of August (about the time I was in Atlanta at Dragon Con). I contacted each company in turn to find out what the fuck. I found that these thieving scum had used all kinds of names and addresses to sign up for a variety of internet services. Turns out there was a $114 charge from the end of August, again from Yahoo, to set up a .biz website. Of course, they couldn’t tell me what website. They wouldn’t want to violate the confidentiality of thieves!

In midst of all this bs, this one guys says, “Looks like you were charged $29.95 for a three month subscription to our archive service. If you like, you can extend the subscription for three more months for only $14.95”

Incredulous, I said, “Why would I want to extend the subscription on something I didn’t sign up for in the first place!? I’m trying to get my money back here.” He thought maybe I’d want to “try it out.” Unbelievable.

Naturally enough, none of these companies would actually refund the money. I had to then call my bank, provide them transaction dates and amounts, and declare the charges fraudulent. And, of course, I had to cancel my card.

My new card will arrive in 7-10 days. That’s going to help me a lot when I’m in San Francisco this weekend.

Urge to kill…rising.

Guns Before Butter

I’ve had this inescapable feeling of deja vu over the last two years. Suddenly, it feels like it’s the Reagan era all over again. Now this is probably not that surprising, as many of the members of Bush’s administration were in Reagan’s too and their agendas haven’t changed all that much. Reagan and his cronies made it real easy to raise your fist in protest, and Bush’s administration is the exact same way. Worse, in some ways. Reagan’s trumped up war (Grenada) was small potatoes compared to Iraq.

What I find funny is how many 20 year old punk rock songs have become entirely relevant again. Take, for instance, Paid Vacation by the Circle Jerks.

I hope you’re having fun

where’s your uniform? where’s your gun?

better rub on that suntan lotion

’cause you’ll be fighting in the desert

it’s not..Vietnam

it’s another oil company scam

better salute that flag for Uncle Sam

get your money out, place your bets

it’s Afghanistan!!

fix bayonets, check grenades

got enough bullets

got enough rounds to wipe out this place?

Were the infantry and the cavalry

parachutes fill the sky and bodies burn and people die

Or how about Buy This War by one of my favorite all time band, Articles of Faith?

So you say I got a choice

It looks the same to me

Exchange your culture exchange your tactics

Exchange your weaponry

Exchange your borders for spheres of hatred

And national security

Exchange your life consume this war

Sell it all to me

Stockpiles sit and wait for victims

No advertising cost

Vacations for free in jungle fatigues

Maintain democracy

The newest price is sacrifice

But practice what you preach

The end it looks the same to me

When no one leaves alive

National security is what we need to feel free

Someone’s gonna bleed

Buy this war

Buy my life

Buy this war

Pay to die

Frontman Vic Bondi obviously agrees. He’s just released an EP with two new solo songs, backed up with AOF classics Buy This War and American Dreams. I’m going to have to track that down.

The First Article

You’ll note a new item on the sidebar, Game Writing, with something called “Lost House Fragments”. This is the first article of many I plan to post here. From the Introduction:

In the early 90s my favorite RPG was Ars Magica, originally published by Lion Rampant, then White Wolf, then Wizards of the Coast, and finally Atlas Games (the current publisher). Amusingly enough, one of the reasons I got to know Nicole Lindroos was because of the game. She had been on staff at Lion Rampant and later White Wolf and I knew her name from the credits of many books (Lindroos stands out on a credits page!). Nik and I were friends for many years before things got romantic. We talked off and on about doing a book together and in 1997 we decided to pitch an Ars Magica book to Atlas Games.

I had long been dissatisfied with the way elementalism was handled in the game. The rules made it really difficult to play a wizard who could summon and control elementals, a rare failing in an otherwise fine magic system. I had ideas on how to fix the system, but I didn’t want to simply replace the previous rules wholesale. Many people used them as written, and it’s no fun as a gamer to be told that your character is now obsolete. My solution was to do a combination sourcebook and adventure. The adventure was to revolve around the legacy of Beatrix, a powerful elementalist who was a contemporary of the founders of the Order of Hermes, but who was treacherously slain by Tytalus and Tremere before she could take her rightful place alongside them. Beatrix had developed a Unified Elemental Theory, but it had been lost on her death. In the course of the adventure, the player characters were to discover this lost legacy of magic and the secret of who killed Beatrix. The new rules for elementalism could thus be introduced into the game as a development of the setting, rather than by fiat. If characters were plucky, they could also try to found House Beatrix, the “lost house” of the title.

Atlas liked the proposal and contracted us to do “The Lost House.” Over the next six months though, three things happened. First, I moved from Boston to Seattle; second, Nik and I got involved romantically; and third, I got hired as a RPG designer at Wizards of the Coast. I did some work on the book, but it was slow going. Nik and I consulted with Jeff Tidball (then the Ars Magica line developer, now the Lord of the Rings RPG developer) and we all agreed that perhaps the best course of action was to cancel it. While I think that was the right decision for the time, it’s too bad we never finished. I think it would have been a good book.

In this article you’ll find what writing I did on the project. I enjoyed rereading them after five years (as honestly I’d forgotten all about this work!). Searching old disks can turn up the most interesting things.

What’s It All About

When I wasn’t working or watching John Huston movies today, I did some work for this site. The first article is just about ready and should be posted soon. I also did an “About This Site” write up that’ll have a permanent place in the sidebar shortly. Figured I’d post in the interim, since people seem to be finding this already. Here it is:

If you are reading this site, chances are you already know that I run a game company and design games for a living. If you don’t, you can learn about my day job at . I started this site because I was tired of always being “on the job.” Whenever I posted to message boards and the like, I was representing the company. I found that I was constantly holding back on offering my opinion, lest I be accused of unprofessionalism. I found I longed for an outlet; somewhere I could say what I damn well pleased. Well, this is it. Here, you’ll find a mishmash of stuff. Yes, there will be some game writing and game discussion, but you’ll also find political thought, anecdotes from my life, ruminations on punk rock, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

The name of the site, Ex-Teenage Rebel, originally comes from a song by the Subhumans, from their Worlds Apart LP. Later, it was the name of my first punk rock band. It’s an appropriate appellation for a variety of reasons (my age being the most obvious!), but mostly because the struggle of my 30s is to have a decent life without abandoning what I believe in.

So what happened to your old opinions?

The thoughts that you held for so long?

That inspired a thousand rebellions

Against what was and still is so wrong

You tell me you used to be “crazy”

And “paranoid” like I am now

You “soon realized there was no reason why”

So you gave up and soon settled down

What happened to you with your ideas?

What happened to all your hopes and fears?

Ex-teenage rebel–same old story

From Ex-Teenage Rebel


Worlds Apart LP, 1985

Lyrics by Dick Lucas