Friday Is Cigar Day!

You may recall my mention of the one really good cigar I have. Today I’m going to smoke it. We have just announced a deal on our website that took over two years to negotiate and ink. Green Ronin is going to be designing and developing RPGs for Black Industries, the new RPG imprint of BL Publishing (the fiction wing of Games Workshop if you didn’t know). What does this mean? Well, for starters I get to design the new edition of one of my favorite RPGs of all time: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. And that’s just the beginning. There’s so much cool stuff in the works that I’m going to be like a kid in a candy store for the next several years. There’s still much I can’t discuss, but it feels great to have finally announced the deal. It’s been hard as hell to keep things on the QT.

What’s funny is that WFRP is the game that my friends and I graduated to after getting fed up with AD&D.; It’s somehow fitting that Green Ronin is taking on WFRP2 after supporting D&D; for the last four years. Not that we are giving up on d20 (sorry competitors!). Green Ronin will continue to publish books of our own, while also designing and developing books that Black Industries will publish. Best of both worlds really.

Friday promises to be a good day. I do believe I shall enjoy it!


When I was a kid, I was single minded. At dinner, I would eat each part of the meal individually. I’d eat all my mashed potatoes, for example, before having a bite of corn or steak. I was the same way with books. I would read one book and one book only until I was done with it. When I was done, I’d pick a new book. My brother was the opposite. He’d be reading multiple books at once and at the time I couldn’t understand it. Why would you want to start another book when you were reading one already?

Well, times they do change. These days I’m never reading just one book. Does that make me “multi-minded”? What I read on any given night depends on my mood. Sometimes I crave history, other times escapism. I don’t count game books anymore, because I rarely read all the way through non-GR RPG books. I more flick around looking for the interesting bits. Sometimes I even find them.

Here’s what’s on my nightstand on the moment.

The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell: The author of the Sharpe’s series takes on the Arthurian legend. This is the first modern retelling I’ve read in a long time and it’s good. Cornwell has solidly based his work on history and he paints a vivid picture of post-Roman Britain. I especially like how he’s integrated the Mithraic cult.

The Tsar’s Last Armada by Constantine Pleshakov: This is a very interesting book about the Russian fleet that sailed all the way around the world to confront Japan in 1904, only to meet spectacular defeat in the battle that established Japan as a world power. If you want a glimpse of Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, this is for you.

Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien: Previously discussed. Now moving into the Two Towers.

Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower by William Blum: This book has an interesting premise. What are the results when the US is tested by the same standards that it uses to judge other countries? I’m not too far into this one yet, but it does appeal to my lefty sensibilities. It certainly has some better answers for why the US is held in such low esteem throughout much of the world than, “They hate us because of our freedom.”

Essential Tomb of Dracula by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan: OK, this doesn’t quite count as a book. It’s part of Marvel’s Essential series, which makes available long out of print comics in cheap, b+w “phone books”. Tomb of Dracula is goofy 70s fun. Best line so far: “This shortcut through the graveyard will bring us to my grandfather’s manor house very soon!” Yeah, what could possibly go wrong…

My Point Defies You!

Heading off the dinner at the Brooklyn in a few minutes, so not a lot of time for an update. My parents are visiting Seattle this week and it has been nice having them out. Although it doesn’t seem like it, I hadn’t seen them since February 2003. The visits have been a lot less frequent since I moved to the West Coast. It was a whole lot easier to make it to Boston when I lived in NYC.

Earlier today we made an abortive attempt to go to Mount Rainier, then thought better of it and went to Port Defiance instead. It’s a nice park by the beach, with a great view of Puget Sound and Vashon Island. We got take out bison-burgers at a nearby joint named “Tatanka” (which you may remember as Kevin Costner’s “Indian name” in Dances with Wolves) and then had a picnic. Kate tore around the park, and then we walked along the beach and soaked in the view and talked. Very pleasant indeed and a nice break from staring at a computer screen all day.

Next up, oysters!

Five Random Things

I took a different bus home and discovered a nearby business on the route: the Vegas Gaming School. Wow, a school for gaming and right near my house!

I saw the Suicide Machines last week. I won’t bore you all with the details, but it was a great show. Truly, they have succeeded Operation Ivy as the kings of ska punk.

Things I never thought I’d hear on network television: “Although a rare occurrence, men who experience an erection for more than 4 hours should seek immediate medical attention.”

The Nocturnals book is finally in our warehouse and shipping to distributors. It is frickin’ gorgeous too.

I have one very expensive cigar. Soon I shall smoke it.

Die! Die! My Darling!

A few months ago, when Kill Bill, Volume 1 came out, Nik and I decided to skip it until Volume 2 was released. We figured we’d rather see it all at once than cut in half. Yesterday, we went over to Bruce and Tim’s place, and popped the cherry of Bruce’s new Kill Bill, Volume 1 DVD. Then we drove over to the theater and caught Volume 2.

Some spoilers below if you haven’t seen these movies so beware.

Interestingly enough, you can easily see Volume 2 without seeing Volume 1. There is just so little plot in Volume 1, there’s practically nothing to know. I can sum it all up in one sentence:

“The Bride”, an ex-assassin for hire, is shot at the altar by her former boss and lover and, after spending four years in a coma, wakes up, makes a death list, and then takes bloody vengeance on the first two people on the list.

That’s about it. The rest of Volume 1 is fighting. Or to be more precise, Tarantino’s homage to the fight scenes of wuxia, martial arts, and chambara films of the 70s. The fight scenes are well done, as you’d expect with Yuen Wo-ping on board to do the choreography. The Bride’s duel with Gogo the schoolgirl bodyguard was especially entertaining. I remembered Chiaki Kuriyama, the actress that played Gogo, from the sick-and-bent-yet-strangely-entertaining Japanese film Battle Royale. And amusingly enough, the band that plays at the Tokyo showdown is the 5,6,7,8’s, who I saw in Seattle about a month after I moved here in 1997. Wacky.

Anyway, Volume 1 had some good bits but on its own was a bit hollow. This, it turns out, is because the actual story is in Volume 2, including a lengthy flashback showing the entire church massacre that puts the Bride into a coma in the first place. Volume 2 finally lets you get to know the characters and explains the series of events that led to Uma Thurman’s quest for vengeance. Along the way there are some superb performances. Of course, my favorite is probably kung fu legend Gordon Liu as cranky sifu Pai Mai. Daryl Hannah, of all people, is simply amazing as the Bride’s mortal enemy, Elle Driver. David Carradine is also outstanding in the titular role. I’ve begun to think that Tarantino is the Anti-Lucas. George Lucas gets good actors but his directing style breeds bad performances, whereas Tanantino gets B-list actors but coaxes out great performances.

After seeing both, I have come to the ironic conclusion that they really are two different movies. I think the pacing would be all off if you just smashed them together. You’d have nearly two hours of fighting, and then the movie would come to a screeching halt as all the plot and dialog developed. If you see only one, go for Volume 2. It’s the better film, unless you really are keen on a blood-soaked orgy of violence.

Back to the Source

Like every other gamer on the planet, I have of course kept up with the Lord of the Rings movies of the past several years. I’ve kept meaning to go back and read the books again because it’s been a good 15 years or so since I last did so. In my early teens, Lord of the Rings was like my Bible. I just loved the Tolkien, to the point that I had three bookshelves in my room and one was strictly reserved for Tolkien-related books. Moorcock, Lieber, and Howard, they had to share a shelf, but Tolkien got one all for himself. Hell, I even tried to run several campaigns with the old MERP rules from ICE (which were really pretty dreadful).

This past week I’ve finally have returned to the trilogy. The books hold up and I’m enjoying the hell out of Fellowship at the moment. It’s been interesting comparing them with the movies. Long time readers know I had some issues with certain choices the scriptwriters made. The book is reminding me how much was changed in some instances, even more than I had originally estimated. For instance, the rewrite of the race to Rivendell downplays the heroism Frodo displays in the books. Although wounded, Frodo turns and faces all nine nazghul, draws his sword, and defies them. This bit is given to Arwen in the movie (presumably to give Liv Tyler something to do). Similarly, in the film Frodo does not jump forward with Sting and stab the cave troll in the foot at the start of the battle in Balin’s Tomb.

Anyway, I’ve been having fun revisiting the books that ended up being a huge influence on my life. Without Tolkien, after all, I probably wouldn’t have gotten into D&D;, which was my first step on a game industry career path. Since I’ve gotten back into a Tolkien sort of mood, I’ve also decided to start a Lord of the Rings RPG campaign. We’re giving the Decipher game a try. I think there’s a decent game in there somewhere, but it sure could have used another three months of playtesting and development. I made a character last night to test that part of the system and it was a huge pain in the ass. I was able to sort it, but I pity the newbie who bought that game and tried to figure it out.

We’ll see how the system plays later tonight.

Releasing the Inner Skinhead

When I worked at WotC, the corporate offices were pretty large, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 700 people at the height of Pokemania. It’s thus no surprise that I wasn’t the only guy working there with a punk rock past (or present, for that matter). Early on I met a guy named Jefferson, who was an old punk and loved minis games. Needless to say, we hit it off. One day, Jefferson says to me, “You know John Dunn in Periodicals? He played bass in Iron Cross.” I believe my response was, “Are you shitting me?”. Iron Cross, for those of you who don’t know, was a band that came out of the early 80s DC hardcore scene. They were a bit different than other bands from that scene though, with a definite skinhead influence. They are often cited as America’s first Oi band (Oi having gotten its start in England).

I had met John a couple of times. Nice guy, but he did not look like Mr. Counterculture. He had spent some time in the navy, and had a picture of the ship he was on in his cubicle. With our respective jobs, we didn’t cross paths much. I always meant to go talk to him about Iron Cross sometime, but I never did. I got laid off eventually, and I believe he went to Paizo for a bit. Not sure what he’s doing now.

I bring all this up because Friday night I was at the previously reviewed punk rock show. During the Disasters set, Roger starts introducing a song. “I want to bring out some special guests to help me sing this song. Let’s hear it for John, the original bass player for Iron Cross, and Mickey Fitz from the Business!” On hearing this, my head whipped around. Could it be? Sure enough, John walks out on stage, wearing red suspenders and with his hair cropped close, skinhead style. The Disasters kick into the Agnostic Front song, “Crucified” and the crowd goes nuts. Later, at the end of the Business’s set, Mickey brought John out again to help sing “Harry May.” He had the full skinhead regalia on this time, down the Fred Perry shirt and the flight jacket. I never even saw a hint of that in four years at WotC. Truly this show brought out John’s inner skinhead.

Punks Vs. Psychos

Meetings last week went very well. I believe they’ll be bearing fruit soon.

By Friday I was definitely ready for some R&R.; This was provided, handily enough, in the form of a punk rock show, the “Punks vs. Psychos” tour at the Graceland. I was going primarily to see the Business, a classic British Oi band that has been around forever (well, since the early 80s anyway). I took the bus into town and met Rick at the show. Got there in time to catch the last four songs of the first band, the U.S. Roughnecks. From the singers skinhead and Sham 69 t-shirt, and the trademark call and response choruses, it was pretty clear that these guys were all about the Oi. They seemed competent enough, though certainly nothing new under the sun.

Next up was F-Minus. They were more of a hardcore outfit, with a male and female singers trading off. Apparently, their drummer did time in both Conflict and Chaos U.K., though neither of those bands was much of an influence on F-Minus. Both singers played guitar and they flanked the stage, leaving center stage open for the bass player. He took full advantage, flailing all over the place. In fact, from his theatrics, I thought he was the guitarist at first; only later did I realize that was a bass he was slinging about. Ultimately, I didn’t care for F-Minus too much, though they did one slow song with hugely distorted bass line that I did quite like. Most of it was too tuneless for my taste though.

After a short trip to the bar, Rick and I returned for the Disasters, a NY-based band fronted by ex-Agnostic Front singer Roger Miret. With that pedigree, I expected some kind of NY hardcore, chugga-chugga-breakdown crap, but I was surprised that they actually affected an older, more Clash-influenced sound. Roger is still not exactly my favorite guy, as he was behind an incident involving a volunteer run record store, a skinhead with a gun, and me, but I had to admit they were pretty decent. I will relate a further anecdote about their performance and an ex-WotC employee tomorrow.

By this point we had found out that the Business was not, in fact, headlining. I thought that strange, as they certainly have the name for it. They came out, played for 30-35 minutes, closed with Harry May, and then left the stage and did no encores. There was something off about the whole performance. Maybe singer Mickey Fitz is just an old geezer now. He did seem like he rolled on stage directly from a pub stool. Nik and I had seen the Business about five years ago and they were much better at that show. This time the band was a bit ragged, and they didn’t play songs like Loud, Proud, and Punk and Drinking and Driving. Some energy was at least mustered for renditions of the Real Enemy, Smash the Discos, and Suburban Rebels. Considering this was the band I came to see, I was somewhat disappointed.

All, however, was not lost. The headliner was Tiger Army. I had considered leaving after the Business but I stayed and I am glad I did. Tiger Army, it turns out, is a totally kick ass psychobilly band and they ripped the place up. Until they hit the stage, I hadn’t thought twice about the “Punks vs. Psychos” moniker, but once I saw the stand up bass being wheeled out, it suddenly made sense. Tiger Army is a tight three piece that takes rockabilly and punk and smashes them together into a delightful aural onslaught. The crowd went berserk and the dancing was more furious than during the Business’ set. I was surprised and impressed. I didn’t have enough cash on hand to pick up one of their records, but I’ll be rectifying that soon.

I’m Hunting Wabbits

I may be a little light with the updates this week, as I have some heavy duty meetings scheduled daily this week. I’ll be out of the office pretty much all day every day, which means keeping up with e-mail and all that entails in the evening. I should be in bed now, but it took me several hours to catch up after today’s meetings.

One thing I will give Seattle is that it is even possible to have meetings here due to the high concentration of game companies in the area. Most of my business is done via phone and e-mail, with people far away. With WotC and Microsoft both being in Seattle though, there’s a cluster of game companies headquartered here. It has been pretty amusing to watch staff people bop around the city like pin balls too. My friend Rick is a good example. He worked at WotC, then contracted at Wizkids, and is now at Pokemon USA. Another friend left WotC, contracted with GenCon, and is now at Paizo. Another went from WotC to Wizkids to Microsoft. Yet another from WotC to Interactive Imagination to Wizkids. So many ex-WotCites founded d20 companies in the area that when WotC announced the morals clause to the d20 license, a big group of us were able to get together and discuss it.

But I digress. Point is: lots going on, I may be very, very quiet this week. And before anyone asks, no, I can’t tell you what the meetings are about.

The Stars Are Right

Apart from my wrist hurting, this has turned into a good week. I don’t know what it is, I guess the stars must be right, but all sorts of things are coming together. Afraid I have to be vague, but the upshot is that good things are happening and I’m feeling positive about the future. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had to deal with the usual amount of flaky freelancers, blown deadlines, asshat reviewers, and the like, but the good far outweighed the bad. Also found out my parents are going to come out to visit in a few weeks. My mom reminded me last week that it’d been over a year since I’d seen them. It sure didn’t seem like it but when I thought about it, I realized she was right. It’ll be nice to catch up and show them around Seattle a bit.

Today I’ve been dealing with countless contracts and now that I’ve beaten them all into submission I need to design a couple of ads. I have a game design project I’m keen to be working on, but since I got home from GTS there’s been an endless amount of business stuff to take care of. Oh, sweet irony. Me, the anti-corporate punk now running a business. I can, however, take comfort in the fact that the business is DIY and we don’t screw people over to make a buck.

Well, got to do those ads and prep for tonight’s game, so I’ll be signing off for now.