Political Science is Right

After wading through endless e-mails yesterday, I decided to reward myself with some brainless activity. I prepped a tray with minis, a hobby knife, and Zap-a-Gap, then flipped on the tube. I hadn’t planned on it, but I ended up watching the Democratic National Convention for a couple of hours while gluing together very small tanks. I hadn’t seen any of the previous speeches and whatnot for two reasons. First, I’ve known that I’d be casting my vote against Bush since November, 2000, so it’s not like I needed to be convinced. Second, Nik and I were on the road Monday to Wednesday, and political speeches were not what we had in mind when we checked into roadside motels after a full day’s driving.

As it happened, my timing was impeccable. I caught the lead in to Kerry’s big speech and then the whole speech itself. I found myself thinking, “This is it, Johnny boy. This speech is going to make you or break you, so make it count.” I was relieved to hear him saying all the right things. Not everything I would have liked him to have said, mind you, but the right things to get him elected. I watched the dog and pony show with a keen sense of appreciation. The strategists behind the event put the science in political science. Bringing out Kerry’s old shipmates from ‘Nam and continually referencing them as his “Band of Brothers”; hammering Kerry’s war hero status and contrasting that with W’s Vietnam-era shenanigans; slamming tax cuts for the rich and corporate welfare; restoring America’s integrity at home and on the world stage—that was all the right stuff to say. No doubt legions of super-patriot morons will still vote for Bush come November, but all we need is enough of the undecided voters to realize how they’ve been screwed for the past four years and we can get that monkey out of office.

I can’t say that I’m a bona fide Kerry supporter, as I have long-standing problems with the Democratic Party. As I’ve said though, I’d vote for a monkey in a fez to get Bush out of office. In the current environment, Kerry is good enough. I could take issue with a lot of points in his speech, especially the feel-good rhetoric about the good old days. It’s not like America using its superpower status to bully and manipulate other nations is anything new, more that the Bush administration did it so blatantly and egregiously. But hey, if some simplistic rhetoric is what it takes to more people to realize what the last four years has cost us all, I can’t complain.

No Rest

Nik and I made it home last night around 10 pm. We took three days driving back, as we had no reason to push it on the way back. We had hoped to stop over in San Fran the first night and catch up with our friend Aaron, but the slow ass Pacific Coast Highway between San Diego and LA ensured that we couldn’t. We did drive through Napa Valley, which more or less defines picturesque. However, we got there after 5 and so didn’t get to do any wine tasting. Ah well.

Nik had a great idea on the return trip that really helped the time go by. We picked up several books on tape and listened to them during the long hours of driving. We had finished two complete books by the time we got home. The first was an old Nero Wolf mystery called Too Many Chefs, which was enormously entertaining. The voice actor did a great job portraying all the characters and his Wolf was spot on. The fact that the plot involved a gathering a world famous chefs and included a lot of food talk made it that much the better for Nik and I. After that, we listened to Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose’s book about the Lewis and Clark Expedition. I must admit I didn’t know a huge amount about it and the book was fascinating. At a certain point the “and that was the first time Americans did X west of the Mississippi” got a bit tiresome, but hey, they were explorers after all. It was pretty amusing hearing about the Native American reaction to Lewis’s political overtures. Basically, he had a stock speech about how Jefferson was now the “great father” of the tribes. Lewis would give the chiefs medals, fancy jackets and hats, and sometimes some tobacco. In return they were supposed to stop fighting their neighbors and join the great (and at this point imaginary) American trading empire. In sharp contrast to the modern ideas of how easily duped the Native Americans were, time and again Ambrose relates how the chiefs were entirely unimpressed with the shiny googas. What they really wanted was whiskey, guns, and powder. One chief even showed up naked to the negotiation, to graphically illustrate how poor his people were. All in all, quite good.

Today I’ve been trying to dig out from under my accumulated e-mail, phone messages, and snail mail. Good god. It’s like I’ve been away for a month, not a week. Tomorrow it’s back into WFRP2. I’ve got a lot of ground to cover in August and I need to put pen to paper.

Live from San Diego

ComicCon started earlier tonight. They do this thing called “Preview Night,” which is short hand for “really, the show starts on Wednesday.” It’s supposed to be a time for press and pros to check things out, but they also let in people with four day badges as a special perk. I guess the thinking is that’s only the hardest core, but guess what? ComicCon is ground zero for geek culture and the hard core is big! So after a long day of setup and whatnot, we had three hours of show time and even on Wednesday night there were tons of people and lines everywhere.

Backing up a bit, the drive down was epic and all hail to my lovely wife for actually getting us down here early. Turns out there is literally nothing between Sacramento and LA, so we were able to average 85 mph for a good five hours. That helped shave hours off our travel time and even getting into a bit of traffic in always-wretched LA didn’t slow us down too much. And how can you match the excitement of places like the Dike Access Road, Jumpoff Joe Creek, and Mile of Cars Way? Oh yes, it was quite exciting. Really, the trip was better than I expected, though it did take us two days and about 20 hours of driving time.

Tomorrow the show opens at 9:45 and goes until 7 pm, which is longer hours than your standard game con. I’ve got some meetings and things to squeeze in, and of course I must make time to check out more of the exhibit hall. This show is huge, the equivalent of two to three GenCons. Onwards and upwards.

Comic Con

Well, it’s nearly time for round two of summer convention madness. This time, it’s San Diego ComicCon. Nik and I are leaving in the am, after an early conference call. Last year was the first time we attended ComicCon and we were feeling our way around. Not too many game companies go to ComicCon so it’s a different scene. We expect this year will be better all around. It helps that we have a a comic-related book to sell (Nocturnals: A Midnight Companion) and another one about to go to the print that we can flog there (the Red Star Campaign Setting). We have some interesting meetings scheduled as well. More of those anon.


I’ll try to do some updating throughout the week. We’ll see how it goes. Apparently, Buffy is doing her first ever convention appearence at ComicCon, so it’s sure to be a madhouse (a madhouse!).


New Awards

In light of the Annual Origins Award dustup (now co-starring every yahoo on the internet), I’ve decided it’s time to launch new awards based on the gaming of our ancestors. Press Release follows:





New Award to Revive Ancient Tradition


July 16, 2004—Seattle, WA: In 1980 a young Chris Pramas dug up two ancient lead tablets in a construction site near his Peabody, MA home. After some study, he realized they were not just in an unknown language but also in code. Armed only with an Aramaic-English dictionary, a 1st edition Dungeon Master’s Guide, and 3 12-sided dice, Pramas translated and decoded the mysterious tablets. The results were astounding. According to the tablets, Jesus of Nazareth was a gamemaster and the creator of the first roleplaying game, Harlots and Heresies. The Last Supper was, in fact, the Last Session of his long running campaign, which broke up due to the blatant rules-lawyering of Judas.


Miraculously, Jesus traveled to America in search of a new gaming group, while his remaining disciples spread across the Middle East and Europe to spread the word. Later, new player Paul would inadvertently invent Live Action Roleplaying when he took the game too far. His variant of the original Harlots and Heresies would achieve worldwide fame as “Christianity.”


Back in America, Jesus had little luck finding new players. He thus decided to institute a set of gaming awards to make his hobby appear more prestigious. The Native Americans didn’t understand his in-jokes, such as the ill-fated “Sure, Mom, Of Course You’re a Virgin” Award for Best Roleplayer. At this point, Jesus did the only thing that he could: he created instructions for handing out the awards and buried them so that future generations could revive them when the time was right.


“I’ve been preparing for this day since 1980,” commented Pramas. “The only thing that remained unclear was the final instruction: ‘give these awards to my people in the year of the lying weasel’. When the new board took over GAMA at Origins, I new the time was upon us!”


When asked to produce the lead tablets, Pramas insisted he no longer had them. “Hey, I melted those thing down years ago to cast my own miniatures, but you can trust the word of Jesus. You wouldn’t call Jesus a liar, would you?”


Categories and nominees for the Jesus Awards will be announced soon. Jesus and Pramas comprise the entirety of the jury. “I think having Jesus on the jury adds a level of transparency that no corporeal beings can match,” adds Pramas.



A year ago GR was at ComicCon in San Diego. Its dealers room is huge, equal to at least a couple of GenCons. As you’d expect, it’s comics, comics, comics. And as you’d expect from me, I found the booth in the back selling Hong Kong DVDs…

I picked up a couple of titles, including Legend of Zu. On returning to the booth, I told Hal about it and he went and picked up several movies as well, amongst them a film called Hero. Hal watched it, then loaned it to me at GenCon. 11 months later I finally watched it. This almost didn’t happen, as this was in import with no English anywhere on the interface. Took me 15 minutes of trial and error to turn on the English subtitles, but I was finally successful.

Hero is a film by Yimou Zhang, better known for more arty films like Shanghai Triad and Raise the Red Lantern. He assembled an all-star cast of Hong Kong talent, including Jet Li in the title role, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, and Boston’s own Donnie Yen. Two things immediately impress. First, the cinematography is great. The film is well shot and simply gorgeous. Second, the soundtrack is excellent. This may not seem like a big deal, but so many HK flicks have dreadful soundtracks full of Canto-pop (often sung by the stars of the movies) that a good soundtrack really stands out.

The film is reminiscent of Kurosawa’s Rashomon, with the story changing in a series of flashbacks. Interestingly, Yimou makes a visual distinction between each flashback by having the leads wear clothing of a different primary color. A nice touch, I thought. The movie begins with Nameless (Jet Li), a renowned swordsman, going before the King of Qin. He has slain the three legendary assassins (Leung, Cheung, and Yen) who had vowed to kill the king and now he is to receive an audience and his rewards. The flashbacks happen as Nameless and the king spar verbally, as the king tries to reveal the true story and Nameless’ real motives.

I won’t say much beyond that, as much of the film’s effectiveness rests on the way the story is told (quite a rarity in a martial arts film). There are many well-executed fight scenes, using all the classic wuxia elements (flying, bouncing off water, sword power, etc.). Like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon before it, Hero pays homage to the work of King Hu back in the 60s. And that is not a bad thing.

Hero is one of the best HK flicks I’ve seen in a long time. While it is not exactly easy to find right now, there is an American release planned later this year. I believe that version will hack out 30 minutes of the movie though. Also note that Western liberals probably won’t love the political implications of the film, but those don’t appear until late in the film and are easy to forgive since they lead to a good story. Hero is definitely worth checking out.

Wood for the Forest

Remember when you were in high school and you’d get really high? You know, so baked that you’d eat things like sticks of butter. And then you’d sit around with your friends having “deep” conversations about the meaning of life. Maybe you’d bitch about the state of the world too. “Oh man, they’re destroying more of the rain forest every day!” Finally, someone would have an idea that seemed brilliant at the time. Then, when the dope wore off, you’d look back on that piece of genius and say, “Damn, I was SO HIGH.”

Well, in Norway, they either stay high all the time or they actually act on their ludicrous ideas. Case in a point. There’s a group that wants to raise awareness about the destruction of the rain forest. A noble enough goal I’m sure you’ll agree. They’ve decided, however, that the best way to do this is to have sex in front of large crowds of people. Yes, you read that right. Apparently, watching people fuck will get you thinking about the rain forest. Or something. You can read more about it here:


As a bonus, there are pictures from the music festival where the fucking took place. And the band that was playing during the fucking? The Cumshots. Surely a coincidence!

BBQs, Dim Sum, and Commie Talk

Amusingly enough, I attended BBQs on July 3rd and 5th, but not on the 4th. My “patriotic” July 4th started with me waking up on Ray’s couch after a late night of drinking and game design talk. Bruce swung by and picked us up and we went to the International District for dim sum. Bruce figured the restaurants there would be open on the 4th and indeed they were. We went to our local fave for dim sum, a place called Sun Ya that my friend and former bandmate Reuben introduced us to years ago. They do it old school style, with the carts moving around the room. They don’t have the sweet egg yolk buns I like at Sun Ya (boo) but their squid and assorted dumplings are excellent.

Later in the day I watched Heir to an Execution, which is documentary by the granddaughter of the Rosenbergs about how their deaths impacted her family. It was quite well done and good viewing for July 4th I think. The state murdered Ethel Rosenberg and left her two children parentless. And yes I know murder is a strong word but that is the case here. They knew she was no spy but tried to use her arrest to get her husband to crack. When they were both defiant, the government executed Ethel along with Julius. While it does now seem clear that Julius was spying for the Soviet Union, interestingly he was not guilty for the crime that he was executed for (passing on atomic secrets). And really it was the fact that they supposedly gave the Soviets the bomb that made people scream for the Rosenberg’s blood.

Ivy, the filmmaker, started the film on some kind of quixotic quest for truth. She interviews a lot of old lefties (one former union activist was 103 years old), and various members of her family (some of whom she had never met) in an attempt to get to the heart of her grandparents. Her father comes across as tremendously spirited and likeable. Pretty even keeled too, considering that he and his brother not only had to live through their parents’ execution but also spend time in homes for orphans.

For decades the family firmly believed in the innocence of Julius. Declassified decrypts seem to indicate that Julius was an agent for the Soviets. It was interesting to watch the family members try to come to terms with this revelation. It does make you wonder though. If the government had the goods on Julius, why didn’t they prosecute him for something he did do instead of framing him for something he didn’t do?

Now maybe it doesn’t matter what happened to two commies fifty years ago. People like to think that we’ve moved beyond miscarriages of justice like Sacco and Vanzetti and the Rosenberg trial. Five years ago I might have even bought it, but watching the current administration do whatever it pleases, with no regard for law or human rights, has made me more cynical than ever. It makes me wonder how the history books will be written. Fifty years from now, will the dawn of the 21st century be remembered as the year the presidency was stolen and a renegade bunch of millionaire cowboys destabilized the entire world or will it be the same sort of whitewashed bullshit we got during Reagan’s death week? If we have to suffer through Bush and his cronies, the very least history can do is properly vilify those liars and scoundrels.

Now I’m Doomed to Die

I didn’t get a huge amount of time to walk around outside the exhibit hall at Origins, but I made a point of touring the miniatures hall to check out what folks were playing and to look at the amazing armies and scenery. The grandest display was Duke Seifried’s Lord of the Rings extravaganza. Something like two years was spent building a series of LOTR terrain boards for a series of battles. Helm’s Deep, Minas Tirith, the Black Gate, the Lonely Mountain, the Mirkwood, and even Mount Doom were all on display, with thousands of painted minis to go with them. Duke and Frank Chadwick ran a whole series of games over the weekend, and they were attempting to auction off all the terrain and minis to one lucky (and rich) gamer. I’m not sure if anyone ponied up for the whole thing, but I think the starting price was about $30,000.

I was looking around the display during the Battle of Pelennor Fields re-fight. As I was admiring Helm’s Deep, a voice said, “Hey Chris!” It turned out to be Don Perrin, who was nice enough to introduce me to Duke himself. Duke is something of a legend. He’s been in the industry since the 60s and still has a great passion for it. I had never met him before, but he was super friendly and before I knew it he was regaling me with tales of yesteryear. He told me that he flew to England and met with Tolkien before he died. They sketched out Helm’s Deep as Tolkien envisioned it and it was these drawings that Duke used to build the diorama at Origins.

He must be used to meeting younger industry guys who don’t know who he is, because he started running down all the companies he’d been involved in (he was one of the first TSR employees, for example). When he got to Heritage I stopped him and said, “When I was 10 years old, I started playing D&D; and collecting minis. The first minis I ever got were the Dungeon Dwellers series from Heritage.” His face lit up, he shook my hand, and gave me this little gold ring. “Just for that, I’m making you one of my Nazghul,” he said.

It was cool to meet Duke. Here’s a guy who was playing minis games when I was in the womb and he’s still at it! I hope I have that kind of enthusiasm 25 years from now.