Do Panic

Like most people in the game industry, Nicole and I have been prepping for the Origins convention in Columbus, Ohio, which starts on Thursday. Our flight was scheduled for tomorrow night at midnight. Redeyes suck, but at least, I’d have all of Monday and Tuesday to get things accomplished before leaving. Particularly because we are expecting some books here tomorrow, which we planned to take with us to debut at the show.

Well, imagine our surprise when Nicole discovered that our flight leaves tonight. This revelation was made about two hours ago and we have to leave for the airport in four hours. Arrrggggghhhhhh, this is not how I planned it! Now it’s time to scurry around and try to get everything in order. Certain tasks I know I won’t have time for, which means delaying them for a full week. Oh well, guess I better get packing. See many of you in Columbus shortly.

Light at the End of the Tunnel?

If I could sum up modern American culture with one sentence it would be this: we want it all, we want it right now, and we want it for free. You can see it in the ridiculous Republican strategy of never ending tax cuts. Like starting two wars while cutting taxes is fiscally responsible? And you can see this attitude throughout the prosecution of both wars. Rummy was so convinced that these wars would be fought “on the cheap” that Osama bin Laden (remember him, the guy Bush swore he would hunt down four years ago?) was allowed to escape from Tora Bora. Despite the recommendations of the military that way more troops would be required on the ground in Iraq, the Rumsfeld plan was followed again. Oh sure, we heard all the assurances: the war will be quick, it won’t take that many troops, and it won’t cost America much in lives or money.

Well here we are, two years since we were told “mission accomplished.” But it wasn’t accomplished, was it? There is chaos in Iraq, American soldiers are continuing to die at a rapid clip, and we can only wonder how many Iraqis have been killed. Nonetheless, Cheney gets on TV to tell us that the insurgency is in its “last throes.” Yes, indeed, we have turned a corner alright and it won’t be long now until Iraq will be the democratic beacon of the Middle East.

Seems to me that America has heard this before. Let’s cast our minds back to December, 1967, when LBJ’s national security advisor Walt Rostow said he saw “light at the end of the tunnel.” The invitation to the New Year’s Eve party at the US Embassy in Saigon even read: “Come see the light at the end of the tunnel.” One month later there was fighting inside the embassy as the Tet Offensive was unleashed. Seven years and tens of thousands of deaths later Saigon fell.

I bring up Vietnam because after only two years in Iraq, you can see how Americans are getting sick of it. And not just lefties but an increasing number of moderates and even some right wingers as well. Bush’s approval rating is sinking, as the cheerleading of his administration contrasts sharply with the news coming out of Iraq. Two years later some people have finally woken up to the idea that this will be neither quick nor easy. And it certainly won’t be free.

So let’s take a look at Vietnam. The US had troops there for over 10 years but even that doesn’t tell the whole story. The Vietnamese first fought the Japanese in WWII, then the French after that, and then the Americans. They struggle against various imperial powers for over 30 years, at a huge cost in lives but with undiminished ferocity. This just goes to show how much of a fight an angry and determined people can offer, no matter how many tons of bombs you drop on them. So what reason do we have to think that the situation in Iraq is getting better? What reason do we have to think that fighting will end this year or next year or the year after that? None, apart from the American desire to have it all, right now, and for free.

The Gift That Doesn’t Quite Give

Last week Kate very proudly gave me a birthday gift that she had made herself. She had created coupons with magic markers that I could use to get her to do things around the house. There was a whole stack of them, with all the things I’m regularly trying to get Kate to do: clean the living room, shut off the lights, put dirty dishes in the sink, etc. While she was, as my friend Mitch astutely pointed out, only offering to do things she should be doing anyway, I nonetheless enjoyed the gift and thought it was a pretty clever.

Yesterday, I was surveying the destruction that is our living room, which is Kate’s central play area and thus almost always a shambles. “I know,” I thought, “I’ll use one of Kate’s coupons. I bet she’ll be pleased that I remembered them.” So I go through the pile and find the one that says “Clean the Living Room” and I give it to Kate. She looks consternated but accepts it.

A few minutes later she’s looking at the calendar in the kitchen and asks me if today is Father’s Day. I told her that it was indeed and that her dad would probably appreciate a phone call. She dashes off to the living room but doesn’t call her dad. Instead, a couple of minutes later she appears again and says, “Oh, Chris, I forgot to tell you about the special condition of my coupons.” She hands me back the coupon I gave her, on which she has just scrawled “Not Good Until After Father’s Day” on the reverse side.

Ah, Kate, the littlest rules lawyer. I wonder what she’ll come up with now that Father’s Day has passed.

Catching Up

I’ve been meaning to write up the rest of the SIFF films I saw, as well as the Minutemen documentary We Jam Econo, but I’ve been too busy. Origins is coming up and things like WFRP, True20, and Thieves’ World demand my attention. And of course the usual litany of things I can’t yet talk about. Somehow day after day slips by and I can’t find time to write a few movie reviews. So, in place of the more detailed reviews of previous SIFF films, here are some quickies.

Mysterious Skin: Gregg Araki’s latest is a tale of two 8 year olds molested by their baseball coach and how the experience affects them as they become teenagers. While I thought his Doom Generation flick was terrible, this was pretty good.

A World Without Thieves: Stylish HK flick about a pair of scam artists and what happens when one of them gets pregnant. Most of the action takes place on a long train ride across China. While story and character are the focus, it does include some cool action sequences as well.

R-Point: This is a Korean horror film set during the Vietnam War. A patrol of South Korean soldiers is sent to a remote location to find any survivors from a lost platoon. No one mentions that the area is built over an ancient massacre site. Whoops! Hauntings and freakouts ensue. While not exactly groundbreaking, this was fairly entertaining.

El Crimen Ferpecto: Another triumph for Álex de la Iglesia, the “Ferpect Crime” is a vicious black comedy set almost entirely in a large Spanish department store. It centers on Rafael, a suave ladykiller who only wants to live in elegance. When his dreams of being floor manager are shattered, he accidentally kills his rival. He is saved by a mysterious guardian angel, but she traps him into the type of common life that he abhors. Funny and biting.

We Jam Econo: This is the story of the Minutemen, one of the great punk bands of the 80s. Like the Gits, the Minutemen’s time was cut short by the tragic death of a key member, in this case guitarist, songwriter, and singer D. Boon (killed in a van accident). Lots of great live footage of the band, interviews with everyone from Flea to Richard Hell, and the heart wrenching earnestness of Mike Watt, who still clearly misses his best friend even 20 years later. Recommended.

Batman Begins: Treated myself to the Bats on my birthday. You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but this is by far the best big screen adaptation of Batman. The franchise lives again.

Ten Years On

Ten years ago this week, I came out to the Pacific Northwest for the first time. My friend Dave AKA “Jabone” had moved to Seattle a year earlier and having a place to stay was about all the excuse I needed to take a vacation out here. At the time I was in grad school, freelance writing in the game industry, singing in a punk rock band, and working retail in a coffee store on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I decided a break was in order and arranged the trip for early summer, which was good timing. The weather was absolutely gorgeous (unlike June so far this year), sunny, temperate, and pleasant.

I stayed with Dave and his girlfriend Rachel in Seattle and they showed me around town. We went (to the Crocodile, IIRC) to see the Boss Martians, a cool garage band that have kept at it and have been getting some attention over the past couple of years. Rachel’s sister, who I had also known in NYC, was acting in a Star Trek parody musical (later shut down by Paramount) so we checked that out and it was pretty damn funny. I also visited the old corporate offices of WotC. This was when they still had their old roleplaying division and they were preparing the release of Everway.

After a few days in Seattle I took the bus up to Bellingham and visited another friend there for a day, getting to see a bit of the rain forest. Then I went on to Vancouver, where Nicole was living at the time. This was when she was pregnant with Kate too (little did I know at the time what in store for me!). I had timed my visit well because the Subhumans, one of the Vancouver’s greatest punk bands (not to be confused with the also great English band of the same name), were doing a reunion show and I managed to get a ticket at the last minute and catch an awesome show. Nicole also introduced me to Tojo’s, a kickass Japanese restaurant that we still patronize when we go to BC.

I returned to Seattle for a couple more days with Dave and Rachel and then flew home. I had had a great time and thought to myself, “I could totally live in the Pacific Northwest.” And only two years later I moved to Seattle. That trip laid a lot of groundwork for me, though I didn’t realize it at the time, and it seems weird that ten years have gone by already.

Weird Ass Dream

I had a weird ass dream last night. For some reason, I was with a group of people near a volcano that was erupting. We thought we were far enough away to escape harm but then we spotted a rush of fast moving lava heading our way. I got behind a car, trying to use it for cover, but the lava flow overcame us and I thought it was the end. Somehow, I survived this encounter, though it was quite painful. An indeterminate amount of time later, I and other survivors were slogging our way through the mud, as rain brought the ash down to the earth. Then we saw these monstrous creatures that were sort of like orcs but they were made of animated volcanic ash. A whole horde of these things was coming towards us, so I suggested we get out of sight. I went to look for a hiding place while my companions milled around confused. I had just found a good spot when I heard more of the creaturs approaching from a different direction. I got behind a rock and let them pass me by. This was a small patrol of three and I couldn’t let them come up behind my companions. I pulled out the only weapon at my disposal: a spoon. Yep, a spoon. Then I jumped out and used the spoon to gauge out the throat of the nearest ash creature. Then I grabbed up his big honkin’ mace…and promptly woke up.

Fifty more dreams like that and I’ll have a new monster book. Or perhaps it’s time for a vacation.

Night of the Living Dorks

Nik and I went to the midnight showing of Night of the Living Dorks last night in the latest of our SIFF screenings. It’s a German film that’s best described as a teenage zombie comedy and my god is it funny. Try to imagine a cross between Risky Business, Revenge of the Nerds, and Night of the Living Dead—in German. The heroes are three young goobers—Phillip, Konrad, and Weener—who get no respect from the in-crowd at their high school (the aptly named Friedrich Nietzsche Gymnasium). Phillip lusts after “it girl” Uschi and he is so desperate he and his pals end up at a graveyard with the three Goth kids at school, one of whom is Phillip’s next door neighbor and childhood friend, Rebecca. The incompetent Goths are trying to use a copy of the Necronomicon, a store bought chicken, and a screwed up pentagram to raise the dead, though Phillip is more interested in getting their help with a love spell. The Goth leader’s plan is to master the art of necromancy and then go to Seattle to raise up zombie Kurt Cobain (this got huge laughs from the Seattle crowd). Naturally enough, the evening goes awry and the next thing the guys know they wake up in a morgue.

At first, the friends don’t believe they are zombies but they soon discover that they feel no pain, have increased strength, and crave raw meat. Of course, these guys are zombie teenagers so their thoughts soon turn to what they can do with their newfound powers. Konrad has a “book of shame” that records every humiliating thing ever done to him. He begins to track down all of his tormenters and take his vengeance upon them. This culminates with him eating the sadistic gym coach “Stalin”, who has a great line to the students about how Germany would a lost the war if the soldiers had their bad attitudes (“But, sir, we did lose the war!”).

Things go wrong when their body parts start dropping off, which results in the creative use of a staple gun. Phillip and Weener agree that they must find an antidote, while Konrad is too in love with his power to want to give it up. The rest of the film is uses the zombie gag to turn a typical teen movie plot on its head. The humor is broad and while the gags are sometimes obvious, they also work. Night of the Living Dorks is a riot and is sure to become a cult hit amongst gamers and nerds of all varieties.

Would You Like a d20 Band-Aid for Your Head Wound?

The latest Game Trade has some sample pages from the upcoming Dungeon Master’s Guide II, which I checked out with interest. One feature is a new format for stat blocks that is apparently becoming WotC and Paizo standard. WotC’s designers have recognized that the current stat blocks can be hard to use, as they have an awful lot of info crammed into to them. The new stat blocks are indeed easier to read and do a lot of calculations for you with attack options and feats and so on. As I was looking them over, I had two overwhelming feelings:

· This is a superficial fix for what is, in fact, a much bigger problem (a band-aid for your head wound, as I put it in the post title). Namely, that D&D; in its current incarnation is bloated and overcomplicated. Stat blocks, particularly those for high level characters and big hit dice monsters, are certainly a symptom but they are not the most important things to fix here. I suppose it’s against my interest to want to see 4th edition any time soon, since 3.5 was such a kick in the nuts to the d20 industry, but there’s a lot more wrong with D&D; than stat blocks.

· Now it’s going to take a full column to stat out the average NPC. That means books will have even more space dedicated to stats and less dedicated to other content.

In the original Death in Freeport, when I was statting up NPCs, I had one entry for “Important Skills and Feats” in which I provided you the key elements you’d need for each NPC based on his role in the adventure. If a NPC was a combat obstacle, I reasoned, you don’t need to know how every skill point was spent or what his Craft skill modifier is. We moved away from that because the d20 crowd was keen to see companies follow the WotC standard in most things. I’m now sorry we did and I’m thinking we should move back towards the idea. I don’t see us adopting the new stat block except for special NPCs that are worth the extra space.