The Gaming Pentathlon

I’ve always liked to play different sorts of games. While most of my career has been spent working on roleplaying games, I also love miniatures games, war games, card games, and board games, and I even spent some time in the TCG trenches. I see hobby gaming as a unified whole and oftentimes this seems like a minority view. Many gamers are quick to pick their category (“I’m a roleplayer,” or “I’m a miniatures gamer.”) and pooh-pooh other types of games. Hell, even within the same category gamers are often at each other’s throats (“I’m an old school roleplayer and you can take my polyhedral dice out of my cold dead hands!” or “I’m a story gamer and games designed by the Man cause brain damage!”). I guess it’s easier to find things to fight about than realize what we all have in common.

I was pondering what might be done to build bridges between these different groups within our hobby when it hit me: a Gaming Pentathlon. I envision this as an event that might run at major conventions. Participants would play five different games from different categories over the course of a day. While I suppose you could do some sort of scoring system and crown a winner, really the point would be to finish all five events and experience the full breadth of what the hobby has to offer. I think it’d also be possible to tie all five games together thematically and even to use the different mediums to tell a story throughout the day. A Gaming Pentathlon might end up looking something like this:

The Story of Rome

Round 1, Miniatures Game: DBA (Wargames Research Group) battles are used to illustrate Rome’s rise to power.

Round 2, War Game: Command & Colors Ancients (GMT) highlights Rome’s long but ultimate victorious fight against Carthage.

Round 3, Card Game: Caesar & Cleopatra (Kosmos/Rio Grande) is used to show the instability that brought the republic to an end

Round 4, Roleplaying Game: True20 Adventure Roleplay (Green Ronin) puts the players into the “bread and circuses” era with a scenario about the dangers and intrigues of the Coliseum.

Round 5, Board Game: Catan Histories: Struggle for Rome (Mayfair) is used to show how barbarians buffeted the Roman state in its end days.

Now this could be a crazy idea. It would require a fair amount of effort to organize and it’s hard to say how many players would find this idea exciting. If it worked, it’d provide conventions with another event which is unlike anything you are likely to do at home. It’d also show that game fans of all types can sit down and enjoy playing games together.

4E Confidence

On one of mailing lists I’m on, someone asked me if I was confident that 4thh edition D&D; would revive the d20 market. I’ve been getting a lot of questions like this since Gen Con, so I figured I might as well post my answer here. To whit:

I don’t have enough info to have confidence in 4E yet. It may create an opportunity for third party publishers, but I don’t think it’ll presage a return to a real boom time of 2000-2001. Too many gamers and too many retailers were burned by shitty products last time around. I think gamers will be approaching 4E cautiously and that’s probably double true of third party material. For this to really work for a company like mine a lot of things need to happen:

1) The new rules need to be good.
2) WotC needs to convince the lion’s share of their fanbase to make the switch.
3) The new rules need to be more successful at recruiting new roleplayers.
4) The d20 brand needs a new iteration that sheds the bad connotations the original took on.
5) WotC needs to get us the new rules in time to learn them well enough to design good product and to make strategic plans that can capitalize on the game’s launch.
6) WotC needs to do something to prevent a second d20 glut.

In other words a lot of things need to go right for this to work for third party publishers and to date none of the crucial questions have been answered.

Speaker Speaker and the Crocodile

Friday night Nik and I went to see Speaker Speaker at the Crocodile Café. They are a good local band, and Nik really likes them. We saw them a couple of times and then for the last year or so every time they’ve played we’ve had something else going on or been out of town. Not only were we free on Friday, but also Kate was up at her dad’s so I made sure we took advantage of the opportunity. We didn’t get advance tickets, since Speaker Speaker was playing with (of all things) a Pixies cover band and I didn’t figure we’d have any trouble. As we were walking over to the Croc, Nik was feeling certain we’d somehow be screwed out of seeing them. I pointed out that in nine years of going to bands in NYC I almost always just walked up at show time and got in. So we show up and pay and head inside. Turns out we are the first people there. We then spend over an hour sitting on this bench as people dribble in. When Speaker Speaker started, there were about a dozen people in the audience. This grew to perhaps thirty by the end of their set, which was energetic despite the size of the crowd. More folks arrived for the Pixies cover band, but after the opener of “Debaser” we had our fill and left.

Yesterday I picked up a copy of the Seattle Weekly and it had a story in it about how the Crocodile is going through hard times. The owner was married to Peter Buck for a long time, so there was always REM royalties to fall back on. They got divorced though and the club has been struggling the past four years. The neighborhood it’s in, Belltown, has been gentrifying rapidly and a grungy rock club is not exactly in step with the new crowd. Other venues, like Neumo’s and the Tractor, are also siphoning off the Croc’s audience. It is possible that the place will end up going out of business. That would be strange. I don’t go there all that often, as places like El Corazon and the Funhouse tend to book more of my kind of bands, but I have a soft spot for the Croc. The first month I was in Seattle after the big move from the East Coast I went to see the 5,6,7,8s there (several years later they would appear in Kill Bill, Volume 1). While the Crocodile isn’t as historic as CBGB, it’d still be a shame if it closed down. If the Speaker Speaker show is any indication, I can see why things aren’t so rosy right now.

Podcast, Episode 3

On Sunday Erik Mona came by Chez Ronin to do a guest spot on the podcast. We chatted for over an hour about the announcement of 4th edition and what that means for the OGL and d20. I thought folks might enjoy hearing two of the most prominent d20 publishers talk about recent events, amongst other gaming nerdery. The podcast is now available on the Green Ronin website and on I-Tunes for your listening pleasure.

I must say that I’m enjoying doing the podcast. It’s a new challenge and I’m learning a lot as I do each episode. I was initially planning to try to do one every month, but so far I’m turning them out faster than that. It’d be great to do it weekly, but I don’t think I have the time to do that at the moment. Hopefully, folks are enjoying the show.

Busy Week

This is one of those weeks where I have something going on every night. Tonight we were over at Ray’s for his birthday dinner. Nicole cooked Beef Bourguignon for the occasion and it was delicious. Since it was technically game night, there was some talk of playing Ticket to Ride Marklin but after a rich dinner and plenty of wine it was food coma time. I then made the mistake of having two cups of coffee and that’s why I’m awake now.

Wednesday, as I’m sure you all know, is Talk Like a Pirate Day. Flying Lab is having a party down by the waterfront to celebrate. Not sure what that’s going to be like. Apparently the founders of Talk Like a Pirate Day have recorded a video message for the event and they’ve named Pirates of the Burning Sea the official TLAPD computer game.

In other news I have finally sorted out the problems with my web page. A domain transfer is in progress and I’ve got new hosting set up. By the weekend I think it should finally be restored. Hooray.

PS Samwise Is Dead

I finished the various graphic novels series that I’ve been plowing through over the past few months. Then I paused, undecided on what to read next. Last week Ray recommended a few things to me, including Grant Morrison’s run on the Justice League of America. I hadn’t read a team supers series since I tried (and discarded) Whedon’s run on the X-Men, so I picked up the first three graphic novels to give it a shot. I like Morrison, so I figured I’d like the books and largely I do. What’s really irritating me though is that these stories were apparently forced to maintain the continuity with the characters’ regular comics. This means that major developments occur offscreen and are never really explained. So in between the first graphic novel and the second, Superman is transformed into a being of pure energy who must wear a containment suit. Then between the second and the third Wonder Woman dies. It’s like picking up the Two Towers and finding a footnote from Tolkien that says, “PS Samwise is dead and I won’t tell you how or why it happened.” I’m on the fence on whether or not to continue after #3. Anyone got some good suggestions for other graphic novels to check out?

Lots o’ Gaming

The stars have been right the last week and I’ve gotten in an unusual amount of gaming. Woot.

Spirit of the Century: Gaming fun started on Labor Day with a Spirit of the Century game. It was a bridge session as we left behind the first big adventure and transitioned into the next one, so not a whole lot to report. I still haven’t picked a tenth aspect for my character. After I said, “I knew I should have killed him when I had the chance,” the other players suggested that’d be a good one. I am considering it.

BattleLore: Thursday night Rick and I played BatteLore with the new Hundred Years War expansion. It’s got some nice new rules, troop types, and scenarios. We played the battle of Crecy and I was sure history was going to repeat itself when Rick drew Darken the Sky on turn 1 and bombarded my army with his longbowmen. It actually turned into a nailbiter though and with one lucky die roll I could have snatched victory from his grasp on the last turn. Much to Rick’s relief I did not pull off one of my patented last minute wins though and the British took the field.

Runebound: Saturday Rick and I went over to Jon’s new place and played Runebound with him, Seth, and Jason. I get together with this group irregularly for boardgames and after the end of the con season we finally had another chance to play. Runebound is like a more modern version of Talisman that learns some important lessons from its forbearer. We enjoyed it but also felt the game had a few issues. There’s a lot of downtime between your turns and the endgame takes too long. I do have some of the expansions and I wonder if those smooth out some of the rough edges.

Ticket to Ride: Yesterday I played Ticket to Ride Marklin at lunch at FLS. I had gotten the game for Jess for his birthday a couple of weeks ago and he was keen to try it. We drafted Cory and Raymond and taught them how to play. This was the first time I had tried the Marklin version and it had some additions I quite liked. The passengers made it more worthwhile to do shorter connections and gave a nice way to score some extra points. I also liked that you had two decks of tickets to choose from.

Tomorrow night it’s back to Rick’s, though I’m not sure what we’re going to play. Maybe more BattleLore. Maybe the Lord of the Rings minis game. Maybe something else. Damn, it’s good to be a gamer.

Fatal Indeed

I woke up at 4:30 am last night and couldn’t get back to sleep. After a bit of tossing and turning I went downstairs to see what late night TV had to offer. I ended up watching The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission from 1988. This made for TV movie was the fourth installment in the series. The only actors returning from the original were Ernest Borgnine and Telly Savalas. Of course, Telly’s character (the psychopathic Maggott) died in the first movie; here he took on the Lee Marvin role. The cast was rounded out by Erik Estrada from CHiPs, Jeff Conaway from Taxi, Ernie Hudson from Ghostbusters, and Heather Thomas from the Fall Guy. If this sounds absolutely awful, that’s because it is!

The plot is that 12 super Nazis are taking a train to the Middle East to act as a seed for the Fourth Reich should Germany be defeated. Savalas must recruit and lead a new dirty dozen to wipe them out and thus prevent National Socialism surviving Hitler’s fall. One presumes this plot was an excuse to shoot the movie on the cheap in Yugoslavia, much like the Guns of Navarone sequel Force 10 from Navarone.

It’s hard to say what’s the worst thing about this mess. Is it the terrible acting? The listless action scenes? The hackneyed writing? Or perhaps the agonizing romantic subplot between the Thomas’s half-Norwegian character and the Jewish convict (take that, Nazis!)? I can say that Dirty Dozen: the Fatal Mission was fatally awful. It did do one thing right though: it made me drowsy. When it was over, I went back upstairs and fell asleep right away.

Leave the Poet at Home

Thursday night Nik and I went to see the Subhumans at El Corazon. It took four times seeing them but they finally played “Ex-Teenage Rebel”, the song for which this blog is named. Woot. It was another great show, with a good mix of songs from all their albums. That day that had just gotten in the first 300 copies of their new record, “Internal Riot.” This is their first proper new LP in 21 years. Naturally I picked it up at the show and it does indeed rock. Good songs and clever lyrics totally in the spirit of the band’s original output.

My one gripe about the Subhumans US tours is that they always have this “punk poet” with them. Now I’ve got nothing against poets per se, but this guy (Mark something or other) is a menace. I think he wants to be the next Attila the Stockbroker, but his poems are for shit. By the numbers punk politics delivered in by the number rhyming couplets. It’s like listening to someone recite the lyrics of early MDC songs. What’s that, you’ve never heard MDC? Well, here’s a sample song from their first record called “Church and State.”

Nationalism in school
Perpetrating their rule
Lying textbooks rant
Their patriotic slant
“Your country’s great”
cry the church and state
“All that’ve died
Were on God’s side”

President and pope
Your pride and hope
Families build
Christian ethic instilled
The biblical truth?
Faith not proof!
Wield a sword
Walk with the lord
Be a man
Protect your land
Hear your call
Martyrs all

Your life’s lost
Nailed to a cross
Dead on foreign soil
For your God
(And their oil)

Now imagine 15 minutes of being beaten about the head by such “poetry” and you’ve got an idea of what sitting through his set is like. I will give him credit for performing through the abuse being heaped upon him by the audience, but please Subhmans, next time leave him at home.