At Flying Lab the marketing folk asked the writing team to come up with 100 pirate words for some kind of contest SOE is putting together. I said, “Well, we’ve got to go with arsewhistle.” Cory writes up the list and arsewhistle is number 1. He then sends it around for a few people to look at. I’m certain that everyone knows I was joking around and that Cory is just playing along by putting it on the list. Jess then tells me that its very flavorful but he doesn’t think we can use it in the game. He then asks the origins of the term. I said, “Uh, it just popped into my head like an hour ago.” Cory says, “Wait, it’s not real?” Apparently arsewhistle really works as pirate word. Now to convince the world that it was 18th century pirate slang. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to begin using the word arsewhistle as an insult. If anyone asks, tell them that it was a derogatory term for bosuns that later became a general insult amongst pirates. Go forth and have at the arsewhistles!
I had really been looking forward to Thanksgiving Weekend. Now that it’s over I feel vaguely dissatisfied and I’m not sure why. I did some fun stuff, spent time with good friends, and finished several nagging tasks. Maybe it just ended too quickly or maybe I just didn’t reach that state of relaxation I was looking for. Hurm.
I did get a double dose of roleplaying over the weekend. Saturday we played Spirit of the Century at Tim’s for the first time in over a month. We kicked off a new chapter of the story and it’s going well so far. I learned that when you show up at the herbalist shop covered in blood, the most reassuring thing you can say is not, “Don’t worry, it’s not mine.” I still need a tenth aspect but can’t settle on one. We’ve now joked about calling it “The Tenth Aspect” and making it some mystical mojo, but that doesn’t quite fit my character.
Sunday we play Ray’s old school D&D; game for the second time. This is Rules Cyclopedia D&D;, where elves and dwarves are both races and classes and plusses on your magic shield subtract from your Armor Class. I must admit that this game is turning into a huge amount of fun. I am just embracing all the things that bugged me about those rules back in the day and going with it. Ray’s idea was to run the sort of deluxe game he always wanted to when he was a teenage but couldn’t afford. He printed out a huge map of the first dungeon scaled for minis for example. I brought along tac-tiles and two cases of miniatures. So far it’s been a blast.
It wasn’t all fun and games though. Nik and I watched No End in Sight, an excellent documentary about the quagmire in Iraq and how it got that way. This is a really important film and I think folks across the political spectrum need to watch it. This is not a polemic by a bunch of wild eyed leftists. The story of the war is told in large part by eye witnesses and participants. Soldiers, administrators, politicians, officers, and journalists talk about what they saw and what they did. The film lays out very clearly what was done and shows the consequences of those actions. I could go off on a huge political rant here but instead I’ll just say that I highly recommend No End in Sight.
I got out of work a bit early yesterday, which was nice. Downtown was such a madhouse though that it took me over two hours to get home on the bus, which wasn’t as nice. I finally made it though and thought, “Damn, glad I’m not going out tonight.”
So of course Nik and I went out. There was a show down at Studio 7 and it lured me back into the turkey day craziness. It would have been silly not to go see two bands I like, Brain Failure and Whole Wheat Bread, when they were playing a 10 minute drive from the house. I had seen both bands a couple of years back doing opening slots. Brain Failure was the first (and so far only) Chinese punk band I’ve seen, and since that previous show I had picked up one of their albums and enjoyed it. I liked Whole Wheat Bread at an earlier show too, but it was Nik who became the real fan and got two of their records.
The show was a good time except for one thing: the club was freezing. Inexplicably, Studio 7 kept its doors open for the entire show and yesterday was the coldest day of the winter so far. If anything shows are usually overheated, particularly once you pack in a bunch of dancing punks. I’ve left the Rat in Boston and CBGB in NYC sopping wet with sweat, but I’ve never exited a show chilled to the bone. I was stomping my feet trying to keep the circulation going and even the slamming didn’t do much to warm the place up.
We got their in time to see the Diablotones, a local ska act that was entirely by the numbers. I joked with Nik that I was waiting for them to play a song called “Rude Boy Being Rude, Rudely”. Brain Failure was up next and they rocked. The only disappointment was that they didn’t play “Call the Police,” my favorite song of theirs. Otherwise, they put in a great, high energy set and it seems their touring has paid off because they had a lot of fans at the show. I sometimes call them Beijing’s answer to Operation Ivy but they actually didn’t play much of their ska punk stuff last night. They were followed by Whole Wheat Bread, the only band of the night that entirely eschewed ska stylings. Most of their songs were straight ahead melodic hardcore, though this time they mixed it up with a couple of rap-punk numbers. While those poor Florida boys were no doubt freezing, they rocked the place and made Nik smile. We then stuck around for the first couple of songs of Big D and the Kids Table, but their white boy ska didn’t impress and we were so cold we decided to skip the rest of their set.
So today I give thanks for punk rock. Stay free, ya’ll.
I watched Sympathy for the Underdog by director Kinji Fukasaku (who would direct Battle Royale 30 years later) on Sunday and I’m glad I did. If you like crime dramas, this 1971 yakuza flick is a winner. It’s about a Yokohama gang that loses its turf to a big Tokyo outfit. The leader, Ginja, spends 10 years in prison. When he gets out, he puts the gang back together and heads to Okinawa. There, he says, it’s like the post-war days. A small outfit can still carve out territory and make a killing. This they do, going up against local Okinowan gangs trying to defend their own turf. Ultimately, of course, the Tokyo boys come calling once they realize there’s money to be made. The smart play for Genji’s gang is to take the bribe money and leave. The honorable thing to do is to stand tough and try to take vengeance for their betrayal in Yokohama, even if it means they all die. Can you guess which path they choose?
The movie has a great sense of time and place. The American naval base on Okinawa is an important part of the plot and this western influence is accentuated with a bluesy soundtrack. Genji’s sunglass wearing badass is a precursor to Chow Yun-Fat’s Mark Gor in A Better Tomorrow, and you can certainly see Fukasaku’s influence on Kill Bill. If you are ready to get your yakuza on, Sympathy for the Underdog is a great choice.
I’m still gluing together Easterlings for my Lord of the Rings warband, so Rick and I had to pick a different game last night. We decided to play Axis and Allies War at Sea instead. This was the second time we’ve played the game and we’ve had a good time with it. It’s a nice light wargame, something you can pick up and play easily in an evening. The miniatures are pre-painted and since they don’t have faces they look OK. The problem with the game is that it’s collectible. That means the boosters are random, so you get ships and planes from all the different nations and of course there’s no guarantee you’re going to get what you want. If I could buy a fleet off the shelf I would. As it stands I’ll probably just play with what Rick’s already got until the game dies and then I’ll pick up cheap boosters from dealers at Gen Con or on Ebay.
I’m not a big fan of collectibility to begin with, but it’s extra annoying with historical games. Unless you spend a lot of money, you won’t be able to field historically accurate forces. The Axis and Allies rules hand wave this, allowing you to field anything Allied or anything Axis in the same army or navy. So last night I had British, French, and American ships in my fleet, and two types of planes that America only used in the Pacific Theater. I fought a fleet based around a Japanese carrier, but it also included an Italian battleship and three squadrons of German Stukas. I will grant you that most folks don’t know as much about WWII as I do, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that part of the appeal of Axis and Allies is its historical background. In other words a World War II game is going to appeal to people with an interest in history. It would be nice if the game offered a way to field more realistic forces other than just buying more boosters. Now that WotC has developed the game and had the minis sculpted, it wouldn’t be that difficult to release, for example, a stand-alone Battle of Midway game that came with full American and Japanese fleets, rules, and a scenario book that let you play through different phases of the battle. I would buy something like that in a second. Lately Wizkids had been doing some fixed sets for its MechWarrior game. Perhaps WotC will follow suit.
I woke up late this morning, got ready, and then took the bus downtown. I got off earlier than I usually do so I could go to the post office and mail a package and some letters. Forgot it was Veteran’s Day, so of course the post office was closed. I came out of the post office to see my bus going by. It is particularly cold, wet, and nasty today, so the walk up to my next bus stop was unpleasant. The stop happens to be right in front of the big food court in the building that houses a Borders. I moved inside to warm up a bit and keep an eye out for another bus that’d get me up to Queen Anne. The food court is always empty this time of morning because the places there are not geared for breakfast. There’s one other guy standing with me, looking out the window. We’re there for maybe two minutes when a rent-a-cop approaches and tells us that “building policy” is that the food court is only for patrons. If we’re just waiting for a bus, we’ll have to wait outside. Oh, and did I mention the city just recently ripped out all the bus shelters at that stop? I ask the guy if he’s serious and he assures me that he is. I am tempted to tell him that my policy is that cold and wet people should take advantage of big empty spaces that are warm and dry, but I see the #3 coming up the street so I let it go. This week is off a great start.
When 4th edition D&D; was announced at Gen Con, the immediate question that publishers like GR asked was, “What’s going to happen with the Open Game and d20 Licenses?” There was a meeting that Friday night and we thought we’d be getting info from WotC then. Turns out they were looking for feedback from existing publishers and they did not yet know what they were going to do with the two licenses. A few things were clear coming out of that meeting. 4th edition would be released under the Open Game License and they wanted to create a new d20 logo that was more of a mark of the quality than the original became. However, WotC itself was not interested in any program that would involve oversight on their part. That would require staff work and it’s (understandably) not something they want to spend money on when the licenses themselves are free.
At the meeting I suggested that WotC might offload that approval work to the better 3rd party companies. The idea was that WotC create a new d20 logo and then pick the top 10 or so companies and give them the right to use it. Smaller companies could then approach the official d20 companies and try to make publishing deals. How those deals would work would of course be up to the companies involved, but I imagined something akin to Green Ronin’s deal with the Game Mechanics. This would essentially turn many of the smaller companies into design houses and the d20 companies would be the publishers. The point of this plan would be to prevent a second d20 glut and to ensure that products bearing the new d20 logo met some benchmarks for quality. WotC would probably want to review the list of d20 publishers every 12-18 months, adding companies that had proved themselves and dropping publishers that were doing a poor job.
The important safety valve to this entire plan is the Open Game License itself. The above process would be important only to those companies who wanted to use the new d20 logo. The OGL would continue to allow companies to publish what they wanted without restriction. Many people conflate the OGL and the d20 STL and they are different beasts. Mutants & Masterminds and True20 use only the OGL and do not bear the d20 logo at all. Changing the way the d20 STL worked would not change the OGL and publishers of any size would always have the latter as an option.
Yesterday news came out of the Lucca show in Italy that WotC was going to adopt a plan like this, referring to it as a “three tier” system. Scout Rouse, the man in charge of D&D; these days, quickly showed up on EN World to debunk this rumor. He says they won’t be using a three tier system. He’s previously said that the new license won’t use a fee structure either. I’m not sure what else WotC could do that would provide any kind of oversight at all. They can control the timing of a new d20 STL certainly. They might not allow any d20 products until the Fall, for example. I’m beginning to think though that in the end the new d20 STL will allow a free for all just like last time. I don’t think that’s a good idea.
Update: Well, over on EN World Scott Rouse has made a further clarification that is actually pretty big news for 3rd party publishers.
“There will be the OGL and Wizards D&D; products period. No d20 STL (tiered or otherwise) to be even more clear.”
So there will be no d20 logo at all. This means not only will there be a free for all, there will also be the added market confusion of a dozen or more new brands, as companies scramble to find their own way of indicating compatibility with the new edition. That is not awesome.
On Saturday I went to a seminar with Tim at the Boeing Museum of Flight, which is maybe 10 minutes from my house. The topic was the 368th Fighter Group (http://www.368thfightergroup.com), a unit that flew P-47 Thunderbolt fighter bombers in the European Theater during World War II. The 368th was the first unit to dive-bomb V-1 buzz bomb sites, the first to support the disembarking troops on D-Day, and the first to be based on the continent after the invasion. The panel consisted of five veterans of the 368th, pilots Major John W. Bauer, Lt. George L. Sutcliffe, Lt. Rupert S. Maxwell, Lt. Walter W. Scott, and crew chief, Sgt. Vernon R. Powers. The moderator was Tim Grace, whose dad flew for the unit.
Tim and I got down there around 12:30 and met up with his friend John. We toured the Personal Courage Wing first. This section was not there the last time I visited the museum some 5 years ago. The upper floor covers WWI and the lower floor WWII and the exhibits were quite good. In fact, I’d like to go back so I can go through them at a more leisurely pace.
The seminar started at 2 pm. The five veterans took their seats and then the moderator came out to start things up. Since he’s the author of a big history of the unit, he opened things up some background on the 368th accompanied by photos. He talked and talked and talked. His intro went on for over half an hour. And it’s not that what he said wasn’t interesting, it was just that the vets were sitting there under the lights waiting and I wanted to hear from them. Finally the moderator finished his remarks and then the vets told some stories. The format could have been better. Basically, each guy got a chance to talk, and they just went from left to right down the table. The moderator didn’t ask any questions or give the guys a chance to interact with other. They were pretty much on their own to talk about whatever. The more laconic guys spent maybe 10 minutes and most garrulous, “Scotty”, spent something like 40 minutes telling the story of how he landed his plane on only one wheel.
Thankfully, the stories the vets had to tell were interesting. One involved a tactic developed to take out Tiger tanks. I had heard about this technique before. The planes would dive at a steep angle and ricochet 50 caliber bullets off the pavement and up into a tank’s underside. This bypassed the Tiger’s formidable armor. It turns out that John Bauer is the guy that came up with this tactic and he told the story of mission on which it happened. George Sutcliffe told the story of how he survived a dogfight with over 30 German planes. This was the basis for an episode of the History Chanel show Dogfights, which I happened to have seen few weeks and is being repeated later this month. Rupert Maxwell was shot down and become a POW, but he didn’t really want to talk about those experiences. Instead he told a funny story about British pilots flying beer over from England to France for them to have a party. They used auxiliary fuel tanks on the wings modified with spigots! The Brits, knowing that Americans liked their beer cold, flew their planes up to 20,000 feet to chill the tanks and then landed to start the party.
The seminar wrapped up around 4. There was a signing afterwards, but I’m not big into autographs so I checked out more exhibits instead. I’m glad I had the opportunity to hear these guys talk about their experiences, as they are well into their 80s. I’m going to have to pay more attention to the programming at the Museum of Flight. With such a resource so close to my house, I’d be foolish not to take more advantage.
I’ve been watching the occasional episode of Kitchen Nightmares on BBC America. This is Gordon Ramsey’s show where he goes to failing restaurants and tries to save them in his own dickish style. Watching him go into place after place and find passionate yet clueless people sinking their life savings into restaurants they don’t know how to run, I find that it really reminds me of the game industry. The guy who works in a kitchen and thinks that means he can run a restaurant is not that different from the freelancer writer who thinks that means he can run a company. And trust me I know because I was that guy. When I started the original Ronin Publishing 12 years ago, I had a couple of years of freelance writing under my belt and bunch of after hours conversations with small company owners. It is no great surprise that Ronin failed, as none of us really knew what we were doing on the business end. That failure was important though, because the experience set me up to do it much better the second time around. It did cost me some money and a lifelong friendship though, so those lessons were not free. It is unfortunate that most people have to learn about the game business the hard way. I guess if I was better at being a dick, I’d start a consulting business.