Black Flag at El Corazon, 7/19/13

So…Black Flag. It was a good show but not a great show. Ron Reyes was a  fierce frontman and the song selection was heavily weighted toward’s their first 5 years (ie the good stuff). A couple of things dragged it down though. First, the new drummer could not hold a candle to Robo. He didn’t even attempt stuff like the fills on “Depression” and just was a weak link all around. Second, Greg Ginn could not help from throwing in several long, tedious songs towards the end of the set, during which he abused a theramin. One of them (“Can’t Decide” from My War) is even a song I like, but they did a 3 or 4 minute intro with theramin to what was already a 5 minute song and then threw in an extra long guitar solo to boot. Then closed with a 5+ minute version of Louie Louie. As I commented to Nicole afterwards, it was like two-thirds of a great show and one third self-indulgent nonsense.

We Are 138!

It is common practice for writers and game designers to put Easter eggs into their work. They are often targeted at super fans, whose deep knowledge of the topic at hand lets them get the joke. I did this somewhat frequently in my early days as a freelance writer, except I put in things simply to amuse myself. In particular, I put punk references into my game writing with the full knowledge that few, if any, readers would get it.

“We Are 138” is a case in point. In 1996 I wrote an scenario for the Feng Shui RPG (and no, non-gaming friends, this was not a game about furniture arrangement, but Hong Kong action movies) that appeared in the book Marked for Death*. In the adventure the PCs go to the dystopian future controlled by the Architects of the Flesh and visit a town called Pride 138. They witness a legion of school children in matching uniforms marching down the street chanting, “We are 138! We are 138!” The adventure explains the town’s curious name:

“If anyone asks about the origin of Pride 138’s name, Footen tells them it’s a product of one of the Buro’s less successful campaigns. They sought to increase civic pride by naming new towns in rural areas Pride; needless to say, by the time they hit the 138th town named Pride, the campaign lost its novelty.”

“We Are 138” is, of course, a song by The Misfits, possibly inspired by the movie THX 1138. The old Misfits tunes are pretty well-known these days, but even so I never had anyone tell me they got the reference in that adventure. Same for most of my Easter Eggs, with the notable exception of the cloud giant pimp named Dolemite I put in the AD&D supplement Vortex of Madness. No one ever figured out that Krokus Behemoth, the ormyrr watch captain in the City of Glass from that same book, was a reference to the early stage name (Crocus Behemoth) of Dave Thomas of Rocket from the Tombs and Pere Ubu.

The funny thing about Marked for Death now is that I can’t actually remember which came first, the idea of using the song in an adventure or the idea of the Buro naming hundreds of towns Pride. Since the ill-conceived propaganda campaign works whether you get the reference or not, I suppose it doesn’t even matter. 16 years later I am still amused.

* I pulled down Marked for Death when writing this to get the proper quote. I hadn’t looked at for ages and thought, “Damn, that’s a sweet cover. I checked the credits, only to discover that the art was done by my Krab Jab studio mate, Mark Tedin. Funny!

The Highlights of My Year

2011 wasn’t the worst of years, but it wasn’t the best either. It was up and down, sweet and sour. I started the year living in Austin and working a day job at Vigil Games as lead writer on the Warhammer 40K MMO. I’m ending it back in Seattle with my family and I’m pretty damn happy to have reunited with Nik and Kate on a permanent basis. I don’t want to dwell on the negative so here are the top 5 other highlights of the year.

1. Kate’s Birthday

I wrote about this a few weeks ago so I won’t go on about it, but the most joyous event of the year had to be Kate’s surprise 16th birthday party. I often feel like it’s my job to apologize to Kate for how disappointing the world is, so it was awesome to see how happy our girl was with her party and all the friends who came out for it.

2. Brazil

In May I flew to Curitiba to be a guest at World RPG Con. This was my first (but hopefully not my last) trip to Brazil, and my first time south of the equator as well. I had a great time, though as usual with big trips like this I wish I could have stayed longer. The con was small but the organizers and attendees were super enthusiastic and they made me feel so welcome. I met many excellent gamers and had the chance to actually hang out with Steve Jackson (the other American game designer guest) for the first time.

The day after the con we got to ride the Curitiba-Paranaguá Railroad. It was a three and a half hour, 116 kilometer trip through the rain forested highlands to the coast. The route went through 13 tunnels and over 30 bridges, and the whole trip was in a vintage Italian train from the 60s. Then we had a huge seafood feast in Paranaguá, followed by more sightseeing by bus before the drive back to Curitiba. All in all, pretty awesome.

3. Seattle: The Returning

I moved back to Seattle in August. Nicole flew down to Austin, we loaded up a truck with the help of friends, and then it was a five day ride through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington. I’ve mentioned my happiness about getting back with my family, but here I’m talking about the trip itself. When I moved down, I had a fixed deadline so it was four days of hard driving and nothing else. This time Nicole and I had no schedule we had to keep to so we decided to be more casual. I’m glad we did.

Our first stop was at Reaper Miniatures in Denton, TX. Ed Pugh and Ron Hawkins gave us a thorough tour of their facility. They have a really impressive operation going on there and it was cool to see it. We probably spent too much time swapping game industry stories, but hey, how often are we getting to Denton? When it was time for us to move on, they gifted Nicole with some out of production Mousling miniatures, which made her squee with delight.

Next we stopped at the Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center in Hutchinson. It’s a really unlikely place for a museum dedicated to rocketry and space flight it’s quite well done. Apparently NASA wanted to get rid of a bunch of stuff back in the 70s, so Hutchinson said, “Give it to us and we’ll make a museum!” The history is well presented and they have some great artifacts, including the lovingly restored capsule from Apollo 13. Worth a stop if you find yourself in Kansas.

In Denver we stopped to have lunch with college pal Pat Brown at the Buckhorn Exchange. We worked out the meet up over Facebook on my phone while we cruised down the interstate. Thanks, technology. Pat recommended an over the top gourmet shop outside town so we had to pop in there as well. They had a huge room full of cheese that was essentially a giant refrigerator. The store keeps coats on hand in case you get cold, but after Texas I enjoyed it in there. Cheese and other goodies we got there made our dinner in the hotel later that night.

As we rode through Wyoming, I thought we were done with stops. Then I noticed on the map that the highway went right by Little Big Horn in Montana. Turns out you can get from the highway to the hill where Custer died in less than 10 minutes. Clearly we had to do it.

4. Dragon Age, Set 2

Professionally speaking, the highlight of the year for me was the release of Set 2 for Dragon Age. It took way longer to get done than I figured, but I’m pleased with the result. The release made me feel great for an hour or two. Then someone asked, “So when is Set 3 coming out?” Oh, gamers. 🙂

5. Steve Ignorant: The Last Supper

I’m ending my list with a bit of punk rock. I did not get to a lot of shows in Austin because I lived in north, north Austin and had neither license nor car. So when German band the Spermbirds came to America for the first time to play South by Southwest, I ended up missing their show. When I heard that Steve Ignorant was bringing his Last Supper show to Emo’s, I determined that I would be there. Thanks to pal Donna Prior, who agreed to drive and come to the show with me despite the music not exactly being her thing, I got my wish.

Steve Ignorant was the singer for Crass, an uncompromising British punk band of the 70s and 80s that went the Sex Pistols one better by taking their anarchism very seriously indeed. They became a hugely influential band, and ran a record label that put out lots of other anarcho-punk bands. Crass broke up in the mid-80s and I never had a chance to see them. I think they only got to America once and then briefly. A couple of years ago Steve Ignorant decided to put on a show called The Last Supper. Basically, he wanted to perform those old songs a final time as “a celebration of what Crass meant” to him.

So this was not a Crass reunion per se, but Steve singing songs from ’77 to ’84 backed by musicians from bands like Conflict, Killing Joke, and the English Dogs. I’m sure a lot of people saw the whole thing as a cynical endeavor but I don’t give a shit: it was awesome. Steve was into it, the band was tight, and hearing those classic songs live was a treat. The real surprise of the night was the performance of many songs from Penis Envy, Crass’s feminist statement on which Eve Libertine handled most of the vocals. A younger singer named Carol Hodge sang the Penis Envy songs and she killed it. She was fierce and delivered those songs with conviction and energy. It was the icing on my punk rock cake.

Originally published on LiveJournal on December 31, 2011. 

Gaming and Punk: Crossing the Streams

It isn’t often that my punk rock life and my gaming life come together but it happened this week.

The story begins in the early 90s, when I was living in NYC and helping to run ABC No Rio, a non-profit punk club and arts center. ABC was full of characters and one of the most colorful was Donny the Punk. Although he was a long time member of the NY punk scene, that’s not how Donny got his nickname. No, he got it the old fashioned way, by being gang raped repeatedly in prison in the 1970s. This obviously had a huge impact on his life, and he later was the president of Stop Prisoner Rape. We did an art show once at ABC based on his jailhouse experiences. It was powerful stuff. You can read more about Donny’s harrowing story on Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Donaldson_(activist)

So one day Donny and I were talking at ABC and he asked me what I was up to. This was in my early days of RPG freelancing and explaining roleplaying games to my punk friends was often a challenge. But Donny lit up and said, “Oh, gaming! I used to design wargames for SPI.”  SPI, of course, was one of the major wargame companies of the 1970s and the big rival of Avalon Hill.

Donny then proceeded to tell me how he had designed a game in which all the commanders were named after people from punk bands, which I found quite amusing. No one at SPI, of course, had a clue. I just can’t see SPI founder Jim Dunnigan rocking out to The Clash, Dead Boys, or Richard Hell and the Voidoids.

I always remembered that story but not the name of the game. Donny passed away (a victim of AIDS) in 1996 so I never had a chance to ask him again. Looking over his bio, I’m curious to know when and how he ended up doing design and development work for SPI. He did spend some time in the military but was kicked out for “homosexual involvement.” Then he was a Quaker for much of the 70s. All in all, a pretty unlikely candidate for a wargame designer.

For 20 odd years our conversation about gaming remained a personal story I shared with few people. How many punks play wargames after all? Then yesterday I got an e-mail from my friend Crazy Todd. He provided this link and said, “This will amuse you.”

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/716888/rock-n-roll-wargame-the-hidden-coolness-of-city-fi/page/1

Turned out someone on Boardgame Geek was looking at a SPI game called Cityfight: Modern Combat in an Urban Environment from 1979. He had noticed that many of the commanders were named after old punks (Strummer, Pursey, Foxton, Bators, etc.). This was Donny’s game I had heard about all those years before! Of course, I had to say something and I was delighted to discover that there were a number of old punk wargamers on BGG. The majority seemed to be Canadian, which may or may not be indicative of something (it did make me think of my Canuck pals at Fiery Dragon, who published a number of wargames over the last 10 years).

Now I’m watching a copy of Cityfight on eBay. Clearly I must own this unique piece of punk and gaming history. Pogo on, Donny.

Originally posted on LiveJournal on October 29, 2011. 

A Playlist for the Heart (Rate)

I usually just listen to full records but I like making playlists for working out. I’m seeing my trainer tomorrow so I made a new one. She doesn’t mind my blaring punk rock, though a couple of times ladies from the studio next door have come by to complain. This is the first time in my adult life I’ve successfully stuck to an exercise program and having music I like playing has helped. Here’s what I’ve got lined up for tomorrow. This should help keep my heart rate up.

Hüsker Dü, “In a Free Land”
Channel 3, “Manzanar”
Toxic Reasons, “Breaking Down the War Machine”
Radio Birdman, “New Race”
The F.U.’s, “Unite or Lose”
Articles of Faith, “I’ve Got Mine”
Government Issue, “Understand”
Suicide Machines, “High Society”
Big Boys, “Which Way to Go”
Lars Frederiksen & the Bastards, “Dead American”
The Cute Lepers, “Opening Up”
The Wipers, “Window Shop for Love”
Go Betty Go, “I’m from LA”
Faith, “Subject to Change”
The Dils, “I Hate the Rich”
Cadáveres De Niños, “Tragedia”
G.I.S.M., “Death Agonies and Screams”
Negative Approach, “Can’t Tell No One”
The Dicks, “Dicks Hate the Police”
Reagan Youth, “Degenerated”
Marginal Man, “Fallen Pieces”
MIA, “Boredom is the Reason”
Se, “Punk on typerää”
The Tossers, “No Loot, No Booze, No Fun”
Nekromantix, “Gargoyles Over Copenhagen”

Originally published on LiveJournal, May 13, 2010.