Tom Clancy’s Middle Earth (Also Going Away)

Some of my college friends and I were discussing the problems inherent in gaming in Tolkien’s Middle Earth of late. I was reminded of something I hadn’t thought of in years, namely, that most of us had participated in a Middle Earth Play By Mail game back in the early 90s. It was the first and last PBM I ever played.

In theory, it sounded fun. You rule a realm and write your own epic story large on the pages of Middle Earth’s history. Four or five us were joining a game together on the good side, so we could fight together against Mordor and Isengard. All of us were big Tolkien fans and very much looking forward to trying this out.

Apparently, the designers of this game thought that Middle Earth was neither a sweeping story of heroism and romance, nor a mythic clash between good and evil. No, apparently they believed that the essence of Middle Earth was highly trained infiltrators and saboteurs, using stealth and dirty tricks to destabilize enemy nations. I was playing Rohan. The following about sums up how much fun I had in Tom Clancy’s Middle Earth, the PBM.

“Arise, men of the Riddermark! I, Theoden King, will smite the foul Uruks that are a blight on my land.”

“Um, sorry, sire, apparently no one saw the orc spies who stole the entire treasury and destroyed our fortifications last night!”

“What foul treachery is this? Send for Eomer and Elfhelm, we march on Isengard tonight!”

“Yes, about them, sire. It seems both Eomer and Elfhelm were assassinated last night while surrounded by 5,000 of our own crack warriors.”

“Not my sister-son and fair Elfhelm! Saruman will pay for that! I shall promote Hama and Grimbold to command the armies then.”

“I’m afraid there’s a problem with that as well, sire. Since the armies were leaderless for five whole minutes, all 5,000 soldiers have gone home and can’t be recruited again without a massive expenditure of gold….and ours was all stolen, as I said earlier.”

Theoden tries to fall on his own sword and end the pain. He is captured by enemy agents instead and held for ransom. Sauron’s armies march into Minas Tirith unopposed.

Oh yeah, it was real fun! Amusingly, GSI, the company that still runs that game, sends me an e-mail once a year trying to “get me back.” Um, yeah.

A Week Without Me

I’m leaving at 6 am for a business trip and I don’t know if I’ll have internet access where I’m going. You may not see another update until next week. Please go to stick it to the Man in my absence.

Public at Last

I’ve been working on several licensing deals for Green Ronin for quite some time now. These have been cooking for between 6 months and 2 years. This summer several seemed agonizingly close to being cinched, but they never quite got there. It’s nice that we’ve finally been able to close these deals and start announcing them. In December we announced the Red Star license, based on Christian Gossett’s super cool comic. He’s basically mythologizing the Russian Revolution and the USSR, with layers of fantasy and funky tech on top. “Military Industrial Sorcery” conjures up all the right images. The extra bonus of this license is that the people behind the comic are gamers. That makes it all so much easier. They even published their own d20 book a couple of years back called Dramatis Personae. It’s nice that I don’t have to explain our weird hobby and why it is that I need to know the background of this or the underlying concepts of that.

Yesterday we finally announced the Black Company deal. We’ll be doing a big ass book based on Glen Cook’s ten-novel series. This one really goes back to my nerd roots. I picked up the Black Company, the first book in the series, the year it came out, 1984. Guess I was 14 at the time and in my first year of high school (shudder). Little did I know that 20 years later I’d get to publish the RPG adaptation. Now if only Glen Cook was also a gamer!

The only downside is that I won’t get to design either of these myself due to other commitments on different (but also insanely cool) projects. I will be involved in the plotting, planning, development, and all that, but I don’t have the design time. Still and all, these should be some fun books and I’m very happy that we’re doing them.

I’m Very Pissed but at Least I Ate Well

Long time readers may remember that back in September I was the victim of credit card fraud. While I was in Atlanta for DragonCon, someone got my number and started charging all kinds of weird shit on internet sites. When I got my statement, I realized what was going on, contacted all the companies involved, and then presented what I thought was an airtight case to Bank of America. They credited me $300 and I thought it was done with.

Today I get this letter in mail from Bank of America. It tells me that their fraud department had looked into my case and decided all my contested charges were authentic and approved by me. Hence they were rejecting my claim and taking back the $300. To say I was pissed was an understatement. The fraudulent charges were made under different names in some cases or with addresses from states I’ve never lived in (like Texas and TN). It was perfectly clear to a sub-moron that these charges were not my doing, so I called Bank of America and went off on them. Their fraud department is going to “get back to me.” I do not have high hopes for this going well, since they apparently have the investigative skills of monkeys.

On the upside, I made a really good dinner tonight. Nik had gotten some sashimi grade tuna steaks, so I made grilled tuna with a miso-chile sauce that was delicious. At dinner, Kate was telling us about her day in agonizing detail (to be funny, at least to her). When she was done, she asked about our days. I told her about mine, then Nik started. She said, “I read my e-mail. Then I got mad at some people.”

Without missing a beat, Kate says, “But that happens every day! At least twice!”

Can’t get anything by that girl.

Three Unrelated Things

1. When I was at WotC, I picked up this red ball from somewhere, maybe the “free area” where people dumped all kinds of stuff. I used it to reduce strain on my hands. When I left WotC, it went into a box and I didn’t see it again for maybe two years. I had remembered the ball had some kind of logo on it, but what it was never registered. When I broke out the ball again, I picked up on it immediately. My ball says “ENRON” on it. I had to laugh.

2. ChiPs star Erik Estrada is on Fox’s newest ludicrous reality show “the Surreal Life”. He lives in a house with other washed up celebs like Vanilla Ice (last seen getting beaten up by “Willis” in Celebrity Boxing), Tammy Baker, Ron Jeremy, and Traci Bingham. I have not seen the show but according to an article I read an upcoming espisode features a trip to a nude beach for more faux drama. Estrada, apparently, demurred. His comment: “I didn’t want them to see ‘Little Ponch.'” Score one for Estrada.

3. “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” by Pere Ubu is a brilliant song. That is all.

Game Over, Man!

Well, last night I finished Knights of the Old Republic for the second time. I did the light side first and then the dark side. I had heard how great the dark side ending was, so I want to see it for myself. Honestly, it was anti-climactic. I mean, what happens is cool is all, but it’s exactly what you’d expect from a dark side victory. I thought there’d be some final twist to make it exceptional. Nonetheless, KOTOR was quite excellent overall and very fun to play. It’s also the first electronic game I’ve actually finished since SSI’s Warhammer 40K game Chaos Gate (computer game fans may now gawk in disbelief).

It seems, however, that I am not done with Star Wars. My game group decided that SWd20 is the game I should run for the new campaign. We got together Thursday to make characters and talk a bit about the campaign and its tone. New players seemed to fit right in with the old hands, so that’s good. I gave them the option of playing a “Luke turns to the dark side on the second Death Star and he and Darth Vader now rule the Empire” campaign or a Knight of the Old Republic campaign. Only Rick was keen to do Rebellion Era, so KOTOR took it. I’m going to adapt a bunch of the weapons and equipment from the computer game, so I’ll be picking up the Prima strategy guide so I can use it as a faux RPG sourcebook.

This will be the first time I try the d20 Star Wars rules. I played the WEG game a bunch years ago, which had its quirks. Many of the classes in the d20 game seem to simply suck (like the fringer) and I’ve never really cared for the Wounds/Vitality system. Everyone always says how “cinematic” it is. To me, the idea that a stormtrooper can get a critical hit on a 20th level jedi and kill him outright is the exact opposite of cinematic. We’ll see how it works out in play.

Changing Tastes

When I was a kid, there were certain foods I didn’t like. My mom would say things like, “One day, you’ll love this,” and I thought she was full of it. Of course, she was right. I used to hate mushrooms and asparagus but long since learned to love them (especially the latter). Horseradish was another one. I couldn’t comprehend why anyone would want that on food as a kid, but now I get pissed if I get prime rib and they give me the watered down horseradish-flavored sour cream instead of the real deal.

As an adult I’ve developed a much more adventurous palette. There’s very little I wouldn’t try and few things I simply won’t eat (topping the list is sea urchin, which I’ve tried twice and found to be like eating a loogie). I figured by this time I was over most of my earlier-era dislikes, but I’ve been proved wrong twice so far.

Raw Oysters: I’ve liked them cooked for a long time, especially the fabulous baked oysters at Tojo’s in Vancouver, BC, but I’d been adamantly opposed to the raw stuff since the age of 17. I was on a trip to Baltimore with my high school friend Pete, who was a native. He urged me to try some fresh oysters, so I gave it shot and found them to be foul. Never had them again until last year. This past May Nik and I were in LA for E3. The last night, by happenstance, was our six-year anniversary so we drove up to Malibu to celebrate at the local branch of Nobu. When we walked in, I noticed a huge metal colander full of beautiful oysters. They looked like they had been pulled from the sea all of five minutes ago, just insanely fresh and inviting-looking. While we were ordering, I asked the waiter what they were doing with the oysters. He told us about three different preparations and said we try them all with a half dozen on the half shell. We agreed and they were fantastic. Not to sound too much like a judge on the Iron Chef here, but I thought, “Now I understand the true taste of raw oyster!” Since then I’ve been eating them frequently. Over the summer, Nik and I were hitting a lot of happy hours since Kate was with her dad in Vancouver. Seattle, as you’d imagine, is a good spot for oysters and many restaurants have great deals (one, for instance, has oysters for 25 cents a piece at 3 pm, with the price increasing by 25 cents every half hour thereafter). Happy hour, another great reason to work for yourself!

Anchovies: Nothing grosses out kids more than anchovies on pizza. In fact, I remembering wondering more than once as a youngin’ why they even put anchovies on the menu. Surely no one ate those icky things. Fast forward to GAMA Trade Show 2002. Nik and I were out to dinner at Red Square with our GR partner Hal, Jeff Mackintosh from Guardians of Order, and free agent Anthony Ragan. All of us are total foodies, so we agreed to try their steak tartar as an appetizer. I don’t think any of us had had it before. It arrived and the waiter mixed it up at the table, save the anchovies on the side. We tried it and found it quite tasty. Then Hal said, “Let’s try mixing in the anchovies.” Turns out Hal had good instincts. The salt and oil of the anchovies turned the dish from good to great. The next time we went to Red Square, I simply got the steak tartar entrée. It’s that good.

This week Nik made a salad nicoise, which included anchovies. By this point we’d been eating salad every day for over a week, so the prospect didn’t exactly thrill me, but the salad nicoise ended up being quite tasty. And again, it was the anchovies that put it over the top. I found myself digging through the bowl and fishing out anchovies. I never thought I’d do such a thing.

The moral of this story: you can apparently teach an old punk new tricks. And for the record, the Red Square vodka flights encased in blocks of red ice are also the bomb.

Back in the Kitchen

Having heard many horror stories about bad parental cooking from friends, I feel lucky to have grown up with a mother who was (and is) a really good cook. The great thing about my mom was that she never just stuck to Greek and American fare. She got lots of cookbooks, took classes in her free time, and cooked a wide variety of cuisines. She also taught me the important lesson that cooking is nothing to be afraid of. When I was a kid, I helped her make cookies, especially during the holidays. At that time, she was substitute teaching, so we kept the same hours, but when I was ten or so she started a new career that she only retired from last year. As a result, she and my dad were at work until 6:30 or 7 every night and someone had to make dinner. At first my brother and I would alternate days. Then he hit high school age and started doing after school stuff like drama. For years after I made dinner nearly every night during the week. Now I was no five star chef, but my mom had taught me the basics and most recipes are pretty easy to follow.

These years of cooking were a great boon during my time as a bachelor. I could always fend for myself. I can’t say I ever loved to cook though. It was just something I had to do, like shaving. When Nik and I got together, she started to cook more because it’s one of the things she really enjoys doing. I’ve said many times, “She likes to cook and I like to eat, it’s a perfect match.” Over the past few years, I’ve cooked less and less frequently. Now, however, all that has changed.

That South Beach plan we’re on requires you to cook three meals a day. And not like “here’s a sandwich” sort of meals, but the real deal. After a day or two on the diet, Nik and I realized that it was just too much for her to handle alone. So now, suddenly, I’m back in the kitchen, cooking at least one meal a day. It’s certainly taking me back to my early teenage years I must say. Happily, I haven’t minded doing it. It’s nice break from my regular routine. Tonight I made marinated swordfish kabobs and steamed green beans.

So hats off to my mom. She not only taught me to cook, she’s the one who said (when I was 10), “I think this Dungeons & Dragons game sounds like something you’d enjoy.”

New Fun With Old Tapes

I am, at heart, a lazy sod. This makes it rather strange that I’ve worked nearly every day since 2000, with only one week-long vacation last year that my fellow Ronins made me take. Anyhow, recently I’ve been rummaging through my old tapes. I like putting on music that’s going to play for a while. I don’t want to have to get up while I’m working to flip a record or change a CD. While the shuffle function on the CD player is certainly nice, I thought it’d be fun to dig out some of classic TDK 90 minute tapes. 45 solid minutes with no flipping, that’s what I’m talking about.

It reminded me of my whole philosophy of tape making, which developed when I was in high school. I had friends who would tape one LP on one side of the tape, fast forward to the end, then tape another LP on the other side. If it was a short album, like say “Group Sex” by the Circle Jerks, well, they’d just have to fast forward longer when the album finished. I thought that was insanity. If you’ve got a 90 minute tape, fill it up! Put on another LP, a 7″ EP from the same band, or assorted compilation tracks. I rarely let even a minute of tape go unused. Luckily, that’s pretty easy with punk rock, less so if you’re into prog rock or trance or something. Me, I could always fit “They Saved Hitler’s Cock” by the Angry Samoans or “Asesinos” by Los Crudos or “Circles” by the Faith. You get the idea.

Here are some of the tapes I’ve been listening to of late:

Tape #1, Obscure Hardcore Hour: This tape has the first EP and first two LPs by the British band the Stupids. They eschewed all Brit-punk traditions and whole-heartedly embraced American hardcore. Speedy, funny, and featuring a cameo by Satan! This same tape has the one and only LP by the North Carolina band Subculture, “I Heard a Scream.” They are totally forgotten today, but the record holds up. You might describe it as hardcore with heart. Pillsbury Hardcore rounds out the tape with the “In a Straight Edge Limbo” EP. They were a band from Pomona, CA, which you can learn by listening to “I Love Pomona”. While the music isn’t particularly memorable and the vocalist screeches too much, there’s something endearing about songs like “7-11 Is God” and the immortal “Hey Bob, What’s Up?”.

Tape #2, Peace Punk O Rama: This tape is slightly unusually in that I made at someone else’s house and in a hurry. If I remember correctly, it was at one the punk rock, vegan Thanksgivings at Neil’s (of Tribal War records and the bands Nausea and Final Warning). Neil was a crusty old Brit, who started out as a clean-cut young Mod in the 70s, following the Jam around. He had a great record collection and that day I taped two records that had proved simply impossible to find over here: Dirt’s “Just An Error” and Omega Tribe’s “No Love Lost” LP. I also included both band’s EPs, “Object/Refuse/Reject Abuse” and “Angry Songs” respectively, and an EP by another Crass-punk band, Anthrax (not to be confused with the rubbish metal band of the same name). Dirt and Omega Tribe were classic Crass Records peace punk outfits from the early 80s. Very political lyrics without a shred of humor, great for when you’re angry and full of angst. Dirt later reformed in the 90s and I ended up seeing them several times. Amusingly enough, when Dirt was over here, Neil started going out with Dino, their amazingly high-pitched vocalist.

Tape #3, Indiana’s Finest Plus: Punk rock and Indiana don’t exactly go together, or so you would think. The tape kicks off with the first Toxic Reasons LP, “Independence.” This is the only record with their first singer, Ed Pittman, and it rocks from start to finish. Buzzsaw hardcore with pissed off lyrics and gravelly vocals. Ah, that’s the good stuff, from the opener “Mercenary” to “Riot Squad” to the more mid-tempo “White Noise.” I love this record. Also representing for Indiana are the Zero Boys, with their “Vicious Circle” LP. Paul Mahern’s sneering, nasally vocals are quite the counterpoint to Pittman’s, but they work with the clean hardcore sounds and almost-pop sensibilities at work here. “Amphetamine Addiction” and “Living in the 80s” are still catchy as hell, though “Civilization’s Dying” is pretty dated with its references to the shootings of “the pope and the president and the big rock star who made a lot of money.” I reached down into Louisiana for the last LP on the tape, “Condition Red” by the Red Rockers. At this point, I need you MTV-generation readers to cast your minds back to 1983 or so. You may remember a band called the Red Rockers, who had a mild hit with a crap pop song called “China.” Amazingly, this is the same band, but several years before when they were angry and more political. The Clash influence is strong, but that’s not a bad thing in my book. Cuts like “Guns of Revolution” and “White Law” do, indeed, rock. They also score big points for covering Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”.

Hit the Ground Running

I must admit I was feeling a little down towards the end of 2003. I didn’t have a lot of energy, certain projects continued to vex me, and “the next big thing” always seemed over the hill. I had planned to do a ton of work over Xmas time but in the end I did but a moderate amount. Spent the rest of the time playing Knights of the Old Republic, hanging out with Nik and Kate, and getting together with old friends. I think that was the right thing to do.

At the start of the new year I hit the ground running. I had a very productive week, capped off today by sending in the advance check for the literary license we just signed. Between that, the Red Star license, and several other deals in the works, Green Ronin has a lot going on this year. Rather than grind me down though, it seemed to energize me. I was going from project to project, making plans, sorting details, finding freelancers, concepting ads, nailing down release schedules, and so on. I got a lot of stuff done and ended the week feeling optimistic about 2004. There will surely be rough spots (there always are) but if we can weather the next couple of months we ought to have a good year.

It also helps that we have a bunch of seriously good releases coming out soon. I sent back the proofs on the Psychic’s Handbook today and that is a dynamite book. Very well designed and illustrated, with a gorgeous Todd Lockwood cover, it’s perhaps the best Master Class book yet. We also got proofs for the Book of Fiends this week and it looks fantastic. If we can’t sell a crapload of a 224-page book chock full of demons, devils, and daemons, then something is very wrong. Today I reviewed art for two Mutants & Masterminds books too, the Annual and the Nocturnals. Again, really cool stuff. Ted Naifeh (of Courtney Crumrin fame) did some standout work for the Nocs book.

The rest of this weekend I’ll be finishing my development pass on Aasimar & Tiefling: A Guidebook to the Planetouched. As I was hoping, it too is excellent and will not require much work on my part. I love it when that happens.

Looks like I’ll be running a new roleplaying campaign this year too. We’ll see what the gang picks. I gave them options from Star Wars to Pendragon to James Bond 007 to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. We’re bringing in two new players and hoping this influx revitalizes our groups somewhat. At the end of last year, we had ceased roleplaying entirely and were just playing a Mordheim campaign. Fun, of course, but neither Nik nor Kathryn had much interest, so a return to roleplaying should be a good thing.

A Quote For Toren

The quote below has been getting a lot of play since 9-11 (and for good reason). Can you name the vile politician who said it? I’ll give you a hint. He died by suicide to escape the hangman’s noose.

“Why of course the people don’t want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don’t want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

Here’s a related-if-you-stretch it bonus question, perhaps more up Toren’s alley. What Canadian punk band sang, “I wanna die by suicide!”?