Take 5, Star Wars

Back in the 90s, when people asked me to recommend a good starter roleplaying game, I’d always give the same answer: West End’s Star Wars. I said that because the game had a premise that new players could instantly understand and a setting they knew from the movies. “You are part of the Rebel Alliance.” And you’re off. The rules also featured simple character creation and were easy to pick up. Later West End even did a nice introductory boxed set, and you know how much I like those.

With today’s announcement that the current license holder, Wizards of the Coast, is not going to renew, you’d think I might have some interest in who might pick up the rights. There’s already speculation about which companies might have the desire and money to do so. I’ve got to say though that best thing Star Wars could do is go away for awhile. Say three to five years.

The interesting thing about the West End RPG is that it came out when basically nothing else was going on with Star Wars. There were no novels, no prequels, no cartoons–none of that. One of the cool things about it was that it was one of the few Star Wars things you could even get in 1987. Today the brand is just tired. Lucasfilm is just flogging it and flogging it and they show no signs of stopping. Star Wars is still everywhere and most of what passes for it is just crap (starting with the dreadful sequels).

So I think the RPG at least but really the brand as a whole needs a fallow period and then a reboot. Look at Star Trek. It had its time away and it came roaring back with the recent J.J. Abrams movie. Right now the only Star Wars thing that looks cool is the upcoming BioWare MMO, and that’s because BioWare seems to understand the spirit of the original Star Wars movies better than George Lucas these days, as evinced by their excellent Knights of the Old Republic game from a few years ago.

It seems that Star Wars won’t be going away anytime soon though. There’s the upcoming TV show, which might have had promise if someone other than George Lucas was in charge. More toys, games, and novels get cranked out every year. What’s funny is that the niche nature of the RPG business may actually turn out to be a boon in this situation. There are only a handful of companies that could hope to afford the license and launching a new game with all that WotC product on the shelf would be a challenge. So the RPG at least may have that fallow period but for the rest of the brand the flogging will continue until morale improves.

(Not) Very Metal

I read a review today of a movie called Until the Light Takes Us. It’s a documentary about black metal. I did some internet searches to find out more about it and so ran across a British documentary called Murder Music: A History of Black Metal. I ended up watching most of it on YouTube and it was interesting. It occurred to me midway through that I’ve watched several documentaries about the history of heavy metal. I’ve enjoyed them in an academic sense but here’s the funny bit: I hate heavy metal.

I mean, sure, I dabbled a bit when I was a teenager. I used to like Iron Maiden and some bands who are sometimes (incorrectly, in my opinion) lumped into metal, like Blue Oyster Cult and Rush. Come on, BOC had a song about Elric, I had to check that out. There is that place where fantasy fiction, gaming, and metal meet and I could have gone there, but no. I would look at albums by bands like Cirith Ungol and Celtic Frost in the record store, but they were not for me.

My dislike of metal has two components: attitude and music. Regarding the former, I hated the machismo, the misogyny, and the idiots these things attracted. Nor did the music itself have any appeal. The endless songs, the wanky guitar solos, the high-pitched shrieking–not my thing. Kind of ironic when you consider I went through a brief progressive rock phase when I was 13 and 14 but that thankfully passed.

Then I found punk rock and it was exactly what I needed. It was angry, rebellious, and high-velocity. It was a music that spoke to my alienation and it was made by misfits like me. And as far as I was concerned, punk and metal were like oil and water. When punk bands starting “crossing over,” I was appalled. I liked the FUs but not the Straw Dogs, dug early DRI but loathed their later material (in fact, I sold my copy of the first DRI album, which is worth a mint now). I laughed when the metal guys discovered thrash. Slayer? Anthrax? Fuck that shit. A pale imitation of the great hardcore bands of the early 80s (but too long and with the aforementioned wanky guitar solos). Hell, even stuff like Corrosion of Conformity and Amebix was too metal for me.

These days I’m not quite as dogmatic. I think that’s why I can watch these documentaries. And I can even appreciate some aspects of sub-genres like black metal. One could argue that it’s just a different form of rebel music, albeit one tied to nonsense like Satanism. But the worst part of these documentaries for me? Yep, still the music. When the interviews stop and the music swells, I check out until someone starts talking again. You bang your head; I’ll flex mine.

Putting the RPG Back in Game Night

We’ve had a weekly game night going at our place for a decade now. It started when Nik and I were living in an apartment in the Madrona neighborhood of Seattle and has been at our house since we moved here in 2000. The three Ronins (Nicole, Evan, and I) have been constants and many other friends have cycled in and out. Those who leave inevitably do so because they move away for a new job. We have ex-members now living as far away as Shanghai.

When we started, it was specifically for RPG campaigns and that remained the case for a good 8 years. Keeping momentum going on a particular campaign got harder, as several members do a lot of business travel. Then Bruce Harlick moved back to California, earning the sobriquet “Bruce the Traitor.” Jess and Tim followed him about a year later. Since then it’s been the three Ronins plus Ray Winninger.

The four of us attempted to keep a campaign going but with me working two jobs and Ray flying all over the place for Microsoft, it just didn’t work. For almost two years now we’ve been playing board games instead. And some nights we don’t even do that. Nicole cooks and we drink and bitch about the world. I had a playtest game of Dragon Age going on the side, but that ended when I left Flying Lab.

This is why I find myself hankering to be part of a regular RPG campaign once again. I would like to play but the reality is that I’ll need to GM if it’s going to happen, so I’ve been pondering options. I need something I’m interested in and I can sell the group on. I’ve commented to Nicole several times that the Fables comic by Bill Willingham would make a great backdrop for a campaign. Last week when I mentioned again how I thought Fables was awesome, Nicole said, “You should run a Fables campaign on game night.”

The question, of course, is what game would be suitable for Fables? I asked this of my Facebook friends yesterday and got a variety of responses. I didn’t quantify what I was looking for, so let me do that now. Basically, I am looking for a more story oriented game. I’m not interested in anything rules heavy or featuring tactical combat. It should be able to handle a wide variety of character types easily, as Fables throws a very wide net. Creating NPCs should not be a bear.

Here’s what’s been suggested, as well as various games I’ve pulled from my collection for consideration.

Castle Falkenstein: I always admired this game but sadly never got to play it. The engine is looks workable but I think if I was going to run CF, I’d like to do it full on with the setting intact.

GURPS, Hero, M&M;: These sorts of point based systems are great for many types of campaign, but not this one.

New World of Darkness: The core book doesn’t feature vampires, werewolves, etc, but is more of a generic supernatural game. I have no play experience at all with NWoD, so it’d be interesting from that angle but it didn’t seem well suited to making fairytale characters come to life.

Over the Edge: I played this a lot in college and it could work. Possible but I’d rather try something newer.

Prince Valiant: This game was really ahead of its time and there’s a lot to admire about its design and approach. I’d need to mod it heavily for it to work for Fables though, as it really is designed for a medieval setting.

Savage Worlds: This is a game I want to try sometime anyway and I could probably make it do what I want, but the feel of the rules is not quite right. I’ll save it for Solomon Kane.

Seven Leagues, Primetime Adventures, and HeroQuest: Interesting suggestions but I have none of these. If not for the final entry, I might have sought out one or more of them.

Spirit of the Century: I played in a SotC campaign for about a year and it was fun. It is more crunchy than you’d think though and that’s not really what I’m looking for. I also found that in a longer campaign the whole aspect thing went from fun to humdrum, so I’d use SotC for one shots or short arcs but not a full on campaign.

True20, Faery’s Tale, M&M; again: I am always amused when people suggest games to me that Green Ronin publishes. I appreciate the sentiment, but game night is my time to be a hobbyist, so I try to play other people’s games.

The Zorcerer of Zo: I had this on the shelf but it took Sophie’s suggestion to remind me. After a re-read, I’d say this is the clear front runner. Character creation feels right for Fables and the rules seem substantial enough to be interesting but easy enough that I won’t have to sink a lot of time into prep work. I also have Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies, another PDQ game which I could pull extra material from if needed.

If I can sell the group on the idea, the next step would be picking a time frame to set it. I think I might want to stay away from the modern day so the PCs can shine without being overshadowed by the plots of the comic. The early 60s might be a fun period to roll with. Rat Pack fables and Cold War spy stuff could be an interesting mix. We’ll see how it goes.

Excalibur Keeps It in the Family

Excalibur was the first R rated movie I saw in the theater. I guess I was 11 at the time. I think my father took pity on my brother and I because there were so few decent fantasy movies movies in that era. Sure, Hawk the Slayer was fun, but I wouldn’t call it good. Anyway, I went on to see Excalibur dozens and dozens of times. When I was in college, we often would run movies in the background as we played Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Excalibur was a favorite.

One day I actually paid attention during the credits and noticed that the actress who played Igraine was named Katrine Boorman. As John Boorman directed the movie we thought it was probably his wife or daughter. She was young enough that daughter seemed the most likely and indeed that was the case.

As you may recall the siring of Arthur is graphically depicted in Excalibur, with Uther tearing off Igraine’s dress and then mounting her while still wearing his armor (now that is a horny knight). So in that long ago college dorm, I joked to my friends about what that casting conversation must have been like for the Boormans. “Honey, would you like to have your tit sucked?”

So the other night I watched Excalibur for the first time in at least a decade. I had picked up the DVD cheap at some point but never watched it. When it was over, I noticed there was a commentary track by John Boorman, so I turned that on. I was curious what he would say during the infamous Uther/Igraine tryst.

I’m paraphrasing but his is more or less what he said. “People often ask me if it was difficult filming my daughter getting raped. First of all, Igraine doesn’t think she’s being raped because Merlin put a glamour on Uther. In any case, my daughter and I discussed it beforehand, we were both fine with it, so we did it and it was not a big deal. The bigger problem for Katrine was being so close to the fire in the background.” He then spends the rest of the scene talking about the great job the set designer did on Tintagel castle!

I guess that means both Boormans are either incredibly professional or incredibly fucked up.