Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Best Game of Top Secret ever turned into a Music Video

Transmissions is an excellent album. Unfortunately, I can't find it anywhere. The band may have gone defunct, or possibly just deep undercover. Here is what they have on Amazon

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Tim's 13

Tim contacted me about this. We were going to do a video thing and I admit I bailed on him. I was too busy and cranky and tired and - unlike him - I simply suck on camera. Instead I did a typed entry. Boring, I know....

But Tim did have his vengeance! He released his query on an unsuspecting public and the public has responded in droves. So here I am a bit late to the party bringing bean dip that was whipped up a couple of days ago (lemme scrape the mold off the top). And, oh well, here you go.  My answers to Tim's 13 questions, admittedly slightly cleaned up and trimmed down from what I actually sent him.

I also almost totally rewrote the last answer.
Just now.

And yes, it's not actually a full 13. A few of my answers addressed a few of the other questions without realizing it so I skipped them as redundant. And yes, I'm sorry my mood is not better. Summer always brings out the worst in me.

Oh, and btw, the J in JD stands for Jeremiah although everyone calls me Jerry.

1.) Can you please describe in detail the praying that you will never play D&D story? I'm really curious about that?

That was my introduction to D&D. I think it was always there looming in the background. I must have seen the ads in Boys Life but I never gave it any thought until this moment.

It was 1981. I was ten years old and living in Liberty, NY. I was over at a friend's house and we were playing with some action figures while his mom sat in the kitchen, drinking coffee and watching the news. A TV report came on about some crazy new game centered around kids worshiping Satan. I remember seeing footage of some religious group gathered around a bonfire and throwing copies of B/X D&D into the blazes while singing songs and such.

The idea of a children's game encouraging Satanism greatly disturbed his mother to the point where she gathered us together in the living room to pray about it. We all held hands and I don't remember what exactly she said, but I do remember her looking up at the ceiling and saying “Lord Jesus Christ” and “evil evil game” and I doubt she was asking Jesus to come be our DM.

BTW. Never play with Jesus as your DM.
The guy rolls nothing but natural 20's.

"Oh look? I rolled another 20. Truly, I must be the Son of God."
"Rub it in Jesus! Rub it in!!!"

In her defense, my friend and I then went out to play in the yard and he admitted that his parents had been acting weird lately and later I would find out that her husband had been cheating on her and they would soon file for divorce, so there was probably a lot of pressure under that roof. Many reasons to find Satan hiding behind every corner.

I wouldn't be there for the fireworks. In the summer of '82 my family moved to Red Hook, NY. A quaint little town on the Hudson River. On the very first day of school in what I am thinking was also the first period of day. I took my assigned seat and ended up sitting across the aisle from a kid named Jerry (actually Jerome) who basically introduced himself by saying, “My name is also Jerry, we should be friends.” And I was like...
“Ahh. Okay!”

And so it came to be.

During lunch I sat with Jerry and his friends – all of whom were soon to be my friends (another of whom was also a Jerry although actually a Gerald) – and they were all psyched about some game they were getting together to play in the Social Studies room after school. I asked them what it was. They said Dungeons & Dragons and I blurted out, “isn't that that Satan worshiping game?”

They cringed and dismissed it. They promised me that it wasn't anything like that and that I could even be the party cleric if I wanted to.
“What's a cleric?”
“It's like a priest but with a war hammer, and you get to cast spells and heal people and turn the undead.”

And I was hooked from that very first adventure. Sorry Jesus, but at least I still have not worshiped Satan. Yet. Muwhahahahahhahha! Many of the friendships I made during that first game are still with me and probably will be until the end.

2.) What skills do you think you have personally improved upon by playing RPGs?
Around 85/86 the golden age of TRPGs collapsed. No one wanted to play them or even admit that they ever had. All my friends wanted to do was sit around watching video rentals.

Yes, that kinda pissed me off.

I never realized it but it wasn't until the collapse forced me to stop gaming that I became serious about writing fiction. I think it surprised my teachers that someone who was so often on the verge of failing English and had as much control over grammar as a hamster on acid could write long involved stories with developed characters and realistic dialog. All of which came from TRPGs.

Granted, deciding to become a novelist proved to be an astoundingly bad idea which I wouldn't recommend to anyone. But it could have been worse. I could have become a kangaroo rancher. Have you ever tried to milk a kangaroo? They don't appreciate cold hands reaching into their pouches.

3.) What was your first experience like running a game?
I was a little bit nervous but it wasn't that bad. I ran the module C2 Ghost Tower of Inverness which is probably one of the dorkiest D&D modules ever written, but it was also a riot to play. We had an amazing amount of fun, and on top of it all it actually felt as if we had accomplished something, conquered something. I was probably beaming all week.

4.) What was it like designing your own system?
Not as bad as trying to milk a kangaroo, but not by much.

Designing the Red EFT kicks my ass on a regular basis. This past weekend I went on a rules bender and totally redesigned the hit point system. And here is the diabolical nature of designing your own TRPG. You can very easily come up with multiple ways of handling the same thing and have each way be just as good as and yet totally different from all the others. In truth, I loved the old hp system and yet I knew that it was a little too byzantine for its own good. The new system doesn't have as much character but it is quicker, more realistic and more easily understood.

I have done this sort of thing so many times over the last few years, that I am probably the last person you would want to try to play it. I am just as likely to recall some rules alternative that I whipped up and tossed out years ago as I am to recall what is actually there.

5.) Why do you think tabletop RPGs are not known about by a good many people in the public?
It's because we all live in a whirlwind of big media, fraught with advertisers desperate to grab our attention and sell us not necessarily what we need but whatever stands to produce the biggest profit for whoever is producing it. Joe and Jane Average are so caught up in this whirlwind that they often are incapable of seeing anything which isn't a part of it.

TRPGs caught on because they were fun, not because fortunes could be made from them (with the exception of that one time in the early 80's). This is why everyone seems to know about Geiko car insurance and so few of us know about Gamma World or Numenera. This could change, but someone would have to figure out some way of making a ton of money off of it, something that would probably do nothing but corrupt the matter of TRPGs and shorten its lifespan. Perhaps the financial ineptitude of the TRPGs is a blessing in disguise.

6.) What is an RPG and why are these types of games fun?
It is the chance to go on a bold amazing adventure with your friends without ever going anywhere or actually risking anything aside from a couple of hours on a weeknight.

7.) If you were going to teach a new player how to play RPGs how would you go about doing that?
Start simple and stay there for as long as possible - because that is where the fun is. I would concentrate on getting players to imagine their characters as actual people before seeing them as a constructs of measurements and resources.

On the whole I like the idea of the GM as game console and a character sheet as game controller. In the game I am designing the Players Handbook is very thin and centered around a basic understanding of your character sheet. Rules for things like Body Slams, Grappling, Surprise Attacks, and Persuasion are all in the Game Master's Guide and for the GM's eyes only. I want players to feel like their characters can do anything they can imagine within reason and leave it up to the GM to handle the nitty gritty of making the action fit into the framework of the system.

On the whole I'm not a fan of systems which say, “here are the core rules go figure it out.” I think different books should be written with the players or the GM specifically in mind, and that they should be written to entice players into the system before dumping on them a truck-load of tables and caveats.

8.) What age group do you think plays these games more than other age groups?
At this point I have no idea. It's good to see players of all ages and sexes and ethnicities. The more diverse the audience the better TRPG's chances are of surviving into the future.

9.) What overall benefits do you think a person that plays RPGs has that perhaps a non-gamer wouldn't have, or would have less of.
Empathy. The ability to step outside of the narrow cocoon of oneself and understand how different people may see the world.

10.) Have you ever seen a RPG session break out in any violence, or have you ever seen with your own eyes people becoming more violent after playing RPGs?
Depends on what you mean by violent. I've been to parties where couches have been thrown through windows, but that was done by drunken teenagers and had no RPG's involved.

With RPGs I have seen popcorn fights, dice throwing, people getting pissed and swearing they will never play again, shouting matches, parents threatening to call the police because of the shouting matches. I have never seen anyone actually throw a fist at another player, but I have seen games come close. Of course it needs to be said that all of this happened in the early 80's and 90's when we were quite young, self-absorbed and hard to control.

Later on in the 00's there was none of that. We were all in our late 20's and early 30's and in those rare cases when someone got mad they simply stopped showing up.

I've never seen anyone become more violent after playing an RPG, but I do think that people use these games as a sort of cathartic release which may make them less violent outside of the game.

11.) Do you think RPGs are still seen as much of a negative thing as they once were?
Well, with movies like Zero Charisma what could possibly go wrong?

Damn right I'm still pissed about that.

TRPGs are unique in that their greatest asset is also their achilles heel. They rely on their players to provide a satisfying experience. Write whatever you want into the rule books, but it is the people who play the game who will make or break the game.

Computer operating systems, range ovens, refrigerators, smart phones, video games and more - a quintessential part of design lies in figuring out ways to protect the product from the people who use it. Even automobiles. We are now designing cars that will brake for us just in case we happen to be texting behind the wheel. TRPGs cannot be idiot-proofed. Attempting to do so creates a board game, something like Sorry with swords.

I honestly think that TSR tried this using text boxes to control what the DM says, or AD&D having rules for everything under the sun. If they could I suspect they would have put a miniature Gary Gygax in ever D&D boxed set just so the game wouldn't have to rely on some mere mortal taking up the reigns of DM and accidentally crashing their product. Ultimately, this is what the video game would accomplish.

I take it back. The CRPG is an idiot proof TRPG.

And yet, it's not just nostalgia which keeps me gravitating back to the tabletop. I, like many people, would much rather play against another person than a computer's AI. TRPGs are the most fun when they have been messed with, when it feels as if you are adventuring inside a world created by you and your friends and not tailored for mass consumption by Corporation XYZ. But to get to that place you need to create a game that allows for it. You have to risk creating a system that people like Scott from Zero Charisma can use to leave a bad taste in everybody's mouth.

So it does pain me to see - over and over and over and fucking over again - what I have developed my own bad habit of calling a minstrel show done in geek face. Sure it's funny when it shows up on Community, but it also leaves a bad impression on those who have never played such a game and now probably never will because they don't identify with the people depicted as playing TRPGs.

And this is why I think one of the best things to happen to the hobby is the online youTube game. Granted they are the pinnacle of boring things to watch, but they show us the true faces of the people who play these games. They look a lot like you and they look a lot like me, and - yes - a few of them even look like Scott from Zero Charisma, but they are the exception and not the norm.

So there is hope.

In the past gaming was frowned on because it wasn't understood, it consumed too much time, and it mattered way too much to people who liked to shout about rules. Now, it is easily understood. It doesn't consume nearly as much time as computer games, and its audience - of all ages - has matured. If we can just get past this reputation of being the sole domain of basement dwelling anti-social miscreants table-top gaming's best days may actually lie in the future rather than the past.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

In The Heat of the Moment

I got rid of the Moment.

I  just spent the last hour or so going through all the books and doing a find/replace to turn Moment into Round. I am not doing this for the blog. If in the past I have talked of moments and now seem to be babbling like a idiot (any more than usual) talking about rounds, understand that Round = Moment and vice versa. Both are two units of time three seconds in length.

It is actually a bit of a bittersweet moment because I came up with the term Moment way back in the early 90's as an alternative to words like Round and Turn hoping to provide the game with a more natural sounding word that could be used both inside and outside of a combat encounter, something to provide a more seamless transition between the two.

It has always half-worked.

Inside a combat encounter it just sounds weird to say, "okay, that moment is over and a new moment begins." What is this, International Coffee Time with General Foods? Round sounds like something filched from a boxing match, but at least it does have that connection to combat.

Outside of combat it also backfires a bit by forcing you to think around the term. When you tell the table, "hold on a moment," are you actually telling them to wait a bit or to wait three seconds? The same goes for "you pause for a moment" and "momentarily." What exactly is meant by these utterances?

In most cases it doesn't matter whether a moment means three seconds or not. The problem is that it becomes one more thing to think about, and it also serves to remind you of the artificial nature of the game. It probably would be best to not think of it whatsoever.


I called a round a round.
And the moment has been retired.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Zero Charisma

Alright, I finally broke down and watched it.

I'm not happy about that.

Scott is a jerk. His friends are losers. His family is reprehensible. Milo has it right but he and his fellow hipsters are shallow-minded self-absorbed scum. The whole film is just so resoundingly pathetic, humiliating, and my worst fear is that it might be spot on. No, not with everyone but with enough people to make me think that gaming as an adult is simply a bad idea. That maybe life would be better for all of us if we just stayed at home and watched TV or updated our facebook status for every spare night for the rest of our lives. That maybe, just like drinking or doing drugs, gaming is something you should fool around with in your early 20's and then leave behind before it screws up your life.

It's not just this film. This film is just the tip of the iceberg floating towards the Titanic. It is all those times I have run across truly desperate and lost people like Scott and his friends inside our hobby. People who seriously need to get their shit together before they should bother with entertaining themselves. The last convention I went to was Altcon here in Tallahassee. For some stupid reason it was held in the basement of a convention center where nothing was happening on the main floor. It was crowded with people like Scott and his friends. I wandered around for about half an hour before having to leave because the stench of body odor was so noxious.

I once had a girlfriend who didn't know I ever had anything to do with TRPGs. Once at work it came up in conversation and I distinctly remember her saying, "Please don't tell me you're one of those people. God, I hate those people." She meant it, and quite seriously. I loved her and so I didn't tell her. I wanted to. I wanted to tell her about all the good times I have had gaming, about all the friendship and camaraderie, about all the good people I have gamed with, about how much promise there is in the simple matter of hanging out with your friends, rolling dice and playing elf games.

Instead there is just this hopelessness. It feels like I'm trying to pump the water out of a sinking ship which is taking on far too much far too quickly. Between this and gaming's white male whatever problem and the gentrification of hipster story games and the relentless sameness of it all. I'm thinking of calling it quits. I am going to finish up what I have been doing, release it, hang up my dice bag and go back to writing fiction which is probably what I should have been doing these last few years.

Humanity let me down today.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Lost Interview: Venger Satanis on SGC2C

I'm known as a deaddrop by the SETI people. They often send me their findings for safe-keeping. For the most part I am pretty dependable and will simply not give up my secrets. At least not until Hillary Clinton is elected president and forces me to at gun point.

This one, however, was too good to keep under wraps...


Greetings Citizens, I'm Space Ghost and tonight we are celebrating Intergalactic Tabletop Role Playing Game Day. Moltar, who is our first guest? Gary Gygax?
Nope. He's dead.
Dave Arneson?
Tom Moldvay?
Um.... Sandy Peterson?
Tickled to death by nightgaunts.
Well, is there anybody who does this tabletop role playing thing who is still alive?
We've got this guy [throws lever, kerchunk!] Venger Satanis.
Good gravy, he's gone green! Is he getting enough oxygen?
Yup. That's just the way he looks.
He's not one of them is he....
Hey! What are you looking at paste-eater?
No, he's human. I'm sending him in. [kerchunk! the interview screen cranks down from the ceiling].
Oh well, when life gives you lemons, interview the guy with a big lime for a head.
He's right there dumb-ass.
Greetings! Venger Satanis! Tell me, are you getting enough oxygen?
Okayeee.... Moltar? He is getting oxygen isn't he?
Hold on. Let me go check. [sound of footstep on the stairs]
Alright. I can wait....
yinggg-zing. yinggg-zing.
Are we back yet?
Yeah, he's got oxygen.
Alrightee then! So, Venger Satanis, I am told you create table top role playing games. Tell me, what is a table top role playing game. Is it like Twister? Is it like Twister you play on top of a table?
Yes, exactly like that. Except instead of right foot on blue, you pretend to be someone else doing something cool, interesting, or funny - like having sex on your motorcycle while driving it through an art museum that's under attack by a thousand pirate platypi.
That sounds like how I met Moltar.
I thought you said we weren't going to talk about that.
Oh, I did? Ah, no, I meant your Mother. I mean Moltar's Mother! How I met Moltar's Mother. I think. Anyway, can you tell us anything about the games themselves?
Some are fantasy, others sci-fi, and the rest horror. My approach is both old school and trying to get at something new. There's a darkness to my work, but also a sense of humor. Lovecraftian gonzo... but sexy.
Hey! Don't you run Alpha Blue?
Running Alpha Blue makes you question your sexuality.
Not me, I'm a platinum member baby! No questions asked!
You are not! Zorak, you've never even been to Alpha Blue!
I'm there all the time, gettin' me my nookie fix.
Zorak. When your species procreates, the female bites the head off the male and shoots eggs down his throat.
And then I regenerate.
Eggs that hatch and cannibalize the corpse from the inside out.
And then I regenerate.
yinggg-zing. yinggg-zing.
I get my corpse eaten every weekend, rain or shine.
LIAR! Regenerate THIS!
Pay no mind to Zorak, Venger. He's evil.
And then I regenerate. Muwhahahahahahaha!
Sooooooo. Venger. You wouldn't happen to have any free drink coupons for this 'game' of yours? Because up until now I've just been you know, hovering the phantom cruiser above it in inviso-mode, peeking down through the windows and -
Hey Space Ghost. Time to wrap it up. The power & light people are here. It's been three months since you last paid the bill. They say they're gonna pull the plug.
Gee-willikers. Venger Satanis, is there anything else you'd like to say to the good people at home before we go off the air??
There's a lost niche in sci-fi, one that flourished in the 70's and 80's... the raunchy comedy (although, I'd classify Flash Gordon as sci-fi exploitation, which Alpha Blue also does well). Alpha Blue revitalizes that sub-genre. So, if you've ever wanted to roleplay in a sleazy rip-off of Star Wars that also parodies Star Trek, Blake's 7, Battlestar Galactica, and a dozen other franchises, this is the game for you.

Oh yeah, I'm also trying to fund a new Alpha Blue sourcebook via Kickstarter. Here's the link.
Hey! When ya gonna talk about Crimson Dragon Slayer? I wanna play me some Crimson Drag--