Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"Bittersweet"

That's the word that comes to mind as my time in SeaTown dwindles: bittersweet. Come Saturday morning, I'll be once again winging my way to Paraguay, 25 hours of travel time (door-to-door) ahead of me. The return has been wonderful, but just not long enough. My poor son loves this town, and has been so happy the last week and a half, despite lacking toys and costumes and the usual kids he'd play with. He'll be very sad to leave...as will I and my wife.

Just not enough time to DO all that we want...but then, what we want requires living here, really. We've soaked in what we could: breakfasts out, good seafood, corned beef reubens and tasty beers.

[maybe not as many holiday martinis as I'd like, but at least they tasted like gin martinis are supposed to taste]

Lot of effort from Coop on that TD.
The weather has been beautiful (to my taste), and I made it to a Seahawks game (against the Cardinals...a good win against a tough defense)...I have been informed by folks that watched that my brother and I even showed up on the television broadcast, which is cool. I got to the dentist and I got my haircut. Tomorrow I get my favorite holiday feast (though we aren't cooking this year...just too much to do and too little time), plus a host of great football games to watch. I managed to make it to a game store and shoot the shit about gaming...something I haven't been able to do in months.

But we just haven't been able to see and visit and hang out with as many people as we would have liked. Family, yes, a little. Friends? Very, very few. In fact, if we hadn't run into a couple at local stores, I'm not sure we would've had the chance to see any of 'em. Nice as it is to spend time with folks during the holidays, most everyone is busy with their families. And having two young children, a wife who's under the weather, and no available childcare has meant it's...well, pretty much impossible even to take a buddy up on an offer of a beer.

So, yeah...bittersweet. This time next week I'll be back in the 90 degree weather and thunderstorms of Asuncion. I'll (hopefully) have a bit more time to write, which will be nice, but I'll sure be missing my hometown. Keeping things terribly positive might be tough if there's any lingering depression (or travel fatigue). Then again, maybe this short jaunt will be the kind of "battery recharge" I need to get me through the Paraguayan summer. Still, I know I'll be looking forward to our end o the year trip to Mexico when we'll again be surrounded by family, excellent food, and pretty good weather.

[and this year, the in-laws should find my Spanish remarkably improved!]

To all my friends and gamer buddies that I haven't had a chance to see this trip...Greg, Heron, Josh, Kayce, Matthew, Randy, Tim, Will (and Ashley), etc....hopefully I'll have a chance to see you folks in a couple-three months (when I'm supposed to make a short trip back). Otherwise, I'll do my best to hook up with you all when we're back in June.

Hope everyone has a happy holiday!
: )

[by the way, spent the last few days reading Alexis Smolensk's book, How to Run, just finishing it yesterday morning. I plan to post a detailed reviewing the next couple-few days (when time allows), but right now I'm still composing/digesting my thoughts on it]

Saturday, November 15, 2014

When Cartoons Didn't Suck

Happy birthday to me! Actually, it's past my birthday (that was the 13th), but every day since I've got back to Seattle (Thursday afternoon) has felt like my birthday. God, I love this town! I've just been positively giddy. I told the clerk at the local Fred Meyer that her produce was absolutely beautiful, and I've been singing "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays" every morning in the shower. Gosh...I've been having so much fun just breathing cold, crisp air. Hell, and going to restaurants that serve breakfast! What a novelty!

Fact is that, while I've adapted to Paraguay, and can live there just fine (something I probably couldn't say with complete honesty six months ago), I certainly haven't "fallen in love" with it. I just conveniently forget all the things we're missing when we're not here. Tonight: fresh cracked Dungeness crab at my mom's house! No, not at a restaurant, are you insane? Pick it up at the supermarket, in season, for an exceptionally reasonable price...they'll clean it for free and you melt the butter!

[we had to get the car tabs renewed and an emission test this morning (after a friendly parking enforcement person pointed out the expiration), and my wife was just all smiles about it. "It's so nice to be somewhere the system works!" Efficient bureaucracy: there are a lot of anti-government haters that would miss it if it were suddenly stripped from them. Also nice? Being able to run to the grocery store after midnight and pick up quality diapers. It's the little things, people. I had to call AAA not once but TWICE yesterday to jumpstart my 13 year old battery that had lost its charge in the arctic cold front Seattle's been experiencing, and even with the wait it still didn't derail my plans for the day. That's just awesome]

Another way it's been feeling like my birthday is because I've been unwrapping a new "present to myself" daily. I ordered several things on-line over the last month or two and they were all (with one exception) waiting for me when I got home. One was my copy of Warriors of the Red Planet (Beta) which came from Lulu, is beautiful, and needs its own separate blog post. But most of the stuff I ordered were DVDs of several old TV series including Wizards and Warriors, but much more fun/nostalgic for me are the (animated) Tolkien trilogy (Rankin/Bass and Bakshi) plus Thundarr the Barbarian, Sealab 2020, (not the humorous remake Sealab 2021), and Jonny Quest. I can (and probably will) write a complete blog post or two on each of these marvelous cartoons, but suffice is to say, hey, remember when people were making cartoons for children that didn't suck?

Okay, got to go...Dungeness calls!
: )

Delicious!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Checking My Privilege

I’ve been thinking a lot about diversity and inclusiveness lately (as in, the last 12-13 months or so), mainly with regard to game design. My rant the other day had an element of this and…well, I’m on a plane heading for Chicago at the moment with shit-for-TV playing instead of Guardians of the Galaxy, so I might as well pound out a blog post on the subject.

[creating games with “adequate diversity” (and with attention to including all sorts of folks) is something of a hot-button topic these days, so I’ll probably take shit from both sides for my reflections on the subject. I’m cool with that]

Gosh, where even to start? I feel challenged to even address the subject of diversity when I come from a place as privileged as I do. I’m white, male, straight, American, non-trans-anything. I’m married with a couple kids. I’m Roman Catholic and even though Catholics sometimes take some heat for their religion, it’s tough to feel marginalized when you’re part of the single largest religion on the planet (at least, if you’re including the “lapsed” and “non-practicing” Cat-Lickers).

I’m about as white-bread normal as they come. I’m a drinker, but a functioning one. I eat meat, but know it’s bad for my cholesterol.  I’m not a porn watcher, but I want it to be accessible (except for my kids). I watch a lot of football. I drive a car and have a bank account. There’s nothing “oppressed” about my life, and (for the most part) the society I live in is one set-up and designed to support me. I may bitch-and-moan when Americans stupidly vote Tea Party Republicans into office, but that’s just a principle thing. I and my family benefit from having a Republican controlled Congress. Paying less taxes just means I’m getting richer…my health care and retirement and whatnot is already paid for, and I live in a nice enough neighborhood of Seattle that if my kids end up going to public school they’ll be in one of the best.

It’s a disgusting abundance of privilege that I have.

[sorry…had to break to eat my cheese blintzes, fresh fruit, and sausage. Oh, and order another complimentary Bloody Mary. Business class, ya’ know?]

I’m not in the top 1% of Americans, probably not even the top 10%, but I’m well above “median income,” and I’ve never really suffered; and hell, there’s no real suffering in sight. I own a nice house, I’ve got no crushing debt (car and student loans were paid off long ago), and while two kids can mean a financial burden, I’m still able to get to a few Seahawks games. Whether or not people of the same sex can marry has no effect on my life; what does matters is if my cable and high speed internet are up-and-running. Regardless of whether or not I “support the troops,” the troops are certainly supporting me and my lifestyle. The fact that I have time and energy to complain about WotC or lack of diversity in films or the weather in Paraguay should tell you that truthfully, I really have no complaints at all.

Thus it’s a challenge for me to have any kind of “cred” when it comes to talking about changing game (design) culture.  I can’t talk from a background of being oppressed or underrepresented or misrepresented because, hey, I belong to the ruling class. And it’s not like I got this through hard work or metaphysical visualization-manifestation. I just happen to be born into the right place at the right time with the “right” gender-color-orientation. Dig?

So why bother? When the best you can be considered is an “ally to the cause” and the worst is some misguided dude with “white knight syndrome,” why the F even bother? Why not just continue to design shit without any secondary agenda? “For my children?” They’re already set on a course for being as privileged as myself (if not more so). Because of my “white guilt?” No: it’s hard to feel guilty about “writing what you know,” even if what you know isn’t incredibly diverse. Because it’s “different” or “novel?” Well, novel ideas are a better way to get on the market than recycled hash, but that’s hardly a reason to make the effort when the hash sells fine.

No. There are a couple-three reasons at work here (for me, anyway):
  • There’s a problem in gaming and I don’t want to be part of the problem. The problem is, there’s a lot of white-male (sometimes juvenile) designers designing games for a white-male (sometimes juvenile) audience…not necessarily on a conscious level, mind, just because that’s what they know. And there are more people out there who game…or who might enjoy games…than just white males of a juvenile persuasion.
  • Growing the hobby (i.e. creating more audience) is something I’m all about. It seems only logical (to me) that making games more inclusive (with inclusive language, concepts, art) are going to make some folks (who might otherwise have been “turned off”) more interested in exploring the hobby. Maybe not, but I don’t need to cater to the die-hard, grognardy, fans. There’s already people (designers/publishers) doing that and keeping those folks involved in the hobby.
  • It’s the Goddamn “right thing to do.” That is to say, it’s not right to be exclusive when it comes to design…not when we live in a world where different cultures and backgrounds are afforded the same opportunity (and thus access) to the same games. If they’re there, why leave them out, or make them feel marginalized?

My wife is originally from Mexico (she’s lived steadily in the US since 1997). In years past, when I asked her to state her race (for example, on a census report) she said “Mexican.” Nowadays, she identifies as a “Latina” but that’s not really a race, either. Technically she is a mestizo, as are the vast majority of native Mexicans: a person of mixed (white) European ancestry and native Mesoamericans (“Indians”). Because nearly all of Mexico is “mestizo” they’ve stopped using the term, thus my wife’s lack of a term for herself. (she has absolutely zero identification with “Native Americans”). My wife is NOT white. Our children are white with dishwater blond hair and green eyes (like their papa), and they’re different enough that my wife has remarked she might be identified as “the help” when she’s out with them.

I asked my wife her opinion about the diversity (or rather, lack of diversity) in film-thang (she doesn’t care about games). She states that it doesn’t bother her and that she doesn’t care. She says she’s always considered it silly that people complain about underrepresentation in film because she “goes to movies to see other people anyway” (whether they’re white, or black, or blue-skinned). It doesn’t matter to her what ethnicity is cast in a film, unless it’s a piece about a particular culture or time period.

What IS of concern to her, and what IS important is the lack of strong female characters in film. Star Wars (for example) has white folks and non-white folks and alien folks…but why are they so over-whelmingly male? A couple bit parts aside, the only female character in the prequel trilogy is Padme, and what purpose does she really serve besides acting as a goal/objective for the (male) protagonists in the first couple films before being relegated to mere “set decoration” in Episode III?

Weak Sauce
So, my (non-white) wife would say lack of diversity/inclusion bothers her more when it’s gender inequality that’s on display. If she were a gamer, I’d imagine the same standard would apply: if she’s pretending to be a wizard or cyber-hacker it doesn’t matter whether she’s white or black or “troll-colored.” The equal representation of male and female (and active, protagonist female) is more important.

All right, this is getting long….maybe I’ll get back to this subject in a "Part 2," but right now I’m getting to land. Later, Gators.

[posted from Chicago O’Hare]

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Film Hate

Can I just talk about hate for a brief moment? I'm not talking about the absence or antithesis of love...I'm just talking about the standard dictionary definition of "intense or passionate dislike." There are some things that just make me really cranky...and while I could just keep 'em to myself, I have a feeling that might be bad for some of my internal organs.

So here comes a short (I hope) rant regarding films.

I don't work in Hollywood, so I have no "insider perspective" on the filmmaking process. I know that films cost a lot of money. I know that they take huge numbers of people working in collaboration to make them. I know that many of the decisions made by film companies revolve around the ability to recoup the money spent and make some profit so that the rich can get richer and produce more films, continuing the business of filmmaking (which helps employ all those people that work on making films). I know that no matter how much "vision" one, single person possesses (whether that's a writer, director, producer, etc.) that vision is going to be worked over a bit by all the other people involved in the filmmaking process...especially co-writers, co-producers, directors, film execs, etc.

And nothing I write on this blog is going to change that. Still, I'm talking about saving my spleen, here.

I HATE that there is so little originality coming out of Hollywood...that so many of the Big Budget Blockbusters are remakes (or "updates") of existing movies. Whether you're talking Straw Dogs or Clash of the Titans, I just feel like slapping people and saying this doesn't need a remake...if you want to introduce an old film to a new crowd, then digitally remaster it and re-release it. Otherwise make your own Goddamn movie, dudes. Aren't people being paid millions of dollars to do these things? And you can't think of an original idea? You suck.

I HATE it when films based on novels written in different time periods, decide to spruce up ("update" again) the material in order to make it more in line with out 21st century wants and perspectives. "Modernizing" it. Look, if you're going to make a live-action version of The Hobbit, then make The Hobbit. Don't make it into something else, restructuring the characters and plot to make it "cooler." If you don't feel like being faithful in your adaptation, then come up with your own original fucking idea for a movie. How many cars do you own?

[and just to add onto that...]

I HATE it when filmmakers choose to make films that use an existing piece of intellectual property (like The Hobbit) and then inject a bunch of random token characters into it because the original IP wasn't diverse enough in terms of gender and race. THERE IS IP OUT THERE THAT FEATURES DIVERSITY, WHY DON'T YOU ADAPT THAT?! There are lots of fairy tale books that feature female protagonists (Shirley Murphy's Soonie and the Dragon comes to mind). Oh, wait...that doesn't have enough blood and guts and combat for you?

Nice little tale. Dragon eats people.
[because bloody violence is what has made The Hobbit a beloved classic of children's literature for decades, right? That and all the songs/poems Tolkien threw in there]

Fine, how about adapting one of Robin McKinley's (award winning) books? How about adapting Jennifer Roberson's Cheysuli saga (when an author gets an eight book series published, maybe there's an audience)? How about adapting the saga of Brynhildr to the screen in a Norse mash-up the same way Ray Harryhausen adapted Perseus and Greek myth in the original Clash of the Titans? Are you just too fucking stupid to do this?

I HATE that so often Hollywood (when it comes to action/fantasy films) seems like the epitome of a "good ol' boys" network where the white, male (straight) hero front-and-center. I'm white AND male AND straight and I get tired of seeing the same old shtick.

You know what I really, REALLY don't want to see? I don't want to go into a screening of Star Wars VII and see three white buddies (two male, one female) going on a fantastic galactic adventure. That was fine in the 1970s, but it was certainly a tired concept by the time Harry Potter rolled into theaters. Give Lupita Nyong'o a kick-ass role as Lando's daughter-turned-space-pirate and let her be the "Han Solo" of the movie.


Oscar winners shouldn't have to play aliens.
Please don't make her a token "new apprentice" of Jedi Master Skywalker with the sole purpose of being killed off by the Big Bad Guy of the film. Please, please, please don't do that. And don't make her an "alien" (non-human), either.

Anyway, these are some of the things I'm thinking/fuming about today. Earlier I watched a trailer for the new Hobbit film (I'm not even going to bother with a link...you folks can find it, I'm sure). And it just made me irritated. And then it got me thinking about Hollywood and all these things I "passionately dislike." Things I really can't change or impact or control. Which, BTW, just makes me more irritated.

One of the wonderful things about this RPG thing...the OSR movement, the Indie movement, the DIY-self-publishing thing is how nice it is to have some control and to be able to make shit without being beholden to "money men." I know that what drives the film industry to do things I hate is (for the most part) money. It's the same reason why people choose to live in Paraguay (for those who HAVE a choice): here you can start a business and expect (on average) 10-30% return on your investment annually.

[which is crazy-huge compared to the 5-8% (or 5-10%) you'd expect in the USA. Here, you can recoup your costs after three years and then just profits, baby, ever after. The money doesn't, of course, get reinvested in the country...but who cares when you can afford to send your kids to school in the United States? Just sad, in so many ways...]

People in the self-publishing RPG biz aren't getting rich, clearly, but at least folks are getting a chance to make games (and play games) that they want. If game design is an "artistic" enterprise (and I'd say it is), then at least its not the compromised art of the (establishment) film industry. And that makes it cooler than Hollywood and (for me) mostly "hate-proof."

Mostly.
; )

Friday, November 7, 2014

"It Doesn't Rain, But It Pours"

This is my "street."
Despite the saying, I hadn't literally found this to be the case until we moved to Ascuncion. Holy cats! It's rainy season right now, and the street in front of my house is a stream that goes up to mid-shin in places (after stepping out o the car I got doused in water up to the knees; had to change my pants)...and we're fairly elevated! The main boulevard (a block over) is an f'ing river. You'd think I wouldn't have bothered taking D to school today, but funny enough I've gotten...well, not "used to" the weather, but I'm a bit more adaptable to the garbage roads and road conditions. Or maybe I'm just not as timid as I once was.

[it probably helps that I drive an SUV here, and that it's not my car...definitely wouldn't try my Jetta back home in these conditions!]

ANYway, it is storming away outside, but I wanted to throw out a quick blog post, before I get back to writing. Yes, I've been writing lately...writing up a storm, if you'll pardon the expression. I want to get through as much of this book as I can before my current "mental deluge" dries up, so posting will probably be light the next week or two.

Or four, more likely...we're heading home (Seattle) for the holidays next week (traveling on my birthday, actually) and will be there through Thanksgiving: the greatest holiday ever invented by Americans. For my non-American readers (I know I have a few), allow me just to wax on for a moment. Combine family and a celebration of appreciation and cooperation (at least, that's what we're taught in grade school) with football, an all-day feast, and three-to-six pies of different flavors. The best part? The next day's a holiday, too. Drink as much as you like and nurse your hangover with turkey sandwich leftovers while catching up on those videos you've been meaning to watch.

[Black Friday shopping is a sucker's game, just by the way...I opt out whenever possible]

So, yeah...back in Sea-Town we'll have lots to do (seeing folks, going to the 'Hawks vs. Cardinals, buying peanut butter and tortillas to stuff our suitcases...), so probably not much time to write OR blog. We'll be back in Asuncion before December, but then heading for Mexico at the end o the year (to visit the other side of the family).

Hey! Is anyone interested in what I'm writing? Since no one in Paraguay is (no, my family doesn't care either). Welp, work progresses on the fantasy heartbreaker...and man-o-man, I am really digging on it. I've been using Holmes Basic as a model, but I don't thing I'm going to get it come in at his 48 pages. Unless I'm able to skim some page count from the monster section, which is possible (still debating how I want to organize that, actually...same problem I have with the revised version of Cry Dark Future). Maybe 60 (including art), but we'll see. We'll see.

[really need to get back to it]

But this is one that I am hopeful will be ready for play-testing by the holidays, and I may just start emailing interested folks "beta" versions before the New Year. If you belong to a gaming group living in...oh, say, Oakland or Jacksonville or New York and you're looking for something to do during Sundays in December, you might want to keep me in mind. I'll be asking for volunteers (on the blog) sometime in the next few weeks.

Well...if all goes well, that is.
: )

Not my car.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Happy Birthday To My Sweet Wife!

As one might imagine, I'm a little busy today. Will hopefully resume posting tomorrow or the next day.
: )

Monday, November 3, 2014

Might and Magic (Redux)

Because many folks don't appreciate the football (or, at least, don't share my obsession with the NFL), I feel it best I follow up today's earlier post with a gaming-related post.

['course, if you DO enjoy the football stuff, you might find my reflections mildly amusing...or at least something worth arguing about]

So remember last week when I was talking about "color-coded magic" and "wizard schools" and whatnot (you can read the post here, if you missed it)? Okay, well, yeah, I worked out the spell lists and such over the weekend. That is to say: new magic system complete.

I was still able to keep elements from my prior system (like cross-polinization of magic and building on prior knowledge). I was able to break the magic up into separate "themes" (and, yes, the themes include some color-coding). The spells are still limited in number to a "Fantastic Forty" plus a "Forbidden Four." 

Actually, it's a Fantastic Fifty and Forbidden Five...but one book is for NPC's only. After all, in this particular heartbreaker, PCs are supposed to be Heroes. You can't have heroes using the same terrible magic as the bad guys! Those guys are EVIL...you're supposed to be striving against the Forces of Darkness, not adopting their weapons.

[on the other hand, I'm thinking of installing some sort of "corruption mechanic" a la D6 Star Wars or The Mutant Chronicles. Is that too much for a "basic" game? Maybe]

ANYway, yeah. Just so you know. Once I finish the write-ups, I'll see how much of the magic is compatible with the existing B/X system (understanding that it would need to replace the current "Vancian" system) and if it makes sense, I'll post some spells here.  But we'll see. Let me finish the actual writing/text first.

The First Book of Magic...Collect All Five!
Later, gators.
: )