Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Foxed! in Print and PDF in Savage Worlds Explorer

A couple weeks back saw the publication in the latest volume of Savage Worlds Explorer of “Foxed!,” a Rippers Resurrected adventure by yours truly.
Passing through rapidly-modernizing Meiji-era Tokyo, the Rippers stop to assist the Tokyo Lodge—led by noted author Lafcadio Hearn—and unwittingly become drawn into a horrifying scheme of revenge. The legendary kitsune Tamamo-no-Mae stalks the Tokyo Rippers for an affront committed years ago. She possesses one of their members to trap them and the heroes behind a mystical wall, then begins to pick them off one by one.
I wrote it as a counterpoint to the existing Rippers adventures set in Japan, trying to emphasize the modernity and urbanity of Meiji-era Tokyo instead of traditional Japan. Besides the guest appearance from Hearn, there’s some shout-outs to Edogawa Ranpo and Lady Snowblood, a few jokes at my own expense, and a fight with a horde of tsukumogami.
This is, I think, the first time I’ve been able to give art direction on a project, so that was pretty cool. I wish I’d recommended someone besides Hearn for the solo character illustration (I figured Pinnacle would just save money by using a photo of him instead of commissioning an illustration), but the eye-catch illustration is great. My notes were “Lady Snowblood and a Japanese version of Oscar Wilde are fighting a kitsune dressed like an oiran” and whoever drew it just nailed it.
“Foxed!” was designed to be run with the Lodge and Urban Alleys Rippers Resurrected battle maps, so most people who back the Kickstarter already have the maps needed to play. At some point in the game, Tamamo-no-Mae should change into her fox form and lead the heroes on a chase through the lodge; I recommend breaking from the usual combat movement rules and running this as a Chase, with the range modifiers from the cards instead reflecting cover the kitsune is behind and she runs under tables and behind furniture. Feel free to queue up “Yakety Sax.”
 Also included in Savage Worlds Explorer Volume 1, Number 5 are:
·         “Two Birds, One Stone”—A modern crime procedural by Camdon Wright
·         “The Cowboy Killer”—A Deadlands Reloaded adventure by Kyle Carty
·         “A Familiar Problem”—A modern horror story by John Goff
 Buy it at so you can get print and PDF for the same price as print-only! I don’t get any affiliate link money like at DriveThruRPG, but I’d have to be a real jerk to recommend buying it elsewhere.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Catching Up

The last 4 or 5 months have been a hectic round of writing and editing on two major freelance projects, consuming so much of my time and energy that I’ve been very unmotivated to blog, write personal projects, or even be vocal on social media. Thankfully, that’s in the past now. I’ve been spending my weekends working hard on the Regency Romance book (currently jokingly titled The Savage World of Jane Austen) but I’m still having a hard time getting back into blogging or social media.
Part of this is also a change in my duties at my day job, where I’ve reverted to being on the phones all the time instead of writing and editing for my employer. This, frankly, made me really, deeply depressed for several months—and since my doctors haven’t prescribed any brain meds, I had to work through this slowly and fitfully.
In lieu of proper blogging, let’s do a bullet list:
  • The Savage World of Jane Austen is now chugging along with purpose. Weirdly, The Savage World of Flash Gordon proved really helpful. I’m also adapting some mechanics from Rippers, which shouldn’t surprise anybody. The character creation chapter is taking longer than I thought it would, but that’s because I’m adding more detail and guidance than usual for those unfamiliar with the genre.
  • Savage Worlds Explorer #5 contains “Foxed!,” a Rippers Resurrected adventure by yours truly. I should write a proper blog post about it with supplementary material and links to buy it from and everything. Maybe I’ll get to that this weekend. Maybe.
  • Friend of the blog Jack Shear has published a guidebook to Krevborna, his answer to Ravenloft. I’ve read a lot of his Krevborna blog posts but haven’t finished the book yet (which I bought the day it came out). I should write a proper blog post (and maybe some Savage Worlds adaptation guidelines) about it.
  • The King is Dead is not dead, despite other Savage Worlds licensees poaching our turf. The goal after …Jane Austen is to produce a book that covers about half the secret societies and urban adventures in Hammerstadt, a kind of setting primer that emphasizes the intrigue central to the premise rather than the monster hunting certain other people are emphasizing. Let’s call it a “Hey! We were already doing this!” book.
    (This will probably be illustrated with public domain art and released straight to OBS. I don’t have the time or energy to expend on a Kickstarter, and all our extra income from freelancing is going to replacing income we’ve lost due to dickery at one of Robin’s employers. Besides, I want to get it out before certain other people’s game gets published.)
  • Speaking of extra income, Wine and Savages is now in the editing business! Two editors for the price of one!! Email us for rates, etc!!! (I should do a real blog post about this, or add a page to the site.)
  • The record shows that I am a huge fan of the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but I only started reading the original books, like, three days ago. They’re very similar but very different; I find myself appreciating them in a different way, while not considering them better or worse than the movie. Also, I should stop reading them before bed, because I can’t put them down.
  • There’s a book out recently called Pride and Prometheus, which is about Mary Bennet from Pride and Prejudice falling in love with Victor Frankenstein from Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. I will buy it and read it soon.
  • I’m bummed out that other people are on the verge of publishing ideas for Savage Worlds settings that I’ve wanted to do for years—but I can’t blame them. Their ideas will be different from my spin on the same concepts, and it’s not their fault my anxiety and other commitments make me so slow at producing original material. It would be in my best interest to find some like-minded people and split up the workload, but I don’t want to. It sucks…
  • I’ve also just been feeling down—burned out by the fires of hate and hatefulness consuming my hobbies and country—for a while now. Did you know the creator of Rurouni Kenshin was arrested for child pornography? Yes, he was. That sucks.
  • Despite the general awfulness out there, Star Wars: Rebels might be the best Star Wars thing ever. It builds off of the live-action films and Clone Wars in a way where Rebels just wouldn’t have the same power or joy without those earlier works, but it also refines the established themes in the way you’d expect a third or fourth draft would. I’m sorry it’s ending, but at least it isn’t getting cut off abruptly the way Clone Wars was.
  • Also, The Last Jedi is my favorite Star Wars movie now, and I was born in 1973. Disney Star Wars is one of the few long-beloved franchises/genres/whatevers that I can feel real enthusiasm for at this time.
  • Waiting is hard, but I’m learning to tamp down the anxiety that nags at me while I wait for word about a project. Diving into new work helps.
Ok, this is getting maudlin and weird. I’m going to cut this off now. Can you tell I've been reading Warren Ellis again?

Friday, December 15, 2017

What I Would Have Pitched to WotC If They Would Have Asked Me to Pitch

Some weeks back, a job listing popped up on Hasbro’s site for a designer position at Dungeons & Dragons. I threw my hat into the ring—I qualified, after all—but yesterday received notice that Wizards of the Coast did not want to interview me. I’m disappointed, but slightly relieved at not having to throw my life out of whack by moving to Washington. I sincerely hope they’re taking this opportunity to add some increased diversity to the D&D crew.
If—IF!—I had gotten the interview, and if—IF!—the good people at Wizards had asked me for pitches for new books, this is what I would have pitched:
Against the Lords
For levels 1-15
An urbancrawl adventure intended to reestablish Waterdeep as the premier city setting of the Forgotten Realms, Against the Lords puts the adventurers at odds with the very Lords of Waterdeep! Discovering the Masked Lords infiltrated and subverted by various enemies of Waterdeep—such as the Xanathar’s Thieves Guild and the Zhentarim—the adventurers must scour the city and root out corruption, taking them to such iconic locations as Blackstaff Tower, Mother Tathlorn’s, Skullport, and Undermountain. Along the way, the adventurers build their own network of political allies, emerging at last to become Lords of Waterdeep themselves!
Legacy of Champions
For levels 15+
A new age of heroes begins as old heroes step down! With the retirement of the Forgotten Realms book line in 2016, the chance arises to allow Dungeon Masters and players to truly make the Realms their own. Featuring denouements by Realms luminaries such as Ed Greenwood and R. A. Salvatore, this adventure provides the last chapter in the stories of legends like Elminster and Drizzt while providing the chance for the player’s own characters to step into the legacies vacated. Who will be the new Sage of Shadowdale? Who will become the Open Lord of Waterdeep? Who will wield Twinkle and Icingdeath? A series of interconnected adventures allows high-level characters who have beaten D&D’s previous epic adventures to advance to 20th level—and beyond!  
Man, I wish I had the time to write these for the DMs Guild.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

I Want Edopunk

I didn’t back 7th Sea: Khitai for three reasons: 1) I honestly haven’t gotten much use out of my 7th Sea 2nd Edition books so far; 2) I already own all of Cubicle 7’s Qin: The Warring States line for my wuxia needs (not that I’m not capable of making that up myself); and 3) I just didn’t like the preview material for Khitai’s version of Japan. While the blending of Ainu and Japanese culture was intriguing, I’m just not interested in another pseudo-Sengoku Jidai. I want an Edopunk setting.

I want a setting that looks like a Wagakki Band video. I want a setting that delves into the non-samurai side of Japan—the colorful world of courtesans, fireworks makers, freelance “police,” geisha, sumo wrestlers, ukiyo-e artists, and yakuza seen in such works as Miss Hokusai, Oh! Edo Rocket, Sakuran, and the Zatoichi series. If there’s going to be the supernatural, then I want it to be the weird, wacky world of yōkai folklore, with all of its banal yet bizarre monsters. I want a game that kicks the myth of the samurai in the nards. I want a setting that could be illustrated by the person behind the Edopunk Tumblr.

Frankly, it drives me kind of nuts that in a world where the equivalent of Louis XIV (1638 - 1715) is running around, the version of Japan that exists is set prior to 1600—but I realize John Wick probably wants a chance to revisit and create his own definitive version of Legend of the Five Rings. I also realize that the world of 7th Sea also has Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603) and Louis XIV as contemporaries, so it’s not like presenting a cohesive version of alt-history is a priority for Wick and his crew. I do think that there’s something lost in presenting an ahistorically fractured Japan as contemporary with the developing nationhood of England and France; if the setting is going to focus on samurai, I’d rather see courtiers in ruffs confronting the Tokugawa bureaucracy than a land in the middle of civil war.

I realize that World of Dew (which I really need to get around to buying) presents a Tokugawa Era setting, and that Wick has a good relationship with the creator of that game (which is, after all, based on Wick’s Houses of the Blooded rules). But, again, I’d rather see a game about the common people of Edo Japan, the people who resisted and rebelled for two hundred years. (Yeah, that’s right, the history of Tokugawa Japan was riddled with peasant uprisings and even samurai rebellions; the idea that Japan is a land of peace and harmony is Meiji-era propaganda.)
Man, I guess that means I'm going to need to write it myself. I'll put it on the schedule for 2023.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

New Campaign: 5e Winter Fantasy

Art by Wayne Reynolds, obviously.

***Slight Spoilers for Robin***
The globetrotting cat burglar campaign came to an end (or, at least, a hiatus) because we just ran out of ideas. That happens in multiple-times-a-week duet campaigns. Personally, I kind of think of it as a feature, not a bug, because I have too many ideas for campaigns and too little time—but this time was bittersweet because we really didn’t want to end it. We just couldn’t think of ways to keep it going.
Because we skipped our quasi-tradition of doing a short horror campaign in October, the successor to Bev Slick’s adventures is a winter holiday-ish, fey-themed D&D 5e campaign. (We’re a little burnt out on Savage Worlds at the moment, and Robin already knows how to play 5e, so we don’t have the growing pangs of learning a new system.) I have this very vague idea in my head that it’s going to have a romance novel plot about Robin’s character unthawing an icy fey lord’s heart as she rises in levels as one of them newfangled Glamour bards, but I’m trying to leave myself room to maneuver.
So far, the game is set in a seemingly low-magic, vaguely Germanic world (specifically not my beloved Forgotten Realms). Halflings and dwarves mix freely with humans but are regarded with suspicion; elves and gnomes exist, but haven’t appeared yet. I suspect both peoples dwell apart from humans, closer to the fey than other mortal races; in fact, that is now officially canon. Elves dwell on the fringes of the equivalent to the Feywild, subject to the archfey; that should actually work pretty well to bolster the relatively sparse fey in the various 5e books (I can at least cannibalize drow stats). Gnomes live closer to the forest edge, trading with human and halfling communities.
Our heroine, the human 1st level bard Orianna, belongs to a human ethnic group that dwells primarily in the east of the kingdom (the game is set in the west) and which uses Celtic names taken from the Xanathar’s Guide to Everything tables; they are the original inhabitants of the area, and other humans think of them as the “Old People.” The “Young People” use English and Germanic names, but certainly contain their share of dark-haired, dark-complexioned people.
Orianna is on the last leg of her yearly wandering, hoping to make it to a large town or city to while away the winter when the snowdrifts trap everyone inside (it being easier for a minstrel to make a living amid a larger population who won’t all hear her playing the same songs every night). The first game session began in the small village of Hartshold, and she’s trying to make it to Ramsford, where both a duke and a bishop reside.
In Hartshold, she met three traveling companions who are working their way north with her. Hans is probably a 3rd level Monster Slayer ranger with more than a little of the fairy tale woodsman to him; he’s a burly human that I imagine looking a lot like Joe Manganiello, with a scar above his left eye into his hairline (a scar that presumably has something to do with his left eye being amber-colored and his right eye being blue). He also drinks a suspicious medicine made of wolf’s bane. Corrin and Bree are two married halflings on the run from disapproving parents; they’re shy and cautious, and Orianna has witnessed what was apparently some kind of shapeshifting spell affect them during the night.
(They actually switched genders, each assuming the other’s name the next day in an attempt to keep up the ruse that nothing’s wrong or weird about them. Orianna hasn’t figured out exactly what’s going on yet because she barely saw their faces the previous day; she just knows something is off.)
On their first day of travel together, a sudden winter storm came from the east, driving the characters to seek shelter in the forest beside which the road winds. While huddling around a fire, they witnessed a large, black hare with red eyes bound out of nowhere and watch them for a bit. The hare was chased off by frost sprites (or something similar) that were either blown along the winter winds or were causing/escorting it. When the travelers returned to the road, Orianna saw the black hare eating one of the sprites. (It should be noted that I’m describing the sprites as more like the fairies in Fantasia than their traditional D&D description.)
After rescuing a stranded carter, Orianna and her companions got a lift to the next village and found room at the crowded inn. While Bree and Corrin stayed in their rented room, Orianna and Hans were joined at their table in the common room by Lapin, a mysterious weirdo who resembles a spaced-out version of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki (and who also has boundary issues). Clad in black fur and leather, the intensely-curious Lapin invited himself to join their group on the next day’s journey—a journey that will be complicated by heavy overnight snow.
And that’s where we left this barely-begun adventure before going to see Lindsey Sterling in concert last night (the middle act of her show providing renewed inspiration for the “winter fey” theme). I think I’ll probably award Robin a level the next time we play, and then work on getting her whisked off to fairyland so that she can get the proper infusion of fey-ness before she starts getting her college’s abilities.
Right now, the whole of everything is pretty deliberately nebulous. I want to mix the wondrous and the beautiful and the creepy and the weird into something that’s more than an extended remix of Labyrinth. You can’t mandate love interests in a duet game—we know from experience that this robs the game of delight—so I need to set up a few more potential beaus for Orianna. (I don’t plan on Hans being a central love interest, but I could be surprised about that.) I also need some proper villains; the antihero bad boy leads of romance always reveal their true goodness by combatting something worse than them (sometimes pride, sometimes prejudice, sometimes a cult of debauched aristocrat pedophiles). Has anybody done 5e stats for any of those 4e archfey?
Comments and suggestions are welcome!

Monday, November 20, 2017

JUSTICE LEAGUE is the Movie the Rest of You Wanted

If I was a Warner Brothers exec right now, I’d have to conclude that the problem with Justice League is that it wasn’t dark enough. After all, this is the brighter-colored, happier, chummy DC film that people who don’t like Man of Steel or Batman v. Superman claim they’ve wanted all along—and yet it’s performing much worse at the box office than either of those films. By Hollywood logic, that means the film lost money by straying from the formula established by the first two movies, so the logical response would be to course-correct back toward darkness.
I know most of you guys don’t want that to happen, so you better get out there and see Justice League this week. Otherwise, I’ll be getting back the version of the franchise that I like.
I’m slightly exaggerating, of course. There are other reasons Justice League could be failing, but they’re not the kind Hollywood execs are going to comprehend. It could simply be superhero fatigue; perhaps all the casual fans already saw Thor: Ragnarok and they just don’t want to spend money on another superhero movie before Star Wars: The Last Jedi comes out. It could be backlash against Zack Snyder by fanboys who have decided this is the one time they’re not going to hate-watch a DC movie, or it could be backlash against scummy bastard/quasi-director Joss Whedon for the way he cheated on and gaslighted Kai Cole for years. (I’ll admit that Whedon’s involvement bothered me beyond what I knew were going to be inevitable changes for the worse that he was going to make to the film.) Or it could be the reviews.
If it’s the reviews, then I’m completely confused by both the reviewers and those who listened to them. As much as it is not the film I wanted to see, Justice League isn’t bad. It’s a blandly competent superhero movie in the same mode as most Marvel movies, no better and certainly no worse than Doctor Strange and Ant-Man. There’s humor and action and colorful costumes and charming leads. All of the characters get at least a little bit of an arc and nobody except Steppenwolf is dull, and if you’re going to fault superhero movies for dull villains, then I’ve got an MCU you might want to get earthquake insurance for.
Some of the performances are even great. Amy Adams is, as usual, brilliant as Lois Lane (even if she gets little screen time in an overcrowded film). Jason Momoa is fantastic as an Aquaman that treads a fine line between Peter David’s brooding, hook-handed hero and Batman: The Brave and the Bold’s over-the-top super-bro; my only complaint is that he never shouts “Outrageous!” Ezra Miller gives the movie its heart as a Flash who might be on the autistic spectrum, while Ray Fisher gives his best as a Cyborg still struggling to accept his machine side (and who does get a “Booyah”). I personally didn’t notice Henry Cavill’s CGI upper lip very much, and Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot shine in their roles just as they did before.
If there’s any real problem with the version of Justice League that Warner Brothers released, it’s that CEO Kevin Tsujihara’s mandated runtime of two hours and one minute is just too short. Ten or fifteen minutes more could have given every character a little more space to breathe, a little more time for us to get invested in them before throwing them into battle. There are lots of neat little bits—Flash’s wide-eyed surprise at realizing Superman can not only see him but also catch up to him when he’s moving at top speed is pretty cool—but there’s just not enough space for this many characters.
(Frankly, I feel the same way about Whedon’s Avengers films, too. There’s a reason I don’t own them on home video.)
Again, despite these flaws, Justice League is a perfectly serviceable tent-pole superhero movie, and I’m deeply confused that moviegoers have tuned it out. Seriously, people, most of you will like it!
As for me… I didn’t hate it, but I mourn for the movie that might have been. Unfortunately, a lot of my complaints derive from factors beyond anyone’s control. Assuming that Zack Snyder really did bow out to spend time with his family after his daughter’s suicide—and that he wasn’t forced out by the WB execs—then I can’t complain that the replacement director retooled things to better fit his style. (I mean, I can, but it’s not Warner’s or Whedon’s fault that a new director was needed.) While I can be mad that Warner Brothers dumped Hans Zimmer’s former co-composer Junkie XL in favor of Danny effin’ Elfman, I have to keep in mind that Zimmer himself decided to stop composing superhero scores.
(And, yes, I agree with Elfman that studios should carry superhero themes throughout franchises in the same way that the James Bond films reuse that character’s theme. I even got a little bit of a thrill from hearing Elfman’s Batman theme again. Unfortunately, the rest of the score was uninspired and weirdly muted. It might just be my hearing problems, but I had a hard time even hearing the music over dialogue and explosions. I guess we should blame that on the sound mixer.)
My problem with Justice League is that it has no subtext to dig into, no deeper themes to analyze and explore.  This was true of Thor: Ragnarok as well, but at least that movie had so much comedy that I never stopped laughing long enough to think. Snyder haters will never believe this, but his previous two DC films have depth. Man of Steel dares to reimagine Superman as a character created by our modern world, asking if he would really be the good person we want him to be if he was raised in the Koch brothers’ Kansas, asking how he could learn to reject killing his enemies in a United States that has been at war since 2001. Batman v. Superman satirizes both Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan by saying that maybe previous film versions of Batman are kinda fascist, and maybe he’d be more truly heroic if he went out and made some friends instead of punching the mentally ill. I know my mix of fandom and healthy skepticism isn’t prevalent among superhero geeks, but I genuinely love the deconstructive elements of Snyder’s films.
Of course, Justice League was always going to be a brighter, more optimistic film. That was set up from the end of Man of Steel, when Superman cries out in anguish at having to kill the only other Kryptonian on Earth and learns (implicitly, I admit) that he must never kill again. It was set up in Batman v. Superman, when Alfred complains about the dark path Bruce is walking, when Clark desperately tries to reach out to Bruce before their battle, when Wonder Woman arrives in all her glory, when Bruce Wayne freaking says out loud that he screwed up and wants to be a better hero. While I’m sure the particulars changed dramatically as the suits demanded Batman be in the Man of Steel sequel, as they clamored for brighter colors in Justice League, I have no doubts that Zack Snyder intended all along to create a story arc that took us from the pessimism of today to something greater.
But that was always something you had to construct out of the dialogue, out of subtle hints, out of text and subtext. Justice League just doesn’t have that. The closest it gets to that is Aquaman getting over his bad self when he sees that the threat of Steppenwolf endangers the sea and the land, and Cyborg accepting his new condition. It’s not bad—it’s the movie so many wanted—but I’m just a little disappointed.

Foxed! in Print and PDF in Savage Worlds Explorer

A couple weeks back saw the publication in the latest volume of Savage Worlds Explorer of “Foxed!,” a Rippers Resurrected adventure ...