Friday, April 24, 2015

Quick pre-move thought

One thing that surprises me, looking back on nigh-unto a decade working for the same place, is how few friends I have here. Plenty of cheerful acquaintanceships. Lots of people who say they'll miss having me around. Not many folks that I hang out with, though.

Enemies, however... I do have enemies. One of the highlights of recent weeks was seeking out my campus arch-nemesis and making peace with them. It was a nice piece of closure. I still despise this person, you understand, but we're formally at peace now.

I can't tell how I feel about the relative lack of friends here. It's the first place I've worked in a long, long time without having a posse. And I've gotten accustomed to it over the last 8+ years; I have a real-life posse. But it does add to my feeling that I've gotten dull out here in the provinces.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Giant squid + giant squid

So much is happening that it's hard to write about any of it. My drafts folder is littered with abandoned proto-ideas, each dropped when the next came into focus. Maybe it's best to start with what's stable.

Things with the wife are good. We both took yesterday's Google Earth quiz to see what animals we are, and we both came up with "giant squid." I think this augurs well for my marriage. The wife herself is middlin'-fair; she doesn't enjoy change as much as I do, and she shoulders more of the household logistics than me. Moving is therefore much more stressful for her. She's also hunting for jobs, which isn't as comforting as accepting job offers. But marriage-things are good.

The dog's still a dog. She's very Zen about it, in a pop-culture sense of Zen.

My new job, on paper, will be very similar to my current job. That counts as stability, even though it also means a (relatively benign) minefield of wrong expectations I'll have to undo. I'll give people advice. Some of them will listen. Life will interfere with their plans. Repeat.

Pizza's good. That hasn't changed.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Agents of A.G.E.N.T.S.

When I've got a big thing to do, it helps me to do a completely useless small thing.

I'm changing my job, employer, and city in the next few weeks. After the longest stable period of my life, I should add. Lots of big things to do. Naturally, this seemed like a good time to make a Random Agent Generator for some kind of spy-supernatural-superscience RPG. Which, in turn, led me to brainstorming some basic fixes to Hero. The relentless pull of All The Big Things will probably turn that brainstorm into brain-reality soon enough.

These are the bones of the agent generator. I've gone ahead and worked it out in enough detail to make 100-point Hero System characters, which may be posted some other day. Everything is rolled on a d12; you make 5 rolls total.

  • 1 - 4 = Research
  • 5 - 8 = Fieldwork
  • 9 - 12 = Confrontation
  • 1 - 2 = Military
  • 3 - 4 = Public Safety
  • 5 - 6 = Intrigue
  • 7 - 8 = Deep Scholarship
  •      9 = Action Science
  •     10 = Monster Hunting
  •     11 = Crime
  •     12 = Something Boring
  • 1 - 2 = Barehanded
  •      3 = Melee Weapons
  • 4 - 6 = Sneaky Guns
  • 7 - 8 = Scary Guns
  •      9 = Weird Weapons
  •    10 = Powers
  • 11 - 12 = Creative Non-Linear Problem Solving
  • 1 - 2 = Sneaking
  • 3 - 4 = Talking
  • 5 - 6 = Cunning and Trickery
  • 7 - 8 =  Big Ideas
  • 9 - 10 = Dumb Luck
  •       11 = Powers
  •       12 = Violence Is Really All I've Got
  • 1 - 2 = Normal Science
  • 3 - 4 = Human Studies
  • 5 - 6 = Physical Training
  •      7 = Weird Science
  •      8 = The Supernatural
  •      9 = Tinkering and Gadgets
  •     10 = Forgotten Things
  •     11 = Politics, Power, and Money
  •     12 = Living To See Tomorrow

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Thus begins my feud with David Cross

I've been trying to write about Mr. Show, and it's not working.

I tried a long narrative that tied a bunch of concepts together before reaching a conclusion. I tried a short, punchy summation. There was even a footnote at one point. I've been grappling with Mr. Show, and my reactions to it, since I first saw it a couple months ago. I came to that party 20 years late and with very high hopes.

Mr. Show disappointed me and pissed me off.

There probably isn't much point explaining Mr. Show if you haven't watched it yourself -- sketch comedy, 1990s HBO, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, you can use Wikipedia and Google. A lot of it is available online; this is a pretty representative sample if you're curious. It's a critical darling, a hotbed of alt-comedy, the breeding ground for many of today's influential creators.

It's kind of dumb and predictable.

Lots of things piss me off, but I have a special place in my anti-heart for smart people who choose to make stupid stuff. There's not enough smart stuff in the world as it is. Turning your back on being smart so that you can have the vile smarmy Jack Black prancing around in a sketch about someone sticking his penis in an automated milking machine? Not gonna forgive that any time soon.*

Now, most of their sketches weren't that dumb. Instead, many of them were flat -- they telegraphed punches, their humor was only going to resolve in a certain way. Some were great, thankfully; I have a particular fondness for the "Blowing Up The Moon" sketch on several levels. Mr. Show could have been an entire program of things like that. It wasn't. Was it budget? Laziness? A different view of what constitutes comedy and/or entertainment? Snakes?

Doesn't matter. The show's beloved. And it's been dead for 20 years. And I still don't like it.

The most useful observation I've come across -- the catalyst for writing this, really -- was an AV Club review by Leonard Pierce. He wrote of Mr. Show that "many of their sketch ideas were pretty fucking stupid. They were not, as a rule, telling ten-percenter jokes." That frames it up nicely. I'm a ten-percenter; I want smart stuff. There isn't enough of it in our world. I get tired of wading through the sludge to find the occasional gem. And Mr. Show occasionally sparkled. But that mostly just cast light on all their dumb stuff, and that somehow makes it all worse.

*It seems apropos here to note that I also just watched Animal House for the first time ever. Or at least I got through about 2/3 of it before just shutting it off and finding something else to do. "I was surprised you watched that at all," said my wife, who knows me well. "You don't like crude." NOBODY SHOULD LIKE CRUDE. ESPECIALLY NOT SMART PEOPLE.**

**Hey, we got a footnote after all!***

***It wasn't that Animal House was crude, anyway. It was, again, dumbness and predictability. I've already seen MASH, and the original had better acting and directing.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Retooling for 2015

At first this was going to be an RPG blog. That was fun for a while.

I don't play or run a lot of RPGs these days. So I'm going to write about more things. I hope that'll be fun for a while.

Why don't I play or run RPGs much? I'm getting old. That has two consequences. One is time -- I have more to do with my days. Working my day job, working my side gigs, doing some parenting, doing some now-the-kids-are-out-of-the-house-so-who-is-this-person-I-married stuff, and just wasting time. After grad school and then the rush of other family graduations, I like having time to waste on pointless solo projects.

The other is what, for lack of a non-snobby term, I'll call refinement. Not in the sense of "being better," understand, but the sense of "honing and sharpening." I've been roleplaying for a couple decades now. I have a pretty good sense of what I enjoy: PRETENDING. I like being a fictional person in an imaginary setting. I like character history, troubled pasts, shiny goals, personalities. I like players who are allowed to make up stuff about their characters and I like GMs who use that stuff to help everyone tell cool stories.

I like RPG groups made of people who are actors but who weren't theater majors.

And those people are hard to find. Lots of people roleplay to solve puzzles, or to imaginarily kill imaginary monsters and get imaginary treasure, or to have weird power trips, or whatever. That's fine by me. But that's not fun for me. I like games with players who pretend to Be Somebody and then Want Something and then Pursue That Something Goddammit Because It's IMPORTANT. Plus, y'know, playing nicely with everyone else in the sandbox.

That's hard to arrange.

I don't need an all-actor group. But I don't enjoy no-actor groups anymore. If rolling up stats or assigning character points or being handed a sheet and told "This is you" doesn't wake something up in the pretendy part of your brain, the bit that generates names and histories and a drive to explore/create simultaneously, we might not be a good match. So it goes.

We'll talk about more stuff down the road. It's good to be back.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dungeon World quick review

The usual Star Wars gang tried something new last weekend -- Dungeon World. I was impressed. While it has the trappings of older D&D-style games, Dungeon World uses some interesting bite-sized mechanics called "moves" that streamline play. You can hunt up the official page for yourself, but since it's based on OGL content, a lot of it is online for free.

It's a simple game. Not as bare-bones as the original Gnomemurdered!, which still sets the standard for ease of play, but you could teach it to your eight-year-old kid or your fortysomething-friend-who-hasn't-roleplayed-much. Character generation is basically a flowchart. The idea of moves makes it easy for players to decide on their actions. Its skeleton is D&D, so it's a snap to pick up if you know that game already.

Dungeon World also buys into some of the things I don't want in a game. Classes? Yes. Hit points? Yes (although I don't think they increase with experience, which is a plus). Halflings? Yes. Railroading PCs down specific stereotypical developmental tracks? Yes.

I haven't looked over the GM rules carefully yet. They have a weird storygame vibe, but they might also make the play experience more fun.

I think you could easily fix most of the things I don't like --f'rinstance, make the list of starting moves open to all new PCs, to get rid of that musty 1970s smell. It's simple and modular enough to accommodate that. Dungeon World looks like a solid little game that's worth your attention.