Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Steamscapes: Asia Kickstarter is LIVE!

The Kickstarter for Steamscapes: Asia is now live!  I'm contributing the chapter on Japan, so -- if you like this blog -- please contribute so I can get paid some real money for my writing!

(Yeah, I know that's a really selfish reason, but I think it's a good argument.)

I know my section has some really surprising twists on how Japanese history could have gone, and I think they make it a really interesting and exciting world to play in -- and this is the time-frame of The Last Samurai and Rurouni Kenshin, so you know it's good!

There will be more up on the blog as the month progresses, so stay tuned!

And speaking of tuned, think of this as the unofficial theme song of Steamscapes' Japan:

Friday, September 26, 2014

Your Experience Is Not Universal

I became a nerd on the first day of sixth grade.

I wasn’t a nerd before that.  Oh sure, I liked reading a lot and didn’t like sports much, but I wasn’t a nerd.  I liked G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Transformers, mythology and fantasy, but I wasn’t a nerd.  I was just a kid with glasses who read more than he played outside, who had just moved to a new city and didn’t know anyone at his new school.  I was just a normal kid.

I was a normal kid until I introduced myself to the first kid I saw on the playground, and then he pushed me down and called me a nerd.

And I became a nerd.

I spent the next three years being bullied by kids who thought Biff Tannen from fucking Back to the Future was a fucking role model (you have no idea how much I hate that fucking movie).  I went from not being very good at sports but still enjoying playing soccer to absolutely loathing sports and everything that goes with them.  I went from being a boy the girls liked to being a guy who couldn’t get a girl to notice him.  I went from being a normal kid to being a nerd.

The bullying continued on into high school.  It dropped off dramatically after I grew my hair long and started dressing like a member of the Trenchcoat Mafia, but never completely stopped until I entered the workforce as an adult.  It scarred me in ways I can’t shake even today.

My refuge was my hobbies: action figures (when I was younger), reading, writing, theater arts, and (when I was older) role-playing games.  While I realize in retrospect that several of my friends would have bridled at being labeled “nerds,” the majority of my friends certainly played AD&D 2nd Edition because it was an outsider rite of passage, a nerdy thing that was part of the sub-culture that welcomed those of us who had been rejected by the mainstream.  Gaming was a refuge from a world we hated and feared.

I know I’m not alone in this.  The frequency of similar experiences to my own is why you see references to it on The Big Bang Theory, Community, and Futurama.  It’s the reason Stephen Colbert and Vin Diesel got into RPGs.  It’s the reason there’s an entire “nerd culture” these days.

My experience is not universal.

There are a people out there in the RPG blogosphere who are mystified by this culture of traumatized nerds.  My unscientific sampling of the OSR indicates a large number of the guys who got into D&D back before the Satanic Panic were just normal kids (and adults) who just happened to like this new, then-popular game.  They went on to have normal friends and normal lives and they continued to like sports and beer and all that normal stuff.

Good for them.  I don’t want my experience to be universal.  I don’t want anyone to be bullied for liking a certain book or a certain movie or a certain game.  I’m happy that there are people in this world for whom D&D and Star Wars and all that was just part of a happy childhood… Like those kids from E.T., I guess.  (I don’t know; I hate E.T. too.)

The thing I’d like to say to those gamers, though, is “Your experience is not universal.

There are a lot of us who suffered through our childhoods because of bullying.  It’s only natural that we formed communities of our own where we didn’t have to deal with the bullies (or the “normal” people who were allied with the bullies by default).  We’re downright jealous of those of you who got through life without having to deal with this; we’re baffled that you can be a jock and a nerd at the same time.  It just seems so unfair and it leaves us scared and angry and jealous.

But that isn’t the fault of those gamers.  Our experiences are not universal and they are not exclusive.  There is no single true path to gamerhood than there is a right and a wrong way to play D&D.  We have gathered on the internet to celebrate our hobby, so we should try to make it the biggest, baddest party possible.  We are all among friends here.


But forgive me if I sometimes stand off to the side.  Forgive me if I stand with my back to the wall, scowling over my wine, wincing when the noise gets too loud.  Forgive me if I roll my eyes when you talk about your sports teams or even laugh that you – the popular guy, the normal guy – feel ostracized from a hobby you love by people united by shared sense of trauma.

Forgive me, but your experience is not universal.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

My Godzilla vs. King Kong Headcanon

I’ve got several different pet theories about Godzilla.  In the canon of Mecha Kaiju Sensō Tai!!! – my half-developed Savage Worlds kaiju setting – he’s a weapon created by beings from the future.  In another theory, Godzilla is a mutated dinosaur from Skull Island.  Sometimes he’s both at once.

In the latter two versions, Skull Island did not sink into the sea following the events of Son of Kong, but was instead quarantined by the U.S. government.  During WWII, Skull Island became the battleground for DC Comics’ The War That Time Forgot.  American forces “tested” the atom bomb by dropping one on Skull Island during the final days of the war.

Few of the animal inhabitants survived.  The Son of Kong began to suffer the gigantism that early atomic weapons infected so many of their victims with and swam away from the island to find a life elsewhere, but he was suffering from radiation sickness and would eventually succumb to his disease.  The most successful of the survivors was the semi-aquatic carnosaur species later known as godzillasaurus.

The godzillasaurus was – like the spinosaurus known from the fossil record – a semi-aquatic bipedal predator.  Unlike the spinosaurus (and the more familiar tyrannosaurus), it was a carnosaur – a sub-group of dinosaurs less directly related to birds – which accounts for its more distinctly reptilian appearance.  That exposure to an atomic blast mutated the godzillasaurus into a radiation-absorbing monster of mass destruction suggests the population of Skull Island might have been seeded with nano-biological enhancements by parties unknown.

Godzilla was attracted into northern waters by the atomic testing of the early ‘50s and eventually attacked Japan.  In the early ‘60s, the mutated Son of Kong was discovered and the furious battle seen in King Kong vs. Godzilla occurred.  Godzilla was, of course, unharmed by the fall off the cliff and into the ocean. 

Apes are notoriously bad swimmers.  Godzilla is an aquatic predator.  The Son of Kong’s survival after the events of the film is doubtful. 

There was evidently a small population of godzillasaurs in residence on Skull Island.  While it has been assumed that Godzilla is male, eggs and young of his species have hatched several times since the 1960s.  These may have been laid by deceased females of the species prior to Skull Island’s destruction.

Huh, I just noticed I changed tones partway through from a personal collection into a Wold Newtonian treatise.  Ha! 
And this all was a plot point in the ongoing Victorian adventure campaign...

(Slow Clap)

Bravo, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..  I really didn’t see that coming.

I stayed with AoS all through its first season, so I’m obviously not someone who ever thought it was actually bad.  I’d be lying, though, if I didn’t admit it got better during the lead-in to and spin out from Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  I’m happy to report that the first episode of the new season kept the momentum from the latter half of last season.

I had two main questions in my head through most of the runtime of S2 E1 “Shadows:”
  • How is this ragtag band of underdogs possibly going to defeat a Thor/Hulk villain like the Absorbing Man?
  • How are the writers of a show with an ensemble this large already going to deal with adding four more cast members?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sexy, shirtless Headless Horseman

As a counterpoint to being underwhelmed with Gotham, I would just like to point out that the second season premiere of Sleepy Hollow made me laugh harder than I have in… Umm…  Actually, I pretty hard and I laugh a lot, so it’s probably only been a couple of weeks. 

In any case, Sleepy Hollow treated us to the utter insanity of a sexy, shirtless Headless Horseman in last night’s episode.


Sexy, shirtless Headless Horseman.

I read an unusually large amount of romance novels for a guy, so I instantly recognized the scene as a classic of the genre – the reluctant woman just so happens to see the rough, muscular guy half-naked and all her feminist ideals fly out the window as she melts at the sight of his pecs – but this time the sexy guy’s got an ugly open wound where his head is supposed to be!

[Insert the sound of me laughing uproariously for the next five minutes.]

It occurs to me suddenly that Sleepy Hollow feels like how horror RPGs actually play: thrills and violence and sassy dialogue; absurdly over-armed PCs killing things whenever they get the chance; and constant danger but everyone’s laughing too much to care.  Man, I love that show far beyond reason.



The first thing I checked this morning was to see if English is Gotham head honcho Bruno Heller’s second language.  Nope.  His father is German, but Heller himself was born and raised in England.  In fact, he created HBO’s Rome, a series I quite liked and which certainly did not suffer from the bizarre dissonance of Gotham.

The pilot episode of Gotham suffers from tonal dissonance – different elements of the story just kind of clash – but it also just plain suffers from dissonance.  It sounds weird.  I have never in my life heard the phrase “a tall glass of milk” used to describe a human being; the only reference I can find for it online is at the Urban Dictionary, which – frankly – seems to make a bunch of crap up.  The word “lackadaisical” is prominently used in the pilot, causing both the audience and Donal Logue’s Harvey Bullock to ask “Lackadaisical?”  There are forced references to penguins and awkward lines from Jim Gordon and it all just grates on my ears.

The tonal dissonance also bugs me.  Gordon and Bullock’s moment of peril is suddenly a scene from a jokey buddy cop dropped into the middle of Gotham’s grim pretentiousness.  There’s a twelve year-old child slinking around the city in sexy Catwoman poses (I shudder just thinking about it).  Oswald Cobblepot looks like a skinny version of Danny DeVito’s take on the character but walks like Burgess Meredith’s version from “Batman ’66.”   The most natural-feeling scene in the episode was Renee Montoya and Gordon’s fiancée having an “It was just a phase” conversation.  It’s just weird. 

This might all be deliberate.  The show airs in the timeslot before Sleepy Hollow, a show I and many others love for its baroque insanity.  Maybe Gotham is going to follow in that tradition instead of the more obvious “police procedural” mode; it’s hard to really judge a show by its pilot episode, so there’s certainly a chance the show will start to harmonize its elements. 

I’ll keep a wary eye on it for now, but I don’t know how long my interest will last. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

My Dracula Headcanon

I am totally revved up for Halloween already. 
So, as my previous post about our untitled Victorian adventure campaign (starring the adventurous archaeologist Lady Atalanta Scarborough!) indicated, our current duet game takes place in a world where Dracula happened.  In keeping with the many, many other authors and gamers who have continued the story of Bram Stoker’s characters, I have my own ideas about what the cast has been up to since the novel ended.
Dracula himself is now a globe-trotting supervillain, because of course he is.  Dracula  constantly seeks new information on the origins of vampires and the means to create them, pausing in his relentless hunt only long enough to toy with his dogged foe, Quincey P. Morris (see below).  Why he seeks this knowledge is something of a mystery as yet, as Lady Atalanta didn’t feel much like trading banter with him the only time they met.

Unlike the rest of the Draculacast, he doesn’t look like the actor from Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Instead, I’ve been describing him as young of face but gray of hair, so I guess that means he looks like Alucard or Dracula from Castlevania.

Weird. I’m a Sega guy and never played Castlevania.

Jonathan assumes his marriage is happy and is living a nice, quiet life as a chartered accountant law.  If he discovers Dracula is alive, it may unhinge him…

Honestly, I always feel sorry for Jonathan, but it’s hard to imagine him becoming an interesting character.  If I had the time and patience for such a thing, I’d love to write a Dracula sequel that’s a simple domestic drama about the Harkers’ repressed recrimination and pain.  But I don’t, so I’m not gonna.

Hmm, maybe Jonathan has a thing for kinky sex that he keeps hidden from Mina, and if they only shared their hidden desires they could enjoy a happy swinger lifestyle?  That would be kind of cool…

I just can’t imagine Jonathan deliberately choosing to become an ongoing vampire hunter action hero, though.  That just doesn’t seem like his thing, no matter how much kukri-wielding action he got into at the end of the novel.


You know what Dracula being alive means? 

It means Mina was never cured!

Mina Harker is still a proto-vampire (a moroaică, or “living vampire” in Romanian terms), hiding her curse from her husband and friends through judicious use of make-up and mesmerism.  The initial signs of vampirism that seemed to disappear when Dracula “died” were in fact just “growth pangs” and vanished because Mina’s body adjusted, not because they were gone.  She controls her bloodlust well, but the physical strength and stamina that come from being moroaică leave her frustrated at the confines of hearth and home.  She’s had a string of lovers on the side; she feels guilty because she still loves Jonathan, but he’s such a putz
Mina’s biggest worry is that Dr. van Helsing will discover her secret and kill her in her sleep


Van Helsing has pretty much given up medicine to concentrate on killing things.  He lives in a small London house and keeps no servants.  His cousin, the baronet Sir Justin Integrity Wingates-Hellsing, funds Van Helsing’s continued research, but none of the other characters know about that yet.

I do a pretty good impression of Anthony Hopkins’ Van Helsing, but it takes me a while to warm up. 


I haven’t given a single thought as to what he’s up to.  Maybe he emigrated to New York City and founded a new asylum with a partner named Arkham?   

Actually, I just got off the phone with Robin, and her theory is that Seward is Bram Stoker’s self-insertion character.  Van Helsing might be Stoker’s Mary Sue (they share first names and have similar builds; Van Helsing is all gregarious and wise), but Seward is the quietly competent guy who has to put up with all the crap.  He’s the guy who has to deal with “bookings” and arranging things and all that jazz, just like Stoker handling things for Henry Irving.  That makes me think that Seward has probably been quietly researching vampire phenomena and studying new, technological techniques of vampire fighting so that he can ultimately show up both his mentor Van Helsing and the dreaded Count Dracula.

Seward is kind of an unpleasant ass, but you can understand where he’s coming from.

Quincey P. Morris was, until recently, a vampire and had been so since his apparent death at the end of Dracula.  Quincey’s sire, however, was not Dracula himself.

The exact circumstances of Morris becoming moroi are a mystery to him.  Back before he met Lucy Westenra, he lived an occasionally dissolute lifestyle, so it’s possible he picked up vampirism at a Mexican bordello just south of the Texas border.  The peculiarly snake-like features of his vampirism certainly suggest a connection with vampire cults of that area.   

Yes, I’ve been watching From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series.  Your point?      

It may have also occurred during his expedition to the Pampas, as recounted in Dracula.  During that adventure, Quincey’s horse was mortally wounded in the night by vampire bats and had to be put down.  It is possible that Morris himself endured an attack he does not remember and was infected at that time.  In any case, Quincey Morris was already a moroi when he battled Dracula and changed into a strigoi (an “immortal” or undead vampire) after he fell in battle. 

Painfully, that means the blood he donated during the series of blood infusions attempted to save her life actually helped to infect Lucy Westenra with vampirism.  He realizes that and may never quite forgive himself.

Lady Atalanta first encountered Quincey during an adventure involving the Lilith Tablet, a Babylonian relic recounting the supposed origin of the world’s first vampire.  Dracula and Atalanta battled for possession of the tablet and the discovered it housed Lilith’s undying spirit.  Quincey aided Atalanta in banishing the spirit, the Count retreated, and the archaeologist and the reluctant vampire became lovers.  As is the sad story of many such people called to adventure, they had to part to pursue their own destinies.

Many months of game time later, Lady Atalanta and Morris were reunited in the Yucatán.  Both sought a mysterious lost Mayan city that had been recently sighted, but not properly explored.  After fighting off a nest of Mayan vampires, Atalanta discovered a gold "Rosetta Stone" Mayan codex.  Lady Atalanta recently translated the mysterious Mayan codex and discovered a rather… unconventional… cure for vampirism (or at least the South American strain).  After helping to cure her on-again/off-again lover of his curse, Lady Atalanta and Quincey parted once more to pursue their own adventures.


Arthur Holmwood, Lord Godalming, was shattered by the tragedies he experienced during the events of Dracula... 
So he traveled the world, seeking solace in the mystic teachings of the East... 
And now he fights crime in London as the mysterious vigilante, the Black Pirate!
(Because that's how I roll!)