Tuesday, July 23, 2013

By Robin: The Gaijin and the Gorilla Lizard (Part Two)



 
            Jun pulls me up and out of Shibuya station and onto the bustling streets.  Middle aged women flit from store to store, eager to capture a good buy before the high school girls get here in the afternoon.  We move away from their set lines of shopping and head towards a sort-of-square nearby.  Jun pulls away quickly, almost skipping.  She stops before the famed statue of Hachiko. 
            Again, we feel the wind whip up around us. Jun shivers, but tries to hide it. Instead she pulls up closer to the dog statue.      Standing there admiring the statue of a loyal pet, we notice a younger women, about our age, strolling by.  Jun elbows me.
            “I think she’s checking you out,” she nods toward a short, rather slender girl in a crisp suit. 
            “Eh, not quite my type.”
            “So what is?” says a smooth, raspy voice from behind.
            A woman sways out from behind the stone dog, “My guess it’s cute American girls with snotty attitudes.  At least, that’s how it looks from here.”
            A quiet little screech slips through Jun’s pursed lips, “Yoshiko, you’re one to talk.”
            Jun embraces the woman, who is several inches shorter than her, but sports nearly the same figure and most striking, the same eyes.  Unlike Jun, her hair bobs about her face, a sea of green.
            “I finally see the mysterious Jun-chan.”
            “Not my fault.  They keep us trapped up there.”
            “Sure, whatever you say girlie.”
            “You coulda come to visit you know.”
            The woman, Yoshiko, brushes Jun off and wanders a bit away.  She turns around in a slow, broad sweep, the ends of her long coat swinging in the breeze: “And leave all this behind for Chiba.  No way.  And besides, you’re only a cousin.”
            Jun rolls her eyes, “You’re still full of yourself.  I thought you’d outgrow that.”
            “You know, I thought so to,” Yoshiko responds with a muffled laugh.
            All this time, I just stand there, watching two beautiful women banter as if they only saw each other yesterday and I was no where around.  I hadn’t realized how Japanese Jun really looked until Yoshiko showed up.  I guess she always sounded like any girl I met, and well, acted like it too, so I never thought of her as being Japanese.  She’s just the intense California girl I met on the plane coming to Japan. 
            “Oh damn, I’m being so rude.  Yoshi-chan, this is my friend Warren Carver.”  
            I wave a bit. 
            “And this is my cousin, on my Mom’s side, Watanabe Yoshiko.”
            Yoshiko smiles.  I can see a few creases about her lips, but she’s still gorgeous.  She bows rather stiffly and unusually low, “It is an honor to meet you Carver-san.”
            I look to Jun; she’s trying not to laugh.  I smile and bow back.  “It’s very nice to meet you Watanabe-san.”
            Yoshiko starts laughing loudly, gripping her belly.  Jun chimes in.  The two girls hold each other as they laugh, giggling till they are out of breath.
            Between gasps Jun looks to me, “My god Warren, you are clueless aren’t you?”
            “What do you mean?”
            Yoshiko comes over and puts her arm around me and tries to stop laughing.  She speaks between deep breathes, “It’s just a joke, you know.  No need to be so formal.”
            “Yeah, I get it.  Sorry.”
            “It’s kinda sweet though.  I mean, you obviously knew how to act, more than most gaijin.  And well, you seemed sincere and all.  I’ll take it as a compliment.”
            With a deep breath I sigh, “Thanks.”
            Jun interrupts by grabbing Yoshiko by the arm and pulling her closer.  “So, what’s up?”
            “Not much.  Wanted to get out, maybe see if I could find you.  What about you?”
            “Finally got a day away from work.  Thought we’d start our sightseeing.”
            “So, why are you in Shibuya than?”
            I stare hard at Jun, “That’s what I wanted to know too?”
            Jun stares back at me before looking back to her cousin.  “I wanted to see if the old story was true.”
            “You still believe in those things?” Yoshiko asks.
            “Hey, you’re here aren’t you?”
            Yoshiko uses her lose arm to grab hold of me.  “Okay, you’re right.  I’m here.  You came here to wait for me, and well, I showed.  My many thanks to Hachiko-san for reuniting me with my long-lost cousin.”
            “You wanted to see the dog?”  I ask Jun.
            “Yeah. Now don’t tell anyone, okay?”
            “Sure, no problem. So, do we really have to have to stay in Shibuya?”
            “Nah, I found what I was looking for.”
            “Great!”  Yoshiko is beaming as she pulls us back towards the station.  “I’m so in need of some really stupid fun.  And there’s this place I just have to show you.”
            I straighten as I am pulled forward, “So where are we going?”
            “The most useless, superfluous, and ridiculous site in all of Tokyo.”
            “Don’t tell me,” Jun says as she shuffles beside Yoshiko.  Her voice gets low and monotone, “We’re going to Odaiba.”


***

We emerge from the train station with a small but determined group of people. Yosihko grabs my left hand; Jun grabs my right one. I feel a bit of heat in my face as I look to Jun, but it quickly dies when a cool breeze smacks as I twist in Yoshiko’s grasp. Before long a megalith of steel and brick looms into Yoshiko’s path. Worn murals decorate the rather bare walls. I faceplant into the door before I realize that Yoshiko comes up a bit short.
“So what do you think?”
I try to smile, “It’s big.”
I then notice she is looking at Jun, not me. Jun shrugs, “It’s okay, I guess.”
Yoshiko’s open smile diminishes quickly, “Really?”
“I mean, it’s just not a lot to look at,” Jun’s reply slowly grows soft.
I come between the two, “This must be just the outside. Reinforced and all in case of disaster, right?”
Yoshiko’s smile comes back, “Exactly. It’s a lot nicer inside.”
We are all led us into the mall, a spring back in Yoshiko’s step. As we enter, Jun and I simultaneously crane our heads up to see the story upon story of bright lights and outrageous store fronts. Inside, a new world greets us. A bright blue sky and long clouds stream above us on the ceiling. Off to the near east, a watery, yellow sun shines down. The hard, stiff building we saw outside opens up before us.
Bright signs and unique fronts come in and out of view as Jun pulls me down the main thoroughfare. Her haphazard movements from one side to another make it hard to stay near her, and the crowd occasionally separates us for a moment. I never quite have time to fully read any signs, but I think I notice a mini-theme park, a number of children’s stores, and family friendly restaurants. When we reach the first set of large glass elevators, Yoshiko takes Jun’s and my hands and leads us in.
We get off on the last floor. Yoshiko, still holding on to us, leads us down one route and another as I glimpse one theme after another. After first, there is a set of what I guess are stores with a European feel. Around another corner, there is a Hollywood themed area; I notice a rather dilapidated Planet Hollywood with few visitors. Before long, there is an Edo period section, with screen doors and paper lanterns. I feel lost in the maze before Yoshiko suddenly stops.
She smiles at Jun, “So?’
Jun looks at the front, back to Yoshiko and back again, “Is this it?”
I stand there just staring. Before me is what looks like an old style ramen shop. There is a short curtain above the door. The sides of the door seem to be guarded by narutomaki, the pink spiral a neon light against the raised white background of the slices.
“Of course it is,” Yoshiko beams at both Jun and I.
Jun ducks under the fringed curtain. I have to push it aside to see as I enter. When we step in, a girl in with a long red ponytail and cross-shaped scar on her cheek greets us. This Kenshin starts to give the introduction but stops short when Yoshiko steps in. The young women bows to Jun and moves away.
“Do you work here or something?” I ask Yoshiko.
Jun slaps my shoulder, “She owns it.”
Yoshiko leads us past the front, where young people sit at booths decorated by more recent anime and manga paraphernalia. A female Naruto carrying a tray of drinks nimbly ducks around us. Towards what I think is the back is yet another door. Here, a green haired girl in a “Jun” costume opens the door. I can see her smile beneath her bird helmet and am amazed at the likeness to the Gatchaman doll I have at home.
This second room is lightly peopled with adults. A group of young American men flirt with a scantily clad Faye while the rest of her Cowboy Bebop cast man the rest of a long bar. Strains of the Yoko Kanno soundtrack are nearly drowned out by all the chatting. Yoshiko moves out and on to a patio that overlooks Tokyo Bay. The wind suddenly whips by us, and Jun nearly crashes back into me. Yoshiko plunges forward to a spot near the edge and sits down at the table.
“Great view, huh?” Yoshiko asks me.
Instead of taking a seat, I am at the railing looking out into the bay. The sun catches at the backs of small waves that grow and crash long before they reach the shore. The water seems to be a reflection of the sky; the small breakers are long and run ragged across the water’s surface, just like the clouds racing along the sky.
“It’s great!”
“I still can’t believe you wanted a spot with a patio. Aren’t you worried?”
Yoshiko just shrugs and hands Jun a menu, “Not really. We have had a few instances and the furniture takes a beating, but nothing much else.”
I sit down in a rather cheap plastic chair and pull up to a slightly warped plastic table. “I hope business makes up for it.”
“It does. I get a lot of people who just come out for the thrill of it all. They are always willing to stay and keep ordering, just in case.” Yoshiko stops and smiles wider, “And before long, they have a large bill and I have a nice profit.”
I start to look over the menu just as a guy with a thin braid and Chinese style clothing walks up, “What can I get you?”

By Light, By Night Part 5

Types of Fae (Continued)

The Giant Folk

Few of the Giant Folk feel much relation to each other, but their huge and monstrous appearances unite them despite a lack of common culture.  Young changelings are often surprised by how many of the Giant Folk ally themselves with the Court of Light; there’s as many or more Shreks amongst the fae as there are Lord of the Rings-style cave trolls.  The intelligence of the Giant Kin is also often underestimated; trolls, in particular, enjoy reminding others of how much magic they have mastered. 

Buggane
An obscure kin who originated on the Isle of Man, buggane perfectly reflect how deeply connected the Light and the Night really are.  Buggane appear less human than many Giant Folk – hairy, tusked, and clawed – but they have gentle hearts and prefer to spend their time enjoying the peace and quiet of nature.  Their preferred approach is necessarily Forceful; they often serve the Court of Light as reluctant warriors of last resort.
Suggested Stunts:
Because I have such a scary appearance, I get a +2 to Flashily Create an Advantage by intimidating my opponents.
Because I have huge claws, I get a +2 when I Forcefully Overcome an obstacle by tearing it down.

Ogres
One of the few Giant Folk who gather in family units instead of living alone, ogres often challenge the Fair Folk for leadership of Court of Light enclaves.  Many suspect the entire kin of being double-agents for the Parliament of Night, but this is undoubtedly mere paranoia.  Ogres appear as overblown humans – tall and bulky with oversized heads and bone-crunchingly large teeth – but they are also masters of shape-shifting and will often spend days on end in other forms.  They enjoy being Flashy.
Suggested Stunts:
Because I can be anyone or anything, I get a +2 to Cleverly Create an Advantage by assuming someone or something else’s shape.
Because I am at one with my magic, I get a +2 to Flashily Defend by flowing from one shape to another and sowing confusion in my foes.
  
Trolls
Trolls vary so greatly in shape and size -- some appearing as tall, handsome humans and others as grotesque mud-monsters – that even fellow trolls have trouble telling if they’re of the same kin.  This might account in no small part for why few trolls seek the companionship of the Light and instead seek the anonymity of the Night.  They are connected intimately to stone and soil and take their time Carefully plotting against enemies both real and imagined.
Suggested Stunts:
Because I have the patience of stone, I get a +2 to Carefully Attack my targets when I’ve already worked out their weaknesses.
Because I am one with the earth, once per session I can meld into the soil and hide undetected.

(continued)

Monday, July 22, 2013

By Light, By Night vs Die, Daikaiju!

Does anybody care if I finish By Light, By Night?  I thought it would make an interesting challenge to write a Young Adult Fiction sort of Urban Fantasy setting for FAE, but I’m getting kind of bored.

FATE Accelerated Edition and FATE Core both say that the game is for a minimum of three players.  Honestly, I think most RPGs say that, but after experimenting with FAE for awhile, I really have to agree that the FATE games do not work in a duet nearly as well as I’d hoped.  It’s hard coming up with Aspects all the danged time. Yeesh!  And, honestly, it really does detract from the immersion Robin prefers. 

Since I’m feeling a little burnt out with FAE, I’m really considering tossing By Light, By Night on the back burner (or trash heap) and trying my hand at a kaiju/mecha/sentai Savage Worlds setting and rules.  I’ve thought about kaiju and sentai a lot since I first saw “Battle of the Planets” in 1978, so it feels like it would come together pretty easily.  I’ve already got some pretty solid ideas:

·         I’ve had the title “Die, Daikaiju!” knocking about in my brain for ages.
·         Monsters of Mass Destruction – a shadowy terrorist organization (determined to rule the world!) is using the kaiju as weapons. 
·         The heavy-hitter NPC kaiju would be warped versions of the Shishin or Four Guardian Beasts – Seiryuu the green dragon, Suzaku the firebird, Byakko the metal beast, and Genbu the turtle.  Funny how that maps on to the Toho/Daiei mon-stars, isn’t it?
·         PCs could be mecha pilots, monster-tamers (harkening back as much to all of Mothra’s and Gamera’s little friends as Ash Ketchum and pals), or a mix of the two.
·         Players would effectively control two characters – their pilot/monster-tamer and their mecha/kaiju.  Both characters earn experience separately, so there’s no penalizing players for trying to improve their ally.
·         The Plot Point campaign would include the obligatory Atlantis appearance as seen in Necessary Evil and Rippers.
·         Leadership Edges would affect player characters. 

Anyway, does anyone have an opinion on the fate of By Light, By Night?  I’ll keep going with it if anyone asks for more, but otherwise I’m afraid that it just isn’t an effective use of my time.

(In case anyone’s curious, Natty Newhouse isn’t dead; I just haven’t had time to work on it at home and writing sexy stories during your lunch break is awkward.)

Friday, July 19, 2013

By Robin: The Gaijin and the Gorilla Lizard (Introduction & Part One)

After Sean and I left Pacific Rim, last week, we started talking about all the different things it reminded us of, or, in some cases, the many things it was "inspired by." As we were sitting outside our favorite wine shop enjoying a good bottle of French Tannat, Sean turned to me and mentioned how the scene in the shelter reminded him of my old story. I have to admit, I though that too. As we watched the people rush off of the street, guided by police down into underground shelters, I thought of a story I write 14 years ago. 

As we sat and talked, Sean mentioned that I should post the story, get it out there. Honestly, I thought it was a good idea too. In the span of 14 years, I started a revision once -- about 5 years ago -- but never finished. So I took up his challenge to post the story online, and have decided to get back to that revision. So, for the next few weeks, I will be posting parts of my Kaiju story: The Gaijin and the Gorilla Lizard.


Part One: Welcome to Tokyo



 An incessant buzz rings through the crowded hallway.  It reverberates off the walls, whines in my ears, “...move towards the shelters and take cover.”
            I stumble about, looking around in a mass of people. There isn’t anyone I know, not a recognizable face in the group.
            “This is an emergency. Please move towards the nearest shelter.  I repeat …”
            The buzzing steadily increases.  A long screech, drilling into my head, is all I can hear.  I can’t think.  What’s going on?  What were the directions? 
            Looking left and right, I find myself alone.  It’s just me and the buzzing.  I slump to the floor. What were those damn directions about?
            The buzzing keeps going, echoing in the empty spaces.  There is something else underlining the buzzing, like a door or wall rattling.  There’s a loud bang followed by a thud.  Is this an earthquake?  a tsunami?  The sound grows louder. 
            It’s an erratic thumping.  “Warren!  Warren you ass!  Turn off your damn alarm!”
            I look towards the far end of the hall.  Did I hear a voice?  “Hello?”
            “Get up you and turn that fucking thing off!”
            I sit-up.  My blanket is a mess, tangled about my feet, and my alarm clock is rattling on the floor.  The neighboring wall is shaking from a now steady pounding.
            “You gonna turn that alarm off any time soon?”      
            I reach for the alarm, “Uh, sorry.  Sorry.”
            The pounding stops as soon as the alarm is quiet.  I place the clock back next to my bed.  It’s already past seven.  Last time I remember looking at the clock it was nearly four thirty and I was flipping through my guide book and watching lights flicker across the skyline.  Now sunlight filters through my blinds.    

***

            With my first real day off since arriving in Japan before me, I start to get ready.  I peer through my drawers looking for underwear and only find socks.  I search through the pile of clothes in the room’s corner.  There are a few pairs there, but none I really even want to touch.  I open the room’s one small closet and rummage through my nearly unpacked suitcase.  Hidden in a pocket is a clean pair, if only a bit wrinkled. 
            I turn about no searching for my missing guide book.  It’s not on the table by the bed, but there wasn’t anything there now but my alarm clock.  I search through notebooks and magazines lying lopsided on the floor.  Again, no guide book.  Same goes for under the bed.  So I look in my bag, my desk, even under my dirty clothes.  Nothing.  I open and empty every drawer and clear off every shelf looking for the illusive book, but it isn’t anywhere.  As I pick up the tossed contents, my phone rings. 
            “Hey, you ready?”
            “Huh, what?  Jun.  Oh yeah, sure.  I just need a minute.”
            “Good.  I have to get out of here.”
            I sit down on the edge of my bed.  “Yeah, no, I understand.”
            “So I’ll meet you outside.”
            “On my way.”  A sharp edge sticks into the back of my thigh.  I jump, throwing the phone across the room.  Pulling apart the twisted mess of my blanket, I unravel a few folds and find the guide book.        
            I finish pulling on clothes and grab a bag. I’m stuffing last minute items into my bag and fumbling with my jacket as I walk down to the lobby. As I try to stash the last minute items away, Jun comes up behind me: “Took you long enough.”
            “Sorry.”
            “What didya do now,  lose your wallet or something?”
            I search my pockets for my wallet.  I sigh when I feel come across the bump in my back pocket. “Yeah, or something.”
            “Now that you’re all together, can we finally get out of here?”
            “Yeah, sure.  I’m ready to see Japan.”
            Jun leans in and eyes me closely.  She smells like a fresh rain.  “No, that’s not it at all.”
            I pull back, “What do you mean?”
            She smiles and begins walking towards the gate, “You came here to pick up Japanese women.  We all know that they love tall blonde-haired American boys.”
            “No.  No way, that’s not it.”
            She swirls around on the backs’ of her feet.  “No?  Than maybe?  Ah, I know!  You came over an entire ocean just to see that stupid monster.”
            “It would be a once in a lifetime experience if I did get to see the gorilla lizard. And besides, it is said to be over 1000 feet tall.”  I try to stand-up straight but find myself slumping forward and covering my head with my hand.  I grow quiet as Jun stares at me, “It’s unusual, you know.  Interesting.”
            “Yeah, yeah, whatever you say Mr. Carver. Interesting.”
            And so we walk away from our apartment building to the nearest subway station. Jun is quiet as we walk. I’m not sure what to say, so I walk quietly beside her.
A cool breeze comes at us as we turn a corner. My mess of hair is rumpled further by the breeze. Jun pulls her silver jacket tight against her. Suddenly I see a hint of pink glisten at her cheeks.
“You know the lizard is really 1200 feet. It’s just a bit bigger than Tokyo Tower, so I guess it is a bit impressive.”
I nod and smile. We walk a bit farther, away from the apartment and the office building we have been working at. We’ve been in Japan for just about three weeks and never got more than a few miles from where we have been staying. Instead, we’ve been stuck in training classes with no opportunity to leave the grounds.
            “Any ideas?”
            “Huh?”  I look up from my guide book.
            “What do you want to do?”
            I look back to my guide book.  I have it turned to the gorilla lizard emergency instructions.  “Well, I thought maybe going to Asakusa.”
            “You’re joking, right? Asakusa?  You know its pretty far inland with really no chance of getting a view of the gorilla lizard.  That is, if it comes onshore.”
            I close my guide book and put it back in my bag.  “Maybe I want to see a real geisha, or go to Senso-ji.”
            “Sure, sure, suddenly you’re on a pilgrimage.”
            “I’d like see the traditional side of Japan while I’m here.”
            “Okay, so let’s start with typical and work towards traditional.”
            “And you are suggesting what?”
            “Shibuya.”
            “Shibuya?”
            “Yeah, Shibuya.”
            “I should have known, you just want to shop.”
            “There’s nothing wrong with shopping.  You can see real life ko-gals in Shibuya.”
            My response is cut off by the arriving train.  A mass of people sweep us onto the train.  Squished between salarymen in their neatly pressed business suits, Jun and I stand next to one another quietly.  In the pushing and shoving, she somehow ends up with her head in my armpit.
            “Sorry.”
            “Just don’t try anything.  I know where you live,” she smiles.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

By Light, By Night Part 4

Types of Fae

Changeling fae are not the only supernatural beings in the world.  They are the protagonists of By Light, By Night because their ambiguity – their ability shift allegiances and outlooks every bit as much as their ability to change form – makes them an excellent source for drama.  They also come in a broad variety of types that nevertheless are recognizably part of the same storytelling tradition.  The default assumption in the types listed below is that most fae fit into the Celtic and Germanic traditions of strange outsiders – distinct from the undead and possessed of human levels of intelligence – who can change their appearance and/or shape or turn invisible.

“Folk” is the accepted term in the Court of Light for the broader fae types that encompass what in Dungeons and Dragons would be called “races” (though that doesn’t stop irreverent Night fae from talking about sub-races and demi-humans).  These folk are then divided into smaller ethnicities or “kin.”  Some of these folk and kin are:

The Fair Folk

Across the British Isles, France, Germany, and Scandinavia, there are stories of a beautiful and magical race apart from mankind that dwells in burial mounds, caves, mountains, and under the earth.  These Fair Folk are adept with illusions and healing magic, pale of hair and skin, and by turns imperious and whimsical.  While they form the backbone of the Court of Light, it is not unknown for Fair Folk to turn to the Parliament of Night.

Fair Folk kin include:

Alfar
Beautiful, pale human-looking fae who glow faintly from an inherent luminescence, the alfar are the prototype for the elves of contemporary fantasy games and literature.  Despite their benevolent appearance, they often favor Sneaky as their primary Approach; their relationship with mankind has been filled with betrayals and deception and they have learned to tread carefully with outsiders.  Alfar who join the Night find their hair turns black; they become known as svartalfar (“dark elves”).
Suggested Stunts:
Because I have mastered the magical elf-shot – an invisible bolt of crippling pain – I get a +2 when I Sneakily Attack a target in an adjacent Zone.
Because the alfar are masters of deception, I get a +2 when I Cleverly Create an Advantage over a stranger using illusions.

Daoine Sidhe
The daoine sidhe (“people of the mounds”) embrace their Celtic roots pretty strongly and have taken to covering their bodies in tribal tattoos.  In Ireland, the daoine sidhe created hidden homes for themselves in ancient burial mounds, pocket dimensions that echoed their haunted dreams of the Otherworld; even today, some of them can still create such hidden strongholds.  They are more warlike than most Fair Folk and often choose Forceful as their primary Approach.  Daoine sidhe who break from the Light often become twisted and dangerous creatures like the infamous banshee.
Suggested Stunts: 
Because I come from a proud warrior tradition, I get a +2 when I Forcefully Attack an opponent in a one-on-one duel.
Because the sidhe retain their ancient magic, once per session I can create a temporary shelter in a pocket dimension that lasts from dawn to dusk or from dusk to dawn.

Fairies
Arguably the most beautiful of the Fair Folk, fairies can fly on butterfly- or dragonfly-like wings.  They affect to be graceful and harmless – spirits of the air – but in truth are the most capricious of the Fair Folk and the difference between Light fairies and Night fairies is mainly cosmetic.  Fairies enjoy the company of humans and tend to be very possessive of their companions.  They tend to favor the Quick Approach to problems.
Suggested Stunts:
Because I have gossamer wings, I get a +2 when I Quickly Overcome obstacles when flying from one Zone to another.
Because I have a posset of fairy dust, once per session I can put anyone to sleep as long as I do no physical harm to them while they sleep (but mischief is allowed).

(continued)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Gaslamp Fantasies

I also tend to read more than one book at a time.  At present, that means I’m simultaneously reading three gaslamp fantasy novels: Black Powder War by Naomi Novik, The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett, and The Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells.  This is the first time in all too long that I’m devouring books at such a rapid pace, and the first time in decades that the novels in question are fantasies.

Gaslamp fantasies, as the link above will explain, are fantasy novels set in Earth’s 19th century or worlds greatly resembling that time period.  The genre is distinguished from steampunk by being actual fantasy with dragons and magicians and necromancers instead of extra-retro-sci-fi.  It appeals to me as both a fan of historical fiction (including the Flashman Papers, Sherlock Holmes, and Regency romances) and as a lapsed fan of Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock.  There is a strong streak of the liberal elitist in me, so I can’t help but enjoy stories of polite, educated heroes and heroines – especially when they’re also left-wing agitators like these characters are.

Black Powder War is the third novel in the Temeraire series, an alternate history where the Napoleonic Wars are fought with dragons used as air navies.  The heroes are Captain William Laurence, a somewhat uptight naval man, and his dragon Temeraire, a young Chinese dragon who was on his way to Napoleon when his egg was captured by Laurence’s ship.  Novik’s Dragons imprint on their captains in a fashion similar to Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, but the dragons are fully sentient, can talk, and don’t override their captains’ sex drives.  The “fully sentient” part is important; a major plot developed through the series is Laurence coming to terms with and support of Temeraire’s desire for the same rights as human beings.  This is also the first series of books Robin and I have shared in years.  We just started reading in May and we’re already halfway through the eight-book series.  It is a tremendous delight to find my wife just as absorbed in a Napoleonic Wars series as I am. 

Naomi Novik’s style is engaging – it reminds me more than a bit of Jane Austen’s – and the plotting is… fulfilling.  I’ve predicted a plot point coming way in advance more than once, but the stories aren’t predictable.  I’ve always been overjoyed that a long-anticipated twist finally happened – that she fulfilled my hopes rather than dashing them to pieces.  Novik has a few excerpts and short stories available on her website.  I highly recommend the unrelated “Araminta, or, The Wreck of the Amphidrake” to open-minded fans of pirate fiction.

I am much less far along in The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, the first of a trilogy by Mark Anthony writing as Galen Beckett (as explained on his website).  I picked it up because the cover copy promised conspiracies, highwaymen, and revolutionaries; I was hoping for more of an 18th century tricorns and Illuminati feel but it is definitely more like the 19th.  A lot of the review quotes seem to think it belongs in a pseudo-Victorian/Edwardian era but I’m positive it’s meant to evoke the Regency.  There’s charming dandies, dinner parties, and headstrong young women of respectable but not wealthy families; it feels, frankly, like somebody else’s answer to “What if Mr. Bennett was a magician?   
Anthony/Beckett’s world is much more a fantasy world – the days and nights vary in length due to some complicated astronomy – but the names of both people and places are slightly off from Earth standard instead of bizarre tongue-twisters.  History and geography are suggestive of the familiar without being identical -- there is a rather Jacobite-ish rebellion in the works (which is, perversely, my least-favorite part of the book so far) – but there are also shadow-weavers and sentient forests.  I have little doubt that I’ll buy the other books in the series too, even if I don’t find it quite as compelling as the Temeraire series.

The Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells is actually available to read for free online at Black Gate Magazine.  I’m up to Chapter Seven so far, and enjoying it enough to want to track down a print copy.  It’s set in a much more late Victorian-style world; in fact, it’s very much a pastiche of gentleman thief Arsène Lupin and reminds me more than a little of Arsène Lupin vs Herlock Sholmes (that was not a typo).

I’m enjoying The Death of the Necromancer, but my enthusiasm is tempered by knowing that it is only a stand-alone novel.  There’s other books set in the same world at different times, but they don’t involve the same charming rogue and his band of misfits.  Too bad for me, but twenty years later is rather a long time to complain about the lack of a sequel.

[I finished Black Powder War while I was at lunch.  Now I have to ask myself whether I’ll jump in to the next Empire of Ivory or force myself to finish The Magicians and Mrs. Quent first.  Decisions, decisions…]
 

Thinking about Kaiju, Mecha, D6, and Savage Worlds

Has anyone done a kaiju/mecha setting for Open D6 or MiniSix?  Have I written about this before? 

One of the things Savage Worlds does not do well is mecha.  Most mecha have personalities of some sort; the most basic way this works is in each mech being more or less agile, strong, or tough than another but there’s also a component in how they interact with the pilot.  Heck, there isn’t really anything built into SW to do interactive vehicles – by which I mean vehicles that assist their pilots through AI, navigation computers, targeting systems, etc. – at all.  That was, however, part and parcel of space ships in the old WEG Star Wars game so it could easily translate into doing the same for mecha.

Another things Savage Worlds does not do well (for me) is scale.  Since the dice range tops off at d12+x, the Strength and Vigor Attributes for giant monsters wind up getting expressed in terms like d12+24 or d12+36 and other absurd numbers like that.  I can’t explain why that bugs me so much, but it really does; I think it might be simple aesthetics.  The D6 variants, on the other hand, have different scales to allow the same dice range to represent differently-sized objects.  I was looking for an explanation online and found an amusing D6 page that actually references mecha and Voltron, but I remember the Star Wars version of the scaling mechanism being more streamlined and intuitive. 

…Actually, the version of D6 scaling I linked to above could work pretty easily with Savage Worlds.  Stealing the Star Wars D6 ship interaction stuff would be pretty easy too.  In fact, I think that while I’ve been writing this I’ve figured out ways to overcome most of my complaints and actually do mecha and kaiju for Savage Worlds.  Just scale it all up; map inches turn into measurements of yards or meters or something, add and subtract the scale modifiers to Powers like Blast and Bolt, allow mech pilots to use their own Combat Edges (the pilots in “Pacific Rim” and most modern Gundams are all awesome martial artists as well as ace pilots), etc.  Remind me to get back to this after I finish By Light, By Night.

Also, remind me to include kaiju disciples/masters/riders/trainers/whatever.  As a fan of giant monsters first and giant robots second, it really, really annoys me that “Pacific Rim” does not end with the heroes supplementing their giant robot squad with tamed kaiju.  I know you watch the ‘90s Gamera movies, del Toro!  That was a giant missed opportunity! 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

I have not utterly abandoned the way of the swashbuckler

So I'm visiting Greyhawk Grognard because Joe Block is always interesting even though he writes about a game I don't really want to play anymore from a sociopolitical perspective I disagree with and I see Blue Boxer Rebellion in his blogroll with the title "[Free Map] Swashbuckler's Delight."  I don't use maps anymore, but I was curious about the title.  I took a look and --

I really, really, really want to run a fight scene there NOW.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pacific Rim - I am not trying to be contrary

I liked "Pacific Rim" and I urge everyone to rush out and rescue its opening weekend box office...

But...

I watched the goofy late original series Godzilla movies as a kid. I saw "Battle of the Planets" and "Voltron" in their original syndicated runs. I know where del Toro is coming from...

But...

I've also seen "Neon Genesis Evangelion" and "Dai Guard." I've seen the awesome '90s Gamera series -- the "Watchmen" of kaiju films -- and the much better cartoon based on the crappy American "Godzilla." Heck, I own the original, death-packed "Gatchaman."

So...

"Pacific Rim" is fun. It looks great. The fight scenes are awesome, the music by Ramin Djawadi is great, and the performances are all above par (except maybe for that guy from "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" who has no inside voice). You should really see it on the big screen because it is BIG.

But...

I was hoping for something more human, something...

Smaller...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

By Light, By Night Part 3

The Changeling Way (cont.)

Making more changelings

Depending on what kind of mature themes you want to handle in your By Light, By Night campaign, you may find yourself confronting the problem of changeling reproduction.  Changeling fae are not infertile, but most changeling infants are stillborn and most of those that survive are merely human (humans imbued with excellent luck and maybe a little magic, but humans nonetheless).  A very small percentage of children born to changeling parents are also fae… but the only way to know a child is fae is to wait for that inevitable, terrible, glorious night when the child is stolen from its crib while the parents sleep.  No changeling in living memory has been raised by her birth parents and no changeling child who has scoured the Earth to find her birth parents has yet succeeded.

Because all fae are outsiders and orphans, they naturally make new families for themselves by gathering with other changelings.  Adult fae seek out newly-bloomed youngsters and “adopt” them into locally-organized families or clans.  Adults usually try to adopt children of the same fae type – alfar adopt alfar, brownies adopt brownies, cluricans adopt cluricans – but this isn’t always possible.  Whether these homogeneous clans then try to gather into larger heterogeneous collectives depends on whether the fae belong to the Light or the Night.

The Light and the Night

There are two main factions of fae: the Court of Light and the Parliament of Night, also known in human folklore as the Seelie and Unseelie.  To describe them as “good” and “evil” is too simplistic; Light fae can wreak terrible revenge on those who have offended them, while Night fae can be very protective of those who have helped them.  One could describe them as opposed forces of law and chaos, but even that overstates the differences between the factions.  The best way to describe them might be to compare them to two popular science fiction shows with opposing viewpoints: “Star Trek” and “Firefly.”

The Court of Light tries to conduct itself a lot like “Star Trek’s” United Federation of Planets.  They prefer to settle disputes through arbitration, they believe in the validity of all cultures while also adopting a protective central government, and they value discovery in all its’ forms: art, introspection, magic.  They regard the Parliament of Night much the same way the Federation regards the Maquis – as potentially dangerous and atavistic troublemakers who have rejected enlightenment.

The Parliament of Night is a lot more like the crew of the Serenity: a disparate group of outlaws and troublemakers banded together to enjoy a life free from the control of a monolithic government.  They value individual initiative, personal codes of honor, and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.  They regard the Court of Light with the same distrust and skepticism that Mal Reynolds has for the Alliance. 

Neither faction is completely right nor completely wrong.  Both sides have their heroes and both sides have their villains; keep in mind that the same criminal counterculture that embraced brave and independent Zoe also embraced the sadistic kingpin Niska while the same Federation that created compassionate and self-sacrificing Ben Sisko also created the manipulative and genocidal Section 31. The Court of Light is home to gracious fairies and playful pixies, but is also home to the haughty daoine sídhe and dour dwarfs.  The Parliament of Night has helpful brownies and puckish pookas, but also bullying goblins and terrifying trolls.  Both the Light and the Night see themselves as heroes.

Keep that dichotomy in mind when you tell your stories.  It’s all right to pick a side and tell the stories that skew toward your preferred faction, but treating this as a fight between boring old good and evil is dull.  FATE and FATE Accelerated Edition are games about drama.  True drama comes from the conflict of people who all believe they’re doing the right thing.

(continued)

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. Aft...