Tuesday, October 30, 2012

More on Wil Wheaton, Savage Worlds, and a Busy Weekend

My wife, Robin, is more than I deserve.  We’d already promised the rest of the Texas wine blogosphere to meet up at the Fredericksburg Food and Wine Fest on Saturday the 27th, so when I suddenly discovered that the Austin Comic Con/Wizard World Austin was the same weekend – and that the cast of “Star Trek: the Next Generation” was attending -- I figured there was no chance we were going (and I was sad).  But since Vitis Poema is doing so well because of the connections she’s made in the Texas wine industry, Robin decided I needed to meet Wil Wheaton to get the moral support to get back on track with Regency/Gothic and Wine and Savages.

In case you’ve never visited his blog or watched Geek & Sundry, Wil Wheaton is an amazingly gracious individual.  He took several minutes to chat with each fan who came through his autograph line and really made everyone feel special (especially awesome since he’d gotten food poisoning the day before and was sick all night).  Meeting him was easily the highlight of the day.

Riffing off my earlier Wheaton/Savage Worlds post, we brought our copy of Savage Worlds Deluxe for him to sign.  Wheaton took a few moments to talk to us about the system: he loves how a night with friends can go from “Have you ever heard of Savage Worlds” to fighting Nazi zombies in half an hour, mentioned how some of his game designer friends get irritated with the way your chances of Acing a roll go down as your attribute dice go up (but he doesn’t mind because it’s just so much fun when you get to roll the dice again), and mentioned really enjoying a setting that I utterly failed to recognize at the time but eight hours later realized was probably Agents of Oblivion (or maybe API).  He laughed when I showed him the popular posts list on this blog (and at the name of the blog itself), and expressed his surprise that Texas made wine.  It was cool.

I also got Jonathan Frakes’ autograph on my DVD on season one of “Gargoyles” -- though I committed another one of those screw-ups that will embarrass me for the rest of my life and had him sign it for me only (dammit, dammit, dammit…).  I’d have loved to get the other “Gargoyles” voice actors who were there (Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Brent Spiner, and LeVar Burton) to sign it too, but autographs were just too expensive to manage that.  Unfortunately, nobody recognized that I was dressed as David Xanatos (probably because I’m neither tan nor fit).
I really needed a fake tan

We also managed to squeeze into the last Star Trek actor panel of the convention: a freeform talk with Burton, Dorn, Frakes, and Spiner.  I’ve read about how the Next Generation cast are incredibly funny and ribald, but reading about those experiences is nothing compared to living it.  When an audience member asked the panel if they wear boxers or briefs, LeVar Burton revealed he always goes commado when he wears jeans – and he really revealed it!     

Fuzzy cellphone picture of the panel
I’m actually more of a fan of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” than any other iterations of the franchise, so I was tickled that Michael Dorn got more questions about that series than “Next Generation.”  I hope whoever organized the big 25th anniversary tour remembers this and gives us a DS9 reunion in another five years (though I imagine it might be hard to get Colm Meaney to stop acting long enough to get him on the tour).  I will save up the money to get into the big panel – and at least get autographs from the Ferengi.

Aside from the Star Trek-related content, the con was… um… meh.  Fan conventions are basically like renaissance fairs – people dress up in funny costumes and vendors try to sell you stuff you don’t need – but without the fresh air and folk bands.  It turns out I miss the fresh air and folk bands.  The legendary Neal Adams was there, but I didn’t feel like harassing him about the insanity of “Batman: Odyssey.”  I couldn’t find anybody selling ‘90s comics, so I wasn’t able to get any Topps Zorro or Lady Rawhide books (and I am not going to pay collector’s prices for Toth Zorro).  There was a bootlegger (I think) selling “Queen of Swords” on DVD, but I’m not going to pay for bootlegs when I can just muddle along on YouTube.  So… um… meh.  Next time I need to attend more panels and talk to more cosplayers (I'm not a cosplayer -- I just already had the Xanatos hair and clothes).

I got some fun pictures, so enjoy the wackiness:

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Adios, Zorro!

“Zorro Rides Again!” # 12, the last issue of Matt Wagner's run writing Zorro comics for Dynamite Entertainment, came out last week.  I didn’t pick it up from Dragon’s Lair until this week because I was dreading both the end of new adventures of one of my all-time favorite characters and a rushed and dissatisfying conclusion.  Unfortunately, I got exactly what I was expecting.

This latest series of Zorro comics began in June 2008 with a loose adaptation of Isabel Allende’s 2005 novel Zorro by Wagner and artist Francesco Francavilla.  While I definitely appreciate Allende’s novel, I feel Wagner’s adaptation is an improvement; it shifts the function of narrator to Bernardo, removes Allende’s lightly mocking tone, and functions better as a first adventure for an ongoing hero.  (It was also a huge success in introducing Francavilla to a wider audience; those unfortunate fans of all things cool who are not familiar with Francavilla’s gritty, retro style should make their way to his blog and official website posthaste.)  The series was off to a very good start.

The series then began an extended reworking of The Curse of Capistrano.  Francavilla had to leave the series due to other commitments, though he continued to provide covers and would return for later issues (including my favorite, issue # 18 -- a “Rashomon”-like issue where people tell stories of different versions of whom they think is Zorro).  Wagner was then tapped by Dynamite to write “The Green Hornet: Year One” to cash in on the Green Hornet’s increased profile leading up to the Seth Rogen movie.  Dynamite’s “Zorro” was placed on hiatus. 

During the hiatus, Dynamite published several “lost issues” of the 1990s Topps Comics Zorro series as “Zorro: Matanzas.”  I, frankly, completely ignored the Topps comics when they originally came out as they seemed kind of silly; Zorro was constantly fighting the near-naked Lady Rawhide or some other costumed weirdo instead of the familiar corrupt officials.  This mini-series showed me that Topps’ writer, Don MacGregor, was actually pretty clever -- if a little bipolar.  In the same story where Diego jokes about people thinking he’s gay and the villain is the one-handed Old California equivalent of a James Bond villain, Don Alejandro is gored to death by a wild bull!  Weird, but now that there’s no Zorro solo comics scheduled for the near future I think I’ll try to track down that Topps series (and the Lady Rawhide tie-ins too).

This odd little interlude seemed to be partial inspiration for Wagner’s approach when he returned to the character.  “Zorro Rides Again” debuted in 2011 with the shocking completion of Wagner’s version of The Curse of Capistrano – the death of Don Alejandro, Zorro’s father at the hands of Enrique Pasquale (Basil Rathbone’s character in the 1940 film)!  Wagner then followed MacGregor’s lead by transforming long-time foe Sgt. Pedro Gonzales (the meaner original of the beloved Sgt. Garcia) into the scarred, crazy El Galgo (the Hound – get it?) and introducing the deadly copycat vigilante Lady Zorro.  The last issue was a three-way duel between them that ended with Zorro saving El Galgo and talking Lady Zorro into giving up her murderous ways.  It seemed really rushed.  

(I almost forgot "The Lone Ranger: The Death of Zorro" -- probably because it's more about the Lone Ranger than Zorro.  I liked it despite the dumbass death Zorro gets, because Ande Parks writes a great Lone Ranger; he even remembered the masked man is a master of disguise.)    
Wagner’s Zorro stories have been one of the few highlights of my waning comics fandom these last few years.  They haven’t been perfect but they’ve satisfied my itch for masked heroes during a time when I have given up on DC and Marvel (and often contemplated giving up comics altogether).  I’m sad to see the series end in such an abrupt fashion.

Thankfully, there's more Zorro comics on the way.  I've already mentioned on this blog the upcoming Dynamite miniseries "Masks" which promises to unite Zorro and his spiritual descendants the Shadow, the Green Hornet, the Black Bat, and others in one big pulp-hero corossover.  Zorro is featured prominently on the covers of the first and second issues so I think he'll be more important to the story than I originally hoped.  January of 2013 sees the publication of Alex Toth's Zorro: The Complete Dell Comics Adventures, a 240-page hardback collecting the work of the creator of Space Ghost and the man many consider the definitive Zorro artist.  I can't wait.

The Good

The Bad
  • Zorro without a moustache just looks weird to me.  I get the idea – “Surely a man who has a moustache in his daily life could not possibly be the clean-shaven mystery man?!” – but it looks weird to me.  The first Zorro film to feature a clean-shaven Zorro was 1972’s “The Erotic Adventures of Zorro.”  Seriously, people; the moustache is less porny!
  • I really don’t get the point of killing off Don Alejandro.  From a functional standpoint, it just seems like it would make it next to impossible for Don Diego to continue as Zorro.  He’d be too busy running the rancho, getting married, raising kids, hosting balls, etc...  Having Don Alejandro around allows Zorro to avoid the responsibilities of life, just like having Lucius Fox run Wayne Enterprises.

The Ugly
  • I appreciate the progressive ideals behind recasting Zorro as a genuine Hispanic – a union of European and Native American blood.  Honestly, I get it; it makes him one of the people and a genuinely American hero.  Unfortunately, the historical fact is that the Mexican (not Spanish) rancho owners were very proud of their pure European, Spanish blood.  If Don Diego’s mother was a Native American, he would have been a pariah and his skin tone would have given away his identity immediately.
  • Batman owes a bigger debt to Zorro than most people think  -- including Allende and Wagner!  I have to admit I didn’t read Johnston McCulley’s original Zorro novel, The Curse of Capistrano AKA The Mark of Zorro, until last year.  In most versions of the Zorro story, the cocky young Diego (de la) Vega returns from Spain to find corruption and oppression in his native land and is inspired on the spot to cook up his famous alter-ego.  Allende’s novel and Wagner’s adaptation are essentially extended justifications for Diego’s seemingly sudden transformation.  Guess what?  In McCulley’s original story, Diego witnesses the oppression around him when he is fifteen and spends the next ten years secretly training to become Zorro!  There was no “secret origin” needed in the first place – except maybe for when a fox flew through his window.
    "It began ten years ago, when I was but a lad of fifteen," he said. "I heard tales of persecution. I saw my friends, the frailes, annoyed and robbed. I saw soldiers beat an old native who was my friend. And then I determined to play this game.
    "It would be a difficult game to play, I knew. So I pretended to have small interest in life, so that men never would connect my name with that of the highwayman I expected to become. In secret, I practiced horsemanship and learned how to handle a blade "
    from The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley


    Sergeant Pedro Gonzales for Pirates of the Spanish Main RPG
    Gonzales sprawled closer to the fire and cared not that other men thus were robbed of some of its warmth.  Sergeant Pedro Gonzales often had expressed his belief that a man should look out for his own comfort before considering others; and being of great size and strength, and having much skill with the blade, he
    found few who had the courage to declare that they believed otherwise.
    from The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley 

    Pedro Gonzales is a bully.  He is loud and crass and throws around his considerable weight -- and yet he somehow counts the effete Don Diego Vega as a friend.  Certainly there are worse representatives of authority in the Pueblo de Los Angeles -- he is not as corrupt as Captain Ramon or the alcalde -- but the average peon is best off not crossing Pedro the Boaster.

    Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d10, Vigor d10
    Skills: Fighting d10, Guts d8, Intimidation d8, Notice d6, Riding d8, Shooting d8, Stealth d6
    Charisma: -2  Pace:Parry:Toughness: 8
    Fame: -10
    Hindrances: Arrogant, Loyal, Mean
    Edges: Block, Brawny, Combat Reflexes, Command
    Booty: Loot
    Gear: Lance (Str+d8, AP 2 when charging, Reach 2, onlu usable in mounted combat), musket (Range: 10/20/40, Damage 2d8), rapier (Str+d4, +1 Parry), shot and powder (20) 
    Quote: "Meal mush and goat's milk!" (favorite curse)
    Douglas Fairbanks as Diego Vega and Noah Beery as Sgt. Gonzales in "The Mark of Zorro" (1920)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Coincidence? I think not!

So I complained on the blog yesterday about not getting _Elminster's Forgotten Realms_ and today we suddenly received notice it shipped.

In defiance of any logic or proof, I choose to believe this means somebody at Amazon likes my blog and made a special effort to get me my danged book. Thank you, unknown fan!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Miscellania 10/16/2012

  • It's my birthday!
  • I've been anxiously awaiting the arrival of Ed Greenwood Presents: Elminster's Forgotten Realms... but there's been some error at Amazon and it hasn't shown up. Crap. My comics & gaming shop got it two weeks early, but I'd rather save the money. I plan on doing a very thorough review once it does arrive.
  • I've also been anxiously awaiting the possible recovery of my family copies of Time-Life Books' The Old West series -- in particular The Spanish West. I wonder why?
  • The winner of the poll -- by a margin of all three votes cast -- is "Bandits of El Camino Real." I'm pleased with this choice. Robin favored "highwaymen" and I favored "Old California," so this is a good compromise. (As a side note, Johnston McCulley used "highwayman" throughout The Curse of Capistrano, but I always see Dennis Moore whenever I see that word.)
  • I'm still having fun with D&D Next. (I don't know what's wrong with the rest of the blogosphere.) We've moved the game to Waterdeep to open up role-playing opportunities and give me a chance to finally use my The Ruins of Undermountain set I bought back in 1991. Seriously, this is the first time in 21 years I've really used it -- and the first time I've actually run a megadungeon, for that matter.
  • Seriously, Disney, why haven't you released an album of the "Zorro" music? iTunes has the score for the weird-ass Alain Delon film and the '90s Family Channel series! Why can't we get the good soundtrack?!
Things I need to work on:
  • There are four hosts of angels in the Regency/Gothic universe: the host of heaven, the host of Hell (demons and devils), the Watchers (who became the pagan gods), and the fairies. There hasn't been much development of fairies in Savage Worlds, so I need to work them up.
  • I'm still dissatisfied with how powerful Persuasion is in a setting revolving around social interaction. I'm thinking of combining in Dramatic Tasks. How many successes do you need to persuade a hostile target to do something against his best interest?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Regency/Gothic: Lord Byron

Lord Byron by Thomas Philipps
By request, I present the most infamous man in the Regency era -- George Gordon Byron, Lord Byron.

Byron was a complex person who remains difficult to interpret even centuries later.  Byron's father, John "Mad Jack" Byron, was a dissolute adventurer; the great-uncle from whom he inherited his baronetcy, William "the Wicked Lord" Byron, was an infamous duelist and madman.  This legacy of darkness and a childhood filled with abuse inculcated in Byron a belief in his own inherent evil -- and prompted him to a self-fulfilling prophecy of a life of sin.

During the Regency proper (1810 - 1820), Byron rises from obscurity to popular acclaim and then falls again into infamy.  He is in the Mediterranean until 1811 and may be encountered in Albania, Constantinople, Greece, Portugal, or Spain.  His time in England is brief; he rockets to fame on the basis of "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" in 1812, gets into his disastrous affair with Lady Caroline Lamb, probably commits incest with his half-sister Augusta Leigh in 1813, enters his unfortunate marriage to Annabella Milbanke in 1815, and separates from his wife in 1816.  1816 is the "Year Without a Summer" and during that time he meets Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley; this meeting is chronicled in the films "Gothic," "Haunted Summer," and "Rowing With the Wind."  He moves on to Italy later in that year and for the rest of the decade may be encountered in Ravenna, Rome, and especially Venice. 

Lord Byron by Richard Westall

Lord Byron
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d8.
Skills: Boating d6, Fighting d6, Gambling d4, Intimidation d8, Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Riding d6, Shooting d4, Streetwise d6, Swimming d10, Taunt d10.
Charisma: +6*  Pace: 4  Parry: 5  Sanity: 4  Toughness:6
Hindrances: Angst (Savage Worlds Horror Companion), Death Wish, Lame, Loyal, Poverty, Touched (Major, Savage Worlds Horror Companion).*
Edges: Attractive, Beast Master, Berserk,** Brave, Brawler, Charismatic, Noble, Strong Willed.
Special Abilities:
  • Poet: Byron may add his Charisma modifier to Common Knowledge rolls to compose poetry.
* After his exile, Byron gains the Outsider Hindrance but loses the Poverty Hindrance as he finally manages to rid himself of certain debts.  His Charisma is reduced to +4.  He will eventually move on to Greece to help in its battle for independence -- during which he gains Knowledge (Battle) d6 -- but that is outside the Regency proper.
* Byron's Berserk Edge also applies to social wounds; if afflicted with Anguish -- even if the result is only Shaken -- Byron must make a Smarts roll or go off on a vindictive tirade.  While berserk, Byron loses his +2 bonus to resist Tests of Will from Strong Willed but gains a +2 bonus to Vigor to resist Fatigue.

Throughout his life, Byron kept a menagerie of animals.  During the Regency period, this included "a fox, four monkeys, a parrot, five cats, an eagle, a crow, a crocodile, a falcon, five peacocks, two guinea hens, an Egyptian crane, a badger, three geese, a heron and a goat with a broken leg."  His most famous pet, however, was a Newfoundland dog named Boastwain for whom the poem "Epitaph to a Dog" was written; while Boatswain died of rabies in 1808, a GM may want to fudge history a bit and use the animal as Byron's Beast Master Edge "loyal animal" in her campaign. 
Smoky from Wikimedia Commons

Boatswain (Newfoundland Dog)

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6 (A), Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Fighting d6, Notice d10, Swimming d6
Pace: 8  Parry: 5  Toughness: 6
Special Abilities:
  • Bite: Str+d4
  • Brawny: As the Edge of the same name; Newfoundlands are exceptionally strong, as befits their roll as water rescue dogs.  Newfoundlands also weigh 130-150 pounds and so do not have the -1 to Size of typical dogs.
  • Fleet-Footed: Roll a d10 when running instead of a d6.
  • Go for the Throat: Dogs instinctively go for an opponent's soft spots.  With a raise on its attack roll, it hits the target's most weakly armored location.
  • Loyal: As the Edge of the same name. 

Poll: Something of the Something Something

Time for another poll! 

A completely useless, utterly pointless poll...

This whole Regency/Gothic thing is hard.  (Oddly, the part I have the hardest time with is the Gothic bit; I am far more enthusiastic about Regency Romance than Gothic.)  So, from time to time, I think I should do something less ambitious as Wine and Savages' first publication -- something I have a great deal of empathy with, something that doesn't require too much historical research, something more fun...

Something Zorro-ish...

You will find to the right a poll with a list of titles.  I decided that calling the supplement "The Curse of Capistrano" would be a bit too daring.  Technically, Johnston McCulley's original 1919 novel and the 1920 film based on it that defined Zorro's appearance are out of copyright stateside, but apparently the trademark holders like to try to throw their weight around.  What's your favorite alternate title?  Let's face it, I'm probably never going to get it written -- but if I did, what would you like as the title?

(Other pointless titles that have popped into my head recently: "Reavers of the Scottish Border," "Highwaymen of Merrie England," and "Pioneers of the American Frontier.")

Monday, October 1, 2012

Miscellania 10/1/2012

Miscellaneous thoughts and links...

  • Oops, I totally forgot there are grimoire rules in the Savage Worlds Horror Companion.  I like mine better.  
  • I've been meaning to link to this for over a month, but I keep forgetting.  Really Bad Eggs had a great observation about hit points in Dungeons & Dragons that informed some of my observations about D&D Next.  I'd say that the slow pace of hit point recovery and the decision to give clerics healing magic with names like "Cure Light Wounds" also had a bad influence on the conception of hit points as physical wounds rather than an abstract reckoning of fatigue, luck, etc.  In my D&D Next game, I'm going to have to try to break this mold by describing hit point loss in terms of parries, fumbles, slips, trips, grazes, near-misses, and the like.  I should put together a list of stock descriptions...
  • Dreams in the Lich House has been laying out ideas for a Japanese-style setting with Arthurian themes.  I've been avidly following because a similar premise occurred to me once.  I was going to write a young adult novel about a pseudo-Japan where the Mongol invasion was successful (like the Anglo-Saxons in Britain) and the Japanese people rallied around a young woman claiming to be the lost imperial princess -- only (since I'm an American and I don't believe in divine right) she was actually just a smart, resourceful peasant.  Plus there would be kaiju.
  • Welcome to the blogosphere, Sean Patrick Fannon!  There can never be too many Seans writing about Savage Worlds.  (Sorry I haven't downloaded the Shaintar playtest; you know my feelings about Edge bloat.)  
  • The Savage Mojo website is back!  Ooh, pretty...
  • I use music when role-playing.  Like anyone with a lick of sense, I use film soundtracks and orchestral pieces.  I recently discovered the works of Joaquin Rodrigo, so now I finally have the perfect soundtrack for a Zorro game (all the available Zorro soundtracks stink).

Wine and Savages Team Now Co-Lead Developers for Savage Rifts®

While most interested parties already know this, Robin English-Bircher and I have combined forces with Sean Roberson as Lead Developers...