Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Freakshow: British Zombie Haunts Sewers

From the Daily Mail, a UK news service...

"Ghostbuster called in after sewage workers stalked by 'zombie' in underground tunnels"

An exerpt:

It sounds like something out of a Hollywood blockbuster.

But staff at a sewage works have called in a ghostbuster because they are being stalked by a zombie-like figure who roams the underground tunnels.

Workers at Southern Water's treatment plant in Eastbourne, East Sussex, said they have been scared to enter tunnels after being followed about by a "humanoid figure" as they went about their jobs.

Mark Wey, a sewage treatment worker, got permission from his bosses to hire a paranormal investigator to launch an investigation into the sewage spirits.

Mr Wey hired parapsychologist Michael Kingscote who paid the tunnels a visit.

The clairvoyant said: "There seems to be one particular area that's giving people the creeps. People have seen and felt things."

This is just too much fun...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

American Nerd Excerpt Article

Just passing this on to anyone who's interested. I don't think I'll pick up the book, but some people might find this interesting, so I'll pass along this article containing a small excerpt from the book. There's some talk about gaming here, but most of it has to do with the Society for Creative Anachronism.

Here's a direct link to the Nerd World Blog. I might have to check this out more regularly...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Player *as* PC vs. Player *is* PC

This will be a little (?) dialog about two similar types of relatively unusual campaign constructs that I've seen crop up now and then, but aren't really suitable for long-term play and certainly aren't suitable for every gaming group. These constructs are the "Player as PC" campaign, and the "Player is PC" campaign. They are closely related, but there are some subtle (yet important) differences in how this is handled.

First, a couple of definitions. The "Player as PC" campaign has the Player imagine himself as having become the PC, but the PC is aware that they were the Player - in essence, the Player has possessed the PC. There are two examples of this sort of campaign that come to mind. The first, and most textbook example (because it might have created the idea) is Joel Rosenberg's Guardians of the Flame series. Now, I've only read the first book, and I hate spoilers, so I'll just lay out the basics that anyone picking up the book and reading the back copy can figure out: a group of college gamers is sent to the world of their fantasy campaign by their GM in order to do something for him. The players suddenly find themselves in the bodies of their PCs, with their strengths and weaknesses, fighting and spell abilities, the whole deal. Even the personalities of their PCs begins to war with the personalities of the players, so there's a lot of interesting interpersonal as well as personal conflict going on (this book actually turned out to be much more serious and interesting than i thought it was going to be, go figure).

The other really good example of this is, believe it or not, The Matrix. I'll just focus on the first movie, not the follow-ups. If you consider the separation of selves which is "Neo" and Thomas Anderson, in a way Tomas Anderson is the Player, and Neo is the PC. Thomas Anderson can't dodge bullets or bend a steel bar, but Neo can. In this way, the "real world" is the world around the gaming table, while the "Matrix world" is the campaign. In The Matrix the players have the ability to move into and out of the game world and become their in-Matrix personae, but that isn't actually who they are - it's their "digital self" as Morpheus calls it. The differernce between the PCs and the other people in the Matrix world is that, like the Player as PC campaign, the PCs know that they are in a "game" of sorts (the Matrix), and again as Morpheus says, there are rules that can be bent, and apparently, even broken.

The second campaign variation I'd like to look at is the "Player is PC" campaign construct. Here, the idea is that the Players (around the table) "play" themselves. However you want to set up the campaign (either the Players supposedly go through a portal to some other world, or the campaign setting is the "real world"), the "PC" is the player - just as smart, just as strong, just as good with a gun or just as able to climb a wall. Probably the best example of this, that I can think of, is actually the Dungeons & Dragons Cartoon. Yes, the kids were labeled "Cavalier" and "Acrobat" and such, but that had no bearing on their actual abilities - all their extraordinary abilities were due to their magic items.

Another good example of this is the "Earth Man on Mars" type campaign - think ERB's Barsoom series, or Moorcock's Kane of Old Mars, or Zanthar of the Many Worlds, or even Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon. Any story where a "normal" person (we can debate whether John Carter or Kane or Flash Gordon count as "normal people, but...) is transported unchanged to a "fantasy world" (however you define that). Of course, to keep them from getting killed off in the first five minutes of First Contact, these characters are usually tough, fit, individuals with some ability to defend themselves, but certainly not combat monsters (at least, not at first...).

So where does this leave us? Would this be a cool idea, or a disaster? I've a couple of stories to relate in that regard. One GM I know, back in the early 90's, decided to run a D&D campaign where the Players would be "transported" to a fantasy world. He even asked them to bring props (prop swords, costumes, tankards, etc..) to the games to help enhance the idea that the Players were "really there" (I have mixed views on this, but whatever). He got a good sized group of players, and at first, the game went really well.

Note I said, "at first".

I wasn't there, so I can't directly comment on how it all fell apart, but I've talked to the DM and several of the players who were there. Apparently personality conflicts began to arise, and since the game was essentially "in-game" all the time, people began to take things personally...a little TOO personally. It really fell apart when one girl "poisoned" her boyfriend over something, and two other players got so angry at each other over some issue or another that they almost came to blows over the issue. Apparently one PC screwing over another PC is one thing, but when the Players ARE the PCs, I imagine you can't help but take it personally.

A number of years later, the same DM tried to do the same sort of game while running Mage: the Ascension. There might of been one or two people from the old game involved, but it was largely new blood, and from what I heard, those who might have been in the old game had learned their lesson and weren't the troublemakers - this time around, right from the beginning, certain players began to actively pit factions against other factions, and the game died out VERY quickly, most of the conflicts being orchestrated via e-mail (ah, e-mail...).

(I just thought of another good movie example of this, albeit working in the opposite direction - Last Action Hero. There, you have the PC coming in to the world of the Players, and experiencing the differences between the Movie world and the Real world. Food for thought...)

So, I'm very curious to hear other people's opinions on these sorts of campaign concepts. I think under the right conditions, with the right people, it can work and provide everyone with a really amazing play experience. Player as PC I find fascinating because the PCs know that they are in a "game world" with rules and information that they know as "meta-game" material, and it gives the Players the opportunity to openly "meta-game" to their benefit as part of the game play - guilt free cheating, so to speak. There is still the danger of the Players taking things too personally, and character death takes on a whole new meaning - you can't really just "roll up a new PC", when that PC is supposed to be you.

These issues get ratcheted up another couple of notches when the PCs are supposed to be the actual Players - at which point you don't even have the thin veneer of distance that Player as PC play gives you. It is also a very "warts and all" situation - if you're a short, fat, ugly, nearsighted klutz in real life, you're a short, fat, ugly, nearsighted klutz in the game - you don't even have the ability score dice to blame for a sub-par series of ability score rolls - it's just you. Also, the question arises - just how smart are you? Just how fast? Does the fact that you took fencing in college for a year really count as a weapon proficiency slot, or are you just fooling yourself? What sort of skill rating does your yellow belt in Karate give you? The game might fall apart under the weight of hurt feelings during character creation before the first session even starts, as not too many people really want their shortcomings to be laid out in front of them in cold, harsh numeric values.

Definitely a long post - time for the commentary to begin. Have any of you out there played in campaigns like these, or want to play in campaigns like these? If you have, did it go well, or did it fall apart? Inquiring mind(s) want to know!

Monday, June 16, 2008

The real meaning of "Old School"

Back when you really could get your throat cut when you rolled a natural "1"...

A Roman Glass Gaming D20 For Sale

This is just too cool. Pity the price is a little steep at $18K, but maybe thousands of years of karma built up into it can come in handy for all those times you really need a bit of luck on your side before you throw the dice. Hrm, maybe that Cup of Janus can be put to good use in "priming the die", as so many gamers do before an important throw? A little Roman magic never hurt anyone, just ask Simon Magus...

Freaky Finnish Monsters of Rock

If there's one thing the Peoples of the North know how to do, it's rocking out. If you're a fan of hard rock or metal, chances are you've got at least one album by a Scandinavian band. I am myself a huge fan of Swedish Viking Metal gods Amon Amarth (I'll save them for another column), as well as the bizarre musical mish-mashings of Finntroll, but today I'm going to point out some music videos from those awesome costumed freaks from Finland, Lordi.

These guys came onto the scene in 1996, but hardly anyone outside of northern Europe had really heard of them until they became Finland's representative to the 2006 Eurovision music contest. They won the contest handily (Finland's first Eurovision win, to boot), and suddenly these monstrous-looking rockers were an international mega-hit. Below, I've linked up some of their music videos for your enjoyment. Not only do these people have talent, but they also have fun making their music and making some really cool music videos. These guys know their audience, that's for sure...

Hard Rock Halellujah was the song that won them their Eurovision award, and while it's not my favorite, you have to admit, the video is pretty badass. Can you say sweet zombie cheerleader revenge?

This is one of my favorite Lordi songs, and also one of my favorite videos. Creepy and cool, maybe a little "sappy" with the love-stuff, but lets face it, who doesn't love the monsters in the movies juuuuust a little bit more than the people they're going after?

If you can't see the resemblance to the works of a certain director who made it big making campy but creepy horror movies (and has since gone on to make somewhat bigger films), please slap yourself in the This video is just awesome - perhaps my favorite Lordi video, period.

I like to call this the "death to posers" video. You want a scary Halloween party, biatches? Lordi will give it to you in spades...

I'll wrap this selection up with a disturbingly saucy and sexy (???) video. Twisted and hilarious and disturbing all that the same time.

Heaven forbid I make a gaming reference here, but Lordi is just the sort of band that I could see twenty (maybe twenty-five?) years ago inspiring all sorts of bizarre whacked-out gaming madness. I've never heard Kyuss, but I can see Lordi creating that kind of attention if they had been around back in the day.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Best Anti-Zombie Weapon?

Last week a friend of mine and I were talking about what hand weapon would best serve as an anti-zombie weapon. All sorts of implements were discussed, from metal nunchucks to hammers to polearms to katanas. In the end, the weapon that I settled on as my personal pick was the high middle-ages poll-axe. Here's a half-decent picture of a design that would suit me just fine:

You've got an ax blade for the chopping, a nice heavy crushing hammer head for skull-smashing, and you've got a point for what I consider a woefully-underconsidered design perk in an anti-zombie weapon - the ability to catch the zombie on the top spike and keep it at bay, unable to pull itself down the haft of the weapon, but the spike is easily withdrawn and won't get stuck in the thing's innards. This way, working in concert with others, you can hold a zombie at a safe distance (probably just out of reach if you're fighting with a five-foot poll-axe), while your buddy with the gun or another poll-axe can finish off your "catch".

Also, this weapon isn't going to be overly heavy - enough to get the job done, but if two-handed and not that lengthy, it won't tire you out too much, and you can always choke up on it to get a faster, less tiring swing if you need to. You'll be able to use it against zombies in relatively close quarters, since the majority of it's length will get used up in getting plenty of torque out of a relatively short swing (heck, it'd probably be more useful than a baseball bat or tire iron in any situation where you can swing at all, since all you need is perhaps a foot or two of swing-arc to crack a skull with this puppy).

Other benefits? Well, it'd double as a walking staff, always handy in a post-apocalyptic zombie-infested world. It's also long enough so that you can use it to poke or prod corpses in order to make sure they aren't zombies waiting to spring at you when you're close up. Likewise you can use it to tap at windows, open doors, etc., without getting yourself in a position where you could be grabbed and dragged into biting range before being able to react (how many times have we seen that in zombie movies?).

Now, I'm sure there are better weapons in certain situations, but if I was to have one primary anti-zombie weapon, a nice, solid, five-foot poll-axe would be my arm of choice, perhaps with a 24" machete and a Glock 17 on either side of my belt to boot.

Then I just need a motorcycle and a kickass heavy metal theme song, and I'm good to go...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Just begging to be used in game...

This article off of is just asking to be used in some sort of occult/weirdness/modern fantasy campaign. To quote part of the article (in case the link breaks):

"The five-and-a-half-inch gold cup -- which experts have dated as being possibly from the third or fourth century B.C. -- fetched $100,000 at an auction in Dorchester, southern England, Thursday.

The identify of the successful bidder wasn't immediately known.

The relic features the double faced ancient Roman god Janus, the god of gates and doors who always looked to both the future and past and is often associated with beginnings and endings. The cup has two faces with braided hair and entwined snake ornaments at the forehead.

Webber's grandfather, William Sparks, was a rag and bone man, the British term for a junk dealer, Duke's said, who established the iron merchants Sparks and Son in Taunton, Somerset, in southwestern England, in the 1930s.

Sparks acquired the cup along with two other pieces, also up for auction, some time in the 1930s or 1940s, the spokeswoman said.

Before he died, Sparks gave the items to Webber, who didn't realize their value, the spokeswoman said."

How cool is that? Hmmm, a cup featuring Janus...gates and doors...both future and the past...are you seeing what I'm seeing here? Perhaps all we need is some sort of ritual, perhaps an alchemical potion or mystical herbal extract to be imbibed. This sort of stuff is pure, 180-proof adventure fodder!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Ultimate Fighter?

I've recently acquired a new laptop, and with all such purchases, the first thing you do is start buying up the computer games that you've missed out on over the last few years that your old computer couldn't run. One of these for me was the Neverwinter Nights games, and I've been playing the first one for the last week or so. Found myself running a multiclassed Rogue/Fighter (allowing me to spot and disarm my own traps and open locks on my own, as well as some sneaking and persuading). I found myself kitted out legionary-style, with a chain shirt & helmet, large shield, and a short sword. It was a rather unusual combination, but it seems to work for my dude, since lighter armor allows him to use his full Dex bonus to the armor class, and the remainder is covered by the large shield. The short sword is magical, I have a weapon focus in it, and being a light weapon I can use finesse to allow my Dex bonus to replace my Str bonus for the attack roll. I don't hit especially hard, but I hit often and I am pretty untouchable (with magical bonuses and some rings/amulets I have an AC of 24, 25 against whoever is my current opponent).

Anyhow, I digress. All of this got me thinking of what I consider my archetypal "perfect warrior" would be. By this I mean, when I think "Fighter", what picture springs instantly to mind? For some, this might be a burly barbarian-type with a massive axe and such, for others this might be a rapier-wielding swashbuckler, or a splendid knight in plate, wielding a greatsword and lance. I suppose it's something of a test of one's favorite time period / culture, as well as one's favored armor/weapons combo.

When I think "Ultimate Fighter" (and I'm not talking about UFC here...), I think of someone like Uhtred from Bernard Cornwell's Saxon stories, your classic Viking warrior archetype - a long sword, coat of mail, round shield, light helm, and some sort of backup weapon like a long dirk. A classic, centuries-spanning look that says classic medieval warrior. Were I to sit down for a game of D&D and was told to work up a fighter without any real understanding of the time period or culture, this is the sort of headstomper I'd put together.

And with that, I'm putting it out there - what what comes to mind when you think "Fighter"? I'm not talking mechanics or system, I'm just talking about what the character would look like and what he'd be equipped with.