Thursday, December 01, 2016

A Personal Thank You to the CW.



Labels are bad. All of my life I have resisted the tendency prevalent in our society to judge or define a person by race, gender, sexual preference, weight, or other such narrow criteria. Maybe it's because I am, "that crippled man." Oh, no one calls me this aloud. But, this judgment does exist. It is assumed (and often rightly so) that I am unable to do certain things. But, right or wrong, prejudging my capabilities based on the label that society has given me robs me of my power.

Growing up, I loved reading comic books. I still do. The thing about comics is that often the heroes in the stories lead double lives. There is a juxtaposition between the seemingly helpless secret identity and the ultra-powerful hero identity. People judge each side based on appearance: one is seen as incapable and the other is seen as infallible. But these two sides are the same person. The lesson here is that appearances are deceiving. There is more to a person than what you can see.

Comics showed us that the book worm who was bullied in gym class was also the hero praised on the evening news. Comics showed us aliens from other worlds who just wanted to fit in and get the attention of the cute person next to them, even as we were feeling alien in our own skins and suffering from the same personal crisis.

Comics, at least the ones that I read as a kid, had so much to teach us about transcending the labels placed on us by society and living together (all together) as heroes. And it's how I have tried to live my life. And it's a message that I think is especially important to remember today, as I think about our broken world.

Of course, kids don't read comics so much anymore. It's all video games now, and I don't get that video games are shaping children the same way that comics did for me. In fact, from what I have heard and seen in video game chat communities, the opposite is happening. I miss the comics. Our world needs these positive heroic ideas.

Thankfully, these stories aren't gone. If someone had told the kid that I was reading comic books back in 1977 that he would be watching his favorite superhero stories on the television screen four nights a week, I am certain that he would not have been able to believe it. But, it's really happening. The stories on the CW television line-up are the comics of my youth. They carry the same positive messages of right and wrong and heroism, of inclusion and acceptance, of ignoring labels and judging on merit.

Right now Supergirl is sharing the most intelligent, engaging, heartwarming, and non-judgemental, treatment of a homosexual relationship that I have ever seen on television. It's this very real story line that makes Supergirl my most anticipated show each week. Sure, I am a comic book nerd and the fantastic spectacle of super heroes, powers, and villains reaches that boy inside, but it's the other stuff that reaches the man.

I am watching this show with my daughter. She gets it. She understands that people aren't to be judged by any preconceived notion or measure. That people are to be experienced, and their value gauged solely on the breadth of that experience. I am proud of her for that. And, I am proud of and thankful to the CW for giving us these amazingly thoughtful and important stories. Especially now when our world needs them the most.

Regards,


Jeff

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Tiny Epic Quest



I have invested in a lot of board game Kickstarters and people have asked me what this is all about, so I thought it might be cool to take a moment to explain.

Kickstarter is a funding source for entrepreneurs. Board game designers have grabbed onto this source to see their dreams made into reality, but almost any product or idea that you can imagine can have its start on Kickstarter.

It works like this: people see a cool idea for some new product and they "purchase" the product in advance. But, this isn't a "pre-order;" this is an investment. This product hasn't been produced yet. In fact there is no guarantee that it ever will be.

Ideally, if the funding goal of the campaign is met, you are then billed for the amount of your pledge, and the production of the product that you have invested in can begin. Expect to wait upwards of a year, sometimes more for your investment to pay off.

If the funding goal isn't met, the campaign is put to bed, and your credit card isn't charged. But, what if the campaign is successfully funded, and you are charged, but something goes wrong?

I pledged for something called "pencil dice." They are pencils that you can roll across the table to get a random number, because they also work like dice. It seemed like a cool idea for a novelty product, and it was a minor investment. Unfortunately, as it turns out, the designer didn't do his homework, and the poor guy is getting sued for infringing on another designer's idea.

Oops.

I don't think that the Pencil Dice designer meant to do anything wrong, but he used the campaign money to make a product, and now he is being sued. He isn't in a position to repay the money. It's gone. He is being stopped legally from distributing the product, and backers are angry. I believe I read somewhere that the poor man is even getting death threats (over pencils.)

Don't be like that.

If you invest in a Kickstarter you must be prepared (as with any investment) to lose your money. I do not expect to ever receive my "Pencil Dice" pencils. However, what I describe is the exception, not the rule.

The other side of this coin is: product quality. What if you invest in something and the final product just isn't as good as you thought that it would be? That's a much more common problem, especially with board games. I have invested in more than a few games that I thought would be awesome, but turned out to be nothing of the sort. A few that were just plain bad. Fortunately, I have gotten much better at making wise investments.

Take "Tiny Epic Quest" for example. Tiny Epic Quest is the fifth game in the "Tiny Epic" line of games by Scott Almes. The first, "Tiny Epic Kingdoms" was pretty good, but not great, I don't own it anymore. However, each game has been better than the last, and Scott Almes has proven himself to be an accomplished and innovative game designer. The third game in the Tiny Epic line: Tiny Epic Galaxies is fantastic and has a permanent home on my game shelf. Tiny Epic Quest looks to be better still!!

I am not the only one who has noticed. Upon its launch, the Tiny Epic Quest Kickstarter made nearly $250,000 of its $15,000 goal! (That was on its first day!)



I am one of the investors.

Why?

(1) A proven game designer with a strong history of delivering on backer investments.

(2) A track record of great games that just keep getting better.

(3) A fantastic game design that creates the impression that it might feel like: "The Legend of Zelda: the Board Game!"

(4) A low price point that most anyone can afford!

To my friends who are curious about this whole Kickstarter thing, who have been considering making an investment, but have been concerned about the risk: take a look at Tiny Epic Quest. This is: A wise investment. Zero risk. Guaranteed reward. Reasonable price point.

You can't lose.

The campaign concludes funding near the end of November, and backers will be billed at that time. The game is scheduled for release in August of 2017, but it has been my experience that Scott Almes company: Gamelyn Games will deliver early. Gamelyn are pros at this whole Kickstarter thing.

Want to be on the ground floor of an awesome new game for you and your family? You can't go wrong with: Tiny Epic Quest!



Click the link below to go to the Tiny Epic Quest Kickstarter Page:
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/coe/tiny-epic-quest-introducing-itemeeplestm


Regards,


Jeff

Monday, September 26, 2016

Harm ...

I am one of those people, maybe you are too, who avoids the subject of politics. It's something I don't really want to talk about at all. So, this might be my one and only exception, but I think as an American there really might be something wrong if you aren't worried about our country right now.

American politics are complex and confusing. Understanding the machinations of processes and procedures that create real value and virtue in this system is beyond my scope. I don't think I am alone there. That's why I tend to avoid discussions involving politics. I don't think anyone knows what's really going on ... not really. If we could really understand it, we could change it. Right?

Instead, I feel like politics has become its own religion. There is Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Democratic, Republican. Your political affiliation is something you believe in, and that becomes bigger than the "facts" because the "facts" are too big to fathom. They are for me anyway. So it becomes easier to place your faith in a broader idea.

And that's why I don't like to talk about politics. Like religion, once a person has invested their faith in something, reason looses ground, and challenges to faith can result in violent blow-back. Such exchanges are almost never productive.

The thing is, I understand this. I do this myself. I don't know anything about politics, or political policy, or the way things work. I draw vague conclusions of my own based on a simple cynical viewpoint: that money is the real power in the world, and that special interest groups make policy.

It seems like true reform is impossible given the political quagmire of greed and corruption that has had 240 years to learn how to protect itself. I don't believe the United States is capable of impactful political solutions. Each step forward seems to carry with it stipulations and addendums that push things an equal number of steps back. That's how the checks and balances work.

Maybe I am completely off-base. I haven't studied the issues. But, I am an intelligent man and my "impressions" are drawn based upon 50 years of life experience, so they aren't completely born of ignorance. I can't imagine I am the only one feeling a bit hopeless.

I do know this: the internet has changed the world. Global relations matter. We are growing more and more into a world community. We cannot afford to embrace isolationist view points no matter how appealing they may seem (depending on your faith.) And while the American political machine may be so contrived as to resist any meaningful change, the President of the United States is still the face of our country.

The way the world views this nation can be greatly damaged over the next four years. That damage will hurt us as a nation, and what hurts this nation will hurt its people. I don't like to talk politics. I know how strongly people cling to their faith, but I am going to make this plea, just this once.

I fear one choice will do more harm than that choice will do good. That harm could destroy our credibility as a nation. That harm could lead to global war. That harm could alienate what few world alliances we have left. That harm terrifies me.

Please do not vote for Donald Trump. He will harm this country.

I guess that's all I wanted to say.

Regards,


Jeff

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Star Map for Space Opera Games



I was looking all over the web for a good generic star map to adapt to my upcoming Machinations of the Space Princess campaign. Unfortunately, I couldn't find anything that I liked. My favorite thing was actually the board for the Firefly board game. The design is clean. I liked the way things were laid out, and the way the sections were broken up. The grid was designed for board game use, but I think it will work great for an RPG.

Problem is ... My campaign isn't set in the Firefly universe. What I really wanted was a copy of the game board without the writing so that I could add my own unique names for the locations. Unfortunately, such a thing does not exist. So, I took it upon myself to attempt to create something. What I ended up with isn't bad, and since I put the work in, I thought that it might be nice to share.

If you want a map to customize with your own planet names for use in your Space Opera game, maybe you will like this one.

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/42632600/Machinverse.PDF

Click the image above to get a full resolution PDF. Hopefully, someone besides me will also find it useful!

Regards,


Jeff


Saturday, July 02, 2016

Machinations of the Space Princess

Art by Satine Phoenix from Machinations of the Space Princess

I am preparing to step back into GM'ing shoes soon (after a fairly long hiatus) and the consensus of those in my group was that they wanted to try something Space Opera. I thought briefly of using Five by Five. It's my game, and I like it. And it can do Space Opera just fine. But, I also like bringing the myriad works of others to the table. I love games. I love reading all the different systems. I love tinkering with rules. I just love everything about this hobby.

I set out with what I thought would be a simple task: Find a game system that is easily accessible, that will do Space Opera to the satisfaction of myself and my players. And while I did indeed find a lot of systems, finding the gem among those, proved to be more challenging than I first imagined.

I got it in my head that I wanted to use a d20 based system. The familiar D&D framework would require no special tutelage or preparation from anyone at the table and play could begin at full speed from the first die roll. And so, began my search. First I looked at Stars Without Number and White Star. Both are excellent games. Both are grounded in the simplicity of the old-school, which I like very much. For the kind of game I want to play, I really liked White Star. I loved the implied setting created through the class/race choices and the bestiary. It seemed ideal.

Unfortunately, my group balked at the choice. Not to take anything away from White Star, it is an excellent game. And, if the number of third party supplementary materials is any indication, it is warmly embraced by the community at large. But it is in matter of fact, very old school. This is the game's intention, and as I said this simplicity and clean design appeals to me. But I found that many of the old school aspects, (that for many - if not all - of White Star's audience are the very things that make the game so attractive,) were a bit "too" old school for me.

Some things that D&D used to do ... those things were abandoned for a reason. My first game was 1st Edition AD&D. I will be turning 51 in a couple of weeks. I have been active in this hobby for over 35 years. I am "old-school" as much as anyone. But, playing something just because that's how it used to be played ... I guess it's like those Civil War re-creationists. There is an enjoyment in experiencing things as they were experienced in another age. But, I think there is a better way to play.

My players wanted more options, more utility. So I extended my search, and there I found the flip-side of this rather unwieldy coin. I looked at D20 Future as well as a handful of "universal" systems. I had forgotten (or should I say, blocked out) just how overwhelmingly cumbersome D&D 3.5 and its offshoots really are. I know that these games too, are incredibly popular. But, for me, the rules are too much work.

When 3.5 was released, I loved it. I really did. I remember. So, maybe I am getting old. But as I looked at D20 Modern and D20 Future and considered trying to juggle all the little fiddly moving parts both during play and between sessions ... my head hurt. I mean it. Looking over the rules gave me a headache. Surely, I could find a game that was simple enough for me to run, but rich enough to engage my players?

Enter: Machinations of the Space Princess. This game has been sitting on my hard drive since I bought it over 2 years ago. I remember reading it back then and thinking that it looked, "pretty good." It's interesting what a few years and several hours of "comparison shopping" can do for ones perspective.

Let me start by saying that I think that the game's promotional tag-line, "Sexy, sleazy, swords and sci-fi!" isn't doing the game any favors. Nor is the title's intentional similarity with Lamentations of the Flame Princess, which is a game that seems to be all about creeping your players out and killing their characters as horribly as possible.

About Lamentations: LotFP is a solid game. Its systems are really clean and functional. LotFP re-imagines old-school in the right way. Keeping what works, tweaking what doesn't, and leaving all the baggage of the last 30-odd years behind. These are the things about Lamentations that Machinations draws upon. It's not "weird science fiction." It's not "sleazy science fiction" either. Sure, it can do "Barbarella" but aside from the occasional silly-fun one-off, who would want to?

The game has some pretty strong reviews, so what do I know? But on RPGNow, Machinations has 4 reviews and White Star has 17. I think that's a damned shame, and I think it's a matter of "image." I went to White Star first because I had this preconceived notion in my mind that it would do the type of space game that I wanted to play. Machinations didn't really occur to me. Even though I had read it, that was 2 years ago. I still judged the book by its cover.

Speaking of which, the artwork of Satine Phoenix is wonderful and I share a small sample above. But, that's not what I mean. I am speaking of the "flavor" implied by the packaging and presentation of Machinations. It screams: gonzo-punk-pulp-sci-sleaze. And for most, that's not going to come to the top of the stack when considering something to play for a long term space opera campaign. That's more something you throw in once, just for fun ... for a laugh. At least, that's how I saw it. That's how I thought about it.

I was wrong. And if you harbor a similar impression about Machinations of the Space Princess based upon its promotional slant, then you would be wrong too. Machinations is greater than its hype! As I re-read this game with an eye towards running a fun, familiar, versatile Space Opera game that will engage both myself and my players, I am falling in love. Beneath the sleazy veneer of gonzo-snark rests a solid game that might well be the best D20 Space Opera implementation available. It's certainly the right one for me.

Like LotFP character classes are specialized. The "Killer" for example is the only class that gets base to hit bonus improvements through level advancement. Clean, simple, focused with laser precision. That's what LotFP does. That's what this game takes as its foundation. Like LotFP the game uses a simple d6 skill system. But here skills have been expanded and evolved to cover not simply "skills" but also what in other systems might have been class abilities or feats. These things are all brought together under one system. It's elegant. It's smart. It works.

Then there are the racial traits. Rather than pick a single race, players can select traits from a myriad of different races, mixing and matching to create the alien race of their dreams. It's enough crunchy goodness to keep my "option hungry" players busy for hours, but adds almost no complexity or overhead to the game play. It's not only really smart, it's really fun to read.

That's where the "gonzo" vernacular does serve this game well. It's a damned fun read. I enjoyed leafing through its pages. Gone was my "D20 headache." Machinations had me smiling, laughing ... I even clapped my hands once.

This isn't a review of Machinations of the Space Princess. I am not a game reviewer. I am a game enthusiast. I love the hobby and I sometimes sit down and write about my excitement. Machinations of the Space Princess has me excited. It's a solid, seriously joyful Space Opera RPG that under the hood does everything right. Don't be fooled by the sexy negligee and the flash. This Princess is the real deal. I'm only sorry it took me two years to give her a chance.

(I just spent the better part of two days formatting a form fillable character sheet for MotSP. I thought it might be nice to share it HERE.  Also, if anyone out there is playing this game, I would love to hear about your experiences.)


Regards,


Jeff