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Archive for June, 2011

First, a bit of background:  I am a second generation gamer.  By which I mean that my dad, his brothers, and my mom all played D&D when I was a kid (I was born in ’74…same as D&D, or so the story goes).  I remember sitting up at night leaning up against my bedroom door which opened onto the living room, listening in on their adventures.  It was therefore no big surprise when I took an interest in it myself.  I always borrowed my dad’s books and loved nothing more than to flip through the Monster Manual and Fiend Folio.

Once I got to the point I could buy things on my own, I started buying any RPG that caught my attention.  GURPS (second edition) was my first.  Cyberpunk2020.  Rifts, Palladium Fantasy, D&D (of course), and on down the line through a who’s who of RPG gaming goodness.  I played Star Frontiers, Gamma World, three different versions of Star Trek, and even took a peek at the old FASA version of the Doctor Who RPG.

If this were High School, and I was a cheerleader, you might call me a slut.  And it continues to this day.  I’m always looking over the next big thing.  I contemplated trying to put together a group for the latest round of Warhammer 40K games.  I found a copy of Victoriana when I heard that Abney Park (an awesome band, if you like steampunk) was using those rules to do an RPG based on their songs.  I’ve made my share of Shadowrunnners, usually either a street sam or a rigger.  I played first edition Earthdawn.

You could say I’ve forgotten more about role-playing than most of the latest crop of players has learned.

And RPG’s weren’t the extent of it either.  I have a (mostly) complete set of Star Fleet Battles, and have no problems with the tax code rulebook.  I can allocate energy for an entire fleet in the time it takes most players to do so for one ship.  I was a member of BLADES, the local game store’s Car Wars club.  We never made it to the regionals, but we had a hell of a time trying.

Then of course, there’s all the different editions of Battletech.  When I wasn’t playing, I was building.  Either I was creating terrain pieces, or arena maps, or just building characters I might never get to use.

My “Book of the Dead” would be a sight to see.  In it you’d find my elven Ranger, who faced Tiamat, and survived (saving the rest of the party at the same time).  Then there’s Valentine Victor Vargas, gnomish thief extraordinaire, and expert at the expeditious retreat.  Sir Eglemore, the undead skeleton knight determined to find the dragon that cursed him into undeath (and roasted the flesh of his bones at the same time).  Captain Crunch, the custom built pick-up designed for tournament Car Wars play, which could take a 150 mile per hour collision and allow the driver to survive.  Or how about his cousin, flambe?  He was a tournament legal, survivable car bomb.  Most memorable are Toog, Padaras, and Lady Charity.

Toog was a half ogre.  He adventured to prove his worth to the goddess of beauty.  He thought that if he earned her favor, she would make him handsome.  She never did, but he learned to overcome his handicap.  Now he runs an inter-dimensional fighting pit.

Padaras was from Monte Cook’s Arcana Evolved.  She was a Sibbecai who had grown up among a street gang, and then fought her way out of that gang to earn her self respect and redeem the crimes of her youth.  With her bow, Bloodharp, she could shoot anything almost from any distance.

Lady Charity was the daughter of nobility.  She ran away from home to become a pirate, and would have made a name for herself as ‘Queen of the Seas’ had she not been bitten by a ghoul, and turned undead herself.

Latest is Jonah.  A gunslinger on a desert world.  The game is like steampunk, but with a lot of cowboys and indians for set decoration (the indians are actually aliens), and with demons for bad guys.  He died in a gunfight, just exactly the way he wanted to go.

So if we ever meet one day, after the introductions (and please, forgive me if I act like a hyper child when I find out you read my blog, I’m not really like that in real life…it would just be cool to meet one or all of you), don’t be surprised if I act the part of the grizzled veteran with a whole lifetime of war stories.  Because on paper at least, that’s exactly what I am.

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Yesterday, in our Hero 6th edition game, my gunslinger was shot to death.

Too many gunfights, too close together.  As a result, my son’s character (the pilot) is now captured and being experimented on.  We failed to get the masks out of the laboratory, so the bad guys can still go ahead with their plots, and we’ll very quickly find out what the bad guys are up to.  They claim they are wanting to just ‘help humanity become better.’

Via experiments and mutations.

Still, I’m not concerned.  We’ll play that game again in three weeks, and I have time to create a new character.  Not sure what I’m going to do now, but I’ll think of something.  The funny part is, I felt it was a good character death, but my son was almost in tears over it.  I guess I played Jonah just a little too well.

We also got in a bit of DnD, in Planescape.  In that game, my son is playing a sorcerer.  He’s finally branching out and learning what other classes can do.  I don’t think he’s impressed much, but that is one of the risks of playing a 2nd level Aasimar Sorcerer.  I, on the other hand, have a Githzerai Monk.  Yeah, I got conned into a d20 game, despite how much I’ve burned out on it.  But I had fun, especially when the bar brawl broke out, and I jumped from chair to tabletop to the shoulder of a bad guy and from there jump kicked the boss in the teeth.

It was so cool.  Of course, I didn’t KO the boss.  It could have been cooler.

I was knocked out twice in that game, and reduced to 0 the third time.  That third battle, I didn’t do too badly at despite it all.  I maxed damage with a concussive blast that killed one of the attackers in one shot; and I didn’t flee from the phantasmal force spell (unlike my partner, the sorcerer, who fled for his life leaving me outnumbered).

Once I fully figure out all of the details of the monk, I just might have enough fun to stick with it.  Next week, we pick up the adventure from the library of last week.  We are converting the PC’s from Palladium Fantasy to Basic Role-Playing by Chaosium.  I now remember why I sold my Palladium books back in High School.  Too many wonky and missing rules.  I expect the conversion to be pretty simple.  In other words, I’m not going to do to much (both systems are d% systems with a 3-18 ability score spread).

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St. Martin’s Press, 2010

An Unsolicited Review

As I approached the end of this book, I immediately wanted to turn around and start it again.  This is the first book to do that to me ever.  It will join Starship Troopers and The Lord of The Rings as “books I’ll re-read for the rest of my life.”

Imagine you’re an artist.  You’ve tried for years to realize a specific project, only to have the final result come close to what you intended, but never actually quite manage what you are after.  It has become your personal quest to find out how that piece fails each time you attempt it, and so you start over and over again, and fail to find the voice that speaks to you about it.  You can’t figure it out, but you know that it must be possible to realize, if you could only figure out how.

Now, you go to a gallery, and in this gallery is another artist who works in a similar medium, and he is also interested in your subject.  But as you look over his attempts, you realize that it works.  He has captured everything about the subject despite the limitations of the art form.  You can’t find any flaw in the work, and it is a perfect, absolutely beautiful version of the project you’ve struggled with for so long.

Now, when this happens, there are two things you could do.

You could give up.  You could wallow in despair that you were never able to bring your art to that level.  You could get angry that someone else did it before you, and that once you take what you’ve learned from experiencing his work, you’ll just be a copy-cat with no originality.  You could give up your art (and in extreme cases, your life) out of the despair born from the knowledge that you failed to accomplish what this other artist has accomplished so easily.

Or you could become inspired.  If one person can do this, then two can.  If two can do it, then several can, and if several can, there is a good chance that somehow, you’ll be able to do it as well.  You can leave the gallery, pick up your tools, and finally create the masterpiece you’ve been trying so hard to accomplish now that you know it is possible to do it.

I choose the second path.  As a writer yet to be published, I found this book to be very inspiring.  Reading this book, I finally found the voice I wanted to give my characters.  The blend of modern tightness, with an older, more illustrative style.  The book reads like some older books, where the authors not only tried to tell the story, but to also be captivating.  Nearly every page contained at least one (and often several) passages that were a delight to savor.  Were I not reading a library copy, I would have highlighted passages as I went – something I’ve only done once before, in ‘Johnathan Strange and Mister Norrell.’

The story could be called ‘Steampunk’, but I prefer ‘Post-Steampunk.’  In the world of the story, there are mechanical men, recordings are still made on wax cylinders, flying machines often take the form of airships.  But at the same time, the mechanical men can do almost anything. Imagine everything that you think of when you hear the word ‘Steampunk’ but then continue forward to the modern day as if that style of technology had evolved instead of computers.  The world would be a very different place, and you’d be imagining Dexter Palmer’s world.

But the story is not directly about him , or his daughter, Miranda, whom he keeps locked away from the rest of the world.  It’s about Harold Winslow, a humble writer of greeting card messages.  The story is about Harold’s life from the age of ten as his path continually crosses those of Prospero and Miranda.  It is Harold’s memoirs, written to an unknown future reader as he remains trapped aboard the good ship “Chrysalis”, an airship of Taligent’s own design.  Harold recalls how he was invited to Miranda’s tenth birthday party along with ninety-nine other children.  He recalls how he encounters Miranda ten years later, rescuing her from kidnappers, about his last day before being trapped on the zeppelin, and then how he came to decide to kill Propsero in the moments before boarding the zeppelin.  These are not spoilers.  Harold tells you up front that he has killed Prospero, and the story builds to that final decision.

This book has many strange scenes within its covers.  Scenes that would more accurately be described as surreal, or dreamlike.  An automatic bronzing, a real unicorn (not a machine!), mechanical monsters, men dressed as the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz.  And as each section closes, the world has changed a little bit more, becoming more dependent on Prospero’s machines, a little louder, a little dirtier.

But through it all is a love story.  Harold’s love for the Virgin Queen (Miranda), and the length’s he’ll go to to save her from the clutches of the villain.

I could go on about this book for ages.  But I run the risk of seriously spoiling this book for you.  Go, read it.  Enjoy it.  Leave a comment here if you liked the book, or if you did not, either answer is fine.  We are all, after all, different.  Myself, I am glad I read the book despite the cover blurb, which is the only part of the book that disappointed me.  I picked it up on a whim, and gave it a try.  That’s all you have to do, to Dream of Perpetual Motion.

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