Monday, February 26, 2007

Pillow Fight

2,000 people converge for what just might be the biggest pillow fight in history (via digg). Looks like (as any pillow fight ought to be) complete pandemonium -- and enormous amounts of fun.

There's amusing video coverage over at RocketBoom and heaps of photos on Flickr.

What's the point of living in the 21st century if total strangers can't whack each other in the head with down-stuffed pillows? We don't get flying cars (DAMMIT) but at least we get sort-of spontaneous pillow fights in major urban centres. I don't know if anyone predicted the future would be this... silly. I guess part of that's because if the future's silly, how much sillier is it to be spending time predicting it? And who wants to hear that, anyway? When Syd Mead is doing his "futuring" stuff, or when Bill Gibson is poking at what's around the corner, if they come back from their imaginary voyages and say, "Well, I've seen the future and it's full of, um, kind of goofy parties."

And we'll say, "Cool! Like cyber-parties? With androids?"

"Uh, no. Pillow fights, it looks like. Really big pillow fights."

"You suck."

Nobody would have bought Neuromancer if Case and Molly had gone off on each other with pillows. Or watched Blade Runner if Deckard and Roy had ended up at a Pirates of the StreetcARRR Party. It's not cool. It's not hip. It's just very, very silly. But I say that's good.

Embracing the silly is critical. For too long power has been concentrated in the hands of the non-silly. I say it's time we did something about this! I say it's time for the sillies to take over!

And conveniently for me, they already have, and they've got a website. People like this deserve to go to heaven.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Hot Freedom Fighter on Freedom Fighter Action

How can this not make you happy:



Seriously, people who don't love that picture are enemies of all that is good.

Going To Indianapolis!

A lifelong dream is coming true this summer.

Well, dream is probably an overstatement. Let's say interest. Desire, even.

I'm going to GenCon.

I can remember reading about GenCon as a kid in assorted TSR products -- it's the biggest RPG convention in the world, and it always seemed so exciting and impossible to me, growing up in Prince George. Yeah, I was a kid who thought a chance to hang out with nerds was exciting. What do you want? I was too tall and skinny and uncoordinated for hockey, I had to do something.

Anyway, now we're living in Toronto (COLD) and trips to Indianapolis aren't crazy talk, so I'm off. It's very exciting for me.

And hopefully, it will be exciting for others, too, since I'm planning to run a few sessions of DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND while I'm there. Hopefully we'll run a couple of gangs through SLAVE QUEEN OF THE RUINED CITY, but I'd like to come up with a new adventure for the con as well. Maybe DEATH SPIDERS OF THE FORGOTTEN TOMB or something like that.

Or MONKEY WARRIORS OF THE DEMON'S LAIR. Because monkeys LOVE demons, right monkey friend?



Right. See you at Gencon!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Three Months to Go

Wow. Okay, I figured we weren't getting the real dope in our news, but this article from the CBC is downright traumatizing if you've been following the Afghan mission at all. Nothing held back here:

"Anyone expecting to see the emergence in Afghanistan within the next several decades of a recognizable modern democracy capable of delivering justice and amenities to its people is dreaming in Technicolor."


Remember how I posted nine months ago about how I'd be checking back in on Forward Operating Base Martello and the confident predictions that we'd be handing it over to the Afghans in a year? Well, maybe we will be, but I don't think that's good news.

So what's the solution now? Pull out and abandon the Afghani people to the tender mercies of the Taliban? Surely we can't accept that. Even selfishly, doesn't that just make things even WORSE for us? It was bad enough before, when at least we could say, "Well, sure those Taliban talk a tough talk, but if we wanted to, we could stamp them out any old time." But now we're, what's the word? What word describes our situation if we pull out and they roll back in?

Oh yeah, "FUCKED".

Because now not only have we failed to stamp them out effortlessly, we've actually given them room to say that we've been DEFEATED by them. That they are stronger than us. That's exactly what it's going to look like to your average Afghani -- that the Taliban are badder, tougher, stronger, and therefore more likely to be RIGHT than those funny Canadians who don't say much but keep complaining about missing that "Hawkinaitin Canada" every week.

I remember reading Jerry Pournelle AGES ago and him talking about how history makes it pretty damn clear that soldiers make crappy policemen. We've certainly seen a lot of evidence to support that notion in the last four or five years.

Hopefully our government will be able to commit resources to support our troops and give them the additional folks and tools they need to help the Afghani people. I don't want to leave them to the Taliban. It would shame me as a Canadian.

I don't know what the solution is. And I know that without more support from our allies, it's a ginormous task. But my heart breaks for what Afghanistan used to be, and could be again. I remember reading about Alexander the Great in Grade One and wanting to see the Khyber Pass one day. Reading about the struggle against the Soviet intervention and admiring the courage and stubborn will of these people. I don't believe for a second that the solution is to kill people. Provide security, yes, but killing people in that mission is a side-effect, not an objective. The news reports are only about how many "Taliban" were killed in the last action, with no context, no understanding of what that actually means. Are there numbers growing or shrinking? Their influence? Their resources? Who are they?

The reporting has been a disaster, and I suspect that mess reflects a deeper mess on the ground. Nobody in the Canadian government or military seems able to deliver a coherent description of what we're doing out there. Until we know what we're doing, how are we going to succeed?

Happy Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Five Fingers: Walking A Fine Line

Five Fingers: Port of Deceit is Privateer Press' latest release in their Iron Kingdoms line of products, and carries on the high standards this line has provided since the early days of d20 publishing, when The Witchfire Trilogy was one of the first d20 adventures to be published. The Iron Kingdoms is Privateer's unique Dungeons and Dragons setting that combines flintlock weapons, steam power, dragons, undead, and vast political machinations in a mix quite unlike any other campaign setting we've seen. This latest release describes in great detail the oddball metropolis of Five Fingers, notorious pirate haunt and key port on the coast of the nation of Ord.

Contributing strongly to the setting's appeal are the gorgeous illustrations by Privateer founders Matt Wilson and Brian Snoddy, which set the tone for this world. Nothing else looks like the Iron Kingdoms (or the companion minatures games, WarMachine and Hordes). But equally critical to the quality of these products, though less easily-presented, is the strong writing throughout, steered mainly by Doug Seacat over the years.

The Iron Kingdom products have a tradition of being "narrated" by characters in the world itself. And so the Iron Kingdoms World Guide features treatises on cosmology by a noted astrologer, and the Monsternomicon includes notes by Professor Pendrake, adventuring scholar of Corvis University. What could become into a stale and cliched device has served the Iron Kingdoms well, as each narrator proves to have a distinctive voice that nonetheless manages to communicate the required information without affectation. Five Fingers takes this welcome trend further, with no less than five narrators, each of whom offers a personal look into their part of this complex setting.

It's a good approach to city description, something I have rarely seen done well, especially with a true urban center like Five Fingers. I remember Judges' Guild's Citystate of the World Emperor, and while immensely detailed, it suffered from an inability to communicate the SENSE of the place -- its identity gets lost in the endless enumerations of shops and streets and so on. The GURPS folks put out a book on Tredroy, a crossroads city, that didn't do too badly, but suffered from a real lack of detail. Up to now, the most successful city supplements I'd seen were those from Flying Buffalo: the Citybooks. Rather than detail a complete city, they offered up a set of more-or-less independent shops, saloons, and other institutions you could drop into your own cities whenever needed. Very handy for the homebrewing DM who doesn't need to know each and every nook and cranny of the city, but does need to have something for those moments when the party decides that finding a candlemaker and asking HIM all about the bad guy's plan is just the thing to do. But they do nothing to provide a sense of place for a city.

Five Fingers walks a very nice line between the extremes of too much detail and not enough. The personalised accounts give a wonderful dose of flavour to the information, and provide useful breakdowns in the TYPES of information presented.

Because the problem of presenting an entire city and its workings is a complex one. Any given component (be it a place, or a person, or a tradition, or whatever) is going to intersect with a variety of other components, and might have variable importance depending on the context in which it's placed.

For example, the old cathedral in town will have significance to the city's history, to its current politics, to its appearance and so on. But just providing an enumerated list of every single component along with all its relevant factoids will fail to communicate how all these things work together to make the city into a cohesive whole. By giving the reader different perspectives on the city, the writers are able to emphasize those personalities and places that matter by having them come up in multiple narrations -- and at the same time to note the complex nature of all these interactions by giving it a different spin each time it's mentioned.

Instead of just insisting that this city is a complex assemblage of personalities, beliefs and cultures, the writers SHOW us through the strong voices of the different narrators, and their very different takes on the same institutions and realities of life in Five Fingers. It's an effective technique.

There's some solid crunch in here as well: rules for gang warfare, well-thought-out stat blocks for organizations and an interesting take on holy places/shrines. There's also a set of chase rules (everyone's got one these days! even Dungeon published a set a few months back!) that, cough, cough, I don't think are very playable, relying as they do on actual measurements of distances to obstacles and so on -- the very problem my humble Hot Pursuit was designed to overcome. But this isn't primarily a book of rules. It's a book that's meant to provide DMs and their players with a great backdrop for their stories. And at that, it succeeds very well.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Over The Bridge

Bridges help with creativity.

It all started with Grim Tales, from Ben and the Bad Axers, which was sort of d20 Modern done cool. I came across the vehicle combat rules in Benjamin's book and immediately loved them. And immediately felt something was missing. I didn't know what was wrong, but it seemed to me that there was a crucial piece of the model missing.

So I pondered, mostly as I walked back and forth across the Burrard Street Bridge on my way to work. That's one of the things I remember most about that job -- pondering the Grim Tales vehicle combat rules as I crossed the bridge twice each day.

Once I was done pondering, I wrote Hot Pursuit, which Gareth and the Adamant Entertainers published way back in the heady days of 2005 or whenever it was. It got great reviews and sold really well. If you wanted to go an buy a copy or two right now, I wouldn't mind. I'll be right here when you get back, I promise.

Okay then. Now when I finished Hot Pursuit, I knew there was a crucial piece missing. I had no way to handle dogfights, where combatants aren't chasing one another but rather maneuvering to try and get position and attack one another. I knew it, but my new job no longer carried me across the Burrard Street Bridge, and so my pondering was limited.

But now I need ponder no longer. I received this week from John a draft of a new set of chase rules that cover the dogfight scenario, and do so brilliantly. Funny thing is, John's the guy who wrote the Grim Tales vehicle rules, which he says he never had time to really finish, and THAT's why there was this gaping hole in them.

Sure, John. Whatever.

Anyways, these rules will probably be published by somebody or other because they rock. But they'll be published under the OGL, as was Hot Pursuit, as was Grim Tales. Which means maybe somebody else will see the missing critical piece that neither John nor I can pick out at this point, and everything will move forward a step.

But the rules keep getting better and more fun, and that's what it's all about. The Open Gaming License was a good idea, Ryan.

Expect to see some variant of chase rules in Dino-Pirates of Ninja Island. Oh yes.

I wish there were more bridges here in Toronto.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Whiling Away Winter

So now we're in Toronto and my brain has been rendered dormant by the savage freeze. I may not be able to post anything coherent until spring (which I suspect comes around July here), so here are a few thoughts and observations to tide you over.

The Updated Second Amendment


David Brin weighs in on what the future might look like, and comes up with what is basically Warren Ellis' notion from Global Frequency:

"a highly educated citizenry will be able to adeptly bring to bear countless capabilities and individual pools of knowledge, some of which may not be up to professional standards, but that can find synergy together, perhaps augmenting society's skill set, at a time of need."


Sounds like a promising way to go to me.

And (on this subject) we at last watched the Global Frequency pilot (thanks B) and had pretty much the same reaction to it that I had to the comic: it's an AWESOME idea for a d20 Modern campaign. As a TV show, I'm not sure it works, but then I didn't think the comic was the cat's meow, either. The problem for me is that none of the stories are driven by relationships -- that's less of a problem in the comic, but it was really obvious in the pilot. It all feels a little mechanical. The plot is just the plot, and doesn't really depend on any of the characters being particular people. Sure, they have skills, but their emotions and needs aren't central (or even relevant) to the story, so it doesn't grab. It doesn't move.

But as a d20 Modern campaign it would KICK ASS.

Maybe the Good Guys are Winning


And so Captain Copyright goes in just the direction he deserves: straight into the poop chute.

"We truly hope that there will come a time when the copyright community – including educators, librarians and copyright collectives – can work together to provide a unbiased teaching tool that provides teachers and students with a balanced view of copyright."


Of course, a balanced view of copyright doesn't need to consider, say, artists or audiences. Of course not. Why would their needs matter?

Just Over the Horizon


True20 Chase rules coming -- I'm reviewing a friend's document on this and hopefully will be able to post an early review here. Stay tuned!

And the initial campaign run of Dino-Pirates of Ninja Island went very successfully indeed. Lots of fun was had and details have emerged about this strange and mysterious land. Look for future announcements and suchlike here.