Monday, September 28, 2009

Atolls

Here's a cool (and weird) image, of part of the Maldives from space. The Maldives are a chain of islands in the Indian Ocean, a little to the southwest of the tip of the subcontinent. On the other side of India, past the Sunda shelf (which incorporates the Malay peninsula and the large islands just off the coast; there is a gigantic flooded landbridge that connects southeast Asia and Australia) in the South Pacific, there are a lot of these kinds of islands too, called atolls. Atolls are formerly much larger volcanic islands, not unlike the Hawaiian islands, which have coral reefs build up around them, while the volcanic peaks, over millions of years, erode down and eventually disappear under the water. The coral reefs are a self-renewing resource, since corals continue to grow on top of other corals; after a while, the circumerence of the island is all that is left as a kind of hollow ring of low beaches and reefs, with a shallow lagoon in the center, which can often encompass many, many square miles.

Many of these kinds of atolls also feature dense vegetation, and some of the larger ones are inhabited in Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and elsewhere. Many of them, of course, are not inhabitated, as they are too small to support a population. In fact, the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away (not sure why that's two words, but it is) was filmed on an uninhabited island not unlike this (although it did still have a bit of a volcanic peak) from the Mamanuca island group in Fiji. The Mamanuca islands are about twenty islands, seven of which disappear completely under the surface during high tide.

A number of bizarre adventure ideas and sites for DINO-PIRATES suggest themselves by the idea of atolls. The Bikini atoll lagoon, for instance, was a ship graveyard prior to World War II, and now that the radiation levels from the old Bikini Island nuclear testing has faded enough, it's a kinda sorta popular diver attraction now.

Creatures lurking in the shallow lagoons, atavistic cultures isolated and marooned on shrinking islands over time... these are all great elements that could have a prominent place in a DINO-PIRATES adventure, if you wanted them to.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Just A Little Taste

Okay, I don't want to say too much about this just now, and I CAN tell you that certain details here are already due to change, but look, there's a piece of the puzzle, okay?

DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND is going places. Some of the most amazing people I know are involved in this, and they're outdoing themselves. And it's going to be shared. I think I know how to handle the licensing so that this crazy setting can belong to everyone, and still provide sustainable revenue.

I've discovered something in my life: the more you share, the more you have to give. Generosity rewards with abundance. When you hoard and snarl and struggle to hold onto every little scrap, little scraps are all you get. But when you share your ideas and your time with others, they respond with THEIR ideas and THEIR time.

It can be nerve-wracking at times -- other people's ideas are often intimidating to me. What if they're not as good as mine? What if they're BETTER? What if they take over and everyone forgets about me? Forgets that it was my idea in the first place? What if somebody takes my idea and makes all the money, and I have never have another good idea ever again?

But what if I do? What if I'm a FACTORY of ideas? What if everytime I share an idea with someone, they share back half-a-dozen ideas? Great ideas?

What if I operate from a basis of confidence and trust? If I have trust in myself and the others around me, faith in our ability to generate great stuff, then sharing my ideas freely becomes the only reasonable choice.

I'm not talking about abandoning copyright or giving away money or business opportunities. But SHARING isn't about giving away. It doesn't mean I don't value my own labour -- it's the opposite. I value my ability to create, and so I have faith that what I create is worth something to others. I don't have to operate from a basis of fear and suspicion.

DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND is an imaginary world full of imaginary people. But it's worth something. I don't know exactly what, but I have faith. Wait and see.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Moment Of...

This one's been sitting on the burner for quite a while but I think it's done. I was overwhelmed by the preacher's speech in Lars von Trier's Breaking The Waves, and when casting around for something to contrast it with, came up with the soothing yet seductive tones of Monica Bellucci's discussion of ecstasy and pain. Once that pattern was in place, coming up with a simple piano riff and some string chords was pretty straightforward. I kept trying to dress it up a little but that never really worked. It feels delicate, like it needs room to breathe.

The simplest composition I think I've created so far. Steph says it sounds the most like me. You'll have to decide if that's a good thing.

A Moment Of...

Photo by somebody. License: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Friday, September 18, 2009

Oh, Ed.

Dear lord, how I wish I'd thought of this. What a perfect opportunity, sitting there all these decades until some genius realised what could be accomplished.

Will it suck? Well, the odds aren't great, I guess. But will they make their money back? Oh how they will. My hat is off to these folks. Well done.



Via The Mad Pulp Bastard, of course.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Conspiracy Mashups!

I can't quite recall WHY I read Illuminatus! (or more properly, The Illuminatus! Trilogy).

Steven King may have referenced it in Danse Macabre (still my favourite of his books). It may have gotten mention in Dragon magazine way back in the day.

In any event, my 1984 Dell printing was pretty much brand-new when I got it, so it was a good healthy number of years ago. It was like reading a nuclear explosion. I was sixteen years old, and the most challenging stuff I'd read up to that point was probably A Tale of Two Cities. I didn't know anything about drugs, about hippie culture -- I barely knew anything about politics and certainly didn't get more than the barest number of the thousands of references scattered through this bewildering -- but hilarious -- novel. Shea and Wilson basically invent the conspiracy theory tale in these 800-some pages (and apparently that's with 500 or so pages cut out) and none of their imitators in the decades since has even approached the invention and audacity that makes this book so overwhelming.

Geez, was that all one sentence? Whoa.

"It was the year when they finally immanentized the Eschaton." What kind of opening sentence is that? The constant switching of narrator voice -- at points it's actually impossible to tell anymore who's speaking, and what point of view we're supposed to think they're presenting. Which is of course half the point. The book itself is a mammoth conspiracy tale, and like any good conspiracy, includes plenty of truths and half-truths in amongst the outrageous lies. And on page 722, the greatest joke of it all, the fourth wall gets blown away (is there a fourth wall in books?), and I the reader get pulled right in on the whole joke and it still works.

Like most genre-defining works, I think Illuminatus! actually reaches and even exceeds all the boundaries it creates. This book goes as far as any conspiracy book can possibly go, and then goes farther. There's really nothing left to write here - the spawning point is also the graveyard.

But there's something else that this mad tale has left us: the mashup. Because a conspiracy theory always has to be a mashup. The whole point of a conspiracy theory is to assert the connection between elements that otherwise do not appear to share anything. When George Dorn gets told that Abdul Alhazared, George Washington and the assassination of John F. Kennedy are all related to the ancient rulers of Atlantis, THAT'S mashup happening. The more elements you can tie together, the less probable your whole edifice becomes, the BETTER. And sometimes it seems like the mashup has become the default genre. From Kill Bill to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to, um DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND, everywhere the mashing together of genres and massive "referentiality" are making up wholly new paradigms. Nowadays everyone knows what "steampunk" is, but fifteen years ago? Not so much. But it hasn't taken very long. Only five years back, the suggestion to "Define some genres" resulted in creative hilarity, and all of the genres defined therein count as mashups -- from "Trucker: The Cavalcade" to "Lovecraftian Ringwaldpunk".

I think all this fun stuff really does owe a big debt to Shea and Wilson's mad, psychedelic vision of the late 60's. Reading those dense paragraphs of lurid sex, violence, drugs and utter insanity (I'm making it sound pretty awesome, aren't I?) was and remains an absolute trip. This book is amazingly smart, amazingly well-informed and structured so beautifully it's almost impossible to see it -- the whole thing just flows from start to finish in a single uninterruptible stream. Crazy.

And the book remains one of those books that EVERYONE has heard of (or at least is familiar with the concepts it invented), but surprisingly few people have actually read. I don't think it quite qualifies as A One Nobody Knows, but sometimes it seems that way. But regardless, the idea of mashing together random references from history, pop culture and science has become an entire field of genres. Practically every comic book published nowadays owes a debt to this book, and plenty of Hollywood's output, too. It's definitely, in the words of Nuclear Platypus, "a real slobberknocker".

And if you don't get that, you haven't followed enough of the links I've so thoughtfully provided for you in this post. C'mon, start connecting some references here! Everyone's doing it!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Speaking of maps...

... the mapping project I mentioned last time is open for business. It's a bit light on content, but it's useable now.

I still need to make a better map, though.

The Modular Fantasy Campaign Elements wiki was conceived, by me, when I realized that I was often running D&D-like games, but that I was re-using elements of them over and over again. Same languages, same pantheon of gods, a hobgoblin empire, etc. I decided to throw them up on a wiki as modular elements so I could reference them whenever I needed to. They're light in detail; my hobgoblin empire isn't really sufficient to, for example, have a campaign set there without some significant work done by a potential GM, but as an area on the side, away from the main action but influencing it, it's pretty nice as is.

Anyway, I'm "officially" opening for business with this announcement, and I'll be adding more modular elements over time. In fact, the next project is the vampire kingdom I mentioned previously.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Maps

Ever since I first cracked open a copy of The Hobbit and The Book of Three (probably my two first real forays into fantasy fiction) I've been impressed with the power of a good map to deliver an important part of the experience. I used to spend hours looking over the large, fold-out map that came with my first copy (now lost, sadly) of Unfinished Tales, and wondering what those other, obscure places that Tolkien never really mentions in the narrative were like. Sea of Rhûn? Huh? Khand? What kind of place is that? Minhiriath? Tharbad? Cardolan?

When I started drawing my own maps in junior high, I followed a somewhat isometric, stylized version of map-making, inherited and inspired by Christopher Tolkien's masterful map, I'm sure. Most fantasy novels that include maps do, it seems. And I used to draw them all the time. I drew dozens, if not hundreds, of maps. That's how I doodled during class. I didn't do anything with most of them; simply making the map itself was the fun part of the exercise. I started roleplaying games in a time when most everyone was playing D&D (I didn't really start until the Basic box in 1983 or so, but I think my very first session may have been a lingering OD&D game. It didn't click for me at the time) and playing D&D back then quite often meant "homebrewing." This was before any significant or serious attempt had ever been made to present a coherent setting for anyone to use, so it was expected that GM's would do most of that work themselves.

I've since had second thoughts about the advisability of starting the job of GMing by drawing a map. I'm a fan of the Ray Winninger methodology, the gist of which is: don't create more than you have to, or you'll risk burning out. He advises only mapping a very small local area to start with. I've even run games with no map whatsoever before, and that's certainly doable. The methodology makes some sense; if you're going to be playing in the geographical equivalent of the British Isles, do you need to be mapping the geographical equivalent of the Ottoman Empire?

However, I think that---to a certain point---maps are a useful and fun artifact in their own right. I've found that making maps really helps to stimulate adventure ideas, and even campaign ideas. There's nothing quite like the implicit mystery of mapmaking: what does that name over there mean? What are people like over there; what kinds of interesting things are happening over there, etc.?

Game designers will tell you that the desire to explore is a compelling motivator for many gamers, and I believe it. I personally love that aspect of gaming myself, and nothing motivates me to explore more than a good map.

That said; I'm in the middle of a couple of mapping projects right now, for my "modular fantasy campaign setting elements" wiki. I've got a very sketchy one for my hobgoblin empire already posted (but I'll want to do a "prettier" and possibly slightly more detailed one in the future), and I'm turning my attention soon to the concept of a "vampire kingdom"... one of the first things I'll need to do for that is, of course, draw the map.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Okay, So I'm Not Crazy

This writer for Xark is contemplating opening up the setting of his unpublished novel. (thanks to @profpope for the link)

He's largely talking about doing what I'm planning with DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND, only around a novel rather than a game. The idea of setting up a foundation to support the open setting is interesting, though, along with the proposed requirement that folks who make money off the setting be required to contribute some portion of that money to support it.

It's an idea.

Copyright is getting munged in all sorts of ways. As maybe some of you know, I'm in favour of lighter, leaner definitions of copyright and what it protects or doesn't protect. I got into a discussion with Ed the Sock a couple of months back about use of one's intellectual property. Ed's point was that if folks get to re-use your work, they can make it look like you said something you didn't. I argued that this isn't a copyright issue, it's a slander/libel issue. I remember when Raincoast Press used copyright to silence people who had received the new Harry Potter book early (because of Raincoast's error) -- as though the right to control the copying and distribution of a work granted the right to muzzle people who have received it legally!

Of course, I've probably mis-represented Ed's views here and will get a copyright lawsuit slapped on me. Great.

Anyway, my point with Ed (and I failed to convince him, and he's pretty smart, so keep that in mind) was that copyright is best handled as a purely economic law -- controlling the right to profit from distribution of an artistic work. Not a generalized control over the work and its presentation.

Well, so anyway, the idea with DINO-PIRATES is that the creation of the setting is open to all, and anyone who cares to can profit from the setting if they can come up with a marketable product based on it. It would please me immensely if somebody got rich off this. I ain't greedy that way.

In other news, some really dedicated fellow (Christopher was his name) sent me a whole list of dead links on the DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND site but email server hijinks deleted his emails. Christopher, if you're reading this, can you send those again? Or at least know I really appreciated your efforts...

The Right Place To Be

This past August, I was fortunate to be able to join with Weins Sensei and others at his dojo in St Catherines, to practice and study with Sozen Larsen Kusano Sensei, of Kakudokan Norway.

Sozen Sensei is a 5th-dan practitioner of Katori Shinto Ryu, under Sugino Sensei. He is a big man, affable and energetic, with a passion for the art that comes across in all his demonstrations and instructions. Spending a couple of days under Sozen Sensei's expert eye is worth years of practicing alone or with one's peers.

Last year Sozen Sensei emphasized the importance of Responding, as opposed to blindly following the dictates of the kata. This year he spoke about how our practice should not be about trying to "reach" our opponent, but rather training ourselves to end up in the right position.

When one performs the kata with a partner, and has to make a cut, there is a very strong temptation to try and actually reach one's opponent's body as they retreat. Indeed at times I know I myself feel like I've failed if I haven't made contact.

Sozen Sensei emphasized that what's much more important than making that contact is to ensure that one comes to rest in the correct position, ready and balanced, available to make whatever move might be appropriate. Actually connecting with the blow is of lesser importance, and certainly one should never REACH out, extend oneself, in the hope of scoring a "touch". The swordfighting game is not about touching, it is about cutting, cutting deeply, cutting one's opponent down in a decisive blow. If the blow does not come naturally, then one should not reach out in the hopes of making it. Instead, finish the cut, maintain awareness, and adapt to the ongoing situation.

Miyamoto Musashi touches on this with his description of the Chinese Monkey's Body -- "the spirit of not reaching out your arms. Get in quickly, without extending your arms, before your opponent strikes." Sozen Sensei demonstrated how, once the urge to extend is eliminated, the swordsman can move in for a cut or keep a respectful distance, by stepping forward or back. The motion of the cut and the attitude of the body and arms are identical whether stepping in or staying back -- it is only through positioning that we choose between contact and distance.

"Chance favours the prepared mind," said Louis Pasteur. One might suggest that in mortal combat, chance likewise favours the prepared body. In our emotional and social interactions, we could say that chance favours the prepared spirit. In all our affairs, there is a correct manner of conduct, one that brings us to a balanced, stable stance, regardless of how we position ourselves. We may step in deeply, or we may stay clear of entanglement, but either way, the correct conduct remains the same. Acting decisively is a matter of conduct; acting effectively is a matter of position.

Photo by Leia Mendes Cook