Archive for July, 2008

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Me and the Devil Blues – Hiramoto, vol. 1

July 31, 2008

Today I picked up Me and the Devil Blues – The Unreal Life of Robert Johnson, by Akira Hiramoto.

So first, it’s a fictionalized version of Robert Johnson’s life, where he sells his soul to the Devil to become an awesome blues musician… maybe. Like a lot of horror/psychological thriller stories, you’re never 100% sure what’s going on- maybe his hand really did grow 10 fingers, or maybe it’s in his head. Maybe the old guy Ike really is the Devil, or maybe he’s just an old guy. These ambiguous mysteries make the story a great read, as well as the research that Hiramoto went into for the time period.

Second, I’m impressed with the way in which Robert is the protagonist, he’s always a flawed, everyman who just gets himself in too deep, not a magical negro (weird music powers or not). For the first third of the book, not even a single white character shows up. It is, literally, the life of black folks in their own world. You see bits of manga tropes pop up though- old blues players passing down koan like tests for Robert, blues duels where the fingers fly across the pager and it makes it the most intense thing you’ve ever seen.

Now, this doesn’t mean this book doesn’t have some problematic stuff. For example, the black women are always yelling. And I’m not sure how true to the author’s original intent is “Shut yo’ mouth!” which shows up a lot. I’d really like to read another volume or two and see if he balances things out in the longer run or if it’s just problematic stuff for it’s own sake. Just the same, it’s still painfully better and more accurate than what mainstream US comics have been doing, so you may or may not give it a pass.

Nonetheless, it’s a 525 page manga for $20, and I’m hoping that we get to see more volumes. Apparently, it’s doing well enough in Japan that it’s been running for 4 years straight.

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Other Dialogues

July 29, 2008

A post of things game related, just not game related.

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Media Analysis and the border of rational discussion

July 23, 2008

Over on Cultures of Play, there’s this really great thread analyzing the use of facist imagery in gaming. It looks at the way in which fascism is glorified, made awesome, and generally, thoughtlessly, tossed about left and right. Joshua even talks about in context to other media, society, and basically why the preponderance of it is problematic.

Though 80% of the points there apply equally to racism, sexism, etc. in terms of gaming, we don’t see the same rational discussion carry over (yes, even in the indie-tabletop-rpg niche). Why is that? Well, in the case of discussing fascism, no one is identifying their privilege with it. You don’t see completely unconnected people jumping up to irrationally defend against his critique because there is no ingrained hierarchy of roles in society based on your role in “fascism”. Though I’m sure no one identifies being a fascist anymore than they identify being a racist, a sexist, or heterosupremacist, what happens when you attack these latter things is that you are attacking a privilege which they have taken for granted- in fact, being asked to actually consider what the world would be like if it was equal in fact, instead of equal because 70/30 sounds fair and you should be grateful you’re even getting that much.

It is even more telling that these rational discussions do take place, about parallel media issues that tells you even more where people are coming from when they get irrational. That is, I don’t have to call you a racist, I just have to watch you show up to defend one for you to tell me, what you’re about.

Of course, it’s not like any of this is news to anyone. Except maybe folks who don’t know how to listen anyway…

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WoW Minis

July 22, 2008

The World of Warcraft minis look pretty cool.

One reason I haven’t really amassed a lot of D&D mini’s, even though I could use them, is they just don’t look that good. It’s frustrating to pay out money for a random mix of which, I’ve got maybe a total of 4-5 characters who look like PC’s. (Protip: Grey and Brown do not a memorable character make). Mage Knight was far better for including characters who looked like heroes to work with in each mix.

Though the WoW mini’s are on a bigger scale, I’m sure I can find a way to make it work for my games.

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Legend of the 5 Rings

July 21, 2008

Naamen has a great post on “Problematic Things I Enjoy”, which I could probably paint most of my hobby with, but I’ll instead focus on an aspect as it comes to me. So today? Legend of the 5 Rings.

Ben Lehman once asked why I liked L5R, despite the horrible level of asian fetishization/exotification/white man’s fantasy. And, the answer was that it’s one of the few games where it features an all POC setting, not as an add-on or extra to a white setting, and that, characters not only fell into villains and victims, but heroes and more complex characters as well. And you know, I could play an asian guy and no one would make me have to come up with some extra excuse of why I’ve got this character in the setting.

Just the same, it is full of problematic stuff, ranging from the faux Japanese names- “Bayushi”, creepy wank material descriptions of women and their long hair, silk, etc., mixing in Mongols, Arabs, and Irish/Scottish as a clan, and the random bits of specifically Chinese stuff thrown in for good measure.

Of course, at this point, I probably would a) use another system and utilize bits of the setting, and b) only play with friends who I know won’t do the “white man playing an asian speech pattern”, which is, to pause, after, every few, words, and invite, Chris to, throw a, brick at, your, head.

From just a game-side analysis, the good writers pretty much fled after 1st Edition, and since then it’s been riding on a dwindling fanbase. And, the system generally has been the “Task Resolution” + “Powers”, and you have to figure out how to actually run a system, or, you know, make a rag tag group of heroes cooperate who have no real reason to.

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Giving them what they want

July 19, 2008

Roleplaying games have a unique property that no other media shares- it can become the game that you want, as you’re playing it. This unique factor actually has been a Big Fucking Deal for rpgs, though few folks have really sat down and thought about how it gets handled in play.

Traditional games have left this task solely in the hands of the GM, usually without explicit guidelines or rules to help them figure this out. The GM usually has to try to guess or elicit or read the players’ desires, utilize the power of setting up scenes, controlling the spotlight, and creating interactions with characters and challenges to meet the players’ and adapt to their desires. In recent years, this has become easier (though, really, still not easy) through things like Flag mechanics or explicit understanding of Scene Framing and other techniques.

More innovative games have played around with stuff like giving camera control or narration rights to the players. I had been thinking about this for over a year unable to articulate exactly what it was about narration trading I found so fascinating, and it’s this: it’s a simple and efficient way for the players to directly input into the game and change the game into what they want. Though it’s somewhat of a clubbing tool for this, it’s important because it’s far more effective than what we’ve BEEN doing for the last 30 years in the traditional realm. More subtle games play with the ability to change elements or load the odds or other things that aren’t as hamfisted to adapting play to meet the players.

This self-guiding/correcting element is often what makes some games resilient in their fun factor: like I’m surprised EVERY time I play Inspectres how much fun I have with it. And that’s because it adapts to meet the players quickly and easily.

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4E: Massive Skill Challenge update

July 17, 2008

Take a look at the DMG errata. Whoa.

That’s not small changes there. I was just expecting “knock off the +5 to Skills at the bottom of the chart on pg. 42” but here there’s massive revisions. I’m glad this happened before I actually started up my campaign. I’m also glad they didn’t just leave it as I figured it’d be the biggest diverging point of play for 4E groups.

It’d be nice if there was a little design discussion about this change, though, since we got so much design theory behind everything else. It’s not as bad as AEG’s “What TN Chart?” gaffe with 3rd edition Legend of the 5 Rings, but still. With changes that big, something, somewhere, went really wrong between “things we design, things we playtest, things we revise, and here’s what ends up in the book”…

I really hope they fix this in the next printing of the books.

ETA: Of course, I also started thinking, “Gee, I hope we don’t go down the road of software, where games are being sent out half done needing patches” but then I remember that this kind of makes up most of the history of the hobby, along with the assumption that people were supposed to fix the rules themselves. (I remember someone berating me for actually following the rules in a trad game- “But you should have known they wouldn’t work” as the defense for me criticizing the game…)

So in light of that, a month turnaround for errata is improvement!