Archive for August, 2008


Batman: Gotham Knight

August 31, 2008

If you enjoyed the depth of Dark Knight Returns, you’ll probably also dig Gotham Knight.

An animated movie of 6 chapters, with different directors and writers, but connected, Gotham Knight manages to hit the best kinds of Batman stories and surprisingly gets deeper than what I expected. All of the chapters manage to avoid the #1 pitfall to a Batman story- making it all about the villains. These stories manage to swing the focus back to the real relationships: Batman to Gotham and Batman to himself.

The first two chapters focus on the people of Gotham living and what Batman means to them- skater kids bragging to each other about seeing him, detectives arguing about the morality of a vigilante on the streets. After that, we swing into questions about Batman’s morals, and even throw some grey areas on him (Bruce keeps a gun collection – “Know your enemy. Though I never fired one, I can see the appeal…”).

The best of the chapters is written by Brian Azzarello (of 100 Bullets fame). “Working through the Pain” where we get a flashback to Bruce traveling to India, seeking the training to overcome pain.

Whereas this could have been a simple cultural appropriation montage, instead, we see him get rejected by the Fakirs (“He said you were not being honest with him. You’re not here for enlightenment.”) and instead, learning from Cassandra, an Indian woman (British raised? Hmm. Maybe.) who had to steal the knowledge because she was forbidden to learn the techniques herself. She’s hard, and real, and neither subservient nor a romantic interest- she’s her own character and pretty badass. And she doesn’t spend the chapter spouting mysticisms either. By the end of the story, you even see how broken Bruce is- that which makes him strong cripples him at the same time.

The other thing- all 6 chapters are surprisingly well done in terms of representation- tons of POC (which makes sense if you go with the Gotham = Chicago idea) and they’re not criminals, nor victims. (ETA: also, they called out the corruption of gentrification through “redevelopment”. Nice.)

Overall, this gets 4/5 from me, for being an awesome DVD, and well worth picking up if you’re a Batman fan.


Spaces pt. 3

August 22, 2008

The Con Anti-Harassment Project

Cons are where folks go to have fun. But also, people pay to go to conventions- they’re expecting a minimal amount of effort on the part of the con organizers to help facilitate the space for that fun. Like, safety, for instance- you know, knowing that you’re not going to be randomly groped, as if you were at a frat party.

The sad thing is that when people have to organize like this, it proves the deeper underlying problem, and smashes the myth that it’s “a few bad apples”. No, it’s more than a few, and they keep doing shit because the rest of everyone lets it slide and be ok.


In Thy Name- a D&D hack

August 22, 2008

This is a hack to put Flags into an older D&D game and shift the focus from raiding for loot into political and social struggles. It’s more focused than what you get with Riddle of Steel’s Spiritual Attributes or Shadow of Yesterday’s Keys. (You could probably easily tweak this for the traditional rpg of your choice, as well).


Each player character can have up to 5 Struggles at one time (you can swap them for other ones, the limit is just so you don’t end up with a page of 200 of them). A Struggle is a personal motivation that the character believes in, is willing to take risk, to struggle for.

Struggles are broken down into three types:


Reign is about recognized authority you possess or authority you want to have over a person, people, place or thing. It’s about having control and doing what you need to protect your authority and control or expand it. This could be recognized authority- such as being Captain, you might have Reign over the troops in your unit. This could be unspoken but assumed authority- if you think as father you have the right to dictate who your daughter can marry… It could be more abstract- if you are a slave, maybe your ambition is to have Reign over your own self.


Vassalship is about willingly serving a person, group of people, place or thing. It’s about protecting and furthering it’s interests, if any. This could be recognized- being a knight serving a king, or it could be something you’ve taken upon yourself but told no one else – “I’ll protect my nephew, since my brother isn’t much of a father”. Vassalship could be to an ideal- Justice, Love, the Honor of the Ksari Clan.


Honors is about honoring another person, not because of power, position, or duty. It’s about honoring your friends who you would call sister, or brother. It’s about honoring a wise teacher, whom you respect. It’s about honoring a Lady whom you are in love with. Honor is the most willing of the Struggles, because it has no power, and no position involved whatsoever. It’s not about control or furthering interests- its about respecting the person for who they are.

What they do

When you take action to pursue/protect a Struggle, you gain 100 XP and an Action Point (to spend to get 1D6 bonus to any of your D20 rolls). Each Struggle can provide this once per scene.

Struggles are voluntary- your character has them because she or he believes in them (rightly or wrongly). Struggles can also be conflicting (which can be a good way to get multiple bonuses in a single scene, especially if you like drama).

Players should decide from the outset if they want to have a lot of conflicting Struggles, a few, or none at all amongst the characters- as this can determine whether you have a band of heroes united in ideals or several characters against each other.

As a GM, these give you a good idea of what to offer, what to threaten, and where to focus the flow of play for interesting things for your players. It also shifts the focus of XP gain from gold and monsters to acting on beliefs and interests (as has been done in other games – Riddle of Steel, Burning Wheel, Shadow of Yesterday, etc.)


Mike Mearls 4E Interview

August 21, 2008

Theory from the Closet Interviews Mike Mearls.

Mike hits a ton of good points, from design, setting, what happened in 4E design, what goes on in the table, and more. One of the things I love about Mike, is that he’s straight up – like the difficulty on Keep on the Shadowfell being better suited for advanced players, or that GMs really don’t like being told what to do, etc.

It’s a good interview, even if you’re not a D&D head, if you’re interested in design on any level.


Dark Sun

August 20, 2008

A week ago i picked up the old Dark Sun boxed set and finally started looking at it. There’s a lot of neat, and weird things about it- and I get why it’s both one of the most clamored for, and low on the list, of campaign worlds for folks to update.

What makes it different and unique is also what makes it not fit in so well with the rest of D&D’s extra bits- which is also kind of key for WOTC to sell more books. It’s not very dungeon crawl-centric, few of the monsters are really going to fit, and pretty much the only extra set of rules it seems well suited to sell are the psionic ones (which, generally don’t see common play throughout all their versions.)

Dark Sun takes 2E’s idea of different classes get rewarded XP for different things and gives it even more spin, and then includes in demi-human races- rewarding them (or even taking away XP) for following certain behaviors. While this is not expecially strange these days, the fact is that the behaviors seem somewhat at odds with the idea of a party, and probably changes the focus of the game to “Why am I hanging out with these weirdos?” Actually, a lot of the demihuman cultures seem like they’re set up to interact with each other and humans tangentially, which kind of increases the effect. Though, the half elves getting points for trying to fit in both with humans and elves is a great touch.

There’s a neat setup for multiple characters- with the understanding that the setting is lethal enough that you might need extra PCs ready so you don’t end up not-playing for hours on end. Though, I’m curious how that is much different than any low level D&D (“Carrion Crawler, RUN RUN RUN”), and whether it’s an encouragement to more ruthlessness on the part of the DM?

Finally, there’s also the idea that most weapons and armor are not made of metal- this actually gives a pretty good incentive to specialize in quarterstaves and other wooden weapons- or at least knives, you’re not likely to be able to afford real metal weapons anytime soon, and the penalties for using other materials makes it rarely worth it.

It also sets up an interesting way for characters to wear less armor and not be woefully underprotected- yeah, you’re wearing lighter armor, but your opponent has a penalty to hit and a penalty to damage since he’s using an obsidian axe.

The magic/ecological aspect is the most interesting to me. It’s cool that magic can literally rip away the life force of the planet, though, it has a big chart of how much vegetation turns to ash which doesn’t really tie into any kind of larger sense of scale for the amount of effort you put in. In many ways, to actually track what kind of damage that means in the big scale would be more effort than any GM I imagine is putting in.

Color-wise, it’s very Brom, very 80’s, very european comic fantasy (most of which, we only see in Heavy Metal out here in the US). Imagery-wise, it’s a bunch of white folks in the desert, women who have 80’s hair styles and weird pseudopunk gear, oh, except the Athasian Giants, who fit the black brute stereotype in image and are the sketchiest thing in the books.

In many ways, I feel that the kinds of conflicts beyond “survival in the desert” would probably be best served by another game system- Shadow of Yesterday or In a Wicked Age spring to mind. Maybe even HeroQuest.

It’s an interesting setting, and in it’s difference, it highlights very well a lot of the issues of D&D setting logic (as well as other games that ride the supplement treadmill, Palladium I’m looking at you). As a smart business decision, you want as much of your products to encourage the customers to Pokemon collect’em all. Products which are narrow in what they work with in your product line, are not so good for that.