Friday, December 3, 2010
First, I read The First Family by Mike Dash. It tells the story of Giuseppe Morello, known as "The Clutch Hand" because of his deformed hand. He was from Corleone in Sicily and in some ways seems like the model for the Robert DeNiro sequences in Godfather II (the best part of all three of those movies, in my opinion). The book explains how Morello's gang evolved into the modern-day "Mafia," and discusses the history of the Mafia in Sicily and how it crossed the Atlantic to take root in the U.S.A. The book is full of great characters like Ignazio Lupo, Zeppo the Gimp, and other colorful personalities (all of them rather bad guys). I enjoyed reading about how the Mafia - and other organizations like it that are now not so well-known, like the Camorra) evolved and developed. One of the really cool characters is Flynn, a Secret Service agent who spent years trying to get at these guys, with varying levels of success. Another interesting figure is Joseph Petrosino, a New York cop who worked undercover against Italian gangs. He was assassinated in Italy when he went there to do some investigating. In short, this book is a great bit of journalism, well-documented but without the self-conscious footnotes of the academic.
Next, I read The Starker by Rose Keefe, and I think it's by far the more interesting of the two books. A review I read of this one was titled "Jews Behaving Badly," and that's exactly what this book is about. It mostly focuses on Big Jack Zelig (Zelig Lefkowitz) who is not well-known today but was a very important gang leader in his time. It's basically the story of Zelig's rise and fall and his involvement in the controversial Becker-Rosenthal case. I found Zelig to be a much more likable character than Morello. Zelig was a bad guy, don't get me wrong - he had a penchant for cutting people's faces into ribbons - but he didn't necessarily start off bad. One of my favorite sequences is how he botched his first assassination attempt by being unable to actually pull the trigger and kill someone. Luckily for fans of gangster stories, he got over it. But he was capable of a lot of compassion, and used to be very protective of new Jewish immigrants. I did not know how important Jews were to the history of organized crime in America, despite knowing names like Bugsy Siegel and Arnold Rothstein and whatnot. The book's title, by the way, is a Yiddish word meaning "strongman." Or something like that.
Anyway, I think my gangster fix is good for a while. I don't know why these evil bastards fascinate me. Probably because when you read their life stories, things don't seem so black-and-white, when it comes to morality. I think gangsters are celebrated in our pop culture because everyone fantasizes about breaking the rules and doing whatever they want. But the overall impression one gets the more gangster stories one reads is that crime does not pay. I can't think of a single person in either of these books that came to what I'd call a good end.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
I've started the process of collecting images and documents from the Cape City game into a special page here - the Cape City Archive. All of this stuff is on the Star Chamber but not in one place. I'm still looking for electronic copies of the Cape City Comet issues from the "Redux" campaign (the second one), and if anyone has any hard copies of those that they've saved, let me know (I can only find two).
I will continue to add Cape City stuff over time, especially the lengthy "Cape City Canon" document that is on the Star Chamber.
In the meantime, I'm looking forward to seeing if some Fudge variant might not work for this game. As much as I love the setting, I don't feel like the systems we've used for it (Mutants & Masterminds, Savage Worlds) have really fit the setting (though Savage Worlds came close).
At any rate, if anyone has any extant Cape City material out there, let me know! In the meantime, enjoy the Cape City Archive.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
If you're at all into Tudor history, this is the book to read. Weir has this amazing gift of really bringing the nitty-gritty of the period to life. While the major events of Elizabeth's remarkable reign get the full "History Book" treatment, the narrative is interspersed with bits about the clothes, architecture, recreation, and other everyday things that make the period seem fresh and relevant.
I honestly don't read book reviews very often, so I'm not sure why I'm writing one, other than to say "I liked it." However, what stuck with me most (aside from the fact that I would love to go back in time and visit with this iconic lady) is what fertile ground the Tudor period is for gaming (everything always comes back to gaming with me).
The best RPG set during this period would focus on espionage, I think, as Elizabeth had one of the first truly modern secret service type agencies. Read all about it and tell me that wouldn't be a fun campaign!
Finally, I saw some guy called Manuel posted this at Good Reads, and I thought it summed up Elizabeth's life rather nicely.
"Talk about having a disfunctional family.
Your Dad marries your Mom when he's still technically married to his first wife. No matter; your Dad is the King of England.
Your Dad gets bored with your Mom and she looses her head (literally). You then go from princess to bastard and get sent away until your Dad likes you again.
Your Dad remarries, and yet again a few more times. You cant help feeling a little insecure in such an unstable enviroment. You grow up loved and then hated then loved again.
Your younger brother becomes King and he has a few ideas of his own about how you are supposed to pray to God. Your elder sister gets her turn being Queen and she isnt too keen on you or your religion either.
Finally at last you get your turn at the helm and much to everyone's surprise and joy, you actually do a pretty good job. Just watch out for all those suitors asking for your hand or that nasty Spanish Armada coming your direction and how about that pesky Scotish Catholic Queen and cousin. She came for a visit and stayed twenty years, bad-mouthing you the entire time.
Such is the exciting life of Elizabeth Tudor; Queen of England for 43 years."
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
I started messing with Fudge as a test to see if I thought some form of it would work for the Cape City game. After one playtest, I think it might. We'll see. That's a huge project. This one was short and sweet and I can't wait to try it out with the "big group." The playtest group (Anthony, Brendan and Connor) had a lot of fun with it. Gangster stories, like Westerns, are pure Americana, and I have become quite interested in the rise of organized crime in the U.S. I am reading a book called First Family, and have another lined up called The Starker, about the formation of Sicilian and Jewish gangs in New York, and some of those details will most likely show up in the game in some form or another. I have been looking for a good book about organized crime in Kansas City, and while I've found plenty of interesting stuff online, I haven't been able to find a descent book that is still in print. If anyone knows of one, let me know.
Anyway, check it out!
Friday, November 12, 2010
"On 11/11/2010, just before 6pm, officers were dispatched to 435 Hwy and Gregory on sounds of shots coming from a white van.
Upon arrival, officers observed the white van parked on the side of the road, on Gregory. When officers exited their vehicle they heard what they believed to be sounds of shots from the white van and fired their weapons. During the incident it was discovered the sounds of shots were actually caused by the van backfiring.
No one was hurt in the incident and the driver of the van was not armed. The windows of the police vehicle were believed to have been shot out by officers exiting their vehicle.
The incident is under investigation."
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Hey all, here is my brother's short "Lotawana," in which I have a small role. This was a family affair, and also features my dad as a washed-up politician who comes to a bad end. If you like it go to Vimeo and let Darren know!
At first I felt too jaded to think this was cool, but I never won anything at any of my other newspaper jobs (maybe because we never submitted anything), so I'll allow myself this brief pat on the back. Looks good on a resume, in any case.
So yay for me.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
SEANN MCANALLY – Gary Gygax - if you're a game geek, you know the name. Even if you're not a game geek, you've probably heard of Dungeons & Dragons - you know, the game with the funny-shaped dice, literally thousands of pages of rules, the reason you hear friends saying things like, "save versus death magic" and "did you hit that bone devil last round?" Gygax created the game in the early 1970s, ushering in a completely new kind of entertainment - the role-playing game (RPG).
Gygax spent the first years of his life in Chicago, where he fell in love with card games and chess at an early age. He later moved to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where an abandoned insane asylum on the hill overlooking town provided the scene for many early "adventures" and influenced the dungeon-crawling aspect of the game that would later make him famous. A love affair with science fiction and fantasy literature blossomed as his interest in games became more varied and intense - it was a natural development that the two interests would coincide.
The original D&D evolved from Gygax's interest in miniature war-gaming - every weekend, his basement would be full of game geeks conducting medieval-era warfare with hundreds of metal miniatures on a huge sand table. When things eventually got a little boring for the participants, Gygax threw in some new twists - a dragon, a wizard, a giant. The additions proved so popular that he soon ran out of room in his basement. Gygax published the innovations as the game Chainmail, the war-gaming forerunner of D&D. Eventually his experiments with war gaming lead to a focus on individual characters, as opposed to armies, and the exploration of ruins and wilderness areas as opposed to mass combat. With Dave Arneson, Gygax developed the basis for what would become Dungeons & Dragons. (he experimented with several names - it was his daughter's enthusiasm for the "D&D" moniker that made it stick). Gygax shopped the game to various game companies, who were not interested, citing the game's complexity and open-ended quality. Undaunted, he raised $1000 with his long-time friend and fellow gamer, the late Don Kaye, and formed TSR (Tactical Studies Rules) in 1973. Together, they hand-assembled 1000 copies of the rules, which quickly sold out - the rest is very well documented history.
The game proved immensely popular - Gygax estimates that in the first year or so, photocopied game books outnumbered legitimate editions 2 to 1 - and many of his fans were rabid supporters of the new company (self-appointed gangs of "rude boys" used to scour gaming conventions, destroying pirated copies so TSR would be sure to turn a profit). TSR published numerous other RPGs - Star Frontiers, Boot Hill, Gangbusters, Metamorphasis Alpha (still one of Gygax's favorites) which later became Gamma World - and branched out into the traditional entertainment industry as well, with books, magazines, video & computer games and the famous (if somewhat silly) Saturday morning D&D cartoon. The foundation of the TSR empire, however, remained the D&D game.
Gygax parted ways with the company in the early 1980s. To make a long story short, he eventually lost a controlling share of TSR stock and consequently, control over products for the very game he created. After several internal power struggles he resigned from TSR, which, after woeful mismanagement by Gygax' successors, later sold out to Magic publisher Wizards of the Coast (which in turn sold out to Hasbro). A game that started out as a dream - 50 pages of rough notes in a game geek's basement - is now a multi-million dollar entertainment phenomenon, with so many fan and pseudo-professional sites on the internet it's impossible to see them all.
Gygax's latest game is Lejendary Adventures, published by Hekaforge Productions - and this time he has complete creative control. A devoted gaming community has grown up around LA, a game which Gygax says reflects the way he views RPGs today. But his name will always be inextricably linked to Dungeons & Dragons, a game with immense name recognition that after almost 30 years has no major competitor. There are hundreds of RPGs on the market today, covering every conceivable genre, but D&D - currently in its third edition (the game has changed significantly since Gygax was at the helm, the new system is incredibly popular, but Gygax himself feels to be too focused on "power gaming" and player aggrandizement at the expense of game balance) - continues to outsell them all, commanding well over a quarter of the RPG market.
While Gygax generally isn't recognized on the street and usually isn't stopped in grocery stores by eager D&D fans (although his wife once caught him chatting with a young female deadhead who thought he was Jerry Garcia) his name is by and large the most recognized in the RPG world. Outside of the RPG community, he is the most high-profile RPG luminary (in 2000 Gygax played himself, alongside Al Gore and Stephen Hawking, in an episode of the Fox TV show Futurama. His list of published works is impressive and today he is more prolific than ever (see Gygax's bibliography below). As the founder of the RPG hobby, the Gygax name holds a special significance for gamers - and despite, or perhaps because of this, he is reviled as some sort of pariah or dinosaur by many younger fans, while others make him the object of blind hero-worship. It's not hard to talk to the man and find out for yourself - despite his busy schedule (six or seven 10-12 hour days a week) Gygax is known for his hospitality and approachability. He is a regular poster on several forums and attempts to keep up with a huge volume of email. Gygax recently took the time to answer questions from Joel, Randy and I...
Q: You basically gambled everything to follow your dream of becoming a game designer and writer. What was your profession in the pre-Dungeons & Dragons days, and what factors contributed to your decision to follow your heart full time?
I was an insurance underwriter. I took the job rather than going on with schooling at the University of Chicago to become an anthropologist. I did fairly well in insurance, was a supervising underwriter for individual, group, and association group, health, life, long term disability, and unusual risk policies.
I was offered positions with several major agencies, and a junior partnership in one. I turned down all those offers because I was determined to get out of that field and become a writer and game designer. When the company was moving the office I worked for to San Francisco, that decided things.
Q. What are your system stats?
We have here an iMac G3, a PwerMac 7600/120, three old and still working Mac + machines, and my Dell Dimension 8100 with the biggest monitor I could get. It has a Pentium IV giving a 1.4 GHz processing speed, with 20 gigs of ROM and 256 megs of RAM (Yes, I need more. I have a new graphics card, and I'll double RAM, have both installed soon). My modem is 56k. I have an HP Scanjet 4300C scanner, and an HP Deskjet 932C printer hooked up. The sound system is by Harmon/Kardon.
Now leave me alone! I am a writer, not a computer mechanic! (^_^)
Q. What online forums do you frequent regularly?
I hit EN World as Col_Pladoh. I also post a lot on the www.lejendary.com boards, and on the MSN Lejendary Adventure Community, and www.dragonsfoot.org ones about once a week. I post as Gary or sometimes GaryGygax.
Q. Many gamers use the computer as an audio-visual and die-rolling aid for traditional RPGs. Do you feel this contributes to or detracts something from the "spirit" of the game?
Gee, I don't know why I should comment on what someone finds useful in their RPG. I don't usually use the computer, but if I could quickly call up pics of monsters and the like, I sure would. As for rolling dice, I want to do that for myself - as Game Master or as a player. But at least one of my players uses his laptop to do that sometimes.
Whatever makes the gaming better for the group involved has to be okay, no?
Q. You have said CRPGs aren't "real" roleplaying - as online multiplayer games become fuller featured, do you foresee this changing? What kinds of technological advances are necessary to make "real" roleplaying via machine possible?
First question is: To whom does one ROLEPLAY when gaming? Obviously, CRPGs are not really RPGs at all, are they? Unless there is direct communication between the Game Master and the players, that communication affecting the GM's decisions on the results of actions other than random number results, there is no roleplay of any meaningful sort involved, although some role assumption and playing within the bounds of the character set forth is possible.
I foresee online gaming changing when there are good audio-visual links connecting the participants, thus approximating play in a face-to-face group.
When AI approximates Machine Intelligence, then many online and computer-run RPGs will move towards actual RPG activity. Nonetheless, that will not replace the experience of "being there," any more than seeing a theatrical motion picture can replace the stage play.
Q. You've been quoted as saying you don't play computer games because you know once you start, you'll never have time for anything else. What games have tempted you?
Groan! I see my son Alex playing Diablo and am tempted. I see my son Luke playing Panzer General and am tempted. I see my son Ernie playing Civilization and am tempted. Heh! I am a GAME GEEK. When Alex was playing Lemonade Stand I watched and nearly got hooked. I like most any game.
The one that got me long back was Martin Campion's Rails West (SSI). I played it all the time, to the detriment of my work. One night after faking going to sleep, my wife caught me at the computer at 3 a.m., laid down the law, and pointed out that I was not producing any work in the process of that motivational speech. I have "fallen off the wagon" only a couple of times since. I can't wait until I can "retire," or get involved in the production of a computer/online game, so as to able to play more :).
Q. You called yourself a "game geek." What does the word "geek" mean to you?
The term "geek" is most often used as a pejorative. It at least infers lack of popularity, social graces, and general appeal. It can also mean someone with an obsessive interest in something, as is demonstrated by the cable TV station, Comedy Central. When I use the term, it is in the latter context, so as a "game geek" I am prone to spend an inordinate amount of my time gaming or doing things related thereto. It helps my geekishness that I make a living at it...
I just read about one D&D geek who is a Navy Seal, btw. He wrote to WotC about it, and someone there shared his comments.
Q. While many people have accused Dungeons & Dragons (and roleplaying games in general) of being "inspired by the devil," don't you feel that there is some correlation between ritual magic (adoption of roles, costumes, gathering in circles) and the standard AD&D game playing session?
Frankly, I don't believe in magic.
We all play roles - do you speak to a cop, your parents, your friends, your teacher, your boss, someone who works for you, etc., the same way? Of course not. People dress in costumes to go to parties and discos - to point out just a few such instances - and most people do not don costumes to play RPGs (as they do in live action RPGs). Playing any game, or having a meeting of a small number of people means "gathering in a circle."
Q. Do you feel that roleplaying encourages or teaches its participants to "pretend" in everyday social situations?
Not at all. It does facilitate social interaction, proper behavior of accepted sort for the persons involved in a particular situation, if the game is properly directed by a GM of able sort.
Of course as children, we all, in all cultures and societies, learn behavior from observation, imitation, and encouragement of various kinds. So by the suggestion made, we all "pretend" most of the time.
Q. Do you feel that oftentimes that RPG systems are too complicated for any but the most dedicated and intelligent players to truly utilize? What is the most "intelligent" game system you've ever played, and why?
Yes! I was partially guilty of that very thing when I did the Dangerous Journeys/Mythus game system, although the Mythus Prime was simple and easy, meant to be published before the great, honking main portion of the system was.
I don't like comparisons, so I'll say that original D&D was the most intuitive system I've played, and thus is had and still has immense appeal.
Q. Many of us grew up with the Dungeons & Dragons Saturday morning cartoon. What was your involvement in that?
I was co-producer, had total creative control of the scripts, and I developed about a half-dozen springboards from which scripts were written.
Q. The recent Dungeons & Dragons film was almost universally maligned by gamers. What was your take on it?
As a grade B production it was mildly entertaining.
As a D&D film it is akin to something that fell out of the back end of a horse. From the smurf-eater to the little wooden empress, from the Boris Karloff imitator to the giant dwarf mugging for the cameras, the acting was terrible. The story was bad, the writing was awful, the costumes were pathetic, the direction was off, the sets were fair in places, the camera work passable, and the special effects okay. Was there music in the show? Hmmm. Guess is was pretty unremarkable, so. Some of the special effects were good, though.
I loved the "Harry Potter" movie, and the first LotR was great too!
Q. As far as you know, what was the basic evolution of polyhedral dice? If they existed prior to the creation of Dungeons & Dragons, what were they used for?
To the best of my knowledge I introduced them to gaming, en masse, with D&D in 1974. I found sets of the five platonic solids for sale in a school supply catalog back in 1972, and of course ordered them, used them in creating the D&D game.
Q. If you could change one thing about the modern RPG landscape, what would it be?
More people would play the Lejendary Adventure RPG!
If I had a second choice, I'd have more people made aware of what the RPG is in actuality, so then there would be a larger audience for them.
Otherwise the "modern" (I really dislike the connotations of that word, and "contemporary" is likely more apropos) RPG landscape is not much changed from what it was c. 1985, computers excepted.
Q. Of the characters you have played, which is your favorite? May we see his or her stats?
I really must admit Mordenkainen is my favorite. I enjoy playing fighters, rangers, thieves, clerics, and multi-classed sorts in OAD&D, but the magic-user is usually most fun for me.
Can you see Mordie's stats? No! I won't even show you those for my most recent PC, Louhi Sharpnose, a gnome illusionist and treasure finder who I created only about four years back.
Q. Can you briefly encapsulate the background of the campaign you're running right now? When and how often do you play?
I've been running a Lejendary Adventure system campaign for over six years now. It is currently suspended due to my workload, but I plan to resume it in a few weeks. It is set on the Lejendary Earth world. The Avatars (characters) adventuring there have experienced sea travel, action in the desert, the strange environment of a mysterious and massive plateau, city and dungeon adventures, as well as those of overland travel. We play for a few hours on Thursday nights, beginning around 6:30 p.m. If you pick up The Canting Crew (d20/LA/generic book on the criminal underclass) coming out from Troll Lord Games in March or so, you'll have a good idea of part of my campaign, as my group got to play-test the City of Ludnum, learn Thieves' Cant, etc. :)
Q. About a dozen of us in the kcgeek community run a campaign using your first edition rules, mainly because we don't want to purchase the new books and learn a new system. In retrospect, what problems do you see with first edition AD&D? Was Unearthed Arcana your attempt at an early form of a second edition?
Great to hear that the kcgeek campaign uses the original system. Are you all aware of the OAD&D website, www.dragonsfoot.org? Actually, I see very few problems with OAD&D. I ignore the weapon speed factor, the effects of weapons vs. armor, generally don't pay attention to anything but gross violations of encumbrance, and NEVER use psionics.
Yes, Unearthed Arcana was an exploration of some of the ideas I had for a new edition of OAD&D. I wanted to have the HD ranges changes, the mechanics altered so as to allow the system to play in other genres, and to work in skills that matched classes in a complimentary way.
The Lejendary Adventure system is how I view things now - skill-bundles to make archetypes as well as unique Avatars, rules-lite, and in all the Lejend Master in charge of things, to the absolute horror of rules lawyers everywhere ;-}>.
Q. Thanks for taking the time for the interview, not to mention for creating Dungeons & Dragons.
Welcome, and my pleasure to oblige.
First, I guess I am the only geek in the world that isn't already familiar with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I always avoided it, mostly because of my prejudice against the vampire fad, but I did myself a disservice. The show is 10 times better than I thought it would be. That's not to say it's not filled with a strong dose of dramatic teen angst, but it seems not only intentional but almost parody. The ideas and adventures are cheesy, but nothing a tabletop gamer would scoff at. So far, the characters are developing well and it's a much better, somewhat deeper, show than I thought it would be.
Of course, it does seem incredibly dated. I'm on the first season, which was 1996-97, and it's, like, so totally Nineties. It still seems weird to me that the 1990s now seem retro. Seems like just yesterday in some ways, and the nostalgia this show has sparked has not always been pleasant.
Still, it's a good show and I'm glad I started watching it.
Another good show that I've only just now started, but that was on from 1999-2007, is the Sopranos. I started watching it because I am obsessed with Boardwalk Empire, and I knew the same folks were behind both shows. I really like the Sopranos also; Tony Soprano is far more likable than the previews I'd seen suggested. The story element of him being under psychiatric care, revealing his story as he talks to his therapist, was a really neat way to do it.
I don't have a lot more to say about this show other than I'm about halfway through Season One and I keep staying up way too late because I just have to squeeze in another episode...
So here's to vampire slayers and gangsters - when done right, they make for some good TV.
Friday, October 22, 2010
I can't imagine that many of you will find much of interest here: it's basically the excruciating minutia of my trivial thoughts about matters of geekdom (my chief interest). But obviously, you're welcome, and if you want to comment or whatever, feel free.
As for facebook, I may be back someday, but I will have to go through and delete all the Republicans from my list first. :)
Browsing around at my local game store the other day, I saw some tubes of FUDGE dice (dF, as they're called) and, since they were only $5.50 and I was in possession of a mere $12 in spending money, I went ahead and bought. I figured I'd probably never play it, but I like dice and can always use some weird ones laying around.
If you don't know, the dF is a d6, but instead of numbers, it has two sides with a plus sign (+), two sides with a minus sign (-) and two blank sides.
LOTS of really popular games, including Spirit of the Century and the Dresden RPG, use some variation of FUDGE, an open-source system.
What's neat about it is that it is purposely constructed for customization, and it seems easily scalable to a super-heroes game (I have never found a satisfactory system that replicated the big action of comic books, or that, in the Cape City game, can accurately reflect heroes as different as Overman and Gangbuster). So I'm seriously considering using it in the next Cape City campaign.
I won't bother trying to explain FUDGE myself, but I will copy/paste some stuff about it from Wikipedia:
"Rather than being a rigidly pre-defined set of rules like d20 System or GURPS, Fudge offers a customizable toolkit for building the users' own specialized role-playing game system. Such things as what attributes and skills will define characters are left to be determined by the Game Master and players, and several different optional systems for resolving actions and conflicts are offered. Fudge is not tied to any particular genre or setting and world builders are encouraged to invent appropriate attributes and rules tailored to the campaign.
Fudge characters can also have Gifts and Faults, which are positive and negative traits that do not fit into the adjective scale.
Fudge uses customized "Fudge dice" which have an equal number of plus, minus and blank sides. A number of these dice are rolled, usually four at a time ("4dF" in Fudge dice notation), and for every plus side that comes up the result of using the Trait is considered one step higher (e.g. from Fair to Good) and for every minus side that comes up the result is considered one step lower. The goal is to match or surpass the difficulty level, also on the adjective scale, of the test. Thus, a Good attribute is considered to be Great if you were to roll two plus sides, one minus side, and one blank—the minus side cancels out one of the plus sides and the remaining plus side raises the result by one step. The same Good attribute would be considered Poor if you were to roll three minus sides and one blank.
There are also several alternative dice systems available that use regular six-sided or ten-sided dice, coins, or playing cards.
The rules of Fudge are highly customizable and can be adjusted for the level of simplicity or complexity desired by the Game Master and Players. Overall, the system is designed to encourage role-playing over strict adherence to an arbitrary set of rules. In fact, the main Fudge documents encourage players to "Just Fudge It"; that is, to focus on the story being created rather than on the game rules. For example, one character creation method encourages players to first write prose descriptions of their characters and then translate those into Fudge Traits."
Monday, October 18, 2010
I've been listening to Radio Rivendell for about a year or two now, and it's my favorite station to have on in the background when I'm writing, working on games, or whatever else. Essentially, it's all music from fantasy/historical films and a LOT of game soundtracks.
With no commercials and a lot of material from amateur and new composers (mostly guys messing around with digital keyboards of varying quality), they've got two pluses in my book. I'd be remiss if I didn't plug them, so here's a banner link. Check it out!
Sunday, October 17, 2010
If you've got a few spare minutes, why not check them out at conleymcanally.blogspot.com?
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
It makes me wish I was not using blogspot, but something I created and hosted myself. What's good for this? Word Press? Something easy. Suggestions?
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Belgium, Winter, 1944 – Staff Sgt. Harold Scarbrough drove a Pershing tank through a night so black he couldn’t even see. His commanding officer stood near him in the cramped confines of the tank, half-exposed through the tank’s roof hatch, peering through the murk to guide Scarbrough along a road through a heavy forest near the Ardennes Mountains.
Scarbrough – at the head of a column of tanks of the 9th Armored Division – was trying to get closer to the rest of his unit, who were in harm’s way.
Even worse, from the soldier’s point of view, they were hungry. Scarbrough’s tank column was escorting an armored “kitchen truck,” laden with ham hocks and beans, bacon, eggs, pancake mix, and other fuel to keep the 9th fighting.
Suddenly a cacophony of small arms fire ripped through the night. Scarbrough gritted his teeth and kept driving. Then came the low whine of incoming artillery shells. Before Scarbrough knew what hit them, a high-explosive round smashed into the tank. He and the rest of his crew were violently knocked around, but the tank’s armor held.
“All I remember at first was the noise,” Scarbrough recalled. “I couldn’t hear anything for three or four days after that, just a constant high-pitched ringing noise.”
When he came to his senses, Scarbrough, still half-dazed and shell-shocked, looked down to see all that was left of his commanding officer: his shoe.
Doing what he had to do that night, Scarbrough, temporarily deaf and covered with blood, took his commander’s place and kept going. He had to find – and feed – his “boys.”
“The thing is, we were there to fight,” Scarbrough said. “Sure, we were scared. But we were there, and we did what we had to do.”
Although the incident occurred over 60 years ago, Scarbrough still recalls his role in World War II with strong emotions. The South Kansas City resident’s memories of the tank explosion bring to life a part of the historic Battle of the Bulge, a series of conflicts late in World War II.
When the U.S. first entered World War II, Scarbrough was working with the Civilian Conservation Corps and courting Aletha, his high school sweetheart.
“I realized I was fit, white, and 21, and I was going to get drafted,” Scarbrough said. “So I volunteered.”
He was trained as part of a machine-gun unit attached to a cavalry squadron – that’s cavalry with horses. It wasn’t long, he said, before horses were exchanged for tanks.
An accident almost kept Scarbrough out of the war. He was kicked by a horse, breaking one knee.
“They weren’t going to let me go,” he said, “so I re-trained as a cook so I could go with them.”
Days before he left, he married Aletha, and soon after he arrived in Europe he got the news that she was pregnant.
“That keeps you going,” he said.
Scarbrough and his buddies in the 9th Armored Division hadn’t seen much combat before they got to Europe, and they were baptized with shrapnel and fire. Almost as soon as they arrived, they were involved in some of the heaviest fighting of the war. They fought at St. Vith, holding off a German attack for several bloody days before being forced back. They fought in the streets of the Echternach, watching priceless medieval architecture explode into fragments. Scarbrough was with part of the 9th that joined with the 10th Armored Division and elements of the 101st Airborne when they heroically held the city of Bastogne, fighting off fierce German attacks for some 17 days in blistering cold.
“We were surrounded,” Scarbrough recalled. “We were trapped. You talk about being scared? We were. But the boys kept saying, ‘Don’t worry, be calm, we’ll get out of here. If you see anyone, shoot ‘em!’”
Scarbrough remembers the cold being a worse enemy than the Germans at Bastogne.
“You couldn’t light a fire, or you’d give away your position,” he said.
To keep warm, the men dug holes in the ground, filled them with straw, and covered them with brush – and they stayed inside their little man-made caves as much as they could.
“We didn’t get out and mosey around,” Scarbrough said. “There were snipers.”
At one point, the Germans called for the Americans to surrender, to which General Anthony McAuliffe famously replied, “Nuts!” But soon enough, the troops of General Patton came to the rescue, breaking through the enemy lines and driving the Germans back.
“We were sure glad to see ‘em,” Scarbrough laughed.
The 9th pushed on, and eventually fought their way across the Roer River to Rheinbach, where they stopped to send patrols to the city of Ramagen – that was their prize, because it was the home of the Luddendorf Bridge, the last remaining German-controlled route over the Rhine River.
Scarbrough and the rest of the 9th smashed through Nazi forces and captured the bridge, just minutes before detonation charges were set to explode.
“I was in the fifth tank across the bridge,” Scarbrough said with pride. “When we got across, and the people (of Ramagen) realized they were free from the Nazis, they ran out and lined both sides of the road and we drove through. They were waving flags and hollering how happy they were.”
It was a major turning point in the war, and the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany.
“That broke the Germans’ back,” Scarbrough said. “After that, we were fighting in Germany. The Nazis didn’t like that one bit. We traveled a lot faster after that because we were chasing Nazis.”
One incident was so harrowing Scarbrough says he blocked it from his mind and couldn’t remember it until decades later. He was with a group that liberated a Nazi concentration camp near Dusseldorf.
“There were dead bodies everywhere, all piled up and half-burnt,” Scarbrough said, his voice catching and tears filling his eyes. “The Jews who were alive were so starved they were just skin and bones. How can a person be so mean, to put millions of people in that kind of shape? I don’t know what was in his (Hitler’s) mind. He was a maniac, that’s all I can say.”
Scarbrough said the Americans were so disgusted by what they found that they had a tough time allowing the German soldiers who ran the camp to surrender.
“One of the Germans made a smart remark,” he said, “and my captain grabbed him by the collar and beat him to death with his fist. I blocked this out for many years.”
Scarbrough and the rest of the 9th Armored Division didn’t stop until they got to Berlin, and victory.
“It was a beautiful city,” he said, “what hadn’t been destroyed. As we rolled in, thousands of Germans came running up to us, begging to surrender because they were more afraid of the Russians.”
Scarbrough stayed for a bit longer as the war wound down and pockets of resistance were mopped up. But when the time came to board transport ships to go home, Scarbrough was ready.
“They offered me a chance for promotion and to stay in,” he recalled. “I asked what I’d be doing. They said, ‘You’ll probably go to Korea.’ I said, ‘You can jam it. I’m goin’ home.’”
After the long trip back to the states, Scarbrough couldn’t wait to see his wife. He also couldn’t wait to see the little 18-month-old son he’d never met.
“She (Aletha) showed Charlie my picture every day while I was away,” Scarbrough said. “When he saw me, he…” Scarbrough paused as tears of joy welled up in his eyes. “When he saw me he went like this.” He held his arms out for a hug. “He knew who I was. He knew me.”
Scarbrough settled down with Aletha in South Kansas City in 1957, and he’s been in the same house ever since. After Charlie, the couple had two daughters, Anita and Marilyn. Aletha passed away after battling breast cancer in the late Sixties, and in 1973 Harold remarried. He was with his second wife, Maxine, until she passed away a few years ago.
Scarbrough applied the can-do ethic he learned in the CCC and the Army to a career at Menorah Medical Center, where he handled carpentry, maintenance and locksmithing for the hospital. He retired in 1979.
Now, at age 93, Scarbrough is the patriarch of an extended family that includes a half-dozen grandchildren and so many great-grandchildren that he loses count of them“There’s a whole mess of ‘em,” he laughed.
For his role in World War II, Scarbrough earned numerous medals and citations, including the Presidential Unit Citation for the taking of Ramagen, and the American Defense Medal.
I don't know. What I do know is that Queen has been with me as an active part of my life longer than any band. My first love was the Beatles, and I still like them, but they seem to lack the oomph that Queen has. I was later seduced by louder, more aggressive, big-guitar rock, but for some reason (perhaps their penchant for occasional big-guitar rock) Queen never left my CD player for long. A big part of why I love them might be nostalgia; when I listen to Queen I have good memories of junior high and high school, when I discovered their greatest hits and back catalog, respectively. Unlike a lot of bands I liked as a boy, I actually still listen to Queen, and that ability to hold me, year after year, while producing no new material, is very special.
I've been burning a lot of CDs lately, working on my collection of all-time favorites. I find that in my old age, my collection mostly runs to jazz, classical and neo-Renaissance music such as Hesperion XX (or XI), film and game soundtracks, and other symphonic music. So when it comes to rock 'n' roll, I'm not surprised that what I choose to listen to these days are bands like Queen, Jethro Tull, and Electric Light Orchestra (I'm especially taken with Tull, who I really only started listening to in earnest a year or so ago). I still enjoy the punk boogie of the Blues Explosion, the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard swank of Enduro, or the shameless, white trash swagger of AC/DC. But ultimately, I think it's finally time to admit that when it comes down to it, I prefer my rock "artsy." And that's OK.
So here's to Queen, who have, in some weird way, helped me discover something about myself, even at age 38. Poor Freddie. I would give anything to have seen him perform. I hope that if and when I get to heaven, he is there.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Friday, August 20, 2010
This was at a time when the Renaissance was just beginning in England, and up until this time portraiture was not particularly realistic. What I like about Holbein's portraits is that they seem to lifelike and realistic, compared to other portraits from this time. Part of Renaissance thinking was to emulate arts and letters of the "antique" (that is, Classical) world of ancient Greece and Rome. Holbein's work reminds me a lot of the realistic sculptures of the late Roman Republic, in that they aim for a mirror of reality and don't necessarily attempt to flatter.
In reading Henry VIII, I have really enjoyed looking up Holbein's portraits of the people discussed in the book, such as Henry's beautiful sister Mary, his friend Charles Brandon, Thomas Cromwell, Cardinal Wolsey, the Duke of Norfolk, and others. It has helped make them come alive for me, and think of them as people who really lived and breathed, rather than just dusty characters from history books. You can almost sense the pensiveness and angst in this portrait of More, who Henry greatly admired but later beheaded when More opposed the annulment of Henry's marriage to Katherine of Aragon to wed Anne Boleyn.
And from what I've read, the only good thing about Anne Boleyn is that she was Queen Elizabeth I's mom. That's about it. She seems like a pretty horrible person with a lot of sex appeal. This appeal is not evident in any of the pictures I have seen of her, but who am I to judge? I'm sure she had her moments.
To see some other cool portraits by Holbein, go here.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Monday, August 9, 2010
Friday, July 23, 2010
At any rate, our group completed a Classic Traveller campaign last year, and I felt it was one of the best I've ever run. It's certainly the only one I've ever kept a complete GM journal for (which is up at the Star Chamber, buried somewhere in the Starchives).
I always loved the CT character sheet, which looked like it had been produced by the Internal Revenue Service. But I wanted room for players to be able to write down the modifiers for each weapon vs. range and armor and all the other stuff, so I made a new one, attempting to keep the look and feel of the original. Here it is, if anyone ever needs it.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Hands Off My Band was originally for Captain Murgatroyd, but the Captain has returned to his super-fortress in Iceland and the song was only rehearsed once. Lacking the talents of the other Agents of Murgatroyd, I am forced to present it solo, thanks to the preset "metal" drumbeat on my keyboard (which fit too well for comfort).
Heavy Metal Alibi really needs another vocal track but I'm not up for it. The drums are basically me hitting keys live (2 tracks worth) and could be worse, but are still very sloppy. The lyrics at the end are wrong and make no sense. That's OK. I think I'll just leave this one as-is. I've tried re-recording it and it just loses something.
Friday, June 25, 2010
Is this not awesome? I interviewed the new fire marshal out in Grandview, who does a lot of cultural exchange stuff with French firefighters. He was cool enough to let me play with this helmet (and you can see him in the visor in the bottom photo, taking the picture of me). I liked the design of this helmet and I'm TOTALLY going to base some Gonen's World designs on it. Also, note my bad-ass Judge Dredd face in the top photo. Stallone can suck it.
Monday, June 7, 2010
The blog will never be complete. It will have fiction from me, Colin Campbell, and Ryan Ashmore (and anyone else who might contribute), as well as pages for the History and Culture of Vlodasai, and an A-Z "Library" page with encyclopedia-type entries about various things. Then once the campaign starts, it will be a place to access copies of player handouts, downloads of character sheets and templates, etc. Who knows what else will go up there? Any ideas?
At any rate, you can find it here, and I hope it will help you soak up a portion of whatever free time you have.
I am very late getting on the World War II bandwagon that seems to be going strong ever since Saving Private Ryan and Enemy at the Gates were released (followed by the excellent Band of Brothers, which I'm about halfway through). Nevertheless, I am on that bandwagon now.
When I was a little kid, my dad had a Time-Life Books history of WWII, and I mostly just looked at the pictures (this led to the early conclusion that while the Nazi party were awful people who committed some of the worst atrocities in history, they certainly had better fashion designers and artists than any other WWII military group - sorry!). I also saw the underrated Lee Marvin/Mark Hammill movie The Big Red One as a kid, and used to play at being a WWII soldier.
Later in life I wanted to learn more about WWII and looked around for a good narrative history of the whole conflict. I had trouble finding one (in fact, I haven't). Most of the books I could find focused on single battles or localized aspects of the war. I didn't get a hold of a basic narrative until I read Weird War II, a setting for the Savage Worlds RPG, and this gave me a good framework for understanding the events of the war.
I picked up The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan, a book that is considered a classic (both of history and of journalism) and was absolutely enthralled by it. It kept me turning page after page and it almost felt like reading a novel. It essentially takes us minute-by-minute through the whole battle, more-or-less from midnight to midnight of that day (June 6, 1944). It's full of anecdotes and wilder-than-fiction adventures.
It's not a long read and it's the kind of book you're likely to breeze through (it's hard to put down!). I would recommend that anyone interested in not only WWII history, but history in general, read this book. From the night time drop of paratroopers to the bloody beaches of Normandy, it's BAM! BAM! BAM! action from the beginning to the end.
And best yet, it's all REAL. We can play all the heroic games we want, but what these guys went through...well, it humbles me, and fills me with awe to realize what feats of courage normal people like you and me are capable of when they're in dangerous, even impossible, situations.
I am looking forward to continuing my adventures with Cornelius Ryan with the book A Bridge Too Far, about Operation Market Garden, and The Last Battle, about the Battle of Berlin.
But lately, I've been reading a bit - particularly a new translation of the legendary classic Beowulf by Nobel Prize-winner Seamus Heaney. And guess what? It's awesome.
So much of the epic poetry we had to read in college was translated in Victorian times, or early in the 1900s, and it seems stilted and formal. I read Beowulf in high school (in the incomparable Kingdon Anderson's English Lit class) and, while I was (and am) enough of a fantasy geek to be interested in the subject matter, I found it difficult to read, and felt a bit lost, bereft of context and whatnot.
This particular translation by Seamus Heaney garnered a lot of great reviews - or so I noticed after picking it up at the bookstore, having been impressed by the minimalist design of the cover - and, after a few seconds flipping through it, I could see why.
Heaney has re-established the sense of rhythm and immediacy listeners must have felt in the old poem, which was part of the Baltic oral tradition and was meant to be heard aloud (never mind that it was later written down by some monk, giving it the distinction of being the oldest extant poem in English). I didn't feel like I was reading a boring old poem for an English class, I felt like I was reading a gritty, violent, fantastical adventure story.
I picked up the bi-lingual edition, which has Old English on each left-hand page, and Heaney's superb translation on the right-hand page. It was fun to try to match up modern words with the Old English words, which almost seem like a different language. Every now and then I recognized a word, but it seems clear that modern English bears very little resemblance to the English used by whatever mystery man finally wrote down (and Christianized) this legend.
Once you get the flow of the language, this is a fast read, and I'd recommend it to anyone who a) likes historical epics; b) likes words and likes seeing them cleverly and rhythmically composed, and c) anyone who likes a good fantasy story about guys fighting monsters.
What interested me most were details that resonated with other things I've read: at one point, Beowulf forces a thief who had stolen a treasure from a dragon to guide him across the wastelands to the hoard. This reminded me a lot of Frodo and Sam press-ganging Gollum into leading them through the land of Mordor to Mount Doom in Tolkien's work. Another bit described how the thief stole a goblet from the dragon's hoard in the first place, which reminded me of Bilbo tricking Smaug in the Hobbit. The kings in the story are constantly referred to as "ring-givers," which again seemed Tolkienesque. This isn't surprising, since Tolkien wrote an epochal paper on Beowulf early in his scholarly career that (from what I understand) changed people's opinions on the context of the story and reawakened scholarly interest in the tale.
So if you have any interest in this sort of thing, grab a copy of this and check it out! If you do, I recommend trying to imagine it in a thick Scottish brogue as you read it - it fits.
I've been lax on keeping up with my blog. Why? I guess the main reason why is that as far as I know, I have a readership of one, Mr. Ryan Ashmore. That's OK. I was basically just doing this for kicks anyway, playing around with the blogging software. It's also something to keep me busy during my little 15-minute bursts of free time here at work. It's not something I've taken very seriously.
But recently, to my horror, I realized that when you google "Seann McAnally," this blog comes up. So I thought I'd start trying to update more regularly, just in case any long-lost friends out there should happen to stumble across this. And, as always, I'll count on a wee bit o' traffic from the Star Chamber, so I'll focus my posts on stuff I think like-minded folks will find interesting.
I've played around with my layout/colors a bit, but I still feel trapped by the templates. I'll have to do some research on that. Quite frankly, I ought to be figuring out Word Press. But what can I say? I've got a touch of the Lazy Bug most of the time...I may continue to play with the look of things over time.
So fair warning - let the update onslaught begin.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Thursday, January 21, 2010
True, if you don't like using miniatures, you'll find a lot of the edges are somewhat worthless. Our group has started using a magnet board and magnets in lieu of a tabletop and this seems to work really well. But that's a small matter.
What I like about Savage Worlds is this: It does everything every other system I've ever encountered does, and it does it quickly and more efficiently without the need for excessive bookkeeping on my part. And while our regular gaming group is not all that interested in miniatures, my son and I have collected many and we regularly stage miniature games at home with my nephews. Savage Worlds works perfectly as a miniatures game and an RPG, with no need to change systems. Smooth, efficient, everything in its place, nothing in excess. It's perfect.
I had a very bad experience playing Rogue Trader last night. My players - none of whom are actually willing to buy the book - kept interrupting me to "make sure I had that rule right" or whatever. It was a pain in the ass. I think we played for a total of about 20 minutes of a two and a half hour session. It's not that Rogue Trader is a bad system or that I'm a bad Game Master, or that at least two players were gleefully unwilling to go along with the "GM is always right...for now" rule. I was not only embarassed and annoyed when I didn't know a rule (embarassed because I felt like I should know it, and annoyed that no one seemed to mind GM fiat when it was beneficial to them personally) but I was frustrated when I couldn't find something quickly in 400+ pages of text. I really like Rogue Trader, but it's just a little much for me. I'm not saying it's too complex - I'm saying it's too complex for me. There is too much for me to keep track of and I spend all my time doing research into the rules, rather than coming up with good stories.
Of course, that has always been Savage Worlds' big selling point - that it's easy for GMs to handle, while still giving players the "system-heavy" bits they generally seem to need in terms of "depth" in characters... (Let me digress to voice two opinions I think might be somewhat unpopular in the RPG community: "character depth" is a myth; what that means is "stats that define something you could have just roleplayed out anyway w/out requiring a special edge or feat or whatever" - and two, "plot" is overrated in RPGs. See S. John Ross for rationale.)
I think the Rogue Trader universe is so cool, and I'd love to "savage" it, but I have one player who will instantly quit if that happens. So I won't. I love the ship combat system and I think it has great potential. But I have been spoiled, or perhaps "dumbed down," if you want to put a negative spin on it, by Savage Worlds. It's just so simple and intuitive to me now that anything else seems too complicated. And not only too complicated - but too unecessarily complicated. Find one thing that Rogue Trader does that Savage Worlds can't do. Go ahead. I'll wait...
I'm going to finish this campaign and learn to make the best of it but playing Rogue Trader just reminded me once again of how much I love rules-lite systems like Savage Worlds: it has all the possibilities and none of the complexity. Again, I'm perfectly willing to admit that the shortcoming is mine when it comes to why complex systems don't work for me. But it is what it is, and I needed to say it to myself, if to no one else.
P.S. I love the folks I play with, but damn, a few were not ready to accept anything other than me stopping the game and proving my rules-interpretations last night...to be fair, this is pretty rare for them. But anyway.