Friday, June 25, 2010

Fun with a French Fire Helmet

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.

Gonen's World: The Bumper Sticker

Monday, June 7, 2010

Gonen's World Blog Online

Gearing up for the 10th Anniversary Gonen's World campaign, I have decided to put together a blog like this one, only specifically for Gonen's World stuff. While I am slightly embarrassed to use a blog template that seems to have gotten a lot of mileage all over the internet (Scribe), I will try to remember that content trumps design and just leave it at that.

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.

June 6: The Longest Day

Yesterday was the 66th Anniversary of the Operation Overlord, the allied invasion of Hitler's Europe - better known as D-Day.

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.

No One Writes Epic Poetry Anymore least not that I know of. I guess it's a genre that has outlived its time. I don't see any of the poets I've met (who are mostly interested in being poets, rather than writing poetry) taking up a pen and leaping into line after line of iambic pentameter.

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.

Where the Hell Have I Been?

Let the new posts begin.

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.