i can hardly believe it . . .

April 30, 2007 at 7:25 pm (nonfiction, personal)

so last week, around thursday, it finally occurred to me that i no longer have any full novels i have to read for class. this is a pretty big deal. i’ve had stuff i’ve wanted to read just for fun since my winter break, but throughout this semester i’ve had a LOT of reading to do for school.

but no longer!

so, with a strange sort of feeling, i started looking around my room, trying to decide what i should read for fun. i realized that, good gods, i have a ridiculous number of books that i’ve been acquiring for personal reading. so, for shits and giggles, i thought i’d list them off here, and if anyone takes a look at this, they can suggest what books on this list ought to be my highest priorities.

currently i’m reading:
If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
and Un Lun Dun by China Miéville

other books that i own (or have been loaned to me) that i have not yet read (in roughly reverse the order i acquired them, that is, newest books first):
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
1984 by George Orwell
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
Mister Monday by Garth Nix
A Walk On the Nightside by Simon R. Green
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Kafka On the Shore by Haruki Murakami
The Big U by Neal Stephenson
Predator’s Gold by Philip Reeve
Infernal Devices by Philip Reeve
A Hunger Like Fire by Greg Stolze
Blood In, Blood Out by Lucien Soulban
The Marriage of Virtue and Viciousness by Greg Stolze
Last Call by Tim Powers
Bangkok 8 by John Burdett
All Tomorrow’s Parties by Wiliam Gibson
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
Count Zero by William Gibson
Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson
The Fermata by Nicholson Baker
Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk
The Lords of Darkness by Tanith Lee
Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates by Tom Robbins
Porno by Irvine Welsh

whew! that’s a pretty long list! and if this weren’t bad enough, i know there are at least a few others on my shelf i haven’t read, like all of Frank Herbert’s Dune books except the first one, but frankly, that’s all i had the energy for right now. and if that weren’t bad enough, i could name several more books that i don’t own but which i really would like to read. hell, tomorrow Palahniuk’s newest book, Rant, comes out, and i will probably try to pick it up pretty soon . . . despite the fact that if i just focused on what i already have it’s probably enough to keep me reading for a couple years. guh. oh well. it’s better than blowing my money on drugs and hookers, right?

anyway, beyond the two books i’m reading now, there isn’t anything i’m definitely planning on doing next (considering maybe doing the juvenile lit stuff first since it tends to be a fast read) so if anyone wants to make a suggestion, drop me a comment.

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Woo hoo! Firewater!

April 29, 2007 at 7:04 pm (music, news, nonfiction)

I suppose this may not be news to everyone, but it was news to me today, and it got me all excited, so I wanted to post about it.

Firewater hasn’t fallen off the face of the earth after all! Apparently while Tod A. has been off traveling the far and middle east he’s also been writing a lot of songs. so some day, theoretically, we can look forward to a new album

also, his blog is cool.
http://www.postcards.blogs.com/

Not only that, they have a myspace page!
http://www.myspace.com/realfirewater

This makes myspace about a billion times cooler, in my book. Don’t get me wrong, it still sucks ass, but hell, the presence of one of the most kick-fucking-awesome bands ever makes things much more tolerable in this gross little corner of the tubular intarwebs.

anyway, if you’re one of the poor, sad, unfortunate people that has never even heard of firewater you should get your ass over there and listen to a couple of the songs. personally, i don’t think they picked the best ones for the myspace page, but “Bourbon and Division” kicks serious ass, and “Dark Days Indeed” is pretty good too.

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i’m not goin’ down without a fight

April 16, 2007 at 9:27 pm (nonfiction, personal)

well so those that pay any attention to the scat and trails i leave across the tubular intarwebs are probably aware i haven’t been a very happy boy this last week.

it doesn’t seem to be changing much, either.

no way to tell for sure, really, but this feels different than the usual “blues” i get pretty frequently.
i can’t remember for sure, but i don’t even think i felt like this when i broke up with my last ex.

at this point its clear that the event which prompted my highly melodramatic post a week ago is, while disappointing, in no way deserving the internal reaction that it seems to have triggered.

at this point, i believe that this was something which was waiting to happen. something would have triggered it, if not that, then something else. it probably didn’t really matter what it was.

regardless, there’s no fucking way i’m just gonna succumb to the foolish notions of my mind as i did in the past.
fuck that shit.

so i am currently working on plans to try to nip this crap in the bud, or at least keep it under control.
step one is some return to focus on spiritual matters.
that probably sounds strange to anyone who knows me since i usually identify as atheist.
but back in about ’00 or ’01 when i was in my worst depression i did some reading of eastern religious texts and tried some meditation and it seemed to help me a bit. i’ve always wanted to pick up a copy of the dhammapada (one of the main buddhist texts) and the tao te ching, and so this weekend i did.
i’ve decided that i’ll spend about an hour every day reading those and meditating.

i’m also doing some fasting.
that might be more symbolic than anything else. i dunno. but a lot of religions have fasting practices, so i figure it can’t hurt to give it a shot.
will at least help me toward some level of physical if not spiritual purity.

i may also try to do some private journaling again.
that’s something i’ve always wanted to get in the habit of doing, but i’ve never managed to keep it up, especially when i feel like there isn’t anything much going on. i kept a journal fairly regularly all through my year of americorps, and for awhile after that, but i don’t think there’s been an entry in that book since i broke up with my last ex, and that was back in like september of ’04.
still, it might help to give it a shot again.

alls i know for sure is i’m not going down without a fight this time.

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kurt vonnegut is dead. so it goes.

April 12, 2007 at 10:31 am (news, nonfiction)

kurt vonnegut died yesterday. this makes me sad.
so it goes.

“When the last living thing
has died on account of us,
how poetical it would be
if Earth could say,
in a voice floating up
perhaps
from the floor
of the Grand Canyon,
‘It is done.’
People did not like it here.”
-“Requiem,” Kurt Vonnegut

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the death of a hope

April 7, 2007 at 11:52 pm (nonfiction, personal)

hope is a strange thing sometimes.
you can start acquiring hope in a certain thing.
about certain things. certain people.

the strangest thing is that it can grow and build almost completely unnoticed.
maybe you have a certain inkling that it’s there if you actually stop to think about it.
but even if you do, it doesn’t always seem that important.
that big.

until something kills it.

it isn’t until the hope dies that you really notice it.
that’s when you know it was there for certain.
when you realize just how much there was.
how big it had grown.
as you feel it dying in your heart.
thrashing in its death throes.

i apologize for this rather melodramatic post.
this isn’t usually my style.
but i’m not happy right now.
the death of a hope will do that to you.

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the shab-al-hiri roach

April 6, 2007 at 12:04 pm (gaming, nonfiction)

The Shab-al-Hiri Roach by Jason Morningstar is another game that doesn’t use a GM but that is about the only thing it has in common with Polaris. The Roach is an interesting, competitive, GM-less, Lovecraft inspired, replayable one-shot. i think the designer describes it best with his blurb on the back of the book:

The Shab-al-Hiri Roach is a dark comedy of manners, lampooning academia and asking players to answer a difficult question–are you willing to swallow a soul-eating telepathic insect bent on destroying human civilization? No? Even if it will get you tenure?”

each of the players in the game takes on the role of a professor at the fictional New England private school Pemberton University in the year 1919. just prior to the start of the game, another professor returned from an expedition to mesopotamia bringing back with him a sample of a new roach species. the creature had been in hibernation for thousands of years and is actually a powerful, mind-controlling creature whose kin once ruled over ancient Sumeria as gods. this creature and its new children add a few complications to the already difficult atmosphere of academic politicking, boot-licking, and backstabbing.

unlike most rpgs this one is kind of competitive. it uses tokens to represent Reputation, and the object of the game is to have the most Reputation at the end, but not be a slave to the Roach. the game is very structured with 6 specific events that occur. during each of them, each player has a chance to frame a scene, if he or she desires. before the events begin, players all draw a random card. each has a different effect depending on whether or not your character is currently a slave to the Roach. being a slave to the Roach brings power, but also difficulties, and while it is easy to voluntarily let the Roach crawl into your mouth and live in your sinus cavity, it is very difficult to get rid of it once it is there. players are essentially free to describe anything they like when they frame a scene, at least as far as their own characters and NPCs go. each scene will center around a conflict though, the stakes of which are determined by the players involved. other players can join either side, and Reputation is always on the line. once the narration is all done, each side rolls dice based on their character’s standing in the university, their department, their personal interests, whether they are doing the bidding of the Roach, etc. and whichever side rolls the single highest die wins both the Reputation and the previously established stakes.

this is another game i am really excited to try out sometime. it interests me because it’s meant to be a one shot game, played in a single session, and it is gm-less and competitive. i’m not really sure how well it works with people who have never played an rpg before, but i think it might be a good one to try with people new to the hobby since it is meant to play fast, with no future commitment, and the somewhat competitive aspect would be more familiar than the “there are no winners or losers” way most role-playing games work.

i had a minor problem with the game when i bought it because the person at the booth at GenCon didn’t give me the cards and I didn’t even know cards existed until I read the book after the con. fortunately Jason and whoever else makes up Bully Pulpit Games are kick-ass people and all i had to do was email them and they got some cards to me in the mail right away, along with an awesome rubber roach.

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polaris

April 6, 2007 at 12:04 pm (gaming, nonfiction)

Polaris by Ben Lehman is really damn cool. as someone described it (Paul Tevis of HGWT, i think, but i might be wrong) it’s a “fairy tale apocalypse at the north pole” and as the author himself describes it it’s “Chivalric Tragedy at the Utmost North.”

the entire book has a very mythic, legendary quality to it. reading the setting and background information it is difficult to tell what is supposed to be taken literally and what is supposed to be metaphorical, allegorical, symbolic, or legendary. or if there is even supposed to be any difference. to put it as simply as i can manage, it is about a civilization of fairy-like creatures who lived at the north pole before the rise of mankind. but also, apparently, before the sun (like i said, it gets kind of weird). at the time the game takes place, their civilization is crumbling, demons are attacking, the people are succumbing to corruption and demonic influence, and everything is basically going to hell. the game is, as the author makes quite clear, a tragedy. things will not end well for the characters and their world, and everyone knows that from the beginning.

this game is especially interesting to me because it has no GM. it is meant to be played with exactly 4 players. each one is in charge of one protagonist and a variety of secondary characters. essentially play rotates around the group, with each protagonist being in the spotlight for a scene at a time. while one protagonist is in the spotlight, the other players take on duties based on seating position. the person across from the one in charge of the current protagonist takes on the role of the Mistaken (the game’s term for demons, essentially) and it is his or her job to cause problems for the protagonist. the players to either side of the protagonist and Mistaken essentially serve to help arbitrate disputes and to take on the rolls of other characters connected to the protagonist.

as with The Mountain Witch, this game is seldom concerned with what a character is capable of and is more concerned with what player gets narration rights. in this game that is primarily determined through an interesting set of rules involving ritual phrases. this allows the protagonist and antagonist to both argue and push for what they would like to see happen in a scene but in a structured format. sometimes such negotiations for narrative power will end with the verbal consent of one of the parties, sometimes they come down to a simple die roll compared to one of the protagonists traits.

one of the things i think is really cool about this game is the way that it spreads the normal duties of a GM out among the players and the really cool way it deals with determining narrative power. i really, really want to try this game out sometime, and the only reason i haven’t pushed my friends to play it with me before now is because it is really meant to be done with exactly 4 players, and i only have 2 friends that i normally game with. the game can be done with three without too much trouble, but i’m hoping sometime to find a 4th. plus, i think i might want to try some other things with my friends first, before we try something as completely different from traditional games as this is.

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the mountain witch

April 6, 2007 at 12:03 pm (gaming, nonfiction)

The Mountain Witch by Timothy Kleinert is probably the closest thing to a “traditional” game out of these three, which really says something, because this is not your daddy’s rpg. i only say it is closer to being traditional because it actually has a GM, which both Polaris and the Roach lack. rather unfortunately, at the moment i feel the Mountain Witch is the indie game i own which i am least likely to play, simply because it seems that it probably needs more players than i am likely to be able to round up, though hopefully that will change someday.

the basic concept behind The Mountain Witch is kind of a film noir samurai story. it is about a group of ronin samurai who have banded together to climb mt. fuji to kill O-Yanma, the titular Mountain Witch.
the game has almost ludicrously simple mechanics, at least at its base. each side of a conflict rolls a single six-sided die, whichever side rolls higher wins. the difference between the rolls determines degree of success. what makes things interesting however, is that for one thing, the conflicts are as much about who gets to narrate what happens as they are about who wins. in most traditional rpgs, even when a player character succeeds on some kind of roll to do something (hit an enemy with his sword, pick a lock, hack a computer, whatever) the GM is still the one who narrates how it actually works out in the game world. in the Mountain Witch, narration is shared between players and the GM. also, the game has some highly fascinating mechanics to deal with issues of trust between the PCs. each of the ronin has a different reason for wanting to find and kill the mountain witch, and they don’t necessarily have good reasons to trust each other. the game is built to create tension between the PCs and create reasons for them to help each other sometimes and betray each other at other times. as the book describes it, O-Yanma is meant to be more of a plot device than a true adversary. the real adversary is meant to be the other PCs and their trust (or lack thereof) for each other.

so that’s the Mountain Witch. it’s a damn cool read with some really interesting ideas. the mechanics are possibly a bit too simplistic for me (though i really dig the trust system) but i still really want to try it out someday.

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indie rpgs – three games

April 6, 2007 at 11:57 am (gaming, nonfiction)

so prior to GenCon ’06 (my very FIRST GenCon!) the closest thing I had to an indie game was probably Unknown Armies by Greg Stolze and John Tynes and Over the Edge by Jonathon Tweet, both published by Atlas Games. now, on further consideration, these games both have a lot of qualities that make them really similar to a lot of the indie games i’ve been checking out lately. they’re certainly both a damn sight different from D&D or any of White Wolf’s offerings. still, technically i don’t suppose they qualify as “indie” but whatever, if i continue along this line of thought i’ll start getting all metaphysical about it, and that’s not the point right now.

anyway, having heard a lot of about some these games on the Have Games, Will Travel gaming podcast i decided i might consider picking up a couple at the con. and i did. i bought three:
The Mountain Witch by Timothy Kleinert
Polaris by Ben Lehman
and The Shab-al-Hiri Roach by Jason Morningstar

i should point out that i haven’t actually played any of these games yet, though it’s been nearly a year now since i purchased them. in fact, since that time i’ve acquired 7 other indie games (which i’ll talk more about in a later post) and haven’t played any of THOSE either. i feel moderately foolish about this, but they have all been such thought-provoking and fascinating reads that i really don’t mind, though i do hope to try out each and every one of them eventually.

anyway, i will talk a little bit about these first three, based on my readings.

[edit – this is more of a monster post than i realized. i think i’ll split my thoughts on the three games into three additional posts]

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indie rpgs – a rambling bunch of thoughts

April 6, 2007 at 10:42 am (gaming, nonfiction, rant)

hmmm. so anyone who knows me, or is big, geeky kind of gamer is probably aware of a growing trend in the role-playing game world these days. independently designed and published games.
whether i like it or not it seems pretty damn clear that the hobby gaming “industry” in general is on a downward slope right now, and i can’t help but think that the role-playing game publishing business especially is slowly but inevitably dying off.
don’t get me wrong: i don’t think gaming will ever die. board games and card games will probably continue to be a fairly viable business, and i’m sure there will always be people that play rpgs, but i think the days of rpg publishing being a realistic business for a company are limited.
but this could actually be a good thing, in some ways.
i’m sure a lot of fans of the hobby might be confused by a statement like this.
“How could the collapse of the companies that produce role-playing games – my favorite hobby – possibly be a good thing!?”

well, my thinking ties into what happened with text adventures.
anyone remember those? text adventures were actually pretty damn popular in the 80s. that’s right, kids! people actually paid good money to play video games that had NO GRAPHICS WHATSOEVER! they were ALL TEXT! Infocom was one of the biggest of these companies, giving us the classic Zork series, among others. i loved some of these games, and i still play them every now and then. but the problem with them was that they were always constrained by the necessity of trying to make games that would make a lot of money. don’t get me wrong, they still made some pretty interesting, inovative games – A Mind Forever Voyaging and Suspended particularly come to mind – but for the most part they were shooting for financial success, as all companies do. the text adventure as a viable commercial product died off, of course, as people (shockingly!) began to expect pretty pictures and sounds with their video games. but, and some of you may be surprised by this, the text adventure never went away completely.
these days the fans tend to call them IF, or interactive fiction. there are quite a lot of them being created even now, by fans, for fans. the people that write them do so because they love the games and they want to share a story that perhaps can only be properly told this way. and freed from the constraints of needing to try to produce games for a company and a paying consumer base, IF authors have been able to create some truly amazing games and stories, the best of which blow the old commercial classics out of the water. games like Spider and Web by Andrew Plotkin, Floatpoint by Emily Short, and Slouching Toward Bedlam by Daniel Ravipinto and Star Foster are some of the coolest stories I have ever experienced in any medium.

some of this is what i see happening now in the rpg community.
i’ll preface my next statement by pointing out that i have a pretty strong negative bias towards Wizards of the Coast and Dungeons and Dragons so fans of that game and company may very well disagree with me. it doesn’t really seem like WotC is doing anything particularly interesting, exciting, or innovative with D&D. it’s still basically the same game that it always was. it might do what it did better than it used to, but it does pretty much the same thing.
i think White Wolf is slightly better, but not much. i think they did some interesting things with their reboot of their World of Darkness line, and i think what they’re doing with Promethean and Changeling is pretty cool (a planned limited release schedule – allowing them to put something out that might not have the staying power and popularity of Vampire), but other than that, things are still pretty much the same.

fortunately, the indie rpg community didn’t require the full and complete death of the rpg publishing companies to start to grow.
for those who might not know what i’m talking about, when i talk about indie rpgs i just mean games that are designed and published by their creator without needing to go through a bigger publishing company.
i only really started learning about indie games last year, primarily through listening to the excellent gaming podcast Have Games, Will Travel by Paul Tevis. consequently, i know very well there are a lot of games out there i’m not familiar with. mostly what i tend to talk about when i mention indie rpgs are those that tend to be discussed around places like The Forge and the Story Games Community, and get sold on places like Indie Press Revolution.

one of the big reasons these games have begun to spring up so much in recent years all boils down to technology, of course. i have no doubt that people have been creating their own rpgs for a long, long time, sometimes writing down the rules, sometimes not. some of these games certainly went on to become the well known commercially produced games of today. but publishing books and games used to be difficult. not so much anymore. these days it’s pretty damn cheap and easy to write up a set of rules and share it over the internet, for example. the range of options for production quality and sales are wide just for electronic formats alone, and now there are print-on-demand companies like Lulu to make selling physical copies cheap and easy as well. so if you’ve got an idea for a game that you think people would enjoy and/or pay for, there is almost no reason whatsoever NOT to publish it.

still, the market is small. so like the modern-day interactive fiction community, the people who make indie rpgs are doing so because they love the games and they love the hobby, not because they want or expect to get rich from it. to a certain extent this is unfortunate – some of these games are really tremendous (and i speak just from the experience of reading the books) and i think their authors deserve financial rewards for such quality work – but i think i am also glad. i really like the fact that i know each and every one of these games was a true labor of love. no one is writing these things just to try to make a buck.

so i’m excited. these new games i’ve checked out are really interesting. they are a very, very different animal from Dungeons and Dragons or any of White Wolf’s games. people who think they know what role-playing games are all about would be shocked by some of these things, and i think that’s fantastic. D&D is great for those who like what it does, but it shouldn’t be the end all and be all. after all, sometimes you need more tools than just a hammer. sometimes you want to go on a dungeon crawl and shoot magic missiles at knolls, and sometimes you want to do something else.

anyway. this turned into much more of a rambling rant than i intended. i was going to talk about the specific indie games i’ve acquired this far, but since this post is getting so damn long, think i’ll put those thoughts into separate posts of their own.

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