Showing posts with label opinion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label opinion. Show all posts

Monday, August 07, 2017

What COULD Happen If Disney Stopped Publishing Marvel Comics?


There is an interesting article on (of all places) a site focused on Disney and Disney-related theme parks that asks the question Will Disney Stop Publishing Marvel Comic Books? We all know that one of the basic rules of journalism is that if your headline asks a yes/no question, the answer is typically no.

The thing is that this headline asks a pretty valid question that once would have been a resounding "no," but with the state of the comics market, and the fact that Marvel Comics has been bleeding readers for a while now, I don't know that it is that simple of a question any more. Neither Marvel Comics nor DC Comics are the powerhouses of the comics market that they were 30 or 40 years ago. In fact, the comics market itself has never really recovered from the market's speculator-lead bust of the 90s. Sales of DC Comics are up from what they were a few years ago (thanks mostly to the bump in sales that came about due to the Rebirth initiative that the company started about a year ago), but across the industry the sales numbers are no where near sustainable in the long term.

People have a number of reasons why they aren't buying comics like they used to. The quality isn't what it was. The stories are rehashes. Long-term readers don't recognize the characters in the comics anymore. There is a cycle of events that interrupt the various ongoing books, stalling out their stories. Buying comics on a monthly basis is expensive.

Some of these reasons are probably more valid than others, but regardless of the underlying reasons, people don't read comics like they used to read them. The direct comics market is also increasingly fragile for a number of reasons: many comics retailers aren't the best of business people (having gotten into the business because of their love of comics), declining sales means declining capital, and declining capital means that it is more difficult for retailers to diversify their product base or weather the storm of declining sales. Many comics stores are only just now recovering from the industry implosion of the 90s, and it wouldn't take a lot to cause them to teeter over the brink. Would they be able to bounce back again?

Regardless of the comic buying patterns of many of us comic fans, the comic market lives and dies by the selling power of the Big Two: Marvel Comics and DC Comics. If Disney were to decide that Marvel is a more profitable brand if it focuses on movies and merchandising, there would be an immense and sudden vacuum that would lead to another bust within the comics market. I don't think that another company would fill the vacuum left by Marvel. Image Comics, IDW Publishing and Boom! all publish some good books, but they don't scratch that super-hero itch that the Big Two does.

It is this lack of genre diversity that would be one of the factors that would lead to this bust. By putting so much of a market reliance onto just one genre of storytelling, the industry makes it more difficult to course correct by having other publishers step into the void left by a publisher leaving it. By relying heavily upon one genre, they create their own long term troubles. The collapse of the comics market would hurt the livelihood of a lot of people -- from creatives to distributors to retailers. It isn't an outcome that I would want to see.

If it came to pass that Disney decided to pull the plug on Marvel Comics publishing comics on a monthly basis it would decimate the industry. Even companies like DC Comics, with the deep pockets of Warner backing them, would have problems, because of the impact that it would have on the direct market. Too many eggs have been put into one basket of distribution and sales, just like they have been put into the one basket of genre. This isn't something that I would want to see happen, but I think that it is more becoming a possibility with each passing month.



Wednesday, March 01, 2017

So There's This Trailer For A World Of Darkness Documentary...



I will admit that I didn't play World of Darkness stuff until fairly recently. I could have been playing it in the 90s, and 90s me was certainly a part of the target demographic, but many of the people who were local to me at the time and who were playing the game just weren't people that I wanted to game with. So, I went off and read my Poppy Brite and Caitlin Kiernan novels in peace and played a lot of Call of Cthluhu and nowhere near as much KULT as I would have liked to have played.

Mostly I'm saying this to set the tone for the rest of this post.

I get that this is a prelude (see what I did there?) to a marketing piece that is supposed to reestablish the coolness of the World of Darkness and the eventual relaunch of games like Vampire and Werewolf. However, if we have learned anything over the last forty some years of tabletop role-playing games, it is that we can market our games without being a dick to people who like other games and styles of play. That lesson seems to have been lost on the people making this "documentary."

Also what seems to have been lost is an actual grasp of the history of role-playing games. Perhaps they could have fixed this by seeking out some outside voices, people who could speak authoritatively on the history of gaming, and its culture. If only there were people who regularly write about tabletop RPGs, and do so in a a way that demonstrates that they have tried to look at the bigger picture of things.

I am committing what I consider to be the biggest Cardinal Sin when it comes to reviewing: "DON'T BASE YOUR REVIEW OFF OF THE TRAILER." I think that if more people lived by that rule, the internet would be a much happier place. Plus if we got rid of the racist, misogynistic homophobes things would be happier too, but that has little to nothing to do with White Wolf and the World of Darkness. The reason why I'm willing to suspend this rule, in this case, has to do with the history of the people who are now in control of the White Wolf intellectual property. These people seem to be overly enthused about a grim and gritty, dark and edgy culture of the 90s that, while popular amongst a particular demographic (I know, because 90s me was all about a lot of this stuff, and I have the autographed print from James O'Barr to prove it), it was a culture that was, in many, many case, predicated on being shitty to other people. And honestly, being shitty to other people is something that geeks can stand to do less of.

There has been a number of weird decisions being made by the current regime at White Wolf, the recent mobile games fiasco being part of that.

It looks like the people running the show at White Wolf is getting the ball rolling to alienate more than a sizable chunk of their audience. I don't know, maybe they'll pull something out of their asses and it will all suddenly make sense and everyone around the world will join hands to sing a Goth Kumbaya set to a back beat of a guy beating on an old, rusty oil drum with a working circular saw. Or maybe not.

The thing is that this really isn't the way to do things in the 21st century. We can make our games, and promote our games, without belittling our fellow gamers. We can sell our games without willfully ignoring the history of tabletop RPGs. We don't have to be dicks, or talk shit about other games to make the games we love look better. We just have to love them. You know what is infectious? Love. You know what turns people off? Being a dick.

Yes, White Wolf turned a cultural corner in tabletop role-playing games with Vampire: The Masquerade. But, not because the mechanical part of the game was revolutionary. We already had dice pool mechanics (any D6-powered game, Champions and Shadowrun). We already had games that handled horror. We already had games that handled relationships (Pendragon or Ars Magica). We had so many different things.

It isn't the 90s any longer. The industry part of the tabletop role-playing industry isn't the same as it was then. The retail landscape isn't the same as it was then, either. And it is more than just the fact that businesses work differently now from then, but it is the fact that the culture of those who play tabletop role-playing games has (for the most part) shifted. Gaming is a lot more diverse. With diversity comes a wider variety of viewpoints. With a wider variety of viewpoints comes the idea that people look for different things to be "adult" and "mature."

It seems like the people who made that trailer have some outmoded sensibilities. I mean, who knows, maybe they're right. There's always going to be a market for angsty, holier-than-thou asshole types. Maybe there is this huge, untapped market of people who want to dust off their NON vinyl and go watch Mark Pauline do a show. I would be incredibly surprised to discover that is true, even though I would personally love a Survival Research Laboratories revival to happen.

I just wouldn't mind seeing gaming grow up more and decide that treating each other like shit wasn't the way to go.



Friday, February 17, 2017

Love Is Love (Review)


A couple of months ago an historic co-publishing venture from IDW Publishing and DC Comics came out, Love Is Love is an anthology comic made up of 1-2 page stories by a variety of writers and artists. The book is a fundraiser for Equality Florida, an LGBTQ+ equality and justice organization here in my home state.

Stylistically, the book is all over the place. This isn't a bad thing, because it is always good to see comic books remember there is more to them than just the super-hero books.

Love Is Love is a response to the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida last June. Forty-nine people were horribly and brutally killed. When this happened, my first thought was that I had friends in Orlando that weekend, who could have easily been at the club. I was relieved to find out that they were not. Even so, it took me a while to process, and get past, this brutal act of violence. What happened in Orlando should not have happened. We should be a more civilized and enlightened society that not only knows that these things are wrong, but that also does not erase who the victims were. The Pulse Nightclub shooting was, plain and simple, an act of hate against the LGBTQ+ community here in America. We should not be good with that.

This comic was that processing for many of these characters. The stories are, by turn, frightened, angry and depressed. Justifiably so, as well. Works like Love Is Love are a necessary part of the grieving process of an event like the Pulse Nightclub shooting, because seeing the catharsis of others can help with our own processes.

Love Is Love is a powerful comic book that I think should be read by everyone, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The stories told, while short, are powerful. I hope that people will read it and the emotional outpourings of the stories will change the views of others.

Go out and buy Love Is Love now.



Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Warhammer, Warhammer 1 2 3 4 Smutty, Bloody Pictures, Ecstasy


Comic creator Kieron Gillen has a Warhammer blog over on Tumblr. I didn't realize this, and I never thought that I would talk about it, but he brings up some similar points to things that I've talked about with the old Warhammer stuff, and other British properties, like the Nemesis The Warlock comic by Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neil and published by 2000AD.

Read Gillen's post and we can talk about it on the social media where you found a link to this. If you didn't find me directly sharing the link, tag me in it.

He talks about the Warhammer (although he probably meant Warhammer 40K) and how it related to Nemesis:
It’s worth noting that one of the other primary Warhammer influences - and I’d argue THE primary influence on 40k – also uses this dichotomy. 2000AD’s Nemesis the Warlock and associated stories use Law and Chaos, but writer Pat Mills almost always comes down on the side of Chaos. In the universe of Nemesis, the Termight empire of Earth wages a war of genocide against the rest of the galaxy to bring the jackboot down on them forever, chanting catchy slogans like Be Pure, Be Vigilant, Behave. The diverse aliens have to oppose them. The humans are, without a doubt, the bad guys, and “order” is just another word for “monstrous Imperialism”. The humans are grotesque parodies, but the aliens are also explicitly freakish, but their bizarreness bears no relation to their morality. It’s okay to be a freak. It’s better to be a freak – or rather, better to be what Order would label a freak.
I don't have any direct evidence drawing a line between either Nemesis or 40K directly influencing each other, but I've said for a while that the story of Nemesis The Warlock could be seen as the Imperium of Man from 40K as viewed through the eyes of aliens and Chaos. For those who played the more recent versions of the 40K role-playing game (from Fantasy Flight Games and now out of print) you could almost view Nemesis as being a Black Crusade campaign.

One of those dream projects that I have on my list is one of the few OSR projects that I would want to do. Basically it would be my homage to the Realm of Chaos books. It would be four books, one for each of my reinterpretations of the Chaos Lords and their various followers and retinues, specialized character classes pertaining to them, and other fun things like new spells.

Maybe one day some one with the money will let me collaborate with people like +Alex Mayo and +Benjamin Marra on these books. The books would be fun, but they definitely wouldn't be kid friendly.

Gillen pointed this blog post out in his most recent newsletter, which you should checkout.

Also, if you don't get the reference in the title of this blog post, listen to some L7.




Monday, January 16, 2017

That 10 RPGs Of Your Teen Years Meme



Social media runs on memes, and while I try to avoid them for most parts,I thought that I would talk a little about the "10 RPGs That Impacted Your Teen Years" meme that is going around Facebook (and probably other places).

There are a couple of tripping points for that meme for me. The first has to do with my age, there just weren't a lot of RPG options when I was in my teen years. The second had to do with distribution and retail, and this probably had a much greater impact upon what was available for play when I was younger.

I started gaming in 1979, on the cusp of my teen years. While there was an explosion of things going on in gaming at that time, a lot of it passed by small town Indiana because of the quirks of retail.

I've said a number of times that there was a weird geographic quirk to where I lived in that we never had the availability of a lot of modules in the area where I grew up. We had access to plenty of core rules (and by "plenty" I really mean most of the core rules published by TSR Games), but not much else. Without a local dedicated game or comic store, our game buying was pretty much limited to what was available in the mall: Waldenbooks and K.B. Toys. I think that I was in high school when the space that had been the Under 21 "Goth" hangout was bought and turned into a game store. By then things were mostly set, habit-wise.

Most of my teen gaming years revolved mostly around a couple of games: B/X D&D, AD&D and later on the classic Marvel Super-Heroes game from TSR. The D&D stuff was with the group that I had played with since starting gaming, while the Marvel game was what I preferred to run myself. There were other games, on the edges, I ran Lords of Creation a few times (it was really my introduction to multi-genre gaming), and friends had games like Gamma World, but while I really enjoyed these other games, they never really grabbed me in the way that the others did.

Just before my family moved to Florida, I found the DC Heroes game by Mayfair.

After we moved to Florida, my exposure to gaming increased and I discovered games like Call of Cthulhu, Runequest and Golden Heroes (one of my favorite super-hero role-playing games, a distinctly British game published by Games Workshop). Call of Cthulhu became my bomb, and I would use it for pretty much any style of horror role-playing at the time.

I'm not a huge fantasy fan, and D&D has never had the appeal for me, mostly because of that. It was games like Marvel Super-Heroes and Call of Cthulhu that kept me involved with gaming.

In my college years, moving from the teen years and into my twenties, meant that I was able to be exposed to a lot more games. I was lucky between Tampa, and going back to Indiana for college, to have access to a couple of really good gaming stores, and some great comic stores. This is also the era when I discovered that I could order games directly from publishers, and not be bound to the tastes and predilections of local game stores.

The first real discovery of my college years was when GURPS from Steve Jackson Games came out. It was like the multi-genre play of Lords of Creations, but with a much better system. The first edition boxed set was a little rough, but by the third edition of the game it had settled into a pretty solid system.

In 1987, I read William Gibson's Neuromancer and, as the kids say these days, "mind blown." It took me a couple of years to find the game that meant CYBERPUNK to me. I went through Cyberspace from Iron Crown and SpaceTime from BTRC, but neither of them really appealed to me. Then we found R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk 2013 and (eventually) Cyberpunk 2020. Cyberpunk 2020 is still one of my favorite games, and I periodically dust it off for new games.

There were always other games, but these were the big ones. The 90s, and my 20s and 30s, were mostly dominated by GURPS, Marvel Super-Heroes, Call of Cthulhu (Thank you Delta Green) and Cyberpunk 2020. Most of these still see fairly regular play for me, except for GURPS. I suspect that I am going to be dusting off Cyberpunk 2020 more in the future, only because it is weirdly appropriate to the world that we're going to be living in for the next few years.

I have gotten back to D&D more in the last few years. Third edition saw my entry into professional game writing, like with so many others, but the promise of that edition started to strain under the weight of SO. MANY. OPTIONS. The OSR, and streamlined D&D rulesets like Swords & Wizardry and the Basic Fantasy RPG scratch that itch for me with that style of gaming. The return of Runequest Classic and clones like the remarkable OpenQuest also give me variety in my fantasy gaming. Fate Accelerated has also give me the bones for a gaming system that fits a lot of the needs that I have for how a system works. Like any game, it takes a little tinkering to get the engine really running in the way that you like it, but that is part of the fun of RPGs. Isn't it?



Monday, November 14, 2016

Getting Some Privacy Online


This comes from Warren Ellis, in the latest issue of his newsletter Orbital Operations, a couple of suggestions for privatizing your online persona in the coming years.
If you have access to a Windows machine, there's an excellent Twitter archive eraser called Twitter Archive Eraser, haha.  All you have to do is request your archive from Twitter, install Eraser and feed your archive to the machine. I mean, if you don't want to delete your Twitter account entirely, which I totally understand, but.
(You may want to do something with your LinkedIn account for similar reasons.)
Also, iMessage and WhatsApp are okay, but get Signal. If you're going to organise, try to form IRL spaces and try not to use Facebook right now.
Keep an eye on Safecast - as they build out their systems, their open environmental data may prove very useful in the coming years.
You may want to consider private newsletters - Tinyletter is a very good free option if you intend to speak to less than a few thousand people - and, despite being Facebook-owned, a private Instagram account may be better for you than a public one right now.
To the fine human beings whose politics lean to the right - do not assume these are suggestions purely for the weeping lefties, or that I believe they only apply now that the UK and US are under far-right governments. They applied before. I used many of them before.
If you are a fan of Ellis' work and you aren't a subscriber to his newsletter, give it a chance.

And remember, having a measure of privacy is always a good thing, no matter what sort of politics that you hold. The idea that having anonymous accounts means privacy isn't a good idea.



Saturday, November 05, 2016

Doctor Strange And The Shifting Marvel Movie Paradigm?


I think that (inadvertently) this article says more about the Marvel Comics formula back in the day, than it might say about the Marvel movies formula. This is actually something that I thought about while watching Doctor Strange, was how these characters had a similar arc from "asshole" to hero as a part of their journeys. Iron Man. Spider-Man. Dr. Strange. They all started as sort of jerks who had a life changing moment that put them onto the path of being heroes. Partially it is that Stan Lee Doctrine: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.

So, yes, there is a bit of sameness to the characters of Tony Stark and Stephen Strange. That's not a coincidence with the characters that Stan Lee was crafting with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.

Does that need to change in the Marvel movies? Absolutely. I think that we saw Strange's transition from egotistical jerk to hero happen pretty quickly, in the course of this movie, while with Tony Stark, the journey is still going on. I don't think that the plot of Civil War would have happened if the heroes had stopped thinking about themselves for a minute and thought more about what was happening around them. Is Dr. Strange the start of a trend within the MCU to make heroes who are able to overcome their egos? The ego of heroes has been an integral part of the MCU so far (and you could probably argue that it is the same for Marvel Comics), so are we seeing a transition from that?

Dr. Strange has been one of my favorites of the MCU so far. I rank it up there with Ant Man, Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Soldier as the Marvel movies that I have most enjoyed.

I'm a fan of heroes being heroes (which some may wonder about in regards to my enjoying the recent Superman movies), and I would like to see the heroes of the Marvel movies transcend the cynicism that we get in comic movies a lot of the time. It is this heroism that appeals to people in the native form of super-heroes in comics.

Go see Doctor Strange, it is a well-made super-hero movie that has some pretty mind-bending special effects.



Monday, October 24, 2016

Super Crawl Classics: An Elevator Pitch

Michel Fiffe's COPRA.

Please Note: This is not an announcement of any sort or form, nor should it be construed as being indicative of any sort of game book coming from Goodman Games. It is entirely a flight of fancy. However, if any powers that be would be interested. You know where to find me.

Super Crawl Classics would be an adaptation of the rules used in the Dungeon Crawl Classics and upcoming Mutant Crawl Classics RPGs for super-hero role-playing. This is just a loose pitch, and it would undergo some serious work to make things fit best with the rules. There would likely have to be some changes to the paradigms of the rules used (Funnels, for example, wouldn't work well in making a super-hero game in my opinion).

There would be classes for different sorts of super-heroic archetypes, and there would probably be races as a separate thing built around some of the concepts often used within super-hero comics.

Super Crawl Classics wouldn't be a generic super-hero game. The idea isn't to make a universal system that would allow you to create and play any sort of comic book super-hero character. In fact, Super Crawl Classics would focus on weird heroes, making a super-hero game that has a vibe similar to the weird fantasy feel of Dungeon Crawl Classics. My elevator pitch of the concept of the game would be that it would be Fletcher Hanks meets Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol meets the early issues of Rob Liefeld's Youngblood. Add some hard men/women from Warren Ellis' comics for seasoning.

You can't not have the influences of Jack Kirby on Super Crawl Classics either. His ideas of ancient and new gods, ancient aliens seeding the cosmos with being of powers, and cosmic entities vying for superiority against the back backdrop of time and space is too important to ignore.

Thematically, Super Crawl Classics would draw upon the looseness and energy of the Golden Age of comics, with the surreality of Morrison's classic Doom Patrol run and Peter Milligan's incredible Shade The Changing Man reboot, and the insanity of Rob Liefeld's comics. Heroes and heroines would be raw and primal, powerhouses that change their worlds merely by existing in them, and the menaces that they face would be weird. These are people with great powers and abilities, who are saving the world, but they don't always have to like what they're doing, or who they're working with.

It would also draw heavily on the public domain characters of the Golden Age of comics for world building. There are are great concepts tucked away in the pages of comics from the 30s and 40s that never had copyrights or trademarks registered for them, and they can be the basis of the world within which your super-powered characters will seek out adventure.

Benjamin Marra sketchbook pages.
The art for Super Crawl Classics would be raw and powerful. I would want to get more "underground" super-hero comic artists like Benjamin Marra, Michel Fiffe and Tom Scioli to fill the book with the sort of vibrant and unusual art that fans of Dungeon Crawl Classics are already fan of. If Steve Ditko could somehow be convinced to do the endpapers for the book (drawing whatever super-heroic epics are exploding in that man's brain) that would be awesome as well. It would just be a matter of someone figuring out how to contact the man.

But, the important thing about Super Crawl Classics would be that, like with the Dungeon Crawl Classics book, the people picking up the game would know instantly that they aren't just picking up your typical super-hero role-playing game.

Obviously filling an RPG book with this sort of mind-exploding art wouldn't be cheap, which is why it would take a Kickstarter to raise this up to what it would need to be.

Now, it is a fact that I'm not a fan of the whole "Appendix N" concept, because I think that a lot of people take the books listed in them to the exclusion of the broader world of fantasy fiction. The bibliography of comics would have to be extensive and highlight some of the many strange comics and characters that have come out during the 75+ years of super-hero comics.

Tom Scioli's Super Powers backmatter for Young Animal
All in all, Super Crawl Classics would be about the dirty and dangerous, psychedelic and strange underbelly of super-hero comics. The characters would be big, modern day myths in a weird world of evil villains and strange menaces from beyond time and space. I think that the Dungeon Crawl Classics rule set would make for a good framework for this sort of game.

I would probably beef up the Luck ability into something akin to how the classic Marvel Super-Heroes RPG had Karma. Characters could earn Luck, in the same way that they earn XP, and that would go into a pool that starts out like the other abilities, but grows through heroic actions. Luck is something that super-heroes would need a lot of to survive and succeed as they go along.

A lot of the options for powers would come from the various classes (or races), but there would be some more universal powers and that characters could draw upon as well. You would have to have magic, because of the Doctors Fate and Strange. Characters would be powerful beings.

The ability score modifiers would have to be increased to handle the increased range. You would still use 3d6, but your character's ability scores would also be modified by class and race to beyond the capabilities of mere mortals.

This is just the pitch. Super Crawl Classics would be a game of goddesses and monsters, heroes and villains, all played out against the tableau of all of time and space. It would be a big, powerful game. Probably the most powerful of the * Crawl Classics RPGs. They've got fantasy with Dungeon Crawl Classics and the post-apocalypse with the upcoming Mutant Crawl Classics, and then this can be taken as bigger with the Super Crawl Classics RPG. Maybe we could get Becky Cloonan to draw the cover.

If you can make this happen, you know where to find me.



Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Barbarella Comes To America


With the New York Comic Con this weekend, announcements from the comic publishers are starting to come in fast and furious. All of the comic sites will be full of interesting (and maybe not so interesting) announcements from publishers.

Something that I'm surprised that I'm not seeing more of is the announcement from Dynamite that they will be doing an original American, English language version of the classic French comic. Many American comic fans may only know of the comic via the movie adaptation staring Jane Fonda, made years ago (or perhaps through being fans of the vintage New Wave band Duran Duran). I think that this is a pretty big deal, second only to when IDW started doing original Judge Dredd comics. Just, I know that DC Comics did Judge Dredd for a bit, but never to this extent.


From Dynamite's press release:
The character was introduced at the heart of the sexual revolution of the 1960's, and is forever ingrained in pop culture after Jane Fonda's unforgettable portrayal in the 1968 film. She was a key figure in the fertile battleground of French comic books and the struggle for sexual freedom in the medium, and has not appeared in a new series since her last appearance in the legendary science fiction publication, Heavy Metal.


French comics have always been a little less, shall we say, restrained than their American counterparts. Typically to see the sort of sexuality that you would see in Barbarella in American comics you would have to go to underground, alternative or small press comics. Mainstream publishers like DC Comics would dabble in more "adult" fare through imprints like Vertigo Comics, but due to the cultural differences between America and Europe you didn't often see explorations of sex and sexuality often.

Also from the press release:
The new comics will be supervised by Jean-Marc Lofficier, who worked in the mid-90s with Jean-Claude Forest, the character's creator, on a sequel project.
"This is the first step in a multimedia approach designed to herald the return of Barbarella," says Jean-Claude's son, Julien Forest. "We are particularly happy and proud to take that step together with Dynamite, which has showed great respect for so many other classic characters."

Dynamite has take flack in the past for portrayals of characters like Vampirella and Red Sonja, so it should be interesting to see how American comic fans take to Barbarella.



The Dynamite book won't be out until some undisclosed time in 2017. While I think that the company's licensed work can be hit or miss, they have put out some spectacular work in their pulp lines, particularly with their Shadow and Green Hornet books. Their Vampirella, Red Sonja and Mars lines have been the spottiest, but there was an uptick with the Swords of Sorrows crossover. Regardless, I am interested in seeing how an American publisher tackles the property.



Monday, September 12, 2016

Lucky 13: The Thirteenth Anniversary Of The Dorkland! Blog


Typically I just let the anniversaries of the blog come and go. For the 10th Anniversary I launched the short-lived Geeky Voices Carry vidcast/podcast. It was short-lived because of scheduling, and because doing that sort of thing was a lot of work.

I just thought that I would commemorate things with a quick post for the 13th Anniversary of the blog.

I started the Dorkland! Blog in September of 2003 because there was a lot going on in my life at the time and the blog gave me a place to talk about things that were unrelated to all of that, and give me a little bit of mental breathing space that I might not have had otherwise. The blog has always had a general "geeky" focus to it because I felt that would give me the most space to talk about whatever it is that I want to talk about. I drift around between comics, gaming and music mostly, because these are the topics that most interest me.

I've never really been a constant poster. My idea has always been to post when something grabs my attention, and I want to talk about it, rather than because I think that I have to have X number of posts in a day, or a week. Honestly, I think that is a big factor as to why I have kept the blog going for so long.

A long time ago, around 2002, I found a book at the library by an author named Rebecca Blood. It had the weird title of The Weblog Manual, and it talked about something that I had never heard of before: blogging. The book is still in print (even available for the Kindle these days). Even though most of the information is rooted in those early days of blogging, it can still provide a valuable insight into where blogging came from, and what people thought that it would become.

When I started the Dorkland! Blog I was still living in Cleveland, trying to work out the path of a new "adventure" that I had started upon. Most of what I do here is opinion writing, my reviews and talk about trends and happening in geeky things, but that is because when I was studying journalism in high school and college, opinion writing was always my preferred style of writing. It could be more personal, and a better reflection not just of ourselves, but of the world that we wanted to see outside of our windows.

I still feel that way. Guest writers and semi-regular posters have come and gone throughout the last thirteen years, but each of them were picked because they fit into what I thought was the point of view of this blog.I think that is important, having a point of view, when doing something like a blog. Some use blogging to grab attention for themselves. Some use blogging because they are angry about something. For me, blogging and the Dorkland! Blog has always been about a desire to share the things that I love, and to talk about why I love them. However, just because I love something, it doesn't mean that I am blind to its faults or shortcomings. A lot of the problems that I have with geeky communities, online and off, come from the fact that I love these things and think that we can all do so much better than we are doing. Because I love these things, and I want to share them with as many people as possible, I don't want hate in our shared spaces: hate of race, hate of gender, hate of sexuality. Like Walt Whitman said in the epic American poem of Song of Myself: "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."

The geeky communities contain multitudes, a teeming mass of people defined not as much by the similarities but by their differences. It is these contradictions that give the communities their richness, because there is so much that we would not see or experience without those contradictions.

There is still a lot of work to be done within many aspects of these communities. I think that the first step is to realize that we aren't all the same, outside maybe of the "geeky" things that we like to consume. Even those things aren't all the same, nor are they consumed in the same way. We need to better see the contradictions within ourselves, and each other, so that we can find the commonalities that can shape communities, rather than doing it the other way around.

One of the things that has changed the most in the years that I have been a blogger has been blogging itself. You can see this by looking at the earliest posts on this blog. Then called a "weblog," the idea was mostly to keep a log of websites that you regularly visited so that others who shared the same interests as you could find sites and articles of interest to you. Search engines existed, but they were no where near as refined or ubiquitous as they are today, so often that meant that you relied on discovering others with your interests to guide your way through the internet.

Slowly, but surely, blogging developed into something akin to journalism, when in the right hands, and that was alright with me because of my background in journalism. But it shows that blogging isn't something static, and how you approach it should change with time. Let's see what happens in the next thirteen years.



Thursday, September 08, 2016

The Second Alternity Design Blog

Sasquatch Game Studio has released their second design blog for their new Alternity game, and this one actually has some meat to it, because they are talking about the core die mechanic for the new game. I think that this will also please a lot of fans of the original Alternity.

We do have to remember that they're still early in the design process, so this can all be subject to change.

The original Alternity used a roll under a target number mechanic. They used a "step die" mechanic to modify the rolls, where the total of other dice would be added or subtracted, according to the difficulty.

The new game is going to use an interesting flip of that idea. You have a target number. Attribute and skill ranks are subtracted from that number, making that the new target number. Then you roll a d20, add or subtract the step die depending on how it is modifying things, and if your roll is greater than the target number you succeed at the action.

While the thinking may take a little getting used to in play, it does seem like an easy enough way to handle resolution.This is going to have a degree of success (or failure) as well, and I think that this will add verisimilitude to the rolling. I am all for adding critical success and failure to game resolution because I think it can make the rolls more meaningful. I know that bidding mechanics can do a similar thing, but I think that you lose some of the uncertainty, and degree of success can add a thrill to a particularly well-done die roll.

So, we're starting to get an idea of how the mechanics will shape up for the new Alternity game, and I think that is good. Since the nature of this new game precludes using the old mechanics that means we need to see how the new game will work. I'd like to see some character creation information up next, hopefully a sample with enough meat to it that we'll get an idea of what characters will look like, and be capable of, in the new game.

It looks like science fiction/fantasy gaming is getting its turn at a resurgence, between the return of Alternity, EN Publishing's role-playing game N.E.W. and Paizo's science fantasy game Starfinder. Since science fiction is one of the genres that I enjoy most, I am excited to see that my tastes are getting some love from RPG publishers.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

The High End Of Gaming: Looking At Invisible Sun And The Gods War


It is interesting to watch the relative progresses of the two luxury table top games on Kickstarter right now. We have Glorantha: The Gods War from Petersen Games, and Invisible Sun from Monte Cook Games. I haven't back either, nor do I plan to, and the occasional analysis like this is part of why I don't back many Kickstarters.

This information is from Kicktraq, and current at the time of this post.

The Gods War
Backers: 1103
Average Daily Pledges: $113,012
Average Pledge Per Backer: $307
Funding: $339,037 of $100,000
Dates: Aug 16th -> Sep 15th (30 days)
Project By: Sandy Petersen

Invisible Sun
Backers: 903
Average Daily Pledges: $62,361
Average Pledge Per Backer: $276
Funding: $249,445 of $210,653
Dates: Aug 15th -> Sep 16th (33 days)
Project By: Monte Cook Games

It makes sense that Gods War would be more likely to fund first (it did), because its funding goal was about half that of Invisible Sun. It looked like Invisible Sun would fun on its first day, but it didn't until the second. Gods War funded on its first day.

Both of these games have pretty impressive names behind them. Sandy Petersen pretty much created horror gaming with Call of Cthulhu, not to mention work on seminal computer games like Doom. The Cthulhu Wars Kickstarter raised just over $1.4 million.

Monte Cook was one of the architects of the D20 System, and has worked on properties as diverse as World of Darkness and Call of Cthulhu. With the mega adventure Ptolus, he created what was probably the first successful boutique RPG supplement. The first Monte Cook Games game, Numenera, raised a little over half a million on Kickstarter.

These are both big producers, backed by designers with impressive pedigrees. According to Kicktraq, both are on a path to big numbers, just over $3 million for Gods War and just over $2 million for Invisible Sun. Of course, Kicktraq's projections are often wrong at this early of a point in a campaign.

I think that the important question from all of this is...Does this mean that we're going to see a spike in high end/boutique gaming items? Since both of these projects have funded, and are on track to make a good bit of money I think that is an easy guess that there will be more people will try to Kickstart high end gaming products. Will they succeed is an entirely different question. Sandy Petersen and Monte Cook are fairly unique individuals in tabletop gaming. There probably aren't a lot of creators with the cache to do what they do. I can see a lot of creators trying to create these types of products, I don't see many of them succeeding at it.

A lot of the conversations about Invisible Sun have revolved around the high price, but I think that can be a fallacious conversation. I get that people want games to cost less than $197 to buy into them. We have to get over the idea that all games are supposed to be cheap all the time. The fact that Invisible Sun or Gods War is successful in funding doesn't mean that all of a sudden everyone else is going to be charging more for their games. There is a good chance that there are a lot of publishers aren't paying themselves for the work that they do, or that creators are undercharging their fees because this is a "dream job." It is still a job, and if it is a job it should be what people are living off of.

I think that people forget that their beloved TSR games were made by people who worked every day in an office, and made a weekly paycheck for it. They weren't working for exposure, or to "live the dream."

I think that a big part of why Gods War is doing better than Invisible Sun, at least for now, is because the fans of board games understand better that if you want quality game designs and quality products, you have to pay for them. Meanwhile, role-playing fans still think that books with black & white art was good enough when they started, and is still good enough now. This isn't coming down on games with black and white art. I have games on my shelves with black and white art. I make games with black and white art, because they are what I can afford. I don't think that these games should be the standard for all the other games, however. I am perfectly fine with people like Cook or Petersen making games that I am not going to play. I don't expect my tastes to be catered to by publishers. The great thing about RPGs is the fact that, if games aren't being made that I am interested in play I can make those games myself.

So here we are as a fandom and as a business, standing on the edge of a cliff, with our toes dangling into empty space as we can feel the ground crumbling beneath us. We can decide that it is okay to embrace high end gaming items that we might not necessarily want, because that means that we will get better choices and more diversity overall in what is available. Or we can jump, cursing and screaming that it was somebody else's fault, and they are ruining the hobby, or the industry, or...something. I think it is time for growth.

There are always going to be a wide variety of tabletop games out there. From people who put books together on Lulu or the OneBookSheld sites, to companies like Palladium, to companies like Wizards of the Coast or Pelgrane, all the way up to companies like Petersen Games and Monte Cook Games. The existence of games like Invisible Sun or Night's Black Agents does stop Palladium from making more Rifts books. The existence of the D&D 5E books doesn't stop some guy with a computer, and a gaming group, from crafting a book from his play experiences and putting it up on Lulu with a few pieces of clip art. To think that Invisible Sun is ruining gaming, or making it more expensive, just by its existence is silly. We have a vibrant hobby. We have a vibrant industry. There are more games being produced now than probably ever before. We are getting games of all sorts of genres, playstyles and prices. And that is an awesome thing.

It is interesting to look at the numbers for Invisible Sun and for the Gods War and see where they are going to go. I'm sure, just in the time that it has taken me to write this article, that both of them have jumped in backers and funding levels. Even though neither of the games are for me, I wish them well and hope that both of them make a lot of money for their creators, and that allows them to make a lot of games for people. I hope that people have a lot of fun with those games, out in the world.

We need to stop worrying about what is going to ruin gaming, and spend more time thinking about how we're going to each make it better.



Tuesday, May 31, 2016

More Copyright Protection For Game Mechanics?


I've seen a blog post from an Intellectual Property lawyer who specializes in video and board games being passed around my social media circles recently, and I think that it is something that needs to be looked at.

Keep in mind that I am not a lawyer, so don't take anything that I talk about as any sort of legal advice. Find someone who specializes in intellectual property law and get their two cents first.

The way that copyright and game rules intersected in the past was basically along these lines: you can copyright the exact expression of the rules, but not the underlying ideas of the rules. If you re-expressed the rules with your own wording, you were free of infringement. There were a few restrictions on that, like saying that mathematical expressions used to determine parts of your rules could be copyrighted, which lead people to finding new math that was close enough to the old math for government work.

This is what lead us to games like Mongoose's version of the Runequest game, and large swaths of Old School Renaissance clones of early editions of Dungeons & Dragons.

The case that looks to have changed this was between two board games, one of which effectively cloned parts of the mechanics of the other game (you can find more detail at the link in the first paragraph, I'll let the expert do the real explaining of this issue). The first game's publisher sued the second game's publisher for infringement and eventually won.

According to Zachary Strebeck, the lawyer who originally blogged about this, the suing publisher's case was based on an earlier precedence that "the plot and gameplay progression of something like The Legend of Zelda would most likely be protectable." However the court did not feel that the allegedly infringing game fit that definition.
The court points out that “Unlike a book or movie plot, the rules and procedures, including the winning conditions, that make up a card-game system of play do not themselves produce the artistic or literary content that is the hallmark of protectable expression.” They note that past game copyright victories were won by parties based on infringement of visual appearance or other protectable elements. Pac-man’s gameplay, they recall, was not considered protectable back in 1982.
Given these rules and precedent, the court looked at the issue in the case – that of the similarity between “the roles and characters and their interactions” in the two games. Ziko argued that these roles and interactions were no different than other rules and mechanics in the game, and therefore were unprotectable. DaVinci, on the other hand, argued that those roles and interactions were protected, using precedent from the Triple Town case.
 The court distinguished this case from the Triple Town case, though. In Triple Town, that court analogized the gameplay hierarchy in Triple Town to the plot of a movie. In doing so, they imbued it with copyright protection.
The "Triple Town Case" refers to a 2012 case between EA and Zynga overly game apps Triple Town and Yeti Town. One of the stipulations in that case made by the court was that "the object hierarchy coupled with the depiction of the field of play comprise a setting and theme that is similar to Triple Town’s. A snowfield is not so different from a meadow, bears and yetis are both wild creatures, and the construction of a 'plain' is not plausibly similar to the construction of a 'patch.'"

Where things get interesting for the cloning communities in tabletop RPGs is in this analysis of the case:
The assessment of each game’s UI gets to the heart of the EA-Zynga dispute.  Like Yeti Town, Zynga allegedly copied the basic gameplay from EA and then put its own lightly modified UI elements on top of that gameplay.  Indeed, as alleged by EA, Zynga probably did less to modify its UI than Yeti Town did.  The Triple Town ruling suggests that Zynga probably can’t score a quick win.
The two ended up settling because a precedence setting win would have ended up having long term ramifications in a business where "borrowing" from other games is such a fundamental part of game design.

Like I said at the beginning, I'm not a lawyer and I'm not going to attempt to try to explain this complicated material. I suggest looking at the information and thinking what would happen if there were a change of the people in power at Wizards of the Coast, and they decided that they didn't like the cloning of their systems.

Material used directly from the OGLs would still be usable, but what about the "extrapolations" to make the OGL material play more like older systems? What about designers who make "diceless" RPGs by re-expressing the old rules with their new language? In what ways could the assumptions of copyright law change for them dramatically?


Monday, May 23, 2016

The Trouble With Tabletop Gaming Is...


We have trolls. Horrible, terrible amounts of sad little people who are looking for the validation of their sad and tired little squeaks of anger and outrage. They're "fighting" against a world that has moved and left them behind in the dust. The think that their only hope now is to shout long and loud enough to drown out other voices, those voices that truly represent the world of today, and of tomorrow.

These trolls spout racist, sexist and homophobic diatribes under the the auspice of free speech. Which is fine, they are absolutely right that they have the right to say what they want. The problem is that having the right to say whatever you want, and being protected from the consequences of what you say, are two entirely different things. Freedom to speak your mind also doesn't mean that the rest of the world is required to listen to your tiny, squeaking voices.

We need to stop giving up the public spaces of the internet, because that is exactly what those trolls want. They want people on the outside, people who might be interested in the various hobbies that fall under the umbrella of Tabletop Gaming, to think that they are the only voices, the ones who are in charge. This is a lie that is perpetuated by good people keeping quiet, so only the sour grapes, the squeaking voices of those choking on the dust of the Modern World are the voices that are being heard.

This needs to stop.

Don't Feed The Trolls. In a way, this is right. Engaging with the trolls, the tiny-armed dinosaurs with arms waving to protect themselves from the approaching comet, does no good. They aren't interested in discussion, they want to derail and make sure that the conversations are about them rather than the topics that they don't want discussion about. Make sure that in places like Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other social media sites you talk about the harassment of anyone being wrong. Don't talk to the trolls, but let everyone else know that there are other voices, rational voices that aren't coming from places of fear and anger.

Of course, this will mean that harassment and the squeaking voices of the trolls will be directed at you, as they attempt to use their techniques to shout down opposition. Block or mute and move on. Trying to talk to them is pointless, because they aren't interested in conversation, just hearing their shrill, squeaky voices.

These people are all big, bad and tough online, with their fear-based bullying, but they really don't have any power over any of us. They don't even seem to think that they have any power over their own gaming tables, since they insist upon the narrative that someone is trying to take away their games. If they don't have power over themselves, why should we assume that they have power over others?

The squeaky-voiced trolls can't even win initiative in a combat. All that they can do is react to what others are saying and doing. These are not powerful people, these are sad and fearful people who don't know how to handle a world that will no longer excuse their hatreds.

Don't Read The Comments. This is what has allowed the squeaky-voiced trolls to take over so many websites and forums. Just like above, the point isn't to engage the squeaky but to point out to others that their voices, their hate and fear is not what defines our hobbies.

We Need To Look At Both Sides Of This. No, we actually don't. There aren't two sides to these discussions. Supporting racism is not a side. Supporting homophobia is not a side. Supporting sexism is not a side. Supporting transgender harassment is not a side. These are not sides, they are bigotry pure and simple. If being against bigotry is wrong, I don't ever want to be right.

We need to stand with the victims of these fear-based harassments and let the ineffectual attacks of the squeaky-voiced trolls bounce off of us. Together, we have the power. All that they have is fear and ineffectual anger.

Update 5/23/2016: Kudos to Chaosium Publishing (publishers of fine games like Runequest and Call of Cthulhu), who have published an anti-harassment policy and Code of Conduct for their organized play. They site my EN World piece on the harassment of women in gaming as a reason for the policy.

Written while eating Jelly Belly Superfruit jelly beans, because pipes are gross.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Fanboy Expo Experiences And Talk


Fanboy Expo is a series of pop culture conventions in Florida and Tennessee. I've never attended one of their conventions (Lakeland is a bit out of the way for me to go to a show) but I have been asked by my brother Jason Helton to share his experiences at the most recent show in Florida.

I don't often talk about my brother, expect to mention him in passing when we attend conventions together. He is a life long fan of comics, professional wrestling and other of those things that we have started to lump under the umbrella of "pop culture." He travels around the Florida area attending conventions, so that he can meet the people who make the comics that he has enjoyed, and the people who do other forms of his favorite entertainment.

I asked Jason to write about his experiences at the convention, after negative talk was removed from the Fanboy Expo Facebook page.

This past weekend, he went to his first (and last) Fanboy Expo.
I attended my first and last Fanboy Expo on Saturday, March 12, 2016 in Lakeland, Florida.
First the positives of my experience: their website was accurate about the guests who canceled as of the night before, about separate lines for methods of payment, and the site map being given out at the ticket window.
The negatives I experienced: There was an $8.00 parking fee to the facility that is nowhere on the Fanboy Expo website.  When I mentioned to the cashier it got me a response of “I didn’t know either.”  
One comic guest was Tom Nguyen, an artist who has worked on books from DC Comics like Batman, Green Lantern and the JLA.  When giving a site map at the time of ticket purchase it showed where his table was to be located, but there was no table at the location, or anyplace else on the convention floor.  I asked a badged staffer and that staffer responded with, “Oh, he is our photographer for our photo ops.  Let me go see something.”  The staffer went to room where a photo op was being done.  The staffer came back saying Tom will be doing a photo op for at least 45 minutes and would sign after that.  At no place on the Fanboy Expo website did they mention any of this.  There was no mention of it at all at the Expo site.
I asked at an information booth to complain to someone.
I spoke with a person named David.  When I complained about the parking fee and availability of Tom, he did not respond the parking, and to say that Tom was there as a staff photographer. David then apologized that some older guests were taking longer on photo ops than expected.  David said he would get my items signed and even ask for a sketch to be done for me but I would still have to wait until the current op was done.  When I stated I didn’t want to wait my response from David was,” It is what it is.”   I then countered with why this information was not mentioned on the website or onsite and nothing.  I said I would not come back to a Fanboy Expo and David saluted me and said there was nothing else to say and walked away from me.
I put two posts about my experiences on the Fanboy Expo Facebook page, and both were removed within 30 minutes of the posts.
After Jason spoke to me about this on Saturday afternoon, I reached out to a few people that I know in the local comics scene and asked them for their thoughts on the Fanboy Expo shows.

"Disorganized" came up more than once. Advertising was not adequate for the convention, and attendance for the show was proportional to that.

The show is branded as a comic convention, but the obvious emphasis (as you could notice from Jason's experience above) was on the celebrity guests. Even this emphasis was not well-handled, as I received reports of attendees that were upset by the cancellation of former professional wrestler Ric Flair.

I was told that sales for vendors were not great, and that the arrangement of areas (like the Artist Alley) was cramped and badly planned out.

As so-called geek culture rises in popularity in this country, there are going to be people trying to cash in on that. Comic-Con International in San Diego makes a lot of people a lot of money, and people see that, and want to be the next big convention. However, running a good convention takes a lot more than wanting one, or even "being a fan." It takes skill in organization, skill in marketing and a desire to build a community around your event. Without that community, all that is left is shilling.

I know that the Florida convention scene is exploding. There are more conventions within a few hours drive of where I live than there ever have been. There are conventions in Orlando, Tampa, Miami and Lakeland. There are good conventions that thrive, building a strong community and local infrastructure that get people excited about being a part of things, rather than just consuming. I have said before that my favorite local convention is the Tampa Bay Comic-Con. They do a lot of things right, and they have the constant growth to prove that. Conventions try to muscle their way into an area (I'm looking at you Wizard World Orlando) and others seem to collapse under the wright of their own size and mismanagement. It seems that even a buy out from a larger convention company can help them out, or keep them from losing the faith of vendors or their own staff.

Comic and Pop Culture/Geek Culture conventions are going to make a lot of people a lot of money, before the bad conventions start to burn people out. These are the things that we need to think about when we support a local (or even national) convention. Do they (the convention) support the local fan community? Do they support the creators that come as guests? If the answer to either of these is no, then it isn't a good convention.

Obviously, there are a lot more factors that can go into the decision of whether or not a show is good or bad, but these are easy, and they are fundamental. There is more to "treating a guest well" than providing a well-stocked green room, or providing a hotel room. Time is money, as they say, and if the time of the guests isn't treated as being important by making sure that their attendance is well-promoted and well-attended, and that people are spending money, then that convention is not fulfilling their promise to that guest.

Convention guests are a two-way street. It is important to a convention that they get good guests, because this means (in theory) that they can draw more foot traffic. This increased foot traffic should, in theory, mean that the guests are getting more attention, and making some money.

I'm not saying that a convention owes it to guests that they show a profit. The guests have to work at this as well. Just being invited to a show does not insure financial success, and the optimal way for this is for everyone to work together to make the show and the guests successful. If just isn't something that we see happening a lot.

Now, as someone who likes going to conventions I want a thriving local convention scene. I want conventions to succeed. That takes work, and it isn't always something that we see.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

DC Comics Rebirth?


It will start with a voice, "I love this world,  but something is missing."

"It" being the next "event" (my words, not theirs) from DC Comics: DC Universe Rebirth. According to CCO Geoff Johns, DC Universe Rebirth follows in the steps of Green Lantern Rebirth and Flash Rebirth. A next chapter in the DC Universe.

Each of the previous Rebirth minis were about returning something to the DC Universe. Green Lantern Rebirth brought back Hal Jordan, Sinestro and the Green Lantern Corps to the DC Universe. Flash Rebirth returned Barry Allen as the Flash. So, it stands to reason that DC Universe Rebirth will be about returning something to the DC Universe. But what?

What they seem to be saying is that DC Universe Rebirth will bring back the aspect of Legacy to the DCU. 

The more important question is...is it too late?


To be completely honest, neither of the so-called Big Two comic publishers have ever completely bounced back from the crash of comics in the 90s that nearly ended comics. These days, standard operating procedure is to bounce from one big Earth-shattering, status quo changing event to another, dragging readers along on a ride of change and "rebirth" where everything is "All-New" and "All-Different," and of course everything gets a shiny new coat of paint and a fresh set of new #1s to prop up sales.

Until the steam runs out on that, and everyone realizes that things have to change again because they need the sales.

According to an interview with DC Comics CCO Geoff Johns at the Comic Book Resources website some of the basics are:
With "Rebirth," the mainline DC Universe titles will be renumbered with new #1s -- except for "Action Comics" and "Detective Comics," the two longest-running series in DC's lineup, which will return to their original numbering at #957 and #934, respectively. All DCU books will return to a $2.99 price point (currently their lineup is split between $3.99 and $2.99 single issues), and select core titles (details to come on exactly which) will shift to a twice-monthly schedule.
Yes, because nothing will set readers straight quite like 30-some comics with shiny new #1s, and two books that are numbered in the 900s.
It started when [DC Co-Publishers] Dan [DiDio] and Jim [Lee] came to me and said that they wanted to end things at #52, and work build back to a shared universe and big stories. They wanted to take another look at everything.
I think that a lot of this goes back to the last "event" at DC, the less than spectacularly selling Convergence. There were some really good stories in that event, and some old time readers were happy to see the return of "their" heroes, even if for just a short time. The problem was that those readers wanted everything turned back to what they were used to. Personally, I think that would have been a bad idea.

I liked what I have read of DC Comics' "New52" line. They brought a lot of freshness and showed a willingness to do comics that weren't "just" super-hero books. We saw the return of horror and war comics, westerns and science fiction, as the powers that be at DC tried to regain the interest of lost readers, and gain new readers. Some of it worked, some didn't. A lot of books ended up getting cancelled because they couldn't find an audience, and the realities of post-Crash comics (even with deep corporate pockets backing the Big Two) mean that comics that once could have been given time and attention to find an audience no longer were given the chance.

This ended up creating a further disconnect between publisher and readers, as books fell to the wayside. It wasn't just DC doing this either, Marvel has had spates of cancellations of low selling books as well (particularly recently). This is just supposition on my part, based with talking to a lot of comic fans of all different walks of life over social media, but it seems to me that this is one of the lowest points for reader faith in the big comic publishers.


Over at Comic Book Resources, Johns says:
I've been a fan for years -- I have over 60,000 comics and 99 percent of them are DC Comics. I really see this as an opportunity, and like I've said before, take all the characters and thematics that we love -- from the past and the present -- and build a story that brought them all together, revealed new secrets and truths and mysteries, and moved it all ahead. Again, as someone who absolutely loves the DC Universe, to me it's maybe lost some things. Not only characters, but more intangibles. Some essence to what makes the "DC Universe" unique and brilliant and unpredictable. And every single character matters -- from Batman to Cassandra Cain to John Stewart to Saturn Girl to Blue Beetle to Lois Lane-- everyone is someone's favorite. And in comics, anything's possible.
"Everyone is someone's favorite." That right there is the bedrock of fandom, and why waves of cancellations brought dissatisfaction to readers. "Everyone is someone's favorite." This is something that I see often come up in comics conversations online, people don't feel that they should invest themselves in comics because they will probably end up being cancelled. With DC we've seen Blue Beetle, Static Shock and Jonah Hex books get caneled. Soon we will see books like Black Canary go away. Why? Because they want to bring back Birds of Prey (apparently).

I am not alone in feeling that the current (at the time of this writing) Black Canary book is pretty great. It is quirky and original, taking a character who was fairly generic in the New52 relaunch and making her interesting. The creative team found a way to make the character engaging, and something more than what she had been previously. I had always enjoyed this character, but in its 50+ years of history and stories it was typically little more than a face in a group, or part of the side story of some other character. For the first times in my decades of comic reading, I wanted to know what was going to be happening next month with Black Canary. The character became the lead in its adventures, rather than just an adjunct to another character's story.


Having Birds of Prey come back is great, particularly if it means that we will get to see a return of Lady Blackhawk to comics. But, part of my problem, part of where this disconnect between publishers and readers is that for those of us for whom Black Canary has found engagement cancelling her book so that the character can go back to being a team player is nonsensical. Women-lead comics shouldn't be a zero sum game.
It's in the same vein as "Green Lantern: Rebirth" and "The Flash: Rebirth." Some things alter and change, but it's more character-driven, and it's also more about revealing secrets and mysteries within the DC Universe about "Flashpoint" and The New 52 that are part of a bigger tapestry. A hidden and forbidden secret.
So, DC Universe Rebirth is going to be about restoring a legacy to DC Comics. We're going to get a new Justice Society book. The currently ongoing Titans Hunt mini is going to restore the classic Teen Titans to the DC Universe (I'm still not entirely sure how they're going to get around some of the changes like Cyborg being in the Justice League, but I'm guessing that he isn't going to have been a Titan now period). But, still, is it too little, too late?

A big part of the problem that DC Comics has had with issues of its own continuity have always been because the "fresh starts" have always been half steps. Whether it was Crisis On Infinite Earths, Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis or even the New52, each time there has been a reboot they have tried to make everything new and not change anything that they didn't have to change. For the New52, DC had Grant Morrison rationalize a way for a new character...who could still access the old stories (like Doomsday). In the Batman books Batman had three Robins over the course of five years, one of them dying and coming back to life. So much could have gone so simpler with a clean sweep each of these times.

But they didn't, and that is partially what brought DC to this point today.

Comics have been an important part of my life since before I could read. They've inspired many other of my hobbies throughout my life. Now I am wondering if this might now just be the jumping off point for the Big Two.

Update: DC Comics has announced the schedule for the next few months, so we know what titles are surviving and some of the new launches. None of these have announced creative teams.

June:
Rebirth Specials:
• AQUAMAN REBIRTH #1
• BATMAN REBIRTH #1
• THE FLASH REBIRTH #1
• GREEN ARROW REBIRTH #1
• GREEN LANTERNS REBIRTH #1
• SUPERMAN REBIRTH #1
• TITANS REBIRTH #1
• WONDER WOMAN REBIRTH #1

New #1 Issues (Shipping twice monthly):
• AQUAMAN #1
• BATMAN #1
• THE FLASH #1
• GREEN ARROW #1
• GREEN LANTERNS #1
• SUPERMAN #1
• WONDER WOMAN #1

New Issues (Shipping twice monthly):
• ACTION COMICS #957
• DETECTIVE COMICS #934

July
Rebirth Specials:
• BATGIRL & THE BIRDS OF PREY REBIRTH #1
• HAL JORDAN & THE GREEN LANTERN CORPS REBIRTH #1
• THE HELLBLAZER REBIRTH #1
• JUSTICE LEAGUE REBIRTH #1
• NIGHTWING REBIRTH #1
• RED HOOD & THE OUTLAWS REBIRTH #1

New #1 Issues (Shipping twice monthly):
• HAL JORDAN & THE GREEN LANTERN CORPS #1
• JUSTICE LEAGUE #1
• NIGHTWING #1

New #1 Issues (Shipping monthly):
• BATGIRL #1
• BATGIRL & THE BIRDS OF PREY #1
• THE HELLBLAZER #1
• RED HOOD & THE OUTLAWS #1
• THE SUPER-MAN #1
• TITANS #1

Fall
Rebirth Specials:
• BATMAN BEYOND REBIRTH #1
• BLUE BEETLE REBIRTH #1
• CYBORG REBIRTH #1
• DEATHSTROKE REBIRTH #1
• EARTH 2 REBIRTH #1
• SUICIDE SQUAD REBIRTH #1
• SUPERGIRL REBIRTH #1
• TEEN TITANS REBIRTH #1
• TRINITY REBIRTH #1

New #1 Issues (Shipping twice monthly):
• CYBORG #1
• DEATHSTROKE #1
• HARLEY QUINN #1
• JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA #1
• SUICIDE SQUAD #1

New #1 Issues (Shipping monthly):
• BATMAN BEYOND #1
• BLUE BEETLE #1
• EARTH 2 #1
• GOTHAM ACADEMY: NEXT SEMESTER #1
• SUPERGIRL #1
• SUPERWOMAN #1
• SUPER SONS #1
• TEEN TITANS #1

• TRINITY #1



Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Before The OSR -- Talking True20


In those dark days at the end of the D&D 3.x era, I cast around looking for something simpler. My tastes in gaming were in flux, and I found myself wanting something that was a lot less complicated, but still let me have games with some robust characters in them. And along came Green Ronin's True20 game.

Based off of the D20 SRD and rules from Unearthed Arcana and Green Ronin's Witches Handbook (also by Kenson), designer Steve Kenson created a streamlined set of rules that were robust and still recognizable as being derived from the D20 rules. Originally designed for the first edition of the Blue Rose RPG, the True20 rules were like a breath of fresh air. And Blue Rose was great for more reasons than just the system. The game's setting material broke with the traditions of fantasy gaming and distanced itself from fantasy influences like Tolkien, Moorcock and Howard, and embraced the "romantic" fantasy genre exemplified by authors such as Diane Duane, Mercedes Lackey, Tamora Pierce and others.

It was a nice breath of fresh air to see other genres getting some representation in fantasy gaming. Unfortunately some gamers, those who were used to their tastes being catered to, lost their shit over the fast that someone dared make a game that didn't allow them to continue to play in their same, safe fantasy settings.

I ended up playing the hell out of Blue Rose, and then when the generic True20 came out, I was even happier because then I could take a solid ruleset and use them for other genres besides just fantasy.

Here's some of the things that True20 gets right:

  • It uses the stat modifiers instead of the ability scores to quantify your character's abilities.
  • There are only three, fairly freeform, and broadly defined classes (adapted from the open content material of WotC's Unearthed Arcana for 3.x), and modifies them with Backgrounds and Paths to give you more customization options for your characters.
  • It gets ride of the long, long, long spell lists and replaces it with an again freeform Feat-based system, derived from the magic system for Witches that Kenson created in the Witches Handbook for 3.x from Green Ronin.
  • It seriously streamlines the skill lists.
  • Magic works in the exact same way as skills, so all of the task resolution revolves around the 20-sided die. The game uses just one dice.
  • Damage uses a Saving Throw rather ran a dynamic number that comes from rolling more dice. This streamlines combat further, meaning that there is a lot less dice rolling in the game and everything does faster.
A lot of this is fairly standard practice in a number of games now, but in 2005 while all of our heads were reeling from the hundreds, if not thousands, of D&D 3.x books that came out from Wizards of the Coast and pretty much every other publisher in tabletop RPGs, this was a breath of fresh air.

The timing of all of this coming out couldn't have been more fortuitous for me, because I needed something simpler, something that was easily available for players. True20 fit that bill rather nicely.

There was also a nice level of support. Green Ronin and a variety of third party publishers produced setting material for the system, and Green Ronin had supplements expanding each of the casses (and giving examples for using them in genres outside of just fantasy).

I won't say that there wasn't anything bad about True20, for example the importance of Feats meant that there were a lot of Feats in the rules and supplements. With a Feat-based powers system, that meant needing a lot of Feats in your games. Yes, they were slightly streamlined from "standard" D20 Feats, but each one still ended up being a special case for the rules. Depending on the type of campaign that you were running, that could mean a lot of Feats, and a lot of things to remember.

That didn't bother my games at the time, since we were all still dealing with a lot less complexity than we had been used to with our D&D or D20 Modern games at the time. So, it was all a matter of scale to us.

For those wondering about the title of this post, let me make a transition.

I got into True20 for much the same reasons that I would (eventually) get into Old School Renaissance games: I was looking for a much simpler approach to gaming. A few years back, when +Ethel B+David Rollins+Josh Thompson and eventually +Stacy Dellorfano got together to start playing fantasy games, we could have just as easily been playing a True20 game. In fact, we almost did.

When drafting +Ethel B into tabletop RPGs from MMOs like World of Warcraft, I went to look for simplicity. I didn't want her to deal with learning a bunch of complex rules and then find out she wasn't interested in RPGs. I wanted to "keep it simple, stupid" and find an easy to Grok, easy to run fantasy game that I could run via video chat. The first game on my list was True20, but I started nosing around the internet and discovered the whole retroclone movement where people were rebuilding early editions of D&D using the open content from the D20 SRD (much in the same way that Steve Kenson developed the True20 rules).

I started reading about games like Swords & Wizardry and the Basic Fantasy RPG and realized that I had found what I was looking for. These games were even simpler than True20. Reading up on the varieties of rules, I ended up deciding upon Swords & Wizardry Whitebox (with a couple of tweaks so that we could have thieves in our game) and we were off and gaming for more than three years now (and +Ethel B has attended two Gen Cons with an eye on her third).

There are probably a lot of things that could have gone a lot differently if I had decided to use True20 as my ruleset back when I was starting out.

I will also remind people of the standard rules around this blog:

https://xkcd.com/1357/