Monday, December 26, 2011

Song of the week

EDIT: Oh, I forgot to mention I hope everyone had a Happy Christmas. :)

I was going through my old cassettes (Why I still have cassettes, I don't know.  There are a great many things I should just throw out) and man did I buy a lot of stuff back when I had a disposable income.  If I heard a single song I liked I would run out and buy the tape.  In the case of The Nylons there were two tunes.  One was Happy Together (I think all of The Nylons' songs were covers), the other was this awesome cover of Kiss Him Goodbye:

Monday, December 19, 2011

Song of the week

I am a huge Billy Joel fan and my first Joel album was Glass Houses.  Glass Houses was his most rock oriented album and to me arguably his best (The Stranger is in contention for that.  It is a matter of taste.).  My favorite song on Glass Houses was the one that did not get any airplay, Sometimes a Fantasy:

Friday, December 16, 2011

Study In Evil, Part 3

I had originally meant to post this next week, but tomorrow SF Debris is going to post DS9’s Waltz, a pivotal episode regarding the character in this post and I just wanted to express my feelings before SF Debris did.  I guess I did not want anyone to think my thoughts were in any way, shape or form influenced by his.  Perhaps it is not at all important as I am not at all sure if any of my readers watch SF Debris’ reviews (and if you aren’t, do so.  The man has some very good insights and is very funny) but I feel better for expressing my feelings now rather than later.

When running a long term campaign it might be common for the GM to use a recurring villain, an NPC that will often poke up in adventures.  Sometimes he will be a straight up bad guy, other times a reluctant ally, still other times perhaps even as comic relief or a source of information.  The recurring villain when handled properly can be a fascinating, complex character.  For example Darth Vader could be considered a recurring villain on a small scale, as he made only three appearances (And before you even think about correcting me I refuse to acknowledge the second trilogy in these posts.) and his nature evolved over time from lackey to major player to Oh my God he’s Luke’s father?!.

Alas, the character we will be looking at today was fascinating and complex…until his creators decided to make him crazy and completely ruined him.  I am speaking of Star Trek, Deep Space Nine’s Dukat.

Gul Dukat was the commander of the Terok Nor mining facility (later the station was re-named Deep Space Nine when the Federation took control at the behest of the Bajoran government) and prefect of Bajor during the Cardassian.occupation.  Bajor was a non Federation world conquered by the Cardassians and stripped of its resources, it's people harshly oppressed until they eventually won their freedom through diplomatic means.  Dukat remained a thorn in the side of Commander Benjamin Sisko and Major Kira Neeris, acting as an enemy and other times due to circumstances a reluctant ally.  Over the years Dukat’s character evolved from straight up villain (and not a very effective one at that) to a sympathetic ally during the Federation’s conflict with the Klingons, to a legitimate bad ass when he threw in with The Dominion and became their Cardassian figurehead and one of their military leaders.  However, Dukat’s daughter was slain by his chief lieutenant when it was revealed she had treasonously aided the Federation/Klingon forces in preventing Dominion forces from coming through the Bajoran wormhole.  Dukat went crazy, started seeing people who weren’t there, then became a tool of The Prophets’ evil counterparts, the Pah Wraiths.  Dukat formed a cult, found some people stupid enough to follow him, betrayed them, and ultimately fought Ben Sisko in a ridiculously over the top final battle that was supposed to appear biblical in proportion but in reality just brought the overall quality of the DS9 series finale down.  All of that is a terribly condensed explanation of the events taking place over seven seasons of DS9.

So, what went wrong with Dukat?  Let me first address some realities regarding how television works.  Deep Space Nine was never guaranteed seven seasons; at the end of the day the producers have to worry about ratings just like any other television program.  And so when it appears ratings might be suffering a television series will undergo retooling.  A good modern example of this is the television series Hawaii 5-0, which this season introduced a new character, Joe White, played by Terry O'Quinn who used to play Locke on Lost.  It was obvious his inclusion in the series was an attempt to secure the Lost crowd as well as fans of JAG, where he used to have a recurring role.  I would also think he is there to rope in an older demographic.  Likewise with DS9 the series underwent changes during season 4 when Michael Dorn reprised his role as Worf and joined the cast full time and the show underwent a more militant tone with the Klingon conflict (and later on the Dominion War).  So Dukat’s changes in personality could have (and to some extent likely were) been due to writers and producers deciding they needed to do something different with him.  I have also heard the producers began to realize people actually began to like Dukat and realized they had done a terrible job portraying him, making him too relatable, likable.  Well, after some of their creative decisions I cannot see how people could not have taken the character any other way than to assume they were supposed to like and respect him!

But damn, nothing really excuses the ham fisted turn towards super villainy we saw in the season six episode Waltz!

Still, Dukat was a damaged character from the start and let us go back to DS9’s beginning so I can explain.  Dukat was supposed to be a terrible person for his actions as prefect of Bajor (In DS9's first episode, Emissary, Dukat is called "one of the most hated people in Bajoran history") but his reputation was softened by the facts that he had ceased child labor, reduced labor camp output by fifty percent, improved medical care.  He is a bad person, but compared to his predecessor he is an angel. So right off the bat we see writers and producers are faced with a problem; Dukat has to be a bad person, but if they seek to re-use him he has to have a streak of morality, a decent man working within a corrupt system doing what he can to mitigate the horror.  We saw Dukat used in different episodes where he was taken as a hostage by the Maquis and later on aiding Sisko in recovering a stolen Defiant.  Dukat came across as a victim in one instance, a willing ally in the other.  On top of all this every time Dukat appeared on Deep Space Nine he did so either minimally or entirely unguarded.  How could one of the most hated people on Bajor do this?  Imagine Hitler taking a stroll through Jerusalem without getting a bullet in the back of the head or being stoned.  There was an episode called Duet where a man posing as a hated labor camp commandant was knifed in the back on the station.  If that guy could not walk DS9 in safety how could Dukat, his superior responsible for so many more horrors, repeatedly do so?  It was sloppy writing.  Dukat should have never, ever have appeared on DS9 (the station) if the character was so loathed.  Yet his ability to walk around in relative safety strongly implied he was not nearly as despised as was implied in Emissary.

So Dukat was portrayed as being bad, but hey, perhaps he was just a figurehead or patsy, or perhaps everything he did was under direct orders from above and he could not do more for Bajor than he already had.  It is easy to assume in Dukat's favor when you see episodes like Defiant where Dukat works with Sisko to recover the stolen ship and you discover there may be Cardassians far worse and insidious than Dukat.  Dukat's move to the light side is even further revealed when he throws away his reputation, family standing and career when instead of killing his illegitimate daughter Tora Ziyal he publicly acknowledges her even though he knew exactly what was going to happen (And this is one of those cases of a lack of pre-planning.  The character Ziyal was portrayed by three different actors.  The first, the youngest, was replaced when producers decided they wanted her to have a relationship with spy-in-exile Garak.  They felt the first actor's age was too low.  Had they intended the relationship to take place from the start then the role would have been given to an older actor from day one.).  Does this seem the action of an evil man, or a selfless one?  One you can openly admire for placing principle before self interest.

Now comes the part where maybe the producers realized their error.  Dukat's selfless act occurred during season four when he was fighting the Klingons (and here Dukat is portrayed as the plucky underdog fighting against long odds.).  By season five the Klingons are no longer the bad guys and the principle villains are now once again the Dominion.  Dukat throws out common sense  in exchange for a power grab as he agrees to be a Dominion stooge provided he gets to lead the Cardassian Union in the Dominion's name.  Okay, sure, he could still be bitter about losing his status over Ziyal, but the man knew how the system worked.  Replacing the unfair Cardassian system with the utterly oppressive Dominion system (You know, run by the Founders, who aren't afraid to genetically engineer "solids" to better fit in with their plans.  And who aren't above sending ships on suicide runs, or obliterating entire species.  These are the guys Dukat is throwing in with) flies utterly in the face of a guy who through his attempts to mitigate the horror of the Bajoran occupation and public acceptance of his half Bajoran daughter shows a strong streak of moral character, a man who tries to balance duty with decency.  Is he still a bad man for his horrific actions?  Of course.  Can you still admire him for trying to do the right thing?  Sure.
Only now Dukat is full on Evil.  Screw four seasons of character development, we need him to be a very, very bad man because the producers say he is a complete moron for now placing naked ambition before everything else.  Where was this naked ambition in the first four seasons?  Where is his common sense?  The Dominion are ten times worse than the Klingons and Romulans and they can only get to the Alpha Quadrant through a tiny bottleneck known as Deep Space Nine.  The smart play would be to forge an alliance between all Alpha Quandrant species and defend that bottleneck.  But nope, Dukat is now officially a moron for collaborating with an alien race willing to detonate suns

So Dukat is now a Dominion figurehead, a lackey.  He has sold out his very people for power.  The only bright spot is his love of Ziyal but she is killed by his lieutenant when it is discovered she aided the rebels in disabling the station (As a side note here, Dukat said to Ziyal that traitors should be executed, which sort of sealed her fate.  Yet he betrayed his entire species.  So add hypocrisy to the "new, improved" Dukat.).  Dukat now goes crazy...and this makes no sense whatsoever.  Dukat was portrayed as brave, selfless, loyal...and now we see he a tyrannical self serving bastard who is also mentally unbalanced.

Dukat decides to worship the Pah-wraiths, the wormhole aliens' evil counterparts.  So Dukat trades in The Dominion, an oppressive, utterly merciless entity, for a group of aliens who do not even understand linear time!  All of this is so Dukat can achieve Power.  Never mind any of this being for the good of the Cardassian people, it is now all about Dukat!  There is nothing selfless, brave or noble about Dukat any more; he is now a two dimensional villain who if he had a handlebar mustache would be twirling it at every available opportunity.  Dukat murders Jadzia Dax, because the producers know there might be one or two Dukat fans out there left and they need to really drive home the point that Dukat is superbadevil. He becomes part of a cult of Pah-wraith worshippers and they make him their leader...Because really there is no one more qualified to lead your insane cult than the guy who ruled your planet and was responsible for numerous atrocities and who up until recently was the stooge for a race of beings determined to do pretty much the same thing to your entire sector of space.

Dukat now poses as a Bajoran to get ahold of a mystic tome that will allow him to bring the Pah-wraiths over...or something.  He and Ben Sisko wind up in a fight in a place called the Fire Caves and while Ben is saved by the wormhole aliens Dukat is imprisoned for all time with his Pah-wraith masters.  Thus the DS9 finale goes from a ten to a seven due to a ham-fisted resolution to the Dukat saga.

So, what we see here in Dukat is a character who is portrayed in the first episode as the principle antagonist.  Problem was, the first three seasons of Deep Space Nine were very boring and Dukat as an antagonist was simply not that engaging.  He just never seemed to be that effective at being a bad guy.  Then beginning with season four Dukat was now portrayed as being someone you could admire.  The Klingons were the bad guys, the Cardassians were now the good guys, and Dukat was by his acknowledgment of Ziyal a decent person.  Hey, this is great!  We have some wonderful character development here. the producers realized their mass murdering despot was too likable and they had to overcompensate.  And boy did they ever, topping themselves season by season until he became a sci-fi antichrist.

So how can you as a GM avoid the mistakes the writers and producers made where Dukat was concerned?  I think the problem stems from Ziyal.  Introducing the character and making Dukat accept her rather than kill her ruined his character, if the intention was to keep Dukat a bad guy all along.  If Dukat had slain Ziyal in Indiscretion then his status as a bad guy would have been secured and his throwing in with The Dominion would have made much more sense.  As a GM if you must be consistent with how you portray your NPCs.  That does not mean you cannot have character growth and gradually turn an NPC from a bad guy to someone with more shades of gray, but you should not abandon that character development for the sake of expediency as the DS9 writers seemed to do.  Dukat experienced legitimate character growth in one direction, and it was completely abandoned at the price of poor writing because the producers needed a Dominion figurehead and they felt they had made him too nice.  I think that rather than Dukat being driven by a thirst for power that instead the Dominion took his family on Cardassia hostage and used them as leverage against him, so he was forced into playing the role of villain.  Then we could have had the best of both worlds.  Then his mental breakdown would have been much more believable when he realized the loss of DS9 meant his family back home would be slaughtered.  So you could have had Dukat murder his daughter and throw in with the Dominion in one path, or save his daughter and attempt self redemption only to have the attempt thwarted by circumstances beyond his control.

But the whole Pah-wraith thing?  No, I can't see any justification for that, unless he was going to use the Pah-wraiths to get revenge on the Dominion for what they did to his family.  That I could have bought.  If only the producers had planned Dukat's character arc out a bit better then perhaps we could have seen him come to a better end than the ridiculous one we were subjected to in the finale.

In my Vindicators game I have a character called Annette, an immortal who is the matriarch of a clan of sorcerers. She was responsible for creating the team by manipulating events from behind the scenes, but her reasons were because she felt creating the team would help prevent several dooms her precognitive powers showed her.  Before creating the group she had been a super villain and attempted to resolve her problems by manipulating other magic users but when this did not work she abandoned this identity.  And later she created a covert team of heroes to fight the extra dimensional invaders and their lackeys, who had slain hundreds of her kin.  In every instance Annette has been portrayed not as a hero, but as someone who acts in her own self interest and the interest of her clan.

So if I were to turn her into a full blown super villain, or at the very least have her do something utterly morally reprehensible, I have done nothing that would contradict that because I have striven to remain consistent where Annette's interests, motives and loyalties lay.  Annette places family above all, and to hell with everyone else.  No law, no person, no thing comes before her family.  I have remained true to the core concepts of the character and any character development would not be undone by any horrific actions she may be responsible for, provided those actions were undertaken to protect her family.

There is another character, Doctor Hades. Hades started off as your two dimensional mad scientist who specialized in building robots.  Hades died quite by accident when a super hero did not believe his laptop was booby trapped.  Hades could have ended there but I instead decided to bring Hades back as an artificial intelligence who now saw himself as an ally to the very hero who had slain his human predecessor's body because they were both inhuman beings and had more in common with one another now.  I took advantage of the situation, making a simple character into a complex one, giving him new motivations because Hades the machine's needs and desires were completely different from Hades the man.  It was dramatic character development inspired by an in-game event, one the players could easily believe (And in a dark potential future that hero, Photon, was one of Earth's rulers and had turned evil, and Hades was one of his loyal lackeys.  Through the game I had Hades attempting to turn Photon towards the dark side, weakening his resolve by pointing out how much more he had in common with Hades than the fleshbags he sought to defend.)

This is the lesson you should take here from Dukat's mishandling and my own attempts to be true to my NPCs.  Have some clear cut ideas what you want to do with your prominent NPCs and show some consistency in how they are portrayed, but do not be afraid to change the NPCs provided such changes make sense.  If an NPC changes through reasonable and believable character growth then honor that growth; do not undo it out of expediency. Treat your players with more respect than the producers of DS9 did their fans.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Song of the week

I think Genesis is one of those bands that operated on a curve, quality wise.  When they first came out they were a progressive rock band led by Peter Gabriel and I did not much enjoy their stuff.  It was not until Gabriel quit the band and Phil Collins took over as lead singer that they produced music that I enjoyed (Oddly enough once Gabriel left I found his solo work much more enjoyable.  Weird).

And then somewhere along the way Genesis began to truly suck.  The Duke, Abacab, self titled album and Invisible Touch era was my Genesis.  We Can't Dance?  True suckage.

On the Invisible Touch Album there was an instrumental I loved the hell out of, The Brazilian:

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Study in Evil, part two

Well, perhaps "Evil" is being a bit dramatic, but it makes for a good title.

In part one I discussed T'Pring, one of Star Trek's most interesting and compelling bad guys.  T'Pring's motives were understandable, the execution of her plans brilliant, her manipulations masterful.  The fact that she won made for great drama.  Now I turn my eyes to...
Yes, that's right. Khan.  Played by Ricardo Montalban, Khan Noonian Singh was the product of late twentieth century genetic engineering, a principle player in the Eugenic Wars of the late twentieth century.  Losing the wars, he and his followers were launched into space on the Botany Bay in cryogenic suspension, accepting exile over the imprisonment/deaths of himself and his people.  Captain Kirk and The USS Enterprise discovered the ship and thawed Khan out, not realizing who or what he was, a man with super human strength and advanced intellect, and whose seductive powers rivaled Kirk's own as he suborned lieutenant McGivers and ultimately awoke his people.  He took over the Enterprise and it was only McGivers deciding she could not stand by and see her captain die at Khan's hands that saved the day.  Khan was exiled on Ceti Alpha V with his people and McGivers.

Now, what makes Khan such a great villain in this episode?  Let's break it down.

Khan is an awesome character: Khan was a dictator who honestly believed he was doing good.  When confronted by Kirk and Spock at dinner, when they are seeking to confirm that he is indeed Khan Noonian Sighn, his facade cracks and he says "We gave them order!" as he pounds the table.  Montalban is able to give us a complex, fascinating, fully fleshed out character in less than an hour, a man who honestly believes he is not evil, that it is his destiny to rule.  There is a reason why Khan was chosen to make the leap to the big screen, because Ricardo, writer Carey Wilber (and damn, I wish this guy had written more than just this single episode), producer Gene Coon and director Mark Daniels (who gave us a couple turkeys, but who also provided us with classics like The Doomsday Machine and Mirror/Mirror) did such a wonderful job providing us with a multi-layered personality.

Khan is the complete package.  Montalban oozes charisma.  He is handsome, looks physically powerful, possesses a strong voice that conveys a barely contained passion.  His Khan dominates every scene he is in.  Ricardo makes you believe this man once ruled a good chunk of the Earth and while I know we are watching a show made in the sixties and there is a degree of sexism involved in the way lieutenant McGivers is written, it does not take all that much suspension of disbelief for me to buy him seducing the impressionable lieutenant who is quite taken with romantic notions of the eugenics warlord.  Khan is highly intelligent, able to absorb twenty third century technical manuals and master their content to gain an understanding of the Enterprise's systems and to use them to take over the ship.  Khan is also far stronger than a normal human being and does an awesome job tossing Kirk around like a rag doll before he is taken down through James T.'s equalizer, a length of pipe.

Khan has grand goals/motivations. Khan was one of Earth's rulers, he is an ambitious leader who bows to no one.  He seeks to take over Enterprise and convince members of the crew to follow his banner.  It might seem silly to think that this man could form an empire from such meager origins, but his story reminds me of Romulus and Remus, the twin survivors of Troy who ultimately found Rome.  From the humblest beginnings can an empire grow.  Khan taking over the Enterprise is just the first step on his road to Empire.

Now up to now I had discussed Khan's appearance in the television episode Space Seed.  This was the first time he was featured.  There is, of course, his tremendously memorable appearance in Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan.
I spoke before in the T'Pring article about the importance of a villain being used sparingly, that every time they appear the odds are increased that their impact would be lessened, their legacy tarnished if they are badly handled.  Just look at those Voyager episodes starring John DeLancy as Q.  Instead of the character going out in style in All Good Things we got The Q and The Gray.  When a villain makes another appearance it should be different, should be bigger, grander. It should feel like an event.

And damn it, Wrath of Khan delivers. How is Khan different this time around?  Let's look.

He is leaner and meaner. In Space seed Khan is a charismatic, highly intelligent leader with physical presence and a seductive charm.  Now fifteen years of exile and hardship, seeing many of his people die (including his beloved wife, McGivers), has made him embittered, angry.  Khan's charm now has a biting sarcasm to it, an irony as he confronts Captain Terrell and Commander Chekov, and later Admiral Kirk.  Fifteen years of suffering have changed him, made him in many ways a different person.

Khan is Ahab, Kirk the White Whale.  So Khan's motivation has undergone a significant change.  Before he was interested in building an empire and doing what was best for his people.  Now his motivation is vengeance against Kirk regardless of the cost or common sense.  His subordinate, Joachim, points out that he has a ship to go where he will.  But Khan is not having it.  He wants to track down Kirk regardless of the cost.  This is where that character development really shows.  The Khan from Space Seed would not have been all that interested in revenge, not if it meant risking his personal freedom and the lives of his followers.  That Khan was a pragmatic man willing to do anything to survive.  He elected to take a risky exile into space rather than make some sort of futile last stand.  Now?  Now nothing else matters but killing Kirk, or hurting him.  Khan has been cost much, there must be reparation, payment in flesh and blood.

This is tremendous character development.  People can and usually do change over time, especially when faced with privation.  What we see in Khan is a man who has seemingly stripped away all unnecessary emotion to focus upon the sole task of survival of himself and his people.  There is no room for weak emotions like love or selfish ones like desire.  All that matters is dominance of his environment.  And when the possibility of revenge presents itself all that well honed, ruthless pragmatism developed over fifteen years is tossed aside in a second for a chance at revenge.

The stakes are higher. In Space Seed the stakes involve Khan taking over Kirk's ship and killing his crew in an initial bid to create an empire.  In the second film the stakes are similar, only they are larger.  Khan's chances of creating an empire were slim the first time around, but in the film Khan now has a doomsday weapon that can obliterate an entire planetary population!  In the episode the scale is smaller, man versus man.  In the second it is ship versus ship.  In the episode Kirk loses McGivers to Khan a good crew member.  In the film Kirk loses Spock, his best friend as well as numerous crew (among them young cadets).  In every way the film takes the stakes and raises them, Khan's second appearance bigger and better.

So what have we learned from how the 'Trek creators used Khan and what lessons can you as a GM take from it?  First of all, if you wish to defeat a villain you do not necessarily have to kill him.  Perhaps like Khan you exile him, imprison him, or make his death a very ambiguous one so his return can be teased.  This is especially true if the villain is one you really like (But please do not fall in love with your villains; you run the risk of putting him before the players) or one the players really enjoyed dealing with.  Second, if you do use a major villain (and when I mean "major" I mean the sort of person who is out to take on the world, change it, or destroy it) again it should be bigger and better than the time before.  Finally, do not be afraid to change the character's personality and motivations provided they make sense.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Song of the week, personal issues

Some personal stuff is going on so I am having some trouble focusing on the next Evil Reigns post.  In the mean time this song finally hit the 'net.  I have been hot to hear it in it's entirety ever since I heard it when I saw The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trailer.  I give you Trent Reszer and Karen O.'s cover of Led Zepplen's The Immigrant Song:

Monday, November 28, 2011

Song of the week

I hope everyone who celebrates it had a nice Thanksgiving.  On the way home from dinner my brothers Bob and Donald were discussing with me random stuff, and the conversation came to Mtv.  And the conversation turned to what our first music video was.  I honestly can't recall the first music video I saw on Mtv (although statistically it was a Rod Stewart video; the first couple years Rod Stewart got ridiculously high airplay because he made a ton of music videos.  A man truly ahead of his time).  For me my first video was not seen on Mtv but on a horrible variety show called Pink Lady and Jeff.  It was Cheap Trick, The Dream Police:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Study in Evil, part one

In a majority of campaigns the driving force is The Bad Guy.  The Bad Guy is the dude who killed the hero's parents, or is ruling the kingdom with an iron fist, or has some other nefarious plot the heroes must thwart.  The Bad Guy is often the lynchpin your campaign relies upon.  He could be a faceless force like Sauron, acting through intermediaries, or he is up close and personal like Darth Vader.  So what makes a good stupendous Bad Guy?  To answer this question I thought I would take a look at a series of fictional villains and analyzed them, see where writers got it right and where they got it wrong.  And I wanted to start off with one of my favorite Bad Guys of all time.


Who?  You might ask.  T'Pring appeared in the Original Star Trek series episode Amok Time, one of my two favorite Star Trek episodes.  If you have not seen it, here it is in four parts.  Watch it.  Watch it now.

I could write an entire article about how utterly awesome this episode is (among the high points: Kirk makes a rare but huge blunder, McCoy is written as awesomely clever, and T'Pau might be one of the greatest 'Trek guest stars of all time.  I love how she just knows what McCoy is doing but lets him do it anyway because she gets what is going on and can't stop it, but at the same time isn't going to get in the way of someone else trying to stop it.  In fact, she becomes McCoy's willing accomplice!), but I will focus on one part: The Bad Guy, T'Pring, one of the most awesome Star Trek villains of all time.  Yes, I easily stack her up against Khan any day and here are the reasons why:

She only appears once.  Wait!  You may say.  If she is so awesome shouldn't we get more T'Pring?  Nope.  Part of what makes T'Pring so amazing is her one and only appearance (I am not counting her appearance in Diane Duane's book Spock's World, which while it was a good read I feel it did not do T'Pring justice.  Really it just felt like Duane needed a Vulcan bad guy and used T'Pring because there were no others available.) because there is no opportunity to screw her up.  She shows up, kicks ass all over the place, then rides off into the sunset, leaving devastation in her wake.  Look at characters like Marvel's Doctor Doom-

Your repeated use of Doom grows wearisome, fool!
or Deep Space Nine's Gul Dukat.  Repeatedly using these characters means writers run the risk of diluting their potential awesomeness.  Worse, it provides more and more opportunities to get the characters wrong.  Even worse than that, characters like Doctor Doom have to fail; if he won Reed Richards would be dead and he would rule the Earth (although there was a neat graphic novel where Doom did in fact conquer the Earth and discovered becoming the world's biggest bureaucrat kinda sucked, so he let the Avengers defeat him.).  So Doom has to lose.  Repeatedly.  He spends months coming up with an awesome plot to defeat Reed Richards and Mister Fantastic makes him look like a chump in ten minutes.  Just once I would love to see a comic book character confront Doom on his win/loss record and point out for such a smart guy he sure am dumb.

Look at another awesome Star Trek villain: Khan Noonian Singh.  He only appeared twice and both times were terrific.  Had he appeared a third time I am certain someone would have botched it.  It was  rare instance where lightning struck twice, and that is due in large part to the fact that Khan really in many ways is two different characters (I will touch on the awesomeness that is Khan next time) in his two different appearances.  So yeah, while recurring villains sound great, the one shot bad guy, especially one who wins, can be very refreshing.

She is highly intelligent.  We all know Vulcans are supposed to be smart, right?  Look at Spock; he is the smartest guy in the room regardless of whatever room he is in.  Yet that fact does not strike home until Amok Time and you meet other Vulcans and you realize that Jesus Christ, if Vulcans decided to go to war against the Federation, the Federation would be doomed.  Because T'Pring is a helluva amateur strategist.  Consider:

Spock is suffering from Pon Farr, the Vulcan biological urge to mate which hits every seven years.  If he and T'Pring do not have sex, Spock will die.  T'Pring wants this arranged marriage to be over so she brings her lover(!) to the ceremony, intent on challenging the marriage, having her lover kill Spock in the duel and to living logically ever after with her man.  (Now you may ask, if she wants out of the marriage couldn't she just not have sex with Spock and let him die?  Then she would be guilty of murder.  It is important to consider she must work within the boundaries of the law because she wishes to still live in Vulcan society.)

Only what happens?  Spock brings Kirk and McCoy along, and T'Pring can tell right away that these two human "outworlders" mean a lot to him.  Ah ha!  T'Pring challenges the validity of the marriage via kali-fi and instead of picking Ston, she chooses Kirk as her champion .  Remember she has no idea Spock is bringing Kirk and McCoy to the ritual, she comes up with this change of plans right then and there.  And it works perfectly in her favor.  Because as she explains it:

1) If Kirk won he would not want T'Pring because he killed Spock (Yes, go ahead, insert Kirk space booty call joke here), so she gets Ston, her man, all legal and proper.

2) If Spock won then he would not want her because he killed Kirk, and she still gets Ston.

3) If Spock won and he did not release her from the marriage she still gets what she wants because Spock would be elsewhere, either with his career or in prison, and she still gets Ston in some way.  The status quo is maintained, she risks nothing.

T'Pring cannot lose!  How utterly awesome is that?  Whereas before there was a risk of her losing her man in the challenge, she sees her chance to completely change the game in her favor and she wins.  Even Spock compliments her on her flawless logic.  You want the model of an evil super genius?  You look at T'Pring.  And speaking of which...

T'Pring does not look like your normal villain.  T'Pring is lovely, but we have seen lovely bad guys before.  The X-Men's White Queen, for example, was a classic case of an ultra-sexy villainess.

And speaking of characters ruined by too many appearances...
But more often than not villains look villainous.  Like The Wicked Witch, for example...
I have flying monkeys!  Monkeys, that fly!
...who through repeated appearances goes from Bad Guy to being just misunderstood hero of the downtrodden.  And hot:
Snide comment aside, I do dig the music to Wicked and would love to see the musical, but it can get annoying when bad guys are sometimes turned into anti heroes (I'm looking at you, Venom and Sabertooth!).

Back to T'Pring.  T'Pring does not look evil or vamped up.  She looks very attractive but she is almost demure in those Vulcan slippers, being overshadowed by all those big, strong men.  No way she is the puppet master, manipulating everyone around her.  No sir...

T'Pring does not look evil.  She looks sober and cold, but evil?  Like a woman willing to force men to kill one another to get what she wants?  She doesn't look that way to me.  And finally...

T'Pring's motivation is wonderfully understandable.  Forget world conquest, or the promotion of some alien ideology, or enslaving the human race, or even a hunt for treasure.  T'Pring is sick of being married to Spock and wants out.  She wants to be with her man Ston, free and legal.  It is motivation based on passion and she uses logic to achieve her aims.  This is in so many ways a wonderful interpretation of Vulcans, as alien in thought processes, yes, but still very relatable (interesting how there is a dictionary entry for that word, and yet my spell checker denies it) in some fundamental ways.  Viewers can understand what motivates T'Pring, especially men and women trapped in loveless marriages, who may feel powerless, their options limited.  In some small way T'Pring may even be a sympathetic character...if you ignore the whole manipulating men into killing one another thing.  But even that is excusable to a degree.  T'Pring is bound by strict laws and to get what she wants she must work within the confines of those laws.  She did not write the part where death matches are a perfectly acceptable means of conflict resolution.  If she had a choice I am certain she would hire a good divorce attorney and hash it out in court.

So there you have it, one of the best villains I have ever had the pleasure to watch.  Intelligent, does not look like a traditional bad guy, possessing understandable motivations that might even in some small way make her a sympathetic character, and above all else, used very, very sparingly.  Theodore Sturgeon wrote the screen play for Amok Time and judging from this and his other Trek contribution Shore Leave, I find it a real pity that he did not have more of an impact on Star Trek as a whole because I think his two efforts are among Trek's best.

Next time I will look at Khan and what makes him work as a villain.  Both of him...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Song of the week

Batman and Robin is an abomination, a horrible film that was the creation of Joel Schumacher's "creative genius" and Warner Brothers merchandising greed (And while I have often complained about Joel's hatchet job on the film he cannot take all the blame.  Directors are employees of both producers and the studio system, so anything Joel did the studio either approved of or made him do.).  Despite Chris Sims' impassioned and amusing review nothing can convince me this movie is anything but an utter waste of two hours of my time.  True story: I saw this movie at the dollar theater at my brother Jon's insistence (and I paid him back by making him see Battlefield Earth with me. Vengeance is mine!) and we went with a bunch of our friends.  When the film let out Herb Harris had this expression on his face I can imagine survivors of the bombing of Dresden must have shared. He turned to us and said, "I feel so...used."

So the film is as bad as modern film making can be with a terrible script, bad acting, and horrific direction.   All that being said, it has an awesome Smashing Pumpkins song on the soundtrack.  And now some super genius has married this song with scenes from Nolan's two Batman films:


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Creative Short Cuts

There is a comic book called Knights of The Dinner Table, it is about five friends who play a Dungeons & Dragons type game called Hackmaster (a game that was later actually created, partly based on the original D&D engine).  I used to buy it but I 1) was running out of room to store comics and 2) I could not justify the price because once the Hackmaster game was created KOTDT became a Hackmaster supplement magazine and the price went up.  So I could not see why I should be a magazine where half the material was stuff I was not interested in.

Anyway, in one issue one of the players, Dave, decides to take a  crack  behind the GM screen and the results are...less than stellar.  The dungeon, you see, was just the layout of his house.  Because Dave was a first time GM and had difficulty coming up with something he fell back on something he knew.

As silly as the plot was, as funny as the strip struck me, the principle used is not.

First time, or even veteran GMs may be hard pressed to come up with original material and can find running a game to be very intimidating.  In an earlier post I referenced online sources for pre-generated adventures and this is one avenue.  But what if you want to run a longer lasting campaign and are having difficulty creating supporting characters, kingdoms, plots and these online sources are not helping?  The fact is there is plenty of material to pick and choose from, be it old television programs, motion pictures, books, history, etc.

I am not talking about ripping off a plot whole, but there is nothing wrong with being inspired.  For example, Star Trek's Balance of Terror is obviously inspired by The Enemy Below, but it is still very much a Star Trek story.  And sticking with Star Trek, the writers and producers were obviously influenced by modern events at the time, with the Klingons and Romulans playing the part of the Soviets and Communist China.  There were episodes where the Klingons and Federation were indirectly involved in conflicts much like the Soviet Union and United States were during the Cold War.  Looking at other fictional worlds, even a legendary writer like Robert E. Howard has gone this route; he used ancient Egypt as the blueprint for the Hyborian kingdom of Stygia.  Hell, Harry Turtledove does not even hide the fact that he has used the American Civil War and World War II as the basis of two fantasy series.

EDIT: I completely forgot about George Lucas, who has admitted that two of his inspirations for Star Wars were Flash Gordon (he actually wanted to do a Flash Gordon movie but was unable to because someone else had the rights) and The Hidden Fortress.

What do you know about the region where you live?  Here in Michigan there are two interesting stories that could make for good one-short adventures or long or short campaigns.  During the height of the logging industry there were guys who would steal logs as they floated down the river: log rustlers.  It might sound silly but at a time when wood was the number one construction material in places without quarries logs were a very valuable commodity.  Perhaps your adventurers have stumbled into a situation where loggers, frustrated with the loss of revenue, have hired the wandering adventurers to put an end to the rustlers?  It is a change of pace from the standard dungeon crawl and PCs might have to deal with unusual environments to fight in (imagine a pitched battle on logs snarled in a river.  The wet, uncertain footing, the possibility that the wrong move could shift the entire pile and send people falling into the water, PCs crushed between logs or trapped beneath the pile, drowning!).  Another incident is the "Toledo War" where a conflict erupted between the state of Ohio and the territory of Michigan over the city of Toledo.  In the late eighteenth through early nineteenth century Toledo was a thriving and important town due to it's geographical location on Lake Erie and the creation of the Erie canal (before railroads the canal systems played a major role in the movement of goods, with mule-pulled barges floating up and down them).  Imagine two kingdoms warring over a small town due to it's economically important location.  The town is split into factions, factions eager to hire adventurers to protect their goods as they ply the river.  Perhaps the PCs must come up with some way to find a resolution to this conflict?  What if the loggers from the earlier idea run their logs down to this town?  So just by using two pieces of Michigan history I have come up with a possible long term campaign.  Sure, it might not be to everyone's taste but not every adventure should revolve around abandoned dungeons and bags of gold and jewels that are just laying around.  Too much of that sort of thing and players run the risk of growing jaded.

With a little homework I could adapt Detroit politics into the political framework of a fantasy or sci-fi city.  Have you heard of Tammany Hall?  There is a fantastic blueprint to create a corrupt political machine.  Why knock yourself out trying to create all that material?  Unless you love it, of course.  If that is the case then knock yourself out.  I am just saying for those of you hard pressed to create this stuff, there are avenues to pursue, resources to exploit.

This principle does not necessarily have to apply only to an adventure or a setting.  Perhaps you are simply having trouble coming up with NPC names?  My friend Dave, for one of his campaigns, named the members of one mighty house after characters from an anime.  You could use famous people from a historically important event like the battle of Thermopylae, perhaps modify their names a bit.  Leonidas becomes Leon, Demophilus becomes Demo, Themistocles is now Themi (the latter possibly even being a good female name).  Xerxes?  Zerk, maybe.  There, I just came up with the names for a cyberpunk biker gang, the Chrome Spartans.  Maybe use foreign boy and girl names for the names of regions and cities.  Aimery, Arbogastro, Zosime, Chace are all French boy names, ones likely not known to English speaking players, they would be ideal names for cities and countries. Italian girl names?  Ghita, Perlita, Zoila. Three of the members of the super villain group the Company of Wolves were named after my brothers, that was done more simplicity's sake because at the time their first names were not that important.

What about villains?  When I began my Vindicators campaign I created a lot of poorly defined background because I wanted to give the players the feeling that they were not the first heroes in this world, that paranormals had been making an impact on it for decades.  So I worked up a timeline and sprinkled numerous fictional events in it (I was very much inspired by the Watchmen comic, where Alan Moore succeeded in showing how the existence of super heroes would impact the real world).  With some I had some ideas that would be addressed in the game eventually, with others I just put them there for color.  One of them was a guy named Lord Dread.  I had never intended Dread to be anything more than a Doctor Doom knockoff and I had never intended to use him.

Not without giving Doom royalties!
But then I came across an image online and I thought they were so cool that I simply had to expand on Lord Dread, only what could I do to make him unique from Doom?  Two things sprang to mind.  The first was Dread's numerous defeats have worn him down over the years.  When you look at Doctor Doom the guy loses.  A lot.  Seriously, has any of his successes had any lasting impact on his enemies or the world at large?  Not really.  You would think a guy who has lost so many times would just give up, right?  And that is what Lord Dread did.  He gave up.  Beaten once too often, he has ceased in his attempts to conquer the world and as a result he has become forgotten, a punch line.

And then...he got old.  And now he is dying.  And now he has decided to go out with one last gasp.

So while I was inspired by Doom-hi tech villain who wears armor and has his own country-I have taken it someplace else.  I added my own twists.  And yeah, maybe some comic book writer has done the same thing, but if they have I have not read it.  Believe it or not, but it is very difficult to come up with something new.  I thought my friend Joe had invented the idea of the super hero reality show when he ran his Avant Guard PBeM, then I discovered DC had done it during the nineties with some of their New Blood characters.

Chances are you are surrounded by inspiration: historical texts, paperbacks, comic books, DVDs, the internet. You have at your fingertips entire worlds to adapt to your campaign.  The hard part is to give it enough of a spin that makes it yours, make it fun for you and your players.  Just try to have more vision than to simply use your house layout for your dungeon, or your brothers as the bad guys. :)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Song of the week, Delays

Well, after that cathartic series of posts I had planned on jumping in with another...eventually.  But one of my players, Earl, and I spoke and it turns out I am running a second adventure in my Vindicators game (which really makes sense, as suddenly the game's number of players swelled due to past members returning and the thought of all those guys going on one adventure would be...messy).  And I am not complaining because I hope Maidenquest will be as fun a ride as Dylanquest should be.  So those two combined with the Behind The Veil game has got me a little busy.

And yeah, City of Heroes.  It's the cowled monkey on my back.

So I have a couple ideas for some posts that I will try and get to this weekend. In the mean time your song of the week comes from A Perfect Circle, the song is Counting Bodies Like Sheep To The Rhythm of War Drums.


I heard the song when I saw a commercial for the video game Rage and it stuck with me.  What I find funny is when you look at some of the comments on the YouTube page how some Perfect Circle fans are upset that people were drawn to the song due to it's commercial use.  Me, I would love it if a video game (a good one, of course) used a Kate Bush song in it's commercial.  I guess maybe some Perfect Circle fans were upset because the band "sold out" or something.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Song of the week

Eric Clapton.  Need I say more?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

In closing

In case you showed up late, I wrote a series of posts regarding a GM named Drew and his game.  You can find the posts below or just go to the links here, here and here.  I was angry with the man, angry with what he had said to me.  He had called my actions "pure evil", scoffed at my assertion that I was his peer.  But now that I have written my articles, have given myself time to think, to ponder on what he said and what I wrote, I have come to the conclusion that he is right, I am not his peer.

I am his superior.

He mocked me for presuming he was a novice, but with the evidence at hand what other conclusion could I come to?  An adventure that was simplistic in setting but clunky and over complicated in execution, players quitting every few weeks for one reason or another, a web site devoid of information, a GMPC whose function could have easily been handled by a PC, my only logical conclusion was he was a player who had gotten in over his head.  Now granted his game has limped along as he has recruited new players to fill in the holes of the literary dike but he had to scrap his first failed adventure due to departing players (me being among them) and an inability to bring it to a successful conclusion.  Of course he railed against me for the trouble I caused, but a good GM looks as much to his own shortcomings as he does his players.

And this is where I consider myself superior.  Yes, I have had players quit on me in the past, but if you look at my game I have a loyal group of friends who have stuck with me, some for as many as ten years or more.  Even players who have quit for personal reasons have come back.  Jeff and Keith left the game a few months ago, they are returning.  Robin might be coming back after an eighteen month or so absence.  Why do these people return?  Because they like who they play with and I entertain them.  They dig what I am putting down.

I have the greatest group of players on the 'net. I have the Justice League of players:

They are the Avengers of players (and not the Brian Michael Bendis era of Avengers.  I'm talking Steve Englehart level of Avengers here!):

They are The League of Extraordinary Players:

God bless 'em.

I am done with Drew, I am moving on.  Writing these posts has made me feel much better and I will now think on what other articles to write.  Almost every writer wants a following, but at the end of the day a writer should write for themselves.  I should be less concerned about the size of my target audience and more concerned with the joy I may find in writing these articles.  And if even just one aspiring GM finds inspiration in my works, if just one guy or girl enjoys reading what I am laying down, then I should be content.

Good bye, Drew.  This GM has has his revenge.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Captain's log: Detrimental

Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.

Fyodor Dostoevsky

All right, let us recap Drew's mistakes:

He took the job in the first place.  Drew was not Exeter's original GM, he took over at the request of someone else.  This means he did not get to pick the ship, the players or possibly even the plot.  Putting himself in that situation was courting disaster and I do not recommend anyone doing the same.  If you run a game, make it your own.  Only in rare exceptions does it make sense to take over another game.  My player Rafe, for example, ran a team of Vindicators for about a year but only after he and I discussed it.  We discuss which players/characters he would have on his team, when and how our two games would impact one another, etc.  And Rafe had been my player for some ten years so he was quite familiar with the Vindicators universe and with my GMing style, he knew what we expected from one another.  Finally, Rafe showed tremendous creativity and did some pretty clever things from the unused bits and pieces in my game.

Drew, on the other hand, was stuck with Space Angel, among other things.

He decided to use Nova: The Nova system sucks.  I already noted in my earlier posts why I think so, but another problem is the archive feature.  If you look at a forum based game looking at past events is relatively simple.  Mailing lists are more difficult, although you can do a word search (with varied results).  But apparently where Nova is concerned if a character quits and they did not do a joint post with someone else, all those posts...disappear.  There were two away teams sent down to the planet but since all the players involved in that away team are all those posts are just...gone.  What if something relevant had happened on that mission?  Are those posts available?  Are they only accessible by the GM?

Just because a player quits it does not mean everything they wrote suddenly becomes irrelevant.  Sometimes players quit on less acrimonious terms and their material deserves to be both preserved and made easily accessible to present and future players.  If the Nova system does not allow for this then the Nova system is horribly flawed.

He was lazy: Deneva IV has two rival factions, just like many Star Trek set ups.  I am not even sure if a culture has two such opposing cultures that they would even be allowed in the Federation.  But setting that aside, they aren't even alien; they look human.  It made sense for Star Trek to do that as a television series due to budget constraints, but where PBeMs are concerned a GM can stretch themselves creatively.  Drew did not bother.

And look at the site.  Where is the ship information?  Deck listing?  Images of the vessel or the bridge?  Any GM who does not bother trying to give players a decent database is seriously half assing it.

He did not keep it simple: So you might think Drew was just trying to keep things simple with the two factions, human looking aliens, right?  Only he threw in Section 31 and The Dominion and he had a space station full of space angels floating overhead.  So Drew was going for anything but simple.  In reality creating the two rival planetary super powers seemed more like a way of marginalizing the aliens suffering from the drought so he could instead focus on the much "cooler" aspects he had introduced.

The problem is, there were too many plot elements, especially for an introductory adventure.  An introductory adventure with a new crew should be relatively straightforward, in this manner a GM can tell the strengths and weaknesses of his players, determine their likes and dislikes and most importantly who is going to fit in and who is simply not going to work out.  A straightforward, one-off adventure can also be fun and gives the GM a way to test their literary mettle.  Make it a simple rescue mission (that may in time turn out to be not-so-simple.  Perhaps one of the rescued people is a spy, or becomes a love interest), or a hunt for a pirate who becomes a recurring nemesis (Imagine a half human/half green Orion woman calling herself The Wicked Witch, her ship called The Broomstick. Perhaps she takes a shine to the dashing XO.)  Dropping a team of new players right into a wasp's nest of political intrigue is likely going to frustrate new players and it is difficult to tell how all of them are going to react.

I confess that my first Star Trek game involved a convoluted plot involving time travel and a Dominion plot to wipe out humanity in order to cripple the Federation (the only thing humans seem to be able to do better than any other alien species is shag.  How else can you explain 90% of all Starfleet personnel being humans, and most half breeds being half human in there somewhere?  Sex may be our one super power.).  Honestly?  I lucked out by having a pretty good group of players.  Still, I think the adventure worked out well because of the uniqueness of the setting (Lionheart was being sent back to Earth to be decommissioned, her crew was a mish-mash of people being shipped out for reassignment) and the first adventure right off the bat was an unexpected ambush the gang really enjoyed.  Bam!  Almost immediately the group got tossed into a cinematic action set piece and from the aftermath the story unfolded.

What did Drew do?  Let's beam down to the planet, talk to aliens, get nowhere, learn nothing important (Well, the team I was on learned nothing important.), beam back up, discuss, beam back down, meet Section 31 agent...Which brings me to another point.

His NPCs overshadowed the PCs: There are PCs, NPCs, and GMPCs.  You must be very, very careful not to have an NPC overshadow the PCs, make them look redundant.  In this post, for example, you have the Section 31 operative playing a key role, a role with a little tweaking a PC could have played.  In fact, much of what the Section 31 operative does in the game I imagine could have been handled by the ship's Intelligence officer.  Why have the intelligence officer assigned to the ship in the first place?  Why not have that player running a character who is on a separate assignment to the planet who hooks up with the ship, then gets assigned to the vessel after the first adventure?  Why does every PC have to start off the game assigned to the ship?  When Worf was first introduced on DS9 his first adventure was as a consultant rather than a member of Sisko's staff so there is a precedent for it.

When an NPC begins to overshadow the PCs, then they have become GMPCs.  Every GM should be concerned that their NPCs make the PCs look redundant or irrelevant.  I play important NPCs in my game but they are only there to fill in much needed slots (Much like a Dungeons & Dragons DM might run a cleric NPC for healing because none of the players wanted to).  Drew's pet Section 31 agent crossed over into GMPC territory.

On a side note, one thing I found amusing was how Captain Kerr knew of Section 31's existence.  Heaven forbid Drew role play a character who was ignorant of something cool like that...

He did not choose his setting wisely: Although again, to be fair, he inherited the game.  Another thing to consider is the type of ship the campaign takes place on.  Exeter is a carrier.  Why?  What is served story wise by having a carrier vessel?  Now granted, my first Star Trek game took place on a battered Sabre class and later and Akira, I chose them because I thought they looked cool.  No other reason, I had seen First Contact, saw those ships, and I thought they were utterly bitchin'.  Still, they were generic enough that they fit most adventures (In fact, the first Lionheart hardly factored at all.  She was so battered much of the adventure involved players split into teams off ship.).  So if you are pirate hunting an Oberth probably makes little sense. Same goes for a rescue or diplomatic mission being seen to by a carrier.  True, Drew said Exeter was chosen because she was the only ship available in the quadrant, but that excuse is pretty lame.  It was used in at least three Star Trek movies, and one of those was Star Trek V.

Okay, maybe the carrier thing is a nit.  One way or another the ship class did not seem to impact Drew's game much at all.  Still, it would have been nice if Drew had chosen a ship with some more information behind it.

He did not know his role:  As a GM your job is to push the plot forward, not expect others to do it for you.  In the game Drew had asked me twice to steer a joint post in a way he wanted rather than role playing it out naturally.  He made it the responsibility of the players to control NPCs rather than himself.  This makes me wonder if he was doing the same in every joint post.  Was he asking players at every turn to write the scenes out just so?  If so, then where, exactly, is the fun in that?  In the joint post where he directed me I already knew the outcome.  The second time he asked me again he was telling me in advance how things were going to play out.  A large part of the fun of a game is not knowing what is behind the door, not knowing what the NPC is going to say.  If Drew wanted events to unfold he should have trusted in his players writing well, run NPCs and played the scenes out rather than script everything in advance.  This style of role playing revealed a GM who was either A) inexperienced, B) did not trust his players and/or C) a megalomaniac bent on controlling every single aspect of his game.
Doom is not amused with your use of his image in this blog, lackey!

He ASSumed: Just because a player has willingly gone along with your suggestion to write a scene the way you want, do not assume he is looking to partner up with you to run your game.  From the way Drew spoke to me it sounded like he wanted a collaborator, a co-GM.  I was not looking for anything of the sort nor had he ever discussed such a thing with me.  I don't know, perhaps it was my god-like charisma or my amazing writing, or perhaps he had seen a picture of my perfectly shaped dome and thought "Yeah, that's the bloke I want to run games with!"
I shave my head to show off just how perfectly shaped it is.  Hair loss has nothing to do with it.   Really.

Seriously, if you are looking for collaborators, ask.  Do not assume.  Sometimes you might find a player eager to be a GM.  But that was not the case where I was concerned.  I was already GMing a game, I was in Exeter just to play.  Drew's assumption was...annoying.  It was as if he thought I had let him down, not living up to his well-hidden expectations.

As of this writing Drew's game has six players, which really is not bad.  Problem is I am not sure if anyone is actually writing.  At this point the engineer-my replacement-has yet to post, the last post was from Drew himself on the 16th.  It is entirely possible players are writing joint posts as we speak, but what if that is not the case?  My replacement apparently has not generated an introductory post, others have not posted in a week or more.  If you ask Drew, he might blame me for the "trouble" I caused.  If Drew's game is suffering, he need only look at himself in the mirror for all his troubles.

Tomorrow, an afterword...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Angels and Devils

In every man's heart there is a devil, but we do not know the man as bad until the devil is roused.


So let us discuss Drew’s game, the USS Exeter (This is not the original web site as Drew left his original fleet under a cloud.  Apparently someone was making allegations about him on the forums there or something.  Seems like I am not the only one who has issues with Drew.). I joined it in July of this year as lieutenant Aurora 0408/A, a human clone from a society of clones that I created.  I was inspired by two TNG episodes, Up The Long Ladder and The Masterpiece Society.  The idea was each type of clone had a specific function in that society (i.e. Grubermans were sanitation workers, Auroras were involved in space sciences, Dukes were military and law enforcement, etc.).  Aurora was an outcast because she decided to be an engineer instead and made a home for herself in The Federation.

Everything seemed to be all right at first.  The adventure involved a mission of mercy to a planet which was experiencing a world-wide drought.  We had to determine what was causing it and how to fix it.  I spoke with Drew and suggested one quick, temporary fix might be ice mining local stellar bodies, i.e. comets or the rings of some planets.  He thought it was a great idea and we would factor it into the game somehow.

And somewhere along the way it got lost in the shuffle.  More on that later.

The Exeter reaches the planet and the captain (played by Drew, which is quite normal on just about every single Star Trek game I have seen) forbids anyone from analyzing any of the data collected by the inhabitants.  He wants fresh eyes or something.  I tried to imagine Kirk, Picard, Sisko or even Janeway dismissing hard data out of hand.  Archer?  Yeah, okay, I can see Archer doing that.
Making the dog captain would have made more sense.
That decision made no sense, but hey, let’s roll with it.  We were to send down two away teams to the two rival governments and-

Wait, two rival governments?  You mean like just about every other adversarial set up seen in Star Trek?  No attempt to stretch one’s self, set up multiple factions, even just three?  It’s him and me, black and white.  I can understand that when you have a sixty minute story to tell, but this is a role playing game, try and think outside the box a bit.

Two away teams beam down and now Drew wants someone else to play the aliens dealing with the team led by the XO.  So, Drew doesn’t want to role play the NPCs for half the players.  Why not?  It’s his game, he is the GM, it is his responsibility to role play the NPCs.  So that half of the game turned into a muddled mess due to a lack of direction (Drew's half went very well, apparently).

Later on, we now have a new pair of factors involved in the game, The Dominion and Section 31.  Now I don’t mind either organization when they are written well, but Drew was not up to the task, at least where the latter was concerned.  Because the whole point of Section 31 is, few know they exist.  Members of DS9 know they exist because the shadowy organization wanted to recruit Doctor Bashir and this resulted in him telling others.  An admiral or two were aware they existed because of their security clearance.  But outside of that Section 31 was beyond black ops.

And in Drew’s game everyone acted as if their existence were common knowledge.  I think I was the only person who role played utter ignorance of their existence.  I think Drew mistook Section 31 for Starfleet Intelligence.  Or something.  This is one of those instances where there is player knowledge and character knowledge and it seemed neither Drew or the other players could tell the difference.

So apparently The Dominion might be behind the drought and Section 31 was along because…Drew apparently likes Section 31.  Only the Section 31 guy does not seem to be very good at his job because he is confrontational and not very good at manipulating people and events from behind the scenes the way Section 31 is supposed to be.  Section 31 operatives pose as legitimate officers, conduct their affairs through intermediaries, shun the light.

But hey, let’s roll with it.  The Section 31 agent through some plan manages to help the Captain capture the Dominion scout ship along with its crew.  At this point I begin to role play Aurora as being concerned the Dominion vessel might be booby trapped.  The Dominion is run by shape changers and their foot soldiers, the Jem Hadar, can turn invisible.  Any bunch this sneaky probably has booby traps everywhere (I was role playing Aurora, a character from a highly conformist and all-human culture as being leery of aliens and a little racist.  And really, can you blame her?  It seems like every alien is stronger, smarter, lives longer or has some sort of super power like telepathy or shape changing or invisibility.  You never saw enough racism in Star Trek. Everyone liked everyone else.)!  Drew was okay with it and I engaged in a joint post with the player running lieutenant Rakka, the Nausican chief of security, to discuss sweeping the scout craft for booby traps.
Now this is where Drew’s role playing style began to rankle a bit.  The system he was using, the mechanism to run the game, was the Nova system.  Nova is a means to send e-mails to the players but rather than sending e-mails to a single group address, the player has to choose whom to send it to.  The system encourages joint posting rather than a more open system and this often results in very, very large e-mails sent out at intermittent intervals.  A player has no idea of the game’s health because all sorts of things could be going on with those posts.  I much prefer games using a mailing list or a forum.

Drew contacts me and asks me during my joint post with the player running Rakka to have a jail break, some of the Jem Hadar are supposed to bust loose.  Now, why isn’t Drew running those Jem Hadar?  Why isn’t he role playing the NPCs rather than have us running the characters?  Instead he is here dictating to me what he would like to see happen in the game.  And while I had my misgivings I thought what the heck, I owe the guy for posting a message in the wrong area of the message board because of my ignorance of Nova in general.

The jail break goes down, my character is wounded, I am sent to sickbay and I am thinking that this is great, I get to do a scene with the doctor!  Only…the doctor all but disappears from the game at this point (This is the second doctor, btw.  The first one quit.  People quit a lot in Drew's game.  The current XO used to be chief of security.).  So I am left running a solo post NPCing the medical staff.  Some people love doing solo posts.  I hate ‘em.  I am playing a role playing game to interact with people, not write fan fiction.  And this seems to be exactly what is going on because around the time I post I discover other PCs have been wounded and are in sickbay.  Well, I am thinking, wouldn’t it have been nice to have been able to factor this in to my post, to have these things going on together somehow?  Only the Nova format does not allow this because the joint post system means I have no idea what people are writing while I am writing.  If this were a forum based game everything you could see what is going on as players are role playing it out.  If it were a mailing list based game that discouraged joint posting the same applies.

I do want to address one important thing regarding Drew's tenure as GM and he was not the original guy.  He inherited the game from someone else, which means he also inherited some, well, baggage.  Namely he inherited ensign Ghaliel Arreren tor, space angel.  No, seriously.  Apparently her race is very ancient and has been messing around with primitive cultures for thousands of years, thus giving rise to legends of angelic beings.  You know, like that Star Trek episode Who Mourns For Adonis, where an alien claiming to be the Greek god Apollo states that it was he and his people who brought civilization to Earth?  Or the rubber tree people from the Voyager episode Tattoo.  Or TOS' Preservers, who went around rescuing primitive cultures.  Or if you wanted to go outside of Star Trek for influences you could look up Arthur C. Clark's Childhood's End where aliens bear a striking resemblance to winged devils.  Or if you want to go outside conventional science fiction take a look at DC Comics' Dawnstar:
Best.  Costume.  Ever.  Has nothing to do with the post, just sayin'.

Oh, did I mention she also wears a special, sexier version of the standard issue uniform? So the whole space angel thing?  Yeah, Drew gets a pass on that.  And the space angel's black hair?  Unusual among her species.  So not only did she stand out among humans, she stood out among other angels.  Nice.

But wait, Tom, you may say.  What about your character?  Didn't you rip off Star Trek ideas yourself?  Well yes, you could say I did.  First of all, I did not come up with some lame reason why my character is running around in a spandex catsuit.  Second, my character was not a member of a race of advanced beings who have been running around space manipulating more primitive cultures.  If anything my character was from an inferior, backwards, insular culture.  Third, I did not have super powers (i.e. flight).

Perhaps the player was "inspired" by other sources like I was, but it is what you do with that inspiration that counts.  I tried to come up with something unique in Star Trek, but in Ghaliel's case it was a matter of been there, seen that.

But now there is another aspect of the game: the space angels have a space station orbiting this planet and someone has slaughtered everyone on board!  So let us recap all the irons heating up in the plot forge.  We have a planet wide drought, two rival governments blaming one another for it.  A space station full of space angels orbiting overhead who may or may not be involved and may or may not be helping to fix the problem who get slaughtered wholesale.  We have The Dominion, who may or may not be responsible for the drought as well as Section 31, who is doing a terrible job remaining in the shadows.

Well, my character gets out of sickbay and the captain approaches her to dissect the Dominion vessel.  She agrees and now I am joint posting with the helmsman who will be helping her.  Now I had already role played my character’s concern of booby traps in one post, and because I do not have access to the archived messages I cannot be certain but I believe I role played with Drew my character’s concern about the Dominion craft being unsafe.  So my intention in role playing the scene was to have Aurora have the ship flown into orbit within transporter range so in the event of some mischief the Exeter would be safe.
And that was when Drew IMed me, asking me to have the ship brought into the hangar bay so it could explode.  Drew was not only having scenes scripted-again-but now he wanted me to role play my character as an idiot.

And that was when I lost it.  I was fed up.  I had to sit through almost three months of meandering plot and Drew was asking me to role play my character as some sort of mental deficient, like, like-
Star Wars Episode I in 3D?  Yay!
Yeah, like those guys.

So that was it for me.  I quit.  You can wade through some of this stuff on the Exeter site, each character bio has a list of posts.  Apparently the whole adventure was wrapped up off camera and the crew is off to a new adventure.  This does not surprise me.  During this period Drew lost not only me but about three other players, so by this point taking this lame horse out in the back of the barn and shooting it in the head was probably for the best.

Tomorrow I will break down where I think Drew made his mistakes, among other things.

To be concluded...