Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Unavoidable Delays :(

Due to a vicious malware attack on my computer I have been having trouble doing anything of note.  I can type but when it comes to doing things like image searches I have had nothing but trouble..  One search engine after another has been compromised.  So until I get a new computer (hopefully this weekend, spending my tax return) I will not be submitting any new articles.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bring on the Nazis!

Nazis.  Perhaps the best known villains in popular literature, possibly the worst villains in history.  We have seen them taken down by the likes of Indiana Jones and Hellboy, have watched numerous documentaries on their evil deeds.  One could argue that in the worlds of fiction perhaps Nazis have been a little over used (Certainly in the real world they have; The History Channel’s old nick name was The Hitlery Channel, and it seems every other hour of Military Channel programming is dedicated either to Nazism or World War II.).  Star Trek, for example, visited the Nazi well a few times with TOS’ Patterns of Force, Voyager’s The Killing Game and Enterprise’s laughable two parter Storm Front, where the term “Space Nazi” originated.  Nazis could be called trite and clich├ęd.
And yet, people, both GMs and authors alike, still keep coming back to them.  Why?  I will tell you…

Damn.  Even their waiters looked good...
Appearance: Nazis look awesome.  If you examine all the uniforms worn during WW II the Germans stand out as looking utterly bad ass in their field gray and black (or desert tan, depending on the theatre of war), with red trim, peaked caps and riding boots.  If the war had been fought by the standards of fashion the Allies would have surrendered long before D-Day.  And this look has translated over into other popular culture.  Look at the Empire uniforms in Star Wars and you can get a Nazi vibe off of them.

And this look captures the players’ collective imagination.  They see in their minds’ eyes tall, broad shouldered blue-eyed and blond-haired Aryans in black, silver and red, armed with the signature and stylish Luger pistol, bombing them with V2 rockets and strafing them with shark-like ME262 jet fighter aircraft, or rolling over them with Tiger tanks, blasting them into oblivion.  Heck, even their weapons sound cool.  The panzerfaust (tank fist) was a rocket propelled grenade designed to destroy tanks.  Say it with me: panzerfaust.  The second part of that name conjures up something demonic, hearkening back to the story of Faust, who sold his soul to the devil.  Panzerfaust.  If you want to create a cool bad guy, there is a name ready-made for you.  Can the PC’s stop Baron von Sturmwolfen and his Panzerfaust Commando?  With names like that?  I don’t think so.

Ideology: Nazis have a clear cut motivation, be it extermination of the Jews or resurrecting Hitler or even just the fact that they believe they are better than you, that you are the mongrel offspring of inferior races (Being German and Scots Irish, I would fall into this category).  You can understand their motivations, they are clear cut.  Nazis are Bad Guys and except for a fraction of the population (and that fraction are all assholes, so who cares what they think) we would like to see every single Nazi burn in hell.  For this reason a GM or screenwriter can appreciate why Nazis are so much fun to kill.

And another aspect of the ideology is it is generally well known to most people with at least a basic education, so the GM does not have to fill in much back story when Nazis are employed.  Nazis are like a microwave meal of delicious villainy, they are ready to serve within minutes.

"Roddenberry does know we're Jewish, right?"
Adaptability: Nazis can be used in anything from a time travel story where the heroes journey into the past to take on Hitler’s SS, to the present where a Neo Nazi movement seeks to recapture past glories.  Or Nazis are found sleeping in suspended animation, or a secret enclave of Nazis is found on the moon as seen in the Iron Skies game and referenced in an old David Drake novel.  Or the future where some regime has decided to adopt Nazi ideals to achieve their aims (in TOS’ Patterns of Force it is pointed out that, crude and vicious ideology aside, Nazism did turn the country’s economy around.  A future leader could adopt the trappings of Nazism), or from another dimension where the Germans won WWII (i.e. Robert Harris’ Fatherland).  You could even have your Space Nazis, creatures who have discovered old radio and television transmissions and think this Hitler guy is pretty swell and are inspired by him.  Perhaps they even come to Earth to help him out. 

Nazis are also adaptable when it comes to tone.  Under normal circumstances Nazis are the purest Evil and should be portrayed that way, but there can be exceptions.  The most notable one that comes to mind is the movie The Blues Brothers.  Illinois Nazis swore vengeance on Jake and Elwood Blues after being humiliated by the pair, they chased them down during the climactic final act.  Modern Nazis were portrayed as being weak, ineffectual and foolish men…which seemed to me a pretty spot on interpretation by director John Landis.

Another option you might want to explore is that of Romans.  Romans share some Nazi traits; they were expansionist, employed (for the time) high technology, and were stylin’ in their sharp uniforms at a time when many of their enemies wore whatever the hell they wanted.  In an episode of The Tomorrow People time was altered and the Roman Empire conquered Earth.  Space Romans might be an interesting adversary to tackle.

Now you may ask “Tom, have you ever used Nazis in your games?” to which I must admit that no, I have not.  However, I had planned to in my Cosmic game, where I was going to introduce a colony of Nazi Germans living on another planet.  In a scene on a space station one of the PCs had spotted a human with crew cut blonde hair and this was eventually going to lead to a Space Nazi adventure.  However the game folded long before I got that far.
So next time you are stumped for a villain to use, you might want to consider breaking out the Nazis.

So next time you are having trouble coming up with a villain to toss at your heroes, consider The Nazis.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Wonder Woman's new costume

I think it looks all right.  I think the only thing I would change would be the boots.  The boots need to be red.  Other than that I feel that the creators have paid suitable homage to the classic costume, and made something a bit more functional than the swimsuit WW has been wearing in comics for years.

Of course, whether the costume is good or not what will make or break the series is the writing.  I have heard rumors Diana will be some sort of executive by day, super hero by night (which is what DC's Power Girl is doing).

I think Written World, possibly the 'net's biggest Wonder Woman fan, has summed up things pretty well.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Last" never lasts

( With special thanks to Dave Zyn for the idea for this article.)

“Last” never lasts

A plot element in the background of many characters in fiction is that of being the last of something. It is seen in movies and in literature (i.e. Luke Skywalker being the last Jedi once Yoda passed on, Superman) as well.  And while it is a great source for drama and pathos the status of being last at whatever the character is last of never really lasts.

Superman.  Last Son of Krypton.  Sounds pretty dramatic, doesn't it?  Then Krypto, the super dog showed up.  Then there was Supergirl, Superman’s cousin.  Then there was the bottled city of Kandor and its diminutive inhabitants.  This is not even addressing the Phantom Zone villains that broke out every once in a while.  It got so Superman was far from unique and there were more than enough Kryptonians flying around that the entire race could be repopulated.  John Byrne showed up back in ’86 and rebooted Superman, making him the Last Son again, but over time we saw that got tossed out the window (Especially the past couple years when New Krypton was parked in an orbit around the sun opposite Earth).

Back to Luke Skywalker.  In the movies we saw how he wound up being the last Jedi, but over time in the novels the Jedi academy was formed and more Jedi appeared.  Luke was no longer special.

Y, The Last Man?  Not if you read the final issues.  Okay, to be fair Brian K. Vaughn seemed to have the story scripted well in advance, so he gets a pass. :)

Lobo!  You might say.  The Main Man is the last Czarnian.  Well, at the moment he is.  But years back DC Comics printed a mini series where Lobo had to transport a criminal that turned out to be his old school teacher, so “The Last Czarninan” was not the last.  And sometimes when Lobo bleeds he is cloned so he really does not count.

But wait!  You might say. What about The Last Airbender?  Aang truly was the last of the airbenders.  But you fail to take into account the Last Airbender card game where one of the cards is the air witch.  And now there is going to be a sequel series so I am certain the writers are looking for ways to re-introduce the Airbenders somehow.  I will be curious to see if they can resist the temptation.

What makes these examples sad in some cases is being the last of something really does make a character unique, and when they are no longer last their potency is diluted.  There are so many active Superman-like characters (Superman, Superboy, Supergirl, Power Girl, and those are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head) that Superman is just a little less super.  Something that was awesome in small doses becomes almost trite when thrown at us in overwhelming amounts.  I remember how awesomely bad ass Luke Skywalker was because he had a unique weapon only one other guy in the universe used, so when the light saber was broken out you knew things were going to be awesome.  In the first battle Obi Wan dies, the second time Luke loses a hand, the third Luke lights up with a new ‘saber and shows Jabba’s minions why Jedis are to be feared.  In the fourth Vader loses a hand and the Emperor gets tossed down a pit (and I know the light saber is used in other scenes in the three original movies, but these four to me are the most important, most dramatic).  When the light saber is broken out you knew Something Big was going down.  After Episoes I-III and Clone Wars?  Not so much.  I realize those are prequels but it applies to the argument in that something that was once awesome because it was so special is now, well, not so much.

EDIT: Doctor Who is another example (Thanks Dave). When The Doctor was reintroduced he was The Last Time Lord.  After the Time War all the others had been killed off and so The Doctor was alone, unique.  But of course that could not last.  By the end of season three The Doctor's nemesis The Master was revealed to have survived.  But it did not end there.  In the fourth Doctor Who television we got to see Timothy Dalton lead a host of insane Timelords as Earth and Gallifrey went on a collision course.  Now the latest rumors have The Rani and The Meddling Monk returning.  Last Time Lord?  Riiiiiiight.

Last becoming not-so-last often happens (but is not necessarily limited to) to long running franchises, where writers inherit already established universes and are given the unenviable task of delivering something new.  Another urge writers face is to place their own stamp on a character/franchise, to make their name as memorable as the character(s) they write.  Sometimes it works; John Byrne's reboot of Superman is a memorable occurence and even twenty years later his influence can be seen in Smallville where Lex Luthor was transformed by Byrne from a typical pulp fiction mad scientist into an evil corporate mastermind.  And more recently there is Grant Morrison's All Star Superman, which was recently adapted into an animated movie.  By the same token such attempts by writers can be infamous, such as Frank Miller's recent All Star Batman comic, which was considered by many to be a pathetic joke.

How does all of this apply to your game, you might ask?  As a GM you should take a look at a PC’s origin and if (s)he is the last fill-in-the-blank consider whether or not that is appropriate.  Being unique is all right, but if it seems that it might cause you headaches you might want to disallow that aspect of the character’s origin.  Then you should consider whether or not (s)he truly is the last fill-in-the-blank.  If so, fine.  But perhaps you want to have a storyline where the PC meets another of their race/order/whatever.  How would your PC react?  Would (s)he be cool with that, or did (s)he really want their character to be the last fill-in-the-blank?  In these cases, even if it does spoil the surprise, it is prudent to discuss with the PC your potential plans.  Perhaps right from the start you make it clear to the PC that you as the GM reserve the right to introduce others of the character’s kind down the road, make certain there is a clear understanding between the two of you.  Remember: open communication is key to a...lasting gaming relationship...