Saturday, December 31, 2016

We're Gonna Need A Bigger Year

We could use a button-down mind about now.
Ah, 2016. Best of times, weirdest of times. A lot of celebrity deaths, a death close to home and ch-ch-ch-changes (RIP Mr. Bowie). Oh yeah, and we had a Presidential election with probably the worst choices I've seen in a long time. That's all I got to say about that. Let's move on, shall we?

The first big change was Becky's retirement. Happened in March after 19 years at Boeing. We now have retirement in reverse: she's the one puttering around, getting underfoot (well she would if I did anything for her to get underfoot). Saying she's not ready to quit working (and for us to be financially sound) she's starting her own online organic skin care business. It's rough road but I believe she'll do it (Amazon is a pain).

On my side, I did a show or two and started a few video series. My Ol' Man Grognard series was well-enough received for me to start a Review Series. Next thing I know I have 4 series going.

We all got hit with a lot of celebrity deaths, some expected (Ms. Gabor) and quite a few totally unexpected (the above David Bowie and Prince are two of the suprises this year) culminating in losing a sci-fi princess and her mother, Hollywood Royalty (sobering thought: I believe Debbie Reynolds was the last cast member of Singin' In The Rain that was still with us - damn). Rest well Ms. Fisher and Ms. Reynolds. Princess Leia and Kathy Selden will never be forgotten.

Now we have fun guessing what we're gonna make us do to ourselves in the coming year, also known as Resolutions. Glad I don't make any except for one or two (game more, act more and actually make some money from one of those). We'll see.

Also, I want to dedicate this post to the memory my friend, fellow gamer, gentleman and all-around lovable guy Michael McMullen who we lost to a car crash this year.  Wish I would've known you longer.  Miss you buddy, roll some crits for me up there, will ya?

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Con Report 2016: Ragnarok, Weird Skyships and The Guns of Bloberone

A Trump board game?  Now THAT's Evil!
It's 2016 and I've gotten another North Texas RPG Con under my belt. As per usual it was at the Dallas Airport Marriott South (although that will be changing – see below) and it was a mix of the familiar and the new, with a tinge of melancholy. Y'see, with Becky retiring soon and a host of variables it brings, I'm not sure I'll be able to make next year. That, and the fact that Mike and Doug set us up the bomb on all of us (a bomb that was inevitable, but a shock nonetheless), it felt almost like a class reunion. Still, there were some outstanding things this year, not to mention great gaming going on everywhere. That said, I commence with the highlights:

• The trip up was a bit of a challenge with the stormy weather and an accident that closed off part of I-35 but I persevered and got to the hotel in record time.

• Meeting my roomie (and future friend) Robin Irwin. His flight was delayed but managed to make it in by late afternoon. He was a fanboy for about a day and a half (“you mean like you were the first time?” said Becky – thanks Hon) then he got into the Dallas gaming groove and had a ball.

• Had lunch with Robin, Jeff Easley and Dave "Diesel" La Force in the hotel restaurant where a lively discussion about artists rights between Deisel and Robin (who is a lawyer). And the food wasn't bad either.

• First up: Tim Snider's Ghostbusters game. I ran the same scenario for my Monday group but I wanted to see what a fresh group would do with it. It went a lot wilder than my group but the end result was the same – we stopped Ragnarok with the help of Thor's Daughter and Baby's First Molnijr.

• Before I got a chance to finish prep for my open game Zeb Cook snagged me for a round of Clay-O-Rama, the tactical game of Play-Doh that he wrote for Dragon Magazine back in the day. He handed me a can to make my creature and when the smoke cleared I was the victor, beating out Tentacular (AKA Bob), Satan's Sharkfin, and the Tombstone of Doom. Long Live The Guns of Bloberone!

• Said game I was prepping for was Gangbusters. I ran half of Part 1 of The Plot Thickens for Vince Florio and a couple other enthusiastic players. They managed to get the low-down on who was killing real estate investors and when the next shipment of hooch was coming in from Canada. We never finished as one player had to leave and I had a 6 PM game to get to so we ended up shooting the bull for a couple hours. Had enough playtime though for me to rewrite it for next years' con.

Bruce Heard's Basic D&D Calidar game. A pleasure. We took a skyship to near space to investigate a cloaked ship (a mini-dungeon) full of weird mutated orcs and ogres worshipping some Elder God. I thought of it as Spelljammer On Drugs. Had a lot of fun, went through a lot of spells (I played an elf) and stopped the menace – for now (the next group the following night had to deal with the collateral damage that escaped to the planet). Some sanity was lost and a good time was had by all.

• The Case of The Disappearing Special Guest – Both Tim Snider and myself were looking forward to meeting Greg Costikyan – but we never found him. I checked registration and he got there, but was nowhere to be found, by us anyway. We weren't the only ones. Maybe next year (I saw afterwards on Facebook some folks did see and talk to him).

Theron Bretz's 4E Champions game. He ran To Protect and Serve and it was a masterful job. He even let me play one of my old characters (Escargot). I was also thrilled to be playing alongside Steve Perrin. Theron is an old HERO hand and it shows – I was exhausted afterwards watching him balance character sheets, phase charts, the module and all the other plates he had spinning. It was a sight to behold and I was reminded why I don't GM that game anymore. Age creeps in when you least expect it.

• I actually got a chance to go to Satan's Midnight Auction this year. I didn't bid on a damn thing (I was tempted by that Call of Cthulhu DVD though) but I had a blast watching. Gotta do it again next year.

And another one goes into the memory vault. The major bomb dropped this year was right before the regular auction Mike announced this would be the last year NTRPG Con would be at the Airport Marriot, as they needed the space (they cap attendance at 350 but we still have to have more room, as there were a LOT more scheduled games than last year). I felt a bit sad, as the Marriot started to feel like Convention Home to me once a year. Oh well, on to a new venue (The Airport Westin). Crossing my fingers...

Anyway, once again a great con. Nice to see Mike and Liz Stewart again even though I couldn't make their Victorious game.  Thanks to all the folks running games, the Marriott staff was on-point and the biggest thanks go to three people – Robin Irwin for being my roomate, covering the hotel bill (I can't thank you enough for that) and being a good new friend, and of course Mike Badolato and Doug Rhea for putting on the Best Gaming Con In The Nation.

We banged that one out, Gaming Community! On to the next one!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

To Boldly Draw Where No Man Has Drawn Before

Bones, take this man to sick bay and pump him full of Prozac
I recently watched my new copy of Star Trek: The Animated Series and, while I agree for the most part about what the series did for fandom and Trekdom, I still have mixed feelings about it after all these years.

Lemme 'splain.

First off, I'm only a part-time Trekker – I don't have any shirts, trinkets or other geegaws that a die-hard Trekker would have, nor do I go to sci-fi conventions (gaming conventions are my vice) but I do enjoy the Original Series enough to have it in my DVD collection. Now I have The Animated Series (TAS) my Trek collection is complete. I might get the first movies but that's about it. I like TNG, DS9 and the other series but for me, it's Trek Classic.

I remember the Animated Series and I like it for what it is. I say “for what it is” because first off, Filmation made it. This runs right into a prejudice of mine: 60's, 70's and 80's Saturday Morning animation. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Golden Age Animation buff. My allegiance will always be with Disney, Warners and the other studios who did full animation. Yes, I watched the HB, Ruby-Spears and Filmation junk growing up but give me a good Looney Tunes marathon over Scooby-Doo any day.

My biggest gripes were reserved for Filmation's output. These were what Warners director Chuck Jones was talking about when he said that TV cartoons were “illustrated radio.” They made Hanna Barbera's stuff look good. Cycles, reused poses, no facial movement and characters who face the camera in ¾ view so the animators don't have to animate mouth flaps (a particularly irritating practice that still goes on today). I know they had a tight budget, etc. Still, they could've put a little more into it. ESPECIALLY if they're going to do Trek.

Okay, having said that, it's still in the core of my being, but I've also mellowed over the years and have actually found good qualities to HB, Filmation and the rest. And, yes, there have been some good series (Flintstones was a funny show and I love the first Jonny Quest series). As for Filmation, their strong suit was character and background design (too bad they couldn't move the characters very much). I mean Groovie Goolies were pretty good cartoony versions of the old horror monsters. Also, having admired the output of other studios that don't have great animation but great scripts and voice acting (*cough*Jay Ward*cough*) I would be remiss if I didn't give props to these studios.

Still with me? Good.

And now we come to ST: TAS. This was like mana dropping from Roddenbery's hand into Filmation's lap. PLUS getting all the original actors minus one (poor Chekov) to voice their old roles (if they hadn't got them this show would've bombed faster than Nixon did on Cambodia), not to mention a stable of writers from the original show, this is made of win. Even Filmation's production values couldn't louse this one up.

Okay, But how are the episodes themselves? I am happy to report, with a couple reservations, they're like concentrated Trek goodness all done up in 30 minutes. It sounds like it, looks like it and FEELS like it. It's the rest of the 5 year mission, plain and simple.

And as far as Canon goes, to hell with Roddenbery's minions, it's canon. Enough hints and references were dropped in subsequent Trek shows that it can't be any other way.

The reservations? Well, aside from not getting Walter Koenig (who nevertheless wrote one episode) I really wish they would have gotten Alexander Courage's theme music. It sounds close, but it feels like a Muzak Sounds Like version.

Also, and this goes back to the budget, I admire that they did this show considering the constraints (time and money) they were under but it really could've used fuller animation. ESPECIALLY if you have Shatner in the cast. Could you imagine if, say, Disney would've done it? Think of the gloriously hammy Kirk emoting you would've gotten!

In the end, it's a great series, full of beautiful alien vistas (as I said before, one of Filmation's strong suits), great writing and iconic voice acting. This goes on the shelf next to my Trek Classic DVDs without shame.