Friday, May 27, 2011

Star Wars campaign that never was. Shoot first like Han Solo!

Above is a cover for an imaginary Han Solo novel that I ran into on Boing Boing,of all places. Its just art, not a real novel. Sorry to get your hopes up.
Its by Phil Noto, whose work I like, though he does tend to give women overly narrow hips.
Anyway, The image sparked my memory and I went rooting through the old game idea folders to retreive the bones of a Star Wars campaign that never quite jelled.
We, the game gang, had West End Games Star Wars RPG, and the idea was to have an campaign with a large number of characters whose lives mostly overlapped, but didn't always. This was probably 88, just after the WEG Star Wars came out.

I was going to trade off game mastering with one of the guys so that we could both play in the same campaign. We'd alternate games or go two for two or something along those lines as we both wanted to play, but somebody had to GM. The other players could with either of us GMing as we'd have multiple game directions running concurrently.

The game was to be sort of Star Wars meets A-Team plus "Caper" movie, with some Western themes thrown in. The party was to be a crew of rejects, rat bastards, whak-Os, and failed criminals, rebellion friendly but not active members of it.

Thrown together by fate, or maybe the Force, they find the battered hull of an old Republic era Intruder class torpedo boat and decide to make a career out of sucker punching the Empire.
The first few games would have centered on scrounging, stealing, trading for, or otherwise aquiring the parts and equipment to make the old boat functional. Then it would have been on to smuggling, piracy, bushwacking and otherwise sticking their thumbs in the eye of the Empire whenever possible.

Above and below are a couple of the sketches we worked up concerning the general design of the Intruder torpedo boat class.

The bottom drawing has a scout walker standing near the bow for scale. Also a speeder bike, a guy, and an R2 unit.

My character was an Imperial deserter, a renegade storm trooper named Izayah yaegr. (This was before storm troopers were clones, of course.)

In my character background I wrote, "A member of the Nova Demons swoop gang in his youth, Izayah joined the Empire after his wing of the demons was destroyed. His career as a storm trooper ended when he deserted after causing the death of an officer in a bizarre practical joke. Since he's been a smuggler, a gunman, and a real thorn in the ass of authority. Izayah will do just about anything to stick it too the Empire."

Izayah had one, intermittant and unreliable Force power, an inhumanly fast speed draw. Once per day he could roll to attempt it. It didn't guarantee a hit, but it did, if successful, give him the first shot regardless of the circumstances.

This game never did happen. I think mostly because we had a hard time trying to figure out how to apply WEG's rules to our AD&D gaming sensibilities. The WEG rules make some story driven assumptions about the game that were a bad fit for us.
We didn't realize that at the time, it just felt off somehow.

We started on an house rule adaptation, but it took too long, and enthusiasm flagged.

Is there a limbo, do you think, for campaigns that never happened?


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Blogger fumbles again. I'm gonna make them roll on the self inflicted damage chart.

Now I can't post comments on my own blog. I can comment on other blogs, and others can comment on my blog, but when I try to comment, I get stuck in this repeating loop of signing in, over and over.

Blogger says they're aware of the problem and are working on a fix.

This happening to anyone else?

Also, I wanted to say regarding the comments to my Stargate Universe post, I agree, Blueskreem. I hated the kinos and the communication stones too. The stones just became a crutch for the writers. They used them to write teeny drama on earth instead of sci-fi in space. The kinos just became another excuse for the shaky cam.

And Timeshadows, I would love to read whatever you have to say about Universe. Also, I thought Todd the Wraith was the single best antagonist on SGA. I always like those episodes where the SGA team is forced to work with Todd against their better judgement.

I figured we'd be sympatico on SGU, Dr Rotwang!

And Brutorz Bill, me too.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Stargate is dead. Long live Stargate!

The last episode of Stargate Universe season 2, also the final episode of the series, aired a couple weeks ago, and while I had no great love for the show, I was not pleased by its demise.

This is mostly because I thought it still might have been possible to turn the show around, and because when it went, it took with it any chance of new movies or another series for the foreseeable future.

Stargate as a whole constitutes a mythos that rivals that of Star Trek in its breadth and detail. Universe, however, deliberately eschewed the majority of the elements which made its predecessors, Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, so successful, and paid the price for it. In our current economic situation, it may have been a franchise killer in so doing.

Universe started hemorrhaging viewers early on, and just never recovered. This is directly the fault of the show runners and writers. With Stargate Universe they wanted a darker, grimmer stargate, more edgy, story driven instead of episodic, a character drama with a cast of flawed characters who, “weren’t supposed to be here”.

The problem with this approach is that ultimately, it’s not the writers who decide what is and is not “Stargate”, or any other show for that matter, it’s the fans. If this show had been launched without any connection to Stargate, it might have survived longer. Maybe even grown its own fan base. Making it a part of the Stargate story, however, brings with it preexisting expectations about what a Stargate show will be like. Universe did not deliver on these expectations, but brought an entirely different theme and feel that the majority of fan-voters felt were just not Stargatey enough.

I’m one of those who weren’t very pleased with the show. I think it was a showcase for just about everything that’s wrong with contemporary Science Fiction. Still I watched most of the episodes because I wanted it to get better, I wanted the writers to have a chance to recover from their hubris and listen to what the fans and ratings were telling them, and it was the only Stargate in town after all, sorta.

There were things I liked about the show very much. Ironically, the things I really liked about the show only magnified the contrast with the things I really didn’t like.

I really liked the Destiny, the Ancient starship the show was built around. The shape of the ship was based on a gate chevron, greatly elongated. The show was shot with such dim lighting that it’s hard to actually see the details of the model, and that’s a shame. I lightened the image of the Destiny here by 50% just so I could actually see the ship itself.
Now you can see the stepped levels of the hull, and the proto-Egypto-Ancient styling of the swooped command Ziggurat which supports the bridge. It’s an elegant design that conveys a sense of ancientness by its form. I actually felt bad for Destiny, a ship that awesome being trapped in a show that bad.

I liked the effects in general, especially the gauzy corona which envelopes the ship when Destiny employs its Faster-than-Light drive but remains in real space, rather than diving into hyperspace.

I also like the first generation stargate on board the Destiny. The entire ring of the gate spins in its base rather than having an inner track with locking chevrons like the SG-1 era gates. I think it looks a bit Deco/Art Modern. Much cooler than the lite-bright gates of the Pegasus galaxy in Stargate Atlantis.

I liked the back-story as well. Some uncertain millions of years ago, the Ancients built and launched Destiny to investigate a message or signal that they had discovered embedded in the cosmic background radiation which permeates the universe. A message apparently sent from very near to the beginning of time. A fleet of autonomous gate seeding ships preceded Destiny, manufacturing and placing stargates on appropriate worlds from galaxy to galaxy across the universe so that as Destiny followed, the Ancient crew could investigate and resupply.

That is a huge, romantic, classic science fiction notion. It’s the sort of theme that drives the great works of science fiction, the quest to discover the great unknown, the desire to know the universe. It’s also the kind of thing that you just don’t often encounter in modern sci-fi writing.

I really like the Ancients, or rather; I really like the original SG-1 era conception of the Ancients as the first technologically/spiritually advanced human race. The super advanced lost race is another theme of classic and pulp science fiction that later was mostly discarded by writers in favor of the ancient aliens idea.
I find the super aliens thing a little boring. It’s too easy to attribute to them whatever a writer needs without any real consideration. The idea that there have been multiple evolutions of humanity on earth pulls at my imagination much more.

Consider the changes humanity has experienced in the paltry few thousands of years we have recorded history for today. What might the Ancients have considered, attempted and experienced in millions of years? What insights might civilizations that cover eons have arrived at? Tackling the big questions of life, the universe, and everything is what Science Fiction was born to do.
That, and saving space-babes from bug-eyed monsters with a ray gun.
The best sci-fi does both at the same time.

Unfortunately, the Ancients became less interesting later in the series, and with Atlantis. The writers made them just another super alien race from another galaxy with the whole Ori story line in the last two, regrettable seasons of SG-1. And Stargate Atlantis managed to make them more and more mundane and less magnificent with every appearance and reference.

Exploding tumor device anyone?

What I didn’t like about Universe.

I hate the cinematography. I loathe reality-tv shaky camera with a white hot fire. Pan left, pan right, zoom in, zoom out, focus, unfocus, refocus, half screen, this irritates the crap out of me. The steady-cam was invented for a reason folks. Camera gimmicks are there to distract you from the fact that there is no writing going on.

The inevitable musical montage scene. This is another gimmick to fill in for a lack of good writing or dialogue. I like a good music video as much as the next guy, but in a tv show there has to be a good reason for it. You just can’t do it every single episode and not look like you’re phoning it in. Also, using the pop music of the day rather than an appropriate instrumental severely dates the show.

Shaky cam and Maroon 5 are going to be the mullet and saxophones albatross around this shows neck a few years down the road.

What I disliked the most, however, was the characters themselves. As with the regurgitated Battlestar Galactica, I was unsympathetic to their plight because they were all such terrible people.

Science fiction is escapism and there is nothing wrong with that. The thing we are attempting to escape, or ascend from is the mundane world with its unending stream of small, mean problems. All the crap we have to deal with on a daily basis. Science fiction allows us to consider the greater possibilities, to dream of the awesome.

Stargate Universe, with the exception of Nicholas Rush, was completely populated by just the sort of petty, small, unimaginative people that I want to escape from in science fiction. You can have a few such characters, in fact they are needed to contrast and compare with the protagonists, but when every character is one of, “the wrong people”, I just can’t care what happens to the feckless disfunctionistas.

Now Rush wasn’t a likeable character or a cookie cutter good person or standard issue sci-fi hero either, but he was complex, subtle, and had motivations that were above and beyond the run of the mill. Rush was the only character who displayed awe at the ancient purpose of the Destiny. The only character who grasped the greater meaning of Destiny’s mission. He wasn’t quite amoral, and certainly not the “evil scientist”, but obviously gave greater weight to understanding than to the needs of the rest of humanity.

However, because there was no other characters in the cast remotely as complex or interesting as Rush, or anyone with principles to balance Rush’s all consuming craving for knowledge at any cost, there wasn’t any tension or direction to the show. There was no counterweight character of sufficient gravitas to balance Rush. When he, or Destiny itself weren’t on the screen, watching the rest of the cast interact was like sitting in a Wallmart and observing the dysfunction pass by.

I don’t want these people in my science fiction. I have to deal with them every day in real life.

By contrast, the cosmic grandeur of the Destiny, and the quest of the Ancients to understand the meaning of the signal from the beginning of time made the characters of Stargate Universe seem all that much more petty and small and unworthy to be on that ship.

In the final episode, the crew has to go into stasis to conserve power while the Destiny crosses the void between galaxies in order to avoid an enemy they cannot out fight. Kid slacker genius Eli volunteers to be the odd man out and stay awake to pilot Destiny and try and fix the last stasis tube for himself.

There is a last musical montage, which actually works well since it’s a simple piano piece and not whiny alt-rock, and a final shot with Eli standing on the observation deck watching space fly by as Destiny shifts into its faster than light drive.
Destiny vanishes into the distant void of extra galactic space with its crew frozen in time.

I thought this was the best possible ending for the show, all things considered. The idea of that ancient vessel continuing its journey of millions of years in silence towards an unknown destiny, with its crew in unchanging sleep, possibly for thousands of years to come, is perfectly in sync with the classic science fiction of mighty ideas I love. The greater Stargate mythos is itself in stasis for the foreseeable future and I’m alright with that.

The possibilities are again endless.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Did every one manage to Save VS Blog-Fumble?

I don't seem to have lost anything here, but some of the art blogs I like seem to have lost a post or two.

how about you guys?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Run! Blordels' turned into a... What the Gax is that,anyway!

It's a Yragnereian Panathrope!

The inexplicable whimsies and enigmatic follies of the mighty Zagig are of course known to all who work or dabble in the Art. Only a very few, however, suspect the true depth of the arch mage’s inquiry into the hidden nature of the Oerth’s arcane aetherosphere and the ways in which it may be manipulated.

Before his disappearance, and unsupposed by most, Zagig had set into motion an unknown number of personal experiments, schemes, plots, and fancies fully capable of continuing to their respective ends without the direct supervision of the mad mage of Greyhawk.

Among them is a spell-like work of magic which even now propagates itself by its own volition hither and yon across the flanaess, though it is unrecognized for what it is. This self sufficient eldritch construction may have been meant to be a curse, or perhaps a jest, or else it may serve some other, as yet unseen greater purpose.

Whatever the reason for the Pananthropic Glamour, though it may bring glee to Zagig the Mad, wherever he may be, it is no humorous matter to those it visits itself upon.

A person or character who contracts, (or is cursed, or blessed), by the Pananthropic Glamour undergoes transformations into random forms either at certain times or which are triggered by certain circumstances. A person so afflicted is known as a Yragernerian Panathrope by the handful of wizards and sages who recognize the handiwork of Zagig the Inexplicable.

Though superficially the Glamour seems akin to lycanthropy or other such were-beast transformations, its effects are far more reaching and unpredictable.

The form which the victim takes is determined randomly at each transformation by rolling upon the random monster encounter table most applicable to the immediate environs. The person so “blessed by Zagig” completely becomes the creature chosen by chance, and will act in a manner appropriate to the monster he has become.

The victim may be overcome by the magic and transform at certain times, monthly, seasonally, annually, or other. Alternatively, the magic may be triggered by a given event. Such an event may be hearing the scream of a horse, a dog crossing the victim’s path, in the presence of wooden shoes, if the victim drinks beer, eats a muffin, takes a bath, takes off his hat, looks directly at the moon, stubs his toe, etc..

The triggering event need have no reasonable connection to the transformation. Somewhat like a taboo, or a geas, it is a forbidden occurrence which will invoke the power of the glamour and bring about a transformation. The triggering event should be chosen by the Dungeon Master and should have a reasonable chance of occurring at least once per game, if the Panathropic Glamour is contracted by a player character.

The duration of the transformation is also variable and follows no clear logic. The monster form may persist until sundown, sunup, lunch time, the next rain, the next holiday, until a joke is told, until the monster is struck by a pillow, the setting of the moon, until invited to tea, etc… This may be determined randomly from a prepared list of random events, or by DM fiat.

What exactly draws the glamour to an individual is unclear, though it appears to have at least a component of karmic justice, or possibly comeuppance for those who jeer at fate.

Also, persons who commit alignment violations in the presence of a carrier of the Glamour must save vs. spell or contract the magic themselves.

Due to the changing and chaotic nature of the Glamour, it may also be passed to others in various ways which depend upon the changes in each manifestation of the magic. Each victim of the glamour may pass the spell curse in a different manner. Such as by biting, slapping, kissing, spitting, making love, sneezing, laughing at, farting, sharing wine, etc. There need be no logical connection between the action which imparts the glamour and the nature of the glamour itself.

Such is the will of Zagig. He is the Egg-man, He is the Walrus! Koo-koo-katchoo!