Sign of Life

It’s been quiet here, and I apologize. It’s been because my BA thesis dragged me under and for nearly a month I’ve been buried under an avalanche of critical texts about Robert E. Howard and Solomon Kane stories, and the last week was spent pretty much entirely between my four stone walls and working. I finally got a first draft tortured out of my keyboard and mailed off last night, and I now have a couple of days of breathing room before I get told how much it sucks and what I must do to fix it. It ought to be worth it, though. The most popular topic in the pro seminar group seems to be black feminism with a smattering of queer theory, and I just subjected them to roughly 4,500 words on Robert E. Howard, lavishly sprinkled with big quotation blocks from the stories. Aaanyway, this isn’t my LiveJournal. (Also, I would hasten to add that I have nothing against black feminism or queer theory – or blacks, women or homosexuals for that matter – but what we have here is a rather stark contrast.)

The one day within the last week that was not spent working on my thesis was spent proofreading a collection of Danish RPG scenarios that’s coming out soon from the Society for Nordic Roleplaying. I translated an introductory essay for them, from English to Finnish. I do not consider myself at liberty to disclose any details before the Society has done their own announcements, but it will be a big, fat bastard of a book, and contains things weird and beautiful and horrifying.

Interesting things are afoot. The second issue of the International Journal of Role-Playing came out last week. It’s available as a free PDF and contains peer-reviewed, academic papers about RPGs. Really interesting stuff. If you’re into reading academic papers, that is. If not, might be a bit dry.

For the less academically inclined… Fantasy Flight Games has announced a fourth Warhammer 40,000 roleplaying game, Black Crusade. If you thought your Dark Heresy party was a bunch of Nazis and your Rogue Trader crew embodied the worst excesses of British colonialism, here are the real bad guys of the setting. Oh, yes, we will get to play the cultists of Chaos, the disciples of the dark gods! I read Dan Abnett’s Ravenor Trilogy last year and thought the villains were far more interesting than the protagonists of the piece, and will definitely be picking this one up.

Incidentally, for the board game geeks out there, they also announced a second expansion set for Twilight ImperiumShards of the Throne. For those of you not in the know, TI is the king of board games, a galaxy-spanning game of conquest and intrigue. It’s awesome, and tends to take all day. Especially with full eight players.

Another nifty new upcoming thing is the Grindhouse Edition of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess RPG. Though the content is mostly the same as in the box he released and promptly sold out last year, the art is going to be amazing and there will be all kinds of little tweaks. I’ll have to score myself a copy of this, too. He’s also releasing Zak S’s (of the Playing D&D with Porn Stars fame) Vornheim: The Complete City Kit. And a load of other stuff. The man owns my wallet.

No gaming of my own for a while, unfortunately. Both me and the another member of the group have been wrestling with our BA theses. He’s doing his thesis on Iain M. Banks’ The State of the Art and Look to Windward, by the way. I’ve been reading Banks like crazy so I wouldn’t get spoiled. Also, William Gibson for a presentation I have next week for my Anglo-American Science Fiction course. Ah, the sacrifices we must make in the name of education.

Also, Wizards of the Coast released the coolest thing they’ve done in years, the Polearm Quiz. 18/22, and that ain’t luck.

Ropecon is also in the works, and I have something of spectacular awesomeness to announce in a couple of days. Watch this space. Or don’t. If it in any way concerns you, I will make damn sure you know about it.

Gorgeous Blogger

Also, I got tagged with this Gorgeous Blogger thing by Never Play Poker with the GM. It’s a challenge to answer a few questions about my blogging and then tag others. Well, I’m game.

1. When did you start your blog?

As you can see on the right, the archives start in March 2008. The first post to Worlds in a Handful of Dice was on March 24th, which means we just turned three two weeks ago. For some other stats, this is the 151st post on the blog, and I’ve had 74,830 page views.

2. What do you write about in your blog?

Roleplaying games, duh. Mostly I seem to discuss Paizo Publishing and Pathfinder RPG. I also used to take shots at Wizards of the Coast every now and then, but it got old and they haven’t done anything warranting my attention lately. Nowadays I also seem to discuss Nordic larps and RPGs despite not larping. Also, Ropecon and gaming conventions in general. This is probably the only RPG blog on the internet whose chief topics are D&D and art larp. I’ll write about anything RPG-related if it sparks my interest, though.

3. What makes your blog special compared to others?

Momma said I’m special. Well, probably that D&D and art larp thing. Also, this is my blog.

4. What made you start blogging?

I figured my RPG-related posts were starting to bore the nongamers on my LiveJournal, and felt that WordPress would be a better platform for this type of stuff anyway. Of course, there’s also the drive to write that I think afflicts most bloggers, along with a certain exhibitionist tendency and a desire to show off, and a blog serves admirably.

5. What would you like to change in your blog?

The update rate. I haven’t been paying nearly as much attention to this blog as my readers deserve, of late. Also, I was thinking of changing the header image at some point.

Also, I’d like to tag mxyzplk of Geek Related, with whom I notice I agree about pretty much everything except the Solomon Kane film and who’s a fine writer and James Edward Raggi IV of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, with whom I agree even about the Solomon Kane film (though we may differ on Sucker Punch) and who’s a damn fine game designer.

Fifteen Games in Fifteen Minutes

I’ve been quiet here too long. I have things I want to write about but I seem to have a writer’s block of some kind. So, though I don’t often participate in these memes (not that we have hugely many of them in the RPG blogosphere, anyway), I thought doing this might break it.

Simple rules: name fifteen games you’ve played that will always stick with you, and don’t take more than fifteen minutes.

  1. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
  2. World of Warcraft
  3. Godlike
  4. Planescape: Torment
  5. Twilight Imperium
  6. Pendragon
  7. Warhammer Fantasy Battle
  8. Doomtrooper
  9. Lamentations of the Flame Princess
  10. FaerûnMUD
  11. Arkham Horror
  12. Dark Heresy
  13. Pathfinder RPG
  14. Call of Cthulhu
  15. Magic: The Gathering

So, there. Five minutes for the list. Eight roleplaying games, two computer games, one miniature wargame, two board games, two collectible card games. Five very different interpretations of Dungeons & Dragons. Though I’ve played all of the games, my practical experience with some of them is limited to just one or two sessions, and my familiarity stems primarily from a close study of the other materials for the game, such as with Lamentations of the Flame Princess or Call of Cthulhu. Some I’ve played ridiculous amounts, like Planescape: Torment, which I still make a point of installing on every new computer I get, or FaerûnMUD, where I practically lived for a few summers.

So, what are yours?

Media Influences

I haven’t yet done a meme on this blog, but that’s just because there haven’t been any good RPG-related ones making the rounds while it’s been up. This changes now, with Jim_LotFP’s Media Influences (via Monsters and Manuals).

The concept is to name five influences on the campaigns and adventures that you run and to tell the how and why of it.

Babylon 5

To me, the science fiction TV series Babylon 5, created by J. Michael Straczynski, is the father of the continuous story arc. When I first watched B5 as a kid, it was pretty mind-blowing. They referred to stuff that’d happened previously in the series! Everything wasn’t reset to status quo! I know this isn’t exactly his invention, but he did popularise it in television and unlike most of the stuff that was on back then, Babylon 5 was actually good. Though B5 is largely responsible for how I think of longer campaigns, I would never write out one from start to finish unless the intention was to publish it. Player characters have a strange way of picking up on trifling things and hunting them to the ends of the earth, and of derailing the most carefully laid plots.

Ed Greenwood

Regardless of what you think of the Forgotten Realms or the Elminster novels, Greenwood is a master at world creation. While Tolkien or the game designer Greg Stolze might also be good fit, it was with Greenwood’s work that I first realised that it’s a big world and even if the characters walk off the path the DM has laid for them, they don’t run into the matte painting backdrop but into a new place, with its own adventures, peoples, cultures, languages, and local customs. Greenwood’s FR writings have always involved that sense of a living, breathing world, which I strive to bring to my games – though that’s probably as much because of FaerunMUD, which was a living, breathing world based on the Forgotten Realms. I’ve spoken of it before. It’s also a major cause for my fondness of Living Greyhawk. To me, Greenwood also taught the craft of the sandbox campaign.

H.P. Lovecraft

The neurotic pulp writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft created the Cthulhu Mythos and, some 70 years before Creative Commons licences, made it available for other writers to develop and add to, to create a large mythology of horror, of elder things that no mortal mind can comprehend, and purple prose. Thus the prevalence of tentacled, amorphous masses in our fiction. I like to trot out his stuff or stuff inspired by his stuff, regardless of the game. I’ve done it in Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play, I’ve done it in Dungeons & Dragons, I very nearly did it in Godlike. When I (rarely) run horror, I tend to take my pointers from Lovecraft, even when the party faces more traditional adversaries like vampires or werewolves.

Alan Moore

A comic book writer, and the mind behind Watchmen, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and V for Vendetta, among other things. Moore’s work instilled in me a fondness for Victoriana and steampunk, and his descriptions of society and politics tend to be close to how I do things. Moore is at least partially responsible for that, too. The allusion-happiness of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was also contagious, and I’ve even based a one-shot game on it (it ran off something I kitbashed from D20 Modern).

Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson is the author of Cryptonomicon, The Baroque Cycle, the cyberpunk classic Snow Crash and Hugo Award winning The Diamond Age. Though I can only wish I could craft a plot half as well as he does, his works have had a significant influence on how I write (mostly in straight-up fiction, but also in adventure modules). There’s also a similar allusion-happiness thing that Alan Moore has got, though Stephenson takes it even further, as demonstrated here.

Well, there you go.

Were I to make a longer list, it’d probably also feature J.R.R. Tolkien, Peter Jackson, China Miéville, Robert E. Howard, Iron Maiden, Teräsbetoni, the musical Les Misérables and so forth. I also realize this all makes the games I run seem far more literary than they actually are. Oh, well.