Thursday, May 29, 2014

Blowing the dust and cobwebs off of Chanbara

So there are about two weeks or so left in this semester - the third of my Ph.D. program.  And while I will need to do some reading over the summer break in preparation for finally deciding on my dissertation topic, I will also have some time got get back to work on Chanbara.  Oh, and getting back into a regular schedule for Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover posts, but that's a topic for another day.

To be honest, I haven't given much thought to Chanbara for the past couple of months, and I'm not sure how much work I still have left to do on it.  All of the current files are on my netbook, which has been stuck in a drawer in our bedroom since we moved to our new apartment back in February. 

This weekend, I plan to fire it up, copy all the files onto my desktop, and re-read everything.  I might not get it all read this weekend, since I do have some end of semester presentations and papers to write, but I will at least get started on Chanbara a little bit.

If I remember right, I still need to fill out the magical special abilities, or Secrets.  I also need to finish the character class write-ups, and maybe do some editing to the equipment and spells sections. 

And then there's the campaign setting info.  That's where I stalled out a year ago.  I think I was shooting too large.  With Flying Swordsmen, I gave a world overview, with some political elements, lots of organizations, and some adventure hooks nested within the above.  For Chanbara, I may condense the world overview info quite a bit, and maybe focus more on a "starting area" like Threshold in the Mentzer D&D Expert Set.  And I plan to play up the fantasy elements of the setting, rather than trying too hard to rehash history or emulate certain films/manga/TV shows.

So still a fair amount of work to do, but if I get everything but the setting worked out, I can start play testing again, and hopefully the "starting area" can get detailed through play.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Never mind then.

Alright, Mearls has officially got me hooked.

As you've probably already read, the core 4 classes/races, up to level 20, plus basic core resolution rules and some basic monsters, will all be released by WotC for free as a .PDF download. 

Yep, I'll be saving my money and just checking out the download. 

If I like it, and some local groups pick up on 5E, I may pick up the PHB for the extra classes/spells/whatever other options.  But that's something to decide once the game is out and I've had a chance or two to play it.

As it is now, though, WotC has finally moved me from a potential to a definite customer...although possibly only for their free stuff.  We'll see.

And I'll likely still only run Classic D&D when I DM, but with FLAILSNAILS, who knows?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Movie Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

My son and I went to see X-Men: Days of Future Past this afternoon, and wow, it was good!  It bridges the original X-Men trilogy with X-Men: First Class and the two Wolverine films, and manages to use the time-travel device to reboot the series without rebooting the series.
Parents wondering if there is cursing in the film (I do get Google hits for this since "curse" is in the blog title): YES THERE IS.  Not a lot.  It isn't a Tarrantino film after all.  But it's there.  My son (6), despite his desire to learn as many bad words as he can, was completely oblivious to the foul language, but your kids may notice it.

Now, on to the review.

They really did a good job on the story for this one.  It isn't true to the original comics, but watching it, I thought it was a good homage to the original story, while still working within the boundaries of previous movie continuity.  There is the action plot, with the past X-Men working to stop Mystique from assassinating Bolivar Trask (played by Peter Dinklage a.k.a. Tyrion Lannister, with groovy 70's mustache), whose death brings to fruition the Sentinel project.  Yeah, it was Senator Kelly in the original comic, but they already used him in the first movie.  Like I said, they made some changes but the overall story still works.

The heart of the story, and one thing I did wonder about going into the film, was that Wolverine is sent back into his younger self rather than Kitty Pride, making this yet another Wolverine-centric film.  But despite Jackman being pivotal, it really ends up as Xavier's story and Mystique's story that drive the plot.

It's the best X-Men film made to date*.

I'll avoid any more potential spoilers - long time Marvel movie fans should know this anyway - but stay through the credits for a hint of what's to come with the next X-Men film.

*My thoughts on the various X-Men movies to date:

X-Men: I really enjoyed this when I first saw it 15 years ago, as it did a good job portraying one of my favorite comics' characters in film.  But watching it now, the story seems a little too...small?  Limited?  It didn't quite go far enough to make the mutant-powered world of the X-Men feel alive, maybe?  Still, not a bad film overall.

X2: This movie was well done.  Exciting, multiple story lines, with some real conflict between Xavier's and Magneto's visions for mutantkind.  Plus we get the feeling that Xavier is actually running a school for young mutants, with several young 'uns playing key parts.

X-Men: The Last Stand: Um, everyone pretty much agrees that this film was crap, right?  It had some good potential with the "mutant cure" and the whole Dark Phoenix thing, but managed to use it in all the wrong ways.

X-Men Origins Woverine:  Also pretty much crap.  Plot holes you could pilot a Sentinel through, plus some of the worst CGI I've seen in a long time from a big budget Hollywood film.  And they sorta ruined Gambit and Deadpool within their cinematic X-Universe.

X-Men First Class: This was a good flick, but something about it just didn't jibe well with the other films.  Well, it does now! 

The Wolverine: Much better than Origins, but still not a great movie.  It was action packed, but I think the writers were sloppy and made a lot of choices that didn't need to be made to tell a good Wolverine story.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Shattered Planet: An Interview with Tanya Short

This is the first interview I've ever done for What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse..., and it's with an old friend from my days in Japan, Tanya Short. She is the creative director of a new video game design company, Kitfox Games, and their new game Shattered Planet, a sci-fi Rogue-like, is now available for free download for your smart phone or tablet.

Tanya and I met about ten years ago, and we played together in a Trinity campaign run by her S.O. Brent. Later, Brent and Tanya played in a short Classic D&D game that I ran just as I was getting back into old school games and away from the d20 system, before they left Japan.

I'm happy to help her spread the word about her new game – and I'm a bit envious of all of you who can download it and start playing it today. It's not yet available for East Asian markets, and I'm way too lazy to figure out how to root my smart phone in order to download it now. :D Anyway, on to the interview.

Interview with Tanya Short of Kitfox Games

Tanya X. Short is a professional game designer who worked on MMOs such as Age of Conan and The Secret World before making the leap to indie. She founded Kitfox Games ( with 3 other devs in Montreal, Canada, acting as their Creative Director. She’s lived in four countries and has a cat that sits at the breakfast table.

LG: What is your gaming background?

TS: There was a huge age gap between my brothers and I, so most of my gaming was done solo. My first love was Bubble Bobble on the NES, or on road trips, Link’s Awakening. As a teen, living in an extremely rural area, I got really into online games as part of my social life – I literally spent 12 hours at a time role-playing in MUDs (textual virtual worlds). Although EverQuest was available by then, I preferred the imaginativeness of text, and even spent a year or two after college volunteering as a community manager for a commercial MUD. From there, I guess it was natural I’d get into designing MMOs!

LG: How did you get into game development?

TS: I am one of the few who went to school for it! I went to an extremely practical master’s degree program called the Guildhall, which is a satellite campus of Southern Methodist University in Texas. It’s staffed by industry veterans and has (or had, at the time) an extremely high hiring rate, because they really focus on what you need to get hired – a good portfolio, team experience, and finished projects. My first offers to join the industry were from ArenaNet, Big Huge Games, and Funcom, in Norway. I accepted the Funcom position because… well, who turns down a job in Norway? Not me!

LG: What sort of work were you doing for the big MMO companies like Age of Conan and The Secret World?  
TS: I started out as an A.I. Designer, which is their word for ‘scripter’ – creating enemy behaviours, boss fights and such using their light-weight, high-level programming tools. But I was so enthusiastic and opinionated about social features and guild structures, I ended up creating a whole feature from scratch, which is pretty unusual after a game’s launch! I pitched and lead the strike team developing the Guild Renown feature, which is basically guild levelling (before World of Warcraft did theirs!). On The Secret World, I did various design stuff basically, working mostly independently… various missions, puzzles, improvements to the hub cities, etc. I was the designer who pulled together the “Dreaming One” levels, which are these surreal experiences in ice caves, in a dreamscape. It wasn’t my vision (that was all Ragnar Tornquist), but I filled in all of the detail and gameplay. I also made the Albion Theatre, and all the vendors in the cities – my favorite, of course, being the taco vendor ghoul in London.

LG: How has your table-top gaming experience shaped or influenced your computer game designs?

TS: I have a serious love of the political. Keeping secrets is a unique pleasure that most video games don’t incorporate, but which I highly value. Most of my favorite tabletop characters had a Big Secret they were keeping from the party. They never ended up getting found out, but it still added layers of meaning and drama to every moment of play! And although it’s not quite a tabletop game, Werewolf remains one of my favorites, despite its deep flaws – nothing can replace the joy of innocently lying to your friends.

LG: Tell us about one of your most memorable tabletop RPG characters.  Who was she (he) and what game system was it?  What were his/her goals?  What made that PC so memorable?
TS: My favorite character was probably Kaena. She was a fun-loving bard on the surface! But she secretly ran a spy network, working for a cult that was trying to revive an old, dead god. So every time the party found any treasure, she’d refuse to sell it (making up just about any excuse) until she had done a complete lore check on it and/or checked with her secret contacts. The rest of the party thought she was just a hoarder or a collector of some kind… and they never learned differently since the game ended before her true intentions were revealed! I’ll just always remember having five secret notes queued up to give the GM every time we went back to town!

LG: How did Kitfox Games form?

TS: Here in Montreal, there’s an incubator/accelerator program called Execution Labs, where indie teams can come and get training in business development and marketing, plus they’ll pay you while you make whatever game you want! So when I heard about an opening there, I looked around and put together a team with other local indies!

LG: Introduce your compatriots at Kitfox Games – Who are they and how did you all meet?

TS: No matter what I say, you’ll never understand how awesome they are to work with! :D
Xin Ran Liu is a traditional concept artist with amazing digital painting skills, but who also makes his own little game projects on the side in GameMaker. He does just about everything art-related in our games.

Mike Ditchburn is our lead programmer. He makes TONS of game prototypes, like just about every day, and owns over 300 board games.

Jongwoo Kim is our gameplay programmer, and he actually was trained as a game designer, so he has good intuitions on that side, too.

We all met at a local indie meet-up group here in Montreal, but we didn’t really know each other very well until we started working together. We weren’t even sure it was all going to work out until we did the Indie Speed Run game jam together last October… but the results were pretty cool, and we were finalists! You can play the results here: Now we’re like siblings. :)

LG: What has been the biggest challenge for Kitfox Games as a small start up?

TS: Getting our name out there is a huge challenge! We’re nobodies! We are planning on having a crowdfunding campaign for Moon Hunters (our next game) this summer, but it’s terrifying because, you know, we’re not Chris Avellone or Tim Schafer. We’re just 4 devs trying to make awesome games, and we have to convince people not only to try our games, but trust that we’re worth giving money to! So we’re working hard trying to earn that trust, which is why we decided to make the mobile version of Shattered Planet free to play – to get more people to try the game.

LG: Tell us about Shattered Planet - what are its selling points?

TS: As a clone of a space captain, it’s your job to explore a deadly alien planet that’s different every time. It’s a solid little game – easy to pick up, but with surprising amounts of strategy, once you start trying to optimise. Over and over, the reviews we get from critics and players compliment our artist Xin’s hand-painted art style, as well as the quirky writing (by yours truly). I don’t mean to brag! It’s just that between your snarky alien assistant, over a hundred items, and dozens of little choose-your-own adventure type events, there’s plenty of room for sci-fi jokes, references, and general silliness.

From the Kitfox Games website
LG: Why did you decide to make it as a Rogue-like instead of another style of game?

TS: It was an accident! We actually initially set out to make a game about exploring. We were trying to recapture that feeling of endless potential from the early turns of Sid Meier’s Civilisation. So we made a few different prototypes, and our favorite ended up being styled as an RPG… and we realised a few weeks later that we had accidentally re-invented the rogue-like.

LG: Most Rogue-likes are fantasy themed.  Was it hard to implement the game style with a sci fi setting?

TS: Not at all! It took a bit of courage, since we looked at the market and competitors and didn’t see anything like it, but once you make the mental shift, it’s easy. There’s a reason sci-fi and fantasy go together so well – they are both really about humans embarking on grand adventures, sometimes with monsters in the way.

LG: What is the number one reason I should download and play Shattered Planet right now?

TS: Well, for one, it’s free! You can go download it and try for yourself! And if you enjoy it but wish it were a premium purchase… well, look for it on Steam in late June!
Also from the Kitfox Games website
LG: What's in store for Kitfox Games in the future?

Well, we’re probably always going to create infinite procedural games, and with the amazing talent of our artist Xin (, each game should be more gorgeous than the last. We already have more plans on the back-burner, with hopes to release Moon Hunters ( to Steam Early Access by Christmas. If you want to keep track of what we’re up to, you can join our mailing list:

LG: Many of my readers are part of the DIY centered Old School Renaissance, creating and self-publishing tabletop RPG material.  Do you have an advice for readers who might be thinking of getting into computer/video game design?

TS: It’s both easier and harder than you think! Start small – as small as humanly possible -- but plan on everything taking quite a bit longer to complete than you first think. But there are literally DOZENS of free tools out there that are surprisingly powerful. Those of you who are writerly should definitely check out Twine, which is a free choose-your-own-adventure type tool that you can pick up and figure out in 10 minutes or so!

And this is more of a psychological trick than a game development technique, but remember not to tell anyone what you’re working on until after you’ve completed what you want to tell them! If you “pre-brag”, excitedly telling someone what you will do, you’re less likely to go through with it than if you wait until after you actually have something to brag about!

LG: Finally, on a personal note, any idea when Shattered Planet will release in South Korea?  ;)

TS: Haha! Well, we were looking out for potential Asian partners for proper localisation and publishing, but … we might give up on that and release sometime this summer! Thanks for the poke!

LG: Thanks for your time, Tanya! I'm really looking forward to playing Shattered Planet. Hopefully some of my readers will enjoy it as well.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Forget about that cover kerfluffle, here's Dark Dungeons, The Movie!

So while everyone's busy judging books by their covers, I stumbled across this:

An independent movie, made by the same production company responsible for "The Gamers" movies, about every gamer's favorite Chick Tract.  And according to the article, they're playing it straight, not taking the piss out of it.

To that, I say well done!  It's our job as viewers to take the piss out of it, MST3K style, and we surely will.  If the people making this were just doing it to poke fun at the source, I think it would end up just being this stupid little thing everyone would forget about quickly. 

Anyway, I'll be looking out for this one in the future.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Asian Hero Archetypes

This morning I took part in a bit of discussion on how to best organize an "oriental adventures" style supplement over at Joseph Bloch's Greyhawk Grognard blog.

That discussion caused me to give thought all day to just what, exactly, represent core hero archetypes or tropes in Asian myth, legend, literature, comics, and modern period cinema (Wuxia, Chanbara, etc.).

Now, I know the CHCs (Confucian Heritage Cultures, China, Korea and Japan) best, so these ideas are more for general East Asia, not so much for Central, South or Southeast Asia, although they may apply there as well. 

This is also more of a first draft thought experiment, so feel free to chime in with thoughts for revisions or improvements, especially any archetypes you think I've missed.  I've only been considering this since this morning, yet it's something that's been rolling around in my head for years in a way.

Hero Archetypes for Asian-Inspired Gaming

Stalwart Warrior - This is the hero who serves some greater power, such as the stereotypical Japanese samurai or Korean hwarang, or many of the heroes of the Chinese Three Kingdoms like Guan Yu and Cao Cao.  Much martial ability, along with a code of conduct and a desire to support the social power structure and advance within it.

Righteous Vagabond - This is the hero who wanders the land, serves no one yet still lives by a strong moral code.  Think Cain from Kung Fu, wandering ronin like Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune's character in Yojimbo and Tsubaki Sanjuro), and most xia in Wuxia movies like Li Mu Bai in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

Driven Martial Artist - This is the hero who dedicates their life to mastering their martial art.  They could be unarmed fighters like most Bruce Lee characters, sword-masters like Musashi Miyamoto (the historical one or the fictionalized one), peerless archers, etc. 

Benevolent Mendicant - This is the hero who wanders the land seeking to help all those in need, and need not be a religious figure, although many are.  They may have some martial prowess, but their primary aptitude is empathy and an ability to bring people together.  Song Jiang, the main leader of the bandits in Outlaws of the Marsh fits this type, as do many wandering Buddhist priests or monks in Japanese fiction.

Wily Strategist - This is the hero who always has a plan to defeat any problems that beset them.  Master tacticians like Zhuge "Kongming" Liang and Shima Yi in Three Kingdoms fit this mold, but many ninja heroes such as the historical Hattori Hanzo or Rikimaru and Ayame from the Tenchu video games could also be considered as well. 

Mystical Trickster - This is the hero who uses magical powers to overcome challenges, often in creative ways.  Monkey/Sun Wukong in Journey to the West is the prototype of the archetype, but magical powered ninja like the Eight Demons of Kimon in Ninja Scroll or Ryu Hayabusa of the video game Ninja Gaiden also fit.

Learned Sorcerer - This is the hero who has a studied esoteric texts, able to manipulate magic, or spirit companions, to overcome problems.  They may have studied rigorously to gain their powers, such as the One-Eyebrow Priest of the Mr. Vampire movie series, or the Korean Jeon Woochi, the Taoist Magician from the film of the same name are examples.

Orphaned Changeling - This is the hero who was born with innate magical powers, or discovered and raised by humans as one of them, when in actuality the hero is from the Spirit World.  Japanese fairy tale heroes like Momotaro, Kaguya-hime, and Kintaro are examples of this type, as is the legendary founder of Korea, Dangun. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Intriguing, but I'm not completely sold yet

So, word is out on "D&D Next." 

PHB will be sold at Gen Con, and available for wide release in mid-August, retail price $50.  A Starter Box Set will be $20.  In November, the DMG will be released, also at $50.  Probably the Monster Manual will be released sometime in early 2015, also for $50.

And the name will simply be "Dungeons & Dragons" which is good.  Next was a convenient placeholder, but would have been a terrible edition name. 

The local gamers I play with are for the most part happy with OSR stuff, but there are some other local gamers who are about to start a 4E game, and I wouldn't be surprised if they switch to the new edition when it becomes available.

So I might - if the reviews are generally good, similar sounding to the Pathfinder Beginner Box, shuck out the $20 for the new box set.  Or maybe go crazy and get the PHB.  I doubt I'd be doing any running of the system, but it might be nice to have a copy handy if I do get to play.

Then again, we've got a baby due in August, so who knows?  I'll probably be too busy to pick it up.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: How to Prepare

The next several sections fall under the heading of "Playing in a Group" and give advice for finally going beyond the solo play tutorials at the beginning of the book.  This first part is on general advice for play, especially things to do and think about before the game starts.

The first bit is for beginners only.  Make sure everyone has read this book, and that whoever will be the DM has read the Dungeon Master's Rulebook.  Frank suggests sticking to the starter adventure instead of using a purchased module for the first few game sessions.  I did just that back in the day, and it's not a bad little dungeon (I've used it again and again in the intervening years).  But I know that Holmes Basic came with either B1 or B2 and Moldvay Basic came with B2, and I assume many DMs started out running one of them, or the caves under Zenopus' Tower (Holmes) or the Haunted Keep (Moldvay).  YMMV on this one, I guess.

Setting Up: make sure everyone has pencils, erasers, paper, dice, character sheets, snacks, etc.  Players are given permission to access the Player's Manual whenever they need it, but forbidden from looking at the Dungeon Master's Rulebook during play. 

Mapper and Caller: Mapping, for me at least, has always been fun.  It's advised that everyone learn how to do it, but over the years we've realized that certain types of adventures don't rely on careful mapping.  That's not an indictment, and it's good to have more than one player able to map some adventure site in case it does become necessary.  Recently, with our online games and whiteboard, the DM just draws the map to save time. 

Caller is something I don't think I've ever used extensively.  When we were kids, there usually weren't enough of us to bother.  If we'd had groups of seven to twelve players, callers might be necessary.  Also, Frank tells us that the caller is just a reporter, giving the final decision to the DM - NOT the final judge who makes the decision.  Whenever I've heard of people using a caller, it's usually listed as the caller's role to make the final decision.  If you can trust the caller, I suppose it's more efficient that way, but that wasn't the original intention.  The caller is there as the safety filter to keep players from doing stupid things like wandering off on their own or pressing the obviously dangerous button just by calling it out to the DM.  Unless the caller says you will do it, it doesn't happen.  So I guess it's a good idea to keep that player who wants to randomly screw up everything from being the caller.

First Steps to Take: Again, I am happy to see how succinct Frank can be at explaining game concepts.  My long, rambling Tackling the Megadungeon post series was designed to get players to consider some of these things, which Frank lays out quite nicely.  I'll just copy/paste this here (and hope the OCR of the PDF doesn't lead to any weirdness):
When all the players are together, with characters ready, each player should take a moment to think about the adventure to come. Some of these things apply to players, and some apply to the characters.
  • Who is your character, and who are the other characters? Have you adventured with them before, or not? Are any of them friends - or enemies? Should you keep an eye on any one character? Who can you trust completely?
  • Why are you going? Are the characters just out to explore, or is someone looking for a specific item? Are you out to rescue a prisoner, destroy a famous monster, or some other goal? Games are usually more fun if a specific goal is kept in mind; if nobody is sure just what they want to do, you can waste a lot of time doing nothing.
  • Where are you going? Nearby caves, or a castle, or some other dungeon? Have you bought the equipment you need to explore?
  • When are you going? Do you plan to explore a dungeon at night, when more dangerous creatures could be around? Players: decide when the game will end; it’s very easy to play longer than you intended. Set a time for quitting, and stick to it! Remember to leave some time for dividing the treasure found.
  • What are you going to do? Look for big monsters or small ones? Will you run from danger, or face it? What can your party do, considering the abilities and special items available amongst the characters? (Player's Manual p. 53)
Treasure: decide on how to divide up the loot before the adventure starts, a suggested method is provided below.

Marching Order: general common sense advice - keep Fighter-types up front, with a rear guard as well, and Thieves and Magic-users in the middle where they are protected.  Dwarves and Halflings should take the front rank so others may fire missiles or spells over them.

Tactics of Play: Some general play advice - let the combat types handle the combats, stick to marching order when moving, specialists should move forward to deal with special problems then get back in position, let the high Charisma PCs negotiate, and always have someone keeping watch for monsters when others are searching for traps, treasure or secret doors. 

Ending the Adventure: Some good advice given subtly here.  Of course as players you should stick to your ending time for the session even if things are going well, but also be prepared to retreat and end the session when prudent (Fighters are wounded, spellcasters are out or nearly out of spells, etc.).  Be sure to leave some time at the end for calculating XP and divvying up treasure, and resupply NOW (assuming the party heads back to a town) so you don't forget something important next session.  I know I've fallen into that trap often enough, especially with late night finishes.

Dividing Treasure: I don't think I've ever played in a group where this system was actually used.  In my experience, magic items are divided as need/want dictates, with random rolls for contested items, even if it's not "fair."  Then all the money is just divided evenly among the PCs.

The system listed here is as follows: if everyone gets a permanent magic item, divide money evenly between all characters regardless of other magic items acquired. 

If some get permanent items while others get temporary items, those with permanent items get a 1/2 share.

If some get permanent items, some get temporary items and some get nothing, then those with permanent items get no treasure, those with temporary items get 1/2 share, and those with no magic items get a full share.

It would be interesting to try some time.  Of course, I've always wondered - should a powerful wand or staff count as a temporary item due to its charges?  If so, you could walk away with a Staff of Wizardry and a full share of treasure while your companion gets a dagger +1 and a half share.  Obviously, common sense should come into play along with the general system presented here.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Movie Review: 47 Ronin

Finally got around to watching this one this weekend.  I missed it when it hit Japanese theaters (busy with family stuff, study, what-not), and then it didn't come to my VOD for a long time...  Anyway, I watched it at long last.  And it has been out long enough that there will be spoilers in this review.  If you haven't seen it yet, don't read past the picture/line break below.

Now, long-time readers of this blog, and those recent folks who have had a look at Flying Swordsmen and have read my posts about my WIP Chanbara should know that this sort of film is right smack dab in the middle of my wheel-house.  Asian fantasy?  Check.  Samurai period piece?  Check.  This is exactly the sort of thing I'm trying to do with Chanbara.

And overall, I was not especially impressed.  It's not a bad movie.  It's exciting and makes you care about the characters to a certain extent.  It has impressive CGI, and makes the fantasy elements come alive. 

But at the same time, I didn't care that much about the characters.  Keanu was his normal wooden self.  I can forgive that, because of Ted Theodore Logan and Neo (roles he excelled at due to not needing to appear overly intelligent/emotional), but most of the Japanese cast failed to really draw me in.  Sanada Hiroyuki, Shibasaki Ko, and Asano Tadanobu are all decent quality actors in Japan - of course, they were performing in a second language (and with 16 years of ESL instruction experience in Japan and Korea, I understand that well!).  Kikuchi Rinko did a great job as the witch.  The fat samurai/ronin did a great job with a minor role. 

And that brings up a point that may have biased me.  I've been watching plenty of Japanese film lately (samurai/ninja movies for Chanbara inspiration, Godzilla movies with my son just because).  Seeing feudal Japan portrayed by actors I know from my time in Japan and those actors speaking English took a bit of getting used to. 

47 Ronin (follow the link to read the original version), above all, is a story about character.  Character as in strength of personality.  The movie's flaws are not in the addition of fantasy elements or making the star a "half-breed peasant/slave."  The fault lies in not adequately showing the true resolve of the 47.

Spoilers will follow

OK, so the beginning of the movie, the narrator tells us that to know the story of the 47 Ronin is to know Japan.  I'd say that holds true for the original tale, but not for this film.  At least to an extent, anyway.  The original story is just as much about the disgrace Oishi was willing to suffer in order to lure his enemy into a false sense of security as it is about the actual vengeance of the lord. 

In the movie, we gloss over the year between the death of Lord Asano and the 47's vengeance.  By that simple move to "get to the action" we lose the heart of the story.  And with the heart gone, we lose any ability to really get to know Japanese culture.

Instead, we get a standard Hollywood visual feast, full of oddities (the skull-tattooed Portuguese sailor on the movie poster, who's got about 2 minutes of screen time at most), romance (OK, want to sell tickets to women? Forget about hackneyed romance subplots, just get some of the Ronin besides the fat guy to take off their shirts...worked for the Thor movies, didn't it?), and character plot point hang-ups that just don't have the oomph of the original story - but maybe look better on screen and are easier for a Western audience to get (the arranged marriage between Lady Mika and Lord Kira, the ronin needing Keanu's character Kai to fight the witch, and Lord Kira fighting to the end instead of hiding in a woodshed), not to mention a "happy" ending (Lady Mika gets her province back, Oishi's son is spared by the Shogun at the last minute so as not to deprive Japan of his bloodline).

So, sorry, Hollywood, this should have been the perfect movie for a guy like me.  I rate it as only average.  Maybe I'm actually not the target demographic for this movie - although I think I should be.

On a positive note, when I release Chanbara, I will suggest people watch this movie if only for a good lesson in how to blend fairly mundane/quasi-historical adventure stuff with the fantastic. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Insert coin to continue

Last night, I finally got off my butt (it only took a 4 day weekend to do it) and ran a game of Retro Phaze, the free OSR game designed to emulate early computer/console RPGs of the 80's.

I have a dungeon inspired by the dungeons in the Wizardry games.  A big square with lots of twisty hallways and every bit of space filled.  As per the Retro Phaze rules, a few areas have set encounters (bosses, if you will), while most of the map is empty and relies on random encounters.  Which almost made for some oddities when the players were actually scouting and listening at doors and such like in standard D&D...almost.  Somehow, I managed to cover it fairly well.

Game play is dead simple.  Everything hinges on one of four mechanics - a 2d6 roll with modifiers vs. target number (roll high, used for attack rolls and saves), roll 1d6 (roll low, as in X in 6 chance, used for skill/ability checks), and either roll X keep Y (as in roll 4d6, keep the best 3), or roll X lose Y (as in roll 2d6, lose the highest roll).  The first is a good thing when rolling damage, attacks, or resistance (saving throws).  The second is good when rolling skill checks, bad for just about everything else.

I had quite a few random charts prepared, one of which I completely forgot to use (random item drops after defeating monsters).  Also monsters based on ones from various games, instead of the stock d20 SRD type list in the rules.  Even without all that extra prep, the game probably would have gone well.  At minimum you need a map of an area, one or two planned encounters/treasures as goals to pursue, and a random encounter chart for the area. 

Character generation is also fairly simple.  Definitely a plus.  We ended up with a group of an Elf Fighter, Elf Rogue, Human Wizard and Hob Wizard.  All but the Elf Rogue (Jeremy) were from a set of pre-gens I worked up.

My one complaint is that for actual play, the rule book is not organized especially well.  Necessary charts are scattered throughout the book, and not always where you might think to look for them.  An appendix with all the charts reproduced (like I did with Flying Swordsmen, although I did miss one or two) would be nice.  I guess I'll have to make something like that by myself before I run the game again.

And I will run this game again.  Dean, Jeremy, Alexei and Justin were my players, and they all seemed to have fun.  Now, the question is, do I continue with the Wizardry dungeon, or work on that Castlevania game?