Saturday, April 29, 2006

Halo: The Covenant War, Vehicle Minis

I should mention that the Halo minis are only the things that'll be used in the scenario I'm working on (or not working on, since at the moment I'm too busy to seriously work on fun stuff). Hence the vehicles part has only thee (including the Shade turret). Note the different Warthog turrets.

Also, although the guys at liked the character minis enough to include them in the random pictures that show up in the upper left corner of the site (though they have hundreds, so it's not like it shows up super often), my artist friend is going to give them a proper inking coloring job. Now I just need the game to go with them... ^_^;

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Halo: The Covenant War, Minis

My artist friend is doing up a art for paper minis for my Halo RPG thingy, and he's completed the major ones (just a couple of vehicles to finish things up), but he left the inking and whatnot to me. So, that's finally out of the way. Eventually we'll put together a PDF or something, but in the meantime here's what they look like:
Halo minis preview!
I'm a big fan of his cartoony style (he does anime well too, as seen in the Mascot-tan illustrations, plus he's doing a piece for Uresia). It's a little weird to look at it just because unlike him I've played both games a whole lot, and the Covenant guys especially have a lot of weird details that you tend not to notice while they're shooting at you.

Power and Consequences

During our last T&J session, one of the players said something (out of character) that stuck in my mind. The confrontation between Raz and Hikaru was really dramatic, and one of the players said that it's because the players have the amount of power they do that things get so dramatic and intense. I think there's some truth to that, but there's also more to it.

The thing with Raz and Hikaru specifically is that there's a crucible at work. They're very different characters in terms of their motivations and personalities (Red Ranger and Blue Ranger, and then some), and under normal circumstances they'd be off and away from each other in no time. Instead, having become superheroes with common enemies and a very real need to be part of a functional team, they're stuck with each other. This is IMO a big part of what makes Harry Potter work; given a choice Harry would go to a Hogwart's that didn't have the likes of Draco Malfoy and Professor Snape, or House Slytherin in general, just as Draco no doubt thinks the school would be a better place without Harry and his Gryffindor friends. Instead, they both have to deal, and conflicts arise.

Power has the potential to magnify actions, which is what Raz has run into; his super-strength stopped a dangerous supervillain, but it's also about ready to earn a shitstorm of bad publicity and possibly get him sued. Harry Potter is in some ways the opposite of this, since in the HP world magic is more often than not good at mitigating consequences. In Dragon Ball Z, the "Z Fighters" wind up largely keeping their powers a secret from most of the world, and the heroes' rarely if ever have their own abilities go wrong, unless it's directly caused by a bad guy. On the other hand, there is something exciting about the ludicrously strong alien invader who the two strongest warriors in the world had to go all-out to defeat saying, "My boss is listening in on this, and he's ten times stronger than me." After the Frieza Saga (which was where Toriyama originally planned to end the manga) it got kind of dumb at times with the endlessly escalating power, but that first time, watching it on syndicated TV Sunday mornings, I was hooked. Buffy I think did a good job with having power with consequences, and that theme is a big part of what goes into Willow's character in season 6. So, it's not necessarily the power level, but the hold the consequences can have over the characters, something that power level can feed into if done right.

All of the above is why for Exalted I'd probably be most interested in a Dragon Blooded campaign; the Solars are scattered and don't really have a foothold in the Realm, but the Terrestrials are the Realm, with scheming houses and social responsibilities, and even boarding schools where kids (who all desperately hope that they'll exalt) are sent to learn the ways of the society and nobility. But with a modern setting it's that much easier for us to make things spiral off into the land of consequences. Superheroes are public figures -- unlike most WoD characters -- and can run into stuff like lawsuits, making enemies, ticking off allies, etc. that much more easily.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Thoughts On Palladium. Or, Love, Loathing, Nostalgia, and Indifference

The big buzz on this past week is that due to some problems with theft and embezzlement, Palladium Books is in dire financial trouble. The main thread on the topic (it's spawned like 10 others) is over 100 pages now, covering the usual range of reactions to things Palladium-related (though somehow the thread hasn't been locked).

I suspect my range of reactions to Palladium is typical.

In middle school and especially high school they were the RPG publisher, accept no substitutes. We played mainly Rifts and Robotech, with a little Heroes Unlimited and TMNT and Nightspawn (screw you, MacFarlane) thrown in for good measure. One of my friends back then whom I don't really talk to anymore had a way of saying memorable stuff and then not remembering it himself, and then if you brought it up in conversation looking at you like you were crazy so hard that other people started to believe him. One of those quotes was with regard to my experimenting with other systems -- both stuff like playing GURPS and making my own games from scratch: "But the Palladium system is, like, perfect. You're the only one who has to be a deviant and make your own systems." My memory is tricky, and full of holes, but certain things stick really well (too well), and I'm pretty sure that that is a verbatim quote, or very close to one. Today that quote represents a hilarious display of naivete -- and the same guy later became primarily a White Wolf gamer after all -- but in high school it summed up the general consensus pretty well. No one saw any real flaws in the game, or any reason to switch to anything else. Part of that, I'm sure, was a result of the fact that none of us really had ready access to other games in the first place. I had Toon (which the aforementioned friend totally missed the point of and called "lame," though my other friends enjoyed it), and we did Paranoia one-shots now and then, but the only store with any substantial RPG selection was the one that to this day puts all the books in shrink-wrap, and anyway very few of us had money to spend on unknown games.

When I first started college, I was starting to really see the glaring flaws in the system, and from then on we never quite settled on any one game. The games we played significantly were Mage, Fading Suns, Thrash, and Mekton Z. On online forums I was sometimes disdainful and critical of Palladium's games to the point of being an immature fucktard at times. Analyzing it now, I would say that the thing is the enjoyment of roleplaying can be relatively independent of the system -- that is, Rifts is fun, but it wouldn't be made less fun by a sensibly chosen alternate system -- so the system should at least have some kind of utility. At that point one of the more fun campaigns I'd run had been all free-form, so there really wasn't any excuse for having to put up with the Palladium system's quirks. In spite of that, it was also around this time that I took all of the stuff I wrote for Rifts through high school -- and there was a lot (I ought to look through it again some time) -- and submitted it to the Rifter, though only one section (on "Space Magic") got published, with illustrations by Wayne Breaux no less. So not only was Palladium my first source of RPGs, but they're responsible for the first time I got published. (My first full RPG book is due out from Battlefield Press some time this summer).

I'm still in college (but that has more to do with me taking so damn long to figure out what I really wanted to major in), but I matured a bit over time, and took a different attitude towards Palladium. I went from the feeling betrayed stage to the nostalgic, "if only my high school memories of awesomeness could be brought back with a better system" stage. I would read through threads on Palladium for amusement (actually I still do sometimes), and nod along with the criticisms (this review of Robotech is especially entertaining, particularly when Bill Coffin, who from what I've seen is generally a cool, level-headed guy online, tries to mix it up). Once or twice I tried to come up with Rifts conversions, before Palladium's policies put me off the idea of even doing it just for use among my friends. (The GURPS conversion was going really well, right up until I tried to do vehicles).

Now I find myself feeling pretty emphatically indifferent. Online, some people report places where Palladium's products are selling well, but in my neck of the woods, and from what the majority of people are saying, their stuff is now selling poorly if at all, and stores are ordering less and less. The way my group roleplays has shifted a lot over time, and that has something to do with it. It's been quite a while since we last used a pre-packaged RPG setting of any kind. There was that Planescape campaign I did during our flirtation with D&D3e (and the group's consensus was that the worst adventures were always the ones I got from published modules), but since then we did Macross (an adaptation of the later anime and games, using Mekton Z), Star Sorcerer (original, powered by Fudge), and Truth & Justice (though in spite of the wealth of published superhero characters that could be adapted, our entire setting has consisted of original stuff).

I'm an odd person in that I can't get a proper hate-on going unless I have really strongly negative, intensely personal experiences with something. Having played and run D&D3e a decent amount, I find d20-hate to be just plain silly. For me the worst of it is that it takes some extra work on the DM's part to run the game. And since since I have a solid and close-knit group that so seldom does anything with published in what passes for mainstream in the RPG industry, I don't have any reason to get worked up over what's going on with all that. It gets doubly absurd when we talk about games. If other people want to blow shit up in a post-apocalyptic future or kill things and take their stuff in a dungeon, more power to them. Obviously I think the kind of roleplaying I do is neat and I think it'd be cool to introduce other people to it, but claiming that it's better is kind of like telling people they should give up pop music and listen to punk instead.

I don't know that it reflects positively on me, but Palladium's financial woes strike me as being someone else's problem. If Palladium went under (at this point it seems like it's going to survive) it's entirely possible that it could hurt the industry as a whole, but nothing along those lines could kill it off for my group. Of course, this is my perspective. I'm someone who has never moved to a new town and searched in vain for a new roleplaying group, or been frustrated by a lack of non-D&D groups seeking members, etc. The overlap between the people I hang out with on a weekly basis and the people I game with has always been almost total, and I agree with the sentiment mentioned somewhere or other that if I wouldn't want to just hang out with someone, then I wouldn't want to game with them either. This is partly because a certain portion of a gaming session is going to be spent on what amounts to hanging out anyway. (As the Shooting Dice guy mentioned in a recent post, the "20 minutes of fun in 4 hours of gaming" thing is more like "20 minutes of fun in 4 hours of another kind of fun.")

For better or for worse, I think I've not only outgrown Palladium, but outgrown resenting Palladium too. Palladium is one of those friends from high school I've lost touch with and never worked up any particular desire to see again.

But you know, if by some miracle a new edition of Rifts came out with a substantially improved system (original, licensed, or whatever) I would at a minimum buy the book in a heartbeat.

Friday, April 21, 2006

[In-Character] Truth & Justice, Episode 8

I think I'm just going to have to get used to not being able to get a firm footing in things. Invisible waves pressing down from the sky, a motorcycle the other me can't ride, and dreams that are memories of alien delusions. The life of a superhero is punctuated equilibrium, swathes of boredom and sudden electric shocks of adrenaline and death. Survival of the maddest.

Enough poetry. I spent a week with very little to do besides replay the incident with Swan in my mind and worry about the future. I went to the training room by myself a few times, but the weight of everything on my mind left me sprawled on my bed more often than not. There were days like that in high school sometimes, but high school was only rarely life and death. I know why I'm doing this hero thing--my conscience won't let me not do it--but the motivations of the others are alien to me. Glenn did it for years, and I wonder if even he knows why he does it anymore. Sam is just opaque to me, and Jack isn't entirely right in the head. Raz is a lot of things, including a screwed-up teenager whose standard delusions of immortality are validated by real super powers. And I think he's running from something.

I finally talked to Raz though. I've been avoiding it, dreading it. Now that it's over I'm not sure whether I was more concerned about what I would say or what he would say. He's just so damn sure of himself, so sure that just because things went horribly wrong doesn't mean he didn't do the right thing. Being a hero is already treading on thin ice in so many ways, power and responsibility. Of course, he's just like me in that he has a hard time seeing the world through different eyes. He talks about trusting instincts and following your heart, as though it's something you can just pick up. He talks a lot, actually. There are some things you can't learn by trying to learn them.

I don't know how I got this way, though losing my father to a kaijuu when I was eight probably had something to do with it. High school taught me that emotions are a double-edged sword, and that drama is a cave where what you find is what you take in with you. I really wonder if the people in this new life would even recognize me if they saw me in high school. Everything seemed so pointless back then, but I played some of the games anyway as a way to alleviate the boredom. So now I'm a cynic who's tired of relationships and sex, and deeply addicted to nicotine. I have that same floating sensation, only the current is stronger.

Japan shouldn't feel so far away, in time as well as space. But my life now is so far removed from my high school life. When I go back there -- less than two months now -- it won't be the same anyway. But knowing my mom, she's going to make sure I wind up seeing all of my high school "friends." Suzuka, Takeshi, Eri, and the others. Takeshi and Suzuka are the only ones I ever told about my father's secret identity (and that had more to do with Ryo having such a big mouth). I'm trying to imagine introducing them to my new superhero teammates, and any way I look at it the picture includes Suzuka being all over Raz. She always liked the younger pretty boys. As long as they understand that I have no interest in him in that way. And bringing Sam and Jack to Japan would be... an experience.

I'm going to have to tell mom the truth about what I've been doing. If there's anyone who ought to know the truth. I don't know that she'll be happy about it, but better me than Ryo. He's been eyeing the Mega-Brace since he was nine, and he managed to break his leg once without getting into a super-battle (he was playing soccer; I had to go pick him up from school).

Anyway, with Raz I think things are as patched up as they're going to get. He demonstrated why I don't have the same trust in snap decisions: the moment a conversation becomes heated, people say stupid things they don't mean. The best I could come up with under his barrage of self-righteous words was "I don't hate you." That much is true. He infuriates me sometimes, and it would be at best stretching the truth to say that I like him, but there is something there. I can work with him. Next time it's him and Jack who need to do some kind of bonding. Raz gets so skeeved out around Jack I can't help but laugh. To me Jack is mostly just a quiet guy who keeps to himself and occasionally blurts out tasteless jokes.

I think all five of us have a past that's going to haunt us, and it looks like I'm up next. But I'm betting everyone will get their turn.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

24-Hour Hikikomori, Part Deux

A while back I posted about the idea of doing a 24-hour RPG about hikikomori, and today I accidentally brainstormed about it a little bit. I think it makes more sense for it to be some kind of solo game, but I think it should be different from a choose your own adventure type thing. I'm thinking the game would be played in the form of writing a diary, either on paper or in a blog, and rolling lots of dice for various things along the way so the character could accumulate real friends, imaginary friends, insanities, and other stuff along the way that have to be periodically rolled for (or maybe cards or something). It would be kind of a pointless game, but that would be fitting for something about the life of a hikikomori.

Right now I'm going to be too busy to get much done on the RPG front anyway though. Just when I thought the freelance translation work had finished its chain combo, it super cancelled into the biggest job I've had so far. By the time that's all out of the way, it'll be just about time to start graduate school (assuming I get in).

Monday, April 17, 2006

[In-Character] Truth & Justice, Episode 7

Everything is moving so fast, the moment I think I know what to do the situation has already changed. I spend hours seething about Raz, and when we went to visit him in the hospital I wound up not saying any of the things I went over in my head an hundred times. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

When the police chief came to visit us after the incident, it turned out he had something for me. The Japanese embassy had sent me a new passport and a renewed 2-year student visa. Which means that (1) someone with the ability to pull strings in both the Japanese and American governments knows what I'm doing, and (2) for the moment they like it.

I finally called home and talked to mom... and everything was fine. I avoided saying too much -- lying by omission -- but I did tell her that I'd met one of dad's old friends. She's met Glenn, and asked me to tell him about how the 10th anniversary memorial for dad would be in 2 months. I forgot to tell him, because the next time I got to speak to him, he got me thinking about plenty of other things. Glenn had no inkling whatsoever that dad was an alien, and really, I only "know" that because he told me when I was about six years old. He pointed to one of the stars in the sky, and said, "I came from there, because this planet needs heroes." He also said he once met my grandfather -- on my father's side. I need to ask mom about that. He also asked whether I'd tried taking my helmet off while transformed. It hadn't occurred to me to try, and now that the notion is in my head, I'm scared.

I have a feeling we're going to wind up going to the memorial. I could use some answers, but I don't want to drag the others into my problems. Only, that's the way things work, and I'm sure they'll wind up pulling me into theirs too.

Sam asked us to come to another of his wrestling shows. Ryo would've loved it, and I'm glad he's in Japan. Apparently it was some kind of big finish, one final match against the Mad Butcher, before he retired from wrestling. I'll spare the details because, really, I can't make heads or tails of them anyway. Jack got involved in it, and it was definitely memorable. Wrestling isn't my thing, but Sam loves it enough to do it in spite of the crappy pay and constant physical abuse, and he had to give it up because he's a metahuman. How far will this go?

Anyway, Glenn insisted we all go to the hospital to see Raz. Not surprisingly, he was already conscious and feeling well enough to make snide remarks. Raz' actions the other day had already started to have repercussions -- the press was having a field day, and a metahuman punching a 50-year-old woman in the throat is apparently much more interesting than the appearance of five new metahumans in the city -- and Glenn's only solution was for us to become an official super-group. When all is said and done, we all agreed to do it. Right now, none of us have anywhere else to go. Eventually we settled on a name: The Gatekeepers.

It's scary and exciting and I may have made a huge mistake, but that's the way it goes. Glenn is like a father figure to me -- he knew that part of my father far better than I did -- Raz is the obnoxious middle-child younger brother I never wanted... and Sam and Jack are just too weird to fit into familial archetypes. When we dealt with Pinnacle we saw how effective we could be when we all worked together, and the confrontation with Swan and Elephant Man gave us a taste of how badly things could go if we didn't.

I really need to explain a few things to Raz. I'm just not good at this, but I don't want to see him drag us all down. He's smarter than that, when he wants to be. I know I'm stressing over this too much, because I got through two and a half cigarettes in the hospital before I realized what I was doing. And everyone else is defintiely stressing too much because none of them seemed to even notice.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

[In-Character] Truth & Justice, Episode 6

I take back every good thing I've ever said about Raz. Right now he's in the hospital, in a full-body cast, and I never imagined I'd have to avoid visiting someone in the hospital just because I'm too angry at them.

Today started with what has become a regular training session, except that halfway through he asked me to transform and go all-out. Now I think he was testing himself. It's like he just can't let go of the exceedingly simple notion that there could be someone better than him.

Anyway, I went downtown to run some errands -- paying the rent and closing out my old apartment, and dropping off a letter for Sam -- and that turned out to be the start of this bizarre day. Behind me at the bank was a massive man with an elephant head. No, I'm not joking. It turns out he was the metahuman known as the Elephant Man, there to rob the bank. At Glenn's advice I tried to delay him, but there was only so much I could do. The thing about the Elephant Man (or "E," as Glenn calls him) is that he's incredibly stupid, and basically good-natured. The problem is he's incredibly sensitive about his looks and extremely destructive when he gets angry. It turned out he was robbing the bank because a "poor lady" had asked him to, so she could "feed her kids."

Glenn talked him into taking us to see this lady, and she turned out to be Swan. Apparently she was an opera diva whose voice-based metahuman powers ended her career. From there she turned to a life of crime, even using her voice powers to mind-control superheroes -- including Dynamo -- rob banks and such. And it was Mega-Rider, who was immune to her mind control, who saved the day. She's now middle-aged and even more bitter.

We confronted her in her penthouse. She was not happy to see Glenn, and the feeling was definitely mutual. Things were going about as well as they could have, and then Raz got involved. At first his plan wasn't too bad; he pretended to be Swan's "son" and tried to provoke the Elephant Man (he even picked up a jar of peanuts somewhere).

Then, when Swan tried to use her voice powers on us, everything went all to hell. Raz use his full strength to punch her in the throat so hard she went through and out the window. On the 18th story. So, apparently in Raz's demented little world bad people need to just die, and he thinks he knows how to always tell who the "bad" people are and will never make a mistake and kill someone innocent. I didn't get to spend much time with my father, but I do remember him telling me that vengeance isn't justice, and killing isn't heroic. I saved that woman's life, and I saved Raz from becoming a killer. Assuming he isn't already. Is he just too stupid to understand that knocking her out or even just covering her mouth would've been enough? She has a dangerous power (or maybe I should say "had," since he may have crushed her larynx), but physically she's just a middle-aged woman.

The Elephant Man was mad at him too. I didn't get to see what happened, but the two of them came flying out of the window, and E managed to land a second blow on Raz on the way down. Jack and Glenn managed to keep him from being crushed under the Elephant Man, which might've finished him off, but he was still exceedingly injured, like he'd been hit with not one but two freight trains. The last I saw of him, he was being carried off in an ambulance, and it looked like half the bones in his body were broken.

I want to say something like "serves him right," but I can't help but think that once he heals up -- which he'll no doubt do with infuriating speed -- he'll still be certain that he was in the right. It's like what he really wants, as part of some deep instinct, is to just hurt people, and he convinces himself that since he's doing it to "bad" people he must be doing good. Hurting the bad guy only matters insofar as it protects the innocent -- and I'm sure his definition of "innocent" gets conveniently narrow at times too.

From what I know of Raz's physiology he'll be in the hospital for at least another week or two. A normal human would've been dead if they'd suffered the kind of trauma he did, and someone exceptional enough to have survived would need at least six weeks to recover enough to leave the hospital, and even then they'd probably find themselves taking painkillers for the rest of their life. After the way this past week has gone, I definitely need some time away from him.

I still need to call home. I keep thinking too hard about how to keep it from being traced back to me and running around in circles. I need to know what's going on with my mother, and ultimately, I'm going to have to face up to what I've done. Every time I go out in public as Mega-Rider, more people see me, and more questions are going to be asked. Come to think of it, I'd better see if the press is saying anything about me.