Monday, January 8, 2018

Primary Layout of Chanbara is Complete

Sorry for the string of boring posts lately. I'm pretty busy these days, and I don't have much in the way of game theorizing or speculation to offer up at the moment.

I would like to let people know that just after lunch today, I finished my primary layout of Chanbara. I will print it up and look over a hard copy to examine it for errors. Then I need to design the cover (it will be pretty simple, a minimalist Zen aesthetic should work). Once that's done, I'll upload it to OneBookShelf and send off for a print proof. I'll also insert hyperlinks into the ebook version and then offer it up for sale.

I'm teaching an intensive (like nearly non-stop classes) English camp starting tomorrow until next Sunday, so that will slow things down a bit. I did the camp last summer, and it left me pretty exhausted every day. But I don't expect it will be much longer before I release Chanbara to the public.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Chanbara is in Layout

I'm working on layout for print and ebook versions of Chanbara in my spare time. Unfortunately, the past two weeks or so I've been grading final papers for the semester (along with a few other work-related duties) so I haven't made any progress in that time. But it's coming along, if slowly.

I'm optimistically planning to get it all done during my winter vacation, preferably in January rather than February. I'll release the ebook as soon as I'm done with it, and once I get a print proof and decide it's good (with international shipping that may take a bit more time than I'd like) I'll release the print version.

I'll be selling it through One Book Shelf (DriveThruRPG), and plan to have a full color paperback version. I may also release a deluxe color hardback "collector's edition" if there's demand for it. But at only 64 pages or so, I don't think many people will clamor for a hardback.

Thanks again for all of your patience with this project of mine. I'm really glad I didn't try Kickstarter or GoFundMe for this. I can see exactly why so many one-person RPG projects on it are late or fail to come to completion.

Anyway, rejoice! Your chance to play old school style D&D with a jidai-geki twist is coming sooner rather than later!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Star Wars The Last Jedi Review

Yes, I'm going here. Murky waters, I know. I saw TLJ a week ago, when it opened in Korea. My son was a little sick...he technically could have gone to school...but he took a sick day and he, my wife and I all caught a morning matinee. I've been thinking about it, and reading others' reactions to the movie, all week. I should probably go see it again, but it's the holidays, I've got a mountain of papers to grade, etc.

Now, as usual, I get people googling "[movie name] curse words" and landing here because of the title of the blog. So are there curse words in this movie? Nothing big. Nothing you can't say on normal broadcast television, just like in all the other previous Star Wars movies.

Next, my mini capsule review: This is not the Star Wars movie you're looking for. Move along. /waves hand/

Oh, Jedi mind tricks don't work on you? Fine. This is both a typical Star Wars movie and a totally atypical Star Wars movie at the same time. And I think that's why it's getting such a love it or hate it reaction from people. There are really two different movies being shown together. One of them I loved. The other was entertaining but frustrating to me. It's complicated, and that's another reason why I think some people didn't like it.

If you're wanting more of what we saw in The Force Awakens, you're going to be disappointed. If  you thought TFA was fun but sort of a let down because it was so derivative, you may just like what's happening in TLJ.

I'm going to avoid specific spoilers to specific incidents, but I'm going to have to give thematic spoilers in this review. So if you don't want your experience spoiled, you may want to stop reading here. I won't tell you any of the big reveals, but I will have to expose a few of the plot twists of the film in a general way. You've been warned. 


So first of all, we've got a story about the WAR. And it's apparently got all of the typical derring-do of the typical Star Wars film. Poe is leading sorties of snub fighters against First Order capital ships. Finn and Rose are sneaking around trying to get some macguffin to save the day. Princess Leia and Admiral Holdo are trying to keep the Resistance together against overwhelming odds.

Typical sort of Star Wars stuff, right? Except this is like a Coen Brothers version of Star Wars. It's like The Big Lebowski or Burn After Reading where a lot of stuff happens but it's all fairly pointless in the end.

Next we have the story about the FORCE. And it's apparently subverting all of the typical Star Wars stuff we're expecting. Luke doesn't act the way we expect him to act. Kylo Ren doesn't act the way we expect him to act. Rey and Snoke are pretty much as I expected, but the fact that Luke and Kylo go against expectations is what really makes this part of the movie stand out for me. And really, none of this surprised me. I'd heard that Disney threw out all of George Lucas's ideas for where the story should have gone, but everything that happens in this part of the movie follows logically from what happened in the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy. And it was really satisfying for me. And in the end, this part of the movie felt COMPLETELY RIGHT for Star Wars to me.

So you've got basically two parallel and interweaving narratives. One sets you up to be familiar but ends up being unfamiliar. The other starts out seeming unfamiliar but ends up being familiar. And this tension between the two movies makes it stand out.

Yes there are plot holes. Yes, there are things about it I didn't like (more so with the WAR part of the movie than with the FORCE part of the movie). But in the end, I was satisfied with what Rian Johnson did with the movie, and where it's positioning things to head into Episode 9 (and beyond).

If this movie had been what everyone had expected it to be, I think in the end people would have started to see Disney as just milking the alien sea-cow for all the green milk they can get. This movie shows that they're not just out to make money off of something we all love. Some people, at least, have an interest in expanding the universe and opening it up to more than just aping the young genius of George Lucas and the original trilogy.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Movie Review: Thor Ragnarok

I can pretty much sum up this movie in one word, but since this is a blog post, I'd probably better write a bit more than that!

And obligatory note for people Google searching "Thor Ragnarok curse words" and ending up here, there are a few in the movie, but not much.

So that one word? FUN!

The previous two Thor movies were kind of the mostly forgettable duds of the MCU. Kenneth Branagh made a solid movie, but the attempts at gravitas felt forced in some places. I really don't remember much about the second movie except for a cell phone and shoe falling through a dimensional portal and Loki's illusions to trick the dark elf at the end.

This time, Marvel pulled out all the stops and just made a rollercoaster movie. It's not deep. It's not some wonderful study of the human condition. It doesn't have any Oscar level performances. But it's got Dr. Strange being kind of a dick to Thor, Loki scheming as only he can, Thor and the Hulk smashing things, and a lot of humor.

Plus...spoiler alert...just as in the Norse mythology, Asgard is destroyed. How it gets destroyed is actually kind of clever.

And the obligatory after credits is apparently a set-up for Avengers: Infinity War, the other is just a fun little extra. My son was a bit disappointed that there wasn't one for Black Panther, but I guess there was already the one at the end of Civil War so Marvel is thinking ahead.

Anyway, if you're in the mood for a fun popcorn action flick with sci-fantasy trappings, this is a good one. I'd rate it up there with the Guardians of the Galaxy movies for fun cinema.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Lost Art of the Cursed Item

People these days seem to misunderstand cursed items in D&D. Players find some magic items and divvy them up. Then one player finds out that their item is cursed, and they now have some sort of drawback. And they probably bitch and moan a bit, and depending on edition and how high level the PCs are, they probably cast (or purchase) a spell to remove the curse, grumble a bit more about getting screwed over by the DM, and carry on.

But it's not intended to be that way. Back in the earlier editions of the rules, especially for cursed swords and armor, the rule was that if you could get the curse removed, the item then reverted to a beneficial item*. So curses were a means of providing an adventure hook.

If a player found a cursed weapon or armor, at low levels they had to deal with it until they could find a high level NPC to remove the curse (requiring paying large sums, a quest, or both), or go on a quest  of their own to a location (in a dungeon or far out in the wilderness) where the curse could be removed. Getting a curse was a means of providing the players with a goal - remove the curse. And there was a reward to it besides just elimination of the penalty. The weapon or armor that was previously lowering combat efficiency would improve it instead.

Yes, this post is inspired by my 5E gaming. It seems like newer gamers just don't see the value in things like curses, save or die spells (a double edged sword, yes, but also fun!), or dwindling resources. And WotC seem to also have this mistaken idea that any sort of hindrance is unfun. Everything is awesome! Everyone is special! All the time! Well, to tell the truth, that's NOT fun. Getting cursed and then having to jump through hoops to get rid of the curse is fun and satisfying! Getting cursed (or level drained, or finger of deathed, etc.) adds spice to the game if it actually affects you. If you just need to have the party Cleric come over and cast a spell and it's over, what's the fun in that? Where's the challenge? Where's the satisfaction?

Probably more to come along this line of thought if I have time to blog again soon.

*Yes, cursed scrolls, potions, rings and miscellaneous items don't have this benefit. But it's easily house ruled for the permanent rings and miscellaneous items, isn't it?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Chanbara: The end draws nigh!

I have the final bits of feedback I need from my editors. I'm in the process of revising and editing based on it. I should have that done soon.

So it's time for me to get serious about a cover design. I also will need to figure out layout and stuff for print and pdf versions. The pdf will have convenient hyperlinks while the print version will have references to "see page XX".  That should take some time. Luckily, we have a 10 day super-Chuseok holiday this year. Plenty of time to work on this stuff then.

The publishing plan for Chanbara will be a full color pdf version and a color cover/b&w interior print version in soft cover (print on demand). I want to keep the print version as economical as possible. I may put out a full color hardback deluxe edition if people want that, but at less than 70 pages, I don't think many would. I may have a local printer do up some as a vanity project or to send out as thanks for people who helped along the way.

I'm just glad to finally be nearing completion on this. Two of the editors have mentioned maybe publishing mods for the game, one to make it more anime style, another to play up the weird Japan angle. I'm likely to put out an expanded monster book for the game as well as try to work up my play test notes into modules. So hang in there, Chanbara fans! I'm really close to done!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A few complaints about DMing 5E D&D

In general, I've found that as a player I really enjoy 5E. The system is fairly slim, the options aren't overwhelming (at least if you stick to the PHB only), and it feels like D&D again (sorry 4E fans, you know I wasn't a fan myself, and although it's not a terrible game, it just isn't what I want out of D&D). As a player, I really like it.

But a few months back, I started DMing a face-to-face game again, using 5E. My son wanted to play in a game, and our normal Saturday night G+ games are too late for him to finish. So I started up a West Marches game using 5E. And while it's not a bad system, I keep constantly saying to myself, "Why didn't I just try to run this with my Classic D&D houserules, or Labyrinth Lord?"

Basically it comes down to a few points. I may elaborate on each later in their own blog posts (I need some impetus to get back into blogging semi-regularly). For now, it's just a list with a bit of commentary for each based on my WM game.

  • Lack of Morale rules. I've been estimating what I think a creature's Morale score should be, and rolling 2d6 like in Classic D&D. Yes, I could just wing it and have creatures flee or surrender when I feel like it, but I like the uncertainty of the dice.
  • Not much variety in treasure. There's no risk/reward analysis when it comes to deciding to face a monster or not, it's simply a threat assessment. 
  • Spell lists are too combat focused. This is actually something I chafe at as a player as well. It's hard to plan interesting encounters where magical utility spells might make the difference between an easy encounter and a too tough one (something I like to do) when there are so few utility spells, and spell durations are for the most part just not that long. As a player, it's hard to come up with that creative solution with a well-used spell when most just do damage.
  • Too much player rolling, not enough DM rolling. Maybe some DMs like that. They can focus on the details of the adventure, the NPCs and monsters, the "plot" and whatnot. Let the players make all the rolls. As a DM, though, sometimes I want to build suspense by making the roll myself (and having the option to ignore a result I don't like). This applies to things like getting lost or foraging in the wilderness. 
None of these things are terrible in and of themselves. I can work with them, and we're all having fun with 5E. And it's working out fairly well, actually. But I have worked in some old school mechanics into how I run the game because I feel it's just better that way. 

And I'm still wondering if I can convince the group to switch to my "D&D Mine" rules. And if I should try to convince them, or just let this campaign play out in 5E and when it's petered out try something else. If I want to get my son on board, though, I'm going to have to come up with a Dragonborn equivalent for my D&D Mine rules. He doesn't want to play anything but a dragon-man.