Five Games Masters and Players You See at Every RPG Con

Tuesday, August 6, 2013 at 6:00 am

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Carlos A. Smith Photography

Gaming cons are quite possibly my favorite times of the year, a brief but glorious long weekend wherein the only worries are making it to games in time, staying awake through games, and eating so you can go play more games. It's like being a kid again, but you get to stay up really late. Although there is a dealer room, it is not particularly commercialized, and the local cons tend to be attended by the same major gaming clubs every time, so there's a good sense of community.

All of that happy-fuzzy stuff aside, after running and playing games at cons for over a decade I've started to notice a few archetypes you see every time. Some can be celebrated, some can be a little terrifying, and they could all do with a little bit of mockery. So, without further ado, here are ten people you will see at a gaming con, split into Game Masters (them what run the game) and players (those what play).

The Game Masters:

1. The Unprepared GM

The Unprepared GM has had as much time as anyone else to put a scenario together but fell prey to the dread beast procrastination. A prepared GM will have STUFF - character descriptions, a snappy intro, maybe a map or three - whereas the Unprepared GM has little more than a special badge and a glassy eyed stare. They will become more difficult to spot by about day 3 of con, as the Unprepared GM will become hard to distinguish from Exhausted, Hungover or Malnourished GM. Is the GM's blank stare because they have no idea how to answer your question, or because a hangover is squeezing their brain like a massive spider? (For the purpose of this example, the spider both squeezes things and is invisible).

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Maybe if I look thoughtful, they won't notice I forgot my books.

Dead giveaways are a lack of character sheets, those little mcguffins that tell you what the virtual you is capable of and how good he or she is at it. A GM who tries to write up characters at con or guide others through the process at the table either vastly overestimates the skill of most people to instantly pick up a game, knows exactly who will be playing or just had no alternative. Another giveaway - when the GM switches games on you at the last minute. At the last con I attended, a GM decided to switch from werewolves characters to ordinary humans in a zombie-pocalypse since the 'adventure was too hard' with the number of players who showed up. I don't buy it, but on the plus side I got to make a Sea Captain. I like Sea Captains! (Arrrrr is for role-playing.)


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Ten Reasons Peter Capaldi Is - and Isn't - a Good Choice for Doctor Who

Monday, August 5, 2013 at 6:00 am

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The wait is over, and it's one for the ages. Yesterday, in a live special simulcast all around the world, the BBC revealed who will play the 12th incarnation of the titular Time Lord in Doctor Who. Unlike last time, when relative unknown Matt Smith took over from David Tennant, it's a familiar face: veteran actor Peter Capaldi.

Capaldi had become such a sure thing in the final hours that U.K. bookies stopped taking bets on the outcome. I didn't believe such an allegedly closely guarded secret would get out, so I was really surprised it was him. Ever since the youthquake Matt Smith set off when he became the youngest-ever Doctor at age 26, and especially considering the huge push to keep building the show's audience here in the youth-obsessed U.S.A., I never expected that the Doctor would ever again be older than me. But at 55, Capaldi is the oldest to win the role since William Hartnell, the First Doctor.

That could be the biggest risk, at least judging from the handful of angry videos made by teen-girl fans who clearly wanted a younger, hotter Doctor. But, although plenty of fans also welcomed the change, there was also a more tepid reaction ("Meh," texted my Whovian beffie). Maybe that's to be expected, since the BBC ratcheted up the excitement to 12 before revealing what a lot of people were pretty sure they already knew.

To me, the biggest bummer about this latest changing of the guard is that showrunner Steven Moffat isn't leaving too. Still, since the rumors about Capaldi really picked up, I've had mixed emotions about him. Here are 10 reasons he is, and isn't, a good choice to play the 12th Doctor.

1. The Choice Is Stunningly Predictable.

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The revamped Doctor Who that Russell T. Davies brought us in 2005 opened up new horizons for the show, giving us thoroughly modern characters ranging from openly bisexual con man Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), to the Doctor's first black companion, Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), to the interspecies same-sex married couple Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) and Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart). This progressiveness made it easier for more people to imagine the Doctor being something other than a white male. Last time out, Paterson Joseph was a much-discussed possibility to become the first-ever black Doctor, and when writer Neil Gaiman's episode "The Doctor's Wife" casually made it canon that a regenerating Time Lord's gender could change, the floodgates of what-if opened wide.

Not so, alas. Moffat actually boasted in Sunday's special that the new Doctor choice was "a quite different idea," when it wasn't anything of the sort. Like all the Doctors ever, he's a white male. Like Christopher Eccleston and Peter Davison, he is already an established and respected actor. Like David Tennant, he's a lifelong Doctor Who fan. Yeah, Moffat. really different.

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Nine Reasons a Flash TV Show Could Be Better Than a Flash Movie

Friday, August 2, 2013 at 6:00 am

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Earlier this week, it was announced, much to the surprise of geeks everywhere, that the CW was planning to introduce The Flash to their line-up of DC heroes as a companion show to Arrow. In fact, Barry Allen will be introduced early in season two of Arrow in a few episodes, before being set up to be spun-off into his own series. The show would be helmed by the Arrow co-creators Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg and directed by David Nutter, and the search is already underway for the man to fill Barry Allen's running shoes. So by this time next year, we will probably be viewing the pilot at Comic Con in San Diego.

A lot of fans have been lamenting the fact that a Flash television show means that he won't be getting a big screen adaptation anytime soon. (reports are that work continues on a Flash movie, but with the show right now having the momentum, I wouldn't bet on it.) But there are lots of reasons why the Flash is perfect for television versus the big screen, and not just because he had a television series once before. Here are nine reasons why The Flash might just work better on the small screen than the big one.

1. Flash's Speed Powers Can Be Done on a TV Budget

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There aren't a lot of superheroes who can really be done properly on television without the very things that make them so super in the comics being somewhat neutered in the process. Characters like the Hulk and Wonder Woman were never even close to being as powerful as their comic book counterparts were back in the day, mostly due to the limits of what a television budget can give you. Even more recent superhero television fare like Smallville couldn't really give you the full Kryptonian power treatment all at once, because there simply wasn't the money for it to be done right.

But special effects, even those for television, have come a long way since even Smallville. And the kinds of effects that the Flash would need are the kinds of things that could feasibly be done on a television budget now. They might not look as good as they would for a big budget Flash movie, but they don't have to look terrible anymore either. Heck, they weren't even that bad on the old Flash show from the '90s; I imagine the right effects house could do wonders these days. A Flash show might not be able to give us all the things that his powers can do in the comics, but it could be a closer approximation than for most other superheroes that have made the jump from comics to television.

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Nine Celebrities Who You Probably Didn't Know Voiced Anime Before Princess Mononoke

Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 6:00 am

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We live in an age of cartoon voice "stunt casting," where it seems like every big movie needs to have at least one or two A-list Hollywood actors lending their pipes to the proceedings, irrespective of actual talent. Dreamworks does this, Disney does this, Fox does this, and when high-profile movies from Studio Ghibli come out on our shores, you bet that they get a cavalcade of Hollywood stars.

But let's face it, pals: anime is mass entertainment - broad stuff designed to be produced fast and beamed around the world. Outside of Japan, it's not usually the type of media to attract famous actors and artists. But sometimes by chance, and sometimes by design, some pretty famous names have gotten involved with anime over the years. Let's look at nine of the most famous ones.


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The Eight Funniest Recurring Themes in the Original Star Wars Trading Cards

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 6:00 am

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The people at Topps who put together the original runs of Star Wars trading cards had a difficult task. According to Star Wars Year By Year: A Visual Chronicle, the first set of 66 cards appeared in August of 1977, a mere three months after the film's premiere (and right around the time that the first bootleg Star Wars merch appeared in the back of Rolling Stone). There were five sets of cards for the first film, and 330 cards in total. That's a lot of captions and images to try to draw from a two-hour film, particularly one which was lauded for the simplicity of its storytelling and its directorial style.

There were plenty of production stills to work with as well, but there's still only so much blood in any given stone, and they certainly have my sympathies; it reminds me of a horrible copywriting gig where I had to come up with a couple different hundred ways to re-write the same basic marketing spiel for an alarm company. At least the Topps folks got to work with Star Wars.

I'm going to jump around in continuity, mostly because it makes for better jokes, but if you're curious, they were released in this order: Blue (001-066); Red (067-132); Yellow (133-198); Green (199-264); and Orange (265-330). This is all courtesy of the probably-not-strictly-licensed Star Wars Stores site.

1. Exclamation Points Make It Exciting!

It's just a basic rule of English, isn't it? Whether it's a Tusken Raider on a very slow-moving bantha...

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... or just a random shot of Mark Hamill looking concerned.

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Eight Reasons Mulder and Scully Are Actually Terrible FBI Agents

Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 6:00 am

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Many heroes are really bad at their jobs, and for good reason: how many people want to watch a movie about Robocop dutifully standing outside in the parking lot with the rest of his support team while his superiors handle everything? Still, we often willfully forget about the gulf between what we see onscreen and what would probably happen in real life, and in the case (ha!) of everyone's favorite pair of paranormal-fighting G-person lovebirds, it may have been for the best. Because when you get down to it, there's a whole bunch of reasons why, despite their best qualities, The X-Files' Fox Mulder and Dana Scully weren't the sort of agents you'd really recommend for career advancement. I'm not saying they were bad people, bad characters, or even bad at dealing with aliens or demons or ghost rapists or stretchy people or what have you. It's just that, although I've only made it through the first eight seasons, something tells me these guys wouldn't have lasted very long if not for the dense layers of TV magic and fan love keeping them on a regular investigation schedule.

Detailing why this is so is going to be a little more difficult than, say, calling the CSI characters out for not following correct forensic procedure, because a) The X-Files employed a scientific consultant and endeavored to be accurate when possible and b) many times the writers had other characters fully acknowledge the absurd things Fanox Sculder were able to get away with, especially in the later seasons, when that seemed to become a lot more interesting to them than a typical monster story. Mulder and Scully do seem to spend some time on the more mundane aspects of federal investigations, at least more than most television crimefighters seem to. But that doesn't mean that they still weren't hopelessly reckless when it comes to actual FBI protocol (of which I admittedly know very little) and common sense (of which I definitely know little). Obviously, some some seriously expired spoilers follow.


8) They're horrendously high-profile

Quick: name five active real-life FBI agents whose names were the title of a '90s alt rock song. Can't? Secrecy would appear to be a fundamental part of the job for the X-filers' work, yet about ¾ through the series Mulder is described as being too well-known to show his face in Las Vegas, a city famous, of course, for being predominantly quiet and easy to spot people in. The seventh season took this idea to a whole new level, with two episodes in particular treating Mulder and Scully essentially as if they were celebrities first and law enforcement second: "X-Cops" had the agents appearing on national television, and "Hollywood A.D." even saw a movie made about them using their real names. Yeah, the movie was probably a flop, but it's a record of the agents and their work that anyone could theoretically see. By this point in the series, the two of them don't seem all that concerned with the security risks of their names and histories being public, and that's a bit of a problem if your entire job description involves matters of national security (Scully, to her credit, did hate being on TV). Oh, and for the record, part of me does want to see a movie featuring the Richard Gere version of Mulder, if solely on the chance that it might at least be better than I Want to Believe.


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Top Ten Reasons X-Men and Doctor Who Are Secretly the Same Franchise

Monday, July 29, 2013 at 12:05 am

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Michael Corely

2013 marks the fiftieth anniversary of two of geekdom's most beloved franchises: X-Men and Doctor Who. (Avengers can go cry itself to sleep over this snub atop its pile of movie money and co-opted characters.) Despite their seemingly evergreen popularity, reaching this golden anniversary milestone was once thought unlikely as both properties endured protracted "wilderness years" where they were almost defunct. The disastrously schlocky TV movies both had on Fox in 1996 didn't help their odds either.

Now that both are thriving, it's the perfect time for these ultra-liberal sci-fi adventure tales to finally crossover. Or do X-Men and Doctor Who have so much in common that an official crossover would be redundant?

I've noticed a disturbingly high amount of parallels between the two properties. You may chalk them up to zeitgeisty coincidences, but my string & thumbtack collage chart (just like the ones made by every paranoid conspiracist in TV and film) says otherwise. For one thing, Chris Claremont and John Byrne, who were responsible for much of X-Men's classic tales, are self-professed Whovians. It's not a one-way homage though, as Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat, relaunched Doctor Who's showrunners, appear to be secret X-Fans.

I'll be focusing on the core media for each (television and comic books) as there's too much auxillary media to cram into a single post, but here be fifty year's worth of spoilers. Another thing I've learned is that if you ever to synopsize either to the uninitiated they'll realize you're a crazy person. So hold on to your monocles as I explain why X-Men and Doctor Who are secretly the same franchise!


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From The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle to Dallas: 10 Strange Licensed RPGs

Friday, July 26, 2013 at 6:00 am

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As Kevan Davis, Alex Fleetwood, Holly Gramazio, and James Wallis point out In their excellent book The Boardgame Remix Kit, "Almost all board-games based on TV programmes (sic) or films are a let-down. Not all of them, but enough that we can say with some certainty that you shouldn't waste your money." The same can be said of many licensed role-playing games. I have even heard some players say that licensed games are where creativity goes to die. In advancing their argument these players will point to a copy of Justice League Monopoly or one of the many awful Spider-Man video games that have been made over the years, with derision.

It would be easy to draft a list of 10 high quality licensed games (the West End Star Wars game leaps immediately to mind), or 10 licensed games that are just plain terrible (the Big Bang Comics Role Playing Game might make that list). That isn't what I want to do here. It is true that some of the games listed below will be less than stellar games, but others will be quite good. The key to this list is that they will be "strange" for one reason or another. Most of the time they will be on this list because they violate one of these two rules for making a licensed role playing game.

  1. a) Know who your audience is. If you are making a licensed game, it should bring new players into gaming and it should appeal to some segment of the existing gaming population. If it doesn't, you are doing it wrong.
  2. b) Make a quality game aimed at that audience. Not only must the game be good, but it must also have some appeal to the audience for which it is designed. Making a Transformers role playing game that is as complex as Advanced Squad Leader would be insane. Most of those who are fans of Transformers would find such rules daunting, and most ASL fans would scoff at playing giant robots.

Other times, they'll be on the list for the mere fact that they made me go hmmm...

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Eight Reasons Why a Superman/Batman Movie Might Not Be Such a Great Idea

Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 6:00 am

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After the mega-success of The Avengers movie (known as Avengers Assemble to those in the land of Steed & Peel), Warner Brothers has finally started working on a DC cinematic universe so it can eventually make a Justice League movie. Eagle-eyed viewers already saw Superman smash General Zod through a Wayne Enterprises satellite in Man of Steel. On Saturday at San Diego Comic Con, its director, Zack Snyder, revealed his next movie will be a Superman/Batman crossover inspired by The Dark Knight Returns!

This surprise announcement has thrust nerds everywhere into a literal tizzy of the worst sort. (There will be a Flash movie, too. You guys and gals also like Central City's Scarlet Speedster, right?) Most are exhilarated that WB is finally taking concrete steps toward making that long promised Justice League movie. Some are already convinced that this could surpass all of Marvel's Phase Two films.

While a Superman/Batman (there's no chance of them calling it World's Finest, right?) will probably be gangbusters for WB's coffers in the short term, I still think it'll prove to be a bad move in the long run. I'd have much more faith in the project if it was being overseen by veterans of WB's stellar DC animation department. I'm not saying that it won't be an entertaining film, but it does have a lot of hurdles to overcome if it wants to truly set WB's superhero output on par with Marvel Studios. So if any of you have contacts at WB, could you make sure the right people take a look at this list before production gets underway?


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Seven Cool SDCC 2013 Bits of Comic Book News (and 7 We Didn't Get but Should Have)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at 6:00 am

San Diego Comic Con 2013 has come and gone, and although the lion's share of the news items to come out of the convention floor were about movies and television, several major comic book related announcements were made as well. Here are seven of the coolest ones, and seven that would have been a whole lot cooler had they happened as I'd hoped they would.

1. Marvel Announces Nightcrawler's Return in Amazing X-Men

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With the upcoming end of Marvel's Astonishing X-Men title, everyone knew there was an open slot to be filled in the mutant monthly comic slate, and at SDCC 2013 on Sunday, Marvel announced a new Amazing X-Men series, from writer Jason Aaron and artist Ed McGuinness. This book will see the long awaited return of Nightcrawler to the Marvel Universe, after having been killed off in the Second Coming crossover series back in 2010 saving the young mutant Hope. Just like fellow mutants Jean Grey, Colossus, etc, we all knew Nightcrawler would be back someday, and I'm glad Marvel didn't drag it out forever. Because who doesn't love Kurt Wagner? Also, from the previews it looks like they've decided to put Kurt back in his original (and best) costume, as designed by the late, great Dave Cockrum.

The new book will be written by Jason Aaron, whose work on the Wolverine and the X-Men title has led to some of the best and most enjoyable X-Men books since Joss Whedon was on the title. He's bringing along some of Marvel's most recognizable X-persons to the team, like Storm, Wolverine (duh), Beast, Iceman, Northstar and...Firestar? Yes, the mutant created for television back in the '80s to be one of Spider-Man's "Amazing Friends" has found some newer amazing friends to hang with. At least she'll be reunited with her old pal Iceman.

Announcement That Wasn't Made, But I Wish Had Been:

You've got Ed McGuiness as an artist on an X-Men book, and you don't include Colossus as one of the members? Ed McGuiness was pretty much born to draw Piotr Rasputin, in all his giant, musclebound glory, and including Colossus on the team would re-unite the main four "All-New, All Different X-Men" team members once again.

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