Sunday, February 7, 2016

An Occidental Asian Geek: The Hardy Boys

It is hard to overestimate the impact of my Saturday trips to the bookstore with my grandmother. Every single Saturday, her day, she'd take my sister(s) and me to a bookstore to buy at least one book.

One of my early reading genres centered around mysteries, and I suppose that's where the Hardy Boys came in.

The Appeal of the Hardy Boys

Setting aside for now why a Filipino boy would identify with two brothers set in a generic American city, somehow continuously getting into adventures -- let me lay out why I liked 'em.

  • Brothers and friends: early in Grade School, with only three channels to watch (and usually only one good thing to watch on any given night, if lucky), there was a lot of time spent with siblings, cousins, friends and sorta friends doing stuff. This makes it natural to want to go on adventures with them -- especially when you're young and think you're immortal.
  • Semi-autonomy: with their famous detective father, Fenton, usually gone, Frank & Joe often get to do stuff that they can't do when given a direct order by their parent. Aunts and Uncles giving orders were often loopholes because they weren't parents; the important thing is that they could go out and do stuff without technically violating their dad's wishes.
  • Be a detective: as a kid with little true influence or control over their lives and the world at large, there's a bit of wish fulfilment in the areas of righting wrongs, being recognised for it, and cleverly outwitting the adults committing crimes. Also, it was great to be exposed to the (somewhat outdated, somewhat stereotypical, sometimes accurate) work of a detective.
  • Collector Mentality: somehow, the appeal with the episodic nature of the books, and the great appearance of these books on a long shelf, made me very focused on completing my collection (and reading every single one).
  • Cozy Adventure: of course, the concept of a different adventure every novel was fantastic. I loved having that feeling that the boys and their friends were in danger, but -- in the back of my head -- I always knew the rules that the heroes never die, the heroes never lose were enforced and I just wanted to see how they'd get out of their scrapes this time.
Someone Like Me

Okay, here we go on the Filipino angle on this bit of Americana. Arguably, there's no way that one can concievably think that either of the Hardy Boys would look like me. But somehow I identified with it.

Sure, there is a strong influence of the U.S. over our culture: TV shows imported, books brought in, American Top 40 countdowns on our radio. But I felt that a large part of it was that child(ish) desire for independence, for relevance, for autonomy in my life and a sense of adventure.

And yet, the American Dream was very much imported into our country (as it has been into many countries), so there's a bit of that also in certain places. The dream of a stronger middle class, rather than that horrible gap between the rich and the poor; the dream of a better functioning system of law & order; the dream of a world where the guilty will ultimately be found and punished.

So is it possible that I can't really draw that line of division easily because of that long-standing influence.

However, I do recognise that this series of novels really did draw me into the world of Pulp adventure tropes -- and I liked it, and look fondly back on it these days. I'm curious to see if I can catch that old TV Show and see how it holds up.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

On the Radar: Joe Dever's Lone Wolf


There is a game available on Steam, Google Play, and the iOS app store that takes the classic Lone Wolf gamebook experience and upgrades it for the digital age! It's called Joe Dever's Lone Wolf, and the free 1st chapter I've tried on my iPad is awesome!

There's that great thrill of 'creating' your own iteration of Lone Wolf -- primary stats, Kai disciplines, weapons, simplified and enhanced on the tablet. It still has that storybook feel -- right up until the moment you encounter combat, or have to use an ability, or have to pick a lock.

So, yeah, you don't select a random number these days. There's some skill involved -- but hey, you can upgrade gear and stuff too. And the combat engine is fun to go through. Your Kai abilities also help you out more in combat now (I like doing the Darth Vader on nearby objects on my opponents using Mind Over Matter), especially one ability which seems better than Healing in combat.

Lockpicking is a pain, though. Getting the hang of it.

Friday, January 22, 2016

An Occidental Asian Geek (preamble)

While it is true that much of my perception of the America was gleaned through the popular culture that reached our little South East Asian archipelago's shores, I also realized that much of it was also shaped through my particular areas of interest:

  • Science Fiction Movies, TV Shows, Books
  • Fantasy Movies, TV Shows, Books
  • Pulp Movies, TV Shows, Books
  • Comic Books
  • Cartoons
  • and, of course, RPGs

Therefore, once in a while, I'll be posting about my musings on these influences on my life and what I learned / mis-learned from them -- and how they reflected on my gaming life as well.


Upcoming posts in this series are:

An Occidental Asian Geek: Holmes, Poirot, and Marple
An Occidental Asian Geek: Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and the Three Investigators
An Occidental Asian Geek: The Fabulous Five and The Secret Seven
An Occidental Asian Geek: Peanuts
An Occidental Asian Geek: Trust Your Feelings, Luke
An Occidental Asian Geek: He's dead, Jim.
An Occidental Asian Geek: Doctor Who?
An Occidental Asian Geek: Agent 007 and Agent 00
An Occidental Asian Geek: Melancholy American Music
An Occidental Asian Geek: Two British Invasions

Saturday, January 2, 2016

2015: Year of the Hamill

Mark Hamill -- who hasn't been idle since the original Star Wars trilogy, by the way -- seems to have had a banner year. He appeared in the movie Kingsman: The Secret Service not as himself (to be truer to the comic book source material), but as a new character called James Arnold.

He also reprised his role of the Trickster on The Flash TV show, and -- as shown on the internet (and in the movie, of course) -- he has once again stepped into the shoes of Luke Skywalker in the latest episode in the new Star Wars movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Though he may be in there only to pass the torch, it's good to see him in the franchise again.

Hamill, of course, is a genuine fan of many things geeky so it pleases me to see him active in two of my favorite fandom arenas (DC Comics and Star Wars).

Time to fire up my old Batman: The Animated Series vids to get a good helping of his other spectacular role, as the voice of the Joker.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2016: The Year of D6 and Diceless Gaming?

2015 was largely eaten up by other priorities. But this coming year I plan to post a lot more regularly.

Oddly enough, my game reading has begun to follow a pattern that may help in promoting RPG play in the Philippines (in some small way). And that is: studying games whose mechanics use regular d6s, cards, and/or tokens.

The games currently taking up digital space in my tablet for reading are:
  • Night's Black Agents
  • Lords of Olympus
  • Lords of Gossamer and Shadow
  • Champions Complete
  • Fiasco
  • FATE (Core and Accelerated)
Projects involving these for next year include:
  • A FATE treatment for the Calidar setting
  • Night's Black Agents + Dracula Dossier + Doctor Who setting (Torchwood / U.N.I.T. special ops crew vs. vampires)
  • A continuation of the Lords of Olympus in Mystara idea
  • Lords of Gossamer and Shadow + Doctor Who + TimeLords + Sapphire & Steel mashup

One can dream, yes?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

You All Meet In An Artisinal Taco Bar

From ChicagoMag's article on Chicago Taco joints.
The much-maligned trope of a party meeting in a bar often gets addressed by suggesting other ways that the party (regardless of genre) is pulled into the action. However, there are benefits to meeting up to get briefings in public places:
  1. Unless the person briefing you has their own facilities, there is often a need to find a place to talk business. 
  2. Even if the person briefing you has their own place, if the proposed activity is shady (or needs to be deniable), then it makes sense to meet elsewhere -- someplace where nobody knows your name.
  3. If, however, the person briefing you has little reason to stick their neck out, he/she/it may opt to have a meeting on neutral ground (probably with some backup) in order to stay safe.
What other options are there to the classic bar meet-up? One only has to think of the many places that freelancer briefings (or Multi-Level Marketing meet-ups) are held, why they are held there, and how these might be able to add to your adventure or campaign.

Favorite Cuisine

It could be a traditional Japanese restaurant, a run-down but consistently delicious hotdog bar, or a trendy Filipino-Asian diner. The benefits for this kind of venue are:

  • little world details: you can talk about how this kind of cuisine is prepared in your setting -- how popular it is, how difficult it is to get ingredients, how the ethnic mix is handled in the city you're in, and how well-known it is in the local community;
  • varied clientele: it could have a more working-class slant to its patrons, or perhaps a strong tourist segment that shows up on the weekends, or even a crowd of regulars who can advise the PCs about the person they're meeting with, and give warnings
  • interesting interruptions: perhaps the next course arrives just at a point of much needed suspense, or maybe you can establish a mini-subplot of a wrong order that pays off later in your adventure (misheard order, reversed numbers), or even introduce those sometimes annoying birthday songs for another nearby table just as the client you're meeting with is getting to the good part.
Generic Coffee Shop

A counterpoint to the sometimes seedy, sometimes oh-so-cool bar meetup is the relaxed and painfully crafted atmosphere of a leading coffeehouse chain. The benefits for this venue are:
  • contrast: relaxed, friendly atmosphere of the baristas and patrons vs. the subtle menace and mystery of your client and her mission;
  • fauxnanimity: don't they always ask your name after you order your drink? It may catch some players off-guard and force them to either reveal their true names or give obviously false ones;
  • strange mix of patrons: in the modern world, there are people who are just hanging out, others who are getting ready for their full day of work, others who are dealing with angst and breakups, others on dates, others who are working at the coffee shop, and others -- who are there to keep an eye on the PCs and are painfully bad at it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Let's Read: The Dracula Dossier (Operation Edom: Eyes Only Briefing)

After the Foreword and the biblical quote referring to Lillith and Edom, we run into a short, succinct inciting incident for the whole campaign:

"In 1893, a visionary British Naval Intelligence Department spymaster codenamed 'Peter Hawkins' launched a plan to recruit the perfect spy: a vampire."

I can already see the scene with the crew, hunted by vampires and their thralls, knee-deep in sorting out warring conspiracies, then having this little nugget of info dropped in their laps. Cue the swearing, shaking of heads, and sarcastic revisitings of the ironic phrase: "What could possibly go wrong?"

And then, we're treated to a two page summary of what has happened as a result of the green lighting of that audacious, perilous decision from 1893 to the present. It is at this point that I run into one of my weaknesses -- dates and timelines.

A naked year or date often makes my mind go blank, unless I get lucky (or someone helpfully tosses out a name, incident, or location), as I scramble to establish the context. Fortunately, as I went through the general broad eras of the campaign, there were helpful labels that I kept in mind as I read the overviews of multiple generations of operatives somehow continuously thinking that the inciting incident above idea was a good one, and might just need some tweaking to make it work this time.

So, to my mind, the eras were:

  • Classic Dracula (actual book subtitle: Bold Experiments)
  • World War II (actual book subtitle: Desperate Measures)
  • The Cold War (actual book subtitle: Hidden Hunts)
  • Modern Day (actual book subtitle: Black Assets)

One thing that also made it difficult to follow, my date / timeline weakness notwithstanding, was the necessary vagueness regarding key events during these eras. Since the actual events and conspiracies will be filled up in the conspyramid as the sandbox investigative campaign moves on, most of the unfolding events in the summaries were done on broad strokes, to leave space for the players and the Director to play in.

Reactions to Classic Dracula


"A meet was set and made, a safe house and a headquarters in England prepared. Then it all started to go wrong."

This is the one I'm most comfortable with, as it's the type of stuff I expected from the main premise -- the novel Dracula being a sanitised version of the original after-action report of the failed op. Some historically resonant names and links to Bram Stoker. I do like the references to earthquakes coinciding with vampiric power, even if I'm not so sold on telluric vampires yet.

It seems to me that part of the joy of playing in, or uncovering the events in this era would stem primarily on how the true events diverged from the fictional account.

Reactions to World War II


"Rather than bring Dracula to England, however, this time the plan was simply to let him out and turn him against the Hitler-allied Antonescu government — if necessary, to back him as Romania’s new leader."

Quite on board with using Dracula in time of desperate need for Britain, when it was alone in Europe against the rising tide of expansionist warfare. However, my lack of knowledge in the lesser known theatres of war during WWII make it hard for me to envision what happened here, beyond the generic SNAFU labels and Murphy's Law invocations. (Note: read up on Antonescu and Romania in World War II).

At this point, tempting as a Dirty Dozen meets Castle Dracula exploit might be, this seems to be more of an interesting era to uncover clues, history, and trace how certain artifacts found their way into the hands of modern operators. It's the closest era, of course, to the original Edom operation -- and many innovations in modern espionage have their birth during this time.

Or perhaps one of the capstones at the end can serve as a climactic ending for this era?

(Aside: funny, I'm getting a hint of a Blackadder vibe to each era as a season. The same souls drawn back into each era as Dracula re-emerges to further his plans?)

Reactions to The Cold War


"Edom needed to find Dracula’s leavebehind network in London — after all, the analysts realized in retrospect, he had had months to build it back in 1894, and the power to keep it alive long after his seeming demise."

The closest era to modern day, and the classic espionage era (James Bond, I-Spy, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., George Smiley, and a certain novel known as Declare). And while Edom was certainly questionable from the beginning, the background of this era -- with mole hunts and double agents and defections and betrayals -- makes it very inviting to run. Of course, my relative ignorance beyond cinematic tradecraft would hamstring me a bit, but for me this is the quintessential Government Spies vs. Vampires period. It should be noted that I have memories of a vampire in a Starsky & Hutch episode, so even a U.S. interlude or two wouldn't be out of place.

At this point, however, the campaign seems very daunting. Starting from the modern era and working backwards seems like more of a challenge than the chronological play-through -- but then, how would the actual Dracula Dossier artefact be used?

Then again, since I'm barely into the book, I'm sure that these questions and more are addressed later.

Reactions to Modern Day


"She began to keep her own record, annotating the Dossier as her predecessors had. She gave herself the workname “Hopkins” as she annotated the bloody fingerprints of Edom — and the trail of corpses left by Dracula."

Oh, there it is -- the narrative hook explained. Since Night's Black Agents is more of Jason Bourne meets Dracula, there is more of that independent operator vibe here.

Right now, it occurs to me that the introduction of Dracula has to be handled very well -- the campaign bears his foul name, after all -- and he cannot be introduced as campy or as a joke. Somehow the tone has to be sustained as the players are brought into the campaign and peel away the layers of secrets and deaths to be presented with choices and threats.

It also seems to be that, given this two-page set of broad stroke events and 'secrets' of the default campaign background, both the initial era and the modern era are most clear in my mind. The middle eras are a mess of questions and actual historical events and classic tropes for now in my mind.


I may be detouring from the linear reading of the back. Definitely need to see the proposed defaults and spines, but then I may jump ahead a bit to see some juicy characters, locations, and macguffins before returning to the earlier sections.

We'll see!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Let's Read: The Dracula Dossier (TOC and Skim)

The Dracula Dossier is a massive reading endeavour. In addition to the Director's Handbook, there's the Dracula Unredacted document, and Hawkin's Papers. So where to start?

Director's Handbook

Started with this, because it promises to provide the overall framework of the campaign and should explain how Dracula Unredacted (the original after-action report that was redacted and rewritten into the novel we know as Dracula) and Hawkin's Papers (various in-game artifacts and in-game documents that help reveal the mystery) fit into the running of the game.

I suppose that when trying to understand how to run what is essentially a sandbox investigative game (!), it's best to understand what the default / likely scenario(s) will be, before attempting your own spin.

As usual, I did a quick review of the Table of Contents (TOC) and skim through the pages, to get my bearings -- an overview, identify areas of interest to skip ahead to, become familiar with terms.

Table of Contents

Foreword, Operation Edom, How To Use This Book

Comfortingly, the first few chapters and sections do take the time to quickly explain what all the books are used for, what the default campaign might be like (with suggestions for variety and customisation), and some key questions that a sharp-minded Director might want answered right away, before going any further (such as: "In Life, Which Historical Figure, If Any, Was Dracula?").

The 1894 Network, Opposition Forces, People

Then, it moves on to detail the various characters from the 1894 Network and to the modern era. The book gives options for each character being exactly what they seem to be, or as an agent of Edom, a minion of Dracula, or some other twist that will not only keep your Players on their toes, but will offer satisfying twists and turns to your campaign.

Nodes, Locations, Objects

There is a LOT of material here for allies, enemies, third parties that may or may not oppose you. There are also fleshed out Nodes (organisations, corporations, conspiracies) to complicate matters for your players, various key Locations across Europe and in the United States and Israel that your players may want to visit (or be spirited away to), and some Objects of interest that may provide clues (like Renfield's Journal) or valuable anti-vampire utility (like Vanderpool Garlic) or unwanted violent attention due to its value (like the Cameos of Dracula).

Scenario Spines & Capstones

There are three scenario spines provided (London Heat, Covering Our Tracks, For the Dead Talk Fast), all of which give Directors a good idea of the types of scenarios that can be used to introduce players to the overall campaign, and give a feel of how some improvisation might go while running it.

There are four capstones provided (Zalmoxis Rising, Dracula's Mill, Russian Roulette, The Tomb of Dracula) which give you options, or perhaps seed ideas, on how you can end your overall campaign on a climactic note.

All these are structured in such a way that it makes comparing and comprehending the materials relatively straightforward, even as a Director might already be planning modifications to the materials provided.

Campaign Frames, Looking Glass: Bucharest, and Indices

The Campaign Frames are interesting -- apparently some non-traditional / high-challenge level campaigns for the advanced Director -- but will require more detailed analysis when I get to it.

Looking Glass: Bucharest gives some much-needed detail to this exotic campaign location.

Indices helps you find things in the book, that you might need at a critical campaign prep (or game running) juncture.

Overall

Seems like a very meaty book to dive into. So, we'll get to that in the next instalment!





Friday, November 13, 2015

On The Radar: Equinox

The Equinox RPG (www.equinox-rpg.com) by Vagrant Workshop is out. But wait -- it was already out in 2012, right? And then out again at the end of 2014 (right when I started my new job, which is probably why I missed it)?



A bit confused, but will figure it out later, because there are several books for it:

Based on naming conventions, some of the write-ups, and the bundles in RPGNow (see below), there are at least two different rulesets (Match System or Storygame) for the setting:
Also, according to the Setting Guide, you're free to approach the setting (if you didn't already know that you're allowed to used whatever ruleset you want) with you whatever ruleset you want:

"You should be able to play in the equinox setting with any generic game system available. Cortex, D20 Future, Fate, HERO, GURPS, Savage Worlds, Open D6, TriStat, Unisystem, etc—all of these feature all the mechanics needed for this and come with guidelines for adapting futuristic settings. Just add a shot of magic!
In case you seek to make your adaption 'official:' we’re open for submissions. Contact us and we’ll find a way to get your rules adaption out in the open."

Sounds like a plan. Time to add these to the read pile! Setting first, of course.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Philippine Gumshoe: Smaller & Smaller Circles

Stepping away from the more fantastic elements of Gumshoe to a straightforward procedural hunt for a serial killer, my immediate instinct is trying to set it in a local setting. Sadly, there aren't many local novels that stray into genre fiction. F. H. Batacan's Smaller and Smaller Circles is one of those rare books.

When F.H. Batacan first published Smaller and Smaller Circles—now acknowledged as the Philippines’ first crime novel—she was calling for a revolution. Or maybe two. 
Early in Batacan’s prizewinning novel, the hero-sleuth, Jesuit priest and forensic anthropologist Father Gus Saenz, reveals his personal dream of overturning the popular national myth that there are no serial killers in the Philippines... F.H. Batacan also started a literary revolution by producing what is now widely acknowledged as the first Filipino crime novel. In the decade that has passed since its publication, others have begun to follow suit, and now the genre is burgeoning. (from the Soho Press blog

The idea of having the a priest as the protagonist / detective in the Philippines is an interesting one, as it affords some latitude for the 'amateur sleuth' archetype in the predominantly Catholic country. They  have a measure of respect that allows some access to otherwise prohibited locales of people, and their position in the political landscape of the Philippines affords them some protection from some of the ensconced powers-that-be.

Also, the nature of local crime scene investigation is exposed as being somewhat behind the more modern U.S. and U.K. approaches, rationalising why observation, deduction, psychology, and ground-pounding work are more than valid in a modern world where TV shows like C.S.I. became a phenomenon.

Perhaps more similar amateur detective archetypes can be thought up for a Philippine Gumshoe campaign.

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