31 January 2011

Fiasco Follow Up

As usual, I am piggybacking on Risus Monkey's posts, this one about his Fiasco play experience.  As I mentioned before, I loved this game.  I found it challenging, entertaining, and a wonderful creative exercise.  I am not really sure why I grokked it better than the Monkey, but it really just struck a chord.  I was the one who initiated a lot of those flashbacks that contributed to the story being so complicated, but I think I remember most of the plot essentials.  I can't do the story justice, nor can I recreate the structure of the narrative or the game (I am not sure anyone could without a complex diagram!), but here's the basic thrust.  I have forgotten names, but Risus Monkey took notes and can help me correct them.

Dramatis Personae:

Riley Coppedge: Small town boy from Manna, Kansas.  Fled to Chicago after high school, became a stock broker, and never looked back. Except in his vow to destroy the town.
David Coppedge: Riley's twin brother.  Local pot dealer and immigrant smuggler.
Yvonne Taylor: Riley's ex-lover.  Took the fall for Riley's embezzlement and did three years in prison.
Sandra Greene: Local attorney in Manna.  Did time with Yvonne.  Does favors for. . .
Gary Pisolowski "Mr Clean": Chicago mafia hitman called to Manna to clean up what turns out to be a huge mess.

The backstory was this, at least according to Riley.  Riley hated Manna, largely due to his brother's popularity and ability to get away with anything.  This reached critical mass when David, pretending to be Riley, seuduced the love of his life (Julie Armstrong, an NPC) on the night of the senior prom.  This shattered Riley.  He left, went to college, moved to Chicago, and ended up as a stockbroker at a big firm with mob ties.  He did some work for the mob, but the company got wind of things.  Riley talked his then lover, Yvonne, a lower level accountant, to taking the fall in exchange for a 200 grand after the jail time.  After she got out, she was supposed to meet him in Manna to collect the money.  Riley also used his mob connections to supposedly get "Mr. Clean" to head to Manna to kill his brother and generally tear the town apart.

Mr. Clean, however, ran into some trouble.  During one of his trips to Manna to set up the operation, he was pulled over for speeding and called Sandra.  She used her "influence" with the local sherrif to get Gary released.  (I honestly don't remember if Gary and Sandra had set up a previous connection, or if Sandra had been connected to the mob some other way).  Later, he inadvertently blew up the Armstrong farm, despite specific warnings from Riley NOT to harm Julie Armstrong.  It was an open question as to how inadvertent this destruction was, as he kept muttering that the Armstrongs were into some "sick stuff."  Fleeing the farm, he ran into David and stashed some stuff behind the propane tank at the Coppedge Farm.

Sandra, tired of all this drama, had contacted an over-zealous member of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.  There meeting, held in the lobby of the Manna hotel (where Riley, Gary, and Yvonne were all staying, of course) was overheard by the nosey, nerdy clerk, who also happened to be the mayor's son.  This poor lad  ealier had a time with Yvonne, who threatened him in order to find out if Riley had made it into town.  He pieced all this together to figure out Riley likely had a bunch of cash in his room.  Taking his master key, he went upstairs to search!

Meanwhile, the KBI agent pay David a visit, based on some phone records that showed a phone call from David's house to Sandra.  That phone call was made by Gary, but the agent hadn't put all that together yet.  The agent went to the farm, started snooping around, and got a shovel to the back of the head for his trouble.

Sometime around this time, Riley met Gary at a local truckstop for a progress update.  Satisfied, he returned to his car, only to be carjacked by Yvonne.  She had followed him from the hotel, convinced that he was trying to pull a fast one.  He promised to take her to the money, which he had hidden in his hotel room. . .

They arrived at the hotel, surprising the mayor's son who was tossing Riley's room looking for the money.  New to the cimiminal underworld, Yvonne accidentially shot him in the face!  Unhinged by her own act of violence, she then shot Riley in the leg, demanding that, not only he give her the money, but promising that he would pay for sending her to prison.  Pay by watching as she executed his own brother right before his eyes.

Which was already in progress by Gary, who had come back to the farm to tie up all loose ends, only to have them unravel again as Riley and Yvonne show up.  Faced with twin brothers, conflciting stories, and the revalation that not only had David had secretly been seeing Julie Armstrong while pretending he was Riley for months, but that Julie was in posession of the rest of the stolen mafia money, they shot David in the leg and made the call to Julie, arranging a meet at the Manna hotel.

En route, they stole a cop car that had Sandra handcuffed in the back (I have no idea how this part worked out).  Pulling into the back of the Manna Hotel, Mr. Clean took David to meet (and presumably execute) Julie.  Alone with Yvonne, Riley promised her his entire stolen fortune, hidden in a Swiss Bank, if only she would let Julie live.  She took the account number and fled into the night, accidentally dropping her revolver as she ran off.

The game ended there, with the epilogue wrapping up at least some of the loose ends.  David died.  Riley was a cripple who spent the remainder of his days in Manna, Mr. Clean was able to put this entire mess behind him and go back to Chicago, and Yvonne made it out with five million dollars.

30 January 2011

Yard Sale Finds?

Yesterday, the family had a yard sale.  Neighbors had put together a big one for themselves and put an add in the paper, then invited anyone else on the street to participate.  We threw some stuff we no longer needed on a folding table and set it up in our driveway.

What's this all have to do with gaming?  I've never really shopped yard sales, but have this dream that I'll wander into one and find some gaming gems -- the original printing of City State of the Invincible Overlord at the bottom of a stack of Life Magazines from the 1970's.  The closest I have ever come to this was finding a Moldvay 1981 Red Book in a hardware store in my hometown that also had some antiques tucked in a corner.  I can imagine yard sale shopping can be fun; it's something like hunting for hidden treasure.

Has anyone nabbed a cool gaming item (or anything else fun and interesting) from a yard sale?

28 January 2011

Old School Hack

I am currently on the verge of obsession with Old School Hack.  Created by a friend of mine, it seems to hit a very nice sweet spot between old school sensibility, story game philosophy, and contemporary game design theory.  I say "seems" because, admittedly, I haven't played it yet.  I've seen it played on several occasions; if it weren't for the damn traffic on I-85 I would have played in a pre-release playtest.  Curse you, outlet mall!

I am scheduled to run a session of this game next week for some folks here and am really looking forward to it.  I am also already thinking about how to hack Old School Hack for the WWII pulp game I hope to run someday.

26 January 2011

Pennington's Pleasantries

First, go to Risus Monkey and read his recap of our Risus game at NC Game Day.  Then, imagine Sir James Pennington, wonderfully attired in his dinner jacket, taking command of the doomed Venutian cruise liner and radioing for help.

Pennington's Exchange of Pleasantries

Pennington had the "Haven't we met somewhere before" cliche.  He was a ladies man, so this represented his charm.  I also thought it would be useful in developing contacts that could help us in the adventure.  Up until this point, he had only used it to gain some arm candy in Darla, a rescued passenger.  I had hoped she would turn out to be an engineer or a ninja or something, but I did not roll high enough.  This exchange was me playing out the cliche, with the hopes that it could help us evade the moon men pursuit.

I certainly don't remember this word for word, so there's a lot of additional material here. I've also forgotten the NPC names. But the exchange went something like this:

Pennington:  Hello?  I am Sir James Pennington.  I've taken command of the Venusian Queen which is being attacked by Moon Men.  I'd like to point out that this is entirely unacceptable.  I will likely be taking my next vacation using some other means of conveyance.

Venus Command: Venusian Queen?  This is Lieutenant Smythe of Venus Command. You are under attack?

Pennington:  Smythe?  Reginald Smythe?  This is James!  We were at Exeter together!

Smythe: James Pennington?

Pennington: Yes, lad!  Remember?  I came to your cousins wedding. 

Smythe: James!  Jolly good to hear from you!  How are things?

Pennington: Great, great!  Well, we are in a bit of a spot now, what with the moon men and ship out of control and all.  But I am doing splendidly!  How's the family?

Smythe:  Splendid!  My parents have settled into their country estate.  Sarah's engaged to some London barrister.

Pennington: Ah, your sister!  Quite fetching, as I recall.  Pity she's getting hitched.

Smythe: Yes, well, he is well respected.

Pennington: Still, too bad.  Look, not to be too forward, but we are under attack by these moon men and this bloody ship is on fire.  Is there something you can do?

Smythe: Well, to be honest, James, we're in a bit of a situation ourselves.

*Giant Explosion*

Pennington: What was that?

Smythe: I said we're in it ourselves!  The moon men are shelling Venus Command!  I am afraid there's nothing we can do for you!

Pennington: What?!  That's unacceptable, Reggie.  Surely there must be something!  Who is your commanding officer?

Smythe: Admiral Harlowe.

Pennington: Harlowe!  He plays whist with my parents!  Tell him I need to speak with him at once.

*More explosions and shouting can be heard over the speaker.*

Smythe:  The admiral says if you maneuver your ship within range, we can use the orbital batteries to fire on your pursuers.  He also said to give his best to your parents.  He might not make next months Planetary Ball, however.

*screaming and explosions*

Pennington: Good show, Smythe!  I knew I could count on you.  We'll come to you straightaway.  Best to you and the admiral.

25 January 2011

Old School "Modern" Role-Playing?

Does anyone know of a old-school type rules set geared toward a "modern" (non-fantasy) setting?  I am thinking something like Stars Without Number, but 20th-Century pulp or espionage instead of sci-fi?  Magic would be confined almost exclusively to NPC's.  PC's would be two-fisted adventurers, spies, or scholars of esoteric lore.

Is something like this out there?

24 January 2011

NC Game Day

This weekend, I ventured north to NC Game Day.  I've been attending this event for about eight or nine years now.  Three times per year (in fall, winter, and spring) folks gather at NC State to game; it started as an idea on ENWorld and grew from there.  As a semi-regular, I've gotten to know some folks a bit and really look forward to visiting and gaming.  This time, the crowd was small, as it usually is at the winter Gameday, but I brought most of my family along.  We also met Risus Monkey and his family there as well, reuniting at least a portion of my old Virginia gaming group.

As I've come to expect, I played in two awesome games Saturday.  In the morning, I played Sir James Pennington, IV, spoiled noble traveling to Venus, in Risus Monkey's Moon Solider's Must Die Risus game.  We successfully (if inadvertently) delivered the card-shark assassin to her target on Venus.  Sure, we may have destroyed the Venutian Space Liner in the process and laid the seeds for civil war on Venus, but those are minor quibbles compared to the mighty triumphs of kicking Moon-Men butt while properly attired.  Clothes were a big part of Sir Pennington, you see.

The afternoon session was an eagerly-anticipated game of Fiasco.  I've wanted to play Fiasco for months and could think of no better place to play it than at NC Game Day with Risus Monkey and other experienced gamers.  If you haven't heard of it, Fiasco is a GM-less story game that emulates the convoluted, profane messiness of a Cohen Brothers film.  Our session had both profanity and messiness in spades and was generally a riot.  I was concentrating on playing too much to take any notes, but I hope Risus Monkey posts a session recap.  Fiasco has a brilliant set-up system that semi-randomizes important elements of character and play (relationships, things, needs, and places), but then sets them all on the table for everyone to see and build a story from.  The story-building strikes a very nice balance of cooperation and competition between players; we all had to work together to move the story forward, while we were all also working to position our characters to come out ahead in the end.  That didn't work out so well for my character Riley Coppedge, as he ended up a cripple, stuck in the small town he had sworn to destroy.  Serves him right, I guess.

We used a lot of flashbacks in our Fiasco session.  Likely they were over-used, as we created an extraordinarily complicated timeline that inevitably collapses into its own plot holes with careful examination.  Having just read Robin Law's post about a different way to spin drama, however, I began thinking.  Could Fiasco be played in reverse?  Let us begin with the ending, or at least the penultimate scene.  Knowing how the story ends, then it falls to the players to figure out how everyone gets there, working within the constraints to facilitate drama and entertainment.  I am not a game designer, but I really wonder what sort of system could help bring this about.

20 January 2011

Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire

Well, it happened.  Risus Monkey called me out on my slowness in getting around to the next chapter of The Hobbit.  I have, though, completely redone the first year experience at my university, so that has to count for something.  Maybe not in gaming-blogger land. . .

Without further ado, here's this chapter.  Because he got to it first, I think I'll directly respond to some of RM points:

  1. Gandalf's Foresight: While I think it's certainly present, his utter failure to see and recognize the One Ring seems really out of place.  He has his suspicions that something is up, even in this chapter, but leaves it alone.  I suppose this can be written off as trusting to Fate, which is an underlying theme of all the works.  I really need to think about this theme further as it applies to the hobbits and Gandalf.  It seems as if Gandalf brings Bilbo along for a reason, even if that reason isn't clear even to Gandalf.  So, he's trusting in something beyond his immediate ken (his own intuition, Fate, God) that he's doing the right thing.  It will be interesting to track Gandalf's trust in this as we progress through the books and to look at Fate as a theme.  (Example: Gandalf doesn't want to go into Moria in Fellowship.  It's not clear if he really knows about the Balrog, has some foresight of his own death there, or if it's just "bad feelings"  Gandalf falls, but is brought back in the necessary form to finish the fight against Sauron.  Did he then have to go into Moria for everything to work out?)
  2. I picked up on the human settlements as well, which I had forgotten about (along with the rockslide).  I had always pictured this part of the world as wilderness.  
  3. I had also forgotten that this whole situation was a lot of bad luck.  Bilbo et al just happen to stumble into the wolf/goblin conference room at the appointed meeting time.  I also like the idea of the wargs being smart, evil, and intelligent on their own and not just the mounts of goblins.
  4. Speaking of the goblins, what about the songs?!  The image of goblins piling brush under the dwarf-trees, singing with malevolent glee, is a wonderful one with a lot of game take-away.  Most of the time, my humanoids are fodder, nameless hordes to be chopped up into little bits.  They would be much more memorable with a little personality!  I think Paizo's Classic Monsters Revisited is wonderful for this.
  5. I'll disagree with the Monkey on the "noble animals" theme as reoccurring., at least according to my memory.  You get a lot of intelligent animals in The Hobbit (eagles, Beorn's, spiders, birds), but I really don't remember very many in the LoTR (except the eagles again).  The animals are one of the things that make The Hobbit more of a child's story, in my opinion.  And I don't mean that in a derogatory way at all.
I'll end with the last line of the chapter, which I found interesting.  Bilbo is asleep in the eyrie and dreams that he is back home, but wandering "into all his different rooms looking for something that he could not find nor remember what it looked like."  What do we make of that?  Foreshadowing Bilbo in Smaug's lair?  Bad dreams from the Ring? 

18 January 2011

A Gaming Ethical Conundrum

I've found myself thinking about games set in World War Two recently, due to some recent reading and my general gaming ADD.  I think I've got the seed for a fun game; I hope to talk more about that in the future.  For now, though, I want to publicly poke at some personal feelings, bordering on an ethical problem, that arose as I brainstormed about the game.

Simply put: when is a game disrespectful to those who actually did or lived through the things one is playing at?

In the WW2 game I'm considering, I had imagined a scenario where the PC's would be able to help a family of Jews escape the Nazi occupation of Paris.  As a scenario, it could be quite good -- lots of tension, covert operations, fast-talking, connecting with the Resistance, eluding and laying the Allied smack down on Nazis.  I had all sorts of avenues planned in my head.  But then I had a thought: what if the PC's fail?  Well, we all know what happens if they fail -- the Jews get sent to Dachau or somewhere equally horrible.  That doesn't make for a fun game.  Then I had another thought -- what would a Holocaust survivor think of a bunch of people sitting around a table, playing a game that, at some level, tried to simulate aspects of one of the greatest tragedies of human history?  Sure, the gamers are all playing on the right side, but the mere aspect of making it a game seems disrespectful somehow.  The more I thought about it, I could imagine the same reaction from a combat veteran of D-Day, or the Tet Offensive, or any sort of actual conflict where real people, people who could easily be sitting at the table with us, died.

Some of this is historical distance, at least for me.  I don't get the same ethical willies if I think about, say, medieval games or even games set prior to the 20th Century.  But when I start to think about effectively pretending to be fighting in wars my grandparents and uncles fought in it feels different.

My solution for the WW2 game is to make it more supernatural -- Nazi's with magic (a la Hellboy), which distances it from real life.  But I am wondering if anyone else has felt this to be an issue?  Or, is it (once again) me making a problem out of something that's supposed to be simple and fun?

12 January 2011

Forgotten Songs Retrospective -- "Goblins and BloodBirds"

This is another installment of the commentary track for Katja's Diary.  It covers session 8 of our D&D 3E game that we played from 2001-2003.

Good Lord, I was a horrible DM!  Having just gotten almost killed in Roth's well, what the party needed was an easy win -- a small victory where they could do something good and feel good about doing in.  Instead, I hit them with stirges and a goblin ambush.  I was not a nice guy.  And I don't mean that in a "Heh! Wasn't I a rat bastard!" sort of way.  I really look back on these sessions and am chagrined at my poor encounter design and lack of understanding of pacing.

The party had been warned about the stirges at the Bridge of Da Degra beforehand, by both Roth Farstrider and the folks at the Inn of the Western Way.  The goblins were a planned encounter.  It wasn't supposed to be terribly difficult, but rashness and poor tactics on the party's part made it harder than I wanted it to be.  By this time, I should have anticipated Kreed charging ahead and not sticking with any sort of plan.  Again, everyone almost died.  This caused player frustration, as channelled through Boaz toward Katja and the others.  I remember that Boaz's player had come up with a very elaborate plan for dealing with the stirges, a plan that wasn't followed very well and (of course) didn't anticipate the goblins.  I've no doubt that this plan came about due to the party's marginal victories in the past few sessions; Boaz's player was no doubt feeling the group simply wasn't performing well.

That player not only tried to whip the group into shape, he also had plenty of advice for me.  Immediately after Roth's story in The Blue Notebook, I have a two page printout that I am pretty sure came from Boaz's player.  It has stats for hobgoblins, worgs, and goblins taken from the MM and a seven-step order of battle on how the goblins ought to act whenever the party tried to cross the bridge again -- so I suppose this was given to be after session 8 but before session 9.  It includes lots of conditionals ("if the party delays in crossing bridge, go to step 5" and handwritten notes (again, from Boaz's player) about relevant modifiers for cover, spot checks, and the like.  I don't remember how I took this when it was given to me, but looking back at it now it seems, well, presumptuous is probably the nice way to put it.  It is, in effect, a player telling the DM how the foes ought to behave.  Am I right in thinking that sort of behavior seems slightly out of line?  Not that it mattered, as the goblins simply ambushed the party at night because the party camped within sight of the (hidden) goblin camp.

The goblins were there in order to show the party that there was organized humanoid activity in the region. This activity was directly tied to the Temple of Oghma in ways I will reveal as the party (unwittingly) stumbles across more of their plot.

Oh, this also features Bix using his whip for the first time!  Love the whip!

10 January 2011

Forgotten Songs Retrospective -- Roth Farstrider's Well

Here continues the commentary track for Katja's Diary.  I have to increase the pace of my comments, as Risus Monkey is almost finished with the posting of his entries!

I am not sure why Risus Monkey had to miss the session when the Outsider's Aegis ventured back into Roth Farstrider's well, but he missed a doozy.  My notes on that session are very spotty, but I remember a running fight with the kobolds that led to an underground lake.  In that lake lived the kobold's "god" an underdark monstrosity I concocted based on the aboleth.  That monster itself was entirely too tough for the party at this level, so I stripped it down.  Even so, the adventure almost resulted in a TPK.  The aboleth would grab party members and drag them into the lake.  There was bull-rushing of both friends and foes into the water, as well as the kobold priest casting spells and other kobold sneakiness.  As I recall, there were only one or two party members left conscious (Bix was one, I think) and they actually had to spend the night in the caverns, waiting for Boaz to heal sufficiently enough to cast spells.

Upon the advice of Cthulhu's Librarian, I've scanned in Roth Farstrider's story and have posted it below.  Perhaps this is the convrsation Katja had while the others were almost getting killed down in the well.

The Story of Roth Farstrider 

"I was born in a small village on the eastern edge of the Cimbrian Lands, past the dwarven realm of Thorindel, near the lands of the Einherjar. The village, called Fil'Thannath, was home to about 600 souls. Me family was the Lucullann's, a clan who had served the MacFinnan's from time out a mind. I used to wander about with Colbthach MacFinnan, the Lord's warden. "Twas he who taught me to use sword and bow. 

I left Fil'Thannath after spending 19 winters there. Colbthach had formed a Fianna to hunt the orcs that had been raiding our lands for several winters. Colbthach, meself, two of Colbthach' s cousins, an Einherjar priest of Thor who called himself Vosguod, and a wizard from the White School named Rivello, set out north and west to hunt orcs. 

For over five years we wandered, hunting orcs and other evil when we found it. We came to call ourselves the Wandering Swords, though Vosguod used a hammer and Rivello never picked up a blade in his life. Can't very well call yourself the Wandering Hammer's though. Sounds like a bunch of damned out of work blacksmiths. 

Anyway, we did some good, I supposed. Killed a giant who called himself Kraggart. He was gathering an orc army and trying to set himself up as king or some nonsense. Colbthach's cousin, XXXXXX, was killed in that battle. That must have been over sixty years ago. 

Not too long after the battle with Kraggart, the Wandering Swords disbanded. Rivello had some wizardly business to attend to, Colbthach wanted to settle down ... you know how it goes. 

Vosgoud and I traveled together for a time after that, performing tasks his church would ask of him. We retrieved the Gauntlets of Siggda (a famous priest of Thor) from the white dragon Frostmarrow far to the north in Kelvalla. A band of warriors calling themselves the Dragonslayers helped us in that quest ... 

After a few more years I was getting restless and I realized I was getting restless for a home, for a wife and children. I went back to Fil' Thannath, which had grown to a small city since I had left. I met and married Siobahn McShae, whose family was from Eastern Cimbria. She was a lovely woman, with fiery red hair and a beautiful voice. She sang like no other I've ever heard ... 

Siobahn and I moved back to her family's lands, south of here in the lands of Connaught. We had a happy and quiet life. Our daughter, Laura, was born a few years after we moved back. She was a strong and fine lass, with hair just like her mother's and a temper to match. 

We farmed a bit and I hunted and taught other's sons how to use a sword a shoot a bow. I taught Laura, too, though she seemed to have little taste for the wandering life. Suited me fine. 

Siobahn was taken, along with many others, by the Plague of Ossuth when Laura was fifteen. Some say it was some cult of disease that let the plague loose. I was torn up, but Laura's strength helped me through it. 

She fell in love about two years later with a young man named Ulster MacCormac. He was a good lad, strong and kind - not bad with a sword, but a fine singer himself. The two were married and moved to Ulster's family lands about Duma Cormac. They insisted I come with them. I was happy too. 

We lived in peace for several years. Eammon was born a little over a year after they were married, Siobahn two years after that. I was happy to be a grandfather and to live a quiet life. 

It was not to be, however, for the Frostwars Came. Orcs, giants, and worse came down from the mountains and Mydrall. They had been growing in power and fierceness since the dwarves fled their caverns and it finally boiled over, I guess. Although most of the fighting was to the west, the Cormac lands saw their share of raids and fighting. Ulster heeded the calling of the Cormac banners and went to fight orcs. Just doing what I would have done in his place, I suppose. He was killed driving the orcs out of the Grenwylde Pass, to the north and west of the Thoralien Forest. It broke Laura's heart. The Freezing Sickness took her two years later, about 25 years ago. 

Eammon and Siobahn were fostered with Ulster's family, who offered to take me in as well. But I needed to wander again, to see trees and mountains. My sword arm had grown weaker, but I still had some skill with a bow, and knowledge of plants and tracking. I would wander for a time, then return to visit my grandchildren. During those wanderings I roamed about the Thoralien Forest and found it's strange and quiet ways to my liking. Ulster's brother, Rodhri, helped me build this modest house here about eight years ago, here on the edge of the forest. Eammon is away down south with The Rider's of Callas - he's a fine warrior. He stayed the winter with me, just past. A good lad, if maybe a bit headstrong. He's used some of the money he has earned from his travels to buy an inn in Duma Fafni. Siobahn is the other partner and runs it. It's called the White Rider. She does quite well, I think. No one is going to push her around, that's for sure. I was down there last summer for a bit, but the city is just too crowded for me these days. No, I am content to live out the rest of my days here at my cabin, for the most partprobably don't have too many days left anyway. I just like the quiet and the simple and don't need much excitement. Definitely do not need some aboleth-like creature in my well, anyways. 

09 January 2011

Original Harcomb & Environs Map

As you can see, it was pretty rough.

 Obviously, I added a few things when I made the conversion in Hexographer.

07 January 2011

Riddles in the Dark

 This is part of a public reread of The Hobbit (and eventually, the entire Lord of the Rings).  Comments on chapters 1 and 2 can be found here.  Entries about chapters 3 and 4 can be found at Risus Monkey.  Anyone is welcome to participate!  Just let us know which chapters you wish to cover.


I think one could make the argument that this chapter is the most pivotal in the entire Tolkien corpus.  Bilbo finds the ring!  The rest is just either leading up to this moment or resolving what problems this moment brings about.

Regarding the gaming inspriation from this chapter, the most influential part for me was always the riddle game.  I remember trying to guess the answers to the riddles that Bilbo and Gollum posed to one another and feeling very smart when my 6th grade self got them right.  Riddles always found their way into my games and I loved it when, as a player, I had a riddle to wrestle with.  Within the chapter, the riddle game becomes the principal means of communication between Gollum and Bilbo; they both understand it's sacredness.  I also think it's interesting that Bilbo effectively cheats to end the game.  "What have I got in my pocket?" isn't a riddle; both Bilbo and Gollum know it.  I wonder if one can't read the fact that Bilbo cheats at a sacred contest as an early malign influence of the ring.  Of course, that may be simply externalizing Bilbo's own, well, lesser traits.

A second thing that this chapter brings to light is Hobbit Luck.  It's mentioned before, but hasn't really come into play very much until now.  Bilbo is at his wits end, stumped by the "time" riddle, and blurts out the answer by chance.  He answers the fish riddle only because a fish jumps and lands on his hairy feet.  We see Bilbo getting saved again and again by luck, to the point where I wonder if it isn't some supernatural, almost quntifiable force.

Considering Tolkien's writing, one of the things that jumped out at me here was the fact that we have an unreliable narrator, one that actively contradicts himself (or, at least, witholds relevant, interesting, and potentially useful information from the reader).  Consider when we first meet Gollum.  The narrator tells us "I don't know where he came from, nor who or what he was."  Yet we get more facts about Gollum and his history even in this chapter! As the riddle game begins, we learn that such a game was the only one Gollum played "with other funny creatures sitting in their holes long, long ago before he lost all his friends and was driven away."  Gollum answers the "eye in a blue face" riddle by remembering when he lived in a hole on a riverbank with his grandmother, who we later learn sucked eggs.  I think it's an interesting stylistic choice for Tolkien to adopt a narrator's voice that feigns ignorance yet clearly knows The Whole Story.  It's almost Gandalf-like.  Though there are other things (like the mentions of The Red Book of Westmarch) that suggest Bilbo himself is the narrator.

Other notes:
  • In Fellowship, when Gandalf chastises Frodo for not having any sympathy for Gollum, he mentions it was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand.  We see that, almost verbatim, in this chapter.  Bilbo could have stabbed Gollum, but imagines what it's like to live as Gollum does, and leaps over him instead.
  • As Risus Monkey mentioned earlier, orcs and goblins seem to be used to refer to the same creature or, at best, different kinds of the same creature.
  • I had forgotten that the first edition of The Hobbit has a different version of this chapter, one that is explained away in the forward to Lord of the Rings.  An interesting comparison of the two versions can be found here.

06 January 2011

Forgotten Songs -- Local Map

Playing around with Hexographer today at lunch and created a simple map that roughly corresponds to the first eight or so entries in Katja's Diary.  I had a very rough map sketched out in the Blue Notebook already.

05 January 2011

Happy Anniversary

Nine years ago today, I was extraordinarily blessed to be married to my best friend.  Happy anniversary, Sarah!

The ceremony was beautiful, I was nervous, and we had a frozen margarita machine at our reception.  Cthulhu's Librarian and Risus Monkey were there.  It was wonderful.

04 January 2011

Princess School

My three-and-a-half year-old daughter has firmly entered into the "princess stage" which, I suppose, is as good a gateway into fantasy and imaginative play as anything else.  We're working hard to insinuate into her little brain the idea that princesses don't always need saving and that they can rule kingdoms, fight dragons, and do other princess-y things without the aid of any prince.

Tonight, we had "princess school", taught by my daughter.  She lined up chairs in the living room and sat her dolls and her mother in them as she began her instruction, dressed in a blue, frilly Cinderella dress she received for Christmas.  I was the prince, holding my class in our bedroom.  My pupils (Pablo from the Backyardigans and Curious George) did not seem terribly interested in my lecture -- "A Refutation of the Marxist Critique of the Feudal Economic System or Why Princes are Better for Everyone" (this is what happens when you have a professor for a dad).  My wife, however, informed me of the elements covered in the class on being a princess.

What You Need to Be a Princess (according to my Princess Daughter):

  1. Golden Slippers
  2. A Magic Wand
  3. A Pumpkin that Turns Into a Carriage
  4. A Fairy (to turn said pumpkin into said carriage)
  5. A Crown
  6. A Prince Who Cooks You Dinner
  7. Fancy Gowns
Princess Duties:
  1. Dancing
  2. Helping Out The People of the Kingdom
As good as any, I guess.  I can imagine a light RPG scenario where the PC's have to find those princess elements for some (real or delusional) princess who is seeking to ascend to the throne.

03 January 2011

With Great Power. . .

I am trying valiantly to get back into the swing of things.  I am a creature of habit, of routine and, as much as I enjoy breaks from work and spending time with the family, falling out of one routine and into another means things that need to be maintained (like the blog) aren't as kept up as they need to be.  Thus, the lack of activity here.  To get going again, here's a short post inspired by, of all things, The Backyardagains.

The Backyardagains is a kids show where four anthropomorphic animals get together and play pretend in their backyards.  It's my favorite show that my three-year-old watches, followed very closely by Curious George.  It's cute, clever, and features lots of nods to geek pop culture that I appreciate.  In one recently watched episode, the hippopotamus pretended she was a newspaper photographer who was also a superhero, with appropriate nods to both Superman and Spider-Man. 

This got me wondering -- what if Peter Parker never became Spider-Man?  He still gets bitten by the spider, but for whatever reason, he has no inclination to put on tights and save anyone.  Nor, say, does he have any inclination to put on tights and make a profit (whether from wrestling or robbing banks).  Instead, his inclination is to just figure out his new abilities and use them in the context of his normal life as best he can.  Peter just becomes a good athlete, an excellent photographer (since he can climb walls), a solider, or a cop.

I realize that Peter's decision to become Spider-Man is the result of his failure to intervene to stop the robber that kills Uncle Ben, but that decision only makes sense in the context of a world where being a "super-hero" is an option.  I guess I am trying to explore a line of thought where "hey, I could put on a mask and fight crime!" just doesn't occur to Peter Parker.  If you think about it, that's a really odd angle to pursue, even if you realize that you have great responsibility with your great power.  It's much less odd once we see that Peter lives in a world where plenty of people chose the "super-hero" path, so for the purposes of the thought experiment we can say Peter doesn't see Captain America in action or walk past the Baxter Building on his way to work at the Bugle.

I've never played any significant amount of supers games, but this may be an interesting thread to play with within the context of a game.  One player has powers, no one else does, and part of the conflict comes from figuring out what those powers mean in the context of the world.

Hmmm. . . that sort of sounds like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, at least before we found out that everyone else is a wizard or a werewolf or something.