Catching Up

Man, I have got to get on a more regular blogging schedule. Sorry for the neglect, folks.

Been a bit of a busy time round my place the past few weeks. Here’s what’s been going on:

Dresden Files RPG

Not a lot happening on this front. I’ve been lurking on the Burner list, and reading some blogs, and of course reading the new cut of the rules. The only real rules bit that’s come down so far has been the city creation stuff, and it’s pretty similar to the version we Bleeders saw. It’s nice to read the list and see that a lot of the Burners are having as much fun with it – and discovering as many cool things about it – as I did.

Mutant City Blues

I’ve had a few people say that they’re interested in trying this, but we’ve had scheduling issues. Summer is actually a pretty hard time to schedule games in our group. Especially pick-up games or one-shots. Many of the people I play with have kids out of school, and vacation trips, and all sorts of other things that come up in the summer. They’re willing to schedule around the regular, ongoing campaigns, but trying to shoehorn in a one-shot is difficult. Hopefully soon.

D&D 4E

I’m working on putting together a 4E campaign to start next year some time, probably after the Player’s Handbook II is released so that there are plenty of option for my players. However, people have been asking me to run a campaign – even a short one – and I wanted to try out the rules and get some familiarity with what works for me and what doesn’t. So, I started a campaign.

I sent out invites to eight people, hoping to get four. I got seven of the eight, plus one person asked to bring in a buddy. Yeah, I’m running with eight people. It’s a real crowd.

We’re using the Scales of War Adventure Path being published in Dungeon Magazine. We probably won’t finish it by the time I’m ready to start the new campaign, but it’ll give everyone a chance to have a taste of the system over a longer term than demos and one-shots. And I’ll get better at the game.

I’m not going to talk too much about the game – we’ve only had one session, and that was very combat heavy. What I do want to mention is the ease with which I was able to beef up the adventure to match my party. The adventure is written for five character; I have eight. It took me no more than an hour to go through and upgrade it to be a fair challenge for my larger party. Mostly, it just involved adding a few extra monsters, but I did have to add some traps/hazards, and I had to level up a solo monster to be a good challenge.

Under an hour. Sweet.

I also had to increase the treasure the way it talked about in the DMG; that took a little more guesswork, because the adventure had 14 treasure parcels to hand out, not the normal 10, so I had to increase the default numbers in the DMG to figure it out, but it was easy.

Anyway, it looks like it’s going to be fun.

The Dark Knight

Man. I love this movie. The performances, especially Heath Ledger’s Joker, are very good. The look is a little (well, a lot, really) brighter than Batman Begins, but there’s still the same sense of urban malaise that you need for Batman.

But the realy treat is the writing. The Nolans just get Batman. They get the rage and the obsession, which are easy, but they also get the hope and the diappointment, which are harder. Lots of times, they don’t come through.

But they do in this movie. You ache for Bruce Wayne fighting against the obsession that is overwhelming his life, all the while knowing that he has to give in to it if he wants to be able to live with himself. There are several moments throughout the movie where he reaches up to the light, hoping to leave the darkness behind, but, in the end, he always goes back to the darkness. He chooses to go back to the darkness. This is especially apparent in the last scene of the movie.

And the twisted, co-dependent relationship between Batman and the Joker is spot on. The Joker even sums it up at one point, saying (and I’m paraphrasing here), “We’re going to keep doing this forever. You won’t kill me because, well, you don’t do that. And I won’t kill you because you’re too much fun!” There are also a number of “jokes” by the Joker that simply happen and don’t get commented on, like the burning fire truck and the sign on the side of the semi trailer during the Harvey Dent assassination attempt. I like that the Nolans trust the audience enough to get these jokes, without having to shine a spotlight on them.

All in all, a great movie. If you like Batman, go see it. Even if you don’t like Batman, this movie may change your mind.

The West Wing

After talking to Jane Brooks, of, at some length about Aaron Sorkin series, I started rewatching The West Wing. I’ve just finished the second season, which ends with one of my favourite episodes: Two Cathedrals. It’s a very powerful episode, with a lot of different threads coming together, and it ends with Jed Bartlet about to announce that he’s going to run for another term. The last eight or so minutes really stand out in my brain, because it’s set over the Dire Straits song, Brothers in Arms, and ends without Jed announcing that he has changed his mind and is going to run.

Another instance of Sorkin’s genius with storytelling, in my opinion. He often doesn’t show us the moment, because that would be anti-climactic. He shows us how you get to the moment, and then backs off to let us finish the job ourselves. He has the skill to lead us along with him, so that we know exactly where he’s going, and the trust to let us go the last distance on our own.

I love it.

GenCon Indy

My friend, Clint, and I are leaving very early tomorrow morning for the drive down to Indianapolis. We’re going to GenCon. Now, this isn’t something new for us – this will be our eighth trip down together, I think – but it looked for a while that I wasn’t going to get to make the trip. It worked out that I can, and I am almost as excited for this one as I was for the first one.

Anyway, I may be able to do some updates from GenCon, so check back. Of course, I may not be able to, so you might be disappointed. But I’ll try. And if any of you happen to be at the show, come on by Booth 1701, where I’ll be doing booth weasel duty for Pagan Publishing and Dagon Industries. I’ll be happy to say hello, and try and sell you some Cthulhu-related merchandise that you really don’t need, but really really want.

That’s about it for now. I promise not to take so long to post again.

I Miss Studio 60

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was one of my favourite shows last year, and they canceled it on me.

Yeah, this is after the fact, and yeah, I know that nothing’s gonna bring it back, but I’ve just been really pining for it lately. And it got me thinking about why I like it, and other Aaron Sorkin shows.

The man’s got a formula for a show, and he seems to stick pretty close to it. Fortunately, I think it’s a pretty good formula, with a lot of flexibility and room for different stuff, but it’s still a formula. Here’s the Aaron Sorkin formula, as I have deciphered it:

  1. Make a bunch of really smart characters.
  2. Put them in a pressure cooker.
  3. Hilarity ensues.

Pretty straightforward, right? Let’s talk about each step.

Hey! It’s my blog! I’ll talk about whatever I want!

1. Make a bunch of really smart characters.

This seems like an easy step, but it’s not. See, Sorkin’s characters aren’t just smart, they’re very smart, but in realistic and believable ways. Also, and this is important, they’re different. So much TV just goes for geeky when they want a smart character – that’s lazy, it’s demeaning, and it has a limited shelf-life. Sure, if a character starts to develop a following, it’ll get fleshed out as the series goes on.

Sorkin doesn’t like that short cut, it seems. His smart characters are not universally geeky. They are like smart people in the real world – successful. They are smart enough to do complex, high-pressure jobs, smart enough to know that they need social skills, and smart enough to dress like real people. Sure, they have their little quirks, but they’re human quirks, quirks we can recognize and identify with.

Matt and Danny in Studio 60 are a perfect example of this. They are both smart, successful guys who can, between them, run a TV show or movie production. Sure, Danny’s a bit of a control freak, and Matt can’t let go of an old girlfriend, and they both hate being told what to do, but they are not geeks and they are not the same. They complement each other, and create an interesting dynamic on screen.

And, even without the pocket protectors, you never doubt that they’re smart, even if they do something stupid from time to time, as we all do.

2. Put them in a pressure cooker.

Sports Night. The West Wing. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. They all revolve around high-pressure jobs, with the characters constantly struggling to put out the fires that keep cropping up. Why?

Stress allows you to explore characters. Characters are at their most interesting when they react under pressure. It’s an old formula. It lets you delve into their personalities, because hidden feelings and thoughts often come out during stressful periods.

Also, it gives you a constant stream of plots. If you establish that a given situation believably has time-sensitive, high-stakes things cropping up all the time (White House, TV production, etc.), then you’ve got a ready-made excuse for whatever you want to throw into the mix. You’ve laid the groundwork (We’ve got to write, rehearse, produce, and broadcast an hour-long sketch comedy show once a week, and the network wants to fire us, and all the actors are nuts, and public relations is a mess, and…), so no one in the audience bats an eye when the Nevada cops come in and arrest one of the actors and drags him off to Pahrump, or all the writers quit overnight.

It’s a bit of a cheat, as well. It allows you to focus on just certain aspects of the world and the characters. You don’t see much of the lives of the characters outside of work. You don’t meet many extraneous characters. You only get the news that affects the show. It gives a believably narrow focus, allowing you to just tell the story you want to tell.

3. Hilarity ensues.

So, now you have smart characters, and situations for them to react to. Go to town.

The nice thing about this combination is that the events can be completely unexpected, because you’ve already set up the expectation of surprises. It gives you a real flexibility to pick and choose what events spawn the stories. And, because the characters are smart, they can respond in a wide variety of ways. Smart characters just naturally have more choices in ways to think about, feel about, and respond to things.

The core of drama is having something be both surprising and inevitable. That means that what you see has to catch you off-guard in some way, but still fit completely with what has gone before. In short, it has to make sense. This is the hilarity ensuing.

It doesn’t have to be hilarious, by the way. Drama works just as well. And Sorkin always seems to have a deft touch in the mixing of the two.

So, that’s why I liked Studio 60, now gone before its time. At least with The West Wing, we got seven seasons.

Oh, well. I’m looking forward to whatever Sorkin does next.