Thursday, November 13, 2014

Lovecraft and the World Fantasy Award

HP Lovecraft (from wikimedia)
I've been following some of the debate around the World Fantasy Award trophy for various forms of fiction being a bust of HP Lovecraft. The controversy seems to have taken off when Nnedi OkoraforNigerial-American Nnedi Okorafor one the award for best novel in 2011. Another writer, Daniel Jose Older, began a petition for the bust to instead honor African-American writer Octavia Butler.

Why the controversy? As it turns out, Lovecraft was a racist. I would say he was one even beyond the standards of his time, a far from enlightened time, which saw the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan (an organization he professed to admiring). You can sense his fear of corruption from mixing of the races throughout his works. "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", probably my favorite Lovecraft work, is a particular example of this, with interbreeding between humans and Deep Ones. I'll let one of Lovecraft's poems speak for itself:

On the Creation of Niggers  (1912)by H. P. Lovecraft 
When, long ago, the gods created EarthIn Jove’s fair image Man was shaped at birth.The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;Yet were they too remote from humankind.To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,Th’Olympian host conceiv’d a clever plan.A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,Filled it with vice, and called the thing a Nigger.

Similarly Lovecraft wrote in a 1931 letter to James Morton:
Now the trickiest catch in the negro problem is the fact that it is really twofold. The black is vastly inferior. There can be no question of this among contemporary and unsentimental biologists—eminent Europeans for whom the prejudice-problem does not exist. But, it is also a fact that there would be a very grave and very legitimate problem even if the negro were the white man’s equal. For the simple fact is, that two widely dissimilar races, whether equal or not, cannot peaceably coexist in the same territory until they are either uniformly mongrelised or cast in folkways of permanent and traditional personal aloofness.

Was he a product of his time? I hear that a lot and I'm not so certain. Compare him with Samuel Clemens who, writing as Mark Twain, grew to abhor the American past of slavery and the racism which continued after it. Shelley Fisher Fishkin's article Mark Twain's Inconvenient Truths explores how Clemens grew to moral awareness as an adult concerning issues he had been ambivalent about. She writes:
When Twain began writing Huckleberry Finn he thought he was writing another boy’s book, a sequel to Tom Sawyer. But Twain soon found himself with several hundred pages of a manuscript like no book anyone had ever written before. It was about a child who grows up in a world in which no one—including that child—questions the God-given legitimacy of a society in which people who think of themselves as supremely civilized endorse a system that is uncivilized, illegitimate and inhumane.

One can argue that it is not fair to judge Lovecraft for not transcending the values of his day. For example, one can find a rather casual form of racism in Victor Appleton's Tom Swift stories. The African-American character of Rad fulfills a number of negative stereotypes and exists primarily to show how kind Tom Swift is to help out such a foolish and lazy character. At the time I suspect it was well intentioned but to modern eyes it can make for an uncomfortable read.
"What's the matter, Rad?" Tom asked. 
"Mattah, Mistah Swift? Why, dere's a pow'ful lot de mattah, an' dat's de truff. I'se been swindled, dat's what I has." 
"Swindled? How?" 
"Well, it's dis-a-way. Yo' see dis yeah lawn-moah?" 
"Yes; it doesn't seem to work," and Tom glanced critically at it. As Eradicate pushed it slowly to and fro, the blades did not revolve, and the wheels slipped along on the grass.
"No, sah, it doan't work, an' dat's how I've been swindled, Mistah Swift. Yo' see, I done traded mah ole grindstone off for dis yeah lawn-moah, an' I got stuck." 
"What, that old grindstone that was broken in two, and that you fastened together with concrete?" asked Tom, for he had seen the outfit with which Eradicate, in spare times between cleaning and whitewashing, had gone about the country, sharpening knives and scissors. "You don't mean that old, broken one?" 
"Dat's what I mean, Mistah Swift. Why, it was all right. I mended it so dat de break wouldn't show, an' it would sharpen things if yo' run it slow. But dis yeah lawn-moah won't wuk slow ner fast." 
"I guess it was an even exchange, then," went on Tom. "You didn't get bitten any worse than the other fellow did." 
"Yo' doan't s'pose yo' kin fix dis yeah moah so's I kin use it, does yo', Mistah Swift?" asked Eradicate, not bothering to go into the ethics of the matter. "I reckon now with summah comin' on I kin make mo' with a lawn-moah than I kin with a grindstone--dat is, ef I kin git it to wuk. I jest got it a while ago an' decided to try it, but it won't cut no grass." 
"I haven't much time," said Tom, "for I'm anxious to get home, but I'll take a look at it." 
Tom took hold of the handle, which Eradicate gladly relinquished to him, and his trained touch told him at once what was the trouble. 
"Some one has had the wheels off and put them on wrong, Rad," he said. "The ratchet and pawl are reversed. This mower would work backwards, if that were possible." 
"Am dat so, Mistah Swift?" 
"That's it. All I have to do is to take off the wheels and reverse the pawl." 
"I--I didn't know mah lawn-moah was named Paul," said the colored man. "Is it writ on it anywhere?"

Such controversy still continues with modern writers. For example, Orson Scott Card has written some fantastic science fiction, including the classic Ender's Game but at the same time I find his views against homosexuals reprehensible. I personally find it much easier to separate my enjoyment of Lovecraft's fiction from his racist views than I do with the works of writers who are still with us. Put simply, Lovecraft derives no personal benefit from my support. He's been in the grave for decades and left no heirs. On the other hand, every Orson Scott Card book I purchase provides him with some financial benefit.

As far as do I feel ok enjoying such works, absolutely. It is possible, in my opinion, to enjoy a work on some merits yet nevertheless disapprove of it or its author on others. I suspect D. W. Griffith felt that way about his own work, the KKK-praising The Birth of a Nation, as his next film was Intolerance, showing the effects of intolerance in different time periods.

As far as the World Fantasy Award honoring Lovecraft goes... I wonder if it is advisable to honor anyone aside from the winner in such an award. I absolutely understand this awkwardness and hurt this can cause winners. I've heard the argument "well they don't have to accept the award if it offends them" but I don't think that's fair - if writing is your profession you should not be in the awkward situation of refusing an award that can boost your standing in that profession. It would be one matter if a Lovecraft-themed organization were presenting an award but for a genre-based award it does not even seem necessary to me to tie the award to anyone. Again, make the award about the winner, not the racial views of a long-dead writer.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Remain Calm. Trust in Science. Atomic Robo Overview.

My gaming group has been experimenting with Evil Hat's Atomic Robo RPG. I've been itching to try out Fate for ages. I'm somewhat surprised to discover Aromic Robo as the setting, being as it is a comic book series I only had peripheral awareness of. Essentially, what I'd heard of the RPG as a good introduction to Fate got me to check out the RPG, figuring even if I didn't use the setting I could mine it. But the RPG is designed to greatly emulate the comic which caused me to go on a Comixology binge and obtain all of the digital Atomic Robo collections. I was hooked pretty quickly.

I'll be talking about the RPG in the future (I hope - I also still plan on writing about some of the Delta Green stories I've read and my update frequency has been horrible of late.) Here I'll want to talk a bit about the Atomic Robo comics.

Atomic Robo is the creation of writer Brian Clevinger and artist Scott Wegener. Atomic Robo is the creation of Nikola Tesla, "born" in 1923. The comic books follow his life through different eras of history. Though physically he does not change, Robo's personality does change depending on the era. Stories set in the 1930s have him acting like an older teen rebelling against the father he still loves. The 1940s see lots of war stories, with Robo matching up against Nazi super-science. After the death of his father Tesla Robo founds the Tesladyne Corporation which evolves into an organization dedicated to science - action science. Lots of smashing things, dealing with various threats such as horrors from other dimensions, leftover Nazi superweapons, mobile pyramid monsters, artificial intelligence dedicated to destroying all life, etc. As he grows older Robo becomes more confident of his ability to handle crises and becomes a mentor to the employees of Tesladyne (though still often goes out in the field, being near indestructible).

The key to these stories is both the planning and execution. The stories bounce throughout Robo's life. Some all take place in one period and others span multiple periods, such as when he confronts a monster  from beyond space-time. The creators have mapped out (and even published) this timeline, avoiding the dreaded cosmic retcon so common to comic books. Beyond the great planning the stories are just fun to read. They embrace the eras they are set in with guest stars like HP Lovecraft, Charles Fort, Thomas Edison, Carl Sagan, Bruce Lee, Annie Oakley, etc. The stories are optimistic - to quote the creators -
ATOMIC ROBO is not a comic that will be 100% sunshine and jokes, but we aren’t going to delve into melodrama either. You are not going to see Robo mope about his lack of emotions, or pine to be human, or throw a tantrum over daddy issues.
The creators also have a "no cheesecake" clause. Women are drawn will realistic proportions and wearing realistic clothing. Women Action Scientists wear the same outfits in the field as their male counterparts, an all female fighter squadron in the aftermath of World War 2 wears normal aviator clothing with their mechanic wearing a non-formfitting jumpsuit. I do wish they would make use of more historical female characters - the historical domain guest starts have been overwhelming male but the original female characters have been written and drawn excellently.

The stories have a love of science. That seems obvious but with all the mistrust placed on science in the political arena over the past several years it is refreshing to see. We see Tesla embracing failure as a step in the path to knowledge. The stories don't shy away from the fact that science can be used to build weapons but our heroes use science for the betterment of humanity (even when they destroy things with science - they're bad things!)

And the stories themselves are fun to read. Lots of action, fun dialogue, and awesome baddies. My own favorite is Dr. Dinosaur, an intelligent time-traveled velociraptor right out of Jurassic Park. He claims to be a velociraptor but Atomic Robo doesn't believe him, pointing out he's little in common with the fossil record and a lot in common with Jurassic Park. Robo suspects him to have been genetically engineered but as of now his origin is still a mystery. However he's always a blast to read with his obsession with crystals and his bizarre logic.

I can see why Evil Hat wanted to do an RPG based on Atomic Robo. Fate, with its emphasis on narrative play and player control is an excellent fit for the setting.

Reading what I've written it seems I've written a commercial for the comic book. No one asked me to - it's just a ton of fun. And the good thing is you can check it out for free - the Atomic Robo website has its Free Comic Book Day comics archived. Also if you use the ComiXology app they have the Free Comic Book Day comics for free as well as all issues and collections. Completed stories are also collected into volumes which you can find at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.

Friday, March 14, 2014

RPG Review: The Big Crime

This post isn't a first impressions review of the new Spectrum Games RPG The Big Crime.

A few disclaimers. The first is that while I've never met one of the authors, Cynthia Celeste Miller, she is someone who I've corresponded with a lot on Facebook and I admire a great deal. Moreover, our interests are pretty close together - 80's cartoons, comic books (especially of the Silver and Bronze ages), etc.

The second disclaimer is more administrative just in case I never get around to a more full review reflecting actual play or additional details (I have some Delta Green reviews I'm meaning to do as well). Life of late has been more intense than usual. My wife's school closed down at the end of last October and being a person who has anxiety problems in the best of times, the last few months have been rough. The past week or two has seen an improvement - I've been paying more attention to my own mental health and my wife has secured a long-term sub position that starts next week which has been preceded by being a daily sub for that school. Plus she's been working part-time as a tutor. Meaning money has gotten a bit less tight but time has gotten awfully crazy.

Anyways, let's talk about The Big Crime. It is an RPG dedicated to mimicking the film noir genre. Films of the 1940s and 1950s. I can't say what the book is physically like as I only have the PDF. It's a book of 183 pages with a fairly small page size and a largish font. It looks nice - not so large that you think they're trying to increase the page count but keeps this dude's aging eyes from straining. The background is a rather appropriate gray and it is heavily illustrated with some very appropriate public domain images of the city, criminals, detectives, etc. The size of the book makes it work nicely with smaller sized tablets like my 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX. My only real annoyance with the presentation is its lack of bookmarks - as someone who has become increasingly digital over the past several years, I really prefer PDF files that are well-bookmarked. Makes "flipping" through the book much easier.

The book begins with a discussion about what film noir is. This is probably more needed here than it is in other genres as it is a term that gets thrown around a lot. There's a quote about characters that I really that I think sums up rather well who you'll be playing:
For the most part, the characters in film noir were normal, everyday people just like you and me. They weren’t action heroes in the modern sense, nor were they always individuals that could easily be labeled as “good guys” or “bad guys”. Those concepts were relatively rare in film noir. No, the characters found here were normal folks, albeit normal folks with a turbulent future ahead and, just as likely, a turbulent past as well. In most cases, they were flawed (sometimes cripplingly so) and morally questionable. The characters had gambling problems, alcohol addictions, abusive tendencies, hateful demeanors, or a weakness for dishy dames with long gams.
There's also a list of eight essential film noir examples, with an eye towards making them useful for gamers. They are:

  • The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
  • Double Indemnity (1944)
  • The Big Sleep (1946) - one of my favorite films!
  • Raw Deal (1948)
  • Scarlet Street (1945)
  • Born to Kill (1947)
  • Out of the Past (1947)
  • Touch of Evil (1958)
The game system is designed to closely emulate the genre. There's deliberately no rules for advancement which may be a sticking point for some, though examples of film noir tend not to have sequels and even if someone like Philip Marlowe appears in multiple films there is no attempt at continuity between them. Like many RPGs, adventures are intended to be broken into three acts though unlike most RPGs the rules ratchet up the level of danger from one act to the next.

Characters have several types of traits:
  • Shade - How deep a shade of grey is your character
  • Abilities - Normal RPG stuff like Body, Finesse, Smarts, and Spirit. Three ratings - Poor, Normal, and Good.
  • Aspects - Skills for the most part. Each is attached to a specific Ability and is binary - you have it or you don't.
  • Temptation Tracks - Measures how corrupted you are in Guilt, Desperation, and Alienation.
  • Hooks - Three things that make you unique. Can be physical traits (in a wheelchair), related to your background (war veteran), goals, personality, or psychological problems. You get rewarded in Genre Points for playing these out.
  • Genre Points - A sort of hero point tool for the game.

When acting you roll a variable number of d6, d8, or d10. Poor gets d10, Normal gets d8, Good gets d6. By default you roll four dice, though Aspects, Temptation, and other circumstances can add or subtract from the dice you roll. You are trying to get as many matching sets as you can. 

The game supports different kinds of scenes with its rules:
  • Drama Scenes - Verbal interaction, with a goal of trying to get your opponent to collect four setback tokens. Nice to see verbal sparring given as much attention as physical. Bogey is a master of this.
  • Fight Scenes - Whipping out he guns and fists, again trying to give your opponent setback tokens.
  • Chase Scenes - Just what it says on the tin.
To improve your odds in the short-term you can give in to various temptations - but doing so requires acts of betrayal, dirty tricks, immoral actions. 

Genre and Director points allow the PCs and Director (the GM) to modify the game. As the game goes into different acts the Director gets more points. In Act Two PCs become vulnerable to death (and Act Three may prove a bloodbath - after all the protagonist does not always win in film noir). There's rules for replacing PCs in a hurry should you lose one before the climax.

Next up are rules for character creation. Your characters Shade plays into how much (if any) temptation you start with, you've got various rules for tweaking your characters, and Special Rules - a lot like stunts in Fate RPG - where your background gives you various rule-altering abilities.

After this we've got guidance for PCs and Directors - probably more useful here than in many other games as it discusses various genre conventions and how best to inject them into the game. The Director guidance includes advice on both creating the mood (camera tricks, sets, characters) and on how to build your own films (adventures). 

Finally we've got "Search by Night", an example film ready to play. Speaking of examples, one thing we've got in this whole book that I really like is lots of examples after a rule is introduced. 

Impressions? This looks like a fun game to play. It is strongly dedicated to emulating its genre. I'm not sure of its suitability for long-term play but I'm also not sure that's even an intention of the game. But I could easily see running numerous one-offs with this game, perhaps all related to one another, sometimes using the same characters or rolling over characters from one story to another. The film adaptation for Frank Miller's Sin City comes to mind as I think of it. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get my cigarette, whiskey flask, fedora, and trench coat.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Remembering Aaron Allston

Aaron Allston passed away this past week. Allston was a prodigious game designer and author. In the roleplaying world he was best known for his work for Hero Games, TSR, along with Ghostbusters International for West End Games. He later moved on to producing fiction, best known for writing several well-received novels set in the Star Wars universe.

For many in the gaming world he is best known for his Hero Games work but I was most familiar with his work for TSR, most notably being the force behind three of the most noteworthy D&D products of the late 80s and early 90 (along with several other products he wrote):

  • GAZ1: The Grand Duchy of Karameikos (1987)
  • Dungeons & Dragons Hollow World (1990)
  • Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia (1991)

The Grand Ducky of Karakeikos was a detailed look at the default starting area of play in the D&D "known world" (later renamed Mystara). The Hollow World gave us a good measure of pulp with the lost civilizations of the known world (as well as dinosaurs) finding their way into the inside of the globe.

It was the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia that was his masterpiece. My brother and I, both D&D fans, wondered how he got TSR's ok to produce it. While the AD&D 2nd edition game was just beginning to produce its first "splat books" the Rules Cyclopedia for the parallel D&D game was (and remains) one of the most complete gaming books ever made. Over 300 pages of small-font rules, optional rules, monsters, other planes, magic items, information on the default setting, paths to immortality. Armed with that one book you could have a complete game lasting for years and years. It was not an introductory book that gave you the basics and expected you to move on to other books - it was incredibly complete. Allston took nearly two decades of D&D games and versions and consolidated it into the most complete version the game has ever seen (or has seen since). Wizards of the Coast has been reprinting many of the old TSR versions of D&D and AD&D - I really hope this is something they get around to reprinting.

Eventually Allston moved on to producing fiction - some of it his own, the bulk of it being media tie-in fiction, largely in the Star Wars universe. I'm not a huge consumer of media tie-in fiction, though once upon a time I was. I did I followed the early Star Wars tie-ins like Heir to the Empire but the volume was far more than I could keep up with, something that became especially true when the New Jedi Order series came out. Allston wrote the Star Wars novel Betrayal, taking place after the New Jedi Order and he had the difficult challenge of launching a new series that would be accessible to people who were not familiar with much of what had gone on before. I actually did read Betrayal several years ago and found it an enjoyable read, showing the first steps of a man going down a dark path with the best of intentions.

I never had the opportunity to meet with or correspond with Mr. Allston but he made contributions which brought me a great deal of joy - indeed, which continue to do so to this day.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Film Review: The Warriors

New York actor Roger Hill passed away about a week ago according to the New York Daily News. He was best known for playing Cyrus from the 1979 film "The Warriors".

I first encountered "The Warriors"on television in the 1980s. It was a perfect movie for me. By this time I was settled in Connecticut but still had a healthy love for my native city of New York and still went back there quite often to visit and stay with family. I have prints of old maps of New York City in my house here in Massachusetts - one of Colonial-era New York and another of the 1970s New York City Subway map. What got my attention as I was channel surfing was the frequent scenes taking place in the subway. 

"The Warriors" tells the tale of a gang (named the Warriors oddly enough) that travels from their home turf in Coney Island to a meeting of gangs in the Bronx. They have been assembled under a flag of truce by Cyrus, leader of the biggest gang in the city. Cyrus has a vision of bringing all the gangs together and taking over the city. However the meeting falls apart as Cyrus is assassinated and the police raid the assembled gang. And worst, unbeknownst to the Warriors, at least at first, is they have been blamed for Cyrus' assassination. All the gangs are gunning for them, as are the police, with their home in Coney Island far away.

The story itself is inspired by the Greek soldier/writer Xenophon's tale Anabasis, a tale of Greek soldiers serving as mercenaries under Cyrus the Younger in Persia. With Cyrus' death the Greeks find themselves deep within enemy territory.

One of the things which makes "The Warriors" notable is its portrayal of New York City and its gangs. The gangs are very stylized with little attempt at realism. They tend to be multiracial with firearms extremely rare. They are also very stylized. For example you've got the Baseball Furies, dressed like a strange cross of baseball players and mimes and armed with baseball bats. The city is New York at its worst. Graffiti everywhere. It is not the New York of the glitzy Times Square that emerged in the 1990s but rather the New York of the 70s and 80s with everything falling apart and someone out at night is considered to have been "asking for" any tragedy which befalls them, 

Almost the entire film takes place at night, with the sun only rising as the survivors reach Coney Island (with one final confrontation to face). The rest of the film takes place at night, with sparse subway stations, parks poorly illuminated and dark streets with stores and bars closed and barred shut.

Our protagonists aren't the nicest people, often looking for fights, one member of the Warriors going after a woman in a park with an intent to at best harass her and far more likely to rape her should she prove unreceptive to him. 

Yet despite, or perhaps because of, this bleak setting and morally-lacking protagonists, it is an absolutely engaging film. You find yourself rooting for them and against the police which are, quite correctly, after them. 

To geek out a bit in keeping with the main subject of this blog... How does the film work for those in the gaming world? I think it's a pretty darn good inspiration. It immediately brings to mind the various White Wolf World of Darkness games. Vampires from Vampire: The Masquerade or Vampire: The Requiem would fit right into this setting. Werewolf: The Forsaken has the concept of territory of utmost importance, much like it is to the various gangs of "The Warriors". And most White Wolf games would recognize the concept of belonging to a certain "gang" (or tribe or clan). Though it is a near-modern setting, the likes of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser would fit right into the New York of "The Warriors" and would understand the ethics the Warriors operate under. Truthfully it also models your typical roleplaying group rather well - as the gang conclave falls apart and the Warriors lose their leader and they are being chased by police they still manage to find to argue with each other as to who is in charge - hello inter-party conflict.

Regardless of whether you're looking for inspiration or just a fun film "The Warriors" is well worth your time. Can you dig it?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

No Power in the Verse Can Stop Me - Thoughts on Firefly Gaming

Yes... Yes... This is a fertile land and we will thrive. We will rule over all this land and we will call it... This Land.
- Wash, Firefly Episode 1: "Serenity"

With a new Firefly RPG out this month I've been rewatching some episodes of the sadly short-lived television show. There's a decent chance I'll at the very least be taking it for a spin - I have some pretty good memories of the the older Serenity RPG, the basis for which Margaret Weis Productions (MWP) created the Cortex System. Cortex System had a decent amount of similarity with the Savage Worlds RPG.

With the Smallville RPG, the Cortex System evolved into Cortex Plus. Though the character sheets might look rather similar, the engine changed quite a bit to be a far more "narrative-based" RPG. For example, one of the most important aspects of a character in Smallville is his or her relationships with other characters. For example Clark Kent could use his rating in his relationship with Lex Luthor in his interactions with Lex or in other situations where that relationship could be helpful. While the Cortex System seemed somewhat similar to Savage Worlds Cortex Plus seems to be more a cousin to the Fate RPG.

So how does this relate to a Firefly game? To my mind there's two broad ways you could run such a game (I'm pretty sure one could rattle off a lot more as well as find hybrids of what I propose.) On one hand, you could run, for lack of a better term, a gearhead type of game. Careful tracking of the multiple stars, planets, and moons in the Verse, tracking money, fuel consumption, etc. This is the model one finds in countless Traveller games and I remember similar logic when using FASA's Trader Captains and Merchant Princes supplement for their Star Trek RPG. The appeal in such a simulation is as a player you can truly get a feeling of being in control of one's destiny, of making decisions which have a logical outcome. On the other hand, there are some players who find such a simulation as exciting as a tax return.

The other side of the coin is to try to simulate the drama of the television show. Serenity is short on funds because it is interesting to be so. Simon can persevere against incredible odds not primarily due to skill but out of the love he has for his sister, River. From reading the pre-release materials for the new Firefly RPG it is clear that this is the direction they have taken. Their previous Serenity RPG certainly had this in mind but the mechanics dud not fully embrace this the way the new Firefly RPG does. The trick I find with such games is to avoid a game where the players serve as actors in a story defined by the GM. The players really need to have the ability to drive the narrative themselves, to scatter the designs of the GM in all directions (Dan's GM-ing Secret Number 38 - I actually enjoy it when players in my games go massively away from what I've planned - it's a huge challenge to be sure, but awfully fun.)

What would I do with a Firefly game? Probably the first thing to decide would be if I wanted to run a Firefly-like game or a Firefly game. For example, one could very easily create a similar setting, perhaps more customized to one's individual tastes. The Diaspora RPG, using the Fate engine, excels at creating a setting for your group - a cluster of systems linked by jump routes. The group shares responsibility for defining the systems of the cluster. Despite being a very narrative game, it embraces fairly hard science fiction. One could also shamelessly borrow the cluster creation of Diaspora while going for a more space western feel of Firefly.

Going away from a narrative game, one could simply whip out Traveller and very easily construct a sector with a strong resemblance to the Verse in Firefly, whether in the Official Traveller Universe or in one's own setting. A sector recently brought under one government with some disagreement as to if that is a Good Thing.

Setting in the official Firefly Verse seems a pretty reasonable idea. One danger I do see with it is science fiction fans love to define things and Firefly, for a show that ran about half a season plus a Big Damn Movie, has had a lot of definition. For example, I love the various products that Quantum Mechanix have produced - maps of the Verse, blueprints of Serenity, etc. But if you're going for a more dramatic/narrative realization of the Verse it becomes important to not let those details limit you. Joss Whedon has freely admitted to science not being his strong suit and it shows in Firefly and the move Serenity. Until the movie Serenity it was unclear if the Verse was one system or several - and even when Serenity seemed to settle it as one (admittedly huge and scientifically impossible) system you still had the Operative making references to the galaxy.

I'd be pretty tempted to expand the setting with my own ideas - and invite my players' to make their own contributions. For example, why does the Alliance have such a huge navy? Just for Reavers and pirates? The answer can certainly be yes, but even that answer has its own implications. Is it possible there are other powers in the setting beyond the Alliance? Not all Westerns took place in the United States, with a fair number taking place in Mexico and there's often foreigners paying visits. I've often considered the possibility that there might be other star systems accessible by some sort of "jump gates" at the edge of the system. With the Verse being so huge doing so would in no way contradict what's been shown on the show and film. This need not contradict the slower-than-light exodus from Earth That Was - constructing jump gates might require construction at both sides of the gate and not be something that robots can do. Sure the Alliance got the best system, but there might be visitors from the Holy Russian Empire just waiting to pay a visit.

Also there's thing suggested in the show that never really had a chance to be fully developed. The opening scenes of the pilot episode "Serenity" suggested criminal tongs. One might get inspiration from the tong wars of San Francisco in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From the film Serenity we know the Alliance botched at least one social engineering project at Miranda, along with attempting to create human killing machines. Mal referred to River as a "reader", the existence of such a term suggesting her abilities might not be unique in the Verse. And might there be a moon settled by a gazillionaire who used dinosaur DNA to make his own little Jurassic Park. Perhaps he called it... This Land...

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Delta Green Fiction

In my last post I spoke a bit about Delta Green. After posting I realized that my familiarity with Delta Green is solely through RPG supplements and I was very unfamiliar with the Delta Green. To be honest, I have a tendency to avoid most "gaming fiction" - I read and enjoyed Dragonlance and Drizzt once upon a time but generally speaking I tend not to enjoy it. However, I was curious as to the Delta Green fiction so I asked around on the Call of Cthulhu RPG Google+ Community.The people there spoke very highly of the Delta Green fiction, even those who, like me, generally don't read RPG fiction. With that in mind I've obtained some ebooks of what seemed to be available and did some searching online to compile a list of what seems to be available in chronological order. After I finish the first anthology I'll post a review. However in the meantime I thought it might be worthwhile to share what I've been able to find.

Delta Green: Alien Intelligence. An anthology, out of print but available as a PDF from It appears to be the earliest published fiction available though I believe some may have been printed in The Unspeakable Oath magazine.

Delta Green: Rules of Engagement. A novel by John Tynes (who is one of the creators of Delta Green and wrote some fantastic material in Call of Cthulhu d20). This book is out of print though it can be found within Strange Anthologies (below). I've linked to the Amazon listing for this book which appears to have some copies at a decent price.

Delta Green: Dark Theaters. Another anthology. This one sounds interesting, what with covering the raid on Innsmouth that gave birth to Delta Green and covering the tragedy in Cambodia which cost them their official recognition. Sadly, also only available as PDF. (I much prefer eBook formats but hey...) It is listed as the third Delta Green book and it lists the novel Rules of Engagement (above) so I'm guessing I'm placing it correctly.

Delta Green: Denied to the Enemy. A novel by Dennis Detwiller, another of the creators of Delta Green. He also was a co-creator of the Superhero RPG game Godlike, a very gritty take on WWII superheroes. Denied to the Enemy is set during World War II and seems to have been originally published in 2002. The version I link to is to the Kindle version from Amazon. Right now it is available for only $0.99.

Delta Green: Through a Glass Darkly. Another Detwiller novel. And the covers have suddenly gotten creepier. The link is to the Kindle version, the physical version appears to be in print as well. First published in 2011. I'm very much unfamiliar with this one. Reading the description, it seems to be about a Delta Green case that starts of in January of 2001 and serves as a bridge from the "classic" Delta Green era of the 1990s to the more modern (2010s) era. Also from reading the reviews it seems this one is a lot less standalone than the previous ones with lots of references to other works,

Delta Greens: Strange Authorities. This collection by John Tynes contains both short stories and the novel Rules of Engagement. Two of the short stories can be found within Alien Intelligence and Dark Theater. Looking at the copyright dates of all of the stories it appears that all of these were written prior to Through a Glass Darkly.

So I'm going to be plunging through these pretty much blind. I'm actually looking forward to it. As I work through them (which can take from weeks to months to years I'd imagine knowing me) I'll add links to reviews that I make.

Flipping through them I find myself looking forward to the upcoming Delta Green RPG that is in development. As most of my experience with Delta Green is after 9/11/2001 one reason I've shied away from it is it has always appeared a bit dated. While culturally I view the 1990s with some fondness, one thing which seems clear to me is just how close the 1990s were to the 1920s - a pleasant-enough seeming decade on the surface with a number of problems that were soon to manifest themselves and set the tone for the decades which followed. I think of how much time we spent thinking about the government hiding UFOs and not worried about an economy headed for some extremely rough times and terrorists getting ready to attack US warships and crash planes into New York City and Washington, DC.

However, I'm finding myself curious about those works set in the 1990s and even more about those set earlier in Delta Green's history. My gaming group has wrapped up its fourth Call of Cthulhu session in our current campaign and its becoming clear that I need a stronger framework to bind the characters together and direct them to their cases. With the game set in Arkham, Massachusetts in the summer of 1928 it seems a proto-Delta Green organization might take an interest in our band of investigators.