Sunday, November 25, 2012

Life During Wartime

Every time I listen to "Life During Wartime" by the Talking Heads, I can't help but think that it would make an awesome movie, TV show, or (since I don't blog about those other things) role-playing game.

I love this song because it embodies the urban spirit that the Talking Heads capture so wonderfully in their music and it also evokes a vivid picture of the chaos of 1970s militancy. According to a book about the Talking Heads (fine - I found the quote on Wikipedia...), David Byrne was thinking about Baader-Meinhof (Red-Army Faction), Patty Hearst, and Tompkins Square in New York City when he wrote it. I don't think he'd object if I say that the song takes my imagination elsewhere, and that's where I think it would be awesome to run a campaign.

Whenever I listen to "Life During Wartime" I always think about the civil war in Lebanon and what would happen if something similar were imposed on the United States. It would be like West Beirut in an American context. If I were to run a campaign with this as the inspiration, the basic scenario would look like this:

In the near future, the United States is engulfed in a low-intensity civil war. Secessionists angry with Washington have taken up arms in their states and localities. While entire states have not seceded, local revolts have popped up in nearly every state. The country is divided along a spectrum, ranging from those who support independence for local areas to those who want to crush any disloyalty to the government. Incidents of terrorism and guerrilla warfare have become commonplace across the nation.

Democrats and Republicans are no more. Instead there are three new parties (As I've mentioned before, I love me some factions):
  • The Democratic-Republican (National Unity) Party - Most political leaders have rallied together against the secessionists and are working to resolve the problem, though without much success.
  • USA Whig (USA - Where Has It Gone?) Party - The new Whig party is the political wing of the secessionist movement. It works in Washington and in state capitals to directly further that cause and to obstruct policies that would otherwise bring about an end to the revolt.
  • The Liberal Unionist Party - On the opposite end of the spectrum are those who believe in no compromise with the Whigs, no mercy for secessionists, and a strong, unchallenged federal government.
The campaign is set (or begins) in Washington, DC and the player characters are college students trying to live their lives amid the chaos, politics, and fighting that has engulfed the country. It doesn't really matter what system it gets played on, but I totally think that players should get bonuses for incorporating lyrics from the song into their characters (e.g. "Got a van that's loaded with weapons;" "Lived in a brownstone, lived in a ghetto;" "We've got computers, we're tappin' phone lines."). Any player who is David Byrne also gets a massive bonus.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Nothin' but a G-Thang (Gamer Thang), Baby

I'm becoming a terrible blogger. At the same time, I'm becoming a better gamer.

Ironically, I have not had as much time to write (or attend my regular gaming crew) because I've been busy at work designing games. I'm not quite sure why it took so long for me to bridge the gap between my career and my hobby of choice, but one day I realized that I should try to incorporate gaming into my job (or my job into gaming?), since I work with some of the greatest wargamers in the industry.

Granted war games are not my traditional mode, but designing them is a lot more interesting than writing papers -- especially when they also incorporate significant role-playing aspects. I didn't ever think that I would have professional conversations about GURPS or the analytic utility of dungeon crawls, but I have. I'm also learning a shit-metric-ton about game design, game development, and the American way of war. And.... I'm getting paid for it, so that's frickin' awesome.

Anyway, I aspire to update the blog whenever possible, and I intend to play games much, much more... since I can justify it as career development now. :) But since the gaming "world" is so huge, I'm not sure exactly where it will take me. Still, if you've read this far, you may very well tune in again [thumbs up, geek!]... and this is good since my wife is always impressed when someone who is not her logs in for a read.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Spy In Isengard

Stop the presses!

Stop. The. Fracking. Presses.

I just found A Spy in Isengard online. What is this, you ask? I wasn't quite sure either. All I knew was that as a kid I played this the crap out of this book, and it was a critical link in my jump from Choose Your own Adventure to Dungeons and Dragons.

As I remember it, the book was basically a choose-your-own-adventure format, but with a few interesting advanced steps. You have to create a character in the beginning, there is a character sheet with inventory list at the back, and a random numbers table in case you don't have 2d6 lying around (or if you're squeezed in the back of a station wagon with two younger brothers on family vacation).

Middle Earth Quest Character Sheet: Awesomeness from the 80s.

By the magic of Google, I have come to learn more. A Spy in Isengard was a Middle Earth Quest (MEQ) book published by Iron Crown Enterprises, which also published Middle Earth Role Playing (MERP), a system based on Rolemaster. I'm guessing that this book was a way to publicize MERP or maybe even it was designed to be a gateway drug book to heavier MERP games. I'm still not sure, but I'm struck by a couple things.

One, it's a little baffling to me that one publisher could produce so much at that time. Rolemaster, MERP, MEQ, a few books, and I recall couple similar Sherlock Homes books produced around the same time. For one, it drives home just how much the gaming industry was producing in the 1980s. But how big of an operation was Iron Crown? Was it a couple guys working out of a garage? If so, how did they get wide enough market access to be successful? Was it a wing of some giant corporate conglomerate? If so, how did they fund enough staff? Did the really sell that many copies of Rolemaster and A Spy in Isengard to turn a profit? Is that why the MEQ system ceased to be?

Two, it hits on the importance of having proper introductions to games. Not long ago on Google+, some folks were having a discussion about how a game product should be properly introduced to a kid who just picks it up off the shelf. Rightly, the issue is that many kids like myself grab something cool (A Spy in Isengard) at a local store and have no way to tie it in to anything.

I remember wondering as a kid what MERP was, but I had no idea how to find it. The local library didn't have information on it. Not even the country library had any information in the whole card catalog! Even if I had found something, I was beholden to the preferences of our friendly neighborhood game shop, and to my mom's willingness to drive me there.We didn't even have a comic book store in my town until I was 14. As a result, A Spy in Isengard was the only MEQ product I ever purchased.

What I'm saying is that an awesome product like A Spy in Isengard produced today would come replete with links to a website where more information could be had and more products purchased. I see on the Iron Crown Enterprises website they have produced a Sherlock Holmes game app. This is great. Hopefully ICE will be able to continue making great gaming products and not lose potential customers because they can be linked in to the magic of the internets.

Meanwhile, I'm totally going to rip a copy of A Spy in Isengard from Scribd and print it on the work Xerox.