Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

We're Taking a Break...

We're pooped.  And our blog is taking a break.  We'll still be online, mostly to admire the efforts of others.  And we've still got a few surprises up our sleeves, so look out!  You're awesome, all of you.  But we're tired... 


See you here in a month or so.  Time to recharge our spell points and whatnot!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Weather Tables From a Real Meteorologist (and a Simpler Alternative He Also Uses)...

Ok, so the stormy specter of weather arises from time to time in all of our games, and the more immersive the setting, the more likely we are to incorporate it.  Like the passage of time, weather is one of those things we all seem to agree matters but don't always get around to doing.  Well as it happens, yours truly is a retired meteorologist and happy to tackle it, so let's start by setting a few ground rules.  Just to make the whole thing easier.  If you're one of those daring souls who imagines a flat earth (well, as long as we're doing the whole magic thing), I suppose scientific accuracy doesn't really apply and, to be honest, it shouldn't have to...

GETTING REAL ABOUT WEATHER

But if you're a stickler or, like most of us (I'm guessing), then your world is spherical.  This stuff matters, but I'm guessing no one wants MET 101 and more importantly, I'm not much interested in rehashing it.  So here's a link if that's your thing.  No, I'll just get to the good parts and explain what probably should be happening; and this is the case even if you follow my link...


BASICS AND GROUND RULES

Oh, and let's make another little assumption.  Let's assume the campaign is set in the mid latitudes of our hypothetical sphere.  Good.  Now things get easier.  Basically, most weather most of the year is the result of migratory pressure systems.  Lows with their attendant frontal systems and highs with their characteristic stability.  As the low approaches, expect southerly winds with increasing (and lowering) clouds and precipitation (rain in late spring or summer and snow in winter and/or early spring).  Eventually, the front passes, the winds shift, and it gets both cooler and probably drier depending on the air masses involved.  Often, the winds pick up and become stronger with very cold air.  Rinse, lather, and repeat as necessary...

Or for greater simplicity, just consult the following weather table:

DAY
SKIES
WINDS
1-2
Clear/partly cloudy
NE-E
3-4
Partly/mostly cloudy
E-SE
5-6
Cloudy/precipitation*
S-SW
7-8
Clear
W-NW
9-10
Clear/partly cloudy
N-NE



*Precipitation (rain/snow) varies by season

Now, here's a cool trick: Roll 1d10 to establish the starting day, assign the applicable weather (adjusted for season) and follow the progression down the chart, returning to the top and continuing.  There, (most) weather made easy!  It might be the only weather table you'll ever need...


The above assumes a retreating high pressure system replaced by an approaching low and frontal system to trigger clouds and precipitation.  Of course, the latter is seasonal except in the south, where applicable.  There's not a lot of snow in Florida for a reason.  Ditto for your world's equivalent (the bona fide tropics work differently).  And as a caveat, during the summer months, the jet stream moves north and a semi-permanent subtropical high dominates more of the mid-latitudes, producing a stabler pattern which makes the above less pronounced.  You know, summer for most of us.

LOWS SUCK AND HIGHS BLOW

Now, if you didn't follow the link (shame on you), just know that air flows clockwise around a high, counterclockwise around a low, and reversed in the southern hemisphere!  Lows suck.  All of their air spirals inward (surface convergence) and up, so you get instability, clouds, and precipitation.  Highs blow, meaning air sinks and spreads out (surface divergence).  Cold air masses are always more dense and the winds stronger.  Seriously, highs blow.  But there are exceptions to this.  And pressure changes across these systems.  Sometimes quickly, sometimes not so much.  This is referred to as the pressure gradient.  The stronger the gradient, the higher the winds - and with more intense the weather; well, in most cases...


But sometimes, the gradient is non-existent, especially under a high, and the winds are calm.  Here, moist conditions in the fall or winter can result in fog that only dissipates when the winds pick up or things heat enough to break the inversion (don't ask).  Just compare to your own experience.  

BUT WHAT ABOUT SEVERE STUFF?

Good question.  What about it?  First off, let's assume a 1 in 1d6 chance of a severe weather event on days when precipitation is called for.  If something bad is indicated, just assign a seasonal hazard.  Thunderstorms can spawn hail, high winds, and tornadoes, while winter is prone to blizzards and ice storms, etc.  Pick what you like and make 'em hate you...   

GETTING (SUBTROPICAL) HIGH NOW

Now, the equator and subtropics are a little different.  Here, you see a steady pattern (no fronts) influenced mainly by terrain effects and/or migratory cyclones.  Typically, afternoon thunderstorms and morning to midday stability with lots of humidity.  Tropical storms and hurricanes are pretty much a bogey you can throw in to stir things up.  And you can add whatever rules you want (or have handy) for environmental exposure and the like. 

And once again, here's an easy little chart to break it down:

TIME OF DAY
SKIES
WEATHER*
Late night/early morning
Clear/partly cloudy
none
Morning
Clear/partly cloudy
none
Midmorning/noon
Partly cloudy
none
Early afternoon
Partly cloudy
showers
Early evening/overnight
Partly/mostly cloudy
showers/thunder



*Light/steady winds (any direction); variable/strong with thunder

As indicated above, wind direction varies but is usually light outside of thunderstorms.  Often, terrain helps channel air, causing winds to flow along natural features, whether valleys or any adjacent mountains, etc.

WEATHER MAGIC AT WORK 

Of course, weather magic is doubtless an element, and this defies all of the above.  You don't need anything here to know that a storm out of clear skies or snow in the summer (or tropics) are signs of something amiss.  You piss of the local shaman at your peril, so don't do that.  Really. 

There, that's not too much, and we offer it mainly as a quick-reference guide for GMs and as a guard against "daily weather tables" that might produce unrealistic progressions.  Of course, such charts are great for establishing starting weather, after which the first table applies.  But for time-strapped (or ingenious, because despite being a meteorologist, I do it this way), you can simply begin your campaign at the "real world" time of year and at a similar latitude.  Then just follow the actual pattern.  This saves a lot of time and let's your players worry about the weather in two worlds!  All fantasy mirrors real life, so give 'em hell if you've got it, and go where the wild winds blow... 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

"It" Movie Review (We All Float)...

So here's something that doesn't happen every day - a movie review!  You see, every now and again there's a movie event.  Something big based on something bigger that gets a lot of hype in geek circles and either delights or disappoints when it finally comes out.  And this summer, in a season full of lackluster disappointments (my opinion), there's something which, thankfully, succeeds and (interestingly enough) is also a perfect fit for late summer going into early autumn - Stephen King's classic novel IT!

Now, in the name of full disclosure, I'm a rather huge Stephen King fan.  But that's not the big reveal.  We publish fantasy RPGs, so I imagine people think I do fantasy like the Cookie Monster tackles an Otis Spunkmeyer chocolate chip.  Not so much.  And that's the big reveal.  Aside from a few notables (well, a respectable amount), I don't read an awful lot of fantasy anymore.  Tolkien?  Moorcock?  I love 'em all.  Blood of Pangea is heartfelt.  And I thoroughly enjoyed Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Tad Williams (get it)...

But when it comes to fantasy, I prefer mine as gaming.  To me, that's where it makes sense and feels right.  Guess I'm a crappy geek.  Book-wise (and despite the fact that my all-time favorite is Kingdoms of the Wall, a sci-fi masterpiece by Robert Silverberg), I prefer literary horror after King, Straub, and (the great) T.E.D. Klein.  This is modern fantasy with all the pretensions of John Updike.  Stories about real people facing off against the innumerable monsters in their lives - only some of them supernatural!

And King has always been about people.  Plausibly real and relatable.  There's nothing like our own world with all its intrigues, and his movie adaptations didn't start getting good until the Hollywood types finally figured that out.  Yeah, King loves his monsters.  And he certainly created a compelling mythology.  But his stories were always about people...

Enter IT.  The 2017 Muschetti IT and not the (inferior) 1990 miniseries.

SPOILER ALERT:  The town of Derry, Maine sees a sudden rash of disappearances, and a handful of kids discover the culprit's a monster.  Read the book or see the film.

Disclaimer:  This is a movie adaptation, so it doesn't perfectly follow the original book, which begins with adult characters in the 80s being summoned back to Derry and recalling their childhoods in the 50s - and the evil they temporarily defeated.  The movie focuses on the childhood end of things, with a planned sequel for the adult reckoning.  That said, a few scenes are missing or changed.  Most notably, a giant bird and the animated Paul Bunyan statue.  But movies flow differently, so I mostly forgive them...        

We all float down here...

OK, first things first.  The movie is well cast and acted.  The banter between the kids is a bit frantic at times, but I imagine my own adolescent ramblings were at least as much, if not worse.  And the decision to shift this portion of the story to the 80s was a truly inspired move by the producers.  Some have made unflattering comparisons to Stranger Things.  But I think the choice had more to do with giving contemporary audiences a sense of nostalgia they could relate too.  Remember, the kids come back 27 years later to finish things, and that works out to being roughly in the present day for moviegoers.

At any rate, there's enough 80s pop culture going around that even youngsters can relate to its imagined yesterday and, really, those days weren't all that different (and the movie would doubtless lose some of its magic if the kids were face down and transfixed by their cell phones all the time anyway).  So younger audiences get both a feeling of familiarity plus a glimpse into a lost, but relatable, past.  All in all, a sound choice.  Now, I straddled two decades (I turned 13 in 1980), so it really hit the sweet spot for this reviewer!

And the cinematography?  Well, it certainly delivers.  Its perspective and timing is eerily effective, and the famous scene with Georgie in the rain works perfectly.  I don't like violence against children.  Not one bit.  And I'm not a huge fan of suffering or splatter flicks that glorify it, so this was a little hard to watch on the face of it.  But it's part of the story, after all.  This scene, to me, was the most important indicator (and an early one at that) as to how well the film would perform.  A clown in a sewer drain is pretty ridiculous imagery, so you have to get into the head of a little boy and create something both seductive and menacing  (I've always thought that the two overlap).  And it works because Pennywise is depicted as just human enough in dark shadows, and because Muschetti wisely retained King's original dialogue.  Let's just say I was both pleased and disturbed. 

What the @#$% is this?  The 1990 
miniseries was a floater of a different kind...

Now, something that stands out is how kid-centric the film manages to be.  Adults exist, obviously, and we see glimpses of them all.  But this is mostly a story about kids at a time in their lives when they stop being appendages of their parents and start forging their own identities and relationships.  And sometimes, the adults become the villains by proxy and, in the case of Beverly's character, actual villains of the worst sort.  We see glimpses of who they are through the effect they've had on their children, and this helps keep the emphasis squarely where it belongs.  It's an approach that only occasionally falls flat.

But what about the film's titular villain?  Pennywise the Clown is played with fiendish enthusiasm by Bill Skarsgard and is both closely human and horrifically, well, off.  The depiction works.  One thing I didn't like about the 1990 miniseries (aside from pretty much everything) was how common Pennywise appeared.  He (she/it) just looked like a clown with bad oral hygiene.  And the garb was too similar to what you might see at the circus today.  But Muschetti's version achieves something positively baroque; an outfit from another century that's creepy and profane in the way early black and white pictures are creepy and profane.  It's the grotesque imagery of 1865's advertising.   

And, of course, CGI helps.  Pennywise is portrayed as the cosmic entity "he" truly is (read the book, people), deadlights and all (really, read that book).  And there's something vaguely spider-like in its movements, which also plays into the story, albeit in the inevitable sequel.  This isn't Freddy Krueger or some other lame (and generalized) thing of earthly evil (I like literary horror and not the swill served up in most horror films).  And because the original book began in the so-called present, with a grown-up Loser's Club returning to Derry to end things for good, we know the sequel isn't destined to be some cheap extrapolation of a superior original.  This, alone, gives me high hopes... 

Now, a word about scares.  A few have complained about the lack of them.  I find this absurd because the scenes where each character individually encounters Pennywise are pretty frightening and, in the case of Bill Denbrough, atmospheric and spooky.  But it's doubly absurd because scares are cheap thrills.  Scares are bullshit.  Going to war was scary.  So what?  I can't stand the vapid "jump-scare" crap (some of which was advertised in the trailers) being served up these days.  No, this is a story about people.  Young people facing off against evil and ultimately winning.  And the intended effect is more that of a knight entering a dragon's cave.  Scary, sure, but also rather heroic.

The film has its flaws.  Bill Denbrough's stuttering is shown, but never referenced.  Same with the spoken device used to counter it.  Likewise, Richie's penchant for silly voices is shown in dialogue, but the "beep, beep" reference (used only once in the movie) is likewise never explained and would doubtless fall flat with the uninitiated.  Hurried editing, perhaps?  Maybe an extended DVD release can fix this, and maybe that's the plan.

At a little over two hours, IT never drags.  The film does what it needs to, although I found myself wishing for just a little more.  Movies aren't books.  They can't achieve the third person deep King is known for, leaving the audience to rely on their eyes and the dialogue to get the point across.  And this one pulls it off where the miniseries failed.

And so Stephen King gets what he deserves.  A movie franchise (of sorts) and an adaptation that actually works.  And no John-Boy as Bill Denbrough either.  Yep, that's a bonus!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Five Things We've Learned by Being Humans Who Also Happen to Play Tabletop RPGs...

Earlier on, we posted an article about the role of the GM/referee, and it prompted some discussion (and questions) about what kind of GM I might be.  So instead of flogging a dead horse, here's five simple rules we try our best to live (and game) by:

Disclaimer:  The following is our opinion.  It might differ from yours, but that's not a high crime or misdemeanor, so take it with a grain of salt and humor us.  

(1) Games are great.  But actual people and relationships are (almost) always more important.  You can stop here if you want, cause' the rest is just fluffy window dressing...

(2) Hopefully, the people in your group are also your friends.  And if so, hopefully you value these relationships for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with your hobby.


(3) If one of your players offers to sacrifice their +2 plate mail to keep a cherished character alive, it's the a good-faith negotiation that's well worth honoring.  In these situations, just balance the fun everyone had when the character was alive against any reservations about propriety.  The integrity of the rules takes a back seat to these considerations, especially when a player is volunteering to lose something to keep something else.

Really, challenge is about risk and uncertainty.  But it's also about making sacrifices and understanding that everything costs, so don't turn away any paying customers!  

(4) Sometimes, the spouse or significant other of one of your players will join in just so they can feel part of what their loved one is doing.  Please understand that in these situations, the dynamic has clearly shifted, and the emphasis should change as well.  The goal now is to keep everyone involved, because the death of a newcomer's character immediately excludes them.  People before make-believe games.  Live it.  Love it, etc.
  
Going easy on a non-gaming guest isn't gonna break your game, and if they become a regular (always a good thing), they'll obviously need to adjust their expectations.    

(5) As long as games are played by people, said people will need to negotiate and resolve their differences in a way that scales to the setting and the things at stake.  I haven't seen a rulebook yet that can prevent bad behavior.  It all comes down to relationships, folks...