On being sick and taking a break

This site went silent for a couple weeks, but for a particular reason. I had Covid-19. While I took some time to recover, I set aside many projects, and Pulp Culture Museum was one of them.

Generally, I work under the assumption that people fetishize workaholism. Do stuff constantly, without stopping. Extreme productivity as a goal. If we haven’t crammed every second of our waking hours with completing as many tasks as possible, and those tasks that are judged as meaningful by our peers, then we have failed. Or something like that. I hate this perspective.

When I was sick I kept thinking about all the stuff I wanted to be getting done but wasn’t doing. It made me feel worse, so I decided I needed to stop everything. I’d be better off just letting myself be ill, letting the virus run its course, and stepping away from the hustle and bustle for a bit.

I don’t regret that choice at all. I planned no posts for a couple of weeks and gave myself a break. It was a little hard because I really enjoy writing. That’s actually a big part of why I set this site up in the first place; it’s an avenue to let out some of my creative impulses that aren’t fiction. However, I resent being bothered that I wasn’t getting anything done. When someone is sick, this is the kind of thought that shouldn’t be on their mind at all. I’m probably repeating myself in this short post, but it’s a sentiment that I believe bears repeating.

Our work culture, and within society at large, has a sickness of its own. People need to be able to step away from their busy lives from time to time. There is no rational reason why people should have to feel guilt or shame if they need a break, as I did when I had Covid. Yet, somehow we do. It’s a problem, but one I don’t mind confronting. I hope others will stand with me.

Le Voyage Dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) by Georges Méliès (1902) – Silent film as inspiration

It never ceases to amaze me how much is available in the public domain. Volume alone is enough to be a topic of discussion, but some of the actual works are themselves part of the respective canons. Do not fear the public domain! It is your friend.

It’s also a fantastic place for entertainment and inspiration. Take for example the silent science-fiction film Le Voyage Dans la Lun (A Trip to the Moon) by Georges Méliès (1902). It is firmly in the public domain, and available via numerous websites. (Embedded below for your convenience.)

The story of the film is that a group of scientists, that look suspiciously like wizards, launch themselves to the moon in a giant bullet, explore the terrain, fight some aliens, and then go home. What’s not to love?

Since there’s no sound you can imagine the actors saying whatever you want. I would love to run a “Caption this!” campaign for this movie, and I suspect the submissions would be fantastic. Overall, it’s only twelve minutes long, but well worth your time, especially if you like genre fiction. After seeing the movie in it’s entirety, it’s hard not to see influences and references to this classic piece of cinema all over the place.

It’s place in history is cemented, but as a piece of art it’s easy to see how old it is. The whole time I watched it, I had the impression I was watching a piece of theatre. Everything was always facing the camera. The sets and special effects look to have been made as if they were for a stage production, but not film as we would imagine it being in our current day and age. Don’t forget, that movie is over 100 years old. Cinema was brand new back then, and it was essentially a completely new and innovative way of telling a story. Everyone was still habituated to live theatre, but it was clear that there was an understanding that film was a new way of telling a story.

Personally, I think this is great stuff. It’s easy to understand the story and has a satisfying beginning, middle, and end. Cinema as a medium has clearly evolved beyond this, but it’s hard not to appreciate the influence something like this had. What’s more, it’s a quality production. They made an effort to create this film. Even contemporary B-movies can look low budget compared to Le Voyage dans la Lune. The creativity is great, and most importantly, you get the sense that the people involved were having fun.

For gamers, this is a story that could easily be used at the gaming table, probably even beyond just a one-shot. With D&D releasing Spelljammer for 5e, an old film like this is the kind of “old ways meets new mays” that would serve a science-fantasy campaign well. This classic piece of film is just one more reason to consider turning to the forgotten gems of yesteryear.

It really isn’t easy to take inspiration from something like this. Imagine how people felt when they were inventing the first airplane, or first realized international communication was possible. The prospects for something like that are immense. Take a moment and reflect on the immense joy someone might feel after successfully flying to an extraterrestrial body such as the moon or Mars. The sheer euphoria of actually being able yo say, ” I did it!” must be incredible. Meeting alien lifeforms? Fleeing captivity and a successful return voyage home? All of it is great stuff. Creators in any medium can draw upon this absurd old sci-fi movie and themselves dreaming up ideas for their own new works. At least that’s how I feel.

Star Trek Adventures IDW Year Five Tie-In

*Originally posted on the British Fantasy Society

What happened after the original Star Trek was cancelled three years into its five-year mission? As the introduction explains for Star Trek Adventures IDW Year Five Tie-In, there is a space that was never really filled in between the original show’s last episode, and the first movie. Attempting to explain that gap, publisher IDW created Year Five for the Star Trek comics, and now Modiphius brings that content to the Star Trek Adventures Role-Playing Game.  

It might not be Star Trek’s official canon, but this book is all about providing new options for players. Something that is specific to this particular supplement is that some of the art looks like it was taken from, or inspired by the comics. The effect gives this a slightly different aesthetic than other books in the Star Trek Adventures line, making it stand out a little. 

It is a very short supplement, offering two new factions, Aegis and the Originalists which could be used for very compelling missions. There are also three new life path options, I’Qosa, Iotians, and Tholians, as well as non-player characters, including Gary Seven, a character that did appear in the original series. Finally, there are new vehicle options. That’s a fair amount of stuff in about two dozen pages.

Unfortunately, being familiar with the comics might not be necessary but may help. Not knowing the storyline developed by IDW might leave one feeling a bit lost. It would be information but without much context. 

As a concept, this is a great idea. There is a gap in Star Trek’s timeline that was never filled in. As Modiphius works around that gap, IDW created a way to fill in the missing time. Having this supplement bridges that empty space in Star Trek’s history, and offers a clean continuity for other supplements. 

Additionally, this proves that there is material that can be re-adapted to the game line beyond the television shows and movies, although it probably helps if players are familiar with what is being re-created. Star Trek is a multi-media franchise, and there is a rich tradition of material that can be drawn from by Modiphius to expand the game. Moving beyond the large and small screens makes sense, and hopefully, Modiphius publishes more books like this one.

All reading is worth it!

Originally found on Book Riot, ‘What is worthwhile reading?’, by Cassie Gutman

Determining what to read is a daunting but fun task, unless it’s an obligation, then it’s something else entirely. However, when you’re making a choice about to read, everything should be fair game. There should be no shame in picking up something that people derisively write-off as not being worth your time.

I read the piece by Cassie Gutman in Book Riot, and I’m basically in agreement. Too bad she didn’t elaborate, because it’s important for people to feel comfortable with the books they choose. So many people feel awkward about their preferences with reading that they second guess themselves, and I say this as a professional because I’m a librarian. I see this happen all the time. People will sheepishly admit to liking something, but then act like it’s a guilty pleasure. Nonsense!

You like what you like, and you shouldn’t feel bad about that. No one should. Genre fiction in particular bears the stigma of “reading that isn’t worth your time”, but this needs to change. Next time you feel like you’ve picked something up that others might feel is silly, I say take that thing, and strut. Don’t judge yourself or your reading, just enjoy it because it’s what you wanted. You’ll never derive as much pleasure by forcing yourself to reading a so-called classic just because it’s supposed to be an amazing book. Sometimes they are, and sometimes your time could have been better spent. All of this is to say, indulge in your preferences for reading.

I heart fantasy art

And not the chain mail bikini thing. What I love is art the encompasses vision of a world that simply is not our own. It goes without saying, but some people do this better than others.

Frazetta’s Death Dealer is one of my all time favorites.

frank-frazetta-kickstarter-1

There’s no shortage of this stuff either. Here’s one I stumbled across. It reminds of the Chinese landscapes, where the people are deliberately painted as if they were ants. This is Warm Mist by Andreas Rocha.

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And then of course, there’s Jean Giraud, aka Moebius. I’m just going to leave this one here. Thank you for reading.

moebius-design-for-willow

A note on OSRIC’s character classes

While I’ve noted that reading OSRIC has every bit the feel of reading through an old D&D rulebook, there are some things in it that strike me as odd. It’s more the little things that I hadn’t given much thought to when I first started gaming many years ago. In particular, I’m speaking towards the specific characteristics of the different classes.

This is the kind of thing that’s present in every game, and I remember first playing D&D hoping that my rolls would be good enough to create the exact character I wanted. Small things such as, a minimum Strength of 9 to be a Fighter. It seems just kind of arbitrary on a certain level. During my read-through of OSRIC something I’d never really given much thought to was the idea of level caps. A lot of the classes cap out at levels significantly lower than other classes. Since I stopped playing older versions of games a long time I’d stopped incorporating ideas like these into my games, but what makes this interesting is that having more than one class could become a very real necessity for most people playing these games. It’s a different way of looking at the games.

If people knew in advance that they weren’t going to be able to progress indefinitely in their class, how would they plan out character advancement? I mean, no one starts a game assuming their character will die, right? Like, that’s just kind of weird. So, the idea of capping levels has to assume that, if you’re taking on that class, then you’re probably taking on another class as well, which means characters will be assumed to be diverse in their skill sets.

Planning out character development in these circumstances is a bit different from how I normally think about it. Not that this is bad, but it means that the what comes next requires thinking about how a completely different set of abilities and skills compliment those I already have.

Posting Delays

Originally, when I set up this blog, it was a way for me to experiment with blogging, and maybe a bit of programming. Real-life caught up to me, and I had to step away. Hopefully, I’ll be able to pick this all back up, and will have a functional blog again.

 

Fiction in gaming

In full disclosure, what inspired this post was actually a poem by William Blake called, ‘Auguries of Innocence’.

 

Some are born to sweet delight

Some are born to endless night

These two lines from the poem, but they’re powerful. I was thinking after I’d read the poem about how easy it would be to incorporate this into an actual game. As I work more and more on my own ideas for adventures, I was wondering about re-using existing works in my own. I mean, Tolkien did it. He used an old Saxon poem in his own work. If its good enough for JRR, then its good enough for me right? It’s not like I’m a canonical figure in the world of table-top role-playing games.

I’ve also never published anything, and so I’d be very skeptical of the quality of my own prose.

Which is part of why I’m writing this post.

There is an ocean of exceptional writing out there, and a great deal of it could be of benefit to tabletop gaming. I thoroughly encourage people to pick up on this idea and run with it.

For myself I’ve been wondering about bards citing ancient ballads. Maybe rhyming couplets could be featured on prominent tombstones. Perhaps an NPC is trying to make a name for themselves. All fun ideas, and all could be incorporated into a game.

If you’re worried about plagiarism, then cite your source. Also, don’t forget that there are lots of public domain works. You could have volumes of free to use content at your disposal, and never pay a penny. Just an idea. Have fun!

PDFs or physical books

The amount of digital content available for RPGs is crazy. There’s just tons of it. I just saw a blog post on the site GeekNative that had a tally of something like 1700+ free RPGs. That is crazy pants. Just about all of this stuff is listed as a PDF only though.

Which makes sense. Take away the publishing costs and the Internet becomes a pretty efficient way to distribute content. The problem becomes the actual game use.

For my part, I find PDF gaming texts very efficient to transport, and relatively simply to read. However, to search and use for an actual game they can be a bit cumbersome.

During a session with my last static group, we tested whether it was faster to look stuff up in a printed book versus a PDF. The physical book won. It was easier and faster to go to the index or table of contents and search out the specific ideas. Searching the text for a specific word just wasn’t faster and easier. Maybe other people have different experiences, but that was mine.

In the end, I find them useful in their own ways for completely different purposes. PDFs are just infinitely more portable than physical books. Gaming books tend to be substantially large books. Not always, but often that is the case. At the same time, even if they’re bigger, they tend to be more useful at the gaming table. Just something to think about. Eventually this debate won’t matter, but for now, gaming offers different ways to get material. Different ideas for everyone.