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Archive for December, 2009

A Quick Status Update

December 27, 2009 Leave a comment

So, you might have noticed that I haven’t posted an entry in a little while.

Don’t worry, folks.  I still love you.  I am not seeing other blogs behind your backs.  But unfortunately I got buried under what I can only characterize as a Mountain of Year-End Work.  And so, some of my ongoing projects got pushed back a little bit.  Doing more entries for the blog got pushed back a bit.  The Great Debate! got pushed back a bit.  The other things that I do for War Pig also got pushed back a bit, unfortunately.

And some of that had to do with the fact that I got sick a couple of times, but a good deal of it was that I had a lot that I had to get done by the end of the year.  I wrote a few short stories for presents for some of my relatives – an option that I highly recommend if you’re short on cash and don’t mind burning the midnight oil for several nights in a row.  I also was crusading to finally get the second episode of the Every World News put together and released and thankfully was successful at that!  I was gunning to get it out by Christmas and thankfully I made that deadline.  I also started lending my voice to a couple of other podcasts: Starla Huchton’s The Dreamer’s Thread and the forthcoming The Last Guardians by “Indiana” Jim Perry.  So between all of that – and of course, still going around job hunting – I kind of had to let a few things slide for a little bit.

But the good news is we are now coming up to the end of the year, so with any luck that’ll mean I can get back up on the horse and return to the trail – hopefully without steering myself into a ravine on the way.  I have many, many more blog topics planned and will be getting to them presently.

So, worry not!  All shall be well!  Everything is under control.  Do not rush for the life boats.  There is no reason to panic.  All is in hand!

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Categories: Observation Tags: , ,

Serve Your Fairies Golden Brown

December 5, 2009 6 comments

Here’s a little suggestion I have for writers of fantasy and horror: fairies should be terrifying.

They are not your friends.  They will not whisk you away to a wondrous magical land where you’ll never grow old and you can play happily in golden fields and under the lollipop trees for eternity.  What they’re more likely to do is snatch you away to a horrifying, twisted nightmare realm where the flow of time and the continuity of space are utterly subjective.

There’s been a trend lately, you see, to put the Grimm back into fairy tales and I’m all for it, to tell you the truth.  Why?  Because it makes for much better stories.

Let’s face it.  Stories are much more interesting when the main character suffers torment.  Fairy creatures can potentially represent as much torment as you could ever need.  These are beings with completely alien mindsets who act largely on whim.  They’re pretty much madness incarnate.

Dark fairy creatures make some of the best antagonists.  This is why so many people have been showing an interest in the versions of fairy tales that were told by the Brothers Grimm.  For all its cheese, this is why the movie Labyrinth worked as well as it did.  This is why I keep hearing so many people are applauding the new version of White Wolf’s Changeling RPG and saying that it’s superior in presentation to the iteration that came before it.  This is also why Jennifer Hudock’s podcast novel Goblin Market is getting such good word-of-mouth.

Dark fairy creatures are awesome.

Of course, this is something people knew long before the Brothers Grimm came around.  Shakespeare presented King Oberon and Queen Titania as forces of nature that are quite content to meddle in human affairs – and in some cases transform them partially into donkeys.  The old Celtic and Germanic fairy tales had a plethora of tiny magical folk – and indeed, larger magical folk – who were anything but benevolent.  You really don’t have to dig very deep to find references to fairy creatures with less than pure intentions.  Even the Wikipedia article on fairies makes a nice jumping-off point.

The reason these kinds of beings make good antagonists is that they can instantly (and for the writer, conveniently) embody all manner of psychological trauma.  A.N. Wilson posited an interesting thought in the UK’s Daily Mail – the idea that the original purpose of fairy tales was to help children understand the kinds of fearsome things they may have to face in life.  Not actual child-eating crones or anthropomorphic wolf-men, necessarily, but complex interpersonal situations with strangers, friends and families – especially families of the dysfunctional variety.  When it comes down to it, some people are crazy and some are downright bastards.  Fairy creatures have a level of mutability that lets them very neatly personify the kind of distress anyone might suffer when being forced to deal with the issues of those individuals.

Need a horrifying, murderous glutton?  Hire a redcap.  Want a massive, thuggish bully?  Ogres and trolls both do well in a pinch.  Want to show how a passion to tinker with things can lead to massive destruction?  Just snatch up half a dozen goblins, wind them up and watch them go.  If you use fairy creatures in a story then the darker and more twisted they are, the more interesting and significant the tale can be.  The results rarely fail to please.

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Categories: Fandom Tags: , , , ,

And Now a Look at Mad Scientist University

December 1, 2009 8 comments


What with Christmahannukwanzaayuladanivus coming up, people have begun scrambling about like ants in a recently-stomped sandbox searching for original-looking gifts to buy.  As it happens, I have a suggestion on that front.

Not too long ago I got the opportunity to try out a very interesting game called Mad Scientist University.  It’s been available from Atlas Games for a couple of years now, but with the influx of independent card games we’ve been seeing lately, many folks might have lost it in the shuffle.

I think one of the most interesting things about it is that even though cards are used, it’s NOT actually a card game.  This is more of what we’d call a storytelling game.  As the name implies, players each take the role of a student at a university full of mad scientists.  Three to seven people sit and take turns as the Teacher’s Assistant (or TA), handing out a card to each other player.  Each of those cards has a single Unstable Element listed on it such as Mud, Kitty Litter or a Rubber Chicken.  The TA then reveals the randomly selected Insane Assignment, which can be anything from winning an election to mapping a black hole.  Each player must then come up with an explanation of how they can use their Unstable Element to complete the Assignment.  Whoever the TA decides has the best plan gets awarded an Insane Assignment card.  Then another player becomes the TA and another turn is begun.  Play continues for at least three rounds, at the end of which whoever has collected the most Insane Assignment cards is declared the winner – and has thus beaten their fellow mad scientists to the top of the class!

This game was a lot of fun to play.  Of course, being an incorrigible ham probably helped me out a great deal with that.  Taking on the role of a megalomaniacal college student is not for the easily stumped or embarrassed!  Thankfully, I myself have very little in the way of shame.

I very much like the way in which the game promotes the idea of the players throwing themselves into their roles, the TA in particular, who’s encouraged in the text of the rules to behave as an insane demagogue!  You certainly don’t see THAT in every rules document.  The rules are also presented quickly and simply, on the underside of the game box – which is pretty small and easily portable; after all, the only things you need to carry are the cards.  This means you can pretty much just read the rules and get going without having to deal with much of a learning curve.

I can see this game working pretty well as a gateway to get friends and family members interested in new and different kinds of games, though it helps if they’re inclined toward the Weird to begin with. There’s also an expansion planned called Spring Break that looks like it’ll bring in some new and interesting twists.

When my friends and I played this game, we had a very good time with it, though you should keep in mind that the more players you have, the longer the game will take.  In our second game we were at the upper limit of seven players and I found that quite a few folks were about ready to move on to something else by the time we got into the second round.  I should point out, however, that we were all veterans of RPGs and were rather specific and grandiose in our descriptions.  There was also beer involved – though, granted, a few of the players said the beer enhanced the experience for them rather than detracting from it.

All in all, the only problem I really have with this game is that the suggested retail price of $24.95 is a little bit steep.  However, that said, I still recommend it as something you may want to look into picking up this holiday season.  With the massive number of games out on the market, finding one that stands out AND that encourages the use of the imagination can be a real challenge, and Mad Scientist University does both in spades.

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Music by Kevin MacLeod