Saturday, 23 March 2013

My Hobby: Crushing the Maquis Rebellion

I reported 2 months ago on the first season of the Star Trek Roleplaying I've been running for the crew of the USS Dauntless, and now we're finished with season 2 too. It's been quite a change of pace. Originally, everyone was barely competent and all they had was a junky old science ship, the Hur'Un, but they improved themselves and upgraded the hell out of their ship, to the point that the little Hur'Un could possibly even give the mighty (yet, ironically, even smaller) Dauntless itself a bit of a challenge now. Naturally, this changes the feel of the game a little, and there was a lot less running away in terror and a lot more blowing up ships 3 or 4 times their own size.
Sirco's Run

Where season 1 was mainly about getting the player crew and ship running at all, with lots of relatively minor missions to procure and set up their Maquis operation in the space of a few months, season 2 was quite a bit grander, with major interstellar politics, weird subspace phenomena and, ultimately, the fall of the whole Maquis movement, covering almost 2 years of in-game time. I had considered stretching this out and splitting it up, adding a third Maquis season, but I thought a sudden, unexpected jump to the uncomfortable ending might help to make that ending all the more uncomfortable. Whether that was smart or not, it's done now, and the Maquis have been crushed under the pitiless shared heel of Dukat and the Dominion. (Sharing heels is a pretty unpleasant exercise and would make you pitiless too.) That said, there will still be a season 3, it just won't be about the Maquis per se, but rather about how our ex-Maquis convicts (currently serving time in the New Zealand Penal Settlement) get conscripted into Starfleet to help fight the Dominion War. Think of it as The Dirty Dozen... In... SPAAAAAAAAACE!

I'll be changing the name of the series slightly, to reflect this change of format, from Star Trek: Edge of Nirvana, to Star Trek: Edge of Apocalypse, for what I hope are obvious reasons. This shouldn't be a big deal, partly because we never really refer to this game by its official title anyway, and partly because it's already a sort of continuation of (or at least, borrows elements from) two earlier series, Jason Green's Star Trek: Saracen and my old Star Trek: Last Voyage of the Rutan. As I think I was telling Petty Officer Alex a couple weeks ago, it's nice to have a game with so much personal history to draw on (up to 13 years back, if I use the old USS Saracen logs), when so many of the other games I've ever played have stood in total isolation from each other. Crossovers are fun and legacy is neat.

I'll also be giving the players the option of a new starship next season, though retaining their Hur'Un (which Starfleet would most likely want painted grey-white and renamed Rutan again) is also acceptable to me. I haven't quite finalised the list of options, but it'll be interesting to see what class they go for and what effect this has on season 3's tone and plot line.

I think Decipher's rule-writers may have confused the K'vort and B'rel classes in the official book's stats, because that thing was damn fragile in episode 2, but I did say K'vort at the time, so we're staying with that.

We had a couple new players this season, most notably a young cadet, about the same age I was when I started roleplaying, and who is the absolute youngest player I've ever GMed. In my very first attempt at running a game, I and most of my friends present were probably about a year or two older (because I only tried GMing when I'd been playing for about 2 years), but that was a million years ago now, and I can't actually remember for sure the last time I played with anyone who couldn't legally buy alcohol.

I was very surprised, at the end of our last session, when the players awarded me, for running the campaign, a gift of a new ST:Tactics booster, which turned out to be this handsome figurine of the Romulan Imperial Starship Pi (picture below). The name of that one alone fascinates me: Since no other Romulan ship name is given in English, is it just a coincidence that this one appears to be named after π? Did the Romulans write the actual number on the hull to however many decimal places they could fit it, or perhaps one of the formulae for calculating it, and Starfleet Intelligence/the script writers conveniently summarised it to one Human word? But I digress. This was an amazingly unexpected gift, because nobody ever rewards the GM, except with free snacks and drinks and freedom to express his or her megalomania. My public and grateful gratitude. It's one more reason why the Dauntless is a great ship.

We're going to take a 2 month break now, because I'm worn flat by running two campaigns at the same time (the Warhammer campaign was due to end this week too, but that damn Power Behind the Throne plot just won't finish, so it's got one more week in it before its break begins). I also need to start putting more time into my master's and moving house and hunting for a better job and my new hobby of taking STARFLEET Academy courses and probably 500 other things I've been putting off. Hopefully when we start again, I'll be full of new ideas and ready to run an even better season. It'd also be great to add some new faces, so feel free to let me know any time between now and eventually if you'd be interested.

Finally, I have an interesting thought for other local Trek GMs or potential GMs, especially but not exclusively those also serving on the Dauntless. I've thought for a long time now that it might be fun to run parallel campaigns, with multiple groups under different GMs each flying on their own starship, in a bigger, interwoven super-campaign, where the success or failure of one group can have an impact on the next mission faced by another group, and vice versa. And, perhaps, for a special session the groups could blob together for a big fleet operation of some sort. It would take a lot of preparation and coordination, but Obsidian Portal is already kind of set up for some of that admin. And if ever there were a period in Trek history that encourages large fleet operations, it's the Dominion War.

[EDIT: I realised I forgot to give the running death total per episode, as I did with season 1. I won't repeat that for season 3, since that's not a very Starfleet thing, but it does fit the Maquis tone pretty well. I won't give the episode plot summaries here either, as you can look on Obsidian Portal for those.]

Total deaths from season 1: 899

Deaths in Episode 1: Survival of the Fittest: 42
Deaths in Episode 2: Carrying Capacity: 1
Deaths in Episode 3: Viscera: 0
Deaths in Episode 4: Basic Plummage: 0
Deaths in Episode 5: Brood Parasite: 1,435
Deaths in Episode 6: Gamma Diversity: 316
Deaths in Episode 7: Edge Habitat: 60
Deaths in Episode 8: Extinction: 51

Total deaths from season 2: 1,905

Combined total deaths: 2,804

More than half of those were Cardassians, so that's ok, I guess. But the next biggest figure is Federation citizens, which is probably less good, from the Maquis perspective.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Late Observations on Buffy

I'm about a decade late in finally watching through all 7 seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I barely watched it on TV when it was fresh, and my first attempt to watch through it properly, back in 2007, ended for reasons beyond my control at around season 4. It really is great, and some episodes are fully fucking fantastic, as I'd expect from a Whedon endeavour. If nothing else, it helped a little with my high school nostalgia, giving a little closure. Now I just have a couple odd thoughts to get out of my system, which you may enjoy.

I love Nerf Herder's theme music, especially the cleaner, clearer season 1 & 2 version. It and the Doctor Who theme (oo-weeeee-OOooooooo! OO-weee-ooo-ooooo! DUN DUN DUN DA DUN DUN!) are the only ones I like enough to always listen through completely and never skip past. (There's also the fuck-awful Babylon 5 season 3 intro music, which I always play through completely, just so I can sing along to the overly dramatic and dischordant Dun Dun DAAAAAA Dun Dun DAAAAAA.) The normal scoring of the show was also decent, as good as can normally be expected for a typical TV series.

But any time there's plot music, music for the characters to interact with directly, it's usually shit. I always thought the Bronze looked like a decent enough club, not too different visually from the sorts of places I like in reality, but their live bands were almost all weak, anaemic wafts, devoid of any real passion and zazz, barely worth lifting the instruments for and certainly no good for dancing. The only exceptions, the few times that the characters chose to listen to anything that I'd call decent music, were when conflict and evil was transpiring at the same time, or when someone was being British, often both at the same time. Obviously this is just my personal observation, but it does suggest something interesting about the series' musical choices, one way or another.

There's arguably a similar pattern to fight choreography, with nearly all the minor bad guys either too weighted down in bulky demon costumes to move (especially in the early seasons) or fighting with the same style over and over, no matter their background or training. Most of the vampires just pop out of their graves for the first time and just start fighting in exactly the same style. It's not just instinctive aggression either, as there's a lot of flashy flipping and rehearsed stances; it mostly looks like the same fight choreography as Buffy's own style. They even joke about it in one of the late episodes. The only exceptions are the interesting, unique characters. Angel and Spike stand out most clearly, with a plain street-brawling thing instead.

I found that a bit of an obvious intrusion of reality, damaging my disbelieving suspenders a bit. But I will give them credit for getting it really right once, with the best choreographed sword duel I can remember seeing, including ones with lightsabers. It's between Buffy and Angel, lasts less than a minute, but still manages to look distinctive and dramatic, while serving the plot perfectly. It's exactly what fights in story-telling should be like.

Trachtenberg's cast
The only time I ever watched Buffy (or Angel) when it was on TV was with my high school ex. When I realised that the character of Dawn was played by Michelle Trachtenberg, who I only knew then as Nona F. Mecklenberg from The Adventures of Pete & Pete and who had a permanent cast on her arm for the whole of that series, I took much joy in mockingly trying to convince the ex that the cast was in fact a permanent feature of Trachtenberg herself, pointing out how conveniently she had at least one arm out of the shot, or was wearing long sleeves, or clearly had a CGI arm imposed over her cast-bearing arm. I've been having great fun playing the same game alone the last few weeks, and so imagine my annoyance when Dawn does break her arm and they don't use that as an excuse to show Trachtenberg's cast, proving me "right".

Still, I'm pretty sure Trachtenberg still has that cast on her arm today, and you'll note how hard it is to find her showing both bare arms together. Any pictures that contradict me are clearly faked.

Now I need to find the full series of Angel, and maybe the Buffy season 8+ comics.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

The A Week (and other article excesses)

The 2013 A Week approacheth!
(Second G should be lower-case.)

I explained its purpose here last year, thusly:

The main purpose of this is to let physically or socially isolated atheists quickly and easily see where they might find some sympathetic ears, or at least to give them some hope that they aren't totally alone in the world. It can be hard to imagine if you've never felt that sort of isolation, but any little bit of contact with the somewhat-like minded can mean a lot.

A secondary purpose (as far as I'm concerned, anyway) is to put a dent in theists' assumptions about their dominance and prevalence. It's easy to assume that everyone is like you, especially when the ones who are different specifically reject going out of their way to look different and distinct. And that assumption can feed a terrible arrogance and lack of self-questioning. Shaking that up every now and then is good for everyone.

Both those things together add towards making public atheism more socially acceptable.

And then I had to write a piece grumbling about poor participation for A Week 2012. Harumph!

Considering how easy it is, and how much that primary purpose could be appreciated, it seems like a ridiculously cheap cost-to-benefit ratio. All you have to do is change your profile picture for a week; it could possibly be easier, but that's already got to be below the minimum difficulty threshold for even the laziest among us (which is why I'm able to participate). So, why not just fly an A? Isn't it more effort to think up a reasonable excuse not to, than to just damn well do it?

And think of the poor atheist children! There are atheists in the Third World who wish they had even one day's worth of lower-case a (some of them even have to be ithiests instead, because it's cheaper), so cherish your nice, big, shiny upper-case A for a whole week! You lucky alphabet gourmet.

I haven't been able to find a formal Google+ equivalent, but I see no reason to limit this to just one social media site. I'll be A'ing both my FB and G+ profiles between 17 and 23 March.