Steampunk and supernatural games at GenCon 2011

Steampunk Lego airship
Steampunk Lego airship

Continuing my look at this year’s GenCon, after fantasy role-playing games, steampunk is one of the hottest subgenres right now. Cubicle 7, which publishes The One Ring, will also be putting out the much-anticipated Airship Pirates. Another RPG that looks promising is the FATE-based steampunk/superheroic Kerberos Club.

Margaret Weiss Productions, which already had tie-ins for Buffy: the Vampire Slayer/Angel, Smallville, Battlestar Galactica, Serenity/Firefly, Supernatural, and Leverage, will use its Cortex Plus system for the similarly themed swashbuckling Dragon Brigade. It might not be Dragonlance, and although the densely packed introductory “Opening Salvo” might intimidate newer gamers, Dragon Brigade could be fun.

Lady Blackbird is a better model of concise presentation in this mashup subgenre. As much as I like such games, after seeing numerous steampunky sky pirates at conventions in the past year or so, I wonder if they’re are all scrambling for the same audience rather than there being a few rules sets that can capture and build upon it.

Although I’m not currently playing in a steampunk game, I have fond memories of Tim M.B.‘s GURPS 3e “Arth” in Virginia in the 1990s and my own “Gaslight Grimoire” (using GURPS Steampunk, Castle Falkenstein and D20 Etherscope). I am currently reading Perdido Street Station.

Josh C.’s steampunk/fantasy combination of AD&D2 Spelljammer and FATE 3e Legends of Anglerre has wound down for now, and Jason E.R. has proposed running some alternate-history one-shots. Speaking of alternate history, it looks like the fantasy Secret Fire, whose breathless promotions said it would honor the memory of Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax and “end the edition wars,” may have been a bit hyperbolic.

In other licensing news, congratulations to Evil Hat Productions for the Origins and Ennie awards won by the Dresden Files RPG. Greg D.C. and Paul J. have been running the modern supernatural game (based on Fantastic Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment, or FATE 3e) for their portion of the Boston-area groups. Janice has read Jim Butcher’s novels.

They, Josh C., and Dave S.C. have also run various horror one-shots. I haven’t played in a longer-term supernatural campaign since Hans C.H.’s Storyteller: World of Darkness-Vampire: the Masquerade in the late 1990s in Virginia, but FATE is one of the more popular systems right now in my groups. Like Wizards of the Coast, White Wolf is moving from strictly pen-and-paper games to multimedia entertainment.

While I’ll leave coverage of board games, wargames, collectible card games, and assorted computer games to others, I’ll look at superhero and science fiction RPGs soon!

Horror and fantasy thrive on TV

Camelot wallpaper
Starz's Camelot

Since horror is one of the more accessible genres, supernatural dramas are perennially popular on television. I’ve enjoyed BBC America’s Being Human, and I can appreciate why SyFy’s U.S. version, as well as Supernatural, Vampire Diaries, and HBO’s True Blood, all have strong fan bases. I don’t know if any of them will have the popularity or influence of Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, but Joss Whedon always had an eye for talent and an ear for dialogue. Greg D.C. has been running a Dresden Files game using FATE.

In fact, after the demise of superhero shows and the struggles of space opera on TV, the networks are again banking on fairy tales and police procedurals for their fall schedules, with Alcatraz, Awake, Gifted Man, Grimm, Once Upon a Time, Person of Interest, River, Secret Circle, and Touch. Never mind that shows such as Journeyman, New Amsterdam, Eli Stone, Reaper, and Eastwick all failed. Of the upcoming shows, I may check out Grimm and Awake.

For more traditional sword-and-sandals action, I wonder how Season 2.5 of Spartacus will manage with a new star. I’ve seen only the premiere of the fantasy Game of Thrones, which sports strong writing and production values, but Camelot on Starz should satisfy my sword-and-sorcery (and sex) quota and is not to be confused with the BBC/SyFy young-adult Merlin.

Camelot is based on Thomas Malory’s Le Morte de Arthur, which isn’t my favorite version of the legends, but the series has taken a new look at mythic Britain’s romantic intrigues and attempts to establish chivalrous code. I recently enjoyed Tony Hays’ The Beloved Dead, the third book in a series of Arthurian mysteries that Janice pointed me to. They’re more historical than mystical, like The Last Legion and the 2004 King Arthur.

I’ve considered including court intrigues in my current Pathfinder/Skype: “the Vanished Landstelecom fantasy campaign, but the current teleconferencing party is rather low in experience/power level. If I was to run an Arthurian scenario, I might use GURPS Camelot, D20 Legends of Excalibur or Relics & Rituals: Excalibur, or FATE 3e Legends of Anglerre.

As far as scheduling goes, it looks like Friday nights will again be crowded, with Young Justice, Star Wars: Clone Wars, Chuck, Fringe, and Grimm, among others. It’s worth remembering that for every successful genre TV show, there are many that never make it out of the pilot phase. What upcoming programs are you looking forward to? Have a good Memorial Day weekend!

27 August 2009: District 9 review

District 9 wallpaper

On Saturday, 22 August 2009, Janice represented the Animal Rescue League of Boston as a volunteer at the “Blues and Brews” festival in Westford, Massachusetts. I met Brian W. and a friend at the AMC Framingham cineplex to screen District 9.

We enjoyed the science fiction film, which was an overt allegory about apartheid (although some viewers seem to have missed that). Sharlto Copley plays Wikus van de Merwe, a clueless employee of a government contractor managing camps for extraterrestrial refugees nicknamed “Prawns.” The abject poverty, casual racism, and enclaved middle class are all the more believable because of the South African setting. Footage of actual riots is used for some scenes.

DirectorNeill Blomkamp poses the uncomfortable question of who are the monsters — the marooned aliens or ruthless humanity? Other movies, such as Alien Nation and Enemy Mine, have warned “civilized” audiences to beware of the brutality lurking just under
our skins. The first half of District 9 plays like a documentary, while the second half is more of an action/horror flick, similar to Aliens or The Fly.

Despite a modest budget, the special effects are impressive as van de Merwe inadvertently
becomes the center of attention by the government, the news media, the Prawns, and a criminal warlord. District 9 is rated R for graphic violence. This may explain why five of the six trailers we saw before the movie were for horror flicks, with the last one inexplicably for
Where the Wild Things Are.

Producer Peter Jackson, best known of the Lord of the Rings adaptation, no doubt helped this movie get a wider release, which it deserved. I’d give District 9 an 8.5 out of 10, or an A-. Despite Hollywood’s reliance on established franchises, it’s nice to see something relatively original.

Coming soon: Gaming, work, dining out, and superheroes!

Wednesday, 29 July 2009: SFTV and Comic-Con

Star Wars: Clone Wars

As my last blog post noted, comic books have inspired several successful movies in the past several years, so it’s no surprise that Hollywood had a major presence at the 40th annual San Diego Comic-Con last week. “Beautiful downtown Burbank,” or the television industry, was also well-represented, with actors rubbing shoulders with costumed fans.

I’ve been a fan of slacker comedies such as Reaper, partly because popular directors such as Kevin Smith and Judd Apatow represent my generation (if not necessarily its work ethic or supposed lack thereof). Espionage spoof Chuck and sleuth homage Psych have been consistently entertaining, but I think The Middleman has the best mix of fanboy allusions, witty writing, and empathetic acting. I would have liked to have been at the live reading of the “lost script,” which will eventually come out in comic book form, completing Middleman‘s life cycle.

As with their graphical origins, TV metahuman melodramas have continued, despite mixed reviews. I think Heroes has room for improvement, but many disillusioned viewers may forget that most genre programs have their ups and downs in terms of story and quality. We’ll also see whether Smallville‘s slow approach to the Superman mythos, including a Justice Society episode, will help it overcome its dependence on tired tropes. The latest version of Human Target has a narrow premise, but I like its cast.

G4 had extensive coverage of the Star Wars panel at Comic-Con, marred somewhat by the forced hijinks of usually appealing hosts Kevin Perreira and Olivia Munn. Many of my friends stopped following George Lucas’ space opera franchise after realizing that the prequel films were aimed at a younger audience than us, but I’m looking forward to Season 2 of the computer-animated Star Wars: Clone Wars on the Cartoon Network. I may also try to get tickets to the upcoming musical concert tour if it comes to Boston.

Speaking of cartoons, Batman and the Brave and the Bold, like Spectacular SpiderMan, revels in Silver Age goofiness rather than Bronze Age funk. A musical episode, classic voice casting (including a bombastic Aquaman), and clever use of obscure characters from across the DC universe make Brave and the Bold worth watching.

Marvel Comics has been more successful in print and movies than DC, but it’s only now catching up to the latest wave in animation. Wolverine and the X-Men and Iron
have been decent, but Marvel
Superhero Squad (premiering 19 September 2009) might capture more of the old-school, child-friendly humor and action of comics’ Silver Age. The anime-style Iron Man and Wolverine might also be good.

More serious is the just-released direct-to-DVD Green Lantern: First Flight, continuing DC/Warner Brothers’ strong lineup of Justice League: New Frontier, Batman: Gotham Knight, Wonder Woman, and the upcoming Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. Andrea Romano is a voice-casting genius, and I’ll review Green Lantern‘s first cosmic foray (and other recent DVD acquisitions) separately.

Speaking of interstellar adventures, but back to live action, the Doctor Who panel didn’t reveal many new tidbits about David Tennant‘s final outings (for now) as the Gallifreyan Time Lord, but I wish his successor Matt Smith luck in taking on a role inhabited by 10 predecessors. I don’t think a remake of alien invasion series “V” is necessary, but it does sport decent production values and casting.

I’m among those who have criticized the rebranding of the SciFi Channel as “SyFy,” but I’ll keep watching what few genre shows it has left rather than wrestling, schlock horror, or so-called reality programming. Cryptozoology series Sanctuary has room to grow, but the promotion of Stargate: Universe as being more like the revisionist Battlestar Galactica or even Joss Whedon’s prematurely canceled Firefly/Serenity than the solid Stargate SG1 is a turnoff to me.

Admittedly, I have lower standards for Smallville or the syndicated fantasy Legend of the Seeker, but I’ve already spent a few years following them instead of other popular arc-driven shows such as Lost. Sword-and-sandals fans may also enjoy Spartacus, which may not match the adult content of HBO’s Rome, but it won’t be Xena: Warrior Princess, either (for better or for worse), despite Lucy Lawless’ participation.

AMC‘s upcoming miniseries remake of Patrick McGoohan‘s paranoid Prisoner has a combination of the things I like about genre television: nostalgia with a modern twist,
solid casting and production value, and (I hope) good writing. I’ve also just started watching Being Human, a drama about a vampire, a ghost, and a werewolf as roommates, on BBC America.

Coming soon: Last but not least, comic books and games!

Summer SFTV


The summer 2009 genre television season has picked up, including SyFy’s lighter conspiracy series Warehouse 13, TNT’s returning capers on Leverage, and Disney XD’s Silver Age-style Spectacular Spider-Man. Because of time constraints, I’ve dropped the computer-animated Iron Man and Bible-inspired Kings from my viewing schedule, and although several friends have recommended Lost, I’m  leery of making a commitment to yet another continuity-driven show.

This week promises an embarrassment of riches, with BBC America showing the wellreceived Torchwood: Children of Earth science fiction/horror miniseries and the beginning of the end of David Tennant as the eponymous time traveler in Doctor
: Planet of the Dead.
I’ve been a fan of that long-running franchise since high school and look forward to the good doctor’s next incarnation.

In addition, G4 will be covering the annual San Diego Comic-Con, which has become more noteworthy lately for film previews than for comic books and graphic novels. On DVD, I’m looking forward to the releases of Watchmen, The Middleman, Coraline, Pushing Daisies
Season 2, and Green Lantern: First Flight. I have yet to see Hulk vs., Quantum of Solace, and Tale of Desperaux.