Thursday, 21 July 2011

I believe it means a whale's vagina

Hi all FOC here,

Greetings from comic con! Myself and Mrs Camelot have been in San Diego for acouple of days now and I have been struck by how much this con has entered the public conciousness over here. We have been stopped by random passers by in the street to ask us about comic con. They all seem to be proud of it here.

That's new to me. My interests are fringe really. Fun, but fringe and that's ok with me. It's just that every time I mention comics or games to a muggle there's this kind of polite smile that comes across their face of total incomprehension. They don't really understand it. To most people comics are for kids, tv shows are disposable and the closest they have got to a tabletop rpg is a game of monopoly.

Comic con is different. For one thing it's massive, 150,000 attendees of massive to be precise. The reason for that is that it trancends fandom boundaries. We have comic fans, tabletop gamers, video gamers, anime and manga fans, genre tv fans, movie geeks, action figure collectors, Twilight fans, Harry Potter fans, cosplayers, you name it there's something for every fandom here.

If anyone were to think the popular geek stereotype is true then all they have to do is come here to have that notion disproved. This convention attracts normal people who just so happen to be fans of something. It's not just a bunch of fat thirty something guys (like me) who go, there are kids and teenagers, retirees and just as many women as men it seems. What strikes me is how normal everyone is and that may show how the fandom is invading the mainstream.

That said, someone has just passed me in a camo pattern kilt so normal is relative...

Your resident fanboy

Fall Of Camelot

Monday, 11 July 2011

Sport, legacy, money and Christian Lopez

Hey all FOC here,

On Saturday afternoon a 23 year old mobile phone salesman called Christian Lopez went to a baseball game with his father and his girlfriend. It was a special game, Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees was going for 3000 career hits and his total stood at 2998 hits going into the game. For those of you that don't know, 3000 hits is one of baseball's great achievements representing a career of great longevity and fortitude. Only 27 other players had hit 3000 hits in history and none had ever done it as a New York Yankee.

Jeter proceeded to get a hit in the first inning past the third baseman. His next at bat came in the third inning. The pitcher for Tampa Bay, David Price, challenged Jeter with a variety of pitches until Jeter connected with a curveball.

And he hit it straight to Christian Lopez.

Immediately Lopez was ushered out of his seat and taken into the backrooms of Yankee Stadium. Under baseball tradition that baseball now belonged to Christian Lopez. The Yankees staff asked what Lopez wanted for the ball. Lopez said that he wanted nothing for it and Derek Jeter could have it.

Now to put this in perspective. The home run ball that Mark Magwire hit for his 70th home run in 1998 was sold for 3 million dollars. Lopez could have easily held out for a million. Instead he got a few gifts and Yankee stadium box seats for the rest of the season.

Some people might say that he should have held out, that he was irresponsible for not looking after his family. But in my opinion Christian Lopez did the right thing. He recognised the significance of this ball in baseball history and made sure that the ball went back to who it truly belonged to. Baseball is a game about history and tradition and in making this gesture Christain Lopez has proved that he understands that. A class act and a true baseball fan.

Your resident Yankee

Fall of Camelot

Saturday, 9 July 2011

My 5 most underrated movies

Hey all FOC here,

There are many films I dislike, some I even hate (Michael Bay I'm looking at you). Then there are those movies that I love. Some are well known and yet others seem to be an afterthought for many people. These are my top 5 films that really should have a higher profile:

5) Wag the Dog

Robert De Niro is an odd case. Some people consider him to be a great actor but really in my opinion he plays the same character again and again (much like Michael Caine and John Wayne). So if you have a film that suits the gruff, always serious De Niro then you could well be onto a winner.

This is one of those movies. For those of you who haven't seen it De Niro plays an aide to a Clinton like president in the weeks before a presidential election. Unfortunately a scandal occurs when the president seduces a girl scout whilst she is on a tour of the Whitehouse. To avoid a political disaster De Niro decides to fake a war in Albania and brings in a Hollywood producer played by Dustin Hoffman to achieve this.

What's great about this movie is how De Niro and Hoffman play off each other. De Niro plays the straight man to Hoffman's eccentric producer and most of the humour comes from the way this preposterous situation is handled by both with dry humour and seriousness. It's that juxtaposition that makes the film a success.

4) Excalibur

When people are asked what their favourite fantasy movie is other than the Lord of the Rings they will usually answer with a 1980's production like Krull or Willow. Excalibur is very rarely mentioned.

I don't understand that. Excalibur is a vastly superior movie, more ambitious, more visually impressive and far better acted than any of the 80's fantasy offerings. To make a film about the entire Arthurian epic from beginning to end is a tremendous undertaking, one that they pull off with aplomb.

3) Master and Commander

"Hang on" you say, "I saw that film, it was awesome" and yes, yes it was. If this was a "films everyone thinks are sucky but I don't" post then Master and Commander would have no place here.

The point is that this post is about underrated movies and I think this is one. This is such a good movie that it should be regarded as highly as Gladiator or the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Yet it sits there as a movie everybody likes but then kind of forgets about. This is such a well acted, well directed movie that it deserves so much more.

2) Pitch Black

Much like Master and Commander this is an awesome movie that deserves more respect. Beautifully shot, brilliantly tense and well acted it's a sci fi classic that needs more support.

It's a shame that the grungy junk tech of the first movie was replaced by a gothic feel in the second movie but that doesn't invalidate the first movie in any way. Plus Riddick is awesome in this movie.

1) Tombstone

Man I LOVE this movie. It has "badass" stamped right through it. A truly magnificent film and it baffles me that it is not more widely respected.

From Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday to the brothers and the Cowboys the cast does a brilliant job. The gunfight at the OK Corrall is very well done, the dialogue is snappy and endlessly quotable and at the centre of it all Wyatt Earp is a spirit of vengeance played with perfect menace and drive by Kurt Russell.

This is a great movie, if you haven't watched it go find it now.

Your resident critic

Fall of Camelot

Thursday, 7 July 2011

PvP (or how I learned to stop worrying and panel the shit out of Charlie Bellows)

Hi all

A certain lurker has asked that I talk about PvP or Player vs Player for the uninitiated. Actually he requested a rant. Now, I'm all for a good rant about stuff but in this case a rant is not exactly warranted. The reason is that I'm not opposed to PvP in all circumstances.

PvP is a contentious issue. Some people love it, some people hate it. Now before I begin to outline my views I must say that generally I think it's not the done thing. In fact, it sucks. Losing your character isn't nice but to lose it to another PC is even worse. It means that someone has taken the conscious decision to end your character. It's not a monster, it's not a bad roll or an unfortunate mobbing in LARP, it's personal.

That's not to say it's always unwarranted. I have done it once or twice but the key to all those instances is that they were the culmination of months and months of events. For me it is the weapon of last resort, the DEFCON 1 of gaming and it should never be taken lightly. In all the instances of PvP I have ever participated in severe provocation was the cause.

What I do have a problem with is casual PvP. Mrs Camelot got killed at a LARP by a group that found it amusing to kill people's characters for no legitimate reason. Oh they said that it was to do with the background of the group and their IC religion demanded it but that was just stuff they had made up to justify being a douche. Just because it's in your character background doesn't mean it's warranted. Mrs Camelot was in tears because she lost a character she loved in the lowest, most pointless way possible.

This is one of my problems with "player led" LARP's. The essence of drama is conflict. So if no conflict is forthcoming from the plot players will manufacture it. Players will kill other players for something to do. If I lose a character I want it to be for a reason not because some nasty scumbag is bored.

Your resident psychopath

Fall of Camelot

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

What I want from LARP and why I’m not going to get it.

FOC here,

LARP is one of my major pastimes and I think when it’s good it is some of the most intense and satisfying roleplaying you can get. That said I am beginning to feel a sense of dissatisfaction with the LARP environment and I am beginning to realise that what I want to play simply does not exist.

An explanation, I only play fantasy LARP. Modern day and Sci Fi LARP’s don’t get my interest and besides they would cost a lot of moolah in new kit. So everything I say here pertains to fantasy LARP.

There are a lot of different LARP systems out there. Now I dislike the big systems. I find that the big systems are an excuse to wander into a field, set up a tent and then sit there for 90% of the event doing nothing. It’s majorly dull. Plus I loathe being anonymous at an event and in a group of hundreds you just get lost. You don’t feel special at a big event, you just feel like a drone.

So a game of about 20-50 players and a decent amount of crew is what I’m looking for. I want a game world that’s fully developed with distinctive regions and countries. I want to be able to develop plans and goals through downtime submissions. I want a coherent and established ongoing plot which ties into every event run and can be influenced and even changed by the actions of the players. That said I don’t want the plot to be exclusively player driven, if I am paying for an event I want a plot goddamn it!

All of that that I think is not difficult to achieve. But there is one thing I want my game to have which I think no LARP organisation can or will do.

I want it to end.

My serious issue with LARP games is that they just run and run with no clear goal in mind. Each event tends to be self contained with little or no reference to an ongoing plot. LARP events feel like comics in that they just meander along with no ultimate goal in mind. People turn up, play a game, enjoy themselves and then leave again. Characters just go on and on without purpose, plots are quickly forgotten and there is no sense of overarching world events.

A self contained campaign that lasted a finite amount of time would change that. Each game would advance the plot. Enemies would be familiar, people’s goals would be consistent and we would lose the meandering nature of LARP. I feel that this campaign style would enliven LARP and give people a more memorable experience. A good ending can be a great roleplaying experience and that is sorely lacking in LARP.

Of course that will never happen because it's in the vested interest of a LARP organisation to keep running events. Thus every LARP system potters along without any real sense of unity or urgency until someone runs off with all the money or something similar.

A proper LARP campaign with a beginning, middle and end would be great. I doubt this will ever happen but I would love to see it done.

Your thoughts as always are welcome

Your resident plot monkey

Fall of Camelot

Monday, 4 July 2011

My issues with WOD

Hey all FOC again,

Roleplaying is a funny thing. What one person likes, another person will hate. The reason for this is that playing a character is a personal thing and we each get something different from it. Some people treat it as a game, something to win or beat. Others treat it as a form of self expression, whilst there is yet another camp that likes the simulation aspect and looks for as realistic a game as possible.

All this leads to some pretty entrenched camps. Optimisers vs. Roleplayers; Realism vs. Abstract; Dice vs. Diceless and often System vs. System. As I have previously said roleplayers love to argue.

The big gaming debate when I left home in the mid nineties (other than “will Magic: The Gathering kill roleplaying?”) was the battle between Dungeons and Dragons and Vampire: The Masquerade. D&D had been around since 1975 and it ruled the roleplaying environment. There were other games out there but they either folded in direct competition (Rolemaster, Runequest) or carved out their own niche so as not to compete with D&D (Traveller, Call of Cthulhu). D&D by the early nineties was the big dog on campus.

Vampire and its successors (collectively the World of Darkness or WOD) changed that, at least for a while. This was the first big challenge to the hegemony of D&D and at that time you could find just as many Vampire players as players of D&D. At this point I was playing and running both D&D and Vampire equally. I also played and ran Vampire LARP. For a time they were the two dominant games on the market.

However, this rivalry lead inexorably to a war of words between the adherents of both systems. Hardcore WOD players accused D&D of being a simplistic dungeon hack and D&D players accused WOD players of being mopey Lestat wannabes. It got pretty heated for a while. I clearly remember reading a letter in the White Wolf magazine that said Vampire was better than D&D because it was a “storytelling” game not a “roleplaying” game. The inference was that Vampire was for roleplayers and D&D was for munchkins.

Of course none of this is true. You can have awesome roleplayers in D&D and munchkins in Vampire. But it must be said that after a few years of WOD I gave it up and concentrated on other games, primarily D&D. My last big bash playing a WOD game (aside from Changeling which is an honourable exception to everything I am about to say) was a Vampire LARP game I played about 10 years ago. I realised that the WOD was not for me about then.

Why? What is it about WOD that makes me dislike it so much? Well I’m not a fan of the mechanics and systems of WOD but I can ignore that in other games. Likewise the Paper-Scissors-Stone nonsense of Vamp Live I can get past. No, my objection to the WOD is more deep rooted than that. It comes down to four things:

1) It’s depressing: Everything in WOD is downbeat and pessimistic. That’s just not me. I don’t want to play a whiny depressed soul wailing for the loss of his humanity. I just can’t empathise with that. I don’t want to be the bad guy; I want to beat the bad guy.

2) It’s largely pointless: In WOD whatever you do is pointless. There’s always some bigger, badder, nastier ubervamp/wraith/wyrm thing waiting to beat you, manipulate you or turn you into something horrible. If I have no control over the destiny of my character I don’t want to play

3) The deferential attitude: In WOD games you must defer to those with more status and more power and it takes a buttload of booklicking to work your way up the greasy pole. How is that fun? One of my favourite cinematic moments is Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood marching into the Sherriff of Nottingham’s court and telling him to bugger off. It’s audacious and cool. In Vampire that scene would have ended with a quick bit of dominate and a staking. It’s a game about being a toady not a hero.

4) It’s not conducive to party cohesion: WOD in many instances sets itself up to have inter party conflict. I never like that, PvP is generally nasty and unwarranted. In LARP that is magnified five fold as PC’s eat each other alive. This is not fun.

Basically no-one in the World of Darkness smiles. There are other dark games out there but they all have a joie de vivre about them. Cyberpunk 2020 is a good example, you may only have a plastic gun with 2 bullets, a pair of sunglasses and a leather jacket but damn if you don’t look cool.

WOD is miserable and it’s characters are miserable. I don’t want to be miserable. I want to enjoy myself and play the hero. I want to jump out of a dirigible over Iceland, I want to hold the bridge against an army of thousands, I want to look into the teeth of the 1,000 year old dragon and know that it’s toast. I don’t want to explore my angst or be afraid to use my powers or defer to a corpse. Give me heroes anytime.

Your resident hero wannabe

Fall Of Camelot

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Haye, Murray and the perceived pain of being a UK sport fan.

Hi all FOC here,

Forgive me readers for I have sinned, it has been 4 days since my last blog post. In my defence I have been busy gaming. Sorry about that, I know you all hang on my every word :).

What an eventful 4 days it has been though hasn't it? England get beaten by Sri Lanka in the cricket, Murray flatters to deceive in the first set before Nadal steps up his game and Haye finally faces an opponent that's too good for him. All we needed was a miserable performance from the England football team to have a true weekend of British sport. Lucky they weren't playing really...

All of this got me to thinking about the state of British sport. Some people say that in this country we love the loveable loser. The plucky Brit who tries against all the odds but just falls short. Now about 10-15 years ago I would have agreed. Henman, Bruno, the England Cricket team of the 90's, all plucky but ultimately they all lost and we loved them despite this. But now we are getting angry as a nation when we lose. We have had an era of almost but not quite and I think the nation is less forgiving of defeat. This has given rise to two interesting phenomena.

Firstly our expectations have been raised. Why can Spain win everything in football and we get schooled by Germany (again)? Why can't we have a world beater who sweeps all before him? Our expectations have been tempered by years of disappointment and we no longer find it endearing. As a nation are beginning not to accept defeat lightly, we now expect success. Almost but not quite doesn't cut it any more.

Secondly, many of our sportsmen and women have got better. There is no doubt in my mind that Murray is orders of magnitude better than Henman. England now have (in my opinion) the best Test Match team in the world. British Olympic teams now accumulate buckets of gold medals. In cycling, sailing and Rowing we are a significant force. In rugby the home nations no longer get routinely schooled by the southern hemisphere giants. In many sports we have steeled ourselves and got better. Look at Rory McIlroy's imperious display in the US Open for a good example.

This success is in marked contrast to the England football team of course who (if anything) have got worse over the years. The fans are restless because we all see other British sportsmen and women doing well and we can't understand why England football can't emulate them. This doesn't include the women's team of course who have progressed impressively- now there's a team to follow. The British sport paradigm has shifted, we've had enough of losers, we want winners now.

As to this weekend's events well here's my opinion (you lucky things). Murray lost to a genius, pure and simple. Murray is a great player and if he doesn't end up winning a major eventually I will be surprised. I do think however that if he does win a major it will be on the hard courts of the US or Australia which suit his style better. As to Nadal, what a player and what a performance, most players wouldn't have even taken a set so Murray has some reasons to be cheerful. Murray's time may yet come.

Heavyweight boxing is not where it's at now really. Athletes from all around the world have realised that you can get more and earn more playing sports that don't require you to get punched repeatedly in the face. Why be a heavyweight boxer when you can be an NFL linebacker? It's more money and (presumably) less pain. For me Haye was always a cruiserweight pretending to be a heavyweight. As soon as he came up against a decent opponent his weaknesses were exposed. In my opinion Haye should call it a career now as he has vowed to do. He was a two weight champion, he's earned a lot of money and he just came up short of the best. Do what Hatton failed to do, bow out gracefully.

Finally English cricket. There's a strange thing in cricket that you can be massively impressive in one form of the game and an also ran in another. The fact is England are much better than Sri Lanka at test cricket and the positions are reversed in one day cricket. There are signs of encouragement though. Keiswetter is a better choice than Prior as the wicketkeeper and the likes of Bresnan and Morgan should provide a good backbone for the side going forward. There's no doubt though that England need to learn the game better in the 50 over format and must improve. But at least they haven't been whitewashed by Sri Lanka this time so clouds and silver linings and all that.

So this weekend has been a moderately depressing one for a British sport lover but that's only in the context of our new found expectations for our sportsmen and women.

Your resident pundit

Fall of Camelot