Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Her Glass Slipper was by Converse

Its been a long day and there's still work to do
She's pulling at me saying, "Dad, I need you
There's a ball at the castle and I've been invited
And I need you to practice my dancing, oh please, daddy, please"

This song, Cinderella by Steven Curtis Chapman, punctuated the Princess Ball my daughter and I attended last month. Coincidentally, these lyrics of the song almost perfectly describe the theme of the evening…

The Whatever Girls is an organization begun by a friend of mine and designed to provide intentional guidelines for parents and daughters about making good choices. The world has become so overloaded with options for expression and desire, that the question becomes one of discernment.

I think it is most important to talk to children, even--and especially--about the uncomfortable stuff. If you can talk, without judging, and give them your opinion without dismissing theirs, it can go a long way toward creating a situation where they will make the right choice. Often, they listen, and if they feel their thoughts are important (i.e. you didn't just tell them they were wrong, or bad,) they may make the decision you wanted them to; because you valued them, they will value you.

How do we know what is the right choice, or even the best choice? The Whatever Girls provides a forum for helping guide the decision making process. And helping parents and their children--a companion forum for boys is being discussed--talk about what might be important to both.

I hope you check it out, whether you’re a parent or not (you might be the cool aunt or uncle one day.)

The Princess Ball was a dance designed to allow dads and their daughters to share a night out together. For me and my daughter, it provided for bonding as well as time to share some proper date etiquette (she was rather annoyed with me because I didn't open her door quickly enough. Later, she waited very primly for me to pull out her seat; I hope she doesn't settle for any less when she truly starts to date.)

We talked, we laughed, we took goofy pictures, and even danced (I think my wife was a little jealous.) At the end of the evening, they played the song above and we slow danced, both of us bawling our eyes out. It was incredible, and I don’t think she will forget it.

I know I will never forget it; it was practice for that day when I will have to let her go. I know it won’t ever be easy to let her grow up, but I hope that we’ll never grow apart. And no matter how grown up she gets, I will never grow tired of hearing: “Dad, I need you…”

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What Kind of World Do You Want?

By David

Once upon a time, when Dragon Magazine was still a print entity found in magazine racks, a feature series captured my attention called Dungeoncraft, penned by Ray Winninger, the series gave step by step advice to dungeon masters for creating memorable environments for their Dungeons and Dragons games. The article entries were fun to read even if you never used them in a practical sense and they occupied my bookcase--never gathering dust--for many years. I've been reading them recently to give myself a focus, or at least a starting point, in the creation of Archaborea, my new fantasy world.

The first step is to decide on a hook, the points which would define and characterize my world. I had many ideas to begin with: themes and concepts I wanted to explore and exploit, but what were the headlines? What made my world unique?

Archaborea; the essentials.

Primitive Savagery and High Adventure.
I wanted something non-standard: less Tolkien and more Burroughs (although, G.R.R Martin "politics" aren't out of the mix.)
Most of the world is undeveloped or even unspoiled by mortal hands. In the heavens, elemental powers wage an eternal war with elder beings; think Mother Nature versus Cthulhu. The collision of natural and unnatural forces result in jagged mountains, breathless jungles, sucking swamps and infernal deserts. Fell beasts and even predatory plant life abound outside civilized areas. Those who rise above daily survival to seek their fortune are truly exceptional, the stuff of myths and legends.

The Bad Guys Rule.
This one has become a standard, but it provides a good backdrop for other ideas. Also, the Evil Empire trope is near and dear to me...
A decades-old war established the domination of the Ogre Lords (somewhat of a misnomer which stuck; no one knows if the lords are actually of ogreish descent...) Conquerors rumored to have their own fearful rulers, the Ogre Lords have erected fortresses of stone to protect their slaves and subjects from the wilderness and each other. Cities and villages are few and far between existing in places where people have put down roots, determined to hold their freedom and their ground.

Metal is a rare commodity.
This played into the primitive savagery angle, and gives an extra challenge to the potential heroes. The will need to be creative and resourceful in order to arm themselves.
The Ogre Lords and their warlords, enforcers/sympathizers, attempt to control potential uprisings by controlling superior weaponry, keeping the best for their personal armies. Metal weapons and armor are seized at fortress gates and most metal mines are controlled by the Ogre Lords. Metalworking skill has been forbidden to the general populace, punishable by death. Common arms and armor are more often made of leather, wood, bone, stone, and other such materials. Because iron and steel are hard to come by legally, many have become very creative in their materials and designs for personal protection.

Religion is not about faith.
In a world where the very forces of nature are at war, fate and destiny can seem very fickle.
Faith and belief in Archaborea relies on what can be seen or felt. The majority worship primal forces and the natural elements-even if the primal spirits are often wild and vengeful. Elder beings grant power in return for subservience and sacrifice.

Arcane magic is feared, Elemental magic is revered.
I wanted to enforce the notion that magic is mysterious and powerful; I don't like magic being commonplace or expected. Again, back to pulp stories like Robert E. Howard.
Sorcerers and Magicians are viewed with awe and fear by the superstitious populace. True magic power comes from forces often grotesque or beyond comprehension. Shamans and Priests harness the power of nature or elemental forces. Devoted worship can grant the ability to create what some view as miracles.

Adaptation for survival means the term “race” is often only about physical appearance.
I don't like racial stereotypes as a rule. And I had some ideas for mixing up the traditional stereotypes of fantasy races. Why did dwarves need to be stoneworkers? What if dwarves could be "cowboys" or mountaineers?
The wars of conquest by the Ogre Lords displaced many from their traditional areas and the races of Archaborea have adapted to “non-standard” geographical locales. The race referred to as “Dwarves” are not all subterranean miners, some may be plains nomads surviving by herding, trading, or raiding; low and stout in appearance, but wayward and surprisingly quick. “Elves,” lithe and sharp in their features, are as likely to be found on a mountaintop, or lurking in the catacombs below cities, tradespeople who keep the city structures intact. Outside of the fortress walls, tribal structures are much more loose and varied racially; the masters of the Jade Forest might be composed of gnomes, fairie folk, and humans, living side by side as one.

Mr. Winninger had two basic rules he used for this process.
1. "Never create more than you must."
2. "Whenever you design a major piece of the campaign world, always devise at least one secret related to that piece." I have hinted at some potential secrets in my hooks, but I will not reveal them yet. Next comes a little basic geography and sociology to give my heroes a starting point.

 What Kind of World Do You Want? Part 1

In my head, the "ogre lords" look more akin to minotaurs, hence the note in The Bad Guys Rule hook...

What Kind of World Do You Want? Part 2

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Not in the DM's Guide (Dads/Moms Guide)

A friend of mine, on his 18th birthday, came home to find his mom, a cake and his packed suitcases. His mom said, “Happy Birthday, I’ve done my job, you’re a man, and you’re on your own.” Now, that is paraphrased from my friend’s account of that day, but the facts are accurate. His mother turned him loose on the world when he turned 18. I have known others who have moved out of their own volition when they turned 18, still others who stayed with their parents until mid-20s or later. But my question is this: When is it time to strike out on your own? And does the impetus, whether internal (choice) or external (forced) have anything to do with the growth process?

I have a son who is 22 and a son who is 20, both still living with me. One is working full time, while the other is going to college. My wife and I told both that they could live at home as long as they were being productive (i.e. pursuing higher education, or working full time.) I am worried that I might be hampering the growth process in some way. Now, I know going to school and working to support oneself is a daunting task, but to the son who is working full time, am I doing him a favor in the long run? We have talked about his future plans and he does want to be on his own, but if there are no other issues (attitude, slacker behavior, etc.) is it really bad to want your child staying at home?

Other parents I have spoken to have handled this in different ways. Some have evicted their adult children, some have taken on a tenant/landlord relationship. I know that I moved out of my parents house and survived; my wife (his mother) did as well. It shouldn’t be an issue of fear, so long as I have done my job as a parent, right? He should not end up sleeping on the streets (unless he chooses that, of course.) And that is the rub. Am I hanging on because of fear of losing him? Cutting the apron strings (or the umbilical cord) is not without some pain. All change is painful, but it doesn’t need to be the end. My dad and I never talked much while I was growing up, but he became a friend when I left home. My own son and I have a pretty good relationship now; I wonder, will it strengthen, weaken, or not change much if he moves out?

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Suit of NFL Armor?

If you paint your body in colors, wear crazy hair and wave a flag, people will call you a “die-hard superfan.”
On the other hand, if you put on a cloak, and carry a homemade lightsaber, they will say “You need to grow up.” (Actually, that last bit was a paraphrase from a news anchor covering the Revenge of the Sith premiere)
Personally, I don’t think being a grownup means having to give up the things you enjoy, it just means you make decisions--good or bad--based on an understanding of the consequences. Both fans are having fun and supporting their franchise in a way that they enjoy, why should one be a social stigma and the other a casual ribbing?

I first saw Star Wars out of the family station wagon at a drive-in theater in 1977. By the time I saw the movie I had already read the novelization, the comic adaptation, and numerous spfx magazines devoted to behind the scenes material. All that immersion did nothing to spoil the visceral thrill I experienced.

Can a similar line be drawn to the armchair quarterback? I think it can; my father, mother and brothers have all been guilty of shouting at the TV screen, either out of elation or frustration.

My dream now is to build a suit of Sandtrooper armor and join the 501st, marching in charity parades and making children smile. I wonder how many football fans dream of putting on a jersey and joining the NFL?

Friday, September 13, 2013

I have raised my own gaming group

I love playing games with my family. I have raised my own gaming group, as it were. Every Sunday is our game night: the kiddos take turns picking out a game for the family to play. We have played Munchkin Zombies, Uno, Three Dragon Ante, and Apples to Apples. We haven’t played D&D much recently, except for some of the current playtest of the 5th edition, but I am itching to play again.
Recently a new podcast, Save Or Die, has caught my attention and brought back memories of playing with that original box set that ruled my youth. The hosts are all very articulate and remind me of many of my friends (DM Glen reminds me of my best friend, Rob: gruff sounding, but a great conversationalist). Their topics revolve through Basic D&D (the set I started with and the Mentzer Red Box) from the history of the game to points of controversy or interest within the rules. What really amazes me is that every edition of D&D is still being played by someone, somewhere. Every fan has a favorite edition or favorite parts of several editions, and everyone’s edition is the best one. Personally, I just love to play, nearly any edition will do.
I have aspirations of creating a campaign setting (a world of extreme natural forces and elder evil beings; a place just begging for heroes to save it), and playing with the family. I am thinking of chronicling my process here as a way of keeping myself on task. It may only interest me or my players, and if readers want to skip every “world creation post,” I will vary my topics and keep this blog from becoming a one trick pony.

Coming soon: ArchaBorea. Primitive. Savage. Where even the grinning cactus will eat you…

Friday, September 6, 2013

Retiring under the Camphor Tree

Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement recently to a flurry of news and speculation, including the sincerity of it; he has retired before, only to return. That is nothing new. Many celebrities and artists in particular have feigned retirement only to continue to create. I think most just need a break and are unable to express it as such because they are in the public eye. It is easier to say: ”I am retired.” and walk away from fans briefly than it would be to say: “I’m taking a break.” without the inevitable follow-up: “When will you be off break?” The former statement enables one to take some rest and be forgiven for ignoring the public until ready to return. The latter quip comes off as lip service and cryptically begs for more explanation. If he needs a break, so be it; for that matter, if he really is retiring, good for him--he’s earned it.

I know some (gasp) have never heard of him and some (double-gasp) don’t care for him, and that is not my aim here. If you do not care, I am not here to argue, but if you don’t know him or his animation, stay and listen. I am not going to be exhausting, I just want to share a bit of my experience and steer you in a direction (even if that direction is away, if he isn’t your cup of tea.)

My first experience with Miyazaki was: Warriors of the Wind. I had no idea at the time that it was such a different version than its original form: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Watching “Nausicaa” was like seeing a new movie with familiar characters; it was delightful. It was not my introduction to anime, (Star Blazers and Speed Racer did that) but it did serve to make me seek out more by its creator.
I have a few recommendations (if you are more interested, you can search at the site above--the Nausicaa link--to see more if his fine work). His films are filled with deep storylines, as in Howl’s Moving Castle, layered characters (Porco Rosso), and terrifically strong-willed female characters (Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro are still quoted around our house to this day; they are the “Growing Up” movies for our children, and soon, our grandchildren.) If you want to laugh, check out
 Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, for slapstick situations and silly characters. If you want serious themes, look at Princess Mononoke’s environmental take compared to Nausicaa’s (Mononoke may be a bit too intense for young viewers--preview it first.) For fantastical imagery there is Laputa: Castle in the Sky (listen for Mark Hamill's voice) and Ponyo (with Liam Neeson, although I didn’t much care for this one. The story was a bit too disjointed for me, and I really wasn’t made to care for Ponyo).

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Origin vs. Remake (Are there only 7 different stories in existence?)

Something that has always interested me in my delirium of tv, movies, and comic books is reference after reference to classic themes and images. Most of what we see or read either derives from, or is an homage to, stories written centuries ago. From my youth, Bullwinkle Moose told the tales of Aesop, Ray Harryhausen brought 3-Dimensional life to the monsters of Mysterious Island, and Stan Lee told gothic, Shakespearean tales in four-color pulp. Pop culture (even before that term was coined) is saturated with imagery from the classics.
My favorite, and the easiest, examples of origin versus re-imagining is in the films of Akira Kurosawa.
He retold stories from Eastern mythology and folklore and his films have, in turn, been retold using Western themes and motifs. Kurosawa’s film, Seven Samurai (a disparate, colorful group of seemingly soulless warriors defending a peaceful collective rediscover their humanity) has been remade in nearly every time period from medieval (Ironclad) to futuristic (Battle Beyond the Stars). The film Yojimbo (a lone warrior saves innocents from rival despots vying for control of the local area) has been made with prohibition era gangsters (Last Man Standing) and in the old west (A Fistful of Dollars).
Of course, some were good: the old west version of Seven Samurai called The Magnificent Seven has been placed in a classic status of its own. Some have been bad: Yojimbo spawned a train wreck (“I can’t look away!”) fantasy version with David Carradine called The Warrior and the Sorceress.
The question is: how do these remakes and re-imaginings compare to their origins? Do they follow or reflect the spirit of their inspiration? Did they simply use a similar image to evoke a particular mood or theme? Or are they mere reference points, like tour pics from the author’s psyche? Comparing stories and their origins can create more appreciation for the subtleties involved in each individual story. One can see what the original author’s intent might have been as well as possible reasons it is being retold: new perspectives help some stories reach wider modern sensibilities, a similar theme could be used to tell a different moral, maybe a purely entertaining story could be used as a cautionary tale if restructured.
But the danger is in the intent of the retelling and the knowledge base of the new audience. What if the audience doesn't know where something came from or that it is not a wholly original idea? Will their understanding be one of blind faith? Or could someone appreciate a tale just as well and even learn more from it if they don’t know of its origins? At the very least, a reader should always question the author’s intentions. Don’t accept something just because someone says it in an entertaining way; that is how Opus ended up with a living room full of turnip twaddlers...
What are your favorite remakes/re-imaginings? Do they do justice to their source? Are they better? Why?

What are the worst you've seen?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Did I mention I was (am) a nerd? Did I need to?

I grew up watching a healthy (read: insane) amount of tv and movies. At age 6, I can remember running, screaming out of the theater during The Towering Inferno. (As a parent myself, I would not take my kindergartner to a movie like that, but I am not putting down my parents. Those were different times and I turned out well, in general.) My parents made up for it three years later when they took me to the drive-in to see Star Wars. I don’t hate the prequels, but the original trilogy has a special place in my heart.
Sunday mornings as a toddler I spent looking at the comics while my Papaw sipped his coffee and Nana pored over the editorials. (These were the same Grandparents responsible for giving me my first Dungeons and Dragons set--the blue, Holmes edition--best grandparents ever!)
Beyond the sunday funnies, I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. By the time I reached High school I had already read the novels being required by the English teachers. Teachers loved me, students hated me; the life of a nerd in the 80’s. Did I mention I was (am) a nerd? Did I need to? Enough about me.
See you again next week!