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|Friday, October 24th, 2014|
|CIFF Me Deadly
This year's Chicago International Film Festival was a veritable cavalcade of 3½ star films. No 1s, thank Edison, but only 1 real 5, too. While having your average film experience be somewhat above average is not a bad thing, per se, it's not really why I keep coming back. I come back to CIFF seeking those lightning flashes of 5s that open my cinematic third eye: Primer, Devils on the Doorstep, Time, The Chaser, Tomorrow at Dawn, Golden Slumber, The Exam, Room 237.
Back in the 1990s, CIFF showed a lot of Hong Kong martial arts films, for example; from 2006-2009 or so, CIFF revealed unto me the glory of South Korean films with Time, A Dirty Carnival, Mother, Chaser,
and The Host.
CIFF should at its best be a doorway to whatever is magnificent that I don't already know about, not "my chance to see French films." While seeing pretty-good French films is, indeed, pretty-good, it's not great, and if I'm giving up the whole middle of my October, it should be great.
Part of this is the Fest's continuing devotion to middlebrow European art film (and the Middle Eastern films that in ironically colonialist fashion mimic middlebrow European art film), which is fine, but is hardly the only fish in the sea in this year of our Lord 2014. The last day of the fest, I actually ran into Michael Kutza, the festival's co-founder and continuing artistic director for lo these 50 years. After thanking him for what has, all things considered, been a pretty fine 25 years of filmgoing for me, I told him he needs to start getting more South Korean films. ("A lot of them are already bought," he said, as though this meant I was somehow incorrect. But he did correctly note they are doing great work in horror, so good for him, and perhaps I've planted a seed.) The "after dark" horror series has gotten steadily better and more prevalent at the festival in the last decade or so, after all, so there's hope yet.
As always, mad props to his_regard
for having my back throughout the show, and to gnosticpi
, and Isaac the New for strategically extending my reach. Mad disses to everyone who keeps reading me talk about how CIFF doesn't live up to its potential and yet somehow doesn't come out to see CIFF movies with me ... waitaminute ...
As always, we gank our format
from the mighty mighty robindlaws
, and herewith the 26 films I saw at the 50th Annual Chicago International Film Festival.THE BESTGirl At My Door
(July Jung, South Korea) What's that, you say? A South Korean film that begins as introspective character study and becomes a near-perfect daylight noir? Noir is all about boundaries and secrets, and so is this terrific slow burn of a film. As the transferred-in-disfavor police chief, Boona Dae superbly manages the energy of her performance, hoarding it and only revealing herself fractionally as she uncovers the core of the small town secret she (over?) steps into. Genre film without Hollywood predictability: the old remade new again. To paraphrase that old Amstel Light ad: "We're South Korean. We didn't know genre film was supposed to suck."The Salvation
(Kristian Levring, Denmark) Speaking of genre film, though this time with the necessary predictability of its tragic form, specifically the Western. Mads Mikkelsen is a farmer done wrong who must once more pick up the gun; Jeffrey Dean Morgan chews the scenery well as the barbarian, and Jonathan Pryce turns in his customary fine job as the worm at the core of civilization's apple. Great shoot-out choreography and Mikkelsen's magnificently broken stoicism make this an exemplar of the form. Kaspar Winding's score loves all of Ennio Morricone equally, to good effect; South Africa makes a fine stand-in for the mythic Western landscape. (If you are not a fan of the Western, you're wrong, but move this down to Recommended.)Why Be Good?
(William A. Seiter, USA) It turns out that Colleen Moore, the gamine star of this long-lost 1929 classic silent rom-com, didn't just create the iconic flapper but also co-founded the Chicago International Film Festival. For the last few years, David Robinson (artistic director of the Pordenone silent film festival) has brought us at CIFF a gem from his box, and this one shines beautifully: the Vitaphone soundtrack features Jimmy Dorsey among other great jazz talents and the movie is a rom-com in which nobody tells a stupid lie, there is no idiot plotting, and every character except the clear villain (an oily seducer) operates from clear and moral principles. Beautifully restored from a copy found in an Italian film vault, this was the feel-good hit of the show.RECOMMENDEDIt Follows
(David Robert Mitchell, USA) I hesitate to say anything about this film except to urge horror fans to watch it. It finds an original monster for a topical theme, and runs that play straight up the middle for 90+ minutes. The superb menace, theme, and plot gain strength from the not-quite-iconic teen characters, the allusively near-1980s mise-en-scene (only one e-reader exists to remind us of the present), the washed-out visual palette, and the synth-y score. It Follows
is to 1980s stalker horror as Ti West's House of the Devil
was to 1980s social horror: brilliant homage and insightful successor. It also really scared the bejesus out of the guy sitting right behind me, which was fun if slightly distracting.The Word
(Anna Kazejak-Dawid, Poland/Denmark) In a way, this is kind of the fourth "girl trouble" film in my top five, although in this one the girl is absolutely and resolutely the author of her own trouble. The spine of the plot is this: a teenage schoolgirl convinces her boyfriend to murder her romantic rival, and the movie absolutely plays the buildup and results straight, if presenting them obliquely. Eliza Rycembel's teen Lady Iago keeps her involvement both remote and constant through texting, Skype, and Facebook, providing a 21st-century sociopathic tension to a story as old as girls and murder.Timbuktu
(Abderrahmane Sissako, France/Mauritania) I put Timbuktu
this far down because of its polyphonic, Realist construction. I'm not a fan of Realism, and even less of Realism that deliberately fractures even the emergent story by dividing its attention; if you're more into de Sica than I am, you may well rank this up closer to the top. When the story does get around to emerging, it turns out to be the story of the past caught in the present: a feckless cattleman failing at both old challenges (he kills a fisherman in a quarrel over a stray cow) and new (he incurs the righteous wrath of the Islamist militia that occupied Timbuktu in the wake of our collapsed Libyan misadventure). The rest of the film presents the town's response to that occupation, from the fruitless theological debate of the local imam to the mad withdrawal of a self-proclaimed "Haitian" witch-woman. Stonings, floggings, shootings, and the occupiers' more picayune tyrannies all take their time under the Realist lens and pass before us. Sissako makes a number of very bold choices (such as placing his "main" character clearly in the wrong, and constantly humanizing his jihadist characters) and his cinematographer (Sofian El Fani) and composer (Amine Bouhafa) do such great work that they unify the film almost against its own grain. We had an appalling number of idiots at the Q & A afterward, who apparently hadn't heard about the takeover of northern Mali at all ("Did this really happen?" asked one prize dolt) and then wanted to hear an actor talk about sharia,
so we got out of there in a hurry.Maestro
(Léa Fazer, France) This roman-a-clef about the making of Eric Rohmer's last film was exactly what it sounds like it would be: a paean to the past, a young man's introduction to the true love of true cinema, a film-making-as-absurdism-metacomedy, and lots of lovely French countryside and actors. Michael Lonsdale, who I have loved watching since the original Day of the Jackal,
does a superb job as the aging maestro, ruling his increasingly irrelevant patch with arbitrary affability. Like many films at this year's CIFF, it hits all its marks perfectly, but doesn't really try anything difficult while doing so. Still, even if you're not a Rohmer fan (I'm not, though I haven't seen Triple Agent
yet) try to see it if CIFF and its middlebrow cohorts haven't managed to beat your love of French cinema (and French cineastes) completely to death.In Order of Disappearance
(Hans Petter Moland, Norway) Norway sometimes delivers and sometimes disappoints; this sorta-comic revenge-crime film comes up on the shiny side of the coin. Stellan Skarsgard plays the (more taciturn, of course) Liam Neeson character in this snow-covered version of Taken,
killing his way up the ladder toward the local vegan-moderne mobster (a hilarious spin on the Modernism-as-evil trope that's now what, 70 years old? almost as old as the evils of Modernism) who at several removes ordered his (Skarsgard's) son's death. It spices things up halfway through with the promise of an emergent Yojimbo
when the mobster wrongly whacks the local Serbian gang boss' son, believing the Serbs (or as he constantly calls them, "Albanians") responsible for the mysterious disappearances of his men, but doesn't deliver on it. Moland wants it to be a film about national (and personal) identity, but never really drills down there, satisfying himself (and me) with just an old-fashioned tale of snowplow revenge murder. Seven Little Killers
(Matteo Andreolli, Italy) Seven 13-year-olds at the scene of an accidental death. Seven 43-year-olds implicated in the murder. Cut back and forth until you discover ... that the key to appreciating this film is to recognize that it's not actually a murder mystery. Unfortunately, perhaps, it's shot and revealed very much like a murder mystery. You have to spot the dual commentary on social mores and human changes in the interstices of the murder story, which is (on reflection) considerably better than having to do it the other way round. Lovely Apulian countryside, a great score by Pivio and Aldo de Scalzi, and solid acting by both teens and grownups pull this up from merely Good.GOODThe Editor
(Adam Brooks & Matthew Kennedy, Canada) Apparently Winnipeg has more than just Guy Maddin to recommend itself in the world of film: the "Astron-6" collective does self-referential parodies of low-fi subgenres. This is their tribute to/mockery of giallo films, and if the notion of Scary Movie: Giallo
sounds like it might be down your alley, then kick this up to Recommended and enjoy. I personally wanted something a little less like Hot Shots
and a little more like Hot Fuzz
or OSS 117
-- less meta, more tongue-in-cheek -- but one can argue that giallo (even a giallo parody) is the last place to look for such restraint. The score, by the way, is just as lovingly assembled -- and just as true to the genre -- as the terrible dubbing, oily fake blood, and loopy plot.The World of Kanako
(Tetsuya Nakashima, Japan) And we're right back to "girl trouble," as the missing daughter of a drunken ex-cop pulls him onto her trail into the horrendous darkness of Japanese nightlife -- and of himself, and of his daughter. I think maybe Nakashima thought we'd be as shocked as audiences were at its progenitor, the George C. Scott film Hardcore,
way back in the innocent year of 1979, but this road has been well and truly paved since then, and just showing us the horror isn't enough. The film needed about 20 minutes of cuts (about 10 from the limp extended ending) and something besides "under the trimmed lawn grow worms and biting spiders" to say. But the dissonant editing, the acting, and the incidental visceral brutality are all strong enough to make it worth watching, assuming you're on board for Japanese crime film generally.Fort Tilden
(Sarah-Violet Bliss & Charles Rogers, USA) Two unattractive characters going nowhere in a daylight hipster version of After Hours
could be a disaster, and the fact that it isn't is probably down to the humanity of the acting and the wit of the script (which also, thank God, finds the characters horrid). Two twenty-something girls play hooky from real life, get into easily avoided trouble thanks to their own worthlessness, and give the viewer a tour of Millennial Brooklyn both external and internal. The presence of texts and social media shouldn't be as fresh as it is, given that it's 2014 for crying out loud (imagine if cars didn't start showing up in films until the 1930s!) but it works well without dominating. The ending is a little pat, but at least it's an ending instead of a "running out of pixels" which in a film about talky Millennials is something to praise. (And yes our "talky Gen-Xers" were just as bad.)Black Coal, Thin Ice
(Diao Yinan, China/Hong Kong) I spent a lot of time watching this Chinese noir hoping for it to light the afterburner and really get great, and it didn't. It's still a perfectly grim Chinese noir, with a very good set of nested crimes and dismembered corpses and a femme fatale, but the story never pays back the superbly shot and paced setup.Superegos
(Benjamin Heisenberg, Austria) Again, a film that hits a bullseye marked "safe success." A chaotic young con man hides out in the house of an elderly psychologist who is both a beloved public intellectual and a former Nazi, to the derangement of everyone involved. (I'm not sure making the film's comically tone-deaf American also a Jew was the best possible move, given everything else -- but ignoring the comic potential of that setup is the real mistake here.) Freudian transference bolsters the plot, such as it is, and the humor works perfectly well -- but it's a screwball comedy that could have screwed itself much tighter given what it had to work with. Still
(Simon Blake, UK) Aiden Gillen plays a photographer (coded as a relic given his antique camera, TV, answering machine, and everything else) whose dead son still dominates his life, and who the film punishes for faking happiness (with, e.g. a new hot girlfriend and a drunken best mate reporter) by exposing him to the barbarism of contemporary British youth. Although I can't condemn it for not choosing the easy road into revenge flick, it doesn't choose any other goal or point either. Gillen's acting pulls this otherwise by-the-numbers flick up to Good, and I enjoyed the shots of London both grim and bougie, but it's probably skippable on the merits.Alleluia
(Fabrice du Welz, France/Belgium) This murkily stylish film transposes the Beck-Fernandez Lonely Hearts Killings (1947-1949) to rural France, and weirdly exonerates Fernandez' character throughout in only one of the strange tonal shifts that are both its strength and weakness. All the pieces work, but du Welz doesn't seem to want to build anything really strong out of them, settling for a blood-drenched amour feu
that plays like a really good Lifetime movie instead of like a great French murder film.The Alley Cat
(Marie Ullrich, USA) A major tonal shift in the middle of this bike-race movie creates an uneven experience. Unsurprisingly, the bike-race part works far better, and not just because it's through and around Chicago at night. The personal troubles of main character Jasper (Jenny Strubin, whose alternatively dogged and raw acting is a major reason why the second part works at all) never cohere into story, so when they have to support the last half of the film it loses momentum and falls over.Buzzard
(Joel Potrykus, USA) Unlike the director, I didn't live this story, but I've lived very very near it. Potrykus calls his oeuvre "fast-food-culture America striking back against the Man" to which I would add the word "futilely" for a better sense of what you'll see. It starts like a straight up con-man film, but we soon realize our hero is also fooling himself -- he's not a very good con man, or anything else. With no moral center, the film indicts everything, becoming something like Taco Bell Dostoyevsky in its eventual affect. It's a strong, successful movie on its own terms, but those terms are (intentionally) crummy and (there's that word again) futile, so caveat emptor.The Babadook
(Jennifer Kent, Australia) Oh boy, was I disappointed by this one. The first act of this horror film faultlessly builds the claustrophobic narrative box around our heroine -- her 6-year-old son is emotionally damaged by his father's death in a car crash on the way to the hospital where he was born, her finances hang by a thread, her social network frays likewise. A horrible and mysterious children's book appears and provides a cartoon monster that becomes a viscerally menacing tulpa in the second act, which is almost non-stop sheer terror. Then the flat, stupid ghost of Freudianism shows up and vitiates the ending, the third act, and by extension the whole movie. Psychoanalytic theory is responsible for a lot of pointless waste, but the constant sucking chest wound it left in horror film may be its worst crime. But man, that second act.Free Fall
(Gyorgy Palfi, Hungary) The brilliant director of Hukkle
(the funniest poisoning comedy I've ever seen) presents an anthology film of the absurdist happenings in seven apartments in one building, framed by an old woman hauling herself up the stairs of the building to throw herself off the roof. Palfi shot it on a tight time schedule (a Korean film festival understandably wanted a new Palfi film and paid him to make one), which likely explains why the script(s) didn't get the tightening and deepening you really need for absurdism to work. The best bit was probably the germophobic liebestod segment, which not incidentally came the closest to having more than one joke. He told us he turned the production of each segment over to his film students, but it didn't show in the polished and clever final cut -- if you're a film student in Hungary, I advise you to let Palfi teach you to shoot footage.OKAYViktoria
(Maya Vitkova, Rumania/Bulgaria) Another movie that shifts tone halfway through, from surreal celebrity tale about the navel-less "Socialist Bulgaria Baby of the Decade" to the family crises she faces as a young woman after the fall of Communism. Every character in the film is frustratingly inert and sessile, with the surprising exception of Bulgarian dictator Todor Zhivkov, who is stupid and jolly but by Lenin he knows what he wants and how to get it. When a Bulgarian TV show film crew ambushed me in the hallway after the movie, I emphasized the movie's successful theme of regret more than I did its failed characters, because why pick on Bulgarians?Concrete Night
(Pirjo Honkasalo, Finland/Sweden/Denmark) Beautifully shot in black and white, the film never really lives up to its opening dream sequence (except very briefly when our protagonist peeks into the color-tinted Uspensky Cathedral at a world he fails to enter). A 14-year-old boy follows his brother through the slightly steamy underbelly of Helsinki on the night before said brother is due to serve a prison sentence. Infected by nihilism and premature machismo, his stupidity and cowardice cascade, but his flat affect (a collaboration of the acting and the script) prevented me from caring one way or the other.The Princess of France
(Matias Piñero, Argentina) A radio theater troupe gets all stirred up when a young director (the titular "princess") re-enters their lives to record a gender-swapped Love's Labours Lost,
which should have been a slam dunk. Unfortunately, the casting of nearly identical actresses with (even more unforgiveably) nearly identical voices, and Piñero's love of the handheld camera for no reason, meant that even knowing your Shakespeare made following the plot a chore, compounded by the strange decision to "rewind" history twice in 75 minutes. But the opening soccer-game sequence was narrative genius, and I hope someone steals it for a better movie. NOT RECOMMENDEDThe Midnight After
(Fruit Chan, Hong Kong) Speaking of "should have been a slam dunk." An overly (multiply?) caused disaster leaves seventeen minibus passengers as the only humans in Hong Kong, and mysterious gas-mask figures, a powdery pandemic, time travel hints, and weird David Bowie messages from the mountain add weirdness aplenty. But none of it ever pays off, just building until Fruit gets bored, which is sadly a ways after the viewer does. The "Space Oddity" musical number, in retrospect, is when it really goes off the rails. Still, the setup is strong enough for any number of stories, any one of which might have worked.A Dream of Iron
(Kelvin Kyung Kun Park, South Korea) This is less documentary than it is experimental film. The narrator, deserted by his lover for God, sets out to find a god in petroglyphs, industrial shipbuilding, and whales. Also there is Tibetan shamanism for some reason. As a sketch of Leviathan it sort of works, but the religious element seems both trivialized and trivially superficial, leaving me with nothing but a guy mumbling in Korean while people weld. I may have nodded off a couple of times during it, which didn't help, but as Sam Goldwyn once said, "Sleeping isn't an opinion?"NOT GOODStockholm
(Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Spain) Set in Madrid; the title refers to the syndrome. Two deliberately nameless characters meet at a party. He pursues Her, going all the way to stalking and date rape (set to Mozart of all things). But she loves the sex so much she forcibly stays in his life (in a sequence that almost works, actually) and then commits suicide just to show him or something. Oops, spoiler. This movie trivializes date rape, Mozart, mental illness, and suicide for no real payoff. It began as a short, where I suspect it worked much better. The acting, pacing, production design, and editing (all well done) keep it out of 1-star territory, but no.
|Sunday, October 12th, 2014|
|You Can't Spell "Empanada" Without (Four-Fifths of) "Panel": My Metatopia Panel and Seminar Schedule
By now, surely you've heard me exclaim to the skies the glories of Metatopia
(November 6-9), the game design convention in Morristown, New Jersey -- one-half game convention, one-half professional retreat, one-half design workshop, and one-half excuse to binge on Raul's Empanadas. This is mostly about the one-half that's the professional retreat: it's my panel and seminar schedule. I hasten to add this is just the veritable tip of the ice cream sandwich -- dtwatts
has gone and built one of the best seminar tracks (perhaps the best) I've ever seen. And I'm including the ones I've built in that assessment. Gaze upon his works, ye mighty, and despair.
I also plan to be testing out my GM-less horror story game The Last Flight of KG 200
(as published in Fenix
magazine a couple years ago) at the con, if you're curious about that.
Feel free to discuss any or all of these topics below, especially my solo seminar thing on aesthetics of setting design. Feel free to assume I already said "I don't know" to the question "Will any of these be recorded or posted or streamed or taught phonetically to very game-design-curious mynah birds?"Friday, November 7
"Cartography of Fictional Worlds" presented by Kenneth Hite, Hal Mangold & Mark Richardson. Learn from a panel of veteran cartographers and game designers the techniques they use to make maps of fictional worlds. Friday, 1:00PM - 2:00PM
"Adapting TV Shows to RPGs" presented by Cam Banks, Rob Donoghue, Kenneth Hite & Darren Watts. This panel of industry veterans will discuss their experiences translating intellectual properties from television shows into RPGs. We'll talk about restrictive licenses, themes and esthetics, and compare and contrast the narrative beats and builds between the media. Friday, 4:00PM - 5:00PM
"Bisociation, Mashups, the Uncanny, and the Weird: Toward an Aesthetic of Setting Bricolage" presented by Kenneth Hite. In an age where "everything is mashup", what makes a game setting more than the sum of its parts? Both the modern "uncanny" and the postmodern "slipstream" depend on subverting or deranging expectations, but how can you get good play without something to play off of? Do Koestler's "bisociation" or Lovecraft's "truly weird" help us out or derail us? Designer Kenneth Hite (Night's Black Agents, Day After Ragnarok
) isn't sure yet, which is why he asks you to join him and think out loud on these topics. Friday, 6:00PM - 7:00PMSaturday, November 8
"Lovecraft WTF?" presented by Julia Ellingboe, Kenneth Hite, Darren Watts & Bill White. H. P. Lovecraft is one of the grandfathers of weird fiction and horror. His racist and anti-Semitic beliefs are no secret. They are the foundation of his fictional worlds. They are interwoven throughout his work and for many readers, impossible to separate from the genius of his writing. Can a Lovecraft-inspired game make his work more accessible? It's okay to like problematic things. This panel will be neither an attack nor a defense of Lovecraft's work. In a broad sense, it will be a conversation about how designers might interpret or use source material with themes or images that are problematic. Saturday, 9:00PM - 10:00PM
|Tuesday, October 7th, 2014|
|Chicago International Film Fest Schedule 2014
Here's what the plan currently looks like, O lookers at plans. Vagaries of sold-outs or me adding things could change it, but let's hope not.
The rise of Netflix streaming now adds another wrinkle to the "should I see it" game -- we've long since given up on seeing most things we're sure will get theatrical releases, and now we have to gamble on whether they're the kind of thing Streamflix will glom up. It's hell here in the Golden Age, I tells ya.Friday, October 10
(Maya Vitkova, Rumania/Bulgaria) Surreal celebrity emptiness meets Communist regular emptiness, satirically exploring the weird tale of the "Socialist Bulgaria Baby of the Decade."
6:00 The Word
(Anna Kazejak-Dawid, Poland/Denmark) Described as a millennial Macbeth
-slash-police procedural centered on a 14-year-old girl, this film had me at, well, at what I just typed pretty much.
11:00 The Babadook
(Jennifer Kent, Australia) Two-dimensional monster illustration comes alive and terrorizes single mother after tragedy. This will either be great or terrible.Saturday, October 11
(Benjamin Heisenberg, Austria) Chaotic con man hides out in psychologist's house, to the derangement of everyone involved. If this were a German comedy, we'd skip it, but Austria can surprise you sometimes.
8:00 Black Coal, Thin Ice
(Diao Yinan, China/Hong Kong) Chinese noir feat. grim cop, gruesome crime, femme fatale, social catastrophe. Won the Golden Bear at Berlin, which is (probably) a pretty good sign.
11:00 The World of Kanako
(Tetsuya Nakashima, Japan) Drunken ex-cop follows the trail of his missing daughter into the dark side of Japan, life, and his daughter. A robindlaws Recommended
Film!Sunday, October 12
12:00 The Midnight After
(Fruit Chan, Hong Kong) Seventeen minibus passengers are the only survivors of a global pandemic. Then things get bad. mollpeartree
and I were enthralled by Chan's 2004 body horror flick Dumplings
when we saw it uncut at DragonCon, so maybe she'll come out to see this with us.
2:45 Free Fall
(Gyorgy Palfi, Hungary) From the director of Hukkle,
the funniest poisoning comedy I've ever seen, comes a surrealist montage of comic cruelty as a badly injured woman hauls herself upstairs and hallucinates truths about her neighbors. You know you want to.
(Simon Blake, UK) Photographer reeling from his son's murder steps off the sidewalk in North London and into a deeper urban cruelty. Should combine crime film and sense of place into a harrowing walk.
(Joel Potrykus, USA) Horrible main character begins a spiral of failed con games in what looks like a millennial version of something like Night and the City
except without the wrestling and the decent other people. We'll see.Tuesday, October 14
(Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Spain) Set in Madrid, so this meet-cute-turn-bad refers to the syndrome, not the city.
8:30 The Salvation
(Kristian Levring, Denmark) Mads Mikkelsen in a Western. 'Nuff said.Wednesday, October 15
5:45 Seven Little Killers
(Matteo Andreolli, Italy) Seven 13-year-olds at the scene of an accidental death. Seven 43-year-olds implicated in the murder. Time-shifting crime flick sounds like a slam dunk.
(Abderrahmane Sissako, France/Mauritania) Story of the takeover of northern Mali by the Islamist militants spawned from our recent Libyan misadventure. I haven't seen a Mauritanian film yet, and this one won a jury prize at Cannes, so there we go.Friday, October 17
6:00 Concrete Night
(Pirjo Honkasalo, Finland/Sweden/Denmark) 14-year-old boy follows his brother through the dark and steamy underbelly of Helsinki; will either be really strong and weird and unsettling or just ugh but either way will be over in 96 minutes.
8:30 In Order of Disappearance
(Hans Petter Moland, Norway) Stellan Skarsgard plays the Liam Neeson character avenging his son with cold-blooded murderous gunfire in this ... comedy? Norway is up and down with us, but this could be really good.Saturday, October 18
2:30 The Princess of France
(Matias Piñero, Argentina) Radio theater troupe gets all stirred up when a young director re-enters their lives to record Love's Labours Lost
. Play and personas tangle and oh I am such a sucker for this Slings-and-Arrows
-Shakespeare-bleeds-into-actors-lives stuff it's not even funny. I'm even braving the dread robindlaws
Not Recommended star to see this one.
9:45 It Follows
(David Robert Mitchell, USA) Stalker horror as supernatural demonic presence; I hope it's even a fraction as good as it sounds.Sunday, October 19
2:45 Fort Tilden
(Sarah-Violet Bliss & Charles Rogers, USA) Hipster After Hours
follows two Brooklyn girls to ... well, I guess to nowhere. Won the SXSW Jury Prize, which gives hope that it falls closer to Slacker
than to all the movies that wanted to be Slacker
5:00 Why Be Good?
(William A. Seiter, USA) The box-office smash of 1927 is back! Long thought lost, this silent classic of virtue tested should be a rip-roarer, as these silents have been at CIFF.
8:00 The Editor
(Adam Brooks & Matthew Kennedy, Canada) A Canadian giallo! If that doesn't get you placing bets, you're dead inside. Almost as dead as the actors in the titular editor's latest film!Tuesday, October 21
(Léa Fazer, France) A roman-a-clef about the making of Eric Rohmer's last film, and a love-letter to all of those things. I suspect it will also be a feast for all fans of Michael Lonsdale (playing the Rohmer part), which I have been since Day of the Jackal
.Wednesday, October 22
(Fabrice du Welz, France/Belgium) Oh, murder, where would film be without you? Transposes the Beck-Fernandez Lonely Hearts Killings (1947-1949) to rural France and gains a robindlaws
Recommendation along the way!
8:30 A Dream of Iron
(Kelvin Kyung Kun Park, South Korea) Our last film is often something kind of weird, and so I suspect is this documentary about a man looking for a god in the industrial (and literal) leviathan.
|Monday, October 6th, 2014|
|Bill (Shakespeare's) Haider
Vishal Bhardwaj's Haider,
set in 1995 Kashmir, is not the best Hamlet
film I've seen, but it's top five, easy. Maybe top three. It takes the seemingly radical but brilliant step of spending almost the entire first half of the film establishing the situation -- Haider's father, a doctor, is fingered by an unknown informant for sheltering a militant leader and subsequently "disappeared" by the Indian Army. Haider (a wisely toned-down Shahid Kapoor -- even during the mad scenes) spends the first half of the film not knowing if his father is dead or alive, and wondering if his mother (played by the still-gorgeous and always terrific Tabu) is canoodling with his uncle. The Ghost (Irfan Khan in a scene-stealing role -- but playing a fellow political prisoner, not Haider's father) shows up right before the intermission to say Guess What. (Rhymes with "prevenge me.")
And then we're off on Hamlet.
in which you believe intensely in the setting, the family structure, and the fact that these people will yes indeed kill each other a lot in very real non-stage-fighty ways. (And in which Haider not killing his uncle at prayer works considerably better than in most secular versions, of course.) There's a very nice, very subtle use of Pakistan as a stand-in for the "undiscovered country" of death -- the Ghost is from Pakistan, and Haider threatens to "go across the border" more than once, to which his mother replies "you cannot return from there." And so forth. Even the Kashmir-for-medieval-Denmark works as geographical parallel (snow, northernness, violence, etc) and the reference to Alexander in the (also well handled) grave-digger scene makes more sense in a country where he actually walked than it does in Denmark. The play-within-a-play is a combination traditional Kashmiri puppet show and Bollywood dance number, and (of course) is brilliant. The death of "Salman and Salman" (the movie's R&G) was terrifying, and Ophelia's madness and suicide actually works which it usually doesn't.Haider
doesn't hit all of the play's beats, but it's one of the rare adaptations where the deletions and compressions actually make narrative sense (or show a wise knowledge about what Bhardwaj thought he could make work on film). It still doesn't nail it quite as well as Bhardwaj's Omkara
(which is to say "better than any other version"
), but it's probably a better movie -- better and more richly filmed, certainly.cassielsander
should really see this while it's still at the River East. As should you all, but he especially should.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xakmvJ0WPa4
|Saturday, October 4th, 2014|
|If It Quacks Like A Byakhee
People need to just accept that August Derleth invented the byakhee. Sandy Petersen may have pulled a fast one over on us by heading their monster entry in Call of Cthulhu
with a Lovecraft quote from "The Festival," but nobody ever reads the rest of the paragraph after the quote he used:
"They flopped limply along, half with their webbed feet and half with their membranous wings; and as they reached the throng of celebrants the cowled figures seized and mounted them, and rode off one by one along the reaches of that unlighted river, into pits and galleries of panic where poison springs feed frightful and undiscoverable cataracts."
N.B.: "webbed feet" "rode ... along the reaches of that unlighted river" into caves full of springs and cataracts. These aren't byakhee, these are giant ducks.
(You're welcome, Gloranthan Lovecraftians.)
|Tuesday, September 16th, 2014|
|As We Wing Our Way Toward Buffalo: Queen City Conquest Schedule
A warning to my hosts in one of America's most beautiful and underrated cities -- the Bills will just break your heart. They look good now, but come January, like Buffalo, they're likely to be buried in gray slush.
But this isn't January! It's September! Beautiful slanting sunlight on all those gorgeous Art Deco buildings! Wings! And RPGs! Time, then, to come on out to the Nickel City for the Queen City Conquest
game convention this very weekend, at which I am the officially Kickstarted Guest of Honor.
My panel schedule has overflowed even the online schedule, so mark this down in your copy books:Friday Sep 19
6pm - 6:50pm : Horror and Gaming panel
Come and join the one and only master of gaming horror, Ken Hite, as he regales you with his vast knowledge of ancient and forbidden texts and horrific and nihilistic events. Then be awestruck as he spins this information into a conspiratorial web of terror which will manifest at your gaming table when the Stars are Right and the things which walk in the shadows of your mind will tread amongst your players.Saturday Sep 20
Noon - 12:50 : Getting Weird panel
Join special guest Ken Hite as he informs and entertains you with how you can use weird in your games. He'll break down what weird actually is, how to create a weird mood at the table, what different kinds of weird their are, and how you can use weird as a tool at your game table.Sunday Sep 21
Noon - 12:50 : Spy Games - Espionage & Conspiracy panel
Join Ken Hite, writer of the award winning Night's Black Agents
(Jason Bourne meets the Vampire Conspiracy), as he unmasks and demystifies the misinformation of the unseen masters of Game Mastering who keep all the knowledge to themselves when it comes to unraveling how to lay down layers of schemes at your table. Sound convoluted? That's the point. Come to the panel and learn a little about trade craft, misinformation, and get some ideas about how to build a better conspiracy.
See all y'all Buffalonians, Upstaters, and (future) broken-hearted Bills fans there!
|Sunday, September 7th, 2014|
|All Our Tragic All Is Magnificent
So after leaving All Our Tragic
last night, my senses were insanely heightened and seemed to center themselves about an inch outside my body; the closest I've experienced such a sensation was right after a sauna in Finland. (And this was un-medicated -- I didn't need any cold medicine, but my cold was recent enough that I only drank two glasses of wine that night.) It helped that the weather was literally perfect and that my city is the greatest in the world, but I walked and rode back through a scrim of apperception. I came up with -- was inspired with, perhaps -- a really great idea that I may use for my Urban Shadows
city book if it turns out to fit there. If not, I'm sure ideas will continue to recur from that night.
The play was a 12-hour experience; 9 hours of drama combining and postmodernizing all 32 extant Greek tragedies, with the heightened color, breezy characters, and self-referential dialogue merely counterpointing and thus emphasizing the tragic, horrible events transpiring over the course of four acts. (The other 3 hours were meal/snack/drink/bathroom breaks, during which the cast came out and mingled with the audience.) The author/director, Sean Graney, intends the full weight of the drama to hit the audience over the full weight of the experience; you don't get to leave the theater and process it a bit or a couple of hours at a time. (You can cheat yourself thusly, if you don't go to one of the 12-hour marathons, but why would you?) The actors managed to keep their energy and performance up for the whole time, despite 9 hours(!) of drama and 12 hours of being "on" and an average of three or four parts per performer. This creates almost too many great turns to count; it's nearly impossible to single out one or two star moments, when the whole drama and the whole ensemble mutually build to such heights.
The ultimate result was an astonishing, thrilling, powerful, transportive, literally legendary day of theater. All credit to The Hypocrites theater company for having the Chicago audacity to plan, mount, and perform this amazing thing. If you can see it you must. Otherwise, you must lie and say you were there.
As it happens, Steven Townshend, his_regard
, and luckymarty
don't have to lie, because they were there that night to experience it with me; and good for them.
|Thursday, August 21st, 2014|
|Dragon The Line
This may start being a thing. It was a thing last year and a thing this year and may wind up being a thing for years to come. But for right now, let's just keep things focused on my schedule at this year's DragonCon,
in scenic and sweaty Atlanta, Georgia on August 29-September 1.
And once more and as always, I know of no plans to record/transcribe/podcast/livestream/tri
ffid-clack these panels. I'm "talent," not production -- I just make funny mouth-noise when nice man says.FRIDAY, AUGUST 29
1:00 pm-2:00 pmGames People Play:
Written a game you want published/produced? These pros have all the right answers to make the journey easier. Location: Embassy D-F - Hyatt (Tentative Panelists: Seraphina E Brennan, Monte James Cook, Elonka Dunin, Eloy Lasanta, Starr Long, Kenneth Hite)
4:00 pm-5:00 pmHorror in Gaming:
Find out about scaring your players, scaring ourselves and the art of horror stories at the table top. Location: Grand Salon C - Hilton (Tentative Panelists: Kenneth Hite, Clint Black)
7:00 pm-8:00 pmCthulhu Mythos: The Innsmouth Cycle:
A discussion about the Innsmouth cycle created by H.P. Lovecraft and continued by his followers. Location: Peachtree 1-2 - Westin (Tentative Panelists: James A. Moore, Lois H Gresh, Cherie Priest, Kenneth Hite)
SATURDAY, AUGUST 30
1:00 pm-2:00 pmHistorical Gaming:
How history influences gaming in all aspects from board games to role-playing games to online games. Topics from WWII to the Ancient World discussed. Location: Grand Salon C - Hilton (Tentative Panelists: Kenneth Hite, Darwin Bromley, Clint Black)
SUNDAY, AUGUST 31
11:30 am-12:30 pmCthulhu in Gaming:
Two of the Cthulhu's key designers join us to discuss the history of the Great Old Ones in gaming, and how to incorporate it into your games. Location: Grand Salon C - Hilton (Tentative Panelists: Kenneth Hite, Monte James Cook)
5:30 pm-6:30 pmCults, Conspiracies, and Other Weirdness:
Experts talk about conspiracies, cults, and all of the weird that pops up in gaming. Why are we attracted to it? How can we use the weird? Location: Grand Salon C - Hilton (Tentative Panelists: Monte James Cook, Kenneth Hite)
|Wednesday, August 6th, 2014|
|GenCon: Where Things Are Generally Congenial
As GenCon bears down upon us all like oh I don't know what bears down besides runaway trains and the cart of Jagganath lessee maybe a bear? Sure, why not, like a bear. I can't worry about this cute phrasing, I've got stuff to write on deadline, a deadline that's bearing down on me like dammit.
Anyhow, as GenCon bears down upon us all like a Matterhorn avalanche, it's probably time to toss up my schedule as I understand it. For those of us in the watery twilight between Official Corporate Stooge and Evanescent Starling-like Gadabout, such schedules remain a thing of mystery and wonder, so check back to make sure I'm still where I say I'll be. Don't check back here during the show, though, as I don't think I'll bring my laptop to GenCon, so this post will remain a frozen monument though some shifting may occur in transit.
And for the folks who always ask in comments, no I don't know of any plan to record/livestream/podcast/transmit-by-my
nah-bird these panels. If it happens after the fact, I'll probably post about it somewhere.WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 13
Diana Jones Awards:
The industry's most prestigious award ceremony/drinking game kicks off for its fourteenth consecutive year. Everyone Who's AnyoneTHURSDAY, AUGUST 14
Gaming as Mythic Exploration:
How does the act of creating, exploring, and defining a game world resemble the creation and exploration of myth, both as ritual and as scripture or literature? Lilian Cohen-Moore, Kenneth Hite, Greg Stafford
(Room 211)2:00-3:00 p.m.
Tips for beginning Dungeon Masters. Keith Baker, Kenneth Hite, Ray Winninger
(Room 210)8:00-9:30 p.m.
Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game:
Talk to the designers of the new version of the classic of Cthulhu Mythos gaming. What are the new game’s rules like in play? What’s distinct from traditional Call of Cthulhu?
What’s distinct from traditonal Delta Green
? What makes Delta Green
’s vision of the Cthulhu Mythos effective for a modern setting? In the age of ubiquitous communication, surveillance and information leaks, how does Delta Green
conceal the terrifying realities of the Cthulhu Mythos? What happens when it fails? Shane Ivey, Greg Stolze, A. Scott Glancy, Dennis Detwiller, Kenneth Hite
(Crowne Plaza, Victoria Station C/D)
(I may be late to this one, as I have a dinner engagement Thursday night.)
FRIDAY, AUGUST 1511:00 a.m.-Noon
Roleplaying Design 101:
Are you a designer looking to create or improve your very own roleplaying game? Discuss the basics of RPG design, common obstacles, and how to deliver the experience you want your players to enjoy. Shane Hensley, Kenneth Hite, Jay Little, Allen Varney
(Room 211)1:00-2:00 p.m.
Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Live:
Writers and game designers Robin D. Laws and Kenneth Hite talk roleplaying, history, conspiracy, occultism, writing, food, movies, and whatever you ask them about in this live edition of their award-winning podcast. Robin D. Laws, Kenneth Hite
(Crowne Plaza Victoria Station C/D)4:00-5:00 p.m.
Swords, Spies, & Shoggoths: The Pelgrane Press Panel:
Just what it sounds like. At this moment, it's not in the schedule, so come by and ask at the booth or check the onsite or something, or maybe I'll get solid info in the next week. Robin D. Laws, Kenneth Hite, Simon Rogers, Cat Tobin
I'm up for nearly 89% of an ENnie Award all told, so you know I'll be there! Beloved Co-Creators, Hated Rivals, Jealous Onlookers
(Union Station, Grand Hall)SATURDAY, AUGUST 16
Fear of the Unknown: Suspense in RPGs:
Industry Insider Guests explore ways to bring horror to the gaming table. How do you overcome player knowledge, genre limitations, and other challenges to create a truly suspenseful experience? Keith Baker, Andrew Hackard, Shane Hensley, Kenneth Hite
(Room 211)2:00-3:00 p.m.
King Arthur Pendragon, 30 Years After:
Published in 1985 (thus, of course, written and designed in 1984), King Arthur Pendragon
remains ahead of its time and continues to influence other designers. How did it come about? What does it give us now? Greg Stafford, Kenneth Hite (Moderator)
This one should be really good, assuming I don't just ascend bodily into Heaven having achieved the Grail. Actually, that would be pretty good, too.4:00-5:00 p.m.
GUMSHOE Adventure Masterclass:
How to design satisfactory adventures in GUMSHOE. At this moment, it's not in the schedule, so come by and ask at the booth or check the onsite or something, or maybe I'll get solid info in the next week. Robin D. Laws, Kenneth Hite, Gareth Hanrahan
Lovecraft Meets Tradecraft: Delta Green Scenario Workshop:
Tips for writing and running Delta Green
scenarios to fill your players with cosmic dread. What are the best ways to evoke cosmic terror in modern-day characters and their players? Shane Ivey, Greg Stolze, A. Scott Glancy, Dennis Detwiller, Kenneth Hite
(Crowne Plaza, Pennsylvania Station A)SUNDAY, AUGUST 17
Remembering the Good Old Days:
Ever wondered what games your favorite game designers played when they were growing up, and how it has affected their work today? Andrew Hackard, Kenneth Hite, Jordan Weisman
|Thursday, July 31st, 2014|
|[RECIPE] These Are The Salmon Tacos You've Been Looking For
SLAWESOME SALMON TACOS
[makes 8 tacos]
1 CUP tomatillo salsa*
1 fresh tomatillo, husked and diced
2 small ripe avocados or 1 large ripe avocado, pitted and cubed
3 scallions, green ends only, chopped
2 TB cilantro, chopped
6 TB Mexican crema (or sour cream if you must)
1/2 TSP salt or to taste
a few grinds of pepper or to taste
4 CUPS cabbage, chopped or shredded
* If you don't have a hookup for prepared tomatillo salsa, you can food-process or chop fine: 2-3 husked tomatillos; 1-2 garlic cloves; 1 jalapeno pepper (or 2 serrano peppers or whatever); 2 TB cilantro
2 TSP ground cumin
2 TSP chili powder (ideally chipotle or ancho)
1 TSP Old Bay seasoning or similar bay powder
2 TSP brown sugar
1/2 TSP fresh-ground coffee
1 TSP sea salt
1 LB skinless salmon filets, cut into roughly one-inch cubes
1 TB+ olive oil
1/2 of a large red onion, chopped
8 taco-sized tortillas (flour or corn, your choice)
Crumbled queso fresco
First, make the slaw. I cannot overstate this. You'll want to serve the tacos while the fish is still hot, so the slaw has to be made first. In a large glass bowl, mix the salsa and the diced tomatillo. Add the cubed avocado and mash it into the salsa with a fork. Mix in scallions and cilantro, then add the crema and stir it all together into a white creamy dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste, then dump in the cabbage and thoroughly toss with the dressing. Set the slaw aside and let it think about what it's done.
Start preparing your taco tortillas as you normally would. Brush with oil, stack, wrap in foil, bake in 300°F oven for 10 MINS. If you microwave or fry your shells instead, do that last, of course, or better yet have someone else do it while you're finishing up the fish.
Heat 1 TB or so of oil in large skillet over medium heat. Mix the cumin, chili powder, Old Bay, brown sugar, coffee, and salt into a rub. Start frying the onion in the skillet. Toss the salmon cubes in more olive oil; once coated, toss them with the rub mixture. Now into the skillet with them, tumbling gently (don't flake them!) until cooked on all sides; 2-3 MINS or more if you like your salmon less rare (or don't trust your salmon).
Into each tortilla, put: 2 OZ salmon and onion mixture, a line of crumbled queso fresco, heaping spoonful of slaw.
Serve with hot sauce (ideally green chili sauce) and lime segments on the table.
The origin story of this recipe belies its seeming glittering perfection. I had some iffy salmon ("Packaged in China" should have been a warning sign) to get rid of, so on the advice of mollpeartree
I decided to make salmon tacos. I upped the spice mix and overcooked the fish to mask the salmon's mediocre flavor -- consider this the version to use if you, too, have been seduced by frozen Chinese salmon on sale cheap. Also, the Chinese salmon wasn't skinless, so I had to peel the skin off it after cooking and before chopping the fish. In the event, it turned out we had only burrito shells, so they became salmon quesadillas when all was said and done (with the slaw on the side).
But ALL THAT SAID the principles and fundamentals are sound and I stand by this recipe in its entirety.
|The Undiscovered Country
And this is the fourth of my four suggested campaigns for my home game group here in Chicago.
This one will have a bit of fluid-reality to it as the laws of man and nature shift, so I picked a looser game system that's easy to layer conditions onto or subtract them off of. Plus my group played a close Fate
analogue awhile back (chadu
's Truth & Justice
) and, aside from some good-natured carping about the phase changes from supernormal to superduper (which shouldn't be a problem in Fate
if I set the parameters correctly), they took to it pretty well. I just need to spend a night drinking with Morgan Ellis or macklinr
to help with the fine tuning.
THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY
America has not yet been mapped. Lewis and Clark, Zebulon Pike, Alexander Mackenzie have drawn a few lines across the land, but all of them kept secrets and made surveys of things only they saw and only their masters knew. The mountain men set their traps and follow the beasts, but they keep their routes and sets to themselves. The old powers and the new world circle each other, warily. Does America hold mighty mammoths and leviathans? Lost Phoenician civilizations or the heart of the New Rome? Is it the Promised Land, or Babylon of the Towers? Can magic still move the mountains before they're mapped?
For some territories, and some maps, the map is the territory. The privileged observer resolves the Nature of the world -- even the laws of that Nature or of that Supernature -- and continents and empires and histories shape themselves to that vision.
You are -- or wield -- the Instruments of that vision, or perhaps of several visions. You might be a Century Baby, born on January 1, 1800 with an unguessable affinity for power and exploration; or you might be a Survivor from a previous century, with secret hoards of cunning and gifts. Perhaps you're an Immortal, or a Manitou, or a Ritter. However it came to you, you have the power to move the world -- once you know what's there to be moved.
This is (of course) a re-skin of Planetary
for the Matter of America, and extending into the future as well as the past. You don't have to play Liver-Eating Johnson or Mike Fink, although you can. Anything and everything from American mythology or mythologies about America is fair game: maybe you're a royal bard from a Druidic brigadoon under Tupelo Station or a Mexican hidalgo who wears the garb of Camazotz the Bat God to destroy madness and evil in the name of Order. Or perhaps those are your enemies. We won't know what the world looks like, or even what year it is (though some time in the 1810-1830 period is most likely, with Fremont's 1845 survey the probable terminus ad quem) until you decide who you are.
System: Likely Fate
with some spins and fillips.
|Wednesday, July 30th, 2014|
|The Rex Of the Old 97, Again
Continuing with the third of four suggested campaigns for my home game group here in Chicago. This one is a rerun from 2008
because a) I didn't get to run it and b) it fit the parameters for the new game. (As before, props to robotnik
's Unknown USA game,
to which this might act as an "unauthorized Purist prequel.")
Those parameters, as you may have guessed, were "Westerns." My players decided (generally) collectively that they wanted to see a (generally) Western game this time around. We've played (and loved) Dogs in the Vineyard,
but it doesn't really have the kind of long-campaign legs my group has become accustomed to. Hence these four choices instead including, as I noted above, one game that we all thought dead emerging out of the heat distortion ...
THE REX OF THE OLD 97
The Centennial Exposition of 1876, so the word on the Spirit Telegraph goes, was a missed opportunity. The Civil War busted up America's foundations, and every Jack and Knight and Knave out there has been drawing as many cards as he can to win himself King on the ruins. What could have been a re-Founding became a secret Fort Sumter; magick thrown down and claims made that can't be unmade. The Pinkertons, fresh from smashing the Klan, are trying to nail everything down; the Informationale and the Anarchitects are trying to blow everything up. The Gold Lords and Silver Men have squared off against each other; the Trismos command their strange railway specters, though the Good Roads Club screams that the specters command the Trismos. And word has it that the Great Gray Guns, fled from the South, are massing somewhere in the West, in a town called Tombstone...
My initial notion for the game is that it will run over a longish historical scope, possibly finishing up at the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. As with most Unknown Armies games, you will collaboratively determine your own narrative structure: Are you trying to enforce your own cabal's vision of the new America? Are you a band of Anarchitect heralds, or a Pinkerton squad? Do you serve Gold, or Silver, or some other element? Are you freelance heroes, riding in to save the day, or Jacks at the table playing to rake in all the chips?
System: Unknown Armies
2nd ed., with magick schools tweaked for the 19th century where necessary. Depending on how speedy-snappy Greg Stolze is with his in-progress Unknown Armies
3rd ed. rules, we may give those a spin this time out.
|Tuesday, July 29th, 2014|
|Once Upon All Times In the West
This is the second of my next-game proposals for my game group here in Chicago. Again, it's posted here because everyone seemed to enjoy it the last time I did this
I'd considered GUMSHOE until I decided that the system on this one has to be crunchy enough that the differences between a Winchester '77 and an AR-15 will matter. I'd considered BRP,
but I just think advantages and disadvantages open up a wider variety of character-story-environment interactions even at the cost of more bookkeeping.
ONCE UPON ALL TIMES IN THE WEST
In 2012, a quantum strangelet -- a tiny submolecular structure as dense as a black hole -- hit the Earth on the west side of Independence, Missouri. The Kansas City metropolitan area disintegrated south of the Kansas River: South Kansas City, Overland Park, Olathe all destroyed in titanic earthquakes and eerie gravity inversions. By the time the aftershocks had resolved themselves, everything for 350 miles along U.S. Highway 50 -- as far as Dodge City, Kansas -- had somehow been rebuilt into a maze of shimmering, alien geometry and hostile desert: the Strangelands. Nothing electronic can survive at all inside it, and petrochemicals and plastics tend to set themselves on fire passing through it. TNT is somewhat stable, and gunpowder almost reliable. Men and horses need only pack water and food and prepare for a long ride.
On the other side? Depends on how you rode: the strangelet seems to have punched a series of loops and strings through time and into 11 to the 5th power, or 161,051, discrete solutions for local space-time-history. Most of them -- or rather, most of the solutions most immediately discoverable -- correspond to various points in various 19th centuries. Almost all of them in western North America (the Strangelands aren't necessarily tangent to Kansas everywhen), almost all of them featuring low human densities. Some futures might be tangent to the Strangelands, or to their own pasts tangent to the Strangelands -- reports have come back of other riders carrying assault rifles, for instance. But those might be from our America, from our history. It has proved impossible to block off the entire Strangelands from the determined, the desperate, and the driven. Rural roads flicker and turn Strange with just enough warning to let families and filibusterers through no matter what Washington says. (And the governor of Kansas ignores what Washington says out of principle.) North Kansas City teems with would-be "Fourteeners" ready to cross into a new old frontier. You are among them. Go past, young men.
System: Most likely GURPS
4th edition, using the five-stat mod we've talked about (split IQ into two attributes, IQ and PRE or SOC or whatever we decide to call the social/charisma/presence set of skills). No magic, no psionics.
|Monday, July 28th, 2014|
|Night of the Rangers
Like I did back in 2008,
I'm posting the four possibilities for the next game that my players are currently deciding among. As I believe I've mentioned, our group's method for coming up with games is for them all to suggest the sorts of things they'd like to see, and for me to boil everything down into four or five possible campaigns. Then they vote on which one sounds best, and off we go.
This, then, is the first of those four nominees. I'll post the rest over the next week or so, just for everyone's entertainment, although one of them
is a rerun.
NIGHT OF THE RANGERS"Back in 1835, when Halley's Comet was overhead, same night those men died at the Alamo, they say Samuel Colt made a gun. A special gun. He made it for a hunter. A man like us, only on horseback .... They say this gun can kill anything."
-- John Winchester, Supernatural,
"Dead Men's Blood"
didn't live up to the wonder and the glory of this quote. Let's see if we can.
It's 1848 and the war with Mexico has got things stirred up all along the frontier. Not just the Indian frontier: the frontier between the living and the dead burns with pale fire. You are Rangers, riding that frontier to quench that fire, to break it, to draw it back across the line. You've got guns and horses and silver badges lettered up in Hebrew ... and maybe some of you have a little o' that pale fire behind your eyes even now. If you ride a little bit on the wild side of the line, you can fight harder and better -- a smear of vampire blood or a dusting of werewolf bone just makes a deadlier Ranger, even if Mister Colt might not agree. But he's back East, and you ride West in the lands of the sunset, into the lands of the shadow.
This is a pretty straightforward "monster of the week" campaign, with the possibility of expanding (or not) into a "season arc" or three. Tone is likely to stay on the action side of the equation rather than the horror side, although with Rangers tempted to "pick up the hex" or "feed their fire" we can hopefully get close to the agon of the Western hero. If people would rather, we can bump the starting date to 1865 instead. Of course, in 1865, Mister Colt is dead ... as are 600,000 other folk.
System: Savage Worlds,
which promises relatively fluid combats at multiple scales and not coincidentally offers a whole heaping lot of pre-statted monsters and Western perils in general. I'll probably be looking quite intently at Rippers,
as well as Deadlands
and the SW Horror Companion.
|Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014|
|ENnie Body Out There
The ENnie Awards voting is now open
, so it must be time to electioneer for the only candidate who truly believes what you truly believe, namely that I should get more ENnie Awards. Or as it usually shakes out, fractions of ENnie Awards:
Vote for a tenth of an ENnie for me for The Kobold Guide to Magic
Vote for a fiftieth of two ENnies for me for Hillfolk
(Best Game and Product of the Year)!
Vote up a big fifth of an ENnie for me for Deadlands Noir Companion
Let's call it a thirtieth of one ENnie for me for Page XX
Vote for another fiftieth of an ENnie for me for Achtung! Cthulhu Keeper's Guide
Although it violates the core principle of everything we've worked so hard to achieve, I'd appreciate it if you'd vote for a product I had nothing to do with: Eternal Lies
And last but never least, a whole HALF of an ENnie can be mine if you but vote for Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff
for Best Podcast!
By my calculations, if we all pull together and vote in
the Ken Fractional Slate, I'll rake in 89% of an ENnie Award! And that's something we can all be 89% proud of.
Customarily, I close by sharing something that's nothing to do with me or the ENnies as an election-season gift to you my beloved friends. So here's some absolutely top-shelf best-of-breed eliptony: the 72 Goëtic demons
as drawn by the remote viewer Aaron Donahue, "perhaps the most skilled technical remote viewer in the world." Perhaps!
|Thursday, July 10th, 2014|
|Unleash the Madness Dossier
Because the people still reading a LiveJournal (even mine) may very well be the same people who read "The Madness Dossier" when it was just a 6-page setting in the back of GURPS Horror Third Edition
, I should note that GURPS HORROR: The Madness Dossier
is now a 64-page setting book (in PDF) for GURPS Fourth Edition.
For the rest of you, the Madness Dossier setting is what happens when I write a cosmic horror mind-control technothriller after swapping in William S. Burroughs for H.P. Lovecraft, shaken with Mary Gentle's reality quakes, and stirred with a little Velikovsky, a little Julian Jaynes, and a whole lot of Sumerian monster lore. The Anunnakku controlled us all through command subroutines in our language until we overthrew them in 535 A.D. -- after which time their whole history was erased and replaced by a scrim. Their servants, the Mesopotamian monsters known as the irruptors, are making straight their return, with only the commandos, applied anthropologists, and wetware hackers of Project SANDMAN to stop them.
If that sounds like the kind of thing you might like, check it out.
|Thursday, June 19th, 2014|
|Nexus Game Fair Schedule
If you'll be at the Nexus Game Fair
in Milwaukee this weekend, you can apparently find me immured in the Van Gogh room all Saturday afternoon, like a dragonfly trapped in amber, if dragonflies talked about running RPG campaigns all the damn time.
I say "apparently" because, as is becoming distressingly common, I had to excavate this schedule from the larger Event Catalog the day before the show, instead of, oh, I don't know, having it sent to me ahead of time by the would-be organizer. So if I'm also scheduled to do anything else, well, that will be news to both of us.
I can guarantee I'll be in the bar Saturday night, though.
Saturday 1:00pmCrowdsourcing: Kickstarting Your Own Creation
The emergence of Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms are fundamentally changing the way that new products are being developed and marketed, both for small publishers and now, even the larger ones are getting in on the game. Creators are finding an entirely new way to attract buyers for their products, and crowdfunding is breaking down many of the traditional barriers in getting a product to the mass market. Join special guests Matt Forbeck, Kenneth Hite, and Stefan Pokorny as they discuss the secrets to running a successful crowdfunding campaign, from inception to delivery. (Van Gogh)
Saturday 2:00pmThe Genre: Shaken, Not Stirred
Join Top Secret
designer and author Merle Rasmussen, line developer for the GUMSHOE system [sic]
Kenneth Hite, and noted game designer and author Matt Forbeck as they work to unravel the mysteries of espionage and investigative role-playing games. with particular focus on tackling the issues of railroading the storyline and demystifying the clue-driven RPG. (Van Gogh)
Saturday 3:00pmGlobalization: Transform Adventures into Campaigns
Starting out is tough, and not just for the player characters. Gamemasters have a tough road to pave with a new campaign, as they consider the proverbial “home base” and its surrounding geography. How to design and expand your world using imitations of real life events and places, and what infrastructure really makes sense? How to create interesting and influential antagonists, both individual villains, groups/societies, governments, and extraplanar/races? Experienced world designers Kenneth Hite, James Lowder, and Frank Mentzer will walk you through the various challenges of creating a setting for your campaign that is exciting, full of potential, and 10 pounds lighter. (Van Gogh)
Saturday 4:00pmStorytelling: Adding Fear, Suspense & Tension
Unlike their player characters, the players actually know that they are in a horror story and are often well versed in the lore of the setting. How do you create a sense of fear and suspense in your story? Fear of the unknown is a good start, but what about creating fear founded on familiar, but terrifying, creatures and situations? How can you “wear out the edge of a chair” and use unexpected results to achieve plot twists? Join veteran writers and designers Matt Forbeck, Kenneth Hite, and James Lowder as they discuss storytelling in the horror genre. (Van Gogh)
|Monday, June 9th, 2014|
|My Origins Schedule
Because the Game Designer Track is so important that it must be HIDDEN in the event schedule, apparently. The first three panels are me solo-ing unless I rope in a ringer, which might very well happen.
Anyhow, here's me:FRIDAY June 133pm-4pm: Building the Perfect Monster
How to design a monster that fits your campaign and shows off your rules set of choice. The designer of GURPS Horror, Trail of Cthulhu,
and Night's Black Agents
talks the nitty gritty of monster design and deployment for maximum monstrosity -- horror, thrills, challenge, mystery, or all four! (C214)SATURDAY June 141pm-2pm: From Folklore to Flanking Bonus: Adapting Monsters
How do you take your favorite monsters from fiction, film, or folklore and turn them into gameable foes -- or characters? Join the designer of GURPS Horror, Trail of Cthulhu,
and Night's Black Agents
for a look at researching, improving, and gamifying monsters. Bring your favorite monster! (C214)3pm-4pm: The Care and Feeding (and Slaying) of Vampires
Does your game have vampires? Do you want them to be more dangerous, less predictable, or more horrifying? Does your game not have vampires? Do you want to add them? Join the designer of GURPS Horror
and vampire spy thriller Night's Black Agents
for everything you ever wanted to know about vampires. Except the sparkling. (C214)4pm-6pm [??]: The Future of RPGs
I'm on this panel with Mike Mearls and Luke Crane, so it should be a barn-burner. That said, it's not listed in the event grid, so it may not happen, or it may not happen at this time. Ask Mike for deets in between badgering him about attacks of opportunity and grappling rules and multi-classing hobbits. That's what I'm going to do! (???)
I'll also be at the Origins Awards on Saturday night, unless the darlings insist on charging me money to be at the Origins Awards, in which case I'll be at dinner or maybe the Big Bar on 2. You know what, just look in the Big Bar on 2. See you there!
|Sunday, June 8th, 2014|
|A Bose Peculiar Bystery, er, Mystery
On Saturday, we went to Devon Avenue, which meant a trip to India Bookhouse. Where I found India's Biggest Coverup,
by Anuj Dhar, which introduced me to what is likely the most influential conspiracy theory I'd never heard of: that the death of Subhas Chandra Bose in a plane crash in 1945 was faked, and his survival covered up by (serially) the Japanese government, the British government, the Indian government, the Soviet government, and the Indian government (three more times in separate inquiries). True to its title, the book is much more interested in the mechanics of the coverup than it is in what Bose might have been doing out there all this time. So kind of hard going for people who just want an introduction to the conspiracy, which you can find here
at History Today
The prevailing theories are apparently that Bose was in a Soviet gulag or had renounced the world to become a holy man (there are two separate holy man False Boses attached to various versions of the theory). The Indian government has stiffed the investigators (official and unofficial) nigh-continuously since almost before independence, but Narendra Modi is a bigger fan of Bose than any previous PM. Modi's party also has an institutional interest in taking the Congress Party down a few pegs, so if it can prove that Congress allowed India's greatest fighting hero to languish in the gulag, count on a fourth inquiry and big headlines. If so, you read it here first, or perhaps second, if you beat me to India Bookhouse.
|Friday, June 6th, 2014|
|Sing Along With the Serpent People
A perhaps infortuitous collision between my iTunes Work Shuffle mix and the subject of the July issue of Ken Writes About Stuff.
apologies to Pulp
She came from Leith she had a thirst for magic
She read von Junzt but her SAN was tragic, that's how I caught her eye
She told me she was Pictish gentry
I said in that case I'll have a 12-year Glenkinchie
She said fine and in thirty seconds time she said
I want to live like serpent people
I want to do whatever serpent people do, I want to sleep with serpent people
I want to sleep with serpent people like you
Well what else could I do -- I said I'll see what I can do
I took her to a fuath barrow
I don't know why as I didn't care oh that's right
I just wanted a bite
I said pretend you're not an Aryan, she just laughed and said oh nobody cares an -ymore
I said oh? Well Robert E. Howard sure makes a big thing of it
Are you sure you want to live like serpent people
You want to see whatever serpent people see
You want to sleep with serpent people
You want to sleep with serpent people like me
But her comprehension failed, she just smiled and stroked my scales
Get a cool and dim-lit cave
Dress in skins and worship Medb
Carve some flints and stretch your skull
Pretend you never hung with Kull
But still you'll never get it right
Even haunting caves at night
Carve Ixaxar on the wall
If you called on Yig he'd still eat you all
You'll never live like serpent people
You'll never do what serpent people do
You'll never coil like serpent people
You'll never watch your race devolve out of view
And hiss and bite and spew
Because Tsathoggua told you to
Sing along with the serpent people, sing along and it might just get you through
Laugh along with the serpent people
Laugh along even though they're laughing at you and the mammal things that you do
Because you think extinct is cool
Like a rattler in Oklahoma
Full of neurotoxical trauma
They'll rot your insides out
Cause everybody hates occultists
Especially when their lore's
Insulting to Yig
Yeah and the venom stains
Just go with the gig
You will never understand
What it means to live your life
With no body heat control
And with nowhere left to go
You are amazed that they exist
And they stay alive
Whilst you can only wonder why
Get a cool and dim-lit cave
Dress in skins and worship Medb
Carve some flints and stretch your skull
Pretend you never hung with Kull
But still you'll never get it right
Even haunting caves at night
Carve Ixaxar on the wall
If you called on Yig he'd still eat you all
You'll never live like serpent people
You'll never do what serpent people do
You'll never coil like serpent people
You'll never watch your race devolve out of view
And crouch and breed with you
Because Tsathoggua told you to
Want to live with serpent people like you
Want to live with serpent people like you
Want to live with serpent people like you