Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Grandaddy, ERB, and Me: A Love Letter to Pulp

I was only three years old when my grandfather died of lung cancer. I really don't remember him. My Mom had a lot of pictures and he's always smiling. I've got a nice one of him from the fifties, he's dressed in a short-sleeve button-up shirt and sporting a Walt Disney mustache. He looks very cool. He and my Mom were close, and she has often told me how she regrets Grandaddy didn't live long enough for me to know him. I wear a ring with his initials on my pinky (my hands are bigger than his, the pinky is the only finger it will fit on). His name was Lorin Polk Nunneley.

I'm thinking a lot about him this week because of a movie that's coming out on Friday called John Carter. John Carter is based on the pulp novel A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, originally serialized as Under the Moons of Mars in 1912.

When I was around 10 or so, we were living on the same street as my grandmother and I visited her house often. That's when I discovered the shelves of books in the guest bedroom. I was a voracious reader and I was always looking for something new. Here was a huge collection of first-edition hardback pulps, everything Edgar Rice Burroughs ever wrote. Grandaddy had collected them. Grandmother told me he used to go down to the bookstore as soon as a new ERB book was published and buy it immediately. It was a treasure trove for a reading kid.

I didn't read in chronological order. I started in with the Pellucidar series, still my favorite: Tales of a land in the center of earth, home to dinosaurs, cavemen, and sabertooth tigers. After that, I read Tarzan and its sequels. Then I moved on to the John Carter series, set on a fantasy Mars with four-armed green aliens and beautiful princesses.

By the time I was 14, I had plowed through the entire collection. Burroughs was an amazingly prolific author, and I can't say all of these are particularly good. They are certainly a bit silly, but coming to them as a preteen and early teen, I was the target audience. I was probably close to the same age Grandaddy was when he started to buy the books. Reading through my grandfather's collection gave me with a lifelong affection for the stories.

In some way, reading through this collection made me feel a connection to Grandaddy. I feel closer to him, even though I never knew him, thanks to a shared fandom. Because I share this with him, it means I will continue to stay interested and loyal to these books, and go see movie adaptations no matter how bad they are. I regret never being able to know him. I'm sure he would have loved many of the things I enjoyed as a boy, like Star Wars, maybe even Dungeons & Dragons, and I'm pretty sure he would be thrilled with my work as a game designer. He helped shape my life even though he was not physically present, through the fiction he enjoyed and left for me to discover.

Love you, Grandaddy. Thanks for the adventures.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dreamation After-Action Report

And, man, do I mean action! This was an action-packed convention, thanks to Bulldogs! and the new Marvel Heroic RPG.

I signed up to run a crazy number of games, five in all. This is definitely my limit. Two sessions were playtests of my medieval politics game-in-development, The Art of Power. The first went well but didn't really stretch the system much. The second was much more intense. We tried several things the rules didn't support very well, which is great, and I had the inestimable Rob Donoghue as one of my players. After the game was over, he joined me for dinner and we had a great discussion about the rules, with many wonderful ideas tossed around. As he put it after the game, "I think you've got a solid core here, but now I'm going to take a fire axe to it."

This gave me a clear idea for future development, but lots more work to do. Also, this game is definitely going in a card-game direction. That opens up a lot of headaches for printing and sourcing. I will be digging into those issues as I go along.

The other three games I ran were Bulldogs!, all using the Getting There Is Half the Fun scenario, set on the planet of Arsubar and involving a missing cargo. It was loads of fun, and my method of running the game with a random choice from 10 different characters always makes it a unique experience, since I never end up with the same crew. Different players bring a different flavor each time, as well. We ran into one minor issue in the first game when one player felt seriously blocked, but a good conversation between players quickly resolved the situation and the same player got to be completely heroic and badass in a subsequent scene, so all was well.

I also got a chance to play in a few games. Kevin Allen Jr.'s Trouble for Hire is basically an action movie in the style of the 1970s and 80s, with a single protagonist. The game shares the GM tasks out among the other players, and periodically everyone switches roles. It was really interesting and fun, and we created a great story that felt just like an action movie. This game is doing just what it intends. I wanted to play because Kevin was interested in publishing Trouble for Hire through Galileo Games, and after having a session of the game I'm really excited to be on board.

I also played in a session of Bulldogs! run by Jared Axelrod. This was super fun, I rarely get a chance to play in my own games, I'm usually running them instead, so just diving in with the character of "Big" Brunda Margab, Hacragorkan cargo loader, was a lot of fun. Jared presented a nicely crafted little adventure with some zombism, some space pirates, and a fleet of Templar warships. It was awesome, but we were all pretty incurious and relatively stupid characters, and all the backstory he prepared was ignored in favor of ass-kicking. In Bulldogs!, that's probably as it should be.

The last RPG I was in was the new Marvel Heroic RPG run by John Stavropoulos. John is a super high-energy GM, and we had a great time with the game. I played as Colossus and managed to absorb most of the damage laid out during the session, even when it was meant for someone else. I also leaped into the East River in metal form to rescue a drowning villain, who returned the favor by feeding off my mutant nature to try to kill me. It was epic!

The last thing I did was squeeze in a demo of Velociraptor! Cannibalism!, a card game designed by some friends of mine. It is very goofy fun, and I've contributed to their Kickstarter. I suggest you do the same, it's a lot of fun.