Showing posts with label Vampires. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vampires. Show all posts

Friday, December 27, 2019

[From the Archives] Episode 24: An Interview with Jeff Mariotte and a Discussion of Vampires and Other Things that Prefer the Night

On October 15, 2007, Jeff Mariotte visited our show for a short 15-minute interview that helped us kick off a conversation about Vampire movies and television shows, as well as other nasty things that go bump in the night. Jeff Mariotte is a former editor-in-chief at IDW Comics and the co-author of two published 30 Days of Night media tie-in novels. In this interview, Jeff discusses his comic book series Graveslinger, his 30 Days of Night media tie-in novels Immortal Remains and Rumors of the Undead, as well as his novel Missing White Girl. After the interview, Shawna Benson, Eric Lytle, and Christian Lindke discuss there favorite vampire stories on film and television.

This is the episode where Shawna Benson coined the phrase Friday Night Death Slot referring to how networks increasingly scheduled shows they thought would fail on Friday evenings.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Roleplaying and Player vs. Player Conflict

Everyone who has played a role playing game has at some point experienced sessions, or even campaigns, that contain Player vs. Player conflict.  When it comes to MMORPGs, there are some who claim that Player vs. Player is their favorite mode of play.  There are even Pen and Paper RPGs that have Player vs. Player treachery as the primary motivating factor for the game -- PARANOIA I'm looking at you.  There is definitely a time and a place for PvP play, it can be highly rewarding.  Much of the game industry is based on the assumption that the players will be playing against one another and not cooperatively.

One of the major innovations of RPGs was that they stressed player cooperation rather than competition.  A fact that many DMs didn't take enough to heart in the early days.  Which brings to mind how important it is to understand what your players expect from a game, and how to set expectations to minimize disappointment if a group has decided to embark on a PvP campaign experience.  After all, who hasn't lost a friend or two over a game of DIPLOMACY due to a breaking of that game's "magic circle" when someone used real world commitments/obligations to shape outcomes in the game.

Which brings me to the point of this post.  Player vs. Player conflict can be great in a game, but "inner party" strife can ruin a game.  If the players of a game are expecting this: 

And they get this as a part of adventure design:

You can end up with some very disappointed players.

I recently had this occur during a recent season of D&D Encounters (The Council of Spiders adventure).  The module is set up so that the characters distrust one another and have conflicting objectives.  To add to the intraparty conflict, WotC released "Treachery" cards that can be used during play.  The treachery cards cause bad things to happen to your fellow players -- or take advantage of bad things already happening to them -- and give you a benefit.  The intention is to create a sense of paranoia and drama.  It's a decent goal, but it can end with disappointed players.

This is due to a couple of reasons:

  1. Player expectations -- Many people play RPGs because they want a collaborative experience where they work with others to achieve objectives.
  2. Mary Sue Syndrome -- The descriptor might sound derogatory.  Don't take it that way.  Many players are playing romanticized versions of themselves.  This is true even when they aren't playing a character who seems remotely like themselves.  Players care about their characters and they want control over them.  When PvP erupts in an RPG it often makes a player feel threatened...and by other players no less.  This can lead "at the table" conflict to leave the magic circle of play and bleed over into real life.  This isn't good, and unless you're playing PARANOIA this is a real risk.  Let me restate this again.  Players play characters again and again because they like them.  If they perceive that character is being directly threatened, they may take it as a slight against themselves.
  3. Most Players Don't Really Suspend Disbelief -- What separates good actors from bad actors?  One trait is the ability of good actors -- even ones who aren't "transformed" in each role -- is there ability to immerse themselves in a role and completely separate themselves from the actions of the character.  Most gamers aren't good actors.  The veil of suspended belief is thin.  They are usually not roleplaying.  They often take "roleplayed" moments more seriously than they should.  As a DM, I have roleplayed NPCs who were jerks to one or more players.  I have often had to go out of my way to let players -- who thought I was beating up on them -- know that it was only the character behaving this way, that I was acting.  This surprises some players as they expect you to do something like say "so and so says" rather than for you to affect a voice and act it out straight.
  4. Metagaming -- Players will use information they don't have against their peers.  Did the Evil High Priest secretly tell player A to plant evidence that player B was a member of an evil cult?  Guess what.  If there has been time between sessions, player B will begin looking for that evidence.  This is true even if player B would have no idea the planting of evidence is occurring.  They will act on player information and be hurt when they are called on it.  Why?  See #3 and #4. Ask me about a Vampire LARP experience regarding this kind of conflict where players teamed up against a storyteller's character -- an Antediluvian Settite -- because characters were acting on player knowledge.   They had a big gathering.  Every vampire in the session knew the guy was a Settite.  Everyone.  Even though his power was to make people do stuff without knowing who told them to or why.  They were supposed to think it was their own idea.  It took some very skilled ad libbing from a co-storyteller to transform the narrative into making this "trial" the key piece of action.  The action was supposed to be around the Prince.  But people didn't want to "hurt" their friends, so they acted on player knowledge and reworked a whole narrative.  It worked.  No one's feelings were hurt, but it was still a mess. 
In my opinion, Player vs. Player conflict can be a powerful narrative tool.  After all, the source of all DRAMA is conflict.  Thing is in player vs. player conflict -- that isn't entirely pre-scripted and then acted out line by line by actors but is actually played -- things can get messy.  They often do get messy.  I would argue that setting up cases of player conflict should be rare.  I might even recommend avoiding them altogether.  You'll have a happier table, even if it is one that misses out on some "dramatic opportunities."

Thursday, August 09, 2012

You Got Your TWILIGHT in My Fighting Fantasy Style Gamebook, and I'm Glad.

When I purchased An Assassin in Orlandes, the first of Tin Man Games Gamebook Adventures, I did so out of a nostalgia for the old Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson and other excellent books in that genre.  I had recently acquired my first smart phone and was impressed that many of the old Fighting Fantasy books were available for purchase.  It was nice to revisit the books that along with Tunnels and Trolls solos had been my proxy game group during my middle and early high school years.  During that time, I was only able to play role playing games sporadically and the game books were a great substitute.  The smart phone versions brought back fond memories, even if it was harder to finish an adventure where one couldn't "accidentally" read future entries for clues.

The Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, and their eventual competitors, became a huge phenomenon.  One thing they never managed to do was expand their audience beyond certain market sectors which were mostly male readers.  TSR made a brief attempt at expanding the demographic with their Heart Quest books, but they didn't catch on for various reasons.

With the smart phone and the transition to ebooks, the gamebook has seen a resurgence.  One of the leading publishers in this resurgence is Tin Man Games, and with good reason.  When I began playing An Assassin in Orlandes, just to see how this "small upstart's Fighting Fantasy competitor" would fare, I was impressed with the thoughtfulness that went into the production. The book had a compelling narrative, a fun little game system (that also allows for a little "tilting" of die rolls which is a nice touch), and even had "Achievements" that could be earned by successful and unsuccessful play.  In short, it was clear that Tin Man was going to be big.  Their success continued with the acquisition of the license to produce future Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, taking them from competitor to partner, and the acquisition of the Judge Dredd license.  I've been playing around with their Judge Dredd gamebook app, and it is quite fun -- more on that later. 

Tin Man really seems to know what they are doing, and they are also doing what publishers should have been doing during the first boom.  They are expanding the pool of potential gamebook players.  While we geeks might be precious to protect our hobbies from "fakes," "hipsters," or "sparkly vampires," as John Scalzi points out -- we shouldn't be.  Whoever wants to be a geek should be allowed to be, and they should be welcomed into our hobbies with open arms.  One of the things that I've learned from living in Southern California is that everyone is a geek.  That's right...everyone.  Disneyland's profits are based on the premise, and have been working for years.  Walk around Disneyland one day as an observer of people.  What do you see?  People from all walks of life joyously expressing their love and affection for fantasy, science fiction, and cartoons.  It is a place where they let down their pretentious guard and allow themselves to have fun.  And that is what being a geek is about.  It is about never loosing the "Golden Age of Science Fiction is 14" attitude and making the Golden Age of Science Fiction right now.  The same is true for comic books, role playing games, or whatever else you geek out about.  When Vampire the Masquerade hit the gaming hobby, I remember those who wrong-mindedly poo pooed Goths coming into our hobby playing their "weepy Goth Anne Rice game."  While others were doing that, I was meeting some great friends who it eventually turned out happened to be willing to try playing Warhammer 40k and Globbo.  Trust me, if you can get someone to play Globbo you've won the pop-culture wars and I credit White Wolf with getting Vampire fans who would never think of playing Globbo in the first place to try it out.  VtM was the gateway game that lead to more gaming for a lot of people.

It appears that Tin Man Games is trying to give fans of the Twilight books and Vampire Diaries a gateway gamebook into my favorite hobby with Strange Loves: Vampire Boyfriends.  This is something we should be praising.  After all, how far is it from Vampire Boyfriends -- a book with game mechanics -- to Vampire the Masquerade?  And as I've mentioned already, Vampire the Masquerade can lead to Twilight Imperium play.

Check out Tin Man's book trailer for their new book Vampire Boyfriends, the first in the Strange Loves series.


You know what?  I think I might just pick up a copy of this book/game.

Friday, July 15, 2011

[Blogging Northwest Smith] -- Black Thirst (Reprise)

The following is a reprise of my second "Blogging Northwest Smith" series, this time discussing "Black Thirst." Looking back on the older post, I find that I ought to have mentioned how the focus on beauty does mirror some aspects of Planetary Romance tales like the John Carter series. I didn't point it out in the past because I don't think Moore is writing strict Planetary Romance, she's doing something more.

In the last installment of "Blogging Northwest Smith," I discussed how C L Moore's tales of Northwest Smith included elements of Space Opera and Weird Horror and pushed the envelope of what constituted a Science Fiction tale. By Space Opera I am referring to the earlier "Space Opera equals Space Westerns" description often used during the early days of the genre.

I am far from the first to notice that Moore incorporated elements of Weird Horror into the tales of her space faring anti-hero, Lin Carter noticed her inclusion of these elements and thought it likely they were added to garner publication in Weird Tales. Whatever Moore's reasons for including Weird Horror elements, as she did with her adaptation of the Medusa into "pleasure vampire" in "Shambleau," she was deeply enough tied to the Lovecraftian circle that she was one of the co-authors (in fact she was the jump start author) of a Lovecraftian "shared world" tale entitled The Challenge from Beyond (more on this in a later post).

For the modern fan of Science Fiction, the incorporation of horror elements into a Science Fiction narrative seems perfectly natural. Everything from the Atomic Horror films of the 50s and 60s to Ridley Scott's masterpiece Alien (based on A.E. van Vogt's 1939 Astounding story "Black Destroyer" which was included as chapters 1-6 of The Voyage of the Space Beagle) to Joss Whedon's Firefly demonstrate how deeply saturated film and television are with the SF horror story. But for fans of "Space Westerns," Foundation, or modern Space Opera, the shift in suspension of disbelief from hard SF to Weird Horror SF isn't guaranteed.

When I read "Shambleau," I was struck by how much the narrative followed the format of a classic Western and by how the monster/alien of the tale was Lovecraftian in nature -- tentacles and all. "Black Thirst" takes the combination of Science Fiction and horror a different direction than "Shambleau." Where in "Shambleau" the tale was one of Weird Horror overlaying a Western, "Black Thirst" is a tale of Gothic Horror that contains no small elements of the Western and Weird Horror genre.

Our tale begins with our protagonist, Northwest Smith, leaning against a warehouse wall in some unfriendly waterfront street on Venus. He soon encounters a woman, immediately recognizable as a Minga maid, who begs Northwest to visit her in the Minga stronghold in order to provide her some sort of aid.

Moore spends some time describing the Minga palace as a building that pre-existed the majority of civilization on Venus, describing how the stronghold was already built by the time some great Venusian explorer had sailed the seas in search of new land. The Minga maids themselves are as mysterious as the palace from which they are sold, they are "those beauties that from the beginning of history have been bred in the Minga stronghold for loveliness and grace, as race-horses are bred on Earth, and reared from earliest infancy in the art of charming men. Scarcely a court on the three planets lacks at least one of these exquisite creatures..."

Establishing the mysterious origins of the stronghold and the maids, Moore quickly establishes the dangers associated with attempting to "lay a finger" on a Minga maid. It is a danger with no appeal as "The chastity of Minga girls was proverbial, a trade boast." The purpose of these beauty slaves seems not to be a sexual one, and this is reinforced later when the real purpose of the breeding of the maids is reveals, but a purely aesthetic one. The women are bred for their beauty, in form and manner, and the price paid is for these things alone.

The concept of a stronghold of courtesans, trained in the art of charming men, combined with the similarities between Malcolm Reynolds and Northwest Smith leave one wondering if Joss Whedon had read this tale before creating Firefly. Not to imply with any certainty that Whedon was directly influenced by Moore, but it is hard for me to visualize anyone other than Nathan Fillion playing Northwest Smith in a movie -- and if he did Whedon fans would cry foul that Northwest is a direct Mal ripoff.

As the Minga maid, named Vaudir, leaves Smith she does so with a warning. She warns Northwest about the evil that is the Alendar and hints at his origins when she discusses there are "elemental" things that don't sink back into the darkness from which they came if a civilization develops too swiftly. "Life rises out of dark and mystery and things too strange and terrible to be looked upon." Here she hints at the history of the Minga and the Alendar and Moore incorporates imagery from Weird Horror. The concept of elemental evil is one of Weird Horror and it is the type of horror that is used to describe the Alendar.

Smith agrees to help the maid and approaches the stronghold as she told him he should. What follows is a series of scenes reminiscent of Bram Stoker's Dracula in which our hero plays, a much braver version, of Jonathan Harker. Smith wanders the hallways of the palace sensing, but not seeing, the great evil that awaits him. He arrives at Vaudir's room, but it is not long before he encounters the Alendar him/itself. The Alendar is a manlike creature possessed of great psychic powers, powers which overwhelm our protagonist and could kill him in an instant. But a quick death is not to be for Smith as he possesses something of value that the Alendar desires.

The Alendar, it seems, is -- like the Shambleau -- a kind of vampire. Unlike the Shambleau the Alendar does not feed on sexual/physical pleasure, instead he/it feeds on beauty. For the Alendar beauty is a tangible thing, an objective thing that provides real nourishment. The only way in which beauty is subjective regarding the Alendar's hunger is in its "form." What is beauty for a human female isn't beauty in a human male, which is why the Alendar has spared Smith. Smith possesses the quality of male beauty which must be fully developed before the Alendar can feed on him. As the Alendar describes his method of nourishment, Smith is given glimpses of unimaginable beauty -- beauty that can cause madness.

How the tale unfolds from here I will leave for you to discover on you own, but I would like to spend some time discussing some of the interesting concepts Moore threw into this story.

She is quite obviously writing a tale about slavery and presents human trafficking as a horrible affair, but she is also presenting a discussion of beauty and what constitutes true beauty. The Alendar describes beauty as follows:

"Beauty is as tangible as blood, in a way. It is a separate distinct force that inhabits the bodies of men and women. You must have noticed the vacuity that accompanies perfect beauty in so many women... the force so strong that it drives out all other forces and lives vampirishly at the expense of intelligence and goodness and conscience and all else...

For beauty, as I have said, eats up all other qualities but beauty."

The beauty that Moore has the Alendar describe is in itself horrifying, yet it is also an interesting spark for discussion. Vaudir -- who has asked Smith for assistance and led to his current state of danger -- is beautiful, but she possesses something more. She possesses and intelligence and free will that make her more desirable to the Alendar than her beauty alone would demand. Smith too possesses this combination of independence and beauty, a combination that the Alendar seeks to use in order to overcome the boredom which results from the consumption of his current fare of pure beauty. Moore is simultaneously critiquing the "cult of beauty" and proffering an alternative -- a beauty that combines intelligence, independence, and appearance. There is a strong feminist spirit underlying the story and it is this spirit that separates this tale from a run of the mill narrative.

As before, Moore combines elements from a variety of literature in this piece in a manner that is fluid. The discussion of elemental evil has ties to Weird Horror. The Alendar, his stronghold, and the equation of beauty itself with the horrific echo Gothic Horror. The manner in which Smith is encountered and the stories resolution are straight from a Western, one could easily see "Black Thirst" as an episode of Wild, Wild, West. With all that Moore combines genre elements one might expect to become lost in some residual narrative clutter, yet that never occurs. Moore has a story she wants to tell, of a vampire who consumes beauty yet seeks something more, and it makes for quite an entertaining ride.

Previous Blogging Northwest Smith Entries:

1) Blogging Northwest Smith: "Shambleau"

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hulu Recommendation Friday: Fright Night

It wasn't quite the TWILIGHT or NEW MOON for Gen X movie goers, but it was a rollicking good time. FRIGHT NIGHT manages the careful balance between comedy horror and teen dramedy. Think of the film as Ferris Bueller meets the Hammer films catalog and you won't be far off. I also find it hard to imagine that a franchise like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER could have come to fruition without FRIGHT NIGHT.

Roddy McDowall is wonderful as the combination Van Helsing and local horror movie host -- like Zomboo. More to the point as local horror movie host Van Helsing poseur who is called to combat the forces of Darkness to help a teen whose neighbor happens to be a vampire.

There's a phenomenon in horror films that I haven't written about before, and it's the underlying cause of the reason people tend to open doors when the audience knows better. Essentially, it's the fact that most characters who are in horror movies believe that they are in the real world. You know, where supernatural stuff doesn't really exist. One way that one can begin to categorize horror movies, and their characters, is how meta-aware they are that they are in a horror story.

For example, the only real difference between your typical Lovecraftian professor and Manly Wade Wellman's John Thunstone is that Thunstone knows at the beginning that he is in a horror story and he acts accordingly. In Lovecraft's horror, the breakdown of the psyche of the protagonist is often triggered at the point they realize they are in a horror tale -- this is usually the case in horror movies as well. In Wellman's Thunstone tales, Thunstone's awareness allows him to combat evil in ways that others wouldn't. One can also compare the characters in "Supernatural" to characters in most other horror films/television shows. The Winchester's meta-awareness is what sets them apart and enables them to avoid opening doors best left closed.

FRIGHT NIGHT plays with this concept a lot, and has fun with it. At first, only Charley knows he's living in a horror movie. Eventually, Roddy McDowall finds out, and though his character should know how to defeat evil the tension between real vs. supernatural makes him less effective at combating evil than he would otherwise be.

Sadly, the film cannot be viewed as an embedded film on a non-Hulu site, but it can still be viewed at Hulu at the link provided. I don't think I like these "Crackle" hosted items on Hulu because they cannot be embedded.

Click on the link or the picture and have a good time.

Friday, December 19, 2008