Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I Ain't Afraid of No Ghosts

One of the great, long lost, elements of Halloween, oft forgotten in the modern age, is that the holiday was not originally a time to embrace horrors, and cheer for the slasher in gory movies, but quite the opposite.

Essentially, as it was explained to me as a young boy, people dressed up as scary creatures on Halloween to make fun of the real scary creatures, and in some cases trick them into thinking their brethren are already about, and doing naughty things, so that they would go away. That, or the costumes of the people were frightening so as to scare away the actual beasties of darkness.

In his book Halloween, Hallowed Be Thy Name, Reverend Doctor Edward J. Smith offers a religious perspective to the wearing of costumes on All Hallows' Eve, originally called 'guising' (as in disguising ones self). The Reverend suggests that by dressing up as spooky and nightmarish boogies, people, especially children, are able to poke fun at the Devil, his evil, and the things we fear.

The last sentence in the opening paragraph of the Wikipedia entry on Halloween says,  "the traditional focus of All Hallows' Eve revolves around the theme of using "humor and ridicule to confront the power of death."

As an advocate of humorous games, this got me to thinking...

We tend to think of the Halloween holiday themed game as a chance to run something really frightening, perhaps with a touch of tragic irony, and who can forget, gore. Basic Horror. 

Yet according to my research, the proper way to participate in the holiday is to run something humorous, albeit darkly so. I might even go a step further and suggest that this might be the best possible way to tackle both genres.

Puttin' on the Ritz

As I and other RPG bloggers have mentioned in the past, both Horror and Humor share certain challenges to both the GM and players that make them tricky to run. And yet, when you combine the two I feel like the juxtaposition of their natures works to highlight the strengths of both.

For instance: Let's say you're chugging along with a gang of two-bit, underachieving, ne'er do wells, jokingly going from one misadventure to another. Suddenly one of your NPC contacts is found dead and half eaten...s^%* just got real REALLY fast. This would work in a Medieval Fantasy or Cyberpunk setting, but imagine It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia with Zombies! Yikes!

Don't forget to kill Philip.

Likewise, periodic bits of comedy can prevent a Horror or chilling Crime Thriller from getting too dark and depressing. The television show Dexter was darkly humorous at times.

Of course, perhaps the best way to create a gestalt of these two genres is to observe the relative absurdity of modern Horror. While I am hesitant to recommend deconstruction of any kind, in the effort to find what's funny about ghosts, the animated dead, and demons coming to steal your soul, look no further than the worst examples of the genre (or the best comedic examples of it).

No End To The...Rabbits.
Freakin' rabbits.

In conclusion, if we're supposed to be celebrating All Hallow's Eve by giggling at the devil and his minions, I say bring out the chips and dips, roll some dice, and chuckle his candy-arse back to the abyss where it belongs.

Have some laughs at evil's expense.

It's on me.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Gotta Get Back In Time

Great Scott! By my calculations, we've arrived in the future!

Thanks to the time-traveling capabilities of the Flux Capacitor I've installed in this DeLorean, we've managed to safely appear on October 21st, 2015.

It's fantastic, isn't it Marty? Video conferencing, 3D movies, holograms, hoverboards, flying cars, everyone using clean, and efficient fusion energy...


Our recent activities seem to have created an alternate timeline. Many things have appeared, many things haven't, and some elements are very different. It's the Mets in the World Series, and not the Cubs for example. Well, at least it's still a team that rarely makes it that far. The timelines can't be too divergent.

Back to the Future, and it's trilogy forming sequels, are among my all time favorite movies. Today is a special day for fans of the franchise. It's 'Back to The Future Day'; for it is on this date that Marty McFly, his girlfriend Jennifer, and Doctor Emmett Brown, travel from Hill Valley, California in 1985 to Hill Valley, California, 2015.

While Back to The Future II is arguably the weakest of the three films, the design esthetic of the 'futuristic' landscape of 2015 had a huge impact on me. To this day, this is the near future I most often depict in my games. This future is what I want the future to be.

I can safely say that I was inspired by many different aspects of the trilogy, but for this particular post, I want to focus on the future that isn't, the second film's depiction of our present year, 2015.

In a nutshell, I've always preferred the idea that the future won't suck as much as the present.

Sure, I'm a huge fan of Blade Runner, Alien/Aliens, and other franchises that show us a dark, rainy, and corrupted vision of where we might go from here, but my interest in those settings pales in comparison to the future of Star Trek, the original incarnation of DC's 30th Century Legion of Superheroes, and of course, the year 2015 as given to us in Back to The Future II.

I love the idea that advancements in technology, science, and our innate curiosity, will make us strive for a better tomorrow. I don't know that I believe it that future as much as I once did, but it remains the dream.

Philosophy aside, the look, the overall aesthetic of Back to The Future's version of suburban California in the year 2015 is what I see when imagining the near future in many of the games I've run that end up in the not-so-distant soon.

The hovering billboards, road signs, and similar 'background' elements are forever present in any future I depict that has commercial flying vehicles. Mine are usually a little more streamlined than this one above, but they all owe their existence to this ancestor right here.

I love the look of the futuristic Hill Valley as it shows the high tech small town, something few if any other films, comics, or even books have ever depicted. This isn't the future of a cosmopolitan, over-populated metropolis like Blade Runner's Los Angeles, or Washington in Minority Report. These are the burbs folks. This is the kind of town most Americans actually live in. When you live in a major city like New York, Chicago, Houston, or San Francisco it can be easy to forget that where you dwell is the exception, not the norm.

Look at the picture above, and squeal over all the details it has that you can describe to your players whose PCs might be visiting such a setting. Flying cars have Landing, and No Landing Zones.

You can see what looks like a mailbox, but is actually a Fax terminal. Obviously the Fax is an essentially dead technology, but imagine email, online access terminals are everywhere. You could send a 3D scan of an important document to another PC, or to an NPC, anywhere on Earth, in orbit, or on the moon, while still chatting on your personal cell-phone/communicator. Harder to trace the call too if you are using a public terminal (maybe).

Oh course there are 3D, holographic advertisements, and what you can do with those.

This time, it's really, REALLY personal!

Now let's take a look at the people.

Thank your lucky stars the predications of Back to The Future II
 weren't all accurate. We could be dressing like these shmoes.
Although come to think of it...
that doesn't look all that different from what I've seen in
NYC's Greenwich Village on a weekday evening. Hmmm.

Putting aside the more well known fashion components such as self-adjusting jackets, and sneaker laces, the Google Glass like visors, and things such as the 'Future Punk' look of Griff and his gang, one of my favorite designs from the movie gets far too little attention.

The Hill Valley, California Police in 2015.

I just love everything about this. Strong, and attractive female law enforcement officers. Crisp, easy to identify uniforms. A good array of gear on their persons, but both uniform, and equipment are cut as to allow ease of movement, and speed.

And they're attractive. Did I mention that?
The filmmakers wanted to give the female officers
an authoritative air, but also look like two people a crook
would WANT to be arrested by (male or female).

The addition of digital displays above the brim of their caps is an awesome feature in my opinion. It adds a simple, visual, humor element while at the same time possibly delivering important information such as, "To Report a Crime Anonymously Contact...", or "Fly, and Drive Safely - Traffic Laws Protect Everyone - On the Ground, or in The Air".

My biggest gripe about the Back to The Future series, and the second film in particular, is we didn't spend more time in this future, and the weight of the story set there wasn't particularly strong. The story's trip to the future world of 2015 was merely a vehicle to create the alternate timeline shenanigans that became the film's primary focus.

I have adapted the setting, and/or parts of it, into dozens, upon dozens of RPG campaigns, and adventure sessions over the years. Many of the components have shown up in Superhero RPGs, Traveller, Star Frontiers, Teenagers from Outer Space, and so many more.

I intend to do a Thorough Thursday entry one of these days that deals with the numerous factors that make the entire Back to The Future trilogy a favorite of mine. Keep an eye out for it.

I leave you with this...

So long Future Boy!
Barking Alien
I wrote this post on the 21st, but due to my inability to generate the required 1.21 Gigawatts of energy needed to activate the time machine, the post hasn't shown up until the 22nd.
No matter. The extra day gives me the chance to wish a very Happy Birthday to Doc Brown himself, Christopher Lloyd, one of my favorite actors, and probably the voice I can imitate the best. :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Christmas In October

As I noted in my previous post, generating material for the October theme of the monstrous, morbid, and macabre has proven quite difficult for me, as I'm just not in the Halloween spirit. This is largely because I can't control where my thoughts go sometimes, and recently they haven't been going toward the type of things associated with the season.

I would like to take this opportunity to point out that this isn't completely my fault, consciously, or subconsciously. I mean come on! This October has been full of creative inspiration of a non-Halloween kind!

We've now seen four episodes of the new Muppets TV series from ABC and I must say the latter three are BIG improvements over the first episode. Episodes 2, and 4, stand out as exactly what I was hoping for.

The Flash's new season has begun, and while I wasn't feeling the first episode there either, the second one was better, and I'm really excited to see where this season goes. Oh, by the way, did I mention that Jay Garrick, the Golden Age/Earth-2 Flash, has appeared on the show? No? Oh, because JAY *FREAKING* GARRICK mofos! The Golden Age Flash as a character on a live action television series. Be still my pounding heart.

Yesterday, a movie trailer dropped for an upcoming film that you just might have heard a little something about. It's a sequel to a trilogy of films for the late 70's, and early 80's. Clues aren't helping? Well that's a darn shame.

OK, it's...

I've mentioned before that I didn't have high hopes for this movie after the dreadful prequels, and the reveal that J.J. 'Lens Flare' Abrams was going to be the man in charge, but damn if this doesn't look good. Plus, John Boyega plays the lead character of Finn in the film, and he was the lead in one of my all time favorite movies, Attack The Block. I am so stoked.
How stoked? Well, enough to use the word 'stoked' for one thing. That's not what you want to hear though is it? No. You want the creative angst, the soul-wrenching plea for an outlet to my pent up gaming frustrations. You people make me sick.
Fine! Fine! Yes! I want to run a Star Wars campaign. Preferably, I'd like to see the movie first, and run something set in the era of The Force Awakens if I find I like the setting.
Alternatively, yeah, I'm in the mood to run Supers again damn it. It's like this hidden itch that comes back again, and again regardless of the powder you...use...use to get...um. Never mind that last analogy. It's not important.
So why haven't you seen any Halloween stuff from me this October? Because October is been FULL OF AWESOME! None of it however, has anything to do with Halloween.
Barking Alien

Monday, October 19, 2015

Letting The Ground Lie Fallow For A While

Hey there everybody. Been a while.

I haven't posted anything since the first week of the month, and while there are a number of reasons why, one of the biggest factors is a lack of enthusiasm on my part.

Oh I still love gaming, and I've been doing my fair share of it I assure you, but it's been of a Superheroes and Star Wars nature. Nothing even remotely related to the theme for October has come across my table. Combined with little to no inspiration in the area of goblins, ghosts, and general ghoulish gallivanting, and October seems a bit of a bust.

I have one, or two ideas I'd still really like to share with you all, but don't expect a lot of posts from now until the beginning of November. I'm in a weird creative funk, deeply intrigued by possibilities that don't have a snowball's chance in a furnace of seeing play anytime soon. This happens to me every once in a while, and let me tell you, it's incredibly frustrating.

Anyway, onward...

Barking Alien

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Creepy, Kooky, Mysterious, and Spooky

October is here, and I'll be damned, but the weather on the East Coast of North America is giving it quite the fitting welcome.

I'm personally a fan of the cold, yet this is a chilly, wet, blustery cold that gets into your bones. It's the perfect conditions for hot cocoa, curling up with a good book and a warm brunette (ahem...sorry, personal preference), and getting ready for Halloween.

Or a warm redhead.
I ain't got nothing against redheads.

I like Halloween, though perhaps not for the same reasons many others do. After all, I'm not into watching Horror movies, I don't go to those haunted house attractions, and I haven't been to a Halloween party in so long I can't rightly recall the last time I went to one. These are the grown-up ways of celebrating Halloween though, are they not?

I like to see people in cool looking, and clever costumes, love a well-carved Jack O' Lanterns, and who doesn't enjoy candy? I think of Halloween as fun, and I enjoy the fun of Halloween. That's what it always was for me growing up.

Unfortunately, Halloween has become a night of terror, toilet papering people's homes, throwing eggs, and watching the umpteenth story-less, gore-bore fest motion picture.

Nothing could make me less enthused.

When I planned out my theme months for Autumn, I knew October would have to be focused on the scary, and spooky, but I hoped to bring a touch of weird, and whimsy back to the 'Season of the Witch'. Instead of discussing Horror in the traditional sense, what you are going to see this month is more the odd, the quirky, and yet still slightly macabre.

You dear reader are in for, well...less Paranormal Activity, and more ParaNorman. Not so much The Green Inferno, and much more Ghostbusters.

As the title says, the creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky.

In addition, I am hoping to add in a few bits of real fright night plights scattered here, and there. I plan on doing a follow up entry on my Alien Dread idea, some sample supernatural things that go bump in the night, and (if I can scrounge up enough time, and/or a miracle) share what I have so far on my original RPG Unfinished Business.

That's not all, but I figure that's enough to interest you in coming back to have a look around. Just don't go into the cellar, or the tool shed out back.

You've been warned.

Barking Alien