A Writing Entry – Admitting Defeat

Well, here I am, at the beginning of October at the point in which I should be getting the final edits done to my latest “Nevermore and the Ravens” book. “Should” is the key word in that sentence. I am nowhere near ready to get my latest novel published. I thought I could make up time; I thought I could overcome repeated writer’s blocks, but I have not. Don’t get me wrong; I am going to finish this novel, but I am disappointed I couldn’t do so in a timely manner. My deadline is self-imposed but I do try to take it seriously.

The Plan:
So this is a bit of a spoiler, but since I’ve missed my deadline, I might as well shed a bit of light on what I was planning on doing. I decided to try to write a coherent novel this time around. Writing short stories isn’t easy and I thought taking a different approach might be easier. After all, when I got my last collection out (Saturday Night Séance), I had one story that I started on almost immediately that ultimately went unfinished and didn’t make the cut. I was worried I couldn’t come up with another 13 stories (plus songs, plus connecting interview pieces). I also had this idea for a novel and I thought maybe this would be a good time to mix up my portfolio.

The Plot:
Don’t worry, this won’t be like a movie trailer that gives away the whole plot. I will, however, reveal the general premise, which is that Maryann’s gods call in their favors. I’ve never been a fan of the idea that magic in any system doesn’t have consequences. I figure that calling on gods would have greater consequences, but being gods, those consequences would manifest at their need. And that the greater the magic used, the greater the price, and I have shown Maryann using some pretty powerful magic. And so the gods need Maryann to go on a quest as a repayment for services rendered, and the rest of the band goes along with her.

I thought it would be nice to create an entirely different world instead of adapting modern settings. Of course, that meant I had to create all the new worlds. And of course I decided that each of the 13 chapters had to be in different areas of the world. I did decide to eliminate the connecting interviews because I felt that would interrupt the flow of the story, but I am trying to keep the songs. And here I am, with 13 chapter titles but no novel title, barely any songs written and only half the story.

That Whooshing Sound (as the Deadline Goes Past):
Was I too ambitious? I’m not sure. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? But I guess I’ve been writing shorter fiction for so long I’m having trouble with the longer format. A lot of trouble (obviously). My life has been no more stressful (relatively speaking) so it’s not as though I have that excuse. I have tried a few different approaches to breaking the writer’s block.

1) Work on chapter titles to inspire songs or stories.
2) Work on general events to happen in each chapter.
3) Work on what the effect of the events (even if that hadn’t been developed yet) would be on the characters.
4) Work on songs.

In short, I was resorting to developing an outline, which is something I very seldom do (at least not since I stopped writing papers for school). Unfortunately, it didn’t work. I’m not much farther along than I was three months ago. I don’t feel burned out; I feel uninspired and I don’t know why. My Muse has abandoned me, the fickle creature, and I don’t know how to get her back. In the meantime, I’ll keep pushing in the hopes I can eventually break the writer’s block or get my Muse to come back. I’d like this defeat to be only temporary.

A Writing Entry – The Bronte Sister Catalogue

I finally finished all seven novels by the British Brontë sisters. For those who don’t know, the Brontës were a family of much talent and more tragedy. The patriarch outlived his wife, his sister-in-law, and all six of his children by a good deal.

So, first, a brief history lesson. Or you can skip this part and head straight to Wikipedia. Patrick Bronte was an Anglican clergyman who married a woman named Maria Branwell and they had six children – Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, (Patrick) Branwell, Emily, and Anne. Maria the elder died at 38 of cancer, and her sister Elizabeth came to help out with the family while Patrick tried to get remarried (he never did). As an aside, Maria the elder also had a sister named Charlotte, so her first three daughters were named after her own family members. This is not confusing at all.

The girls were sent to school, but Maria and Elizabeth contracted tuberculosis, and died before age 13, so the other girls were withdrawn from school, mostly home-schooled, but eventually sent to a new school that was not riddled with disease; unfortunately all the wells in their home town were downstream of the church graveyard so ill-health plagued them for their entire lives. The remaining four kids were extremely creative and got along very well. As they got older, Charlotte travelled to Belgium and got into a bit of a love triangle with a teacher that ended badly. She and Anne were governesses for a while, which was both bad and good. Aunt Elizabeth died of bowel obstruction but left the girls enough money to clear their debts. Branwell was an artist and never settled down and ended up in trouble with drinking, gambling, and a scandal involving a married woman (who was Anne’s employer at the time). He ended up dying of tuberculosis and complications from alcoholism at age 31. Soon after, Emily and Anne both got sick and ended up dying of tuberculosis at the ages of 30 and 29, respectively. Charlotte lost all her siblings within a single year. At age 38, Charlotte married Alfred Bell Nicholls, a local clergyman and friend of the family. Then she died of tuberculosis and pregnancy-related complications. Patrick Brontë lived to be 84 years old.

Obviously their short life experiences were major sources of inspiration for their writing (all the novels could be considered semi-autobiographical). The three sisters ended up publishing seven novels between them and some poetry. Understanding the gender politics of their time, they published under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (this is well before Charlotte got married). One common thread of all the novels is the small cast of characters. This small cast requires certain coincidences to have them all interact with each other, but such coincidences (which do push into the realm of contrivance occasionally) are part and parcel of novels of this time. This narrative conceit is present in pretty much all soap operas and most long-running serial drama media.

Charlotte, being the longest-lived, published the most. Here are my recommendations in order from worst to best (in my opinion anyway):
4) The Professor – A first-person story about an Englishman forced to seek a living overseas and ends up teaching in all-girls boarding school in Belgium. The main character is young, arrogant, and seems to have no respect and only disdain for his pupils because they are a) Catholic and b) Belgian. He eventually marries one of the other teachers, but it turns out she’s actually half English and only wants to go back to England. Eventually he abandons uncouth Belgium for his native shores with his new wife. I don’t recommend this one. It’s bitter and not an easy read, and I can’t tell if it’s meant to be satirical, or if it’s just prejudiced. Given Charlotte’s life experiences, I think it’s prejudiced.

3) Villette – A first-person story about Lucy Snowe, an Englishwoman who suffers many hardships and lands a job teaching English at a boarding school in Villette, a town in Belgium. Lucy has much less disdain for the natives than the professor above, but is a lot more down on Catholics. One of the central conflicts is the effort of a priest attempting to convert her to Catholicism in a time of crisis and the stress of trying to have a relationship with a lapsed Jesuit. Lucy spends a lot of time suffering, and some of it is her own fault because she’s decided she’s just meant to suffer, and there’s a lot of praying to God. The novel is the second longest, the ending is unsatisfactory, and the praise for Protestantism gets a bit tiresome. There is some good writing here, but I wouldn’t recommend this except for the hardcore British literature fan.

2) Shirley – Despite the title, the character “Shirley” doesn’t appear for the first third of the story (and this is the longest of Charlotte’s novels). The story could be more accurately titled “Caroline” as she is really the main character. This story is also not told in first-person. She’s a pastor’s niece (her degenerate father having died and her mother given her up) in a small rural town moving to a more industrial town. This is set during the Napoleonic wars, so industry is hurting and therefore many people have lost their jobs and are starving. Caroline has the misfortune of being too educated to be happy where she is but not educated enough to go elsewhere and get a job. She’s also suffering from a case of unrequited love. Shirley, a rich heiress, enters when Caroline is at her most depressed and the rest of the novel concerns their friendship, love-lives, and some of the unpleasant town politics. Also, this was probably more shocking when it was written because once upon a time “Shirley” was a boy’s name. So consider if the main character was named “Dave” and turned out to be a woman. This one is an easier read, has a more satisfactory ending than the above (if a bit predictable), dramatic but not melodramatic, and I’d recommend this one to a casual Brit lit reader.

1) Jane Eyre – The most famous of her novels, and for good reason. This is told from Jane’s perspective in the far future so the author can cheat a bit with narrative convention. Jane is poor, plain, pious, and abused, and eventually takes up a job as a governess with the plain-looking but mysterious Mr. Rochester. In time, they fall in love, but they are split apart when Jane learns his dark secret. She runs away, eventually returns to him, and even though he’s maimed, they get a happy ending. This novel is melodramatic. It’s meant to be, though, and Jane’s seriousness and innocence is a good foil for the dark, mysterious nature of Mr. Rochester. This is my personal favorite, and I’d recommend it to anyone; granted, some of the language is a bit dry, but the melodramatic elements help balance that.

Emily – poor Emily only published one novel in her short lifetime.
Wuthering Heights – Despite this being her only novel, it has become famous for the destructive love story between the two main characters. Often overlooked is the fact one main character is dead about 1/3 of the way into the story. Anyway, it’s told in a sort of second-person narrator style from the point of view of a maid who lived through the whole mess. It is dark and melodramatic, and I certainly see why it was so popular. I’d recommend it, and any readers of my blog won’t be surprised that the story focuses a good deal more on the aftermath of the doomed love story than the love story itself.

Anne – she managed to publish two novels in her short lifetime. The second was so scandalous (and most likely based on their brother Branwell) Charlotte refused to release it to another print run after her sister’s death.
2) Agnes Grey – Which could also just be called “Anne Brontë.” This first person story is about Agnes Grey, a plain, clergyman’s daughter, who leaves home to work as a governess. The family is rich and haughty, the children (two teenage girls and a younger boy) are thoroughly spoiled in different ways, and Agnes suffers constant verbal and emotional abuse from her employers and young charges. Eventually her piety and strength lead her to leave the bad situation and she gets a happy ending marrying a young clergyman. All of the drama is quiet and personal, although it is an interesting window into class-ism in Britain at the time. I’d recommend this to people who might be interested in a low-key soap opera.

1) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – The story is bookended with first-person narration from a discontented son of a gentleman farmer who wants little to do with the family business but has pretty much no choice but to inherit it. He meets a mysterious widow (the titular tenant) and falls in love, but she pushes him aside at every turn. Finally he convinces her to tell him what’s going on, and then it switches to her story as read from her diary. It turns out she married the Bad Boy her aunt warned her against marrying and that pretty much ruined her life because the Bad Boy didn’t get better (what a shock) and by the laws of her day, she has zero autonomy from her husband. Eventually the Bad Boy meets a bad end, and the tenant and farmer can live happily ever after. This one is dramatic, but some of the actions of the farmer indicate he’s got some of the same tendencies as the Bad Boy, so it’s hard for me to root for him to get the girl because I see red flags. Dramatic, yes, recommended, well, yes, but be forewarned the happy ending has somewhat of a bitter taste (at least to me).

Other notes – as stated above, the sisters originally published under male pseudonyms. The only reason the world found out otherwise was because their publishing company was convinced Currer, Acton, and Ellis Bell were actually the same person. Charlotte and Anne had to make a trip to London to set them straight before they sold the novel rights to another company. Suddenly their writing, which had been generally well-received, garnered a lot of criticism for being too harsh or not feminine enough. Anne had an interesting essay on this as her forward for the second edition of “Tenant.”

There’s debate in the academic community on which sister is the most talented/unique/deserving of praise. Charlotte’s work got a lot more notoriety simply because she published the most. Emily’s single novel was a huge hit (obviously), and Anne’s second novel was as well. In the forward of the edition of “Tenant” that I read, the biographer was of the opinion Anne’s writing was inferior to her sisters, which made me wonder who allowed that biographer to write that forward (because nothing says, “Read this book,” like a person commenting, “It’s really not as good as all that”). There are obvious similarities in the writing style and in many of the themes (and even inspiration). I really don’t see as major a difference between the sisters’ writing as I do in Charlotte’s alone.

I think it’s a real pity the Brontë children didn’t live longer. The world never knew what Maria and Elizabeth were capable of, and the others died young. But seven novels is seven more than none, and I’m glad I decided to read all of them, even if I didn’t like all of them.

A Media Entry – Random Thoughts of the Mid-week: Random Man’s Chest

Silent Rage – In my quest to torture myself by watching bad movies, I stumbled across this Chuck Norris vehicle. I assumed there would be a little talking and a lot of kicking. I was actually disappointed. I feel this was originally written as a straight-up horror movie (featuring a scientifically enhanced serial killer) but when Chuck Norris ended up the lead, some parts were changed to try to make the movie more, well, Chuck Norris-like. There’s a scene where Chuck beats up a whole bar full of bikers in a way that has nothing to do with the main plot (stopping the super-suped up previously dead serial killer) but everything to do with Chuck taking on a bunch of thugs one by one. I don’t suggest it even as a bad movie.

Once Upon a Time – Speaking of things that are not what I thought, I did try this show out a couple of times. Really, this is nothing more than a soap opera with fairy tale characters. I feel like this could be a lot more interesting if the writing didn’t fall into the same clichéd tropes – good turns evil, evil turns good, evil turns evil again, etc. It’s also disconcerting to me to watch these Disney princesses (and princes) treated like soap opera characters. I know fairy tales are supposed to be short and simplistic, and I know there is material to be mined in treating those characters in a more fully realized way, but somehow this adaptation just doesn’t work for me.

The Last Airbender – Speaking of adaptations that don’t work out, I have heard rumors that this movie that put a hole in my soul and did have a sequel lead-in may actually get a sequel. I just can’t even begin to understand how this could happen. Yes, the source material is great. Yes, I can’t think of how a sequel could possibly be worse than the first movie, but on the other hand, I couldn’t imagine how what seemed like such a slam dunk adaptation could be screwed up so very, very badly. I would really prefer it if the studios just didn’t go there.

Beetlejuice – Speaking of sequels no one wanted or asked for, there is indeed a sequel listed as in pre-production for Beetlejuice. I am very sad. For those who haven’t seen this, or are only acquainted with the insane cartoon, see this movie (and forget what you think you know from the cartoon; I honestly don’t know how the jump from PG-13 dark comedy to children-friendly cartoon was made; also, don’t believe the PG rating IMDb cites; the title character drops at least one obvious f-bomb). Back when Tim Burton’s work was new and different and before it was inseparably connected to Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp (but after he connected with Danny Elfman), this movie was released. It’s about a couple who dies and finds out the afterlife is not at all what they expected. The character Betelgeuse is actually not in the movie very much (although one does understand why people were upset when Michael Keaton was cast as Batman). It’s good; I recommend it, and it is only one of the many, many movies that doesn’t need a sequel (or prequel), and not for the reasons of The Last Airbender. Granted, the special effects are somewhat dated, but this movie is nearly perfect the way it is. No more story is necessary, nothing else is required, do not mess with what is already good. This pretty much never, ever turns out well…

I’m going to weep now.

A Media Entry – We Represent the Lullaby League

or, “You might be a munchkin if…” part 3, and I believe the final entry on my compleat guide to munchkins. Part 1 was somewhat general, and Part 2 focused a bit more on individual aspects of role-playing games (namely, swag), so what’s left? The true nature of a munchkin is revealed in how they play, especially in relation to the party. After all, common sense would dictate it’s a bad idea to tick off one’s fellow players. However, “common sense” is one of the many attributes a munchkin is lacking.

Would you steal from the party and what would take?:
1) Real Wo/men – I would not steal. That’s wrong.
2) Actors – Depends. What’s my motivation? Is it in character? How do I grow from the experience?
3) Crazies – Why not? I’d take their underwear, then put on my head and wear it into battle.
4) Sociopaths – I’d steal valuable things, then plant them on other party members to cause strife.
5) Munchkins – Hell, yeah, ’cause I’m the best thief ever. I’d take money and stuff and keep it all for myself.

Would you kill the party?:
1) Real Wo/men – No, never. That’s murder.
2) Actors – Probably not. Unless I was under some spell.
3) Crazies – No. I’m crazy, not stupid. Besides, if there’s no party, there’s no one to play with.
4) Sociopaths – If I could, I would sacrifice their souls to my dark gods in exchange for unholy power.
5) Munchkins – Hell, yeah, once they get high enough level. Then I’d get tons of XP and great stuff.

What would you do if your character died?:
1) Real Wo/men – Make a new one and make sure it doesn’t have the weaknesses that got the old one killed.
2) Actors – Mourn a bit. Then move on.
3) Crazies – Turn the character sheet into a paper airplane.
4) Sociopaths – Think to myself, “Curses, foiled again.”
5) Munchkins – Die? Why would I die? You can’t kill characters.

You’ve acquired a minion. What do you do with him/her/it?:
1) Real Wo/men – Train my minion to fight just like me.
2) Actors – Learn about my minion, his hopes, desires, and fears. Help him along his path in life.
3) Crazies – Use him as a handbag.
4) Sociopaths – Cultivate him as a sacrifice, or use him as a scapegoat for my misdeeds.
5) Munchkins – Great, someone to do my chores and fetch stuff for me. What do you mean I have to take care of him? Eh, screw that. I’ll use him to find traps and stuff then. It’s not like he’s a person or anything.

Ok, you’re in a room you the player are fairly certain has a hidden door. But your search rolls have been pretty poor, and the GM tells that you’ve found nothing. What do you do?
1) Real Wo/men – Move on. There’s plenty of stuff to beat up elsewhere. It’s not my fault the rogue didn’t find the hidden door.
2) Actors – Move on. My character doesn’t have any reason to think there’s a door here have failing to find one during the search.
3) Crazies – What? I was looking for a door? Better move on and find more stuff to play with.
4) Sociopaths – Move on and take it as a good sign this party didn’t find anything, because it means they are less likely to notice things I do that I shouldn’t…
5) Munchkins – Keep rolling until my search roll is completely maxed, never mind that it makes no sense to keep searching a room my character has already searched and found nothing in. And if I reach my max roll and still don’t find anything, and later the GM reveals the hidden door, whine how unfair it was that I didn’t find the door in the first place because I got my max roll.

Oops, your actions have resulted in the death of an important non-player character. What do you do?:
1) Real Wo/men – Not feel too bad if it was a bad guy, feel bad if it wasn’t, and try not to let it happen again.
2) Actors – Mourn, grieve. Have the character develop some sort of flaw or neurosis resulting from the death.
3) Crazies – It was a bad thing, that surely should never happen… hey, what’s the shiny thing over there?
4) Sociopaths – Secretly rejoice in the slaughter of the guilty and innocent alike.
5) Munchkins – Act surprised, shrug, be annoyed at any penalties incurred, wonder why the other players are upset, and fail to learn any lessons whatsoever.

How the GM feels about:
1) Real Wo/men – You can pretty much predict they’ll do the dumbest thing possible, although sometimes they can seriously de-rail the plot.
2) Actors – A pleasure to game with and watch as they grow into character.
3) Crazies – Entertaining, but impossible to plan around.
4) Sociopaths – As long as the party gets along, they add depth.
5) Munchkins – Let them roll dice, and ignore them when possible.

How they feel about the GM:
1) Real Wo/men – Needs to add a bit more combat.
2) Actors – Needs to add a bit more story.
3) Crazies – Needs to be surprised more by my antics.
4) Sociopaths – Needs to give me the opportunity to indulge my dark desires.
5) Munchkins – Needs to let me roll more. Just because I don’t have skill points doesn’t mean I can’t do stuff. I roll real good.

How they feel about Real Wo/men:
1) Real Wo/men – Always a great person to have in your party.
2) Actors – Well, you always need a bruiser and someone to absorb damage.
3) Crazies – So much fun to play with. And they’ll never fight back because they’re so goody-goody.
4) Sociopaths – Every party needs cannon fodder. And the dark gods like a pure soul.
5) Munchkins – I’m a Real Wo/man!

How they feel about Actors:
1) Real Wo/men – A bit emotional and moody, but good in a fight.
2) Actors – They add real depth to a party and an adventure.
3) Crazies – Fun to play with, but they fight back.
4) Sociopaths – Unpredictable. A danger to my plans. But useful pawns.
5) Munchkins – I’m an Actor!

How they feel about Crazies:
1) Real Wo/men – Well, there’s one in every party. You’ve just got to deal.
2) Actors – Annoying, but sometimes interesting.
3) Crazies – Ooo, a playmate!
4) Sociopaths – Throw them something shiny and they stay out of my way.
5) Munchkins – I’m a Crazy!

How they feel about Sociopaths:
1) Real Wo/men – Well, I’d rather they not be in the party, but I’ll keep my eye on them.
2) Actors – Sometimes can add depth to a party, not to mention a little danger.
3) Crazies – Not fun to play with at all. No sense of humor. A maniacal laugh doesn’t count.
4) Sociopaths – Extremely dangerous foes, or useful allies.
5) Munchkins – I’m a Sociopath!

How they feel about Munchkins:
1) Real Wo/men – Annoying, and one in every party. Just ignore them, and they’ll leave you alone.
2) Actors – Annoying and unfortunate. They detract from the game.
3) Crazies – Fun to play with, but they usually don’t get it. Or they try to play back and get it all wrong.
4) Sociopaths – My only good deed to the world will be to kill them when the time is right.
5) Munchkins – What’s a munchkin? Oh, so it’s a bad thing? Oh, well, good thing I’m not one.

A Media Entry – We Represent the Lollipop Guild

Just this week I ran into a distant co-worker in the hallway and noticed she was wearing a lanyard that said, “Miskatonic University.” So I struck up a conversation (we had chatted before on a few strictly work-related projects) and it turns out she’s a huge gamer and plays a “Call of Cthlulu” game every week. She said most people don’t notice or don’t realize the reference. So there we go; I’ve got another gamer to geek out with after my next Con. On with the show:

“You might be a munchkin if…” part 2.

There are many ways to be a munchkin, so I figured since I was on this kick it’s my job to provide you the reader with the best and most thorough guide to identifying munchkins. Here’s why this may be important: a) some of my blog hopefully makes more sense and b) munchkins exist everywhere and can show up in any hobby or sport that you love. Oh, yes, the tendency of one towards munchkinism is rarely confined to one aspect of their life. I suspect you know more munchkins than you think, and I’d watch out before inviting them to be your Bridge partner.

The majority of role-playing games allocate points for vital statistics for a character (generally split into physical and mental attributes). This is how hit points are generated and often the basis for skills and/or talents. How does that tend to play out?

1) Real Wo/men – Heavy in physical attributes and physically oriented talents and skills, short in knowledges.
2) Actors – Mostly balanced with leaning toward mental attributes and knowledges.
3) Crazies – Nearly random distribution, odd talents, skills, and knowledges, leaning toward knowledges and the social attributes.
4) Sociopaths – Mostly balanced, leaning toward social attributes and talents (especially subterfuge), then skills.
5) Munchkins – Max out the stats most useful in combats, minimize the other stats, then whine about your stats to the GM and ask to reroll to try to get higher stats; then complain throughout the game about your “crummy” stats, especially when you fail your rolls.

The majority of role-playing games involve quests to get stuff. This is true of a lot of video games as well. You quest for stuff to get better stuff to go on harder quests to get even better stuff and on and on until you’ve maxed out all your stuff and even found the Gotterdamerung. Given that munchkins are greedy, what happens when they are presented with sweet, sweet, loot?

Ideal Melee Fantasy Weapon:
1) Real Men – Hackmaster +12.
2) Actors – Vorpal War Fan (“vorpal” means a critical hit results in a beheading, as in “the vorpal blade went snicker-snack“).
3) Crazies – Salad Fork, +3 against lettuces.
4) Sociopaths – Sword of Soul-Stealing.
5) Munchkins – Mjolnir, Slaughter, or Excalibur.

Ideal Ranged Fantasy Weapon:
1) Real Men – Heavy crossbow.
2) Actors – Composite bow of elemental damage (any will do).
3) Crazies – Marbles and a slingshot, or rotten tomatoes.
4) Sociopaths – Longbow of Slaying.
5) Munchkins – AK-47 (no, that’s not a typo; munchkins care not for the vageries of genre restrictions).

Ideal Wand:
1) Real Men – Summon Monster.
2) Actors – Lightning Bolt.
3) Crazies – Rod of Wonder, all the way.
4) Sociopaths – Phantasmal Killer.
5) Munchkins – Wish.

Note 1 – for those not savvy to ways of D&D, a Rod of Wonder is essentially a random effect generator. Many GMs use pre-made tables, but some custom make tables. Such things are not to be used lightly. In one campaign, a simple act of arson (by the lawful good paladin!) in an underground city led to a rather complicated series of random effects that culminated in a Meteor Swarm. Did I mention we were in a cave? Yeah.

Note 2 – Wish is exactly the kind of spell you think it is, but without the kindness of the big blue genie in Aladdin. Oh, no, this is old-school Wish created by a genie who’d been confined for ten thousand years to contemplate his revenge on humanity for imprisoning him. The X-files had an episode on this once.

Ideal Mount:
1) Real Wo/men – Juvenile to Adult metallic dragon.
2) Actors – Griffin.
3) Crazies – Shetland pony, donkey, or perhaps a large dog.
4) Sociopaths – Pure white horse, pure black horse, or skeletal steed.
5) Munchkins – Sleipnir, Apollo’s Chariot.

Ideal Ring:
1) Real Wo/men – Giant’s Strength.
2) Actors – Ring of Protection, as high as it will go.
3) Crazies – Teleport Randomly.
4) Sociopaths – Power Word Kill.
5) Munchkins – the One Ring.

Favorite Potion:
1) Real Wo/men – Bull’s Strength.
2) Actors – Fly.
3) Crazies – Polymorph Self.
4) Sociopaths – Improved Invisibility.
5) Munchkins – Instant Godhood.

Some games allow for speciality powers, boosts, or abilities, although this is usually balanced out with a character having to take some kind of flaw.

Favorite Power (in games with superpowers):
1) Real Wo/men – True invulnerability, super-strength.
2) Actors – Energy manipulation, telepathy.
3) Crazies – Elongation, magic.
4) Sociopaths – Shadow generation/control, energy/psychic vampirism.
5) Munchkins – Omni-anything, continuum control.

Favorite Power-up:
1) Real Wo/men – Stamina, constitution. Last wo/man standing wins.
2) Actors – Wits, wisdom, intuition. Quick thinking in all situations.
3) Crazies – Charisma, charm. Why else would anyone go along with your craziness?
4) Sociopaths – Manipulation, intelligence. Evil is easier when someone else takes the blame.
5) Munchkins – Whine to the GM about how unfair it is to have only one power-up, beg to have more than one, then pick one and whine every time it doesn’t apply.

Favorite Flaw:
1) Real Wo/men – Curse or geas. Gives the character incentive to change the world.
2) Actors – Tragic past (naturally).
3) Crazies – Fears of common things like spoons, the need for crucial components like live lobsters to make magic/powers/items work, or limited magic/powers like it only works on guys named Phil (poor Coulson).
4) Sociopaths – The need for crucial components like human blood to make any magic/powers/items work, or addictions to dark and dangerous things (drugs, vampire blood, etc.).
5) Munchkins – Whatever gives the most bonus for the least actual effect on the character, not like it will be played much anyway.

Hopefully a pattern starts to emerge – munchkins want it all, they want it now, and they’re going to whine when they don’t get what they want.

A Media Entry – Welcome to Munchkin Land

or, “You might be a munchkin if…”

And herein I let my geek flag fly. I’ve made reference to munchkins in several entries, and not just the hugely successful Steve Jackson series of games. The term “munchkin” usually refers to a certain type of role-player (table-top or live-action) and the term is not very flattering. Munchkins are the bane of GMs and other players alike. For those of you who are following along my re-telling of The Hobbit, this guide may help you identify the characters who have munchkin tendencies.

In my experience, most role-players fall under the following categories –
1) Real Wo/men
2) Actors
3) Crazies
4) Sociopaths
5) Munchkins

Most people exhibit characteristics of different categories.

1) Real wo/men tend to focus more on the “game” part of “role-playing game.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They tend to build solid, sturdy, balanced characters and are generally the backbone of the group as far as gameplay goes. Their interest in role-playing is less, but often they don’t mind not having the story focus on their character anyway.

2) Actors are the people who focus more on the “role-playing” function. This is a type of escapism, or an exercise in collaborative narrative storytelling (for those with a more sociological bent). Their characters are built to add to the story, not add to the damage. Generally though they still make balanced characters but they prefer to have more story focus than combat focus.

3) Crazies are the people who do role-play more than focus on the game, but their focus doesn’t seem to be to drive the story along. Their focus seems to be to drive the other players and the GM crazy. Their characters tend to be unbalanced in so very many ways, but just useful enough the other players won’t actually try to kill them.

4) Sociopaths are actors who are prefer to explore darker aspects of role-playing. Their characters are balanced but generally as dangerous to party members as to antagonists. And again, usually just useful enough, or restrained enough, the rest of the party doesn’t try to kill them off.

5) Munchkins are interested in winning the game. Anyone familiar with role-playing would find this an odd goal since while there are the chances of victory or defeat, the game is generally open-ended, or if there is some kind of victory condition, it’s for the whole party. Munchkins drive everyone crazy, even the crazies.

But general descriptions don’t really tell the whole story. So here’s some handy examples to identify a person’s style of play:

What’s your alignment (and no, evil aligned characters are not allowed)?
1) Real Wo/men – Lawful stupid.
2) Actors – Neutral good.
3) Crazies – Chaotic good.
4) Sociopaths – Chaotic neutral and as close to neutral evil as possible.
5) Munchkins – Chaotic neutral, no matter what’s actually written on the sheet.

Favorite fantasy race:
1) Real Wo/men – Dwarf or human
2) Actors – Half-orc, human, or half-elf
3) Crazies – Halfing or half elf/half dwarf
4) Sociopaths – Elf or human
5) Munchkins – Half-elf or halfing or whatever gives me the most bonuses.

Favorite fantasy class:
1) Real Wo/men – Fighter or Paladin.
2) Actors – Wizards, Clerics or Rangers.
3) Crazies – Sorcerers or Bards.
4) Sociopaths – Necromancers (wizard or cleric) or Rogues.
5) Munchkins – Multi-class all the classes! Fighter/rogue or Bard/sorcerer.

Favorite Attack Mode:
1) Real Wo/men – “Waste ’em with my crossbow,” or head-on charge.
2) Actors – Contemplate the situation, choose targets carefully, attack as needed.
3) Crazies – Drop sword and run at enemy armed with a pretzel stick and skillet.
4) Sociopaths – Drain the enemies’ levels and health and laugh as they beg for mercy.
5) Munchkins – Sneak attack. Duh.

Favorite Defense Mode:
1) Real Wo/men – “Waste ’em with my crossbow,” or head-on charge.
2) Actors – Hang back, put up protective shield if necessary.
3) Crazies – Loudly chant, “You can’t catch me!” and summon some kind of monster to distract the enemy. Typically a porcupine in the face works wonders.
4) Sociopaths – Fade into the shadows and take any attacks of opportunity.
5) Munchkins – Sneak attack. Duh.

Goal for Characters:
1) Real Wo/men – Make the world right through righteous fury.
2) Actors – Grow and evolve in hero role.
3) Crazies – Make the world as surreal as possible.
4) Sociopaths – Become powerful, no matter what the cost or who has to die.
5) Munchkins – Attain godhood, or at least destroy lots of stuff and kill bad guys.

Goal for Players:
1) Real Wo/men – Beat some stuff up, have great combats.
2) Actors – Explore and express different facets of my personality and/or explore different character concepts and the impact of adventuring on those personality types.
3) Crazies – Have fun!
4) Sociopaths – Channel my dark impulses into something fairly benign.
5) Munchkins – Win. Duh. What do you mean I can’t win? If I’ve got the most kills, highest experience points, most money, and best stuff, I’ve won. See?

That’s enough for now.  Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this little window into my geeky, geeky world.  By the way, the porcupine in the face thing actually happened in one of my groups.  I am a writer by habit, an author by ambition, but even I can’t make that kind of stuff up.

A TV Entry – First Impressions

Many modern TV shows have lousy introductions. I understand that as the demand to add more commercials to every hour of TV has increased, some parts of the actual show itself need to be decreased. But the introduction is important to pull potential audiences into the show. Older shows had elaborate intros and slick theme songs. More modern ones have a 30-second bit of music and some relevant shots. Kind of lame. If the premise is a bit odd, I think an intro should try to inform the audience of that premise. And if the premise is pretty typical (like yet another sitcom), then the intro should at least be memorable.

Cartoons in general have not forgotten the importance of a good intro. This may be because a lot of cartoon producers think children are stupid and/or easily drawn to bright flashy lights. Even if the reason may be condescending, some of those intros still stick with me.

Honorable mention – Sailor Moon. I’m going to stick with traditional Western animated shows for the rest of this list because anime has its own introduction conventions. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention this because “Moonlight Densetsu” as performed for “Sailor Moon S” (third intro) is my favorite introduction(s) (this song had a lot of iterations). While I had a lot of issues with “Sailor Moon Crystal,” I did like “Moon Pride” a lot as well. I am a sucker for electric guitar.

Honorable mention 2 – Kim Possible. This intro was set up as a music video and while I didn’t care too much for the actual song, I appreciated the effort.

10) Thundercats – This show is in the unique position of not only having a kick-ass introduction, but having an introduction that is ten times better than the show ever was. Like many shows of the ’80s, the production values of the opening animation were better than that of the show. With a rapid ’80s backbeat, we are introduced to each character via a few seconds of seeing them in action and see some of the villains. Gets the blood pumping for the show, which sadly could not live up to the intro.

9) Scooby Doo, Where are You? – Anyone who didn’t see this entry coming is obviously new to my blog, so welcome! While this show has had several iterations as well, I prefer the original song from the original show (Season 1 and 2 both work for me; incidentally, the video of all intros is a trip through musical history as well). I didn’t welcome having Shaggy sing parts of the intro in later versions, and “Scooby Doo Movies” had little going for the intro anyway. But I like the peppy ’60s pop beat and the fast-paced montage of series scenes which at least gave some idea of what was going on (although not the most thorough explanation of the premise).

8) The Real GhostbustersThis intro benefits from the cinematic theme song sung by Ray Parker. It’s ’80s pop but damn catchy. The first intro of the series (my favorite) briefly shows a day in the life of the Ghostbusters: Janine gets the phone call, rings the bell, Slimer is obnoxious, and the guys get to show off the relevant parts of the show (Ecto 1, the packs, the traps, and a whole bunch of ghosts).

7) Beetlejuice – I don’t know who thought this movie was something to adapt to a kids show, but it was the ’80s and this seemed to be a popular thing to do. This is another that benefits from using the movie’s theme (by Danny Elfman) as the music. I like both intros, because they are both absolutely insane. The idea of Lydia being taken on this wild rollercoaster ride/crazy circus tour through the afterlife is conveyed perfectly and the characters are quickly introduced as part of this crazy ride. It sure builds up energy and makes the viewer excited to see the show.

6) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The original ’80s intro. Like Thundercats, the animation of the intro was much smoother and better than the show itself. With fast ’80s pop and a frentic pace, the lyrics introduced the turtles and Splinter by name and with a little description before closing on that synthetic and oddly catchy “Heroes in a Half-Shell” tagline. Unlike the Thundercats, the actual show was as good as its introduction except for the animation quality. For those who are curious about the answer to life’s most important question, I’m Raphael. This should surprise nobody.

5) X-men – Fox wasn’t about to miss out on opportunities to sell kids stuff they didn’t need in the afternoons, so they tried a bit of a superhero line-up (and once upon a time, Fox handled its Marvel properties pretty well). This was my first introduction to comic books, no pun intended. The way the intro ramped up and increased pace combined with the name of each character and a quick demonstration of their power all leading up to a confrontation with all the bad guys was just really well done. I had no clue what this show was about, but I knew I definitely wanted to find out.

4) Ducktales – When Disney decided to get back into the afternoon animation game, Disney did not pull its punches. This theme is insanely catchy (whoo-ooo!). The intro features mostly scenes from the five pilot episodes (which are a much better Indiana Jones-esque romp than “Crystal Skull“) but also shows other scenes from the show including Scrooge leaping into the Money Bin and some of the villains that would plague them. Whoo-ooo indeed.

3) Tiny Toon Adventures – Disney’s competition for the afternoon animation game came from Warner Brothers, who attempted to revive their classic cartoon characters with younger characters that were similar but not quite the same. Babs and Buster Bunny (no relation) sing the introduction song which explains not only the premise (they are in school learning from the original characters) but also introduces pretty much every character that shows up. In a bit of a meta-twist, it’s clear the characters know they’re singing the theme song to their own show.

2) Animaniacs – Perhaps the best WB cartoon to come out in the modern age. The amount of talent assembled was fantastic. “Tiny Toons” was good, to be sure, but by the time this show came around, the good from “Tiny Toons” was made better and the bad (not that there was much) had been worked out. Like “Tiny Toons,” the introduction of Animaniacs explains the premise (via a narrator; which I cannot find a clip of), introduces the main characters, and then goes into the actual song, which introduces many of the other characters. And again, because the creative teams likes meta-humor, at one point the Warners look directly into the camera and sing, “and now you know the plot.”

1) Batman: the Animated Series – This one is kind of a ringer because the theme music is taken directly from Danny Elfman’s cinematic composition. But the animation helps make this theme so memorable. The intro is essentially a night in Gotham City; it’s dark, it’s gritty, it introduces the main character, captures the essence of the show and Batman perfectly, and not a word is spoken. Amazing. This is absolutely my favorite intro.

Of course, there may be other amazing introductions in the future. I hope so. Some of the cartoons are getting a bit lackluster in the introduction department as well. But I hold out hope there will be more investment in the part of the show specifically designed to draw viewers in.

The Raging Fanboy

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