Monday, June 24, 2024

Ewoks, Insular Dwarfism, and #WookieesAreBugbears

Occasionally I google something and am surprised by how little shows up.  Sometimes I feel the need to put some thoughts down onto digital paper so that others looking for the same information may find some confirmation that their hypotheses are valid and worth exploring.  This is one of those times.

So...why aren't more people talking about the fact that Wookiees are Bugbears?

 
From HERE and HERE

On that note -- and also seemingly underrepresented in Google results considering that this has to have been discussed ad nauseam among Star Wars fans -- Wookiees and Ewoks are related, right?  And not just through the history of the Star Wars story (the intended Wookiees in ROTJ and all that)...but actually evolutionarily related, eh?  (It seems like it could be a textbook case of insular dwarfism, after all!)

And then since Bugbears are big goblinoids...maybe that means Ewoks are essentially forest goblins?  They don't necessarily match the goblin form in a lot of "standard" fantasy settings, but in multiverses where many approaches to the goblin are employed, they kind of make sense.  In Magic: The Gathering, for example, goblins demonstrate a wide range of phenotypes, including these from the plane of Tarkir:


As you may know, I love my speculation on the evolutionary relationships of fantastic humanoids.  I kind of like the way this fits.

So let's just get crazy with it...

Duloks are hobgoblins.

Gamorreans are orcs.

Wampas are yetis.

Quarren are mind flayers.

And probably on, and on, and on.

Let's get the DNA tests rolling, y'all.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Monstrous Mini-Review: Interstellar

The deal:  This is another one where I am very late to the game on a movie that falls right in my wheelhouse.  I've seen this one enough on "best of" lists (and been told pretty directly that I need to see it) that I took a free choice of the family movie to watch it (on Prime).

Interstellar
2014, 2 h 49 min
Director: Christopher Nolan

Trailer:

The flick:  I probably don't have to say too much about Interstellar, the 2014 science fiction film from Chris Nolan that made use of some of the brain-bending characteristics of time revealed to us by relativity.  You, reading this post...I bet you've seen it.  And if you haven't, I bet you've seen the hype.

And...it's worth the hype.  Interstellar really feels like it fits in the pantheon of great science fiction "pondering-our-place-in-the-universe" screen epics.  You can pick your favorite to compare it to (Metropolis2001The Matrix, whatever)...I think it'll hold up pretty well.

I will note...Matthew McConaughey is very much Matthew McConaughey, and however that statement makes you feel will probably tell you a lot about how you'll like him in this movie.  I think he did a really good job even if I did repeatedly hear "Alright alright alright" in my head.

But acting aside (and it's all good anyway)...if you like somewhat cerebral SF, it's probably a waste of your time to read anything else by me right now.  This is a fairly long film, so I recommend you use that time to watch it, if you haven't already...

The rating:  I should note that it's very possible that rating Interstellar too highly today will force me to rethink the assessment if I rewatch it at some point.  This has happened to me with The Dark Knight (another Nolan film).  At one point, I probably would have said TDK was like a top-five ever movie to me, but rewatching it has made me realize that I don't find it as rewatchable or consistently emotionally/intellectually moving as I guess I want my "favorites" to be.

At the same time, I had really high hopes for Interstellar because of how much I saw it built up, and it still delivered a great movie experience.  I mean, man is it good:

4.5 out of 5 shrews


The monsters:  Huh...I guess there weren't really monsters in this one.  Well, other than the humans are the real monsters angle, which honestly applies less to this movie than to most, and which is a path for this post that would probably give stuff away that I don't want to (just in case someone reading hasn't actually seen the film).

There is, however...and I'll try to word this unspoilerly...a group/being/force that is vital to the plot of the movie and is pretty cool to think about using in an RPG adventure.  Hmm...maybe one day...

Monday, June 17, 2024

The BIG 4 of RPG attributes

It is possible that I would be a little embarrassed if most people knew how much time I spend thinking about character stats in roleplaying games.  And not in the sense of theorycrafting a perfectly minmaxed build...more about which attributes are the simplest or fastest or somehow the best for breaking down an RPG character.

I think my approach to it -- and probably that of many others, honestly -- is rooted as much in beauty as it is in usefulness.  Like a physicist drawn to supersymmetry, I don't know that I am ultimately being guided to the set of attributes that actually describe people most accurately.  I think I mostly want a set of stats that feels whole and balanced...which may or may not be the best approach, honestly.  I mean...that's subjective anyway, eh?

Lots of systems employ a physical/mental attribute split, including the one that probably introduced most of us to the idea of characters as numbers...the six stats of D&D.  Strength/Dexterity/Constitution and Intelligence/Wisdom/Charisma are a nice 1:1 divide between body and mind.  The other main approach to rational attribute assignment would probably be the one taken by games that break stats down into Mind-, Body-, and Soul-related attributes (e.g. the appropriately named Tri-Stat System).  That's a different symmetry that still "feels" good, I think.  (Conversely...the five stats of Savage Worlds?  They do not feel good.  I know, I'm weird.)

At any rate, I would guess most gamers who care to think very hard about attributes realize pretty quickly that there's an arbitrariness to the division.  And since gamers love nothing more than to fiddle with the games they already love, a lot of work has been done over the years to perfect the spread of stats.  I'm pretty sure that somewhere out there, there's a big list (maybe even called the "Big List of...") compiling a ton of the attribute options on display in various RPGs.  This post isn't about exploring that diversity, though; it's about expressing appreciation for what I consider a sort of Big 4 of RPG stats:

1. How strong and tough are you?
2. How quick and nimble are you?
3. How knowledgeable and logical are you?
4. How emotionally resilient and capable of manipulating others are you?

Or, as the Ghostbusters RPG introduced them to me:

MUSCLES
MOVES
BRAINS
COOL

Not necessarily in that order.


I just keep coming back to these as potentially the most succinct yet simultaneously satisfying way to describe a character...two physical, two mental; two based on power, two more about skill.  (I think one of my friends, when I first described the stat breakdown to him many years ago, just said, "Yeah, that pretty much covers it...")

I loved it when Mini Six came out and sort of codified this set of attributes for light hexahedral gaming (as Might, Agility, Wit, and Charm).  I enjoy spotting other games that follow in this tradition.  And I think it's kind of cool to see that even the West End Games Star Wars RPG -- probably the best known game to use the WEG D6 system that grew from Ghostbusters -- basically rehashes these four (as Strength, Dexterity, Knowledge, and Perception) then adds on a couple of extras by pulling out the otherwise Dexterity- or Knowledge-based skills which are technologically oriented into their own stats (Mechanical and Technical, which do give D6 Star Wars some of its space opera flare.)

If in doubt...I could probably stat out most RPG characters using these (with an established scale) and translate them to a ton of other systems without an excess of effort.  I'm not sure if it's best to try to figure out how to define them generically or if I should take on more of the D6/Mini Six spirit and pick my favorite names.  I kind of partial to Might, Dexterity, Knowledge, and Presence right now.  I've gotta let those settle a bit...but they feel pretty whole and balanced at the moment.

This is definitely worth obsessing about for a while.  I'll get back to you on it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

A belated happy Ghostbusters Day (40th anniversary!) to all!!

So I'm late to the punch in delivering this message, but as Ghostbusters Day (the anniversary of the first film's debut) was on Saturday (June 8)...and this year is the 40th anniversary of the classic movie...and Ghostbusters occupies a fair amount of my allocated nerd brainspace these days...I couldn't let things pass much longer without hoping all of you enjoyed it!  Or...if maybe you didn't even know that happened on Saturday...I hope you'll take some time soon enough to enjoy the gift to the world that is the Ghostbusters franchise.

I'm lucky enough to live where it was pretty easy to pop over into the city to take part in the big celebration at the actual firehouse...and I don't know if I can overstate how cool that is to this Gen X nerd.  (Click HERE, btw, for some reflections from fellow doggo fan and established GB aficianado Adam Dickstein of the Barking Alien blog.) 

And...I'm so glad I did!  I've gotta admit...I've gotten a little old and selfish with my time to do nothing lately; I could easily have been convinced to stay home and act like I was going to do things around the house on Saturday.  Luckily, Laura got us tickets to see a 2:15 showing of the original film at a theater in Manhattan, so we made the trip!  (Interestingly, that 2:15 showing was cancelled, which I don't think I've ever had happen before...something strange...)

So, what'd we see?

I think Laura was genuinely surprised at how large the turnout was!

The view down N. Moore St.

There were a ton of people there...and pretty much everyone was smiling!  In NYC!

We actually got there too late to see anything in the way of an official ceremony, but the atmosphere around that firehouse was awesome for hours.  I don't really like posting pics of myself, but here's one of Laura and me so I can show off the shirt I was wearing; it's a custom job that Laura created, featuring the "dumb bell" that stars in a certain Claymation Christmas number.  I had a feeling this might be the crowd for it...and for the first time, someone recognized the character...!  That is nerd paradise.

The awesome custom Claymation bell shirt designed by my awesome wife 

It was pretty amazing to be a part of an event for Ghostbusters that literally drew folks from all around the country and the world!

Here are a few more haphazardly curated views of the celebration...

The cosplay was varied and lots of fun!

Multiple Ecto-1 variants made an appearance...see Adam's post at Barking Alien for a selection of their license plates!

Each vehicle had their own details...

The functioning firehouse's engine was parked outside for the festivities.

(Glad to finally pick one of these up...a patch from the station!)

So fun to get this perspective...

Check out all the patches of Ghostbusters fan groups from around the world!

Two actors from the original film, Joe Cirillo and John Rothman, were on hand for pictures and autographs.  Love it!

Thursday, May 30, 2024

On the moral capacity of artificially intelligent beings

How about some more Science!?  This one comes courtesy of the research news out of my alma mater Georgia State University.  Psychology prof Eyal Aharoni and his students conducted a study in which folks compared the moral "reasoning" of other people with that of the AI language model GPT-4 (without knowing there was an AI behind those ideas).  And y'know what?  GPT-4 performed better than humans!

The authors hypothesized that this would be the case.  I'll admit that I was initially a little surprised by it...I guess I must have some human-centric bias leading me to believe that figuring out right vs. wrong is aided by a true human perspective.  I suppose I should have realized that, ultimately, it's just logic (just ask Mr. Spock!), and computers don't have all these silly emotions getting in the way of thinking through it.  (Yet.)  And indeed...it does appear that the rationality of the moral decision-making is what put GPT-4's ideas at the top.

Interestingly, once they were told that a computer came up with one of the responses from each pair, participants were pretty darn good at figuring out which one it was.  Maybe the dystopian cyberpunk future where we're all at the mercy of a supercomputer's ethical calculations won't be so bad after all?

At any rate, if you'd enjoy seeing what this study is all about, you can find the summary at GSU's website HERE and the full, open access article HERE.

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As for machines and decision-making...although I've never played one (except as an NPC while running a game), I've always enjoyed the idea of droid characters in Star Wars roleplaying.  It seems like a given that some people would want to play one, but I remember being unsure if it would be allowed when I first started exploring SW gaming...and pleased to see that they are character options in the major games I've looked at that are set in a galaxy far, far away.

The star of this blog post, GPT-4 itself, created this droid for me to use in WEG/D6 Star Wars (only edited a little...and adjusted to fit the four-attribute stats I'm making a habit of here):

From HERE

XR-7T

Species: Droid

Strength 2D
Dexterity 3D
Knowledge 5D
Perception 4D

Abilities: Multispectral Sensors (+2D to Perception for environmental awareness), Tactical Assessment (grants +1D to tactics-related rolls), Adaptive Combat Systems (proficient in various combat techniques)

XR-7T is a formidable droid standing at 1.5 meters tall, with a polished gunmetal gray alloy casing and piercing blue photoreceptors. Equipped with advanced multispectral sensors, rapid data processing capabilities, and tactical algorithms, XR-7T excels in reconnaissance, combat analysis, and strategic planning. Its arsenal includes retractable blasters, energy blades, and stealth systems, making it equally adept at covert operations and frontline combat.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

I really don't want to use "Counting Crows" as the title of this post, but man it's hard to ignore...

While at some point I might return to This Day in Anthro History posts highlighting examples of fictional animals walking and talking like people, I wanted to take a moment today just to point out something fascinating in the realm of nonhuman animals' demonstrating arguably human capabilities.  (I think I might be especially keyed into this topic as I follow Pun at Halls of the Nephilim in his creation of a TMNT-inspired RPG...!)


Last Thursday, an article dropped from the journal Science (one of the most reputable out there, so this is a reasonably notable study) in which researchers demonstrate that carrion crows - apparently already known to be able to count to 30 - can accurately vocalize counts up to four.  As in...these crows can see an Arabic numeral on a screen, or hear a sound that corresponds to a numeral, and caw the right number of times.

Four seems to be about the limit for this specific task.  According to the summary on Science.org:

But they did make mistakes, usually after performing numerous trials and when the target number was three or four. “They loved the number one and really disliked four,” [lead author Diana A.] Liao says. Sometimes, the crows displayed their dislike of four by refusing to utter a sound; instead, they simply pecked at the screen to end the trial.

While it's easy to think, "You just told me they can count to 30...why is it interesting that they're counting to 4?"...the accurate vocalization in a "one, two, three" manner is what is really catching people's attention.  It's hard not to see a similarity to the way humans often learn to count.  And one of the neatest details here is that researchers were ultimately able to predict a crow's final "answer" according to the first caw alone...an indication that the crow knows (before speaking) exactly what it plans to say.

If I can add an assumption that the crows are happy to find themselves in this situation, I absolutely love this research.  If it sounds like your style, you can check out the Science summary HERE, a summary from noted bird apologists the National Audubon Society HERE, and the original paper HERE.

-----

To celebrate this, here's an anthro crow character built using the online character generator for the Awfully Cheerful Engine (ACE)...an RPG from EN World's Morrus (Russ Morrissey) that acts as a huge tribute to the old Ghostbusters RPG and already includes some options for animal traits.  ACE is in the family of GB-inspired games I'm currently obsessed with statting stuff for...!

From HERE

Crowbar (seems a bit like a silly TMNT-villain-style name)

Trait/Role: Unlucky Crow

Health 4, Defense 9

Brawn 2 (Tough)
Moves 3 (Piloting)
Smarts 5 (Physics)
Style 2 (Public Speaking)

Ability: Flight

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Monstrous Mini-Review: Starship Troopers

The last one was fun, so why not keep it going?

Starship Troopers

1997, 2 h 9 min
Director: Paul Verhoeven

Trailer:

The deal:  So, until very recently, I had never actually seen Starship Troopers, which I imagine many would refer to as a classic, even if its execution was polarizing.  When it came out in 1997, I'm pretty sure I thought it looked a bit...silly.  It became more intriguing once I found out it was based on a seminal science fiction novel, and as I became more entrenched in the culture of gaming, I started to realize just how important Robert A. Heinlein's story has been in establishing the archetype of the space marine...especially the space marine that fights big alien bugs.  It was time for me to finally get a feel for the setting.

The flick:  I enjoyed this one quite a bit...but I can sympathize with those who don't.

Let's get some of the obvious criticisms out of the way.  The acting isn't stellar...but it's definitely functional.  The plot is farcical...but that seems to be intentional, and I suppose it allows a much "bigger" story to be told once you let go of complete plausibility.  The boobs and gore might be unnecessary...but they fit into an overall tone that seems to shout, "This movie is R-rated, dammit!"  And the effects do sometimes look dated...but when this occurred, I actually found it to have a certain retro-SF charm.

To be fair, I would even say I liked the effects overall.  The space action scenes look great (with the occasional green-screen artifact, of course...like I said, retro-SF charm!).  And those bugs came out a lot better than I imagined they would.  (That may be thanks to limiting the battle environments to barren landscapes, but if so, it was probably a trade-off worth taking.)  The obvious CGI effects didn't detract much, if at all, from my enjoyment...from my personal perspective, it was much less distracting than...well, just about any scene involving Gollum.  And...I mean, it was 1997!  The extent to which the effects fall short of that era's version of perfect is balanced out by the extent to which it seems the filmmakers knew they were producing a B-movie.

Now...as for the accusations of fascism.  I couldn't remember, going into the watch, what the general consensus is regarding the right-wing particulars of the movie and how much of those aspects are rooted in the source material.  I did have the benefit of being able to look up, while stepping away mid-film, some details of the movie's production and initial reception.  I wish I forced myself to make a solid prediction of whether I was going to read that the film is actually pro-fascist or only mockingly so...because I'm pretty sure I was leaning toward a satirical interpretation, BUT there is enough ambiguity of value judgment on the future fascist society depicted in the film that I probably could have been convinced it was genuinely meant to glorify that way of life.  It would have been poorly executed...just too goofy and over-the-top about some things...but I get why some viewers assumed that was the case.

I can't really understand why anyone would force the issue once the conversation went "hey that's fascist," answered with "I know, I'm making fun of it"...but maybe that also has to do with the difficulty of getting such a message out in 1997.  If Starship Troopers were released today, there wouldn't be a dearth of sources to tell us about its political intentions; instead, we'd have an avalanche of unreliable reports that place it all over the political spectrum.  So...I suppose the world would still be confused, just for a different reason...

The rating:  Well, I'm still trying to figure out my benchmarks here.  I felt like this deserved more than The Killer Shrews' rating of 3/5, but there's no way I could justify a 4.  For now:

3.5 out of 5 shrews


The monsters:  The aliens/bugs/arachnids are, overall, fantastic.  Visually, the various types of aliens (differentiated by appearance and role in bug society) range from excellent (warrior bugs) to not-great-but-not-terrible-for-1997 (hopper bugs).  In a way, these things are literally genre-defining, so there's a lot to chew on with regard to their presentation and place in the story...

Y'know what?  This needs its own post.  I'll get back to you on these guys...

Image from HERE

Monday, May 13, 2024

Roger Corman, 1926-2024

Image from HERE

Sad news recently as we found out that film legend Roger Corman passed away last Thursday at his home.  Obviously, at 98 years old, he doesn't necessarily fit a "tragically early" narrative, but it is always a loss when such a strong influence moves on from our world.

Corman directed about 55 and produced somewhere around 385 films during his career.  I remember, as a youngster, seeing his name pop up in places that seemed somewhat disparate at the time.  I hadn't tuned my geek sensibilities enough to put everything together; finally, after probably years of noting Corman's presence around the film industry, I kind of realized, "Oh!  Little Shop of Horrors...A Bucket of Blood...Battle Beyond the Stars...Carnosaur...The Fantastic Four from the 90s...somehow, that's all from the SAME GUY!"

To be completely honest, looking over Corman's filmography makes me realize that I have seen embarrassingly little of his work.  As someone who has become more and more drawn into genre films over the course of my life, however, I think I've seen Corman's influence all over the movies I've enjoyed through the years.  The list of folks who cut their teeth on Corman productions is long and impressive, from James Cameron to Francis Ford Coppola to Martin Scorsese.  (I love the tale that he once told Ron Howard, "If you do a good job on this film, you'll never have to work for me again.")

I think Roger Corman is sort of the Lou Reed of motion pictures...he may not be universally recognized, but his influence is everywhere.  To paraphrase the summary I've often seen with regard to the albums of the Velvet Underground: Only 1000 people might have seen his movies, but every one of them went on to make movies of their own.  (Although, really...the magnitude of his output means that a whole lot of us have experienced at least some small part of his catalog.)

Perhaps most importantly, Corman was all-in for the medium he loved, and by all accounts that I can recall, it seems he was a pretty nice guy.  That'll always be good for Hollywood.

As I continue to (attempt to) move this blog into a specific direction with regard to the content I present (e.g. I'm really into creature features at the moment), I have a feeling I'm going to mention Roger Corman a time or two in the coming months.  I hope you'll take a moment to look over his work, think a bit about the massive impact he has had on our culture, and maybe take in some of the hundreds of silver screen spectaculars he left the world.  I can pretty much guarantee that...eventually...you'll find something you love.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Holy..... How did I miss these 3.75" Ghostbusters that are on the way?

I mean...I guess the obvious explanation is that I don't do daily checks for important Ghostbusters or action figure news...but I still felt behind the times when I finally saw this announcement!

Thankfully, I caught an article on preorders starting for the upcoming 1:18 scale Ecto-1.  The phrase "alongside the upcoming 3.75″ o-ring action figures" made me do a double take.  I know I'm easily impressed by new and shiny things...but would it be too much to say that these are the toys I've been waiting my entire life for?

From HERE

One thing I'm still a little confused by: the newer article mentions a 1:18 scale Ghostbusters: Afterlife Ecto-1, and the older one refers to the upcoming release as "a retro-style take on the previously released Plasma Series Ecto-1."  Because the Plasma Series figures are larger than 3.75"/1:18, I had assumed that the accompanying ghostbusting vehicle was the same...but sure enough, according to this video, the old Ecto-1 is much smaller than the figures.  Has there been a 1:18 Ecto-1 out there for me to drool over this whole time?

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Monstrous Mini-Review: The Killer Shrews

Well...I guess I just feel like reviewing an old monster movie...

The Killer Shrews
1959, 1 h 9 min
Director: Ray Kellogg

Trailer:

The deal:  The Killer Shrews was made by the same director, around the same time, as The Giant Gila Monster, which I feel like I've seen referenced more than this one, but maybe that's just because I'm typically more drawn to the idea of a giant Gila monster than that of killer shrews.  At any rate, those two films formed a double feature back in the day, and currently it seems they both have some pull among fans of old lowbudgetscifihorror fare.  (They both got roasted on MST3K, which I think automatically lifts a B-movie to the next level of awareness among the public.)

It stars James Best, who I recognize only as Rosco P. Coltrane from The Dukes of Hazzard.  (He would go on to appear in a sequel to this in 2012!)

It's also in the public domain, so it's easy to find, and there's a good chance you've stumbled upon it before...

Image from HERE

The flick:  Best plays a ship captain who finds himself stranded on a remote island with his first mate and a team of scientists who are clearly keeping some secrets.  Piece by piece, the puzzle of their situation is put together (although there really aren't that many pieces, to be honest).  The menace they face?  This one's gonna shock you, but it's killer shrews.  The crew has to wait out a hurricane and survive the night for a chance to escape in the morning light.

This is a very good creature feature that provides all the basics folks look for in schlocky sci-fi.  It definitely moves slowly (the MST3K crew had some fun with the fact that the characters spend a lot of time standing around talking), but the next turn of the plot usually comes around before one can get too antsy.  The acting is vintage B-movie melodrama and includes an appropriately shallow love connection (and jealous suitor).  And...to probably annoy anyone reading this who insists they don't see race, I'll note the positive that there's even a Black character who...other than playing out that debated trope of horror movies (sorry, SPOILER)...could be a lot more cringeworthy for a 1959 film.

And then, of course, there are the shrews.

From HERE

Those beautiful, giant, killer shrews.  It's fun to see them as dogs-in-scruffy-jackets (and they actually seem pretty menacing moving like a pack of dogs), but those hand puppet closeups are worth the price of admission alone.

The rating:  I've gotta be careful not to fence myself in by giving the first movie I review like this (and maybe only, who knows with me) too high of a rating and then realizing that the things it does well can actually be done a lot more well.  The shrew effects carry a lot of weight, though.  This is a very watchable film that doesn't overstay its welcome.  I'm tempted to seek out the sequel but am held back mainly because I'm not sure I want to chance ruining the positive outlook I have on this one!

If you're a "throw a movie on" type with a tolerance for B-movie foibles, this is great background noise, and there's always the MST3K version if you want to check it out but would like the security of wry humor.  I don't think I can go any lower than 3/5 right now.

3 out of 5 shrews


The monsters:  I wouldn't change a thing about these creatures.  They are simple and effective.  I suppose you'd be disappointed if you went into it assuming they were going to be giant giant...but they are the size of dogs, which...I don't think I have to tell you, that's pretty darn giant for a shrew.

My current rules obsession is a slightly homebrewed take on the D6 system that powered the old West End Games Star Wars RPG (and miniatures game)...simplified to be more in line with its Ghostbusters RPG roots.  (It's a work perpetually in progress.)  Here's a shrew:

From HERE

Giant Killer Shrew


Might 2
Dexterity 5
Presence 2
Skills: Dig +2
HP: 7
Move: 18
Handling Difficulty: --- (you ain't handling these fellas)

Attacks: 2x Claw 5 (1D6-3 damage) or Bite 5 (1D6-1 damage plus poison; death within 3 minutes if not stabilized or successful on one difficult save)

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Geeky SKAturday: The Toasters

Last weekend, we got to go to This Is Not Croydon Fest, a ska festival near Philadelphia.  Good stuff; we're lucky to get to go and I'd love for it to happen every year.

One of the highlights was getting to see ska veterans The Toasters, who I always enjoy.  Here they are last Sunday taking on maybe my favorite Toasters song, "Thrill Me Up."  (I love recording video at shows but realized lately that instead of capturing 20 seconds apiece of like 7 separate tunes, I should maybe try to get some complete songs.  This is one toward that effort...)


The Toasters are especially interesting to me for a couple of reasons.  For one, they've been doing this a long time.  Well...their guitarist and lead singer, Robert Hingley aka Bucket...has been doing it a long time.  He came to the United States to run the Forbidden Planet comic shop in NYC, founded the Toasters in 1981, then founded legendary label Moon Ska Records in 1983.  It would not be an overstatement to say that Bucket may have had a greater impact on the spread of ska in the U.S. than any other single person.  And...he put my old band on a ska compilation album back in 2003 and will always have a special place in my heart for letting us amateurs take part in something so awesome.  He's a really nice guy who still works the merch table and talks with fans!

Second...the music of The Toasters represents a lot of what I find intriguing about the idea of ska as an RPG theme.  You know what...the more I think about this, the more I think I should probably spend a whole post on it sometime, but I'll just note that the musical and visual aesthetic they've grown over the years kind of feels like an adventure story...AND the fact that they're OGs in the American ska scene helps to minimize the worry that indulging in those themes unfairly caricatures things other people hold dear.
Okay...finally, a Sound for the Rudie.

Great song here.  Gonna straight up lift a well-known D&D element for it (from White Box FMAG)...

Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down

1st-level Sound

Range: Self
Duration: 1 hour

The caster creates a magical field of protection around themself to block out all evil monsters, who suffer a -1 penalty “to-hit” against the caster, and the caster gains +1 on all saving throws against such attacks.  (What makes them "evil?"  Well, if they're the bad guys, of course...)

Thursday, April 25, 2024

On preparing adventures for the Ghostbusters RPG


With my mind on a lot of things lately related to West End Games' classic RPG Ghostbusters, I was thinking of putting together a blog entry offering some of the lessons I've learned when I've run the game (maybe my favorite RPG to run!).

However, I recently noticed that over at Cannibal Halfling Gaming, they're in the midst of a really interesting series of articles on Spooktacular adventure writing that can complement and probably supersede anything I would have to offer on the topic.  In case you aren't familiar (and I'm guessing most people aren't...?), Spooktacular is a sort of retroclone of Ghostbusters with a few changes (arguably for better or worse) and, of course, with the serial numbers mostly filed off.  (It's one of a number of games that have tried to tap into the spirit of the old Ghostbusters game for a modern audience, and from what I can tell, it looks like it does a pretty good job.  It's even accompanied by an SRD for a ruleset called Sixtacular to encourage others to publish compatible works!)

Part 1 was posted on April 5 and gives some background on Ghostbusters and Spooktacular, while Part 2 begins to prepare us for successful adventure writing with some interesting thoughts on what a lot of us get wrong about preparing to run an RPG.  I think I'll need to brush up on some Forge-style RPG philosophy to get the full impact, but I really like the directions we're taken by author Sabrina TVBand.  I'm looking forward to the closing entry on May 3!  Maybe I'll even get around to writing up my thoughts in some sort of "tips and tricks" form.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Did the Ghostbusters RPG influence Magic: The Gathering?

As conversions among game systems are almost an obsessive focus of daydreaming for me, I have noted at various times in my life that attempts to transform Magic: The Gathering stats into roleplaying numbers often feel more correct with a dice pool system like D6 (as seen in Ghostbusters and WEG Star Wars, for example) than with the d20-based systems I've probably played the most (D&D and its offshoots and clones).

With this in mind, and with the additional fact that MTG and the Ghostbusters RPG are two of my absolute favorite games ever, I thought it was cool to hear RPG legend Sandy Petersen note in the interview below (from Ghostbusters, Virginia) that the resolution system pioneered in Ghostbusters was a potential influence on Magic!

(Should be cued up to about the right time in the video...MTG is mentioned at around 5:30...)

Anyone have any insight on this?  Heard this before?  Thought this before?  I'm pretty sure I've read S. John Ross cite Ghostbusters as a big influence on Risus (another game with a formative influence on me), but I can't recall seeing Richard Garfield mention it.

(I hope it's clear that I'm asking this not to challenge the veracity of the claim, but honestly kind of hoping there's more evidence or just speculation about this connection out there.  I think I found this video by specifically searching for threads connecting the two games...!)

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Remembering Celery, 2010-2024

I started 2024 with -- relative to my usual blogging output -- a bit of a bang.  And then I fell off...for a variety of reasons, one of which I'm about to mention...but I'd like to get rolling again.  There's one item I absolutely need to talk about first, however.

Celery and her custom blanket (thanks Joan!)

I've involved our girl Celery in my geek stuff on this blog before.  HERE she is statted out as a Super-Pet for Light City (as Princess Celery), for example...and HERE she is with her siblings and couple of my 'mons.  And depending on how you're reading this, there may be a picture of her, with a cap on backwards, over to the right as my profile pic.

Princess Celery

On Wednesday, 2/28/24, we had to let Celery go...crossing the rainbow bridge, as they say...to a well-deserved peaceful final rest.  Not knowing exactly where this little tribute is going to go, I'm assuming I'm going to ramble...so I want to lay out my thesis:  The world is a better place because Celery was in it.  The world is a worse place without Celery in it.  Celery did more for the happiness of the universe than most humans; when my end comes, if I can feel like I brought half the goodness to the beings of the world that Celery did, it will be a life well spent.

I have never seen an animal have the impact Celery had.  I realize, of course, that I'm biased...she was part of our family for about 13 years and during that time became arguably the "flagship" dog of the Linneman household.  Our love for Celery is unbounded.  It's been especially hard on Laura, who truly was Celery's primary partner in almost every adventure.  But...Celery's impact went way beyond that.

And now, I guess I'll just brag about my dog for a bit.  But where to start?

Okay...see that picture at the top of this post, with the Celery blanket?  About five years ago, when Laura and I worked at the ASPCA's Behavioral Rehabilitation Center in North Carolina, a highly fearful dog who came through the program (a little Chihuahua-thing named Helen) got away from her new family and was lost in New Jersey.  Because Laura was Helen's favorite person in NC and Celery was one of her favorite dogs, the two of them made a trip to Jersey to help secure her return.  They stayed with a very kind person connected to the animal rescue that Helen was adopted from.

A little while after returning to NC (with Helen eventually recovered safely not long after they returned!), a package arrived at work addressed to Celery Linneman.

As you might imagine, this was unusual.  Inside was the blanket above, sent by her wonderful new NJ friend that they stayed with.  Our girl had such an impact that she had a blanket made especially for her by someone she only met for a few days!

(Also, know how many pieces of mail came to me at the Behavior Rehab Center?  Zero.)

With Ruffles, who was absolutely obsessed with Celery...

The Behavior Rehab Center (or BRC, as I'll call it now that I realize I'm going to be typing it out repeatedly) was truly a place for Celery's gifts to shine.  She came to work with us often and served as a "helper dog" in treatments for others who were profoundly frightened of humans.  It's amazing how much scared dogs can learn from situations where they're with a dog that they love who also happens to love all the big scary people around.  Sometimes, it was determined that these extremely fearful animals had little opportunity for a reasonable and happy life in this world built for humans (or would potentially be a danger to people or other animals).  While they were certainly the saddest parts of her job (for us), there were a number of times that Celery's companionship was enlisted to make the euthanasia process as comfortable as possible, by providing support in the dogs' final hours or minutes.  I mean...that's angel stuff.

Celery with goodest boy Goliath at the BRC

There are plenty of really happy stories of Celery's good deeds at the BRC, however.  Her friend and extended Linneman family member Lily Jane, for example, was highlighted by the ASPCA's media team for an article and video about her story.  They had Celery tag along for the photo shoot to support Lily Jane (you can catch her at the end of the video in that link).  And Ruffles, pictured a couple of images up, was a fairly tough nut to crack with her fear.  She eventually had a very happy ending with a foster mom who adopted her and gave her a great life.  And while she was learning to trust people, I'm sure you can guess who her favorite friend and greatest source of comfort was.

Celery with my sweet Tulip (left) and BRC graduate/Tulip's biological mom Lily Jane (middle)

Looking back through some of our pictures of Cel-Bell (did I mention that we often called her Cel-Bell?), I'm realizing that I could talk ad nauseam about Cel's impact (and of course we called her Cel) on other dogs.  So...here's a sampler...

I think maybe we were in NC in this pic...?

I've also mentioned our girl Sunny...who had some profound behavioral issues of her own and needed a good friend such as Celery...before here on Monstrous Matters.  Sunny and Laura took part in nosework competitions.  Celery was her tournament companion and equipment manager.  (I was junior eqipment manager.)

And...oh yeah(!)...Cel also qualified for competitions by passing her odor recognition test for birch!  She truly was a Renaissance dog.  We actually have a video of her passing the test.  (I love how it gets cut short because Laura is so happy for us while filming...)


The Celery/Sunny relationship was a really interesting one to get to observe.  Sunny wasn't a dog who could get along with everyone, canine or (especially) human.  For Celery, meanwhile, a defining feature was the ability to get along with anyone and everyone...canine, human, feline, lupine, musteline, you name it.  She wasn't always a fan...but she was always respectful, a real live and let live type of girl with a tendency to bring her own idea of fun to just about any interaction.

Cel was Sunny's best canine friend (and probably best friend other than Laura)...but over time, Sunny's internal struggles cast a longer and longer shadow over their relationship.  They almost became "frenemies"...Sunny clearly loved her but was also easily tipped into jealousy.  Celery did all she could to defuse the tension and always had 100% trust from us that she wouldn't escalate a situation.  Just...an angel.

A quick look at a few more of her friendships:

With Murray, another behavioral oddball who found some stress relief in nosework

With previous Linneman flagship dog Angel, whose need for a playful friend was the reason we brought baby Celery home in the first place

With Suki, another sometimes-unpredictable dog picking up life skills at the shelter.  Celery often didn't completely trust her, and I like how in this picture, you can see a tiny bit of concern in Cel's mannerisms, but she was still the kindest girl imaginable.

I guess I could go on forever about what a dog's dog Cel-Bell was, and how much she helped so many other canines, and how amazing it was to watch such a beautiful being's innate gifts move the world in a positive direction.  At some point, though, I have to mention just how great Cel was with humans.  And she was really great with humans!

Celery was a bona fide love from the moment we met her, but as her confidence grew over the years, she reached a whole other level of friendliness.  It's hard to describe what made Celery Celery...she loved attention but was just a cool dog who was willing to let everyone else do their own thing, without judgment.  To the extent that she judged, she usually tried very hard to keep it to herself.

Celery was a certified pet-assisted therapy dog.  In Atlanta, I got to be her handler for most visits we made with the group Happy Tails Pet Therapy.  Here we are on a happy Saturday in September 2011, after both Laura and I qualified with her:

Fall Saturday in the South...so of course that also meant college football...

We would visit a local behavioral health and rehab facility, typically me with Cel and Laura with our girl Dishy (who was certified with Laura but not with me...).  Those are truly some of my best memories with her.  I enjoyed watching her change from a curious-but-kinda-nervous puppy (she was around a year old when we took her home) into a confident working dog ready to take on the tough job of having people tell her how cute she is.  She developed a method of swinging her butt around into a new person's legs when she was introduced to them.  She knew she was there to be petted.

So, a couple of the best memories from her therapy work...the first was once as we were leaving, when she got to meet an extra resident outside as we headed to the car.  She stole a sandwich out of his pocket and ate it.  So much about that memory...that the guy randomly had a sandwich in the pocket of his scrub pants...that she sniffed it out and ate it with no hesitation...and that the dude took it so well...I love it.

The other best memory doesn't even directly involve Cel.  In NC, only Laura was qualified to handle Celery for therapy visits.  One day we were at one of the little touristy sort of stores in downtown Asheville, and the woman behind the counter looked at Laura and said, "You're Celery's mom!"  Having been a resident at the behavioral/rehab facility where Laura and Cel would visit, she happily remembered Laura from her interaction with Celery...maybe months before...even though Cel wasn't even around at the time.  The fact that our girl made that sort of impression...well, of course that made us pretty happy.

Oh, we also discovered pretty early on that Celery was really good at wearing costumes (especially headwear), so we took every opportunity we could to dress her (and Dishy) up.  I know some people hate this...but I don't care, it was adorable, people freakin loved it, and Cel loved the attention.  Here are a few pics from those days:

For Easter

For Halloween, with Dishy

For the potentially problematic celebration that traditionally starts the Holiday Season

From an Atlanta Christmas parade we took part in each year with Happy Tails

Yeah, we were often amazed at how willingly she wore this stuff, too.

At this point, I've paused and restarted the writing process for this blog post so many times that I'm not even sure I've left a coherent thread to be followed from beginning to end.  If you're looking for one that I haven't succeeded in writing...the best I can say is to just take a look at that precious little yellow Labby girl shown in these pictures, and try to imagine a world where we all live up to her standards.  Always happy to see you.  No judgment.  Up for anything.  And just a very, very fun girl.

I know it'll never come as naturally to me as it did for Celery...and that I'm so lucky I got to see it all firsthand.  Man, do we miss this dog.

Being the bestest girl on a train ride

Posing in front of her own advertising photo...maybe Celery's most baller move ever

And here's that photo...the profile pic for "Lydia" as she was shown on the Atlanta Pet Rescue and Adoption website back in 2011.  On the ride home from the shelter, she ducked her head whenever we went under an overpass.  What a gift to get to see this girl grow...