Why Do I Let SyFy Continue to Hurt Me?

I really wanted “Heroes of Cosplay” to be a good show.

Cosplay is an area of fandom that has always fascinated and impressed me. I have a background in technical theatre, so good looking costumes and props will always catch my eye. I love the costumes that show up at Gen Con every year, and the Pathfinder Costume Contest and Costume Parade are two events I make a point of taking in. Highlights this year included an amazing couple with Captain America and Wonder Woman costumes…on stilts; some scary good StarCraft cosplay; and Balloon Cthulhu. Okay, that last isn’t cosplay, but it’s cool!

More than that, I wanted “Heroes of Cosplay” to be a good show because cosplayers have been taking a beating recently, especially female cosplayers. From sexual harassment to ridiculous “fake geek girl” accusations (just another form of sexual harassment dressed up as moral outrage), women cosplayers in particular deserved something that portrayed them in a positive light. And all cosplayers deserved to be shown as the passionate, skilled, and talented fans they are.

Prior to airing, I even had hope the show would be that positive portrayal. The advanced press played up the demonstrations of community, the passion, and most of all the kick-ass costumes. All the promos seemed to promise a positive look at cosplay and cosplayers, and I let myself get excited and interested.

I should have known better. I should have remembered SyFy is responsible for such gems as Sharknado and Ghost Hunters. I shouldn’t have let myself hope for a more documentary approach, when I knew deep in my heart they’d take the easier “Reality TV” option. And as we all know, the unwritten but always present prefix to “Reality TV” is “Not Based In”. But I did forget all that for a moment. And so I really have no one to blame but myself (okay, and SyFy) for my disappointment.

“Heroes of Cosplay” is at best a superficial pandering to the masses, and at worst actively harmful to the hobby it exploits. While there are nuggets of true fan love to be found (Chloe Dykstra and her honest enthusiasm shines as one of these), you have to do a lot of sifting through sludge to get to them. I’m not sure what they thought was being portrayed, and I actually feel sorry for the titular “Heroes” because I’m sure most took part in the show out of a love for the hobby. But the producers did them no favours with the editing and cutting, and few came away unspattered with “Reality TV” slime.

Here’s what I got out of each episode (they each followed the same formula, so there was no fear I’d experience anything new episode to episode): This Week’s Heroes are going to Con X to take part in cosplay. They decide on Difficult Costume, which they already know will be hard to finish in time for Con X. Because they exhibit poor project planning and time management skills, they struggle to finish Difficult Costume with varying levels of Drama™, said Drama™ sometimes including finishing/not finishing the Difficult Costume in the hotel room, just before the competition starts. The finished costumes take part in the competition, with Drama™ if they don’t at least place, and Joy™if they do. The unfinished costumes feel shame. Rinse, repeat.

The really sad thing is, I don’t think any of these people are as incompetent as the show’s editors made them out to be. They just couldn’t be. Yaya Han runs her own successful cosplay business; Holly Conrad and Jessica Merizan are the owners of CrabCat Industries, a prop and costume fabrication company. All three of these women would be expected to have reasonably developed time management skills. From my own experiences in prop building for theatre, there is just no way you survive in that business without it. For crying out loud, Crabcat fabricated kaiju costumes for Guillermo del Toro! You don’t get that gig if you are flaky on your deadlines.

And knowing how Reality TV actually isn’t is the only reason I’m aiming my criticism at the show and not the participants. Because if the show is to be believed, most of the “Heroes” portrayed are varying levels of neurotic, vain, approval seeking ubernerds with no sense of proportion. And while that might be the case (hell, I have to cop to a lot of those adjectives from time to time), I know that isn’t all they are. But well-balanced individuals don’t produce enough Drama™, so of course anything smacking of normalcy ends up on the cutting room floor (these days known as the Recycle Bin on your desktop).

And I could do an entire other post about the sexism inherit in the producers chosing to focus strictly on Hot™ female cosplayers.  Or the inherit racism of focusing almost exclusively on white cosplayers. Or the ablism of focusing on non-physically handicapped cosplayers. The genderism of excluding crossplay. The list goes on. Editing horse-shit aside, “Heroes of Cosplay” would fail on its merits simply for showing such a narrow, whitebread, pandering cross-section of the hobby.

The costumes? The costumes were great. There is no doubt in my mind these cosplayers have an excellent level of crafting ability. But really, good costumes can only take up so much of my time. And unless there was a fabrication “crisis”, the show spent so little time on the actual interesting parts of building these great costumes, they may as well have been crafted by elves in the night.

Someone somewhere (Nerdist? Geek & Sundry? SourceFed?) needs to get on board the making of a good, honest documentary about cosplay. They have the resources and the contacts to do a good job, and an established history of treating nerd culture with respect. They already have great web shows about cosplay (Just Cos, Try This at Home!, and Sachie, for instance), so I have to believe they’d have the wherewithal to pull off a compelling documentary series of cosplay and cosplay competitions. Because I know such a show could be done, without Reality TV crapping all over it.

Did you watch “Heroes of Cosplay”? What did you think? Give us your comments and we’ll discuss.

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Card Hunter

Largely because of Facebook I became a fan of browser based games. Something about there simplicity tapped into both my mildly obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and my love of the simple arcade games of my misspent youth. I try not to take on too many at once, however, because, well, obsessive-compulsive. If I have things to get done, too many browser games means that won’t happen.

But every once in a while I find a game like Card Hunter by Blue Manchu that’s just so much fun, I give in. In the world of Card Hunter you are back in junior high, hanging out in your buddy Gary’s basement. You and Gary are swilling sodas, scarfing junk food, and playing a cool D&D-esque boxed role-playing game, Card Hunter. You put together your party and Gary, like any good newbie GM, leads you through a series of adventures, equal parts thrilling and ridiculous.

Now this would fall firmly into the category of “generic fantasy browser game”, and I would have hit it and quit it a while ago. Except the game really embraces the feel of two young nerds (nerdlings? nerd cubs?) huddled in their parent’s basement playing RPGs. The graphics play into that feel, from the character sheets to the sometimes hand-drawn look to the maps. Play is turn based, and each character (and monster) has a deck of cards they use to resolve combats and move around the map. You gain more and different cards based on the treasure you equip, and you can equip more powerful treasure as you level up. Adding to the overall feel, is the interjection of Gary’s older brother Melvin (the actual owner of the game) who is a Card Hunter veteran. He is constantly bragging about his gaming exploits, and at one point you even play through a module Melvin wrote (Melvelous the Magnificent). Eventually Melvin’s bullying gets too much for Gary, and that leads to the adventure “Against the Cockroaches” fighting the Demon Lord Morvin the Malodorous. Then Melvin takes the game away and they aren’t going to be able to play, until Karen the Pizza Girl reveals that she is a GM and has here set in the car…

Yeah, there’s a bit more going on than just your usual fantasy click-and-crush play. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of click-and-crush. While there is definitely strategy to the game, don’t look for an immersive role-play experience in Card Hunter. This is old-school hack ‘n slash, baby, just like we used to play over a bottle of our finest Mountain Dew.

And that’s what grabbed me and kept me playing. For a little while it put me back in that long ago basement I miss so much. Not because I think the games were better back then. But because I was still discovering the hobby, and approached it with a sense of wonder I miss. That’s why Card Hunter grabbed me. For all that it may be just another browser game, it reminds me of good times spent messing around with the hobby I love. If you are an Old Gamer like me, I suspect it might grab you as well. But even if you aren’t an OG, Card Hunter is a heck of a lot of fun.

How about you, any browser games you get a kick out of? Drop your suggestions in the comments.

The State of the Tabletop Industry, and Why It Really Doesn’t Matter

Maybe it’s because fall is coming, and the threat of winter right behind; maybe it’s because the latest burst of game releases are behind us. But this is the time of year, it seems, when every game blogger and vlogger wants to speculate on that age-old (in this case, age-old would be defined as 39 years) question: What is the state of the gaming hobby? Is it going strong? Is it teetering on the brink of collapse? Okay, three age old questions.

Some would have us believe the hobby is in its “Final Days of Rome” stage; things look great on the surface, the populace is really happy and we are replete with the gaming bounty before us. Jump cut to the barbarian hordes encircling the city, ready to bring Rome to its knees. They feel there is a crash coming: too many publishers and wannabe publishers, too many games (I know, I know…) means the inevitable bottoming out of the hobby’s quality. Leading inevitably to the hobby dwindling and dying as interest in the now sub-par games wanes. The arguable failure of D&D 4th Edition is often pointed to as a sign of things to come.

Others look at the diversity of content as a sign the industry is at its strongest. They see the rise of the small content producer as a boon, not a bane, to a hobby that has always valued creativity and imagination. Add in the Kickstarter phenomenon and it would seem the influence of the individual hobbyist has never been stronger in the gaming industry. And the hobbyists will keep the hobby strong.

There would seem to be evidence to support the optimists. In its post-convention newsletter, Gen Con revealed some interesting statistics:

  • More than 49,000 people attended the convention, from across the US and the world
  • The convention generated an estimated $47 million dollars for the local community, second only to Indianapolis’ hosting of the Super Bowl.
  • A record number of events, more than 12,000, were offered this year
  • As well, a record number of Exhibitors were on hand (368)

All of that would seem to indicate that tabletop gaming, on both the industry and hobbyist side, is stronger than ever.

I’ve given a lot of thought to which camp I fall into, and my honest assessment is…I don’t care. Whether the gaming industry is strong or not is of no consequence to me as a gamer. Don’t get me wrong, I love the new gaming releases, I love discovering new games and finding new stuff for old games. But I am already at a point (and every gamer is at this point, whether they realize/accept it or not) where I can not possibly manage to play all the games I want to play. If I won the lottery today and spent the rest of my life gaming every day (*singing* To dream the impossible dreaaaam…!) I would still be on my deathbed regretting the games never played.

So do I love that the industry behind my hobby is strong right now? You bet! I am an active volunteer supporter of both Paizo and Cheapass Games; I love both those companies and I’ll promote their product to whomever will listen. But much like if the sun went out we would still have sunlight for about 8 minutes afterwards, if the gaming industry collapsed tomorrow I would still have enough games to last until my eventual heat-death. Role-playing games alone, I already have more campaign ideas and plans than I’ll ever get to, whether or not more books get published.

I really feel the question of the state or health of the industry is one that needs to be put by for a while, if not forever. Instead of asking whether the hobby will live, we should be focused on its quality of life. How is the hobby treating its members, for instance. Misogyny and other forms of gate-keeping, by both the industry and fellow hobbyists, is still a real issue. And in a hobby formed, arguably, by the excluded, it is frankly ludicrous we still have so far to go to fix the issue. So let’s leave off the wasteful hand-wringing, and settle into the needful work of making the hobby something we’ll want to keep going. Let’s make the hobby want to live.

What do you think of the state of the gaming industry? Drop your thoughts in the comments and share them with the class.

Review: Mythic Adventures

I was a big fan of D&D 3.5, right to the end. Even when they were shotgun releasing to get product out the door before announcing 4.0, I liked most of the source books that came down. One of my biggest disappointments, though, was the Epic Rules system WotC put out for 3.5. While I liked the idea of ramped-up, higher stakes game-play, the Epic rules just seemed to be a power creep enabler; sure things got bigger and tougher, but nothing really felt epic. Plus, the Epic rules only came into play once you had already played through to 20th level, so very little of the book could be used right away, if at all.

So last year, when I heard that one of the products in the pipeline for Pathfinder was something called Mythic Adventures, I had mixed feelings. Yes, I loved the idea of mythic, larger-than-life adventuring in Golarion. But all I could think of was the crushing disappointment of Epic, and so my hope was tainted with dread. Of course you’d think I’d learn to trust Paizo by now, wouldn’t you?

Put simply, Mythic Adventures is everything I wanted the Epic rules to be, and wept bitter tears when they weren’t. The source book guides both players and GMs through the key elements of a “mythic” campaign: setting, tone, delivery, even how to incorporate mythic elements into an already existing game.

The book features chapters on mythic feats, spells, and magic items, all ready to add a legendary feel to your campaign. The best thing about these new resources and challenges, is that you don’t have to wait for characters to get to higher levels. In a lot of cases you can begin adding these elements to the campaign right from the start, because the mythic abilities are gained in tandem with your regular character advancement. Because of this, and the fact that a mythic character is harder to kill, the book recommends GMs use the Medium or Slow advancement track for experience points, otherwise characters may quickly outstrip the challenges the GM has created.

Not that the GM will be twiddling his thumbs; the book has an entire chapter of mythic monsters ready to challenge the players at every level, as well as rules for adding legendary power to creatures. So right off the bat the players are going to put that extra toughness to good use. They may be ramped up but so are their foes, so the mythic campaign won’t be a cake-walk. I’m not going to give any spoilers, but I will say the party’s first encounter with any of the mythic dragons will be a legendary sphincter clenching moment, one they won’t forget (assuming they survive, of course).

Also included is a ready made mythic adventure for 7th level characters, either to drop in the middle of an existing campaign or as a mid-point adventure for characters that started as mythic. The book also talks a great deal about the the fluff and theory behind factors contributing to a mythic campaign. For instance, how to use failure to advance characters in your campaign. Setbacks are a key element to any great stories of legend; King Arthur and Hercules never had it easy, why should your PCs?

It may seem at a first glance through the book, that most of the mythic abilities are just a simple amping up of the existing feats, spells, magic items and so on. And while that is true on the surface, once you dig down and really read how everything hangs together, you see how well the mythic abilities are well thought out extensions of characters’ abilities. Not really surprising, since Mythic Adventures is one of the books that went through an open beta test, much like the Advanced Race Guide and the Core Rules themselves. Because of this the new abilities hang together very well with the enhancement of standard abilities. While there are sure to be some rough bits that have to be smoothed over during play, there doesn’t seem to be any real game stopping issues.

What I really love about this book is its elimination of the big problem I had with 3.5’s Epic rules: Mythic rules can be applied right from 1st level. No waiting around and slogging to get to the cool stuff, the cool stuff is yours right from the start. Of course, the cool stuff is there for the GM right from the start as well, so players beware! That leads me to the one potential issue that might arise in Mythic campaigns; GMs not making the campaign Mythic enough. It really does rest in the hands of the GM to keep his or her campaign at a truly legendary level, otherwise the players will not feel challenged and the game will quickly become like a bad MMO. So GMs be warned: before you dive headlong into a Mythic campaign be sure you are ready to keep a firm hand on the reins. But if you do, you and the players are in for a truly epic time.

Have you had a chance to look at Mythic Adventures? If so, what did you think? Drop me your thoughts in the comments!

Extra Life (Support Team Knifeshoes!)

You get a bonus post this week because I am doing a thing!

1104I’ve long been a supporter of the Stollery Children’s Hospital here in Edmonton. They do amazing things for sick children, and they do these things regardless of the family’s ability to pay. Basically, they are Batman and Elminster and a doctor rolled into one.

Last year my buddy Devin got together with a group of my friends and put together Team Knifeshoes (hockey reference and inside joke) to take part in the Extra Life fundraiser for the Children’s Miracle Network. I couldn’t join last year which made me a sad bear. But this year I am a full-fledged member of Team Knifeshoes, ready to do my part to help out the Stollery!

And what is my part? First, I collect pledges from the fine folks around me, which is where you guys come in. The graphic in the top right is a link to my Extra Life donation page, where you can donate any amount to this wonderful cause. Seriously, even if you can spare $5 that bumps us closer to our goal. Plus, you can donate a smaller amount monthly if that is your thing, so your donation will keep giving throughout the year. And if you aren’t able to donate, hey, that’s okay. Please signal boost my efforts by sharing this post with as many people as you can and help spread the word. I want to rock my first year on the Team!

For my part, on November 2, 2013 I’ll be gaming for 25 hours straight! That’s right, 25, because this year the challenge falls on Daylight Savings and we aren’t going to waste that extra hour. I’ll be playing a lot of World of Tanks (if you play on the NA server, I’m Argentbear; stop by and say hello before I frag your armoured ass) as well as a bunch of other games with the rest of Team Knifeshoes. I’ll make sure to Tweet and blog my progress so you can be assured you are getting your donation’s worth out of me.

I’ll pop reminders into posts between now and November 2nd, but I wanted to get the ball rolling because I’m excited to be a part of Extra Life this year. If gaming for 25 hours to raise money for a children’s hospital seems like a good idea to you, hit up Extra Life and sign up. Heck, get some friends together and set up a team. It won’t be as cool as Team Knifeshoes, but hey, it’ll still be cool.

And we’ll see you on the playing field!

CritSuccess and Dice Rings

While I was at Gen Con I had a chance to volunteer at the Cheapass Games booth, which was a blast. I met James Ernest, which is something I’d wanted to do since I discovered Cheapass Games lo those many years ago, and I also met some of the fantastic folks behind the scenes at CG, like Julie Haehn the marketing director and all-around excellent badass. I was there on the Sunday, which is important to the story only because that seems to be the day that companies will come around looking to trade some of their cool stuff for the cool stuff in your booth. It is the very geekiest of barter systems, and it is just a small part of what makes this industry cool.

As chance would have it, and fresh from their successful Kickstarter campaign, CritSuccess had a booth just across the aisle from Cheapass Games. CritSuccess were fans of Cheapass Games and vice versa, so the inevitable trade happened. As part of my thank-you for volunteering I was sent over to get a d20 Ring of my very ownsome, which I thought was very generous of both parties. I snagged myself a basic black (as shown in the picture) and tucked it away in my pocketses for later.20130901_141417

Regular readers of the site will know I am a bit of a fan of dice, in the same way Lady Bathory was a bit of a fan of virgins. So my initial impression of the d20 ring was, “Cute, but I like my dice.” I also had my doubts of its true randomness, so it was looking like it would stay firmly in my “neat curiosity” category. But I’d never use it in a game.

Which just goes to show, first impressions can be a joke.

Having had a chance to play with and test out the d20 ring since getting home, I have to say I am really impressed. It is never going to replace dice for me; until I can get a random number generator installed into my cyborg mind, dice are here to stay. But I performed a chi test on my ring, and it performed as well as my control d20s did…what? Look, if you aren’t willing to spend an afternoon rolling dice hundreds of times to generate both a control and result set, then you just don’t love dice like I do. And you are probably better for it.

But that test cleared up my first concern, whether the ring was as random as an actual d20. Then I put it to practical use in game, to see how easy it was to use. And over the course of several game sessions it bit me in the ass and confirmed crits much like my regular dice, which is to say plenty of the former and distressingly less of the latter.

I heartily recommend the d20 ring from CritSuccess. Not only is it a fully functional d20 I can wear, but it is a pretty subtle piece of gaming jewellery, much more understated than the popular d20 necklaces and earrings. Which I have nothing against, by the way, but I tend not to wear that type of jewellery. It sits comfortably on my finger and I have the added bonus of never being without a d20. I don’t wear it everywhere, of course; like most rings you’ll want to take it off if you are working with your hands, to avoid damge either to yourself or the ring. But if you want a cool piece of gaming jewellery you can actually use, this product is right up your alley. And the $20 price point makes it a very affordable option for something that will see a lot of use. You can also get a wide variety of other ring types: the R100, 3R6Pips (3d6 equivalent), and even a ring that lets you play Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock, if you are into “The Big Bang Theory” or just enjoy a nerdier version of the classic game.

When ordering, make sure to size yourself properly. If you know your ring-size, great, but if not you’ll want to get that to make sure your ring fits. CritSuccess does offer re-sizing, however, so if you are wrong you can get a proper size just by sending it back and covering shipping plus a $3 exchange fee. Not the end of the world, but a hassle, so better to get it right the first time. Also, when your ring arrives they recommend you wash it in hot, soapy water and really grind the ring around while doing so. That clears out the machining dust from manufacturing and allows your ring to spin freely. You’ll want to do that periodically as you use it, just to keep it clean and spinning smooth.

Do you have a CritSuccess ring? What do you think? Drop me a note in the comments and let me know.

Sunday Recap

Before the new week starts I thought I’d recap everything I’ve been up to this week. If you missed a post or find it convenient to have all the posts in one place, this one’s for you.

When the Cupboard is Bare – What GMs can do when game night looms and they have nothing prepared. Made suggestions of my own, and reader @worstninja had a great suggestion of his own in the comments.

From my Brain: 50 Random NPCs – Following up Monday’s post, a bit of help for GMs in the NPC department. At the very least you’ll never get caught without a name again.

Canadian Kickstarters – Kickstarter has opened its crowd-funding doors to Canadian creators! I take a look at four Canadian tabletop game Kickstarters you should look at. But only because four is all there is! Get cracking, Canadian creators!

That’s the week! Stay tuned next week when I talk about dice rings, game books, and why the state of the hobby doesn’t really mean anything.