Thursday, February 24, 2011

Call of Cthulhu - Sanity Roll, please

When I was a freshman in high school, I had the chance to play a horror role playing game. The name of the game was Call of Cthulhu, and it was incredible fun.

Call of Cthulhu is a game that is based on the writings of the 1920s horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. His stories were spooky, scary, and often involved the devolution of a person’s sanity. He created a whole mythos of old gods who are going to return to earth and destroy humanity, including the great old one himself Cthulhu. These old gods work through human and monster agents. They also write evil books like the Necronomicon.

Coming off of a ‘hack-n-slash’ game like Dungeons and Dragons, CoC was a bit of a surprise. The game is much more cerebral and detective work, followed by moments of intense panic, fear, fighting, and eventually insanity.

CoC has a statistic called ‘sanity.’ Essentially, the idea behind it is that as people get scared, their sanity gets hit, and they may freak out. If a person loses 10% of their sanity in less than an hour, they will go temporarily insane, and maybe develop a phobia.

Warren Carothers ran the game of Call of Cthulhu for us. He worked through the Chaosium game company’s books. By now, you’ll see recurring people in who were playing these games.

Call of Cthulhu takes place in the roaring 1920s. You could choose any occupation, anything from hobo to dilettante, policeman to mobster, doctor to journalist to anarchist.

Brad Gottschalk had a character named Dr. John Scott. He was a researcher, always questing for more knowledge. However, as the game went on, he gained I think it was 80% or 90% Cthulhu mythos knowledge. This stat reduced his potential maximum sanity to 10 points. Any little thing would make the character freak out.

Tom Hood, Ingrid Lind, Warren Brewer and I all had characters as well. I wish I could remember more of the details, but Tom’s character has disappeared in my memory. All I know is that his character threw John Scott into the basement of the first house that they investigated, not knowing that’s where the zombie was. That was John Scott’s first moment of insanity. I’m pretty sure he developed claustrophobia at that point…

I know Ingrid's character's first name was Julie, and she was a writer or something along that line.

Warren Brewer, using his random name creator (rolling dice), came up with Yemek Uglowski or something like that. He was a Polish immigrant who had come over after WWI. He had been a sniper in the Polish army.

My own character was Patrick MacDuff, a Scottish-born man raised in St. Louis. He intended to be a reporter, and followed a lead that brought him into contact with the rest of the group. He wore a trenchcoat, carried a German luger and a portable typewriter in a cast-iron case. He used both of those as weapons throughout the time. He also had a crush on Julie the writer, and when she developed amnesia when she failed a sanity roll, he took care of her while trying not to die in the Grand Canyon.

I know there were more of us playing, but I'm drawing a blank as to who else was there. While the players were all friends, the characters were not, and there was definitely some in-fighting going on, as evidenced by Tom throwing Dr. Scott down into the cellar. Made for some very interesting role playing.

Warren ran us through one of the supplements ‘The Shadows of Yog-Sothoth.’ Our characters travelled around the world, following clues. It started in Arkham, MA and New York City, but soon we were in Scotland, the Grand Canyon, and other exotic locations.

That game of Call of Cthulhu was immense fun.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Final Project for Advanced 2d Animation

Well, I knew it was going to be an incredible amount of work. It was. Hundreds of hours between the drawing, scanning, painting, re-drawing, re-scanning, re-painting, and it's still not perfect. Nevertheless, I am quite proud with how it turned out. Enjoy!

Friday, February 11, 2011

My First Stage Experience

“The Pick and the shovel are all that I know…” are the first words I ever sang on a stage. The first play I remember being in was a play for my hometown of Platteville, Wisconsin, and the celebration of their mining heritage.

Platteville, during its earliest days, was a lead mining community. They dug deep into the looking for veins of lead; the entire area is littered with old mines, some that go right underneath the downtown area. At the east of the downtown area is the Mining Museum. It actually has the Bevans Lead Mine, an old lead mine as part of the attraction. Dug out in 1845, it is abandoned and forgotten until 1972.

For the celebration of the opening of the Mining Museum, a family friend Margot King wrote and directed a play called ‘The Tommyknockers.’ Based on the Cornish legendary faerie folk who inhabit the mines, it centers around a disbeliever Tom Tovorrow who is eventually killed in a cave-in.

In the first edition of the play, I got to be a miner named George. I didn’t have a mining helmet; I chose to wear a Pith helmet, which I just happened to own, so I called myself Jungle George. It was also here that I met one of long-time friends, Karland Kilian. I am very thankful I did. Karland has been a great friend through thick and thin.

My costume for that role was just a flannel shirt, blue jeans, and boots. It wasn’t much of a costume because, given a choice, that’s what I wanted to wear anyways. I think I even wore my Chewbacca t-shirt underneath it…

The Tommyknockers, who in the original play had no lines, just songs, were in gray shirts and pants with raggedy gray streamers coming off of them. I remember being thankful that I was too big to wear one of those; my brother Mark, however, looked really cute in them. It was a vast improvement…(poking fun at brother…what fun...)

Over the years, we did the play many times. Margot was continually updating and changing it. She added lines for the Tommyknockers, changed lyrics and song melodies (although I still only have the music for the original still in my mind) for many years. Eventually, I did get to be Tom Tovorrow, and I died very effectively on stage.

I still have fond memories of The Tommyknockers.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

My First Real RPG Experience

I love Role Playing Games (RPGs). I have been playing RPGs since I was in sixth grade. I did run a few Dungeons and Dragon games while in junior high school, but they were very un-memorable.

The first game that really had a real creative edge for me was run by Brad Gottschalk. It took place on a post-apocalyptic world where magic, demons, and gods had returned to earth.

It is funny, but as the many, many years have gone by, I have in my mind re-written vast parts of what happened. As I game, I do take notes. It’s not something that I did from the very start of that game, but I started fairly early on. My memories of what happened in that game do not match up with my notes. I also found an early piece of writing from that game – the start of a book. Oh, my gawd. What was I thinking. It was pretty bad.

At any rate, Brad created a series of adventures that included the H.P. Lovecraft Cthulhu mythos. The Cthulhu characters and races the first edition of the Deities and Demigods handbook, but not in the later editions because of licensing issues. We had a lot of fun with them. The adventures took place starting in Bagdad and spread from there. I joined the adventures a little later, so many of my friends had established their characters and relationships already.

My character was Bruin Zeemam, a human ranger. He was half-white, half-Asian, with his father a lord from Peking (Beijing). He was a big man – 6’4”. I always drew him with a thick beard and mustache, and, of course, a ranger hat. I’ve post a couple of pictures of him as well. One was drawn when I was in high school; the other while I was in college. Eventually, I’ll get around to drawing him again, too. I still have a very warm spot in my heart for Bruin.

The first two characters Bruin met were Warren Brewer’s Sygamore, a Halfling theif, and Tom Hood’s half-orc assassin whose name I couldn’t remember even in high school, so I called him Tom Thatcher. He joined them in Istanbul on the way to Bagdad. We fought green dragons, hill giants, and even met a devil Beelzabub. We fought a tyrannosaurus and a blue dragon, as well as others.

Bruin met many others, the most important of whom I’ll list here

  • Melonius Gallinette: Ingrid Lind’s human magic-user
  • John Sunlight: Eric Bierstedt’s human (most of the time) ranger/assassin/paladin/monk
    Stilich VI: Tom Hood’s cleric
  • Galloz: Michelle Buchert’s druid
  • Galluck: Michelle Buchert’s fighter
  • Gallum: Michelle Buchert’s paladin
  • Atticus: Mike Daniel’s druid
  • Warren Worthington (possibly a name I made up to): Warren Brewer’s a half-orc Cleric of Zeus

There were several really big storylines. One was the exploration and destruction of a Cthulhu temple underneath Bagdad, which our characters did work their way through, although Bagdad was destroyed in the process.

We also made a trip through hell where several of the characters were killed and brought back.

While everyone had some storylines, the storyline of John Sunlight seemed about the strongest. His was a tale of loss and redemption. He was a good character – a paladin, who lost his way. He was killed, reincarnated as a dwarf, went completely evil, eventually returned to his original form, and spent a lot of time trying to get redemption.

Others who played in the world included Dan Wang, Dave Wang, Warren Carothers, Lance Carothers, Andrea Hood, Pat Daniels, Burton Davis, John Wunderlin, and Philip Sens. There were several different groups of characters going on at once.

I am hoping to get permission from Brad and the others to ‘mine’ this world and put it into my Castle Zierath world so I can create these stories in that world (with some changes - since the CZ world is definitely not Earth, and Hell does not exist...).

At any rate, I had an immense amount of fun playing in this world, and look forward to having these friends write down any of their remembrances and/or corrections for this world.Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Avid Reader - January 2011

I read many book each month. I rate them according to how much enjoyment I got out of them. Feel free to comment on my comments.

The Complete Peanuts Collection Boxed Set 1971-1974

Charles Schulz was a genius. For almost 50 years, with only a 5 week vacation after he had a stroke, he put out a daily comic strip. I have been a fan of the Peanuts, and I thought I had seen all the strips. I was wrong. I hadn’t seen a vast majority of these strips. I had not known that at one point, Snoopy had attacked the cat next door when he thought that Woodstock had been caught by him. I had not seen the series where Peppermint Patty was a sheep for the Christmas play, or where Lucy and Linus’s little brother Rerun is born. All in all, I really enjoyed reading the 4 years worth of daily comics. I give the collection an A.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Dan Brown is a master at writing action adventures dealing with conspiracies. As opposed to his previous two novels featuring This one takes place in Washington, DC. It was kind of fun having been to many of the locations mentioned in the book. How believable is it? Well, not so much. It was a little on the ridiculous side. There were actions that seemed out of character, and there was a lot of action that really made no sense to me. The big mystery of who the main antagonist was did not seem like a mystery to me. I figured it out almost as soon as it was introduced. It was an adequate read, but I still think The Da Vinci Code is probably Brown’s best work. I give The Lost Symbol a C+.

Tatooine Ghost by Troy Denning

Tatooine Ghost was a very interesting Star Wars book to read. It took the disparate parts of the Expanded Universe of Star Wars and linked them all together in an effective storyline. The focus of the story is on the newly married Han Solo and Leia, and it deals with Leia trying to come to terms with the fact that Darth Vader was her father. It dealt with her finding out that once upon a time, Vader was a sweet little boy by the name of Anakin Skywalker, and that he wasn’t always evil. It ties together the events of the two sets of films, as well as tying a bunch of loose storylines together from the novels. Parts of the storyline were a bit on the weak side, like the motivation of Anakin’s childhood friend to steal something that both the New Republic and the Empire want, and revisiting the old Pod Race grounds seemed a bit much, but overall, it was one of the better written Star Wars books. I give Tatooine Ghost an A-.

The Mummy or Ramses the Damned by Anne Rice

Anne Rice is best known for her Vampire chronicles, but she did take a stab at the Mummy legend as well. I enjoyed the book. Whereas in most of the Mummy stories, the evil mummy awakens from its curse and goes around killing the people woke it up, here the sun-activated mummy is woken up and sees a murder. The story is filled with mystery, character moments, history, romance, murder, and madness. This is actually a Mummy story I would like to see made into a movie – of course, without too many changes to the story (filmmakers: don’t try to ‘improve’ the story of a good book too much! I have to admit, the closer a movie is to the book, the better, 90% of the time, I like it, but that’s a discussion for another time and place…) The Mummy or Ramses the Damned is a fun read, although I’d rate it for more mature readers. I give it a B+.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

In my continuing effort to read the classics, I did pull my copy of Jane Eyre off my shelf. I got bogged down it. It was more than just the language, which really wasn’t that hard or archaic. I got bogged down in Jane’s sense of melodrama. It’s the same complaint I have with Twlight’s Bella, although Jane has a lot more reason to feel bad than Bella ever did. The first several chapters were as depressing an up-bringing as any of Dicken’s characters. The next several are the famous romance of Jane and Rochester and the classism that is rampant in their world. The story moves to Jane dealing with the people who abused her as a child, and then back to Rochester where the hidden secret is revealed. Then, in the most unlikely coincidence of the book, she accidentally finds her cousins that she didn’t really know she had. She does end up independently wealthy and returns to Rochester as an equal. When I was reading, I was thinking, ‘oh good grief.’ I went away from Jane Eyre with a very ambivalent feeling, but the longer I was away from it, the more I liked it. I like the fight for individualism, and the coming into a marriage as an equal. For the time it was written in, it was very radical. Imagine: a woman with power over her own fate. Coming out of 1847, it really ahead of its time. As I was reading it, I would have given it a C+, but now, with the time to absorb and reflect on it, I give Jane Eyre a whole grade higher at a B+.

Red Prophet by Orson Scott Card

Red Prophet is the second in the Tales of Alvin Maker books. Red Prophet starts by focusing in on the Native Americans involved in the story of this alternate world where magic or ‘knacks’ exist. It focuses in on their version of the Native American hero Tecumseh (Ta Kumsaw) and his brother Tensquatawa (Tenskwa Tawa) are point of view characters as well as William Henry Harrison (in our world, the 9th President), LaFayette, Napoleon, and riverman Mike Fink. The two main characters, however, are Alvin, of course, and his brother Measure. The story deals with the white vs. red of the early stages of the press west, and how it would be different if people had direct magic (both white and red). It is a fun read; I actually like it better than the first book in the series. I do recommend this series. I give Red Prophet an A-.

Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn

Heir to the Empire is the first book of a Star Wars trilogy of books by Timothy Zahn. Zahn introduces a new threat to the Star Wars Expanded Universe (mentioned in the chronologically earlier but published later book Tatooine Ghost). It is very well written, well thought out, and, in all reality, it is the first in the trilogy that all other Star Wars books had to aspire to. Zahn’s various characters – Grand Admiral Thrawn, Captain Paelleon, Bothan council member Borsk Fay’la, Talon Karrde, and Mara Jade, former ‘Hand of the Emperor’ with dark jedi training.All of these characters become very important to the stories of the Expanded Universe. If you are going to read a series of Star Wars books, Heir to the Empire and the following two books in the trilogy would be the ones to read. Heir receives an A.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Individually, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett are excellent writers. Some of my favorite books and series come from these two authors. Put them together and you get an amazingly irreverent and silly look at the potential apocalypse. It takes the book of Revelation, the end of the world, and turns it on its head. The first two characters introduced are the demon who took the form of a snake (Crowley) and one of the angels who guarded the Garden of Eden (Aziraphale). These two live among the humans for the entire existence of humanity. The book has many asides where the authors write directly to the audience. I have to admit that sometimes the directness of it pulled me out of the book. One of the main characters of the book was about a witch/prophetess from the 16th Century Agnes Nutter who was trying to describe what was going on in the future from her point of view. It was entertaining reading the prophesies and watching the characters figure out what those prophesies meant. Overall, Good Omens was a fun read, but you have to have a certain amount of irreverence in your soul to enjoy it. As someone who has a fair amount of irreverence in my soul, I would recommend it to people who don’t take religion too seriously. If you get upset when someone pokes fun at your religion, don’t read it. I give Good Omens a B.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Disco Duck

Several years ago, we started a tradition of a white elephant gift. I had been cleaning out our garage, futilely attempt to downsize my stuff, and I found something that I have carried with me everywhere for well over thirty years.

In approximately 1977, I was given a build-it-yourself marionette of disco duck. It moved across town with us, it moved to the Twin Cities with me, it moved to Remsen with me, and then back to Decorah. As I looked at it, I realized the ultimate white elephant gift.

My family was absolutely amazed that I still had this fuzzy duck and all the pieces. It was decided that this would be the only white elephant gift that could be re-used, but only if a step of the instructions was done. My sister Tanya got it the first year. Somehow or another, I managed to get it back the second year. I had to cut the fur to out. It really sheds now. My sister got it back the third, and did the next step. Each year, my brother Mark would laugh and laugh at us when we got it.

I knew for sure that I did NOT want to get Disco Duck this year. The next step is to glue the fur onto the Styrofoam balls. It just sounded messy.

Part of the rules of the re-gifting is that everything needs to go with the duck. Including the box. We are all very cautious about what sized box we picked. There was one box this year, however, that we knew it couldn’t possibly be. It was a long narrow tube about 8” in diameter. My brother gleefully picked that one.

Guess what was inside.

The box was in there, flattened and rolled. The Styrofoam balls were all in there. The ball that is the body is a 7” diameter ball, so it just fit inside the tube. My brother’s expressions were wonderful. As my lovely wife put it…